Chapter Eleven: Muddling Through Memories

Jareth's grip on the boy tightened to an almost killing degree before he remembered that he had yet to find out what had happened between the boy and his Mindia. It was only that reason that caused him to loosen his grip and let the boy fall into a painful heap on the floor, causing something to earlier pop or break by the sound of it, Jareth wasn't really caring at the moment; it no longer mattered that Arianna might have had some feelings for the waste of space coughing up the alcohol he consumed at his feet, if he found out that the boy had harmed her, he would die.

After waiting a few minutes for the boy to stop gagging and hold still, Jareth put the toe of his socked foot against the boy's side and pushed him over, so that he was flat on his back looking up at a very angry Goblin King towering over him. Glaring down at the boy, Jareth pointed a finger at him in warning, feeling only a minute amount of satisfaction at the involuntary flinch the boy made. "I'm only going to ask you this once and then I'm going to get... attentive with my questioning. I have ways of knowing if you're lying, boy, so don't even bother..."

Jareth then slowly leaned down and looked into the pair of wide, sober eyes that held the naked terror he had placed there, still feeling only a very small dose of satisfaction that he had frightened the child. This boy deserved, and would no doubt get, a far greater amount of terror before the night was out and would learn not to mess with things that belonged to Jareth, Great Goblin King of the Labyrinth, whether the boy knew who he was or not!

I don't belong to either of you!

Pushing away the stray thought, Jareth kept his gaze on the boy in front of him, who was starting to look a little confused as well as sober. Jareth realized that, while getting lost in his mental musings, he had yet to asked the boy what had happened between him and Arianna that had frightened her so. Now angry at both himself and the child still trembling in front of him, Jareth's hand snaked out and jerked the boy forward by the front of his shirt and hearing it tear at the sudden movement. Ignoring the startled cry from the boy that his action brought, Jareth hissed between clenched teeth, "What did you do to Arianna?"

"I-I did do a-anything... not r-really, at l-least... I-I just k-kissed her... " came the stammered reply, doing nothing to calm Jareth's anger and giving him another reason to strangle the child in front of him. As a matter of fact, the child seemed to tell that Jareth was feeling less than pleased, for he quickly decided to add on details that the King of the Labyrinth could have lived without, proving that while he was observant, the boy still lacked intelligence.

"W-we were just s-sitting there a-and we were t-talking, I r-remember that I-I-I had told her that I lo-ock!" The sound of the word that Jareth had yet to say to Arianna, though he believed he may be guilty of the action, being spoken so casually by the mortal in his grip caused it to tightened once more. After a few deep breaths and the mental picture of Arianna as she asked him to sleep with her, Jareth's grip loosened a few minute degrees.

"So," That single word caused the boy to flinch and Jareth let a satisfied smile slip across his lips, "You told her your feelings for her and kissed her, something that I could have easily gathered from Arianna after she finished weeping. Now tell me what happened that made her desperate for a physical release from the fear dominating her body, and tell me quickly before I decide that you are not worth keeping around and erase you from her memories!"

The last bit of his sentence ended on a roar and he could feel the boy's Adam's apple bobbing against his hand as he tried to swallow, but Jareth was once more past caring as he stood with the boy's throat in his hand and a crystal in the other, contemplating the thought of just erasing this child from Arianna's thoughts and leaving this bleak, dark tomb with her safely in his arms as he brought her back to the house he would have been happy to forget about only a few minutes ago...

"I don't know what the hell happened!" The voice was horrified, but the fear was not from what Jareth was threatening; the terror that had been there a few moments ago was gone as the boy's hands flew up to wrap around Jareth's wrist in a vain attempt to loosen his hold as his feelings turned inward, as his disgust was pushed inward. "I would never willingly hurt Arianna, but something happened and my body wouldn't let her go, no matter how hard my brain told it to!"

"Did you force yourself on her?" Gone was the angry roar; Jareth's voice was a low, menacing whispered that was more terrifying than his earlier shout and it showed by the loss of control the boy had over his body as it began to tremble so violently that Jareth had a hard time keeping a hold on him. Ignoring the blabbering responses stemming from the boy's lips, Jareth brought their faces only inches apart as his anger made the pupils of his eyes shine, "Did. You. Force. Yourself. On. Her?"

