Chapter Nineteen: A New Protector?
Thoughts flashed in his mind like brilliant bursts of colored lightning. He remembered thousands of things at once: old friends, favorite games, beloved fantasies, and greatest fears. Cherished memories came back to him from the murky depths of the past, enfolding his mind in the simple delight of remembrance.
Jareth knew he had changed, knew his first trick had worked just as it had been meant to. In a technical sense, he was no longer shattered on the inside, because he had forced everything within him to start anew. Slowly, with each tower, he would be able to reclaim more and more of himself; it was an idea that was bordering madness just enough to be considered pure genius. There was, however, a drawback.
Lovely little Sarah had to be prepared to go through the depths of hell with him, because he knew he couldn't do it on his own, wouldn't trust or want anyone else to help him through this journey. The problem was that his memories of her were slipping, being overshadowed by this new childish body that had never known her. In moments, he would forget her completely. Would she be hurt at that realization? Would he still follow her, even when he no longer knew who she was? Hundreds of worries swarmed at him, but they grew hazy as the moments passed by, until all he could think of was Sarah. With a strange desperation, he held on to the image of her lovely face, the way her inky-dark hair framed her jewel bright eyes or the way her lips so easily pinched into a frown and shyly curled into a beautiful smile. He held on to those thoughts until the very end, until he was left with nothing but the stray memory of emerald eyes and the overwhelming sense that he had lost something profound.
Sarah doubled over, her senses reeling. She had been watching the boy-Jareth nap when a nerve snapping something had slammed into her. Her heart was racing, her chest was tight, and her head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. What had just happened?
Slowly, she reached inward—just as Jareth had taught her to do so very long ago—and made the strange journey to the world within herself. She hadn't done this in ages and, despite the fact that she had been told the first time was always the worst, she felt that this time, perhaps only her second or third trip ever, was just as bad. The world around her melted away, leaving her with the sense that she had nothing to hang onto, had nothing to keep herself from fading away as well. She would have panicked outright if she hadn't been able to still feel the comforting pressure of the floor underneath her or hear Jareth's quiet, even breathing. With that thought in mind, with that anchor to keep her from flying off into a misty vacuum, Sarah rode out the worst of it.
In almost no time at all, the horridness disappeared, giving way to a purely magic space. It was a cavern of sorts, filled with lights and gems and the heavy restlessness of her magic, making her itch. Something was missing though. Sarah paced the cavern, becoming confused. It had been bigger last time, hadn't it? There had been depths unknown to this place before, and a strange coolness that had jumbled her senses.
Abruptly, she knew what was wrong: that coolness was missing. Part of her inner cavern had collapsed; that part that lead to Jareth, that part that had kept them so closely connected for so many years, had been cut off.
She reeled anew, coming back to her senses with a suddenness that was nearly painful.
They weren't connected anymore, she thought dazedly. Why weren't they connected anymore?
Leshia regarded the gathering with shadowed eyes. Something wasn't right here. Amyl discovered that Jareth and Sarah were missing, and Imm and Laim just happened to know where the pair in question had wondered off to? It was simply too convenient. The Twins had disappeared for nearly an hour, only to burst back into the sitting room announcing that they knew precisely what to do. In a matter of minutes they had had everyone entrenched in a flurry of activity, making preparations for an extended journey through the Labyrinth. Now, two hours after deciding to go after the children—and who knew how many hours after Jareth and Sarah had actually left—Leshia couldn't help but feel that the Twins were trying to get them lost on purpose.
Suspiciously, she conceded that she could already taste the bittersweet tang of trickery. But if the Twins weren't planning on leading the two families to their missing members, then where were they going? The boys had to know that they could only lead the families on a merry little chase for so long before someone demanded to know what their ultimate destination was.
More than that, Leshia was curious as to why they were doing this. What could Imm and Laim hope to gain by keeping everyone away from Jareth and Sarah? Unease built within her as she pondered that question. It was an emotion that she was ill equipped to handle, and her natural power of serenity stuttered enough to make those around her jittery with nerves.
She didn't like the idea of her babes being out of her reach, didn't want to think what could happen as such a small and vulnerable pair traveled through the Labyrinth, but maybe… Maybe it was necessary. The idea chaffed; Leshia's race was notoriously possessive, and it was instinctual for her to keep her family close. However, she conceded that just this once, perhaps it was better to let the children choose their own course.
Sarah watched uneven blue eyes blink open. Jareth sat up gingerly, his gaze taking in the whole of the room almost immediately, finally coming to rest on her. That blue gaze was, all at once, both painfully familiar and frighteningly distant. Not to say that he was in any way threatening. On the contrary, he appeared to be a very friendly, rambunctious child who was willing to let anyone in on one of his games, but…
He didn't recognize her.
Most times, when she looked into Jareth's eyes, she could see hundreds of emotions lurking just beyond his calm façade. But no matter what, he had always looked upon her with a strange combination of longing and defeat, mischief and melancholy. She saw none of that now, just the eerie blue gaze of a young boy one day destined to be king.
