Just, uh, FYI, I very much appreciate any and all response to this story, as it's in a relatively obscure, disused part of FF dot net. If this site were my high school, this story would be at the top of that set of stairs in the alleyway between the Industry and Art blocks that leads to a door which I don't think has ever been unlocked. Analogy aside, I thought I should point this out since I don't otherwise get a chance to respond to my anonymous reviewers. Seriously, every review has me blushing like crazy, although to be honest just seeing people alert this is pretty gratifying. Cheers, guys.
Speaking of thanks, Snatching At Dreams did me the incredible service of beta-ing this chapter. I've never had a beta before, but she is lovely to work with and gives wonderful feedback.
Also, it's been four years since I joined the site! Happy anniversary, FF dot net. I got you this chapter. Hope you like it. WINK.
Sarah stood with her arms folded, her impatience made obvious by the restless fingers dancing over her sleeve. Thanks to the apparent dissonance between the passages of time in the two realms – or perhaps it was simply the difference in time zones between America and England – they had arrived outside the labyrinth not, as she had hoped, during the day like the last time she had wished someone away at night, but sometime during either late evening or very early morning. She'd always felt mildly claustrophobic at night, which she attributed to her brief stint in the oubliette during her last visit, and on top of that she now had an unresponsive consulting detective to deal with.
"We really don't have time for this, Mr Holmes." They didn't; even as she watched, the hanging clock's minute hand moved another increment, and was it her imagination or was the sky already noticeably darker?
She turned back to Sherlock, brushing aside the strands of hair blown into her mouth by the cool, strangely dry wind. "John doesn't have time for this."
She received no answer.
"Look, I know you don't believe in any of this, but for John's sake could you just go along with it? I promise you, I haven't lied about anything I've told you."
Sherlock exhaled heavily through his nose, eyes flicking open to take in the surrounding landscape. "I've come to the conclusion that I'll have to act on the assumption that this is all real and not the product of a hallucination or something similar."
Sarah made a derisive noise. "Really? You couldn't have decided that before you insisted on wishing John away?"
"There was very little data previously. Even now, I lack verifiable data from which to –"
"Yeah, I got it. You still don't believe what's right in front of you."
"It's not a matter of what's in front of me; it's what's behind all of –"
"– this. Nonetheless, the seriousness of the situation, imagined or not, merits my full attention," said Sherlock, watching the small portion of the labyrinth that was even slightly visible in the darkness in a speculative sort of manner.
"Well, this 'situation' is your fault!" Sarah said accusingly. She pointed at him and tried to resist poking him in the chest. "Rule number one of dealing with the fae: don't make any deals. And what do you do? Offer yourself as a bargaining chip!"
Sherlock finally met her gaze, lowering the slim fingers which had until now remained firmly steepled in front of his lips. "It may have escaped your notice, but there was no way we would have been allowed into this labyrinth without offering this exact deal."
That certainly threw Sarah. "What do you mean?"
"By all accounts, the fae are manipulative, clever and very used to getting what they want. No matter what you may have offered initially, eventually you'd have been left with no alternative."
Sarah opened her mouth to argue but, much to her irritation, found she had no reply. Instead, she said, "We can't discuss this now. He only gave us half the normal time. We have to get moving." Indeed, the clock showed that they had already used over five minutes of their allotted six and a half hours.
With a distracted nod, Sherlock marched briskly past her and headed for the labyrinth, already halfway down the hill by the time Sarah started to follow.
"Hey, slow down a little! These boots have heels." And no grip to speak of, as she was quickly finding out.
After completing the treacherous descent with minimal sliding and no injuries (save for her dignity, which was severely bruised by a minor loss of balance partway down the slope), Sarah caught up to Sherlock where he was standing by the pond, piercing stare fixed on the dozens of ethereal, white creatures flitting amongst the bushes lining the outermost wall.
