A Necessary Deception
by Scattered Logic
Disclaimer: Jareth and Sarah belong to Jim Henson. Everyone else is mine.
Author's Note: Very special thanks to Sara McGee, a wonderful beta!
"The essence of lying is in deception, not in words." - John Ruskin
Nine years ago
The white barn owl perched on the stone pillar and watched the performance unfold. He had observed the girl rehearse this scene many times. He had, in fact, been watching her for weeks. It was her absolute belief that had attracted his attention. He had not felt human belief this strong in centuries and the words in the last confrontation between heroine and villain were exactly those he needed. This particular combination was the key necessary to unlock the constraints that had been plaguing for far too long.
As the clock began to chime and the first raindrops of the storm fell, she began running toward her home.
Soon, it must be soon, he thought. His patience was failing.
It had begun three weeks ago with blinding headaches and wracking nausea. Now, the slender, dark-haired woman sat in front of the doctor's desk, clasping her hands together to prevent them from shaking as the doctor read over her file.
Closing the folder slowly, he took a deep breath. "I'm afraid the second MRI shows that the tumor has progressed. The growth is not as rapid as it could be, but it's not as slow as we'd like."
"You're sure there's nothing you can do." The woman looked at him, despair in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," the doctor said apologetically. "I realize you were hoping for better news but I agree with the initial diagnosis. The tumor is located within your cerebellum. An operation to remove it would invariably prove fatal and, unfortunately, this type of malignancy moves so fast that chemotherapy and radiation have little effect."
"How long..." Her mouth was so dry that the words were inaudible. Swallowing hard, she tried again, "How long do I have?"
"It's very difficult to be completely accurate, but I'd say four to five months." The doctor spoke quietly. "Probably no more than six. I'll give you a stronger prescription for the headaches. I'm afraid you'll probably have a constant headache from now on, but the medication should help keep it fairly mild. I'll set up an appointment for next week. We'll reevaluate the drugs at that time."
"How will it happen?" she asked, her voice quivering.
"There's really no need to go into that at this time." The doctor's brow furrowed in concern.
The woman glanced up at him, her voice suddenly sharp. "I want to know."
She listened in horrified silence as he described headaches and nausea that would increase in severity, progressing to the systematic shutdown of vital organs until finally she would die. Nodding her head, the woman rose to her feet somewhat unsteadily and turned to go.
The doctor took in her shaking hands and stunned expression. His professionally detached manner softened.
"Sarah, isn't there someone I can call for you? Someone you'd like to come and take you home?"
"No," her voice was barely a whisper, "my father is promoting his latest book in Europe and my brother and stepmother are with him. My mother..." her voice trailed off. "My mother is an extremely busy woman. We rarely speak."
"A friend, then. I'd be glad to call anyone you--"
"No," she interrupted. "There's no one."
Returning to her apartment in a daze, Sarah mechanically changed her clothes and then sat in the darkened living room staring blankly at the walls. She felt numb. She tried to think of exactly what the doctor had said, but her mind skittered away from his words. Feeling the need to do something, anything, she gathered up her cleaning supplies and began to clean the already spotless apartment.
It was later, as she was on her knees scrubbing the kitchen floor that his words came back in full force.
Four to five months, she thought as terror shot through her. She viciously dug the steel bristles of the brush into the tile. Probably no more than six.
She threw the brush across the kitchen and it struck the refrigerator with a sound like a gunshot. She jerked in surprise as the shrill ring of the telephone cut through the apartment. Staggering to her feet, she went to the phone, taking several deep breaths to calm herself before lifting the receiver.
"Sarah? I can barely hear you." Her father's voice sounded metallic.
"Daddy? Oh, I'm so glad it's you." Sarah's voice shook and tears filled her eyes.
"Honey, I've got wonderful news," he said. "I couldn't wait to tell you." Before Sarah could speak, he continued, "Your step-mom and I are buying a home here in England."
"What?" Sarah asked, confused.
"The book's selling very well and my publisher's offered me a three-book deal. The signing bonus alone will take care of the down payment." Her father's voice was bright with happiness. "We've found a little house just outside of London. It's just beautiful, Sarah. But that's not all, we think we can get Toby into a really good school here."
Sarah stood stunned, pressing the receiver tightly to her ear. She didn't want to tell him about her illness over the telephone.
"That's...that's great, Daddy." She forced her voice to remain steady. "When do you think you'll be back in the United States? When will I see you again?"
