Second Contact
rating: +26+x

Roses are Red
Violets are blue
Sugar is sweet
And so are you

Orion smiled at the card. His sloppy handwriting from what seemed like ages ago put a stark contrast between the boy he had been and the man he was now.

"What are you doing?" Zhetsvan asked sharply. Orion's brain took a moment to recognize they were asking him in Ortothan. When he'd registered the question, he chuckled and held up the old card in response. Zhetsvan squinted. "You're looking at that old thing? By Rakmou-leusan you were a dork."

"You kept it," Orion replied. "Dork."

"You gave me a card written in a human language for a human holiday with reference to two separate Terran flower species and a compound only naturally found in human food."

"But I wanted to let you know you were sweet like sugar!"

"We have vastly differing opinions on pleasurable tastes. And stop trying to distract me. Are you ready to do this or not?"

He pondered for a second. "Not. Decidedly not. Can we postpone?"

"No. In fact, they're already getting suspicious. We need to tell them now."

"Then why did you ask me if I was ready?"

"It was a rhetorical device to prepare you," Zhetsvan said. Orion stayed staring at the card, unblinking, wearing that frown Zhetsvan knew too well. They sighed and sat down next to him. "Look, I understand why you're scared. To be honest, I'm scared too. But this is the best option. We can't hide it from them forever. My parents already think of you as family, and your folks love me."

"They love you as my friend. As my partner… they might think differently."

"You said we'd tell them after your tenth Martian revolution. Then after mine. My birthday was three months ago. By your species customs, you've been legally independent for months before your tenth year here. We have to tell them. Worst case scenario, they'll disapprove and we'll just leave, and legally there's nothing they can do about it."

"Huh. Easier said than done."

Zhetsvan gently turned his face to look at them.

"Rion… we have to do this. You're my best friend and I hate the thought of hiding any part of my relationship with you from my parents. And I've seen how you interact with your parents. They'll love you no matter what."

"Zhet…" He closed his eyes, lowering his head. Zhetsvan mirrored this, gently moving until their foreheads touched, a serene moment that felt as though they had just begun their departure from the eye of the hurricane. "Okay. I'm ready as I'll ever be." Orion grabbed Zhetsvan's hands, one last fortification against the unknown they would soon face, then dropped them as the two of them stood up and walked out of Zhetsvan's room and into the kitchen where the adults were talking.

"There you two are!" Jess said upon seeing the two. "Come here, Rion, help your father fix dinner."

"Jess, I told you a million times, I've got it!" Daniel said, visibly struggling with the pan he was holding. Orion couldn't help but chuckle, but Zhet's parents looked a little more concerned.

"How is it you two always manage to disappear right as we start working?" Exiald asked the teens.

"Because we know when to avoid that," Zhetsvan replied, pointing at Daniel.

"Stand back Daniel, I'll handle this," Yttilier said, stepping in to take the pan from Orion's father. "You always say you can do this and then ten minutes later your wife is reaching for the fire extinguisher."

"That's no way to treat our guests," Exiald scolded their partner.

"Guests? We've known them for ages now. They're moochers at this point. There," they said, taking the pan off of the stovetop. "All under control."

"If all of that is under control," Zhetsvan said, looking at Orion, "we have something to tell you." Orion shot them a panicked glare.

"Okay, serious news," Jess joked, turning to look at them.

"Is it that you've decided to take cooking lessons from Daniel? Because I don't think I can take that," Yttlier said dryly.

"Hey, I would be a fantastic teacher!" Daniel countered.

"Let the children speak," Exiald said, putting the focus on Zhetsvan and Orion once more. "What do you want to tell us?"

Orion gulped. "Well, that's just the thing. We're not children anymore. Having completed our tenth Martian year, both of us are well past the age of adulthood. In both cultures, I might add. We're… mature. Theoretically."

Zhetsvan sighed. "Remember Rion's maturation celebration sometime before his tenth birthday party?"

"His eighteenth Terran birthday," Daniel said.

"When Rion walked me home, I asked him to attend an event with me. A courtship invitation."

"And I said yes," Rion said nervously. "And… we've been together ever since." He chuckled, this time more out of nervousness than humor. None of the adults spoke, and the room remained silent for several seconds.

"I feel like this is the part where you hold my hand. Or put your arm around my shoulder," Zhetsvan said to Rion. He snorted in response.

"You've been watching too many earth romance movies, nerd."

"Dork."

"Geek."

"I can't believe you would say such a thing, this relationship is over." The adults looked back and forth between the children, unsure of what to make of the scene before them.

"…Is this some kind of joke?" Jess asked, unsure.

"No. Well, the breaking up thing is. I hope," Rion clumsily explained.

"Of course it is, you dork," Zhetsvan replied.

"Nerd," Rion shot back. "But we are, um… going out? Dating? Cour…ting?" He said, unsure what to call it.

"Well, I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm not too surprised," Yttilier finally admitted.

"I'm glad to hear this," Exiald said. "You two have always been so close, it's only natural it should give way to romance. And Rion is such a sweet child. So long as he doesn't hurt Zhetsvan…" Exiald looked at Orion with this statement. He opened his eyes in surprise.

"Oh, I would never–" he replied, perhaps a little too enthusiastic. He took a breath before continuing. "I only want to make Zhet happy."

"Then I am nothing but happy for you," Exiald said, moving over embrace the two.

"No complaints on my end," Yttilier added.

Orion looked over to his parents, who had remained quiet through all of this.

"Mom? Dad?" He said, hesitantly. He held his breath, fearing this moment would define the rest of his life.

The two parents looked at each other, unsure how to react.

"Well…" Daniel finally said, "you've known each other for a long time. And we've grown to love Zhetsvan as though they were our own child…" Jess nodded as he said this, though somewhat hesitantly. "Come here, you two."

The two did as they were told. Daniel hugged both of them.

"Look after each other, okay?" The two nodded at Daniels advice. "If you stick together, you can overcome any hardship." Orion looked over to his mother, still worried that she hadn't said anything. She could only smile and nod at the two of them. Orion smiled back.

"Let's eat," Zhetsvan said.

"Yeah, what did Dad burn this time?"

"Hey, I almost burned it!"


"…and then we just ate dinner. Almost like nothing had happened," Orion explained. He shrugged. "I guess it went well."

Beetle nodded. "So, you and Zhets are like… a thing now?"

"We are in fact dating, if that's what you're asking."

"So… you smash that alien puss yet?"

Orion stopped and stared at Beetle, confused and disgusted.

"What? No. Why?”

“Wait, does Zhet have an alien puss? Or an alien–?”

“No, stop, why are you– They're your friend too, why would you refer to them as– You know what, there's no good answer to that question. For the sake of our friendship, I'm going to pretend you didn't say that."

"Wait, no to the the alien puss or no to smashing it?" Beetle asked, curious.

“No to all parts of your existence.”

"What are you morons up to?" Stella asked as she walked up to them

"Stella! Thank god, please change the topic to anything else," Orion said quickly.

"As opposed to the topic of…?" She asked, confused.

"How Rion and Zhet have been dating for months without telling anyone."

"What?!" she yelled, equal parts surprised and delighted. She turned to Orion for confirmation. Orion, in turn, glared at Beetle.

