Continuing Tales

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 9 of 15

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A Forfeit of Dreams

((This particular chapter of "Forfeit" does not follow the linear timeline - that is, it does not begin where Eight left off. Chapter Nine backtracks. To find out where, and why, read on.))

Darkness has strength. It has weight and intent; it presses fitfully against your eyes, is drawn in with every measured breath to slip into your lungs and pass through your blood like oxygen. It inhabits your body, numbing sensation in your limbs, burning away at muscle like lactic acid. Darkness has a presence, and a hateful one, which burdens its captive with feverish dreams and fancies as you sit there - alone, in the dark.

Brian knew this. He hadn't known it at first, when the Goblin King pointedly left Brian in his oubliette, quenching the lone torch with the suddenness of his departure. He had been cocky, then - but most of all he had been angry, furiously angry at his own helpless vulnerability that put someone he cared about in danger. The anger had fueled him, had kept his mind active and focused as the darkness began to nibble at his resolve. Slowly, Brian began to loose himself. He had never known, until then, how much he depended on his sense of sight. It helped him define himself, to say: "I am here, that over there is not me." It developed the personal boundaries that separated him from his surroundings, his sense of self. Without it, there was simply darkness, and he was simply a part of it.

Or maybe it had happened quickly, not slowly - he had no way to tell. It could have been hours, or years. It felt like the latter, but common sense scolded him for the thought.

Unless Sarah had failed, and he had been left here to rot.

No. He couldn't think that way, or he'd go insane. Maybe he was insane. Maybe he was dead. Maybe he had dies and his spirit was too fucking dumb to know when to move on. Maybe you couldn't die here, in this world of fantasy.

He felt alive. His throat was on fire, mouth parched and lips cracked, skin itching for want of water. If this was death, it sucked.

He breathed through his mouth, taking in the stale air of the oubliette. It had a taste like old dirt, dried sweat, and tears. He lay on his back, spread-eagled, letting his spent muscles settle on the rough, rocky floor, pebbles rasping painfully along bared skin of his arms. He was just so tired - he slept, fitfully and constantly, dreams filled with the same darkness and pain. Reality blurred, became fuzzy around the edges, bled into dreams so that the two were indistinguishable.

When this changed, it came in pieces to Brian - a flash of light, a foot nudging him rudely, the sound of a door creaking open - sensations chaotic and out of order intruding on his dream-like consciousness. Reality asserted itself, painfully, with another pointed kick to his side. He groaned involuntarily, rolling over to avoid the pain.

"He's alive." A thin, whining voice, like nails on chalkboard. "Pick 'im up."

Snickers and grunts greeted this command, and Brian felt small hands grasping and clutching at him, rough skin and sharp, hard nails catching on his clothing. Feebly he tried to evade them, but they only laughed - a harsh, brutal sound - and tightened their grip.

His head spun, blood rushing as he stood, leaving dancing black shadows in his vision. He teetered with the sudden blindness and almost fell down again, but they caught him deftly and stood him more or less firmly on his feet. They led him, stumbling and wavering, on weak legs that could barely hold his weight, through cavernous stone halls that smelled like dust, chickens, and the tickling scent of magic. Brian sneezed furiously, nearly loosing his balance again, but the goblins merely laughed and kept on walking.

They ushered him impatiently through the castle, eventually depositing him in a chamber (with a kindly shove in the back for good measure). He keeled over, hunched on his hands and knees gripping the floor in the dim hope that it would soon stop tilting. His fumbling hands hit an earthenware cup, water slopping over the rim onto his parched skin and he reached for it unthinkingly, carefully wrapping his fingers securely around the cup before lifting it to dry lips. He drank, and it was the sweetest sensation he had ever experienced.

"I suppose I owe you an apology. I didn't mean to cause any deliberate suffering on your part, you understand-I simply forgot all about you." Brian could feel him grinning, a wicked twist of those petulant lips. "Told you it wouldn't take much."

"Well," Brian rasped, throat still tender from lack of use, "glad you got with the program." Without looking up, he held the cup out before him. "Any more where this came from?"

Suddenly, the sound of rushing water filled his ears. To his right, he found by turning his head, a sparkling, flowing fountain had appeared. It was low enough that he didn't need to rise to his feet, only lean slightly in order to dip his cup beneath the cool water's surface. He drained the cup once, twice more before he felt prepared to look up at his host.

The king of all the goblins was resting comfortably, perched in one of the thick, wide windows that looked out onto the City below. One leg was crooked to rest on the broad stone ledge, the other dangled to the floor. His slim legs were encased in long, soft boots the color of cream that buckled high on his thighs. Brian caught glimpses of fawn-colored clothes beneath. But Jareth's form was mainly swathed in a wide, rippling cloak edged in golden embroidery - stylized designs that shifted and flew across its expanse. Long, creamy pinions were sewn to the wide collar, forming a feathery ruff that brushed against his too-pale cheek and frost-blonde hair. His eyes seemed darker by comparison, unequal pupils unnerving in that set gaze.

Brian met his eyes, concentrating on the feeling of the soothing water flowing over his hand to keep from loosing his nerve. I will not be terrified by the figment of my imagination, Brian thought mutinously. Even if he does have spectacular eyebrows - may he rot in hell. Beneath the water's smooth surface his fist clenched, nails biting into the flesh of his palm. You'll get through this. You will.

