Author's note: Written for the Labyfic Holiday Gift Exchange, winter 2007.
I have no qualms about posting this, since it seems that everyone and their mother has identified the ficlet as my own. Bah.
Changed the title back, again, from "Third Time's the Charm" to "Thrice Upon a Time." So I'm giddy as a flibbertigibbet. So sue me.
Here were the challenge requirements:
1) Sarah out of college. Lost in a new city. Jareth is a tease. Pizza, stale coffee, and a park bench.Huge public argument. Sarah takes a gamble. Angst and romance is always welcome.
2) Blackout. No flashlights. Sarah living alone in a one bedroom apartment. Annoying, yappy pet dog. An incident involving pantyhose. Jareth answers an unspoken wish. Sexual Tension is a must!
3) Sarah, Jareth and swing set. Rain. Jareth in jeans and Sarah in a black dress.The game two truths and one lie (person says three things about his or herself and the other person has to guess which one is a lie). Romance and angst please.
The recipient was Bambi, who didn't reply ... sigh. If you're out there, please know that I'd love to hear from you!
Rating: PG-13 - light R, for language, adult situations & implications
Plot Summary/Author's Notes: Sarah has moved to a new city, and stumbles across the Goblin King one cold night. She never thought she'd see him again - and she's not exactly happy to have on her turf. They argue, and ... they make a bet in lieu of a date. What will come of it? Read on and see. My thanks to Pika for the beta read!
Final note: See author's note at the end!
Thrice Upon a Time
The first time Sarah saw him in her new hometown was on a cold and clear November evening.
He was sitting on the front steps of a brownstone. His hands dangled off his knees; his wrists, jutting out from his cuffs, were bony.
Cuffs. Sarah knew that she was gaping, but she could not stop. There was the Goblin King, in the flesh, dressed in what looked like Armani, the immaculate suit not hanging off his frame, or baggy, as she would expect on someone as gaunt as he … but instead outlining his back and one outstretched leg in elegant profile.
His face was composed, his eyes hooded – no markings – nothing strange – nothing strange except how unnaturally beautiful the lines of cheekbone and jaw were, how perfectly the faint smile rested on his lips, how gracefully his hands lay – and his wrists …
His wrists, with skin so pale they almost glowed against the dark fabric, were bony – and she saw the gleam of a jewel against black cloth, as he turned a hand to flick an imaginary piece of dust from his knee – the Goblin King – here– she could not believe it.
She did not want to believe it.
She stared, feeling as though someone had poured ice down her back. If she unclenched her jaw, she was sure her teeth would start to chatter –
The Goblin King inclined his head toward her, all vulpine smile and glittering eyes. "Good evening, Sarah."
Wordlessly, Sarah backed up a few steps. Impossible. Impossible. She hadn't seen him since she had defeated his Labyrinth. She had made no wish; she had called upon no one – how had he come to her? What did he want?
Sarah decided that she would not stick around to find out.
She tensed, preparing to run. Jareth noticed.
"Do stay a moment, won't you?" His voice was soft. "It has been so long since I last had the pleasure of your company."
She swallowed hard. Choked: "Not long enough."
Jareth pursed his lips and looked down at his intertwined fingers. "Debatable."
Sarah felt her stomach lurch as she saw crystal glimmerings beginning to thread between his hands.
"No it's not – it's not debatable, there's no question about it, and I don't want to see you." No, no, no – she realized, wildly, that she could not deal with this, not now. Now was not the time for childhood fantasies to materialize and offer her her dreams … For what price? her mind whispered.
"Why, only a trifle, my dear." He was holding a sphere – one she remembered. She stumbled backwards.
Jareth's smile was sleek. "A very tiny trifle … something so inconsequential that you will never miss it – and then you can have them all, sweet Sarah. Your dreams. Your wishes. Anything and everything you want."
Everything I want –
After college, she had moved away – from her family, from her old house, from the setting for the gauntlet she had run in the longest thirteen hours of her life. She had never called on him, had prided herself on not thinking of him – at least, not intentionally – and now here he was, appearing for all the world like a normal city dweller, dressed for a night out and looking up at her with a smile that promised – that promised everything she had ever desired and denied herself –
Sarah began to tremble. "I don't believe this. I don't believe in you– this is my city, Goblin King, my life, and you have no part in it. You have no power over me!"
