Continuing Tales

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 10 of 15

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A Forfeit of Dreams

The water was dark, sluggish liquid that slopped at their feet, licking at the long weeds and grasses that grew at the moat's edge. Its surface was unnaturally still, barely rippling with the light breeze. Sarah swallowed nervously, shifting from foot to foot as she contemplated the moat before her. It was much bigger than she had imagined it would be. Weren't moats supposed to be, well. certainly not circular lakes. This one practically was, though. Possibly a good five hundred feet to the other side. Where, she could see if she squinted, was a huge wrought-iron gate guarded by - something massive. Possibly another one of those robotic guards they had encountered three years ago at the entrance to the Goblin City.


She sighed deeply, allowed all the air to leak out of her. "Chaucer," she said wearily, "any idea how we're doing on time?"

"Very well!" Chaucer said, keeping a nervous eye on Hoggle and Ludo, who were trying to restrain an over-enthusiastic Didymus from throwing himself in the moat and simply swimming across. "I expect you're only been in the Labyrinth about, oh, five or six hours. Plenty of time left to, er."

"Storm the Castle, outwit the Goblin King inside, find Brian and make it out in one piece?" Sarah ended for him, a little unsteadily.

"Er. yes."

"I'd really like an extra day or, two, if that's okay." Her head spun, and she nearly tumbled down to a sitting position.

"Sarah! Sarah, are you alright?" Chaucer asked, peering at her anxiously.

"I'm fine," and her voice didn't quaver. Much.

"Hmph." Chaucer frowned. "I don't think you're entirely over the unfortunate incident in Jareth's gardens."

"Oh, you mean the whole turning to stone thing?" Sarah asked, feeling a little giddy. "Well, I've already been tied up with rose vines, nearly drowned, and almost eaten by dragons - I suppose something had to do it. I'll just put my head down." And she did, abruptly, between her knees.

"Dragons?" For once, Chaucer was at a loss for words. "Dragons?" he repeated feebly.

"I'll tell you about it later, Chaucer," she said, voice muffled.

"Dragons," Chaucer whispered in awe. "You do that. I'll - I'll go find the boats. And have your large friend untie them for me." He wandered off, bemused, muttering to himself: "Dragons. Huh."  

Sarah sighed into the fabric of her jeans, letting her shoulders slump. That had been a slip of the tongue. She hadn't intended to tell anyone about that. Ever.

Feeling slightly better, she lifted her head for another look at the dark waters before her. They were nearly black, harsh sunlight glinting off the opaque surface. The water looked practically sinister, though she knew that was silly to think - as if it were waiting for them.

As if it were hungry.

Sarah shuddered, laying her cheek back down on the rough denim. She didn't want to do this. She didn't want to climb into a boat and go across a moat and get past the gate and go straight into the lion's den. Because that was exactly what she was doing - walking right into the Goblin King's territory. Running to him. Every fiber and every ounce of her being protested against this, and she had to grip the grass tightly to keep from running straight back to the Forests of Endless Night. She laughed, to think how eager she had been to get to the Castle three years ago.

She had been such an idiot

She moaned and turned her face into her knees. She heard the sound of Hoggle and Ludo traipsing through the grass toward her, but didn't look up. She squeezed her eyes shut.

Maybe they couldn't find the boats. Maybe they've figured out another way into the Castle. Maybe Brian escaped on his own, they found him, and we can all go home now. She felt tears stinging against her eyelids. Coward.


She looked up to see Hoggle waving her over. She struggled to her feet and walked to him, where he stood with everyone next to two flat-bottomed rowboats.

"You, me, and Sir Didymus are gonna take one," he said gruffly. "Ludo and Chaucer the other. Sound good?"

Sarah nodded, feeling as if she watched it all from a thousand miles away. Dimly, she knew that Chaucer was still giving her concerned looks, but she ignored it and simply climbed into the boat, careful to avoid the treacherous-looking waters of the moat.  Didymus was already inside, still sulking that he wasn't allowed to show off his dog-paddle prowess. Hoggle followed, and dutifully picked up the two oars that fitted inside the iron rings, and began to row onward.

Didymus soon recovered, and scampered to the prow of the boat in order to have the best view of their course. From that lofty perch, he launched into a tirade of what he would do once he caught up with Jareth the Goblin King. Sarah listened with a small smile as his plans began even more elaborate and "knightly" as they rowed (from simply challenging him to a duel, to a convoluted obstacle course of honor through the Bog of Stench which would then end in a duel, though if Ambrosius hadn't volunteered to patter back home, "'zounds, perhaps a jousting match!") Hoggle rowed stoically, his thick arms more than enough to handle the boat and its passengers. Only slightly behind them Sarah could hear Ludo doing the same as Chaucer expanded on a lecture of the physics of forward motion.

