Harness - A Labyrinth Vignette
Hello All! -waves-
Welcome to my latest attempt at Labyrinth fanfiction. This is another piece I wrote as a response to a challenge over at labyfic. The challenge this time was to write Sarah in an unusual career, and perhaps add what the Goblin King thought of it.
I'm moderately proud of this piece - I put a lot of work into it and I think it's half-decent. Of course, it pales in comparison to countless other pieces of fiction, but I'm trying my best. I hope you like it.
Disclaimer: I do not own Labyrinth, or it's characters. Boo hoo. Nor do I own The Matrix, it's characters, it's creators or anything remotely connected with it.
WARNINGS: Adult themes, slight sexual references, a bit of violence.
Sarah loved her job.
It was the best job in the entire world, despite the risks, despite the danger.
Despite the injuries.
After her experience in the Labyrinth, Sarah had known deep down that she was fundamentally changed. She was no longer the selfish, self-interested teenager she had been thirteen hours prior. Her unwavering resolution to save her brother and repair the damage she had caused effectively put an end to that. Fear, desperation and unearthed fraternal protective instincts did strange things to a person's personality.
However, it also seemed as though a wild, untamed side of her personality had been unleashed by her exposure to the magic of the Underground. The longer she philosophised on the matter, the stronger her conviction became.
Now that she had overcome adversity and defeated the Goblin King, Sarah felt indestructible. It was an overwhelming feeling of power that engulfed her psyche and left little room for such trifling emotions as self-consciousness, anxiety and inadequacy. These feelings, formerly her demons, were now banished into the oblivion of discarded memories.
She became more outgoing, rapidly gaining popularity at school, as well as the attentions of not a few members of the opposite sex. While the heady thrill of being well-liked and desired by her peers sated Sarah's appetite for a time, all too soon, it wasn't enough to keep her happy.
Sarah found herself craving thrills and adventure far beyond the normal level of girls her age. She indulged in many different pursuits, trying to find an outlet. She began to pursue and participate in extreme sports with an almost obscene level of enthusiasm and fervour.
First there had been the parasailing. While it was quite exhilarating being 800 metres in the air with nothing but ocean beneath your shoes, the pursuit had lost its novelty within a few months.
Then there had been the gliding. Sarah had loved it with a passion. There was nothing quite like the feeling you got when you heard the snap of the towline between the glider and the tow-plane disconnecting. It meant that you were 4000 feet up in the air, alone, with no engine and no radio. You used the compass on the windscreen to navigate and circled the plane in a downward spiral until you were low enough to land.
Then there was the skydiving. She had stuck with that for almost a year, working her way up the hierarchy rapidly until she reached the level of instructor and was entrusted with the task of diving tandem with first-timers. The ever-present risk of the parachute failing to open was a huge source of excitement to Sarah and she loved the element of critical importance that hung in the air each time she rolled and packed her parachute. She also loved teasing her parents about the danger involved in skydiving, particularly Karen, who would dissolve into a gibbering wreck whenever she was told about the latest near miss. Sarah's father would often simply tell her with mock-seriousness to crash properly and kill herself instantly, rather than wind up as a vegetable that the family would be stuck looking after.
But eventually, skydiving too, lost its novelty, just like everything else. There were at least another dozen 'sports' that came and fell by the wayside afterwards; jet-boating, scuba diving, bungee jumping and base-jumping, to name just a few.
When it was time for her to go to university, Sarah contemplated her life, along with her completely empty bank account. She had spent all of her savings on thrill-seeking and had little to show for it, save for a few certificates of achievement and qualification. What could she possibly use those for?
At somewhat of a loss, Sarah had started a degree in creative arts, still harboring her great love of theatre and the performing arts. As time went by she found that she was often able to lose herself in the abundance of scripts, impromptu performances and unofficial troupe tours, excelling in her courses and gaining excellent marks. The whirlwind of the performing circuit did much to quell Sarah's inner wildness, though she knew that it was never completely subdued.
She dated a string of young men, all with similar consequences. They were either driven away by her intensity, the fact that she was apparently 'unmanageable' or were unable to handle her sexual appetite. Sarah knew that she was strong-minded and willful—perhaps excessively so—but it was the way her life had moulded her and she was loath to change her personality simply to please someone else.
