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Erlkönig

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The sun was low in the sky when Sarah got the phone call.

"Honey?"

Recognizing the voice, and shrugging the phone closer to her ear as she fumbled with her bag, Sarah hissed: "Quiet – I'm in the library. What's up?"

Karen obligingly whispered. "I wanted to remind you about that concert!"

Sarah rummaged for her planner, flipped it open, and furrowed her brow at the page of the day. There was December 21, covered in what looked like multi-colored hieroglyphics. "Yeah … oh."

"'Oh,' what?"

"I had it for tomorrow night – but it's tonight?"

"Yes it's tonight! Toby has been looking forward to this for ages, and he just called me at home from the auditorium. You do have his ticket?"

Sarah bit her lip at Karen's anxious tone. Her stepmother was a micromanager, which worked fantastically well in the wedding planning business, but not as well in a relationship. Still, they had made their peace years ago ... and this looked to be all her own fault. Toby's face (stricken) shot across her mind, and with a guilty start, she made her voice soothing. "Yes, I have his ticket" – she checked the two in the envelope wedged in her planner – "I'm only two buildings away" – she looked out the west façade into the red glare of the sun at the horizon as she began a fast walk – "I'm heading out of the library right now" – she flashed her ID at the guard, wedged through a turnstile and jogged down the hallway – "and I'll be there in five minutes."

"Thank you, dear. I know you've had a lot on your mind, with exams, but this means the world to Toby – he's been talking about it for the past week, and –"

Karen stopped; Sarah had let out a yelp at the cold air as she shut the library door.

"Is everything all right?"

Trying to wrestle a scarf around her neck while juggling bag, phone, and conversation was no easy task. Sarah gave up and spoke again. "Yeah – it's just frickin' freezing out here."

"Language."

Sarah rolled her eyes. "Movie reference!"

A laugh filtered through the phone. "Well, then I'll have to allow it. Thank you so much again – I hope your father and I will see you for dinner sometime soon."

"I'll count on it." Sarah smiled, still jogging, but now thinking of chicken à l'orange (Karen never did things by halves), and then frowned as a thought struck her. "Wait – how'd Toby get here if you're at home?"

A sigh. "I dropped him off while doing errands. I know it's a lot to ask, but –"

Sarah cut her off. "Nope – no problem. I'll drive him back; in fact, it's my karma for forgetting the date."

"It's all right, with your exams?"

"Well, tomorrow's the last one. I'm as prepared as I'm going to be – there's only so much the brain can take, after a point." Crunching through a snowbank to avoid a patch of ice, Sarah glanced at her watch. Fifteen minutes until the curtain went up; she could take a bit of a breather. She slowed her pace and brought her attention back to Karen's voice.

" – and with the man coming all the way from Chicago just to sing here, it's no wonder that Toby wants to hear him. His choir director takes great pleasure in your brother's interest, of course, but then again he thinks that Toby makes the world go 'round –"

Sarah smiled at the picture of her brother, haloed and holding a high note as angels approvingly twanged their harps. "Yeah – well, you have to admit that the kid is good."

"Yes –" Karen had a smile in her voice, too. "Although I don't know where he gets it. None of us is musical."

Sarah slid around another icy square of pavement, half listening. "OK, well I'm there, so off goes the phone. Can't have Mr. High-and-Mighty German singer get a ringtone one song into the concert."

"Thank you again, dear. Take care."

"Bye." Pressing the power button with her thumb, Sarah waited until she heard the chimes of the phone's shutdown, and then slapped it closed. She leaned over slightly, recovering her breath from the run across campus. There was the concert hall, sitting round, squat and dark in the lengthening shadows of the pine trees. She turned around. And there was the library, its marble worked by the setting sunlight into a fine shade of rose, streaked with orange and gold.

Sarah sighed, and watched her breath as it curled through the air like smoke. She thought she had gone far away for college (St. Paul might as well have been the moon from the terra firma of Westchester) but then a realignment at Dad's work had brought her squabbling, loving, mixed family as close to her as they had ever been before …

Well – not quite as close. She straightened her mouth in what was rapidly becoming her latest "great thoughts" look – honed during discussions of great literature, great philosophy, and great places to eat out. Her stepmother, her father, and Toby were in the same city, yes, but she still had her own life at college – her own choices to make, her own things to think about – her thoughts trailed off, and she exhaled, thinking, and –

- she took in a breath and almost choked as the cold slipped like a knife down through her lungs.

"Shit!" The introspective mood was broken. "Stupid state!" She turned and stomped through the snow to the concert hall's doors. "Stupid winter, stupid snow, and stupid me for moving to the fricking freezer of America –"

The doors loomed large in front of her, an icicle extending down where the janitor had missed knocking it to the ground. A glint to the side caught her eye. Despite herself, Sarah looked at the twisted, ice-glazed carvings in the stone frame, and shivered. Was it the nymphs in their drapery, the crazy-looking satyrs, or the snakes in the trees that freaked her out? Same thing, every time. It's your imagination, is what it is. Snap out of it.

She shook her head, grabbed one tall, wrought-iron handle (feeling it stick to her gloves in the cold), opened the door and stepped inside.

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The warmth was almost oppressive – Sarah felt an instant sheen of sweat form up beneath her sweater and heavy coat. She decided against elbowing through the crowd of people, scooted into a corner at the foot of the tall, ornate staircase and looked for Toby. Come on. Where was he? Surely he hadn't gone out into the cold to look for her – crap, that's probably what happened, and your paths didn't cross, and now he

"Sarah!" A high, excited voice, pitched to carry above the murmurs of the crowd. Sarah looked up, and smiled. There he was – right at the top of the stairs, his curly hair framed by the grandfather clock –

Her vision shimmered. Toby, between the clock and stairs, went in and out of focus –

- What? Sarah blinked hard – once, twice – and then swiped, annoyed, at the snow falling from her hair into her eyes. Mental note – next time, wear a hat.

A body thumped against her hip. As usual, Toby had taken the stairs at double time, and he cannoned into her and started pulling at her pockets.

"Whoa, chill out, kid!" She grinned down at him and pulled out the tickets with a flourish. "I've got what you're looking for, so no need to hold me up."

Toby's face glowed. "You're awesome! I love you!" He grabbed one ticket. "I have to write a report for school and I need a concert report for the next choir level, and Dr. Marcus said that I should go hear Mr. Teufel, and I waited and waited and waited for you and –"

"Slow down …" Sarah took his coat and slung it over her arm with her own. Pulling her scarf away from where it was caught on her necklace, she mentally ran over Toby's words. Dr. Marcus was Toby's choir director – Mr. Teufel (that's the name) was the visiting bass-baritone from Germany – and she was the one unlucky enough to get suckered into this concert when she still had to study –

She cut off that thought before it took root. "You were waiting long, then?" Reaching down, she tucked a protruding tag inside the collar of his dress shirt. "No taking candy from strangers, right?"

Toby rolled his eyes. "You're as bad as Mom."

Sarah herded him into the line, smiling as she did. "Just looking out for you."

"I'm old enough to skateboard, and I bike to school, so it's not like I'm going to go up to some random guy in a limo and say: 'Hey, gimme a ride to school' and he'd say 'Well, young man, would you like some candy first?' and I'd say: 'Give me all your money!' and he'd be like 'Aah!' and then I'd get the limo and I'd be –"

"Geez!" Sarah laughed in spite of herself. "I have no idea where you get these stories."

"Miss Mack says that I have a creative mind." Toby enunciated the words with pride. Then he looked up at her. "But you told me stories all the time, too."

Catching a breath in her throat, Sarah flicked her eyes to him. He was looking oddly intent, his normally laughing features focused in a sort of stillness that she had only ever seen when he listened for the first time to a CD she gave him, or to something new on the radio …

She smiled brightly. "I know I did. So it's all my fault." Toby grinned back, and tugged on her sweater. Looking up, she saw the usher, his officious hand extended for her ticket.

They switched the stubs for programs, edged into the auditorium, looked at the sweep and glow of red plush seats illuminated by glittering chandeliers, found where they were sitting, arranged coats over armrests and behind backs, looked through the program notes ("What's exigent mean?" "Demanding." "And what's veri- verisim –" "Verisimilitude." "Yeah. What's that?" "Um … kind of like realistic. Realistic-ness." " … Is that even a word?" "Quiet, you!") and talked back and forth ("Do you have to go to the bathroom?" "No!" "You sure?" "YES.") until applause swept up their attention, and singer and pianist took the stage, and the concert began.

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A bit more than halfway through, Sarah started rereading the program notes, squinting in the dim glow of the aisle light off the armrest. Winterreise. "Winter Journey." Franz Schubert, one of his last works, 1827. "The singer takes the listener on a lonely walk in winter, thinking of a lost love, and meditating on suicide." Fan-damn-tastic. Sarah sighed. She'd have to keep the program from Karen; someone that overprotective could find something worrisome in even the highest culture. A pause – she looked up – the rolling baritone voice continued with a new song – she looked back down at the notes – moving from "The Grey Head" to "The Crow." Geez. How much more to go? She glanced at her watch, then looked over at Toby.

And looked long at him.

His mouth was slightly open, and his eyes were fixed on the singer. That stillness, again – Sarah sighed to herself. It wasn't normal – it was weird. He was nine years old, for crying out loud. Nine-year-olds didn't sit through an entire concert of classical music without a peep, no matter how beautiful the music sounded.

How beautiful the music sounded. Her mind wandered. She herself had sung in a choir, mandatory, in high school – but music had never been her thing. More like drama. At Toby's age, she had been writing her own extended saga of the beginning of the world, culminating in the princess flying off on a unicorn to a world beyond the stars. And even past his age, she had made up an entire –

Nope. She turned from that thought. Not going to think about it. Instead, she let her mind wander back to high school choir. The Brahms "Requiem." Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen …How lovely is thy dwelling place…

How lovely the music really was. Sarah fingered her necklace. She blinked, and focused again on the singer. Mr. – she glanced at the program – Teufel. Herr Teufel. She smiled, remembering her limited German. Devil name, angel voice. Oodles of awards – even a Grammy. And here he was in St. Paul, looking for all the world like an overgrown penguin, singing away at Schubert, his rich voice sweeping up and down like a seesaw –

And it sounded beautiful.

Sarah shivered. Let that imagination out to play. She could almost see how the notes would sound in a dream – how they would ease through the air, in silvery lines and crystal swoops of sound. A stage light flickered in the corner of her eye, silver-gold. She saw it gild the whirls and eddies of music, and she could almost see them wend their way over the rapt audience, curl around the seat in front of her, reach out and stroke her face, and take her somewhere far away, somewhere so beautiful that nobody could describe it –

She closed her eyes and concentrated on listening. Somewhere beautiful. Lieblich. Lovely and magical and –

A crash made her jump in her seat and half shriek. It was applause.

Toby looked over at her, beaming at her as he beat his hands together. "You fell asleep!" he crowed.

Sarah shook her head and blinked. Magical. I don't think so. Then she let her half-dream slip away, and sat up to clap with the others.

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Chapter Text

Toby chattered all the way out of the auditorium, as they got swept up in a crush of people. Sarah half listened to him, and half tuned him out. She held out his coat, and looked to the side, squinting to see where –

"Where's everybody going, Sarah?"

"Well," she craned her neck to see. "I think there's a reception over there, Tobe."

Toby practically squeaked in excitement. "Can we go? Please? Please please please?"

Checking her watch, Sarah considered. Seven o'clock. Toby was hyper enough to be bouncing off the walls when he got home, so a little more time surely wouldn't hurt.

"Fine." She grinned at his jumping up and down. "One carrot for every cookie. And calm down some – I don't want you scaring all the bigwigs."

"I won't!" Toby shoved his coat into her hands and took off through the crowd. Sarah pulled out her phone, turned it on, and left a message for Karen. Just so she won't worry ...

A sudden crash caught her attention. She looked up, and laughed, despite herself, as she saw a burly caterer struggling to enter the hall, stuck in the doorway and holding two mammoth warming pans. His assistant scurried up and held the door open; the caterer wedged his way in, put the pans down, and thumped his arms against his sides. She could not hear him – she could only see his mouth move – but from his gestures and expression, she gathered that he was cursing the cold …

Sarah looked at them a moment more. She blinked. The temperature must have dropped after sunset – she could feel a draft from outside all the way across the entrance room –and a twinge of something odd in her stomach –

She shrugged – must just be hunger. Sarah held on to that thought, made her way into the reception room, and looked around for the inevitable hors d'oeuvres. She snagged some on a plate, and hooked a glass of punch with her other hand.

Memories came flooding back as she looked around. Bright chandeliers – though far fewer than the clusters in the auditorium – bright lights, and mirrors on the two longer walls of the rectangular room. The sophomore dance had taken place here, so she remembered that spot by the fireplace specifically (where she had worked up the courage to corner her crush at the time), and the pulse of the music, the flash of colorful lights in the darkness, and the occasional glimpse of the portraits on the wall (looking, in their lace and ruffles, for all the world as though the thumping techno had awakened them from naps many centuries long.)

Memories of chandeliers, mirrors, and dancing … Sarah took a decided bite of quiche, and popped in a slice of apple afterwards, bringing her mind back to the mundane. She had long since put any other such memories in their proper place. She smiled to herself, around her mouthful. No room for fantasy during exams.

The babble and press of the crowd was irritating – Sarah grimaced as someone jostled against her, and she drained her glass before it could splash on anyone. No alcohol – that's good, since I'm driving. She looked around for Toby, and walked towards where she could hear his voice, when she also heard –

Oh, no.

Oh, yes.

Sarah sighed as she saw Toby, waving at her, standing directly behind the star of the evening. She walked over to join him, trying to transfer the grease from her fingers to the underside of her plate as decorously as possible.

"C'mon, Toby – you don't want to bother him with this –"

"Bother me with what?" An accented voice boomed over the crowd. Sarah closed her eyes, then looked at Toby.

"It's all you, little brother."

Toby's smile grew wider. "Mr. Teufel?"

The figure in front of them bent over slightly – Sarah was reminded, again, of a penguin, and had to stifle a giggle. "Yes, young man?"

With a beseeching look on his face, Toby extended his crumpled program. "Can I have your autograph?"

The famous singer beamed, his jowls practically folding into his ears. "Yes, yes, of course! What a treat, to see someone so young enjoy the music!" He held out a hand – someone placed a pen into it – and he scrawled a signature onto the program. "You do enjoy the music, young man?"

Toby nodded eagerly. "Yes. I like Schubert."

Teufel blinked, and looked at Toby more closely. "You like Schubert, do you? Which other of his do you like?"

"Well …" Sarah watched proudly as her brother furrowed his brow in thought. "What you sang was sad. But it was still really good. I like the one song about the fish a lot. Dr. Marcus played that one for us in choir."

"Ah so, "The Trout"! So young, and to know "The Trout"! Very good!" Teufel smiled down at Toby. "So you like the happy song, and you like the sad songs …" He stooped as close to Toby's level as he could go, and waggled his eyebrows. "Would you like to hear another song?"

The circle of onlookers murmured in amusement – and Toby sucked in a breath. "Yes, please!"

The singer straightened up and looked archly at the crowd. "Yes, my friends gathered here – I am so sad to think that I did not give you an encore tonight. So with your permission I will sing something here for you now."

A burst of polite applause interrupted him; he raised a hand and silence fell. Drama queen, Sarah thought, irreverently.

"Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I will now sing for you … Der Erlkönig."

A babble of excitement broke out. Teufel bent once more, quickly, to Toby and said in an undertone that Sarah strained to catch – "Now this one is more scary, my young friend. But it shall be all right, yes? For it is a song, nothing more."

Toby grinned. "That's cool."

Sarah shook herself, frowning, as she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.

A stout woman dressed in pink, standing nearby, glanced at her. "Is anything wrong?"

"No …" Sarah pulled herself together. "I just felt a chill, that's all."

The woman laughed and turned away. "Ah – someone walked over your grave."

Sarah blinked –

– and Teufel's loud voice plowed through her thoughts. "Yes – Erlkönig! Erlkönig! Such a delight to sing, and, I hope, a delight to hear." Laughing heartily, the singer clapped a gloomy-looking man on the shoulder. "My pianist, Herr Schroeder, and I – we will tell you how this song is made so beautiful."

They walked together over to a forlorn baby grand in the corner, there to provide accompaniment to various parties. The pianist rattled a scale over the keys, grimaced, and shrugged at the singer.

Teufel took a stance that straddled three floorboards at once; the crowd hushed in anticipation.

"Now," the voice rolled out richly, "Erlkönig. Erlkönig is the story of a young boy, his father, and a wicked spirit! – But this you all know, yes?"

People called out "Yes," or "No" –

- and Sarah felt goosebumps ripple down her arms and back.

She shook herself. Snap out of it.

"No?" Teufel asked, now obviously playing to the crowd. "But this is such a shame! For such a poem and piece of music it is! Herr Goethe and Herr Schubert – so very beautiful together. So –" and he beckoned to Toby, "there are four in the song. The one who tells it – narrator, yes? – the father, the child, and the spirit. The piano is the horse that runs along, yes, Herr Schroeder?" The pianist nodded glumly. Teufel laughed. "Herr Schroeder is upset because the piano part is so, so very difficult." A ripple of laughter ran through the crowd; the pianist finally smiled, and shook out his fingers. Teufel continued: "Very difficult to play. And very difficult to sing! How do you suppose that I keep the story teller separate from the father, the child, and the spirit, my young friend?"

Toby thought, wrinkling his forehead. Sarah watched.

Why did she feel cold?

She laid her plate on a nearby table and shrugged her coat on, as casually as possible. She looked up over her left shoulder, frowning. The light from a dainty sconce on the wall flickered, as though the bulb were dying. Sarah looked around again. The crowd shimmered in the light of the chandelier; sequined gowns glittered and suits shone. She shivered.

She dragged her attention back to the singer, now in the full flow of his act. Whatever Toby's answer, she had missed it.

"Yes! So the child is sung up high" – he trilled out a la la la – "the father is low" – lo lo lo, much deeper – "the narrator in between," la lo la – "and the spirit … the Erlkönig himself …" he paused for dramatic effect "r-r-r-runs up and down and in and out – all over – lo la mi ma mo la lo!"

Toby bounced on the balls of his feet, excited. Whispers and coos of amusement and approval rose up from the onlookers.

"Also, Schubert does wonderful things with the keys of the music, yes? The father is in mostly minor, the boy is in minor, the narrator is mostly minor – but Erlkönig sings of joys and delights in major, major, major!" He clapped his hands together. "But enough talk! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you – Der Erlkönig!"

People clapped, and Teufel shook out his tuxedo tails. He smiled down at Toby again, fished in a pocket, and took out a rolled-up paper. Then he paused. His brow creased – but then he beamed as he saw Sarah standing right behind Toby. "Here, young lady." The singer held out the paper towards her. "Here are the words in English, just for you."

Sarah blinked. Something about the gesture tugged at her memory – his arm outstretched, his eyebrows raised, his smile …

Don't be ridiculous. Sarah took the thin roll of paper.

Toby scurried over to Sarah. "Let me see, Sarah, let me see!"

Sarah looked down. Her head seemed heavier, somehow, on her neck. The words were clear enough –written in flowing script, forming a lovely contrast with the paper's rough surface.

She jerked her head up as the piano burst forth, in a stern and ominous rhythm. Teufel had arranged his features into a glower; he waited through an introduction, and then sang:

"Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.
"

Sarah looked down at the words in English.

"Who rides so late through night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He holds the boy safe in his arm –
He holds him safe, he keeps him warm.
"

She held her coat more closely to herself, heard Teufel deepen his voice as the father – and followed the English translation – "My son, why do you hide your face in fear?"

She bit her lip as Teufel infused his voice with fright for the child's reply: "Father, do you not see the Erlking? The Elven King with crown and cloak?"

The father's voice soothed: "My son, it is a wisp of fog."

But Sarah heard it only on the edge of her mind. The Elven King with crown and cloak.

Her mouth was dry. The Elven King.

And then Teufel smoothed his voice and spun forth the song of the Erlkönig – The Elven King – in warm and sweet tones, and Sarah felt her skin begin to crawl.

"Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel' ich mit dir –
"

"You lovely child, come, go with me!
Nothing but beautiful games I'll play with you –
"

Sarah took a shallow breath as the voice flowed on, delicately ornamented:

"Many colorful flowers are on the shore,
My mother has many golden robes.
"

She zipped up her coat with trembling hands. The boy's voice was fearful, asking his father if he heard "What the Elven King quietly promises me?"

The father was reassuring: "Be calm, stay calm, my son. It is the wind rustling in the dry leaves."

And then the Erlkönig's silken theme returned, lilting with life and joy:

"Do you want to come with me, fine lad?
My daughters should already be waiting for you;
My daughters lead the nightly dance
And rock you and dance and sing.
"

Sarah tasted bile at the back of her throat, and swallowed hard. Don't throw up. Don't throw up. She stuffed the translation into Toby's hands, shivered at a sudden feeling of cold, ignored his questioning look, and pushed her way through the crowd, to get to the bathroom.

It took her some time to get through the press of people. Another verse passed by. Then the Erlkönig's final phrase reached out to her:

"Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt;
Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt.
"

One corner of her mind noticed how Teufel coiled up the golden strand of his voice and snapped it like a whip at the Erlkönig's – Elven King's – last word –

- but she did not have the translation at hand, and so did not consider what it meant.

And she did not hear the last verse – only the thunderous applause that marked the song's ending.

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Chapter Text

Sarah gripped the edge of the counter with trembling hands. What the hell? What had brought this on, this – weird – whatever-it-was – anxiety attack that had her cowering in the sitting room that lead to the bathroom, feeling like she was going to be sick, and barely able to stand on her own two feet?

She stared into the mirror. More of a dressing-room mirror in style, set off by a border of lights. Her own face, white and drawn, looked back at her. Licking her dry lips, she shakily unzipped her coat, brushing back her long hair and carefully untangling it from her necklace.

It was just something out of whack. Maybe it was something she had eaten. She looked down at the sink, turned one tap, and rested her hands beneath hot running water. What's going on? Sarah took a deep breath, and considered. Studying all morning, an apple at lunch and studying all afternoon, then running through the cold – wait.

An apple at lunch. She looked at her reflection, and smiled in relief. That was it. Greasy sausages, rich quiche and sickly-sweet punch on an empty stomach would be enough to throw off even the most balanced of people.

She stared ahead, taking calming breaths, until her hands sent up a twinge of protest at the water's heat.

Sarah turned off the water and wiped her hands on her coat. She took a band out of her pocket and tied back her hair in a rough ponytail, flipped her necklace inside her sweater, then draped her scarf around the sides of her neck. Ready to go outside. Because we're going, she thought fiercely. It was late, Toby needed sleep – and when she dropped him off, she had only to ask and Karen would throw together a mammoth hamper for her – enough food to see her through the rest of exams. Hell, she'd probably get food for the whole winter break.

Sarah frowned at her hair in the mirror, pulled off the band, then dug a brush out of her bag and started redoing the ponytail, working out snarls. She felt her shoulders relax, and she looked around the pretty room while her mind wandered. Another mirror, counter and sink directly opposite hers. A loveseat, done up in dusty pink fabric and ruffles. Demure wallpaper, alternating daisies and roses. A painting above the loveseat – some flowerpot with a riot of carnations? Sunflowers? Sarah squinted. It looked familiar – was it Van Gogh? The colors were vivid in the frame, clashing in a way that made perfect sense. Yellow and orange against a light blue-green background –

- Sarah shrugged, turned back to the mirror, and worked on tying her hair back again. There. It looked much better, upon closer inspection. She bent towards the mirror and tucked a strand behind her ear. Though the blue and green on yellow-orange of the painting, caught at an angle, made it look like she wore a weird hat -

Wait.

Blue and green on yellow-orange?

Sarah tugged at the zipper of her coat. It was stuck. She could not take her eyes away from the painting in the mirror. Blue and green on yellow-orange. With an effort, she turned around.

There were the flowers, yellow and orange on blue-green. Shaking, she turned back.

The mirror sat placidly, reflecting what she had seen before. Vivid, glowing blue and green flowers. A bright background, somewhere between yellow and orange. Reflecting between the two sets of mirrors into infinity. And then, as Sarah watched the mirror, mouth open in disbelief, a blue flower bent from its place in the picture, eased over her shoulder and stroked along her cheek –

She whirled around, gasping, and grabbed for the door. Braced one hand against the wall and twisted the doorknob as hard as she could. It was stuck. And the daisies and roses on the wallpaper rustled suddenly in the silence of the room, rustled and coiled shoots and sprigs around her hand, twisted down around her arm.

Sarah heard something whimpering. The sound was familiar. It was her own voice.

Manch' bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand …

Vines caressed her face. She heard music from far away.

Many colorful flowers are on the shore …

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Beautiful music is playing and the sun is bright. She is looking out a window, from up high, over a field of flowers leading down to a river.

What?

Sarah blinks in the bright sunlight. She looks at her sleeve – gossamer thin, yet she is not cold. She closes her eyes and turns her face into the sun, listening to the laughter of children playing in the field.

"My child?"

A voice sounds behind her. Sarah cannot place it – it is unfamiliar, though female, and it echoes in a strange way. But no matter. There are blossoms in a flowerpot next to her on the window seat. Their perfume twines around her.

"My child?"

Sarah stirs herself to answer. "Yes?"

Her voice sounds different somehow. It echoes.

"I have your gown, child."

"Thank you." Sarah slides off the window seat and takes a step backwards. The floor shifts beneath her. The flowers are before her eyes; she hears the children shrieking with joy at their games.

A rustle behind her, and Sarah suddenly feels a weight on her shoulders, around her waist, and surrounding her arms. She does not feel surprise or fear – only a calm interest as she looks down and sees light sparkling and glinting off the heavy weave of cloth of gold.

She hears her voice echoing, as from a distance. "This is beautiful."

"Thank you. We only just finished it."

Sarah hears a smile in her own voice. "Then I should thank you."

Her eyelids are heavy; she blinks and feels drowsy, suddenly, as a light breeze at her shoulders steers her from the window, and over to stand in front of a tall mirror.

Meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand …

Sarah gazes at her reflection. Her dark hair spills over her shoulders, and she is dressed in cloth of gold sweeping all the way to the ground. She brushes her hands over the fabric.

My mother has many golden robes …

She bends forward slightly and frowns. The dress is baggy in front.

"Will you please –" She begins to speak, and then gasps as her breath is sliced off at her stomach.

"Yes, dear child – only the stays remain."

"Oh." Her voice sounds small, to her own ears. Sarah feels a strange, yanking unease creep its way up her spine, as she watches golden ribbon dart in and out of the bodice of the dress, pulling and tightening. Her breath comes shorter. "Not too tight, please."

"But this is the way it is done, dear." The unfamiliar voice has less of an echo to it now. It is closer.

"I'm not sure if –" Sarah's words trail off as the bodice squeezes her ribs, like a vise. She gasps for breath, and then hears the voice at her shoulder.

"My son will be here soon."

Sarah grips the edges of the mirror for support. "What?"

"My son will be here soon."

The gilt scrollwork on the mirror frame bites into her hands. Sarah's voice is high and weak, to her own ears. "Your son?"

