She sat on the floor of her bedroom, plain cream carpet clean, walls once decorated with posters, paintings, and pictures now stripped and spackled and painted over with a bland color that matched the carpet. Besides a few sealed cardboard boxes, there was nothing else in the room. The bed was gone, the desk moved out last week, even the blinds and curtains stripped from the window so that there was a square patch of sunlight streaming in, illuminating a spot on the floor.
Sarah Williams was curled in this patch of sunlight, knees tucked up and arms wrapped around them, still as a statue. They just came back to grab a few boxes. Nothing special, really, just the last bits of whatever was left behind before they moved out. Going back up to her old room had been a mistake. Coming here again had been a mistake.
She should have stayed at the new place, a four hour long drive away from here, should have wallowed in whatever self-pity she had wanted to escape from feeling and just spent today alone. This house only brought back memories, some good, come bad, and some utterly impossible. She remembered the shelves with toys and costumes, the vanity full of makeup only used for paying at acting, the pictures of her mother tucked around the mirror frame. They were all in a box now, waiting to be unpacked again. She remembered the posters tacked on the walls, and the stacks of fantasy books piled up beside her bed. They were also in a box, all but one.
Reaching down beside her, Sarah's fingers stroked over the worn red cover of the only book she wouldn't see packed in a box. It was tiny enough to fit in a purse, or to carry by her side without seeming overly conspicuous, so that was what she did.
And when she came back to visit the place where it all began one last time, the book came with her, too.
It had been four years since her visit to the Labyrinth. Thankfully, Toby didn't seem to remember much of it, though she could never know for sure without asking him directly…
But Sarah wouldn't do that to him. She wouldn't dredge up memories of an impossible place inhabited by impossible creatures, memories that would torment him for the rest of his life. If he had suppressed them entirely, it was all the better. He would never be called "crazy," or "freak," or "goblin child." He would never go through months of therapy that would inevitably do nothing but teach him not to talk about his memories. He would never wonder about his sanity. He would never go through any of the things she had gone through.
However, Sarah thought wryly, she was probably the only person in the world who would get to believe in fairy tales their entire life.
Most people would have given up on fairy stories by now, especially if they had been through what Sarah had, but it was different in her case. Her friends from the Labyrinth weren't just companions to add to a large list of people she was liked and wanted by- they were her first real friends. They weren't like the people that seemed to want her around at first glance, but complained when she talked about fairy tales or thought her insane for her dreams of acting. They liked her for who she was, no matter how stupid, or ignorant, or childish she sounded, and it was the best thing that ever happened to her.
But Sarah, however childish she may have been, had known better than to tell anyone that.
After her return from the Labyrinth, she had had nightmares for months. The Goblin King taking her brother away mostly, but sometimes she nearly died or he tried to take the rest of her family, and it was always, always her fault. She still had them sometimes, in truth. Irene had become worried- she really wasn't a bad stepmother, it was just that neither of them had ever taken the time to sit down and attempt to understand each other- and had called for Sarah to start going to therapy.
It didn't work. The only things she learned were that if she couldn't stop the nightmares, she shouldn't speak about them, and that regardless of how harsh she might seem some days, Irene was trying. Sarah was on much better terms with her stepmother of late.
Her friends from the Labyrinth still visited occasionally. It was nice to see them again, to know that they weren't figments, that they were things she could see and hear and touch and not have to worry about disappearing. She never asked after the king himself, which was probably just as well, but she assumed he still… well… existed.
And then, a few months ago, the family had decided to move away.
Actually, Irene and Sarah's father had decided to move away, but Sarah agreed to this whole-heartedly. Toby was five now, bouncy and lively, about to start a new year of school. He could adjust quickly. Sarah's father had a new job, Irene found a good position that had something to do with management, and Sarah herself… Well, after all the business with Labyrinths and goblins and fairy tales, it was obvious that a fresh start was in order.
