1964-04-13 - The Bright and the Brave
Summary: The Brave meets the Bright at a place of light and darkness alike. Beware, little lamb, the wolves are about.
Related: None
Theme Song: "Blue Monk", J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding
lucian rosemarie 


Another dreary night — one she can't stand to spend alone. Even Lola has seemed to pick up upon her owner's despondent state, lolling about on the back of the couch and watching the listless, slow pacing towards the bookshelf for the umpteenth time. Teeth worry incessantly at the little scar on her lip, turning the mark redder still. With arms crossed and chin tucked, Rosemarie hides behind the spill of her chestnut hair that the headband can't hold back.

She's been putting up a good front at work. Even Diana has only commented once about her seeming distracted and the coworker-friend would absolutely be the one to ferret out why the librarian's aid has been obscenely quiet as of late.

Distracted. She needs a distraction. Badly. Her nails can't take another round of biting without some serious damage incurred. Pick yourself up by your bootstraps, Rose, come on, she chides herself mentally as she wipes her cheeks. It's no use worrying. You can't control this. Upon her pacing away from the collection of books, her eyes stray to the coffee table and today's mail. It catches her attention for a second time. She frowns and lifts the little advert from within the various envelopes.

Lux. A new club nearby, recently opened and looking for attendees. They promise a…hell of a good time. The picture on the advert shows some class in the environment along with a sense of dark sophistication via touches of concrete and moody lighting. One last furtive nibble on her lip and her shoulders drop. It's a distraction. Besides, she's being brave…for once.

A brave ensemble to boot — with knee-high boots, that is. A slinky, curve-hugging high-necked cocktail dress in cobalt blue with a sheen that plays up the warmth in her cinnamon-brown eyes and skin, so prone to blushing as it is. Hair half-pulled into a rhinestoned barrette keeps it from her face. A bit of lip-rouge, some mascara, a little purse, and she strides confidently to the door…and stops. Itching behind her ear, Rosemarie grimaces before glancing back at Lola. The flame-point Siamese prrps at her and blinks once slowly.

"Love you too," the librarian whispers back with a faint smile and momentary misty eyes before she leaves her apartment. It doesn't take too long to arrive, a simple taxi ride, and then, she's there. Past the body-guard (apparently, she passes muster…?) and down two flights of stairs to a landing. Another short flight of stairs would drop her off by the bar. She pauses on said landing, if only to survey the place before her. Her lips round in an O of silent appreciation. This place is…swingin'.

*

Lux. The name is telling, for all that the East Village haunt seems to revel in obscuring itself from the light. A better name might have been Chiaroscuro, the play of light and shadow, for that truly defines the exquisite atmosphere cultivated for the sake of no one's pleasure but its owner. And for him, that's all that matters. Let the neophytes gather in the smoky little holes in the wall further into Greenwich Village. Those weird-shaped halls wedged into building basements where horns and pianos duel will never be the calling card of this place.

However long it's been there, Lux saturates in Old World glory. The presence of glistening brass fixtures and polished wood raised to an oiled gleam sets the mood, testifying to a mingling of traditional and contemporary sensibilities. Lucite certainly gets enough use, cut into thin greenish panels and arranged in a flowing ripple of a curtain that almost suggests a waterfall or the Northern Lights. That wall blocks the entry, turning the act of going down the stairs into a journey of the like adventurers took long, long ago.

Most of the suspended lights are off or at least diminished to a far from bothersome glow. It suits the bar and the polished glasses, the top shelf liquors, and the devastatingly suitable clientele and staff who don't quite represent a cross-section of society. Some are deep into business talk, and others want to escape memories of whatever haunts them. They can do it in booths or at tables surrounded by deep chairs that would dare to incline. They can, if they want, here. Someone certainly wouldn't be put out for reading War and Peace for the next month, as long as they order something.

There is no one playing the central piano right now. What there are, instead, are a dappling of technicians fighting a speaker into place, concealed against the ceiling.

*

A piano. Now that was something she hadn't expected to see here, but then again…Rosemarie isn't exactly a regular club-goer. Shifting up against the railing to let another couple pass by, she fights to keep her gaze from falling to her booted toes. Be brave, be brave — that's her current mantra.

Maybe…the bar. A good place to start, perhaps a way to start up a conversation with someone. Anyone. She stops herself from fidgeting other than a brief scratch behind one ear and then she descends to the main floor. Gosh, everyone here looks so spotless and classy. A hint of a blush lingers beneath her freckles and she prays quietly that it will disappear with time. She has absolutely no idea what any of the bottles of liquor are on the shelf behind the busy barkeep, currently mixing up some insanely-colorful concoction for another woman standing comfortably a few feet down. With a rueful sigh, she replies to the inevitable query as to her drink selection with,

"Water, please." The barkeep reserves judgment and instead sets a tall, clear glass of the stuff — oh, it bubbles! "Thanks," Rosemarie replies and pauses when asked about a tab. "Oh. Um…open, please?" A nod dismisses her and she swallows thickly as she turns around to surveil the rest of the place from ground floor.

*

Go-go dancers and caged tables this place doesn't have. Wrong part of town for that, though the piano certainly gets place of prominence. Another half moon stage allows for acts of any significant size to reach the various tables and raise their infernal racket to the high heavens, which is probably how the denizens prefer it. Shining floors invite dark dreams, and the clean glasses beckon to try a little liquid sin.

The bar sweeps in a grand curve, spotted by stools that wouldn't be out of place at a space age reunification meeting of the two Koreas, overseen by the UN Agency for Low Orbit Peacekeeping. UNALOP; it has a certain ring.

So comes the lamb to the lion's den, wearing a look any of the staff surely recognises for overwhelmed. It's easy for someone to turn away from the technicians and the endless business of keeping a place like this spic-and-span. That much wood and glass don't wash themselves down. Bottles aren't lined up to impress the natives, but stored in a crosshatch cubby hole for the wines, and the other liqueurs of a more potent varietal stand in cabinets where they can be seen by looking down more than up. If she can't tell the difference between 15 and 25 year whiskey, consider it an invitation.

St. Lilith's Predatory Preparatory School is in session. The barkeep nods. "And I will need a name for that, miss." The low voice cultivates an inquiry like a cat wrapping around her legs. Another glass is found, a tulip, prepared for some obscure pear brandy brought by way of Poland, likely on an illegal boat.

*

Her shoulders jolt up a tic when she's addressed again and she swallows her mouthful of bubbling water with some effort. Turning about, she gives the barkeep a faint smile, clearly an attempt to remain calm.

"Rosemarie, please." Of course there would need to be a name, silly her, what on earth was she thinking? Oh yes, never really ordered a drink at a bar before. Mentally chiding herself again, she fights down the blush and nods. "Yes, Rosemarie." The hair on the back of her neck has to be nerves, right?