"How's Sarah?" he asked, deceptively nonchalant as he drained another cup of water. "Kicking your frou-frou ass around the block, I expect."

"I'm sure she'd find your confidence in her wonderfully rallying. If only she knew."

"What's the deal, exactly? She solves your maze thingy and we both win?"

"There is a time limit."

"Right. Like it would be too easy, otherwise." Brian looked disgusted. "You ever heard of 'stacking the deck'?"

Jareth smiled to himself. "I could make the deck stand up and dance a jig, if I wished. Be grateful I only limit how long you impose upon my valuable time."

"And how long is that?"

"She has thirteen hours to reach you. It has been three."

"Ah." With one hand, Brian massaged his throat. "Really? It feels like. a lot longer than that."

Jareth studied him, chin cupped in one hand. "This is my kingdom. All within are subject to my will - even the elements."

"You mean."

"It's an oubliette. Your stay is meant to be torturous. Otherwise, what's the point? Three hours is hardly long enough to impart the complete experience. And one should experience things to the fullest in life. Don't you think?"

"Hey," Brian squawked. "You said no deliberate suffering!"

"Well." He smiled. "Maybe a little."

Brian sighed, slumping on the stone floor. "How long was I down there?"

"Several days."

"Son of a bitch." Brian looked up, brown eyes glaring. "You screwed up the flow of time - for me, at least - just to fuck me over?" He shook his head. "I obviously need to get out more, if my subconscious is producing little morsels like you."

"While I admit it was vastly amusing, your pain was not the original point." He leaped gracefully from the window ledge, cloak billowing about him like wide, white wings. "You have information that I want. I felt it would be better to extract it over a leisurely period of time - craftsmanship, after all, must not be rushed."

"Like hell you will," Brian spat. "Listen, I'll admit I have no idea what's going on, and whatever is can't be really happening. I don't care. I'm not telling you anything."

Jareth raised an eyebrow like an upswept owl's wing. "What does it matter, if none of this is real?"

"I don't like you. I'm going to take that instinct and run with it."

"Ah." Jareth contemplated the brilliance of the sunset, red light haloing his aristocratic profile. "What a predicament." He spun on his heel, cloak flaring slightly. Stepping lightly over to his captive, he knelt easily on the rough stone floor, material of his soft, buckled boots bending easily. "I would keep in mind," he spoke softly, barely above a whisper, "that even if Sarah manages to come rescue you, there was no guarantee that your heart had to be beating."

Brian stared into those unnerving eyes, mouth suddenly dry. He swallowed with difficulty.

"No," he croaked. "Kill me, or whatever, but I won't help you win."

Jareth's eyes only narrowed slightly, but for a few heart-stopping seconds Brian feared he would make good on his promise. Then the Goblin King rose to his feet, walking calmly past the gurgling fountain to the other end of the small, shadow-filled room. He leaned against the far wall, elegant hands hanging listless at his sides.

"What if I swore that, whatever information you gave me, I would not use it to in any way harm Sarah Williams?"

"Define harm."

"Physical or emotional."

"And it won't help you trump us both?" Brian sneered. "Right."

"I swear it." Jareth shrugged lightly. "What I ask of you will in no way help me impede, obstruct, or restrain her against her will."

"Why should I believe you?"

"Because I keep my word. And because I think you enjoy having a pulse."

Brian hesitated. This was not what he wanted. but. He swallowed. "You're serious, aren't you?"


Brian quieted, thinking. "What do you want it for, then?" he asked cautiously.

 "I am a curious cat."

The young man sighed, leaning dispiritedly against the low wall of the fountain. He rested his head against the gravelly stone, breathing in the scent of the cool water. "And what exactly is it what you want to know?"

"Nothing too taxing. Just facts about your life," came the rich, cultured voice. "Anecdotes, recollections, memories --"

"About Sarah?"

There was a small silence, and Brian tasted sour despair on his tongue.

"Yes," the answer came, finally.

"Of course," Brian breathed. "Of course they would be." He raised his head enough to see his captor clearly. "Fucked either way, aren't I?"

The barest trace of a smile graced the Goblin King's lips. "Not the way I would have said it - but yes."

"Alright. Alright, I'll do it. Just tell me why."

The air shimmered faintly near the King's hand, and the sparkling motes eventually rounded into yet another of those crystal baubles, settling into the dun-colored palm of his glove. He lifted the hand lazily so that the bauble blazed before him, afire with the light of the dying sun.

"I'm sure you've heard the saying, 'Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door'?"

"Yeah." Brian gave a disbelieving look. "What, you throw me in a dungeon because you're a budding entrepreneur?"

Jareth threw back his head and laughed - joyfully, this time, without any edge of malice. "You really are amusing, he said, still chuckling. "No wonder Sarah liked to keep you around."

(Alright, a little malice.)

"So what did you mean?"

Jareth shrugged disarmingly, still smiling. Idly, he began to toss his bauble up in the air and catch it again, soundlessly. "I once built my own mousetrap. Sadly, despite my best efforts, it failed."

"Mouse made off with the cheese? That's a bitch. Why don't you just use your Master of All Space and Time powers to zing the sucker?"

