Ch 1

Sarah was cooking Ramen noodles in the microwave when she heard a frantic pounding on her door. Her heart sank. There were, in her experience, many different kinds of knocks, and they all meant different things. There was the authoritative, door rattling knock of a policeman demanding entry, the tentative tap of an old friend, the careless rapping of a bored high-schooler selling raffle tickets. This was none of those. This was a desperate plead for entry. This was a friend running from his psycho ex-girlfriend; This was her neighbor Rose after she took too much.

This was an evening spent hiding sharp knives, offering lots of liquids and aspirin, listening to a shrieking lunatic stand cursing outside her window. She'd ended up in St. Louis buying size seventeen shoes for a drag queen one night, after a knock like that...

With a weary sigh of responsibility, Sarah trudged over to her front door, threw the lock, and flung her door open before whoever-it-was broke it down.

"What-" Sarah began to snap, and her voice died in her throat.

On the other side of her door stood the Goblin King. Sarah clung to the door, momentarily staggered.

He looked worried and threadbare and precisely as beautiful as she'd remembered him.

What...the hell...

The ordinary stretch of the hallway behind him seemed sinister and strange, the angles coming together in a way that made her sick to her stomach. There were more shadows than there should be, and they clung to him, giving her eyes the suggestion of him without the substance. The everyday place looked utterly bizarre and magical, as if he'd brought the impossible along with him.

"Invite me in," Jareth demanded, but to her surprise, his voice was rough and desperate. He put his hands on the doorframe, leaning toward her but not crossing the threshold. His eyes bored into her as if he was trying to force her to obey him through sheer willpower alone.

"Like hell," Sarah squeaked, giving him a disbelieving, you-should-know-better look. There was something on the stairs. A noise. Something coming up, and the sound it made lifted all the hairs on the back of her neck.

Jareth turned his head sharply, listening, and then turned back to her with real fear on his face.

"Invite me in," he said, and it was more like pleading now. Sarah felt her face twist in indecision...but the noise it made...good god...

She saw something, a shadow, a suggestion of something moving up to the top of the stairs, and her heart stopped dead. Something in her mind...shredded at the sight of it, and Jareth, who had turned to look, made a harsh, choking sound.

She met his eyes in a moment of complete, terrified, mutual understanding.

"Come in," she gasped, yanking the door wide. Jareth, all pride forgotten, ran for it, and that thing tore up the stairs after him. Jareth ran through her doorway like all the hounds of hell were chasing after him, and seeing the thing twisting horrifically in the yellow light of her apartment hallway, Sarah decided that she wasn't far off.

With a heartfelt scream of terror, she tried to slam her door shut. At the last second a something shot through the gap and grabbed Jareth by the shoulder. Not an arm, Sarah thought with rising hysteria as the ward over her door flared white hot and Jareth bellowed in pain. Not a hand...A limb, thought Sarah as she grabbed the closest thing handy, which happened to be an umbrella propped up by the door. The thing made an impossible, monstrous sound of rage as her wards sizzled, and Sarah lifted the umbrella over her head and started to beat at the offending limb with every ounce of strength she had.

The limb started to burn, and Jareth did something that caused a lot of sparks and made the entire building lurch out from under Sarah's feet. She fell on her ass, the limb snapped back through the door, and Jareth caught himself on her table and kicked the door shut after it.

Sarah lay panting for two breaths before her brain jumpstarted and she threw herself at the door, slamming the locks home with dexterity born of raw adrenaline.

She fell away from it, onto the floor, as the thing pounded at the wood from the other side. She and Jareth watched the door for several seconds as if it held all their answers.

The pounding stopped. Sarah saw Jareth slump a little in relief. They sat for a moment in sweet silence, each absorbing the fact that they were not, after all, going to die in the next few minutes. Sarah leaned back on her hand. Jareth sat on the floor, and when he lifted his eyes she couldn't help but notice he looked rather bemused to find himself still alive.

"Hello again," Sarah said with a faint smile, deciding she was game. "Can I get you some tea?"

Sarah's umbrella was on fire, and she smacked it on the floor a few times to smother it.

Jareth's eyes went wide, and for a moment he looked like he was in serious danger of laughing out loud.

"You know," he said, fighting a sharp, feral grin, "I honestly didn't think you'd let me in." Jareth drew his knee up, lounging in an enviably graceful way on her rather dusty hardwood floor. He shook his head once, almost looking disapproving.

Sarah's eye was drawn to a streak of red on his white shirt. A bright, blobby stain across his chest. It looked like he'd put on a clean shirt over a fresh wound.

Unease blossomed fully formed in her heart. There was something wrong with this. He wasn't acting-

"I didn't think you would be so stupid," Jareth said quietly, suddenly oddly sober. Sarah's unease rippled like a living thing around her heart. He was just sitting there, the picture of a desperate man looking for help, but something in the quality of his stillness was telling her to run. Run, run, here comes the big bad wolf...

Idiot, that thing had been after him. The big bad wolf was outside. He wasn't here to...

Then Sarah heard a sizzle from the living room.

"Windows," she hissed then, stiffening. She scrambled to her feet and took off running, not waiting to see if Jareth was on the same page. She reached the first window just as her wards flared again.

