Continuing Tales

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 14 of 15

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A Forfeit of Dreams

Nikki was twisting her tube of lipstick, pouting her lips apply the vivid crimson shade, when the door slammed open. She jumped, and narrowly missed smearing her cheek with a streak of color. Hissing with exasperation, she capped the lipstick as she turned, scowling, ready to bawl out her roommate - and stopped short.

Brian Harr was standing in the doorway, breathing heavily and looking as if he was ready to keel over. Sarah was slung over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. Her eyes were closed, and she looked half-dead.

"Jesus Christ!" Nikki yelped, leaping to her feet. "What have you two been up to?"

"Shut up, Nikki," Brian said tersely.

"The hell I will!" she exclaimed, outraged. "The happened to you guys? You both look trashed!"

"Something like that," he muttered. Grimacing, he managed to stumble over to the bed before dropping her dark-haired roommate. Sarah landed safely on her own mattress, bouncing slightly on the springs, but her eyes never even twitched. Brian yanked the covers out from under her, and made as if to cover her with the blanket.

"Wait, wait," Nikki interrupted. "Get her shoes off, first." They worked together, each untying one of Sarah's sneakers and kicking them underneath the bed before managing to get the unconscious girl comfortably under her sheets and blankets. When they were done, Nikki stood back and studied her roommate closely.

Sarah looked terrible. She didn't look like she'd been through any physical hardship - no blood, sweat, or dirt - but she just looked. terrible. Her face was too white - it made the dark circles under her eyes stand out in ghoulish contrast, and made her seem exhausted beyond words. She murmured something as she slept, too soft to be heard, tossing her head a little as if to avoid whatever dream held her in its grip.

Brian made as if to slink out the door, but Nikki skipped ahead of him and barricaded the doorway.

"Nuh uh," she said emphatically, blocking him with outstretched arms. "Not until you tell me what's going on. Sarah went to get her notebook hours ago. It's past midnight, did you know that? And I waited and waited and waited for her to get back. I totally skipped out on my friends, I was so worried. I go back to sleep for a little, and when I wake up, she's still not home! Jesus, I nearly called the campus cops! And you weren't in your room, either, and your housemate didn't know where you were -"

"We're both fine," Brian interrupted roughly. "Now, will you get out of the way?"

Nikki crossed her arms. "I know 'fine'," she said tartly. "I've seen 'fine.' We're good buds. You two - you are not 'fine.'"

Brian sighed gustily, leaning against the wall for support. "Listen, Nikki," he said wearily. "We really are fine. at least, we're okay now. As for the rest -" He looked helplessly back at the sleeping girl in the bed. "We had a fight," he improvised. "It got messy. Sarah cried."

"Did you hit her?" Nikki asked in a dangerous tone.

"No! Damn, Nikki, you know me!"

"Then why is she out cold?"

He avoided her eyes. "Stress," he said shortly. "She has a test tomorrow, right? And with auditions next week, and just. it's her first semester at college. Lots of people lose it. Right?"

Her eyes narrowed, and she gave him a hard look. "Yeah," she said finally. "They do. But when she wakes up, I'm asking her side of the story."

"Fine with me." He made as if to brush past her, then hesitated. "Nikki," he began, voice low. "Go easy on her. She really. she really has had a hard time. You know," he hedged. "Schoolwork and stuff."

Nikki rolled her eyes, stepping aside so he could go. "Fine, fine, I won't give her the third degree or anything." She watched Brian walk down the hallway. "You should get some sleep, you know!" she shouted after him, heedless of quiet hours. "You look like you've been through nine levels of hell!" She frowned as he began to go down the stairs, not looking back at her. "You both do," she muttered.


She hurt all over. Every muscle in her body ached: her head throbbed, and her eyes felt sore. It was a struggle to open them - they were slightly swollen, and she was having a hard time focusing  - but she could see the wide, cornflower blue eyes that stared back into her own.

"Hey, Princess," Nikki joked, her pale blonde hair falling over her forehead as she cocked her head to one side. "Rise and shine."

Sarah rubbed her hand over her eyes, squinting at the sunlight coming in through their windows. Slowly, she managed to drag herself up into a sitting position. She was still wearing her clothes. Falling asleep in her jeans and t-shirt made her feel itchy, and badly in need of a shower.


She mindlessly took the Styrofoam cup her roommate handed to her, almost dropping it when she felt how hot it was. Cautiously, she drank. She almost choked when she tried to swallow - her throat felt raw and it hurt like hell. But the coffee seared a path of warmth and comfort through her body. Wincing, she took another sip.

"I grabbed it for you at the dining hall." Nikki plopped down at the edge of Sarah's bed, sipping her own drink. "Aren't you going to ask me what time it is?"

"What time is it?" Sarah croaked.

"Eleven. Your Chemistry test ended an hour ago."

Sarah paused, searching her memory. "Right," she said, faintly. "I had a test."

"Yeah, you did. I tried to wake you, but." She shrugged nonchalantly. "You were dead to the world. Sorry."

Sarah shook her head. "It doesn't matter."

"Yeah, I suppose one test can't kill you. Don't they drop the lowest grade in that class? Something like that." Nikki stood, stretching. "Well, it's good to see you're up and about again." Her voice trailed off as she watched Sarah place the coffee carefully on her bedside table, then curl up again underneath the covers. "Um, Sarah?" She bent down to look at her roommate's face, almost hidden beneath the blankets. "Don't you have class?"

Sarah's eyes were already shut. "Go away, Nikki."

"Um, look, normally I wouldn't get in a twist about it, but this really isn't like you. You feeling okay?" No response. "Is this about Brian? He said you guys had a fight -"

"Go away!"

Nikki started, pulling back. She opened her mouth to make a sharp retort - but paused. Sarah's face was tense and drawn, and she looked shockingly fragile - as a harsh word would shatter her into a million pieces. Nikki shut her mouth.

"Okay," she said uncertainly. "Okay. Just - gimme a call if you need anything, alright?"

No answer.

Biting her lip, Nikki slipped out the door. 


He could hear the incensed pounding on his door even through the Dylan he had blaring on his computer. Wrenching off his headphones, Brian angrily strode over to unlock the thin door and pull it open.

Nikki was standing there, one arm upraised to knock. The other was resting on her cocked hip. She let both hands drop and walked into his room as if she owned the place, sitting down on his bed.

"Shut the door," she ordered.

He gave her a quizzical look. "Thought you were out with Steven," he said, naming his housemate and her off-again, on-again boyfriend. She was still made up, eyelids and cheekbones shimmering. Her shiny black books chasing up her legs - which were primly crossed - to just below her knees.

"The club sucked. The new DJ's raw. We came back early, and I wanted to talk with you."

Brian shrugged lightly. "Okay." He shut the door. When he turned around, her almost jumped in surprise - Nikki was off the bed and in his face.

"What the hell happened to Sarah?" she hissed, deliberately invading his personal space. "You tell me right now, Brian Harr, or I will grab your balls and I will -"

"Okay, okay! Jesus, Nikki, what's wrong with you?" he demanded, trying to inch away. Usually she wasn't this intimidating, but those boots had three-inch spike heels, and she looked just the right height to kick his ass, given half the chance.

"With me? What the hell is wrong with Sarah?!"

He gaped. "Okay," he said slowly. "I give - what the hell is wrong with Sarah?"

Nikki crossed her arms tightly across her chest, resting back on her heels. "She hasn't gotten out of her bed for three days," she finally admitted. "She just sleeps all the time. I finally started bringing her food and stuff from the dining hall. She was really freaking me out, y'know? But she doesn't eat it. Well, she eats some of it - not enough - and throws the rest away!" She stamped her foot, and Brian could see she was perilously close to crying. "This is scaring me! She won't talk, won't say what's wrong." She sniffed. "And the last person to see her sane was you. So tell me what the fuck is going on, right now! I want to know."

Brian sighed, slumping against the door. He thought for a moment, and then:

"I. I really don't know. I mean, I think I do, but. I'll give her a call. Okay? I'll talk to her, and then I promise to let you know what's happening. Deal?"

"No way."


"This is no time for your macho Papa Bear bullshit! Do you hear me? Sarah is in serious trouble! Now, either you fill me in, or I'm calling her parents."

"No!" He lunged for her, but she stepped back. He hesitated, controlling himself. "You can't tell her parents - I mean, they wouldn't know what to do. Please, Nikki," he begged. "Just let me call her. Then. I don't know. I just need to talk with her."

For a long moment he was afraid she would refuse, as she stood there considering him. Finally, she uncrossed her arms and made to exit his room. "Fine," she said, not looking back. "Call her right now. Steven and I are going to catch a movie. I'll be back at the dorm in a few hours."

He breathed a sigh of relief as she went, and made to shut the door.

"Hey, Brian!"

He looked out again. She was paused on the top step.

"This better change something," she said evenly. "Otherwise, I will personally set out to make your life not worth living." And she stomped down the rest of the stairs.

Brian firmly shut the door, throwing the bolt in place. He collapsed into his chair, staring blankly at the computer screen in front of him. Then he reached over and picked up his cell phone.

He stared at it blankly. He had been avoiding this. There was way too much she could say to him that. wouldn't be nice. It would be right, he granted, but not particularly nice. Sighing, he dialed her number before he had a chance to brood about it.

Her phone rang five times before the machine picked up. He disconnected, dialing again - only to get the machine. On his third try, she finally picked up.


