This was going to be a one-shot...but it grew.
Happy Valentine's Day!
There was a ball tonight. Jareth had made all the arrangements, and it was already clear that it would be a grand event. He had planned it because it was expected of him, as king, and was a task he accepted but didn't really mind. Unfortunately, decorum also demanded that he attend the ball; that would be unpleasant.
He performed his duties flawlessly; the perfect courtier, he welcomed his guests, made sure that everything ran smoothly and even danced enough to be polite. It wouldn't really have been so terrible an evening, actually; he had always enjoyed music and dancing, it was a very nice night and he had many friends among the guests. None of his goblins had attended, because balls weren't the sort of thing that goblins enjoyed, but scores of faeries mingled about his marble ballroom. What really made the night unbearable was that most everyone else was dancing in the arms of their beloved or pursuing the object of their desire with hope in their eye. Such a saturation of love and adoration was almost more than he could take, knowing as he did that the one person he could ever love despised him and that once again he would spend Valentine's evening surrounded by joyful courtiers and simpering suitors, all alone in the midst of the throng.
Valentine's evening. Jareth grimaced as he thought that; why did everything always have to come back to her? It had been three years since he had seen her, three years since she had shattered all his hopes and dreams and left him broken-hearted on the craggy ruins of his torn-down castle, three years since he had resigned himself to the knowledge that although his love could never die, he was doomed to live alone for all eternity, the feeling forever unrequited. Three years of mournful heartache had passed, and still he thought of her constantly. He didn't watch her, although he easily could have, as he had before she'd called him, while he was first falling in love with her, and nor did he visit her in dreams, or assume his owl form to watch her; no, he had decided, against all his dreams and desires, to let her go.
That didn't mean he didn't miss her, though.
It was almost midnight. Exhausted from the emotional stress and the effort of feigning indifference, Jareth stood alone by the wall. Suddenly, he stiffened, looking up and around. For some reason, he felt as though he was being watched. He looked around suspiciously, but everyone around was busy staring into the eyes of their beloved. He trusted his instincts, though...
'What are you looking for?' a voice asked, and Jareth look back down to see a friend of his, another faerie king, approaching.
'What do you mean by that, Finvarra?' he asked. 'What am I looking for at this moment, or in general?' The strange sensation has passed, and although Jareth was still curious, he wasn't too worried.
'Well, I actually mean the former,' Finvarra told him, 'but why not go ahead and answer both?'
'I thought I sensed someone watching me, but it has passed,' Jareth answered. 'And in general, I suppose I am looking for...' What? Happiness? He had accepted long ago that that would never be possible for him. Love? He had found love, and it had all but destroyed him. 'I'm looking for distraction, I suppose,' he sighed.
'You're standing at the edge of the room, on your own, staring into space,' Finvarra told him softly. 'It doesn't seem like you want distraction; it seems like you want to wallow in your own misery. Come and dance, Reth. Divert yourself. Let your friends and guests entertain you.'
Jareth sighed, looking out at the dancing couples. He could join them, could dance and drink and laugh, as he had been doing all evening. But he knew that it wouldn't distract him—on the contrary, being at a Valentine's ball just made it that much worse. When he was alone he had better control of his mind, and could almost forget. No, being with happy people, feigning happiness himself, just made him feel more hollow inside.
'That will make it worse, Fin,' he sighed. 'You go and have fun; I'll be fine.' It was true; in a few days, once the pain of so much love surrounding him had faded, he would be fine.
'You can't honestly expect me to leave you alone,' his friend answered. 'Not when you're like this.'
Sighing, Jareth took a drink from a passing servant; maybe it would help warm him up.
He lifted it to his lips, but lowered it quickly a moment later and placed it, still full, on a nearby table.
Why, why, did everything always remind him of her? It was a rhetorical question, though; he knew why he thought of her every day, even after all this time, knew why he could never feel desire for another woman, knew why every moment of every day he regretted the mistakes he'd made three years ago, in his desperate attempts to provide her with the adventure she'd yearned for, why he felt her absence like a blade of ice in his heart, all the time.
He loved her.
'So, Sarah,' Karen began casually as she sipped her after-dinner coffee. 'What are you up to tonight? Have any big plans?'
Sarah glanced up from her cake, chewing slowly to buy time. Her stepmother had hired a babysitter for the evening without even asking her eighteen-year-old stepdaughter if she was free. Karen was still, as always, adamant in her insistence that Sarah should date. Eventually Sarah had just stopped arguing, stopped explaining why she couldn't find the childish, immature, unwashed boys she knew attractive, and learned to just smile and nod.