The boy's neck popped as he shook it in denial, disgust filling his features as he choked out, "No! I did not! I would never, ever do something like... that to her! I had no idea what was happening, though.. I had just felt this burning heat filling up my head and my grip on her tightened and I couldn't let her go, despite the fact the she kept telling me to release her... I was filled with this overwhelming need to make her understand that I wanted her... not loved, wanted her, so very badly... It was like my baser instincts just took over... I didn't even realize what I was doing until she bit me..."

It was only the need to hear the story that had kept Jareth from snapping the boy's neck when he first entered this dark room and it was only his explaining it that kept the Goblin King from doing it now; it seemed as if something else had followed him Aboveground and had possessed the boy for a few minutes... It had caused emotional distress to both the boy and to Arianna, not to mention it had made him very angry... That narrowed down the suspects to those very stupid-which was nearly everyone in the Labyrinth-or those that were very insane... Needless to say, the insane ones were also the majority of his subjects in the Labyrinth...

It would be so much easier, not to mention so much better for Arianna and himself, if he just erased this boy from her memories. The only problem would be explaining how she came to be in this house and why they were wearing different clothing... Jareth started spinning the crystal idly across his fingertips and around his hand, trying to figure out how to explain everything as well as to see how far back he would have to go to fully erase the boy.

After a while, a picture started growing in the middle of Jareth's crystal, coming in clearer with each second. He could begin to see forms moving about, but he had a hard time figuring out what was going on or what the people it was showing were doing. So engrossed with the image playing out in his dancing crystal orb, he once more dropped the boy in a heap as he caressed the image in his hands with both palms, almost as if the jewel was Arianna's face...

"She is very young here... maybe even younger than the newest of my goblins." Dropping down to his haunches, Jareth stopped the annoying gagging noises the boy made as he shoved the crystal under his nose, causing the brat to go cross-eyed as he tried to focus on it. "What is this event? What is she doing here? How is this important to the meeting between the two of you? To your friendship? Why this particular moment? What is the key here?"

"That's... her... grandfather's funeral... It was... the first... funeral... she ever went to." The gasping between each word was making it very difficult for Jareth to understand what the boy was trying to say, but the image in the crystal underneath the child's nose seemed to both astonish and steady him, so Jareth held very still and watched as the boy's eyes widened as the picture began to move, almost as if he were looking into a small television. He was so immersed in watching it that he jumped at least a foot when Jareth spoke:

"Tell me."

-0-0-0-

Mike swallowed hard, the lump in his throat obscuring his ability to speak as he stared at the figure of Arianna walking down the sidewalk beside the funeral house, her little eyes wide as she tried to get her mother to stop crying.

"It's okay, Mommy, Grandpa's just sleeping. He'll be up tomorrow!" The voice coming from the orb was higher than Arianna's usually was and the face was chubbier, but there was no mistaking the bright sapphire eyes or the fiery hair that only fell past her ears; it was Arianna, thirteen years ago, trying not to cry herself as she talked to her mother.

"Why is she saying this?"

Looking into the mismatched eyes on the other side of the orb and seeing the anger in them fade slightly as confusion took hold, Mike swallowed again to see if the swelling in his throat had died down a bit as he tried to explain something he didn't really understand at the time, didn't fully came to terms with until both he and Arianna were older. "She doesn't really understand that her grandfather isn't going to wake up like he's suppose to, that he'll never wake up again... she didn't understand that he was... well, dead. She told me that she thought that if she said it enough, her mother would believe her and stop crying."

"Her mother's tears are more frightening to her than her grandfather's death?" Jareth seemed completely confused by this, so much that his earlier anger seemed to have disappeared entirely...

Hazel orbs stared as a little girl tugged on her mother's arm, voice getting desperate as tears began to slip through... They closed as the voice broke down altogether and demanded to know why the man in the box couldn't get up, why he was making her mommy so sad...

