By: Jack Hawksmoor
Jareth appeared in his labyrinth with a decent-sized flash and a rather impressive shower of glitter, prepared to face the selfishness and general stupidity of yet another mortal on a quest. He turned his head and the shock of what he saw froze his heart. Impossible...
"Sarah?" he breathed. The dark-haired girl spun to face him and the illusion was shattered. Jareth looked down at her coldly, fumbling internally with a humiliating stab of disappointment.
"Having a pleasant time?" he asked archly, irrationally angry with this foolish little wisp of a girl for not being who she'd appeared to be. It was his own fault- he'd seen the girl when his goblins came to fetch her son. He knew who she was. But for just a moment, from the back it had seemed...
The girl further spoiled the illusion by crumpling and bursting into tears. Sarah never would have done that in front of him.
"Please," she begged. "Please give him back."
The last threads of Jareth's admittedly thin patience snapped.
"You know better," He said dangerously, taking a step toward her. She shrank back. "You wished him away-"
"-But I didn't mean it!" the girl protested, wide-eyed.
Jareth jerked back from her as if she'd transformed into something deadly right in front of him. He gritted his teeth, clenching and unclenching his fists.
"Please," the girl said, deepening the bizarre moment. Jareth's aggressive stance wilted a little. He spun on his heel, turning his back on her, and took a deep breath to calm his racing heart. The girl behind him had actually said that out loud.
He wasn't mad yet. A coincidence, that's all it was.
"My name," he said in a strange, thick voice and then stopped, startled to realize he'd spoken out loud. He lowered his head, wisps of hair falling forward, partially hiding his face. Dealing with mortals was dangerous business. There were far too many rules that could be accidentally, or thoughtlessly, broken.
What's said is said...
Suddenly, standing there next to a girl who wasn't Sarah and never would be, it seemed as if all the long years of his life were dragging him down. He weighed a thousand tons and he was sinking into a dark sea with no bottom.
He felt old.
"My name," he said again, his voice firmer. He turned slightly, glaring at the girl over his shoulder. This was something he could do. It was almost ridiculously generous, and just barely inside the rules, but there was certainly precedent for it. "If you can guess my name before the thirteen hours is up, I will return your son to you."
There were many creatures in his labyrinth who knew his name. It was not a difficult task.
The girl quailed a bit under his scrutiny, twisting her dark hair through her fingers in distress. All that dark hair...
He was a fool.
"And if," the girl's voice failed her and she nearly dissolved into tears yet again. "If I can't?"
"Then you'll never leave this place," Jareth said with a sharp, humorless smile. The girl blanched.
"Well?" Jareth prodded coldly, lifting an eyebrow. "Yes or no?" This was a new bargain; It required a separate agreement. "Or would you rather continue on trying to solve my labyrinth," Jareth added, sweeping his arm out to encompass the yellow stone around them. He flashed his sharp teeth. "You're doing so well," he lied. Badly.
Sarah would have been furious.
This girl gulped back her tears, and nodded silently. Yes.
"Done," Jareth said, dismissing her already with his voice, and turning his thoughts toward home. A moment later he stepped into his throne room. The flash was almost entirely muted and he didn't bother at all with the glitter. Goblins didn't really have the capacity to appreciate a dramatic entrance.
There was a general rowdy cheer at his arrival, probably at least half because he'd been known to get cross when not shown the proper welcome. One of the littler goblins ran toward him, almost stumbling over itself in haste.
Jareth tensed. He'd come to realize, after many long, long, long years, that Goblin exuberance could cause any measure of catastrophe. Floods. Spontaneous combustion. Quiche.
The goblin skidded to a halt in front of him, holding something out to him eagerly. After looking around and seeing nothing quiche-like lurking about in a menacing fashion, Jareth straightened haughtily, putting a hand on one hip.
"Intelligence!" the goblin said eagerly.
"Not here," Jareth said with a sigh. "Believe me, I've looked."
The goblin gaped at him for a moment, then looked back down at its hand. The diminutive idiot then turned back to look at several other goblins who had crowded close. There was some muted discussion. After a moment or two he twisted back around.
"Do you want me to give it to you outside?" the goblin asked doubtfully. Jareth, waiting in somewhat pained expectation, pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment.
"No," he sighed.
"The kitchen! He wants it in the kitchen!" Hooted a goblin wearing a mop head.
"Just give it to me, you twit," Jareth snapped, holding out his hand.
"I'm Twit!" said an outraged-sounding goblin holding a chicken.
Jareth breathed out rather forcefully through his nose, grinding his teeth a bit. Names again. He quietly cursed the day they'd started insisting on them.
