Who: Brandy and Zaire
When: March 871 ROK
Where: Brothel on the Western Coast
Brielle had spent a restless few weeks on Earth after her Vampire Encounter in the North. Resolved, firmly, never to go back to Eventyr - like, it was clearly a pretty screwed up place! Orphaned kids by werewolves, vampires knocking out windows and hypnotizing people. It was fucked up. And so, for a few weeks, Brielle had embraced her inner New Yorker. Pizza. Picnic in Central Park. Seeing Stephen Colbert live. Blogging at twice her usual volume. Killing it.
But then, a boring evening found Brielle alone. Her friends were out partying for a birthday - of an acquaintance Brielle hated. So she sat home, hate-writing a terrible review of the club they were partying at… not that she had been there, but she would try it out in a day or two to sharpen up the awful details. Her mind was hazy, though, with vitriol but also the half-a-bottle of wine she'd already consumed…
Which meant she needed food, and fuck if Brielle felt like cooking that night. Slipping into bootines was a simple choice with her jeans, t-shirt, and wool jacket, the blogger descended her elevator and made her way - just a little unsteady - out onto the street…
Walking was a therapeutic exercise and freed Brielle's mind. One minute, she was determined to hit up that taco truck down the street… the next, she was shuddering to remember the vampires who had attacked her the last time she remembered the air this cold… the next, she remembered the crude but valiant pirate who had his throat ripped open and still killed the beast… the next, she saw a circle of dandelions in a streetlight and…
The warm breeze of the Western Plains greeted Brielle - now Brandy - before she knew it. Her commoner's boots were planted in the center of a circle of seashells, and the breadth of shops, bars, brothels spread before her. Brandy chose the closest one, sauntering in even as she tossed her heavy cloak over one arm. As much as she had convinced herself she never wanted to come back here, Brandy didn't feel anything but relief to see Eventyr again.
In a small seaside village like this one, where the only law was a sheriff who had long ago been bought off, the crew of the Siren's Song were free to conduct business - and pleasure - at their leisure. This meant copious amounts of drink, plenty of coin exchanging hands, the occasional brawl, and very little worry at having to look over their shoulders. It also meant not having to use aliases or speak in loose code, or even having to cover up telling tattoos.
"This is yer banner then?" the whore in Zaire's lap asked, leaning over him to run fingertips over his bicep.
"Aye," Zaire answered, seizing the opportunity to press a kiss to one freckled shoulder as she traced the lines of the tattoo. Most pirates weren't artists of much talent but his Master Rigger was from one of the island tribes off the southern edge of the West and tattoos were a part of their culture. And while sun and time had muddied the image a bit, the mermaid and the skeleton, posed face to face in an almost loving manner, were still plenty recognizable.
"An' what happened 'ere?" was her next question as she hooked a finger into the neck of his shirt, pulling it aside to reveal the knotted scars there on the side of his throat.
Across the table, Jimmy peered over the shoulder of the brunette straddling his lap to offer his input with an expectant grin: "Cap'n got chomped by an 'ungry vampire."
And the whore - whose name Zaire had never actually gotten - delivered in spades, letting out a disbelieving gasp that parted plump lips. "Truly?" she asked, wide-eyed.
Zaire grinned and threw her a wink over the rim of his glass, "Truly."
"Cap'n fought it off wit' nothin' but a dagger," the boatswain continued, getting into the story now. He maneuvered himself out from under his chosen company, leaving the girl standing with her bodice undone and her face flushed with rum, and grabbed the bottle off the table. "He was pinned beneath it, stabbin' all blindly an' blood runnin' down his chest . . ." And here he paused to pour half the rum down the front of himself, the liquid soaking into his shirt and bringing to life a disgusted cacophony as the crew lamented the loss of perfectly good booze. "And then 'e hacked off it's 'ead . . ."
The whore in Zaire's lap turned from Jimmy's one-man performance to fix the captain with a disbelieving stare, "S'that all true?"
"True 'nuff," Zaire shrugged.
