"You know your problem? You take too much for granted. Take this labyrinth. Even if you reach the center, you'll never get out again."

Jareth soared above the rubble of the castle, seeking the invisible current that bridged the Underground to the Above. He didn't glance back at the ruined castle below. It was already piecing itself together, inch by grinding inch. When he returned, all would be as it ever was. The ancient magic that had created the castle from dust and forgotten dreams was too strong to be defeated by a mortal.

Jareth, on the other hand... Well, the Labyrinth had allowed Jareth to be soundly defeated. He'd underestimated the girl, and now she was to be foisted upon him. At least she had the potential to be a worthy companion. Better yet, she was real. There was only so much satisfaction that one could find in dreams.

Jareth slipped into the Above easily. He had no doubt she'd already unwittingly called her "friends" to her side; every creature she'd met during her time in the Underground had been missing when he'd left.

Even if he hadn't known where she was located, he wouldn't have had any problem finding her. Like every other inhabitant of the Underground, Sarah now shone for him like a beacon.

Jareth perched outside her window, looking in at the revelry. As he suspected, Sarah's subjects had flocked to the new queen. He fluffed out his feathers against the night chill, examining each face in the crowded room to determine if any of them had told her the truth. He thought not; she was too happy.

Jareth abruptly decided against talking to Sarah now. The others hadn't told her the truth, and she'd find herself back in the castle soon enough. There was no point in waiting here.

He took flight, winging toward the Underground once again.

He took his time soaring over the Labyrinth and the Goblin City, deciding on the best way to approach Sarah. Even as he contemplated that thought, a fragment of the dream he'd sent her flickered through his mind. Resplendent in blue, he'd danced with her in a fragile, fairytale ballroom, swaying through a crowd of his former friends and family...

Perhaps Sarah would accept the inevitable gracefully. After all, she'd already revealed her attraction to him, and it wasn't as if either of them had any real choice in the matter...

As he'd expected, the castle was once again intact, but there were significant changes. Everything was clean, and as he strode through the hallways, the ringing of his boot heels against the flagstones was the only sound he heard. The goblins and animals that had infested every corner of the castle were absent. He vaguely remembered that it had been in this condition centuries ago when he'd first come to this abysmal place.

Jareth entered his bedchamber and stopped in his tracks. The room was in the process of shifting. Before his eyes, the jewel tones he preferred faded to pastels, and the dark woods and ornate carvings melted away, leaving clean lines and light colors in their place. It seemed his preferences were to be ignored in favor of the new queen.

Candlelight flickered from every surface, and Sarah slept in the middle of the large bed, nestled amidst a cloud of white silk. She wore an oversized green shirt, and her hair was pulled up with a plastic clip. Jareth shook his head. He wasn't surprised to find her there, but the Labyrinth had taken her while she slept, and her awakening could be... traumatic. He took a step toward the bed, and halted again as Hoggle hopped down from a nearby chair.

"You stay away from her," Hoggle whispered harshly.

Jareth raised an eyebrow. "I see that being friendly with Sarah has made you reckless."

Hoggle shuffled uncomfortably from foot to foot. "I knew you'd come sniffing around, and I don't wants you to hurt her."

Jareth's eyes gleamed in sly amusement. "Why, Hogwart, I'm devastated that you'd think me so violent."

"You tortured me," Hoggle spat out. "I still has the scars, I do."

"You wouldn't tell me how to leave this place permanently." Jareth shrugged briefly. "Are you still holding a grudge? It was so long ago."

"There is no way to leave permanently. I told you that. But you wouldn't stop. You kept hurting me."

Jareth smirked. "Yes, well, I thought you were lying."

"Then you threw me in an oubliette for days. I almost died." Hoggle's eyes blazed.

"You are holding a grudge." Jareth tsked. "But as I said, it was so long ago. Better that the past remain in the past." His voice lowered to a warning tone. "You wouldn't want to bother Sarah with such a petty things, Higgle. There could be... unfortunate consequences."

Hoggle gulped and took a step back. "Why are you here?"

"I merely wanted to greet my new queen when she awoke." Jareth's expression was all innocence.

Hoggle continued to eye him suspiciously, and Jareth sighed. "I couldn't enter the room if I had intentions of harming her. The Labyrinth does protect its rulers, even from themselves."

Hoggle's gaze turned back to Sarah, and his voice turned plaintive. "I tried to tell her. I told her to go back. She didn't understand."

"No one ever does, but that's the point, isn't it? The Labyrinth is a parasite. Once it's chosen you, it's impossible to leave for more than thirteen hours. It always brings you back." Even Jareth could hear the bitterness in his voice.

"At least she'll be better to us than you've ever been," Hoggle spat out. "She's kind and generous."

"She's a petulant child," Jareth retorted, "but she's growing up. In just a few years, she'll be a woman, and I can claim my queen. The nights in the Underground can grow so very cold."

Hoggle spluttered. "She won't have you."

"Of course she will. I can be quite charming when I choose, and her options are rather limited." Jareth smirked. "Did you think she would prefer you?"

Hoggle flushed. "You need to stay away from her."

Jareth's expression was a picture of mock sympathy. "Poor Hogwart, so noble, so ineffectual." His gaze hardened. "We're all stuck in this place. It isn't as if we can leave. I suggest you stay out of my affairs."

"The rest of your kind exiled you," Hoggle blurted out suddenly.

Jareth didn't reply, but his eyes narrowed.

"I've heard whispers, pieces of stories," Hoggle continued. "You were too proud, too arrogant even for the likes of them, and they forced you out. What did you do that was so horrible that even they threw you out?"

Jareth froze, his pulse pounding at his throat, and he stared through Hoggle, the bedchamber momentarily fading away to a long-remembered glittering court and a host of merciless faces. When he spoke, his tone was oddly detached. "There was once a poet in the Above named Milton who wrote, "Better to reign in hell, than serve in heav'n"."

His alien eyes focused suddenly and pinned Hoggle in place.

"I did warn you to stay out of my affairs," Jareth said, his voice grown dangerously soft. A flick of his fingers sent the dwarf flying across the room to crash into wall. As Hoggle slid to the floor, unconscious, the bedchamber doors opened, and Hoggle was tossed out into the corridor. The doors slammed shut behind him.

Jareth brushed at his sleeves and patted his hair into place. "Now perhaps I can have some peace and quiet," he murmured.

He sat on the bed next to Sarah and leaned close, taking in every detail. Slowly, he worked the gloves off his hands and reached out to delicately stroke her face. Her skin was as soft as a rose petal, and she was pretty enough, in that puppyish way of human teenagers. Fucking her would be a pleasure. It was such a pity that she was still too young, but he only had to wait a few years, and he could be patient when it suited him.

Sarah's brown eyes fluttered open, unfocused and blurred with confusion.

Jareth smiled, his sharp teeth gleaming in the candlelight. "Welcome to hell, your majesty."

Author's Note: Written as a gift for LadyRhiyana for the Labyfic Exchange on LiveJournal