Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 12 of 24

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A big bed wasn't worth a damn, Sarah discovered the next morning. The King of the Goblins was a cuddler. She shifted slightly, squirming farther onto her side, trying to escape, but his arm tightened and drew her back against him; he pulled her back against his chest and trapped her legs with his.

She sighed and rolled her eyes at this new contact. The King of the Goblins was a cuddler… and had morning wood. You'd better really be asleep, Jareth.

She did her best to relax; maybe if she didn't fight, he would relax too, or roll over. In addition, too much squirming wasn't likely to help his little—or, well, maybe not so little—problem, and it might wake him up, something she'd rather avoid so long as their position was so compromising. No matter what, she wasn't going anywhere until he let go. An excellent metaphor for her life at the moment, come to think of it.

Jareth didn't think that getting out of the Labyrinth would free her. While she wasn't sure he was right about that, it did mean that focusing on her first theory—that it had to do with Jareth himself, or perhaps both herself and Jareth—might be a better use of time. It had been a while now—it still bothered her that she couldn't say how long—and they had spent quite a bit of time in each other's company. What more did she know about him than she'd known the night they kissed?

He was quieter than she'd suspected; a legacy, perhaps, of how long he'd been alone, or mostly alone anyway. Some nights they would sit all night and not speak more than a hundred words, a brief conversation and a brief response. "Why didn't I pass out when you brought me here to run the Labyrinth?" "The Labyrinth brought you, not my personal magic. In a way, you brought yourself, through your desire to come." Other nights he was talkative, and entertained her with stories of the Underground and the people who lived in it—or, in many cases, the people who had lived in it. Peer Gynt's trolls, he had explained, had been those of his kind with less will to resist the change of the Underground, so that while they never diminished into one form alone, their outward form changed continually with their mood: fair when pleased or generous; foul when angered or devious or cruel.

Perhaps it was something of the same part of his personality, but he rarely gave simple answers when he could give complex ones, especially not about himself personally—on facts about the Labyrinth or a particular myth, he was far more likely to be immediately forthcoming. It had started at their first date and continued even now. Sarah found she didn't mind this so much; it kept her on her toes, and with practice, she was getting better at discerning his meaning, and also at answering in kind. Answering in kind would either make him laugh, which was pleasant, or it would make him angry, generally if he wanted her to be forthright and she was being evasive. She liked making him angry that way; it felt like winning. Also, he was far more likely to give direct answers when so confounded. He won most of those matches, it was true, but she had hope that she'd keep up over the long term.

He was selfish, there was no way to deny that. Or perhaps "narcissistic" was a better word, or egotistical, or…? She thought back, trying to remember what she'd learned about narcissistic personality disorder back in school. He was certainly self-important, believed he was quite unique, was not generally empathetic, generally was quite arrogant, believed he was always right, and expected that everyone would treat him as above themselves as a matter of course. She couldn't forget how dismissive he'd been of Ludo: "The beast is neither intelligent nor useful." Then again, he'd been here in the Labyrinth, surrounded by fragments of people, for who knew how long; she hadn't quite found it in her to ask. He genuinely believed himself to be the last of his kind, and she had no reason to doubt him. There was absolutely no question that he was brilliant: while she knew she was intelligent, she had no doubt that he could run circles around her intellectually, not to mention that centuries had given him far more time to educate himself. And he was King—he was in charge and had every right to expect that others would bow to him. In other words, could you really call it narcissism if it was true?

It didn't matter, she decided finally. As long as he didn't expect her to treat him with any more respect than he'd earned, she could live with his selfishness. With her he had been generous, empathetic, giving, and gentle far more often than he had been cold or angry, and he had never been angry without provocation. With centuries, could she grow to be his equal? She couldn't say "yes" without a doubt, but she rather thought she would, and she wouldn't let him play the narcissist with her. He would see her strengths as complements to his, or she wouldn't have him. Well, there was one thing to figure out: could he do that? He seemed to have done so, so far, so call it a tentative "yes."

