A/N: I don't want to think about how shamefully long it's been since I've updated this. Unfortunately, real life does have a habit of getting in the way, but here is the third and final part, at last. I only hope it's worth the wait...
Her eyes opened onto darkness; but the darkness was not absolute. A wavering grey light from no visible source flickered around her intermittently. Stone walls, stone floors, she was in a crypt, a vault –
Chains rattled along the cold floor but did not bind her. Some other, older power weighted her limbs and she could not move. The realisation brought no terror, for her mind seemed enmeshed with cobwebs. She tried to pick apart the strands, but weariness had become a part of her being; it felt like her body was carved from stone. But there was pain – that she knew; deep, pulsing, throbbing through every inch of her. The metallic taste of blood in her mouth. And it was cold. Her bones ached with it.
Through the hazy veil of half consciousness, her eyes moved round the dungeon-crypt. She felt the grating chill of a stone wall pressing into her back where she was bound by an invisible force. There were no doors or windows she could see; only walls, and that strange ethereal light formed of whispers and frost and moth wings.
Vague thoughts, like dead leaves caught by wind, fluttered through her head.
Where am I?
Why am I here?
Who am I?
The answer to the last question came slowly.
Sarah. She tried to say the word aloud and it sounded strange on her tongue. "Sarah. Sarah Williams."
So she had a name and she could speak. But how old was she? How long had she been here? Memories hovered around the edge of her consciousness, but if she concentrated too hard, they eluded her, trickling away like ice turning into water. Searching for some clue, she glanced down at her clothes. She was wearing an elaborate gown that would have once been white, but was now faded to antique yellow. Heavy brocade weighted the skirts that were embroidered with old lace and silk turned starch. Jewels were embedded on her bodice and adorned her fingers, jewels no longer bright, their light faded with age. She wanted to touch them, run her fingers over them, but the paralysing ice bound her prisoner in her own body. She could only look, and wonder.
"Beautiful." Her voice was rasping and bitter with the tang of blood. "And horrible." The words echoed in the empty silence.
Sarah frowned, feeling the gauzy mesh of her mind part a fraction.
These aren't my normal clothes… I was wearing a shirt…
But where? She had never been anywhere else. There was only here, in this place of cold and loneliness and eternity.
Was she a prisoner here? And if so, what had been her crime? It must have been heinous indeed to have her trapped down here in this sepulchre of time. Her eyes fell again on the jewels she wore, their fires long burned out. It bespoke of ancient grandeur and gave her pause. Perhaps then, she was no prisoner, but a guardian, or a monarch, left to rule over a city of ashes and a castle of bones.
The air around her seemed to thicken for a moment, humming with its own consciousness, and she heard the sound of a door opening and closing, although there was still no visible entrance to the room.
And he was standing there. Jareth. Yes, she knew that name. Just as she recognised him by his languorous grace and the aura of power and magic that settled over his lightly muscled shoulders like a cloak. She could never have forgotten how beautiful he was, or how his silver hair spilled down into his glittering eyes and over his shoulders. No longer wild, it was smooth and sleek; it would glide like water through her fingers. He was dressed as extravagantly as she had ever seen him; in a delicately embroidered white and gold jacket with a cream coloured cloak thrown over one shoulder, pinned with a star. A crown adorned his head.
"Well now, Sarah," he said softly. "Do you know me?"
"Yes," she said.
But from when? And where?
"And who am I?"
She knew the answer to this, too. "The king. You're the Goblin King."
His fingers brushed her forehead and she felt a star flare with a responding fire." I am your king."
"How –" Her voice was dry and rasping as sandpaper. "How long have I been here?"
A smile curved his thin mouth. "How long do you think?"
Sarah looked into his eyes that stretched into wells of emptiness.
"Forever," she said.
He drew close to her, so close that she could feel the heavy material of his jacket pressing into her, and caught his scent – dark and spicy, yet at the same time citrus sharp and light as sunshine. It reminded her simultaneously of Christmas and midsummer… How did I know about Christmas? Or midsummer? His raised arm brushed her hair as he rested his elegant fingers along the line of her cheek. "And how do you feel?"
A shudder would have passed through her – if she had been able to shudder. "Cold," she whispered.
"Are you in pain?" His tone was gentle, inquiring.
Pain? No, pain wasn't the word for it. Nothing could describe the chains that dragged at her body, exhaustion bound in agony. The veil of semi-consciousness had receded, but the fine threads that blocked her memory were as intact as ever. It suddenly struck her as very important that she break through them.
He was tracing the line of her jaw in a slow movement.
"Why can't I move?"
His smile became seductive. "And why would you want to move? I think I rather like you just –" His hand slid downwards into the bodice of her dress; she drew a sharp intake of breath – "As you are."