"Hoggle," she said softly, too soft for Didymus to hear, "I'm scared."

His rowing paused for a beat, and eyes beneath fantastically bushy eyebrows started at her. "Y'are?" he asked incredulously.

Sarah nodded, and he resumed rowing with a frown. "You never were before," he said, as if she needed reminding.

Sarah laughed a little. "Yes, I was," she confessed. "I just. I don't know. It was exciting, in a way, last time." She shivered slightly. "Not so much anymore. I don't know." She thought about it a minute, knees tucked up to her chest. "The Labyrinth always makes me feel like. like I'm learning about myself, the deeper I go. I just don't like where this particular trip is going," she ended quietly. The she frowned. "Is it just me, or is it getting colder?"

It wasn't just her. The breeze was picking up, growing into a brisk wind that sent clouds scuttling across the grey sky. The sun dimmed, it's radiance tucked behind a swelling cloudbank, and a shadow slipped over the land. Sarah stared at the dark, murky waters of the moat - now graced with slender tendrils of fog.

"That was quick," she muttered, only to hear Hoggle snort.

"What'd you expect, in this place?" he muttered. "'Sides, he can tell we're comin'."

Sarah swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. "What makes you say that?"

Hoggle ducked his head reluctantly. His shoulders hunched, he nodded quickly upwards. Sarah turned where she sat, hands gripping either side of the boat to brace herself. She craned her neck, eyes darting every which way - there.

About halfway up the sheer, sandy wall of the castle, a dark break in it's smooth monotony, was a window. Goblins were crowded before it, leaning over to peer at the moat below, almost pushing each other over the edge in their urgency to get a look. And there, tucked into the corner, was the Goblin King. He was still swathed in his black velvet cloak, form obscured by folds of fabric that ate up the light. His arms were folded across his chest, and by the way the air glittered and shone by one hand, she guessed he held yet another of his hypnotic crystals. The hood of his cloak was pushed back, revealing rough-cut hair framing an impassive face. He was the point of stillness against the mayhem of his goblin horde; the eye of their storm.

Sarah raised her eyes to his, and a chill ran through her at the aching emptiness she found. She turned her back on him slowly, huddling against her own fear. She squeezed her eyes tight, hands still clenching the sides of the boat painfully.

I will not be afraid. She shivered. I will not be afraid.

But she was.

Chaucer had though her experience in the gardens might change her attitude about this trip through the Labyrinth, and he was right - just not in the way he expected. He had feared, afterwards, that the thought of confronting Jareth again would send her to pieces, terrified of the things he was capable of. That was where he was wrong. Sarah had known what the Goblin King was capable of for a long, long time - ever since he had offered her a useless crystal in exchange for her baby brother, and been enraged when she refused. No. The person she feared now was herself.

The gardens had shown Sarah she had weaknesses: hidden imperfections in her resolve. Knowing that, could she trust herself now? How could she be sure she wouldn't falter at some crucial point, suddenly lose heart and forfeit the game?

She couldn't.

So she was afraid.

A pebble grazed her cheek, tracing a line of stinging pain. Shocked out of her reverie, her eyes flew open. She turned, twisting herself uncomfortably where she sat, only to see the melee of goblins jumping excitedly in their window, gnarled fists punching the air in triumph.

"They're throwing stuff at us," Hoggle grunted, never pausing in his work. "We're close enough now. You might want to get down."

Meekly, Sarah did so, curling up against the splintery boards of the flat-bottomed boat. Unfortunately, not everyone was so willing to do so.

"Have at you, ruffians!" Didymus shouted, nearly hopping in place at he strained at their attackers with his waving sword. Another handful of gravel fell from the Castle's window, which he nimbly evaded. "It takes more than that to vanquish a stalwart knight! Hah! I shall take you all at once!"

"Didymus," Sarah hissed, attempting to catch at his clothing and forcibly pull him from harms' way. "Didymus, get down!"

He shot her a wounded look, still poised to launch himself into the fray. "My lady, you should understand, I am only performing my duty as your sworn protector!"

"And for that you have my gratitude, noble sir," Sarah spoke quickly. "But at this time, I must entreat you," another shot of shrapnel rattled past, and she ducked, "to look to yourself! Please!" she pleaded.

For a moment he appeared to hesitate, but then a good-sized chunk of rock whistled past his head to land with a thunk inside the boat. He suddenly bared his fox-like teeth, muzzle snarling, a maniac gleam in his one eye. With renewed vigor, he turned back to his foes.

"Cowards!" he howled, feathered plume trembling with his passion. "You daren't even fight us face to face!"