"Watch out for the fairies. They bite," said Sarah. She paused for a moment, taking in the fairies as they glittered in the moonlight. "There're more than I remember. Usually Hoggle keeps them in check…" She bit her lip and tried to ignore the nagging worry that had suddenly taken up residence in her stomach. "He should be here."
"Perhaps he doesn't work nights," said Sherlock impassively.
A fairy floated too close for comfort and Sarah stepped back to avoid it. "You're right. Of course he doesn't." She should have thought of that. Maybe this was the jetlag kicking in. Swallowing, Sarah rubbed her eyes and paid no mind to the way her fingers came away slightly wet. "All right, let's keep going."
"How?" They were faced with nothing but a stretch of vine-choked wall, disappearing into the foggy, steel grey distance in both directions.
Sarah exhaled impatiently, and the wind picked up; it was almost as if the labyrinth were sighing in response. "Fair point. Could do with some light, to start with." Sarah pulled her cell phone from her jeans' pocket, pressing a couple of the keys. When that engendered no response from the phone, she tried the power button.
"Nothing," she concluded sourly. "How about yours?"
Sherlock reached for his own phone and, after a couple of seconds, shook his head, looking distinctly displeased.
Sarah sighed. "Guess we're working in the dark, then." She inspected the wall, squinting slightly. "Last time, my friend Hoggle showed me the door. It only appeared when he pointed it out, though."
"Did he do or say anything in particular?"
"No… I don't think so. He was telling me to ask the right question. So I asked how to get into the labyrinth and the door just appeared, right where I'd walked past a solid wall seconds before."
Sherlock gave her a pointed look.
"Oh! You think it's like the Room of Requirement?"
The detective's eyebrows drew together. "What?"
Sarah ignored him, walking alongside the wall with her eyes closed. "How do we get into the labyrinth?"
Hesitantly opening her eyes one at a time, she was gratified by the sudden presence of a large set of double-doors which was slowly opening itself. Sherlock, who had not removed his eyes from the spot which had once been nothing more than wall, was looking almost stunned, if that word could ever be applied to the know-it-all detective.
Stepping up to the doorway, Sarah smiled knowingly at him. "Room of Requirement," she said smugly.
Seeming to snap out of his momentary bout of not-quite-awe, Sherlock huffed before joining her in passing through the foreboding archway and entering the labyrinth.
The two stared down the, by all appearances (and, indeed, in actuality), infinite corridor laid out before them.
"Now what?" asked Sherlock in a tone which conveyed exactly how entirely underwhelmed he was.
"Now we look for an invisible doorway." Sarah gave Sherlock a sidelong glance. "I hope you're in good shape."
Meanwhile, in the castle beyond the goblin city, John was in something of a situation and not quite certain how he'd gotten into it. One moment, he was at the flat, being grabbed at by dozens of tiny hands. The next, he was in a filthy, stone room, still being grabbed at by dozens of tiny hands – tiny hands which, he was beginning to accept, were attached to goblins.
"You get the hell away fr– Ouch! Hey… no, let go!" A solid kick sent one of the little cretins flying, but two more took its place before John had even regained his balance. Beneath his feet, the leather seat of the oversized chair creaked as he attempted to back even further away from the grabby little monsters. He made it half a step before his legs hit the backrest.
Fortunately, at that moment what was hopefully some form of help arrived through the double-doors across the room, and John was frankly desperate for assistance, no matter how ridiculous the source's hair.
"Finally. Hi. Look, d'you think you could call them off?"
The smirking man came to a halt at the edge of the peculiar pillow pit in which John had originally appeared. "If it will get you off of my throne." Not a man, then – this was the Goblin King.
He motioned lazily to the clamouring mass of goblins, which quickly dispersed as the creatures scurried from the presence of their king, allowing John to cautiously climb down.
"My apologies. They can be somewhat… overzealous."
"Yeah, thanks. This has been great and insane and everything, but I've got to get going now, so…" John, trying to appear unconcerned despite every one of his senses being on high-alert, strode past the Goblin King to the doors which he guessed would eventually lead him outside of… wherever he was.
