Disclaimer: Labyrinth is not mine.
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Second to last chapter!
Chapter 19: Settling the Deal
It should have been an easy transfer, what with Sarah's acceptance of Jareth and her magic, but it wasn't. It was rather uncomfortable.
Not that their embrace was, of course. Because that particular motion felt more natural than breathing. No, the concern was the destination. Any novice to teleportation could tell you that the pivotal rule was to know your destination backwards, frontwards, and blindfolded. One must be able to paint the location, color for color, and shape for shape, in thought. Again, this was not the concern; Jareth knew exactly where he wanted to travel. Indeed, it was to the place he knew best in the Underground. Tedious meetings and scruffy décor aside, the throne room in his castle was home. And at this hour of the evening, it was a home that should have been deserted.
That was the problem.
Goblins were swarming the room like bees. And unlike Toffee, whose mild nature kept her in good-standing, these goblins were more hopeless than helpful. Jumping in and out of the pit, around and around his throne, hanging out of windows and off loose walls without any regard to physics, they ruckased as never before seen or since. Flashes of grey, brown, and green whirred across the floor as if on skates, and if Jareth hadn't personally built the floor of the room himself, he wouldn't have known it existed.
The landings were, therefore, rather botched. Jareth landed on a squatty horned one who cried out an 'eep!' and tipped him sideways. He managed to stay standing, but realized that was only because he'd landed on a second goblin in the opposite direction and was somehow sandwiched between them. Sarah wasn't as fortunate. She had been embracing Jareth tight, but upon landing on a taller goblin, fell face first into a pile of black feathers; feathers with a decidedly fowl smell. She spat them out in surprise.
"Quiet!" Jareth kicked apart his goblin sandwich in two sharp prods, and the room turned to him with round eyes.
"Kingy back! Kingy bring Lady!"
"Lady beat Game! Lady won Kingy!" Several squawking voices seconded the cries. "Kingy bring Lady back to play!"
"Oh bother…" Jareth helped Sarah stand as a goblin began pulling at her tunic. "Never a moment of peace."
"No kidding." She muttered, brushing off a stray feather. "Something to look forward to…"
Jareth shot her a hopeful look, possibilities spinning like crystals in his head, but she wasn't looking. Did she mean what he thought she meant? "Sarah…?"
She sighed. "Where's the Labyrinth?"
"Beg pardon?" Even a foot away, her response was muffled and unintelligible amidst the chaos. The goblins were at it in full force once more, yelling and tumbling without fear. A heavy stomp on his foot was the last stand. "Argh, ENOUGH! If you don't shut up I'll drop kick you all into the Bog!"
There was a reason the King of the Goblins fell back on his favorite threat, even when he had thousands of disagreeable punishments at hand; it worked.
He sighed in relief. "Finally."
"A vast improvement Jareth, but perhaps my deal with Sarah Williams would be best discussed in private?"
A chorus of garbled 'oohs' and 'ahhs' greeted the shinning form, but neither Sarah nor Jareth expressed the same awe. Appreciation, yes—for the soul had allowed Sarah to finish her Game attempt. But certainly not awe. Stroking an already immeasurable ego was just pointless.
"In private," Jareth repeated, frowning. "What discussion would need utter privacy?"
"That is between Sarah Williams and me."
"It's fine, Jareth," she touched his arm comfortingly. "I made the deal."
"Willingly? With the Labyrinth itself?" He looked at Sarah as if she was insane. "Sarah, what did you promise?"
But the Labyrinth cut her off, already fading out. "If you insist on knowing Jareth, follow. This may concern you as well. I trust you know your way to the heart of my existence."
Jareth pretended not to be insulted. "Indeed." And, against his better judgment, he left the goblins alone in the throne room.
From the story Sarah knew by heart, the center of the Labyrinth was the Goblin King's castle. It had taken her weeks to memorize the lines, but after living out the tale, she was confident that she had the finer details ironed out. 'The castle at the center of the Labyrinth' should have been its heart; the center of the Labyrinth and all else. It made perfect sense.
