Author's Notes: This was done as part of a fic exchange on the LJ community 'labyfic', and the prompt was given to me by feyhowl.
Prompt: TILT THE WORLD: take the characters from the Labyrinth and do a different 'fairy tale' style. Parody another (Princess and the frog, Snow White, etc) but handle with loving care. This is the hardest because I'd like less 'tongue-in-cheek' and more 'modern realistic' approach.
Plot Summary/Author's Notes: Man, I wrestled with this for weeks before I started writing. I hope it's at least somewhat what you're looking for! Here goes: "True names can grant power over the bearer, but Sarah's always been different and speaking HIS name will rescind the words spoken ten years ago."
"I wish the goblins would bring me a cup of tea."
The words were spoken absently. Sarah had had ten years to get used to the goblins obeying her whims. Without looking up from the sheaf of papers she was studying, she reached over and lifted the steaming cup, stirring gently before she sipped. She smiled. The sugar was right this time.
Glancing at her watch, she frowned and set the cup down, drumming her fingers irritably on the ancient oak desk and the sheets of hastily drawn notations. There was something just wrong with the entire musical score. Oh, the melody was lovely enough, but everything she wrote around it sounded ruinous.
Sarah had graduated from the local university four years ago with full honors and a degree in music and composition. She'd pulled every string she had to get invited to the eclectic English lord's party last night and it had paid off beyond her wildest dreams. It only took one well-placed comment about Sarah's enchanting, entrancing work, from a carefully coached colleague, for the host of the gala himself to take an interest in Sarah. She couldn't restrain her delighted smile when he politely inquired as to her availability.
"My son is to be married soon," he explained, his crisp accent reminding Sarah of the man who'd inspired her musical interests. "Original music would be more appropriate, for a family of our rank."
"Certainly, my lord. I could start immediately," she replied with a small bow of her head, ignoring the way the man's eyes wandered over her body. Well, she'd worn the low cut, slinky dress for a reason.
"Excellent! I shall see you on the morrow, then." And with one last glance at her figure, he turned away. Startled by his abruptness, Sarah followed his lead and moved off in the opposite direction, but the rest of the night passed in a dazzling blur.
The next day she presented herself at the estate shortly after lunch. The man who answered the door, a butler or assistant or some other kind of servant, Sarah imagined, led her to a lavish guest room. As she passed through the doorway, Sarah felt a cold tingle run up her spine. Shivering, she glanced around the room and sat at the ornate chair before the desk. The room looked like something out of a medieval castle, though most of the lord's mansion seemed fairly modern. There were no windows.
A moment later the servant returned bearing a tray of fruit. "The Lord Darian of the Outlands," he announced with a bow, depositing the tray on the desk as the lord entered. The Outlands? Sarah thought. What a strange name.
"Ah, Lady Sarah. So good to see you again." Darian gave her a small bow and indicated the fruit platter. "Please, eat!"
"Thank you sir, but I just ate. And it's just Sarah, please." She flushed. Between the lavish furnishings and all the lord-ing and lady-ing, she was beginning to feel like she had stepped into another era…or another world.
"Just Sarah, then," he replied amicably. "And please, I insist. I'm simply ravenous and it would be too impolite to eat alone in front of a guest."
Not wanting to offend, Sarah hastily selected a slice of unfamiliar fruit. Away from the glamour of the party, she could see that the lord was older than she'd thought, closer to her father's age than her own. He was watching her intently as she put the fruit to her lips. Sarah took a bite and blinked in surprise at the delightful flavor.
"That's fantastic," she exclaimed, reaching for another slice. Darian smiled, relaxing into his seat with a sigh.
"Excellent! Then I expect you'll want to get started. It's the wedding march I need the most." Sarah nodded, reaching into her purse for her notebook. When she looked up, Darian was on his way out the door. "I'll be back in the morning for the finished piece."
Sarah's jaw dropped. "Um…excuse me?" He glanced back at her, one hand on the doorknob. "By tomorrow morning? That's crazy! Begging your pardon, sir," she added hastily.
His eyes narrowed and for the first time he looked dangerous and powerful to Sarah. "But my dear Sarah, I was told you were one of the best. Was that not true?"
Her mouth opened and closed wordlessly. "I…yes. Yes it is." Her chin came up stubbornly.
Darian smiled. "Then there's no problem." And he was gone.
And she'd been alone ever since.
Frustrated, Sarah erased one of the mismatched chords. This is it. This is the big one. She told herself. If I can do this, everyone will hear about it. I'll be famous and have an assured career.
