Disclaimer: I do not own 'Labyrinth' or the characters or terms I have taken from there. I have made no money from this, and this fiction is written solely for intellectual and creative purposes.
Author's Note: I thought it might be worth examining why we always want to believe that the emphasis is on 'Forever' instead of 'Only'. So few authors have actually handled this and I thought it was absolutely beautiful, the image of age versus eternity. Written as an exercise in narration and narrative voice. Let me know how it reads.
When Sarah finally said yes she was twenty-seven. Wiser and more mature. Far more capable of ruling her own life and fully sensible of what she was and wasn't agreeing to.
As far as proposals went, it was not especially romantic. Jareth only asked her when he could expect her to take up residence in his Castle.
When Sarah was surprised, he only said, "My intentions were clear from the beginning."
Sarah bit her lip and then quietly pointed out that his intentions had never been clear at all and that she had no idea he was expecting a lifetime's commitment. She expected one of two reactions- anger or resentment.
He didn't live up to those expectations.
He sat down beside her and said, "Well, then, it seems we must discuss this."
"Discuss what?" she pressed, "I don't know what you're asking me. Am I moving in with you or are we getting married?"
"You must have a preference," he said, needling her.
"I don't know," she confessed, "I've never thought about it."
"Understandable," Jareth agreed, "Time I can give, but not too long."
Sarah took his time gratefully. The situation seemed so fantastic. It was easy in the privacy of her own home, when one was living from one day to the next, dreaming about happily ever afters in the queue in the bank. Triumphant visions of fairytale kings who proffered silver and dreams on bended knees. Jareth had marred that triumph a little; he had never gone down on bended knee.
But Sarah was a practical person and she didn't really mind. She did have questions, however, and those she asked most energetically. Was it co-habitation or marriage? What about keeping busy- could she have a job in the Underground or did she have to play King's support? What about her life on Earth? Could she maybe have a job on Earth and go back and forth every morning? Would she get any magic? Would she be beholden to him for everything? What kind of illnesses did the Underground have? Would she have to abandon her family and friends for Jareth?
Jareth answered some of those questions, professed ignorance in certain matters, and somehow evaded final position in all others.
It was nothing out of the ordinary, Sarah reflected, nothing new as regarded men in general and Jareth in particular. She didn't expected omniscience from him; he was no God. Not human either but very like it.
No, she wouldn't have magic, but she would be beholden to him for nothing. She could certainly move back and forth between Earth and the Underground if she so wished, though Jareth didn't truly want her to. He supposed she could continue to work if she found a job she wanted. He said it would have no practical use and she would only waste her time and the time of the other candidate who really did need the work for financial support, but he wouldn't oppose her.
Her family he categorically refused to meet. Jareth felt himself no part of a family. All he wanted was Sarah, and since Sarah was her own master he saw no reason to create more confusion by lies and disguises.
"I'll move away from home," she decided, "Go to Australia. I always wanted to go there. I'll need an apartment just in case."
"If you like," Jareth teased, one lazy finger tracing circles on her spine, "But I require full access to it."
"You can blow open a window like you always do," she retorted, shrugging him off while she chopped apple. "I don't suppose we can do the Church thing?"
"How do you mean?"
"Get married in a Church. I mean, we could do it in Australia, so my parents won't be able to come down. Really small and everything."
Jareth politely told her he was not religious and refused to enter any kind of temple that demanded responsibilities from him that he had no intention of following.
"Hell, it's not like most people follow it. But okay, if you don't want to go, then we won't. How do we do it, then?"
"A small ceremony in the Underground," he decided.
As Jareth pointed out, he wasn't exactly constructed for Earth. Besides, leaving the goblins alone for any length of time was not advisable since there was no telling what they might get up to. No, Jareth would have to stay in the Underground, and Sarah would have to join him there. It was the only world that would accommodate both their needs.
The wedding itself was less than inspiring.
Sarah was pre-warned, of course, of what to expect. She chose to wear white, Jareth had been quite happy to acquiesce. It was a simple dress to suit the simple event. She woke one morning and went to a graceful, tightly sealed private room of no discernible purpose. A secretary had given them a few minutes to absorb the importance of the papers they were signing. Then the dwarf had withdrawn, tactfully, and left them alone.
Jareth must have read the unrest in her eyes because he took her to the window and threw it open, standing behind her and leaning in close to her ear while his hand swept out to indicate the vast horizon.