The girl's smile turned sly as she took the glass out of his hand and poured it down the front of Zaire's shirt, smirking as he gave a laughing protest. "Yer in for it now, wench," he playfully threatened, reaching past her to grab the nearest bottle . . .
Brandy stepped into the brothel to a loud blast of noise: laughter, chatter, and scraping of chairs. It was packed. Full house. There was a loud voice that rose above the din that Brandy recognized - the Siren's Song's PR manager, the same one who'd given his captain the catchy title Scourge of the West on their first meeting. Apparently it was true what they said - a fairy circle could take you wherever your mind wandered.
As Brandy made her way through the crowded bunches of patrons, Jimmy's voice rose above the rest and treated Brandy to the cliff notes version of her own nightmares for the last couple weeks…
Just as Zaire's hand reached for that bottle, Brandy plucked it up instead, helping herself to a swallow that she could not have tolerated had she not already been a couple drinks in herself from back in New York. With squinted fortitude, she forced the liquor down, and then passed the bottle to the captain.
"Don't forget to tell her about the half-dozen vampires outside," Brandy added, her eyes dropping to Zaire's saturated chest, and then flickering over to Jimmy's and, eyes alight with mirth, she asked. "How did I not get invited to a wet t-shirt contest?"
"Hey now," Zaire protested as the bottle he reached for was plucked out of his grasp, assuming it was a serving wench doing her job a little too well. But no, a glance up proved it to be a very familiar face that he hadn't expected to see anytime soon.
"Brandy-love!" he laughed, willingly taking the offered rum back and if his fingers brushed hers as he did? Well, that was simply a coincidence. He wasn't quite sure what a wet tshirt contest was but context clues had him catching her drift well enough and, with his good humor not fading in the slightest, he followed her gaze to Jimmy and his rather dramatic rendition of events that he hadn't even witnessed firsthand. Of course what happened in the North bothered Zaire, but if he took the time to dwell on every brush with death, he wasn't sure he'd come out of it whole. Bury it. Let Jimmy spin it into a story to boost his reputation. Make a joke out of it. And, with time, the nightmares would fade.
"I'm glad t'see ya came to your senses and left the snow for somethin' a bit warmer," he said, ignoring the way the girl on his lap went very quiet. Her jealous gaze was fixed on Brandy but her hand wandered possessively across his chest, making it clear that she wasn't giving up her claim to the first busty stranger who came along.
"Oh you know I like it hot," Brandy quipped back with a smirk when her eyes lifted from the affectionate brush of his hand. Tipsy though she was, she didn't miss the working girl's glare and Brandy laughed and apologized: "Pardon the interruption, miss - we're old friends." Saving one another from vampires did have a way of turning fuckbuddies into actual friends, didn't it?
A child's squeal of delight was out of place in this rather adult setting and so a look of surprise crossed Brandy's face before she caught sight of a mess of strawberry blonde hair and laughed. She supposed it was safest for a cabin boy to stay with his crew, even if they were visiting a brothel. Brandy bent to scoop the boy into a hug that he returned fiercely. "Gunther!" Smoothing his hair back to place a kiss on his forehead, she asked, "How do you like being a pirate?"
"Yo ho!" Gunther chirped, and Brandy could see a total transformation. He was not nearly the frightened, traumatized boy she'd left in Zaire's hands in the North. Brandy sent the pirate captain a grateful, approving smile, then took Gunther's hand. "I am starving. Help me choose something to eat."
As Brandy turned away with the young cabin boy in tow, she told Zaire with a wink, "Catch up with me when you're… up for it."
Zaire didn't miss Brandy's thankful smile and he answered it with a slight nod. He really hadn't minded taking Gunther on and the boy had settled in fast, blossoming under the attention as he was taken under the wings of nearly every member of the crew. They were all eager to teach him what they knew, curious to see what skills he'd take to, and even Wench had begun curling up with the boy on his hammock while he slept. And while Gunther's time aboard the ship kept him busy, he had plenty of time to be a child when they made port at home on the Island of Pirates and he was able to run wild with the other children on the island.