For some reason, though, she couldn't bring herself to let this go. This place, this room… it was her childhood. She grew up here, she took her first steps here, and this house was the only home that she had ever known. No matter how many reasons she wanted to leave, there were just as many that made her cling to this place with every ounce of sanity that she had left. It solidified things, made them real. It was comforting, familiar, and she didn't want to go.
The truth was that Sarah, for the first time in a long time, was very, very afraid.
After the Labyrinth, she didn't think that anything or anyone could ever make her afraid again. She didn't think any threat could stand up to her brother being taken away from her, and she didn't think any villain could match up to the Goblin King himself, but she was wrong. The unknown was a very big threat indeed, and even bigger was the promise of growing up.
She was nineteen now. She packed up her toys and sealed them in boxes, and she wasn't sure if she'd take them out again anytime soon. When she went into the labyrinth she was a young woman in body and a child in her mind, but she had liked to think that she emerged with a little more woman in her than she'd gone in with. Now her body was even more that of a young woman- taller, curvier, with fuller lips and longer hair. She looked the part, but she had never acted it. Not even once.
Only later did she realize how childishly she acted on the night she wished Toby away. You can be treated like a child without reacting to it in childish ways, and as soon as she decided that, her life changed. She read less fairy tales and more newspapers, changed her personality so that everyone else would have a chance to see her as a woman, and not a child, operating on the idea that it might help them to be certain of her sanity as well. She kept her roleplaying to a minimum, and only when there was no one else around. She put her fairy books on the top shelf and was careful to let the top one gather dust, only pulling out the lower ones for occasional 2AM comfort reading. Her father and Irene had thought the abrupt change strange at first, but they seemed to accept it now.
Her knew room in their new house was bigger, but it made Sarah feel small. She liked how cozy this place had been, even if it had felt a little crowded at times with boxes and books and toys. The pink and frills had utterly vanished, replaced by dark blue and teal greens. All the things that she no longer needed, but simply wanted to hold on to for no other reason than familiarity and comfort, were tucked in little hidden places around the room.
The pictures of her mother were still in a box, in the drawer in her desk. The costumes were neatly folded and placed in a large box in her closet, most of them too small in various places now. Most of the toys would be given to Toby, and if he didn't want them they would be tucked in the attic for the time being, as the attachment wore off and she wouldn't mind giving them away. The fairy tale books were spaced out along her bookshelves and gathering dust, tucked amidst travel books and biographies, more realistic varieties of fiction and the occasional saved issue of National Geographic magazine. Where a stack of board games used to sit, there was a radio surrounded by haphazard stacks of CDs and cassette tapes.
All these things she had done herself- out with the toys, out with the pink, out with the stupid, treacherous fairy tales- in an effort to bring her mind back into this world, away from goblins and monsters and that horrible Labyrinth, into some semblance of a normal life.
Hoggle had told her at the very beginning- you take to many things for granted. It was the truth. She took for granted her home, having people who at least tried to care about her rather than dumping her in the dust. She took her brother for granted, took for granted the little freedom she had… but she couldn't do that any longer. She had to be aware now, aware of everything anf everyone and that nothing in this world or any other world will ever be entirely what it seems to be. It's not fair, she'd said. It's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair. One thing she learned very quickly from the Labyrinth, and even faster after she emerged, was that life's not fair.
It was time to move on.
It was time to grow up.
The only thing that she allowed herself to keep in the open, to remind herself that everything she had seen was not a dream, but was in fact harsh, cold reality, was the little red book at her side. The cover was slightly faded now, the gold leaf peeling from stroking her fingers over the letter so many times. Some days she wondered if it was all a dream, if her nightmares were only nightmare about nightmares, but then she thought of Toby.
Toby knew the truth.
Sometimes he looked at her, and she knew. Irene and her father could tell when things were wrong, but Toby knew when she was thinking about the Labyrinth. Sometimes he came up to her at night, woke her up from her nightmares. They would walk downstairs and Sarah would make hot chocolate, a sort of nightmare tradition that her father had started when she was little, and they would sip it in silence. One night he spoke, though.
"Goblins all gone, Sawah. Don't be sad."
