Disclaimer: Jareth and Sarah belong to Henson. I'm just playing in their sandbox.
Sarah Williams stood at the window, watching the moon rise slowly over the tops of the trees. The night was clear; not a hint of cloud. A pity, that; she always felt it was more appropriate when it rained, tonight of all nights, especially if it was a thunderstorm.
Tonight, the anniversary of her victory. Tonight, the night her life had changed forever.
It had been sixty years, now.
For the first five years, she had held this night sacred. She had sent her father and stepmother on a date, put Toby to bed, called to Hoggle and Ludo and Didymus, and relived the celebration, the camaraderie, the relief. But the fifth year, she had seen the white owl sitting on the tree outside her window, and the next year she hadn't dared call them back.
For the next ten years, she had devoted herself to her brother. When he got old enough to ask why she always showed up to take him out on the same one night every year, she told him that she just thought it was a nice tradition. He'd've thought she was nuts, if she told him. But the year he turned sixteen, he told her he had a date, and the next year a party, and the year after that, graduation, and by the time he went off to college the tradition was broken.
For the forty years after that, she had done her best to ignore the day, but she never forgot the date.
Her dream of being an actress faded, as most youthful dreams do. She went into teaching, first, and then, when she was thirty-four, she found a publisher for the book of children's stories she'd finished. Some were inspired by the Labyrinth, others not; she hadn't let go of her imagination completely when she'd stopped calling her friends. Still, she was cautious: she never wrote about the Goblin King, and especially, never spoke, or wrote, his name. By the time she was forty, she had retired from teaching and, instead, made her living from her writing. Her last book had been published fifteen years ago. She had thought it would be her last.
It would have been, but for an interview she had done a year ago.
It was the fortieth anniversary of her first publication, and the interview had been something of a lifetime achievement deal, a retrospective and a "what advice do you have for the next generation" conversation, and the interviewer had asked if she had any regrets.
Her life had been good; nothing had ever gone wrong for her. She had a loving family in Toby and his wife Claire, and their three children; she was famous across the English-speaking world; she had never known a day of illness in all her years; and she had even reconciled with her mother before her death, twenty years previous. The Labyrinth had taught her to be grateful for what she had: a baby brother who was a joy, a father who loved her even when she was difficult, a stepmother who tried to be there for her even when they didn't understand each other. In those ten hours, she had learned to value others above herself, and that lesson had never left her.
Four years ago, Toby and Claire had moved to Colorado, to be near their first grandchild. Their other children had spread out across the country, at jobs, at school. Only Sarah still lived in the little town outside New York City where they had all grown up, in the home where she had lived as a child, and to which she had returned to care for her parents as they aged, remaining after their deaths. For four years, she had been alone, without her brother and his wife, watching her friends grow old and succumb to the many diseases of aging. Modern medicine could do much to keep the body sound, but had not yet unraveled the secrets of the mind. She felt fortunate that she had not yet diminished, that she was still sound of mind and of body. Gray, perhaps, yes, but not bent; wrinkled, but not lost.
In those four years, with her family far away, she had not been able to distract herself from wondering what might have been. There had been no hint of magic in her life since she had stopped calling her friends. She had never seen another goblin, or another white owl, or a man who looked like the Goblin King. She had cut herself off from some of it. Had he cut her off from the rest?
She had been afraid of him, five years after the Labyrinth when she had stopped calling her friends. But she had been young, then, with her whole life ahead of her. She was old, now: old enough that even if he meant her ill, she would lose little by finding out.
And the interviewer had asked if she had any regrets.
There was one thing she had never known; one thing she had never written about: love. She had never written a novel for adults, because she lacked the life experience to make it real. Many times, she had met men who were entertaining, interesting, engaging… but it never went anywhere. In seventy-five years, she had never known a man's touch. She had never even been kissed.