"Of course, love," Zaire said, but first he had to talk his way out of his hastily made commitment to the girl in his lap. And she took it as well as he assumed she would, pouting and making a scene, calling him a whole array of names until he slipped her a coin and sent her in the direction of Mr. Okeke. The Master Rigger would treat her to a more thoughtful night than Zaire himself would, the Captain assured her.
It was only then that the Captain was free to make his way toward where Brandy sat with Gunther, who was gifting her to what sounded like an overly detailed run-down of his tasks aboard ship, and coming up behind the two, Zaire reached over Gunther's shoulder and helped himself to a crab leg. "Hey!" the boy laughed, turning and shooting him a mock glare. "That's the best part!"
"Yer damn right it is," Zaire grinned, throwing the boy a wink as he claimed the last chair at the table.
Brandy greeted Zaire with a tame smile where Gunther could see and a less tame stroke of the captain's thigh under the table. She smirked at their playful exchange and licked the grease from her thumb, the final remnants of the piece of fried fish she had actually deemed the best part of the seafood platter she'd ordered. The crab was great, but without Old Bay and garlic butter? Butter was quite expensive in the West, she'd heard, due to its short shelf life, and while you could infuse oil with garlic and herbs, it took a deft hand and this particular kitchen's culinary philosophy seemed more to be fry the fuck out of it. And maybe it was because her mind was still stuck in critic mode (not to mention she had an ale in front of her with a serious dent in it already) that when Brandy replied, it was with probably the first piece of personal information she had ever volunteered without prying.
"I used to have a job like that; hard work, but with people you love," Brandy lamented. She missed the hubbub of the kitchen, controlling the chaos, the satisfaction of her guests when they were pleased. Brandy was a social animal, and there were aspects of it that social media just didn't fulfill. Maybe that's why she kept ending up in Westworld here. "Now, I am alone at home most days." Cooking, writing, posting, which was cool because she could do most of it in sweatpants… well, except the filming, which she had to gussie up for. Brandy shrugged it off with another swig and looked to Gunther. "Promise me you'll be safe as you can, every day?"
Sucking the last of the meat from the crab leg that he'd swiped, Zaire gave Brandy a curious look. Used to have a job like that? At home most days? The words didn't mesh with what little he knew about the bartender- which was mostly that she traveled around Eventyr, working in various taverns and brothels, may or may not have been from the border between the West and the North, and that she seemed to come from money.
"I promise," Gunther swore, though whether that promise was heartfelt seemed in doubt since it was made while distractedly shoving food into his mouth.
Zaire reached over and dropped his crab leg back onto the cabin boy's plate. "He's got forty sets'uv eyes watchin' out for 'im," he assured her.
"And Miss Eloise made them all swear t'bringing me home safe too," Gunther innocently added around a mouthful of grilled corn. "No one wants t'upset her."
"You'd be wise t'mind 'er too, boy," Zaire reminded him. "Rumor 'as it you don't always wash behind them ears."
Gunther's blush lit up his freckles and he turned wide eyes on Brandy. "That ain't true," he whispered, prompting a laugh from his Captain.
"Better not be!" Brandy echoed the captain's laugh at the horror on the boy's face. Watching them interact, Brandy mused on what a good dad Zaire must have been. She had thought so, back in the North, after hearing about his son gone off to college, but it must have just been in his nature since that paternal care seemed to spill over to Gunther, his crew, and his community back home. He must have been a shitty husband, she assumed, given their present setting, but who was she to judge...?
With a nice haze around her vision and the hunger in her stomach sated, Brandy turned her - somewhat limited by this point - attention to her other physical needs. Rising to her feet, giving Gunther another kiss on the top of his head, and plucking up her ale, Brandy drew the pirate captain up. "Sleeping alone has been a fucking nightmare this month after all that bullshit up North," Brandy said, quite forgetting that it had in fact been two months for Zaire, as she pulled his arm around her waist. "Let's get a room."
Ah! Now that was an excellent idea!
Trusting his men to take turns keeping an eye on their cabin boy, Zaire rose to his feet when prompted and eagerly wrapped his arm around Brandy's waist, ushering her toward the stairs where the Madam stood with pursed lips and an outstretched hand. He was going to get bent over on the cost of renting that room but life was short and the distance to a comfortable bed even shorter and he sure as hell wasn't rutting on the beach again. His knees had been rubbed raw for a week . . .
