There is a 5 minute catch up (because I am a no good, very bad, horrible author who has let this story rot on the vine without an update for far too long) at the end of this chapter if you need a refresh (understandably) before reading this. Oh, the irony of posting this on April Fools (it's not a joke).
AN: This chapter contains mild Sarah/ other character adult type things. Not sex. I wouldn't say it's dubious consent, but it's consensual with an asterisk. I know mention of another character with a MC is not everyone's jam, so just a head's up. This IS most definitely a Sarah/ Jareth fic – make no mistake. And it will end as such.
That said, for the unexpected Fen fan girls here, you may enjoy parts of this one.
Warnings for some mentions of minor violence and bloodshed.
Baby, you're a liar,
you say you know the truth.
You see it through your green eyes,
It's calling you…
Counting all the ways that I still love you…
Baby, you're a fighter
Believe in what you do.
But maybe you've forgotten,
I'm a fighter too…
So Close, Ella Joy Meir
Sarah physically recoiled from his words - from the meaning which had burrowed into her skin like maggots, feasting on fetid flesh. On her resolve. On the last shreds of her sanity.
She was already dead - he'd said as much - she'd just not realized it. But now the rot would set in. Clutching at her head, her fingers threaded into the tangled mess of bloody hair and pulled.
Fenrir watched her retreat with interest but did not stop her, his golden eyes fever-bright. She could feel them on her too. Not for the first time she wondered if he fed off fear. Or perhaps he merely wanted to relish someone else's pain. Misery loves company and a drowning man will always drag you under, no matter how noble.
She was rocking steadily, she realized belatedly. It was hard to tell if it was from the cold or from delayed shock finally setting in. Both would likely kill her eventually. If he didn't first…
"He wants you back."
Sarah forced her body to slow so she could peer at him distrustfully.
"He thinks he loves you," he continued, not quite meeting her eyes this time.
"Shut up!" Sarah snarled. "Just shut up!"
Fen laughed at her pain but there was no trace of warmth or humour in it. "It won't save you. And it will destroy him, I think." He looked at her fully again, and there was honesty in his eyes. A truth that he wanted her to see. "To do it."
Sarah lunged on her hands and knees toward him, more beast than woman in the moment. "Do what?" Her words were half growl, completing the transformation. "DO WHAT? LEAVE ME ALONE."
Fenrir sized her up with deepening interest. His hand rose slowly, hovering a hair's breadth from her neck. "I could snap it so easily. Put you out of your misery," he offered. "And just think how mad he would be." His long fingers flexed, not quite touching her but enough that her skin prickled in wariness. "It needn't even hurt." His eyes flicked up, pinning her in place. "Do you want me to? I will if you ask me nicely. You freed me. I'll free you."
Sarah swallowed nervously, the bob of her throat brining her skin into contact with the rough pads of his fingers. They were warm compared to her chilled skin. A desperate part of her almost wanted to say yes. The violent, savage, feral thing inside of her that wanted escape through any means. Wouldn't death be a kind of freedom? He might have even meant the offer as a kindness. In his own way. As close as a broken thing was capable of…
They stared at one another, each tethered by wills far too strong. But they were the wrong eyes looking back at her and Sarah was not ready to give in until she confronted the right ones again.
She sat back on her haunches, shifting to inch the blood-stained shirt down her goose-pimpled thighs and then readjusted his cloak around her as well. She tossed her head defiantly, sending another throbbing wave of pain through her skull. It reminded her that despite his taunting, she was very much alive. "Not until I know he's failed."
Fen said nothing, the expression on his scarred face equally shuttered. But he nodded and she thought, though perhaps she imagined it, that there was a flash of respect in the small movement. He and the Goblin King wanted the same thing after all.
Not her… but a common enemy. No matter how she figured in their plans, she was not the end goal. For either of them. She swallowed again, this time dryly – the kind that hurt and felt like a stone scraping your gullet. You are not the heroine of this story, Sarah. Don't you see? You are a pawn. You were always a pawn. The realization should have brought relief. It didn't. It was just more salt in the wound if anything. I am convenience – not end game.
Fen had pressed her on her knowledge of him. He had wanted to know if she knew about Ragnarok. About Odin.
Odin who had damned them both.
Locked both of them away - Fen in a cage guarded close to home, under the thumb of father and uncle. Jareth banished far away, though not outright killed. Odin did not fear Tyr… but… Sarah thought back to the dark-haired woman she'd met in that golden field of rolling grass. The one she'd been so very jealous of, though she'd not admitted it.
Idunn of the old ways. Idunn who had once been mortal…
The dull throb of her headache turned bright and sharp again. Sarah moaned involuntarily.
Idunn… Idunn… Idunn…
The name rattled around in her head like a coin looking for the right slot.
Idunn who had taken control of the golden apples. The apples which the gods needed. Odin couldn't cross her, but he wanted her son nowhere near them. The son that shouldn't be. In the lost Edda, Tyr had been adamant there could be no child between man and god. Why had one as old and cunning as he believed that?
Sarah's eyes flickered back towards Fen. And why keep one close and the other far, when both were damned…
Because only one was half mortal. Odin feared having the mortal near. And… something had stopped Odin from killing him as a babe. He wouldn't shed his blood…
The knife flashing down in the dark…
The Norns had foreseen and warned him. A mortal touched by magic, as Jareth was in the womb. As she was. As Toby was. As Max was… and then Fen's words that it would have to be one of them.
Jareth needed a sacrifice.
Jareth was going to kill her to destroy Odin. This was Ragnarok. Not myth, but reality, and she was not just a but the tool.
Jareth had fashioned her into one. Molded her like he'd honed a blade. Perhaps he'd not set out to kill her – but that meant Max or Toby in her stead. And she'd delivered them both to him.
