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Seth really looked forward to breakfast. He never ate very much, but that one hour or so spent in the college's cafeteria each morning usually made his whole day. He ran quickly through the line, snagging bits and pieces of food and jumbling them all together on his plate. This day, he hoped, would be a doozy.

He'd barely made it back to his table before she came in. "Hi!" Seth waved as casually as he could.

"Hello, Seth," Chanda replied, smiling. Her silky dark hair swung against her cheek as she sat down. "Oh, that looks delicious," she cooed. "May I?"

"Of course." Seth pushed the plate across to her and watched her pick out a plump strawberry. "Like you even have to ask anymore."

"One should always ask, Seth, it is entirely too easy to take others' actions for granted, you see." Chanda's wide, dark eyes twinkled as she dimpled at him.

She did that a lot, he mused as he smiled back. She seemed such a tiny woman with all the wisdom of Confucius in her eyes. He'd been fascinated by the way she walked and her smile weeks before he'd gotten the nerve to talk to her. Then he'd fallen in love with her accent, still tinged with her native Mandarin. She was beautiful, graceful, and so very shy.

And every morning for a month now she'd eaten breakfast with him.

Holding a hand full of grapes, she cocked her head quizzically. "You are doing it again, Seth."

"Hmm? What's that?"

"That look. I do not completely understand it. Tell me, what are you thinking?"

"Do you really want to know?"

Chanda's eyes met his in a moment of wide wariness. He sat very still, still smiling, and after a moment or two she said "Yes."

"I'm thinking about the kiss yesterday."

Chanda swallowed the grape in her mouth and looked down at the table. "Oh," she whispered. "I also have been thinking about it, Seth. I-I wished to say how sorry I am."

That brought him back down to earth with a thump. "Sorry? Why?"

"I should not have kissed you." Her tiny sculpted face was a portrait in self-inflicted misery. "That was wrong of me."

"I didn't mind, Chanda," he answered. Mind? Hell, he'd reveled in it! A moment of excitement, of understanding, of what felt like a goddamn connection, and it manifested in a kiss. He sure wasn't gonna complain about it! "I liked it, actually. Quite a bit."

"Oh." She stared at her fingers in sadness.

"You-you didn't like it? I mean ... jeez, I don't know what I mean. Why do you think it was wrong? It was beautiful!" He glanced around nervously as his voice rose a little at the end, but the conversations around them never faltered.

"No, Seth, it should not have happened. You are a very dear friend and I like you very much. You were being kind to me, and I should not have ... oh, I am sorry." Her great black eyes welled and shone as they swam.

Chanda snatched up her bag before Seth could say another word and bolted down the aisle. He could hear her sniffing, holding tears back, yet for a moment or two he stayed frozen. A friend? Oh please, no, not a friend. Or, he thought distantly, not just a friend...

"Chanda, wait!" He freed his legs from the old plastic chair and ran after her, leaving the food where it lay.

He watched her dart through the doors of the Commons' lobby and slip sideways between a group of students. Taking to his heels after her, he muttered apologies as he pushed past people and tried to keep sight of the tiny Asian girl.

By the time he caught up with her, he was sweating just a little in the warm spring air and growing angry. "I just want to talk to you," he protested as he caught her elbow.

She stopped under his hand and faced him. Tear tracks still wet her cheeks and his heart clenched. "Are you afraid of me, Chanda? Did that kiss ruin our friendship?" He ignored the pang that thought wrung deep inside him and stared worriedly at her.

"Oh, no, Seth. It did not!" Reaching up a delicate hand, she gently brushed the sun-bleached blond hair at his forehead. "You are a good man. Very kind to me. As a friend, I do not want to change the way you feel to something - worse."

He returned the touch, sliding a finger along her cheek. So smooth, so soft, he felt he could break her if he came at her the wrong way. "I don't think you can," he murmured. He ran a gentle hand up into her hair, cupping her head as he moved closer. "I care a great deal about you, Chanda."

He had to taste her again. The brief melding of lips and breath he'd experienced last night had only whetted his imagination. His dreams had taken him to places he'd never thought of before and she featured prominently in just about all of 'em. He needed to kiss her, felt almost compelled to, and he stepped in to her slowly, tilting her mouth up to meet him.

She didn't pull away. Her mouth, soft and pliable and tasting of strawberry, moved with him. His brain whirled dizzily as she touched her tongue to his, flicking and thrusting in playful fashion in one of the sweetest kisses he'd ever had.

They were both panting a little when they separated. "Oh, you do that so well," she moaned. He huffed out a laugh just before he merged their mouths again. Teeth scraped, tongues danced, and breathy sighs blended.

When he came up for air, he gulped. "You're amazing, Chanda, d'you know that? You're so sweet, so right, and you're all I seem to be thinking about lately. Your eyes, your walk, your lips - good god, your kiss." He took a deep breath. "There's no one who's ever affected me like you do, love."

She was sobbing again, small puffs of breath against his heated skin. "I do not want to ruin that! I am not right for you ... you deserve someone more worthy than I."

His blood still pounded with proof of just how right for him she was. He scowled. "How about if I choose who is and isn't worthy of me? I can make up my own mind." Seth tightened his grip in her hair and around her waist. He didn't intend to let her get away easily.

