Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 11 of 24

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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

Sarah was up early the morning of that long day. The Labyrinth, finally. She'd wanted to get closer to the great maze almost from the moment she'd arrived. Even her initial anger with Jareth, upon arrival, couldn't change the fact that it was fascinating in itself, and now she could explore it without terrifying time constraints or consequences. She could learn every facet, if she wished. Jareth had goaded her yesterday that it was harder to get out than to get in, but she was a Champion, his only Champion, and she'd already found the way out of the Castle faster than he'd thought she could. She could find her way through the Labyrinth as well.

Even if you get to the center, you'll never get out again. Wait. That could be an important thought. The first time he'd brought her to the Underground, he'd brought her to the edge of the Labyrinth, and she'd won by making it to the center. After she'd made it to the center, he had sent her home. The second time he'd brought her to the Castle, the center, and he couldn't send her home until she did something, but she didn't know what. Could it be that he couldn't send her home until she found a way out? It hadn't been her first thought, but as she turned the idea over in her mind, it became increasingly attractive. The idea had a certain elegant symmetry that she had to admire. The kind of symmetry found in fairy stories. Get out again, and go home.

And she did want to go home. Despite the fact that she'd been getting along with Jareth in the past days, even enjoying his company, she still didn't feel safe. Above was better, Above was familiar; Above, she had choices. She didn't want to stop seeing him, she just didn't want to feel forced. He had to see the sense in that.

Hoggle and Jareth both had been convinced she'd fail, her first time, and she'd shown them. Jareth hadn't quite said that he didn't think she could get back out again, last night, but he'd certainly implied that she'd have difficulty doing it. She'd show him. She'd find a way out, and the faster the better, and when that let him send her home, she'd win that battle too.

She wasn't a Champion for nothing, after all.

Three long days in a row. Such luck! And tomorrow would be another one, even longer. Three long days of exploring. Jareth had come for her at the end of each day, to return her to her tower room, but he'd been rather preoccupied. The past two nights, he had retreated almost immediately to his bedroom, or maybe upstairs, but she didn't mind. Last night she'd been too busy watching the Labyrinth in the moonlight to ask him her question. The previous night he'd said something unimportant, trivial. The Labyrinth was far more interesting than Jareth anyway. Each day she'd managed to make it back, quickly, to where she'd left off the day before, leaving the rest of the day for finding new passages to explore, new challenges to realize, new puzzles to solve. It didn't matter that she'd done it the easy way—edge to center—in only ten hours; she now knew that getting zipped over to the Bog had significantly helped with that quest. There was still the challenge of getting out, and if four days wasn't enough, she'd be content with five. If she could get out, she'd know all the answers. Best puzzle of her life. Just now, she was considering three paths which appeared identical at first glance. However, there had to be a clue to tell her which to take, something to give a hint. There always was, at the major turnings, if you knew where to look.

"Sarah." His quiet voice was just beside her. Oh, excellent. Jareth was here and the sun was still high in the sky. Maybe a clue? What could he give her? A new puzzle? "How are you enjoying my Labyrinth?"

"It's fascinating." Grinning with pleasure and challenge, she glanced up at him, expecting his answering smile, but instead he was frowning, almost angry. He closed the distance between them with quick strides, backing her against the nearby wall. "What's wrong?"

"That was not the answer you should have given."

"What?" It must be the right answer; it was the truth, which he insisted on, so there couldn't be another answer. She looked away again, towards the three paths. Were they slightly different colors, or was that just a trick of the light?

"Sarah." He gripped her chin, forcing her to look at him. He was leaning over her, almost menacing, one arm on the wall above her head. Should she remember something about this? "How are you enjoying my Labyrinth?" The repeated question was almost a hiss.

"I'd be enjoying it much better if you'd let me get back to it." She pushed at his shoulder, impatient. The three paths were so inviting, so similar, but there had to be one hint, one that would tell her which to choose, one to make everything clear. Color had indeed been a trick of light, now that she looked again, but… there were fifteen stones across the opening of the first path, and fifteen again across the opening of the second. The third had only thirteen. Gotcha. She ducked under Jareth's arm, intent on her goal, but he grabbed her roughly by the hand, spinning her back into his chest and wrapping both arms around her. "Hey! Jareth, that's the right way!"

"That is immaterial." He held her firmly, then slowly swept a glare around the passageway. "Show yourselves," he growled when his scan was complete, and she somehow understood that he wasn't talking to her.

"Solved the puzzle, Majesty!" The creature clinging to her leg looked like a bundle of grey vines, twisted and formed together in the shape of a child. Its cunning blue eyes glinted at her from under a tangle of wild green-grey hair, and it smiled with pointed teeth. Sarah cocked her head, watching it. It hadn't been there a minute ago... had it? No, it had. She remembered now. Little grey hands, zipping her along the paths she'd solved, spurring her on towards new questions, teasing out the answer at each important turn. She should thank it.

