"I can't believe they beat us again," Sarah sighed, flicking off the television. This would mean that the Canadians were tied in first place for gold. It wasn't that she didn't like Canadians; it was just annoying that she had to be American when Canadians were just so much more awesome.
"What was that, Love?" asked a soft voice from behind her, and she sighed.
"Not in the mood, Jareth. Canada keeps beating us."
"Well, of course they do. Canadians are far superior to Americans in every way," he told her, as if this should be obvious.
"Oh yeah? Then how come we're still in first place?"
"Things are not always as they seem," he said, rounding the sofa. "And besides, we all know that it is the number of gold medals that matters. Why should anyone care which country can win second and third place? It is first place—gold—that is important." He sat down at her side, far too close for comfort. Sarah inched away, muttering murderously about polar bears and glitter.
"Anyway, what are you doing here?"
"I have come to bring you Underground," he told her, and politely ignored the spluttering that followed.
"Excuse me? I don't remember agreeing to come with you. Or do you faerie boys not understand that no means no?"
"Alas, my love," he replied, "I am not going to keep you Underground; not this time, anyway. Although you are free to stay, if you like," he added, leering at her.
"Thanks," she told him, "but no thanks."
He sighed. "Well, at any rate, you only really have to stay for two days. Just for the competition.'
"What are you talking about?"
"What, did you think that mortals were the only ones who held sports competitions? On the contrary; after all, the Olympian gods were the ones who invented the Olympics."
"Okay, what? You're saying that you want me to come Underground to watch the Faerie Olympics?"
"Of course not," Jareth answered smoothly. "I want you to come Underground to compete in the Faerie Olympics."
For a long moment there was silence.
"I don't understand," Sarah finally said in a strangled voice. "Why would I compete? I'm human."
"One of the games, my dear," he told her, "is running my Labyrinth."
"You're kidding. You want me to run that thing again? Wasn't once enough?"
"Come on, you know you enjoyed it."
Okay, so maybe it had been fun. And maybe the prospect of visiting the Underground again was...a little appealing. Especially since this would be a public event, so it wasn't as though she'd be alone with Jareth. He had been visiting her at least weekly since she had run the Labyrinth, but she had never been back Underground.
"Just two days, Precious," he said beseechingly. "Less; I'll have you home by tomorrow evening."
She hesitated. "And I'll be representing your kingdom?"
"And you promise to bring me back tomorrow night?"
"I want you to say it in clear English," she insisted. "What's said is said,"
He sighed. "You are so very untrusting. I, King Jareth of the Goblin City, swear by the name of Anu to bring you back to this very room before the moon sets tomorrow night. Unless, of course, you decide that you want to stay."
"Unless I tell you that I want to stay, Sarah amended.
"Very well," he consented with a sigh. "So do we have an accord?"
"...Yes," Sarah agreed, holding out her hand. Instead of shaking, Jareth lifted it to his lips and pressed a kiss to each finger. Sarah sat immobilized, a warm tingling spreading down her arm to the rest of her body. Gently, he slid the tip of her little finger between his soft lips, and she lost all sense of time and space until he dropped her hand and stood.
"Shall we go?" he asked, a satisfied smirk across his face.
"I—um—I mean—yeah," she stuttered, her fingers twisting together against her will. "Just let me get a few things and—"
"You will be provided with everything you need," he assured her, and before she could protest he pulled her to her feet, held her close and disappeared, pulling her through the fabric of the worlds.
It was disconcerting. Somehow she remembered travelling to and from Faerie as having been smooth, but this squeezed the breath from her lungs, tore at her insides and wrenched at her mind. When it finally ended, just moment later, she found herself clutching Jareth, her face pressed to the hard muscles of his chest, her fingers digging into his shirt.
"Are you all right, Dearest?" he asked tenderly, all traces of mockery gone from his voice. Gently, he slid his hands in comforting circles across her back.
"Yeah," she told him. "I just... Wasn't it easier last time?"
"As mortals grow older it gets harder," he explained, letting her go when she pulled away, but keeping his hands gently on her shoulders.
"You mean...it'll just keep getting harder and harder?"
He smiled, not his usual smirk but a genuine, happy smile, and she realized that her question had implied that she wanted to keep coming back.
"That depends. If you only come once every few years, then yes...but the more often you come the easier it will get." He was staring into her eyes, untold emotion streaming between them. Their faces were very close together, and for a long moment she thought that he would kiss her. For an agonising second she tried to decide whether to pull away or not, tried to figure out what she wanted...and then Jareth stepped back, his face blank once more.
"Come, I must tell you about the competition."