Brian realized he'd never actually talked to Sarah on the phone before. They'd exchanged numbers, but seen each other so much on a day-to-day basis that there really wasn't any need. He swallowed, struck by how fragile her disembodied voice sounded.

"It's Brian. Don't hang up," he interjected quickly. "Listen, I just need to talk with you for a minute."

"I wasn't going to hang up."

"You weren't? Oh, good." His fingers started tapping restlessly as he searched for something to say. "Nikki says you aren't feeling too good."

"I'm fine."

"You been to class?"


He sighed, frame slumping. "Sarah, that's not cool . Please tell me what's wrong."


"Sarah, I'm sorry for what I did."


"I really am sorry." This was worse than listening to any (justified) accusations on her part. It was harder to admit to this stuff freely - every word was a struggle. "I was jealous, okay? Is that what you want to hear? I was an asshole." He swallowed. "I'm sorry I didn't let you go to him, when. when everything happened."

Just the sound of her breathing.

"Jesus, Sarah," he yelled, leaping to his feet. He paced over to the window, free hand shoved deep into his jeans pocket. He leaned against the wall, watching the rain fall steadily outside. "I'm sorry! What more do you want? Why are you punishing me like this?"

"I'm not punishing you."

"Then who?"

"I don't know!" And then, in a small voice: "Me, maybe."

He pressed his hand against the cold, moist windowpane. The raindrops slanted and streamed against it, obscuring the world outside into a blurry smear of lights and darkness. "That's. there was nothing you could've done."

"Don't try to lie."

"Listen, he had you backed into a corner! Both of us! What other choice did you have?"

"It's my fault he died."

Brian grimaced. "You didn't mean to."

An easy, empty laugh that frightened him more than sobbing would've. "Doesn't change a thing."

"He would've forgiven you! And besides, this is your response?"

"Everyone has days when they can't look at themselves in the mirror," she said simply. "I'm just having a whole bunch of them. And don't you dare try to lecture me - you, of all people."

The quiet anger in her voice made him pause, but he blundered on regardless. "Sarah, shutting yourself away from the world isn't going to bring him back," he said brutally.

"Neither will getting out of bed." And she hung up.


 Nikki opened the door quietly, unsure of whether her roommate was still sleeping. She tiptoed in, but quickly saw her stealth was wasted. Sarah was sitting up in bed in the grey t-shirt she'd worn for the past three days. She was hunched over, elbows resting on her lap as she buried her face in her hands, threading her fingers through her dark hair. The phone was sitting next to her.  

"Oh. You're up."

"Yeah." Sarah lifted her head, revealing red-rimmed eyes. "I'm up."

"That's good. Did Brian call you?"


"Ah." Nikki sucked on the inside of her cheek. "Okay." She walked over to her own bed, sitting down to pull off her boots. "Anything you want to talk to me about?" she asked, trying to be tactful.

Sarah's shoulders hunched again as she bowed her head, keeping her eyes fixed on the coverlet. "No. Not really."

"Sarah. Tell me what's wrong."

A long, deep sigh, and the curtain of Sarah's hair rippled slightly. When she spoke, it was in a small, scared voice that trembled with unshed tears. "I don't know. I really don't. It just. it seems so hard to put both feet on the ground."

Nikki looked at her sadly, tossing her boots into her narrow closet. She turned where she sat, tucking her legs underneath her and laying both hands in her lap.

"Once," she began in a solemn, subdued tone that was wildly uncharacteristic of her usual attitude. "Once, I was really unhappy. Not depressed or anything, just - unhappy. Don't ask why, it's a long story. Anyway, for a long time I was in bad shape. And then my dad got on my case - in a good way. He was worried, I guess. He told me to do what was necessary - anything at all - to get over it. Just decide what's necessary to move on, and then do it. Whatever it is."

Sarah pulled her knees to her chest. "Sounds pretty simple."

"It's not," Nikki corrected quietly. "Figuring out what needs to be done, yeah, that's easy. But actually doing it." She trailed off. "It takes a lot of effort. Because you just don't want to let go. You know?" She turned to her roommate, who watched her with wide green eyes. "Just think about it?" she asked. "Please?"

Sarah nodded. "I promise."

"Okay." Nikki grinned, and was back to her usual self again. "Otherwise, I'm going to have to ship you out. And that would suck. I mean, where else can I find a roommate with your semi-comatose qualities?"

Sarah grinned. "I always told you I was special."

Nikki snorted. "Special, my ass," she said inelegantly. "I'm just grateful you sleep through anything."

"Why?" Sarah asked suspiciously. "What have you been doing?"

Nikki grinned mischievously. "Nothing. Yet. Oh, hey, that reminds me," she said, walking over to her dresser as she began to wipe off the makeup and glitter on her face. "You were in my dream."


"Yeah. It was a couple days ago, actually. You know how you'll be doing something, and it'll just suddenly remind you of a dream you had a while ago? That happened today during my European History class. They were talking about Venice and the Inquisition and stuff, and wham! I totally remembered this dream you were in."

Sarah froze. The fingers that had been playing with her long strands of hair stilled, dropping onto the blanket. She couldn't seem to move - only listen.

"It was actually a kickass dream. I had servants and stuff, and lived in Venice. You were there, like, visiting or something. Can't remember too well." Sarah heard the snap of a hair band as Nikki pulled her blond locks into a ponytail. "And there was dancing, and parties. oh, and this guy!" She whirled, face animated as she talked to her roommate. "Oh my God, he was so gorgeous. I mean, pretty strange-looking - weird hairstyle, and his eyes were all freaky. You know how dreams are. But he managed to pull it off."

Sarah's hands gripped the blanket so hard, her knuckles were white.

"The only thing that sucked was that he didn't like me." She turned back to the mirror, reaching for lotion, and paused. "I mean, it felt unfair. it was my dream, after all. Why'd you have to come in and ruin it?" she teased.

After a few failed attempts, Sarah found her voice. "Ruin it?"

"That gorgeous guy? Only interested in you. I mean, I was okay with it. I had fun anyway. And besides, you should've seen the way he looked at you. No way I could compete with that." She threw a grin over her shoulder. "Even if it was only a dream."

Sarah managed to unclench her hands, raising them to smooth across her eyes. "Nik?"


"Is your full name 'Nicole?'"

"Um, yeah. Don't call me that, though. It's ugly."

Sarah swallowed. "I won't," she promised in a low voice. She fell back against her pillows, staring up at the ceiling. Her pupils dilated with surprise. For a long moment, she seemed to hesitate. And then.



"You got one of your friends to turn off the alarm in here so you could smoke, right?"

"Yeah." Nikki turned. "Why, does that bother you?"

But Sarah wasn't listening. She was already up, throwing back the covers and ducking under her desk. She pulled out a beat-up aluminum wastebasket, only slightly filled with discarded papers. After shoving it out into the open, Sarah leapt onto her bed, arm straining to touch the ceiling. She ripped off a poster that hung there, crumpling it up and tossing it into the wastebasket. Then she leaned over and ripped another poster off her walls, so violently the corners tore off and remained stuck on the wall. After throwing that in with the other, she stepped off her bed and reached for her desk - for the bouquet of dried flowers that rested there. She added that to the pile.

Nikki glanced into the basket. Besides the flowers, Sarah had apparently thrown out her poster of Hylas and the Nymphs, as well as the homemade dragon collage that had been taped to the ceiling. She looked up to see Sarah, standing with a box of matches from her drawer.

"Sarah," Nikki began guardedly. "What are you doing?"

 Sarah struck one of the matches, tiny flame flaring to life. For a second she simply stared at it, burning uselessly between her fingers.

"What's necessary."

And she tossed it in.

"Christ!" Nikki yelped as the contents of the wastebasket burst into flame. It surprised her - not just Sarah's actions, but how quickly the contents were engulfed. It wasn't natural, how quickly they were crumbling, turning to dark ash. She kicked the wastebasket with a slippered foot over to the window, and then struggled to get the sash open. She finally managed to push up the glass and screen, letting the smoke billow out into the cool night air.

"Sarah," she began heatedly as she fanned the smoke outside. "Next time you decide to make a gesture, please remember our RA isn't quite as dumb as she looks. This could so get you suspended." There was no answer, and she left off her task to turn around. "Sarah?"

Her roommate was still standing in the middle of the room, eyes fixed on the floor. When she sensed Nicole's eyes in her she brought her head up, pushing her hair away from her face as she managed a watery smile.

"I'll remember," she promised.


"Ye gods and little fishes," Brian murmured to himself through trembling, numb lips. "It's cold out here!"

He stomped his feet briskly against the sidewalk as he went, forcing the sluggish blood to flow through them. He burrowed his face even deeper into the collar of his jacket, nestling his frozen skin against the soft material, and pushed his gloved hands even deeper into his pockets. The wind whipped about his ears, howling its disquiet at the empty night. He walked faster.

The trees rustled quietly as he passed them, leafless branches knocking against each other in the brisk wind. Happily, the campus streets were sparsely lit, but the inky shadows slipped about Brian's feet as he shivered in his down jacket. Teeth chattering, he hurried past the darkened buildings, shoes slapping against the cold cement. He scrubbed a hand across his frozen mouth as he jogged up to the side of a dorm. He glanced up at the sounds of laughter and music that came from the shining windows above his head. Reaching over to a metal phone-box installed into the brick, he punched in a number and stepped back, bouncing on the balls of his feet to keep warm. The phone rang - once, twice - and then a female voice answered.