Coin was exchanged for a key and soon enough Zaire was closing and locking the door behind them, eager hands reaching for his Brandy-love to pull her in for a kiss. The taste of ale and lemon mingled with the spicy hints of rum lingering on his tongue and he realized then that this was the first time they'd be able to fully enjoy each others company, unhindered by too much drink or too much blood loss.
Brandy happily followed along, fully focused on another swig from her ale while Zaire paid for the room, and barely had time to deposit the glass on the table by the door before she was getting lost in his kiss and hands began pulling at one another's clothes. His hands at her laces, hers peeling back soaked fabric from firm muscle and speckled skin. Playfully, she kissed his chest, savoring the flavors of rum and raw masculinity…
"I missed ya, Brandy-love," Zaire admitted, practiced hands tugging at her bodice. And maybe it seemed an odd moment to admit such, when he was fully engaged in the act of undressing her, but this wasn't just another working girl. This was Brandy and they had a connection that he couldn't deny.
His words wormed their way through Brandy's clouded mind and she glanced up in surprise at the unexpected tenderness. Her eyes reciprocated and more - not just I missed you, too but I missed you enough to travel time and risk goddamn vampires all over again. But Brandy was not the sentimental type and by the time the emotion made its way from her eyes to her mouth, it sounded more like the lovechild between a complaint and a joke.
"Come on," Brandy groused, sitting down on the bed's edge. "I get a real-live pirate to fuck and he turns out to be a big softie…" Determinedly, she used her new vantage point to help navigate removing Zaire's pants and once she did, a sultry smile replaced her sarcastic one, "Ohh, I guess I stand corrected…!"
Zaire didn't miss that look in her eyes as her gaze met his, that quick flash of vulnerability that said far more than the playfully teasing words coming out of her mouth. She wasn't looking to address the emotional connection that was blossoming between the two of them and she certainly didn't want to make love or anything like that. No, Brandy wanted a down and dirty fuck - she wanted Captain Visser - and Zaire's laugh, rich with mirth and maybe a hint of danger, proved he was willing to give her what she wanted--
Hard and fast, emphasized by the slam of the headboard against the wall, the gasps and moans and gripping fingers, messy open-mouthed kisses and nips just this side of too painful, until both were spent and exhausted and Zaire found himself regretting not bringing a bottle of rum upstairs with them.
Smoothing a hand over the curve of Brandy's hip, the pirate pulled her closer to nibble at the hollow of her throat, to feel the frantic beat of her heart under the softness of her breasts. "Better than t'beach, aye?" he murmured against her throat, a contented smile in the words.
That nibble sent a little squirm through Brandy's pleasantly-aching body. With a smile, she rested against him, enjoying the contrast between his warmth and the chill caused by the light salty breeze through the cracked window on her skin, moist with perspiration.
"Hey, hey, don't knock the beach. That's the closest I'll ever come to feeling like I'm in a Beyonce music video." Or a Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover, Victoria's Secret catalogue, trashy bodice-ripping novel or the Starz miniseries they made out of it...
For how familiar Zaire felt now, they were still a world apart and should have been total strangers. Brandy shifted, propping herself on an elbow, fingers combing her tousled hair back. Shorter, finer, redder than the hair she meticulously curled at home for a vlog… "I have literally a hundred sex-on-the-beach jokes," oh man, maybe more if you included the cocktail by the same name! "and you wouldn't get any of them." Her free hand lifted, her finger so-gently touching the scar the vampire left behind on Zaire's neck, then drifting down his arm slowly, wondering yet again, for the millionth time, if this wasn't just some hallucination. But no, a hallucination couldn't possibly feel this real. "I am so funny, and you'll just have to take my word for it. Kind of depressing..." But not wanting to taint the moment, she joked, "For you. You're missing out."
