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Breath of Life

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Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!

— Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

 

She came - she came - and the quivering flame

Sunk and died in the fire.

It never was lit again on my hearth

Since I hurried across the floor

To lift her over the threshold, and let her in at the door.

Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, The Witch



Bad news travels fast, it is said. And yet, being often too far North and too engaged in his work, Asriel tended to be late on news. So when he returned to London that evening, after spending months cloistered in the land of snow, it was no surprise that the topic that had been inhabiting people's heads and mouths had not reached him yet. 

He got home in a hurry. There had been some exciting discoveries that he wanted to start recording, studying and working on as soon as possible.

"My Lord," Thorold dashed towards him and said, after Asriel had hung up his coat and ran off to his study. "You've been away too long. There is something you should know." He held a newspaper in his hand. "You might want to read this."

"Not now, Thorold, I have work to do."

"My Lord," he began again. "I firmly believe this is of your interest."

"I really doubt so," Asriel said, fussing with his desk. Notebook pages, pens, magnifying glasses were all revolved in a frenzied dance. "You may leave now, Thorold, I'll call you when I need something."

The servant did not move. He was nervous.

Asriel snorted, exasperated. 

"Is it about me?"

"No, my Lord."

"Then what? Who died this time?" He scoffed.

Thorold did not respond. He cleared his throat and offered him the newspaper. Asriel raised his eyebrows and took it from him.

Her name was written in giant letters on the front page. It was the first thing he noticed — it seemed to jump out of it to meet his eyes, as it always did. The next thing was the photogram on the side of the page. It showed some sort of disaster scene, wreckage scattered across dry grass. It took him a while to understand what it was about.

 

Marisa Coulter dies in an airship accident in Benin 

 

Marisa Coulter, known member of the Magisterium, was found dead after an airship crash yesterday, alongside with the pilot. The zeppelin, destined to Brytain, fell to the ground before leaving the African continent.  

Two local workers were near the area when the accident occured. They claim to have seen two bodies, a man's and a woman's, but no daemons. They also claim to have run up to their village to call for help, but when they returned, the airship had exploded and a fire had spread through the surrounding area. After the fire was contained, they declared, the bodies were no longer there. It appears they had been consumed by the fire. Several other people confirmed that there was no body in the area after the fire. Local officers also confirmed that they saw a woman with a golden monkey entering the zeppelin earlier that day.

The cause of the accident remains unknown. 

 

"This is bullshit," Asriel handed the paper back to Thorold. "She's not dead."

"They… saw her body," Thorold pointed out.

"And then they didn't," Asriel retorted. "She could have just left the area."

"No, no, look at the date. This is from a month ago. No one has seen her since then."

"So?" He shrugged. "It's Marisa we're talking about. She's probably hiding somewhere, planning on how to terrorize some more people."

Thorold stared at him in disbelief. 

"My Lord," he tried again.

"Leave, Thorold," Asriel commanded, sitting behind his desk and revolving his things again. "Like I said, I have work to do."

The other man nodded slowly and left.

He spent the rest of the week drinking and aggressively trying to distract himself with his work. He had to read the same page of a book over and over again because he had trouble absorbing what it was saying. He miscalculated data. He put objects aside and some time later he could not remember where he had placed them. He had trouble sleeping, so he either stayed up working late hours or he drank until he blacked out — and then he would dream of airships crashing. 

Stelmaria was impatient. 

"We can't keep ignoring it," she warned him. "You know we won't rest until we think about what happened."

" What happened?" he retorted. "Nothing happened. She'll be back to London before we have the chance to wish she would stay where she is."

"Asriel, you're in denial."

He ignored her. But the snow leopard was right. It became more and more difficult to keep the thoughts away from his mind. They became more insistent, sneaking inside of his brain like a disseminating toxin, hovering in front of him like photograms being projected.

This is from a month ago. No one has seen her since then. 

Local officers confirmed they saw a woman with a golden monkey entering the zeppelin earlier that day.

Two bodies, a man's and a woman's, but no daemons.

Consumed by the fire.

He felt a cold in his stomach, a shiver down his spine. He rubbed his eyes and decided to ignore it again. He took his pen in his hand again, but before he could write anything, his arm bumped into the ink pot. Black ink spilled all over his notes, ruining most of them.

He tossed everything to the ground and swore out loud, infuriated.

Stelmaria stared at him in an accusing manner.

"Very well," he crossed his arms. "What are you thinking?"

The daemon moved closer to him.

"I think she might be dead," she answered solemnly.