"Hey, let me up!" Brian called into the speaker. "Save me before I freeze to death!"

". Did you pay for the tickets yet?"

"No," he said through clenched teeth.

Laughter. "Okay, I guess I still need you. Come on up!"

The lock on the door clicked open softly, and Brian hopped through. With a deep sigh of relief as he entered the warm building, he began to trudge up the two flights of stairs that would take him to Sarah and Nicole's room. Their hallway was busy with people hurrying around, playing on their computers, and he could smell cocoa and coffee and various dinners as he passed open doorways. Nodding to people he knew as they passed by, he made his way down the hall to room 3113. Hands braced on the doorjamb, he leaned his head in.

"Ready to go?"

Sarah sat at her desk, head in one hand as she studied out of an open book. The lamp cast warm light over her hair and neck, making a pretty picture. She looked up at his voice and smiled.

"Are you kidding? Not even close," she said, laughing. "Nik's putting on her makeup in the bathroom. She needs at least another ten minutes," turning back to her schoolwork.

Brian grimaced, throwing a quick look at the glowing red numbers on the clock by her bedside.

"We're going to be late," he said peevishly. "How long does it take five feet and two inches to get dressed, anyway?"

Sarah grinned, not looking away from her book. "In this particular case, size really doesn't matter."

Brian sighed loudly, leaning against the doorway and crossing his arms across his chest. He watched her for a moment.

"Sure you don't want to come?" he asked abruptly.

"I'd love to see a movie with you guys, but I've got way too much work."


"Nah," she replied cheerfully. "Just don't want to be the odd man out."

Brian winced. He'd been dating Nikki for a couple of weeks. It wasn't anything serious. In fact, they hadn't even been dating the first few days; just hanging out, going to clubs: enjoying each other's company. It was only later they decided that, as long as they were spending so much time together, they might as well get some action out of it. It was fun, and he cared for Nikki. But it wasn't love, and it probably never would be. And sometimes he found himself glancing wistfully across the room at the same pale profile and dark green eyes he was faced with now.

But that was supposed to be over with.

"You know you wouldn't be," he said brusquely.

She shrugged, still not looking at him.

After a moment of hesitation, he strode into her room with attempted nonchalance. He sat awkwardly onto Nikki's bed, mattress springs creaking a protest. Shoving aside rumpled sheets and a few discarded pieces of clothing to get more comfortable, he settled, leaning back on his hands. He turned his gaze back to Sarah. She didn't seem to notice his scrutiny - her eyes moved steadily across the pages, lips moving faintly as she read to herself.

"Hey, Sarah."

She blinked, taking a second to shake off the spell of the words before her. She turned her head to see him, cupping her chin in one hand as she smiled. "Hey, Brian."

"We're good, right?"

She frowned a little. "Of course."

"Yeah." He kicked one foot, aimlessly. "I thought so, I just. you know, wanted to check." He concentrated on digging the toe of his sneaker into the rug. "I mean, with everything that's happened."

Her expression was serenely blank. "I know."

He darted a quick glance at her face. "Yeah, I guess you do." He shook his leg with nervous energy. "It's just - you know, it's been a while -"

"Little over a month."

". Yeah. And you seem. I don't know. Not like yourself."

Her gaze dropped. Slowly, she sat back in her seat, drawing her arms into her lap. She stared into space. "I'm surprised you still believe it actually happened."

He cringed a little. "Don't get me started. I half-believe it didn't - but, well, you're not crazy, and you remember it, too. Besides," he continued quietly. "I still have nightmares."

She gave him a somber look. "I'm sorry."

"I'll manage. But I'm worried about you."

She tilted her head to one side. "Me?"

"Yeah." He licked his lips. "You remember when I talked to you on the phone? When I told you -"


He swallowed his unspoken words. "Well, Nik told me what you did afterward."

She stilled.

"Must've been hard. I mean, you cut all ties, right?"

She turned her head away in a violent motion, hair swinging to obscure her face from view. Brian shut his mouth, pressing his lips together and taking a deep breath.

"He told me, in the oubliette," he resumed harshly. "How it works. Indirectly, but still, I pretty much understood. He took things from your life, didn't he? And he used them. He put them into the - the maze, and the dream, or whatever. So it feels familiar. Safe. And you don't want to leave." He ducked his head, trying to catch a glimpse of her, but she was safely hidden behind the dark fall of her hair. He settled back again. "I mean," he began dubiously, "when you burned all that stuff, you pretty much severed any connection with Ja -"       

"It was hard," she interrupted shortly. She raised her head, and her eyes burned in her pale face. "Is that what you want to hear? Yeah, it was. And it hurt."

He looked at her; uncertain as to how he should continue. "Did it help?"

Her mouth twisted into a wry smile. "No," she admitted. "Not really. But at least I don't think about him every second."

He frowned without thinking. "How often do you think about him?"

"Every other second."

He scowled, picking at the pads of his fingers. "You're an idiot."

"Smile when you say that."

"I'm serious!" He threw up his hands. "Sarah, do you know how many guys would kill to go out with you? How many of my friends keep asking if I think they have a chance? You're pretty, smart, nice - hell, all you have to do is close your eyes and point! You could have any guy you wanted!"

The banked energy in her eyes seemed to fade, and Sarah slumped in her chair. She looked at him, a little sadly. "I thought you were dating Nikki."

He stood and turned away from her, pacing violently along limited expanse of floor. "This isn't about that."

"It isn't?"

He stopped, sighing deeply. Standing with his shoulders hunched, he growled: "So what now? You're just going to sulk in your room forever?"


"Then why not me?" he demanded. "God dammit, I rescue the princess just like in the fucking fairytales, and I don't even get to keep her!"

"You -" She looked up at him, eyes wide. Laughing a little breathlessly, she shook her head in disbelief. "No, never mind, I don't even want to get into it." She went back to her work.

"Well, I do!" He knelt down right by her chair, clenched hands resting on his knees. She couldn't hide from him, this close - and she couldn't ignore him either. "Sarah, this is ridiculous. Whatever you had with him, it was in a dream! I'm here - I go to school with you, for Christ's sake, I know your family! And I," he added mutinously, "never tried to kill your baby brother. Sarah, I remember Venice. Of course I do - every damn minute. In there, I didn't even know what the hell was going on, and neither did you! How can you call that love? It was an illusion! It wasn't real!"

She swiveled in her seat to face him, meeting his gaze directly. Her soul was in her eyes - and for a moment, he saw her as she really was. All that she was. A girl who had bested a labyrinth of living, twisting stone - twice. A girl who had befriended monsters. A girl who had rejected her dreams in order to do what was right. A girl who had suffered in a garden of roses that flamed fire and lost regrets. Who had swum with naiads. Who had faced dragons. Who had turned to lifeless marble in the gentle moonlight. Who had fallen into a sea of her own self-doubt. Who had watched her love die for lack of a dream.

"What is?" she asked simply.    

He snapped his mouth shut, sitting back on his heels. "Why do I get the feeling," he muttered, "that if he hadn't up and died, you'd be with me."

"Because you're an arrogant asshole," she replied crisply. "Now leave me alone," picking up her book.

"Sarah -"

"Listen," she said, never looking away from her work. "I'll have to move on eventually. That's a given, right? I mean, I have to get over it at some point, right?" Her hands trembled slightly as they held the book. "One day I'll see someone, and I'll think - that's the one. He can make me forget. That has to happen - at some point." She released a shuddering breath. "But not today. And not with you."

Brian blinked. Then he rose awkwardly to his feet, moving so quickly he nearly stumbled and lost his balance. "Um, yeah," he said vaguely, shoving his hands deep into his pockets. "Right. Well, damn, I wonder where Nikki is? Talk about a way to ruin a date, spending all night on your makeup."

He paused. He was already outside the door, having walked as he rambled. He could feel Sarah at his back, still hunched over in her chair. The tension in her body made her back as taut as a drawn bow. He slumped, leaning against the doorframe.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I keep doing this. It's just - no. I'm sorry. I shouldn't."

"It's okay," she said, voice tiny. He could tell she was on the verge of tears.

"Sarah," he began again hesitantly, "you're my best friend. You've done so much for me. I really am sorry -"

"You don't have to keep saying it."

"I just wish there was something I could do! I keep screwing up. I wish I could make it right, somehow."

"I know," she said, almost too quietly to be heard. "I love you, too. I just don't need this right now."

"Yeah," he said sadly. He shifted so that he faced her, with his back to the lighted hallway. Hesitantly, he reached over to touch her rigid shoulder. When she didn't jerk away, he stepped closer.

"Sarah?" No response. He ran his hand lightly over her hair, gently parting the soft strands with his fingertips. "You okay?"

She reached for him blindly. Wrapping her arms around his waist, her fingers clutched at the soft material of his sweater, and she buried her face into his stomach. He held her as she began to cry violently: dry, racking sobs that wrenched themselves free without the softening release of tears.

"God," she choked out. "For the first time in my life, I understand my father, I just want to do something - have someone - to make this emptiness go away."

"I know," he soothed softly. "I know." Her shoulders shook beneath his hands, but his sweater remained dry. Her fruitless outburst was short-lived. Within moments she was pulling away from his tentative embrace, rubbing her red eyes with the back of her hands. She gave him a shaky grin.

"Sorry," she said, voice a little husky. "Still trying to." she trailed off and closed her mouth, shrugging her shoulders in a defeated gesture.