Then again, she had never expected the Labyrinth to have a mind of its own; a sentient form to meddle around in. That was one rather large oversight. And that oversight meant that she never expected the 'heart' and center of the Labyrinth to be unrelated to its king. But of course, it was.
It took Sarah about three seconds to realize how futile her attempt at understanding had been.
Whereas the castle had been beige and cobbled, the heart of the Labyrinth was bright and airy. A great open expanse of nothing, shimmering like diamonds in the mist, circled easily across the sky and the ground was there, but not quite. Sarah felt as though she was standing on water and that any minute, the liquid solid would engulf her. She snapped her feet apart in an attempt to balance and heard the Labyrinth laugh. Sarah frowned, still unsettled.
"This is not funny; I feel like I'm sinking."
The space around her flickered as the soul laughed again. "I believe the feeling should pass momentarily."
Sarah prayed this was the case; she had never been a good swimmer. To distract herself, she took a minute to appreciate the expanse. Undeniably beautiful, but laced with danger, it pulsed with a familiar magic and comforting hum. It whispered across her skin and tickled her senses. It was almost as if the mist knew her. And just as assured, the sinking feeling dissipated. Sarah let go of a single breath, thinking. Was this part of the Labyrinth? "Where are we?"
"You do not understand?" The humanoid shimmer appeared, cocking its head. "You do not feel it?"
"Feel what?" But that was almost a lie. She felt something, something just as solid as her person, as if it had always been a part of her. The airy space was comforting, and it unsettled Sarah to no end because she didn't understand why her heart knew this place when her mind recognized nothing. "Is this part of the deal?"
"Perhaps. Tell me, Sarah Williams, not what you see, but what you feel."
Always an obsession with feelings, thought Sarah. It shouldn't have been surprising given her time Underground. The place was built on wishes and dreams, emotions and imaginations. Thinking only hindered the magic. She started, realizing why she felt so comforted. She had embraced the gift…
The Labyrinthine magic. It was the raw force of this place. And she knew it.
"I feel…comforted. Safe." Sarah breathed. "Like I'm home."
A self-satisfied smile. A nod of silver. "And your answer?" It sounded almost giddy now, anxious for her response. It had heard it once before, to finish the Game, but not in the necessary context. It had been a means to an end, not a separate thought. Such was necessary. "Do you fully accept?"
"I owe you answers before your own, Sarah," sighed a familiar voice. "As much as they concern me, you at the very least deserve them."
He must have been listening the whole time, what with his perfectly timed response. It unnerved Sarah that she hadn't noticed his presence. Didn't he possess the same Labyrinthine magic? She held back a groan; of course he had blended in so neatly. The Labyrinth and its king were practically one and the same strange force. She eyed Jareth patiently.
"I have not been entirely truthful with you." He paused as Sarah snorted. "But minor deceptions have caused us a deal of trouble. Turned both our worlds upside down." He looked her straight in the eye. "I apologize."
I must be hallucinating, Sarah thought suddenly. No way did the infallible King of the Goblins actually apologize.
"I should never have gifted you with my magic. And more than that, I should have let you be." There was something pained it his glance, like a wounded animal. "I did not. I could not. Not you."
"Jareth, I told you—"
"Please Sarah, let me finish." He cut her off, grimacing. "What happens in the Game means little outside it. It is, after all, just a game. Before you entangle yourself further, I need you to at least understand the situation. I won't make the same mistake twice."
"Very poetic, Jareth."
The Goblin King didn't spare his Labyrinth a glare, even as much as he desired to. "Complete your deal after you understand why it ended up made."
Sarah's face was blank, and she nodded.
Jareth sighed, beginning low. "I never meant it to happen. Indeed, it is unheard of." A choked laugh. "Peculiar how the fates toy with us! You were young and headstrong, expecting everything of the world and infuriatingly stubborn. But I suppose that was caught my attention. What fun is it to tease a dead mouse?"
Sarah didn't answer.
"I didn't want to realize it was not the little mouse trapped, but myself. Trapped, ensnared. By a snip of a girl from Above; a nothing in my world." He flicked his glance down bitterly. "I did not handle it well. I tried to scare you back from me, but the attempt was weak." He paused again. "Even so, my apologies for the cleaners."