The other voice ignores her. "One last touch …"

And Sarah can only watch herself in the mirror, as a golden ribbon winds its way around her throat – once, twice, three times – coils up and down, as if making itself comfortable – and pulls itself taut.

She cannot breathe.

No. Her own voice echoes in her mind as she claws at the rippling thread. No. No!

-------------------------------------------------

"No!"

Sarah shrieked and crashed into the counter with a painful thump. She gasped for air as she looked down frantically, to see –

- her normal coat, normal slacks, same sweater, and her fingers clenched tight around her necklace.

She exhaled long and loud, half-sobbing, as she looked at her wild eyes in the mirror. Same anteroom, same loveseat, same lights, normal colors –

Sarah grabbed her bag, and threw open the door, not looking at the wallpaper or the painting. I've got to get out of here.

The door slammed behind her as she ran down the hall.

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Chapter Text

She darted back into the reception room. Toby. Where was Toby? Surely nothing would happen to Toby. Whether it was the punch, or the stifling air – she elbowed her way through a crowd of people, trying not to listen to Teufel's voice, now booming a raucous song in French.

People were clapping along to the song's beat. A cluster of children ran past with linked hands, giggling loudly. Sarah looked desperately after them. Light was reflecting off the mirrored walls, refracting in the chandeliers, dizzying and blinding her. She squinted at the laughing boys and girls. Was Toby with them?

And then her body seemed to grow heavy as two of the children, hand in hand, turned back to look at her from the doorway to the main hall.

Sarah looked at them, a strange chill flooding over her. Two little girls. Hand in hand. Their stare was solemn.

She squeezed her eyes shut. When she opened them again, the little girls were closer. Within arm's reach. Their upturned eyes met hers – and she felt a rippling wave of – something strange – something cold – as they reached out to her and took her hands –

Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schon …

Their fingers were small and fit perfectly into her palms. She heard music from far away.

My daughters should already be waiting for you …

-------------------------------------------------

Beautiful music is playing and the moon is bright. She is standing in a field of flowers, next to where a river flows.

What is this place?

Sarah blinks in the pale moonlight. She looks down at herself – she sees the glimmering of her gown and feels the weight of cloth of gold. She looks back up and sees two little girls, wide-eyed and watchful, one hand of each in each of her hands. She tentatively squeezes their fingers. They tug at her hands and smile.

"Will you dance with us?"

Their voices sound strange, yet also familiar – with a rippling tone running over something crackling with energy. Something electric and –

Magic?

Sarah takes an awkward step to one side as a wave of – something strange – sweeps up from her stomach.

Their voices are laughing. "That's not how you dance!"

Sarah shakes her head to clear it, and then smiles back at them. She cannot help herself.

For they are beautiful.

They look to be the same age. Their eyes are sparkling – she cannot see the color – and their hair – dark brown – fans out and flows around their shoulders. Their skin is pale but glowing in the moonlight, and they beam at her as if nothing could make them happier than to see her hand in hand with them.

She hears her own voice, loving and warm. "Then show me how to dance, little ones."

The two girls join hands and alternately push her and pull her. "In a circle," breathes one, and, "Round and round," says the other.

Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn …

Sarah keeps one hand of each in each of hers. She begins to step in a pattern with them. They dance in a circle, round and round – but she does not feel dizzy.

My daughters lead the nightly dance …

She looks past their faces. The river ripples black in the moonlight. She laughs as a breeze winds around her and through her heavy gown of cloth of gold – she is no longer constricted and enclosed, but as cool and fresh as the air that she feels on her face and her neck and her arms –

"Dance and sing," chants one, and the other echoes, "Dance and sing." She looks back at the little girls. Their faces shine with joy to see her there. Pale faces in the night, like pearls against dark velvet as they dance round and round, in an endless circle on the bank of the river.

"Yes," Sarah laughs, trying to catch her breath. "We are dancing already. Who will sing for us? Will it be you," she squeezes the hand of one, "or will it be you?" she smiles at the other. Their faces are so bright.

"Father will be here soon."

Sarah falters in the dance. "What?"

"Father will be here soon."

She stumbles to a halt; the girls keep hold of her hands and look up into her face.

"Your father?" Her voice is high and uneven, to her own ears.

The girls nod.

One says softly: "Father will sing for us."

And Sarah can only watch as they gently tug her back into the dance, and start leading her in a circle, spinning round and round and round on the river's edge, until they slide into the dark water and pull her in after them and the current grasps her gown of heavy cloth of gold and drags her beneath the surface.

She cannot breathe.

No. Her own voice echoes in her mind as she tries to pull her hands away from theirs. No. No!

-------------------------------------------------

"No!"

Sarah shouted and dropped her bag from her shoulder to the ground with a thud.

People turned to look at her. The song had finished, everyone had been talking – and conversational sounds stopped for a moment, then resumed as they saw only her, wide-eyed and disoriented.

Sarah looked, quailing, at the door. The children there had stopped to look at her, too; then, shrugging and laughing, they filed out, taking the two little girls with them – ordinary girls, one rotund and red-haired, the other pasty and all elbows – not holding hands.

Something pulled at her elbow. Sarah yelped.

"Hey." Toby was looking up at her. "Are you O.K., Sarah?"

She smoothed back her hair with trembling hands, and wrapped her scarf around her neck in quick circles.

"Yeah, kid – but I've got to get you home."

She picked up Toby's coat from the floor and held it out for him. He did not protest, merely stuck his arms through the sleeves and quietly fastened the buttons. Sarah looked at him in concern. "How about you? Are you O.K.?"

"Mm-hm." Toby's face was pale.

"Are you sure?" Sarah felt his brow with the back of her hand.

Toby toyed with a button on his coat. "I liked that song - but I thought one part of it was really scary ..."

"But you liked the rest of it?"

Her worry for him flew away as Toby smiled, and he lifted up his face to look at her. "This has been great, Sarah ... I got Mr. Teufel's autograph! And he sang a song just for me." Toby held out his program to her, and gave her the translation, its heavy paper now creased; she took both automatically and put them in a coat pocket, and watched as her little brother yawned. "This has been so cool – but now I'm just kinda tired."

Sarah would have smiled, but she felt as though she had run a marathon in the last ten minutes. She clenched her hands, to stop them from trembling. "Me too. Let's get to the car and go home. Get your gear – it's really cold out."

Toby obediently put on his winter hat and mittens. Sarah donned her gloves and took his hand. They went out of the reception room and through the waiting area. Light sparkled from another chandelier off a mirror – the grandfather clock at the top of the stairs gleamed – Sarah shivered, squeezed her eyes shut and then opened them wide, and half-ran with Toby to the main door, looking neither left nor right.

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Chapter Text

The cold caught them as soon as they stepped outside.

"Oh man," Toby groaned. "Where are you parked?"

Sarah pulled her scarf up, wishing again for her hat. "Right over by the library. Ten-minute walk and then we'll have the heater, OK?"

Toby did not reply – instead, he broke free from her hand in order to slide over a patch of ice.

"Hey –" Sarah called after him. "Be careful. Stay where I can see you."

She heard his snort from a few feet away. "You're much worse than Mom."

Sarah held her coat tightly to her body. "You had a good time, right? What was your favorite part?"

The floodgates were opened – she listened as Toby got his second wind and began to chatter about the concert, and the autograph, and his own song, sung just for him as a special treat –

His own song.

Sarah flinched as she heard a faint melody – she turned around and looked past the illuminated circles thrown by the lampposts, through the dark – and saw, from a distance, a bulky woman in a pink dress half hidden beneath a heavy fur coat, silhouetted against the hall's massive doors in a spill of light, trilling to herself as she eased down the steps.

The concert hall was black in the moonlight, outlined against the stars. For an instant, it looked like a massive animal, crouched to spring.

With a shiver, Sarah turned back and looked for Toby, and took his hand. He allowed her to do so, still talking.

She wasn't listening to him at all, now. Instead, she felt her eyes darting over the pine trees in the distance, and the stretch of snow-covered ground bordering the path. Sarah forced herself to take deep breaths, wincing as the cold air swept in and out of her lungs.

Get a grip. It had been nothing. Just a weird panic attack. Two weird panic attacks – within the space of ten minutes? Calm down. Get a grip, just calm down.

But her heart was hammering in her chest as she flinched at the smallest sounds. Twigs snapping. The scrape of Toby's shoes over the ice. Her own steps, hurried and off-kilter.

Sarah bit her lip, furious with herself. This was ridiculous. A panic attack or two – just a panic attack, nothing more – and here she was shaking like a little baby, waiting for something to come out of the trees –

My son will be here soon.

She stopped in her tracks and shuddered at the voice in her memory.

Father will be here soon.

She wrapped her arms around herself and felt a moan escape her lips.

"Sarah?" Toby had stopped too, and was looking at her in concern. "Don't you feel good?"

"No." She wiped one gloved hand over her lips. "I don't know, Tobe – I think I might be coming down with the 'flu or something."

Toby's eyes grew round. "Do you want to call Mom?"

Sarah shook herself. "No – no, I can make it to the car. But –" she looked over her shoulder back at the trees – "we should hurry and get home."

My son will be here soon.

She swallowed a rush of nausea.

Father will be here soon.

"O.K., Toby?"

Silence.

Sarah froze. Then she slowly turned her head back towards her brother. "Toby?"

Where Toby had been standing, she saw nothing but fog.

Fog, sliding over the ground, well-nigh invisible on the snow, but uncoiling white and thick over the sidewalk, looking in the lamplight like so many snakes undulating and – coming towards her –

Sarah heard her own high-pitched gasp.

She stumbled backwards, then turned to look at the trees. They had grown taller, sharp and black, frosted by the light of the moon – and they were edging towards the path in fits and starts.

Siehst du den Erlkönig nicht?

Fog wrapped around her ankles. She heard music from far away.

Do you not see the Elf King?

-------------------------------------------------

Music is playing and the stars are bright. Sarah turns in a circle, shuddering in the cold.

Why is it so cold? It had been warm, in the other ... panic attacks? Visions? Dreams?

She looks down at herself. There is the gown of cloth of gold. Except, this time, the exposed flesh of her neck and collarbone prickles in the frigid air.

Sarah spins around again, feeling the gown turn around her, with her. She looks at the pine trees – where they have come to a stop – flush against the path and extending pointed branches behind her. She puts out a hand to try and feel her way through the tangle of tree limbs – and then jerks back with a cry of pain as a spruce branch lances her palm.

Then she hears the quiet sounds of the forest, and the music itself, fade away.

She steels herself to turn around. Does so.

Fog pools on the path – a dirt path, overgrown and marked with roots and brambles, no longer pavement – and coils upwards and downwards, in and out and over and under, seething like so much boiling water –

- and then pours itself into a shape, first dimly outlined, then stretching and solidifying into some form approaching that of a man -

Sarah's breath is the only thing that sounds in the forest that now stretches around her. She hears her own shallow sips of air as starlight shines on the writhing fog, as a gust of cold wind takes on its own color and burnishes the contorting and changing figure, as moonlight warms the arms and hands suddenly outstretched, and gleams on the face turned up to the night sky –

Siehst du den Erlkönig nicht?
Den Erlenkönig mit Kron und Schweif?

- and burns into her mind the image of someone she knows, from long ago, reaching up and pulling part of the sky, black strewn with stars, down and around his shoulders -

Do you not see the Elf King?
The Elven King with crown and cloak?

Sarah looks, openmouthed despite herself, as the cloak tumbles to the ground in a sweep of soft darkness, and as stars fall, gently, to settle in windswept hair and make a crown.

Then she feels the bottom drop out of her stomach as the figure turns to look at her, and walks smoothly towards her, flowing over the bumpy roots and through sharp branches. Those same branches twist back from touching it - their wild jerks and snaps should be audible, but there is only silence.

A whisper comes to her from her memory. She mutters the phrase to herself, under her breath: "It's a wisp of fog …" (es ist ein Nebelstreif) "It's a wisp of fog …"

The being stops before her, and smiles.

"Really, Sarah. I think not."

And any doubt she may have had vanishes – as she hears, for the first time in seven years, Jareth's voice.

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Chapter Text

Silence stretches between the two of them.

Sarah looks at her adversary of old. His face is the same, gaunt and pale, (so beautiful), and framed by his wild hair. Only this time he wears a crown of stars and a cloak of night – and his eyes glitter at her with something in them that she does not remember from before.

Clamping down on the shakiness that his appearance sets off (why? I defeated him once before! But he is different – Something is different – something important), she chooses her words carefully. "Goblin King –" she falters as his lips twitch – "why are you here?"

An elaborate shrug. The shoulders of the cloak ripple, like black oil. "I heard my name, when I was passing by. Then I heard one of my favorite songs begin, so I stopped to enjoy it." He tilts his head to one side. "I'm not sure at what point I saw you – but I did."

It is still quiet, but now Sarah hears the soft rustle of branches in the wind, and the creak and moan of old trees.

The Goblin King looks intently at her, and speaks again, slowly. "This was not expected." A pause. "But that does not make it unwelcome." He gives her a faint glimmer of a smile. "You have changed, Sarah. So much so, that I think I may say … I hope you find yourself as pleased to see me as I am to see you."

He pauses over the word "pleased" – it is as though he needs time to shape it correctly before saying it.

She shivers, wondering how she could have ever forgotten the sound of his voice.

He takes a slow step closer to her; she backs up abruptly and winces as a branch jabs her through the heavy cloth of gold.

Catching her look of pain, the Goblin King frowns. "They really are being rude." His mouth thins, and Sarah feel the sharp branches at her back ripple and change into soft pine boughs – which then cushion her gently. She bites her lip, looking at him, and grips her elbows with her hands.

She tries again: "Goblin King –" and stops as he smiles broadly. She remembers that smile. "What's so funny?"

Another shrug. "Goblin King. Elven King. Erlkönig. It doesn't happen that often that I hear so many of my titles in so little time. Add that to this being the darkest night of the year –" he sweeps his arm out to encompass the forest; the black cloak flutters near her face and she flinches, "- when the boundaries between the worlds waver, and thus when I best like to roam – and add that to the fact that it has been seven years since we last met, and that now you are of age, and that now you have listened to my favorite song … and the result is what I call a lovely coincidence."

Sarah feels dazed. His voice is the same – smooth as water, cold as ice, yet dancing with something she'd call fun, if it were not for the strange light in his eyes – the look that she does not remember from before.

Then she catches up to what he has said. She tries her best to concentrate, says slowly: "Your titles? Then –" she stammers, feeling fourteen again, "Then you are the Erlkönig?"

He laughs. "Erlkönig – yes. The Germans with their Black Forest had quite the morbid imagination. Yes, my dear. Erlkönig, Elven King, Goblin King – they all boil down to the same thing, in the end. Just your average passerby decent enough to relieve those harassed by wayward children of toil and trouble, worry and woe." Looking down at her, he smiles warmly. It does not reach his eyes. "Although they are so ungrateful! Just as ungrateful as you were, seven years past – but not one in one hundred thousand as successful as you in reneging on a wish."

Sarah flexes her hands away from her elbows, and blinks back tears as her fingers bend painfully. It is too cold, in this dress. A breeze has picked up, and scours the back of her neck with granules of ice. Biting her lip again, and bending her head while shivering, she thinks desperately of her scarf – her hat – her coat and gloves – Toby –

She brings her head back up sharply – and her breath stops, strangled in her chest, as she sees that the Goblin King has stepped closer. Within arm's reach. She clamps her hands together and tries to keep her heart from jolting into her throat.

Then she chokes as he looks into her eyes, reaches down, gently pries her hands apart, and takes one of them – the injured one – in both of his. He still wears gloves – the same gauntlets that she remembers from the Labyrinth. Sarah fights to keep her mind from scurrying away in a panic as he turns her hand palm-up, and bends his head to examine it.

"You have hurt yourself." His voice is quiet.

Sarah feels her teeth chatter. She doesn't know why, but she is even colder than before. "I just caught it on a branch."

And then she feels her unease intensify into a thrum of fright as he bows at the waist, brings her torn palm to his lips and kisses it, softly.

She flinches – the touch of his mouth burns her hand – but then he exhales gently and the burn fades to the small, cold sensation of a snowflake newly landed in her palm.

She stares downwards, her brain moving sluggishly, as she looks past the stars in his hair, looks down to her hand, where the wound had been, and sees the angry mark fade away. Then he straightens and runs a leather-covered finger along her jaw, and she jerks back quickly.

"Shh, dear Sarah." His eyebrows draw together in a look of slight exasperation, but also more than slight amusement. And something else. Something that she does not remember from before.

"My lady," the Goblin King speaks in a low voice. He is too close. She feels his cold breath on her throat. "Tell me which tree gave you this injury, and I will uproot that same tree from its fellows, and put it to the fire."

The wind moans. Sarah squeaks. "No thanks."

He blinks, looks at her for a moment, then laughs softly. "So gentle." He runs the back of his gloved hand along her cheek.

Sarah presses herself back into the soft pine branches. "What do you think you're doing?"

He looks at her, and the fond exasperation deepens. "What do you mean?"

"This!" She shoves his hand aside with one forearm; he backs up a step and frowns at her. "What the hell is this? Were those hallucinations from you? Why am I seeing you now, after all this time? What's going on?"

The Goblin King is still. "You mean to say that you do not know?"

Sarah swallows. "Know what?"

His face is inscrutable, pale and lovely as polished ivory in the moonlight. "My dear Sarah – did you not listen to my favorite song? Truly listen to it?"

She is freezing. Sarah feels the cold seeping through to her bones. "I – I heard bits and pieces of it."

"Bits and pieces. I'm hurt." His voice mocks her. "Does this bit sound familiar? Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt …" He tilts his head. "Well?"

Her teeth are chattering; she can hardly stammer out her question. "What does that part mean?"

The Goblin King's look turns chilly. "Have you misplaced the translation I was kind enough to send you?"

Sarah tries to think clearly. "It's – it's in my coat pocket."

"Ah. Excellent. But – " he taps one finger against his lips – "your coat is not here, is it?"

With a flare of anger, Sarah bites out: "That's hardly my fault!"

The Goblin King smiles slowly, begins to trace his lower lip with the tip of a leather glove. He gives her a sly glance. "That's a lovely dress, by the way."

"It's not the best for this weather."

His chuckle scrapes across ice and bumps over roots. "I did not have this weather in mind, earlier."

While Sarah is still trying to shake that laugh from where it buzzes in her ears, the Goblin King steps forward and takes her in his arms.

She cannot move. It is far, far too cold to move. She can only watch him bend his head, and can only feel his lips brush against her ear.

"Dearest. Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt. I love you – your beautiful face has enticed me. Or – the beauty of your visage has enchanted me. Or – your beautiful form arouses me." He breathes a quiet laugh over her bare shoulder; tendrils of his hair brush her cheek like strands of ice. "The second phrase does not translate easily – but the first is as plain as day: I love you."

Sarah feels a sickening fear bloom in her stomach and roil up into her throat as he brings his face back in front of hers, and looks at her.

She had almost forgotten how strange his eyes are – the pupils mismatched, and their glitter either magic or madness – or both – or –

And she is close enough to see his eyes change as he smiles, as he whispers: "Ich liebe dich – I love you," as he lowers his face to hers, and as he kisses her on her mouth.

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah realizes that her mind has gone far away. She is thinking of a time when she had been much younger – when she had taken a dare in second grade. Her friend had watched a funny movie – and had waylaid her at recess, and had triple-dog-dared her to march up to a flagpole and stick her tongue to it, on a cold winter's day.

She had done it. Her mother been called to school, and had thrown a fit, and had called her father at work. Her father had told her mother to count to three with her, and then to yank her head backwards right after they reached two –

The sensation had been weird and frightening – feeling her lips and tongue caught by something much colder, and knowing that there would be pain when she managed to tear herself away.

This is the same feeling.

Sarah feels the Goblin King's lips moving against her mouth. She breathes in, and smells pine needles, and cold air, and something else – stars? magic? – that she cannot describe. She feels her pulse thumping in her ears, she feels one of the Goblin King's hands twining through her hair. His other hand eases around her neck and clasps the back of her head, gently, sending spikes of cold lancing through her skull –

– until she brings her own hands up, with a great effort, fighting against numbness, places them on his chest (cold rushing eagerly to meet her palms), and pushes herself backwards.

She hears a cry of pain. Then she realizes that it has come from herself, and that her lips are torn and bleeding.

There is silence in the forest again. The trees have swallowed her cry, and are waiting to hear what comes next.

Sarah blinks back her tears and, shivering, bends her head to blot her lips on her sleeve of cloth of gold. Then, with an effort, she straightens her (freezing) cold back and stares at him.

The Goblin King's face could be carved from ice. Except – and Sarah shudders when she notices – except where her blood dots his lips, frozen, like rubies on pale marble.

She tries to find words, and finally croaks: "I don't love you. I defeated you."

He is silent, looking at her with hooded eyes.

"I have my life here – I'm happy – and I didn't wish for you to come to me."

His voice grates, like stones sliding together. "The song was enough. I heard my name spoken, I came, and I saw you there. And you listened to my song."

"Didn't you hear me?" She tastes blood as she shouts, frenzied. "I don't love you! I don't want you here! Why are you doing this?"

The Goblin King gathers his cloak about him, slowly, and inclines his head to the ground. "I do not have to explain myself to you. The song was enough. That song, and my gift."

Sarah feels her head spin. "What gift?"

"You took that piece of paper – the translation. It was easy enough to spell the singer into giving it to you. A small gift, and not a fraction as fine as others I will give you – but the intent was there." He tips his head slightly towards her, but still keeps his eyes lowered. "On that sheet of flimsy mortal paper, I revealed all to you. I told you what the song said. I wanted you to know what it meant, as you listened to it. I wanted you to accept it."

Sarah can hardly part her cold lips. "Accept what?"

"The song has a meaning to it: a warning, and a demand." He flicks a glance at her, and laughs softly to himself. "Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt. I love you – your beautiful face has enticed me." The Goblin King chants the line with ease, then tilts his head back to look up at the stars. "Your beautiful form arouses me." He pauses, considers. "I think I prefer the less elegant version this night." Another soft laugh. "And I think I know why." His words float, silver threads in the air, and then fade.

She hears one gust of wind through the forest, and then quiet settles again.

"I love you – your beautiful form arouses me." His voice is so low that she has to strain to hear it.

Silence.

"But the song does not stop there, my dearest love."

The beads of her blood flake off his lips as he smiles.

"What –" Sarah whispers. "What does it say next?"

"You do not remember?" The Goblin King lets his head fall forward; his smile widens. "Then hear me now, my deepest desire in all the worlds, my beloved, my lady, my bride." He raises his hands in a courtly gesture, extending the soft darkness of his cloak, and quietly sings: "Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt – Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt."

Sarah waits, frozen with cold and fear.

Jareth fixes her with his glittering eyes. "I love you – your beautiful form arouses me. And if you are not willing, I will take you by force."

The silence in the forest is absolute.

He raises an eyebrow. "Gewalt. Force. Violence – well, violence is not, perhaps, as accurate. Might. Power." The other eyebrow climbs up as well. "And brauchen is awkward. Technically, it might better be: 'I must needs resort to force,' but that lacks a certain … clarity. Don't you agree?"

When she does not reply, he brings his hands together and curls his mouth in a smile more vicious than anything else. Starlight from his crown glints off his jagged teeth.

"Why so quiet, beloved? Does the idea not please you? Because –" and the cloak ripples as he stretches out a black-gloved hand and plucks a shimmering crystal sphere from thin air – "On this night, of all nights, and now that you are of age, and now that you have listened to my favorite song …" He examines the crystal, still smiling. "I must say that the idea pleases me greatly."

Sarah's skull grates against her spine as she jerkily shakes her head. "No."

"No?" Jareth's smile turns colder. "Come now, you precious thing. Why do you say no?"

"No," Sarah rasps. "You have no power –"

Quick as thought, Jareth slips forward, stoops, and breathes over her mouth. Sarah gasps, through her nose, as the blood on her mouth freezes, melding her lips together, silencing her.

"Now, now – don't say that, my love." He speaks quietly, a fingers-breadth from her. "Perhaps I have no power over you. But I have a great deal of power over the wind, over the snow, over the ice and air, over sunlight and moonlight and starlight. Twice tonight you have walked into magic of my making and felt the warmth of the sun and moon, and only this third time had you mind enough to bring your cold reality with you. Do you think I will let you escape from me now that you are of age – now that you have listened to my favorite song …" his silky voice darkens " … now that I have seen your beauty once more and, for this first time, found its flavor fit for me?"

He tilts his face and slowly laps at the frozen blood, at her frozen lips, with his mouth and tongue – kissing her, tasting her –

Sarah's cry of horror is strangled in the back of her throat; he smiles against her lips, lingering there, and brings one hand up to trail over her jaw, to trace her ear, and to fall to her shoulder. Cold burns her through his glove.

"Sarah." Jareth draws back, still smiling lazily. He takes his hand away, links it with its fellow around the crystal, and looks deep into her eyes. "We both know how this song ends."

Each breath freezes her nostrils, lines her throat with ice. It is getting more difficult to breathe. She shakes her head frantically.

"Truly? Such a pity, then, that you took my gift, and listened to my song – without knowing what it means for your future." The smile is gone; Jareth's face is set in ice and stone. "I suggest that you read the ending, dear one. Or I will sing it for you – when we come together at the last."

Starlight sparkles from Jareth's hair as he holds out the crystal sphere to her. His voice lilts: "Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir …You lovely child, come, go with me … Although you are not a child anymore, no, and that is the best of it …" The crystal flashes as he twists it in his hand; she stumbles backwards, against branches that coil around her arms and legs. "Come, Sarah. Come, go with me now without pain – or come later with, I am afraid, a great deal of pain. For you will go with me, either way." He bares his jagged teeth. "Either way you will be mine."

She cannot breathe.

No. Her own voice echoes in her mind as she tries to open her mouth and scream. No. No!

-------------------------------------------------

"NO!"

Sarah screamed and fell to her knees on the ice. She scrabbled at the snow and pavement, and took rattling gulps of air.

"Sarah!" Toby's voice pealed out, high and shrill with fear. "What's wrong?"

A wave of panic seized her; she grasped her face with her hands and felt herself hyperventilate.

"Sarah! Sarah!" She felt Toby's mittens thump onto her shoulder, felt him shake her awkwardly. "Stop it! What's wrong?"

"Toby –" she gasped. Took another breath – calm down, calm down, you're scaring him, it was just a dizzy spell – no it's not it's not he's coming for you get away get away run run RUN –

She jumped to her feet, grabbed Toby's hand, and ran.

-------------------------------------------------

Chapter Text

The squares of pavement veered crazily before her eyes, suddenly shifting up and down as her feet landed. Sarah gasped and darted to the right to avoid a bush that she could have sworn was just getting ready to jump in front of her. She almost missed Toby's cry of surprise, but then she heard him shout: "Wait! Wait, Sarah – you're going too fast!" – right before she skidded on a patch of ice and fell forward off the path onto the snow – and landed hard.

A flash of pain rebounded through her skull. "Shit! Son of a bitch, that hurt!"

