"You're him, aren't you? You're the Goblin King."
He smiles at the fear that widens her eyes and makes her tremble. He knew she had feared him, no matter what she might say, he knew he hadn't imagined it.
"I want my brother back, please, if it's all the same."
"What's said is said."
Only he sees the sides of the room bowed and distorted, like the walls of a crystal sphere. Only he is not attending this conversation for the first time.
He presents her with the crystal, and his jagged smile widens at the longing that fills her eyes. He hadn't imagined that either. He did have power over her. He does.
He began all this knowing he could win. This time, he knows how. This time, he will.
He has reordered time and turned the world upside down. But this time, it isn't for her.
This time, it's for him.
When Sarah falls heavily to the floor of the oubliette, sending up sparkling dust into the last flash of light before the trap door closes, Jareth smiles.
He does not, however, send the dwarf to her.
She is fearless and resourceful and cunning and all that, but the real danger is the way she infects others with her bravery. The dwarf is scared of Jareth, and rightly so, but Jareth is fairly certain anyone he might send would be converted to her purposes within the hour. So he sends no one.
There is, after all, no reason Sarah needs to leave the oubliette to lose.
The dagger-handed clock, unsped, ticks the minutes on. Sarah shivers in the chill subterranean air, and tries to find a way out. She feels her way about the perimeter of the chamber with clammy hands. She tries in vain to spark the candle, once her fingers find it, with a pair of stones. She screams, and her screams reverberate off the walls, and she rails against unfairness and shrilly invokes the name of the Goblin King until her voice is no more than a harsh whisper.
Eventually, she sits down on the ground to wait.
An oubliette is a place you put people to forget about them. This one does its job. When the clock strikes thirteen, Jareth is startled, and for a long moment he can not recall why its chiming is important.
Is this what he wants? But the thought soon leaves his mind.
As Jareth bounces baby Toby on his knee, Sarah digs at the wall with a sharp rock until her palms blister and tear. Something hot and wet is on her face, but she is unsure if it is blood from her hands or tears, and if tears whether they are for the pain or the oubliette or her little brother.
Back at home, her stepmother stands over Toby's empty crib and screams. By the time it occurs to her and her husband that Sarah, too, is missing, they have to struggle to remember her name or what she looks like.
Her abdomen is hollow with hunger and her mouth fuzzy with thirst. Sarah sobs, and claws at the walls until her fingernails splinter and her fingertips bleed.
And if she lays down at last an eternity of darkness later, empty and fragile, and her shallow breaths finally no longer disturb the dust on the floor that has no light to sparkle in, who is to know?
All that she leaves of herself is a shut-up bedroom full of unclaimed toys, and a stone in the stomach of the Goblin King, for which he has no explanation.
"What's said is said." His resolve staggers for the barest moment, and he wonders if… but he wants to see her lose, he wants her to acknowledge the power he holds.
"But I didn't mean it!"
"Oh, you didn't?" There is less amusement and more vitriol in his voice than before. When he sees the fear and the desire in her eyes this time, his pleasure has a kind of frenzied malice to it. He wants to see her lose. He needs to see her lose. It doesn't matter how (it does matter how) it only matters that she must lose.
His tension builds as the moment draws closer, as she moves past the Four Guards and the oubliette and the False Alarms. By the time he stands and pulls off his beggar's disguise, he has almost decided to give her a chance, let her lose some other way.
Then she says the words he already knew she'd say—"It's a piece of cake"—and her eyes flash with defiance. For one infuriating moment there is not a trace of fear in her gaze, and this, this he cannot stand.
"So the Labyrinth is a piece of cake, is it?" he asks, just as he did the first time, but his eyes glitter more dangerously. "Well, let's see how you deal with this little slice!"
He turns around and hurls a crystal into the darkness, and in his agitation it is not until he hears the metallic groan of the Cleaners starting that he dully realizes he has missed some cues. He was meant to steal some hours from her clock, as he recalled, and have some pointless conversation about unfairness, and he barely suppresses a strange laugh; the spared time will be no use to her now.
He is the only one of them who knows that this isn't how it's supposed to go. He is the only one who will be around for it to matter to.
The dwarf gives a strangled warning cry and takes off down the corridor, and Sarah follows. Jareth turns away, into the shadows, and the Cleaners come.
Even above the scraping and clanking he can hear Sarah's pounding footsteps, and the quicker, clumsier steps of the dwarf, like mismatched heartbeats. They stop to shove and beat at a blocked-off exit; the great ugly machine gets closer and closer, and their efforts become more and more desperate. Sarah is breathless with fear, nearly sobbing with it, but to Jareth's faint and distant surprise he does not feel pleased. He finds he does not feel much at all.
Jareth stands in the shadows, staring at a wall. He does not get out a crystal to watch them. He doesn't need to to know that this time, the wall isn't going to break. He's made sure of that.
Sarah gives up her efforts just in time, and barely leaps away. The dwarf's legs are shorter, and he cannot move as fast.
His hoarse cry is brief. Hers, in grief, is longer, but choked off by the need for flight. There are no more exits, though, and it is mere moments before she runs out of corridor.
She gives no cry at all. Jareth imagines her turning towards it, her face white, and holding her breath. He feels bile rise in his throat.Is this what he wants?
"I've brought you a gift." The longing in her eyes doesn't please him any longer. The fear makes him feel ill, although he won't admit it.
"What is it?"
"It's a crystal. Nothing more." He doesn't want to kill her, he decides. It's crass. He doesn't want her dead, he just wants her to lose.
Not kill her, just trap her. Trap her so she never gets out, so she always understands that he holds the power. He has to get it right—he doesn't want to do this anymore. He doesn't think he can do this anymore.
