Disclaimer: I just borrow the characters, play with them a little and put them back unscathed (mostly).
Summary: A little girl wanders into the Underground and Jareth's life is forever changed. (AU)
A/N: So someone posted a photo on Tumblr from behind the scenes of Labyrinth. It was of Jennifer Connelly leaning into David Bowie, his arm around her shoulders—both in full costume.
My muse did cartwheels everywhere, begging me to write an AU story where maybe Jareth hadn't stolen Toby (or rather, that Sarah hadn't wished him away)—where they had met under less perilous circumstances.
I could not do anything else until I finished this story.
This is a fluffy, happy little fic. Sometimes even I succumb to the Fluff Monster. Forgive me.
The Princess and the King
A Modern Fairy Tale
"Are you a prince?"
Brow furrowing, Jareth opens an eye at the unexpected voice. And then he opens the other. He's supposed to be alone, sitting beneath one of the peach trees in his orchard, enjoying an all too brief respite from the banal capers of his subjects.
His solace has been interrupted by a child—a mortal girl dressed in a puffy violet gown. She can't be older than five or six. How the devil did she get here, let alone into his kingdom? She's certainly no cast-off; no one has made a wish in ages.
"I said—" she plants her hands on her hips, "—are you a prince?"
A grin pulls at the corners of his mouth. So, she has a fiery temper to go with her glossy dark locks, ruby lips, and pale skin. Rather amusing, this. How long has it been since he's had a little playmate?
He gives her a mock stern look and puffs out his chest. "A prince? Nay, milady. I am a king."
Her green eyes grow wide. "You are?" she asks in a hushed voice.
He nods. "I am, indeed. I rule all that you see before you." He spreads his arms to indicate the land around them. In the distance lies his labyrinth and the castle beyond.
She takes it in with awe and he likes this. When she turns back to him, her little face is scrunched with another question. "Where is your queen?"
He raises a brow. "Queen? I have no queen."
Her rosebud mouth falls open with shock. "But you gotta have a queen! A king always has a queen—in all the stories."
He keeps from laughing, but only just. "Oh, they do? Well, I suppose I'm not a proper king, then."
She drops down next to him, folding her legs as she sits. "You need to find a queen fast," she says, brows drawn together.
"I see." He mimics the gravity in her tone. "Perhaps I will make you my queen."
"No!" She laughs as though he's said something utterly ridiculous. "I can't be a queen! I'm too little."
"Pity." He sighs. "It seems I am cursed to be a queenless king."
"Oh, no!" she exclaims, placing her hand over his. Her large eyes glisten with sorrow. "You can't be cursed! Who's gonna kiss you and break it?"
What a quaint little creature she is. "I fear there is no one to break the curse," he replies with a forlorn sigh.
"Don't worry," she says, patting his hand. "I'll do it when I'm bigger."
He laughs then. From the way her eyes narrow, she doesn't like that, not one bit.
"I will do it!" She gives him the most severe look her youthful face can muster. He imagines that if she were standing, she'd stamp her foot. "I'm a princess. Mommy says that's what my name means."
"And what is your name, little one?" he asks. He knows all of the languages from Above, but he couldn't begin to guess from which one she was named.
"Sarah," she says proudly.
He smiles. From the Hebrew, then. Not that it matters to him. A human is a human. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Except, she is something more, isn't she? No mortal has stumbled into his kingdom without his help. How had she done it?
"Well then, Sarah," he says, "I shall hold you to it." He lifts her hand to his lips. "My princess."
And then she is gone.
He has all but forgotten her when she appears again, this time in his study. She's a few years older now—ten, perhaps—though there is still an alluring innocence to her.
She looks as surprised to see him as he is her. "It's you," she says. "The king with the peach trees."
He grins, recalling their first meeting. "Indeed. Have you come to break the curse?"
Her cheeks turn rosy as she shakes her head. "I'm not big enough." She frowns. "I don't know why I'm here. I think... I think I'm dreaming."
Or perhaps it is me who slumbers. He doesn't say so, though, fearing the suggestion would break whatever precarious spell this is. He thinks that maybe this is not a dream at all.
