It was long past midnight when Annelise had finally finished her tale. The vast majority of the Flaming Telepath's patrons had gone home, and the tavern had gone nearly silent. Most of the lights were out, and the pianist had long since stopped playing. Instead, she had lowered the piano's cover and leaned on it as if enraptured by what she was hearing.
Morgan wished her the joy of it; for him it seemed the confession of somebody who had made their life a crime of passion. Annelise had paused only to sip her coffee, which a server had stood by to keep filled. Morgan had been unable to keep from counting the refills; Annelise had taken a dozen mugs of black coffee to get through her history, and he had never seen her look so thoroughly wired.
She motioned to the server. "Where's the ladies' room?"
"I'll show you," said the server, leaving Morgan alone with Naomi.
She had been resting her head on his shoulder, idly playing with a lock of his hair as they listened to Annelise. She had braided a lock of her hair with his, white against black; until she undid it they would have difficulty separating. Her scarlet eyes were heavy-lidded with the need for sleep, her pupils open wide to catch every scrap of the tavern's dim light as she gazed up at him. "Do you believe her?"
That was the heart of the matter, and she had cut to it with the unerring skill of the Adversary he was sure Naomi had been in another life. "I think her lies were mainly of omission," said Morgan after he gave the question due consideration. "I've been reviewing her diary and letters. Everything she told us tonight roughly matches the texts I took off her computer."
"I don't understand why she'd tell us the truth tonight."
"Why not? It's been a year. She's probably been looking over her shoulder the whole time, expecting all the while to find one of us behind her."
"Not me," said Naomi, snuggling tighter against Morgan. "Once we learned she had been working for my father, I was content to assume that she had failed him, that he had murdered her for it, and that avenging her wasn't our problem."
Enjoying Naomi's warmth against him, he slid a hand down to her hip and pulled her closer. "Are you disappointed that I couldn't let it go so easily?"
She shook her head. "No, but I fear for you. I fear that my father has you dancing to his tune."
"I've been working on the assumption that Annelise is still working for him," said Morgan. "Remember Christabel's funeral? I think he had hoped I'd challenge him then and there."
"But you didn't let him get to you," said Naomi. "I don't know what I might have done in your position."
Everything Naomi said when the subject of Isaac Magnin came up hinted at a long and complex history, but Morgan had thus far restrained his curiosity as carefully as he had restrained his anger over his own dealings with the man. He had long suspected that if he knew the truth of what Magnin had done to Naomi, he would not be able to contain his wrath for long. It was the little things that got to him, like people screwing with his friends.
Before he could say anything, Annelise returned to their table and slid back into her seat looking somewhat refreshed. "Thanks for not leaving me here to cover the check."
Naomi could barely manage an exasperated sigh, leaving Morgan to answer. "We all know that's more your style."
Annelise stared at the table for a long moment, tracing old moisture rings with a perfectly manicured fingertip. "I had that coming."
"And more," said Naomi.
"I thought I could live with what I had done," said Annelise, "But confessing it all, reliving it all... I never wanted to hurt either of you."
"Don't flatter yourself," said Naomi. "I tried to befriend you for the band's sake, and for Morgan's sake. For a while I even thought you were good for him."
"And for a while I thought he was good for me, but I had my orders." Annelise looked to Morgan, eyes wide with a reasonable facsimile of wounded innocence.
He had to give the woman her due; she was almost as good an actress as she was a violinist. "If I didn't know you better I'd think you actually believed your own bullshit," said Morgan. "But I don't quite know you well enough to say that you don't. I know you just well enough to know that I don't give a shit any longer."
"I know I hurt you," said Annelise, "But it was part of the job."
"I've helped condemn people to fates they believed worse than death because it was part of the job. I've helped make people unpersons doomed to die in exile because they stiffed somebody out of five minutes of overtime pay. I knew what I was signing up for, and Isaac Magnin didn't lie to you any more than the Phoenix Society's recruiters lied to me. I've got to live with what I've done, just like you, even though I was following orders too. That excuse didn't fly at Nuremberg and it won't fly for either of us."
"I suppose that means you hate me."
Naomi had undone the braid she had made of her hair and Morgan's, and was now gently clasping his hand as she texted him with her implant. «Come on. We don't need to keep talking with this woman. It's obvious that being Christabel wasn't much of a stretch for her. She's /still/ trying to play you.»
He caressed the back of Naomi's hand with his thumb and buried his face in her hair, breathing deep her scent as he kissed her. «There's something I want to say first.»
«Don't give her the satisfaction of knowing she's hurt you.»
"Naomi tells me I shouldn't give you the satisfaction of knowing how I really feel," said Morgan, locking his eyes on Annelise's, "but you know what? I don't even know how I feel right now. Hell, I don't even know whether to damn you for doing your best to kill my faith or bless you for finally having the sense to walk out.
"I know you started working for Isaac Magnin because he was offering a deal no reasonable person would refuse. I want to believe that in the privacy of your own heart you actually gave a shit about Naomi and me, but you're the only one who will ever know for sure because I can't trust a word out of your mouth and you've only yourself to blame for that."
Annelise looked away. "Then you still hate me."
"No," said Morgan. Reaching behind his neck, he found the clasp of the St. Judas medal he had worn since Saul Rosenbaum had given it to him after he killed a Project Harker survivor too traumatized to surrender without a fight to the death. He disengaged the clasp and lifted the medal out from under his shirt. "Hold out your hand."
«Don't do this,» Naomi texted. «She's not an Adversary. She won't understand. And she isn't worth it.»
«It's mine to give, and this is something I need to do so I can move on.»
«All right.» Turning to Annelise, she echoed Morgan's command. "Come on, Annelise. Hold out your hand."
"So you can mark me as a traitor?"
"So I can initiate you into the Iscariotine Order," said Morgan. "It takes one to know one. I'm giving you this because I think you betrayed yourself, Naomi, and me because you bought Isaac Magnin's story and honestly believed you were serving a greater good. I /need/ to believe this, so that I can put aside the rage and hatred I've been carrying ever since you broke my heart. Wear this as a reminder of the moral weight you carry, until you can find a way to set it aside, for I dub thee unforgiven."
This last was a ritual formula Saul Rosenbaum had said to Morgan all those years ago, when he stared at the first man he had killed, his sword still embedded in his enemy's chest when he had intended only to wound and subdue him. The other man had thrown himself on Morgan's sword, but that did nothing to diminish his responsibility; those who draw the sword draw to kill, and those who kill by the sword have no right to protest when their turn to die by it eventually comes.
"So, I did hurt you," said Annelise, her eyes swimming with unshed tears. Nevertheless, her hands were steady as she worked the clasp of the St. Judas medal behind her neck and let it settle. She tucked the medal into her blouse, safely out of sight so that only she need know of the burden she carried. "I'm sorry. I know it doesn't make a difference, but I've wanted to say it for a long time."
Shaking his head, Morgan rose from his seat. "I didn't tell you how I felt because I wanted an apology. I did it because I was tired of hiding my pain for your sake. You aren't worth it."
Offering his hand to Naomi, he helped her out of the booth and stole a kiss. Knowing Annelise was watching and wanting to rub her nose in what she had thrown away, he took his time and indulged himself.
# FIXME in revision: get the pianist out of there. Eddie and Elisabeth should be there, not random civilians. Maybe Eddie can pour the coffee. Maybe the tavern should be closed completely except for Morgan and the others. # Continuity check: Is it Bacchus on Bleecker or the Flaming Telepath? The latter is BÖC, but loses the flavor of having Bacchus as a bartender. Pick one, dammit.