Author's Note: Apologies for the long delay since my last update! All sorts of boring, real life things came up. I won't bore you with the details. But, I come bearing a slightly longer chapter! With Jareth in it!
As I mentioned in Chapters 1 and 2, this fic is completely written, and I will be putting chapters up as I go through the notes from my beta-reader and make amendments accordingly. I'm aiming for weekly updates. Roughly. *cough*
Many thanks to jamethiel_bane, who is a far better writer than I will ever be and agreed to take on the MASSIVE task of beta-reading this fic because she is a kind-hearted soul (and also because I begged her).
Rated M for lime, references to mental health and adult themes in future chapters.
Sarah watched her classmates throwing themselves into the opening night's performance of The Labyrinth. She stood in the quiet, comforting darkness of the empty wings, able to see everything but not be seen herself. A mixture of excitement, nerves and pride knotted up her stomach, making her thankful she'd passed up the hot dogs and milkshakes offered by Miss Middleton a couple of hours ago.
This was her play and hundreds of people were watching it! Sarah smiled to herself, trying not to be smug and just barely managing it. Aw hell, maybe she deserved to be a little bit smug. Just a little bit.
She was glad not to be performing. It was a confession she'd never have thought she'd be making. It was amazing how two tiny years could change your outlook.
Miss Middleton gave her a surprising amount of freedom and artistic licence over The Labyrinth during the course of the year, allowing her to co-direct, produce and run the front of house.
The months passed by in a happy blur of set design, construction, costume-making and preparation. There were the early Saturday mornings spent trawling flea markets for clothes and props. There were the lunch hours spent in the Home Economics classroom hand-stitching hems and trim (so much sewing, Sarah's fingers would never be the same). There were the countless hours spent at fellow Drama students' houses devoted to make up development and trials (Sarah now knew how to exactly match lipstick to skin tone and blend yellow and green concealer to cover even the most stubborn acne). Then there were the late nights and early mornings spent alone making programmes, posters and tickets. And, of course, there were all the Drama classes at school where she was directing the play alongside Miss Middleton.
Sarah wasn't the only one who had been working hard. There were many lunch hours, late evenings, school holidays and even two school-run drama camps devoted to rehearsals of The Labyrinth. It had consumed everyone's lives.
If Sarah thought she knew what hard work felt like before this, she had been desperately misinformed. If she hadn't felt the love and passion for the project that she did, she would surely have burnt out only a quarter of the way in. As it was, none of the cast were getting as much food or sleep as they technically should have been.
It was amazing how much satisfaction Sarah got from working behind the scenes and how simple, routine things became sources of accomplishment. The recollection of sitting hunched over her desk till 2am three nights a week designing the advertising material, for example, gave her a warm glow of pride, especially now that the tendonitis and stiff neck were a distant memory. The fact that she was currently sitting on an A+ overall for Drama was also contributing to her positive attitude.
About halfway through the year, the play stopped being a purely academic endeavour and became more of a personal crusade. Sarah wanted to ensure the audience could connect with the story on an individual level. She felt that The Labyrinth had something special to offer to everybody. All her spare time was devoted to making it just right.
Sarah leaned her shoulder against the wall, twisting her fingers together tightly enough to cause pain as she watched the Class of '76 perform the first scene. All this work, all this preparation and she was feeling surprisingly anxious and powerless. Stop it Sarah, she told herself. You can't control what's happening on the stage. You can't control your classmates. Relax. Enjoy it. You've put almost a year's worth of work into this night.
She took a deep breath to try and calm down and almost choked. That scent. Cloves, leather and... something else. Like night air after a lightning strike. Jareth's scent. She'd always thought it was what magic smelled like.
She had no business remembering that smell so clearly.
The skin on the nape of her neck began to prickle painfully and she struggled to keep breathing. The air around her was suddenly thick and smothering, keeping her rooted to the spot. Her heart began to pound. She wasn't alone in the wings.
"Hello, Sarah." The soft voice came from the darkness directly behind her.
She started to spin around, squawking inarticulately, but she was seized from behind and hauled back against a wiry, unforgiving chest.
"Shhhh." A leather-gloved hand clamped over her mouth as she attempted to struggle and call for help. Silvery blonde strands of hair slid over her shoulder as her assailant leaned down to speak directly into her ear.
"Hush Sarah, I am not here to hurt you."
Sarah told the hand gagging her exactly what she thought of that statement, and tried, rather ineffectually, to stomp on his instep. The chest against her back and shoulders vibrated with a quiet chuckle as he shifted his feet beyond her reach.
"Truly," he insisted, drawing his hand away from her mouth, but not before tracing her lower lip with a feather-light touch. The shock, and her tingling mouth, was enough to silence her for a few moments.
