Continuing Tales

The Way Forward

A Labyrinth Story
by atsuibelulah

Part 3 of 5

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The Way Forward

Jay was forced to make a sincere effort not to stare rudely at Sarah. He was slightly unsettled by how difficult it was becoming, Ruby's quiet friend was strangely entrancing, in a desperate, compelling sort of way. Jay decided he was really unsettled, but still found it hard to look away from the woman. She was so slight, not a short person by any means, but she seemed to be shrunken in on herself and she had not looked at him once since they had been introduced at the exhibit.

He was pulled from his thoughts as she finally finished off her third round, pushing the tall beer glass away from her with an accidental force that caused it to nearly topple. The others had finished long ago and were now congregated on the tiny dance floor. Jay had chosen to stay with Sarah, who drank slowly, but for some reason felt compelled to keep up with the group.

Her brows furrowed in the most enchanting way and she mumbled, only just loud enough for him to hear in the din of the crowded pub, "I think...that I've somehow gotten myself a little drunk." She made a valiant attempt to rest her chin on her hand, missed completely and boldly shot him her first smile of the night. Somehow her dark eyes were dancing, "Maybe more than a little..."

She lifted her eyes to his face and looked directly into his own. She immediately smiled broadly, as if she'd just come to an amazing realization. She grinned so radiantly at him, it seemed an eternity before Jay could form words, but she didn't seem to notice. He spoke softly, "I can't say I'm surprised. You're such a waif," finally giving her a chuckle and his signature crooked smile, trying to act normal, wondering in the back of his mind why he should need to try to act normal.

Her smile widened then faltered and she swayed slightly, grabbing the thick bar table for support. Jay wondered at her apparent complete lack of tolerance to alcohol. He raised an eyebrow and she responded immediately to his unasked question, slurring and stumbling over the words, "I didn't used to be like this...It's just that I haven't had any in so long...even...even a long time before everything happened..."

At those words a darkness passed over her face and Jay remembered what Ruby said when she dragged him to a corner of the small coat room. She'd seen his interest before he'd even placed it himself and had told him to be careful, that Sarah had had a bad year. He remembered the scars on her wrist and forced himself not to shudder.

Jay smiled again despite his dark thoughts, trying to keep the mood light. He opened his mouth to change the subject, but somehow voiced a different question, "What's 'everything'?" He shut his mouth with a snap. He'd been wondering what she meant, but hadn't meant to push much had he had to drink? He was sure it was only three, so inebriation couldn't explain away that slip.

She had looked away from him and Jay inwardly cringed as she spoke again, "...just...everything." The slight woman turned back after a moment, a poignantly sorrowful expression on her face.

His eyes widened at her abrupt change in mood and again he couldn't help but ask, leaning unconsciously towards her, "What is it?"

Sarah leaned back against the back of the booth and stared at him for a long moment, an unexpected fear slowly forming in her greenish hazel eyes, made dark by the dim light of the establishment. Her voice when she spoke was softer than before and tremulous, "Wh-what if you're not him?"

Jay felt a horrible wrench deep in his chest for her obvious pain, even though he had no idea what she was talking about, "Not who, beautiful?"

Suddenly he saw tears forming in those dark orbs, forming and spilling over her long lashes. She made no sound and he was unsure if she even knew she was crying. Jay went completely still, wondering what the hell could have happened to her, what she had been through.

Sarah breathed a single word in response, but still he did not understand, ""

Jay disregarded the curious revelation altogether. He was still hung up on her tears as he watched them fall, one after the other, helplessly. He unconsciously reached a hand towards her glistening cheek. The tears shouldn't be there, he needed fix it somehow.

An unfamiliar voice traveled from the bar, breaking Jay's strange fixation, "Aw, come on, Culley, leave those kids alone."

An old man was staggering over to their table, a pint in one hand and a cane in another. Jay frowned at him, what the fuck did he want? Sarah looked at him with no particular expression, the tears now stagnant on her alcohol-flushed face. She regarded him almost as a mere curiosity, but that was before he opened his mouth.

"Leave 'em alone...leave 'em alone..." he started muttering, but as he came close to the table he pointed a gnarled finger at Sarah. "This one has taken the journey to Anwnn. Tell me, lass, did ye come back with your mind?"

Sarah looked like she'd just been slapped and Jay moved to get the old man away from her. But he was stopped by her voice, pained and so soft he almost didn't hear, "I...don't think so." And her tears poured forth again.

