Just a brief one-part fic that came to me on a very long bus ride. Thought I'd share. Read and review, let me know what you think!
Disclaimer: Dar Williams wrote the song, Jim Henson designed most of the characters, David Bowie sang the songs, and I am none of those people. Ergo, I have no right to any of those things. Song lyrics are in italics. Huzzah!
Mercy of the Fallen
By Lyra Matsuoka
Oh my fair North Star
I have held to you dearly
I have asked you to steer me
Til one cloud scattered night
I got lost, and in my travels
I met Leo the Lion
Met a king and met a giant, with their errant light
Sarah Williams was not a heavy drinker. That was one thing most who knew her would testify to without hesitation. She possessed the sort of control around alcohol that made her seem, at times, more than human. It wasn't that she disliked the taste, nor was it that she had refined tastes. It was more along the lines of a personal choice that had nothing to do with liquor and everything to do with perception. Sarah had a light in her eyes that alcohol dimmed – and it was the theory of those who knew her best that she viewed the world in a different light from others, and that drinking to excess had some strange and unpardonable effect on her perspective.
For this reason, had some person informed Sarah's friends and family that she could be found most every night in a back alley pub, those who knew her well would have laughed themselves sick.
Sarah smiled and shook her head at the thought of the expression on her father's face if someone were to call him up and tell him that Sarah was sitting at a dark corner table in a dark pub in the middle of the week. It lifted her spirits considerably and she reached for her glass of mineral water. The bartender had been kind enough to put it in a champagne flute – to the innocent eye, it would appear that Sarah was drowning her sorrows in some brand of the bubbly wine, as in the dark, no one could really tell the color of the liquid. So she pretended to drink champagne and the rest of the customers pretended it was true.
The first question her family would ask was why. Why was Sarah in a bar, why was she in the slightly shady part of town. Why was she sitting there alone? And all these questions would be legitimate. Sarah took another sip of her water and looked around the smoke free interior. Smoking was allowed, but no patron seemed inclined to do so. The bar was solid mahogany, old fashioned with brass fittings. The bar stools were covered in a dark green patent leather, the freestanding tables were a motley collection of estate sale finds polished to gleaming quality. Sarah knew they were from estate sales because Margaret, the bar tender and owner, had told her so. Candles flickered on each table, and the clientele sat in small groups whispering quietly or alone, staring into space.
The bar had attracted Sarah one early evening on her way home. A series of annoyances and minor mistakes had lead her to it. First she had stepped off the subway one stop early. Then she decided that it would take less time to walk the three blocks to her house than it would to wait for the next train. And in her frustration and preoccupation, Sarah had taken two wrong turns and ended up on a small side street, paved with cobblestones and open only to pedestrians. And in the back left corner was a bar with stained glass windows and a carved wooden door. The sign labeled it The Fallen.
There's the wind
And the rain
And the mercy of the fallen
Who say they have no claim
To know what's right
Sarah firmly believed that there were magical places in the world. Her two years in Ireland had taught her that. There were spots on the Earth where the boundary between this world and others blended and faded away. Inexplicably, Sarah had felt that The Fallen was one of those places. But after two months of visiting every night, she had seen no sign of magic or otherworldly force. She had noted that most of the clientele was female, and that those few males who entered tended to talk to Margaret in hushed and hesitant tones. But this was no evidence of a connection to another plane.
She was a student of parapsychology, and had devoted her life to the studies of such things, but she had found no evidence of it here. Sarah sighed with disappointment and reached for her purse, intending to retrieve her case log, record another night of no activity, finish her water and leave the bar for good. Her gut instinct had been wrong this time. At least she hadn't submitted a report, and hadn't used college time to accomplish or fund this endeavor. No harm done. Unable to reach her notebook, Sarah pulled her purse onto her lap and grabbed the first book shape her hand touched. She pulled the object out into the flickering light and watched the candle glow play across the gold embossed letters.