"You have me now," he said, "And through me, everything in this world, such as it is. Use your power wisely, Sarah, for I haven't the strength to refuse you."
It was a dark, sombre little speech, but typical of Jareth. An admission of pure honesty couched in unbelievable words.
"Till death," he whispered, and turned her face to kiss her.
In later years, Sarah realized why he had said those words so carefully.
Being human, being twenty-seven and naïve, she had happily assumed he had invoked a vow of fidelity to last to their deaths. She had not thought to question then and Jareth had never volunteered answers.
At the time, the actual act of moving was more romantic. Packing boxes of everything she owned, only to remember the value of each little piece so eagerly collected. She said her goodbyes to her father with some regret, calmed with the knowledge that he had others to take his thoughts away from her. Karen and Toby held no particular love in her heart though she wished them both well.
At night, when the streets slept, Jareth came to her and summoned up whole trains of goblins to move her things. He himself, playful as he was that day, picked her up in his arms and took them both back to the great door of his Castle.
They opened without a sign from him, thrown wide as soon as they appeared on the step, and he carried her over the threshold, laughing about having her at his mercy.
She didn't fear him, not then. His threats were empty and his anger impotent. His seeming helplessness to do anything to make her unhappy appeared real enough.
It should have irked her. Sarah had always thought that fairytales were good for fiction but bad for practicalities. Jareth was not practical but he was level-headed, perceptive and possessed of great good sense.
He teased her, made fun of her, taught her, and argued with her with as much intensity as he made love to her. More importantly, he refused to live in her pocket.
Besotted and captivated though he confessed to be he didn't give an indication other than that they were separate persons with differing habits and ways to spend their time.
Sarah rose from their bed every morning to dress and leave. He sometimes woke with her, oftentimes not. She breakfasted alone and slid through a doorway in the Castle that Jareth had connected to her apartment on Earth. From there, she left for work.
What Jareth did during his workdays was more vague. That he didn't merely fill in time waiting for her to return was obvious; his holidays held no relation to hers, and often days off gave her as much with him as workdays. He seemed to be at leisure, but she rarely found him in any of his pleasure haunts on those rare days. She spent time in the Underground as best she could when Jareth wasn't around, learning its ways and means.
She took to spending time on Earth, shopping with the money that she earned and didn't actually need. Meeting with the few friends she managed to make. Once taking a trip back 'home' to see her father and Karen, and catch a glimpse of Toby as he raced in and out of the front door in his college days.
Jareth never asked to meet any of her contacts on Earth. He didn't seem to care about them one way or another. They held no appeal for him, being as they were from a different world. Toby he occasionally asked about, but his interest rose and fell in relation to how much he wanted to annoy his wife.
Sarah took this as a token and didn't pry too much into his role as King. He never refused her answers or information, but she felt less and less fascination in his position as King, and took more pleasure from him as a person.
Fairytale kings were not meant to snap because they had a headache, or grow cold and wet, or sneeze six times in a row after a dust storm, emerging from commanding emergency operations with red eyes and grimy skin. Jareth did. He coughed when food unexpectedly got stuck in his throat and he burned his fingers and said petty things and growled incessantly about evenings that she spent out of the Underground.
She was thankful for his growling. It showed he missed her. Hoggle was no friend to count on. Ludo had never been desirous of company. Sir Didymus had vanished before she had ever returned. The goblins were stupid, and to some extent dangerous. They aroused in her feelings of disgust and anger.
Jareth alone was the tie that bound her to the Underground, magical as the place was, and as wonderful as she believed it to be.
She was at first cheerful about the goblins, then hopeful, then resigned, then remote and now angry.
Sarah waited through the years for some feeling of belonging. Of any feeling other than alienation from every form of life around. Nothing in the Underground was like her except for Jareth, and Jareth himself was inaccessible to her.
He gave her everything, of that she was sure, but there were facets to his nature that could not be given, only observed or experienced.
Jareth's temper never frightened her. His ability to close his mind from her did. It terrified her that she might one day say something or do something to prompt that aloofness irreversibly. She fretted and worried over it until she cringed at the first sign of his slow withdrawal from her.
The fear that she might turn him against her grew through the years. But Sarah also learned to live with it through the years. On more rational days she admitted that Jareth gave her no reason to doubt herself. He continued as affectionate and exhilarating as he had first been.