Jay felt a surge of anger and stood quickly, grabbing Culley by his coat before he could say anything else to upset her. He nearly dragged him back up to the bar and shoved him roughly up against it. The old man's glass fell from his hand and shattered when it hit the floor. Jay crunched the glass under his shoes, still clutching the man as he confronted the bartender, "I don't want to see or hear him again tonight. It's your responsibility, look to it."

He shoved Culley once more, trying to expel the dangerous anger that had just come over him, and turned away. The old man called to his back, "There's magic in that one, deep and thick as the mists of that land that banished her. Sure she didn't get a spell on ye, boy?" He laughed.

He turned back to the bartender, his mouth set in a grim line, "Look to it."

When he returned to the table Ruby and Collins had come back, worried and confused expressions respectively on their faces. Collins stood next to the table, switching his gaze between Sarah, the old man, and Jay himself.

Ruby sat next to Sarah who was leaning over the table, her head buried in her arms, "Sarah...doll, are you okay?"

He thought he heard a muffled, "I don't know," and felt that same anger threaten to overcome him again. He must have made some sort of noise because Collins glanced strangely at him for a moment.

Ruby sighed heavily, visibly upset, moving her hand soothingly on Sarah's back, "Shit. I knew this was a bad idea. I guess I should take her home..."

Jay stepped forward and sat on the distressed girl's other side, "Why don't you let me do it, Ruby. I, ah, feel rather responsible for this whole thing." He also didn't want to let Sarah out of his sight for some other irrational reason. "You know, Paul's supposed to be coming later. And I know you don't want to miss him. He's going right back to London after Christmas."

She looked up guiltily at him, "Jay, I told you, Sarah's had a really, really bad year. I don't think you know what you're getting yourself into."

At that Sarah lifted her head and turned to her roommate, tears dried on her cheeks, "Fuck it, Ruby. Just let him take me home so you can see the love of your life." Jay heard Collins snicker at that, but she didn't hear him. "It won't make you a shitty roommate. I'd be a shitty roommate if I made you drag my trashed carcass all the way home."

She turned to him now and smiled almost wickedly, swaying forward as she spoke, "Besides, Jar...Jay's much bigger than you. He can handle me...right?"

He smirked at her, "Reasonably well, I would expect.

Actually, it was" slow going, trying to maneuver the extremely wobbly Sarah through the maze of tables and towards the door of the tiny pub. Jay had pulled one of her arms around his shoulder, which ended up gradually turning into her hanging painfully and awkwardly from his neck. His other arm had been tentatively placed about her waist, but due to her almost constant unbalanced swerving, it too often inched dangerously far north or south. He was annoyingly embarrassed about the whole thing, and of course Sarah thought it was hysterical.

It took them just over ten minutes to travel from the table to the exit. They were nearly there when someone swiftly opened the door and almost barreled straight into them. Itching to give the inconsiderate bastard a sound verbal if not physical berating, Jay looked up and into his brother's face.

"Oh, damn," the curse fell unbidden from his mouth, he'd been hoping to be away from there before Paul arrived. Now the prat would have plenty of ammunition for later.

Jay saw his brother's brows raise in surprise when he saw who he'd run into, but he hadn't looked over to Sarah before he began speaking, "Jay! I figured you guys, hello." He turned his attention to Sarah, but not before shooting a look and a smirk in Jay's direction.

This time Jay swore silently. He had never been a man who associated much with women. He wasn't being conceited when he admitted that women were attracted to him, people in general were attracted to Jay. It was a fact which, throughout his life, had put Jay off of general. When he did associate with a woman, he usually fell for her hard. It had only happened three times since he'd begun his lifelong struggle with dating. But each and every time, Paul had been there to cheerfully find humor in every single agonizing moment.

Paul's smirk and turned into a grin of pure amusement as Sarah peered at him a little strangely. She looked rather like she was going to throw up for a moment, and then leaned further into Jay, unable to hold her head up to look at him any longer. Anyone could tell she was gone.

Jay reluctantly began introductions, "Paul, this is Sarah. She's Ruby's roommate from the States."

At that Paul was momentarily distracted, craning his neck to look further into the pub, "Ruby's here?" But he quickly remembered his manners and Jay took that opportunity to return a knowing smirk.

He turned to the still slightly lolling head on his shoulder, ", this is Paul, my baby brother."

Sarah lifted her head and looked at him for a moment, then turned swiftly to Paul. "Ohhh, riiiiight," apparently she'd just remembered both he and Ruby had told her he had a brother. She turned back to Jay and smiled beatifically, "Good for you." Jay found himself giving her a strange and worried look, completely lost to what she was talking about.

Paul had a similar expression on his face, "Is she all right?"

