Author's Note: The idea for this came from the soundtrack for Nightmare Before Christmas, although there are elements from Mercedes Lackey's The Fairy Godmother (particularly involving The Tradition). If you've read it, you'll understand. Maybe. If not, there's a note at the end.
Disclaimer: I do not own Labyrinth or any other published work which I may quote or reference. This work is purely for the enjoyment of myself and others, not monetary gain.
THE TRADITION'S NIGHTMARE
Sarah lay on her bed, staring at the glowing green numerals projected onto the ceiling above her bed.
The colon between the hour and minutes blinked on and off, ticking away the seconds as she lay, sleepless and restless, in the apartment she shared with a friend.
She and Rachael were juniors now, both students at...some acronym. It didn't really matter where she went to school; she felt just as out-of-place here as she did at home, with her dad and stepmom and little brother. Half-brother, technically.
She pondered her strange relationship to her brother for a moment, wondering to herself at how protective she'd become of him. Even her stepmother had remarked on it, once or twice—especially since the change.
She rolled onto her side and pushed herself up, propping her upper body on a few of the pillows that littered her bed. Tree limbs swayed wildly outside her window, silhouetted against her curtains by the street lights.
She knew exactly when it had happened; could recite the date and time that it had happened from memory. She remembered the clothes she'd worn and the creatures she'd met; recalled with crystal—ha!—clarity what...he...had looked like.
And yet, for all that, there was one thing she couldn't remember. Of all the memories she clung to from that night, the final scene still eluded her.
It was like a dream! The whole adventure seemed so real, but then...it all dissolved into misty fragments, like she'd been drugged.
Which was ridiculous. She had been drugged for part of that adventure—Hoggle had given her a peach, and she'd happily eaten it and dreamed herself into a ballroom full of masked figures, and...him. That part stood out in sharp relief, as though the few minutes she had spent twirling in his arms had been seared into her memory forever. Their final confrontation, though...all she remembered was him stepping out of the mist in a cape of white feathers, and even that was hazy.
She sighed to herself, wondering silently if he ever thought of her, as she had thought of him in the six years since beating his labyrinth.
She sighed again and rolled onto her back again, tired of watching the pines sway outside, and glanced at her ceiling clock again.
12:34 AM blinked silently back at her.
Happy April Fools' Day, Sarah, she thought to herself, knowing herself to be the fool. He's a king. Why would he think of you?
The elusive memory nagged at her, though, and the longer she puzzled over it, the more she got the impression that something was simply...wrong.
Terribly, deeply wrong. That something had happened that had never been meant to happen.
She snorted to herself at her own sentimentality and rolled over onto her stomach, determined to go to sleep and ignore the feeling. Sure, she'd been given the chance of a lifetime...but she'd blown it.
* * *
Sarah was scrubbing the counters in the kitchen, her Ipod on shuffle, when the lyrics suddenly made her stop.
"Would you do the whole thing all over again, knowing what you know now? Knowing what you knew then?"
She froze completely for a moment, the soft, gentle voice of the soundtrack's narrator changing into a deeper, more passionate tone to answer—one she recognized instinctively.
The door flew open, and Sarah jumped, whirling with wide eyes to stare at the figure outlined in the doorway.
"What are you doing?" The voice was teasing, sarcastic.
Sarah almost collapsed in relief.
"You were supposed to be ready half an hour ago! Now get dressed. You're keeping everyone waiting!"
Sarah tossed the sponge limply back into the sink as her roommate flicked off the stereo, then made her way back to her bedroom, dropping onto the small bed in relief and—disappointment?
Had she really thought that she had heard his voice for a moment? Surely she had imagined it...
* * *
In a dark, forgotten corner of the world, a sudden wind blew the ruby covers of a book open as the text began to glow...
* * *
Jareth's head shot up, hearing the two most dangerous, most beautiful words come from the lips of his beloved.
"It can't be...after all this time..." he whispered, breathless.
* * *
Sarah shook her head. She was being silly; no one would answer her—she had blown her one chance long ago.
