Worlds Apart


Cover Illustration by LevelViolet: https://www.furaffinity.net/user/levelviolet/

© 2020 Snekguy. All rights reserved.

This work was made possible by the generous support of my Patrons:

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Disclaimer: This work of erotic fiction is intended for adults only. The story contains the following themes: romance, first time, handjob, blowjob, deepthroat, oral, kissing, biting, scratching, size difference, large breasts, muscle, long tongue, creampie.

CHAPTER 1: BEST FRIENDS

Why are you crying?” Jamie asked, sidling up beside the strange girl as she sat alone on the swing set. She wasn't swinging, she was just dangling her paw-like feet off the ground, gripping the chains with her clawed hands and looking sullen. The sounds of children laughing carried over from the other side of the playground, but she was not participating in their fun. The round, furry ears on the top of her head swiveled in his direction, and she looked up at him with a pair of green eyes like those of a cat.

Who are you?” she asked, rubbing her runny nose with the back of her furry forearm as she sniffed noisily.

I'm Jamie,” he replied, hanging from the metal A-frame of the swing set. He didn't quite know what to make of this girl. She was short and pudgy, with a layer of fine, sandy hair that covered her body from head to toe. The blue sundress that she was wearing had yellow duck patterns on it, and her furry cheeks were matted with tears. A long, fluffy tail protruded from beneath the hem of her dress, trailing on the ground behind her as the swing rocked gently in the breeze. She looked like a little lion, Jamie mused. He had seen them in his alphabet book.

Why are you crying?” Jamie asked as he released his hold on the metal frame, dropping down onto the grass.

The girl sniffed loudly again, wiping her pink, feline nose.

Those other kids were making fun of me,” she mumbled, sparing a resentful glance across the playground.

How come?”

Because I have a tail,” she replied hesitantly, as though afraid that Jamie would follow suit if he noticed it. He leaned around the swing set to get a better look, and she turned her eyes back to the ground.

That’s pretty cool,” the boy said. “I wish I had a tail.”

You do?”

The girl seemed to perk up a little, her ears rising from her mop of blonde hair.

All the best animals have tails,” he reaffirmed, starting to count on his stubby fingers. “Tigers, dinosaurs, sharks, snakes...”

Snakes are just one big tail,” she giggled, wiping her eyes.

Yeah, but snakes are pretty cool.”

Jamie couldn’t think of anything else to say, hooking his thumbs through the suspenders of the denim overalls that he was wearing as he bobbed on the spot. She seemed a little happier now, the girl watching him expectantly with her reflective pupils. Jamie didn’t care that she looked different, he just wanted to cheer her up.

Want me to push you?”

She nodded, and he walked behind her, careful to avoid stepping on her tail. He placed his hands on her back, giving her a good shove, and she started to swing. Before long, Jamie had a good rhythm going, not wanting to send her too high. The boys made a game of seeing how high they could go, then jumping off, but the girls usually got scared if you pushed too hard.

What’s your name?” he asked, noting that her fluffy ears had turned all the way around to follow his voice.

Liz,” she replied, her blonde hair flowing behind her as he sent her into the air with another push.

I’m six and a half,” Jamie stated proudly, “how old are you?”

I’m six.”

Is it your first day at school?”

Yeah.”

I was scared when I first came to school,” he said, giving her another shove to keep her going. “I didn’t have any friends at first. I can be your friend if you want.”

You mean it?” Liz asked, peering back at him over her shoulder. “Nobody else wants to be my friend. The other girls teased me, they said I looked like a cat. They won’t play with me.”

Well...you do,” he began, continuing hurriedly as she began to pout. “But I like cats.”

She gave him a warm smile, then turned her head back around to face forward, starting to swing her legs in time with his pushes. After a few minutes, a gaggle of half a dozen boys made their way over to see what the pair were doing, Tyler at their head. Jamie didn’t like Tyler, he was a mean kid, and he was big. He liked to shove people and start fights at recess. He was always hogging the swing set with his friends, trying to send each other up and over the bar. Liz’s smile faded as she saw them approaching, her ears flattening against her head, her tail drooping.

I want a turn on the swing set, Jamie,” Tyler said. He stood in front of Liz’s swing so that Jamie had to bring her to a stop to save from hitting him.

There are two, you can use the other one,” Jamie replied as he gestured to the empty swing to their right.

I said I want a turn,” Tyler repeated, more sternly this time. Liz’s lower lip began to tremble, and she looked as if she might start to cry again. She turned to look back at Jamie, unsure of what to do.

Well, you can’t have a turn yet,” Jamie declared. “We’re not done.”

Tyler circled around behind the swing set and stood before Jamie, squaring up for a fight. He was a head taller than the smaller boy, but Jamie held his ground, growing angrier as Liz became more distressed.

I said scram,” Tyler spat, giving Jamie a shove. He stumbled, but didn’t fall, staggering back a few paces. Liz slunk out of her seat and covered her ears with her fluffy hands, her eyes darting between the two boys as fresh tears began to roll down her chubby cheeks. Now they had done it. Jamie had just succeeded in cheering her up, and Tyler had undone all of his work. Jamie’s face reddened, his knuckles turning white as he balled his fists.

Back off, Tyler,” he snarled.

Or what?” the larger boy sneered. “You gonna go crying to the teacher?”

No, I’m gonna beat your ass.”

Tyler seemed a little taken aback, then turned to his friends, starting to laugh. They joined in, the chorus of jeering children frightening Liz as she looked on.

You trying to impress your new girlfriend, Jamie? Why don’t you marry her if you like her so much?” Tyler turned his attention to Liz, walking over to stand in front of her, cocking his head curiously. “What’s wrong with her, anyway? She got a disease or something?”

He reached out to catch one of her ears between his thumb and forefinger, giving it a tug, Liz wailing her displeasure.

Hey!” Jamie bellowed, seeing red. “Leave her alone!”

Tyler relinquished his hold on the trembling girl’s ear and marched back over to him, shoving him violently to the ground. Jamie fell on his rear, skinning his palm, and kicking up a cloud of dust.

Stay down, unless you want to get beat,” Tyler snarled. He turned his back on Jamie, making a beeline for Liz. “Go play somewhere else, freak.”

She shut her eyes and shook her head, her chest heaving as she sobbed, her fat tears leaving wet spots on the blue fabric of her sundress.

Jamie’s anger got the better of him, and he reached for a nearby rock, scrambling to his feet. He charged Tyler from behind before any of his friends could react, slamming it into the back of his head with a dull thud. The bully stumbled, then dropped heavily to the ground beneath the swing set, groaning as blood matted his dark hair. As he tried to stand again, Jamie caught him in the nose with a swift kick, knocking him back down. He gave the boy another kick to the ribs with his scuffed sneakers for good measure, then Tyler scrambled free, stumbling away towards the glass facade of the school building. Now who was going crying to teacher? The other boys scattered, not wanting to get into trouble too, Jamie dropping the bloodied rock at his feet.

Liz shuffled up beside him, sniffing as she dried her eyes on the collar of her duck-patterned dress. She hid behind him and reached out to take his hand. Her fingers were thick and furry, there were only four of them, Jamie feeling her coil her tail around his waist. She was clinging to him like a baby monkey.

I’m sorry he scared you,” Jamie said. “Tyler is a bully.”

I’m okay...”

Want to go back on the swings?”

She nodded, smiling up at him.

***

Jamie loitered on the steps outside the science building as he waited for Liz. She should be finishing her exobiology class right about now. He rested his hands on the straps of his backpack, feeling the sun’s heat on his face as he listened to the wind rustle the leaves of the trees that were dotted around the campus. He could see the main building in the distance, an old effigy of red brick built in the collegiate gothic style, contrasting starkly with the more modern glass and steel that surrounded it. The small island of green lawns and twentieth-century throwbacks was boxed in by glittering skyscrapers that rose up into the air in every direction, dominating the skyline.

No two were exactly alike. Some were terraced, some twisted and misshapen like giant student art projects, others connected to their neighbors by glass skyways to create a kind of street high above ground level. They were all a kilometer tall or more, their innumerable windows reflecting the evening sun’s glow.

He heard the faint ringing of a bell, and a torrent of students soon came flooding out of the double doors and down the steps, eager to put the school day behind them. He picked out Liz in the crowd, her golden hair blowing in the breeze.

He remembered her as a kitten, when they had met that day at the swing set in the playground. She had been so short and chubby, covered in sandy fur from her head to the tip of her tail. As she had matured, she had grown out of her puppy fat, the coat of fur that had covered her body receding from her face and torso to reveal the caramel skin beneath. Only her forearms, her lower legs, and her tail still sported a covering of straw-colored hair.

Borealans were basically humanoid, a species evolved from a feline ancestor that had taken a fairly convergent evolutionary path. At least, that’s what she told him when her pink nose wasn’t buried in one of her textbooks. Her father was an ambassador living on Earth, and he had brought his family with him in order to learn about the local culture, putting his daughter through the human school system as part of his commitment. Jamie was now quite familiar with her parents. They were rather intimidating at eight feet tall, but their daughter’s infatuation with Jamie had seen them warm up to him fairly quickly, and they now treated him as a member of their family when he paid them a visit.

At seventeen years old, Liz was still short by Borealan standards. Her parents had promised her a growth spurt when she reached the right age, but she was lagging behind her peers at only five feet and six inches. Jamie, on the other hand, had sprouted during his adolescence. He dwarfed his friend at six feet and one inch, and he never missed an opportunity to tease her about it. She would probably have the last laugh when she reached the size of her parents, but for now, Jamie was a head taller than her.

She waved to him with a clawed hand, pulling the strap of her book bag over the shoulder of her turtleneck sweater. Jamie didn’t think of her as an alien, not really. He had known her practically his whole life. Her sense of fashion, her accent, her mannerisms – they were all so distinctly human that only her unusual appearance gave her away as a non-native. A few people still gave her shit about her planet of origin, calling her names like fleabag or whiskers, but never within earshot of Jamie. He had made it abundantly clear that anyone who wanted to give Liz a hard time would have to answer to him. He was on the track team, and he was one of the largest students on campus. He wasn’t above knocking out a few teeth to keep the xenophobes off her back.

Everyone knew about the races of the multi-species Coalition to which Earth belonged at this point. It was taught at length in classes on xenobiology and alien cultures, and you could scarcely watch a minute of a news broadcast without seeing an alien, but to have one actually living among humans on Earth was a novelty to which not everyone had become accustomed. Outside of the military, few everyday people ever crossed paths with them.

Liz trotted over to his side, waving goodbye to a few of her classmates. She looked up at him with those reflective, green eyes, adjusting her bag.

Hi, Jamie. You done with your classes?”

Yeah, I finished last period, but I thought I’d wait around for you.”

She gave him a warm smile, taking his hand as the pair began to walk. She kept up with the taller boy easily with her long, loping strides. Her parents had told him that Borealis had a higher gravity than Earth, but despite Jamie trying to get her interested in sports in order to leverage her natural strength, she was a total bookworm. The only physical activity that she seemed to enjoy was Aikido, some far-East martial art that she said was good exercise, but that he suspected she had taken up because of her problems with bullying in her youth. She took classes at a local gym every Wednesday, and she was getting pretty good at it, from what she had told him.

Like many second-generation immigrants, her culture of origin held a certain fascination for her, and it made Jamie wonder if it made her experience of life any harder to be so far removed from it. Her parents certainly seemed to have brought much of their culture with them, their house was filled to the brim with strange pieces of art. He had seen decorative tapestries made in a stilted, almost medieval style, busts of important figures from their homeworld, even odd pelts from unidentifiable alien wildlife. Their residence was like an alien museum, one that he always enjoyed exploring when the opportunity arose.

You want to get some food?” Liz asked, Jamie nodding his reply.

They left the college campus, passing beneath the arched gate at the entrance, heading in the direction of the residential area where Liz lived. There was a diner on the way where they liked to stop after school. It was usually fairly quiet, and the staff there knew Liz, so they rarely encountered any rubberneckers.

The bases of the skyscrapers formed what seemed like canyon walls of glass and metal to either side of the wide street, the sidewalk separated from the road by rows of silver bollards. The lanes were clogged with rush-hour traffic, the cars stacked bumper to bumper as their occupants tried to get home after a long day of work. Jamie could see some of them through the tinted windows, idly tapping at tablet computers as they waited for their nav systems to spring back to life. A few of the vehicles began to roll forward as one of the stoplights turned green, moving like a shoal of metal fish, communicating with one another over their shared network to optimize the flow of traffic.

The sound of a mag-lev train passing overhead drew Jamie’s attention, and he glanced up to see it zipping by, its track weaving between the skyscrapers and the pedestrian walkways that networked their upper levels. Above those still, he could make out a few shuttles cruising through the air, leaving white contrails behind them as they ferried people and goods to and fro.

Jamie and Liz preferred to walk rather than to ride the buses and trains favored by the other students. It was nice to take a break from the rat race, to enjoy some fresh air, rather than being packed shoulder to shoulder like sardines in a can. There were never too many people crowding the sidewalks, despite the slew of road and air traffic. Anyone who wanted to travel long-distance would take a car or a train, while people could usually run errands or shop for groceries inside their own building without needing to set foot outside.

The pair walked hand in hand beneath the rows of trees that lined the street, their colors changing from green to rich shades of red, orange, and brown as the seasons turned. Liz kicked through the piles of shed foliage gleefully with her paw-like feet, crunching the dead leaves underfoot. Although she had adopted human clothing styles, she never wore shoes. Whatever boots they might be able to make that would fit her would probably only draw further attention to her.

They soon arrived at the diner, located on the corner of a block where two of the roads intersected. It had a large window that faced out onto the street, the flickering, neon sign in hues of pink and blue a deliberate throwback to vintage styles. Jamie opened the door for Liz, and she ducked under his arm, making her way to their preferred booth at the back. They were on a first-name basis with the staff here, and that put the girl more at ease. She was always on edge whenever they went somewhere new, where people might stare at her.

A waitress walked over to take their order, clad in a pink, knee-length uniform with a white apron tied around her waist. It was as quiet as Jamie had hoped today, and they were the only couple in the diner. Well, he probably shouldn’t use the word couple. They had been best friends since childhood, but they had never been romantically involved. He had often thought about it, but for all the similarities her people shared with his own, he didn’t know whether their species were even compatible. How would he even broach the subject? What would her parents say?

Jamie was pretty popular with the girls on campus. He was tall, athletic, he played sports. Much to the dismay of his female classmates, he only had eyes for Liz and remained staunchly celibate. Rumors circulated about how he and Liz were an item, but he wasn’t sure that anyone really believed them. It was all just juvenile teasing. In his eyes, Liz was still the little girl who he had found crying in the playground, someone who needed his protection, his friendship. He couldn’t bring himself to risk spoiling that relationship.

What can I get you kids tonight?” the waitress asked, holding her tablet in her hand as she waited to take their orders.

Hi,” Liz chirped, glancing up at her. “I’d like a double cheeseburger with a side of wings,” she said, handing the waitress the laminated menu that had been waiting for them on the table.

Anything to drink?” the woman asked.

Just a glass of water, please.”

I’ll have a root beer float, thanks,” Jamie added.

The waitress nodded, making a note of their orders before walking back over to the counter, her red heels clicking on the laminated floor. Jamie lurched as he felt Liz nudge him with her tail beneath the table, his friend flashing him a smile that exposed her sharp teeth.

You won’t grow up big and strong if you don’t eat,” she teased.

What are you talking about? I’m already bigger than you,” he chuckled, turning his attention to the cars that jammed the road outside the long window.

Is something the matter?” Liz asked, a hint of concern creeping into her voice. “You’ve been pretty distant today.”

Jamie snapped out of his daydream and tried to play it off, stretching his long arms above his head.

Just had a long day is all. Practice ran later than usual.”

I see. I've had a long day too,” she replied as she leaned back in the padded booth. “We're covering Krell now, we've finished on Borealans and Betelgeusians. Miss Connor said that I was a big help, she let me bring in some photos of me when I was a kitten to show the class how my people shed our fur as we age. I can't believe how fat I was back then, do you remember?”

Yeah, you were a cute kid,” he replied. “I remember when you hit puberty, and you came crying to me because you thought you were going bald.”

She feigned outrage, reaching across the table to bat at him with her furry hand as he laughed.

I was distraught! I was convinced that I would end up looking like your dad!”

Luckily for me, I have my mother’s hair.”

I wish you wouldn’t cut it,” Liz added, eyeing his blonde fuzz. “When you let it grow out, you almost look like one of us.”

Jamie ran his fingers through it absent-mindedly, Liz watching him with her emerald eyes, her pupils reflecting the light that bled in from the street.

Coach won’t let us have long hair,” he explained, “it might get caught in something. I’ll take your fashion advice into account, though.”

Liz dressed very much like her human counterparts, preferring long-sleeved tops like hoodies and sweaters that concealed the fur on her forearms, and she wore loose-fitting jogging pants that would let her digitigrade legs bend at the heel joint. She loved winter, as the cold weather gave her an excuse to wear mittens and a beanie that further concealed her alien features, giving her a confidence boost that Jamie always found endearing.

Speaking of fashion,” he began, “you were telling me about those clothes your mom tried to get you to wear? What happened with that?”

Oh, don’t remind me,” she groaned as she lay her head in her furry hands. “They brought some kind of traditional dress with them from the homeworld,” she said, making air-quotes with her clawed fingers. “As if I’d want to wear the damned thing. You’re on the cusp of adulthood,” she added, imitating her mother’s gravely voice. “It’s time you started dressing like an Elysian. As if I need to stand out more than I already do.”

What did they even look like?”

Weirdly revealing,” she replied, her cheeks warming a little. “Like, I know that Borealis is a hot planet – my parents keep the thermostat high enough that I got the picture – but I’m not exactly comfortable walking around in nothing but strips of translucent fabric.”

Liz was a meek girl, very much a product of her environment. From what Jamie had been told by her parents, and what he had learned in class, the Borealans were a martial people. They were described as muscle-bound warriors, always depicted as the tip of the spear in Coalition military engagements. After seeing her parents, he could certainly believe it.

Not that I don’t get where they’re coming from,” Jamie began, Liz narrowing her eyes at him. “It must be weird for them, to see you reject their traditions, but they have to let you be your own person. You’ve never even been to Borealis.”

Well, that might change,” she said. “Mom and Dad have been hinting that we might be going back to Borealis sometime soon, maybe to visit family. I was part of a litter, you know. I have four siblings that I haven’t seen since I was a baby. My parents left them in the care of my Aunt when they brought me here, said they would be too much to handle without the help of a pack. It was a big deal for them to take the job at the embassy, they had to leave a lot behind.”

I can imagine,” Jamie muttered. He knew that Borealans lived in tightly-knit social units called packs, like wolves or a pride of lions. To the best of his understanding, her parents leaving them behind was like leaving a spouse to work off-planet for years at a time.

They’ve been pretty tight-lipped about it,” she continued, tapping one of her black claws on the table idly. “They haven’t given me anything concrete to go on, but that’s the impression I’m getting lately. Maybe they want it to be a surprise. I’ve never been there before, but I’ve read all about it, I’d be excited to see it for myself.”

The waitress arrived with their orders balanced in her arms, Liz leaning back to let the woman set a large plate of food in front of her, licking her chops eagerly. Her sharp claws sank into the sesame seed bun as she lifted the burger to her lips, taking a large, wet bite. The girl could eat. Despite her small stature, she easily outpaced Jamie when it came to dining, often consuming three or four human portions when the mood took her. It was a source of minor embarrassment to her, but she never seemed to gain any weight, likely due to her alien metabolism. She had an odd palate, too, favoring fat and salt over sugar. In fact, he couldn’t remember a single instance where she had ordered something sweet like a dessert or a soda, at least not in his company. Wherever all those empty calories were going, they were going fast.

The waitress handed Jamie his float, and he drank down a mouthful of the cold liquid through a straw as Liz continued.

Do you think your parents would let you come with us?” she asked, talking around a mouthful of cheese and meat. “I hear the environment there is pretty hostile to humans, but you can stay ground-side for like...five or six months before you start having medical problems. You wouldn’t fare much worse than me,” she added, taking another bite. “I grew up in Earth-standard gravity, so it will be an adjustment for me, too. I have denser bones and reinforced joints, though.”

He considered for a moment, resting his chin in his hand as he stirred the floating icecream in his drink with the thick straw.

Probably not, I’d miss a ton of practice.”

He hoped that if she did end up visiting, it wouldn’t be for too long. They had never been apart for more than a week or two in all the years that they had known one another. The idea of the small, shy girl exploring a planet full of monstrous warriors without him being there to look out for her tied a knot in his stomach. She had wanted to vacation there for a long time, however.

You’ll have to send me some vidlogs,” he added, trying to be supportive.

She nodded enthusiastically, taking another bite of her burger.

I don’t know how developed the planet is,” she continued, pausing to chew for a moment. “I’m not sure if Borealis has superlight comms, or if anyone but the Navy gets access to them, but I’ll keep in touch if I can.” She finished off the burger, then began to lick the grease from her furry fingers with her rough tongue, like a cat bathing itself. When they were suitably clean, she started on the little basket of chicken wings. She could really pack it away when she was hungry. “Anyway, I’m not even sure that’s what they’re planning, but my birthday is coming up soon. Wouldn’t that be cool, if Mom and Dad gave me jump liner tickets for my birthday?”

Jamie nodded. He didn’t think it was cool, but she was happy, and he didn’t want to burst her bubble by being negative. She wouldn’t be gone too long, in any case. She couldn’t afford to miss too much school, she had a bright academic future ahead of her, she was at the top of her class in exobiology and exolinguistics. She was practically cheating with the intimate knowledge of Borealan language that she had gleaned from sessions with her parents, and she was shaping up to be a diplomat just like them.

I just hope they don’t plan to marry me off to some ladder-climbing socialite,” she chuckled, setting down the wing that she was eating as she imitated her mother’s deep voice. “Oh Lizka, you must start thinking about your social standing! How will you find a strong mate to sire you a litter if you’re at the bottom of the hierarchy?” She laughed at her own joke, then turned her attention back to her meal. “I swear, my parents act like our culture is beyond reproach, but the way they describe pack dynamics makes them sound like...a pack of wild dogs.”

She noticed that Jamie was grimacing, giving his leg another tap with her dexterous tail beneath the table.

I’m only joking, Jamie,” she added. “I’ve read about how Borealans court. Let’s just say that it’s...not for me.”

She finished off her food, then waited for Jamie to drink his float, the two making idle small-talk before paying their bill and heading out.

***

They soon arrived at the residential zone where Liz and her family lived. While most inhabitants of the city lived in apartments in the high-rises, these zones were reserved for the wealthier residents, taking the form of more traditional suburbs. They were still very much inside the limits of the city, close enough to the college that Liz could walk there, but it was a very different style of living.

Rows of identical prefab houses lined the curving streets, packed tightly together, the varying styles of faux-brick and stone doing little to differentiate them from one another. Their bay windows looked out onto sidewalks that were decorated with patches of green grass and carefully-tended shrubs, paved driveways linking them to the road. There were streetlights at intervals, designed to resemble archaic gas lamps, and a few of the houses had small fences to section off their lawns.

They walked along the street until they came upon Liz’s house. The residence had been specially constructed for the ambassador and his family by the UN so that they might live comfortably while being close enough to commute to the embassy. It was a strange amalgam of human and alien architecture. The facade that faced the street was of the same rectangular design as the buildings to its left and right, this one decorated to resemble stone, but in place of a gable roof made from asphalt shingles was a dome that rose above the rooftops. The dwelling was visibly larger, too, though not by enough to really make it stand out. It was only upon approaching the front door that one realized it was almost nine feet tall and near twice as wide as it should have been. Jamie knew from experience that the rear of the house, where it was out of view of the street, was even stranger. There were arches made to mimic stone that led out into the garden, and there wasn’t a window to be seen anywhere.

Liz led him up the driveway, her father opening the door to greet them on the porch. He was so tall and broad-shouldered that he completely filled the doorway. Jamie was big for his age, but the Borealan dwarfed him at eight feet and change, his biceps alone the size of a human head. It was so hard to imagine Liz ever growing into something even approaching this. Like his daughter, her father had skin the color of caramel, with a long mane of blonde hair that made him look somewhat like a lion standing on its hind legs. His wife had a lighter complexion, with red hair that bordered on orange, but she didn’t seem to be home yet.

He sported an open-necked tunic made from blue, floaty fabric, and shorts that ended at his knees to expose his furry legs. It was all embroidered with fine threads of gold and red, creating decorative geometric patterns.

Greetings, James,” he boomed in his strange, rolling accent. His baritone voice was almost deep enough to make Jame’s teeth chatter. “Come, drink with me before you go. Long has it been since last we spoke.”

Oh, sure,” Jamie replied. Her father had a very commanding presence, it was hard to deny such a request.

Dad,” Liz complained. “Jamie is tired! He’s been running track all day.”

Nonsense,” her father rumbled, stepping aside to let the pair pass. “Five minutes is all I ask.”

She turned to give Jamie an apologetic smile as she made for the stairs at the end of the hall, already shrugging off her book bag.

The interior of the house hadn’t changed since Jamie’s last visit. The ceiling was tall enough to be comfortable for the eight-foot aliens, and the hall was double the width of what one might expect in a regular house. The floor was carpeted in a shade of deep red, and upon first glance, it seemed as though the same was true of the walls. There was scarcely an inch of paneling that wasn’t covered over by an elaborate tapestry, each one depicting some kind of battle or hunt with a stilted, archaic perspective. Borealan hunters chased down alien game, and feline warriors fired powder rifles at one another, all intricately woven from colorful threads. There were busts of Borealans made from imitation marble, too, sitting atop pedestals at intervals. They might be kings or generals, Jamie had never asked.

Liz’s father led him into their living room, the completely standard layout of their house at odds with the alien artifacts that adorned it. It was decorated much the same way as the hallway, tapestries hanging on the walls, a vintage rifle that resembled an oversized musket mounted on a plaque above the hearth. Holographic flames flickered, the heating element doing a fair job of mimicking the warmth of a roaring fire. There were no armchairs, no couch, as Borealans preferred to sit on the floor when they were relaxing. Liz’s father gestured for him to take a seat in a pile of plush cushions in one corner of the room, and he obliged, sinking into the rat’s nest of silk pillows.

The imposing Borealan retrieved a dusty bottle from a wood cabinet, beginning to pour him a glass of pink liquid. After pouring another for himself, he joined Jamie in the pile, his weight shaking the floor as he sat down. There was a low coffee table nearby, at least by Borealan standards, and he set the two vials on it.

Do not worry,” he began, his voice resonating in Jamie’s very bones. “I know that you are not yet old enough to drink, but this is a delicacy from our homeworld, it has lower alcohol content than your beer. Our people are not exactly big drinkers.”

Jamie reached out and lifted the glass, giving it a sniff before taking a tentative sip. It tasted like strawberry juice, there was scarcely a hint of alcohol.

I wanted to offer you my thanks,” the Borealan continued, Jamie sparing him a glance.

What for, sir?”

You have been a good friend to my daughter,” he said, his claws clicking against his glass as he raised it to his lips. “A good packmate, not that the term would mean much to you. She tells us sometimes of...difficulties at her school, but you are always there to help her when we cannot be. This, I appreciate.”

It’s really no trouble,” Jamie replied sheepishly. “We’ve known each other for a long time.”

She is a late bloomer,” he said, staring into the fire. “She was the smallest of her litter, a runt, which is why we brought her to this place rather than leaving her in the company of her siblings. She would not have fared well back home. Still, she will soon grow. I think that she does not yet understand what that will mean for her. She has much to learn about our way of life.”

Jamie didn’t really know what to say, it was an odd conversation, so he took another sip of his drink. Liz soon appeared in the doorway, leaning against the frame as she glanced between the two of them.

Dad pulled out the hair-raiser?” she asked. “What’s the occasion?”

No occasion,” her father said, rising to his feet. “Come, Lizka. Your mother will be home soon, we should start preparing our meal.”

That was Jamie’s cue to leave, and he stood up, thanking her father for the drink before making his way to the door. Liz accompanied him to the porch, whispering once her father was out of earshot.

What did Dad want to talk to you about?”

Nothing much,” he replied with a shrug, pausing at the bottom of the steps. “He just thanked me for looking out for you.”

Maybe he’s getting sentimental in his old age,” she chuckled. “I’ll see you at school tomorrow,” she added, waving to him through the crack in the door as she slowly closed it. Jamie waved back, then set off down the street at a brisk jog, the setting sun staining the sky in shades of pink and orange.

CHAPTER 2: SEPARATION ANXIETY

Jamie raced around the oval track that ringed the college sports field, his sneakers kicking up dust as they pounded against the ground. The weather was becoming cooler as winter approached, but he was dressed in his shorts and mesh vest regardless. If he got too cold, he would just run faster.

As he rounded a bend, he saw a solitary figure sitting in the empty bleachers, cradling a book bag in their arms. It took him a moment to recognize her due to the pink beanie that she was wearing, but it was Liz.

Curious. He hadn’t seen her around school that day. They hadn’t spoken since he had walked her home the previous afternoon, in fact.

He turned towards her, crossing the grass and quickly mounting the steps, flopping down onto the bench beside her. He was drenched in sweat, wiping his brow with the back of his forearm as he caught his breath.

Hey, Liz,” he panted. “Not seen you around today, what’s up?”

She gave no reply, clutching her bag with her mittens, her face buried in it. This wasn't like her at all. He put his hand on her shoulder, giving her a nudge.

Liz, are you okay? Did something happen?”

She turned her head to look up at him, her eyes red and puffy, her cheeks stained with tears. She looked just like she had on the day that they had met, frightened, upset. Liz let her bag fall from her arms, the flap flying open, her beloved textbooks spilling free. Sheets of paper fluttered away on the cold breeze as she lunged at him, wrapping her arms around him as she pushed her face into his chest, his shirt muffling her miserable wail. He put one arm around her back, cradling her head in his hand, holding her as she cried it out. Her chest heaved as she sobbed, Jamie giving her a minute, waiting for her to tire herself out before he asked her any more questions.

What on Earth is wrong, Liz?” he finally asked. “Has someone been giving you a hard time?”

N-no,” she replied, her voice choked off between sniffles. “Oh Jamie, we’re going back to Borealis...”

Isn’t that what you wanted?” he asked, perplexed. “You kept telling me how excited you were to visit.”

We're not visiting,” she wailed, fat tears brimming in her green eyes again as she glanced up at him. “My parents are moving back, and I have to go with them.”

Jamie felt like someone had plunged a knife into his heart, stopping it dead, his blood running cold as he held his distraught friend in his arms.

You’re not...coming back?” he asked, scarcely believing what he was hearing.

Dad is done here,” she continued, wiping her eyes with her pink mittens. It was a futile gesture, fresh tears soon replacing them. “My parents don’t have a reason to stay now that his employment period with the UN has ended. They want to take me home,” she said, spitting that last word as though it were a curse. Jamie understood how she felt. Earth was her home, not some alien planet that she had never even set foot on. “They said that I was too young to stay here on my own,” she continued, a blend of exhaustion and anger making her tremble. “Mom said that I need to learn to be a proper Borealan, like there’s something wrong with how I act right now.”

Jamie felt tears welling in his own eyes, but he did his best to fight them back. It wouldn’t make Liz feel any better if he started crying too. He patted her on the back through the padding of her heavy winter coat, trying to calm her down.

Don’t they understand that you’re happy here?” he asked. “You have friends, you’re doing so well in school, don’t they care about any of that? What about your studies?”

She shook her head, her long, sandy hair falling over her shoulders.

They only care about their stupid culture. I don’t care about packs and status, I just...I just want to stay here, with you.”

Did they tell you when you’re supposed to be leaving?” he asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

Three days,” she replied, her lower lip starting to tremble. Damn, they really had sprung this on her suddenly. Perhaps they had anticipated her reaction. Jamie wasn’t the kind of person who judged foreign cultures at face value, but it seemed harsh by any metric, to tear her away from everything that she had ever known with so little warning.

Maybe I can talk some sense into them?” he suggested, grasping at whatever straws he could. “I could try to change their minds, make them see things from a more human perspective?”

No,” she insisted, placing a gloved hand on his chest. “My reaction made my parents angry enough, they won’t listen to reason. Dad likes you, I don’t want you two falling out.”

Jamie wracked his brain, there must be something that he could do to stop this. Could they run away together? No, that was a ridiculous proposition. They didn’t have any money, and hiding a Borealan girl would be downright impossible. If the ambassador’s daughter went missing, the entire UN would come looking for her, there would be Marines crawling all over the city.

It’s already been decided,” Liz continued, “they didn’t even ask my opinion.”

She seemed as angry as she was upset now, her green eyes blazing. Her expression softened as she leaned against him again, Jamie hugging her tightly, the cool air starting to chill the sheen of sweat that coated his skin.

We’ll fix this,” he whispered, “it’ll be okay.”

Liz wiped her runny nose on her sleeve, clinging to him as though he might somehow disappear. He didn’t really believe what he was saying, they were empty words, but he was trying to comfort himself as much as Liz.

***

Jamie dialed in the code for Liz’s vidphone on his tablet’s touchpad as he sat on the edge of his bed, waiting impatiently for someone to pick up. His room was sparsely decorated, a few posters and pennants bearing the colors of college sports teams hanging on the walls. To his right, a large window looked out over the city, the small apartment that he shared with his family situated on the three hundred and sixty-third floor.

There had been no word from Liz since she had returned home. Had her parents confiscated her phone? Was she confined to her bedroom? Would they not even let her make the most of what few days she had left? He couldn’t just sit around and wait, even if she had advised him not to confront her parents. He had to do something.

After a short delay, he saw the shaggy mane of her father appear on the semi-transparent display, his flat, feline brow furrowed.

James,” he said, his deep voice somewhat distorted by the quality of the mic on his end.

Hi, I wanted to know if Liz-”

You must stop calling,” her father said sternly, interrupting him before he could finish. “Lizka is upset enough as it is, and seeing you will do her no good.”

Jamie had always gotten on well with Liz’s family, and he had a great deal of respect for her father, but his patience was starting to wear thin.

Please,” he began, “you can’t just-”

Neither one of you understands what it means to be Borealan,” her father replied tersely. “You see only what you want to see, that we are cruel and unfeeling, stealing her away against her will. We reared Lizka on Earth, this is true, but she has Borealan blood coursing through her veins. She must return to her people, learn our ways, find her place in the hierarchy.”

Damn right, I don’t understand,” Jamie shot back. “She was so excited about visiting Borealis, she wouldn’t stop talking about it, but now...now you’ve ruined her life.”

Her father shook his massive head, visibly tiring of the conversation. He had probably been arguing with Liz all evening, too. She could be feisty when she was angry.

Would you have her live out her life without ever truly knowing herself? Being disconnected from her heritage, from her people? You have known her only as a child, you have no idea of what she will one day become. She cannot be tempered on Earth, she must be with her own kind, she must learn from her kin.”

Jamie began to reply, but Liz’s father preempted him.

Imagine if a child of yours was reared on Borealis. Would you not want them to return to their ancestral home, to learn what it means to be human? Lizka has no idea what awaits her, her tears are born of ignorance, as are your protests.”

He could see that the man was far too stubborn to be persuaded, Jamie abandoning his attempt.

I know that you care for my daughter,” he continued as Jamie glared at him through the video feed, “but you must respect my wishes. Your interference will only make this harder for her than it already is. Goodbye.”

He closed the connection, Jamie tossing his tablet onto his bed, cursing to himself.

***

It was futile. Jamie had tried to contact Liz’s parents over vidphone a dozen more times, and they had eventually blocked his number, refusing to take his calls. The only option left now was to jog over to their house.

It was pouring with rain by the time he arrived, the asphalt reflecting the glow from the streetlights, so wet that he could almost see his own reflection in it. He raised his phone as he approached their residence, fat droplets of water rolling down the flexible screen, seeing that he had received no new messages. The curtains on the bay windows were drawn, but the lights were on inside, they were definitely home.

