by Scattered Logic
Disclaimer: Jareth and Sarah belong to Jim Henson. Everyone else is mine.
Author's Note: A huge thanks to my beta, Cormak, for her beta skills, thoughts and suggestions regarding this story. And special thanks to Cormak and The Hooded Crow for patiently answering questions and explaining art technique and supplies to this very artistically challenged author. Any errors regarding those subjects are mine alone.
"Sarah, I've got another offer for the paintings." Jean's voice took on an odd echo through Sarah's cheap cordless phone.
"No," Sarah said immediately.
"I don't mean to be a bitch about this, but I know you need the money. I don't understand why you won't sell this series."
Sarah sighed. "And I don't understand why you keep showing them when you know I won't sell them. I want you to store them, not show them."
"I own a gallery, sweetie, selling art is what I do. And if you don't want to sell them, then why paint them in the first place?" Jean asked, impatiently. "You don't keep them for your own enjoyment. You obsess over each one and then get them out of your sight as soon as they're finished."
"I don't obsess," Sarah protested.
"Bullshit. You barely ate or slept while you painted those. You lost weight and got dark circles under your eyes. By the time each of those paintings were finished you looked like hell, kid." Jean's voice softened. "They're your best work, Sarah. I'm not denying that. Each of them is brilliant. But what's the point if you won't share?"
"I won't sell them," Sarah said quietly.
"There's a lot of interest in them. You're starting to build a name in fantasy illustration and while these paintings have some fantasy elements, they're portraits. For you, that makes this series a rarity. Rarities sell."
"No." Sarah rolled her eyes.
"You've never used a model on anything else. And you won't even tell me who he is," Jean said with a slightly hurt tone.
"Because it doesn't matter. I haven't seen him in years." Sarah hesitated. "And I won't ever see him again."
"Oh, Hon, was it a love affair gone bad? Is that it? That's got to be it. Why else would you keep painting the same man's portrait over and over again?" Jean was cajoling.
"Drop it, Jean." Sarah's voice went flat.
The gallery owner paid no attention. "Ah, c'mon, Sarah, it's pretty obvious. I mean, you made him a king. How Freudian is that? The Goblin King... Yeah, right. The king of hearts is more like it."
Without another word, Sarah hung up the phone.
It wasn't an obsession. But how else could she explain the compulsion she'd had to paint those portraits? She would go for months and everything would be fine. Then suddenly she'd be driven from her bed in the middle of the night with an image that she had to get down on paper. She could sleep a bit after the initial sketch was done. But the next night would find her finishing the sketch and priming the canvas, and in the following weeks and months, the portrait would take shape.
To her chagrin, she found that watercolors or acrylics wouldn't do. The initial sketches in pencil were fine. But the portrait had to be done in oils. They were so hard to work with, but oil paints had a depth of color and a richness that the other mediums couldn't touch.
Why wasn't she surprised that his portraits would require that?
"Jean's giving you a hard time again?" Gary's words shook Sarah out of her reverie.
Sarah glanced ruefully at her friend and went back to rubbing the turpentine soaked rag over her fingers. "Doesn't she always?"
Gary snorted. "You'd better not let her know that you've finished another one." He leaned back in his chair and gestured toward the wet painting across the room. "The guy's gorgeous, I'll give you that. Not my type, of course, I prefer them dark. But all in all, he's got potential."
Sarah smiled faintly, "Trust me, he'd be anybody's type. There was something so... seductive about him."
"You still think that was real, don't you?" Gary shook his head at her.
"It was real," Sarah said firmly. "I know you don't believe me. I don't even know why I told you about it."
"You told me because I'm your best friend, your trusted confidante." Gary laughed, "And because you were totally shit-faced and you spilled your guts. I know all your dirty little secrets."
"It was the first time I'd ever been drunk," Sarah smiled, slightly abashed. "And the last time, I might add."
"Coward," Gary grinned.
Sarah laughed. "No, I just learned my lesson."
"So, what's the real reason you won't sell them?" Gary steered the conversation back to the paintings.
"I just... I just can't," Sarah said, turning to look at the painting.
"Oh, Sarah, when are you going to give up your crush on this imaginary King?" Gary asked quietly. "You need to find some nice guy to whisk you away to the 'burbs and give you the obligatory 2.5 children and one annoyingly large, slobbery dog."
"The Goblin King isn't imaginary," Sarah insisted. "And I don't have a crush on him."
"Keep telling yourself that and maybe someday you'll believe it."
"Well, I don't meet a lot of people," Sarah said defensively, "and I don't see you introducing me to any nice guys."
"I don't know any straight guys." Gary narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "And I don't know any nice guys at all," he concluded dryly.