With an exasperated sniff, he made the crystal vanish. Then Jareth straightened a cufflink. "No, I have no power over you." He tipped his head to one side. "Nor do I have a companion for the opera this evening. Care to join me?"
Her jaw dropped. "What?"
"Light opera – it's Humperdinck, I believe – truly an unfortunate name, unlike a more beautiful one that I sing to myself each night as I dream of you – Sarah –"
Sarah clapped her hands over her ears.
"Sarah … Sa-rah … won't you join me?"
"For dinner, then …" he crooned. "Don't say 'no,' my sweet – you are far too thin …"
Dinner – to her angry dismay and embarrassment, her stomach growled. Loudly. No job (yet – it would come) no roles (yet – they would come) and she had taken to walking around the city, up named streets and across numbered ones, desperately, ignoring the gnawing in her body and her mind–
Something tickled her nostrils – the smell of – my god, is that steak? Steak – or curry – or lentil stew – or something else so savory that a rush of saliva had flooded her mouth.
She stared at the brownstone building – at the scent she could practically see wafting from an open window on a puff of steam. The brownstone looked cozy and inviting, its eaves frosted with snow, the bits of stained glass in its windows glowing like so many candied fruits – the golden light dripping like honey down the leaded panes set in the door – gritting her teeth, Sarah pulled her eyes away and glowered at Jareth.
"I'd rather eat pizza crusts from the trash – I'd rather drink coffee three days old – I'd rather get the worst case of food poisoning in history than eat with you, you jerk!"
"Sarah …" he sighed. "I took the trouble to make myself presentable and came only wanting to make peace, and only asking you to dinner ... There's no shame in admitting that you are hungry, by the way – you look as though you want to start gnawing on this banister." He tapped one gleaming shoe against a wrought-iron rail.
Furious, she ignored the stinging in her eyes and strode off, up the sidewalk and away from him –
– or started to, for, quick as a flash, Jareth uncoiled to his feet and stepped in front of her, blocking her path.
Sarah clutched her coat tighter around her body, and told herself that the roiling in her gut was from hunger, not from anything else – certainly not at the way the lamplight caught his hair (less wild) in a gleam of gold, and turned his eyes (mismatched) into glowing sapphires as he gazed at her.
A slow smile tugged up one side of his mouth. "Why such hostility, Sarah? I only gave you what you desired, those many years ago. Why such anger for it?"
Sarah swallowed a bitter lump in her throat. "I don't have to explain myself to you." I wasn't supposed to think of you. I wasn't supposed to remember you. I was supposed to be happy, because I won –
Jareth looked her up and down, his eyes glinting. "One thing, I think, you could not explain away, even if you tried." He darted out a hand, and brought her own hand to his mouth and – Sarah gasped as she felt the brush of his lips – and his tongue, oh god – sear through her skin and set her blood on fire -
Something inside her wrenched as she yanked her hand away. "Don't touch me!" she spat. "Lay even one of your chicken-bone fingers on me again and I'll snap it off, you creepy bastard!!"
"Hey, shut up down there – some folks'r trying to sleep!" a voice had boomed from across the street.
Jareth had caught his hands behind his back, bending toward her in a mocking half-bow. "He has a point, you know. There's no sense in a nasty public confrontation when you can give me the tongue-lashing of your life –" another smile – "in private. And you know Sarah –" his eyes had darkened – "you will come to me. You will come dine with me … eventually."
He touched his upper lip with his tongue. Sarah felt an explosion in the pit of her stomach – then, enraged with herself, she snarled: "Wanna bet?"
A purr. "I love a wager. Say on."
"I bet you that within six months I will have a job, and a role in a play, and I'll be able to walk into a five-star restaurant and have people falling over themselves to help me – all without any of your help."
"Really, Sarah." Another sigh. "You could save yourself so much time and trouble by just making a wish."
"That's exactly the point. I don't need you, Goblin King – I don't need you, I don't want you, and I sure as hell don't trust you. So. Deal?"
Jareth's smile had vanished. "Very well. If these terms are not met by the end of six months, you will be so obliging as to take this crystal from me."
"With what consequences?"
He did not reply; merely watching her with veiled eyes.
"Fine." Her voice was tight. "And when I win, I want you gone from here. Gone from my city. Permanently."