She pushed herself off her bed, going to her closet to find a different change of clothes to wear out with Rachael. Some of her roommate's friends were going clubbing tonight, in honor of the "holiday," and she'd promised to go along. It seemed a stupid decision, now, but she would take the consequences of her unmeant words.
Just like last time... she thought, only briefly amused.
She pulled out a tiered, knee-length skirt in vivid shades of red and orange flame and tossed it on her bed, digging through her closet to find a matching shirt. A yellow tank top with beading around the neckline joined it, and she pulled both on before glancing in the mirror.
She looked like a fire sprite, she decided, turning slightly to see herself from the back.
Sarah slipped her feet into plain bamboo flip flops and wandered over to her dresser to find a necklace.
"I just wish..." She sighed again, feeling foolish. "I wish that I had that chance—that I could go back to that final scene, and do it all over again."
* * *
The text shimmered and writhed, thousands of tiny voices conspiring in an ominous whisper...
* * *
"Sarah, we have to go!" Rachael glanced around the room again before looking up at the clock on the wall. She'd given her friend ten minutes to dress; it usually took half that. "Sarah..."
She walked down the short hall to her roommate's bedroom and knocked on the door, though the room was strangely silent.
"Sarah?" she asked, cracking the door open.
The room was empty.
* * *
Jareth felt himself pulled back, thrust back into a time that he hated to remember—the time when he had lost everything...
* * *
Sarah looked around herself wonderingly, caught on a fragile platform suspended on...nothing. She turned, and there he was, her nemesis, the man who had stolen her brother.
Jareth gave her a calculating look as he stepped from the shadows, wondering why he had been brought here now, of all places.
His eyes, his expression was inscrutable, as always, and her own eyes grew wide.
Sarah opened her mouth to try to stop this, to change what had happened, to make up for what she had done...
"Give me the child," she said, her voice sounding distant.
"Sarah, beware. I have been generous up until now..." His voice was low, gravelly as he continued walking toward her, neither taking their eyes from the other.
"Generous?" she asked, tilting her head slightly in disbelief. "What have you done that's generous?"
Why couldn't she stop herself? She had to stop this!
"EVERYTHING!" His voice came sudden and loud before dropping into a more seductive purr as he circled her. "Everything that you wanted, I have done. You asked that the child be taken; I took him. You cowered before me; I was frightening. I have reordered time, I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you!"
Jareth wanted to close his eyes in weariness at the sound of the same cruel words escaping from between his lips. He knew that this wasn't the way to win her over, and yet...he couldn't stop himself.
"I am exhausted from living up to your expectations. Isn't that generous?" he finished.
Sarah stared at him with wide eyes, pushing against the strange force that held her in place, that kept her on the damning path to self-inflicted monotony.
"Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way there to the castle beyond the Goblin City...for my will is as strong as yours, and my king—" She had backed him down a staircase before he interrupted her, holding out a hand to cut off her words.
"Stop! Wait. Sarah, Look. Look what I'm offering you—your dreams." A crystal appeared in his outstretched hand, and he raised it to her eyes, wishing that she would look at it, pause in her mantra, anything.
"And my kingdom as great..."
"I ask for so little. Just let me rule you, and you can have everything that you want."
"Kingdom as great... Damn! I can never remember that line!"
Sarah heaved against her invisible, impossible bonds, sensing that this was her best chance, her last chance. All too soon, she would say the damning final line...
Jareth looked at her hopelessly, watching her struggle with her lines, and tried to find the words that would make her pause.
"Just fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave..."
Jareth cursed. That offer hadn't worked the first time; how could he hope that it would work any better the second?
Sarah shook her head from side to side, trying to remember the final line. She was so close—it was so close—and she looked up, meeting his eyes one final time, and opened her mouth...
She stopped. It took every ounce of willpower in her body, but she froze the words in her throat and forbid them life.
Jareth stepped forward, trying to press what little advantage he still had. "Sarah," he beseeched her, his eyes boring into hers.
