Continuing Tales

The Way Back

A Labyrinth Story
by atsuibelulah

Part 11 of 24

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The Way Back

"What do you want, Jareth?"

When he didn't answer her immediately, Jareth knew what Sarah would ask him next. He could see it in her face, forming on her lips. It was what she had come back for. She would ask and he would not be able to lie to her. He would tell her he had not meant it, that it was only the game and she would grow cold on him and turn herself away. He knew her, knew she would not listen. She would not give him the chance to tell her the truth. As she opened her mouth hesitatingly, ready to take the plunge, Jareth realized he would have to seize the chance from her.

"You may ask your next question, Sarah," her brows flew upwards and her jaw snapped shut in surprise. She did not realize how well he knew her, even after such a relatively short time; he suppressed an ironic smirk, relatively. "But you must promise to listen to my entire answer. It will be a long one and much of it you will think you do not want to hear."

"Are you sure you don't just want to answer the question I've already asked?"

What did he want? He wanted so many things, but the only way to achieve any of his dreams, vague or specific, was to explain things to Sarah. He would explain as much as he could, regardless of whether or not she wanted to hear him. "Do you promise to hear all I have to say?"

She nodded solemnly and he gently led her across the room and sat them both on the newly made bed. She was still quite weak from the strength of his ill-advised outburst. He had only wanted her to understand the double edge of his power and it had somehow gotten away from him. Jareth felt his usually tight control slipping more and more often in the past few days and he was beginning to feel frightened of where it would lead him. Sarah had displayed understandable shock at his display but, for some reason, still seemed inclined to trust him.

Jareth wondered despondently what he had ever done to encourage such trust in Sarah and, coming up with nothing, realized that he was probably preparing himself to shatter it in one fell swoop.

Sarah positioned herself so that she was sitting against the headboard, cushioned by the dozen or so pillows of varying sizes that he had conjured there. She looked at him for a long moment and he waited for her to gather her courage. "Did you..." she began but stopped and took a different approach. "After I returned home, I couldn't stop wondering about...the last time we met. I...I had to know," here she ducked her head slightly, but lifted her eyes to his own, hovering between uncertainty and hope, "whether you meant any of what you said to me...what you offered me."

And there it was, the question he had been waiting for, anticipating and dreading.

Sarah saw the way Jareth closed his eyes, he did not want to answer. Maybe he wouldn't, maybe the answer was no and he just didn't want to hurt her...but if he didn't want to hurt her, then wouldn't the answer be yes? Sarah felt her emotions spiraling out of control.

Jareth's low and calm voice brought her back to reality, "There are some things that you need to understand about the Underground, and about my particularly unusual place in it, in order for me to answer your questions honestly, Sarah. And believe me, that is one of the things that I want very badly."

He paused, as if collecting his thoughts, "I think that I should first explain to you what the Labyrinth is used for. It is a tool for channeling power, specifically the power of dreams. Not the dreams of slumber, but the dreams of the heart, deep wishes and hidden desires. The dreams of mortals are the easiest to acquire, they have no defense."

He stopped to take a slow breath and she could not stop herself from interrupting, "How does it acquire them?" She had a sinking feeling that she already knew the answer.

Jareth spoke carefully, but the feeling in Sarah's gut only turned to stone, "It searches out a specific kind of mortal dreamer. Through various means, they are encouraged to speak certain words. When the words are spoken, the Dreamer enters into a game. It is a very real and dangerous game..."

"A game..." she cut him off, her voice hollow and defeated. She tried to move from the bed but his arm caught her shoulder in an alarmingly vice-like grip.

He leaned forward and spoke low, "You promised to hear all of it, Sarah. I am not finished. You may interrupt me whenever you please, but you will not leave."

The tone of his voice offered no other alternative and Sarah sat back woodenly, waiting for him to continue while studying the bedspread. It was an intricately patterned quilt, made of a soft cottony fabric in varying shades of grey, green, and lilac. Sarah tried not to like it too much.

Jareth's narrative took on a bitter tone as he resumed his explanation, "It is a game that the Labyrinth and its Mistress nearly always win."

"Mistress?" Her voice fell to a whisper as she looked up quickly, straight into his eyes.

It was Jareth's turn to look away, fixing his gaze out the still open French doors, he continued, "Yes. Nearly 500 years ago the Shadow Queen came into possession of the lands and the entity known as the Labyrinth, enlisting an exiled Fae prince as her new territory's Steward." His eyes came back to Sarah's though he did not turn his head. They reflected hidden sorrows and haunted dreams into her own as he spoke, "I am that exile."

Excruciating memories of the past year were seared into Sarah's mind when she heard him say that title, the Shadow Queen. She tried to process Jareth's words without labeling him as a new threat, "Y-you work for her?"

He nodded curtly, "At the beginning of my service I had very little choice left," it was spoken as an unequivocal fact, not self justification. His expression darkened as he added, almost as an afterthought, "And I bear no special love for my duties as Goblin King."