"I am merely here to witness the fruits of your labor," Jareth said, his other arm joining the first in locking around her waist, holding her still. "I'm sure you don't mind." It wasn't a question.
Sarah scrambled for a response. It was incredibly disconcerting to be actually touching the Goblin King. Deep breaths only succeeded in overloading her senses with his smell, reinforcing her awareness of his proximity. Her brain, unhelpfully, was short-circuiting and playing gaudy technicolour loops of the aforementioned Goblin King leaning over her in the Cleaner's Tunnel, except with his poet's shirt off.
She wasn't even going to think about thinking about why that image came so easily. No siree. Nope. No way.
Stupid hormones. Get a grip, Sarah!
"Why?" she snarled out at last, squirming for a bit of distance to clear her head. No dice - it was like being held by a marble statue. "Why would you want to come and see some two-bit high school play I directed, even if it is about the Labyrinth?"
"I wanted to see who you cast to play the Goblin King, of course," Jareth said, as if it should have been obvious.
Sarah paused to consider the truthfulness of this rather flippant answer. She couldn't help smiling a tiny bit. The Goblin King's ego certainly hadn't changed. She relaxed the tiniest, most infinitesimal amount. If he could be facetious, he wasn't truly angry.
Perhaps he isn't here for revenge after all...
An affronted sniff interrupted her thoughts. "He is nowhere near good-looking and talented enough to represent me," Jareth said. "Look there, Sarah! He can't even manipulate the crystals properly!"
He sounded so indignant, Sarah had to stifle a giggle. She watched her friend Alan—tonight playing the Goblin King—awkwardly roll a couple of heavy glass paperweights in his hands.
At least he's not dropping them like he did in rehearsal!
"Don't be such a jerk," Sarah reprimanded him in a whisper, sounding braver than she actually felt. "I had to work with what was available."
"Jerk? Hmph. At least you got the apparel more or less correct," Jareth said grudgingly, as Alan theatrically threw his cloak back to reveal the tight breeches and open poet's shirt. "And that is a passable recreation of the King's pendant, I suppose."
"You suppose?" Sarah asked him in an acid voice, trying not to bristle. She had worked for days sketching that pendant, then sculpting it from clay and painting it just so. So many trash baskets full of crumpled sketches and countless lumps of misshapen clay. Not to mention many, many awkward moments getting up close and personal with Alan's bare chest to make sure the pendant hung at the perfect angle.
Getting things just right with only her memory as a reference point had been hard work, dammit, and Sarah wasn't about to let this snooty Goblin King walk all over her efforts!
Jareth didn't answer her. Apparently, he was distracted. Sarah could hear his breathing close to her ear and twisted her neck to catch a glimpse of his shadowed profile. He was staring intently at the stage.
"My, my." His voice was dangerously soft and Sarah quickly looked away, holding her breath. Nothing good ever came of that tone.
"I do believe those are the very garments you were wearing in my Labyrinth," Jareth continued after a short pause. "Don't tell me you kept them all this time?"
Sarah's cheeks felt warm. She couldn't answer, since it was so obvious that she had kept them all this time. She had pretended she found them in an op shop and felt they were exactly what Mia should be wearing.
She felt an additional stab of embarrassment as Mia began to whine about unfairness to the Goblin King.
Jareth chuckled softly and the sound, so close to her ear, made the nerves sing and prickle all the way down her neck and arm. "It would appear you've pulled no punches in the portrayal of yourself Sarah dearest, even if you have renamed three of the players. Fascinating."
Dearest? Sarah's stomach erupted with somersaulting butterflies. She tried to fold her arms over it – unfortunately, they came to rest over the top of Jareth's. Quickly unfolding them again, she held them awkwardly in front of her torso, elbows bent. This is ridiclous!
(Upon later reflection, Sarah would kick herself repeatedly for missing the opportunity to ask just why a Goblin King would pay such close attention to the clothing of a 15 year old girl. So many opportunities to call him a creepy old pervert and a stalker, all wasted!)
Another straining, wiggling attempt to free herself from the Jareth's grasp proved unsuccessful. You just couldn't take this guy by surprise. He's probably enjoying seeing me struggle like this. She gave up with an exasperated sigh and let her arms hang at her sides.
A long silence stretched between them, practically saturated with an unspoken why did you do it?
"I did it because I wanted to tell the story as accurately as I could," Sarah said.
"And why did you want to tell our story?"
"I don't know, really," Sarah said slowly, not missing his emphasis on 'our', but not quite knowing what to make of it. "I suppose some part of me didn't want to forget, and growing up seems to do that to you. It's easy to forget the things that made you happy when you were younger."