There's the weak and the strong
And the beds that have no answers
And that's where I may rest my head tonight
It had been so long since she had thought of that night, so long since the memory of those 13 hours had run across her mind that it took Sarah a moment to process what she was looking at. That she had a copy of the book was unsurprising. The book had been republished only a month ago, and every Masters or PhD candidate in the psychology department had received a copy as a gag gift at the annual Christmas party. Her parents had sent her another copy for the holiday, courtesy of Toby. Memories floated through her mind, encased in glass bubbles that allowed her to view them with a scientific eye. If the glass was a bit rose tinted, who would blame her for that? With a nostalgic smile, Sarah opened the book, her only tangible link to another world. A world of magic and fairies, where gravity did not apply and all the creatures in it existed to serve a single being.
It was her proof of another time and place, of an adventure that had tested the limits of her strength and endurance – and had tested her love for her half sibling. And it had been everything she had ever wanted.
He had been everything she had ever wanted.
There were nights when Sarah would wake up and stare at the ceiling as fragments of a dream where she revisited the Labyrinth and danced under the stars in the arms of a faceless man. Though if she was honest with herself, she would admit that she knew exactly whose face belonged on the figure in her dreams, and, in the darkness of her apartment, she would admit that when the dream faded she felt a sense of loss, and an ache that would not fade in her soul. Beyond all that she nearly always felt a nagging in the back of her mind that she had forgotten something, overlooked a vital task that needed doing. And she could never managed to place what it was that she was missing.
Sarah forced herself to stop traveling that mental path before she reached its dangerous destination. Instead, and mostly to distract herself from mulling over her 15-year-old choices, Sarah opened the book and viewed the title page for the first time in 10 years. Not since that night had she opened the book or read the storyline.
The attack came suddenly. Sarah heard footsteps running across the floor and a moment later the book was snatched out of her hands and tossed to the side. Sarah looked up, eyes wide, as a woman in her mid fifties launched herself at the book. The woman who had slapped it away from her stood in front of Sarah, restrained by Margaret and a man who never seemed to leave The Fallen. Both appeared to be exerting considerable effort to hold the woman back, and Sarah stood quickly and put the table between her body and that of this stranger.
"You can't blame Katrina," came a whispery voice to Sarah's left. "This book upsets us all. You shouldn't have brought it."
"I'm very sorry," Sarah clipped out. "I had no idea that a children's story would incite such violence."
"It's not a children's story. You know that better than any of us," the voice came again. Sarah turned to seek out the source, and found the woman who had retrieved the book from the floor. Her hair in a pony tail, slim and strong, the lines of her face spoke of heartbreak and pain. Her eyes, on the other hand, seemed filled with conflict.
"You cruel, heartless MONSTER!!" Katrina spat out, her eyes glaring hatred as she struggled in the grip of her two captors. Bemused, Sarah looked at the face of her would-be attacker and was surprised to see that she was barely legal. No, not legal at all. This girl couldn't be more than 17.
"Is she old enough to be in here?" Sarah asked, faking concern as she took a dig at the younger girl. Katrina renewed her struggle, spitting expletives at Sarah as she was restrained.
"Katrina. Stop this," Margaret softly commanded. Katrina went limp at those words, and a moment later her body began to shake. It took Sarah a moment to realize that the girl was crying.
"Sarah. You have my sincere apologies. Had I known Katrina was still vulnerable, I never would have allowed her here tonight."
"Vulnerable? Yeah, she seemed real vulnerable when she was trying to claw my eyes out," Sarah retorted, her body coming down from the adrenaline rush and responding to the attack with bravado.
"The loss is new for her. Much newer than for any of us, yourself included. She was reacting, I'm afraid, to that book you were reading. You are, I'm certain, the only person in the room who can stand to read it. Most of us have progressed to the point at which we may see it, touch it, hold it and not give way to our panic and despair. Katrina is not yet at that point."
"I'm terribly sorry for all the trouble that book caused. I had no idea it was in my bag. I was reaching for my not..." Sarah stopped, aware that she had nearly admitted to studying these people, and more aware that they might object. Margaret just smiled, as did several other patrons.