He shifted again, turning her slightly; his hips rubbed against her, sending a tingle through her skin, and his head dropped. His breath on her ear made her shiver, and she tilted her head away. Yes, she was attracted to him; she had been at fifteen, even, though she'd been too young to put the name "lust" to her reactions. And while she refused to be ruled by her body, it was slightly harder to remember why she hadn't let him kiss her when she had still ended the night—or at least the morning—cuddled in his arms, albeit with a lot more cloth between them than a kiss might have led to. Down, girl, she thought firmly. Remember, he thought one kiss was happily ever after. If you give yourself to him, he's going to think you want to stay. Don't break his heart like that. Besides, he'll probably be just like all the others. She sighed, forcing herself to remember how often she'd been attracted to a man only to be disappointed in the bedroom. Even Ben hadn't been that great; after two years, he still hadn't done much for her, though he'd been the best she'd had. She recognized orgasm, of course; she could get herself off well enough. But every time she read about mind-blowing sex in Cosmo or a romance novel, she knew that either she was sleeping with the wrong men, there was something wrong with her, or people only wrote that sort of thing because they wished sex was that awesome. Not that it was bad—she'd rarely regretted it—but she'd never passed out from bliss, either. She couldn't rule out the first option, but she was inclined to believe it was one of the latter two, and for the sake of her own ego, she preferred the third. She was quite practiced at ignoring the niggling suspicion that if mind-blowing sex didn't exist, no one would write about it.

What had Hoggle said about him? Ye can't forget he's also impulsive, devious, powerful, and driven, and he hates to lose. Hoggle was probably the closest thing to a "worst enemy" Jareth had in the Labyrinth: though he wasn't as complete as herself or Jareth, he was intelligent enough to see the good and bad in people, and adequately identify his own strengths and weaknesses. If that was the worst he could say of Jareth, well, what did that tell her? Impulsive; he'd brought her back without asking, on the strength of a kiss. Devious; she hadn't seen much of this since coming back, though she had on their first run. Powerful; there was no denying that. She remembered the erotic thrill she'd felt watching him Goblin King at Peer Gynt; being near that power was not a problem. Being its object might be, but so far, he appeared pleased to treat her as an equal. Driven; what did Hoggle mean by that? That he did what he needed to do to get what he wanted? That wasn't really a bad quality in a King, either. Hates to lose; now how did that apply? She'd beaten Jareth, and he didn't hate her—had never indicated that he hated her—in fact if anything the opposite—the King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the girl—just a story—but he doesn't hate me. Still the suggestion was there. Had he wanted her back for revenge? Because she'd beaten him the first time? She might have suspected so, before returning to the Labyrinth, but there was too much else that had passed between them since, culminating in his very real fear for her yesterday. If all he wanted was power over her, tricking her into becoming merely another inhabitant of the Labyrinth was an obvious way to go, and he didn't want that.

There was the way he treated Hoggle himself—a mix of intimidation and blatant dislike, leaving aside the jealousy over Sarah herself—but Hoggle didn't like him either, and both of them had indicated that it was a very old conflict. And, they'd both had positive things to say about the other. What had Jareth said at the concert? In his own way, he is quite committed to the Underground. One catches more flies with honey—Hoggle could be a valuable ally for Jareth instead of a reluctant subject, with some investment—but that battle could wait. In the meantime, if they wanted to dislike each other, she couldn't hold it against either of them.

In the end, Hoggle's negatives didn't seem so bad, either. Most of them didn't apply to the way he treated her, either. He could change—he could begin to behave that way—but until he did she was left with a man she didn't have a reason to dislike.

Could she make a decision based on "don't dislike" and physical attraction? Above, she might have... not a "forever" sort of decision, but dates? kisses? more? It was possible, if he pursued her. But down here... she wasn't making a decision to date and see where it led her. If things didn't work between them, she might not be able to get away, and any of the negatives she'd thought of could come back to haunt her.

