The beat was heavy and pervasive, impossible to ignore. It drove into Arverik’s skull, imposing its order on his breath, his heartbeat, even shaping the rhythms of his very thoughts. This was not a place where anyone with his sense of hearing could concentrate.

But the Tavar wasn’t here to concentrate, he was here to immerse himself in experience. And these humans really knew how to make music.

He leaned back against the bar and surveyed the crowd. Humans made up most of it, of course – this world had been theirs first, and even if it wasn’t their home, the Tavarri hadn’t descended in force; blending had been steady, but slow, in the years since contact. And this venue was built to human rather than Tavarri tastes. But there were some Tavarri sprinkled among them, too – and such a variety of them. Arverik had spent his early years in the Shukarat clan fortress, indeed, within its rarefied central spires. Everyone there had been close kin to the clan; most had been members of the core lineage.

In this one room, with maybe a dozen other Tavarri, he saw more colours and patterns than in all his childhood. It made having yellow eyes instead of green seem rather less significant, and that was another part of why he liked it here.

Seeing them all move together – Tavarri and their smaller, furless, tailless neighbours – was another part of it, of course. What the humans accomplished with mild intoxication, the Tavarri did just by forgoing ear protection: a bit of disconnection from the world, a dizzy whirl that let bodies bump against each other as they danced, and an easy camaraderie in which nobody minded that contact.

Still, he could only take so much of it at a time, and besides, he was getting hungry. He wove his way to the stairs.

The heavy beat faded behind and above him, though for some moments he could still feel it coming through the walls. Even that faded in time, though; two levels down and the music was a pleasant memory. Down here, it was the nose that was treated to a sensational barrage, not the ears; an assault of truly delicious proportions.

A slender human woman showed him to a side table and left him a menu. That menu was clearly marked with what selections were safe for each race, but Arverik hardly needed to look at it any more. Even if so much of the menu was still new to him – and not just the human portions – he’d seen it often enough to remember where the markers were; for habit’s sake, he glanced anyway, but he might as well not have done, might as well have not even opened the menu.

”Stuffed mushroom caps and chicken curry, if you would,” he said to the waitress once she’d returned. “Iceberry punch to drink.” After all, trying new foods didn’t mean he had to leave behind everything familiar.

The woman made a few notes. “The curry’s stronger than most Tavarri like it, sir,” she warned.

One of the hazards of working in a mixed-species environment, no doubt; some would charge blindly into unknown territory, and be somewhat upset with the result. Arverik took no offence at the warning, but he said, “Understood. That’s why I chose it; I’ve had spicy foods before and found them to my liking.”

She showed her teeth in a smile. “It is good, of course. We’ll get right on it.”

Once she’d hurried off, Arverik let himself look over the crowd. There were more Tavarri down here than in the club above, some by themselves, most at tables with human acquaintances. Again, there was such a stunning variety of them, for someone who’d been reared in a conservative clan. One particularly eye-catching female was actually a server – her pelt white with a faint blue cast, streaked lengthwise with a vivid electric blue; the tendrils hanging from her snout were clasped by gold bands, her horns enamelled white and inlaid with gold, the whole package wrapped in little more than a pale grey kilt under her staff apron, blue-tufted tail dancing as she went about her work.

Arverik drew in a deep breath, ears canting back, tendrils lifting as he tried in vain to catch a whiff of her scent. It’d be foolish to wish he’d been seated in her section – even if she weren’t so busy with her work, someone so striking was probably swamped with offers, and from people of both sexes in both species who could offer a great deal more experience and panache than some callow Clanner youth; all he had in his favour was eagerness.

But he could dream.

He curled his tail around one leg of his chair to keep it out of trouble, and nodded his thanks when the pale-haired waitress brought his drink.

Lost in rather lewd thought, he was halfway through his glass of tart, pink juice when motion near his table caught his attention. He looked up, but it wasn’t Alice with his appetizer; it was a pair of humans – he had long black hair and brown skin, she was pale with a short crop of red-brown hair, both were smiling and dressed in brief, easy-to-move-in clothes. She was lithe and sleek, he was smoothly muscular; both were the sort he’d spent no few evenings at this very place just gazing at with longing as they moved on the dance floor, alone or together.

And they were both smiling down at him. He sat up straighter, trying to stifle his imagination, or at least bring it back to matters suitable for public consumption. “Ah… hi,” he managed.