"Aren't you going to decorate for Christmas?" Gary asked as he stirred the vegetable soup simmering on Sarah's stove. He waved the spoon in the general direction of his apartment overhead. "I've got all my decorations up."
"No, I'm not," Sarah answered. She took soup bowls from the cabinet and placed them on the tiny kitchen table. "I haven't decorated for Christmas since..." Her voice trailed off as she opened a drawer, searching for soupspoons.
"That was four years ago," Gary said quietly. "You've got to start letting that go."
Sarah slammed the drawer shut and clenched her teeth. "That's so easy to say. 'Let it go.' Well, you weren't there. You weren't the one who had to take down all those decorations. And you certainly weren't the one who had to bury my little brother, father and stepmother on Christmas Eve."
"It wasn't your fault, Sarah." Gary carefully covered the pot and then put his hand on her shoulder.
"I know that," she snapped and shrugged off his hand. "The furnace malfunctioned. It was nobody's fault."
"That's not what I meant." Gary shook his head. "It wasn't your fault that you didn't die, too."
"Not again," Sarah warned. "Let's not do this again." She tossed the spoons in the bowls with a clatter.
"Survivor's guilt is a real thing," Gary persisted. "God knows that I've had to deal with it. I've lost too many friends to AIDS. Too many people that I cared about. You start feeling guilty because you're still alive and they're not. You wonder why them and not you?"
"I just keep thinking that maybe if I'd been home, things would have been different," Sarah whispered.
"It was carbon monoxide poisoning. You couldn't have saved them," he said gently. "This may sound callous, Sarah, but at least they didn't suffer. They went to sleep and they just didn't wake up. You didn't have to visit them in the hospital for weeks on end, watching them struggle with pneumonia or dementia or lymphoma."
"I know that." Tears filled her eyes. "And maybe it should make me feel better, but it doesn't. At least with your friends, you had a chance to say goodbye."
Gary shook his head wearily. "I guess it's a tradeoff, isn't it?" He gave a crooked smile. "Well, let's stop depressing each other, shall we? We need a major change of topic. Why don't you change your mind and come with me? Gran wouldn't mind."
"Nope, you said she was looking forward to spending time with you. I'm not going to butt in." Sarah smiled. "What time is your train?"
Gary looked at his watch. "In two hours."
"Are you sure you don't want me to play chauffeur and drive you instead? Stamford's not that far."
Gary clutched his chest and gasped.
"What's wrong?" Sarah asked quickly.
Gary straightened up and smiled. "Nothing, I'm just always so surprised when you remind me that you've got a car. I keep telling you, Sarah, no true New Yorker keeps a car. Besides, the garage fee has to be eating you alive."
"It's expensive," she admitted. "But I like being able to go to the cabin whenever I want. You certainly didn't seem to mind that I have a car when we drove up there for the Fourth of July weekend."
Gary grinned. "That was fun. I met that really cute guy at Blue Mountain Lake."
Sarah shook her head, "And then you dragged him and all those other people I'd never seen before back to the cabin for a party."
"Oh, you had a good time," Gary admonished, "admit it." He sobered. "You still think you may have to sell the cabin?"
"Probably. I just can't afford the taxes and the upkeep," Sarah said quietly. "My grandfather lived there for the last twelve years of his life. He could get a homestead exemption. I can't." She shook her head and changed the subject. "Your grandmother's going to be thrilled to have you all to herself. It's too bad you can't spent more time with her."
"Yeah, can you believe it? Seventy-three years old and she's spending Christmas in Vegas with a senior citizen's group."
"At least she'll have a good time." Sarah grinned.
Gary chuckled. "You know what she wants for Christmas?"
Sarah shook her head.
"Gambling money," Gary said wryly.
Sarah laughed. "Well, I have to admit that I'm glad you're going to spend Christmas with me."
Gary cuffed her lightly on the side of the head. "Me, too. So, are we going to eat? Because the soup is ready and I'm starved."
"Okay, I'll be back tomorrow afternoon and you've already got an extra key to my place in case anything comes up, but here's the key to Steve's apartment." Gary's voice broke slightly. "When you're finished, just put the key through the super's door, okay?"
Sarah took the key from Gary and nodded slightly.
"I appreciate you taking Steve's clothes to the homeless shelter for me," Gary said quietly. "I managed to take care of everything else, but when it came time to get rid of his clothes, it just made it too real."
"You were a good friend to him," Sarah said softly. "I understand why he made you the executor of his will. You've really tried to take care of things the way he wanted."
Gary smiled faintly. "Well, he said to give his clothes to somebody who needed them. Hell, he'd wear the same pair of jeans and a t-shirt until they fell apart. By the time I sorted through everything, there were only two boxes of stuff I thought was salvageable. Some suits and shirts, a few jackets. And all of that was stuff somebody else gave him."