She blinked, flustered, and nodded, looking around the room to avoid meeting his eye. It was quite large, but there was no one else around. It seemed to be a throne room, but was nothing like the grungy chicken-infested room she'd seen last time. This one was richly and beautifully furnished, with two magnificent thrones at the far end, one gold and the other silver. She wondered why he needed two.
"It is for my queen," Jareth told her, in response to her unspoken question, "when she finally claims it."
Sarah swallowed, her throat dry.
She had been here all of five minutes, and had already been overwhelmed twice. Brilliant.
"Um...so about the competition?" she asked, turning away from the thrones and trying to forget about them.
"Of course. Come with me."
He led her out of the room, into a wide hall, and to an enormous window at its end, and Sarah gasped out loud at the view it offered.
It was the Labyrinth, seen from above, an intricate and beautiful maze of glittering stone walls and hedges. What really caught her wonder, though, was that it was all a pure, glimmering white, the light sparkling off of the snow that covered it.
"Beautiful, is it not?" Jareth sighed, staring out at his realm.
"Yes..." she answered, and suddenly wished that she had returned earlier. What had she been afraid of? She had understood years ago that Jareth wouldn't actually hurt her.
"You will have thirteen hours with which to solve the Labyrinth," Jareth told her, and she could hear the smile in his voice. "Those who do not finish in time are disqualified, and whoever finishes first wins. Each of the participating kingdoms has one contestant."
"Okay," she replied, and turned to smile at him. "Sounds like a piece of cake."
He laughed softly, his eyes warm, and she wondered how long Nice Jareth would hang around before Sarcastic Jareth came back. Not that Sarcastic Jareth couldn't be fun sometimes...but on the whole, she liked being around Nice Jareth better.
"Will I get to meet the other contestants?"
"Yes; that is why I brought you here now, instead of waiting for tomorrow when the game starts. There is a ball tonight, and all of the contestants will be there."
"What?" Sarah cried, "a ball? You didn't tell me that! What am I supposed to wear? I don't have any make-up, either, and I didn't even bring a hairbrush!"
"Calm down," Jareth said, sounding highly amused. "I have plenty of attendants to take care of all that: you just need to relax. And do try your hardest to intimidate the other contestants, won't you?"
"I'll do my best," she promised, but was beginning to have second thoughts. What if she made a fool of herself tonight? What if she embarrassed Jareth? What if tomorrow she lost?
"Now you had better go and get ready, the dance will start soon. I will show you to your chambers," Jareth said, offering her his arm.
They didn't walk for long, but Sarah stared around, marvelling at everything she saw. Why had she been depriving herself of this?
"Here we are," Jareth said, coming to a stop before a magnificent black and silver door. "Put your hand here," he told her, pointing, "and it will open."
"I'm assuming that only works for me?" she asked nervously, following his instructions.
"Some servants have a key, but they will only work with your permission. If someone knocks, call out to allow them to enter. The door will only open at a touch for you...and me, of course," he added, and Sarah groaned internally.
"Okay. Thanks. Is there any heavy furniture I could drag in front of it, do you think?"
He laughed, and pushed past her into the room. "Come, I want to show you something."
The apartment was enormous, furnished and decorated with exquisite care; it looked fit for a queen.
"Through here," Jareth said, leading her through another door into the bedroom. A huge, king-sized bed dominated the center of the room, with a dark blue coverlet, a mound of pillows and a flowing canopy. The walls were wood paneling, and the other furniture was mostly in white and silver, with blue accents.
"Wow," Sarah said. "I'm a girl of simple pleasures; I really can't picture myself in that bed."
"Really?" Jareth replied, smiling devilishly. "I don't have any trouble picturing you in it…"
"Haha, funny," Sarah answered, rolling her eyes. "Now what did you want to show me?"
"Over here," he told her, and led her to the opposite wall, to what she assumed was a closet door. When he turned the handle and swung it open, though, she saw that it wasn't at all; it was the entrance to a darkened hallway.
"And escape-way?" she guessed. "Are you worried that the other contestants are gonna try to bump me off?"
He smiled. "There is another exit, in case of attack, but this isn't it. This is the private passageway connecting your room…with mine."
Sarah stared at him for a long moment.
"You've. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me."
"Not at all," he responded, smirking in the face of her deadpan glare. "I'll leave you to get ready, then," he added, stepping into the passageway and closing the door behind him.
Hours later, Sarah was finally ready for the ball. Her attendants had arrived just in time to prevent her from rushing after Jareth and committing regicide, and now that her anger had faded she had decided that that was probably a good thing; after all, if she killed him she probably wouldn't be allowed to participate in the Olympics, which she was starting to get pretty excited about.
