Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters, situations, ideas, etc., of Labyrinth, and I am making no financial gain off this fic.
Notes: This piece is written for the 30 Kisses challenge at livejournal and responds to theme #19: red.
and down will come
1: the window opened
On the fourth day after the strike of the thirteenth hour she starts from bed with her tongue thick in her mouth and rain on her throat. The storm blows the curtains in like long winding ghosts. She touches a hand to her throat - waits as if in stone relief - and wipes her cuff across her neck to mop away the rain.
(Wonders why is my window open and)
Sarah slides out of bed, feeling her way across the carpet with bare toes; the weave is soaked in thick patches and the wind blows bursts of angry staccato rain into her face. She pulls the window down and stands with her fingertips on wet glass and her breath fogging the glass and her toes, bare, on soaked carpet.
The tree outside her window flutters: a branch weaves in the wind or at the weight of some small bird crouching and taking to the air. In the lightning that follows she blinks and loses the movement.
2: the beast in the cradle
This story rolls in the back of her mind: the little folk come for the babe in its cradle and in its place they leave one of their own, a little changeling to kick and scream and slide like oil into the hearts of the babe's mother, father, sister (brother?) and turn love to residue. Little beast in the cradle, whispering in the night I am your child I am your babe Listen to me (I want) Listen to me.
(Who is the king takes the babe, leaves the beast, touches your throat with rain in the night?)
3: a sunset in oils
Sarah stands at the precipice. Here is the end of the world, he says at her throat as he brushes his fingers (gloved, black, cooled leather) along her arms. I would give you wings that you might fly beyond its end. The world ends in a roll of water brushing past her feet (bare) and spilling off into a void that looks a feather-painted sunset. Soft pink, light orange, clouds like sugar spun into delicate puffs of violet blue robin, a trace of dusk like arsenic beneath the sweet. I would give you wings that you might step into the sun. He traces the shape of her ear with his fingertips, brushes them deep in her hair and touches his mouth to her nape. Sarah would you like to fly?
She lifts a hand to the sunset and it slides around her wrist in thick, oily drips of color. Pooling at her wrist and dripping onetwothreeslide from her elbow to splash around her feet. Sarah draws her hand back and stares at the violence of the color on her skin.
Love me, he sings against her nape. Fear me. Come to me, Sarah, my Sarah, sweet darling foolish Sarah, mine. Wings, roses, morning, evening. I would give you death that you might see the sun rise. I would give you ghosts that you might see the beauty.
Nothing you say ever makes sense, she says (and her voice sounds broken and the painted arsenic sky drips and drips like oil, blood, splashing by her feet and sliding off the end of the world). You never tell the truth.
Oh Sarah, he sighs and laughs and turns her face to his with a finger at her chin. His hair brushes her mouth; he bends low to speak to her ear. If you don't trust my lies, I wonder how you would like my truths.
Tell me something real, she says. Water spills around her feet, a wind catches at her back. Tell me something I can believe.
He smiles and leans close so his mouth is soft and hot at her ear: I have left the beast in the cradle.
She closes her eyes. I don't understand.
Have you ever? he asks, amused.
4: the burn
She hides the rash on her arm with a long sleeve. (But it's July, her father says. It's ninety degrees out there for God's sake. Just the humidity, she says, and I think it looks good.) The skin peels in strips of dead flesh, white and itching and smelling faintly of oil.
5: tell me your name
Here's another story: names are power; a name is call and beacon, deception and truth.
Rumplestiltskin and his girl with hay to make into gold and a babe (the babe) his price, I will do this for you if you give me your child (the child) can you guess my name little girl? (Thomas Henry Toby.) The old witch who ate the bones of children wandering through the woods, sprinkling bread crumbs behind them. The woman who wore the faces of young women to hide her name, the man who said I will let you go if you can guess (what is my name little girl). The king who knows your name and says it like cream on his tongue: Sarah, my Sarah, why the tears?
Can you guess?
Thomas. Henry. Toby. (Toby, what's wrong?)
6: the question
Toby screams in fits and bursts, jagged little cries that turn his face red and his eyes bright with tears and his round body tensed into a single furious moment. Three days. Four. A week. He cries less and sleeps more, but his face is worn and he turns away from everything but honey (honey as bargaining tool, honey as gift, honey as momentary relief oh Toby stop crying stop crying). A spoonful of honey, a spoonful of mashed peas, his mother's eyes lined red with lack of sleep.
It's colic, their father says. It's normal.
Is this normal? Toby's mother demands, flinging her arm out. It's not colic. It's not normal. The doctor doesn't know. (How could you?)
For God's sake, he says, what do I know? I'm just his father.
Toby screams through the walls and his mother covers her face with her hands, fingers knotting in her hair as she breathes one, two, one, two.