Sarah used that love to validate her position in the Underground until the day she found the first grey hair on her head.
She sat down suddenly on her bed with the single strand pulled out before her eyes and wouldn't believe the years had passed so quickly.
That night Jareth seemed as usual. He was no more or less himself than he had always been.
Sarah used that night's silences to stare at him, to reconcile his golden charms with her grey hair.
He sat in the library on a hard-backed chair, leaning back, lips stern with concentration as he stared into the empty fireplace that was never used, eyes dreaming private thoughts.
A world, she suddenly realized, that she could not understand. A world she only knew through his non-human being that she loved so very desperately. So desperately in fact that she had given up her own world for him.
"You're not planning some sinister covert operation, are you?" she asked abruptly.
He looked at her and she had one heart-stopping moment to wonder if he was only tolerating her in his presence. Jareth displayed no such behaviour as he smiled as though he were happy to have the conversation.
"Yes, as a matter of fact. I was thinking of circulating the books a little."
"Books?" Sarah looked at the library shelves.
"No, Sarah, the plays." He quirked a knowing eyebrow at her.
The books. Sarah had one of those in her boxes somewhere.
"How many are there?" she asked.
"It's enough," he replied, "Why, Sarah, do you have an opinion on the matter?"
He meant it as a joke, light and amused.
"I'd have thought you would up the numbers these days. Kids grow up faster," she argued, "They don't believe in fairytales so much."
He nodded abstractly as he thought that over. "True enough. How many do you recommend?"
"A hundred," she said promptly.
"It's a nice, round number. Small enough that you can keep track of them but enough to drum up business."
Jareth frowned slightly. "Too many, Sarah. Business, as you call it, only needs the act of storytelling. As long as people feel there might be magic in this world, my land exists. More than that and they grow too close."
Sarah wasn't in a rational mood. She hadn't been since the morning. Jareth's quick dismissal annoyed her, coming as it did from lips still youthful.
"We all know you don't like people getting close," she snarked, "God forbid you actually have to explain yourself to sentient human minds."
"They might enquire a bit too much because humans are curious like that. They don't hold with autocratic dictators."
"I don't understand." He looked genuinely confused. "I have no quarrel with humans."
"No, of course you don't. You don't have anything with humans. Not a quarrel, not an agreement, not even enough respect to let the people who keep you alive even know you exist!"
He coloured and straightened, one hand rising to point at her. "I explained the risk of exposure to you years ago, my girl. You understood it then and you damned well still do. It's a risk I can't take."
"Oh, damn the risk," she said violently, "You know nothing about Earth if you can't see the sense in making more books."
"You're only hiding behind excuses like you always do. Stealing what you need."
"Stop shouting and sit down!"
"The world is on the edge of forgetting and you only have ten books. What the hell are you going to do with ten books? These kids get off on books about puberty blues and high school, not labyrinths and evil kings."
Humans were forgetting. She went up there. She wanted to beat it into him and ten wasn't enough for humans. Humans were thick like that. They needed clear sentences, not subtle hints. What good were subtle hints to a race of people that could blow up their entire planet over a boundary disagreement?
And horrible as she felt, she couldn't bear the thought of Jareth simply fading away because he was too stubborn to listen. He was always too stubborn.
"Any more belief and the distance between Earth and the Underground will close," Jareth argued, "I do not want humans in my Labyrinth unless I bring them there."
"So it is about hiding."
"This is protection."
"No, it's hiding. You always do this. You never just be… open. You've got to sneak around in the back and win when people aren't looking."
"My kingdom will not be safe with humans running around here. You know very well what I mean, my girl."
"Don't call me your girl."
"This is ridiculous!"
"If you love me you'll put out a hundred books," she shouted.
Jareth's eyes shot back to her face. His initial reaction was disbelief, and then anger, hard and cold that veiled his eyes and turned his skin paler than it was.
Sarah felt hard and cold too. She felt tired. The energy in his anger was too much for her these days. But she met his mute accusation bravely.
"If you care enough," she said.
"Is this a test?" he questioned.
He slowly turned away again, staring at the empty fireplace with blank eyes gazing inwards. "Very well," he murmured finally, "A hundred books to prove myself." He sketched something in the air. "Done."
He rose from his seat and left her alone in the library.
She followed on his trail an hour later, sliding into bed beside his inert form. She was too scared and ashamed to touch him. He didn't invite her to draw near.
