Disclaimer: Ya'll should really be use to this by now, I don't own any of it.
A/N: And here it is, the FINAL CHAPTER!!! Duh duh duh….I know, I know, I'm evil. But just because it's over doesn't mean you can't still review. I want to know what you think! Oh, and stay tuned for another story; it will be a little while before I start posting it, because I've got other things I have to finish up first, but keep an eye out for it, it will be entitled Fragile Wings
Chapter Nine: Thanks for the Memories
When Arthur Peables unlocked the door to his office during pre-planning, he was rather surprised to see a three-inch three ring binder on his desk. He'd cleaned off his desk entirely when the fall semester finished, leaving only the tacky plastic and wood nameplate and a coffee mug. His wife had laughed t him for bragging about his accomplishment; the project had only been six years in the procrastination. Was this a joke from the cleaning crew? A terrifying new set of directives from the department head?
Setting his briefcase on the otherwise clean surface, Arthur opened the notebook and leafed curiously through the pages. They held dozens of short stories and vignettes, many accompanied by highly detailed ink drawings. As he skimmed, bits and pieces caught his eye, fragments of thought leaping from the paper to twine teasingly about his brain.
"These are quite good," he mused. "I don't know why they're on my desk, but they're quite good."
Arthur flipped back to the very front and settled more comfortably into his chair, resting the notebook against his knee. The first page had READ ME emblazoned across the top in brilliant green; all right, he'd it through. At the very least, it let him put off typing the syllabuses for a little while.
Eternity in Thirteen Hours
By Sarah Williams
Once upon a time and twice upon a time, which is no time and every time, and any time one may imagine, there was a young woman who entirely misunderstood her significance in the world. In the selfish manner of adolescents, she believed she was due more than she had earned. She understood so little of the truth of love that she failed to recognize it when it was plainly offered. What should have been seen as a growth of love, she saw only as betrayal. What should have been celebrated was met instead with anger.
And in the manner of adolescents, she sought to shift the blame for her own deficiencies always onto others. When she grew petulant at what she was asked to do, she insisted that she was asked too much. When the world did not rearrange itself to suit her wishes, she insisted that it wasn't fair. She would learn that such things were the way of the world; that people were small and insignificant, and the world did not change itself for anyone. But she would not learn such lessons easily, nor immediately.
It took a great experience to cause her to first question these staunchly held beliefs. Even with that, it did not do so immediately.
The girl had a much younger half-brother, and being of great imagination, she wished him away to the goblins. But despite her selfishness, she was still aware of the blood that bound them. And, perhaps, she also feared the punishment that would surely follow were the more pragmatic and disbelieving adults to question his absence. No matter the reason, she endeavored to reclaim him from her own mistake.
She was ultimately successful, though the nature of that success could be called somewhat into question. In later years, she could never be entirely sure if she had truly won or if she had merely been allowed to do so. Had the Goblin King not sworn love for her? Had he not told her, there in the end, that he had given her everything she had wanted? Had she wanted to win so badly that he had allowed her to do so?
As she grew to love her brother, for brother he was despite his mother, questions of this manner haunted her more and more. For all her pretended worldliness, she had only just begun to see what the world truly held. She had seen, for the first time, real betrayal, and had also seen its redemption. She had seen courage in the unlikeliest of places, a strength and compassion in the most frightening faces, and frivolity in the midst of savagery. She had seen obsession and ruthlessness, she had seen purpose, and she had seen kindness.
In that small fraction of ancient mythology come to life, she had seen more of her world than in fifteen years, and she found she could not close her eyes again, though she tried.
In her dreams, she saw again his eyes, watching her, haunting her, studying her. She heard his voice echo through her disillusion, offering her everything she wanted, if she would just forget.
Four years passed in that transitory state, where maturity and growth find silent depths. She had learned to appreciate the quietude of peace, to find in thoughts a peace that the empty companionship of others could not provide. She learned to still her tongue, to consider carefully each word before it emerged. Was it as fair as words would allow her to be? She had injured, once, without understanding the pain she caused; she was resolved not to repeat it in ignorance.
She grew distant without meaning to, but having seen the great connections that could be forged in the midst of adversity; she found the more shallow ties of acquaintanceship to be difficult to bear. She drifted through her years of school, seeing another world behind her eyes every time she blinked. She was out of place with every breath, and was beginning to wonder if perhaps she should have accepted what she was offered.
But then she would realize how much she'd grown, and understood that she needed that depth. She needed to understand what she had done, what she had lost with that unthinking refusal. She needed to understand that things were not always as they seemed.