And that was how she knew he remembered, at least a little. He was apparently even smarter than Sarah, though, because he never had a single nightmare about that place. Not even one.
"Sarah?!" Irene's voice wafted up the stairs. Footsteps followed, and then a knock.
"Yeah, I'm here," Sarah said softly. The doors were thin. She would hear. Her stepmother opened the door softly, a sympathetic expression on her face.
"Ready to go?"
No. No, she was not ready to go, but that was alright. She would never be ready, and so Sarah lied and nodded her head, and walked out the door with Irene, the two of them picking up the last of the boxes along the way.
I just… there's so much that I wish I knew…
But Sarah didn't make wishes any longer.
She didn't look back as they walked out of the room. She didn't look back as they walked out of the house, or drove out of the driveway, or out of the town, or out of the state. That was one lesson that the Labyrinth had taught her, and that she learned very well:
When you walk forward and you choose a path, it doesn't really matter which way you go. All that matters is that you never, ever look back.
You waste time by guessing at what might have been.
Sarah awoke in the wee hours of the morning to the sound of thunder and pounding rain, drenched in sweat and breathing hard. She sat bolt upright in bed and forced herself to breathe normally, to calm her racing heart. It didn't help that she hardly knew this house- hardly knew this room. The furniture cast shadows on the walls that were in reality quite harmless, but looked menacing and deadly. If she were to get up, she probably wouldn't make it to the light switch without tripping over a stack of unpacked boxes…
Rather than the light switch, she settled for shifting to the window seat, pushing back the thick curtains and letting the light from the streetlamp flood in through the room. It was near enough to her window that the sheets of rain barely dimmed its light. The shadows were only slightly less threatening now, and the general outline of most of the objects in the room was visible.
Stormy nights were always the worst for nightmares.
It was a stormy night when Toby was taken away.
Toby. Sarah swallowed her fear and got out of bed (tripping over several things along the way and uttering more than one colorful oath about light switches and proximity to one's bed), creeping down the hall to her little brother's room. He was asleep, safe and sound, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Even after four years, she still liked to check in on stormy nights.
"I…" she whispered as she leaned against the wall in the hallway, but caught herself before she finished the words. There would be no wishing in this house.
Not from her lips.
She padded down the short hallway back to her dark room, fingers settling on the light switch as she shut the door behind her. She could shut the curtains and just sleep with the lights on for the rest of the night- it was summer and tomorrow was Saturday. She didn't have to work, and it was a well-known habit of hers to wake up very early, turn the light on, and make every attempt to get out of bed…only to fall back asleep for several more hours when she realized the time.
Sarah flipped the switch and the lights came on.
"Say your right words, Sarah."
She whirled around, pressing her back against the door with a thud, breathing in loud, ragged gasps. She couldn't scream- she was too scared for that, and even if she wasn't she wouldn't allow the rest of her family to be exposed to the Goblin King that was currently sitting (lounging was probably a more appropriate verb, if there was a way to lounge in a hard wooden desk chair) in her desk chair, flipping through the copy of TheLabyrinth in his hands. He was clothed completely in black, just like the first night she saw him- no wonder she hadn't seen him.
The window was flapping open and the curtains blowing, but she didn't move to close it. Stupid owl trick...
Sarah immediately spouted the first words that came into her mind.
"If you're here for Toby you're not-"
"Keep your head- I'm not here for your brother," he waved off her comment as if it was the last thing in the world from his mind.
"Then why…?" She couldn't think of any other reason he might be here, and her brain seemed to completely shut down in the way of speech.
"I'm surprised at you," he mused, as if coming into someone's bedroom in the middle of the night uninvited was perfectly normal behavior. "The last time I saw you, your room was rather more…"
"Small?" Sarah supplied, finding her voice. It was really more of a squeak, and she fought to keep her tone level. "Childish?"
"Pink." He promptly snapped the book closed and laid it back down on the desk. "And frivolous." His eyes ran up and down her body, and she suddenly felt very self-conscious in her short pajama bottoms and t-shirt, hair thrown up in a messy bun to keep it out of the way.