He made his way up the driveway and started to pound on the door, but they wouldn’t see him. No matter how much of a racket he made, no matter how many times he pressed the buzzer, nobody came to answer. He took a few steps back, glancing up at the domed house, not knowing what else to do.

He had spent his whole life looking out for Liz, protecting her. Whenever she was upset or angry, unsure of something, she always came to him for comfort. Now, it was as though a force field had been erected between them, a barrier keeping them apart that he could not breach no matter how mad he got. This was a problem that he couldn’t solve with his fists.

Defeated, he turned back to the street, his feet splashing in the puddles as he began to jog home. He soon broke out into a run, his blood pounding in his ears, his thighs starting to burn. Sheets of rain lashed at the asphalt, the scent of ozone filling his lungs with every breath, but the storm was the least of his concerns. There was no way to run from his problems, but the exertion helped. Jamie felt as though he might explode if he didn’t keep moving.

***

Another day passed without any sign of Liz. Jamie went to school, but he didn’t attend any of his classes, he just loitered around the campus feeling miserable and impotent. If she was going to show up, it would be at the college.

Eventually, the sun began to set, and his hope that she might appear diminished along with it. Jamie decided to make his way home, walking along the route that he and Liz took together every evening. As he passed the bright neon of their favorite diner, he considered stopping to get a float, but he didn’t have the heart for it.

The street was almost clear of pedestrians, and the road was mostly empty, the flow of rush-hour traffic having long since diminished to a trickle of stray vehicles. He kicked through the now damp and rotting leaves as he walked beneath the shadow of the trees, the colorful lights of advertisements and the eerie glow of the street lamps now the sole sources of illumination as dusk fell over the city.

As he rounded a corner, he saw a figure standing in the pool of light cast by one of the dull lamps, leaning against a wall with their hands in the pockets of their coat. It took him a moment to recognize her, the bright pink of her beanie bleached by the glow.

Liz?”

She covered the distance between them like a bolt of lightning, leaping into his arms with enough force to knock the wind out of him. After he got over his surprise, he returned her embrace, wrapping his arms around her tightly.

I knew you’d come this way, Jamie!”

You weren’t at school today,” he replied, a wave of relief washing over him. “Where have you been? I was so worried about you. I couldn’t get through to your phone, nobody answered the door when I showed up at your place.”

She peered up at him from beneath her woolen hat, her eyes reflecting the light from a nearby neon sign like those of a cat, making them sparkle in the twilight.

My parents wouldn’t let me leave the house,” she explained breathlessly. “They took away my phone and locked out my terminal. They’re not exactly thrilled with how I’ve taken the news.” She smirked for a moment, then buried her face in his chest. He could feel her warm breath through his jacket as it contrasted with the cold air, Liz taking in a deep breath, his very scent seeming to calm her nerves. “I guess I had a bit of a meltdown and trashed the place,” she chuckled. “Mom and Dad just...they don't understand, and they won’t even try to see things from my perspective. They're so set in their ways. Anyway, I snuck out to come meet you when they went to bed. They’re practically Luddites, they don’t know that I can bypass the lock on the front door by shorting it out.”

Jamie laughed at the thought, giving her another affectionate squeeze.

I’m so glad I got to see you again, Liz. I thought that maybe...”

I’m not going back home tonight,” she insisted, her green eyes full of determination. “It’s not like I can get in any more trouble, right? Will you stay up with me until they figure out I’m missing?”

Of course,” Jamie replied, straightening her beanie as she beamed up at him. She released him from her embrace, reaching for his hand with one of her mittens.

You hungry?” he asked.

Always,” she chuckled, the two of them turning back in the direction of the diner.

***

The pink neon sign above the diner’s entrance flickered, the interior lighting spilling onto the street outside through its long, wall-length window. They were still open, and there were no customers inside, as usual. Jamie held the door open for Liz, and they made their way over to their favorite booth at the back.

You two are in late,” the waitress commented, recognizing the two friends. “Isn't it a school night?” She shrugged without waiting for an answer, realizing that she didn't care enough to make an issue of it. “What can I get you?”

They gave her their orders, waiting for her to leave for the kitchen before continuing their conversation. It was warm inside, but Liz was still hiding beneath her hat and coat, as she always did when she was feeling insecure. Jamie reached across the table and took her gloved hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze.

Hey,” he said, trying to comfort her as she shifted her weight restlessly in her seat. “It’s gonna be okay, Liz. We’re gonna figure something out.”

No it isn’t, and we aren’t,” she mumbled as she choked back tears. “I had everything planned out, my whole life. I was going to graduate, I was going to get my degree in xenolinguistics, I was going to become a diplomat like Dad. I wanted to stay on Earth, I wanted to...”

She trailed off, peering out of the window at the dark streets beyond, the light from the diner casting long shadows on the skeletal trees outside. They were gnarled and leafless now, their bare branches reaching towards the sky like bony fingers, the warm colors of autumn now absent.

You can still do that,” Jamie said, trying to reassure her. “You can just continue your courses on Borealis, right? You could be back on Earth within a couple of years.” She withdrew her hand and lowered her face into the collar of her coat like some kind of sad turtle.

You don't understand how different things are on Borealis, there are no colleges. The prospect of visiting another planet had me so excited at first, exploring an alien culture that was foreign to me, yet somehow still my own. I thought that maybe I could reconnect with people who were like me, learn more about myself.” She shook her head, her tone turning bitter. “But the people there aren’t like me, they’re not even like my parents. They’re...savages. And that’s how my parents want me to act, what they expect me to become.”

She was right, he didn't understand. He didn't know how to comfort her, how to make her feel better, this was a problem that was completely beyond him. She noticed the conflict in him, and her expression softened as she took his hand again.

Sorry, I'm being selfish aren't I? This is just as hard for you as it is for me.”

I doubt that,” he chuckled dryly. “But yeah, I'm not having an easy time of this.” “You’ve always been there for me, Jamie,” she said as she warmed his hand in her pink mittens. “Ever since I was a little girl. One of the first memories I have is of you defending me from bullies in the playground, you walking me home because I was scared of getting lost in the city on my own. I begged my parents to let me have a human birthday party that one year, and you were the only one who showed up. Remember that time you blew your whole allowance taking me to the aquarium?”

I got you that stupid plush clownfish,” he chuckled.

I still have that,” she said, laughing at the memory. She trailed off as the waitress arrived with their food, remaining quiet until the woman had left them alone again. She eyed her favorite burger, taking off one of her gloves and prodding the bun with a clawed finger.

This whole thing has kind of spoiled my appetite,” she grumbled, gazing out of the window again. Her thoughts seemed to be stuck on Borealis, as though her body was here, but her mind was already light-years away.

Jamie felt like he had to distract her. If he didn’t, she might spend what could be their last night together feeling miserable instead of making the best of what time was left. He stood suddenly, Liz’s eyes widening as he took her by the hand, tugging her out of her seat. He tossed some bills onto the table, guiding her out of the booth.

Come on, let’s go do something,” he insisted. “We can’t waste this night. Bring your burger with you.”

She picked up her meal in a napkin and hurried behind him as he left the diner. Liz ate as they walked, taking smaller bites of her burger than usual. That bothered Jamie more than anything, it was so unlike her. He thought about taking her down to the park, but the temperature was plummeting as the night became darker, and he could already see her breath starting to condensate.

You want to go back to my house? My parents are working, they won't rat you out. We can just hang out, get some warm drinks, watch some vidcasts or something.”

I'd like that,” she said, clutching his arm and leaning her head on his shoulder. “It’s probably the first place my parents would look, but I don't think they'll notice that I’m missing until the morning. By then, it won't matter. I just want to...spend this time with you.”

CHAPTER 3: A FLEETING MOMENT

They soon arrived at the residential skyscraper where Jamie lived, entering into the lobby, which occupied almost the entire ground floor. It was all towering pillars of concrete, glittering glass, and steel support beams. The entire core of the building was an open shaft that rose all the way to the roof some five hundred floors above, walkways crisscrossing high above their heads, bridging the various levels. Every twenty floors or so, there was a commercial plaza with stores where the occupants could go shopping, each one like a small mall in its own right.

The ground floor served as a terminal as much as a lobby, there were dozens of glass elevator shafts that would ferry their occupants up through the center of the building. Jamie led Liz over to the nearest one, and they stepped inside, the doors closing behind them as he tapped in the code for floor three-six-three. There was a subtle sensation of motion as they began to rise, Liz pressing her pink nose against the window to get a look at the lobby below, her breath steaming the glass. It wasn’t the first time that she had visited his apartment, but she always seemed fascinated by the elevators.

I always imagined that I’d live in an apartment one day,” she said, peering out at the city lights as they flashed by.

Most people who live in apartments fantasize about owning a house like yours,” he chuckled.

Who would want to live in a boring old house when you could live up here?” she added, leaning against the window as she watched one of the plazas fly past them. “What a view...”

The elevator came to a stop at their floor, and they stepped out, heading into one of the corridors that housed the apartments. They passed by door after door, until they eventually arrived at Jamie’s residence. He flashed his phone across a scanner in the frame, and the door opened for him, sliding into a recess in the wall. Jamie took off his coat, hanging it on a stand in the hallway, then helped Liz out of hers. The automatic heating had already kicked in, it was pretty toasty inside.

After briefly checking that his parents were indeed at work, Jamie led Liz into the living area, where she sat on a couch adjacent to the hearth. His apartment was far smaller than what she was accustomed to. It was open-plan, save for the bedrooms and the bathroom, the kitchen area separated from the rest of the room by a low wall. The living area had scarcely enough space for a pair of armchairs, a couch, and a coffee table. Jamie’s family was somewhat poorer than Liz’s. Their furnishings were more modest, and the carpets were on the floors, rather than the walls. Liz's father wouldn’t have even been able to stand erect in this house, if he could even fit through the front door. The entire right wall was taken up by a large window that looked out over the city, the view helping to disguise the limited floor space somewhat.

Jamie picked up a remote and turned on the fire, the glow of holographic flames filling the room, the heating element kicking out more warmth. Liz was wearing her baby-blue turtleneck sweater and a pair of sweatpants, but she still leaned a little closer as the fire licked at the plastic logs. Her people liked it hot.

You want a drink?” he asked, Liz nodding. “The usual?”

Please.”

He made his way over to the kitchen as she settled into the couch, setting the kettle boiling, and rummaging inside one of the cupboards for a teabag for himself. The water quickly began to heat, Jamie preparing two mugs, dropping a beef-flavored bouillon cube into Liz’s drink. It would dissolve to create a kind of meat-flavored broth, which was pretty much the only hot beverage she liked, as coffee and cocoa were too sweet for her.

He returned to the couch, handing Liz one of the steaming mugs, then sinking into the plush cushions beside her. The fire was crackling now, casting dancing shadows on the walls, its wavering light bathing the room in an orange glow. The lights in the apartment had already dimmed automatically to save energy, the relative gloom making the glow of the city beyond the wall-length window pop. The windows of the surrounding towers glittered, the light from headlights and street lamps on the road far below creating what looked like glowing rivers that weaved between them, the light pollution far too obscuring for them to make out the stars clearly.

You want to watch something?” Jamie asked, but Liz shook her head. She shuffled closer to him on the couch, leaning on his shoulder as she raised the hot beverage to her mouth to take a sip.

You remembered that I like the beef one,” she murmured, blowing the steam from her mug. They sat in silence for a little while, watching the holographic flames crackle, Jamie content to simply enjoy her company.

Jamie,” Liz began hesitantly, shifting her weight on the cushions beside him. “I've never said...I thought I'd have a lot more time...”

She leaned forward to set her cup down on the coffee table, the tip of her furry tail flicking back and forth in the way that it often did when she was nervous or indecisive.

You're pretty much the only boy who’s ever been nice to me,” she continued, staring into the flames. “The only guy who looks at me like I'm a person and not some oddity to be gawked at. Do you...” She seemed to shake her head almost imperceptibly, pulling away from him a little and leaning down to pick up her drink again. “What am I saying? We're so different...”

If there's something you want to tell me...”

Jamie trailed off, watching as she took another draw from her mug. The implication was this might be your last chance, but he didn't want to further sour the mood by bringing attention to that fact. It was already hanging over them like a storm cloud, and Jamie felt like he was holding a lightning rod, just waiting for that bolt to strike him.

Hell, I might never see you again after tonight,” she continued with a bitter chuckle. “What do I have to lose?”

Jamie waited for her to elaborate, watching as she took another sip from her steaming cup, his heart starting to beat faster. She averted her eyes as though afraid to look at him, staring out of the window at the glowing cityscape beyond.

Do you think...you could ever love someone like me?” she mumbled into the collar of her turtleneck. “I know that I look different from a human girl, I don't even know if a Borealan and a human could even...”

Jamie blinked at her, dumbstruck, not knowing what to say. Was this a confession?

Maybe I'm crazy, and you don't even feel attraction the same way I do,” she added hurriedly. “Maybe I'm like an animal to you, and you couldn't stand the thought of being with me, but I like you, Jamie. I've liked you for a long time. Damn it,” she sighed, her cheeks burning. “This wasn’t how I envisioned telling you all this, but if I don’t say this now...then when?”

He didn't know how to respond, his heart had started to race, and he couldn't think straight. It was as if a fog had rolled in over his brain, clouding his mind. She still hadn't looked in his direction yet, her eyes were glued to the window, Jamie watching her half-glimpsed reflection.

I understand if you don't feel the same way,” she continued. “I just wanted to tell you, is all. I wanted you to know how I felt about you. I don't know anything about love and relationships, I don't know how the human experience of sexuality and romance might differ from my own.” She laughed dryly again, her tone becoming almost self-deprecating. “Listen to me ramble. I guess at the end of the day, you either feel the same way, or you don't. I just wish...if I had known, I would have told you sooner. Maybe that would have been easier, maybe it would have made things hard-”

Jamie couldn’t take any more of this, reacting before he had even had a chance to think things through. He reached out to cup her burning cheek in his hand, turning her to face him, Liz blinking back at him as her green eyes reflected the wavering glow from the fire. She soon realized what he was doing as he guided her closer, one of her furry hands rising to grip his forearm, her lips meeting his own. Jamie had no real idea what he was doing, he had no more experience than Liz, but this felt...right.

As her initial surprise melted away, she parted her soft lips, uttering a murmur of desperate desire as she returned his clumsy embrace. Her need was tangible as she pressed closer to him, Jamie feeling her sharp claws prick him through the fabric of his hoodie as her hand came to rest on his chest. These emotions had been bottled up for so long, neither one of them daring to admit what had been obvious to them both, but her feelings were finally being requited.

Her tongue glanced his own as they let go of their hesitation, the taste of her saliva making his head spin, a hint of beef broth still lingering on her breath. He could feel her barbs glancing him, the flat of her tongue was coated in them, like those of a cat. They weren’t so rough as to be unpleasant, it merely added another layer of sensation, another surprise. It was such a strange feeling, so slippery and warm, her flesh as soft as velvet. He kept her warm cheek in his hand as the two explored one another, their fumbling strokes slowly growing more confident, sparks buzzing in Jamie’s brain as though someone was setting off fireworks in his skull.

Their lips parted as Liz drew back, peering up at him, batting her long lashes. She was breathing heavily now, her grip on his arm almost painful, the points of her claws digging into his skin through his sleeve.

Where the hell did that come from?” she panted, her cheeks flushed a deep shade of crimson.

You dumbass,” he replied breathlessly, “I’ve been in love with you since I was old enough to know what the term meant.”

She wrapped her arms around him, burying her face in the nape of his neck. He felt a wetness on his skin, tears of happiness this time, rather than sorrow.

I worried about it for so long,” she said, her voice muffled by his clothes. “All this time...and neither of us ever took the first step.” She pulled away again, peering up at him as she knelt on the couch at his side. “What the hell are we supposed to do now?”

Make the best of it while we can,” Jamie replied with a shrug.

Liz bit her lip with her sharp teeth, seeming conflicted, her tail flicking back and forth restlessly.

There's no time left to hesitate, and I'm tired of wondering, of worrying about what people think of me. If this one night is all we get, then so be it.”

Liz placed her hand on his chest, pushing him down to lie prone on the couch, Jamie’s eyes widening as she clambered atop him. She straddled him, her weight pressing him deeper into the cushions, her eyes now brimming with a confidence that he had never seen in her before.

I don't know how this is gonna work,” she whispered, “so let's find out.”

She pulled her sweater over her head, her blonde hair cascading over her shoulders as she tugged the garment free, discarding it on the carpet in front of the fire. She did the same with her undershirt, exposing her flat, lightly muscled belly. Jamie’s eyes wandered up her torso, finding a pair of pert breasts that were contained within a white bra, wobbling subtly as she shifted her weight.

Jamie had never seen Liz nude, and she had stopped visiting swimming pools with him when she had begun to develop into a young woman, becoming more self-conscious about her changing appearance. She really had lost all of the fur on her torso, leaving smooth, caramel-colored skin that was indistinguishable from that of a human. Her sandy coat ended at her elbows, giving the impression that she was wearing a pair of fuzzy gloves. Gone was the chubby little girl that he had once known. Liz was now lean, athletic, he could scarcely take his eyes off her.

She reached her arms behind her back and fumbled with the clasp on her bra, eventually succeeding at unhooking it, letting it fall away to expose her bare chest. Liz had really filled out, she had been hiding all of this under the heavy coats and sweaters that she liked to wear. Her breasts were just large enough to fill his hand, firm and perky, shaped like a pair of perfect teardrops. Pink nipples contrasted with her dusky skin, the way that her boobs gently rose and fell in time with her labored breathing igniting a fresh fire in him.

You can touch,” Liz said, her voice low and breathy. “I...I want you to touch me.”

Jamie reached up and cupped one of her breasts in a trembling hand, delving his fingers into flesh as soft as melting butter, Liz encouraging him as she let slip a quiet moan. He felt his growing erection press against the crotch of her sweatpants as her boob deformed in his grasp, spilling between his digits, her hard nipple pressing into his palm. Her skin was as smooth as satin, the firm tissue that gave her breasts their wonderful shape resisting him as he squeezed. Liz’s cheeks flushed pink again, and she began to roll her hips reflexively, grinding against the now conspicuous bulge in his jeans.

Feels good,” Liz muttered, her eyelids drooping as he brought his other hand to her chest. He cupped her breasts, weighing them in his palms, kneading them like a baker shaping a fresh ball of dough. Her spine arched in response, the subtle contours of her abdominal muscles flexing beneath her dusky skin.

Do you think we need to use protection?” Liz mumbled, placing her furry palms on the backs of his hands to encourage his gentle squeezing. “I don't think a human and a Borealan can...oh, what does it matter?”

She leaned down to press her pink lips against his, her claws pricking his skin as she cradled his face in her fluffy hand. She pushed her rough tongue into his mouth, her gentle explorations giving way to a newfound aggression, and it just kept coming. It was so impossibly long, her writhing coils bulging his cheeks. Even if they had both been experienced, their anatomical differences would have made things awkward, a pleasant shiver crawling down Jamie's spine as he did his best to meet her kiss. Their tongues entwined in a slippery spiral, Liz mouthing softly, painting his inner cheeks with her greedy strokes. Jamie could feel its tapered tip glancing the roof of his mouth, so dexterous that she could probably have written her name there. She broke away with a smack, breathing heavily, her warm breath tickling his neck.

Am I going too fast?” she asked, a flicker of doubt making her hesitate. “I know girls aren't supposed to take the lead. At least, they don’t in books or movies.”

Jamie ran a hand up the indent of her spine, sampling her warm, glass-smooth skin with his fingertips as he pulled her closer.

I don't care what girls are supposed to do,” he whispered, Liz blinking down at him. “I don't want other girls, I want you.”

She smirked, her cheeks flushing a deeper shade of red as she hovered over him, her pink nose an inch from his face.

Well, if that's the way you feel...”

Jamie inhaled sharply as he felt her slide a hand down between her legs, cupping the bulge in his jeans, and giving it a squeeze. She pushed her face into the nape of his neck, nuzzling, rubbing her feline nose against his skin.

There's just something about you that smells...right,” she murmured, her lashes fluttering as she breathed in his scent.

Liz was usually so meek, so unsure of herself. Jamie had never seen this side of her before, and he was starting to like it. He had wanted her for as long as he had understood what that meant, but he had never expected to have her, especially not like this. She wasn't a frightened little girl anymore, she was a woman, and she knew exactly what she wanted.

Jamie was spurred into action, struggling out of his hoodie as he lay on the couch beneath her, then pulling off his t-shirt to expose his torso. His love of sports meant that he spent the bulk of his free time at the track practicing for school competitions, giving him enough muscle tone to draw the attention of the girls in his classes, and their ire when he rejected them. He had a runner’s body, one that seemed to please Liz.

She eyed him covetously as she sat atop him, drinking in the contours of his svelte figure, admiring his youthful physique. She leaned in to plant a lingering kiss on his collarbone, sliding down the couch as she crawled her lips towards his belly, mouthing and licking as she went. It tickled, but he tried to keep still, his member straining against his pants as she slipped the tip of her warm tongue into his navel. She reached his belt, struggling to undo the clasp with her thick fingers, Jamie's excitement mounting as she succeeded in pulling it loose. She dragged down his zipper, then hooked her curved claws into his jeans, pulling them down along with his shorts. Jamie winced as his erection caught on the elastic waistband of his underwear, soon bouncing free to stand erect before Liz's burning face.

He was a tall guy, appropriately endowed, and he could almost hear Liz's heart pounding in her chest as her feline eyes played up and down its pulsing length. She reached out and pressed the spongy pad of her index finger against the tip, feeling it throb, and watching Jamie twitch in response.

W-what do I do?” she asked, swallowing conspicuously. “I'm supposed to put it in my mouth...right?”

If you want to,” Jamie replied, seeing stars as he imagined what that tongue might feel like winding its way around his member. “Just, uh...be gentle,” he added as he was reminded of her sharp teeth.

Liz gripped the shaft in her silken palm, wrapping her fingers around it, careful to keep her sharp claws out of the way. Her fur was so soft against his skin, it felt like she was wearing a mink glove. She traced a pulsing vein with the pad on her thumb, his member throbbing in her gasp like a second heart. He could see the desire in her glittering, emerald eyes, the way that her breathing grew more shallow as she inspected his alien organ. What did Borealans have between their legs? Was his member anything like those of her kind? Without any point of reference, would it even matter?

She tightened her grip, stroking Jamie's erection, sliding her silky fingers from his base to his tip. He balled his fists, an unbecoming whine escaping his lips. She was squeezing a little hard, but it was a pleasant pressure that sent jolts of electricity rolling up his spine, her slow massage captivating him. She glanced up at him, her smiling face bathed in the light from the fire.

Is that right?” she asked. “Does it feel good?”

He nodded, his breath coming in ragged bursts. He didn't know what else to do, so he just lay there, watching her. She grinned, returning her attention to his member. He saw her hesitate for a moment, as though she was mustering her courage, a waterfall of blonde hair falling about his hips as she drew closer. Her soft lips pressed against his glans, Liz planting a doting kiss, a surge of pleasure making him lurch. She must have taken his twitching as an invitation to continue, wrapping her lips around the tip of his member, dragging her tongue across it. He anticipated the roughness of her feline barbs, but it never came, Liz taking care to only stroke him with the velvety underside. The sensation was incomparable, flesh like silk soaked in warm saliva sliding across his most sensitive anatomy, his nerves alight with sensation.

Liz took him deeper into her mouth, the inner lining of her cheeks pressing around him, a gentle suction making them cling to his every contour. She curled her slippery tongue around his tender glans, sneaking it beneath his foreskin, painting his sensitive flesh. The stimulation was intense enough to make Jamie cover his face with his hands, his hips rising from the couch reflexively. It wasn’t just the raw, unfiltered pleasure that assailed him, it was the fact that Liz was its source. His head was swimming.

Damn, Liz,” he groaned. “That feels...don't stop.”

She looked up at him, holding the tip of his member between her lips, Jamie's heart skipping a beat as she made eye contact. She started to stroke again as she nursed softly at his head, careful not to catch his skin with her sharp teeth, her cheeks pressing around him like a pair of silk pillows. Her breasts had come to rest on his thighs, Jamie admiring the way that her supple fat spilled over them. He reached down to delve his fingers into her long, blonde hair, pushing aside the golden strands like a curtain so that he could better see her face. She had always been so close to him, yet just out of reach. Now, he could touch her in all the ways that he had longed to.

He felt a pressure welling inside him that he couldn't stem, his heartbeat quickening, his muscles tensing as his hips rose from the cushions. His back arched involuntarily, Liz placing her hands on his hips to keep him from bucking into her mouth.

Fuck, Liz,” he grunted through gritted teeth. “I’m gonna-”

The sweet ache of an orgasm took him by surprise, a wave of tingling pleasure washing over him, his member throbbing between Liz’s pursed lips. She did her best to hang on as he bucked, leaning more of her weight on his hips, pushing him down into the couch so that he couldn’t push into her throat. His abdominal muscles burned with the effort, Liz’s eyes widening as she was fed a mouthful of his warm, gelatinous emission. A thick rope of his seed hit the roof of her mouth, splashing against her tongue, but she didn’t pull away. She held him between her lips, watching him with drooping eyelids as he squirmed on the couch, her claws leaving pink indents in his skin. It felt like someone was pulling a knotted rope out of him. He was so wonderfully aware of every pulse, each fresh surge of unfiltered pleasure sending him reeling.

Through the haze of his euphoria, he felt her tongue circle his glans, sliding in the sordid blend of her saliva and his fluids. Every doting stroke sent fresh bolts of harsh pleasure flowing through his body, the intense sensations gradually fading, afterglow drowning him in its bliss. He felt Liz swallow around him, and he opened his eyes look down at her apologetically, his face beet red.

S-sorry, I didn't-”

Hush,” she cooed, pulling back and wiping her mouth on her furry forearm. “It felt good, right?”

That was...that felt more than good, Liz,” he chuckled weakly. He lay back on the couch, loosing a satisfied sigh as he watched tiny points of light dance on the ceiling above.

It tasted bad,” she giggled, cutting him off before he could apologize again. “But I liked it, because it came from you.”

She let him catch his breath, watching him covetously, chewing on her lower lip. It wasn’t long before she crawled up on top of him again, eager for more. Jamie reached up and placed his hands on her hips, sliding them up the hourglass curve of her waist, her tanned skin as smooth as satin. The wavering firelight accentuated the contours of her muscles, her midriff flexing at his touch, the beginnings of a six-pack rising to meet his questing fingers. For someone who seemed so averse to competitive sports, she was in better shape than any of the girls in his class.

He made his way up to her breasts again, taking generous handfuls, delighting in the way that her delicate fat bulged between his fingers when he squeezed. Liz rolled her head back, her long hair falling down her spine, reveling in the sensation.

She slipped off him suddenly, standing beside the couch, hooking her thumbs around the elastic waistband of her sweatpants as she pulled them down. She stepped out of them, almost tripping in her haste, steadying herself against the armrest as she struggled to kick the garment clear of her clawed feet. The sandy fur that covered her lower legs ended just below her knees, leaving her thighs as smooth as varnished wood, more springy muscle dimpling their surface. She hesitated for a moment as though unsure of herself, then leaned over to pull her cotton panties down around her ankles. She stood before Jamie as he sat upright on the couch, her curvy figure silhouetted against the fireplace, her fluffy tail waving back and forth behind her.

His eyes wandered down between her legs, seeing that her mound was just as smooth and as clear as her thighs. There was only a tuft of silky, golden fur, far finer than pubic hair. He felt a surge of desire as he admired her naked form, the orange glow from the hearth behind her bleeding through the gap between her thighs.

She shuffled back over to the couch, lying down beside him, her head propped up on the armrest. Her thighs remained tightly closed, her cheeks as red as he had ever seen them.

Jamie,” she murmured, “I want you to...”

He got the picture, rising to kneel before her. He placed his hands on her knees, Liz covering her face with her fluffy hands as he exposed her, the blushing feline peeking down at him between her fingers. Jamie slid his hands down the silky-smooth surface of her inner thighs as he opened her legs, firm muscle tensing beneath tanned skin.

Liz wriggled as he leaned down to plant a kiss on her hip, his lips lingering on her soft skin. It was impossible to resist brushing his cheek against her thigh, Jamie feeling a fluttering in his belly as he contemplated returning the favor.

An inch beneath his nose was a pair of puffy labia, flushed pink with desire. She yelped as he gently splayed them with his fingers, exposing folds of rosy flesh like pleated satin. She was so moist, beads of her excitement clinging to her loins like droplets of dew to the petals of a flower, the firelight making her glisten. There was nothing out of place here, she looked about the same as a human woman was supposed to.

D-don't stare at it,” she mumbled from behind her furry hands.

Jamie didn't really know what to do with her. Her loins were a maze of folds and creases, leaking clear fluid that made his fingers slippery. He brought his lips to hers, licking her tentatively, grazing her vulva with his tongue. She was fever-hot, her juices making her slick, her taste reminding him of their kiss. Liz rolled her hips, bucking against his mouth in response, and Jamie felt a trembling hand seek purchase in his hair. There wasn’t enough there for her to grip, so she just lay her hand on the top of his head, her claws pricking his scalp. Jamie continued his explorations, his heart pounding as he dragged his tongue between her lips, feeling her entire body shiver at his touch.

A powerful desire to please her welled up inside him as he heard a muffled moan from somewhere above, her silky thighs brushing his cheeks as he pressed on, teasing her with another doting lick. He wanted to kiss her, taste her, the urge was overpowering. Liz’s clawed toes began to curl, tearing at the fabric of the couch as he traced her every fold with the tip of his tongue.

He found a firm nub of flesh buried beneath a hood of pink skin, her clitoris, he surmised. He gave it a gentle lick, Liz jerking as though she had been electrocuted, her hips rising from the cushions as she sucked in a gasp of air.

F-fuck! Not so fast!”

S-sorry,” Jamie stammered, lifting his head to look up at her over her mound. “Did it hurt?”

No...it felt good,” she said sheepishly, her breasts shifting with the rapid rise and fall of her chest. “Just slow it down a little.”

He resumed his licking and mouthing, spreading her lips with his fingers, trying to gauge where she wanted him to focus his attention. There was an opening towards the bottom, twitching in invitation, and he pressed a fingertip against it. Liz tensed up as he gently pushed inside, Jamie glancing up at her face to make sure that her expression was one of pleasure.

He felt slick, hot muscles close around his digit as he pressed deeper, squeezing as though her body was trying to push him back out. The texture of her walls was like that of her inner cheeks, velvet-soft, soaked in her slippery fluids. She was unexpectedly strong, her passage massaging his finger with rippling contractions, drawing on him like a mouth.

She was so sensitive, he could feel her insides responding to every twitch of his finger, her muscles seizing around him. He was the first person to ever touch her like this…

Liz loosed a comely whine as he buried his finger up to the knuckle, beginning to stroke her walls as they fought against him, teasing her inner thighs with kisses and licks as he went. She had draped an arm over her face, covering her eyes as she gasped and squirmed, her hips jumping with each flick of his tongue. As he tried to withdraw his digit, her insides clung to it, what felt like rings of muscle bearing down on him through the barrier of her wet flesh. He broke the suction, then pushed back inside, finding a teasing rhythm that made her rock back against his hand in search of more stimulation. Her breathing became less regular, coming in ragged, short bursts as she arched her back in time with his thrusts.

He pursed his lips around her swollen clitoris, drawing on it gently, circling it with his tongue. She yelped and jumped, her tunnel contracting around his finger with a strength that almost hurt. Her juices were flowing now, leaking from her in a steady stream of viscous, slimy liquid that seeped around Jamie's finger. He could feel the heat from her loins on his face, beads of sweat welling on her coffee-colored skin, making her writhing body gleam in the firelight.

Is it good?” he asked, pausing his mouthing for a moment. “Should I keep going?”

She peeked down at him from beneath her furry arm, peering between her pert breasts, their flesh quivering like mounds of jello with every ragged breath that she took.

I...I like it...don't stop...”

With a smile, he returned his mouth to her loins, painting her vulva with his tongue. His lips sealed around her engorged bud once more, Jamie teasing her with doting licks and quick flurries that left her gasping. She wrapped her thighs around his head, pressing his cheeks into the subtle layer of fat that made them so soft and inviting, firm muscle rising up from beneath it as she flexed. Her fuzzy tail coiled around his forearm, her other hand coming to rest on his head, Liz loosing a growl that reminded him of a lion cub. It wasn’t a sign that he should stop, quite the opposite, Jamie redoubling his efforts.

He moved his finger more rapidly, her velvet insides clinging to it like a second skin, the suction surprising him. It was only thanks to the glaze of slippery juices that coated his skin that he felt able to move it all, so powerful was her grip. Her legs began to tremble against his cheeks as he dragged the flat of his tongue across her clitoris, squeezing his head. He had never realized just how strong she was before now, he was almost worried that she might pop his skull open like a cantaloupe. She doubled over and dug her claws into his back, but he endured their sting, feeling the hot panting of her breath on the back of his neck. Her whole body was shivering as she clung to him, this new position giving him a wonderful view of her abs as they tensed beneath her flat tummy.

Fuck Jamie, don't stop!” she whined, her loud demand trailing off into a pained whisper. “I'm gonna come...”

Hearing her say his name like that, her voice dripping with desire, it drove him crazy. He plunged deeper and faster into her sopping tunnel, increasing his pace, curling his finger inside her. She grunted, raking her claws up his back as her orgasm tore through her body, her loins gripping him with the strength of a fist. He could feel every ripple, her every gasp and grunt reflected in the rapid clenching of her insides, rivulets of sweat drenching her dusky skin. The taste of her salty sweat blended with that of her loins, a haze of lust drowning out any doubt, her desperate panting the most wonderful thing that he had ever heard.

She clung to him as she rode out her climax, Jamie ignoring the pain in his back. She shuddered and convulsed around him as he licked softly, drawing out every last jolt of ecstasy that he could, the cramps of pleasure that wracked her body slowly winding down.

Liz released her hold on him as she collapsed back onto the couch, gulping down gasping breaths, her shivering body shining with exertion. Jamie shuffled closer, lying down beside her as she slowly recovered, his renewed erection pressing into her thigh. She drew closer to him, rolling over so that she could bury her face in the nape of his neck. She was so much shorter than him, her head barely reached his chin. He played his fingers up and down her spine as she wallowed in her afterglow, feeling the warmth of her slick skin, Liz shivering contentedly at his every touch.

Sorry, did I scratch your back?” she mumbled. She pressed her puffy lips against his shoulder, giving him an apologetic kiss.

A little, but don’t worry about it,” he replied as he combed his fingers through her golden hair.

She wrapped a furry arm around his waist and drew herself closer, as though she was trying to bury herself in his arms, her tail coiling around his leg possessively.

Tell me that you love me, Jamie,” she mumbled. Her voice was so quiet, as though she was afraid that some invisible bystander might be eavesdropping. “I want to hear it again...”

He whispered it into her furry ear, and she shivered with glee, rubbing her face against his chest like a cat. At least for a while, they could pretend that nothing else mattered. They could make believe that they were alone in the world, and that nothing outside of this room existed, that no heartbreak awaited them. Jamie's fears and anxieties melted away as she lay in his arms, her soft breasts squashing up against his chest, the rhythm of her gentle breathing calming him.

They stayed like that for a while, cuddling on the couch in front of the fire, enjoying the tail-end of their post-coital bliss. Just when Jamie was starting to worry that Liz had fallen asleep, he felt her fluffy fingers slide down his belly, gripping his still throbbing shaft.

Let's go all the way,” she whispered eagerly, giving his throat a gentle bite with her pointed teeth. That prior aggression had resurfaced again, she was demanding, raring to go. “I want to do it in a bed, though. I don’t want my first time to be on a couch.”

Jamie nodded, then rose to his feet, taking her by the hand as he pulled her up off the couch. She followed behind him on shaky legs as he led her across the apartment, pushing open the door to his bedroom. It was tiny compared to her own, with only a single bed, one wall taken up by a window that looked out over the city. There was a dresser for his clothes, and a desk with a computer terminal, but that was about it. The walls were adorned with posters and pennants, all of them flying the colors of school sports teams, a solitary shelf displaying a few trophies and ribbons.

