Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 23 of 24

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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

Sarah appeared at the gates of the Castle, the dusky sky telling her that night was falling, though without the day for reference, she couldn't tell if it would be Short or Long. Either she'd been away too long—could she lose what she'd gained?—or she simply needed a point of reference. With slow but steady strides, she crossed the main entrance, finding her way easily to the Throne Room. The Castle was silent; not a Goblin in view. Slowly, she climbed the Stairs, leaving her larger bags at the first gravity turn. They could wait. She looked down each hall she knew, as she climbed. Every door stood open.

Every door, save two. At the top of the tallest tower, Jareth's door was closed. The door below, to the rooms she'd used, was closed as well. He'd be there, in his Eyrie, that she knew, but the doors were closed to her.

Or were they? She had closed her own door, the night he sent her away; closed it, as she always did when she wasn't in, to join him for the evening. And she had ended the night in his bed; it had been the first time he'd brought her there, rather than joining her in hers. And if she had closed her door... had the magic held?

She raced back down the stairs so fast that later she was surprised she hadn't fallen. The doorknob turned easily in her hand and she stumbled into the sitting room, her sitting room, exactly as she had left it, save for the thick dust that covered every surface. Did the room not clean itself? What had happened here? Dropping her last bag, she turned for the bedroom. Other questions could wait. Only Jareth mattered, now.

As she had hoped, the door to the King's Stair was open, beckoning. Did he know she was coming? Or was it merely hope? She climbed slowly, taking the time to calm her rapid breathing, to slow her pounding heart. Finally, silently, she emerged into the most private of his private spaces, where he would be found, if she could find him at all.

It felt good, to know what she wanted, and to know she had good reason to want it. She finished selling off her things, and bought instead old paperbacks, modern fantasy classics and the first book in every new series she could find; space was at a premium and anything Jareth liked, he could probably copy magically. The only thing she splurged on was a nice, leather-bound set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He might be annoyed to have only the first in a new story, but it couldn't be helped; at least this way, they would be able to figure out what to look for. They could get more, if they could manage another trip Above.

It was difficult to wait, to not rush right back, now that she knew, but she knew also that she'd be better for it, and so would he. She needed to say goodbye to her family, to see them one more time, before she left. She could, and would, leave them; Jareth was her future and she'd come too far to turn back. Still, it hurt to think that they wouldn't even remember her. You will fade from Above as though you were a dream. It felt strangely like planning your own death.

She went to one of her mother's plays, and sent her flowers. Linda never called, but then again, she never did.

She stayed through Toby's birthday, and remembered the last year, when she'd been so lonely, and searching for direction. As the last of his friends were leaving, she walked over to her father, where he stood by the table in the yard, beginning to clean up. Karen was seeing off the parents at the front gate. She'd tried and tried to think of something profound to say, but she couldn't. Instead, she hugged him—she never hugged him—and said, "I love you, Dad," very quickly and quietly, then dropped her arms and ran into the house.

Toby hadn't come up yet, and she had one more thing to do. Sneaking into her father's and Karen's room, she opened Karen's jewelry box, and put in three little containers of earring backs.

When Toby came up, she was waiting in his room, once more holding the Hoggle figure. He stopped when he saw she was there.

"You okay, Sarah?"

He wouldn't remember. It wouldn't hurt to tell him.

"Yes," she said, smiling. "I'm okay. But I need to tell you something important." She sat down on the bed. "I'm going away, Toby. Very far away. I'll probably never see you again."

He crossed to her, giving her a serious frown as he did his best to look adult. Her breath caught; he looked like their father, with that expression.

"Where are you going, Sarah? Why? Are you okay?"

"Yes. I want to go. I just wanted to tell you. Because I'll miss you." How much could she say? She was anxious to go, so anxious; she wanted this, but she didn't want to spend all night explaining when he wouldn't remember in the morning. Jareth. She'd done the right thing, but the need to see him was becoming a painful ache. "I'm going to another country. It's very secret."

"Like, government stuff? Are you a secret agent?" He sounded excited, now.

"Something like that," she answered. It would make him happy, and she was going to the king of another country, and it was secret. She was starting to get the hang of how Jareth lied with truth and obfuscation. "I'll always remember you, though, Toby. You're my little brother and I love you. Be good."

"I will," he promised, and hugged her, voluntarily. She squeezed back. He matched her in height, now. "And I hope I get to see you again, someday."