Sarah stood, completely frozen, staring back at the Goblin King—at Jareth—and trying to remember what she had wanted to say for six years.
The clock crashed its first warning.
Jareth almost stopped breathing. Another few seconds of indecision, and she would be his anyway—but he didn't want indecision! He wanted acceptance, desire! He wanted her to long for him as much as he had for her, in the long years that had separated them.
"Stop the clock."
Sarah's request was almost lost in the second peal of the abhorrent timepiece, so softly did she speak, as though the words had had to be pushed out behind some barrier.
Jareth waved a hand, stepping closer to stand over her, and the third peal never came.
* * *
The book shrieked in anger as its victory was ripped away...
* * *
Sarah gazed up at him, the blank stare slowly leaving her eyes. "Jareth," she said simply, raising one hand to his chest, the other moving to cradle the wrist of the hand which still held the crystal.
He swallowed, barely daring to hope that he had a chance, that this change might mean a change in their fate as well.
Sarah closed her eyes briefly, trying to swallow her own nervousness, and opened them to gaze up into the mismatched eyes of her opponent.
Not my enemy. She understood that now. He had been forced to play a part, had been warped into a role, as she had.
"I have to rescue Toby," she began, feeling her mouth go dry and praying that he let her speak. "I...I wronged him, by wishing him away, and I have to fix that." She looked up at him with pleading eyes. "I can't do anything else until he is safe, at home...where he belongs."
Jareth let his hand fall, dropping the crystal so that it bounced on the floor, cracking and rolling until it fell to pieces and disappeared. "So I mean nothing to you," he breathed, searching in her eyes for some indication that it wasn't true.
Her hand on his chest tightened around the ruffles of his shirt, shaking him gently. "No, Jareth. Not nothing." She released his wrist and cupped his cheek instead. "I'm not...not sure what, but much more than nothing."
Something within Jareth seemed to stir to life suddenly. "You're not sure?" he demanded, his hands suddenly gripping her hips tightly. "What does it take for you, Sarah?"
She ignored the way he pulled her against him, ignored the way that he, in turn, had ignored her request, and continued to gaze up at him, now cupping his face in both hands. "I don't know you," she said simply. "I've known you for less than a day—less than half a day! Is that enough knowledge to risk giving up my entire life?"
He opened his mouth, surely to make more impossible demands of her, but she covered his lips with a gentle palm before he could speak.
"Return Toby," she said soothingly. "I can't make any decision for myself—for us—until I know he's back home."
His eyes flashed and he pulled her roughly to his chest, one arm wrapped tightly around her waist. "Look, there," he commanded, waving his free arm to his right, where a large crystal had materialized.
Within its glassy depths, Sarah could see her infant brother, nestled comfortably asleep in his crib, and her heart softened in relief.
"Are you happy now?" he demanded harshly, cupping the back of her head with his hand so that she had to look up at him.
"Almost," she whispered, and ran her fingers through his hair to pull his pale lips down to hers.
* * *
Author's Note: The Tradition (in Mercedes Lackey's novel The Fairy Godmother which is amazing and you should read) is a bodiless, formless force of magic which tries to force people and events into certain roles, created by stories. It doesn't care if the stories are pleasant ones or not; it simply forces events into the preconceived molds shaped by stories, and it takes an incredible force of willpower (and not a little ingenuity) to overcome The Tradition, or at least to change the story to one more desirable. Parallel Sarah's Labyrinth book with The Tradition, and you can see what I meant at the beginning. (Yes, the forgotten red book with the glowing script is Labyrinth. I wanted to personify the book rather than the maze for once.)
Also, the italics/non-italics in the scene from the movie, where Sarah confronts Jareth for the last time? The italics are when they follow the events of the movie; the non-italics are when they react with their older selves. I usually use italics to show characters' thoughts, but when meshing flashback with modern reactions...flashback trumps internal monologue. (And good for you, if you figured that out as you were reading it. If not, you can reread it with your new understanding.)