She found herself writing the same notes again and, with a screech, crumpled the offending page into a ball and tossed it behind her. "I wish the goblins could bring me the world's best composer," she snarled.
A choking sound came from the vicinity of the bed. Freezing, Sarah took a deep breath and looked over her shoulder.
The Goblin King, a delicate china cup in one hand and a saucer in the other, sat perched on her bed as if it was something much more regal, which a moment ago it probably had been. "Sarah, you didn't," he groaned, setting the cup on the saucer with a loud clink.
Sarah gaped at him with wide eyes. "I…I'm afraid I did," she whispered. Then she gave a start, jumped to her feet, and leveled a finger at him. "YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME!"
He stared at her, expression blank. "You made that eminently clear ten years ago." She flushed, lowering her arm and glaring at him.
"You are not the best composer in the world," she told him defiantly.
That depends on which world you're referring to," he replied. He had set his drink carefully on her pillow and was uncrumpling the sheet of music that had landed beside him. "What is this ridiculous piece of garbage?" he asked, eyes scanning the page.
"Hardly garbage," she retorted, mimicking his arrogant tone. "The melody's perfect!" She crossed her arms across her chest, anticipating an argument, but he merely snorted softly to himself.
"Yes, it's lovely," he agreed, "but you've completely buried it under the rest of this rubbish. Except for here, where you give it no support whatsoever." He tapped a place midway down the page.
"I know that! What do you think I asked for help?" she snapped. "I've only got a few hours to complete the piece."
He started at her for a moment, then a predatory smile crossed his face. He leaned back on the bed, stretching out comfortably. "Yes, I suppose I could help you." Sarah flushed and looked away. Why couldn't he have appeared on a chair dammit!
"Who's getting married?" he asked suddenly, startling her into looking at him. Under other circumstances, she would have been thrilled that she had already set the musical mood well enough that he recognized the piece's purpose. But he was sprawled on one side, his shirt gaping open to reveal a smooth, lightly muscled chest. Sarah was sure her face couldn't get any redder, but she stubbornly focused on his face and kept her eyes there in spite of his knowing smirk.
"Not important," she said quickly.
"Of course it is," he scoffed. "How can you prepare such a piece if the recipient's tastes are not known to you?"
"I agree," Sarah admitted, grateful to have something as innocent as work to focus on. She sank into her chair. "But the information was not provided to me so I..." She flipped her long hair over her shoulder, refusing to be embarrassed further. "I've been imagining what I would want at my wedding."
She waited for his insulting reply, but he was studying the chords again as if seeing them in a new light. "I see," he murmured.
"So?" He raised an eyebrow at her demanding tone. "Are you going to help me or not?" He gave her a predatory grin and she sighed. "Or should I say, what do you want?"
She cringed as she asked. She knew what he wanted: the power she'd taken from him ten years ago. The power over her.
"Say my name," he demanded, playful smirk gone. "Say my name, and I am yours to command."
She frowned at him thoughtfully. So that's how it was done. "I don't know your name," she lied glibly, glancing around the room, then down at her hands. Nothing here was hers to give. Unless…
"I propose a counter offer," she said, sliding the ring from her finger. "This, in exchange for your help with the song tonight." It was a single diamond solitaire, valuable, but nothing compared to this job.
He studied the ring. "Where did you get it?" he demanded. Sarah blinked and shrugged. "A jewelry store somewhere. It keeps the single rich guys from hitting on me."
"Then you have no suitor?"
She frowned at him and shook her head. "Not that it's any of your business."
He relaxed. "The exchanging of rings has significance in your world, and in mine. Do you accept the consequences of what you're offering me?"
Exasperated, Sarah held it out. "It's just a ring. I'm just offering it so you'll help me. But if you don't want it…" She started to draw her hand back, but quick as a snake he was on his feet, gripping her wrist.
"I accept," he said solemnly, eyes intent. He drew her forward and she stumbled into his arms. His head dipped, catching her lips in a fierce kiss.
She froze in shock, one arm splayed awkwardly across his shoulders, the other still caught in his, then melted into his embrace. His lips were soft and inviting, warm and hungry, and suddenly she was remembering countless lonely, wasted nights, wondering what this might be like but tirelessly resisting the urge to find out. Now, it seemed like such a silly thing that years ago she hadn't just opened her mouth and said…
He was lowering her onto the bed and she couldn't make her eyes focus. She struggled to clear her mind, to tell him-
"Sleep, sweet Sarah," he whispered, one hand caressing her cheek.
