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This is Madrid, not Oxford, because neither decency nor need have any reverence for borders or political matters, though sometimes politicians can (on purpose or by accident) be made to serve decency or need. It does not come naturally to most of them, but there are forces in the world. Not least of them a young-ish woman with yellow hair, and a daemon in the shape of a pine-marten curled near her head.

She is quite deeply asleep. She is quite tired. The day ended quite late and was spent on the metaphorical battlefield, with the weapons she knew best: shock, appal, challenge, argument, and brutally applied manners and grace that took her so long to learn, to master - interspersed with the occasional blow, solidly below the belt, with the crudeness and cruelty life had taught her from the cradle. As a warrior on this field, she has few scruples. She has abandoned shoes, outer skirt and blouse, but was too tired to bother with her slip or her stockings, and has forgotten about the pins in her hair. The night is very warm, so she has not pulled up the covers.

Under her pillow, where they always are, lie a pistol and a small velvet bag. No one could move it without her waking. And she wakes very quickly, very quickly indeed.

There's no figure that bends a head, sinister or benevolent, over her bedside: only the wind that ruffles the curtains by her open window. The pine-marten by her cheek stirs a little; perhaps one dark eye slits open and then closes again, as her daemon settles back into sleep with his nose tucked under his paw.

Maybe, just maybe, there is the flit of a face in the mirror: a face framed with dark hair, with a smile part gentleness and part mischief.

And perhaps - only perhaps - beneath her pillow, within the velvet bag, the dials on the alethiometer twitch, like a sleepy child acknowledging the presence of a friend, or the promptings of a parent reminding about the doings and needs of the next day. That is all. There is nothing more.

There is, however, a note left at the front desk of the hotel, when Lyra Belacqua, dressed and groomed and girded for this next day of irritation, annoyance and victory, presents herself in the lobby. It is a simple card, with a single swan embossed in the corner.

It says, The compass has something to tell you. and nothing more. It is signed, a friend.

Lyra turns it over and Pantalaimon sniffs at the card. Then she slides it into her breast pocket, to deal with later, and marches out to the waiting motor.

 

*****

 

It was a soft tap-tap-tap at the door of his office that brought Will out of the spell of charts. He blinked at the paper, thoughts dissolving like sugar under the tongue as he did so. His neck ached and so did his hand at the wrist. He was thirsty, his tongue cleaving unpleasantly to the top of his mouth. The room was quite dim, even the lights from the hallway gone dark and removing their help from the valiant lamp on his desk.

Kirjava was no longer at his knee, which helped to explain the state of him. He could get entirely trapped by work; usually it was she who bit his hand or swatted his ear with a paw, to remind him of small, negligible things like rest, food, drink and pain. It wasn't entirely like her to leave him to manage himself. But then, she was keeping secrets again, he was fairly certain.

Sometimes Will wondered if everyone's daemon kept secrets from them, if they were a separate thing, or whether that was a side-effect of the witchy-shamanic separation part of them. But there was no one to ask. Mary's soul was nothing like Will's own, after all.

Will sat up and rolled his shoulders, wincing at their tightness. He rotated his wrist and then massaged each hand carefully with the other, fingers flitting over their truncated cousins without noticing anymore. Patients always did: often it was the first thing patients noticed, beyond that he was tall and imposing. He told a number of stories about his shortened fingers. All of the stories contradicted each other, of course, and none of them were true. The truth would simply not be believed, and besides, he was saving that story to tell again, when he was dead.

So mostly he lied, and thought of Lyra. He tended to, when he was lying.

It was past seven, he saw. The clinic was closed. The tapping was probably Kayla, the receptionist, wanting to go home. She would always ask, even though he'd told her time after time that there was no reason for her to keep his hours. No sensible person, he could hear Mary quip, would keep Will's hours - that's why Will had to keep them, all by himself. As if hours were some kind of pet.

A glance out the window told him that it was raining again. He continued to insist that Oregon rain was different from Oxford rain. Mary continued to tell him that he was just homesick, which Will refused to admit to. Home was where he had his work, where his mother was as happy as she could be. There weren't any other qualifications for home. Oxford was just where he'd grown up. (And where he went back to visit, every midsummer, without fail.)