Sarah, her father says after a moment. Go look after Toby. I need to take your mother out.
But, Sarah says (she's not my mother why do I have to I want) and stops. Toby screams again and again, weak and furious, and Sarah takes the stairs one at a time.
7: this is not a truth
Dusk rests dark at his throat as a ruffle of moth-eaten lace. He turns a crystal over in his hand, watching the lights flickering within it or perhaps the exaggerated round slide of her reflection. She steps, slowly, from the arch preceding the throne room into the room itself: rotted velvet strewn across the floor, the thick odor of something decadent and old, a king in black leather strewn casually across his throne.
Why am I here? she asks.
He swirls the crystal around his fingers and it turns to ash on his knee. Sarah, he says and brushes the silver powder from his leg. His eyes slant toward hers, rimmed in black and shining like glass. He tilts his head to the side. You always have so many questions for me. I wonder why that is?
Her heart feels swollen. Sarah takes a breath and chokes on it (the rot of velvet like oil) with her hand at her throat. Why am I here? she asks again, breathing in shallow gulps. Sunlight or a facsimile thereof stretches from the gaping windows in stone, filtering in through the maze of cloth above; she can see the dust motes like disease in the air, and imagines them filling her lungs as sand, trickling. Why can't you just tell me? Whyher voice catches and she claps her hands to her mouth. Her stomach turns.
Do you like it? he asks, swinging his legs from the arm of his throne. His heels thump sharply on the stone and he lazes back. Do you see Sarah? This is the legacy of manhe stretches his arm out in a sardonic welcome to forget the names of gods and leave them to rot in their excess. How noble. How poetic. Do you remember my name Sarah?
She shakes her head and slides her hands from her mouth, pressing her fingers to the fluttering pulse in her throat. I don't, she says. I won't. I can't. What do you want from me?
He stands, abruptly, and steps toward her, then away and back to her. Sarah. His eyes shine, dark. My name. Would you give it to me?
She closes her eyes at his voice - soft, coaxing, lined with something sharp.
Sarah. His fingers press against her chin, brushing the skin and tipping her face up to his. Say my name. Give that to me Sarah. Call to me.
She opens her eyes and steps away; his hand waits, upheld and shining dark before her eyes. No, she says. No no. I won't. I can't. Don't you understand? I can't. She steps back again, again, until her back presses against the stones of the arch itself. Wet, seeping into her top (pajamas, she realizes, I'm in my pajamas).
Somewhere - the sound echoes faintly through the walls - a child is laughing.
Toby, she says.
He lets his hand fall; his face is cold and thin before he smiles at her, cool and secretive and sly. Sarah, he says, lightly. He draws a crystal from the air and looking disinterestedly at it, he tosses it into the air where it pops like a small breathy bubble and for a moment she sees Toby, laughing gum-toothed and red-cheeked in a crib of bone and velvet, rotted.
Sarah opens her palms to the stones, feels the wet coalesce against her skin as she breathes and listens, straining for the sound: Toby, somewhere, laughing. You bastard, she breathes. You bastard. What did you do to Toby? I beat you. What did you do to Toby?
Sarah, he says, smiling. I never play fair.
8: rock a bye
Sarah stumbles blindly into the hallway, following the sound of Toby (not Toby) screaming high and brittle in the dark as she falters, runs her hand along the wall, fumbles at the nursery door and finally shoves it open. The window is open and the drapes flap as ghosts in winding serpentine rhythm. It's July and in this room her arms goosebump. Her back is wet.
She steps toward the crib with slow jerky movements. Mechanical.
The tree beyond the window sways in a sudden wind and perhaps there is a soft noise (an owl whispering into the air, who? who?) filtering like a rotted breath on the breeze.
Toby screams but the sound is wrong: low and rasping, a sly-cruel cackle rising and falling in mimickry of a babe weeping.
Toby. Toby what's wrong?
It strikes her then: the darkness, the banging of the windows as the wind catches the drapes, the glass, the awareness of her own heartbeat as she steps to the crib. It's not fair, she thinks, and she is at the crib with her hand reaching down to tug down the blanket. The screaming doubles in force (not a cackle but an unearthly wail) and then the beast is shown: a goblin with beady red eyes and teeth jagged like broken knives and a sound rippling from its throat both scream and cackle. Beneath, the smell of oil mixing with honey.
9: the lie
Do you understand?
(You never tell the truth.)
Would you like to hear a story?
(Something I can believe.)
10: white wings
Sarah screams his name before she knows the sound has risen from her throat. Jareth!
There is an owl in the tree outside the window: eyes shining like glass, white wings fluttering like heartbeats. It swivels its head to her voice - eyes reflecting yellow moonlight.
Jareth! she shrieks and turns to the crib where the beast screeches and giggles in song to itself. Give me back my brother! What did you do to him? Jareth!