She wanted to press herself further into his languid caress or hold him there, but still there was that haunting residue that lingered in her brain that she could not define…
What is it, what is it?
The need to know, to understand was becoming stronger, drowning out the insistent pressure of Jareth's hand against her, restoring warmth to her frozen skin.
"Where are we?" she asked, her low voice thrown against the walls by the surrounding echoes.
"A place I found," he replied absently. "A long, long time ago. A place where even the most defiant are rendered helpless and bound to my will."
Her breathing sounded heavy in her own ears. His touch sent a rippling through her veins like a river of cold metal. His eyes on her were lit by the elusive gleam surrounding them, and by a hotter fire of their own, their intensity was too much to bear. She looked down; her eyes fell on his jacket and followed the intricate threads of gold that spread outward in a swirling, coiling pattern that reminded her of a maze, or a labyrinth –
The cobwebs in her head ripped apart.
Sarah's body instinctively tried to jerk back, but the unseen chains that bound her flesh tightened, links of glaciers cutting into her skin. She was immobile and completely helpless. It frightened her more than anything else ever had.
Jareth paused a moment, to look at her consideringly.
"Ah," he said. "Sarah. Welcome back."
She tried to scream, but could produce no sound.
Jareth's tone was musing. "I suppose the memory loss was pleasant while it lasted – a mere transitory side-effect, I'm afraid. But after all, this is supposed to be a nightmare to you, and being unable to remember why this would be so unbearable rather diminishes the experience, don't you think?"
Again, she tried to pull away even though it was futile.
"I'm paralysed," she choked.
"'Yes," he agreed. "An interesting addition of my own. I was becoming rather tired of hearing 'you have no power over me.' You seemed so dependant on those words. This struck me as a pleasant irony. You'll notice you can still talk, though." He gave a smile that made her insides churn. "So you may be as vocal as you like. In fact –" his voice slithered across her face like something alive. "I'm counting on it."
He placed his hands on the wall either side of her, and pressed his body hard against her. She felt his belt buckle digging in to her ribs, and his ragged breathing stirred the hairs on her forehead. Sickening fear almost choked her.
"What – what are you doing?"
He sighed, sounding faintly amused. "Do I really need to explain? You're not a child."
Primal terror slammed into her chest with full force. It rose up in her throat, strangling her. She couldn't breathe.
"Get away from me," she gritted.
Jareth started to laugh. The mirthless sound reverberated with hideous echoes. "Yes, because that's going to work."
Nausea rolled over her in a wave. He leaned over her, eyes flat with anger even as his fingers tugged the faded ribbon at her neckline.
"Do you still think I'm only capable of 'childish games'?" he hissed, and his voice flayed her skin. "Do you still think that I can only conjure 'smoke and mirrors'? No one – no one – has insulted my power the way you have, and believe me, I do not take such slights lightly."
Her mind was a whirring clockwork of panic. I didn't mean it – I didn't mean any of it –
"My kingdom is great." The ribbon drifted unheeded to the floor. He smiled at her with deadly earnest. "And my will is stronger than yours."
The strain of trying to break free of his bonds brought sweat to her brow. He watched her efforts with great amusement. "Save your energy, Sarah." His lip curled. "You'll need it soon enough."
"You have no –"
"Ah – ah – ah!" His raised hand silenced her. "Words have power," he said. "And I have heard quite enough of yours for the moment."
Before she could summon any reply or form of resistance, his mouth covered hers in a demanding kiss.
She bit him as hard as she could. Jareth hissed through his teeth and jerked away; a sharp tang of blood – his blood – flooded her mouth. It stung her throat like acid, her eyes watered. Through the mist of tears, she saw the Goblin King standing several feet from her, shoulders slightly bowed. His face was dark, but he was laughing. "Such a firebrand. I was going to try and tame you – but I think I prefer you wild." Silver liquid stained his lips – his blood is silver – and Sarah felt a flicker of triumph at the thought that he could bleed. He isn't immune; he can feel pain…
"And on that note," he continued. "I think it's time we gave things a more even footing. You would enjoy that, I think."
Several things snapped at once – Sarah thought it was her bones breaking and almost passed out from the shock – but realised an instant later the heavy bindings of magic had been lifted. She could move.
Foolish, Jareth, she thought.
Almost as though he read her thoughts, he caught her eye and smirked. "I wouldn't be too quick to gloat, Sarah. You are still – very much – in my power. I would just prefer you responsive."
"Or maybe you just couldn't go through with it," she retorted, trying to convey contempt, but her voice was still scratched with fear.
His eyes danced. "You attribute me to actually having a conscience. How touching."
