Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 3 of 24

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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

His suit was not quite the one from the night before, but it was of the same cut. The smile he offered her was cool and polite.

"You look lovely, Sarah. I have a cab waiting." He offered his hand as they descended the few steps in front of the door. He handed her into the car and gave an address that she vaguely realized was in a nice section of downtown.

Riding with an elegant man on the way to an expensive restaurant was enough to make any woman's heart beat faster, Sarah told herself. The fact that the man in question wasJareth, King of the Goblins just made the experience surreal. For the last hour, she'd been trying not to think about what she was doing, because "on a date with the Goblin King" was not anywhere on her mental list of "places you'd expect to find yourself forty-eight hours after a break-up." The whole situation did not compute. What did he want with her? Why was he here, now, and why was he being so… nice? Or, well, maybe not nice—last night had been terrifying at times—but… non-hostile. Generous?

Why had he done this? Why? Was it just to drive her crazy? He's a fairy-tale king, maybe this matches some fairy tale. She couldn't think of any villains who suddenly took the heroine to dinner and behaved like perfect gentlemen. Oh, sure, plenty who tried to seduce her, but that usually involved a drugged stupor or a kidnapping or at the very least some moustache-twirling, literal or figurative. Or, I've gone beyond "dreaming" into "full-on schizophrenic break." Maybe she'd spent the last eleven years in a padded cell, stuck in her own delusions.

No. She could remember too much of those last eleven years. Delusions that complex were extremely uncommon. Unless she just thought they should be uncommon, because she'd learned that in a psychology class inside her delusion… but no. That way lay madness. It had to stop somewhere.

This was insane. Why sit here and stew when she could just ask the man what he wanted? He was sprawled in his seat, relaxed, staring out the window as though the silence between them didn't bother him in the least. She opened her mouth to speak, but he must have heard her inhale; he turned and met her eyes, then shook his head slightly, flicking his eyes quickly at the driver and then meeting hers again. She glared, and he smirked, turning back to the window. Fine. At the restaurant, then.

Jareth spoke quietly to the host, and they were seated at a small table in a little alcove, quite private. The restaurant was brilliant and opulent, glittering like a ballroom out of 18th century France. A server appeared almost immediately, and Jareth beckoned, the man moving forward to lean over him.

"No allergy to crab, Sarah?" Surprised by the sudden question, she shook her head, and the server moved away again with a final nod. "Very good; the crab here is famous." It was only as he turned his body to face her fully that she noticed there were no menus. Had he just ordered for them both? Of all the insufferable, overbearing, obnoxiously chivalrous in the worst sense…. The incredulity in her eyes was burning a fair way towards anger when he reached across the table to grasp her hand. "The menu is fixed, Sarah. Trust me." She pulled her hand back, not wanting to be held, but, upon further consideration, he wasn't likely to take her out to dinner only to poison her, dates at the very nicest of chain restaurants may not quite have prepared her for five-star dining, and yelling at him about dinner wouldn't get her the answers she really wanted. She could sacrifice a little twentieth-century feminism for the purpose of getting some damn answers.

Abruptly, Sarah realized that she hadn't said a single thing so far, all night. He had greeted her, he had handled the ride and the restaurant, he had spoken… and she had said nothing. That was not really her style, at least as far as dealing with him went. She could remember being quite challenging, at fifteen. She'd risen to the occasion last night, as well. May as well just jump right in.

"So…" she paused, drawing his eye, "why are you here?"

"For the food." He leaned back in his chair. "As I told you, the crab is delicious; so is the duck, and the dessert cart is famous across the city."

"You know that's not what I meant."

"Do I?" A server appeared with a wine bottle, holding it out for inspection and then pouring a small taste. Jareth sipped, then nodded, and the server poured two glasses, leaving the bottle in a chilled holder. White wine, very crisp and dry, as she preferred, with a hint of apricot… and peach. He met her eyes over the rim of his own glass, as though daring her to mention it. Like she'd give him the satisfaction. Peach flavor was fine, she just didn't like the fruit's texture.

"I'm serious. What do you want from me?" The first course was on its way, now, borne in on covered dishes. A waiter stood behind each of them, and they uncovered the dishes with a flourish, in perfect synchrony. Sarah's eyes widened a little, impressed; Jareth didn't even seem to notice the staff.

"Eat," he said, gesturing to her plate. The dish was a caprese salad, sliced tomatoes and mozzarella cheese topped with basil and drizzled in olive oil and a bit of cracked black pepper. Glancing down at the spread of silver to either side of her plate, she was suddenly reminded of a line from a recent film: Just start from the outside, and work your way in.She selected the outermost fork, and carefully took a slice.

Heaven. She could feel the corners of her mouth turning up, entirely of their own volition. The tomato was perfectly ripe and not at all mealy; the cheese was smoky and complex. She swallowed slowly, savoring the taste.

"I told you so," he said, swallowing his own bite with evident pleasure.

She let herself be distracted by another few bites before turning back to him. "The food is, indeed, delicious, but you aren't getting out of this—even if this is the best mozzarella I've ever tasted. Jareth," he looked at her sharply, "what are you doing here?" Belatedly, she realized it was the first time she had ever called him by name—to his face, anyway.

The look he gave her now was somewhat resigned. "I am enjoying dinner with a beautiful woman." Her fingers clenched on the table, and her jaw tightened. His tone turned somewhat mocking. "Is a peaceful dinner too much to ask?"

