Disclaimer: I do not own Labyrinth, and I do not make money off it.
Chapter 10 – Born of Frustration
Wednesday passed by in a hazy unhappy blur. She had expected the time to pass slowly and miserably, but though she was constantly worried, the hours flew by at an unprecedented rate. Much to her embarrassment, she couldn't suppress the urge to glance over her shoulder, expecting to see the Goblin King striding toward her and feeling disappointed that he wasn't. On the set, Kathy had noticed her distraction and questioned her about it, and Sarah played it off as simply being worried about her Jareth's counterfeit illness.
"Maybe you should just go home and take care of him," Kathy said with a fair amount of exasperation, catching Sarah eyeing the soundstage doors and chewing off her lipstick.
Sarah laughed hollowly. "Right, because Phil the humanitarian was so understanding about his food poisoning."
Shrugging, Kathy pulled a tube of lipstick and an application brush out of her apron. She checked it for the correct color, then popped off the top. "Open your lips. Phil is all bark and no bite… Well, on set, anyway." She smirked at Sarah, who sent her a look that said 'Too Much Information!'
"Jareth will be fine; he was sleeping when I left," Sarah lied when Kathy had finished reapplying her lipstick. The desire to go home and check to see if he had returned was strong, but she dreaded finding the apartment empty.
Without noticing the time pass, Sarah suddenly found herself on set with Phil directing the camera crew to start filming a short scene between her and two puppets. It seemed just a moment ago that Kathy had been fixing her lipstick as Phil and the Assistant Director had scrambled frantically to reorganize the schedule to include scenes that did not feature Jareth's character. When she thought back, she remembered rehearsing the scene, but she still felt a bit disoriented, as if she didn't quite exist on the same plane as everything around her.
The actual shoot took too many attempts for Phil's patience.
"Sarah!" he shouted, throwing the script to the floor and marching toward her. "You are a frightened princess running through a terrifying maze!" He hunched his back and fluttered his eyelashes mockingly at her. "Cower already! It's a monster!"
"He's not a monster," she snapped, "he just looks scary! He's really just misunderstood..." She trailed off as she looked again at the giant purple puppet that was sheepishly holding an uprooted tree made entirely of foam. For a moment, she had thought that he had been tied upside down to one of the tree's branches, and she could have sworn that he had had an orange shaggy coat.
Phil eyed her incredulously. "You have got to be fucking kidding me. We just rehearsed this scene minutes ago, and you screamed and cowered…"
"Right, because he's a monster…" Sarah mumbled and scratched at the back of her neck. The puppet seemed to be trying to hide the tree behind his back.
"Let's do it again," Phil growled, "and Justin, if she doesn't scream properly, whack her with the tree."
Sarah had screamed, saving herself from abuse by foam fauna.
She did, in fact, return that night to an empty apartment. The silence had been oppressive, somehow amplifying the quiet hum of the refrigerator to an obnoxious buzz and the ticking of the clock above the dinette table to a steady racket. Within ten minutes, she had left again, heading for the gym in an attempt to restore some sort of normalcy to her day.
She woke up Thursday wondering when she had left the gym on Wednesday evening. Nonetheless, her gym bag sat by the front door still holding her dirty clothes and towel, and a plate sat unwashed in the kitchen sink.
'Ah yes,' she thought. 'Salad, rice and skinless chicken breast.' She remembered her lonely dinner as if someone else had eaten it: disconnected and dislocated. Her next thought was, 'Where is Jareth?'
After a hurried breakfast, Sarah attempted to contact Hoggle again, but he wasn't answering her summons. It did happen on occasion, but his abrupt departure from their last conversation had left her with an uneasy feeling. She didn't truly believe that Jareth would have hurt him, and for all she knew, he had been pulled away by a swarm of vengeful fairies. It had happened before. Yet she felt that something was wrong in the very marrow of her bones, and it wasn't just Hoggle and Jareth's disappearances. She just couldn't seem to sit still long enough to puzzle it out. It was like trying to catch smoke: one could see it to wrap it in eager fingers, but when one opened one's hands, there was nothing left but a stale smell.
It didn't occur to her to call Draco.
If possible, Thursday passed even more quickly than Tuesday. She could hardly keep track of conversations, answering a question only to learn from an irritated co-worker that she had already answered that question minutes – sometimes hours – ago. These strange bouts of lucidity were padded with murky stretches of time that Sarah remembered only vaguely, though it seemed that during those periods her behavior seemed normal to the people around her. She wondered if she had somehow stepped into the Twilight Zone and wished that Rod Serling would hurry up and inform her before she went certifiably crazy.