She had tried with good boys, the kind she was normally attracted to, the kind she should fall in love with, but after a date or two, it ended. She had wanted to find the right man, to love the man she slept with for the first time, but none of them were him. One met another girl and fell head over heels and married her three weeks later in Vegas. They had four kids now, and a house upstate. Another was offered the job of his dreams in California, not long after their first date; he had died in a motorcycle accident at the age of thirty-eight. One was now in prison; she wasn't sorry that she'd never seen him again.
Later, she had tried with bad boys, men she knew were bad for her, because she had been desperate, by then, needing to know that there wasn't just something wrong with her. She knew there was something decidedly odd about being a virgin at thirty-five, especially when she no longer felt any particular reason to wait. A few of them disgusted her too much to go through with it. A few more had been too drunk to try. Her eighteen-year-old pool boy got fired the morning of the day she'd worked up the nerve to approach him. The worst of her bad ideas had shoved her against the wall in a dark alley, and she had thought, finally, even as she panted with fear, but then a police officer walking his beat had found them and scared the guy off.
And by then she was forty, and Toby was getting married, and Claire was pregnant, and her stepmother had cancer, and she was moving back into the old Victorian to help with her care. By the age of forty-five she was a surrogate grandmother without ever having been a mom, and she kept the house when her father followed just before her fifty-first birthday. Later, she reflected on how embarrassing it would have been for herself, her family, and her career if she'd ever been caught on camera doing something foolish, and she could be glad, at least, that the bad ideas hadn't worked out. It wasn't fair that she'd never had the chance at a good one, either, but that was the second lesson of the Labyrinth: life is rarely fair. You have to go on living it anyway.
So, did she have any regrets?
She told the interviewer about the good things in her life, and said that on the whole, she couldn't complain. It was true, but it wasn't the whole truth. When she went home, that night, she knew that she had one more story to write.
It had been five years of magic, fifty years of silence, and four years of wondering, and now, it was time to write the story of that night, time to write of the one thing she'd always avoided.
It didn't take long. She remembered every aspect of that day, of those ten hours that should, by rights, have been thirteen. She wrote her own foolishness, and his smug magnetism, and the Goblins' strange mix of cute and creepy, though of course she didn't write the real words, or use any real names. She wrote of the strange creatures she had met and the friends she had made, pouring out her whole heart into the pages.
Her publisher was delighted, and it was no trouble at all to persuade him to publish it on the date she specified: today, their anniversary. She raised the copy in her hand, the edition he had sent to her, and opened to the dedication, running her fingers across the printed words.
For Jareth, who knows where and when to find me.
She turned towards the French doors that led to the balcony in the room that had once belonged to her parents, had once held Toby's crib. It was almost time.
He did not disappoint. Though tonight, no thunderstorm raged, the wind around the house picked up, rattling the windows and the closed doors. There was a bright flash of light, and she shielded her eyes against the glare. The doors blew open, curtains billowing, and out of the swirling shadows poured the lithe form of the Goblin King.
She was too old to start in surprise, had been expecting this too much to put her hand to her heart in shock. While she had not been certain that he would come, she had thought it likely enough that she had prepared herself, and so she lowered her arm steadily, keeping her balance, and met his eyes.
In spite of herself, her heart clenched. He looked so young, so beautiful, so perfect. The smile on his lips reminded her of the way he had looked at her, so intent, so confident, so sure, when he had first stood just there, and again when he asked her how she was enjoying the Labyrinth. The look of a man who was sure he would win.
You're him, aren't you? You're the Goblin King. She could hear the words in her memory, the fear and curiosity united in her childhood voice.
"Hello," she said, instead, her voice steady, the fear gone.
"Sarah," he said softly, savoring the name, his smile widening. "I always knew you would call me someday." He raised a hand to his chin, considering. "I confess I believed it would be sooner, but it is no matter; I always knew we would once again stand here, thus. I always knew you could not stay away." His eyes raked over her, from head to toe and back again, and she felt the sudden urge to blush like a young maiden under his gaze. She straightened her shoulders; she might not have known love, but she was no child, and she would not be intimidated.
And having seen that look, she knew she had power here. Whatever he desired, it was not revenge. She gave him a slight nod. "Goblin King."