His jaw clenched; then she saw both a forced smile and an extended hand. "Shake on it, then?"
"Like hell." Sarah glared at him. "There's another way to make it official, your Majesty."
He went still, his eyes slits. "Jareth will do."
She did not reply. Instead, she spat at his feet. "There, Jareth. Sealed."
"Such insolence," he breathed. "How should I punish you for it?"
Sarah bared her teeth. "You don't scare me. I defeated you once, and I'll defeat you again – You have no power over me and I don't need you!"
"No?" Jareth's lips curled. "Very well. Do enjoy your crusts, my dear." His eyes burned down into hers – alight with a look she did not want to think about – "We shall have to discuss their flavor and preparation over dinner some other time, hm?"
"In your dreams, Jareth."
And Sarah turned her back and walked away. Not looking over her shoulder. Not waiting to see the expression on his face.
nibble, nibble, like a mouse / who is nibbling at my house?
those little wretches again – but they were so happy to see you, dearest, that you cannot fault them for their music –
mmmm. I guess not – wait … what are you doing?
he's holding a peach, she realizes – why is it always a peach – and in his hand it ripples and dissolves into golden-orange liquid, which oozes over his fingers as he coasts them up and down her legs – and then he wipes his hand on her stomach and grins up at her, bends his head and begins to lick the juice dripping down the angle of one of her knees –
she gasps in surprise, because his tongue scratches, like a cat's
what is it?
nothing – it's just – holy god, if you keep doing that, I won't be able to stand up –
she hears him laugh
you will not stand for quite a while, sweet, if I have anything to do with it – and I will –
and she realizes that she's lying down, somehow things have shifted and turned upside down, or is it right side up? she doesn't know, and she can't think clearly, because she's staring into his glittering eyes, and his breath is warm on her face as his lips curl into a smile and he murmurs
she grins back at him, and then bends her neck to bite down, gently, on his shoulder – he hisses, and she whispers against his skin
his fingers press into her jaw, turn her face back to him
then kiss me …
she does – and he tastes like everything she's ever dreamed of, and desired, and wished for – and she clutches his shoulders – the skin warm and sticky with peach juice? or sweat? – she doesn't know, and she can't decide which, because his mouth is so
she hears her own voice husk, and he whispers
The next day, Sarah went through rounds of auditions and a few callbacks with an odd taste in her mouth – bittersweet, and strange. Her mouth itself had felt pulpy upon her waking up that morning.
She chalked it up to being unable to afford toothpaste.
The second time Sarah saw him in her new hometown was on a dark and stormy night.
It was mid February, and she hadn't found a job, and – Sarah yelped as she barked her shin on a step – and it was freezing cold, and snowing, and the power was out.
"Insult to injury, I guess …" With a sigh, she walked up the stairway, shivering. Her tights were beyond hope, since she had received the Run of the Century after snagging one leg on a nail at rehearsal today –
Rehearsal! She hugged the word to herself. Rehearsal! One down, only two more to go–
Although as wagers went, it was pretty stupid – there was ample time for her to accomplish everything – Sarah frowned at her thoughts. Useless, thinking of the Goblin King – although she was more and more, these days – god knows why – it's useless, pointless, and – and her frown deepened. More like playing right into his hands.
His fine-boned, elegant, capable-looking hands – he hadn't been wearing gloves that night on the brownstone steps – you saw that, didn't you?
She pinched herself. Get over it.
Sarah ascended the stairs; they wound up, and up; higher and higher … It was pitch-black, but she was not afraid of the dark; ever since the Cleaners had clacked their ravenous way down the tunnel at her, she had been afraid of very little.
Even if she hadn't known that her miniscule apartment was on the topmost floor, she could have guided herself there with her neighbor's stupid dog as a lodestone. Yap – yap – yap – one of these days, Sarah would barbeque the mutt, and the entire building would thank her for it.
Yap – yap – yap – louder and louder, until she reached her door, groaning: "Shut up, for the love of all that's holy – I wish you would just –"
Sarah hissed in a breath. That was close. She unlocked the door with trembling fingers (difficult in the dark, had she not done it a thousand times before) and stepped inside.
"No wishing for anything," she said to herself. He wanted her to, after all. Sarah bit her lip, tossing her purse in the general direction of her front closet and feeling for the refrigerator, and then the table, and then the doorway to her bedroom. She wasn't stupid – he was just looking for an excuse to play games, the bastard, and she wouldn't give him one.