*

Whatever jacket might have gone with that suit is long since shucked, but the crisp white shirt with cuffs francais and the twin, round links, certainly give him a respectable appearance. All the staff has a similar dress code, dark formal attire with white shirts, the better to blend in with their chosen clientele. Never let the lambs know where the wolves are while they're pretending to be billy goats.

"Rosemarie," he says, and doesn't even bother to write down the facts. No doubt it's a sum game of zero, though no pause hesitates in expectation of more. The slight catch on that name gives it a vaguest French slant. "Should a young lady wish to order under an assumed alias, she need only but ask," Lucian adds, a confessional tone despite the soft murmur of conversation not rising more than that. He turns to gather two bottles, one of them the aforementioned schnapps and the other dosed with enough concentrated cinnamon to be offensive. A dram of one, two fingers of the other, he mixes together with practiced ease.

*

"A-an assumed alias?" Oh dear, the stutter. Blinking a few times, she cycles through at least one breath to settle herself before she continues, dreadfully curious despite herself.

Or maybe she wants to hear him talk more. That accent is fascinating, just different enough to catch anyone's attention.

"Why would someone want to use an alias…?" Her volume peters away as all sorts of terrible thoughts begin floating through her mind. Oh no. A drug den? A crime ring? What if…what if the barkeep was the crime lord here?!

Forgive her staring at this point, though she does catch herself and quickly averts her eyes to her drink, merrily bubbling away — not too unlike her stomach.

*

"Privacy. Possibly the young lady would not wish her companions to know she covers their cost, or it gives the illusion of beau. Keeping away the unwanted attentions of others." Ideas are selected from a deck of possibilities, laid down with all the deliberation of a Vegas dealer.

Lucian's cufflinks glint in the light. Up close, they're coins of an antique nature, mounted in a rim of solid, polished silver presumably and threaded under his wrists. How he keeps the white fabric that clean is a mystery.

Rosemarie's reactions do not warrant so much as a grin, his expression composed. Such is a man endowed with secrets; it's what bartenders do upon joining their secret coven. "We swear in blood not to betray our clients," he whispers, thought continued aloud. "You are quite safe. None will know Miss Rosemarie has dared to order water, or possibly a white wine."

*

"Oh." The essential Rosemarie-ism, that vowel sound of surprise. Her mouth hangs slightly open for a second as she weighs the odds of this group of bartenders actually swearing in blood against the off-chance that this particular barkeep has a dark sense of humor. She decides on humor a moment later, if only to keep her faith in humanity intact.

Leaning a hip against one of the bar stools lightly, she allows herself a ghost of a smile even if she can't make eye contact with the man across the glistening countertop from her. "I came alone." It costs her something to admit that and the slump of her shoulders has little to do with relaxation. She worries at the scar on the pert curve of her lip until realizing that she's indulging in the action and checks herself. With an inhale, she straightens her spine and looks up at the barkeep again, attempting a friendly smile. "Still, if you recommend an alias, I can give one. Hmm."

'Ptichka', comes a memory unbidden in a language she hasn't heard in some time. A heavy swallow follows and she indulges in a mouthful of the bubbling water while she looks beyond the barkeep, through his white shirt, right around the second button.

"Piper." Her brown eyes rise to his face. "Like the shorebird."

*

They do swear in blood, in a roundabout way, but they have precious little to do with keeping the secrets of patrons coming in for water, wine, and other joys.

Lucian picks up a plain cloth folded into a rectangle, and he sweeps it across the polished bar on the inside facing him. Mechanical motions are executed skillfully, a studied practice all the same. At times his eyes leave the mirror finish to assess the current disposition of the few customers about their business and debauchery. In the corner, an older gentleman reads a newspaper eagerly. A jazz enthusiast hums the half-forgotten chorus of a song he probably cuaght on stage elsewhere a few nights prior. The woman closer at hand remembers.

"The more reason to stay vigilant." He fishes a drawer open and comes up with a glass dish of sliced lemons. They sit, bright cuts of sunlight, near. "Listen. Once they have the speaker up, at least. Music soothes and sends cares away for a while."

White shirt, black pants, crisp and razor-sharp lines that could slice skin. The man wears the clothes rather than permitting the uniform to wear him.

*

Is he…trying to subtly warn her of something? Even as her lean upon the barstool transfers more weight to sitting properly upon it, she frowns slightly.

"Vigilant," she murmurs, mostly to herself. The surface of the bar can't gleam much more…can it? Actually, as she eyes the surface, she realizes that their reflections are visible at just the right angle. Impressive. At the mention of the speaker, she glances over her shoulder. "Is the club hosting a musician tonight? I had no idea." Rosemarie looks back to him, in his impeccable shirt with polished buttons. "You sound like a good friend of mine, saying something like that…" A faint laugh, gaze averted to one side with a nibble of her lower lip. "She treated me to a visit to a local jazz parlor not long ago. It was…different — in a good way."

Realizing that she could be rambling, she retreats into her bubbling water. Still, the fondness in her expression doesn't wane an iota.

*

The workmen won't be earning much from Lucian, not on his watch. He eyes their fumbling and hushed murmurs around the ladder they have, and the weight of his regard hastens their efforts. Tools will be applied with a bit more elbow grease. Their conversation ought to slacken considerably, at least when given a hawkish stare.

Vigilance could matter more for contracted services provided by an outside company. He's the kind of man to care about the letter and the spirit of the signed promise. It takes a moment for him to check back to them, looking at Rosemarie again. A blink focuses upon her. "Most nights. Live music is a draw for the unsuspecting public." Beyond the drinks, the clean bar, the compelling conversation. "Scoping out the scene?" Not quite a question, but it lends it that much.

*

Resting her hands folded in her arm, Rosemarie nods and looks back out across the spread of Lux proper.

"Yes. I received one of the adverts in the mail a few days back. It seemed…like an interesting place from what I read, what I saw." Her eyes linger on the workers. Seems like not the best of times to be installing a speaker, in the middle of business hours, but then again, she knows nothing of running a club. She is the mistress of her own simple domain, that of the Information Booth in the library. "I liked the picture on it. It does the place justice." The smile she gives the barkeep is more confident this time around. "It's very…modern." A little upwards inflection steers the sentence towards more question than statement. "And very clean," she adds, almost daringly. "Your manager must run a tight ship."

*

In all its shining surfaces, glass and wood and metal, Lux embodies its own kind of class different from all those places wedged into the East Village.