Jareth shifted again, and it felt intentional; his leg released hers as he stretched, and he pressed his face into her hair. "Good morning, Sarah," he said, with quiet warmth, and then she shivered as a gust of air replaced him at her back; he had disappeared without even getting out of bed. For a moment, she was simply stunned; as she turned to look at the place he'd so recently occupied, she didn't know whether to feel grateful or irritated at his departure. On the one hand, she didn't have to face him in an awkward position; on the other, she had been consciously enduring said position quite a bit longer and he shouldn't be able to escape so easily.

Well, no point in staying in bed. As she rose and dressed, she returned to the question she'd been considering before his waking had disturbed her. She had no reason to think poorly of him, but did she have any reason to think well? Had he done anything praiseworthy that did not relate to her personally? Hoggle had said something else: at least he's still here. She tried to think back, to the letter he'd written her about the Underground and its relations to Above. The last to keep the dream alive. And the dreams of men were what—inspiration? Without the Underground, without Magic, without me, mortal dreams will diminish. What did that mean? Did it mean no new art, or did it go farther?

And why was Jareth the one who had stayed? How long had he been here, alone?

This was all too big to keep in her head. In a moment of inspiration, she opened the top drawer of the desk in the sitting room. Inside, as she had hoped, lay a flat journal similar to Jareth's ledgers, and a set of pens much like the ones he regularly conjured. Fountain pens, she found, removing the cap to examine the pointed metal nib. She pressed it very lightly to her finger, observing the way the ink flowed and pooled in the grooves on the surface, then, from the light point of contact, flowed onto her finger, slowly filling the contours in her fingerprint. The little twists and curves filled with black, and she turned and gently pressed her finger onto the blank page. Twists and curves, starts and stops.Almost like the twists and turns of—

"Sarah!" Jareth was there, suddenly—though the door was closed—and he yanked the book from her grasp. He glanced at the page and then back at her, quickly, and she knew he understood.

"I'm sorry," she said, looking down. "I got distracted."

"Apologies are unnecessary, my dear. It is quite natural; you were with the Enigma sprites for more than two days. It will be a few days before you readjust. In the meantime, I will stop you if you are too irrational."

She nodded. "How did you get in?"

"I knocked here, first, but when you failed to answer, I went around by the King's Stair."

Another time, that might have irritated her, but she knew he'd honestly helped her. "Thank you."

He nodded. "What were you doing?"

"I wanted to write down some thoughts… fix them in place, as it were, so I can consider them better." She saw him frown, and went on, "Just a few things… more can wait. I know you said not to be overly-analytical today, but I really need to get this out while it's fresh. It's not some trivial puzzle, it's important."

He considered her carefully. "Very well. I must go down to the Throne Room. I will return for you by midday if you have not joined me by then." She rose and opened the door for him, and he paused at the threshold, turning to her with a winning smile. He raised a cautioning finger, and tapped her nose. "Try not to think too hard."

Try not to think too hard. She laughed; he had no idea how difficult a directive that was proving, but at least, she'd done her best not to think too much more. It had taken her some time to get the hang of the pen; she was used to pressing hard, as with a ballpoint, but the fountain pen required an easy gliding motion, hardly touching the page. She'd made a few blotches before she got it right, but once she did, she found she wrote faster for it. She'd written down notes about what she'd been thinking of Jareth, good and bad, that morning, and did her best to reconstruct her previous conversations with him as well. She wrote notes on her conversation with Hoggle, and on various small conversations she and Jareth had shared since her arrival and before. She transcribed from memory as much of his letters as she could recall and estimated that she had perhaps a third of his responses word-perfect and two-thirds at least in summary. She even wrote notes on what she remembered of her time with the Enigma Sprites—she didn't want to forget the parts of the Labyrinth she had come close to understanding. Even if Jareth went out and changed them, it was useful to remember. The Labyrinth's puzzles were often strange, but they did have logic. Finally, she made a list of every answer she could remember to her nightly question. She had nine, in the end: inspiration, an apple, company, a kiss, a good dream, freedom, joy, more time, my safety. No pattern that she could see... or the pattern was too complicated for nine answers to make it out. Nine answers. Had she really been here only nine days? No, yesterday she hadn't asked and the day before she couldn't remember. Add in her first two days, and some number of days working on the Stairs, and where did that leave her? How long…?