"You're afraid," the Goblin King said, almost astonished. "Yes, I think so… Whatever happened to the girl that would climb mountains to save her brother?" He stood slowly, walking over to where Sarah still stood with her back pressed against the door, stopping only an arm's length away.
"She grew up."
"So I see…" the King frowned disapprovingly. "You should never do that, you know. Growing up is a positively stupid thing to do. The world is wide open to the young…"
"It's not as if I could do anything about it," Sarah said coldly. He tapped a finger on her chest, just below her collar bone.
"And the young at heart."
"Why are you here?" Sarah asked through gritted teeth, swatting his hand away. She didn't dare make another move, for fear he would react violently.
"I'm here because you wished," he snapped. "Whether you realize it or not. You wished that you knew the truth about everything that happened in the Labyrinth, did you?"
Sarah nodded. She hadn't spoken it out loud, but she'd been wishing that almost every day for the past four years. Why now?
"Your friends told you that if you ever needed them to call, did they not?" he huffed, taking a step back and gazing around the room once more.
"The same applies to me."
"What does the King of the Goblins want with me?" Sarah scoffed, finally comfortable enough to move away from the wall and walk to shut the window. She'd have to dry out the cushion on the seat tomorrow…
"Please, call me Jareth." He smiled wryly, as if he was no happier to be here than she was about his presence. "You have questions, I know. I'm here to answer them."
"Why didn't Hoggle or Ludo or Sir Diddymus come?" She asked, suspicious.
"They didn't get the call, I did. And besides… I highly doubt they will have the answers you are so desperately wishing for."
"Maybe I don't need answers- maybe I just need to punch you in the face." She was incredibly angry at the moment- being frightened at two in the morning by the subject of several years' worth of nightmares was hardly on her bucket list.
"You really think that would be wise?" His tone suggested that they both knew the answer to that question: No. No, not at all.
"Ok… so you're answering my questions as… what? A friend? An enemy? A guilty goblin?" She was indescribably confused.
"I'm technically not a goblin, I'm just their king," Jareth corrected.
"The point is," Sarah spluttered, "you owe me nothing. I solved your stupid puzzle, and you gave me back my brother. You have no power over me. Why come back now?"
"Because you wished," he looked out the window, gazing at the pouring rain, "And because it took me an awful long time to find you after that little stunt- wishing and running away- so you should be grateful that I'm here at all."
Sarah wasn't buying it, at least… not completely. She crossed her arms defiantly.
"What's the catch?"
"Why should there be a catch?" His voice was slippery, like oil, trying to slide around something she couldn't touch.
"I'm not stupid- there's always a catch."
"I don't believe you." The room was silent for the next several seconds, Sarah standing stubbornly and waiting on Jareth to reply. Finally, the Goblin King sighed, relenting.
"You wished. I'm here until I fulfill it. That's the rule- that's how these things work. You should know that, you've read enough fairy stories-"
"I don't read fairy stories any more."
Jareth looked at her strangely, stepping closely and searching her face with his eyes, as if he was inspecting her for some flaw or other.
"No… No, I suppose you don't. All too real…"
"They're just stories," Sarah said, expression blank. It was a reflex, a comfort. Even if she never stopped believing in them, telling herself that they weren't real was a familiar chant, something to soothe her in the dark, or when she was frightened.
Jareth looked completely astonished.
"What happened to you?" He squinted, as if trying to look through a fog to the fifteen-year-old girl that had run through the labyrinth in a ridiculous white shirt and vest, still playing costumes. Sarah took a deep breath before she backed away and spoke.
"Ok. So you're not here to take Toby away, and I'm going to assume you're not here to hurt me because you could have already-"
"Impeccable reasoning," Jareth said sarcastically.
"Hey," Sarah snapped, pointing an accusing finger. "Listen here, Mr. Goblin King. I have had a long four years full of nightmares about you and your damn… glorified hedge maze, not to mention a complete and total aversion to peaches-" Jareth chuckled at this, and Sarah paused long enough to glare, poking his chest with every point she made.
