Disclaimer: I own nothing but my imagination. No copyright was harmed in the spinning of this tale.
Summary: Can a villain become a hero? Jareth never considered the question until a little girl with dark, shining hair and wide green eyes asks him to be her champion.
A/N: It seems that you can't write copious amounts of Labyfic without tackling the question of whether the moment Sarah wished away her little brother was truly the first time she'd ever crossed paths with the Goblin King. This is my answer.
Please note that if you have read the novelization of the film, you will have to ignore it in order to enjoy this story. ;) (And the Manga comics? Forget about them.)
Totally beta-less, this thing. So, any errors you find can be blamed on Microsoft Word. (I'm perfect and never make mistakes. And if you believe that I have a bridge I could sell ya. ;) )
He wanders, escaping dark thoughts, fleeing isolation. No matter how far he travels, though, they trail behind him, clinging to him like a cloak billowing in the wind. And yet, for a moment, while he is away from the discordant babble of goblins, the cacophony of clucking fowl, he can almost forget his eternal monotony.
He crosses Above—an indulgence he is discouraged from. Eons before, when he was newly ascended, he followed every counsel, every rule with wide-eyed naiveté, ardently believing in his sovereign duty. As the years pressed on, however, the veil of honor fell away exposing a blackened revelation: he'd been banished to the backwater kingdom, as forgotten as the unwanted children stolen by his goblins. The oubliette had been crafted so well, he walked into it willingly. On the heels of this understanding, the laws he once upheld became iron shackles, weighing on him, chafing him until he broke them all.
Until he broke himself.
As he steps over the threshold between realms, he doesn't bother with a glamour. Sometimes, he comes in another form, an owl soaring through the night sky glittering with stars. Sometimes, he appears as a mortal, half-hidden in the shadows as he observes the short-lived beings carrying on day to day—loving, fighting, laughing, weeping. He wonders what it would be like to count his life in decades rather than millennia, where each breath would draw him ever closer to an inevitable end. Would he care, then? About anything?
The sky is clear, bright, painting Above in vibrant color. He closes his eyes, inhales the potent aroma of vitality. It's almost like magic, glowing in his periphery, beckoning to him like a siren on the high seas, but when he stretches for it, it slips away. He makes the attempt every time, though, unable to accept that anything he wants could be denied him for long.
He strolls through a mortal burial ground, sliding his gloved fingers over granite headstones. He visits here often, despite the morbidity of it. Death is something he both will never know and knows already. His physical form will continue indefinitely, but he dies in other ways, suffocated by the tedium of his existence. He sits on the manicured lawn before an ornate gravestone with sculpted, trumpet-blowing cherubs. Shriveled flowers droop in the built-in vase. With a wave of his hand, the blossoms change from grey-brown to rich vermillion. He hasn't given them life—not really—but merely reversed time in the bubble he creates around them. When he leaves, taking his magic with him, they will wither once more.
Alberta Marie Coffman lies deep in the earth beneath him. According to the dates chiseled into the stone, she had been but seven mortal years when the light left her eyes. A child full of promise. He pities her, wonders what sort of goblin she would have made had she been wished away to him. Surely that would have been a better fate than eternal night.
Such fragile creatures, these humans.
And yet, when drawing breath, they were countless times more alive than he—as though knowing their own mortality compelled them to wrest every passion, every pain, every joy from their experiences. They lap up life like thirsty adolescents, savor it as a fleeting feast. The notion is foreign to him, he whose world is never-changing. He knows no passion, no pain, no joy—only fatigue and boredom. Only loneliness when he deigns to acknowledge it. Even the anger he once bore toward those who had exiled him has become a pale thing, gauzy and indistinct—an obligation of a feeling, nothing more.
His brooding thoughts are interrupted by a tiny sharp intake of breath. He glances up, raising a brow at the child peeking over the headstone—a girl with long, shining dark hair and sad green eyes brimming with tears. Her rose-bud mouth falls open as she stares at him. There is something innocent, beguiling about her, made more beautiful from muted aura of grief wrapped about her like a tattered cloak. He doesn't speak. Perhaps she is nothing more than the apparition of the child whose body rests here.
She steps around the stone marker, the dark skirt of her dress swaying with the movement. She leans against the granite, presses against it as if to anchor herself. He is tempted to touch her, to test her solidity. The silence protracts between them, freezing the moment as though time itself holds it breath. He can hear the thrumming of her puerile heart, but she is not afraid. Instead, hope blossoms on her features. His brow furrows. His presence elicits fear, horror, dread—never hope.
"Are you Prince Charming?" Her question is whispered, so quiet he isn't certain at first that she spoke at all.
Prince Charming. He turns the name over in his mind, examines it against what he knows of mortal folklore. Isn't that the unfailingly moral protagonist in every fairytale, riding into danger on an alabaster horse to save the princess from some dastardly villain? Jareth smirks. Prince Charming. Not a moniker suited for the king of the goblins.
He considers denying he is this hero, but curiosity wins out. "Do you need a Prince Charming?" he asks. Under the gaze of those fervent eyes, he thinks he might be willing to shed his natural egoism and come to her aid.
She shakes her head. "Mommy does."
"Does she?" He leans back on his elbows. Helping this exquisite child is one thing, helping her mother another. "And what can Prince Charming do for her?"
The girl sags against the stone, her chin dropping to her chest. "Kiss her and wake her up."
He cants a brow, his mouth curving in a sardonic grin. "And live happily ever after with her?"
"You don't have to," she whispers. "Just wake her up." She looks at him, her eyes pleading. "Please?"