"Sarah!" Toby scurried over to where she lay. "Are you all right? And Mom says you can't swear in front of me!"

She felt her shoulders quivering as she lay in the snow. She heard a strange noise. Then Sarah realized that the noise was actually her own semi-hysterical laughter.

Snap out of it. Snap out of it. You're scaring your brother.

Shaking, she looked up at Toby. His eyes were wide, and blue in the lamplight, and frightened.

"What –" she croaked. Licked her lips and tried again. "What did you say?"

Toby's voice was high-pitched. "You're hurt! And you swore!"

Closing her eyes, Sarah winced at the pain echoing in her head as she laughed again. Of all the things to say –

Wait. She looked up at the lamp, noticing detachedly how snow was falling in spirals and loop-de-loops, softly, through its light. Of all the things to focus on right now … why was she laughing?

Why was she lying here, anyway?

Sarah half sat up, braced herself on her arms, and hauled herself to her feet. She closed her eyes as her vision swam, then opened them and took a careful step. Then another.

The world righted itself. The pavement stayed on the ground. The snow drifted to the ground like it always did …

She touched her lips. They were smooth, if slightly chapped. There was no pain, and no blood. Except - and she winced as she moved her fingers to her neck - except where she had hit her head when she fell – there was pain there –

And Sarah felt her fear intensify, even as her panic faded.

He wanted her off her guard. He wanted her to make a mistake. He wanted to trick her and trap her into doing something stupid so he could take her (she hears a hiss: I will take you by force) take her with him. Or hurt Toby – oh please, don't let him want Toby –

She took a deep breath. All these years, she had safely barricaded her dream of (time in) the Labyrinth behind closed doors in her mind. She allowed it in the occasional daydream. She even sat in front of a mirror in her room to (talk to) pretend to meet with (talk to) Ludo, and Hoggle, and Sir Didymus – on the evenings when her days at high school were too much for her.

But she had never considered that its … magic? Power? … that its presence could bleed over into her now well-ordered world … That she could lose her brother … Not again …

Power.

She hears a silken voice whisper: Gewalt – Force. Violence – well, violence is not, perhaps, as accurate. Might. Power –

She hears music from far away –

"No!" Sarah gave herself a vicious pinch and stared directly into the lamplight, until her eyes began to water.

"'No' what?" Toby asked, in a small voice.

She looked back down at him. Breathed carefully. "I'm sorry, kid. I scared you a bit, didn't I?" Toby nodded, mute. Sarah bit her lip. "It's just that – well – I don't feel very well – I think I ate something funky at that reception. And I just got a little dizzy. But I'm fine now, and I really want to get you home fast, so I can get some Pepto-Bismol or something, O.K.?"

Please, let him believe me. Surely he doesn't remember anything of Ja – of the Labyrinth. Surely he didn't see anything. Please, let him believe me.

She felt a wild rush of unreality when Toby half-smiled at her. He believes me. I do not believe myself. I know the truth. The truth –

A cold breeze skims over her face, and Sarah feels her eyes slip closed, and feels –

A cold breath on her face, and cold lips brushing against her own – like snowflakes dropping onto her lips and dripping down her chin, into her mouth - while fingertips coast delicately down her cheek, and then fly to the back of her neck and hook into her flesh, and a grip of ice closes around her throat –

The cold mouth pulls back from hers and she hears (feels ) a low snarl only a hairs-breadth from her ear: Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt –


No.

Sarah wrenched her eyes open, and bit down on the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood. "No," she hissed to herself. "You bastard. You aren't getting him or me!"

Then she shook her head violently and looked at her brother. Toby looked back at her, his eyes still wide, and uneasy.

"C'mon." She ignored her head's pulsing ache, and grabbed her bag from where it had fallen with her. "First step: get to the car; second step: get home; third: get you some hot chocolate," Toby smiled weakly; she breathed in relief and continued, "and fourth – get me some Pepto-Bismol and a bucket so I can barf all I want."

Toby smile widened. "Mom will make you eat chicken soup."

He believes you. He believes you. Keep him safe. Oh God, don't let anything happen to him –

"I swear – if she tries, I'll barf on her first."

And Sarah took Toby by the hand – not too hard, don't frighten him – and walked as quickly as she could without slipping. Half-walked, half-ran down the hill, past the library, over to where her car was parked ("Sarah – did you mean to leave the lights on?" "Doesn't matter, Tobe – just get in!") slammed the key into the ignition ("Come on, you bitch, start, start, start!" "You swore again!") and didn't draw breath until the engine roared, and the heater clicked on, and the radio crackled into life as she drove off as fast as she could over the icy parking lot and out onto the road.

-------------------------------------------------

Toby was fiddling with the radio. Sarah darted the occasional glance at him, out of the corner of her eye, as she kept her focus trained on the road and her grip tight on the steering wheel.

After the first burst of speed, she had resolved not to go above twenty-five miles per hour. So the car crept along at a snail's pace, bumping over ice and the occasional pothole, beneath the tall trees lining the road – out past the main city, through the forest towards her family's home in a new suburban outgrowth.

That's it … think of home. Think of home. Keep your eyes on the road.

Sarah knew that her knuckles were white beneath her gloves. She focused on breathing in and out, calmly, trying not to think of her – dream? vision? – of whatever it had been.

Something pale flashed across the road.

"Shit!" Sarah slammed on the brakes. The car jerked to a stop.

"Oof!" Toby rubbed where his seatbelt had caught against his shoulder. "I'll tell Mom," he grumped. "She'll make you wash your mouth out with soap."

Sarah tried to slow her breathing. "Did you see that? Was that an owl?"

Toby gave her a long-suffering look. "Why would an owl run across the road? Geez – it was probably just a 'possum."

"I could have sworn it was an owl."

"No –" His voice was exasperated. "Owls don't run. They fly. Are you sure you're O.K.? Are you starting to see weird animals?"

Sarah bit her lip, hard. "No - I'm O.K. Just fine, kid." Of course it wasn't an owl. And she was acting (crazy) like a coward (he wants you frightened) – jumping at every flicker of movement. She eased off the brakes, and cautiously pressed the gas pedal.

A high, faint melody whispered past her ear; she flinched.

"What's that noise?" Her voice sounded strained. Damn it.

The melody stopped, as Toby snapped his mouth shut. He gave her an injured look. "It's just me. I have to practice for choir tomorrow."

She took a deep breath. "All right. Fine. But do you think you could sing something – upbeat for me? Peppy?" A long pause. "Do you even know anything cheerful? Dr. Marcus seems like a gloomy kind of guy."

"He is not!" Toby jumped to his choir director's defense. "He likes all sorts of music! He plays ABBA sometimes!"

"ABBA?" Sarah smiled. Hallucinations – nightmares – that kiss - kissing her - tasting – her skin crawled and she shook herself, hard. How had she gotten from that to ABBA?

"Well, let's not have pop," she said firmly. "But sing something cheerful for me."

Toby looked at her, considering. Then he took a deep breath, and belted: "On top of spaghe-e-e-e-etti, all covered in chee-e-e-eeese –"

Sarah could not help herself – she started laughing.

"I lost my poor me-e-e-e-eatball –"

Something white loomed out of the dark.

"No!" Sarah smashed the brake pedal with one foot; the car skidded to a stop.

"Ouch!" Her brother cried out in a high voice. The seatbelt had caught him again. "What are you doing?"

"Sorry –" she took her hands off the wheel; her head pounding – "sorry, Toby." She could hardly speak past the dryness in her throat. Trembling, Sarah shoved the gear shift home and turned the key back. The engine coughed and went silent. She raised her hands to her face and breathed out – then in – then out –

"What's wrong ?"

"Sorry, Toby – I just could have sworn I saw something –"

"You did."

Sarah looked up, startled. Toby was pointing out the window.

"It's a deer – see?"

She looked. There was a deer, pale against the dark trees, almost shimmering in the moonlight.

It looked back at her for a moment, then flitted away into the forest.

"How cool was that?" Toby sounded even younger than he was. "We never had deer in New York. I think this place is awesome."

Sarah wet her lips. "You're not scared?"

"Scared?" He looked at her, puzzled. "Why?"

Because I'm terrified. Because that deer was looking at me – because he was staring at me – because his eyes were so hungry as he kissed me – because he'll hurt you and I'll never forgive myself for it –

She closed her eyes and shivered as she felt a chill, as a cold breeze moves over her face, as –

- an icy breath coasts over her neck, and sharp teeth graze her flesh, while fingertips pull at her scarf and collar, and then cold lips land at the base of her throat and a gloved hand claps over her mouth -

Then she hears (feels) a hiss at her ear: And if you are not willing, I will take you by force –


No.

Gasping, Sarah opened her eyes as wide as she could, and brought her hand to her scarf. No! Never!

She hears (feels ) a faint laugh, cold on her neck –

Get out of my head, you son of a –

"Well, maybe I'm a little concerned," Toby was saying.

Sarah forced her mind back to reality. She looked at her brother as he chattered.

"I mean, you're driving like a maniac." He carefully enunciated the last word; Sarah could hear Karen's voice in his.

"Yeah." Get a grip. "Sorry … come on, let's go. No more sudden stops."

"No more sudden stops!" Toby parroted; she smiled and turned the keys in the ignition.

A -clunk-.

Sarah's mind went still.

She could almost see him – smiling in anticipation ...

She turned the keys again.

-Clunk.-

Oh no –

"What is it?"

"Toby –" she took a careful breath. "I think the battery's dead."

A sigh. "That's because you left the lights on."

Oh please – please let it be because I left the lights on …

"Probably." Sarah felt in her pocket for her cell phone; she felt the program and translation (it's in my coat pocket – Ah. Excellent. But your coat is not here, is it? ) and then grabbed at reassuring plastic.

She flipped the phone open, smiling at Toby. "I'll tell you what. I'm going to call AAA right now – no more screwing around. It's a weeknight – they'll come right away."

Toby furrowed his brow. "You could call Mom, too."

"Good idea." But I'll never hear the end of this from her – what if she takes it as my being irresponsible – what if we go back to what we were before –

Sarah fixed her smile in place – don't frighten him – flicked her eyes to the card on the dashboard, and started dialing AAA.

A -beep- caught her attention. She glanced down at the phone.

"No signal."

She realized, too late, that she had spoken the words aloud.

"It's probably because we're in the woods," Toby said wisely.

Sarah tried to reply, but her throat felt thick.

"You just have to go and walk until you find a signal!" His voice was excited. "I can do it! I'll go find a signal, and call Mom, and –" he grabbed for the phone and reached for the door handle at the same time.

"No!" Sarah cried. She wrested the phone away. "No – Toby, you do not get out of this car, you understand?" She only half heard herself, as she felt her own fingers fumble at the lock of her seatbelt; she felt icy air on her neck as she opened the door. "Stay here. Wrap yourself in the back-seat blanket, and do not get out of the car or talk to anyone for any reason!"

She found herself standing outside the car, looking in at his wide eyes. "Do you understand?"

"… yeah." His eyes were wide. The color had gone from his round cheeks; his face was pale.

Sarah swallowed. "Seriously. Wrap up in that blanket – I don't want you getting cold. Lock the door –" she jangled the keys "- and only I can get back in." She tried a smile; it felt stiff. "I think I have a chocolate bar in the back, too."

Toby brightened. "O.K."

As she saw him unclip his seatbelt and turn around, looking for the blanket and the chocolate bar, Sarah felt a surge of ... something.

Care. "I'll keep you safe," she whispered fiercely to herself.

Love. "Nothing will happen to you."

Toby looked at her over his shoulder. "What?"

Sarah stared, fixing his image in her mind.

"Nothing." She tried another half-smile; this one worked better. "Remember what I said."

Toby had already turned back to his search. "I will."

He will.

And Sarah shut the car door.

-------------------------------------------------

She squared her shoulders, and looked up and down the road. No sign of anything suspicious (unreal ); just plain asphalt, patchy grey in the light of the half moon and black in the shadow of the forest. Sarah marched to the back of the car and opened the trunk. She rummaged through odds and ends and pulled out a knit hat. Her hat - her grandmother had taught her how to knit, one summer in the far North, and she had never forgotten. Sarah pulled the hat down over her ears and grabbed a flashlight.

Then she paused, and took the tire iron.

Brandishing the heavy length of iron in one hand was reassuring. Sarah slammed the trunk closed, and began a determined walk down the road, keeping her body braced against the cold.

Minutes ticked by. She breathed in and out, listened to the steady crunch of her footsteps on the rough asphalt and ice, and kept her eyes on her cell phone.

"No signal," she fumed. What would it take for AT&T, or Verizon, or whichever jackass was in charge to pop up a tower a mile away and make it so that the damn thing actually worked when she needed it –

The phone -beeped-.

Sarah looked at it closely, resisting the urge to rub her eyes. Signal acquired.

Awfully convenient …

She jumped as a twig snapped behind her – then she whirled, holding the tire iron high.

It was the deer - the deer that Toby had seen, earlier that night. Silver and ghostly in the moonlight, it looked at her with dark, limpid eyes for a long moment before walking a few feet into the forest. Then it stopped and looked at her again.

It wants me to follow …

For one long moment, Sarah felt a strange ... stillness. Her breath had left her ... she was frozen in time ...

"Oh, hell no!" she snarled. Turning her back, she savagely punched 'redial' and clapped the phone to her ear.

"Thank you for calling AAA Roadside Assistance," a pre-recorded voice droned. "If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and dial 9-1-1. Otherwise, please hold the line, and one of our operators will be with you shortly." Tinny call-waiting music began playing, with only the occasional crackle. Some string piece, with a weird kind of twangy piano in the background.

Sarah ground her teeth and walked a few steps further on the road, watching the tire iron as it clunked against one shoe. She looked up as a bridge came into view – one she knew from running back and forth between college and home. A stark bridge of concrete and steel, with no beauty to it, spanning a ravine with a creek at the bottom. Walking closer, she leaned against one of two lampposts at the bridge's base.

The music droned on. Sarah cursed under her breath and began to pace. Back and forth between the lampposts. Then further. Then her foot caught a patch of ice on a rock and –

– she screamed as she slipped and fell backwards -

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah gazed up at the night sky. The stars twinkled down at her. She moved her limbs experimentally – nothing wrong – and sat up. She inched over, carefully, and looked down into the dark ravine, its sides all sharp and icy rock.

Then, clenching her teeth, she got up in fits and starts. Took a deep breath, and yelled: "Nice TRY, you bastard!"

Her voice echoed through the forest.

The shout had been oddly satisfying. She picked up her cell phone from the ground. The signal hadn't been lost – and the music was still tinkling in its stupid, call-waiting way. The same strings, only now with a flute.

"Oh, come on. Come on, come on you stupid - Why the hell do I pay so much every month if you're just going to keep me waiting for you to pick up the damn line?" Sarah leaned against the lamppost again, shivering in the cold, and drew her scarf tighter. "Pick up, pick up, pick up …"

The music fizzled and crackled, and the flute started a solo. Then the phone gave a loud -chirp- in Sarah's hand.

"What?" She glared at it. "What now?"

The screen was black.

Sarah clapped the phone shut, counted to five, and reopened it. She breathed a sigh of relief at the screen's renewed glow, then pressed 'redial.' Waited for the recorded message –

Wait.

If she wasn't listening to the message, then why did she still hear the flute?

She felt her heart clench.

For the flute was playing, floating its melody over the air in crystal sweeps of sound. A beautiful, yet somehow ice-cold thread of music, winding its way toward her, trilling at her ears and whispering things to her –

Sarah choked as she saw fog trailing out of the trees, over the road. Fog suddenly congealing between herself and –

– the car -

Toby!

She grabbed the tire iron from the ground and started running. Get back to him. Don't let anything happen to him.

And she had made it halfway back when the fog took on form, and voices began to sing.

-------------------------------------------------

Chapter Text

Sarah felt her breath leave her, in a whoosh of disbelief, as she saw the fog twist and turn itself into –

- children?

Children. A dozen of them. No, twenty – no, more than that – walking towards her and singing a cheerful song.

She blinked hard, hoping to dispel the vision, then gasped and raised the tire iron as they came near her –

– and stayed in that pose, dumbstruck, as they walked around her, singing and laughing.

Singing. They were singing along to the music – the piping melody coaxing its way into her ears, and whispering of joy and beauty to her in its strange, metallic voice …

More and more children came. They shimmered in the moonlight – they sang and chattered in a language that she could not understand. Some held hands, others played tag, and a few ran eagerly ahead, to meet the music at its source …

Sarah swallowed hard, and turned – and then shuddered in fear as she saw him -

Jareth ...

– standing at the base of the bridge, and playing a pipe, looking up the road at the children scampering towards him.

The moonlight shone on his strange hair, on the stars at his brow – and glinted silver off the pipe in his hands. She saw his cloak flicker in the darkness, taking on the appearance of black patched with grey – or white – or silver – or gold –

Sarah blinked harder as she saw the cloak begin to whirl, as Jareth began to step back and forth, and turn, in a dance. Some of the children had reached him, and were stretching up their arms, squealing with joy –

– and she saw Jareth bow to them with a flourish, still playing. The music lilted in a happy way – so glad to see them there – won't you come go with me? Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir! – only a little ways further, and we will have all the fun games in the world to play – and the sun will shine and we will dance and nothing will ever hurt again … just a little further – just one more step …

And Sarah screamed as she saw the children, alone or holding hands, skip over the edge of the ravine – and fall into darkness.

"No! You bastard ! Let them go!"

Jareth stopped in his dance – his weird cloak snaked around him – and then he tilted his head and began to stroll up the road towards her, still playing the pipe.

Sarah stepped away, but found herself pressed close by a cluster of children, tugging at her coat and reaching up to her – clinging to her and crying.

She tried to shake them off. "Go away!" The children wailed, through the enchanting melody, and came at her again. "No – don't make me use this –" she brandished the tire iron and looked around wildly, for a clear path through the encroaching fog.

The music grew louder, distorted through the mist, and then – Sarah gasped as Jareth stepped nimbly around a pothole and twirled through the fog coiling at his cloak and feet.

His eyes flashed at her as he continued to play – the music rippled and sang and changed – look, children! look – where have your fellows gone? quickly, run after them – they will not wait for you, and the door will soon shut and the golden land will be gone from sight –

The children let Sarah go, and tumbled over themselves in their eagerness to run – and then began to sing again as they caught up to the others, and walked joyfully with them, straight into the ravine –

"No –" Her eyes prickled with tears – then she inhaled in rage, and took a firm grip on the tire iron, and swung it at Jareth's head.

He dodged the blow, and the music changed – and danced and laughed at her – and she heard won't you come go with me? Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir! – only a little ways further, and we will have all the fun games in the world to play – games that only we two will know – games that will leave you moaning and begging for my touch – the sun will shine on us and we will dance and I will be your love as you will be mine – and we will all the pleasures prove – so much pleasure will be yours if you come with me … just a little further – just one more step …

And Sarah felt her arms grow heavy, and heard the tire iron clank as it fell to the ground – and she took one step forward and Jareth dropped the silver pipe and seized her.

-------------------------------------------------

Her thoughts felt slow - the music still echoed through her – and she was only partially, dreamily conscious of Jareth's arms around her, and of his pulling away her scarf and kissing the line of her jaw – then she began to feel cold.

It's so cold. She blinked, and turned her head to one side, gazing at the white pinpricks of stars dusting Jareth's cloak – and felt awareness sharpen as she heard a curse, muffled through her hat, and a tearing sound as he grasped her coat and began yanking it apart at the collar, ripping the fabric away from the zipper.

"Wait," she whispered. Was that his cloak at her cheek? Whatever it was, it was making her skin go numb. A faint sound of music was still in her ears. Sarah tried again: "Wait –"

Her coat fell open – quick as thought, he pressed a gloved hand to the small of her back and pulled her towards him. Sarah cringed as she felt cold radiate from his hand through her spine and downwards, even as she felt his chin scrape her forehead, as she felt him lay kisses on her temple –

"Wait, Jareth." She spoke, and her lips moved against his neck.

He paused. Sarah felt him swallow.

Then he tipped his head downwards, and looked her in the eye. "Yes, my dear? What ails you?"

His voice. Sarah's eyes widened as its tone - honey on a razor blade - cut through the lingering remnants of the music –

– and she panicked and threw herself backwards.

Jareth laughed, and held on to her – one arm around her shoulder, the other hand at her waist – and looked at her, his eyes gleaming and his lips parted.

"So you have some self-preservation left in you after all," he murmured. "I should have known it would not be this easy."

Sarah struggled against his unrelenting grip and the cold she felt seeping into her at his touch. "Let me go – I'm not just something you can grab, not something you can take –"

"Hm." His eyes narrowed. "I remember a pretty phrase - so brauch ich Gewalt – don't you? Have you forgotten already?" He held her to him more tightly, and moved one hand from her shoulder to her winter hat. He looked at the bright knit intently for one long moment, before his face twisted and he flipped the hat to the ground - stop - I knit that - and then ran his hand through her hair, gazing at it, holding a strand up to the moonlight.

Sarah felt frozen. She tried to swallow, and couldn't - I can't - quietly. At the noise in the back of her throat, Jareth flicked his eyes back to hers - and he smiled. She heard him take a rasping breath. Then he bent to kiss her collarbone, trailed his mouth up her neck, tipping her head back ...

He bit her gently on the chin. She twitched; he laughed and nipped at the corner of her mouth, then brushed sideways and kissed her fully. Sarah felt him ease her lips open, and felt freezing cold creep through her as he deepened the kiss – smooth and coaxing, sending cold prickling into her jaw and – something strange – a strange feeling uncurling from her stomach –

Sarah stiffened. That couldn't be. It shouldn't be. She should not be feeling (pleasure) a ripple moving through her body, urging her to move closer, and to press herself against him – she shuddered at the thought, nausea twisting through her gut.

Then Jareth drew his head back, breathing carefully over her mouth as his lips left hers. Sarah opened her eyes and bit down on the inside of her cheek – wake up, wake up! – and felt nothing. Her entire mouth was numb.

"You see?" Jareth's voice was silky. "There need not be pain, Sarah. The song is true: Gar schöne Spiele spiel' ich mit dir … Nothing but beautiful games will I play with you. Beautiful games, Sarah – lovely games that will give you nothing but pleasure, I assure you." He softly kissed her cheek. "Beauties untold, and pleasures unnumbered – why make me use force when you can just come of your own free will?"

Sarah's breath caught in her throat as his hand slipped from her back and eased beneath her shirt. So cold …

"No –" She gritted her teeth and looked him in the eye, resisting the lure and sparkle of magic there. "I'm not a child you can kidnap. I'm not something you can take. I am not your love, and I never will be as long as I can breathe."

Jareth's jaw tightened. He gazed at her for a long moment, in silence.

"Ah, well." He let his hands fall to his side; disappearing in his black cloak. "I thought it worth trying sweet persuasion one last time."

He gave her a lopsided smile, with no warmth in it. Sarah swallowed, and stepped away, feeling with her shoes for –

Jareth bent, and straightened, and extended the tire iron towards her. "Is this what you're looking for?"

"But –" Sarah's stomach lurched. "But that's iron – you can't touch that!"

Jareth raised an eyebrow. "Can't I?" He lowered the tire iron, and tapped the sides of his boots with it. Dirt caked in his soles fell to the ground. "Still thinking of me as a pretty little sprite, I see. Why am I not surprised?"

"When did I think that?" Sarah tried to concentrate; her head was pounding.

Jareth swung the metal bar up in a salute, touched it to one sharp cheekbone, and tilted his head in mock contemplation. "Let me consider – ah, yes! When you took my throne room and turned it into a pigsty. When you took my army and turned it into a horde of incompetent little rats. When you took my lovely torture pits and turned them into something as ridiculous as a – bog of eternal stench – was that the phrase?" His lips curled back in contempt. "I truly dislike playing the prancing fool, Sarah. And I greatly dislike seeing my immortal power turned into cheap parlor tricks."

He held the tire iron out to her again. "How you dared do so, I have no idea."

Sarah bit her lip. "Then the Labyrinth ... that was all –"

"A dream?" Jareth cut in. "No, not a bit. I bowed to your commands, Sarah. I do enjoy the twists and turns of my Labyrinth, and watching mortals lose their way – but I have never peopled it with talking worms or overgrown fuzzy beasts." His voice lowered. "You gave me a gift, and I had to accommodate your desires. You can imagine my joy, my precious thing, my dear love … now that the tables are turned and you must dance to my tune."

"I gave you a gift?" Sarah's voice was faint.

Jareth looked at her stonily. "You did."

"Toby –" Sarah gulped. "It was Toby, wasn't it?" Jareth's mouth twisted in anger, but before he could reply, she grabbed the tire iron and brandished it at him. "You are not taking him again! Not like those children – have you no pity? What did they ever do to you?"

Jareth sneered. "They did nothing to me – what mattered was the actions of their parents." He flicked his fingers, and the silver pipe flew from the ground into his hands. "Their foolish, greedy parents. They broke a very important promise, and so …" he breathed a laugh, blew a long, clear note on the pipe, and chanted:

All the little boys and girls,
With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls
And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,
Tripping and skipping ran merrily after
The wonderful music with shouting and laughter …

He sighed with pleasure. "I adore that poem."

A vision of the curly-haired children disappearing into darkness swam before Sarah's eyes. She tightened her grip on the tire iron. "Give them back!"

Jareth laughed merrily. "What is any of them to you?"

"They're innocent!"

"Yes, of course –" Jareth smirked, "but you didn't find them quite so innocent when they were grabbing you just now, did you?"

Sarah hissed. "I was more gentle with them than you could ever be – bring them back !"

"Dear Sarah." A whisper. "Beloved. You have looked through the mists of time this night. All those little boys and girls are long since gone away, far away. And the one I left behind, to tell the tale – well, his rosy cheeks and flaxen curls, and his sparkling eyes – and his lamentable club foot … they have long since rotted. Only his teeth like pearls remain – and those quite stink of the grave by now, I daresay."

Sarah fought back a wave of sickness. "They were just children. He was just a child!"

Jareth looked at her, his eyes half closed. "And what makes you think that you can change their fate when they are dead and gone, lady?"

"I rescued Toby," she said, coldly. "I changed his fate."

Jareth's eyes were slits. "Ah. So you did." He raised the pipe to his lips, and blew another long, clear note. "And what will you do now, I wonder?"

Sarah heard something rattle. She whirled, fumbled for the flashlight in her pocket, and shone its beam into the darkness. She saw her car.

The handle of the passenger door was moving.

"No," she breathed. "No – you can't have him! You won't!"

Jareth started piping a beautiful melody – Sarah heard snatches of it – and she whipped around and threw the flashlight at him.

It caught him on the shoulder; he jerked in surprise, stopping the music, and then doubled over, cackling. "My dear love! Such spirit!"

The door handle rattled harder.

"Stop!" Sarah yelled. "Stop it!"

"Stop what?" Jareth grinned, and flipped the pipe around in his hands – it twisted and changed – into a snake, into a length of cloth, into a trail of shimmering dust – he caught some of the dust in one palm, and blew it towards her in a kiss –

Sarah ducked backwards to avoid the silver cloud. The door handle was still rattling.