Jay knew he looked doubtful, "I think so. I'm taking her home."

Sarah buried her head into his shoulder and groaned slightly. Paul smiled again, "Good luck with that. I'll see you at home later, right?"

Jay scowled, "Where the bloody hell do you think I'm going to sleep?"

"Oh, I guess you'll be waiting till later for that, eh?"

Sarah lifted her head again, "Yes. Later."

They both thought it was hysterical and it was at that point that Jay felt it necessary for them to be on their way. But he did look back to see the eager expression on his brother's face as he went towards their friends' table.

After putting both hers and his own coat on Sarah, Jay pulled and pushed and practically dragged her slowly in the direction Ruby had explained to him before they left the pub. She said little, usually mumbling incoherently if she did speak, and he often did not respond, not really knowing what she was talking about anyway.

When he thought they were fairly near the flat, they were forced to stand and wait for a pedestrian traffic light for a few long minutes. Sarah hadn't spoken in a while and he was getting rather concerned again. Her head was on his shoulder once more, so he turned to her and cupped her chin with his hand, trying to get her to look him in the eye, ", are you all right?"

She blinked at him a few times and raised her hand slowly. To his surprise, she used the hand to smack him stingingly on the cheek, probably not really aware of her own strength at that point. She kept her palm against his face as she spoke slowly, "You know, I think you turned me into a bird, and I didn't even get a warning...that wasn't very nice, Babe."

He stared at her, incredulous, "I turned you into a what?"

She closed her eyes to answer him, her voice coming soft and dreamy, "I remember the clouds and the winds and the land faaar beneath me." She spread her arms wide, like wings.

He wondered if there had been anything else in those three she'd had. Why, the fuck, would anyone have slipped her anything? He spread his arms as well, grabbing her hands so she wouldn't lose her balance, "I think you really need to lie down, beautiful." He lightly pulled her into the position she had been in before, ready to continue on their slow walk, but the light still had not changed.

When she opened her eyes, Sarah turned her head and looked at him with the deep hurt and the quiet sadness of the abandoned, "You threw me back. You left me alone." She looked like she was going to cry again.

Jay's arm around her waist tightened, he felt like he had to say something, "No, I didn't, love, you're not alone. I'm right here." He watched her consider this, as if she wasn't sure whether to believe him or not. Her gaze became strangely unfocused and she shook her head, losing the tenuous hold she'd had on her balance again. He really had never seen anyone so intoxicated, and Sarah was not a happy drunk. "Ah, maybe we should take a small detour to the hospital."

Suddenly she painfully grabbed fistfuls of his hair, pulling his face clumsily towards her and almost tripping in the process. He was forced to put his other arm around her as she spoke adamantly, her mouth centimeters from his own, "No. Dear God, do not take me to a hospital."

She released his hair just as abruptly and leaned back far into his arms, laughing outrageously, "Oh, shit. I'm gonna shut up now or you'll have me in the loony bin by midnight."

He had no idea what was so funny, "It's quarter past one."

At that she only laughed harder and, realizing that he was already supporting all of her weight anyway, he swiftly picked her up and resumed the walk to her flat when that light changed a moment later. She barely noticed, still laughing. It was bordering on actually hysterical and he was getting concerned, but soon she quieted and wrapped her arms around his neck, resting her forehead on his shoulder. Jay couldn't tell if she was asleep, but he could feel the wetness of her tears through his sweater.

The directions Ruby had given him were fairly straightforward and before long he had carried Sarah all the way up the three flights of stairs and to her door. He shook the incredibly light woman in his arms gently, "Sarah, we're here, now. I need your keys, love."

She lifted her head and stared at him dumbly for a moment, but realization soon dawned, "Oh, right...keys, keys...keys, keeeeysss..." She moved awkwardly in his arms, reaching into all the pockets on her person, his own coat's included, before coming up with them. She lifted them high into the air, "Keys." She smiled.

He couldn't help chuckling at her as he took them from her hand, "Too true." Jay thought for a moment about how he was going to manage getting the door open and finally spoke again, "I'm going to have to put you down to open the door, Sarah. Ready?" He felt her nod against his shoulder and he set her feet lightly on the floor, "We're just going to lean you here up against the wall. All right?"

She leaned her head against the smooth surface behind her and eyed him through half-closed lids, "Ummm, okay."

Jay spent the next few minutes trying to figure out which of the many keys on Sarah's ring was the one for her apartment. He knew there was no use in asking her, so he tried one after the other, all the while feeling Sarah's unfocused eyes intently examining him. He glanced over at her. She was frowning, "What?"