Her breath caught. "I hope so too." She released him, and kissed his cheek, and left before he could see her cry.

In the guest room, she dried her tears, then shouldered the large backpack that held the personal items she'd wanted, looped her arm through the handles of two huge suitcases full of books, and raised Jareth's crystal to her lips.

"I wish to return to the Castle Beyond the Goblin City, right now."

He sat in the open window, four crystals twirling slowly in his hand, swirling with images. His eyes were on the Labyrinth below, though he didn't seem to really see the land before him. Stepping closer, she noticed that his shirt was somewhat ragged, his boots dusty and scuffed. He'd been here for some time. Aside from the hand juggling crystals, he was so still he might have been dead. He looked fragile, ethereal, the black of his clothing blending into the shadows in the stone, his face pale, his mouth pressed closed, the corners tight, with pain. She could see faint lines there, where none had been, before.

She wanted to run away. Was this what it had cost him to send her back? She wanted to fling herself into his arms and beg him never to let go. She wanted to shake him, to demand answers, to ask why. She wanted to throw him out the window, even though she knew he could fly. She wanted to kiss him until she couldn't breathe. She wanted to scream at him. She wanted to cry for joy. Simply saying hello suddenly seemed profoundly inadequate.

She hadn't known what to expect from him, when she arrived. She had hoped he might greet her, but his manner towards her at other difficult times suggested that he was more likely to retreat into silence in times of stress. His tight control was a little disappointing—she would not have minded passion—but it was not a surprise. As she came near, he closed his eyes and swallowed; that was enough to tell her that he felt something, that he knew she was standing there. He did not speak, or move, or even look to her. She stepped up to the window, placing her hands on the sill near his feet. The only sound was the faint chiming of his crystals. Even the wind was still. Time was measured only by her heartbeat.

She was here. He knew she was here. They both knew she'd stay. No matter the cost.

"I have always loved this view," she said, finally, softly, not knowing how long she'd stood in silence. "Everything seems possible."

"As have I," he replied, his voice empty and quiet. As though her speech had been the catalyst, he lifted a crystal from his hand, blowing gently to send it out into the night, and opened his eyes to track its flight. He didn't look at her.

"I remember that you brought me here, when I was a girl," she continued. "One of the last things we did, before you sent me back. It was just sundown. You told me to close my eyes and then we moved and then..." She gestured at the vista, clear in the bright starlight. There was no moon, tonight, but the impossibly bright stars of the Underground were even brighter for its lack, and the Labyrinth glowed silver; the Goblin City below was flat, like a pencil sketch, black and white and grey. "You showed me the Longest Path, and told me that you hoped I'd understand it all, someday."

Her eyes followed the path, the thick, high stone walls that traced around the circle, twisting in the turns of a meditation Labyrinth, one with only one entrance, one path to the center, no turns or corners, only flowing lines. Between each set of high walls, the lower walls formed a maze intended to confuse, but there was one path that never ended, that had no tricks or doors, that required only persistence. You couldn't make that trip in thirteen hours, or even thirteen Long days, but though the Labyrinth had begun as a cage for a monster, it had grown far beyond its origins. It was also more than a test for a careless, selfish caregiver. It was the sum of the Underground: fear and hope, home and distant land, meditation and seduction, dream and reality, test and trial, love and hate, healing and heartbreak. Everything that called out to a man's basest nature; everything that called out to his best.

She was determined to walk that path, someday.

"It is good that you remember." He raised and released another dream. The leg beside her trembled, as though it cost him not to move.

Hundreds of questions thundered in her mind, thoughts and feelings that defied her attempts to form words. Why won't you look at me? and What the hell, Jareth? and Why didn't you tell me before? and How long have you been up here anyway? and... She inhaled carefully, then breathed out.

"I was very angry with you, at first."

He laughed, without smiling, a controlled, rueful sound. "I rather imagined you would be." She turned to look at him, but his eyes were fixed on the horizon. "Did you solve the riddle, in the end? I could not send you back until you wanted to stay."

"You could have asked." Six months ago, she might have been bitter. Now she was, if anything, resigned. This was the man she loved, for better or worse.

"I could not beg," he answered. "Not again." This time it was she who was silent, she who looked away, tracing cracks in the stonework to avoid looking at him. He released the third dream, then looked at the one remaining, twisting it idly across his hand. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that he had turned to her, but she still couldn't meet his eyes.

"How long?" she asked, softly. How long did I keep you waiting? How long have you been up here? Are you fading, now? Will you?