Jareth's smile widened into a grin. "What a marvelous idea. But this was a very particular mouse, very determined. I couldn't use just any trap. It wasn't a trap at all, really - more of a temptation." He caught the shining orb in his left hand, letting it slip down the line of his wrist and dance over the fingers of his right. Brian watched it slide and twist along the long bones of the Goblin King's fingers. "A web of dreams and fancies. But apparently I misjudged the strength of my mouse. She broke through it, and it collapsed entirely. Poof." And as he blew lightly on his bauble, it shattered noiselessly into a million motes of crystal dust that fell through the air in shimmering waves. Jareth's eyes met Brian's through the still-sparkling air between them.

"You are going to help me build a better one."


Time passed. How it passed, Brian had no idea - whether in hours, or days, or even years. He tried, at first, to keep track of the times he was dismissed back to the oubliette to sleep, but that was no help. Sometimes he would fall instantly unconscious the moment the ephemeral door shut behind him. Other times he would lie stubbornly awake, staring into the dark - three or four times in a row. His sleep was dreamless and sparse; they always awoke him with rude kicks, dragging him (if necessary) stumbling and bleary-eyed into the bare chamber.

Where Jareth was waiting.

Jareth was as unchanging as the rest, always caustic and vaguely threatening, casually ripping through Brian's half-hearted attempts to hold back. Much, much later, when Brian thought back to that hellacious space of time, it was mostly a blur of confusion and mystery, a haze of half-remembered exchanges in the shadows of that tiny room.

Some conversations, however, he could never manage to forget.


"How did you meet her?"

It wasn't their first conversation. Looking back, Brian supposed it should have been, but knew it wasn't - though he was damned if he could remember details of any earlier conversations. But he remembered that, by the time this question came up, he knew the routine by heart. He would be awakened rudely by his goblin jailers, pushed and shoved down a veritable maze of musty hallways before eventually coming here - this small, barren room. The fountain never appeared again. It was simply a room, wide enough for someone to walk ten paces across, and no more. It was lit by flickering, sputtering torches that flamed in wrought-iron stands too heavy to lift from the floor. The only window - a wide, semi-circular opening - looked out onto an ever-present sunset that eventually became a dark and livid twilight by the time each talk ended.

Brian would sit in one corner, close to the wooden door that locked him in. There, he would eat. He was only ever fed when he came to this room; always a pitcher of water and a half-dozen slices of black bread. The water was clear and cold and sparkling, and the bread slices were thick, and truly tasted wonderful - a meal in of itself. But Brian still suspected some sly insult in it all. A world to command at his fingertips - of both servants and magic - and Jareth still chose to keep him on bread and water. Yes, there was definitely an insult in there.

Brian was still munching on the bread (warm, and fresh-baked) when His Majesty asked the question. Brian swallowed the mouthful hurriedly in surprise - Jareth usually waited patiently for Brian to finish his meal before beginning.

"Um." Brian stalled for time, reaching for the pitcher of water. As he drank, he peered over the earthenware edge in order to unobtrusively scrutinize the Goblin King. Jareth was nestled in his customary perch. The wide window ledge was his favorite spot for interrogation, and Brian couldn't remember how many times he'd thought longingly of simply pushing the bastard off the edge. The Goblin King sat in his temporary throne, slender legs crossed as he was angled to watch the city below. He wore simple leather breeches this time, and a billowing white shirt, effusive lace spilling down the sleeves and around his slim fingers, encased in black gloves. A slim circlet of silver rested just above his eyes. His outfits were sometimes the only way Brian could differentiate between their tête-à-têtes. Today, he was playing with more of those crystals, again - two, in fact. They spun together, lazily, floating over his forearms in a dance of mirror-opposites. The setting sun made them shine like captured stars.

Brian set the tankard down, thinking. "I'm not sure," he said finally. "I know I heard about her even before school started. She asked one of the professors if she could audition for a play, even before she was properly enrolled - just to get her face out there, get her feet wet. That kind of thing gets around."

"Go on."

"Well, I probably saw her around after that. We were probably introduced. I don't really remember."

"You're little more than useless, aren't you?"

Brian frowned. "Hey. Can you remember every second you spent in her presence?" he asked sarcastically.


Brian blinked. "Yeah. Well. I have a life."

"Ah, yes," Jareth remarked dryly, never taking his eyes from the glass baubles, spinning in coupled orbit. "So I've heard - at length. Parties, schoolwork, and plays." He rolled his eyes slightly. "An endless whirligig of fun."

Brian settled back against the wall, glaring at him, tearing his last slice of bread to useless crumbs. "Do you want to hear about this of not?"

"Oh, pretty please. Regale me with more tales of your pathetic life."

"Fine, then," Brian snarled. "We can both rot here!"

Without hesitation, one of the crystal spheres detached from the other, settling in Jareth's gloved palm. With a single, fluid motion, the Goblin King grasped it - and threw it directly at Brian.

Brian yelped, immediately throwing up his arms to protect his face. But instead of the cool, hard feeling of crystal bruising flesh and breaking bone as he was expecting, Brian was instead hit with a solid, clawing mass of feathers. He fell to the floor, and the bird - if that's what it was, he didn't dare expose his vulnerable eyes - went down with him, somehow tangled in his embrace. Piercing shrieks filled the air, and the calm part of Brian's mind said, "It's an owl," while the rest of him howled in fear and dismay. Horned claws and beak pulled at the material of his shirt, scratching at his skin - finally ripping deep into the flesh of his arms, drawing blood. Brian screamed in pain.