“Shalaa,” the man greeted. “We’re not interrupting, I hope?”

“No, not at all,” blurted Arverik. In fact, he rather hoped his food didn’t arrive quite yet. If these two wanted to talk with him, that was the thing at risk of interruption.

“We saw you sitting here, off by yourself,” said the woman, “and Ian thought that was a horrible shame for someone wearing that.” She touched her left ear, bare of any ornament. “Want some company? Alice is serving us too, she can do so here as easy as there.”

Arverik’s hand flew up to his own ear, self-consciously fingering the silver-and-fire-opal ring pierced through it. It wasn’t all that unusual here, though his hadn’t won him any attention before, and he’d either never been brave enough to act on it, or otherwise had fate intervene.

That it was a human – a pair of them – who first took notice of that ring, advertising his availability for a casual encounter, was… more than a little surprising. But hardly unwelcome. “Please, sit,” he invited, gesturing toward the two tables opposite him.

The waitress was good at what she did; she adapted quite readily to the rearrangement of her patrons, bringing their appetizers together and, at the man Ian’s request, combining the bills. The woman assured Arverik that this didn’t mean he had to feel obliged to do anything, and introductions went around. Arverik had already heard that the man was Ian; the woman was Dani. Ian had had a Tavar as his roommate, back when he was in school; then, when the two had gone to separate rooms and didn’t need to worry about potential awkwardness, they’d become intimate. No wonder he knew Tavarri expressions, mannerisms, and signals of dress as well as he seemed to do.

“Certainly told me enough to get me curious,” Dani reflected over the now-shared platter of mushroom caps Arverik had ordered. “Though I probably would’ve been anyway, somewhat. You’re quite a beautiful race; makes me feel kind of plain, by comparison.”

“Oh! Ah…” Arverik’s ears folded back. He wanted to reply in kind, to say something about just what it was that appealed to him in humans – there most certainly was appeal there. But rack his brain though he might, he couldn’t find the words. He ducked his head. “Forgive me. I want to say something better, but all I can say is that you’re… rather appealing yourselves.”

Dani leaned over the table, grinning. “Appealing enough to take you home for an evening, maybe?”

The Tavar’s heart skipped a beat. With the attention they’d drawn to his earring, he couldn’t have any illusions about just what she was getting at. Suddenly, going back up to the dance floor didn’t rank highly on his list of priorities anymore… although there was still time for something to happen between now and then. “I… hope I won’t disappoint! But yes, I’d like that very much!”

Only afterward did he realize just how much of an eager cub he sounded like in that moment, but they didn’t seem to mind. “We can go into detail after dinner,” Ian said. “Hopefully work out something for everyone.”

“I’m quite sure whatever you suggest will be fine,” Arverik blurted. It wasn’t as though he had the least idea what to do – he knew how their bodies might fit together, but beyond that?

The public venue kept the discussion from going further down that route for the moment. Instead, Ian commented on how formal Arverik’s diction was, and that led to a discussion on life among the clans versus the others – the commoners, the so-called mixbloods, that element of Tavarri society that didn’t place so much emphasis on to whom one happened to be related – that group whose free thinking and sharing of ideas had left the clans largely and increasingly redundant over the last three hundred years or so. Ian’s former lover had been very much a mixblood; and by how the man described him, Arverik felt a curious yearning to meet him.

Over the main course, there was little conversation – everyone was too busy eating, and most of the words they spared were related to offering and taking samples of each other’s meals. Arverik did learn that Ian was a technician at a genetic clinic – “much more boring than it might sound” – that Dani taught ancient history, and that they’d been a couple for three local years. Arverik himself, a line worker at a cannery whose days’ main intellectual feats went no deeper than knowing when to call for an actual technician, felt more than a little intimidated, to say nothing of bland and dull.

But then, they weren’t after his genes, and they hadn’t been drawn by his brains.

By the time Dani settled the bill and the pair led him outside, Arverik’s heart was racing. This was normally the time when, even if everything else had gone right, something would come up. One memorable night, a female Tavar had tugged him into the nearest alleyway and got her hand into his trousers before she’d been interrupted by the urgent buzz of her wrist com – calling her to the port where she was being transferred offworld. Others he’d not gone as far with, but just never got back in touch with. Maybe this time, though – just maybe…

He almost yelped when Dani reached up to lay a hand on his shoulder.