Sarah had been enjoying loft living for several years now, and her apartment was light and airy and had many huge windows. Over each window a horseshoe was carefully tacked, painted over white to look innocuous. The metal flared as she approached, scorching the wall as something moved out in the darkness. Sarah yanked hard on her blinds, sending them crashing down and running swiftly to the next window, and then to the next.

She saw Jareth at a window in the corner, tugging somewhat awkwardly at the string that controlled her window treatments. Obliging, they descended with a rattle.

"The bedroom!" Sarah said, gesturing toward the hallway. Jareth took off at a run, and Sarah noticed for the first time that he was limping a little. Sarah closed off the last window and stepped back, holding her breath. Her wards held, smoldering, as the thing outside moved between her building and the streetlight outside, sending a ripple of shadow across the small gaps in her blinds.

Resolutely, Sarah retraced her steps and closed each of her curtains with a snap. The wards would hold the beast outside, and now that it was blocked from sight, it couldn't catch them and entrance them into inviting it inside.

At least, she thought it couldn't...Sarah realized with a chill that it was very quiet. Had it caught Jareth while he was trying to shut it out?

She made a mad dash for her bedroom, catching herself on the doorframe with her heart in her throat. Jareth was standing very still in the center of her room. The blinds and curtains were shut.

"Jareth?" Sarah said quietly, horror blooming in her heart. It had gotten him. It had...

Jareth turned to look at her, his face and eyes normal, looking sharply annoyed.

"Who told you my name?" he demanded, narrowing his eyes. Sarah slumped a little in relief. She didn't know what she would have done...

"Hoggle," she said faintly, not thinking. "What were you doing in here, all alone?"

Jareth glanced back at the wall, and Sarah froze, blood surging to her face.

"Oh," she said weakly. "Forgot that was there." She rubbed at her cheek, embarrassed. Jareth approached the wall almost reverently. Painted on it was a mural of the labyrinth that nearly took up the whole wall. It was the first view she'd gotten of it, and it had made an impression.

'Do you still want to look for him?'

Sarah came up behind him as he lifted a hand, not quite touching it.

"It's not quite right, I know. I had to do it just from memory," Sarah explained, almost apologizing.

"No," Jareth said sharply, and Sarah lifted her eyebrows, startled. "No," he continued softly, as if to himself, "It's just as I remember it..."

"What do you mean?" Sarah asked curiously, frowning.

Jareth stiffened, snatching his hand back as if she'd caught him doing something private. He turned away from the sprawling scene on the wall and pushed past her out into the hallway, ignoring her question.

As he passed her, his eyes flicked to her face, and then away. Sarah took a step back, shocked by the force of the emotion on his face. She stared after him, stung and bewildered.

She was sure she'd saved his life, letting him inside. She was even more certain, after catching the look in his eye, that Jareth was furious with her.

She stood there for a moment, hunting for a reason. He couldn't possibly be that upset just because she'd used his name. Of all the ridiculous...there was a freaking monster outside, and he was throwing a tizzy. Sarah rolled her eyes at the empty room, and went out into the hall after him.

The light out there was better, and with his back to her, Sarah saw that what she had first thought was a shadow cast by the folds of his shirt was actually another angry red line soaking through the cloth in a graceful sweep across his back. Someone had sliced him up.

"What happened to you?" Sarah asked with a wince.

"I've been away," Jareth said without stopping or looking at her. It was a ludicrous response to the question, and Sarah had her mouth open to challenge him about that when the lights went out.

"Is that thing smart enough to take out the power?" Sarah asked, her voice hushed. She couldn't see a thing.

"Almost certainly," Jareth replied in an extremely dry tone of voice.

He was standing by the couch, so the table she was looking for should be...Sarah made her way carefully in the dark, her hands held stiffly out in front of her like an extra in a cheap Romero knock-off flick. She still cracked her shin on the coffee table.

Wincing, she hobbled over to the item of furniture she was hunting for, yanking open the top drawer and retrieving her flashlight. Against all probability and logic, it was working, and she played the beam of light around her apartment, looking for anything horrible that might have snuck in.

Jareth shaded his eyes, squinting and frowning. There was nothing inside save the two of them. Sarah went to hunt for some candles, and she heard Jareth moving towards the door behind her.

"That's not any kind of answer to a question, you know," she said abruptly, pushing past some old Queen tapes and setting to one side a massive ring of keys,(some of which did not look like they were made to fit into any earthly lock) so she could drag her fingers across the bottom of the cupboard. "'I've been away'," she scoffed. Her hand closed on the smooth wax of several slightly used candles, and she pulled them out, turning to glance back at her guest. She kept the flashlight trained on the ground, so she wouldn't blind him.

"Why is that thing after you?" she demanded.

Jareth looked down at her, and there was something so awful, so completely bleak on his face she wanted to take the question right back.

"It's hungry," Jareth said, his voice grim.

Author's note:

(Tiny Shirtless Jareth is sulking attractively in the corner)

(coaxing)Come on, this is a brand new story! I can't start ripping your shirt off right out of the gate...

(Tiny Jareth gives me a withering, glittery glare)

(Relenting) All right I could, but I shouldn't.

"Tacky," Skeep agrees solemnly.