Well, I rather fell off the face of the planet, with Real Life business, for the past year and a half. Believe it or not, I still have "Thrice Upon a Time" percolating - but I also wrote the following as a Valentine's Day gift for Pika la Cynique. Said Pika is rockin' the Labyrinth up, down, sideways and crosswise, with fanfic and a webcomic!
Check out her fics here: http:// www. fanfiction. net /u /1268040 /Pika-la-Cynique
and her deviantart work here: http:// pika-la-cynique. deviantart. com/
And to all of those who have read, and reviewed, and kept prodding me for more: thank you a thousand times. I'll try to write some fic this summer, but in the meantime (and always) ... please know how much I appreciate your feedback.
On to the fic!
A brief note: This was meant to be a one-shot, but (surprise, surprise) it rapidly ballooned in size. However, I'm still posting it in one lump - one lump divided into three parts.
Disclaimer: I own nothing of Labyrinth, Jareth, Sarah, and/or anything else belonging to Jim Henson. Gwen, Diana and Sylvie are a composite of some peeps from long ago, perhaps: but any resemblance to anyone in real life is a coincidence.
Rating: T for language here, and Adult Situations ...um, soon. ('Adult-type touching'. Lixxle, baby, I'm looking at you. :)
Shards of a Dream
Looking back at that night, later, Sarah wondered if at any point she could have changed things.
Gwen, Sylvie and Diana had taken a long time to explain the rules, Sarah thought, grinning, but they had never mentioned what to do if lord after gorgeous Fae lord was too busy ogling her cleavage to introduce himself properly.
"Mortal or immortal, men are all the same. Just look at them," Gwen had said. Then she caught Sarah's eye. "And look at you. If you've got it, baby, I say flaunt it!"
"Maybe you should just – I don't know," Sylvie said, anxious. "Tie that glove around your neck, or something. Di, maybe you shouldn't have – I mean, we didn't realize that they'd all be this –"
"Drooling." Diana laughed. "If we weren't all feeling the love, too, Sarah, I'd be jealous."
Sarah adjusted the bodice of her gown, discreetly. Or tried to. There wasn't much fabric with which to be discreet. Diana laughed harder.
The cleavage was all Diana's fault. The bright-faced girl had found a dress, with her, at some random retail outlet, and then had insisted on handing the modestly cut green satin over to her bevy of female relatives. "She's descended from the one of the guys who did the Emperor's New Clothes," Sylvie had explained. "He knocked up the gaol keeper's daughter, before the axe."
Diana had thought that was funny – almost as funny as the look on her new friend's face when she had had it explained to her: the best part of having spells woven into the laces (and Diana had giggled, lacing them) was "all the support of Victoria's Secret, and absolutely none of the expense!"
They had all laughed. Gwen had come late, and had to have it explained – but she pushed them to new heights of hilarity when she demanded the same spells for her dress. "Friends don't let friends go commando," she had said, deadpan, "at least, not by themselves."
When it came to those explanations, though, Gwen had done an excellent job. As they had walked up the gravel path to the immense castle – Sarah's heart had been pounding – she had kept up the steady stream of serious talk.
"Remember, don't eat anything, don't drink anything, and for the love of all the powers, don't go away with anyone. If you stay by us, you should be fine, but just in case, run any lordling by us first, OK? Or lady. Oh, don't look at me like that!" Gwen grinned. "If you had wanted to be bored, you could have gone to the library ice cream social."
Sylvie had started the whole thing, by inviting Sarah to the ball. They had met in a production of, predictably enough, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Sylvie had danced the part of a wood nymph, graceful and increasingly curious about Sarah, who was stuck playing Mustardseed.
It was only after a few miscommunications that Sarah realized the truth: Sylvie was a wood nymph for real. A sylph, technically. And her friends Gwen and Diana were respectively the daughter of a Selkie ("she left me with my Da, the silly bint"), and an elf.
And all of the wary glances thrown Sarah's way in high school, and through college so far – all of the loneliness and sighing on her own part – suddenly made sense.
"Love, the magic you're putting out would put 'em all off," Gwen had explained.