I'm not fifteen anymore …
Fifteen. Sarah sighed, kicking her shoes off and standing on one foot to massage the other heel. What had she wanted, when she was fourteen? A pretty dress, a ballroom dance, and a Prince Charming with a disturbing resemblance to her mother's co-star. And she had gotten them … in a way …
Sarah grimaced at the memory and felt her way to her dresser. I could have sworn I had a flashlight there …
She fumbled through underwear and socks. No flashlight. Figures.
With another sigh, she shimmied out of her jeans and draped them on a chair. Her sweater and shirt followed. Then Sarah reached for her pajamas on their hook –
"Oh, shit – not tonight – tell me they're there … come on –"
She stomped towards the door, ran into the frame – ouch– and made her way to the bathroom. There were her pajamas, hanging on the doorknob.
False alarm, I guess.
("Beware, for the path you take will lead to certain destruction –")
Sarah blinked, shaking her head to clear it. Where had that come from?
She brushed her teeth and washed her face. Halfway back to her bedroom, she realized –
The dog had stopped yelping.
Sarah sat down on her bed and exhaled long and loud, not realizing how tense she had been. But why? "Thank God for small mercies, anyway," she mumbled, grabbing a handful of blankets and drawing them around herself. She shivered – although it wasn't really cold in her bed, and that was odd, given how frigid it was in the room …
Wait a minute …
She gulped. Why was it so warm? Nervously, Sarah reached for her pillow –
– felt bare skin –
"And I just got that dog to be quiet." A plaintive voice reached her, where she had thrown herself out of the bed and backwards against the wall.
Disbelieving, Sarah wrapped her arms around herself. She could hardly speak, through the chattering of her teeth. "Who is that?"
"Oh, you know very well who it is."
She did. She did. And that voice belonged to that unmitigated bastard of a Goblin King, who wouldn't leave well enough alone –
"Has it been six months already?" she hissed. "Or do you have trouble counting that high?"
Sarah heard a slight laugh, from her bed. "And here I thought you'd be happy to see me – in the flesh …"
"Why the hell would I be happy to see you?" She couldn't see anything, in the pitch-black room, and the fact that she was as good as blind made her skin crawl –
"You have nothing to fear from me, Sarah." His voice was low. "I'm only here because you made a wish."
"I did no such thing!"
"Oh yes you did." It was amazing, Sarah thought distractedly, how his words sliced through the rustle of her sheets, even though the latter sounded as loud as a rattlesnake warning her away –
Jareth continued. "You wished, however unconsciously, that you could sleep in a nice, warm bed. And out of my overwhelming beneficence, I have chosen to fulfill your desire."
Sarah's skin tingled; she clutched at her pajamas and snarled: "Bullshit. I'm sure I wish for a lot of things, Goblin King, but I haven't said the words since – since that one day."
"'That one day' – hm." His voice sounded smug. "What an enjoyable day that was, my dear."
"I liked the last minute of it best –"
Jareth cut her off. "The words – Sarah, if it were as simple as an "I wish," I would be run mad within a week. As it is, I take the occasional child when someone uses the formula you most effectively did so long ago … and as for the others, I grant a wish or two, however unconscious or awkwardly phrased, when it most amuses me."
"So I'm an amusement, am I?"
She could hear the smile in his voice. "Only the best sort."
"Goblin King, why do I have the sneaking suspicion that you're making this up as you go?"
"Really, Sarah, are you so timid these days?"
"Timid. Cowardly. Afraid …" Jareth spoke low and honey-sweet. "Chicken."
Fury shot up from her heart to her head. Wordlessly, Sarah stomped back to her bed, threw back the covers, climbed in, and made herself comfortable with exaggerated gestures. The blankets tucked up to her chin, she fell back on her pillow and looked into the dark with narrowed eyes.
"I am not a coward."
"No …" His voice was so close to her ear that she almost flinched, despite herself. "Nor are you the sort to hurtle headstrong into a trap … are you?"
"Trap?" Sarah laughed. "You have no power over me, and all we have is a wager with three months left to go on it. Do your worst."
"My worst, hm?" Jareth moved even closer; she felt his warm breath on her lips and shivered. "Do you have any idea what you're asking?"