Something stirs within his chest at her haunted expression, something beyond pity. The strange emotion tastes bittersweet. He tilts his head, studying the girl. What mortal magic does she possess to inspire this unnamed feeling in him? Might she evoke more if he encourages her?
He draws his legs beneath him, stretching until he stands over her. "Where is she?"
The girl turns, points to the building on the far side of the grounds. "She's sleeping in there." She reaches a hand toward him, and he stares at it for a moment before taking it. The sensation of her small, slender fingers in his palm is extraordinary. Again, he is beset with the unfamiliar emotion—almost as though they are bound together in kinship. Odd, but not unwelcome.
As they close in on their destination, there are others milling about, clad in dark colors—mourners. He suspects he won't be able to give the girl her wish, but he is hesitant to end their encounter. Instead, he hides his unusual appearance beneath a glamour. He weaves the façade to match the drab attire of the group, to blend in with them.
The girl looks up at him and gasps. "You changed." A smile stretches across her lips. "I knew you were him."
He returns her grin, even knowing her hope will be crushed when he's revealed to be something other than the hero she seeks. For this moment, he wants to play along, to be a part of her fantasy. For this moment, he wants to forget what he is—a dejected king whose sole purpose is to take, to ruin.
"Sarah!" someone calls after them as they push through the crowd into the building. She doesn't pause, but pulls Jareth down the hall, her short legs pumping in a near run.
Sarah. His grin broadens. It's an appropriate name for a girl searching for a prince. Sarah. Princess.
"In here," she says, pulling open a heavy door. Inside, there are rows of cushioned chairs set up—all empty. On the far end is a silver casket, open to reveal the profile of a woman in repose. He waves a hand, locking the door behind them when they step across the threshold. Sarah's footfalls are tentative, reverent, her grip tightening in his as they traverse the short distance to her mother.
"Kiss her and break the spell," she whispers, releasing his hand. He feels cold, bereft of her touch. He glances at her, marveling at the power she exudes—a power she seems wholly unaware of. She nods toward the casket, baring her little white teeth in a wide, eager smile.
He steps closer, examines the mother little Sarah would have him save. The woman's dark hair frames her face in loose curls around the satin cushion. He notes her strong resemblance to Sarah in the curve of her nose, in her full lips. She is a model of what Sarah will become—a pale-skinned beauty. Did she possess the same enchanting gifts as her daughter?
Sarah looks up at him, her face radiating a faith in him so brilliant he is forced to turn away. He clutches the casket as another foreign emotion seizes him. Fear. Fear of her disappointment in him. Fear of her anguish. For a heartbeat, he is tempted to give her what she wants—to reverse time around her mother, giving her the semblance of life as he had the flowers in the graveyard. He couldn't sustain the illusion, though. Sarah's devastation over the lie would be too much to bear.
With a sigh, he lowers himself to her level. "She isn't under a spell."
She stares back at him, crestfallen. "Yes, she is." Tears swell in her large eyes.
He shakes his head as he reaches for her hand. He places it against his chest, tries to ignore the peculiar effect of her touch. "Do you feel that?"
She nods. "It's your heart."
"Yes." He removes her hand and presses it against her chest. "Do you feel that?"
"My heart," she whispers. Her eyes drop to the floor as she begins to understand.
He lifts her, sets her hand on her mother's chest. "And what do you feel, now?"
Sarah pulls her hand away, buries her face in the folds of his suit. Her slim body shakes with silent sobs. He carries her to a chair, holds her, strokes her hair as she spends her tears. Who is she to summon such tenderness from an unfeeling immortal? What is she? Certainly no ordinary girl.
Someone bangs against the door, rattles the handle. Sarah stands, wiping her eyes. He scrutinizes her face, memorizing the details before releasing the lock on the door. A tall man bursts in. "Sarah!" he shouts, jogging down the aisle. "What are you doing in here?"
She turns to Jareth, but he is already gone—viewing her in a crystal from the confines of his chambers. "I… I wanted to be with Mommy."
"Oh, honey," the man says, his voice choking. He gathers her into his arms. "It's okay to miss her."
Jareth lets the clear orb slip from his fingers. It vanishes before it can shatter against the stone floor. Jealousy courses through his veins—jealousy for the other man who holds Sarah, who is allowed to bask in her glowing presence. So many vivid emotions experienced in but an hour—already dimming, fleeing Jareth as though they are as unnatural as the brief fallacy of life he gave the withered bouquet. If he stole her away, kept her, would he always be alive like her? Or would her vitality be smothered in his realm, snuffed out by the weight of an unchanging eternity?
He crosses to his desk, picks up a bottle of ink and pulls out the stopper. With a quill in hand, he begins to write. He spins a tale of a girl who needs no Prince Charming. He details the dangers untold she suffers through, the hardships unnumbered, as she searches for the baby brother stolen from her by an all-powerful king. Battle-worn, she prevails against her foe—becoming her own hero. Perhaps it is vanity that Jareth casts himself as her nemesis, but he wants to be a part of her story—if only in her imagination.
Satisfied with his work, he holds his hand over the parchment, transforming the pages into a thin red book. He trails a finger across the gilded title. Labyrinth. In the next breath it is gone, now in the possession of an enthralling little princess named Sarah.
He thinks he'll forget her. He's wrong.
A/N: Thank you for reading! If you have a moment, I'd love to know what you thought. I accept all kinds of reviews. :)
Oh, and if you want to see more of the story, the rest can be found in "Deleted Scenes."