"That was a nice bus you threw me under, Beetle."

"You sound like my grandpa," Stella remarked at the turn of phrase.

"Apparently they haven't had sex yet," Beetle continued, pointedly ignoring Orion's anger at him.

"What?!" she yelled, louder than before. She grabbed Orion's shoulders. "You've been secretly dating for months and you haven't–"

"Shhhhhh!" Orion quickly shushed her. "Tell everyone, why don't ya. While you're at it, you can tell them I'm a virgin and a big fucking loser as well."

"We already tell people that behind your back," Beetle replied.

"We're not friends anymore," Orion quickly said.

"Okay, okay, just… when did this start?"

"Remember that small birthday party for his 18th Terran year? Zhet asked him out afterwards," Beetle said, recounting what Orion had just told him.

"Silence, fiend!" Orion shouted, an exaggerrated rage in his voice. Beetle stifled a laugh.

"And you still haven't made your move yet?" Stella asked. "It took us literally a week before we started doing it."

"Well, we can't all be as horny as Beetle!" Orion said, getting a chuckle from his friend.

"Ignoring Beetle's perpetual horniness, I'm just saying, you guys never… fooled around or anything?"

"Fooled around, Stella? Now who sounds like grandparents?" Stella looked at him, expectantly. He sighed, unable to hide the truth from his friends. "We're taking things slow, you know? I mean, we have completely different reproductive biology, and they're not quite as intense about this stuff as humans from what I can tell. I mean, I don't want to move too quick and freak them out." He looked around and lowered his voice. "What if they see my dick and… I dunno, think it looks weird?"

"All dicks look weird, Rion," Stella replied.

"Mine doesn't," Beetle protested.

"Your dick especially, Beetle. I mean, when was the last time you looked at a penis, Rion?" Stella continued.

"I'm not answering that."

"My point being, they just look weird, and it's just something you get used to. And I don't think you're being entirely honest with us. I know you've got anxiety but, like, this is the first I've ever seen you worried over your appearance. Or your sexuality."

"Speaking of sexuality, does this make you gay? Or like, pan?" Beetle chimed in.

"Hush, Beetle, the adults are talking," Stella quickly replied. "Rion, tell us. You know we won't judge you. Well, Beetle will, but he doesn't count."

Rion looked away, grabbing onto the back of his neck nervously. "Our biologies are so different."

"Then just tell them that. Say you want to take things to the next level, but you want to maximize their comfort–"

"Yeah, and who cares if they thinks your dick looks weird?" Beetle interrupted.

"No, it's like…" Rion sighed. "I mean, I don't know anything about sex, and my parents didn't teach me anything because I didn't want to know but now I do want to know but nobody can explain it and I don't know if we'll… fit," he said, struggling to explain.

"Oh, if there's one thing I've learned about sex, it's that humans are very adept at fitting," Beetle said, wriggling his eyebrows. "And I can tell you everything you need to know about sex."

"Gross, and for the love of god no," Orion continued. "I just mean that… who knows what will happen, and how it will work, and how our bodies will react and…" He shook his head. "I don't want to hurt her."

"Well that's just it," Beetle said, "in sex and love, there's no guarantee that you won't hurt Zhetsvan. But the same would be true if they were human." Beetle placed a hand on his friends shoulder. "Dude, it's okay to be nervous about this. But I think you're misplacing these fears and that could really hurt your relationship with Zhet if you're not careful. Move at your own speed, and communicate with your partner. Communication is key in any healthy relationship."

"Wow, Beetle. That was… actually kinda insightful," Rion admitted.

"Stella doesn't keep me around for my looks," Beetle said. Rion chuckled at this. "Does this mean I can be your friend again?"

"Ooh! Pretty please, Rion, can we keep him?" Stella jokingly begged.

Rion sighed, giving into the joke. "Fine, but I'm not feeding him."

"You won't regret it!" Beetle said with a wink.

"Oh, I already do." Stella laughed at the interaction.

"But seriously, are you gay now?" Beetle asked, continuing the discussion as Stella and Orion walked away.


"Thanks for having us over again," Jess said to Exiald and Yttilier.

"It's no problem, we enjoy talking with you. Plus it gives the children some time to be alone away from us," Exiald said.

"Yes, well, that's exactly what we wanted to talk to you about," Jess said, a hint of severity in her voice. The couple looked at her, as if to wonder where she was going. Daniel laughed and shook his head, attempting to diffuse the situation.

"You know Jess, she's just worried about the kids being together."

"In what way?" Yttilier asked.

"Worried is a strong word, I just… I wanted to get your opinion on their relationship. Whether you thought it was healthy and… other topics."

Exiald regarded Jess, curious. "And if we found their relationship to be unhealthy, what would you suggest we do? Force them to separate?"

"Whoa," Daniel said attempting to step in. "Let's not let it get to that. I mean, after all, legally we have no say in what they do as adults. And after all that's not what we want for them, right?" He looked over to Jess, who remained silent. His jovial grin quickly turned to a worried frown. "That's not what you want, is it Jess?"

"No, no, of course not, it's just… I suppose I had a different future for Rion planned out in my head. Not that Zhetsvan isn't lovely, of course, you know I adore them. I just figured… when Rion came of dating age he'd be interested in human girls. That his father would talk with him about girl troubles."

Daniel smirked. "What if he had been interested in boys?"

"Then I could help him with boy troubles."

"What if he decided he was actually a girl?"

"Then I could help with being-a-girl-troubles, you've seen how I am with Luke– What exactly are you getting at here?"

"I think what Daniel is saying," Yttilier interpreted, "is that none of these hypothetical scenarios change how you feel about Orion or his potential relationship. So why should this one?"

Jess nodded. "I suppose… it really shouldn't. And if anyone were to bring our species closer together, it would be Orion." She chuckled to herself. "Did I ever explain why we named him that? I mean, we knew he would be one of the first children to grow up entirely on Mars. And of course, Daniel and I were into the whole space-themed names."

"I still maintain Astro would've been a perfectly good name!" Daniel said in fake protest, causing all of the adults to laugh.

"But eventually we settled on Orion. The name that looks forward and back. The name itself comes from an ancient Earth culture, the tale of a daring hunter. When that civilization looked up to the stars, they thought they could see his image placed there by the gods themselves. And the name stuck to that constellation. And when we found out we were expanding outwards towards the stars, it seemed that we could go anywhere. Do anything. Even travel to the stars that outline the ancient hunter. And our child would be able to go there." Exiald nodded.

"We have told you what Zhetsvan's name means in our language, correct?"

"It means horizon, right?" Daniel said confirming.

"Exiald and I had our own troubles in our courtship," Yttilier explained. "Being from different regions, many tried to prevent us from being together. But we persevered. And we wished the same will to persevere for our child."

"In our language, there's a saying, 'when you reach the horizon, you must keep going to see the sunrise.' It means when there seems to be nothing to gain, or there is only hardship ahead, you must persevere to reach personal fulfillment."

"The path ahead for our children will be difficult. But I believe they will persevere and create something beautiful, not just with our species, but with each other."