She sits in his armchair and, putting her head in her hands, begins to weep. Jareth is uncertain how to react. Should he console her? The idea is...novel. Throughout millennia, he has become well acquainted with sobbing children, but this is somehow different. He feels sympathy for her. How very odd.
"Sarah." He cross the room to her, close enough to reach out a comforting hand, though he doesn't. "What pains you?"
The question inspires further weeping, and Jareth doesn't care for this at all. Who dared to hurt his strange little specter? He will slay the beast. No, he'll string him up and dunk him in the Bog for all of eternity.
"I miss my mom," she answers in a voice so quiet he can hardly make out the words. "She left us."
Left? Does the girl mean her mother has died? Or has her mother abandoned her? The former is a great tragedy, indeed. But the latter...
"I still get to see her," Sarah goes on. "But Dad has custody of me. I wanted to live with her, though."
"Why don't you?" The answer to her woes seems simple enough.
Sarah crumbles into another round of weeping. When she answers him, the words a staccato between gulping sobs. "She...doesn't...want...me...to."
Though this is not the first time he's encountered such negligence from mortal parents, this is the first time he's truly angered by it. What is it about this girl that has him ready to seek retribution on her behalf?
Jareth is a statue of indecision, caught between wanting to enact some kind of revenge on her cruel mother and wanting to bring Sarah's smile back. It occurs to him that doing the former will not bring about the latter, and after several uncomfortable minutes, he decides on something else entirely.
He crouches before her, pulling her hands away from her face. Her eyes are lined with crimson, swollen with her heartbreak, and he despises her mother all the more for it. Gently, slowly as if she were a skittish animal, he dries her tears.
"Let me show you something, little princess," he says, drawing her out of the chair.
She follows him to the window sill, and he enjoys her gasp as she takes in the view. The goblin city is bustling below with the creatures the size of insects from this great height. Beyond, the labyrinth spans to the horizon in every foreseeable direction.
"This is yours?" Sarah asks in reverence.
He smiles. "This and more." This, however, is not what he wants to show her. "Would you like to see all of it?"
She looks up at him, awestruck. "How?"
He transforms them, him into the long-familiar shape of an owl, her into a young hawk. She's surprised that they can still communicate—mind to mind. He revels in her fear at diving from the ledge and in her unabashed delight when her wings catch the air.
They soar together for hours, traveling to the edges of his kingdom. Exhilarated by the power of flight, Sarah thinks she could be a bird forever. He considers granting her wish—or would if he knew for certain that she is as real as she seems to be.
It's the last thought they share before she inexplicably disappears again.
Sarah comes more often. At times her appearances are inconvenient. She shows up during the shaky negotiations with the Troll King of the northern territories. There is a land dispute—as always—and Sarah pops into existence at the pinnacle of heated accusations and biting threats.
"Why are you guys fighting?" she asks, utterly unfazed by two powerful immortals ready to draw blood.
She appears when he's sleeping, when he's bathing, when he's officiating the annual chicken races, when he's receiving a delegate from the elves—privately. She is particularly upset by the last one, and he is too, though he doesn't know why. Adolescence may have finally graced Sarah with its presence, but she still a child in many ways. He never thinks of his little ghost in that manner, despite their jests about her breaking his "curse." But after her abrupt departure, he sends his "guest" away all the same.
When her unexpected visits come at more advantageous moments, she regales him with tales of her life Above. He becomes intimately familiar with who is dating whom among her small circle of friends. He is appropriately outraged when a teacher continues to give her poor marks despite her best efforts. He is a rapt audience as she rehearses Lady MacBeth's monologue for an upcoming audition.
And he even refrains from rolling his eyes when she goes on in lavish detail about the boy who has earned her undying love—this week, at least.
In return, he takes her to see the crystal mountains of the dragons. He shows her the shortcuts through his labyrinth, chases her through the Escher room, laughs when she catches her first whiff of the Bog. He teaches her to juggle crystals, tells her the stories behind the twinkling constellations, explains—or attempts to—how his magic works.
And they fly. She tries other bird forms, but eventually settles on the one he originally created. As she blossoms from girl to young woman, so does the hawk, transforming into a creature of majesty and grace. Jareth is rather proud.
