The Goblin King was playing with his goblins, dancing around, entertaining himself, his simpleton subjects, and his involuntary guest. His song was a favorite in the small, messy, mock throne room that was designed to direct the runners of the Labyrinth to a particular location.
"I saw my baby, crying hard as babe could cry!" Jareth belted out, his rich baritone lending weight to the rather simple lyrics. "What could I do? My baby's love had gone, and left my baby blue!" He danced around the room, a spin and a quick turn on the point of a slender, knee-high black leather boot. "Nobody knew what kind of magic spell to use."
The goblins cut in at this point, gleefully belting out the lyrics as if they found nothing more thrilling in all the world than playing backup vocalists to their all singing, all dancing monarch. "What kind of magic spell to use - slime and snails or puppy dog tails, thunder or lightning…"
Quite a large volume of singing goblins got flung up into the air like a pile of fuzzy popcorn in a giant air popper. They cheered and yelled as they tumbled and bounced. Jareth took center stage again, his voice ringing out over the cacophony, "And baby said…" He pointed to the child he had been given (not stolen, no matter what she said).
"You know, Jay, if you left out the bit about slapping babies, certain people probably wouldn't worry so much."
The Goblin King slumped. You could practically hear a needle scratching across an old vinyl record as his shoulders sagged. "Toby," he said, in the most thoroughly exasperated tone someone who dealt routinely with goblins could manage, "how often must I explain this? It's hardly an allegory." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "They're goblins, they're not capable of something so complex as 'teach the child to dance, perform magic, read, write, draw, paint, figure, conjure, scry, sing, believe, speak concisely, right from wrong, left from right, and generally how to live, and thus make him free'."
Towering over the child lounging in his throne until the boy finally deigned to remove himself, Jareth added, "And I suspect that any goblin who tried to slap you would shortly find himself in orbit." He remembered the baseball game that had been played just prior to Toby's arrival. "Possibly around another planet," he decided, and sprawled out where the child had so recently been.
"Damn straight!" Toby attested with all the ferocity and dignity that a Kool-aid stained eleven year old boy in a dirty Little League uniform could manage. (This was also known as 'not much', but Jareth wasn't of a mind to point that out at the moment.)
"Oooh!" squealed one of the goblins that was trying to figure out how to polish Toby's filthy white Reebox. "Prince said naughty word! Should tell Lady, I should!"
"You can," came the polite rejoinder, "and then your new address will be in the Bog."
"Excellent," Jareth encouraged. "Though I tend to advise against such large words as 'address'."
Toby nodded thoughtfully. "Speaking of which…" He tried to look innocent and unconcerned, but Jareth had long since cottoned on to this expression and shot him a repressive eyebrow. Toby rolled his eyes as only a child could do (though not quite so well as his sister at that age, but of course girls were always better at that sort of thing). "Well, isn't it about time you checked on her? You know. Just in case."
When he was eight, Toby used to make kiss-kiss faces when he said this sort of thing. Sarah's shrieking and Jareth's suspending him over the Bog for a few minutes had solved the little behavioral problem. Nevertheless, the child was right. Jareth summoned a crystal and vanished off into the Labyrinth.
Toby flung himself back onto Jareth's throne and summoned a crystal of his own to watch the proceedings. If Jareth didn't remember to block him out, anyway, this should be pretty good.
Jareth was glad he remembered to block out Toby's view, because his encounter with Sarah this time was short and not at all sweet. Apparently, she was not in the mood to play with the Fire Gang, because she'd flung them into a fountain that he could swear hadn't been here last time he was.
When he asked about it, the words she flung at him weren't fit for publication. He zapped himself back to the Castle Beyond the Goblin City before Sarah could scorch his pointed royal ears off with her crackling vituperation.
"So, how'd it go?" Toby asked almost as soon as Jareth reappeared. He wondered if she'd managed to leave singe marks on his cloak, given the way her brother's lips were twitching. "Only, your hair's on fire," Toby pointed out.