"I truly believe he wants to come with me, Sarah mine. Must you spoil his fun?"

Sarah took a defensive stance. She hardly recognized her own snarl: "You – can't – have him!"

"So protective." Jareth had stilled. His eyes were alight with a terrible fire. "Yet so blind. My dear love – my foolish love."

He looked long at her, his mouth twisted in a rictus of a smile.

"Have you read the ending of my song yet, Sarah?"

And then he vanished.

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah stood, breathing hard – looking into the darkness – a velvet dark broken only by the lamps at the bridge, now that Jareth and his unnatural light were gone.

She fought for control over her shivering – it's so cold – and fumbled through her coat – he tore it open – don't think about that – and took the translation out of her pocket.

It was very dark. She walked forward, bent and picked up the flashlight, and then tried to read the lines.

Her hands were shaking, and the paper with them. She squinted, trying to focus – ignoring the sharp pain stabbing through her head –

It was silent in the woods. There was no sound from the car – no sound at all – except –

Sarah's head jerked up. What was that?

A drumming sound. A thumping, frantic sound, coming from far away – but coming closer.

Sarah froze as a horseman appeared, radiating unnatural silver light, speeding around a bend in the road. She kept a tight hold on the translation, stuffed the flashlight back into her pocket, and grabbed the tire iron again – before running to the side of the road, and hiding as the horse and rider raced by –

The horseman was wearing a long black cloak that billowed out behind him. There was a child in his arms –

– a child with curly golden hair –

No.

"Toby!"

Sarah leaped to her feet and ran after them as fast as she possibly could.

-------------------------------------------------

Chapter Text

Sarah ran. She felt muscles in her legs bunch and twist, she felt the cold air slicing down her lungs, and she felt her own anger burn within her, giving her strength.

He can't have him! He won't!

All the jogs between home and college seemed to be paying off. Her feet hit the ground hard; she kept the silver glow of the horseman in her sight as she urged herself to go faster – faster – he's getting away –

She ran fast. Then faster. As fast as she could, and then –

Sarah felt a strange imbalance. She looked down. There was the translation, clutched in one hand. And in the other - the tire iron was dragging her hand low, holding her back with its weight. Holding her down …

Holding me down –

Silver light flared around her. She took a deep breath – heard it echo through her lungs – and threw the tire iron to the ground and leaped

– and she was suddenly flying through the air.

Sarah heard herself laughing wildly – impossible! – But it was possible – and she was flying! – like the most amazing dreams she had ever had, of leaping from building to building, over trees and across bridges in a single bound – She reached up, tried to grab the moon, and shrieked another laugh as it fled from her outstretched hand. Then she flew back down through the trees, scanning with eyesight suddenly keen in the dark – searching and looking for –

There!

She saw the horseman (Jareth!) galloping down the road. Squinting against the wind, she crouched in midair, angled against a tree, kicked her legs against it in a powerful bound, and leaped at the horse and rider.

"Toby!" Sarah screamed. "Toby! I'll save you! Come with me!"

She snatched at Jareth's cloak – it whipped its heavy folds around her and slapped her face. Snarling, she caught Toby's arm and pulled (pull hard! Don't let him go!) as hard as she could.

She heard him crying out in fear, his voice high-pitched with agony.

"No – Toby, I'm here! I'm here!" Her shriek echoed through the forest. "Come with me! Come away – we'll fly away!"

She leaped once more and grabbed Toby's shoulders. His wail cut at her heart – "I'll save you!" she screamed. "Come now !" – and she felt his own heartbeat leap frantically under her fingers where they pinched through his flesh, and then –

The horseman whipped his head around and stared at her in horror.

Sarah's heart went still.

It was her father.

Her father's familiar, ordinary features – but distorted in terror, his eyes bulging in fear, his face as white as a sheet.

"Toby?" Her voice caught in her throat – and then the galloping horse screamed shrilly and bucked as it ran –

– and she tumbled to the ground, crying out as the heavy, crushing hooves slashed at her, slashed at Toby where she held him tightly in her arms.

The horse raced down the road, taking her father with it.

Sarah gasped for breath, babbling. "No – no, that can't be. That's impossible … that's impossible – It couldn't be him – it can't be –" She rose to her knees, and shook her brother, hard.

Toby did not move.

She looked down – only to see his eyes wide and glassy – his head at an unnatural angle – and his blood oozing over her hands, staining his bright hair –

"No …" She moaned. "No – Toby, please – no, it can't be …"

Gulping back a wave of sickness, she felt for his pulse. Nothing.

"No –" She heard her voice crack. "No …"

And then she heard laughter.

Musical, echoing laughter, sounding above her – from up in the trees.

Her skin crawling, Sarah tilted her head up. Looked up. Then higher. And there –

– there he was. Jareth. High up in a tree that shone dappled grey in the moonlight. He had one leg stretched out on a branch, the other held to his chest. He was looking down at her – and laughing.

Then he put one gloved hand to his mouth, smiled, and called down to her.

"Not quite what you expected, was it?"

Sarah could only stare at him.

She could smell her own brother's blood – a coppery smell – and if she looked down, she knew that it would be black in the moonlight. She felt numb.

"But you must admit, love," Jareth grinned broadly, showing his jagged teeth, "The thrill of the chase is truly exhilarating!"

Swallowing hard, Sarah tried to speak: "You – you –"

"Yes?" Jareth cupped one ear. "Louder, my dear."

Sarah cried out, weeping: "I rescued him! Why can't you just let it go? I rescued him!"

"Hm." The black cloak undulated as Jareth slid smoothly down the tree trunk to a branch closer to the ground. He looked down, shrugged, and stretched out one leg again. "Rescued him? It looks like you just killed him."

"No …"

"Oh, that's right – it was an accident!" Jareth smiled unpleasantly at Sarah's moan. "So you didn't mean it, did you?"

Sarah shuddered, and hugged Toby's body to hers. "No …" she wept. "It can't be …"

"No, indeed." Jareth sighed. "Dry your eyes, precious thing. Look closer."

Her heart in her mouth, Sarah looked down. Her sobs caught in her throat.

It was not her brother. It was another child (another child!) with curly golden hair – its head at an unnatural angle, its blood covering her hands, its eyes wide and dead – but it was not Toby.

Sarah gulped, bit down hard on her lip, and fought to keep from hyperventilating. She found refuge in fury.

Grinding her teeth, she glared up at Jareth, through her tears. "You –" She gasped in rage at his smiling face. "You sick son of a bitch! You evil, murdering bastard –"

"I am nobody's son, Sarah, and thus nobody's bastard." Jareth purred. "And – sick? Murdering?" He laid a light stress on the words. "I wonder what your frame of reference is … After all, you pulled your brother from that horse just now – just as you wished him away, seven years ago."

His voice trailed off. Sarah strained at the silence; she heard only her own uneven, tearful breaths.

Jareth spoke again, soft and low. "You wished your brother away, seven years ago. I sense that behind all of your actions this night, my dear. That is the skull at the bottom of the well, poisoning the water. You wished your brother away – but then, as you constantly remind me, you rescued him!" He sneered. "You swept in and snatched him from my clutches – yet what drives you, even now, is that you wished him away. It happened, Sarah – it was the prelude to your glorious victory – and all the fussing in the world will not change it."

His tone turned quietly mocking. "But you just continue your fussing, don't you, my love? Cooing and coddling, hoping to salve your guilt, hoping to forget … instead of focusing on more important things."

"Don't try to distract me!" Sarah hissed. "You're sick. You're evil!"

"Evil?" Jareth's voice grew louder. "I am better described as a force of nature, Sarah. What are these little human attachments to me ? I wonder at your own caring so much. And yet you do – " his voice spiked upward. "You do care about them – so much that here you are, taking my magic and plucking at time's fabric so that you see all you have seen this night ..."

"What?" Sarah felt her arms and neck prickle; she dashed sweat off her brow and looked up at him. "I'm looking through time? I have magic?"

Jareth returned her gaze, his mouth tight. "You are looking through time, my dear – but I would not go so far as to say that you have magic. Goodness, no. Just a powerful way of … seeing things. Seeing through illusions, around them, into them …" Then he smiled again, viciously. "It hardly matters. You will never expand upon it – I intend to keep you on a tight leash."

He spat the last words; Sarah shuddered. Still clinging to the child, she shuffled back slightly on the road; knees scraping against the rough asphalt – wanting to put greater distance between herself and Jareth's suddenly wolfish look.

He noticed her recoil, and gave a cruel laugh. "Only I can reorder time, Sarah. I did it once for you before, and I will not do it again." Then he gave her a lingering stare, his smile turning lascivious; Sarah saw his sharp teeth gleam in the starlight, and she felt ill. "Well, perhaps if you ask me very nicely. Very … persuasively. Every night ... for the first fifty years or so."

Sarah bared her teeth back at him; he laughed again.

"You are evil," she spat. "If you were at all capable of love, you wouldn't do these things to children!"

"You insolent mortal!" Jareth snarled, his face twisting from mockery to rage. "What do you know of love? You claim to love your brother, and yet you wished him away. Oh, and you killed him, just now –"

"That wasn't real! I was a child !" Sarah was near tears as she shouted. "And this isn't real – it's just another one of your sick games!"

Jareth's voice turned menacing. "Another game?"

Sarah felt a drop of sweat trickle down her back, beneath her sweater.

"This is a game to you, Sarah?"

She rallied her courage. "What else could it be, with you in it, you –"

Jareth continued as if she had not interrupted. "Ah, well; since you realize that it's all in good fun, then you should by all means take a peek at my cards, now that the game is almost finished. Since I will trump the Queen of Hearts."

Sarah looked up, trying to read his expression. She saw his profile – the high brow, the familiar sweep of hair, the aquiline nose – and his lips pressed into a thin line, as he gazed off over the trees.

"Seven years ago, Sarah –" he closed his eyes halfway and tipped his head towards her; her breath caught as she saw his beauty glow in the starlight – "seven years ago, you gave me a gift. You read words in a book, and took them to yourself – and recited them with all the passion and fire you could muster. You spoke – I heard. You believed – I was constrained to obey through the sheer power of your belief. You believed, and you said: 'But what no one knew was that the King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the girl, and he had given her certain powers.' Nobody had dared speak with such power in a thousand years – and no one had ever dared bind me in that way ...

"'What no one knew was that the King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the girl.'" Jareth gazed down at her, his hooded eyes glowing with fury. "No one knew, Sarah. Not even myself. And then, when I saw you, I realized that I was bound and chained – in love with the girl, and offering her certain powers on bended knee. The power to turn my Labyrinth into a child's toy – the power to cut through all of my defenses, overcome my forces, and break me in two like a reed ..."

"Fortunately," he sneered, "You were stupid. Oh, you had some trifling way of seeing beyond – a quirk augmented by my own powers offered to you – but you had not the slightest idea of what more you possessed. I counted myself lucky that you did not wreak greater havoc, but –" and his voice chilled, "I realized that I had been confounded when you did not withdraw one crucial part of your gift. You left the Labyrinth triumphant – my realm was safe. My power returned to me when your quest was accomplished. You did not know that you could retain it – in fact, you rejected it – and let it slip away. But you never considered that I would love you, Sarah, did you? You were a child. You took your brother and skipped merrily home to celebrate. And you left that part of your intent running through the Labyrinth like blood in water, and I knew myself cursed when I realized that I remained in love with the girl – the girl who knew nothing of what she had done!"

Sarah licked her lips. "I didn't know – and I'll take it back! I'm sorry –"

Jareth made a sharp gesture of contempt. "Words have power, Sarah. Gifts, once given, cannot be returned – not, at least, after the customary year and a day following any great use of power. Before that year and day ran out, I tried to return your gift. I tried to exorcise it, I tried to cut it away – I tried to send you dreams and demand that you take it back – but without your consent and severance, I remained bound to you. And the year and a day passed, and I grew accustomed to it, after a while –" he gazed down at her, cold and aloof. "I was constrained to do so." He took a hissing breath. "'You're no match for me, Sarah' – quite the contrary. You are a match for me, Sarah – or, at least, you made me into a match for you. You turned my world upside down and then you went on with your petty, mortal life. Is it any wonder that I hated you, even as I loved you?"

She took another breath to speak; Jareth cut her off, his eyes flaming.

"Consider this: what if I saw you again unexpectedly? What if the moment I saw you, and realized that you were within reach of my song – what if, at that moment, I resolved to have you for myself, to take you, to bind you to me as I was bound to you? And Sarah ... what if I could ? What if I could? What if I could give you a lovely gift, and bind you with its intent?"

Her breath quickening, Sarah felt her grip on the child loosen. She strained to hear his voice.

"Now, consider this: what if I had absolutely no interest in your brother? What if I saw him for what he is – a talented child, a handsome child, but still a child, when my halls are already full to bursting with children's souls … What need have I for another bauble, however pretty it may be?"

His voice was low, silken and beautiful; Sarah thought it would make her throw up.

"What if all I needed was for you to exhaust yourself? What would I need to do, to keep you thrashing around like a rabbit in a snare? What would I need to do, to make you think only of your worry for your brother, your care for your brother, your love for your brother – when you should have thought of more important things?"

Silence.

"Why – I would need to do nothing, my Sarah." Jareth smiled. "Or, at least, close to nothing. Your all-consuming love and care for that child are second only to the guilt you still feel about wishing him away. That guilt goads you, like a spur to a horse. If you were to remain here, you would soon see young Toby grow beyond your protection. You would no longer be able to shelter him from everything. And yet you would still try – you do still try – when you should focus on more – important – things …"

His voice trailed off into nothing.

Sarah felt numb. Then she caught at his last words.

"More important things – like what?"

For a long moment, Jareth was still.

Then he shrugged lightly – and his eyes, meeting hers, glittered.

"Like saving yourself."

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah felt her heart thump. Once, twice. A bead of sweat rolled from her forehead into her left eye; she blinked frantically to clear it.

Her lips were dry. She licked them; looked up at Jareth, opened her mouth to speak –

– and then gasped, as the child in her arms shifted – turned – changed into a bunch of dry leaves that started to fly away in a gust of wind -

She clutched a handful. They crackled, and turned into a sheet of heavy paper, crumpled in her hand.

It was the translation.

Sarah fumbled at the flashlight in her pocket, her fingers numb. She turned on the light, after two tries – she tried to hold the paper steady – and tried to read –

Sweat dripped into her eyes, stinging. She blinked hard –

– and then she heard a rustle.

Sarah looked up into the tree.

Jareth had drawn his outstretched leg close to him and had bowed his head. She could only see his hair, its strands glimmering in the starlight of his crown, flickering against his dark cloak.

She heard a faint pop – and Sarah did not have to look down to know that her flashlight had gone out.

The only light on the road came from Jareth's crown, from his face, and from the distant moon.

Jareth slowly extended one hand along the branch, and then the other. She saw him turn his face towards her, as if considering ...

– and then he plummeted from the tree.

Sarah jumped to her feet and gasped in pain as the blood rushed back to her legs. She took one wincing step backwards, then another. Stumbling in her haste, she almost fell as she saw Jareth land gracefully, in a crouch, his cloak pooling around him – and then she met his upturned gaze.

As she looked into his eyes, only three long steps away, Sarah froze.

They were lit in a horrible way, flaming and feral and gleaming with magic – and she felt so caught by them that she hardly noticed him stretch out his fingers evenly, and barely touch the ground with them –

– until she recognized the sprinter's crouch.

No –

Jareth grinned at her, and his cloak rippled, like the fur of a cat about to pounce –

– and Sarah wrenched herself around and bolted down the road.

Running not for Toby, but for her own life.

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah ran. She felt muscles in her legs bunch and twist, she felt the cold air slicing down her lungs – and this time, the strength she called on was desperate – burning, and born of fear.

Trees had sprung up in the road. Branches whipped at her face. She ran on, half blinded by her own blood and sweat – through the forest – when did turn into a forest ?

She heard Jareth's laughter all around her – a terrible music in itself, metallic, and echoing, and –

Roots caught at her feet. She fell hard, once, and picked herself up, and ran on, ignoring her skinned knees and hands, and her ankle that she knew would swell up later on –

Gloved hands landed on her shoulders and yanked – and she fell again, crying out, and felt her head hit a tree stump, and felt one of his hands on her hurt ankle and he twisted it and Sarah screamed in pain.

She scrabbled through the brush, felt thorns sting her through her gloves, and then grabbed a handful of briars and dragged them across Jareth's face as he pinned her to the ground –

He snarled horribly, but took his hands away from her to tear away the briars, and she clawed and shoved her way from beneath him with a burst of adrenaline, rolled away, and leaped to her feet, and continued running.

She felt a white-hot grate in her ankle as she ran, that she did not - could not - stop to consider - and she beat back the waves of pain crashing through her head and dashed the blood from her eyes, and saw –

There!

The bridge – and past that –

"Car," she croaked to herself, as she sprinted down the road. The forest had melted away. The bridge was in sight, and past it, her car, and Toby was there, and she would reach him and drive away and save herself – save herself – save yourself

But then she slipped on black ice at the base of the bridge –

– and her speed carried her past the lamppost, over one rock, over two -

– over three, in a graceful arc, and into the ravine -

no …

And she heard only her own scream as she fell into the dark.

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah opened her eyes. She gazed straight up, from where her head lay on the ground – where was the night sky?

All she could see was darkness.

She turned her head to the left. There – there were flakes of mica, glittering in the darkness, set in large, rough, ordinary rocks. And over there – surely that was the stream. She heard its plashing and burbling, and she could barely feel where one of her arms lay in it, buoyed by the water.

Sarah turned her head to the right – and cried out as pain spiked through her skull.

Blinking back her tears, she looked up again. Just try to move. Try to move your hands and feet. Get up. Save yourself –

But the snow – the snow was so beautiful. It was falling gently on her – or maybe it was cool fog, moving around her face, carefully smoothing over her wounds …

Sarah gathered her courage, and tried to sit up. She raised her shoulders off the ground, and bent her right elbow to use as a prop –

– and leaned over, retching from even that slight movement.

She shuddered, and coughed, squeezing her eyes shut –

And then she opened them, and saw the grey fog twisting and turning before her.

It parted, as gently and easily as water, to reveal Jareth - as he walked quietly toward her, as he stood at her feet, as he looked down at her. His eyes shone like stars in the darkness.

"No." Sarah mouthed the word; she could hardly speak.

Jareth gazed down at her, from above the long black sweep of his cloak, from beneath the silver-white fall of his hair. His face, pale and closed, bore no mark from the briars.

"Sarah ..." His voice was quiet.

He paused. She could hear the stream whispering at her side.

"My dearest Sarah ... how you have hurt yourself."

She swallowed painfully, and could not catch herself as she fell back, to lie again upon the ground. The movement hurt. Everything hurt.

"… hurts." Sarah tasted blood, and heard what must have been her own voice.

Jareth's low tones fell softly on her, gently, like the snow. "Yes, I know it hurts. How it must hurt. You humans are so fragile."

She swallowed again, tried to speak again – but it was almost too cold to speak. It was too cold to move.

"… I'm so cold …"

Sarah heard, rather than saw, Jareth kneel – but then his face swam into focus above her own, and she flinched as he stretched out one arm over her, to cover her with his cloak.

"No –" She coughed, and choked on the taste of blood.

Jareth bent close to her and murmured, "Hush, my dear. Be still. Only a moment, and nothing will ever hurt again."

Sarah could not move, as he stretched out beside her, and draped his cloak over them both. It felt strangely heavy: cold, rather than warm. His left arm lay across her breasts; he eased his other arm behind her head.

She tried to find words, through the numbness that was seeping into her flesh, into her bones.

"Please … it's so cold …"

Jareth shifted toward her, and tucked his cloak, neatly, around her right shoulder. He whispered in her ear. "Listen, Sarah. Do you hear it?"

Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir …

His lips caressed her cheek. She heard music from far away. Coming closer.

You lovely child, come, go with me …

-------------------------------------------------

Chapter Text

Beautiful music is playing and the sun is bright. She is standing in front of a tall mirror. The perfume of flowers fills the room.

What?

Sarah blinks in the bright sunlight. She gazes at her reflection.

Her sumptuous dress of cloth of gold sparkles in the light, and her dark hair cascades around her shoulders. Sarah peers closer, and brings her fingers to her throat. There is an elegant ornament – a golden ribbon, looped and tied into an intricate knot, fastened securely around her neck –

She gasps and claws at the ribbon as a sudden jolt of fear and cold wracks her body –

"Then I will bid you good day, child."

Sarah stiffens at the unfamiliar voice, and tries to turn. Each breath sends pain knifing through her ribs. The voice – it echoes through the cold and off the frigid golden walls of the room and the coiling tendrils of flowers and vines on the carpet and in the wallpaper –

"Thank you, Mother – good day."

Sarah touches a hand to her lips, blinking. That had not been her voice. Someone else is in the room with her –

She looks back at the mirror, and sucks in her breath, wincing at the pain. There, looking back at her, is Jareth.

Shaking, Sarah lowers her hand, and reaches out to her right – and feels heavy brocade beneath her fingers –

In the mirror, Jareth smiles. She has his sleeve in her grasp.

He tilts his head, and she hears the door close with a click.

Then a gentle hand touches her shoulder, and fear and cold melt away as she takes an easy breath and turns to face him.

Sarah feels a smile spread across her face. How had she been cold, before? It is quite warm in this room. How had she been choking? How had she been afraid?

There is no fear – for she gazes at Jareth now, and he is beautiful.

He looks as she best remembers him, from (how long ago was it? ) when she had last seen him before. He is wearing silk and leather, and a frock coat that looks cut from the same cloth of gold as her gown. His eyes glitter at her as his smile widens.

A sudden wave of dizziness sweeps over her; she staggers, and Jareth grasps her elbows with his hands and steadies her. He is wearing gloves, she notices; they are finely made, and white as snow.

"Are you quite well, Sarah?"

Sarah squeezes her eyes shut. There is no fear, there is no cold or pain (why would there be fear or cold or pain? ) – but there is something in his voice that she cannot define – something that tiptoes down her spine and creeps through her stomach, leaving her unsettled and feeling slightly sick.

His thumbs brush over her eyelids as his hands cup her face. "My dear – you seem confused …"

She opens her eyes with an effort, and looks straight into his. (Beautiful …)

"Where am I?"

Gar schöne Spiele spiel' ich mit dir …

"Ah." Jareth strokes her face with his fingers, lightly, gently. "You are here with me, of course."

Nothing but beautiful games I'll play with you …

He lets his hands fall, moves to stand behind her, and turns her to face the mirror again. Their reflection shines there, cloth of gold and silk, dark hair against silver-white, rosy fingers entwined with white-gloved ones.

Sarah looks down, fuzzily. Jareth has woven his hands through hers; he rests them gently on her stomach. Her eyelids droop as he brushes his lips against her hair, his breaths so light and soft and warm that she feels as though she is standing outside in the sun with a bird sitting on her shoulder, gently fluttering its wings –

"Where are we?"

She feels his quiet laugh.

"We are here together."

Sarah tries to concentrate.

"Jareth …"

She shivers as he hums in the back of his throat; her hair muffles the vibrations in his chest, but she can feel them through her back –

"Yes?"

"Jareth - where is here ?"

His fingers twist free from hers and his hands settle on her waist.

"Here, there, and everywhere, anywhere, nowhere, neverwhere – why do you ask?"

"I don't – I don't know –"

"I see you have met my mother."

His voice is light; Sarah feels dizzy again, and confused. Perhaps it is the heat. She feels her breath coming faster, and the smell of flowers pressing in around her –

"Your mother?" She fixes on his last words.

"Well," Jareth drops his head to her shoulder, and meets her eyes in the mirror. "I should say, one whom I occasionally call my mother – or, rather, her voice. After all, when I first sought to understand the relationship of mother and child, as would most benefit my line of work, I thought it appropriate to acquire one of the former myself, as I was acquiring so many of the latter. So, I took the voice of a woman of hardy character and dubbed her Mother." He smiles impishly. "I am nobody's son, but sometimes it is only polite to exhibit respect for elders – don't you agree?"

Sarah feels his chin dig into her bare shoulder as he speaks. The sweet aroma of flowers is overwhelming. She tries even harder to concentrate, but she senses his words skipping around the room, evading her, and hiding in the vines and cheeping at her to come and catch them –

"Jareth …"

"Yes, love?"

A pause. "You're not making any sense."

He lowers his head, and laughs softly, against her flesh – goosebumps rise on her arms as he breathes out and inhales, slowly, and closes his eyes.

Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt …

Sarah watches, open-mouthed, in the mirror, and sees him brush his lips over her shoulder, and feels him trace up her neck and to a soft spot right behind one of her ears, and feels him kiss her there –

I love you – your beautiful form arouses me …

– a whimper escapes her, and she feels herself blushing.

She sees his eyes open to slits, and he grins again – and she notices the uneven line of his teeth as he touches his mouth to her ear, and that same something uncoils from her stomach, and she opens her mouth to scream –

– but it changes into a yawn. Why should she scream? Why would there be fear? (or cold or pain? )

Sarah leans back, drowsily, against Jareth – the silk at his throat catches at her hair, and she rubs her head against his chin, like a cat, and feels his jaw tighten.

When he speaks again, his voice is low, and somehow rough. "You seem tired."

She tries to swallow another yawn, and fails. "I am tired." Sarah pauses. "I think I was having a bad dream." She cannot shake the vague, strange feeling plucking at her mind; the overpowering scent in the room makes it hard to think.

"Hm. Interesting." Jareth tightens his grip on her waist, and steps backwards – once, twice – and turns, and Sarah feels herself bump against something at the level of her thigh.

"Yes, you are tired." She hears him smiling. "Why don't you rest here, with me?"

Sarah blinks, and frowns. There is a bed in the middle of the room – a large bed, with a headboard of dark wood carved with flowers and vines. How had she not noticed it before?

She turns to ask Jareth, and finds her face brushing over his neck. He has moved closer, and she had not noticed that either.

Then Sarah closes her eyes, and laughs.

"What do you find so amusing, my precious thing?" Jareth's voice is muffled in her hair.

"This …" Sarah smiles, through her sleepiness. "I know what you're trying to do."

"Oh?" Jareth's fingers dig into her hips; she feels a strange spike through the fog of heat and scent and tastes something odd –

But he is still speaking, and his voice is beautiful. "And what is that?"

"'Why don't we take a rest?' Give me a break." Sarah turns, and nuzzles into his chest; he takes a deep breath. "That's the oldest come-on in the book. Next you'll be asking me if I want a back rub."

(Come-on? Back rub? ) The phrases sound odd in her own ears; they clang, as if they have no place in a room twisted through with flowers and plated in icy gold and constricting around her throat and ribs and hurting her –

Sarah shakes her head, trying to clear it. Why would there be choking? (or cold or hurting or – ) It is not cold – it is warm, and Jareth's skin is warm, where she feels it through his thin shirt –

"How gauche."

She closes her eyes. The words vibrate through her where she touches his chest; and then her skin prickles as he gathers her hair in one hand and inhales her scent at the back of her neck, as he feathers a kiss over her cheek, as he enfolds her in his arms.

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah is lying on the bed.