She weeps only once more in his presence—when her father remarries, crushing her secret hope of reconciliation between her parents. She runs into Jareth's arms, drenches his shirt with her tears, and he sings to her an ancient ballad about lovers forever parted by a vengeful deity.
She vanishes just before she falls asleep.
Years pass before she visits again, though it feels like centuries to Jareth. His days are grayer without his favorite playmate. He'd gladly suffer through another recounting of the virtues of some boy for the pleasure of her company again. He misses her laughter, her eyes lighting up at some new marvel he's shown her, her frustrated groans when he is just as baffled as she is by her arithmetic assignments.
But perhaps she has outgrown magic and fairy tales with cursed kings and embraced the drab lives of the mortals Above—if she was ever more than a figment of his lonely imagination.
He doesn't recognize her, not at first, when she appears in the middle of the ballroom in a stunning silver gown during his annual masquerade. He's trapped between two women vying for his attention, a situation he is rather fond of. But it now seems tedious as he watches Sarah weave through the dancers.
He separates himself from his suitors and follows her. Others notice her as well, women glaring out of envy, men entreating her to dance—though she politely declines each invitation. He sees her in a new light, beyond the little girl who had appeared in his orchard, demanding to know if he was a prince. Beyond the older child who wept over her estranged mother. Beyond the adolescent who despised folding laundry and wanted to learn French instead of German.
She is all these things still, and yet...more. So much more. And he wants to know this version of her. Desperately.
The crowd parts for him as he advances on her. Her back is to him, but just before he reaches her, she turns. He pauses. Has he ever laid eyes on a more magnificent being than this? Her eyes widen with recognition and she bears her teeth in a dazzling smile.
"I hoped I would find you here," she says.
Her words seem to settle inside of his chest in a pool of warmth. Unfamiliar, but not unwanted. Offering her a hand, he returns her smile. "Of course," he says. "Where else would I be?"
She lets him lead her in a dance and he is mildly distracted by the feel of her back beneath his fingers and her hand in his. The other revelers give them wide berth as he spins her in a slow waltz.
"You're a little shorter than I remember," she says after a time.
He cocks his head playfully. "And you're a bit taller than I recall." Among other things.
She laughs and it is song both known and new to him. "Yeah, I grew up."
"I noticed." Lowering his voice, he leans forward. "Have you finally come to break the curse?" He locks his eyes with hers as he waits for an answer. Because he wants her to say that she has. Because for the first time he believes that he might be truly doomed if she won't.
Her lips part with a fluttering breath and the ballroom seems to grow quieter in anticipation. She glances to the side and laughs again—though it is a poor imitation of her usual mirth. "I don't think I'm big enough yet," she says.
He won't press the issue. Not yet. "No? What a pity." His tone is light, hiding the tang of disappointment.
Silence settles between them, as if the only words left to say are too weighted, too permanent—especially for a ghost who flits in and out of his life on whim.
"Stay." The word is spoken before he thinks of it—as if some part of him has sensed her impending departure.
Her brow furrows in sorrow. "I don't think I can." He hears what she doesn't say, that she wants to remain here, that perhaps she has missed him as much as he has missed her.
"Then come back again, little princess," he says. "Come back to me."
She gives him a final mournful look before fading from his arms.
He hates her for this—just a little. He hates that she's somehow become a barbed vine wrapped around his heart.
He hates that he loves her. And he doesn't know for certain whether or not she is real.
She does come again.
They lounge in the library as she recounts the parts of her life he's missed out on. She talks of finishing her schooling, of getting drunk for the first time, of making peace with her stepmother, of her little brother.
He assures her that he hasn't gone to war with the Troll King—not yet. He tells her about the latest goblin fashion trend (wearing silverware as jewelry). He asks her if she still practices her juggling. She laughs and admits she hasn't.
"I miss flying," she says in a meek voice.
He smiles. "Well, we had better do something about that, then."
This—when they change forms—is when their interaction goes from conversation to communion. He experiences her elation as she dives from the tower and is swept up by the currents in the air. He also senses what she feels about him, how she adores him for his friendship, for this freedom he gives her. How unsettled she is when his eyes linger a little too long on hers. How his casual touch doesn't feel so casual anymore.
He likes this. Very much.