"And exactly how do you intend to go about that?"
Ignoring the blatantly amused question, John pushed open the doors and stepped through, only to find himself entering the room he had just left. A 360-degree turn confirmed that, whatever function these doors served, they weren't going to be his escape.
"Ffff–" John inhaled deeply. "Right."
"So," said Sarah conversationally as they jogged steadily down the endless corridor, each trailing their fingertips along a wall, "this all seems pretty real, in a surreal kind of way. I was telling the truth about the labyrinth, obviously."
"I'll concede that. You did lie at one point, though."
"Oh?" Sarah queried dispassionately, not overly concerned with whatever miniscule evasion the finicky detective had apparently picked up on. "About what?"
Sherlock raised an eyebrow, although the usual imperiousness of the expression was somewhat dimmed by the pair's brisk and not at all smooth gait. "You said you weren't 'delusional with love'. Not necessarily a lie, I suppose, but for all I know it may have been."
Sarah nearly tripped over a fallen branch. "What?"
"Your Goblin King," Sherlock elaborated, avoiding the branch with irritating ease. "Clearly, you were enamoured with him the last time, if you aren't still, which is unlikely."
It was a source of great satisfaction for Sarah, how readily she responded with a mocking remark. "Yeah, right. He steals my baby brother and I fall in love with him. Mmhmm."
"'The course of true love never did run smooth.'"
"Now you're just being a dick," said Sarah matter-of-factly.
Whether on purpose or by accident – the former, Sarah was willing to bet – Sherlock replied in an annoyingly similar tone. "Stockholm Syndrome is a well-documented phenomenon."
Sarah let out a huff which had little to do with the exercise they were undertaking. "Yeah, except I wasn't the one who got kidnapped."
"You said he trapped you in his labyrinth."
"I chose to run it."
"But once here, you were more or less stranded for thirteen hours."
"Ten," Sarah interjected. "He stole three."
"Ten, then," amended Sherlock. "I assume you had some contact with him during that time."
"You mean when he showed up to taunt me or try to kill me?"
Sherlock looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "He never showed you any kindness?"
Sarah's retort died on her lips. Admittedly, there had been that dance… "Okay, maybe I did have a crush back then, but I was fifteen! That was years ago, and besides, I have a boyfriend!"
"Whom you neglected to use as your initial argument. Perhaps Shane ought to begin packing his things."
"Sean," Sarah corrected, irritation now bordering on anger. "And you don't know what you're talking about."
"I know he's interested in you," said Sherlock. Sarah dearly hoped she was imagining the smug, almost sing-song quality to his statement.
After a deep, calming breath, Sarah managed to very healthily repress her anger. "What makes you think that?" she asked in her best long-suffering tone – perfected in her youth and still extremely handy at times. Case in point.
"Apart from the alarmingly possessive behaviour he displayed towards you earlier, why else would he wait until you were part of the bargain?"
"Oh, I don't know, out of spite, maybe?" Sarah attempted a shrug – not an easy manoeuvre when jogging with one arm held out to the side. "I beat his labyrinth; he hates me. Anyway, he made sure you were included, too."
"Yes," said Sherlock in the sort of voice with which you'd speak to an exceptionally trying toddler, "but that actually was out of spite – for instigating the synchronised wish, at a guess. He can't stand being outsmarted."
"I don't feel very smart at the moment," muttered Sarah as she clambered over a pile of rubble, although where it had come from was a mystery, since the surrounding walls were intact. Louder, she said, "And there you go. I outsmarted him all those years ago and now he's getting back at me. Obvious."
Sound in logic though they may have been, her words went unregistered by Sherlock. "What do you think he meant by 'the story'?"
"Huh?" Exactly where the change in topic had come from, Sarah certainly had no idea. She gave another shrug. "I don't know. The fae love being cryptic."
