Too Late

Sarah sat on her bed, legs curled beneath her, staring at her wall. All of her toys and childish books had been taken down and either given to Toby or boxed up and put in the attic, and her room felt empty and cold.

Just like her life.

She remembered a time when she had been young and happy and carefree, a little girl with nothing but birthday presents to worry about. That had been a long time ago, and since then there had always been a coldness to her life. Then her mother had left and her father had fallen to alcohol, and Sarah had been left alone.

But she hadn't been alone, not entirely.

Sarah shrieked with laughter, her child's face alight with joy, her small, pink hands clenched in excitement as Jareth taught her how to fly. She hovered only a few feet off the ground, but as small as she was, it seemed like a lot, and thoughts of her parents were completely driven from her mind.

'Let me fall!' she cried, and Jareth waved a hand. Gravity caught up with her and for a split second she plummeted towards the ground, but then Jareth caught her and spun her around. Hair streaming out behind her, Sarah laughed so hard that her cheeks hurt, but it was a good, wholesome pain, not like the hollow pain that she had felt in her chest ever since her mommy left.

'Come on, Sarah,' Jareth said, holding her still now, 'you need to go home, or you'll be late for bed.'

'I don't want to go home! Please, Jareth...don't make me go back.' She pouted as only a child could, her round cheeks still flushed, her wide eyes brimming with tears, and Jareth sighed.

'Don't defy me, now, little one. Your daddy loves you, Sarah. You know that. And everything will get better, I promise it will. Now come on, let's go home. Look how dark it is out!'

Helpless to protest, Sarah let him transport her to her front door and pull it open for her. She rushed inside, eager to get to her room, where she knew he'd be waiting for her. Her father looked up blurry-eyed as she passed, but didn't say anything and she hurried past the scent of whiskey and old tobacco to her matchbox bedroom. She brushed her teeth and washed her face, just like Jareth had taught her, and then curled into bed. As soon as she closed her eyes, she felt Jareth's presence, and relaxed into innocent slumber as he quietly sang her to sleep.

Sarah pushed aside the memory and got to her feet, desperate to do anything to drive away the past. She ran her hand over the books on her bookshelf, searching for something to read, something that would pull her out of her body and let her forget all of her troubled. The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, The Neverending Story...there was only one book she really wanted to read, though. The first book she had ever read, the book that he had given her to help her learn how to read, all those years ago. It was boxed away, though, like all of the toys and figurines that she had begged him to make her of the characters...well, all except for one. The one toy that Sarah had never been able to get rid of was the Goblin King statue that had sat by her mirror for so long. It was in a box, now, hidden away under her bed, but it still let her feel close to him.

How was it possible that she hadn't noticed the resemblance between her Jareth and the Goblin King doll that he had given her? Had she been so young, so blind?

Sarah sighed; it was late, and she was tired. What time was it? Was it still today, or had tomorrow crept up on her?

'When the day after tomorrow is yesterday, then "today" will be as far from Sunday as that day was which was "today" when the day before yesterday was tomorrow. What day it is today?'

'Tuesday,' the nine-year-old Sarah answered.

'No, silly,' Jareth laughed. 'It's a riddle. Try to figure it out.'

'Why?'

'Because you never know when you might need logic in order to move forward in life. And besides,' he added, 'it's fun.'

Jareth was always concerned with fun, always wanted to play games. As she grew older the games grew harder, more complex, but she still loved them. Jareth was the only person who liked to play with her.

'Alright,' she agreed, 'say the riddle again.'

Sarah was tired, but she couldn't sleep, and she couldn't just sit in her room reliving all these old memories; she would drive herself insane. It was late, but she needed to get outside, into the fresh air where she could think clearly. Careful not to make any noise, she sneaked past Toby's room and down the stairs, slipped on her shoes and hurried out the door.

She knew that it was dangerous to be out alone at night; Jareth had told her that countless times when she was a little girl. But she had stopped paying attention to Jareth's advice months ago, when she had finally learned the truth.

Sarah was frightened, more frightened than she had been in a long time. She hadn't meant it, she really hadn't—she hadn't truly believed that the goblins would come—but now Toby was gone, and the room was full of strange sounds and sights, and there was something pounding, pounding, pounding against the window.

Then the latch opened, the window blew open and the something flew in, something she couldn't quite see. She spun around, covering her head with her hands, and then turned again to confront the intruder. For a moment, relief seeped through her: it was Jareth, Jareth had come to help her, as he always did.

But then she saw the clothes he was wearing, and remembered the wish she had made, and her heart turned cold in her chest.

'You're him, aren't you?' she asked, her voice weak, trying to think of any alternate explanation, but so many things that had been mysteries were now clicking into place. 'You're the Goblin King.'

