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A Carnival of Dreams

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In All My Dreams I Drown
The ship, it swayed, heave ho, heave ho,
On the dark and stormy blue,
And I held tight to the Captain's might,
As he pulled up his trews.
"You haven't slept," heave ho, he said,
"In many suns and moons."
"Oh, I will sleep when we reach shore,"
"And pray we get there soon."

He said, "Now hush, love - here's your gown."
"There's the bed, lantern's down."
But I don't want to go to sleep -
In all my dreams, I drown.

The Captain howled "Heave ho, heave ho,"
And tied me up with sheets.
"A storm is brewing in the South;"
"It's time you go to sleep."
His berth, it rocked, heave ho, heave ho,
The ocean gnashed and moaned.
Like Jonah, we'll be swallowed whole,
And spat back teeth and bones.

He said, "Now hush, love - here's your gown."
"There's the bed, lantern's down."
But I don't want to go to sleep -
In all my dreams, I drown.

Captain! Captain!
I will do your chores!
I will warm your cot at night,
And mop your cabin floors!
Scold me! Hold me!
I'll be yours to keep!
The only thing I beg of you:
Don't make me go to sleep.

The sky, it flashed, heave ho, heave ho,
His pillow toed to the brink.
The curtains ran between my legs,
As we began to sink.
I closed my eyes, heave ho, heave ho,
As the ship was rent and felled.
Eddies in the water headed,
To the mouth of Hell.

"Hush, now; hush, love - here's your gown."
"There's the bed, lantern's down."
I'm begging you please wake me up -
In all my dreams I...

- TDC

-pulled in another, gasping, heaving breath beneath him, shuddering and keening, and completely at his mercy as she was.

“Say your right words,” he murmured, his breath hot against her lips. “I have your fear, your love, and your utmost obedience, Sarah.” He paused a moment, dipping his head so that the point of his tongue could trace the hollow of her throat. When his eyes found hers again, they were dark and wild with the force of his lust. “I am yours to do what you ask … but you must ask it.”

It occurred to her then that she could end this now – turn the clock's hands as he once had, but backwards this time. She could deny him, and go back to a time before this, when her heart and her body had not laid entirely open before him. As much as she might crave that simpler time, she knew that she could never be so strong.

“Take me,” she whispered. Then, louder, “Fuck me.”

The Goblin King gave a feral grin. “Gladly.”

It was almost too much to bear as he shifted against her, poised as he was to claim her. The sensation as he entered her was lost to the morning.

Sarah blinked herself awake, and then gave a mewl of frustration that was worryingly close to a whine. The torment was worse than ever – that time, she had almost been able to feel him as he drove himself inside her.

The dreams had been much purer at first – simpler days now long behind her. They had begun almost as soon as her adventure had ended, after she had travelled to another realm to take on the trials of the labyrinth, and saved her baby brother from the devious yet oh-so-dashing Goblin King. She had been little more than a child herself then, so very young, and entirely naïve in the curious world that had been opened to her. The dreams of that world were equally strange, exotic things, that came to her once or twice a week, where her paths and choices inside the Goblin King's maze would come back to torment her. She had escaped the labyrinth, yet for some reason it never left her.

She was plagued by visions of dark magic and some new longing she could not quite grasp, calling out to her, drawing her to them. To him. She truly had faced dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, seen peril in the faces of ghastly, unknown creatures, but none of it had left her so confused, shaken her to her very core, as he had.

The library had become something of a lifeline in those early days, giving her somewhere to turn for information when nothing and no one else could help her. The plays and childish stories she read were put aside in favour of thicker tomes of myth and lore, books which brought her at least a little closer to understanding what had befallen her. She studied them with a determination that bordered on obsession, a girl who had put aside her fascination with dolls and dresses worthy of a princess, only to shove her head firmly into an entirely different cloud. She absorbed all she could about the fae realm, its dark lure, its beauty and magic, and all the wonderful creatures that existed within it, all with their own delights and dangerous tricks.

One piece of information she stumbled across in more than one text was a warning she wished she had encountered before her wild adventure. To accept any food from that world was to accept some of its power over her in return, and she felt certain that the one guilty bite of a peach was the tie that was keeping her bound. She had bested the labyrinth, defeated its keeper, and denied him his own power over her, but she hadn't counted on something as seemingly innocent as a bite of fruit to keep her linked to it in her dreams.

It was strange to her how, in those dreams, her dream-self always accepted whatever gifts were offered to her readily enough. They were harmless baubles and trinkets, mostly, reminders of the friends she had made, and who loved her, and of the foul creatures she had bested, and who were now in awe of her bravery. In those innocent, early dreams, the king of that mystical realm remained dark to her, glaringly absent from the adventures that spun themselves out in her head – but already the cracks had begun to show. On odd occasions, she would find some deep pool or shining pane of glass that stood out above all others, as clear and bright as perhaps a crystal, and in its depths she would start to see things. A certain bold someone, staring back at her, though she was alone, his contrasting eyes keen enough to see all.

Of course, in her waking hours, she remembered the Goblin King – how could she forget those strange eyes, those sharp, elfin features and cruel words that had plagued her throughout her quest? He had taunted and teased her at every step, turned her head every which way but that of the true path – a hard, cold man, but at the end he had softened and coaxed; pleaded for a mercy that she had not been able to give. That man reminded her too much of the one who had taken her in his arms and danced with her - not as if he was indulging a child, but treating her like the woman she was rapidly becoming - staring deep into her eyes and making her long for things she had been yet too young to understand.

But the dreams were changing.

As she grew older – riper – and put aside her childhood toys and games, so, too, did her dreams gradually take from her the innocent visions of her friends, leaving her instead with darker dreams, in which the Goblin King more and more often took the starring role. They brought her a new understanding of those charged encounters in the labyrinth, the ones that had left her feeling wild and weak all at once, and now took centre stage in her darkest, most private thoughts. Lingering, searching looks; fantasies of chaste kisses and tentative touches shifted into more intense, more physical needs that left her dazed and aroused upon waking.

In these new dreams, Jareth (how thinking the name she had never quite dared speak aloud never failed to make her shiver!) was charming and resplendent, positively seductive in his form-fitting silken clothes - a man who might be willing to offer her far more than crystals and magic.

As each birthday drew nearer, the dreams grew in both intensity and number, now coming to her each and every night and tearing her days asunder. They bled into her more wholesome daylight thoughts, half-remembered words and sights and sounds that felt all too dark, and far too confusing for her to process.

On the eve before her eighteenth birthday, on the cusp of womanhood, she had been all but positive that the Goblin King would appear to her in person that night, to lay his claim upon her once and for all. She had waited, but midnight came and went, leaving her with nothing more than her empty bed, and thoughts that were in equal parts relief and disappointment.

Until she fell asleep, for the dreams to begin anew.

Older, if no wiser, but so very, very willing, she had found them shifted once more. Gone entirely now were any thoughts but of him, and only him. If Sarah had any doubt at all of his intent towards her, these new dreams were more than enough to convince her. She would awaken each morning with a head full of hazy, yet dreadfully tempting visions, a cluster of hot little pebbles weighing low down in her belly and making her itch and throb. How could her days hope to compete with such nights? Nights in which he teased and tested her will with anything and everything that lay within his arsenal, delighting her whole body with the heat of his skilled lips and tongue; heating bare, wanting flesh with a steady hand and measured strokes from his riding crop, or the smooth crystal tip of his cane.

He offered more and more of himself with each encounter, tasting more of what she, in all her purity, would willingly surrender. Each time, he commanded her to speak the words that would give him free reign over her, body and soul, giving her what he would in return, and taking his pleasure in how well she cried out and begged for more. The Goblin King wanted her, and he would take, and take, and take, until he had consumed all of her.

The dreams were both a blessing and a curse, granting her a primal, intimate knowledge that she could only wish for – if wishes were not such dangerous things – in reality. They provided such a sweet taste of what she had come so badly to want, but had no grasp of how to obtain – the blushing virgin who knows all too well what she's missing out on. Her dream lover made even the simple matter of trying to flirt utterly impossible. She would be asked on dates, the eager college boys around her drawn towards someone who glowed like a beacon, innocent yet knowing; who wanted their advances but shied from them at the same time. Sarah wanted them, sure, she was ready and so very curious, and wanted something to make her forget Jareth's allure once and for all.

The dates never went as planned, though. Those she said 'yes' to soon abandoned her when they realised that even the most chaste of kisses was too much to ask of her. She had been called everything from frigid to a whore; a teasing bitch, and an ugly dyke – cruel reminders that men could be cruel when they were denied, but it made her refusals all the more determined. And Jareth, Jareth would be most generous in his response afterwards.

On the nights she turned a potential suitor away without even a handshake, the dreams would positively flood her every sense with their intensity, the Goblin King both rewarding and punishing her with pleasures untold, beyond her wildest reckoning. He would tell her again and again how foolish she was to even consider any of these pathetic boys, any panting, pawing pup who begged and pleaded to show her something that would not be even half as sweet as she deserved.

Any who might dare to covet what was so clearly his.

On her nineteenth birthday, she had awakened from one of these horrible, wonderful dreams, with a cry on her lips, one hand covering her mouth and the other wedged firmly into the fork of her crotch. If she had been able to keep a room-mate who could tolerate her, with her frequent sleep talk and apparent nightmares, she would have been helpless to stop herself even if they had been there watching. Blessedly alone, at least, she had brought herself to an immediate, shuddering climax, biting down on the heel of her free hand hard enough to stifle her cries, and enough to leave her nursing the bruise for a week afterwards.

The morning of her twentieth birthday had been much the same, waking wet and near-feverish with need, cursing and commending the Goblin King for these strange, dark gifts both in the same hitching breath. He found her wherever she was, it seemed, home or college dorm or vacation hideaway seemingly less important to him than bestowing upon her these most erotic dreams. Yet, wherever he found her, she always woke alone and frustrated beyond belief, driven half-mad by an impossible fantasy that never came to fruition.

If her king (and, oh my, when had that most submissive term of address for him begun?) truly wanted her, as the dreams told her he most definitely did, then he must realise that she responded to his longing in kind; had for years now. Surely, he had to know that, at least in that moment of weakness and desperate desire, when she awoke, panting and slick with arousal, she would be powerless to resist him. Yet, despite her mind's darkest desires, she went unclaimed, but also, in spite of Jareth's best efforts, not quite broken. Not just yet, anyway.

Of the dreams leading up to her twenty-first birthday – less than a day away, now – this had been the most vivid, the most torturous yet. How her cruel king had laughed, to have her submit to him so easily, so quickly and so helplessly aroused, and so very eager to bend to his will. So far, his attentions in the dreams had left her as virgin as her real body remained – though in her mind, she would never be quite able to consider herself pure, not thanks to him – and how it maddened her!

For months upon months, she had felt the heat and press of him, a complimenting twin to the deep, low down burn he caused in her own body, and oh, how well he had teased her with it. Every slow, sensuous stroke, pulse to pulse, skin to skin, had sent ripples of desire surging through her body, burning her to cinders from the inside out. Yet, always, when he finally seemed ready to give her what she so needed, when he finally saw fit to end his games and simply take her, she would wake without fail, upset and unfulfilled, and with the ghost of his laughter seeming to echo in her ears.

This year, the calendar had been cruel enough to see her home for the holidays, and just in time for her birthday. Her old bedroom remained much as she had left it before leaving for college, surrounding her with too much of what remained of her innocence, along with the less-than-innocent reminder of him all around her. Here, after all, was where he had first appeared to her, that gorgeous, dangerous, tantalising creature straight out of any grown woman's fantasy. So many years had passed, but these old, familiar surroundings only served to remind her of how powerless she had been before him on the night they had met, begging mercy for her stolen brother before she was sent off on his wild and unfair game.

Toby was, by now, of course, old enough to have been talking for several years, but thankfully, never of that strange time, which must have been like a dream for him, if he remembered it at all. Her father and stepmother were a few years older, too, and perhaps had mellowed a little now that their daughter had blossomed into a woman grown. A woman who, at least from the outside, was hardly the precocious, daydreaming teen that she had once been. Only Sarah herself knew better. In so many ways, she was still that fearful, naïve girl who had stood before that pouting, cunning snake of a man, and flinched.

She knew that, when he sought her out in her dream again, she would be just as powerless to resist him. He would make her beg for his mercy, only to toy with her at his whim, subjecting her to every cruel, delicious act he could conjure, only to leave her wanting in the end.

Well, not tonight.

Checking the clock – the nice, normal, less-something-out-of-a-triskaidekaphobic-nightmare clock – she saw that she would turn twenty-one in just over eighteen hours, and she had no intention of being tucked up in bed then. Last night's dream had been only a taste – a mere crumb of what she knew would come. It would be the most sadistic, most blissful torture he would want to inflict upon her, but she wouldn't be around to see it.

No, tonight, she was going to go out, and get good and fucking drunk.

Her father wasn't wild on the idea, but he agreed not to worry too much when Sarah announced her plans to see in her birthday with some old friends. In truth, only a small handful of friends from her hometown had bothered to stay in touch over the years, but she wasn't interested in playing catch-up that night. She set out alone, and by midnight had managed to find a bar that wasn't quite a dive, and that was willing to serve her the first legal drop of hard liquor to wet her lips and warm her throat. It went down smoothly, and was soon followed by an equally-smooth second, and then chased down by a third.

A fourth drink followed a little more slowly, but Sarah, who had never been too interested when her friends had sneaked a bottle into the rare parties she was invited to, managed to spill most of it down her shirt – though not before she had felt its effects start to sink in. She plucked at the damp fabric, giggling and cursing herself as a lightweight, but decided against trying to order another, swaying and stinking of booze as she was.

She called a cab to collect her, and then stumbled her way into a dark, sleeping house at a little after a quarter to three, by the clock in the hall. Sarah thought that the late hour, along with the alcohol in her system, might just be enough to ward off the worst of the dreams, though she didn't yet feel the slightest bit tired.

As she climbed the stairs and let herself into her bedroom, that changed. Sudden sleepiness seemed to creep up upon her with all the comfort of a warm blanket. Already, she could feel the dull heat of anticipation start to steal into her senses, with just the thought of his dream-caresses. The Goblin King had made it clear that he would not be denied his prize, and apparently tonight would be no exception. He would ease his way inside of her dreams with his skilled lover's touch, once more driving her to near ecstasy and despair, dashing all hope of ever refusing him.

Suddenly, tendrils of rage were rapidly winding their way through Sarah's thoughts. How dare he? She had beaten his goddamn labyrinth, bested him at his own game years ago and denied him the power he so sorely craved to hold over her. Though that cursed peach of his had bound her to the fae realm, what right did he have to use that link to his advantage? What right did he have to run her whole life this way, haunting her nights and her dreams like some malevolent, lecherous spirit, ruining her for any normal man she might have wanted?

There were curses in the books of lore she had pored over, and she wanted desperately to be able to remember some of them now, to make him suffer for a change. She had been living under his shadow for too long, entangled in its dark snare of dream and fantasy, and she had finally had enough.

The heat of her anger was stifling, and she marched over to her balcony with purpose, unlocking the French doors and throwing them open to let in the night breeze. She let it cool her burning face, relishing it as it washed over her skin. Trying to soothe her rattled nerves, she closed her eyes to the night, but not the feeling of electricity around her. The air was thick with tension, the storm that had been threatening for several days now finally on its way. Sarah could practically taste its power. The very wind seemed to throb against her chest, catching in her eyelashes and stinging each nostril. She breathed deeply, inhaling that power and imagining herself growing much stronger for it.

“I wish,” she said, and chuckled softly.

A small fluttering noise caught her attention, and Sarah's eyes flew open at once, widening in shock at the flash of pure white they saw, nestled in a nearby tree. All at once, she was wide awake again. Her mouth fell open, and she might have squeaked a little as she stared at the owl who she saw was watching her from between the branches. Then, the wind shifted again, and she saw the owl for what it really was: a plastic grocery bag, tattered and torn and flapping in the breeze amongst the tree's highest branches, nothing more.

Nothing, tra-la-la?

Jesus, the Goblin King sure has cut the budget on his grand entrances, she thought, and immediately burst into high, giddy laughter. He must need it to pay for his wardrobe. I'll bet those pants don't last too long, what with all the strain he puts on them. Oh, and now she could barely contain her mirth.

In a considerably better mood, and still snorting back giggles, Sarah raised a hand in mock-salute to the bag-that-was-an-owl. Caught up in the ridiculousness that was her life – a newly-twenty-one year-old woman caught up in some kind of insane dream-tryst with her sneering, salami-packing childhood boogeyman – she threw both her arms up above her head, as though calling on the Gods for some great deed.

“Goblin King, Goblin King, wherever you may be,” she called out, in delight. “It's been six years – get up off your ass, and come to me! I, Sarah Williams, Champion of your Labyrinth, Saviour of All Children, Kicker of Goblin Ass, and apparently Eternal Vestal Virgin Princess, most sincerely command it!”

She lowered her arms, still grinning at the tattered bag as she finished. “You … you poofy-haired fuck!”

At that, she gave a loud squawk of laughter, and quickly pressed both hands over her mouth.

Hopefully, her family were too deeply asleep to have heard her carrying on like this, but how she wished he had been around to hear it! That would teach him to toy with her dreams. Though her own curse was probably not worthy of a fairytale, at least it belonged to her, and not some mind-meddling, dream-manipulating, trumped-up excuse for a king.

In fact, she was so proud of herself, that she threw her whole body into a quick, dainty pirouette, right there on the balcony. At least, it started off dainty, and ended up depositing her flat onto her ass on her bedroom floor. Another one of those gleeful squawks escaped her, and Sarah hurried to put herself to bed, before anyone woke up and came to investigate what in the hell was happening.

She made a half-hearted attempt at undressing, yanking down her jeans and managing to wrench off both her boots and one sock alongside them in the fumble that followed. From downstairs, the hallway clock chimed three, welcoming in the witching hour, as Sarah started on the buttons of her shirt. When everything south of the collar began to blur into a haze, the material proving too damp, clingy and unwilling from her earlier spillage anyway, she abandoned her efforts entirely.

She crawled beneath the covers and into her soft, welcoming bed, leaving both the balcony doors and her dreams open for whatever, or whoever might come.

 

Chapter Text

Beautiful Stranger
Reckless creatures,
Always one another find.
Stealing features,
Each a diamond to be mined.

There are facets at stake,
And crooks in our necks.
We're like moths to the flame,
Get ready and set.
Now, tarry no longer,
Let's burn one another.
We're one and we're twain -
Now, let's play a game.

Hello, hello, hello,
Beautiful stranger.
How familiar the danger.
Slipping into the shadows...

- TDC

Heads are funny things.

They're the first places that we, as tiny humans, learn where to live, when everything outside them is still new and a little fuzzy at the edges. Even as adults, only our true selves can fully exist inside the warm comfort of our minds – the one place we can take the time to take a step back from everything, and process what the colder, real 'outside' world has thrown at us.

When she awoke early that morning, Sarah's outside word was all busted, screeching violin strings, and the rough, stinging grit of broken glass that had nestled behind both eyelids.

She had some vague recollection of waking in the night, shivering with cold. The wind had most definitely picked up, and the cool night air had taken unfair advantage to nip at her cheeks and nose, and the arm that dangled out from beneath the covers. It had warmed enough for her to return to sleep, though, and now she saw why. Her balcony doors now lay closed and locked, though she could not for the life of her recall getting up to do it. The delicate act of crossing the room, then shambling back to her bed, all without breaking anything, felt beyond her, the way the room was spinning now.