Sarah would never know what Sherlock's theory regarding Jareth's choice in words was, for at that moment –
"Here it is!" The wall had suddenly dropped away under her fingertips, revealing the hidden exit shown to her by the talking worm the last time she was there. And speaking of whom…
Happy for a reason to stop discussing Jareth, Sarah turned away from the opening and crossed to the opposite wall, kneeling in front of a likely looking crevice. "Uh… Hello?" She did her best to ignore Sherlock's presence, feeling her cheeks begin to warm. "Mr… um, Worm?"
Having received no reply, Sarah was about to give up when a squeaky voice sounded. "Call me Wig! Mr Worm is my father." From the crevice emerged a dull cyan worm whose wriggle Sarah could only describe as sprightly.
"Oh," said Sarah, and then, because the worm didn't seem inclined to continue, she added, "It's nice to meet you, Wig. I'm Sarah and this is Sherlock. Do you think you could ask your father to come out? I met him the first time I was here."
Wig gave her a bright smile, which she hurriedly returned, and quickly made his way back inside the wall. When he returned moments later, he was accompanied by a larger, teal worm.
"Big Worm, at your service, miss."
Sarah blinked, confused. This was not the worm from her memory. "Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were…" She smiled uncertainly. "Um, do you know where I can find the worm I met last time? He was sort of a royal blue? With a scarf. Just… could you tell him it's Sarah?"
Now Big looked stunned. "Sarah? The Sarah that beat the labyrinth?"
"Oh, she's that Sarah," exclaimed Wig. "I thought she was fae! Don't she look fae?"
Sarah gaped, momentarily speechless. "I do not look like the fae!" she retorted hotly.
"You do a bit." The older worm nodded at Sherlock, who furrowed his brow. "He does a bit, too."
With a huff and an eye-roll, Sarah chose to ignore these decidedly unhelpful, little observations. "Right, thanks. Look, where is the worm I met?"
"You must mean Great-great-great-great-grandfather Dig," said Big.
"Great-great… You mean… He's not – not dead, is he?"
"'Fraid so, miss. Long time ago, now."
Sarah bit her lip, looking away from the annelids. If one didn't count Hoggle (and she certainly hadn't at the time), the worm was her first friend in the labyrinth. Without his advice, she would have ended up taking the other path, which, if his reaction at the time was any indication, probably led to the Cleaners' depot. Though she hadn't realised it until now, she'd been looking forward to seeing him again and properly thanking him for his part in Toby's rescue. No help for it now, she supposed.
Returning her attention to the worms, she said, "I see. Thank you for…" The upsetting news? "Uh, yeah, thanks. We should really be going now, though."
Big nodded. "We understand. Good luck."
"Good luck, Sarah!" cried Wig as Sarah stood and made for the gap in the wall, Sherlock following promptly.
The worms watched as the pair of humans passed through the opening and rounded the corner, leaving their sight.
"She's gone the long way again," said Big.
"D'you think we should have said something?"
Big shook the upper quarter of his body. "She'll find her way. The story can't be finished without her after all." He turned to his son with a cheery smile. "Now how about a cuppa tea, hm?"
They were no more than twenty paces into the neat, stone maze portion of the labyrinth when the teacher and the detective came upon their first intersection.
"Right, so there's the castle." Sarah pointed to the large, looming structure in the distance, visible against the navy sky due to the flicker of firelight in its windows. "I guess we just keep heading as directly for it as we can. That's what I did last time."
Sherlock looked predictably unimpressed. "At least we have a cunning plan to follow."
"Hey, it worked for me last time, so unless you have a better idea, shut up and try not to get separated," said Sarah waspishly. She looked around them at the uniform stone walls and numerous paths which branched off from their own, quickly twisting away into the night. "I doubt we'd ever find each other again in this place."
Apparently, her companion did not have a better idea, for when he rolled his eyes and continued on past her, it was down a path in the direction of the castle, as Sarah was very pleased to note. Grinning slightly despite their situation, she hurried after him into the maze's depths.