In fact, Jareth's unlimited access to her bedroom had been completely driven from her mind as a flock of faerie ladies-in-waiting had bathed her, washed, conditioned, combed, dried and done her hair, done her make-up and forced her into a dress.
"You look exquisite, Your Grace," one of them told her as the paraded her before a mirror. Sarah had tried to get them not to call her that, but they wouldn't listen, and she wondered exactly who Jareth had told them she was to deserve such a title.
"Thank you," she replied, examining herself in the mirror, and silently agreeing that they had done a decent job; exquisite wasn't the word she would have chosen, but she did look nice. Her hair had been pulled up and elaborately curled, with just a few tendrils framing her face, and she had been laced into a beautiful deep blue dress, floor-length with a corset and a full skirt. On Earth she had stopped wearing costumes and accepted the fact that the fairytale clothes she so loved just weren't practical or acceptable in her world, but there was still a deep part of her that leaped in joy at the sight of the medieval gown. Nor was this an innocent, ridiculously poofy princess dress like the last one Jareth had given her; this was a dress for a woman, not a girl. The bodice was embroidered with black and silver roses, and both the skirt and the sleeves were edged in black ribbon.
Really the only problem was the corset; she had always wanted to wear one, but now that she got the chance she suddenly understood the fuss that was always made about them in movies: it made it slightly difficult to move...or breathe...
Before she could examine her reflection any further, a knock came at her door.
"Who is it?" she called, a little breathlessly.
"It is I," replied a voice that was easily recognisable as Jareth's. "Are you decent?"
"Yes..."she answered, "but don't come—" Before she could finish the command, she heard the front door open and within moments he had joined them in her dressing room.
"You are beautiful, my dear," he told her, smiling warmly in the face of her glare.
"Yeah, and you're a perv," she told him. "I want a different room. One without a secret passage. I did not sign on for this." Even as she spoke, though, she couldn't help noticing how amazing he looked. His clothing was similar to what he had worn in her peach dream, but instead of being entirely blue it was black with deep blue accents, and she realised with both a sinking feeling and a surge of girlish excitement that they matched.
He smiled in a way that clearly showed how endearing he found her, then nodded a dismissal to the servants and stepped forward, winding his arm around hers.
"Come now, Precious, we do not want to be late."
"Am I supposed to be your date or something?"
"No; you are my champion, and I am escorting you to the ball." Before she could protest he dragged her off, out of her rooms, through the halls and to an alcove before a curtained doorway, with servants on either side.
"When they announce us we will go through the curtains and down the stairs, into the ballroom," he told her.
"Okay," Sarah answered, "but what—"
At that moment, though, a loud voice called, "King Jareth and Lady Sarah, Champion of the Goblin City," and Jareth tightened his grip on her arm and pulled her through.
The sight was spectacular. On the floor below, countless faeries and other magical beings flocked about, eating, talking or dancing. Long tables lined the far wall, heavy with food and drink, and everything was lit by the soft glow of thousands of candles. Everything was decorated in black and silver, and everything shone with a surreal light.
"This is...spectacular," she whispered, unsure if she was talking to herself or to Jareth.
"This is the least of what my world has to offer, Dearest," he murmured back as they descended the enormous staircase.
Once they reached the floor, they walked a short way down a glimmering black carpet before being immersed in the crowd. Sarah wanted to look around, to take everything in, but forced herself to just keep looking ahead; she had to make a good impression and look like she belonged there, not act like a confused little girl.
"So, Jareth, this is your champion," someone said, and they both turned. Sarah suddenly realized that her arm was still wrapped around Jareth's and withdrew it quickly.
"Yes, this is Lady Sarah," Jareth replied. "My lady, my I present King Midir of Brí Léith and his queen, Lady Etain."
"A pleasure, Lady Sarah," Midir said, bowing slightly, and Sarah quickly curtsied, wishing that Jareth had given her a lesson in Faerie manners. The faerie before her was tall, with curly golden hair and bright, warm green eyes. Queen Étain was as thin and graceful as a butterfly, with long blond hair and light blue eyes, and although she was as beautiful as a faerie, Sarah was surprised to see that she was actually human. She could also all but feel the love and adoration that flowed between Midir and his wife. The air was thick with it.
So Étain was a human woman...and Midir was a faerie king...and they were obviously in love, and together, and she was a queen... Sarah was suddenly very aware of Jareth standing beside her.
"Is your kingdom participating in the games?" she blurted out to distract her wandering mind.
"Of course," Midir replied. "My runner is here somewhere, should you care to meet him."
