Continuing Tales

What You Wish For

A Labyrinth Story
by KnifeEdge

Part 6 of 14

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What You Wish For

He released her and looked around for a moment as though searching for something. She followed his gaze. It was a golf course, at night, under a clear sky with a waxing moon. Nothing the least bit remarkable about it.

Not unless you counted the Fae creature before her, of course.

Jareth frowned. “This won’t do at all,” he muttered.

Sarah turned to him curiously, about to ask if something was wrong when she felt a little dizzy. “Oh,” she said, and he put out a hand to steady her. She looked at his hand on her arm for a moment, puzzled. He’d barely touched her, the entire time she’d been in the Labyrinth (unless you counted the peach dream, which she didn’t; if she had no way of measuring how real her time in the Labyrinth was, she was at a total loss to explain that bit). But now, for some reason, he couldn’t seem to keep his hands off of her.

Or, rather, his gloves.

I wonder... she thought, then looked up, and blinked in confusion. Where had those trees come from? And the water hazard was now a pond. And just over Jareth’s shoulder was a rather familiar looking bench, with a small stone monolith just beyond it. All that was missing was a shaggy sheepdog and ...a white barn owl?

“You watched me in the park, practicing, didn’t you?” she said, a little dazed. Why hadn’t she remembered? She walked over to the bench where Merlin had lain so many times and looked up at the stone pillar, where a white owl had sometimes perched during her evening “rehearsals.” She’d never thought much of it, but then, she hadn’t had any reason at the time to be wary of owls.

“Yes,” he said, quietly, behind her. “You were such an odd little thing. So serious and dramatic. I liked you immediately. Besides, it had been a rather long time since a childless mortal had called for the Goblin King. Such a pity you had a baby brother. I might never had had to do anything more than perch on that pillar and laugh at a lonely little mortal girl in a cheap costume.”

She spun around to face him, bristling with indignation and embarrassment. She could feel her cheeks flaming. She hadn’t realized until he’d spoken that she’d actually asked a question. Now she’d wasted her first question for an answer that teased her and revealed almost nothing.

“That’s not what I meant to ask,” she said.

“What’s said is said,” he taunted her, looking rather like his old self again. She half expected his hair to grow several feet and a black cape to swirl magically around his shoulders.

“Cheater,” she said.

“When it suits me. Now let’s see... I believe I get a wish now,” he said it almost impishly, which immediately put her on her guard. She had a terrible feeling about this.

“The first one,” he said soothingly, “is always the hardest.”

She waited.

“I wish,” he said, then paused. “Oh, I do like being able to say that phrase for myself for once.”

“Get on with it,” she said.

“Nervous, Sarah? I promise it won’t hurt. Now lets see... oh, yes...” He tapped his forefinger on his chin. “I wish that you would hop on one foot, flap your arms and cluck like a chicken.”

“What?!” she exclaimed.

“It’s not your turn,” he admonished. “All questions will have to wait until the next round.” He cocked his head to one side and waited. “Well?”

“I’m not sure I heard you correctly,” she said, from between clenched teeth. Oh, this was his game all right. Why had she been worried that he might try to take advantage of her, when what he clearly wanted to do was humiliate her? And the worst part was, if she didn’t do it, she forfeited the game and he could take Toby. She muttered several very unladylike comments under her breath.

“I wish,” he repeated, stepping closer and giving her an up close view of his smug expression—one that said all too clearly that he knew she’d heard him, but he was enjoying this too much not to rub it in her face. “I wish that you would hop on one foot, flap your arms and cluck like a chicken.”

“That’s not a wish,” she said.

“Oh yes, it is. I’ve been made to do all kinds of ignoble things as the result of mortal wishes, including wearing eye makeup and dancing about in tights that would emasculate a mortal man. Now, will you grant my wish as I did yours? Or will you forfeit?”

With as much dignity as she could muster, Sarah picked up her right foot, flapped her arms and clucked.

“I’m not convinced, Sarah. Your clucking is rather half hearted.”