And then it was over.

He took a few minutes, still lying on the floor, to calm his frantic heartbeat. He forced his lungs to draw slow, measured breaths, until the danger of hyperventilating was past. Cautiously, he lifted his arms from his face. A few inches away was the crystal bauble, shining innocently on the floor beside him. Of its own violation it began to roll, away from Brian - to Jareth, who calmly leaned over to pick it gently off the floor.

"Don't trifle with me, boy," he said calmly, joining the crystal with its mate in his other hand. "I'm not in the mood."

"I." Brian looked down at his arm. True, it wasn't that deep a scratch, but it was bleeding.

"Did you want to say something?"

Brian swallowed. "No." Sitting up, he gently eased himself against the wall again. Subdued, he resumed his narrative.

"The first time I really talked to Sarah, I ran into her at the campus bookstore. I was picking up some recommended reading for a class that looked like it was going to give me trouble. I saw her over by the posters and went to say hi." He smiled, a little forlorn, fingering the cut on his arm. "Like most freshman, she hadn't expected how. empty a dorm room can feel when you've just moved in. She wanted something to make it feel more like home. But the bookstore didn't exactly cultivate to her taste." He leaned his head back to the cold wall, feeling suddenly weary. "I have the same problem, so I offered to dive her to this little shop a ways off campus. It sells books, fantasy art, stuff like that. So she said yes." He closed his eyes, savoring the memory. "God, we must have spent hours in that place, just browsing and talking. About the books we read, the artists we liked, laughing at all the crazy stuff in there. It was awesome."

"What did she buy?"

The question, so quiet and unobtrusive, didn't even cause Brian to open his eyes. "Not much. A few sketches. A Waterhouse print of "Hylas and the Nymphs." A picture of Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty." Brian chuckled. "God, she loves that movie. I tried to get her to buy this Escher drawing - a have one of my own, it's a favorite. All these twisted staircases to eternity." He sighed deeply. "But she wouldn't get it, even though I practically begged. She finally admitted she actually had a copy herself, but had to leave it at home.

"She said it gave her nightmares."

So lulled into complacency by the soothing memory, Brian relaxed into quiet, tired of talking. He took a few, blissful moments to simply rest.

The following stillness failed to intrude upon his awareness for a few moments. Then, a few minutes longer, he waited - dreading the imperious command that would begin the exploration of yet another precious memory. But there was no sound from Jareth and finally, anxiously, Brian opened his eyes.

The Goblin King sat in the window, framed by the golden light of the fading sun. He was hunched pensively, profile to his prisoner, over the crystal baubles that danced together in one of his gloved hands. The two spheres spun on his fingertips, noiselessly waltzing, surfaces constantly touching. Jareth's expression, as he gazed into them, was one of such bitter regret that Brian could find no words to break the silence.


"You go to school together?"


"Does she enjoy it?"

"I guess."

Eyes glinting with annoyance. "Go on."

Brian sighed. "I don't have many classes with her, but yeah - I'm sure she likes it. She's usually happy, anyway. I see her around the Theatre department: eating in the café, hanging out, that kind of stuff.' He smiled, a memory shining bright against the dirt and darkness surrounding him. "She's great. I remember she was really shy at first, this little freshman who felt so lost. She appeared to be very reserved and poised - kinda cold, actually. But if you looked a bit closer, she was trembling like a kitten. Brought out the motherly instinct in us." He laughed wryly. "Well, some of us."

"Yes. I would expect your maternal instinct was lacking."

Brian shot him a truly murderous look. "Fuck you. I like her. A lot. Not that you could understand that." Drawing a deep breath: "Anyway. So she was fine once she figured out we didn't bite. Pretty outgoing, actually, and spontaneous." He laughed. "There's this stone courtyard right outside the department, surrounded by trees and stuff, nice place. It was warm out, so we decided to wait outside - this was during auditions. Someone brought out a radio. It was playing classical music, and suddenly she grabs my hands and we're up and dancing around the courtyard, and she's laughing her head off. Then everybody else got up -- and there were all the Theater majors, spinning around like idiots. Everybody who was in Amadeus last year had to learn to waltz. Everyone else faked it." He smiled to himself, dark hair falling into his eyes. "Sarah loves to dance."

"I know."

The words were practically delivered in monotone; spoken simply and honestly into the air. But the very fact of them made Brian angry. "Oh, how nice. Then why the hell do you need me here? You're keeping me on bread and water for stuff you already know?"

Jareth laughed, and it wasn't a joyful sound. "I need you because she hides from me. She secrets herself away when I'm around. she hides her joy."

"I'm betting she's got a pretty good reason." 

Jareth threw him a look from the wide window ledge. He was lounging comfortably; slender legs crossed and booted feet resting on the other side of the window. He was dressed in black today, silver-shot hair a stark contrast. "I stole her brother," he remarked dryly. "I offered her happiness." He turned his gaze away. "Somehow, I'm not surprised she got it backwards."

"You what?!" Brian yelped, startled. "Back up, back up, hold on a second. Tell me again, how did you meet Sarah?"