'Yeah, I'm going out,' she finally replied. Karen obviously wanted more details, but was content to let it go for now, choosing to believe that her daughter was going out with a boy and not just to hang out with her friends. As it happened, Sarah was only leaving the house at all to get Karen off her back; she had few friends, and none of them were single, so she would be spending Valentine's evening sitting alone in a cafe with a book.
Valentine's evening. Sarah grimaced as she thought the phrase. Why did everything always have to come back to him? She got to her feet and began to clear the table. Tonight she would be bored and alone; to that she had already resigned herself. But she would absolutely not spend the evening thinking about him.
Later that evening, Sarah sat alone in a cafe near her house, an open book on the table before her. She was the only person sitting alone. To her right, a young teenage couple laughed, holding hands and sipping hot chocolate. To her left, a girl her age and a slightly older guy with long blond hair were talking quietly; unfortunately, the tables were so close together that Sarah could hear almost everything they said.
'Do you ever feel like you might be dreaming?' the girl asked softly, and although Sarah didn't look up, she could hear the smile in the boy's voice when he replied.
'What do you mean?' he asked. 'You mean when everything is so perfect, so indescribable, that it can't possibly be real?'
Sarah's mind sprang instantly to her peach dream; she still wasn't sure about that. Had it been a dream, or had it been real? After breaking out of the bubble ballroom she had definitely fallen through the air and landed far from the enchanted forest where she'd been when she'd bitten the peach...but when she'd been there, in that dress, among those masked and frightening people, searching for something...or someone...when she'd danced in his—
Don't think about him. Wandering if the ball had been a dream? She didn't even know if the Labyrinth itself had been a dream, if he had been a dream. That was the question that had consumed her mind for all these years, what had prevented her from moving on. With an almost physical effort, Sarah tore her mind from those memories and tried to return to her book.
'I'm sorry for getting all romantic on you,' the girl was saying, 'but I just can't believe that you actually exist.'
Sarah stared forcefully at the indistinguishable letters of her book, trying not to gag. But also a little bit jealous. Why was she alone tonight? She didn't think she was terribly ugly or annoying or anti-social. But for some reason, she wasn't at all popular with guys, and those that did show an interest...well, they never interested her. No one ever interested her. She did want a boyfriend, she just couldn't find anyone to be that boyfriend.
Suddenly, Sarah got the distinct impression that someone was watching her. She glanced around, stiff, but everyone else in the cafe was busy staring into each other's eyes. The back of her neck prickled, though, and she was certain that someone watched her. Time seemed to stand still for a moment as she wondered, telling herself not to think that, not to think that he...but then the moment passed, and she told herself not to be paranoid, going back to her book.
'I like romance,' the boy at her left told his girlfriend. 'You know that, precious.'
Sarah's book snapped closed.
She could handle the sappy, gooey romance. But she could not handle that pet name.
Draining her tea cup, Sarah pushed herself to her feet and headed for the door. It was cold and snowing outside, and she irritably zipped coat her as she stalked along. The street was empty; everyone else was cuddled up inside with their dearly beloved.
'You do know that Valentine's day is a fake holiday invented by Hallmark to squeeze more money out of you, right?' she asked the windy night. 'Do you even know who St. Valentine was? Because he wasn't concerned with tacky cards or candy hearts.'
She stalked off down the street, and managed to get to the traffic light before she felt tears prickling behind her eyes. Why was it that she couldn't even sit in a cafe without being reminded constantly of him? Why did every guy she saw, even an innocent bystander out with his girlfriend, remind her of him? Why couldn't she get him out of her head? It had been three years, three goddamn years, since she had seen him. And for all knew, her adventure had been nothing but the result of an over-active imagination. It probably had been nothing but a dream. There was no way to find out for sure, and that was the explanation that made the most sense.
Just get over it already.
Sarah began to walk again, eager to get out of the cold, but suddenly stopped short. No way to find out for sure. But what if there was? What if she could know, at last, the truth of the matter? Because there was a way. There was one thing she could do.
Taking a deep breath, Sarah glanced around at the deserted street. There was no one around to witness what would, or would not, happen. No one to drag her off to an asylum if nothing happened, or to spread the word if something did. Still, Sarah hesitated; was she ready to see him again? And, if he wasn't real...was she ready to have her fantasies crushed?
I'm not afraid of you, she thought resolutely. She needed to know; if she knew for sure, one way or the other, she would be able to move on.
'I wish...' she stopped, breathing deeply, and then began again.
'I wish I could talk to the Goblin King right now.'