"Eight hundred and four days." Her question hadn't been specific, and neither was his answer. The fourth dream floated off his fingers and out into the night.

"I'm here now." She licked her lips, still looking down.

"Sarah." Faster than she could see, he grasped her arm, yanking her roughly towards him, wrapping his arms around her waist. Almost involuntarily, hers settled around his shoulders, and she met his eyes at last, startled by their almost panicked gleam. She could feel him steeling himself to ask the question that would drive this conversation, the question that would reward his patience or condemn his foolishness, now and forever. "You have returned to me. Why?"

"I took my time deciding," she replied slowly, "But in the end, there was no other dream for me to choose; no other dream worthy of your gift."

He released her and stood, then grabbed her again, his eyes intent and fearful, his hands clenching convulsively at her shoulders. "Why have you returned, Sarah? I told you―"

"Jareth," she interrupted, placing her hands against his chest, "do not misunderstand me. I love you, but you are not my dream." Confusion, hurt, and hope crossed his face in an instant; he hid them all behind a guarded look. "I didn't make this decision lightly. It's been more than a year since you sent me away. I finished my degree. I spent time with Toby. And I did a lot of thinking." She took his hands from her shoulders, and held them between their bodies, their fingers interlaced. "In the end, it was your gift that showed me the way. I couldn't waste it on a wish for something shallow, but what I do accomplish with my life, I want to accomplish on my own. If I wished for something, even a leg up, then I wouldn't be getting there on my own. I'd always know that magic, and not my own strength, were responsible for my success. So I had to know: what did I really want, more than anything else? And the answer to that is: I want my life to make a difference in the world.

"There are a lot of ways to make a difference, and not everyone is destined for greatness. But there are any number of people, Above, who will be great doctors or lawyers or peacemakers or artists. I don't need to be one of them. I can't be, because unlike them, I know that there's more than just the Above that needs saving, and more than just the Above that makes our world wonderful. I came back because this was the only way I could wish for something that would give me what I really wanted more than anything―to make a difference―without also taking my victory away from me.

"I know you think it's hopeless, that eventually you will fade as the other Kingdoms have faded. I am not so sure; perhaps it is only your isolation, but I think we can begin to rebuild. There are still those who want to believe in dreams, and a world of technology benefits a bit from the addition of magic. I didn't come back just because I think by being here I can keep you sane and help you hold on longer. That's what you meant by returning for duty, isn't it? It's what you wanted originally; what you thought you wanted." He nodded, cautiously. "You were right. If I came only to be your distraction, your playmate, your lover, while you did the work and tried to hold on, I'd go out of my mind with boredom, I'd resent giving up the life I might have had Above, and in the end I'd probably destroy you all the faster. That isn't why I'm here.

"But while we're on the subject, to address your other concerns... as for passion―Jareth, if I were the type to return for passion, I would have returned within days of you sending me away. I'm not saying I didn't miss you, because I did, more than I would have believed before you came back into my life. I even tried dating, at one point, but I never let the guy even kiss me goodnight; I looked at him and thought of you and there was no comparison. I hadn't even known sex could be like that, like it is with you." She smiled; a hint of smug satisfaction tugged at his mouth, a foil to his intense focus. "But even if you could never touch me again, I'd be here. Let passion fade as it will; it will return to us all the faster for our common purpose, our common bond.

"And as for pity..." She paused, feeling him tense; this was what he feared. She met his eyes, willing him to see the truth of her words. "Jareth, I have never pitied you. I have feared you, loved you, admired you, and cared for you, but I have never pitied you. You are far too strong to need it.

"I am here because I love my world and I love the Underground. I'm here because want to help, because I think I can help, because I believe in what you're doing. I want to be your equal, your companion, your strength; and for you to be the same to me. I want to work with you and fight with you and fight against you and love you and light a spark that makes this wonderful world burn all the brighter. I want to live in your pocket and go days without seeing you and need you all the more for both. I want to walk the Longest Path; I want to learn every inch of the Kingdom. I want to draw Men here on my own; I want to make them see the beauty, I want to teach others to dream what I dream. I want to save the world, over the top as that sounds. I want it now, I want it tomorrow, and I want it every day, short or long, from now until the stars fall out of the sky. 'My will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great;' I know you remember. It is true now, and always will be."

