Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 14 of 24

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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

Jareth was gone the next morning when she awoke. She knew it was strange to feel the lack; yesterday she had mostly felt awkward about the situation. Still, this morning she'd almost been expecting to wake up in his arms. Almost... she'd almost been looking forward to it.

Once again, not a helpful thought. Unbidden, her mind went back to yesterday: the intent way he had looked at her when he issued his challenge; his breath on her throat and his hands on her waist, as he offered his gift; the warmth of his shoulder under her cheek when he'd told her how alone he had been; the strength of his arm at her back as they watched the nighttime display.

You're just lonely, she told herself as she dressed for the day and took a muffin from under her cover. It's just that he's the only human—or close enough to human—contact in this crazy place. You should try to see Hoggle again, or find Didymus. Or Ludo—he's good for a hug.

She sat down at her desk and pulled out the journal she'd begun yesterday. Today, she intended to make a list of every question she wanted to ask Jareth, from "Why does the Bog smell?" to "What do you want with me?" Getting him to answer would be the hard part; at least this way she was less likely to forget anything.

Five minutes later, she was staring at the page that said "Why does the Bog smell?" and nothing else. She needed to get out of her room. A change of scene would get her creativity flowing. However, it was a Short day, and she didn't have time to make it to any of the nicer sections of the Labyrinth. The Throne Room was full of goblins; the guest wing was dusty and not much better than her rooms. She could wander more—there were other openings off the Stairs—but mostly she just wanted to sit and think with a different view. In the end, she wandered the Stairs until she found a large, flat section, and settled down to work, leaning against the wall behind her, under a set of stairs that led up from this floor (or sideways away from it, or up from the opposite wall).

Some time later, she heard the click of booted feet, and looked up to see Jareth striding across the stone overhead. He looked up as well, and when their eyes met, he flipped over and fell, landing lightly at her feet.

"Show-off," she muttered, and he smiled.

"You should try it sometime, Sarah."

"What, showing off, or the free fall?"

"Free fall; why, do you believe yourself to be overly modest?"

"No, you're just full of yourself."

He laughed, this time, then frowned at her thoughtfully. "You are writing. How does the pen flow?"

"It's fine. Why wouldn't it be?"

"Because you are upside down."

"I am the direction that I am, Jareth. That's how this place works."

"Yes, but you do know which way is down outside, do you not?"

"Of course." She pointed over her head. "That way. Why does it matter?"

"While controlling your garments is not unusual, as you are wearing them—though you were correct to choose pants on your first day—it is much more difficult to exert gravitational control on something you are not directly holding. You are holding the pen, true, but not the pen's ink, which is liquid contained in a well inside the barrel."

She had stopped writing while she listened to him, looking at the pen thoughtfully. "Well, it's working for me." But on her next stroke, nothing happened. "Dammit, Jareth, I could do it when I didn't think it was special!"

He was unrepentant. "If you were doing it, then you can do it, Sarah."

"I don't know how."

"Can you forget what I have just told you?" She shot him her best Death Glare but it only made him laugh again. "Then try to think of the pen as a whole pen, not as pen and ink. If you can reverse that separation, you may get it working again."

She tried, for a few strokes, but it wasn't working. "Maybe I can't do it when you're here reminding me."

"Then I shall distract you, and you can try again later."

"Distract me?"

"I believe it is time you tried free fall." He held out a demanding hand. "Come."

Warily, she took his hand and stood. He took her pen and journal, and held them to the underside of the stairs behind her; when he released them, they stayed, held by normal gravity. Then, too quickly for her to react, he swung her into his arms.

"Best you get used to the sensation, first. Relax control to me." She let herself go limp in his arms, cuddling into his chest and doing her best to ignore the feeling of strong arms holding her that she'd missed that morning. Without warning, he dropped, flipping them in midair, and in spite of herself she shrieked and clutched his shirt when the world fell away. But above the adrenaline pounding in her blood, she felt something—a sort of pull to the left and right, and even... up?—and they slowed, allowing Jareth's feet to hit the floor gently. He bent his knees to cushion the blow, then set her on her feet. She clung to him a moment longer, still shaky. That was better than a thrill ride!


"What did you feel?"

She considered the sensations. "The falling part was fun. The landing, though... you were manipulating gravity beyond simply 'this is now down,' weren't you?"

"Clever Sarah." He gave her a short bow. "You might consider it a... percentile system. Where you want to go is 'mostly down,' where you came from is 'somewhat down,' and your left and right can be used for balance and direction. Come." He led her over to the edge of the narrow platform they had landed on; below her, the wide, flat floor stretched in all directions. "To begin, do not attempt to make a new direction your permanent down. Simply pull in other directions to slow your fall. I will stand by to assist magically if you are unable to manage it; I will not allow you to be injured." She nodded acceptance.

Carefully, she looked over the edge of the platform, taking in the perspective and the rest of the room. It stretched dizzyingly away in all directions, and this ledge... the floor... something reminded her... it was so like the ledge she'd jumped from, in her last minutes, in a desperate attempt to reach Toby in time. She had jumped, she had fallen... she had fallen slowly, gently, into a broken room. She had fallen, and had then confronted the Goblin King. Scenes from the past flashed across her mind. She'd thought she was beyond flashbacks in the Stairs, now that she had mastered them and lived here a time, but the idea of jumping from a height into the room... that was too much like what had gone before. And before... she remembered that sensation of pulling, of floating, just as she had experienced in Jareth's arms only minutes ago, and the room had come apart. Had she done something, unknowing, that pulled the parts away? Had he? She couldn't jump. She couldn't face him. She wasn't ready to go back to that place.

"I... Jareth, I don't think I can," she whispered.

"Sarah?" He turned her body to face his, but her eyes stayed on the ground, over the edge.

"I jumped... I fell..." Her voice was breathy; far away.

"You will not be hurt, Sarah," he answered, gently.

"No, that's not it." She shook her head. "Jareth, I..." She tore her eyes from the view, meeting his, and stopped at the concerned expression on his face, then went on carefully, quietly. "We don't really talk about the last time I was Underground." She took a breath, to gather courage. "We especially don't talk about... what happened here, in the Stairs."

He pressed his lips into a thin line, and the concern in his eyes vanished behind a cold, blank mask. She knew he remembered, now, just as she did, the chase, the song, her final jump. Their final confrontation. Perhaps he understood why she was having difficulty? His face was controlled calm as he asked her, "What is it that you wish to know?"

Faced with this open question, several questions presented themselves. Did you mean it? she wanted to ask; or possibly What did you mean? In the end she settled for the question she'd meant to ask originally, the safer question. "What happened to the room? Why did everything come apart?"

He breathed out slowly, evenly, and some of his tension went out with his breath. "I stopped time."

"But why would that make the room come apart?"

"The magic of the Stairs depends upon perception. In some ways, we reshape our minds to walk it; in others, it reshapes itself to fit us. However, without the element of time, there is nothing to put that perception in context. What you saw was... the room's constituent parts."

She wasn't sure what to make of that, but it was magic, and it made as much sense as anything. But there was still...

"Why did you stop time?" The question was asked before she could think better of it.

Once again, he was all cracking tension, but he answered her. "I needed to make sure that you had the time you needed to listen to me."

She had had time. She could have taken time. And she hadn't listened, not at all. He stepped closer to her, nearly touching.

Carefully, she met his eyes again. "Jareth... I think I was too young to really listen." She took a breath. "And I'm still not sure I understand exactly what you meant."

"If you do not understand, you cannot judge whether or not you were old enough to hear." His voice had gone cold, angry, at these words, and as she reached for him, he disappeared.

Her fury had not abated when she made it to his door. If anything, she was angrier than ever for having taken the time to find her way first back to her journal and then back upstairs. The door was closed. She'd known it would be. She pounded on it anyway.

"Jareth!" Her voice echoed in the stone stair. "You coward! Running away because things got a little serious? How dare you! What the hell do you want here? I didn't understand you before, and I still don't now, and I doubt I ever will if you won't talk to me. I know you want me here, Underground, but do those words still hold? Or is it something else?" She stopped herself, afraid of saying too much, and refocused. "You know where to find me." Her voice was quieter, but she knew he would hear. If he was paying attention.

Downstairs in her room, she took up her pen again, because there was nothing else to do. Fury abated as she wrote; cold anger and hurt remained. Every time things were not well between them, he ran away. He had done it when she had arrived, and he repeated it now. Hell, he'd even left her in the park when she'd admitted that she'd called him after her breakup. Her first arrival here, she could almost understand; the misunderstanding with the kiss might have led to disappointed hopes. But this...

Disappointed hopes. New hopes? Perhaps, but old ones were more likely. She wrote out his words carefully. Fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave. She'd always focused on that part. But what had he said before that? Just let me rule you, and you can have everything that you want. Just let me rule you? He wanted her to stay. He'd wanted her to stay. Nothing had changed.

What had her dreams been? What was he promising her? She'd wanted to act, she'd wanted to be famous... but more than anything, she'd been alone and left out, without friends, second best to Toby in Karen's eyes, second best to Karen in her father's, second best to Jeremy in her mother's. She had wanted to be first in someone's heart. And Jareth had wanted to be that person. To make her deepest desire real.

Just let me rule you. Could it be that literal? Let him be her King? Stay, and be his subject? Jareth had scared her with his own sexuality and with hers. But what if he hadn't pressed that advantage? She had every evidence now that he could be a patient man. He would not have forced her. He would only have kept her.

He would not have forced her, because he wouldn't have needed to. She would have come to him on her own. A fifteen-year-old girl does not know her own body. She doesn't know her own desires. She doesn't know how to think for herself, apart from her hormones. In the grip of her awakening sexuality, she is easily swayed by an older man; even more so when there are no other options. Sarah hadn't been wise at sixteen, when she'd let her senior boyfriend get beyond kisses; the only good thing she'd done was refuse to sleep with him. She hadn't been much wiser at eighteen, when she'd given her virginity to the junior she was dating under the belief that it was love.

She would have been Jareth's, and she never would have known different, and she wouldn't be the person that she was today, and could she have lived for eternity happy to be up on a pedestal? Frozen forever at fifteen, maybe she could, but people's minds did grow and change in the Labyrinth; she and Jareth did, at least. That happiness, that dream, would have soured, someday. Twenty-six-year-old Sarah, tricked Underground on the strength of a kiss, could never be happy with that life.

Strange how she'd started the day intending to look for good in him, but had ended it only more convinced that he was selfish, and even that despite his patience, he could be short-sighted. This morning she had felt sure of him. Now, she didn't know what to think. It would all came down to what he would say, and if he would run again.

She startled herself with a yawn. Was the day really so short, to be so soon ended? Glancing out her window, she saw that it was: it was full dark. She walked once more up to Jareth's rooms, but the door was still closed to her. Well, he had shown so far that he wouldn't stay away from her too long. She would see him tomorrow, or the next day, and she'd find a way to say what had to be said.

Sarah opened her eyes to near-complete darkness. The room was shadowed, the only light a hint of full moon that edged around the gaps in the heavy curtains. Why had she woken? Normally, she was asleep within a few hours of sunset and slept until after dawn. Not once, since coming Underground, had she woken during the night, but now she was completely, totally awake, and at her rough guess, dawn was still hours away. But strange as her waking was, what she found when she looked around was stranger still.

She had tried the door to the King's Stair, before, after their first night together. From her own room, it was locked to her; if Jareth could grant her the ability to open it, he had not done so. But now, it stood open.

An open door was an invitation.

The stone steps were just as she remembered, coiling upwards in a tight spiral, wide enough for only one person to pass. Not far above, she found a small landing with two doors. One door was a smaller version of the door to Jareth's chambers, all heavy carving and dark mahogany; it was closed. The other, a simple door of polished wood, was open, and beyond it, more stairs led higher in the tower.

The Eyrie. Finally. She climbed faster, eager to see this place that Jareth had kept hidden so long, this place she was certain held something important to him. There was no door at the top of the steps; the spiral simply opened into the middle of a moderately-sized, square room. Overhead, dusty beams supported the tower's turret. Each wall of the room was open, a long, empty window running nearly the full length, the thick stone of the tower providing a wide sill, a comfortable seat.

Jareth was seated in one of these, his legs stretched in front of him, his back to the stone wall at the corner. In his hands twirled four crystals, the likes of which she'd hardly seen since the meeting where he'd given her one. Each crystal flickered and danced with images, too small and faint to make out. Look what I'm offering you: you dreams! The moon was high in the sky, and the light in the tower was bright as daylight, though confined to shades of grey.

He had turned his head to look at her at the sound of her foot on the stairs. For a moment she thought he might turn on her, might scream at her, might make every terrible possibility she'd imagined come true. His empty hand clenched into a fist in his lap, and the pace of the swirling crystals increased.

Never had he looked so empty. Never had he looked so cold. But she had come here to speak her piece.

"The door was open," she said defensively.

"You should be asleep." His tone was ice, his delivery cutting.

"Something woke me." She stepped forward slowly, holding his eyes, the tamer before a dangerous snake. With a sudden motion, he brought his hands together and twisted, and the crystals dissolved into nothing. Crushed dreams, again. Disappointed hopes. He turned on the sill, facing out into the night. She stopped next to him, resting her hands on the cool stone, and waited, to see if he might speak first.

"I always thought you meant as a lover," she said finally, when she was sure he wouldn't.

"Not only," he answered. "Not immediately."

"You meant as a subject."

"As the first among my subjects."

"But you wanted me to stay." He said nothing, but she knew she was correct. "I'm glad I didn't." Every muscle in his face went tighter, and his neck tensed as though he was afraid it would turn of its own accord. She stepped closer, touched his cheek. At her touch he relented; when she guided his head around to meet her eyes, he didn't fight her. "I was too young." He looked at her for a long time before nodding, slowly, once.

His hand twisted again, and two crystals appeared; he swirled them easily across his fingers. She looked down at them, and then back to him. He turned back to the night, but this time his face was thoughtful, relaxed; the tension had subsided.

"Will you tell me what you're doing?" she asked softly.

"I am dreaming."


He twisted his hand again and another crystal joined the previous two. Carefully, he pulled one free, and released it into the night. It floated up, and away.

"I cannot touch most mortal dreams directly," he said. "Only those who firmly believe, or those who have been Underground. Your world needs more than that." He chose another and released it in the same manner. "Most of these will be forgotten. Occasionally, one will stick."

"And you do this every night?" Her voice was quiet.

"And some days. The world turns, and one side is always dark."

"Are they all different?" He nodded. "That sounds exhausting."

"It can be." He twirled the last orb across his fingers, then flicked it into the air, where it bobbed after its fellows.

"And all the ideas are original to you?"

"I re-wrote your Peter and the Wolf. That is why I was distracted when you were with the Enigma sprites."

She was shocked, and let it show. "And are all of them as detailed as that must be?"

"No. I am not limitless." He straightened his shoulders and twisted his hand again. Four more orbs appeared. "Once upon a time, there were more of us to share this duty."

"Can I help?" She surprised herself with the question. She had been so angry with him, and now... now all the nobility he seemed to carry deep within was shining at the surface. He looked lonely, but strong; determined but not proud.

He lifted the top crystal from his hand, giving her a glimpse of something that looked like the Northern Lights before he released it into the night. "Not until—or unless—you can do this." She dropped her head, defeated, then, on impulse, she stepped closer, wrapping one hand around his waist and resting her cheek against his shoulder. He relaxed, a little, in her embrace.

"What if I just stay, until you are finished?" He didn't answer, but he didn't push her away.

She wasn't sure how long it had been when he moved away from her, climbing off the sill and catching her as she swayed with weariness. She blinked, looking up at him; she'd been almost asleep on her feet.

"We should both rest, Sarah." She nodded.

At the door to his chambers, he stopped, gesturing her to continue down. She put one foot on the stairs, then turned, remembering one thing she hadn't yet said.

"You can't do that again." He watched her, waiting for her to elaborate. "You can't just disappear when we have a misunderstanding, or when you are hurt."

"You have not welcomed my presence when you felt similarly." Some of the distance was back in his voice.

"No, but I always told you that I needed space, and I appreciate that you've granted it. Do me the courtesy of telling me, and I will grant you the same." She waited, watching. She could say more, but it would be a waste of words, and Jareth appreciated economy.

Finally, he tipped his head, just once; an acknowledgement. "It will be as you say." He held her eyes a long moment, and then, with a small smile, turned back to his door.

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 14 of 24

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