"For your notebook. Yes, dear. You have been studying us, believing you were drawn to this place because of its energy. And so you were. But the energy you sensed was attuned to you, or rather, to a certain experience of yours. Hundreds of thousands will never feel the pull of this place, will think it charming or quaint and leave their memories at that. But you, and others, are drawn back to this place because of your history."
"I apologize for studying you without your permission," Sarah began quickly, blushing but holding her head high. "It was rude and presumptuous."
"Not at all, dear. You are a scientist now and that is how you process facts. But once upon a time, you were a child with dreams and ambitions to dance with the stars. Once upon a time, your imagination ran free. And once upon a time, you wished a child away to the goblins."
"As did we all."
I saw all the bright people
In imposing flocks they landed
"I'm sorry," Sarah choked out, eyes darting toward the door. "But I have no idea what you're talking about. And I have class tomorrow morning. I really am sorry, but I have to..."
"Go? Yes, I can see that you believe that. You are fortunate, you precious thing, that you are free to believe that."
Sarah's heart slammed painfully in her chest. Precious thing...oh god.
"Yes, Sarah Williams, you are the only person who has run the Labyrinth and been free of its power. He promises dreams, he promises forgetfulness – and if you relinquish the child to him at the start, that is what you receive. Some made that choice. Others made your choice."
And they got what they demanded
"Dreams are powerful incentive to give up a child that was unwanted. But a terrible price is paid for those dreams. A loneliness that does not allow for sleep, a deep pain that absorbs love and returns indifference is the ultimate reward for that path. Far better to achieve on your own, to build your own life than to accept your future from another, wouldn't you agree?
Sarah managed to nod her head, jerking it twice in a precise and economical movement. In spite of herself, she was drawn to this woman, to these people who were watching her intently. Slowly, they drifted back through the bar, returning to their seats. The tables nearest the bar filled up quickly and Margaret settled on a bar stool, gesturing for everyone to find a seat. Sarah felt a roll of pain wash through the room and knew it was emanating from the poor souls who stood there, watching her.
"We brought this on ourselves, really."
You asked that the child be taken...
"He was my cousin," a man in his early 30's said. "He was crying, wouldn't stop. I was 21, old enough to know better."
"My daughter," came another testimonial. "I was 16, old enough to know better but young enough to wish."
"My friend. I was 23."
"My brother. I was 15."
"The girl up the street."
"The boy next door."
"My sister," Katrina said, her shoulders hunching over the table. "Two months ago."
"You all...you know the Labyrinth?" The question slipped out of her mouth before she could stop it. Nods began, tears fell from several eyes, and Sarah felt herself being drawn into the despair of this place, the empty longing that consumed these people.
"You are no longer a part of this," Margaret confided softly. "You achieved your goal, were not discouraged or mislead or tempted from the path."
"I'm not a hero," Sarah choked out. "I was lucky."
"Lucky and truly penitent. And more than that, you understood the rules of the Labyrinth."
"I didn't understand anything about that place. It was..."
The words came from random people whose eyes grew distant as if they were looking over a vast landscape in their memory.
"I suppose it's whatever you make of it," Sarah concluded lamely, feeling ridiculous and inept. She was used to studying tortured souls that had already departed from the body. These people were beyond her experience. She wasn't a psychiatrist.
"All those here ran the Labyrinth – all of us attempted to retrieve those we loved. And all but you failed."
"Miserably," Katrina threw in. "Why not puff up her ego a little more and tell her that half of us barely made it past the Gate. And none of us made it to the center. But we got what we wanted. They were gone weren't they?"
"It's what we requested," came the response from the woman who had retrieved the book. Sarah glanced over at her. "I'm Andrea."
"But I didn't MEAN IT!!" Katrina screamed, lifting a glass still half full and hurling it at a wall. It shattered with a startling sound, and all the patrons looked away from the mess as Katrina began to shudder and sob. Memories came rushing back, visions of a silk scarf and crystal balls that danced in the palm of a gloved hand. Of creatures that literally went bump in the night. The full impact of what was happening slammed into Sarah with unimaginable force.
"You didn't get her back, did you?" Sarah murmured. "None of you did. That's what you meant by losing. You were sent home without them."