Asriel shook his head and chuckled bitterly. 

"There were people around, Asriel,” she reminded him, “It's not like the airship fell in the middle of nowhere. And still no one has seen her in a month."

He scowled.

"Are we trying to pretend she is not capable of hiding? Lying? Bribing, threatening people not to say where she is?"

"And why would she want to hide?" 

"I have no idea.” He retorted.     “Do we always know what goes on in Marisa’s head? Who does?"

" We were usually at least close enough to guessing it," the snow leopard pointed out. Asriel pretended he did not notice the past tense in the sentence. He shook his head again. 

"Asriel," Stelmaria reproached him. "You know why you're in denial."

He did know. The reason he could not believe she was gone was simply because such death was too lame for Marisa. Too ordinary, unimaginative, not like her at all. And too abrupt. 

"Just because it isn't how we expected it to happen doesn't mean it's not true," the snow leopard remarked sadly.

Asriel knew she was right. He felt suddenly sick and had to sit down, the ice in his stomach returning. What the hell was going on? How come she was dead? The world seemed upside down all of a sudden. Nothing made sense.

He had always thought that if one of them were to die, it would be by the other’s hands; an unspoken pact between two enemies, a long lasting war waiting for its finale. They teased each other about it in the past, but they both knew it might as well become true. It was only a matter of who would pull the trigger first — and it was always her, in his head. Even more subconscious, though, lay another statement, a stronger one, which he had been avoiding so far and now hit him fully, brutally, knocking the air out of his lungs: there was no life for him without her. 

He did not know how to exist in a world without her — and not just as simply as in he could not bear to live without his lover , but as in how to live in a world where she was not there to fight him, to challenge him, to provoke him, to galvanise him? What was the point of doing anything if she was not there, either to oppose him or to finally join him and work with him? There was no one else whose mind matched his. There was no one else he was so eager to show whatever new thing that he discovered, that he created. No one else would understand it, anyway. And no one else would magnificently help him improve his inventions, or ruthlessly destroy them, or come up with another one entirely, one that was so superior to anything he could have thought on his own that it made him feel stupid. 

There was no one else. There had never been since the two of them met. And to think that there would never be again was insufferable to him. To think that the certitude that simultaneously exasperated and exhilarated him — that even after months, years apart, they would keep running into each other eventually, as they always did — was no longer a reality was excruciating.

He fought the urge to howl, but Stelmaria did so in his place, nevertheless.

 

______

 

His purgatory trip happened about a month after he had read those news. He had been drinking heavily throughout the whole period, but that night in particular he was way beyond his limits. There was a storm outside, as if the universe had decided to join him in his ache and fury. He downed the drink, he threw the glass at the wall, he took another glass and continued to drink. Stelmaria — dangerous, grim, sorrowful — roared and paced around the room.

He could recall the vertigo, the blurred vision, the misty aura inside and outside of his brain, his staggering walk towards the couch. Time seemed erratic, undetermined. The night was illuminated by flashes of lightning every now and then.  Thunders bellowed violently, along with the wind howls and the rain hollers, like a haunted orchestra. The fireplace was cackling as if doing its best to participate. 

And then, without warning, there she was. The muse, the composer, the maestro, the prima donna, anything and everything all at once.  

Her dark locks fell down her back, her skin looked even paler than he remembered in the moonlight. She was covered in a silvery white dress. His eyes drifted to the floor, expecting to find what would contrast perfectly with it — a golden monkey — and he was not disappointed. She was in front of his desk, with her back to him, holding papers in her hands.

He supposed she heard him wake and sit up straight, astounded. 

"You know you got these calculations all wrong, don't you?" Marisa spoke, without turning around. 

"How did you get in here?" It certainly should not be the first thing to ask, but it was the first thing that came out of his mouth anyway. 

"You left the window open," she said simply.

He turned his head around and looked at the window. It was indeed open. The wind was weeping louder, aggressively blowing away the curtains. He turned to her again, and just as he realised she was now facing him, another lightning struck and lit up her figure. She looked eerie, unearthly — like a ghost. He felt a chill down his spine. 

"Mind if I borrow your coat?" She spoke again. "I'm too cold."

He was too astonished to respond.

She gave him a ghastly smile.

"Nevermind, then. I'll use the fire."

She crossed the room and stopped in front of the fireplace. She turned herself towards him and smiled again. And then she let herself fall into the fire, and her body burned down to ashes in front of his eyes.

