Christabel wanted nothing more than to get out from under the lights the photographers had insisted on setting up for the interview. It was the first media appearance of the new year for Crowley's Thoth, an opportunity to make a strong start and promote their work. This knowledge did nothing for Christabel's mood, which had been poor ever since Naomi had conned her into helping her wash the dinner dishes the day after Winter Solstice.
"I could help instead," said Morgan at the time, but Naomi had shaken her head. "I want a few minutes alone with Christabel. Girl talk."
Naomi had waited until they had gotten a rhythm of washing, drying, and stacking going before beginning her interrogation. Rather than depend on the water to mask their voices, she opened a text chat. «Why are you and Morgan fighting?»
«We haven't been.»
«Of course not,» said Naomi. «You decided on the spur of the moment to have Isaac Magnin escort you to the afterparty, and then stood beneath the mistletoe chandelier in front of a thousand of the beautiful people and snog him while Morgan and I watched.»
«It's none of your business.»
«Like hell. I told you both when I auditioned that I didn't care much for romantic entanglements between members of a band, but I didn't explain why because I figured you were smart enough to figure it out on your own. I've seen bands founded by lovers fall apart when the founders fell out of love. So, what happened between you and Morgan? Is he cruel to you?»
«No,» said Christabel. That much she had to admit. «But he just doesn't do it for me, you know?»
«Have you tried to talk to him about it?»
«No, because he'd try to do better and /that's the problem/. He tries too hard. He cares too much. I can't respect him as a man. Not when he's a meat puppet determined to become a real boy.»
«If you broke up with him because of that, I'd understand. I'd figure you were doing Morgan a favor. But the way you're carrying on has got to end.»
«He asked me if I wanted to break up. Then he asked me if I wanted him to leave the band. Like he'd stay with the band even if we weren't seeing each other.»
«I think he would,» said Naomi. Rather than hand the carving knife to Christabel, she dried it herself and put it away. It was, Christabel would think later on, a rather pointed statement concerning the trust that existed between them. «If he had to kill somebody on the job, he never bothered you about it. I've seen him get up on stage and play even though he had just come back from a mission where he'd gotten shot. He's always been there for the band. He's a trouper, and both a better man and a better musician than you deserve.»
«And why should I care what /you/ think?»
«It's simple. He's the only reason I'm still here. If he leaves, I'll follow. I don't think he realizes this, and I'm within a hair of telling him.» Naomi paused a moment, looking Christabel in the eye. «But I might just kiss him senseless first.»
«You wouldn't dare.» At least, Christabel hoped she wouldn't. She had been acting on the assumption that Naomi only saw Morgan as a friend at best, and that any romantic or sexual attraction between the two was on his part. Naomi wanting Morgan for herself would change everything.
Naomi shook her head, and dried another knife. «I have not dared, for the band's sake. I think that even Isaac Magnin deserves better than you, but while you might be a more reprehensible person than he is you're a better violinist than you give yourself credit for being. It's not your fault that Morgan and I seem to outshine you, and I don't blame you for being jealous. I just blame you for not talking with us about it like an adult and a professional.»
«If I let him go, won't he just try to get into your pants?»
«He's not that kind of guy. If he was, I wouldn't want him for myself.»
Christabel almost dropped the dry plate she had kept wiping for want of something better to do, «Wait. You want him as much as he wants you, but you're not going to do anything about it for the good of the band? Don't tell me you dedicated enough to go celibate.»
«Of course not. There might not be other people for Morgan, but's his business. I can make do with others until he either realizes he doesn't need you at all or you get tired of standing in our shadows.»
After stacking her plate atop the others, Christabel dropped her towel at Naomi's feet. «I'm not giving up on /my/ band, and I'm not giving up Morgan either. If I want to fuck other men behind his back, I will. If I want to fuck other men in front of him, I will. If he can't deal with that, then he can get the hell out of both my life and the band. He doesn't get half a loaf. He can bloody well take what I give him and like it.»