She closed her eyes and imagined a theater full of small grinning children, and clucked while they giggled in her head. She only stopped when she realized that she wasn’t picturing children at all, but an auditorium full of goblins.

Jareth had the audacity to applaud. “Much better,” he said. “And here’s an answer I’ll give you for free, love. Honestly, I just wanted to see if you’d do it. Congratulations. Perhaps you’ll give a little more thought to your next question, and I’ll give a little more thought to my next wish. I won’t be so generous from now on.”

She almost hated him then. Except... except that his eyes were so serious. And he wasn’t smiling now. In fact, if anything, he looked like someone hungry for a challenge.

She vowed that she wouldn’t disappoint him. Even if he did make her cluck like a chicken.

“My turn,” she said, as sweetly as she could manage. He nodded in acknowledgment, folded his arms, and waited. He looked so handsome, standing there in the moonlight. His clothes blended with the shadows, leaving the gleam of his gray silk shirt, the pale marble of his skin, and the glittering silver blonde hair kissed with light.

He should have looked human, she thought. He should have looked like just an ordinary man with pale hair, in expensive clothing. She frowned. He didn’t. Her question was easy.

“What are you, exactly?”

“Would you rather I showed you, or told you?” he asked.

“Why not show and tell,” she countered. He smirked.

“Very well, then. If you insist.” For one heartbeat, nothing changed, and then, in the space between one heartbeat and the next, one breath and the next, one nearly imperceptible blink of an eye, he changed.

Gone were the human clothes, the human hair cut. Nor was he as she remembered him, though. His boots were quite obviously goblin made, for she’d never seen leather quite like that in her world before. His black breeches were some softer leather that molded to his thighs, but wasn’t quite as tight or revealing as what he’d worn during her time in the Labyrinth. The white shirt was simpler, without frills, and unlaced, leaving a long thin vee of marble skin exposed from the pale column of his throat, down his sternum, where his familiar crescent shaped pendant lay, with a glimpse of a tightly muscled abdomen before the shirt met at a point just beneath his belt. There was a grinning goblin face with ruby eyes there, almost taunting her to look below. He wore a dark red leather jacket that reminded her of the one she’d seen him in before, with a wide standing collar, and long tails, and wide cuffs that fell over his black gloved hands. His face was without makeup, or glitter, but his eyes had taken on more of a slant, like a cat; and his eyebrows flared high, like an owls wings. His hair was mostly short, but wild, as it had been before, spiking up at odd angles, with two longer locks of hair that fell over his ears and down against his jacket. His ears, she noticed, were the tiniest bit pointed, and he wore a black metal ring through one of them.

He was the old Jareth, and the new Jareth. He was regal, and dangerous looking, and when he moved toward her, he had the grace of a large cat stalking its prey. She shivered.

“Do I frighten you?” he asked curiously, head tilted, eyes narrowed. Sarah licked her suddenly dry lips.

“No,” she said, and was startled by a bright red light emanating from her hand. The crystal. She’d almost forgotten she was holding it. He chuckled.

“Be thankful we’re not judging you on honesty,” he said.

“You still haven’t told me,” she said, trying to steer the conversation back where it belonged.

“The answer is fairly simple, Sarah-pet,” he said. “As you can see, I’m a man.”

“That’s not a whole answer, and you know it.” She fought to stay still as he stepped closer to her.

“No?” He paused, as if considering, his mismatched eyes intent on her face. “I’m the King of the Goblins, Sarah. I’m nearly four thousand years old, and more powerful than you could ever dream. I’m what some mortals have called ‘faerie’ or ‘sidhe’ or ‘jinn’ through the centuries, and what some have called ‘gods.’ I’m all these things and none of them, precisely—although, the Celts were probably the closest.” He paused, and his eyes grew distant, staring at the trees or the stars, and his voice took on a strange quality. “I am immortal, but still among the youngest of my kind. I am of your world, but not in it. Beside it, or beneath it, perhaps. I am generous to those I like, and cruel to my enemies. I am, as much as I can be, a benevolent ruler over my kingdom, where I am very much--,” he broke off abruptly and blinked, his eyes focusing again on her as if he had caught himself about to reveal too much.

