Disclaimer: I don't own Labyrinth or any of the characters. Hell, I don't even own the movie.
AN: Whew! This took a lot longer than I expected! I thought about breaking it up into another two parts, but I think it's best served whole.
Also, I just wanted to say a big thanks to all who were kind enough to leave reviews for this Labyrinth newbie. I really, really appreciated them!
A Long Conversation
Once over Spring Break during her sophomore year of college, Sarah and a few of her friends drove to Maryland to spend a week near the ocean. There had been an amusement park close to the house they were renting, big enough to spend the day at, but small enough for the lines to be short. The popcorn was good, the lemonade sour, and the roller coasters forgettable, but there was one ride Sarah remembered very clearly—a thrill ride boasting a 20-story free fall drop.
While what she was currently experiencing wasn't nearly as intense as "The Free-For-(F)all™," the same feeling that she was going to piss her shorts was there—only, this time it was paired with the just-as-frightening (if not more so) sensation of the world completely disappearing. The fluorescent lighting and the neutral gray carpeting, the cubicles with their greige tackboard fabric, her messy desk with its box of Assistant Editor: Sarah Williams business cards. Poof! Gone! Vanished into the darkness while Sarah fell and fell.
A dusty, girlish memory, lying beneath fourteen years of dogged pragmatism, floated to the surface. And as old as the memory was, Sarah knew it was real, like a Hoggle and Ludo and Didymus real. She'd fallen through a void like this before, hadn't she? Sarah pinched her eyes shut then opened them, half expecting to see hands all around her, helping her, and when she didn't, fear, more real than a Hoggle and Ludo and Didymus real, set in. She opened her mouth to scream either until somebody heard her, until one of her lungs collapsed or until her poor heart stopped in fright—but was cruelly and unexpectedly interrupted by the arrival of the floor and its friend pain.
It shot from the boniest parts of her butt clear up to her teeth, where it left her mouth as a long, sharp hiss. All Sarah could do was clench every muscle in her body while she waited for her brain to take stock of the damage and give the all clear. It could've been worse, it told her, told everyone, as Sarah slowly uncoiled. It could've been a five-digit hospital bill of worse. Her lower back agreed. As the pain receded, Sarah gingerly tested out the rest of her parts, then let out a tentative laugh of relief. Yes, it could've been worse, she thought.
Then the lights came up and Sarah saw where she had landed. The room was bigger than her whole apartment, with light colored walls, tall windows and dark wood floors. An empty but stately fireplace with books lining its mantelpiece sat on one side of her—and on the other, a pair of angled matching ivory wingback chairs and a small, round antique table between them. It was an open and honest room, certainly not the kind of place Sarah would've expected to fall into, but exactly the kind of place she would've sold a kidney for. Yes, it most definitely could've been worse.
Then someone—someone not affiliated with her body—said: "Hello, Sarah."
Then she saw who it was.
Then she said: "Fuck."
Then everyone, including her offended kidney, agreed it was now worse.
Though the hair was still unmistakably him, the rest of his appearance was a little more restrained, a little less Elton, a little more Austen with his gray breeches (breeches!), plain black shirt and shiny riding boots. He sat in one of the chairs (though she could've sworn he hadn't been a second ago), ankle over knee, hands folded in his lap, and a benign smile in place like he was hosting a goddamned book club instead of watching women bounce off the floor. It made Sarah feel like some trick was being pulled.
Warning bells of all kinds and shapes went off in her head. Wait—some trick had been pulled! Why else would she be here and sore instead of in her office chair and soggy? Sarah summoned up all the mean-spiritedness she'd shored up from living three years in New York, made a dart of her finger, and roared, "You!"
"Oh good. So you remember me after all," said Jareth pleasantly.