"Ah, my dear, why so formal? You know my name. You wrote it in your delightful little invitation." He reached out—when had he come so close?—and plucked the book from her unresisting fingers. "'Who knows where and when to find me,'" he quoted, then tossed the book unceremoniously over his shoulder; it landed on the bed. "I must admit this is quite poetic. Sixty mortal years, to the very instant. A diamond anniversary, in your tradition, I believe." He stepped closer still, and reached a gloved hand to caress her cheek. "It is quite fitting, as that is the great gift I have long expected to bestow." He gestured, his hand twisting in a circle, and when he raised his fingers, he held a diamond ring, just large enough to be striking while avoiding being gaudy.
She just looked at it, and raised an eyebrow. "No?" he asked. "Too soon? No matter; it will wait a few minutes. Hello, Sarah." His wrist twisted again, and the ring vanished.
That had not been quite what she was expecting. Even understanding, now, that he had been sincere in the last moments in his Labyrinth, which she had never truly known, she had not expected that he would still want her, now, when she was old and gray and far beyond her prime. And yet, this was why she had called: she had found, after that interview, that she had to know if she had truly given anything up when she left him, or if the idea that this otherworldly being might ever have loved her was only a child's fancy.
She stepped away from him, her eyes on his face, wary. "If that is what you wanted, why have you waited so long? Why come to me now, when I am old and gray?"
"My dear Sarah, I have always seen you so; seven, and seventeen, and seventy-five, and all the years between. What is age, when to me time ebbs and flows like the tide? We are all things in this moment. You are as old as you choose to be when you choose to be with me." He closed the distance between them again, wrapping his free arm around her waist to draw her into his embrace. In spite of herself, she shivered; at his touch she felt stronger than she had in years, and younger, too.
"But why would I go with you?" she asked, looking up into his face, his confident smirk. He was looking down her shirt in frank admiration, as though the breasts beneath were firm and young, not withered and drooping.
"Do not lie to yourself, my sweet. You have always desired me. You have always loved me. All that remains is for you to admit it, and we will be together forever."
She looked up into his eyes, mesmerized, for a moment, by the passion in his gaze, the restrained tension in the fingers that stroked the small of her back. But after a moment, she blinked, the contact broken, and shook her head to clear it of the fog. Was he right? Did she love him?
She had never felt romantic love that she could remember, that she was certain of. No one had ever been close enough. He was attractive, yes; she had admitted that to herself after her Labyrinth journey. No matter what else he was, cruel or kind, deceitful or sincere, he was beautiful, all slim strength and delicious grace, with an economy of movement that any dancer would envy. That might have moved her in the hopefulness of her twenties, and it certainly would have moved her in the desperation of her thirties, but now?
"Say it, Sarah," he snapped, drawing her from her reverie. "Speak the words. Come with me."
She looked up into his face, and found proud expectation and a hint of possessive desire, and still that damnable smirk.
"Why should I trust you?"
To her surprise, he laughed. "Trust me? My dear girl, there is no need for that. It's the very fact that you cannot trust me that draws you in, that makes this exciting." He shook his head, as though amazed. "Trust is for the boring, for this world where you hurt each other so easily. We shall live for passion."
She had seen passion. She had been young, but she had seen it, the way her parents couldn't keep their hands off each other, the way they looked at each other with fire in their eyes. The way they fought, like they would kill each other, and then made up so loudly that she slept with a pillow over her head, especially once she was old enough to understand the meaning of the sounds coming from across the hall. And then the passion died—she never did understand why—and her mother sparked with another man and was gone in an instant.
She had seen trust, as well, between her father and her stepmother. She never caught them kissing on the couch, and she never heard a peep from the door across the hall, but they had stayed together happily until death parted them. She had never even heard them argue; certainly they had never gone days without speaking, like her father had with her mother.
If it was a choice between trust and passion, she knew which she preferred. If possible, she wanted both, as she had seen in Toby and Claire. In private, they fought fiercely and made up quickly; the first time they had stayed with her, before she had moved back home, she had been forced to remind them that her condo had very thin walls. But in public they presented a united front, and while they almost never argued in front of their children, it was easy to see that they were in love. It had been apparent from their courtship: she had tamed his wildness, without breaking him, and he had inspired her imagination, without destroying the solid foundation of her nature. They had it even now, and Toby would be sixty this year.