Her sleep had been mercifully dreamless, at least, the booze that was still stinking up her shirt and pounding against her eyeballs apparently strong enough to blot out all thoughts of His most infuriating Highness. It was a useful titbit to know, though unless she intended a life battered by alcoholism, it was probably not a good long-term solution. Moaning, she punched at her pillows, and turned her head away from the light, to try and escape her hangover for just a few hours more.

No chance of that in this household.

Her little brother came hurtling into her room like a boy-shaped whirlwind, herding her from the dark comfort of her sleep, and downstairs into the brightly-lit kitchen. Sarah bit back a groan as a truly massive 'special birthday breakfast' was set on the table before her. She saw bacon and scrambled eggs, hash-browns; coffee and juice. Chocolate-chip pancakes, made from scratch, with syrup, to follow. Toby had helped with these last, he declared, proud and just a little too adorable for her to resist, with his tousled hair and flour-dusted cheeks; his favourite spaceman pyjamas bunched up at the sleeves. Tell-tale dark smears around his mouth told her that more of the chocolate chips had made it into him than into the pancakes. In spite of her aching head, she swept him into a hug and a kiss, and grinned at the sweet smell of chocolate that scented the kiss he gave in return.

Almost losing him to the labyrinth had done more to improve their relationship than she would ever allow herself to give him – It, she quickly chided herself, Always it, never him – credit for. Ah, more unhappy thoughts to taint her birthday with.

There was some satisfaction in knowing she'd managed to escape her usual dreams, and deny the Goblin King his fun in the process, particularly in that her birthdays were always when his cruellest gifts to her came. Still, as one who's been conditioned to accept and expect a certain reoccurring experience, she found herself feeling strangely bereft to have missed out completely on what would have been certain to have been an … adventurous night. Another sign of his control. She had an unpleasant remembrance of Pavlov and his dogs – and Jareth certainly had the skill to have her panting and drooling enough.

Whatever had happened to her power being just as great?

Certainly, any power she might have had of her own had dwindled to nothing, to be this desperate. Even her wacky night-time mockery of a summoning had failed to get a rise out of him (and, oh, how she wanted to see him rise …)

Pure thoughts. Eat your damned bacon.

It was insulting, though. Six years of absolute radio silence in the real world, outside of six years of the goddamn dreams – 3 years of which were of an incredibly lewd nature. He was more of a headache than the one she was suffering from now. She needed to get him out of her mind, once and for all. She needed protection from his nightmares. She needed him gone.

When she came back from her thoughts, she saw that she had surrounded the picked-over food on her plate with a perfectly symmetrical, perfectly white circle of salt. At least her breakfast would be safe from ghouls and spirits, and, who knew, maybe even him, if he came calling.

She had to laugh, ignoring even the sharp splinters of her headache. Pushing the plate aside, she waved away her little outburst and made polite excuses for avoiding the rest of the food.

She ate every last scrap of her pancakes, though.

After breakfast came gifts, and though the Midol her father had laid beside her juice with a knowing wink was probably the one she favoured most right then, the stunning nightgown Irene had bought her came a close second. It was a dark, fern-green satin that would gently hug her curves, its sweeping neckline embellished with dozens of pale flowers. It fell to just beneath her knees, the tips of its long, flowing sleeves almost long enough to graze the hem.

“I saw it and I just couldn't resist,” her stepmother explained. “I know how much you used to love this kind of old-fashioned, budding romantic thing as a kid, but I thought the design had just enough woman in it to work for you. What do you think?”

“It's beautiful,” Sarah said, in all honesty. “Really, truly beautiful.”

She found herself tracing the edge of each flower with one finger. Irene seemed delighted with her reaction, and started to talk more about fashion, but Sarah just nodded and hardly heard her. She looked at the gown for a long time, tilting the box that held it back and forth, and admiring the way the satin softly caught the light. It was a gown she knew that would have longed for, but ultimately been too young for as a teenager – a girl who, even in her childish fantasies wants to play the grown up – and it touched her conscious now, with a pleasurable, ticklish something that she couldn't quite understand. By the time she had opened the rest of her gifts, she had realised just what that something was.

It was a gown he would approve of.

As promised, the storm reared and moaned into action as the day grew darker. A harsh wind rattled the outside of the house, reaching creeping fingers at windowpanes and doorways as it searched for a way in. The rain came a little later, light at first, and then in heavy sheets that turned the street to a glistening, inky-black ribbon. The thunder only began when the rest of her family were safely tucked up in bed. Her head had long since cleared by then, and she could appreciate the full force of its majesty, its booming voice seeming to rattle the entire house, down to its very foundation.

Sarah shivered, despite the relative warmth of her bedroom. She had slipped into her new nightgown as soon as she had been alone, finding it fit perfectly, but now she felt her arms and thighs prickle with goose-flesh beneath it. It was all too easy, with each blinding flash of lighting, and with that slight dress that spoke of fairy-tales and romance but hinted at something more, to imagine herself an olden-day sacrifice – a virgin, tied and bound and offered up to the storm to appease whatever Gods had been so displeased as to send it. Her nipples drew tightly erect within her bra, every tiny hair on the nape of her neck upturned; every breath that passed her lips filled with energy.

The hallway clock began to strike midnight, but the chimes of different bells invaded her ears, surrounding her with some strangely sweet cacophony that was high and shrill enough to set her teeth on edge. It grew louder and louder, demanding so much of her attention that she could not seem to move. She barely noticed as the overhead light gave one last swell of brightness, before popping out entirely. She stood, in darkness, as the doors before her burst open, though she had been certain that they had been locked. They let in a torrent of wind and lashings of a cold, foul rain, but the chill that circled her bare legs wasn't the most pressing of her concerns.

No.

That was standing right there on the balcony.

“Hello, Sarah,” the Goblin King said.

He was magnificent in silks and leather, high boots encasing long, lean legs that made him tower over her. The shirt he wore bared the smooth, pale line of his throat and the amulet that adorned it, as well as a generous swatch of his chest. The bitter wind howled around him, and tore at his dark cape and golden wisps of his hair, but he paid it no mind. His eyes were bright chips of ice, one light and one dark, surrounded by their strange, almost-ethereal markings. They focused only on her.

Sarah felt a tremor deep within her chest, as though her very heart had been turned on its head. Six years. Six years since she had last looked upon the splendour of his face; six years since the rich baritone of his voice had last caressed her ears. She had seen and heard and felt him in the dreams, yes, but even those vivid visions now seemed pale and poor imitations, to have him here, now, in the exquisite flesh. Six years of longing and hating, both at once, dreading and fantasising about this very moment, and in the end, all it had taken was a single request she hadn't even been wholly serious about, to actually bring him here. She hadn't simply tempted fate; had, rather, screamed for it to heed her call. Frozen with her shock, she couldn't quite decide whether she had been wise or foolish never to have called him sooner.

He was smiling.

“What, no welcome? No joy, or lamentations, or demands? Oh, Sarah, how you have changed.” His eyes swept over her body as he said this last, bold and slow; possessive, as if they had every right to caress her that way.

The balcony doors closed of their own accord behind him, shutting out the weather that she had all but forgotten – the storm that raged within his eyes was danger enough. She wanted to kiss him. She wanted to run far, far from him. She could bring herself to do neither.

“You heard me last night,” she said, relieved to find her voice had not deserted her, and sounded, given her inner turmoil, quite normal.

“I believe that, my dear, is obvious. I am bound by your mortal realm, so as not to be able to call upon those who have not first called upon me.” If she thought he would let her off easily, she was proved wrong when he actually winked at her. “Although both of us know, this is not the first time you've called out for me – merely the first time you've dared speak the words outside of your most delightful dreams.” The full, intimate knowledge of those dreams lay within his knowing smirk, and Sarah felt her cheeks burn with shame.

Of course he would feel the need to mention those. This was a man who thrived in seeing her squirm – and he had seen her squirm, all right. Outraged denials bubbled up to her lips, but she knew it would be a waste of time to pretend what he already knew was a lie. That left her with two choices: shrivel and crumble with her embarrassment before him, or accept it, and move on enough to try and regain some sense of control. Bravely, or perhaps foolishly, she chose the latter.

“You're late, Goblin King,” she said, raising what she hoped was an adequately bored eyebrow. “I called for you last night, and you only come to me now? I'm afraid your standards are slipping.”

The sound of his laughter was surprisingly warm, if not a little unsettling. “And what makes you think I didn't come when you first called me? You fell asleep so quickly after.”

“You were here last night?” Her mind was racing, remembering that sudden chill she had felt, along with the doors that had seemingly closed themselves.

“Only in spirit, precious. I was quite surprised, and flattered to have been so thought of, but when I called for a clear vision of you, it became quite clear you were in no fit state to receive me.” He chuckled softly. “You were all but falling down when you spoke my title and bid me to come. I'm glad to find you much more … presentable tonight.”

Sarah bristled at that, suddenly all too aware of how undressed she felt in her slip of evening wear, compared to him in all his regal drapery. She could almost feel the heat of his gaze as it swept over her exposed throat and low neckline; her bare legs and feet. She drew herself taller under that gaze, meeting his eyes with some heat of her own. “So, what, you creep at me with one of your crystals while I'm half-naked, sneaking a peek for your own twisted pleasure? Why not stop around and take full advantage? It's the only chance you would have ever gotten with me.”

Whilst she had expected that to anger him, he simply shook his head. “Oh, Sarah, how you do disappoint me. Do you really think I would stoop so low as to prey upon you while you were drunk? What an unappealing thought. I simply shielded my gaze until you were more suitably covered, and then closed your doors to any other who would take advantage of such an invitation. I require my women to be aware, receptive, and most willing,” he said, his lips beginning to curve up at the corners. “Particularly when, so very often, I've found you to be so – hmm, how to say this without seeming ungentlemanly – shall we say … spirited … in your dreams, whilst completely sober.”

Sarah shot him a glare. “How am I to know what you're capable of, when you've been … been torturing me with these dreams, all this time?”

The Goblin King's mouth hardened just as quickly. “I have tortured you? Oh, Sarah, I think not. Silly girl, always so willing to cast me as the villain, when all I do is what you ask of me – surely, you aren't so ignorant as to think you've played no part in this?” When she did not answer, he took a step towards her, causing her to step back immediately.

“'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,'” he intoned, in a singsong voice, though the look in his eyes was far from playful. “As you can see, your own wants have held me hostage all this time, as much as they have you, and while I cannot deny I may have revealed to you certain fantasies of my own, the blame lies as much upon you as it does I.”

Sarah shook her head. “That's not true.”

“What cause have I to lie to you?” He seemed to stretch and draw himself taller as he spoke, sending her eyes on an unwilling, but mercifully brief sweep of his body. “I have no shame in my desires. I have never claimed to keep myself pure – if anything, I find the thought of abstinence quite distasteful. I find no such need to shy from my needs, as you yourself do. For what reason would I deny such enticing, erotic visions, if they were indeed my own?”

He had a point, as much as she hated to admit it, though it riled her beyond belief that he spoke of abstinence so dismissively. Had he been indulging himself, while she suffered, then? Screwing half, if not all of the ladies in his realm, all the while keeping her for his own, marking her as untouchable to any other, in readiness only for him? It was a selfish, bastard's trick, but one she thought he would be all too capable of. Worse, to let him hold her responsible for all her years of torment …

“How do I know you haven't used your magic to make me wan- … to make me see you in that way?”

Jareth gave a low chuckle. “Precious one, as flattering as it is that you would compare my own sheer magnetism to the pull of an enchantment, I'm afraid once again, I cannot take responsibility.” His lips quirked at the corners as he continued. “Besides, I am not a patient man. Do you really think I could have – in good conscience – allowed any spell that would have me wait quite this long to feel your delicious thighs wrapped around me in the flesh?”

Sarah almost choked on her outrage, feeling her cheeks flame with her embarrassment. “What-! You … you're a … a-”

“I believe a 'fuck' is what you referred to me as, precious, and, not to be crude-”

“You know damn well that is not how I meant it!”

His eyes seemed to glitter, then, with amusement or anger, she could not quite tell. “Oh? Well, then by all means, Sarah, enlighten me.”

He took another step towards her, and Sarah responded with a step backwards. She sensed the bed wasn't far behind her legs now – and what a twisted path that should lead them on – and soon there would be no way to retreat. She was, by far, out of her depths, and drowning in those dark, dangerous pupils. “I … I don't know,” she whispered.

“I can assure you, Sarah, that you most certainly do know. You have finally seen fit to summon me here, I have been beckoned by your command, and yours alone, and I will hear the reason why.”

The intensity of his gaze had all but stolen her breath, but somehow she made herself speak. “I don't want this any more. I'm … I'm tired of not being able to sleep without …”

“Thinking of me?” The mischief was back, sparks and embers deep within his pupils. “And here I thought I made such a pleasant and welcoming companion.”

The nerve of him! “You wish.”

“No, no, you did that, Sarah, as I believe we have already covered.” He gave her hardly a moment to move aside – and somehow she knew he would have happily taken her down with him, if she had not – flouncing past her, seemingly without a care, to deposit himself neatly onto the edge of her bed. He smiled, and spread his hands, looking for all the world as if he belonged there. “And so, here we are – all this way we've come, only to end up back where we started it all. We're tied to one another, you and I, and so we always shall be. Why bother to fight it?”

He let his hands slip behind him, spreading and sliding so invitingly across the covers. He gave the space beside him a deliberate, sidelong stare, before turning those suggestive eyes back on her. “I'm game, if you are.”

Injecting indifference into her words, ignoring his offer: “It was the peach, wasn't it?”

“Of course, dear one. You were hungry, and I provided for you, but at a cost. Although, I'll admit, my original intent was merely to distract you. I never would have considered that the depths that your … hunger … would take us to be so very sweet.”

He was getting to her, and both of them knew it. She could feel her lips pulling into a tight little line, and fought for that air of calm she needed. “Take it back,” she said, holding back some of the venom that her words demanded. “I told you, you have no power over me. You have no right to keep me trapped this way.”

He shook his head, wisps of pale, silken hair tumbling about his face. “All the enchanted fruit in my kingdom could not trap you so, unless a part of you wished for it to. It merely keeps open the connection between you, my delightful little minx, and I, the generous benefactor who made a gift of the fruit. If, through that connection, your own subconscious shows us both that which you most deeply desire from me – your … lusts and longings – then I don't believe I can be held responsible.”

How could just hearing certain words from him make her want to melt and bow before him? It wasn't fair. If she didn't play this carefully, she would find herself inside his realm for real, bound and chained to his bed before the clock struck one … or thirteen, as the case might be.

“Well,” she said, reaching for something that at least resembled control. “Well, then is there anything that can be done to sever our … connection?”

Jareth grinned. “I suppose so, yes. But, before you get your hopes up, I must tell you that it would require both of our consent, and,” He paused briefly, letting his eyes drop in another slow, deliberate dance across her body, “Given the choice between continuing our … nocturnal activities, and losing access to them completely, I can safely say that you won't gain mine easily. However-”

Sarah rolled her eyes, and turned away in disgust. “Great! I'm being thrown to the wolves just for some dreams that aren't even real!”

However,” Jareth continued, “I could be persuaded by some other means.”

“If you mean you want me to … to do that with you, just so you'll leave me alone …"

“Not at all, Sarah,” he said, and the sincerity in his voice was enough to draw her gaze again. “For, once I've had you, I won't ever want to let you go again.”

Oh. Oh. “Romantic,” Sarah made herself scoff.

“Quite.” He nodded, nonplussed. “No, if you wish to come to me of your own will, then you have only to say so, but I had something far less intimate in mind. I must warn you, though, that the stakes may be much higher than you may be willing to accept.”

“I'm listening.”

Jareth smiled. “My Sarah, always so brave.” He raised one gloved hand, passed it left and right and left again, and plucked a shining crystal ball out of the air.

If you turn it this way, and look into it, it will show you your dreams.

“I told you, already, I don't want your dreams.”

“Patience, Sarah. Look.” Sure enough, as he spoke, she could see something shift and move within the depths of the crystal. “Look, and you will see what it is that I want from you.”

Wary, Sarah looked from the crystal, to him. Jareth stared back at her evenly, simply holding out the orb for her inspection. With no other choice, Sarah bent her head to stare inside.

And back into the labyrinth.

There was no mistaking the massive, winding stone structure, nor the towering castle that loomed beyond it. She drew her head back at once, and stared at its keeper, uncomprehending.

“A second chance, sweet one,” he said. “For me, and for my labyrinth.”

Chapter Text

Beautiful Stranger (cont.)
High stakes, three shakes, no breaks -
Triple the wager.
Three clicks in the chamber.
Three chances to claim her.

(And if I miss?)

By the book, by hook, by rook,
Shadow takes all, my pet.
My, what a strange duet.
Shadow takes all.

(These games are rigged!)

Cunning creatures,
Slither front and slither back.
Double dealers,
Double up for the attack.

I could say that I'm hurt,
But it wouldn't be true;
The knife in my back,
It reminds me of you.
You're my Beautiful Stranger,
The game is afoot.
It's the Shadow's domain,
So don't pussy-foot -
Shoot!

- TDC

“You want me to go back in there?”

“Yes.”

“Of my own accord?”

“Yes.”

“You expect me to willingly go back to the place where you kidnapped my brother, set your monsters on me, and then, when it still looked like I was doing too well for you to handle, tried to trap me? So you can try and keep me locked away there a second time?”

“I get the impression that this frustrates you somehow.”

Sarah blew out air so hard that her lower lip quivered. “Were you always this aggravating?”

“I'm not certain, love. Were you?” Jareth gave her a tight-lipped smile, and found his feet again. The grace with which he moved never ceased to amaze her, and Sarah wasn't quite prepared to have him standing before her, so close once more. The crystal he held crumbled to stardust between his fingers. “For so many years now, I've felt your longings and shared in them, seeing night after night how well they pair with my own. Years that have left me hoping and praying for you to overrule your stubbornness and call upon me, all the while knowing that any encounter of ours would only bring us to this.”

He reached out to her, then, and no one was more surprised than she, when she actually allowed for him to touch her. His hands closed around her upper arms and began to stroke gently up and down, leaving tingles of sensation in their wake. “At every turn, you continue to fight me, denying even what your own dreams tell you that you want. Even at my own chagrin, I offer to rid you of them, if you so wish, and all you accuse me of is tormenting you.”

“Don't you think it's a little sadistic?” She tried for anger, yet her body did not seem capable of it, not with the way his fingers stroked and soothed her through the soft satin of her nightgown. “You obviously have the power to stop the dreams, but only if I agree to play your games.”

“Am I entitled to nothing?” He raised a hand to her cheek, brushing away a loose strand of her hair. Even through his gloves, his touch sent electricity crackling through her every pore. “After all,” he continued, seemingly oblivious, or perhaps all too aware of the effect he was having, “You've made it clear you would not come willingly to me, however much you might want to, and now you intend to deprive me of even the pleasure of sharing in your dreams. If I have to resort to bargains and wagers to otherwise win you, then I must. A dying man desperate for water would not hesitate to grasp at whatever meagre drops he can find.”

“So, essentially, I don't have a choice.”

“You always have a choice, for I have always given you the chance to turn back.” His hand openly caressed her cheek now, and in spite of everything, she found her chin tilting upwards towards him, melting in the warmth of his words. “Always the chance to refuse, if you so wish, Sarah. My games, my labyrinth … me … ”

When he bent his head to kiss her, she did not pull back, but lifted her face to meet him halfway. It was the first time she had ever truly been kissed, and all those missed years of longing and passion were poured into it. She closed her eyes and parted her lips to welcome him, her hands moving to grip the lapels of his shirt to pull him closer. His lips were softer than she could have imagined them, his tongue hot and needy as it stroked her own, guiding her. It was rough and almost unbearably sweet, and set the fire in her belly burning higher and higher as he deepened the kiss, drawing her body flush against his, one hand at the small of her back, the other pushed deep into her hair.

