This fic was won by Hazelwho in the recent Support Stacie Author Auction. It is also a prequel to my previous Labyrinth fic, "Remind Me". There's probably a whole series of these, really.
The Cookie Incident
Jareth, King of the Goblins, towered above Sarah Williams, watching her eyes turn from spring forests to frozen emeralds, watching her face turn crimson. She was utterly enraged and it showed in her bowstring-taut stance and her catching, gasping breath. It was greatly to Jareth's misfortune that he found this exciting instead of off-putting, but then, he found everything about her exciting.
This was the sixth time, over the course of the past year, that he'd stood like this and informed her he'd relocated her brother, Toby, to his Castle. Jareth had discovered, among other charming traits, that the Goblin Queen to be was an abominable cheat. Her first run, for example, she'd bullied, coerced, and threatened the help of the Labyrinth Gatekeeper. Jareth liked to think he had a monopoly on bullying, coercion, and threats, but that was before Sarah came along.
"Graffiti," he said, referring to the endless succession of pencil marks she'd made on the walls last time. "It's cheating."
"You bastard," Sarah hissed at him. "You just had to pick tonight, you complete bastard!"
"No! You did this on purpose!" Her eyes flashed like magic at him, and Jareth was certainly enchanted. "It's my birthday, Goblin King, my sixteenth birthday..."
Jareth arched a bland eyebrow. "Which you planned to spend, I believe, with a single cupcake and a sleeping toddler."
"So what!?" Sarah demanded. "How was that worse than slogging through your stupid maze..."
"Labyrinth," Jareth interrupted concisely.
"Rabbit warren!" she snapped.
Jareth felt thoroughly defeated, suddenly, somewhat more defeated than he usually felt when Sarah reached the Escher Room with hours to spare. "Thirteen hours, Sarah," he said shortly. "Why don't you try for fashionably late, this time?"
He turned himself into an owl and flew away before she could start screeching out further questioning of his parentage. Some days he honestly wondered if Sarah had harpy blood in her.
What she had, actually, was his heart in her pocket, and entirely the wrong idea about all of this. Sarah lived on the premise that the evil Goblin King was after her precious baby brother. It drove Jareth half mad (at least) because all she had to do was make a wish, just one, any one, and she could, as a result, learn the whole truth.
He watched through his crystals as Sarah stomped through a completely new section of the Labyrinth, grumbling all the time and calling him all manner of nonsense under her breath. He chuckled lightly. So many mazes and sections had been designed or redesigned with Sarah in mind, but today's Labyrinth was something truly special.
She was, just today, that very special age that mortal belief had made the most perfect age for a girl. Sixteen had somehow become the fairy tale age of true love and ladies fair, of heroic quests and the pure first kiss. Jareth might not be the lady's handsome prince (kings outranked princes, so there), he might not be her knight in shining armor (that was Sir Didymus), he might not even be the one she sought (not that even Jareth could begrudge Toby his sister's devotion), but he was a very central character in this fairy tale of theirs.
She'd cast him as villain but also dance partner. He could no longer live with the ambiguity, the knowledge that he was both her threat and her promise. He couldn't live within the limited confines of sometimes love and sometimes nightmare. He couldn't live within her.
Sarah needed someone, wanted someone, could grow to love someone. Jareth wanted with all his heart that someone to be him.
He had resolved this very day that that first true kiss was not going to be bestowed anywhere else, and it was not going to wait even one more day longer. Sarah could wander through a Labyrinth that was designed purely to celebrate her, and then she could come to her King and...
Toby gave a high-pitched shriek and tugged hard on Jareth's hair. The King of the Goblins rolled his eyes and turned the crystal around on his palm until it turned into a large, plushy train engine. He didn't even bother trying to disentangle the riot of his long blond tresses until the child had something else to occupy him. It was definitely safer.
The quest was tedious, no doubt, but Jareth had genuinely tried to cheer it up this time. Sarah had started today in the Rose Maze, a million million colors in full bloom. Traversing it to reach the Song Maze was relatively easy, but the Song Maze was the most cunning thing Jareth felt he had ever created - a cultivated fairy forest with only one true path. The way to find the true path was to follow a certain song out of all the cacophony of birds and streams and wind and even trees singing, too. Best of all, the song she had to follow was theirs.