A particularly nasty-looking goblin, with broken tusks and a drooping mustache, snickered at the insult. Sighting Sir Didymus, he hefted a large rock and tossed it easily at his target. Oblivious, Didymus continued his shrill tirade.

"Sir Didymus!" Heart in her mouth, Sarah leapt to a half-crouching, half-standing position to lunge at her diminutive defender and drag him to safety. But she misjudged. Not only how close she was to Sir Didymus, but also the danger to him - for the rock sailed benignly over his head to strike her shoulder, hard enough to bruise bone. Already precariously balanced, the blow threw her completely, and with a yelp pf pain and terror, she fell -

-- into the icy, forbidding waters of the moat. She screamed, and the chokingly cold water rushed into her mouth. An unnatural current tugged at her legs, wrapping around them like a rope and dragging her down. In the murky depths of the moat, shadows blossomed into a billowing cloud, racing upward to consume her.     

"I hate you!"

Standing straight up out of her chair. Dinner forgotten on her plate. Hands clenched so hard her nails would leave marks for days.

"Sarah, honey, please -"

"I hate you! How could you do this?"

Her father sat across the table. Still wearing a suit and tie. Her worked late a lot now. Obviously uncomfortable. Shifting in his seat. Playing helplessly with his fork. Concentrating on his food. Avoiding his daughter's eyes. "I know this sounds sudden, and it comes as quite a shock. I should have told you about Karen before this --"

"Mom just d-died!" Tears made her throat thick, and she stumbled over the word. "How can you be getting married already?"

Her father hesitated. "Baby, you have to understand. Your mother left us a long time ago --"

"She was coming back!"

"Two years is a long time, Sarah."

"She was!"

"You didn't expect me to stop living my life, did you?"

"But it's only been a couple of months!" Tears spilling, hot and scalding, against her cheeks. "What, did you walk into a bar the day Mom was killed and pick up the first bimbo you saw?"

A guilty flush on his face. "It's not - Karen and I - honey. please understand. Karen and I met a long time ago. It's only recently we considered marriage, but you must know we love each other very much."

"You had an affair." Shock made her empty and still. "I can't believe you had an affair."

"Sarah, your mother and I were only married in name."

"You didn't love her at all, did you?" Loosing control now, hiccupping with the sobs that made her shake. "You were probably happy when she died!"

His face darkened. Rising in his seat, finally confronting her. "Sarah, you know that's not true. If you would only calm down a minute --"

"Why should I believe you?" she asked wildly. "You had an affair, you get married right after Mom dies - you practically didn't even come to the funeral!"

"The company needed me on a very important assignment," he began doggedly, "but I managed to go anyway --"

"Barely," she hissed. "You probably wanted to stay home and be with Karen!"

"Sarah, you aren't being fair."

"You aren't being fair! I can't believe you would do this to me!"

"This isn't about you, Sarah. It's about me, and my happiness."

"What about me," she wailed. "I want to be happy, too!"

"You can be!" He was angry, now. Hands balled into fists as he leaned onto the table. "Sarah this is about being a family again - a real family." Practically shouting. "If you would stop being such a spoiled, selfish brat for one second, you could see that!" He sat heavily. Shoveling food into his mouth. "Go to your room."


"I said go to your room, young lady!"

She ran from him. Bolting up the stairs. Slamming the door behind her. Throwing herself on the bed. Crying furiously into her pillows. "I hate you!" she screamed. "I hate you!"

Hands caught at her, dragged her gasping for breath to the surface. The worried faces of Hoggle and Didymus met her streaming eyes. Hoggle had the shoulders of her shirt clenched tightly in his blunt fingers, Didymus insistently tugging on the end of a sleeve.

"Sarah," Hoggle spoke, hoarse with fear, "you okay?"

"Speak to us, fair maiden!"

Sarah coughed, the taste of the moat still slimy in her mouth. Numb hands gripped the side of the boat, and she shuddered, matted hair plastered against her face. "No," she said shortly. "I'm not okay. I need to get out of the water. Now."

Panic spread across Hoggle's face. "We could pull you over the side --"

Sarah shook her head. "That won't work," she said fiercely. "You'd only tip the boat over, and then you'd all fall in."      

"Patience, Lady Sarah - my brother-in-arms approaches! Sir Ludo will be able to aide thee, have no fear!"

"That might work." She cast frightened eyes up at Hoggle. "Ludo can probably lift me straight up. Is he coming? He and Chaucer alright?"

"Fine," Hoggle replied tersely. "Can you hold on until then?"

Her face was pale with cold, dark shadows under her eyes. "I don't know," she whispered. "There's something about the moat, Hoggle - there shouldn't be a current, but there is. And it's pulling me under." Her frozen fingers moved stiffly to cover his. "Like the water's alive. You might have to pull me up again."