"Oh honey, not for five or six months, I'm afraid. I've got to finish the book tour and then we'll have to set up the new house and get Toby settled. Just think, Sarah, you'll have a built-in English vacation. Any time you want, you can just hop on a plane and visit."
"Five or six months," Sarah repeated hollowly.
"Honey, is everything okay?" Her father sounded concerned.
Sarah stood silent for a moment and then made her decision. "Everything is just fine, Daddy. I'm so happy for you. Um, is Toby there? Can I speak with him?"
"Sure, just a minute." She heard her father calling Toby to the telephone.
"Hey, Sarah, did Dad tell you?" Her brother sounded excited. Sarah's eyes filled with tears at the sound of his voice.
"Hey, kid. Yeah, Dad told me. It sounds wonderful. Toby, these calls cost a fortune so I'm going to be really quick. I just wanted to say something."
"Sure, what is it?"
"I know it's hard sometimes for brothers and sisters to get along. If I ever said or did anything to hurt you, then please forgive me." Sarah's voice was quiet.
Toby laughed, "Jeez, Sis, what's with you? Don't worry about it. Sometimes you're a pain in the butt, but what's the worst thing you ever did? You backed over my bike once, but I know you didn't do it on purpose."
"No, I didn't do it on purpose." Sarah smiled. "Actually, the worst thing I ever did was wish that the goblins would come and take you away." She laughed quickly, "They didn't, of course, but I've always felt bad for even thinking it."
Toby chuckled. "That's funny. For a long time when I was little I had a dream about goblins. I'd have that same stupid dream almost every night. I don't remember all of it, but you were there and some guy with strange eyes and long blond hair was always there, too."
"What?" Sarah's knees threatened to give way.
"Like I said, don't worry about it." Toby began whispering to someone else in the room. "Hey, Sarah, I gotta go. Dad's taking us out to dinner. I'll talk to you soon, okay?"
"Toby," Sarah cried, "Wait!"
"I'm here," he said impatiently.
"I love you. No matter what happens, don't ever forget that." Sarah said clearly.
"Aw, Sis, I love you, too," Toby said, sounding embarrassed. "I gotta go now. Bye." And with that, he hung up the phone.
Sarah stood, the receiver still pressed against her ear, listening to the silence. With a moan, Sarah sank to her knees and began to cry.
After her crying jag abated, Sarah sat huddled on the floor, arms locked around her knees, until the sunlight completely faded from the room. When it finally registered that she was sitting in the dark, she rose and switched on a lamp.
She made a cup of tea and carried it out to her postage stamp-sized balcony. It was the reason she had taken this particular apartment. The tiny area, just big enough for two chairs and a small table, had added an extra $200.00 a month to the rent, but it gave her a place to breathe fresh air and watch the sunset.
Tonight it gave her a quiet place to think. Perhaps she was wrong in deciding not to tell her family about the cancer, but what would happen if they knew? They couldn't help her and that inability would make them feel helpless. No matter what they tried to do, they would still be forced to watch her die. Sarah shook her head slowly at the thought. She wouldn't do that to them, especially not to Toby, she'd always tried to protect him.
'Not always,' her conscience mocked. "That wasn't real," she said fiercely. "That was my imagination." But how could Toby know about the goblins? She had been far too ashamed of that idle wish to ever tell him of it.
"You were there and some guy with strange eyes and long blond hair was always there, too."Toby's words came rushing back to her. The Goblin King. For a moment Sarah felt dizzy, and then the explanation came to her. She had kept a diary at the time and she'd scribbled down all those fantastic dreams. Toby must have read it, she thought in relief. Didn't she still have all those old diaries?
In her apartment, she rummaged around until she found the diary she was looking for. She leafed through the pages she had written nine years ago. It was strange to see her childish scrawl and a ghost of a smile touched her lips as she read the melodramatic phrases she had been so fond of as a teenager.
Her smile faded as she read the account of her first encounter with the Goblin King. Her initial description of him had consisted of two words: "He's gorgeous." Uneasily, she resumed the narrative. But as she read through her diary, she became more unsettled. It was as if she had known she wouldn't forget him, for she had never described his appearance in detail.
How then could Toby know what the Goblin King had looked like in her imagination? The Underground, her friends and her adversary had seemed so real at the time, but she had dismissed it as fantasy almost right away. It had all been fantasy, hadn't it? Shaken, Sarah once again read over her adventures. The events described were as she remembered, but they also were not. When she reached the section describing her defeat of the Goblin King, a sickening jolt went through her as she read his words.
