Disappearing Spires
by Charlotte Unsworth

Lyra stands by the window, the tips of her fingers against the cold glass. She leans her forehead against it and watches the people below as her breath fogs the surface, obscuring her view until she closes her eyes. She doesn't know why she comes here; it's always the same with him now, a litany o failure and letdown that she's too tired to recite. The spires of Oxford used to be a comfort; they used to be home. Now all she can see is that other world, his world, translucent above her own. It scares her, this drifting between worlds. She knows it can't be real and none of the scholars or the books in the library can help her understand. She's stared into the altheiometer for hours but she lost the ability to read it long ago and for all her study can't decipher its deeper meaning. All it does is swirl vigorously, the dial always moving. She locked it in a drawer, hating its movement, reminding her that she was still, trapped in longing for him and afraid to leave the city where he loved her.

He's reflected in the window and Pantalaimon's purr before he slips his hands around her waist in greeting, but she doesn't turn. Maybe this way she can pretend that they are as they used to be, before the world became so complicated. It seemed a simple choice. Breaking the knife was the only way they could live, even if they had to live apart. She had no way of knowing that he kept just one jagged piece.

"You used to love me," she murmurs into his mouth as he kisses her and she isn't surprised when he doesn't answer. It was him who started this, she reminds herself when she reaches to undo his shirt, and she isn't sure if that's condemnation or praise. She doesn't like herself like this, frantic and needy, and determined to punish him for a crime she can't name. He was the one who left the message on the bench telling her he'd repaired the knife, persuading her they could use the it so long as they were careful. The fear of spectres had long since faded for him - he told her that surely they had done enough good in the world to leave two windows open, and finally take some pleasure for themselves. She's always known when he was there; a shiver down her spine and she knew it was him, passing her by in his own world. Odd, she recalls as his mouth reaches her hip and she shivers again, that others believe it's someone walking over their grave.

She's had other lovers, other men who look at her the way he does, but none who could make her feel the same. It's what drives them away in the end; she's always waiting for him. But she doesn't want him like this, hard and grown and dressed like a lawyer or businessman. She longs for the moments when she sees the sweetness of the boy he used to be, the boy who challenged a warrior bear to help her and the boy who was willing to give her up to save the world. He used to sit on a bench by the college holding her hand from worlds away. Now, instead, he opens the door in a hotel room and takes her to bed. It should make her feel used, she knows. He has another life he doesn't speak about and once she saw a flash of gold on his hand before he slipped his ring into a pocket. He told her it had been his father's but couldn't look at her as he slid her jacket off her shoulders and she could smell the perfume of another woman from another world on his clothes.

Pantalaimon and Kirjava lie in the corner, curled up in one another. Together they fit perfectly, and while Will touches her she feels Kirjava's tail wrapped around Pantalaimon, tightening her hold. The daemons are peaceful, tender. She looks at them and wishes Will was the same.

He wanted to be his father, exploring, fearless and exciting. Besides her, it was all he ever dreamed of. But Stanislaus Grumman was honest and though Will never lied to her before they started sleeping together, he's lying to her now with his hands knowing her better than anyone else ever has and his tongue in her mouth. She makes up stories of his love and almost believes them, until he comes back and it's clear he could never feel the way she imagines he will.


When they finish he slides from the bed, leaving her with the ghost of his touch across her skin, a phantom kiss briefly on her lips. Kirjava uncurls herself slowly, her tail lingeringly touching Pantalaimon's, and she looks back with longing. Will kisses Lyra's forehead on his way out and she feels like a little girl again, abandoned by her uncle, father, whatever, and longing for him to come back and love her.

She stands by the window, the tips of her fingers against the cold glass, watching the rain trickling down the pane like tears.


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