Blades of Grass
The moonlight swept over Lyra's sleeping face, dancing on her lashes, over her eyelids, which were starting to lift. She opened her weary eyes, yawned, and tried to close them but found that she could not. She immediately recognized the feeling in the air, the steady pulse in her body, the reason why she couldn't go back to sleep: something was going to happen. She wasn't sure what, but she didn't feel apprehension or anxiety, so it couldn't be a bad thing. She stretched and knelt up, drinking in the sweet night air. Above her the sky was a thick canvas of blue laden with titanium white – stars, countless stars – and below her was the rich mud color of earth, soil, firm land. It was a beautiful place, this world, wherever it was. A beautiful place for the ghosts to become one with.
She turned her head and saw the window they had cut through a little way off. The quiet figures that floated through it were still coming on strong as ever, never breaking the lines, never pushing or shoving…just eagerly anticipating their union with the universe. Lyra felt a rush of pride inside her. She had accomplished that. She had saved all those poor souls, and brought them out for their atoms to nourish the earth. She had destroyed death. She had done the impossible.
Well, not herself alone, she admitted quietly.
Will had done much of it, perhaps even more than her. She glanced at her side, where the sleeping boy lay, and nearly looked away. It was strange, this. What was she so concerned about? There was nothing to be ashamed of, seeing a sleeping person. Of course not. But his cheeks were illuminated with the moon's brightness, and in his dreaming he looked kind and gentle, not world-weary and grim like he was forced to be when he was awake. He actually looked like the boy that he was; the one that cared for his mother desperately, the one that suffered the loss of his father and the comforts of a safe home. Awake he was every inch the possessor of the subtle knife – hardened, capable, commanding. Yet asleep, he seemed…
Lyra couldn't find the words. Perhaps she didn't want to.
She dusted off her skirt as she stood, preparing to wander off somewhere to think quietly.
And that was when the earth, the sky, the stars, everything, spoke to her.
Lyra…Can I ask you something?
If she hadn't been so weary, she might have jumped in surprise. Luckily she was accustomed to speaking with strange things, and she quickly regained her composure. She addressed nothing in particular as she looked around and called out, "We may talk, but first I need to know who you are."
Who I am? But Lyra, you said you'd never forget me! It en't been a day yet, and…
She blinked. The strange voice had no qualities in particular; it was a gentle, ethereal sound, and it echoed as if the whole world knew the sense of it. If it was the whole world…made up of the elementary particles of atoms…she looked back at the stream of ghosts spilling out into the universe, and saw them vanish, disperse into everything, one after another. The unknown speaker, which held the voice of the earth, seemed to tremble, holding its breath, wondering if she'd be able to recognize it.
She clenched her fists and spoke desperately.
There was silence, and Lyra wondered if she had gotten it wrong. She hadn't, though, because suddenly the stars seemed to grow brighter and the crickets about her almost laughed.
Yes, yes, it's me! You knew it!
"But Roger, how could…? Can all ghosts out here speak?"
I…I guess so, but…I just tried very, very hard to reach you, to find my voice…
"Can we speak like this always? Then you're not really gone, are you?"
Her eyes were shining; she was so excited she couldn't speak.
I don't think so. It's a great effort for me already, and it en't easy to cling to consciousness when the world wants to absorb me, but I couldn't go without asking…
She looked down, disappointment etched on her face. "I see."
Trying to be bright again, she added, "Let me go sit down somewhere comfy. Then I can answer any question you like."
She moved away from the area where she had slept, noting satisfactorily that Will was still deep asleep, and her knapsack was safe. There was a small cluster of trees a little way across the field, and she soon reached it and leant against the trunk of one, sitting down with her legs stretched out in front of her. Through the thick foliage above her head she spied the moon, and that was what she decided to focus on, to address her words to, since Roger was in everything, anyway.
"All right, ask me anything."
There was a lapse in the strong voice of the world, as if he was unsure of whether to ask it or not.
"Yeah?" She pressed him gently, knowing he wouldn't speak otherwise.
She didn't say anything, but a strange feeling had started to swell up inside her. She couldn't quite place what is was, so she rested her chin on her knees and kept silent, feeling whatever it was she was feeling creep more deeply into her.