Sarah surprised him here, though, because she seemed to follow the song quite willingly, no hesitation in her even once, not until she reached the very edge of that maze and came to the Coda Bridge. It was identical to the one he used to watch her play upon when she was a child and used to trust him. Sarah considered it from every angle on this side, then considered the narrow black ravine it spanned, and then considered the song.
She was definitely mumbling something about the Bog when she ran as fast as she could across that bridge. Jareth had the distinct feeling that he had been just been threatened with a dunking. It made him laugh with genuine happiness for some reason.
Sarah was definitely about to break her ten hour record, much to Jareth's simultaneous annoyance and delight. He had everything prepared, however. This time would end, not with her usual "No power over me" speech, but with a surprise birthday party. Maybe when she got here, this time, she would finally understand, Jareth thought, as he got Toby changed into an outfit more suitable for a prince to wear to a party.
It was when she came to the castle gate, two mazes later, that it finally happened. "But you won't tell me how to get through?" she demanded of the snickering cherubim that were locked together to seal the gate shut. (They were pearly gates. Sometimes, the Labyrinth had a particularly wicked sense of humor.)
"You could try flattery," the smug little cupid on the right suggested.
"Or riddles," the one on the left offered.
Sarah looked utterly frustrated. Jareth hoped the teasing little twits realized before she unleashed that positively mythic temper of hers on them.
"A goat!" they both exclaimed gleefully.
Sarah looked now like she had steam rolling out her ears.
"Oh, shut up!" Sarah shouted. "I wish, I really, really wish I had the time to go home, bake up enough cookies to bribe everyone in this Labyrinth, and come back without losing a minute, but I..."
She was gone before she even finished her sentence. Jareth stared into the crystal in utter shock.
She was back again before Jareth even had time to reorient the crystal on her home. This time, however, she was carrying a large tray with dozens of little bags on it. She also appeared to be humming. "Cookies," she sing-songed to the little gate guardians, smiling cheerfully and holding out two of the little bags. "Fresh baked chocolate chip," she added sweetly. "They're still a little warm."
"I want a cookie," the Goblin King thought petulantly. He said nothing aloud, however.
"Of course, you'll have to let go of each other to get them, and you'll probably need both hands to open the bags..."
After that, it was all very much a blur. Defeated and dazed, Jareth offered no further resistance, just watched in a sort of mystified shock as Sarah handed out cookies and received hugs and thanks and birthday cards in exchange. There were presents to be unwrapped of course, and Sarah was squealing "Thank you" to someone or another every few breaths. There was cake, and it was very good cake. Jareth had been absolutely adamant about that. It had to be the finest birthday cake the Underground had ever seen.
The Goblins had gotten Sarah a chicken, of course, but she was very gentle when she suggested they keep it for her and let her know from time to time how it was doing. (It was about to become the most spoiled bird in the entirety of Goblin History, Jareth guessed.)
Just before the clock struck thirteen, Sarah finally came toward the throne, where Jareth was watching, bemused, as his entire kingdom celebrated the birthday of his would be Queen. He'd planned the party, sure, and fully intended it to happen, but not like this. In this messy throne room, with only Toby dressed for a birthday party? It was ludicrous.
Sarah was smiling, though, as she approached him, that sweet, wistful, dreamer's smile of hers, the one that he wanted to shelter and hold and savor all his life. It was rare like diamonds in her personality, beautiful and strange, but he loved it. He stood slowly, almost shakily, Toby back in his lap for about the four hundredth time since the party had started. "Give me the child," she said, but there was something almost gentle and apologetic about it as she said it.
"Sarah, I..." Jareth discovered, to his amazement and horror, that he was utterly without words. Helplessly, he held Toby out for her to take him.
Sarah checked the boy over gently, but not with the fervor she usually had, not making sure he had his fingers and toes, just making sure he hadn't eaten enough chocolate to be sick. Her eyes were wide and almost helpless when she said that fateful phrase.
She was gone, and Toby with her, leaving Jareth alone in a rabble and rubbish strewn throne room with an entire Kingdom's worth of goblins high on sugar. He felt like shattering, flying apart.
"Great party, King," one of the goblins shrieked.
They all started cheering. Even Sarah's resentful little friend, Hoggle, was applauding him. Jareth nodded grandly, and gestured the wild rampage to continue.