"Yes."

There was silence for a few heartbeats, enough for someone to make a wish, to utter a prayer, or swear a promise before Jareth spoke again, his voice almost as sad as the child still weeping in the orb, almost as if he was as eager as Mike for the image to go away. "You met her then?"

Mike opened his eyes and watched as the younger Arianna sat through a wake for the man who had been such a large part of her life, watched as the little girl solemnly followed her mother home, tears dying as she realized that no one had the answer to her questions, that no one knew how to make her mother happy again or make her grandfather wake up...

He watched as the smallfigurestaredattheyoungerchildrenplayingintheyardbehindherhouse, knowing that Arianna had felt like she was being suffocated, pressed in from all sides and had needed to get outside before she started screaming at everyone and everything. He also knew that she had fervently wished that she could have been like them then; ignorant of what was really going on, believing the whole thing was one big party and that nothing was wrong.

"I met her later."

The light seemed to race across the sky and then Mike saw a younger version of himself hiding in a tree as the ten-year-old Arianna walked slowly across the yard, ignoring the names that the other children called her. Mike still felt disgusted, many years later, at the verbal abuse they threw at Arianna and even wondered were a few of them learned some of the more colorful slurs. His attention was drawn back to the younger Arianna when she let out a soft sigh, staring at the tree that the younger Mike was in for a few minutes, the younger version of Mike hanging tightly to its trunk as he tried to hold absolutely still.

"You can come down. They lied, I don't bite." Arianna's statement was said in a completely bland voice; nonetheless, the younger Mike jerked as if she had hit him with a stun gun and let loose a startled yelp of surprise.

Jareth's eyes lifted over the orb and Mike shuffled his feet as he muttered, "It was a rhyme they made up: She dresses in black from her head to her feets/She's bites every single thing that she meets/She's ugly and sad/But don't make her mad/Or you'll end up in her pot,toot sweet!"

"Disgusting." Mike shared Jareth's sentiment and would have agreed with the other man for the first time if the image in the orb hadn't re-caught his attention...

"I know that! I'm not scared of you!"

"Then why are you still in the tree?"

There was a pause, then a sniffle, finally a watery, "I'm stuck."

The small Arianna did not laugh, nor did she point out that the younger Mike would not be stuck if he were not in the tree to begin with; she simply sighed again, turned on her heel, and started across the yard again, making the younger Mike stare after her in bewildered shock for a few minutes before crying out and nearly unseating himself from his precarious position.

"Wait!"

The younger Arianna stopped, turned gracefully on her heel once more, and looked back up at the boy stuck in her tree with a look that clearly said she was confused as to why he had called for her to wait."What is it?"

"What are you doing?" There was still a small bit of a tremor in the young boy's voice, but he seemed to be getting the hang of talking to the girl that the entire neighborhood said was a weirdo, even looking like he might have enjoyed the experience if he wasn't currently twenty feet off the ground.

"I'm going to go get my mother."

This seemed to distress the younger Mike even more than the fact that he was stuck grasping a flimsy tree branch various feet above the ground; he jerked away from the tree, yelling out a frantic,"No!" as he toppled and almost fell out before he remembered to grab the trunk once more.

The younger Arianna seemed to be growing upset as well, no doubt from the fact that the child that she was trying to help down from his perch safely would rather risk falling out of the tree he was stuck in than let her get her mother to get him down. "Why not? If you know they're lying about me, then you know that everything they said about her is a lie too! Even if they weren't lying about me, everything they say about my Mommy is a big, fat lie!"

This was said in such a vehement tone-one that did not normally come from an ten-year-old, much less one that had yet to make any emotion at all-that Jareth's brows once more lifted in surprise; but Mike was now looking at the orb as if it held all the secrets of the universe and if he stared long enough he might learn them. He knew that what had been said about Arianna's mother was indeed a lie, but that wasn't what was holding his attention; it was what was coming next and it would be one of his worst memories if he wasn't currently sitting in the middle of his wine cellar with a pissed off magician considering erasing him from his best friend's memories with an actual crystal ball...