A second apology? It was an uncomfortable thing. "Forget it, it's fine."
"It is assuredly NOT fine." His words echoed loud, and he scowled. "You deserved far better."
"You were just doing what I asked. You didn't wish Toby away; I did. It's fine, I didn't understand then, but I do now. Really, it's fine."
He growled, but didn't argue. It was clear he was still struggling with his words. "You take far too much for granted."
She shook her head. "Not anymore."
"So confident when how little you understand. The peach, for one. More than just fruit and dreams."
She raised an eyebrow. "Proposals, even?"
He froze in shock. "You knew?"
"Rosalyn told me." At his confused glance, she clarified. "The winner? Girl in pink?"
He waved his hand dismissively. "Unimportant."
"You better not tell her that. Don't you rulers have bonding retreats or something?" She held back a laugh at his scowling face. "Guess not."
"I fail to see the humor in our situation." His eyes narrowed. "You do understand what you did by biting the peach, don't you? Why Cael was so enraged?"
"I beat you."
"In one sense."
"What does that mean?" She whispered, both fearful and excited. Was there more to the peach…?
But he wasn't looking. "You accepted the peach. My proposal, my kingdom, and everything I had to offer."And he snapped his eyes to hers. "My Labyrinth."
Sarah's heart skipped a beat. He couldn't possibly mean what she thought. "The Labyrinth? But I broke out of the dream. I didn't accept it."
"The taste was all that mattered."
"That's crazy! I was fifteen."
"And I said as much! Much too young to understand then. Precisely why I needed you to listen before you make any decisions. Yes, you defeated me to claim your brother. You did not, however, defeat the Labyrinth." He sighed one long sigh. "You couldn't. Not when it is partially yours to tend."
"Mine," she spoke, voice void of emotion.
"But that makes no sense! Why would you do that?"
"That I'd lose?"
"That you'd chose to stay." He let the word hang in the air for a long moment. "Your little speech caused a new set of problems. You renounced my power over you, but not your tie to the Labyrinth. I begged the Labyrinth to fulfill its end of said compact, and it did. It opened its magic to you. You've tapped into the Labyrinthine magic, but you have not knowingly and willingly accepted." He motioned to the silvery form. "As mentioned."
"Was that what we were talking about?" Sarah directed her voice to the Labyrinth. "I thought you meant accepting our deal."
"That wasn't your deal?" Jareth voice had a sharp edge to it.
"No, I promised to return the magic!"
"What?" Jareth felt his heart snap in two. His words had been for naught; she had already decided. Again, he was cruelly scorned before ever being able to explain himself. He growled, closing off his emotions. Never again, he vowed. Never would he allow himself to care. "Fine. Return it. Leave. As I said, it was all a mistake." He turned.
"But I don't want to leave!"
Jareth stopped in his tracks, listening, but not even the Labyrinth commented. He would not turn around, he would not care…
"Don't you listen? I told you this in the castle. I don't care about what you've done, what you've offered in the past. I'll admit it was the wrong way to go about things. Crazy, actually. And I should hate you. But I can't." She smirked. "Just as you couldn't."
He wouldn't turn, he wouldn't fall prey again to her cruelty…
"Do you love me?" Suddenly, it was all Sarah had to know. Her heart thudded against her ribs as she watched his golden hair sway in the silver mist. His posture straight, unchanging. The question had startled him. She tried again, softer. "Jareth, do you love me?"
"What does it matter? You chose."
"Answer the question, Jareth." The Labyrinth cut in. "Honestly. Or we will spend eternity at odds."
So this is my punishment, thought Jareth bitterly. The King of the Goblins knew he'd made some grave mistakes in his time. Recent events included. But this was an exquisite form of torture. He was posed to spill his soul, once again, to the girl who captured his heart only to have it brushed off with a word. She didn't want him; she'd proved that by freely offered back his gifts. How dare she ask it of him? How dare his Labyrinth.
