Author's Note: This is a somewhat lengthy drabble I wrote upon request for Lake of Fire, and also for the Labyrinth Fanfic Never After Challenge on the Labyfic livejournal community. I decided to post it as a one-shot here, since the new fanfic isn't ready to debut yet.
Summary: She left the Labyrinth, but he didn't leave her. The Goblin King is content to watch... and wait.
Watch For Me By Moonlight
She thought he would come for her the night of her eighteenth birthday, but he did not.
The Goblin King waited three days.It wasn't the first time he'd come to her since Sarah left the Labyrinth. In truth, he was very rarely absent, for she'd seen him perched outside her window, preening the mottled white and fawn-colored feathers on his back. The owl had the same manner of cocking its head, as if it could see right through her.
Sarah was distrustful of it at first in case it was some last trick of his, petty revenge for losing their game. She kept an eye on Toby and never let him outside alone, but the Goblin King did nothing but watch and wait. He took little notice of her brother, only observed her quietly, from a circumspect distance. They were not enemies, she realized. Not exactly.
He began to leave her small gifts. Once, it was a small potted plant with a flower that only blossomed on nights there was a full moon. Another time, it was a trio of stones the size of hummingbird eggs, milky and translucent as smoke. If Sarah held them in her hand long enough, they would start to hum ever so faintly in accompaniment to a faraway melody.
Then a year and a day since she'd left him in the room of shattered time, Jareth was there. She opened her door to find him standing by her open window, toying restlessly with his gloves. His glance was wary and assessing, prepared to make a hasty exit if she screamed or threw something at him.
"You." She prided herself on being calm.
He nodded, ever cautious. "Sarah."
She'd asked him what he wanted. To talk, he'd said. Nothing more. They'd talked until dawn, and from then onward, his visits were more frequent. It was always after nightfall and Sarah came to expect it. She nearly grew impatient for the sight of him, opening the door and looking for the slender shadow touched by moonlight standing by her window.
His speech was unusually solemn and stiff at first. It took another year for him to get accustomed to their conversations, but she would catch glimpses of his old self: a knowing smirk, the glimmer of arrogance in his replies. The words came more easily to him, and he asked her many questions. Every so often, his gaze would darken and fix upon her until Sarah felt as if she were under very close scrutiny, indeed.
"Tell me the truth," she challenged him once when they were both comfortable enough to speak frankly. "Why are you here?"
Jareth shrugged and allowed himself a small smile. "I'm waiting."
He would say no more, and she wasn't inclined to press him for details. Instead, they talked a great deal about school, her family, the various doings of Hoggle and Ludo, and Sir Didymus' latest adventure. Sarah was surprised he knew all about her friends, he'd seemed to hold them in such great disdain. She suspected that Hoggle had no idea how closely the Goblin King monitored his every activity, and it made her giggle.
Another year passed. Sarah celebrated her seventeenth birthday with friends at a local restaurant, and ate so much cake she felt sick. When she got back from the party, it was late, but the Goblin King was waiting without so much as a hint of impatience. His black leather vest was folded on the foot of the bed and he sat elegantly draped over her chair, immaculate linen sleeves rolled back over his forearms.
Sarah hid a smile. Her things were slightly out of place, he'd obviously passed the time rummaging through her papers and going through every drawer of her desk. Not too long ago, she would've yelled and stamped her feet at the intrusion. But things were not as they had been, and Sarah was no longer a child.
Jareth simply nodded a greeting and gave her a book. It was a slim volume, but unexpectedly heavy. Sarah ran her hand over the cover. Dark blue silk, slippery, but with a faint burr that suggested signs of wear. It felt and looked oddly familiar, but Sarah could not recall where she'd seen it. She supposed she would remember eventually, but Jareth's cryptic expression held no clues. Sarah knew better than to ask.
It had been a long time since he'd given her a gift.
"For your birthday." he said.
The book was blank on the inside, ivory pages smooth as cream between her fingers. Sarah tried to turn to the very end, but there didn't seem to be one-- there was always another clean page, waiting to be filled.
"You read a great many stories," he explained with a glance at her overflowing bookshelves. "I thought perhaps... you might like to write your own."
Sarah gave him a sharp look. Had he found the little notebook of scribbles buried in the deepest drawer of her desk? But if he had, the Goblin King gave no sign. He seemed distracted and restless, constantly tapping the riding crop he carried against the side of his leg. All their familiarity had evaporated, and once more he seemed oddly detached, as if keeping her at arm's length.
As it turned out, he could not stay.
"I will not return to you for a while," he told her, looking out her window where the moon hung low in the sky, a shining sliver. "There are things I must do that will take me away from here."
The announcement took her by surprise. She'd grown so used to Jareth's visits, it seemed unthinkable that they should suddenly just... stop.
Restless again, he paced the floor before her window as if he longed to be away already. She caught his sleeve, wanting to hold him still for just a moment.
"But you will be back?"
The Goblin King nodded, finally meeting her gaze. "You have my promise."
