Sarah hesitated.  The words were on her lips.  She remembered them: she knew them.  They were a part of her, it seemed, whirling round and round her head like a song she couldn't be rid of.  But the pain, the killing pain, in Jareth's eyes stopped her.  He looked like he was dying.  She remembered his words, and the unspoken threat she posed to him. ptyle="mso-spacerun: He hadn't told her any of that; he didn't have to. Destroy him now, and she would destroy the Labyrinth forever. 

"Wait." The word was out of her mouth before she was even conscious that she had made the decision.  "Wait." 

A spark lit his mismatched eyes.  "Yes?" He held the crystal, round and cool, out further.  Sarah ignored it, focusing instead on the mismatched crystals of his eyes. "What do you want, Sarah? I offer you your dreams."

"I'm not willing to take them at your price."  She looked over at her little brother, sitting quietly on the edge of the platform. Somehow, she knew the Goblin King would not let him fall.  "If I say the words," she said, stepping closer to him without realizing it, "Toby and I go home free and your Labyrinth is no more.  If I don't say the words, he is turned into a goblin, the Labyrinth stays, and I am sent home in disgrace." 

There was affirmation in the Goblin King's cold, hard face though no actual nod of recognition. Even still he would not explicitly state that she did indeed hold at least some power in his Labyrinth.

"But…is that it? The only two choices?" Sarah swallowed. "You said that you'd done all this for me."  She waved at the platform floating slowly in the mist, at the faint Escher forms she could still see off in the distance.  "What if I don't want either choice?"

"Then take the crystal."

"I don't trust your crystal," she shot back, her eyes staring up at him.  There were points of light in them, reminiscent of the disguised crystal she had taken from Hoggle and bitten.  The Goblin King almost flinched.  "And I will not trade Toby's freedom for my dreams."

The king of the goblins blinked and stared hard at her, as if surprised by her statement. Then, suddenly, he reached out and flicked his gloved fingers at the clock.  Time stopped, the clock ceased its endless ticking away at Sarah's precious seconds.

The room grew completely silent, but for the soft sound of Sarah's own breath.  The Goblin King didn't seem to breathe at all.

"What do you want, Sarah?" he asked again, except this time it seemed that he was actually interested in hearing her answer.  He sounded…curious.  A little amused, too, maybe, Sarah thought. 

She swallowed. She didn't want to break this man or destroy the world he had created here.  But she couldn't doom Toby to a life Underground as a goblin and leave her father with nothing.  She couldn't do that.

Feeling like a character in a Disney cartoon and somehow wronged rather than valiant, she looked up at him with resolve in her eyes.  "Would you trade hostages?" she asked.  "Take me instead."

Silence once more engulfed them, as the king of the goblins seemed rendered silent. Then, "You would…take his place?"

Sarah's eyes were still wary, and she did not seem sure of herself as she spoke. "If I did, would you turn me into a goblin?"

"No," Jareth said, reaching out and stroking her hair.  His gloved fingers felt like they were playing with cool, soft water. "No, I wouldn't—couldn't do that to you, Sarah."  His eyes were veiled, but even so Sarah couldn't help but tremble when he touched her. "But I do warn you. I cannot simply take a grown girl like yourself into the Labyrinth.  I would not offer this option to anyone but you, sweet Sarah. If you stay in the Underground, it will be as my queen."

Sarah's breath caught, and she stared.  Had she heard him correctly?  He was the Goblin King, her enemy, the evil one, the villain of this story!

"This is not a story, Sarah; not a fairy tale world.  There are no clear-cut characters.  I am not the villain, and you are not some wronged heroine.  There are no easy distinctions here in my Labyrinth."

"Your queen," Sarah said softly.  "Your wife?"

"Yes, Sarah," he said. "My wife.  I cannot bring you here any other way, and I would not have it so even if I could.  I cannot live within you."

But then, who wins? Sarah demanded of herself.  Nobody?

Everybody, came the reply.

She glanced sharply up at Jareth, and in his eyes she saw again the loneliness and need she had seen when they danced.  It wasn't tenderness, and it wasn't kindness, but still….  Something stirred within her, and she stared into his eyes.

Jareth saw something there that she herself likely didn't realize.  But he closed his hand over the crystal, and in a moment it had become an ornate silver ring with a large, cold diamond glittering like a chip of ice in the center. He held it out to Sarah, and the clock started ticking again. 

You can still say the words, Sarah told herself, but she knew it was a lie and the thought didn't reassure her as it was meant to.  There was no turning back now, and she wondered why she didn't feel more regret as, with three seconds of her thirteen hours left, she reached out and took the ring.

To be continued...