This was a short little fic written for the LabyFic Live Journal Winterfest FreeDay. A Hundred-Thousand Bits of Gratitude go out to Jalen Strix for pre-reading and making glorious suggestions for this story. Much of Sarah's inter-thoughts are due to Jalen, as well as some of Jareth's wittier commentary. She also saved you tons of obnoxious and unnecessary description.
The Poems are W.B. Yeats', ( The Collarbone of a Hare, and The Mask respectively) he is probably one of the only poets I consistently return to, he truly believed in fairies and lived in the tower of an old Irish castle...what's not to love?
Sarah had experienced true New England winters, but nothing could prepare her for the wicked ravages of the season in Berea. In that eastern Kentucky town, the January evenings lingered, long and cold, with harsh winds cutting across the Appalachian mountains, rattling the bone-like limbs of the tall poplar trees.
Art (well art festivals) had drawn her to Berea-she had arrived in the autumn and fallen in love with the quirky little town tucked away in the foothills. The rolling landscape was breathtaking, especially at sunrise when the frost reflected the pinks and oranges of the looming sky, and the barns with their solemn silos stood in silhouette, a dramatic contrast to the waking fields.
She was currently sitting on the front porch swing of her rather bucolic cabin, nestled among a mountain of blankets, contentedly sipping coffee. Dancing steam rose from her cup to mingle with her breath in the frigid air.
Projects were waiting to be finished, but mornings here were clearly meant for musing, so she always spent them on the porch, looking out over her unofficial kingdom. That dawn her imagination was engaged with the still darkened tree line beyond the little cabin. The pine trees shook and shivered in the wind while bits of ice dropped heavily to the frozen earth beneath their branches.
She began to sing softly to Albus, who was vigilantly lying nearby in canine companionship. "I want adventure in the great, wide, somewhere, I want it more than I can tell…"
Sarah noted with some amusement that the shadows seemed oddly still upon the ground.
Later that afternoon, she caught herself glancing longingly past the cabin windows at the sheltered woods. She wriggled her toes, which were cozily sheathed in brightly colored wool socks, and fidgeted considerably. When snow began falling in the evening, and the white flakes caught fire in the rosy glow of sunset, it was simply too much to resist.
Pulling boots on over her skinny jeans, she mulled over the Welsh fairytales she had studied all afternoon. She was working on a set of illustrations for a children's book. One image that she had sketched earlier of the Fairy King, Ggwyn ap Nudd, looked frustratingly similar to an old... friend. Arrayed in frosty colors and bearing the harsh mien of winter, the Fairy King smiled cunningly up at her from the sketchbook, ready to lead the hunt or challenge his adversary for his beloved's hand. Sarah shivered at the thought of the Fairy King's persistence, his determination to fight for his love until the end of time-the Day of Judgment. She shook her head suddenly-she had a supernatural distrust of grand romantic gestures these days.
Picking up a lantern and patting her leg to catch Albus's attention, Sarah pulled open the door. The white husky bounded out of the opening, nearly knocking her over in the process. Snapping playfully at the snowflakes, the dog smiled into the oncoming night, his mismatched eyes shining, causing her to pause on the threshold. Those eyes had saved him from the shelter-she couldn't stand to leave him there once she saw them.
She laughed, "I thought you might like a walk. Let's take a stroll through the trees."
Slamming the door, and jumping lightly down the short steps, Sarah caught up with dog. They both paused before entering the thick mass of evergreens. There were paths she knew by heart now, having ventured into the woods many times, but the forest seemed different today. It was silent, but very much alive-almost as if it were waiting for something.
A thread of mischief ran through her. "Perhaps; we should be careful Albus. Maybe the Fairy King awaits us? Suppose he wants to lead us to the underworld tonight...or what if he's on the hunt? Perchance he is pining for his love, and we disturb him in his lonely wanderings."
Albus arched a doggy brow at her and whined.
"I'm just saying that it's better to be safe than sorry when dealing with immortal kings. They're easily offended," she smiled wryly, remembering. The drawing she had produced was not the only thing that had stirred her memories lately, bringing him to their surface. Everything about the quaint corner of the world she had stumbled upon conjured up images of him. The town was fairytale-esque, the inhabitants slightly odd and whimsical, and the countryside around them was wild and lovely though it sometimes wore a severe expression. Just-like him. But nope, I am not thinking of that. Surely I am not.