"Won't she be real mad?"

Young Arianna blinked in surprise, almost as if the thought hadn't even occurred to her until the very moment he had said it before stating, "No! She'll be worried that you might be hurt if you fall, maybe even a little upset that you went up our tree and didn't know how to come down, but she won't be mad at you..." Young Arianna's voice trailed off as she seemed to get lost in thought before adding on, "She might make you ask permission next time, so she that she knows to get you down if you get stuck again."

"Are you sure she won't be mad? Or yell? Or that it will just make her 'upset' for a little while?" The quiver was back in younger Mike's voice and he was now trembling so hard that leaves were falling down around the trunk of the tree like a greenish hail, "Are you really, really, really, sure she won't be mad at me?"

Arianna seemed to realize that she would not be able to convince the boy in the tree that her mother would not be upset with him, no matter how many times she insisted, so she simply turned again and went to prove her words with action. During the few minutes that she was gone, the young boy tried to get down from the tree himself several times, but only made it a few inches before freezing again. He had worked himself into a state of tears as well by the time Arianna came back with her mother, whose resemblance to her daughter was evident even then, despite the difference in the two's age.

"There he is!"

"I'm sorry!"

Once more, the younger Mike's upset was so great that he managed to wobble from his position and almost fall, which caused both woman to run to the base of the tree with their arms out,although Jareth thought it was extremely doubtful that Arianna would be able to catch the boy at her young age, but had to admit that it was adorable that she had tried...

Arianna's mother seemed just as startled as her daughter was that the younger Mike was getting into such a fit over having her help him out of a tree, and immediately sought to sooth him while she started to make her way up to him. She paused for only a moment when her first step up the tree and toward the child had caused him to try to curl into the bark this, almost as if he were an animal that actually belonged up there, making her moments even slower and her voice even softer:

"It's alright, you just got stuck, sweetheart, it happens to all of us at one time or another; just hold still and I'll get you down in a few seconds, no problem. After that, you can come inside and call your mommy and daddy to let them know that you're okay, just in case they're looking for you. How does that sound...?" Her mother had made it to the small boy in the tree, a sad frown marring her brow when her hand on the child's head caused him to flinch again, "Or we could have some sandwiches and worry about calling them later... making a couple of phone calls today is starting to sound like a really good idea..."

"See? I told you she was nice!" Arianna seemed inadvertently pleased to be proven right as she watched her mother make her ascent up the tree; she stood with her tiny legs spread and her hands on her hips in a miniature pose of triumph, glaring up at the boy as if daring him to defy her now.

The only response she got was a low whimper as her mother admonished her to not tease the stranger.

-0-0-0-

It was intriguing to watch the myriad of emotions flowing across the boy's face as he watched a younger version of himself get saved by the mother of the woman he would come to love and Jareth was still puzzled as to how this would be pertinent to their friendship, not to mention why his crystal stopped at that particular point in Arianna's life... If they did not meet until now, why show me her grandfather's funeral and all the pain she had to suffer through? I'm starting to think my power hasn't fully recovered; for what was the point in that...?

Maybe because it was the fact that her clothing was still the dark ensemble that she had worn to the 'funeral', maybe it was the fact that she had barely smiled, laughed, nor made any upbeat motions during the entire time she had conversed with the younger boy in the orb, maybe it was the way even her mother's face seemed to be a mask, issuing her reassurance in an almost monotone, the only emotion leaking through being when she had seen the way the younger boy had reacted to her touch... Perhaps Arianna's grandfather's death still haunted them, even five years later...

The scenes in the orb baffled him as the children seemed to grow at an astonishing rate and their interactions grew more and more frequent, some even taking place in the middle of the night, right after the boy had climbed through Arianna's window or they had done so together, shushing each other and making much more noise that way than if they had simply crept through. The first time the boy had made his awkward way over her sill had caused Arianna to start and then giggle as she pointed out that he had managed to get over his fear of heights, which caused the boy to turn a rather bright shade of red as he told her to 'hush it.' and give her shoulder an affectionate swat.

