AN: I can't believe the last update was from September! My apologies for anyone who is completely lost and my thanks if you stuck with this strange little story despite the unintentional hiatus. It's summer around the corner and about time to get back to this!
"You, like the little caterpillar, will grow up, unfold your wings and fly off into the future."
Toby recoiled at their twin exclamations of shock and his cheeks flushed in embarrassment.
Sarah closed the distance between them and took his hands gently. "Hey?" her voice was softer, more composed. "Sorry. I didn't mean to yell like that. And I am so happy to see you. But you don't know what you're saying."
He looked at her solemnly, with a seriousness beyond his years. "But I do."
She shook her head, feeling something ugly twist and turn in the pit of her stomach. "I know it's super cool, there right? All those strange creatures and all that… that magic?" She infused her voice with the same wonder she'd felt when she first saw it all. "But you can't stay." Her hands squeezed lightly. "You belong here."
It was his turn to shake his head, straggly blond locks falling into his eyes. "But I don't." His voice cracked slightly. "Can't you see that?"
And then he did something far more disarming. He smiled at her; his face transforming into something bright and beautiful and alive. "I was happy, Sarah. Really. I think… I think I was home."
Sarah jerked back as though slapped. Then turned to glare at the Goblin King in silent accusation; convinced he'd done something. And because it somehow hurt to see Toby so very real. But Jareth looked as surprised as she by the admission. And thoughtful. Which was more worrying.
"What do you mean by," she hesitated before saying the word, "home? You have a home. Mom and Dad are your home." I am your home. But she didn't say it. "Don't you love them?" Don't you love me?
Toby looked guilty for a moment and Sarah immediately regretted speaking. He was such an empathetic child; so wholly attuned to the emotions of those around him. But he recovered before she could speak again.
"I would miss them," he met her eyes, cornflower blue to her mossy green, "and I would… miss you too."
She kept a firm hold on his hands like she expected him to vanish if she let go. "Toby, we can talk about it later, okay?" All thoughts of sticking it to the Goblin King fled. She'd take her campers back and call it square. "It's… it's impossible, kiddo."
She looked up at the Goblin King looming above them, willing him to say something. Concur that the boy was unwelcome.
He said nothing.
Toby seemed to remember himself and looked up at the king too. "That was rude of me. Can I stay then?"
Sarah clasped a hand over her brother's mouth like she could force the words back inside and then lunged between them to use her body like a shield.
"You can't have him," she hissed at the king. "I don't care what he said."
"Take him… now give him back…"Jareth regarded her blandly. "This all feels so familiar. Make up your mind, Sarah." Perhaps aware that she was very close to violence, he added sardonically, "Don't worry. I've trying to get rid of all of the grubby children you've saddled me with not, not add to my permanent collection." He looked down at Toby. "Too old to turn and, if he's like the others, too noisome to keep." But he was still the Goblin King, so he flashed her a smile with too many teeth. "This does make things rather more interesting now though, doesn't it?"
Interesting was not the word that immediately came to Sarah's mind.
"Maybe you could come with me," a small voice tinged with the unmistakable sound of hope cut the tension only to magnify it tenfold.
Sarah stared down at her brother in shock, then her eyes flicked back to Jareth.
His expression was one of keen interest – the kind a cat shows a mouse. "Out of the mouths of babes."
She turned back to Toby. "As I said, kiddo... It's impossible."
"Come, come, Sarah. Bad enough you wish him away, but now you lie to him?" he tsk'd mockingly. "Everything and anything is possible. For the right price." And then he took a knee to bring himself closer to the boy; his cape fanning out like wings coming to rest. "So you like my kingdom, young Master Toby?"
"Don't," Sarah warned brokenly, her hand tightening on Toby's shoulder.
But Toby's attention was still honed entirely on her anyway, as though he'd not even heard the king speak. "Wish me away?"
A lump settled in Sarah's throat, almost choking her.
He didn't look mad - or not only mad - not even solely hurt either. It was a dizzying convergence of emotions on his face that made Sarah feel guilty. At base, he looked as though a great mystery had been solved.
"The story… at the campfire… it was true." He looked up at her; eyes over bright. Almost feverish. "I knew it! I knew it somehow." He pressed a hand to his chest. "That's why it felt soreal when you were telling it."
