Disclaimer: I don't own His Dark Materials, unfortunately.
A one-shot (I think, though I can be convinced otherwise) for post-spyglass.
He hated mornings.
They were temperamental and unwelcome - much like Mary Malone after a long night out with a mysterious Italian colleague - forcing their way through the gaps in his curtains and the slits in his door in garish beams of gold. They were the Authority's joke on mankind, he was certain. Or even worse: the Authority's personal revenge on him, Will Parry, for the downfall all those years ago. Either way, mornings were abominable. They were conniving. They were incessant.
And they were, in theory, his life-ring.
And so it was that Will Parry awoke every morning to his own personal purgatory. His nightmare lingering through the nine-to-five. And yet, the sun beamed through every morning despite his fury, the only thing known to withstand his hatred while the rest quailed in fear of him. The sun; stable, secure, sound. It was a despised routine he had clung to desperately ever since he sealed the last window in the air: wake, curse, hate, get up and live another day. It was uncomfortable, surely, but it was a drive to live; to breath, but never to love.
Clutching firmly to his life-ring, determined to stay afloat, Will flung the flimsy covers to the ground and toppled out of the make-shift bed. After five years of life with the one and only Mary Malone he still found himself waking each morning on the mattress he had slept on at the first night of his arrival. One day, he noted doubtfully, he would sleep on a bed made of solid gold and emerald, and when he awoke, he would not be alone.
But this morning he was very, very much alone.
Will stumbled through the small kitchen, blindly feeling his way past the plastic shelves and week-old dishes to the squealing coffee-maker. Half asleep, unsure of it being Saturday or Sunday, he flicked on the switch and waited for the black substance to leak through sloppily into his dirty mug. He would have to talk to Mary about cleaning the place. Just talk, of course – following through with action would be impossible. She had been traveling a lot lately, giving lectures and trying new, foreign foods with funny names, which left him very much like the state he was in now – alone and disorientated.
There was a faint purr from somewhere beyond the kitchen.
Kirjava slinked through the low archway, joining him almost immediately after inspecting the deflated mattress with obvious distaste.
Another year had past, so slowly, and today would be the day he could almost breath again.
She loved mornings.
But she loved them not for their cold bitterness, nor for the familiar smells of fish and oats simmering and boiling on an open fire, nor for the friendly, once-a-day quiet that adorned the vast halls of Dame Hannah's school, or the low, deep breathing of Pantalaimon beside her on the bunk.
She loved them for the snippets of dreams that still hung above her head, below the sleep in her eyes; the sweet adventures she lived through the dark night that stayed with her through the day like a bittersweet mist. But they were freshest, most vivid in the morning.
A tall tree, the slickness of the seedpod oil, dark caves and cold figures, sweet, red fruit, a shattering blade of metal, soft fur, soft hair, soft lips and dark eyes; always the dark eyes.
Swamped by the remnants of the most recent dream – or memory, she could no longer distinguish the two as clearly as she used to – Lyra Silvertongue stretched out luxuriantly on the narrow bed, her feet escaping into the cold air. The sun had not risen yet, and light snores echoed through the room in familiar chorus. There was a rustle of a daemon. A yawn.
Finding it too late to incite herself back to her happiest yet painful dreams, and too early to wander idly up and down the corridors of the school, she lay contently under the thick blankets, withering now with many years of use from generations of school girls before her, savoring the lull.
She had never intended to end up here. Years before she fancied herself a Gyptian-in-training; following the murky rivers and living on the rocking, groaning deck of the archaic boats, following the current and the wind, imagining Roger and Lee Scoresby and John Parry guiding her in the reeds of the water and lilies of the pond to where her heart needed to be. Instead she was here, cramped up into a small room with four other girls snoring delicately. She wondered if the Master would be very upset if she ran away.
She had entertained the idea before. She could see herself jumping out of the classroom window, a good dozen feet high, or fleeing from the dusty covers of her bed into the busy street below, jumping over venders and dodging fighting children to run into the distance. It was daring, dangerous and extremely stupid.
Thus it's appeal, naturally.
Sense won ultimately, though, a trait that had begun to niggle it's way into some of her more obscure behaviors. It was cruel, waking up and discovering she couldn't find reason to climb onto the roof and drop pebbles onto the heads of the townsfolk below, or sneak into a strictly private room and begin her own adventure, it was like she had lost a dear friend. And today, more then any other, her sense was screaming at her to stay put. A life on the river wouldn't do, after all. At least here she was within walking distance of the Botanic Gardens, and could hold her promise well and true. She would honor that promise, and deal with the numbing corridors and snarling teachers for it. Besides, who knew where she could end up every year on Midsummer's day when her life was guided by the incessant currents and angry winds.