He turned in a black swish of cloth, spitting the word out like poison. "Yes." And he couldn't stop from expelling his pain—perhaps in an attempt to make her feel guilty, perhaps otherwise. "Everything about you causes me agony. Your defiance, your gall at using me to pass lust. You toy with my patience and spit my words back like fire. To me!" He jabbed at his chest. "A king! It baffles me why I, unlike the majority of my kind, have fallen in love when you are such an impossible creature." He caught Sarah's wide eyes, and his face twisted. "But I can't seem to stop from loving you."
Sarah's stomach lurched and she fought to keep breathing. Nothing about their past mattered. There was nothing more than his fiery mismatched eyes, his piercing, unending stare upon her face. The Game was inconsequential. It had been an unavoidable law. He had never meant to harm her. He hadn't wanted her to run. Not if he loved her.
And God help her, she loved him.
"I don't want you to stop. I love you, Jareth. I tried my damndest to ignore it, but I can't anymore. I don't want to." And without waiting for his reply, she closed the gap between them.
Her kiss was gentle, almost a whisper of a reassurance. She poured her heart into his lips, caressing his tender skin. He froze, but only for an instant, and then he was lost. Lost in her lips and her hands in his hair and his own on her face. Lost in all the promise of a future.
"Accepted," a voice spoke triumphantly, startling the pair apart.
"Accepted?" Sarah panicked, remembering. The Game was over; her debt still unpaid. "There must be a way to change our deal! I don't want to return the magic."
An arm snaked around her waist, plastering her to a warm body. His grip tightened. "You will not," Jareth emphasized each syllable, giving the Labyrinth a murderous look. "Will you?" It was a command, not a question.
"Always presumptuous," the shimmer chuckled. The silver fibers of its façade seemed to bend oddly, sparkle a little brighter. Thin lips twitched, curled back into the stirrings of a smile. Even its eyes glittered with amusement. "How perfect."
Sarah's pulse raced. This was not starting off well. A second arm tucked itself across her chest, cradling her tight as she tried to stay calm. She would not panic; not after all that she'd gone through. She would not.
"Perfect timing, indeed." And it paused to collect itself, drawing its smirk thin. "I was wondering when I'd be able to discuss our terms. It seems now you've settled your issues, Jareth, and would kindly allow Sarah and I to settle ours." Something like a growl broke out, but the Labyrinth continued. "Sarah Williams, I do wonder if you remember the terms of our deal. They were rather fascinating," the shimmer said calmly, splitting another smile.
"Then we are settled."
Sarah sputtered. That didn't sound right.
"I do apologize for not assisting further, but you are such a fascinating creature to watch." The shimmer gave an uncharacteristic snort and cocked its head. "Still fascinating, even, to match yourself so well. But indeed, you have. And our deal is settled. A courtesy I felt required to explain."
Sarah was beyond confused. Settled? She didn't feel any different. The Labyrinth couldn't have taken back the magic. She tried to question the shimmer, but all she got out was a 'whah…?'
"You do remember the exact terms of the deal?" the Labyrinth patronized, almost laughing at her expression. The girl certainly thought she did. No matter. "As my memory is unmatched, perhaps I can remind you. " And the soul conjured a crystal to its hand, almost indistinguishable until it was tossed into the air. The Labyrinth didn't need to tell the pair to watch the memory inside. It was obvious.
"Wish it so."
"Wish your wager to me, and it is accepted."
"Oh, uhh…right. I wish that after I win the Game, all the magic given to me by Jareth will be returned, out of my own free will, to the Labyrinth."
"It is done."
The crystal burst, dusting Sarah in a pale glitter. She groaned; she remembered perfectly well what she had said. It was as bad as being scolded like a child. "I remember," she said dully.
"Yet you don't listen," it goaded. "You never listen. Did you win, Sarah Williams? Did you win this Game of games? Because I was under the impression you'd come in third."
There it was, the grin to match all grins. Sarah's heart fluttered at the sight. It was true; technically, she hadn't won.
"And you of all know that words have power, but only when followed." The Labyrinth gave one last fond smirk, and began fading, its last words like wisps of silver promise. "Welcome home, Lady Sarah."
A hundred points to anyone who caught the fine print before they read this chapter :) Reviews are love, and keep me writing. One chapter to go and everything will be tied up nicely!