They'd barely been walking for five minutes when Sherlock unexpectedly spoke.
"I didn't anticipate this."
Sarah stared. "I'd be surprised if you had," she said drily. "Well, maybe not so much, considering I told you this could happen…"
Sherlock ignored her. "Wishing John away, it was just supposed to prove you were lying or delusional."
"Thanks for that," said Sarah, hoping Sherlock was taking note of the sarcasm in her voice. "I still don't get why you were so determined to do it, though."
Sherlock's lips tightened. "There was a slight chance that the serial kidnapper would attempt to take John for the sake of maintaining his ritual and reveal himself in the process, or that you would turn out to be the kidnapper –"
"Oh, it keeps getting better," Sarah said under her breath as they took a left-turn at a T junction.
"– though to kidnap Miss Taylor's baby and return to America in time to reply to my email – and your IP confirmed the reply was sent from New York – you would have been on an extremely tight schedule, not to mention you bear very few of the psychological indicators." He said all of this very quickly and plainly, and it took Sarah a moment to catch up.
"Hey, hold on. Which ones do I bear, then?" she asked, not sure whether to feel insulted.
The detective literally handwaved her question away. "It's not important. At worst, nothing would happen, you would be proved wrong and we would have to repeat the experiment with an infant."
Sarah gaped, horrified. "Sherlock! Tell me you're joking."
"The likelihood of the kidnapper breaking his pattern of victims was very slight," said Sherlock by way of explanation. "Almost nothing. Naturally, we'd have to replicate the conditions of the other abductions in order to be certain that route was not of any use."
"I don't believe you," muttered Sarah. A sociopath – she was talking to a complete and utter sociopath.
"In any case, this turn of events… was unexpected." Or perhaps not a complete sociopath. The detective's tone had held a hint of what Sarah suspected was remorse.
"And you regret it," prompted Sarah.
Sherlock shot her a sharp look. "Obviously."
Sarah allowed herself a small smile. "Well, for what it's worth, I regret telling you how to wish someone away. Mind you, I didn't anticipate you actually making use of it like this."
"I find people rarely anticipate my actions."
Sarah watched as her companion gracefully wended his way through a particularly narrow doorway before following after him. "You don't say."
It took some time for John to finally snap. He'd kept expecting the Goblin King to bring it up, maybe gloat over his misdeeds with an evil cackle, but apparently that wasn't the king's style. Too clichéd, he supposed. So it fell to John to stand up and ask. "Where is Andrew?"
Jareth looked up from where he was sat on the window sill, watching the land below. "Pardon?"
"The baby you took," said John through gritted teeth. "From a woman named Lucy Taylor."
"Oh, of course. Somebody ought to think of the children, hm?" When John showed no reaction, Jareth sighed. "I wouldn't know," he said nonchalantly. "In the city somewhere, I expect. With the rest of the goblins."
John stared. After a moment, so did Jareth.
"Surely Sarah told you what happens to wished-aways?"
John's lack of response was a sufficient answer, apparently.
Jareth's eyes lit up. "She didn't, did she? My, my, my. That girl has been keeping secrets. Imagine, allowing you to volunteer to be taken without even the courtesy of telling you that you may end up a goblin. Rather far from 'informed consent', wouldn't you say?" The Goblin King grinned, obviously enjoying himself. "I should add, though, that you needn't worry. Adults make for terrible goblins – boring, well-behaved… and no imagination to speak of."
Though it was only infinitesimally, John relaxed.
"More likely, you'll end up living in the Bog or the Junkyard, with all the other misfits."
It was less than half an hour by Sherlock's approximation since they had left the endless corridor, but to Sarah it felt like much longer. English Lit teacher, perhaps, but she had the patience of a three-year-old. This all but aimless wandering through dark passages which were impossible to differentiate and enjoyed shifting amongst themselves to boot was, quite frankly, driving her insane. The fact that Sherlock seemed more or less serene, if in a telling hurry, did not help.