But three years of big city spite and one crappy morning had taken their toll. Sarah was in no mood to be civil. Her finger stayed trained on Jareth's face like a gun as she tried to scuttle backward and into the empty chair across from him. "I should've known you were the one behind all this! Like, why else would I just up and fall through my office floor? Well, I wouldn't, because I don't have that kind of power—nor do I much relish falling through my office floor, by the way—it hurt, dammit! But because some Goblin King tyrant decided he wanted to, what, avenge a fourteen-year-old grudge, here I friggin' am!"
The book club smile faded. "'Gobin King tyrant'?" Jareth repeated, frowning. "'Fourteen-year-old grudge'? Sarah, is that why you think you're down here?"
"Gee, what part gave it away?"
Jareth tipped his head back and laughed. "Sarah, dear," he said, eyes crinkling appreciatively, "do you realize how cold it's been down here without you and your spirit, your fire...your you?"
"I don't care," Sarah told him. "And quit laughing at me, asshole. Answer the question. If I'm not down here for that then what in the hell am I doing here?" Then a dreadful thought overtook her; she gasped and put both hands to her mouth in horror. "Oh my god, wait! Is it about Hoggle? Did something bad happen?" When Jareth shook his head, she said, "Ludo? Didymus?"
"No, Sarah," he said, smiling. "While your concern is touching, your friends are hardly in need of it."
"Then look, Jareth, I don't know what kind of game you're playing at here, but—"
Jareth cut her off with a sound of offense. "'Game', Sarah? Really now, why do you automatically assume my intentions and motives are so wicked and dishonorable?"
"I don't know," said Sarah hotly. "Are they? I mean, what could you possibly want from me so badly that you would resort to kidnapping me with spam? Spam! Wait, don't tell me you were responsible for the other stuff too—the alarm clock, the cat, the cabs, the rain, the meeting...?"
"Guilty," he said, looking quite pleased with himself. "Except for the meeting. I had nothing to do with that."
"Why, you little—!"
"A visit," Jareth quickly put in. "Fifteen minutes of your time, Sarah—nothing more. No games, no revenge, no trickery. Just a chance to get acquainted with this new, adult you."
Sarah made a show of checking her watch. "Can't. Really important meeting in ten minutes—you know, the one you had nothing to do with. So if you could just send me back..."
"Ah, but time isn't measured the same here," Jareth reassured her. "There's no hurry if that's what worries you."
The dart gun of her index finger made a swift reappearance. "You worry me, dammit!" Sarah said, aiming it at his nose. "So send me back now, please—see, I'm asking politely—before I get really nasty, or worse, fired. Because I will, I'll rip into you good. If you thought before was bad..."
"Speaking of nasty," Jareth said, picking a bit of lint from his pants. "Take a look at yourself." An ornate, silver hand mirror appeared on the round table between the chairs. "Prudence, Sarah. Are you sure you wish me to send you back like that? Wouldn't you rather have a towel first?" A plush white towel joined the mirror. "A chance to dry your clothes?" He snapped his fingers and the fireplace roared to life. "A cup of tea?"
Sarah's promised nastiness wavered a little. "Tea? You have tea?" she asked, hopeful, but then recalled why she never ate peaches. She skewered Jareth with a look. "Oh, nice try. Really, how stupid do you think I am?"
One of his eyebrows arched. "Pardon?"
"The last time I was down here, I ate something that messed me up big time—you know this—and if you think I'm going to fall for that again..."
"Ah, yes. That," Jareth said, smiling at the memory. "As you'll recall, Sarah, we were in a contest at the time, and I'm sure you've heard the saying, 'All's fair in love and war.'"
"You poisoned me! You put something in that peach—you can't deny it!"
"Don't be so melodramatic, Sarah," Jareth snapped. "It was hardly poison and not at all dangerous."
"The hell it wasn't!" Sarah retorted. "I could've—could've—!"