"Yes, I'd like that," Sarah answered, feeling more and more like she was floundering out of her depth. Certainly, it was wonderful to be back in a world of magic...but she did want to know what she was going to be up against.
"I will bring him to meet you, later," Midir assured her, and the couple moved off.
"Well, this is fun," Sarah said to Jareth after a few seconds. "Is any of the food over there drugged?"
"I certainly hope not," Jareth told her, "since all of my guests are eating it. Are you hungry?"
"Yeah, I'm going to go get something to eat. See you later." She slipped off through the crowd before he could stop her.
There was so much food and it all looked so delicious that she hardly knew what to try first, but everything she did try was amazing. Not wanting to overeat, though, she eventually filled a goblet with some dark red liquid and turned back to look out over the crowd.
"Lady Sarah," a female voice said, and she turned, startled to see a tall faerie woman with long dark hair and eyes so brown they were almost black, who was dressed in a black dress which looked more like something a warrior maiden would wear than something a lady would wear to a ball.
"Yes," Sarah answered. "And...to whom am I speaking?"
"I am Lady Agrona," the woman said, her mouth smiling but her eyes cold pits of darkness. "I believe that we will be competing tomorrow."
"Oh...you're running the Labyrinth, then," Sarah said, suddenly noticing the lean muscles that stretched across Agrona's arms and the knives discreetly concealed about her person. She certainly looked like someone who could complete the Labyrinth.
"Why yes, I am. I was so looking forward to meeting you. When I heard that King Jareth had chosen a human runner, I was so curious why. After all, fae are stronger, and faster, and we can use magic, of course. I was certain there had to be something very special about you to make him make such a...daring...choice." Lady Agrona's eyes raked over Sarah, clearly stating that she had been disappointed.
"Well, I guess we'll find out tomorrow, won't we?" Sarah replied bravely, trying to conceal her anger. "And who will you be representing?" She remembered that Midir had called his runner him...so who was this woman, and where did she come from?
Agrona ignored Sarah's question, though, her eyes focusing on something behind her, and a moment later she felt Jareth's hand on her shoulder.
"Lady Agrona," he said politely as she curtsied. "I see you have already met my lady."
"Yes, we were just discussing the competition tomorrow," Agrona answered. Her voice had changed, though; instead of being mocking and threatening, it was a low purr, and she smiled up at Jareth past blood-red lips. Sarah frowned.
"Yes, it was delightful to meet another competitor," she said. "And best of luck tomorrow, of course. I do feel as though I should warn you—strength and speed and magic alone won't get anyone though the Labyrinth. You need to be smart. And sometimes even subtle," she added, and then turned to face Jareth, stepping between him and the other woman. "My lord, I tire of just watching the festivities. Won't you ask me to dance?"
"Of course," Jareth replied, looking surprised, delighted and highly amused. Taking her arm, he nodded to Agrona and led Sarah towards the dance floor before she had a chance to regret her actions.
"That was unexpected," Jareth commented as he pulled her into his arms. "I thought that I would have to bribe and blackmail you to get you to dance with me."
"Don't flatter yourself," she told him, trying to follow the steps of whatever archaic dance her was leading her in. "Lady Agrona was being a bitch, and I needed an excuse to stop talking with her."
"And to put her down at the same time," he added, sounding amused again. "And stop doing that."
"Trying to guess where I am going to step. Just let me lead.'
"Listen, it's not my fault I don't know the dance," she muttered. Probably asking him to dance had been a terrible idea; he would never let her forget it. On the other hand...it was very nice. Sweeping across the dance floor, in the beautiful dress, in the arms of a king... she felt like a character in a fantasy story, a fairy tale.
There's nothing wrong with dancing with him, she told herself firmly. And there's nothing wrong with enjoying it, either. He's a faerie king, for god's sake. And he's a very good dancer. There's NOTHING wrong with this...
"Sarah, relax your muscles, and let our energies merge together, let your movements be one with mine. Do not think, just move, just give in to the pulse of the music, just let your body flow with mine..."
Sarah swallowed, trying to obey his instructions.
Was he making it sound so sexual on purpose?
"So, uh, whose runner was that, anyway? She seemed...adequate."
"She is very adequate," Jareth sighed. "Even if you do not win the competition, Sarah, please beat her, at least. She represents a very powerful king named Finvarra."
"Your arch enemy?" Sarah guessed, and Jareth laughed.
"Worse; my best friend."
Sarah smiled. "Okay, I'll do my best."
"I do believe in you," he answered, leaning down to whisper it in her ear, and it took all of her will power not to shiver at the feel of his breath in her hair.
On second thought, maybe there was something wrong with this...