It was so surreal. They had played together in this room as children, they had curled up on that bed, watching vidcasts together as adolescents. Now, they were both completely nude, their bodies still shining with the sweat of their last encounter. Jamie felt like he was dreaming as he watched her saunter over to the bed, his eyes lingering on her shapely rear, his heart swelling in anticipation of what was to come.

She took the initiative, sitting on the edge of his mattress, reaching out a hand to him in invitation. There was hunger in her eyes now, the vulnerability that he was so accustomed to had vanished, her gaze zeroing in on his erection. He approached, sitting on the sheets beside her, his member pulsing in his lap.

Lie back,” Liz said, placing a hand on his chest as she encouraged him to lie down. “I don't know why, but I feel like...I just want to be on top.”

Jamie saw no reason to protest, his excitement mounting as Liz crawled on top of him, his eyes following a bead of her anticipation as it leaked down her inner thigh.

God, I've wanted this for so long,” she murmured. She straddled him, positioning herself over his twitching erection, a bead of his precum welling at the tip. “I don't really understand it, but I just want...I need to make you mine. Maybe it’s some Borealan thing, I don’t know. Does that make sense?”

Whatever you need,” Jamie stammered, resting a hand on the curve of her hip as she hovered over him. She was so close, her flushed lips poised a scant inch above his member as it pulsed in the air. “Neither one of us really knows what we’re doing, so just follow your gut.”

Reassured, she reached down between her thighs, Jamie wincing as she gripped his shaft in her hand. She angled his glans between her lips, rubbing the sensitive head against her vulva, coating it in her fluids. Her eyelids fluttered, Liz biting her lower lip as Jamie took handfuls of the sheets, a stab of pleasure rocking him.

Don't push into me,” she warned, strands of her blonde hair sticking to her burning face. “Let me set the pace.”

Jamie did as she asked, trying to lie still, worried that he might hurt her. His member looked so large in comparison to her smaller frame, and it was a struggle to resist the instinctual urge to thrust. He had heard that it was sometimes painful for girls to lose their virginity, but Liz didn't seem to be holding back. Perhaps Borealan anatomy was a little different from that of a human.

She slowly lowered herself down onto his erection, keeping his shaft in her hand, guiding him towards her opening. He gasped as he felt her delicate folds embrace him, hot, wet flesh brushing against his tender tip. A ring of muscle greeted him, one that was tight enough to give them both pause. Would it even fit? The unspoken question was soon answered as his glans slipped inside her, the pillowy walls of her passage encompassing him on all sides.

He grimaced, his breath catching in his throat as her luxurious insides glided down his shaft, every wrinkle and contour leaping to the forefront of his mind. Her feverish heat permeated him, wet muscle sliding against his skin as her body shifted to accommodate his girth, coiling around his length. Almost in one smooth motion, Liz lowered herself down onto him, swallowing him to the hilt. They cried out in unison, shuddering as their bodies were joined, their organs interlocking as though they had been designed to fit together. They froze up, each too afraid to move lest the stimulation overwhelm them. Jamie hadn’t been prepared for this, she was gripping him like a vice. It felt like a strip of hot, damp silk was being tightly wound around his buried member.

Oh God, Jamie,” Liz moaned, her sultry voice making his heart leap. “I can feel your heartbeat inside me.”

She leaned more of her weight on him, planting her furry hands on his chest, her mane of golden hair tickling his skin as it fell about his face. Her muscles undulated around him, massaging his member as they rippled and squirmed in response to his intrusion. She was so wet, her nectar leaking around his pulsing shaft, her insides almost hot enough to be uncomfortable. He flexed involuntarily, his shaft expanding in her depths, splaying those satin walls apart. She loosed a low, sordid whine as a tremor rocked her, shivering on top of him.

Damn it,” Jamie hissed through gritted teeth. “Try not to move too much...I'm still sensitive from the last time.”

Sorry,” she murmured, her thighs tightening around him. “I can’t help it.”

Jamie's body wasn't obeying his commands either. He had to fight to keep his hips from rising up into her, they couldn't just stay mated like this forever, it was maddening. To his relief, Liz began to move her hips. She proceeded slowly, hesitantly, her gentle rocking followed by low sighs and sharp yelps as his member shifted inside her. Her face was practically glowing red, beads of sweat dripping down her tanned skin as she shuffled and winced. Her pace slowly began to increase, her earlier uncertainty giving way to her lust. Perhaps it was getting easier for her. Maybe she was becoming accustomed to the sensation of having him lodged inside her.

Seeing those perfect, teardrop breasts swaying gently with her every thrust was more than he could resist, Jamie reaching up to cup them in his hands. Like melting wax, they yielded before his fingers, her engorged nipples pressing into his palms as he kneaded them. He felt her tighten in response, her loins narrowing around him as his digits probed her velvet fat. Her eyes snapped shut as she rode him, as though she was trying to block out any superfluous sensory information so as not to overload her brain. Her claws pricked him again, leaving red indents in his skin, but he didn't mind. In fact, he was starting to enjoy it when she scratched him. It meant that she was losing control of herself.

Jamie felt Liz grip his wrists, pulling them away from her chest, and pinning them to the bed.

Lay off,” she grumbled, “you’re gonna make me come too fast...”

She wouldn't have been strong enough to subdue him, but he humored her, letting the smaller girl hold him down as she started to grind in earnest. She rolled her hips, driving his stiff member against her undulating walls, growing more eager by the second. She seemed to revel in the sensation of his shaft rubbing against her reaches, shifting her position like she was trying to scratch an itch.

Jamie was suddenly aware of how heavily he was breathing, how fast his heart was racing, tingling pleasure dancing through his entire body like sparks of electricity.

I didn't know...I could feel...this good,” Liz panted, baring her pointed teeth as she gyrated on his shaft. She was so tight that it was almost painful, her powerful pelvic floor muscles clinging to him, every twitch and ripple of her insides translating into his member. It was like their bodies had become one, their nervous systems patched together such that every shiver and flex was shared.

She leaned down and pressed her pointed teeth against his neck, not hard enough to hurt, but enough to leave red marks on his skin. He heard a low rumble emanate from deep within her throat, the pitch too high to be intimidating, more like the growl of a kitten. She was gripping his wrists like he might try to escape, her thighs closed tightly around his hips, Jamie’s eyes rolling back into his head as she kissed his shoulder apologetically.

Jamie, I...I don't know what's come over me,” she stammered as she rose up to a sitting position again. She gazed down at him with what could only be described as longing, bringing a sharp claw to her mouth, chewing on it like a nervous human might bite a nail. “You're so cute, and I want you so badly it burns. I want to...to bite, to taste blood.”

She rose on his shaft until only his glans was still lodged inside her, her tunnel clinging to him tightly, her burning flesh sliding against his skin. Her colorless juices seeped down her thighs as she waited there for a moment, then she let herself drop, driving him deep into her innermost reaches. She rolled her head back, loosing a drawn-out sigh, Jamie grunting as the springs of the mattress creaked beneath him.

My body feels so...hot. I'm on fire, Jamie,” she whined, pleading as though he alone had the power to relieve her.

Were these her Borealan warrior instincts rising to the surface? She had spent all of her formative years in the company of humans, and according to her parents, she didn't even know what it meant to be a Borealan. Yet now, his childhood friend was trying to wrestle him into submission, the girl that had been so afraid to confess her feelings was biting at his throat like a wild beast. He didn't find it unpleasant, quite the contrary. It was a wonderful thing to feel so wanted, to have the girl that he had dreamed about for so many years losing her composure as she straddled him, for Liz to want him so desperately that it drove her wild.

She seemed to sense the pleasant shiver that rolled through his body, gazing down at him with her emerald eyes, now bleary and unfocused.

Liz...I'm already yours,” Jamie said, smiling up at her. “I always have been. Do whatever makes you feel good.”

She replied with an incoherent murmur, a sentence half-spoken, cut off by a muffled exclamation of passion. Liz leaned closer, cradling his face in her fluffy hands, a curtain of blonde hair falling over him. She drew him in for a hurried kiss, her claws pricking his cheeks as her long, sinuous tongue pushed past his lips.

Damn it, Jamie,” she mumbled, trying in vain to talk around her organ as it coiled inside his mouth. “I'll come back, I don't care what it takes. I'll come back, and I'll find you, because you're mine. My human, my Jamie.”

He winced as he felt her resume her thrusting, Liz making circular motions with her hips, stirring him around inside her. The way that her body moved was mesmerizing, her dusky skin gleaming with sweat in the glow from the fire, light and shadow accentuating the details of her lightly-muscled frame as she danced atop him. Her winding tongue tickled the back of his throat as her greedy kiss dragged on, Liz pouring her affection into every clumsy stroke, taking brief pauses to catch her breath.

Jamie ran his hands up and down her spine, hugging her tightly as she writhed, feeling her silky skin glide against his own on a sheen of their shared exertion. His hand roamed down to her butt, taking a generous handful of her springy cheek, squeezing her flesh between his fingers. Liz broke away from their embrace, growling like an animal, her lips still linked to his by a glittering strand of saliva.

She sank her teeth into his shoulder, breaking the skin. It hurt, but Jamie was too out of it to care, the dull sting of her bite quickly drowned out by the waves of pleasure. Her tongue left her mouth to lap at the red mark she had left in his skin, sampling the small trickle of crimson. Its taste seemed to invigorate her, and she rose up to a sitting position, making teasing loops with her hips that left him dazed.

Those green eyes roamed down his torso, Liz wetting her lips, watching his shining body writhe between her thighs. Jamie lurched as he felt her curved claws prick his chest, Liz dragging them from his collar to his navel, applying just enough pressure to leave red welts in their wake. It stung, but the sensation made him more aware, somehow more sensitive. The fleshy pads on the ends of her fingers stroked his belly, tracing the contours of his abs, Liz resting a hand on his stomach as she enjoyed the way that they flexed in time with her thrusting.

As a new wave of lust overcame her, she upped the pace, beginning to bounce in his lap. She lay a furry hand on his chest to stabilize herself, sliding up his shaft, then letting gravity carry her back down again. Jamie could hear the slap of their bodies connecting, this new, more aggressive tempo quickly pushing them both closer to their limits. Sweat dripped from her shining skin, her panting punctuated by sultry gasps and moans.

Liz cupped one of her wobbling breasts in her hand, beginning to knead it, rolling her firm nipple between the fleshy pads of her fingers. Jamie reached up and batted her hand away, taking its place, delving his digits into the yielding globe as Liz uttered a bestial groan in response. He rose to a sitting position, bringing one of her boobs to his mouth, sucking her nipple between his lips.

Fuck, Jamie,” Liz groaned. For a fleeting moment, he worried that he might have been too rough, but the way that she pushed out her chest to encourage his groping assuaged his concerns. He kept up his kneading, teasing her sensitive breast tissue with his fingertips, feeling her doughy flesh fill his palm. It was like shaping wet clay, Jamie struggling to keep hold of her damp, slippery skin. Her sweat made her lithe body glisten in the low light, as though she had just climbed out of a swimming pool, her every motion making the droplets that misted her dusky skin sparkle.

He snorted like a bull as a powerful desire overtook in him. He wanted to taste every inch of her body, to know her inside and out in the ways that only a lover could. She cradled his head in her furry hand as he mouthed and sucked, trapping her nipple between his teeth, circling it with his tongue. He could taste the salt of her sudor, the sweet scent of her exertion filling his nose, something about it tickling the back of his brain.

They found a punishing rhythm together, Jamie pushing up to meet her downward thrusts, their gleaming bodies crashing together. The heat of it was maddening, the friction, their muscles burning with the effort. They clung to each other, entwined in a frantic embrace as they drove one another closer and closer to the edge, pausing their kissing only to take gasping breaths. Liz raked his broad back with her sharp claws, gripping him as though he might wish to escape, finding purchase on his slippery skin where dull human fingers could not.

Some of Jamie’s friends had talked about sex before, describing how good it felt between bouts of adolescent grandstanding, but nothing could have prepared him for this. He felt like his nerves were extending beyond the boundary of his skin, his body melting into Liz’s, his conscious mind taking a back seat to his primal impulses.

Liz's burning loins contracted around him, the slippery muscles massaging the length of his member inside her as though their very purpose was to ensnare him. He was like a fly caught in a trap, drowning in her sweet nectar. She pushed her face into the nape of his neck as though trying to bury it, nuzzling against his skin, the strands of her damp hair sticking to him.

I can't hang on,” she whined, Jamie feeling her warm breath as her lips brushed his ear. He jerked as she sank her claws deeper into his back, hugging him tightly, possessively. “I can't stand this pressure inside me, I need...I have to...”

She trailed off as she anchored herself to his neck with her teeth, tears welling in her eyes as emotion overcame her. He winced, but the pleasure of their intense coupling was so overwhelming that he couldn't bring himself to push her away.

What had she said earlier? Was it really okay to do this without a condom? Surely different species couldn’t reproduce? It wasn't as if they could take a time out right now, regardless.

The walls of her warm, slick tunnel were milking him with intent now, running up and down his shaft like fingers clad in damp satin as she quivered and flexed. She was slamming down on him with such ferocity that his hips were starting to go numb, each desperate thrust sending a surge of tingling pleasure shooting up his spine, like pulses of light through an optical cable.

He remembered how she had reacted when he had licked her clitoris, and he wet his thumb with his tongue, reaching between her legs as she ground against his shaft. He found the firm protrusion, pressing his digit against it, feeling her shudder in his arms. She tightened around his member, a primal grunt escaping her lips as they locked against his shoulder, her pace becoming erratic. She loosed another carnal moan as she drove him as deep as he could reach, Jamie bottoming out inside her, feeling her lithe frame convulse.

Did that hurt?” Jamie asked, watching her shiver. He slowed his thrusting a little, Liz hanging her head, her damp hair tickling his chest.

No, don't slow down!” she snarled. “Keep hitting me like that, right there...”

She sounded almost angry, growling into his ear as he rubbed her mound with his thumb. He lifted his rump from the sodden sheets to meet another of her thrusts, and she took his member up to the hilt, slamming his glans into her weak spot.

Oh f-” Liz's curse caught in her throat as Jamie gripped her hips in his hands, using the leverage to pull her down onto his throbbing shaft, a rolling shudder passing through her body as he impaled her. “God Jamie...right there, right there!”

Are you close?” he demanded, gritting his teeth. He couldn't keep this up, there was an urgent pressure welling in his loins, a building ecstasy that he couldn’t contain for much longer. The two were locked in a ruthless feedback loop, climbing towards an inevitable peak, every thrust sending them spiraling ever higher.

Mhmm,” she moaned, nodding her head as she drove him into the creaking mattress. “I’m gonna...oh God...”

He had expected her to cry out, but instead, her climax was preceded by a soft mewl that made his heart skip a beat. Her squirming body locked up, Liz wrapping her arms and her prehensile tail around him, clinging to him as a burst of unbearable pleasure rocked her. Her eyes squeezed shut, her breath catching in her throat, her thighs clamping down on him with surprising strength. She was shivering in his arms as though she had just crawled out of a frozen lake, yet her wet skin was feverish to the touch, her face and chest flushed a shade of blushing crimson.

The velvet walls of her passage undulated around his shaft, every jolt of pleasure that ravaged her beleaguered body joined by a powerful contraction, like a fist was reaching through the barrier of her damp flesh to wring him. It quickly pushed Jamie over the edge, and he soon joined her in her ecstasy, another of her wracking tremors forcing a thick rope of his emission from him. His member flexed and throbbed in her reaches, each spasm driving fresh whimpers from Liz's pursed lips.

Now, it was his turn to dig his nails into her back, his mind going blank as he shot thick spurts of his ejaculate into her beckoning tunnel. Her mouth opened in a silent cry as she felt the warmth of his seed flood her, Jamie lifting her from the bed with each thrust, the pitiless stroking of her muscles easing more out of him. It never seemed to end, every squeeze of her rippling passage provoking another dizzying wave of pleasure.

They remained that way for what felt like minutes, questing hands wandering across skin drenched in their shared sweat, the sound of panting breath filling the tiny bedroom. Liz's eyelids were fluttering, her pupils rolling back into her head as seemingly endless jolts of seething pleasure short-circuited her nervous system. They continued to move together, unable to help themselves as their bodies tried in vain to copulate, their minds completely lost in their haze of lust and afterglow. When the intensity finally began to subside, his exhausted partner collapsed on top of him, Jamie keeping his arms wrapped tightly around her waist as he held her close.

As if awakening from a dream, Liz finally focused her eyes on Jamie, peering up at him as she lay her head on his chest. Her cheeks were beet-red, her sweat gluing her golden hair to her forehead, her lips curled into a satisfied smile. He pumped one final, thick glob of his emission into her, bucking reflexively to force it deeper. She shivered, sighing as an aftershock rippled through her, utterly spent. She laughed suddenly, an exhausted, post-coital giggle that he couldn’t help but smile at.

My parents would be so mad if they knew what we were doing,” she chuckled, a contented purr escaping her lips as Jamie ran his hand down her spine. “Sorry I bit you,” she added, kissing his neck near the red indents where her teeth had broken his skin. “I don’t know what came over me.”

It’s alright,” Jamie replied sheepishly, “I kind of liked it.”

When are your parents due back?” Liz asked, a flicker of worry crossing her face. “Can we...stay like this? I want to spend the night with you.”

Nobody will be home until late in the morning, at least,” he replied confidently. “Mom is working the night shift down at the hospital, and Dad won’t be back until the weekend.”

Jamie rolled over onto his side, pulling Liz with him, the two of them cuddling on the sullied bed sheets. He slowly pulled out of her, and they both gazed down at the mess they had created together, a sordid blend of their fluids leaking from her flushed lips to pool on her thigh.

I can feel it inside me,” Liz giggled, rubbing her mound gently with a padded finger. “I know that we can’t...y’know,” she added, trailing off as the thought made her blush. “Different species can’t reproduce, but it still feels...right. Does that make any sense?”

She cooed happily as Jamie gave his reply in the form of a placating kiss, their tongues intertwining, the warmth of their afterglow still lingering long after they were spent. He reached down to pull a blanket over their naked bodies, the two lovers wriggling closer together, their shared heat pooling beneath the sheets. They were drenched in sweat, and other, more sordid fluids, but neither one of them cared.

Liz,” Jamie began. “Tomorrow, when you have to-”

She pressed a furry finger against his lips.

Shush, don't spoil it,” she whispered. “Right now, all that matters is you and me. Tomorrow won't come, it can't. I won't let it.”

Tears welled in her green eyes, and Jamie wiped them away, pressing closer to embrace her again. She clung to him desperately, this kiss more passionate, more urgent than the last. When they broke off, Liz nestled her face in the nape of his neck, clinging to him as though she never intended to let him go.

Let me sleep like this,” she breathed. Her voice was low and soft, but Jamie could hear a waver in her tone, and it made his heart ache. He wanted to find the right words to comfort her, but she had asked him to pretend that this night would last forever, as though the sun would somehow be prevented from rising through the sheer force of their will.

I’m so glad I finally got to have you, Jamie.”

After a few minutes of silence, her breathing became more regular, Jamie realizing that she had fallen asleep in his arms. His mind quickly began to wander to thoughts of what would happen the next morning, but he fought them back, taking a leaf out of her book. Don’t think about it, just enjoy this while you can...

Before long, he had joined her.

***

Jamie awoke to bright sunlight pouring in through the window. He sat up on his bed, shielding his eyes against the glare as he blinked groggily. The sheets were sticking to him, he was covered in stale sweat, along with other fluids. Both his own, and Liz’s…

Where was Liz? His heart began to beat faster as he looked around the room, but he couldn’t see her. She wasn’t in bed, had she gone to the bathroom to wash up? He slid off the mattress, pulling on a pair of jeans. There would be plenty of time to shower later. Right now, he wanted to say his goodbyes to Liz before she…no, he didn’t even want to think about it.

As he made for the door, he noticed a sheet of paper taped to the panel. A pit formed in his stomach as he recognized Liz’s immaculate handwriting, reaching up to tear it down, his eyes scanning the looping text.

Dearest Jamie,

Last night was the most magical night of my life. I’m sorry that I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye to you in person. I’m not strong enough, it hurts too much. I hope you can forgive me for running away. By the time you read this, I will probably be on my way to the spaceport with my parents. I’ve loved you since I was a little girl, and I always will. I’m so sorry that you had to fall in love with me, of all people, and I’m sorry that I put you through all of this. I’m sorry that I never told you how I felt about you sooner, we might have had more time together.

I’ll always love you, Jamie, and if there’s a way to get back to you, I will find it.

Forever yours, Lizka.

The ink was blotchy here and there, she must have been crying. Jamie felt his own eyes start to moisten, his chest tightening as stinging tears began to roll down his cheeks.

Idiot,” he muttered to himself, his fingers tightening around the paper. “You didn’t even stay long enough for me to tell you what an idiot you are.” He wanted to hold her, to tell her how stupid she was to apologize. He wanted to tell her that he had loved every moment that he had spent with her, that he woke up each morning with a spring in his step because he knew that he would get to see Liz. He wouldn’t trade those years away to lessen the pain that he felt right now, not a chance.

Jamie sank to his knees and wept.

CHAPTER 4: WORLDS APART

It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

That was the line that Jamie’s father had fed him, followed by a lecture about how he shouldn’t mope and how he needed to come out of his room because he was missing practice. Everyone treated their relationship like puppy love, a phase that Jamie would grow out of, as though the connection that he and Liz had shared hadn’t been genuine. It made him bitter and angry on top of being heartbroken by Liz’s absence. He had rushed to her house as soon as he had composed himself enough to wash and dress, but had found the building empty. She really had gone, off to a planet that was over seventy light-years away for an indeterminate period of time, maybe forever.

Her absence had left a hole in his life that could not be filled. He had other friends, but none in whom he could confide in the way that he had with Liz. She was his best friend, nobody knew him better than she did, and there was simply no replacing that kind of closeness. Whenever he was upset, he found comfort in her company, but she was no longer there.

As the days turned to weeks, her absence did not grow any easier to bear. Still, he held out a faint hope that she might find a way to get in contact. If she still had her phone, there would be no way to reach it, as there was no coverage off-planet. Any messages that were sent had to be transmitted through conventional means, by laser or radio, which would be subject to light-speed delay.

Jamie had paid enough attention in physics class to understand the basics of how FTL travel worked. Jump-capable ships could bypass the speed of light by leapfrogging between dimensions, covering dozens of light-years in a single bound, then coasting while their drive recharged. If they were twenty light-years away, and they sent a transmission via tight-beam laser, it would take a minimum of twenty years to arrive at its destination. Taking a trip on a jump liner wasn’t like taking a flight to Hawaii for a vacation, either. A journey from Earth to Borealis was seventy-five light-years, and it could take months depending on the speed of the ship. Liz probably hadn’t even arrived yet.

In order for different colonies and planets to stay in contact, they employed quantum communications, entangled satellites that could only transmit short bursts of data. Civilian messages could sit in the buffer for enormous lengths of time while higher-priority transmissions were bumped up the queue, so there was no telling when he might hear from Liz, assuming that Borealis was even equipped with such a satellite. Any message that he sent her would be similarly delayed, but it wasn’t like he had her new address anyway. He had her email, but that server was located on Earth, and she would have to wait in the queue for both buffers before she could access it.

Freighters often carried mail between planets as part of their cargo, as long as the sender didn’t mind their message taking six months to arrive, but he had no idea where Liz was going.

He considered running away, booking passage to the planet on a freighter, but the idea was both absurd and financially impossible. Even if he sold everything that he owned, he wouldn't make a fraction of the money required to afford such a journey, and it wasn’t like he could hitchhike his way there. He was as muddy as they came, he had no idea about space travel, he knew nothing of alien planets. All that he could do was wait and hope…

***

How long are you going to keep this up, Jamie?” his mother asked. She was leaning on the counter in their tiny kitchen, glaring at him as he sat at the table nearby. He glanced over at her, shoveling another spoonful of cereal into his mouth pointedly. She tossed aside the dishcloth that she had been holding, throwing up her hands in exasperation.

Your grades have tanked,” she continued, Jamie staring into his bowl as his mother lectured him. “At this rate, you’ll have to repeat the year if you want to stand any chance of graduating. You’re throwing away your future, and for what? Sulking over a...a childhood fling?” she added with a shake of her head. “When I was your age, I got dumped by my boyfriend, and do you know what I did? I carried on. I didn’t mope around for months because-”

Jamie tuned her out, eating another mouthful of cereal as her voice droned in the background. His parents had been sympathetic at first. They knew that he and Liz had been close, but they were becoming frustrated with him as more time passed. Most of his friends had reacted the same way, offering empty platitudes in an attempt to comfort him, then responding with anger when he didn’t suddenly perk up. They only seemed to care about his mood to the extent that it inconvenienced them. He found it impossible to focus on his schoolwork, and his academic performance had suffered as a result. It was so hard to find the motivation to do much of anything. Every day, he was reminded of Liz’s absence. The diner that he had to pass on his way to and from school, the picnic table beneath their favorite tree on the college campus, the steps where he had always waited for her after her classes. He couldn’t avoid being reminded of her constantly, but somehow, everyone just expected him to forget.

These days, the only thing that brought him any comfort was going down to the track. He was spending more and more time there, figuratively running from his problems.

He finished the last of his cereal, picking up his rucksack as he made for the door, giving his mother insincere promises that he would do better as he went.

***

Jamie ran, his sneakers kicking up dust on the oval track, sweat soaking his mesh tank top. It felt good to run, to feel his muscles burning, to feel the wind on his face. At least for a while, it helped curb his frustration, elevate his dour mood. It helped to jog his brain, too. Somehow, he always had more clarity when he was running. Maybe the extra blood flow and oxygen did something to his brain.

He wasn’t going to just sit around and wait for Liz to contact him. Maybe she couldn’t, maybe her parents were actively preventing it. There must be some way for him to find out where she was. Information was a commodity, after all, it was always available for the right price. Hopefully for less than passage on a freighter would have cost.

***

The mag-lev train came to a stop, Jamie stepping out of the car, and onto an elevated platform that protruded from the glass facade of a skyscraper. A crowd of people soon pushed past him, filling the available space, packing themselves shoulder-to-shoulder like sardines in a can. He watched as the automatic doors closed, a low hum filling the air as the train sped off again, sliding along its winding rail. It soon vanished between two towering buildings in the distance, the sky a maze of interconnected walkways and magnetic rails at this elevation. He was at least two hundred floors above street level, protected from the wind by a glass canopy.

He made his way through a turnstile and into the building, another residential tower block not unlike his own, emerging onto a commercial plaza. Planters filled with carefully-tended trees and shrubs added some much welcome greenery to the vast edifice of glass and metal, myriad stores and eateries packing the available space. The center of the building was an open shaft, bridged by curving walkways, escalators leading to the upper and lower levels.

It didn’t take long for him to find the elevator terminal, taking one down to ground level. Even in the evening, this part of the city was pretty packed, throngs of pedestrians crowding the sidewalks. The sirens of a police car rose above the chorus of voices, Jamie pausing to watch it pass by. The other cars on the road moved aside in perfect sync to clear a path for it, the city’s transit system taking control of their navigation computers, filling in the opening behind the vehicle just as quickly as it blazed by.

He pulled his phone from his pocket, checking that he was at the right stop. If the address that he had found on the city’s intranet was correct, his destination was nearby.

Jamie pushed his way through the throngs of people, heading into the Old Town, the glittering glass and steel of the skyscrapers slowly giving way to older brickwork. When sea levels had begun to rise in the twenty-second century, many of the coastal cities had been largely abandoned, new construction beginning on modern metropolises further inland. There were still buildings dating from prior centuries, going all the way back to the colonial period, but many of the oldest structures were now submerged beyond the coastline.

While still tall, they were dwarfed by the kilometer-high edifices to his back, their facades weathered over the centuries to leave the bricks stained and irregular. Even the asphalt on the roads was cracked and uneven, neglected because so few vehicles came down this way. An old highway towered above him to the right, casting its shadow on the buildings below, no longer in use. It probably led to a part of the city that was now underwater.

His destination was an old tower block, maybe ten storeys tall, probably far cheaper to rent out than the fancy offices in the high-rises. Flashing neon signs advertised various services, from payday loans to personal injury lawyers. He spied the one that he was looking for, a private detective agency.

He mounted the steps, entering into an old lobby, the walls covered in cracked tiles. It smelled of damp, like old wood, the room lit by a solitary bulb that hung from the ceiling. It wasn’t all archaic, however. To his right was a modern computer terminal, a kiosk with an embedded touch panel. Jamie walked over to it and pulled up a list of the offices, keying in a code to put a call through to the right one. There was a brief delay, then a woman’s face appeared on the other end of the feed. She had a dark complexion, her curly hair tied up in a tight bun, the beginnings of a white collar visible at the bottom of the frame.

Hi,” Jamie began, not sure what to say. “Is this the...detective agency?”

Do you have an appointment?” the woman asked, the glow of a computer display lighting up her face as she tapped at a keyboard.

No,” he admitted, “I didn’t know I needed one.”

One moment, please,” she added, turning to look off-camera. She had a short conversation with someone, too far away from the mic for him to make anything out. “Mister Bradley will see you now,” she said. “Fourth floor, second door on your right as you leave the stairwell.”

Thank you,” he replied, the woman quickly ending the call. He looked for the stairs, finding them at the end of the lobby. As he made his way over to them, he noted that there was an old bank of mailboxes on one wall, the kind you’d find in old apartment buildings. Some of them were hanging ajar, likely no longer in use, the labels so faded that he couldn’t make them out.

He climbed the stairs, the old banister creaking, eventually arriving at the fourth level. The floor here was lined with peeling linoleum, the walls whitewashed, making him feel like he was in some kind of abandoned insane asylum. It was hard to tell if this building had once housed offices, apartments, or both. Most of the rooms were certainly vacant. He was starting to feel as though he shouldn’t be here, but he pressed on.

There was a buzzer beside the door to the detective agency, and he pressed the button, the panel opening automatically to let him pass. Inside was a rather small waiting room, the walls lined with chairs, a solitary potted plant standing in one corner. The woman who he had spoken to on the kiosk must be the secretary, she was sitting behind a wooden desk, a computer terminal perched atop it. She glanced at him through the holographic display, waving him in.

Go right on through,” she said, gesturing to another door at the back of the room to her right. There was nobody else in the waiting room, business wasn’t exactly booming. He opened the door and stepped inside. The dingy office was even smaller than the waiting room, furnished with only a desk and two chairs. There were a few papers strewn about on its surface, along with an ashtray that hadn’t been emptied in a good while. A man rose to greet him, extending a hand through the holographic display of another computer terminal. Jamie shook it, then took a seat, his eyes drawn by the lazy motion of a ceiling fan.

What can I do for you?” the man asked. He was middle-aged, with a scruffy beard, clad in a dress shirt with a loose tie. He certainly didn’t look like a sleuth to Jamie, but if he had been wearing a trench coat and a fedora, that would probably have been even weirder.

I read that you know how to find people,” Jamie began. “You’re a detective, right?”

That’s what it says on the sign,” he replied, looking Jamie up and down skeptically. “You’re pretty young to be looking for a private eye. Most of my clients want me to keep tabs on an unfaithful spouse, or find an illegitimate child, but something tells me you aren’t a divorcee. What brings you all the way down to Old Town?”

I was hoping that you could find a friend of mine,” he replied, fishing in his pocket for his phone. “She isn’t missing. Well, not exactly. Her parents took her off-planet, and I don’t know where she went.” He pulled up a picture of Liz, handing the phone off to Bradley, who held it up to examine the screen. “I have no way to contact her right now, no address, no number.”

This...this isn’t a human,” Bradley said, eyeing Jamie curiously.

I’m aware of that,” he replied. “She’s a Borealan, and she went back to their homeworld.”

So, you want me to track down an alien that went back to Borealis? That’s...what?” he asked, examining the picture again. “Seventy light-years away?”

That’s what I was hoping,” Jamie replied with a nod.

Kid,” Bradley began with a sigh, handing the phone back to him. “I operate within the city limits. If this was a teenager who had run away to join a corporate mining op on Ganymede, maybe I could pull some strings, find some info. But Borealis...that’s way out of my jurisdiction. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

Jamie placed the phone back in his pocket, his face falling.

Do you know anyone who could help?” he asked.

Help find an alien off-world? Nope,” Bradley said with a shake of his head. “What you need is Naval Intelligence, not a private detective. Even if a PI did take the case, for the money it would cost to get them all the way out there, you could probably buy your own freighter and fly it there yourself.”

Thanks anyway,” Jamie muttered, starting to rise from his seat. A flash of sympathy crossed the detective’s face, and he motioned for the boy to sit back down.

You like this girl, yeah?”

Yeah,” Jamie replied, his cheeks starting to warm. Cross-species relationships weren’t exactly common, and it wasn’t something he wanted to gush about to a total stranger.

Have you tried to contact her any other way? I’m guessing her phone isn’t working out there, there won’t be any coverage, even if you could get through the buffer. Did you try sending her a letter by freighter?”

That’s the issue,” Jamie replied, “I have no idea where she went. If I had an address, maybe I could do something, but...”

Bradley pulled up a window on his terminal, Jamie watching the inverted display as he searched for information on Borealis.

Place is a fucking backwater,” he muttered, his eyes scanning the page. “Most of the planet isn’t even charted. Do you have an idea of what region she’s in, at least?”

Elysia,” he replied. “That’s where her family is from, it’s the only place I can think of that they might go.”

The planet has an FTL satellite,” the detective continued, “and Elysia looks like the most developed region. You got the device ID for her phone?”

Huh?” Jamie asked. The detective gestured for him to hand over his phone again, tapping at the screen as he searched through the call history.

There you go, device ID,” he said as he leaned over to show Jamie. “When you’re on a network, you have an IP address, but every physical device also has a hardware ID. If you can get a message through to Elysia, and she has some kind of data connection, she can receive it. The message will float around on whatever network they have until the correct device connects. I don’t know if they even have a public intranet there, but it’s your best shot.”

I can’t believe it’s really that simple!” Jamie exclaimed, a fresh surge of hope perking him up.

I doubt there’s much civilian traffic between Borealis and Earth,” Bradley continued, examining the data on his readout. “You could send a message through public channels, and it’ll just wait in the satellite’s buffer until there’s bandwidth available, but who knows how long that might take. There are also companies that operate their own FTL satellites, but those come with a pretty heavy premium.”

Is there another option?” Jamie asked, raising an eyebrow.

Perhaps,” the detective replied, leaning back in his chair. “Maybe I know a guy who works for the Navy, and maybe he can encrypt your message using UNN protocols, bump it up to the top of the queue. It’ll cost you,” he warned, “but...less than using a commercial satellite.” He typed in an address and saved it to Jamie’s phone, passing it back to him. “Write your message, then have him send it to this device ID. Make sure to specify that you’re sending it to the ID, not the number.”

Thank you, so, so much,” Jamie stammered as he rose from the chair to shake the man’s hand again. “You have no idea what this means to me.”

I think I have some idea,” Bradley replied with a smirk.

What do I owe you?”

Eh, nothing,” the detective said with a shrug. “You took up ten minutes of my time, it’s no problem. Besides, you’ll need the money for your message. Better make it a good one, kid.”

***

It took Jamie a good two hours to compose his message, this might be his one chance to get across everything that he wanted to say. He told Liz that she was stupid to apologize in the note that she had left him all those months ago, he explained how much he had valued their time together, how he wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If she hadn’t contacted him so far, it was either because something was preventing her from doing so, or her message was just stuck in the buffer. As such, he didn’t expect a reply, but he could always hope. She had promised that she would find a way to reach him if one existed, and Liz was a smart girl, far smarter than he was.

The next step was to get in touch with Bradley’s contact at the UNN. If what the detective had said was true, then this person should be able to encrypt his message, passing it off as a higher priority communication so that it could get through the buffer faster. All Jamie had been given was a phone number, audio only, with an anonymous ID. Messing around with the Navy’s encrypted communications wasn’t a trivial affair, it was probably all kinds of illegal, but what other choice did he have?