Sarah's stomach suddenly lurched at the memory of the snow – at the banquet - at the times his mouth and hands had been on her, and how much she wanted him. She turned away from Fenrir to dry heave, great racking shudders that made her empty stomach twist in agony. Her parched-mouth tasted of bile again. Sarah spat uselessly and then shakily sank down again, wiping her mouth on the cloak.
"Charming," Fen offered in lieu of sympathy. To his credit didn't sound particularly disgusted.
"How long?" Sarah croaked, still wiping uselessly at her lips.
Fen rose and stretched – which only emphasized how much bigger he was than her – his muscles cracking from disuse. "Not long now. I'll set us both free soon." He glanced back at her. "Though perhaps you'll wish I hadn't."
"Why keep me here? Why not where…" she trailed off.
"Why not where I kept the squalling babe?" He sounded mildly amused. "I didn't hurt him, you know. You think me a monster - and I am - but the child was safe enough."
Sarah stood unsteadily, if only to lessen their disparity. "Like a prized pig is fattened before slaughter?"
Fen shrugged, her insults meaningless to him. "Call it what you will. He was a child who should never have been. You should thank your lover that he thought to spare both you and the older boy. You have to give him credit for creativity." Then he eyed her coolly, and for a moment he looked exactly like his father - calculating and calm. She knew the next words would sting like a serpent's bite. "I told him to just get a babe on you. And he considered that option. Make no mistake. Did it ever occur to you to wonder what you'd really won those years before?"
Sarah's brows knotted. "Toby?"
Fen laughed. "A baby as a prize. I imagine he didn't bother to tell you. That you'd just as well marked yourself for this by stealing his power."
Sarah schooled her features to betray no wounds. "You're doing it again. Sounding just like your dear daddy."
The calm shattered and he snarled at her, closing the distance between them with preternatural speed. "I am nothing like him. You lie."
Her eyes glittered despite the keen slice of fear that rattled her marrow. "You are your father's son. Make no mistake."
For a moment it looked like he would strike her down. His breaths came in great ragged bursts – puffing out in the cool air like steam. Spittle flecked his lips.
And then he chained himself. His head canted just so, reminding her so much of Jareth that it was another kind of violence – one that cut equally as deep. "You are trying to provoke me." There was incredulity in his tone. "Why?"
"Why not?" She manufactured a shrug of indifference she did not feel, and did the unthinkable – turning her back on him. "And when the door opens you will what? Bring me to him like you're a well-trained little puppy playing fetch?"
There was no response at first. Sarah made sure not to look over her shoulder. Not to press. And because if he was going to attack she'd rather not see it. She could die on her feet, not cowering in fear.
"On my own terms, little girl. On my own." Clipped words, but even ones. "I bow to no one. I would have taken banishment over chains."
"You're jealous of him."
He looked at her. Perhaps more deeply than he knew. "Perhaps I am."
"I suppose you both have cause to be bitter."
"And yet you pity him."
Once. She canted her head. "Do you turn into a wolf?"
His teeth flashed in a grin. "Are you asking because you want to stroke my fur or because you want me to eat you?"
It was as close to teasing humour as she imagined he ever got. If Jareth or his father had said it, she might have thought he was flirting.
Sarah took a few more steps away under the pretence of examining his desolate, barren prison more. She adjusted the heavy cloak about her shoulders. It was thick and well-worn, but had at one time been made of rich, sumptuous cloth. It held a lingering warmth from its owner – surprising, given the cold that followed him like a shadow. It held his scent. Musky, but not unwashed. Not unclean. Fires… Wood… Earth… Beast… Magic. He'd been a shining one once too.
"You mentioned not making a fire because of what it might attract?"
A longer pause before he spoke. "You speak endlessly. I think I liked you better unconscious."
Another few steps away, she bent down to consider a plant. It was more dead than alive and barely clinging to the soil by strangling roots. She could empathize.
"So they are not your creatures and do not do your bidding then," she continued. "Otherwise, a big scary beast like you, well, you could stop them. Perhaps you're in danger here too?"
He said nothing this time, but he snorted at her temerity.
Sarah smiled faintly, her eyes on the obsidian looking water as she rose. "That's what I thought."
Toby swallowed back a startled shriek, clutching Max a little tighter to his frame. This time the baby woke and broke into a wail.
It was impossible to deny that the figure was looking right at them now. Despite the cloak that Toby knew had worked on others. The tall man looked entirely out of place in a modern suit, though his dark hair was longer than most adult man he knew who dressed like that. His lips were curled into a half smile – the kind that suggested a joke Toby didn't get. Bright green eyes pierced through the glamour and were fixed on the book and the necklace that Toby held awkwardly.
"Cat got your tongue, boy? Or was it the other kind of creature that haunts these halls?"
Toby did his best to quiet Max. "You can see me?"
"Evidently." Thin lips witched.
Toby felt a flush of red suffuse his cheeks. Of course he could see him. Why would he be speaking otherwise? Stupid question. "Sarah said… well, she said I shouldn't trust anyone."
Dark brows shot up in mock surprise. "What? No one at all?"
"Well… no one but… Loki?" Toby was in fact not stupid and had already begun to suspect with whom he was speaking.
The figure seemed to be particularly amused by his words and didn't bother to hide it. Toby felt another flush of embarrassment like he'd said something else foolish. He'd warned Sarah, he thought bitterly. He had.
"Aren't you in luck then?" Loki spread his arms wide. "Just the god you're looking for. How very fortuitous for you."
Toby pulled back his hood reluctantly. It was clearly useless to him now but he felt strangely naked without it; like a warrior lowering his shield while the enemy was still armed.
Loki's smile widened a fraction as he considered the boy and the baby in his arms. "What a lot to carry for one so young. Burdened with such glorious purpose."
Toby shook his head warily. "You're making fun of me."
