Continuing Tales

Tokens of Affection

A Labyrinth Story
by Shinku

Part 10 of 15

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Tokens of Affection

Nina sighed as she left the small shop she'd tracked Sarah's movements to. Between what she'd heard from the kids that had been at the school at the time of the shooting, Kevin, and a few of the clerks from the supermarket, and now this woman, Nina was beginning to put together a very scary picture.

"So, what've you got?" Kevin asked, as she stepped onto the sidewalk.

Nina sighed. "Nothing good. From what I've been able to put together, I don't know how we're going to tell Mr. Williams about this."

"That bad?" He asked.

She snorted. "Worse. Kevin, from what people are describing to me, Lacey wasn't just going after Sarah, she was hunting her."

Kevin's eyes narrowed. "What are you saying?"

Nina ran a nervous hand through her hair. "I'm saying that Lacey was treating it like a game, like Sarah was something less than human in her mind."

"That's…" The teen's eyes suddenly went wide. "What about Miranda? I haven't heard a single thing about her all day, have you?"

Nina slowly shook her head, her eyes gradually widening. "No, nothing at all."

Kevin began to look nervous. "You don't think Lacey would…?"

"Mr. Williams told us she shot Alicia Zane earlier today, and I know for a fact that Miranda lives just a couple houses down from her," Nina pointed out.

The boy shook his head. "But why shoot Alicia? Our parents might not know it, but Alicia was always smart enough to steer clear of Lacey. It doesn't make sense."

"It does if she heard something," the young woman offered anxiously. "Alicia might have steered clear from her in school, but what if she heard something while she was at home?"

"Like a gun shot…" Kevin realized. "Alicia was pretty smart, she would have waited before coming out to her front yard to see what had happened."

"And probably met up with Lacey," Nina finished for him. "Miranda's parents both work through the weekends. We need to get over there, right now."


For the first few moments, Cathal floated in utter darkness, his senses useless in the void that surrounded him. Then, as if someone had suddenly flipped a switch, he was standing in a slightly different, yet familiar, parlor room.

The furniture had obviously been changed, and the tapestries were newer, but the overall layout of the room remained the same.

The old fae briefly wanted to laugh. It'd been several millennia since he'd seen the castle, let alone this one parlor room, and yet, it seemed to stand before him as a neatly kept relic of his reign so very long ago.

"So, how have your studies been?"

The woman's words were polite and clipped, Cathal noted as he turned to the source of the sound. Almost as if she was speaking merely for the sake of civility.

"They've been going well, Mother," a small voice answered from a high, wing-backed chair. "Master Aidan is teaching us how to properly conceal ourselves in a wooded setting."

The woman wrinkled her nose. "I don't see why you need to learn such skills, but I suppose your father is right about keeping your education well-rounded."

There was silence on the other end, as if the second speaker had responded with a gesture rather than words.

Cathal frowned.

This was a conversation between a mother and child?

Striding forward, the old monarch stepped up to the table to try and identify the speakers. The woman was a slight-looking thing, her face tiny and angular, almost vulpine in appearance. She sat in her chair with her back straight, her face set in a neutral mask as she moved a game piece across its board. There was nothing warm or affectionate about her.

Turning to the second speaker, who was obviously her child, Cathal started.

Familiar two-toned blue eyes, and wild, pale blonde hair adorned a small, yet unforgettable, child's face.

"Jareth?" The old fae breathed.

"I really wish you wouldn't call me by name," a voice called almost mockingly from the other side of the room. "It gives a sense of familiarity and trust, the latter of which, I'd like to point out, you've hardly earned."

Cathal whirled sharply on his heel as he turned to see the Goblin King resting arrogantly on an out-of-place modern armchair in the far corner of the room, one leg carelessly thrown over an arm of the seat while he watched the proceedings with open amusement.

"Who knows, my younger self might get offended."

"This is a memory?" The old king tried to clarify. "Your memory?"

Jareth snorted, "Well, it certainly isn't yours."

Cathal frowned and shook his head. "I don't understand. What did you do to anger your mother so greatly?"

