I think fluff must be a disease. I can't seem to stop writing it. Though, I am trying to temper it. To say this story is fluff may be fudging the truth a bit. I'm not sure what to call it, so I'll leave it to you to decide. ;)
An Awfully Big Adventure – Chapter 1
The monitor emitted an eerie glow in the darkened room; it drew her gaze like a beacon. The steady beep beep beep of the machine lulled her into a vacant complacency, assuring her she was still alive, at least for now, at least for just this moment.
Sarah curled an arm under her pillow, snuggling deeper into the coarse hospital-issue blankets. Snow fell softly outside the window. It glittered under the institutional lighting, scattering greens and blues and reds. It reminded her of Christmas.
A Christmas she wouldn't live to see.
It wasn't until the damp crept across the sparse thread count to cling cool and clammy against her skin that she realized she was crying. Disgusted, she wiped at her cheeks. Tears weren't going to do her any good. It was stupid. She flipped the pillow over, determined that this side would stay dry. It was all so stupid.
She picked at a loose thread on the sleeve of her robe, listening to the sounds of the hospital at night that buzzed beneath the machinery. Her door was closed, so they were faint - the clacking of a keyboard at the nurses' station, the creak of a utility cart, someone snoring down the hall, a jumble of unintelligible voices. She wondered what they were talking about. Were they discussing patients? A TV show they watched last night? Plans for the weekend?
They never talked about their lives with her, the doctors and nurses. She had begun to suspect they passed out pamphlets in medical school, or some kind of handbook, How to Talk to the Living Dead. In it, she pictured a sidebar with a little factoid about how the path to the pearly gates was littered with eggshells, perhaps with a cartoon character warning them to step carefully so they didn't cut themselves. When they didn't resort to empty platitudes, every word was weighed and measured, unlike the morphine readily supplied through her IV drip. It was like she wasn't a person anymore, like she was already dead.
She didn't blame them for that. She understood when you dealt with death and injustice every day you needed some kind of distance, and she understood sometimes you just didn't have the right words. But while she understood, rationally, it didn't stop the helpless anger from bubbling up, jealous they had plans to make and lives to lead, and all she could do was wait for death.
It wasn't fair.
She nearly laughed at that, but it came out as a sort of strangled sob. Life wasn't fair. She knew that better than anyone. But knowing that and realizing she'd been dealt a crap hand didn't make it hurt any less.
Because it just wasn't fair.
She wiped forcefully at the tears that threatened to spill over, irritated at herself, at life, at everything. "I wish things could be different," she whispered, the words muffled as she turned her head into the pillow, hoping for sleep.
A cold breeze ghosted over her face, lancing through her hair and pricking her skin, leaving goosebumps along the back of her neck. She froze. Light sparked in her peripheral vision.
She held her breath, listening. She hadn't heard the door open. She counted thirty beeps before turning her head slightly toward the corner of the room where she had seen the light. "Who's there?" she asked.
In a rustle of fabric, a dark figure detached itself from the shadows, the Goblin King materializing in the dim light. He didn't speak, merely inclined his head, watching her.
Sarah twisted awkwardly in the tangle of blankets to sit up in bed. It had been nearly eighteen years since she'd seen him and he looked just as she remembered from the night he appeared in her parent's bedroom.
It was such a long time ago.
She sat up a little straighter, pulling the covers higher and smoothing them before crossing her hands in her lap. She met his eyes and held them. "Am I imagining you? Is this my brain finally giving out and firing off random hallucinations?"
He smiled with an amused tilt of his head. "I assure you, I'm very real."
"You haven't changed," she blurted out, silently cursing herself as an idiot.
He narrowed his eyes, studying her. "I can't say the same for you."
Self-conscious under his scrutiny, she raised a hand to smooth her hair but gave it up as a lost cause, letting her hand fall back in her lap. "Well, if I had known you were popping by for a visit, I'd have put my face on." She tried for a sardonic smile that came out as a grimace.
She tracked him as he moved across the room, a new scent diffusing through the small space to hover like a mist above the stagnant miasma of death and chemicals. She closed her eyes and breathed it in. It was like earth, but cold like winter night, with a trace of spice and the fullness of cream, like Christmas Eve. There had been moments in her life when she had come close to it – at the supermarket when the peaches on display had reached the pitch perfect state of ripeness, when Merlin came inside from the rain after digging in her stepmother's flower bed, when a storm blew in from the north, the winds so strong they carried scents of faraway places, of oceans and forests and magic – and those moments pulled her back to the Labyrinth like a rip tide, crashing into reality and reminding her there was something else. She realized now how pale those scents had been, just faint imitations hardly worth noticing. But she had noticed, and she had grabbed onto them like a life raft, because she also realized she had been searching for even the barest trace of the Labyrinth, of him, for all these years. To breathe it in now, in such a pure, undiluted state was…exhilarating, and strangely comforting. And perhaps just a little bit sad.