Months go by before she returns. She appears where they first met, beneath the bowing limbs of the peach tree. He gives her a lazy glance, though inside every sinew of his body has become a tightly corded knot. She sits next to him and after a moment's hesitation, she leans against him, resting her head on his shoulder.
He offers her a slice of peach which she refuses.
"I read somewhere that it's a bad idea to eat goblin fruit."
He laughs at this. Because it's true. Leave it to his little princess to be too clever to fall into this trap.
She picks up a leaf and traces the veins with her finger. "You know," she says, "I'm always a little nervous when I show up here. I mean, I don't want a repeat viewing of you engaged in...you know."
He frowns as he tries to recall this incident she's referring to. "Ah, yes. My amorous activities." He had forgotten about that.
She chuckles, though it sounds forced. "That was definitely a very abrupt and thorough sex education for me."
"One should learn from the best." The comment earns him a friendly swat. He captures her hand and brushes his thumb across the inside of her wrist. The place where he wants to press his lips, where he wants to feel her thrumming pulse beneath his tongue.
She pulls back. "You're horrible."
"Yes." He leans back against the tree, stretching out his legs. "I believe we covered that particular character trait of mine years ago."
"Right. The guy—"
"I believe your words were 'scary guy.'"
She rolls her eyes. "The scary guy who steals children and turns them into goblins."
"For as long as I can recall."
She bites her lip. "I have a hard time reconciling the great and terrible Goblin King with the guy who helped me get an 'A' on my Honors English term paper."
He gives her a cheeky grin. "I'm complicated." He's pleased that she sees something more to him than his duties to the Underground. Other women may have wanted to bed him, but none of them have ever liked him—none of them bothered to know his soul as thoroughly as they wanted to know his body. And that suited him just fine. But not anymore.
After a protracted silence, Sarah sighs. "I think you're the only true friend I've ever had." She pauses before continuing in a whisper, "I just... I wish you were real."
She is gone again.
It takes him weeks to find her. From their conversations, he knows the general area Above where she resides, but Sarah is a common name. A point which bothers him. No other woman can compare to his Sarah. No other woman is worthy of sharing her name.
The search is also hindered by her lack of a surname. She has one, certainly. He doesn't know it. He is forced to scry every Sarah in the large metropolis she mentioned living in or near. After several failed attempts, he nearly gives up on this fruitless endeavor.
He discovers her the next day.
Her meager dwelling is dark, empty but for a smattering of unmatched furniture. He peruses her books, not surprised to find the works of literary masters worn and dog-eared. Shakespeare seems to be the most beloved of all by her. Jareth knew the bard. Wouldn't she enjoy hearing how he was the inspiration for Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream?
Eventually he settles on her sofa. He isn't aware of falling asleep until he's awakened by the thud of something heavy crashing to the floor.
"Oh, my God!"
Sarah stands in the tiny entryway with a sack of food stuffs at her feet. A peach rolls across the floor toward him.
"Oh, my God!" she repeats. "I'm hallucinating."
He smirks, rising from the couch. "I'm afraid this is all very real," he says as he takes unhurried steps toward her. "Oh, come now, Sarah. Did you think you could wander into my kingdom whenever you fancied and there would be no consequences."
"Consequences?" She swallows as he slides a hand up her neck to twine his fingers in her hair.
"You made me a promise once," he murmurs, "and I've come to collect."
Her eyes flutter closed as his mouth hovers over hers. "There will never be anyone but you, princess," he whispers just before brushing his lips against hers.
Jareth expects the first taste of her to be exquisite and it is. What he doesn't expect is the electrifying sense of completeness surging through his veins as powerfully as his magic. She must feel it too as she clings to him. He presses her up against the wall, wanting to consume her, to possess her. This is why she appeared in his realm. It was Fate's design. Sarah is everything he wasn't aware he needed.
"I think I've always loved you," she says when they pause for air.
He rests his forehead against hers. "As you should."
She laughs and smacks his chest. "You are the worst."
He kisses her again before she make another retort. He kisses her until she becomes boneless against him. He kisses her as he takes her to the home where she now belongs.
And thus the king who hadn't known he was cursed is rescued by a princess.
A/N: Thanks for reading! If you have a moment, tell me what you think. :) (And yes, I'm aware that I need to update my other stories!)