Gary's eyes suddenly filled with tears. "Steve had the worst fashion sense of anyone I've ever met." He gave a strangled laugh and then was he was crying.
Sarah put her arms around him and hugged him as the tears streamed down his face.
After Gary had left, Sarah put away the leftovers and washed the dishes. She went back into the spare bedroom that she used as a studio and finished cleaning up. She checked again to insure that the caps were tightly closed on the paints, linseed oil and turpentine. She couldn't afford to be careless, supplies were too expensive.
Sarah stopped and looked at the painting she'd completed earlier that evening. The Goblin King stood flanked by fawning admirers, but he ignored them completely. He looked out of the canvas with an intense gaze, commanding attention.
As she examined the portrait, a fleeting melody drifted through her mind and she shook her head sadly. Her dance with the Goblin King had surely been only a drugged dream. While she knew--knew--that the Underground, the Goblin King and her friends existed, she somehow didn't believe that she had ever actually danced with him.
Sarah felt a pang of guilt when she thought of Hoggle, Ludo and Sir Didymus. She'd stopped calling them a few months after her adventure had ended. She had become caught up in school events and, to her surprise, had even begun casually dating.
Before she knew it, she was off to college and while she struggled through her freshman year and the culture shock that it brought, there had certainly been no time for her friends.
And then early during her sophomore year, her life had been shattered by a midmorning visit from an apologetic campus policeman who stood in her dorm room awkwardly clutching a slip of paper that bore a terrible message. The next two days had passed in a fog and suddenly Sarah had found herself completely alone.
The night of the funeral, she'd stood in front of the mirror in her old bedroom and opened her mouth to call her friends when an overwhelming sense of terror swept through her. What if she had waited too long? What if they didn't come?
Finally, she had turned away from the mirror, the words unspoken. She'd lost too many people to face the possibility that she had lost them, too. In this case, she decided, it was simply better not to know.
Sarah shook off those thoughts and turned from the painting. She deserved a treat for finishing the portrait, she thought. She went back to the kitchen to pour a glass of milk and to dig through her secret stash of candy. She had to hide the candy from Gary or she found herself left with empty boxes and IOU's promising to replace it. She smiled to herself; he never did.
She ate her candy and took a look at the clock. It was after midnight. She quickly finished the milk and rinsed out the glass. She decided to shower in the morning and, once in her bedroom, she changed into the t-shirt she usually wore to bed and was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Sarah knew that she was dreaming; there was no doubt of it. She even knew why she was dreaming about this place. Between Gary's earlier teasing and working on the portrait, it was inevitable, she thought. Well, that and the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups she'd eaten before going to bed.
Once again Sarah found herself standing in that ballroom. But this time there were no other dancers, no elusive Goblin King. This time, she was alone. She glanced down and saw that she was wearing the same frilly confection she had worn once before. She slowly turned full circle, her eyes searching the shadows at the edges of the room, but she could see no one.
"We are incomplete," a disembodied voice said.
Startled, she looked around the room again. She didn't recognize the voice. It certainly didn't have the crisp tones of the Goblin King. Who had spoken? No, her mind instantly corrected, not spoken. At least, not aloud, but she had heard the voice all the same. In the vague way of dreams, she acknowledged this oddity as an acceptable occurrence.
"Who's there?" she called out. "Who are you?"
"You must return," the silent voice spoke again.
"Return?" A nebulous sense of fear took shape in the pit of her stomach. "Return where?"
"You mean to the Underground," she said flatly. "I don't think so."
"We are incomplete," the voice continued, undeterred. "You must return to us. You must not defy us."
"Who is "us"?" she demanded, the fear becoming an iron weight.
"We will strike a bargain."
"No, thanks," she said quickly. "Bargains in the Underground have a way of evolving into something else at the last minute."
The voice took on a tempting quality. "We will give you what you desire most."
"What I desire most?" Sarah asked incredulously. "I don't even know what that is."
"We know. We will give you what you desire most. In exchange, you will return to us. You will not defy us." The voice was adamant.
She began to shake her head and then suddenly laughed. 'What am I doing?' she thought. 'This is a dream. My subconscious is trying to tell me something and I'm standing here arguing with myself.'
Curious about what her subconscious mind considered to be what she "desired most," Sarah nodded. 'Why not?' she thought. 'It's only a dream.'
"Okay, sure," she said with a grin. "It's a deal. Give me what I desire most and I'll return to you."
The voice took on a self-satisfied tone. "Done."
With that, the ballroom began to dissolve and...
Sarah was blinking sleepily in her darkened bedroom.
"Damn," she said, rubbing her eyes. "Just when it was getting to the good part."
She rolled over and focused on the softly glowing numbers on the bedside clock.