Hoggle's face wrinkled with dismay, holding tight to her hand. "You shouldn't have ever come back, Sarah," he said softly, as if about to cry.

Sarah grinned, a little wryly. "I had to. It's okay. I wanted to see --"

The waters caught at her again, dragging her down beneath the murky surface and into another bitter memory.

"I'm disappointed in you, Sarah."

Sitting at a desk. Hands clenched in her lap. Hair falling past her face. Didn't want to answer.

"Did you hear me, Miss Williams?"

She raised her head. "Yes, Mr. Phelps."

Her junior-year English teacher frowned at her from behind bifocals. "This kind of work is unacceptable in my class."

Rebellion in her voice. "I'm sorry you think it was a bad paper."

He scowled. "You know that's not the issue. It was a very good paper - but you completely ignored the assignment! You were required to write about how Yeats' obsession with the supernatural handicapped his abilities as a poet." Picking up and scrutinizing a bunch of papers stapled together. Her name, and a 'D' in red ink, at the top. "You argued the opposite."

Shrugging. "It's what I believe."

"I am not interested in what you believe." Voice like a whiplash. "What I want is to see your ability to recapitulate an argument as discussed in class." He sighed, leaning back in his chair. Brown suit rumpling. "I talked to your mother last night."

The old anger flared. If just for an instant. "Karen is my stepmother."

"Stepmother, then. She and I had a long talk. She said you were called into the school counselor's office for refusing to do work."

"That was over a year ago!"

"But that your attitude had improved a great deal since then," he added smoothly. "Personally, I think it could still use some work." Flipping a pen idly between his fingers. "Ignoring the rules will earn you no favors in the real world, Miss Williams. You need to face facts."

"I don't understand," she finally burst out. "What's the point of just writing down what you said in class for our papers? Especially if I don't think it's true!"

He frowned at her. "I am the teacher, Sarah. I've had years of experience with great literature." He leaned forward. "And you think you can teach class better than I can?"

"I just meant --"

"Let me tell you something." Getting out of his chair, circling around to face her. Leaning against the desk. "Individuality is all well and good, and should be applauded. But you are not such a genius that you can get away with re-working an assignment on your own terms." An expression of faint disgust. "For one thing, your ideas about the existence of ethereal beings are preposterous."

"So I believe there's more to the world than meets the eye. Is that a crime?"

"Don't be silly. You're sixteen, and far too old for fairytales." Crossing his arms, still glaring. "Idle dreamers get nowhere in life, Sarah. Shape up, or suffer the consequences." 

She broke to the surface again, almost laughing as she clung to the boat. "It's almost funny, now," she said faintly, gasping for air, "considering where I am. I'd almost feel sorry for Phelps," she muttered, blue lips trembling with cold, "if he weren't such an ass. He really made me feel like --"

"Sarah!" Hoggle shouted, slapping her numb cheeks gently as she murmured to herself. "Sarah, stay with us!"

Teeth chattering, she looked up at her friends. "I'm sorry, guys," she whispered.

"Just a little longer, Sarah!"

The moat swallowed her up.

She was a little more prepared this time around, and she fought. Kicking and struggling against the malignant current, her head reaching the surface as she gasped for air. She drifted away from the boat, floundering as memories circled like sharks, whispering poisonous words.

"Spoiled, selfish brat."

"Idle dreamer."

"Shut up," she muttered, cold stealing the strength from her limbs. "The water is talking, and the irony is not lost on me, so you can go to hell, Phelps."

"Spoiled, selfish brat."

She whimpered. "I'm sorry, Daddy."

"Spoiled, selfish --"

She went under again. The slippery shadows converged upon her, and voices filled her head.

Karen, trying to understand, and failing miserable. "I'd like it if you had dates! You should have dates, at your age!"  

Cedric, trying to hurt her when she said she didn't want to see him anymore. "You're a cold bitch, do you know that?"

Even Nikki, lolling on her bed. "You're getting the reputation of being a snob."

Sarah thrashed weakly in the water, desperately striving to reach the surface again. No, she thought grimly. I like who I am. I don't care what you think.





Fingertips reaching the surface, just above her. I don't care what anyone thinks!

And then the cool, elegant voice that had haunted her nightmares for three years. "I was wrong. You haven't changed at all."

Determination melted away, and she let the water take her.


Far above the moat, the goblins rejoiced. As Sarah's dark head slipped beneath the water for the last time, they howled in triumph: feet stomping dust into the air, arms waving wildly, cheering and shouting like madmen. They continued to lob rocks at the miserable four still in boats, catcalling and jeering from their perch.