It was almost always while she was involved in these kinds of reflections that Sarah found her thoughts curling around the Goblin King. Curiously enough, it was recollections and ponderings involving him that usually gave her restless soul a reprieve from the relentless search for fulfillment. Sarah was not so simple-minded as to believe that she was in love with him, or that he was what she needed to tame her wildness. She knew that she merely identified with him as a personification of feralness and unrestrained power. Nothing more. Still, he was never truly far from her musings.
In her final year, Sarah suggested using 'The Labyrinth' as a subject of study and her tutor had been so enamoured with the story that she had made it the theatre production for that year. Sarah had been pleased but unsurprised to find herself cast in the role of the heroine. Jareth had been played by a tall, slim blonde she'd dated back in first year for a few months. It had ended messily, with bitterness and infidelity, so it was relatively easy to recreate him as a villain. The play itself had been a major success and there were even rumours that talent scouts had secretly attended some of the performances.
Graduation came and went in a blur of flashes (from the cameras of doting parents), boozy parties and, ultimately, job interviews.
The four years spent as a university student had opened Sarah's eyes to many possibilities for her future career. She found that while she was reasonably talented in the more serious areas of Shakespearean and Greek theatre, her special love was satire and comedy, particularly slapstick comedy. There was just something indescribably satisfying about using your body as a prop to get a laugh from the audience. She'd experimented with the use of many different mediums, but in the end, found that it was pretending to get hurt that was the most effective.
One afternoon, Sarah had been strolling down a busy commercial street. She'd gone to a highly publicized fair at the shopping centre nearby and was weighed down with bags. To her surprise, there'd been an entire stall dedicated to stunt work, which she'd been inexplicably drawn to. It was quite busy; curious onlookers clustered around it in a buzzing throng.
After she'd worked up the courage to do more than just lurk on the fringes of the crowd, Sarah discovered that the people running the stall were actually quite friendly. She'd been able to speak at length to a couple of people putting themselves forward as professional stuntmen and the more she found out, the more Sarah thought that this could possibly be an interesting career choice for her. She'd ended up buying a few books and assorted bits and pieces she thought may be helpful in getting started in the industry and finding work.
As she began the trek home, Sarah was approached by an older man. He was tall, dark and attractive, albeit noticeably older than her. He'd been hovering around the stall, but she hadn't thought he'd been involved in it. She'd paused, not sure whether to be intimidated or dismissive.
"So, I noticed you were interested in stunt work," he observed without preamble.
"Yes," Sarah answered warily. Who was this guy? The thought that he could be someone important prompted her to elaborate. "I think it's just the sort of work I'd enjoy."
"Hmm." The stranger looked thoughtful for a minute, then grinned and extended his hand. "Rupert's the name."
"Sarah," she replied, shaking hands with him.
"I do a bit of stunt coordination work," he told her, producing a business card. "I also teach on the odd occasion. If you're really serious about getting into this industry, I would suggest you enroll in a good school to get the right training. Here's where I teach."
Sarah took the proffered card and her eyebrows rose when she realised the school was located in San Francisco. That wasn't so much of a surprise. It was just that she lived in Indianapolis.
Rupert recognised her expression for what it was. "I know it's a way away, but it's one of the most highly accredited schools in the country," he assured her. "Your chances of finding work after graduation would be significantly greater than if you studied somewhere local."
Sarah just nodded. Deep down, she'd known that she would have to move a fair distance away from home to find work. But San Francisco was practically the other side of the continent…
"I'd also suggest you join a union," Rupert was saying. "They're really good at protecting your rights and helping you find work. The school in San Francisco is in partnership with one of the most prominent unions in the country."
"Why are you telling me all this?" Sarah wanted to know. Rupert just smiled.
"You've got the look," he told her. "You look as though, not only would you be up for the challenge of working as a stuntwoman, you'd be damn good at it too. I would know, I've seen hundreds of kids over the years. Don't waste your potential, it would be such a tragedy."
