Hello everyone. Here's a brand new story for you, very different from my other piece. And don't worry-there will still be updates for 'Of Catalysts and Dreams.' No way have I given up on that one...this idea simply would not leave me alone. But be warned, there is some language and intense situations. I rated the story M, just to be on the safe side. And as always, I do not own Labyrinth or any of it's characters-only the ones my imagination created. Also, parts from a song are below that belong to Mr. John Mayer. Not mine... Review and let me know what you think, and I'll bring more updates ASAP!

E. Jane


I

Familiar

Some people, when forced into a difficult situation, find that it helps a great deal to ease the pain with complaints. It is never their fault or their mess-it is always someone else's.

And while this may give a temporary relief of self-satisfaction, it does nothing to improve matters in the real world. Life is still cruel. You find yourself in the same position you were ten minutes ago, or weeks, or months, or years. Lifetimes.

Sarah Williams did not fit under the category of "some people." So when she found herself crammed into one small bathroom with six other girls scraping off her stage makeup, she did not complain. It was routine. The cracked sink, which did not work, was as familiar as the flickering florescent lights. The white peeling paint, grey with cigarette smoke, the overlapping posters advertising bands, shows, and entertainment on the strip, were as common to Sarah as her skin. Three years now she had worked in the mess, had seen the yellowing tiles beneath her feet. Almost nightly she had scrubbed the heavy stage makeup from her face along with her comrades in this god-forsaken hole. She was numb with how common it all felt, which left little room for complaining.

The costume, however, was new.

"Sylvia, help me unzip this thing!" she wailed, abandoning a dirty paper towel to the sink. Instinctively she avoided looking in the mirror, which always seemed to harbor a flitting shadow of one or two small figures-but she could blame her overworked brain on that. A lady several years older than her dashed over and unhooked the sequined show dress. Sarah felt it pool on the floor and danced around the tiny space, trying to yank off her stockings.

"Geez, Sarah. In a hurry much?" Sylvia leaned against the sink in her corset and matching fishnets all the girls wore. A cigarette dangled from her fingertips, stained with maroon lipstick.

Sarah grumbled something and threw a simple dress over her head. From a wrinkled bag she pulled two black stilettos and jumped them on.

"Where ya going, honey?" piped up another girl closer to Sarah's age. "You know Gary don't swing that way, right? Sleepin' with the manager won't get you nothin'." She huffed the words, as if to say, 'I know. I've tried.'

"Why do you think I'm all dressed up?" she retorted, flinging her head upside down and shaking out her hair. "Billy Stagton is at The Rocks tonight. Open auditions are at nine." She flipped up, grabbed her bag, and stepped over her sequined dress. It could rot in the muck and filth. If only she could spit on it, set it on fire-

No. Too tired. Must conserve energy.

"Baby," Sylvia laughed, "who do you think you're foolin'?" She didn't say it unkindly, but rather with a motherly affection. With the butt of her cigarette in the nearby loo she turned to Sarah again. "Dancers in Vegas don't get to act. We don't get to sing. But we do get paid." She pulled a good-sized wad of cash from the front of her costume.

The others nodded enthusiastically. Sarah was the baby, even at twenty-one. They'd been through enough together in the last three years to understand one another, to have already been beaten down. Surely they could spare her.

Sarah shook her head sadly and pulled the door open, stepping into a dark corridor. Sounds from the stage above filled the basement even through the concrete walls: raucous music, hooting, drunken cat-calls.

Familiar.

The door shut on the bathroom and Sylvia turned to the remaining girls. "Billy Stagton," she mused, tucking the money away and lighting a second cigarette. A thoughtful puff illuminated her face as the lights flickered again. "I'll be damned."

It wasn't raining, yet. But the sky rumbled as Sarah ducked out back. Neon signs proclaimed advertisements above the dirty building. Outlines of women and alcoholic drinks. Scantily clad women. Sarah hated herself for becoming one of them...but not tonight. No, tonight she was auditioning for the Billy Stagton-he had a theater in New York City. He came to Vegas looking for fresh blood, and free auditions were being held in half an hour at The Rocks. Sarah had not dared to pursue anything as daring as tonight, especially after she gave up Hollywood, in the three years she had been selling her body to hungry eyes. If she could only get him to look at her, to sing a little, she might have a chance to leave all of that behind. She didn't really know where the courage came from to do it...maybe she was finally fed up with tips.