He had looked into private satellite services, the technology involved was incredibly complex. The storage devices of two satellites had to be paired in a lab, so that what changes were made in one were instantly reflected in the other, regardless of their distance. It was all quantum mechanics, stuff that Jamie couldn’t hope to wrap his head around. One of the satellites then had to be shipped to whatever planet or station needed it. The costs involved were astronomical, and the price of securing a place in the queue was similarly extortionate.

Jamie opened his bedroom door, checking that his parents were still out, then called the number. It rang for a good minute before someone picked up, a garbled voice coming through on the other end. It was being run through a synthesizer, just enough to mask the person’s identity. It was hard to tell if it was even male or female.

Who is this?” the voice demanded.

I was given this number by...a mutual acquaintance,” Jamie began. “They told me that you can get messages through the satellite buffers. Is that true?”

Five K,” the robotic voice replied.

Five thousand credits?” Jamie asked, trying not to sound too surprised.

You want a message sent? This is how it goes. You send me the payment, and once I get it, I ask you for the file. I encrypt the file, I bump it up the queue, and it gets sent off. Smaller is better. The larger the file size, the higher the chance someone notices. If it’s too big, I won’t risk it.”

Alright,” Jamie replied. He didn’t have five thousand credits, and he had no idea where he was going to get it, but he wasn’t about to tell this person that. “I want to send a text file, that’s all. A few kilobytes.”

No bank accounts,” the voice added, “nothing traceable. You buy online gift cards, you send me the codes.”

I’ll need some time to get the money together,” Jamie replied.

I ain’t going anywhere,” the voice replied, hanging up.

Five thousand creds,” Jamie muttered to himself, staring at his phone. “Where the hell am I going to get that kind of money?”

He was an eighteen-year-old college student, he lived with his parents, he didn’t even own a car. He looked around his room, wondering if there was even anything that he could sell. A computer terminal, a game console, a VR kit. His phone was easily the most expensive thing that he owned, but pawning it would defeat the purpose. There was maybe two thousand credits worth of electronics, but that still left him three thousand short of his target.

Maybe he could get a part-time job? Even working minimum wage, he could probably raise the money in a few months. That would leave even less time for schoolwork and practice, he was already having issues in that area, but what else could he do?

***

A few more months crawled by. Jamie had been able to secure a part-time job at a supermarket in a nearby building, and he took all the hours that his employer was legally allowed to give him, squirreling the money away in a savings account. His parents were initially encouraged by what they saw as him taking charge, finding a new direction in life, but his academic performance wasn’t improving.

There had still been no word from Liz, and it was coming up on six months since her departure. His desire to contact her had not diminished, and after weeks of tedious work and frantic cramming to keep up with his classes, he managed to raise enough money to pay his contact at the UNN.

It was a surreal feeling to blow all of the money that he had earned on gift cards for online stores, but he soon had a collection of codes ready to send. Once again, he called the number, hoping that it hadn’t changed in the interim. He would feel foolish if he had to return to Bradley’s office just to ask for a new one.

He breathed a sigh of relief as the call connected, that same distorted voice coming through on the other end.

You got the money?” the contact asked. They had probably made a note of Jamie’s number the last time he had called.

I got the codes, just like you asked,” he replied. “What do I do now?”

Send them over,” they insisted, Jamie opening up a text chat. There was a chance that this person would simply take the untraceable codes and just hang up, there was no guarantee that he would even send the message, but Bradley had seemed sincere. All that Jamie could do now was trust him. He took a minute to copy over the codes, then sent the message. There was a delay as the stranger presumably cashed them in, checking that they were real. Just when Jamie was starting to think that he had been scammed, the voice crackled again.

Send me the file.”

Jamie complied, copying a simple twenty-kilobyte text file into the chat window. There was another delay, then the robotic voice spoke once more.

It’s away, priority one. Should get sent in the next few hours.”

How will I know when it arrives?” Jamie asked.

What do you want, a tracking number?” the voice scoffed. “This isn’t a post office, kid. You sent your message to a device ID, so it’ll get there when it gets there. The rest is up to you.”

They hung up, Jamie trying to stay positive despite the lightness of his wallet. The message was away, this was the culmination of everything that he had worked for over the last few months. All that he could do now was hope that Liz received it, and if he was doubly lucky, that she had some way to reply.

He felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. The pain of being separated from Liz had not diminished, but he was now confident that he had done everything that he reasonably could to reach her. There was some small comfort in that.

***

Jamie raced along the oval track beneath an overcast sky, his mind moving just as quickly as his feet. After a year of waiting, there was still no word from Liz. His message must have been sent by now, and she knew his address, his phone number had not changed. Was it possible that there was no service where she had wound up, that even finding a computer terminal in a public library was out of the question? Could her parents have taken away her phone so that his message had never reached it? Was Borealis such a backwater that she couldn’t so much as find a freighter that would deliver a letter for her?

Perhaps.

Then again, what if Liz had forgotten about him? What if her parents had been right, and that being immersed in Borealan culture had awakened her true nature? Was she now enjoying the company of new friends, new lovers? Maybe Jamie was the only person who thought of their relationship as anything more than an immature infatuation, and Liz had moved on. Jamie didn't want to think badly of her, but he couldn't help but direct some of his anger – some of his despair – in her direction. Maybe it was time to finally let go of the past and start building a new future for himself? He couldn’t keep pining for her, waiting for that call to come through forever, it was absurd. That wasn’t what she would have wanted for him, either.

As he made his way around a bend, he noticed a figure standing by the bleachers, waving him over. He jogged closer, seeing that it was Ben. The two were in a few classes together and often shared notes, not close enough to be called good friends necessarily, but certainly enough to hang out from time to time. Jamie came to a stop beside him, wiping his brow.

What’s up?” he asked.

Jamie,” Ben replied cheerfully. “Thought I might find you out here. Hey, listen,” he continued as his tone took on a conspiratorial quality. “There’s a house party going down tonight, thought I might extend an invitation to you.”

A house party?” Jamie panted, leaning over with his hands on his knees as he caught his breath.

Yeah, you know...music, party games, a little underage drinking. Thought maybe you’d make an appearance for once. Rachel is going to be there,” he added, raising his eyebrows suggestively.

Refresh my memory.”

Seriously?” Ben scoffed. “Bombshell blonde, tits out to here,” he added as he mimed a pair of breasts. “Everyone knows she likes you, seems you’re the only one bone-headed enough to miss it.”

Oh yeah, I’ve seen her around.”

She wasn’t the first girl that had shown interest in Jamie. He was tall, athletic, and he could have had the personality of a sack of wet gravel for all they cared. Even while Liz had been around, other girls had often flirted with him, but he had been completely oblivious to it during his funk. Frivolous romances were no replacement for what he had shared with Liz, there was no possible substitute for having grown up together, for the tender moments that they had shared. Still, Liz wasn’t here anymore. Maybe this was the Universe giving him another chance, a way to distract himself, if nothing else.

You alright there, chief?” Ben prompted.

Yeah,” Jamie replied with a nod. “I mean, yeah, I’ll come to the party.”

Great!” his friend replied, clapping his hands together. “I’ll send the address to your phone tonight. Honestly, dude, I was starting to think you were gonna keep sulking until graduation. You can meet some new people, loosen up a little, maybe see where the night takes you. And by night, I mean Rachel,” he added with a grin.

I’ll see you there,” Jamie said, waving him off.

***

Jamie returned home that evening to wash up and put on something more presentable than a tracksuit before heading out. Ben sent him the address, as promised, a knot forming in his stomach as he realized that it was in the same neighborhood where Liz and her family had once lived. It was some rich senior’s place, his parents were out of town, and he was old enough to get his hands on booze. It wasn’t a small gathering, it looked like half of the college was going to be there.

He knew he was heading in the right direction before the house was even in view, the sound of pulsing music bleeding out into the street. They’d be lucky not to get a noise complaint at this rate. There were already a few people hanging out on the front lawn, holding drinks in their hands as they chatted, more making their way inside. Jamie couldn’t help but feel out of place. While he was casually acquainted with many of these people, he went to school with them, this was not his world. He walked up the driveway and entered through the front door, emerging into the living room. It was crowded with people, his stature letting him see over most of their heads, fold-out tables laden with drinks and snacks lining the walls.

Jamie scanned the faces, looking for Ben, finding him milling about beside a large punch bowl. He was talking to a girl who looked less than impressed by his advances. He spotted Jamie, starting to make his way over to him, pushing through the partygoers like he was wading through a snowdrift.

Jamie!” he said, raising his voice over the din of music and conversations. “I was starting to think you weren’t going to show! Come on,” he added, leading him over to one of the tables. “What’s your poison?” he asked, gesturing to a dozen bottles.

Jamie didn’t recognize any of them, he had never been much of a drinker. Ben quickly realized that he wasn’t going to get an answer, so he upended one of the bottles into a plastic cup, thrusting it into Jamie’s hand. He eyed the amber liquid, raising it to his lips and giving it a tentative sip. It was bitter, with a chemical aftertaste, wholly unpleasant.

Riotous laughter filled the room, drawing his attention to another table, where a group of onlookers were cheering on some manner of drinking game. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, just talking, mingling.

I saw Rachel arrive already,” Ben said. “You two should get to know each other a little better! She’s gotta be around here somewhere.”

While Jamie appreciated Ben’s attempts to set him up, the chaotic environment was already starting to overwhelm him. He couldn’t even hear himself think over the pounding music and the chorus of muddled voices. Maybe that was the point?

Ben led him into the kitchen, which was just as packed as the living room, pausing to grab a bag of chips as he passed by a marble counter. The party was spilling into the back yard, a wave of relief washing over Jamie as he stepped out onto the carefully tended grass, the loud sounds fading to a dull drone that was far easier to block out. The yard was lit by the glow from the house behind him, and a few tiki torches that had been spaced around the lawn. Towards the back fence was a stone patio with a few folding chairs, along with another table sporting food and drinks, which seemed to be where most of the guests were clustered.

One of them turned to glance in his direction, his stature making him easy to spot. His heart skipped a beat as he saw her long, blonde hair catch the light from a nearby torch. He was immediately reminded of Liz, they were even a similar height. If she had been wearing a pink beanie, and he was seeing her from the back, they could have been sisters. The human facial features and the far lighter skin tone broke the illusion, but still…

Ben guided him over to the group, Rachel stepping forward, a gaggle of female friends whispering behind their hands as they shared conspiratorial glances. They had spoken before on a few occasions, so they weren’t exactly strangers, Rachel ignoring Ben’s introduction as she glanced up at Jamie.

Jamie,” she said, “glad you could make it. I haven’t seen you around campus much these days.”

I’ve been spending a lot of time at the track,” he replied, Rachel looking him up and down.

Yeah, I can tell…”

I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” Ben said, giving Jamie a nudge with his elbow. “I hear the siren call of the beer pong table.”

Jamie nodded, taking another sip of his disgusting beverage, watching his friend vanish into the house. He turned his attention back to Rachel, not sure what to say. What was he supposed to talk to her about? His part-time job at the supermarket? His running? He wasn’t exactly overflowing with interesting stories and experiences, save for those involving Liz, but he didn’t expect Rachel would appreciate him gushing about his lost love. Now was the time to meet new people, to have new experiences, he couldn’t keep dwelling on the past. Rachel was pretty, and she was into him. He should make an effort.

Thankfully, she made the first move.

We should catch up,” she said, batting her blue eyes at him. “Want to go somewhere a little quieter?”

Sure,” he said, following behind her as her friends snickered at him.

***

Rachel led Jamie over to a more secluded corner of the garden, where they chatted for a few hours about everything and nothing. They talked about school, about their families, about what shows they were watching. The girl spoke at length about her plans for summer vacation, how her parents were supposed to be taking her to a seastead off the coast of Portugal for two weeks, and he was content to just listen. His drink had grown more tolerable with each refill, the taste secondary to the buzz that he was developing. It helped him relax a little more, loosened his lips, lowered his inhibitions. He found himself telling a few jokes that had always made Liz laugh, and they seemed to have the same effect on Rachel. She could have been humoring him, but he was rapidly becoming too tipsy to tell the difference between a fake laugh and a sincere one.

People used to wonder about you, you know,” she said as they leaned against the back fence, a small hedge providing some privacy from the other guests.

Yeah?” he asked, taking another drink from his cup.

I don’t think it was any secret that lots of girls were interested in you, but you always played hard to get. It became a bit of a game, trying to see if any of us could get you talking. You only ever hung out with that alien girl, what was her name? She moved out of state about a year back.”

Liz,” he replied with a nod, trying not to let his mind wander back to thoughts of her. “She moved away, yeah.”

Were you two...an item?” Rachel asked, raising an eyebrow.

Nah,” he replied, taking another sip of his beverage. “Not really.”

That’s a relief,” Rachel laughed. “People used to joke about it, but dating an alien seems...super weird.”

Jamie felt a knot form in his stomach. He had just lied about Liz, about everything that they had shared, about that wonderful night that they had spent together before she had been torn away from him. Rachel seemed to find the idea of a human and an alien making love off-putting, something to be ridiculed, like it would make him some kind of sexual deviant to have dated someone of a different species. He felt an urge to call her out, but he suppressed it. If Liz was really gone, then what good would dying on that hill do him? He’d just be made a pariah, and this opportunity to build a new social life would be squandered.

It was cool how you looked out for her, though,” Rachel added.

Yeah, she used to get a lot of flak at school,” he replied. “Kids can be mean sometimes.”

So,” she said, reaching up to brush her blonde locks out of her face. “Are you seeing anyone right now?”

No,” Jamie replied, his cheeks warming. It was hard to have a conversation with the shorter girl without looking down her blouse, copping an eyeful of the cleavage that she was proudly displaying. He was more than a little out of his depth. He had never had to talk to any girls other than Liz, he had never had to flirt, he had never learned the intricacies of the dating game. Rachel was coming on pretty hard, and he wasn’t sure how to react.

I’d like to know more about you, Jamie,” she continued as she leaned a little closer to him. “You’re kind of a mystery, you know? You’re the only guy on the track team who isn’t going steady with someone, you never talk to anyone, this is the first time I’ve seen you at any kind of party. Since you don’t catch the hint when people are subtle with you, I’ll try something more direct. How about you and me give it a go?”

Are you...asking me out?” Jamie asked, trying to take another drink from his cup before realizing that it was empty. He felt pleasantly drunk now, it made his mind hazy, gave him more confidence.

Duh,” she chuckled.

Yeah,” he said, a little more enthusiastically than he had intended. “Let’s give it a go.”

She took him by the hand, leading him back towards the house.

Where are we going?” he wondered aloud, Rachel guiding him through the crowd. He was vaguely aware of her friends from the garden eyeing him as the pair passed by, whispering behind their hands again. This was something that Rachel had planned, that much was obvious, even in his drunken state.

We’ve done enough talking,” she replied, arriving at the foot of a staircase that led to the second floor. “It’s a party, let’s have some fun.”

She tugged him up the stairs, proceeding down a carpeted hallway. The bathroom was up here, as well as the bedrooms. He noticed another couple who were making out rather aggressively, leaning against the wall as they walked by, the guy’s hand buried down the front of his partner’s jeans.

Was this normal for house parties?

They stopped at one of the doors, Rachel opening it with a creak to peek inside, checking that it wasn’t already occupied. This bedroom was clearly owned by the parents of the student who had thrown the party. There was a double bed, and an en-suite bathroom, the dim lighting coming on automatically as they slipped inside. This was somebody’s home, it made him feel like he was trespassing.

Rachel took him over to the bed, turning to place her hands on his chest, the fact that she had to stand on her toes to reach him splitting her face in an eager grin. She pressed her lips against his, Jamie tasting cherry lip balm, his eyes widening. She tried again, opening her mouth this time, uttering a soft moan of encouragement.

She was practiced, the flowery scent of her perfume filling his nose as she locked him in a cherry-flavored kiss, her deft tongue darting around inside his mouth. Her soft moaning titillated him, her ample breasts squashing against his chest as she pressed up tightly against him. He ran his hands down her back, cupping one of her shapely cheeks through her form-fitting jeans. He was raring to go, but even through his drunken haze, Jamie could tell that something was wrong.

He anticipated the coiling of a long tongue, the roughness of the barbs that he had come to associate with Liz, but they never came. Gone was that desperate passion, that tenderness, the haste of a love finally out in the open. The depth of Liz’s feelings for him had been apparent in every stroke of her tongue, the way that she had trembled in his arms, how her claws had raked his back in the throes of her ecstasy. Kissing Rachel felt...fake, like they were going through the motions. He knew what love felt like, and this wasn’t it.

She broke off, glancing up at him expectantly, her slender fingers roaming down to his belt. One of her hands reached up his shirt, Rachel testing the firmness of his abs beneath her palm.

You don’t talk much, do you?” she whispered as she began to undo his buckle. “That’s alright, I didn’t bring you up here to make conversation.”

She cupped his bulge, making him lurch, his mind swirling with conflict. Rachel was any college kid’s wet dream. She had a young, tight body, with an ass like a peach that was crammed into jeans two sizes too small for her. He could feel her perfect boobs through the insubstantial fabric of her blouse, just begging for him to plunge his hands into them. Her hair was the color of gold, her skin had the healthy glow of an expensive tanning regimen, and she was throwing herself at him with abandon. If he let this go on, he could be fucking her brains out on a stranger’s bed within the next minute. All he had to do was let it happen. Wasn’t that what everyone wanted, him included? Was this not what was expected of him if he was going to reconnect with his human classmates? Then why was it making him feel so...bad?

He took a step back, Rachel’s smile vanishing, her brow furrowing.

What’s wrong?” she asked.

S-sorry,” he stammered, taking another step away from her as he buckled up his belt. “You’re...great, Rachel, but...I shouldn’t be here.”

What the hell are you talking about?” she demanded, becoming visibly angry at his reaction. She followed him as he backed off, her hands balled into fists, her blue eyes flashing with indignation. “What kind of guy would say no at this point? We’re in the fucking bedroom, Jamie, I was taking your goddamned pants off! Are you gay or something?”

In his drunken state, Jamie only knew that he didn’t want to be here anymore, his eyes scanning the room for an escape route. He didn’t want to leave through the party, not with Rachel following behind him, yelling about his sexual inadequacies in front of the whole school.

He spied a window, making his way towards it and throwing it open, cool night air spilling into the room as he leaned out. Below was a bay window that projected out onto the street, with a short, sloping roof.

What the fuck is wrong with you?” Rachel snapped. “Hey!”

Jamie jumped up onto the windowsill, dropping down onto the asphalt tiles below. He slid down onto the grass, a few partygoers who were sipping drinks on the front lawn scattering, Jamie vaguely aware of their cries of alarm and amusement. He stumbled to his feet, beginning to run, still fumbling with his belt as he went.

Asshole!” Rachel shouted after him, leaning out of the bedroom window.

***

With the passage of enough time, Jamie’s heart began to heal, and Liz’s absence gradually became more bearable. He had never received a reply from her, and he came to terms with the fact that he would never know if his message had ever reached her. If she had moved on, or if she was simply unable to contact him, it ceased to matter. It wasn’t that his love for her had faded, he had merely become accustomed to the feelings in the same way that calluses form on overworked fingers. As she became less and less of a preoccupation for him, he was able to focus more on his life, and on the new friendships that he had formed.

Word had spread about his stunt at the house party, and it had soured many of the girls on campus. Rachel had been especially vindictive in spreading the story to as many people as possible, as though his rejection of her had been some kind of personal slight. It mattered little, as Jamie had no interest in pursuing another relationship. He felt as though he would never again share that same connection with someone, and perhaps that was okay. Maybe one day, he would find someone who he could love in a different way, but there was no hurry.

He graduated with a passing grade, which was about as much as he could have hoped for, and it seemed to make his parents happy enough. Besides running, and being with Liz, Jamie had never really thought too deeply about what he wanted to do after school. His part-time job at the supermarket was already a done deal, and it was convenient, so he decided to start working there full-time until he could figure out what kind of career he wanted. The manager was happy to have him, and the pay raise was nice. With the money, he was soon able to move out, getting his own modest apartment that was closer to the building where he worked. The staff there were friendly, many of them near enough his own age that they started to hang out after work, and he soon had a new circle of friends who were far less obsessed with social standing than those of his college days.

All things considered, he felt like he was doing alright.

CHAPTER 5: LATE CALLER

You sure you don’t want to stick around a little longer?” Jamie’s coworker asked, gesturing to the break room at the back of the store. He was still wearing an apron emblazoned with the supermarket logo, while Jamie had just finished changing out of his uniform. “We sent Mike out to get some pizza, figured we’d play some poker before we close up. Pitch in for a slice?”

I’m good, thanks,” Jamie replied. “Besides, Mike still owes me creds from last Friday, I don’t think he can afford to play me again.”

Alright,” his friend chuckled. “See you on Monday, then.”

See you,” Jamie replied, waving goodbye as he stepped out of the store. He took an elevator down to the street, then set off in the direction of his residential building at a jog, his own labored breathing rising above the sound of the music from his earbuds. Exercise still brought him catharsis, he would jog for miles after work, running until he couldn’t go on. It was autumn again, and the trees were starting to shed their leaves, creating piles of red and gold on the sidewalk. As beautiful as it was, it brought back painful memories that he preferred stayed buried.

He soon arrived at the lobby, riding an elevator up to his floor. He stepped inside his apartment, his mesh shirt and running shorts soaked in sweat despite the cool weather. His apartment was modestly furnished, he hadn't really made any serious attempts to decorate it or unpack much of his old belongings since he had moved in. It had all the amenities that he needed, and any free time was usually spent outside. The rent was affordable, at least by city standards, and he didn't have much in the way of disposable income at the end of the month. The layout was almost identical to the one that he had lived in with his parents, an open-plan living room and kitchen, this time with a single bedroom.

Before taking a much-needed shower, he headed to the microwave on his kitchen counter, starting to warm up a snack. The sound of rain pattering against the wall-length window soon joined the drone of the microwave, Jamie looking out at the stormy sky as he waited by the counter. It looked like he had just missed the downpour. He had noticed the overcast sky on his after-work jog and had decided to take a shortcut instead of following his usual route in order to beat the storm.

There was a loud ping, and he opened the door to his microwave, juggling the steaming packet of noodles in his hands as he brought it over to the kitchen table. He set it down, starting to dig in, turning on the monitor that was mounted on the living room wall with a voice command.

Just as he was finishing up his meal, he heard the buzz of his doorbell. He shut off the newscast that was playing, rising from his chair. Curious, he hadn’t been expecting any company today. His parents usually called ahead before they visited, as did his coworkers, as he was often out. It was late in the evening, too, a very irregular time for people to drop in unannounced.

He walked over to the door and hit the control panel in the frame, a view from the exterior camera appearing on it. There was a figure standing in the shadowy hallway, so tall that their face was above the frame.

Who is it?” he asked over the intercom.

I’m looking for Jamie,” the person replied, their gruff voice crackling through the speaker. “Does he still live here?”

Yeah, you’re speaking to him.”

May I come in?”

He didn’t see why not, keying in the door code. The dark silhouette placed a huge hand on the door and pushed it open, forcing him to take a few steps back. Their shoulders were broad enough that they had to turn sideways, ducking through the entrance, their head brushing the ceiling as they rose to their full height.

As the lights in his apartment illuminated the visitor, he realized that it was a Borealan, the ears and tail unmistakable. Her figure was that of a female, her fur still damp from the storm. The stranger was wearing clothes of human design, but their dimensions were almost comically exaggerated to fit her massive frame. She sported a brown leather bomber jacket with a furry collar and cuffs, and a massive pair of cut-off jean shorts that ended at the knee. No shoes, just a pair of large, paw-like feet tipped with black claws. Jamie craned his neck to look at her face, the coloration immediately familiar to him. She had the same blonde hair as Liz and her father, cropped fairly short, and the same caramel skin tone. Was this some relative or family member? One of her sisters, maybe?

C-can I help you?” Jamie stammered, somewhat overwhelmed by the presence of the creature in his small apartment. Her long, fluffy tail threatened to knock his coat rack over as it swayed back and forth.

Have I really changed that much, Jamie?”

His heart froze, and he looked the Borealan in the eye. There was something familiar about her facial features, those emerald-green irises sparking recognition as they peered back at him.

Liz? Is that you?”

So you didn’t forget about me after all,” she chuckled, reaching down to ruffle his unkempt hair. Her hand was the size of a damned dinner plate, she could probably have enclosed his entire head in her fist if she had been so inclined. Her voice was deeper and coarser now, but unmistakably her own, the inflections dredging up old memories. “You grew your hair out,” she added with a smile. “I always liked it long.”

You’ve...grown,” Jamie replied. He did his best to sound positive, but this was a shock to him. Three years with no contact, and then she shows up at his door out of the blue, greeting him like they had only been apart for a few days? It didn’t make sense.

Liz’s smile faltered a little, and she looked around the apartment, taking it all in.

Hey,” she continued, seeming less sure of herself now. “I realize this might be a little...weird. Sorry to drop in on you like this. I couldn’t get through to your old number, so I went to your folks’ place to look for you. They gave me your new address, and...well, here I am. You mind if I sit down? I’m still getting used to Earth gravity again, it’s a little strange.”

Oh, of course,” Jamie replied. He turned, scanning the room for a chair that might be able to support her massive frame. As well as being tall, she was built like a truck. She looked like she must weigh at least five hundred pounds, and most of it was muscle.

He gestured to his couch, and she made her way over to it, striding on legs so long that her hips were at chest-level to him. She lowered herself down onto the cushions, the frame creaking worryingly beneath her weight. She had to extend her legs out in front of her, as the couch wasn’t much higher off the ground than a footstool would have been for someone of human proportions.

Can I get you something to drink?” Jamie asked, rubbing his arm uncomfortably. “Do you still like beef-flavored bouillon cubes?”

You remembered,” she chuckled. “Yeah, that would be nice. I haven’t had that for a long time.”

He walked over to the kitchen counter, putting his back to her as he filled a kettle with water and set it to boil. He watched it intently, not wanting to look at her, pretending that it needed his undivided attention. He had always fantasized about her appearing one day out of the blue, declaring her love for him, and throwing herself into his arms. Now that his fantasy was a reality, he just felt cold, sick. Why had she come back now? Why had she never contacted him?

Liz seemed to sense that he was distant, and he heard the couch creak as she shifted her weight uncomfortably.

I realize it's been a while,” she said in that oddly recognizable, yet unfamiliar voice.

Three years,” Jamie replied, watching as steam begin to rise from the kettle.

I kind of imagined this going differently,” she chuckled, trying to mask her discomfort. “I thought you might be glad to see me, but I guess...things have changed more than I anticipated.”

What are you doing here?” Jamie asked, his tone a little harsher than he had intended it to sound. She hesitated for a moment, choosing her words carefully.

I...just wanted to see you again,” she explained. “I had a hell of a time on Borealis, and getting off-planet is a lot harder than just booking a flight. There are no spaceports, no tethers, not much civilian traffic going out. My only option was hitching a ride on a UNN jump freighter on its way to a deep-space outpost, and from there, I caught a ship to Sol system.” She laughed again, more disbelief than humor this time. “Damn, Jamie. I came seventy-five light-years, cooped up in cabins barely large enough for humans, and you're not happy to see me? Did I make a mistake in coming back here?”

I...I'm sorry, Liz,” Jamie sighed, regretting his outburst. “It's just a shock seeing you again after all this time. I thought you were long gone, I never expected to hear from you again. I assumed you'd moved on.” And I was finally starting to deal with it, he neglected to add.

He poured the hot water into two mugs, adding a teabag for himself, and dropping a bouillon cube into Liz’s drink. He stirred it with a spoon until it formed a beef-flavored broth, taking deep breaths, trying to compose himself. After feeling alright for so long, all of the emotions that he had buried were rising to the surface again, threatening to overwhelm him. Liz watched in silence as he brought her drink over, handing it to her. After hesitating for a moment, he sat down beside her, trying to stay on his own side of the couch as the slant of the cushions drew him towards her.

She lifted her drink to take a sip, the steaming mug comically tiny in her massive hands.

Tastes just how I remember it,” she sighed. She turned her head to glance at him, lifting it a little, as though taking in his scent. He quickly remembered that he was still soaked in sweat from his jog, she hadn’t given him time to shower yet. “I see you're still running,” she added, taking another sip. “That's one of the things I remember best about you, always doing laps around that track.”

Up close, her size was even more apparent. Jamie couldn’t believe how much she had grown. Her parents had always claimed that she was a late bloomer, that she would have a growth spurt eventually, but this was ridiculous. She must have been eight feet tall, her hips now wider than his shoulders, her core so thick that he would scarcely have been able to get his arms around her waist. Her thighs were almost as thick around as his torso, and her paw-like feet would have rivaled those of a grizzly bear. He should have been more ready for this, she looked exactly like her parents, but it was...so jarring. He tried to picture the girl that he had once known, whose pink beanie had scarcely scraped his chin, but he couldn’t reconcile the two.

You're mad that I never called, aren't you?” she asked. Her words snapped Jamie out of his stupor, and he blinked up at her.

After you left, I never heard from you again,” he replied as he turned his eyes to the carpet. “I had no idea where your parents had taken you, I had no way to find you. It’s not like there’s a phone directory for Borealis. I tried everything that I could think of to reach you. I went to a private detective, I bribed a government employee to get a message through.” He shook his head, taking a drink from his mug. “When you left, you promised that you’d find a way to get in touch. I waited for months, years.”

I would have contacted you if I could, Jamie,” Liz replied. “Give me the benefit of the doubt, won’t you? I think I deserve that much. I had a lot on my plate, you don’t know what Borealis was like, what I went through there. I thought that...maybe you would have wanted to hear about it.”

Jamie took another drink from his mug, unsure of what to say next, remaining silent as he sat beside the giant alien. She seemed exasperated, turning her attention to his unimpressive abode.

Nice digs,” she mumbled. “I always wanted to live in an apartment like this, remember? You used to make fun of me for it, you said that my house was way nicer. You don't...have a girlfriend or anything?” she added, Jamie hearing the hesitation in her husky voice. “You live alone?”

Never had much interest in women,” he replied.

I figured maybe...you know,” she added with an awkward shrug of her wide shoulders that made her leather jacket creak. “All those girls at school used to follow you around like you were the last boy on Earth. You were pretty cute, tall...by human standards, and you were on the school track team. You didn't become a ladies man in my absence, then?”

Nah,” he muttered, failing to elaborate in the way that she clearly wanted him to. He shifted his weight, sipping at his tea, staring at the floor. Liz seemed to run out of patience, rising to her feet, and setting her mug down on a nearby coffee table. The springs in the couch snapped back into position as her bulk left them, almost sending Jamie toppling sideways.

I see I'm not welcome,” she muttered, straightening her jacket. He could hear the disappointment in her voice, and it tied a knot in his guts. “I'm sorry for disturbing you, Jamie. I guess I thought...I didn't think you would react this way. Maybe I was stupid for hoping that we could just pick up where we left off. If you don't want to hear me out, I understand, I just want you to know that I didn't mean for things to pan out the way they did.”

She turned to the door, Jamie watching her walk across the apartment. With each step that she took, the tension inside him increased, until he felt like he would explode if he didn’t say something to stop her.

You’re an idiot, you know,” he called after her. She stopped at the door, turning to glance back at him, a flash of anger in her green eyes.

What did you say?”

I said you’re an idiot,” he repeated, Liz looking on in confusion. He bowed his head, staring into the mug of cooling tea that he was clutching in his hands, his blonde hair falling over his face. “That note you left me, all those years ago, do you remember what you wrote? You apologized to me, as if having known you was some kind of burden that I had to bear, rather than the reason I got out of bed every morning. I wouldn't have traded the time I spent with you for anything. Even now, even through all of this, I wouldn't give up one day that I spent in your company if it would lessen the pain. You never gave me the chance to tell you that.”

Tears welled in her emerald eyes, and she strode back over to the couch, knocking the mug of tea out of his grasp with a swipe of her furry hand. It shattered on the floor, staining the carpet, but neither one of them cared. She placed a padded finger beneath his chin to lift his head, brushing his hair out of his face, seeing the tears on his cheeks.

I never stopped loving you, Liz,” Jamie choked.

She thrust him back against the couch with enough force to knock the wind out of him, then crouched down, pressing her lips against his. He felt her long tongue snake into his mouth, entwining with his own, flooding his senses with a familiar taste that brought him right back to their first kiss. He reached up to grip the fluffy collar of her jacket as their embrace dragged on, Liz cradling his face in her furry hand, his tears matting her sandy coat. He wasn’t even sure why he was crying anymore, his emotions were so muddled. Liz was so much bigger than he remembered, her soft lips too large to comfortably lock with his own, her thick tongue piling its coils into his mouth. Yet he could feel the urgency in its every deft stroke, that same desperate love that he had so longed for radiating from her, a passion that he had resigned himself to never experiencing again.

She finally broke away, a soothing warmth washing over Jamie as she leaned on the headrest of the couch, casting him in her shadow.

From now on, we tell each other everything, okay?” Liz whispered. She wiped away his tears with the back of her hand, then dried her own eyes on the sleeve of her jacket. “No more hesitation, no more waiting, no more assumptions.”

Jamie nodded, trying to regain his composure enough to get a word out.

You look exhausted,” she said, seeing the bags under his eyes. “Fuck, I’m sorry,” she added with a chuckle that sounded as much like a sob. “I came here and piled all of this baggage on you, I must have fucked up your day something terrible.”

No, no,” he replied hurriedly as he joined her in her half-laughing half-crying. “I needed to get this out, I have for a long time. Feels good.”

Maybe I should let you get some rest and come back later?”

Jamie nodded his reply, and she stood up, remembering the height of the ceiling just in time to avoid knocking her head.

Do you have somewhere to stay?” Jamie asked. “I'd offer you a bed, or the couch, but I don't think you'd fit.”

Yeah, I'm staying in a Borealan-sized room at the spaceport. I came down here on the mag-lev.”

Things are different now,” Jamie began, Liz cocking her head at him. “We’ve been apart for so long. We’ve grown, both literally and figuratively,” he added as she chuckled at his poor attempt at humor. “We’re not the same people we were three years ago, but...I want to get to know you again.”

I’d like that,” she replied, unable to contain her smile.

Are you free tomorrow?” Jamie asked hurriedly. “Could we meet in town, maybe?”

I came down here to see you, dummy,” she said. “I have nothing but free time. Do you remember that old diner we used to go to after school?”

How could I forget? I used to pass it every day.”

Nine AM,” she continued, planting her hands on her wide hips. “I’ll be waiting. Oh, unless you have to work?”

No, it’s Saturday tomorrow, I’m free for the whole weekend.”

It’s a date,” Liz said, leaning down to plant a kiss on his forehead.

He could ask her all of the questions he wanted tomorrow. For now, he was both physically and emotionally spent, he needed to take a shower and get some sleep. Liz turned and made her way to the door, her long tail waving behind her. She paused, glancing over her shoulder at him.

See you tomorrow, Jamie.”

He nodded, watching her step out of the apartment, the door closing behind her. Things could never go back to the way they were before she had left, but that didn't mean they couldn't create something new. It was an exciting prospect.

CHAPTER 6: HOMECOMING

Jamie awoke the next morning feeling energized, as though someone was running an electrical current through his body. How long had it been since he had felt this way? Excited, hopeful, like all of the color was bleeding back into his grey world. He didn’t bother with breakfast, taking a quick shower, and getting dressed. He considered wearing something presentable but eventually decided that Liz wouldn’t care, settling on a jacket and sweatpants. It was a brisk morning, so he decided to jog down to meet her.

He arrived at the diner to find Liz waiting for him, leaning with her back against a tree just outside. She was hard to miss, and despite the cool weather, he noticed that she was no longer wearing a concealing coat. No beanie or mittens, either. She had been so self-conscious about her alien appearance as a girl, but now, she almost seemed to be putting it on display. Then again, she was far too large for any style of clothing to stand any chance of making her inconspicuous. Instead, she sported the same bomber jacket that she had worn the night before, along with the cut-off denim shorts.

She waved to him when she caught sight of him, the sudden motion alarming a passing pedestrian, who scurried out of her way.

