Greetings fellow Labyrinth fans. This is a one-shot ficlet submitted originally to the LJLabyfic Community (join up, it's fun!). The challenge was called "Never After". Adult themes!
And The Clock Strikes One
It seemed impossible to me at the time, but one day I realised that his face had changed. Always a severe countenance, that one, full of harsh angles and shadows, the strange pigments and bones given him by his ancestors. Except in sleep, where one might mistake him for a child, a simpleton, or a stricken elf fallen out of a fairy tale to curl up in my bed.
But he didn't sleep all that much, to be true. Many's the night I woke at some distant sound or dream prompt, to find him standing statue like by the window. The breeze would waft through his hair and ruffle the feathers on his back, and I think he let it do so merely to tantalise me, body and mind. Once he called the very moon from it's orbit to shine 'just so' on his alabaster skin as he posed unclothed on the turret roof of the Castle. I would hesitate to call him vain, in the way the humans would scowl about and secretly admire in muttered breaths. It is simply a knowing. He is beautiful, and alluring and dangerous and he has had a long time to perfect it.
"How long have you lived?" I asked him on that first night.
"You think I am alive then?". He was teasing me, which was unfair really at the time because I was newly fledged woman just minutes old and quite unskilled in bedroom bantering. Perhaps my naviety softened his resolve, and he kissed me once more. "Rome came to Britain the year I was born" he whispered.
I tried to count, to imagine. I think I said something truly childish, like "wow, don't you ever get old and tired of it?".
He laughed and laughed, and I wept because I thought he was being cruel. He licked away my tears with his cool tongue.
"Ah Sarah, don't fret. I'm not laughing at you, truly" he said as smoothly as any courtier might. I allowed myself to be comforted, because all around me now pressed the great Labyrinth, full of dangers and monsters and lost ones, and I knew I could never walk those passages as a child ever again. And I loved him. I always had, right from the moment when he'd come rudely through the upstairs window in my father's room, to now, on this night only a year later when he had returned to lure me from my own.
"I must be just a blink of an eye to you then"
"Yes, but when you have lived as long as I have, you come to know that everything about a life can change in that same blink".
"Are you immortal then?" I pressed, feeling bolder. A strange look on his face now, but it was an interesting one to me. I had become so accustomed already by then to his tacit infallibility. It had never occured to me not to rely on him for the truth of things. Silken lips against my ear, feather light caresses, a strong and as yet unexplored maleness of him that demanded my complete attention; these things were my whole world on that night.
But he never answered my question.
A year might have passed, or a day. One can never be sure in this strange world. I found that I had no desire to return to my old life. Jareth told me that he'd looked through my old windows. It was all the same, he said. Someone was keeping it that way, like a shrine to my memory. My father? Did he think me dead and gone? Strange that I should feel no latent guilt over that. He was not a bad man, my father, he was just...absent...from my heart and my life. Not his fault, but it's an odd day when a child realises that their parents are less than perfect.
Now there was only Jareth. My lover, master, slave and father all in one. Sometimes I would be overcome with a half-crazed giddiness at the heart I had won for myself. I became adept at the puzzle of the Labyrinth, sometimes pretending that the snowy owl who shadowed my steps was but an ordinary bird. I was reckless with my own safety, plunging headlong into every turn and twist of the maze, living for the moment when he could bear it no longer and appear in a puff of magic and dust at my side.
"Sarah" he would drawl in that schoolmasterly way he has, "you mistake me if you think I can rescue you from every danger"
"Are you not the master here?" I teased him, slipping my hands into places I had never thought I ever would dare. He had taught me well in every aspect, I must say. But after he had thrown me down and ravished me then and there, he grew thoughtful.
"I am the King, true enough, but not the Master. Labyrinth knows her own business. She...grew...from me, and I sustain her like a seed that supports the sapling. Together, we shelter and protect the little people, but they do not answer to us, not truly"
Later, when we were warm and comfortable again in my chambers, I began to think again. This pale hand draped across my flesh, was it an undying one? If it was, how would I bear it if he could not save me from death? If I accepted one of his glittering crystals, would that make me like him, or would it forever trap my spirit in an endless dance? It was like a tiny shard of doubt had been planted in my mind. He avoided my questions with caresses and presents and wild adventures within the maze walls. I came to realise that he didn't know, and more, that he feared to know such things.