Sarah had told them all about her loneliness, and her sadness, and they had nodded judiciously. Still, as Sylvie had gently said, all the sorrow in the world didn't excuse her reams of shitty emo poetry.
At the ball, they had crowded into a corner to watch the higher-ranking attendees glide down the stairs. It was like the Oscars, the Emmys, and the prom, all rolled into one – and even if Gwen hadn't been warning her nonstop, Sarah would have been too excited to eat a single bite. She clutched at the damp lace glove in her hand. Sylvie had explained the custom, and had given them all a spare, so they wouldn't get tricked.
"If there's only one favor involved – a ring, or a kerchief, or a Gucci handbag, or whatever – well that's a kind of "Mine, so don't touch" mark – so you can look, but can't ask them to dance or anything. Unless the giver says you can." Her friend's voice had been judicious. "But if each of them has a favor, then they're mates, so don't go there. Don't even give them a second look, if you want to keep your eyes in your head."
Sarah had wondered if her friend was pulling her leg, but Sylvie looked serious. "Just keep that glove close, and obvious. Nobody will know that you don't belong to anyone, and they'll be careful around you."
"Thanks, Mom," Diana sighed.
Sylvie had glared – "You're not helping!" – and Diana had said, exasperated, "For crying out loud, it's just a game!" – and Gwen had stepped in to make peace, as usual.
"It is kind of a game, but serious at the same time." She squeezed Sarah's hand, reassuring. "Like a lot of stuff here. Just stay close, and let us know about anything freaky, and you'll be fine. And oh my god, Perfect Parsifal finally gave it up to the Lady of the Lake – check it out!" She wolf-whistled.
Diana had looked, and then snickered, "Is that – kelp?"
"At least she didn't give him Nessie on a leash."
Her friends pointed out favors to Sarah. Matching the honoree to those honoring formed half the fun of watching lords and ladies pour into the ballroom, shining with magic, leaving her breathless at their beauty.
The last of those staring at her cleavage only left off when the highest ranks had finished their stately march. Trumpets sounded, and all eyes turned to a tall, dark-haired lord, dressed in darkest purple. He held up a hand in greeting and walked slowly down the steps.
"The King!" Gwen bellowed, "All hail!"
"Hail!" her friends chorused. The noise had reached a fever pitch.
"Damn, look at those shoulder pads," Diana said, standing on tiptoe.
Sarah was taller; she looked over her friend's head. "Where's the Queen?"
Sylvie shrugged. "She's not usually bothered with this business – I mean, if my King jumped anything with two feet and a pulse, I'd chuck him and his favor, too –"
"Don't forget the centaur," Gwen said, winking.
Sarah blushed, "Geez –"… but then her eyes caught a flicker.
There, in the King's wake, she saw Jareth.
Sarah held her breath. The Goblin King had paused at the top of the stairs, then started to lope down them – but her eyes watered, and somehow hurt at the sight of his feather cape flickering – at him, almost fading in and out of sight – what –
"Hey." She tapped Gwen's shoulder. "Who's that?"
Even though I know already –
"The King, stupid," Diana said.
"No," Sarah said, stung. "I mean the guy in back of him."
"Last person out is the most powerful, Sarah; how many times do I have to tell you?" Gwen said. "His Majesty looks well – wait – where are you –"
For Sarah had darted away.
Her blood was pounding in her ears – it felt as though she were being swept somewhere, or flying down a zip line. Jareth, her mind chanted, Jareth, Goblin King – I'm here, I'm back, and I didn't need you to get back, and – want to dance with me?
She bit back a breathless laugh. Everything's turning up Sarah, she thought – new friends, and a party that beats any other Valentine's Day shindig hollow, and I might as well ask him, even though he had been the villain of her piece. The memory had never left her, of their dance, even though it had the pulsing quality of a fever dream. But she remembered the expression in his eyes, and his singing to her …
When she had told her friends that something not-quite-human had given her a song, they had exchanged long looks, and nodded. "That would be enough," Gwen had said, wisely, and "What did it look like, exactly?" asked Diana, who had a sketchbook.
Sarah had not described Jareth in too much detail. Somehow, she wanted to keep one secret to herself – now that the big one was out. Hi, Goblin King, she practiced, in her mind, and Turns out your song made me magic – awkward. Or maybe, I found my way here – want to dance with me?
