"Because misery and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it."
She kneels, utterly still, her daemon running in wild circles around her. Her lips are moving but she does not speak. They form the word please, please over and over. The altar is tall, cold, and majestic before her, seeming too grand to listen to the concerns of a lone woman, especially one that has broken rules of the Church.
She feels a hypocrite to kneel here and beg for help from a God whose laws she has disregarded. But she wants so much, so hard that it burns her. The guilt she used to feel from breaking rules is seeping, slipping away. She was never much one for self-hatred or remorse but she feels the last of it leaving now.
Her lips form the words again, speaking them now.
"Please," Marisa urges, "Please, help me."
She hears footfalls behind her, hard, purposeful ones, followed by the light press of paws. Asriel and Stelmaria. She had told him to meet her here and although that strange, brooding frown passed his face and Stelmaria bared her long teeth whenever she mentioned Church, he agreed.
Marisa had intended to wait in a pew quietly, not to pray. She is desperate, though, so desperate, and so she prayed. She is not accustomed to kneeling, to asking for things but her wishes have grown sharper than ever.
"Don't ask Him," Asriel's voice, while stills commanding, sounds softer, "Ask me."
Marisa turns and rises to see him standing, looking at her. Stelmaria is by his side, using a paw to gently stroke Marisa's monkey, who has wrapped himself around the snow leopard's leg. Asriel knows something is wrong, of course. He can tell everything about her, whether she is in a mood to want it or not. Sometimes she wonders whether they need to speak at all.
"He won't do anything for you. He never does anything for anyone," Asriel goes on, a strange fire in his look.
"I'm not sure that's true," Marisa raises an eyebrow, matching his stubbornness. To her slight irritation, the monkey has not moved from his place next to the leopard. She is sure she could not ever make him move.
"I will," Asriel says softly, his eyes boring into her, "If anything is wrong, I'll fix it."
Asriel doesn't ask to her to confide in him, he doesn't say he'll offer solace or comfort. He says he will change things and she believes him. He can do anything.
Marisa says nothing, biting her lip.
Asriel circles his arms around her. He is not naturally affectionate, not naturally comforting, but he does comfort her. He is holding her without a word. He does not ask what is wrong. He knows Marisa will tell him when she wishes.
Marisa knows the moment she says the words, the tone will change, he will change, her life will change. She also knows she has to, has to say it. But she will wait a moment longer before she has to turn the two of them spinning.
She will draw out her perfection.
Marisa rests her head upon his shoulder, waiting until the tension within her cannot be borne before she will speak. It rises slightly, more and more but she will wait.
Seconds go by, minutes perhaps. Marisa bites her tongue, the monkey fidgets. She must speak.
"I am with child," she whispers into Asriel's ears, her voice ragged and tense. The monkey backs away slightly from the snow leopard, searching her face before returning to the place where he belongs. Marisa keeps her own eyes closed. She does not wish to see either Asriel's face or his daemon's.
She had considered herself strong but she does not have the strength to look.
Asriel is such an impassive man yet Marisa reads him so easily. She can see through the blank, icy looks that fool the world so well. She will see whatever she needs to see the moment she opens her eyes.
She keeps them closed, waiting for the burning feeling to resurface, making herself wait as long as possible.
It is no use. Her dark eyes flutter open.
Marisa looks at Stelmaria first, not yet ready to see Asriel himself. Stelmaria looks as though she is not sure whether to move towards the monkey or away from him. She also, for the first time in Marisa's memory, looks afraid.
"Who?" A simple, loaded, weighing word. Asriel strips it of emotion and fails.
"I'm not sure," Marisa begins, "I think... Edward is away so often."
He picks up on her meaning, of course. He picks up on all her cryptic little disguises, sometimes veiled behind a thick mask of charm and pleasantry.
Asriel tears the mask down. Without him, she could crush the world with one hand. He makes Marisa weak and she cannot even hate him for it.
"So, what do we do?" he asks. She is glad to hear the word we, glad to hear they are united, that he has not abandoned her yet.
"I don't know. Funny, I used to think I was clever," she scoffs through tears.
"Lady Belacqua?" He's said the words enough times before, but there is more urgency for her now.
"I am Mrs. Coulter," she replies.
"You need not remain so," Asriel argues.
"It makes me a murderess," Marisa protests.
"I never thought you cared."
And Asriel is right. Marisa hates it but he's right. She doesn't care.
"Marisa," he whispers, and it near brings her back to her knees to hear her name spoken so, spoken at all, even, "I don't care any more for the child than I think you do. We're not meant for that, not meant to look after, to nurture. But I do care for you. I love you."
He loves her. He's said it before but it brings her a light to her. Asriel loves her.
"I can't," she protests, the monkey drawing back once more from Stelmaria. And Marisa thought she could not pull him away.
"I never thought you limited." Asriel has a faint, ironic laugh to his voice. Stelmaria is creeping towards the monkey.
"I am, though," she replies.
"Only by those limits you build yourself," Asriel's voice is ragged now, "Come with me."
"I cannot," she replies, not knowing for sure what outside her kaleidoscope of meaningless reasons means she cannot.
And yet the monkey reaches a paw to stroke the leopard's fur. Traitorous thing. It even looks back, whimpering, as she leaves the church.
Much as she tries to convince herself otherwise, Marisa will be back with him. It is beyond her will, beyond her control. The feeling is stronger than she is. She wonders how long she can ever separate herself from Asriel's side.
As she has said, he makes her weak.
Outside the church, Marisa scoops the monkey into her arms, holds him to her while he whimpers, sulks and looks back to the church door as she strides purposefully away.
Perhaps he is wiser than his mistress.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: How did I do? I very much wanted to represent the cruelty and selfishness of Asriel and Marisa, but also their occasional kindness and love for each other. Please let me know!