Continuing Tales

The Way Forward

A Labyrinth Story
by atsuibelulah

Part 2 of 5

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The Way Forward

The land spread out before him, he cast his vision across the horizon. The walls and the trees and the sky, it was his own. Wasn't it? It was the break of day and a presence pulled him to the maze of green hedges, his head hurt. But time jumped and it was a warm afternoon and a pair of eyes gazed at him with a silent trust, a calm acceptance, with the fear of knowledge hidden well. All he could see were eyes like the hedges, had he found them there?

Time jumped again and now the eyes were ancient, knowledge burned in them, as did a question. The question frightened him and he backed away. He retreated onto a higher place, a different view of the land. The moon cast light only on the clouds, a fear deep within him, a mind betrayed. But the sky changed and he could see the stars. Everything looked red and he saw blood on his hands, blood in the red dust at his feet. He couldn't remember what had happened...a cruelly crimson grin caressed by flashing ebony feathers...amber silk fell from a golden tree and he heard a woman weeping...tears spilled from the hedgerow eyes and an anguished voice cried out his name...but he did not know it...he could not remember.

Three months. Sarah stared at the stack of paper in front of her. She was supposed to be editing. She hadn't turned a page in an hour, or more.

It had been nearly three months since he'd tossed her out of the Tower, October when she returned, it was now nearly Christmas. She still refused to go home, even for the holidays. This year, she wouldn't return to her father's house. If she left, she was afraid she might never have the strength to come back. And Sarah knew that she would find him nowhere else. Bristol was where she had been returned and Bristol was where she would stay. And she would stay until she found him.

Her resolution reaffirmed, she let her attention wander back to the stack. It was at least three inches thick, her dissertation. She hadn't touched it in more than an hour. Oh, how she loathed the thing.

It was common knowledge that many grad students in all fields come to harbor a healthy hatred for their much labored master works, but Sarah could barely stand hers any longer. She hated touching it, reading it, thinking about it. It was the bane of her sad existence, a constant reminder of what had caused all of her misery, of the fact that she still could not hold the one good thing that came of her damnable curiosity and stubbornness.

The research had been nearly finished at the time that she was taken, and upon her return she'd really just had to write the thing. The first day she had picked it up again to work, she'd gone to an invisible corner of the library and cried the entire time. By the next day of writing Sarah had run out of tears, but the pain had not gone away.

What had caused her the most anguish was that she hadn't really needed to go to Glastonbury that day. She had had enough information to prove her thesis, but she had kept looking, not satisfied until she found her way back. If she had not gone there none of it would have happened, and Sarah no longer knew if that would have been a good or bad thing.

Her supervising professor had told Sarah only a few days before that she had "lost her drive," the bastard. She had wanted to laugh, or to burst into tears, or say that the "drive" had been driven out of her. She wanted to be able to enjoy it, to relish in the discoveries she had made, but her enthusiasm had been soured and she could not get it back. Sarah had only nodded and said she would work on it.

Sarah forced her eyes onto the paper once more and made a small tiredly frustrated noise, somewhere between a sigh and a whimper. She put the paper in her bag and left the personal study room in which she'd spent most of the day. No more work would get done, she was hungry and she feared she was developing a headache, which was dangerously close to a migraine. Lately she'd been having migraines, as if everything else wasn't enough.

A short walk across campus and up a few blocks brought Sarah to the flat she shared with Ruby in Kingsdown. It was a good size and a good price and Sarah loved being in it, which was more than she could say for a lot of places.

Ruby was in the kitchenette when Sarah walked in. She had a mug of half drunk tea in one hand and her coat in the other.

"Are you going somewhere?" Sarah eyed her a little suspiciously. The small woman had a tangibly persuasive air about her, which was never a good sign.

Sarah's roommate grinned crookedly, "Only if you come with me, but right now I'm pretty sure your answer is yes. We're going to the museum."

"What?" Sarah wasn't really sure if she'd heard right.

She moved to wash the mug in their tiny sink, "Come on, Sarah-doll, it's the end of term, for God's sake. Let's celebrate a little."

Sarah was having trouble following the train of thought here, "By going to a museum?"

Ruby turned around, shrugging her shoulders and giving Sarah a withering look, "Well, I figure we have to start somewhere! You never go anywhere at all. And, there's an exhibit showing that I know you'll love."

Sarah could see, having learned from the few short years she'd known Ruby, that at that point there would be no gainsaying it. She'd get her way, at any cost. "Fine, we'll go," she relented and dropping her bag negligently on the floor next to the door, spun around and started down the stairs. Ruby followed a minute later and was already lifting her roommate's spirits as they walked the few blocks it took to get to the city's museum.