Daniel laughed. "Seeing our kids in this light really shows how much the universe is changing. Rion is practically a different kind of human from Jess and I. I mean, I'm still worried about pronouncing Zhetsvan's name correctly, and Rion just does it. I don't think he's ever even thought about it. He just does it."

"And Zhetsvan has such an interest in human culture, who knows where that came from," Exiald said, laughing with him. "Our kids are going to help change our species relationship forever. Provided we let them."

"Well, Jess?" Yttilier asked. Jess slowly nodded.

"You're right. I'm sorry, I'm getting… concerned over nothing."

"Well, not nothing. I think it's fair to say we're all concerned for different reasons," Exiald explained. "But we have to trust that our children understand. We have to trust that we taught them all that they need to know."

Jess nodded, content, before looking over at Daniel. But it was his turn to be concerned.

"Well shit. We didn't teach Rion anything."


"I'm home!" Orion called through the house. He took off his shoes and made his way upstairs, stopping in his brother's doorway for a sec. "Hey Lu."

Lucifer was, as always, typing away at his computer. Orion couldn't for the life of him understand anything on the screen. It might as well have been in hieroglyphics. He had no clue where Lucifer had gotten his aptitude for coding; it certainly hadn't come from their parents, and Orion only knew enough to change font colors on internet forums.

"You know, you're the only one who calls me that. Everyone else shortens it to Luke," he said, not looking away from the computer.

"Well, you know why I don't. And you didn't choose the name Lucas, you chose Lucifer."

"A mistake I regret every sol."

"You can always tell me if you don't want to be called that."

"I didn't say that," Lucifer said, somewhat defensively. Orion hesitated in the doorway a few seconds, trying to decide what to do.

"Hey, have you talked to Seong-Jin lately?" Rion finally asked.

"For a little bit. We messaged while I was at Esther's party… thing. He's still able to help if you need it."

"That's good to know. How was Esther's thing?"

"It was okay, I guess." He shrugged. "I didn't really do much. Talking with Seong-Jin was probably the most interesting thing that happened that evening. Still, it was nice to do something different than just dinner at Zhet's place again. Speaking of which, Mom and Dad went over there this afternoon. They wanna talk to you when they get back." He slowly turned to look at him. "Anything I should be concerned about?"

"Probably not. Zhet and I told them last night, so they probably just wanna talk about that a little bit."

Lucifer stopped typing at this, turning around in his chair. "Whoa, really? Did Zhet pressure you into telling?"

"Yes, really, and yes, of course they did, like I would come to that decision on my own."

"You gotta get over that anxiety, dude."

"Wow, and just like that I'm cured."

"You know what I mean, asshat. Work through your therapy exercise, keep up with medication. You know you and Zhet are gonna be fine so long as you take care of yourself and communicate clearly."

"Yeah," Rion sighed. "I do." Lucifer turned around, returning to his work on the computer. "Hey, how long have you been wearing your binder?"

"Not long," he lied. Orion regarded him, skeptical.

"Take it off soon. I don't want you causing permanent damage to yourself just because your dysphoria is a needy bitch."

"Okay, mom, I'll be sure to do that."

The two heard the front door open. From the front hall, they heard their mother's voice.

"Rion, are you home? We wanna talk with you." Rion sighed, unsure how he was going to deal with the conversation.

"I'll check up on you after this. The binder better be off by then." He walked back toward the main hall, confused to find his father sitting in the living room.

"Good, you're here," he said. Orion in looked at the rather empty room in confusion.

"I thought you both wanted to talk," he said, confused.

"Well, your mom figured I could handle this one better on my own." He gestured to the chair across from them. "Please, sit down." He looked between his father and the chair, confused.

"Um… okay? I mean, did something bad happen, did I do something wrong?"

"No, kiddo," his dad said. "I just want to talk to you about your relationship with Zhetsvan."

"Oh," he said, heart quickly sinking. "I mean, I figured. Is something wrong? Are you going to try and break us up? Wait, is Zhet breaking up with me? Has this whole thing been an elaborate joke that I'm just now being let in on?"

"Rion, breathe," his father quickly said. Rion breathed in and out, just like his therapist had taught him. "None of that is happening," Daniel reassured him. "We just realized… you're growing up. You're an adult, much as we wish it weren't the case. And it occurs to your mother and I that we never properly taught you some stuff because we figured you didn't need it at the time."

"Oh…kay?" Orion said, still confused.

"And… well, it's just, now that you're dating, there's probably some stuff you'll want to know about," Daniel continued.

The realization hit Rion like a pile of bricks. "Oh my god. Are you trying to give me the talk?"

"I know when you were at the normal age to learn about this stuff, you weren't all that interested in sex," his father said.

"No, no, no. No, no, no, this is my nightmare, no no no…"

"We want to teach you ways to practice safe sex,"

"No, no, no, no, no, no…"

"I mean, we can't exactly expect abstinence of you now that you're an adult and… well, dating."

"No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no…"

"I want to give you something," his father said, gesturing to Orion (still protesting) to hold out his hand. Orion did so reluctantly, closing his eyes as he felt several plastic wrappers touch his hand. Orion snuck a quick peek to have his worst fears confirmed.

"Dad! Why do you have all of these?"

"Condoms are still the most effective way at preventing pregnancy, STIs, and just staying safe. Sex can be a really wonderful experience, and I just want to make sure you get to experience that in a way that doesn't pose a risk to you or your partner."

"Oh my god, can the personal hell that is this conversation end if I tell you that Zhetsvan and I haven't actually had sex?"

"Well, condoms are still a useful tool in other sexual activities and in practices leading up to sex. Of course, there are other important components, like lubricant–"

"No, I mean we haven't done any of that. We kiss and we've cuddle but we don't… we don't do that." Daniel stared at his son a few seconds, as if unsure how to continue.

"Well, that's…" Orion knew exactly what came after his father's pause. Great. That's great, Rion. Another thing pressuring him to not do anything. Why wouldn't he just hurry up and say it. "…an even better reason to have this conversation now." Rion's face fell.

"What."

"Here, let me show you how to put these on. In high school, my teacher demonstrated on a banana," his father explained as he stood up.

"I'm going to my room. If you even think of showing up anywhere near there with a banana, I will lose it, I swear to god." Orion stood up, shoved the newly acquired condoms into his pocket, and walked away. As he passed Lucifer's room, he peeked in, disappointed but not surprised. He reached into his pocket and threw the first thing he could grab at his brother.

"Ow!" Lucifer said, quickly turning around.

"Take your binder off, dummy."

"Ugh, fine!" Orion turned to walk towards his own room. "Wait did you just throw a condom at my head? Weirdo." Orion ignored this as he walked back to his room. He closed the door shut behind him, falling onto his bed. He wished all of this relationship stuff wasn't so complicated. Things had been so much better when nobody had known about this. Well, Lu had picked up from the beginning, but he hadn't cared.

Orion needed to distract his mind from all of this. He quickly pulled out his headphones, turning on his back to lie down on top of his bed.

"Play 'Post-Panic' playlist." He closed his eyes as the music started, letting the sound wash over him. He cleared his mind, focusing on nothing but the music, and let time pass. His heartbeat slowed, allowing him a few precious moments where his anxiety let him be. He wasn't worried about who he was, what he was supposed to be doing, how he was supposed to live his life, all the things he should've been doing, or all of the problems that seemed to weigh him down in life. He simply existed, present in the moment and focused on nothing.