His goblins, like many creatures in his land, had contact with the world above now and then. Recently, since...
Recently, they'd had rather a lot of contact. Unlike other, more attractive and infinitely more intelligent creatures, the goblins had been invited aboveground on occasion to visit. As had many other denizens of his land.
He wasn't at all bitter about that.
It had started having quite a bit of influence on the little cretins' behavior, not least of which was names. They were determined to have them, and the names they had chosen were predictably appalling. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad, if they gave any thought at all to their choices. 'Jareth', for instance, was a fine name. 'Flubber' left something to be desired.
Because of this, he now had a goblin named Twit, and one named Richard Nixon, and, of course...
"Vagisil," Jareth said through his teeth. The goblin Vagisil brightened in an extremely irritating manner."Give it to me," he ground out, "or I'll shove you down the chicken's throat. Again."
Jareth had absolutely no idea what most of these names meant. But this name in particular sounded...quite...Well, he thought that if Sarah had heard him say it, that she would laugh at him. A particularly depressing thought.
Meekly, the goblin handed over the intelligence. It was a handful of brown grass. Jareth resisted the urge to tear at his hair.
"Marvelous," Jareth groaned. Vagisil beamed proudly.
"It's spreading," the goblin said helpfully. Jareth blinked at him, then looked down at the bits of dead vegetation in his hand. It looked rather greasy and unpleasant. For a brief moment, he felt something in the labyrinth around him react to it. The effect on him was like a touch of indigestion. Curling his lip, he tossed the grass on the floor.
The labyrinth bore down on him unpleasantly. It wanted something from him. Something to do with that bit of wilted grass. Jareth ignored it through sheer force of will. He'd been dealing with the...inconvenience...for so long, it was almost second nature.
"Wonderfully unhelpful, as usual," Jareth said crisply, turning and walking toward his throne, where several goblins were entertaining their guest. "Find a gardener, for pity's sake." The pressure the labyrinth was putting on him subsided a little, as if it had given up in the face of Jareth's stubborn refusal to acknowledge it.
He could, if he concentrated, sift more concrete meanings from the labyrinth's basic reactions, but he didn't like to do it. The thing already had him by the throat in a very tight grip. Jareth didn't much like to turn and look into his keeper's face, especially when it was giving him a vigorous shake to get his attention. Occasionally it liked to...play...with it's toys.
He leaned down and snatched the baby out of the seat of his throne, knocking Richard Nixon to the floor without a glance. The goblin in question squawked and bounced. Jareth cradled the babe carelessly in the crook of one arm and the little fellow burbled happily, batting at the dangling strands of Jareth's hair. He bounced the boy, pleased at his curiosity.
Jareth couldn't say why he found the company of beings like himself so comforting. Even when he kept them, the kinship didn't last. The labyrinth changed them so fast that it was foolish to get attached to their old forms.
Still, Jareth thought as he strolled toward a blank wall, it was oddly pleasant, while it lasted. The wall obligingly opened into an archway for him and his guest, and he walked through it without glancing up.
The baby was too young to have much in the way of dreams, but Jareth could smell a certain longing for someplace quiet and preferably soft. He blinked up at Jareth sleepily, and Jareth nearly smiled. He delicately uncurled the little babe's five fingered hand, pressing it against his own as he walked down the hallway to his chambers. If the baby stayed, which now seemed unlikely, his hands would turn very quickly.
Even when he kept them, he thought with a twinge, he didn't get to keep them.
No matter, Jareth thought firmly. He was certain the boy's ridiculous, spineless young mother would manage to stumble over his name somewhere. Then she could whisk him off to a fabulous life of poverty and neglect. In Cleveland. Or possibly Calcutta. It had started with a C, he was sure.
The doors to his rooms opened for him obediently without needing to be told. When he stepped inside he saw that the labyrinth had grown the lad a bed right out of the wall, complete with an aerial of little circling owls. Pleased, Jareth set him down.
He admired the bright eyed babe for a moment, tilting his head like a bird, poking at a rather unfamiliar tendril of pity. Poor thing. She'd probably wish him away again within the month, given how often she'd toyed with The Words before letting them finally slip out. He was half certain she would have just let him have the boy if she hadn't rather stupidly wished him away at her mother's house. He'd thought for a moment that the old woman was going to hit her daughter when she'd realized what the girl had done, but her aim had been off. He couldn't blame the old lady for missing-the planter must have weighed fifty pounds.
It was more trouble than it was worth, letting that foolish girl play an easy game against him. He knew she'd do it again. He couldn't imagine what he was thinking...
Except...all that dark hair...