Hey Liz,” Jamie said sheepishly, raising a hand in greeting. Liz was having none of that, crouching down to wrap her long arms around him once he was in reach, trapping him in a bear hug. She lifted him off the ground with the effort that one might expend picking up a child, squeezing the air out of him, pressing him into the considerable cushion of her chest. Jamie froze in surprise, feeling the bulge of her biceps through the leather of her jacket, her warm breath blowing his hair.

Sorry, Jamie,” she chuckled as she set him back down on the sidewalk. “I sometimes forget how small humans are.”

I-it’s fine,” he stammered, brushing himself off. He turned to glance at the diner, seeing the familiar pink neon sign flickering above the entrance. How long had it been since he had eaten here? Not since Liz had left, at least. It was oddly melancholic to be back again.

He made his way to the door, Liz pausing to size it up. Just like she had in his apartment, she turned sideways, then ducked through the narrow opening. Fortunately, the ceiling inside the restaurant was high enough that she could stand without hitting her head. They walked over to their favorite booth at the back of the room, but it didn’t look like Liz would be able to fit inside it.

Let’s get one of the tables,” she suggested.

The diner was as deserted as Jamie remembered it, so they had their choice of seating, and the gawking onlookers were kept to a minimum. They selected a round, café style table, and Jamie took a seat. Liz scratched her chin as she eyed the chairs, wondering if they would support her bulk. They were child-sized by her standards. She shrugged, then pushed them out of the way, sitting cross-legged on the floor instead. She was tall enough that the table was still at a comfortable height to her, seeming unconcerned as she reached out to pick up one of the laminated menus in her thick fingers. Jamie watched as she traced a line of text with one of her wicked claws. It was long and black, like the talon of a giant eagle, curved into a hook.

I wonder if they still do that burger I used to like?” she wondered, her feline eyes scanning the page. “I'd wrestle a rainbow spider for some good old salt and grease right now.”

Rainbow...spider?” Jamie asked.

It's an animal on the homeworld that...you know what, that's probably a story for another time.”

A waitress walked out from a swinging door that led to the kitchen, making her way over to where they were seated, her eyes fixed on a tablet computer that was clasped in her hand. This wasn’t the waitress who had so often served them when they were kids, this woman was younger, maybe a new employee.

Good morning, what can I get you toda-” Her eyes widened as she glanced up at the pair, visibly startled at the sight of Liz, almost jumping out of her uniform. “Oh! Hello! Um, can...your order...” She cleared her throat and steadied herself, regaining her professional demeanor. “Welcome, are you ready to order?”

It's okay, I don't bite,” Liz said with a toothy smile that suggested otherwise. “I'll have six burgers, please, with all the fixings.” “I'll take the eggs and bacon,” Jamie added, handing the menus to the poor girl as she entered their orders into her tablet. She turned back to the kitchen, scurrying away, her shoes clicking on the linoleum.

I think I scared her,” Liz whispered. She turned her head to take in her surroundings, looking the diner over. “This place hasn't changed a bit, but it all looks smaller to me, like a dollhouse modeled after the diner I remember. Hard to believe I used to be able to sit in those booths.”

Yeah, what’s the deal with that?” Jamie asked. “Did you finally get that growth spurt your parents always promised you?”

The idea of being as big as they were used to mortify me,” she chuckled, gazing out of the window at the street beyond as she reminisced. “Like I needed to stand out more than I already did, right?”

I remember,” he said. “You seem...happier in your own skin now, if that makes sense.”

I am,” she replied, giving him an appreciative smile. “My parents weren’t wrong about everything. I discovered a new part of myself out there, I learned how to take care of myself, how to be self-sufficient.”

Yeah, it doesn’t look like you need me to scare off bullies for you anymore,” Jamie mused as he looked her up and down pointedly. She laughed, reaching across the table to ruffle his hair again, Jamie struggling to straighten it as she beamed down at him.

You were quite the little royal guard, weren’t you? Always looking out for me.”

So,” he continued, settling back into his chair. “Tell me how you got so big. Is the food just that good on Borealis?”

Borealans start off small, about the size of human toddlers,” she explained. “We're born in litters of around five or six, so it helps to be a little fuzzball. Once we hit puberty, our hormones kick in, and we start to shoot up like bean sprouts. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to go. I was the runt of my litter, that’s why my parents brought me here while they left my brothers and sisters with family on the homeworld. I think they made the right choice. It would have been rough for me, growing up in an environment where strength means everything. Got my growth spurt in the end, though,” she added as she spread her arms wide. “Man, my bones and joints used to ache enough to keep me up at night. I grew about eight inches a year.”

The difference is...pretty stark,” Jamie said. She wasn't just tall, she had packed on the muscle, probably thanks to the planet’s higher than average gravity. Just walking around on its surface must have been like resistance training. She looked as if she could chain a wrecking ball to her belly and carry it around without breaking a sweat. “I remember you being a head shorter than me, you always seemed so soft-spoken, so timid. It's hard to believe that I’m looking at the same person.”

It's really me,” she replied. “I'm your Liz, and you...” She leaned over to nudge his shoulder with her giant fist. “You're my Jamie.”

He blushed, remembering the last time she had said those words to him.

My time on Borealis changed me in other ways,” she continued, the table creaking as she leaned her weight on it. “It was rough, at first. I had read about Borealan culture, but nothing could really prepare me for it. Someone who was raised on Earth can’t possibly understand a society so alien. My parents didn’t try to introduce me to it slowly, they just tossed me into the deep end, and expected me to adjust. I’m a Borealan, and that’s what Borealans do, so they told me. To them, Earth was the alien environment, and they were returning me to normalcy.”

I get that maybe they couldn’t leave you behind,” Jamie said, “but weren’t they even a little sympathetic? I knew your parents well enough, they didn’t strike me as monsters.”

They had their reasons,” she sighed, “even if I didn’t agree with most of them.”

What was it like there?” Jamie asked. “What made is so rough?”

Day to day life on Borealis is more like living in a military boot camp than anything resembling society on Earth. They have this really strict hierarchy, like a pyramid structure,” she said as she steepled her furry fingers to demonstrate. “Everyone lives in packs, kind of like wolves, and anyone who is ranked higher than you has total authority over you. They say jump, and you’d better jump, or you’ll answer to their claws.”

That sounds...harsh,” Jamie muttered. He felt his blood run cold as he remembered the meek, unassuming girl who had cried on his shoulder when her classmates had teased her about her appearance. How could that girl have survived such an environment? Maybe she hadn’t…

They resolve all of their conflicts with violence,” she continued. “If you want to climb the social ladder, you have to fight for it. You piss off the wrong guy, and he'll just lay into you, no questions asked. They don't care about the circumstances. Even looking at someone the wrong way can be construed as a challenge to their authority, one that must be answered swiftly to save face. If someone is ranked lower than you, and they think they have a shot at taking you down, they won't hesitate. Status is everything to a Borealan.”

Jamie wasn't sure he wanted to hear any more, it sounded horrible. He couldn't stand the thought of Liz going from a comfortable life on Earth to such a violent lifestyle. She seemed to notice his dour expression, and her excitement waned a little. She lowered her hands, stopping her wild gesturing.

Hey, it's not all that,” she said in an attempt to reassure him. “I'm here, and I'm healthy, right? The story has a happy ending, I promise.”

If you say so...”

It took me a while to get it, but there’s...a strange logic to it all,” she said with a flourish of her claws. “Your pack is like your family, you share everything, you look out for each other. You’re never alone, someone always has your back. Your Alpha – they’re the highest-ranked member of the pack – is tasked with taking care of everyone under their authority. If they’re irresponsible, or they mistreat their packmates, they don’t last long. Doesn’t matter how tough you are if you have half a dozen people always gunning for your position.”

How do they even survive?” Jamie asked, eyeing her long claws. “Borealans are built like grizzly bears, wouldn’t they be spending most of their lives in the hospital?”

The thing about Borealans is, we’re tough, right? I read all about it in xenobiology classes back in college, but it was amazing to see it in action, to feel it. Our muscle fibers are far denser than those of humans,” she continued, flexing her bicep through her jacket as if to demonstrate. “We have a much more reactive immune system, too, with a healing factor that’s through the roof. You can give a guy a gash half an inch deep, and he’ll be back a couple of days later with only a scar to show for it. Humans would need stitches, weeks of recovery, but Borealans just walk it off.”

What about infections?” Jamie asked.

They happen,” she replied, “but we tend to get over them just as quickly. Believe it or not, it’s rare that anyone ever gets seriously hurt during dominance bouts, the victor is usually decided well before the fight escalates to become life-threatening.”

She put her grisly story on hold as the waitress returned with their meals, Jamie scooting his chair back a little, giving her room to place his plate of bacon and eggs on the table in front of him. She was balancing a whole tray of burgers in her other hand, it looked like an order meant for a whole booth full of diners, but she set it down before the giant Borealan. Liz licked her chops with her rough tongue, picking up one of the sandwiches in her hand. It was a sizable burger, but it looked tiny in relation to her. She chomped it in half in a single bite, and even then, Jamie still got the impression that she was pacing herself. She had always been a prodigious eater in her youth, but the amount of calories she must have to consume to maintain such a large body was mind-blowing.

Where was I?” Liz continued, swallowing a mouthful. “Oh, right. So, my family arrives on Borealis, and I'm just beside myself. I don't know which way is up. Everyone is expecting me to know all the ins and outs of their culture, and I didn't have you around to stick up for me. My parents weren't much help, and my littermates...that’s a whole story in itself. I just wanted to stay inside and hide, but they weren't having any of that. Nobody was mean to me exactly, not by their own standards, but the first month or so was...really hard on me.”

Jamie forked some bacon into his mouth, listening to her tale. He didn't feel so hungry now, his stomach was knotting as he listened to the tragic story. Liz seemed nonplussed, finishing off the remaining half of her first burger, pausing to lick some of the grease from her furry fingers with her prehensile tongue.

Damn, these are as good as I remember them,” she muttered. “So, my parents got frustrated with me and started locking me out of the house during the day. They told me to go learn what I needed to learn, toughen up.”

Liz, that's terrible,” Jamie said, grimacing at the thought. “How could they do that to you?”

You have to understand how they saw me at the time,” she explained. “I was soft, weak, in every sense. Growing up in low gravity had made me far more frail than someone of my age should have been, and being raised in human society had instilled me with ideals that just don’t exist on Borealis in the same way that they do here. In their eyes, compassion would only abet weakness, and I could only find my place in society by becoming strong.”

That’s like...asking a librarian to become a cage fighter,” Jamie marveled, shaking his head in disbelief.

Hang on, this is where it gets good!” she insisted. “I'd been there for a couple of months at this point, and I'm walking down the main market street of Elysia, which is the biggest city on the planet. It’s pretty much the unofficial capital, a backwater by Earth standards, but huge for Borealis. It's clogged with Borealans – all bigger than me, mind you – so I turned off the street and into an alleyway just to get away from the crowds. There are these guys there, maybe four or five Borealans with red hair. I didn't know it at the time, but it was a pack. These guys are blocking my way, just hanging out in this alley and chatting. Maybe they worked at a nearby stall or something, I don't know, but I tried to get past them. I tapped the biggest, baddest looking dude on the arm, just to get his attention. They probably hadn't seen me because I was so small.”

Liz swiped her claws suddenly, imitating an attack, startling Jamie as he tried to eat his fried eggs.

Boom!” she exclaimed. “I feel this searing pain in my belly, and I look down to see a red patch spreading across the front of my dress. Turns out unsolicited physical contact is a big no-no on Borealis, I might as well have just insulted his mother. This guy, who was easily two or three times my weight, just scarred me without a second thought. So I start to cry because, hell, I was still a little girl, but that just pisses them off more. Borealans loathe weakness. So this guy starts gearing up to have another go at me while his pack backs off, and I have this moment of clarity, a realization. This guy doesn’t care. He doesn't care that I'm smaller than him, that I'm a girl, that I'm upset. This is Borealis, and nobody will ever care. I could have backed off and groveled, and he would have let me go. That's how an encounter like that is expected to play out, but I didn't know that at the time.” Jamie forked another piece of bacon into his mouth, both captivated and mortified by the story.

Then I get angry,” she continued, exposing her sharp teeth in a grin. “This new feeling wells up inside me like a fever, like there’s magma in my veins, and I start seeing red. Suddenly, I understand what my parents had been trying to teach me. I could stay a scared little girl, or I could break bone. Before I know what's happening, I have this guy’s wrist in my hands, and I’m flipping him over my shoulder. I scream like a Valkyrie, and drop him on the stone paving slabs like a ton of bricks, right on his stupid face.”

She laughed at the memory, picking up another burger as Jamie listened intently.

His pack don't know what to do. This just became a dominance fight, and they can't intervene, so they just kind of back up to get some distance. You remember I used to take Aikido classes, right?” she asked as she waved her sandwich at him, a few droplets of sauce falling to the table. “At the time, I just wanted to feel more confident. I thought that if I learned how to defend myself from bullies, you might not have to feel like you had to look after me all the time.”

Yeah, I remember,” Jamie replied. She had never talked much about those classes, Jamie had always assumed that it was just good exercise.

As it turns out, Borealis has no martial arts,” she explained. She paused to lick her fingers again, Jamie watching the barbs on her tongue rake the sauce from her fur. “At least, nothing like what we have on Earth. There are a few fighting styles that they teach to soldiers, but it all revolves around their claws, they don't have any experience with throws or holds. The Alpha gets up, and if he wasn't angry before, he is now. He turns to face me and charges me at a run. The thing about Aikido is that it's all about subduing heavier, stronger opponents, ideally without actually hurting them. So if this guy thinks he can win with brute force, he's making a huge mistake.”

That’s hard to picture,” Jamie said as he tried to imagine someone of Liz’s size when she had left Earth throwing someone the size of her father around. “What did you do next?”

My training kicked in, it was like a reflex. I converted all of his weight and momentum into a throw and just launched the guy. He came down hard,” she said as she pounded her fist on the table for emphasis, making Jamie’s breakfast jump on his plate. “Before he could get up again, I pounced on his back and got his arm in a lock. I was tiny compared to him, but he couldn't break out of it. The more he struggled to try to free himself, the more the hold hurt him. I said to him in Elysian, submit, or I break it, and he must have understood well enough because he lay still. I waited a couple of minutes, I was scared he would try to attack me if I let him up, but a defeated Borealan won't have a second go. At least, not immediately. When I released him from the hold, he just kind of stumbled off. He seemed more scared of his pack than of me. I probably tanked his status.”

She chuckled to herself, finding the situation far more amusing than Jamie did. He watched her pluck another burger from her plate, popping it into her mouth like a slider, chewing happily.

I ran back home, thinking I'd been gutted, but the cuts were healed by the next day. Shredded my dress though, I liked that damned dress...”

She rose to a knee so that he could see her midriff over the table, then pulled down the zipper on her leather jacket, revealing the grey tank top that she was wearing beneath it. His eyes wandered up to her chest, and how could they not? Her breasts had filled out just as much as the rest of her, so large now that they were at least as big as his head, the outline of an oversized sports bra clearly visible beneath the insubstantial fabric. He remembered the perfect handfuls from their last night together, but these looked more likely to engulf his hands completely if he tried to cup them.

His attention was directed to her belly as she reached down to lift her top, revealing a set of developed abdominal muscles, the sight making his heart skip a beat. He had known that she was stronger now, but seeing her sculpted abs casting shadows on her tanned skin put that into a whole new perspective. If Borealis was a chisel, then she was the marble, its harsh environment shaping her into something that more resembled a Greek statue than the lithe girl that he had once known.

What she wanted to show him was the trio of faded, pink scars that trailed across her belly, contrasting with her caramel complexion. They were long-healed, but it gave him an idea of the damage that the aliens could inflict upon one another during their violent bouts.

She zipped up her jacket and sat back down, continuing her story.

From that day forward, I wasn’t scared anymore. I didn’t go looking for fights, but I never backed down, never lost. They even gave me a nickname when I started to earn a reputation,” she chuckled. “You wouldn’t be able to pronounce it in the local dialect, but it means never learns, because I didn’t have the patchwork of scars that most Borealans end up with by my age.”

She shifted her weight, perhaps growing uncomfortable sitting on the hard floor, and popped another sandwich into her mouth. She seemed to be waiting for praise, as if Jamie should be impressed by her story, but it had only made him anxious.

Jamie...” Liz crooned, her tone softening. “I've known you long enough to guess what you're thinking. It might seem like a lot has changed, but it's still me, I'm still the same girl you grew up with.”

Sorry,” he sighed, setting down his cutlery. “It’s just a little...overwhelming. You’re overwhelming,” he added, gesturing to her massive frame. She took it as a compliment, grinning back at him.

Yeah, I got pretty big, huh? It’s weird for me, too. I remember always having to look up at you, you were so much taller than me when we were kids. I used to like how that made me feel,” she added with a smile, gazing into the distance as her nostalgia overwhelmed her for a moment. “Looks like the tables have turned.”

So, tell me what Borealis was like,” Jamie said, changing the subject before he got too flustered. “The place, I mean. I think I’ve heard more than enough about the people.”

Hot,” she replied without a moment of hesitation. “Really, really hot. Couple that with the gravity, which is thirty-percent higher than on Earth, and stepping off the shuttle is like walking into a sauna with a fifty-pound rucksack on your back. I took one step off the ramp and almost buckled.”

It has its benefits, though,” he said as he gestured to her muscular frame.

You can’t help but toughen up under that kind of gravity,” she explained. “You might not believe it, but I’ve never lifted a dumbbell in my life.”

You said that Elysia was a city?” he continued.

By Borealan standards,” she chuckled. “When you say city, you think of glass skyscrapers, streets packed with cars and people. Nobody in Elysia has a car, there’s no traffic, no mag-levs. Few of the buildings are more than a couple of storeys tall due to the high gravity, and they use stone rather than steel. Hell, it’s not even customary to have windows on their houses. Helps keep the heat out. It was a real culture shock,” she continued as she licked some more grease from her fingers. “In many ways, Borealis is a medieval society. They had only just discovered gunpowder by the time humans showed up, most of the planet is pre-industrial. They’re modernizing, but slowly. Most dwellings have no electricity, no intranet, but the capital does have running water on account of it being on the shore of a giant lake.”

Is that why you were never able to contact me?” Jamie asked, seeing his opportunity to press her on the subject. “I tried to get in touch with you, but I didn’t have a clue where in Elysia you might be.”

Believe me, I wanted nothing more than to get a message back to Earth,” Liz sighed. “There was no phone service in Elysia, and besides, my parents had confiscated mine. The only line of communication off-planet is an FTL satellite operated by the UNN, and it’s not exactly easy to get a message into the queue.”

Tell me about it,” Jamie muttered.

There’s some traffic from spacecraft, mostly Navy vessels bringing in troops and supplies, but civilian trade is pretty light. You’d be lucky to see more than a couple of freighters a year, and there are no spaceports, no tethers, no orbital stations. The only way to get word to you would be to come here myself, and...that's what I did!” she said with a shrug. “It took chartering a private shuttle to get me off the surface, then I booked passage on a jump freighter to reach a colony where I could catch a more traditional flight. Had to raise the cash first, mind you. As it turns out, being an Alpha has lots of privileges. Borealans are oddly unconcerned with private property and personal wealth, the pack shares everything. If I wanted something, I generally got it.”

She patted her bomber jacket, directing his attention to her ample chest.

Cool, right?” she asked as Jamie appraised her outfit.

Yeah,” he conceded, “it’s pretty damned cool...”

Thought I'd need some human clothes if I was coming back to Earth, so I had it custom made,” she added as she tugged at the furry collar. “Say what you want about the Borealans being backward, but their artisans are without compare. Let's call it size XXXL,” she laughed, downing her last burger. “Anyway, enough about me. What have you been up to all this time? When I turned up at your apartment yesterday, you said something about hiring a detective and bribing a UNN official? That’s a story I want to hear.”

Oh, right,” Jamie replied. “Yeah, that was a few months after you left. I ran into a similar predicament as you did. I couldn’t get a message through the satellite buffer, and I had no clue where you had gone. The first thing I did was find a private eye in Old Town, hoping that I could hire him to find your new address.”

Old Town?” Liz asked, leaning her head in her hand as she listened intently. “That place was super creepy, I never liked going down that way.”

That plan fell apart pretty quickly when he explained the logistics of locating someone off-planet. Fortunately, he knew a contact in the UNN who had access to one of the quantum satellites, and who had a way to bump civilian messages up the queue. It was like communicating with a spy, it was crazy. The guy would take calls in audio-only mode, and he used a synthesizer to change his voice so that nobody could recognize him. Well, I say he, but it could just as easily have been a woman. I’d have no way of knowing.”

Exciting!”

I would have called it scary,” Jamie chuckled. “I felt like this guy was going to black bag me if he thought I might blow his cover. Anyway, his method was to encrypt the data using Navy protocols, then he’d slip the encrypted package into the buffer, passing it off as some important UNN communique. As long as the file size was pretty small, it wouldn’t attract any scrutiny. Problem was, he was asking a pretty steep price for his services.”

Here it comes,” Liz said with a shake of her head. “I didn’t think he’d put himself at risk of a court-martial out of the goodness of his heart. How much did he want?”

Five thousand credits,” Jamie replied, Liz’s feline eyes widening in surprise.

Five?” she repeated, her furry ears twitching as though she might have misheard him. “I hope you told him to cram it.”

It was cheaper than using a private company, by a considerable margin,” Jamie explained as he shrugged his shoulders. “I didn’t have much of a choice. So, I sold my console and my VR kit.”

Oh no!” Liz exclaimed, her brow furrowing. “You used to love playing that thing! What was the one you always tried to get me to play with you, the one with the guy on the station fighting Bugs? The virtual reality always used to scare the hell out of me.”

I remember that,” he said, chuckling at the memory of her flinching away from digital Drones as she waved the controllers around. “Don’t worry, I replaced it eventually, got the latest model. But yeah, I was still pretty far off the mark, so I ended up getting a part-time job to raise the money.”

All this just to get a message to me?” she asked, her expression warming.

I wanted to reconnect with you more than anything,” he blurted, composing himself as a wave of embarrassment made his cheeks warm. This was Liz, and yet, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was talking to a stranger. They had kissed in his apartment, surely it was okay to get personal? “After that note you left on my door...well, that gave me even more motivation. I felt like I had to set the record straight. For one brief moment, I had everything I ever wanted, and just when I felt as if I couldn't be any happier...you were gone. I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye.”

I couldn't face you,” Liz said, her excitable demeanor darkening as she sifted through the old memories. “That's why I left the note. It would have killed me to say goodbye, so I ran from you, I always regretted that. But if I had stayed, your last memory of me would have been miserable, and I wanted that night to live on forever. It was the closest thing to a perfect moment I've ever had,” she added, laughing more bitterly now.

I don’t know if things can go back to the way they were before,” Jamie said, Liz’s furry ears twitching as she glanced across the table at him. “Maybe we’ve grown too far apart, maybe we shouldn’t go into this with the assumption that we’re going to end up at a predetermined point, you know? But if nothing else, we can bury those regrets, make some new memories. If we part ways at the end of this, then it’ll be as friends, with nothing left unsaid.”

I like that,” Liz replied, nodding her head. “You think I’ve changed a lot, but you’ve changed more than you realize, Jamie. You’re more...pragmatic than you used to be,” she added, appraising him with a new appreciation.

You done eating?” he asked. “Come on, I want to show you something.”

***

They paid their bill and left the diner, setting off to walk the route they used to take after school. Liz was tall enough to run her claws through the leaves of the trees that lined the street now, loping along beside Jamie with long, slow strides so as not to outpace the smaller human. She drew a lot of attention, but the odd looks didn't seem to bother her anymore. She had been so timid in her youth, but now, she put her Borealan-ness on display proudly. She swaggered through the throngs of pedestrians, the crowds parting like the Red Sea to let her pass, craning their necks to get a look at the massive alien. The average human knew of Borealans, but unless they were serving in the UNN, they were unlikely to ever meet one in person. As Liz had described, the planet was primitive, and there was little civilian traffic to and from the distant world. To see a Borealan wandering around the shopping district was a once in a lifetime event.

They eventually found themselves outside the old elementary school where they had first met. It was empty, as it was a Saturday, and all of the children would be at home. Liz peered over the fence that surrounded the playground, noticing that the same swing set was still there.

I can't believe I used to be small enough to sit on that,” she mused. “I remember how scared I was on my first day. Nobody looked like me, none of the other kids wanted to play with me, until you came along.” She ruffled his blonde hair with her giant hand, smiling down at him. “You were like a guard dog. Whenever someone upset me or made me cry, you'd come running to chase them away.”

I don’t think you need my protection anymore,” Jamie chuckled, “you look like you could flip a car.”

I dunno,” she replied sarcastically. “You might want to keep another rock on hand in case Tyler gets wind that I'm back in town and comes back for round two.”

I’m curious,” Jamie continued, leaning on the fence as he gazed out at the grassy playground. “After living on Borealis for a few years, seeing what their society is like, do you think your parents made the right decision in bringing you here?” “I think they were uncommonly wise for Borealans,” she replied. “I suppose it takes an exceptional person to drop everything that they’ve ever known to become an ambassador on an alien planet. Only now do I realize that coming here was as jarring for them as going back to Borealis was for me. They had to adapt to a completely alien culture, one where the standards of conduct are drastically different. You can’t assault a human for cutting you off in the checkout queue at the grocery store, and it takes incredible willpower for a Borealan to suppress that impulse.”

You think you had a better childhood here than you would have on Borealis, then?”

Oh, for sure,” she continued. “My siblings were all seven feet tall by the time they were adolescents, I really was the runt of the litter. If my parents hadn’t decided to take me with them, I would have had a much harder childhood. If you thought being bullied for looking different was bad, try being a disadvantaged Borealan at the bottom of the sleeping pile.”

Those impulses you mentioned, do you have those too?”

Yeah, in some ways,” she said with a nod. “It’s kind of a...nature versus nurture question. It can be hard to tell which parts of it are instilled by the culture, and which are instinct. I do know that when you and I spent that night together, something new awakened inside me, like a switch had been flipped in my brain. At the time, I thought it was just...desire, but it was more than that. Going back to the old country was beneficial in that it helped me understand those feelings, I learned to control my instincts. I can see that being confusing, even scary for a Borealan with no peers of their own species. It could also end up being very destructive for someone growing up with no guidance. There would be these urges to lash out, to dominate, but without the context of the pack.”

I guess your folks had some good reasons after all,” Jamie conceded. “They kept telling me how you had to learn to be a Borealan, but I didn’t understand what that meant. I still wish that you had stayed, but...it makes me think a little better of them.”

I’m not saying they couldn’t have done it differently,” she added. “They could have eased me into it, helped me spend some time here, too. Doesn’t help that it takes months to travel between the planets, and superlight isn’t exactly a fun experience. It makes you feel like your brain is being taken apart neuron by neuron.”

I’m as muddy as they come, I don’t imagine I’ll ever go to space,” Jamie laughed.

As they gazed out at the empty playground, Jamie remembered that this was supposed to be a date. Nostalgia was all well and good, but he should be showing Liz a good time, introducing her to the person that he had become.

You want to go somewhere fun?” he asked, turning to look up at her.

Sure,” she replied. “What did you have in mind?”

***

They stepped off the mag-lev platform and took an elevator down to street level, emerging into the brickwork of the Old Town. This area was not as deserted as some of the other parts of the city, it was a tourist hot spot, with pedestrians and vehicles occupying the newly-paved streets. The abandoned buildings had been refurbished, turned into upscale coffee houses and restaurants, colorful awnings picking out the many gift shops. The shoreline lay ahead of them, the glittering ocean visible beyond, the ruins of some surviving buildings rising above its blue surface. The tide was low, revealing the carpets of seaweeds and barnacles that clung to their discolored facades, like the hull of a shipwreck. Crumbling masonry exposed rusted structural beams to the salty air, and the glass that had once made up the windows was long gone, leaving gaping openings upon which seagulls perched. Some of the buildings listed, their foundations long since eroded, but enough remained to get a good idea of what had once been.

It was a sight that had always been familiar to Jamie, the remnants of a calamity that had concluded over a hundred years before his birth, but it was hard not to feel a sense of wistfulness while looking out over the ocean.

Their destination was a far more modern structure of glass and steel that straddled the shore, nestled between the surrounding ruins. It looked like a giant kidney dish that had been turned upside down to Jamie, it had probably been designed by some overpaid and undercooked architect who had been trying to make a statement, but it was the inside of the building that interested him.

Are you taking me to the aquarium?” Liz asked, giving him a playful nudge with her elbow that was almost enough to make him stumble. “I’m not ten anymore, you know.”

The aquarium is fun and educational for all ages,” he replied in mock outrage. “Besides, I remember how much you liked to watch the fish, and Borealis has no oceans. I’d take you to the fair on the boardwalk, but you’re too tall for any of the rides.”

Oh, ha ha,” she replied sarcastically. “Alright, fish boy, show me what you’ve got.”

***

The aquarium was fairly busy, but it was no concern of Liz’s, as she could see over everyone’s heads. In many respects, she had the best view in the house. The colorful shoals of fish swimming around against the backdrop of coral reefs, and the moody, blue lighting were a pleasant reprieve from the bustle of the city. It was relaxing, and Jamie had always enjoyed the scents of the ocean. They paused by one of the large tanks to watch a group of tropical fish swim past, their patterned scales reflecting the light that filtered in from above.

Okay, maybe this was a better idea than I gave you credit for,” Liz admitted as she stood beside him. “Oh! Look at that one!” She pointed to a conger eel that was peeking its head out of a little cave in the corals, opening its jaws rhythmically as it sucked in gulps of water. “Borealis has fish, but you’d have to go catch them if you wanted to take a look at them. Browsing the meat markets was fascinating, seeing all the exotic creatures they’d dredged out of the lake or hunted in the jungle band.”

You always did like xenobiology,” Jamie added, watching the eel slide back into its shadowy crevice.

Kind of ironic, isn’t it?” she chuckled. “I was obsessed with aliens growing up, but I was technically living on an alien planet the entire time.”

They continued on, walking through a glass tunnel, sharks casting them in their shadows as they swam by lazily above their heads. The other guests seemed as interested in Liz as they were in the exhibits, but she didn’t pay them any mind, her green eyes reflecting the blue light that filtered through the water. She was forgetting about her surroundings, too absorbed in the natural beauty to care.

They visited some of the smaller tanks, admiring the seahorses, and the mesmerizing jellyfish. There was a large, open tank where guests could reach into the water and touch some of the more inoffensive creatures like starfish and small rays. Liz abstained, claiming that she didn’t want her fur to smell of seawater for the rest of the day. Instead, she watched a gaggle of squealing children lean over the side to pet the horn sharks, which seemed to provide her with just as much enjoyment.

The fish were all well and good, but the exhibit that had always intrigued Jamie was the glass walkway that had been built along the seabed, giving the visitors a view of the sunken streets just off the shore. The water was fairly shallow, the sea level had only risen by a few meters compared to when the city had been built, but it was enough to submerge vast swathes of it. It hadn’t happened suddenly, so there were no abandoned cars on the roads, no evidence of sudden chaos. There were only empty streets and crumbling buildings that were now home to fish rather than tenants. The cracked asphalt had mostly been reclaimed by seagrass and forests of kelp, waving eerily in the ocean currents, what remained of the brickwork now colonized by clusters of mussels and barnacles. A coat of green algae seemed to cover everything, even clinging to old traffic signs that had somehow remained upright.

They stopped as a shoal of silvery fish glided above the tunnel, watching them swim by.

You know, I could come here any time I want,” Jamie said as he gazed up at the water’s shimmering surface high above. “But I don’t, and I’m not sure why. What makes us think that we can only do fun things on special occasions?”

They exited through the gift shop, a rather large room that was packed with memorabilia, as well as more decorative fish tanks. Everything was painted ocean-blue, with various representations of cartoon sea life adorning the walls. There were shelves and stands packed with plastic toys and plush sea creatures, more shrill children racing between the aisles as their handlers struggled to keep up with them.

Something bright and orange caught his eye, Jamie leading his confused date over to a pile of stuffed fish. He raised a large, plush clownfish the size of a pillow, presenting it to her. She scrutinized its plastic eyes and its cartoon smile, cocking her head at him.

You need a new clownfish,” he insisted, “I think you’ve outgrown the last one.”

I can’t believe you still remember buying me that thing,” she replied, shaking her head. She was trying to maintain a neutral expression, but it was starting to crack, the beginnings of a smile appearing on her face.

Do they have giant, stuffed clownfish on Borealis?” Jamie asked. “I’m guessing not.”

I feel like clownfish are becoming a thing with us,” she grumbled, crossing her arms. “I don’t want our thing to be clownfish.”

Do you want the clownfish?”

Yes,” she conceded, “I want the clownfish...”

He handed it off to her, Liz examining the soft toy for a moment, smirking at its friendly face. They brought it to the cashier, who seemed remarkably nonplussed about seeing someone buying a giant fish for an even larger alien, Liz tucking her prize under her arm as they left the aquarium.

You want to get something to eat?” Jamie asked, gesturing to the many restaurants along the boardwalk.

Always,” she replied, “but I’m paying. Feeding a full-grown Borealan is going to bankrupt you.”

They selected one of the seafront cafés, choosing one that had outside seating so that Liz wouldn't have to cram into a human-sized building. She pushed the chairs aside again and sat on the wooden deck cross-legged, placing her clownfish in her lap. If she had to duck now, it was to avoid hitting her head on the colorful parasol that rose from the middle of the round table. They ordered a meal from the alarmed waiter, chatting as they ate, Liz's portions no less impressive than the half dozen burgers she had eaten at the diner.

It was Jamie’s turn to get some salt and grease, so he was eating a rather large burger on a sesame seed bun, melted strands of yellow American dripping down onto his plate. It came with a helping of fat fries that had been liberally salted and soaked in vinegar, and it was all washed down with a bottle of root beer.

Liz’s plate was loaded with meatball subs, several of them stacked one on top of the other, like a spread of hotdogs at a backyard barbecue. She lifted one, taking a large bite, chewing happily as Jamie smiled at her from across the table.

How does Earth food compare to Borealan cuisine?” he asked. “Did you miss eating greasy burgers while you were there?”

She paused for a moment, finishing chewing before she replied.

Meat? No,” she began. “Beef and pork are great, but the homeworld has plenty of tasty and exotic animals to make into steaks. What I missed most was the cheese, believe it or not. There are livestock that produce milk on the homeworld, and they know how to make it into cheese, but their palate is completely different. It has no bite, no zest, and they like their salt.”

You never liked sweet stuff,” he continued, popping a fry into his mouth. “I would have figured you’d prefer Borealan food, if anything.”

That’s true in some cases. For example, they don’t use sauces on the homeworld, there’s nothing like ketchup or mustard. Instead, they refine their favorite flavors into oils, usually from the various kinds of fish they catch in the lake. They keep them in little vials and just sprinkle it onto their food. Imagine going to a restaurant and seeing a guy pull a little bottle of soy sauce out of his pocket, and shake a few drops onto his pasta. That’s the kind of stuff they do.”

Fish oil?” Jamie asked, sticking out his tongue.

Or vegetable oil. Borealans can’t taste sugar very well, so it’s all about savory dishes.”

Do they have restaurants there?”

Of course,” she replied, taking another bite of her sandwich. “Food is a huge part of Borealan culture, especially in Elysia, where they import all kinds of exotic dishes from all over the planet. It’s a little different, though. Every meal for them is a banquet because they have to feed a whole pack of between maybe four and eight people.” She waved a hand across their little table, holding her sub in the other as she described the scene. “Imagine if you stacked four or five dining tables side to side, then piled them with meat and gourds, medieval style. We’re talking entire roasted animals, cuts of meat stacked this high,” she added as she raised her hand. “And they’ll eat the whole spread in one sitting, like they’re at an all-you-can-eat buffet, ten thousand calories apiece or more.”

I’m imagining a pride of lions eating a zebra,” Jamie laughed.