Lucian stirs to put the lemons away, seeing that Rosemarie shows no interest in the sour citrus wedges. Without comment he waits for the server, a pretty woman with a cafe au lait complexion to go with the white button-down shirt and black slacks, to deliver the next batch of drink requests. Just the two for him. He pulls a bottle from the cellar nook and uncorks it with an old-fashioned spiral key. "Must aim to please. Lux stands out in the crowd. Provided of course we manage to be ready for the performance. I would dislike a botched performance or worse, an empty house by the night."

The vaguest brush of tightness around syllables and vowels doesn't give any impression of real irritation. A mere acknowledgment in this, too, a thing that cannot be changed much. "I am pleased to hear you like it. Some would say this mars the face of the neighbourhood. It brings that filthy music to the fore. Their complaints have fallen on deaf ears, I know."

*

It's with a brush of chagrin that the librarian realizes that the lemon wedges were indeed offered to her, but too late now. Ah well. Must tamp down the blush beneath her smattering of freckles 'cross bridge of nose and cheeks alike. Her assessing once-over of the server is quick, impersonal, and clearly leaves her feeling oddly drab by the slight pinch about the corners of her lips reflected back up at her from the bar's countertop. Well…at least the cocktail dress fits in?

The barkeep's words bring her up from an easy slide into self-pity and she hangs on them. "Filthy music? They can't mean jazz?" Consternation brings a darkness to her eyes. "Consider me an avid admirer of this place then. The music is beautiful! The atmosphere is…gosh, let me think." She turns left and right on her stool, taking in the entirety of the place with a sprinkling of innocent wonder in the act. "Sophisticated, with a sense of privacy for the patrons. I'm happy to tell my coworkers about Lux. An empty house is like an empty bookshelf. Devoid of life." A twinkle reaches her eyes for the first time. "I know, it sounds odd. I work at the library. It's much less exciting than…all this." The wave of her hand encompasses all of the place, including the barkeep behind his shining counters.

*

Lucian ticks his eyebrows a little higher and he nods, almost solemn. "Oh yes. There would be a fair number of unenlightened souls that go about claiming it's the Devil's music and will corrupt a generation of youthful minds to all kinds of terrible activities." His gaze doesn't even flicker. "They never stepped foot inside the lovely building the whole time of its construction. None darkened the door. They see a flyer and condemn sight unseen." A small tip of his head and the thinned smirk give all the answers one might need about that, and his opinion regarding those nameless masses casting their aspersions from the safety of their paisley-patterned armchairs. "They probably would have rioted at the Rites of Spring a few years back."

This gives him the chance to finish that second pour of wine, leaving two sparkling cisterns of a deep bloody red infusion for the server to whisk off. He gives but the faintest nod in that direction, commiseration for being left alone unless absolutely necessary. It's not like anyone else is bellying up to the bar on account of the hour and the workers, at least a little. No judgment follows on the little cocktail dress rather than shocking choice of trousers. Very modern around here, as he could concede if asked.

A calculated look follows. "Then that leaves you tempted by the music, and not the wine, Miss Piper? Or is it the source of life you are looking for?" A convoluted question, maybe, but Lucian has his reasons for asking.

*

Social mirroring demands the rise of her own brows, even if Rosemarie does it entirely without guile. Rites of Spring? Oh my. "I can imagine that you might have had some complaints." She hides a smile behind her drink. Glancing up, she freezes up. Oh…my. It's been some time since someone looked at her like that. She fights against quailing.

"That's…a great question," she replies with reticence, seeming to uncurl from her stool. It's a heavy one and there's the impression that an unspoken judgment lies upon the delivery of her answer. Her lips twitch left and right even as she rests her chin upon her palm. Finally, a sigh loud enough to be heard and she meets those inscrutible eyes again. "Music is tempting, yes. It helps me…stop worrying for a while. Not wine, no," and she tilts her nearly-empty water glass at an alarming angle in her other hand before settling it back down atop the bar's darkwood surface. "The source of life…hmm. I'm not sure." Even as she says it quietly, it has the ring of truth. "I'm confused about a lot of things right now. My life is full of loose ends and unfinished stories and…sometimes I wish I knew how the next chapter ends — or begins. But then I realize that ruins all the fun, if you will, so…no wonder it's all confusing."

*

What little sheep dread in finding the wolf among them, and he is the alpha sort. A faded greatness, not the ambitious young pup he was, but now and then a man has to stir himself reluctantly to cleaning up a bar.

“Yes, it is. Hazard of the job, knowing the best things to ask.” Small talk comes with the barest tinge of a smile, the devil-may-care glitter to those eyes — dark and vibrant as a summer sky, indigo lit by the dying or rising sun. “Then you’ve come to give me a tale. Sit down, then, rather than looking about to spring off in some direction.”

Lesson to be learned by the lambs of the world: gambol away and the bigger fish are going to pursue.

Lucian hooks his elbow against the rounded rim of the bar, leaning casually into the support offers. Not that his body knows how to cope with stiffness, sinuously angled from the hip and lengthening the contrapposto stance. The classical Italian position beloved of sculptors he attains without trying. “You are anxious for having too much incomplete and unclear. It’s a tricky problem. Being an adult means accepting you can only control your own actions. Bitter draught to down, that you cannot control the world to any extent. It certainly looks like adults have everything figured out, to younger people.” Naive souls. A trace of bitterness is so subtle it might be impossible to read beneath that cagey smile, the carefree shrug.

“Make do the best you can. Throw caution to the wind for a little, then. You might find having less control is not so bad as it looks.” Words of the wise. He probably used them at Babel, too.

*

Well, she is sitting, but…perhaps he means relax. It’s hard for her to do, especially feeling so uncentered these last few weeks. Still, as he settles in with a stance right out of a model catalogue that stretches the dress shirt against its buttons — whoa, brain, come back! — so she attempts it, at least. It means folding her own arms before her and laying them atop the bar. Not beneath her chest — before it, to be noted. Still listening, still weighing, still cautious as she always is, Rosemarie. It’s hard to be cautious when the main speaker has such an attractive light to his eyes.

Such is the unspoken job of the barkeep to offer up patient, brutally-realistic advice and she takes it with the bitterness that it smacks of, looking down to her nails. She drums them atop the surface of the bar quietly, not meaning to draw attention to the action. Simply fidgeting — and it keeps her from itching behind her ears.

“Yes…that all sounds right, even if no one ever want to hear it.” She glances up at him through her lashes. “What if…it’s hard to let go of the control? Or…maybe a bad idea?”

*

No one is beating down his door for being a jazz club, and no waitress is sauntering up with another order from another preoccupied patron. Time to speak is fairly open, minus the workmen who have overstayed their welcome. Their manager can expect a scathing response and a look of brutal disappointment before he settles up that bill at a discount.