The next morning he was up before her and Sarah stayed in bed. Work didn't matter. There was no hardship for her in being fired.
At half-past nine she went to the mirror that hung in her dressing room. The grey hair was still on her head. She had lines at her mouth and eyes, a little furrow above her nose. She sagged in all the wrong places.
Sarah dressed and went to find her husband.
"What's happening to me?" she asked.
Jareth didn't understand.
"I'm aging. Why?"
"All humans age," he told her, "You weren't expecting this?"
"There must be something you can do."
"Nothing I care to do to you," he sighed, "I don't understand. You want to stop aging?"
She noticed that the residual coldness had been driven from his voice, to be replaced by a curious kind of curiosity. Almost as though he knew what she was going to say, and knew exactly what he would say to her in his turn.
"Do I look ugly?" she asked instead.
That seemed to take the wind from his sails. He laughed unexpectedly and hugged her fiercely to him, the way she liked.
They said nothing more for days. Their marriage didn't work that way. They were friends with secrets, comfortable lovers rather than passionate ones.
Sarah didn't dare go back to Earth, fixated on a foolish notion that humanity wouldn't affect her if she buried herself in the Underground.
Jareth gave her wish crystals and dream crystals. He shucked work for a day and took her on a journey through the Labyrinth, pointing out anything he thought she would want to know. He kissed her in the ruins of a stone cottage, catching her beneath an old bower.
It was all very nice and romantic. Sarah appreciated Jareth's kindness in wordlessly trying to prove himself.
She was desperate that night, clinging to him in a cold sweat that death was just around the corner and she would have to leave him. The Underground never changed. It hadn't changed in all the years she had been there, and it wouldn't change once she was gone. Would Jareth still want her? Still love her when his world wouldn't change when she was gone?
She feared not. She feared that she had finally done and said the only things that could prompt him to push her out of his life.
In retaliation she pulled back.
Jareth didn't draw attention to the fact that he knew. She knew he did- he was perceptive and possessed of great good sense- but he didn't choose to show it. He respected her shame and kept his bargain silently.
He went out of his way to touch her, often and as elegantly as though she were the young girl he had brought to his Castle all those years ago. He suggested using the apartment to escape from the goblins when Sarah complained that she couldn't stand the way they always cackled so loudly.
Jareth went Aboveground with her.
He condescended to spend time in her apartment, not for anything particular.
Sarah was tearfully grateful, dripping anxiety in case it should be less than perfect.
It was less than perfect. A friend came round intending to water the house plants that Sarah had said she was leaving behind on vacation and walked into a domestic scene of wine and music.
Sarah was flabbergasted but Jareth handled it with equanimity.
He introduced himself as Sarah's friend and shook hands politely, charming the young woman with easy confidence.
"I'll j-just let myself out," the woman stuttered, "I didn't mean to disturb you."
"Quite alright," Jareth said.
Sarah swallowed and stared weakly over her friend's shoulder at her husband. Beverley was edging towards the door but she suddenly saw them as Bev must have seen them and the sight terrified her. Jareth's mismatched eyes warned her not to do it. He could see her fears so clearly.
"Bev, there's a file here that I forgot to give back," Sarah said softly.
Jareth's eyes flickered but he said nothing. Fluidly, he dropped back down on the couch and picked up his glass. He wouldn't hold Sarah's gaze; he was oblivious to it. He gulped down his wine and poured himself another.
"It's in the kitchen," Sarah said, leading her friend away.
There was a file but she hadn't forgotten. She'd ignored it, putting off the necessity of pandering to this utterly human task.
"I think Greg is handling the whole thing now so if you could just hand it to him I'd be so grateful."
Bev was staring at the kitchen door in some kind of wonder. "Jesus," she gasped, interrupting the inane chatter with deaf aplomb, "Where'd you find that?"
Sarah swallowed around the lump in her throat. "Bought him in a dime store," she said dryly, "Different sizes and colours, too."
"We're old friends," Sarah excused, "He's down for a few days."
Bev grinned. "You sly thing! You said you were going to be away, didn't you? I guess I should have called you first, eh? Another hour and who knows what I'd walk in on."
The lump in Sarah's throat was growing bigger. "Don't be disgusting," she said, "Here's the file."
"Sorry, I'm just excited for you. I've never met any of your men before but I approve of this one. How old is he?"