His tone was cheerful enough, accompanied by a crooked smile. But his eyes seemed weary with resignation. Will you miss this? Will you watch for me by moonlight, Sarah?
Sarah gave herself a mental shake. She'd imagined that last part, why would he ask such questions? It wasn't like him at all.
Where before he seemed anxious to leave, now he lingered. The Goblin King retrieved his vest from the bed, carefully rebuttoning his cuffs with grave attention. He was biding his time, and she sat on the bed, observing him with a strangely growing sense of anxiety.
When Jareth was finally finished, he glanced up. "I suppose I must bid you farewell, Sarah. For a while."
An unspoken question was written across his face, but she didn't know what it was. Sarah folded her hands in her lap, trying to hide the white knuckled grip she had on the book he'd given her.
"I'll be waiting."
It seemed to be the right answer, and the Goblin King's shoulders relaxed. Before he left, he took her hand and held it briefly.
Sarah would remember it for a very long time, because he did not return that month, nor the month after. It would be a year before she saw him again, though she didn't yet know it. Alhough she was angry at first, she thought she understood why. Waiting, he said. He was waiting. It didn't stop her from feeling cut adrift. She missed him.
Sarah looked over the book often, but she couldn't bring herself to write in it. No words seemed worthy. She spent a lot of time lost in thought, the silken cover pressed against her lips. The sleek material was inexplicably comforting, and although Sarah was sure she was only imagining it, she though it smelled faintly of him-- like a sun-warmed stone and a summer night.
Sometimes if she closed her eyes, she could still feel the pressure of his fingers on her own. He'd promised her, and he always kept his promises.
She would watch for him by moonlight.
Three days after her eighteenth birthday, the Goblin King came to take her away.
She'd gone to him as soon as he appeared, the rush of white wings through her window lengthening, darkening until he stood before her, a lean figure dressed in black and scarlet. Jareth was taken aback by how forcefully she clung to him, but his arms slid around her without hesitation, burying his face in the black tangle of her hair. Jareth slipped his gloves off so he could better touch her, smooth the tears from her skin.
"Will you come with me?" he asked, pulling away with reluctance.
Her hand in his was all the reply he needed.
She hadn't asked him for a ring, and didn't know if he gave her one out of acknowledgement of mortal custom or mere whim. When she opened her eyes to that first golden morning, he was already slipping it on her finger, pressing a kiss in the palm of her hand.
The ring was old, the silver band a pattern of endless knotwork, set with a crimson stone. They'd had no ceremony, said no vows, but this small circlet tied him to her as surely as any promise ever would. The Goblin King did not love by half measures, and he loved her fiercely.
"Forever," he promised her, late at night when she held him in her arms. "That's how long I would have waited."
And for a while, it seemed like forever was how long they would have.
Then one day, Sarah was emptying out a chest in their chambers, and she found the book he'd given her in what seemed like a lifetime ago. The blue silk was unfaded, and she knew now what he'd done to create it. The memory brought a smile to her lips, to think of him making such a sentimental gesture-- a perfectly good jacket ruined, just to have something of his always near her...
Her smile faded when she turned through the blank pages, each one emptier than the last.
It took Sarah all day to search for him, and she finally found him in the highest tower of the castle. A small fire burned in the hearth, but the room was empty of every other comfort. He stood at the window with his back to the door, leaning heavily on the ledge as if he were too exhausted to stand. When her footstep sounded on the bare stone floor, Jareth did not turn around as he would have done, did not take her hand and raise it to his lips.
He had been waiting for her.
Sarah clenched her fists so tightly the ring bit into her flesh.
"You were not at supper," she began lightly, "Or in your study. I was beginning to worry."
His voice sounded as tired as he looked, and he half-turned. It was an hour until sunset, and the rose gold skies seemed to cast an ashen hue over his features. The Goblin King would never age, but he looked old now and she ached to see it. Sarah went to him and put a hand on his arm, holding out the book.
"I found it this afternoon." She tilted it so the silk gleamed in the light. "Do you remember when you gave it to me? You said I might have stories of my own to tell."
Jareth laughed, and it had a bitter edge. "Would that I had burned it the day you agreed to love me. Then you might never have changed your mind."
"It's not that," she said, trying to run her fingers through his fair hair as she'd always liked to do. "Never that."
The Goblin King flinched from her as though her touch burned him.
"Not many mortals have such an opportunity," he said roughly. "You could remain here, live forever. Would it truly be such a terrible fate, staying here with me?"
Sarah's hand hovered over his face, close, but not quite touching. She pulled back.
"No. But the Labyrinth doesn't change. If I stay here with you, neither will I."
She clutched the book protectively against her breast. "I'm... not ready to stop changing, Jareth."
He bowed his head and did not speak for a long time.
"There is nothing I would not give you," he said at last. "Nothing I would not do."
Sarah slipped under the bridge of his arms, laid her head against his chest. "Then let me go."