The Goblin King's eyes narrowed, disliking the automatic assumption against his character. "I made her face a reality she didn't care to confront. She, in turn, refused to forgive me the slip."

The Ancient's eyes widened as he comprehended exactly what had happened. "Slip? Are you daft, boy? You should be grateful she was even speaking to you at all!"

Jareth's expression went cold as he purposely brought his leg down and sat up in the armchair. "So you would fault me for something I had no control over?"

"Control?" Cathal snarled, incensed. "You should have been more than old enough to know that what you did was wrong. Do you honestly expect me to believe that you couldn't control what every fae knows how to from birth?"

The younger fae's expression faltered briefly, "Old man, I don't know how long you've been in the Above, but I am the only fae alive in the Underground that has this ability, and it didn't manifest until I was nearing adolescence."

That brought Cathal up short. "What?" He asked hoarsely.

Jareth just shook his head, an oddly heartbroken and sardonic smile sliding across his face. "Here I've been angry about how late your efforts to 'save me' were, and now I find out that even if you had come on time, your efforts probably would have been the death of me."

"What are you rambling on about, now?" The old king asked defensively.

"I'm saying that my parents were excellent liars, old man!" The Goblin King snapped, standing suddenly from his seat. "You still seem to be under the impression that the world you left behind is still there waiting for you to come back, but it's gone, you old fool, it's gone!"

Cathal shook his head, his stance firm and unmoved. "What you're suggesting is impossible. There is no conceivable reason for the fae to have fallen to such lows as to not be able to unlock their own heritage."

"Conceivable reason or not, it has happened," Jareth disagreed, equally immovable. "Congratulations, O Once Great King, alas you and I now have something in common. We are both the only ones of our kind."

"No…" Cathal refused, "I won't believe it."

Jareth calmly walked over to the Ancient fae until he stood toe to toe with him, his expression one of great disappointment. "You don't have to believe me," the Goblin King stated softly, "because you're going to live through it first hand." And swiftly bringing his arms up, Jareth pushed his stubborn ancestor backward.

The old king quickly took an unsteady step back only to realize that the floor was no longer there and he was suddenly, once again, falling into darkness.

Distantly, the Ancient fae heard the Goblin King's voice call down to him from the old parlor room, and he felt his blood turn to ice at his words.

"Welcome to my hell, Once Great King."


Sarah Williams, Aidan was quickly finding out, was every bit as sharp and wily as Jareth was.

Within the last hour, she'd already tricked him into telling her not only embarrassing stories from Jareth's childhood, but his own as well.

Typically he wouldn't think too much of it, but he just couldn't bring himself to trust that devious glint in her eye.

"I've just given you more blackmail material than was strictly safe, didn't I?" The fae asked bluntly as he carefully made them both their teas.

Sarah shrugged from her place at the kitchen table, nibbling on a cookie. "I firmly believe that it's only good sense to stack the deck."

Aidan snorted as he finished up their cups and brought them to the table. "I see why Jareth is so fond of you. You must challenge him at every turn."

The teen tilted her head in slight confusion as she took her cup. "Challenge him? I don't see how I'm much of a challenge; more amusing to him probably."

The fae took a sip of his own tea as he sat down. "You sell yourself short. I know that from a human perspective it's rather hard to understand, but I've known Jareth for nearly a thousand years now. He's not the kind that will keep company with those that don't rival him in some way. He likes being challenged."

"I guess from his standpoint, a challenge would be the most rewarding thing he could find," Sarah offered, cautiously sipping her tea. "Hey, this is pretty good," She praised, and took a longer swallow, never noticing the way Aidan watched her a little more closely.

"I've had practice," the fae offered modestly. "I'm quite good with this sort of thing."

Sarah smiled as she took another sip. "I can tell. So, what exactly is in my tea? You mentioned willow bark, but that can't possibly be all."

"It's not," Aidan agreed. "It's actually a bit of a blend. There's willow bark for pain, valerian for the worrying I know you're doing, and a herb from here called lunar grass. I've also blended in some mint to help with the flavor. Willow bark can be quite bitter."

Sarah grew still. "Valerian? Isn't that used as a sedative?"