Jareth swore quietly, then much more loudly when the goblins decided to put him out like a coach in one of Toby's ball games. (They'd emptied the cooler before the end of the game the few times he'd coached Toby's team, but that didn't mean he had ever felt disappointed at avoiding the ritual.) The Goblin King was decidedly not amused when his giggling, chittering subjects dumped a keg of goblin ale over his head. For one thing, it was cold. After that, it just got worse.
Because the ale was eating its way through the leather of his jacket and his breeches, Jareth decided to pop to his room and get cleaned up, before he ended up standing in the throne room naked. He did pause for a moment to consider if supposedly inadvertent nudity would help him at all in the final showdown with Sarah, decided that she was not in any sort of mood that made him willing to place his bits within easy access, and went with his earlier decision.
"Sarah says you're a clothes horse," Toby said when Jareth popped back in, in a new blue doublet and charcoal leggings.
"Yes, thank you," Jareth replied dryly. "Why don't you enlighten me as to other delightful witticisms your sister has neglected to share with me?"
Toby, still sprawled across his throne, gave Jareth a pitying look. "Have you considered just asking the woman?" he finally asked.
Jareth frowned. "Asking... what woman?"
Now, Toby did manage to trump Sarah's eye roll. "I dunno," he exclaimed, jumping up and glaring at Jareth with all the fury an eleven year old could manage. (This was more impressive than his dignity because he had been taking angry-look lessons from Sir Didymus, who would get angry at a changing tide - even if he would make friends with it three minutes later.) "Any other woman you've dragged down here at least once a week for the past ten years or so?"
Jareth straightened himself to his full height, letting every ounce of his bearing remind the child that, for all he was usually Toby's favorite playmate, he was also the adult with charge over him, and a king besides. Toby immediately blew him off as only a child who knows the adults around him are idiots can possibly do.
"Sarah will run the Labyrinth until she can do so without cheating," Jareth said firmly.
"You mean until you win," Toby countered.
"That, too," Jareth shot back.
"She'll never let you win, Jareth, not ever. Not if it means you get to turn me into a goblin and keep me!"
Jareth pinched the bridge of his nose again, then stalked around in an angry circle and finally pitched a goblin who reminded him a lot of the dwarf Hoggle out the window. He felt better then.
Quietly, he began, "When you were four years old, you wished you could 'stay with me forever and ever and never have to see those crazy mommy and daddy people again.' You were in your own bed the next morning, although I admit that Sarah and I had a very long talk about your biological parents. When you were six, Sarah and I spent the night in a hospital waiting room because you were having your appendix removed. When you were seven, I learned to roller skate in order to chaperone one of your school trips. I've played catch, mended boo-boos, fought off monsters under the bed, dried your tears, watched Disney movies. I've taught you everything I know appropriate to your age."
He had been pacing back and forth across the throne room during this rant, and now, he turned and put his hands on the throne to peer deep into the boy's mismatched blue eyes. "Sarah and I have raised you to the best of our abilities, despite the inherent difficulties in the fact that you are not legally our child, and the adversarial nature of our relationship. I could not love you more if I had sired you." He let the sincerity and truth of his emotions show, something he did very rarely, even within the sanctity of the odd relationships he had with the Williams siblings. "I'd sooner abandon everything that I own, everything that I am, than turn you into one of these fuzzy idiots."
The King gave his subjects a fond, apologetic glance, and they all beamed and nodded back at him, as if encouraging him to finish spilling everything to the wished-away Prince who had a good-sized chunk of his heart. "But none of that changes the fact that this was never about you."
Toby got that uncomfortable let-me-out-of-here expression that Jareth remembered from his own distant youth. Parents feeling warm and fuzzy was usually the last thing that an adolescent, even an early adolescent, wanted. "Well, don't tell me, tell her!" Toby insisted.
