PAIRINGS: Marisa/Asriel, One-sided Marisa/Boreal and Marisa/Edward

"It is not the perfect but the imperfect who have need of love."

---Oscar Wilde

She couldn't quite believe she was there. The window of the zeppelin looked down on London, every person invisible and building miniature in comparison with herself. She could see the spires of the Magesterium, in life so grand and yet now so doll-like. She could see the clean, bleak lines of the oldest, wealthiest homes. She could see the slums, tiny dots running across the streets in rapid patterns.

Marisa could picture them. They would be children, painfully thin, their daemons shifting into ever-fiercer forms, their fur always ragged. Their faces would be pinched, dirt streaked across them. She ran a alabaster finger across the pristine fur of her own daemon and he clutched her leg, trying to forget he had ever been a rat scuttling between her scraped legs, sniffing the street for danger.

The Lady, they had called her. She was Mary Shaw, the girl who thought she was too good for them. The one who wouldn't play their games, who would only come along with them when it was time to pick a pocket. And then she was as fierce as the rest of them, perhaps more.

Marisa smoothed down her skirt. There was no sense in dwelling. She was here now, flying above London. Here she would stay.

Edward sat across from her, scribbling on sheets of paper while his fox daemon darted between his legs. He ran a hand through his sparse, mousy hair and seeming to notice her gaze, looked up at Marisa.

"I'm sorry, darling. I have so much paperwork. Not much of a honeymoon, is it?" he snorted, his fox moving towards her monkey, who instinctively clung closer to his mistress, wrapping himself around her leg.

"It's nothing. We'll make up for it later, shall we?" Marisa let a slow, honey smile move over her face, gently pushing her monkey away from her and towards the fox.

The monkey obeyed. In the end, he always obeyed. He darted glances back to Marisa but she gave him a fierce gaze and he began stroking the fox's back.

Marisa sat back, satisfied. The honeymoon was over. Edward had bewailed their departure from Florence, insisting he would not soon have her to himself again. She had indulged him, pretended to be equally upset, raking her fingers through his hair and calling him her love.

Actually, she had been feeling stifled and restless for the last few weeks. She longed to have something to do, to know that she was influencing something or someone. She would tell Edward she was shopping and actually spend the days roaming the sidewalks, the monkey relishing the moments of freedom. She knew nobody in Florence. There was nobody to snare but Edward and he was already hers. Sometimes she would laugh inside as he would whisper romantic foolishness in her ear.

Marisa did not believe in love, or at least not love between two people, any love besides that of human and daemon. Unlike most cynics, she wasn't depressed by the lack of grand, sweeping meaning that foolish optimists imagined. This was the world she lived in. She would make the best of it.

When she was young and dirt caked her clothes, she would dream of a prince. She would not have to pretend for him. He would be fascinated by every word that fell from her lips, even the incessant ramblings she had since trained herself not to speak. He would not need to be kind or noble. He would be like Marisa. He would understand her.

He would stride, ever proud, into her slum, passing the little groups on the street corners without a second look, barely noticing the falling houses lining the streets. He would climb her steps, not even knocking at her door. He would brush the dirt off her face and see that she was beautiful, as she already knew she could be. She would ride away with him and never set foot on those roads again.

Marisa laughed a little at her memories. There was no prince. There was Edward, there was Boreal, there were a thousand other men who needed to be indulged, seduced and caressed. Men who needed to feel important, needed to feel loved, who had a thousand little insecurities she could play on.

Nobody would ever understand her and that suited her well enough.

"Darling?" Edward's voice broke her reverie. Marisa cursed herself for letting herself slip away once more. She had been dreaming more and more in Edward's presence lately.

"Yes?" She shoved away her thoughts, the monkey standing a little straighter, twisting her face into a smile.

Edward held a piece of stiff, cream paper in his hand.

"You may be too tired for this, after all, we are just back to London but I've found this and I was wondering---"

Edward broke off as the monkey snatched the invitation from his fingers and ran back to Marisa. She shot the monkey a sharp look.

"Don't you do that," she hissed, her cheeks growing hot. She could hear traces of Cockney creeping into her voice, as they always did when she was angry.

The monkey ignored her and extended his arm with the invitation to her. Marisa, careful not to seem too eager, looked at the invitation, her face impassive.

It was some sort of soiree, hosted by Boreal, taking place that night. The monkey began jumping more and more as Marisa read. She placed a hand on his back to calm him, stroking his golden fur.

"It's really," Edward explained, "though unspoken, been held for some Artic explorer who has just gotten back from the North. Apparently he's found some fascinating discoveries and all of London wants to speak to him."

"Is that so?" Marisa mused, running her finger over the edge of the invitation. The North. That had been another of her childhood dreams, when she was very young. It had long passed.

Just the same, she might like to speak to the man.

"I think we should go," she announced, her voice far sharper than she liked, the monkey still doing twitching dances on the floor.

"Do you think?" Edward frowned, "I thought I would like one last night of you to myself before we enter London. And though I don't know about you, I'm incredibly tired."

She decided it was best to pretend. Marisa rose from her seat, standing behind Edward and placing her hands on his thin shoulders.