To that statement, there was no response. No jokes about Captain Obvious, no nervous breakdowns, just a quiet resignation.
And they scratched at the ground
Then they flew, and the field
Grew as sweetly for the flightless
Who had longing yet despite this
They could hear every sound
"I see it in my dreams," Katrina said, her voice tremulous. "I can't make it through the walls. I just want my sister back. No one remembers her but me."
A long silence followed that declaration, as those witness to it absorbed the pain that flew through the room and made itself at home.
"We are The Fallen, Sarah. We are the few who have made it through the Labyrinth and were not made to forget. Many of those who run the Labyrinth choose, at a certain moment, to forget the one they loved and lost. We did not forget, by accident or design. We remember. And so, we suffer."
"I'm so sorry," Sarah said, knowing as the words left her mouth that they were hopelessly inadequate.
"We don't want your pity." This from another man lurking in the background. "And we don't want your help."
"Then I assume that I am free to go at any time?"
"NO! DON'T LEAVE!" Katrina screamed. "You haven't asked her. None of you will ask her. Well I will! I'm not afraid of her!"
"It's not a matter of being afraid of her! We lost our children, our siblings, our friends. It is up to US to get them back, not for her to sacrifice herself for our cause. She is no part of this!"
"She IS a part of this! We have his terms!"
"YOU have his terms, you selfish little..." the man who had wished his cousin away was stopped by Andrea, who laid a quiet hand over his mouth.
"She suffers without our aid, David. There is no need to bring more pain to her heart with cruel words."
"She needs to understand. She needs to see things clearly," David continued more softly. "Those who we wished away are lost to us. They were small, none older than 6. They won't remember us."
"My sister would remember me. Kieran would remember me," Katrina insisted. "It's not too late for them. We can get them back."
"No," Margaret said. "They are lost to us forever. You must face that simple truth, Katrina, and hope that wherever she is, your sister is happy. Wish her well, and heal your heart."
"No. No, I won't accept that," Katrina continued shaking her head, her heartbreak easily seen in her eyes. "I wish the goblin would take Sarah Williams away. RIGHT NOW!!!"
Silence fell. Everyone looked from Katrina to Sarah, and then looked around the room. Sarah found it hard to breathe suddenly, harder still to think clearly. It didn't work that way, surely. Surely this complete stranger didn't hate her that much.
But as the minutes passed and the Goblin King did not appear, the patrons began to relax. Katrina shook her head violently back and forth.
"It didn't work. Why...why didn't it work?!"
"Because Sarah is protected, now and forever, from the whims of the Labyrinth. She is free, Katrina. That is why he loves her."
If your sister or your brother were stumbling on their last mile
In a self-inflicted exile
Wish for them a humble friend
Sarah allowed herself to breathe again, and loosened her grip on the bag she had slung over her shoulder. Protected, free...those words were a balm to wounds ripped open anew. But slowly, slowly, her mind began to focus on the last words of the softly spoken phrase.
He loves her...
Fallen in love with the girl...
Falling in love...
"You love him," Sarah whispered with astonishment coloring her every word. "You all, every one of you...you love him."
There were smirks, twisted smiles. Andrea's eyes softened as David's hardened. Reactions flitted across each face in the room. Katrina stared at Sarah, tears drying on her cheeks, her expression utterly blank.
"Don't you get it yet?" Katrina spoke, and Sarah could hear the echoing emptiness in her voice. "That's part of the spell. It's part of the story. We HAVE to love him or his temptations won't work. We have to trust him, or he'll lose the game. Selflessness has no place in the Labyrinth. Or it didn't. But then there was you. You believed, in the deepest part of your soul, all those things about the Labyrinth. You changed the game. You changed it..."
"I changed it? How could I change the Labyrinth?" Sarah felt panic welling up in her chest, threatening to choke her. She had always thought of the Labyrinth as an immovable force.
"Not the Labyrinth itself, darling but its master."
The panic rose to choke off her breathing, and Sarah's heart began to race. Something was coming, something was changing.