"I should have known better than to expect a straight answer." He tipped his head, not disagreeing. And worse: she was now so angry that she felt she might spontaneously catch fire, but losing her temper now would mean letting him win. Unless he meant to trap her that way, so that he'd be winning by getting his peaceful dinner? Perhaps she should try for both polite and furious. Or, no, a better game: the more he tried to provoke her, the calmer she would be; but the more he tried being friendly, the more he'd feel her ire. And if he didn't want to answer her questions, he could be the one to speak next.

Unfortunately, he seemed to be quite comfortable with silence. The salads were cleared away and more wine was poured, but still he said nothing. The second course appeared in the same manner as the first, a small, exquisite crab cake drowning in pale yellow sauce. Remembering his earlier remark, she wasted no time in taking a bite.

If the salad had been heaven, this was sin. Her eyes fluttered closed and she inhaled deeply, the better to savor the mixture of spices and seafood. The yellow sauce was mustard-based and a perfect complement to the rich flavor of the crab; all in all, it blew any other crab she'd ever eaten clear out of the water. As she swallowed and sighed out her drawn-in breath, she sat up straighter as well, a little shiver tingling down her spine; the movement finished as she opened her eyes and smiled her first genuine smile of the evening.

Meeting Jareth's eyes was like plunging into a pool of cold water. His look was a mix of amusement and admiration, and she was suddenly very aware that the sensual pleasure of the food could produce expressions otherwise restricted to more carnal pleasures—although actually, that crab cake was bidding fair to give sex a run for its money. She straightened and put down her fork, composing herself with a sip of water. Yes, yes, the crab is delicious.

And the bastard still wasn't talking. Dammit. Fine then, Goblin King, I'll just eat your food and be on my way. And not let you see how much I'm enjoying it. Is that good for you? Thanks ever so. Composing herself so as not to react again, Sarah determinedly enjoyed the rest of the crab. At least the effect was slightly less stimulating when she was prepared.

By the time sorbet had given way to fish, and then to a truly delicious duck, Sarah was ready to kill the Goblin King. The silence between them had reached the point of absurdity; even the servers were beginning to give them strange looks. Jareth, too, was looking more annoyed with every course, and finally, when the servers brought the cheese course and departed, his impatience won out.

"Sarah…." There was an edge to his voice. "Talk to me."

"I tried. You wouldn't answer."

"I know you have questions. They will keep. I will answer." He paused. "Eventually."

"So I just have to stick to your timetable? Do everything according to your clock?"

"Not everything. But this conversation? Yes."

"Well… if you won't talk about what I want to talk about… what do you want to talk about?"


"Not much to say. I'm pretty average."

"Bore me, then." She took a bite of cheese, stalling; she could see he recognized the tactic.

"I'm… I study psychology. The mind. I work with children. I like it."

"How did you come to choose this path?"

She frowned, confused. "You don't know?"

"I do not." Did he sound frustrated? His tone had always been difficult to read.

"I thought you could..." She made a vague gesture with one hand, holding out her palm as though she were looking into it. He raised his eyebrows. "The king in the story could watch people, through a crystal ball like the one you put my dream in. If you're here again, you must have been keeping track of me; how else? I don't even know why you're still interested in me, but at this point, I don't really expect a straight answer to that."

"Smart girl." He stopped, eating his own bite. "But suffice to say, no, I have not been watching you."

"Okay. Well, this is a little embarrassing considering I'm sitting here with you, but basically, I work with fantasy and fairy tales… imaginary friends, that sort of thing. I've got a theory about a whole classification system, and I think the sorts of friends children invent themselves can be a window into what they need in their life. Healthy children too, not just ones with problems."

"Interesting… but it is embarrassing because…?"

"If you won't talk about everything, neither will I." He wasn't happy, by his expression, but he conceded the point.

"And your family? Your brother?" Sarah did her best not to let the fear show, but she knew he saw it anyway. "Peace, Sarah. I cannot touch a child reclaimed."

"Ahh…" She sipped her wine, regaining her composure. "He's well enough. He's sort of at a rough age. It'll be better once he gets his growth spurt." Jareth clearly had no idea what to make of that remark. "I mean, he's short. Shorter than most of his class… shorter than most of the girls. He'll grow out of it."

"I see." He clearly didn't, but she wasn't really in a mood to explain more. Further conversation was saved by the arrival of the dessert cart, an incredibly decadent finish to what had already been the best dinner she'd ever eaten. Score one for the Goblin King: he had excellent taste.

Two Sarahs rode home in the cab that evening. One Sarah was quite content, having been wined and dined in the highest style by the most beautiful man she had ever seen. The other Sarah, wise to the fact that at least four glasses of wine and an eight course meal were perfectly calculated to put someone in a good mood, and that Jareth had avoided her questions all evening, was no happier than she'd been earlier that evening when she'd realized it was all real. If he didn't start talking, really talking, soon, she might just explode. Or possibly melt, given that eight courses of wine and decadence did have a physically soporific effect. Manipulative bastard did that on purpose.

He let the cab go when they reached her home, and escorted her to the door. She was just beginning to consider the implications of this—did he really expect to be invited in?—when, before she had the chance to say anything, he raised her fingers to his lips, ghosting a light kiss across her knuckles.

"Thank you for a delightful evening, Sarah." And he was gone.

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 3 of 24

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