There was only one thing, though. Well, two. He hadn't gotten to give Sarah her gift, and she didn't give him a cookie. It wasn't fair!
Jareth remembered something about a basis for comparison and grinned wickedly to himself. Of course he had a basis for comparison. He was the Goblin King. Everything was always supposed to be fair to him!
Standing, he summoned two crystals, one to change his clothes, and another to conjure up Sarah's present. Then, in a blinding flash of glitter, he vanished himself to Sarah's world.
"What exactly was all that?" Sarah asked softly, the moment Jareth appeared behind her.
Jareth blinked in surprise. She was standing over Toby's crib, looking down at a newly bathed and now sleeping toddler, and she seemed to be expecting him.
"All what?" he asked warily.
"The new mazes, the gates to heaven, the party?" she suggested. Turning slowly, she at last met his eyes. "The wishing?"
Jareth looked away. He'd wanted her to find out, and now that she had, he found he couldn't explain it to her.
"Jareth," she whispered. It was the first time, ever, that Sarah Williams had so much as breathed his name. He froze, couldn't think. "Jareth, look at me."
Slowly turning his head to meet her forest-green gaze, Jareth found himself full of the wonder of her. He'd expected, always thought, that she would come to him and live her life in his thrall, the perfect example of a king's pretty, distant queen.
Sarah insisted on defying all of that, on defying everything, and him, too, besides. In every respect, she defied expectations, but it was strangely this defiance that meant the most to him. He could respect her and admire her as her own person. She was no mere accouterment of the Crown, but a free creature worthy of anything and everything she might wish for, all within her own right. He loved her more for all of it, loved her more than he ever thought possible. It was Sarah, and her strength of will, that made it real.
Jareth could have had any bride, but only Sarah Williams could he love.
He realized he was smiling only after Sarah very tentatively started to smile back. "You cheated again, my love," he said gently.
"Excuse me!" Sarah snapped, her eyes flashing.
Jareth amazed himself by laughing. He wanted to sweep her up in a hug and dance her around the room, sing her a song about magic and learning to fly. She was a terrible, spoiled, temperamental, willful creature, and she was perfect for him.
He'd been right when he said forever wouldn't be long, not with this one. She glowered at him, hands on her hips, green eyes blazing. And as his laughter continued, she slowly softened, looking amused and amazed at once. Love you, love you, love you so much, he wanted to say.
"Happy birthday, Sarah," he said, instead. He took her arms carefully, and she let him touch her, not even flinching as he bent over her. Her pristine lips beckoned as she tilted her head toward him, like a flower to the kiss of the sun. Jareth cupped her cheek in a leather-clad hand, and stroked a thumb lightly across that pure bud.
"What's all this, then?" came a voice, sounding highly amused, from right behind them.
Jareth had never actually expected that he could dislike Karen Williams any more if he tried. He was, evidently, quite wrong.
Sarah looked like she'd just walked in on a couple of goblins line dancing, her eyes wide and horrified as her father joined his wife, putting the whole Williams family in the nursery with the Goblin King. Jareth was about to stop time and see what he could do about fixing the mess, when little Toby decided it was his turn to save the day at last.
"Jay!" he yelled, gleefully, pulling himself to his feet and holding his arms up for Jareth.
The Goblin King, not seeing any other option, moved to lift the child. Robert Williams was there first. What he said, though... "So you're the mysterious Jay!" he exclaimed in a friendly, boisterous voice. "Toby probably calls you more than me!" He laughed about this and swung Toby up into the air, and Jareth caught himself before he conjured a magic field around the boy to protect him, as he did automatically in the Castle.
Jareth looked at Sarah, who looked back at him, chewing nervously at her lip. He shrugged. She shrugged back. "It's good to meet you at last?" he offered tentatively.
"Oh, you two look so worried," Karen exclaimed with a girlish clap of her hands. "You're absolutely adorable!"
Sarah touched Jareth's hand. He clutched hers in his, and looked down at her. She seemed to be trying to convey a message with her eyes. He wondered if it was anything like the one he was trying to send ("Your parents are obviously enchanted; we should grab the baby and run.").
"Jareth is..." Sarah began. She looked like she didn't know how to continue.
"Sarah's boyfriend," Jareth suggested.
