Disclaimer: Labyrinth is the property of Labyrinth Enterprises, and her characters and images are borrowed with gratitude. This story has nothing to do with my other Labyrinth stories; it's the product of a thought that struck me one day while stuck in traffic. Thanks, as always, to my wonderful and talented sister, Sylvia Volk, for her feedback on the story. I tip my metaphorical hat to her brilliant writing skills. Cheers- Ya Nefer Ma'at.
Time to Die
By Ya Nefer Ma'at
Sarah leaned over, slowly wrangling the poker from its holder and giving the logs burning in the fireplace a judicious prod. The cold seemed worse this winter than it ever had before, settling into Sarah's body with an intimacy that she quite resented. This winter, in fact, she had noticed many changes. Never before had she faced the bone-deep weariness that seemed to arrive with the snow and short days.
She shifted restlessly, sensing that the final curtain call was approaching, signalling the impending finish to a marvellous 85 years of life. Sarah had but one real regret in her long life. She had enjoyed an existence that was the envy of many. She had been the reigning diva of the stage and silver screen for decades, leaving many audiences on their feet and applauding energetically by the end of her breathtaking performances.
She had so much to be thankful for, and yet, faced with the end of her earthly life, she found herself returning to that one lasting regret, that one performance left unfinished. If not for the aching remembrances of a 15 year old girl, Sarah would welcome death impatiently, anxious to discover what lies beyond that final bow. Instead, she found herself staring into the fire, trying to recall the exact beauty of his cruel smile and mocking eyes, the golden timbre of his voice.
Sarah didn't react at first, thinking that he spoke in her memory. Gradually, she became aware of his presence. She was immediately flooded by jostling emotions: excitement punctuated by flashes of anger, of fear, and of ravenous juvenile lust. She tilted her head quickly, confirming that he was standing beside her, then as quickly, angled her face away from his mismatched eyes. Her heart was like a panicked bird within her chest as she whispered, "Jareth? I-is that you...?"
He chuckled, making her heart labour more. "It is indeed, Sarah." He shifted, moving closer and looking down at her averted face. "Why the sudden shyness, my dear?" he purred, his tone at once caressing and mocking. "Are you not pleased to see me?"
That stung. Sarah had envisioned his return so many times, spending blissful hours planning how she would win his love. Oh, how cruel he was, waiting until the beauty with which she would have seduced him had faded. Sarah turned sharply, glaring up into his face. Even as she drew breath to rail at him, her blue eyes widened. Her memory had lied, oh, it had lied in each reconstruction she had painstakingly taken of his face: no human memory could do justice to him and no human visage hope to approximate him. Sarah devoured the splendid contours of his face, the line of his eyebrows, before becoming lost in the allure of his gaze. His thin smile seemed to slay her. Sarah slowly released her captured breath, searching his eyes.
One eyebrow raised, and the smile deepened. Jareth cocked his head, moving to face Sarah directly. "You need not fear looking at me. I already know that age has sculpted your features, as it must." He laughed softly as his perceptiveness caused colour to flare in Sarah's lined cheeks, but took pity on her. "Sarah, Sarah, all your beauty is still clear– and quite enchanting– to see. No amount of time could rob you of your charms."
Her face softened at his words. "You haven't changed at all." Sarah pouted briefly, feeling her dreams evaporating. "Has it not been seven long decades since we last met?"
"It has for you. Time flows differently for me." Jareth shrugged elegantly. "But you still haven't answered my question, Sarah: are you pleased to see me?"
Sarah caught her breath, then swallowed. "Yes, oh yes, Jareth." She blushed again, looking past him to the fire. "I have waited my entire life to see you again. I-I thought that I'd waited in vain." She steeled herself, looking back up to meet his eyes, uncertain of how he would react, or what he might want of her. Her eyes widened to find that Jareth was idly rolling a crystal across the back of one gloved hand. He gently stroked her hair with the other hand, kneeling to look more deeply into her staring eyes.
"I hoped you would be. You've had a successful life, my dear, by mortal measures. You now stand at death's side, as you have sensed. I have come to offer you an alternative."
"You have power over death...?"
"After a fashion." Jareth held the crystal before Sarah, allowing her to see their inverted reflections in the gleaming surface. "Once again, I've brought you a gift."
"Is it the same gift that you offered me all those years ago?" Sarah reached timidly toward the crystal, only to have Jareth pull it back. "How did you describe it...? 'No gift for an ordinary girl, who cares for a screaming baby' wasn't it...? Well, no screaming babies here."
Jareth danced the crystal across his hands, watching Sarah all the while. "No children at all, here or in the long course of your life. Why was that, Sarah? There were certainly men who would have gladly played the role of lover and father, and yet you were steadfast in your refusal. Have you never regretted not being a mother?"
Sarah sighed. The question was not a new one, but one that had been posed many times, by many people. Would-be husbands had pressed her on that issue, while her parents had lamented her failure to provide them with grandchildren. She herself had been too frightened, believing implicitly that she would be unable to resist calling on the goblins to take her child away, knowing that she would then see him again. As much as Jareth haunted her thoughts and ruled her heart, Sarah knew that she couldn't knowingly sacrifice an innocent life just to see him again.