The gown of cloth of gold is loose and limp around her. Golden ribbons stretch out from her sides where her stays have been untied. Jareth is kissing her, gently, on her lips.

The rustle of fabric, their breathing together, the quiet sounds of his mouth moving over hers – are all that she can hear. The music has faded.

She luxuriates in the warm sunlight, she smells the gorgeous flowers, and she works her fingertips through the twisted brocade at Jareth's shoulders as he shifts his weight and begins to inflict a love bite on her neck.

The cloth of gold of his coat is densely woven, near impenetrable; she plucks one last time at the embroidery and gives up, and threads her fingers through his hair. The same hair spills through her hands like silk, but also catches at her skin in a strange way. She tries to wonder why, but her thoughts rapidly spiral out of control as his mouth moves down to her collarbone, and as the warmth and weight of him presses her into the soft coverlet.

Sarah bites back a moan, and arches against him, as his hands wander over her body, brushing over the sheer material of her shift, under the gown of cloth of gold. Each mother-of-pearl button that he flicks open settles back on her skin like a dot of fire.

She feels his mouth trace lower, and shudders as his teeth scrape over her flesh – a wave of something makes her stomach lurch –

– why should she suddenly feel nausea? (why would there be nausea? )

Her breath comes more quickly, and she feels a strange, sharp bumpiness under her back –

"Jareth …" she slurs. Why is it hard to speak? (why should it be painful to speak? )

He looks up at her, his hair fanning out over her stomach, and smiles. "Yes? Did you want something?" His voice is light, but then it deepens, like wood rasping over gravel in a riverbed. "Did you want me to – do something?"

It is difficult to breathe. It becomes more difficult when Jareth laps a trail up her body and kisses her again, setting her heart pounding in time with the pulse in her head (why should there be pain in my head? ) He props himself up on one arm and uses his free hand to ease her own arms up against the headboard, ghosting his gloved fingers over her skin.

His eyes are lambent, and they take in her entire face, hungrily. He slides one hand through her hair. Whispers in her ear: "My dearest love …"

Sarah twists her lower body against his weight. It is strange – something is sharp in the mattress – and she hisses through her teeth (why does it hurt? ) and then he stops her lips with his, laving her mouth in a demanding and forceful kiss. He fists both hands in her hair, tilts her head back to kiss her from another angle, and bites along her jaw.

Then his voice grates into her ear. "Relax, my dear. Stay with me."

What?

Sarah tries to speak, but chokes as he rocks his hips against hers; she tosses her head to one side and –

Wait …
She blinks. Turns her head back and forth.

Her thin silk sleeves have sprouted beautiful red ribbons, flowing down her arms and pooling on the coverlet –

– blood –

– rivulets of her own blood

Sarah tries to tug her arms to her sides.

They do not move.

Gasping, she clenches her fists and pulls hard

– and then freezes as she hears a rustle – and stares in horror as a flower blooms on the headboard, spreads its dark wooden petals, unfolds over one of her hands -

– and twists its stem down around her wrist, and slices through the silk and into her skin. The dark tendrils uncoil over the shift – she sees spots of blood blossom over the fabric, and hears her own high-pitched keening as her flesh comes into view through rents in the sleeve -

There, beneath her skin, ripples a flexible wooden net of vines and thorns, fastening her to the headboard and pulsing with her heartbeat, growing down her arms like pitch-black veins.

Sarah frantically pulls again. Blood spatters over her face.

She feels no pain.

Jerking her head around, she stares up at Jareth. His eyes glitter down at her.

"Stay with me –" His breath burns her face. "Stay with me here, Sarah."

"I can't –" Sarah chokes. "I can't move my arms. I can't feel my arms –"

Jareth bends to her mouth; she feels his lips move as he murmurs, "The flowers embrace you as one of their own – you, my beloved, the most shining lily of my desire –"

"No …" Sarah recoils, gagging at the overpowering smell of blood, as he joins his hands together in her hair, and pins her entire body with his weight.

"My beautiful rose …." He whispers. "My rose without a thorn …"

And then he kisses her deeply, and slides his tongue along hers – and she tastes a gush of copper –

Jareth jerks back from her mouth. "Stay with me, Sarah." His voice turns into a snarl; his teeth are clotted with her blood. "Stay with me here –"

Blood fills her mouth. She cannot breathe.

No. Her own scream echoes in her mind. No. No!

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah felt her shoulders dig into the rocks as she arched her back in agony. She twisted her head to the side, coughed hard, and heard a gout of blood slap the ground.

"No –" she rasped. Pain split her head; she tried to move, and couldn't – it was too cold, it hurt too much, and something was pressing her down.

"I can't breathe –" Every gasp made her chest burn; her eyes watered.

"Shh –" She cried out in panic as Jareth coiled the fingers of one gloved hand around her necklace, and twisted until she could hardly breathe. Then the chain snapped and the links burned her skin as he wrenched the gold away.

She saw – fireworks? – no – flowers of different colors bloomed in her vision, in the dark. Sarah could barely make out the glitter of Jareth's own eyes – but they were there, and staring down into hers as he gripped her head in his hands.

"Say my name, Sarah."

Was that his voice, or the sound of the stream?

"Sarah –" Jareth hissed. "Say my name. Say my name – come with me. Come with me, and there will be no more pain, I promise you."

She felt tears freezing on her face. Sarah tried to move her lips – they were so cold. Everything was cold.

"Goblin King –" she croaked.

She felt the cold of Jareth's smile pierce the dark. "Not that name – the other one."

Then he kissed her, hard, his mouth scraping over hers as he whispered: "Listen, Sarah – they are calling for you …"

… siehst du nicht dort Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort? …

His cloak fluttered near her face. She heard music from far away. Coming closer.

… can't you see there – the Elf King's daughters in this dark place? …

-------------------------------------------------

Chapter Text

Beautiful music is playing and the moon is bright. She is standing in the middle of a field of flowers. Small hands are clasped in hers.

What is this place?

Sarah shivers in the night air, although it is pleasantly cool. She looks downward.

She sees two little girls, with halos of thick dark hair and eyes glimmering in the moonlight, gazing up at her with worried expressions.

"What is it?" one of them asks, her high-pitched voice chiming like a bell.

Sarah hesitates, her skin prickling. Then she forces a smile.

"Nothing –" she shakes her head. "Nothing – it's just that for a minute there I thought I was –"

– drowning -

Her legs tremble as she sees dark water closing over her eyes, and feels a weight twining around her body and dragging her down –

She sucks in air, unevenly – trying to force away the blackness at her eyes, the burning in her lungs –

One of the girls cries out. "Look! Father is here!"

And then the two voices chirp: "Father! Father!" – and their hands fly free of hers, and feet pat over the springy grass and blooming flowers, leaving scarcely any marks where the moon shines down –

The children run to a figure coalescing out of the gloom, and latch onto it, eagerly. Sarah feels her eyes water as she blinks, desperately, gasping for breath and almost crying out at the pain stabbing through her ribs (why would there be darkness, or fear, or pain –)

But then the figure looks at her, and smiles –

– and Sarah takes a deep, easy breath of her own, and feels herself smile back, as she exhales – for she looks at Jareth in the moonlight, and he is beautiful.

He is dressed differently from the way she best remembers him – his shirt is loose and white, with no lace or ornament to be seen – it flows down over the top of a pair of simple black trousers. She sees that his feet are bare – and then can only watch, as he kneels in the grass and flowers and embraces the children.

The simplicity of the tableau lulls her, but her heart beats faster as she sees his mane of hair shine, as she sees his eyes catch the moonlight and break it into a thousand little pieces as he stares at her.

Blackness shot through with red edges her vision – Sarah shakes her head to clear it. Why should there be darkness? (or drowning, or fear, or pain?)

Jareth speaks. She closes her eyes, feels his voice caress her through her gown of cloth of gold, through her silk shift, through the quiet night air. "My little birds," he murmurs. "How goes your nightly dance?"

The children's voices flow like water in a smaller stream. "Well, Father –" They echo each other – "Very well, Father –"

Sarah hears him smile. "Then shall I sing for you?"

"Yes!" – "Oh please!"

Sarah opens her eyes and watches, dreamily, as they put their arms around his neck, as he places one hand at their heads, his gloves grey against their dark hair. Jareth looks up, slowly, and meets her gaze. Something in his eyes makes her heart twist, even as her chest is burning (why would it be burning?)

Then she realizes that Jareth's hands are at his sides, and that the little girls have woven their fingers through hers again. They look up at her, beaming – their eyes sparkle. Sarah feels caught by the grey-green color, by the mismatched pupils, by their look of –

– love? (why would there be love?)

"Dance and sing," one lilts to her, and "Sing!" chimes the other.

… wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein …

And Jareth takes a quiet breath, and begins to sing.

… to sway and dance and sing with you …

The tune is not one that Sarah knows; the language is none she understands. But she feels at peace – and she closes her eyes and tilts her head back and turns in a circle with the children, listening as the melody slips in and out of the river's song, knits itself to the other music, fading in the air, and weaves a tapestry of sound that tells its own story, that eases around her like a shining golden net and works its way through the air into her very being –

She hardly feels the girls' hands slip from hers. But she does notice when Jareth's voice fades away, and when the only sound that remains is the whisper of the river and the wind …

Sarah opens her eyes – and the wind sighs to her – Beautiful – and she blinks, and sees herself as the wind and water must see her – her arms outstretched, her gown of cloth of gold floating around her in the cool night air – her own steps in the dance trailing bits of cloud and wisps of fog where she turns in place, several feet above the ground.

Sarah looks down, and smiles, quiet and calm. She sees Jareth where he is kneeling, gazing up at her, through a golden glow – she sees where he has an arm around each of the girls – the children who are staring at her, mouths open, awe written on their faces – awe and

– love? –

She shakes her head (why would there be love?) and steps forward – feels as though she is running lightly down steps made of air – and then looks at her own bare feet in the grass, glowing in the moonlight. She wiggles her toes. The golden glow fades, and she can see the little girls – she smiles at them.

They smile back at her.

There is a moment of silence, and then Jareth speaks. "Such a dance." His voice is low. "Such a dance is rarely to be seen, my dears, and I must thank you for it …"

The last words are muffled as he kisses each of his daughters on her brow. They snuggle into his arms.

"But –" and his voice gentles into a murmur – "your dance is done, and now it is time to sleep."

One girl sighs theatrically; the other pouts. "You don't sleep."

Sarah smiles at the child's jutting lower lip; Jareth laughs. "No, little one, but that is because I am old and grown. Now fly on your way, and go to sleep, and I will send you a dream."

"A pretty dream," one says, drowsily. "With dragons, and a unicorn. Like a story."

Another soft laugh. "Very well."

The child falls silent. Her sister turns to look at Sarah, quietly, intently, and whispers in Jareth's ear. The sound carries.

"Will Mother tell us a story?"

Mother.

Sarah's blood turns to ice in her veins.

Jareth looks at her. His eyes are hooded. He whispers back to the child.

"Mother is tired."

"Then she can sleep too, and dream with us."

Jareth smiles, his eyes not leaving Sarah's. He caresses his daughter's hair. Sarah feels her heart flutter frantically; her calm is gone, and panic is taking its place. (His daughter? Our daughter? My daughter? Oh please no, not my daughter, not my daughters, this is a dream, it has to be a dream –)

"I must speak to your mother, child."

The girl smiles, sleepy. "What about?"

Sarah stares, numb, as his smile widens. "I must thank her for her dance."

A rustle – Sarah focuses her mind, looks through the haze of fear, black and red, distorting her sight, and sees him rise, and take each child by the hand. "Now fly away, my little birds, and dream well."

"Good night, Father."

"Good night, Mother."

And Sarah hears a flutter of wings, and when she looks again, the children are gone.

-------------------------------------------------

Mother.

Sarah chokes on a sudden rush of sickness, on fear and cold and panic – I can't be a mother – I don't want to be a mother – I don't want to – and oh God, they're his children, and my children – how did that happen? I don't want to be a mother – I have college, I have to work, I have an exam –

An exam …

And Sarah staggers backward, and falls to the ground as her legs give way – as memory crashes over her and around her. The concert. Toby. Running – and the cold – and fear – and pain – and –

"Falling," she gasps, tears gathering in her eyes. "I fell –"

"Yes." Jareth sounds amused. "It seems to be a narrative staple, falling." His voice floats down, from above her head. "I once fell, myself. Quite a long time ago, quite a long ways – but certainly nothing worth your weeping, precious."

Sarah bends forward and feels through the flowers and tufts of grass like a blind woman. Some of the leaves bite and sting – she jerks her hands back, and clutches at her gown of cloth of gold.

She sees where her stays are undone, where the dress is loose and practically slipping off her, and where her own blood coats her arms.

"Why, Jareth?" Sarah croaks. "Why am I remembering? Why can't I wake up?"

"My love …" His voice is quiet; it makes her skin crawl. "You think that this is a dream?"

Sarah flinches as he takes her hands, but Jareth merely lifts her to her feet, and touches gloved fingers to her face. She meets his eyes – a mistake; the hunger in them is naked and unabashed, and they glow like coals in the dark.

"This is no dream, Sarah mine - mine – do you understand? You are looking through the mists of time – you see what will come to pass."

"No –" she chokes. "No. Let me go – I have my life, I have school –" she grasps wildly at anything; her voice cracks – "I have an exam tomorrow, Jareth – please,please let me go."

Jareth laughs, darkly, and slides his mouth over hers in a fierce kiss – she shudders and feels her stomach flip.

"My dear love ..." His mouth slips free of hers, and his whisper burns her flesh. "By now, you are late for your exam by a few hundred years."

A few hundred years. "No. No – that can't be. That's impossible!"

Jareth's grin flashes in the dark. "No more impossible than dancing in midair," he purrs. "But I will ground you, if it makes you feel more comfortable."

He grips her hands in his and steps in the pattern of a dance – Sarah follows him, numbly, trying to buy time to think. Her mind races – she feels her chest burn with every breath, and yelps in surprise when Jareth turns in the dance and snatches another kiss.

Her lips tingle. "Jareth – you have to understand – I never meant for this to happen – whatever words it was, whatever magic it was –"

"You didn't really mean it …" he sing-songs, and kisses her again.

"No –" she grabs desperately at his shirt, as her feet slide over something slippery –

Jareth's hands clamp around her waist. "Careful."

"No –" she gasps at a flash of memory, and her words spill out. "You said a year and a day. A year and a day, from when the spell was cast – even if I did cast it, and Ididn't mean it –" Sarah hears her own voice, pleading. "Take me back to that moment. Reorder time – go back and explain it all to me and I'll set you free – I promise you –"

"Ah …" His laugh is ugly, like a misshapen rock falling into the river that whispers nearby. "What a wonderful idea! Sheer, unadulterated brilliance, my lovely one – what a pity it is that I had not thought of it before!" His voice turns cold. "Oh, that's right. I did. I did think of it – every single minute of every single day, for that year and a day from your magnificent triumph. The idea came to me in a fit of inspiration – just as soon as you called your pathetic friends to you, I flew to your window and watched, and I raged, as I could only watch and not tear them limb from limb, and take you on the floor in a pool of their blood, as I so greatly desired."

Sarah gags at the image, and leans over, retching. Jareth waits, solicitously, and then wheels her back into their dance.

"Yes," he continues. "You called up figures of your own making, and they took on solid form. I knew then that the chains set around me by your will would not be broken easily. So I reordered time, Sarah – I slowed it to a crawl and sent you dream upon dream – do you remember them, Sarah?" His voice is dulcet in her ear. "Do you remember your dreams?"

My dreams …

Sarah closes her eyes. She had shut them away, but now they are creeping out of the locked strongholds in her memory, and she remembers that she had attributed the dreams to stress – her first boyfriend that year, her changing relationship with her stepmother, the demands of school, even her period finally settling down – anything to account for the repeated image of Jareth, perched in the ruin of the Escher room, cloaked in white feathers, raging eyes fixed on her and teeth bared as her threw a crystal at her and screamed 

"But you never took back your gift, Sarah," he breathes. "You never released me."

"I had no idea, Jareth." She recoils at the feel of his body brushing against hers in the dance.

"Ah – but did you even listen to what I had to say?"

"No!" Sarah shakes her head, jerkily. "No – that's not fair. You never said anything! You just yelled – and threw things –"

"You would not listen!"

"No - I never knew! I would even ask H-Hoggle about you –" she stutters, "h-how you were, and he wouldn't tell me –"

"That is because he did not exist in my domain, Sarah." His voice is acidic. "You brought us together for a short time, and then you did me the great favor of keeping him and those other fools in your memory, and troubling me no more with them. Would that you had done the same with your gift –"

Then Jareth pauses. "But you spoke to them of me? Now, why would you do that?" He hisses in her ear. "Why, precious thing?"

Sarah gulps, tugs her head back, and angry with herself for feeling – hot – breathless – like she were melting, flowing down and pooling on the ground – hisses back: "Because you were beautiful, Jareth – because you were irresistible, and you damn well knew it!"

"Did I know it?"

Sarah flinches at the rage in his voice.

"And now we come to the crux of the matter, Sarah mine. It seems to me that you would cling to that spell, even unknowingly, and that that is why no dream of mine could sway you –"

"No!" Sarah shoves at him and breaks away. "I did not! And you're so powerful, so mighty – why the hell didn't you just reorder time and tell me, and keep me out of your damned Labyrinth in the first place?"

She is breathing heavily, pain stabbing into her sides. Jareth glares at her from where she has pushed him, immobile, like a marble statue marooned in a field of moonlit flowers.

"My dear," he breathes, and magic crackles in his voice. "Power and might, will and magic – gewalt – are unique to those who possess them – strange forces with their own mysteries – but time …" Jareth's eyes shine with an unholy light. "Time moves on for everyone, inexorable, implacable. All I can do – all a being of such poweras myself can possibly do – is move within it –" he begins to turn, in the steps of a dance, "move forward in it, and backward, and around and through – slow it down, speed it up – all with considerable effort expended – and all with dangers untold to myself, and to the fabric of reality …" His voice turns musing, he does not stop his slow dance. "And yet, I took that risk. As the year and day marched on, I flew back through time and gave you dream after dream – I flew back and tried to warn myself –" a sour laugh – "although that was worse than useless, as I could never get close enough, lest reality tear …"

Jareth pauses, and goes still.

"But I tried, my love. By all the powers of this world and my own – I tried. Dreams I can weave easily enough – but changing reality in your lumpen world of mortal flesh and rot is something else ... Spells knot when they are cast, and to pick apart even my own while struggling against the gale of time is difficult – and to alter the spells of another – the actions of another –" He tips his head; Sarah shivers at the expression on his face. "All I could hope to do was influence your actions – coax you into releasing me, with wisps of thought … with dreams …"

Silence.

"I should have known that escape was impossible."

Sarah cannot move – she looks at him, woodenly, as Jareth steps forward and takes her hands. "Yet, I continued." His voice is quiet, steady – the sound of a storyteller approaching the end. "I wore such a crease in time by my journeys back – sending you dream upon dream, plea upon plea – I almost tore the fabric of the world. But you resisted."

Resisted. Sarah tries to remember. Books on deep breathing, meditation. Warm milk before bed. Stress management lectures at the library. Exercise. Finally, a prescription for sleeping pills – all to stop the dreams of that year – dreams of eyes, and feathers, and a crystal, and a voice that cajoled and cursed her in turn – and words –

Words.

Something she had said.

Sarah frowns. Something I had said.

What was it?

Jareth's voice cuts through her thoughts.

"You resisted – and time itself protested my abuse, and the year and day ran out, and my fate was sealed. Once that year and day were up, no amount of reordering time could hope to unravel the weave of your magic." His tones turn soft and lulling. "And I was left to myself, to the rage of my true love. So I decided to send youanother dream, once you were older and had a proper context for it – only once in a while, you understand. Just to remind you. To –" and he smiles, slowly – "unsettleyou …"

Jareth tilts his head at her, and runs his thumbs over her knuckles. Smiles again.

"Do you remember that dream, my love?"

Sarah does not want to. She had locked the dream in a heavy wooden chest, chained the chest shut, and thrown it down a deep well in her memory, and closed the iron door to the well and locked it three ways –

– but the dream must have sent tendrils gnawing through the wood and shooting up through the water of the well – it has bored through the door and now touches her with one soft leaf -

– and Sarah remembers.

Her freshman year of college. The age-old story – girl meets nice boy, girl dates nice boy, girl falls in love, girl thinks it through carefully, girl lines up appropriate birth control, girl loses her virginity. She had thought it through – and she had begun to enjoy the sex, after the first few times – and she had chalked up the unease she felt to vestiges of stern lectures in health class …

But she had had trouble sleeping, and her roommate for the summer intensive writing program had noticed, and had shyly given her a dreamcatcher left over from time as a camp counselor.

It was flimsy, and poorly made; the feathers obviously dyed. Sarah, feeling stupid, had hung the dreamcatcher above her bed, and had slept well, until –

– she whimpers as the memory blossoms like a flower, its petals black and heavy with poison.

"Ah …" Jareth murmurs. Her brings her hand to his mouth; kisses it. "It has not left you. How touching."

Touching.

Sarah squeezes her eyes shut, fighting back tears. That had been the dream. Touching. She had walked down a long hallway – the way to her boyfriend's dorm room, only the hall stretched out longer, and longer, and her legs were throbbing when she reached the door … but she had hesitated to open it, because she heard her own voice, saying absurd things like – "oh, yes – God, yes –" and "please don't stop – oh – don't stop –" and did she really sound like that?

Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt …

She had frowned, and had grabbed the doorknob, and then had felt a ripple of shock and – something – as she realized that she was on her boyfriend's bed, and they were making love (having sex) – and that she was moaning and twisting beneath him, and feeling a deep-seated throb of pleasure build within her – and it was somehow different to feel his hands on her body, and to feel him moving over her, above her and inside her – for one thing, the light was on, and he never liked the light on, and for another thing, he was biting her, and he never bit before, and for another thing, he was blond, and he was normally dark-haired –

I love you – your beautiful form arouses me …

– and she had gone rigid in shock, and had realized that it was Jareth's mouth on hers, Jareth's eyes an inch from her own – and she had felt him laugh in her face as his hands plunged into her hair and as he thrust into her hard and she had screamed –

– and she had woken up, screaming, and had hit the light before running to the bathroom to be sick.

And when she had returned, she had seen the dreamcatcher hanging pathetically over her bedstead, torn in half, the feathers strewn over her pillow.

And her roommate had eventually applied for a transfer –

And Sarah moans at the memory, and her eyes fly open as Jareth laughs in delight, and brings her other hand up to his mouth, caressing it, kissing each finger and flicking his tongue over her knuckles. She feels sick.

"Why? Why torture me this way?" Her voice sounds broken, in her own ears; she despises herself for it. "Why do you make it hurt so much?

Through her tears, Sarah sees Jareth fix his gaze on her, still holding her hands at his lips.

"Why not just use that power over wind, and snow, and ice, and whatever you have and make a tree fall on me and kill me, if you hate me so much? Why not just let me die?"

Silence stretches between them, broken only by her sobs.

Jareth slowly presses her hands between his gloves.

"My dear one …" he whispers. "To have you force me away – to have you walk into darkness without me – to have you escape from me – to have no power –" his voice catches, and then quickens – "to have you pass forever beyond my reach …" Jareth's eyes burn into hers.

"I could never allow that to happen."

Sarah tries to focus. He has said something important.

What is it?

"Why?" She can hardly hear her own voice. "Why, Jareth?"

He closes his eyes, touches his forehead against hers.

"Because I love you."

What is it? (Force. Violence – well, violence is not, perhaps, as accurate.) Might. Power.

… Power …

Sarah bites her lip and moves her head away from Jareth, looks down, past their intertwined hands –

– down, to her feet –

– her bare feet –

– bleeding –

Sarah's thoughts splinter. She stares at her feet. They are lacerated – she sees lines of white bone through the pooling blood – blood oozing everywhere –

She frantically looks over the field of flowers, and sees tracks of her own blood, black in the moonlight –

"Jareth," she whispers. "My feet …"

Jareth half-smiles. His eyes glitter. "What about them?"

"I can't feel my feet."

"Ah," Jareth looks down, and arches an eyebrow. "Does the sight trouble you?"

"They're bleeding – and I can't feel them –" She chokes back a sob.

"Shhhh …" He draws her close to him, gently kisses her cheek. "Stay with me, Sarah. Come with me – come this way …"

"What –" Sarah tries to speak; her throat feels tight, and she can hardly breathe as he leads her to the edge of the river, his fingers threaded through hers – and steps into the water, and draws her in after him.

"There – you see?" His voice is arch.

Sarah looks down, to where the current swirls and plucks at the hem of her gown of cloth of gold.

"No –" She whispers. "It's too dark."

The water flows pitch-black in the moonlight.

But Jareth's voice lilts in her ear. "Dance with me, Sarah … Stay with me here –" and he steps against her body and catches her waist in his hands, and turns with her, turns her around until she is dizzy, and each gasp for air stabs her ribs.

"Let me go, Jareth –" The water rushes around her knees.

He kisses her, his mouth hot in the cool night air. "No."

The water has come up to her waist.

"Please – please reorder time – take me back with you, and I'll tell myself – I'll change everything – I'll set you free –"

His kisses are as smooth as the running water; he whispers with its voice. "Yes – I will take you back with me –"

"No –" Sarah tries to pull away – the river tugs at the heavy cloth of gold. She sees loose golden ribbons whisk away in the dark. The water rushes around her breast, flowing over Jareth's gloved hands as he caresses her.

"Jareth …" she slurs. "Please – there must be something I can do – something I can do – for you to let me go …"

His cheekbone is sharp against her face as his breath burns her ear.

"Kiss me."

Sarah flails in the dark water – she wrenches her arms around his neck, and clings to him, and kisses him in desperation –

And shuts her eyes tightly as she feels him fall backwards, and feels the water close over her head with a splash.

No –

His mouth moves beneath hers, and the pleasure and horror that shudder through her at his touch are so hot that if she opens her eyes, she is sure that the water will be boiling …

– and she feels his body tense, and they are back above the surface – only this time the water has risen almost up to her neck, even though she is straddling him, her knees locked around his back, and she wrenches her mouth away from his and stares down at him, at his hair streaming out like silver snakes in the black river -

"Stay with me, Sarah." Jareth's eyes glow through the dark, like opals on velvet.

"No –" she chokes.

He takes her head in his hands.

"Stay with me here."

And he covers her mouth with his, and twists his body to plunge her beneath the water, and she is sinking beneath him, coiled around him and falling like a stone through the darkness …

She cannot breathe.

No. Her own cry comes from a distance. No. No!

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah felt rocks nudge her back. She tried to breathe, and couldn't – it was too cold, and Jareth's mouth was locked on hers.

Slowly, with a great effort, she moved one arm from where it floated in the stream at her side. Moved the arm, and her hand, and touched Jareth on his brow.

Part of Sarah noted how white her fingers were – how her nails were blue in the flickering light from Jareth's crown. She tried to bend her fingers – and could not.

She pushed slightly, and Jareth drew his lips away. He looked down into her eyes as she inhaled, shuddering.

