Summary: Sara didn't accept Jareth's bargain, but she didn't leave the Labyrinth unmarked. A story of consequences, and two lonely, stubborn people learning to live with each other.

Disclaimer: I do not own Labyrinth; the premise and characters belong to Jim Henson's estate and some movie studio/s. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author's Note: This story was inspired by words #50, #65, and #66 on the 15minuteficlets livejournal community. You may notice a style change between the first two chapters and the final three -- that's because the last three were a single story that I split up in order to keep the word counts and pacing more even.

Any canon goofs, grammar mistakes, continuity errors, implausible characterizations, bad dialogue, and boring passages are entirely my fault.

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Answers
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Jareth stalked across his throne room, wondering for the ten thousandth time why he bothered to socialize with goblins. It was true that they were his responsibility in a way the other residents of the Labyrinth weren't -- they were the other half of his penance, the reverse of his intricate games -- but even when they showed flashes of intelligence and competence, they left the castle in a shambles and forced him to waste magic shifting their mess elsewhere.

He waved his hand at the floor. Crystal shattered on the stones, spread like ice blooming over still water, and vanished, carrying dirt and bones down into the tunnels.

He turned his attention to the windows, just in time for a brown sparrow to fly through the broken panes. It shimmered for a moment and unfolded into Sara. Jareth looked pointedly at her feet, planted firmly within his home -- he, at least, had had the courtesy to stay outside her window -- and then raised an eyebrow in silent inquiry.

"She accepted a bargain," Sara said, sounding oddly regretful. "In return for her mother and escape from the Labyrinth, she'll lend me her magic to use against you. She won't face the consequences of her wish."

Jareth nodded. "Set the terms long and give the power to the Labyrinth -- when the girl dies, it will seep back into the world above. I'll bring the woman."

Sara nodded in return. "You'll have to show me how to do this," she said.

Jareth snapped his fingers, summoning a crystal over his hand. "It's simple. You reach toward her with your gift and find the place in her that resonates. Then you pull, and store the magic in one of these." He sent the crystal across the distance between them, to hover over Sara's upturned palm. She studied the reflections in the ball for a long moment, and then tucked the crystal away into nothingness.

"Twenty minutes," she said. "This time, come to my door."

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The girl -- Christine, Christina, Katrina, something like that -- shuddered when Sara pulled out her magic. She pressed her hands on Sara's kitchen table to steady herself and said, "There. Now bring me my mother."

Jareth banished his spy globe and unbound the girl's mother from her enchanted sleep. The woman appeared by his side, looking dazed, and he cast a weak spell of confusion to keep her from struggling or realizing that she'd left her world. Then he took her hand in his and knocked on Sara's door.

"Good timing," Sara said as she opened it, "but I felt you cheating."

Jareth shrugged. "I felt you watching before; consider it a returned favor." He ushered the compliant woman into Sara's house and smiled at the shocked girl standing in the kitchen doorway. "Your mother, as promised. But I think we'll keep your magic -- you never set a time limit on that loan."

"You lied!" the girl shouted at Sara. "You tricked me!"

"I think you'll find that she kept her bargain," Jareth said, lowering his voice for dramatic effect, "which is more than I can say for you. You couldn't face the consequences of your mistake, so we've made sure you won't make any more mistakes like that." His smile widened.

"Jareth. Stop."

He turned to Sara, surprised at the bite in her voice, and recognized her expression as the one she wore just before she denied his bargain and left the Labyrinth so many years ago. Before she denied and left him. "Why?" he asked.

Sara looked over at the girl, who was now clinging to her bewildered mother, and waved her hand sharply. They vanished. Jareth felt them cross back to the world above and dismissed them from his mind. Sara was much more important.

"You said we have to test people," Sara said, still looking away from him, "to see if they're worthy of their power. Who tests us? Who keeps you from making mistakes?"

Jareth opened his mouth, considered her expression, and thought better of his first answer. "The Labyrinth," he said eventually. "It's a construct of the world's magic, given a vague form of intelligence by generations of human dreams and stories. Once, the Labyrinth was the only test, but its mind is slow and easily confused. It let too many people keep their magic."

Sara's face lost some of its diamond-sharp determination, softened by confusion. "If the Labyrinth is alive, then why does it let us change things? Why did it pick you as its king?"

"Because I made a foolish bargain," Jareth said, "and then I tried to break it." He flicked his fingers, dismissing the details in a shower of light. "I'm bound to the Labyrinth. I help it think. It keeps me sane. And the goblins don't let me forget."

"I see," Sara said after a long minute. Something shone in her eyes, some vast, all-important choice, and Jareth remembered the dazzling shock when she'd reached his castle the first time, when she'd stood before him and resisted all his temptations -- the thought that maybe this time he'd found someone strong enough to make the right choice and not forswear herself later as he had done. He tensed, waiting for the splintered rejection that had followed her first choice.

"I think you need better reminders than the goblins," Sara said. Jareth blinked. Then she smiled, and added, "Besides, the castle looks better with flowers, and I think my plants miss the night."

For all his quick wits, it took Jareth nearly a minute to realize that Sara wasn't angry with him anymore. It took him nearly five more minutes, several pointed looks, and quite a lot of frantic gesturing from Hoggle (who was standing on tiptoes at the kitchen window, just out of Sara's sight), to extend his hand and actually invite her back into the castle. She accepted. As her fingers closed around Jareth's, Hoggle collapsed in relief.

The next morning, the junkyard quietly dissipated into the fabric of the Labyrinth.

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They still had disagreements, of course. They fought over Sara's friends, Jareth's malicious glee in his games, and the decoration of the castle. Above all, Jareth insisted their disagreements had been about magic and rules all along. Sara knew they had been more personal, but she didn't argue too strongly.

She knew how hard it was to admit that you were lonely.

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AN: The End!

I'm still no good at writing romance -- my creative imagination just doesn't work that way -- but then again, romance isn't everything. And I did have fun playing around with theories about the Labyrinth and Jareth's relationship to and with it. I have ideas about what Jareth's original bargain was, how he broke it, and where the goblins came from, but they're not particularly relevant to "Balance" and it would have been OOC for Jareth to spill his whole life story to Sara, so I couldn't work them in. Sorry.