She scooted sideways, keeping the wall to her back, hands spread out behind her in a desperate bid to find something that could pass for the outline of a door. But he was too quick for her, already coming towards her with a stealthy, almost predatory movement with all the sinuous gliding grace of a dancer –
Sarah frowned. She remembered a ballroom of crystal and glass, fleet-footed figures swirling in a dizzying array of colours, masks leering at her. Masks elaborately made with jewels and feathers and silks and velvets, their very extravagance rendering them grotesque. Brilliant prisms of light danced around and she recalled the same sense of overwhelming dizziness and the realisation that –
Jareth had enclosed her within his arms, fingers deftly starting to undo the stays at the back of her bodice.
The walls… the walls are concave…
She half turned her head to the side to stare at the stone she was pressed up against, even as his mouth assaulted hers. She did not try and pull away this time, but kept her eyes open, looking hard while she could taste the blood and fire of his lips against her own, opening like the petals of an unfolding flower – only his lips were hard, and bruising – And the stone was becoming more transparent, like glass –
His kisses make me want to die… Piercing cold scraped her back as her bodice, finally undone, parted and his hands slid behind her, coming into contact with bare skin, and he pulled her still closer to him, although they were already so close she felt as though they were pillars of metal welded together. She felt herself shudder with terrible lancing cold as he traced the wings of her shoulder blades, but her mind was somehow outside it all, thinking only of how she could breach those half-transparent walls, but there was nothing to break through it with, nothing except –
Bracing herself, Sarah twisted her body round and, taking a deep breath, smashed her fist through the wall as hard as she could.
Splintering pain coursed up her arm and she shrieked. Half blinded by the agony of it, she thought she was going to die and welcomed the thought of death, anything to end the searing pain... Jareth's howl of frustration echoed in her ears, sending reverberations through her, and she instinctively stumbled away from him, her body coiled tight. Fragments of crimson stained glass flew everywhere and in a corner of her mind fluttered the thought it worked, and then she was falling into blackness, and the world as she knew it shattered into a million pieces.
Sarah opened her eyes.
She was lying face down in the grass in the woods. The silence pressed around her. Her mind was ringing, trying to adjust to fact the world hadn't ended. The crystal, she recalled weakly. Stupid. Why on earth did I look? She groaned and rolled over onto her back. The heavy scent of loam surrounded her and it was still dark save for the silver slits of moonlight that fell in dappled pools through the trees. Her shirt and jeans felt damp and cold against her skin. Gingerly, she stretched out an arm that still rippled with aftershocks of pain, but there were no cuts or bruises. She slowly heaved herself upright, waiting for her heart rate to return to normal.
"Seen enough, then?"
Sarah spun round so fast, it made her dizzy. He was lounging against one of the trees, watching her with great amusement. While her hair was tangled across her face and her clothes soiled so badly it would raise questions among her housemates, Jareth was immaculately dressed as ever, not a fleck of dirt stained his ruffled shirt. He pushed himself away from the birch and walked towards her with a sprightly and elegant movement that she could only gape at. Every muscle in her body was aching.
She stared at the Goblin King, wondering if there was anything remotely human about him. He was standing in front of her, all untouchable perfection; ice and glass, silver and poison.
"I was impressed, Sarah. I had begun to think that my persuasions would prove too much for you. Clearly, I was mistaken. Your strength of will is unchanged." His pale eyes were considering. "Perhaps that is why you interest me so much."
He – her mind stumbled over the words – he tried to –
She found herself instinctively moving backwards, shying away from the memories that threatened to surface. She felt – Not yet. Later, I can think about it later. If I think about it now, I'll start screaming.
She clenched her fists, the feel of her nails biting into her palms oddly comforting. She thought of the silver blood on his lips, the brief triumph that had flared within her, that realisation, he can feel pain.
"Come any closer and I'll kill you," she rasped.
"I thought you weren't afraid of me?" He regarded her almost pityingly. "Where's that fire you used to break your way out of the crystal?" He tutted quietly. "All this panic after one small illusion? And we were just getting started. I have others, you know."
Sarah felt icy claws of apprehension grip her chest when another orb materialised from his clasped hands. When he stepped away from his creation, the crystal remained hovering in the rippling air, like a small moon. Jareth watched it with an expression of indulgent pride, as one might regard a favourite child.
"You see now, this is a rather interesting one involving your brother."
Sarah's gasp was drowned by a dimly echoing voice, that of Toby screaming –
Where's my sister? What have you done to her? Where is she? Where is she?
And a voice replying, a cold and terrible voice. You know very well where she is.
Please… her brother sounded on the verge of tears. Please don't hurt her; I'll do anything to get her back.
At last, she found her voice. "You so much as touch Toby and I'll –"
Jareth's mocking eyes looked oddly colourless, reflected as they were by the crystal. "Yes? You'll what? Kill me? Sarah, you're cowering like a kitten."