And so she did.
Early the next morning, she was sitting nervously at the desk as Lord Darian expectantly held out his hand for the finished score.
She felt grimy, having slept in her clothes with only a splash of water on her face and a quick finger-combing of her hair when she rose. The Goblin King was nowhere to be seen and she would have suspected last night was a dream if not for the obviously completed music stacked neatly on the table. She'd hoped to have time to review it before Darian arrived, but she'd barely seated herself when the knock at her door came.
Now she waited, trying not to fidget anxiously, as the lord perused the pages. She wondered how he would judge the quality of her work. Even a skilled musician would have trouble telling what the final product would sound like merely by reading pages of notes.
As she watched, the lord flipped briefly through the pages, then restacked them neatly and waved a hand in the air above them. The sound of the opening fanfare trumpeted through the air and Sarah gasped. Darian listened for a minute, then waved his hand again and the sound cut off. "So, you live up to expectation," he said with satisfaction, then noticed Sarah's white face. "Are you feeling alright, my dear?"
"Who…who are you?" she asked meekly.
He grinned at her. "Why, I'm the father of the groom!" he said with a wink, and dismissed her question. "Now, since you've proven your skill, the next piece I shall need is something appropriate for the newlywed's first dance." He rose, snapping his fingers at his ever-present servant. "Food will be brought, and tomorrow we'll see if this," he tapped the finished score," was merely beginner's luck or something more."
Again? He wanted her to do this again?
"Wait-" she began, but the door was already closing after him. Leaping to her feet, she tried the knob but it wouldn't turn. She tugged at the door in exasperation, thumping her fist against it before spinning to glare at the rest of the room. "Just what is going on around here?" she demanded of the empty room.
She flopped down in front of the desk with a "humph!" but before long a new melody with the perfect delicate rhythm for a couple's first dance wriggled into her thoughts and she found herself reaching for the nearest blank page. As the hours wore on, she lost herself in the music and put her host's odd behavior completely out of her mind.
Late into the night, she found herself twirling around the room, trying to visualize how the couple might move. It should have been simple, but Sarah hadn't experienced many wedding dances, especially those that might be performed by pseudo royalty. She found herself agonizing over whether the lucky couple would pick up on the aural cues for a twirl or a dip, or if they'd just sway vapidly across the floor.
She glanced at her watch and sighed. Should I? She asked herself. Do I dare? The previous night's encounter had left her feeling both excited and frightened. Looking over the pages of unwritten music on the desk, she sighed again. "I suppose I must. I wish the Goblin King were here right now."
The words were barely out of her mouth when arms encircled her waist from behind. She gave a startled squeak as she was pulled against a firm, warm, and very male body. "And to what do I owe the pleasure this time?" a voice rumbled in her ear, the vibrations echoing down her body and settling with a warm hum in her stomach.
"I…ah!" She pulled away, fingers finding the red mark on her neck. Embarrassed and enraged at once, she glared at him. "You bit me!"
He bared his teeth at her in a feral grin. "And you are delicious." She wondered if her face could be permanently red, as often as she seemed to blush around him.
"Never mind," she huffed and gestured to the desk. "I need your help again."
He glanced at the desk but didn't move. "And you offer?"
She wrung her hands, conscious of the bare fingers and lack of any other tempting jewelry on her person. "I don't have anything else. What do you want?"
"Say my name," came the prompt reply. She looked away, refusing to meet his eyes. "Ssaarahhh…" It was a low, almost painful, hiss.
"I told you, I don't know it," she said firmly.
"Fine," he replied in a clipped tone. "In that case, I want you."
He'd moved closer while she wasn't looking, too close. His words whispered across her skin, making her shiver in a way that was not entirely unpleasant. "Give me this night, Sarah. Just one night, no obligations. I know I'm not the only one who has dreamed of it."
Oh yes, she'd dreamed of it. Heat suffused her body. She looked into his eyes and saw the burning need there. Lowering her gaze quickly, Sarah tried to think past her own hormonal response. She was not completely naïve or inexperienced. She was a modern girl, but had too much of a romantic streak for casual sex. But this was him and she couldn't imagine anything 'casual' or callous about him. And really, was there anything she had to lose?
"If you don't want it-" He began.
"I accept," Sarah interrupted, and had the pleasure of seeing the Goblin King truly shocked into silence.
So it was Sarah who gripped his shirt in both hands as she leaned in to kiss him, and gently drew him after her.