Until he heard a knock on the door.

His eyes opened, and his brows quickly furrowed in annoyance.

"Dad, if you step one foot in here with that banana–!"

"It's me," Zhetsvan's voice came from the other side, the English words coming across somewhat hesitant.

"Oh," Orion said, suddenly embarrassed. "Come in," he said in Ortothan as he sat up on his bed. They walked into the room, closing the door behind them.

"Sorry, your parents let me in. They were heading out with Luke to do… something. I wasn't really paying attention."

"Doctor's appointment, probably."

Zhetsvan nodded. "Are you in a fight with your dad or something?" They asked, curious, as they walked to sit down next to him. Orion laughed at this.

"No, just… something that happened earlier. You had to be here. And trust me, you did not want to be here." He looked down at his hands, unable to meet Zhet's eyes.

"Okay then. Well, what's going on with you?"

"Not much really." Zhetsvan looked at him, expecting an elaboration. His eyes stayed staring down. They were puzzled by his actions.

"I heard you got to see Beetle and Stella earlier," they said, trying to probe.

"Oh, yeah." His answers remained short and detached.

"Well? How are they?"

"Good, I guess." He shrugged. "You know."

"I really don't, Rion." Zhets looked at him and sighed, gently grabbing his hand. "What's going on? You're a lot quieter than usual, and it's scaring me. Is something wrong?"

Rion finally looked up at Zhetsvan. They were right, he was acting withdrawn. Just a moment ago, his mind had been clear and he felt as though he understood what was happening. Now, everything seemed uncertain yet again.

"I'm sorry, Zhet… I've just been so worried about… such unimportant things." He took a deep breath. Communication, that was what Beetle said. "The truth is… there are aspects of our relationship I'd like to explore. I, um… I don't want to pressure you or anything, but as a human I've experienced certain, uh, changes in the past few years, and since we started dating I've wanted to… do… certain things. With you." Zhet looked at him, concerned. Orion gulped. "I want to, um… take our relationship to the next level?"

"Oh. Are you saying you want to have intercourse?" Zhet asked plainly. Orion felt himself blushing at this.

"Um… yes. But I know that things are different for your species and I don't want to ask you to do something you don't want to do."

"Well, to be honest, I was beginning to wonder if it was something you didn't want to do."

"What?"

"It's true that my species tends to be much less intense about sexual intercourse, but I've felt close to you for a long time now, and I've wanted to explore other areas of typical relationships. But you always seemed hesitant to do so. In fact, it seems to me that you resent your sexuality entirely."

"I'm sorry, I'm resentful of my sexuality now?" Orion challenged.

"Well, from what I can observe. You seem to resent that you might find not just me but anybody attractive. When your body functions as expected in arousing situations you become very uncomfortable."

"Okay, that's not–"

"I've seen and experienced things you'd rather I hadn't with you, and you become easily embarrassed by these things."

"Well I become easily embarrassed by everything, so I don't know what you're getting at there." Zhet chuckled at this, and after some time so did Orion. The two finally looked at each other. "I don't resent my sexuality. I'm not embarrassed by it. I'm not embarrassed by you," he said.

The two leaned towards each other into a kiss. They wrapped their arms around each other, moving closer to each other. With their bodies so close to each other, it seemed natural this should happen. They had always been this close in mind and spirit, it just made sense they bridge the physical gap too. The two began moving to lie down on the bed. It seemed they were alone and had time. Perhaps it was finally time.

Then Orion fell on the floor.

"Rion! Are you okay?" Zhet tried very hard not to laugh. Rion groaned.

"Yeah, I'm fine," he replied, clearly not all that fine.

"What are those?" Zhet said, looking at the floor next to Rion. He followed her gaze, realizing the condoms his father had given him had fallen out of his pocket.

"Of course this is happening. Of course it is." Orion laughed, self-deprecating. "Of course this would go wrong, too."

Just then, they heard the front door open.

"Can't believe we forgot the card," Jess' voice came from the hallway.

"Shit!" Rion whispered to Zhet. He quickly shoved the condoms under his bed. Zhet stood up, looking around to see if they could help out.

"Maybe Rion knows…" Daniels voice quickly approached them. As Rion shoved the last condom under the bed, he quickly stood up.

"Hey Rion," the door opened to reveal Daniel, "do you know where– Oh, hi Zhetsvan," he said, switching to Ortothan effortlessly. "I forgot you were here." Orion and Zhets looked between each other unsure. "Am I interrupting something?" Daniel asked innocently.

"I was actually just leaving," Zhetsvan quickly said, moving for the door. "I'll catch up with you later, Rion, okay?" Rion nodded, staring down at the floor. Zhetsvan took one last look at Rion before exiting the room.

"Okay, bye Zhetsvan!" Daniel said jovially. He turned back to his son. "Do you have any idea where yours and your brothers ID cards would be?"

"Have you checked the rolodex in the pantry?" he asked, not looking up.

"Ah! Of course, thanks Rion." He took a step out of the doorway before hesitating. He walked back in, an apologetic look on his face. "Hey, I'm sorry, we wanted to give you some time alone but the card, you know. I mean, I didn't mean to–"

"Please just close the door on your way out," he said, refusing to look up.

"Okay," his father said, not wanting to offend. "Sorry." The door closed behind him. And suddenly, just like that, all of Rion's thoughts were back to haunt him. He put his headphones in and lay down on the bed again.

"Play 'Songs for a Spiral' playlist." It was a lot harder to focus on the music this time.


"…So I'm pretty sure Rion hates me now," Daniel concluded as the car drove them into the city.

"I'm sure that's not true," Jess reassured him.

"He stayed in his room all night just listening to music. He's definitely not a fan of me right now."

"Well, he's a teenager, they always hate their parents at this age."

"Well, not Rion, not usually. And he's not a teenager, not anymore. He's an adult, it's time we start treating him like one. It's my fault anyway, I walked in on an intimate moment without thinking."

"Then he should pursue the adult solution and try to find his own place to live so we don't have to risk walking in on them anyway."

Daniel sighed. This was a conversation they should be having face to face. They should be looking at each other, reassuring each other that they were still in this together even if they had differing opinions. The vehicle made it nearly impossible to look each other head on, though. And this conversation wasn't in a safe environment, where they felt okay to express their feelings, they were on their way to a meeting they knew nothing about. The whole thing was less than ideal.

"Why are you so opposed to the idea of him dating?" Daniel asked, breaking the silent truce they had made.

"I'm not!" Jess protested.

"Well, you're not okay with him dating Zhetsvan at least and I'd like to know why instead of beating around the bush forever." Jess shook her head at this, refusing to respond. "Is it the interspecies thing? Because, yeah, okay, that threw me for a loop too, but Rion is a smart man, and he thinks through everything. You're not helping him by reminding him of things his anxiety already knows."

"And you're not helping me by trying to make me feel bad about having complex feelings about this!" Jess countered.

"I'm not trying to make you feel bad–"

"I just don't think we should be encouraging this behavior."

"What behavior? Dating? Treating other species with the same dignity and respect as humans?"