Most fortunately, as occurrences in Sarah's life often were (barring, of course, her introduction to Sherlock Holmes), the monotony was interrupted by the sudden appearance of an old friend.
Their path through the stone maze had brought them to a small garden, populated by some two dozen bushes of varying sizes and blooms, as well as a single gruff dwarf.
"It's so good to see you again, Hoggle!" exclaimed Sarah as she embraced him tightly, kneeling to do so. "I'm sorry we haven't talked in ages; I've been so busy with work and Sean…"
Hoggle was aghast when she released him. "Sarah, what're you doin' here?"
"Um… It's sort of a long story, but we're here to rescue a friend of Sherlock's." She gestured to the man where he stood examining the leaves of the nearest plant with interest, although she suspected he was giving the dwarf a thorough inspection at the same time. "Hoggle, why didn't you tell me no one else could run the labyrinth anymore?"
Hoggle's weathered face grew grim. "I didn't want you feelin' guilty 'bout somethin' that weren't your fault. Besides, there's nothin' to be done," he said decidedly.
"We'll see about that," said Sarah quietly with a determined set to her jaw. She made as if to stand. "Come on, we'd better get moving. He cut our time in half already."
"Sarah… I ain't allowed to help you."
The woman paused, confused. "What? But you did last time." She tried not to sound hurt or, worse, accusing.
"That was to… to give you the…" Hoggle looked embarrassed.
"The peach," finished Sarah. She sighed. "I understand, Hoggle, and I'd like to stay and talk, but we've really got to go now."
At her friend's downhearted nod, Sarah stood and started for the doorway across the garden, Sherlock following her lead. They didn't make it more than a few steps before Hoggle called her back.
"Sarah, wait! It's just…" The dwarf shifted uncomfortably, looking down at his hands. "I have this… this vision problem, see. Everythin' – you know, in the distance – looks a little off." He brought his chin up and his eyes, meeting Sarah's, seemed to gain new resolve. Inexplicably, he began to overemphasise his speech. "I always heads just to the left of wherever I'm tryin' to go… you know, to make up for places lookin' a bit more to the right than they really are."
Sarah blinked. Why was Hoggle behaving so strangely? "Oh. Uh, I'm sorry to hear that, Hoggle," she said truthfully. A small, impatient sound from Sherlock reminded her of their quickly dwindling allotment of time. Tossing up between staying a little longer, asking Hoggle exactly what it was that had him acting like this, and leaving immediately with the hope that an extra minute or two might somehow aid them in what was an admittedly formidable race against the clock to save John and themselves… well, Sarah simply couldn't risk it. "Listen, I'll talk to you when I make it home, all right?"
For a moment, Hoggle looked as though he wanted to protest, however it quickly passed. With a resigned grimace, the dwarf raised a hand in farewell. "Good luck, Sarah."
Perturbed by her friend's gloomy goodbye, Sarah forced a confident smile. "'Bye, Hoggle. I'll be home before you know it, I promise."
Just as the worms had before him, Hoggle gazed after the humans until they were out of sight. Unlike the worms, though, he felt no cheer at the thought of the outcome of this journey. And after the disastrous and wholly unexpected end to Sarah's last visit to the labyrinth, there could only be one outcome. Jareth would see to that.
D&Ms with Sherlock – who knew, right? If it makes you feel any better (it certainly does me), Sherlock's interest in Sarah's love life is purely for the sake of collecting information which may be used as leverage to ensure he and John return to Baker Street safely. Probably.
Hey, notice how pretty much all the narration is made up of sentences of which the subjects are characters? That's because I am an impatient writer who does not care for background scenery and seeks only to advance the plot. God forbid I should spend more than fifty words per chapter on reflective writing. Anyway, forgive the pity party (I blame all that teen angst). If you care to review, I would be much obliged. If you care to critique, I will give you my firstborn.