Lucian has no reason to fidget. He adopts his stance and thus he remains, letting Rosemarie take all the time in the world to devise an answer. His expression is more cloistered and pensive than animated, brows drawn in a storm cloud line when compelled to rest for any moment.

Water glass empty, he indicates it with a gesture of two long fingers, an unspoken inquiry. Polite not to interrupt, him. “They never want to hear it and spend a lifetime fighting a simple fact. Happiness eludes those struggling to push too heavy a stone up a hill.” He wrinkles his nose at himself. Where did the terrible poetic metaphor come from? Clearly time to stop that.

“Depending on your situation, Miss Piper, letting go is as easy or hard as choosing to. That is all it takes. And in my experience, making the decision and facing the fears is the hardest step. Afterwards people tend to be much happier.”

*

“Yes, please,” she replies to his gesture towards her empty glass. A sigh blows a strand of lightly-waved hair back to one side of her face, alongside her cheekbone. She slowly shakes her head, eyes shutting off the world around her for a moment. Her expression could nearly be construed as painfully-focused for all of a split second and then a more obvious sense of relaxation seems to wrap about her.

“I’ve faced these fears before, it’s…that I’m rusty. Everyone else would be…afraid too, I think.” Oh dear, that sounded positively awful, let’s rephrase it — she’s no murderer. “I mean, what I’m afraid of involves control and letting go doesn’t actually make me happier. The world wouldn’t understand.” Her voice sounds very small in that last statement.

Oh, screw it. She scratches behind one ear idly. “Any wisdom for that particular situation, Mister…?” Yes, she realizes now they’ve been conversing all the while with her name and alias known and his a total mystery.

*

Lucian procures the water from a pitcher sweating on the counter behind him, the ready addition for any thirsty employee. Carrying the glass jug over, he turns it sideways to block a dam of ice. Clear water trickles over the side and soon enough levels off, leaving the beverage refreshed once more. No second offer of a lemon; he may assume Rosemarie has no interest.

“That could be nearly anything,” he says after a fashion, paused to collect his thoughts. The walls are up, not a hint of him prying to force some stranger to divulge her life’s secrets at his feet. “I’m called Lucian.” No name tag. That’s him.

An idle gesture made to the floor where patrons and musicians breathe life into their dreams comes by the shrug of a shoulder. Abbreviated eloquence, him. “Unfamiliar qualities always frighten someone. I see no point in trying to prevent something that inevitably will happen. My club was always going to upset someone. Some I could mitigate or predict, but it’s always the outlier you never foresee.” His smile returns, brief and cutting in its force through that palpable introspection. “So damn anyone that would deprive you of your liberty to be or do what you like. Come up with a strategy to cope with the complaints whatever they may be, and live up to that line you drew in the sand.”

*

Lucian. Hmm. He does even look a bit like a Lucian. There’s something…foreign about him, a timelessness that twinkles like a distant curio and begs for exploration.

“You speak bravely…” the librarian murmurs, sipping at her newly-poured glass of water. “I wish that I could be that brave. I’d probably get…” She clears her throat, grimacing, and itches at her elbow beneath the long sleeves of her cocktail dress. “Sorry.” The apology has the delivery of habit. Okay, let’s get brave. Really brave. “Lucian…are you familiar at all with…the current situation involving mutants?”

She attempts to find and hold his summer-sunset eyes, imparting silent weight to the question.

*

If only these were the days when wenches in vests prowled the floors of a respectable watering hole, and talk of fear and controlling the world were replaced by grunting about bandits and a lack of gravy by winter’s end. Life was simpler when the world was marginally younger.

“Bravery is one of those words with many meanings no one agrees upon. Decide for yourself what matters to you, that’s more like it,” Lucian says. He turns the words over in a way, that accent about him barely noticeable but present. He pushes back his leonine hair with the blunt curve of his palm.

News. Current situation. Mutants. Facts that come in bite-sized pieces. He is left to contemplate the question for a moment, and then nods. “Been in the news a bit.”

*

A lack of gravy is certainly not what bothers Rosemarie at the moment. However, she would rock one of those vests, if anyone could convince her into one.

The librarian nods. “Yes, more than a bit.” Braver still, come on. He spoke about keeping secrets and not betraying clients. She could never return here afterwards, another way to get around any friction received in light of her next softly-spoken sentence: “I think I’m one of those mutants. When I lose control…my powers show. Feathers.” She pauses, biting at the scar on her lip before halting herself again. The thrumming of her elevated pulse might be seen at her neck. “Wings.” She can’t bring herself to meet his eyes this time, instead trying to find the classical face in the reflections of the bartop.

*

Is Rosemarie a client, though? Has a pact of the secret college of bartenders bound them when she ordered water at a cost of nil?

It takes Lucian a moment to freeze his expression at this reckless show of unease on her part. The librarian is boldly striding onto mile-thick ice expected to be as fragility as candied glass, cracking under the weight of revelations. He goes for a bottle of rum, something sweeter on the palate and less offensive on the descent to the stomach. Pouring enough to catch in a bronzed puddle in a shot glass, he pushes the vessel to her. No need to explain what it’s for or what she might do with it.

“Plumage would be surprising.” The deadpan response it is not, but serious, weighed down by the gravitas displayed by the little wisp of a thing. “Wings would seem very large for you to hide.”

It’s no commentary on her figure, nor has he injected any kind of appraisal into that statement. He doesn’t leer.

“Bearing one’s soul to a mere stranger, the safe confidant, has a kind of liberty. Cheers.”

*

Lucian, with his pristine shirt and summer-dusk eyes, is given a searching look. He’s one of the very few to act so blase in the face of her reveal. In fact, generally, everyone who has accepted the secret has…secrets of their own.

She gives the shot glass a dubious look, especially after his comment about hiding away aforementioned plumage.

“Cheers…? What is it?” She asks even as she picks up the little glass and sniffs at it carefully. “I don’t normally drink.” Ever. The tip of her tongue slips out to sample it. Sweet, still ghosted with the astringent aroma of alcohol, but not terrible. Nothing that she could call ‘rotgut’, even with inexperience behind the judgment. “They hide well enough,” she adds, a little tartly for how she feels still unsettled.

Wonder how she’ll feel after a shot.

*

Rum comes without much spice to score its sweetness, though the heavy smattering of spices rounding out the molasses and vanilla finish, polished up by the deeper butterscotch notes sometimes pervading the dark mahogany liquid. Scents practically billow out of the bottle, a smooth and dark nose redolent of plums and nutmeg, vanilla and and apricots. Deeper tastes will rise with a sip, flowering into smoke and black grapes and currants, heat carried on the darkest spice. Flavours to be caught in chocolate and hibiscus and coffee await, giving no quarter to the palate. A zen brutality awaits, the finish that exquisitely balances a long, warm kiss of leather, oak, and red wine, a spirit that coats the lip and the tongue and the throat as strongly as honey on sticky fingers. The effect is blended together on a long, sustained note, a diva’s sustained aria eventually polishing off.