"Sex!" Jess screamed at him. She sighed and looked away again. "He was never interested in it before. I don't think we should pressure him to have sex. We shouldn't pressure him to grow up."

"Jess, he is grown up. And we all have to deal with that. And I'm not trying to 'encourage' or 'pressure' anything. I know he wasn't interested with that in the past, but things change, and I've seen the way he looks at Zhetsvan. I don't want to pressure him to do anything, but if he wants to do something with his partner, as his parents we need to give him the information on how to be safe while doing it."

"But this has never been documented before. We don't know if it's possible to be safe, not between species."

"So your solution is to pretend there's no precautions he can take at all?"

Daniel trailed off as the car slowed to a stop. They looked at the building to their right, a large tower with a familiar logo on it. The building made them feel uneasy, especially with the mysterious circumstances surrounding their unlikely destination.

"That's Foundation owned property, alright," Daniel said. "One mystery down, a fuckton to go."

"So we're really meeting with Foundation personnel…" Jess said, equal parts curious and anxious.

The two got out of the car as it drove itself to the nearest parking space, nervously walking into the building.

The lobby seemed small. It seemed to run into the wall just a bit too soon, the only indication that the ground floor was any larger being a small doorway surrounded by heavily armed guards and the window behind the reception desk. The two hesitated in the confused atmosphere, cautiously approaching the front desk.

"Hi," Daniel said to the man sitting there. "We were asked to come here for a meeting. Seventh floor, I believe, Jess and Daniel Hodge?" The man quickly typed on his computer, looking up at the couple before him before looking back down at the screen.

"Go through security, seventh floor, office at the very end of the hallway. The committee will be ready for you in a moment."

"Committee?" Jess repeated.

"Thank you," Daniel said, quickly leading them to security. After passing through three security scanners, each more rigorous than the last, they were allowed to enter the elevator. They remained silent as they got to the seventh floor and walked into the large room at the end of the hallway. The quickly discovered they were not the only ones there.

"Exiald? Yttilier?" Daniel asked, switching to Ortothan. "What are you doing here?"

"We were asked to meet with Foundation personnel," Ytillier explained plainly.

"What about?"

"They didn't say."

Jess frowned. "I have a bad feeling about this."

"Let's not jump to conclusions based on limited information," Exiald said, noticing the tension.

"What else could this possibly be about?" Jess snapped, earning a confused look from the other parents. They only had a moment to react before a voice rang out above them.

"Now that you're all here, Ms. Ebner will see you." The voice unsettled all of them. It wasn't quite organic, and it wasn't robotic, but somewhere uncannily in between. The door at the other end of the room quietly opened, and the four adults mustered up their courage to shuffle in.

The office seemed almost impossibly big, full of space yet somehow everything in the room managed to make its presence feel big. A woman stood at the window, looking out over the city.

"Thank you for meeting me. Please, sit," she said gesturing to four chairs that the adults could've sworn were not there before. Cautiously they took a seat as the woman walked back to her desk. "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Valentina Ebner. I'm head of the Martian branch of the Foundation's Ethics committee."

"I was under the impression we were meeting with the entire committee," Jess said, the unspoken question hanging in the air.

"As the head, I represent the Martian Ethics Committee," she said, pacing back and forth behind her desk. "As far as you're concerned, I am the Foundation Ethics committee. Nothing happens on this planet without my say so, and in complicated matters such as this I speak on behalf of my colleagues."

"Of what complicated matters do you speak?" Yttilier asked. She stopped pacing, looking out the window they had seen her standing in front of when they entered.

"I understand your children are close," she said an unsettling undertone in her voice that none of them could quite place their finger on.

"Yes, Zhetsvan gets along with both of the Hodge children," Exiald said, daring Valentina to speak her mind.

"I'm talking about their relationship with the eldest son. Orion is his name?"

"How do you know that?" Ytillier asked sharply before the other parents got the chance. Daniel and Jess were impressed and somewhat touched by the simple act of agression.

"Like I said, nothing happens on this planet without my knowing," she said as she moved back to her desk. "And I know that they have recently told others of their relationship. It's quickly becoming public knowledge."

"Just what are you getting at?" Jess asked. Valentina leaned over her desk.

"What do their activities together consist of?" She asked harshly.

"They consist of things that are none of our business," Exiald said, eyes narrowing in annoyance.

"Then let me be blunter. Have the two had intercourse?"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, what the fuck?" Daniel said, quickly standing up. "That's none of our business, and that's definitely none of your business!" He pointed at Valentina as he said this, his voice quivering with barely concealed rage.

"But it is, Mr. Hodge. You see, when the Foundation heard of their relationship, we immediately had cause for concern. While we know that both our species have similar enough biology as to cohabitate the same biospheres, we don't know much of the effects we have on each other, and much research needs to be done. Intercourse at this point in time could be dangerous for both Zhetsvan and Orion. As such their relationship should be suspended until such time as we can conduct proper research on the interaction between our species."

"And how long would such research take? Months? Years?" Yttilier leaned forward, ready to stand up with Daniel.

"I hope you'll forgive my interrupting," Exiald said, their calm voice diffusing the situation, "but I have a query regarding this."

Valentina quickly stood up, attempting to regain her composure. "But of course."

"The Church of the Second Hytoth has been around in your species for how long exactly? Ten thousand years?" Exiald began.

"We believe closer to thirteen thousand."

"Such a long time," Exiald said, taking their time. "I'm under the presumption that your first contact with extraterrestrial life occurred within the church, several thousand years before your species left the planet."

"That's correct."

"And presumably these species, ours included, would've had to adapt and blend into the general Terran populace, engaging in friendships and other relationships with other humans? Even romantic and sexual ones?"

"What question are you trying to ask?" Valentina said, impatiently.

"I'm simply saying that surely by this point your Foundation would have many years of reports of coupling between our species, or at the very least the harmful outcomes if they were to exist. So why should we need more research?" Exiald finished.

"Well, as the first public interspecies couple, the populace at large is not likely to believe the reports of the old, shadowy Foundation–"

"I get it," Yttilier said. "This is a push for regressive relations between our species based on disgust, cloaked with the thinnest veil of concern for our children." They stood up to leave, Exiald soon following suit.

"All I am asking is if your children have had intercourse."

"And we're telling you," Daniel said, raising his voice, "that we don't have to dignify that with a response!"

"No, they haven't!" Jess finally burst. The other three parents looked at her in surprise. "What? That's all she wants to know! What's the point in hiding it from her?"

Daniel shook his head. "We're leaving."

"Very well, Mr. Hodge," Valentina said, "but I'll make one suggestion before you do."

"We don't want to hear it," he said confidently.

"Keep your children apart," she quickly said. "Prevent that from happening."

"We can't. They're not children anymore, they're adults," Yttilier said, not turning around to look at Valentina.

"And we'd hate to prosecute them as such," she said, forcing the three who were leaving to stop. She sighed. "Look, the Foundation regards this as a disaster waiting to happen. The first public interspecies relationship. Second contact. Your children would be attacked from every angle, and the Foundation would be forced to take matters into their own hands." She looked down at the still sitting Jess. "Ms. Hodge, surely you understand. We don't understand the risks of an interspecies coupling, and if your children go public, they'll be at the center of a press storm that will only hurt both of them. Please, for the safety of all of your children, handle this. Or else I will be forced to. And I really don't want to have to handle this."