"Always solves our puzzles, he does," grumbled another of the creatures, clinging to her other leg.

"Can't outpuzzle the puzzler! Give a king the credit due." The third little creature danced around their feet, laughing.

"Enigma Sprites," Jareth growled. "Why have you chosen this girl?"

"Such a love of puzzles, Majesty!"

"Give us a puzzle, Majesty?" One of the sprites detached from her leg and wrapped its hands around Jareth's boot.

"Gave us a pretty puzzler already. Won't she dance with light feet!" The dancing sprite leapt into the air, clicking his heels.

"Get through the Labyrinth! There's a puzzle."

"There's her puzzle."

"Puzzles and tricks and outwitting the King."

"How long?" She knew Jareth was upset about something. What was he upset about? What had the little creatures done? They'd just kept her company and helped her remember the parts she'd solved already. All she wanted to do was find the way out. She had to find the way out. The way out was the answer to the riddle, the solution to the puzzle. She had to solve the puzzle. Get through the Labyrinth. One step at a time. Each choice as it comes. Everything becomes clear. That path was lined with thirteen stones.

"Three times the hot sun blinds us."

"Less the time of sleeping darkness."

"One of us for each bright day!"

"You have been with her all three days? But you hid, in the evenings when I came." Why was he shaking her?

"Can't take away the puzzle girl."

"A new friend will make us four."

"Tomorrow's another long day."

"Sarah." He gripped her shoulders tightly, but she was beyond protesting. The wall mosaic was enticing, a little maze all its own. If he would just let her think for a moment she'd work it out and look at him again. "Sarah!" Her eyes tore from the wall as her head turned and her cheek blazed with fire. He'd hit her. He'd hit her!

"What the hell was that for?" she hissed. How dare he? It hurt and worse, she'd lost her place in the maze.

"I am trying to wake you up," he returned with matching anger. "We are going back to the Castle now, and your friends will be staying here." They were back at her door that next instant.

Eyes wild with fury, she flung up her hands, breaking his grip. "You hit me and I was going to solve it and I still had more than half a day! Why did you take me away?"

"Why are you more angry with me for bringing you back than you are for the slap?" A question. A puzzle. She knew the answer.

"A slap hurts for a time. You didn't even hit me that hard. It's already fading. Solving a puzzle lasts forever and you took that away from me. When I go back tomorrow it will have changed, and I'll never know today's answer." She pushed open the door to her room, intending to slam it in his face, but he was faster; he caught the door and followed her in, catching her close when she moved towards the bedroom to try again to flee.

"I can feel them on you," he murmured against her temple. "Forgive me, Sarah. I have left you too much alone, these three days." One arm held her firmly by the waist; his other hand stroked her hand, her arm, her shoulder, her head. She counted the strokes and tried to guess when he'd move. "Here, let me―" and he caressed her cheek, the one he'd struck; it tingled briefly and the slight pain that had lingered faded away. She closed her eyes as cool lips brushed her forehead; he felt nice, comfortable, solid. Foundational. "Come back to me, Sarah. Let the puzzles go. You are more than an analyst."

"You can make a person do anything if you know how they tick. People are fantastic puzzles."

"Are they only puzzles, Sarah?" She frowned at him. "Are you only a puzzle? Is Toby?"

Toby... Toby, running away as she chased him in the park, sitting in her lap and begging for a story, smiling at her as he showed her the story he wrote for school, one of his own, not one of hers. The baby in the red-and-white striped pajamas cuddled with Lancelot, the toddler with beautiful gold curls cuddled in her lap to watch Sesame Street, the kid laughing as he finally kept his bike up without training wheels, something she'd tried to teach him all summer break. Toby crying and holding her when she left for college, then giving her that "I'm a grown-up" stiff upper lip when she'd moved away for graduate school. Toby the preteen, who was starting to notice girls but too embarrassed to admit it.

Toby. When was the last time he'd crossed her mind? She'd written about him to Jareth, at one point; was that really the last time she'd thought of him? But then again, she didn't see him every day; she loved him, but he was a child.

But she loved him. He was more than just a puzzle to solve. A puzzle was worked out and then discarded in favor of new amusements. She couldn't give up Toby like that. Knowing how to get him to eat his vegetables wasn't good enough. He was the only blood relative she'd really want to choose as family.

She was crying, she realized suddenly. She was crying, and Jareth was soothing her, and he'd sat down with her on the chaise, holding her tightly in his lap as she sobbed into his shoulder. She'd been so focused on the goal of solving the puzzle that she hadn't thought of anything else for days. Walking the Labyrinth, figuring out its twists, solving it in reverse; that was all she'd had, no thought for Jareth or her friends or herself since that first day. Just the questions and the answers, and the three little grey children who posed her questions and hinted at answers and helped her remember. But he was right. She was more than an analyst.