"I make fun of everyone," Loki agreed. "Don't assume that makes you special. It does look like you've got your hands rather full though. Perhaps I can be of assistance."
Toby suspected Loki was rarely of assistance unless it suited his purposes. "Like you helped my sister? Why did Sarah trust you?" He chewed his lip doubtfully.
"Now that is a very good question… Toby was it?" Loki tapped his chip thoughtfully. "I don't think that she did. Not really. She just trusted my dear nephew less."
"Jareth?" Toby didn't really need the answer. Nor did he receive one. "Why did you help my sister?"
"Did I?" Loki asked softly. "That doesn't sound like something I would do."
"No it doesn't," Toby agreed, showing more bravery than he felt. He retreated towards the small ornamental maze. "How is it you can see me under this thing and no one else could? No one could see Sarah either."
Loki kept pace, hands folded back neatly into his pockets like he was out for a stroll. "It's my cloak. Why shouldn't I see it?"
"But Sarah thought…"
That same smile again. "I know what she thought, boy."
Toby squared his shoulders and faced the god. "Then you should know she wanted me to remind you that you made a bargain with her."
Sarah moved away a few more steps and heard the moment he rose to his feet. She was thankful for the borrowed cloak that kept her mostly disguised.
"Come back here, female," he ordered gruffly.
She glanced over her shoulder. "Why? You said there was nowhere for me to go." She took a few steps toward the lake and heard him shift.
Stones crunched underneath his feet as he closed the distance to intercept her before she got to the water.
The rock connected with his skull with a sickening thud. She'd never physically attacked anyone before. Not like that. Not without hesitation or concern for killing them. It was so easy. He'd not been expecting her to be so bold. Nor had he expected the heavy rock she'd picked up a few moments before. He might have avoided it otherwise.
He made an involuntary, animalistic sound and reeled backwards with the force of her swing. Her own clumsiness had aided her – her balance throwing her full weight behind the blow. He crumpled like a mortal man, blood streaming down his scarred face. The rock had been jagged and had split this skin like paper.
Even gods bleed.
The blow would have killed a mortal man.
But he wasn't a man and Sarah wasn't foolish enough to suppose he would be felled so easily. She paused long enough to bring the rock down mercilessly on the back of his skull again. A fine mist of blood sprayed her face. This time the thud was the only sound. He went still. So very still. She hit him a third time for good measure anyway.
Sarah didn't stay long enough to gloat. She turned and ran across the barren wastes, his cloak whipping behind her. The terrain was unkind and unforgiving on her tender feet. She would pay for it later but adrenaline kept her moving. She could lick her wounds once free… should she live long enough. Fenrir had made this hellscape but not for her. There should be no reason she couldn't leave, providing she could find the door. That seemed to be her speciality however. If she could escape she could find her way back to Toby and Max. Or at least escape long enough to last past the waning moon.
Her burst of optimistic bravado was short-lived.
She stumbled, knee slamming down into the ground and smashing into the shale like a hammer. Pain wracked its way through her leg. Fuck, fuck, fuck…
The throb in her head thudded back to life. She limped back upright, rubbing at her joint. Her hand came back wet. There was no time to assess, and no reason to either. Live or don't. Flee or fight. She could either wait for Fenrir to give her back to Jareth, or use her himself to achieve his goal.
Or she could do something.
Everything looked the same. It was as maddening as the Labyrinth had been just in a different way. Now there was no choice. Every rock looked the same. Every sparse stump or bit of brittle moss was as lifeless as the last. She was certain she had been running in a straight line, deviating only when she couldn't navigate over the crumbling shale, but when she pulled herself over another rise, her heart thundered in her ears.
Fenrir lay motionless where she'd left him. His dark hair slick with the blood she'd spilled, and his hulking body twisted where'd he fallen. She sucked in a few reedy breaths desperately, even as she kept her eyes on him for any trace of movement. She wished now that she'd taken the water when he'd offered. Her lungs burned painfully. Her adrenaline was starting to wear off again and she began to shiver once more.
One last cautious look at him, and she shoved herself back off the rock and went in another direction.
When she came to a wizened tree, she pulled at the cloak uselessly. The fabric was old but too well-woven to rend. She settled on her shirt instead, tearing a ragged strip from the worn cotton and tied it around one of the branches. She did the same at the next rise, stacking a few of the smaller rocks atop of one another, and wedging another strip of material beneath them.
Her run soon turned into a stilted walk, her gait growing uneven and lethargic. Her stomach twisted again, but there was nothing left to throw up. Realistically, she knew she was weakening. Without water she would hardly last long and she'd abandoned the only source of it. The only source of protection too. She didn't think she remembered how to start a fire with no matches. Nor did she think it was wise. He'd warned her of attracting things. Her pulse spiked and her ears pricked, listening for any movement.
He might have said it just to scare her of course…
She picked her way over some dead trees, her face crumpling when she saw the same wide flat rock on which she'd awoken. The same lake of obsidian glass. And the unmoving body a few yards away.
Maybe she had killed him. Maybe without him she was trapped there and no one would ever find her.
Her hand went to the sigil at her throat – it thrummed lightly. She couldn't decide if that was comforting or not.
Sarah slammed her palm down on the weathered wood. She hadn't come across her marks again but there was no way she could have doubled back. Her legs begged her to sit and rest, but if she did she didn't think she would ever get up again.
"I hate you!" she screamed, her voice cracking. She was uncertain if she meant Fenrir, Jareth or herself.
She kept walking. It left her mind plenty of time to torture her. Death by a thousand steps. Destruction by a thousand thoughts.
Her shirt was in tatters. Strips of it now presumably littered the landscape like Hansel & Gretel's bread crumbs – and just as useless.
When the lake came into view again, unwanted and unwelcome, she couldn't even manage outrage anymore.