"I can't –" The words were slow; her tongue felt as thick and heavy as cement in her mouth. "I can't breathe …"

Jareth reached up and took her hand with one of his. She saw her own flesh glow stark white against his black glove; her necklace flashed gold where it twisted through his fingers.

He stared at her, his eyes flinty.

"Say my name, Sarah." His voice hissed with the cold wind, echoing off the stones.

Sarah tried to speak. Her lips could not move. It was too cold to move.

"Sarah …" Jareth bent to her ear; she heard the uneven rasp of his breathing, and she felt his free hand rest at her waist, and then move to one of her knees, hooking under it and easing it to the side. "Say my name. Come with me – nothing will hurt again if you just come with me."

She closed her eyes. Opened them, slowly. Tried to speak.

"Erlkönig –" Sarah gasped.

"No –" Jareth shook his head; ice fell from his hair onto her face. She saw his teeth glint as he smiled and kissed her frozen hand.

"Not that name – the other one. The last one."

Sarah did not say anything, as she watched him lower his mouth to hers and suck the gelid blood from her lips. "Listen carefully, my love." He shifted his body – she felt dread settling on her, as heavy as his weight.

Jareth kissed her again, and murmured, "Do you hear it?"

… jetzt faßt er mich an …

His eyes smiled down at her, lit with a terrible fire. She heard music from far away. Coming closer.

… now he takes hold of me …

Unable to bear the look in his eyes, Sarah turned her head away – slowly, feeling as though she were made of ice. She felt him kiss her cheek, her neck, her jaw –

She gazed into the darkness, her eyelids heavy. There, crumpled in her right hand, was the translation. And there –

Sarah blinked.

There, perched on her hand, was a small bird with golden wings. It tipped its head, and chirped at her.

And then she heard another melody, faint and forlorn, a song winding its way to her from a great distance.

Fremd bin ich eingezogen,
Fremd zieh' ich wieder aus.

If the quiet wisp of sound had a form, it would be a simple piece of yarn.

I came here a stranger,
As a stranger I depart.

The bird held a piece of bright yarn in its beak.

So when it fluttered its wings, it was easy enough for Sarah to close her eyes, to leave Jareth whispering in her ear, to unchain herself from her body and fly after the bird – following the thread of song through mists, through a forest, seeking a hall set round with stone …

Flying through time, to a place she had already been, on the sound of a song she had already heard.

-------------------------------------------------

Chapter Text

Sarah feels the wind stream past her face, smooth as her mother's hand, cold on her tears. She opens her eyes, and looks down.

There, far beneath her, lamps twinkle where they mark a road. Light glows yellow and warm from the houses that lie few and far between in the woods. The black mass of forest sits like a rock wound through with glittering threads of creeks and streams, and one ribbon of road.

The moon touches it all with silver, and cradles the music in its fingers of light.

Nun ist die Welt so trübe,
Der Weg gehüllt in Schnee.

The words are sad, but the music is somehow … (beautiful …) familiar. She knows that she has heard it before, and understood it before – she knows because she hears its meaning, clear as a bell.

Now the world is so gloomy,
The road shrouded in snow.

Sarah looks down again and squints against the wind. The road is shrouded in snow – but she does not feel gloomy. Because – (why?) – because she is not alone.

She smiles.

Because she has a friend.

The golden-winged bird darts through the sky and sings at the moon. It looks back at her and flits its wings, chirping. She stretches out her hand (stark white – so cold) and plucks the yarn now streaming behind the bird. Smiling again at the bright red color, Sarah wraps the wool around her wrist.

Ich kann zu meiner Reisen
Nicht wählen mit der Zeit,
Muß selbst den Weg mir weisen
In dieser Dunkelheit.

Sarah tilts back her head and feels the wind ripple through her hair. The slight rustle and flap of the gown of cloth of gold, trailing around her body, sound to her ears like her own wings.

I cannot choose the time
To begin my journey,
I must find my own way
In this darkness.

Darkness. She looks around, again. Yes, it is dark (so dark) – but she has a friend, and she knows where she needs to go – back to where the song is taking her. Back through mists and clouds (above and around), flying against the winds (of time) of winter. She knows where to fly. She knows what she is looking for …

Sarah remembers a game that she played when she was small, with her mother (real mother) … Her mother would pick a beautiful teacup, or feather, or a piece of her jewelry, and would hide it. Then she would clap her hands as her daughter looked. Warm – you're getting warm! – oh, no, now you're cold – good, now you're warmer – and warmer! There!

Warmer. Sarah blinks. She is warmer. The wind is no longer as sharp. She gazes through the dark, considering – and then grins (why should it hurt to grin?) as she sees that the yarn has knit itself into a sweater. A red sweater, bright in the moon's dim glow, crafted by the song – lying snug over the gown of cloth-of-gold, and somehow keeping all of her warm.

Es zieht ein Mondenschatten
Als mein Gefährte mit …

She no longer feels cold, or fear, or pain.

A shadow of the moon travels
With me as my companion …

And she has a friend. The bird flutters to and fro, molten gold in the night, rejoicing in the wind.

Und auf den weißen Matten
Such' ich des Wildes Tritt.

Sarah looks into the distance. There, over a stretch of white snow, she sees bright lights and silhouettes of buildings. She is getting closer.

And upon the white fields
I seek the deer's track.

She knows why she flies; and knowledge lies upon her like a weight – she realizes that this flying must end, at some point – but she does not want it to stop, because it is (beautiful) … peaceful – quiet. Beautiful.

The weight grows heavier. Sarah sees a hill, and a marble building at its base, and cars in a parking lot, illuminated by lamps. The bird flies around her in a spiral of gold.

Then she sees a round hall – and the wind eases its gusting, and cushions her, and lets her descend to the ground as it would let a leaf fall – slowly, caressingly.

Her bare feet touch the snow.

Sarah looks down. She should feel cold, but somehow – she does not.

Die Liebe liebt das Wandern -
Gott hat sie so gemacht …

The bird darts to her, and huddles at the base of her neck. Puzzled, Sarah takes it in a gentle hold, and cradles it to her sweater, between her breasts. She looks up –

– and sees a white owl, flying quietly over the tops of the black trees.

Love loves to wander -
God made it that way …

She should feel afraid, but somehow – she does not.

Von einem zu dem andern.
Fein Liebchen, gute Nacht !

Sarah watches as the owl soars through the sky – pale and solitary in the darkness.

From one to the other,
My dearest, good night!

"Good night …"

Her own whisper floats on the night air, and dies away.

-------------------------------------------------

Then Sarah dismisses the owl, and gazes out from where she stands at the top of the hill.

There.

Her destination. Sarah takes a deep breath as she recognizes the place – the source of the beautiful music.

There is the concert hall – massive, edged in silver by the moonlight – watching her in the dark.

The music echoes through its walls of wood and stone.

Sarah considers, for a moment, and then holds the bird more firmly to her sweater, and steps forward –

Will dich im Traum nicht stören,
Wär schad' um deine Ruh'.

And gasps as the wind howls in her face, sending her hair whipping behind her.

I don't want to disturb your dreaming,
It would be a shame to wake you.

Sarah can barely stand.

… struggling against the gale of time is difficult …)

She grits her teeth and takes one step, then another. The wind catches at her sweater, yanks at her gown of cloth of gold. Sarah cries out; she clings to the music where it reaches her – she clutches desperately at its quiet, its warmth, and its peace …

Sollst meinen Tritt nicht hören -
Sacht, sacht die Türe zu!

She sees a path clear, through the maelstrom.

You won't hear my step,
Softly, softly the door closes!

She widens her eyes, the better to see in the moonlight. The door …

The doors to the concert hall are shut.

Sarah reaches out and takes the handle. Her hand slips from it.

Frowning, she tries again. And again. But no matter what her grip, she cannot keep hold of the metal …

… Sarah knocks on the door – and feels her mouth open in disbelief as her fist seems to dissolve with the force, scattering like droplets of water –

She feels a flutter in her chest. Threads of iridescent liquid ooze and drip, and coalesce back into her hand – which then lies, quivering, against the door. Recoiling, Sarah looks down to the movement between her breasts.

The bird is beating its golden wings.

She snatches her hand back and joins it to her other, and clutches the bird tightly. It gives a soft cheep, from its nest in her sweater.

"I won't leave you …" Her voice breaks, in her own ears. "Don't leave me."

The carvings in the doorframe glint in the light of the moon.

Schreib im Vorübergehen
Ans Tor dir: Gute Nacht,
Damit du mögest sehen,
An dich hab' ich gedacht.

Sarah leans back, drowsing in the warmth of her sweater and the music, feeling as though she should sleep (just close my eyes, just for a moment) … She finds a niche between the frame and the wall; leans against a heavy icicle.

I write in passing
On your gate: Good night,
So that you may see
That I thought of you.

The wind picks up speed. She hears voices in it – moaning – screaming –

… jetzt faßt er mich an!
Erlkönig hat –

"No." Her own voice is quiet. "No – Gute Nacht – good night –"

As she fades into sleep, she sees images flicker out of the gloom, walking in and out of the concert hall, blurring past her and around her. The wind howls.

"… good night … good night …"

-------------------------------------------------

A loud clattering noise wakes her.

Sarah opens her eyes, and feels them widen in surprise as she sees a man, struggling to carry two large metal pans while trying to open the doors to the concert hall.

Instinct takes over. "Here – let me help you –" She takes a hand from the bird, and touches the man's shoulder –

– and flinches back from the same dissolving strangeness rippling up her fingers. Sarah bites her lower lip hard and wills her hand to take back its shape; it does, and she can only watch, and listen, as the man lets loose a stream of invective, cursing the horrible cold -

He wrests the door open.

"Now –" Sarah speaks aloud to the bird with golden wings; it chirps at her as she ducks under the burly man's arm and darts into the concert hall –

– and presses herself against the wall as the man squeezes through the door, let his pans fall to the ground and wraps himself tightly in his coat.

"Son of a bitch, it is cold out there – the artichokes have to be frozen by now! Is there an oven we can stick them in –"

His voice lurches up and down in a strange way. Sarah feels giddy. Another man, weedy and nervous, gathers up the pans and scurries away; the bulky man thumps his arms against his side and continues cursing –

– and then Sarah hears his voice slow down, deepen, and stretch as she looks at the crowded entrance room, through a throng of people dressed in glittering clothes, flushed and chattering …

… and there is a young woman staring directly at her. Staring into her face from across the crowd – a woman with long dark hair, looking pale and wide-eyed, two coats draped over her arm …

Sarah sees her shiver.

Then the woman's face closes. She shrugs and turns away.

And Sarah hears the bird cry out, as she realizes that the woman is herself.

-------------------------------------------------

"Oh, God …" Her own voice was a whisper. The bird gave another plaintive cry. Sarah looked down, and saw where her hands were crushing it.

"Oh! –" She loosened her fingers, with a half-sob. "Sorry – I'm so sorry … but did you see –"

Through the mists of time …

It's me. Sarah breathed quickly, her thoughts racing. I've come back in time. I've made it back – I can warn myself, and keep this from happening – I have to hurry – I have to hurry – hurry, quickly! Go! Go go –

She waited for an opening in the press of people, and raced across the room to the other wall. Then she eased into the reception room, her back pressed against the wooden paneling – feeling waves of adrenaline sweep through her and the occasional queasy jolt when her arms or legs brushed some person who was too solid, too heavy and quivering with heat for her to touch –

It took longer than she thought possible to find a place away from the roiling (human) mass of people. She finally caught onto a part of the wall that recessed slightly, next to the fireplace. Sarah leaned back into the wood, catching her breath – the air felt as thick and hot as soup – and looked up at the cheerful light, beaming down from its sconce above her head.

Then she took the bird, and placed it on her shoulder.

"Look with me –" Sarah said fiercely. "Look for me."

She did not have to look very far. Because there she was (I am), standing in the middle of the room, watching Toby and the singer – Herr Teufel, that was it – talking animatedly – watching them with a wry smile on her (my) face.

Sarah bit her lip. Felt foolish, but spoke loudly anyway. "Hey!"

No reaction. Nothing – from anyone.

The crowd is too noisy – that's all. Fighting back a surge of panic, Sarah tried again. "Sarah! Sarah Williams!" She cast her mind back to acting classes, and pitched her voice to carry. "Sarah Williams! It's me! It's you! Listen to me!"

Nothing.

Sarah heard herself breathing – but how? It's quiet – It was quiet, all of a sudden; the crowd had fallen silent. Herr Teufel had a hand raised.

And Sarah remembered.

"No –" she gasped.

But the singer's voice boomed out: "Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I will now sing for you … Der Erlkönig."

(I heard my name spoken …)

Sarah looked around, wildly. The name. Teufel had said the name –

The light reflecting in the mirrors flared …

… and Sarah pressed herself back into the wooden wall, trying to hide, as she watched the mirrors on the wall ripple and begin to melt, as they dripped and oozed over the floor, like prisms slowly liquefying.

The voices of the crowd slowed and deepened, stretched and wound themselves slower and slower – time slowed and Sarah felt caught in a net that held her still –

(I came …)

The piano cast a shadow. The people cast shadows. The chandeliers dangling over the crowd cast shadows, even as they dripped crystal to the floor.

All the shadows began to churn where they fell. The shadows that happened to fall on people rippled off them and joined the others. The darkness clotted together, and the mirrors reflected it, and intensified it, and gave up their light to it as it solidified.

And there, at the center of a web of night, where all the glass of the mirrors had melted away as the light had been devoured – black-cloaked and smiling in the middle of a room suffused with a radiance that sparkled and refracted in fear – stood Jareth.

Sarah felt the bird hop from her shoulder and scrabble for purchase on her sweater, chirping and shivering, as it tried to nestle its way into the fabric. She took it in her hands and held it beneath her chin, hunching her shoulders around it protectively.

Jareth was surveying the room and smiling broadly, from his place in the cracked and blackened glass that had been a wall of mirrors. She shuddered at his look, and bent her head to speak to the bird.

"It's O.K. –" she mumbled. "It's all right – I've got you. You're safe here. You're safe with me."

She tried to keep her voice steady.

But then she saw Jareth's smile disappear, as though strings holding it up had been cut. He turned in place and fixed his eyes on where she stood, tipping his head at an angle to hear better and –

Sarah felt her stomach clench. Was he sniffing the air? She bit her lip. He was. He had heard her – and he was trying to find her –

Don't let him see me here – let me be hidden by time – don't let him see me –

The bird was shivering at the base of her neck. Sarah held her breath –

Jareth raised an eyebrow, and half-shrugged, and his eyes flicked away. Sarah breathed out again as she saw him look over the crowd with casual arrogance, as if he owned everything and everyone in it –

– and then she saw him freeze.

Sarah followed his line of sight. What did he –

Then she realized what he had seen.

(and I saw you there …)

"No –" She choked on a lump in her own throat, then swallowed. And shouted. "Run! Sarah Williams! It's me! It's you – I'm here, I'm calling to you! Run, you idiot – get out of here!"

The bird beat its wings. Jareth had not moved at her shout – she doubted he had heard her. All of his attention was fixed on the person he had seen – the woman she saw – herself (myself) in the middle of the room, watching as Herr Teufel bent (slowly, ever so slowly) to speak to Toby –

And Sarah felt her skin crawl as Jareth gathered his cloak to him, and whispered something, and stepped from the wall dripping darkness, and bared his teeth as he began to tread softly across the floor.

The crowd seemed to melt away before him; people were caught in stillness where they stood. A keening sound came from the grain of the wood in the walls; a creaking groan from the floor. The paint on the portraits began to bubble and steam.

And then Jareth was standing at her (my) back, in the middle of the room. He raised one arm, and, almost tentatively, stretched out a gloved hand – and brushed it over her hair.

Sarah watched, frozen in horror, as her own pale face frowned, as she shook herself slightly, where she stood next to a woman in pink – a fat woman who said:

"Is anything wrong?"

Sarah could not tear her eyes away, as she watched herself (myself) shake her head, and heard her own voice, murmuring: "No ... I just felt a chill, that's all."

Jareth closed his eyes at her voice, and she saw him swallow, and saw his lips part as he exhaled.

The woman laughed and turned away. "Ah –" Her voice reached Sarah at the fireplace – drawn out and clanging, "– someone walked over your grave."

Sarah winced as Jareth opened his eyes to slits, and tilted his head.

But Teufel was speaking again, and she saw herself (myself) do her best to focus on him, and on Toby, as the singer and his accompanist walked to a piano in the corner, talking all the while –

"Now," the voice rolled out richly, "Erlkönig."

She saw Jareth straighten his head, his eyes gleaming as they opened wider.

"Erlkönig is the story of a young boy, his father, and a wicked spirit! – But this you all know, yes?"

People called out "Yes," or "No" –

And Sarah cried out as she saw Jareth bend his head, and press his lips into her (my) hair to kiss the nape of her neck –

She saw herself shake where she stood in the middle of the room, frowning in confusion and blinking.

"Damn it!" Her own voice rose. "Sarah Williams! Listen to me! Take Toby and get out now – get away from him!" She pressed the bird between her breasts and took a determined step away from the wall and –

An unseen force pressed against her, and she fell back with a thump and a gasp.

(I flew back and tried to warn myself … although that was worse than useless, as I could never get close enough, lest reality tear…)

Lest reality tear …

Reality was melting – she watched, frozen, as the mirror lapped at her own feet in the middle of the room – as Jareth eased his arms around her (me) where she stood and rested his forehead against her own head as Teufel talked on about the song –

"No!" She screamed. "Sarah! Turn around – look at me – turn around! Get out of here!"

The words echoed around the room – but not a single person turned. Not a single person – except –

She saw her past self (myself) move to lay a plate on a nearby table, stepping unknowingly out of Jareth's embrace, and donning her coat. Then Sarah inhaled sharply, as she saw herself look over her shoulder and meet her own eyes in an uneasy stare, frowning –

– but then the glance of her past self continued around the room.

Sarah looked up; the light in the sconce above her was no longer cheery – instead, it flickered in the gathering darkness.

She looked back at herself. Jareth had stepped backwards, smiling.

Oh God. What was he going to do?

Sarah could not swallow; her own throat was dry. She knew what he was going to do.

Her thoughts stilled, as she saw him peel off his gloves. He tucked them away, somewhere inside his cloak, and then raised both of his hands.

Jareth began to pluck threads of mirror and light, prism and darkness, from the air. His fingers were long, and white – they moved fast, then faster; punctuated with quick movements of his hands, lean and strong, as if he were conducting an unseen orchestra and playing a solo at the same time.

The threads of light and dark began to wisp into a piece of cloth. Then they widened and straightened into a rope. Then Jareth coiled the rope into a noose, snapped it tight into a knot, undid it, lengthened it and twisted it around his fingers, and then darted his hands around each other in what looked like a game of cat's cradle –

And then he held something beautiful in his hands – a shimmering piece of iridescent light – which he held to his lips.

He whispered something to it – and kissed it.

Then Jareth flicked his fingers – and the light crumpled and smoothed out, and turned into a piece of paper.

He held the paper, and matter-of-factly rolled it up, extended it towards Teufel on one palm, and clenched the palm into a fist even as he gestured with his other hand.

The roll of paper disappeared.

Sarah could only watch, her heart in her mouth, as Teufel smiled down at Toby, fished in a pocket, and took out (the spell) a rolled-up paper. Then he paused. His brow creased – but then he beamed as he saw her past self – standing right behind Toby. "Here, young lady." The singer held out the paper. "Here are the words in English, just for you."

Reality caught up with her, in what felt like a deluge of icy water.

"DON'T!" Sarah screamed as loud as she could. "Don't take it! DON'T DO IT!"

She saw herself pause.

She saw Jareth tense in anticipation.

And then she felt despair close around her heart, and she heard the bird cry out in pain, as she saw herself (myself) take the thin roll of paper – and saw it flare to light in her own hand, and whip strands of silver and cut mirror-glass and night down her arm and around her body, coiling like a snake –

And she saw Jareth tip back his head and laugh in triumph, long and loud.

Only she assumed it was loud, because she could not hear a single thing.

Toby was tugging at the coat of her past self. She saw his lips moving; he must be saying something. But she had eyes only for Jareth, as she saw him back away, still laughing – walking away from herself (myself) to where he had first stood in the room, past the paintings that were melting down the walls, over the floorboards that buckled and cringed away from him – back to the broken mirrors that turned light into darkness.

Sarah watched, as Jareth took a deep breath, grinned, and bowed his head, and held both his arms out, and tensed his fingers –

– they could be talons –

Silence had closed around her. She assumed that the music had begun – she saw the accompanist pounding the piano keys, and saw Teufel's lips move – but all she could see was the thick silver and white-gold ropes of music take on form near the instrument – solidifying from mist into tangible cords, clustering together, as if consulting with each other, and then slowly moving across the floor and through the air towards her past self.

Sarah struggled against the pressure holding her to the wall. She had to get to herself (to me) – she had to save her (save yourself.) She had to do something.

A snatch of song tore through the silence –

Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir!

A shining rope of magic twists around her past self – starting at her ankle and working its way up her leg.

You lovely child, come, go with me!

Sarah jerked her head to the side and looked at Jareth. His lips were moving – he was singing, as his pale hands swept through the air and directed the spell. His face was taut with concentration; his eyes flickered beneath their half-closed lids.

She stared back at herself. The tendrils of music (magic) were gathering around her, nudging at her feet as if testing to see who she was, and then following the lead of the first and rippling up around her jeans and easing around her coat –

Sarah saw her past self shiver, and zip up her coat. It's no use, she thought furiously. "It's too late, you stupid fool –" she whispered, feeling tears sting at her eyes.

The bird chirped at her, and she looked down. A tear had fallen on one golden wing.

"Sorry –" she choked out, and flicked the drop away. Her sweater was still warm and soft, but – and Sarah leaned against the wall, nauseated – the gown of cloth of gold was melting, turning practically liquid – shining with silver-gold light and plucking at her to rejoin the magic twining around her past self –

The song darted through the pressing silence; Teufel was singing of the delights promised to the child – Sarah looked again at Jareth, and saw him smile as he sang, his eyes closed, and his hands moving even more quickly as the magic burgeoned to fill a good quarter of the room –

Then she felt something falter.

Sarah twisted where she stood, and stared as her past self put the translation into Toby's hands, and walked quickly to the corner of the room opposite to the piano, to the small door set in the wall –

The first vision – in the bathroom –

She heard Jareth hiss. Heard it from close by – and quailed in horror, since the stride of her past self had forced her own self back down the wall – back towards the wall that used to be a mirror – closer to Jareth, who was watching her past self leave the room, his teeth bared and shining in the magic's light.

"After her – go!" Jareth snarled at the spell. It eagerly oozed across the floor towards the hallway to the bathroom.

A rope of music (magic) caught her past self right before the door closed –

Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt.

Sarah knew what it meant, now. She hadn't before.

And if you are not willing, I will take you by force.

('Gewalt'. Force. Violence – well, violence is not, perhaps, as accurate. Might. Power…)

Magic. It would catch her there. Sarah huddled back against the wall, holding the bird silent and close to her, remembering. The vision in the bathroom. Then the vision in this very room. Then the vision outside, at the top of the hill – when Toby had disappeared, and fog had brought the Goblin King to her –

Toby.

Sarah stiffened as realization hit her. She was in the bathroom right now. That meant that, right now, she could walk up to Toby and tell him what was going to happen – warn him and he could change the course of events and save her –

She jumped to her feet without thinking, and darted through the sweating and stinking crowd to his side. Sarah hardly noticed how people fell back from her, muttering to themselves about the drafty room; instead, she stopped at Toby's back and looked over his shoulder –

– at the translation –

She heard the music wind its way through the silence (of time) to her ears, she started to read – and then caught her own thoughts, and slowed them, and heard the music pool into a deep puddle, and slow down with her. I need time.

The first vision was already taking place. She felt the coils in the gown of cloth of gold tremble, tugging her towards the door to the bathroom hall, yearning to join the other magic. I don't have much time.

She bent to her brother's ear. "Toby – Toby, can you hear me?"

Nothing.

Sarah licked her lips, and spoke louder. "Toby – Toby!"

His shoulders stiffened.

"Toby – hear me – I'm caught in a spell …" A spell? He'll think it's his imagination – he won't understand that …

Toby blinked into space; Sarah bit her lip, thinking desperately. I'm in the ravine – she felt a sudden rush of cold, of fear, of horrible pain, and beat it back – he last saw me leave the car. He needs to come find me …

Then the bird hopped to Toby's shoulder, and chirped in his ear.

"Yes," Sarah said, drained. "Tell him. Tell him to come after me – tell him to find me –"

The bird paused, and then warbled into Toby's ear. He went stock still – then turned – and looked into her eyes.

Her breath left her. "Toby," she whispered. "This is important. Come find me – come look for me!"

"Sarah?" His blue eyes were huge.

She felt tears stinging. "Yes, honey?"

Toby swallowed. His eyes were filled with fear.

"Why is it so dark?"

Sarah felt her skin prickle, beneath her warm sweater. She gathered her courage – and turned around.

Night reached from the mirror, towards her. Darkness, boiling and seething – and whirling around Jareth –

Jareth, who was glaring at her, his face twisted with rage.

The music crashed back through the silence – she heard Toby gasp – but then, glancing frantically at him, Sarah saw his eyes glaze over as he turned back around – and as the bird flew, shrieking, to her hands. She held it tightly as Jareth strode toward her, his hands and face stark white, his hair flaring silver against the blackness that roared around him like dark water in a flood.

"Sarah," he hissed. "Why have you come here?"

She could not move. The bird was still against her chest. She felt the cloth of gold writhe and bubble against her skin.

"Cutting through time and space, my love?" His eyes glowed with fury as his nostrils flared. "I do not know from when, and whence, you came – but I know how you came – I can smell the magic on you. And I think I know why you came. Do you think to warn yourself? Did you think you could escape me? Did you think to succeed where I had failed?"

His voice rose into a howl at the last words; reality shattered like glass and a wind (the wind of time) began to wail through the room – taking with it the sounds of music, and applause, and laughter and chatter, and children running and people moving around her, blurs, all of them, of color and sound – she screamed her defiance at him as he raised a white hand to strike her –

And then Sarah felt herself thrust back across the room, to the main entrance to the reception room. She gasped at the suddenness of her escape. Why –?

She quickly realized why. She saw her past self stagger through the doorway, wide-eyed and panting, unaware of the magic gleefully winding around her like a hundred snakes.

(I could never get close enough, lest reality tear…)

Her past self had returned. She could approach no further. Instead, she could only watch, her heart pounding and the bird fluttering between her breasts, as Jareth snarled at her, and turned away and gestured sharply with hooked fingers, and as he pulled visions from the air and the darkness, and as she saw a new seethe of magic uncoil across the floor and fix her past self in place –

The second vision.

Sarah saw Jareth grin fiendishly, watching her past self turn glassy-eyed and frozen, caught up in the vision of two little girls catching her hands – and taking her away –

Away.

Sarah straightened her back, and thought quickly. She could not get closer – but nothing kept her from moving away –

Slowly and carefully, to avoid Jareth's attention, she backed up. Walked backwards through the door, and even further back, until she hit the stairway. Stumbling and shuddering for breath, she clambered up the carpeted steps and leaned back against the grandfather clock. The bird still quivered, faint and frightened, in her hands, where they lay cupped at the base of her throat.