Jareth's eyes flashed. "Could've what, Sarah? Danced until morning? Stayed down here with your brother and your friends and lived a life less ordinary? Is your life now so remarkable that what I offered was such a sentence?" When she didn't answer, he continued, "You have my word, Sarah, there will be nothing in your cup other than tea and good intentions. I said no games or trickery and you may trust me to honor that. Stay. Please," then rose from his chair as if it were decided.
Another small round table appeared in front of the fireplace, in the place where she had landed only a few angry moments ago. On it, Sarah saw an elegant white tea service in the Tiffany basketweave pattern, exactly like the set she would've registered for had Henry proposed. When a tiered plate with white-frosted petit fours materialized next to the teapot, Sarah whimpered. Nothing about her morning was coincidence any more, was it? The cynic in her immediately bristled.
"Fine," she said ungraciously, but inside, she was eyeing the teapot, the cakes, the china wistfully. "One cup—neat—that's it. Then you send me back. Deal?"
To Jareth's credit, he didn't gloat. Face appropriately neutral, he asked, "And would you care for a piece of cake?"
Sarah snorted. "Is the Pope Catholic?"
He paused with his hand over a petit four. "I'm afraid I don't see—"
"Never mind," Sarah said. "Cake, yes."
As she was staying for tea (and now cake), Sarah decided she might as well take advantage of the mirror and towel—especially since, after seeing her reflection, she had to concede that "nasty" was indeed right. When her hair was combed out and clipped up again, her clothes patted dry and her makeup less smeared, Sarah pulled her chair closer to the fire and eased her feet out of her infernal shoes. When she accepted the cup, saucer and plate of cake from Jareth, her smile was only a little forced.
Her plan had been to drink the tea as quickly as she could without burning her tongue, inhale the cake down as well as her esophagus would let her, and leave as soon as her stomach had caught up. But when Sarah sniffed the steam above her cup she knew that wasn't going to work. She took a small sip, then another. The tea tasted delicious and new, like leaves and blooms and bees. The cake—Sarah's eyelids fluttered—was something she'd sacrifice a body part for. Even her kidney agreed.
"How is the tea? Tolerable?"
Sarah nearly choked. To her shame, caught up in the ecstasy of her full mouth, she had forgotten where she was, who she was with. He was sitting in the book club host pose again with his own cup in hand, his expression decidedly more than that of just casual interest.
"Mmm!" she managed, blushing.
"Excellent. And the cake?"
"Another triumph," he declared.
While her mouth worked on her last bite of cake, Sarah's eyes skittered away from Jareth and settled on the books on the mantel. Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Louisa May Alcott... She looked away from the books to the windows with their filmy, fluttery curtains to the table between them with its Regency-style footings. Were these his books, his décor, his tastes? Or were they just more convenient coincidences? She slowly licked the frosting from her fingers, considering, then set her empty cup and plate on the table, next to the mirror and asked, "So...do you, um, live here?"
Jareth took a deep draught of tea and set his cup on the floor. "Well, that depends."
His long, elegant fingers steepled. "What you call living, I imagine. I eat here. I sleep here. I breathe here. I have, ah, people around, but well..." Jareth shrugged.
"I get it," Sarah said, nodding. "That's why you've been so insistent on this"—she made quotation marks with her fingers—"'Fifteen minutes of your time, Sarah.' Because you're lonely. I get it. Believe me, living in New York, as big as it is... It's not so hard to understand."
Jareth made a noise that sounded like a cross between a scoff and laugh. "You think you know me, do you? I'm curious, Sarah—why is it so hard to accept that you're down here simply because I wanted the pleasure of seeing you again?"
Sarah rolled her eyes. "Because why would you? I'm nobody important."
"Nobody important? Sarah, you are, quite possibly, my favorite thing to think about."
Sarah blushed and looked away to the hem of her sweater, as his admission, so intense and so personal, made her thoughts unwillingly rewind back to Henry's e-mail. She'd experienced the heady thrill of being someone's favorite thing once, six months ago. Now she was simply an address in an email "To:" line. "Give it time," she mumbled, blinking at her lap.