"Well, hello again," she laughed hollowly, more to hear another voice than anything else. Her mouth was parched and her breathing shallow. As she took stock of her aches and pain, it took her a beat too long to notice that the body was gone. A dark stain was the only proof he'd ever even lain there.
The slight crunch of shale was the only warning that allowed her to dodge his arm. She shrieked and rolled just out of reach, painfully scraping her body down the stones. He staggered into view above her. His face was crusted with blood, hair matted to the back of his skull where she'd hit him twice. His face was a mask of fury, but his movements were stiff.
"There you are, you little bitch." Pure venom in his voice.
He made another grab for her, his fingers snatching as the edges of her cloak. It was enough to trip her back. Her bruised knee buckled and she went down hard on the shore of the lake. The wind was knocked out of her. She couldn't even fight as he flipped her over beneath him like she was nothing more than a rag doll. Her lungs inflated again on a gasp, and she brought an elbow towards his nose, still wheezing. He fisted a hand into her hair and slammed her head down twice – hard – until the fight went out of her. One hand easily held two of hers above her head. The weight of his body on hers was enough to almost choke her again. His lips were pulled back into a sneer, spittle flecking her face the way his blood had when she'd struck him.
They were both breathing hard.
"You tried to kill me," he snarled. She wasn't sure if he sounded angry or impressed.
"I didn't," she hissed back. Not really. Hypocrite. "I just tried to get away. I just had to get away!" Her words ended in a sob, roiling emotions threatening to spill over. She didn't add that she had worried she had killed him though. Not so easy to kill a god, she noted. She'd just needed time to get away but the cursed place kept bringing her right back. She sobbed again.
"Your tears won't work on me," he growled into her ear.
"They aren't for you!" She swung her head around, trying to bite him. She'd go down fighting at least.
He pulled back defensively. The ire in his expression had muted somewhat and he clucked his tongue at her like she was nothing more than a naughty kitten trying to scratch. That galled her even more. Everything had been in vain. Everything. All of it.
"That's it," he coaxed. "Give up. Surrender to the inevitable. I can feel it. You know your fate now."
Her eyes flashed back to his. "I'm not giving up. I'm not giving you – any of you -the satisfaction. I warned you that I won't just lie down and die."
He lifted some of his weight from her, though he did not release her arms. The few inches of space between them made Sarah realize that her ruined shirt had ridden up during their struggle. It bunched uselessly about her waist, leaving her completely bare from the navel down. At her sudden stillness, his eyes swept down between them and then back up to her face. His throat bobbed. She looked away, breath catching - anywhere but at him and the expression she couldn't read.
"So you did. And you managed to brain me after all."
When he shifted against her, she choked out a sharp, "Don't." It was more command than plea.
His expression twisted at her implication like she'd struck him again. Then it settled back on cruel. "Beg me not to." To add urgency to his words, he splayed one hand across the bare skin of her stomach. His fingers almost spanned the width of her. And then, more taunting, he hissed, "Or would you rather I did."
A side of her wanted to plead. Not this too. Not now. Not with everything else she'd faced. Pride wouldn't let her, however. Rage wouldn't either. "I'll rip out your throat next time."
His lips curled like he at least understood that sentiment, but something flickered in his savage face. She could feel him semi-hard against the jut of her exposed hip. The position of one of his knees kept her legs from snapping shut. And yet he made no other move to touch her than the hand that lay hot against her middle. His eyes flicked down again and then swept up across her breasts, hidden by the shirt. When they found hers, she still couldn't glean his expression. Predatory maybe, but not like Jareth. Not cunning and poised. He was not unaffected either, that was clear enough, but she began to doubt that he would force her. She hoped she was not wrong.
"Why hasn't he had you like this," he asked finally when the silence stretched.
"What do you care?" Her brow furrowed and then cleared. "I'd rip his throat out too right now if he tried."
It wasn't the answer he was looking for apparently. His hand flexed warningly against her. "You wanted him." He shushed her when she made to protest. "Maybe not now, but you did. Why did he never take what was before him?"
His question cut like a knife. Her answer cut deeper.
"Maybe because he understood that being given something is worth infinitely more." He'd wanted her to trust him. She'd wanted to as well.
He stared down at her, unfocused, but his throat bobbed again. Her mind returned to the awkward, gangly boy of Odin's memory. Trailing behind the golden son and an impish Jareth. He'd been so awkwardly out of place by comparison.
A wild, dangerous gambit presented itself if she dared.
She shifted as much as his restriction allowed, bringing her pelvis flush with his thigh. The movement bumped his hand upwards, until his fingers pushed under the edge of her shirt.
His eyes widened and then narrowed cagily, the bright gold darkening as they focused on this new development. When she squeezed her thighs around his, he openly gawped.
"What are you doing?" It was half growl.
"I'm uncomfortable." She kept her voice even. "And cold. You're so much warmer than I remember from the forest." It was not a total lie. Cold was seeping through the cloak at her back – a thin barrier between her and the rocky shore beneath them. He was hot by comparison.
He said nothing, his jaw flexing as she pressed against his leg again in a seeming effort to stretch her muscles. The pads of his fingers bumped the underside of one breast.
He sucked in a ragged breath. Her lips parted and his attention fixed on them. And then again on his own hand disappearing under her shirt. She squirmed against his thigh.
"What are you doing?" he repeated, though this time the words were less firm. More husky.
"Given, not taken," she reminded him. She flexed her wrists against his hold and then whispered, "Imagine how angry he would be…" He betrayed me. Let me betray him.
His eyes darkened at her unspoken implication. Her invitation…
Fen's grip loosened but she sensed a wariness in him still. He was no fool. He was ready for another rock to come crashing down on him. He was not prepared for her newly freed hand to cup his face. He flinched at first, as though the gentle touch bothered him more than when she'd nearly crushed his skull. Her fingers brushed some of his matted hair away from his scars, before teasing along the edge of his jaw to trace the shell of his ear. She felt his breath catch in his throat.