Intrigued, Sarah had joined the union and enrolled in the school, much to the everlasting horror of Karen and the smiling bemusement of her father. Toby, however, thought she was an absolute legend. He was less enthusiastic about the cross-country relocation, but Sarah promised to come back for visits at every opportunity.
So, after a further three intensive years in 'stunt school', Sarah emerged with the necessary qualifications, along with certain skills and muscles she'd never known existed. To say that she was fit and toned would be putting it loosely. She had learnt early on that stuntmen and women needed to be at their physical peaks in order to cope with the enormous demands placed on their minds and bodies by doing stunt work. Her previously soft, rounded, young woman's body had been replaced by a lean, wiry form that somehow seemed to garner more appreciation than her previous curves, at least in the stunt work circle.
Fortunately, Sarah had maintained contact with Rupert throughout her time with the school and by the time she had graduated, they were good friends. He had been her mentor at first, often popping into her classes to see how she was going, much to the amusement of her fellow classmates and tutors.
Sarah had discovered before very long that Rupert was quite influential and well-known in this world and was most definitely the man to talk to regarding job prospects. He had the privilege of working with some of the most distinguished directors and producers in Hollywood.
His apparent interest in her, however, extended slightly beyond the professional. Sarah was aware that Rupert was quite keen on a sexual relationship with her, but at 20 years her senior, complete with a wife and three children, it was an arena that not even she dared to enter.
That didn't mean that the attraction wasn't mutual, however. Sarah often experienced a strange tangle of feelings whenever she thought about Rupert or spent time with him. He was her mentor and father figure, true, but sometimes she really wished he wasn't married.
"Sarah!" he practically bellowed down the phone one day, "I've got something for you! Something big!"
She could feel his excitement and couldn't help but be a little bit caught up in it. "What is it Rupert?"
"I've been talking to Andy and Larry Wachowski," he answered, the words coming out in a rush. "They're working on a sci-fi trilogy that's showing a lot of promise. They've just hired me as their stunt co-ordinator."
"That's great Rupert!" Sarah congratulated him. The man was humble, despite his renown and he was always surprised and excited to land a gig.
"We need a stuntwoman for the female lead, Sarah. You match her body type. You interested?"
"Definitely," she answered without hesitation. "Count me in. Love you muchly."
"No problem. And I love you too, green-eyed monster." His affectionate and rather embarrassing nickname for her. Sometimes Sarah became uncomfortable with the thought that he'd sensed her slight jealousy of his wife and family and had chosen the nickname with that thought in mind. "I'll email you everything you need to know."
Sarah prepared for the take, her heart pounding, pushing the adrenalin through her blood faster and faster.
This was so dangerous.
Working on The Matrix had been everything Sarah had dreamed of as a stuntwoman. The risks were high and the thrills were even higher. She hadn't expected such a high-stunt concentration in a sci-fi film, but the Wachowski brothers were obviously out to create a genre of their own.
She'd been on the set in Sydney for a few months now. The female lead actress, a quiet but extremely likeable woman, did the majority of her own fight work, which Sarah was immensely grateful for. God knows she didn't need any more injuries. The cracked ribs, broken toes and sprained ankles were more than enough, thank you very much. Besides that, martial arts had always been her weak point. However, there were certain scenes that were so risky that it was necessary Sarah take over.
This was one of those scenes.
The plotline involved a rescue via helicopter of one of the main characters from one of the upper floors of a glassy, skyscraper building. The female lead piloted the helicopter, and went down with it as the engine failed, only to be rescued by the male lead.
This was where Sarah came in. It was her that the audience would see in the finished movie, clinging to a thick cord and smashing sideways into one of the heavy glass windows on the building. The ordinary glass had been replaced with a special type of safety glass, designed to crack outwards from the point of impact, but not shatter.
Because of the nature of the camera angle, it was impossible for Sarah to wear a harness of any kind. The same went for protective gloves, or being able to loop the cord around her wrists for extra hold. If she lost her grip on the line, she would fall fifteen storeys onto the crash mats below. She wouldn't die, but it was likely she would be so badly injured that it would be a long time before she could work again. If ever.
So, it was really important to hang on.
Sarah finished powdering her hands, resigned to the fact that she was just going to have to deal with the rope burn. Hopefully she'd get it right the first time and wouldn't have to tear her hands up seventeen times before Larry was satisfied.
