Meanwhile...
A Shard by Heist

o0o

Stories change.

o0o

In the end…

She tracks through single mirrors, never leaving more than one reflection at any given time. It is an impossibility in the house of mirrors, but since when does the realm of possibility hold any influence over a Labyrinth? Jareth traces her, and breaks with gleaming shards every step after her. He regrets that he found her beautiful, he regrets that he was a stupid child and forgot that nothing is as it seems in these places. Eyes he found warm and entreating are gone dark, and a voice he thought made for gasps of pleasure laughs now, and cruelly so.

"Foolish fey child!" she cries from the mirror before him. "Did you really think you would be able to win?" He smashes that mirror too, but she has already jumped into another.

"Face me!" he growls at her laughing reflections. "Or are you too afraid to come out of your puzzle-game?"

Her eyes narrow, and the new mirror she has taken up life in ripples, as quicksilver on hot glass. She steps through her own reflection, and exists in every mirror to taunt him. She rolls a crystal in her palm, over her fingers and through her wrists into her other hand. It's an eye-catching trick, but Jareth refuses to be so distracted again.

"I told you before that I could be cruel," she whispers, in the same sensual rasp that haunted him earlier. "But I have been nothing but generous with you." She both accuses and inflames his raw desires. He hates her, but that doesn't stop the wanting.

Jareth wants to scream at her, dig his fingers into that pale throat and silence her treacherous words forever, or maybe kiss her hard enough to take her breath. He isn't particular either way. "Liar."

She laughs again. "I warned you in the beginning that this was no easy task, Goblin Prince. I gave you succor when you lost your way and I gave you time when you were so lost you could not find steps, much less a path. I gave you your deepest desire and asked for nothing in return."

"Everything has a cost," Jareth says, casually, as if it were any ordinary day in his father's kingdom, and not a black negotiation for his freedom. "Everything has a price. You just never mentioned yours."

And here she smiles darkly. "And here is the beauty of it: you have already paid the price. The rules never said I had to tell you."

Jareth stops, confused. He cannot recall forfeiting anything to the woman, much less his freedom. All Labyrinths have rules, a clear set of legal engagements and lines meant for crossing. He thinks he was careful enough to avoid any such traps. In a rage, he throws his desperately-horded power at the remaining mirrors, smashing all but one into a dancing rain of sliver-sharp fragments.

"Temper, temper," she chides. "I'm almost insulted. Fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave. It's a contract, binding, and unfortunately for you," she drawls, "it goes both ways. I gave you everything, did everything you wanted, and now it's time for you to hold your end."

"I never—"

She rolls the crystal down her arm and brings it to rest on a fingertip. "Would you like one?"

Jareth remembers, and wishes for a moment that he never met Sarah. He doesn't have the time to scream his fury at her, as she fades back into her mirror. He tries to follow, but it only has a fluid surface for her, and she taunts him further from the other side. This time, he pounds the glass with his fists, creating spiderweb-delicate cracks against her light-scattered silhouette.

And she keeps smiling. The last moment before his hands impact the near-broken mirror, the image changes, Jareth realizes just what it is he's done. And it is too late.

"Once you reach the center, you'll never get out again."

o0o

In the maze…

Somewhere, he can hear her singing. "As I wait to watch you fall from grace…"

Jareth feels the wall behind him shiver. He looks up, and dozens of him look back from the mirrors. He looks young, and scared from where he crouches on the floor, and he is surprised by the honesty in the reflections. Mirrors in the Underground rarely reveal such truth unless asked, and he hasn't asked. The Above is so different than he thought…

Nevermind. Jareth stumbles through its passages, disoriented by the mirrors and echoing corridors. In his world, he counts on an innate sense of direction and his personal magic to guide him through, but he might as well be blind here. For whatever reason, this Labyrinth is a magical null-spot; Jareth has no more power in this strange place than a crippled mortal child, and he feels the part. Worse, he is rapidly running out of time. He suspects he has gravely overestimated his own skills, but he refuses to think about the consequences of hubris. That is a reflection for another day.

The reflections, so many of them, drive him to madness. He slams a fist into the nearest mirror, and curses as the shards carve into his skin. No gloves. He recalls taking them off somewhere along the way, but he can't remember when or why. He swears viciously, and she melts out of the nearest unbroken mirror, a broad smile on her face as she keeps humming that odd tune. This time, she wears a simple white dress, and she walks barefoot through the splinters on the floor as if they are nothing.

"What have you done now?" she asks, and takes his hand in her own. It feels like sparks dance between her skin and his, and Jareth wonders how she can act so nonchalant under the onslaught of such compelling magic. He wants to trace his fingers up her arm, over her collar bone and down to the curve of her breasts. He wonders if she would react then, but decides against it. She is mistress here, and he is dependent upon her strange mercy.

Jareth shrugs, and she heals his hand with a fleeting touch of mortal spell-work. He is fascinated as the skin knits back together, leaving no trace that anything had ever marred it. She gives him an impish look, and in spite of himself, Jareth laughs.

"So you aren't all stone and arrogance after all, are you?" she asks with an impish grin. "Lost your way?"

Jareth's temporary good humor falls like a pebble in still water. "Is there a way through this place? I might think your maze bests even my Labyrinth for confusing tactics. I suspect it is impossible to make it through in the given time."

She shrugs, and with a flick of her wrist, a tired thirteen-hour clock appears, just a few hours left to elapse on its dulling face. Jareth watches in dismay as the minutes march forward, and turns his look to the woman before him. She too watches the clock, and dismisses it in silence with a shrug.

"Just between the two of us, I choose not to believe in time. Why bother when there is no end of it here?" Her voice is light, but it carries a darker shade, and Jareth wonders at her meaning. She quirks a provocative brow at him, and clenches a fist before his eyes. When she opens her hand, a crystal breaks gently over her palm and shimmers into a pale peach.

