A/N: I apologize for this taking so long. My living situation for the past couple of months was the opposite of being conducive to writing, even for things that were already mostly written.
Undertaking: Part II
"As you can see it's fully furnished. Great neighborhood. Bedroom's this way."
The door opened and Sarah William's landlord looked straight at her. His eyes slid away from her like oil on a hot griddle.
"It's quite spacious. Walk in closet, to boot."
"It looks like the last tenant left things strewn about."
The landlord was had a peculiar look about him for a moment before he caught himself and continued on.
"Not to worry, it will go through full maintenance and housekeeping before it's leased again. Now, if you'll follow me."
Their voices trailed away and, a few minutes later, faded completely. They never even noticed the girl with bed-head, owl-print pajamas, and a busted old bat. Sarah collapsed back to the bed laughing.
How could she have forgotten her Un-day? Unlike the nonsensical, Carrollian Un-Birthday, Sarah's Un-day was a day that wasn't. That is, for one day, every year, Sarah Williams simply ceased to exist.
At first blush, a day without having to deal with responsibilities and others' expectations sounded wonderfully relaxing. And it was true that she could laugh about it in the relative safety of her own apartment; however, the reality was much more dangerous.
It wasn't just that she didn't exist; it was as if the world itself rejected her.
Friends and family didn't notice her. In fact, no one noticed her. On the rare occasion that she could garner someone's attention, it was lost before any useful interaction could occur. Sometimes, she swore she caught the surprised glance of others that saw her and were like her, but they always disappeared before she could engage them.
Her existence failure was not limited to the living. Her car declined to start on such an inauspicious occasion. Machines in general simply refused to function despite her best efforts. And after a very not imaginary, very difficult to put out toaster oven fire, she avoided them completely.
Every year, she was tempted to call upon the Goblin King- for assistance, or reassurance that she was indeed real, she wasn't entirely sure- but she was far too leery of the myriad of possible consequences. There was always the worse possibility that he would not show up at all.
Sarah was drawn back to the present by a cold, persistent tapping on her forehead. 'The spoon's back. Lovely.'
"If you're quite finished with your stroll down memory lane, there is much to discuss and time is short."
He knew. He had known all along. Hell, he was likely the cause.
She had long suspected that her yearly annoyance had something to do with the Labyrinth and its King, but suspecting and knowing were two completely different states.
Half of her wanted to rail at him for the injustice. Her other half was suddenly very tired. Both halves dimly noted that at some point when she hadn't been paying attention, Jareth had deigned to dress in normal clothes. 'Normal for him, anyway.'
"You've tread a fine line, Overland and Underground, but today you made a wish."
'So we're back to this, again.'
"Point, Jareth? Are we approaching one?"
"It was granted, and not by the power of any Underground. Regardless, your wish altered the intended and necessary chain of events for today."
"And how does this tie in to you needing to rescue me?"
"You've strayed from the path and chosen a side, Precious-thing. You can no longer stay here, not if you desire to survive."
In keeping with every cliché of temper, Sarah slammed her hand on the table and exclaimed, "I haven't chosen anything!"
The look he gave her indicated that she was being deliberately obtuse. For her part, Sarah collapsed back against the chair.
"Quit making me feel like an idiot and just tell me what I've done."
"You were at a difficult age when you defeated my Labyrinth."
And then, in keeping with her limited knowledge of him, Jareth's explanation was circuitous and did little answer her question at all. 'What happened to time being of the essence?'
"Adult mortals that return to the Over forget their time in the Labyrinth- or they are eventually taken by it. Children may remember, but over time, childish memory fades to fond dreams. But what of a girl too old to be turned into a goblin, yet too young to keep?"
'Keep?! Like some sort of pet? That arrogant son-of-a' Her impending tirade was cut off by an airy wave.
"You are my champion, but humans cannot straddle two worlds indefinitely. The best I could do was give you time to find on which side of the line you would fall. Though, such magics have a price."
Sarah's eyes glinted with comprehension.
His mouth notched upward at hearing her term for it. Though, with the way he was radiating smugness, she could not decide whether this made him more attractive or less.