...could not remember...

He was jolted from the dream by a muffled voice and an insistent knock at the door, "Jaaaay! Dearest, breakfast!"

He sat up quickly and hit his head on the bottom of the top bunk, "Fuck..."

"Dearest, language!" His mother had opened the door. She stood one hand on her hip, the other still on the doorknob, a disapproving look on her weary features. Jay had no idea how she could use the term 'dearest' in a disapproving manner and not make it sound sarcastic.

He rubbed his eyes then head, not too sleepy to glare at her, "Jesus, Mum. You scared me!"

She spoke softer, but it was another rebuke, "Language, Jay, you're home now. Your Father doesn't approve."

He pressed his lips together, "Sorry. You startled me...sorry." He looked away and rummaged about the cluttered bed stand for his glasses. He opened his mouth to say something to get her to leave so he could dress, but she beat him to the first word, "Do you still have those dreams, Dearest?"

Jay tensed for a moment and put his glasses on. Turning his gaze back to her, he blatantly ignored the question, "I'll be down in a few minutes." It was her turn to purse her lips, but she said nothing and closed the door behind her.

After she had gone he rested his elbows on his knees and put his still aching head in his hands. The dreams...he'd stopped bothering his mum with them around the time he'd reached puberty. Not wanting to worry her and also not wanting to have to go to her for help either. Not that he needed help. They were just something he had to deal with...the dreams.

But somehow, she'd always known that they'd never gone away. Maybe Paul had told her. They had shared the room, but his younger brother had been threatened with death or worse if he told. Jay shook his head; Paul wouldn't have given him up. She'd just known.

As promised, he descended his childhood home's narrow stairs to the heaping breakfast Marian Travers had heating on the stovetop. She pulled out one of the dinky kitchen chairs for him; his father was reading the paper opposite. Jay sat down and smirked at her, "Did you go a bit overboard, Mum?"

She firmly set a plate before him, "I did not. Some of this is for your brother."

Jay spread jam over a piece of nearly burnt toast, taking a bite right before speaking, "Oh? When is the brooding artist to arrive?"

The deep voice of his father cut in, flat and curt as always, "Not till late tonight." He had not looked up from the paper.

Jay kept his eyes on his mother, changing his expression from mild inquisition to outright incredulity and dropping his toast, "And you're saving it for him? Why can't he just wait till tomorrow like everybody else?"

"He likes to eat the leftovers!" She crossed the tiny space and began putting the food in plastic bags.

"Honestly, Mum, the way you spoil that boy. It's turned him rotten. Y'know, he almost never calls me." He did his best attempt of her in reproving mode.

She turned sharply at him, almost able to hide the twinkle in her eyes, "Well, everyone's so busy going on about my first-born, somebody's got to spoil him. And from what I hear, it's that same first-born who doesn't answer his phone or return his calls."

The gruff, flat voice penetrated the newspaper once again, "He's not making enough off that profession to be talking on the telephone as he does. That boy needs to learn moderation or learn a new trade."

Jay tensed in his chair, moving his eyes down to his plate as he silently finished his meal. There was no arguing with his father, one side always got ignored. This time it would not be his. He heard his mum still shuffling and clattering around the counter to his right. A moment more of silence and she wouldn't be able to stand it.

"You know he told me yesterday that three different galleries are interested in his work. He'll be going back to London for New Year's to attend some business..." She trailed off.

"Business...hmmf," it was a close to a sneer as Jay thought he'd ever gotten, not being a man of strong emotions. Jay chose to take offense. If the man was going to disapprove, he should at least do it in an argument instead of vaguely provoking comments followed by impregnable silences.

Jay stood up quickly, allowing the metal chair to grate unpleasantly across the floor. He spoke to the front page, leaning across the table, "If you are going to say shit like that, you should say it to his face, or to mine, for God's sake, and we'll have a proper row." Silence.

He looked to his mother and put on a half-hearted smile, "Too bad the spoiled child will miss the Museum. When he comes, tell him that's where I went and that I'm with Collins, so we'll probably end up in some grubby pub somewhere in that district."

She smiled back at him, still wringing her hands, "All right, Dearest, will do."

He kissed her on the cheek and gave her tired hands a quick squeeze before going out the door. He was meeting Collins and some other people from the neighborhood at the Escher exhibit, only God knew why they'd decided on that place to meet for what would undoubtedly end up being a night of carousing with old friends.

The whole situation was just too easy, too perfect.

Sarah had felt something, had known that something was going to happen, when they walked into the lobby. She saw the sign and immediately rounded on Ruby, "Escher? Since when, is there an Escher exhibit here?"