Jareth threw back his head and laughed to break his tension. "Child, do you think she doesn't know?"
It was Toby's turn to pace and lecture, obviously, because he got up, gestured Jareth back to his throne, and started walking back and forth. Jareth forced himself not to laugh at the very image of himself at that age. He did flick a crystal at Toby and redressed the boy in his preferred style. The Goblin Prince didn't notice.
"Look, Sarah's told me the whole story, about how she wished me away and won me back, and how you came back a week later, saying she had help from the Labyrinth Gatekeeper and therefore her victory didn't count and she had to do it again. She also said she was terrified and furious every time it happened, which she says wasn't really fifty times that first year." Toby made an expression that was a particularly insulting imitation of Sarah's most optimistic moments. Jareth frowned. He liked when Sarah was optimistic. She didn't notice the goblin (or Goblin King) created disasters so much.
Toby scoffed. "Says she figured it out because of the cookies, whatever that means; I was afraid to ask. Some times she's a little dramatic."
"She can be... difficult," Jareth allowed. It was a very strange conversation, this one, if Jareth felt compelled to defend even the most emotionally confused aspects of Sarah's personality.
The boy shrugged and continued to monologue as if the King was required to listen to him. Jareth guessed he'd been bottling all this up for a long time. "It's been about fifty times every year since, Jareth. I can't imagine how you keep making up rules to claim she broke, any more than I can imagine how she keeps thinking up ways to make sure you can find a rule she broke."
Toby waited, as if letting that last sank in. Wait... Sarah had been... "What?" Jareth said.
Toby grinned, briefly, then shook his head. "It's getting old," he said. His voice became a splendid mockery of Sarah's 'be a grown-up about this' voice. "You're both adults, and I think it's time you discussed this like adults. You love her, she loves you, I love you both, no one wants to leave anyone. There doesn't have to be a problem here..."
"But..." Jareth said.
Toby rolled his eyes. "You called her down last time for whistling off key," he said.
"Yes, I did," Jareth agreed, shivering at the very memory. "It was a crime against the auditory."
"Sarah never whistles," Toby said.
Jareth thought about that and his eyes got suddenly wide. Sarah had a perfectly lovely singing voice, and never whistled because it looked silly, she said. On her, it did, because she was always trying to correct for her bad tone by moving her mouth into ridiculous shapes.
Heaven help him, but he loved her more than flight and magic.
Last week, he'd brought her back for singing off key. His lovely Sarah had to have done it deliberately. She even managed unrehearsed duets with him from time to time without ever missing a note. She was doing it on purpose. No matter what she had to do to get it, she wanted to spend time with him, and not just because of her little brother.
She wanted to be with him.
The rain of ecstatic crystals falling down in the throne room banished everyone in it to some place more convenient to the Goblin King. For the goblins, much to their rare fortune, this meant being sent to the brew house with their mugs empty and the ale just waiting for them. For Toby, much to his equally rare misfortune, this meant finding himself in the presence of his math tutor who had, inexplicably, managed to acquire the entire list of his homework for the evening.
The tall halfling handed the changeling Prince the list and smiled a maliciously benign smile. "Shall we begin?"
Sarah sighed and shoved her hair out of her face. Sometimes she didn't mind this in the slightest. She would slog along for as long as she could muster the patience, make sure she'd done something she shouldn't, and then ask very nicely for the Labyrinth to open her up a passage, go to the Castle, take a bath, freshen up, then sneak downstairs in time to tell Jareth where he could stick himself.
It wasn't that she needed to win, not really. It was just that this had to be the way it was, apparently, because neither she nor Jareth knew how to be any other way. Even if, in telling him he had no power over her, she was lying, there just didn't seem to be any choice.