"I'm not asking anything. I'm telling you that my bed is nice and warm – thank you –" she snuggled deeper within the blankets and squeezed her eyes shut – "so you can vanish now. Fade out. Go poof, or whatever –"
And Sarah's voice caught in her throat as she felt Jareth gently brush a kiss over one of her eyelids. The warm, fluttering sensation stole her breath away – and then he did the same thing to her other eye, and her entire body tightened.
"Stop," she said, her teeth clenched.
He drew back. Sarah waited for a moment – it felt like an hour – before opening her eyes.
She gasped. For where, before, there had been only darkness, now she could see – she saw Jareth watching her, his jaw propped on one hand, and the other draped over her – she hadn't been able to feel it, through the covers.
His jaw, his hands, his arms, his shoulders – all pale, but gilded by the light – his skin was like white gold – his skin, because he was naked –
God, he's beautiful. Sarah tried to swallow, but could not. Her mouth was parched. The way his eyes held hers, the way he seemed to glow, strangely – like the first star shining at sunset, or like snow in lamplight – words were escaping her – she could not seem to describe something as simple as the fall of his hair across his hand, as the angle of his jaw, which changed as he moved his fingers to –
Jareth traced his fingertips across her forehead, and brushed a lock of hair away from her eyes. "Good evening, Sarah."
She found the words. "No – what you're looking for is: "'Good-bye, Sarah.'"
He grinned, and her heart thumped at the glint of his teeth. "So soon?"
"Yes, Goblin King, so get lost."
"Really? Are you sure you would not like me to stay, and kiss you again?"
He trailed his lips over her cheek. Sarah bit down hard on her lower lip.
"… like a peach – sweet ..."
"Jareth, go find a fruit basket to molest someplace else, and leave me alone."
"First, because I told you to. Second, because you have no power over me. And third – because I have a job interview tomorrow morning, and I need to sleep."
His eyes flickered. "A job interview?"
"Yep." Sarah shook free of his hand on the side of her face, and raised her chin in defiance. "Item number two. You're that much closer to losing your wager, Goblin King."
When he spoke again, after a pause, Jareth's voice was quiet. "Then let it never be said that I kept you from your beauty sleep – not that you need it, my Sarah – my love –"
"Oh, dream on, you –" She stopped, with a muffled cry, as Jareth wound his fingers in her hair and tugged her closer so he could whisper in her ear –
"My Sarah." The Goblin King's breath was hot; she felt goose bumps prickle down her spine. "My beautiful, shining Sarah – my own – I wish you nothing but the best in your interview, in your new city, in your lovely little life –" he hissed the word as he brushed his fingers across her eyes, as fast as light – or the absence of light, because it was dark again and she was falling asleep.
Jareth's voice came from far away; she could hardly hear it.
"Nothing but the best in your life, precious thing – nothing but the best in your dreams."
may I have this dance?
do you even need to ask?
his smile wraps her in warmth, but his eyes – those eyes – promise something more, with their fire –
she places one hand on his shoulder and takes his own hand – gloves – why is he wearing gloves – in the other –
she's wearing a white dress – puffy sleeves, and puffed-out skirt looking as though it had been caught in a blizzard of lace – why is it always this dress – and he wears the same blue-silver coat that dazzles her eyes – his free hand grips her waist and she feels each finger burn through a layer of glove, and dress, and leather and lace and all the fabrics and thoughts are whirling through her head even as figures whirl past them, caught up in the dance
she makes a small noise in her throat, and arches into him, as his hand snakes around to the small of her back and presses her body against his
he tears his other hand from her own and grabs the back of her neck, and he kisses her and it's like everything, everything she's ever wanted, and desired, and wished for
she feels his glove at her neck change and float away as a piece of cloth – she gasps
what is it?
how did you do that?
she hears him laugh
and the other glove whisks away – his coat and her gown stream out and unwind, unravel, become undone in a gust of wind – and streamers of cloth, puffs of silk and clots of lace float down around them and she realizes that she's lying down in a nest of fabric, somehow things have shifted and turned upside down, or is it right side up? she doesn't know, and she can't think clearly, because she's staring into his glittering eyes, and his breath is warm on her face as his lips curl into a smile and he murmurs
may I have this dance?
she smiles back at him, and throws out her arms against velvet, satin, lace, gauze – whirling around them in a storm –
do you even need to ask?
his eyes flare, and he brushes his lips across hers
kiss me …
she does – and she runs her hands up and down his back – his skin feels like silk made flesh, and they move together in
this dance – this dance is so –
she hears her own voice husk, and he breathes against her neck
no words, precious thing –
Sarah woke early on the day of her interview. She turned on the light, happy to see the electricity restored. Then she went to shower, and to dress.