Her breaths came fast and heavy as she tried to shake off the images of Jareth pushing her up against the wall while she was immobile and helpless, the hollow cruelty in his eyes, his ruthless hands –
Her stomach heaved. She fell onto all fours, leaning over on the grass, fighting back the overwhelming urge to be sick. Her eyes watered, and when her vision cleared, she saw Jareth had retreated a respectful distance and the mockery in his eyes was replaced by… concern?
"Sweet Sarah." Even his voice had become gentle. "Is this my wildcat? What has happened to make you so frightened of me?"
She stared up at him through watering eyes. Her voice was rasping with disbelief. "You really don't know?"
She heard him sigh softly. "Ah. Of course. That illusion – regrettable, but I was only acting according to your will."
"My will?" She sounded shrill with disbelief. "How can you stand there and say I –"
"Sarah, Sarah. Have you forgotten everything I have told you tonight? Your dreams, the Labyrinth… That your imagination is pivotal in making me what I am?"
Yes, she remembered now. I acceded only to your less complex demands – to cast me in the trite and tired role of pantomime villain. Slowly she picked herself up, brushing the dirt from her jeans, mind still floundering in confusion. Never mind what he was – the real question was who he was. In the few encounters she had had with him, he had alternated between mischievous and impetuous trickster, cowed and embittered adversary, and terrifying and ruthless enemy. It was with a sense of fury and despair that she asked: "Have you ever been anything except my perception of you?"
"That's the chance I'm offering you. To see myself – as I really am. What you saw in the crystal was your very worst idea of what I might be. Remember, I showed you your fears, your nightmares. Whether I was willing to play the part assigned to me is a different matter."
"So…" her voice was half hoping, half fearful. "Would you have really –?"
It was hard to tell in the wavering light, but she thought his face softened slightly.
"I would have avoided it, if I could. It has never been my intention to hurt you." Sarah was aware of a weakening sense of overpowering relief, at least until he added ruminatively, "I don't tend to employ such… coarse methods… to bring my subjects into line."
Her head was pounding with the beginnings of anger. She clung to it as a recourse from fear. "So I don't suppose half breaking my wrists counts as a 'coarse method,' then? And I'm not your subject," she added heatedly.
"I cannot physically harm you on this plane of existence, even if I wished to," he retorted rather sharply, and there was no doubting the resentment in his voice at this. If there was one thing he hated, it was being powerless. "And no, Sarah." She jumped at his abrupt change of tone. "I would not have you as my subject. You are far too magnificent for that. You could have everything you desire, ruling in your rightful place at my side. I have been searching a long time for one who would serve as a connection between myself and the world above. For someone to act in my stead when I am unable to be everywhere at once. And you would be able to return briefly to this miserable world you seem to cling to so vehemently. Isn't that what you wanted?"
Sarah stared at him numbly. When she was able to speak, her voice was weaker than she had ever heard it.
"You want me to bring you the children." Her tone was too hollow for it to be a question.
He smiled broadly at the horror in her expression. "Even you must see how fitting it is, love. Your knowledge of the world above and understanding of the powers of imagination, the loyalty you instinctively seem to inspire in others… children would blindly follow you to the gates of hell if you commanded it."
"That's not really the career choice I had in mind, actually," said Sarah hoarsely.
Jareth didn't look amused. "Still as selfish as you ever were. I shouldn't have expected anything else."
Her mouth fell open. Some feeling – indignation – began to return. "When have I been selfish? I went through the Labyrinth for my brother –"
"Whom you wished away in the first place! Too ungrateful to help out your parents once a month, too absorbed in your own world, you wished your brother away – you own flesh and blood! And when I was obliging enough to carry out your request, you painted me as the villain. But I overlooked your audacity, even going so far as to offer you a place at my right hand. I would have given you everything I had, and you turned me down, scorned me, and showed me nothing but contempt. All children are selfish. Some grow out of it. You, clearly, have not." A curious look of satisfaction crossed his features. "In fact, I am rather glad of it. It is merely something else that binds us together."
"There is no together! There is no us! Not now, not ever."
"I'm sorry to hear you say that, love. But I think in time you will come to obey me, respect me, love me even." A jagged smile. "I await that day with great pleasure."
Sarah shook her head, flinching at his words. Love? Never. As for him… Curiosity certainly, obsession, perhaps, but she couldn't accept he was feeling love. Someone like him didn't have the capacity for love. It was beyond his comprehension. "This – whatever you're feeling – it isn't love." She looked at him; pale and stern and beautiful with years of wisdom and immortality, and he had never looked less human than he did now. It gave her the conviction to go on. "You wouldn't understand love, or anything human. And that means you can get over this."
His mouth thinned with anger, but it was his eyes that chilled her – she had never seen them so bleak and hollow, or filled with such empty despair.