Jareth was tapping his fingers, now, his free hand beating out an impatient rhythm against his leather pants. He called it love, but it felt more like lust, and while he promised passion he had no interest in trust. He didn't even care to try.
"I won't go with you."
He dropped her so quickly that she sagged, reaching out to grasp the bedpost for support.
"How dare you," he hissed. "I have given you everything. All the good things you have had in your life, you owe to me. Who else would watch you? Who else would care? But even when you humbled me, I did not resent it, for it was only the first step in our game. You rejected my offer, but I thought it best to keep my end, that you might keep yours. Have you ever known a day of pain? Have you ever known true sorrow?"
"You cannot stop death." She remembered sitting at her father's bedside, holding his hand; her stepmother's wasted body, weakened by chemotherapy; her mother's bedside confessions of regret.
"I cannot," he allowed, with a slight nod. "But excepting those three, who passed as quietly as I could ease them, tell me when you have ever had cause to mourn."
Slowly, she lowered herself to the bed, feeling rather stunned. He was right. In sixty years, she had cried for the loss of each parent in turn, but never otherwise. She had never even cried for joy.
"What did you do?" she whispered, dreading the answer.
"I have given you the life you should have had, if you had stayed with me. A life without pain, living the life you wished to live. In my world, there is no pain, only pleasure. We rarely die, and never in agony. And once we meet our match, there is only pleasure, and passion, forever and ever." He looked her over, his eyes sparking with a wicked intent she might once have found irresistible. But now...
"It sounds like a fairy tale." The words were quiet, empty, but he was too caught up to notice.
"You are human, untrained, and so ours will be an even better match than I could make with a woman of my own kind. You will fight me, and you will lose, and I will teach you the delights of losing at my hands, and we will make a new story, known across the Underground—the never-ending dance of the Girl and the Goblin King. In centuries we will go down in history, and then, ah, then, we will live happily ever after." He flourished his arms wide as he finished, then extended a hand to help her rise, his invitation clear. He had vanished his anger, it seemed, with his enthusiasm.
"You're wrong," she said, louder, and that got his attention.
"Wrong? You must misunderstand." She refused to back down from his disapproval.
"You're wrong," she said again. "You didn't give me all those things."
"And what, precisely, have I not done for you?" he bit out, harshly, angry again. He wrapped his hand around the bedpost, above hers, leaning into her personal space. She heard the wood crack under his fingers.
"I haven't had the life I would've wanted. I haven't had all those things you said you gave, the things I would have had. I don't have everything I want in life. I don't have—I don't—I never fell in love." Her voice broke at the end of that sentence; she had pushed it away so long, contented herself with other things.
"Why would you need some mortal man, when you have me?" He seemed genuinely puzzled. "You shall have those things, my Sarah."
Suddenly, all the times that men had drifted away from her coalesced into one terrifying conclusion.
"You!" she exclaimed, looking up at him in shock. "Every man I ever wanted drifted away from me. I thought it was fate. I thought I just wasn't meant to have it. It was never strange, or malicious. But it was you. Every time. The whole time." She jumped to her feet; he backed up, startled, cocking his head as though looking at her slightly sideways would make her anger comprehensible.
"None of them were worthy of you," he defended, raising his chin.
"And who are you to judge! Or what, you just couldn't bear to let one of them get where you wanted to be?" Some man who might have loved her. Passion and trust.
"Foolish woman!" he spat, moving close again, a crystal appearing at his fingertips. "Have I not told you that time means nothing to me? I looked into their futures and saw your tears. All of them hurt you."
"All of them?" Scorn laced her voice. "They might not all have been good choices, Jareth, but that was my decision to make, and I can't believe that they would all have been bad for me."