"I was bullied, I've been depressed, I've had panic attacks- oh, and let's not even talk about how much I worry about my brother- and I realize that it's my fault that I was stupid enough to send him there in the first place, but the point is that I am not emotionally equipped to deal with you and your bleach blonde mullet right now!" Sarah sat on the side of the bed with a huff, covering her face with her hands. The only reason she managed to keep her voice relatively low was for the sake of waking her family. Yelling could still be louder and more rousing than thunder and lightning.
"Then wish me away."
"What?" She looked up suddenly. Jareth gazed at her evenly, a challenge in his eyes.
"Wish me. Away. You don't want me here? You can take care of that with just a few little words." Sarah opened her mouth to speak, but Jareth pressed a finger in front of her lips. "Ah, ah. Think before you open your mouth, precious. If you wish me away, you won't get the answers you seek."
Sarah licked her lips, straightening up. One more night, and she would have her answers. She'd be able to leave the Labyrinth behind in peace and never have to worry about it affecting her life in the future…
"I've had questions ever since I left. Why wait till now?" she asked. Jareth smirked, clearly pleased she had taken the offer for questioning.
"You never wished until now. Wanting is not the same as wishing." He sounded as if it was perfectly obvious. Sarah made a mental note to be more careful about what she wished for- even in passing thought. Jareth began pacing back and forth in the small room, as if deep in thought.
"Can anyone wish away someone to the goblins?" She pulled up her feet and sat cross-legged on the bed, staring at Jareth curiously.
"It depends on the person," he said with a shrug. "Yes, anyone can try, but it only works if on some level- no matter how small- you believe. You know, goblins used to be considered a real threat."
"Yeah, back in the Dark Ages," Sarah scoffed. Back when everyone believed that fairies and goblins came to steal their children in the night, back when people in some places might congratulate me for being alive rather than call me insane… Jareth raised an eyebrow very pointedly.
"Why do you think they were so dark?" His gaze seemed to cut through her, and Sarah shivered involuntarily, swallowing hard.
"How many other people have made it through the Labyrinth?"
"None. I told you before."
"Just checking," Sarah muttered. It was entirely possible he told her that solely to dissuade her from trying. "Um… why did things in the Labyrinth look like… like…" She was sure her face was turning red, but the question seriously bothered her.
"Like what?" Jareth stopped pacing and turned towards her, cloak swirling.
"Like my toys," she mumbled, hoping he would catch it and she wouldn't have to repeat it again. "Like things I knew."
"Ah." He nodded, like he'd been expecting this question. "The Labyrinth is a… complicated place. The more runners go through it, the larger it grows. Can you guess why?" Sarah shook her head.
"The 'glorified hedge maze,' as you called it, is intensely magical. It feeds off the memories and emotions of the people who pass through it, and it builds new paths and new places from them. After they're made they don't just go away, oh no. They stay. A little piece of the life of every runner who has ever been through the maze is left in my kingdom, and with each new runner the maze becomes harder and harder."
"Did you ever wonder why you aren't satisfied with your life?" Jareth asked, continuing. "It's because of the Labyrinth. In the fey world, the rules are simple: an eye for an eye. The Labyrinth feeds off of your memories and emotions, and when you return you are just a little more fey than you might have been before, a little less... human."
"So you're saying it was my imagination…" Sarah breathed, resting her chin in her hand. Wonderful. Even he thought she was crazy.
"No," Jareth said quickly, grabbing her hand. Sarah flinched, but didn't pull back. "No, no, no. It was as real as anything. The Labyrinth can only do so much from memories alone. It takes powerful… conviction, belief, if you will, to cement fantasy into reality. Some runners never find anything more than the plants in their back garden in the maze, and you discovered worlds. Don't ever underestimate the power of your imagination, Sarah. It's not a bad thing."
Sarah sighed, tapping the fingers of her free hand lightly on her leg and trying to avoid Jareth's eyes.
"Can you please tell that to my past four psychiatrists and six therapists? Because it really seems like the rest of the world doesn't agree with you." She pulled her hand free of his gently.
