Counting the Hours

Disclaimer: Labyrinth does not belong to me. I do not, in any way, make a profit from this story.

Author's Note: Because I love the ideas of closed circles, too.

Jareth counts.

Five hundred and thirty seven goblins roaming the city, twenty four chickens in the throne room, four crystals spinning round and round, thirteen hours and six strands of hair clinging to Sarah's lip when she bests him at his own game.

It is thirty three thousand seven hundred and ninety two seconds after his castle crumbles that he steals away Aboveground. He settles onto the third highest branch of a hundred year old birch tree and peers into Sarah's room on the second floor, ruffling his feathers.

Her eyes twinkle and glisten (he can count the stars there) as she jumps on her bed (one, two, three, eight) with her friends, reveling in her victory. He wonders to himself, how her face would look if he tore apart her little friends, limb from limb. He can imagine her terror, her horror and her fear rank in the air as their blood seeps into the carpet, its lurid red stain spreading toward ten of her toes. He pictures taking her there on the blood soaked ground, bodies strewn all around them as he continues to count. The freckles on her face (fourteen), the many eyelashes fanning her cheeks (thirty one), how many times she'll cry out stop (six, perhaps seven), how many time she cries out his name (none), and the ten little half crescents she'll leave on his back.

He entertains the thought for seven seconds. Fourteen more, before he decides he doesn't like her smug happiness enough to do something about it.

Three crystal balls later, and he turns back time. Nine years, two months, and thirteen days.

It is a hazy evening on the fourth of July. Sarah is seven, and four ribbons hold up two pigtails on either side of her head. He counts the beads of sweat that roll down the back of her neck, and his greedy thoughts have nothing to do with who she is but who she will become.

Jareth appears as a specter, half hidden in the shadowed dusk of the setting sun. He hides nothing of who he is, but Sarah, small, dainty is fearless.

She reaches up, up, up, but she is three feet too small, so he leans down, down, down, until they are both face to face. Her on the tip of her ten little toes, and him crouched down on the balls of his feet, an amused half smirk tugging at his lips.

"What's your name?" She demands, a hint of petulance in her face.

There are three crumbs clinging to her lips that he wipes away before answering. "Didn't your mother teach you not to speak with strangers?"

Sarah looks away, tucking her chin down into her chest. It is the first and only time she breaks gazes with him. "Mommy is very busy," she whispers.

Jareth considers her for a moment and a half before a crystal ball flashes to life before her.

Her eyes are wide as saucers. "What is it?" she queries, any trace of her sorrow having been chased off by his magic and nimble fingers.

Jareth smiles at the question, and wonders, how many times history would repeat itself before all is said and done.

He plays his part.

"It's a crystal, nothing more. But if you turn it this way, and look into it, it will show you your dreams."

The Goblin King watches as hope dances in fits and starts in her eyes. She is so young to be so guarded, so careful. He watches her hesitate, but says nothing. He knows her so well.

She is busy watching the crystal in his palm, and for a second she slips enough (one small, pink tongue peeking out between a pair of rosier lips) so that he has the pleasure of seeing a child's greed steal over her face as she reaches for it. "Show me," she demands.

On a hot damp night on the fourth of July, underneath the pale bloodless moon, the first seed is planted.

When Sarah turns eight, she has a party with seven of her friends at the local carnival.

They leave in two minivans, stop at eleven traffic lights and arrive at fifteen to three. Sarah is glowing with happiness; her cheeks are flushed and her eyes are alight with a child's simple glee. Her hair is curled, courtesy of her mother, and he can count nine silver star clips pinned to the mass of her dark hair.

Her fingers are sticky with candy, as she palms eight balloons (one for each year lived), that the clown hands her. Three red ones, one blue, two yellow and two green ones.

It's not long before he corners her by luring each and every one of her friends away from her, until she is standing alone inside the mirror house.

Fear doesn't cross her features for a flicker of a second, and despite himself, something inside him lazily stretches awake, with a long slow rumble of approval. He steps out from the shadows and Sarah startles (just barely) at the twenty three images of the Goblin King emerge and surround her.

Her eyes flash with remembrance, and a mischievous little grin sneaks onto her still round face. "Jareth!"

He tilts his head at the way she says his name so very easily.

He reaches her in three strides, and once again he crouches down towards her, a white cloak of feathers swaying in tandem to strange winds.

"Hello Sarah," he says silkily, wrapping a limp curl of her hair around his smallest finger. When he releases the raven lock, it bounces back to life, lustrous and dark.

Sarah doesn't notice. Crossing her arms, she looks up at him expectantly. "Don't you have something to say to me?"

Jareth hides a smile behind the feeling burgeoning in his chest. She is eight years old, and she makes demands of an ageless and powerful creature such as him so easily, it would have been frightening if it weren't exactly what he was cultivating.