"I get it." He felt suddenly awkward, hooking his thumbs through the belt loops of his jeans and staring intently at the floor. "You lost friends, too, didn't you? I mean, he talked about them. Sometimes. Didn't you have help from friends?"

"Yeah," she said softly.

He shook his head. "God damn. I'm sorry. I mean - I'm guessing the whole thing went, right? That whole world, destroyed."

"No," she said quietly. Tucking an errant strand of hair behind her hair, she adjusted herself in the seat so that she faced her desk. She grasped her discarded book, settling back into her role of devoted student - resurrecting the high walls around her heart.

"Um, what?"

She bent her head, but continued speaking in that calm, distant voice. "Not everything was destroyed; just the Castle. It's a ruin now - crumbled walls standing alone on a plateau of rock, surrounded by debris. Moss is already creeping over the pitted stones. things grow fast, there. And no one else was hurt. They managed to get out, when I - when the Castle began to shake. When they found out their King was gone, well, they turned to those that had conquered him. They're not vicious, you know, not on their own. They just need guidance - require it, after an eternity spent under his thumb." She turned a page, and the paper leaves rustled in the sudden silence.

"So now," she resumed after a moment, "there are four new heroes of the realm; four new kings. A scholar, a gardener, a knight and -" She paused. "A bard of few words. You never did hear Ludo sing - call the rocks - did you? You never met any of them. I wish you had." She turned another page. He could hardly imagine she was concentrating on her work, but her eyes traveled steadily along the printed words, just the same. "I think those sound like good rulers. Don't you?"

He stared at her, mouth gaping. "Sarah," he began hesitantly, "you can't know - how could you know all that? I mean, assuming it's actually true!"

She finally looked up at him. Her eyes had lost that terrible wild look - were serene, even. And she smiled with all the shining joy of a little kid who has a precious secret.

"I dreamed it."

Nikki suddenly barreled through the doorway, near breathless. The thin bracelets that covered her arm from wrist to elbow clinked musically as she put up one hand to brace herself against the doorjamb.

"Okay," she said, still breathing hard. "I understand this is, like, appropriate grounds for breaking up with me, but I am finally ready. You good to go?"

Brian looked over his shoulder at Sarah, now completely absorbed with the thin volume in her hands. "Yeah," he said. "I guess so." Nikki grabbed his hand, tugging to make him follow her into the hall, but he managed to pull away. "We're probably going to hang out, afterward," he said awkwardly to Sarah. "Sure you don't want to come?"


". okay. It'll be late when we get back."

"I won't wait up."

He kept looking back at her as Nikki pulled him out the door - a solitary figure, resting in the only shelter of falling light amidst gathering shadows.


They had fun at the movie. They threw popcorn at the heads in front of them, in between laughter and making out in the back row. They held each other's slightly buttery hands, and Nikki burrowed her head into his shoulder when the film got a little intense. It was fun, and by the time the credits rolled and they stood, stretching stiff muscles, he felt like himself again. Like a normal, ordinary guy. The person he was supposed to be.

"I don't want to go back yet," Nikki said, making a face. "Wanna find a club or something?"

"Sure. Let's see if there's anything good going on."

They hopped the bus back, huddling together on the plastic seats as they wove their way through dark streets, tracing the way back to the campus. On the way there they kept a lookout for places that might be open - but there wasn't much. It was a Thursday night, and though most students could afford to stay out late because of late afternoon classes, or none at all, on Fridays, the college wasn't big enough to fuel its own weekday nightlife. Most bars or clubs or shops had closed hours ago.

There was always the Cat, though. The Grey Cat was a club - eighteen to enter, twenty-one to drink - right on the edge of the campus grounds. A two-level building with a stage, a bar, and a set-up for DJs in the basement, it catered entirely to students. It was run by a few hippie alumni of the school, who loved to book a variety of unknown and eclectic acts: from a jazz pianist to a death metal group - if they didn't think you were terrible, you could play the stage. The Cat was open sporadically, depending on whether anything was booked. It was open that night - crowded, even. Brian got into the long line outside the door while Nikki bounced ahead, checking out the crowd, finding what everyone was so excited about.

"Rock band," she promptly informed him, ducking under his arm, to get close to his warmth. "'Parently they have a cult following - couple self-produced albums, so on. So they're touring clubs to break into mainstream."

"Any good?"

"These people seem to think so," she said blithely. "Oh, and Steven's up front. Actually, I think he played their stuff for me once."

"So this is cool?"

"Yeah, let's stay a while."

They managed to get inside within a few minutes. People were moving fast, eager to get out of the freezing cold. Money handed over and the back of their hands stamped, they chatted idly as they ventured inside, arms around each other. A chaos of equipment - half-constructed drum set, unplugged guitar, etc. - apparently meant the band was just beginning to set up, but there was no one actually standing on the low stage. Leisurely, Nikki and Brian made their way to the tables clustered in the back, since the area right in front of the stage was jam packed with excited people.

"I'm getting a soda," Nikki said, as Brian pulled out a chair for her. "Want anything?"

"Nope, I'm good."

She had barely taken a step away when her date's hand suddenly latched around her arm. Without thinking, she made irritated noise and tried to pull away - but his grip only tightened painfully. Perturbed, she turned back.

Brian was absolutely white. The blood had drained from his face, leaving his eyes dark and startlingly wide. He was in shock; staring blindly ahead at the stage. Nikki started, realizing that, except for his sure and firm grip on her forearm, he was trembling violently from head to foot.

"Brian?" He didn't even turn - she had to meticulously pry his fingers off of her, one by one. "Brian, darling," she continued, honey-sweet. "Stop being skitzo."

He finally looked around - but didn't really seem to see her. He focused on some point beyond her, shell-shocked. Gently, Nikki took him by the shoulders and gave him a brief shake. At that, he focused. His face was unaccountably haggard, beads of sweat on his pale forehead.


He closed his eyes, drawing a long, shuddering breath that quieted the shivers wracking his body. Eyes still shut tight, he licked dry lips, firming his mouth with a sudden, resolute decision.

Gently, as if she were spooked, he took Nikki's small hands in both of his own. Still looking like death, warmed over, he attempting to give her an encouraging smile.

"Nik," he began gently, "I need a favor."

"What?" she asked ungraciously.

"Nothing much." He took another steadying breath. "I just need you to go back to the dorm and get Sarah."

"Ah," she said archly. "Tired of blonde? Already?"

"Nikki," he continued, a bit desperate. "I'm serious. Please - just go back and tell her to get over here. It's only a couple of minutes away, right? Please. It's really important."

Nikki slumped where she stood, scowling cutely. "It's ten minutes running," she sulked. "And it's cold out. Besides, she's asleep already. Can't it wait until tomorrow?"

She turned away without waiting for an answer, preoccupied with her original goal. But she didn't get far. Her well-manicured hands, still resting in Brian's, were suddenly crushed in a bruising grip, bones rubbing painfully together. With an involuntary squeak of surprise and pain, she whirled back to her captor.

Brian was scaring her. He was still too pale, and his eyes held a wild light - as if reality had pulled the rug out from underneath him, and he had yet to regain his balance.

"Nikki," he demanded in a piercing whisper, voice hoarse. "Go get Sarah. Now."

She stumbled as he released her hands with an abrupt movement. She rubbed them together absently as she backed away, expression wary.

"Okaaaaay," she muttered. "Be back later." Still throwing dubious looks at him over her shoulder, she made her way out the door and into the night.


"I'm going to kill him," Sarah mumbled as she jogged through the frigid air. "I'm really going to kill him. Nothing too fancy - maybe with a broken beer bottle. Something poetic like that."

Nikki had roused her out of warm and wonderfully dreamless sleep with rough shaking, accompanied with some loud mutterings about finding a new boyfriend.

"Listen," Nikki had said, sitting down heavily on her own bed. "I don't know what's going on. But Brian's really freaked-out, and he demanded you go down to the Cat." She had started to pull off her shoes, tossing them into a corner. "So. I got you up, and told you what's happening. I'm done."

"Aren't you coming with me?" Sarah asked groggily, half-sitting up in her worn PJs.

"Nope. I'm done," Nikki had reinstated firmly, beginning to change. "Done. Go do your insanity without me."

Still partly asleep, Sarah had goggled at her roommate. Then, shrugging to herself, she had thrown on some clothes and clattered down the stairs.

Now she was running along the campus streets, freezing, because she had forgotten to put on a heavier jacket and gloves in her urgency. Teeth chattering, she quickly made her way through the lighted pathways towards the club.

She saw Brian immediately as she ran up to the familiar building. He was waiting outside for her, hands shoved deep into coat pockets and shoulders hunched, head bowed in thought.

"Hey!" she called as she ran up to him, watching his head snap up. "What's going on?" she asked easily. "Nikki said it was important."

"Um, yeah," he replied vaguely, watching her intently as she sidled up to him. Sarah, listen, there's -" He blinked, as if really seeing her for the first time. "Jesus, you're not even wearing a coat!"

She smiled, hugging her light jacket close to her body. "The walk over warmed me up - but can we go inside? Please? If I stay out here I'll turn into an icicle."

He blanched. He wasn't looking too great, Sarah thought with a frown; a little too wide-eyed, jumping at shadows.

"You okay?" she asked suspiciously.

"Fine, fine," he replied automatically. "Do you want to go grab coffee somewhere? I'm sure we can find something open."

