Summary: After the events of The Amber Spyglass, Lyra and Will have to find ways to move past their loss.
Fandom: His Dark Materials
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Spoilers for all three books.
Title, Author and URL of original story: the way back to grace by glass_icarus.
Notes: Thank you to such_heights for beta-reading.
It starts here. Will looks around Mary's flat, which is spare and unpretentious, just like her. The only real sign of life is a chaotic corner of bookshelves piled high. In the kitchen, he can hear Mary moving around.
It starts here. He sits carefully on an elderly sofa and gathers Kirjava onto his knee. He's been to see his mum and told her about his father. Tomorrow, he and Mary are going to the house to see what the situation is. If he's really lucky, Lord Boreal's people will leave them alone - but if not, he can look after himself these days.
It starts now. All he wants to do, he realises as he dips his face into Kirjava's soft fur, is go to the museum and find the bench; sit there day and night until midsummer, when he knows that somehow, across the divide between the worlds, he and Lyra will be touching.
When he raises his head, there's a cup of tea on the coffee table. He isn't embarrassed; he trusts Mary. But it won't happen again.
It looks exactly like the milky, strong tea that he's drunk all his life, but when he smells it, he notices the herbs that the Mulefa gave them. It's too hot, but he's so grateful for the silent comfort that he sips it anyway. It starts now, he thinks, his life away from her, and this time he believes it.
Lyra can't haunt the Botanic Garden in term time, but the bench in the college garden makes a fair substitute. Every time she sits down, she feels the hard slats digging into her bones and remembers Will's touch, and the odd, coarse-soft feel of his skin against hers, and that wonderful sensation when she looked at him and knew so clearly what she wanted to do, and what he wanted to do.
She flinches, but it's only Dame Hannah.
"I concentrate better here," she suggests: a truth and untruth in one, because they're the best lies. The kindness in Dame Hannah's eyes waters the bud of pain in her chest, and it erupts as the older woman turns away.
Lyra likes Dame Hannah, and perhaps soon she'll tell her how much it hurts to be without Will. For now, she allows herself one tear and turns to her studies as Pan settles around her shoulders, reading alongside her.
Lyra walks all the way round the bench and plumps down in the middle of it.
"Will?" she says.
"Lyra?" Will asks. He's sitting stiffly on the left end of the bench, because in all his memories she seems to be on his right.
He closes his eyes.
Lyra closes her eyes. It is different to the bench at Dame Hannah's, and she's relieved. That's something, at least.
If she remembers really hard, she can feel Will's hand skimming her bare arm like sunlight. She gives a small sigh.
He knows that if he reached out, he could almost touch her, so he traces the shape of her arm in the air. Kirjava settles at his feet with a contented sigh.
"I know you're there," he says, not bothering to check for witnesses. They'll just assume he's a bit loopy, and there are plenty of others like that around here.
"I'm here, Will," she says, because saying his name, addressing him, feels unbelievably lovely. "I'm here, and I know you are, too, because you always keep your word."
"You're there, and I'm here," he says, and somehow, saying the words makes them more believable. He smiles. "I've thought about you a lot." So fierce, so strong, so brilliant, so determined to do the right thing . . . the memories overwhelm him now. "Oh, Lyra."
"I wish we could be together," she says, "but since we're not, I want you to know I'm learning the alethiometer again." She feels it, light and smooth on her thighs; she brought it in case she wanted to ask if he was there. But she knows the answer to that. "It's hard - I never thought learning could be so complicated, but still interesting. I was always bored before. But now, if we ever feel down, me and Pan, we think about you, and Mary, and Roger and Mr Scoresby, and your father. But especially you. And it helps us concentrate."
"Mary's rebuilding the software she designed," he says. "There was a bit of trouble at the university about her office, the one she destroyed, but she's got a job at one of the other colleges. She says you could talk to the dark matter through her computer. So that's what she's trying to do. Well, not exactly. Anyway, I'm helping her, and I like it. It reminds me of you."
They talk on, of Will's mother, of Mary, of Iorek and the Gyptians, until the bells strike the hour.
Will falls silent.
The bells strike at Lyra's heart, and Pan crawls up into her lap beside the alethiometer. "Oh, Will," she says, "it was too short, wasn't it? But we've got to go now. I love you, Will."
"I love you," he says, and then adds her name, one last time. "Lyra."
Mary greets Will with a watchful smile and a cup of tea.
"Yes," he says. It's true, in a way.
She nods and turns back to the seed pod. There's a shoot now, green and fragile, but every time he looks at it Will remembers the huge trees with the seeds that people use to get around. He sees Pantalaimon and Kirjava hiding behind a tree root, and Lyra pressing the berry to his mouth, sweet and a little sour, tasting of love. And grace.
"All right, Lyra?" Dame Hannah asks when she and Pan slip into the study.
"Yes," Lyra says. "I mean, no, not really." She smooths Pan's fur with her spare hand; the other is clutching the alethiometer. "I want to be with Will, not in a different world. But if we can't be together, then it's good to know he's working in his world, and living a good life, with Mary and his mother and his other friends."
"Did you ask the alethiometer that?" asks Dame Hannah.
"No. I was going to," she adds. "But in the end, I didn't need to."
She turns to the book, which Dame Hannah has opened on the desk in preparation. It's all so complicated; she's never really had to concentrate on learning before, let alone learning the alethiometer. But it's becoming easier, sentence by sentence, symbol by symbol, day by day. And as she reads, she feels Will in a corner of her mind, like a spot of grace.