Her friend looked a little worriedly at her, "It just came a couple weeks ago. I was pretty sure that you didn't know about I thought I'd surprise you. Are you alright, doll? I thought you liked Escher."

Sarah reigned in her shock and rising apprehension, she told herself it would be fine, "Ah, no...I mean, I'm fine. I do like Escher. I was just...surprised..." Sarah's roommate said nothing to reveal that she didn't believe the thin lie. But as they paid their admission and entered the museum, Sarah was forced to ignore the small army of barely concealed sideways glances with which Ruby persisted in barraging her.

The exhibit was very nice, the pieces were displayed in chronological order and the two women spent a pleasant few hours wandering through the artist's life shown through his work. But everything changed when they entered a new gallery room, long and ending with the conclusion of the exhibit.

Sarah looked down the long narrow room, wondering how much more time it would take. Her feet were beginning to get tired. But as she turned her head a group of people caught her eye and she thought she saw...

She turned swiftly away and told herself to stop imagining things. Lots of people bleach their hair that color. She had tricked herself into thinking she'd seen him three times before. Those sorry situations had all ended in disappointment and once in extreme embarrassment. She refused to screw with her own head again. It wasn't him.

She looked up at the painting in front of her and almost swore. It was an owl, a black and white woodcut, a university poster of some kind. Sarah told herself she didn't believe in signs anymore. But she turned back to the group again. Two men, a woman, and...him.

Circumstances seemed to show that everything was falling into place. Had she really found him? Prolonged thinking brought reality back to her, stomping all over her hope. Why should fate pull strings for her? She'd been given a raw deal the first two times around, so what was this? She was supposed to wait three months with no sign of him and then he would just fall into her lap?

Sarah attempted another glance across the room, but he inevitably held her gaze. He was absorbed in one of the paintings. She couldn't see which one, the group was obscuring it. But it wasn't like the painting was important anyway. It was him she was staring at.

She felt her eyes begin to water at the sight of him, just across the room, right in front of her. He distractedly ran a hand through his hair, pushing bangs that were just a little too long from his eyes.

Sarah could barely tell from the distance, but he looked to be wearing...glasses, small square-ish lenses encased in thin black frames. Why was he wearing glasses? Maybe it wasn't him; maybe it was all in her head. She wouldn't really be surprised if it was.

But if it wasn't him, Sarah realized she was staring at one extremely attractive man. His hair was the same unique color, the cut similar to what was currently in fashion, but it looked slightly ragged, as if he had not bothered to go get a trim. It gave him an understatedly sexy devil-may-care quality and, combined with his dark blue winter turtleneck and trimly cut grey blazer, he practically screamed of professional punk, if such a thing existed.

She saw one of his friends gave him a hard jab in the ribs at end of some joke and he turned, flashing an incredibly familiar feral smile before morphing it into a warmly charismatic chuckle. Sarah decided if the term hadn't yet existed, he'd just invented it.

Ruby moved to the next painting on the gallery wall and Sarah realized how long she'd been looking at him. She flicked her gaze to the painting, registering that it was one of the symmetrical designs, before looking back at him.

He didn't see her. If it was truly him, if he remembered, he would have felt her, he would have known she was there. She should go to him. She should do it like in the movies, drop something, or just comment on the painting, start a fucking conversation. Sarah was paralyzed, but she halted the flow of her tears. She would not cry anymore.

"Who're you looking at, Sarah?" Ruby asked the question absently, absorbed in the work in front of them, but then turned her head in the direction Sarah was looking, towards him and his friends. Sarah's heart clenched as a grin broke across her roommate's face. Something was going to happen here, it would all be ruined. Ruby knew him, Ruby loved him. That was it. He was the guy Ruby said she'd been in love with since high school.

Ruby's voice rang out in the virtual silence of the gallery, "Holy shit, Sarah! I can't believe it, Jay and mates, in a fucking museum, for Christ's sake! Sarah-doll, would you look at that!" Sarah frowned, she couldn't remember if Jay was the name of that guy...but what else could it be? What would get in their way this time?

The whole group turned at the sound of Ruby's incredibly loud and vulgar outburst and he smiled. This smile was quick and genuine, open and honest, while slightly crooked and...aimed straight at her. Sarah felt her knees grow wobbly, had he caught her staring at him? But the moment passed and his eyes moved and fixed on Ruby.

Another of their group shouted back, presumably one of the mates, "Oi! If it isn't Ruby D, herself. And in top form as well. Shoutin' across art galleries and everything. Reminds me of that class trip to the Louvre...I've never heard so many Frenchmen yelling at one time."