"Shhh …" Sarah pressed her lips to its golden wings. "Shhh – you're safe ..." She swallowed the knot of dread in her throat and fought to keep from panicking as she saw silver and white-gold tendrils meander out the door to the reception room, nipping at the edge of the carpet and uncoiling down the stairs to the main entrance

Then it expanded across the floor in eager disarray – and Sarah saw her past self, holding Toby's hand, running from the reception room, and looking around with dazed and disoriented eyes. The silver ropes glowed, and twisted tighter around her, and shimmered in an ornamental mirror over the foyer couch, and shone –

Sarah looked down. Her gown of cloth of gold was shining, rippling excitedly over her flesh – drawn to its kind like iron to a magnet. She cupped the bird in one hand, fisted the other in her sleeve of warm red wool and touched her long skirt; the movement stopped.

Sarah gazed down the stairs, meeting her own eyes – she shivered. Meeting the eyes of her past self. She (I …) was looking up the stairs from the foyer, staring at the grandfather clock. Sarah felt her heart beat once, twice –

And her past self squeezed her eyes shut, and ran out the door, with Toby at her heels.

Sarah saw knots and tangles of music (magic) lurching out the front door – following her past self. The third vision – on the hill, when she saw Jareth again –

Her heart thumped, hard, as Jareth walked casually out of the reception room.

He was wearing one leather glove, and had worked his fingers into the other when he glanced up and saw her.

She felt his eyes rest on her, like a knife poised to cut.

He paused. Then he smiled, cold and remote, and tugged the glove past his wrist.

Sarah saw him bow to her, mockingly. Even from the top of the stairs, she could see the glitter of magic on his face. The bird shuddered in her hand.

Jareth turned on his heel, dismissing her, and strode out the door. Wayward strands of silver and gold scurried after him.

The third vision – that's where he's going – up the hill. Sarah heard her breathing coming fast and uneven. I have to stop him. I have to save myself – somehow –

She hesitated only a moment, and then ran down the stairs, fell into step behind the stout woman in pink from the reception room. Sarah followed the woman, as she put on a fur coat over the pink dress, and as she tried to sing a tune from the concert. When she opened the main door with one hand and surveyed the steps, Sarah flitted past her into the winter night.

-------------------------------------------------

The wind was bitterly cold.

Sarah squeezed her eyes shut and took a few steps. Then she stopped, and gasped for breath, wincing as the cold air sliced through her lungs. She forced her eyes back open, and squinted up at the hill – following the path with her eyes, from lamp to lamp.

There!

There she was – her past self – pausing and bending to a figure next to her, even shorter – Toby 

And there was a clump of fog, whisking Toby from sight and pooling over the path – covering the crown of the hill in a mist streaked through with magic of silver and white gold – throwing up bits of light that pierced the gloom and even shot through the sharp black branches of the trees that were clustering around the path, growing over it faster than she could see –

I'm too late …

"Please, let me not be too late –" Sarah whispered to the bird in her palms.

No response – neither chirp nor twitch.

Sarah looked down, and felt her heart lurch as she saw the bird with golden wings lying in her hands, its eyes closed, the wind ruffling its feathers.

"Not you –" She bit back a sob. "Not you. You did nothing …"

She held the bird to her chest and felt tears begin to roll down her cheeks – even as she took one unfeeling step forward, and another, and another – until she was walking.

Sarah could hardly see. The wind cut at her face, freezing her tears and fraying the collar of her sweater. She looked down again – and back – and she saw a long line of red yarn trailing behind her on the snow – from where the sweater had begun to unravel.

Her breath hitching, she caught at the yarn and twined it around her hands, around the bird. Red fell from her sweater in dollops and twists, pooling on the snow.

One foot in front of the other. Sarah stared at her feet. Red yarn draped over them, thread by thread. Red softly fell down her arms – but she felt nothing. Nothing except sorrow for the golden-winged bird, fluttering now and then in her hands, but staying mostly still.

Sarah turned in a circle – the forest had closed ranks around her, and the high trunks and black branches of the trees looked, through her tears, like nothing more than huge walls, glittering with moonlight and magic – walls of a maze – the walls of the Labyrinth …

She did not know how long she walked, or how far. The walls turned in on themselves, silent, and implacable –

(I need to get to the center – Even if you do, you'll never get out again –)

The wind whipped around her, tearing away pieces of yarn and flapping the cloth of gold behind her like a bridal train.

… struggling against the gale of time is difficult …)

Sarah closed her eyes, and narrowed her mind to the simple task of putting one foot in front of the other.

She hardly noticed when she fell against a tree – but she realized that she could no longer feel her arms, or her feet, or her hands – and that she was tired and wanted to sleep.

Es zieht ein Mondenschatten
Als mein Gefährte mit …

She no longer felt cold, or fear, or pain.

A shadow of the moon travels
With me as my companion …

Sarah placed the bird in her bodice, where the gown of cloth of gold lay baggy and loose. Perhaps it would be warm there.

Und auf den weißen Matten
Such' ich des Wildes Tritt.

And then she saw something. Something pale, and glowing, even against the snow – white and magical in the dark of the trees, in the moonlight.

And upon the white fields
I seek the deer's track.

It was a deer.

Sarah felt her eyes open wide.

The same deer from earlier (later?) that night – beautiful, magical – looking at her with dark limpid eyes –

Liquid eyes. A gaze somehow full of sorrow.

She tried to smile – but her face could not move.

But then the deer picked its way across the path, towards her, and carefully, gently, bent to her feet and nudged them with its nose.

Von einem zu dem andern.
Fein Liebchen, gute Nacht!

Sarah closed her eyes.

From one to the other,
My dearest, good night!

"Good night …" she whispered. "Gute Nacht – good night …"

When she opened her eyes again, she looked down – and saw that bark had covered her feet, and was folding over her legs in swathes of golden brown.

She sighed, and smiled to herself, as she finally began to feel warm. The deer watched her, quietly.

Sarah tried to move her lips – succeeded. "Thank you …"

The bark was closing over her arms; wrapping around her waist and growing up her torso.

The warmth was delicious. Sarah blinked back drowsiness, blinked again –

And then saw the deer whip its head to the side.

What –

She moved her head on her suddenly pliable neck – she heard the rustle of leaves in her hair.

But then she felt another, strange ripple of magic–

– and felt cold brush over her face, as she heard a voice. His voice.

"How dare you? …"

Her vision was clouded – she could barely see Jareth as he stepped from the black trees, his eyes gleaming and fixed on the deer.

The deer's own eyes were ringed in white; its muscles lay tense beneath its skin.

"You dare?" Jareth hissed – or was it the wind? "You dare take what I have claimed – what is mine?"

The deer's long ears lay flat against its head. It trembled, but did not move.

Jareth took one gliding step forward – his cloak flaring around him, and magic coiling around his feet.

"She will not go with you – her path lies with me, and her place is at my side."

The deer stood its ground.

"How shall I punish you, then?" The silky voice turned musing, edged with malice. "Shall I kill you quickly, and blight your descendants after you? Or shall I merely leave you here, to die slowly?"

Slowly, Jareth raised one hand. A thread of magic spooled down around his wrist, and crawled down his gloved index finger, and dripped onto the deer's head –

And Sarah cried out as the animal flinched in pain.

"Jareth –"

His lips drew back from his jagged teeth.

"Jareth, please – don't hurt it." Somehow the words fell from her, easily, like leaves from a tree. "It did not harm me – it did nothing wrong."

She could only watch, as Jareth flicked his eyes towards her (cold like a knife), and then back toward the deer – before he clenched his hand into a fist and let it fall back to his side.

"My lady intercedes for you," he said to the deer. He smiled, thinly, and with no warmth. "Go, then, before I make you a warning for your kind."

The deer turned to look at her.

Sarah stared into its eyes – dark, and sorrowful, and pleading –

"Go," she sighed. Or was it the wind in the trees? She did not know "Go, now. Please …"

And the deer shivered, in - cold? anguish? sorrow? - in the dark, and bounded off through the trees, as pale as the moonlight, and shining like a star.

Sarah looked after it, as long as she could, until it faded from her sight.

-------------------------------------------------

Silence stretched between them.

Sarah watched, dully, as Jareth stepped towards her, and paused a foot away – and stretched out one gloved hand to touch the bark covering her.

"Amazing …" His voice was soft.

Then it changed, and she realized that the softness was merely a feather balanced on a razor blade.

"We keep crossing paths this night, my love. So I will ask you one final time –"

His eyes glittered at her, from beneath strands of his white-gold hair, reflecting the stars in his crown.

"Why have you come here?"

Sarah opened her mouth to speak – and heard only the whisper of the wind, and the rustling of leaves.

Jareth drew his cloak close around him. "I see."

He paused, and considered her, his face pale, closed – beautiful.

"My poor, precious thing – stranded here by cruel winds – bound by magic not your own – lost in time, lost in the woods, with no way out …" His voice trailed off. "A traveler, like any other … who took a wrong turn."

Lost in time 

Where was she, in time? Was this her future? Was it the past? Was it both together, or neither – or something else entirely? Sarah blinks, and sees herself dancing through the air, in a bubble – no, on the river's edge – with two little girls – with Jareth – in cloth of gold – in her college clothes – in a red sweater – in a white dress – all the images begin to blur and run together like water …

Sarah sighs – and hears leaves above her rattle.

"Sometimes …"

Is that her voice, or the wind?

Jareth steps closer, and bends his head to hers. "Yes?"

"Sometimes, the way forward is the way back …"

A pause. Jareth looks deep into her eyes, and brings one finger up to touch her cheek.

… jetzt faßt er mich an …

"Not this time, my love."

His eyes glitter as he smiles.

"Not this time."

Sarah sees him take off his gloves.

… now he takes hold of me …

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah felt nothing, in the cold, and saw nothing but darkness – dark stretching above her and around her, as far as her eye could see.

"Sarah …"

She heard a whispering voice, from a distance, and felt a puff of air on her face.

"Say my name, Sarah …"

She squeezed her eyes shut, and then opened them, trying to focus. There. There was light, flickering from above, and showing her –

– Sarah no longer felt fright, or pain. The only thing she felt was the cold, as she met Jareth's gaze, as he looked at her intently.

His face was still; only the fire in his eyes convinced her that he was a living thing.

"Say my name …"

She felt nothing – but she heard what could have been cloth tearing – a dull, ragged sound in the winter night.

(I almost tore the fabric of the world …)

"Sarah –" Jareth's voice fell, like chips of ice, to the ground. "Say my name."

Sarah parted her lips.

"… Jareth …"

Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan …

She saw him lower his head, and then raise it again to stare at her, his smile ghastly in the starlight.

She saw him pinch the fingertips of his right glove – and then he slid the leather off his hand.

Jareth parted her coat, and her sweater, and her shirt, with his gloved left hand. Then she could only watch, as he spread his right hand, glowing white in the darkness –

– and she felt him place it between her breasts, over her heart.

Sarah heard her own breath rattle in her chest – unnaturally loud, drawn out and rasping.

She tried to take another breath. It rattled, and grated against her ribs as Jareth pressed his hand down.

The Elf King has given me a mortal wound …

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah bends her head, and hears the creaking of branches.

Jareth's hands are tracing patterns over her – bodice? bark? - over the bark that was the cloth of gold covering her breasts. She feels nothing – until he digs his long fingers into the bark and peels away a strip of golden brown, exposing the pale heartwood beneath it –

Sarah cries out – or is it the wind moaning? – no, it is her own voice.

She feels her chest heave as she gasps for air – she looks at herself and sees the golden-brown marked with red yarn, like the pattern of a moth's wings – pain stabs through her like a pin through a living butterfly.

She feels tears slide down her cheeks as she looks down, and sees a red tangle of yarn falling, thread by thread, to the ground, where Jareth is working his fingers beneath the bark and around the white heartwood – pieces of yarn – or it could be sap – the wood's blood – or her own blood –

Jareth slides his hands up, and Sarah hears branches snap as she clenches her fingers in agony.

Then she hears a faint chirp.

And Sarah takes in a deep breath, in hurt and in sorrow, as she sees the gold-winged bird flutter against the stark white of Jareth's hands, streaked red with yarn ...

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah heard the last traces of the rattle echo through her chest – and then she heard another sound – the same tearing of cloth, and then Jareth's mouth was at her ear and he had taken his hand from her heart and placed it on her brow, and she could not feel the other at her waist – she could only hear his voice.

"Take me to you – Sarah – open to me –" His words hissed over her cheek – then he descended on her lips and kissed her ferociously. "Take me to you. Hold me to you – embrace me as your own – Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt …"

-------------------------------------------------

Jareth cradles the bird in his hands, and strokes its head with one finger.

"Don't –" Sarah croaks. His eyes fly up to meet hers. She tries to speak once more. "Don't hurt it, Jareth –"

"Of course not, my love." His eyes are shadowed. "But it is mine – you must see that now."

The bird's wings flash gold against his cloak, as he winds red yarn together into a small skein, and lays the bird on it, and brings his hands together – and then yarn and bird, red and gold, have vanished into white.

"It is mine …" Jareth's voice is low. "Just as you are mine, my dearest in all the worlds."

He slips his fingers beneath the bark, and coils them into her waist, and skims over her hips and caresses her legs – she sees where the golden-brown bark falls away, and where yarn slides to the ground, red against the white of her skin –

"My beloved – my lady …" His lips are moving against hers; she feels the words slide over her mouth, like sap dripping down bark. "I love you – your beautiful form arouses me … Take me to you. Open to me –" one hand eases up the inside of one of her legs, and nudges it to the side – "You are mine – make me yours …"

Jareth reaches up with his free hand, and takes her arm –

Or is it a branch?

Sarah hears a snapping noise, as he takes a branch and drapes it across his shoulders; he does the same with another one, and then twines the long fingers of one hand through her hair, as leaves rustle –

"My bride …" he whispers. "Take me to you."

She sees Jareth's eyes close, and then feels him kiss her deeply, parting her lips and unfurling into her mouth like a flower.

She cannot breathe.

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah felt Jareth's weight pressing her to the ground – and nothing more but cold. Cold enveloping her, and moving above her, and around her and –

Jareth tore his lips away from hers; and she gazed up at his face, through the dark threads creeping across her vision – and Sarah saw his features twist in ecstasy –

And he framed her own face with his hands, and caught her mouth with his again, and kissed her with such intensity that Sarah hardly felt the cold above her, and around her, and within her, circling her face like a rope made of ice, spreading inside her like frost, and stopping her lips with snow –

She could not breathe.

But breathing no longer seemed to matter.

-------------------------------------------------

Chapter Text

It was warm, where she was sleeping, but dark.

I don't want to wake up 

She held her eyes shut for a moment, then let them fall open, resigned to wakefulness plucking at her mind …

Wait –

Sarah blinked, and snuggled deeper into the warm blanket wrapped around her. She was comfortable, although not quite sure of what she was resting on – nothing sharp, certainly – but was it a tree? How did she come to be draped over – whatever it was – and covered in cloth so dark that even in the night it seemed to absorb the faintest glimmers of starlight –

But the starlight was coming from it, somehow … Puzzled, Sarah uncurled the fingers of one hand from where it rested against her cheek, and stroked the fabric. A silver-white dusting of stars, or snow, on darkness – it looked like the night sky might, if she could see it …

Could she see it?

Sarah looked up. She could not see the sky in the pale light that came from Jareth's face, so close to hers – from his crown, from the long strands of his hair that mingled with hers where her head rested against his shoulder. She blinked again, considering, and stretched out her hand to trail over his neck, feeling the warmth of his skin beneath her fingertips.

He smiled down at her.

"One moment, love."

His voice held the faint whisper of the creek, and the echo of the night wind. There was a slight breath of air sliding through the ravine – that's where we are – and white fingers of fog, rippling gently around them, flowing over the pile of clothes Sarah saw as she moved her head.

She watched, her thoughts quiet, as the flickering starlight showed tears and rents in the coat, and shirt, and – jeans? Is that what those are? – mending themselves, and as – what is that?– a flashlight – and a tire iron – rolled and clanked over the ground, coming to rest near the clothes. A brightly knit hat floated out of the darkness, landing in what Sarah saw to be a puddle – a puddle that was black in the faint light, black even against the mass of dark hair flung out around the coat's shoulders and falling over rocks –

Jareth turned, and she could no longer see the ravine floor.

Sarah looked up at him again, staring into his eyes – sparkling and – beautiful – especially from this close –

He raised his eyebrows. "Shall we?"

Sarah considered, and tried to take a step –

Jareth tightened his grip, and widened his smile. "There's no need – I am glad to be your escort, lady."

And Sarah laid her head back against his shoulder, and blinked again, feeling drowsy and enveloped by warmth, as he began to walk and as the ravine walls flowed by.

Of course. She was not walking. He was carrying her.

Which really isn't that bad – she thought, muzzily. But why would it be bad? It was warm, for one thing, and it wasn't bumpy at all, and nothing hurt – why should anything hurt?

She shifted in his arms. Jareth pressed a kiss to her forehead – she stirred as she felt heat from the kiss slither down across her breasts and gather in her stomach – and she moved again, feeling something within her tighten –

Sarah felt his laugh, warm and soft, caress her like a gentle hand. "Not just yet." His tone was low, lulling. "We have some ground to cover first."

She could feel where his voice vibrated in his chest. She looked up at him. "What do you mean?" Her own voice felt scratchy.

He flashed a smile down at her. "Patience. Rest, for now."

Sarah closed her eyes.

When she opened them, she could see a road that she knew. Jareth glided over the asphalt – Sarah squinted over his shoulder and saw a bridge in the distance, a bridge that she knew – its form strangely blurred and insubstantial. She peered ahead. The road was empty – they only passed one – what was it? – car – and it quickly dissolved into the night gloom, as she heard someone – a child? – crying, from a distance – but the crying blended into a faint melody –

Jareth was humming, softly, an absent-minded smile curling the corners of his mouth. Sarah nestled her face into his neck; he kissed her again.

She closed her eyes.

When she opened them, she saw only trees. Large trees – tall and black, edged by the moonlight and sighing in the wind. Their branches bowed, and they clustered to each other to clear a path for the two of them.

Sarah looked around, considering. Jareth walked with his head held high, the glow from his magic reaching to the top of the walls, throwing the statues and stones of the Labyrinth into sharp relief –

– but it wasn't the Labyrinth. Those were trees, not walls – even if they sighed words of reverence, and whispered their greetings, and bowed low in homage.

"Jareth," she murmured.

He bent to her, not pausing in his strides. "Yes?"

"It looks like –" The Labyrinth, she wanted to finish – but the words caught in her throat somehow – but then she saw his face turned towards her, his look – tender?

"It does, doesn't it?"

She shivered. "What does it mean?"

A satisfied smile. "It means that we're getting closer."

"Oh." Sarah laid her head back against him, feeling – cradled? – rocked, somehow – lulled into rest by the wind. She gazed straight up, and looked at the stars caught in filaments of Jareth's hair – at the black branches of trees – or were they the points and parapets of the castle –

– is that the Castle Beyond the Goblin City? –

– turn back – turn back before it's too late 

She felt sleep wrap her like a blanket, and closed her eyes.

"Look, my love." Jareth's mouth brushed against her ear. "The stars are hailing you."

Sarah opened her eyes wide, and stared at the sky. They were at the top of a hill, and the heavens lay around them like an overturned bowl of black lacquer ornamented with silver – silver that sparkled, and shone, and called out to her, singing in a language she could just barely understand, their voices full of sorrow –

– good night – Gute Nacht – good night – good-bye 

She blinked. Why should they be sorrowful?

"Why indeed …" Was that Jareth's voice, or was it the ice? She heard ice crunch beneath his feet as he walked down a path that she knew … Sarah rested her head against his shoulder, watching as the lamps over the path flickered into darkness with his passing.

His pace was level, and controlled, and she hardly noticed when the path flattened out – she hardly saw bushes and ornamental shrubs, shriveled under snow, float past them – but then she felt Jareth walk up several steps, slowly –

– and then Sarah caught her breath, as she saw a door that she knew.

A pair of doors, looming large in front of them, framed by icicles and stone. Tall doors, black and ominous – and somehow growing even taller as Jareth stopped in front of them – Sarah felt a sudden chill, even in the warmth enveloping her, as she saw them stretch higher and higher into the winter night –

Jareth stretched out his right hand, his long, pale fingers wrapped into a fist.

He knocked once – twice –

– and at the third knock, the icicles glinted, and splintered, and the carvings around the door stirred and came to life.

Sarah watched, a strange sensation catching at her, as the satyrs cavorted out of their frame – as the branches of the trees and the snakes wrapped around them untwisted and undulated across the doors, coiling around the handles and pulling –

– she heard faint voices, crying, and saw where the nymphs were hiding their faces and turning away …

The doors opened. Still cradling her, Jareth stepped inside. And Sarah heard the heavy wood and metal close with a grating thud – a sound that seemed to go on longer than it should, as though it were echoing through the world, and through time.

-------------------------------------------------

It was warm, where she lay awake, but somehow darker than before.

Sarah felt her fingers clench together, as Jareth walked forward slowly. She blinked hard, trying to see. Somehow, even the light of his face and crown seemed to fade in the darkness.

The concert hall – that's where we are. Sarah bit her lip. She knew that she was in the foyer, that the stairs should be to her right, the reception room to her left and the auditorium straight ahead. But she could hardly see anything – only – and she squinted – only the occasional gleam of a mirror, and a faint shimmer off the grandfather clock at the top of the stairs.

She felt a tilt, and a sliding sensation of fabric against her, as Jareth eased her down to her feet. He kept his cloak wrapped tightly around her, the strong fingers of one hand hooked into her shoulder as he ran his other hand through his own hair. His gaze was abstracted, preoccupied, as he gazed over her head, into the darkness.

Sarah watched, blinking in awe despite herself, as his nimble fingers caught the stars (of his crown) in his hair, one by one, and held them in his hand.

Jareth furrowed his brow, then blinked, and looked down at her – and smiled into her wide eyes.

She parted her lips, let a wondering breath fall. "How do you do that?"

Jareth tilted his head. "Do you like them?"

He flicked his fingers, and the gathered stars sprang into the air, hovering above his palm.

"They're beautiful …" Her voice sounded wistful, to her own ears.

Jareth's other hand slipped from her shoulder; he twined his fingers through both her hands and brought them to his lips. "You shine more beautifully than they ever will …"

Sarah shivered at the sensation of his mouth on her hands – her entire body prickled with goosebumps as his cloak fell from around her bare skin –

– wait 

A yawning pit opened in Sarah's stomach as she realized that she was naked.

How – her thoughts veered wildly in different directions. Where are my clothes? How did this happen?

Her breath came faster. Sarah shivered as Jareth stepped back from her. She felt his gaze on her body like a weight.

"Truly, my love –" His voice was low and hypnotic. "You shine – and put the stars to shame."

Then he cupped the pinpricks of light in both hands, and whispered to them, and let them drop into thin air. Sarah gasped as they fell – and could only stare as they hung suspended in a gentle curve – on a strand, like a thread of sparkling jewels.

"See what I give you ..." Jareth's voice slid like silk over her body as he reached out, and brushed his hands over her shoulders, and touched his fingers together at the back of her skull – draping the necklace of stars around her throat.

They did not burn, or freeze, as they fell against her bare skin. In their light, she saw her flesh glow like the moon.

She jerked her head back up and saw Jareth staring at her, hungrily, his hands still clasped at the back of her neck. He bent his head to kiss her – she pulled away from him.

His eyes narrowed. "Sarah –"

A long, mournful toll interrupted him.

The clock whirred and clanked as it boomed out the first quarter. She saw his eyes flick away from her – over her shoulder and up to the top of the stairs.

Sarah saw him raise an eyebrow.

"Time enough, then."

She hardly caught his whisper; it was swallowed up in the rustle of his cloak, as he caught her elbow, and moved her to the foot of the stairs, and up a step.

Sarah shivered, as she looked him directly in the eye – for the first time – no – she thought – the first time standing up –

A memory stretched out its skeletal hands to her, she smelled its rotting breath, looked into its leering face and felt her eyes go wide as she took a gasping breath at the feeling of horriblecold enveloping her and pressing into her body –

"Shh –" Jareth's eyes held hers. "My love – my jewel –" he inhaled through his teeth – "I thought of myself, earlier, when I loved you – I only thought of what I could lose …" His eyes glittered in the darkness. "But now I have you – and I will give you a gift –"

Sarah shook her head. "I want none of your gifts –" she clumsily grasped the necklace with her right hand – "I want noneof this –"

"Nevertheless," Jareth whispers. "This gift, Sarah –" his hands – one gloved, one bare – drift to her face, and stroke down her neck, and trace her collarbone.

He smiled, slowly, his eyes heavy on hers.

"This gift is for you …"

And she felt his lips brush over her throat, and follow his hands, as he moved them down over her body, over her breasts and down past her ribs – down further –

Sarah felt her mouth fall open as she saw Jareth sink to his knees in front of her. She watched him catch his remaining glove in his teeth, and yank it off, taking her golden necklace (the one he took earlier) with it. She heard someone whimpering, and then realized it was herself.

Just step away – Her mind was fraying at the edges, as she felt his tongue flick over her navel and one of his hands at her waist, and the fingers of the other slipping between her thighs –Take one step backwards. Step backStep away.

She tried to move her feet, wavered, and almost fell – Sarah abandoned her grip on the necklace of stars and scrabbled at the banister for balance – but clumsily –

Why can't I move my fingers –

She stared. There, caught between her fingers in rough folds and ripped edges, was the translation.

Sarah felt her knees waver, and wobble, and she let herself sink down, coming to a stop on a stair with one of Jareth's hands guiding her at the small of her back, and feeling rough carpet scratch her, even as he was smoothing the inside of her thighs with his tongue.

The translation – the end of the song – it's what you should have known before – you need to read it now, now before it's too late – why would it be too late? what did he say about the end? what is he doing –

She unfolded the paper and fought to keep it at eye level, her hand trembling – struggling to keep her mind off the sparking jolts of sensation set off by Jareth's fingers and tongue moving together –

Sarah's breath hissed in and out as goosebumps rose on every square inch of her skin – just read – focus – take your mind away – don't think about what he's doing – just don't think about – what is he doing?

Her mind lurched to a stop as she felt Jareth's hands spread her thighs apart, and then his mouth pressed against her and he licked -

"Oh, please –" Her voice seemed stuck in her throat; she groaned to loosen it and shuddered as a ripple of electricity – pleasure – shot up through her body and straight into her brain. "Jareth – I can't –"

She brought the hand with the translation to her mouth and bit down hard on her knuckles to keep from crying out. Her other hand found Jareth's hair, and knotted through it; she tugged and heard him growl deep in his throat –

Sarah's thoughts were unraveling. His hair – be careful for the crown – the stars will burn you if they fall – falling down – the stars are burning – the stars –

Gasping for breath, she unclenched her hand and thrust the paper to her breasts, to see the words – the last words – the ones she should have known – but she could hear the music –

Dem Vater grauset's, er reitet geschwind,
Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind,

She tried to pull her mind together, and read, as she felt Jareth's tongue moving against her, and felt the silk of his hair sliding through her hand like water.

