Continuing Tales

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 6 of 15

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A Forfeit of Dreams

To be perfectly honest, it wasn't much of a kiss. Sarah didn't so much fling herself into Jareth's embrace as rush him, head-on. As a result, it was less of an actual kiss, and more of Sarah mashing her mouth up against his. Which was fine with her - she wasn't aiming for romance.

For a full breath, Jareth did nothing. He simply stood there, frozen; like a man whose world had been turned upside-down. Eyes squeezed shut, Sarah felt a tremor of fear in her stomach. She'd gotten this far. what next?

Jareth recovered, of course, hands reaching around to the small of her back, the back of her neck, and even through the layer of her sodden clothing she could feel the demanding heat of his skin. He pulled her against him, deepening the kiss. He cradled her head gently, gloved fingers tangled in the damp masses of her hair. One kiss, two kisses, three - gentle as summer rain, warm breath tickling along her chilled flesh. He kissed her as if she were a wild animal he was careful not to scare away, achingly tender and torturous in his restraint. His mouth was surprisingly soft. She was shivering, she was melting, fireworks exploding in her body everywhere he touched her. She was shaking so badly she could barely stand, finger digging into Jareth's shoulders to keep herself from falling at his feet. She clung to him, and for all the chaos in her body and heart, something inside her sighed with contentment, whispering to her soul: This is right. 

She shivered, and he pulled her even closer into his warmth, arms enfolding her protectively. Lips met and parted, caressed her cheek. His hands caressed her back, and he buried his face in the curve of her neck.

And laughed.

It was soft, insinuating laughter, low in the throat. She froze, feeling it reverberate in her bones, so close were they pressed together. It was the sound of complete triumph, the mirth of a conqueror enjoying his latest acquisition. It was a statement, as clear as if he'd spoken aloud.

I've won.

She tried to jerk away but he held her fast, arms tightening around her body even as her muscles protested. He drew his mouth along her throat possessively, lips smiling against her skin as he straightened to meet her eyes. It was the same mocking smile her had always shown her, with a glitter of wicked delight in his eyes. It was a shock to her senses, like plunging into freezing water. It reminded her.

(She wasn't here for romance.)

The velvet darkness of his clothes was soft beneath her hands. Cutting into her palms were the sharp edges of pendant; curving painfully against her skin. Eyes still locked with Jareth's, she twined her hands both her hands around the silken cord from which it hung. Quickly, before she could think, she gave it a vicious yank, snapping the cord from around the Goblin King's neck. With the tiniest grunt of pain and surprise, his eyes widened. Sarah seized that opportunity to twist out of his grasp, tripping and stumbling over her own feet until she fell to the ground some distance away, safely out of reach. The pendant, golden horns gleaming in the pale sunlight, dangled from her clenched fists.

She climbed to her feet quickly, if unsteadily, adrenaline leaving her shaking. Her hands were trembling, grip unsure on the prize she brought close to her, sheltering it with her body, flinching from anticipated attack - but there was none forthcoming. The clearing was silent - a silence that stretched out between them, blanketing the clearing, making her heartbeat thunder in her ears. Slowly, fearful of what she would see, she looked up at Jareth.

Cold eyes. Cold and hard and crystalline - like the sharp, glittering edge of a blade frosted over in the snow.

His lips thinned, in a face all harsh angles and pale fury. "That," he spoke calmly, and she shivered that he could be calm with eyes like that, "was a very dirty trick."

"Maybe." She swallowed past a dry throat. "Maybe I'm just getting better at playing."

"Hmm." He touched gloved fingers to his thin lips, lightly, expression thoughtful. "Here I thought you were coming to your senses."

"Not bloody likely," Sarah muttered to herself, attempting to ignore the flush of embarrassment that colored her cheeks. Not that it wasn't - no, she thought firmly. That wasn't the point.

"Oh?" He crossed his arms, nonchalant stance belied by his intent eyes, still cold and dark. "Pity. I have to admit, I prefer that way of playing the game - certainly more pleasant than listening to your shrill whining."

"This isn't a game!" She shot back, pendant biting into her flesh as her fingers tightened around it. "Brian's life is at stake, my freedom - don't you ever call it a game!"