He woke up gasping. It took him a while to realise what had happened — he had blacked out on his sofa and dreamed of her. The window was open, it was still raining, but the fire had gone out. And she was not there. Obviously. 

He noticed he was soaked in sweat, despite the cold. His stomach was once more icy, at first, and then it became its own storm. He ran to the bathroom and puked his brains out. 

Stelmaria followed him, her fur bristled.

"Now what?" He said. "Is she going to haunt us from now on?"

"It does sound like something she would do," she responded.

He swore, and then he sighed, closing his eyes.

"Haunt me, then," he spoke to the wind.

He blacked out once more on the bathroom floor, but she remained gone.

 

______

 

Although he did not dream about her again, he knew he had to take action, or that tingle on the back of his neck would never go away. He ignored Stelmaria’s protests — it was just a dream, it did not mean anything, they did not even believe in such things — and took the first zeppelin to Oxford that morning. He had already contacted Hannah Relf the week before, and she had agreed to meet him at Jordan College to discuss "the urgent matter he mentioned in his letter".

Jordan looked exactly the same when he last visited it, but he would not have noticed if something was different, anyway. He was too lost in his own thoughts, so much that he barely noticed when Lyra approached him, hastily and euphorically, her big eyes shining at the sight of him, her mouth already shooting out too many words for him to follow. They had already reached the door of the Retiring Room before he finally regarded the girl and his brain could process anything she said.

"...And so we were discussing the best way to go to London," she was saying now, "And Roger said it’s by airship, but Billy Costa thinks it’s by boat, and I agree with him alright, because airships crash, don’t they? What do you think, uncle?"

That did catch his attention. He took a long look at the child, studying her. He always thought she was all him, with almost no resemblance whatsoever to her mother. But now, something about the way she had her eyebrows raised, waiting for his answer, had so much of Marisa in it that it scared him. It took him a while to understand what she was really trying to say. That lie, that foolish lie about her parents dying in an airship accident, that idiotic story that was now partially true.

He opened the door.

"Lyra, you know you cannot enter here. Leave, now."

"But, uncle!" Lyra whined.

"Go," he repeated dryly.

"We’ve barely talked! Will you talk to me before you leave Jordan?"

"Goodbye, Lyra."

He entered the room without a glance back, and closed the door behind him.

Dr. Relf, who was sitting on a chair, waiting for him, got up and greeted him.

    "Did you get the Alethiometer?" He went directly to the point.

    She nodded, and then raised her eyebrows.

"What is your urgent question that could not wait?" 

"I need you to ask," he lifted his chin, almost defensively, in case she too might judge him delusional, "If Marisa Coulter is alive."

Dr. Relf nodded, and if she did judge him, she did not show.

"I already did. As soon as I saw the news."

He raised his eyebrows back in surprise.

"So?" His voice sounded more anxious than he expected.

Dr. Relf shook her head.

"The answer was not clear."

"How can it not be clear?" He frowned, impatient. "She’s either dead or alive."

"I thought so too," the woman nodded again. "But the answer it gave me… I’ve been studying, but I’m still not sure what it means. It seems to say something like she could be both at the same time."

"That doesn’t make any sense."

"I know."

"Does it mean she could still be alive?"

"I don’t know."

He sighed.

"Is there anything you can tell me?"

"I’m sorry. I wish I could be of more help."

He nodded.

"Please, let me know if you find out anything."

She promised she would. He thanked her for her time and left.

He did not say a word to Stelmaria during their whole trip back to London, his face sullen the whole time, but the snow leopard could tell his mind was spinning with thoughts, as was hers. It was only after they got home that they finally voiced them out.

"We shouldn’t get our hopes high," she warned him. "It might mean something else. Maybe another thing is causing the confusion. It doesn’t mean she’s alive. But," she conceded, " Death isn’t hard to read in an Alethiometer, is it?"

"It’s usually not," he agreed. "And Dr. Relf is the best alethiometrist we know."

The daemon nodded.

"Still," she insisted. "This might cause frustration."

He sighed.

"If she is alive, shouldn’t we be doing something?"

"Do what? Go to Benin and look around every corner of it? Scream her name out in the wind and see if she answers?"

He scowled.

"Asriel," the snow leopard’s voice was soft but grave. "She should have shown up by now. It’s not likely that she’s lost, or anything like that. We know her. If she was, she would have already found her way back. If she is alive, we’ll know. She’ll come back."