He was gone the next morning, but Sarah woke feeling refreshed and cheerfully unrepentant. Unlike the previous morning when she'd rushed to the desk to review her music, today she lurked near the guest room's door. When the servant entered and paused in surprise at the empty room, Sarah had her chance.
Slipping behind the man, she darted into the hallway. Darian was waiting outside, presumably for the servant to announce him. He blinked and reached for her, but Sarah dashed past him. The hall was lined with deep windows and it was toward these that she launched herself. His hand locked onto her arm, but not before she got a good look at what was outside.
The Lord Darian's estate was located at the edge of a small town. To one side was the village proper, to the other a large forest. What Sarah saw below was neither village nor forest but sprawling fields and farmlands, with the occasional barn dotting the fertile acres.
Darian and his servant bustled her back into the room, though Sarah put up little resistance as she tried to understand what she'd seen. Darian glared at her as if she were a misbehaving child.
"Where is this place?" she asked in a shaky voice.
"This is the Outlands, as you've been told," the servant told her testily.
She turned to stare at him. "And where in England is the Outlands?"
"Who said anything about England?" he replied, sounding surprised. He bowed to his lord and left them alone.
Darian had taken the chair across from Sarah and was drumming his fingers irritably on the desk as he watched her reaction. Sarah swallowed and tried to gather her wits to speak, but nothing came to mind. After a moment Darian leaned forward.
"Sarah, answer me this," he said seriously. "Does it matter? Does it really matter in the slightest where you are, as long as the work is good? If this piece," he tapped the dance score, "Is as good as yesterday's, which I'm sure it shall be, I have one more song for you and then our contract will be at an end."
Sarah studied his expression, but he seemed to earnestly want to put the oddities of the situation behind them and concentrate on the job. "One more song," she agreed reluctantly.
After performing his review of the new piece, he delivered his request for a piece of special music to be sung but a male/female duet. "An expression of the bride and groom's feeling for each other," he explained.
Sarah nodded. "What are the ranges of the singers?"
Darian waved a hand dismissively. "Oh, anything reasonable. Whatever you judge that may be." And again, he was gone.
Sarah sighed. "I sure know how to pick them," she muttered, and got to work.
Today she tried a different approach. She wrote exactly half of the music, the female half, and then stopped. Pushing her chair away from the desk, she propped her feet up on it and leaned back to stare at the ceiling. She wished she'd had a chance to study the final scores of the other two pieces, but Darian had whisked them both away with him before she could learn anything.
On the other hand, maybe she didn't want to learn from them. She'd be happy to put this bizarre experience behind her as completely as possible. Well, except for one part…
She said The Words once again and found the Goblin King leaning nonchalantly against the side of the desk, watching her. "This is becoming a bad habit," he said.
"That's the best kind," Sarah said with a sly smile. She nodded at the papers beside him. "It's a duet. I wrote the female half. If you'll handle the male, same payment as last night?" She'd tried for calm and collected, as if discussing a far more mundane exchange, but she could still feel the color creeping into her cheeks.
He looked amused for half a second, but then his expression turned stony. "I'm afraid not," he said, almost regretfully.
Sarah sat up, pulling her feet from the desk as she stared at him surprise. "What?" she blurted.
"This is the third night, Sarah." He slid around the desk until he was standing next to the chair, staring down at her. "Foolish girl, do you even know where you are? I don't know what kind of agreement you've made with Darian, but this may be the last chance you have." He dropped to his knees and took both her hands in his.
"Say my name," he implored. "Let me take you away from this place. Come away with me and I will give you all that you desire." Sarah could only stare at him in silent shock.
"I almost believe you," she said slowly, drawing her hands back. "But I do know where I am, and until I get out of here I'm not going to trust anything else I hear!"
He stood abruptly and turned his back on her, striding to the far side of the room. From the angry set of his shoulders, Sarah felt sure she had made the right choice. "I'll just have to finish it myself," she told his back.
"Oh no, that won't do," he replied without turning around. His voice was tight with suppressed emotion. "After incorporating my style into the last two, the tone would be far too different. You wouldn't want anyone to notice, would you? Someone might start asking…uncomfortable questions." Something in the way he said it made it clear to Sarah that he'd make sure those questions were asked.
"There is…one other thing," he said slowly, half-turning to face her. From where he stood, his expression was hidden in shadows.
"Yes?" she asked cautiously.
"Your child," he said quietly. "If you should bear a child, it will be mine."
Sarah kept her face carefully blank. Obviously he felt that this was the most heinous thing he could possibly ask for and, had she not been secure in her birth control methods, she probably would have agreed. As it was, she had missed her pills the past few nights but the odds were still enormously in her favor.