They stood on a barren hill overlooking the Labyrinth, the same place where they'd first spoken all those years before. Tufts of withered grass were scattered here and there in the dirt, and nearby was a scraggly tree, branches twisted and bare. This time, there was no clock to count down the hours, but Sarah didn't need one. She knew their time was nearly at an end.
She stood on tiptoe to kiss him, even though he barely responded in kind. All the warmth had fled from his lips, the brilliant blue of his eyes were flat and dull. Sarah swallowed back her tears, because it would not change anything. She looked down at the ring he'd given her, the gem throwing off a spark of light that was the only true color in that bleak landscape. Tracing her fingertip over its intricate design one last time, she started to slip it off.
Jareth came to life then, catching her hands and holding them fast. "Don't."
Pleading, and pain. He would beg if he had to, though to do so would break him inside. Sarah wouldn't let it come to that.
"I can't stay."
The fire died.
"Keep it just the same." He lowered his eyes then, thoughts veiled behind pale lashes. "It belongs to you, and no other."
"I love you." she said, leaning into him. "You know that, don't you?"
Jareth looked away for a moment but relaxed against her, rubbing his cheek against her hair.
"Leave me quickly." He gave her hands a hard squeeze. "Before I change my mind and keep you here whether you will it or not."
She nodded, taking a deep breath. "Send me back."
His last kiss lingered on her forehead, his last touch feather-light upon her face. Though she did not turn to see it, Sarah knew that behind her was an open window, and inside, her bedroom, just as she'd left it. She had only to step through it to be home.
"I won't forget you." she promised him.
The wind blew a puff of tawny dust about their feet. In the harsh yellow light, his face was all angles and hollows, lean body held taught against the gale. She saw that he wore all black like he had in their first meeting, and he looked like a shadow. Jareth raised a hand in farewell.
"Forever." was all he said.
Sarah closed her eyes and took a step back, feeling blindly behind her for the edge of the window. One foot inside with the smallest of hesitations, she balanced on the boundary between the worlds. She braced against the jamb for support, and on it she could feel the silver ring, curiously heavy on her hand. It's not too late, part of her thought. I could still change my mind, let go of the old world for the new.
But she did not. Sarah stood there for a long while, listening to the sound of the Jareth's cloak fluttering in the wind. She took her remaining foot off that grassy hill and drew it back inside.
Eyes still shut tight, she could hear the difference. A boy rode his bicycle down the street, and a breeze sent the leaves in the oak tree just outside whispering. From several blocks away was the sound of a car horn. It had vanished, the Labyrinth, the Underground, and all that came with it. The lightest of touches brushed her lips, as if the wind had stolen a kiss.
When she opened her eyes, the Goblin King was gone.
"Just wait," teased her friend Emma, her voice sounding tinny and far away through the phone. "You'll up end meeting a cute French guy and your stepmother will freak. I think every single thing you do frightens her to death, especially your dating prospects."
Em was calling from a tiny village in France, tucked high in the limestone hills above the Dordogne river. Sarah wished she could be there, standing on the terrace outside the church, looking over a sun-washed valley while the wind thundered around her. In two days, she would cross the ocean and stand there herself, but that seemed a very long time away.
"Yeah, she worries I don't have any, Em."
"Only because you choose not to!" protested Emma. "You know, when you finally do decide on someone, she'll interrogate you about every single sordid detail."
"I don't doubt it. That's why, cleverly, I have no personal life." Sarah said with a little laugh.
"Seriously now, I'm glad you're coming, Sarah. It'll be great, you'll see. Travel builds character." Emma paused. "Sorry, almost lost my baguette. What was I saying? Oh, right. You can't hide away in your room forever."
Sarah said her goodbyes and went to finish packing, though it was late and midnight had come and gone. She'd left her bedroom window open, as she always did now when the weather was warm enough. Through it, the moonlight silvered the sparse leaves of the oak tree and the wind turned them like the rustling pages of a book.
He was not there, the branches were nearly stripped of foliage and looked like skeletal fingers against the night. Soon it would be too cold to keep her window open, and she could no longer tilt her face to the cool air, watching for his flickering shadow to cross the twilight sky.
But it was a warm night for October, and Sarah found herself pushing aside her backpack and settling by the window, her legs tucked up beneath her. Her eyes were drawn to the ring, which she wore on her right hand. The gem sparkled, red as the blood of her heart, and she twisted it on her finger but did not take it off.
"I'm not hiding," she said softly. "I'm waiting."
Author's Note: I kind of like this piece despite it being rather hasty and unpolished. What you see here is all I've got, there's no prequel, sequel, or attached story. I'll keep it in mind for a future writing project, although I think I prefer to keep it as it is-- a story with an open ending, with that sense of "Will they/won't they?" that explores the idea that Sarah might not adapt so easily to a world so unlike her own... even for the sake of love. If you liked this, I hope you'll take a look at The End of Days, which is a longer, more detailed J/S story.
The title Watch For Me By Moonlight comes from Alfred Noyes' poem, "The Highwayman", a sentimental favorite of mine.