“You’re shaking,” she noted, looking up at him. “Are you all right?”

“Y-yes, of…” He cut himself off before he finished saying “of course;” she had ample reason to not assume so. Deep breath. He sighed, and said, “This is all very new to me, is all.”

“Oh?” As they turned onto the walk leading to a residential building, Ian said, “Kept to your own people before?”

Arverik’s ears pinned back against his skull. “Not… not even that,” he admitted, eyes fixed on the path.

Ian actually missed a step as he digested this. “Have you been… holding yourself for someone? Or something?” He was suddenly apprehensive.

And Arverik could guess why. “None of that,” he promised. “I just… haven’t had the chance.”

“That’s…” The man shook his head. “Kenvar told me, at some point, what he thought of as his ideal male, physically. You’re as close to it as any Tavarri I’ve ever seen. I’m surprised that you haven’t had plenty of opportunity.”

“The clan was… unkind.” Arverik really didn’t want to dwell on the details, not now; their unkindness had been stupid, and he knew it. “Since then I’ve been some mixture of hesitant and unlucky. I’ve tried – if not often enough – but some ill chance always intervened.”

“Well, just a bit farther,” said Dani, ushering him into the lift, “and we’ll be happy to take care of that lack for you.”

Ian’s fingers slid along the Tavar’s jaw. “See, there’s some things we’re not quite ready to do just with each other,” he explained. “As long as we’ve been together, we’re pretty sure there’s something strong between us – but we’re not ready to have kids yet. So, just to be sure, I still cover up. But sometimes, I don’t want to mess around with that. I just want to… let it go into someone, and then stay there, feeling them around me as I go soft, instead of pulling out to deal with a condom while I’m still hard.”

“And I,” said Dani, “just like to feel a guy spurt in me. See how you might fit into both of those at once?”

The lift door opening bought him a few moments to think. By the time he’d been ushered a few doors down the hall and into one of the units, he rather thought he did see.

“Both of you?” he managed. “At once?” In succession would’ve been enough of a thrill for him, and then some. In combination… He shivered, tail curling.

Ian looped an arm around Arverik’s waist. “C’mon, pussycat. Let’s get you somewhere cozy and soon you won’t have so much to fret about, huh?” He laughed. “Make up for lost time, even. Kenvar certainly taught me that however similar we may be superficially, male Tavarri don’t have a once-and-done sexual response cycle like that of male humans.”

Arverik wasn’t deeply studied, but he was educated; that was bringing up distant memories from his years-past comparative xenology classes. And those memories, in turn, led his thoughts to the other similarities and differences, subtle and profound, that that class had touched on. And which he’d learned outside of it – like the one that each race found the other’s semen very sweet despite not tasting their own thus…

He shivered, nosing into Ian’s hair. The man was a good height for it; nearly, but not quite, up to Arverik’s shoulder, tall as humans went. An elaborate medley of scents greeted his nose. It was hard to say which were artificial – cleansers or whatever – and which were distinctly human, but oh, how he longed for an opportunity to explore that very question. So close now – if catastrophe didn’t strike, if he didn’t screw it up, if…

He forced himself to take a deep breath. “Could I… have a moment to freshen up?” he asked. Honest enough as far as it went…

“Sure,” Ian said brightly, letting go of him and indicating one particular door. “Washroom’s right there.”

Moving at a steady, measured pace wasn’t easy; he was so tense and jittery, he’d have skittered through that door if he hadn’t forced himself to do otherwise. Yes, the question had been honest enough – he did make use of the facilities – but the moment of privacy also gave him some time to try to arrest his hyperventilating panic.

Which was, he told himself, completely unnecessary. They wanted him here. The only thing keeping him from their bedroom right at that moment was him.

He splayed his hands against the wall and leaned his head against the cool tile between them. His tail lashed about behind him, and for the moment, he let it.

He could do this. Would it be so hard? He knew where things fit together; it was just a matter of finding out how they’d do so best, most enjoyably. And everyone had to discover that, with each new partner. These two were reasonable sorts, maybe they’d even help him along.

“Poor guy.” Dani’s voice was soft, and muffled by the door in between, but neither so much that Tavarri ears couldn’t puzzle it out.