"Let's just say a little something, in lieu of asking permission." She crinkled her nose and tried to remember what it was that she'd read. "I think I recall the line..."
"To the King of Spirits...you who are yonder in the forest, for love of your mate, permit us to enter your dwelling," Her voice rang merrily into the swirling snow.
Albus looked up into the sky, tracing the graceful flight of an owl, barely discernible against the backdrop of white. He broke abruptly into a run, following after it.
"Albus!" Sarah was alarmed at Albus's sudden desertion. She mashed her knit cap down upon her head as she raced after her companion. "Wait, Albus. We'll get lost, you little furry fiend!"
The husky lured her farther and farther into the dark trees. Branches stretched their prickly arms out to grab at her, tearing at her scarf and coat. But she was focused solely on Albus, having completely lost sight of him when she stumbled upon a small clearing. Sarah stopped abruptly at the clearing's edge, frozen.
On the far side of the small dale a disturbingly familiar man leaned against a tall tree, his gloved fingers scratching the favored spot behind Albus's ear. "He's got my eyes," Jareth mused quietly.
Albus cast her his best grin, pleased with himself for finding this thoroughly delightful ear-scratcher.
She shook her head. Let this be an illusion. It cannot be real. She swallowed. I'm not ready.
But she fell easily into the spell that Jareth twisted about her. Even before his glance drifted across the distance between them, his presence removed her from the world and brought her into a space of their own.
At least he's easy on the eyes.
To be honest, he was a devastating dream crowned in twilight. The red glow of the dying sun set him alight, pale hair aflame, and illuminated his cool features. His otherworldliness was undeniable. Very fetchingly so, in fact. Her thoughts unraveled, and regrouped, driven by a sudden fancy.
"Oh, great Fairy King, forgive us this intrusion." Her voice was almost a whisper. Of course, the man before her was not a king of fairies...or even a mortal man. But she was unabashedly snared by his familiar beauty.
"No need to apologize, I bid you welcome...for love of my mate." He smiled, sharp-teeth bared, as he waited patiently for her next cue.
She took a breath. "Permit me to ask if, perchance, you are pining for your love, on a lonely walk?" She circled around him warily, aware of the growing darkness.
"Of course. It would be...unthinkable for me to do otherwise." His eyes followed her, delighted with this little game.
"You are not on the hunt then, King of Spirits?" She stopped directly in front of him, setting the lantern down.
"Now you're putting words in my mouth, pretty one."
Heart thundered in her chest as she watched him watching her. "Surely, you are not here to drag us to the underworld," Her eyes lifted to his. It was dangerous to let her whimsy run away with her in a time like this. But how long has it been since I've had anyone to play pretend with? And with someone like him...
He arched a graceful brow. "Are you not up to a little adventure?"
She smiled, a coy note sliding into her voice.
"Would I could cast a sail on the water
Where many a king has gone
And many a king's daughter…"
"Ah, brave girl. Yet, I feel you're not wholly sincere in what you say, and you don't know the weight of my words." He was quite clearly and thoroughly enjoying himself at their game of quotations.
He turned from her, suddenly with the grace of a predator, laying a gloved hand upon the rough bark of the tree where he had rested, disappearing behind it.
Although Sarah was beginning to feel the raw chill of dry winter wind, she instinctively stepped to follow him. She half-expected an ambush on the other side of the large trunk...but he was nowhere to be found.
She turned about several times to look around the clearing...but, to her great disappointment, he was gone.
A chuckle echoed across the dale and his voice sounded from the trees in front of her.
"Put off that mask of burning gold
With emerald eyes.
O no, my dear, you make so bold
To find that hearts be wild and wise,
And yet not cold."
Sarah, ignoring the growing shadows and deepening cold, stalked his voice through the lurking trees. She breathlessly called out the next lines of the poem.
"I would but find what's there to find,
Love or deceit.
It was the mask engaged your mind,
And after set your heart to beat,
Not what's behind."
His voice urged her deeper into the heart of the woods as he finished the poem.
"But lest you are my enemy,
I must enquire.
O no, my dear, let all that be;
What matter, so there is but fire
In you, in me?"
The last line came from directly behind her. Her head swirled, her eyes searching the shadows. Everything was so still, so quiet. When she turned back around, he stood right in front of her.