"Do it again," he ordered brusquely. But he leaned it her.
When her other hand closed around his wrist on her ribs, he stilled like he expected her to pull him away. Instead her fingers moved from his jaw to card into his hair, and then she pushed his hand fully under her shirt.
For a moment it did nothing but lie like a heavy weight against her sternum. Only when she canted her head up to whisper again in his ear, did he tentatively shift and close it around one breast. The rough pads of his fingers brushed over her nipple.
"Maybe I do want to be eaten after all," she'd whispered.
She felt his body shudder against hers, his cock pressed into her hip more insistently. His hand cupped her breast more aggressively too, squeezing and rolling the weight of it in his palm – his thumb exploring the pebbled surface of her nipple. She made a slight mewling sound in response and rolled her hips towards him. Eyes returning to her face to see what she would do, he nudged her shirt up above her breasts. She let him, though she could feel her face flame at being so exposed. Jareth's amulet, caught in the folds, lay hidden and heavy against her throat.
When she still didn't stop him or protest, he looked back down at her breasts – at his hand palming her so intimately. His skin was darker – ruddy against her own. Her nipple peaked out, sharp and prominent in the cold air, between his thumb and forefinger. His eyes flickered to her other breast, bare save for the red mark Jareth had left on her with his mouth. He focused on it, face inscrutable for a moment, and then back to her eyes - like he was waiting for her to scream at him. She rolled her hips instead and his attention dropped back down to the trimmed thatch visible between her thighs. So she parted them.
She felt the moment his guard slipped. That minute surrender into sensation she'd been do dangerously wagering on. His hand freed her waist to pull on the fastening of his pants, relieving some his weight from her.
But not by you! She finished.
With all of her strength she heaved him off of her. His balance was unstable and her weak efforts were enough to use his size against him. His reactions were still slow enough that she was able to make it the last few feet into the water. It was colder than she'd expected – enough to make her heart seize. Her feet sank into the heavy silt but she didn't hesitate.
Every path had led back to the black lake. To the lake she would go then. The drop off was swift, and it was up to her neck in no more than a few steps. She kicked off wildly towards the deep.
She didn't once look back. Not until he yelled.
"Stop, you fool!"
She kicked out father, the cloak dragging her down as it tangled around her ankles and choked her neck with its sodden weight. She pulled at the ties, releasing it from her body and then turned back warily.
He stood on the shore, a few feet into the water but no more.
His face was a mask of fury and something else that she was slower to recognize. When she did, it was strange to see it on someone else's face – like looking into a distorted mirror.
Perhaps because she'd felt it for so long, it was nothing more than a second skin to her.
He waded a few more feet into the water, cupping his hands to his face. "Come back now, Sarah! Before it's too late."
A frisson of disquiet shot up her spine at his words.
But she turned away anyway and kicked out in broad, even strokes. The water was clear but so dark it seemed to leach the very light from the air.
Something brushed her foot, and she yelped by rote. Childhood memories of swimming at summer camp in that deep, rocky lake. Imagining all manner of monsters lurking below. She shook the thought away.
The only monsters she needed to worry about was the one on the shore.
And the one who'd started it all.
She broke the cardinal childhood rule of never looking down and pressed her face down into the water and opened her eyes. Broken tree stumps marked the bottom. Pale grey sepulchres of a forest long dead. They stared up dolefully from their resting place but gave no hint of movement save for her frantic strokes moving the still water. Her foot kicked a spindly branch again.
She lifted her legs in the water, careful to keep her strokes and body shallow, and resurfaced.
"-rah!" He was wading fully into the water now and sounded almost desperate. "Come here now. I vow not to touch you."
She kicked away faster.
Something brushed her leg again, this time coiling about it.
She glanced down, her pale limbs disappearing into darkness.
Nothing but the deep. She could no longer even see the trees.
Those childhood fears coalesced. Took shape. Took form.
Bubbles from below broke the surface around her.
She'd been a fool. The lake had not been her escape. She turned back towards the shore, kicking wildly. Fen was almost to his neck, his hand outstretched. She very much wished she could grasp it.
When something caught her ankle again, she knew when she looked down it would not be a branch. The feel of fingers was unmistakable.
Her eyes met his – wide and yellow - just as she was pulled under.
She was drawn inexorably deep in mere seconds. So deep, the light faded above her like a candle snuffing out, and the pressure in her ears popped.
Her eyes were wide, pupils blown, as they attempted to fix on anything. The water almost froze her heart. Through the underwater forest, she saw faces – bone white. They looked as though they were sleeping, but she knew better. Their skin was bloated and mottled with rot. Bones were exposed through stringy flesh. Their hair wafted in the still water like lank weeds. It was a graveyard of a different kind.
A gnarled hand gripped her ankle like a vice. A wordless scream escaped her mouth towards the surface in a funnel of bubbles.
Milky eyes cracked open in unison and they began to move in a writing seething mass. Too many fingers to count sunk into her flesh like fish hooks, tethering her in place. Maws opened full of rotting teeth, drawn to life like a moth is to a flame.
Her lungs were on fire. She struggled against their grip but it was like trying to bend iron. In that ephemeral moment between life and death - between a breath of air and a final one of water - she heard the echo of a splintered voice in her mind scream, Fix me!
Water coursed down her throat and into her lungs like fire, burning everything in its wake. The last thing she felt was something tug at the amulet around her neck and pull like a noose.
In the next instant she was out of the lake and choking up the black water in racking spasms, her eyes still glassy and unseeing. A hand pounded against her back mercilessly – hard enough to leave bruises.
Though she gulped in air gratefully, she knew it was not salvation that had found her.