One day, less than a month ago, I awoke to find him sleeping close by. The sun was weak and threw long rays to play with his face.
My hand toyed idly with his long locks, stopping in confusion of it's own accord when it encountered something new. In such fair silvery hair, I supposed it had gone unnoticed for some time, but it was definately touched now with the grey of age. He caught me staring at the scattering stuff and the fine lines around his eyes. I felt I had trespassed on something, and he let me know it without words, soundlessly rolling me over to take me roughly. But there was a desperation in his movements that he could not hide from me, and I bore his attentions without complaint, too fearful now. Not of Jareth, no, never him, but I feared the future. Somewhere in my mind the ominous ticking of his enchanted clock grew ever louder.
Tick, tock, tick, tock.
Too late I realised that it kept time not for me now, but for Jareth.
He took to wandering. He had never been one to leave my side for more than an hour at most, but now I would walk the grounds only to find him, stooped or flat upon the ground as if listening to the whispering of the Labyrinth itself. In his private garden, where he typically forebore me from entering, I found him for the last time. He had become ever more translucent, like a thinning of his self as his life emptied away. Dried out like a husk of what he had once been.
"Are you dying?"
"So, you still think I am alive then?". An effort at the old ripost, but it sounded only of defeat now. Part of me wanted to strike him, but instead I simply folded his head against my breast.
"I love you"
"Yes. We love you Sarah. Always" he murmured. I was not insulted by his inclusion of Labyrinth in his affections. He had often spoken of her as his other self, his creation of long ago. Now, perhaps, she had no more need of him. Maybe she thought she was doing him a service, to let him rest at last.
There was a dull clunking noise, a rude noise interupting the tranquillity of the garden. But we were not in the green places anymore. Instead, the junkyard spread out in all directions like a blot on the landscape. Junk-Lady, who I had met once before, looked up from her rummaging.
"Ahh, hello my dear" she grated in that singsong voice. But she wasn't talking to me. Jareth let her take his head between her old hands, bore her smoothing of his hair and feathers. I wanted to smash her hands away, wanted to scream. Why won't you fight for me? My hot tears fell on his face as I carried him forward. He was so light, so fragile in my arms. I stumbled through the junk piles, but Junk-Lady knew where to go.
An all too familiar door ahead now. My old room, just as I left it. A ghastly parody of my haven in the real world. I slumped in the entrance way. I would go no further. Jareth crept over the threshold and the clock began to chime it's countdown. The whole of the Labyrinth, and the child within me, pulsed in rythym to it's beat. Against the soft covers of my bed he lay now, his eyelashes resting on cold cheeks.
His doppelganger doll, the tiny pixie like man glared at me from his place on my dresser. This is your doing, human child.
I tried to cover my face with my hands. Don't blame me. I only took what was offered.
"Sarah?". My name, spoken with such love I thought I would die of the weight of it. It was like swimming through dreams to reach his side. My own room fought against me now.
"I am here Jareth"
"I am...fading. Labyrinth has let me go". His fingers like ice on my cheek. "Such a pity".
The last of his crystal balls tumbled out of his grip to land at my feet. I stretched out my hand to grasp the thing, but for some reason it evaded me, rolling across the floor. His face smiled sweetly from within it's depths as a grimy fist enclosed it.
Junk-lady clucked happily as she pocketed the orb. "Such a pity, such a pity" she mumbled to herself.. I still don't know who she thought needed pity. She shuffled out the door and I followed, prepared to either kill or cajole the crystal out of her. But she placed something else in my hands, a tattered red bound book with dull gold lettering across it's cover. "Here now, isn't this what you were looking for?" she murmured. A moment later, she was chuckling loudly over some other find, to be added with glee to her already overburdened back.
As she moved off, I went to stand mutely at my own window. Inside, Jareth of the Labyrinth, as peaceful as any child asleep in his own bed.
The book fell from my numb fingers, and I left it to rot there with the rest of me.