You wouldn’t be too far off. The Alpha gets their pick of the best cuts, of course, then everyone else digs in. It’s fun, a little like attending a dinner party every day. It’s much more of a social experience. Everyone eats with their hands, too,” she added as she flexed her claws. “We come with our cutlery built-in.”

I’ll keep that in mind if we ever go out to eat anywhere fancy,” Jamie chuckled. “It sounds like there are quite a lot of things you ended up liking about Borealis. Are you planning to stay on Earth long-term, or are you going back there at some point?”

I didn't really think that far ahead,” she replied, scratching her chin with her black claws pensively. “I figured I'd just show up and see how we got along before I made any serious plans. I’d invite you to visit, but I don't think you'd fare well on Borealis,” she added as she gestured at him with a half-eaten sub sandwich. “The gravity alone means that humans can't stay there unaided for more than a few months, and the heat! You get out of that shuttle on your first landing, and it's like being hit in the face with a red-hot shovel.”

Are there no planets out there that are just perpetual autumn?” he wondered, finishing up his burger. “Sign me up for that colony.”

So, what are we doing next?” Liz asked. “We’ve got a whole afternoon left.” “I’m trying to think of some things we can do that you can’t do on Borealis,” he replied, considering for a moment. “Oh, I have a perfect idea!”

Are you going to tell me what it is?” she asked.

Nope, it’s more fun that way.”

***

They finished up their meal, then made their way back in the direction of the city, the towering skyscrapers dominating the skyline ahead. They stopped at a churro stand briefly, Liz loading up with a large paper bag of the long pastries.

I thought you didn’t like sweet flavors much?” Jamie asked, confused by the choice.

I don’t,” she replied, popping one into her mouth. “I love the texture, though.”

They entered a nearby building, riding an elevator up to a mag-lev platform on one of the higher floors, taking the car deeper into the city. The train sped along the magnetized rail, winding between skyways full of pedestrians, weaving around buildings like a theme park ride. They were so high up that the streets below were scarcely even visible, giving the impression that there was no ground, only a city suspended in the clouds. Liz couldn’t sit, the seats were too small for her, but she was content to stand as she peered out of the windows.

After switching to another train, they arrived at their destination, taking yet another elevator down to ground level. The streets in this part of the city were aglow with neon signs and holographic advertisements, every building adorned with flashing billboards. After leaving the aquarium, it almost looked like they had once again being plunged into the depths of an ocean, surrounded by a bioluminescent coral reef. In place of shoals of fish were cars driving along in perfect synchronization, the glass facades of the skyscrapers taking the place of the sheer walls of a deep-sea trench.

Liz’s reflective eyes glittered as they caught the light, her attention drawn by a holographic depiction of a Chinese dragon as it snaked its way between the buildings above the street, belching a plume of flickering flame. Its scaly body was semi-transparent, wavering a little as it floated along, but the projectors made the effect convincing enough.

Bet you don’t get this on Borealis,” Jamie said, nudging his companion.

I don’t remember it being so vibrant,” she replied, turning on the spot as she watched the dragon’s feathery tail phase into an adjacent building. “Then again, I can’t remember the last time I came down this way. I feel like I didn’t appreciate the small things while I was here. I assumed it would last forever, that there would always be time.”

Come on,” Jamie said, taking her by the furry hand. “This isn’t what I wanted you to see.”

He led her through the streets, the abundance of distractions giving them pause what seemed like every few paces. They stared into store windows, seeing holographic depictions of animated characters dancing, the bright shades of neon from the flashing signs above bathing them in pinks and blues. The sun was starting to set now, darkening the sky, only making the colors pop even more.

They eventually arrived at their destination, the foot of a building that seemed even larger than the impressive skyscrapers that surrounded it. Liz craned her neck as she adjusted her clownfish, looking up at its tall spire, the structure seeming to melt into the very sky itself. It was hard to get an idea of just how large it was from such a distorted perspective.

Is this...”

The tallest free-standing building on the East coast,” Jamie replied. “The spire reaches ten thousand feet, about two miles. The tethers are taller, obviously, but I never found glorified cargo elevators quite as impressive.”

They entered into a lobby that could have fit several smaller buildings inside it, a cavernous space filled with curving steel and glass, the architect displaying an aversion to straight lines that gave everything an organic and somewhat disorienting feel. The floor was polished to a mirror sheen, giving the impression that the lobby was twice the size it really was, a maze of walkways and support beams extending high above them.

The elevators here actually had rows of seats, as the ride to the top of the spire could take nearly three minutes. They were too small for Liz to sit on, but she was content to stand, watching as even the towering skyscrapers that surrounded them shrank down to the size of glass shards.

This is what I wanted to show you,” Jamie said, standing beside her as they looked out over the city. The sun was dipping below the horizon, painting the sky with streaks of pink and orange, making the layered clouds above seem to glow. It filtered in through the windows, bathing them in its light, casting long shadows behind the rows of chairs. “For roughly every five thousand feet that we climb above sea level, we get an extra minute of sunset. It’s almost like reversing time, making it last longer.”

It was worth the mag-lev ride over here,” she replied, pressing up against the glass as she admired the view. “There are no sunsets in space, you know. The sun dips behind the Earth, yeah, but all of that beautiful color is created by the sun’s light scattering in the atmosphere. No atmosphere, no lovely colors.”

Then, we can’t get a whole lot higher while still being able to see the sunset?”

That’s right. If you flew a shuttle up to the edge of the atmosphere, it wouldn’t look nearly this good. There’s other stuff to look at, of course.”

The elevator finally came to a stop at their floor, and they stepped out into a large observation deck, a disk-shaped platform of glass and steel that projected out from the tower’s facade. The floor beneath their feet was transparent in places, giving a practically unimpeded view of the nearly two-mile drop below. Jamie peered at the building beneath them, an optical illusion created by its immense height and tapered design making it seem as though they were perched atop a giant pole, the spires of the city’s skyscrapers piercing through a low-hanging carpet of clouds.

There were a few other tourists milling about, but it was late, and the deck was mostly deserted.

He followed Liz over to the far window, watching the last rays of the sun dip beneath the horizon, the pastel colors giving way to twinkling stars. They were far closer to the ground than to the edge of space, but the darkness that slowly draped itself over the world gave the opposite impression. In the distance, they could make out one of the orbital tethers. It was the only structure that rose higher than their current vantage point, covered in blinking warning lights that were intended to ward off errant aircraft.

Liz turned to smile at him, her large frame silhouetted against the window.

This was nice,” she said, leaning back against the reinforced glass with her clownfish clutched beneath her arm. “I’m not used to a lot of tact when it comes to males. Borealans aren’t renowned for their sensitive side, after all. I’ve never really been on a date before,” she added, her cheeks warming as she glanced up at the stars. “I mean, this didn’t really feel any different from the stuff you and me used to do back in the day, but...maybe that’s why I like it so much.”

Glad I made a good impression,” he replied, Liz reaching down to ruffle his blonde hair with her furry hand.

You’re still as sweet as you were when I left, just as thoughtful. The fact that I’ve been living around savages for the better part of three years kinda gives you an unfair advantage,” she added with a grin, “but hey.”

Who said I had to play fair?” he asked, Liz chuckling at him. “Are you ready to go? The sun has gone down, there’s not much left to see.”

Let’s stay just a little longer,” she replied, turning her eyes back to the horizon.

***

They stepped off the mag-lev at Jamie’s building, riding the elevator up to his floor. Liz followed him along the hallway to the door, where she waited as he turned to face her, leaning with her upper arm against the wall above the frame. She still had her fish tucked under her arm, the neon-orange, smiling toy clashing with every other aspect of her appearance.

I had fun today,” she said, her leather jacket creaking as she lowered her head a little to see through the doorway. “You know, I...debated whether I should come back at all. I didn’t want to just butt in on your new life, I didn’t know if you would have your own thing going on, and if there might be any room for me. I’m glad I did, though.”

Me too,” Jamie replied, rubbing his arm awkwardly as they stood there in silence for a moment. “You know,” he added, gesturing over his shoulder with his thumb. “There’s a bouillon cube with your name of it if you’d like to stick around a little longer.” “Nah, I should get back,” she replied as she stood up straight. “Your couch shouldn’t have to suffer on my account, I have a perfectly good bed waiting for me in my hotel room back at the spaceport. Don’t worry,” she added, brandishing her clownfish. “I’ve got this little guy to keep me company.”

Alright,” Jamie replied. “So...I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”

He had phrased it as a question, wanting to know whether the date had been a success, and Liz was swift to answer him.

She crouched to bring herself level with him, his heart leaping as her emerald eyes locked to his own. They were just as he remembered them, glittering as they reflected the light that bled out of his apartment, her feline pupils dilated into circles in the gloom of the corridor. She suddenly thrust the clownfish into his chest, giving him little choice but to wrap his arms around it, then she reached out to cup his face in her hand. He felt her silky fur against his cheek, the prick of her claws as she guided him closer, leaning in for a kiss. Their lips met for only a few moments, it was nothing like the desperate need that he had felt the night before, but the teasing strokes of her agile tongue as it darted into his mouth conveyed an unspoken promise. There was more to come, this was just a taste…

She snatched her stuffed toy from his grasp as she drew back, leaving him dazed, her cheeks warming as she returned the orange fish to its place under her arm.

To tide you over until tomorrow,” she explained, straightening her jacket. “I’ll be here, same time.”

Can’t wait,” Jamie replied, not sure of what else to say. She returned his smile, then headed off down the hallway, the door closing automatically once she was out of range of the sensor.

He made his way over to the living area, collapsing down into the couch, staring at the ceiling. His head was still spinning from her kiss, and he felt like his heart was swelling in his chest, an electrical excitement arcing across his skin. He felt a little like he had the night that Liz had confessed her feelings for him in front of the fireplace.

He hadn’t expected her to stay the night just yet, he wasn’t even sure if that was the kind of relationship they were going to end up with at the end of this. Liz seemed just as eager to rekindle that old flame as he was, but she was just as cautious. They both knew that rushing headlong into a new relationship would be a mistake, that they had to take their time, make sure that their chemistry was born of more than just nostalgia. Liz was different, but she was still Liz, and he was liking the person that she had become more and more. She was confident, she was proud of her heritage, she no longer felt the need to hide from prying eyes. But even after all that she had been through on Borealis, she would still melt at the sight of a plush clownfish, she was still wooed by sunsets and burgers.

In truth, her appearance was so different from what he remembered that he hadn’t really decided what to make of her yet. Gone was the five-foot-nothing girl who had to crane her neck to look him in the eyes, gone was the lithe figure, so light that he could lift her in his arms like a toy. Her sheer physicality was so overwhelming now, but every time he remembered how she had lifted her shirt in the diner to show him her sculpted midriff, he felt a stirring in his loins.

Would she even see him in the same light after spending three years living around guys who could bench-press a small car? He remembered how her furry hands had explored him, how she had tested the firmness of his muscles, but what would she make of him now? He was practically a child by her standards.

There was certainly an attraction there, that was undeniable, but he would have to wait and see what came of it. Lord, would he even survive sharing a bed with her if it came to that? The claws that had once left stinging trails on his back were now large enough to fillet him like a fish, and she had enough weight to crush his pelvis into dust if she wanted to be on top again.

He shook his head, driving such thoughts from his mind. There would be time enough for lurid speculation later. Right now, he needed to take a shower and figure out where he was going to take her tomorrow.

CHAPTER 7: SECOND DATE

Liz arrived right on time, Jamie opening the door to see her massive frame blocking it completely. She leaned down so that she could see him, waving a clawed hand in greeting. He invited her in, and she carefully lowered herself down onto his couch, her hips so wide that she could take up almost the entire thing by herself.

Want anything to drink?” he asked, finishing off the last mouthful of his morning coffee.

Nah, let’s get some breakfast somewhere,” she replied. “There are no pigs on Borealis, and I have a hankering for some bacon.” She opened her mouth to yawn, exposing a set of sharp teeth, her long tongue coiling in the air like the tentacle of an octopus. “Sorry,” she added, “still adjusting to Earth’s schedule. Jumplag is a bitch.”

I know a place that does a great full English,” Jamie said, pulling on his jacket. “I stop there on my way to work sometimes. Come on, it’s only a few levels down.”

They rode an elevator down to the nearest plaza, a commercial area that took up a few floors of the building, walkways and platforms extending across the open shaft that made up its core. There was a steady flow of fresh air that rose up from the ground level, convection keeping it circulating through the structure, the breeze rustling the leaves on the decorative trees and ferns. With the sunlight that made it through the carefully-placed windows, one could almost pretend that they were outside, at least enough to save from going stir crazy.

The café had a nice view of the city, so they sat at a table near one of the windows, Liz taking up her usual position on the floor. They both ordered an English breakfast, with several human portions for the hungry Borealan, watching the sunrise as they ate.

I meant to ask you about packs,” Jamie said, watching as Liz consumed what looked like a pound of bacon. “You had one on Borealis, right? What was that like?”

There are good things and bad things about living in a pack,” she began, mulling over the question as she prodded at a fried egg with a fork that seemed far too small for her giant hands. “On one hand, you’re never alone, but on the other, you’re never alone. It can be nice to know that there’s a group of people who will never leave your side, who will back you up no matter what, but getting a moment of peace from them can be difficult. They’re like lost puppies, they don’t know what to do with themselves when left to their own devices.”

I suppose that most Borealans wouldn’t ever want isolation,” Jamie suggested, Liz nodding her head.

You’re probably right. The fact that I wanted to just be on my own sometimes must have confused them. They didn’t like that I wouldn’t sleep with them, either. Borealans all share a big bed and sleep in a pile, it’s a social thing, but that was one aspect of pack life that clashed way too strongly with my Earth upbringing.”

How does it work?” Jamie continued, pausing to take a sip of his coffee. “Like, are there Borealans without a pack who you choose from?”

It’s a little more...violent than that,” she explained. “If I fight you, and you lose, that makes you subordinate to me. If you decide you don’t want to fight, and you choose to submit, same deal. If you’re subordinate to me, that means you have to do what I say. A pack is usually made up of an Alpha, and between four and eight Borealans who are submissive to them. The Alpha’s job is then to look out for the welfare of their pack, keep them safe, a little like a parent figure. After winning a few fights, I ended up with some tagalongs, and things kind of just escalated from there. It felt weird at first, but it made me safer, and they ended up being genuinely helpful. Imagine having five people hanging out with you who want to cook for you and do your laundry because you beat them up,” she laughed, reveling in the absurdity of it. “They weren’t really my friends, or my family, but those are the only human terms I can think of that come close.”

And what they own becomes yours, right?”

Yeah, the pack pools their resources. Suddenly, I had a house, because one of my packmates owned one. I had money that wasn’t mine, but that they trusted me to spend on their behalf. I was living very comfortably after a while, it ended up being pretty easy to get what I wanted.” She looked out of the window at the sky beyond, leaning her head in her hand, reflecting for a few moments. “It would have been just as easy to get carried away with it all. I could have kept climbing the ladder until I was as rich and as powerful as a Matriarch, but I was so fixated on my goal of getting back here.”

Sounds like you became pretty tight,” Jamie continued, dipping a piece of toast in his egg yolk. “Was it hard to leave them behind?”

A little,” she admitted. “I could have brought them back with me, and they would have been glad to follow, but it wouldn’t have been fair. I’ve been ripped from one society and transplanted into another, I know what it feels like to be lost, confused. They’ll be fine,” she added, shrugging her shoulders. “My second-in-command will take over, and it will be like I never left. This is where I want to be,” she said confidently. “If things don’t work out, I have something to go back to, but y’know...”

If their relationship didn’t work out, was what she meant, but it was still too soon to say so openly. Liz had built a life on Borealis, one that she had abandoned to come find him. It made him feel even worse about how he had initially greeted her upon her return.

What about you?” she asked, popping another strip of bacon into her mouth as she peered at him across the table with an expectant look in her eyes. “Did you just sit on your hands while I was gone, or did you try to date any of those girls who were always chasing you around like pigs sniffing out a truffle?”

That’s an interesting way of putting it,” he chuckled.

I had no love for those girls,” she continued, spearing a Yorkshire pudding rather aggressively with her fork. “They were airheads, they only liked you because of your looks. Besides, you were my Jamie.”

He laughed, then sobered a little as he considered what he wanted to tell her. It was no real crime to have kissed Rachel in Liz’s absence, it wasn’t like they were engaged, and Liz seemed to have expected him to pursue other relationships. Still, it kind of felt like a betrayal, as little sense as that made. It was probably better, to be honest.

There was this one time,” he began, Liz’s ears pricking up. “It was maybe a year after you left. I got invited to this house party in the old suburb where you used to live, and one of my friends told me that Rachel wanted me to attend.”

Rachel,” Liz mused, scratching her chin as she wracked her brain. “Oh, yeah, I think I remember her. Blonde hair, bit of a queen bee, well-endowed,” she chuckled.

Jamie was about to inform her that calling anyone else well-endowed was a form of irony but quickly thought better of it. Judging by the bulges in her bomber jacket, Liz was sporting breasts that were easily larger than Rachel’s entire head.

Did I give you a thing for blondes, Jamie?” Liz teased. “It’s kind of cute...”

As it turned out, getting me to attend was just part of her master plan,” he continued as he wiggled his fingers ominously for emphasis. “She likely put my friend up to inviting me, and she made sure that I ended up alone with her pretty quickly. I was drinking a bit, one thing led to another, and we ended up in one of the upstairs bedrooms.”

Now, Liz’s smile faltered a little. She might have been expecting him to have dated other people during her absence, but hearing it from his own lips probably stung more than she had anticipated.

Don’t worry,” he added hastily, “we didn’t go any further than a kiss.”

It’s not like I’m worried,” she grumbled, rapping her claws on the table in a way that suggested otherwise. “I was gone, I didn’t expect you to save yourself indefinitely.”

Thing is, the moment our lips touched, it just felt...wrong. I’d been kissed before, by someone who meant it,” he continued as his face began to redden. The implication wasn’t lost on Liz, her expression warming again. “I was drunk off my ass, and the only thing going through my head was that I had to get away. So I’m backing away from Rachel, who is now yelling at me for rejecting her, trying to find some way out of that room. I spy a window, so I throw it open and jump down from the second floor. Luckily, there was a bay window to break my fall, or I might have busted an ankle. She was still screaming obscenities at me as I ran off down the street with my pants falling around my ankles.”

Liz threw her head back, laughing at the mental image.

I don’t suppose that won you many friends in her clique?” she asked, still chuckling to herself.

I was basically persona non grata for the next two years of college,” he replied, unable to contain his own smile. “You’d think it would be humiliating, but it really wasn’t. Those people were never my friends, their opinions were meaningless to me. From that point, I just focused on graduating and on my job. I’ve not thought much about relationships since.”

That’s a good story,” she said, finishing off her eggs. “You’ve made new friends since then, right?”

Oh, sure,” he said with a nod. “There are some guys I met at work who I hang out with pretty often, they’re cool. We started chatting on shift, and it turned out that most of us played the same games, so we ended up playing together.”

You should show me,” Liz said. “I’ve been out of the loop for a while, haven’t played any games in ages.”

I’d take you to an arcade, but I doubt they’d have any headsets in your size.”

So, what are we doing today?” she asked as she set down her cutlery. “Got anything special planned?”

I had a few things in mind,” he replied. “You done with your meal? Let’s get to it.”

***

What’s holo-painting?” Liz asked, looking up at the sign above the twin doors. She was so tall that the animated graphic was nearly at eye-level to her. They had traveled across the city to another skyscraper by mag-lev, their destination situated on one of the building’s commercial plazas. It wasn’t unlike the one where they had eaten breakfast earlier that morning, convection carrying a pleasant breeze up through the building’s hollow core, the walkways around them clogged with shoppers going about their business.

You’ll find out,” Jamie replied, leading her inside. “I was up late last night trying to think of cool date ideas, and this was one of the places I looked up.”

There aren’t many people here,” she said, glancing around the mostly empty foyer.

I thought it would be a good idea to come early. That way, you’d have more room to move around.”

They walked over to a counter, behind which was a woman in a dark-grey uniform that was patterned with a rainbow of fake paint splotches. She glanced up at them, doing a double-take when she saw Liz towering over her. She quickly turned her attention back to her computer terminal, beginning to swipe at the holographic display.

I’d like a two-hour session for a party of two, please,” Jamie said. She waved her hands across her display with practiced speed, scarcely looking up from her work.

That’ll be twenty-five credits each for a total of fifty,” she replied, ducking behind the counter. She reemerged with two cylindrical objects in her hands, setting them on the surface. It was a pair of remotes molded from dark plastic, each one sporting a handful of buttons, and a semi-transparent sphere the size of a golf ball on one end.

Here are your controllers,” the employee explained. “This strap fastens around your wrist, please keep it on at all times to avoid damaging the device by dropping or throwing it. This button here toggles the brush size, this one changes the color, and this one is the eraser.”

Liz lifted one of the controllers, tying the strap around her wrist. It was small in her oversized hand, but still perfectly usable, even if she might have some difficulty hitting the buttons with her padded fingers.

It’s just through there,” the employee said, gesturing to a door at the end of the foyer. “I’ll start your timer when you go through.”

Liz eyed Jamie quizzically, and he gave her a reassuring nod, affixing his own device. They made their way through the door and into a large, open room, the walls covered in some kind of black fabric. The floor and ceiling were similarly dark, and the only details that they could make out were a series of angled lights arranged on rigs all around them. It looked like the lighting for a concert, but miniature, a few of the devices swiveling to track them. It was so dark that once the door was closed, they were plunged into almost complete blackness.

Jamie switched on his controller, the semi-transparent ball on its tip lighting up with a dull, red glow. He waved it through the air like a wand, leaving a trail of what looked like crimson paint in the air. It was holographic, projected by the many devices that surrounded them, flickering a little as it hovered there.

Liz walked around the floating streak, her eyes wide as she examined it.

It’s a hologram,” she mused, passing her hand through it. “This room must be a giant projector.”

It’s like 3D painting,” Jamie explained, changing the color to green before drawing another line. Liz did the same, waving her controller through the air, drawing a floating spiral above his head.

Okay, that’s pretty cool,” Liz chuckled. “Stand still a sec...”

She waved her wand near his face, then on top of his head, standing back to appraise her work. Jamie stepped aside, seeing that she had doodled whiskers and a pair of cat ears on him, which were now hovering where he had been standing.

I think it’s an improvement,” she said, crossing her arms as she grinned at him.

***

After half an hour of messing around and drawing clown faces on each other, they decided to fill in one corner of the room with a jungle, doing their best to replicate trees and plants. Liz was taller, so she handled the hanging vines, the branches, and the leaves. Jamie crouched low to the floor, covering it in a carpet of ferns, changing the hue of his virtual brush to create colorful flowers. No matter how crude their artwork, the three-dimensional aspect gave the amateurish representations of plants a certain realism that they would have lacked on paper, the two of them ducking and leaning around the flickering lines as they added more to their canvas.

You should add in some parrots on those branches,” Jamie suggested as he added the finishing touches to a blue rose. “You still remember what they look like?”

I wasn’t gone that long,” she chuckled, giving him a playful whip with her long tail. “I’ll do a...macaw. She’ll be blue, with a yellow belly.”

I want to do something with some color,” Jamie said, stepping back to admire their work. “Maybe some tree frogs.”

Poison dart frog,” Liz said.

Yeah, those ones with the black spots.”

I was skeptical at first, but this is pretty fun,” Liz chuckled. “Shame we can’t keep it, it’ll all get erased when our time is up.”

Maybe we can take a picture when we’re finished,” Jamie replied, Liz nodding her head. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and unfolded it, checking the display. “We’ve got about ten minutes left.”

I’m just putting the finishing touches on my parrot,” she said, filling in the black beak. Satisfied, she drew back, twirling her wand around on its strap. “Not too shabby, considering I haven’t seen a zoology textbook in three years.”

Okay, stand in the middle of it,” Jamie said as he held up his phone. He put it in the vertical position, as their pastel jungle was a little taller than it was wide. Liz placed her hands on her hips proudly, grinning at the camera. “Got it.”

This is something about Earth that I really missed,” she sighed, turning to glance at their creation again.

What, painting?” Jamie asked as he cocked an eyebrow at her.

No, not that. I meant not being constantly preoccupied with keeping up appearances. On Borealis, everything that you do is scrutinized, and anything that could be perceived as a show of weakness or vulnerability is exploited. You’re on guard all the time, and your social status is tied directly to your quality of life, to your level of autonomy. I don’t have to posture, I don’t have to play the tough guy, I can just paint tree frogs with my goofy boyfriend.”

Boyfriend?”

Yeah,” she replied, giving him a grin. “We’re on a date, aren’t we?”

I suppose we are, yeah,” he replied as he returned her infectious smile.

Time’s nearly up,” she added, glancing at their painting again. She turned back to him, a mischievous glint in her green eyes. “Wanna trash it?”

Yeah,” Jamie replied, brandishing his wand gleefully. They proceeded to scrawl all over the jungle scene, erasing parts of it, vandalizing others. Before long, they had covered it all in multi-color paint, leaving a mess that looked remarkably like a work of abstract art.

That was fun,” Liz chuckled, unzipping her jacket to cool off a little. There was a sudden loud, clunking sound, the lights in the room turning on as the holographic painting vanished in a shimmer. The door to the room swung open, Jamie nodding in its direction.

Looks like our time’s up.”

***

I want to go to a park,” Liz said as they stepped out onto the street at ground level.

We can do that,” Jamie replied, pulling up his phone. “There’s one not far from us, and we can pick up some food on the way there, make a picnic out of it.”

Now you’re talking my language,” she said, giving him a nudge with her elbow.

Gotta keep that Borealan engine fired up,” he chuckled. “I think this calls for street food, you usually can’t go ten paces without seeing a stall. Come on, the park is this way,” he added as he gestured down the street.

Being in the company of a Borealan had its benefits. The crowds that clogged the sidewalk were quick to scurry out of her path, erroneously fearing that she would crush them beneath her feet. It made strolling through the city a whole lot less claustrophobic.

It wasn’t long before they encountered a food stall, or rather, before Liz’s nose caught its scent. She was like a bloodhound, turning her head to track the enticing smell, leading Jamie over to a wheeled cart that was set up on the side of the street. As they approached, he began to smell it too, the scents joined by the electrical whir of a battery bank. It was powering an animated sign with a depiction of what looked like meat on a rotisserie, along with a Greek flag. There was a vending machine built into the side of the cart, another sign promising cold beverages.

Inside was a portly man standing beside a hunk of meat that was slowly turning on a vertical spit, the red glow of a heating element roasting it as it rotated, giving it a golden-brown color.

Gyros!” Liz exclaimed, practically bouncing on the spot as she leaned in to examine the flickering menu that was being projected beside the window. The owner seemed alarmed by the sudden appearance of the towering alien, but her excitement was endearing, and he leaned out to greet them.

What can I get you?” he asked, his completely mundane accent contrasting with the Greek stylings of his cart.

I’ll take five chicken gyros with all the trimmings, and two helpings of fries,” Liz replied. “Don’t hold the cheese, I want as much as you’re legally allowed to give me.”

Alright,” the man chuckled as he vanished into the shadow of his stall. “Big eater, this one. And you, sir?”

I guess I’ll have what she’s having,” Jamie replied. “One portion, though.”

Coming right up,” the man replied, lifting a piece of thick pita bread that more resembled a pancake. He began to scrape off meat from the surface of the rotating mass with a sharp knife, stacking it tall on the bread. When the first one was suitably full, he moved over to another worktop, adding slices of onion, and a handful of iceberg lettuce. After that, he added what looked like a generous helping of feta cheese, sprinkling it on top of the mess.

You want the Tzatziki sauce with that?” he asked, Jamie looking to Liz for guidance.

Yeah, plenty of sauce,” she replied. “Don’t worry,” she added, glancing back at Jamie with a wide smile on her face. “It’s really good.”

Trust the alien to know more about Earth cuisine than I do,” he grumbled, watching the man work his magic. He was so fast, every step of the process practiced to perfection, his knife flashing through the air. He must have done this a hundred times a day for years, he was like a surgeon with that thing. In no time at all, the six gyros were ready. They were stacked neatly on the worktop, each one wrapped in silver foil to keep it warm and to prevent it from collapsing on itself. Next came the fries, the vendor dunking them into a vat of bubbling oil, the smells making Jamie’s stomach growl.

He’d better start watching his diet, or no amount of running would save him from the collateral damage of spending time with Liz.

When everything was all bagged up, Jamie thanked the man and paid him. He paused to get a soda from the vending machine before they left, Liz cradling the hot paper bag in her arms protectively as though it were a baby. The temptation to eat as they walked was great, the smell rising from the bag was making Jamie’s mouth water, but they elected to wait until they found a suitable place to sit at the park.

Before long, they came upon a patch of greenery nestled between the skyscrapers, footpaths leading deeper into the trees. It was autumn, and their leaves were a hundred shades of red, yellow, brown, and orange. As they made their way deeper, the thoughtful landscaping almost let them forget that they were in the center of the city, only the towering spires of glass that rose above the treetops dispelling the illusion.

They found a grassy embankment beside an artificial lake, starting to eat their picnic as they watched waterbirds skim along its calm surface. Liz had been right, the gyros were great. The chicken was tender, the pita bread was thick and doughy, and the Tzatziki sauce had the texture of yogurt with a lemon aftertaste.

The Earth is so green,” Liz muttered, taking a large bite of her gyro as she watched a duck land on the water. It waggled its tail, flapping its wings for a moment before floating off like a paper boat. “I never thought I’d miss something as simple as the colors of autumn, it seems so trivial.”

Don’t they have seasons on Borealis?” Jamie asked as he dipped a fry in his sauce.

They do, but it’s pretty different. The only seasons are summer and winter, and winter comes twice a month, when the secondary of the two binary stars eclipses the primary. The whole world seems to freeze over for a few days, the temperatures plummet, the lakes ice over. All of the life there has adapted to the cycle, there are even evergreen jungles.”

The secondary star is cooler, then, and blocks the light from the primary?”

That’s right,” she replied. “I can’t even begin to explain how weird it is to look up at the sky and see two suns. I miss the Moon, too. Borealis doesn’t have one.”

Is there anything you liked about living there?” Jamie asked, pulling off a chunk of pita bread and tossing it to a duck. The animal came waddling up onto the grassy embankment, wolfing the morsel down without chewing.

Living next to the lake is nice,” she replied, consuming most of a gyro in one large bite. “Most of the planet is a desert, but there are giant lakes all over its surface, spread hundreds of miles apart. Each one has a jungle band, a ring of greenery that grows around the shore, and it creates a kind of pocket climate. The towns and cities are usually built right on the shore of the lake, and considering how unrelentingly hot it is all of the goddamned time, it’s nice to be able to take a dip in the water.”

You always used to like swimming when we were younger,” Jamie said, tossing another piece of bread to the growing crowd of hungry ducks. “You stopped sometime in high school.”

Yeah, I was pretty self-conscious about my body back then,” she admitted. “Wearing a swimsuit made me feel really exposed. Turns out my people are big swimmers, that’s probably where I got it from. Barehanded fishing is a competitive sport over there.”

How about now?” he asked, Liz giving him a sideways glance.

Are you so eager to see me in a bikini, Jamie?”

He wasn’t sure how to respond, Liz laughing as he took a defiant bite of his wrap.

Of all the things that the Earth has to offer, this is what I missed the most,” she chuckled.

What’s that?” Jamie asked.

You,” she explained. “The way that humans interact, your flavor of romance.” She sighed contentedly, looking out over the lake as Jamie listened curiously. “There’s this...back and forth with you that just doesn’t exist on the homeworld. The teasing, the uncertainty, the jokes and games. It’s like a game of chess where the prize is your lover’s affection. On Borealis, romance is fast, decisive. If you want somebody, you take them,” she added with a growl. “Courtship is little more than another fight for dominance. It’s rough, exhilarating, it makes your blood boil.”

Jamie had only ever seen this side of her once before, when they had made love, and her Borealan instincts had been awakened. It made his heart skip a beat, Liz looking down at him, seeming to sense the change in his mood.

It never really felt right to me,” she added hurriedly. “It was a little like your encounter with Rachel, I suppose. I had felt something more than just rushing hormones before, and I knew that there was something better out there, more meaningful.”

No, no,” Jamie replied. “I can see the appeal, it’s just...I don’t mind this more aggressive side of you. I found it a little jarring at first, but you seem so much more balanced than you used to be. You know who you are, and what you want, and I...I like that.”

She smiled at him, fishing in her paper bag for another gyro.

I might be a Borealan,” she continued, taking a bite. “But don’t feel like you have to act any differently around me. Be as human as you can be, talk back, play hard to get. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

So...how would you court me if I were a Borealan?” he asked, curiosity getting the better of him.

I wouldn’t, for a start,” she replied. “Like I said, the Borealan way of doing things doesn’t really appeal to me. But...hypothetically speaking, I’d induct you into my pack, which might involve a fight if you’re not willing to come quietly.”

That’s probably for the best,” he replied, turning his attention back to his fries.

Why’s that?” Liz asked, cocking her head.

I don’t think your Borealan wiles would work on me.”

You think you could take me?” Liz chuckled, her expression turning sly. “I’m in the same weight class as a Siberian tiger, and I know Aikido. You wouldn’t stand a chance.”

I’ve always been faster than you,” he replied confidently. “I’d run away.”

You’d run away?” she giggled, shaking her head at him. “I have to admit, no Borealan would see that coming. It would just encourage me to chase you, though, like dangling a piece of string in front of a cat.”

She reached over to mess up his hair, Jamie batting at her hand playfully.

What do you want to do when we’re done eating?” he asked.

Let’s hang out here for a while, chat for a bit,” she replied. “You don’t have to keep me constantly entertained, you know. I came here to see you.”

Alright,” he replied, lying back on the grass.

***

Try this one,” Jamie said, passing her one of his wireless earbuds. She held it up to her furry ear, using her sharp claws like tweezers, listening as he began to play a track on his phone. “Are you holding it close enough?” he asked, shifting his weight as he lay on the grass.

My hearing is more sensitive than yours, so yeah. Also, I’m scared I’m gonna drop it in there and lose it,” she added with a chuckle.

They had been lying on the embankment in the park for a few hours, long enough that the sun was getting low in the sky, just chatting and watching content on Jamie’s phone. It reminded him of how they had spent many of their afternoons together when they were younger, doing little more than lounging around in one residence or the other after school, sharing videos and listening to music.

Man, it’s been ages since I listened to any good music,” Liz sighed. “It gives me chills, no joke.”

What kind of music do they have on Borealis?” Jamie asked.

The kind where you have to go out and find a guy with a drum,” she replied. She sat up, stretching her arms high above her head. “What time is it? You hungry yet?”

Going on eight,” he said, checking his phone. “Yeah, I could eat. You have something in mind?”

I don’t suppose there are any Borealan banquet halls around here,” she said, scratching her chin as she considered. “I could really go for a buffet, somewhere I can eat my fill.”

Coming right up,” Jamie said, turning to his phone again. “Do you have a preference? Chinese, Indian, American?”

Oh, Chinese!” she replied. “Sticky honey pork, deep-fried prawns, spring rolls. Sign me up.”

I don’t know how happy they’re going to be to serve someone of your, uh...culinary capacity,” he said as she gave him a wide grin.

What are they gonna do, throw me out?”

I’m imagining the entire staff trying to push you out onto the street like they’re trying to move a fridge,” he chuckled.

I’m only joking,” she added with a wink. “I’ll be a good girl while I’m on Earth.”

***

It was a short mag-lev ride to the buffet, which was once again located on one of the upper floors of a residential building on a commercial plaza. It gave them a great view of the city lights as the sun dipped ever lower, the roads far below taking on the appearance of glowing rivers as they snaked between the skyscrapers.

The establishment was a little more upscale than Jamie had assumed. The words all-you-can-eat buffet and upscale restaurant were rarely said in the same sentence, but it was a pleasant surprise. The décor was all traditional Chinese styles, lots of red and gold, with plenty of statues of cats and dragons strewn around for good measure. It was appropriate, if a little cliché. There was a beautiful mural of a mountain shrine surrounded by mists occupying one wall, painted in the classical Chinese style, Jamie and Liz pausing to admire it as a waiter led them over to a free table.