Such is not a spirit for the faint of heart. Not when it dwelled somewhere in the tropics for near on three decades, amassing its strength from the pedigree of pristine ingredients harvested for their capacity to harmonize. Multitudinous notes rush together into a symphony that balances the brassy intensity of age with the string quartet of initial elements that, as time builds, form intensified flavours.

A dusting of brown sugar and light oak dance through the background, a swelling note without dominating the piece. Even a drop sizzles upon the tongue with a dark, full-bodied kiss. A mouthful demonstrates vast self-control on the attack, seeping in rather than delivering an iron-fisted punch in a velvet glove. Elements beg to come forth from the initial taste, a masterpiece in the making.

And he knows it.

He watches Rosemarie through lidded eyes, awaiting every nuance of her reaction. The devil is, after all, in the details and time alone will give an indication for how well she handles her liquor and indeed, the reaction of any sort at all.

“Wings do not fit under a shirt or coat, unless the inked kind,” he says once she swallows and perhaps a lifetime past that.

*

Mmm, not bad, actually. Once the initial mild burn of alcohol wears off, it leaves the sweet and lightly spiced flavor for her to savor. Her tongue purls against her inner lip, aiding in the process of deciphering precisely what she’s tasting — something…rich and bright, reminding her of high noon, while beneath swirls the languid shadowy sweetness not too unlike lingering in the haze of a catnap in the doldrums of summer. What’s this…? It reminds her of…

“Rum balls.” She smiles, rather broadly and glances to him briefly. “My grandmother makes these for Christmas. It’s rum.” Her apple-cheeks beneath their dusting of freckles pink for the pride at having identified the deep brown liquid in the shot glass. Tipping her tongue against her upper lip once last time, she then drinks half of the shot. More savoring, more contemplative frowning at the nearly-empty glass and shifting judgments on the matter of the liquor. It doesn’t burn that badly, a rather mellow and satisfying heat filling her stomach. One last tip back and it leaves her smacking her lips. “This is more…flavorful than what she uses, I think.”

His comment pulls her up from her musings at the remaining droplet in the bottom curvature of the glass and she manages a rather adorable sense of sass to go along with the wrinkle of her nose.

“Not when they exist, no. Mine are beneath my skin right now.” Ugh, that sounded very weird to say aloud. She sets down the small tumbler and adds, “Thank you, for that. It was surprisingly nice. Like I said, I don’t drink often.” Really never. The warmth suffusing her stomach lingers and assuredly a practiced eye can see the relaxation settling more naturally into her frame rather than forced into it.

*

“Your grandmother bakes rum balls with twenty-seven year rum.” A frisson of disbelief goes skating behind Lucian’s response. Maybe he has heard everything. Some plucky non-vodoun priestess pours that immense storm distilled down into a tumbler and bastardizes it with chocolate sprinkles.

The drink does not get any mellower with exposure. On the contrary, exposure deepens the effect, layers of treacle and torrid heat coating the palate, slipping down the throat, and leaving a warm glaze to the stomach. Heat comes through the slow exposure to the steamy torrid latitudes, rather than baking relentlessly upon a desert isle with naught a palm to shade a wreck survivor. He pours another dram into her glass.

Empty glasses might be called offensive.

He nods in agreement. “It goes with conversation better than lemon water.” Feathers retracting beneath skin gives cause for self-reflection. The iron cladding in his spine retreats a molecule, little more. Calculated pauses follow, as he seals the bottle and returns it to a forgotten hideway in the shelf.

*

Rosemarie’s nod is thoughtful, less reserved than before. “I can see why it does. I think,” she adds, looking down at the refilling of brown liquor. Sweetness lingers on her lips and she seeks to clean it off again even as she takes up the glass in steady fingers.

“I don’t know how old the rum is that my grandmother uses,” comes the admission. “All I know is that I could eat myself sick of them…but I won’t. Why ruin something by making oneself sick on it? Seems like a shame.” She sips at the shot, making a little sound of delight in the back of her throat. It burns so nicely as it goes down, the savoring amounts she licks more than imbibes. Halfway gone already — it seems to disappear so quickly.

Then comes the giggle. “This is helping with the itching. Oh, oh no, that’s not — ” The giggling becomes a bit louder still and she has to hide it behind a hand even as the blush takes over with fervor. It spreads up to her ears and even down her neck, to some extent. “The feathers. They itch under my skin. I mean, when I’m stressed or flustered. This is relaxing. Thank you,” she adds again, looking up at him with a light in those cinnamon-brown eyes that was nonexistent when she initially arrived.

*

A glutton for rum balls, the very worst of sins. Lucian nods and returns to his statuesque contrapposto pose against the bar. "Too much of a good thing, as they like to say. It seems the best course to stop before you have too much." They, the peanut gallery and the chorus full of wisdom, earns a bit of amused stress. One day that group will be located and exposed for what it is, a plague of gnats with human faces and very loud voices.

When not preoccupied plying impressionable patrons with alcohol, he tends not to move much. Or not at all except for the essentials: breathing, blinking, involuntary responses human come to expect.

"They must make for a challenge with clothes and the like. In this city at least you stand a chance of vanishing into the background," he observes dryly.

*

"I try hard not to let them show unless I'm at home. I have a cat who adores them more than she should," she adds dryly, amused in the same manner that one might be of the significant other who always leaves dishes in the sink rather than place them in the dishwasher. Imagine: sitting on the couch, reading a book, and then — swat — a sudden impact of toebeans against one's temple, trapping a long plume against chestnut curls. Rosemarie still isn't used to that aspect of her powers.

The rest of the rum is finished. Clearly, it's beginning to get to her. Miss Prim and Proper is now avidly fishing out that last droplet in the glass, be it via tongue or by tapping the bottom over her open mouth.

Buzzed? Perhaps. A light-weight. How precious.

The tumbler is set down with decided care upon the bar, the gesture a bit accented in its deliberance. "Very good. I probably shouldn't have another one… I might forget about paying attention to the…the feathers." She was about to say something else, but caution still reigns supreme in her personality, even with the curling swirls of warm sweetness suffusing her veins and frontal lobe.

*

Someone who predates cats by a few days cocks a faded gold eyebrow. It hitches a few millimeters higher, stray sunbeams of loosely tousled bangs falling over his forehead. Somehow the wrinkles normally formed by the expression are less pronounced with Lucian, disregarding the shadows that ought to be forming. Like his skin refuses to show that kind of age.