The fae nodded easily. "A mild one, yes. Valerian is also used as a calming agent. Especially for people who require rest."

The young woman began to get a bit nervous. "I don't need rest, Aidan, I need to be awake for Jareth when he gets back."

The Master shot her a stern look over his cup. "You don't need rest? Jareth may have enough on his mind to over look the odd little discrepancies in the way you move, but I do not."

"There aren't any-"

"You keep your back straight when you walk and you only take in short measured breaths, most likely the result of damaged ribs. You also keep one of your arms tucked close to you, a sure sign of an injury you're trying to protect, and lets not forget the way you've carefully not raised your voice around me. That turtleneck sweater you're wearing can't hide the fact that someone tried to strangle you. Jareth hasn't seen those bruises yet, has he?"

Sarah looked away from the dark-haired fae. "No, and until he's cleared up everything with these other people, I don't want him to know."

Aidan's eyes narrowed as he frowned. "Do you have any idea what kind of game you're playing with your life, right now? Are you even considering what it would do to Jareth if something were to happen to-"

Sarah abruptly slammed her hand onto the table, her eyes sparking angrily. "I'm aware of my own mistakes! And yes, for your information, I am aware of what it could do, and I'm staying within my limits to prevent that! I'm not-"

The teens eyes widened as she abruptly started coughing, the stress of raising her voice playing havoc with her newly damaged throat.

Aidan quickly pushed back his chair and rushed to the other side of the table, easily seeing the difficulty she was having in breathing as the pain from her ribs restricted how large a breath she could take. Wrapping an arm around her shoulders, the fae swiftly bent down and drew her to his chest, gently rubbing her back as she gave odd, uneven, whimpering coughs, thoughtlessly whispering soft words of comfort.

It was several minutes and a few sips of her tea later before Sarah was able to breathe properly again. Even so, however, her ribs ached horribly, and the world was doing a happy little twirling dance as she glanced around.

"Valerian doesn't work like this," Sarah pointed out dizzily.

"It does when it's paired with lunar grass," Aidan gently disagreed. "I told Jareth I would look after you while he was gone, and I refuse do that by watching you collapse because you want to try and spare his feelings needlessly."

She quickly took in a deep breath as she tried to fight past the sedatives. "You didn't see the look on his face when he first found out. I don't want to do that to him again."

"Then you need to rest," The fae stated firmly. "It'll do his heart and mind more good to know that you're taking the time to rest and recover than if you try to push yourself to stay awake for him."

"You're not playing fair…" She slurred unhappily, her eyes beginning to droop.

"No, I'm not," Aidan agreed. "But you'll probably thank me later."

Sarah, however, said nothing, and the fae found himself breathing a sigh of relief. Carefully adjusting his hold, he scooped the sleeping girl up and began to carry her to one of the guest rooms.

The deceit niggled at Aidan's conscience.

He didn't care for the way he'd handled things, but he hadn't lied to the girl when he'd stated that he wasn't going to watch her collapse. His years of fighting in a fruitless war had given him a very good understanding of when a person was pushing themselves beyond their own capabilities and Sarah Williams had most certainly been at the edge of hers.

"You're just as stubborn as he is," The fae found himself whispering to the sleeping teen. "I can just imagine what you two will be like once you actually marry." He gave a short huff of laughter. "No one in this kingdom will want for entertainment again, I'm sure."

Sarah answered him by unconsciously drooling on his shirt.

Aidan sighed and glanced heavenward before muttering back to her. "I guess I deserved that."

Making it into the guest room, the fae softly laid his charge onto the small bed and quickly retrieved a blanket from the trunk at its foot, laying it across her while she slept.

It amazed him at how truly small she was.

Despite the size of her physically, without the sheer weight of her personality filling the space around her, Aidan was finally able to take stock of how young she was. The older fae found himself snorting at the realization.

Poor Jareth.

He had little doubt that his young friend was constantly having to be reminded of that fact, himself. In just the short time that he'd spoken with her, Aidan was already quite aware that Sarah Williams refused to meet anyone short of being an equal.