"See for yourself, then," he answered, placing the crystal before her eyes. Inside, she saw a man in his twenties—the one who'd gone to prison, she realized. What had his name been? Mark? "You meet, you like him, he seems so kind." It was like watching a movie montage; in the crystal, she saw a man who taught her to dance, who seduced her with the rhythm. "But that is too good to last." And the image changed: she moved in with him, and he lost his temper, and in the next scene she was black and blue. She closed her eyes to block the sight: she remembered now. He'd gone to jail because he'd murdered his girlfriend.
She looked up at Jareth; he was glaring into her stricken face.
"Or is that not enough for you?" he continued. "Look again, dearest, see what I have saved you from." The images spun faster, then. Men who hit her, men who cheated, men who left her at the altar, men who broke her heart. The whirlwind romance and Vegas wedding—Jason, that was his name—married her and then ran off with the Vegas girl three years later. She slept with the pool boy and it ended up that he was a virgin too and that was just too humiliating. The man who'd pushed her against the wall left her for dead; eventually, the policeman found her. It went on and on, spikes of pain and horror, mixed with men who cheated, men who left, men who broke her heart. Most of them she didn't even recognize. She could only suppose that Jareth had redirected them before they even looked her way.
"And so, Sarah, have I not been generous?"
She was shaking, she realized. Shaking, and sitting now, on the edge of the bed, Jareth beside her, his arm around her waist, pulling her close so that her head rested on his shoulder. She had been this close to her father, and to Toby, and to his son Will, but never any other man. Jareth was still speaking.
"Have I not rescued you? You would not wish any of these. You must be grateful. You must see, Sarah. Come with me. These were unworthy. I am all you need." His breath was hot against her temple; his fingers stroked gently at her waist.
She took a deep breath. "So, was—was that the worst of it? Was it—I mean—am I just unlucky, or—"
"The worst? Oh my Sarah, I have saved you from the worst, from even the sight of it. I would spare you from your own fate again, my love."
"Please, Jareth. I need to know." She couldn't put her finger on why it was so important that she see more; what she had seen had been horrible. Still, she couldn't help feeling that something was off, in the whole picture. She had seen men hurt her, but many had made her smile, first, and not all of them had been terrible. Their lives had simply taken different courses. Wasn't that how it was supposed to happen? Most people didn't settle down with the first person they dated.
Instead of answering, he tipped her head back; the crystal he had held popped and vanished like a soap bubble. His fingers combed into her hair, loosening the strands she had bound back in a simple braid; he lowered his head, so that their noses touched, and she could feel his breath on her lips.
"No," she said, bringing her hand up to push him away. She met his eyes steadily as she gained space. "You may kiss me after you show me."
For a moment, she thought he would be angry, but instead he threw his head back and laughed. He held her at arm's length, now, looking down at her with admiration.
"As you command, my love. Oh! How sweet it shall be to duel with you, to tame you, precious thing." He flourished a hand, again, drawing a new crystal into her sight. This time, he reached out and placed her hand over the smooth surface, and she dissolved into it, a silent, unseen witness to the scene within.
They met her senior year of college. His name was David, and he wanted to direct movies. He shared her imagination, and read her stories, often discussing how he might turn them to screenplays. He understood her, better than anyone ever had, and when a short film based on one of her tales won him an internship with a big studio in Los Angeles, he asked her to marry him, to go with him.
Within a year she was certified to teach in California, he was working his way up in the industry, and they were married. With his connections to the world of the arts, it didn't take her as long to get published; she was twenty-eight when her first book was released, to wide acclaim. By her thirty-fifth birthday, they had written a movie together which he then directed, and she had made her peace with her mother, who had taken a small role in the piece. It had done well at Sundance and David was starting to hear from major studios when disaster struck: he was out on his motorcycle, which she had never convinced him to give up, and was struck by a drunk driver. He died instantly.
Every day she went to his grave, to sit with him, to talk to him, to weep for him. She had money to live on, but she was a ghost of her former self.