He ponders speaking. The workers in the corner have finally wrestled the wooden box into place, wires connected, and a pause in their conference warrants comment. "See the Gillespie record plays properly." Dismissing them with a careless instruction delivered in short, direct terms gives little room for error. They might accomplish the feat anyways, much to his drifting ire.

Rosemarie is recalled, trapped in amber at the corner of his gaze. Likely she never left, the woman and her tongue-wagging after the last taste of a rum that costs more than her weekly salary.

"They do not stay properly put away when you're unbuttoned?" His questions are not entirely leading so much as inquiring the way a barman should. He has a bit of experience in that.

The servers drift like ravens through the club, and soon enough the mellow brass of a trumpet spills through the club as one of the workers conspires with a coloured woman in putting a tune on the record. "Blue Monk" by Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson form up a cool groove with a slow, slinky wind supported by strings and a raspy strike on the cymbal.

*

Having rested her chin on her palm and elbow on the bar after pushing the empty shot glass away from her person, it might be amusing to see her keep the placement even as she glances over her shoulders towards the workers. Lucian doesn't seem pleased with them. Shame. Still, he addresses her much more politely, even if his…wording seems to waltz imaginary fingers along her shoulders towards the crook of her neck.

"They stay under my skin or…I wear a shirt with no back," Rosemarie admits hesitantly. Too many shirts ruined by sudden pinion expansion has changed the contents of her drawers a bit over the last year or so. "They aren't showing this evening," a finger pointed backwards implies acknowledgment of the dress's complete covering of shoulder blades, "if I have anything to — oh!"

The sudden presence of the music elicits a bright smile from her and she looks to the speaker again. "Oh, that's a lovely piece of music."

*

The languid spill of music from the speaker will do, covering up the conversations around them under the ragged seduction of a trumpet's serenade. Whisking beats of percussion tumble through the air behind it, and the legendary group plies its own kind of moody rhythm to the atmosphere. Nothing about that song dares to be upbeat, reminiscing instead of calculating vectors on new futures. Jazz can thrill and collaborate with time's forward rush, but so often it does better stripping off its jacket and loosening its necktie, falling into the embrace of a well-worn chair for a good glass of something potent.

The Devil's music, they say. They haven't the least idea how.

Lucian nods at the speaker. "It will do. Limits with what a speaker can project and nothing rivals a live show. But until some can be convinced to come here rather than the other lesser temples of music…" The thought never gets finished. He watches her through faintly narrowed eyes at the line implied. Shoulder blades. Wrists? Something does not calculate up.

"So your arms as well?"

*

Rose's eyes widen slightly. Whoa. That was an excellent guess — if it was a guess. She's reminded of her earlier musings on this Lucian character not being nonplussed in the least to hear about her wings.

"Um…yes," she murmurs, folding said arms before her on the bar top. "Feathers show there too. And behind my ears." Unable to hold his gaze now, she eyes the shot glass. It's difficult to remain truly flustered with two shots of rum in one's system on a relatively-empty stomach. The warmth still enshrouding in its friendly embrace seems to cling like a blanket hot from the dryer. Plus, the music is cajoling enough. Settle in, it seems to imply. Take it easy, put up your feet, indulge a bit.

*

Wrists. Inside of elbows. Ears?

Chalk something up to being one of the Creator's odder creatures, but not the creature like the first formed. Lucian might allow himself a modicum of ease, nothing translating through the implacable carapace of his entirely modest form. Now is a fine time to tug on the cuff of his dress shirt, assuring that he looks relatively proper and appropriate to a bartender at a fine jazz club. "That must be a bother for garments. Scandalous." The smudge of a smirk on those finely shaped lips gives way after a moment.

"So. Yes."

*

Outside of elbows, technically. No wrists, along the outer line of the ulna. Another giggle, this one a little helpless for the shots and the general response to the implied tease.

"A 'bother' is a very polite way to put it, yes," says she even as the blush returns anew. "But 'yes' what?" Aw, how precious. Seems the little lamb has bonded to the barkeep in the moment. After all, he showed her kindness in a moment of shadow — even if finding out how much those shots will cost her might make those wings show after all.

*

Close enough to count. Human arms with feathers along the margins make a far better deal than 'six pairs, possibly aflame' or other foolishness known to happen through troublesome meddling.

He might think about pouring something for himself. A glass of water, then, topped off with a lemon bright as sunshine. It floats in circles among the ice, submerged partly, rind up to approximate the sinking Titanic. Lucian drinks deeply but his throat doesn't quite clench or move before the blushing begins. "That would be where you decide the course of the conversation. As a gentleman, I allow you the segue to whatever opportune discussion moves you."

*

"Oh." Clearly, this is a rare occurrance for her, she of the Information Booth where she generally answers questions or handles complaints. Guess as to which happens more often in the long run. Rosemarie's lips open partially and hang there before she realizes that she's been staring again.

"Tell me about yourself." Seems like a safe enough topic. She can also be quiet for a bit and quit nattering on about the feathering. In her blood, quiescent now for the relaxed state of her body and for the muting of the alcohol's presence, the Otherness only stirs slowly. With sloth like winter molasses, it vaguely registers interest in the barkeep before settling down once again, the black bear lying its head back down in hibernation.

*

"Myself?" Lucian blinks. It's a subtle movement and not much more than that. "Why would you ever wish to know a bartender, Miss Piper?" It takes a moment for him to rest his arm against the bar again, and hold the glass up, a shield against the mobile line his mouth seems to become. Lemon laces the crispness of the ice with such a bitter citrus tang, a marvel on the tongue. Fizzy crackles dissipate into a smoother finish that no alcohol quite musters for clarity.

"Hardly an interesting story for a lady's ears. I'm a bartender with a love for those sins that have ever stirred up men. Wine, women, music. Here, I have all three. Marvel of the age, isn't it?"

*

Rosemarie smiles too, though her expression is inclined towards cautious once more. She can't tell if he's yanking her chain or not. "Isn't that what makes a good bartender? An interest in those things? And it's polite to get to know the company around you. You made a point of talking to little old me." She doesn't mention that it's likely part and parcel of his job as a barkeep.

"It is a marvel, yes. Lucky you." Aw, she sounds a bit wry. Jealous somehow…?

*

A bit of a shrug follows, a smile answering Rosemarie. "It's very much in the eye of the beholder, now isn't it?" Lucian puts down the glass. "I prefer to listen to other people rather than talk about myself, of course. No one comes to hear me talk about myself. Aren't they looking for an audience or advice?" This gives reason to crack another of those faint smiles, and having certainly touched upon the raison d'etre for every bartender ever.