Clouds raced across the previously clear sky, throwing a whirlwind of pale shadows over them both - the sky readying for a tempest of its own.

"I'll continue to do so as long as you treat it like one," he snarled. The breeze picked up, pulling frost-blonde hair away from the stark planes of his face. "Kisses and trinkets - fine stakes for you to pit against your friend's life."

"Do you think so?" She straightened and stood firm, emboldened by the fact he made no move to wrest the pendant from her. The breeze was now growing into a gale, whipping her own dark, matted hair around her face, errant strands blowing into her mouth. "But I know the way the Labyrinth works. Trickery, deceit, and lies." She took a deep, steadying breath, forcing herself to ignore the sudden electricity in the air, the scent of impending rain. "So. I have something you want." She leveled her gaze at the Goblin King, who rested so carelessly against the rocky outcropping beside the lake's edge, the eye of the storm. "Make me an offer."

The wind died, as suddenly as it had been born.

Jareth's eyes widened, lips parting in delight. "Humor me, dearest," he said, mouth widening into a delighted grin. "What did you just say?"

"You heard me."

"True, but the lovely lilting sound of your voice thrills my very being. Say it again."

"Make me an offer," she returned quietly. "Some service you can provide in exchange for your possession returned to you. Return my friends to me, maybe. Or offer to guide me the rest of the way. Make it worth my while," she ended harshly, throwing his earlier words back into his face.

His grin faded, leaving a grim expression that made him look strangely tired. "This ceases to be amusing," he murmured. He held out a hand, palm up. "Give it here."

"No!" She clutched the pendant to her chest childishly. "Not until I get what I want."

He looked at her. "And what," he asked with an air of infinite patience, "do you want?"

Sarah forced herself to calm down, to think. "Well," she began, "this is very important to you, isn't it?"

"You have no idea."

"And you'd be willing to give me anything for it, right?"

"In theory," he responded dryly. "But I'm curious as to what you would ask in return."              

Sarah contemplated the pendant, its weight cupped in her hands. "What is it? I mean," she continued, "I know it's important, because I've seen you wear it constantly, and it. changes." She studied it, frowning, thumbs tracing the convoluted insignia stamped on its surface. She became momentarily absorbed with it, lost wandering the pathways of its design, and consequently failed to notice Jareth's lack of response for a moment or two. Curious at his reticence, she looked up, only to find him looking at her strangely. It was not an expression she had ever seen on his face before. It was, she realized, wistful.

"What did you promise me," he asked eventually, "should you fail to solve my Labyrinth in time?"

"What has that got to do with anything?" she asked angrily.

"Pay attention, and you might learn something. Answer the question."

"My dreams," she answered, glaring. "And I was tricked into it -I had no idea what I was really bargaining with."

"As you wish." He gave a small smile, one that failed to reach his eyes. "Though I wouldn't debate trickery, if I were you. After all, you aren't exactly taking the straight and narrow path this time around, as evidenced by your damp entrance." The smile widened, surprisingly sharp teeth peeking from under thin lips. "How is my Librarian, by the by? Did he find the studious life so very dull that he felt compelled to risk my. extreme displeasure. by aiding your attempts?"

"You leave Chaucer out of this."

"I would love to," he said, pleasantly ironic. "But he seems determined to embroil himself." He threw her an amused look from beneath lowered lids. "Your recruitment powers are truly amazing, you know. Every time I turn my back, you've suborned another hapless creature to your cause. I almost feel it unfair to loose you upon them."

"That's rich," Sarah muttered mutinously. "You, talking about fairness."


"But what does this have to do with your pendant?"

He looked at the horned shape, still clutched tightly in her hands. "That. well," he murmured. "Well." And then his thoughtful expression was chased away by a taunting half-smile. "You don't need to know."

"Fine," Sarah snapped. "But you still haven't made me an offer."

"Ah." He nodded his head solemnly, as if she'd made a critical point. "Is that the way you expect it to go? I perform some trifle, and get back what is rightfully mine?"

"It worked that way with Hoggle, and with Chaucer. Why not you?"

Jareth smirked. "Yes, well. As honorable as those creatures are, I'm sure they cannot do - this."