Is it showing me that this child is the reason that Arianna is not the morose person she was as a young girl?The child that was now looking at the orb with equal parts longing and remorse, who had nearly drank himself into a poisonous stupor before Jareth found him because he had unwillingly attacked his friend. That he had been the one who pulled her away from the edge and found her smile again? Will erasing him from her memories change her personality that much...? How could one person have such a hold on her...?

Remembering his interaction with the former owner of Arianna's house, how far he had been willing to go and how well that train wreck had played out, immediately made Jareth retract his thought.

Nonetheless, whether he was her prince or her villain, Jareth wanted so badly to make the alteration between them fade from Arianna's mind, but he knew that any tampering he did would be found out within the hour he made it and there was one thing that Jareth had learned from his past dealings with mortal women(make that one woman): They were never pleased when they found out about his rather artistic way with the mind and the memories held there...

There was also the fact that this boy had not attacked Arianna under his own willpower, that he seemed genuinely upset by the whole thing and probably would have ended up either poisoning himself by the rapid consumption of alcohol, or distancing himself from Arianna when morning's light broke through his museum's windows. As much as Jareth liked the sound of the latter-and had considered helping him with the former-he now understood why Arianna would be upset if the little shite suddenly forgot who she was, or what she meant to him. He sympathized with the boy, knowing what it felt like to be labeled the villain when all you wanted was to be her hero, but still did not like the child and wanted to make what had happen between them erased from the pages of their frustratingly shared history.

Maybe I can just get him to forget that he attacked her... even though he deserves to be drowned in the Bog of Eternal Stench for it...!Despite knowing that the boy hadn't been the one at fault for the attack and that he even felt sorry for the louse, every time he thought of the stricken look on Arianna's face and the way she had thrown herself at him, Jareth was overcome with the dark urge to shove one of the bottles at his feet in the goblin's excrement's eye... The only thing that calmed him was that when he found whatever was responsible, there wouldn't be much left after he was done and the whole Underground would know that messing with Arianna would not be tolerated!

"You said that you could erase me from her memories, right?" The boy's voice was low and seemed to take an extreme amount of will to just make it past the boy's lips, causing Jareth to once more take another look at the child sitting across from him; the boy's gaze was still locked on the orb, which was now revealing the events that led up to them being here in this house, but his eyes didn't seem to be seeing what was being shown... "Could you erase what had happened between the two of us instead?"

Jareth was almost positive that his brows had just disappeared into his hairline at the boy's statement; hadn't he just been considering that very possibility not two minutes ago, after he realized that to erase the boy would be to erase part of what made Arianna the woman she was? Was he not coming to realization that his tampering would be immediately noticed and that it would have disastrous results? It was also intriguing that the child only asked to erase what had happened from Arianna's mind and not his own as well... "Just from Arianna? Don't you want to forget it happened as well?"

"No, I would rather it not happen at all..." The boy put his hand over the orb, shielding the sight of Arianna trying in vain to pull from his grip, finally unable to watch another minute of what the crystal had to show. "It did happen, though, and as much as I want to deny it, part of why it happened was my fault. If there were a way you could reorder time so that I could go back and make it not happen, I would make you, no matter what the cost was... I'm perfectly fine with remembering my guilt for the rest of my life, but Arianna doesn't deserve to have that memory... doesn't deserve to have that kind of stain on her life again..."

What a perfect little martyr... Jareth knew that his thoughts was more an expression of self disgust than anything that had to do with what the boy had to say; when he had been defeated by a certain ebony-haired sorceress, he had not taken it nearly half as well as the boy in front of him did his own failure... A standing order in the Labyrinth that still held to this day was that anyone that even mentioned the only time he was defeated was to be bodily thrown into the Bog of Eternal Stench, or the Oubliette, if that was closer. "Don't be ridiculous, she'll forgive you as soon as we explain to her that your actions were not your own."