She had not expected it to be difficult to find him, but it was.
He was lurking in a corner beneath the stair, arms crossed – that strange, flickering light – or non-light – surrounding him. She shook off a sudden qualm. Go for it.
"Goblin King, Goblin King …"
It was hilarious – he almost jumped, whirling where he stood.
Sarah laughed, giddy, despite herself. "Jareth – it's me!"
She expected him to stare, brow furrowed. He did, and then his eyes widened in recognition.
But she had not expected him to hiss, in that voice she had never forgotten, "Leave."
Events were fragmented, flashes in her memory, but she could see the fault lines – where they might fit together.
She hadn't left, of course. Instead, she narrowed her eyes, and strongly resisted the urge to stick out her tongue at him. "Yeah, nice to see you, too."
"Is it?" The Goblin King raised a hand and twisted his fingers –
Sarah shook her head, hard, fighting off a wave of dizziness. "Ow – what the hell?" She began to glare at him, but stopped – because his image was blurring and clearing, blurring and clearing with her pulse, almost –
"What – hey!" she snapped. "Whatever magic that is, stop it!"
The strange pulsing stopped; and the Jareth remained there, staring at her.
Sarah glowered back at him.
"How …" he began. Then his lips pressed into a thin line.
"'How,' what? How are you? How have you been?" Sarah said. "How now, brown owl?"
"Barn owl," the Goblin King murmured, and – so quietly, that she could hardly hear, "It really is you."
"Sarah Williams, in the flesh." She grinned.
He did not smile back. Instead, he tilted his head high, regal. "And what do you do here, in the flesh, Sarah Williams? Why have you come to this place?"
And whose fault had it been, anyway? Not her friends, who had only meant well. Not the worlds of Over and Underground, who had no hand in time's unfolding.
The whole story crowded onto the tip of her tongue, but – play it cool, her mind said, excitedly. It's him, it's really him, and he's gorgeous–
Well, maybe he was wrapped in a veil of flickering light and non-light that made her squint, but gorgeous anyway.
"Why?" Sarah shrugged. "Change of scene. Nice party. That, and I thought I'd ask you to dance with me."
"You came all this way," Jareth said, softly, "all these many hours, and miles, and kingdoms and worlds – to ask me for dance?"
His words lingered on the air.
"And what if I did?" Sarah refused to back down.
"You might have saved yourself the trouble of such travel. You only ever needed to wish."
"Yeah, but I learned my lesson about wishing a long time ago. So," Sarah tipped up her chin. "Surprised?"
Finally, the Goblin King smiled. He had done so in a ballroom, long ago …
But he hadn't smiled like that.
Most days, she was split between blaming herself, for not knowing the rules, and blaming him, for being who – or what – he was.
"You are quite sure you wish to dance, Lady Williams?"
The Goblin King sounded genuinely curious, but ... Sarah squinted. Shadows lay oddly on his skin, skewing away and wrapping closer at the same time. The way they fell on his cloak almost made the feathers writhe, and the way they pooled and dripped to the floor made her feel queasy – and that was no way to feel, on the verge of a dreamed-of dance …
"It's Sarah, and yeah, I'm sure. Just drop whatever that is that's making you go all melty."
"What, this?" Jareth flicked a feather from his cloak; something crackled through the air –
And there he was. Her breath left her in a whoosh.
Whatever magic had shrouded him was gone. The feather cloak was the same – she remembered it, from their confrontation in the topsy-turvy remains of the Escher Room. The hatchet face was the same, gaunt and pale as ivory, though made weird by the flashes of color sweeping up alongside the hawk nose, and over the hooded eyes. And the way those eyes watched her ...
There was the Goblin King she remembered.
In the darkest hours, she was honest with herself. Was anyone to blame? Was it somehow a fault – to crave, to want, to be in thrall to the whisper of a voice and the brush of feathered cloak? …
"Sarah," he drawled, "what, exactly, is so interesting, that you should stare so?"
"You." Sarah refused to feel self-conscious. "You clean up nice."
