Disclaimer: I would dearly love owning the Labyrinth, its plot, characters and songs. Alas, the movie is a production of Jim Henson Company™, and the poor I have to satisfy with a mere DVD.

Once Upon A Time

(LEGEND II)

Chapter 5
Facing the Face

"Just whose genius' idea this was?" Hoggle snarled at Lir, pulling down the hem of his shirt that has gone up during the time Lir had carried him on his shoulder. Hoggle's face burned, the bright red matching with the colour of his cap he patted as if to confirm he still wore it in his head.

"Master dwarf…" Lir tried to placate him.

"Oh, it's Hoggle! For the sake of the king's skinny breached legs, me name cannot be that difficult to remember? Hoggle! Not master dwarf, not Higgle, nor Hogwart!" he cried, stomping his foot on the ground.

Lir pulled backwards. "I'm sorry…Hoggle. I just wanted to help."

"Nay, don't ya try that trick to me. A hero ya just wanted to be. I know ya kind o' boys," Hoggle spat, ogling him with a murderous expression flickering in his eyes. "Ya're just interested about fame an' swooning damsels to praise ya an' listen to yar stories! Yar selfish little boy. And ya sure wouldn't last even a minute in the Labyrinth. Just look what ya succeeded doing!"

"That, Hoggle, is unnecessarily harsh." Lir pulled back his shoulders. "I cannot be blamed for loosing Lady Sarah's company. In that green hell no one could see anything."

"Ya little twerp! Ya don't get it? If something happens to her, we'll be neck in deep trouble with the King…"

"His Majesty? You mean the king of the Sunrise Land? I thought you didn't know him!" Lir stepped back, startled.

"Not him, boy. The Goblin King." Hoggle looked up, letting go of the hem of his jacked, and his expression turned sombre. A worried expression flickered in his eyes. "Ya said ya wanted to meet fairies. Well, this might be yar chance, but don't blame me if ya don't be pleased. Things are not always as in yar songs."

He turned around, disgusted with the clueless look in Lir's eyes, and a tight knot in his stomach. Call him coward, all right, but Hoggle would give anything to avoid meeting Jareth had something happened to Sarah.

oxox

"I don't understand," Lir confessed, scratching his head as he followed Hoggle through the forest path. "You say this king of yours - this, this Goblin King - would harm Lady Sarah?"

Hoggle hmph'ed at the title he persistently kept on using of Sarah; she wouldn't be pleased. Then, the reality struck him, and he felt the cold shivers running down his spine. What if something had happened to her?

"No, even if with him ya can never know for certain. He did...change, once. And not for better," Hoggle said without looking back at Lir, his voice hesitant. Hoggle sighed. "He says he's different now but I'm unsure if that's true."

"I've heard about the land of the Labyrinth," Lir muttered. "My master's told it's a place of unspeakable wonders, and dangers. They tell in my city that its ruled by a capricious king, volatile, charming and dangerous - living in the castle behind twisting the corridors of his magical maze. In songs he's depicted as a master of illusions. The mortals facing him never have a chance..." his voice died away.

"That much is true, lad," Hoggle snorted. "Me grannie once told me his own people cast him away for some unspeakable crime he did. As a punishment he was to rule over the Labyrinth."

Lir shivered. "The king must be very bitter if that is true..."

Hoggle glanced at him, hesitating. "If he weren't so full of himself, he'd be. Me thinks."

"But I don't understand what has he to do with Lady Sarah?"

Hoggle scowled when hearing the boy's question. He stopped and turned, pointing his finger at the fair-haired boy.

"Now, looks! Jareth's been plotting for years to exact revenge for his defeat. I should know since I was the first to get a taste of his retribution. And I'd be a droolin' fool if I'd believe - even for a wink - that he let her go now when she finally is here."

Lir's eyes widened.

"We better find Sarah, soon," Hoggle sighed, turning, and continued to rush through the path.

Lir followed him in silence.

oxox

A few things, Sarah had learned in her life, made her seething with rage, such as calling to insurance companies. Talking to the goblin kings definitely belonged to that same category, she decided.