She did fear him, in the older definition of the word, anyway, honoring him for his strength and his power, and the fact that he was a king. Sometimes she feared that he held her heart in his hands and could smash it with a careless word if he chose. She knew he wouldn't, but it was the simple fact that he could. There was still some of that little girl awe for him in there, too, but it was far eclipsed by the respect of the woman who knew what he'd done to earn her regard and esteem. The list really didn't have an ending, but Sarah sometimes wondered if it had a beginning, either.
She loved him, ever so achingly much, couldn't imagine not loving him. Admittedly, she probably didn't love him the way he expected to be loved when they'd first started on this broken road together, but then she'd not expected to love anyone like this when she was fifteen. The romance novels never said that it wasn't his gorgeous body, it was the way he wore an unexpected t-shirt for a trip to the zoo. They never told you it wasn't the way he looked in the thrilling moonlight, but the way he looked sleeping on your sofa because you yelled at him the night before and he wanted to be there to ask forgiveness as soon as you woke up. It wasn't the glorious power of his rich singing voice, it was the priceless wonder of a simple lullaby at five o'clock in the morning when you'd been up all night sick (and he'd been up all night holding your hair). It wasn't the fantastic gifts all the majesty of a faery king could summon, it was a handful of daffodils at exactly the right time and place.
She even did what he said, heaven help her. He said quit her job, and she did, after yelling at him for half an hour and finally being forced to admit he was right, they were easily replaced, and she didn't need to take risks with her health over a paycheck. He said let him help her and she did, though she tried to protest that she didn't need help, lying almost constantly to do it. He said run the Labyrinth, and here she was, again, and it was, what, the five hundredth time? It was practically a weekly date for them, just what they did. They raised Toby, read books, argued over the dishes, and, nearly every week, they came down to the Underground and pretended to be enemies.
Theirs was a strange and mischievous relationship, and she would never trade it for anything. However, that didn't mean that there weren't points in time that she was ready to scream for normalcy or even abnormality as long as it wasn't... just... stuck like this!
"What?" she grumbled.
"Now, Sarah," Jareth chided in his mild, condescending tone, "is that any way to treat someone who's brought you a present?"
"Unless it's coffee, I don't want it," she complained.
He handed her a steaming cup, made just the way she liked it, fresh from the kitchen at the Castle, where they made it strong enough to suit even Sarah. "My hero," she proclaimed vehemently, and downed the strong, hot brew in only three gulps.
"If I'd known you were this thirsty, my love..."
"Jareth, why are you here?" she interrupted. She looked indignantly at the coffee. "And I swear, if this is the caffeinated equivalent of goblin fruit..."
"It isn't." He held up a hand, balancing a crystal lighter than air on his fingertips. "As I said, I've brought you a gift."
Sarah sighed heavily as her eyes couldn't resist following the diving, sweeping movements of the floating, hovering little ball. "I know, I know. It's a crystal, nothing more, nothing, nothing tra-la-la. And then I say 'It's a piece of cake' and then you say 'right, I'm throwing a tantrum,' and then Hoggle says 'NO, NOT THE BOG!'" Sarah feigned looking all around her, and finally glared back at Jareth. "Only, there seems to be a distinct lack of Hoggle here, and if we're going back to the beginning..."
Jareth stopped the crystal juggling tricks and held it in the palm of his hand. "Sarah," he said, in the exasperated and put-upon tone he normally reserved for goblins trying to think for themselves, or maybe Toby on Christmas morning, "just look into the damn crystal."
Rolling her eyes, as she hadn't done since she was young enough to do that sort of thing and think it was a good idea, Sarah obliged, took the crystal, and peered into it. The hazy, murky depths revealed nothing for a moment, but the fog cleared to reveal... Sarah's eyes widened. She felt liquid heat race through her body, and her face turned crimson.
With a shriek of, "Jareth!" she clutched the crystal, rounding on the Goblin King, hardly able to breathe from the shock. "What is this supposed to be?" she demanded, waving the little bauble in his face.
"Your dreams," Jareth said in a rich, cat-like, seductive purr.