“I know.” Ian’s heartfelt reply was more distant, but his deeper voice carried a little better. “Should be a crime to give a kid that kind of nerves. And for what? If Kenvar had looked like that, I’d have taken him up the first time.”

“I thought you said he offered to blow you the moment you walked into your room.”

“You begin to see the magnitude of this.”

A laugh. “He is magnificent. Now, let’s try not to scare him off.”

Arverik was granted his due share of embarrassment for eavesdropping, certainly. And yet, it wasn’t as though the things they were saying were unpleasant.

Far from it.

They wanted him. He wasn’t just the next Tavar to come across their sight that might help with their particular urges; they thought him singularly appealing.

Wasn’t that something?

He took one more deep breath, worked the latch, and waited a moment for conversation to still before easing the door open and ducking through.

“All better?” Dani asked from her post beside the door. At his affirmative, she smiled. “My turn, then,” she said, and slipped past him with a brush against his arm once he’d stepped out into the main room.

It was left to Ian to usher him into the next room. “Sorry we’ve been all about what we have in mind,” the man said. “Why don’t we start by seeing what you enjoy, hm? I know, opportunity,” he added, doubtless seeing Arverik’s hesitation. “But you’ve had at least some chance to figure out what gets you going on your own, yeah?”

Oh. “That, certainly,” Arverik admitted.

Ian grinned, showing teeth. “So start there.”

The Tavar drew another deep breath. Here, he didn’t have access to the various things he’d used in that self-discovery – like, say, the lubricant and the assortment of phallic toys, emulating males of two sentient and three nonsentient races as well as generic things with just roughly the right shape. And while these two might have lubricant, the others he wasn’t going to ask about.

Still, there were always the very basics.

He drew another breath, closed his eyes, and undid the fastenings of his vest. He felt a little too silly to try making a presentation of it, but he took his time; one buckle after another, then he let it slip free and draped it over the chair he’d stood beside. He slipped out of one sandal, then the other, nudging them under the chair with a foot. Finally, his shorts – the snap over his tail, the buckle in front, and they were free to slide down his legs.

Eyes still closed, he pictured himself, as he’d seen his own projected image before getting dressed to go out in the first place. Tavarri didn’t have the disparity of size between the sexes that humans did, and Arverik wasn’t tall as Tavarri went; but he was broad and heavyset, and did enough physical work in his life for there to be quite a bit of muscle under his pelt. His fur was inky black, marked crosswise with fine white stripes, and one thicker band running from a blaze along his snout, between his ears and horns, all the way down to the root of his tail. Seven finger-thick bands of white marked the length of that sinuous appendage, and the tuft at its tip was white as well.

He’d cheated slightly on those markings. Oh, all of them were in their natural place, but some careful application of dye had neatened the lines. He’d applied a gloss to his pelt that left the whole of it gleaming with an almost metallic sheen. His curling horns, the ones all Tavarri bore, were clad in black enamel, their tips clad in silver caps; the slimmer, lyre-shaped pair that rested just inside of them, plainly proclaiming his sex to anyone who knew that basic cue, were polished to an ivory shine and inlaid with pearl. Only the blue-green pad of his nose broke the black and white.

Yes, he knew his own image quite well. And if some twin to himself had come up to him on the dance floor and offered to couple with him, Arverik would have gladly ridden him there and then, and rot his anxieties. And yet this was the first time that carefully-groomed appearance, those delicately-enhanced contrasts, actually looked about to pay off.

Or at least, it would if he didn’t ruin it with stasis.

It was Ian’s appreciative groan that broke his reverie. Arverik managed an only slightly-unsteady grin at him, and eased himself onto the bed, face up. Just do it, he told himself against a fresh surge of uncertainty; and one more time, he took a breath. For courage.

It was easier if he concentrated on himself – not exactly shutting out the human’s presence, but letting it wash over him without direct response. He had no idea how to perform, but pleasing himself was something he did know. So he ran his fingers along his thigh, drifting inward to brush over his sheath, to caress the heavy pouch nestled under it; and when a rumbling moan of pleasure and desire rose up in him, he parted his jaws to let it pass unimpeded. Stroke by stroke, his sheath swelled, stretching around the flesh growing within it, until it could no longer contain the whole and teal skin pushed into the open.