"No - this is okay." She hopped into line without waiting for his response, anxious to get out of the cold. There were only a few more people waiting to get in. Apparently, the show had already started - they were close enough to the door to hear music drifting out into the winter air. Sarah listened as a chord faded softly into silence, signaling the end of a song. "You're going to have to spot me the ten bucks," she said, bringing up the entrance fee. "Least you can do after dragging me out of bed."

Brian stepped in beside her, uncharacteristically hesitant and quiet. With haunted eyes, he watched as, one by one, the people ahead handed over their money and had their hands stamped. Sarah watched his pensive face. Inside, she heard a bass guitar launch into the next number: individual strings plucked softly to create a thrumming heartbeat.

"What did you want to talk about?" she asked quietly.

His expression darkened. "Somewhere else," he finally said. "I wanted to talk about it somewhere else."

Inside the club, someone began to sing. It was a low, dark voice that glided between the subdued notes, significant pauses between the lines of artlessly delivered lyrics. Against the simplicity of the bass guitar, the voice became entreating, coaxing - a song to a lover that might, as any moment, become frightened and run away.

o/~ Do you remember the first kiss?  

"What's wrong with here?' Sarah asked absently.

o/~ Stars shooting across the sky.

"Nothing," Brian interjected immediately. "Nothing's wrong. It's just - Sarah, I really don't know how to tell you this!"

o/~ To come to such a place as this -

"Tell me what?" Sarah asked, exasperated. "Brian, what's going on with you?"

"Money and ID," the doorman barked.

o/~ You never left my mind.

Sarah pulled her wallet out of her back pocket as Brian handed over the money, frowning as she rifled through its contents. Brian was still babbling, incoherently mumbling in stops in starts about how the hell was he supposed to tell her this, couldn't they please go somewhere else, and Sarah, please listen to me.

Because she wasn't - not really. Even as she futilely searched for her student ID, she was listening to the music inside. The song had quickened; the drums beating a gentle tattoo along the soft surety of the bass, adding sudden urgency to the melody. As the tempo heightened, switching gears, the singer was silent for a few moments.

"Damn," she murmured. "Not here. I wonder if - Here, Brian, can you hold this a minute?" She handed him her wallet without looking, beginning to search all her jean and jacket pockets.

"I can't let you in without an ID," the doorman said stoically.

"I know, I know, give me a minute."

And then that voice came back again - that soft, smoky voice. He was more confident now, although he never rushed the slow, deliberate delivery of the song. He went from a near-whisper to full-throated singing: an alluring, lilting sound.

o/~ I'm watching from the wall.

"Got it!" She said triumphantly, finally bringing up the elusive slip of plastic. Grinning, she handed it over. "Hey," she asked Brian casually, "Who's inside? I think I've heard them before."

o/~ As in the streets we fight.

"You do?" Brian asked. It was barely even a question - more like an inevitability he was determined to face.

"Yeah," Sarah said. "It sounds like." She listened, really listened, for a moment - and stilled.

o/~ This world, all gone to war -

She turned abruptly, shoving through the milling people right outside the club door. Dimly, she could hear Brian yelling behind her.


o/~ All I need is you, tonight.

The main guitar came crashing in at the same moment she did (barreling through the double doors, heedless of the people in her way). Everything came together in a realization of triumph and pure, perfect exhilaration.

And she saw him.

He stood on stage (of course). With his feet braced shoulder's-width apart in a stance so familiar it made her heart clench, he was the only one of the group who didn't huddle in the shadows. The bright lights falling over his slender form chased strands of gold through his shining cap of pale gold hair as he threw his head back - and sang.

o/~ And I draw a line

o/~ To your heart today

Scuffed jeans ripped at the bottom, rough black boots. A pristine white shirt that glowed under the bright lights, an open cuff falling away from a lean, aristocratic wrist as it rose to beckon the audience into his spell. The light caught, sparkled, and she could see a diamond glittering sharply in one ear.

o/~ To your heart, from mine

o/~ And pray to keep us safe 

Clothes were different, hair was different, even his attitude was different - comfortable in his own skin, lazily confident and relaxed in a way he had never been, around her. And the face. Sorrow, defeat, desperation - they might not have left lines on him, but they left their mark in the darkness of the eyes, the tightness of skin drawn over thin bones. None of that was there now. He didn't know any of that, now.

The song paused to catch its breath, slowing its tempo. He grinned recklessly at the listeners before him, delicately promising the world with his words.

o/~ All through the rising sun,

She felt Brian run up behind her, finally finding where she stood in this bespelled audience. But she couldn't look away from the burning, bright creature onstage.

o/~ All through the circling years --

And he saw her. His head lifted, his eyes focused on her, hiding in the dark. He turned and sang right to her.

o/~ You were the only one

His voice was like two hands wrapping around her ribcage, squeezing all the life and all the breath right out of her body.

o/~ Who could have brought me here.

She turned and ran.

She ran away from Brian, who lunged, too late, to grab her arm and pull her back. She ran from him, from the look in his eyes as his words pierced her heart. She didn't even know where she went, but she shoved her way through the milling, unresisting chaos of humanity around her, desperately trying to hide from the voice that seemed to seek through the darkness.

o/~ And I draw a line

o/~ To your heart today

o/~ To your heart, from mine

o/~ One line to keep us safe.   

She found a door. Opened it, tumbling down the badly lit stairs she found behind it. She recognized this, recognized where she was in the club. Made her way through a damp, dark hallway, found the women's restroom and hid inside. Slammed the door behind her, leaning up against it as she panted for breath, eyes closed against the pain.

But the music followed her unerringly. Even as she barricaded the door with her body against whatever dangerous threat lay in the world beyond, she could just make out those last, lingering words.

o/~ Watch the stars hang, moving

o/~ Across the sky

o/~ Keep this feeling

o/~ Safe tonight.  


She didn't know how long she stood like that, pressed against the door, tense and waiting for yet another assault. But there was nothing - just silence. Probably a break between sets. She sighed, slowly making her way over to one of the sinks. She flipped on the cold water - taking a brief look at her own weary face in the smudged mirror before dunking her hands under and splashing the wonderfully cool liquid over her hot skin. She stood like that for a few minutes, hands gripping the smooth porcelain bowl of the sink, listening to the comforting sound of the water running. With another sigh, she turned it off.

Which seemed to be Brian's cue to burst in through the door, looking a little worse for the wear himself.

"Are you okay?" he asked anxiously, quickly striding over and turning her face to the light. Wincing at his rough grip, she jerked free.

"I'm fine," she said softly. "You could have warned me."

"I tried to!" he replied heatedly, watching as she walked over to get paper towels for her wet face. "You were the one who wanted to stay here, I thought this whole thing could calmly be discussed after coffee." He ran one hand through his hair, making it stand up in dark spikes. "If you can discuss resurrecting the dead calmly," he muttered. "How the hell did this happen?"

She paused in the act of wiping her hands dry, rough paper crinkling between her fingers. She thought about it for a moment, and smiled. From what seemed - oh, so long ago - she remembered that same dark voice echoing in the theater, wrapping itself around her, and the crystal he held..

("Do you remember this? This is just a receptacle. I want the real thing.")

"I guess." She hesitated, tasting and testing her words before she presented them as truth. "I. the pendant was something of a container. When it was destroyed, it didn't really hurt him, it - it released whatever was kept safe inside. Set it free. And him." She smiled. "Good," she said softly to herself. "I'm glad."

She tossed the paper into a waste bin and made to walk out the door. "Coming?" she asked. "I know another way out."

He blinked at her. "Pardon? A what?"

"Another way out - through the basement." She pointed towards the ceiling, and they could both heard guitar chords leaking through the plaster. "They're back on stage, and I don't really feel like walking past. Do you want to come, or do you want to stay?" She gave a wry grin. "I understand if you do. It's good music."

"The hell?!" Brian exploded. "What are you talking about? That's it? You're just leaving? What about - what about him?!"

"What about him?" she replied steadily.

He gaped at her. "Ooooh, no," he said, pulling back. "Don't you dare. Don't you dare try and pull this. Sarah, you spent three days collapsed in your bed because you thought he was dead! And now we know he's not, so you better go and fucking do something! Talk to him! Let him know where you are!"


He checked the urge to shake her. "What? Why not?!"

She met his eyes. "Because he doesn't know me."

Brian dropped his clenched hands, shocked at the pained resignation he saw in her face. "Sarah," he began softly, "what are you talking about?"

"He doesn't know me. He has no idea who I am. I'm a stranger. Are you getting the picture, yet?" She had begun to tremble a little, but she paused. Taking a calming breath, she continued simply: "He doesn't remember anything - not even who I am. You could see that. I could see that, when he looked at me."

"What the hell does that matter?" Brian demanded angrily.

She sighed, and lightly placed her hands on his arms, gripping the soft material of his jacket between her fingers. "The pendant contained his dream, Brian: caged it. This is what he wanted, what came true. Humanity. Freedom. From everything that used to make him what he was - even the memory of it." Her hands relaxed. She smoothed the fabric over his arms. "Even the memory of me." For a moment, her head was bowed and she was silent. Then she looked up, determined. "How can I take that away from him?"

"No, no." With a worried look in his eyes, Brian reached out to hug her close. Soothingly, he stroked her back, astonished at how frail her shoulders felt. "Baby, there's no way he would deliberately want to forget you. I mean, he may have - but that was probably part of a package deal, you know? I mean, why wouldn't he want to come back to you?"

"Because I killed him."