And the owl is gone. The smell of oil chokes in her chest.
11: once upon a time
The thing about those stories though, the difference. (And they lived happily ever after.)
12: the peach
Jareth does not so much emerge from the shadows of the wall behind Toby's (not Toby's) crib, as he steps from them. Peeling from the darkness and smiling sharp and sly at her with a heavy crystal tossed between his hands. He stops, just on the edge of the moonlight spilling, so his skin, hair, the crystal shine bright from the shadows and the leather.
Hello Sarah, he says and pops the crystal into the air, catches it in the other hand with a twist. Isn't it lovely to see you again.
What did you do? she demands. Pretends fear isn't high in her voice. Sarah moves, restless, anxious, rolling up on her toes and surging back, toward the window and the moonlight.
In the crib the beast screams.
Hush now, says Jareth. He leans into the crib, dark between the whitewashed bars, and makes a soft clucking noise somehow infinitely patient. Look what I've brought for you my little thing. He turns the crystal invitingly and bares his teeth in a lean smile. Do you like it?
Sarah turns away, hand at her mouth, and looks back over her shoulder as he drops the bauble into the gnarled hands of the goblin child who lapses into quiet interest.
Jareth smiles up at her, still leaning over the crib. His eyes are discoloured and flat.
You can't do this, she whispers because she knows if she doesn't, if she doesn't make her voice low and quiet and trembling, just trembling - she's going to scream. Sob. Wail, break down, curse and rage and he will (smile) watch. I hate you. I hate you so much. You have no power over me you lost I hate you.
You make things so simple for yourself, he observes and steps back from the crib, crossing his arms and pacing slightly to the side as he tips his head to watch her. She echoes his pace, moving away. Perhaps you've forgotten the exact words Sarah. I haven't. His eyes, flat, turning to darkness as his back moves to the opened window and the window snapping through his hair. Sarah, he says softly. My Sarah. I have no power over you.
That's not fair! she shouts. The wind screams through the room and she flinches, still circling the crib, facing him so he won't see her back (wet). You know that's not fair! I won my brother back and you lost!
It was never about the babe Sarah. Jareth's smile is twisted down into a line, now, and he holds his hands up. The fingers of the left twist in the air, pinch at and tug on a wisp of breeze: a crystal that melts in his palm to become a peach. He swivels to face her, sharp and intent, the owl. The game hasn't ended.
No, she says. No.
Jareth straightens. He smiles again and twirls the peach in his hand, studies the surface with a quick trace of fingers down the curve. I will give you your brother, he says. But I ask a price.
No, she says, louder, pressing against the wall behind the crib. No.
I would give you wings, he says softly. He stands, motionless, in the moonlight. The peach shines muted pink-orange and drips with something like dew. I would give you sunsets. I would give you the morning made anew every moment you desire it and I ask of you this one thing.
No, she says and presses her hands to her ears.
His voice slides between her fingers, wrathful, desperate: I would return your brother and all I ask is you.
I gave you your name, she cries, pinning her ears with her palms and bending over. That's what you wanted!
The smell of peach is sudden and ripe in the breeze that catches around her, too sweet and thick enough to choke. Jareth steps forward, deliberate.
Would you like your brother back? he asks. Then take my hand. Sarah. Take my hand and I will give your brother back to this nursery.
I can't, she says, helpless.
Sarah, he says. My Sarah. You've given me the half. I want the other as well.
She shakes her head and looks to the floor when he steps before her, and taking a breath she looks him in the eyes. It doesn't work like that, she says. Her voice shakes, perhaps, and she digs her nails into the flesh of her palms. You can't. It doesn't. You can't.
You called my name, he says. You bound yourself to me. I am being most kind Sarah.
It doesn't work like that, she whispers.
He smiles, again, and steps away, running a hand along the curve of the crib.
She closes her eyes.
13: the end of the world
The end of the world is a throne room smelling of velvet rot, nighttime nine days after the strike of the thirteenth hour. Sarah bites her tongue until it bleeds and covers her face with her hands as she sucks air in, tasting blood with each swallow.
I had to come, Jareth says. He touches her cheek, gently, and brushes his mouth above her eye. You called to me. You spoke my name and I am bound to it.
You tricked me, she says beneath her hands, shaking and breathing quickly as she thinks: I will not cry. I won't give him that.
You spoke my name. A kiss above the other eye, soft and perfumed. You bound yourself to me.
I hate you, she says and her voice catches, her eyes burn. You bastard. I hate you.
Sarah, he says lightly. I suppose next you'll be telling me it isn't fair.
No. Jareth cups her face in his hands, tilts her up to him as she drops her hands, eyes bright, mouth a sharp line. It rarely is.
He kisses her and tastes of honey, oil, the brush of dusk against her mouth.
(Can you guess?)