"This world is perfectly fond of imagination in children. I don't see why it's so far-fetched for adults."
"I don't feel like an adult," Sarah grumbled. Thunder punctuated her remark.
"But you don't want to be a child. So… which are you, Sarah Williams?" Jareth looked as if he expected her to respond, but Sarah was an expert at dodging questions by now.
"Remind me why I'm even talking to you again?"
"Because you can look at me and see someone who doesn't think you're insane. Not even a little… unless you count walking into the Labyrinth in the first place."
In a way, it was true. She didn't care if he was the freaking King of the Goblins- it was nice to have someone look at her like she was something other than damaged and delusional. In fact, he seemed a little…
Sarah immediately stood up and shuffled as far away from Jareth as she could possibly get. How could she have forgotten that?
"Last question," she choked, her throat dry, but she couldn't bring herself to speak for another moment or two.
"When… when I told Toby the story, you heard me," she began slowly. Jareth nodded in confirmation. "So you heard the beginning. You heard about why the girl in the story could send people away." She arched an eyebrow, hoping he would be able to infer what she meant.
"Are you asking me if the Goblin King was really in love with the young girl?" Jareth sounded so amused that Sarah blushed, feeling completely foolish. It was something she had to know, though.
She had to.
"Why do you want to know?" Jareth sat down in the desk chair again, clearly not planning on moving for the time being.
"I thought I was asking the questions." Sarah half smiled.
"Humor me." His face was blank, unreadable.
"When I was fifteen I had very few friends," she admitted. "No one wanted to date me, especially not after I came back and was forever branded the girl who believed in fairies, and the few friends that I had all left. Everyone saw me as ugly and damaged…" she trailed off, unwillingly lost in her memories.
"Your point?" Jareth asked impatiently. One of his crystals had appeared from somewhere, and he sat twirling it between his fingers, eyes locked on the clear orb.
"I guess… I guess I'm just wondering that if people my own age weren't interested in even being near me… why would a likely immortal Goblin King be in love with a fifteen-year-old mortal girl?" She rubbed her arms self-consciously as Jareth tucked the crystal back into his black coat.
"As an answer to an unspoken question, yes. I am immortal. And as for the other… yes."
Sarah felt cold, frozen stiff.
"Yes," Jareth whispered, standing and walking over to her. She would prefer if he stayed in the desk chair, but it probably wasn't wise to tell him that. If he got too close… she would cross that bridge when she came to it. "You were a child then, but I saw the woman you could be. Smart, brave, imaginative, kind… unconditionally kind, I might add. And beautiful, even then."
"I…" Sarah began, fumbling for words, but then she thought of something else. "Before this conversation goes any farther, I would like to point out that you attempted to kill me."
"I gave you everything you wanted. You made me into a villain in your mind for taking your brother- even though you wished it, and I would like to point out that I am bound by certain laws when it comes to wishing- but regardless, I became the villain." The look in his eyes was desperate, desperate like she'd never seen him before… not even when they were at the end of the Labyrinth. "I am not a kind person by nature, but I never wanted to be your nemesis."
He was standing close enough now that Sarah could feel his breath.
"Are you still?" She asked, so softly that she was surprised he could hear it.
"Very much so."
Well, what a night this was turning out to be. There was an unspoken question on the table, an offer that had never been accepted, but never directly declined. It still would take effect today, if she wanted. If.
But she was nineteen. She may not be a child any longer, but her while life was ahead of her. She didn't know what she wanted yet, or where she could go, or what she could do. She wasn't ready to test out a love that she didn't feel, wasn't ready to rush into the arms of someone she didn't trust, not even for the sake of her sanity.
"That's all my questions." She put a hand on his chest to gently push him away, looking down at the floor in a sort of half-dazed state. Jareth took the cue to step away, clearing his throat.
"Here," he said, tossing her something out of his coat. She reached out to catch it instinctively, thinking that it would be a crystal, but no.
It was a peach.
"What's this?" she asked. She'd just told him not an hour ago that she had an aversion to peaches.