“Very much...,” she prompted, holding up the crystal which had remained clear.

“Alone,” he said, his voice so low it was almost lost in the quiet of the night. Neither of them spoke for a long moment, and Sarah felt as if in that one word he’d turned her world and her perception of him upside down. When, in all her time in the Labyrinth, had she encountered another creature quite like him? Or even a human like herself? Why hadn’t it crossed her mind then how odd that was, or how lonely that must be? Surrounded by goblins and all the strange inhabitants of the Labyrinth, Jareth was like an adult in a room full of children.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

His voice dripped cold arrogance when he responded, “I do not require your pity.”

“It’s not pity,” she said, her voice equally as cold. Damn, he could get her back up in less time than it took for him to change clothes. The man was infuriating.

“Then what is it, Sarah?” He demanded, coming very close, until she could feel the heat coming off of his body, and smell the scent of leather and sandalwood that clung to him. “I’m curious. What could make you feel sorry for someone like me?”

“Sympathy,” she said, meeting his intense gaze and refusing to back down. “You're not the only one who has ever felt alone.” He didn’t respond, and she watched his mismatched eyes go from cold to shuttered.

“You, little girl,” he said, his voice a sinister whisper. Involuntarily she backed up and he followed, crowding her with his body until she was pressed against the cold stone column. Rock, she thought, meet hard place. “You,” he said, his eyes narrowing as he looked down at her, “had your baby brother to keep you company. And while your stepmother is no prize, neither is your father a monster. You have friends,” he sneered the word. “You know nothing of what loneliness is, of what it can do to destroy even the most powerful of men, or how it can make you crave someone so desperately...” His voice had roughened, his eyes held hers captive. He frightened her, but she refused to show him that. She clenched her jaw and dared him silently to go on.

He growled in frustration, and she watched, fascinated, as his expression went blank.

“I wish for you to show me your home, and every room in it,” he said without prelude. She blinked. Remembered, then, that she had to breathe. His face remained impassive, waiting. The wind caressed his spider silk hair. He frightened her, yes, but she would not let him win this game. There was just one little problem. She would grant his wish, but...

“We’ll need a car,” she said, feeling somewhat dizzy again. “I’m afraid I left mine back at the party, which, if I’m not mistaken, is a couple of states away from here. And home is—“

“Just up the street,” he said, stepping back, and she saw that they were no longer in the park, but standing on the corner of a sidewalk, only a block from her apartment. And it was snowing.

Which made sense, she supposed, since they were about two thousand miles northwest of her old hometown, and the weather there had been very mild for late December. Sarah hugged her arms around her and bounced a little, and wondered where she could find a coat.

Remembering, then, she had one: a block away, and up ten floors, hanging on the coat rack inside of her front door. Focusing on that, rather than on the man beside her, she started walking.

“You should have just popped us into the lobby,” she complained, her teeth chattering. It was ridiculously unfair that she was freezing her ass off in her evening dress, while he was wearing a coat and gloves and looking like he couldn’t even feel the cold anyway. She wanted to kick him, but her toes were getting numb in her thin shoes.

“I’m afraid, Sarah, that that’s not possible,” he said, sounding miffed. “You see, when you recited the lines from your silly book, you removed any power I might have had where you’re concerned. Including my ability to ‘pop into your lobby.’ I cannot watch you, except from a distance, cannot approach without your permission, and cannot take you anywhere against your will.”

“And yet you keep whisking me around the country,” she said sarcastically. “And you approached me tonight.”

“With your permission,” he reminded her. “And that invitation has allowed me to bend a few rules that I could not have, otherwise.”

“You’re telling me that by winning I inflicted some Faerie version of a restraining order,” she said, trying not to make it sound like a question, and failing. He only shot her a withering glance.

“You could say that,” he said, but declined any further answer.

What You Wish For

A Labyrinth Story
by KnifeEdge

Part 6 of 14

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