Stelmaria approached him and he caressed her. She was right. Dealing with the certainty of her death was one thing, but spending his days wondering if perhaps she was alive was even more stressful. And yet, although he wanted not to create any expectations, they were already building up inside of him. For the next months, there would be a fight between his feelings and his reason. He would lose focus on his work, and then regain it. He would spend days without thinking of her, readily dismissing her existence entirely, and days with her as his only thought. 

He knew he had to go back to the North again. London had too much of her in it, as too many places in the city brought back memories of them. He yearned the solitude, the quiet, the coldness of the North, where he felt most comfortable and where he could manage to let his mind rest on passion, and concentrate on more important things.

After a while, he found his pace back. His appearance got the worst of it — he constantly forgot to shave, in particular — and he was more reckless than usual, but he had begun to feel more like himself again. And his mind had become quieter. After four months and still no news on Marisa, he had accepted that her perishment was the most viable explanation, after all.

Until that one night.

______

 

The doorbell rang three times before Asriel was convinced he was not hallucinating, though he could not imagine who could it be at that place — his remote house in the North — and at that hour.

He opened the door carefully. Then, he decided that he probably did have an auditory hallucination and was now facing a visual one as well.

"Hello, Asriel," the apparition that looked like Marisa said. 

He just stared at her, dumbfounded, and said nothing.

"May I come in?" She raised her eyebrows at his lack of response. "Come on, it's freezing out here."

He took a step back, still silent, and let her in.

"Thank you," she said, using her artificial honeyed voice, and walked in, like Lazarus out of the sepulchre. She stopped at the centre of his living room, turned around, and then stood there, looking at him as if nothing was wrong, the golden monkey on her heels.

Did she finally drive him mad? Or was he just dreaming, again? 

"I apologise for showing up unannounced," she continued. "But it's late and there's nowhere else to go in this area. Believe me, I tried–"

"I thought you were dead," the words escaped his mouth. 

She gazed at him, and her icy eyes had a touch of amusement in them.

"Ha!" She exclaimed. "You wish."

He scrutinised her figure. She wore arctic clothes and garments. Her hair was somewhat dishevelled — as if it had gotten messy but she did her best to make it look better. Her hair was never messy in his dreams. If that was indeed a dream, he was glad to know his brain was getting creative; but in fact, it struck him as a sign that he might not be dreaming at all.

Stelmaria took the action he was delaying to do. She approached the pair and surrounded them, inspecting. She licked the monkey and tasted him in her tongue. The snow leopard gave Asriel a meaningful look.

Everything was real.

He still could not believe it. How could he, when he had given up all hope? When he had to let himself accept that he would no longer see her, to force himself to learn how to live without her? Now she showed up?

He might have dwelt on it for hours, maybe, refusing to believe it, had the following events not occured. Marisa suddenly swayed and was about to fall, but he rushed towards her and caught her. 

He could feel her, was the first thing he noticed. He could not have a dream so vivid, could he? He then saw that she had turned pale and her face was painted with sweat. She gripped his arms, took a deep breath and steadied herself. Then, she opened up her coat and lifted her blouse to reveal a disturbing, nauseating, bleeding wound on her right side.

"What the–" Asriel began to say.

"Tartars," she cut him off. "So, you see," she gave him a faint smile that looked more like a grimace, "I'm not dead… yet. Now do you need to put your finger into my wound or will you find me some bloodmoss you could spare?"

Asriel murmured a blasphemy, took her whole body in his arms and carried her to his bed. Minutes later, he was assisting her to treat her wound. He pressed a clean towel against it until the bleeding had ceased. He then helped her apply the bloodmoss in her wound, followed by a neatly arranged bandage and tape. She looked better now.

"What exactly are you doing here?" He asked.

"I told you," she answered. "I had nowhere else to go."

"No, I mean here. In the North."

"Oh.” She pursed her lips. “I can't tell you that."

He raised his eyebrows.

"You show up at my doorstep in the middle of the night asking for my help, I let you in, and you can't tell me what's going on?"

"Something like that, yes," she nodded.

"Are you kidding me?"

"Absolutely not."

"What if I refuse to help you?" He crossed his arms.

"That's a bit late for that choice isn't it?" She raised one eyebrow and pointed at her bandage.

He ignored her.

"How long have you been in the North?"

"I can't tell you that either."

"Damn it, Marisa!" he raised his voice, indignant. "I'm just trying to understand all of this. It's been four months since you were last seen by anyone. It's been four months that everyone thinks you're dead , you know that? Your death was announced in newspapers."

There was a glimpse of pride in her face when she heard the word newspapers. Of course she would love to hear she had been given the importance she thought she deserved. 