Jareth's face swam into focus – his expression feverish in its intensity.
Loki straightened, his features falling back into shadow. "Well then, you had better come along with me. This garden is no place for little lost boys. Who know what else might find you."
Toby stared at him distrustfully. He desperately wished Sarah was there – that she could tell him what to do. He was convinced she'd been wrong to put any faith in the god. He also believed she must have good reason to no longer trust Jareth. But he found himself wishing he could speak with him too. He was sure there was just a misunderstanding. That if they all talked, they could make things right.
Loki waited patiently, watching as the emotions flickered over the boy's face as clearly as the moving picture shows mortals so favoured.
Toby looked down helplessly at the book and Sarah's amulet, and then at Max who was beginning to squirm in earnest and was too heavy by far in everyway. He turned back to Loki. "But Sarah said she would meet us here," he tried again.
Loki made a show of looking around the space. "And yet she is not here it seems." His green eyes were lambent. "She does know where my rooms are, however. Perhaps she will think to look for you there if we've missed her here."
His proposal sounded reasonable, even logical enough, but there seemed something so foolish in following the god anywhere. He didn't want to consider why Sarah had been gone so long. Had it been a day already? Hours? He was running out of milk. Why she hadn't come for them? What could be preventing her…
Toby took a few tentative steps forward, but decided against taking Loki up on his offer to lighten his burden. He'd certainly not give him Max to carry. And there must be something significant to the book for Sarah to have packed it. He couldn't betray her there either.
Loki turned and left the garden, keeping his stride short so Toby could keep up. "Do put your cloak back up, boy. It never ends well for gods who openly cavort with mortals."
Toby did as he was bid but he felt doubt return as they wound through the Vale's great halls until they came to the serpent door. Sarah might always warn him against speaking his thoughts aloud, but she was not there. "Did you really not want to be seen with me, or did you just not want anyone to see me, so they wouldn't know you had me?"
Loki's eyes crinkled. "Yes." And then he pushed the brothers through his door.
Somehow she was in his arms in the next ragged breath, no longer in the lake - no longer in the hellscape with Fenrir. No… she was with another monster. A monster who was squeezing her so tightly she wondered if she would snap.
Sarah sagged against him anyway for a moment, not defeated but exhausted. Spent. The weight of him was solid and familiar – his scent filled her nose with memory that was not quite comforting but known.
He shifted and stood, pulling her up into his arms fully like she weighed nothing. She could feel her dampness soak through his dry clothes and she took some relish in that. Let me ruin you like you have ruined me. She was so very cold, even his warmth couldn't penetrate her numbness.
Vaguely, she heard him kick open a door and then the sound of running water. No more water, she thought, but lacked the strength to protest.
He must have felt it though, because he hushed her, his face pressing into her matted hair like a parent calming a child. She hated him for it. She hated more that she didn't want him to stop.
When the back of her bare thighs touched the warm water, she jerked – like a cat arching away from a bath. The difference in temperature penetrated her frozen skin like needles filled with ice. He hushed her again and forced her down into the copper tub, albeit it gently. The ruined shirt pooled up around her waist and it was only then that she felt him pause – his sudden stillness and the tenseness in his arms as he took stock of what she was wearing. And what she wasn't. She curled her knees into herself protectively. She could feel something vicious radiating off of him. There was still blood on her - blood the lake hadn't taken. She was no longer sure if it was hers or the wolf's. She laid her head wearily against her bent knees and closed her eyes.
He didn't say anything but she could feel him watching her. Probably cataloguing ever mark. Every wound. She wonder if they pleased him or was he perhaps sorry he'd not made them himself. Most of the damage she'd done to herself.
She didn't open them when she felt the air shift. He'd left the room but only briefly. He was not fool enough to leave her alone again, she suspected. Even though she wasn't sure she could muster the energy to so much as lie back.
"Don't," she croaked and though her eyes were closed, she kept her face averted too.
She didn't stop him when she felt the edges of her shirt lift in question. It clung to her skin, cold and filthy. She crossed one arm across her chest modestly as he did, and cradled her knees again. He offered no comments.
A moment later she felt a cloth lightly touch her back. She jerked at the contact and cracked one eye open warily. He'd removed his gloves and had rolled his shirt sleeves up. He was kneeling beside the tub, his face a carefully constructed mask as he began to bathe her. What little of her she allowed.
Had she every imagined herself naked in a bath, being bathed by the Goblin King, it would not have been as such. Him a statue of barely repressed fury - belied by his gentle hands. She, an indifferent shell skating close to collapse. There was nothing sexual in it.
She gave a choked sob and felt his eyes shift to her face. His hand paused
"Did I hurt you?"
Here eyes cleared, spearing him in place. "In every way, yes."
His lids shuttered and he resumed his attentions. He lifted a small copper jug of water and carefully tipped it over her head, using his fingers to begin working the dried blood and snarls in her hair out. His fingers mapped over her scalp and she realized that he was looking for wounds.
"He healed it," she whispered, only to make him pause again. The gentle touch was too soothing. Too intimate in its care. Tenderness was poison from him. "The rest of it is his," she added, with no small amount of relish. "At least I think."
She could feel the weight of an unasked question but he focused back on his task silently. Her split knee ached, so did her head, but the warm water was lulling her senses. It would be so easy to fall asleep.
When her hair was clean, he scrubbed down her arms, careful not to pry them loose from her legs. He gently worked the dried blood and dirt from her knee. She watched him cautiously. He worked down her legs to her damaged feet and lifted them enough to attend to the soles.
She peered at him over her crossed arms. To think a king… no… a god… was washing her feet.
When he finished, their eyes met. There was nothing lascivious in what he'd done – nothing lascivious in his look either, though she felt his eyes on her. She was keenly aware she was naked, despite hiding most of herself as she did, and was more than vulnerable she'd ever been before.