He tilted his head to stretch out his neck and called through the door, "I've my keys, Kayla, please feel free to go, and have a good Christmas." Right. Christmas. He still needed to get something for Mary. Maybe one of those lap-desks for her laptop? She did complain about how it gave her sore shoulders -

The door-handle turned and Kayla cracked it open. "Dr Parry?" she said, her American accent still flat to his ears, even after all these months. "There's someone here for you."

Will frowned at the clock. "It's past seven, K - " he started, at the same time reaching out for Kirjava, wherever she was; Kayla cut him off.

"I know," she said, sliding in. "And I told her that. But she kept pounding on the door and she pushed in around me when I opened it up to tell her to go away. And then she told me to stop telling you we were closed, and to come get you, and if I didn't she would, and I could 'just try and stop her then'."

The last came out in Kayla's imitation of Will's own accent. He was already standing up, sighing, as she went on. "I think she's crazy. She's dressed up like she's, I dunno, going to some steampunk convention, and she's carrying around this massive ferret."

Will was going to correct her on the crazy - Kayla was an excellent receptionist but they were still working out some of the kinks when it came to dealing with the patients - when the last bit sort of brought him up sharp. It itched in his head, like - "She's what?" he asked. He let his hand come down from his neck, where he'd been rubbing at the sore.

"Seriously," Kayla said, nodding, and pointing as if Will could see the alleged woman through the still partly closed door, the walls of the hallway, and the reception desk. "Like a big brown ferret. I don't know what it is."

And then there was Kirjava standing behind her at the door. She looked pleased with herself; she looked expectant. She was waiting for him, and Will only stared at her.

"Right," he said, absently. He realized Kayla was still talking. "Right," he said, "look, why don't you go out the back way. Like I said, I've got my keys. I'll deal with this woman and then I'll lock up."

He didn't really listen much to Kayla's agreement or her obligatory happy holidays as she quickened her pace the other way down the hall when Will ushered her out of his office. She didn't pay Kirjava any mind. No one did, not at the clinic. He knew quite well that eccentricities like having a cat who tried to take anyone else's hand off if they tried to pet her were tolerated quite well by his partners and the staff and the donors, in return for the work and the money he gave to the pharmacy.

Kirjava trotted along the hallway towards reception and then said, "Well then? Aren't you coming?" as soon as Kayla was out of earshot.

Will took two strides and stooped to pick her up, ignoring her mildly annoyed squirming: something gnawed at his stomach, fear to which he was now thoroughly unaccustomed, and he wanted her right near, right where he could hold her. After a breath or two she seemed to understand that and submitted to being carried down the hall with a sigh.

Sometimes Will wondered, too, if it was normal to be so often at odds with one's daemon; again, he never felt he could ask Mary. But then, arguments had been a matter of course for -

Will truly wasn't used to being afraid anymore; nor could he have said exactly what he was afraid of. Just - just something. Just something that made him pause before coming around the corner to where he could see the lobby. Something that made him keep Kirjava pressed to his chest, whether it irritated her or not.

Something that made him feel like a boy, when he stepped around. When he saw the woman who was waiting for him.

She was dressed a little strangely. Her skirt was wool. It was long and full, as would be sensible for the rain and the cold outside. Will could just see the little heeled boots underneath it. She had full sleeves on her blouse, and she'd taken off her overcoat. There was a bodice -

He was looking at her clothes, not her face. He made himself look at her face. At yellow hair and impossibly familiar eyes. A thinner face than he remembered. All the baby-fat melted away and replaced by strong bones. That set mouth, and her way of setting her chin. Shorter hair framing her face, with the rest pulled back into a knot, and her fair skin browned -

And a pine marten in her arms, held as close as he held Kirjava, and starting to squirm, just as his own daemon was. She ignored that, but her face started to slide into a tentative smile.

"Hello, Will," she said. Her voice was richer, too. Kirjava was twisting while Will stared and tried to find a way to speak.

"Lyra," he said. Admitted. "Lyra, I'm afraid I'm following my mother," and he swallowed, "because, because Lyra, my dear, there's no way on Earth or out of it that you could be standing right here in the lobby of my clinic - "

"Yes, love," she said, interrupting him. "Yes there is, because I am - " and then Kirjava scratched him and he yelped at let her go, with Pan - it was Pan, wasn't it, it was Pantalaimon oh good glorious fuck - dropping through Lyra's (oh, oh Lyra, oh) arms with a great twist and falling to the floor only for both of them to go end over end over end twisting and grooming and purring and squeaking.