"Do you want that, Sarah?" Jareth's voice spoke out of the shadows, out of the empty air of the crystal vision graveyard. "He could not love you enough to leave his selfish habits behind. Just like all the others, he would never put you first. He would never be your slave. I can give you everything, my Sarah…." She could feel his fingers on her scalp again, vaguely, past the edges of this second sight. "But if that is not enough for you… the worst took far less time to injure you so."
She met James two years after she started teaching, when she transferred from the middle school to the high school in her district. He taught higher-level mathematics. He didn't quite understand her love of the written word, any more than she understood his fascination with numbers, but they both loved the children in their care; it was enough. He did the budget; she dragged him to plays. She decorated; he measured and built and regulated. Their home was comfortable and well-organized, their love content and quiet.
But a year after their marriage, she was in the hospital, glaring at him as she squeezed his hands, her knuckles white, tears streaming down her face. "You did this to me," she hissed, and he started to laugh.
The vision winked out abruptly, and before she could quite catch her breath, Jareth was kissing her.
Lips are strange organs, she thought, as she felt hers respond, tentatively, to his aggressive, possessive style. She tried to gasp a breath, and he growled into her mouth, his tongue pressing into the opening, stroking against hers. He held her close, his arms so tight she was sure she would bruise. Her hands braced lightly on his biceps; she did not know where else they might go. Kissing this way—a lovers' kiss—was more intimate than she had ever understood, when she had seen it on-screen or onstage or at weddings, or even the few times she had caught Toby and Claire when they thought they were alone. In that moment she felt like she belonged to him, like he had claimed her. As, perhaps, he had, from the time he decided that he would decide what was good for her.
Once the initial shock wore off, she found, she could think past the physical pleasure of his mouth, and she found herself considering all the ways she had seen herself being kissed in the visions he had shown her. It was difficult to judge, from inside the kiss rather than adjacent to it, but she rather thought David had kissed her like this. But in the vision, she also thought that she had responded with equal passion, claiming back, encouraging him. Her response to Jareth was tentative, unsure, but he didn't seem to care.
James had been sweeter, gentler; considerate and caring where David was demanding, but there, too, had been shared passion. Shared passion that had led to—
She wrenched away from Jareth with a cry as her mind caught up with her body and she finally understood the last scene he had shown her. She had witnessed its equal, some thirty years ago, when Claire had given birth to her first child. She had said something similar: "This is your fault, you know!" and Toby had laughed, and said that she was the one who insisted on going through labor without drugs.
The force of her movement threw her from the bed; she fell to the carpet, on hands and knees. Slowly, she sat back, bringing her hands to her face. Tears collected in her eyes, overflowing past the fingers she spread to cover them, and she could not keep back a sob. Love, and peace, and children; this was the terrible fate he had saved her from? The horror he had not wished to show? David she could almost understand, though she would still have preferred that passion and loss to the lonely life she had led. For James there could be no defense.
"Sarah?" Jareth reached down a hand, caressed the top of her head. "Ah, you are overwhelmed with gratitude, I see. Do not fear, my sweet; you shall have every opportunity to repay my generosity."
She had thought she had no strength left. She had been wrong. His words ignited a fury that she had not felt for years.
"Generosity?" The word was part hiss, part sob, and she stood abruptly, dislodging his hand as she turned to face him. He stepped towards her, and she stepped back. "How dare you call that generosity? You have been generous to no one but yourself. Or did you mean to mock me all along?"
He blinked, one hand still outstretched. "You are angry with me?"
"Do you know what you did? How could you call that saving me? The scene you showed last—"
"Despicable man," Jareth spat, interrupting. "He injured you, badly enough to need medical attention, and then laughed it off when you threw it in his face. I could watch no more."
"You dare claim that you don't know why I was in the hospital? He didn't hurt me!" Fresh tears blinded her for a moment, but she blinked them away.
"I heard the words from your own lips!"
"Did you watch more? Did you know what followed? That scene is natural, Jareth. I was giving birth!"
"I—" he stopped short. "Birth? Birth brings no pain. Indeed, some women report it to be a very pleasurable experience. It is a pleasure I look forward to giving you. Why would you give birth, if it caused pain?"