Again, Zaire found himself watching Brandy's face as she spoke, her eyes focused on the scar on his neck, the trail of her hand over his shoulder and down his arm. So often, her words didn't make sense to him and while he'd questioned her in the past, she'd always been vague in her answers. It made him hesitant to ask her again, but the feeling of being off balance or that she was having a laugh at his expense had him opening his mouth.
"Why would I not understand 'em, love?" he asked directly, stretching one arm up behind his head. "I 'appen to 'ave a great sense of humor." Not that he and Brandy had done a lot of laughing in their time together. One eyebrow lifted, "What, exactly, am I missin' out on?"
Brandy wanted to tell him. There was something authentic happening between them, something she wanted to happen enough that she had come back after swearing Eventyr off forever, and what had felt like simple, convenient obfuscations now felt like a lie. So, Brandy opened her mouth… thought twice, and shut it again. He was going to think she was crazy. Maybe he would laugh at her. Maybe he would think she was a witch - they did like to toss those accusations around these parts, didn't they?
"Zaire…" Brandy hedged, and this time it was clear she was looking not for Captain Visser. "You're going to think I'm telling you stories, but I swear to god I'm for real." As much as her instinct was to make a joke, or maybe turn away - toss it over her shoulder while she went to finish that ale she'd left by the door… but no. Determinedly, she met his eyes and said, "I don't live in Eventyr. I live in a city called New York, and it couldn't be more different from here..." It didn't occur to her until she said it out loud, but what if she wasn't the only one? She'd never heard anything about the Big Apple dropped in any of the bars she'd tended, and those people didn't censor themselves much, but maybe there was a chance with how extensively the Siren's Song traveled. "Do you know it?"
As she began, Zaire's eyebrows knit and his eyes narrowed in concern at the seriousness in her tone, then confusion edged its way in as she continued, before giving way to dubious disbelief. It sounded ridiculous, except that he'd met another who'd spoken of a home that had sounded foreign and a bit absurd to his ears: a man who had gone on to acclimate and become a fearsome warlord . . .
Could it be that the place Brandy spoke of - this New York - was the same one Marcus had been insisting he need to return to?
"Know it?" he repeated, shaking his head. "Nah, love. But I may know of it." Zaire lifted his eyes to the ceiling as the faint sound of fornication drifted through the walls. "Few years back, we'd put ashore on an island far off the Southern Coast - place where we'd left a cache'uv weapons and coin - and while we was there, we found a man. Figured 'e was a sailor, marooned by his crew and left long enough for insanity to chew at his 'ead. He kept goin' on 'bout gettin' home but his description made not a lick'uv sense."
Concern pinched Brandy's features as she realized uncomfortably how dangerous all this back-and-forth with Earth had been. It had never occurred to her that she could get stranded somewhere without a fairy circle home - even in the North, the circles might have been out of reach for the night they were sheltered up against vampires, but come sunrise, they were there. But Zaire's response, believing, even curious, pushed those thoughts away. Thanks to the man she clearly pictured looking like Tom Hanks in Cast Away for paving the way so she didn't sound completely nutso!
Zaire settled his eyes back on her as he absently ran speckled fingers through her hair. She was lovely as they came, truly. "Tell me about your home, Brandy-love?"
"When I came here the first time - or, like, the second time, I was drunk off my ass the first time - I thought I was traveling back in time. Only the most backward countries still have actual kings anymore, and pirates?" With a wistful shake of her head, Brandy sat up, as everything she had decided not to say during their time together simmered in her mind. She dipped down off the bed, plucking up the fucking Batman-ass contraption Zaire had been wearing off the floor to drape it over her shoulders before rolling on top of him and planting one knee on either side of his hips as she joked. "They're just old stories people love to hear. The bad boys of the sea. To see the movies, you'd think a pirate's job wasn't actually stealing shit, but corrupting young maidens!"
Brandy's words were like a story; some sort of fantastical tale spun by his children before bed where kings no longer ruled and pirates no longer sailed. Sounded dreadful, really, and the curl of his lip made his opinion on that crystal clear - not the no kings part, but a world without an ocean to sail didn't sound like a world he wanted any part of.