"She never told you about our time together?" Jareth grinned like a contented cat. "Looks like someone isn't such a close confident, after all." While Brian smoldered, the Goblin King continued. "You know the rest of the story already. Simply fill in the blanks."

Brian's face blanked for a moment as he thought. "Wait. Sarah wished away her brother? And you took him?!" Jareth nodded, smiling slightly at Brian's distress. "No way. I've met Toby; her parents brought him up when they visited one weekend. He's a great kid, and Sarah adores him. No way would she wish the little chubby-cheeked fiend off to be a goblin." He glared at Jareth, highly suspicious. "You went and stole him."

Jareth laughed lightly. "Never. I'm not allowed."


"No, really. And you might be surprised at how three years can sway someone's affections."

"Three years?" Brian blinked. "Listen, I know teenagers can be brats, but Sarah--"

"Did not fully appreciate what she was doing. But she did it, all the same."

Brian shook his head. "No, I know Sarah. She's the gentlest, most caring person I've ever met."

"She also has a stubborn streak of independence. Or haven't you noticed?"

"What has that got to do with anything?"

Jareth shrugged, the black and silver ribbons on his shirt fluttering with the movement. "Like many who suddenly find themselves mothers, or sister, Sarah didn't appreciate how her life had been compromised. Being a selfish creature, she targeted the only obstacle that couldn't fight back." He paused for a moment. "I'll admit. she was the first girl whose sense of obligation eventually transformed into true affection." He gave Brian a sly smile. "But when we first began - true, she never believed someone would grant her wish. But that doesn't mean she didn't mean it."

Brian stared at Jareth in all his lazy hauteur. "You make her sound so ruthless!" he protested hotly. "Sarah isn't like that! She's not like that at all, you couldn't be more wrong about her! She's sweet, and innocent, and practically helpless if anyone says 'boo'!"

"Sweet? Innocent?" Jareth's voice, deathly quiet and calm, cut through his prisoner's tirade. "Sarah Williams? The girl who wished her defenseless baby brother into my arms? And then proceeded to solve my Labyrinth, when mortals three times her age had failed before her?" Jareth leapt off the edge with the grace of a cat, stalking slowly forwards. "Do you know how she managed to complete my Labyrinth, a mystery that has confounded your people for eons? She charmed her way through it! A multitude of creatures poised to confound and complicate her path - and they helped her! Because they wanted to!"

 He crouched down next to Brian, who still sat frozen upon the floor. Jareth bent forward, leaning his face closer towards him. Brian could see the soft strands of his white-blonde hair trembling slightly from the power of the Goblin King's voice. "There is a creature in the depths of the maze," he continued softly, barely above a whisper, "whose hands could crush your skull to powder in a manner of minutes. He's an immense monster, fashioned from every child's nightmare of what may be lurking under the bed. My goblins, of course, are terrified of him, and regularly sent out hunting parties to subdue the beast." Jareth came even closer, and the molten fury in his voice was terrifying. "Do you know what Sarah did? She made him her friend!"

He sat back on his heels, exasperation plain on his face. "Hoggle Drav'ken was a mean-spirited, conniving, greedy skinflint, and a complete coward to boot. The nastiest dwarf, in fact, that I have ever met - and the perfect patsy. Up until the part where, after following my orders, he went back and helped Sarah, even risking his own life for the girl - because he felt guilty. Guilty! The same dwarf who was kicked out of the Castle because he wouldn't top knotting the tails of baby goblins!" He leapt to his feet, pacing the floor with an incredibly focused energy. "A craven bully, and she made him her loyal companion." His face darkened at the thought. "Innocent? Don't make me laugh. She shot through my Labyrinth like a poisoned arrow, tainting everything she touched."

He whirled to face his prisoner - unconsciously, his hand reached up to clutch protectively at his pendant. "Do you have any idea," he hissed, "the means she is willing to exercise, in order to achieve her ends? Do you? Harmless," he sneered. "You know nothing."

He stilled.

Jareth turned, slowly, to face his ever-belligerent prisoner. Brian was still sitting limply on the floor before him, mouth hanging open in astonishment at the Goblin King's torrent of impassioned words. His Majesty faced him - harsh angles and stark planes of his face softened by epiphany, fey and pale in the flickering torchlight.

"You don't know anything, do you?" the Goblin King asked softly. "Sarah - you don't know her at all." Brian was a bit disconcerted to see a gentle sense of wonderment spread across those usually petulant features. "You see her every day," Jareth continued, softly. "You take meals together. You work together. You share her life. And yet - innocent? Helpless?" Jareth shook his head briefly. "And yet you still don't know her. You can't bear to look past the shining ideal." The strangest look came into Jareth's mismatched eyes - one completely alien and ill-fitting. If Brian hadn't considered himself exhausted and half-starved by that point, he might have confidently called it pity.

"No matter," Jareth resumed. His voice was just as low as before, but now - there was a new, undeniable strength behind it; and it was a cruel strength, not kind. "You may be blind, but that will not prevent me from using you. And I will use you." Jareth smiled - a deadly thing, like a razor's edge. "You will give me what I need - and I will make her deeply regret the day she defied me."

On cue, the door slammed open, and a coterie of goblin guards stood ready. "Take him back," Jareth commanded. Her turned, seating himself once again on the window ledge, solemnly regarding the horizon beyond.