Still Will stared, just for a moment, and said, "It can't - "

"When I first met you," Lyra said, and it was her accent back, threading through the educated tones, "I asked the alethiometer who you were. It told me you were a murderer, and I knew right then I could trust you not to lose your nerve - "

Then he was throwing her arms around her and crushing him to her, with her doing the same to him. They didn't kiss, because that would mean having to let go a little bit. Having to move his hand from the back of her head and loosen his arms and stop spinning them both around while he said Lyra Lyra Lyra and she said oh Will I missed you and they both tried to crack one another's ribs until they got their feet tangled with Pan and Kir and fell over in a bruising heap of elbows, knees, claws and indignation.

Then, with Lyra (thankfully, he was a good deal heavier than her now!) sprawled out on top of him, elbowing him in the chest, then he caught her face in his hands and kissed it all over, mouth nose eyes forehead cheek and mouth again, while she laughed and Kir groomed ferociously at Pan's ear, and he wriggled in happiness.

Will stopped kissing her, but he didn't let her go. Just looked at her, there, drinking her in. They could probably be seen from the street, he thought, if anyone were looking. But who could care? "How?" he demanded. "How? Lyra, you can't be here - and how did you get here, how the Hell did you find me - "

"I found a door," she said. She talked over him, right over him. "I did, Will, in - you won't believe it, but it was in Geneva of all places, and Will, Will, oh Will, it isn't a cut, it's a door. It's a door! It doesn't lose any Dust. And it comes out in Alaska, so there I am, in the North again and looking for you and it took so damn long because when I come through I en't got any idea where I am or how I can find you, and I can read the alethiometer again but it's terrible hard work, Will - "

Listening was hard. Hearing wasn't hard - it was Lyra, it was his Lyra and she was talking to him, right here, her voice but richer and fuller, a woman's voice instead of a girl, wavering between accents like a shivering child - but listening, deriving sense from the words - "Lyra, Lyra," he said, "stop," and he sat up and she sat back. "Stop - what did you say about the door? I can't have heard you right - "

Her face was alight. "You did," she said. Crowed. "If you heard me saying that the door doesn't lose any Dust at all, you heard me dead right, Will. Will, we checked, because we can - you remember, the emulsion, well Jordan's kept working at the formula now that the Magisterium can't do sweet bugger all about it, and we've come up with ever-so-many improvements, but oh Will we did, we looked at the door and there en't any Dust lost from it, and no Spectres come in."

She held one of his hands still to her cheek, and she was grinning like a Cheshire cat. Kirjava was purring like a motor running and Pan was chewing on her ear now.

"But they said they were closing them - " Will tried.

"They en't closed this one," his Lyra said, still grinning. "It's right up there in Alaska. We'll have to do something about where it comes out, buy a cabin or, or I don't know. I've already made sure of the end in my world, I've bought the house and kept it locked up, and I put a wardrobe in front of it so that - "

"Wait, you did what?" Will said. It was all too much, it just washed over him, like the chaos of a crowd gone wild, but he did hear that. "Lyra, you put a wardrobe over a door to another world -"

"Yeah," she said, "just cut the back out so that - " but then she stopped and just stared at him as he lay back, laughing so hard and so weakly he couldn't speak. "What?" she demanded. "What's so damn funny? You sit up and tell me why you're laughing this instant, Will Parry," and this was the new Lyra-voice, and he laughed even harder, "or I swear, I'll - "

He caught the hand she was pointing at him, kissed her fingertips. "I will," he said. "I will. I'll explain everything you ever wanted explained. Ever."

Kirjava was purring by his ear, still, curled around Pan, and it was the best thing in the world. The very, very best. "I'll explain everything," he promised up at his Lyra, his impossible Lyra, who he'd missed like an arm, a leg and a hole in his heart, and who was sitting, dishevelled and travel-worn and smug and perfectly glorious, right next to where he lay. "But first," he said, as he noticed the wet that was soaking through his shirt, from her boots most likely, and the rain outside, "we should get up off the ground. And I have to lock up. And then - "

Lyra was smiling again, so different from her grin. She leaned down to kiss him.

Now, he realized, she could meet his mother.

*****

He would have taken her home at once, if he hadn't remembered in getting into the driver's seat that he had no food at home at all, and Lyra admitted to being ferociously hungry, not having had anything except airplane snacks since morning due to not being entirely certain she could work out how the foodstalls in the airport worked.