This time he doesn't interfere for quite a while. She gathers her minions about her, eludes every flawed trap that he has learned not to fix. He lets her get so close, almost to the gates of the City. He even sweeps her around an illusory ballroom and then lets her break the crystal walls and wake; he wants a prison more permanent than any sparkling dream could be.
So as Sarah, nestled in a pile of trash, lifts her head and rubs her eyes, Jareth slips into a familiar room carved in the garbage below her, and removes a single item: a small book bound in red leather and titled in gilt.
The danger of the junk ladies is how kind they are, how reasonable they sound to a lost soul as yet uncertain of her own willingness to sacrifice. Sarah, clutching at her teddy bear with great mooneyes, is the perfect candidate. The creature with the withered-apple face leads her to her vanity chair and heaps upon her back her toys and trinkets, and Sarah sits quiet and complacent and lets her. For a few moments she stares very hard at an empty space on the table in front of her, but she gets over it. Her eyes lose focus again and her expression reverts back to a vaguely troubled frown.
Shortly before the clock strikes thirteen, the troubled expression finally slips away. It is replaced by a guarded one of fragile self-satisfaction, her eyes narrowed just a little in suspicion of anyone who might steal away her false contentment. Her back is stooped beneath the weight of toys and knickknacks, but she is happy in some little way unto herself. And, more importantly, she is defeated. He leaves her there, in the dump.
He has always been a bit cavalier about measuring the passage of mortal time, so it is difficult to say how long the change takes. The only thing he can say for certain is that Sarah ages much, much faster than her baby brother. He sees her next when he is casting an eye around the Labyrinth and something strikes him as odd about one of the junk ladies. He stares at her distorted image in a crystal for much longer than he is comfortable before he realizes at whom he's staring.
She has shrunk. He's not sure how much, but it is not just an illusion of her humpbacked posture. She is definitely smaller. Her hair, too, has the texture of an old mop, her eyes are sunken and dull, and her face is creased deeply with frown lines. He makes himself look at the crystal until he can say out loud that it doesn't bother him, and almost believe it.
Some time later, one night after he's put Toby to bed, he gets out a crystal again and goes looking for her explicitly. And when he can't find her, he surprises himself by going to the dump in person.
He's looked for a few minutes and has almost decided she's not there when he sees a junk lady with a teddy bear on her back. When he draws closer, he sees little images of the dwarf, the horned creature, the bridge guard. There is no image of him on the pile, even though he knows she owned one.
"Sarah," he says. She does not turn around. "Sarah," he says again, louder. She makes no response. He goes around to face her; she looks up at him but makes no indication of recognition. Well, of course she doesn't, he thinks with strange bitterness. That's what the peach was for, wasn't it?
She is no longer Sarah. There is nothing to indicate her former identity but the battered toys on her back. She is just another stringy-haired junk lady with filthy gray clothes and a face like a withered apple.Is this what he wants?
Jareth gets down on one knee and looks her in the eyes. She regards him him leerily, but does not step away or break his gaze.
"I'm sorry," he says quietly. Her tiny black eyes are uncomprehending.
He hasn't wanted any of this. But he goes back one last time.
"You're him, aren't you? You're the Goblin King."
She fears him so much, and he asks himself one more time, Is this what he wants.
"I want my brother back, please, if it's all the same."
And then, with a clarity that is so perfect he can taste it, that is chokingly sweet on his lips, he realizes that it doesn't matter. It never mattered what he wanted, because he lost.
It is not his right to demand do-overs. It is not a prize he has earned, this determination to subjugate her, whether he wants it or not. She is the conquerer, this girl-turned-woman, or soon will be, as she stands before him trembling, and he is the conquered. He has never been one to play fair, but he has always observed rules. This is one of the rules, this is one he cannot define away.
His heart rebels against the thought. He doesn't know how to lose. Even if he isn't allowed to win—even if he doesn't want her to fail anymore—he has to give not-losing one more try. So he smiles at her.
"Yes," he says quietly. "You can have him back."
"Th-thank you," she stammers. She looks surprised. "It… it was a mistake, you see," she tries to explain to his silence. "I didn't mean… I thought I wanted…"
"We all make mistakes," he says. "We all sometimes think we want something that we don't really." He pulls a crystal from the air. "I've brought you a gift."
"What is it?" The fear is abated; the longing is more curiosity now.
"It's a crystal," he says. "Nothing more." An illusion. A bubble with a comforting picture, to be admired and then burst. He feels the convex walls of the room growing thin. "But if you turn it this way and look into it, it will show you your dreams." It glitters over his fingertips, and her eyes grow wide. What dreams would she see in it? He is amazed that it has taken him this long to wonder.
"What do I have to do?" she asks cautiously. "To have it, I mean."
"Nothing," he answers, stilling the globe on his fingertips. "That's what makes it a gift." He lowers it before her so Sarah can take it from him, and after a hesitation, she does.
She turns it over in her hands, and looks into it. Her lips part in wonder, and her eyes shine. She looks up at Jareth.
"Thank you," she says. "But I don't— I don't understand. Why…?"
"Because you earned it," he replies. He smirks a little. "Or you would have." When she looks even more confused, he simply smiles and shakes his head. "
The room shivers slightly, the way a soap bubble does the moment before it bursts. He reaches out and takes her hand, which makes her stiffen, but he only lifts it to his lips and kisses it gently, soundly. She blushes and stares, her expression much the same as when she looked into the crystal. Jareth bows deep.
"My congratulations," he says, "To a worthy victor." And she doesn't understand, but that's all right, and he straightens up and takes one step backward.
The crystal world dissolves, and if it isn't what he wanted, well, it's close enough.