"An ingenious solution, if I do say so myself. Today, however, you defied your lot in life. Your maturity is no longer in question, and I wagered that you were always destined to be taken, which is why I am here to offer you an alternative."
"But why would you care either way? How could going back with you possibly be any better than being taken?" The last word felt strange on her tongue. "If I go with you, I'll just be giving up."
"The Labyrinth is something of a collector. Once taken, you lose yourself and become something else." His eyes became far away, if only for a moment. "You've met several afflicted by this blight. I, however, prefer you as you are. Mule-headedness and all."
"Beg pardon?" She had heard his words but was not entirely sure if she had been complimented or insulted. 'Probably both,' she decided.
And, then, he summoned a crystal. There was likely nothing that would set her fleeing faster, except, perhaps, certain fruits of the Rosaceae family.
"I will make you my queen. You are my champion, and you will fear nothing."
She could almost hear a trap clicking shut, and she knew that so much as touching that crystal would mean certain doom. It was the same old song and dance with new embellishment upon the melody. But then, if he thought that he could snare her using a tried and failed technique, he really needed to rethink his strategy. Or get new material.
"No. No, I'm not coming with you."
The defiant tilt of her chin likely spoke better than her words.
"You would damn yourself to spite me?"
The crystal evaporated into the nether-space.
"I appreciate the offer and the warning, but I- I can't. I refuse to give up."
His expression was equal measures of fury and despair. "On your head be it."
Jareth rose to his full height, cold and formal.
"You've less than three days before the illusion you created for yourself shatters. After that, be prepared to run."
"Will that help?" The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them.
His bitter laugh echoed long after he disappeared.
The Goblin King's visit bothered her. As it should, since he essentially told her she would be dead meat in a scant handful of days. But there was something more, she knew that there was something she was missing.
She pondered for a full two days and was only vaguely embarrassed when she found herself sitting in her cramped dining area, talking to the spoon she had not bothered to put away.
"He was trying to tell me something other than what he was telling me," she concluded. 'But what, exactly?'
She bit at her thumbnail, and drew up a list, recounting what she knew.
1. For the love of all that is Holy, Jareth cannot be straightforward to save his my life!
2. He was also purposefully being an annoying, contemptuous, smarmy-assed git.
Perhaps it was better to focus on what he said. The important bits. After the part where he stole her ice cream. 'And put on actual pants.'
3. The Labyrinth will take you.
4. The Labyrinth will change you.
5. I prefer you as you are, stubbornness and all.
She crossed out number five and proceeded to six.
6. He never outright asked me to come with him.
This seemed important. She underlined it before moving on.
7. You've chosen a side.
'But I haven't.'
8. You made a wish.
'So you say.'
9. It was granted.
Sarah stared at the paper. The paper stared back.
"I made a wish, and he didn't grant it. And he wouldn't tell me who did."
Her list changed midstream.
10. And he gave her certain powers.
11. I am the Champion of the Labyrinth.
The former was true, and the following was true because she had claimed it so, once upon a time.
12. We are equal.
And after a moment's hesitation, she pressed pen to paper once more:
13. I granted my own wish.
It was a bit of leap in logic, but she knew she had it right, once she scribbled it out.
She sagged in her seat. 'Seem to be doing that a lot lately.'
Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. She once again consulted the spoon, "He never actually asked me to go with him; he let me assume that going with him was the alternative to being taken. But what if he wasn't really trying to convince me to go with him at all? What if he meant for me to make my own way?"
There was a chance that this was all some sort of insidious plot to get her to return to the Labyrinth. But it didn't feel like an insidious plot, and Sarah liked to think she had a wonderful intuition about that sort of thing.
But truly, if she could grant wishes, or her own wishes at the very least, what was there to prevent her from returning to the Underground on her own terms?
Sarah was never one to sit idly once she figured out a course of action. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that little more than an hour after finishing her list of revelations, she was calling upon the most infuriating being she had ever met.
She hoped she was right about this, just as she hoped that he was listening and would be there to guide her. If she was right, he would be, but for good measure, "I wish…"
A/N: The inspiration for this came from Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Aaaand you've now reached the (openish) end of this little story. Congratulations!