Frustrated by her inattention, Phil had finally sent her home early with an admonition to "sober up and get some rest."
'And if Jareth gave you whatever he has, then sucker-punch him in the gut for me,' Phil had instructed her with his characteristic concern for others' well-being.
And so Sarah had slept both nights with her door propped open, trying to drown out the silence and her disquieted thoughts with the din of the television. Countless times, she had wound her music box dancer, but only disjointed memories of listening to its crystalline chiming had lingered in her mind.
Jareth soared up to Sarah's second-story living room window and then eased his feathered body through the tear in the screen. Her apartment was dark except for the pallid light of the television, and the couch was empty. That was not surprising, as it was very late, but he had hoped that she might have waited up. It could only be minutes after midnight or one in the morning at the most. He liked the dramatic effect of forcing a supplicant to traverse his maze for thirteen hours, then to return home on the stroke of midnight. They always had such comically surprised expressions. He hadn't actually waited around to see this boy's reaction – he had deposited the child in his bedroom, removed all traces of his twin sisters, straightened out a sordid love triangle between two Goblins and a string of sausages (the sausages were fed to a beast and the Goblins were left to drown their sorrows in ale), and flew straight to Sarah's apartment.
With a surge of magic and determination that had long become instinct, he shed his avian form, his eyes seeking the blue-glowing clock that flashed in the kitchen. Jareth frowned and blinked. It could not actually be telling the correct time. Striding briskly through the living room, he sought out the handed clock that hung above the dinette table. It read approximately the same time. He was much later than he had expected. It was almost four in the morning.
Chagrinned that he hadn't made an effort to be quiet, he padded softly to her room, surprised that her bedroom door stood slightly ajar. Pushing lightly on the door with the pads of his fingers, he hesitated, entering only long enough to determine that she had not reengaged the barrier that had banished him when he had first arrived.
She lay tangled in the sheets, her hair a piece of the night spilled across her pillows and her face the pale moon, serene in sleep. Without consciously deciding to do it, he crept across the room, his mismatched eyes fixed on the tiny fluttering of her dark eyelashes. He was at her bedside before he realized it, sinking into the mattress as his gloved hands threaded through her thick hair. Stirring, she mumbled in her sleep and turned toward him, blinking groggily into the deep shadows of the room. He realized that she probably couldn't see him, so he spoke quietly.
"Jareth?" she murmured as she propped an elbow under her and leaned toward the sound of his voice. "That you?"
"You were expecting someone else?" he asked archly and received a pillow in his face. He smacked it out of the way, but Sarah was undeterred, swinging it around again and pegging him in the shoulder. Laughing lightly, he eased off the bed, stealing an unsupervised pillow in the process and dropping it on the floor to reduce her ammunition. "If you only intend to abuse me—"
"Do you realize how long you've been gone?" Sarah's voice did not have the playful lilt that he had expected; it was rough with worry and exasperation. With a vicious twist, she snapped on the lamp that sat on her beside table. The room was instantly flooded with a warm yellow glow.
"Now, precious, there is no cause for histrionics. It is a mere few hours past midnight—"
The pillow hit him in the face again with more force than previously, and she lurched out of bed, facing him in nothing but a form-fitting tee shirt and panties. Unfortunately, he wasn't given a chance to appreciate them. "Two days!" she shouted, flinging her arms out to the side in an angry gesture, and he could see the whites of her eyes ringing irises that shimmered an unearthly green. "And what did you do to Hoggle?"
Jareth could only stare at her in shock. "Are you accusing me of—" he began to demand when her first statement sunk in. "Two days? Not possible."
"It's Thursday night, Jareth… or Friday morning," she growled, her body veritably vibrating with tension. "You left on Tuesday. And I haven't been able to reach Hoggle since Wednesday morning when the boy was still running."
Before she could find something more hazardous to throw, he grabbed her shoulders and peered down into her face. Her anxiety was etched in the dark circles under her eyes and saturated her short breaths. She had been worried about him; for that reason alone he would overlook the accusation regarding the Dwarf. Guiding her back toward the bed, he sat her down and loomed over her, his hands still firmly grasping her shoulders.