When she finally forced her aged gaze from the crystal to meet Jareth's eyes, she had the impression that he knew exactly why she had not dared procreate. Sarah drew a deep breath, speaking softly, "Yes, I do regret not having experienced motherhood, not being a grandmother. I try to tell myself that my career was satisfying enough, that I could play any maternal role I chose."
Jareth politely raised an eyebrow. "Hardly the same thing, my dear. I will give you a glimpse of what your children would look like, if you're curious." He held the crystal out again, as if daring her.
Sarah studied him, seeking any hint of trickery in his expression, but he looked at her innocently enough. She slowly looked into the depth of the crystal, watching as images swirled like smoke. At length, she saw herself sitting in a rocking chair, holding a swaddled baby against her breast. The image gained clarity, and just as Sarah leaned forward with a smile to enjoy the maternal bliss on her image's face, the baby shifted. Sarah recoiled, seeing that the infant was not a human one. Sarah frowned, unsure what type of child she regarded so lovingly. Before she could ask Jareth, movement in the crystal distracted her, and she gasped to see the King of the Goblins enter the scene, leaning intimately over her and kissing her as she nursed the child. Their child? Sarah watched, spellbound by the tableau. In the crystal, Jareth stroked the baby's head, laughing as the child shot him a hostile look, angry with him for disturbing the all important act of nursing. Suddenly, other children romped into the picture, all undeniably theirs.
Forcing her eyes from the image, Sarah steeled herself and looked at Jareth suspiciously. His face was openly loving as he watched the antics of the children within the crystal. Glancing to meet her eyes, Jareth cocked his head toward the crystal, saying, "Do you like what you see, my dear?" He leaned closer to her, ignoring her frown. "Our children, Sarah, our beautiful princesses and dashing princes." Sarah was frozen as he continued, a lifetime of longing storming within her. "Children born of our love, my precious Queen, of our devotion to each other." He was close enough now that she could feel his breath whispering against her lips as he spoke.
When he kissed her, she was young again, as in the crystal, filled with happiness and love. He deepened the kiss, enjoying as she pressed back, returning his passion. Without breaking the kiss, Jareth slowly slid Sarah's hands around the crystal. Sarah immediately felt arctic air flood her body, and cried out under Jareth's lips. Jareth lifted his head, his hands still securing hers around the crystal. Holding it up between them, he let the crystal melt into Sarah's flesh, sending freezing tendrils of magic through her. Sarah stared pleadingly into Jareth's fascinating eyes. "Shh, Sarah," he smiled encouragingly at her, "Trust me, my love. As uncomfortable as this is, it will not hurt you."
"Why now, Jareth? I was a beautiful girl, but now I'm nothing but a..."
"Shh..." Jareth chided her, evoking a brief flash of a smile, before the pout returned.
"Oh, it's not fair that you waited so long to return to me!"
That made Jareth laugh. "Still the same old Sarah, I see," he shook his head. "You know fully well that you would have resented me if I had taken you from your mortal life, before you could realize all your ambitions and dreams. No, don't argue!" Jareth nodded as Sarah reluctantly shut her mouth. "Besides, it takes a lifetime to gain the wisdom and confidence necessary to play the role you're aspiring to. We both know how very demanding you are, after all," Jareth teased, pulling Sarah up from the chair. "Time to die, my precious thing." he murmured, taking her into his embrace and twirling her around the room. Somehow, it wasn't just her room anymore, it was the crystal ballroom as well, superimposed on her familiar surroundings.
Sarah surrendered to Jareth's magic, his powerful allure, dancing with all the repressed passion of her long years. When pain started to spiral up her chest, streaking down her arm, she just laughed and danced harder, her eyes locked on his face. Finally, the weight crushing her chest was too much, and she faltered. Jareth let her slide down his body, dancing past her as she collapsed onto the floor. Looking up at him, Sarah gasped to see herself, her young self, still locked in his embrace. The pain was becoming unbearable, shadows were crossing her eyes, and yet, she was acutely aware that she was seeing Jareth's luminous smile from the security of his arms, feeling his breath against her cheek as he dipped his head to nuzzle her while they danced. What was he saying...? With the last few beats of her starving heart, Sarah heard him singing, his golden voice so heart-breakingly beautiful. She carried his song with her into the darkness.
The King of the Goblins gently settled the dead woman into her chair, close to the warmth of the fire. He slid her lids down to cover her empty eyes, then kissed her forehead lovingly. Stepping back, he turned to the beautiful young woman beside him. "Welcome to your immortal life, Sarah," he bowed, offering his hands to her. "Will you accept my heart, my devotion? Will you be my Queen?"
Sarah looked at her empty shell, noting the peaceful repose of her dead features, then turned away with finality. She took Jareth's hands with a radiant smile. "With all my heart."
The End (Actually, the Beginning!)
©Ya Nefer Ma'at, April, 2002. Revised August 2012.