"You have to help us," Katrina whispered. "You're the only one who can. I have to get my sister back. All you have to do is ask him, that's all you have to do. He'll give her back, he'll give all of them back, for you. They could be scared, cold, hurt...you have to help them. If you won't do this for us, do it for them! They were innocent!"
Sarah felt a breathe of wind against her cheek and instinctively looked toward the door to see who had just entered the bar. But the door remained tightly closed. The windows were shut as well. The breeze came again, more forcefully. Everyone looked toward the ceiling and around the room as gale force winds began swirling inside the bar. Glasses smashed against the floor as they were blown off tables, fabric whipped against human limbs and Sarah's hair twisted out behind her. Without realizing she did so, Sarah held her breath.
Almost as suddenly as it had begun, the wind subsided. And there, in the center of the room, stood a figure Sarah had seen only in her dreams for the last 10 years.
There's the wind
And the rain and the mercy of the fallen
Who say, "Hey, it's not my place to know what's right"
Every being in the room focused on the Goblin King, and his mismatched eyes were focused solely on Sarah, as hers were tuned to him. There was silence in bar as Jareth and Sarah looked each other over.
"You've grown," Jareth said, his voice as dark and enchanting as she remembered.
"Your hair is different," Sarah said, casting around for a neutral topic, determined to be as polite and cool as he was being. Katrina moaned and fell back against her chair. Margaret stood her ground, watching the Goblin King in his royal clothing and his head tilted at such a regal angle. The temperature of the room seemed to drop ever so slightly, and Sarah was certain that she could hear high pitched laughter.
Sarah cast a glance around the room, determined to find a way out of this awkward situation and noticed that the rest of the patrons had sunk into subordinate positions in the room. Even Margaret sunk into a slight curtsy when the dual colored eyes came to rest upon her form. Finally only Sarah and the Goblin King remained standing.
"And then there were two," she muttered. Jareth nodded slowly, and though they were not alone in the room, his eyes were now only for her. In a similar way, Sarah was unable to take her eyes from him. They began to move toward each other, drawn by some force that neither seemed able to escape. Soon they stood closer than ever they had before, and Sarah realized that a choice was necessary on her part. She felt a sense of lost time building inside of her, and fragments of dreams and real events mixed and combined in her head.
"What do you want?" Sarah asked, feeling that some type of ritual was necessary for this kind of business.
"That which is mine by right, and that which I have been denied." Jareth replied, his tone smoky and seductive.
"I know nothing of those things. I can be of no use to you."
"You are those things, raised in one world, tempered and forged by another."
"I was never yours."
"You might have been, and might be still. The future is unclear, even to the strongest of my kind."
"That is as it should be."
"These people would ask your aid."
"These people are my subjects, and are bound to my will. It is a prison of their own making. They called me, even as you did. I fulfilled their desires and offered them dreams instead of a prison."
"The dreams that you offer are merely another type of prison."
"They were not successful. They did not meet my conditions. None of them are worthy!" Jareth's eyes snapped in anger and the wind picked up a bit more.
"And what of me, Jareth? I accomplished all that you required of me. I reclaimed what I had foolishly lost and returned better than when I left."
Jareth closed his eyes and whispered something. Sarah stepped closer, now nearly touching his body with her own.
"You are worthy," he said again, barely above a whisper, and Sarah saw the same emptiness in his eyes that she had felt for ten years. Without hesitation, without thought to consequence, Sarah brushed her lips over his, and entwined her fingers with those of the Goblin King.
'And somewhere, an angel gets their wings,' Sarah thought, as bells began to ring in her head and fireworks exploded behind her eyes. The kiss had begun innocently and moved into a burning connection between two souls.
They broke apart reluctantly and Sarah peeled herself away from the Goblin King to take a few steps back. He let her go without even attempting to keep her close. Sarah turned away and began blushing, well aware that she might have made a complete fool of herself. She closed her eyes and shook her head back and forth in an attempt to clear it, and when she opened her eyes Margaret stood in front of her.
"Sarah, the choice is yours as it always had been. No one here will condemn you for the decisions you make."