She chocked on a dry sob again – choked because all of her desperate gambles had been for naught. She hadn't reached the castle in time this round. A pyrrhic victory at best.
He must have misinterpreted her look; mistook the cause. "Did he hurt you, Sarah? Did he," Jareth swallowed thickly and she could feel the tension radiating off him again. If anything it made her stronger. His displeasure and concern was her reward.
She didn't answer and looked away. But Jareth wouldn't allow it this time.
"Did he hurt you?" The question pushed into her skin, the magic giving it weight. He wasn't specific, she supposed, but she had a feeling he meant rape. She thought about forfeiting just to leave him hanging, but she wasn't ready to be defeated yet.
"No. Not the way you mean," she said finally.
The lines in his body relaxed marginally, his eyes closing. She wondered if he'd worried what Fenrir would do in revenge. How he might like to punish her to get to him. Fen had hinted at that, though he'd done nothing. She'd been the one to start it.
Her head tilted. "Why don't you ask me if he touched me though?"
Jareth jerked, his eyes sharp as they studied her new expression.
It would cost him. "You'll have to use one of your precious questions if you want to know."
His look hardened, but there was something else there too – something more uncertain in his face. Her suggestion had found fallow ground. "Did he touch you, Sarah?"
Once she felt the push and knew it counted, she nodded at him over her folded arms. And then because his reaction was not satisfaction enough and perhaps because it was the only way left to wound him, she said, "More so than when I was in the woods that day. When you forced me to confess." She used one hand to stir rings in the water. "More so than you have. Seen more. Felt more," she added – though the question had not compelled any of that.
It had gone deadly quiet in the room. The kind of silence you can chew. When she looked back up at him, he was like a bow gone taut. Ready to fire. His bare hands were bone-white fists on his corded thighs. She had perhaps never seen him so enraged. But not at her. In that moment she could imagine he would kill. Not an accident like Baldur, but with deadly intent. She reminded herself that he was the son of war. No matter how much he resented his blood line.
Perhaps she'd shocked him too. Perhaps it had not crossed his mind as a real possibility. The shock or revenge, she could not tell which, compelled her to goad him more. To hurt him with words in any way that she could. "One more? Surely you can spare. Ask me if I liked it."
At last he finally moved. Rearing up to clutch either side of the tub facing her. She didn't shrink back, though he was terrifying in the moment. There was a wordless warning in his face.
"Ask me," she demanded. "Ask me so you'll know what is true."
He shuddered, his head dropping for a moment before snapping back up. "Tell me."
She smiled at him - a cold, cruel thing that matched her eyes. "Yes. Yes, I did."
He stared at her, weighing her words. Feeling the irrefutable truth of them in the magic's binding. In a way he couldn't deny.
A mask slid over his face before she could savour his defeat. It enraged her – somehow more than anything he'd done so far. All those betrayals and machinations and half-truths. He was denying her something so small – so petty - but something that was hers by right.
She lunged out of the cooling water and launched herself at him – surprising even herself by her sudden burst of strength. The force of her attack and his body balanced over the tub, made them both land hard and skid against the stone floor. He took the brunt of the impact, with her body landing sprawled atop of him. She wasted no time in clawing at his face, like a wild and feral thing, and fueled by a rage so ravenous it threatened to consume her too. Teeth, fists, nails… she gave it all.
He absorbed the first few blows without defense - due to shock or shame, she didn't care.
"I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!" came in angry bursts.
He finally snared her wrists, trapping them between them – but only after she'd gouged a bloody track down his face. They panted at the exertion, both lying soaking on the floor. His eyes honed to his sigil around her neck and then to the upper swell of her breasts where they pressed into his chest – to the mark he'd left on one.
Something in his face changed. The hold on her wrists slackened but did not release. The fight had gone out of her anyway.
"I'm sorry," he whispered brokenly. His expression was so confusing to her, Sarah flinched – only then seeming to remember she was naked. Strangely she no longer felt as vulnerable. He let her retreat, even averting his eyes until she'd snagged a towel and wrapped it around herself protectively a few feet away. Neither of them pulled themselves from the floor.
"I will not let you do anything to my brothers." Her eyes still blazed like Greek fire, a rumour of tears in them nonetheless. "Either of them. Ever. I will destroy everything here if I have to."
It should have sounded like an empty threat. She might have expected him to laugh at her – mock her for such empty mortal words, but he didn't. And that unnerved her too.
"Some would be envious of that kind of loyalty," he said flatly. "There are few who offer something so dear. He sat up, bending his knees in front of himself so he could rest his arms, but not standing. Perhaps to keep them on a level. His eyes studied her wan face. "I vow not to harm a hair on either of their heads, Sarah. I vow it on my sigil you wear round your neck – the symbol of all of my power." He'd not yet asked for it back, or tried to take it.
She waved a hand to stop him but he continued.
"And I vow to do all that I can do to stop any harm from coming to them."
She stared at him – both of them sitting on the wet, stone floor like fallen game pieces – and reflected how they'd come to this. He sounded so earnest that a childish part of her wanted to believe him – the part that still believed in happy endings. Was desperate to. She wanted to admit that she was tired, that she was in above her head, and that she needed him. For no reason at all.
The other part of her wanted to excise him from her life forever.
"An easy, empty promise to make when you have neither of them," she replied bitterly.
"We will get them back, Sarah."
She looked at him morosely. "More promises? All of this is your fault. Even Max…" She trailed off.
"I assure you I had no part in the activities that led to his conception." A trace of humour had returned to his tone.
"But you had a purpose for him," she pressed. "For him to exist. For all of us."
He did not deny it.
"I thought… at first, that this was all an excuse to get back at me," she continued carefully, wondering how much he would read in her tone - in her face. "And then… then I thought it was perhaps about me… and about you…"
"About me wanting you," he finished for her.