"Do you think I haven't tried to 'get over' this, as you so carelessly put it? Believe me Sarah, I have longed for severance. From the moment you left my realm, I did everything in my power to purge you from my mind; and there are many who would give their souls to accept what I offered you. Creatures delicate as air and fair as moonlight, far more beautiful than you could ever imagine, my coarse, lovely simpleton. But nothing else would suffice. Do you know what it is like to love another, unrequited? And for that other to look on you with such contempt and disdain as you have shown me tonight? For years now I have watched you grow in beauty, watched you forget me as I can never forget you. You think it was revenge that brought me to you? Yes, it was revenge, revenge fired by passion and hardened with despair. Thirteen hundred years of absolute power… and suddenly I'm bound and tethered to a mortal girl. And how was I thus brought down? By some words read in a book and the fact that you were the first – the only – to defeat my Labyrinth. So tell me again that this is something within my control."
She looked blankly into his face and felt her ability to fight him slowly die at the cold, untouchable resolve gleaming behind the wall of his set features.
"Dearest Sarah," he whispered, and she felt his chilling voice like the blast of an arctic wind. "How I have desired you. And how you have angered me."
For a second she glimpsed – so briefly, she wasn't really sure she saw it at all – something yearning flare in his eyes; the lonely pain of immortality. It was gone an instant later; his face resumed its marble-like immobility.
"I think it's time I took what is my due."
"You're mad," she said faintly. "If you think I'll let you – after everything you've done to me."
"We'll see. Besides…" He examined her critically and he was as she knew him from before: detached, mocking, sardonic. "I think it's high time we got you out of those wet clothes."
She shuddered and this time it wasn't from cold.
Jareth's voice softened to a caress. "I'll give you jewels for your skin, and ribbons for your hair, and silks for your body…"
With seemingly no effort at all, he had closed the distance between them. How does he move like that, Sarah wondered, then instinctively tensed as his hand went to her hair, pulling the band free and letting the dark tresses fall over shoulders. He smiled appreciatively. His long fingers combed through the strands and she leaned away from him, as far as she was able.
Does he want me to love him, she wondered helplessly. Or is this just another trick to have me in his power?
No, this wasn't about love. It was about power and control.
"You can't do anything," she said savagely. "You can't force me to go with you. I have to be willing."
"That's true," he agreed. "But I can make you willing."
She reached up to push him away and was unnerved when her hands encountered smooth skin, pale and beautiful in the moonlight. He shuddered against her at the contact. She could see where the material of his shirt had parted and was visited by a vivid memory of his lips on hers, and the torturous pleasure of it held her in place. Jareth laughed, low in his throat; she felt it reverberate through her. "You weren't exactly resistant earlier, either, if I recall."
"An illusion," she retorted sharply. "Nothing more."
"But such a vivid illusion it was." He bent his head down towards her; low enough that he could whisper in her ear. "You're not even curious? The fleeting sense of magic you've sustained along with my own considerable skills, this combined on a night which is known for enhancing any magical properties, poised as we are between worlds, would result in an experience that is truly… unique."
His fingers glided along her neckline in a languid caress. Sarah was shivering. She realised now that she could feel every line and angle of his body pressed against her. This was Jareth – the Goblin King to whom morality meant nothing, who had without qualm injured and tried to force himself on her, and shown no remorse for mentally tormenting children. Why was she allowing him anywhere near her, why was she allowing him to – she clamped her teeth together – God, has it really been that long?
How had they come to be stood so close? Did it even matter?
"If you want me gone," he murmured, hands entwining in her hair to bring her face closer to his. "Call out. Who knows? Someone might even hear you."
Sarah couldn't utter a sound. She was paralysed by his irregular eyes that glittered like blades.
His angular face twisted in amusement at her silence. "I thought not. Perhaps then, dear Sarah, you don't really despise me, for all your words to the contrary."
Her mind was racing. She was Sarah Williams: bright, studious, conscientious, far too sensible to be swept off her feet by a dangerous Fey king. She certainly didn't want to take up his offer – she didn't trust him, but there was no denying she felt something when she was with him… Especially the way he was looking at her now, as though he wanted to devour her…
She knew what he was about to do and this time was prepared for the insistent pressure of his mouth against hers. He tasted of metal and ice and the bitter potency of old wine. Sarah closed her eyes, feeling the static silk of his hair brushing her shoulders as he tilted his head and the possessive motion of his hands sliding down to curve around her waist. No sound save for the husky whispers against her mouth, call out if you really want to although you won't will you I know you want me to do this Sarah and this and this and this –
Perhaps it was the magic that had killed all her willpower, that, or Jareth had been right and she really had wanted this all along. She was succumbing to the heady sensation of drowning, the sharp scent of magic – pinecones and frost and cinders – her lips were tingling with it. It was Yuletide and Midsummer's eve and All Souls night rolled into one, it was all the enchantment in the world encased in his light, darting touch. All her thoughts were blurring into insignificance; there was only the rippling velvet of his jacket crushed between her fingers, the glass-hard buttons digging into her body with exquisite half-pain and the humming like electricity across her skin.