She wore black from head to toe: an identical replica of Trinity's costume. Her hair was the same too: dark and slicked back from her face. In fact, you could have easily mistaken her for the lead actress until you saw her face. It was imperative that Sarah keep her face hidden in the crook of her arm when she hit the window. The camera crew would be right there and would catch any mistakes on film. Mistakes meant sore hands and more time spent away from the caterer's table.
She took her place next to Larry Wachowski on the platform, a few storeys above the designated window and a couple of hundred metres out. All she needed to do was catch the rope when it was thrown to her and jump off the platform. She would twist her body sideways in mid-air, then hide her face as she smashed into the window.
She'd worked through the trajectory and speed of the swing numerous times that day with Rupert and Larry. They practiced it on the ground, getting her position right and testing the safety glass. Sarah was positive that she would be gaining a few new bruises and cuts from this stunt. Hopefully no broken bones, like she'd gained when she was doing the roof jumping scene.
The platform was perfectly placed and her place on the edge was marked. It was meant to go off without a hitch.
Except it didn't.
Something had distracted Sarah at the critical moment. It was something teasing the edge of her consciousness, making the hairs on her neck and the backs of her arms stand on end.
She stared around wildly, thoroughly disconcerted. Magic? Here? Was it him? It couldn't be.
"Sarah!" the surprised and slightly exasperated voice of Larry Wachowski snapped her back to the situation at hand.
Shit. The rope. Sarah grabbed for it and caught it awkwardly. She knew she probably wouldn't be able to hold on, but by then, it was too late and she'd fallen off the platform.
Distantly, she could hear Rupert's desperate yelling as the cord slid out of her hands, leaving stinging red slashes across her palms. As she began to fall, everything immediately slammed into slow motion.
Stupid powder. Stupid Larry, not letting her wear any safety gear. Stupid Rupert, for getting her this job. And stupid her too. Such a dangerous line of work. Since when did I let myself get distracted so easily?
I'm going to trash myself and lose this job.
Sarah closed her eyes, anticipating the impact and the pain that would surely follow. "This is so unfair," she whispered.
"Now Sarah, I thought you'd surely grown out of philosophizing on the concept of justice."
That voice. Unmistakeable. Sarah's eyes popped open, only to discover that she was standing on thin air. It seemed time had stopped altogether. Everything around her was frozen into stillness. Everything, that is, except for the creature currently standing in front of her. Jareth. The Goblin King.
Sarah struggled for composure, ruthlessly squashing down on the spike of vertigo.
Remember the Escher Room. This is the same. Don't believe in gravity and it won't control you.
She'd visualized this subsequent meeting between them hundreds of times before. And, with each different situation, her first words would be stunning in their intelligence and nonchalance.
"You look good."
Well fuck it all, Sarah! Her brain bellowed. Don't you listen to ANYTHING I tell you!
Jareth's eyebrows disappeared into his hairline. It clearly wasn't the greeting he'd been expecting. The surprise was only momentary, however.
"As do you," he returned smoothly, inclining his head. "Although for how much longer I wouldn't care to fathom."
"Occupational hazard," she replied, ignoring her internal shrieking on just how very wrong it was to be making any semblance of casual conversation with the Goblin King. "I sensed your magic and it distracted me. I'll be paying for the mistake shortly."
"So it would seem," he murmured, glancing disinterestedly at the long drop down onto the crash mats below them. When his mismatched eyes returned to hers, Sarah fought the urge to take a step backwards. His expression was… searching. But not searching in the way that simply probed gently at the external layers of your psyche. Searching in the way that stripped you to the core, leaving you naked, shivering and vulnerable.
"Working as a human rag-doll now?" he questioned with a mocking smile.
"Stunt-woman," Sarah returned sharply.
"I see little difference," Jareth replied in a dismissive tone. "Who would have thought that the illustrious dreamer—the unflappable heroine—Sarah Williams, would end up in a profession so menial? Being paid to collide with immovable objects! I must admit that I expected much more from you."