She gave a muffled gasp of surprise, but didn't-couldn't-turn away. His eyes twinkled as his voice washed over her, charming, elegant, and dreadfully tempting.
The simple use of her name awakened her. She wasn't fooling around in the woods by her cabin with her pet. She was standing in the depths of a forest, teasing a real king, a king whom she once fought. Not a friend, but a foe.
She schooled her voice, tucking away the niggling thought that she had followed him instead of fleeing. "Why are you here?"
"I've already answered that question. I was walking. Alone. Pining." He frowned, shifting to clasp his hands behind his back. "Remember?"
She let out a breath that she hadn't realized she was holding.
"You cannot harm me," she warned while crossing her arms, partially for emphasis, partially to ward off the cold. "You have no power over me." She looked away suddenly, uncertain. Power came in many forms. If simply his voice, (and command of Yeatsian verse), could so thoroughly disarm her...well, weapons of emotional destruction were quite potent too.
His words, when they emerged, were biting.
"Very true, my dear. Yet, you still maintain your hold on me. I felt the pull of your thoughts, the summons of your heart, the longing of your soul. You brought me here, Sarah dear."
"I have power over you?" She hugged herself, beginning to shiver.
"Only that which I give to you." He had moved closer to her.
"You don't give anything to anyone. Magic always comes with a price, and you are nothing if not magic." Her eyes went wide as she realized he was barely an arm's length away.
Albus, nearly forgotten on the sidelines, wagged his tail, in approval.
The savage beauty of Jareth's face ripped through her. "What does this power cost me?"
His gloved hand sought her out, drawing her into him. His voice was hushed in her ear, "Only your dreams. Only your wishes. Only your heart."
"Those are very valuable things," she whispered. Warm...he was so very warm.
"They are precious, indeed."
"King of Spirits, why are they precious...to you?"
"Because I want them. Because you withhold them from me. Because...well, once upon a time there was a beautiful young girl who pretended quite strongly that she had captured the heart of the Goblin King." He used a gloved finger to tilt her flushed face up to look into his. "While he was not, in fact, besotted, she had, shall we say, gained his attention. He began watching her, the girl who thought his name so often and with such...vigor." His smile could have stripped the papery bark from the birch trees near them.
"By chance, the girl stumbled upon the right words to summon him one dark and stormy night, wishing away her baby brother. Most amusing, truly. The Goblin King-let's call him Jareth, shall we?-did not love her of course, but he was...curious."
"Why was he curious?" She inhaled the scent of him. Danger with a hint of bergamot. How...unexpected.
His face softened in the starlight. "Because the girl was brave as well as beautiful. Kind as well as cruel. Persistent as well as petulant. She reminded him of himself-dramatic, fierce, brave of heart, and obnoxiously stubborn."
"Oh." Her heart skipped in her chest.
"I repeat that he did not, at that moment, love the girl." He paused. "He wasn't sure that he could, really. But he wanted her to love him."
She was surprised by how much that hurt her. "He wanted to win, to deceive her," she stated flatly.
His hand moved to caress her cheek as though she hadn't spoken. "He offered her everything in return for her love."
"Everything but his own love," Her eyes searched his face.
"Yes," he hissed hungrily. He tilted her head, his sharp eyes raking across her features. His lips curled up in a half-smile.
"She dismissed his offer, she laid waste to his ego, and he hated her for it."
"That's not fair." Her eyes lingered on his mouth, so close to hers.
"Isn't it?" His smile grew wider.
She harrumphed. "His offer really wasn't a very good one."
His eyes twinkled. "Perhaps not. However, he did realize, after much thought and soul-searching-which was rather trying, he would assure you, as he had a rather messy soul-that, the girl hadn't been so off of the mark when she supposed he was in love with her. Because he found that he had indeed grown to love her. Thus, she acquired certain powers... "
"The power to pull him with her thoughts, or summon him with her heart as her soul longed for him?" She couldn't hide a wry smile.
"Something like that."
"So what should she do now?"
"If I were her?" His desire burned between them. "Probably turn back before it's too late."
She leaned into him recklessly. "Well, she can't do that. Or at least, she won't. Brave of heart and all that."
Fire and hope danced within his mismatched eyes. "What a pity."
"Not at all."
"Quite right you are."
He kissed her on the forehead, and then the nose, and finally her waiting lips.
Meanwhile, Albus, noting this turn of events, settled into a comfy position under a snow-covered evergreen with a sigh.