She glanced at him and then away just as quickly. Not because she was embarrassed, but because she didn't like the intensity of his gaze. At how easily he'd said it aloud.
Silence and then a sigh. Almost resigned. "Do you recall when you and Toby had your childish game in the snow?" He didn't wait for her answer though he could tell he held her attention. "You looked up at me for a moment, your face free from everything but you."
Sarah swallowed, her throat gone tight. She was unsure if she wanted him to continue or to stop, but she was unable to look away when he finally looked at her – because he was free from everything but him.
"In that moment there was nothing I wanted more than you." His eyes flickered like he would say more but then thought better of it. "I wanted to keep you long enough to discover all the ways I would fall in love with you."
The words were softly spoken but they concealed daggers in their truth.
"I will never look at you that way again," she whispered. She could make vows too, and she hoped they cut as deep. "I know what you want," she added before he could speak again. "What you really want."
A mirthless laugh escaped him as he rose. His mask was in place in place again when he looked down at her, but an ember of something hot flared in his voice. "You have no idea what I really want, Sarah. But you will."
Credits: What Sarah encounters in the lake is a variation of the draugr (undead warriors) - the haugbui - or mound-dweller. The haugbui is unable to leave its grave site and only attacks those who trespass upon their territory (e.g. the lake).
They are a type of undead commonly found in Norse sagas. The creatures sometimes swim alongside boats. In other accounts, they are shapeshifters who take on the appearance of seaweed or moss-covered stones on the shoreline.
AN: I am so sorry this took so long to get out. I have no good excuses – as usual. I started and focused on other WIPs, or was busy with life… but this was never abandoned. I still feel passionately about this story even if this sometimes feels like my forgotten problem child.
I am sure it feels like this offering was not worth the wait – no resolutions yet. But Sarah has been through the wringer, regardless whether or not you agree with how she handled this. Be gentle with her.
I also want to add that this will be a HEA (relatively). For some of you, you probably can't envision Jareth coming out in a favourable light again. And maybe he won't, not entirely, because he has endangered them. He has also protected them too. His motives will all be revealed – rightly or wrongly. And how much he actually betrayed her.
This is my most complex plot so far, and there are a lot of players in this – Tanglewood was chosen as a title by design. All of them are shades are grey, the line between villain and hero gets blurrier as this goes along, so understand that too.
Jareth's perspective (POV) is next! If anyone is keeping track, he has 5 questions left.
Blah – blah – blah. I hope you enjoyed this and are still (shockingly!) reading this, some 84 years later now that this update has come out. If you are, thank you, you beautiful loyal readers, you! Some of you have left me some beautiful reviews (even recently) – I am humbled how well you've really understood these characters and their motivations. You are the absolute best.
Story Coles' Notes: Sarah, a grad student of Norse mythology, touched a very ancient Norse book and started a chain of events she still doesn't fully understand. Her spilled blood has opened doors and let the monsters out – namely Fenrir, the Great Wolf, and Jareth, who as it turns out is not just the Goblin King, but also the banished son of Tyr, god of war, and the goddess Idunn (who was once a mortal herself until she met Tyr).
In the midst of this, but somehow connected, Toby has wished away his baby brother Max, and Sarah is forced to solicit Jareth's help in returning him. His price is her honest answers to 20 questions, else she forfeits (what she will forfeit, she does not know).
Jareth leads Sarah and Toby through the 'Tanglewood' – an ancient forest of mysteries and danger, pursued it seems, by Fenrir. Their destination is the Vale – or Valhalla – home of the gods. As Sarah and Jareth grow closer, it becomes apparent that Jareth was banished from the gods, exiled to the Underground for the crime of being a half-blood and for accidentally killing Odin's favourite son as a youth. What's worse, it's ultimately revealed by Fenrir that he and Jareth have been working together, and that Jareth is the reason Karen and Robert Williams even had another son.
In this mix are Jareth's parents, Tyr and Idunn, estranged since Jareth's banishment. Idunn went on to marry Bragi, god of poetry, much to Tyr's displeasure and jealousy. The UST is off the charts. Bragi is revealed to be the author of the same little red book that found its way into Sarah's hands, and has acted as a step father to Jareth in his banishment.
Likewise Idunn, as it turns out, is the ancestor of Sarah's thesis advisor - though only Tyr discovered she had living descendants. Sarah's professor was the very one who tracked down the ancient book of Norse tales in the first place, and who later impulsively gives Sarah a token of protection. The token turns out to be from Idunn's Celtic ancestors, and is the only way to decipher the final lay in the book – the one that details how this all came to pass – the very one penned by Idunn and which Odin tried to destroy. It's implied he was shaken by some prophecy given to him by the Norns. The professor has accidentally found his way to Tyr and the Vale and meets Idunn for the first time.
Minor side plot: Karen and Robert have forgotten Max or Sarah ever existed, and in order to cover Toby's disappearance, he has sent a changeling above ground. The changeling is acting very strangely and its heavily implied that it knows it's too late for either Sarah or Toby to ever return.
During all of this, Sarah has come across a broken creature in the in-between on several occasions. It's begging her to fix her, though Sarah doesn't fully understand what it is or how to do so. It's apparent that she is somehow touched though, and the Norns provide her aid when she aks as a result – bidden by the ancient woods.
Jareth's deception revealed, Sarah manages to escape him (stealing his amulet in the process) after he tries to make her forget his deceit using magic. She poisons him, the same way he poisoned Baldur. She finds Toby and Max after bargaining with Loki for help, but has to leave her brothers again, hiding them in a cloak of invisibility in order to save them. She's found first by Fenrir, after she tries to knock herself out to avoid revealing her hiding spot to Jareth and Tyr when Jareth uses one of his 20 questions. Here we resume our tale…