Sarah was aware of his hands gliding to the small of her back and arching her body backwards with slight but forceful pressure until she found herself lying on the grass, Jareth leaning over her, his hair falling around them in a silver curtain and shielding his face.
"The woods are accommodating," he murmured, his normally crystal clear voice roughened with a slight husky edge. She turned her head to the side and saw the leaves seemed to have formed a canopy of dense green and gold above them while the grass beneath her was soft and giving beneath their combined weight. The grey boughs of the trees stretched upward, resembling nothing so much as the pillars of a four-poster bed, while draperies of mist pooled around them both. And the Goblin King, who was somehow responsible for it all, had unbuttoned her shirt and peeled aside the damp cotton to slide his hands against bare flesh. She shivered violently when she felt her skin exposed to the cold night air even with the warmth and full weight of his body pressed against her. For a moment, she could detach herself enough to imagine the picture they made; the two figures laid on a bed of ferns, pale gold hair entwined with black, she raising her head slightly to catch his lips with her own –
Everything in and around her seemed heightened. The gentle rustling of grass under her back, the sharp taste of his mouth, her heart pounding beneath his exploring hands. She needed more. She traced the planes of his shoulder blades through the ornate embroidered fabric of his jacket, marvelling at how he could be so firm and muscled beneath her hands yet so elusive. She wanted him here, all of him, wanted him as real and alive as he was making her. She tugged at his lower lip with her teeth and heard the breath catch in his throat. "Wicked thing," he growled, as he shifted his weight and she felt his hips ground against hers…
… and vaguely wondered how it was that someone who filled her with such fear and hatred could also make her make her feel faint with longing.
He raised his upper body then, leaving enough space between them that he could look down into her face, and no matter how hard she tried, she could not discern his expression. Incalculably remote and somehow cold even as his eyes burned with a frightening intensity. But his fingers were shaking as he reached up and gently stroked her hair, brushing it away from her face. It was a shockingly tender gesture for him but Sarah could not question it, could not think, as his hands slid under her shirt once more, sending galvanic shocks spiralling across her skin that was hyper-sensitive to every touch. Nothing mattered except that she make him stop, that she make him never stop –
It was only when his hands moved lower and slid beneath the waistband of her jeans, did she jerk upright with a startled cry. She tried to strain away from him, but his weight had pinioned her in place. Jareth leaned back on his knees and sighed with evident frustration. "Now really Sarah, how long do you think you can keep this up?"
She tried to gather her shirt together along with the remains of her self-possession. "I don't –"
"Is this the part where you say you feel no desire for me?" His slumberous voice was laced with mockery. "A little late for protestations of modesty now, I think."
She squirmed, attempted to shove him off her legs. He didn't move. "Get off me, Goblin King –"
"Goblin King again, is it?" And he smiled with cruel amusement. "You weren't quite so formal when you were moaning my name a minute ago."
Sarah glared at him. "You're disgusting."
Jareth's grin widened. He leaned forward, resting his hands lightly on her thighs. "Sarah," he said softly in her ear. "I've barely started."
"No," she said. The warm pressure on her thighs was both pleasant and distracting. "No."
"As you wish." He laughed quietly and began to move away, but sliding slowly – oh so slowly – off her, leaving no part of his body not touching her own.
Sarah began buttoning her shirt, deliberately looking down so she wouldn't have to see the expression of arrogant satisfaction she knew he would be wearing. From the corners of her vision, she saw he was sitting back on the grass; pointed boots angled outwards, silver and dazzling under the lightening sky. She wanted to stand up, to gain some sense of height and superiority over him, but wasn't sure her legs were yet up to the task. Her body was still trembling violently from aftershocks of what she tried to tell herself was magic but inwardly knew was something much more primal.
"I want you," she said, very slowly and deliberately, "To leave me alone."
Jareth raised an elegant brow, not needing to tell her how her actions a moment ago clearly belied her words. He had gained a surrender, brief though it was. "Unfortunately," he said calmly, "We don't always get what we want."
He leaned towards her, face close to hers. Framed by his fair hair, his expression was darkly intent, catlike eyes glittering. "Besides," he added. "I don't believe you. You forget, Sarah, that I can sense your wishes, your desires… and you desire me, precious – oh, yes you do, there's no use denying it."
"Even if you're right," she said. "Even if I did… I don't love you. I could never love you."
"Perhaps not. But you crave me; more than magic, more than this shallow mockery of a life you lead. You gave into me, Sarah. I felt you surrender."
Sarah looked at him a long moment, then gave the most scathing reply she could muster.
"I've had better."