"What?" Brian finally found his voice, struggling against the wiry arms of his jailers in an effort to remain a few moments longer. "You promised me this wouldn't hurt her!" he screamed, voice rising in desperation. "You promised!"

"I lied," Jareth returned, never taking his eyes away from the bruised sky. "I indulge in that occasionally." 


"What are you to her?"

Brian glared from his corner, curled around the pain in his ribs. That, and the split lip he was nursing, were souvenirs from his jailers as they had dragged him away last time. He had struggled, desperate to race back and beat Jareth to a bloody pulp, but the goblins had fought back. He tested his lip with his fingers, wincing. And they fight dirty.

This was the first time he had been called back to Jareth's audience since then. Brian had spent what felt like several days in the oubliette, drifting listlessly in and out of sleep. And now the routine had resumed itself.

"I asked you once before - do you remember?"

Roses, fire, and a princess in danger. "Yeah."

"You never gave me a satisfactory answer," Jareth said casually.

"I don't see where it's any of your business."

Jareth threw him a wry smile. "I begin to believe you have a problem with authority figures, old son."

"I have a problem with men who dress better than I do."

Jareth laughed freely. He was nearly enveloped by his newest cloak - like something out of a renaissance fantasy. Multitudes of fabric swatches were sewn together, loose edges fluttering with his every movement. The myriad of scarlet shades hurt the eyes.

"An eternity to spend inside a living puzzle-box," Jareth said lightly. "You must allow me my distractions."

Brian grimaced. "You couldn't have normal hobbies? Tying people up and throwing them in dungeons always seemed like a last-resort kind of amusement to me."

"You're missing out."

He fought the childish urge to stick out his tongue. Feeling definitely sulky, he pressed even closer into his corner. "Listen," he said after a moment. "I've challenged you, you've beat me down, whatever. But I don't want to play along anymore. This doesn't feel real!" he burst out suddenly, looking lost. "Can you understand that? I'm in a fucking medieval castle! I haven't slept in a bed in days! I'm being kept here by a fucking magician with little glass balls he likes to toss around, and who's trying to hurt my best friend! And using me to do it!" He slumped against the wall, roughened edges of stone rasping against his back. "I'm tired, and I'm hungry for real food, and I keep praying I'll just wake up." He dropped his face into his hands, hiding his smarting eyes. "Can't you just leave me alone?"

"Would that make you feel better?" Not a sympathetic tone, or concerned - polite interest only. "If I locked you in a dungeon and threw away the key?"

"No." He lifted his head wearily. "No, it wouldn't."

"Then what would you ask of me?"

Brian considered for a moment. "Am I dreaming?"

Jareth smiled distantly. "Of course. This is a dream within a dream - the place where dreams breed." His gloved fingers, unthinkingly, traced the lines of his pendant. "Where they are born even to those who shouldn't possess them."

Brian was momentarily thrown. "Who shouldn't dream?"

"Those who have been created for a purpose. To fulfill a need." His hand dropped to his side. "Unfortunately, all things strive."

"So none of this is real." He frowned. "Why doesn't that make me feel better? Of course, the person I'm asking is actually a part of my dream, so it's not exactly --"

Jareth raised an eyebrow like an upswept owl's wing. "Did I say it wasn't real? No. Dreams are very real - just not very tangible."

Brian gave him a level-eyed stare. "Alright. Fine. Whatever." He leaned against the wall again, caving in on himself, letting his head hang to his chest. "Just leave me alone."

"What are you to her?"

Brian sighed. "Just leave me alone," he pleaded.

"What are you to her?"

"Leave me the fuck alone!"

Thin lips twisted in anger. "What. Are you. To her?"

"I don't know!" he finally shouted, wrapping his arms around himself protectively. "I have no idea, okay? Happy?"

There was a brief respite of silence. Brian hugged himself, shivering, eyes squeezed shut.

"You aren't lovers?" The voice knew the answer, just wanted to be reassured - and drive the point home.


"Or 'trothed?"



"I have no idea what the hell that means."

"No, then." A content smile. "Simply a friend, like any other?"

"Yeah." The word hurt, and he spit it out like a bite of rotten fruit.

A deep sigh from the shadows - one of release. "And so she risks her life and sanity for a mere friend." He moved from the cover of darkness, layered cloak whispering along the stones as he walked to the half-moon window. He placed his gloved hands on the ledge, as if bracing himself, quietly surveying the squalor below.

"She always does this," Jareth spoke, almost companionably. "She races in, childishly oblivious to the danger involved. Not even really knowing what is going on - but determined to make things right again," he ended softly.

"She is kinda. I dunno, kinda silly that way," Brian said. He was incredibly tired, head lolling against the cool stones. The utter helplessness of his situation actually gave him a kind of peace, spreading throughout his aching body.

"No," Jareth returned quietly, not moving from the window. "Not silly. Courageous." He started unblinking into the sun as it slowly fell over the horizon. "Do you know about her mother?"

"Yeah. She died about five years back, right?

"Four years. Sarah had just turned fourteen. He father remarried a few months later."

"Wow. That's. quick."

"Not as quick as you might think." The patches of his cloak, blood-red and wine-red and scarlet, trembled with the evening breeze. "Her parents had been separated for quite some time, you see - ever since her mother ran off with another man. In fact, Sarah hadn't seen her mother for two years when she heard about the death."

