Unavoidably

Marisa Coulter is not a woman who can leave a room unnoticed. So she works herself up to a state of distress, quickly and skilfully, in the time it takes for her golden monkey to reach out a sympathetic clawed hand to stroke the lizard's scaly quivering tail as it pokes out from the President's pocket.

"Please excuse me for a moment," Marisa breathes, dabbing at her face with a napkin as convincing tears pool in her impossibly beautiful eyes.

Touched by her distress and almost swooning under the headiness of her benevolent pity, the President's heavy face drifts into an involuntary smile. Marisa stands and leaves the table, taking the napkin to cover her face as she drags up a few delicate sobs for good measure. Her golden monkey stalks after her, barely containing his excitement.


Lord Asriel marches straight down the corridor of the College of St. Jerome, Stelmaria at his heel and still snarling. They hate coming to Geneva. They already long for the sharp splendour of the North.

"Asriel,"

They both halt instantly when they hear her voice. A shiver runs down his back and Stelmaria's fur bristles; everything about her becomes alert, from the prick of her ears to the erect tip of her tail.

Marisa's breath catches and she smoothes her silk skirt against her thighs. Her false tears are gone and the napkin discarded. When he turns and catches proper sight of her for the first time in four years, Marisa is still the most beautiful woman who has ever existed, and aflame with being near him.

"Marisa," he returns the greeting, feeling the old familiar blissful helplessness begin to pool in his gut and trickle to every part of his body. Stelmaria inclines her head minutely and the golden monkey inches towards her greedily.

"That was quite a display," she is smiling. It would be a wicked smile if it weren't so hungry.

"That was nothing," he replies, drinking her in, "MacPhail, those Bishops, that Court. They're nothing. You know that."

"Of course," she purrs. He is surprised. She used to be vehemently protective of her precious church. Either she has changed since they last spoke or, more likely, she wants something else at this moment, and it serves her purpose to lie.

Lord Asriel is quite confident that what she wants at this moment is him.

"Come with me tonight," it is not so much a question as an acknowledging of their mutual interest and an invitation to make something of it.

Stelmaria circles the golden monkey, whose hard black fingers itch to reach out to her.

"Where are you going?" she asks; considering, wanting.

"Does it matter?" he asks, testing the air, seeing how much she will let him get away with before she turns around and goes back to her Consistorial dinner.

"No," she answers, surprising them both.

In two strides he has her in his arms. Stelmaria pounces on the golden monkey, pinning him to College's stone floor and licking his swooning face. The daemons enjoy their reunion, a rare truly intimate moment for them. Their humans indulge in each other, hungrily, kissing so passionately it leaves them both sloppy and breathless.

Marisa doesn't know that the President is waiting for her return to serve the dessert. After thirty minutes and sending a young priest to search the washroom, he will decide to go ahead and serve it, troubled and mystified by the sweet Mrs Coulter's disappearance.

By the time the Consistorial Court's dinner guests begin their dessert she will be in Asriel's bed on a train to Oxford. They will spend as salacious and spectacular a night together as they ever have done, and will fall together into the most satisfied sleep each of them has had in four years.

The next morning they will wake up, the golden monkey first, entwined in the scruff of soft fur at the base of Stelmaria's neck, closely followed by his other half, sprawled luxuriously across Asriel's chest, his fingers entwined in her golden hair. Marisa will yawn and stretch deliciously, taking the opportunity to rub as much of herself against Asriel as possible. He will open his eyes, slowly remember the night before, and bring her face down to his to kiss her good morning.

They will dress reluctantly and chat over breakfast, easy and light apart from a few tender spots. It will seem blissful for an hour or so, until they pull into Oxford and pass Jordan College, where they will both see a tiny girl with dirty blonde hair and a lively robin daemon standing on a high wall in the soft morning sun, watching the trains, whilst an angry Gyptian nursemaid struggles to climb the wall and reach her.

With some surprise, they will recognise their daughter immediately. A slow hot blush will rise on Marisa's face and she will slip her entwined fingers out of Asriel's. Terrified of feeling guilt or shame, she will try to leave before the feelings catch her. Her golden monkey will cry out in misery as she wrenches him away from his warm nest between Stelmaria's large protective paws.

Asriel will watch her leave, wanting to laugh and to accuse, or to comfort, or to stop her; doing nothing but reaching out to scratch behind Stelmaria's ears as she whines softly. The daemon and human will look out of the window of their train compartment and watch their lovers leave, radiant in the crowd even as they stumble down the platform with tears streaking down their faces.