And he disappeared.

Sarah whirled, eyes darting wildly around the clearing as she searched frantically for a glimpse of his silver and black. Her heart felt like a fluttering bird trapped within her chest - throwing itself rhythmically against her ribcage as it strained to escape.

He wouldn't just leave, she thought to herself, straining her eyes for any movement in the clearing. There was none. It was silent, and completely still. But I still..! She gripped the pendant to her chest with both hands. No way, she thought grimly. No way in hell did he just up and leave. It's a trick.

The sound of her harsh, labored breathing filled the clearing. She couldn't afford to panic. Jareth was probably watching her this minute, watching her, tucked into the corner of a shadow. Invisible to the world. She couldn't afford to close her eyes, either - or relax. He was waiting for her to let her guard down, and then. what?

Trying desperately to calm herself, Sarah breathed deeply. Think Zen. No, wait a minute, this is way too important for Zen. Close your eyes, and open your senses. Try to figure out where he is.

Sarah let all the air out of her lungs, slowly, shuddering a little as she did so. Feeling as if ever nerve was on fire, she slowly, ever so slowly, let her eyelids drop closed. Blind to the world and hypersensitive, Sarah was acutely aware of the smallest details: blades of grass tickling her feet. small currents of air brushing against her back. and there, right behind her, the whisper of -

Arms wrapped around her, quick as a snake striking. Sarah screamed, caught off guard, and stumbled badly. He yanked her upright, hard against his body. He laughed low in his throat, and she could feel his chest rumbling against her back.

"Silly Sarah," he chided softly as she gasped, heart thudding painfully. "It's only me." She could feel him smile into the masses of her tangled hair.

"Let go of me, she demanded, attempting to twist out of his hands. He only tightened his grip, and she cried out in surprised pain.

"Oh, no. You have something that's mine. Give it to me - then I'll let you free." She only clutched the pendant to her chest, almost bruising her hands against the gold. Jareth sighed - she felt the rise and fall of his chest, the passage of breath against her cheek.

"Sarah, Sarah," he said softly. She froze. He was too close - way too close. She could feel his lips move against her throat, ever so soft, as he spoke.

"Why," he continued, apparently oblivious to the sudden tension in her body, "must it always be so difficult with you, hmm?" He loosened his arms, sliding them back across to encircle her waist with his hands, long fingers resting across the bones of her hips. "Drop it," he whispered, "and I'll let you go." He kissed her, softly, where the line of her throat met the curve of her jaw. Just a small touch, but Sarah hissed in surprise. "It's that simple," he murmured. His hands slid just under her shirt, resting against the skin of her waist. 

"What the hell are you doing?" Sarah asked, voice strained.

Jareth laughed again, velvet-clad hands smoothing the skin of her stomach. "You really are a child. I'm seducing you, of course."

"Stop it," she demanded, but her voice shook.

"No," Jareth murmured, kissing the skin of her throat. "Not until I get what I want." He ran his thumbs over the curve of her hips, and then he bit her - gently, but hard enough to make the heat rush through her body. Sarah gasped, feeling her bones turn to water. The pendant fell from her nerveless fingers.

It hit the grass softly, and then vanished in a flash of iridescence.

"Thank you," Jareth said coolly, stepping away. Sarah whirled, almost loosing her balance, to see that it hung back around his neck. She stared, pupils wide with shock.

"What," she enunciated clearly, trying desperately to ignore the trembling in her limbs. " The hell. Was. That?"

"Standard procedure," Jareth replied with indifference. "It's my job to distract those who enter the Labyrinth from their task, at any cost. Being seduced is very distracting - as I'm sure you've found."

"Not exactly how I remember it," she muttered.

Jareth's lips twitched, ever so slightly. "Well, you were a bit young for us to play it this way last time." His gaze lingered on her slightly disheveled clothes, the fading mark on her neck. "Isn't it wonderful, the delights that come with age?"

"Not really," she returned spitefully.

He simply looked at her. For the briefest moment, Sarah thought she saw - no, his gaze was perfectly dispassionate. She must have imagined it. He shrugged, the shining silk of his clothes rustling with the movement. "Your loss," he said lightly, and began to turn away. "Good thing for me, anyway - might catch something."