Chanda held utterly still, staring up into his face. He couldn't read the look in her eyes, but felt it the instant she made up her mind.

"Yes, Seth," she said softly, sadly. "You should choose."

He felt the grin start across his face even as she reached up and put a finger to his lips. "You should choose," she reiterated, "but you should know everything before you decide. I must tell you some things first."

Seth frowned. "What is it?"

"Come with me." She slid out of his grasp and quick-stepped back down the path.

He followed her, through the parked cars and sidewalks of the campus. She moved quick for such a small person, he noticed. He considered himself in excellent shape, but the exertion and the warm weather had put a sheen of sweat on his face by the time they reached the back steps to her dorm room. Chanda quickly decoded the door, motioned him inside, and started up the stairs.

"Where are we going?"

Her voice echoed slightly in the stairwell. "What I must show you requires privacy. We shall use my room."

At the second door, they came out onto a carpeted hall. Tiptoeing warily, he whispered "Won't you get in trouble if someone sees me?"

"Everyone on this floor prefers morning classes. Very few are here now. Most sleep early in the evening, the louder ladies stay nearer the top floor."

"Oh."

She unlocked a blank door and he walked in to a sparsely furnished room. One skinny bed, a side desk neatly organized, and one plain-looking dresser made up the majority of the furniture. At the end of the room was a low, Oriental table exquisitely carved and polished to a warm glow. It could easily have sat eight people. He blinked at it a moment, then followed Chanda's example and kicked off his shoes by the door.

Chanda sat down on one of the plump cushions scattered across the floor and twined her fingers nervously. Seth sat cross-legged too, saying only "Nice place."

"Thank you." She took a deep breath and launched into what sounded like a very rehearsed speech. "In my family there are very few daughters born. I only have one sister, and both of us were very protected by our father and brothers."

He smiled. It sounded as though she'd spent the whole walk over deciding how best to approach this big secret. That was fine with him. He couldn't think of anything that would change how he felt about her. So he nodded encouragement and she rushed on.

"There have been times in our history when women like my sister and me were hated. Men would hunt them down and kill them without understanding what they were. My people were afraid of these ignorant people, and so taught their children to be cautious when speaking about who and what we are."

She gazed at him soulfully. "I like you, Seth. Very, very much. I am glad that we are friends and I pray that maybe we will become more." His heart leaped even as she continued. "But to choose to take that step, the choice must be made with the full knowledge of what I am."

Seth reached over to take her hand. "You're a beautiful woman, and a dear friend," he replied. Her eyes closed in what looked like pain. "Nothing can destroy how important you are to me."

Her voice came out in a whisper. "Then, in the name of our friendship, can I trust you to hold what I am about to show you in confidence?"

"You can. I will swear it on anything you care to name."

"Then let it begin." She stood gracefully, motioning him to stay seated. "The door is unlocked, if at any time you wish to leave."

The misery on Chanda's face when she said that confirmed Seth's utter conviction to stay right where he was.

Chanda turned her back and stepped into the middle of the floor. She took down the small pins in her hair, letting it fall farther down her back, and shrugged out of her blazer. Swiftly, she unbuttoned her blouse. Seth's mouth went completely dry as her slim, muscled back revealed itself to his eyes. So graceful, so trim, he had known she would be beautiful...

She slipped her skirt down her stockinged legs and said "The women in my family are different, Seth. They have passed down genetic changes from mother to daughter for many generations. We have not always been able to control it, it hides under the skin at times. But when it is unrestrained, men become frightened."

Seth frowned, drawn out of his delighted contemplation of her strong legs and smooth ass cheeks. "Genetic?"

Chanda turned around to face him, completely naked, and he sucked in a breath. She looked perfect. Smooth skin, toned limbs, and a softly rounded stomach.

She knelt facing him, and the appeal on her face forced his eyes back to hers. "I am not fully human, Seth."

"You're not hu- what?"

Chanda closed her perfectly sane-looking eyes and spread her hands out wide. A ripple ran along her skin, starting at her shoulders and flowing out to her hairline, her belly, her hands. Colors flushed her face and torso, rainbows fluttering to a deep, shining green left in their wake. Her body twisted, shuddering, and he heard a low hiss as she folded double.

Seth shot to his feet. Before he could go to her, touch her, ask her if she was all right, she had straightened again. He stopped in his tracks, gasping in shock at the ...woman before him.

For woman she still appeared, though humanity had faded drastically. Full breasts and solidly-muscled thighs shifted under a bright green, smooth-scaled skin. Her hair sprouted behind a ridged brow, cascading down a back that, when she stood, he noticed had rigid plates sticking out of her shoulder blades. She stared down at him from a height of about seven feet, yellow eyes blinking at him with double-lids.

One of her hands reached up to touch him, carefully using only the pad of her fingers and avoiding his face with the inch-long claws tipping each. "Am I not horrid?" she growled.

He took a deep breath, hoping his shock was not too visible in his eyes. Looking her up and down, he walked around her. He stepped over the thickly muscled tail and watched her eyes roll sideways to watch him. He stepped back in front of her and breathed "Horrid? Why, you're beautiful, Chanda!"



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