Sami tried to navigate out of the way of the oncoming cluster of students, but with the stack of books she had, she couldn't maneuver quick enough without spilling them. The cluster of students didn't seem to care about this, and the tall, strapping young man almost directly in front of her didn't bother getting out of the way. He glanced at her and barely hid a sneer as he purposefully angled his elbow to hit Sami's shoulder, causing her to jerk back. Her books tumbled to the ground and she tripped over one, landing with a grunt on her hands and knees.
Sami sighed as she heard the young man let out a short guffaw, and his two buddies snickered as well. Two of the three girls with them giggled along, while one frowned, but didn't say anything in Sami's defense. Of course, she wouldn't. Sami was a Demihuman. In their eyes, the mere fact that Sami was on a college campus and wasn't either pulling weeds or pushing a mop was an affront to their sensibilities. Even here in the supposedly "open minded" nation of Argonia, Sami was a sub-human as far as most people, and even the law itself, were concerned.
Sami started assembling her stack of books, her long reddish-blond hair and long rabbit-like ears falling over her shoulders, forming a curtain around her face. She didn't need to see the other students, and faculty, watching her. It's not like any of them were going to—
"You need some help?"
Sami almost jumped at the voice, and looked up to see a white-haired young man with icy blue eyes looking down at her. He gave her a soft smile, and crouched down, helping pick up her things. "Uh... thank you..." said Sami, cautiously. She stood, hefting her mostly-complete stack, and waited for the boy set his part of the stack on top of hers. When he just kept them tucked under his arm, she gave him a perplexed look. "Um..."
"Where are you headed? Can't be too far, right? I'll help you carry these," he said.
Sami blinked. "Um, no, I got this, just set those on here," she said. She tapped her chin on the stack she was holding.
"It's no trouble, really," he said. "In fact, I can take some of those, even."
Sami looked at him for several seconds, until he cleared his throat to try and break the uncomfortable silence. Finally she nodded and said, "Just grab a couple, I can manage the rest," she said. The boy complied, adding to his stack. "Thank you," she added hastily. She glanced around and noticed a few people giving them disdainful looks.
"No problem," he said. "Lead the way."
Sami did so, resuming her trek down the hall with as easier pace. She was content to take the trip in silence, but apparently, the young man was feeling chatty. Sami wasn't used to this from a human.
"So, uh, what's your name?" he said.
"Sami," she said.
"Sommy? Huh. Never heard that one before. I guess it's a Zoaheim name, huh?"
"I guess," she said.
"Are you from there? You don't sound like you have an accent."
"No. I was born in Argonia."
"I see. So, where are we going with these?"
"Up a floor. History department."
"I see." More silence, and Sami hoped it would stay that way. The last time a random human stranger had acted this chummy with her, it hadn't gone well for either of them. Alas, the young man continued, "So, you're a Lopfollo, right?"
Sami sighed inwardly. "Yes. Obviously." She twitched her lopped rabbit-like ears for emphasis.
"Don't you guys have little horns on your heads?"
"That's only the males, and only ones of a certain bloodline."
"Oh. Well, anyway, it's pretty rare seeing any kind of Demihuman at a college. Are you actually, like, studying here?"
"No, I work for the history department."
"Still, even just working here. That's pretty cool." He cleared his throat. "Um, sorry, if I'm prying, I'm just curious, but... are you like, owned or..."
Sami scowled. "No, I have a visa to live and work here." They reached the stairs, and Sami started up them at a faster than necessary pace, her long legs skipping to every third step. The young man kept pace with her, however, bounding up just as easy.
"I'm sorry, I hope I'm not bothering you. Or asking anything insensitive." Sami glanced at him, and noticed he seemed to be almost blushing a bit. She stopped suddenly, which startled him.
"Why do you want to know?" she said.
"Um... well... see, I..." the young man cleared his throat nervously. "I was wondering if you were, uh, free to hang out... sometime... maybe get a coffee or something?"
Sami cocked her head to the side, which made him blush a bit more. "Are you asking me out on a date?"
"I guess so?" he said.
Sami sighed outwardly this time, turned, and started walking again. "Don't."
The young man scowled. "Hey, come on. I just..." he struggled for the right words. "Look, I'm sorry. If you're not interested in humans, I understand. I just, uh, well, I've noticed you a few times around campus and... um... I think you're kinda cute."