She opened her eyes to find he had stopped in front of the dresser by the window. She watched as he picked up and examined the trinkets she had put there – a few pictures, knick-knacks...the statuette. His hand lingered over his likeness but moved on without touching it. She felt a twinge of embarrassment, grateful he wasn't looking at her, and that the book was hidden away in the drawer of her bedside table.
Jareth, King of the Goblins. Of all people to show up unannounced in her hospital room... It was so odd he was here, after all this time.
She had read somewhere that every seven years you were essentially a new person – cells dying and regenerating until everything was new again. By her estimate she had become a new person twice over since she'd seen him last. She was seeing him now with new eyes. She took his seeming distraction to study him – the sharp angles of his face, the curves hinting at something softer, his flyaway hair that defied gravity and held the sun, the shadows and dark hardness that steeled his otherworldly light - all the while suspecting he was giving her the opportunity to do just that. He really hadn't seemed to have changed at all. But her perception of him had.
Her expression slipped from wary disbelief to curiosity as she worried her bottom lip. "Would it be weird if I said I was happy to see you?" Her voice sounded loud after the silence.
He paused in his haphazard inspection of what was left of her life, his head shifting slightly in her direction. "Do you want it to be?"
He turned to face her, leaning back against the dresser and crossing his arms over his chest. "Then, no."
"I guess it's just nice to see a fr—" she had started to say "friendly" and corrected herself "—a familiar face."
He raised a brow. "Even mine?"
"Even yours." She could hear the slight smile in her voice; it wasn't quite strong enough to lift the corners of her mouth. "You know..." she hesitated, considering the wisdom of her next words and ultimately deciding stepping carefully was bullshit, "...there were times I imagined we could be friends." She took the quirk of his lips for amusement and quickly clarified, "Under the right circumstances."
"Yes, really," she said, imitating his droll tone.
"Not afraid I've come to steal away your little brother?"
Sarah laughed. "Trust me, you wouldn't want him. He's mutated into this massively emo teenage drama queen. I think he may be worse than I was, if you can imagine that." Her laugh turned into a cough that turned into a fit. She wiped the blood from her lips with a tissue, looking up when Jareth handed her a container of water that had been sitting on the bedside table. She saw traces of concern in his stoic gaze. It surprised and touched her.
She tried for a smile. "Thank you."
"Where is your family, Sarah?"
She shrugged as she took a long sip of water. "Living their lives, I imagine."
"Do they know?"
"That I'm dying?" She shook her head. "No."
"Why haven't I told them?" She sighed. "Lots of reasons, I guess. I didn't want to put them through all of this. I didn't want their pity. I don't want them to remember me this way."
"And yet...I'm here."
"Yes, but I didn't invite you. And, I'm guessing I couldn't make you leave even I wanted to."
"Hmm." His stare was hard, and she felt a little like she was being admonished for something, like he disapproved, or that he was disappointed in her somehow. She wanted to pull away, to sink into the bed and disappear. Instead, she squared her shoulders and gave back as good as she was getting.
After what seemed an eternity of stony silence, he finally deigned to speak. "That's rather selfish of you."
"To take that choice from them."
She raised her eyebrows, looking away with a small, self-depreciating smile. "Ah, well, I'm a selfish girl. Didn't you know?"
"I don't believe that."
She tilted her head toward him. "No? Human beings are inherently selfish creatures. As are, I believe, most other creatures, which begs the question...why are you here, Jareth?"
He met her eyes. "Do you know that is the first time you've used my name?"
"It isn't. But you know that, don't you?" He didn't answer, but something quaint and sagacious teased at the corner of his mouth. She tried her question again. "Why are you here?"
"You made a wish."
She shook her head, bemused. "I've made lots of wishes over the last eighteen years. I don't believe for a second that you're bound by any of them or you'd have shown up ages ago."
"I have my reasons."
She narrowed her eyes. "Mmm. I bet you do." She started coughing again, holding up a hand to ward him off when he took a step toward her. She was quiet as she sipped her water, her free hand fiddling with the edge of her blanket. When she felt she could speak again, she looked up at him. "I don't know why you're here, but that's okay. I'm not really expecting you to tell me. If you're here to gloat, that's okay too. It doesn't really matter anymore, does it? Not really.
"Anyway," she waved a dismissive hand as she set the water aside, and forced a smile, "wasn't it Peter Pan who said 'To die will be an awfully big adventure'? Adventure's kind of my thing. It's just another adventure, right?"
He didn't say anything and she looked away, tears welling in her eyes. "Damn it." She swiped at them angrily. "The truth is...I'm scared, Jareth. I've never been scared of anything, but I'm scared of this, of dying. I don't want to die."
He stared at her a long moment before speaking. "They can be."