"I'd be delighted to," Jareth said, sitting up. "As you'll recall, the purpose of this visit was to get acquainted with this new you."
"But there's nothing to get acquainted with," Sarah insisted. She sighed up at the ceiling, then met Jareth's odd, interested eyes and said as candidly as she could, "All right, here it is. The 'new, adult me' in a nutshell? I'm an assistant editor who also, depressingly, turns thirty next year. Most of my salary goes toward the ridiculously high rent for what's practically a closet, the rest toward tea, cab fare, Indian take-out, and clothes I really can't afford. I hate my cat, I hate getting stuck in the rain, I hate oversleeping, and above all, I hate wanting things I know I'll never be able to have. So there you have it: I'm boring and bitter and bitchy, and not someone that someone like"—Sarah gestured to his clothes and hair—"you would—should—find interesting." She picked at a stray thread at her hem. "Not when you're so obviously—"
"Just a man," Jareth finished. When Sarah only stared at him, he sat back in his chair and amended, "Very well, an extraordinary and dashing man."
"And humble," Sarah added dryly.
Jareth smiled. "Terribly. But come now, Sarah, you've left out what no one else Above can claim, what makes you more than just a boring and bitter assistant editor. You may have forgotten—or tried to forget—but I haven't."
Sarah's mouth hardened. "I thought this wasn't about revenge, Jareth."
"And it isn't," he said evenly. "I told you it wasn't and I meant it."
"Look, I should be going. You asked for fifteen minutes and, well...now I have a meeting to get to." Sarah slipped her feet back into her shoes and made to stand, relieved that her bruises decided not to protest. "How do I get back?"
"Simply wish for it," Jareth said. His fingers were steepled again. "You'll be right back where you left."
Wish herself back. Of course. Sarah could've kicked herself for not thinking of it sooner. She took one last look around at what she knew was the closest she'd come to her dream place. Her eyes lingered longingly over the hissing and crackling fire, the spines of unexplored books, the comfortable chairs, the coveted tea set and the still-full stand of cakes. She mentally compared it to her office—the recycled air, the unpredictable photocopier, the maze of cubicles, the gossipy coworkers, the neutral gray impersonalness of it all. A sigh came up all the way from her mangled toes. "God, I wish I didn't have to..."
Horrified by what she'd almost done, Sarah's eyes snapped to Jareth in alarm, and for a very brief moment, a nano-second moment, an gasp moment, she caught a crack in the insouciance and saw clear through to what lay beneath. Loneliness, expected, but also a raw yearning, despairing and ages old. She'd seen it once before, though she'd been too young to understand it and the many ways a heart could break. Now she knew and now she knew why she was there. And suddenly it was all too much.
"Never mind." She was light-headed as she held out her hand. "Good-bye, Jareth. All things considered this went swimmingly, I think. Same time, next year?" Her laugh was tremulous, strained.
The mask was back in place. Jareth's smile was more bitter than sweet. "Farewell, Sarah." He stood and pressed a light, lingering kiss on her knuckles. "It truly was a pleasure."
"All right, here goes," she said, slipping her hand from his and looking at the ceiling. "I wish..."
Her wish was a simple one, with a footnote about a cancelled meeting and a healed backside. Then she met Jareth's eyes as he stared across at her. I'm sorry, Sarah wanted to say, for everything, but she held her tongue. And just before the room became drowned in a shower of lights, she saw him sigh.
Jareth waited until the glitter motes faded then he snapped his fingers. The white walls became pink again, the tea and books disappeared, and what had once been a blazing fireplace was now a door, which Jareth opened and strode through, in search of his new advisor.
"Same time, next year, Sarah?" he murmured to himself. "If you really think it'll take that long..."
AN: I know, I know. How could I leave it like that? Well remember, it was originally just a one-shot so I'm afraid this is all I've got.