"Oh, me as well," she whispered into his ear, her lips grazing his face, "Darling, there's nothing more---"

She broke off, running a finger across Edward's cheek. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her monkey raking his hands through the fox's fur. A smile teased her face. They were in this together.

"But," she made her tone apologetic, "There will be all sorts of important people at the party. And if the man has made important discoveries, he'll be a valuable friend for you."

"You're right, of course," Edward groaned, "I'd just prefer..."

"So would I," she lied, breathing into his ear, "So would I."

Marisa was coated in gold. She always wanted gold. There was the flashing gold of the jewelry she could see on the necks of women in hansom cabs, visible for a split second before the women would draw their curtains and lock their doors, their daemons occasionally pulling the curtains open once more for a look. There was the gold leaf that would coat the roofs of the buildings she would see when she wandered far enough from home, stinging her eyes but sating her mind.

Marisa was gold tonight. Her light-catching dress that swished round her feet was gold, the necklace that rested on the white skin of her neck reflected gold.

"You look beautiful," the monkey marveled, gazing at his mistress like he had never seen her before.

"We do, don't we?" Marisa gave her daemon a conspiratorial grin, her smile much more like the mischievous one she used to hold. The monkey moved closer and she scooped him up in her arms, stroking his fur. Marisa loved him more than she would have thought she was capable. She didn't place much in honesty but she was honest with him.

"So," she began, "first thing we do is go to Carlo and get him to introduce us to the explorer."

The explorer. She didn't even know his name but he already seemed to suggest something to her, something of a rougher, more dangerous world outside the sharp, false light of her London.

"Don't act like a silly girl about it, Marisa," the monkey chastised, "He's probably eighty years old and five feet tall with more wrinkles than Lord Tarial and teeth the color of the papers in the Artic Museum."

The monkey bared his own teeth to demonstrate. Marisa gave a short, guttural, unladylike laugh, the sort of laugh that nobody at the party would ever hear.

"I'm not going to make him my lover!" she protested, "For once, I'm curious about the North!"

"And if he's important enough," the monkey groaned, "You will anyway. And I'll have to put my hands all over some scaly explorer's daemon."

"We will not!" Marisa hissed as the monkey looked skeptical.

She heard a knock on the door and the monkey, in an instant, leapt to her side and began grooming his fur, docile.

"Come in." Marisa made her voice higher, lighter, sweeter.

Edward opened the door and for a second, his eyes glazed over at the sight of her, the fox creeping closer to the monkey as though it desperately wanted to touch but was afraid to sully the monkey by its mere presence. The monkey looked up at Marisa and gave her a proud, satisfied look.

"You are beautiful," he breathed.

Marisa chose not to respond, giving him a small smile and smoothing down her dress.

"Shall we go?" She let a beatific smile touch her face and took Edward's dry, papery hand.

She was ready for anything.

There was a heady thrill to this, to playing nonchalant while really planning her every move. The monkey clasped his hands together, jumping around in quick little movements and Marisa had to put her hand on his head to make him calm. Her other arm was held around Edward's waist, a half-smile teasing her face.

She sipped at her champagne, holding the taste in her mouth before letting herself swallow. Even after nearly three years of this new London, she was still astounded by the flash of jewels on women's necks, the bittersweet taste of champagne, the feel of soft leather in the seats of a cab, this luxury that seemed to invade every bit of life.

Marisa let her eyes scan the room. There seemed to be nobody new. There was Lady Sariela with her pinched face and extravagant jewels, her raccoon daemon watching the room, sniffing for scandal. There was Boreal, his face ever-twisted into the same sycophantic expression. There were a thousand copies of the same woman and same man, all speaking the same words and thinking the same thoughts.

Marisa laughed to herself and took another sip of champagne.

"You almost missed one," the monkey whispered into her ear, pointing towards a corner.

Marisa could see a form in shadow, clearly a man, leaning against the wall. He was sipping at what looked like whiskey, turning gold where light touched it.

"That's nothing," she hissed. Still, she turned her body slightly to be able to see the man. She'd rarely seen anyone at one of these parties avoiding the crowd. She could see dark hair and a tall form before turning her face back to Edward's.

"Do you think it's the explorer?" the monkey whispered, more excited than she thought he should be.

"No," Marisa whispered back, "The explorer would be in the crowd. This man's probably just a footman who sneaked upstairs."

The monkey's face took on a dubious look. Marisa thought it seemed fairly unlikely herself. The man seemed too proud, too indifferent for that. A sneaking servant would be worried. This man looked frightened of nothing.

Still, Marisa thought as she turned her head towards the wall where the man stood, this man seemed different from the others at the party. He was young, for starters, looking only a few years older than she was. Marisa was used to being one of the youngest at these parties. Edward was nearing forty and Boreal was still older. And his daemon was a proud snow leopard, as watchful as the man himself was indifferent.

"He has to be the explorer," the monkey whispered, "He just has to."

"Excuse me," Marisa tried to make her voice as sweet as she could, waiting for a break in the conversation, "Who is that man?"

"That is," said a drab man across from her with an eagle daemon, "Lord Asriel Belacqua. He's just come back from the North."