Sami scowled again. "Let me guess. You're doing some kind of fraternity initiation. You have to bed a Demihuman by week's end."
"What? No!" he said. "What gave you that idea?"
"The last college boy who asked me out," she said. "He even offered to pay me."
"Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't know. But no, it's nothing like that."
Sami glanced back at him, and he really did look regretful. She considered saying something friendlier, but by then, they had reached the offices of the history department. She stepped into the door, giving a nod to the receptionist, who gave a curt nod back. She ignored the stares from the newer students awaiting their meeting with a teacher or the department head. Some of them had probably never seen a Demihuman before.
The boy followed her as she went into the set of hallways lined with small rooms for the teachers. Going down to the end of the hall, she went through the only open door. A tall, dark haired woman currently on the phone greeted her with a smile and motioned towards a cluttered desk. Sami set her books down, took the remaining ones from the young man's arms, and stacked those on top. She then waited for the teacher, Mrs. Celmen, to finish her call. Mrs. Celmen glanced at the young man, then gave Sami an inquisitive look. Sami shrugged and turned to him.
"You can leave now," she said.
"Um, well, about that coffee?" he said. Mrs. Celmen's eyebrows raised, and gave Sami an even more intrigued look. Sami just gave her a helpless one back. Mrs. Celmen held up a finger, indicating the two should wait a moment. Quickly, she ended her call, then gave the boy a wide smile.
"And who are you, young man?"
"Robert Talon," he said. "Sorry, I don't have any classes with you, I was just helping Sami here."
"So I see. What's this about a coffee?"
"He's hitting on me," said Sami, giving him a dismissive wave.
"Really?" said Mrs. Celmen. She grinned again. "I'm jealous, to be hit on by such a cutie." Robert chuckled a little nervously.
"If you say so," said Sami.
"Ouch," said Mrs. Celmen, mock wincing. "You should be nicer to such innocent youth."
Sami frowned, but said, "Yes, ma'am."
"Sorry," said Robert, looking embarrassed. "I'll just be going..."
"She didn't exactly say no, as far as I can tell," said Mrs. Celmen, giving Sami a wink.
Robert turned and gave Sami a hopeful look. Sami glanced between the two and held back another sigh. "Fine," she said. "You free tonight?" Robert nodded. "Seven o'clock. Meet me here."
Robert smiled. "Will do!" He left, still smiling, with almost a skip in his step.
Sami shook her head in partial annoyance. "What's the matter dear?" said Mrs. Celmen. "A human boy who likes a Demihuman is a rare thing. You could stand to make a few more friends around here."
"Easy for you to say," said Sami. "You're human."
Mrs. Celmen frowned deeply. "Human-Demihuman relations aren't going to improve if people don't take these kinds of steps."
"I repeat my statement," said Sami. "With respect, ma'am."
Mrs. Celmen rolled her eyes. "Well, you don't have to see him," she said, with a slight huff. "If it's that much of a bother, just stand him up."
Sami bit back her words with practiced ease. "We'll see," she said instead.
It was not Mrs. Celmen's fault, really, that she didn't understand just how delicate a Demihuman's situation was. Being book smart didn't mean a person couldn't also be ignorant in other ways. Or perhaps, more accurately, too focused on her own ideals to see the complications of reality. Mrs. Celmen, advocate for Demihuman rights and Sami's only real friend here at the school, saw Robert's offer as a great step forward for Demihuman kind. Apparently, Sami's own level of interest in Robert, or lack thereof, wasn't an important factor in that vision.
The middle-aged teacher, good natured though she may be, probably didn't even realize how lucky Sami was to even have this job. It had been a million-to-one chance that Sami's father had served the school's President for two decades as his personal attendant. Only through great convincing, had the President allowed Sami to assume clerical duties for the school itself; the largest contributing factor, Sami later found out, was that it had been a publicity move to garner some more financial support from the school's more liberal benefactors.
Even then, the History Department was the only one who accepted her, largely due to Mrs. Celmen's insistence. Virtually any other situation, Sami would be scrubbing dishes in a crummy restaurant, sweeping trash off the streets, or at best, busting her back in an underpaid factory job. It wouldn't take much for that to become reality. Just last semester, one of the Demihuman gardeners on campus, one of the winged Aven, was fired for getting involved with a few curious students, and having a threesome in one of the sororities. The whole thing had been entirely consensual, but the sorority in question was too concerned with their reputation. A Demihuman fraternizing with their girls? Good heavens! They weren't one of those houses!