She said nothing, but lifted a languid arm and reached for his face. Jay kept perfectly still, preferring not to get poked in the eye, as her fingers wrapped around his glasses. Her slow awkward movement succeeded in getting the one end of the frames snagged against his thankfully closed eyelid.

He opened his eyes a moment later. She was just holding them delicately in her hand, staring at him again. He spoke after another moment, "You know, some people think they make me looking dashing."

She shook her head, "I know you without them." She said the words dead serious and Jay marveled that she was so gone as to confuse the words "know" and "like" without it even batting an eyelash. He finally got the right key and the door swung open, but he didn't go in just yet.

Sarah looked at the door, and then back at him, an obvious question on her face, "The door is open."

He smirked and cocked his head indifferently, "So it is. Are you going to give me my glasses back?"

"No." She smiled wickedly and before he could restrain her she stepped in and stumbled over a rather large bag sitting next to the doorway.

Jay sent a prayer of thanks to somebody that he was able to catch her by the waist before she tumbled to the floor. He hauled her too light body up and set her on her feet again. Lifting her chin to look him in the eye again, "Ok, Sarah, from now on you don't go anywhere without a hand on me or my hand on you. Got it?"

Sarah looked angrily at him, her lip trembling as she fought with emotions that passed one by one over her face, anger, and sorrow, and fear, and anger again. Her wavering voice grew a little harder, "Fine, let's go over here."

She grabbed his hand and stomped over to the bag that was now further into the room than it had been a moment before and began violently kicking it. Speaking in short, anguish filled spurts, "Stupid...fucking...damn fault!" A huge pile of paper spilled from the bag and scattered across the floor and she began to swipe at it also, pitching forward wildly but somehow keeping on her feet.

Jay watched her confoundedly for a minute before realizing that he should stop her before she hurt herself. He tried to pull her gently away from it, but she jerked out of his grasp. He was forced to wrap his arms tightly about her middle and drag her further into the room, past the kitchen and away from all sharp pointy things. Sarah fought him furiously the whole time, slapping and elbowing his extremities and cursing like a sailor.

After a few short minutes, she grew tired and sagged against him. Jay pulled her even closer, weaving his hand into her long dark hair and cradling her head against his chest as she began to sob. "Shhh, my Sarah," he was barely aware of what he was saying to her, concentrating only on getting her tears to stop, "It's all right. It's nobody's fault. Whatever it must have been fate...shhh..." Then he began to hum, it was a song he barely remembered...or had ever known the words to, "Hmm hmm hmmm hmhmhm, hmm hmm hm hm..."

Sarah lifted her head, his hand was still in her hair, "I don't know that one."

He smiled, "No one does, beautiful. Not even me."

She looked almost as if she were going to cry again, but did not and allowed him to lead her into the bedroom she'd pointed out as hers. Jay opened the door and looked in, noting the pictures of Ruby with various people, his own brother included, and the Bristol City football paraphernalia scattered about the room, he decided it was probably not Sarah's room. But he turned to her and saw that it would just be easier to stay where they were.

"Why don't you lie down?" He spoke softly and guided her onto the bed.

Sarah sat down heavily and looked around for a moment, her brows furrowed in bewildered confusion, "This doesn't look right."

His mouth curved upward, "Don't worry about it, beautiful." He took the two coats off of her and bent to remove her shoes, speaking the whole time, "Why don't you just lay down right here. That's it. Just put your head right there, good girl." She complied easily and he pulled Ruby's rumpled sheets up and around the nearly sleeping woman. He picked up his coat and extracted his finger-printed glasses from her hand, turning to leave, not wanting to stay past his welcome. Ruby would be back soon anyway.

But her arm snaked out and caught his leg. She whispered to him, her voice breaking and heart-wrenchingly sorrowful, "Don't leave me alone again."

Jay stared at her long, caught by indecision. But he finally took her hand in his own and sat on the floor next to the bed, realizing that he would not be able to leave. "You're not alone, Sarah. I won't leave."

She smiled sadly, as if she knew it was a total lie but decided to indulge him, and closed her eyes again. He leaned back against Ruby's bed side dresser and watched her expression lighten slightly and her breathing slow as sleep finally claimed her. He did not know how long it took for his exhaustion to overcome him as well. He did not dream.

What seemed like only moments later he was being shaken awake by an only slightly tipsy Ruby, "What the hell are you doing in my room?"

Jay wiped a hand across is eyes, trying to remove the sleep from them, "She told me it was hers. I figured one bed was as good as another. You're not going to want her by herself tonight anyway."