In that kiss, she saw herself finally yielding to him, allowing him to take her to bed as no man ever had, and quench that flame inside her at last. He would forever be her master and teacher; every dream and every one of her fantasies made real – made flesh. A sudden strong yearning, anticipation and, yes, even elation swept through her, and with a groan, she pushed it, and him, away.

The kiss had clearly awakened something within them both, with even the unflappable Goblin King now breathing hard, and seeming a little unsteady on his feet. There was silence between them, along with a certain dark look in his eyes – one that made her almost afraid to stare into them for too long, lest she give up, and give in.

“You've never given me a choice,” she said, at last, and though her lips seemed to throb with the reminder of him, they pushed the words out easily enough. “You're the only man I've ever gotten close to – you've made sure of that, all this time. It was always going to be you who had me first. How can I know if I want anyone else, if you've never even let me consider anyone else?”

To his credit, he recovered quickly, shifting back to the topic at hand with barely a blink, as though, with that kiss, the very world had not shaken beneath them. Now that she had put physical distance between them, he thought nothing of reclining onto her bed once more, and she did not bother to object. After all, he had seen inside of her most private thoughts – what was a bed?

“I've already told you, Sarah. I cannot make you dream of me. Your dreams show you what it is that you want, but clearly you will always be too stubborn to take it. If you can't bring yourself to come to me, then you must win your freedom by completing my labyrinth.” His face had softened some with the kiss they had shared, but now she saw it harden once more, as he laid down his gauntlet. “I must warn you, this will be a new game entirely – and this time, you will have none of your friends to help you. I fear it is a much darker place that you will find yourself in. Feeling brave, love?”

This was much safer territory. She could at least deal with a testy, taunting Jareth. “Of course, you'd have to make it harder for me.”

“More than you could imagine, pet,” he said, with a smirk. “But my powers only stretch so far, and my labyrinth does tend to have a mind of its own, as I'm sure you remember. As you have grown, and left behind your innocence, so, too, has the labyrinth. Gone are the silly trials and harmless foes, and in their place, quite real dangers at every turn. While I have grown fond enough of you as to never allow physical harm to befall you, I cannot promise you will find this labyrinth quite so much a … what were your words? Ah, yes, a 'piece of cake'.”

Sarah folded her arms across her chest. “You say all this like you're trying to scare me away again.”

Jareth spread his hands, and smiled. “As I said, I have always given you a choice. Though you may not think it of me, I do believe in honesty, Sarah, and would not want for you to rush into this unprepared and ill-informed, and without hearing all of the terms.”

“Terms,” Sarah mused, her eyes narrowing. “You and your tricks. I want to know exactly what I'm getting in for, before I even consider this.”

“Of course. You will be given thirteen hours – no more, no less – to navigate the labyrinth, and reach my castle. If you should fail, or somehow fall along the way to its trials-”

“You just said you wouldn't let any physical harm befall me!”

“Of course not, precious. If you are in true danger, I will always come to your aid – but any help I give you will come at a price.”

“There's always a price,” she grumbled.

“Indeed. Where's the fun otherwise?” He smiled, apparently enjoying himself a great deal more than she, now. He had settled back most comfortably on her bed, one leg thrown heedlessly over its corner, to expose the tempting line of one long, taut inner thigh, and that even tauter- “Pay attention, sweet one,” he chided softly.

Sarah blushed and dropped her eyes, knowing that he had caught her stare. Instead of removing the cause of her apparent fascination, Jareth seemed to revel in her embarrassment, uncompromising in his suggestive pose. He grinned at her for a long time, making her cheeks bloom red and then crimson before he finally relented, and continued on. “For every time my service is required, I will expect payment – a small token of your esteem, for my kindness.”

“Such as?” she croaked, risking his gaze again.

Jareth shrugged, and gave his raised leg a leisurely little kick. It flexed the muscles along his thigh in a way that sent all of Sarah's inner muscles cramping in kind, as she was certain he knew it would. “I'm sure you must have some ideas already, but the exact payment is unimportant. It will be a token, nothing more, to thank me for my generosity.”

“You can be so generous,” Sarah muttered.

“In most cases, yes, but not quite so generous in this instance as I think you'd like me to be. I can only come to your aid twice, Sarah. Anything more than that, and the game will be forfeit, with I as the victor.”

“Three strikes and I'm out? I hardly think that's-”

“Fair?” Jareth sneered, and shook his head. “Fair doesn't come into it, pet. Did your books teach you nothing?” His long fingers sketched a brief dance in the air, and conjured three glittering glass balls this time. They sparkled and shimmered in the light as he began to turn them upon his palm, never slowing, never seeming in any danger of losing control of one.

“Three is a most powerful number for those of my kind. It holds many a gift, and many a curse. I believe it should be a fitting clause in our game – one that will allow you a fair margin of error, and in turn, allow me a degree of dignity. I can only bend to your will so far, before I must demand my restitution.”

“So, that's your deal, then? I agree to beat your bigger, harder- … you can stop smirking! I … complete your more difficult labyrinth, and then you break the link between us for good?”

“That is correct, provided you are successful.”

Sarah felt her stomach twist slightly, at the implied 'if'. “And if I'm not?”

The Goblin King grinned, and bowed his head. “Sweet girl, always so wary of me – as well you should be. The price for failure is that which you continue to deny me, even as your every word and every action fight against it.”

She frowned. “My body, right? I'd have to forfeit that to you, so you can finally say you've had me, and won?”

Jareth shook his head slightly. “In part, but I'm afraid my price runs far deeper than mere carnal pleasures, should you fail.”

“Then, what is this price?”

For a moment, he looked to his crystals, watching the ever-changing light they reflected, as they sketched out infinity within his palm. Finally, he turned his eyes back to hers, cocking his head to one side and looking at her in a way that left her feeling barer than any dream fantasy. “You, Sarah. If you cannot best me a second time, then you will yield to me that power you once denied me, once and for all. You will bow to me, submit yourself to me in every way, and in doing so, you will allow for me to give to you anything and everything you could ever desire. No more games, no more struggles – simply the two of us, together, in my realm. You will live as long as I, as my queen by name, but I will worship you as a goddess.”

The depth of his emotion left her feeling strangely hollow, as if her stomach had been filled with nothing but air. It was a great deal to ask of anyone, and yet he asked it of her so freely. “That's a pretty big penalty for losing.”

“High stakes, Sarah,” he agreed. “But the reward you seek is, for myself, at least, a costly one.”

With a sweep of his hand, the small orbs left his possession, to circle the air before her eyes. It was a neat enough trick – not to mention a reminder of exactly what powerful forces she was messing with – but it was him Sarah focussed on as he laid out his rules.

“Three chances at victory, and thirteen hours in which to claim it. If you triumph, then I will forever break the link that binds you to me. There will be no more shared dreams – any fantasies you have will be entirely your own. If you should fail, or otherwise fall to my labyrinth on three occasions within that time, then you agree to remain with me, within my power.”

Sarah wet her lips as she considered. She had gotten over the shock of seeing him as well as she ever would, but still her heart was racing as she considered her options. If she refused him, then the dreams would continue, and she would never be free of his shadow, not to mention that deep, insatiable hunger. She knew that a night like the last would come again, where her desperation reached feverish new levels, and she could stand it no longer. She would be helpless but to call for him, and allow for him to take her, relinquishing every last scrap of dignity and control in the face of that crippling desire. She was certain that, once that day came, and she had finally tasted of him, and he of her, that there would be no respite; no return to 'normal' life as she knew it. 'Once I've had you, I won't ever want to let you go again,' he had promised, and there was no doubt in her mind that the Goblin King would be true to his word.

If she agreed to this wager, and failed, then she would have inadvertently bound herself to him forever. The promise of power and near-immortality, of magic and things that would be forever beyond the dull grey walls of this human realm; most of all, of him – the object of her every guilty, needful fantasy; her fascination and obsession, and the commodity that she craved above all else. He would love her, treasure her, and show her ways to slake that eternal thirst, but in return she would have to bow before him, and perhaps risk losing her true self in the face of his majesty – and wouldn't a part of her always run from that idea of giving him power over her? He could offer her the sun itself in the palm of his hand, and still she would feel the need to deny him.

If she played his game, and won, then she would be free of the worst, most torturous of her dreams. Her days and nights would be free to do with what she willed. Without those constant reminders, she could put her time in his labyrinth behind her for good. She could find love and happiness of her own, without the constant reminder of him tainting all other men. Deep down, a part of her – though one she would deny to the death, if asked – knew that there would be no forgetting him entirely. Delving deeper still, she wasn't quite certain she would ever truly want to forget. There would come a time when she had lost a little of her youth and her looks – a time when she found the initial sparkle of any 'normal' relationship had faded, and that her husband would more often than not prefer a night with the TV, than with her. When that time came, she would look back on this opportunity with envy and longing, knowing that she had once been offered that sun, and had turned her face away from it for good.

It was too much for anyone to decide, and yet he stared expectantly up at her from his perch, as if he had asked nothing more complex than the time of day. What he asked was a lifetime, in which she could come to love, or loathe whatever decision she had made, and whatever fate had befallen her. The sheer magnitude of it was stifling. She could ask him to come the next night, to give her time to think, but the hours between now and eternity would not bring her a clear enough answer. He offered her everything and nothing, and he himself would gain or lose the same. It all boiled down to chance – a gamble that could win or lose her everything.

She rolled the dice.

“If,” she said, “”If I agree to this, I need your word that you won't mess with me on this one.” He arched an exquisitely groomed eyebrow at that, and Sarah quickly continued. “What I mean is, from what you've said, this new labyrinth is already going to try its best to chew me out. I don't think I can handle any of your tricks and mind games on top of that. I want your word that you won't try any of your enchantments, or … or peaches on me.”

On cue, the three shining balls that danced before her glowed briefly orange, before shrinking and morphing themselves into the fruits. Irritated, Sarah batted them away from her. The first two popped like bubbles the moment she made contact, but touching the third sent sparks flying through her fingertips, and the fruit itself landed in the centre of the Goblin King's outstretched hand.

“Perish the thought, sweet one,” he said, and took a bite. His full lips glistened with the juice, and pulled into a knowing smile as he chewed. It took every last ounce of Sarah's self-control not to watch them.

“Your word, or the deal is off,” she said. “I want your promise that if you so much as think about screwing with my head in there, or otherwise altering my conscious so that I just so happen to 'forget' about completing your labyrinth, then I win by default.”

“Hmm. A good enough rule.” He devoured the rest of the peach in small, methodical bites, gazing up at her all the while, and it was not clear whether he savoured the fruit, or her discomfort more. Finally, he made the stone disappear between his fingers. “Done. No tricks of the mind. Do we have a deal, then?”

Sarah opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again. There was something …

Or body! Don't think I'm letting you sneak that little loophole past me. You agree not to mess with my mind, only to trick my body into being being stuck to your bedposts until the timer runs out. Your word,” she demanded.

Jareth tutted softly. “More's the pity.” He was clearly loving this, the notorious trickster in his element. “Very well, Sarah, no tricks. I give you my word that I will not inflict upon you any harm that might hinder or otherwise occupy that shrewd mind, or lovely body of yours, on forfeit of our game. Does that satisfy you?”

Sarah drew in a deep breath. “Yes.”

The Goblin King smiled. “Delightful.”

His relaxed posture was more deceptive that she realised. Quite literally, in the blink of an eye, he was on his feet, and her bed, along with the rest of her room, had melted away into the deep orange skies of his realm.

Once more, the two of them stood before his labyrinth.

It looked no different than she had recalled, but how could anyone truly remember its sheer size? Though he had brought them to a minor rise in the land, allowing her to look down upon it, the maze seemed to fill the entire horizon, stretching out beneath the strange dark sky for an eternity. It was more than enough to set her heart beating faster, cold dread beginning to unfurl inside her belly. She wondered how she had ever managed to beat it at all. She turned to her companion, and was not surprised to find him smiling. There was none of the trepidation she felt there – only a confidence that said he expected victory.

“Thirteen hours, Sarah." He was practically purring now. “Whatever the outcome, I'm certain this will be a most interesting experience for us both.”

“For you, at least,” she grumbled, but already she was speaking to nothing but the empty air. He had disappeared before her very eyes, and left her with nothing but her immediate regret, and the long road ahead. For the first time, she felt grit between her toes, along with the roughness of the ground beneath her, and realised that he had brought her here in just her bare feet and thin nightdress. “You could have at least given me the chance to get dressed!” she called out. “I don't even have any shoes here!”

Almost as soon as she had spoken, a white, rectangular box appeared on the ground before her. Ever wary of this place – not to mention of him – Sarah nudged it with her toe. When nothing immediately sprang from it to bite or otherwise bother her, she relented, and bent to retrieve it. It was sturdy, but not too heavy, and she had a feeling she knew what lay inside. Even still, she was careful to peel back the lid slowly.

She had to smile. Inside the box was a pair of ankle boots – stylish, yet not entirely practical, just like a certain someone she knew – with pointed toes and high block heels. They were cut from some strange pearlescent material she had never seen before, their colour dancing from pure, brilliant white, to a deep, rose-pink, and back to a palest green that, she realised, almost perfectly matched the flowers on her nightgown. Something told her that, as with everything else she encountered in this place, this was no mere coincidence.

“Cute,” she murmured, and then dug out a small card that was nestled between the boots. It read: 'Sarah Williams, Champion of the Goblin King's Labyrinth, Saviour of All Children and Kicker of Goblin Ass'.

“What is this?” she asked, and was surprised when the Goblin King actually re-appeared before her to explain.

“My subjects do have their uses, at times. Beautiful craftsmanship. The shoes are simply what you asked for. I have no desire to see your lack of footwear cause some injury to you, nor to have you claiming I have any unfair advantages by keeping you barefoot. Should you, however, long to be barefoot and willing before me-”

She gave the card a quick tap, drawing his attention before he could wander too far down that undignified path. “And this...form of address?”

“Of course my goblins defer to you that way, love – for did you not, in all your power, so title yourself?”

She had to laugh at that. “Well, yeah, but ...” She studied the card again. “What, no 'vestal virgin princess'?”

“A queen is ranked far higher than a mere princess, dear one. I myself will remove you of the rest.”

Remove me of the-

Oh.

Her smile vanished as quickly as he did.

Despite her reservations, the boots fit her quite well, soft and comfortable enough when she gave them a few experimental steps. They would definitely help – being comfortable was essential, given the long journey she knew she had to face. She was entirely alone now, ready to take on the same winding labyrinth that had consumed her every dream since she was a teenager. No, she corrected herself, a different labyrinth – a darker labyrinth. There was nothing to it but to get started, unless she was willing to just up and surrender herself to Captain Codpiece forever. No, that was far from what she wanted … wasn't it?

It's only forever. It's not long at all.

Shaking off that train of thought for the immediate eternity, and packing it away as tightly as a certain someone's trousers, she focused on the sloping path ahead of her. There was no grumpy gardener with his pesky fairy problem this time to distract her – feeling a moment of sadness that she would not find her friends on this journey – so she concentrated on the entranceway instead. It stood ominous and open for her, giving access to whatever mysteries lay ahead.

Trying to instil herself with confidence, she gave a wide grin that felt foolish the moment it touched her lips. She placed her hands on her hips, reaching for some of her younger-self's enthusiasm for the fantastical, and the unknown. “Oh boy, an adventure,” she said, unsurprised to find the words sounded flat to her own ears. “Feets, don't fails me now,” she muttered, and set off at a reluctant trudge.

 

.o0o. It's further than you think .o0o.

 

It was a trudge that took her on a seemingly endless journey, through muddy-brown roughly-hewn brick walls, and snarls of weeds and tangled, dying tree branches. It seemed much the same as the desolate landscape she had encountered on her first journey here, with the only hint of vitality or colour to be found was in the sway of her dress; the soft tread of her boots.

She walked much further that day than she could ever remember having to on her previous journey, with no hidden doorways in sight. Just to be certain, she walked with one hand trailing along the brickwork, and then, when she had counted exactly one hundred paces, retraced her path with a hand on the opposite wall. It was time-consuming, unrewarding work, and she could feel every wasted second as it ticked away from her.

“This is ridiculous,” she moaned. There were no childish tantrums this time, only a cold, sinking certainty that she had wagered herself in what was clearly a losing game. Perhaps there was no winning – perhaps, in the Goblin King's desire to have her to himself, he had closed off all other pathways, dooming her to wander the labyrinth's outside walls until her time had run out.

“No, I won't believe that.” While she wouldn't put it past him to cheat, if it benefited his interests, he was as bound by the rules of their arrangement as she was. He had agreed to give her a fair chance, and if he had taken that away from her, then she would win by default. There was no way he would give himself over to failure so easily. While that at least settled the rising sense of doom in the pit of her stomach, it did nothing to ease her frustration. If only she wasn't faced with the same, seemingly endless path, with no landmark nor doorway to suggest an end to it. If only she could see further than her current position allowed, somewhere higher …

Cocking her head to one side, Sarah stared up at the wall beside her, considering. It was roughly twice as high as she was – a hell of a stretch, but if she could find a decent enough foothold, then maybe …

She found that the first couple of branches she found littering the ground were far too flimsy to hold her weight, long-dead, brittle wood that bent and cracked at the barest touch. The third one showed more promise. It was heavy, but reassuringly sturdy enough for the task she had planned. After a minute of two of struggling, she had managed to lift it and lean its end so that it was shoved firmly against the bricks, forming a sort of primitive ramp. She tested it with first one foot, and then, satisfied it would hold her weight, at least briefly, began to climb.

From that decent leg-up, she managed to grab a higher handhold than she would have managed from the ground, and fought to keep it by wedging the heel of one boot amongst the uneven bricks. She grinned briefly, at the thought of the great Goblin King, giving her such an unintended advantage, and then grimaced as she heaved her body upwards. She let out a triumphant little squeak as she slung her free arm across the wall's uneven edge, and then, after a minute of undignified scrambling, pulled herself up so that she was sitting atop it. Staring around her at this new vantage point, her heart soaring in her chest, she thought she understood what Hillary must have felt, when he had finally conquered Everest.

"I don't know why the hell I didn't think of this last time!"

From up here, she could see the castle, and her victory, finally, as a straight path, and only a matter of hurdles away. It would be hard going, strenuous enough to really leave her aching, but no more than getting lost would - back and forth, left and right, dead-end after dead-end. When she thought about the hours of wandering she had been through the last time, the choice was an easy one. Even if she wore herself out with the climbing involved, a few short-cuts like this would save her hours in the long run - and given the Goblin King's record for being a sore loser, she had a feeling that every second counted.

Bracing herself on her hands, she allowed her butt to leave the wall's edge, as her feet dangled down beneath her. She stretched her legs out until they could reach no further, and then, certain she was as ready for the fall as she could hope to be, she let herself drop the last few feet …

... only to land outside the labyrinth's massive outer door.

"Sarah."

Her confusion was brief, given the new threat of him behind her. She spun to confront him. "Why did you-"

"I believe our wager was for you to solve my labyrinth, rather than to scale it. It defeats the point entirely. Do I need to introduce a penalty for cheating?"

"You mean to say you've never cheated me?" Clearly, that irked him, and Sarah decided to push a little further. "Why, Your Highness," she cried, her tone dripping with mock-surprise. "Don't tell me you think it's unfair."

“Sarah, while I have shown infinite patience, and been most generous so far, I would advise you not to test me further.”

Gone entirely was the sarcasm, that teasing thread that wound its way around his tone like silk. His words held a warning note that even she could not deny. In that moment, he was truly the imperious king she had seen in his moments of deepest displeasure – cold and aloof, exuding an air of unquestionable power and absolute dominance that made her stomach somehow twist in on itself.