"No more candy before bed," she muttered. It made her dream strange things, she thought. Besides, it made her thirsty.
She slipped out of bed and went into the kitchen. Grabbing a bottle of water from the refrigerator, she took a few sips before realizing that she'd forgotten to turn down the heat again before going to sleep. She was going to have an astronomical heating bill if she wasn't more careful.
Adjusting the thermostat, she decided to take one more look at the portrait before going back to bed. Wandering through the dark living room, she flipped on a table lamp and took a few steps before she realized that something was very, very wrong.
There was someone lying on her sofa.
Before her mind processed the fact that being quiet and getting out of the apartment was probably the safest thing to do, she'd already let out a bloodcurdling scream. She stumbled back as the person abruptly turned toward her and promptly fell off the sofa.
As the man scrambled into a crouch, Sarah continued backing away, her heart pounding and her breath coming in harsh gasps. Sarah began shaking her head from side to side. It wasn't possible. What was going on?
Jareth dreamt he was sitting on his throne while the Labyrinth spoke to him in its silent all-encompassing voice.
"We are incomplete."
Jareth stiffened as the voice whispered through his mind.
"It is too soon," Jareth replied. "We have been over this repeatedly."
"You must bring her to us," the voice replied insistently.
"Do you want a repeat of that last debacle?" Jareth asked coldly. "Allow the girl time to mature."
The voice was quiet for a moment and then it said, "We have seen her. She is a woman now. With a woman's dreams. We are incomplete. You must bring her to us."
Jareth shook his head. If the Labyrinth had begun watching her, things had progressed far more quickly than he had anticipated. If he wasn't careful, things could get out of hand.
"Just a bit more time," Jareth placated, "in order to be certain. If I bring her back too quickly, she will fight us both. And I will not force her."
There was a long pause and Jareth could feel the Labyrinth contemplating his words.
"She must agree," the Labyrinth finally conceded in that silent voice.
"Then it is settled," Jareth said firmly.
"No," a tinge of regret filtered into the voice. "We have waited for you to bring her to us. We understand your reluctance but we are incomplete. You will bring her to us when you have--"
A loud shriek ripped through Jareth's consciousness, jolting him from his dream. His eyes flew open and he automatically turned toward the sound. He had a disorienting split second to realize that he was no longer safely ensconced in his bed before he fell off the edge of whatever he had been lying on and landed on a hard wooden surface with a jarring thud.
Defensive instincts kicking in, he quickly rolled into a crouch and prepared to push himself to his feet. Several impressions flashed through his mind instantaneously. He had no idea where he was but this was certainly not his spacious bedchamber. The room he was now in was small and lighted only by a lamp on a nearby table.
Before him stood a woman. Her shapely legs were bare and she wore a faded black shirt that barely covered the tops of her thighs. Long dark hair tumbled over her shoulders and her hands were shaking where she held them out as if to ward him off. Her full lips were parted in a gasp and clear, black fringed hazel eyes were open wide with shock. He took a good look at her face and quickly rose to his feet.
"No," she whispered. "Nonononono. This is not happening." She continued backing away from him, shaking her head until she bumped into the wall across the room.
"Sarah?" Jareth asked in disbelief.
"Oh, god, I've lost my mind," Sarah gasped.
"Where is this place?" Jareth demanded, looking around the room quickly. "How did you bring me here?" His eyes narrowed and he advanced on her.
Sarah pressed her back more firmly against the wall, her eyes growing huge as he approached her. Suddenly, she seemed to find her courage. She straightened her spine and stuck her forefinger in his face.
"You're not really here," she accused. "So go away."
"Of course I'm here," he snapped. His hands shot out and grabbed her by the shoulders, his fingers biting hard into her flesh. "How did you do this?"
"No, I'm still dreaming," she insisted frantically. "Ow! You're hurting me!"
His hands relaxed fractionally. "You stupid girl, you are not dreaming," he said contemptuously.
Jareth suddenly froze as he remembered that he had been dreaming. The Labyrinth had obviously sent him here to bring Sarah back. He cursed under his breath and released her.
There was nothing to be done for it now, he thought darkly. He'd take the girl and deal with the Labyrinth after they had returned to the Underground. He turned his wrist and then looked down at his hand in surprise. There was no crystal. He repeated the motion and still nothing happened.
With dawning horror, Jareth reached out with his mind, seeking his link to the Underground. He could sense it. He knew it was there, but he couldn't reach it. Something has closed off his ability to connect to the magic. Shaking his head, he concentrated and tried again, forcing himself to relax and call out to the link. Again, there was no answer.
At this knowledge, his legs went weak and he staggered back gracelessly to sit on Sarah's sofa.
It wasn't possible and yet it had happened.
The Labyrinth had blocked his magic.
He was powerless.