The Goblin King's eyes flared, and she felt a bitter sense of satisfaction that her response had stung him, then his hands shot out and caught hold of her upper arms in a vice-like grip. His breaths came hard and quick, and she felt her nerve endings crackling like the oncoming of an electric storm. Oh God, I've made him angry, she thought with a shivering sense of dread. Icy hands slid down her bare arms, leaving a trail of goosebumps along her skin. She closed her eyes at the friction of his jacket buttons grazing her body semi-painfully.
"You think you understand love?" he said fervently, lips almost touching her skin. "You think you know what passion is? I can teach you things you've never even dreamed of, things the darkest depths of your imagination could not have hoped to conceive. In a single night I could send the world spinning around you and set the stars on fire, possess and consume you with the heat of desire, char your body to kindling and forge you anew."
His words were liquid metal, his fingers glass-sharp ice, sparking her senses into life. She shuddered at the thought of him acting out those words, that they might be true. Oh God, she wasn't actually considering letting him –
After all, nothing would necessarily happen if I –
But was she really willing to take that chance?
For herself, maybe, but not for the future children whose lives hung in the balance.
That settled the matter. He had accused her of being selfish. She wasn't that selfish. She would fight him until the last breath in her body. Sarah lifted her hands towards his chest to push him away again when something made her pause. When he had kissed her initially, it had been slow, lazy, sensual. But there was a new urgency in him now that had not been present before.
What was it he had said to her earlier?
The hours between dusk and dawn make the liminal state particularly apparent, and so – here I am.
I don't have all night, you know. Well actually, I do.
But it wasn't going to be night for much longer.
Then it dawned on her in one blinding ray of illumination that made her jump to her feet.
He can't stay here.
She stared unseeingly through the trees, her mind darting at possibilities.
But when he came to my room that time –
That was different; you made a wish and summoned him.
Sarah's heart had begun thudding with a queer, insistent beat. Jareth only had until dawn to convince her. And judging by the sky, he didn't have all that long left. Unable to resort to force, he had tried every means within his disposal – and it hadn't worked. The night – the cold, glittering, magical night – was almost over. And for the first time, Sarah felt she held the advantage.
Jareth too, had stood up and was now circling her like an arrogant cat. But she didn't care. In her loose shirt and tattered jeans, she could have been fifteen years old again, facing him with all the fierce triumph and conviction she had felt as her brother's crusader.
"The answer's still no. It will always be no. And nothing you can do – or try and make me do – is ever going to change that." She raised her voice, enunciating every last word. "Do you understand me, Goblin King? I am not willing. Moreover, I will never be willing. I refuse you utterly. You have no power over me."
Jareth's body had gone very still as though turned to stone, poised and tense in the glimmering, magic-imbued air. His voice was calm but his eyes blazed like fallen stars. "Are you quite certain of that?"
She looked back at him, her mouth pressed in a thin line.
"You've already threatened me enough tonight. So do what you like. I don't care."
She wondered where she had acquired that tone in her voice. The cold indifference, the hint of subtle cruelty. Then it came to her.
Jareth, of course.
Sarah flinched when he leaned towards her, but he merely took hold of her hand and lifted it to his mouth, lightly brushing his lips across her knuckles. "Yes, you wouldn't mind that, would you? I could force you and have you under my power in every sense, little more than a thing, a mere possession, and it wouldn't make any difference. I still couldn't get at you. You'd endure it, and all the while scorn me with that cold heart of yours; even your obedience would be a mockery – don't think I wouldn't see it." His voice was tight with anger. "After everything, you would still be my downfall and my defeat." Sarah swallowed hard as his angelic face turned contemplative. "But to have you willing, to have you on your knees begging and entreating me to take you – that is winning."
"Then you lose," she said. "Because that will never happen."
"I've come close, though." He saw her face and smiled. "Close enough even to unnerve you, my defiant champion."
"Think what you want," she said. "It doesn't matter now. And," she added thoughtfully, "It looks as though the sun is coming up."
She heard the hiss of his expelled breath as he pulled his hand from hers. "So that's your final answer, is it?"
"Then you are a fool. It is only your own stubbornness that is holding you back."
"Maybe," she said, wanting to laugh at how he clearly couldn't understand her concern for anyone outside herself. Could he really be so amorally selfish? "But I'm not changing my mind."
"Very well." He swept her a flourishing bow. "Then I'll bid you goodnight."
Sarah stared, feeling, if anything, more uneasy than before. There was a hard, bright, dangerous quality to him that made her cautious. "You're letting me go… just like that?"
He smiled, throwing her own words back at her. "Just like that."
She didn't move. "I don't believe you."
"So young and so cynical," he said, with an exaggerated sigh.
"No," she said grimly. "I just know you – you're planning something." You don't come all this way with threats and mind games just to give up because I say so. She curled her hands around her elbows, forehead furrowed as she frowned at him suspiciously. "What are you playing at, Jareth?"