Sarah whirled back to the Goblin King, not caring that she was at a disadvantage in her towel to his armour. Jareth had risen in anticipation of her attack. He thought she looked like an avenging Valkyrie in terrycloth, though he didn't voice the thought in the face of her breathtaking ire.
"You!" She jammed a finger into his breastplate. "You did this. You did something… something to him while you had him! Was this your game all along? Some kind of twisted revenge because I beat you?" It all began to make sense. How Toby had grown so quiet and reserved in the last few years. Withdrawn even. The Goblin King had played the long game.
"Not everything is about you, Sarah."
Jareth and Sarah turned in surprise. It was Toby who had spoken.
Toby who was regarding them both calmly from beneath his fringe.
"What I mean," he continued seriously, "is I think this is about me. And how I feel." He paused as though trying to choose his words carefully. Later Sarah would realize he was trying not to hurt her. That would only make her feel worse. "I love mom and dad. And you. But I… I don't belong. It feels like a part of me is missing somehow. The older I get, the bigger that missing piece of me gets if that makes sense. And maybe one day there won't be enough of me left." He sounded scared but maybe also resigned. In that moment Sarah realized she'd been horribly wrong to think it a phase.
She chewed her lips, fighting back the flood of emotions making her eyes itch. She would not do that in front of him. And she wouldn't make it about her feelings in front of Toby. That wouldn't be fair. She nodded at him to continue.
He smiled weakly. "And I know you are going away… after this… this camp."
She opened her mouth to protest, then closed it again. She wouldn't lie to him. Not now when he was being so honest and so candid.
"That's why I didn't want to come here. Not really. If I didn't come to this last camp you couldn't leave yet."
Sarah felt her face flush at how close he was; how very intuitive for one so young.
Then Toby looked at her, really looked, and his eyes were hard. So blue but so cold. And for a moment she was reminded of the Goblin King. A fey look in such a mortal face. "It wouldn't have worked, Sarah. You've always been mine and you were going to leave me." He sucked in a breath as though too many emotions had bottlenecked. "You… you were the only one who could make me feel almost right and not broken. Like you somehow understood." He toed the dirt. "But then you were going to leave and all I could think of was that everything holding me together was going to be gone."
Sarah looked at the Goblin King but he was watching Toby thoughtfully.
She turned back to her brother. "I-I would have come back, Toby. Holidays… birthdays, summer vacations…" she trailed off knowing it was like putting a Band-Aid on an artery. "You could have come and visited me too!"
"And then I went there," he pressed on. His voice took on a dreamy quality. "I felt… like me. It was like being next to ten of you. A hundred!" Sarah tried not to let it sting because he was beaming. "There are fairies, Sarah! Real ones. But they bite if you're not careful. Oh and I beat your friend Sir Didymus in Scrabble. He was probably too nice though and let me count 'Booyah' even though I wasn't sure it would be in a dictionary. You never let me count it," he barrelled on sounding like the precocious child he used to be. "Your friend Ludo said he would teach me to call rocks. At least I think he said that. Doesn't say much but I don't mind. He's a good listener. And even though Mr. Hoggle told me I had to stay hidden, I did get to see some of the castle and the Labyrinth and even some goblins! All different kinds. They are so weird and cute looking."
Jareth's guards exchanged looks, unsure if they should be proud or insulted.
Sarah found herself wringing her hands, doing anything to release the pent up energy surging through her limbs. The sun was hot and unfiltered in the grassy clearing, but she found herself chilled to the bone. He sounded like old Toby. The Toby from before who found joy in everything, even things no one would normally find joy in. She hadn't realized just how very much she'd missed that Toby.
She pressed fingers into her temple, trying to still her whirling thoughts. What would she tell Karen and her dad? How could she ever face Toby again if she stopped him? Not when it was all her fault in the first place. He'd never have been exposed to any of it if it hadn't been for her. But she had no choice. And she didn't think he was entirely blameless. He couldn't have Toby then and he wouldn't get him now. She'd find a way to fix her brother.
"This has to stop. It's gone too far." She looked up at the Goblin King and steeled herself. "I take back my wish. It was my fault." It was easier than she thought to say it aloud. "I'll run the Labyrinth again… whatever you said before. I just want them back. All of them. Let's end this now." She held out a hand. A truce.