"Sarah, calm yourself. Mischief may be at work, but it is not of my doing," he said sternly, his mind churning with implications. Draconus was at the top of his list of suspects, manipulating time to his own advantage while he was in the Underground and unaware of it. The sneaky little cheat. Next time, he'd have to be much more specific about the rules. "Two days should not have passed, and as for Hogshead—"
"Hoggle," she corrected him tersely, though some of the fight had eased out her frame.
"Yes." He tossed his wild hair dismissively. "I haven't seen him."
She sighed heavily and leaned her forehead against his chest. "I was worried," she mumbled against the breastplate of his Goblin armor and then yawned widely. Wrapping his arms around her shoulders and holding her close, he felt a surging thrill when she mirrored the gesture by looping her arms around his hips.
"That was not my intention," he said by way of apology, carefully masking his irritation and rising frustration with Draconus' game. So, the King Under the Mountain had stolen two more days, leaving him with what, three left? And two jewels? The plight of a traitorous cowardly Dwarf was the furthest thing from his mind. Shifting his grip, he sat on the bed beside her and drew her to his side. Her easy acceptance was gratifying and encouraging, though it did little to lessen the desperation that had once again taken root in his heart. Had Draconus staged his latest summons? It was possible, and wouldn't have been the first time. Usually, however, he was in on it.
"Did you miss me?" he asked, despising himself just a little for the slightly pleading edge to the question that was supposed to be casual and carefree. He smiled down at her as she yawned again, nodding.
"I suppose," she mumbled through another long, gaping yawn, just barely covering it with a hand that she had freed from his waist. He would rather have been treated to a view of her tonsils than lose that soft pressure. "Goodness knows why."
He chuckled, propping his chin on the top of her head. "Ah, that would be my charming personality and devastating good looks," he said, meaning every word. It seemed like a good idea to remind her, all things considered.
Snorting, she shook her head and patted her hand against his chest. "I did miss you," she said, "ego and all." She sobered quickly and met his eyes, a shadow stealing across the humor in their verdant depths and smothering it like a snuffer putting out a flame.
Concerned by the sudden change, Jareth opened his mouth to question her, but never got the opportunity. Her lips met his with earnest pressure, her tongue pressing through them even before his eyes slid shut. Thoroughly content to let her ravish him, he fell backward on the mattress, dragging her down with him. She swung one leg around to straddle his hips, never breaking the kiss. His gloves vanished with a half-formed thought, and he buried his bare fingers into her hair, his neatly trimmed fingernails scratching against her scalp. Angling her head, she paid special attention to the corner of his mouth, her tongue teasing the crease before sliding along his bottom lip. Her fingers plucked at his armor and twisted around strands of his hair, and pinned as he was to the bed, he could do little but moan happily and press up against her. She nibbled along the line of his chin, sending waves of gooseflesh cascading down his arms and across his chest, but when her teeth found the lobe of his pointed ear, nearly undoing him with one sharp tug, his arms tightened reflexively, holding her still as he rolled them over.
Jostled loose from one of the more erogenous bits of his flesh, Sarah managed to squeak in surprise before he returned the favor. His sharp teeth scraped at the column of her throat, his tongue following in a soothing path until it found the shell of her ear. Blowing softly over its folds and crevices, he suckled on the lobe, pressing his hips against her to show her how undeniably he wanted her. Beneath him, her body shuddered and shook, and an odd gasping giggle burst out of her throat. Taken aback, he released her earlobe and craned his neck to examine her face.
"Tickles," she giggled apologetically as she wiggled distractingly beneath him. "And something hard is bruising my chest."
"Your chest?" he asked, raising an affronted eyebrow. What about his—
"Yes!" She rolled her eyes and squirmed a hand between them, pulling the necklace Draconus had given him from under his clothes and wrinkling her nose. "What is this?"
Jareth eyed the gaudy jewel, excitement tightening in his belly like a coiled spring.
"Didn't it used to have more?" she asked, unknowingly echoing his thoughts, though with much less enthusiasm. Only the diamond remained, winking brightly in the soft light, its flawless white center refracted dozens of times as it cast shards of rainbows on her comforter.
Laughing in delight, he kissed her soundly, then whisked her off the bed to spin her around the bedroom in a fast-paced waltz that left them both breathless. He twirled her in a tight circle, then sent them careening onto her bed, collapsing on the mattress as it bounced under their combined weight.