He froze, hand stopping over the slick material of her light jacket. Very, very carefully, he took her by the shoulders and held her a little away from him, sure to look directly into her eyes.

"No," he said calmly. "That's not true. Remember? Man on stage with the weird eyes? I know he got a haircut, but it's still the same deranged maniac you seem to be so keen on. Sarah, he's fine."

A strange little smile quirked the corners of her mouth. "That may be," she acknowledged. "Jareth got his fairytale ending. But through no actions of mine."

He released her with a sigh. "Sarah, you can't keep blaming yourself for that."

"Why not?" she asked, defiantly, stepping back. "It happened. It's true."

He gave her a sad look. "You had no choice, Sarah. You can't save everyone."

"I should've!" The scream was brief, painful, as if torn from her throat without her consent. She fell back, breathing hard, and bumped into a sink behind her. Her arms twisted around to rest against the cold smoothness, fingers digging futilely into the resisting surface. "I should have," she repeated, too soft for even a whisper. And the tears began to fall - the first tears she had ever allowed herself since returning to the real world. "That's what I do. Brave Sarah, kind Sarah," she choked out. "I thought I could fucking save everyone! And because of that, he almost died!"

"But he didn't!" Brian said, almost pleading with her, hands upraised in a defensive gesture against her spitting self-loathing and guilt.

"That doesn't matter! Don't you see?" The tears were overwhelming her. She had to sit, collapsing off of trembling legs that would no longer hold her weight, into a heap on the tiled floor. She pulled her hands into her lap, staring up at him with a kind of broken defiance. "Before I could get you, I had to save my friends," she said bitterly, swallowing the tears that slipped into her mouth. "And before I would even think of Jareth, I had to get you. Save you." She roughly wiped her eyes with one hand, scrubbing at them with more force than would necessary. "And I would do it again," she despaired. "Even if I didn't know he'd come back, that it wasn't real - I'd do it again." With another sob, she pulled her legs up and buried her face in her knees, shoulders shaking uncontrollably.

He got to his knees, crawling over to her. He wrapped his arms around her, hugging her tightly. "I know," he said softly as she sobbed. "That's who you are, Sarah. And he knew that, too. Of course he did." He sighed with one last, final defeat. "He loved you."

The door creaked open to reveal a hesitant woman dressed in partying clothes - low-slung skirt, tight top, purse in hand. Her makeup was a bit faded, and it was obvious she was there to reapply. Seeing the two of them, she paused in the doorway.

Brian gave her a pointed look. "Yes?" he asked testily, as if he weren't hugging a distraught young woman.

"Um." The stranger in the door avoided his eyes. "This is the girl's room."

"I'm gay," he snapped. "So don't let me bother you." 

With a wide-eyed look she backed out of the doorway and let the door swing shut.

A watery chuckle drew Brian's attention back to the mess of a girl in his arms. Sarah smiled at him, tear tracks all over her face.

"You're not gay," she said, mock-solemn.

"She's not going to find that out," he muttered, and Sarah giggled again. Heartened at this, he pushed the hair away from her face. "Feeling better?" She nodded, and he stood. Getting a few paper towels out, he ran some cold water over them until they were nicely damp, and them handed them to Sarah so she could wipe her face. She did so, still breathing a little irregularly. When she was done she crumpled the wet towels into her hand, clenching it into a fist as she stared at the floor. Brian hunkered down until he was on her level.

"The thing is," she continued softly as soon as he was close, "say I do go out. Say I introduce myself. He's lived an entirely different life - what if he's a different person?" She swallowed heavily. "What if he can't love me, anymore? What if I can't love him?" Sitting up a little, she tossed her trash into the bin with a violent gesture. "Or what if," she continued quietly, "we hit it off, and things go great - and it doesn't work out. For stupid, normal reasons." She was silent for a moment. "I don't have a guaranteed happily-ever-after, here." She swallowed hard. "I couldn't stand to lose him. Not again."

He stroked the hair away from her forehead absently as he thought about it. "Then that's it?" he asked, not pushing too much. "You just want to leave it like this?

She let her head fall back against the wall. "He's happy. He's alive." She shut her eyes. "I have that, at least. It's enough."

"You sure? I mean, Sarah. there's got to be a reason he's alive now. You know, here, with us. With you."

Her face spasmed briefly as she fought to control herself. "Don't ask me to go out there, Brian," she whispered. For the first time, he sensed how terribly afraid she was. "Please."

"I think you're making a mistake."

She sighed, and seemed to suddenly become smaller. "I know I am," she said, almost crying again. "But I can't go out there. I - I'm so afraid I'll ruin it again. I can't talk to him. I just can't."

He stroked one thumb across her cheek. "Nikki said Steven has their CDs. We can figure out how to find him later. When you're ready."

She leaned into him, relaxing against his strength like a small child. "I'd like that."

He caught at her hands, gently pulling her up off the floor. He put his arms around her shoulders, she wrapped her own around his waist, and thus entwined they walked out into the night.


The walk home was quiet. They didn't really talk much, just huddled together for warmth. They reached Sarah's dorm in very little time, where Brian gave her one last, friendly hug, and separated himself.

"You'll be okay walking to your car?" she asked.

"Yeah," he assured her, though he shivered theatrically. "Just do me a favor - call the rescue squad if you don't see me in class tomorrow. I'll be the frozen block of ice, sitting in the parking lot."

She grinned. "Thank you, Brian. For tonight."

He simply smiled in return, and began to walk off. Sarah made to walk into her own building, when a sudden thought brought her up short.

"Oh, hey, wait a minute!" she called out to him. Obligingly, he turned. "I'm sorry, I forgot to ask for my wallet back."

"Oh, right." Frowning, he stuck his hands deep into his coat pockets, searching. His eyes widened, and he gave her an uncertain grin. "Er. oops?"

Sarah stilled. "What's 'oops'?" she asked in a dangerous tone.

"Eh heh." He smiled weakly. "I don't have it on me."

She groaned, falling back against the side of her building. "Great," she said miserably. "Perfect."

"Now, wait a minute," Brian staid her, musing. "Um, you gave it to me outside the club. and then you went inside and I.I could've sworn I stuck it in my pocket, but I guess I must have put it down somewhere." He winced. "Sorry. I'll go back and get it."

"No, no." Sarah lifted away from the brick wall. "I'm closer. You should be getting home, anyway. You'll be way too tired to drive if you stay out much longer."

"But, Sarah."

"It's okay." She waved away his concerns. "It's really not a big deal. It's only, what?" She checked her watch. "Whoa, okay, three o'clock in the morning. If I run, I'll catch them just closing up."

"But, um. what if."

She gave him a brilliant smile as she began to walk away. "I'm everyone's packed up and gone by now. I'll see you tomorrow in class!"

She hurried along the cement sidewalks that twisted around tall oak trees and tiny little landscaped areas, lit by wrought-iron streetlights. Her campus really was beautiful, especially at night: far enough from any metropolitan areas to see the stars shining in the sky, high above her head. She kept her hands balled up in her jacket pockets as she ran, a little angry at herself that she didn't think to get something warmer when she was at the dorm, but it was too late, now. It was wonderfully quiet around her - the sounds of a few cars passing by as she neared the edge of campus, and now and then she would catch sight and sound of people talking together as they sat out in front of dorms, but that was about it.

She slowed as the Grey Cat came into sight. Walking fast, she made her way lightly up the steps and to the door, which was open. She crept inside cautiously, one hand on the door.


The bartender was wiping down his work area, stacking abandoned glasses as he went. He smiled as she came into sight. "You're a little late for the show, hon."

She returned the smile and walked up to the bar. "It's not that. I was here earlier, and I think I lost my wallet somewhere."

He winced sympathetically. "Sorry, no one's turned anything in. But you're welcome to look around."

"I'll do that - thanks." Blushing a little as he winked at her, Sarah walked over to the tables in the back. The chairs weren't even stacked yet, and the ground was littered with torn receipts and cigarette butts. Crouching, she ducked her head to peer underneath the tabletops, squinting to see if anything more substantial lay abandoned on the chairs or floor. Nothing. With a gusty sigh, she sat back on her heels, clicking her tongue against her teeth in annoyance.

"Damn. Damn, damn, damn."

"Looking for this?"

Her heart skipped. Her hand, clinging to the rung of a chair for balance, clenched reflexively. Even as she climbed to her feet, she knew who was behind her.

Of course she did.

He stood completely relaxed, one hand in the back pocket of his jeans, the other holding out her wallet. He looked just as he had on stage, only now he wore a dark leather jacket that fit like he had worn it for years. Strands of fine blonde hair fell over his mismatched eyes, giving him a strangely boyish look that was at odds with the harsh planes of his face. But the look in those eyes was anything but boyish.

Unable to find the words, she mutely held out her own hand. He placed the wallet in her hand carefully - his fingertips deliberately lingered against her palm, sending an electric tingle up her arm and through her body.

"I have to confess," he said mildly, drawing away, "that I nicked it between sets in the hope that you'd come back for it."

"Between sets?" she asked, a little stupidly. She blushed when he spoke, and her hands trembled a little as they closed over her prize. She found it hard to look at him directly, instead overcome with shyness, fighting the urge to hind beneath her hair.

He smiled, as he sensed her discomfort, striving to put her at ease. "You and your boyfriend disappeared downstairs. I saw him put it down," and he shrugged, "thought I'd save you the trouble to introducing yourself."

"He's not my boyfriend." Inane, yes. But it seemed a very important point to make.