Her growth continued as she left her father's house, expanding and broadening as the boundaries previously around her could not allow. Under the tutelage of her instructors, she learned once again to question, to challenge, and each memory and wisp of dream grew ever more dear. It was here, in the place of learning, that she was given the opportunity to show her newfound enlightenment
They met again, the girl and the Goblin King, each with a greater respect and understanding for the other. He had come to understand the frailties of human youths, and how he had scared her in her innocence. She, in turn, understood more clearly that while he may have been a man in love, he was also a king with responsibilities. Their courtship was not without its setbacks, for understanding does not always equate the ability of practical application.
Were things as they seemed to be? No, and yet, yes. He drew her carefully from the oubliette she'd crafted for herself, and she learned to trust the feel of her hand in his.
Was it truth or illusion? Did it really matter?
The world in which she'd been raised had twelve hours. Twelve staid, solid, dependable hours. The clock ticked in regular intervals, ticking away the seconds, ticking away the minutes, ticking away those twelve hours. Perfect and round, evenly divisible into three fours or four threes, six twos or two sixes. Everything about it was smooth and circular, flawless and meant to lull the eye and the mind into easy complacency.
But there, in the Underground, she'd learned a world of thirteen hours. Thirteen, a prime number, historically an unlucky number. It could not fracture, it could not divide, it could not be less than that which it was. It was not perfectly round, but rather an oval of sorts, a bumpy, irregular progress that required all the wit of an active mind to follow on its course. It required patience, and attention, and perhaps most of all it required a great deal of luck, for the hours occasionally took it upon themselves to arbitrarily shift positions around the clock. Looking at only the clock wasn't enough; one had to know its context, the hour it had decried before, and what it would decry after.
The Goblin King took her back into that world of thirteen hours with every touch of his hand, every brush of his lips, every stroke of himself against her. Every word he murmured into her ear echoed with the timelessness of those thirteen hours, with the terrible patience that extra hour engendered. The twelve hours fell away and took with them their boring, dependable foundations, suspending her between floating and falling, between up and down, between right and left and right and wrong. Thus hovering, even thirteen hours ceased to be, ceased to mean. She simply was, and in that unbearable lightness of being, learned to love.
The girl knew that the safety of the Underground depended upon the pragmatism of the world Above, relied upon the age of not believing expanding and enveloping. The time of great heroes and myths, when the races could mix with a wonderful story to show for the confusion and chaos of the mystical quests, was done. To truly love this Goblin King was not a simple matter of choosing him.
Not just of choosing him.
It was of choosing him over everything else her life held. It was choosing him over the potential career, the future schooling. It was choosing him over the few friends she had, the friends she could make. It was choosing him over the respect and admiration of the professors at her institution, of her classmates and peers. It was choosing him over her baby brother.
Mortals were meant to forget the Underground, to forget the Labyrinth once they had passed from its grip. They remembered, for a time only, just long enough to be regretful, to realize they'd done something very wrong, and then human nature reasserted itself, they forgot the birth of magic, and their minds supplied them with another explanation of the child's absence, another reason that could be truth, no matter that it wasn't.
The girl hadn't forgotten, and because of her, her brother never entirely had either, but he would, if she chose this Goblin King. She could see him from afar if she made that choice, but never again would she hold him close against her and breathe his little boy smell, mixed with that indefinable scent that was uniquely her baby brother. She could watch him learn and falter, could watch him grow and fall and stand tall, but she could never whisper advice in his ear, never be a shoulder to cry upon when life was unfair. It would mean losing him in every way that mattered.
But still there was the irresistible lure of eternity in thirteen hours, and everything those hours could give her. She was drawn to the promise of days of exploration, of finding out how much had been real and how much- if any- had been imagined. She was mesmerized by the darkness of her passion, by the chance to spend her nights straining in the arms of the man she knew loved her with every fiber of his being, no matter how amused and arrogant that being was.
It was not an easy choice to make, certainly not one to make lightly, but she made it. She chose eternity in thirteen hours, chose the promise and the lure, and chose the darkly sardonic and ironic and bucolic. She chose the memories that had once been dreams, the secrets that were now her domain. She chose to forge a place within the broken, battered angels she had once helped to create, to give of heselfr aught they could ever need.
She chose that extra hour, and in so choosing unlocked the door to a labyrinth, to a life darker and more lovely than even she could ever have dreamed.
Arthur scratched at his flyaway brown hair, automatically and absentmindedly smoothing it back over the growing bald spot. The piece was beautifully written, if purposefully disjointed; it almost seemed like the writer had been thinking out some kind of decision for herself as she wrote. It should have been very familiar to him, and some neglected, intuitive voice in the back of his mind screamed at him, but he didn't know how to hear it.
"Sarah Williams," he murmured. "Who the hell is Sarah Williams?"