Then she might witness a little transition, line of his back straightening slightly. "The joy of a club, it's open to all. Unless they get rude, in which case, they are out."

*

Rosemarie eyes the barkeep with a clear attempt to look more pensive than she might actually be in the moment, waffling about in the warm waters of being buzzed likely for the first time in her life. At least this is a far more positive encounter with inebriating libations than that one St. Patrick's Day parade so many years back.

"I can imagine they would be marched out by their coat-tails — or dress…halter-straps?" She giggles before becoming somewhat sober, eyes never leaving him. "You…are a fascinating person, y'know? Someone who actually listens. It's nice." Simple words attempt to convey a much deeper stance on the matter. The rum numbs what eloquence she might normally have.

*

Rule of thumb, he could tell her, about getting drunk on holy days and celebrations. However, Lucian wisely keeps his tongue nailed down for that bit of wisdom on offer. No one likes the bartender cutting them off and dispensing unwelcome bits of salient knowledge. He is the confessor and the empath, the counselor and the sober voice of reason to a point. That point includes being judgmental about fun.

The corner of his mouth indents a quirked vertical line to his cheek. “No, Miss Piper, I prefer to toss them like a beanbag. It makes for better press when local sot sacks unsuspecting pedestrian at the bus stop.” He is probably not serious. Probably, though the delivery is stoic and deadpan in its fashion. “They make the most satisfying sounds of alarm.” One long finger taps the bar twice short of the islet where her empty rum glass sits.

“You are kind. Too kind for this tarnished city,” he obliges her with an answer, but maybe not the sort Rose expects. Those eyes seem pale rather than dark, odd given the lack of light. “How far society is fallen that listening constitutes a cardinal virtue to measure a man by. I don’t think I deserve to be called fascinating. Rather a short yardstick. I tend a liquor cabinet and scowl at incapable workers who charge too high for a service they cannot deliver. I observe the world with witty barbs and pour liquor for those who ask. Does that make me out of the ordinary around here, or merely in your experience? Your experience is not at fault here, be sure of that.”

Why he needs to reassure her of this, he won’t question yet.

*

She attempts the same level of impassive delivery in her response. “I’m surprised that the press hasn’t asked you about this policy of tossing them like beanbags. One might damage the reputation of the place by handling visitors roughly.” Shoot, almost made it; her teeth flash in a grin and the muted laugh sparkles in her eyes instead. As to the questioning tap-tap to the shot glass… “Thank you, but I should probably stop. I don’t know where my tab is at.” Not worried about it yet, but the concern is uncurling deep within her psyche. Someone should have known better…or at least asked about the pricing of said shots before accepting.

He waxes complimentary and then philosophical, in a way. Rosemarie balances out her interest in the barkeep by blushing madly at the honeyed words. They bring a different kind of warmth to her veins, one of hesitant pride in herself and her manners. Her eyes lift back up to him from observing the ghosted ceiling in the bartop. “You, as a whole, are out of the ordinary to me. This club, all of it.” She gestures to the room around her, including every detail of its make-up, all of its patrons and staff alike, the jazz record playing away in the background. “I have a quiet life. This is different. This is…good,” she finishes with the delay of belated realization. Nothing bad has happened by visiting Lux. Hmm. Being brave has its dividends.

*

The place probably hasn’t been open long enough to make a bad reputation with the press, above and beyond another club added to the cultural smorgasbord of East Village.

Lucian curls his fingers around the rag that happens to be there, awaiting proper use. He lacks a forbidding castle full of ruined furniture, but the objects are no less eager to hop to it when he looks pointedly at them. “Reporters follow the story. They rarely have the providential stroke to show up when something newsworthy happens. I may have another fortnight of cover.” Dabbing at the inner counter removes a water ring left by his glass. How dare it impede his spotless venue?

“Two dollars for the rum, nil for the water. Or you can think nil for the rum, and two for the water. Whatever eases your conscience.” There goes the faint smile, crookedly given, a ghost of a raise at the corner.

“Jazz is a quiet life. The music speaks about everyday events. You can put whatever story you want to the piano.” His gaze leaves her, passing out to the middleground of the club where shadows and wood darken the hue of the atmosphere. There he can lose himself for a moment, a man who is never lost, and always knows exactly the space he should occupy with a terrifying degree of certainty. “Should I break the mystique for a moment? A barman’s life isn’t so different from yours. Wake up, come to work, put in hours, daydream about the sparks of passion that drew you in to the job in the first place. Find a few spots of interest in the day. Go home. Do chores. Begin again.”

*

Up comes the little purse she brought along and she fishes around in it for the stash of bills. She brought enough to cover most…everything — except the actual cost of the rum, which is kept from her in lieu of a more simple fee.

“That seems…low to me, but I trust you.” She pushes two bills towards him and then peers into her bag again. More moving things about, some frowning, maybe a little wobbling in her seat (mmm, this is the warmest feeling, what she’ll learn is called a ‘buzz’ in due time), and then another bill comes out, ten times the value of the first two. “I believe you’re supposed to tip your bartender.” She beams, those freckled applecheeks plumping up. “Did I hear you right though? The piano? You play?”

She needs one hand splayed on the pristine bartop to keep her balance as she spins on the bar-chair to appreciate the instrument sitting centrally.

“Oh, go play if you do! I mean,” and she settles herself down, spinning about and interlacing her fingers in her lap with a sense of chastising herself. “If you want to. Don’t go play on my account.”

She pauses before looking up at him through her dark lashes. “Piano playing might make the press forgive you for tossing people like beanbags…?”

It’s the precious tilted logic of the inebriated, though she might be onto something in some back-handed way.

*

A point of pride, pushing the money back to her. The extra bill he does not need, nor want. Lucian shakes his head. “Keep the hard-earned cash. These will be enough, unless you decide to switch to more water or wine.”

Freckles vanish under a strawberry stain of a blush. Freckles themselves are an oddity. None of his kind had them, melanin imperfections of flesh implying they can be imperfect. Did any churchman or holy painter ever stop to wonder if the saints or the One-Above-All ever had a scar, a birthmark, a defect?

Does he play? This question warrants a brief tip of his head. “The general you. Vous in French. I mean to say the allure of jazz finds the stories of everyday life and sets them to music. Not every bit of song is full of bombast and heroic heights. Otherwise we wouldn’t have so many songs.”

He gives a thin smirk to nothing in particular at that.

*

With bill tucked away into her purse — she won’t push the matter, not that she has the wherewithal to attempt such a thing in the first place — she’s able to sit there and endure more of aforementioned blush.