And so the incident treated as an "alcohol-induced lapse of judgment" on the girls' part. Just to be sure it didn't happen again, the Aven was sacked, and told it would be best to seek employment in another town. A pity, too. He'd been nice to Sami the few times they'd talked. She felt a bit ashamed that she'd never actually learned his name.
Understandably, Sami didn't want to end up in the same situation. Depending on how things went down, she could be fired in a heartbeat to avoid more negative press to the school. She didn't need to lose her job over a misunderstanding blown out of proportion into another scandal.
Still and all, maybe Mrs. Celmen was right. There was nothing scandalous with just talking to a boy. As Sami walked back out of the office, she caught a scowl from one of the newer teachers who hadn't gotten used to her presence yet. Sami was more than used to such reactions; maybe it'd be nice to get to know another human who didn't look ready to throw her into oncoming traffic.
Half a day later, and Sami waited patiently by the door to the History Department's office. She passed the time by reading, not really expecting Robert to even show up. She'd give him ten minutes past seven, and then she'd go home.
At nine minutes and fifty seconds past, Robert came dashing into the hall. He skidded to a halt in front of Sami and bent down, hands on his knees, gasping. Sami blinked in surprise.
"S-sorry," gasped Robert. "Had a test... went longer than... I expected..." He caught his breath, composed himself and stood tall, grinning sheepishly. "Well. Shall we go?"
Sami smiled amiably. "Certainly." Sticking her book in her backpack, she stood and let Robert lead her down the stairs and out of the building.
"So, do you have a preference of where to go?" said Robert, as they walked towards the edge of campus.
Sami shrugged. "I don't drink coffee, so anywhere's fine."
"Oh, okay." Robert nodded. "You like chocolate?"
"Mocha Joe's is just down the street," he said. "They have some sweet stuff, too."
"Sounds nice," said Sami.
Robert frowned. "You, uh, don't sound very interested. Look, if this makes you uncomfortable, you don't have to go out with me."
Sami looked at him, then shook her head slightly. "I'm sorry," she said. "I don't mean to sound disinterested. Let's just say you learn to be cautious as a Demihuman."
Robert nodded. "I can relate."
Sami cocked a curious eye at him. "Can you?"
Robert glanced around, then nodded towards a cloister of trees at the edge of a small park. As they came around the trees, gaining a small degree of privacy, Robert stopped and held up a hand; in the palm, Sami saw several white specks form, swirling in a small whirlwind. More and more specs formed, and Sami recognized them as snowflakes. Strange, given that it was late spring. Soon, a palm-sized tornado of snow balanced on his hand, until it suddenly poofed out, leaving behind a small, rabbit-eared snowman. He smirked as she looked at it with wonder.
"You're a Mage?" Sami said, her ears perking up as she looked at him, fascinated. She'd never actually met a magic-wielding human before.
"That's what I tell people," he said. "But no, I'm not."
Robert smiled. "You'll understand a man wanting to be cautious."
Sami frowned and took a step back. "And you'll understand a girl wishing to avoid a very risky situation."
"Fair enough," Robert chuckled and glanced around again. Then, in a low voice, he said, "I'm a Djinnoa."
Sami blinked. "A what?"
"A Djinnoa," he said. "I'm the son of a Djinn."
"What's... a Djinn?"
Robert frowned and thought for a moment. "Boy, if you don't know, I don't know if it's okay to tell you."
"Well, you've started to, so you may as well."
"A Djinn is a type of fairy."
Sami still looked clueless.
"A type of... I dunno... a being of magic? In this case, a Djinn is an elemental."
"Ah," said Sami, starting to understand. "So, you're some kind of snow elemental?"
"Kind of," said Robert. He tossed the little snowman to the side, where it disintegrated into a puff of loose flakes on the ground, then started walking again, motioning for Sami to join him. She stepped into place next to and slightly behind him and the two proceeded down the street.
"Why is that a secret?" said Sami.
"Well," he said. "They say Fae creatures are dangerous. I don't think I am, but..."
"But people don't care what you think," said Sami, with a nod. "Still, at least you can hide it."
"I guess," he said. He offered his hand and after a puzzled moment, Sami took it. He clasped her hand gently. Sami's eyes widened.