Lyra, when you spoke about him, I could see how proud you were, and…well, I wanted to know, do you…
She had the sudden urge to shout, don't say it, Roger! That's unfair!, but held her tongue.
Maybe he wouldn't say that. Maybe she was thinking it all wrong.
…do you like him?
For some reason, having heard that, she felt extremely angry, as if Pan and Roger and everyone else she held dear – aside of Will – was going against her and pressing her into a corner she couldn't fight out of. At the same time, happiness and sadness clashed at her breast, but she couldn't place where either of them had come from. In the rush of emotions she was feeling she got up and shouted, in a tone which was not quite furious enough, "Well, yes, I do! He IS a very good friend after all, and he's stuck through me when everything's been so unbearably difficult! Is there something wrong, or selfish, about that!"
Her voice was caught by the wind and carried far. Thankfully, it didn't echo. Her heart was pounding inside her. What was so wrong about staying by Will's side, actually? Why did they make her feel so bad for doing so?
Roger said nothing, as he always did when he knew she was angry and not in the mood to be bothered. He was good at telling how Lyra felt, and the world around her felt humbled and shy, as Roger's presence remained in them. She instantly felt ashamed, and sat down again, willing herself not to cry. It was wrong of her to have gotten mad like that. She knew why, but couldn't let go of her pride enough to admit it. It was too much to ask of her. Too much!
When she had inhaled enough for her breathing to normalize, Roger tried to speak again.
I wasn't asking exactly if you liked him more than Pan or me…
She felt another sickening emotion grasp at her heart, and clutch it tight. "Don't say that, Roger, you know the answer. You know it." She felt the tears prickling behind her eyes.
No, Lyra! Don't be sad! That's not it…I only wanted to know if he makes you happy. If you enjoy his company…
She listened quietly, still feeling guilty and shaken. And embarrassed, somewhat, although she couldn't tell why.
…I won't be there anymore, to stay with you, and while I know you're a tough one, Lyra, you en't able to do everything. So I wanted to make sure someone capable was there with you; someone who could help you, and provide you with good company. And there's Will, see, and I thought, he's a lot stronger than I'll ever be – he can help Lyra. So I just wanted to know if you like him, if I can rest easy with him there, knowing you're in good hands. I don't want you to get hurt, Lyra…
If the universe's voice could catch, at that moment, it did, and there was a pause as if it couldn't go on. She felt an immense appreciation build up insider her, and more tears tried to force their way through her eyes as she remembered Roger's bright smile and the heat of the sun-beaten roof as they scrambled over it, laughing, and how he had so often snitched her the best pies from the kitchen (which were really for the Master) and how they ate it greedily, hidden away in the closets, and their trips to the cellar and their swims in the river with all the other children, and every other moment she had shared with him, up until that dreadful, awful time when she'd realized her stupidity, her betrayal, her giant mistake…
Then amazingly, her mind conjured up images of Will – his hand smashing into her cheek and bruising her in their first meeting, how they had fought together for the subtle knife, how they forged it with Iorek Byrnison, his steady hand on her shoulder as she sobbed and sobbed while they crossed into the world of the dead, leaving Pan on the shore, and how he looked as terrible as she did – that infinite moment when they looked at each other and understood completely…Was this another betrayal too? To Roger, and to Pan? She didn't want to think it, but what if it was true?
As if realizing that Lyra was thinking the wrong thing again, Roger continued.
…And if you ever did get hurt, and went down to the world of the dead earlier than you should've, I would never forgive myself, or anything that could'a done that to you. So you see, I need you to like Will, so that you can stick with him and depend on him, and help get each other through, right? That's all it is, Lyra.
Then everything appeared to hold its breath, waiting for an answer, a reaction.
She steeled herself, biting her lower lip hard, and the tears fled, and she was calm enough to speak again.
"Oh Roger, I do trust Will. He's been ever so strong, especially at times when I was weak or couldn't go on. You needn't worry about me being hurt. Will has helped me out of so many things already, I'm sure we'll be able to see it through to the end."