Vegas was warm this time of year and teeming with people. She pushed past them and felt an onslaught of blisters on her heels. They would only compliment the existing ones. In minutes she burst onto the strip, momentarily blinded. Flashing signs, loud music, machines, people, food-everything descended upon her like a beast. Hurriedly she shook it off and pressed forward, further down the street.

Several whistles flew at her as she half ran down the strip. God, the shoes pinched-Linda Williams was a whole size smaller than Sarah, but she had taken them anyway. They were the only things she had left of her mother. That, and her aspirations to become an actress. She hadn't flown all the way to Hollywood for nothing. However, actress wanna-be's, even as talented as Sarah was, did not have so much luck at eighteen.

Karen had wanted her out. Out of the house, out of their perfect life. She hadn't seen Toby in three years...three years, dammit. Richard only saw sense in her demonic stepmother's decree.

Get a job. Go to school. Make your own life.

Sarah had failed miserably. There was no job for her in Hollywood, not even singing and playing her guitar on street corners, so she took her last bit of money and hopped a bus all the way to Nevada. To Vegas.

To "Gary's House of Girls."

She barely avoided a sewage grate, and the snapping of her heel. 'Keep going, almost there,' she prodded herself. 'Billy Stagton, just get to Billy Stagton...'

There was no way she could have just gone home. So Sarah had simply faded out of the Williams' lives. She didn't even consider herself a Williams anymore. Just Sarah, and that was fine.

'Get...to...Billy...damn these shoes...'

If she could ever get home in them, she would pour a bottle of kerosene over the top and light them up. Linda wouldn't miss them.

You did not need stilettos in a grave.

Her bag was slung across her chest, just how every other paranoid person caries their personal things in a crowd. Sarah hunched slightly to avoid unwanted attention, too. All the precautions were taken. If need be she could karate chop someone into next week, or pepper spray them senseless. Self defense had been her priority since leaving home. So when a blazing red convertible-top sports car honked at her, pulling up to the curb, Sarah put her fighting face on. It had never happened to her, but that didn't mean it couldn't.

Her own determined face was reflected back at her in the tinted window, but seemed to peel away as it slid down to reveal the interior. She did not have time for this...but for some odd reason she stayed. To tell the bastard off, maybe.

Within all was dark, the passenger seat only faintly lit by the slot machines behind her. The driver could not be seen at all, save for one arm, gracefully draped across the empty passenger's seat, pale fingers encased in driving gloves. Shame the top wasn't down-nice, warm night.

"Can I offer you a ride?" the stranger asked silkily. Something in Sarah bristled. The voice was so...smooth, and strangely accented. The fiery words on her tongue dissipated in confusion. With a huff she turned on her heel and stormed off.

The car followed, its waxed, candy-apple exterior shining bright under the flashing lights. "You look a little uncomfortable. I can take you wherever you wish to go," he coaxed. "Truthfully, I wouldn't mind some company tonight."

She lost it then. So far the car had followed her steadily up the street, which was odd. Usually the road was filled on both sides with parked vehicles. But not tonight. Sarah rounded on the car, which came to a smooth halt.

"Look, Jack," she snarled, leaning over slightly, but not enough for him to grab her, "if you want that kind of company, turn left down the next street and follow the alley to the river. When you get there, jump in." She turned again and set off at a brisk pace. The crowd seemed to have thinned-another oddity-and there were less bodies to shelter her from the pursuer. Help, did she need help? What was this guy doing?

"Sarah."

She stumbled at her name. He said it like a statement, crisp and clear. It halted her in her tracks long enough for the driver to lean over the passenger seat and show himself in the light.

Black, said her mind. All black clothes. Business suit, tie, shirt-and bloody hell. He was wearing sunglasses. In a car at eight forty-five at night. Most of his face was still concealed by shadow, but tumbled layers of fair blond hair fell around his shoulders. A shock went up her spine.

Familiar.

"Get in the car." The stranger said it with a soft edge. There were to be no questions asked, only action taken. Some of her senses crept back, enough to find her voice.

"What the hell do you want? Do I know you?"

To her horror, the man smiled a glittering, feral smile. Her eyes widened involuntarily at what it said, how his hidden gaze was reading her.

Billy Stagton, get to Billy Stagton...

Silently he reached over and pushed her door open. Then he slid back into the shadows and waited.

She ran.

So what if she was cutting off the circulation to her feet? Animal instincts flickered on, choosing flight for fight. That man, whoever he was, was powerful. It had radiated off of him like heat. No way could she risk something like that, especially tonight.