Jareth continued to watch silently, expressionless. The dark folds of his cloak hung heavy, undisturbed by the flurry of movement around him. His eyes never left the spot where Sarah had sank beneath the sluggish waters. A bauble, grasped lightly in one listless hand, shone in the feeble sunlight.

And fell.

The goblins fell silent, as abruptly as if a string, holding them together, had snapped. As one, they stared as the crystal sphere tumbled noiselessly through the air, watched as it pierced the moat's waters without a ripple, and disappear into the depths. As one, they turned to Jareth.

Who rubbed his velvet-clad fingers together, regarding them with a look of mild annoyance. "Hmm." He feigned a shrug. "Slippery little devils." He turned, cloak swirling around him like wind-kissed water.

Wide-eyed, they watched him go.


She awoke with a start, harsh breathing echoing slightly in the surrounding darkness. There was no light at all - she was completely blind. All she knew was that she lay on her back on cold, rough stones. Her clothes were dry, but in an oddly stiff way, and she could still smell the moat in them.


She jerked herself up into a sitting position and winced, feeling tired muscles ache with the abrupt movement. She blinked her eyes against the impenetrable darkness, trying to make out his shape.


Softer, now, and closer. She held up one hand, warding him away, but could feel nothing. Then velvet fingers brushed her face, as gentle as butterfly wings. She froze, heart beating fast.

"Why?" he murmured. He laid his hand against her cheek, and for a moment Sarah had to fight the urge to turn her face to that terribly soothing caress. "Why do you fight me so hard? Why can't you just give in?"

"Because," she whispered hoarsely, blinking back sudden tears of weariness. "You always ask for too much in return."

"I?" The fingers tightened momentarily against her skin. "I ask for too much?" The hand left her face, and she sighed - from relief or disappointment, she didn't know. "You ask for the impossible!"

"I only wish." She struggled for words. What? That he played fair? That he understood? That he wasn't so completely alien to everything and everyone she'd ever known?

"Exactly," he said bitterly. And then he was gone - how, or how she even knew, she had no idea, but she could tell. The air no longer felt charged with electricity, as if an impending storm were about to break.

She sighed deeply, letting her head drop. This wasn't how things were supposed to happen. She wasn't supposed to - and he wasn't -

She climbed doggedly to her feet. What was the use? He had saved her from dragons like living silver. She had nearly turned to stone in a moonlit paradise. It was done, whatever it was, whatever it meant. All that mattered was getting Brian and getting free.

She felt her way about the room cautiously, hands outstretched to trace the lines of stone and mortar in the dark. Eventually she found the long, rectangular edge of a door, and pushed it open.

Light flooded her eyes, and for a second she was just as blind as she'd been in the darkness. She shut her eyes against the onslaught, and then reopened them slowly.

"Oh, wow," she breathed.

The door of her tiny, dark room led to an immense hallway. It towered above her, loft rafters crisscrossing far above her head. The walls, of pale sandstones, were covered in thick, rich tapestries of jeweled colors and glittering threads. Candles and torches flamed everywhere, even high along the walls, so that the hall was filled with light.

With a low whistle, Sarah walked along the corridor, sneakered feet sinking into an oriental carpet that stretched as far as she could see. She shook her head.

"As much as I see," she said to herself, "this place never ceases to amaze me."

Which reminded her: Hoggle, Chaucer, Ludo, Didymus - what had happened to them? Did they turn back, thinking she had drowned? Or had they reached the far shore without her? She hesitated a moment, then sighed. Whatever had happened, she couldn't do anything about it. Not now. She just had to keep going.

And so she walked tiredly down the hallway, eyes lingering on the tapestries she passed. They were glorious - made of thread, velvet, silk, fibers, even stuff she didn't know about and couldn't possibly name. Geometric designs or fluid ones, scenes of battles she had never heard of, embroidered with texts in languages she had never seen. One showed a pale girl sitting cross-legged on the sea, a clutch of eggs nestled in her lap. Above her, two moons shown.

And then, suddenly, the tapestries were gone, replaced by delicately detailed oil paintings on either side. She stepped close to one, narrowing her eyes as she concentrated on a particular scene: an exquisitely accurate depiction of the Labyrinth's main gate. If she peered intently past the frame (swept by a feeling of déjà vu) she could just see the dust being kicked up by the breeze.

"Of course," she said aloud, words startling in the deep silence of the corridor. "Of course!"

This was the fabled Portrait Hall Chaucer had been so keen on! Filled with the magical paintings that could take you, instantly, to the location they depicted. She turned, sweeping her gaze over the long stretch of passageway before her. There must have been hundreds.

And that, she thought, hope blossoming inside her, is how I'm going to get out.

All she had to do was grab Brian, run back to the Hall, and they were free! What could be simpler?

She ran along the length of the corridor, grinning with delight. Paintings passed in flashes:

. a sparkling cave, somewhere in the depths of the earth.