"I might say the same of you. It has been quite some time, since we last met, has it not?" The Goblin King's eyes traveled from the silver combs in her hair to the silver slippers on her feet, but then flicked back up to her chest. He raised an eyebrow. "My, how you've grown."
Sarah felt herself flush, and then met his sardonic stare with defiance. "Good to know my friends had it right: mortal or immortal, men are all the same."
He bared his teeth in another … smile? Whatever it was, her skin prickled as it flashed. "Surely not all men here are the same, Sarah – after all, one has been so fortunate as to bestow his favor upon you."
"What, this?" She pulled out the glove, from where most of it was stuffed up her sleeve. "This is nothing."
"Poor man, mortal or immortal, to be made so insignificant." The smile had gone; Jareth's face was schooled into bland politeness.
"No, I mean it really is nothing – it's a fake." She wadded up the glove and tossed it at him. "We got a pack of them at the costume shop, for two ninety-nine."
Unfolding the cheap lace carefully, the Goblin King said, "'We'?"
"My friends and I. You can meet them after we dance."
"Perhaps we had best not." Jareth looked at her, eyes half shut. "For I am not sure you know the significance of a dance, here, Sarah."
"Excuse me, but I am sure that I do. It's whatever you make of it. I don't have a date, and I'm definitely not tied by favor, so it's just for fun. And my friends explained all the rules. Believe it or not, Jareth," and she put her hands on her hips, "even in scary Fairyland, you're allowed to have fun."
"True enough." His expression was still neutral. "I meant, though, that you do not know the significance of a dance with me."
Sarah gave him a challenging grin. "Sorry to burst your bubble, but you don't scare me, Goblin King."
He gazed at her, still impassive, holding her glove in his hand. Sarah remembered something – uh-oh –
"And I want that glove back."
He smiled a faint smile. "You would not give me your favor?"
"No," Sarah said, firmly. "I don't want a Goblin King for a pet."
Jareth heaved a sigh. "Very well." Then he tossed the glove from one hand to another, and – Sarah gasped – the glove spun and whirled, and a tiny white bird flew away on lace wings.
"Oh, wow …" She stared after the bird for a long moment, before turning back to the Goblin King, bright-eyed and beaming, even in the face of his now condescending smile. "That was amazing."
Jareth blinked, his expression changing, but Sarah didn't notice – remembering, instead, that she had come to the corner of the stairwell with a purpose – a dance …
Sarah stuck out a hand. "C'mon."
When the Goblin King did not move from the stairwell, she laughed. "Come on. I took a year of ballroom since we last – met. I won't embarrass you. Or," and she tilted her head, "are you scared?"
"Not I," Jareth murmured, and he took her hand.
Sarah remembered the ballroom, dazzling in marble and gold, and the dancers in velvet and gossamer whirling round. Last in line, she had walked into a place of illusion and pretense – and she had been warned.
"You dance well."
"Told you so, didn't I?"
"So. Do you come here often?"
"Anybody special here, for you?"
"You're not avoiding anyone?"
"Then why would you be wearing some weird invisibility spell?"
"None of your business."
"And now you've clammed up on me. Does one little dance tire you out so much, Goblin King? Make you forget your manners?"
"So, surely, you have about two minutes to recover them, because I'm going to introduce you to my friends."
"My manners are always sufficient to my company."
"Like hell – look, people are staring at you. That's how weird you are."
"They are not people, Sarah."
"You know what I mean –"
"And they're staring at us both."
Her friends had warned her, and had told her the stories: a sip from a bad glass, or a glance in a worse - – the smallest favor taken unawares – and body or soul could be lost …
They had never told her a story of someone who lost both.
But, then, she had never asked.
The music lilted to a stop. Sarah curtsied to the Goblin King, noticing, out of the corner of her eye, how wide a space there was around them. Her instincts shivered. Something's wrong …
Setting her jaw, Sarah grabbed his upper arm and strode off the dance floor. To make the introduction, she told herself, ignoring the silence that spread wherever they walked, doing her best to keep from touching the feathered cloak, which smelled strange, and felt even stranger.
No, she had never asked. Instead, she had introduced him to her friends.
And the story was set, from that point on.