"You made two wishes," Jareth explained. "Outside Toby's room, before you came back in here. I heard that one, too."
Sarah stared at the peach in her hands- perfect and pale, with one green leaf sprouting from the stem. How would this devil fruit help her with her wish?
"I can't rewrite time, Sarah. I can't make it so that you never ran the Labyrinth at all, but I can make sure that you won't ever be stuck between two worlds." He walked over, taking her hands in his larger, gloved ones. "One side of the peach will erase all your memories of the Labyrinth. The other side will erase your memories of this world- along with all traces of you from this world- and bring you to mine. It will also work for Toby, if he no longer wishes to remember, but for no one else."
"Which side is which?" On some level, Sarah was positively horrified. On another level, she was ecstatic. This was a chance at a normal life…
"The side the leaf points towards will wipe your mind of the Labyrinth and me." Sarah made note of the fact that he mentioned himself in this clause…
"Why would I want to erase this world?" She couldn't fathom losing memories of her parents, of Toby…
"You could be immortal, Sarah, like me. You could live forever… Never grow up, just like you wanted."
"Just because I won't age physically doesn't mean I won't grow up mentally," Sarah pointed out, sitting the peach delicately on her nightstand. Jareth caught her chin between his thumb and forefinger, forcing her to look up at him.
"So why should the fact that you age physically mean that you can't keep the curiosity and strength and spirit of the child you were alive?" He released her and turned away, clearly preparing to leave.
"Thank you," Sarah said absentmindedly, but right before he left she remembered something, a passing comment he had made. "Wait!"
"Yes?" Jareth turned towards her, paused mid step.
"You said you weren't technically a goblin." The comment had only just taken full hold of Sarah. One last question for the road, she supposed. "So what are you?"
"I am…" Jareth cringed, correcting his use of present tense. "I was human. Once upon a time…"
"A Changeling?" Sarah whispered. "You were a Changeling?"
"Yes," Jareth whispered. "But regardless of my human lineage, make no mistake in thinking that immortality has been kind enough to leave me with any humanity."
And then he was gone.
She woke at noon the next morning to the loud chiming of the large grandfather clock in the upstairs hallway. Sarah groggily counted the chimes, burying her head in the pillow. What time was it, anyways?
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve.
She sat bolt upright in bed, eyes falling on the peach that still sat on the nightstand, atop the little red fantasy book that she refused to put away. Irene opened the door to her room slowly, poking her head in.
"Oh, I was afraid the clock woke you up. I don't know what's wrong with it. Thirteen chimes- isn't that ridiculous?" She chuckled half-heartedly and closed the door again without waiting for Sarah to respond.
The peach stayed on Sarah's bedside table, resting atop the copy of The Labyrinth, for several months. It never had the grace to rot, oh no, it stayed firm and perfect the entire time, and when Irene asked about it Sarah said it was only a convincing prop, a little reminder of their old home.
At the end of the summer their family took a trip to the seaside, and rather than leave it at their new house, Sarah brought the peach with her. Nothing could damage the thing. Out of curiosity she tried to hit it one day, and her hand stopped short about a half a centimeter from the fruit. It seemed that the only way to get rid of it was to eat it.
They stopped the car at a lookout along the road, a place where the cliffs dropped into the sea, to eat a picnic lunch and enjoy the view. Sarah stood at the railing and watched the waves tossing, back and forth. Amazing how something that seemed so… shaken… on the surface could be so still and calm just a few more feet down.
Perhaps that worked with people, too.
She took the peach and the little red book from her bag.
Toss one, and lose this world.
Toss the other, lose memories that she'd fought so hard to keep.
Either one would give her back the sanity, the mundane, routine life that she so craved. She could go to college like an average, ordinary student. She could live in a fairy world without fear of hurting her family with her absence.
Each choice somehow offered her everything she had ever wanted on a golden platter, and yet… each was strangely empty. But she had to choose, because one was going into the sea today: the book, or the peach.
"Sarah, honey?" her father called from where the rest of her family sat around a picnic blanket. "You coming?"
"Just a minute!"