"I find," she continues, "that when I'm lost, I remember that the way forward is sometimes the way back." She presses the peach into his hand and fades into the nearest mirror. "Enjoy," she whispers, and takes up her song again, "like the ones I've brought you time and time again…"

o0o

Meanwhile…

Jareth slides to the floor, ignoring the mess of glass and mirror-mess. It prickles at his flesh like rose thorns, and he ignores the sensation. If what he suspects is correct, it won't matter. It's not like he can be hurt anymore.

She appears in his fractured prison, and there is no satisfaction on her face as she appraises his defeated posture.

"How many times have we done this?" he asks. "How long have you played this twisted game? Once, twice, a hundred times?"

Her gaze remains level, in spite of the sudden increase in number, and a pit of dread forms in Jareth's stomach. She sighs, and Jareth recognizes the envy-bolt green in her eyes as jaded experience, rather than the fresh green he thought it to be.

"It's funny," she comments, "how every time, you never seem to see it coming. Again and again, you accept it with never a suspicious glance. And again and again, I always close the bargain here. A thousand different ways and you never change."

"What do you mean?"

"Self-inflicted vengeance is only so fun until it pulls others in with it. Perhaps once, I would see you escape this fate, but I don't believe it's even possible anymore."

Jareth laughs, silent hoarse quavering that begins in his lungs and ends in his odd-colored eyes. Sarah hums her tune, and they wait.

o0o

In the dream…

He suspected the peach would bring him something deeply wished, but he only hoped it could be this. She wears a shadow-dark gown and moonlight against her skin, a single silver chain looped around her waist her only adornment. She is beautiful, and his eyes drink her in. He wants to touch her, but his hands are bound to the chair behind him. He can't move, but somehow it doesn't matter.

She pulls the chain loose from her waist, and in her hands it becomes a twisting, coiling viper spitting venom. She smiles slowly, runs a finger down its back, and the snake calms. Then, she snaps it straight abruptly, and the viper is a rasping silken scarf, sinuous and dark between her fingers. With silent grace, she appears behind him and ties the scarf around Jareth's eyes as a barely-opaque blindfold.

He sees next to nothing, yet the touch of blindness adds a consuming sensuality to the encounter that did not exist before. With an almost practiced precision, she runs her fingers through his hair, and the sensation of her nails against his scalp sends shrill tremors of lightning down Jareth's spine. When she pulls away, he gasps from the sudden lack of electric contact and leans forward, only to see the barest suggestion of dark silk slipping down her form to the floor.

And then she is touching him again, pulling his shirt up over his abdomen, then somehow away entirely without the fabric ever touching his still-bound hands. Just as quickly, her nimble fingers trail over his stomach and take to the fastenings of his breeches. In a moment, that too is no longer something to be worried about, and she slides onto his lap, just precious inches away from his skin.

She breathes a ghost of a kiss over his lips, and presses her cheek against his. "My name is Sarah," she whispers in his ear, and she pulls her body closer, skin to skin against his and takes him full within her. She hisses her exhalation against his neck, and Jareth is lost to mindless feeling. Her skin is cool against his, but where he is buried inside her is pure heat and hell-tinted heaven.

They begin to move together, and Jareth pulls a kiss down her pristine skin until she clenches down on him. Her nails scream down his back, and he comes so violently inside her he sees crimson, even blindfolded as he is in the darkness. She trembles around him, her inner fire unabated and he swears to whatever god may listen that he will keep this woman Sarah if it kills him.

o0o

Meanwhile…

In the center of the Lady's Labyrinth, Jareth wonders what changes every time Sarah plays the game, and he asks. She seems startled by the question, and retreats into her mind for an answer.

"Sometimes," she tells him, "I kiss you back."

He knows there is something she chooses not to tell him, and he watches with almost a hint of smugness as her hand drifts down her belly.

"Does it always burn?"

She does not answer, and that is answer enough.

o0o

In the beginning…

He is fascinated by her crystal tricks. In his world, many of the fey practice such arts, but never with such mastered fluidity of movement. She knows, because no fey has had as long as she has had to practice. She studies him as his eyes follow the motion of her hands, and wonders whether anything will change this time around. He does not notice the almost lace-like web of delicate cracks in the crystal, and inwardly, she wilts. Exactly as every time before, he will fail, and destroy himself just as surely every time after.

"I warn you, I can be cruel," she murmurs. "The Labyrinth is not kind to fools. Once you reach the center, you'll never get out again." He gives her an odd, compelling look, and Sarah allows herself a moment of hope before he returns his sight to the crystal spinning in her hand.

"Would you like one?" she asks, and Jareth nods, entranced. He almost reaches for it, but she pulls it away and clicks her tongue. "No, I think we'll save this as a gift to your future."

She hides the crystal from view, and sends him into her endless house of mirrors. When he is gone, she brings her crystal back to her palm, and addresses the secret center of her Labyrinth.

"Yes, my infinite adversary, it always burns." She closes her hand around the crystal, a silent promise, and restores it to its proper place in the game. She may choose not to believe in time, but she is always aware of how easily it can slip through her distracted fingertips. She takes up the song, and dances into her mirrors.

"As I wait to watch you fall from grace…"

o0o

Notes: Another shard from that mad plan, and my first attempt at writing time out of joint. Not bad, n'est pas? Admittedly, this was the end result of hours and hours of revision, and I was so exhausted and frustrated that I never did write those other twenty-seven promised ficlets. Oh well.

Oh, also, this is a songfic, by the way. I do those sometimes, and I am oh so sneaky about it. This one in particular owes life to Beguiled, by Splashdown. Look them up. They are magnificent.