"Oh?" he murmurs, rising to his full height and he prowled around her. "And what might that be, precious?"

He counts the little wrinkles in her nose at the name, but she pushes on. "Don't you know what day it is?" sounding a little disappointed. "It's my birthday, Jareth."

He heaves a sigh, and mentally takes stock of the many little Sarah's reflected in the mirror, her fingers twisted together behind her back and she digs her feet into the ground unhappily.

She is pouting, the lines of her lips sulky and sullen, and exactly the same as when she finds an obstacle she particularly doesn't like. Jareth closes his eyes briefly, and suppresses a century's long hunger. "So it is," he allowed.

She peeks up at him. "What did you bring me?"

This time, he allows himself a chuckle. "What did you bring me?" he countered.

Sarah blinks up at him, taken aback, but is undaunted. Without hesitation she reaches up into her hair and withdraws nine silver star clips, and in her small hands, they gleam, old and familiar. He tastes peaches in his mouth. "Here," she says, presenting them to him. "Stars to put in your sky."

He takes them, puts them in his cloak and in the very same breath, withdraws a small red book.

But it is so much more than that, isn't it? It is a life, a legacy, a legend still in the making. A story about a girl and a king, still being written.

He offers it to her, and something in Sarah seems to sense the shift, seems to understand. She wipes her sweaty, sticky hands on her dress before reaching out with both hands to take the book (a hundred and ninety three pages, thirty thousand four hundred and eighteen words). Her hands brush the words emblazed in gold as if stroking a dove's wing.

"Labyrinth," she breathes.

His eyes narrow at her as she says it. Because she sounds so much older than herself, so much more than the body of a little eight year old can contain. She sounds knowing, so much that he suspects that she must remember what has already happened and what had yet to occur. He holds his breath and scrutinizes her face, searching for what isn't there. Because Jareth, of all people, should know that absence of evidence should never constitute as evidence of absence.

But the moment is over, gone in a room where they're surrounded by themselves.

Without another thought, she seats herself on the ground, flipping to the first page. Her mouth shapes the words that will shape her future, and for now, Jareth is content to be forgotten, to fade back into the shadows.

That night he creeps into her room. She is sitting on her bed, the book still cradled gingerly in her hands. She looks up at him, and smiles. "Hello Jareth," she says seriously.

"Do you like your gift, Sarah?" he murmurs, seating himself on the edge of her bed.

She nods, half sleepily as she curls up against him. She hands him the book. "Read to me?"

He can't resist the opportunity. "Which part?" he replies mildly, but his gloved fingers are already flipping to the page.

"Your favorite part," she sighs. The sound is like a knife raking down his spine.

His mind is a flurry of falling bricks, and tolling clocks and feathers and cruel, green eyes. "'Give me the child.'" His voice is resonant, thin and brittle with the icy weight of the past he is determined to change. "'Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great.'" There is a hollow pause.

"You have no power over me."

The words taste like ash and grave soil on his tongue.

The air is suffused with the quietude of his thoughts, which are heady and cloying. He is startled when he feels her hand ball into a fist around the fabric of his shirt. "What happens after?" she whispers.

"She leaves." He says, threadbare.

He feels rather than sees her brow furrow in thought. "Maybe he didn't give her a reason to stay," she says, defiant, but he can hear hints of doubt there. The bare shadow of uncertainty that he knows will grow, and blossom into a brilliant thistle of nightshade.

"Didn't he?" he replies, his voice deep and coaxing.

It's the last thing she hears before she falls asleep, nestled in the crook of his arm.

For his part, Jareth closes his eyes and counts her even breaths long into the night.

She is ten when her mother finally leaves.

Here is what she thinks: Her mother will be gone for the duration it takes for her part to be filmed. She would come back soon.

Here is what she is told: Her mother left in a whirlwind of scandal and rumor with a co-star. She had barely been there for the months following the incident. Her mother missed one birthday, one Christmas, and five school plays. Her mother would never be coming back.

But here is what actually happens.

Jareth listens to Sarah speak of plays, and watches as her face falls whenever Linda Williams is mentioned (once, twice, then never again). Jareth counts the silent tears she sheds when she thinks he isn't there, and he takes note of the growing bags underneath her eyes.

What actually happens is that he snaps Linda William's neck, and feels oddly useful.

She is fifteen when she is first kissed.

It is not her first girl boy party, but it is the first where she has access to alcohol.

There are two glasses of clear amber liquid, five other glasses that are empty, save for the heady and intoxicating smell of spirits, and one boy who catches her eye.

They climb twenty eight steps and enter the third room to the left. Sarah is flushed and unsteady, and the boy is eager, smug.

Jareth resists the urge to crush him like a bug.

They stumble toward the bed, but don't quite make it there. She tumbles toward the ground and the boy lands on top of her, sweaty, heavy and rank. He can see the beginnings of Sarah's doubts, but she visibly pushes them away.