Jareth was speaking, and—was he trembling? With effort, she focused on his words.

"It had not occurred to me that you would require assistance―that you would require warning―you did so well, last time―but you had a better goal―and I have been preoccupiedand perhaps I challenged you overmuch―perhaps I pushed you towards this end―I did not think so few days would work such change―but the spans of Men are different and opinions change on a whim―but still I cannot send you away―nor do I―"

"Jareth." Her voice was weak, breathy, but she had to speak. He sounded so―so lost―and she could comfort. "I think I can focus a little better now." He quieted, looking down at her. "At least, I'm not trying to work a pattern into the number of times you stroke my arm or how many fingers you use. What happened, there? What were those things? Where did I go?"

He shifted slightly, adjusting her so that she sat with her legs across his lap, rather than directly on his thighs, and took a few deep breaths. She leaned back into the arm of the chaise and looked up at him. "Sarah," he began, his voice slightly steadier, "do you remember what I told you before, about how the Underground changes you?"

"Not exactly. You said it was a matter of... exposure and preference?"

"Indeed. There are two factors at work. One is your own natural inclinations. You will tend to focus on one particular natural inclination, one that catches your fancy, and you will tend to move towards those who are like you in that way."

"Homophily? That makes sense." The word didn't quite fit―if nothing else homo wasn't quite accurate―but the concept was close enough. "What's the other?"

"Magic." She rolled her eyes, and he smiled a little and went on. "Everyone of the Underground has an innate magical aura, which physically affects those nearby. Because in the Underground form follows personality, you might think of it as the physical manifestation of what you called 'homophily.'"

"So you actually start to look like the thing you're acting like?"


"But I'm not all…" she paused, looking at her outstretched arms. "Grey and twiggy. What were those things, anyway?"

"Enigma sprites," he answered. "And no, you wouldn't be, not yet—to put it roughly, form follows function."

"The mental changes happen first." He nodded. "So earlier… the Enigma Sprites… they were attracted to me because I wanted to figure out the Labyrinth?"

"They are attracted to puzzles of any kind. Mazes, riddles, wordplay, anything of the kind. They also have excellent memories and do not forget a puzzle once solved. That is how they could lead you through the Labyrinth once you had figured out the trick to a particular small section. With them around, you could access the same ability."

"I just wanted to understand everything. Part of me still does."

"You probably always will, in part. It is part of your personality, Sarah; was it not a quest to understand yourself and others which led you to your chosen career?" She said nothing, only nodded, and ducked her head, cuddling into his shoulder. Somehow that felt safer, now that he'd been touching her, even though they hadn't been this close since the kiss. His shirt was silk; so soft. Focusing on the texture was easier than having complicated thoughts.

"So what happens now?" It wasn't the question she wanted to ask.

He gave a short little laugh, leaning down to lay his cheek on the top of her head. "You will not shrink down and turn grey, if that is what you are asking." She closed her eyes and pressed closer. "You might have, had I not found you today." He was stroking her arm again. "I should have watched more closely. I even pressed you towards the Labyrinth; I thought the challenge would keep you more you. I could see it was part of you, the need to solve, to comprehend." His hand came up to caress her cheek, her forehead; his fingers tangled in the hair at her temple, then pushed it back, behind her ear. "But I have been too busy, these past two days, and I missed the signs."

"I meant, more, what do I do?"

"It would be best for you to stay with me for the next few days. My presence will..."

"Clear up any remaining inclination to go all twiggy?" The attempt at humor fell flat; she shuddered instead of laughing, and he held her closer.

"Yes." His hand was still tangled in her hair, cradling the back of her skull. Gently, he tilted her head, raising her face to his, their foreheads touching. Her eyes could focus on his, just barely. "I almost lost you." He said it so quietly, she wasn't sure she'd heard.


"Sssh." She could feel his breath on her lips as he brought her closer, the tips of their noses just touching. Her heart was pounding; it took every ounce of will to keep her breathing even. She knew where he was going with this, knew as his hand tightened slightly on her head, as her lips tingled with the memory of their kiss by the moonlit lake. It would be so easy to give in and let him kiss her. It would take some of the questions away. It would leave others in their wake.

"No," she said, gently. She brought her hand to cup his face, laying her thumb across his lips. "Not until I know..." Deep breath. "I remember the last time." She turned her head away; he let the hand in her hair fall free. He was silent for a long time. She couldn't move.

"Why were you trying so desperately to solve the Labyrinth?" he asked, finally. "I had thought you would be more content to wander a while, to understand slowly and completely rather than fixating on the ultimate solution." He sounded tired.