Confusion wrinkled her forehead. "They can be what?"
She sat up a little straighter, wary of the hope that buoyed her. "What are you saying?"
He turned away, walking to the window and looking out over the hospital grounds. "As you are now, Sarah, you will die. I can't heal you."
She heard the lingering "however" and held her breath, waiting for it.
"There is something...," he continued.
Something? Something he seemed almost hesitant to tell her. It was maddening and seemed somehow out of character. Not that she had any delusions of actually knowing him.
"What?" she asked when he didn't elaborate. "What something? What are you telling me?"
He turned to face her, his hands clasped behind his back. "Do you remember the last time we spoke, Sarah?"
She raised her brows. "Do I remember?" She nearly laughed at the absurdity of the question. "How could I forget? I've probably replayed that scene a million times."
"Think about it now."
She did as he asked, or rather dictated, cuing up their final confrontation in her mind, and letting it play out until she came to it: "'I have reordered time, I have turned the world upside down—'"
"And I have done it all for you," Jareth finished for her.
She looked up and met his eyes. "You can reorder time."
"In a manner."
"How? What does that mean?" The hope that was building started to hurt. It squeezed her lungs and made it hard to breathe.
"I made you an offer once."
"Oh, yes." The offer. The squeezing let up. "I didn't suppose you really meant that. Not that I would have accepted it."
"Indeed. How lucky for you then that it's no longer on the table."
She sighed. "I didn't suppose it was."
"But I am prepared to make you another."
She lifted her head, indicating she was willing to listen.
"Asylum." He flashed a semblance of a smile. "Sanctuary from the mortal coil."
"You have been given a death sentence. I am offering you refuge. Time would stop for you. You would live on as a subject of the Goblin Kingdom under the protection of its sovereign."
She stared at him blankly. "Under your protection, you mean."
He smiled. "Naturally."
"Mm-hmm. And what would I do there, as a subject of the Goblin Kingdom forever and ever?"
If he noticed the crackle in her words, he didn't show it. "You have companions there, haven't you? Friends?"
She noted he didn't include himself in that lot, the word rolling off his tongue like something slimy and distasteful. She opted for tact, and didn't comment on it. "Hoggle, Ludo, Sir Didymus...how are they?"
"They go about their small lives and manage to stay out of trouble. For the most part."
From his clipped tone, she surmised that was as much as she was going to get out of him about her friends. And he still hadn't answered her question, so she pressed. "Okay, so I have friends there, but...what would I do?"
He shrugged. "Whatever you like." He propped his hip against the dresser as he resumed his idle perusal of her belongings. "There is a bridge that needs rebuilding…"
"You still haven't rebuilt that bridge?"
"Or..." He trailed off, one long, gloved finger touching on the head of the statuette. He picked it up, turning it this way and that, studying it, before setting it back down. He leaned back against the dresser, his eyes taking the scenic route up along her figure to find hers with a tilt of his head. "...we could find something better suited." He smiled, all devilish charm, the words soft and dripping honey. "As I said, anything you like."
She pressed her tongue against the back of her teeth, narrowing her eyes. "Uh-huh." Oh, he was good. He was very, very good. She wasn't fifteen anymore; she knew a proposition when she heard one, and if that wasn't a proposition, she go jump in the flippin' bog. Of course he would prey on that. She was a grown woman, lonely and undersexed. She couldn't even remember the last time she'd had an orgasm.
She was self-aware enough to know there was a time once when she'd had a nice figure; she'd had her fair share of men over the years. But those days were over for her now. She felt inadequate - frail, skinny thing that she was - and she pulled the covers higher, tucking them under her arms to hold them in place. Having sex would most likely kill her now. Not that that was a bad way to go out.
But there was no point in lingering on it. She took a steadying breath and looked at him to find him watching her, his smile gone. "Hypothetically," she said as business-like as she could manage, "if I accept this sanctuary, how would this work, exactly?"
"I imagine you would prefer not to live out eternity on the brink of death?"
She nodded, thankful he didn't remark on the abrupt subject change and she could focus on the issue at hand: the possibility of not having to die.
"It would stand to reason, then," he continued, "that you would have to agree to come to the Labyrinth at an earlier time in your life, preferably before you became sick."
"So, what you're saying is, some earlier version of me has to agree to go with you to the Labyrinth? Willingly?"
He seemed to find her incredulity amusing, a smile resurfacing as he merely cocked a brow in response.
"I suppose this would be easier if you could just take me, whether I agreed or not...but you can't do that, can you?" She couldn't help the taunting bite to the words.
His amusement fell away. "I'd prefer not to have to deal with your sniping for all of eternity, so, yes, you'd have to return of your own free will."
"Right." She shook her head with a desperate sort of laugh. "There is no way I'd agree to go anywhere with you."
"Is that so? And yet, here you are trying to figure out a way to get back to my Labyrinth."