"I was merely on vacation," she rolled her eyes. "My, people always assume the worst, don't they?" 

"They saw your body."

"Clearly they were mistaken," she shrugged. "If people were searching hard enough they would know that, but sadly no one came looking for me," she pouted, feigning disappointment.

"People were searching for you," he crossed his arms again. " I went to see an alethiometrist. And the alethiometer said–"

"You were looking for me? That's cute." She wanted it to sound as a mock, but her face did soften up a little.

"It said," he began again, but then he halted. He felt a chill down his spine, alarmed. One could almost hear the wheels turning inside of his brain, as the realisation finally hit him. "Actually," he continued, between gritted teeth, approaching her and staring implacably at her. "It didn't offer a clear answer. It was like it didn't know what to say. As if you were dead, but at the same time you weren't. And the people who claimed to have seen your body also said that they saw no daemon around."

She held his gaze firmly but didn't respond. 

He now felt sick, almost dizzy. Stelmaria's fur bristled as she growled and instinctively moved closer to him.

" How ?" Was the first thing he asked, enraged.

She shrugged once more, giving in. 

"Witches have been doing it for centuries," she said calmly. "Humans are just late."

"Humans know it's too dangerous," he countered.

"It's not that dangerous," she rolled her eyes. "I'm alive, aren't I? And I'm not the first," she declared.

"So that is what you've been doing over all these months?"

Again, she didn't answer. Her face was stone cold. 

"Why?" He asked bitterly. 

"You know why," she spat immediately. 

"I do know," he spat back, "I just can't understand it."

"I don't remember asking you to," she snarled. "You weren't even supposed to know. No one is," she added, with a tone of threat, as if she was warning him that she would kill him in a heartbeat if she knew he were to spread the word to anyone.

"I will never understand why you would want to get rid of the part of you that makes you who you are," he vociferated.

She sighed, annoyed.

"Asriel, we've had that argument before. You know it will lead to nowhere."

"Good, then what do you want to talk about, huh? How you disappeared for four months? How you let everyone think you were dead? Why didn't you just disprove that stupidity as soon as you could?" Again, he halted, as he realised one more thing. "Was the airship accident even an accident?"

Once more, she gave him a gelid, piercing glare without saying anything.

"Fucking hell, Marisa!" He exclaimed, outraged. "What is wrong with you?"

"I was doing work, and I wanted to do it in peace," she replied, composedly, unwavering.

He could not believe her. There were many things she was capable of. But forging her own death was one thing in that list he could have not even imagined. 

He was beyond infuriated now. He had been drowning in pain all of that time— for no reason. He wanted to throw up. He wanted to yell at her. He wanted to tell her to get out of his house. He wanted to kill her himself. He wanted to tell her he forgave her. He wanted to say he was glad she was alive. He wanted to hold her in his arms and never let go. But he did none of that. Instead, Stelmaria walked towards the golden monkey, and he received her with open arms, much to their humans discontent.

"You couldn't have at least sent me a letter?" He husked, his voice almost a whisper.

"Why would I do that?" She frowned. "You ask too many questions. Just look at how this conversation has gone so far," she teased him, but when he did not laugh, she frowned again. "God, were you really that affected by my death?"

He did not answer. Instead, he walked towards the window and looked at the dark sky, pestered with stars, turning his back to her.

"Asriel," she called softly. "I didn't think it mattered to you much. And it would only take me a few months, after all."

"It doesn't matter," he lied, turning to her again, his voice bleak and dry. "And it didn't affect me at all. I just don't like being fooled."

"Okay," she nodded quickly, willing to pretend she believed in his lie. 

He wondered if she would be as affected as he had been, if he was the one to die. He suspected not, and that only hurt him further. He wondered what on Earth she would tell everyone, when another shocking news broke — that Marisa Coulter had actually survived the airship crash. He had to admit he was curious to find out what lie she would tell. Maybe she would be even praised by the masses, when they learned her story about how she spent the past four months living in some sort of cave hunting for food, or something of the sorts, and fought her way back to come back home, alone. A miracle. The woman might become a saint, for heaven's sake. It did seem more like a pretty neat plan now, one that could only be orchestrated by her.

 They kept silent for a few minutes, until he spoke again, another thought occurring to him.

"Speaking of affection," he approached her and stared at her without saying anything. 

"What?" She frowned. 

Stelmaria disentangled herself from the monkey's embrace. Asriel knelt to the ground and touched him.