"Worry about it in the morning," Jareth said, and she wondered if he was talking about the competition, or responding to her silent trepidation. Either way, she decided—just this once—to do as he said, and pushed all of her worries from her mind.
"Relax," he commanded, pulling her gently closer, and she obeyed, giving in to the flow of the music, the dance and his body.
By the time the ball was over, Sarah was tired and giddy, and it was hard to remain upright as her attendants helped her out of the ridiculously complicated dress.
"You do know that zippers would have made that a lot easier," she told them when she had finally donned the nightgown that had been provided for her.
"Of course, my lady," one of them answered. "Will that be all?"
"Not quite," she replied. "This is going to be heavy, so I need you all to help. We have to drag the bed over here, against the door," she told them, tapping the door that led to Jareth's room.
Just because she would dance with him didn't mean she would trust him.
The next morning dawned bright and clear, and Sarah was awaked by Jareth. She felt someone prod her shoulder, and looked up to see him staring down at her, hands on his hips. Not amused.
"Clearly I need to bolt my furniture to the floor when you are around," he said acidly. "Now come on, or you will be late."
"Okay, I'm coming."
"Good." There was silence for a few seconds, and neither of them moved.
"Well?" he finally asked, clearly impatient.
"I am not getting up with you standing there," she told him. "This nighty you gave me is practically see-through."
Jareth sighed, obviously fed up, and left the room.
"I know that you can be nice," she muttered under her breath, once she knew he was out of hearing. "You can be nice, and sweet, and romantic. Why don't you do it more often?"
With a sigh, she got up and changed into an outfit that had been laid out for her, which was much easier to put on than the ball gown, and far more practical to wear. She was starting to get nervous again, and time seemed to be passing so quickly that she wondered if Jareth had reordered it again. It seemed that before she knew it she was outside, on that fateful hill where Jareth had transported her so long ago. Each runner would enter from a different point, so she waited alone, with bated breath, for command to enter, knowing that an enchanted mirror would be trained on her for the next thirteen hours, letting the spectators see everything that was happening.
11 hours, 2 oubliettes, 1 cold and angry Fire Gang, 1 frozen bog, 4 enchanted doors, 3 riddles, 5 talking animals, 1 sleeping dragon, and uncountable wrong turns later...
Sarah finally stumbled up the steps to the Castle beyond the Goblin City. At least there was no army to contend with this time. She pushed open the doors...
...to thunderous applause. The front hall had been transformed and filled with hundreds of staggered seats.
"And our first place winner is..." a loud voice rang out. "Lady Sarah Williams, representing the Goblin City!"
And then Jareth was there, beaming, crowning her with laurel leaves and lifting her hand above her head, his fingers intertwined with hers.
"Are you glad you came?" he asked quietly, and she grinned.
"Yeah, I'm glad I came. That was...a lot more fun than it was last time."
"You don't have to go home," he told her. "You could stay..."
"Thanks Jareth, I appreciate the thought, but I definitely want to get home. However," she added, when he bravely tried not to look too crestfallen, "if it's okay...I would like to visit again, some time."
At her words, Jareth's joyful smile returned, and he bowed over her hand, brushing it with his lips. Behind him, Sarah saw a singed and bedraggled Lady Agrona limping up the steps, and smiled out at the audience.
The other runners arrived, one after another, and the prizes were awarded. Sarah was a little bit displeased that her enormous golden trophy was going to stay on display in Jareth's castle, but was somewhat appeased when he promised that she could come and see it whenever she liked. Besides, it would look a little weird in her living room. So as long as Jareth didn't decide to display it in his bedroom, she would be happy to come and bask in her own success Underground.
Finally, when it was getting very late, she politely reminded Jareth that he had promised to take her home, and although he looked disappointed, he consented, and stopped gloating to his friends to take her hand.
"You are sure, Sarah?" he asked beseechingly one last time, and for a split second she hesitated, but then nodded. He pulled her close, and the next thing she knew they were back in her living room, in front of the television.
He was right; travelling through the worlds did get easier with practice.
"Thanks, Jareth," she said quietly, smiling at him, and he smiled back.
"Remember, dearest...you are always welcome."
"I know." Suddenly exhausted, she sank down onto the sofa. "Hey, now that the Faerie Olympics are done with, I wonder how the human Olympics are doing. I missed a lot of medals..."
"Do not worry, I have been keeping track," Jareth assured her, sitting down beside her and throwing an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. "The Americans haven't won anything, but Canada won four since last night, and has more gold medals than anyone else."
"Stupid, talented Canadians," Sarah sighed, leaning her head against Jareth's shoulder.