Will almost started to tease her. Then he was so caught up in knowing that she was there to tease that he found himself mute and grinning like a madman, which he still wasn't entirely certain he wasn't, but really, at this point, he'd decided he didn't give a good God damn, or any other kind of damn, either.

Lyra caught the intention of the tease, however, because she folded her arms and informed him that since the door came right out into Geneva he, Will Parry, would get to handle her world now, and she would leave him in the middle of the bazaars at Oxford and see how well he did, see if she didn't, and she thought that getting all the way from Alaska to Oregon on his damned airplanes with their damned photogrammical identification cards after having found him on that goggle thing was extremely impressive if she did say so herself and she'd like to see him do better.

Maybe it was amazing, Will reflected, that he hadn't run into anyone, he was so busy being full of delighted glee.

Thoughts of "food" took his driving by rote to his own local, because he thought even the American imitation of the pub was probably the closest to a shared idiom of restaurant between her world and his. Pantalaimon and Kirjava agreed to be carried in Lyra's rather large basket-bag-thing, once they'd emptied out the clothing onto the back seat, so that the waitress took no notice of it. Will led Lyra to one of the booths at the back, and he almost ordered a beer, but changed it to a measure of rum when Lyra ordered whiskey.

At first he tried not to think about the part where the last time they'd seen each other, both of them had been so young that not even the best false driver's licenses in the world would have kept them from being chucked out of this place on their ears. Then he realized he had no reason not to think about it; all it did was add to the happy ache in his chest, the one he never wanted to go away.

His mind seemed at once to be wading through syrup, and running at a million miles an hour: he had already pulled his cell out with the idea that he had to call Mary before it occurred to him that maybe he would rather call Mary tomorrow and have Lyra to himself for the evening.

The next few days.

Ever.

Lyra caught sight of it and said, "You have one of those cellule telephone things," in an almost accusing voice. "Everyone wanted to know why I hadn't got one."

Will passed it over to her to look at, but said, "Just don't press the green button, that makes a call. You googled me?" he went on, as the waitress brought their drinks and handed them menus.

"That's what the librarian said I had to do," Lyra replied, peering at the phone before handing it back without touching it much. "I asked her how she would go about finding someone if you didn't know where they were in the world, and you couldn't contact them, but you did know their full name. She said 'google them'. So then I had to ask her what the Hell that meant."

"How did you get on the plane? You wouldn't have any ID or anything - "

The look of pure irritation that crossed Lyra's face told him that he wouldn't be finished hearing about airplanes and their stupidity for a very long time. The thought made him ridiculously happy. He was having trouble remembering what came next, when you were this happy. He was completely out of practice and he'd never practiced very much to begin with.

The waitress came, and then went away again while Will explained some of what was on the menu, and then came back and took their orders. Lyra explained that the alethiometer had sent her to a man living near the airport who made fake ID. He'd thought she was "completely mad, of course," which Will couldn't exactly blame him for - it wasn't all that often you saw a young woman dressed as Lyra was tramping through the snow to demand a false Alaskan driver's license with a posh British accent - but he had made it and Lyra had put on her best lost-waif act (apparently she'd expanded her repertoire since the last time Will had seen her, and was better at using some more delicate lies) and eventually ended up outside.

Money, apparently, had come from gold, which she had sold carefully, over time, to different jewellers. Which was a smart way to go about it, Will had to admit.

He was going to ask how she'd found a door in Geneva anyway, but then she was asking why there was so much of another country between bits of this one, and he had to explain the history of the Americas. Which meant explaining the history of Europe. And by the time they were done dinner, he was pretty sure that the waitress thought he'd been replaced by a pod-person, because he knew he'd never come in here like this before.

Explaining credit cards turned out to be easier than he thought, because apparently Lyra's world still had the arrangement whereby if you had enough money, you just wrote your name down and they came round to collect on it later. Like the entire world was your hotel.

He realized he was too drunk to drive, but it didn't matter: it was only a block to his building anyway. They walked hand in hand, like teenagers. Pan and Kir chased each other up and down the sidewalk and over the low walls for the sidewalk planters. Will had a bad moment where he thought he might have lost his keys somewhere along the line of the night, but he found them in his trouser pockets and managed to get the building door open without too much trouble.

"Mary's here," he said, when they were finally at the door of his condo. "She teaches at one of the universities, and my mother - "

"Tomorrow," Lyra said, very definitely, and kicked the door closed while she stood up on her toes, pulling his face down to kiss.