"Idiot," Jareth said softly, placing a hand over his eyes. When he removed his hand, the light in the room had changed, and his heart sank right down into his lovely boots.
It was his own fault, he thought despairingly. It was his own folly. He was the one who had started to watch Sarah. He'd taken time to brood over her image after she'd left him. He'd seen snippets of her life, wanting to understand how she had defeated him, why she'd refused him.
Then, he'd begun having dreams. Disturbing dreams. They were clearer, more...insistent whenever he observed her. She was so free...it was exhilarating to watch her. She took such joy in her untamed life. Perhaps it was that he loved. That and the memory of her eyes... He paid for it, though. The dreams only grew clearer, the more time he spent watching her. Too clear.
He'd stopped looking. The dreams were...they were lies, things that would never be. It was too much to bear, in the end. He feared going mad.
Not that anyone besides himself would notice, but still. Jareth was, all things considered, rather fond of his sanity. Sanity that was at the moment melting away with alarming speed right before his eyes.
The light was different. That was one of the signs he had learned that let him know the difference between dream and reality. The dreams could be so real sometimes. He would take a step and the world would melt away into illusion and madness.
She could be so real sometimes.
Jareth turned to look with dread resting heavy on his heart, knowing that whatever it was he was about to see would surely cost him yet another piece of his soul.
The fire was cracking away in a hearth that had been dark and cold moments before. It cast a warm, flickering light over the chamber, illuminating the nude girl sleeping in his bed. Jareth hissed in a breath, recognizing her, and froze at what that breath brought him.
The scent saturating the room exploded into his head and he staggered back a step, making a soft sound high in the back of his throat. A faint whine, like a kicked dog.
That had never happened before. He could smell her. It was Sarah lying there on his bed, and somehow, impossibly, Jareth could smell her. His dreams had never been as vivid as this was. He'd have lost his mind years ago if they had.
There may have been a time, once, that Jareth was human. If he had, it was so unimaginably long ago that he could no longer clearly remember it. There was only a strange longing for company, and a nagging ache, a feeling that there was something he'd lost. The emotion was there, floating free, but the memories had faded.
Jareth had become a creature of dreams, and with that came a lot of power. From his castle he could see the whole of the mortal world above. Merely looking at a human being through his crystals gave him enough information to give him a good grasp of what that person wanted most. A rough idea of what that mortal was like on the inside. If he got close enough to smell someone, that person was as good as his. Like a lover of fine wine, he could scent precisely what a mortal was made of, weighing the bouquet to lay bare the most desperate desires of their hearts. He could open them up like a man filleting a fish and pull out the one dream that could make them crumble. It was an ability that had served him very well for thousands of years. He could not count the number of mortals he'd left weeping at his feet. It had never worked against him in such a painfully ironic way.
He'd known Sarah's dreams, had known them with exquisite intimacy every time he'd been within speaking distance to her, during that short time she'd been within his labyrinth. He'd known very clearly exactly how little he had meant to her. She'd looked at him and seen a pretty, dangerous looking adversary. He'd thought that had been torture. This was so much worse.
He took a breath, and entered hell.
This was Sarah. Not an illusion, and her dreams burst into his head with brilliant clarity. Her dreams were always so vivid, brighter than life...and this time instead of fairytale dresses and masked balls, he saw himself. Jareth inhaled deeply, disbelieving, and let slip a low moan. This Sarah's dreams were rich and full with satisfaction. There was no unrealized longing. This Sarah's heart belonged to him whole. She dreamed of him, and desired him, and impossibly, had him. The proof of that flashed into his head in crystal clear, graphic detail. He could see them together, in her dreams.
Silently, from the depths, his heart cried out. She should have been helpless in his hands. He knew her most desperate desires, how to fulfill them, how to use them against her. Instead he found himself expertly pinned. A butterfly on a board. Powerless and fluttering in agony.
Transfixed, Jareth approached the bed. Sarah lay on her stomach, her legs tangled in the sheet, unconcerned by her own state of undress and sleeping comfortably. As if she belonged there and knew it. Her pale skin was lit warmly by the firelight, and faintly in the air, tangled deliciously in the scent of dreams, was the unmistakable smell of sex. She was more beautiful than he ever could have imagined.
Sarah stirred slightly, sighing, and Jareth stiffened. He was suddenly, wildly certain that if she looked up and saw him, this would become real. He would melt into whatever strange alternate future this place represented, and pull her into his arms.
If she looked up...