He paused, but made no movement to face her again. Sarah drew in a deep breath, trying to steady the last quivers in her legs. "I. I'm alone. Without my friends."

"Really?" Jareth asked, voice flat. "That's a shame." He was turning away again when Sarah lunged for him, just catching herself before she grabbed his sleeve

"Wait!" She called again, hating the desperation in her voice. "Please."

And then Jareth did stop - not only stop, but turned on his heel to face her. He didn't speak this time - simply listened for her to continue. His face was carefully blank.

Sarah swallowed past the lump of panic in her throat. "That isn't the way it's supposed to work," she said, but stumbled a little over the words, failing to appear confident. "You know it isn't."

"Oh?" Jareth asked in a low, dangerous tone. "And how is it supposed to work? Please," and his eyes glinted darkly, "I am always eager to be disciplined in how to run my own kingdom."

"I. I'm not supposed to lose companions on the way to the castle," she finished lamely. "It never happens that way in the stories."

Jareth grinned. "Funny thing about those stories - all about how the plucky heroine manages to save the day. The versions where, say, she's torn apart by ogres and they use her bones to make dollies for their children never became quite as popular. That one," he finished demurely, "was always my favorite."

Sarah was unamused. "This is about my freedom," she said quietly. "And Brian's life. I deserve another chance."

"You had one, sweetling," he said, turning away yet again. "And you let it slip through you fingers - not even for a proper kiss, neither." His glance darted over his shoulder, eyes dancing with vicious merriment. "You need to learn to play your hand better."

She watched him, clamping down on the sudden, burning rage that made her hands shake. The nails of her clenched fists dug into her skin, and the pain was unexpectedly calming. "I'm going to win," she said finally.

"What's that?"

"I'm going to win," raising her voice. "I told you that when we started this charade, remember? It still stands. None of this has threatened that - not one tiny bit. I'll play your stupid games, endure your silly traps, defeat the Labyrinth, and win.

"And you," she concluded, almost gently, "Won't be able to do a thing to stop me."

He regarded her critically from the forest's edge, dappled shadows cascading over his figure. "Childish posturing doesn't suit you," he said off-handedly. "I like it even less than your classic observance on the world's lack of justice. Really, Sarah," he chided, "Try to develop a certain sense of maturity."

And he faded away into nothing.

Sarah gave a shout of pure frustration, kicking at the turf with her bare toes -- which resulted in her hopping on one foot and swearing for a minute or two. When the pain had eased, she gave a sigh and plopped down on the soft grass. "Bastard," she muttered half-heartedly. Her shoulders slumped as she assessed her current situation: no shoes, no friends, and no idea where she was.

This is not good.

Re-arranging herself until she sat cross-legged, Sarah rested her chin in her hands. What can I do? I can't go on without Hoggle or Chaucer -- I'll get hopelessly lost, I know it. But I doubt I can climb back up the water-tunnel. Damn. She closed her eyes. And I nearly had him, for a moment. It would have made things so much easier if I hadn't -- if he had -- She felt her face grow warm. It's too embarrassing to even think about.

A watery bleat startled her out of her reverie, her eyes snapping open. She blinked as a sodden, dripping mass of waterweeds and mud stumbled its way out of the lake, muttering furiously to itself.

"Hoggle!" Sarah bleated, leaping to her feet. She lightly ran to his side, stepping carefully as the grassy bank bled into the sandy, stony shore. "Are you okay? Hoggle!?"

"Mmmrrphmrrphh," came the frenzied reply as the creature waved its arms at her, soaked sleeves flapping wildly. Sarah reached him in an instant, using her fingers to comb the slick leaves and vines of lake vegetation from his face and clothing.

"Are you okay?" she asked breathlessly, pounding him on the back as he coughed up water. "Hoggle, whatever possessed you to follow me?"

"Couldn't just leave you there, could we?" he said hoarsely. He tottered onto the safety of the dry bank, sitting heavily. "Not that your book-readin' friend was all that excited about it. Took me a while t'convince him - s'why it took so long for us to get here."

"My God, Chaucer!" Sarah looked around wildly. "Where is he? Did he make it?"