She could end up somewhere, undoubtedly, better than here.
The only light that reflected the joy of mornings were her alethiometer lessons. They had begun tortuously, of course. She had still been young and restless when she began, her mind jumping and wandering and yearning for what she could not have. She lashed out frequently in those years, searching for someone to blame for her peril.
Now she was simply sad. Sad, mourning and numb, fulfilling each day at a time; her eyes watching her books and snarling teachers while her mind mingled with the Mulefa and the Gallivespians.
Seeing the first rays of gold drip through the crack of the curtains, she relished the last moments of peace. A smile. Brushing of hands. A nervous glance. A soft, tentative kiss. A building hunger. Dark eyes.
With her heart seeping of fondness, she threw her covers off, and with a little difficulty, climbed out of bed and onto the cold, stone floor with Pan clinging to her shoulder, still drowsy with either sleep or the longing for something much, much better.
She wondered, if like last year, anyone would notice her absence.
Fate is a funny thing, in a strictly non-humorous way; it steers, it stretches, it signals and saves. But it never solves. It can carry you up high like the wind, speeding you upwards and around into a limitless sky, and just as easily it can drop you, leave you plummeting back down to the dirt of the earth, causing you to yearn for the rest of your life for that bit of blue you came so close to.
Will was yearning for his own patch of blue.
The sun of noon was relentless, and it beat down hard on his back and neck. It was the kind of heat you wouldn't face unless you were armed with a house-full of air-conditioners and your mother's obnoxiously large hat. It was the kind of heat that made you sweat bullets, or even missiles. It was the kind of heat you would want to have nothing to do with, especially as it struck down in the middle of the day, pushing down on the hot, stone bench that had guided itself away from the cool shade of the trees surrounding.
Still, Will sat.
He sat quietly, peacefully, as if he couldn't feel the heat at all. If anyone should have passed, he could have passed for a sculpture, his back ram-rod straight and his hands not even twitching. He stared down at the yellowing grass beneath his feet as if never having seen such a thing before.
And carefully, not daring to move a muscle nor an eyelash, he was listening intently.
His ears cried out in protest against such concentration, and his head ached from the intensity of it, and yet, through thousands of layers of atoms and Dust and men and women and love and fear and laughter and windows and worlds, he could hear the distinct sound of soft, rhythmic breathing beside him.
It sounded so far away, and at the same time it was right beside him, coming from the space next to him on the bench. It was the sound of a memory trying to be recalled, and only surfacing as a copy, a fake, not as bright or vivid as the original but just as sweet because it is there.
He tried to move his good fingers to where the breathing was coming from, to find a hand or a stray hair to brush against or tenderly caress. He knew it was impossible, and was lucky to know she was alive, breathing, remembering him and their promise. Still, he tried, and in vain. His palm met nothing but the hot air surrounding him.
So he settled himself and concentrated on the sweet sound, savoring it, tasting it, catching it and bottling it to keep inside his heart, shelving it on a pedestal right next to his mother's love, his father's bravery, Iorek's hope and Mary's faith, keeping it as ammunition to fight the year and the mundane horrors it would surely bring.
She knew that sound.
She loved that sound.
Lyra sat with her legs tucked underneath her on the bench, face tilted upwards toward the blue sky, dreaming of flight and escape and windows.
And above all, she was listening.
It didn't startle her – no, she had seen and heard far worse the the gentle, harmless melody of a lover's breathing. She had heard desperate cries and pleading begs and woeful shouts. She had heard victorious roars and children's laughter and ghostly gratitude, but nothing as sweet to the ear as this sound here.
This sound was her life-ring.
It was constant, incessant while she sat, and in a strange way, it seemed to fit him perfectly.
His breathing was heavy and deep, making her wonder whether he had ran to the spot, forgetting till the last minute, or was breathing deeply through excitement of holding the hand of another girl on their bench. She promised him she would never be jealous, never compare, but promises are hard to keep. She knew she could never love another as completely as she loved him, and she wished, hoped, prayed, it would be the same for him.
She heard his breathing even out, and wished pointlessly she could be there with him to make it race again.
Inspiration struck suddenly, and in a whip of the hand, she brought out the alethiometer from her satchel.
Is Will happy? She asked it.
No. The needles spun in reply.
With mixed emotions, hating herself for feeling relief he had not got over her so quickly, and physical pain for his burdens that she, herself had caused him, she had to ask it the same question she did every year, every day, every hour:
Is there a way?
The needles spun, and she already knew where they would land. Still, hoping for the impossible, she watched greedily.
She knew it meant not in her own lifetime, in this system. She sighed, a great, big, rush of breath that dispersed five years of vain hope and misery.
But then, the needles spun again.
She read the symbols, read the message, read the hope:
Please review! Should I do more?