. a rustling orchard, smelling of summer fruit and bathed in golden sunlight.

. a musty throne room, draped in rich hangings and overrun with chickens.

She stopped, panting. There, right in front of her, was the exit: thick oak doors carved in a waterfall relief. She rested a moment, catching a breath. And then something caught her eye - a fall of pale hair, the crystalline color of a gaze - and she turned unthinkingly towards it.

There, large as life and twice as natural, was a portrait of Jareth. Ice shot through her veins before realizing the figure didn't breathe, didn't move. It was a normal painting. He stood, fee apart and arms folded, eyes filled with mocking defiance. He was dressed simply, in leather pants that fit the line of his leg snugly, and a grey shirt, unbuttoned. As always, dark gloves sheathed his hands. 

"Figures," Sarah muttered. "He wears the fantastical every day, and then dresses down to have his picture taken." And the painting was not looking at her. No way.

A prickling on the back of her neck made her turn her head.

There was a painting on the wall directly opposite of Jareth's. It was smaller; not life-sized like the Goblin King's, but of regular height and width. All this was only a rough guess, however - the actual canvas of the painting had been slashed so violently the fabric draped over and out of the frame, obscuring the subject from view.

Knowing it was stupid, knowing it was a bad idea and she should be running out those doors that very minute (and knowing she couldn't help herself), she stepped over to the ruined portrait. Tentatively curious, she picked up the savaged canvas by its tattered edges, spreading it smooth again over the backing.

It was her.

Her fifteen-year-old self, dressed in the glittering gown of the masked ball, a net of silver leaves caught in her hair. She stood as if caught in surprise: eyes filled with gentle wonder, lips softly parted.

A hand latched onto her elbow and yanked her away, almost wrenching her arm out of the socket. "Didn't you dead mother ever tell you," came a cultured, coldly furious voice in her ear, "not to play with other people's toys?"

He slammed her into the opposite wall, breath rushing from her body. It took a minute for her to collect herself. "Why do you have a picture of me?"

"Target practice," he said softly. Bracing one hand on the wall behind her, he leaned in close, eyes intent. "Why do you think?"

"Doesn't look like it." She tried to inch her way along the wall, but he placed his other hand on the stones, effectively trapping her. So she flattened herself, trying to get as much space between them as possible. Praying he couldn't tell how fast her heart was beating. "Looks like you took a knife to it, or something."

He smiled at her, baring sharp teeth. "I was having a bad day." His body was rigid with tension, the smooth, pale skin of his chest a striking contrast to the soft material of his unbuttoned shirt. She flushed, realizing she'd been staring, and Jareth's expression relaxed into a grin.

"Do you like?" he asked, voice soft.

Sarah squirmed, still caught between him and the wall. Her skin prickled with the nearness of him. "It's different."

He smiled slightly, stepping away. "With so many Aboveground visitors, I felt overdressed."

"I'm sure Brian appreciates your efforts," she muttered, relaxing as he moved from her. The edges of his shirt whispered, shadow-soft, against her own clothing as he backed off. "Of course, you --" Her mouth snapped shut. She stared at him, wide-eyed. "You wore that in the portrait." Craning her neck, she looked to the aforementioned painting - only to find it empty, gilded frame capturing nothing but a blank canvas. She turned back to him, expression outraged. "You mean you - and the picture --"

Jareth, now leaning against the opposite wall, threw back his head and laughed. "Ah, Sarah," and he made the name a caress, "you are adorable when you feel betrayed."

He smiled at her, resting his head against the stones. His frost-blonde hair fell softly about the sharp features of his pale, fey face, unnerving eyes regarding her with merciless intensity. The unbuttoned shirt hung on him loosely, baring white flesh and the taunt line of his stomach. The pendant hanging on his chest gleamed with its own light. The leather hugged his legs light a second skin, tucked into dark boots. He was strangely defenseless, Sarah felt, arms hanging listless as he let her look at him. It wasn't just the simple clothes. Some pretension had dropped away, some assumed nonchalance, leaving raw essence behind - and a terrible, vulnerable honesty.

He made her heart ache.

She raised her eyes to his again, oddly calm. "I'm going to go, now," she said quietly.

He closed his eyes, making no move to stop her as she pulled away from the wall. Watching him carefully from the corner of her eye, she stepped cautiously over to the double oak doors. She placed her hand on them, fingertips feeling the ridges cut into wood to conjure the sight of falling water. She threw one last look at him over her shoulder, and made to put her weight against the door.


She stumbled a little at his voice, and glared at him. "Yes?" she asked, a little testily.