It made him wonder at just how much they must have locked horns when they first met.

Shaking his head at the idea, Aidan turned and left the room, shutting the door behind him.

However, as soon as the fae set foot in his living room, he immediately felt the change in the air and swiftly turned around and shot back to the guestroom, his heart in his throat.

Throwing open the door, Aidan got his first look at the person that had slipped through his wards.

The old Master felt his breath hitch.

It was an Ancient, likely one of the ones Jareth had told him about. She was sitting on the edge of Sarah's bed, lightly holding one of the sleeping girl's hands as she fussed a little with the blanket.

Aidan remained motionless at the doorway, uncertain if he could get Sarah away from the older fae if she meant harm.

"Poor thing…" She whispered softly to the girl in front of her before turning to him. "Isn't it just terrible what some people will do to others?"

The Master swallowed thickly. "Quite terrible."

She smiled gently at his anxiety, her eyes hesitant, yet hopeful. "It's alright, I mean no harm. I just… I wanted to spend some time with my future granddaughter. I'm not so sure I'll have another chance and… Please, can I stay awhile?"

Aidan knew, that had Jareth been there, the woman would have been gone, Ancient or not. However, seeing the honest expression on her face, and knowing that the odds of Jareth choosing to work with either Ancient anytime soon were slim, he decided to take pity on her.

Stepping fully into the room, the Master walked to the other side of the bed, and took a seat at the chair that was situated near the head of it.

Staring at the old woman meaningfully, Aidan inclined his head and answered, "For now."

Her return smile was radiant, and without another word, she went back to her bedside vigil, the air around her a bit lighter.

It was a curious situation, but the younger fae was willing to let things lie for the time being. After all, if the watchful little eyes he could see peeking out from the shadows was anything to go by, The Ancient fae wouldn't be able to hurt Sarah Williams if she tried.

The Labyrinth herself wouldn't allow it.


Pulling up to the Pierce residence, Kevin put the car in park and switched off the ignition, his face troubled.

"We should call the police, Nina. This isn't…" He briefly closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "We don't know what's in there. We don't even know if Miranda's dead."

Nina nodded solemnly, unclasping her seatbelt as she watched the house sadly. "The police wouldn't legally be able to break down the door unless there is an emergency or they have a warrant. If by some miracle she isn't dead and she just can't answer…"

The boy sighed and nodded, seeing the wisdom of her words. "Then lets get this over with. With our luck, she'll probably be in the shower and pissed off that we interrupted her."

Nina smiled wryly as she opened the car door. "Better she be pissed off at us alive, than the alternative."

Kevin said nothing to that as he got out of the car. After all, what could he say? He'd spent so much time with Lacey, that he was fairly sure that if anyone was dead, it was Miranda Pierce.

Pocketing his keys after locking the car behind him, the boy kept pace behind his girlfriend, as they walked up to the front door. As soon as they reached it, Nina rang the doorbell and waited.

"You know, I was just thinking," Kevin offered, "what if she's out of the house? Maybe went to pick up something from the store or visit a neighbor."

The young woman beside him shook her head. "I've had to do a few projects with Miranda in the past, and one thing I do know, is that she doesn't go anywhere on the weekends. Her parents are big time traders and they travel up to and stay in New York Thursdays through Sundays so they can bid at Wall Street. Miranda is not allowed to leave the house those days unless she's accompanied by a neighbor."

"They're that protective?" Kevin asked, puzzled.

Nina snorted. "Hardly. The best that I was able to understand it was that they were just that strict."

"Really?" He asked.

"When they're gone," Nina filled in, "she isn't allowed to leave the house, except for school. If she's caught, and the neighbors do tattle on her, then whatever free time she does have is taken away until they feel she's learned her lesson. That could be anywhere from a week to a couple months. She doesn't receive an allowance because they believe she'll spend it on frivolous things. If she sees something she likes in a store, she has to ask them if it's okay for her to have it. And as for friends…" Nina sighed. "She doesn't have any friends, because her folks rarely approve of any that she brings home. In fact, I think Lacey was the first person they actually liked."