The waiter fretted for a moment, realizing that there were no chairs suitable for the Borealan, but he seemed relieved when she explained that she was content to sit on the floor. The smells that were wafting over from the steam tables were enticing, spoons and tongs protruding from veritable mountains of food. Jamie could see fried shrimp, pork, rice, chicken, spring rolls, even a spread of sushi. There was a man operating a wok behind a counter at the far end of the room, frying up some of the food items on demand, and there was even a spread of desserts. Cake and donuts weren’t exactly Chinese-themed, but he doubted that anyone would complain.

The restaurant was fairly busy, there were a lot of people crowding the tables, waiting for their turn to pile up their plate with a generous helping of food. Some of them had turned to stare at Liz, but she no longer seemed bothered by the curiosity of strangers. The low hum of half-heard conversations and the clattering of cutlery made for pleasant background noise. Jamie lifting a laminated menu, checking out the drinks.

Maybe I’ll have something with a bit more of a kick than a coffee,” he said as he scanned the page.

Do you drink much these days?” Liz asked.

Nah, not really,” he replied. “Can’t remember the last time I actually got drunk, I mostly just drink on special occasions. My social circle isn’t exactly into wining and dining, more like beer-ing and takeout-ing.”

Sounds like a good time to me,” Liz added. “Borealans can’t really drink, we don’t process alcohol the same way humans do. A strong beer is enough to put us on our ass, and a shot of vodka will probably send us to the emergency room.”

What do they drink on the homeworld, then?” Jamie wondered. “Surely not just water? If you don’t like sweet flavors, I imagine they don’t drink much fruit juice either.”

They do ferment fruits into a kind of really weak wine,” she explained. “It’s basically like fruit punch. It’s honestly not bad, I’d probably drink it more often if they had it here.”

Oh, I think your dad gave me that one time,” he replied with a nod. “You could try a low-alcohol beer, maybe. Drink it like you’re taking shots.”

I might just do that,” she replied with a grin.

The waiter returned to take their orders, and once they had their drinks, they made their way over to the buffet tables. Jamie selected a few pieces of pork, some rice, and a few spring rolls. Liz, on the other hand, was going off the rails. She had piled her plate precariously high with every kind of dish on offer, the waiters craning their next as they glanced over at her with concerned expressions on their faces. Jamie had a feeling that this was going to be the first of many visits. He had to keep reminding himself that she wasn’t being greedy, that her massive, five-hundred-pound frame required about five times as much food as an adult human.

When they returned to their table with their haul, Liz eyed her mound of food with an enthusiasm that bordered on the inappropriate. She plucked a fried prawn from the pile, eating it whole, tail and all. She chewed contentedly, a smile spreading across her face.

Good?” Jamie asked, Liz nodding her head as she took a bite out of a spring roll.

Man, I can’t remember the last time I was able to eat until I was full. I brought some surplus MREs with me on the ride from Borealis, and they weren’t bad, but it wasn’t exactly gourmet food.” “Hey, the sign says all-you-can-eat,” Jamie replied with a shrug.

I think they’re gonna add a disclaimer to that sign when I’m done with them,” she chuckled.

***

They dined for maybe two hours, Jamie pacing himself so as not to get too full before Liz had eaten her fill. With every trip to the buffet table, their hosts seemed to grow more nervous, not knowing when the alien would reach her limit. So far, they had not asked her to leave, perhaps thinking it might offend her. By the end of it, she had sampled seemingly every dish available, both hot and cold. She had also made a serious dent in the dessert spread, consuming most of a red velvet cake, and proclaiming her love for the texture of lychee fruits.

I wonder if a Borealan-style banquet hall would do well on Earth?” she wondered. “It’s basically like a buffet, mixed with a little Korean barbecue.”

Would they have to eat with their fingers?” Jamie asked, popping a piece of sweet pork into his mouth. It was tender, sticky, the sweet flavor of honey complementing the meat.

It would be mandated,” she chuckled. “If there’s one thing I miss, it’s eating fresh-cooked meat right off the bone.”

I guess you guys need a lot of protein,” Jamie added, looking her up and down.

Liz smirked at him, lifting an arm as she flexed her bicep jokingly.

You been checking out my guns, Jamie? I didn't know you liked big girls.”

Jamie's face flushed red, and she laughed at his reaction, sliding a piece of pork into her mouth.

You look good,” he replied, not knowing how else to put it. “It's quite a transformation. Back in the day, I was the one who was in shape, and you were the one who had to look up at me.”

It’s not like I’ve been hitting the gym,” she replied, pausing to take another conservative sip of her beer. “This is just what the high gravity does to you, it’s unavoidable. I like it, though. It feels...like this is what I’m supposed to be. I’m kind of relieved you’re okay with it,” she added, averting her eyes as she always did when she was nervous. “I thought maybe I’d be too different, too alien for you. Most guys don’t like girls who are taller than them, never mind ones that could toss them like a football.”

It does suit you,” he replied, Liz smiling as she prodded at her mountain of rice with her fork.

You've been keeping up with your running,” she added, gesturing at him across the table. “You're probably in better shape now than you were back then.”

Not if I keep eating like this,” he shot back, Liz snorting into her drink.

They were getting off-topic, but Jamie couldn't deny that he was curious about Liz's physiology. He had known her intimately, but as a young woman of average height and build by human standards. She was completely different now, it was like starting from scratch, and he had no idea what to expect. Liz was so...large now. Could they even...

Hey, Earth to Jamie,” Liz said as she snapped her fingers. He shook his head, dispelling his lurid daydream.

Sorry, I was miles away.”

She took another draw from her beer, the Chinese characters on the can illegible to Jamie, the alcohol already warming her cheeks. She hadn’t been joking, her people really couldn’t handle their drink.

So,” she began, lowering her voice conspiratorially. “What are we doing tonight? I’ve had fun today, I’d like to keep it going.”

What do you mean?” Jamie asked. He was under the impression that their date had almost concluded.

Well, you can go back to your apartment when the sun goes down,” she continued. “Or...you can come back to my hotel room at the spaceport.” The table creaked as she leaned closer to him, letting the considerable weight of her bust rest on its polished surface, the meat of her breasts spreading within the confines of her bomber jacket. “It's been a long time, Jamie. Aren't you curious? Don't you want to see how much I've...changed?”

Jamie swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat, feeling his heart pound in his chest as he considered the possibility. Damn it, he couldn't think straight with those emerald eyes scrutinizing him, it was like she had him under a spell.

You've only been back for a couple of days, Liz,” he protested, wondering why he was even arguing with her.

The second date is the rule, right?” she chuckled.

I mean, are you sure that you-”

Jamie,” she cooed, her husky voice making his heart leap. “I came back because I haven’t stopped thinking about you, I couldn’t get you out of my head. I wanted to find out if you were the way I remembered you, if there was still room in your life for me, or if I had this idealized picture of you that was more a product of teenage hormones than reality.”

And...what did you find?” he asked.

You’re not as I remember,” she replied, her words tying a knot in Jamie’s guts. “You’re better,” she added with a flash of sharp teeth, relief washing over him. “You’ve grown, you’re more mature, you’re more pragmatic than you used to be. After three years on the homeworld, the idea that a guy could make me laugh was a fucking revelation. Hanging out with you has been like...slipping on an old shirt that fits me perfectly, it just feels right. Is there some reason we can’t take this further?”

No, I...this is just sudden,” he stammered. “I can’t tell you how many times I came up with scenarios in my head where you’d come back, all the things I’d say, all the things I’d do. The thing is, it’s nothing like I imagined. You’re not the Liz I remember, you’re a different person, you’ve lived your own life totally separate from mine.” She cocked her head at him, watching him with those green eyes as he stumbled over his words. “But, I like that person, I feel like I’m falling in love with you all over again. It’s like...like a coma patient who wakes up and immediately starts hitting on his wife.” “Really?” Liz cooed, batting her lashes at him from across the table.

I'm just not used to you talking this way,” he added. “You used to be so meek, it took you years to drum up the courage to tell me how you really felt about us.”

Yeah, and where did that get me?” she grumbled. “If Borealis has taught me one thing, it's to be direct. State what you want plainly, and if they won't give it to you, then you take it.” She let her fist fall on the table to punctuate her point, making Jamie's plate clatter. “I'm not gonna waste one more day, not one more hour.”

He felt her tail brush his leg beneath the table, making him jump, the hunger in those green eyes reminiscent of their last night together.

Don't hold out on me, Jamie,” she added with a sly smile. “I've been waiting three years for another go at you.”

Damn, Liz,” he said as he spun his head around to make sure that nobody was in earshot. “Keep your voice down. I don't know how they do things on Borealis, but you can't go around saying things like that in a restaurant.”

She seemed to revel in the way that he squirmed, watching his cheeks warm with a smug expression on her face.

Let’s go,” she insisted, “right now.”

Jamie felt a fresh surge of excitement well up inside him, a kind of anticipation that he had not experienced since that night all those years ago, when they had unleashed their desires on the couch in front of the fireplace. He hadn’t expected to arrive at this point again so soon, if it all. He had been prepared for things to cool off between them, to find that he and Liz no longer shared the connection that they once had, but she was already making her intentions clear. Maybe she hadn’t changed all that much…

He pushed out his chair and stood, extending a hand to her.

Come on, let’s pay our bill and get out of here.”

CHAPTER 8: NO MORE HESITATION

They rode a mag-lev train down to the spaceport, which was on the outskirts of the city to protect its inhabitants from the eventuality of a crash. The green fields and farmland abruptly gave way to a massive, sprawling complex, practically a self-contained city in its own right. There were several terminals of curving glass and steel, each one linked by a complex network of mag-lev rails and roads. The surrounding area was occupied by long runways and huge landing pads that were encircled by bright edge lights that helped to pick out their shapes in the darkness, joining with the glow from the nearby buildings to create a small ocean of light in the middle of the wilderness. Jamie could make out several control towers rising up into the air, their windows picking them out against the black sky.

There were no orbital tethers here. Those were located off-shore, their bases ringed by artificial islands that serviced waterborne cargo ships. They were intended solely for goods, not passengers. Massive interstellar freighters would dock at the stations in orbit high above, loading and unloading cargo from around Coalition space that would then be ferried up and down the elevator.

Passengers would come here, where some would board high-altitude aircraft that would carry them around the planet in relative comfort, and others would ride shuttles up into orbit. He could see the glare of one such shuttle already, its belly still glowing a dull red from the heat of reentry, the craft’s vectored thrusters firing downward as it decelerated towards one of the landing pads.

Never been to the spaceport, Jamie?” Liz asked, smiling at his expression.

Once, as a child, but I've never had a reason to visit since. My dad brought me to watch some of the ships take off.”

You're so muddy,” she chuckled. “Maybe I should take you to Borealis one day, just for a visit. I could spend some time looking out for you for a change.”

The train slid to a stop at one of the stations, and they stepped out into a terminal. It reminded him of a skyscraper that had been built sideways, much longer than it was tall, but still maybe twenty floors high. The roof was mostly glass, like a giant greenhouse, the stars visible above. The majority of the building was taken up by a large concourse that was lined on either side by stores and restaurants, escalators and elevators leading to the higher floors. It was packed with people, even so late in the evening, thousands of travelers hurrying to catch their next flight.

Jamie noticed that Liz was drawing less attention here. If there was anywhere one would expect to encounter an alien on Earth, it was a spaceport. He could even make out a few of them, standing head and shoulders above the crowds. There was a reptilian Krell, a species that resembled a giant, eight-foot-tall alligator walking on its hind legs. The humans gave it a wide berth as it plodded along, an oar-like tail that was half the length of its body dragging on the ground behind it, jagged teeth protruding from its long snout. It had a hunched posture, its shoulders broad enough that it made even Liz look frail, its hide made up of thick scales the color of spinach. He could see the way that its muscles rippled as it moved, its flesh quivering with every step. Its weight must be closer to that of a car than a human. It was nude, but it seemed to have no external genitalia, no secondary sexual characteristics to cover up.

There was also another Borealan, similar in stature to Liz. This one was a male, and he was wearing blue overalls that identified him as Navy personnel, the color contrasting with his orange hair and fur.

My hotel is up on the fifteenth floor,” Liz said, guiding him over to a glass elevator. The doors opened automatically, Liz mashing the buttons with her padded finger. It was large, more like a freight elevator than the ones commonly found in residential buildings, perhaps scaled up to handle large aliens and heavier cargo. A whole party of humans and their luggage could have fit inside it easily.

They began to rise, the tiered, balcony-like floors of the terminal whipping past. The doors opened once more when they reached their destination, Liz taking him by the hand as she led him out onto a more narrow plaza. They weaved through the throngs of people, eventually arriving at a facsimile of a building. Many of the storefronts were designed to resemble shops, and this one had been made up to look like the entrance to a hotel, a pair of ornate pillars flanking the doors.

There was a concierge in a red uniform behind a glass window that was embedded in the wall, just to the right of the double door entrance, and he sprang to attention as he noticed Liz. She was easy to recognize, the man probably remembered her. She waved to him with a furry hand, and he hit a command on his console, the doors sliding open to reveal a lavishly decorated lobby complete with a crystal chandelier that hung from the high ceiling. It had a hardwood floor that probably wasn’t real wood, polished to the point that it reflected all of the lights above it like a mirror. There were a few pieces of furniture scattered around, some chairs and couches, a low table strewn with tablet computers that the guests could use.

Jamie was awestruck, he would never have expected to find such a thing in a spaceport terminal. Judging by the height of the ceiling, it must extend up through several more floors, too. Liz had not been lying, money didn’t seem to be an issue for her now.

I'm staying in the large guest suite on the upper level,” Liz said, winking at Jamie. They mounted the dual staircase that wrapped around the foyer, carpeted in red and gold with ornately carved faux-wood banisters, and made their way up to the landing above. They proceeded down a carpeted hallway, coming to a stop at one of the doors. Liz drew a keycard from one of the pockets of her jacket and flashed it past a sensor embedded in the frame, the panel sliding open automatically to reveal an open-plan suite.

It was ostentatiously decorated, like something a traveling dignitary would find comfortable, all wood furniture and shag carpet. There was an en suite bathroom containing a hot tub that looked more like a small swimming pool, a seventy-inch display on one wall, and a truly gigantic bed that took up most of the space in the main living area. Jamie had been expecting a Borealan-sized bed, but this was even larger than he had pictured. It was piled with blankets and pillows like a rat's nest, and it looked wide enough for half a dozen of the giant aliens to lounge comfortably, perhaps designed to accommodate entire packs. The mattress was large enough that an average car could have parked on top of it with room to spare. The furniture reminded him of her parents’ house back in the day, every chair and table scaled up for Borealan use. The lighting in the room was dim and yellow, creating a calming – and he had to admit – romantic mood.

One entire wall was taken up by a window that looked out over the spaceport, allowing the occupants to see the vessels coming and going. It was well-insulated. Not a sound could be heard from outside, even as Jamie watched a spaceplane begin to accelerate down one of the runways in the distance.

Compared to this hotel suite, I can see why you weren’t too impressed with my apartment,” Jamie muttered as he began to wander around. The counters in the kitchen area were topped with marble, and the oven was big enough that he could have climbed inside it. The appliances were all brushed metal, they looked very high-end. There was a coffee machine that more resembled some kind of exotic car engine. Maybe he could have a play around with that later if she’d let him.

It’s not that I’ve developed expensive tastes,” Liz insisted, seeming a little embarrassed by the extravagance of her lodgings. “This is one of the few hotels in the area that can accommodate aliens, and I asked for their largest room, figuring I’d need the space. This is the one they gave me.” By the time Jamie had turned back to face her, she was sat on the edge of her giant bed, its mattress sagging under her weight. He reached up to loosen the collar of his jacket nervously as she patted the sheets beside her, watching him expectantly.

Hope you didn’t cool down on the way over here,” she teased, noticing his hesitation.

I’m just...a little out of practice,” he replied. He realized that they hadn't even done anything yet, and his heart was already racing, his face flushing a shade of crimson. Why was this so much harder when it wasn’t spontaneous, when her intentions were so clearly announced?

I don't think all the practice in the world would help you now,” she chuckled, extending a hand in invitation. “Just relax, let me take the lead for now.”

He walked over to her, his heart leaping as he delved his fingers into the silky fur of her palm, Liz’s hand so large that she could enclose his own completely. He remembered how their fingers had interlocked the last time they had done this, but each of her digits was closer to the thickness of his wrist now. Although he had known Liz his whole life, and this wasn’t even the first time that they had made love, everything seemed so new. The nostalgia of being reunited with an old lover blended with the excitement of an encounter with a stranger, and he couldn’t pretend that he didn’t like the feeling.

Don’t feel that you have to do all the heavy lifting just because you’re...bigger,” he muttered as she drew him closer. Now that she had a hold of his hand, she wasn’t letting him go, tugging him between her legs as she perched on the edge of the bed. She pulled him up against her torso, putting their faces about level, her jacket creaking as he sank into her bosom. The fur on her collar tickled his nose as she leaned closer, whispering in his ear.

I was the one unsure of myself last time, I was the one trembling as you held me,” she cooed. Her lips brushed his skin, a wonderful shiver sliding down his spine with every sultry word that she spoke. “I don’t mind switching roles.” “Y-you really know what you want this time, don’t you?” Jamie stammered.

I told you I wasn’t going to hesitate anymore,” she replied. She reached up suddenly, catching his face in her hand, slowly drawing closer as she parted her lips in anticipation of a kiss.

Just...uh, try to be gentle with me,” Jamie began. “You’re a lot bigger than I am now.”

Liz rolled her eyes, but it was not a gesture of exasperation, rather one of a woman frustrated by her own desire. She bit her lip, those green eyes fixing him, her pupils dilated into dark circles that seemed to draw him in with a hypnotic power.

That’s gonna be hard if you keep talking like that,” she grumbled. “God, I don’t know how I kept my paws off you for as long as I did when we were horny teenagers. Do you know how fucking difficult it is to masturbate with claws?”

He opened his mouth to reply, but she filled it with her tongue, her soft lips meeting his own shortly after. His eyes widened in surprise, then his lids began to droop, a jolt of electric pleasure fizzling through his nervous system. It was somewhat of an awkward kiss, they still hadn’t grown accustomed to each other enough to overcome their disparity in size yet. He never got used to the length of her tongue, to its surprising dexterity. She had such fine control over it that she could probably have used it to pick a lock, his growing erection straining against his clothes as he felt it curl against the roof of his mouth, its pointed tip stroking his palate.

The length of slick muscle coiled and twisted as though it was possessed of a life all its own, glancing his inner cheeks, wrestling with his tongue as Liz overwhelmed him. He couldn't have conceived of such a deep and probing embrace. This one was far more passionate and sexual than when she had kissed him in his apartment, imbued with her lust, her desire tangible. Her familiar taste ignited his senses, and he found himself leaning into her, returning her affection as best he could manage.

It was a futile endeavor, her tongue was so powerful. There was little he could do other than relax into her embrace and let her do as she pleased. He began to feel light-headed, running out of breath, stars dancing before his eyes as her organ roved in his mouth. Her lung capacity was so much greater than his own now that she could keep up her lurid kissing for what felt like an eternity. Her winding tongue tickled the back of his throat, her movements slow and teasing, the warmth and wetness making his spine arch involuntarily. He couldn't concentrate on anything other than the wonderful sensations that assailed him.

Finally, she pulled away, her wet lips linked to his by a stray strand of saliva. She slowly withdrew the length of her tongue, Jamie acutely aware of every inch that slid past his lips, his overbearing partner giving him one last tormenting lick as she broke off.

Jamie panted as he caught his breath, his erection now straining against the fabric of his underwear, rigid and aching. Liz kept his cheek cradled in her furry hand, her sharp claws pricking his skin, her emerald eyes peering down at his burning face with all the hunger and anticipation of a cat holding a struggling mouse by its tail.

She was right, there was no practice, no experience that could have prepared him for this. Liz was more than he could have handled, more than any human could hope to handle. But he wanted this, now more than ever. He felt a pounding in his chest and a throbbing in his loins that threatened to drive him crazy if he didn't seek relief, a tension that threatened to consume him.

Sorry,” she chuckled, wetting her lips lasciviously. “I forgot that you can’t hold your breath as long as I can.”

Do we need a safe word?” he joked, Liz giggling into her hand.

Nah,” she purred, “I’ll treat you like a baby bird.”

She took one of his hands in hers, sliding the other down to the small of his back, as though they were about to start ballroom dancing. Instead, she spun him around, lowering him down onto the bed. He lay back, Liz planting her hands to either side of him as she cast him into shadow, her weight creating deep indents in the mattress. One of her hands slid down to cup the bulge in his pants, Jamie gasping as she gave him a gentle squeeze.

Feels like you're ready,” she whispered, leaning in to breathe warm air in his ear. “Try to relax, I won’t bite. Not unless you want me to...”

She trapped his earlobe between her sharp teeth and tugged it gently, making him squirm on the silken sheets. He heard the clicking of metal as she hooked one of her curved claws around the zipper on his jacket, pulling it down and spreading the garment open to reveal the white shirt that he was wearing beneath it. Her furry fingers brushed his neck as she moved up to the collar, popping open the buttons one by one, tearing it open to expose his bare torso. She bit her lower lip as she scanned his musculature with covetous eyes, tracing the contours of his abdominal muscles with the fleshy pads of her fingers, her sharp talons as light as a feather.

You’re just as lean and as hard as I remember you,” she growled, her lust getting the better of her for a moment.

She leaned in suddenly, dragging her tongue across his naked skin. The barbs were rough, but her organ glided on a coat of slippery saliva, its warmth reminding him of a hot towel. She drew back, gazing down at him, her ample chest rising and falling conspicuously beneath her bomber jacket.

I had almost forgotten how good you taste, Jamie,” she murmured. She pressed her pink nose into the nape of his neck, breathing in a lungful his scent as though she were smelling a bouquet of flowers. “How good you smell...”

He flinched as he felt teeth on his throat, the sharp points pricking into his skin, followed by the textured surface of her damp tongue. She mouthed and licked, peppering his neck with lingering kisses, sucking his skin between her puffy lips to leave red marks. It made Jamie dizzy, heightened his senses, like someone was cranking up the dial to eleven. Some primitive part of his brain warned him that having this powerful creature biting at his vulnerable jugular should fill him with dread, yet at the same time, his conscious mind was drunk on the pleasure of it. His nerves were alight, his brain fizzing and popping like his skull had been filled with soda. He yelped in surprise as he felt Liz rake her claws down his ribs, applying just enough pressure to excite him, but not to break the skin.

She was playing him like some kind of instrument, plucking at his nerves like the strings of a guitar, reveling in his every gasp and sigh. The teasing was becoming too much to endure, every tender kiss followed by the sting of her claws, every doting lick chased by the prick of her fangs.

Just when he was starting to consider begging her to stop her relentless teasing, she took a step back from the edge of the bed, watching him gasp and shudder with a knowing smile. He felt her fingers on his pants, propping himself up on his elbows as he watched her unfasten his belt with remarkable finesse considering the size of her fingers. She hooked her claws into the fabric of his jeans, tugging them down, underwear and all. She let the garments fall to the shag carpet, her lips parting subtly as her gaze lingered on his member.

Looks like I’m not the only one who did some growing while we were apart,” she cooed, curling her velvet fingers around his vascular shaft. Jamie fought the urge to push into her hand as she traced the veins with the fleshy pads on the ends of her digits, as soft as marshmallows. Her fur was just as exquisite as he remembered, soft and fine, like she was wearing a silk glove. She gripped his shaft more firmly, burying it in her downy palm, his member throbbing and flexing like a caged beast. She began to stroke, squeezing gently as Jamie thrust into her hand reflexively. Her pace was painfully slow, never giving him quite as much as he wanted, keeping him longing for more.

His unfocused eyes wandered up to her chest, the beginnings of her cleavage just visible beneath the furry collar of her bomber jacket. Liz brought her free hand up to the zipper, tugging it down tantalizingly slowly, ensuring that Jamie was watching as the weight of her breasts began to part the garment. They soon spilled free, bouncing gently beneath the insubstantial fabric of her tank top with no bra to contain them. The white fabric contrasted with her dusky skin, the way that she was leaning forward giving Jamie a clear view down her top. Calling them huge would have been an understatement. Each one was about the volume of a beach ball, the gentle movements of her hand as she slid her fingers up and down his length making them sway subtly, hypnotizing him. The top did little to preserve her modesty, the outlines of her nipples clearly visible, tenting the material.

She released his shaft, then leaned down to breathe warm air on the sensitive tip of his member, wetting her lips with her long tongue. Jamie watched with bated breath, his stomach fluttering, his member aching in anticipation as she hovered a mere inch above his erection.

Oh fuck, Liz,” he stammered. “Are you-”

You'll be paying me back soon enough,” she replied, giving him a suggestive smile. “Now, try to keep still. I've not done this for a while...”

She pressed her pillowy lips against his tender glans, kissing the tip gently, her touch sending a jolt of pleasure coursing through his body. He watched with a mixture of excitement and fascination as her long, glistening tongue wormed its way down his member, wrapping it in coils of slippery flesh like some kind of tentacle. She bound his erection in warm, shifting muscle, then drew the tip of his member into the warm confines of her mouth. Jamie had to bite down on his fist to stifle an exclamation as his sensitive anatomy was enveloped in the soft lining of her inner cheeks, clinging to him like slimy latex as she sucked, her lips pursing around his glans.

There was so much heat and pressure, her tongue undulating and squeezing, stroking him with all the dexterity of a hand. He could no longer see it, but somehow, that only amplified the sensations. Liz chuckled as she felt him pulse inside her mouth, the vibrations further stimulating him, his heart skipping a beat as she met his gaze with her reflective eyes. She crawled her smooth lips further down his shaft, her tongue glancing the underside of his glans, teasing his sweet spot. Encouraged by his reaction, she slipped the tapered tip beneath his foreskin, swirling it around his head. He had feared her feline barbs, but she was so careful that all he could feel was satin flesh soaked in her bubbling saliva, the sensation making his toes curl. The pleasure was almost too raw, too intense for him to handle, Liz having to place a large hand on his hip to stop him from bucking into her mouth.

He felt her lips kiss the base of his shaft, his glans hitting the back of her throat. His entire length was completely buried now, her cheeks pressing around him like a pair of silk pillows, the muscles of her tight throat massaging his glans as she swallowed around him. Her warm, slippery tongue snaked out to curl around his balls, creating a fresh layer of sensation that made him dig his fingers into the sheets. She coated his skin in her drool, warm and wet, cradling his manhood as she explored him. He felt like someone was frying his brain in a pan, her every gentle lick and suck making sparks fly in his head, his fingers sinking into her blonde hair for purchase as she nursed at his cock.

She drew back torturously slowly, sliding her lips up his shaft, pausing when only his glans was still in her mouth. She trapped it between her lips, circling it with her tongue, tingling euphoria washing over him. He throbbed against her smooth palate, his member beating like a second heart, leaking precum that she lapped up as though it were honey. Just as he thought he might be able to catch his breath, she bobbed her head again, forcing him deep into the reaches of her tight throat.

Damn it, Liz!” he growled as the unexpected surge of pleasure made him tremble. “Are you trying to drive me crazy?”

That's the idea,” she murmured, her lips still lovingly wrapped around his member. She drew back again, then slammed down, her tongue spiraling around his shaft. He took fistfuls of her golden hair, but he was powerless to stop her, all he could do was hang on and try to keep his sanity. The smooth, slick muscles in her throat contracted and rippled around the head of his cock, as though she was trying to draw him deeper, sucking with enough force to draw out his climax through sheer force alone.

She started to bob her head in his lap, the viscous saliva that coated his shaft acting as a lubricant, her glistening tongue moving ceaselessly as it wrapped around him. Her pace was steady, rising and falling rhythmically, Jamie starting to feel a pressure welling in his loins. His breathing grew heavier, coming in labored bursts as Liz watched his face intently with her green, reflective eyes. She cupped his balls in her silky palm, the delicate fur tickling his sensitive skin as she tormented him. Her gentle squeezing made him throw his head back, Liz smirking as she reveled in his every gasp and shiver.

Liz,” he panted, his hips rising from the mattress as she swirled her tongue around his member. “I'm...you're gonna...oh fuck.”

He felt her mouth vibrate around him as she chuckled, then in one smooth motion, she plunged him into her throat. Her lips sealed around his pulsing base, his glans sliding against the wet, velvety flesh of her gullet as she took him as deep as he could go. Her silky muscles bore down on him, stroking him in wracking waves as she swallowed the saliva that was pooling in her mouth, the contractions of her throat milking him relentlessly. She massaged his balls in her hand, her fluffy fur tickling him, her gentle squeezing pushing him over the edge.

He grunted like an animal as the sharp twinge of an orgasm tore through him, flaring out from his loins, and sending a wave of tingling pleasure up his spine. He arched his back, lifting his hips off the bed, Liz's free hand supporting the small of his back to keep him lodged in her throat. He gripped handfuls of the sheets, biting down on his lip in an attempt to stifle the cry of pleasure that threatened to escape.

Liz cradled his balls in her hand, the slimy muscle of her tongue stroking him like a fist, drawing more of his emission out of him as he shot a gelatinous rope of his seed directly into her waiting mouth. The delicate lining of her cheeks rubbed against his tender glans as she swallowed, practically drinking his emission as it came, thick wads of it hitting the back of her throat as Jamie spasmed. He saw stars dance before his eyes as she drained him, each wracking cramp of pleasure more intense than the last. It just kept going, until he could endure it no longer. He collapsed back onto the sheets as Liz started to withdraw, her puffy lips pressing tightly against his shaft to ensure that not a drop escaped, sliding back up his throbbing length. They eventually came to rest around his tip, Liz giving him a few more teasing flicks with her tongue, making him flinch and shiver.

The sharp pangs of pleasure gradually subsided, giving way to a dizzying afterglow that filled Jamie with a warm, pleasant haze. She released his member with a pop, a sagging strand of who-knows-what linking his glistening glans to her lips. She wiped it away, grinning down at him as he lay on the bed, beads of sweat coating his flushed skin.

Perk up, Jamie,” she said as she stood up straight. “You owe me.”

He propped himself up on his elbows, his head still spinning, watching as Liz began to remove her clothes. She shrugged off her jacket, placing it on the back of a nearby chair with more respect than she had afforded his own garments, which were currently lying in a heap on the carpet. The tank top that she wore beneath it barely fit her, the weight of her breasts straining against it, the thin fabric almost unable to contain the giant alien. She hooked her claws under the top and pulled it up over her head, exposing the twin rows of her bulging abdominal muscles, letting her heavy breasts fall free in an avalanche of tanned flesh. The weighty globes took on perfect, teardrop shapes as they settled, swaying gently as she leaned over to remove her shorts. She pulled down the cut-off jeans along with her panties, and stepped out of them, planting her hands on her wide hips as she stood naked before Jamie.

Gone was the lithe, lean figure that he had once known so intimately. The harsh environment of Borealis had sculpted her into a goddess. Her hips were broader than his shoulders, tapering into an hourglass waist, her developed core packed with muscle. It was so thick and sturdy that his fingers would barely have been able to meet if he were to wrap his arms around her, but her stature meant that it did nothing to diminish her feminine figure. His eyes lingered on the washboard abs that adorned her flat belly, so defined that they could have been sculpted from marble, the pink claw marks that she had so proudly shown him in the diner cutting across them horizontally. Her stout thighs were nearly as thick around as his torso, muscles like steel cables dimpling her glass-smooth skin, packed with all the strength necessary to carry her weight in the exaggerated gravity of her native planet.

W-well?” she stammered, her usual confidence faltering for a moment as she awaited his response. “I know it’s not exactly what you remember, but...”

She was so brash out in public, she didn’t give a damn about what anyone thought, but his opinion meant so much to her. For a moment, a hint of her old shyness returned, the sight of this Olympian blushing setting his heart racing.

Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me,” he replied, “there’s a lot more of you to love.”

She smiled at him, the last vestiges of her insecurity evaporating, her breasts wobbling enticingly as she shifted her weight to give him a better view.

Liz let him drink in her figure for a few more moments, then turned around to sit on the edge of the bed, putting her back to him. Her shoulders were just as developed as her stomach, her musculature carving a deep indent that ran down her long spine. It stopped just above the base of her tail, where her dusky skin gave way to sandy fur. Her cheeks were so firm, yet still full and round, a cushion of yielding fat making them irresistibly soft. The sheer mass of her body was incredible, her weight making the mattress sag, drawing him towards her.

She leaned back, turning her head to glance over her shoulder at him, ensuring that he had a good view of the way that she was pressing her breasts together with her biceps.

You gonna make me wait?” she asked, parting her thighs in invitation.

He slid down off the bed, forgetting how high off the ground it was, having to reach out to balance himself. His legs were still shaky, the tail-end of his afterglow making him unsteady, like he was pleasantly tipsy. He knelt on the shag carpet at her feet, looking up past her open thighs and over the mounds of her breasts to see her gazing back at him. Liz’s anticipation was palpable, the rise and fall of her chest quickening as he shuffled closer, her sharp claws gripping the edge of the mattress. Her furry, paw-like feet were spaced wide apart, the sandy coat that covered them ending just below her knees, leaving her thighs completely clear. He was hard again already, his member throbbing in the air as he leaned in.

He reached up to run a hand along her thigh, delighting in the smoothness of her skin, finding it as flush as polished stone. There was a layer of fat, soft like memory foam, Jamie sinking the tips of his fingers into it. Hard muscle rose up to greet him, tensing reflexively, creating a wonderful contradiction. His position put him at eye-level with her belly, the allure of her abs irresistible to him, drawing his lips like a magnet.

That tickles,” she mumbled, her muscles flexing as he planted a kiss on her stomach. She arched her spine, pushing out towards him, shivering as he traced the sculpted contours of her muscles with his tongue. Her skin was so warm, and he could feel her breathing, a hint of salt lingering on his lips as he mouthed. “I guess you really do like the new me...”

How could I not?” he asked, slipping his tongue into her navel as he roamed lower. He placed his hands on her thighs, turning his eyes to her loins. There was a small tuft of silky, blonde fur on her mound, far softer than the coarse pubic hair of humans. Below it was a pair of puffy lips, swollen with desire, her anticipation making them glisten. Between them, he glimpsed a tantalizing sliver of rosy flesh. She was exactly as he remembered her, just larger, Jamie feeling the heat that she radiated on his lips as he drew closer.

Liz craned her neck, leaning forward slightly so that she could see over her own mammoth boobs, her breath ragged as Jamie poised an inch away from her. She reached down and ran her fingers through his blonde hair – she had always liked it long – the prick of her pointed claws on his scalp sending a pleasant shiver rolling down his spine.

S-stop fucking with me,” she grumbled, Jamie smirking up at her. Now, it was his turn to make her blush, his turn to make her squirm. “Do you know how long I’ve waited for this?”

He relented, reaching out to part her labia with his fingers, exposing the satin folds of her sex. She was burning up, so wet that it made his digits slippery, her massive body tensing up as he dragged the flat of his tongue between her lips. Her familiar taste sparked something deep inside him, like tossing gasoline on a fire, her scent invading his head. At that moment, he felt like he could have lifted her up and tossed her onto the bed, five-hundred-pounds and all.

Fucking-” Liz growled, baring her sharp fangs as he gave her another doting lick. “Goddamn it...”

Is something wrong?” Jamie asked, glancing up at her. She pushed his face back down between her legs, her cheeks as red as he had ever seen them.

No, d-don’t stop. I’d just...forgotten how smooth your tongue is...”

She loosed a long sigh as Jamie resumed his work, gripping his hair as he mouthed and kissed. She held him close, rolling her wide hips, the bedsprings creaking as she sought out more stimulation. He dragged his tongue up and down her burning vulva, tracing the folds of her loins as her firm thighs pressed against his cheeks. He lifted his arms, trying to wrap them around her legs for purchase, but found that they were too thick to get more than about three-quarters of the way around. Instead, he contented himself to delve his fingers into her inviting flesh, feeling her iron muscles tense as he probed.