As to emphasise her point, she crossed her arms on her chest, still holding on to her bleeding wrist. Apparently, her sign of annoyance didn't impress Jareth, for he grinned at her, leaning his back on the near-by tree trunk and took his silvery crest in his hands. She narrowed her gaze. "Don't play games with me, Jareth! Why are you here?"

He ceased fidgeting with his medallion, letting it fall and looked up. The solemn expression on his face felt eerily disturbing. "Is it truly so surprising that I might feel worried for you?"

She brushed off the jittery sensation his confession caused in her heart. "I thought you said you couldn't leave your kingdom?"

His eyes flickered at her words. Then, he smiled lazily, baring his teeth. "I said I had to take care of my kingdom, Sarah. That is hardly the same."

Something in his words didn't quite assure Sarah but she couldn't quite place reason for her unease. "Well, I appreciate your intervention with the dryads. But, really, there's no any special reason for you stay away from your duties."

"And leave you alone?" Jareth cocked up his brown, his tone suggesting as if the mere idea was something more than ridiculous.

"It's only matter of time before Hoggle and Lir find me," Sarah defended herself and backed when he unexpectedly took a step closer. She didn't have time to even protest as he took her hand in his own, revealing the red gash in her wrist.

"You know, Sarah. I'm less and less convinced with your idea to leave. The dwarf hardly qualifies as to someone being able to protect you from the hazards of this world," Jareth tutted, pulling a light handkerchief out of thin air. Carefully, he wrapped the cloth around her wrists. To somewhat amused, Sarah noticed an embroidered golden "J" and fine lace encircling the cloth's rim. "I trust in the bard-boy's abilities even less. To me it appears he lives his head in the clouds." He looked up.

"Truly, Jareth, why do you need to be so judgemental?" she snapped, pulling back her hand. "We've done quite well until now, even without your help."

His eyes hardened. "Still so stubborn."

"No, I only want to find sir Didymus. He's my friend. That's not stubbornness but loyalty." Sarah repeated. "I don't understand what makes it such a difficult concept for you."

Jareth regarded her silently and turned his back to her, stepping away. The light filtering through the foliage tinted his wild hair with green and yellow as he looked into the depths of the surrounding trees, listening to the gentle rustling of the wind brushing on the leaves. "Tell me, Sarah. What do you think he'll say when you finally find him?" he finally asked in a soft voice and turned to look at her.

Sarah didn't answer.

"Do you honestly think he'll be joyous to learn he has been granted return to my land? You think he even wants to come back? He lost all, and it has been a long time. Many a thing can change even in the little knight's heart."

"I don't know but I want to ask. His punishment was too harsh," Sarah said.

"I was his king and he betrayed me," Jareth reminded coolly. "It's my own council to decide how to rule over my subjects. Too much leniency leads only to chaos, especially when one rules over the goblins."

"As I see it, your way of ruling have very little impact on those little beasts," Sarah snapped. "If possible, they are even more ruthless nowadays."

"You know the reason for that just as well as I do." Jareth glanced up, locking his hands behind his back. "The goblins are part of the land, and reflect their king's heart. Much still remains to be fixed."

Sarah shook her head. "Precisely because of that. Jareth, you must understand that I cannot come back. Not now. You ask me to trust you without giving me any reason to do so."

He looked at her with masked face. "You remain adamant on this, I see."

"Don't tell me you're surprised."

He almost smiled at her words, stepping closer. "No, I guess I'm not," he confessed, bringing his hand on her cheek. The touch of his leather-covered hand, sliding along her face, felt cool, soothing. He cupped his hand on her chin, and she fought back to hide the tingling sensation that his closeness caused while she looked into his odd, gleaming eyes.

Her eyes shut down, almost involuntarily, as he gently touched her lips with his mouth.

She heard him to take a step back. He let his hand to fall down. "Take care, Sarah. I have some pressing matters to attend to and cannot watch over you during that time."

She looked at him, smiling. "Then, I suggest, you better hurry back and fix whatever still needs fixing in your kingdom."

Jareth tilted his head. Something, a fleeting emotion, flashed across his eyes. He opened his mouth, then changed his mind and simply said, "Be careful, Sarah."

She watched him walking away from the clearing, trying to decide what had been the emotion playing in his eyes. Only when she had lost even the last traces of his pale, wild haired head, she could put the name on the feeling.

It had been regret, she'd seen.