Sarah's limbs felt rubbery. She couldn't move them properly and Ruby had to forcibly pull her across the gallery. She kept her eyes on him as Ruby dragged her while whispering fast in her ear, "It's fine, Sarah. We're just going to go say hello. We all come from the same neighborhood. The loud one is Collins, his mum and mine are best friends. The two stuck together at the hip are Meredith and Geoff, been together since year 8 or 9, disgusting isn't it? And you must've heard me talk about Jay before, the tall skinny guy with the hair. His younger brother Paul was in my form group three years in a row. I had a mad crush on him...still do, actually."

Sarah's heart shot to her mouth, she thought she was going to throw up, "On...J-jay?"

"No, doll, focus here, on his brother."

"Oh, okay." She was having trouble forming words and her limbs were still not moving properly.

"Sarah, it's fine. You're fine." Ruby slowed them down considerably, Sarah presumed to make sure that her statement was correct.

Sarah was most definitely not fine. But she nodded anyway, not taking her eyes away from him. The whole group was looking at them now, a few more moments of heel dragging and they would wonder what was taking so long. Sarah spoke to make sure Ruby believed her, it sounded weird and halting, even to her own ears, "Yeah...fine."

"Are you sure?"

Sarah lied again, "Yes."

After a few minutes of hugs and introductions, Sarah was eventually excluded from the catching up conversation going on around her. She stole a glance at him, he was talking animatedly with Ruby and Collins, the other two of the group listening and laughing. Her chest hurt, looking at him like that. She'd never seen Jareth so...happy, so seemingly free of burdens and sorrows. She wondered if it was even him. The thought made her tremble, but he seemed so different, she couldn't tell.

Suddenly, she couldn't look at him any longer and she turned her eyes to the painting he'd been so engrossed in. She sucked in a breath. It was Relativity, the room with all the stairs going in different directions, the Escher room.

She gazed at the painting, somehow seeing past the black and white lithograph and blank faces of the subjects to the earthy grey stones of that room in his castle. She remembered the frustrated hopelessness that had almost consumed her that day, before she leapt from the stairs.

The more she gazed at the piece, the more clearly she saw that room, Jareth in his reserved black and grim face, Toby so small and innocent chasing after the crystal. Sarah thought she saw it bouncing down the colorless stairs, she stepped forward slightly, hand outstretched to catch it.

A quietly deep voice broke her waking dream, "You know, I don't think you're supposed to touch the art."

She froze with her arm still extended and turned her head slowly, knowing it was him. He stood to her right, in an assuredly relaxed manner, his dark winter coat hanging over his shoulder, his head slightly cocked, and a guarded question on his face. His eyes were fixed on her hideously scarred wrist.

Sarah hastily pulled her arm back and tugged the sleeves of her over-sized sweater over both hands. She turned back to the painting, unable to look at him any longer. All of her muscles tensed painfully as she felt him move closer to her and look again at the work of art before them.

"This has always been one of my favorite paintings," he spoke nonchalantly, but slowly, as if he were trying to understand his feelings about the work as he was talking to her. "I guess I always thought it would be cool to have a room like that. Except, you would probably never be able to get anywhere in it, too confusing, right? And you would never be able to walk up and down the stairs that are in wonky directions."

Sarah kept her eyes on the painting, but she allowed herself to smile slightly at him. She thought, but did not voice, Only you could.

Collins' voice rose over them all, "Oi! Who wants to get out of here? I know a great pub just a little, that way." he turned his hand in a vague directionless circle. "Actually, I know a couple."

Jar...Jay chuckled and called over to him, "Of course, you do."

He turned to her, but she still couldn't meet his eyes, she hadn't really looked at them yet. She was afraid they would be different...somehow. Sarah didn't think she could bear it if she saw nothing of him in his eyes.

"You and Ruby are going to come then?"

Sarah had no voice for him. Thankfully, Ruby heard the question also and came up next to her roommate, tucking her arm into Sarah's as she answered a question obviously not directed at her, "Wouldn't miss it." She turned directly to Sarah then and spoke softer, "Right?"

Sarah nodded and smiled, forcing herself not to clutch Ruby's arm too tightly. They all started for the exit and Ruby slowed, whispering in Sarah's ear, "Are you sure you'll be ok? I don't want to go if you're going to be uncomfortable, doll."

"Yeah, I'll be fine." She lied again; the truth was that she had no idea how she was going to be or what she was going to do. She only knew there was no way she could stop now.

The Way Forward

A Labyrinth Story
by atsuibelulah

Part 2 of 5

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