"I have a much better idea." He lifted himself away from the wall, shirt fluttering with the movement. Turning away from her, he continued to talk as he walked idly down the corridor. "Perhaps it would be wiser if you went straight to Brian himself."

"Thanks all the same," she said, moving toward the doors again, "but I've learned not to take any of your 'helpful' advice."

Suddenly he was beside her, and his gloved fingers fastened around her wrist. "There is something you should see."

"Stop it!" She struggled to free herself, but he persisted in guiding her down the hall. Finally he swung her around, releasing her before a particular painting.

She glared at him, rubbing her slightly sore wrist. "Spectacularly unimpressive. It's blank."

"Not true."

She gave the painting another look. "Okay, it's black. I still don't get it."

He gave a small sigh. "Sometimes, you are surprisingly slow to catch on." Deftly, he snagged a torch flaming in its bracket, thrusting it casually past the frame. Sarah gasped as the uncertain light flickered over rough-hewn stone, dirt, and cobwebs. It was a terribly familiar sight.

"The oubliette," she whispered to herself.

"Oh, but there's much more to it than that," Jareth said, placing the torch into a holder so that the tiny cavern remained lit. "Can you guess what it is?"

But she had already sighted the still figure lying on the cold stone, already launched herself at the painting. "Brian!"

He stopped her before she could step completely through, one arm catching her around the waist and pulling her to him. "Careful," he warned, warm breath stirring her hair. "Once in, would you know how to get out?"

She tried to pry his arm off her, but it was like a steel band - not hurting her, but very firmly holding her in place. Exasperated, she gave up, instead straining to see any sign of movement in the oubliette. "Brian!" she shouted. "Can you hear me? It's Sarah!" Frustrated, she turned her head to see Jareth. He was so close his hair brushed feather-soft against her cheek. "Why doesn't he get up?"

Still watching the light flicker over the stones of the oubliette, Jareth gave a small smile. "Because he is dead to the world."  

She stared at him. Frowning, she turned back to the painting. "What's in his hand?" she asked abruptly.

"What do you mean?"

"There's something in his hand." She pulled away, and this time he let his arm drop away. She stepped closer to the painting, eyes narrowing in concentration. And then, with a dawning sense of discovering: "It's. I think it's."

"A half-eaten peach," Jareth finished for her. From beneath half-lowered lids, he watched the line of her back go rigid. For a long moment, she simply stood, eyes never leaving Brian's unconscious form. Then she whirled, hand upraised as if to hit him. Laughing, as if it were a game, he caught at it effortlessly, hand locking around her wrist.

"You bastard!" Sarah raged, nearly spitting in his face. "How could you do that to him?! He had no idea what was happening! He was helpless!" She swung at him again, and he captured the other wrist. She winced at the strength of his grip. "You're such a hard bastard," she whispered, voice shaking slightly. "Why are you so cruel?"

"Life is cruel, Sarah," he said fiercely. "Children are taken from their parents, parents from their children, and cherished friends are forgotten over time. The stories are no different! Your people knew that, before someone came along and took out all the nasty parts. The prince is blinded by thorns, the swan maiden is betrayed and throws herself off a cliff. I am what humanity has made me."

"You enjoy it," she said, biting out each word. "You have fun."

Jareth shrugged, releasing her, but not moving away. "Perhaps. What is it to you?"

"What is it to me? I'm here because of your tricks and your games!"

He gave an indolent smirk. "You're here because you couldn't resist the chance to play heroine again - couldn't bear to leave a friend in my wicked clutches. Isn't that so? It has to be, doesn't it. only something terribly noble and self-sacrificing would entice you to walk back into my kingdom."

"I have nothing against the Labyrinth," she said, throwing the words into his face. "It's home to my friends. It's the king I despise."

"I find it rather hard to believe that," he said, towering over her with his old, imperious air. "You did find it terribly easy, after all, to put him out of your mind. Once doesn't forget those we hate so very quickly."

Sarah froze where she stood, green eyes wide. Suddenly, the laughter bubbled up in her like champagne. "Don't tell me. oh, this is rich," she gasped. Jareth's mouth thinned. "This is too funny! Your feelings were hurt, were they?" she asked, unconsciously mimicking his mocking hauteur. "Did it prick at you pride, the fact that I didn't concern myself with you, ever again? That I never gave you a second's thought?" You're lying, a voice inside her whispered. Shut up, Sarah snapped. I'm on a roll. "What a terrible wound to your arrogance! Well, you must forgive me, Your Maje --"

He brought his mouth down on hers, hard, as if desperate to cut off the poisonous words. She instinctively tried to break away, but his arms snaked around her in a crushing grip, pining her limbs to her sides and rendering her struggles futile. His fingers dug sharply into her back, as if in punishment even for that feeble attempt to liberate herself. She gave a small cry of pain, arching against him to escape that bruising grip.