The boy presses sloppy open mouthed kisses up her throat, and Jareth clenches his fists, burning. His hands snake around Sarah's waist to push her shirt up, bearing small round breasts covered by scraps of white lace. The boy is irreverent as he tugs roughly at her brassiere, and by now Jareth can see Sarah's uncertainty mutate and grow, into something like fear and revulsion and disappointment.

Whatever she had expecting (romance, magic, love), it had not been this.

The boy moves, grinds into her stomach, grunting and panting. His hand weasels into her panties, and the Goblin King can hear her sharp little gasp, high and thin. His head spins.

"No," she mumbles pushing at the boy's chest feebly.

Her small frail voice falls on deaf ears, and Jareth watches on, impatient and bursting at the seams.

When the boy's fingers slide against a part of her, still dark, unknown and a secret, Sarah winces and her voice gathers strength. "I said no!" she snaps, and shoves the boy aside, righting her clothes and stumbling from the room in a whirl of dark raven hair.

The boy lies on the floor, dazed and disgruntled, swearing softly under his breath.

Jareth deliberates for a moment longer, before stepping out from the darkness, shadows enveloping him like a dark cloak of menace.

That night he does not count the screams that he tears from the boy's throat.

He revels in them.

Blood soaked, Jareth allows himself to dwell, and to dream.

Sarah is lying on a blood red coverlet, her chest heaving with her breathy little pants, and he imagines he can see those exhalations escaping into the damp night air, imagines he can breathe them in, claim them as his own. Her arms are stretched over her head, fingers clenched into the sheets. Her face is flushed, rosy hued and tempting and her eyes are green, glassy. Jareth eyes trace the line to where her dark hair sticks to her lips, red and moist.

His throat is dry when he swallows.

He reaches her in two strides, starving, wolfish. He wants to devour her, to swallow her whole. To take her in a rush of heat and to slake his thirst for her. He allows his greed to run rampant; he lets his eyes wander and trace her soft curves, and her small delicate breasts.

His hands are on her before he realizes. Curiously, he wears no gloves. Her skin is scorching hot, and at the barest touch she moans, throaty and deep. She presses her face into the silk coverlet, but her eyes, piercing and green, never leave his.

Jareth slides his hands down to her hips, and gathers the fabric of her shirt into his hands, pulling it up inch by inch. He leans in to breathe in the smell of her (peaches and petrichor) his nose nudging at her navel. The Goblin King watches as goose bumps trail in the wake of his touch, his fingertips following after curiously.

He looks up, and Sarah is biting her lip, desperately locking sharp, fierce cries in her throat like prisoners of war. He looks closely and can see the indentation that her little white teeth leave there.

When he pushes her shirt up above her head, he feels his breath leave his chest in a sudden rush.

Sarah is a goddess. Pale and beautiful. She is cream and color lying there on the spread of his crimson sheets like the incarnate of the very moon. Her skin glistens with a thin sheen of sweat, and he knows that when he tastes her skin, he would taste salt and Sarah. He wants to worship her.

Jareth starts at the edge of her panties, searing the mark of his kisses on the flat plane of her stomach, edging upwards, and she arches upwards, and a choked moan escapes her lips. He stops at the valley between her breasts and gazes into her eyes. She's panting, pleading, bright silver sounds tumbling from her lips and she twists her hands into the sheets. They both pause.

There is a moment when something in them both is still, silent. As if under water, her hand reaches out toward him, and he closes his eyes when he feels the flat of her palm caress the sharp planes of his face. Her fingers tremble when they brush over his brow, and they burn a trail down the slope of his nose until her thumb brushes against his lips. He is surprised at the flash of heat that races through his veins at the touch and his eyes snap open.

Something changes.

He seals his lips to hers in a sudden hungry kiss. Sarah's hands snake into his hair, twining into frost blonde locks and she tugs, pulling him roughly down. Jareth growls, and pulls her hands away, trapping them above her head in fingers of steel as he leaves hot, wet kisses trailing down her throat, his hand wrenching her skirt apart and he sinks lower and lower until his face is pressed between her coltish legs, breathing in the smell of her, tasting her there when he spreads her folds apart with two thumbs. He licks, savors the sweet tang of her, and suckles until her voice is a cracked breathy thing.

And as always, Jareth counts.

One knuckle ("Jareth, please!"), two (and he finds salvation in his name, riding on the breath of her moans), and finally three, and his fingers are sheathed in the tight, wet vice of her.

He feels her rippling, feels her pleasure ebbing and flowing in fits and starts, as she grits her teeth, moans, and bucks her hips into his hand as his thumb spreads her apart and rubs circles on her clit with the rough pad of his thumb that makes her thrash.