"How can I turn away from you? From her?" Sarah whispered, her conflicting emotions whirling in her mind and causing her stomach to cramp.
"Sarah, we are the Fallen. It is not our place to judge you or any other. We have built this prison for ourselves. There is nothing you are obligated to do to change this simple fact."
"No buts, Sarah. Look at him. He has waited thousands of years for you to arrive on this Earth, and ten since he finally found you for you to make yourself known to him. If you go to him out of pity for us...darling Sarah, you deserve better than that. And so does he."
Sarah turned back to Jareth, and knew that all her doubts and fears were clear in her eyes. And knew that this powerful magical being was just as uncertain as she was. They had much to learn about each other.
Sarah took a deep breath and nodded slowly. Jareth smiled slightly and nodded before turning to face Katrina.
"I hold your end of the bargain fulfilled. As promised," he said, raising a hand. And a golden portal opened on the wall where bottles of alcohol were displayed. Children were playing in a village somewhere, and from the gasps of the people around her Sarah surmised that these were the children they had wished away to the goblins.
A young man rode a horse through golden fields and David began to shake. They had the same eyes, David and this young horseman. A woman in her twenties hung wash out to dry and laughed at the antics of a baby playing in the grass and tears rolled down Andrea's face. Slowly, slowly, the image blurred again and there stood a boy in his late teens, walking hand in hand with a woman of the same age. Margaret smiled softly and a tear tracked down her cheek.
"My son," she whispered.
As the crowd watched, the golden glow became opaque and shaped to the form of a small child. And out of the glow appeared a little girl who looked almost exactly like Katrina.
"Kieran," Katrina whispered, then louder. "Kieran!"
"Katrina! I've been waiting for you for ages! Mommy said you weren't supposed to leave me alone."
Katrina was sobbing too hard and clutching her sister too tightly to respond. The others looked pained, wistful and agonized by turns and Jareth was staring at Sarah. Sarah in her turn was staring at the embracing sisters. Her eyes sparkled with tears and she felt Jareth's presence behind her.
"Rare, Sarah. Rare."
Sarah turned around to face the Goblin King once more.
"Are you trying to make sure that I understand that, Jareth? I knew that long ago. It is part of who you are. But I'm not sure that I can...that I'm strong enough to..."
"No, no, Sarah," Jareth reached across the short distance that separated them still and brushed her hair away from her face and stroked the line of her jaw with his knuckle. "You are the strongest person I have ever known. And I have lived for a very long time."
There was a pause as they looked at each other. There was no need to repeat the question asked so long ago.
"I forgot to choose," Sarah said with dawning understanding. "I did not make a choice."
Jareth nodded. "You stated a fact, as did I."
"You have no power over me."
"Fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave."
To her fifteen-year-old mind those words had sounded taunting and cruel. Now they carried a great formality. There was a choice to be made. The facts were stated, both parties knew where the other stood. But no choice was made. And they were both waiting, poised on the brink of monumental change. Sarah lifted her hand as if to touch Jareth's face, but pulled back at the last moment.
He vanished without a trace; Sarah stood staring at the place where he had stood and shook her head slowly. This was the way it was to be – always a dance, and never boring. And she had a choice to make. Sarah retreated to the corner, claimed her belongings and walked toward the door.
"Sarah," Katrina managed from the floor. "Thank you."
Sarah shook her head in denial.
"Thank you from us all," Margaret said. "You are welcome here at any time, though I suspect you have found that which you sought."
"I didn't think I was looking for anything," Sarah said.
"Human beings rarely realize that they are until they find it."
There was another pause, but Sarah was growing used to them by now.
"Do not say sorry, darling girl. You accomplished what we could not, and claimed what we were unable to. There is no shame in that, and no apology is necessary. Be well. And thank you again."
Sarah turned and exited the bar. She had done nothing. And that had been a running theme in her life. She had choices to make, decisions that would change the course of her life. But she had time enough. That much he had made very clear. And so Sarah walked out into the night and turned toward the subway with starlight in her eyes and in her hair.There's the weak
And the strong
And the many stars that guide us
We have some of them inside us