Sarah peeked at the image again, squeaked, and looked determinedly at the Goblin King. "This is not my dream!" she insisted.
Jareth circled her, then wrapped his arms around her waist, peering over her shoulder and (probably not the least bit accidentally) breathing across the sensitive shell of her ear. "Hum. Yes, that would appear to be one of mine." Not even slightly apologetic, he added, "So sorry," and traced his hand up her body, avoiding anything that would get him kicked, and down her arm until he reached the crystal. He touched it lightly with a dark gloved finger, and Sarah could practically feel him smirking as he made a contented noise in her ear when the crystal clouded again.
No power over me, Sarah thought sarcastically. It's a wonder my underwear doesn't burst into flame when I claim that.
The crystal cleared again and another scene appeared, snatching Sarah's breath again, almost making her drop the crystal. "This one is yours," Jareth said, smugly and confidently.
Sarah stared at it, feeling her entire body blush this time. "I feel rather objectified," the Goblin King murmured in a mock scandalized tone. He gave a dark, wicked chuckle. "I'm impressed, Precious."
"Shut up," Sarah demanded, trying to decide whether to die of embarrassment or unresolved sexual tension.
Jareth gave a long-suffering, tired, defeated-sounding sigh. "Why are we doing this, instead of that?" he wondered aloud.
Sarah watched the two of them through the glass, doing things they had never done except, as the crystal showed, in her dreams. And his, apparently. "I don't know," she said finally. "You tell me."
"You're a very stubborn woman," he pointed out.
"I know," Sarah agreed. "I have to be to manage you."
Jareth snickered. "You could be agreeable and compliant, you know."
"Of course I could," Sarah allowed. "And I'd have bored you to tears before we even started this misadventure we call a relationship."
"You know me too well," Jareth admitted.
They stood watching the couple in the crystal for another long moment. "You know, I'm not sure that's even physically possible," Jareth observed idly. "Still, I admit I'm willing to make sacrifices in the pursuit of knowledge."
Dryly but just as idly, Sarah replied, "Any lesson worth learning is worth a few risks. Wrong turns. The odd oubliette."
"And that is a very odd oubliette," Jareth pointed out, gesturing at the crystal. "Forgetting the world around us, I suppose?"
Sarah shrugged. "Suppose," she agreed. After another moment, she offered, tentatively, "You could let me win."
"Of course I could," Jareth agreed amiably. "I could also move the stars, Precious. I've told you about that, long since."
"Just this once?" Sarah wheedled.
Jareth sighed. "For you, I would, you know."
Thoughtfulness lingered. "We could call it a draw," they both said at exactly the same moment.
"What?" they both asked.
There was laughter, the Goblin King and the woman he had always intended to make his queen, hugging each other and nearly falling down with mirth. The crystal that had started this conversation rolled unimpeded across the barren passageway of the Labyrinth until it finally intersected a wall. There, it exploded up a green, glistening sward capped with tiny, nearly transparent flowers.
Those flowers eventually became legend throughout the Underground, given in token of marriage requests and to make peace in marital discord. It was also said that anyone who inhaled the fragrance of the live flowers would be taken with an absolute need for private time with a dearly loved one.
They wouldn't have been particularly needed where they first sprouted, of course, except that they had to sprout in the giggling vicinity of the proverbial immovable object and his deeply beloved impenetrable force. As a result of their natures, even flowers such as these, born of the intense, passionate, and unconsummated love the two shared, had no effect and therefore, no power over them. Their senses of humor, however, had all the power needed.
Some time later, Sarah, still sprawled across Jareth's chest from where she'd pinned him during a gratuitous tickle fight, finally decided to ask a question. "How would that work?"
"What?" Jareth was still contemplating Bogging Sarah's shoe that he'd managed to steal, and was only half attentive to the conversation.
"The decision to call it a draw?" Sarah reminded him.