Sarah had known the Goblin King angry, and impatient, and seductive, and demanding. She had never thought she would see him look confused. It was shocking enough to twist her grief slightly to one side, to allow her mind to clear.
"I don't know how it is in the Underground, Goblin King, but human women have brought forth children in pain for as long as we have known. It's just to be expected, shoving something the size of a watermelon out a hole that's naturally the size of a lemon. Yes, it hurts, but we do it, and almost everyone who has been through it would go through it again, for the pleasure of the child that results." He was silent, and still, his eyes wide. "In fact, it's a perfect metaphor for life in the world. Lots of things hurt but are worth it. Most people say losing your virginity is like that—but you made sure I would never know."
"I will not hurt you then, either!" he exclaimed. "I want only your pleasure, my beloved."
"You don't understand, at all, do you?" she said, sadly, not really expecting a response. "You stole my dreams. My pleasure. My children. My lovers. All in the belief that you knew what was best for me, because you judged by the standards of your world without ever bothering to discover mine. You know nothing of me, or of humanity, Goblin King."
"Come with me, Sarah," he pleaded, desperately. He had been so confident, earlier; she had never thought she would hear him beg again. He had been arrogant; now, he sounded defeated, as he had when he sang to her long ago in the room of crazy stairs. "I will set it right. You can still have those things, everything you wanted, everything, if only you will come with me."
Go with him? Go with the man who had taken over her life, who had forced her to let go of the dreams most women shared, who had taken her easy companionship, who could not see the value of pleasure purchased with pain, the love worth having even when it hurt. Go with a man who was enamored of a challenge, nothing more. Who promised her passion and called it love; who said he was her slave but presumed to decide for her as though he was her king. Who said nothing would hurt her, but spoke as though she should be glad of the promised gilded cage.
She had lived. She had loved—Toby, and Claire, and their children, and her fans, and her parents. He had taken everything else that might have been uniquely hers. Fear me, love me, do as I say. Just let me rule you, and you can have everything that you want.
It was late, she saw, the clock on her nightstand flickering at her over his shoulder. The time spent watching memories must have been longer than she had realized, but she could not be sorry: there was a certain symmetry in this moment, as much as there had been in his arrival. This was the moment of the end, the moment of her choice; he stood before her, hand outstretched, begging. He held no crystal, and the message was clear: he was her dreams, this time. He was the fulfillment of all the dreams he had stolen. Though the scenery was different, in every way that mattered they stood, again, where they had sixty years ago, but she was no longer a child, and she was the only one at stake.
"I wish," she began, and he drew a breath. "I wish the Goblin King would leave me be, forever, right now."
As she spoke the words, the old grandfather clock began to chime. Light flashed, and the Goblin King cringed, as though in pain. The hand that had been extended to her crumpled into a fist as he drew it towards his body, and then he was gone and a white owl was circling the room above her head. As the clock struck the twelfth and final note, the owl swooped out her window and was lost in the moonlight.
She raised a hand to her cheek, wet, still, with her tears, and slowly wiped them away. She would still mourn: tonight had not been sufficient to purge her grief for the chances he had taken from her. But in this moment, there was only victory; she smiled, then, a faint, hopeful smile.
She may not have many years remaining to her, but for the first time in sixty years, she was truly free.
A/N: This story owes a great debt to a line from "The Unexpected," by etcetera nine, which you should go read, if you haven't already: "You've always done what you thought I wanted, but was it really what I did want?" While the two stories are quite different, that one idea sparked this one. It also owes a debt to a challenge posted about a few months ago (I think?) by Lily-Beth Bluebell. While her challenge has been taken down, and thus I am not certain that I have actually fulfilled what it required, reading the challenge led to me thinking of the line above, which ultimately led to this story.
Etcetera nine must also be thanked for reading this over and making suggestions and fixing my British spelling (I'm American, but easily confused…).
For those of you hoping to find a sequel to "As Easy Mayst Thou Fall," I'm about 28,000 words in, but it still needs a lot more work before I can begin posting. I am working on it, though, I promise!