Sarah closed her eyes. She picked a hand, caressing the object for the last time.
Then she brought back her arm, and she threw.
She tucked the remaining object back into her purse, and went to go eat lunch with her family, waiting on the weight of her decision to take effect. She didn't know how long it might be.
A flash of a billowing black cloak as they were packing up their food an hour later confirmed what she had done.
There was a walkway carved into the rock on the side of the parking area, steps leading down to the seashore, and Sarah followed the path to the bottom, finding exactly the person she thought waiting for her there, cloak whipping in the wind, twirling a crystal ball.
"You wished?" he asked.
"I made my choice." Sarah leaned against the wall beside him, waiting on a reaction.
"Still have that aversion to peaches, hm?" He didn't seem to want to look at her, eyes riveted on his crystal toy.
"Are you upset?" she asked softly.
"Why would I be?" His gaze never moved.
"Because I didn't pick one world or the other." Because I don't love you.
"Actually, I'm rather impressed," he admitted. "So you chose to live between the two worlds. Does this mean you also chose whether to be a woman or a child?"
"Both," Sarah said decisively. "I chose both. I think that sometimes… sometimes it's good to be a child. It's good to believe in the impossible, believe in the good in people no matter what, but other times… other times it's necessary to grow up, and to take a stand. You have to put your own thoughts and feeling aside for the greater good, and you have to take responsibility for the things you've done.
"So that's why you threw away the peach."
"Yes." She nodded. This was Sarah, taking responsibility for what she'd done to Toby. To eat the peach was to throw that away, to surrender to everything that had tried so hard to beat her down over the past four years, and effectively give up.
"So why wish me here?" Jareth asked, finally tucking the crystal away in his coat and looking over at her with his sharp blue eyes.
"Because… Well, because I'm lonely. And I think you're lonely… and this is isn't me accepting a marriage proposal or anything, because I barely know you and I'm only nineteen and I really don't think I'm ready for that kind of commitment-"
"Your point, Sarah?"
"Um, I was thinking, maybe sometimes we could be lonely… together?"
"Friends?" The word sounded strange on his tongue, his expression disbelieving, as if he didn't believe anyone could ever say something like that to him.
"You said you were human, once. It would be nice to have someone to talk to who knows what it's like to have two worlds."
He seemed to take a moment to consider her proposal, weighing the possible outcomes, what could go wrong and what might be mended. Jareth had undoubtedly lived a very long time, and the longer he lived the less humanity he had… Sara thought that perhaps, just perhaps, she could help him rediscover a little of that humanity.
With time, of course. And patience.
"I was a human a very long time ago, more than a thousand years," Jareth sighed. "I don't remember how to be human any longer."
"Then I'll just have to remind you." Sarah opened her mouth to speak again, but a call from her father cut her off.
"Sarah?! Sarah, are you ready to go?"
She cast a last glace at Jareth, who tossed her something wrapped in a cloth. She caught it, but didn't unwrap it.
"If you want me, you know what to do."
And then she blinked, and she was staring at nothing but the rocks and the sea when her father came to fetch her from where she stood. As they walked back up to their car, headed off to the hotel where they would spend the rest of their vacation time, Sarah unwrapped the present from Jareth.
And inside it, a fog, a mist.
She and Toby sat in the fields overlooking the Labyrinth, and she could hear herself talking (even though she knew her father couldn't).
"Come on, Toby! We're going to be late for supper!" The crystal image of Sarah beckoned as they rushed through the tall grass, and in a blink they were back on earth, in her native world. That was her dream, for the parts of herself to live in harmony, for child and woman and fey and mortal to come together as one.
She didn't want to be the insane girl who believed in fairies.
She didn't want to be the miracle half-child who solved the Labyrinth.
She just wanted to be Sarah Williams.
And that was a dream worth working for.
Umm... so I don't know exactly where this came from. I really, really don't. I basically wrote it in a day, because the plot came and punched me in the stomach with meta about growing up, and then it grabbed me and shook me until I caved and wrote it. Thanks very much if you've made it this far, dear reader!