Liz was so wet, so slippery, strands of her excitement falling to wet the sheets below. Her long lashes fluttered as he pressed a finger against her opening, Liz biting her lip as he pushed into her, feeling the sodden walls of her passage close around him like a vice. She was so much larger than him, yet her pelvic floor muscles were developed enough that she felt as tight as the first night they had made love. He could feel those firm muscles kneading him beyond the satin flesh of her walls, squeezing rhythmically, drawing on his digit.

Jamie rose up for air, and after a moment of resistance, Liz's grip on his hair relaxed. He bit her hip softly, tasting the sweat that coated her dark skin in a lustrous layer, slowly sliding his finger in and out of her. It was a struggle, she had such a firm grip, but the syrupy fluids that drenched her silky insides made it an easier prospect. He found himself wondering how big male Borealans were. Was she just that excited, or was she soaking the sheets for a purely biological reason?

She responded strongly to his stroking, starting to push back against his hand in a bid to take his finger deeper, a low purr emanating from deep within her throat when he curled it against the roof of her spasming tunnel.

Told you it was hard to get myself off with these claws,” she grumbled, Jamie admiring her toned belly as her abs flexed with her every thrust. They seemed to rise from beneath her caramel skin, misted with droplets of shining sweat, beads of it following the channels between them.

Well, you have me to help you out now,” he replied. She gave his hair a gentle tug in reply, biting her lip as she gazed down at him.

Oh, I fully intend to make up for lost time. If you think I can’t cram three years worth of fucking into one night, you underestimate me.”

You never used to talk like this,” he chuckled, her brazenness making his cheeks redden.

Yeah, well, little Liz didn’t say a lot of things that she should have.”

Like how much she wanted to jump my bones?”

You have no idea,” Liz said, her sordid giggle tapering into a long sigh as he buried his finger up to the knuckle. “You always used to wear those fucking short shorts when you went running, and that mesh shirt. I could almost see through it, but never enough to satisfy my curiosity. Used to drive me crazy.”

They kept me cool!” he protested.

And they were a fucking tease,” she shot back with a toothy grin.

Jamie slid a hand up one of her thighs, slipping it between the mattress and her ample rear. He took a greedy handful of her cheek, Liz’s spine straightening, a yelp of surprise escaping her lips as he squeezed. Her flesh was as soft as wet clay, molding around his hand, doughy fat bulging between his fingers. The layer of soft cushion quickly gave way to firmness, the toned muscle that imbued her ass with such a flawless peach shape resisting him. The tissue was springy, like a rubber ball felt through memory foam, seeming to melt in his grasp as she relaxed it. These were the largest muscles in her body, they were what allowed her to move her five-hundred-pound frame around in the high gravity of Borealis, every step that she took sculpting them to perfection.

Fuck, Jamie. You got braver while I was gone.”

Cut-off jean shorts?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow at her. “And you call me a tease.”

Oh, have you been sneaking a look at my butt every time my back was turned?” she asked, her tone becoming sly. “Then squeeze away, it’s all yours...” She shivered as he slid his finger out of her, trying to wrap his arms around her waist, intending to take her up on her offer. As he had surmised, his fingers came a couple of inches short of meeting, her core was just too thick. He found himself level with her stomach again, turning his attention to her abs, feeling them tighten as he brushed his fingers against her hard belly. They bulged and shifted, reacting to his touch as he traced their sculpted contours, her sudor making her coffee-colored skin slick to the touch. They were defined enough to cast shadows as the dim lighting in the ceiling above bathed them in its off-yellow glow, the beads of sweat glistening, further accentuating her physique.

Jamie pressed his lips against her midriff again, feeling the warmth of her skin, mouthing as Liz watched him covetously.

You’re tickling me again,” she murmured, her voice lowered to a sultry whisper. “You...really like my new look that much?”

Damn it, Liz,” Jamie replied, glancing up at her between the mounds of her breasts. “I wouldn't be this hard if I wasn't head over heels for you.”

Her cheeks flushed pink, her lips curling into a sly smile, and she nestled her hand in his mop of blonde hair again.

Stop embarrassing me and get back to work,” she crooned, pushing him back down between her legs. He resumed his licking eagerly, teasing her sensitive inner thighs with lingering kisses, his lips meeting hers in a lurid embrace. Her juices were flowing, her nectar dripping from her splayed labia, coating her satin folds in a glaze of slippery liquid. He mouthed ardently, inserting a finger inside her again, her walls contracting around it in greeting. She was feverishly warm, rolling her hips gently as he painted her with his tongue, her massive frame slaved to his rhythm.

Jamie pushed a second finger inside her for good measure, sliding it past her twitching opening without too much difficulty thanks to how excited she was. Her muscles gripped him with the strength of a clenched fist, crushing his digits together almost painfully, a tremor sending a beautiful ripple through her abs. He roved upwards with his tongue, locating her clitoris beneath a fold of pink skin, drawing it into his mouth. Her claws pricked his scalp, her massive body going as stiff as a statue, Liz loosing a sharp gasp. It was as large as his fingertip, swollen with desire, so tender that the merest touch of his tongue made her stop dead in her tracks. He gave it a slow, teasing lick, hearing a muffled exclamation from somewhere above.

Oh, Jamie...you little...” Her breathy whine trailed off into an animal snarl as he circled the firm nub of flesh with his tongue, swirling it around the bead of sensitive tissue. “I'll get you back for this,” she added, throwing her head back as he pursed his lips around it. “I'm gonna fuck you until you can't walk...just as soon as...”

Jamie felt her steely thighs snap shut around his head, his oversized partner shivering as he doted on her. They were so powerful that she could have crushed his skull like an egg, but even in the throes of her desire, she retained enough control over her faculties to remain gentle. The threat was hardly a deterrent, and he began to curl his fingers against the roof of her undulating tunnel, probing for a weak spot that he knew from prior experience was there. She quickly realized what he was doing, her face flushing a deeper shade of red, one of her furry hands rising to her chest.

She cupped one of her breasts, kneading it, baring her teeth as her pleasure mounted. Even in her oversized hand, the globe of wobbling flesh still looked suitably massive, spilling from her grasp as she delved her fingers into its yielding surface. She had to be careful to keep her claws out of the way, pinching one of her nipples between her fleshy pads. Jamie would have liked nothing more than to lend his assistance, but her chest was out of his reach.

Up a little,” she mumbled, her eyelids fluttering as he slid his fingers deeper. “A little more...” She bucked suddenly, spasming around his buried digits, grinding her vulva against his face. “Fuck, there!” she grunted, her tone almost pleading.

Jamie pressed his fingertips into her g-spot, making slow circles as her muscular passage resisted him, lapping at her engorged clitoris all the while.

Don't you dare stop,” she growled, her grip on his hair becoming tighter. Her clawed toes raked at the carpet, her furry tail whipping back and forth on the sheets, her breath coming in ragged gasps. He could feel the tension that was building up inside her in the way that she desperately ground her loins against his lips, in the way that her tunnel wrung his digits in powerful contractions.

She collapsed onto her back, the bedframe emitting a worrying creak, covering her face with her hands as Jamie sent her over the edge. Her rump left the mattress, her back arching as her sculpted muscles tensed, Jamie rising to his feet as he struggled to keep his lips locked to hers. He withdrew his fingers along with a drooping web of her viscous juices, continuing to nurse her clitoris with his tongue, easing out the wracking pulses of her orgasm. The waves of pleasure crashed over her, her lustrous figure twitching and contorting as her torment dragged on, every soft part of her body seeming to quiver with her every twitch.

Her spasms gradually became less frequent, her breathing growing deeper, the last stray jolts of ecstasy rippling through her as she collapsed back onto the bed in a writhing heap. Jamie withdrew, and she replaced his tongue with her fingers, rubbing out one last shivering aftershock as he wiped her come from his chin.

Jamie crawled his way up onto the bed to lie beside her, draping his arm across her belly, his erection pressing into the meat of her thigh. They remained that way for a while, Jamie running his fingers over her glistening abs as she caught her breath, her massive body shuddering gently as the last errant pulses of pleasure tickled her.

I needed that,” she sighed, rolling onto her side to face Jamie. Their difference in stature put him at chest-height to her, Liz smirking as she buried him in a landslide of wobbling flesh. Her satin-smooth skin was slightly damp with her sweat, making it slippery, each of her mammoth breasts larger than his head. The squashy globes seemed to pour around his cheeks like cake batter, and he pushed his face deeper into her boundless cleavage, her boobs making for admirable pillows. He had little choice but to inhale her scent, the floral aroma of what must have been her body wash blending with her exertion, hooking him like a drug.

I could get used to this,” he mumbled, his voice muffled by her bosom.

Sure beats getting myself off,” Liz chuckled. “You can’t imagine what a pain in the ass it is.”

Because of your claws?” Jamie asked.

Not just that,” she replied, shifting her weight a little so that he could surface from between her boobs like a dolphin breaching for air. “When Borealans fight...it’s arousing, like you wouldn’t believe. Your hormones are raging, you’re full of adrenaline, the taste of your opponent’s blood is on your lips. It’s so...” She trailed off, her eyes losing their focus as she reminisced about past bouts. “Whoever wins the fight usually mates with the loser, it ensures that only the strongest and most dominant genes are passed on to the next generation of Borealans. The desire is overpowering.”

But...you never did that?” Jamie asked.

Nah,” she replied. “Like I said, I had already experienced something better, something deeper. I wanted what you had given me, what we had shared, and I couldn’t find it on Borealis. My pack would have made themselves available to me if I had wanted it,” she added, “they even offered on a few occasions. They must have thought I was crazy to lock myself away with only my fingers and my memories.”

She leaned down, her lips an inch from his ear, breathing warm air on him as she whispered lasciviously.

Whenever I felt the urge, I'd compose myself, go to a private place...and then rub myself raw until my come ran down my thighs.” Jamie's head swam as she pinched the tip of his ear between her teeth, tugging it softly. “All while thinking about you, about that night we spent together, about the taste of your sweat. I get to have you all to myself now, no more locking myself away and this time. Don't ever let me get myself off again,” she said sternly, as though it were an accusation. “Say it,” she whispered, “say that you'll always be there when I want you.”

I-I'll...ah!” Jamie flinched as she pinched his earlobe between her pointed teeth. “I'll always be there when...you want me.”

She grinned, wrapping her muscular arms around him and squeezing the air from his lungs in a bear hug. She pressed him into her boobs again, burying him in flesh as soft as putty, her wonderful scent invading his mind as he took in a deep breath.

I want you again right now,” she insisted, releasing her tight hold on him. She rolled over onto her back, her shifting weight making the mattress sag towards her. Jamie couldn’t take his eyes off her breasts as she changed position, her fat quivering like a plate of jello, her boobs struggling to maintain their perfect shape as their weight draped them over her torso. She propped herself up on her elbows, splaying her glossy thighs in invitation, her smile growing wider as his eyes wandered down between them.

Back when we were kids, you used to be so much taller than me,” she mused. “I was always looking up at you, it seems like so long ago now.”

Jamie remembered how comparatively small she had been, his mind flashing back to the lithe girl who had shuddered in his arms as they had climaxed together, her teeth and claws too underdeveloped to do him any real harm. Now, she was larger than any human could have hoped to be, and the claws that had once left scratches on his back were big enough to tear him apart. It was like playing with a kitten, then coming back years later to realize that it had grown into a Siberian tiger.

You let me be on top,” she continued. “Do you remember?”

How could I forget?” he replied, remembering how she had so gingerly lowered herself down onto his shaft.

It was sweet, considerate, considering that you were a horny teenager at the time. I didn't realize how much I'd take to being in the lead.” She patted her thigh with a slap, then beckoned to Jamie with her clawed fingers. “Let me do you that same courtesy.”

Considering that it might be his only chance to avoid a fractured pelvis, he didn’t protest, rising to his hands and knees on the sodden sheets. He shuffled closer to her, positioning himself between her open legs, the massive bed providing them with ample room to maneuver. His erection bounced in the air in time with the beating of his heart as he played his eyes over her prone form. Her thighs were so long that her knees were level with his head, her upper arms pressing her breasts together enticingly, the taut muscles of her stomach flexing in time with her breathing.

She was lit up suddenly, the flare of a booster engine propelling a craft into orbit bathing her in an orange glow as it passed by beyond the window, its light cutting through the relative gloom of the hotel room. It cast her into deep shadow, reflecting in her eyes, Jamie finding himself momentarily transfixed by the sight.

Liz's long, agile tail coiled around his waist, guiding him closer. Jamie lay a hand on her firm belly for support as he took his member in his hand, sliding his glans between her lips, coating it in her lubricating juices. He felt her heat, the soft touch of her delicate folds, the two of them shivering in tandem as he pressed against her opening. Liz brought one of her claws to her mouth, nibbling on it almost nervously as she waited for him to push into her.

He eased forward, meeting resistance, feeling her abs flex beneath his hand as he inched deeper. God, how could someone so large be so tight? Fleshy walls with the texture of wet silk clung to him like a second skin, applying surprising pressure, impeding his progress. Liz gasped as he managed to get his tip inside her, his legs almost giving out as she twitched, her loins seeming to draw on him just as her throat had. Eased along by her syrupy fluids, he thrust forward, her pillowy insides gliding along his length as he slid up to the hilt. The powerful muscles in her reaches rippled and undulated, rolling up his shaft in unbearable waves, swallowing him deeper. Her fluids leaked around his member, droplets of her excitement falling to the mattress, her heat permeating him to the core.

Fuck,” Jamie breathed, the exclamation all that he could muster. He flexed inside her, unable to help himself, Liz’s eyes widening as she felt him swell. He could feel her every subtle movement, every spasm, every clench of her muscles.

She growled, long and low, but Jamie knew better than to be intimidated by the sound. She doubled over to bring her face closer to his, gripping his hair in her massive hand, and crudely slammed their lips together. He leaned into her as she forced her serpentine tongue into his mouth, wanton and unashamed, its every doting stroke dripping with her desire. Her embrace was rough and greedy, his head starting to spin as she kept up her clumsy kiss, so lurid that it could be better described as a sexual act in itself. She finally pulled away with a wet smack, catching his lower lip in her teeth and tugging it gently.

Don't be a gentleman, Jamie,” she whispered. “Fuck me like your life depends on it, I want some bruises to show off tomorrow.”

He withdrew slowly, and the pair winced in unison, her loins clinging to his shaft with surprising suction. He could feel every subtle texture of her walls as they glided against his skin, every bump and wrinkle, each one provoking a sharp stab of pleasure. He pushed deep inside her again, feeling her quiver in response, his hips sinking into the soft meat of her thighs as she closed them around him. She was burning up, the wet, indecent sounds of their coupling audible even over his own labored breathing. He started to thrust in earnest, finding a slow, steady pace. The rocking of his hips drove his member deep into her sopping tunnel, the delightful friction and pressure making him grimace as he tried to endure the stimulation.

Liz began to push back, making the springs in the mattress squeal, Jamie watching the rows of her abs twist and flex beautifully as she gyrated. Every time their bodies crashed together, it made her thighs quiver, her breasts bouncing softly.

Harder,” she growled, glaring back at him with eyes full of need. Jamie felt her cross her legs behind his butt, her steely thighs flexing, Liz pulling him into her with more force than he could muster under his own power. He gasped as she took him up to the hilt, a wave of pleasure rocking him, her twitching muscles wringing him with alarming strength. Jamie pulled away until only his glans was still inside her, his shaft coated in a glistening sheen of her fluids, ropes of it drooping to the sheets between her legs. Before he even had a chance to catch his breath again, Liz pulled him back into her, her clawed toes curling as he bottomed out.

Her pace was measured, but the force of their rutting was enough to knock the air from his lungs, her clenching muscles stroking him relentlessly. He had to spread his arms wider than his own shoulders as he gripped her hips for purchase, feeling her muscles shifting beneath her dark skin as she moved, his fingers delving into the soft cushion of her husky fat.

Not enough,” Liz rumbled, her claws sinking into the soft mattress like knives through warm butter. There was the sound of tearing fabric, insulating foam popping up from beneath the shredded fabric. “I want it harder...”

Jamie felt her grip around his waist tighten, Liz trapping him in a leg-lock, his stomach lurching as she spun him around. She rolled over on top of him, pinning him to the bed beneath her in what felt suspiciously like one of her martial arts moves, Jamie blinking his eyes in surprise as she straddled him. Her thighs were so large that they reached his armpits, making him feel like a hotdog in a bun, her weight sinking him deep into the mattress. She loomed over him, planting her hands to either side of his head, her stature putting her hanging breasts at eye level. He had to lift his head to see her face, Liz gazing down at him, a mischievous glint in her green eyes.

What happened to letting me be on top?” Jamie asked, wincing as she let a little more of her weight rest on him.

I thought I’d keep things interesting,” she cooed. “Besides, I love how red your face gets when you’re overwhelmed,” she added with a grin. “Turns me on.”

She could take him even deeper in this position, baring her sharp teeth, the bedsprings creaking as her reaches enveloped him in wet satin. Just the feeling of him throbbing inside her made her shudder, as if someone was running an icy finger down her spine.

This is what I needed,” she growled, her long tongue emerging to wet her lips in anticipation. “Right there...”

She began to move, slowly at first, grinding her wide hips against him as she tried to find a comfortable pace. Beads of sweat dripped from her shining skin as she made a lazy figure-of-eight, stirring him around inside her, Jamie reaching down to sink his fingers into her thighs for purchase as the new sensations rocked him. Liz’s muscular form flexed and twisted with her every motion, she was throwing her whole body into her sordid dance, his eyes drawn to her swaying breasts as she bounced atop him. He could hear her claws sinking into the mattress, his overpowering partner too lost in her fugue to care about the inflated bill that the hotel would no doubt be sending her.

He glanced up at her face, seeing that her cheeks were flushed pink in spite of her dusky complexion, exertion making strands of her blonde hair stick to her forehead. Beneath him was the enormous bed, and above him, Liz’s writhing body occupied his entire field of vision. It was easy to pretend that nothing else existed.

His feline lover began to roll her heavy hips with a desperate vigor, driving his member against her undulating walls, her loins teasing him in a ruthless milking motion. He could feel every staccato thrust, every cruel drop, every stroke of her velvet muscles as their lovemaking took on a more ravenous pace.

Tell me if...I’m too...heavy,” she panted between thrusts.

Nah, you’re good,” he grunted in reply. Her weight was sinking him into the bed, but it wasn’t enough to be uncomfortable, Liz remaining conscious of his human limitations. It was hard to imagine what sex between two uninhibited Borealans might look like. Would their violent lovemaking leave only a shattered frame and a shredded mattress in their wake?

Told you I’d treat you like a baby bird,” she cooed, delivering a punishing thrust that suggested quite the opposite.

Liz watched him intently, drinking in his every expression, reveling in the pleasure that she was inflicting upon him. She would rise on his shaft until only his sensitive tip was still inside her, then let gravity carry her massive frame back down, the mattress beneath them softening the blow. He found himself clawing at her thighs as the heat of her clenching tunnel embraced him, his fingers slipping on her wet skin, Liz seeming to enjoy the sting of his nails. She was taking him so deep, the impact of their rutting making her thighs and bust shake, the teasing circles that she made with her hips keeping him on his toes. He reached up to plant a hand on her belly as she moved, feeling those toned abdominal muscles flex beneath his palm. She had such fine control over her core, such grace for someone so strong, like an Olympic gymnast.

She doubled over to get closer to him, pressing her lips against his neck, pinching his skin between her sharp teeth. A moan of lust died in his throat as he felt her pointed fangs press against it, followed by the rough surface of her tongue, her passionate mouthing sending a jolt of pleasure coursing down his spine. She nuzzled, burying her nose in the nape of his neck, cradling his face in her furry hand.

I can taste the pheromones leaking out of your pores,” she mumbled, exhaling a long sigh. “You’re in my lungs, on my tongue. It’s intoxicating...”

He reached up to cup her cheek, feeling it burning beneath his palm, guiding her in for a kiss. Another stab of pleasure made him falter as her muscular insides tightened around his shaft, flexing as their lips joined, their tongues braiding together. It was such an odd blend of heartfelt affection and base, bestial carnality.

She broke off, rising to sit atop him, the bed frame creaking its protests as she slammed down on him almost hard enough to bruise. It was as though she were maddened by some unreachable itch that compelled her to drive him ever deeper into the hot, slippery reaches of her tunnel. Her ample breasts swayed with her thrusting motions, the heavy globes clapping against her torso, the impacts making her supple meat quiver.

Jamie seized the chance to do more than just lie there enduring her affections, rising to a sitting position, his smaller stature putting his face level with her chest. He reached out, grappling with one of her boobs, bringing both hands to bear as it escaped from his grasp. Its weight made it hard to get a hold of, the layer of sudor that coated her coffee-colored skin making it slippery, but he eventually managed it. Fat as malleable as gelatin spilled over his hands as he tried in vain to cup her breast, the wobbling globe draping itself over them like a ball of melting wax.

Liz was tough, and he could afford to be rougher, digging his fingers deeper into the yielding meat of her bosom. He felt her massive frame respond, a spasm of pleasure making her narrow passage squeeze down on him, a soft purr slipping past her pursed lips.

Fuck, Jamie,” she sighed, slowing the rocking of her hips to a more considerate pace as he manhandled her. “Warn me before you go groping me like that.” “You’ve been throwing these things in my face for days,” he shot back, Liz arching her spine as he gave her a squeeze. Beneath the layer of butter-soft flesh was firmer, more tender breast tissue, Liz growling appreciatively as he sank his fingers into it. The damned thing was bigger than his head, large enough that it could have comfortably filled his lap.

I like it when you get...aggressive,” she hissed, sucking her lower lip into her mouth. She chewed on it lasciviously as she gazed down at him, shivering as he toyed with her, shaping her flesh like warm cookie dough. Her skin was as smooth as velvet, misted with droplets of her sweat, Jamie unable to resist dragging his tongue across its flush surface. He soon felt the firmness of her nipple against his lips, sucking it into his mouth, his fingers sinking up to the knuckle in her quivering fat as he drew on it greedily.

Liz’s reaction was strong and immediate, the gentle rocking of her hips stopping dead as one of her clawed hands shot to the back of his head. She pulled him closer, his face sinking into her breast as though it were a silk pillow, another rumbling snarl emanating from deep within her.

More,” she demanded, her voice low and breathy. “Bite it...gently...”

Jamie was happy to oblige, circling her swollen nipple with his tongue, trapping it between his lips and teeth. He couldn’t believe how sensitive she was, the eight-foot, five-hundred-pound alien turned to mush by an inch of wet muscle. He remembered that she had no more experience than he did, that she had not felt the touch of a man since their last night together.

Liz wrapped her powerful arms around him, holding him close as she started to move again, burying his face in her cleavage. He tasted her sweat on his tongue, her soft breasts sliding against his burning cheeks, draping themselves over his shoulders. He returned her embrace as best he could, hugging her thick core, feeling the muscles of her back bulge beneath her damp skin. All the while, she bounced on his shaft, her excitement leaking forth to wet her inner thighs.

She lowered him down to the sheets again, supporting herself with her elbows, bringing herself as close to him as possible without putting too much of her weight on him. Her breasts cascaded over his chest and shoulders, pouring over him like molten plastic, cradling his head in a cushion of warm flesh. Jamie had to lift his chin to see her face, which was now above him, Liz pushing her feline nose into his damp hair as though taking in his scent. She was all over him, his hands wandering across her taut belly as she began to move, her motions sending waves through her bust.

Are you close?” Jamie asked, another powerful thrust making him see stars. “I don’t know...how much more of this I can-”

She reached down to lift his chin, silencing him with another invasive kiss. Her tongue wound around his own in a sordid dance, her taste blanking out his thoughts, her titillating strokes and flurries all that he could concentrate on. She was so shameless, she knew exactly what she wanted, and she took it without a shred of hesitation. A strand of her saliva joined their lips as she drew back, falling to drape itself over his cheek.

Just a little more,” she whispered, her husky voice starting to crack. “Hold on just a little longer.”

She slipped a thumb into his mouth, careful to avoid cutting him with the claw, and he bit it gently as she resumed her cruel pace. The downy fur felt strange on his tongue as he maneuvered it around her thick digit, Liz gazing down at him from above, adoring.

You're mine,” Liz panted, her body shining beneath the dim lights of the hotel room as she swayed her hips from side to side. She slowed her pace a little, teasing him, keeping him on the brink. “You said it yourself all those years ago. Say it again, Jamie. I need to hear it.”

I'm yours, Liz,” he mumbled around her thumb. “I always have been.”

Her eyes lit up like green fire, the speed of her punishing thrusts increasing as she purred with delight. His hips were starting to ache with the impacts, and he ran his tongue around her thumb as she moved on top of him, gazing down at him with a passion that bordered on ferocity. Her steady pace began to grow erratic, Liz chewing on her lip, as if some indecent thought had entered her head. She shuddered suddenly, clenching around his pulsing shaft.

Damn it, I’m close!” she snarled. She bared her teeth, forcing him to the hilt again, shivering as his member was driven deep into her spasming reaches. She seemed conflicted for a moment, her cheeks flushing red as she averted her eyes, bringing a clawed finger to lips as though she was considering something.

Jamie...will you do something for me?” she asked, her voice wavering as another tremor made them both shiver. “Y-you can't tell anyone, though.”

The change in her demeanor surprised him. It was almost like he was talking to the shy girl that he had once known again. “Anything,” he replied bluntly, her long lashes fluttering in response. She seemed almost giddy now, sitting up straight as she continued to roll her hips, keeping both of them on the verge of climax. She secured him between her muscular thighs, hooking her fingers behind his head. In one smooth motion, she rolled the two of them over so that she was lying on her back, Jamie finding himself on top of her again.

Keeping things interesting?” he joked, Liz’s burning face breaking into a smile.

Bite me, Jamie,” she whispered, as though afraid that someone might overhear them. “Hard, on the shoulder.”

Why did she seem so embarrassed? Maybe it was some kind of Borealan status thing. He felt her claws on his back as she doubled over so that he could reach her, her abdominal muscles bulging as they pulled her up. She was shivering with arousal and anticipation, panting warm breath on his skin as she murmured in his ear.

Flood me like you're my Alpha,” she pleaded. “Grip me by the neck, and make me yours. I've never lost a fight, but tonight...I want to find out how it feels.”

Jamie could hardly refuse such an invitation. He started to move again, plunging his aching member into her, the ardent caress of her soft insides urging him on. It was like having a dozen tongues swirling around his cock, her muscles trapping him in an undulating prison of warm, wet flesh. She hooked her legs around him, trapping him between her massive thighs, encouraging him to go deeper and harder. They were both exhausted, their skin slippery with the sudor born of lovemaking, their bodies awash with the tingling preludes of their climax. Jamie felt a familiar pressure growing in his loins, but he tried to fight it back, wanting to hold out just a little longer. He buried his face in her shoulder, sinking his teeth into her skin, the salty taste of her sweat on his lips.

Harder,” Liz growled, a touch of desperation creeping into her husky voice. He could feel her need, how much she wanted this, even if the significance of the act wasn’t entirely clear to him. Jamie bit her as hard as he could, feeling her spine arch in response, a shiver of pleasure coursing through her beleaguered body. It didn’t break the skin, but it was enough.

She became unbearably tight, her clenching insides milking him, ruthless waves of velvet muscle kneading his shaft as though her burning loins were trying to drink from him. Her claws left stinging trails on his back as she clung to him, her eyes snapping shut, a moan of carnal desire escaping her lips. Was this how her people mated? It was so raw and violent, so primal.

Oh fuck, Jamie,” Liz moaned as she hugged him tightly. She followed with a sharp cry, half a wail of ecstasy, and half a bestial snarl. The orgasm that she had been steadily building towards was finally let loose. His shivering partner clung to him as though he were a piece of debris floating on a stormy ocean, riding out the waves of her climax as they crashed over her, each one punctuated by a tremor that forced a low gasp from her lips.

Her rhythmic contractions quickly dragged Jamie over the edge along with her, and he felt his own pleasure mount, a surge of ecstasy setting his nerves alight as his seed spilled into her beckoning depths. The muscles in his abdomen burned with the effort as hot, viscous spurts of his emission painted her most intimate reaches, splashing against her tender walls. Liz trembled as she felt his warmth well up inside her, bucking reflexively, as though some overriding instinct was compelling her to take him deeper. She cradled him between her toned thighs, her claws pricking his back, wrestling with him as he sank his teeth into her shoulder.

They rolled around on the sodden sheets together, their lips locking intermittently in frantic kisses, feeding into one another’s pleasure. It was as if their nerves had been soldered together by the heat and friction of their coupling, the throbbing and twitching of one partner provoking a fresh jolt of pleasure in their counterpart, creating a pitiless feedback loop. It seemed to drag on for minutes, though only a scant few seconds could have passed, time losing all meaning as their addled minds descended deeper and deeper into their shared ecstasy.

The quaking of their muscles eventually ceased, and they fell to the bed together, tangled in a heap of sweaty limbs and heaving chests. Jamie lay on top of Liz, resting his head on the cushion of her breasts as he draped his arms over her sides, her skin slick and warm against his cheeks. A satisfying ache permeated his whole body, a wonderful burning that felt like it should have hurt, but didn’t. Liz rubbed herself gently with the fleshy pad of her fingertip, easing out the last few jolts of pleasure, the bite mark on her shoulder now red and prominent even against her dusky skin. He ran a finger over it experimentally, feeling her twitch beneath him.

Sorry,” he mumbled into her bust. “Did that hurt?”

No more than I wanted it to,” she chuckled, letting her head fall back to the mattress as she loosed a long sigh of satisfaction. “I knew that coming back here was a good idea,” she added, draping one of her arms across Jamie’s back. “I felt it in my gut.”

I’m glad that you came back too,” he replied, her boobs wobbling around his face as she laughed. He slid off her, collapsing onto the sheets beside her, the two of them staring at the ceiling above as they caught their breath. After a few moments, Liz broke the silence.

I’m staying,” she suddenly said, the statement catching Jamie by surprise. He rolled over to face her, struggling to get out a reply.

W-what? You’ve already decided?”

I want this,” she replied, turning her head to peer down at him. “Every night, not just sometimes, not when fate decides it’s convenient. I want you on tap, I don’t want to be separated from you again, not ever.” She rolled onto her side, gravity pressing her breasts together as they spilled over the sheets, Jamie’s gaze drawn to the exaggerated curve of her hip. “Living on Borealis taught me to take what I want, not to just...wait around expecting good things to happen to me for no reason.”

Jamie’s heart began to race again, Liz’s green eyes drawing him in, watching expectantly as he stammered his reply.

All I've wanted since we were kids...since I was old enough to understand what it meant, was to have a relationship with you,” he began. “I imagined the life that we might have together, I wanted to spend every waking moment with you, I fantasized about...this.” He gestured to their nude bodies, shining with exertion, their loins leaking an unspeakable mixture of their fluids. Liz grinned back at him, amused by his admission.

Why do you say that as if it's some abstraction?” she asked. “You can have that, we can have that. All you have to do is reach out and take it. Think like a Borealan for once, and stop hesitating, stop wondering if it's okay to want the things you want. That it makes you happy is the only justification you need.”

Alright,” he said, trying to sound determined. “Then, I want you to move in with me. Fuck the logistics of it, let’s do it, we’ll make it work.”

Move in with you?” she giggled, covering her mouth with a hand. “That’s such a formal thing to ask after mounting and marking me like that.”

Is...is that what that was?” Jamie asked, gesturing to the tooth marks on her shoulder.

Mhmm,” she purred, reaching up to press a padded finger into the welts. She bit her lip, seeming to enjoy the soreness. “It won’t leave much of a scar, human teeth are too dull, but marking is how a Borealan signals that they’re spoken for. I guess I’ll just have to ask you to...reapply it once it fades,” she added with a sordid smile. “As for moving in with you, I think we might need a bigger place, maybe some more...substantial furniture.”

Right, right,” Jamie muttered. “Maybe I can take some more shifts at the store.”

Nonsense,” she replied, “money isn’t an issue for me. I told you, I ass-kicked my way to wealth back on the homeworld. It’s not like I’m rich by Earth standards, but I have assets, property that I can sell off. It’s not like my pack needs more than one estate. When that starts to run out, who knows? Maybe I can apply for a job at the embassy, put that xenolinguistics training to use. I’m a big girl, I can take care of myself.”

That...could work,” Jamie replied, smiling back at her.

I’m gonna make it work,” she added, reaching down to scratch his scalp with her claws. He lurched as he felt her fluffy tail coil around his member, the silky fur tickling him. “Hurry up and get hard again. I came seventy-five light-years just to get a piece of you, I'm sure as hell not leaving this hotel room until I’ve had my fill.”

***

Jamie ran, his feet pounding against the asphalt, the quick beat of a music track playing through his wireless earbuds. It was spring, and the leaves on the trees had taken on a healthy, green hue. The heat was a little troublesome, but he was wearing his mesh shirt along with the shorts that made Liz so hot and bothered.

He entered into the lobby of his residential building, taking a short elevator ride up to one of the higher floors, where his new apartment was situated. The commute to work was a little longer than it had been at his old place, but it was worth it to be able to share a place with Liz.

After a short walk, he reached their door, swiping his phone over the sensor to open it. It was much larger than his previous apartment, both in terms of the extra floor space, and the height of the ceiling. It wasn’t exactly a penthouse suite, but it was a step above the sardine cans that he was accustomed to living in, and it wasn’t too much of a strain on his bank account with Liz helping out. It was open plan, one wall taken up by a large window that looked out over the city, as was customary. The furniture was a bizarre blend of human and Borealan sizes, with a couch wide enough to seat half a dozen people, and chairs that were reinforced to withstand the extra weight that his alien roommate would put on them.

Liz had heard him long before he had reached the door, her round ears swiveling to track him like furry little radar dishes. She was sitting on the couch, turning to look up from her tablet computer as he entered. She hadn’t abandoned her beloved bomber jacket, it was hanging on a coat rack beside the door, but she had gotten her hands some large sweaters that fit her well.

How did the interview go?” he asked, wiping his brow as he kicked off his sneakers.

They were surprised to see me,” she replied with a chuckle, setting the tablet down beside her. “Whoever looked over my application must not have warned the interviewer that I was an alien. She looked like she’d seen a ghost. I aced it, of course. They’re not exactly drowning in Borealan applicants who have a permanent residence permit, and who can speak several dialects. I’m starting in two weeks.”

That’s great!” he continued, pausing to stretch his legs. “I knew you’d get the job. I know you’re not an ambassador, but it’s kind of like you’re picking up where your father left off. I bet he’d be proud of you.”

I haven’t told my parents about my plans yet,” she replied, shrugging her shoulders. “In their eyes, I succeeded on Borealis, so I doubt they’d care very much what I do with my life now that I’ve proven myself.”

We should do something special,” Jamie said, pulling off his shirt as he made his way over to the bathroom door. “Something to celebrate. You want to go out to eat tonight? Maybe that Chinese place you liked will let us back in again.”

He jumped as he felt her clawed hand on his shoulder, Liz taking him by surprise. She could be so quiet on those padded feet when she wanted to be, and she moved faster than her size would suggest. She buried her nose in the nape of his neck, one of her arms creeping around his torso, her breasts squashing up against his back through the fabric of her sweater.

There’s no rush,” she whispered, Jamie feeling the gentle touch of her lips against his skin. “You have to wash up before we go out anywhere, change out of these clothes. The shower is just about big enough for you to squeeze in beside me, maybe we should break it in? That is, if you’re not too tired from your run.”

Pretty sure I can still outpace you,” he replied, her claws pricking his chest as she tightened her hold on him.

Is that challenge?” she cooed.

You bet.”

-THE END-

 
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2 thoughts on “Worlds Apart

  1. Hmmmm interesting. I was hoping for a little more conflict when she returned. Their size difference still makes me uneasy. Good ending is still nice.

    Careful with “visibly”: “becoming visibly angry at his reaction” told quite a bit xD. Among other instances.
    Also careful with “facade” and “nonplussed.”

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