He tightened his grip, rubbing his sheath against his emerging member a few times, then pressing down, pushing that downy wrapper out of the way. The flesh thus bared would run from thumb to farthest finger with his hand held at rest; at its base it was twice as thick as his thumb, progressing along a smooth taper to a narrow point. Not so narrow as even the base of his trimmed, silver-capped claws, but narrow enough. It was a simple shape, with just a bit of an upward curve to its length, but it did what it needed to do. And right now, under his caressing touch, it  grew slightly slick, shining in the dim light as he gazed down upon it.

Stroke by stroke, he coaxed his pleasure higher. The bare flesh, with no more lubrication than Nature’s own, wouldn’t gladly endure a heavier touch, but that was fine; a caress was enough to quicken his breaths and make his blood sing in his ears, enough to put some rhythm in his hips, enough to make his toes press claws against the sheets and his dewclaws curl, enough to keep his tail sweeping across the sheets.

Enough to fan that spark of need into a surge of pleasure, to slicken his touch with a half-dozen pulses of slippery white, flowing over his fingers and down the rigid spire of his arousal, dampening his sheath.

The soft whimper that reached his ears was Dani’s, but it was Ian who observed, “Lubing up with your own spunk. I could get jealous.”

They were unclad, now – Ian was only just tossing his underpants into the hamper. Arverik grinned up at him, and in the flush of orgasm, it didn’t feel so strained as before. “I could share,” he offered, looking downward. “Once you’re ready. That, I think I can assist with.” Under the modest words, he ached for that offer to be accepted, for a chance to smell him, taste him…

He was not left wanting. Laughing, Ian took the few steps across the room, standing at the side of the bed. It was easy enough for Arverik to prop himself up on one arm, turning to face the man, leaning in close and drawing in a whiff of his dizzyingly-complex scent, his breathy sigh washing over the man’s quiescent flesh.

Not that it would be for long; it stirred a little even at that breath, and Ian uttered a deep groan.

Encouraged, Arverik leaned in closer, lapping at the upper side of the human’s bare flesh, up near the base. He was cautious, conscious of the need to keep his horns from poking the man; but that got a little easier when Ian gripped the outer pair, right near the base,and tilted just so. Yes. Arverik gave his own slippery length a firmer squeeze, and started applying his tongue in quick, light dabs.

As much as the scent and taste, the feel of that flesh swelling against his tongue, rising up before him, was intoxicating. This was something more than all his interludes of self-pleasure; in this moment, it was someone else he was pleasing, not just himself, and that was a new and wondrous thing. He sniffed, he lapped, he kissed, he drew the man’s bulbous glans into his mouth and suckled on it. The shape of it was so much more distinct and complicated than a Tavar’s, and he could’ve spent hours exploring it and its possibilities, interrupted from time to time by gasps like the one he let out now, shivering as a fresh batch of semen wet his palm.

Stars. A few minutes in, with the man just barely hard, and Arverik was already addicted.

“Easy, there,” Ian laughed, rubbing behind Arverik’s right ear. “I’ve got to make mine last, remember?”

Oh. Truth be told, he had forgotten; his ears furled back. But he rallied, grinning up at the man. “Best you prepare to move forward then, hmmm?” He gave his own length a meaningful pat. “I’ve plenty yet to offer for that purpose.”

Dani stifled a gasp; but Ian sobered slightly, rubbing along the Tavar’s jaw. “Are you sure that’ll be enough? It sounds hotter than hell, but…”

Arverik shivered. “It’s nothing I’ve not done before,” he admitted. “Though that wasn’t with the genuine article.”

Ian shivered.”God, the images that conjures… think you’d be willing to contribute my first piece of Tavar pornography, sometime? Don’t answer that,” he added before Arverik could start contemplating the notion. “Better things to think about now.”

Just so.

It was Ian’s turn to lie supine on the bed, with Arverik, at the man’s guiding touch, straddling his hips and hunkering down to rub against him. The Tavar’s flesh was already quite slick, sliding easily against the human’s despite the tight grip Ian had around them both. His other hand found the root of Arverik’s left outer horn, coaxing him to curl up a little, to bring his head down close to the human’s.