"Him?" Hoggle snorted. "Be a cold day in hell when that one rolls over. He's fine. Just wanted to talk to them water-creatures a bit longer before comin' up. Not that I think he'll get that far with them. Weird-lookin' things."

"They're naiads," Sarah corrected him absent-mindedly, eyes still scanning the surface of the water for signs of movement. "And they saved our lives."

"Didn' ask them to," Hoggle grumbled, but Sarah had already spotted the stumbling shape of Chaucer rising out of the water. With a yelp of joy, she splashed out to meet him, throwing her arms around his skinny neck as soon as she reached his side. Chaucer's bat-like ears slapped wetly against his head, and he smiled.

"Now, now," he chuckled. "No use getting excited. Just a little dip into the pond - nothing out of the ordinary."

"Huh. Not what you said on the other side, was it? You big coward," Hoggle jeered, and Chaucer's pockmarked face turned a mottled red.

"Yes, well," he blustered, "I felt it necessary to, um, collect my thoughts (yes, that's it) before embarking on a potentially fruitless enterprise. er, work out the specifics of where the tunnel would lead us. and so on."

"It doesn't matter," Sarah broke in warmly. "What matters is that we're all together again, and that everyone's all right. Really, it doesn't." As Chaucer stepped safely onto dry land, Sarah smiled, working her tangled hair into a makeshift braid as they dried off. "You wouldn't believe how scared I was when I though I was all alone. Chaucer, you know how to get us out of here, right?"

"Yes, I do in fact," he said happily. "It's really no trouble at all to get to the castle from here, just a few hours walk at most. Er." he ducked his head down, mumbling, "through the Forests of Endless Night."

Hoggle groaned dismally, head falling into his hands. Sarah paused. "Why do I not like the sound of that?"

"Because it's a bad idea!" Hoggle roared, not even bothering to lift his head.

"What makes it so terrible, may I ask?" Chaucer blustered.

"Oh, nothin'. Just the Fireys, and the Snaketrees, and the Wallowing Pits," Hoggle moaned. "The rest we won't even be able to reach, so why fuss?"

Sarah paused. "Fireys? Wait. is this the same forest that --"

"Ah, yes!" Chaucer spoke brightly, turning to her. "I believe you have had some experience in this area of the Labyrinth." His massive brow furrowed. "Only a trifle, as I recall, as your misanthropic friend here quickly led you out of it."

"Didn' lead her nowhere," came a dark mutter. "She got us both dumped into the Bog of Eternal Stench." He shuddered at the recollection.

"But that wasn't such a bad place," Sarah asked, confused. "And it wasn't, um, nighttime there, either. I don't think I understand."

"Well." Chaucer clasped his hands together, razor-claws rasping against each other. "That was only the forest's outer edge. To reach the castle quickly, we will have to, ah. ahem." Suddenly, he frowned, looking curiously around him. "Dear me, I seem to have lost my reading glasses during our swim."

"What he's tryin' t'tell you," Hoggle broke in, "Is that the forest gets darker the deeper you go. And the middle, it's midnight. And everythin' goes to hell." 

"Oh." Dismayed, Sarah sat on the slightly damp grass. "Oh. That bad?"

He shot her a long-suffering look. "Much worse than even you could imagine."

"Ah." She thought for a moment. "Chaucer, I'm not sure I'm comfortable-"

("Really? That's a shame.")

Sarah blinked. "What I mean is, I know it sounds like a wonderful shortcut, but I really feel -"

("You need to learn to play your hand better.")

Sarah closed her own gaping mouth. Shut up, she chided the nagging inner voice. Who asked you, anyway?

But she sighed with something like defeat, shoulders slumping. "All right," she concluded wearily. "Let's get my shoes and Chaucer's glasses back from the naiads - then we can head out."

("Here I thought you were coming to your senses.")

Quiet. She watched, thoughtful, as Chaucer bounded happily to the lake's edge, and Hoggle gave her a look of sheer, soggy misery. I am going to win. And then I'll make you eat every word to come out of that smirking mouth. I will.

Laughter, faint and mocking, echoed with the rustling of the trees.

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 6 of 15

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