"You're the one with all the answers. You tell me."
"Anyone would think you didn't want me gone."
"Don't flatter yourself."
His expression changed then, she couldn't explain how, but it seemed to become softer, more human. "I have put you through a lot tonight, Sarah," he said seriously, his eyes fixed on hers. "Much of it you didn't deserve. And you fought me every inch of the way. I haven't had such a struggle in – well, several of your lifetimes at least. This isn't easy for me… but now…" his voice was slow and halting, and painfully honest. "I think possibly… I am finally prepared to surrender to a worthy adversary."
Sarah looked at him impassively. "If it was anyone but you," she said. "I might just believe that."
He laughed at that and was himself again. "Well, it was worth a try, at least."
Sarah felt a reluctant smile forming and turned away to hide it.
"Just one more thing, my dear?"
She turned back. "What?"
He held up his gold pocket watch with a benign smile.
"Tell me the time."
Sarah stared. As sunrise was approaching, she expected it to be around six in the morning, but the clock hands had started spinning with such rapidity that they appeared blurred, the shorter hand coming closer and closer to the thirteenth hour.
"What's happening?" she demanded in alarm.
He was watching her with barely suppressed glee, although his voice was impassive. "Look."
Frowning, her eyes fell again on the watch and –
It took a moment for her eyes to register what she was seeing.
Sarah felt her blood slow to a torpor and turn to ice.
Jareth was speaking, but his voice faded into irrelevance as, paralysed, she was unable to drag her gaze away from the watch and the fact that –
The hands were moving backwards.
She tried to summon her rapidly disintegrating thoughts.
"But you – you said –"
He raised his eyebrows in question.
Her voice seemed to come from very far away. "You said you could only reorder time for the children who failed…"
"Oh, I did?" Jareth gave a dark smile. "My mistake."
There was a distant roaring in her ears, like the sea, rising up in a towering wave, black and surging. She began to move slowly backwards, first one step, then another.
"You can't –" she croaked.
"Oh, I already have." A twisted sneer warped his mouth and she saw that this, here, at last, was the real Goblin King, charged with cruelty and power and who never forgave, never forgot. "I said before you were stupid. So overconfident at the fact I couldn't physically hurt you, completely forgetting the far-reaching effects of my power and its ability to render children into quivering wrecks of their former selves. You accepted the challenge and went through the Labyrinth all those years ago – thus, I retain a hold over you. Furthermore, you – unbelievably foolishly, I might add – allowed me to physically mark you."
Sarah felt as though she were drowning in the dark floodwaters. Waves were beating against her ears, a dull rhythm in which she heard his lightly mocking voice.
I have time – an eternity of time to be reordered at my will.
Her mind swirled and eddied in the blackness as she sought to cling to reality. Trees and sky coalesced in a shimmering arc of green and black-rimmed silver – following the reeling of her mind –
Why didn't I take him seriously? He told me – It was right there – all along…
"There is only one way this ends, Sarah," he said, and his coldly ringing voice was the most solid thing a world that was gradually receding. "Come with me – come with me completely – otherwise tonight will be senselessly repeated until you finally see reason. How long do you think you can endure before I finally wear you down?"
Sarah shuddered, but didn't back down. "Forever, if need be."
He laughed without mirth. "Try reliving this night a hundred times without hope of escape and then tell me what forever feels like. I told you I would have you begging for me to take you away."
"But –" She forced the words out as the star on her brow flared bright and burning. The pain was searing and absolute. "How –"
"This night," he said, breathing heavily. "This Beltane night, when my power in this world is at its greatest, when I am able to come and wield it as I wish and see the effects for myself – and you, my sweet, poised on the cusp of womanhood, to be always, and eternally twenty-one… wouldn't you like that?" His mouth thinned. "Either way, you have no choice."
The timepiece was looming in front of her, larger and larger. Its strokes were a harbinger, its face was wide and glassy, its progress was insatiable.
"And so, my dear –"
The air around her rippled, its gossamer threads unravelling as the fabric of time was being rewritten…
"I'll see you in yesterday –"
The hands struck the hour with a harsh clang.
Oh God, her mind screamed. Oh God!
The world tilted. The world of black and white and gold –
The last thing she heard was Jareth's scream of mocking laughter.
Sarah awoke with a start. The remnants of a terrible dream hovered on the edges of her consciousness, blurring and becoming indistinct, a dream she would no longer remember. Her head was resting at an uncomfortable angle sideways across her arms. She pulled herself upright, feeling the crick in her neck as she did so. How long was I asleep, she wondered vaguely, rubbing her eyes without noticing the mascara that smudged onto her fingers. She blinked several times, adjusting to the dim light that brought the university college library into sharp focus…