If Lyra had tried to feel hard enough, and if she had thought a little about how the wind in the air was suddenly different – calm, gentle, yet much cooler – she would have noticed how the earth had seemed to relax, and loosen, and resign itself to what was inevitable. She would perhaps wonder if, in speaking all that, Roger had given up something; because the soil seemed to heave with sacrifice, and the stars were brightly shining, full of unspoken feeling. The blades of grass underneath her skirt were prickly, and a deep green. Green was the color of life, which because of Lyra and Will, would never end. It was also the color of fidelity, of promise…and, maybe, somewhere deep in the sky that hung with the mixed feelings and lost thoughts and sentiments of the ghosts that had filtered through, a snatch of envy.
But it was only a snatch, and quickly smothered with good feeling.
That's wonderful, Lyra, really it is.
"I know," She said happily, but remembered to say, with some loyalty, "But I'd be happier if you were still alive, honest, Roger. I want you here with us. Pan too, and Will's daemon, and everyone else."
I'd like that too, but…oh Lyra, I can't keep myself together anymore…
She felt his whisper in the wind and stars and sky and the grass and even the river far off, and knew it was hurting him. She wanted him to stay longer, she wanted his voice to never go out, but it was paining him, and as soon as dawn broke, she and Will would have to go back into the world of the dead, into the abyss, and find their daemons. She couldn't force him to stay. Once again the tears welled up behind her eyes, but she contained them bravely. She knew the part of consciousness that was Roger didn't want to leave either. But he had to.
"Let go, Roger. It's all right, I'm fine now. Thank you for speaking to me."
She felt his strain of effort.
Lyra, if Will makes you feel different from how you feel with Pan and me, it en't wrong, y'know…
What had he just suggested?
Her face heated up even as she struggled to say, "Don't push your self anymore!"
Roger seemed to laugh. It en't wrong, Lyra. Just remember…
She felt his consciousness slowly dispersing, filtering away completely, placing itself in everything, but not before his last words wandered around her and caught at her heart.
…I loved you, too…
The night was still, the memory of Roger fresh in her mind, the words piercing at her soul (or her ghost, perhaps, because her soul wasn't there – her Pan wasn't there), the other meaning they had implied jabbing at her too, until her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were streaming and she didn't know what to think, except thank you, thank you, Roger, my dear!
The sunlight seemed to hit Will in the face, and its power forced him to awake. With an immense amount of effort he yawned, sat up, and looked around. He found Lyra beside him, her face turned away, but a strange voice in his head said, she must've been staring at you. He blushed, wondering at how stupid he felt, then decided to think no more of it. They had a task to fulfill, after all.
"Lyra," He said, and when she turned back, smiling, she seemed almost as uneasy as he.
Good-uneasy, not bad-uneasy.
He was probably very sleepy.
"Good morning." He greeted, pulling himself to his feet, his hand dashing to his side to make sure the knife was still there. It was a reflex.
"Yeah, morning," She answered in what seemed too brisk a tone to be normal. He grinned, and she averted her eyes again, getting up from her knees and stretching. This was turning out awfully odd.
Roger's words echoed in her mind, distantly.
If Will makes you feel different…
She felt something like heat rise up in her cheeks, but it was probably the morning sun. She decided that she wanted to keep her conversation with Roger to herself, at least for now. It didn't seem the sort of thing to share. "I wish we didn't have to go." She said, and although she really was feeling that, it didn't seem like what she had wanted to communicate, exactly.
"Me too, but I guess we'd better get a move on…" Will glanced at the steady stream of ghosts, which wasn't quite as visible as it had been in last night's darkness. Lyra nodded vigorously.
He looked at her again. Something was different.
"Is something up?" He asked, his tone gentle.
"It en't anything," She answered with confidence.
Lyra was, after all, a master liar.
A/N: Just to be on the safe side: I don't mean to put down any coupling in case people take the story that way (it's happened before). This is another one of my what-if stories, and it didn't take place in the book. I thought Roger might have wanted to say a few things more to Lyra, and I just wrote that scene the way I thought it might happen. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it. Comments and reviews are all well appreciated. :D
I fixed the spacing glitch in the middle. I can't believe I didn't notice it before. Sorry! D: