Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 16 of 24

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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

He was standing at the window when she re-emerged. He turned his head to watch her, face intent but body still, a hint of his earlier hunger lingering in his face. It smoothed away as she entered the room and he caught her state of dress: she wore her normal daily clothes, a long skirt with a pretty but comfortable top. But for her damp hair, twisted into a simple braid, it could have been any normal evening that they had spent together.

"I don't do this often enough," she said, coming to stand beside him. These rooms faced southeast; the moon was just rising in the purple-blue edge of night at the eastern horizon, and a few stars had made their appearance.

"Give me gifts?" He smiled down at her, and reached out an arm to pull her close. She elbowed him as he brought her near; he trapped her tight to his side, keeping her from doing it again.

"Look at the Labyrinth at night. Look at the sky. Your stars are different than the stars Above." Almost of its own accord, her arm wound around his waist, matching his arm around hers.

"They are no different," he answered. "They are merely brighter here; you can see millions more. The constellations you know get lost." He raised an eyebrow. "You know, you said the same thing the night we were in the Water Maze."

"And I haven't looked since. That was what… eight days ago?" He nodded. "I don't see anything I recognize." She rested her head on his shoulder. The thought struck her that somewhere in the past nine days this closeness had started to feel natural. Jareth hadn't touched her more than necessary from the night he'd brought her here until the night he'd first slept in her bed, but now that that wall was broken, not a day went by without his touch, even when she slept alone.

She vaguely remembered thinking, the day after the Water Maze, that she only desired his touch because she was lonely for human contact. Seeing Didymus the other day hadn't removed that fear, but it had confirmed something she'd been almost afraid to think: spending time with her other friends wouldn't be enough. When she found Ludo, she might be able to snuggle into his fur and forget for a while, but always she'd be forced to come back and remember eventually. Of all the people in the Underground, only Jareth could meet her needs permanently. Only he had the mind and the strength and the will to back the promise of his touch. Her old friends loved her: she would never do them the disservice of saying otherwise. Their very nature made it possible for them to love so easily, so unconditionally: they loved like children. They were not beings of contradictions. Even Hoggle responded to loyalty and friendship. They could love her as friend, as companion, as fair maiden on a pedestal, and she could treasure that, but even had they looked human, they could never love her as a woman.

She knew that repetition could get a person to accept almost anything in time, especially something pleasant. She knew that the more he touched her, the less strange she would find it, and the more she touched him back, the more she would keep doing it, keep wanting to. The more she took comfort, the more she offered it, the more she'd keep taking, keep offering. The scary thing was that she could feel her resistance slipping; the scarier thing was that it was getting harder to care. He was good to her, and his sacrifice and work for her world were worthy of respect. Maybe she could hate him in spite of that if she didn't have to spend every day with him, but with him constantly before her, making her laugh, fascinating her, it wouldn't stay.

"I will show you the stars some other night," Jareth said abruptly, breaking her reverie. She shook off the self-analysis, calling up the simpler Sarah who wasn't worried about being his friend. He grinned in anticipation. "Now you are safe back in the Castle, and clean, as you demanded; do not hold me off any longer." His free hand claimed her hip, pulling her to face him; he was standing very close, looking down into her face, anticipation in every tense muscle. He leaned forward, speaking into her ear, so close she could feel his breath. "You have a gift for me."

She smiled up at him, pushing back, resting her hands on his upper arms to get a bit of space. "I do indeed. Would you care to guess what it is?"

For a moment, he looked furious, but as he met her eyes, the fury changed to laughter. "You are delaying intentionally, to tease me."

She returned his smile. "Consider it a little payback for throwing me off a cliff. Now do you want to guess, or shall I just tell you?"

"You would prefer that I guess."

"I'd prefer that you try."

"You think I will be unsuccessful?" She just smiled, challenging him. "Would you care to wager on that?"

"What stakes?" Her grin was spreading; every day should be so fascinating, so challenging.

"Give me three guesses," he began.


"It is traditional," he said firmly. "Three guesses, and if I am correct, you will give me two of the gift, not one."

"And if you lose?" She wasn't afraid. She knew where his mind must be and she was confident that she was a step ahead.

"If I lose," he said, his tone clearly indicating how little he thought of that possibility, "I will give you twice the required time, the next time I set you a challenge in the Labyrinth."

"That is acceptable—but if I finish in the normal time, next time, I get two gifts."

"Done." His hands at her waist tightened and he smiled an eager smile. "Now. Back in the Field of Doors you were hinting at something very interesting. I consider it an outside chance, but could it be that you mean to make a gift of your favor?" He raised both eyebrows in an exaggeration of a considering look; she could tell that his guess was mostly teasing.

Well, she could still have a bit more fun with the pretense, and secretly, she was pleased that he was so confident as to waste a guess. She slid her hands up his arms, pulling him closer, one hand coming up to cup his cheek as she leaned in to whisper in the opposite ear. "I know what I seemed to be hinting, Jareth." Deliberately, she breathed in his ear; he was holding her almost gently now, as though afraid he might frighten her into flight. In one quick step she moved back and away, breaking his grip. "But hints do not always mean what they seem to mean," she finished. He caught her wrist as she moved away, and brought her back to stand before him, but he did not take her in his arms. "And in seriousness, I think you know that I would not choose to bestow that gift so lightly." She flashed him a smile. "Don't waste your other two guesses."

He tilted his head in acknowledgement, reaching for her other hand, so that now he held both of her hands in his, between their bodies. A tug on one brought her closer, and he raised the other, twisting them together so that hers rested against his chest, his knuckles at her collarbone: just as they had stood when she'd kissed him in the park. He lowered his head, eyes on her lips.

"Then perhaps you will grant me another taste of you, as you gave the night I brought you here." His voice was low; his tongue flicked out to lick his lips, probably subconsciously. Equally without her conscious volition, her eyes snapped to the movement; she jerked them back up to meet his.

"I might consent to grant a kiss to the winner of a game, but that is not the gift I intend to give today." He let her go, stepping back until they were only holding hands again, but this time she was sure he felt real disappointment, and she understood why: she had wanted to kiss him, in spite of her reservations about touch and promises, in spite of the fact that nothing had changed, and only the knowledge that what she had planned was better held her off. "One more guess."

He raised her left hand, placing it gently on his shoulder, and slid his right arm down to her waist, at the same time raising her other hand. "Very well, then. We both enjoyed the dance in the ballroom, though sadly it was interrupted. Will you give me a whole dance, this time?"

"I will dance with you another time, for the asking, but you are wrong again. And that's three guesses." He dropped her hands, looking almost angry: he hates to lose. Well: in the Water Maze he had acted as though losing to her was as good as winning; he had gotten something he wanted either way. It was time to show him losing could be winning even when she was in control.

"Very well, then, what is it?" he snapped.

"Trust me, Jareth," she said, a hint of reproach in her manner. She smiled, deliberately softening her expression, and he watched her, guarded, expectant. "My gift to you is... a dream."

His mouth twisted. "You would offer me that which I once offered you?" His step forward was almost menacing. "You could not know my dreams."

"I cannot wrap it up in a pretty bauble and dance it on my fingers, no." She held her ground, refusing to be intimidated. "Nor do I have the power to see inside your mind. Perhaps it would be better to call this 'a dream returned.' It is not any dream I would give to you, but one specific one, that once you sent out into the night." He blinked at her, and she moved away to take her usual place on the chaise. "Come, sit," she invited. "Be comfortable. Let me tell you the story that grew from your dream."

Still looking guarded, but not angry, he approached, and sat beside her on the chaise rather than taking his usual chair across the way. She moved closer to him, taking one hand in hers.

"Once upon a time," she began, "there lived a man in England, a professor of language. One day, he was grading papers when, suddenly inspired as though out of nowhere, he wrote down the words, 'In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit.'" She could feel him tense at her words. "Jareth, you weren't listening to me carefully, earlier. I know you were concerned for me, and that was why, but there was really no reason. There were no Enigma sprites or other nasties lurking to turn me away. There is real truth here, so listen." Slowly, he nodded.

It had been years since she'd read The Hobbit, but she did her best. Despite being a children's book in name, it wasn't one she'd really studied, as the world of Middle Earth was too adult, overall, for her work. She couldn't remember all the names of the dwarves, only Thorin Oakenshield, because he was the leader, and Glóin, because he was Gimli's father, but Bilbo and Gandalf and Thorin were the important ones anyway, and so she went on. She described Bilbo particularly, making Jareth laugh; he was equally amused with the way Gandalf maneuvered him into the adventure. From there she skipped ahead to the trolls, and the company going to Rivendell. To get the next part right, she had to close her eyes and try to remember a map of Middle-Earth, but she guessed that they had gone under the mountains, and described how Bilbo found a ring lying on the ground, and his encounter with Gollum.

Jareth interrupted for the first time when she began to describe the riddle-game that Gollum proposed, with the prize being that Gollum would show Bilbo how to get out of the caves. Though he had started skeptical, he had become involved in her story, even when she knew she wasn't telling it as well as Tolkien had.

"Tell me the riddles," he demanded.

"I'm sorry," she said, shaking her head, "I don't remember them, except for the last."

"Without the riddles, how can I judge the cleverness of these characters? Surely you remember one of them."

"I'm sorry; I only remember that there were a few in a row having to do with fish." He was still glaring at her. "If you're so interested, you can pop Aboveground and get a copy of the book, if you like!"

His mouth thinned. "I cannot simply... pop... Aboveground, on a whim."

"What? But when you wrote to me, you said I would see you again, that I couldn't keep you away, and I saw you four times, that week."

He hesitated; clearly he didn't like admitting that he was not omnipotent. "Your wish, addressed to me directly by both title and name, allowed me to come to you easily, as I was inclined to grant it, though I was in no way bound to do so. Though you had banished me from your presence in our last interaction, you rescinded the banishment with the wish, and I could also draw upon your connection to the Underground. Once Above, I did not return to the Undergound until the night I brought you with me. Returning here was easier than going there without a wish, but very tiring; I slept most of the following day."

"But you said that it was basically my fault that you couldn't send me back."

"And so it is. Something about you, or perhaps the situation, prevents me. Should that restriction be lifted, sending you back will exhaust me for a time, but I will be able to do it. It is not a matter of simply having the power."

"You said your people used to move easily between Above and Below."

"We did, when the connections were more numerous, but nearly all are closed, now." He forestalled her when she began to protest again. "Continue your story, Sarah."

It took her a moment to recollect herself, but she started over with the riddle-game and ended with Bilbo's final question: "What have I got in my pocket?" Jareth objected again that it wasn't a proper riddle, but she overrode him, as this served the story anyway, and went on to tell of Bilbo's escape through the discovery of the ring's power of invisibility, his sneaking into the dragon Smaug's cave by that same power, the defeat of the dragon, the final battle, and Bilbo's return home with a fantastic story, a good deal of wealth, and the ring. When she finished, it was late at night, long beyond when usually she would have sought her bed. Jareth pulled back from her, and looked at her carefully.

"I enjoyed your story, Sarah, but how is it a dream?"

"You don't see? You keep records, don't you, of the dreams you send out into the night? That's what you're writing, in those ledgers, most evenings."

"Yes," he replied cautiously. "I did not realize you knew."

She shrugged. "I figured it out. What else do you have that would take so much of your attention? The Kingdom alone doesn't." She grasped his hands again, pulling him closer, forcing him to focus on her. "The place you took me this afternoon—the Field of Doors, as you called it—anyone, anyone who has read The Hobbit or its sequel, or even anyone who's heard much about them, would recognize that place. In external appearance, it matches exactly the description of their homes, the hobbit-holes, and Hobbiton, their town. If you go back and check, I believe you'll find that some seventy years ago, give or take, you sent out into the night an image of that place, and it stuck in the mind of that professor I spoke of at first. But J.R. R. Tolkien isn't just some man who wrote one story that only gets read by people who like fairy tales. He's basically considered the father of modern fantasy; the characters and situations he wrote about are aspects of the culture that are so ingrained that nearly any adult who speaks English, and plenty who don't, has heard of them."

She'd started out meeting his eyes, looking into his face, but his focused stare was too much for her. She dropped her eyes to their clasped hands, only daring to peek at him occasionally. His focus never wavered, but he seemed to stare almost through her, now.

"Jareth, when we went to that concert, you told me that a story created in the past hundred years or so might have touched the Underground so briefly that you wouldn't know it. Tolkien's work was influenced in minor ways by other stories—some are probably Underground-related—but the connection is far off and complex. Still, his work is so ubiquitous that I assumed it had touched here and that you knew it. When you didn't know what a hobbit was, I realized you had no idea of this massive impact that you've had on modern culture. There's your dream come back to you, Jareth. One simple image, one dream that struck in just the right place, and you sparked something huge.

"I saw your face, that night in the Eyrie, when you talked about sending dreams into the night, and how most would be forgotten. It seemed so hopeless, that this was all you could do, and it might all come to nothing. I thought you would like to know that that one hasn't been, and it has a chance to endure as long as the epic stories of past ages."

She looked up again, but was able to see his eyes for only a moment before he moved. His hands tore from hers and he strode again to the window, staring out into the night, clasping his hands tightly behind his back, every line of his body screaming tension. The room's light's dimmed and went out, leaving only a few candles and the soft glow of the waning moon.

That had not been the reaction she had anticipated.

"Jareth?" She stood slowly, and took a step towards him. After a moment, he unclasped his hands, reaching one back to her in invitation. She moved forward and took it, and he pulled her to his side, as he had done earlier that evening. She looked up into his face; his eyes were tightly shut, his mouth clamped as though to guard against display, but the corners turned up ever so slightly. Cautiously, she leaned in to him, and he pulled her fully into his arms, resting his forehead against hers. The movement threw his face into shadow.

"Sarah, precious Sarah," he whispered, after a moment. "Do you realize what you have done?" The pressure against her head increased, as did the force of his arms at her back. "I can feel them. All of them. I had not known to look; I had not known how, there was no lens, no mortar, no line, it was remote, the connection unfinished. I knew that was a chance, with my least-formed dreams. I might never know, even for stronger ones, and I suspect that that one was as weak as you say: nothing more than a simple image. But now… I can sense everyone who loves that story, Sarah, all over the world Above. Faint and strong, foolish and wise, like children who believe in fairy stories, but so much more than children! So much more likely to remember; so much more likely to share what they create." He swallowed, sharply, and when he spoke again his voice was ragged. "The gift you have given me… Sarah, it is beyond price."

One hand moved up to cradle her head; he lowered his face a small fraction, his nose brushing hers, their breath mingling. One of her hands pressed his chest, cautioning.

"Jareth, I…." She hesitated. He took a long, gasping breath, and shook his head slightly.

"I know; no promises," he said, his voice breaking. "No requirements. No expectations. Only joy." She lifted her head, just a little, and when his lips met hers he tasted of salt. The corners of his mouth turned up, even as his lips brushed hers again, and she felt the expression that he hadn't quite let her see. He was smiling, wider than she'd ever seen, and his eyes were filled with happy tears.

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 16 of 24

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