As Brandy moved, reaching down to pick up his baldric and slip into it, Zaire's face pulled into an appreciative grin. She looked damn good in his weapons and nothing else, the thick leather - soft and pliable despite the constant exposure to salt - was stark as it bisected her pale skin, drawing his eyes to her breasts and prompting him to touch. The movements lacked their earlier enthusiasm though and were instead exploratory, almost lazily so, distracted as he was by his own thoughts regarding her words.
"Nonsense," Zaire joked, the words coming out with a laugh. "Corruptin' the maidens is why any sane man turns t'piracy." And while the mirth still sparkled in his eyes, the questions that followed were honest ones, "What are 'movies', Brandy-love? Is that whatcha call these 'old stories'? An' if there're no kings, then who makes the laws? Who does the hangin'?"
"A movie is like a play, but..." Brandy explained, and paused a moment to consider how to differentiate the two shows that he would understand. The scale? That you could play it over and over? "A movie is so fantastic and realistic at the same time that watching it feels more like you're dreaming." As many movies as Brandy had complained about the lame plotline or the starlet prettier than she was compelling, she had never really thought of the miracles they were before…
Caressing the supple leather herself, enjoying the weight on her shoulders, and even playing with one of Zaire's knives as she spoke, Brandy rambled for a while, explaining that executions were rare, private affairs with the victims' family, that mostly criminals were imprisoned for life, and then elections, voting, and term limits (in her best summary of the high-school civics classes she had mostly gossiped her way through), that they did have seas - seven of them in fact - but that piracy was obsolete, Brandy guessed, because ships had gotten too big…
And then she paused, realizing she'd gotten carried away, and Brandy circled back to the beginning. "But - I'm not traveling back in time. There's no record of any kingdom called Eventyr in our history, and nowhere on my planet that has this sort of geography. I looked." And not just on Google. Brandy had actually gone to a library and looked at maps. Maps! "Fairy circles and witches and vampires… None of that has ever existed outside of legend."
Zaire tried not to interrupt - except to prompt her to explain something further or to vocalize a question that couldn't wait - and he also didn't try to hide the fascination, skepticism, amusement, confusion, even wonder, that he felt as Brandy spoke. As relaxed as he was, the emotions played carelessly across his face, like children allowed to run free after a morning of chores, and he was reminded a bit of when he was a boy. His father was never a storyteller but the woman who lived down the road never hesitated to invite him to her porch for a honey biscuit and a story. It seemed a lifetime ago, now, and was probably the last time before today that he'd allowed himself to get so swept up in a tale.
"Then how're ya gettin' 'ere?" Zaire asked, eyes lifting to her face as he absently enjoyed her softness under his own calloused palms. "A fairy circle ain't never brought me nowhere I didn't mean t'be." For better or worse. No, it didn't always spit him out exactly at his destination but near enough to make traveling by fairy circle far more convenient under the right circumstances. "But somehow it brings you from New York to 'ere. To me."
Brandy's eyes dropped to the sight of the pirate's rough, speckled hands sliding over her pale skin. Slipping his knife back where she'd found it, Brandy's hand covered his, prompting him to squeeze firmer, and allowed her mind to focus - now that she was not necessarily hiding her alien nature - on how strange it was to feel through such a different body.
But his words had her smirk turning wry and an eyebrow arching. "To you? What, do you think this is fate? I doubt time and space are opening up because you and I happened to get horny at the same time… like some kind of cosmic Tinder." Because even if Zaire was starting to think there was a substantive connection building between them, Brandy seemed determined to dismiss the idea at every turn and the way she avoided his eyes, then, and instead made her way to her feet, only reinforced her determination not to engage it as she tossed an explanation over her shoulder. "Tinder's like a brothel, except no one gets paid. They just get... diseases and shame."
Sipping at her abandoned ale, Brandy frowned - the drink was warm and flat now - so she abandoned it. Instead, she went to the window, pushing it open a few inches more to let in the salty breeze. The night sky was vibrant. And, as if looking for anything else to say, Brandy shared, "New York is so big and bright, you can't see the stars at all."
There may have been a hint of smugness in Zaire's features as Brandy climbed off of him and went for her drink. He pushed himself up onto an elbow, letting out a soft laugh at her words; as if diseases and shame were exclusive to New York!
