Third Time's The Charm

There had been others before Sarah, of course, and there were others after her. But he had to admit that there was no one quite like Sarah and there never would be. Not that the all-powerful Goblin King would admit to a mere mortal that she had made more than a transitory impact on his life, but she knew anyway. In some ways, Sarah knew him better than anyone in either of their worlds. Even when she was just a moody teenager, there had been so much potential in her. He had fallen in love with that potential more than the girl herself. He had read so many possibilities into the young Sarah. Her flair for the dramatic, her love of stories and dreams, her strength, her loyalty, her fire. All of those seemed to add up to a woman who could be his match. But she was not a woman then, although she had proved to be more than a match for him. He had never been so wrong about anyone in all of his long life. The delightful irony was that the Goblin King, manipulator of dreams, had fallen for a dream himself.

The Sarah who went back to the human world was at once absolutely different and stubbornly the same as the one who had entered the Labyrinth. Jareth had been relieved that the essential character of her had remained. So many people who passed through the Labyrinth lost part of themselves, even if they didn't spend time in the Oubliette. The Labyrinth had refined Sarah, burned away the childish pique and selfishness to reveal a powerful, determined young woman. In those seconds when she had turned down the offer of the Goblin King's love, he had truly convinced himself that she had broken his heart. Sarah threw herself back into life with her family but the link to the Underground remained. She kept up her contact with her friends, and so Jareth could use that connection, hide in the shadows and watch. He had wallowed in self-pity, brooding over the rejection as though he would pine away for the love of her.

Then, one day, he realised that he was being simply ridiculous.

He had, in a perverse way, enjoyed playing the part of a lovesick fool but it had grown boring. As it turned out, she hadn't broken his heart at all. Maybe Sarah's predecessors had been right and he had no heart to break. No matter. Jareth turned his attention to another young woman and decided to fall in love with her instead. That affair ran its course. The woman was satisfying enough, very beautiful and quite obviously besotted with him, but there was no real challenge. Never mind. The world was full of attractive women. One was cast aside, another took her place. Years passed, babies were stolen away, some to be rescued and some not, goblins remained stupid, the Bog remained full of stench. It came as quite a surprise to Jareth when he found his thoughts straying to the girl with the furious challenge in her eyes. He sought Sarah out, not really knowing what his intentions were.

"I wasn't ready back then," she told him calmly, utterly unsurprised to be confronted with the Goblin King ten years after her trip through the Labyrinth. "You do realise that I was just a kid? It would have been kind of perverted, don't you think?" Then she laughed, throwing back her mane of hair. "But now… hey, why not?"

It was no shy girl who took him in her arms and kissed him but a glorious woman. The passion in her was astonishing, a wonder and a personal triumph that he had realised her potential all of those years ago. The Goblin King, stuff of fairy tales, and a woman who still believed in the power of stories. They were perfect for each other. They lived happily ever after.

Happily ever after lasted precisely three months.

It was a short relationship, even by Jareth's standards. Once again, he had misjudged Sarah, reading every sign absolutely wrong. She had changed so much, but there was still no way that she would bow to his wishes. It was unacceptable. He was a king after all.

"What happened to 'love me and I will be your slave'?" Sarah demanded angrily in the middle of what felt like their hundredth argument that week.

"That was before I realised that you were a foul-mouthed, acid-tongued harpy!" Jareth spat. "I am still the ruler of this kingdom and I command respect, even from you."

"Command my ass," was the reply, confirming the 'foul-mouthed' diagnosis.

They stared at each other, two absolutely immovable forces. Then Sarah laughed. "You know what?" she said. "I think we should just be friends."

Friends? How dare she? Friendship was for weak little runts and big stupid hulks like Hoggle and Ludo. He was not one that she could fit into her little collection of freaks and misfits. If she would not be his absolutely, she had no right to throw him this pathetic consolation prize. So, rejected again, the Goblin King sent Sarah back to her own world. This time he spent no time mourning the loss of her. She may have dented his pride but she certainly had not broken his heart.

It was another five years before he realised that he was lonely and that Sarah's offer of friendship might have been genuine and welcome. His latest affair had ended rather messily and it would have been rather nice to have somebody to talk to. A little more hesitantly this time, he approached Sarah again. Her reaction was just as easy-going as it had been before, tempered with a strange sort of exasperated affection. Jareth was horrified to find that he didn't mind that at all. Sarah sat with him in her garden for a long afternoon, listening to him grumble about the faithlessness of women and the stupidity of goblins. She told him about her the man she was about to marry. He didn't mind that either. Here, in Sarah's garden, he felt more relaxed than he had in a great many years.

Less time passed until the next visit. Once again, they sat secluded under the trees, exchanging news just like old friends. She let him rest his hand on the curve of her stomach and laughed at his reaction when he felt the baby kick. He promised her that he would bring the baby a present, the first gift that he had ever offered without a price. He kept his promise, and Sarah was truly pleased to see him again. It became a habit of theirs, odd meetings which were far from regular, sometimes mere months apart but sometimes years. Sarah was never surprised to see him. It was though she could tell when she would venture into the garden and see the Goblin King standing under the trees waiting for her. And more time went by, and Sarah's children grew, but there were always these sheltered moments.

- X -

He jumps at the hand on his shoulder.

"I swear you were a million miles away," says Sarah. "So, tell me about the latest one. Is she beautiful, fiery but everso everso dull?" There is the customary lilt of amusement in her voice. His Sarah. Yet never really his at all.

So he sits down with her under the trees. It seems as though they have had this conversation a thousand times with only her part differing. She has told tales about her friends, her family, her job. Sarah has grown, she has changed. He is the same as he ever was. Sarah smiles as he pours out the same old stories of life in the Goblin Kingdom, asking questions as though she does not know the answers, giving advice as if she thinks that he might take it this time. She takes his hand affectionately and he looks down at her pale fingers entwined in his, the gold of her wedding ring shining in the dappled summer light. Her hand looks oddly frail and he glances up at her suddenly, startling her into silence.

"Jareth? What is it?"

And it strikes him just now, on this bench in the warm afternoon, that Sarah has not only grown older but she has grown old. Her long hair is now pure white, there are deep lines around the beautiful eyes. He knows, of course, that her husband is dead, her children grown, her grandchildren beginning to make their way in the world, but he never really thought what all that meant until now. Until this moment. Sarah, being Sarah, can read in his face what he is thinking. Her hand tightens around his.

"Did you think that this could go on forever?" she says softly. "Oh Jareth, I thought you realised."

He shakes his head mutely. Sarah lays her free hand along his cheek.

"You have been my very dear friend," she says. "But all things end in my world."

He watches her walk back to the house, watches the awkwardness in her step and the whiteness of her hair. She is leaving him again, this third time not of her will, but leaving him nonetheless. The Goblin King, unchanging, sits motionless on the bench in the garden and realises that, decades after he first met her, Sarah has broken his heart after all.

Author's Note: Sarah, Jareth, the Goblin Kingdom and goblins of various shapes and sizes don't belong to me.

This was in response to a challenge on the LiveJournal community "labyfic" - The Never After Challenge: We're all suckers for the happy ending, but from a realistic (and oh so depressing standpoint), more than half of all those supposed happy endings fail. For this one, instead of focusing on the happy ending, tell us about what comes after, specifically, The Break Up. Funny or sad, long, short, anything goes, as long as Sarah and Jareth are no longer together at the end.