He freed one hand from her grasp, raising it to caress her cheek, to trace the outline of her face. Hope was dawning in his eyes, but as she watched, it flickered, and went out. He pulled her closer, his hand at her back, pressing his forehead to hers, and closed his eyes, at first fluttering acceptance, then tightening pain.

"Pretty words, my Sarah," he said, his voice hardly a whisper, "but how can you know the future? How can you know that you can help me? Where will you be, when this is beyond your reach?" As he spoke, his voice turned louder, harsher. He opened his eyes and drew a crystal out of the air, thrusting it between them. She caught a fleeting glimpse of a blond man laughing as he held a dark-haired woman before he tossed it away; it shattered against the stone ledge. "What will you say, when all your hopes come to nothing?"

She smiled, gently; and raised her free hand to brush hair away from his eyes, to trace his eyebrow, caress his cheek. He closed his eyes, tight, leaning into her caress, as though he couldn't help himself, as though she was an addiction, pain and pleasure mixed, and something he couldn't walk away from.

"Jareth, look at me." He opened his eyes, looking down; she stepped into his line of sight. "I love you. You are probably the smartest, most creative person I've ever met. But sometimes, you're an idiot."

The fingers at her back clenched, and he frowned down at her, looking insulted. "Explain."

"Jareth, you're brilliant and amazing and creative, but you're not the only brilliant, creative person in the world. When Tolkien published The Hobbit, the book you inspired, that was the first of his works to be popular in a large market, but it wasn't the first thing he wrote. He'd been creating for years, languages and peoples, the whole world of Middle Earth, where The Hobbit was set. A ton of the mythology. He wrote more, later, with and around The Lord of the Rings, but he'd been creating, like that, his whole life, even from childhood."

He was silent, attentive. She continued. "But it's not just him. The letter you left with me; you told me that I had made up stories and you found me—found them—enchanting. Tolkien had his own creativity. Other writers have too. I have mine. You took from Peter and the Wolf as well; you might not have liked the story, but the musical themes had merit. You don't need to make up everything yourself from scratch. Even if I can never float dreams into the air on crystals, I can help come up with dreams for you to send. But even then, I think it will happen, the longer I'm with you. Remember Cupid and Psyche?"

"Eros," Jareth corrected, and frowned, thoughtful. "But she bore his child." His eyes traced her frame, his hands falling to her waist.

She shook her head. "No. And if I had, I couldn't have come to you, yet."

"No." His hands tightened on her waist, and she slid her hands up his arms to wrap around his neck. One hand twisted in his hair, caressing.

"Anyway, the myths we read, Above, say she was given the food of the gods, and that was what changed her. But does it matter how it happened, except to know that it did? It's a chance, and I'd say a good one, eventually. But even if I never have your magic, everything else I said remains. You can use my ideas. This is work worth doing. Your world and mine; both worth it. And I want in."

As she spoke, he took her hands, holding them in his, and stepping back; he watched her, closely, her expression, her body language, and she did her best to breathe sincerity in every word, in every blink. Faint hope returned, and grew stronger, and when she finished, he smiled, a real smile, that blinding smile of genuine joy, and pulled her close into his arms.

"My Sarah," he said, softly, against her hair, "how you amaze me. I could find no way for you to come back to me, but again you surpass my expectations. Though I can reorder time, I cannot know the future, but you give me hope. I believe that it will be as you say."

She wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her head on his chest, warm, safe, loved, home, now and always. "I have some ideas," she went on, "about how to increase the connections between here and Above; Tolkien was just the beginning. Jareth, I really think you live too much in the past. And we should really see about reclaiming some of the faded lands; I have ideas for that too. Have you ever considered―"

He cut her off with a kiss, his hand rising to cup her chin, raising her lips to his. It started gentle, a caress, a promise, a smile; she kissed back with passion, with promise, with love and hope. She pressed herself against him, feeling the hard planes of his chest, the solid strength of him, not at all insubstantial as she had feared. He deepened the kiss, and it tasted of fear, and love, and desire, and longing, and hope so long denied that it had nearly been forgotten. She gave back, without words, her trust, her faith, her will.

When he pulled back, the wide smile remained, and this time, he let her see the tears standing in his eyes, though none fell. When he spoke, his voice was full of laughter and love. "My Sarah, today was quite short, as will tomorrow be. Save your plans for longer days; they will keep." His hands caressed her back, her shoulders, her arms, her face, as though to affirm that she was real, she was here, she would stay, and all her reasons were good ones, and his fears assuaged. "For tonight, beloved, be mine alone."

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 23 of 24

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