Chapter 5: Who's Making This Harder?
"Come here," Jareth beckoned her forth, completely unaware of the battle raging deep within her. Sarah stared at him blankly, at those gloved fingers as they curled slightly with the gesture. "Oh come now, I promise to keep my hands to myself." He raised them in plain sight, a surrendering position, though his expression was anything but.
It's not your hands I'm worried about, Sarah mentally conceded, but she said nothing and followed as he bade, because he'd made his assurance and he had to yet to ever go back on his word with her. Besides, how was she supposed explain her true fear to him?
She inched her way forward, with almost comical reluctance, arms crossed defensively below her chest. He watched her carefully, one eyebrow arched in response to her unenthusiastic movements, but he made no comment. Finally, she stood beside him at the window. Well, parallel to him, though she'd safely taken position as far from him as possible while still managing to achieve an unobstructed view of the sight below them.
"Well?" she inquired, making it clear she was coming no closer.
He paused before speaking and when he did, she couldn't read the expression on his face. "What do you see? Down there," he gestured toward the vision beyond with a slight inclination of his head.
"What?" Sarah shook her head, watching him momentarily, but he didn't elaborate, only regarded her expectantly. So with an eventual sigh, she glanced down, took in the sight she'd viewed only minutes earlier, and finding nothing remarkably new, returned her gaze to him. "The labyrinth," she answered simply.
He almost seemed to sigh at her response, but instead he spoke, "Beyond that, Sarah," with a shake of his head. Clearly, her answer had left something wanting. "Perhaps what I should say is what do you feel?"
Feel? She felt the corner of her mouth twitch, but managed to keep the movement under tight control. Well, that was a loaded question. But she gazed back at the labyrinth and let herself re-evaluate it in terms of what he seemed to want of her. What she saw was the labyrinth. Simple as that. But what did she feel? What was she supposed to feel? Awe? Fear? Relief? Regret?
Woah, where had that come from? No matter, whatever the source, it was the truth. Something was definitely---
"Wrong. Something's wrong," she blurted out. "It feels---" She glanced over at Jareth, found his intense gaze on her face and, strangely, that "safe gap" between them didn't seem all that large anymore. Or safe.
"Wrong?" he finished, a slight twist to his lips.
Oh, he thought she was funny, did he?
"Sick," she completed stubbornly, not giving him even that little victory. Because it was true, though she hadn't realized it until she'd spoken the words aloud.
He almost seemed taken aback, and the amused sparkle disappeared from his eyes. "Yes," he conceded finally. "It is. That's exactly it."
Ha, whaddya know? I actually guessed right. Point one for Sarah.
"But how? Why?" she asked curiously. Suddenly, a dreadful sensation sank into the pit of her stomach. "It wasn't---?" She couldn't bring herself to finish the thought, but it was okay because he didn't let her.
"No, it had nothing to do with that." Well, it was a topic that neither of them was all that eager to discuss, a single point of consensus between them. She studied his profile while he studied his labyrinth. "It isn't just the labyrinth either. It's the whole of the Underground. There is some sort of 'sickness' spreading about, infecting the land, the water, the air. And it's slowly destroying them all. I hesitate to call it a disease though because as far as we can tell, it appears to be a deliberate attack."
Sarah stared at him, startled. Destroying the Underground? Something powerful enough to destroy the *entire* Underground and he was relying on her return to fix it? And not just him either, she realized, remembering Alyn's earlier words. It looked like there were others banking on that same hope. That earlier sense of dread was rapidly returning.
"That's why the others, such as Alyn, are involved. We are all looking for a solution, but I can't be of much help when I'm working at... less than full capacity." He finished the sentence with a distasteful grimace, though he kept his face turned forward, so she would not have seen it if she weren't watching him so intently.
She could see how hard this was for him. It was difficult to maintain one's arrogant, superior, self-congratulatory image when being forced to admit to a mere mortal---one who, incidentally, had defeated you four years earlier in your own game---that you *needed* them. In fact, it must have been downright painful.
She was going to enjoy this.
Oh sure, maybe it was wrong to take such personal pleasure when he had just informed her that the whole Underground was essentially falling apart and no one knew how to stop it. But you take your moments as you get them. And right now, she was getting one too good to simply pass up.
"And where do I come into all this?" she asked innocently. Well, innocent was what she was going for, but it seemed she didn't quite hit the mark, judging from the way his jaw clenched in response.
"I'm sure Alyn explained this to you," he managed with exaggerated calmness.
"Oh he started to," she replied airily, "But then we were kind of interrupted. You remember, don't you?" She ventured a glance at his face, and yes, he remembered. Was it just her imagination or could she hear his teeth grinding? "Anyway, so the conversation just left off there."
After a brief pause, he spoke without looking at her. "If we're to find out who or what is doing this, and how to stop it, we need to draw on all the available resources."
Sarah scoffed and placed her hands on her hips. "Oh, so now I'm a resource. Just set up camp and get out your picks, we're mining for untapped powers!" Her biting remark drew his gaze this time, and she could see the controlled fury of emotions just below the surface.
"If there were any way around this, I would have already taken it," he snapped in return. "But there isn't, and at least I can manage to put aside my own pride for a moment, even if you can't."
"What are you talking about?" she demanded. "What does my pride have to do with any of this?"
"Why are you making this so difficult?" he replied in a fiercely quiet voice, peering down at her with something like frustration and irritation mixing in his expression.
Sarah's mouth gaped open. "You kidnapped me, you---" The thousand-and-one possible insults that came to mind died in her throat before she could voice any of them as she stared into that intimidating gaze. Let's not forget whom you're talking to, Sarah. Maybe the name-calling can wait until later. Like until after he leaves the room. "You brought me here against my will," she finished.