Sarah swallowed. Hard. “I'll play by the rules,” she told him.

“See to it that you do.” In the blink of an eye, he was gone completely, leaving not even a speck of glitter or curl of smoke in his wake.

She hadn't realised quite how hard her heart was beating. “God …” she whispered.

“I'm flattered, Sarah, but not quite.”

Or perhaps not entirely gone, after all. He would be watching; waiting.

Wanting.

"I would have thought a king would have things to do in his kingdom, rather than spending his time watching little old me traipsing around this thing," she muttered, to him, or perhaps just to the aether – she no longer knew.

His reply came directly into her right ear this time, making her gasp softly. "Word of warning, precious. If you intend on putting on any other little feats of mountaineering, I thought I might remind you that the gown you wear does provide the most enticing view - one more intimate than any crystal might gift a man with. If you weren't so charmingly persistent in trying to best me, one would almost think you intended it for my benefit."

Sarah felt her cheeks all but catch fire, and she flapped a hand at the offending ear, like she was trying to swat a bug. "How much did you get to see?" she demanded.

There was no reply after that, but she could just sense his smirk, now that he had most definitely gotten the last laugh – and, perhaps, the last glimpse.

And now, she had to start all over.

Oh, this was war.

With one last suspicious – murderous – glance around her, Sarah pressed on, doing her best to focus on the path ahead – and only the path ahead.

Chapter Text

Lady Grinning Soul
She'll come, she'll go,
She'll lay belief on you,
Skin sweet with musky oil -
The lady from another grinning soul.
 
Cologne she'll wear,
Silver and Americard.
She'll drive a beetle car,
And beat you down at cool Canasta.
 
And when the clothes are strewn,
Don't be afraid of the room.
Touch the fullness of her breast,
Feel the love of her caress.
She will be your living end.

She'll come, she'll go,
She'll lay belief on you,
But she won't stake her life on you.
How can life become,
Her point of view?

And when the clothes are strewn,
Don't be afraid of the room.
Touch the fullness of her breast,
Feel the love of her caress.
She will be your living end.
She will be your living end.

She will be your living end …

('Lady Grinning Soul' – David Bowie, Aladdin Sane)

She was making progress.

All else lay abandoned as the Goblin King watched his Champion's path through his labyrinth, and the fool who dared disturb such a vision would find themselves dead a thousand times over by the Arctic tundra that was his glare. The king's deepest obsession had returned to his domain at last, and his minions had fled from him in their fear. This girl – this woman – had beaten him once. It was left unsaid – amongst those that valued their lives, at least – that she could best him again.

The absence of his goblins had blessed him with silence from their infernal chatter, but Jareth, in truth, would not have heard them if they congregated and howled unholy dawn chorus at his chamber window. No, his attention was far away, deeply entwined with that of the alluring creature who, even now, strode ever onwards to defeat him.

Though he had left her flustered, perhaps even aroused by his words, she had recovered sooner than he would have liked. It took her far less time than he had anticipated to use her knowledge against his labyrinth – and had he not reminded her himself that three was a number of power? When the walls continued to deny her any way forward, she had frowned and pouted – quite handsomely, he had to admit – but only for a moment. He saw the knowledge as it dawned on her face like light itself, his tenacious little temptress actually smiling, once she realised that she held the answer within herself.

As he looked on, she closed her eyes, and tilted her face and open palms upwards towards the sky – a lovely, but quite unnecessary touch, but then, his beloved had always possessed a flair for the dramatic – and began to twirl. She turned widdershins once, and then twice more, wisdom and beauty both, Athena and Aphrodite made one flesh, as she danced beneath the sun, negating the magic that had blinded her to the true path. It opened up an archway that had previously been hidden to her, as well as more possibilities before her captive audience of one than she could have ever imagined. She took no time to celebrate her small triumph, intent as she was on her prize – his Artemis, caring only for the hunt.

She had blossomed, his girl, in both mind and body, and oh, how he longed to sweep down to claim her now, and damn this infernal game. He would pluck her for his own, unrelenting this time with more of those hot, hungry kisses that had caused her to melt for him; making her beg to be made his, to be devoured over and over again. His hunger was as great as hers, and he knew that it would make her all the more succulent to him. How she would come alive, at his hands and mouth, driven to depravity and ecstasy as she came, and then came apart beneath him. She would be so … very … sweet.

He was unsurprised to find himself hard as steel.

Such wistful longings certainly whet his appetites, but did nothing to quiet the lion she had roused in his belly. She was his elixir and his poison both, and he would drink and drink of her, until he had been saved, or forever damned.

He had promised her dangers around every corner, though now she had spent over three hours inside his labyrinth without encountering a single one. She would think his dire warnings to be superfluous, at best, but he was afraid she would soon see that was not the case. There was no telling what the first threat she encountered would be, but as the paths she chose gradually turned her towards the wastelands, his sense of unease grew stronger.

The wastelands, though they had been so named for as long as he could recall, were anything but. Strange vegetation and twisted weeds grew taller and more persistently there than in any other place in his kingdom, thick, creeping vines climbing the throats of blackened, stunted trees to steal what life remained in them. He would not have willingly subjected his intended to its ugliness at even the best of times. It was a tangled, choking, rotting place – one where even his fiercest goblins feared to tread, and for good reason. Even he had not ventured to that darkest part of the outskirts in many months.

He had grown bored with his duties, with other such thoughts to occupy his time, and had perhaps neglected them too long. In his lengthy absence, the wastelands had festered and thrived, and birthed something that would have driven all of his Sarah's false bravado from her throat. Though he himself had yet to see it, the creature's sheer presence inside his labyrinth was powerful enough to tell him he would have to rid himself of it soon. The something there was of a colossal size, drawing its power seemingly from the labyrinth's very essence – for there was not prey enough alive there to nurture such a beast. Yet now, though she did not know it, a most succulent morsel indeed crept into reach of whatever claws such a monstrosity possessed.

Careful, sweet one. Be oh so careful.

She tiptoed on the edge of peril, and he knew in his heart he would not hesitate a moment to retrieve her, should the creature actually discover her – for a swift end would be sure to follow. For now, though, she remained undetected by any but he, and he would at least allow her the dignity of her own rescue. Clearly, she was able to sense that not all was well, drawing up short long before her feet had touched the edge of that matted skein of grass. Perhaps it was the smell, sickish and cloying in its decay and ruin, or simply the look of the untamed madness before her, and what must lie in wait within. He saw disgust and fear flicker across her features; the hesitation in her posture as her courage waned. She would turn back, perhaps – retrace her steps to some less daunting path. His fingers itched to reassure her, but then, her lips moved, her voice barely loud enough for him to catch the last of her words:

“...quickest way.”

He knew then that she did not have it in her ever to disappoint him.

Brought so low as this, for him to hold his breath along with her, as she pressed on. How deliciously she cheated death – he could almost taste her fear and apprehension as she crept forward into the wastes. Her presence in itself was enough to cause the creature to stir some – a wet, rumbling snort rising from the tallest of the grasses. It was enough to send a grown man running for his life, but, evidently, not this grown woman. She moved through the danger zone without once stopping to gauge her progress, navigating that awful, living maze by instinct, and maybe a scrap of that good fortune that always seemed to cling to her like a second skin.

She was swift and silent as she avoided whatever lay at its centre, her bare legs whispering through the weeds; blind, reaching hands forging what passageway she could. The foul weeds and grasses reached back, longing after her face and hair, yet never quite daring to touch before they bowed to her will. It was only when she reached the end of that horrible stretch of land that she, and the king that ruled over all he surveyed, seemed to draw breath.

Still, she moved on, and Jareth was helpless but to follow.

He looked upon her until he had made himself sick and weak with his admiration, following, with her every step, the flex of her calves; the sweet line of each leg before it was concealed by her gown. He watched the way the changing sun turned her skin from pale milk to warm cream, her hair a silken curtain. He watched the inherent beauty in every tilt of her head and toss of that darkly radiant hair; every bite of her lip as she paused to consider what path would quickest bring about his downfall. He watched, even as his carefully laid plans began to unravel into ruin around him – around her.

Because of her.

He watched her run.

And smiled.

Chapter Text


A Penny For A Tale
Let me tell you a tale for a penny,
One that you cannot hear anywhere else,
Not anywhere else.
I heard from a birdy it doesn't end purdy,
It doesn't end well.
No, it never ends well.

Let me spin you a yarn for a cent,
Lord, would it not be a sin to deny yourselves a tale?
A penny, a penny, a penny for an old beggar-man's story,
A story – a penny for a tale.

There once was a doggy,
(Arf! Arf! Arf!)
She pranced in the moon with a mouthful of shiny red pennies.
She leapt and she wagged, so proud of her shiny red pennies,
Yipping with glee.

She trotted by the river,
(Trot! Trot! Trot!)
And, oh, bless my soul, she saw her reflection in the water,
A pup with a jaw-full of shiny red pennies in the water.
She trotted as she plotted to pirate those pennies -
Oh, how they teased.

Lord, Lord, that greed, it'll kill 'ya.
Lord, Lord, go on pass the hat, will 'ya?
Your purse strings are tight, bleed for a sinner,
I just need a few pennies more.
A few pennies more.

But, greedy, so greedy,
(Me! Me! Me!)
She snarled as she swiped and struck at the mutt in the water.
A foolish pooch loots from her self in the water;
Her reflection struck back …

Lord, I wanna go on with the song,
But don't make me bring up what she did to that pup,
That cute little pup -
I just might well up.
But I'll continue my rhyme for a dime,
Or a penny is fine – these are difficult times,
Yes, difficult times.
Thank you, Sirs, you're too kind.

Lord, Lord, that greed, it'll kill 'ya.
Lord, Lord, go on pass the hat, will 'ya?
Your purse strings are tight, bleed for a sinner,
I just need a few pennies.
Lord, Lord, that greed, it'll kill 'ya.
Lord, Lord, go on pass the hat, will 'ya?
Your purse strings are tight, bleed for a sinner,
I just need a few pennies more.
A few pennies more.

And so did our doggy.
(Bad! Bad! Bad!)
She'd kill for a bite of those shiny red pennies.
She leapt and she barked at the dog in the water,
But her pennies,
Her pennies they dropped,
Down, down,
After them she shot,
Down, down,
Down in the waters below.
God rest her soul!

- TDC

Her perseverance was finally starting to pay off.

The many miles she had walked should have, by any rights, long since turned her feet to aching, tenderised hunks of meat, and yet Sarah felt no pain. The answer, of course, lay in the boots she wore, with their strange, soft inner light, and hue that changed quicker than the colours' names could dance across her tongue. They were either given to some sort of healing magic, or else shielded her from the exertion entirely, turning her long trek into nothing more taxing than a comfortable walk in the park.

The pleasure this had first given her had soured some, when she realised that Jareth was simply protecting his investment – after all, he intended for her to never leave this place, and she would be of no use to him exhausted and sore. After that little thought had reared its head, Sarah had longed to tear the boots from her feet, leaving his little gift to rot away in the dust as she continued on, until her heels were cracked and bleeding.

It was both a spiteful and satisfying urge, but in the end she did not allow herself to give in to it. She would be as good as useless to herself if she grew unable to walk, and in his domain, she needed every advantage she could get – even if it came at his hand. He would come to regret his generosity when she used his gift to defeat him – and that thought was more satisfying than all others. With no landscape to speak of but plain stone walls, after that horrible tangle of near-jungle (but wasn't that a blessing in itself?), she found herself thinking of him often. It was maddening that, even in his absence, he refused to leave her thoughts, or that her thoughts refused to leave him.

Still, her perseverance was starting to pay off, and it was that thought that she clung to like a good-luck talisman.

She thought of how her heart had raced as she narrowly escaped the thing that had lurked behind the tall grass and trees, sickly certain that every step would bring her ever closer to discovery. It seemed, then, that her heart had begun to pound inside her throat, and with every tiny sip of breath she took, it unleashed its booming noise for miles and miles around her. Against all odds, she had managed to escape, undiscovered, and probably thrown the gloating Goblin King into a foul mood in the bargain. Her bewitched boots carried her on with an even greater grace after that, it seemed.

It was hard not to gloat herself, with just how far she had come in the last few hours. He had warned her of dangers untold, but not that smug sense of satisfaction she would feel, as the shadow of his castle crept ever closer. A few more hours, and she would surely stand within its reach. However, the path ahead of her was not as smooth as it once had been. The stones ahead had begun to slope steeply upwards, more of a hike, now, than a walk through the park. More often than not, Sarah found herself needing to step over or around piles of broken bricks, and rubble that had crumbled from the neighbouring walls. Far from an easy-going path, but still, she had to be grateful that it seemed to be taking her towards the castle. Her victory would taste sweeter than any magical fruit the Goblin King could offer her.

She had recognised none of her surroundings so far, which is perhaps why she stopped so suddenly when a splash of colour, nestled amongst the dull greys and browns to her right, caught her eye. She had hardly even noticed the small alcove as she tromped past it, but now she found herself in some way drawn towards it. There, she stood, blinking in disbelief. Before her stood the two doors she had faced during her last visit here, and Sarah smiled faintly at the memory.

Well, the only way out of here is to try one of these doors.

Two doors to choose from, and two doorkeepers that had tried their best to confuse her. Now, there was no sign of their curious keepers, but the doors themselves were much as she remembered, elaborately carved from some sturdy, dark wood, though they were not as tall as her younger-self recalled them to be. Her smile faded as she saw what it was that had originally drawn her attention. Discarded upon the floor was a large shield, embellished with more strange carvings, and swatches of bright blue enamel.

“I remember you,” she whispered, and bent to examine the fallen shield. It was thick and heavy, perhaps another sign of the craftsmanship Jareth had spoke of earlier, but now it lay damaged beyond all repair. There was a large tear through the shield's middle, the steel creased and buckled as though it had been made of nothing more formidable than tissue paper. It had belonged to the right doorkeeper of all those years ago.

“I'm sorry,” she said, feeling somehow foolish.

The Goblin King had told her that the labyrinth had changed beyond recognition. Nothing remained of her childhood acquaintances and memories here, so to see something familiar at last shook Sarah deeply. It was silly, really – the keepers had been no friends to her, leaving her to fall to what could have easily been her doom. She knew it would be best to put this from her mind entirely, and return to the path, resuming the steady pace she had kept before her distraction. Still, she lingered.

The doors themselves drew her in. One door lead to certain death – and the oubliette her last foolish choice had cast her into would surely have been a slow and unpleasant one, if Hoggle had not come for her. The other door, if its keeper could be believed, concealed a straight path towards the Goblin King's castle. If she choose poorly this time, there would be no Hoggle to save her – though, of course, Jareth himself had sworn to protect her from harm. For a price. Given the ever-present lust in his eyes, it was not one she was sure she would be willing to let herself pay. Better to return to the path, than take that gamble.

But was it a gamble?

Clearly, it had been a lie when he told her that nothing remained the same here, otherwise the doors themselves would be gone. It was more likely that the Goblin King wanted her on her toes, jumping over brand new obstacles for his entertainment. The path she had strayed from had done her well so far, but it had been something of a thorn in her side, with all the scrambling and dodging it entailed. Here, she had the promise of a straight, easy path to victory, if she would only choose to take it – and this time, she knew which door to take. The right door had sent her to certain destruction, its keeper's broken shield lying here as reminder, therefore, the other door …

No, better to trust that nothing was as it seemed here. Best to go back to her crumbling, rubble-strewn path and get moving again. Let him laugh – it would stop soon enough, when she eventually reached his castle. Still, she found herself stepping forwards.

Turn back, Sarah. Turn back before it's too late. His voice, mocking her, echoing through the years.

The right door had led to certain death.

The left door must take her to his castle.

The left path would drive his sensuous, taunting voice from her brain for good – and more quickly than any other route she could pray for. Isn't that what she longed for?

Perhaps the good fortune she had taken for granted so far had made her presumptuous; greedy. Perhaps it was simply the urge to wipe the smirk from the pompous Goblin King's face for good. Whatever it was, she found her hand had snaked out of its own accord, and, with one firm push, she took the chance.

The left door swung open onto a paved, normal-enough looking pathway, and Sarah stepped over the threshold before her mind could poison her against it. Her first few steps were small, wincing ones, as if their owner expected the very ground beneath her to grow teeth and swallow her whole. They grew more confident as the wide stone slabs stayed reassuringly put. Never had the sound of heels tap-tapping against solid stone been so welcome. She had made the right choice after all, to leave the beaten, troublesome path behind for this one. Her every step felt so much lighter, this new path set on a gentle downward incline that kept her walking on with ease.

Almost too much ease, she realised, as the walls surrounding her began to pass by faster and faster, to match the brisk trot she was keeping. She tried to slow herself, to save her energy, but could not seem to stop her body's forward momentum. In mere seconds, where, already, the walls had begun to move even faster, she realised it was downward momentum as well, the path beneath her thudding heels starting to drop more and more steeply away. She was chasing her own feet just to keep her balance, and soon, she was full-out running.

As the incline grew even sharper, Sarah began to slip and stumble, skidding and lumbering forwards all the while. There was no control now over her movements, only the desperate, lunging steps of one fighting to stay upright. She could not have stopped – the labyrinth would not let her stop – and she knew then, her eyes wide and terrified, that she must have chosen certain death after all.

She saw the black chasm open up in the ground before her, only seconds before she found herself hurtling forward into it.

Falling, falling, and with no chance to scream as the sudden pull of gravity squeezed her belly, driving the wind from her. She fell into darkness itself, the sunlight above her head disappearing so suddenly that she hardly had chance to miss it. Blind, and blinder still with panic, she clawed the air as she fell, reaching out for something – anything – amongst these dark walls that, all too soon, began to reach back.

She regained the power of speech, shrieking her terror when the first hand shot out from the dark to grip her left wrist. It brought her downward descent to a rough halt, hauling her to a stop so abruptly that her left shoulder groaned in protest. She began to kick out, hanging helpless as she was in the dark, but more hands emerged to hold and support her, wrapping impossibly-long, calloused fingers around her bare wrists and ankles; gripping her beneath her arms, and pressing in beneath her ribcage. More and more hands, grabbing tightly to her knees and hips, her shoulders and elbows, with what felt like an outstretched arm actually wrapping itself around her waist. For now, she was safe.

“T-thank you,” she breathed.

She wasn't a little girl any more, but somehow, this was even more disconcerting than the last time she had encountered such things. The 'helping hands' – as they had dubbed themselves on her first encounter with them – had saved her once again from her foolish fall, but this time, there was a certain constrictive element to the way they held her. They seemed strangely possessive, somehow, in their ominous silence, as if they had no intention of ever letting her go. Surely, just her mind's panicked thoughts, after the scare from her fall … wasn't it?

The unease she felt only dug its claws deeper into her belly, unable to shake that certainty that something horrible was happening even now, in the darkness surrounding her. She could see nothing, the only sound she heard the soft rasp of the hands' rough, dry skin against her own softer, more vulnerable flesh. Sarah found herself shuddering in their grasp.

“Hey … hello?” she called, but received no reply.

For 'helping hands', they certainly weren't proving too helpful this time around. Their absolute silence as they touched her in the dark was unnerving. If anything, the ones supporting her abdomen were most unhelpful, and, from what she could feel, beginning to take liberties. She shivered as one ran in a long, sweeping stroke along the underside of her left breast. Had it been deliberate? Did they intend to grope her, in the way the Goblin King himself so longed to? This had to be his doing. He had promised her salvation from harm, and these hands had broken her fall, all right, but there was no way in hell that this wasn't Jareth's sordid idea of punishment, just for daring to deny him.

“I'm going to kill him,” she decided, beginning to kick and writhe in protest. “I'll show him fucking 'precious'!”

At once, the air around her came alive.