"He isn't?" He apparently agreed - some hitherto unknown tension left his frame, and he strode over to a table with new energy, swinging around a chair so that he could straddle it, resting his folded arms on the back. "Good. Then I won't have to break his kneecaps." Eyes slanting up at her from beneath that pale hair, he gave her a wicked grin. "Though I admit, some part of me was looking forward to it." He sat back, a teasing grin making his lips twitch. "That's your cue to scold me roundly, and tell me I'm a very bad man."

Sarah could only stare, open-mouthed. He cocked his head to one side, eyes curious. "Well?" he prompted.

She shut her mouth. "Um, thank you for my wallet," she said faintly. "Uh. I think I should be going home now?" she ended weakly, almost asking his permission.

He placed his chin on his folded hands, giving her a solemn look. "Sure you want to do that?

"Um. Yes?" she asked weakly.

He titled his head so that his cheek rested against the back of the chair. "That's too bad. I had planned on getting to know Sarah Williams better."

She froze. "How do you know my name?" she asked faintly.

He crooked a finger at her. "It's on your ID. Which is inside that lovely wallet."

"You looked inside my wallet?" Beyond the shock - which was beginning to wear off - Sarah could feel the faint stirrings of familiar outrage.

He was the picture of wide-eyed innocence. "Of course!" he proclaimed. "What if you didn't come back? How else would I return it to you?"

She put both hands on her hips. "You could have waited until I didn't come back," she said archly. Oh, yes. Definitely familiar.

Buying time, he cleared his throat theatrically. He drew a pack of cigarettes out of his jeans and pulled one from the bunch. "Yes, well," he said, deftly placing the cigarette between his lips and producing a lighter. "You took your sweet time about it, didn't you? I got bored." He held out the pack. "Want one?"

"Nope," she said cheerfully. "I don't smoke. And I hate being around people who do. Disgusting habit." - blithely ignoring the simple fact that most people involved in theater have a serious nicotine addiction. Somewhere inside her a voice was screaming, You idiot! What the hell are you doing!? But she just couldn't help it.

"Ah." He took the one out of his mouth, giving it a sideways look. "Oh, well," he sighed. "We had a good ten years." And promptly tossed it and whole pack into a trashcan behind him.

Sarah stared. "Why did you do that?" she demanded.

He arched one eyebrow elegantly. "Can't you guess?"

She gave him a hard look. "You're British, aren't you?" she asked, responding to his clipped, cultured accent.

He nodded. "London-born."

She titled her head back, critically appraising him. "And how old are you?"

"As old as my tongue and slightly older than my teeth, to quote. Ask me another ridiculous question."

She crossed her arms, trying to swallow the smile that refused to stop tugging at her mouth. "You're a lot older than me." Late twenties at most. She was picking a fight. But oh, it was so much fun.

"Don't put me in my grave just yet."

That made her falter, but only for a second. "I hate it when older men hit on younger girls," she said, adroitly mimicking his mannerisms of disdain. "Don't you?"

He smiled winningly. "You could always save me the trouble."

That made her laugh, but she had to stop quickly - she was afraid she'd start crying again. Then the reality of what she'd been doing for the past few minutes hit her, and she went cold. She turned away. "I have to go," she said shortly. "Thanks."

He quickly sprang to his feet, graceful as any cat. Silently, he followed her right out the door, hooking a hand beneath her elbow as they entered the colder air of the outside. He nodded his head to one side, and for the first time she noticed a motorcycle leaning up against the side of the club. "Ride?" he asked.

She jerked away from that touch. She wanted it too much. "No, thank you," she said, softening her tone. "I'm only a few minutes away." She was not ready for this. She knew she wasn't ready for this - it took every ounce of her control to not stop and scream at the world to slow down, she didn't understand what was happening, was this real? She knew what she needed: to calmly step away from the situation, go someplace else, and think about it.

The "situation," however, didn't seem to have any intention of leaving her alone. 

"I'll walk you there," he offered, very friendly, falling into step beside her.

"No," she murmured. "It's okay. It's a safe campus."

"Then I shall feel pleasantly redundant," he said, smiling. "I always do my best when expectations are lowest." Gracefully, he shrugged out of his jacket, letting it fall off his arms and into his hands, catching it before it hit the ground. He swung it up into the air and around her shoulders before Sarah could blink, tucking it around her in an oddly intimate gesture before moving away a safe distance.

Her hands came up to grip the worn leather without thinking. It smelled of motor oil and cigarette smoke, and beneath that was the dark, delicious scent so familiar to her senses it made tears prick at her eyes. The warmth of his body lingered in the smooth silk lining, seeping into her own. She shivered with pleasure so acute it was almost painful.

"Why did you do that?" she asked, subdued.

"You're cold," he stated simply, still matching her stride.

"What about you?"

He shrugged, slanting a smile in her direction. "I'm fine." And it was true that he didn't appear to feel the wintry bite in the air. The wind whipped around his slender frame, lifting his shirt away from fragile collarbones with all the delicacy of curved wings, but he moved easily and without discomfort.

Sarah's heart was beating like a caged bird, throwing itself against her ribcage with such force that she wondered he didn't hear it. This close to him, she could barely breathe.

"I don't want you following me," she barreled onward, heedless of his words, the playful lilt to the way he spoke that she loved so much. "You could be a psycho stalker, for all I know."

"But I'm not," he returned with a wounded look. "And you know that - you saw me perform, after all."

"That could just be your day job," she muttered mutinously.

She was rewarded with his shout of surprised laughter. She loved the way he laughed. He threw his head back joyfully, hair falling away from his eyes with an exuberance she had never seen in him before. There was no fear in him, she realized. She had never thought of him as fearful, before, but she could see it now in the contrast. Fear had made him brittle, and hard, and cruel - given a sharp, defensive edge to his every word and whim. Once, and only once, had she seen him a little like this. And that was a dream she thought lost forever.

Otherwise, he was the same - exactly the same. Even in the ripped jeans and the plain white shirt he still looked like a king. Something in the way he walked, the angle at which he held his head; all the child-like conceit of someone who has seen the world and said: "Yes. This is mine." A kind of charisma that made you accept his sheer, unrepentant arrogance, because it was innocent. Even now, as she stared at him open-mouthed, his thin lips only twitched as he submitted to her scrutiny. He was in no way unnerved by her wide-eyed stare. He was simply waiting.

"So," she said, a little breathlessly. "Um, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

This is insane! a voice inside her hissed. You are not trying to flirt with the resurrection of your lost love! Because things don't happen this way! Life doesn't happen this way!

Absently, she shoved the persistent little voice into a mental closet, locked the door, and threw away the key.

Her companion stopped, suddenly, leaning up against a tree. Sarah paused when he did, still wrapped up in his coat. He smiled when he saw that.

"Have you ever seen someone from across the room," he began gravely, "and thought: 'I must talk to that girl. I have to find out who she is.' Well," he continued wryly, "I hope you haven't had those exact thoughts. Without a pronoun switch, I really am out of luck."

She grinned. "So," she replied lightly, "you steal her things? Follow her home?"

"Anything wrong with that?" he asked defensively.

Sarah shrugged. "It's a little avant-garde for my taste," she said loftily. "Call me old-fashioned, but I'm much more in favor of traditional methods: holding her hand, giving her your number, maybe even telling her your name -"

He kissed her. It happened so fast, she didn't even know what was happening until she was already thoroughly involved; kissing him back with an enthusiasm that belied her dry tone. He had taken a short step forward, maybe. Placed a hand softly against the curve of her jaw as a warning, perhaps. Even murmured "Is this traditional enough?" softly into her lips before beginning - but she really couldn't be trusted to make an accurate report.     

And - ah, gods - it was the same. It was the exact same. They way he touched her, the way he held her, the way his mouth moved against her own - all of it exactly and completely the same. It was the most wonderful kiss in the world.

It made her heart his.

Sarah began to cry again. She couldn't help it, and was immediately infuriated with herself for doing so - but she really couldn't seem to stop. All the frustration and joy and sorrow that had built up in her for the past few hours - the past month - came out in a soft torrent of tears that slipped down her cheeks and onto their mouths. So that, when he kissed her, he tasted like her own sadness and her own excruciating happiness, all mixed together in salty sweetness.

Instead of pulling away, he deepened the kiss, as if pulling out all of those tangled and terrible emotions out of her soul. Like drawing poison out of a wound. He kissed her thoroughly, until there was nothing left but a deep, overwhelming sense of peace. And of rightness.

He broke away, finally, and she was still sobbing in vexing little hiccups that she just couldn't control. His arms came up to hold her.

"Now, this is new," he murmured into her hair, one hand tangled in the dark, unruly softness of it. "I don't think I've ever gotten this particular response to one of my kisses. Claims of adoration - that's a popular one. Phone numbers have also been frequent. I've even had a couple girls swoon for sheer joy, but crying." He caught her as she stumbled, her tears converted to heedless laughter at his outrageousness. He used it as an excuse to wrap his arms around her even more tightly. "Careful," he warned mildly. "You're no good to me with a cracked head. You'll begin speaking in tongues and such, and - all evidence to the contrary - I think being in love with a lunatic might not be the best of all worlds."

"Giving up already?" she asked recklessly, still caught up in helpless giggles.

"Never," he said magnanimously. "You'll have to come up with more than a bit of hysterics to frighten me away. Though I'd like to know why you're still crying, beloved."