"Oh." Brian thought about that. "Jesus. Poor kid." A quick look at Jareth. "Wait, how do you know about this?"

The line of his mouth tightened, just slightly. "I see a little into the lives of those who travel through my Labyrinth. Not much. Not their everyday existence, for instance. But the things that cause their happiness or pain, the events that influence and shape their dreams; those I see. Even then, I don't see very clearly. It's much like watching the world through a pane of smoked glass." He reached out, grasping at the dust motes that danced in the sunlight. "Unable to touch.

"Sarah lost her mother twice over," he resumed. "A staggering blow to any child. Usually enough to rob them of any sense of safety, strip from them any kind illusions of justice, or fairness." He smiled to himself. "But not Sarah. True," he laughed a little, "she was not the most sweet-tempered of girls. But instead of hating the cruel world around her, instead of drowning in doubt and self-loathing. She threw herself into her own private fantasy world, trusting in her dreams to save her. Yes, it was an escape. Yes, it made her selfish and self-absorbed. But she was scared - and she was only a child." His face was pensive. "It kept her from becoming a bitter old woman with no joy in the world." His gloved hands traced the pattern of the stones that made up the window's ledge. "And does it not take some amount or courage, to think that life can be different? To believe in your dreams?"

Brian watched him, feeling strangely empty and saddened. A flash on unexpected insight came to him, lightening the shadows of his mind.

"You're in love with her."

Jareth remained where he stood, eyes closed against the glare of the dying sun. The light gilded his still features, tainting his pale skin with a flush of gold. And then:

"Yes," he said on a low voice, the word dropping like a stone from lightly parted lips. "I am."

Brian's eyes never left the Goblin King's face, remote as it was. He drew a shaky breath. He was shaking, he realized - a faint quiver in his limbs. It was difficult to drag air into his lungs, and to expel it. it seemed to stick in his throat. There was a sick, twisting pain in his gut.

He laughed: a low, nasty chuckle that reverberated painfully in his chest. It grew, spilling out of his mouth in laughter so loud he was nearly shouting. Jareth's eyes opened to slits, and he watched his prisoner from beneath lowered lashes, but otherwise remained expressionless.      

"You're sick," Brian finally gasped, leaning to support himself against the stone. "Fucking sick, man. How old was she when she came here? Eleven? Nine?"


"Shit, that's not much better. Fifteen." He could only shake his head, wheezing with laughter that seemed to tear itself out of his chest. "We have a name for people like you, where I come from. Prisons, too."

"If you are insinuating what I think you are," Jareth said, deadly quiet, "you'd do well to remember that I can still tear your throat out."

"Okay, okay, I apologize, obviously you didn't hurt her. But I know you, like, affected her somehow. You should've heard the way she talked about you." Brian couldn't seem to stop his mouth from running on, nervous energy fueling the dangerous words. "Don't you think that's a bit bent, loving a fifteen-year-old? Couldn't you have, like, just thought she was cute? Until she got older, I mean."

"Affection on a time-release mechanism?" Jareth sneered. "How poetic."

"Whatever," Brian snapped. "It's still sick, influencing a fifteen-year-old like that."

 The Goblin King smiled lazily. "You're just mad you didn't think of it first."

"Like hell!" Brian protested, outraged. "She was a kid! Who falls for a kid?!"

"Death," Jareth returned simply.

Brian paused, confused. "What?"

"Oh, come on," Jareth said lightly, turning as he eased himself up onto the window ledge. "You must know this story. The myth of Hades and Persephone. The dark lord of death," he expanded, propping up one leg. "One day, doing his daily rounds, he spies a young girl." He paused. "A beautiful young girl. the child of a goddess, with all the joy and light that Hades so craved in his own heart. And so he simply took her, with that straightforward way of gods; dragging her down into the belly of the earth to be his queen." He contemplated the outside world, thoughtful. "Some passions do not play by the rules."

"Yeah, I remember this story, now. She hated it. She eventually turned into an ice-cold bitch of a queen. So much for your happy ending."

"Ah." Jareth smiled to himself, running his gloved thumb over his lips. "But am a patient man - much more so than Death, who is not used to waiting."

"You talk like you know the guy."

Jareth simply looked him.

"Jesus," Brian breathed, almost inaudibly. "That's it. This place has officially creeped me out."

Jareth resumed his narrative as if he hadn't heard. "I've waited for my bride," he said dryly, as if lingering on some personal irony. "Let her grow older, waited for her return. Her willing return, mind you - I did nothing to force her."

"I'm sorry," Brian remarked mildly, "but who was it, exactly, that tricked me into kicking myself in the ass, just so dearest Sarah would come back to his God-forsaken kingdom?"

Jareth flicked his fingers outward in a dismissive gesture. "Details."

Brian was suddenly enraged by his nonchalant attitude. "So you're in love with her," he snarled. "So what? Does it give you the right to starve people, chain them up like animals, force them to play your sadistic little mind games? You can't do that! You can't treat people like they were pieces on a board game!"

"I can't?" An eyebrow arched in elegant disbelief. "My, my. What have I been doing with myself this past eternity?"