'PreciousPreciousss.' Softly mocking, somewhere to the right of her head, really drawing out that last syllable and dripping contempt.

'Preciousss.' From down by her ankles.

'Preciousss!' Startlingly close to the nape of her neck, making her jerk her head forwards as far away from the voice as she could.

'Preciousss.' Hissing out at her from the darkness. Coming from too many places to count, now. Beyond a game.

'Preciousssss.'

Oh … oh, fuck.

'Precioussssssss …' Fucking everywhere.

Not hands, after all – snakes. Snakes. Dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of snakes, surrounding her, touching her, looping, coiling bodies, all crawling and slithering over one another in the pitch dark, just to get to her. All those creeping, dry touches she had felt, all over her body, and God only knew just how many more there were – how many thousands more of them, hiding in the dark – just reaching out for her, reaching now for her face

Breathe, Sarah, breathe.

But the shallow breath she blew out was only cast back at her, deflected by something much closer than the hole's perimeter – something that must only be inches away from her face, winding ever closer in the darkness, ready to reach out, ready to touch her. How many would it take before they had circled her neck, her nose, pushing forward until they had reached her eyes … her mouth-

...own,” she managed to wheeze out, her voice reedy and cracking in her panic. “Put me down! Down, down, down!”

No more than she had uttered the words, than the world around her fell away. She was free, free of those stealing, scaly caresses, but now she was falling again, deeper and deeper into the terrible black void that yawned out beneath the labyrinth's cursed earth. Faster and faster she tumbled, her cheeks and hair whipped at by the wind – cold and dead and promising all too well what end would soon follow for her.

There was nothing – snakes nor hands – to stop her fall this time, her legs kicking out beneath her, gasping and wailing and begging for help. The desperate reaching of her own hands brought her no respite, nothing but the pit's stone walls, that were speeding all too quickly past her in the dark. She grabbed for one anyway, and was rewarded with bright, lancing pain in her middle finger. The wall had snatched back, tearing at her skin as if she had touched the road beneath a moving car. Sarah cried out, yanking back her wounded right hand at once. When she nursed it to her lips, she tasted the faint metallic tang of blood upon her fingers. On some deeper level, it terrified her that the fall gave her enough time to worry about such things.

It was impossible for anyone to fall so long, yet still she fell, ever downwards, picking up speed as she went. She could only wait for the end, alone and terrified, for the ground to finally rush upwards to claim her. She fell to certain death, knowing all the while that, when the end finally came, her last, desperate thought was doomed to be of him.

 

.o0o. She chose down … .o0o.

 

She landed, not with a bone-shattering thud, as expected, but with a soft thump, that forced a breathless whoop of surprise out of her. The gentleness of it, after falling so very far, was almost jarring. Her new immediate surroundings flooded her with sudden light, after that horrible blackness, adding to her sense of bewilderment. She blinked rapidly, gauging the room about her – some wide, high-ceilinged hall, with strange, winding walls that looked to have been carved from the rock of some great mountain itself. That strangely ominous clock, whose numbers went all the way up to thirteen. A memory tugged at her, then, of passing through this place on the swift path to some other; of him, and of dozens of stone staircases, leading to everywhere and nowhere. Her eyes widened.

His castle. His throne room.

She was seated at the height of power, in the Goblin King's very throne.

All of this raced through her mind in mere seconds, leaving her dazed, and not so certain she had been rescued after all. This was the very place she had been pushing towards, but to be brought here, not of her own accord, but his

That was when the strange cushions beneath her shifted, and a firm pair of hands came to rest upon her hips. Those hands did as much to renew her trembling as they did to soothe her. As if he had read her thoughts, the Goblin King leaned forward, and spoke, hotly and precisely, into her ear. “Finally seated as a true queen should be, precious. Atop her king.”

Of course, when he had conjured her here, he could not resist having his most coveted prize land directly onto his lap. All of the heat in Sarah's body seemed to drain from her at once, only to come rushing back as her overtaxed body registered the warmth of his chest against her back; the deeper heat beneath her, of his strong thighs and-

Oh, no. No

Oh, yes.

She could feel her cheeks, hot enough to melt as she twisted to face him, all the while trying not to sigh at the way his body seemed to mould to accommodate hers. “Jareth,” she gasped, his sheer proximity having finally startled the name from her lips.

“At your most humble service, sweet one.” His hands slipped around to the small of her back to support her, evidently happy to keep her sitting right where she was for the immediate future. It was obvious that her use of his true name had pleased him, his mouth turning up into the amused little smirk that passed for his smile.

“I … I …” Her brain was still caught up in having his body pressed so intimately against hers, imagining, in all its perverted delight, she could feel every beat of his pulse in those muscular thighs and his-

'Aye', indeed,” he chuckled, and Sarah felt the rumble of his laughter run through both of their bodies. “A most tricky situation you managed to stumble into, love – quite literally. Still, I imagine the after effects could have been much worse. As it is, I must say I'm very pleased …”

The fear she had felt in that terrible darkness was replaced with the sudden heat of anger. Without meaning to, Sarah's hands began to curl into fists, causing her to yelp with pain. She lifted the offending hand – her right – and saw the tip of her middle finger had been grazed raw, and was still beaded with blood. “You said you'd never let physical harm come to me,” she accused.

“Ah, I see. And here I thought my saving you from the bottomless pit that you so foolishly demanded yourself released down would be seen as adequate protection from harm.”

Bottomless?”

“Yes,” he drawled, that smirk still playing about his lips. “I would have thought a mere scrape would pale in comparison to such a drawn-out, unpleasant demise as falling for an eternity entails … but no matter – we can't have you hurt. I'll see to it now, if you'll allow me …”

Before Sarah could protest, he had taken her hand in his and, with no hesitation at all, guided her injured finger between his lips. She thought about pulling back, just as the warmth of his mouth enveloped her completely.

Umm. Unlike the shuddering horror the snakes had evoked in her, this set her body trembling in all sorts of new ways. The unspoken boundaries between them had already been irrevocably blurred by that single, scorching kiss they had shared in her bedroom – to allow this to go on unchecked would be dangerously close to surrendering those frontiers entirely. Then, as the heat of his tongue caressed her, she stopped thinking altogether. Those soft lips coaxed her deeper, as he began to suck, and his tongue … that tongue was everywhere at once, running swift, sensual strokes all along the underside of her finger, circling her fingertip oh, so slowly.

Sarah's breath came quicker as his lips possessed her, and there was that definite sensation of falling again, her stomach spiralling into oblivion as he sucked, and sucked. His eyes held hers, light and dark at once, and heavy-lidded with his own desire. That gaze, along with the raw sex that was his mouth, made everything below her waist seem to melt and positively drip down – the one-time Champion of the labyrinth, now set to puddle helplessly at its keeper's feet. From some distance, she heard that she was humming her pleasure, deep and low within her throat.

When he finally released her finger, his lips remained slightly parted, the lower shiny and wet with his efforts. Sarah found she could not resist leaning in to press her mouth against them, hearing him murmur his approval. He had known the wicked effect his mouth would have on her, expertly manipulating her finger to sway what little willpower remained to her receptive body, cradled as she was in his lap. He knew that she would want him, and sought to punish her with that very desire. She cupped his face in both hands and drew him nearer, with every intent of punishing him in the same way. Instead of surrendering to his tongue, she pushed her own against his lower lip, demanding control of his mouth and sweeping it with real hunger.

He took her roughness in his stride, kissing her back as hard as she gave, and soon she forgot all about who held control, only that he held her. Quite against her will, Sarah found herself arching into him, her chest pressed invitingly forward, knees parting just that little bit more. It was all she could do to stop herself writhing atop him in her need. His left hand remained where it was – respectably splayed at the small of her back, refusing to take what she offered him. His right also denied her body the caresses she longed for, but took no such courtesies with her hair, plunging deep and gripping it tightly at the base of her scalp. Holding her body firmly upright, he used that leverage to gently tug her head backwards, ending their kiss, and baring her neck to him. Sarah could feel her heart hammering in her chest as, with a sly, seductive smile, her king bent his head to her neck.

His lips brushed the sensitive skin of her throat as he spoke. “I think that's payment enough, don't you?” he said, before letting go of her hair, and drawing back.

Panting, bewildered, Sarah stared down at him. “Payment? 

How his eyes sparkled. “Yes. Such a … remarkable kiss, given of your own free will, shall be payment enough for my saving you from the pit – as I'm sure you intended it to be, precious.”

How he must love to see her burn. Her face and neck were flushed with her obvious desire, and now her embarrassment. He had taken one small step too far, and let her come tumbling the rest of the way to him, only to leave her wanting and humiliated when her own lust overtook sense. Did he want her to beg for him to go on? Of course, the answer was yes. It wasn't enough for her to want him – he wouldn't simply allow her desires to get the better of her, taking her as only the next, natural step their bodies yearned for. No, she had to ask first. She had to give in to him. She had to accept his-

“ …finger?”

His voice had washed over her thoughts, and now she jumped slightly. “What?”

“I simply asked if all was well with your finger, Sarah. Do try to pay attention.”

“Oh.” She had forgotten the damaged digit entirely. She lifted her hand now, and found that not only had the pain vanished completely, but so had any trace that it had ever been injured in the first place. She turned it this way and that in the light, marvelling at the smooth, unbroken skin. “That's amazing,” she whispered.

“No more than a parlour trick, I assure you.”

“No, really. That you have the ability to actually heal this way with your mouth …”

At that, Jareth grinned. “I can also assure you, your finger was long on its way to recovery by the time it reached my lips, sweet one.”

He wouldn't dare … oh, but of course, he would. “You mean you could have healed me with just your hands?”

“Of course. A nod of the head, a blink of the eye; the slightest touch of an admirer's hand.” His grin grew wider. “Though I find that simple, repetitive hand gestures make such poor fare, when one has such a willing partner to otherwise occupy them. Don't you agree, love?”

The double meaning of his words was not lost on her, and her flustered mind went pin-wheeling, finding no appropriate response. Thankfully, this time he did not make her squirm for long.

“Now, as lovely as it would be to have you remain here in my lap, I did promise not to hinder your delightful body in any way, and time is ticking …”

As if to punctuate his words, and remind her exactly where she was seated, there came a definite tell-tale throb from beneath her. She had been too lost in his kiss to recognise the way his cock had stirred under her, nestled as it was against her body. She could feel it now, pressed firmly against her ass – only a hint of what she knew she could stir in him. It was enough to turn her insides to warm jelly. Blushing red-hot, Sarah scrambled off of him as if her ass was on fire, stumbling down the steps leading from his throne.

“Mmf,” he grunted. “I'd say 'better', but …”

Turning back to him, there was no hiding the impressive shape of him through his trousers, that now stood just a little more impressive. He made no move to hide it from her. There was a loud clicking sound as Sarah forced a swallow past her terribly dry throat. Her eyes begged to drink their fill, but in the end she had to turn her face away – but not before he had seen her blushes, and begun to chuckle again.

“I told you, love, I don't find my desires shameful.”

“Yeah,” she muttered, her voice emerging low and a little muddy with that most persistent, shameful arousal. “And you also said you don't believe in abstaining. Why not just go fuck someone?” If not them, or me, then maybe yourself, her mind added.

Of course, he had to grin at that, in the lewd way that always – damn him – set her pulse racing. “Why, Sarah, is that an offer?”

“It's an offer for you to drop this idea that you have to add me to your list of lovers,” she spat back. “Don't think I've forgiven you for keeping me constantly on edge all this time, while you've been free to do whatever – and whoever – the hell you want.”

In his anger, he was on his feet in an instant. “Did you think me to have lied to you, when I said the dreams had tortured us both? The dreams that matured along with you, and showed me that, you, too, shared my growing desire? The ones that instilled in me eternal, damnable hope that one day, you will finally see fit to grant me mercy at your lips and between your thighs? You have danced in my dreams – a most expert dance indeed, for it has kept me hungering for so long. And because of you, precious, and your infernal longing, I have not been able to evoke hunger for any other – and, believe me, I have tried. For these past long years, I have touched no one.”

For a moment after his outburst, his jaw pulled tighter, as if he might go on with his frustration, and then, with a sigh, he appeared to collect himself. “You can understand, then, how well this predicament of endless waiting for you suits me.”

Sarah could not find words. For him to have waited for her- … no, but she couldn't allow herself to think of what that might imply. Her head and her stomach churned in unison, with enough conflicted emotions to keep her wondering for years to come. She tried to swallow them all down as, in her silence, Jareth calmed himself enough to go on.

“Now,” he said, “as this is the second time I've come to your aid-”

“Second?” she asked. “Woah, there, that's not true. That awful pit was the first time you've had to save me. You haven't done anything else!”

The Goblin King raised an eyebrow and nodded towards her feet. “Your choice of footwear says otherwise, love.”

Clothing me doesn't count as aid!” she cried. “Particularly as it's your fault I came here this way in the first place!”

“If clothing is so unimportant to you, then I suppose I should have left you naked to crawl to my castle.”

Now who's abusing the rules?”

He tossed his head, and smirked. “Believe me, given the chance, and your consent, I would 'abuse' far more than-”

“Oh, stop it!” Sarah folded her arms across her chest, hating herself for allowing his words under her skin. “Like I said, boots do not count as aid.”

His eyes fixed on hers, Jareth made a show of descending the steps, moving slowly towards her. “Then do you intend to return them?”

Sarah gritted her teeth. “If you really want me to.”

He grinned at her annoyance. “That won't be necessary. I accept, the boots were merely a kind gesture – although I do wonder if you would repay me in kind, by indulging me in an answer.”

“It depends on the question.”

Jareth sighed softly, his smile slowly fading, as was the evidence of his arousal. “Very well. Why did it take you so very long to call upon me?” All sense of amusement had left his eyes with just those few words, and in them was all of the waiting and dwindling hope he had spoken of. As much as he had angered her, Sarah could not bring herself to lie to him.

“I always thought you would be the one to come to me,” she said at last. “I thought you'd come, and … I don't know, claim me, and then I wouldn't have a choice in the matter. I hated it when you never arrived, but kept on haunting me all the while. And now,” she gave a bitter chuckle. “Now, I'm the weak one for doing the calling, bringing you to me just so you can play your games.”

His hand fell upon her shoulder, and despite everything, she felt herself softening once more as he spoke. “You're far from weak, Sarah. If anything, it's your strength that makes me hunger so to conquer you. There would be no such pleasure in it, if you were so cowed to begin with.”

“You mean how fun it'd be for you to see me crumble.”

“No. What perfection it would be to see you yield, and finally give yourself over to me. You are a queen, Sarah, and a queen bows to no one but her king.”

Her mind skipped back to when she had seen him so sincere, to his words in her bedroom – already spoken a lifetime ago: 'My queen by name, but I will worship you as a goddess'. How often, it seemed, he possessed the ability to make her mouth run dry. Faced with yet more emotions she could not bear, she reached for some of her earlier attempt at humour. “ Still so romantic,” she mumbled.

Thankfully, that brought back his smirk, and he could not resist teasing her. “When you fail to solve my labyrinth, sweet one, you will have plenty of time afterwards to see just how romantic I can be. Unless, of course, you fancy another taste now?”

Sarah made herself glare at him, and then the clock. “That thing says I only have … seven hours and six minutes left. Do I get time added on, to make up for you wasting it by flirting with me?”

“Ah, so the flirting is working.”

She rolled her eyes in disgust. “You're imposs-”

She barely saw him move. Once more, she found herself in his arms, his warm mouth pressed tightly against hers. Though their passions had by now cooled some, she could not help but respond to him anew, her entire body set aflame by the heat of his kiss, utterly lost in his mouth. By the time he finally released her, her pulse was racing once again.

-ible,” she sighed.

“Quite.” He did not look half so shaken, now, as she was. “You can consider that a gesture of goodwill, in light of my gift of the boots, and my graciousness in the face of your blatant disregard for the rules. Now,” he said, with a smile, “I'd best let you get on. Seven hours, plus a little extra, as requested.”

The sight of him faded, as Sarah found herself deposited, without warning, back inside his labyrinth. Before the castle – and its clock face – had entirely vanished along with him, Sarah saw that the hands stood at the exact same position as they had before he had kissed her. True to his word, the Goblin King had reordered time, simply to make up for the minutes he had spent ravishing her mouth.

“Oh, that son of a bitch.”

Above her head, there was only laughter.

Chapter Text

Trust Me
You're a tough little tadpole to love.
Naughty lilies and lures,
Oh, I was knocked to the floor!
Never tasted as sweet,
A poison as you have.
You're an urge that can never be cured.

You're a bad little love,
And I'm yours.

So trust me, trust me,
Darling dear.
I'm so sincere,
There's no need to tear.
Trust me, trust me,
Honey, do.
Just like I trust you.

- TDC

It wasn't his fault when the fount of good fortune she had bathed in finally began to run dry. He had agreed not to meddle in his labyrinth's odd ways, and had no control over the way it now chose to playfully squeeze her in its talons. Sarah knew all this, yet blamed him anyway – she knew in her head that it was all his doing. Their last encounter had left her feeling more things than she would ever allow herself to admit, and the distraction was taking its toll. His love and his longing were heavy burdens to bear.

She also knew she should be more alert to this godforsaken maze's games, by now, but instead, she found she had wandered the same twisting paths over and over, without even noticing. When she finally recognised a low outcrop of crumbling wall as one she had seen at least three times before – and once the ensuing fit of red-faced cursing had passed – it was enough to finally break her thoughts apart, and return her to the momentous task at hand

It was only in the past half hour or so that she began to feel she was finally back on the right track. The path ahead was as straight and normal-looking as she could hope for, and she followed it religiously as it sloped from rough, near-mountainous terrain in places, to the milder, lusher turf of what seemed to be a forest. The pebbles that clicked and slid beneath her feet grew smoother and seemed to gleam with moisture, and strange, gorgeous flowers raised their heads from the surrounding greenery at more frequent intervals – brilliant oranges and pinks and shimmering golds. It was almost beautiful. She thought she must encounter water soon, and sure enough, the trill of a flowing stream began to wind its way through the trees that surrounded her.

The river she eventually came to was a shining silver thread beneath the sun, weaving its way through small, slick rocks, and vibrant green weeds. She hadn't even considered drink nor food for hours, but seeing such clear, wonderful water in her path caused her throat to itch as way of reminder. It would be deliciously cool as she knelt to scoop some in her palm – just a mouthful to soothe that itch, and wet her dry lips. Her body had actually begun to stoop down with the idea, but then the ghost of long-forgotten peaches seemed to rise up in her mouth, and she straightened in a hurry.

There would be no more of that whilst she remained here – she would rather her body dry and harden out into jerky with its thirst, than accept any more food or drink this realm had to offer her. Besides, she wasn't thirsty – not truly. The water was simply a temptation – as so many things here were – and she was able to resist. Listening to her body, she found no real trace of hunger or thirst, though it had been hours now since dinner. Surely, enough time had passed, that, under usual circumstances, would have her craving at least a snack, by now. She had eaten well, but not excessively, in the safety of her normal family home, and with no notion of the strange events ahead to spoil her appetite. She was struck by a sudden inkling now, though, and gazed down at her feet.

Her curious boots now painted a perfect picture of the river before them, reflecting the silvers and blues and greens of water turned to crystal in the sunlight. She wondered again at whatever magic possessed them, and if it was strong enough to keep the rest of her body as comfortable as it had kept her feet, for she had certainly wanted for nothing since pulling them on. It made her a little uneasy to think of any power but her own aiding her now, and there were already more forces than she could imagine at play in the Underground. She felt a mad urge to try clicking her heels together three times and wishing for home, but did not, fearing the only salvation it would bring would be him.