Jareth smirks, and stretches up to take a pert pink nipple into his mouth, rolling the tight little tip around between his teeth and tongue. He tilts his head and tugs on it, eliciting a sharp cry as Sarah arches upward, a sweet soft offering, and Jareth takes it. Takes everything she has to give, strips her bare as he crawls inside her skin, makes a home within the cage of her bones.

Sarah's hands are impatient as they slide between their bodies, unfastening the front of his pants. Jareth groans as her fingers wrap around him, strong and sure. She does not hesitate. Her hand squeezes him, strokes along the underside of his cock, while the rough pad of her thumb rubs at a spot underneath the head of him (over, and over and over again) until he grits his teeth, bucking helplessly into her hand, sliding, slick, against the soft satin of her stomach. Sarah's eyes sparkle, the benediction of a vixen who knows she she can what she wants. She gazes into his eyes as her hands cups his scrotum, rolling them in her palm. He can hardly stand the sensation of her fingers around him, dainty and strong as she strokes him closer and closer to oblivion.

Her hand guides him towards her opening, the other pushing desperately against his ass, as if pulling him deeper into her, as if the sensation of him filling her up, full and aching, is all she needs. What she craves more than breath itself.

He fills her up, hips jerking, and the sensation of entering her robs all breath from his chest. She is hot, tight and wet, and like a vice gripping him, pulling him in further. Jareth works himself deeper inside her, grunting as he angles himself to stroke the entire length of her. Sarah grunts, claws at his shirt until he hears it tear. She shifts her hips to accommodate him, and suddenly as she arches against him, sweaty and sweet, he sinks inside her, buried to the hilt. They both groan, head canted towards each other. There is the barest pause before they start a hard, fast rhythm, accented by the sound of slapping flesh. He thrusts, and she arches up against him, moaning as she pleads for more (once, twice, eight times) until both of them shaking and shivering.

"Move, please," she whispers, raw and desperate as she throws wiry legs around his body, to force him deeper as she flings her head back in reckless abandonment, her throat raw from her cries.

Jareth complies, all too willing. His hips thrust, stroking that spot inside her that makes the hand scoring crescent moons on his back suddenly rake ten bloody lines, and the stinging pain of it only adds to his pleasure as he groans, pressing his face against the crook of her neck, breathing hard.

Her hips would move in tandem with his, bucking upwards and the smell of them both would intoxicate him. They'd fuck each other until they both slaked their lust and there would be nothing left inside them but silence and shivering.

They come with a roar, and a shaky sigh, and they would lie still in the circle of each other's arms.

Jareth closes his eyes at the conjured images and allows himself to dwell and to dream.

And to count.

Fifteen murmured sighs, eight times when she'd call his name, ten little crescent moons on his back and an indentation of teeth on his chin.

If only.

Sarah is sixteen when she makes her way to the castle beyond the Goblin City.

She doesn't know him in this guise, as the Goblin King. She has forgotten.

He can count the little cuts on her arms and face from where she was lost in the forest of eternal night. He could see her heavy breaths, and the little half crescents she'd scored into her own skin from terror or anger, he cannot discern.

He's lived this life twice. He'd seen this face twice, so beautiful and determined to best him, to prove to him that she's wasn't a child.

She isn't. He knows.

History repeats himself. Time is indomitable.

"Give me the child. Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great. You have no power over me." She says, fierce and shadowed, but not quite as strong as she was before. The nightshade he'd planted twines around her throat.

Time was never the issue for Jareth.

He fragments it.

"What happens next?" he whispers, looking intently into her eyes.

Something inside her startles, and he can see her, rattled. However, she rallies well. "I – I leave," she says lifting her chin boldly, pridefully.

Jareth smiles at the memory of her, eight years old and curled in the crook of his arm. "Perhaps I should give you a better reason to stay." He says, stepping towards her. Sarah's face is flushed, confusion pinching at her brow, but she is uncertain. Uncertain and standing on the precipice. It would take so little to push her over the edge.

"Didn't yo—" she stops suddenly, her breathing shallow, her hands clenched by her sides. What he's given her over the years is all she knows, all that's led her up to this moment. This moment she's lived once before, and Jareth wonders if she can feel it. Time compressing all around her as it is him.

She falls silent, and he waits with bated breath.

She's at conflict with herself. At the half hidden memories beckoning from the shadows like the feathery tips of his cloak, and who she is, the girl she is who will always fight him.

She wins the war she's at with herself.

"No, Goblin King," she says. "You have no power over me."

Jareth wonders how many times history will repeat itself before all is said and done.

Turning back time he reaches a conclusion: as many times as it needs to get it right.

Nine years, two months, and thirteen days, and Sarah is wearing a tiny dress. There are four red stains marring the dress from the popsicle in her hand, two pigtails on either side of her head, and three ribbons in her hair.

And one story yet to be written.