It was so unexpected that Marisa gasped.

"You didn't get the result you wanted, did you?" He said, half-bitter, half-amused.

"Stop it," she hissed, but the monkey leaned in closer to him.

"That’s what I thought," he continued to stroke the monkey.

She trembled slightly, and he knew it wasn't from the cold. To her further horror, the monkey leaned in further and, almost obscenely, rubbed Asriel’s arm with his head.

That was enough for him. He got up, took her face in his hands and kissed her urgently. She returned after only a millisecond of hesitation, her hands running across his back.

Stelmaria retrieved her place by the monkey's side. The two daemons rolled around on the floor as if they had never been apart. Asriel took a mental note to confront the snow leopard later about how she had tried to convince him about Marisa's death. For once, he was the one who was right.

Marisa’s mouth was soft against his, her skin was velvety against his hands. He moved one hand across her back and adjusted their bodies so that they were both sat down, with their legs intertwined. They continued to kiss — hungrily, impatiently, desperately. 

He kissed her chin and the exposed skin of her neck, which had always been one of his favourite parts to kiss her — and one of her favourite parts to be kissed, too, by the way she always reacted. He buried his face in her neck and God, he missed her scent.

There was again a turmoil of feelings inside of him. He hated her for letting him think she was dead, and he loved her for coming back — and to him, specifically. He was furious, horrified and repulsed that she had torn herself away from her soul, and he pitied her for reaching the point where she thought she had to do something like that. He despised the influence that she had over him, and he did not want to escape her at all. He was angry at her and he craved for her and he missed her, he missed her, he missed her.

Soon his hands and mouth were all over her, hungrily, tracing her whole body as if it needed to be mapped again in his mind — except it did not; everything was exactly as he remembered — his tongue dancing and his teeth nibbling along it. She moaned softly when he reached her dripping cunt, gripping the bed sheets as if her life depended on it. He savoured her like she was manna from heaven, and if he had to be honest, he did feel like he had been starving of her — and by the way her hisses increased by each second and she began to writhe, it looked like she too was someone in need.

She gasped when he slid a finger inside of her and rocked her hips forward with each of his thrusts, pleading for more. He moved up and laid on top of her, but she grimaced and pressed her hands on his bare chest.

"Asriel," she said breathlessly, almost in a whimper. "Is this a revenge plan to make me bleed to death in your bed while we're having sex?"

"What?" He blinked.

She pointed at her bandage with her head. "Be careful. Do you want to relieve my wound?"

He grinned.

"Are we speaking literally or figuratively?" He teased, but he knew that, figuratively, his own wound had also been reopened. 

"Ha," she said sarcastically. "Turn around."

They adjusted their bodies once more, and they were now both seated again, Marisa on top of him. She moaned again when she allowed him inside of her and the feeling of being engulfed by her provoked a growl from him. They set a rhythm soon enough, rolling their hips together, gradually increasing their tempo until she arched her back, lifting her head enough to expose her neck again, her face and chest flushed, and he gladly sucked her flesh. Her walls clenched around his cock and he groaned, pulling her hips down harder. She dug her nails into his back, their pace became frantic, sweat dripping down their backs, they both panting and grunting. After a while, her breath became a combination of shuddering, loud rasps, and her legs quivered around him, until she finally collapsed, biting his shoulder as she cried out. Her walls spasmed violently around his cock, and he came with her, his grip tightening around her waist as his hips jolted forward and he emptied himself, almost convulsing.

Her head was still on his shoulder when they both had caught their breaths and their visions were no longer dark and blurred. He wrapped his arms around her back and stroked it languidly.

"My God," she breathed into his neck, a ghost of a smile appearing on her face. "If I knew you’d fuck me with that much energy I would have faked my own death at least three times by now."

He grimaced.

"That's not funny," he muttered into her hair. He wished to say it to her face and scowl, but right now he didn't want to release her from his hold just yet. Somewhere in the depths of his brain he was still afraid she might evaporate in front of him again. 

She stayed the rest of the night, though. It did not take him much effort to convince her that it was dangerous to go back wandering in the middle of the night, in the middle of the snow.

But when he woke up, his body was painfully cold, and she was already gone. He had begun to wonder again if it had all been a cruel dream, the feeling of having his guts ripped out from him already striking him, until he got up and saw the note on his desk.

Attached to a few pages of his notebook, where his latest frustrated wrestle with numbers lay, was another piece of paper. It had Marisa's handwriting on it. You got these all wrong, it said. Below that, were the correct calculations.