For a moment he stayed where he was, appreciating the roundness of her hips, the dimples in her lower back, as she went instead to the window and pushed it open wider. It was a typical night in the West, complete with a fresh salt breeze and the distant squawk of a parrot - the type of night that Zaire tended to take for granted - and he left the bed to come up behind her and place a soft kiss on the back of her shoulder, where his teeth had earlier left a bruising welt. "Yer 'ome sounds terrible, Brandy-love," he said, but it was a gentle accusation, his eyes lifting to the sky and the stars shimmering above the beach.
"It ain't fate," he said a second later, circling back around to what had left him feeling so pleased with himself. "Not really, but fairy circles 'ave a way of bringin' ya close to where you want t' be."
Brandy glanced over her shoulder and gave Zaire a faux wince, a scrunch of her nose, as his soft kiss alluded back to not long ago, when he had been decidedly less gentle. "And yours is dangerous," she returned, low, with heat in her tone, appreciative of those lingering aches gifted by a lover familiar with the rougher parts of life, and her hand drifted up to brush that rugged beard of his. But, now, that heat was all smoke and no fire. Yes, she had wanted to be here, still wanted to be here, but it was ridiculous to be anywhere near vampires again voluntarily, and what if all that barstool-talk about zombies and man-eating plants were also true?
But Zaire's words were warm, and his voice had a lucious quality to it that reminded the chef of melting butter or cream as it mixed into coffee - not unlike the colors of his skin - and he very nearly took the argument right out of her. And out of that void came laughter, light and playful as she shook her head. "You're supposed to be a murderer and a thief - and married, no? You have no business being this charming."
And now it was Zaire's turn to pull away, putting, at first, barely an inch of space between his front and Brandy's back. There was no 'supposed to be'; Captain Zaire Visser was, without a doubt, a murderer and a thief. He killed willingly and rarely with remorse, took that which he set his sights on for the gain of reputation or coin - no, it wasn't her pointing out these particular labels that had the embers in his belly cooling, but rather her mention of his marriage.
Thoughts of Eloise had no place in a brothel, dredged into being by a woman he was not only fucking but growing rather fond of, and without a word he stepped back away from her. Still thirsty, but also needing something to center himself, Zaire retrieved Brandy's ale and downed the last of it in one long swallow.
His marriage to Eloise was a happy one - as happy as it could be with him away so often - and she truly was his touchstone, the one who centered him when he found himself off balance. It was her calm acceptance of his life and her place in it that made it all work and Zaire knew that should she suddenly decide that she wasn't happy, that would likely be the end of their relationship. It was an uncomfortable bit of knowledge and, perhaps because of it, he worked his hardest to keep that smile on her face - but he was only human. A red-blooded human male who didn't have the willpower to keep to his marriage bed entirely and being so boldly reminded of it made him a bit . . . cranky.
"An' what of it, Brandy-love?" he asked, unsure of just what she was insinuating - if anything. He glanced back at her, one eyebrow lifting in question and, maybe, a bit of a challenge.
Ohh, sore spot, Brandy noted, turning to watch as the pirate withdrew with some measure of surprise. After all, the jest relied on starting with the least charming of his qualities and ending with the irrelevant one. He hadn't been touchy about anything else, and they had even chatted a bit about his family in the North (although, to be fair, they had mostly been trying to protect their ears from vampires). "Sorry," Brandy said, and was just about to add I didn't mean… before she stopped herself because even if she hadn't meant offense didn't mean she hadn't caused it all the same.
She had no idea what the deal was in his marriage except that it clearly hadn't stood in Zaire's way as he made his way into bed with her nor had it stopped him from expressing emotions other than lust. For Brandy, this was normal. It hadn't always been - she had struggled to find herself as a teenager when her flirtatious nature but disinterest in exclusivity made her easy and a slut, especially according to the other girls - but that felt so long ago after a decade now of being openly polyamorous and mostly sleeping her way through circles of the same. She hadn't ever taken up with a married person before, and now that she was apparently doing this intentionally if subconsciously, Brandy wasn't sure how she felt about being the "other woman," especially if Zaire had scruples about the cheating after all.