The boy smiled at him, a self-hating, sardonic smile that Jareth knew all too well, a smile he had seen many times looking back at him every time he passed a mirror for the first few years after his Labyrinth was beaten, before the child waved away the comment as if it was of no consequence. "Of course she will, she's... wonderful that way, but there will be times when she'll look at me, when I walk up to her from the side or surprise her, and she'll be scared that I might get 'spelled' again. I know Arianna and I know she won't do it on purpose, but there will be times when she'll wonder if she's safe around me... if she'll ever be safe around me again..."

Jareth had no rebuttal for that, no quip or statement to cut through the disgust and despair that the child had wrapped himself in after realizing that the man sitting across from him was not going to wipe away one of the worst memories of his life, one of his greatest disappointments... The reason Jareth was unable to do as the boy asked was very simple; he knew that Arianna would tell that her mind had been tampered with, her abilities as a Minida absolutely covered that, and his other reason was a little more personal; looking at the boy wallowing in his depression was almost like looking into a mirror after his own fall from grace and the memories that brought up weren't the most pleasant.

Picking up one of the bottles the boy had been downing like they contained liquid oxygen, Jareth downed the contents, hissing at the taste and the way that it burned down his throat. "Well, if you know her so well, then you no doubt know that any kind of alteration I make, she will notice immediately and seek out what happened and why."

The child laughed; a short, sharp laugh that had nothing to do with humor, but made no move to join Jareth in his drinking and instead lifted his hand to see that the crystal had finally turned transparent once more. Removing his grip, he still made no move to join Jareth as he tried to discover why this child like this vile drink so much... The wines and alcohols of the Labyrinth were much more potent; so it was with a single though that Jareth changed the liquor in the bottle to one of his preferred drinks, attention only half on the boy as he started to speak again.

"I guess it's one of those damned if I do, damned if I don't moments... isn't it?" The child leaned back against the wall behind him, his gaze upward as if he could see through the many floors that seperated them from the girl that was the focal point for the entire conversation between the two, the girl that was a major part of one of their lives and was quickly become such for the other. "If I try to fix the problem, I immediately put a big red 'X' on it instead."

"I had a problem like yours once," Jareth stated, the alcohol disapating the last bit of unfriendliness he had toward the boy, making him even go as far as to offer him a bottle with a 'Labyrinth Brew' inside of it and not letting up until the boy took a customary swallow. "I knew this girl that hated having to take care of her baby brother, didn't really like her step-mother all that much, and was just basically unhappy with the way her life was going. Then one day she made a wish, and not just any wish, a wish that directly invoked my name and the creatures I control..."

"Coooooool," Looking over at the male that sat beside him, Jareth saw that the altered liquor had hit him much harder than it had Jareth and from what he could see the boy had only a few mouthfuls. Nevertheless, the boy's face was flushed redder than an apple and he was now looking at Jareth in something close to idolatry as he slurred, "Dush tha' meen youse a 'Ing or sumfink?"

"Yes," Jareth replied, realizing as he did that he was going to tell this child the story of Sarah; whether because the boy was drunk and probably wouldn't remember in the morning or because now that he started he knew he needed to finish it until he made it to the ending, he wasn't sure. Yet, as he sat there on a cold stone floor next to an inebriated man he had considered bodily destroying only a few hours ago, Jareth finally spoke of the girl that he had spent the last few years trying to forget:

"It all started on a rainy night in the house that Arianna now lives in; a girl had finally grown tired of her-at least, what she thought at the time-annoying, screaming baby brother, the demands set upon her by parents she believed to be unreasonable and made a very special wish that would change not only her life, but the life of a King whose will had never before been tested..."

-0-0-0-

A/N: Whew! That one was a doozy! The interaction between the two and the images the crystal showed just kinda snuck up on me... Originally, I was going to have Mike explain how and why he would never willingly hurt Arianna, but then I thought that Jareth would never believe that and the rest of the chapter just popped into my brain!

The ending is also a surprise; I was going to have Jareth have Mike wallow and go back to his room, but then the similarity between them showed up and demanded to be told. Since I have enough plot bunnies bouncing around my head, I decided to listen instead of getting distracted by another story.

As always, I would love to hear any comments you have on this story, dear reader, for I want to make it something you guys would want to read!

See ya on the other side of Chapter Twelve!