She pursed her lips. He had a point. "You'd have to be really convincing."
"Ah. You doubt my powers of persuasion." The smile was back, the devilish one. "I've always enjoyed a challenge."
And that raised an important question. She narrowed her eyes, trying to figure out what he was hiding behind that smile. "Why? Why would you do this for me? What's in it for you?"
He laughed, a low, mocking sound. "I see. You think I want you for something, or, more aptly, that I want you." He pushed off from the dresser to look out the window, a crystal gliding back and forth over his fingers. "Perhaps it's revenge. I convince you to return, only to toss you in an oubliette for all of eternity or force you to do unspeakable things out of my need to punish you. Or...is it love? You came to my Labyrinth, turned my world upside down only to run away with my heart, and I've spent all these years pining for you, desperate to make you mine at any cost." He turned to face her, the crystal vanishing. "Or perhaps I was simply bored and you were available."
Okay. Ouch. Maybe she deserved that. Things weren't always about her, she did know that. But...
She sighed. She supposed it didn't really matter. "How 'bout we just chalk it up to your bountiful generosity and leave it at that?" When he didn't answer, she moved on. "Okay, so...if I agree to this...this scheme...do I just stop existing?"
He resumed his post, arms splayed as he leaned back against the dresser. "Not right away. Time splinters and heals. Until you make a choice, take some definite action that shifts your path, possible futures continue to exist. Until you choose the Labyrinth, this is your future."
"So...you could come back, then? Come back here, I mean? And, theoretically, since I know myself better than anyone, I could...help you."
He smiled and nodded. "That would move things along."
She looked down, a little surprised to find her hands had a death grip on her blankets, and she let go, flexing the tension out of her fingers. She shook her head. Good lord, was she seriously considering conspiring with the Goblin King to convince herself to go with him willingly back to the Labyrinth?
Yes. Yes, she was.
A shadow fell across the bed and she looked up just in time to freeze as he bent over her, placing a hand on either side of her hips. He leaned in, his face close to hers as he searched her eyes. "As entertaining as this is, Sarah, time is short. And we've yet to come to the only question that matters."
Small flutterings twirled about low in her stomach, and she licked her lips, her mouth suddenly dry and her heart racing. Maybe she wasn't completely dead after all. She stifled the urge to breathe him in, believing for just a second that might be all she needed to die a happy woman, and struggled to find her voice. "What question is that?"
"Do you trust me, Sarah?"
Oh. Right. Did she? Probably not. Well...maybe. But probably not. She could feel him taking her measure as she debated the answer, almost certain that her every thought was being played out on her face. She sat up a little straighter, very aware that in doing so she had closed a small distance, and settled on the truth, because, really, what did she have to lose? "As hard as it is for even me to believe...I want to."
He smiled at her admission, and moved just a breath closer, as if testing her, an almost undetectable push against the boundary that had always seemed to exist between them. It hit her like a shockwave. She sucked in a breath and held her ground as his gaze roamed over her face, touching on her lips, the tip of her nose, the curve of her cheek...until his eyes found hers and held fast. "Excellent," he whispered, his mouth so close to hers that she felt the word brush against her skin. It lingered on her lips when he backed away.
She let out the breath she had been holding, now that she had the space to do it, pulling in another to clear her head. Damn him for throwing her off balance. "The way I see it, Jareth, it's either death or your Labyrinth. I'm inclined to choose the possibility of something, anything, over certain death. And if you're not being straight with me, if it is revenge, or...whatever, and you do have some nefarious ulterior motives for luring me back to the Underground, I guess I have to have faith in myself, and in my friends, that I will prevail. Like I already did. Eighteen years ago. When I solved your Labyrinth and—"
"Is that a yes hidden somewhere in that lengthy, self-indulgent monologue?" He fixed her with a piercing stare. "Are you prepared to accept, Sarah? To play the game?"
The game. The truth of it was, for the first time in a long time she felt like she was still in it.
"Okay, Jareth." She met his gaze and nodded. "Let's do it."
His answering smile was dangerous and thrilling...it made her feel alive.
To be continued...because we have to find out if it works, right?
I know I'm supposed to be working on Chasing Dreams, and I have made a resolution to finish it this year, hopefully sooner rather than later. But, I'm trying to get in the writing groove again, so I'm flexing my fingers and testing the waters. I started this story before Christmas, hence the story timing, but it's not a Christmas story. I'm not quite sure how to label it, but what I do know is that it will be short, at least one more chapter, probably a third. Time travel makes my head spin, so please forgive the liberties.
Thanks for reading! Please, leave a contribution in the little box. ;) Signs of life beyond the computer screen would be very much appreciated. Writing is a lonely sport, more often than not. And constructive criticism is always welcome.
Disclaimer: Labyrinth © Henson & Co.