"And if there is no child?" she queried.
He was silent for a long moment.
"Nothing," he said finally. "Then you will owe me nothing."
Sarah felt as if the ground had fallen out from under her.
Lord Darian had reviewed her final score and deemed it without fault, but then he had merely stared at her unhappily for several minutes.
"I'm afraid there has been a terrible mistake," he said, and she was filled with anxiety.
"I had intended for you to be my son's bride," he said, and she was consumed with righteous rage.
"But I somehow neglected to notice that you are with child," he said, and she was overwhelmed with fear.
"Thus, you would not be an appropriate bride. But as you have consumed so much of the food of this world, you may not return to your own." And all emotion was swept away by numbing shock.
She sat in the ornate desk chair, hands limp in her lamp, and could only stare at Darian with wide, disbelieving eyes.
"I am…truly sorry," he added, sounding honestly regretful. "You are my responsibility now and a human should not be left to fend for herself, so I will see that you are provided for."
So before she could truly process all of these startling revelations, Sarah found herself permanently ensconced in the room at the top of the tallest tower of Lord Darien's estate in the Outlands. She examined her new accommodations detachedly and found that she had a very lavish and comfortable prison.
"At least I have a window," she told the empty room, then burst into bitter tears and slightly hysterical laughter.
Nearly a year later, Sarah was gently rocking the cradle in her solitary room when a white owl landed on the window sill.
As startled as she was, no one could have been more surprised than the Goblin King himself. He had been searching for Sarah for months, ever since his father ambushed him with a surprise wedding to a complete stranger. Darian had been trying to trick him into marrying for years, but once again he had escaped in time to prevent being locked into a contract. But not before he recognized the open strains of the wedding march.
When questioned about the composer, Darian had been evasive, even guilty, leaving his son to do some investigating on his own. A trip to Sarah's home in America revealed that she had vanished as if never existing. Her family did not speak of her and there were no photographs that included her. The small town in London that had hosted Lord Darian's gala made no mention of a beautiful, upcoming songwriter who had mysteriously disappeared.
And so he had concluded that she was still somewhere Underground. Unfortunately, his complete lack of any sort of power over her negated all his usual methods of finding her.
Until the child was born.
Then it had only been a matter of time.
Now he stood before her in full glory and Sarah's mouth open and shut in shock as she stared at him.
"So," he sneered, "I see your arrangement with my father turned out to be more profitable than expected."
"Your father!" Sarah exclaimed.
"Oh? Didn't bother to inform you that you inherited a son as well as a husband when he took you as his own? Yes, your child has a step-brother." He cocked his head to one side. "Though all that changes now. I've come to claim what's mine."
Sarah was rapidly assembling the pieces into place. Her eyes widened as she realized his misconception. "No, wait-" She began, half-rising from her chair.
"Stay put, woman!" the Goblin King roared, and a wave of magic pressed Sarah back into her seat so hard that she gasped.
At the loud noise, the infant woke and began to cry.
"There, there," he soothed, leaning over the cradle. "All is well now. I've come to take you to meet your new family." He lifted the child into his arms and rocked him gently. The cries tapered off.
Tears rolled down Sarah's cheeks. "Please…" she whispered, but he turned away, ignoring her.
"What a fine strong lad," he cooed, moving toward the window. "What shall we call you, I wonder?" He placed a booted foot on the wide window sill.
"Jareth," Sarah said in a choked voice. His head spun around to stare at her. She was still pinned to the chair, crying softly. "His name is Jareth," she repeated, and gave him a watery smile. "After his father."
He swayed slightly, placed a hand on the cold stone wall to steady himself, and stared at her.
The child gurgled happily in his arms.
A month later found Sarah once again in vastly different circumstances.
She waited outside the huge double doors, trying to steel herself to enter. The room inside was huge and packed full of noble folk she had never met. And she would have to do this alone, as there was no one else who could-
Sarah jumped and turned to find Lord Darian standing behind her, looking bashful. "May I have the honor?" he asked timidly, extending his arm to her with a small smile.
Gratefully, she accepted his offer and placed a small kiss on his cheek, silently letting him know that all was forgiven. Darian beamed.
They entered together and Sarah looked down the long, long line of people. The opening fanfare of music nearly caused her to stumble as she recognized her own work.
Laughing, Sarah let her future father-in-law lead her down the aisle. Her husband-to-be was waiting.
Final notes: The fairytale that this story loosely follows is "Rumpelstiltskin".