"Happy? I believe you spent the majority of your time in my Labyrinth feeling exceedingly vexed, rather than happy."
"Oh, you know what I mean!" Sarah said huffily. She spoke to him honestly and all he wanted to do was argue semantics. Her arms twitched, wanting to fold again and she wormed a hand between her waist and his arms, looking for a way out.
She could almost feel Jareth's smirk in the dark.
"I didn't expect it to turn into this," Sarah said, working her fingers against his arms until they cramped painfully. Goddamit! Is he made of granite or something? "It was just a story… but then people got so excited about it, and now here we are, in the middle of a play."
"Ah, but stories are never just stories, Sarah. Words have power. I thought you'd have learnt that by now."
Sarah bit back a sarcastic response and considered his statement for a moment. The only words she'd managed to wield in the Labyrinth with any real power were... at the end.
She was never able to think back on the destruction of the castle without a sharp twinge of guilt. Or, the look on his face as everything came apart. It had featured heavily in her dreams ever since.
"How is... the castle?" she blurted, before she lost the courage.
The silence that followed was so tense, Sarah felt her neck muscles beginning to spasm. She badly wanted to pull her hand out from under his elbow, but was afraid to move.
"The castle is undergoing... renovations," Jareth replied at last, just as Sarah was beginning to wonder what on earth she could say to salvage the conversation.
"Er... renovations?" Did he just make a joke?
"Yes. As is the rest of the Labyrinth. Not that it's any of your concern."
Ah. Not a joke then. Sarah tried to ignore the instant forest-fire burning her cheeks as the image of the ruined Goblin Kingdom blossomed in her mind's eye. So ruined, in fact that they were still rebuilding, years later.
And it's all your fault too. Can't forget that, Sarah.
"Is there... anything... that I could do to fix it?" she whispered.
"The Labyrinth is recovering well enough without any more interference from you," Jareth said. His voice was cold and Sarah was painfully aware that she was trapped here, at his mercy. Was he holding her more tightly than before? It seemed more uncomfortable to take a breath now than it was a few moments ago.
It would be such an easy thing for him to hurt her, even kill her, if he really wanted to. He could stop time right now, snap her neck and no one would stop him. No one could stop him.
"I thought that the Underground depended on human belief to thrive," Sarah said, forcing her voice past the pounding heart in her throat. It came out thin and a little panicked. "What if this play stirred up some of the belief you needed?"
Jareth snorted derisively. "I would hardly think so. You give yourself far too much credit, Sarah."
Sarah, chagrined, remained silent. For a long while, the only sound in the darkness around them was their combined breathing. She counted her breaths in an attempt to calm down. After eleven breaths, she felt his arms loosen the tiniest fraction, enough to let her fill her lungs comfortably again.
After twenty eight breaths however, the silence began to feel strained.
"I edited The Words out of the play," she said, hating both the way she felt compelled to justify herself to him, and the obvious sulkiness that crept into her tone.
"Such a pity."
That snarky son of a-! Well. Two can play at that game. "I couldn't take anything for granted you see. I don't mind trying fixing the damage I've done, but I'm not handing you any more potential goblin citizens."
"Clever girl." Jareth's tone was condescending.
"I am not a girl," Sarah retorted snappishly, then wished she could tear her own tongue out. In the brief quiet that followed, Jareth's gloved hands moved to lie flat against her stomach then slid purposefully upwards, over her ribcage. They ghosted over her breasts, so close she wasn't sure if they touched her or not.
Sarah didn't know whether she wanted them to touch her or not.
Teenage embarrassment, however, couldn't prevent the indignant squawk that burst out of her mouth. She spun out of Jareth's grasp, facing him with still-flaming cheeks and arms crossed defensively over her chest.
"No, I suppose you are not a girl," Jareth said, his voice full of indulgent amusement and something else that made her skin tingle. "Not any longer."
Sarah couldn't think of a single way to respond to that without re-entering dangerous territory. So, she pressed her lips together and turned her back on him again.
After a silence that seemed to stretch on forever, Sarah looked back over her shoulder to ask Jareth how long he intended to stand there ogling her classmates.
But he had disappeared. All that was left was a faint dusting of glitter on the worn linoleum where he had stood.
Somehow, Sarah felt a little disappointed that he hadn't said goodbye.
Chapter 4: Sarah supposed that Goblin Kings were not in the habit of accepting help from petulant teenagers that were largely responsible for trashing their kingdoms in the first place. But surely, it was fair that she wanted to make amends?
She had lain awake many a night, mulling over the possibilities. What if she could bring the story of The Labyrinth to the world? To children especially? To girls craving a fairytale they could immerse themselves in?