She was laughing breathlessly, her arms still locked around her shoulders, as she gasped, "What was that about?"
In lieu of speaking, he was about to kiss her again when her mouth split into an enormously loud yawn. She released him, throwing an arm over her face to cover her mouth, and rolled to her side.
"Sorry," she mumbled, her voice muffled by the sleeve of her tee shirt as she buried her face in the crook of her elbow. "Haven't slept well these last two…" She looked at him askance and flushed. He grinned, showing his sharp teeth and refusing to pretend that he didn't know what she had meant, but hadn't intended to say. She really was quite forthcoming when sleepy. "Anyway, I need some decent sleep."
"Very well." He stretched out next to her, shifting his body along with hers until they were both properly aligned on the bed. It wasn't his preferred place to sleep – he'd much rather have dragged her to the living room where he could make a proper bed out of cushions and blankets, but he didn't want to push his luck. Willing away his Goblin armor, he replaced it with her bathrobe. They could pick up where they had started later; for now, he was willing to bask in the contentment that only almost-won bets and serious kissing could bring.
Sarah groaned and slapped a pillow over her face. "Jareth! What do you think you're doing? And can you do it in something other than just my bathrobe?"
He snagged the forgotten pillow from the floor and stuffed it under his head, rolling onto his side to regard her with curious eyes. "Why does me wearing your bathrobe offend you so, dear Sarah?" he asked as he bent one knee and propped that foot behind his other knee. One green eye appeared from underneath the pillow, then quickly disappeared.
"You know what? Fine." She wrenched the pillow off her face and glared at him. "If you don't mind your kibbles and bits dribbling out of my bathrobe, then I'm not going to complain." With that, she leaned up on her forearms, adjusted the remaining pillows to her liking, and flopped down with her back to him. "Good night, Jareth. Though, I should really send you back to the couch."
"No, you really shouldn't," he said as he snuggled up behind her and snaked an arm around her waist. As he drifted off, he wondered at the phrase "kibbles and bits" and how it applied to him, making a mental note to ask Sarah in the morning.
Sarah blinked against the harsh sunlight streaming through her bedroom window at an unfamiliar angle. With a sickening jolt, she realized that it had to be very late in the morning, and that Phil was going to kill her. Kill her until she was dead, as he liked to say. Scrabbling frantically for the double-crossing alarm clock, she noticed that a hand not her own was cupping one of her breasts and a bare leg was thrown over her equally bare thigh. Craning her neck, she spotted Jareth, the owner of said hand and leg, lying behind her and snoring softly into half of her pillow. She was torn between outrage at the liberties his sleeping hand had taken and relief that his arrival had not been a dream. Relief won out when she remembered that she had turned off the alarm because she was not in any of today's scenes and did not have to report to the studio until Monday morning.
Slumping back into her pillow, she gently moved his hand to her waist and smiled foolishly up at the crack in the ceiling. She had forgotten how nice it was to wake up beside a man. Careful not to jostle him, she stretched luxuriously and ran her fingers through her hair, scratching her scalp. Her head felt clearer this morning, as if she had been walking through a fog bank for the last few days and had finally found the sunshine.
Despite her best efforts, Jareth stirred against her, his hand sliding up her ribcage and his leg curling around hers. Though he was still mostly asleep, parts of him were quite awake. Sarah chuckled to herself as she captured his roving hand, considering taking a peak to see exactly what it was that he was so unashamed to cover. His lack of modesty was still unnerving, but she supposed that she shouldn't be surprised. No man who wore pants like his had anything to hide.
"May I ask what is so funny, precious thing?" he murmured against her ear, his fingers threading through hers as he nuzzled her hairline with his long nose. He sounded sleepily offended and was not at all shy about the state of his body.
"You may not," she said archly, the effect ruined when his tongue slid along her sensitive earlobe and sent her into a fit of giggles. "Jareth, that tickles!" Squirming out of his grasp, much to his groaning displeasure, she climbed out of bed and shot him a mock pout. The odd necklace, a white faceted gem on a chain, caught her attention. It had had three gems on it at one time, she remembered. Where had the others gone? She didn't like the look of it, and not simply because it wasn't aesthetically pleasing. It bothered her at an instinctual level. "That's such a strange necklace. Why do you wear it?"
Jareth fished the chain out of the wide gap in the pink bathrobe, holding it with one finger and eyeing it with distaste. "It is an ugly thing, isn't it?"