She made a last dash through a smallish crowd, heart about to burst with the fear that her pursuer would catch her at any second, and skidded to a shaky stop. There it was...The Rocks. One of Vegas' many nightclubs. It's sign flashed a large diamond in a martini glass and beckoned her inside. There was a fair sized line already out its door, most of who seemed to be young girls like herself, looking for an audition. Several were clutching copies of head shots, music to sing to, or were hyperventilating with nerves.

Sarah looked to them, all done up in various amounts of makeup and degrees of showing skin, and hesitated. This would never do...and, besides, this was not the same type of club she was associated with. Inside was a place for the elite and rich, and the entertainment consisted of a professional singer and pianist. Not poles.

She dove around the corner where a dumpster and single light were huddled. Just a second to catch her breath... Then she saw a few sticky steps that lead to a heavy door. Tentatively, hardly caring what the consequences might be, she tugged. It was open. With a deep breath she pulled it wide, and stepped over the threshold.

Ah, shit, the kitchens. But that was alright, no problem...all the employees were too busy to notice. Sarah navigated her way around dishes and waiters to a door and slipped through. It opened into a dining room, which was darkened for the show. What little she could see told her it was very large, like a theater with an upper balcony and everything. Someone was singing on stage, but she did not dare look. It hurt too much to think that she should be up there.

Then she saw him, fashionably late, of course. Billy Stagton was being escorted to a private room by the hostess. In one moment of pure impulsiveness, Sarah made up her mind that she would get absolutely nowhere by joining the line of girls outside. She followed them, slipping in behind the tall blond girl. A nearby waitress's tray, unattended, rested nearby, so she picked it up and decided it would be her prop for the evening. The water pitcher on it effectively hid her face from the others walking toward her, and in the dark it was very difficult to see. 'Act,' she told herself, and continued after them.

Her heart was thudding in her chest, but the others did not notice her presence. They entered through a small door and she quickly took her tray to the tiny bar on the opposite side of the room. Billy made himself at home on a large leather couch.

"Should I send in the girls one at a time?" the blond asked, obviously feeling very important.

"No," Billy said shortly, not looking at her but to the television replaying some sports event. "Not yet."

The girl deflated a little. "Very well, sir. When you're ready, then." She slunk out, closing the door behind her, and Sarah took to rearranging the decanters at the bar. The lighting was very poor-some illumination came from the track lights above them on a dimmer, and some from the flickering television. Brighter, more serious lights remained off. Inside she shuddered, not knowing what to do with herself. What, oh what, had she done?

"A scotch, I think, is what I need," Billy sighed, stretching and draping his arms over the back of the couch. With one hand he rubbed the dark stubble on his chin, and when there was no answer he turned to a frozen Sarah. "Well?"

So. He had noticed her. "Yes, sir, of course." Quickly she poured a glass and turned to give it to him.

"Hell, bring the whole bottle," he muttered, taking the glass without looking at her. "It's going to be a long night." He knocked it back quite fast and immediately went to pour another. But he looked at the girl handing him the bottle.

"My, my," he blinked. "Who do we have here?" His eyes flashed up and down the length of her body, taking her in, sizing her up. "I do not think you are employed at The Rocks."

"No, sir," Sarah admitted, stepping back to the bar where the overhead lights lit her up.

"Then you're here for the interviews," he smiled, pouring and downing a second glass. "Clever."

She waited, ready to be thrown out by security at any second. Almost in a bored fashion, Billy grabbed the remote to the flat screen and clicked it off. When he turned back his face was tired, worn, and tinged a bit pink. "So audition already."

For a second she hesitated. That was all he needed.

"Next!"

"Wait!" she blinked, watching with horror as he rose and began walking towards the door.

"Sorry, sweetheart, but Billy Stagton doesn't wait," he said, carrying his third scotch with him.

"It's really over," she sang. Her voice was bright and clear. The sound made contact solidly with Billy's ears and he turned a little unsteadily. "You made your stand," she continued. Quietly he removed his fingers from the door handle and walked back to the couch. "You've got me cryin', as was your plan." He sat, motioning for her to continue.

"Oh, but when my loneliness is through,
I'm gonna find another you.

You take your sweaters
You take your time.
You might have your reasons,
But you will never have my rhymes.

I'm gonna sing my way away from blue...
I'm gonna find another you."

Billy narrowed his eyes when she stopped. "There's more, you know." The third scotch was halfway done.