The words flickered in the light of the stars around her neck; she read:

The father shudders, he quickens his pace,
He holds in his arms the moaning child.

Sarah felt Jareth slip a finger inside her – her back arched off the stairs as she pressed against him, moaning – (the moaning child) – if something more didn't happen in a moment she would surely –

Erreicht den Hof mit Müh' und Not;
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.

The music rattled in her brain and burned over her skin. A voice was crying out, and pleading for – something – to someone – high-pitched and insistent –

Sarah jerked her neck off its place on the stair as Jareth eased another finger inside her, and ground his palm against her. She heard (felt) him breathe out a laugh against her flesh.

"Oh, please –" and she stared at the translation clenched in her shaking right hand, twined through with stars where she clawed at the necklace – "Jareth – please – I can't –"

He reaches home with haste and dread;
In his arms, the child was dead.

Sarah gasped. Light was shining all around her; the stars were icy cold where they slid through the sweat on her body –

The child was dead –

"That's it –" She heard him hiss. "Don't hold back – come for me, Sarah – scream for me –"

"No –" the child was dead – the child is dead – Toby's head wrenched back, his neck broken; the children skipping into darkness, laughing and singing – herself (myself) at the bottom of the ravine, lying in a pool of her (my) own blood, black and frozen in the moonlight –

Sarah threw her head back against the stairs and fisted her hands around the translation and his (silken – silver – gold – so beautiful) hair and groaned as the stars burned cold at her breast – "I won't – I don't want your gift –"

She sobbed as he wrenched his mouth and hands from her body, and then he was staring down into her eyes, his breath rasping in his chest –

"If you won't come for me, Sarah, then –"

She stared into his eyes, and felt her skin crawl even as shivers of pleasure crept over her – he was looking at her with deadly intent, his teeth bared – looking as though he would devour her –

– the child was dead –

He dug his fingers into her legs – Wait – Sarah gasped –

– and then cried out at the slick rending give - but I gave him no - I'm giving him - no no - as Jareth thrust into her, and caught her face between adamant fingers –

"Come with me –" He bit at her ear as he snarled into it – "Come hard, Sarah –" he thrust with his words as he did with his body – "Give me this. Give me yourself – come with me."

– the child is dead – I'm dead – I'm dying -

It was different than the first time – it was hot, not cold – and she was not frozen against sensation – she felt corded muscle bunch in his arms when she cried out again and bit him as hard as she could – she saw the angle of his jaw as he bent his head, as he gasped into her neck, as he moved above her and within her – she squeezed her eyes shut as he hissed against her flesh – words and music that made her entire body seize up and shudder, her back arched, as she ripped the necklace away from her breasts with one hand and clawed at his shoulders with the other –

– I'm dying – I'm falling –

He kissed her, and whispered, "Come with me –" and placed his hand where it had been before, and moved his fingers just so 

– and Sarah tore at his hair with her hands, and screamed as she came around him, and with him – the stars flared with silver light and blazed where they had fallen, and where they fell, even as she fell, and had fallen, into the dark –

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah stared upwards. It's so dark – she could not see a thing. She blinked, and coughed. Her throat felt parched; her back itched where the carpet rubbed it.

She tried to sit up, and swallowed, feeling dizzy.

Her skin prickled.

She could feel him nearby.

Slowly, Sarah turned her head. There.

Jareth sat at her feet, and to the side, pouring shards of light, like a fistful of molten sand, from one hand to another.

He paused, and looked back over one shoulder at her. And smiled.

Sarah felt a horrible flood of – warmth? wet? – wait – She looked down to where bruises were blossoming on her legs, and shuddered as she moved, and felt her thighs slip against each other, warm and slick.

She looked back up, and folded her arms around her breasts, instinctively, as she saw where he had risen to stand in front of her, one hand outstretched.

Jareth's smile broadened. "Why so modest, precious thing?"

Sarah said nothing – and merely shook her head.

Jareth's smile twisted; he raised his eyebrows and took her hand, and drew her to her feet before she could move away. "I suppose I shall have to humor you –" he exhaled, in a long, put-upon sigh – and slung his cloak around her body in a swirl of darkness.

"Wait –" Sarah rasped. She could feel the heat of him against her, enclosed in the thick fabric.

Jareth tilted his head. "Wait for what?"

"Your cloak –" she closed her eyes, and fought for words – I'm sweating – I stink and I have – I have you all over me, and I don't want – I don't want you near me – let me go –

"No need to worry." Jareth's voice was light. "In fact –" and his hands gripped her shoulders, and he steered her away from the stairs. "I rather like you this way."

Sarah swallowed hard, tried to keep her legs from wobbling, and tried to keep her mind from his words, curling around her ears.

"Yes …" Jareth paused. Then his fingers slipped to the edge of the cloak, and pulled it back. Sarah felt the air hit her body, and bit her lip.

"Look." His voice had turned low. She felt his fingers at her hips. "Look at how beautiful you are …"

Sarah squeezed her eyes tighter, then flinched as she heard him whisper right into her ear. "Open your eyes and look, Sarah."

Shivering, she opened her eyes. And looked.

A young woman who would have been ordinary enough, in any other mirror. (The mirror over the couch – the stars make it glow –) In the light shining from one of Jareth's hands, she looked –

– how do I look? -

"Beautiful –" he breathed into her ear. "See how beautiful you are …"

Sarah looked. She saw herself, her eyes shadowed beneath her brows, her face drawn, her hair tangled. She looked downwards, and saw the marks on her body where he had bitten her, and clawed at her – and she saw where the necklace of stars had burned a thread of silver across her collarbone –

– and if she looked closely enough, she could see silver lines moving beneath her skin – flowers and vines coiling within her arms, and her hands, and her feet –

Jareth laid his head against her hair, and met her eyes in the mirror. One hand was at her shoulder, holding back the cloak's dark fall – the other hand cupped liquid starlight, and held it higher, to illuminate her –

She moved her glance away, and stared. Red on silver – black on white – she looked long, and saw how she shone in his arms, in the dark – like a pearl, like the moon –

– In his arms, the child was dead 

Sarah watched, strangely calm, as a tear trickled down her face in the mirror. Then another.

"Jareth –"

His face was impassive. "Yes, love?"

Sarah took a deep breath, and turned, and looked straight into his eyes.

"… I don't want to die."

Silence stretched between them.

Jareth closed his eyes, and let the cloak fall as he brought his right hand to her hair, and smoothed over it tenderly. Then looked at her again, and reached down, and gently brushed the tears from her cheeks.

"My sad love. You need fear nothing – for you will live."

Silence

"You will transcend this petty mortal world – you will be made new, and live on with me, forever."

Sarah felt a sob choke her throat, as his low voice caressed her.

"Jareth –"

"Shh," he hushed her, and wrapped her in his arms. "Walk with me." He moved, and took her with him.

The grandfather clock creaked, and tolled three-quarters past the hour –

Sarah wet her lips. "What time is it?"

They were in the middle of the room. Jareth looked ahead, into the darkness. He smiled, and brushed a hand up her arm.

"Almost midnight."

Sarah wrapped her hands around each other, trying to keep them still. They were shaking – why should I be shaking?

– In his arms, the child was dead 

She felt something in her hands. She looked down.

The translation –

– The song was enough. That song, and my gift 

His gift to her. His gift – the spell –

Jareth looked down at her, frowning slightly. "What is it?"

Stall! Her mind clamored. Stall for time – take his attention away –

She stared ahead, at the stairs. The stairway going up – the grandfather clock at the top, gleaming in the faint light – and the stairway going down –

– and Sarah felt every hair on her neck stand on end as she saw a different darkness lurking in the lower stairwell – slowly churning in a circle, bubbling, and oozing up the steps.

She did not have to feign the fear in her voice.

"It's so dark …"

"Ah," Jareth's brow cleared. "Yes, I know. It can't be helped – we have to take the long way around, this time."

He kept the starlight in one hand, and flourished the other, and a crystal popped into being in the air. Jareth waved it ahead. It floated into the stairwell, and down, slowly down, until it sank into the darkness, lost to their sight.

Jareth raised his eyebrows, and looked after the crystal, considering.

The crystal, and the gesture, set Sarah's memory on fire. There were words she could say. There was something she could do.

Sarah raised her hand that held the translation, and rested it on Jareth's chest. He turned to her with a smile –

– and stilled at the look on her face.

Looking up at him, Sarah raised her chin. "You have no –"

Jareth's eyes shuttered. "Do you really wish to say that, dear Sarah?"

Sarah closed her eyes, opened them. Don't let him distract you.

– In his arms, the child was dead 

"If you do," his voice was soft, "You will realize the truth."

Sarah exhaled, took his empty hand, and placed the translation into it.

"I give you back your gift."

She steeled herself, and said the words.

"You have no power over me."

-------------------------------------------------

Jareth looked down at her, cold and still.

Shivering, Sarah looked around. It's not quite midnight – I'm not Cinderella, but some light would be nice – some flash – something to show that it's over – he has no power over me –

"Actually, my love …" his voice fell onto her, as quiet and soft as snow.

He reached into the blackness of his cloak, and gestured – and there, on his white hand, perched the bird with golden wings.

"I'm afraid that I do."

Sarah stared at the bird. It chirped at her, its head to one side.

She felt numb.

"You see," Jareth said, gently, "the time to say those words was when you could still fight me – when you could still draw breath …" he raised the handful of starlight, and flicked one finger against her lips –

"When you still lived."

He smiled.

"What would I need to do, Sarah, to take your mind away – to keep your attention from the most important thing of all? What would I need to do, to make you think only of your worry for your brother, your care for your brother, your love for your brother – and then think only of your fear, and your anger, and your desperate efforts to save your body … when you should have thought of your soul?"

He brought his face close to the bird.

"I would need to do nothing more than what I have already done."

The bird shuddered at his voice, and fluffed up its feathers.

"No –" Sarah's cry was soft.

"Such a sad love – such a tender love," Jareth sighed, gazing at her. "You need not feel sad, love – it does not feel any pain now."

"For I have a great deal of power, Sarah –" he tipped his head, his eyes not leaving hers. "Power over wind, over snow, over ice and air, over sunlight and moonlight and starlight," he chanted the litany. "Over hill, under dale, over the gate of ivory and the gate of horn – the power of dreams –"

And Jareth looked down into her face, his own features grave and pale as a tombstone.

"The power of death …"

And then he held out his arm – his cloak flared out from her body – and Sarah saw the bird, pale and small, flutter into the dark abyss.

She caught one last glimpse of its golden wings –

– and then it was lost to her sight.

-------------------------------------------------

Sarah felt her heart sink in her breast, like a stone.

She stood still, as Jareth stepped towards her, and folded her into his cloak, close to him. She felt his warmth pulse against her, and felt her own tears falling down her cheeks.

"Such a gift, you have given me …" His voice was quiet. "My dearest love. There are countless paths among the stars – so many ways to journey from this world to the next – and of all paths, you chose the one leading to my kingdom, and to my throne. I am honored beyond words …"

She closed her eyes. "I chose nothing. I gave you nothing. Anything that you have, you took from me."

Sarah felt him smile against her hair. "Well, yes. That is the way the song goes, isn't it?"

Silence fell between them, like the moon sinking to its rest.

A gift. She felt empty. I gave him back the spell – but it is too late –

– wait –

– the spell 

– a year and a day – I have a year and a day to break the spell –

Her eyes flew open, at the sudden realization – and then met Jareth's stare, and felt her mind cringe away from his look of triumph.

"My precious thing …" A harsh whisper. "You are my gift."

He brought his hands together, and she watched him as he took the translation, and twined her golden necklace around it, and poured the handful of starlight over it – he stretched and shaped the filament of golden iridescent silver light, and twisted it into a crown.

Jareth held her eyes with his, and placed the crown on her head.

"You alone are worthy." His voice was low, and hard, and exultant. "You are my bride, and I shall make you my queen. You will rule by my side, and stay with me until the stars fall, and the last days sweep across this mortal world." His eyes burned with an unearthly fire. "And even then we shall be triumphant, and reign forever."

Sarah tasted blood.

She took in an unsteady breath, and realized that she had bitten through her lip.

Jareth smiled down at her, his eyes still aflame. Then he bent, and kissed her.

She winced at the sting.

His look gentled, and he brought his hands together behind her neck, and held his cloak around her.

"There will be no pain – I promise you."

The grandfather clock whirred, and clanged its gears, at the top of the stairs.

– I have a year and a day to break the spell –

Jareth rested his forehead against her own.

"My bride – my queen – close your eyes."

Sarah looked to the side, and saw where the roiling different darkness was washing over the top of the stairway leading down ...

She felt no fear.

Why should there be fear?

The clock began to chime the quarter-hour, the half-hour –

Jareth was right – she was not afraid, she was not troubled – she felt no pain. Her lips, her breasts, her belly and her thighs were all cool, and clean, and free of any hurt – there was no stabbing in her ribs, or beating in her head – nothing except –

And then she realized that Jareth had lied.

For there was pain – a pulsing, living throb, clutching at her heart. Sorrow for her brother, for her family, for her friends, for the mortal life that was slipping from her grasp like sand in the wind of time. A sharp agony for all that she was losing – a bone-deep sadness for those who would look after her, and grieve – Sarah gasped, and felt the pain rear up inside her chest, and break her heart, and squeeze tears from her eyes –

The clock began to toll the hour.

– I have a year and a day –

The darkness overflowed from its chasm, and foamed around their feet.

Jareth's arms tightened around her.

"Come, lovely child."

His whisper echoed in the dark.

"Come – go with me."

Sarah saw the darkness reach up to her, and she closed her eyes –

– a year and a day –

– and felt Jareth kiss away her tears, and her memory, and her name.

-------------------------------------------------

Chapter Text

Tinned music was playing and fluorescent lights were bright. The smell of antiseptic sat heavy in the hallway.

A man was pacing up and down, his head bowed; a woman sat nearby, her eyes red in her pale face, holding a young boy in her arms. The boy held a canvas tote snug against his chest as he stared ahead, his eyes dull.

"Mr. Williams?"

A young man in a white coat stepped out of a nearby room. He clutched a clipboard in his hands.

"Yes?"

The young man's fingers tightened on his clipboard. "I'm Dr. Lu – I've been working with Dr. Deerfield for the past few hours, and I have to tell you frankly, sir –"

The older man jerked his head towards the chairs, where the boy had raised his head, looking towards them.

"Ah." Dr. Lu bit his lower lip. "Perhaps, then, if you could please come with me somewhere private – you and your wife –"

"I'm telling you –" a voice boomed from around a corner – "hypothermia is an amazing thing. You can never tell – but it's like my mom used to say up north: you're not dead until you'rewarm and dead –"

The voice rounded the corner; the person attached to it came into view. It was another man in a white coat, somehow both fat and gangly, and wide-eyed.

The first thing his wide eyes saw was Dr. Lu, shaking his head frantically. The second thing he saw was Robert Williams going for his throat.

"You son of a bitch – don't you dare talk about my daughter that way –"

"Robert!" Karen's voice broke.

Toby burst into tears.

"Whoa, whoa –" the gangly doctor pawed at the older man frantically – "I'm sorry, I didn't know you were there – I'm sorry –"

A door slammed open.

"What is the meaning of this commotion?"

An older, rotund doctor glared out at her subordinates. "Dr. Hart – explain yourself."

The young man gulped around Robert Williams' fingers, backed away, and did his best to straighten his coat.

"I'm sorry, ma'am – I made a mistake, and I didn't know anyone was in earshot, and I had no idea that this was family –"

"That is enough." The woman tugged on her white jacket and fumed. "This is going into your write-up, and I will be speaking to your supervisor. Dr. Lu?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Take Dr. Hart, and this young man here –" she gestured towards Toby – "and go for a walk."

Dr. Lu blinked. "Now, ma'am?"

"Yes. Now." She sighed. "And Mr. and Mrs. Williams?"

"Yes?" Karen's voice was feeble.

"My name is Dr. Deerfield. I'm the resident attending here in the ICU – and I must ask you to join me for a moment –" she held open the door.

Karen rose from her chair, mechanically taking her purse. She went to her husband's side, and looked back at Toby.

The boy gazed at her, his face smudged with tears, the younger doctors flanking him.

Robert's voice was rough. "Go for a walk with the nice doctors, bud. We'll be here when you get back."

"Promise?"

"Yes." Karen tried to smile. "We promise."

"O.K."

She watched as he walked off down the hall – a stubby brown book sandwiched between two white bookends.

"Mr. Williams, Mrs. Williams …" Dr. Deerfield's face had settled into grim lines. She suddenly looked older.

"We'll wait for the chaplain, and then we will talk."

-------------------------------------------------

Ordinary hospital sounds – voices over the intercom, orders being called, carts whisking by – drowned out the quiet shuffling of Toby's shoes.

Dr. Hart cleared his throat. "So –"

His voice echoed; he blew out his cheeks in frustration, and spoke more softly. "So – Toby, right?"

Toby nodded, not looking up from his feet. The canvas tote was brushing along the floor.

"Toby. You like baseball, Toby?"

Dr. Lu gave his fellow a look of disgust.

"Not really." Toby's voice was small.

"Hmm. O.K., no baseball. How about football?"

They had reached a few wan plastic chairs set in front of a window; Hart fell into one with an oomph, and patted the seat next to him. Toby edged into it. Lu leaned against the window frame and bit his lip as he looked at the boy.

"I don't like football."

"Well," Hart folded his hands in front of him, and puffed his cheeks out like a frog. The gesture always got laughs in pediatrics; he was crestfallen to see it fail this time. "What do you like?"

There was no reply. He glanced up at the other doctor, and gentled his voice. "Toby?"

The young boy began to cry. "It's all my fault …"

"No, it's not!" Lu shook his head.

"No, it's not, Toby." Hart agreed.

"Toby," Lu kept his voice low. "What you have to understand is that it was an accident. Nobody could have helped what happened. Your sister fell, and hit her head – and then she just got very cold."

A wail. "She told me not to get out of the car – and I had a bad dream, and I was so scared –"

"Shh," Hart hushed him, his face crinkling up in concern. He put an arm around Toby's shoulders. "You were a very good boy – you did exactly what your sister said, until you realized that something was wrong – and then you did go to look for her, right?"

"You were very brave," Lu said gently.

The only sound was Toby's sobbing.

"But – but I didn't find her soon enough –"

The doctors exchanged long looks. Lu hunched his shoulders, and looked out the window. Hart said nothing, but rubbed Toby's arm until his crying dwindled.

Lu turned back, casting for a change of subject. "Toby – what do you like? What do you have in that bag?"

Toby hiccupped. "M-music. I was thinking that I could play some music for her. She took me to a concert, so I brought my best CDs – just for her."

"Music –" Lu exhaled. "That's wonderful. I studied music myself, for some time – what CDs do you have here?"

Toby held one up. Hart plucked it from his hands. The doctor squinted, and then read: "The best of Schubert's string music. Die Forelle – The Trout –"

Lu's mouth turned up at the corners. "I've heard of that one."

"I sang it, once." Toby gave him a watery smile.

Lu tilted his head. "Very nice. What else?"

"Let's have another CD," Hart boomed. "Ah – Winterreise – Winter Journey."

"That's the one she took me to hear." Toby's lower lip trembled. "It's really good."

Lu flashed the other doctor a look; Hart's eyebrows shot up, and he overrode Toby's voice. "Well, let's talk about the other CD instead. Schubert's String Music: a Compilation – yes, very nice, very nice – quintets, quintets – Die Forelle – "The Trout" – and then quartets – Der Tod und das Mädchen – "Death and the Maiden" –"

Hart stuttered to a halt; Lu winced.

They both looked at Toby.

The young boy was not listening. Instead, he was looking out the window – staring into the pale winter sunlight – tears running down his face like water over snow.

-------------------------------------------------

Beautiful music is playing and the stars are bright. She is gazing at a painting of a golden-haired boy - a round-cheeked child, his shoulders hunched and his hands clasped around a grimy bag - looking out of a window, and weeping.

What?

She blinks in the light, and looks up – the stars shine through a strange lattice of white wood twined round with pale leaves – leaves on a vine heavy with bunches of pearls. The light reflects through the hallway – she looks to her right and sees marble floors and walls stretch into the distance – she looks to her left and sees the same thing – or is it a mirror? The marble, or the mirror, shows her a young woman, very pale, dressed in a gown of cloth of gold.

Her dark hair twines around a thin band of gold, flush against her temples – a golden crown.

She blinks. Then she tears her eyes away from her reflection, and stares at the painting again. There's something about it that tugs at her – something strange – something –

"There you are."

The voice sounds from behind her. It echoes in a strange way – but it is familiar, with a rippling tone running over something crackling with energy – something electric. Something magical.

She smiles to herself. Magic …

Slowly, she turns around – and feels her eyes go wide as she looks at the – person? – man leaning against the wall. Pale, beautiful, as gorgeously dressed as she is – with a mass of pale hair that shines in the starlight like a comet's tail.

"I know you, don't I?" She is interested to hear her own voice – it is low, but with an echo of roughness to it that catches at her ears in a pleasant way.

The man tilts his head to one side, quirks his mouth in a smile that vanishes as quickly as it appears. "Yes, you definitely do."

He pushes himself up from the wall, and limps towards her. He stops when he is within arm's reach – and then stands still, and looks at her.

Something strange prickles at her when she sees smudges of fatigue beneath his eyes.

"You look tired." She tucks a stray hair behind her ear. "Are you tired?"

The man shrugs. "A little. I have only just returned from a long journey – but I am very happy to see you here, my lady."

My lady. She tries the words out on her tongue. They are sweet – like honey, or sugar, or a violet after rain.

"I am your lady?"

The same fleeting smile. "Yes."

She considers. Then she reaches out and touches his face, gently; he goes still, and lets his eyes fall shut.

She traces beneath one of his eyes with her thumb, then explores the texture of his cheek – one plane of cheekbone, some threads of silky hair, skin as smooth as alabaster going down to a sharp jawline –

He breathes out, and turns his head slightly, and presses a soft kiss into her palm.

What –

She takes her hand away, feeling – unsettled? – tired. "I feel rather tired myself."

Opening his eyes, he steps forward and gently places his hands at the sides of her waist. "You have been – ill."

"Ill?"

"Yes …" His voice is husky. "And only just recovered – which gives me great happiness, my lady."

He murmurs the last words into her ear, and brushes a kiss across her cheek – which makes her shiver, for some reason.

Oh –

She looks him directly in the eye. "Jareth."

His mouth tightens; she sees a muscle clench in his jaw. "Yes?"

"… Jareth."

Silence.

"That's your name, isn't it?"

She sees his shoulders slowly relax. "Yes, it is."

"I thought so."

Turning in his hands, she looks at the painting again.

Jareth's voice is soft, from behind her. "You seem intrigued, my lady."

Intrigued. She rolls the word around in her mouth, and tests it. Not quite right, rather –

"More puzzled, than anything else."

The pause stretches gently. She sighs, then thinks to break it.

"This reminds me of something …"

She can almost hear the question in his silence.

"… I just can't think of what."

"Well." Jareth speaks in a strange tone. "Perhaps you will remember later."

"Perhaps."

"After all, you remembered my name."

"Yes –" She smiles, and leans back against him, feeling his warm arms close around her. "I did, didn't I?"

Turning, she sees him smile, and bend to kiss her.

The kiss flutters at her lips, like a butterfly – and floats down over her breasts and belly to settle like a tiny coal deep within her – she exhales in pleasure and leans forward against him; he tucks her head beneath his chin and strokes her hair with one white hand.

They stand this way for a long moment, quiet in each other's arms in the midst of the mother-of-pearl and the mirrors.

Finally, Jareth reaches down, and takes her hand. He leads her slowly down the hallway.

She looks at more paintings. A setting sun. A hall full of people. A man in strange raiment – black and white. A pine forest. A silver tree. A white deer –

"Oh –"

Jareth stops at her voice. "Yes?"

"That one." She tilts her head at the painting of the deer. "What is it? It's – there's something about it."

"Ah." His fingers tighten around hers. "What you see is difficult to name – a guide, of sorts. A Guardian of the Ways."

"The Ways?"

He shrugs. "Ways, trails, mazes, paths. A guide – one guide out of many – between various realms, but most often between the mortal world and that which comes – after." He lifts an eyebrow.

"The mortal world," she muses. "Mortal. Am I mortal?"

He falls back into a slow walk, she steps beside him, and considers his quiet look of satisfaction.

"No."

Worrying at her lower lip, she looks back at the paintings again. A white deer. A bridge. A ravine …

She stumbles.

Jareth takes a tight hold of her shoulders. "What is it?"

"I don't know," she gasps. "I just felt something – something strange –"

And then her attention is caught by a ripple of melody.

She moves away from Jareth, and walks further down the hallway, and then breaks into a run as she sees something particular near the door.

It is a small, pale bird, with golden wings, locked in an ornate cage.

"Oh, how beautiful –"

"Yes – very beautiful." Jareth's voice is low. He has kept pace with her; she can hear his whisper without any effort - or perhaps it is the way it echoes through the hall ...

She turns to look at him – he is looking straight back at her, and smiling fully for the first time.

The bird cheeps at her. She turns back, and slips her fingers into the cage. "I think it likes me."

"Such a tender heart." She feels, rather than sees, Jareth walk up to stand behind her. "Who would not love you upon first seeing you?"

"Oh –" she hears her own voice, throaty. "I would take it with me."

She reaches for the latch, but Jareth gently catches her hand.

"Best not, my love. It needs some time to itself – to get accustomed to its new home."

"Its new home?" She turns, and stares at him.

His smile widens. "I only just acquired it."

Feeling something tickle her mind, she turns back – or begins to, but then Jareth runs his hand through her hair, traces his fingers down her neck – and then his lips catch hers as he backs her against the wall, and her mind runs from golden wings to silken hair as she embraces him back, and feels heat ripple through her at his touch, at his kiss – her cheeks flush, and she grasps his coat front as they surface and she gulps for air.

She rests her fingertips against his cheek, feeling dazed. "What was that for?"

Jareth laughs. "No reason." He tilts his head and grins at her, his eyes glittering. "I am just happy to have you here – with me."

"Yes," she breathes, and presses herself against him as he kisses her neck, as she feels a growl from the back of his throat buzz in her chest – as she feels a flutter against her fingers –

But no. That is the bird – it is flying against the bars of its cage, and chirping loudly.

She knits her brow. "Jareth –"

"Can you hear it?" he interrupts.

She listens. There is music – not from far away, but from the room on the other side of the door. Bright and lilting music – the music of a dance.

Smiling, he takes her hand, and opens the door. The music floods around them – and she feels her feet move, instinctively wanting to dance – but then she looks back, as Jareth gestures slightly.

Ivy and vines, daisies and roses spring up from around the door, and cover it with their leaves of silver and gold, and their flowers of ivory and pearl – and Jareth kisses her – and the music swells –

– and she catches one last glimpse of the bird, beating its wings against the bars, before the door closes.

-------------------------------------------------

The End
6/10/2007