Skirts, rustling around her legs as she turns, the walls of the ballroom glittering around her. Music drifting through the air. People, nudging against her as she passes, her eyes scanning the room for the sight of…
He steps forward from the crowd, takes her hands, and leads her in the most elegant dance of all: the waltz. He turns her gracefully, not missing a step, and she catches sight of the two of them in the curved, reflective walls. They look so beautiful.
He pulls her tight against him, his lips murmuring, "I need you," as she is crushed against his chest. She can't breathe, and doesn't care. All she cares about is in his eyes, and all she can see is his mouth slowly descending towards hers…Beep…Beep…Beep…
She looks around, confused, for the sound. He smiles ruefully.
"Time to wake up, Sarah…but remember, I need you…don't forget…"
She sat up in bed, drawing in a deep breath, and reflexively slammed her hand down on the alarm clock. She wasn't in a ballroom; she was at home, in her bed, with her cat Nimue giving her a very sleepy look from the end of the bed. Right.
Sarah swung her long legs out of bed, flipping her hair out of her face, and groggily staggered to the bathroom, where she splashed cold water on her flushed cheeks. The dreams came every so often; she was used to them by now; at least, she thought she was.
Her mind was on auto-pilot as she got ready for work, tending to drift back to what she remembered of her dream, and an even more distant memory of the reality that the dream came from. So beautiful. I remember feeling so beautiful…and he looked so beautiful, too…
As she grabbed her apron from the back of the couch, her hand paused for a moment, and lingered on the wooden labyrinth that still held a place of honor on one of her end tables. The memories, like all memories, had faded with time, and eight years had done a good job of erasing much of what had happened to her in the Underground, but she still remembered pieces.
And when she didn't…
He had said, "I need you."
Sarah paused, struck by a thought.
Work passed in a blur of double skinny lattes, mochas, and large coffees with room for cream. Slinging coffee was no picnic, but at least it paid the bills and gave her the flexible schedule she needed to pursue her acting. Usually at work she'd be running over lines in her head, or thinking through her newest audition monologue, but today, there was something else occupying her thoughts.
Late that night, Sarah sat down in front of her mirror, full of trepidation. It was the same mirror she'd had as a teenager, but she'd never called her friends from her apartment, and it had been three years – would they still come? Could they even find her?
Only one way to find out.
She took a deep breath.
"Hoggle? Sir Didymus? Ludo? I need you. I need all of you."
She'd meant to enunciate clearly and speak loudly, but her voice came out as a squeak. She tried again.
"Hoggle! I need you! Ludo! I need you! Sir Didymus, I need you, I need you all!"
"Well, what took you so long?" a voice cried behind her, and she turned to see her three friends gathered at the foot of her bed.
Sarah nearly screamed with delight, leaping out of the chair. "Hoggle!"
They caught her as she dove into their arms, laughing and hugging all at the same time. She was practically crushed by Ludo's enthusiastic embrace, but didn't care; her friends had found her.
When the joyful reunion was over, Hoggle gave Sarah a more serious look. "Sarah, you called us after all this time, so you must know what's happening."
Ludo and Didymus also wore grave expressions as Sarah shook her head. "No, I – what's wrong? I had a dream last night…"
Didymus and Hoggle exchanged a look. "His Majesty said he would try to reach you, but wasn't sure how long it would take, my lady," said Didymus. "I believe he sent that dream well over a week ago."
"His Majesty? You mean that was from…"
"Jareth," Hoggle confirmed. "The King is in trouble."
Sarah stood, anger crossing her face. "Trouble? He needs help? My help!"
It was Didymus who answered. "Aye, my lady."
"Well, then he can come here himself and ask for it! You…you all know what he did, that he stole Toby-"
"Which, to be fair, you did ask him to do –" Hoggle interjected.
"-and then he tried to make me stay with him! And now he needs my help! Of all the cowardly, insane…"
They waited until she wore herself out, and then Didymus ventured, "My lady, he would have come himself, but can't."
"He's imprisoned," Hoggle said. "His cousin is trying to take over the Goblin Kingdom, and he's imprisoned Jareth."
She slowly sank back down onto the bed. "How did that happen?"
"Hamel – that's his cousin – has been envious of Jareth for years. He decided that the time was right to try and conquer the Labyrinth and the Kingdom, and somehow he managed to get into the castle and imprison Jareth. I don't know the whole story, to tell you the truth, but the two of us – me and Sir Didymus – got into the tower where he's being kept. All he had time to tell us before we had to get out again was that he needed help, and you were the best one for the job. So he asked us to try and get in touch with you –"
" – but we had no way of getting to your world until you called us," finished Didymus. "His Majesty may be able to travel between the worlds at will, but the ways are barred to such poor souls as us."
