Disclaimer: "His Dark Materials" belongs to Philip Pullman.
Summary: She's late. This causes a tight sensation in Lord Asriel's chest; he tells himself it is anger.
This causes a tight sensation in Lord Asriel's chest; he tells himself it is anger. Stelmaria thinks otherwise; he ignores her. The daemon raises her head from her paws and looks up at him; he tears his gaze away from hers, but strokes her head slowly.
She is a rude and wicked woman, he thinks, ruining his evening, delaying his work, wasting his time.
He stares at the clock on the mantle piece. The evening paper lies unopened in his lap. He sits in an armchair in front of a dying fire. She's an hour late. Stelmaria fidgets.
"She's doing this on purpose," he says, letting every ounce of irritation bleed into his voice. He meshes his fingers with the fur on Stelmaria's head and tugs so hard his own scalp smarts.
Stelmaria shakes off his hand, lays her great head down on her paws again. 'You have no right to worry,' she says in his head.
He balls his hands into fists on the over-padded armrests. "I do not care about her," he answers, out loud. Why would he? A clandestine woman willing to betray her husband for only two things: lust and Dust. He's convinced one of those is monumentally more important than the other; she seems to see no disparity.
'You've made her an adulteress,' Stelmaria says. 'You are as much to blame if he finds out.'
He wills his daemon to be quiet; Edward Coulter is a subject he dislikes to the point of physical sickness.
The clock strikes nine; he listens to it lethargically. As the last strike fades, he becomes aware, through Stelmaria, of another sound – a knock on the door. Presently, Stelmaria hears Thorold's steps move through the corridors, going to let the visitor in.
Lord Asriel straightens his shoulders, tenses his jaw. He shan't stand to greet her, he decides. He opens the paper, finally, turning pages, not reading.
Her steps are light but determined as she approaches the room; she knows her way now.
"Edward was horribly slated in a meeting," she says, by way of greeting. "I had to comfort him before I could leave."
He can hear her breathing (it is rather quick) and smell her perfume (it is rather heavy). His hands tense, creasing the paper, but he doesn't turn. Stelmaria looks up at the Golden monkey, who fidgets slightly.
A soft thump tells him she's flung her mink coat onto the settee, where she always puts it, the only thing he's seen her be careless with.
She approaches his seat. The Golden monkey approaches Stelmaria; she lets him stoke her fur.
The fire crackles, suddenly. He makes no move to stir it.
"Asriel?" she says, softly, so close now, the back of the chair the only thing separating them.
She places her hands on his shoulders. "I'm sorry I'm late."
"You're late?" he says. "I hadn't noticed."
She rubs his shoulders, her hands cold as ice. He shakes them off. She leans forward; her hair brushing the plane of his shoulder, falling across his chest. She brushes his neck, his jaw with her lips. They're cold too, as is the tip of her nose, pressed against his cheek.
He stands abruptly, faces her.
She's wearing an exquisite blue dress, all satin and silk, and her hair is loose. "You're angry," she says.
He glances at the clock, as if seeing it for the first time. "You really are quite late."
"And I am very sorry." Her eyes search his face. "Did you worry?"
He scowls. "Don't flatter yourself."
She smiles; a smile that is indefinably triumphant, and extends her hand. "Shall we dine?"
He curls his lip, and takes it.