There was no obvious way past the stream, and with time slipping away, she was hesitant to go searching for one. The water was slow-moving and clear enough for her to see that it held no obvious dangers, laying only a foot or two deep. Still, she knew that any appearance here could be deceiving. She walked to the edge of the stream's bank after all, but instead of drinking, she carefully dipped her leg into the water, far enough to stir some of the slick rocks that made up its bed. The water was as cool as silk, as she had anticipated, and came barely halfway up to her knee, easily shallow enough to cross. She pulled her leg back as she considered. The bottom seemed sturdy enough to dig her heels into, and even if she did slip, she would face only a bruised ego, and a wet ass.

Thinking of how he would laugh, if she gave up or embarrassed herself now, made her all the more determined to succeed. It took no more than seven slow, careful steps. She kept her arms stretched out for balance, but in the end, there was really no need. The water flowed smoothly around her calves, doing no more than tug lazily at her steps as she splashed her way across. She reached the opposite bank without incident, wet only from the shins down. If anything, the water felt good on her bare skin.

She watched the droplets that still clung to her legs start to slide down, knowing that the sun would dry them – and her soaked boots – soon enough. The boots' shining silver hue had faded to a dull charcoal grey. The light within them seemed to have gone out, at least temporarily. Sarah flexed her toes, wincing a little at the feel of the damp material clinging to her skin, but otherwise pushing it from her mind. Wet shoes were, in the grand scale of things, the least of her worries right then.

What grew progressively more worrying, though, was how quickly her throat began to dry up as she resumed her walk. The sun that, only minutes ago, provided nothing more than a comforting warmth now seemed to stretch and wring dry every inch of skin it touched. Sarah lost count of how many times she licked at her lips; ran that swollen, seeking tongue around inside her mouth, searching for moisture. Remembering the river she had left behind.

She forced herself to go on though, resisting the urge to turn back. To turn back was to waste time, as there was precious little of that as it was. For a while, she comforted herself with the thought that, when she won, the first thing she would do would be to grab a bottle of soda – still running with condensation from the fridge – and down it in one. The thought grew rapidly less comforting as that thirst began to tear her throat in two. She grimaced, and coughed, and cleared it constantly, but there was no escape from that relentless longing for liquid. She had never wanted a drink so badly in her life.

At the utmost crest of that thirst, there came a wave of hunger, so sudden and so all-consuming that she cried out in consummate pain. Her last meal felt nothing shy of a lifetime ago, mocking her empty stomach with its memory. When the pain became too much to bear, she sank down to her knees, heedless of the way the uneven ground beneath her dug teeth into her skin, aware only of that terrible hollow feeling. In that agony, she would have eaten a thousand of his peaches, and gladly. The mere thought was enough to make her mouth water, and she groaned at the way her saliva relit the fire under her dry tongue.

Her throat and stomach were no more than dry, empty husks, boring a wide and horrible hole through the very core of her being. Yet, even as her body bemoaned the dead, dry heat of those most useless organs, the heat itself began to change, sinking deeper, lower inside her, kindling some other primitive need as it went.

“No,” she moaned, as her very skin seemed to catch fire, smothering her with its feverish hold.

Had her dreams really been such a source of torment? She hardly thought so now – not when the entire outside world ceased to matter, in lieu of the fact that her whole body had shifted into some never-before reached state of overdrive. Without thinking, she slipped a hand between her legs, and yelped aloud as her fingers came into contact with her overly-sensitive sex. She could easily feel how wet she was; hot to touch, even through her underwear. Tracing the outline of her slit, even such a light, curious caress, was true torture, only making her feel more desperate. Trying to chase her own orgasm in this state would be skin to pouring gasoline over that fire blazing inside her. She needed … she needed

“You don't need to pleasure yourself – not while I'm here, love.”

Him. He would give her what her body burned for.

Gasping, Sarah pulled herself back to her feet, spinning her head left and right, and ignoring the dizzying waves the motion sent sweeping through her body. He was nowhere to be seen, but his voice had been as clear as a bell to her ears. He had to be here. She scanned her surroundings with rising panic, actually fearful, now, of the desire that had taken her its prisoner. She had to have something – someone.

“Jareth,” she cried, “Jareth, please!”

Nothing around her but rocks and trees, but then, as she turned her head again: “-know exactly what you need.”

Immediately, she whirled in the direction it had come from, but saw nothing. “Where are you?”

A low, seductive purr, from somewhere amongst the trees: “Right where you need me most – between your lovely thighs.”

Sarah whimpered softly. Some increasingly vague part of her brain registered the words as a snippet from one of her dreams – something he had whispered to her in the dark and heat of the night – nothing more. As that desire squeezed her in its grasp, and that more rational part of her brain so, too, caught fire, she took off running after the voice, real or not.

Her boots went crashing through mud and grass and stony earth, stumbling over jutting tree roots and rocks. Her hands deflected the worst of the low branches that lunged and lashed at her face and arms but did nothing to slow her. She zigged and zagged and dodged, and through her mad journey, he called out to her from between the trees – taunted her, always just beyond her reach.

“-want me inside you.”

“-behind, I think, and this time-”

“-oh, yes, just like that, lift your-”

“Come now, you can do better than that, precious. I said louder-”

“-when you feel my mouth on you-”

He was everywhere and nowhere at once, his heated words doubling and overlapping, as though his actual presence had managed to surround her. His deep, honeyed voice had her turning left and right and back again, but kept her pressing on forwards in her need to reach him. His tone grew huskier as his own longing evidently grew with hers, whispering dark promises and hushed, urgent demands. Finally, he began to moan.

“Oh, Sarah. My Sarah, yes. Soon, love, soon. Come for me …”

And she did. Through the tangle of his other taunts and wicked lures, she ignored all others, and ran for the voice that finally promised an end.

“Come for me, love, don't-”

(Sarah!)

“-stop now, come for me …”

(Sarah, no!)

At last, the mass of endless trees in her path broke apart; disappeared into sky, leaving her to run into bright, blessed sunlight. There was still no trace of him, but she could not stop herself, not even as her leading foot found no earth under it, and dropped away beneath her. There was no sense of falling this time, only a firm arm closing around her waist, pulling her, stumbling, back from the brink. Another arm wrapped around her waist just as tightly, and she felt herself drawn backwards, back into the shade of the trees, and against the solid, secure presence of her saviour’s body. His chin pressed hard against the top of her head, his chest a warm, heaving piston against her back, as the folds of his cape enveloped them. From the sound of the gasping breaths that tousled her hair, her king had been running, too.

“Gods, Sarah! What were you thinking?” His real voice, here, against her. She had heard him angry and she had heard him disheartened – never before had Sarah heard the Goblin King truly afraid.

She found she didn't care.

That need was all over her, coating her skin like creeping, stealing moss, and he wasn't the only one who was breathing hard. She turned roughly in his grip, fighting against him – as he plainly did not want to let her go – all so that she could press her mouth against his. Her lips were hot and dry, and his mouth was like soft rain against them. He did not respond, leaving her lips and teeth to scratch against his in her hunger. She felt starved – wild – her hands all but tearing at his chest as she desperately sought for him to return her fervour. Finally, she reached out for his cock, and mewled her frustration as once again he refused her. He took her by the shoulders, instead, and held her as far away from him as their close proximity allowed.

“Please!” She was begging now, wrestling for control as she tried to kiss him again. “I'll give you everything!”

His eyes flashed with the promise, but still, he held her firm. “What's said is said, and I have no doubt you will, in time. Now, though …”

With a strength that far exceeded her own, he spun them so that Sarah found her back pinned hard against the nearest tree. It was the only thing that held her upright, as the Goblin King then sank to his knees before her. Her mind reeled to have his head so close, she could feel his breath against her legs, and her gown made her so very accessible … clearly, he had every intent of giving her what she wanted, after all. She moaned deep in her throat, her knees parting for him by instinct as he bent to her feet. His gloved hand closed around her right calf, and lifted her leg clean off the ground, and even that small contact was enough to set her blood pumping faster.

It took her world a moment to stop spinning enough to realise that, with his other hand, he had wrenched her boot from her foot, tossing it aside and leaving her bare. Being free of the wet fabric was good, but it was nothing compared to the feel of him, touching her so easily – so intimately. The earth felt warm against her sole as he set her down again, only to repeat the action with her left foot.

Barefoot and willing before me, came her mind's greedy whisper.

She thought her gown would surely come next, but he surprised her, remaining on his knees to strip off his gloves. His bare hands were like blessings as they moved up the inside of each leg, stopping just beneath her knees to grip her there firmly. Sarah began to keen and roll her hips when it became clear he would go no further. He seemed more intent on holding her in place, than exploring her body, and it drove her insane.

“Please, just touch me,” she moaned, and she could hear the lust painting her words darker.

“Hush, love,” he murmured, holding her all the tighter.

All at once, she felt a deep pulling inside her, as though the lower half of her body was trying to rid itself of the top. She cried out, and gave a sharp twist of her hips, trying to escape that tearing feeling – for surely, he had to be the cause of it – but there was no reprieve from his hands. He held on, and through his perseverance, Sarah felt that terrible heat inside her finally begin to cool. The desperation that had driven her was slowly fading, and, unable to help it, she gave a sob of relief, her body sagging against the hard tree trunk and his wonderfully soft hands. By the time he finally saw fit to release her, it was gone entirely.

When it was done, he rocked back on his heels, and she could hear him panting.

He wasn't alone. “What … what happened to me?” she gasped.

“Your boots – not to mention your indecently lovely legs – fell prey to some higher magic. You remember the Bog, don't you, Sarah?” His voice was thick and hoarse with something she could not quite place. “It seems whatever charm kept you from its clutches during your last delightful visit has finally failed you.”

“You mean the Bog of Eternal Stench? But … that little stream? It was so clear! And the smell …”

“Sometimes, dear one, the most dangerous things come in the most alluring packages. Besides,” he rasped, “the things that we fear as children almost always give way to more adult fears. For example, what would trouble you more, nowadays: a lifetime of stench, or a lifetime of, say, incurable poor health for your family, or financial ruin, or perhaps even total rejection of yourself by all that you loved? In the face of such sizeable problems, a little stink pales into insignificance, does it not?”

Her tongue felt impossibly thick as she swallowed. First the thirst, then the hunger, then that near-crazed lust that had seized her … “What was it?” she asked. “What eternity would it have cursed me with?”

He had kept his face bent low towards the ground, but he looked up at her now, and his strange pupils had near evened themselves, his eyes almost black with the depths of their desire. “Longing,” he growled. “For everything you could never hope to possess, no matter how hard you fought to obtain it. An eternity of exquisitely painful, insatiable, endless longing.”

She watched, open-mouthed as he gained his feet once more, reeling a little as he went. She saw, with some embarrassment – and not a small amount of echoing lust – that he was fully erect, his cock straining against his trousers, aching for release. The responding tug between her own thighs was sudden – hot – but it was nothing of the blind, hysterical need that had consumed her, only moments ago.

“And you … you drew that out from me?”

Jareth gave a wry grin. “'No more than a parlour trick'. A trifle. A mere cherry on top of the thinnest sliver of cake for the great Goblin King, eh, Sarah? What would have soon poisoned your mortal mind with its madness can only hurt me a little. Mere poison wasn't enough to finish off the great Rasputin, after all.” Though, from the way his body was trembling, it was obvious the effort had cost him dearly.

The way he stared at her was nothing short of frightening. It spoke volumes of how he longed to devour her, and perhaps, now, in more ways than one. “Just a tiny drop of poison,” he insisted. “Still-” His hands flexed, seemingly involuntarily, and the next moment, he was holding her chin between his fingers. “Even a king has to admit, it does have such a bloody potent effect, particularly around his queen,” he growled, and crushed his lips to hers.

Caught off guard, as his tongue forced itself against her lips, Sarah could only surrender, unable to keep up with his ardour – but only for a moment. As quickly as he had advanced upon her, the enraged Goblin King tore himself away. He turned his back on her at once, as though he had need to resist the temptation even the sight of her offered.

“Too blasted close. No. No more,” he said, and Sarah had the feeling that it was as much to himself, as it was to her. He gave a bitter laugh, gesturing to the horizon before them. “Look out at my kingdom, Sarah, and see where you would have ended your second journey here! But be careful, mind – I fear I haven't the capacity at the present time to watch out for us both.”

Sarah did as she was asked, slowly edging forward from her tree to see the land fall away. They stood not five feet from a mossy, overhanging crag of rock, giving way to a jagged cliff-face that towered at least a hundred feet above the rough ground below. She stared down with morbid fascination. Unlike the black, unknowing horror of the bottomless pit, this fall possessed a most definite end.

At the base of the drop, there were countless boulders and smaller stones that had crumbled and fallen from the cliff above. Had the real him not stopped her, the siren song of his voice would have tumbled her over the edge in the same way, to be dashed upon the rocks below. Between this, and the ordeal with the snakes, it was clear the labyrinth had latched onto her deepest fears, and intended to feed, even at the cost of her life. It was apparently a sobering thought for them both, as when she finally managed to tear her gaze away and step back into relative safety, he was staring back at her, with none of that brief frenzy that had claimed him.

“A dangerous place, Sarah – one even I cannot fully control. I did warn you.”

“You saved me from it, though,” she said, softly. “I have to thank you for that. And …” This part was harder, rousing shameful blushes when she thought of the way she had flung herself at him in heat. “Thank you, for not … for not accepting me at less than my best.”

He snorted his derision. “How I must disappoint you, to continually refuse to play the monster you believe me to be.”

“You're really not, you know. A monster, I mean.” In the game they played, that almost passed for a compliment.

His smile was small, but it at least held a trace of humour. “'Behold, a deity stronger than I; who coming, shall rule over me.' Oh, how you do burn my heart, love, with such lofty praise as you give. Such fine words are enough to shame a man.”

“Still an infuriating fuck, though.” Smiling a little herself, now, at his relentless sarcasm.

“Mmm. So you keep telling me, precious. Although, in your current, most flawlessly untouched state, I do wonder what your basis for comparison really is.”

How it grated her, to have every insulting word hurled back so effortlessly, to embarrass her instead. Her cheeks felt like they were in constant bloom around him … and wasn't there just a hint of that deeper warmth, too – of longing for that teasing, and for him? One that coaxed her into long, mutually-admiring glances, like the one that lingered between them now; into outright flirting with her adversary, when she should be clambering to defeat him?

Oh, she knew he had no intention of ever letting her go – not unscathed and unmarked by him, anyway – and a dark, deniable part of her embraced the idea – of having him lying so satisfyingly between her thighs, day and night; light and dark. How could she know he was bad for her, after all, without that all-important basis for comparison? That lust in her belly was rekindled, of its own free will – not that cursed, hopelessly insatiable longing that had torn at her insides – a warm, genuine curiosity – of wanting what she knew he could give her.

“Penny for them, love.”

… none of which she could ever actually tell him. To admit she harboured such notions, now, would be to admit defeat. There would be no need of the rest of her designated time in his labyrinth, for he would claim a greater victory with that one significant admission – of his power.

Never.

“Wool-gathering, that's all,” she made herself say.

“Hmm.” He took a small step closer. “How curious, seeing as time is fleeting, and escapes from you readily even now. Perhaps the proffered prize for winning no longer holds such appeal?”

His words were too close for comfort, as was his body, given the all-too-vulnerable state of her emotions right then. Another hard kiss might just knock the smirk that had risen off his face, only she might be too tightly-wound in his bedsheets by that point even to care. “It appeals, all right,” was all she said.

“Oh, it does? Tsk, tsk, Sarah. I would suggest you work on convincing yourself of that first, before you try me, sweet one.” His mouth held such a sensual, such a smug smile, that it made her want to grab hold of his hair, just so she could pull it against her own. Thankfully, he did not give her long to weigh the consequences of such actions.

“Now, as we've agreed, that is the second occasion I've saved you,” he said, his voice stroking and soothing at her frazzled nerves. “And, as you have already seen fit to gift me your kiss, I do wonder what you'll see fit to give me in return this time.”

Surprisingly, it didn't take her long to find an answer for him. “Time,” she heard herself say.

Amused, but clearly intrigued, Jareth gave her one of his most infuriating, tantalising smiles yet. “Precious, I have lived a hundred of your mortal lifetimes, and then again a hundred more. My kind are all but immortal, so, as you can see, I have nothing but time. How would you hope to tempt me with such an insignificant thing, hmm?”

Sarah forced herself into steady eye contact, in spite of the thrill of anticipation that fizzed and hopped in her belly; the deep, damning warning bells that clanged in vain in her ears. “Ten minutes. Outside of this game we're playing. No objections. Free rein. You can't enchant me, you can't use that time to trap me, or otherwise trick me into losing, and …” She wet her dry lips. “And I won't let you have me, but … you can have that taste of what you've always, always wanted.”

It seemed the bottom of her stomach gave out in defeat, or perhaps elation, after she had made her offer – after all, what damage could he do that was half as devastating as the act of simply offering it to him? Free rein, her mind screamed, free rein! All the while watching him as her proposal took wing in his eyes; as he considered all of its delightful implications. It was the riskiest proposal she had ever breathed life to, and how her heart now raced with it!

“Ten minutes,” he said, finally. “Outside of your time inside my labyrinth. You consent to whatever that time might bring – outside of outright trickery and manipulation – on condition that you will remain a virgin throughout. Am I correct in saying that these are the terms, as you've given them?”

“Yes.”

Oh, and how his eyes danced. “Ten minutes,” he said, again, his smile stretching wider. “Not a lot of time. Ten minutes is nothing – no time at all of that I would spend, exploring your many delights.”

Straight-faced, showing nothing of how her insides were rapidly unfurling: “That's kinda what I'm counting on.”

“An intriguing offer. It does, my dear, make me wonder why you struggle so hard to best me, only to then offer yourself so freely. I don't suppose I may ask for some explanation?”

“You suppose correctly.”

“Hmm. Ten minutes.”

“Ten minutes,” she agreed.

“Done.”

 

Chapter Text

Trust Me (cont.)
Babe, you're a hard game to catch.
You fight and refuse,
Oh, you're a wild little bruise.
Never tasted as sweet,
A poison as you have.
You know you never can hide.

You're a bad little love,
And you're mine.

So trust me, trust me,
Darling dear.
I'm so sincere,
There's no need to tear.
Trust me, trust me,
Darling, do.
Just like I trust you...

- TDC

He was upon her as quickly as the world around them melted away, pinning her back against a wall, and both of her arms above her head as he delivered a hard, impassioned kiss. Three – always a number of power, he had said, and a milestone their kisses had long since met. Perhaps she had no power of her own left – no real choice in resisting yet another, moaning openly against those gorgeously soft lips.

He possessed her mouth in a way that put even their past kisses to shame, grazing her lower lip with his tongue, before tugging it between his teeth, and starting to suck. When such exquisite attention made her gasp, he took it as invitation to press his tongue into her open mouth, then, stroking and caressing hers with an intimacy that set her heartbeat throbbing all the way down to her core.

He kissed her until he had her wet, and wild, and willing, pulling against the shackles of his hands and arching her body forward to press her hips into his. There, she felt the outline of his cock, hard and heavy against her thigh, and she groaned deeply, writhing her hips to increase that contact. Before she could have what she wanted, he released her just as quickly as he had captured her, leaving her body to slump against the wall at her back. Dimly, she was glad of the support, as her feet alone could not have hoped to hold her upright – not after that kiss.

Tearing her eyes from him, she took in their new surroundings. They were in a bedchamber, she saw – rich stone and marble, the orange kiss of firelight giving only a hint at the grand room's darkest corners. A huge four-poster bed dominated the room's centre, well-lit by the fire, and the focus of attention - draped in silks, furs, and leathers, and luxurious pillows of all sizes. Every bit of it spoke of him – seasoned to luxury, comfortably elegant and yet deeply masculine. He barely gave her time to blush at its implications.