"Then why wear it?" she repeated. The gem winked at her, catching the sun and spinning rainbows across his handsome face. She smiled softly and wondered if maybe they could make the whole long-distance relationship thing work after all. She could leave the window open and remove the screen altogether. After a few more lessons, perhaps she could learn how to shape shift and fly to Labyrinth to see him. It didn't seem all that impossible in the bright light of a new day with him gazing up at her as if she were the only woman on earth. And if it didn't work out, well, that was life, right? But at least she would have given it a try. Jareth seemed very much worth a try.
Then a thought struck her, and the smile faded. Before she could truly commit herself, there were a couple of issues that had to be resolved. She decided to broach the subject before she did something potentially foolish, like have her wicked way with him or relinquish her heart.
"Jareth," she said, then sucked her bottom lip between her teeth and nibbled on it. "Hoggle said something odd the other day."
"Hedgewart is odd, among other things," Jareth quipped, but his eyes had shuttered with wariness.
"He warned me against you." He snorted, and Sarah raised her eyebrows. "Are you surprised? But he said I was nothing but a 'prize' – I think that was the word he used. Why would he say that?"
Jareth stared at her in silence for a long moment, and his sharp features seemed to become more avian, his blue eyes glinting with golden flecks. "If I had heard him say that, then I could tell you exactly where the little scab would be."
"Don't you threaten him," she snapped. "He was only trying to look out for me, and he has good reason to think the worst of you." As Jareth's face began to pucker into a petulant pout, Sarah steered the conversation onward. "And the Goblins mentioned a game… an important game. What did they mean?" Magic tingled at the base of her skull, and she released it in her next demand. "Tell me the truth."
Jareth opened his mouth, but he seemed to be struggling against speaking the words. His jaw worked several times before his eyes widened and a full sentence was dragged out of him.
"You are a prize," he ground through teeth that he was trying to clench. Glaring at her, he shot out of bed and wrapped the robe's belt around his waist, tying it with an angry jerk. "For a bet." Clamping his jaw shut, he marched out of the room, and furiously disbelieving, Sarah stalked after him.
"I'm a what?" she shrieked after him, hot on his heels. "Jareth, come back here!"
"Prize!" he hollered and then let fly with a fierce string of words so quickly that they were almost unintelligible. "I'm going to skewer those little cretins and hoist them onto the wall of the Goblin City as a warning to scabs who can't keep their mouths shut!"
"What bet?" She grabbed his shoulder, and he spun around, fixing her with wide, frantic eyes swimming in molten gold. His wild wispy hair was growing heavy with white feathers, but she was too furious to care. "Tell me!"
"You are to be mine, precious, if I win. Just one more heartfelt kiss—"
"Yours? As in, 'one of us forever'?" At his hissed affirmation, she stared at him in mute shock, his betrayal shaking her to the core. Her lips felt numb and her vision began to tunnel as her heart beat heavily against her ribcage. For a moment, the air felt too thick to breathe. When she spoke again, she hardly recognized her own voice for the ice that coated it. "And if you lose? What then?"
The despair that filled his eyes was black and turbulent, and this time, he seemed to be struggling to say something as opposed to holding it in. With an inarticulate cry, he kicked one of her dinette chairs and sent it flying across the room and into the back of the couch. "Sarah!" he finally cried, stretching his arms out to her in a pleading gesture, but she evaded them with a quick side step.
"My life is not a game!" she shouted. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe I didn't want to go to the Underground forever? That perhaps I had a life up here that I wasn't so keen to leave behind? I'm not a fucking prize!"
"No, Sarah!" He made another grab for her, and she darted out of his reach. "You don't understand!"
Dashing for the living room, she skirted around the couch, placing it between them. It wasn't much protection from a man who could conjure magical crystal orbs or turn into an owl, but it was better than nothing. "Oh, I understand plenty. And I want you out of my apartment!" She shouted the last words with the thunder of her fury, only distantly aware that her entire apartment building shook.
He reeled back as if struck, grabbing at the dinette table as his corporeal form began to dissolve. "Sarah, please just…"
"Out," she hissed.
His voice faded as the last traces of him vanished, and Sarah burst into hot, noisy tears.
A/N: Big thanks to my betas leannansidhe1228 and thoughtfulillusion, and of course to my readers and reviewers!
Yet another chapter named after the title of a song – this time by the band "James".