She paused in front of her closet mirror before she left. Paused, and stared.
Everything was normal – dress suit and scarf, nylons and heels in perfect order.
But for a split second, it had looked as though her shoes were completely worn through.
The third time – the last time – she saw him in her hometown was on a beautiful May day.
Sarah kicked her legs and grinned up at the rainbow zigzagging back and forth across the sky. Up and down.Up and down. Who knew that a swing could be so therapeutic – she had not been on one for years and years, and certainly not since she moved to the city.
She looked at her legs, stretched out, then curling back in, and out, and in, in front of her, whisking against her black dress.
I look good. More than good – great. Great in a job as a docent, great onstage, great on the front page of the Arts and Entertainment section, and greatest at the Porte d'Or – the restaurant where she and the director had gone last night, and where she had received an offer of another role –
Her grin widened and she kicked harder. She had won. The wager was over and done, because she had won, and there was nothing that a certain King could do about it –
"Good afternoon, Sarah."
Speak of the devil –
She smirked down at Jareth, watching him go back and forth, back and forth out of the corner of her eye. "Well, if it isn't you …"
The Goblin King stood immobile. Sarah looked at him fully, and let him wait for a few moments. Then she stretched out her feet and let them drag on the ground, slowing the swing until it stopped.
"Come to change the terms, or something?" she snipped. "It would be like you."
"Not at all."
His voice was flat. Sarah frowned, considering him. He looked – odd. Washed out. Maybe it was the clouds that had moved over the sun – spoilsport, Sarah thought – bringing bad weather. It wasn't the clothes, although they were a different choice than usual – suit jacket, torn jeans, and scuffed shoes – different from his finery in the Labyrinth, different from the suit he had worn on the brownstone steps …
Definitely different from the last time she had seen him – that night in February, when he had been wearing nothing at all.
Sarah yanked her mind back from that train of thought, and smirked again. "Not your normal sparkly self today, Goblin King?"
Jareth's jaw tightened. "It isn't every day that I lose."
"No," she sighed. "Well, that's life. What have you come to say to me?"
He shrugged. "You win."
"Yep. Anything else?"
Jareth tipped his head to one side. "Will you dine with me this evening?"
She laughed, disbelieving. "You think you can get lucky, now, when you leave my city forever, according to our wager – you honestly think that?"
He said nothing – merely watched her.
"No." She glared. "Even if I did want to go out with you – which I don't – I have to visit my grandmother tonight."
"I did not know you had relations here."
"I don't, really – I have to take the train."
"But –" Sarah stepped off the swing. "This is beside the point, Goblin King. I won – and now you leave."
"Your city, yes." Jareth inclined his head. "You will never see me here again."
She sniffed. "And you can't weasel out of that one."
His lips twitched up – but his smile had no warmth in it at all.
Sarah shifted under his level gaze. "All right. Enough. Time for you to go."
"I have one more question, for you."
"Only because I'm gracious in victory …" She swept him a curtsey, and grinned up at his glare. "Ask away."
"Do you remember any of them?"
Sarah blinked. "Any of what?"
His smile lit his eyes, but it was a gleaming light that made the hairs on the back of her neck bristle.
"Any of your dreams, of course."
"Yes, Sarah …" The Goblin King stepped towards her; she instinctively backed away. "Your dreams … dreams in which I dine with you, in which I dance with you …" He gently took her wrist. "Dreams in which I love you …"
"Hm. Fine – a correction, then. Dreams in which I make love to you –with you … All night long, I might add." His stare glittered at her, and his bared teeth looked feral. "You are an insatiable woman."
Sarah jerked her hand free. "I don't believe you."
"No?" Jareth stepped so close to her that she felt her breath run away, as she felt she should – run away, run away – even as he kissed her cheek, and murmured in her ear. "You say that, but you know the truth …"
No I don't – he's lying – "You don't know truth, Jareth –" she bit out, holding herself rigid against his hands gliding down her neck to rest on her shoulders. "You can't handle any truth – you with your twisted little maze and your dreams and your games – wait." She batted away his hands. "If you want truth, then we can play a game right now."
