Sometimes her golden monkey still pines for him. They'll see him in a newspaper, or hear his name in scandalized whispers at the other end of a dinner table, and the monkey will make a little involuntary noise and become implacably agitated and start tearing at something; the newspaper, a napkin, the beads at the hem of her skirt.

She saw Stelmaria several months ago. She was following Lord Boreal to his private library near Jordan College, eager to see his latest archaeological acquisition, and the diamond-white fur caught her eye. She knew instantly, of course. Just a glimmer flashing past, powerful slender shoulders pushing through a doorway and the swish of a proud tail as the snow leopard followed her other half into the grounds of Jordan. But her stomach dropped to the floor and she had to fist her hand in her monkey's golden fur to stop him darting after her. He hissed and spat with frustration, but she didn't let him go until they were inside Boreal's study. When he set about charming and stroking the man's daemon, he nearly strangled the poor wretch.

She is with Boreal now. They are sat at the high table of a Consistorial Court function, her second engagement of the night and seventh of the week. Next to her is an empty seat, where the President should be. There is a slight murmur about this amongst the guests, as they are now well into the second course of the dinner and he has been absent since the start of the evening. She is not particularly interested in their gossip, it bores her; the whole evening bores her. Though she is aware, as always, of the number of eyes on her, male and female, and, as always, she gets a small thrill from that.

Suddenly a flurry of activity at the great hall's entrance draws everyone's attention. Her golden monkey digs his little clawed hands into her shoulder. She looks up, drops her fork and can hardly swallow her mouthful of steak. The President staggers backwards, purple in the face and spitting everywhere as he shouts furiously at his antagonist. Lord Asriel advances on him in strides, also shouting passionately, Stelmaria snarling and snapping at the President's hissing spitting lizard which scuttles frantically to avoid her furious jaws.

"I will not stand for it! You are committing a serious offence against the Magisterium! You are a danger to the citizens of this world and every other!"

"Frankly, MacPhail, it is irrelevant what you will or will not stand! You have no idea! No idea!"

"I have no idea?! I?! You are an ignorant, arrogant…"

The President doesn't get to finish, because the shocked gasp as he crashes into a server and sends a tray of pastries flying jolts the two arguing parties out of their heated debate for a moment as they realise where they are. Lord Asriel draws himself up proudly and Stelmaria retreats from the quivering lizard. They sweep a glance around the room, as if daring anyone to comment on what they've just seen. They pause only for a fraction of a second as they notice Marisa at the high table, but she and the monkey feel it like a jerk of electricity. A second later, without a look or a word to the President, they turn and sweep majestically out of the hall.

The President collects himself slowly, smoothing his hair and brushing the pastry from his robes, and tucking his trembling lizard daemon into his breast pocket. Then he draws himself up, somewhat less impressively than Asriel but with undoubted authority, and makes his way to his seat at the high table. The servers clean the spoiled food away as the slow uncertain murmur of reaction gossip from the guests grows to an animated chatter.

Marisa barely notices the shaken President taking his seat beside her. Her heart is pounding and she feels light headed, as if she's dreaming and everything is not quite real. She'd forgotten what this felt like.

It's been four years since she gave birth to Asriel's child and refused his request of a life together. And not a day since she hasn't imagined what it would have been like if she'd have chosen differently.

She's never regretted her decision, or wished for another chance to make it, because she believes she made entirely the right choice. She overcame a horribly embarrassing social catastrophe quite smoothly, and is proud of the grace and cunning with which she carried herself out of it.

But one thing, the only thing, she can't be sensible about, is him. She can at least exercise enough self control not to throw her life away on him and his child and his insane heretic notions, but whatever else she does, she can never stop loving him. He loves her in the same way, she knows. Unavoidably, though neither one of them is willing to compromise their own lives or beliefs an inch for it. That is why he asked her to marry him and would have spent his life working with her if she'd said yes, but had no problem carrying straight on without her when she said no. That is why she thinks it may be possible to do what she desperately wants to do tonight and walk away with no consequences tomorrow. Her golden monkey twines himself around her neck, almost purring in her ear.

"Shall we?" she whispers.

"Yes, we will" he whispers back, eagerly.

"We will" she agrees, though she doesn't sound certain.