"I thought that if I got out, you'd be able to send me home." Slowly, she raised her head to look at him. He wore caution like a mask, closing away his thoughts, and she leaned away from him again, though her knees still rested across his lap.

"It has a certain symmetry," he allowed.

"That's what I thought."

He shook his head. "But I do not think it would have helped. You may try again, if you wish, but I do not think that is the answer."

"I'm not sure I should be in the Labyrinth."

"Sarah, you cannot spend the rest of your stay—possibly the rest of your life—cooped up in the Castle. Even the next five years would drive you insane." The arm behind her back lifted; when he released her, she swung her legs out of his lap. He moved across to his usual chair. "However, you should wait some days. After tomorrow the next four will be short."

"I knew tomorrow would be long."

"There is one more thing we should discuss, related to your adjustment, that I had hoped to avoid." Did he look nervous, suddenly? "Do you understand why the Sprites were holding on to you?"

"I hadn't really thought about it." She looked aside, a moment, thoughtfully, and he waited patiently. "Is it because the—magical aura—is strengthened through touch? Stronger than just being in the same room, or walking together?"

"Yes. And Sarah, they have been holding on to you that way for two and a half days. The rest of the time you have been nearly always alone. Without your own aura, being alone is not truly safe either; while you will not be as strongly affected as you were by their presence, still the magic calls to the dominant parts of your nature." He took a deep breath, as though steeling himself. "Sarah, it would be best—safest—for you, coming back to yourself, if you would permit me to share your bed for the next few nights, and any other night after you have walked the Labyrinth alone, especially if any of my subjects touch you."

"Jareth—I—what?" She'd just turned down a kiss, did he really think—

"Ah—no—that is not exactly—just to sleep, Sarah. I mean no impropriety."

"Give me a moment." He nodded, and sat back.

Hoggle had told her to do what Jareth said. Jareth didn't lie. The bed was huge. She didn't want to grow vines. She didn't want to lose herself. If it was too much, she could find ways to be with him during the day, forgo the Labyrinth for a little while. Much as she wanted to fight it, the part of her mind that was afraid was forced to agree with the part that still wanted to turn every conversation into a logic puzzle. So much for sleeping in the nude.

Her last hesitation had been that she did not want to completely give up her own privacy, but as it transpired, the mechanics of the thing were simple, thanks to the design of the tower. Jareth had hesitated, until she told him that she'd pretty much worked out that her rooms would have belonged to the Goblin Queen, and that she understood and would rather be there than in the guest wing she'd found. The lack of argument or offense seemed to surprise him, at first, but her logical side had firm control and in the end he seemed equally glad not to fight. Instead, he led her to the locked door in her bedchamber, took her hand in his, and touched them both to the door.

"Open for both inhabitants of the tower," he ordered, and the door obeyed. He ushered her through the opening, into a narrow spiral stair that reached up into the tower, and closed the door behind them. "Sarah, this is the King's Stair. I am sure you can guess its intended use."

"Private communication between the rooms of the King and Queen; of course." He was being so careful, it was almost amusing.

"Precisely. Now: previously the door was closed to both of us, but now that we have opened it, it will respond to me. However, you may set conditions that dictate how and when I may enter. Simply lay your hand on the wood and speak them."

She could impose heavy restrictions. She could say that he had to be confident that she needed him near to keep control, she could say that even then he needed permission, she could ask anything; he hadn't made any restrictions. But in the end, she laid her hand against the wood and said, "To open this door, King Jareth must knock, and then wait fifteen seconds. Unless I have responded to the knock asking that he not enter, he may then do so."

"So little?"

"I can choose to be suspicious of your every move, or I can choose to trust you. You were genuinely concerned for me earlier, and though I still object to the way you brought me here, you have been nothing but generous ever since. And honestly, paranoia is confusing and exhausting. So, I choose trust you, again. All I want is a choice when I'm awake. Otherwise, I simply ask that you not take advantage."

"Thank you, Sarah."

He'd gone up to finish something; she looked at the sleepwear choices and found pants and a camisole, then a loose, short-sleeved top. She had settled down and dimmed the lights when he knocked, and after the designated pause, the King's Door opened. He, too, was dressed, for which she was happy—she was confused enough without dealing with half-naked Jareth—though bare arms and hands were still a surprise.

He laid down without speaking, on the far side of the bed. A gentleman, as he'd promised. Feeling suddenly that she should do something more, she reached out and clasped his hand. In the darkness of the bedroom, the gesture was easier to make than it would have been in the light, and it felt somehow both impersonal and intimate.

"Jareth?" He squeezed her hand. "What do you want?"

"I want you safe."

I'd be safe back Above. The thought was loud in her mind, but she didn't voice it.

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 11 of 24

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