Sarah, rather than throwing one of her epic tantrums or threatening to pull down the Goblin City around his pointed ears, just looked up at him in outright astonishment. "She doesn't look so sure, young man," Robert said, and if Jareth wasn't much mistaken, the mortal was teasing him.
"He's... um... not given me my birthday present," Sarah said, nervously.
"Thatagirl!" Karen encouraged in a tone obviously meant to be playful. "Don't make up your mind 'til you've seen the gift."
Jareth folded the small crystal he'd brought into Sarah's hand, closing her fingers in his hand easily. She was nearly his height, but quite petite, Sarah. A dash of magic willed through the crystal and it changed. "I believe you'd call it a promise," Jareth said softly.
She was too young by mortal rules to betroth, if she was going to stay Aboveground most of the time. As a result, he had no choice but to stick to something simple for this very, very special occasion.
Sarah was staring at the ring in her hand in utter astonishment. Jareth smirked. His definition of simple was apparently enough to send the vociferous girl quite speechless. It was just a tiny crystal, smaller even than the one his porcelain effigy held, spelled palest pink, and set in a thin, platinum band. He didn't want her to lose it, after all.
"Do you approve, Precious?" he asked, very close to her ear this time.
Sarah, to Jareth's utter delight (and secret astonishment), carefully slipped the ring onto the middle finger of her left hand. Jareth lifted the hand lightly and placed a kiss to seal it in place. The girl looked completely poleaxed, only seconds from fainting all together. If she did, he decided, he would never, ever let her live it down.
"It's beautiful," she whispered. "Thank you."
Her parents had snuck out, apparently, and taken Toby with them for once. "I should go," Jareth said. Playfully, he added, "Same time next week?"
"But why didn't they have you arrested?" Sarah asked, looking exactly like she'd snapped out of a spell. "The age gap is just impossible!"
Jareth smirked again. "Your father and mother saw what they expected to see." He toyed artfully with his gloves, determined to make the next statement completely nonchalant. "I'll wear a glamour next time I visit, shall I? Make things more comfortable for you?"
"You probably should," Sarah said, nodding. "And call me crazy, but I'm sure it's not a good idea for my dad to see you with a riding crop, unless he can also see the horse, okay?"
Jareth threw his head back and laughed, unable to help it. "Sarah Williams, I shall love you forever." Then, he tugged her close and finished what he'd started more than once.
He kissed her before she could react, a slow, soft whisper of lips across lips, like wishwork and fairy wings. He lingered there, where he could just taste her, and sweetness, and the promise of something to live forever for. He sipped and teased with his kiss until he felt Sarah truly respond to him, surrender just a little to his touch.
When he pulled back from her, her eyes were dark and a little drunk. It was an image to conjure with, his intended all lost in longing for him. "Walk me to the door?" Jareth suggested lightly.
Sarah nodded slowly, and they made their way down the stairs. "A truce?" she offered at the second floor landing.
"A truce?" he questioned.
"Aboveground, at least."
Jareth nodded. "Very well," he agreed. However, they got to the door and he gently reminded Sarah, "You still have to do the Labyrinth again, my dear."
Sarah looked like mischief personified for just the quickest of glances. Then, she pulled a still, stern mask over her features, so quickly that Jareth later convinced himself he'd never seen the mischief. "What are you going to claim, this time? Bribery by baked goods?"
"Baked goods without sharing with me," he said, as he was reminded.
Sarah did look a little chagrinned at this point. "You didn't get cookies?" she asked.
"No, I did not," he said, with a pout that was only slightly affected.
Sarah reached out and patted his shoulder as if consoling him. "Dad's having some kind of party this weekend, and Toby and I are supposed to be there and presentable and all that. I'll bake you all the cookies you want, if you'll come with me. Since they think you're my boyfriend, now."
"All the cookies I want?" Jareth said.
"Done," Jareth said and lifted her hand to kiss it goodbye.
Sarah opened the door for him, in order to keep up appearances. "I just want you to know you'll be baking cookies until eternity, now," Jareth informed her.
Sarah gave him a real, pretty smile, and a genuine laugh. "It's only forever," she said in a sweet singsong. "Not long at all."
She closed the door behind him and the Goblin King walked a ways down the block before turning to an owl to take himself home. "Perhaps," he mused, as he watched the light go on in Sarah's window, "I should have said 'Not long enough'."