"Sarah?" She met Jareth's gaze as he entered.

"How long have I been here?"

"About seven hours. We slept late; we have another nine hours or so of daylight."

"You slept late. I was awake and trapped." He blinked. "But that's not what I meant."

"Then what?"

"How many days, Jareth."

"Oh." He seemed momentarily stunned. "How many days Underground, or how many Above?"

She hadn't even thought of that. "Um… both?"

"You have been Below for seventeen days; approximately seven have passed Above."

"That's… less awful than I thought, actually. I mean, I knew it had been at least thirteen days. A week Above, though… that's long enough for my advisor to miss me."

"It can be easy to lose track. As for time Above, please do not be concerned. If you are ever able to leave, I should be able to send you back so that very little time will have been missed."

"You can do that?"

"There are limits to time manipulation; it is not infinite. It is also quite tiring. However, I should be able to provide that much."

"If it's so tiring, why would you bother?"

He blinked at her again. "Sarah, I want you to enjoy your time here. You will not do so if you are concerned about people you have left behind. This time is not infinite, but you have thousands of days here before you will be missed Above." A thoughtful frown replaced his previously open expression. "Now that I consider it, I am surprised it has taken you this long to raise that question."

Guilt crashed down on her like a wave, swamping her good mood and sense of accomplishment. She knew a long time had passed, long enough that someone must have noticed, long enough that they might have called around; her professors, her coworkers, her parents, hell her rent would be due soon, and she hadn't given it a second thought. Until yesterday, and Jareth's prompting, she hadn't even thought of Toby. Even her Underground friends… she hadn't thought to look for them since her first day in the Labyrinth. The goal of finding and seeing them had been completely swamped in the simpler goal of solving puzzles. How had she been so selfish? That wasn't like her at all!

Jareth had moved; he was kneeling in front of her chair, taking her hands in his, holding them securely. "I am sorry, Sarah; do not blame yourself. The Underground can take such things before you are aware."

"I don't want to lose them." Her voice rasped with unshed tears.

"Keep them in your mind," he answered gently, "and you will not." He frowned at the journal she'd begun. "I was concerned about your writing, because I did not want you to regress, but I think that despite your fascination with your fingerprint, this morning, writing this way has actually helped you. This morning when I found you, you were in a puzzle-trance, but when I returned for you just now, you were lost in thought, but not distracted to the point of danger. I had no trouble getting your attention."

"So you're saying I should write more?"

"I had thought to give you intellectual challenges to keep you on your toes, to keep you more yourself, but I believe yesterday showed us that such an approach was flawed. Perhaps keeping a record of time passing would serve better. My subjects are not generally intimately aware of the past; they remember, but attach only vague time concepts to past events."

"Hoggle didn't realize how long it had been, when I spoke to him."

Jareth nodded. "He would not. I remember time very well. I feel each second pass, here and Above; a sense of something just out of reach, a noise at the very edge of hearing."

"That sounds… uncomfortable."

"One becomes accustomed. It is my duty and my curse, but also my privilege. And I believe it is a skill you should work to develop, as you work to maintain what of your time-sense remains to you. However," he stood, drawing her up as well. One hand rose, and brushed away a tear that crept slowly down her cheek. "I believe you have done enough of this for one day. Many hours of light remain to us. I would not yet leave you alone in the Labyrinth, but would you like to see some sections in my company?"

She did her best to push aside her despair; he was correct, she was not completely responsible for her actions, she had not lost anything that could not be regained, and she had a solution now to see that it would be. And she hadn't yet seen Jareth in the Labyrinth. Suddenly, she recalled that the day he'd found her with the Enigma sprites, he might have been attempting just such a thing. How are you enjoying my Labyrinth? She could see the scene with new eyes. It's a piece of cake. Could he even have been flirting with her, and she too lost in simple questions to see?

Well, if she was looking for the good in him, watching him in his Kingdom was one good place to start. Her smile was still weak, but it was genuine. "I'd be delighted."

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 12 of 24

<< Previous     Home     Next >>