"Wow, that's just…" Kevin shook his head. "How do you know all this?"

The young woman pointed just down the street. "My Aunt Clara lives just a few houses that way. Miranda calls her when she wants to go out somewhere and needs the excuse."

Kevin looked back at the door with new eyes and pointedly reached over and rang the doorbell again.

There was still no answer.

Frowning, the boy reached up and pounded once on the door. Eerily, it fell open with a soft click.

Both teens froze.

Nina shook her head, her eyes wide. "This isn't right," she whispered, and before Kevin could stop her, she pushed open the door and shot into the house. "Miranda!" She hollered. "Miranda!"

There was still no answer and Nina quickly darted into the nearest room. Then the next and the next, nearly bowling Kevin over several times in her search for the other girl. Finally, with the ground floor completely covered, she quickly grabbed the other teen's arm and dragged them both upstairs.

They barely made it to the landing before they found Miranda.

"Oh my God!" Nina staggered backwards into Kevin as he came up behind her, his eyes going wide at the sight in front of them.

Miranda was laying face down on the floor, blood smeared heavily across the walls leading out from a room at the far end as if she'd tried to stagger out to get help, and didn't quite make it before she was caught up to.

Tearing her eyes away from the horrific sight, Nina swiftly knelt down beside the other girl and tried to find a pulse.

Seeing how very still and pale she was, neither teen held out much hope.

Closing her eyes, Nina tried to put all her attention into finding just one single heartbeat. What she got instead was a barely heard hissing, sucking sound. Nina blinked her eyes open just as she found a pulse and her eyes widened.

"She's not dead," she whispered, stunned. Then, louder, she turned to Kevin. "She's not dead! Go down stairs, find a phone and call an ambulance. Tell them she has a 'sucking-chest wound!'"

"A what?" The teen asked, as he shot back down the stairs.

"A punctured lung!" She called after him. "Tell them she's been here for over an hour!"

Turning back to Miranda, Nina tried to recall how her mother had said to treat a wound like this. The older woman, being a trauma nurse down in the hospitals ER, had made absolutely certain that her daughter understood the basics of field medicine, something that Nina was now quite thankful for.

Quickly glancing around her, she spotted a small hall bathroom, and immediately got up to see what first-aid supplies she could find. Rifling through the medicine cabinet and a few drawers, Nina came up with a pair of scissors, some large pressure band-aids (which had her frowning for a moment, because most families didn't stock them), some gauze, and some medical tape.

Swiftly carrying her tools back into the hall, she sat down next to Miranda and quickly set up what she would need.

"Alright, Miranda," she whispered to the unconscious girl. "I'm going to check you over and see where your lung is hurt, okay?"

Miranda didn't answer, -but Nina hadn't expected her to- and with sure fingers, gently set to prying her top off.

The blood was dried out in some places, causing the shirt to stick, but for the most part the wounds Nina was finding were still bleeding sluggishly. Enough so, that the shirt wasn't sticking to the damaged areas, a minor miracle in itself.

Finally, after a good bit of creative maneuvering, Nina was able to get the other girl's top off. Once that was done, and she got a good look at where the lung injury came from, she found herself breathing a sigh of relief. While she was hardly a doctor, the wound itself was small, and the bleeding seemed quite slow, which explained how she was able to make it as long as she had with a punctured lung.

Taking a quick look at the rest of her upper body, Nina was quick to note the wound that had likely saved Miranda's life. Just below the left side of her collar-bone, a short ways above her heart, was what Nina could only assume was a bullet-wound.

The young woman had little doubt in her mind that Lacey probably thought Miranda was dead. Otherwise, Nina knew she would probably be out on the front porch, trying not to think of the corpse that was still going cold at the top of the stairs.

Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Nina quickly set to work on bandaging Miranda's wounds.

Ten minutes later, as she was finishing her task, Kevin came back up the stairs.

"The ambulance is on its' way." He commented halfway up the stairs. "They said it shouldn't be more than fifteen minutes, and that you should try to keep pressure on..." Making to the top of the stairs, Kevin noticed the bandages. "Ah, I guess you got it covered then." Then he noticed the lack of shirt. "Oh…! Jeez, Nina!" He hissed, turning around sharply. "Couldn't you have found something to cover her with!"