Everything that you wanted I have done. You asked that
the child be taken. I took him. You cowered before me. I was
frightening. I have reordered time. I have turned the world
upside down, and I have done it all for you! I am exhausted
from living up to your expectations of me. Isn't that generous?
She read those words over, hoping they would change. Was this what he had said? Casting her mind back, she was forced to acknowledge that she had quoted him correctly. Oh my god, Sarah thought, he was right. How could she have missed it? Had she been that blind? No, she thought, not blind, just far too immature and overprotected to truly understand what he had been saying.
Everything that had been done was done to meet her expectations. Even the "dangers untold and hardships unnumbered" had been relatively mild. The worst danger had been facing his army and she had to admit that it had been spectacularly ineffective.
Shaken, Sarah was surprised at her thoughts. When had she started thinking of him as real? But, if he were real, why did he allow her to win? As soon as that thought crossed her mind, she remembered the beginning of the story she had told to Toby that night.
"The King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the girl and he had given her certain powers..." Sarah recalled aloud.
Just let me rule you and you can have everything that you want.His words echoed in her mind. Oh god, he had offered himself to her and she had forced him to do it.
That's what he meant when he said I was cruel, she thought, horrified. I was cruel. Sarah was suddenly filled with the absolute certainty that the Goblin King existed and that she was guilty of doing an unforgivable thing to him.
She tried to sleep but gave up at 1:30 a.m. after only tossing and turning. Sitting cross-legged on her bed, she made lists of things she had to do. She should begin packing her things so her family wouldn't have to do it later. She'd need to talk to her insurance company and to her boss about taking a leave of absence.
'He offered himself to you.' Sarah caught her breath as the thought slipped unbidden into her mind. Pushing it away, she wrote, "make out a will" on her paper.
Just fear me, love me, let me rule you and I will be your slave.Shuddering, Sarah tossed her list on the nightstand. Even if she had accepted him, she had been a little more than a child. She hadn't understood; he had been talking in adult terms. If she had understood him, she would have been terrified. 'He was so beautiful,' her mind whispered. "And so coerced," she said sadly. "It must have been torture for such a powerful creature to play that role for a spoiled girl."
Sarah knew she could never make it up to him. But at the very least, she could apologize. Perhaps if she told him that he had been right all along, it would give him some sense of vindication.
'Or,' her mind taunted, 'he could turn you into a goblin.' "Shut up," she hissed. "I'm dying anyway. What do I have to lose?"
She pulled on jeans, t-shirt and sneakers and made a cup of instant coffee. While the water was heating, she thought about what she would say to him. 'If I'm not insane.' Sighing, she carried the cup out to the balcony.
She sipped the coffee, grimacing at the taste. She'd only had instant and she made a mental note to add ground coffee to her shopping list. Oh for pity's sake, she realized, I'm just putting this off. She drained the cup and placed it on the side table. Taking a deep breath, she said the words that had been shoved to the darkest part of her mind for so long.
"I wish the Goblin King would come and take me away right now."
Those weren't quite the same words but perhaps they would work. She waited, holding her breath, and then exhaled slowly when nothing happened.
In a moment, she began to laugh. She was losing her mind, believing in fairy tales again, she thought. She should just go back inside and try to get some sleep. She was reaching for her cup when the wind began to rise, whipping her hair into her face and momentarily blinding her. She heard the beating of wings and as she frantically brushed her hair back, she realized she was no longer alone. A splinter of fear shot through her.
The Goblin King stood before her.
With a gasp, Sarah backed away, knocking into the table. Her cup wobbled, then fell and shattered at her feet.
"You're real," she whispered.
He was dressed very simply in white shirt, dark breeches and boots. His long black cape billowed in the wind and his wild blond hair gleamed in the moonlight. He stood with hands on his hips, regarding her coldly with those intriguing eyes she remembered so well.
"Well, if it isn't you again." His voice was icy. "But it isn't a baby you've wished away this time, Sarah. I don't usually claim adults, but in your case I am willing to make an exception."
Sarah stared at him, astonished. He was just as formidable and just as beautiful as she remembered. She quickly pushed that thought from her mind. "I want to talk to you."
He arched an eyebrow.
"I want to apologize," she said.
"Apologize?" For a fleeting moment, the Goblin King seemed surprised.
"I'm terribly sorry for what I did to you. I refused to see that you were telling me the truth the time that we last...spoke. You were right. You only did what I wanted but I was too selfish to realize it." Sarah's voice was shaking and she nervously cleared her throat.