"You're cold!" she said. He was indeed quite cool to the touch. Not freezing, but he felt as if he'd just been playing in the snow barehanded.
He nodded and let go of her. "Easy to hide if you never touch anybody."
"I see," she said. "Shame. I bet there's lots of girls who'd like to touch you."
He blushed. "You think so, huh?"
"I'm not really one of them, mind," she said.
"Oh," he tried, and failed, to hide a crest fallen look.
"Don't take it personally," she said, giving him a small smile. "You're not my type, but I'd say you are pretty dashing, for a human."
They came up to the coffee shop where Robert had been leading them. He held open the door for her. Sami hesitated, looking at him and the door. He gave her a curious look, then waved her through.
"Um, I should be doing that for you," she said in a low voice.
"I don't care," he said. "Politeness knows not the boundary of species. Go on in. People are gunna notice more if I keep holding the door open."
Sami frowned slightly, but the sincerity in his look convinced her. She stepped in and he got into place behind her. Immediately, at least a dozen people gave her curious stares, which turned into looks of false understanding when Robert stepped up beside her. Then the looked went curious again when Robert motioned her to walk in front of him.
"You go first," she said.
"I dunno what I want yet," he said, glancing over the menu above the counter.
She sighed, then grabbed his arm and deftly pushed him in front of her. He was a little startled at how easily she manhandled him right then. She was stronger than she looked, and to her surprise, that actually made him blush a little.
"You have to act like I'm assisting you," she said in a low voice. "Or people will start talking."
"Is it really that big a deal?" he said.
"Do it, or this date's already over," she said. Robert nodded and complied, stepping up to the counter despite not quite being ready.
Of course, people had been giving them sidelong glances all the way over here, something Sami was used to, but Robert was obviously made very self-conscious by. Of course, Sami thought, he might complain that it was hard to be different, but he still looked human. Even if he had to be careful who he touched, he could blend into a crowd without a problem. Not so easy for a Demihuman. She may have had a completely human shaped body and face, but her skin was covered head to toe in a coat of very short, fine white hairs. Even without the fur, her rabbit-like ears drew plenty of attention by themselves.
Sami lowered her head a bit, and assumed a meeker stance. Robert ordered a mocha and said he'd pay for whatever Sami wanted. She decided a slice of cheese cake would be nice. The person at the counter was quite friendly, but still hesitant as she took Sami's order. Robert led them to a seat afterwards.
"Jeez, why's everyone staring so much?" he said in a low voice.
Sami sighed slightly, then tugged on one of her ears. "You really don't see it?" said Sami.
"See what? I mean, you're a Demihuman, okay, but, I mean, jeez, it's not like your twenty feet tall and spitting fire."
"You said it yourself. Rare to see one of us around a college."
"And rare to see one of us just hanging out with a human, rather than walking in one's shadow."
Robert opened his mouth to say something, but then their order was called out. Robert moved to stand, but Sami stopped him. "I'll get it," she said, and the tone in her voice indicating there would be no argument. She fetched the drink and slice of cake, and made her way back, having to nimbly side step a couple people who didn't bother moving out of her way.
Setting his mocha in front of him, she sat down and slowly took small bites of the cake, savoring the treat. She didn't often get to indulge like this. Robert slowly sipped his drink as he looked at her. She glanced at him, and he again looked nervous, as if trying desperately to think of something clever to say. Sami looked back down and thought about how to parse her words.
"You really are interested in me, aren't you?" said Sami.
"I am," said Robert softly. "I know, it's weird, but I guess I just have a thing for Demihumans."
Sami shrugged. "Not as weird as you think," she said. "A couple of others in my apartment work as strippers and prostitutes."
Roberts eyes widened a bit. "Really?"
"Yes," said Sami. "Now, are you sure you're genuinely interested, and this isn't just some kind of weird fetish thing?"
"What? No!" he shifted nervously. "I mean, well, some people would call it a fetish, I guess, but I just, I dunno, I've never been all that interested in human girls. I know that must seem weird." He shrugged. "I guess I can just relate to Demihumans better."
"I see," she said. "Well, even still." She took another bite of cake and let it melt in her mouth as she thought it over. "Well, first thing's first, I'm not attracted to you. I'll just put that right out there. But I do find you intriguing. I suppose I wouldn't mind hanging out with you."