"No free shows," she replied bitterly, moving back to the bar. Living by that statement for three years had ingrained it permanently into her brain.

"Good girl," he nodded seriously, although his mouth wobbled into a smile and his head bobbed a little. He cheered her with the remains of his glass. "In fact, very good. What's your name, doll?"

"Sarah," she said bluntly, not caring much for the nickname. She looked at him a little warily as he swayed to stand.

"Sarah...what?" he asked, stuffing his hands deep in his pockets as if to steady himself. It did not help much.

"Just Sarah." He was walking toward her now, and he smelled awful. Like more than scotch-she guessed substances of dubious legality. Carefully she backed away, into the bar, but he followed.

Billy nodded wisely, then thrust a hand forward. "Billy Stagton," he slurred.

"Yes, I know," Sarah muttered, but took his hand. He smiled goofily and pumped it up and down.

"Very pretty voice. Very pretty figure," he mumbled, clasping her hand a little too tight. Subtly she tried wiggling away, only to have his other hand grab her waist. "Where ya goin'? I'm gonna make you famous, Kara."

Now was not the time to correct her name, especially when his hand was traveling lower and lower.

"Um, no thanks, Mr. Stagton. I'm going to leave now-"

"Billy," he reprimanded, pushing her against the bar. "I think we can come to some kind of...understanding. Even if you don't want my help," he whispered a little cross-eyed. "I've had a very trying day, you know."

She didn't know, and didn't care to find out, trying to shove on his forearms and chest. Drunk, even, he was quite strong. "Billy-" she tried, "let me go!"

He laughed and gripped her tighter. "No." With one hard push he sent her to the hard floor, on her knees. "Say my name again."

Her breathing was coming in sputtered gasps. She needed to call for help this time. Her purse was dangling over her chest, pepper spray useless inside, and Billy had her wrists ensnared by his fingers. "Say it."

"Help! Someone hel-"

When he yanked her back to a standing position she was shocked enough to cut her yell short. Without ceremony he flung her around and onto the couch, then scrambled on top.

Sarah kicked, kneed, bit, did everything she had ever been taught in self defense, but he was tearing at her dress anyway. Her purse was discarded several feet away now, his scotch glass rolling empty on the floor.

She was in shreds. The tan colored stage underwear was still there, the slimming corset and panties. Her face was streaked with hot, frightened tears as his hand covered her wailing mouth.

"Shh," he chuckled a little madly. "You pay me now, I'll pay you later. Big job, good money," he snickered. "But first-"

She closed her eyes and waited. For something painful.

The pressure was suddenly alleviated, gone altogether. She looked up to see two figures-two? A tall, slim one gripping the second one by the throat and holding him up off the ground. Billy. He was dangling Billy by the neck with a single hand. And growling.

"You filthy piece of scum," the stranger hissed. Sarah recognized him with a start, even in the dim light. It was the guy from the car. Billy was choking, clawing at the man's unflinching fingers for air. "How dare you." He dropped the drunken man to the floor, then hoisted him up with both hands by the collar of his shirt. "If you ever lay a finger on her again, so help me, I will wring your pathetic neck." Then he thrust Billy away from him like a rag doll, where he fainted in a heap on the floor.

Sarah stared openly at the stranger as he turned to face her, but tumbled off the couch and as far away as possible before standing. "Who are you?" she bleated, shaking all over. "What do you want from me?" He advanced several steps until she realized there was nowhere to go but into the club. In her underwear.

The man stopped just short of her and extracted his jacket. It twirled off him like a cloak, spinning from his shoulders. Silently he held it out to her.

She blinked at it and hugged her arms firmly about her chest.

"Take it," he prompted softly, completely contradicting his previous behavior. "Are you hurt?" He was not wearing those ridiculous shades anymore, but she still could not see his face properly.

She shook her head 'no.' Not hurt...terrified. Wordlessly he stepped up again and flung the jacket around her shoulders.

"It is not much, but it's something. Now," he said, straightening his gloves. "It's time to go."

"Go?" she choked. "Go where? Are you..." Several murder mystery-related scenes from day-time television intruded her thoughts. "Are you going to kill me?"

He turned sharply and froze. For a flicker of a moment she could see his eyes clearly-wide, mismatched. "No, Sarah. I am not going to kill you." She drew the heavy coat around her as he advanced again, this time laying a hand on either shoulder. "You would not be of any use to me that way."

They vanished.