"The worst of it is that I think I may have forced you to feel things that you didn't choose to feel. If I had known...I would never...I just hope you can forgive me."
Jareth was stunned at her admission, but carefully schooled his features into an expressionless mask.
"And to what do I owe this sudden contrition?" he asked, his arrogant demeanor surfacing.
Sarah looked away and shrugged. "I've recently discovered that I don't have the luxury of wasted time. If I'm going to make amends, I have to do it right away."
"Explain," he demanded.
"Well, considering what I did to you, you might find this funny," she said, trying to force a hint of humor into her voice. She failed and her voice shook. "I have cancer. I only have a few months to live."
"The physicians of this world cannot heal you?" he asked, eyes narrowing.
"No," she said wearily. "Medicine won't cure it and if they try to cut it out of me, I'll die on the operating table."
"And so you called me thinking I would heal you?" he asked.
Sarah looked at him sharply. "No, I'd hoped that you would accept my apology. There isn't anything anyone can do about the tumor; the doctors have made that perfectly clear. You know, I'm not even certain you're actually here. This thing in my head may be making me see you. You may just be an hallucination caused by regret."
He locked eyes with her and said softly, "The things you've apologized for, Sarah, are they all you regret?"
She bowed her head briefly. "I regret a lot of things," she whispered, her voice breaking. She quickly scrubbed at her face with her hands and when she looked up, her eyes were clear. "That isn't what I wanted to talk about. Will you accept my apology?" she asked.
"I haven't decided," Jareth's expression was closed. "But I have decided to accept you."
"Me?" Sarah squeaked.
"You wished yourself away to me." Jareth smiled faintly. "I accept."
"Wait a minute," Sarah's eyes widened in alarm, "I just wanted to apologize to you. I didn't mean the whole 'wishing away' part."
Jareth stepped closer to her. "Oh, you didn't?" His smile turned mocking. "Now, why does this conversation sound so familiar?"
Sarah flinched, but held her ground. Gathering her strength, she lifted her chin defiantly. "You've already said you don't take adults."
"I said usually. I also said that I am willing to make an exception in your case." Jareth's expression inexplicably turned thoughtful.
"But...but I can't go with you. I have things I need to do. I have a doctor's appointment next week." Sarah's voice began to rise. "I don't want to be a goblin."
Jareth didn't reply. He simply turned his wrist and a crystal appeared on his fingertips.
Sarah saw the crystal and jerked, turning to run. He saw the panic that filled her eyes and before she could take a step, his hand shot out to grasp her firmly by the wrist.
"There's no point in running," he murmured. "Where would you go, after all?" At that moment, the crystal burst and she felt light-headed. Blinking, Sarah found herself standing in an unfamiliar place.
The Goblin King released her.
Sarah frantically looked down at herself. So far, it didn't appear that she had changed.
"When does it happen?" She asked apprehensively.
"You're not going to become a goblin," Jareth said, becoming irritated.
"Then what is going to happen?" she asked, quite confused. She glanced around but didn't recognize the room in which they were standing.
Jareth didn't answer her, but merely called out, "Dorenil, you are required."
After a few moments, an older man rushed through a side door, tying the belt to his long dressing gown and dragging his fingers through his unruly gray hair. He stopped abruptly at the sight of them.
"Your Majesty," he bowed. "How may I serve you?"
Jareth gestured toward Sarah. "She's ill."
The man looked at her with distaste. "She is human, Your Majesty."
"I'm aware of that," Jareth snapped. "Can you cure her?"
The man regarded Sarah intently and for a moment it seemed his eyes glowed faintly. Sarah watched him warily. Were his ears pointed?
"How can he cure me?" Sarah spoke up. "He doesn't even know what's wrong with me."
Jareth didn't spare her a glance. "Well?"
The healer walked over to Sarah, a grave look on his face. He reached out and lightly touched a finger to her forehead. Sarah jerked back. The healer glanced at Jareth.
"She has a malignancy growing there. I know little of human physiology," he looked back at Sarah speculatively, "but I believe I can heal her."
Dorenil continued, "I'm not sure how long this will take, Your Majesty. She must remain with me."
"Very well." Jareth turned to go and then glanced back at Sarah. "Do as he says. I'll speak to you when this is finished."
She opened her mouth to protest, but the Goblin King had already stalked from the room. Dorenil looked at her as if she were a laboratory rat. He gestured toward a chair.
"Sit down, woman," he said in a disgusted tone. "The sooner I get this over with, the sooner I can go back to sleep."