"So what exactly does he need me for?"
"He didn't get that far," said Hoggle, with a sigh. "Listen, Sarah, I know you don't really want to go back there, but if he's right, and you're the one who can help him…"
"The situation is desperate, my lady," Didymus pleaded. "Would it hurt to return and at least see what His Majesty wants with you?"
Sarah stood back up, and paced the floor. Part of her wanted to stay safe, and say to heck with Jareth the Goblin King, and keep living the life she had…
On the other hand though, being safe isn't that much fun…and I have been missing an adventure lately…
"All right," she sighed. "I'll go in the morning."
Hoggle and Didymus cheered, and Ludo grunted happily. "We'll return now, fair lady," Didymus said. "If you call us again in the morning, we shall escort you - Sir Hoggle, we may need to get into the tower again to consult with His Majesty…"
Sarah spent the remainder of the night packing a small knapsack to take with her into the Underground. Last time, she'd been unprepared, and she didn't intend to do the same again, especially not having any idea how long she'd be gone. She packed a full canteen, a flashlight, a candle and matches, her Swiss Army knife, a ball of twine, a large black permanent marker, and some food – granola bars, crackers, fruit, and the like. She also packed a light jacket, and laid out jeans, sneakers, a T-shirt, and a sweatshirt to wear in the morning.
She fell into bed tired, asleep almost before her head hit the pillow.
This time she's not in the ballroom; she's in a tower room, richly furnished, but there are bars on the windows and the door is thick metal. This is a royal prison.
She knows he's behind her, and takes her time about turning and looking him full in the face.
It's him, Jareth, the Goblin King. The man who has haunted her dreams for the past eight years, the man she dances with at night and wishes she could dance with forever…
She shakes her head to clear it. No time for that now.
Jareth is looking at her with a trace of a smirk on his face; an expression she knows well. Then it is gone, and she has trouble finding the arrogance that was so apparent the last time she saw this man. Now he is pale, drawn and tired, the lines from nose to mouth showing deeply. His hair is duller and almost seems to wilt.
"Sarah," he says softly. His voice is also tired.
"You called me," she says, admitting it. "I'm coming."
"I know. Forgive me for not explaining much; we don't have much time, and I'll tell you everything when you come to the Underground."
"You're so – "
"Different?" He smiles wryly. "Yes, losing one's kingdom can do that."
"So it's true? You are in prison?"
"A very comfortable one, but yes, I am." He sweeps a hand behind him. "Here you see my little gilded cage. Lovely, isn't it?" He seems not to expect an answer. "My cousin has laid a spell on it that severely limits the magic I'm able to do, which is why it took a week to send you the last dream. When Hoggle and Didymus told me you were coming, I decided to expend some strength and try to contact you one last time before you came."
Jareth pauses, turning and walking to one of the barred windows. "I had to hear it from you. And I had to see if you'd…forgiven me."
She remembers what Hoggle said, and unwillingly, admits it to herself. "I was the one that asked you to take Toby. I asked you for everything. There's nothing to forgive."
He sighs, smiling again. "Now I know you've grown up. Will you forgive me for the dreams, too?"
"The dreams? You mean…not just the other night, but…"
"I've sent all of them," he says softly. "All these years. Every night you dreamed, it was me there, in the dream, dancing with you. It was a way for me to still have a little piece of you with me. But in my defense…I wouldn't have been able to, if…"
"…if I hadn't wanted you to," Sarah finishes. Jareth's look is the only answer she needs.
"As you said," he murmurs, "I have no power over you."
"So then…as I said…there's nothing to forgive."
Jareth smiles, and for the first time, it seems to be a genuine smile, lighting up his face. "I knew you'd be the right one to be my Champion."
Sarah looks up, startled. "Champion? What do you mean, champion?"
Even as she speaks, the room begins to waver, the walls becoming transparent. Jareth looks around him, dismayed. "We're out of time. I'm weaker than I thought – or my cousin's spell is stronger. I swear to you that I'll tell you everything when you come tomorrow, but for now, just come to the gates of the palace and say that you're the King's Champion. Remember that. Do you understand?"
"I'll explain tomorrow, I promise – but don't forget, you're the King's Champion. Don't forget, Sarah…I've never forgotten you…"
She woke with the blankets kicked halfway to the floor, and the sheet twisted around her body. The clock on her beside read 7:35, which was only a little later than she normally rose for work. Ah well – no time like the present.
Sarah showered and dressed, gathering her things. She moved slowly, delaying the inevitable, until at last, all the preparations were made, and she had nothing left to do but take her place in front of the mirror.
"Hoggle? I need you…"