Nina shot an amused look at his back as she stood and headed to the room that she was sure was Miranda's.

"I just finished bandaging her before you came up. It's hardly my fault you didn't think to knock at the base of the stairs," she quipped.

Kevin made an agitated sound but ultimately said nothing.

Smiling, Nina turned into the other girl's bedroom and froze.

The room was a wreck, a struggle evident in the way various books, VHS, and a host of other small items lay scattered about the room. The brief splatter of blood around the door left the young woman a bit unsettled at what had likely transpired in the space just a few short hours ago.

Gathering her nerve, Nina carefully stepped into the room, and retrieved a small blanket near the room's window. Carefully shaking loose any debris, she carried it back into the hall, and draped it across the pale girl.

"You can turn around now." Nina stated.

Cautiously peeking over his shoulder, Kevin turned and came to stand behind his girlfriend. "Will she be alright?" He asked.

She shrugged. "I don't know. I've done what I can for her. All that we can do right now is wait for the ambulance and hope for the best."

Kevin took in a deep breath as he wrapped his arms around Nina, watching the slight rise and fall of Miranda's chest. "I don't get why Lacey did any of this, you know? Why she picked a fight with Sarah, why she got Marcus expelled, why she was so nice to Miranda only to turn around and do this to her. What was the point in making everyone fear her? What was the point of any of it?"

"Power." Nina answered softly. "And… and maybe just because she could."

"I never did understand why the teachers let her get away with the things she did," he offered just as softly.

"I was only able to confirm it a couple hours ago, but her uncle is the superintendent of the school," she answered frankly. "At the moment, only four of the upper-grade teachers have tenure. They couldn't afford to loose their jobs, not when you think about how many of them have families."

"Ms. Booth," Kevin acknowledged. "She just had that little girl of hers a while back, and Mr. Alex has, like, what, twelve kids?"

"Ten," she corrected. "And yeah, that was basically the problem. I heard that some teachers did try to do something about Lacey, and that they got their jobs threatened because of it. Of course, all things considered, I doubt they would have let things go this far, job or no job, if they knew how bad things had gotten."

"Maybe if we'd all said something sooner," he wondered. "Maybe we could have avoided all this."

"Maybe," Nina partially agreed. "Then again, we might have tipped our hand too soon. I mean, think about it. Lacey moved here from out of nowhere. Everyone knows her parents gave up good jobs to be here. Why would they do that, if there wasn't a reason?"

"You think she's done this before?" He stated.

Nina nodded. "Back in the beginning of the school year, before she started anything, I was able to talk to her and she told me that this was her fifth transfer. At the time, she said it was because of her parents work, but now? I'm not so sure anymore."

Kevin shook his head and held Nina tighter, beginning to hear sirens coming in from a distance.

"It's not right," he muttered into her hair. "It's not right that you, me, Sarah, and even Miranda had to suffer for this girl. It's just not fair."

"No," she agreed softly. "It isn't."

Leaning her weight back into Kevin, Nina closed her eyes for a few minutes and listened to the sirens draw closer. None of it was right, or even fair, but it was how things were, and for now all they really could do was make the best of it.

Before long, paramedics were coming into the house, and Nina was describing what she'd done to temporarily treat the wounds while Kevin directed the police that had come at the report of another shooting.

Within a handful of minutes, Miranda was on her way to the hospital, and Kevin and Nina were getting into his car to follow them there.

Glancing out the car window as they began to pull away from the house, Nina's gaze fell on Mrs. Pierce's prized Judas Trees. In the springtime, when they were in full bloom, their pink flowers were the prettiest on the street, but looking at them now, all grayed out with the settling of winter, Nina could only recall their grim meaning.


Heaving a heavy sigh, and turning her eyes to the road, Nina closed her eyes and slumped back against the seat.

It was barely three o'clock in the afternoon, and already, both teens could hardly wait for the day to be over.

Tokens of Affection

A Labyrinth Story
by Shinku

Part 10 of 15

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