Jareth stretched, then smile so widely that it lit up his entire face. "What's your name?" he asked eagerly.
"Sarah," she answered, hurt to know that she was no longer a part of him. But maybe it was better this way, she conceded as she fought down confused tears. They had inevitably seemed to bring out the worst in each other, had butted heads so much that maybe they just weren't meant to be. Perhaps now, after this whole ordeal was done, they would both be able to move on.
His eyes flashed strangely at the mention of her name, but it didn't seem to stir up any memory of her. "I'm Jareth," he offered, his wide grin slipping away. Carefully, he stood and walked over to her, moving as though he didn't wish to startle her. He sat down next to her, his small hand reaching to touch her cheek. His fingers came back wet, and he inspected them grimly. "Why are you crying?" he asked gently.
His innocent question made her tears flow harder, and with a sob she pulled him close, burying her face in his shoulder. The sudden movement didn't bother him, and if having a 'stranger' hold him so close frightened Jareth, he didn't show it. Instead, he wrapped his small arms around her, cuddling closer.
"I'm scared," Sarah answered after a moment. "I've never been this scared before."
"I'll protect you," he stated bravely, puffing up in her arms to make himself appear bigger.
She laughed bitterly, "You don't even know me."
"You're a nice lady who's crying," Jareth replied. "What's to know? Besides," he continued, pulling away from her a little, "I'm the only other person here; there's no one else to protect you."
It was easy to forget that he was from a completely different time than Sarah. She was used to doing for herself because she knew no one else would, whereas Jareth had probably been raised to believe that women were meant to be taken care of. The idea was as irritating as it was thrilling. He probably held chivalrous ideals close to his heart—he was just at that age where being noble held more appeal than being powerful—and who was she to trample that? If she told him that what she feared wasn't something he could fight—namely, his reaction to her, or lack thereof—it would break his heart. On the other hand, she still needed to get him to the next tower, and he had already handed her the perfect way to ensure that. If Jareth believed himself to be her protector, then he would follow her no matter where she went.
"You're right," she conceded, feeling a little rotten for using his childhood ideals against him, "there isn't anyone else to protect me, and I'm on a very dangerous journey."
He leaned back even farther, looking her in the eye. "Really?" he asked excitedly, his smile creeping back.
She almost grinned at his simple joy. "Really," she answered, standing to face the only window in the room. "You see that tower way out in the distance?" she asked, pointing out to the murky shape beyond their own tower.
"I do," he nodded. "Is that where you're headed?"
"Yes," she answered, "it is. And I'm scared to go there alone."
He grabbed her hand and started leading her toward the door. "Don't worry," he bounced, "I can get you there, no problem."
"Wait a minute," she managed to bring him to a stop. "You'll need clothes first."
For the first time, Jareth noticed that whatever he was wearing was much too big for him. How had that happened? He pondered it for a few moments, but every time he came close to a theory, the thought shied away from him. Oh well, he shrugged it off, he had bigger things to worry about.
He found her strangely compelling, he thought as he quickly shed his clothes. There was something about her that called to him. She wore loveliness like a pretty dress, but there was also a desperation about her, and a strange sadness that lingered in her eyes. Simply put, he found himself too curious to leave her alone. She wanted to travel to some tower? He'd be more than happy to take her there because that meant he wouldn't have to leave her side. It was strange for him, a young prince, to be so thoroughly captivated by a human.
Jareth shook his head, putting the thoughts to rest for a while. Clothing posed a bigger problem for the moment. Slowly, he turned around the room, taking in every detail with hawkish attention. Admittedly, he didn't have much to work with, but a silk tapestry could easily be turned into a robe—all he had to do was add some holes for his arms and find something to cinch it closed. Not difficult at all, he smiled, taking down an emerald green tapestry.
Before long, he had a useable outfit. The fabric fell around him in patterned waves of emerald and gold, but no amount of finessing could make it fit him perfectly. Without being able to sew the tapestry into a more familiar and appealing shape, the best Jareth could do was fold parts of it and use some bent pins he had found to keep everything in place. It was still a little overlong and kept slipping off his shoulders, and he had a feeling that before long he'd be wearing it like a kilt. Still, it was good enough to travel in, and the color reminded him of Sarah's eyes, which was perfectly fitting since he would be her companion for the time being.
In many ways, the Underground was just a vast stretch of land that had been taken from its natural environment. Since then, it had grown and mutated, but parts of it would always bear the memory of original form. There were mountain ranges that had been ripped from its craggy brothers, lakes and seas that had been split in two, valleys that had been torn asunder, all to create a new place. But that new place had just been created by slapping together old parts, and those old parts had never forgotten where they came from.
The Underground sensed the magic keeping it tethered weaken, and hungered for its home with a keen viciousness.
A/N: This chapter was much shorter than expected, but important things were established, and it came out close to on time. I'm thinking the next chapter will be much longer but, seeing as it hasn't been written yet, I make no promises.
Disclaimer: I do not own Jareth, Sarah, Sarah's family, or the Underground.