He’d seen humans kiss before. He’d never had it done to him. Their mouths didn’t quite fit right, but that didn’t seem to matter, especially not when he started answering in his own fashion, light swipes of his tongue over the human’s lips. Oh, yes, he could get used to this very quickly indeed. And he had no doubt that Ian had known Tavarri in the past; he knew just how to rub and stroke over Arverik’s length, just how hard to squeeze and how fast to thrust, just how to coax another half-dozen pulses of semen out of him – and just how to tell they were coming, in time to wriggle upward and let them course right over his own flesh.

For that moment alone, Arverik would’ve counted the evening an immense success; but they were just getting started, and that glorious truth made him ache with anticipation.

Dani was on an armchair across the room, fingering herself, presumably responsible for some mix of the new scents reaching Arverik’s nose; but for the moment she was content to watch and do that, while Ian slid out from under Arverik and had the Tavar lie prone against the mattress. Knowing what was to come, he kept his tail high, but couldn’t quite manage to keep it still; it looped around Ian’s neck, the tuft flitting and darting around his shoulders, while the man gripped its base with one hand, and with the other…

Arverik had, in fact, felt that particular stretch quite a few times. In most aspects, that first stretch was quite familiar; the blunt head, the broad crown of the glans, the thickness of the shaft beyond… but the vital heat made everything so different, so deliciously superior.

As, of course, did the fact that all Arverik needed to do was grip the sheets and let it happen.

Ian slid into him easily, leaning over to groan against his shoulder, and from there he started pistoning. Yearning for more, Arverik strained to move against him, matching his rhythm in counterpoint; and while he wasn’t entirely successful, especially not when Ian reached under to slide his fingers around Arverik’s shaft and give him something other than the sheets to thrust into, it was more than good enough.

Good enough to wet Ian’s palm with a few more squirts, certainly. And then a few more. And more still. Maybe the man couldn’t recover like a Tavar could, but his seemingly-indefatigable thrusting had to be at least as good.

Dani slid onto the bed beside them, and their motions together slowed, if not quite stopping, while Arverik pushed up to let her under him, bearing Ian on his back. She took the opportunity for a few strokes of her own to Arverik’s shaft, then guided it down, into the rich and welcoming warmth of her sex; and then they were in full motion again.

It was all Arverik could do to keep himself moving at all. Ian’s heat driving under his tail, the man’s breath quick and hot over his shoulders, his body pressing down onto Arverik’s back; Dani squirming under him, her tunnel clutching and squeezing around his taper as she kneaded and kissed at his chest – whimpering, he started pumping into her within moments, and if he ever stopped, it was only because his body was struggling to come upwith enough to give. Again and again, spikes of pleasure drove through him, arcing from his balls up his spine.

And then Ian cried out, lurching in against him and staying there,twisting, grinding; and Arverik felt a new, wet heat filling him, and shuddered. Whether it was the intensity of Ian’s climax or the sheer undeniable reality of it being shared with Arverik, or something else altogether, the rush was profound in a way that his own climax hadn’t been.

They pulled apart after that, with Dani answering Arverik’s anxious query with a very vigorous assertion that, yes, she’d been quite satisfied, and no, she didn’t mind in the least that he’d been too distracted to notice properly – indeed, that very distraction, she said, had been quite endearing. He wasn’t sated, and could have kept going, but he was content; the humans being spent didn’t leave him wanting. The washroom was really too small to fit all three of them properly, but they tried anyway, for some post-coital grooming that had all of them relaxed and laughing; and then they slid back into bed, under the covers this time, Arverik face up with the humans on either side, Ian in the crook of his right arm and Dani on his left, nuzzling in against him.

It wasn’t actually easy to fall asleep, arranged like that, but it felt nicer than doing so on his own ever had.

The morning was full of easy camaraderie, all the more so for Arverik’s nervousness being quite thoroughly behind him. They’d already done what he’d come with them to do; he didn’t need to worry about it anymore, and could accept their offer of breakfast in the pleasant spirit in which it was offered. And when the time came to part ways, and Dani said, “Maybe we’ll see you around again, next time we’re in the mood for a third,” Arverik could smile, thank them, and say he looked forward to it, without it sounding forced.

It was an uncommonly warm day; once he’d had a chance to change into some new clothing, he rather fancied a walk. Maybe the evening would find him back at the Five Lamps again.

And who knew? Maybe he’d be the one to spy someone interesting and make an offer. After all, now he knew he could do it. He already had, hadn’t he?