"Was there any other way you would have come?"
"That's supposed to justify this?" She couldn't believe this! Not at all. Forget apologizing for what he'd done, it sounded more as if he were blaming her for making his approach necessary. She hadn't noticed this earlier, but during their little shouting match, they had gradually inched closer until there was only a couple of feet left between them. But she was still too distracted to pay it much care.
"I don't have to justify anything," he replied more sedately. The cool, calm mask of the Goblin King was slipping back into place. "Yes, I brought you here. No, I didn't stop to inquire if you wanted to come. Yes, you have a right to be unhappy about it. No, I don't regret it. And no, I won't apologize." With an almost uninterested expression, he stepped away from her, from the window. He casually made his way over to a chair by the fireplace---the very same one he'd sat in during her dream---and she followed him with her eyes.
"And that's supposed to convince me to help you," she stated flatly. "Or do I even have a choice?"
"Oh, you always have a choice Sarah," he assured. "You have a choice between putting aside your own personal qualms and cooperating," he flicked invisible lint off his shirt, "And giving into your childish resentment and letting this place that your friends call home"---Sarah's eyes widened at the mention of the friends that she had all but forgotten about---"be destroyed, and them along with it."
Oh, that was low, bringing up her friends like that, making it seem as if she had somehow chosen to overlook them and their part in this whole thing. And not to mention the four years during which she had failed to keep in contact with them---not for her lack of trying, but simply because she had been unable to do so.
"Did you have something to do with that? With me not being able to contact them?" she inquired with narrowed eyes.
He raised an eyebrow, giving her a look that read, "Why would I bother?" He shook his head faintly. "No, that was your own doing."
And there he went blaming her again for things she knew nothing of! Sarah rolled her eyes heavenward. "How is that my doing?" she ventured in a tone that one might use when humoring a child.
He didn't seem to appreciate it, she gathered from the slight narrowing of his eyes. "Think about it Sarah," he answered with equal condescension. "With all the new powers and abilities you've acquired, after that night you were never able to call them back? If you really wanted to see them, you should have managed that simple task."
"I did want to see them!" she exclaimed. "And I did try! It just never worked. Nothing I tried ever worked, except that one time."
"Because you expected to see what you wanted to see, and you weren't ready to accept what was really there."
They both stopped short and regarded one another carefully. Somewhere deep inside of her, something was crying to Sarah for discovery, for realization. Something was screaming, like a little red beacon, "here! here! here!" If only she could pin her finger on what.
"What are you talking about?"
Jareth let out a disappointed sigh and leaned back in his seat. "Never mind." He shrugged his shoulders, and the defeated look that graced his face but moments earlier quicky disappeared. "You'll find out soon enough anyway."
It wasn't a very pleasing answer, but she decided not to push it any further. Besides, she had plenty of other issues to worry about until then. "And what about my family? They were expecting me, you know. I probably should have already been there by now." She glanced toward her watch, but the battery must have died out because the little second hand was no longer moving. The other two hands were stuck at a quarter to three. Hmm, her flight had been at four, and she'd been heading to the airport with a little over an hour to go... but it was probably just a coincidence. Or maybe she'd broken it during her struggle with Jareth. She grimaced. Hopefully it was just the battery.
"No need to worry about that," he waved it off far too easily. To her unconvinced look, he elaborated, "Didn't you notice last time how you returned at the same time your parents arrived home, even after your thirteen hours spent in the labyrinth?"
"Nine," Sarah corrected sullenly. She was not about to forget the four precious hours he had stolen from her. More importantly, she was not about to let him forget them.
He rolled his eyes. "Nine," he conceded. "Even so, that would have meant they were returning at perhaps four, five in the morning? Didn't that strike you as a little unusual?" Yes, it had, but it had been just another one of those things she had chalked up to the absurdity of her whole ordeal. There were just so many "unusual" things from that day, that she hadn't thought much of something as little as what time her parents had returned home.
"So what, you can control time?" It was hard to keep the wonder off her face or out of her voice, but somehow she managed. But maybe he had a right to be so arrogant.
"No, not so much control it as reorder it," a slight grimace passed over his face as he spoke, but he didn't stop, "And it really only works when you're traveling from one world to the other. Because you came to the Underground from your own world, I was able to distort time so fewer hours passed up there than did down here."
Still impressive, she thought, though she had no desire to admit it. "And you'll be able to do this the whole time I'm here? My flight was supposed to leave just over an hour after... you showed up. Can you manage that?"
"I can manage," he replied dryly. "Does this mean you're agreeing to stay?"
Chewing her lip thoughtfully, she grappled about for any loopholes in their potential agreement. "How long will this be? I mean, how long will it seem to be on this end of the time warp?"
Jareth shrugged. "I can't really say. But if it takes too long," he smiled grimly, "Well then, let's just say your services will no longer be required.
She frowned. "But if I ask you to send me back, before then, will you do it?"
There was a long pause as he glanced away without replying. It's not as if she planned to bail out on him---them---along the way, but she didn't want to corner herself into any arrangements simply because she hadn't taken the time to clarify the details.
Finally, he looked back up at her, his eyes betraying nothing as he replied, "Yes."
"No questions asked?" she continued, pushing a little further.
Satisfied, she nodded. "Alright, I'll do it."
But still, there was a tiny part of her crying out in protest. What are you doing? This is insane! You know you don't owe anyone anything! She soothed that tiny part with false bravado. Relax, I've got it all taken care of. Besides, it wasn't as if she were making a deal with the devil. Just the Goblin King.
Oh dear god, what had she gotten herself into?