Jareth felt a twinge and realized he was grinding his teeth. There was an uncomfortable tightness in his shoulders, an ozone crackle in the air of potential energy. He noticed then that he was pushing at this perfect little vision of heaven. He was tossing power at it like rice at a wedding, unconsciously trying to force his way through the veils from where he was into whatever strange and glorious possible future his mind was showing him.
He had tried very hard not to want her, over the years. He had almost convinced himself that he didn't. He was only curious, he only admired her because of her free spirit and bright, undimmed dreams. The fact that she seemed to be haunting him didn't mean anything.
Every fragile illusion that he had built up over time had shattered all at once, with that first sweet inhalation of scent. He wanted her. He wanted her so recklessly he was willing to do almost anything to get her. He almost couldn't breathe with the strength of it. And Sarah, this Sarah, wanted him back.
She opened her eyes, and looked at him. The world somehow did not shatter.
Jareth's heart stuttered in his chest. She looked at him as if she trusted him. As if he belonged to her. He made some small, deeply pathetic sound.
"I can help you, if you ask me,"she said softy, declining to laugh. He could smell how...how much she...
Jareth leaned towards her on the bed, knowing he was pulling hard at the seams of reality, feeling things tear and not caring. If just the scent of her felt like this, what would it feel like to taste her? To taste those rich dreams on her sweet skin...
Jareth shut his eyes as his chest contacted tightly in a hot white ball of want and need.
When he opened them the room had returned to normal, his bed empty and the hearth dark. He put a hand out to brace himself on the bed and sagged in a momentary despair that was so sharp it nearly stopped his heart.
"No more," he managed, shaking his head. He couldn't take this any more. He was losing his mind. Jareth covered his mouth with his other hand, shutting his eyes against the reality of his empty bed.
"No more, Sarah," he told the empty room roughly. "I'm losing what's left of my mind."
Something lurched inside of him.
"What," Jareth rasped, and froze as he felt another lurch, much stronger. "What have you done?" He asked of no one, of the ghost of Sarah gone from the room, as if she might return if he needed her.
His heart wasn't working right, hadn't been working right, he was so cold...
Jareth awoke on his bed with a gasp and rolled onto the floor, clutching at his chest. The babe, the babe was crying...but that was not what had woke him. It was the labyrinth, and it was howling for his attention. Gasping, he reached into the air and tried to pull a crystal into solidity. For a second it was there before it cracked open in his palm and shattered to dust.
The labyrinth had hold of him and had started squeezing. Jareth cursed and smacked his empty hand hard on the floor. He scrambled gracelessly to his knees, baring his teeth and shoving savagely at the growing, grasping undertow of his keeper. He noticed, with distant disgust, that the labyrinth was drawing up around him, the walls leaning in, the stones in the floor bunching and clinging at his hands and knees. He tore a hand free, baring his teeth as he forced a crystal to come and remain long enough for him to get a good look at what was inside it. What...and where...
After an intolerable moment of white-knuckled concentration, his crystal cleared to show an image of a golden-hued stone wall from inside the goblin city.
Jareth froze in shock. He let the crystal roll out of suddenly insensible fingers. A force that was terrible and cold and recognizable ate at his heart.
"No," Jareth said sharply with a twitch of his head, as if shaking off the truth. He noticed that he had started to sink into the floor. Knew that if he made no immediate movement to stop it, the labyrinth would draw him into its arms and shove him out at the problem. He knew how it felt to be that close to his keeper, and doubted privately that his sanity could take another encounter with it. All these things he knew, but he couldn't tear his eyes away from the crystal spinning slowly across the flagstones.
Jareth was looking at his own death. There must be a crack in the outer wall as well.
"No..." he murmured, blinking as if waking up from a long sleep. He looked down, and saw that he'd been pulled waist deep into his castle stone. The labyrinth was pulsing with red, burning panic, clawing for his attention. He snarled, kicking his legs, ripping himself free in outrage and disgust. "This is my kingdom," he hissed at it, rolling free, "and I will deal with this!"
He scrambled to his feet, slipping once on the stone in his fine boots before dashing towards the door. Running gladly towards his death, because the alternative was so much worse.
Goblins met him there, frightened and already fighting with each other.
"Show me!" he snarled at them.
He did not once think of Sarah. Not until much later.
Now I did say I was working on a sequel, and Lixxle does know I've had this one in the attic for, well, quite a long time. I wanted it up before I started putting up the sequel. This is what poor Jareth was doing with himself, just before The Lady and the Knight. Enjoy all.
Also- I have got so many lovely reviews for Lady and the Knight after I wrapped everything up, including a lot of stuff regarding the clues I left lying around for the sequel, I imagine the first author's note will be rather thick with thanks and admirations. So bear with me. That is all.