"Well," Sarah bit out, her temper flaring, "I must admit that I couldn't give two shits about your expectations. "You get live in a world of magic and dreams, Jareth. I don't. I've changed since our little game in the Labyrinth, and I chose the career that suited me best. I'm proud of what I do and the fact that you don't approve means nothing to me."
She was lying. Her stomach had dropped most unpleasantly when she'd realised Jareth was criticizing her. It was as though her years of experience and hard work, her pride in herself and her achievements, had all been torn away in an instant. It seemed that, even now, Sarah still needed the approval of an older man to feel truly good about herself. She just hoped that Jareth wouldn't pick up on that little detail as well.
There was a long silence, giving Sarah ample time to contemplate the finer details of her impending, rather forceful, introduction to the ground. Most likely sooner rather than later. Jareth wasn't the type of man that handled defiance or criticism terribly well. Unbidden, a memory of her time in the Labyrinth flitted through her mind.
…how are you enjoying my Labyrinth?
It's a piece of cake.
"Have you ever wondered what it was that wrought such a change in you, Sarah?" he asked, his easy tone belied by the razor sharp intensity of his gaze.
"What do you mean?" Sarah asked, feigning puzzlement. She knew exactly what he meant. She'd often lain awake at night with that very question swirling through her thoughts. Eventually, she'd simply attributed it to the mystique of the Labyrinth and tried to move on.
"You cannot claim to be insensible to the shifting of your being," he answered her in exasperation. "I have watched you devour people and pursuits over the years with such insatiability as to question your state of mind."
"What is that supposed to mean!" Sarah snarled, latching on to his last words. He was questioning her sanity? What in hell gave him the right!
Ironically enough, the fact that he'd been watching her didn't surprise Sarah as much as she thought it would. She conceded to herself that she would most likely do the same thing, had their positions been reversed.
"It means, I wondered whether you may have been under the control of Underground magic," Jareth responded bluntly. "But after I observed you for a time, I realised it was something else."
Sarah's defensive anger evaporated, leaving curiosity behind. He knew what it was?
"When you left the Labyrinth, you took something with you," he explained, seeing her expression for what it was.
"The Goblin King had fallen in love with the girl and had given her special powers?" Sarah guessed.
"You could put it that way," he replied, the look on his face suggesting that he would not. "I would prefer to say that you possessed a… certain sensitivity to Fae magic. Not to mention that you were young and your mind was an open book, inviting the Labyrinth to use its power on you."
"What are you telling me?" Sarah asked, not comprehending.
Jareth looked mildly annoyed. "I am telling you that there is a bond that has been forged by magic between you and I. You are struggling to cope with these new… wilder aspects of your personality because they are part of my personality. Certain elements of my psyche have been channelled into yours and vice versa. I, for example, suffer from your childish temper."
"You already had that," Sarah muttered.
"I'm here now because I have observed you long enough to know that you need my help," he continued, pretending not to hear. "It's such a pity. I would have thought that you were strong-willed enough to cope with a little attitude adjustment."
"I don't need your help," Sarah snapped, stung. "So what if I have some of you in me? It just means that I'll be prone to fits of Arrogant Bastard from time to time. I can deal with it."
"I can't live within you Sarah, even indirectly," Jareth told her firmly, looking a bit miffed. He stepped forward, invading her personal space. "I believe I informed you of that fact ten years ago. You can't ignore this. I don't belong in the mortal world, which is why you feel so out of place."
"I never expected you to live within me," Sarah answered. "Not after everything that happened."
He was very close to her now. Sarah hadn't thought to back away. "You're going to be very badly hurt when I let you go."
"Your… career will be damaged. As well as your legs. That mat will not cushion your fall. It is very possible that you will not be able to walk again."
"I know." She hadn't known, but now she did. She'd thought that she would break a few bones, heal and then get back to work. Nothing serious. The prospect of being permanently disabled made Sarah feel sick to the stomach.
"It doesn't have to happen, Sarah."
"What are you trying to say Jareth?" Sarah asked warily. She ignored the increase of her heartbeat.
"I think you know what I'm saying." His leather-clad fingertips brushed the bare skin of her arms, surprisingly warm.
"Hmm. I also know that you would never offer me something this big without a heavy price." Sarah pinned him with her eyes and felt her stomach flip over as a triumphant smirk blossomed across his Fae features.