Toby let out a wordless sound of protest.
The Goblin King looked down at her hand and then back at her face.
For a moment so brief she might have imagined it, his expression softened. And then the mask returned. "As tempting as that is," and it was tempting to imagine her, subject to his power, and running his Labyrinth in nothing more than the scrap of cloth she wore beneath the towel, "but I'm afraid things have changed."
Her hand dropped and her face twisted. "You really are a bastard, you know that right?" She blew out a fractured breath, changing tact. "I… apologize. I shouldn't have wished them to you. Not the first time," she glanced at Toby, "and not this time either. We've both had our fun. Gotten some digs in." Unspoken but understood was the reality that her guilt was worse than any punishment he could devise. No torment as great. Toby looked liked she'd betrayed him. In more ways than one.
"Please," she breathed.
A fool might have supposed all the fight had gone out of her. That she was weak. Disarmed and declawed. Jareth was no fool. She'd poured her whole self and all her power into the simple word. Not a Valkyrie then but a queen.
And one for the taking if he played his cards right.
"As much as I enjoy hearing you beg," he watched with relish as she stiffened, "the rules have changed." In that he was honest.
Perhaps she heard the truth in his words. "Why?"
"Because if he is magic-touched, and no, I did not 'do something' to him, then that means the Labyrinth chose him."
Sarah pulled a face. "Isn't it yours? Under your power?"
"Yes and no," Jareth answered carefully. "It has its own magic. A very old kind."
Sarah studied him as she weighed his words. "But then how come I am not affected then? I was there too. For just as long."
"It didn't chose you, evidently."
Sarah wondered why that hurt when it shouldn't have. "But… it's just crumbling stone walls and overgrown hedges."
"Shocking that it didn't," he remarked wryly. "It so much more, Sarah. And I think you know that."
Toby nodded eagerly. "You can even hear it if you listen. If you really try, I mean."
Sarah suddenly wanted to do nothing more than run and dive into the cold, dark lake - down so deep she could drown out absolutely everything.
"You said you didn't want them. Any of them," her voice cracked accusingly. She glared at the Goblin King because she couldn't be mad at Toby and she couldn't be any madder at herself.
"It doesn't matter what I want," he replied. Now that was a partial lie. "I am bound. I cannot return that which was given and doesn't want to be returned."
Toby looked far too pleased by his words and she looked at him beseechingly, silently imploring him to take back his words this time.
Toby shook his head sadly, like he knew he was hurting her and hated himself for it. But there was also a defiance she recognized in the jut of his chin and tilt of his tow-coloured head. She had the same in her darker one. Their shared blood ran thick.
"Ah, there you are, Sarah," Doug wheezed as he trudged into the clearing; arms laden in accidents reports and apparently oblivious to the stand off he was interrupting.
"Not now, Doug!" Sarah and Jareth snapped in unison.
"Er… right-ho. I can see you are busy." He turned around again and started back down the hill, muttering about rule 23 - subsection 8. Capes were not part of camp dress code and presented a dangerous choking hazard.
"Come with me, Sarah." Toby slid his hand in hers and then looked up at the Goblin King. "Can she? She can, right?"
Sarah's eyes locked with Jareth's above her brother's head; hers wary and his far too intense.
"Only if she wishes it."
She glared back at him, telling him exactly what she thought of him and that idea.
"Or what if I wish it?" Toby asked eagerly when his sister said nothing. "Can I wish her away to you? Like she did me?"
Sarah sucked in sharply. "Toby, don't you dare!" She snagged him by the shoulders and pulled him a few feet away. When Jareth and his guards allowed it, she knew with a sinking feeling that was because he knew he could take Toby back. Whenever he wanted. In fact no matter Toby would go to him.
"You don't know what he's like, Toby." She shook him gently. "Don't put yourself in his power. Ever." Anymore than you already are, she thought but didn't say.
"But didn't you put me in his power?" he asked, his voice so boyish and yet so wise.
Twice. "I fucked up, Toby. Big time." She rarely swore in front of her brother, and when she did he knew she was serious and feeling stressed.