His eyebrows flew up. "A game?"
"Yes, a game. Two truths and a lie." Sarah marched back to the swing, sat down, and looked up at the darkening sky. "We say three things, but two of them are true, and –"
"One of them is a lie; I gathered that." Jareth crossed his arms on his chest. "You first."
"Fine. I'm visiting my grandmother tonight. And," Sarah gathered her thoughts. "If I dream of you – and it's a big "if" – it's my own overactive imagination and hormones, nothing more …"
Jareth waited. "That's only two, you know."
"Right. Last night I broke into my neighbor's apartment, caught her dog, tore it limb from limb, and ate it." She smiled at him, tightly. "Two truths and a lie, Goblin King – which is which?"
Her smile faded as she saw Jareth look off into space, considering.
"It's really not that difficult, you know."
"Quite." Jareth's mouth thinned. "You lie when you speak thus of the dog. As cruel as you are, my precious thing, you are not quite capable of killing in cold blood and feasting on bones and gore."
"Very good. So you see the truth, Goblin King? I don't love you, I don't desire you, and if you think I dance through dreams with you, let alone fuck you every night, you're deluding yourself."
His voice was so quiet she had almost missed it. Nonetheless, she glared. "Afraid so. Your turn, your Majesty."
The Goblin King was still for a long moment.
"Any day now."
He hissed. "I hate you."
Even though Sarah was sitting, she felt her knees tremble.
But she made her voice light. "Whew, scary. What's the next one?"
His lips twisted. "I love you."
Scarier, said her mind. But she only shrugged. "Mm-hm. And number three?"
Jareth paused. Then he smiled.
"Your grandmother is in excellent health."
"Well, I know that," Sarah said, nettled. "But for the others – well, shit, Goblin King – how am I supposed to know which is true? Oh, wait: I know, because of this."
She got to her feet, walked over to him, and stared up into his eyes. "You hate me. That's the truth. Because you can't love, Jareth – you can't, and you know it, because wanting someone isn't the same as loving them. And that makes you hate me even more."
He said nothing, but she saw his rigid stance, and knew that she had hit a nerve. "Besides," she said lightly. "I don't think you can hold two contradictory thoughts in your head at once."
"You'd be surprised."
"Nothingyou do could surprise me, Goblin King."
"I –" Sarah's snarl was cut off, as a roll of thunder sounded. "Crap. I have to catch the train and I don't want to go in a downpour –" She bent to grab her coat and suitcase, propped against the swing-set. A drop of rain fell; then another, then a patter began. "Damnit."
And Sarah blinked up at Jareth, who had unfolded an umbrella and now held it over their heads.
"Um." She brushed raindrops off her forehead and shrugged herself into her coat. "Thanks."
Jareth looked at her coolly. "You're welcome."
Sarah blinked again. "Well, I have to go, but –" she grabbed her suitcase and firmed her resolve. "Tell me, something, Goblin King – and tell me the truth."
Jareth was silent, waiting for her to speak.
"What was in it, for you? "A trifle," you said – a trifle for my dreams, my desires … all my wishes come true. What was it?"
She heard the patter of rain turn into a cascade, on the umbrella. The wan afternoon light shone through the thin red plastic, painting part of Jareth's face in crimson.
"A crystal, and a kiss."
"A crystal and a kiss? That's it?" Sarah huffed in disbelief. "The truth, I said. Those two for a boatload of dreams doesn't seem like an even –"
"A crystal – a gift – out of the generosity of my heart … and a kiss to make your dreams come true …" Jareth's voice was low, meditative. "A trifle they may seem to you. But to me, that gift and that kiss would have sealed with your heart all of your wishes, all of your desires – all of your dreams … the same dreams in which we feast, and dance, and love through the night …"
She gazed at him, mesmerized despite herself.
"And you have one wish, Sarah that I would take great pleasure in granting – one desire that you never voice, that you never even think…"
"And that is?"
Jareth's sharp teeth gleamed in the red light. "That you would be mine. Forever."
For a long moment, Sarah stared at him, aghast.
The wind blew a gust of rain against her neck, and her skin crawled. "You're lying."