Jareth tried to find a safe hand hold to shift the woman using him for a mattress. He needed to move her a bit before it became obvious how very much he was enjoying this. He might find the leggings comfortable to wear, but they didn't keep secrets at all well. To distract her, he answered her question. "Simple. If neither you nor I turned up for the final confrontation, it would be an obvious draw."
Sarah's brow knitted in concentration. "On one condition," she said decisively.
"The condition?" Jareth knew far better than to make deals with Sarah without hearing her terms. He'd once had Sarah for chief cook for the best meal his Overlord had ever been served... and then she'd had Jareth for bottle washer.
"It's game over, Jareth. I'm finished being the Runner, and you're finished being the Villain. We're just Sarah and the Goblin King, from now on. No more cowering before you, no more being frightening. No threats, no Bogs, and absolutely no more involuntary dream-walking."
Jareth tilted his head, considering her carefully. "I'll agree with most of that but Sarah..." He lowered his head, for once in his life completely at a loss for what to say at all.
She brushed the back of her hand across his cheek, a brief, gentle, and tellingly intimate gesture, a liberty Jareth would never allow any other. "What is it, Jareth?"
"I'd prefer to be Sarah and Jareth from now on. Titles... we can discuss those some other time."
"Agreed," said Sarah giving him a warm, contented smile he loved to see. "But what happened to the dream crystal?"
"I've no idea," he admitted, and summoned another one.
Sarah turned her head to rest it comfortably next to his, and Jareth held up the crystal for both of them to view. The picture inside was very different this time, though.
It was... everything, everything they had done together over the years, everything Jareth had ever hoped for them for the future. There were wedding dresses, coronations, Sarah's apartment, arguments, dinners, school books, goblins, laughter, tears, days and endless nights. It wasn't anything like mornings of gold and Valentine evenings, but it was that, too, and mornings of sniping and Valentine rainy Thursday afternoons. It was the path between the stars, and the path between the kitchen and the bedroom for a midnight snack. It was love - the real stuff, the kind that actually could be there, even when the world fell down, because that was where it wanted to be always.
"Is this your dream or mine?" Sarah breathed in reverent tones.
"No idea," Jareth admitted, dazed with wonder himself. If ever he intended to make a dream come true, it was this one.
As usual, Sarah took a decisive stance. "Right, then. The starting point is getting this endless Labyrinth running over with."
"We can just keep busy until the thirteen hours have passed," Jareth explained. "We can go help Toby with his homework, or the Goblin Market's open this time of year - though I insist you stay with me. We can repair the mess you made of the hedge maze three visits ago."
Sarah looked thoughtful for a moment, and then she did something Jareth never would have expected. She raised her head and kissed him, a zephyr whispering across his lips.
Shock let the tiny touch continue, but longing soon took control. Jareth rolled Sarah onto her back - in his bed. The ability to teleport while concentrating on other things was the study of lifetimes, but Jareth had had a few of those that were particularly boring. His kiss was meant to sear her soul, to lay it bare. Her sweet, giving, sharing responses burned him, too, leaving him raw and shaking in her arms.
He'd always known they'd share a passion like no other, a beauty unequalled. He had never truly fathomed the depths. There would never be another love for him, never another kiss, never another to hold. There was Sarah, and she eclipsed everything.
"So, you've decided how we'll waste the thirteen hours then?" Sarah asked when they finally broke for air.
She brought one leg up and curled it around his, allowing him to settle comfortably between her thighs. Proximity left nothing to the imagination here, so her question was strictly rhetorical. Never the less, Jareth felt it deserved due consideration. "Maybe we should continue the tradition after all," he suggested. "Thirteen hours spent here seems infinitely preferable to thirteen hours spent anywhere else at all, actually."
Sarah's fingers curled into the back of his hair, tugging lightly, though not enough to truly hurt. Her gaze was firm, the cant of her head resolute as she decided, "I'll just have to keep you distracted."