"It's going to be okay," he said and rubbed her arm, the way she always did his.
"Stop," she laughed. "You're not supposed to comfort me." And you're not supposed to be the one who leaves either.
"You're sister thinks of me as a villain, Toby," Jareth called, showing he could hear the frenzied whispers perfectly.
"And are you?" Toby turned asked politely, but with the same boldness that had impressed and infuriated Sarah so many years ago.
Jareth winked at the boy. "Only when I want to be."
"Look at me." Sarah drew Toby's attention back. "No wishes, understand? I will ground you into next week. And under no circumstance do anything to put me in his power either, got it?"
"I never took you for a coward, Sarah," the Goblin King goaded. "Are you so afraid to go back? I'm sure I could find a use for you."
She bristled at his tone, preparing an acerbic reply.
"I have many boots that need polishing," he finished gamely.
"She's a brilliant writer." There was pride evident in Toby's voice as he defended his sister. "She's really good with words."
"Yes, I recall," the Goblin King sneered. "Come, Toby, it's time to return." He was feeling stretched thin. "If you want to, that is…" He let the question dangle like a blade.
Sarah's hands tightened on her brother's narrow shoulders.
Toby looked up her. "I'll be okay, Sarah."
Her breath hitched but she didn't release him. "This is crazy!" We can fix this. I can fix this."
"You can't fix everything," he said sagely. "I want this. I'll be okay, really. You taught me everything I know."
Salt in the wound, but she mustered a smile. "I'm still going to fix it."
Toby nodded, looking more like his old self than he had in years. "Of course you will. You're Super Sarah." It was a nickname he used to call her when he was little. Anytime she kissed a bobo better or read him a bedtime story or found a toy he thought he'd lost… or eaten his peas for him when their parents weren't looking even though she didn't like peas either.
When he thought she was everything good, Sarah thought.
"Don't be sad. It's not goodbye forever. I'll see you again." Toby turned to the king seeking confirmation and received a cryptic nod.
She rounded back on the Goblin King instead. "Don't you dare hurt him. Don't you dare let a thing happen to him. Not one thing."
"Don't give me orders, Sarah," he cautioned. "I've been generous until now. And that generosity is being stretched thin. You should probably work on being much nicer to me going forward." He leaned in, his warm breath fluttering the damp strands of hair that clung to her ear. "Now that I have everything you want."
Despite the summer heat, Sarah felt goosebumps break across her skin.
He drew back, his next words insidious. "You can come with him if you want, you know. Since you are so determined to think me a villain." There was a note of censure in his voice. "Simply say the word." He made it sound so very easy.
Sarah stared at him, her body thrumming with misdirected fury. "Never. Not in a million years. But I will get him back."
"Bold words," he replied with a laugh. "Let's hope you don't come to regret them." He stepped back, his hand falling onto Toby's shoulder simply because he knew it would needle her further. "Not a hair on his head will be harmed."
"This isn't over." Sarah took a half step forward.
"No, it's not," Jareth agreed. "I'll see you again soon. In the meantime, have a good long think on what exactly you are prepared to lose."
Toby waved as they disappeared, his expression one of unfettered anticipation. As though she was sending him off to camp and it was the most normal thing in the world.
No, not camp, thought Sarah. He was waving like he was going home.
AN: Even though I absolutely hated the Labyrinth manga (that shall not be named) for doing Sarah so dirty and forgetting it was *her* story, I did want to tackle the idea that the Labyrinth had formed a connection to Toby, and not Sarah, despite her being the Champion. I've also always loved the idea of the Labyrinth as its own entity, so to speak. Never fear, it's still Sarah's story – as it should be *glares at the manga*.
My province has been in full lockdown for coming on 7 weeks, not. Our Scouts program is virtual by necessity and let me tell you, I miss the camping hijinks of those grubby goblins I call my cubs and beavers.
This was a pretty serious chapter for a crack fic, not to mention a lot of standing around talking (literally), but it had to be tackled to advance the plot. We return to our regularly scheduled shenanigans next chapter. Toby isn't lost forever. Sarah isn't beaten. Jareth isn't finished. Simon isn't cowed. The cubs and goblins aren't through terrorizing and the caterpillars… well, they are still very hungry. RIP. Eric Carle.