With that, Christabel had left Naomi's house. She would have stopped only long enough to get her coat if Edmund Cohen hadn't gotten in her way.
The old man gave her a slow, contemptuous once-over before leaning in close. He kept his voice low so that the other guests would not hear him. "I've got a bullet with your name on it, /Annelise Copeland/. If you ever break Morgan's heart again, I'll tell him everything I know about you so that he understands why I killed you."
"You're just an old drunk."
"Ask Isaac Magnin about me next time you two are in bed together. Ask him if I've ever missed." He then stepped aside, letting her go. His mocking "Joyous Solstice, Chrissy!" echoed after her as she fled Naomi's house for the tube station that would bring her back to the hotel.
Though Edmund Cohen's threat had left her shaken, she had not dared call Isaac Magnin at first. Instead, she had reached out to Elisabeth Bathory, who had done nothing to allay her fears. Instead, she had said, "I've seen him shoot. He's a virtuoso marksman, and you are right to fear him."
She had not seen either Morgan or Naomi again until today. The record label had arranged this interview with /Metal Fatigue/, a music news broadcast that reached the entire inhabited solar system.
A reporter named Alice Talbot was giving the interview, and Naomi had not been pleased to hear about it. /I wonder what sort of history those two have./ It had nothing to do with her, though. All that mattered was recovering from what she now considered the mistakes she made on Winter Solstice.
At least Talbot seemed inclined to start with easy questions. "Christabel, last year Crowley's Thoth released /Prometheus Unbound/ and completed a whirlwind tour of Europe, North America, and Japan before returning to London for Winter Solstice. What do you have planned for the band next?"
"We need a month or two to rest, but after that it'll be back to the studio to write and record another album. Naturally, another tour will follow. There were so many cities we didn't get to visit, and we don't want to neglect any of our fans."
"Some critics suggest that Crowley's Thoth is a better when playing other people's material than they are at writing their own."
"We don't write or play for the critics," said Christabel. "We write and play for ourselves, first and foremost. Anybody who enjoys our music is welcome to it. The rest are welcome to ignore us; we're happy to return the courtesy."
"In fairness to the critics," said Morgan. "Rock operas and concept albums are something of an acquired taste. Much of what we play live to fill out our setlists are time-tested classics in the public domain, and you don't need any background in Romantic poetry to bang your head to 'Mr. Roboto', 'Cat People', or even 'Ashes are Burning'."
"Who decides what songs you play live?"
"We each have an extensive repertoire, and we rehearse a wide variety of pieces," said Naomi. "Since we use our implants to connect to a private IRC server via SSH, we can communicate by text in real time while we're performing and pick songs to suit our audience. For example, in Paris we performed a few Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf numbers, but in Tokyo we selected a few hits by Loudness, Versailles, and X-Japan."
"Whose idea were the duets?"
"Mine," said Christabel, which was the regrettable truth. The instrumentals Morgan and Naomi both knew were one thing, but one day during rehearsal Christabel had stepped out, and Naomi had started performing "The Phantom of the Opera" and had cajoled Morgan into singing the Erik to her Christine. /To think I encouraged them just because I was surprised that Morgan had turned out to be a decent tenor./ "Morgan and Naomi might play like demons, but I'm only human and sometimes I need a break."
"It seems like you needed a break from Morgan offstage, too," suggested Alice. "Or was it because Naomi had come between the two of you? It wouldn't be the first relationship she's broken up." She turned her gaze on Naomi, as if challenging her to respond.
"Christabel had not been up to attending the afterparty, and Morgan had been kind enough to not let me be the band's sole representative. We were there for business, not pleasure."
"Naomi's trying to shoulder some of the blame," said Christabel as Morgan opened his mouth to speak. When he closed it again she continued. "But I heard from people I trust that Morgan was a complete gentleman with her. It was my choice to overreact and try to hurt him by cheating on him with Isaac Magnin. I'm paying for it now. Morgan and I have stopped seeing each other, but he was gracious enough to remain with Crowley's Thoth."