Taking both of her hands in his, Jareth drew her away from the wall. For the second time that day, he held her at arms length, his eyes dark and appraising. Sarah felt another hot surge of lust, staring too long into those eyes, and she prayed he would decide what to do with her soon. This was his choice, after all – his reward in their game that could not be used as ammunition against her. She had agreed only to feed his lusts – not her own. Her head told her of the danger – of how close she was daring to tiptoe to the fire – but her body … her body could only only embrace its heat.

His gaze was thick and charged as he beheld her, and it felt an eternity before he moved again. A small smile curled that perfect, pouting mouth, and she knew then that he had made his choice. His long fingers traced a line in the air above them, and in their wake, they formed a thin golden rope. It remained pulled taut, though it was strung from nothing, hanging in the empty space above their heads.

“Hold this,” he said, gesturing towards the rope. At her immediate look of distrust, he shook his head and clucked his tongue. “Tsk. Sarah, if I truly wished to confine you, your wrists would be bound with hardly a blink – earning me only your fear and loathing, and, of course, breaking my promise not to detain you. This is merely a request of mine. Your arms will be out of my way for the time being, and you will be free to let go at any time, if you so wish. Humour me. Indulge me.”

She had already agreed to indulge him with free rein, after all, and allowing herself to trust him now did not seem like such a significant step – not with how deeply she had already damned herself. Besides, there was still that promise of heat, racing so strongly through each vein and every delicate nerve ending, that, in the end, she had to obey. Reaching up, she remembered the way she had felt in her bedroom, a lifetime ago. How, in her thin gown, she seemed to be offering herself to the raging storm. Given the electricity that now crackled in his eyes, she was only too aware of how she offered herself now. The lift of her arms above her head caused her breasts to rise and present themselves to him, as he stood, only a footstep or two away. Close enough to take what she offered.

She let her fingers curl around the rope, the tension in them fading when the contact brought no shock of electricity, or wild, enchanted lust. Sure enough, she remained free to move, lifting every finger in turn to be sure. Only the actual form of the rope seemed magical – suspended in the empty space, pulled rigid enough to let her full weight hang from it, if either of them so wished it. The only thing that held her trapped was his desire – and perhaps her own.

“Acceptable enough?” he asked, and the pleasure was evident in the rich timbre of his voice.

“Yes.”

“Good.” His smile widened. “I suppose it didn't occur to you that to offer yourself so openly could be dangerous? After all, 'free rein' is such a wide, sweeping term, offering so many possibilities. It didn't strike you that I might desire at all to hurt you, in any way, given all you've put me through?”

Never had she felt so vulnerable, nor aroused. Though every part of her fought to deny it, there was no hiding the way her body was reacting to being helpless before him. She had to force herself to form words. “You said you'd never allow physical harm to befall me.”

He chuckled. “So very trusting, but true enough, sweet one. Never a speck of harm to you – unless you wished for it. For example, I think it would be of mutual benefit if I were to tan your lovely arse with my hand, sometime, as your penance for causing us both to wait so long for this.”

That new possibility sent Sarah's poor mind flailing too hard to make coherent reply possible, and so he continued. “Such an innocent, trusting thing, and yet, still, you thought to include that nonsense about leaving you unbroken – a virgin. You fret about your purity, when, in actual fact, love, it will take me far longer than a paltry ten-minute fuck to make you mine. Care to try me and see?”

Her shock must have shown in her eyes, as he laughed again, starting to circle her body in an almost predatory manner. “Oh, not now, of course, sweet Sarah – as per our little agreement, we have other pursuits to occupy us these next few minutes. Anything, and everything, shy of that one … little … thing.”

Sarah's stomach gave a low-down flutter as he came to stand behind her. His body leaned in close, not quite enough to touch her, but so that she could feel the heat of him. His next words came softly against her right ear.

“Excited? Scared? After all, this is all so new to you, isn't it, love? So very naïve,” he continued, his voice a low rumble against her earlobe. “Did it not occur to you I could demand your mouth around my cock; my fingers and tongue deep inside you?” Sarah felt him smile. “Perhaps it did. You do, after all, know what I expect from you. After all this time, we're quite intimate companions, you and I – aren't we? Lacking only that intimacy in the flesh.”

He reached up between her clenched hands, and gave the rope she clung to a sharp tug, as if to prove a point. “Though let us not forget a time quite like this in your dreams, where you bowed to my will all too well-”

The knowledge of that dream throbbed hotly between her thighs, and she could feel it set fire to her cheeks. “Oh, not that, please!” was her immediate reply.

He released the rope, and instead ran a finger across her lower lip – no more than a light, teasing touch, yet it made her whole body tremble. “Hush, precious. You gave your word – 'no objections', remember? It was, after all, such an agreeable fantasy for us both.” He chuckled softly against her hair. “I can well imagine the delightful hue your cheeks would turn if we spoke intimately of that. Still, it would be churlish of me to talk of something quite so damning, against your will. I'll relent – for now.”

She could feel her blush darkening. Not being able to see him was the worst of it – knowing that smirk she knew all too well was in full bloom behind her back, enjoying her embarrassment. “Are you going to talk the whole time, or actually do something?” she asked, hot, and all-too-bothered by his words, not to mention his arrogance.

“My, we are testy when we're left wanting, aren't we, Sarah?” He chuckled again. “I'll have to remember that, for future encounters.”

By some blessing, he came to stand in front of her once more – perhaps deciding that he wished to see her reaction to his teases.

“My most precious thing – mine, at last,” he said, and she saw that the crystal-tipped cane of her fantasies was now tightly gripped in his right hand. She could not help but stare at it as he spoke. “While a most selfish part of me hungers to feed on your delectable body, hurrying to grope and feel and experience all it may – as I'm sure you intended – I fear a more important lesson is in order.” He lifted his cane and seemed to consider the crystal atop it, turning it this way and that in the light, before finally turning his attention back to her.

“Sarah, Sarah, Sarah,” he singsonged, letting the smooth orb come to rest at the corner of his smirking mouth. “You offer so little, and expect so much in return. You expect, with a snap of your fingers, for your king to be reduced to an unworthy, snivelling whelp at your feet. You expect me to be at your beck and call, driven to servitude by the cruel mistress who allows me but to beg at her table. But you must understand, pet, that my control will always trump yours. This is not about how far you can hope to press me, but how much further I will always push back.”

He had left off his gloves, and his long fingers were as skilled as ever, twirling the heavy cane easily in his hand, so that the crystalline end was now pointed towards her. He levelled the end almost accusingly at her face, as his eyes traced a slow line downwards along her body.

“Where to start, eh, love?” he mused, and Sarah gasped as the orb touched her beneath her chin. It felt cool against her heated skin, tilting her head upwards to bare her throat to him. It occurred to her that, for the first time outside of her most sordid dreams, she was staring up at the Goblin King's bedroom ceiling. Jareth only hummed softly to himself, turning the point of her chin this way and that at his whim – clearly his way of showing that he now held absolute control, albeit temporarily. Sarah did not know whether to cry out in fear or in relief as the cane slipped lower.

The cane slid down along her exposed throat in a smooth line, coming to a stop when it reached the sensitive hollow where her pulse beat its strongest. As he kept her waiting that way, she swore he must have felt the way her pulse quickened even then, speeding away beneath the cool crystal and his most patient hand. When she dared to look upon his face again, she saw  his grin, and it was positively wolfish. She did not get to see it for long, however, as, once more, he strolled out of her line of sight, letting the cane trace a slow circle of her neck as he went.

It was only when the warmth of his body was pressed sinfully close to her back that he began where he had left off, hooking his right arm around her body now, to give her the touch of his cane. He let it move from the hollow of her throat, along her chest and down into the valley between her breasts, tugging down the loose neckline of her gown along with it. She felt his presence, looming over her shoulder to admire the view, and would not allow herself the humiliation of looking at him, lest she see his satisfaction; the dark fire of lust lighting his strange, glorious eyes.

There, he allowed the cane to wander in gradually widening circles, the crystal skimming the contours of her bra to caress the inner slope of each breast. The material was thin enough for her to feel the cool orb, rubbing her in ways she only wished that he would. She could not control the rapid acceleration of her breathing, conscious of the way her breasts now heaved for him every time she inhaled.

“No one has ever touched you, have they, Sarah?” His free hand touched her hair, now, stroking her with his bare fingers – his only concession to his own desire so far. When she could only whimper in response, he continued. “No, you remain so pure and sweet for me, don't you, love? So luscious and ready.” His words were hot against her neck, stroking her with their own seduction, even as his cane now traced the swell of her left breast.

“So very tempting … and you know I am not a patient man. But I can wait, pet, and I will wait. I will wait 'til the end of the earth draws nigh, for you to give yourself over to me entirely. I will wait until then, and only then, to slake my own lusts. Yours, however …” The tip of the cane found her nipple, making her cry out.

Your desires cannot wait any longer, can they? That is why you offer yourself so freely now, in the hopes that I will be swayed into submission by the mere promise of your affections.” Rubbing slowly now – small, sensuous circles that set her entire body trembling, her nipple peaked and so very sensitive beneath his touch.

“Such a tempting offer, but this is my kingdom, Sarah, and my most royal hands will worship only my queen.” She sensed his smirk, then. “Still, that isn't to say we can't have a little fun.” His hot tongue caressed her earlobe, and she all but melted when she heard him add: “There's much I can still do with a virgin.”

The colours of the room seemed to both blur and grow suddenly brighter, as the cane relinquished her breast, only to begin a slow descent of her stomach. The rope above her head burned deep grooves into her fingers, with how desperately hard she clung to it – it seemed like the only thing keeping her standing, after all. The cane's smooth tip rolled a teasing path all the way down to her navel, sending every muscle it touched into rippling, quivering anticipation beneath the thin satin of her nightgown. She had to bite her lip to stop from crying out when it first caressed her mound through the fabric. He did not have to ask her to spread her legs for him – she did that on her own.

“No one has ever touched you,” Jareth repeated, “but you have stroked yourself to ecstasy, haven't you, precious? How many mornings have you woken, craving nothing so more than my caress, but having to settle for only your own?”

Hardly any. Too many. None. All. Lies and damning truths that fought for Sarah's lips, but all that emerged was a moan, as the cane crept lower. The very pit of her stomach unravelled like loose silk, and she found her hips arching to increase that contact. He moved the cane at no one's pace but his own, though, slow and steady, rubbing her through the thin material of her nightgown and underwear. Undeniably wet and clinging as her panties already were, they were no barrier at all for him. He pressed the tip lower, just enough to feed the molten pulse of desire in her clitoris; the anticipation that hummed through her slick and swollen lips. So close, yet so far away from the friction her body so badly needed.

“Answer me, Sarah,” he demanded.

“Please,” she gasped. “Please …”

Jareth laughed softly. “Nothing would satisfy me more than to please you, love, but I will have your submission first. Are you ready to yield to your king? Are you ready to worship me, so that I, in turn, may worship you? Say you'll give me your hand – as my queen – and I'll gladly give you the release you so wish for with my own.”

Biting back a groan, and with as much defiance as she could muster, Sarah finally turned her head to meet his gaze. His mismatched pupils burned with as much lustful fire as her own, and it gave her at least some satisfaction to glare into them as she hissed her response. “I thought this little encounter was for your benefit, not mine, Your Highness.”

“Oh, but it is,” he purred, and captured her mouth in another hard, probing kiss.

Sarah surrendered to it willingly, closing her eyes and opening herself to his questing tongue. She felt the wonderful pressure down below shift to match the rhythm of his kiss, the smooth crystal running back and forth and dipping between her lips, as his tongue did. She moaned into his mouth, unable to help herself any longer. She was drawing closer now – so close she could hardly stand it – but again, he left her wanting. He abandoned her mouth, but the cane moved lower still, to slip beneath the hem of her gown, this time, running over each bare thigh in turn, and the thin triangle of fabric in between.

“God, what are you doing to me?” she whimpered, her restless hips knowing all too well.

“If this displeases you so, then simply let go of the rope. Stop me.” He chuckled softly. “Say the words, even. Withdraw consent if you truly wish to, because, despite your pretence at fighting it, love, you've yet to object to anything I've done.”

He had her, and they both knew it. He held no power over her except that which she chose to give him … and, staring into those deep, intense eyes, she knew she didn't want him to stop. How much easier this would be if he had bound her wrists.

“No,” she murmured, as if from some distance away. “We made an agreement, and … I won't go back on it.”

He held her eyes for a long time, and then smiled. “Wisely spoken. Best to leave all blame in my hands, isn't it, pet? Very well. We've still time - let's go a little further, shall we?”

Swift and nimble, his left hand crept around the swell of her hip, dipping beneath her gown with easy grace. Sarah felt her heart rise up into her mouth as, taking great care not to touch her bare flesh, he plucked the damp crotch of her panties aside, to expose her completely. With his right hand, he brought the crystal to her sex again, and she was helpless but to moan as the cold, smooth glass pressed between her hot, slick folds. Her stomach knotted tight with the anticipation, knowing just how easily she could come just from this – if he would only let her. Just when she could stand it no longer, the crystal withdrew, and the shaft of the cane came to rest lightly against her shoulder.

Flushed, confused and breathing hard, she turned her head, only to find him gazing back at her, his eyes hooded with lust. The crystal tip of the cane was shining wet with her honey, and only inches away from that smirking mouth of his.

“A 'taste', you offered me, wasn't it, love?” he crooned, and then slowly, he ran his tongue out over the shining orb, his eyes never leaving hers.

Sarah drew a deep, shuddering breath, and for a moment, her heart seemed to forget how to beat. Her lips parted of their own accord as she watched that smooth pink tongue sweep every inch of the crystal in slow, methodical strokes, determined to collect every last drop of her juices. By the time he was done – taking long enough to have cleaned the thing twice over, and sending her libido into overdrive in the process – she could feel more of her juices already pooling between her open thighs.

“Sweeter than any peach,” he confided, with a wink, and his words sent that knot of tension in her belly plummeting lower. He did not wait for her response, before lowering the cane to her dripping sex once more.

Sarah rocked her hips to meet him, abandoning any last attempt at modesty. He knew exactly what effect he was having on her, and damn him if he thought he would shame her into begging him to stop. Her body craved this – needed it badly – and she heeded its call, wanton and needy as she sought out more of that smooth caress that massaged her slick core so well.

“Tell me how it feels, love,” he demanded, pressing over her shoulder to watch her face, his words hot against her ear. When she gave no immediate reply, he pressed the cane more firmly against her entrance, circling that tight ring of sensitive pink flesh with that hard, unyielding glass.

In spite of her fear, Sarah found herself actually arching against it – her eager body grinding itself against the probing crystal tip that was poised to enter her. “Oh … it won't fit … it can't fit …”

Jareth rumbled his amusement against her neck. “Mmm. Nor do I wish it to, precious. Why on earth would I sully what is yet mine to claim by letting a mere crystal be the first to ever … penetrate … you?”

How her whole body seemed to loosen and then grip oh so tightly at that word!

“In any case, dear one,” he continued, “this is but a sample, as it were – the merest whisper of what wonderful symphonies we'll compose. We'll be forever entwined together, you and I, when you fail – my delightful, delicious queen, to feast upon, and do with as I please.”

Somehow, she managed one last shred of defiance. “If I fail.”

Jareth simply smiled … and pressed.

Sarah gave a loud moan, hardly caring for the way it stretched his devious smile wider. “Kiss me again,” she demanded, in a whisper.

For a wonder, the Goblin King obeyed, plundering her mouth as his cane stroked, and stroked.

It didn't take long, given the way he had kept her wanting for so many months already. He kissed her again and again as she neared the brink – did not seem able to stop kissing her. As her body writhed and tensed in anticipation, all but ready to give to him, it was he who surrendered first. The pressure of the cane that pleasured her vanished, and dimly she heard it cast aside, shattered to pieces, for all either of them cared. Before she could mourn its loss, his hand moved between her thighs to replace it. Their eyes met and held, each wide with discovery and wonder, as his fingers slid over her slick flesh for the first time.

“The cane … you said …”

“I was wrong,” he murmured, his eyes dark with intent, his fingers rubbing, pressing; worshipping her, finding that sensitive nub that begged his attention most. “Your pleasure will come from me, this time, as it always should. Always by my own hand.”

It was something of a comfort to know that even his control had its limits. Finally, he would grant her release. The hand that stroked at her core would not stop, or slow. The growing thrill she felt would not dim and fade with the light of day – she would finally come for him. She captured his mouth, this time, giving him every last bit of the desire that was erupting inside her. She couldn't help but moan into that kiss, and, soon, she heard and felt him groan his own need against her mouth.

Tensing, tensing until she couldn't stand it any more, finally, she had to release the rope. Her head rocked back against his shoulder, and through closed eyes, she sought his stability to ground her, clutching firmly to the crook of his arm. Breathing hard, her other hand quickly covered his, guiding and coaxing them both towards her climax. At once, he embraced her fully, his free arm curling tightly about her waist, drawing her body back against his own as his fingers worked their magic between her thighs.

Oh, Sarah.” His voice was nothing she had heard before – not even in the dreams. It was hoarse and choked with emotion, his breathing ragged against her ear. As Sarah's world came undone, he buried his face into the crook of her neck, burning her with a single hard kiss that was enough to push her over the edge.

She cried out and arched against his hand as her pleasure overwhelmed her, wracking her whole body with tremors she could not hope to control. Her orgasm washed over her in hot, pulsing waves, and through it all, she was aware of the way he held her, riding every swell and every crest along with her. When her knees felt ready to give out, he supported her, his body the rock that held her firm.

The height of her pleasure passed slowly, leaving her with its warm glow, and a sense of peace she had never known. In it, he remained with her, his lips nuzzling at her neck and jawline with whisper-soft kisses as her breathing evened and slowed. When the aftershocks finally ceased, he simply held her, wrapping both arms securely around her waist.

She smiled. “I feel like I'm floating.”

He murmured his agreement in her ear, before pressing another of those brief, tender kisses beneath it. “I'm glad to hear it, but time's almost up, love. Ten minutes, as you said.”

His words were like cold water upon that all-too-brief warmth. She tried to turn in his arms, wanting to thank him – wanting to at least see him after … after.

“Don't,” he murmured. His embrace was gentle, but firm.

“But-”

“I want to remember you this way a moment longer.”

Even as he spoke, the arms encircling her waist begun to lose some of their solidity, and she called out in alarm. “Wait! You didn't even-”

“Four hours remain, Sarah.”

When, at last, she managed to turn, the room around her was gone, and so was he. It was not the first time he had left her alone, with damp panties and a head full of jumbled thoughts and emotions, but it was – by far – the loneliest.

Chapter Text

Trust Me (cont.)
The Frog asks: How do I know you won't stab me?

The Scorpion replies: Because my act is dead without you.

So don't cry, crybaby,
All dressed in green.
How many kisses do you need?

One for your tummy,
One for your cheek,
One for the devil inside ...
...Of me.

- TDC

She had given absolute power over to him before.

Once.

It was a dream that Sarah never quite dared to let herself think of for long, lest her cheeks catch fire with the sheer force of her shame and lust. A dark and secret dream, but one that danced behind his eyes in every knowing glance he gave her. It hung heavy and unsaid between them – a single drop of venom that threatened every verbal sparring match. That last encounter, where he had shown just how well he was able to control her, was the closest the pair of them had ever come to acknowledging it aloud.

The dream had come to her – to them – a little after her twentieth birthday, frightening in both its intensity, and its clarity. In other dreams, she had experienced more of him as a lover than her guilty conscience could ever admit to. He had pressed her tight, and spread her wide; she had found herself tied up, and found her body bent down low – every filthy fantasy she had thought her mind capable of conjuring. Never before, though, had she ever felt herself become so completely, and utterly his.