The kiss itself was strangely gentle. Soft lips pressed tenderly to her own, coaxing her to respond to her warmth. She obeyed without thinking, opening to him, the shock of his touch making her boneless in his arms. His hold loosened, became supporting instead of a restraint. He gathered her up like something precious, cradling her body against him as if wanting to protect her from the entire world.

He tasted as wild and sweet as a summer storm.

He was the one that broke the kiss, sighing so deeply she felt it in her bones. He leaned his forehead gently against hers, eyes closed.

"And to think," he whispered against her lips. "Once, you wanted to stay a child forever, playing with your toys and your costumes." His arms loosened further, setting her back on the floor. His hands slipped down her arms to entwine his gloved fingers with her own, still keeping her trapped against his body. "Think of what you would have missed." He kissed her again - softly, chastely - on the mouth, pulling his hands free of hers. Sarah felt him step away.

She opened her eyes groggily, as if blinking back a spell. "Oh my God." Eyes wide, she touched her lips hesitantly, stumbling backwards a bit. "Stop doing that!" she cried.

"Why? You looked like you were having fun."

She glared at him, actually scrubbing at her mouth with the sleeve of her shirt. Jareth looked supremely amused at the childish gesture. "Why the hell do you keep doing that?" she snarled.

The smile slipped from his face. "Why do you think?"

She hugged herself tightly, trying to subdue the trembling in her limbs. She regarded him warily.

"Because." Belligerently: "You're screwing with me - playing with my head." She frowned, and her voice became a little unsure. "That's what you said before."

Jareth was silent for a moment, eyes distant. "Close," he said quietly. "You are very close." He reached out, touching a strand of dark hair that had fallen in front of her face. When she stiffened and drew back, he let the hand drop. "But not quite."

They regarded each other - two enemies in a vast, reaching hallway, alone except for the living works of art surrounding them. "I am a determined man, Sarah," Jareth began again. "When I want something, I go after it. No matter what the cost - to myself or others." His crystalline eyes stared into hers, burning with unknown emotion. "Take care you don't get in my way."

"I don't know if I am," Sarah replied stonily. "I don't even know what you want. Even when you took Toby, I was never sure if it was him you wanted, or -" Then she closed her mouth firmly.

Jareth grinned wickedly, looking genuinely delighted. "I want," he said lightly, "what I've always wanted - to win."

He turned on his heel, striding away. "What do you plan to do now?"

She looked back to Brian, lying prone on the stone oubliette floor. "I don't suppose I could just grab him and run?" she asked dully.

Jareth laughed mirthlessly. "Not unless you value friends you cannot wake, who are lost forever in the wanderings of their own fantasies."

She sighed, shoulders drooping. "Then what?" she asked softly, almost too soft for him to hear.

He twisted his hand in a fluid, effortless motion, revealing another peach. Arm outstretched, he held it out to her, expressionless.

"You must follow him," he said simply.

She stared at the round fruit, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. "Go in and drag him out - that's the idea?"

He nodded, once.

The peach was perfect: golden, with a faint blush of rose. She could smell it - enticing and sweet - from where she stood.

"The last one had a worm in it," she said, with a note of faint rebuke.

"Not this one," Jareth promised, running his thumb over the slightly fuzzy skin. "This one is perfect."

Reluctantly, she held out her hand, and he dropped the peach into it. She regarded it somberly, then raised her eyes to his. "I don't trust you."

He laughed a little. "I know, dearest. But that won't stop you, will it?"

She drew a deep breath. "No," she said clearly. "It never will."

She raised the peach and bit it, juices running into her mouth. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand as she swallowed. "You never get them to taste quite right," she said, voice a little wobbly. 

"Lack of experience with the real thing," he said softly, watching her like a hawk.

She laughed, feeling strangely giddy. "That would explain it." Her vision swam and she stumbled a little, leaning for support against the wall. "One of these days," she spoke sleepily, eyes drifting shut, "I'll have to send you a fruit basket."

The peach dropped from her hand, landing wetly on the carpet. Empty hands clutched futilely at the smooth stones, looking for purchase as a wave of dizziness hit her hard. She leaned her forehead against the wall, breathing slowly through her mouth. "I'm going to fall," she said in a small, scared voice. Then the life left her, leaving her features slack, and she dropped to the floor.

Jareth caught her before she could hit the carpeted stones, adroitly scooping her up in his arms. He stepped carefully through one of the wide paintings, ending up in his throne room. Ever so gently, he placed the sleeping Sarah in his throne, curled up like a child. Her breathing was soft and regular, and he paused to smooth one hand over her hair. He bent to kiss her forehead, softly.

"Sweet dreams, my love."

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 10 of 15

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