"I don't know. Obviously because I'm nuts - there's no way this is actually happening. It can't be. I'm a certified loony." She leaned into him, cheek pressed to his shirt. "Why'd you call me that?" she asked, soft and tentative.

"What?" He looked a little surprised at himself. "Oh," he said slowly. "I'm not sure." He looked down where her head rested against his chest, her fingers curling into soft fabric. His eyes darkened, gained a new intensity of feeling. "But I don't plan on stopping anytime soon."

"Really?" she asked, and couldn't help but smile like an idiot. "Are you so devoted to every strange girl you meet, or am I special?"

He grinned wickedly. "Very special. To be honest, women usually chase after me. Honestly, aren't you being a little rough on your suitors, making them run you down?"

She was cold, suddenly, dashed into the freezing water of reality and shock. She tried to wriggle free of his embrace, half-heartedly attempting to shrug off his long arms. He relaxed his hold, allowing her to move comfortably - but didn't let her go. She stopped, shivering, hair falling over her face.

"I think I should go home," she whispered. "This is just. I need to go home. Please."

He hesitated. Sighing, his arms relaxed to the point where they weren't quite falling away from her body - but it would have been easy to break free. Somehow, Sarah couldn't bring herself to do that, yet. She simply stood, head bowed.

"I'm sorry," he said in a distant voice. "You're frightened. I'm scaring you."

"No," she said softly. Her glance darted upwards. "Yes. I mean, it's just. why are you doing this?"

He smiled, leaning forward to rest his forehead against hers. "I told you already. I saw you. And I wanted to know you. And so I followed you." He grinned, shrugging a little. "Pretty standard, actually. We just cut through the silly bits about pretending not to care."

"But you don't even know me!" she protested weakly. "How can you be so - I mean, you can't really. Things just don't happen this way."

Promise me this is real. Promise me.

He laid his thumb gently across her mouth, a soothing touch to silence her unspoken pleas. He half-smiled, hair falling into those dangerous eyes. "Do you always live life according to such boring rules?" he asked softly.

Fifteen years old. Calling on a fairytale. A king resplendent in glittering hangings of black, who had captured her heart and mind with one glance. Being offered the world - and refusing it.

"No," she whispered. She was mesmerized by the feeling of him - his hand against her cheek, on her lips; his heart beating beneath her fingertips. She spoke as if in a trance, hardly realizing what she said. "I don't think I ever did."

"Then this is no time to start, is it?"

She smiled shyly in reply, and he hugged her, tight. She gave an inadvertent squeak as a good deal of air was squeezed out of her lungs. Wide-eyed, she looked at him - mere inches away from her face, now.

"Something wrong?" she asked, a little breathlessly.

His hand shifted, threaded into her hair and cupped the back of her head. He stood back a little, as if critically examining her face. "I just don't want you getting any ideas," he said evenly. "You have the tendency to run away when things are just getting interesting, sweetheart. I'm not about to let that happen again."

"Where'd you get that idea?" she demanded.

"You don't have the best track record."

"Oh," she said in a small voice. "Right."

"Mm hmm. That kind of thing tends to decimate a young man's self-confidence, you know. Luckily, I possess the miraculous ability to bounce back." He grinned mischievously. "And a very good grip."

She reddened, a little embarrassed by her behavior at the club. "Give a girl a second chance?"

He gave her a mutinous look from beneath lowered lashes. "Only if you promise to hold still."

She smiled, still slightly flushed. "I've got to have a good reason," she said, tone gentle and flirtatious. "What are you offering?"

He returned the smile, fingertips gently pushing a strand of dark hair away from her face. "Anything. Everything. How does the whole world sound? Mm, too clichéd. What if I turned it upside-down?"

/"I have turned the world upside-down."/

"That should be fun," he continued, stroking her back, oblivious to the tension that filled her. "And we'll rearrange all the constellations to your liking."

/"I move the stars for no one."/

"Stop!" she said wildly, flooded with memory and a startling sense of double-existence. "Stop!"

He hesitated, eyes growing dark. His hands came up to grip her forearms tightly. "Sarah," he said gently. "Tell me what's wrong."

She stared at him. He was the same - he really was. This was the man she loved. She realized in a sudden, sweeping rush, that this, this was what she had fought for. All that terror and pain and heartbreak and struggle - it had all been worth it. Against all expectations, it had been worth it.

Because she had won.

She had a happy ending.

She felt weightless, buoyed by an overwhelming sense of wonderment and joy. It was like freefalling - the realization that everything was finally going to be okay. Laughter filled her, spilling out of her mouth as she threw back her head in a wild celebration of sheer happiness. The world tilted, spinning towards destiny.

"Dear God," he said in mock-despair, struggling to keep them both upright. "You really are a lunatic." At that she laughed even harder, and finally slipped, taking him down with her. They sprawled out together on the cold cement sidewalk. He gave a bemused look where she lay next to him, incoherent with giggles. "It's a good thing I don't have any parents," he said mildly. "Because they'd never approve of you."

"I don't care," she laughed, hardly aware of what she was saying. "I don't care anymore! The world's crazy, and I don't care!" She threw her arms wide, embracing above her a sky that shimmered with stars.

He rolled over to lie on his side. They were too close - or just close enough, depending on who you asked - and he ended up placing his hands on either side of her shoulders to support himself. The line of his leg pressed against hers: warmth belied by the winter night. He looked down at her; hair falling into his mismatched eyes, thin lips in a secretive smile. She simply gazed back up at him. She shivered violently with both the cold and an unbearable excitement. But she was oddly content to lie there, caught between him and the frozen earth. Breathing in the familiar, dark scent of him, Sarah listened to the world around her. Insects chirped, complaining of the bitter season. The stark branches of trees rustled together, creaking to each other in the dark. And somewhere not too far away, someone had the radio turned on. It was set to a rock station, and this early in the morning they were playing forgotten old favorites; half-remembered songs from her childhood. The music was just loud enough for her to make out the words, faint and ethereal.

o/~ No one can blame you

o/~ For walking away.

"I should get you inside," he said softly. "You must be turning to ice."

"Getting there," she whispered through trembling lips.

o/~ But, too much rejection -

o/~ No love injection.

But neither of them made to move, but only lay there, limbs tentatively entwined. Shifting his weight a little, his hand came up to her face - fingers lightly tracing the shape of her mouth, the line of her cheek.

o/~ Life can be easy

o/~ It's not always swell

"I'm not sure I should let you out of sight," he said lightly. "Promise me you're not just a dream."

She couldn't help it.

 "You first."

o/~ Don't tell me truth hurts, little girl

o/~ (Cause it hurts like hell)

He tickled her mercilessly, ignoring her pleas and protests as he instinctively targeted the soft places on her stomach and sides. "Cry uncle and say you love me," he suggested cheerfully, a fiendish grin on his face.

o/~ But down, in the Underground

o/~ You'll find someone true

She managed to catch at his wrists, saving herself any further humiliation. "I'm going to kill you," she threatened with unholy glee. "Better - I'll get Brian to beat you up. He's big, and he's mean, and I can promise already, he doesn't like you -"

He relaxed into her, letting his head drop close enough that she could feel his eyelashes against her cheek. "What if I kissed you again, instead?" he whispered, and his voice was low and full of dark promise.

o/~ Down, in the underground

o/~ A land serene,

o/~ A crystal moon.

 She stilled beneath his touch. "Didn't you already get a free pass?" she asked, more than a little breathless. "I don't like to give boys ideas."

o/~ It's only forever.

o/~ Not long at all

He took a moment, and their closeness suddenly became a trifle awkward. "Ah," he said meticulously. "I can see you might have a point - I certainly am getting ideas." And with that, began to draw away.

o/~ Lost and lonely.

o/~ That's Underground,

Quick as thought, she wrapped her arms around his neck and drew him down again. She kissed him with all the sweetness and promise she had to give. Everything she had once withheld.

o/~ Underground.

Above their heads, the cold stars sang.

o/~ Daddy, Daddy, get me out of here!

o/~ Ah, hah - I'm Underground (where nothing never hurts again)
o/~ Heard about a place today (daddy, get me out of here)
o/~ Where nothing ever hurts again (wanna go underground)
o/~ Daddy, Daddy, get me out of here! (wanna go underground)
o/~ Ah, hah - I'm Underground (get me underground)
o/~ Sister, sister, please, take me down! (daddy, get me out of here)
o/~ Ah, hah - I'm Underground (wanna go underground)
o/~ Daddy, Daddy, get me out of here!

o/~ No one can blame you
o/~ For walking away
o/~ But too much rejection
o/~ No love injection
o/~ But down in the Underground
o/~ You'll find someone true (down underground)
o/~ Down in the Underground
o/~ A land serene,
o/~ A crystal moon.

o/~ It's only. (it's only, it's only.)
o/~ It's only

o~/ Forever
o/~ It's not long at all
o/~ Lost and lonely
o/~ That's Underground
o/~ Underground.

o/~ Daddy, Daddy, get me out of here!
o/~ Heard about a place today (heard about a place today)
o/~ Nothing never hurts again (where nothing never hurts again)
o/~ Daddy, Daddy, get me out of here! (daddy, get me out of here)
o/~ Ah, hah - I'm Underground (wanna go underground)
o/~ Sister, sister, please, take me down! (wanna go underground)
o/~ Ah, hah - I'm Underground (get me underground)
o/~ Daddy, Daddy, get me out!


A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 14 of 15

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