Sarah felt her confusion spiral into panic. Jareth worked for her, he was no longer safe. She tried to curtail her rising fears, to think logically, "But how can you protect me if you are in her service?"

He had turned his full attention on her once again. Eyes penetrating, he spoke softly, "There is a way."

Sarah was floundering, she didn't understand his angle. He worked for her, what did he stand to gain by aiding the Queen's discarded toy? Bitter, hateful words fell, unbidden, from her mouth, "Going to turn me back over after I'm all fixed up, are you? Or are you going to have some fun with me first?" Sarah unconsciously crossed her arms so that she was clutching her shoulders protectively, as he stared at her, shock and pain etched in the lines of his face. She paid his wounded reaction no attention as another thought occurred to her, savagely striking at the hope she had tried to keep for so long. Her words were infused with self-loathing and defeat, "I should have known...Why would you truly want to protect me if it was all just a game?" She spat the word, full of venom, flashing an icy glare at him.

Suddenly hands gripped both her shoulders roughly, pulling her closer to him. Their faces were inches apart and his voice rose, taking on a desperate edge, "Do you think this is a game to me, Sarah? The runners of the Labyrinth play the game and I play it against them. It is my duty. I do not have to enjoy it. I played it against you ten years ago, but it ceased being a game when you won your brother and your dreams back. Such a thing had never happened before. But who do you think kept your victory a secret? Who kept the Queen from taking the power that was lost, from raping you of it? I never thought..." he broke off, letting go of her and leaning tiredly back against the bedpost and dragging a hand over his face. His eyes were left closed and he smirked ironically, "It never occurred to me that you would want to return, that you would think this place worth returning to."

Sarah had fallen hard against the bed frame when Jareth released her. The base of her skull was throbbing mildly, she thought maybe she had hit it on the high headboard but paid the pain little attention. Sarah felt numb as she traced the spiraling floral pattern on her quilt, the quilt Jareth had conjured for her. She spoke quietly when he did not continue, her voice coming slightly raspy, similar to when she had spoken to him in the ballroom, "It was the people, not the place. The Labyrinth itself is the most annoyingly confusing and detestable place I have ever been."

He gave a short, barking laugh, "Well, the Labyrinth certainly doesn't detest you."

She let the cryptic remark slide for the moment, in favor of questioning him on things he had only glossed over, "How did you stop her from finding out?"

"A portion of my power was channeled as your dreams. It was not difficult to fake. I already knew much about them and she hardly ever looks closely." He looked away again, and she began taking the action as a cue that he was about to say something he didn't like or thought she would not like. Sarah braced herself.

"I was forced to bar your friends from contacting you. Communication between the worlds often draws her attention." He looked back at her guiltily, but with a silent plea in his eyes that maybe even he did not realize was there, "I would never have done it, had it not been so important to your safety."

Sarah started at this. It was the closest he had ever come to an apology to her. She realized this was the only thing he had done that might deserve an apology. The game was his duty. He had entered into it long before she ever came into the picture, she would not fault him for a choice made centuries ago. Afterwards, he had done nothing but protect her. How could she blame him for any of it? Everything that had happened to her had been her own fault. She was the selfish brat who would not be deterred, she had refused to forget him after her victory, and she had pushed herself back into his life. Why should he need to apologize?

Sarah felt the familiar tears, burning her eyes again, demanding to be let out. She looked up into his face and he was looking at her with such sorrow and regret. She remembered his kindness over the past days and the tears broke free. She had searched for him for ten years and all she had gained was his pity. It was her own fault; she had made herself so pathetic he would never truly love her.

Sarah tried to wipe the wet streaks from her face as discreetly as possible, but with a twist of his wrist, Jareth had dropped a crystal and pulled a handkerchief. He silently held the pristine white square of cloth out to her and she took it as the words tumbled, breaking over her tears, "I'm so sorry, Jareth."

Amazingly he looked at her with surprise and confusion on his face, as though he could not fathom why she would say such a thing, "Sarah," he began earnestly, "none of this is, in any way, your fault."

"But it isn't yours, either!" Immediately after Sarah said this, he caught her completely off guard by capturing her securely in his arms and drawing her close to him. He pressed his lips to her forehead, his hands gently weaving themselves into her hair. It was a sensation Sarah thought she could get used to, remembering he had done the same the previous night. His breath flowed over her face steadily and Sarah relaxed, resting her hands on his shoulders.

After a moment, he spoke as if there was a weight on him that could never be lifted, "Ultimately, Sarah, it is."

She did not know how to respond to this, but Jareth's voice was so full of regret and anguish, that she thought she might begin to cry again as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer. He rested his head on her shoulder and neither of them moved for what seemed a very long time.

The Way Back

A Labyrinth Story
by atsuibelulah

Part 11 of 24

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