Daniel looked back at Jess. Jess looked between Daniel and Valentina, unsure what to do. He shook his head and without a word stormed out of the office with Exiald and Yttilier in tow, as Jess stared after him, dumbfounded and confused at what had just happened.


"Seriously, dude," Beetle said as the friends entered Orion's house, "it's been several sols and I haven't seen you and Zhet talk, like, at all."

"I said I didn't want to talk about it," Rion said monotonously as he led them to his room.

"Well clearly you need to," Stella said following behind. "You've been moping for sols and you won't even tell us what happened." As they passed Lucifer's room, he popped out.

"Are we dunking on Rion?" he said, face blank.

"Not now, Lu," Rion said, walking past him.

"He hasn't talked to Zhet in sols, Luke. Sols," Stella explained.

"Seriously?" Lu said, his disbelief almost coming across as annoyance. "Literally last week you had a plan to run away with them, you were so nervous, and now you're too nervous to talk to her."

"Wait he had a plan to do what?" Stella said, confused. "Why? How do you know?"

Lucifer ignored these questions. "Come on, don't let one case of coitus interruptus courtesy of Dad ruin your relationship."

"Wait, what?" Beetle said shocked.

"We didn't do anything," Rion quickly said. "…Because Dad interrupted us."

"So let me get this straight, you were interrupted while you were about to have sex, and then you ghost them for literal sols?" Beetle sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I told you one thing. There was one step: communication!"

"Well you know what?" Rion said, turning around and throwing his arms up in defeat. "Failed step one! And now Zhet probably hates me."

"I'm sure that's not true," Stella reassured.

"How would you know?" Rion said dejectedly.

"Like you said, man," Beetle responded, uncharacteristically quiet, "Zhet is our friend, too."

"Rion, can you come here?" his dad's voice came from the kitchen. Rion sighed.

"I'll be right back. You know where my room is, you can start up the game." He gently pushed Lucifer back in his room as he passed. "Don't leave your binder on too long, dweeb." He trudged towards the kitchen until he saw his dad. Rion thought his smile was a little more restrained than usual. Sadder, for some reason.

"Hey Rion."

"What's up?"

"I, you know, I just wanted to see if your friends needed anything while they were here. A snack, drinks."

Rion shook his head, confused. "Nope. We're just gonna hang in my room for a bit, until I feel like I'm third wheeling, at which point I'll kick them out. You know. Same old, same old." Rion gave a hesitant thumbs up and began turning away.

"Actually, I wanted to talk about something else." Rion slowly turned back, staring down at the counter. His father cleared his throat. "I, uh, I wanted to apologize for the other day. When I burst into your room." Rion felt his face flush. "I didn't mean to interrupt anything, if something was…" His father was unable to complete the sentence. Rion sighed.

"It's not your fault." He thought about it for a second. "Well, it kind of was indirectly. The condoms you gave fell out of my pocket and that kinda killed the mood."

Daniel grimaced. "I'm so sorry. I never wanted hurt what the two of you have, or interfere in any way."

Rion shrugged. "It's my own fault really. I just haven't talked to Zhets since then. Everything's been weird since I told you guys, and Mom's telling me it's okay to wait, and I just… I don't know what I was thinking."

"You were thinking you could be happy together. And I know you are. Look, Rion, don't," Daniel shook his head, "don't listen to me, or your mom, or anyone but yourself. The people who love you have your best interests at heart, but they don't always know best. Okay?" Rion slowly nodded. "But, if I can say one last thing as your old man, take it or leave it, I never want you to feel pressured to do things you don't want to do. But if you want to do them, I want you to have the knowledge, common sense, and tools you need to do them safely. Okay?"

Rion nodded again. "Okay. Thanks, Dad."

"Course. Tell Stella and Beetle I said hi," he said with a wink as he disappeared into the next room. Rion stood in the kitchen, unsure. Slowly, he took out his phone and typed out a message.

Roses are Red
Violets are blue
I really messed up
Can we please talk things through?

With one deep breath, he hit send.


Orion was doing what he did best: overthinking the fuck out of things. Maybe this was a mistake. He sent Zhet another poem in English, a Terran language, and centered his own issues. Maybe he should turn around before–

The door opened, Zhet standing tall over him.

"Hi," Zhet said plainly.

"Hi," Rion managed to say. He kept his hands in his pockets, wondering if it was too late to run away.

"You can come in if you want," Zhet said, moving aside. Rion nodded, quickly moving inside as Zhet closed the door behind him.

"Thanks," he croaked out. Why was his throat so dry? He swallowed. "Where are your parents?"

"Not here until late tonight. Out of town meeting for their job or something."

"Oh. Cool." He wasn't sure what to say for some reason. Zhet looked at him and gently grabbed his arm.

"Let's go to my room and talk about things." Rion nodded and followed Zhet as they led him to the room that had become so familiar. It was the same as always. The only thing he noticed was an old Valentine's day card propped on their night stand. Rion smiled as Zhet turned around to look at him. "So what did you want to talk about."

Rion took a deep breath. This was it.

"Well, first of all, I just want to say that I really, really, like you, and I know it might not seem like it anymore, but it's true. I like you… so, so, much and I'm just… I'm sorry, for the failed dates and the awkward conversations and especially the silence. The truth is… you make me nervous. And like, everything makes me nervous, but this is a good nervous. And I don't mind that you make me nervous. Which is weird, but, um, yeah. I like you. A lot."

Zhet smiled. "I like you too, you idiot. I just wanted to give you space, with the meeting and everything getting complicated."

Rion frowned. "What meeting?"

"The one our parents went to," Zhet continued. Rion still gave no indication he understood. "They didn't tell you?" they asked, frowning in concern. "Our parents were summoned by members of a Foundation committee. They don't want us dating, supposedly because they don't know how our biology will react during intercourse. I assumed your parents told you and you needed time to think through things before deciding anything, especially after your father interrupted us."

Rion shook his head. "I had no clue. They haven't really talked to me for the past week." Rion thought for a bit. "Or each other, really." Rion nodded, taking in everything Zhet had said. "But now that I know, you know, maybe the Foundation is right! I mean, have two members of our species ever had sex before? I feel like probably not, but the church is old so who knows, but even so how will our bodies react? I mean what if I get a weird rash down there, or what if my reproductive fluids hurt you somehow? I mean, that's without getting into the normal risks of sex–"

"Whoa, Orion, slow down. Breathe." Together, the two breathed in and out together, taking a minute to clear their thoughts. "Rion, I feel like this is my fault. I've been wanting something more for a while, and I don't know if that's what you wanted." They grabbed Rion's hands. "Rion, we don't have to do anything you don't want to, and I like you regardless of whether or not we have sex." Rion smiled back at them.

"I do want to, believe me. The timing was just… off, that time in my room, especially when we got interrupted."

"Well… we're not going to get interrupted now." Rion smiled at them, feeling the warmth inside him grow. "Play 'Songs for Orion' playlist." As the romantic music came on, Rion turned towards the source, smiling.