“Oh, forgive me, I misinterpreted,” she murmurs. The skin prickles and her nails briefly foray up behind her temple to assuage the need to itch. It’s the biological reminder that even beneath the dampening of the rum, the Otherness is perfectly aware of another tic higher in blood pressure numerals. Hibernation is shed now, girl. Now it swirls like a leviathan in the ocean deeps, stirring the surface in swirls that bely its magnitude.

“That’s a good point though,” she rallies. “I’d guess that’s why it has such a following, if not everyone is drawn to it for…salacious reasons.” The word is tried, pronounced correctly, and sullied just the tiniest bit for a smidge of a lisp.

*

The otherness is embodied in human form, dressed in a perfectly respectable suit trousers and shirt. It recognizes the odd, but embodies everything inhuman and grand beyond the comprehension of God and gods. Such can be shared over a glass of water.

“For salacious,” Lucian considers, “one is wiser to go with tango. Something about the beat thrills the blood. Rhumba and foxtrot want to stir up trouble. Tango seizes the soul by the throat and takes many prisoners.”

He knows a thing or two about leviathans. They may well have been the accidental creation of a bender with brothers-in-arms. Try not to ask how platypi came about; he has the answer for that, too. His arms cross and he leans casually. “Have you any talent with a piano? Even a little.”

*

She swallows at the implication of tango’s effects upon the psyche. No argument there. The alien presence within her blood seems to test the warmth of the liquor that grants a modicum of lassitude to its host. A frisson sends the fine hairs on her neck rising before she reaches back and smoothes the skin, almost as if settling herself in the process.

But…even a little? The Steinway that sits polished and pristine and almost forbidden in its placement? Her eyes are the last to shift to it, lingering on Lucian, as she rotates on the bar stool to consider the instrument.

Her heart is still pitter-pattering. Ideas blossom and are just as quickly pushed aside. Far too many members of the staff here, with all of their crisp clothing in chiaroscuro and captivating airs, would be eligible candidates for striking up the sensually-playful transcendence that is the tango. This includes the barkeep behind his bastion of marble and guarded by the myriad bottles of spirits. Alas, if only she’d taken classes with her friend a few years back instead of deferring to a work schedule instead. Said friend had been adamant, so at least the concept of the steps exist in her mind, simply because her friend had needed a practice partner in the living room.

Piano? Any talent?

“Even a little…?” The echo comes as she turns back to face Lucian. “A little, yes,” she admits, looking down at her hands. “I took lessons when I was a child.” Joints shift minutely and it’s clear to anyone with moderate experience that she’s feeling out invisible chords atop the marble. “My neighbor has a piano and she lets me play every now and then when she’s not teaching her students. It’s nothing like that. I think that’s a Steinway.” The name is inflected with a breath of awe, a ghost of despairing fancy.

She’s never touched a proper Steinway before. It probably sings when played by a professional.

*

That is a Steinway indeed. “Would it help if you thought it was a dilapidated instrument rescued from a mouldering house upstate? Maybe one that never received any attention, and it lies about here waiting for someone to pay it the least bit of attention?”

Lucifer hooks his elbow back, but never turns his back to the club. Come to think, he never turns his back to anything. A frisson of amusement stalks across the summer blue weight of his eyes, as lazy as a snake sunning itself on a rocky shelf. While it might wind faster, it certainly has no reason to.

“Too often activities fail to happen because of self-imposed limits. Limits that haven’t a lick of sense. Wouldn’t we be all happier if we chose to stop listening to that critical little voice?” Idle thoughts for a decadent corner of New York, they aren’t likely to insinuate themselves too loudly into the psyche of any audience.

The Steinway: a grand, naturally, something as responsive and bitterly eloquent as a punctuation mark at the end of Cicero’s lectures or Keats’ sonnets of love and loss. A handcrafted dream concocted from seasoned wood does more than transmute ideas to sound, it’s the crucible to the Nine Muses. Who, he might tell Rosemarie, are right vapid bitches gossiping in their clique when they deign to notice anything past their own work.

Rich tones practically emanate from the shining wood, and the incomparable promise across ivory make it rather like learning to play violin on a Stradivarius, an interlude of heightened sensitivity and abject terror linked together. How else does one live, but in awe, caught on the cusp of free fall?

He’s the man to shove her.

“Go sit down. No one good plays standing up. No matter what those rock and roll bands think. A man looks ridiculous with his posterior sticking out as he smacks down the keys, gyrating about like he's trapped in some kind of deranged washing machine.”

*

Rosemarie gives him a rather wry look at the concept of pretending that she wouldn’t be touching something that costs more than five year’s salary for her, likely more; that seems like an impossible thing to do.

Still…he’s got a terrible, awful, oh-so-true point… The man probably preens to see her glance to the instrument again, warring with herself. When would she get a chance to touch a Steinway again? …probably never. Her serious composure shatters like porcelain tapped just right by the idea of someone trapped in a washing machine and she half-fails at hiding the smile accompanied by a little snort. Wouldn’t that be a special kind of hell?

Those cinnamon-browns meet his summer-blues, the humor draining away, and she visibly steels herself — wait, she seems to come to a conclusion. Rifling about in her purse again, she places down that large bill.

“I can feel that the rum calms me down. One more shot, please.”

Maybe a good idea, maybe not. There’s a fine line between being relaxed and sloppy and she’s a complete neophyte at this concept of drinking.

*

“Earn your supper,“ Lucian condemns her to the vault of keeping her lucre back in her purse, pushing it back over the bar. “You can owe me later.”

The previous bottle shan’t be tapped this time around, but instead he pulls out one stout and made from a ceramic vessel. Wax dribbled down the front makes for a lurid apple red sheen, though not wholly for effect. As he plucks the honest to God cork, he sniffs the contents. “This shall do,” the statement concludes, and he pours out some for her in a fresh glass.

The old one vanished at some point when her back was turned, but when? Oh, for the boundless powers to recreate dirty things into clean ones. Alas, the One-Above-All is cruel, at times, to his eldest son.

Spice afflicts the rum chosen more than the previous option, though not without just cause. Heavy syrup of a very aged rum needs to be rolled back for something a little peppery and essentially balanced on molasses and brown sugar, elevated by the overtones of sweet almond and tropical fruits for a lusher mouth feel. The previous one was the storm, and this is the spark of lightning, the solo to the symphony, the hard kiss to the passionate night.

“Such a herky-jerky performance is an insult to every musician, and unforgiveable unless the lout happens to have his palms glued to an industrial air compressor which happens to have a keyboard attached,” he murmurs, contempt an arch expression attained without the merest lift of a perfect golden brow.

A moment of self-contemplation spins out and then he shakes his head. “I might have some sympathy were he being electrocuted, but no.”

*

Does Rosemarie play the piano? Will Lucian ever stop snarking about keyboard players? STAY TUNED.

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