He could barely see Ruby, the room was so dark, but he heard her sigh, "Yeah, I suppose. What are you still doing here?"

"She asked me not to leave her alone," he paused, not sure if he should ask, but did so anyway. He needed to know everything he could, "Ruby, what..."

She answered before he could finish, "I don't know. She won't tell anyone."

Jay slowly got to his feet and ran a hand through his hair. He realized he was in for a lot more agonizing moments this time around. But he also knew he wouldn't be able to stay away, "Shit."

Ruby only nodded slightly in reply and after giving her a quick hug he left the flat and started walking towards home.

Jay was silent as he entered his parents' house and climbed the narrow stairs to the room he shared with Paul. He opened the door with no sound, not wanting to wake him, and proceeded to trip over something soft and rather squishy on the floor. He fell on top of it.

"Get off me, you stupid git!" Jay heard his brother hiss from underneath him.

"What the bloody hell are you doing on the floor?" He scrambled off Paul and climbed onto his bed, turning on the desk lamp next to it.

Paul had been sleeping in a nest of blankets, his hair was extremely mussed and he was shirtless. He also looked half drunk. "Well I can't fit on the top bunk anymore, can I? You remember that growth spurt I had at Uni. I decided I wouldn't take the cramping anymore. Enough's enough."

Jay let loose the smirk he saved especially for Paul, "This wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that you may not have made it up the ladder, would it? It certainly didn't take you very long to catch up with everybody."

Paul gave him a withering look, "No it didn't. It never does with good old Collins around."

Jay laughed and began getting ready for bed as he continued their conversation, "Have a good time with good old Ruby, did we now?"

"I'd have to say it was a better time than you had with...ah...Sarah, was it?"

"Oh, shut it, Paul. You know damn well it was Sarah. We've all heard about Ruby's roommate at least once before."

Paul was quiet for a moment, positioning himself for contemplation in his blankets, then spoke again, "Yeah, I remember the last time I called Ruby she said she was worried about the girl. That's she'd been missing or something. I guess she's okay now though, right?"

Jay turned swiftly, "Missing? I hadn't heard that."

"She's all right though?"

", yeah. I got her to bed and left when Ruby came back."

There was another long silence, "Jay..." He didn't finish.

Jay had finally got himself into his bed and was ready to turn out the light, "What?"

"Do you know what you're getting yourself into?"

He somehow felt immediately affronted by the statement, even though he had basically admitted it to himself at her flat. He went on the defensive and he heard it in his voice, "Why do people keep thinking that I'm 'getting myself into' something? I just took her home for Christ's sake!"

Paul's response was quiet but confident, the voice of reason, "Jay, you called her 'love'. I heard you do it. You just met the girl. You never did that with Ellie, or Francesca, or even Gina. You were bloody in love with Gina."

Jay sighed, "I was 'bloody in love' with them all."

"Oh yes, of course. Pale, tallish, dark-haired waifs, I guess we've got your type finally pegged."

"Shut it, Paul. This is..." he didn't continue.

His brother sat up swiftly and rounded on him, "Different? Were you going to say different? Because if you were, I ought to knock some of your pretty teeth loose. This is not different, Jay. It's just going to be a lot harder. That girl is a fucking mess."

Jay leaned over the side of the bed, right into Paul's face, "I know she's a fucking mess. But I also know that I can't leave her alone. She bleeding begged me not to leave her alone and now I can't. And don't say she didn't mean it that way or that she was extraordinarily tanked at the time. I understand that. But I still can't fucking leave her alone."

Paul stared at him for a long moment and then said simply, "All right. Just...I can see this getting ugly, Jay. Really ugly."

He sighed heavily and leaned back against his pillow, "So can I. But...she's really hurting, Paul. Someone...did some really horrible things to that girl. I just...I need to help her."

"I get it, Jay. Can we go to sleep now, for Christ's sake?"

"Y'know, we really have to start watching our language. Mum was all over me about it this morning, she said Dad doesn't approve."

Paul snorted, "Dad doesn't give a rat's arse, either way."

"Well, I certainly wasn't going to tell her that!"

"Whatever! Can we please go to fucking sleep now?" Paul groaned loudly and Jay smiled, switching the lamp off a moment later.

Jay lay quietly in the black for an indeterminate amount of time, thinking of the strange night that he'd just experienced and wondering just what the hell he was going to do. He ultimately fell asleep still thinking of Sarah and dreamed of a girl with hedgerow eyes that always seemed to be full of tears.

The Way Forward

A Labyrinth Story
by atsuibelulah

Part 3 of 5

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