Brandy had to press. In the poly community, communication was king, even if it was uncomfortable. "In all honesty, Zaire, I don't do monogamy. I don't think it's right or fair or that humans are even built for it, and I sure as fuck won't judge you for sharing my opinion," Brandy said, and returned to the bed to drop the pirate's belt on the mattress and stoop to retrieve her own clothing. But he was from another world, a world where birth control and alimony didn't exist, and that changed the dynamic completely, even if it hadn't occurred to Brandy before now. "But if you don't, you should probably stick with whores."
Zaire shook his head at her apology, setting the empty flagon back on the table. She didn't need to apologize, not really; she hadn't done anything wrong. It had always been easy to keep his life with Eloise separate from his dalliances, since the whores he frequented meant nothing to him. This was different though. Brandy wasn't a whore. In fact, she'd begun to feel more like a friend.
He wasn't exactly sure what she was asking of him though - not to leave his wife for her, that was for damn sure - and the confusion passed clearly over his features as he turned and watched her begin gathering up her clothes. The irritation buzzing under his skin only grew with her movements as it became clear that she didn't plan on spending the night.
Zaire didn't like being dismissed though and he took a step closer to her as he snapped, "So that's it, then? Yer leavin'?" He shook his head, "Bein' with you ain't the same as bein' with 'er. And my life with 'er ain't none'uv yer business."
Brandy nodded, agreeing with and acknowledging his words wholeheartedly, without reservation or offense even though he seemed challenging, defensive. If anything, the conflict he showed only reinforced her niggling opinion that he was a better man than his job description of rape, pillage, plunder, rinse, repeat, suggested.
"I'm leaving, for tonight. Frankly, I was pretty drunk when I got here," Brandy answered, slipping into her skirt and blouse, and carefully pondered her words.
"I've never tried to be with someone who was married before. Marriage is complicated and not something I'll say I understand..." The corset was frankly a pain and she stood up with a beckoning gesture to ask Zaire for help, which allowed them a sober, friendly sort of touch that did wonders to diffuse the tension. "It's my opinion that loving one person doesn't take away from loving another. Love is like air or sunshine - there's enough for everyone. But if I make you feel like you need to choose, then there isn't a choice. She matters; she's real." Brandy was an irrelevant outsider, after all.
"If you have a space in that black heart of yours..." she joked, "I want it. But not if you have to push someone else out of the way to make it."
When she asked him to help with her corset, Zaire stepped closer to do so, fingers slipping deftly over the laces and showing his experienced at not just taking off such a contraption but apparently putting it back on again as well. As he worked, he listened and her meaning became clearer with each word she spoke. His knee jerk reaction was to assure her that he wasn't capable of pushing Eloise out of his life any more than he was capable of giving up breathing; she was an intrinsic and vital part of his being. Eloise was real, in a sense more real than Brandy herself was, and she mattered far more than this apparent visitor to the Realm could ever understand.
Explaining that though, and how differently his feelings toward Brandy were blooming, felt far too close to begging her to stay and that was something his ego simply couldn't abide. If she wanted to leave, then she should and he wouldn't stop her.
Giving one final tug on the laces, Zaire lifted his eyes to Brandy's face as he slowly looped them into a bow, "I wouldn't worry 'bout that, Brandy-love." Then he stepped back, giving her a clear shot to the door, "Safe travels, aye?"
"Back at 'cha!" Brandy returned with a hearty cheer in her voice that seemed to dismiss the uncomfortable gloom that had inevitably settled in the space between them. Her parting words seemed to look forward to meeting again, maybe when the muddy waters had been cleared, but as always, her words were lighthearted and joking: "Don't sink, or get stabbed, or arrested, or scurvy…" Brandy opened the door, but didn't stop listing off the lethal dangers he faced every day that were a thousand times more likely to claim his life than rogue taxi drivers or ISIS was to her own as she skipped down the stairs. "Don't get eaten by a vampire. Or - come to think of it - a zombie or a dragon or a venus fly trap from hell…."