He was still beautiful, completely unchanged despite the passage of time. That in itself was a sobering thought.
"Fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave," Jareth responded smoothly. "This world was not meant for you. I can give you a better one."
Oh, it was so tempting. With him standing here, so close that she could smell him, feel his warmth, it was like she had all her girlish dreams at her fingertips. She could well imagine how romantic it would be to fall into his arms, make her declarations of everlasting love, and be swept away to a glittering world of crystals and dreams.
Unfortunately, Sarah's romanticism and girlish dreams had shrivelled and died years ago, when she'd realised that there was no man alive that would ever satisfy her. None of them could measure up to Jareth, who was so very, very bad for her anyway.
If she chose him, now, it would mean that she would be going against all of her instincts.
"But, wouldn't that mean you were asking me to live within you?" Sarah asked after a tense silence.
For the first time ever, Jareth seemed to be speechless.
"Fair's fair," Sarah continued. "If you can't live within me, I can't live within you, right?"
"Sarah—," he began but she cut him off.
"You say that this world wasn't meant for me, but it's all I have. Now that I now I'm not going crazy, I can learn to live with my changes and really enjoy this life, or what's left of it. You and I might share a special 'bond', as you put it, but that doesn't automatically mean that we have to pursue it."
"You're refusing me?" Jareth ground out. "Again? Don't you realise what's at stake here? What will happen if I let you fall?"
"Don't you realise what you're saying?" Sarah shot back. "You want to spare me from injury, but it has to be on your terms. I'm too old to play your games Jareth. Besides that, I should be free to make my own choices, not held to ransom by the possibility of winding up as a paraplegic. Or, was that your intention all along? To make me an offer I couldn't refuse?"
Jareth glared at her. "And what if it was?" he hissed. "You should know by now that I use whatever means available to win."
Sarah smiled bitterly. "So, it was still all a game to you then. What are you really doing here? Did you think it would be entertaining to get one over on your old adversary? The only human to ever solve the Labyrinth? Yes, that must be it. You're not an owl, you're a vulture!"
Jareth's eyes sparked with fury and Sarah was suddenly afraid. One gloved hand shot forward, tangling in the hair at the base of her neck and roughly yanking her to him.
The kiss was ruthless, brutal and arousing beyond her wildest dreams. Sarah cursed her traitorous body as she felt the sweet burn of desire curl through her body and settle between her legs. Wanting revenge, she bit his tongue hard as it attacked her own, drawing blood. It tasted almost identical to her own, warm and coppery.
In retaliation, he broke the kiss, yanked her head back and sank his teeth into her neck. Sarah shrieked, partly in pain, partly in surprised pleasure, as she felt his canines break the skin.
How was it that she could be enjoying something so feral?
"By refusing me," Jareth snarled into her ear, "You've refused the chance to ever harness the wildness that courses through your blood. I am the only one who will ever be able to give you what you crave. You are bonded to me and no other."
"I never said I was refusing you forever," Sarah panted, getting her body back under control. "Just that I was refusing you this time. Who knows what will happen if you ever make me an offer worth my while?"
Jareth moved away from her abruptly, licking her blood from his lips. They stared at each other in silence for a long time.
"And what would be worth your while?" he questioned, sounding infinitely calmer than he'd been a few moments ago. Sarah knew she would never understand the shifting of his moods.
"Freedom," Sarah answered softly. "Respect."
She held his eyes for a few moments more, then he inclined his head to the side, looking down at the crash mat below them. Sarah knew their meeting was over.
Would he really let me get badly injured? Sarah wondered, as time began to resynchronize. Everything felt like it was moving in slow motion, despite the fact that she was now falling away from Jareth, his black clad form becoming smaller and smaller above her.
I suppose he would, just to teach me a lesson. Sarah screwed her eyes shut and waited. This is the second time I've turned him down, so I can't exactly be relying on him to save my sorry ass now, can I?
But either way, Sarah thought, I know that I made the right choice. My choice. No one else's.
As always, constructive critcism is greatly appreciated, especially where it concerns J/S interaction. I have so much trouble with it...