Brian breathed hard through his mouth, struggling to control his fury. His voice was low. "I'm in love with her, too," he finally choked out. "But I don't think that fucking makes me God."

The smile faded from Jareth's face. For a long moment, he considered his prisoner, still curled in a corner. Silently, he stepped down from the ledge, standing with one hand against the stones. In a calm, measured voice, he began.

"I could have had anyone I wanted." He took a slow, deliberate step towards the huddled Brian. "But I did not want anyone - until I met her." He walked steadily, slowly, stalking the defenseless boy before him. "I offered a reality pliant to her wishes in exchange for love - but she rejected me out of silly, childish vengeance. And I still wanted her." He was close, now, his shadow beginning to touch Brian's feet. "When she left, I had lifetimes to forget her - but I could not eradicate her memory from my soul." He was standing so near, the edges of his cloak brushed against Brian's own ragged clothes. "I tried to hate her instead. But hatred is still a passion, and did nothing to soothe my mind." He knelt, his cloak a sea of vermilion shades, spreading to flow across the stones. "And so I poured all my skill and cunning into luring her back to me - her, a simple mortal girl." He leaned, placing his gloved hands on the wall, to bring his face closer. "And now she is here, and I can barely stand it." His features twisted in thwarted rage. "When I am around her I am stripped raw, defenseless to her every word and whim. When she is in danger, I am vulnerable. I despise myself for that. And her." The anger drained from his face, leaving behind a stillness that was somehow just as frightening. "But she is the reason I draw breath. If I never saw her again. there would be no point."

The intensity returned, and he leaned even closer, nearly spitting in Brian's face. "Do not ever presume," he growled, "to compare my feelings for Sarah Williams with your schoolboy infatuation."

He stood and whirled away, the door opening to reveal Brian's goblin jailers ready to perform their duty.

"Take him," Jareth said shortly. "And leave me."

Brian let them half-carry him down to the oubliette, unresisting for once. Shaken by the sheer intensity of the Goblin King's words, he almost welcomed the soothing darkness of the oubliette.

Which turned out to be for the best, since he was never again to return to that barren room. He was regulated to the oubliette ever after, his food pushed through a sliding door. Besides this, he passed the time almost exactly as before, in undisturbed communion with the darkness.

Until, of course.

Brian shifted against the jagged rock wall of the oubliette, trying to get a little comfortable in order to sleep. He had just managed to twist his back enough to avoid bruising when the Goblin King strode in.

Brian didn't even have time to think. He blinked, and the next thing he knew Jareth had picked him up by his ragged shirt, slamming him into the stone behind. Jareth pinned him against the wall, a gloved hand resting easily at Brian's throat.

Jareth could crush his windpipe without hesitation. Brian could feel that, could feel the hideous promise of strength in those slender, elegant fingers. He froze like a cornered animal, breathing shallowly through his mouth.

Jareth's eyes held his, crystalline blue filled with hatred. And something else.

"She's mine," the Goblin King said quietly.

Brian paused. "What?" he asked carefully.

"Sarah," Jareth continued casually. "She's mine." Then the anger returned and he leaned in closer, applying just enough pressure to make Brian gag slightly. "Do you understand that?" he asked, too softly. "Is it possible for me push that fact far enough into your brain that it actually registers on your adolescent mind? Hmm?" He tilted his head to one side. "She's always been mine. From the moment she called on my goblins, I've owned a piece of her soul. I don't care," with a quiet intensity, "If she somehow, miraculously, manages to solve the Labyrinth again. I don't care if she rescues you. Takes you home. Cleans you, feeds, you, tucks you into bed. Even if it's her bed." His gloved fingers tightened, black spots swimming before Brian's eyes. "If you married. If you managed to have two point five children and a lovely little puppy," he ended viciously. "None of that will change the fact that she. Is. Mine." He rested his cheek against Brian's. "And you, my fine feathered," he whispered gently, "will live always with the knowledge that the one you love belongs body, mind and soul," he pulled back, looking directly into Brian's eyes, "to me."

He removed his hand abruptly, watching as Brian slumping to the floor in a violent coughing fit. Jareth waited until the boy was breathing normally.

"Stay away from what's mine," he said simply.

Then he turned and left.

After that, monotony reigned. Eating, sleeping, staring into the blackness that surrounded his ever minute. it all blurred into a nightmare from which he could not awake.

And then, one day, sounds broke though that maddening silence of the dark. Brian was roused from a fitful slumber by the sound of. shouting. The goblins were yelling at something, or someone, throwing down curses and insults. Brian, senses hypersensitive after so long in complete isolation, could just barely hear them. Suddenly, a scream cut through the ruckus - a female voice, so familiar that Brian's heart skipped a beat. There was a tremendous splash, like someone had toppled into a large body of water. The goblins' shouts continued, only to transform into joyous cheering a few minutes later. and then was abruptly cut short. 

What felt like only moments later, Brian could hear the scurried shuffling of goblin feet outside his oubliette. With a forceful haste, the sliding door used to pass him food was yanked open and then slammed shut - but not before something was rolled through. Brian caught it in his hand, and frowned. Bread and water, of course, was all that had been given to him all this time, and now. He brought the object up to his nose, running his fingers over its slightly furred skin. When the delicious, summery scent of the fruit registered on his senses, he finally knew what he held.

A peach.

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 9 of 15

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