"This is an old Earth band," he chuckled.

"I wanted you to feel comfortable," they said by way of explanation.

"And you have an obsession with Earth culture," he said. "Dork."

"Nerd."

The two pulled each other into a kiss, passionate and messy and building with the song. As Zhet moved Orion sideways onto the bed, he hesitated.

"Wait, I don't… I want this, I do, but I don't know how this is going to work," he said, laughing at himself a little.

"Follow my lead, and start improvising when you feel comfortable. Okay?" Rion gulped and nodded.

"Okay." The two kissed again, suddenly aware of the position they were in, what they were about to do, and everything that stood in their way. Between messy kisses, Rion pulled his shirt off, and Zhet did the same. As it got more intense, they both looked down. Zhet looked at Orion, their own hand shaking in anticipation before moving towards his waist. Zhetsvan placed their hand on Orion's belt and with his wordless nod tore the stars asunder until nothing remained of the constellations, save for the vast, diminishing space between their bodies.


The sun rose slowly over the Martian landscape, the sunlight gently creeping into Zhetsvan's room. Most mornings, this would be what woke them up.

But this morning, their arms were wrapped around a very nervous Rion.

"Shit!" he whispered as his eyes shot open. "Shit, shit, shit!" Zhet quickly woke up as he tried to escape their hold.

"What's wrong?" they asked, their voice tired.

"I stayed the night. My parents have no clue where I am, and I guarantee I'll have a million missed voicemails. Shit!"

"We asked Beetle to cover for us last night, remember?" Zhet said, smirking at him.

He had, in fact, forgotten that.

"Still, I… I don't want to take any chances. I have to get home, they could realize and…"

"Okay, okay. Let's gather your clothes." They got out of bed, getting dressed as quick as they could. Zhet quietly opened the door, leading him out the back.

"Hello, Rion," Exiald's voice came from the study. He turned, mortified, to find Exiald and Yttilier sitting in the room.

"I take it you two had a pleasurable evening," Yttilier said, not looking up from their coffee.

"Really, guys?" Zhet said, hiding their face. Rion's mind was a million miles away.

"Please, you can't tell my parents I spent the night here," Rion begged.

"Slow down Rion, we have no intention of that," Exiald said, a smile on their face.

"We like you two together, remember?" Yttilier said, still seeming disinterested. "We're glad to see you two worked things out."

"You did figure things out, right?" Exiald asked.

Zhetsvan and Orion looked at each other, and couldn't help but smile.

"Yes, we did," Zhet replied. "We fit." Rion gave Zhet one final kiss.

"I'll see you later, okay Zhet?" Zhet nodded as they quietly opened the backdoor for Rion. As quietly as he could, Orion made his way back to his house, but quickly ran into a dilemma. He could try sneaking in the back, but that wouldn't make sense if Beetle had already covered for them. He shook his head. He couldn't live his life in fear. He walked through the front door.

"Mom? Dad? I'm home," Rion gently called, worried he might wake up Lucifer, the only late sleeper in the family. He heard muffles from further within the house. "I stayed the night at Beetle's."

"No, that's not an option, I won't…" That was definitely his dad's voice. What was going on? He walked through the main hall to the dining room.

"Mom? Dad? What's going…" He turned the corner to see his parents seated at the table. Behind either of them was a large muscular man dressed in black. "…on?"

"Rion!" His dad said. "You have to get out of here! Quickly, go!"

Rion shook his head. "I don't understand…" he said, looking out at the front hall. Another large man blocked his path. He quickly ran towards the back door only to be blocked by another man.

"Rion," his mother said, nearly in tears, "you have to understand, I didn't want this."

"So you just let these men into our home for shits and giggles?" Daniel asked, angry.

"This wasn't my choice!" She said, distraught.

"What the hell is going on here?" Rion asked.

"Get your things packed, kid. You're heading to IPS-17," said the man behind his mother.

"IPS… Interplanetary Station… what?"

"It's a boarding school for young boys like you," the man explained, maintaining a serious look.

"You heard him, get your things packed," the man by the back door said, shoving him towards the hallway.

"Hey!" Daniel yelled, quickly standing up. "Don't lay a fucking finger on my kid or I swear to–"

"Okay," Rion said, quickly throwing his hands up. "Okay. If you'll leave my family alone, I'll go." Daniel looked at him, mouth agape, as though he couldn't find the words he needed. "That's the deal right? You won't stop harrassing us until I go?" There was a moment of silence as the men looked at each other. "I'll pack my things, I'll go with you. Just don't hurt them. Give me a minute to get everything from my room." He turned to his parents. "Dad, can you get my ID? And Mom, can you wake up Lucifer? I want to tell him goodbye." The other men looked at him, suspicious.

"For fuck's sake, if you're going to kidnap our son at least let him say goodbye to his brother!" Daniel said. Jess placed her head in her hands, devastated.

Rion went to his room, quickly grabbing his travel bag, toiletries, clothes, documents, and anything else he could think to fit inside. It seemed ironic that at the exact moment he decided to stop worrying, everything went to hell. But that was the utility of anxiety, and it was serving him well now as he remained oddly calm. He grabbed the bag and walked out of his room where his dad was waiting with his ID card. He grabbed the card and hugged his father as hard as he could.

"Love you, Dad."

"Don't worry, we'll get this all sorted out. They're not taking you from me," his father said, vowing a retrieval. His mom came out of Lucifer's room, shortly followed by Lucifer himself.

"Why'd you wake me up so early?" He complained. Lucifer took a look at the men, then to his mother. "What's going on?"

Rion took a deep breath. "It looks like I'm gonna be going away for a bit," he said, trying to keep a steady voice. Lucifer turned to him in disbelief. "I don't know how long it'll be before I see you again. I'm sorry I woke you up, I know it's selfish. But I had to say goodbye."

"No," Lucifer said with dawning horror, "this can't be real."

"I know you're gonna remember to take your T, so I don't have to remind you of that. But you need to stop wearing that binder so much, you're gonna hurt yourself."

"But that's why I keep you around," Lucifer laughed as he said this. "So I don't have to remember it, so you can remind me of it."

Rion shook his head. "Not anymore. Tell Beetle and Stella goodbye for me. And tell Zhets I'm gonna miss them so much. Okay, Luke?"

Lucifer's eyes widened. He nodded slowly. "I understand."

Rion chuckled. "I love you, dweeb." He hugged his younger brother, who quickly grabbed back.

"You're sure?" Lucifer quickly whispered in his brother's ear.

"I'm sure," Rion whispered back. He finally let go of Lucifer and turned to his mom.

"Rion, you have to believe me, I didn't want this, I didn't ask for this, I didn't plan it, they just came and…" she said through tears.

"I know, Mom. It's just been a crazy week." He hugged her, grabbed his bag, and without another word, walked out of the house with the four men. The three remaining family members stood there in shocked silence.

"I… I need to rest," Lucifer said, closing the door to his room. The parents heard him lock it from the inside.

"Is this what you wanted, Jess?" Daniel whispered.

"Dan, I didn't… they just came in, what was I supposed to do?" she said.

"You were supposed to fight for them," Daniel said, turning his back on her and walking to their room, slamming the door behind him. Not a sound could be heard through the house, save for Jess' tears hitting the floor as she made her way to the dining room to contemplate what had just happened.