"About my age." Sarah prayed that Bev would have a stupid moment, would just validate her claim that women aged faster than men. That men didn't looked old until they were ancient.
"Get out! Serious? He looks so young. Is it surgery? He doesn't look like he's had surgery but you never know, I guess. Is he rich? What does he do?"
"He works in planning commissions for the government," Sarah lied.
So young, Bev had said. So young.
Bev left two minutes later and Sarah went out to a severely depleted bottle of wine.
"You shouldn't have asked," Jareth bit out, not waiting for the conversation to begin delicately, "This obsession you have is not healthy. I won't tolerate it any more."
"You won't tolerate? What do you have to do with it?" Sarah asked, too dazed to be truly angry, "It's me who's changing. You just stay the same."
She looked at him as though to peel his defences away.
What she said must have registered in his fertile brain because he shut his eyes and leaned back, breathing deeply. When he opened his eyes again he was resigned.
"You never said I'd be the one dying," she remarked.
"I hoped you would understand that from the start."
She tipped her head and the little furrow above her nose deepened. "How many others worked it out like that?"
He could have asked her what she meant, or where she had got such an idea, but he didn't. He laid one arm along the back of the couch. "None. Not one. I still hoped you would."
"You should have told me," Sarah grunted.
"Perhaps. But then you would never have come with me," Jareth told her.
He looked around, possibly to take in the details of her apartment, finally looking at her world outside of his own. "This is a nice apartment. You could keep it on. Some of the women choose to live their own lives while they still can."
"I don't have a job."
He looked at her. "I have accounts and Earth sources. You would be well looked after."
"You have accounts?" Sarah found that funny. She giggled, and it almost sounded girlish to her ears. Only her hands were showing the familiar gnarls of age. Her mother's hands had been the first to go too. Surgery and hair dye could mask age for years, but hands always told the truth. Her mother had said that.
"I have means," he evaded.
It didn't much matter to her one way or another.
"Did the others stop loving you?" she asked.
"They got jealous, right?"
He sighed but only looked her straight in the face. "I never age. I never die. My world is the same as it has been for five hundred years. Some women grow ashamed. Some are jealous. Some find it easier to turn love to hate."
Sarah scratched her thigh and felt perfectly justified in doing it. She was forty-eight years old, and if she wanted to scratch her thigh she was within her rights to do it. Jareth had seen her naked plenty of times to know she had a thigh and he was sensible so he would know thighs sometimes scratched.
"Can you tell what I want?"
He shook his head.
Sarah bit her lip. "I'd like to think you want me to stay with you," she said, "But I'm growing old. I'm tolerable now but what if I live to eighty? Will you keep me when I'm all wrinkled and pruny? When my knees crack and I have to eat soft food because my teeth are falling out?"
She was expecting amusement or anger again.
Jareth was serious. "Yes," he said. Quite simple.
"You know, I never thought you'd have a thing for old ladies," she said heavily.
"You're going to cry," he observed.
"Yeah. Do you mind?"
"I was expecting it a long time ago."
"They always cried," he said tiredly, "When they found out. Never the same reason, but they all cried."
"Jareth, I'll take a separate room when I reach fifty," Sarah said determinedly, "I'm not expecting anything. And I guess I can be smart about your needs. I won't ask questions."
Jareth sat up and leaned forward, "Have I asked you to move?" he demanded.
"Not yet," she allowed.
"I plan not to ask," he said.
She blushed and he smiled at her.
"You'll change your mind when you see how we Williams age. My dad looks like a troll."
"You might take after your mother," Jareth teased.
"She looked like Frankenstein's bride."
"Ah. Not your mother then."
Sarah agreed with him. They talked, painfully, trying to be serious though it was easier to joke, skirting around issues that were too delicate as yet.
It was easier to go to bed, and to say with hands and mouths what couldn't be said with long talks. Jareth wouldn't let her be ashamed for too long, coaxing and soothing as best he could. Only when they were done, and he felt she had been vulnerable for long enough to know he wouldn't hurt her for it, did Jareth actually let her retreat to her side of the bed.
It wasn't a fairytale ending, Sarah knew. The fairytale princess was rescued and went away to live with the prince. He became the king and the new queen produced heirs, loved her husband and wandered around looking admirable and beautiful.
Jareth had never expected that from her.
"Till death," he had said. He should have specified hers.