Jareth, her prince, her knight in shining armour, the man who had always been there to help and guide and protect her, was the Goblin King. The antagonist who had given her terrible nightmares as a girl, from which she would wake in a cold sweat to call for Jareth to come and comfort her.

It was Jareth. Looking at him standing there, smiling at her as if she should appreciate the joke, brought tears to her eyes as the careful world she had build herself fell down around her.

Sarah told herself firmly not to think about it. Whatever it had been, whatever it could have become, it was over, now. She had rejected him, and had driven him away. She couldn't remember the first time she'd met him, but she knew that ever since her mother had abandoned her he'd been there, and he'd stayed with her through everything...until she'd sent him away. He'd been like a father when her real dad had descended into alcoholism, and like an older brother or friend when her dad had managed to clean himself up. For a few short years there, Sarah had been happy again; there was still a coldness in her heart where her mother had been, but her father had done everything possible to make up for his behaviour and she had still had Jareth, whenever she needed or wanted him. Then, when Karen had arrived and stolen her father away again, he had been the only thing that kept her going.

Karen. Sarah had hoped for a mother figure, but she had gotten a distant and emotionally abusive "wicked" stepmother instead. Jareth had been there, though. Jareth had always been there. Right up until the very end...

Sarah stood on the ledge, looking down at her baby brother, the brother she had only just learned to love. Somewhere behind her, Jareth—no, the Goblin King was singing, but she had eyes only for the candy cane pyjamas and wispy blond hair below. It was too far to jump, so there was no way she could get down, unless she could fly.

Fly... and then Sarah remembered how Jareth used to show her how to fly when she was a little girl. Even when he had helped her soar meters above the ground, he had never once let her fall. He always caught her. Sarah took a deep breath, and stepped over the ledge.

...and he had caught her. Walking slowly down the dark, deserted street, Sarah realized suddenly that there were tears running down her cheeks. She missed him. She missed him so much, but she had lost her chance, had thrown him away.

For as long as she could remember, Sarah had loved him, and she had always, without fail, done as he said. She trusted him. It wasn't until he revealed who he really was that she began to fear him, though. The Jareth she had known hadn't been an act, though—the Goblin King had acted just the same. Everything had been a test, a riddle, a game... but her fear had overpowered her love.

At some point, Sarah knew she had made a mistake. Either it had been a mistake to reject him, or it had been a mistake to love him in the first place. She still loved him, though, had never stopped loving him, and if it was a mistake...well, it was too late for her. In her heart, though, she didn't believe that he wanted to turn her brother into a goblin and keep her as a slave. Some deep part of her knew that all he had wanted to do was rescue them both, and bring them to a magical world where they could be happy.

Either way, she didn't have much choice in the matter. He already ruled her, in every way. For months now she had been fighting it, fear and pride holding her back, but it was futile.

She missed him. She missed him so much.

'I wish...' Sarah finally said, stopping in the middle of the block, 'I wish the goblins would come and take me to their king right now.'

For a moment, nothing happened. Then thunder and lightning cracked across the sky and the streetlights flickered, and a moment later Sarah found herself falling through time and space.

When she landed, the street and block were gone. Instead, she was in a regal room, with stone walls and royal blue velvet furniture, and Jareth was there. She knew immediately that he was nearby, for she could feel his presence; she drew a deep, shuttering breath, her every muscle relaxing.

'Jareth,' she said, somewhere between a sigh and a gasp, as she turned around, but her words stuck in her throat when she saw him. He was lying in bed, his beautiful face ashen and pale, dark circles stretching under his eyes.

'Sarah,' he answered, but his voice was flat and crackling, and it sounded like it hurt to talk. He was sick, very sick, that much was clear.

'Oh, Jareth,' Sarah cried, 'I'm so sorry. Please, please, please forgive me.' She rushed forward and took his hand in both of hers, revelling in his touch. He stared at her, his mismatched eyes blank.

'I am glad...to see you...again,' he told her. 'Very glad to see you once more, before the end. And I will always be here for you, you know that. For as long as I can.'

'What do you mean? You're not...are you dying?'

'I cannot live within you, Sarah. I poured my life into you, to keep a neglected, saddened child alive, but now I am trapped. You could or would not set me free.'

'No! No, you can't. Jareth...Jareth, I'm sorry. Say you forgive me, maybe if you forgive me it'll be alright. Please, Jareth, please just forgive me.'

Softly, he squeezed her fingers and smiled a sad smile.

'I love you, little one. Everything I did, I did for you. I gave you everything. But sometimes, it's just too late for forgiveness.'

'What can I do?' Jareth held her gaze for a long moment, but he shook his head.

'Nothing, Sarah. It's too late.'


Another one-shot I spun off way too quickly this morning. Different writing style than anything else I've written, hope it turned out okay. And I PROMISE that the next thing I post will be Valentine Evenings.

Thanks for reading, please review!