Lucifer removed his ear from the wall. Neither parent could hear his activities now. He had to act fast. He grabbed his phone from the bedside table, quickly dialing a number.

"Pick up, pick up," he murmured. Suddenly, the line connected. "Zhet? It's Lucifer. Listen, you need to get out of that house. Some big scary guys just took Orion away." There was a pause as Zhet tried to wrap their head around it.

Lucifer took a deep breath.

"He activated the Luke protocol."


Exiald opened the front door.

"Jess! What a lovely surprise!" They said, a smile on their face. But Jess wouldn't meet their gaze.

"I hope you'll forgive me coming over unannounced. I was hoping I could come in?"

"Of course!" They said, gesturing her in. "Would you like something to drink?"

"No, that's fine."

"Nonsense! Let me at least get you some water. Follow me to the kitchen." Jess did as she was told, still not looking up. Exiald chatted happily as they led her back and got her water.

"Thank you, Exiald. Hello, Yttilier."

"Hello, Jess. How are you?"

"I've been better," Jess admitted. "Actually, I was wondering if Zhetsvan was home?" The two parents looked at her, sharing a silent conversation with their eyes. "I'm sure they've heard about what happened with Orion, and I just wanted to explain… well myself. What really went on before he was taken."

"Jess," Yttilier said, "Zhetsvan is gone."

Jess turned her head. "What do you mean gone?"

"They ran away," Exiald explained. "Apparently, Zhets and Rion made a plan should something bad happen. They both had some money stashed away, and they set a meeting place."

"Wait, a plan to run away? But that means…"

"Rion is okay," Yttilier said, a rare smile crossing their face. "Last we heard from Zhet, he met them at their meeting place. They're living at a mutual friend's place, they've been communicating with this friend for months just in case something like this happened."

"Oh… he's okay… they're okay together…" Jess felt tears welling at her eyes.

"Jess, are you okay?" Exiald asked. Suddenly, Jess couldn't hold it in anymore, and she began weeping with the force of an emotion impossible to describe. Exiald quickly put their arm around Jess to comfort her. "What's wrong?"

"I did this to him," Jess said. "I made him feel like he couldn't be with Zhet while he was living with us, I drove him away!"

"You didn't do anything, Jess," Yttilier reassured her. "You didn't call the men that took Orion away. You didn't try to send him to that boarding school. You were just caught up in the chaos and confusion of their relationship, the meeting, the threats, and it's hard to blame you for that."

"But Daniel blames me. I think he'll hate me for the rest of my life."

"That's not true," Exiald said. "He's just angry and sad about losing his son. He will forgive you in time. But you cannot control that, you cannot make him forgive you."

"Then what am I supposed to do? How do I stop feeling this bad?"

"You figure out how to forgive yourself," Yttilier said, a somber sense of sympathy in their voice. Exiald held Jess as she cried until she could cry no more.


"The plan went off without a hitch! Good looking out, Lu," Rion said into the phone. "Seong-Jin wanted me to say hi by the way."

"Tell him I say hi back. We need to text soon. As for 'going off without a hitch,' I dunno… I could've worked quicker, or come up with a more sophisticated way to get the bodyguards off you," Lucifer responded.

"No, are you kidding? They had no clue what hit them, and I was already on the ship to New Seoul by the time they realized something was wrong. You are a hacking genius."

"Well, that much I knew." Lucifer paused. "Hey, um, I'm sorry about that thing I said the other day about your anxiety. I just…" He sighed. "Usually I just see your anxiety as getting in the way. Preventing you from enjoying your life. And I only agreed to help at first because I never thought you would actually need to run away from home."

Rion looked down. "Yeah. It sucks when your literal worst fears come true. But I mean, that's the only upside to anxiety. The worst happens, and you think it's gonna be the end of the world. But it's not. And you're pleasantly surprised no matter what happens, because it's always better than what you fear it will be."

"I guess. Hey can I ask you something? I know that Luke was the codeword, but why was it called the Luke protocol? I had almost nothing to do with it."

Rion grinned. "Wasn't named after you. Lunar Korea. L-u-K. Luke."

"Oh my god, you're a bigger idiot than I thought," groaned Lucifer. There was a brief pause, then a quick inhalation. Lucifer lowered his voice. "I gotta go now, Mom and Dad. Promise we'll talk soon?"

"Of course. Tell Beetle and Stella I said hi."

"Give my best to Zhets."

"Okay. Wait, I almost forgot!"

"What?"

"Don't forget to take off your binder!"

"Fuck off, asshole," Lucifer said, chuckling as he hung up. Rion shook his head, looking out at the subterranean lunar metropolis. It was nothing like the Martian landscape he grew up on. And in this moment, it was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.

"I think that's everything you need to know," Seong-Jin said, leading Zhet back into the main room. "Are you sure you two will be comfortable here?"

"Are you kidding? This is perfect," Orion said, marveling at the guest house. "And the view is just gorgeous." He looked out the window again. Seong-Jin smiled

"Well, I'm glad you think so."

"Really, Seong-Jin, you have no idea how much this means to us," Zhetsvan said. "Not too many people would be kind enough to let people they'd never met stay at their place indefinitely."

"What are you talking about Zhet? Of course we've met. Just because it's online doesn't make it real," he said, smiling. The smile quickly turned hesitant. His voice lowered in tone. "I'm really sorry about what happened to you guys. But at the risk of sounding terrible, I'm really glad I get to see you guys in real life, even if it's under these circumstances." The two smiled at him.

"We're glad to see you, too," Zhet responded.

"I promise, we're gonna pay you rent as soon as we can. I began job hunting here weeks ago, and I think there are some positions for people with our skill sets," Rion said, overly grateful.

"Don't even think about rent, okay? I'm just happy to have friends actually using the guesthouse. Focus on getting back on your feet here first. Later, though, after you've had time to take it all in." He smiled at them, a moment of connection between people who had never met yet know each other already. "Well, I'll let you lovebirds rest a bit. It's been a really crazy week for you," he said, exiting the house. "But you'll join me for dinner?"

"Of course," Rion said.

"Thank you, Seong-Jin," Zhet said as the man walked out the door. The two stood in the empty room. They looked at each other, then out the window. "Strange how quickly things can change."

"Yeah," Rion agreed.

"Do you worry it was a mistake?" Zhet asked, more out of curiosity than anything.

"No," Rion replied, confident. "You and I are together. Anything that leads to that can't be a mistake." Zhet turned to him, seeing him carefree for perhaps the first time ever. They pulled his face towards their own, kissing him softly. Rion kissed back with more intensity.

"You know," Zhet said between kisses, "I don't think I'm gonna be able to rest."

"Oh?" Rion asked, making his way towards the bed. "What do you propose we do instead?"

"I have some ideas," they said, smirking. Rion laughed.

"Play 'Second Contact' playlist," Rion said. The romantic music came on and Zhet laughed.

"Second contact? By Rakmou-leusan you're a dork," they said, pushing him down onto the bed.

"You know you love it. Dork."

With a kiss, the music swelled, and that evening, the two formed a bond between their species that could never be broken.

For the second time.

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