"You asked for the truth. And, Sarah –"
The Goblin King stepped closer, and his free hand fluttered and twisted to pull a crystal from flying raindrops. She froze.
"It is not too late. Take this from me –" he held the crystal before her eyes; she saw his whitened knuckles. "Take my gift, and kiss me, my sweet Sarah – kiss me and all of your dreams and wishes will come true. Kiss me, and I will give you what you desire – not your sweet, innocent heart's fondest little wish, but the dream of the dark side of your soul …"
Light shining through the umbrella splashed across his mouth, like blood. His mouth – drawing closer, and closer, and oh, God she could remember what it had been like in her dreams –
That's a lie! Sarah shoved him away. "You have no power over me!"
Jareth snarled and threw the crystal from him. "I know – and thus it has been for our first contest, and our second, but Sarah …"
His mouth twisted from anger into a strange relish –
"Sarah – I think that our third contest will prove different."
"No it won't," she spat, "because I'm going away, right now, and I'm going to get therapy or hypnosis or something to take care of those dreams – if they do exist, which they don't – and I'm never going to see you again, waking or sleeping. Good-bye, and good riddance!"
She turned with her suitcase and strode off into the rain.
Don't turn around, don't turn around – he just wants the last word –
"Sarah, please –"
She turned. "What?"
Jareth was holding out the umbrella to her. "I would hate to have you catch a cold before our final battle." He quirked a half smile at her snarl. "Whenever that may be."
Sarah looked at him, her skin prickling with unease – or maybe it's just the rain. It's pouring. It's just an umbrella. It won't bite.
Carefully, she took the umbrella. Unfolded it, and hoisted it above her head. "Thanks again," she said, sarcastically.
His eyes were steady on hers. "Think nothing of it."
Sarah blinked, and shook her head to clear it. She was relieved to see that the hand holding her umbrella was steady, even though she felt … strange, somehow. Like something was tickling at her mind – something important she should remember –
Who cares? she thought. You won. Time to go.
"Good-bye, Goblin King."
He bowed to her.
"And do give my regards to your grandmother."
Sarah made it to the station in good time. She stood on the chilly platform, waiting for the train.
He was lying. Lying to you. The bastard was just angry because he lost.
"Lost the first time, lost the second," Sarah murmured to herself. "Third time? What the hell – if there's a third time, he'll lose." She twirled her umbrella's curved handle – back and forth, back and forth. Raindrops flew from its spines. "Third time's the charm, Goblin King."
She fumbled in her coat pocket for her gloves; it was getting colder. There– she took out the gloves, and then, frowning, looked at her cell phone.
"Shit." She had turned it off for dinner last night, and forgotten to turn it back on – "Seven missed calls. Seven– what on earth –"
Sarah flipped the phone open. Seven missed calls. All from her mother. She shrugged, and put the phone back in her pocket. "Probably can't find Gran's slippers –"
A whistle sounded. Sarah stepped back as the train chugged into the station, and ground to a halt. She smiled as she realized that she didn't even have to move to get to the door.
Staring at the dull metal, waiting for the door to open, Sarah twirled her umbrella. Back and forth, back and forth. The red plastic behind her head looked like a halo – the world's biggest hat –
"Skin white as snow," she whispered. "Hair black as ebony. And –" she grinned at her reflection. "Umbrella red as blood."
Fairy tales. Wicked stepmothers, glass slippers, fairy godmothers and harps of gold. Little children lost in the woods. Worn-out shoes. Lips red as blood. Goblin Kings –
"Goblin King, Goblin King, wherever you may be …" she whispered even more quietly. "I wish that you would realize that you're a fairy tale, and that I'm all grown up – and –" she smiled to herself, at her own melodrama "– that desire and love are two different things …"
The doors opened with a whoosh. Sighing, Sarah closed her umbrella and hoisted her suitcase. She would find a good seat. She would return her mother's calls, and talk to Gran on the phone –
– and would leave off thinking of fairy tales – she yawned – maybe take a nap – while riding on a train that would carry her out of the city and into the country, over the river and through the woods, to her grandmother's house far, far away.
Author's note: Jareth's cat tongue is taken from Lucilla Darkate's "Not Long At All"
Find the fairy tales, my pretties ... -grin-
Oh ... and do you want me to continue? If you do, there's a relevant poll on my profile page.