He sat apart from the crowd, nursing his drink, but he watched them. In the cut and colour of clothing, in the flow of the crowd, in the movement of individual bodies, in every gesture, his keen gold eyes looked for patterns even as they saw beauty. In each footstep, each heavy beat of the music, his ears detected a rhythm that his heart found itself following. He never focused on any one person for long, but he watched almost always, only rarely turning his attention to the bartender for a refill and that for as little time as he could manage.

He couldn’t sustain that sort of scrutiny forever, especially not as the drink and the beat collided in some corner of his mind and started to dull his senses; and as his picture of the crowd came to be dominated by motion over form, he lost himself in the flow, his sight losing focus as his thoughts turned inward.

But even then, he wasn’t so out of it that he failed to notice someone coming up beside him, taking the seat next to his. “Jenn,” he greeted, inclining his head and flicking his ears the human woman’s way. “Shalaa. How are you today?”

“Shalaa, Demmik,” she replied with a smile. “It’s been a good day. You?”

“You didn’t exactly answer my question,” he challenged, though he smiled at her smile.

A laugh, bright and musical. “You are entirely too keen, you know that?” She shrugged, turning to lean back against the bar and watch the crowd with him. “I guess I’m a little wistful. Company would be a nice thing to have.”

“Hmm.” His ears canted forward, towards the milling crowd. “I don’t disagree.”

She turned slightly towards him. “What’s on your mind, big guy?”

Big guy? Hah. He didn’t feel it; as Tavarri went, he was strictly average in build. In fact, among Tavarri, he was so average he was downright forgettable. But then, that average was distinctly larger than a human, especially a female human – and while Jenn was fairly tall for a human woman, that still left Demmik head and shoulders above her. Well she might call him “big…”

And she’d just asked him a question. Right. He took a breath, and sighed, “Myself, truth be told.”

“What, you?” Jenn suppressed a chuckle. “I’m sorry, Demmik, but you’ve never exactly been Mister Vanity.”

“But that’s precisely it,” Demmik insisted. He gestured out at the crowd. “So many people there, full of confidence in their own virtues, secure in the knowledge that someone will find them appealing – and it works. Even from here, I can smell the interest upon them; I see it in how they touch each other, I hear it in their laughter. Something, even if only that very confidence, appeals to those they meet, and eventually finds them the partners they seek.”

He shrugged, taking another sip of his drink. “I find myself wondering – what do I have to offer?”

“You doubt yourself,” Jenn said carefully.

“I am a scientist, Jenn. It is not only my habit, but my duty, to doubt, to question, to second-guess – to identify the weakest points of a notion, to attack them, to erode them, until what is left is as close as any person can come to absolute certainty. In that certainty, I find my satisfaction and my purpose.”

Demmik shook his head, and curled his twitching tail around one leg of his stool in a bid to keep it mostly still, though the tuft still flicked this way and that. “How much, though, do I truly know of myself, where my own appeal is concerned? Can I truly claim success, or will the next journal overturn my theories? Wealth? I live comfortably enough, but not in luxury. Physical appeal? There are many others in this room who are more fit, better groomed, and in better fashion. I have chosen to be myself rather than follow a fashion meant for others – but how many will find that individuality appealing?”

“Demmik…” She reached up, brushing her fingers around one enamelled, polished horn, curling back from his temple. “I can’t lay all those concerns to rest, but I have never seen anything to fault in your grooming.”

His head tilted slightly into the touch, the silver caps on his inner horns gleaming as they caught the light. “You are,” he breathed, “as ever you have been, so very kind to me, Jenn. I will try to take your words to heart.”

“But that’s not all that’s eating you,” she concluded. “Is it?”

“Mmm.” His gaze turned outward again. “Were I to join the throng, to bump into someone, to notice that they found me appealing… what then?”

“They?” she cut on. “Not ‘she?’ Or ‘he,’ for that matter?”

He rumbled in the Tavarri equivalent of a chuckle, one broad hand coming up to rest a moment on her shoulder. “Quick as ever, Jenn. While I’m not certain, I’ve found appeal enough in both sexes that I’m fairly confident I could enjoy myself with either. I’d need some coaching, and that’s another difficulty entirely… but before that, how well could I judge such a person? People are not within my field of expertise. I have watched them, on nights like this, for some time, but how well do I know them, truly? Their hopes, their aims, their likes and dislikes…” He shook his head.

“I don’t think most of them know their opposite numbers even that well, Demmik,” Jenn said, touching his knee. “A lot of it is just – do they like what they do see? Beyond that, it’s subliminal. Not much more than guessing.”

“You think I’m overthinking this,” Demmik supplied.

“I wouldn’t have put it in those words,” she protested. Under his inquisitive gaze, she flushed a little, and shrugged. “But I guess so, yes.”

“Such has been my thought for some time,” the Tavar admitted, and turned toward her, gripping her shoulders. “So instead of thinking and testing until the night is gone, Jenn, I will simply ask this: do you have plans for the night?”