She had given him her total submission.

The bedchamber she found herself in was dark and vague around the two of them, giving Sarah no real sense of place, but she could see him well enough. His bed was wide, cool silk sheets beneath her back, and he had her lay upon it, completely naked, and spread open before him. Jareth himself remained fully clothed, and sat opposite her in a high-backed armchair, his legs parted, with one booted foot slung over his knee.

His posture did nothing to hide his erection from her, and, like all of his other gestures, she knew it was intentional. He wanted her to see just how aroused he was, simply from looking upon her, and in turn, watch her as she grew wetter and more needy with just the sight of him. The warm air of the room freely caressed her wrists, reminding her of her lack of restraints, yet she remained bound nonetheless, by means stronger than any rope, or chain, or enchantment. Her wrists, he commanded, would stay pressed to the pillows, for that is where he wanted them, and his desires were bondage enough.

He made her lie that way for a long time, wide open, and wet, and so very vulnerable. She was, of course, forbidden to touch herself – forbidden even to press her thighs closer together, lest it soothe some of her ache, and deny him his view. She knew by instinct that talking would be frowned upon – perhaps meriting its own punishment – and had to stop herself from squirming in her efforts to remain silent. He would want her to beg later. For now, he wanted only for her to obey.

After an undefined time of his own choosing – in Sarah's impatient mind, it had been hours, perhaps even days – he saw fit to come to her, moving with a silent, effortless grace to join her by the side of the bed, standing beside the pillows. The angle meant that she was beneath him, staring up at the way his taut thighs so perfectly framed the hard length of his cock; the unquestionable authority in his stature as he gazed down upon his willing slave.

His smile was devious – the one that meant he was all too willing to tease her without a scrap of mercy. It was one she had seen so often in the past, latched around her nipple, sucking and tugging until she was aching, and moaning his name. It told her that he was most eager to play some new game with her – one whose rules she could only try to keep up with.

Now, towering above her, he slid a gloved palm along her bare throat, the cool leather enough to make her gasp as it moved lower. The rough pad of each leather-encased fingertip grazed her delicate skin, blazing a trail of heat down between her breasts, enough to curl her toes as his hand stroked over her belly. Her muscles danced and twitched as he moved his attention lower still. With the tip of one finger, he parted the downy hair between her thighs, stroking exquisite fire into the inflamed bud of her clit, before he turned his hand, and cupped her mound in his palm. There was no denying the moist sounds of her arousal as his middle finger probed between her slick lips.

“You're already wet,” he observed, and though the movement of his hand was for his own benefit, testing and spreading that wetness, Sarah had to shiver at his touch. There was a sense of satisfaction behind his eyes when he drew back, leaving her wanting as he offered that same finger up to her lips.

“Taste yourself, love.” When her lips opened to accept the digit, he pulled his hand back slightly, denying her, even as she craned her neck to reach him. “No. With your tongue. I want to see you.”

Obedient as ever, she extended her tongue as far as it would go, and touched it to the tip of his gloved finger. Her own honey was sweet and faintly bitter – something she had experienced often upon his lips after he had savoured her – and beneath it was the crisp tang of leather. She licked his glove clean, giving him the visual stimulus he desired, though her lips burned to give him far more. She could only lap at him, and watch the way his eyes darkened, and await his next command.

“Teeth,” he said, softly – finally.

Knowing what he desired, she obediently took the tip of the glove's finger into her mouth, and, careful not to graze the flesh beneath, bit down, hard. The leather had by now been warmed through by her own tongue, and by his hand, and she imagined that she could feel his own unique heat against her lips as he drew his hand back, allowing her to strip the glove from him. When it hung from her teeth, he gave it a teasing tug, before taking it from her. He offered up the same finger to her lips, but this time it was bare.

“Suck,” he demanded.

Her longing had made her over-eager, and she obeyed at once, drawing the digit into the tight circle of her mouth with a low groan of pleasure. He insisted on eye contact at times like these, and she was mindful enough to hold his gaze as her cheeks hollowed around his finger, sucking and lathing it with her tongue. She moaned when he pulled back a second time, denying her the pleasure of consuming him. Her breath came in hitching gasps as he walked slowly around the bed, to stand between her feet.

It was all but impossible to stop herself from arching up against him as his hand came to cup her between her legs again. She was already soaked with her arousal, and the finger she had moistened for him slid easily between her slick folds, moving upwards to find her throbbing clit. The contact made her mewl with pleasure, but it was far from the friction she was so desperate for.

Still, she waited, needing to hear the right words before they could continue. He had not yet given his permission. She pressed her teeth hard against her lower lip, relishing the dull burst of pain alongside the pleasure below her waist.

“Feel free to make noise, love – you know how it pleases me to hear you moan. Tell me what you want most.”

“Ohh … your fingers inside me.”

“Mmm. I suppose I could oblige.” It satisfied Sarah to see the way his free hand moved to the front of his trousers, adjusting the hard shape of his cock through the thin material. His other hand moved lower on her body, dipping between her slick lips to discover her entrance. His eyes held hers as his finger pressed deep inside her.

Sarah moaned low down in her throat. It felt good, but it wasn't enough, slippery and wet as he had gotten her. She needed to feel him stroke her inner walls – needed movement, and fought to keep from arching her hips to gain it. She waited, and waited, eyes and mouth wide, panting and keening with her desire. After a time, her patience was rewarded.

“Good girl,” he purred, and with a smile, pushed that long finger further inside her … and twisted.

Her whole body tensed around him, gripping tightly at what he offered. How she had to fight to contain herself enough to stay still for him – for he would tolerate nothing less than absolute obedience. She begged him with her eyes, waiting … waiting for him to grant her release.

“Move for me, precious,” he said. “Let me watch you press yourself open … I want to see you impale that sweet cunt on me.”

It was all she needed. She cried out her gratitude, and obeyed at once. Her hips left the prison of his bed and rose up to meet him, bucking against his hand. His finger slid deliciously deep, but it was through no effort of his own. He remained perfectly still, allowing for her to fuck herself on his finger, watching her all the while. His eyes glittered with lust at the exhibition she made of herself, watching desire unravel into desperate hunger.

Sarah didn't care.

Her hips arched and fell in rapid succession, seeking more; craving him. Though she controlled the motion, there was no question of who was truly in charge. It was in his eyes – the way he commanded her gaze, daring her to look away as her body was spread open upon his finger; daring her to deny his power, whilst a part of him remained deep inside her. He had her snared by his sheer will alone, and in that moment, she loved him for it. She longed for his mouth on hers, the solid weight of his body pressing her down into his bed; the hard rhythm of his cock pushing so deeply inside her, as his finger did now. Her anxious hips picked up the pace.

When she began to move too readily for his liking, he chastened her by pulling back his hand, until only the very tip of his finger still warmed her.

“Ah, ah, ah – slowly, now, Sarah,” he chided her. “We don't want to seem greedy, now, do we?”

She was quick to apologise, desperate for him to let her continue. “S-sorry … I'll be good.”

“Of course you will, precious.” His finger slid deeper. “Resume,” he said, his strong hand, and dark wanting eyes urging her on.

He let her move for a long time on him, lifting her hips in steady rhythm to drive his finger as deeply as it could go. She could feel her body drawing close, so incredibly close, but it wasn't enough. She bucked, and writhed, and moaned, striving for that blissful release, but in the end she had no choice but to beg. She needed to have him buried inside her.

“Please, Jareth, please!”

He smiled. It was what he had waited for. “Please, what?”

“Please … I need you …” His gaze was hot upon her, and she knew he would not relent until he had heard it from her lips. “Please, fuck me.”

“And you know what I need, now don't you? Tell me exactly who you belong to.”

There was no question of denial; no time for second thoughts. She said the words, and felt their delectable burn all the way down to her toes. “You. Please, Jareth, I belong to you … I'm yours – I've always been yours. You've held power over me from the minute you came to me, all those years ago.”

“Mmm. Yes. How right you are, love.” He took his time in undressing, letting her see all of him, letting her long for him. He draped his body over hers in the most delicious way, possessive yet graceful as his weight came down atop her; pressing hotly between her thighs. “Now, tell me just how much of my power you want inside you.”

She had awoken, gasping, immediately after, her skin hot and slick with sweat.

The urge to submit was not something she had ever known she possessed, but that dream had left her in a near-frenzy, so very hot, and wetter than ever. The idea of being so completely at his mercy was almost too much to bear. She had been pulled so suddenly from the moment where she had pleaded with him – begged him – to fuck her, that her body had already been so very close to orgasm. When she brought it about by her own hand, she had whispered her appeal into her pillow – 'Please, Jareth, please,' – seeking his permission even then, and loving it.

Though in the dream her pleasure had been their ultimate aim, when it finally came, it would be at his discretion, and her dream-self could not have been more thrilled by the idea. Awake, it was the ultimate contradiction. She had proven herself worthy by beating his labyrinth; told him once that he had no power over her – surely, to relinquish that so willingly after all these years had to be madness? At first, she had found the idea of him having power over her terrifying. He would keep her for his own – a prisoner to his lusts. Though there was at least some sexual appeal, given the way she had dreamed of him for so long, she would nonetheless be trapped against her will.

Now, though, the thought frightened her in entirely new ways. To be chained to his bedposts was one thing – to have given over her wrists to be locked so willingly was another matter entirely; one she was not certain she could handle. It was bad enough to want him – to want his power was unforgivable.

Her ultimate submission was what the Goblin King desired most, and he had orchestrated their brief time together so perfectly to suit his purposes. Now, just thinking of it left her cheeks flaming. He had asked her to hold the rope – to give herself over freely to him, and she had surrendered with barely any attempt at protest. How powerful a reminder it was of that dream, showing her just how easily he could make her submit, if he so wished. Yet, as he had held her against him, giving her the release she had needed for so long, he had surrendered a part of himself too, and it was that knowledge that made her most afraid of all.

As dark as it had always been in her dreams, his lust was welcome – his adoration, she was not so sure of, particularly now, when it was quickly becoming clear he had far more than mere sex in mind. When exactly it had become clear that he did love her, she didn't know – only that the knowledge had awakened something she was struggling to keep caged beneath her breast. Their last encounter had damaged the bars of that cage irreparably, and she wasn't yet ready to deal with the fallout. Easier to imagine her foe as the dark, seductive God of her fantasies – a temptation, but a danger, nonetheless; one that she had less than four hours to defeat.

As difficult as it was to focus, tired, and confused, and heartsick as she was, she turned her attention back to the labyrinth.

 

.o0o.  … .o0o.

 

After her frenzied near-detour off the edge of a cliff, he had deposited her safely, though a little disoriented, at the bottom. With solid rock at her back, and curving to her left and right, it gave her no choice but to press on forwards. What lay before her might once have been a vibrant green valley, as rich as the forest from whence she had come, but now it seemed to be crumbling away to nothing. As she walked, her new boots kicked up nothing but grit and alkaline dust.

She had almost stumbled over the scuffed brown things at first, still reeling from their encounter, and beginning to rage at the fact that he had abandoned her, barefoot, in his labyrinth after all. They were plain hiking boots, and held nothing of the delicate beauty of his last offering – they were her own, crafted from nothing more extraordinary than mortal means. They had lain, forgotten, at the back of her old closet for God knew how long, and seeing them here had made her blood boil, just thinking of the casual intimacy he had presumed by magicking her belongings into his realm.

They lacked the comfort of her enchanted boots, but they still fit okay, and seemed at least sturdy enough for the walk ahead. The message they carried was clear – no more kind gestures; no more of his magic. With less than four hours, and a single chance at victory left, she was on her own. If her own two feet caused her to fail, as, no doubt, he intended, she would belong to him. It was a sobering thought as she pressed on.

It was a dry, stony maze, taking her through dead, crackling weeds and past giant boulders that were at least three times her size. She walked through cold and echoing chasms that towered overhead, and one so narrow she had to squeeze through it sideways, conscious all the while of the many tons of rock that hung above her. The only real blessing was that her walk took her past no more enchanted streams.

It soon became clear that the only way forward would be up.

Another great cliff-wall loomed before her, marking the end of the rough path she had followed all this way. When Sarah came to a halt in its shadow, it was tall enough, almost, to blot out the sky. The pale stone walls of the Goblin King's castle loomed beyond it as if mocking her. A fierce determination seized her, as she stopped to lace her boots a little tighter. They had been bought with less adventurous activities in mind than actual mountain climbing, after all, but she had no choice but to try them anyway. She would be climbing again after all. If the Goblin King wanted to stare up her nightgown this time, let him. Her ass would be the last thing he got to see when it came time to walk out of this place, victorious.

Whilst not exactly easy-going, the climb turned out to be smoother than she had expected, at least at first. The breeze was cool as it brushed her bare legs, but not brisk enough for her to worry about, and the grips on her dusty old boots proved sufficient for the rock's rough surface. She had no real idea what she was doing, except for the urge to move upwards, but natural hand and footholds seemed to come readily enough, so that there was no real need to stretch, or struggle. It was only as she climbed higher, far past the point of climbing safely back down, that she began to run into trouble.

Her ascent slowed to a crawl as the rock face grew smoother, and more difficult to cling to – the climb itself now almost vertical. Sarah found herself having to really reach for her next handhold, relying on the uncertain grip of her boots to keep her body stable more and more often. Her arms had begun to ache with her efforts long ago, but the way her fingers now started to shake was new, and worrying. She could feel the trembling in her calves growing more pronounced and threatening to grow into cramps, warning her that if she didn't press on to the top soon, she soon would not be able to move at all.

Looking up – never down – the nearest likely handhold was a gaping black hole in the rock's surface, too deep and too dark for her to possibly see inside. It could be home to any of this place's monstrous creatures, but right then, it was her only refuge – the only way to keep on moving upwards, before she froze entirely. She curled her fingers tightly around the lip of the hole, and with a low grunt, pulled herself up higher.

The rock wall stretched directly upwards above her, and pockmarking its surface were more of those deep black holes, now stretching away to her left and right, and as far ahead as she could see. They looked like the hive of some great insect, and Sarah felt a powerful wave of nausea seize her belly. It was far too easy to imagine things lurking in every one of those holes, just waiting for the poor fool who dared stick a foot, or bare hand in there to disturb them. Her entire body shuddered violently, and made her fear for her grip on the rock.

Get it together, Sarah. If you start thinking that way, this place is bound to fill these holes with something a whole lot worse than bugs. Keep moving.

Somehow, she did. Creeping revulsion lined her throat as, once more, she set her feet, and reached for another of those black holes. The moment her fingers dipped inside, she noticed that the rock felt strangely warmer than the last had, as if some unknown critter had until only recently been inside. Fighting down nausea, she moved on as quickly as she could.

The holes all looked identical, rows and endless rows of black, unseeing eyes that glared out at her as she climbed. Some were cold and others felt oddly warm, and she thought that more than one felt a little damp, but otherwise, they betrayed nothing of what may have lived – or still lurked – inside them. Her belly clenched with fear at every new hole she risked, but she carried on climbing – it was all she could do. There was no warning at all when the seventh such hole her left hand grabbed at, grabbed back. Her scream felt loud enough to shake the rock itself.

It was somehow worse than the pit she had been trapped in. Instead of the snakes' looping, scaly touches, she now felt definite fingers – human fingers – gripping her from out of the dark, soft and warm, their fingernails pressing into the backs of her knuckles. It held her far too tightly to break free, which, in her blind panic, might have been a blessing. With the horror of that unknown, yet distinctly human touch reaching out at her from its prison within the rock, she might have thrown herself to her doom without a second thought. Rational thinking all but ceased to be, the moment she heard her stepmother's voice carrying out from the hole.

“I told you a girl your age should have had dates – nice, normal boys your own age – and now look at you! A grown woman, throwing herself at some fairytale fancy-man! You're too old for this, Sarah. You're an embarrassment to your father, and to your family, especially to me. I'm glad you're not my real daughter. You need to grow the hell up.”

Though her first instinct was to freeze with her panic, the other woman's cruel words stirred a sense of rebellion in her. Somehow, Sarah found herself answering back. “This place toughened me up in a hurry – more than any 'grown up' world could have – and enough to keep looking after your baby. I spent more time with him back then than you, or dad. Besides, I had dates, and look where they got me – nowhere!” Her voice was thin and reedy with her panic, but hearing it gave her the strength needed to throw off that terribly human hand. Her stepmother clearly wasn't trapped within the rock, but something in this awful place wanted her to think that she was.

Shuddering, she reached higher, grabbing onto another awful hole. This time, it was Toby that grabbed back. Small fingers trapped Sarah's own, and her little brother's high, boyish tone emerged from the hole, sounding nightmarish against this strange, alien environment.

“You're too busy playing his games to play with me! You never loved me – you only love yourself and him! You sent me away to him, and when I was scared and trapped with the goblins, all you cared about was dancing and playing dress-up as the queen! You never should have saved me – I hate you!”

Sarah bit back a sob. “I love you plenty, kiddo. Though you were a massive pain in my teenage butt, I never would have let him have you – I swear.” That hand was harder to pull back from, the wall harder to see, even, as easy tears pricked at her eyes.

She realised now, that these holes weren't eyes, as she had first imagined them to be, but horrible, gaping mouths. They were hateful things, cawing throats that would give voice to her deepest, most damaging thoughts, noxious breaths of half-truths and self-loathing. They would seek out what she feared most, and use it to pummel her into defeat, stealing the voices of those she knew, just to add to her torment and wound her more deeply.

Whoever first claimed 'words can never hurt me' clearly never delved into their own mind's despairing, most poisonous chatter, and tried not to give in to the misery it caused … and she was already so very tired. Fighting tears, Sarah forced herself higher.

Her father clawed at her next, and Sarah swore she could still recognise the rough weight of his palm against her knuckles. He had not held her hand since she was nine.

“Never walk you down the aisle now, will I, hon?” His voice carried a vague hint of sadness, but what Sarah heard most clearly was disappointment. “Never going to have the chance to give my daughter away on her wedding day, like a normal father would. You could never just be normal, could you? I never should have let you get so wrapped up in those dumb fairy stories.”

She felt a burst of anger, and seized on it at once. “Those 'dumb stories' are what kept me going when my parents both decided to put their daughter on hold, while they looked after their own love lives. Besides,” she added, and that hint of bitterness was strangely sweet on her tongue, “I don't think you or mom have any right lecturing me on proper wedding etiquette.” She climbed on.

Her mother only told her, with the abruptness of a slap to the face, that a child had not been interesting enough to stick around for.

“Yeah, well someone sure seems to think I'm special enough to keep around for a while – he may be a little hard to take in, at times, but he's a little higher up than whatever washed up asshole you're screwing these days.” It was petty, but it kept her moving.

Not every hole contained some tormenting terror – she would occasionally find herself with blessed, soothing silence – but many of them did. She faced harsh words and one-sided arguments with everyone that still lingered in her memories, from a stern old kindergarten teacher, to the prick in a construction helmet who had catcalled her only the week before (it was, after all, hard to forget the warm, dulcet tones of the man who'd all but crucified her, just for daring to ignore his 'compliment' about her tits before 8am).

There were voices she barely remembered, and others that pulled painfully at her heartstrings, though she had not heard them for years.

A trusted middle-school friend asked her why she had been so goddamn weird; why she never liked 'normal' things, like bands, and magazines, and books that didn't stretch onto eternity with their silly fairy stories. Maybe it was best that they stopped hanging out together all those years ago, if she was going to end up this way when she was supposed to be an adult. She was strange.

Her best friend asked her why she bothered to keep in touch, if all she was going to do was abandon everyone for the sake of a quick fuck. She was callous.

A current and beloved college professor pondered if she really had the dedication to get through the next semester, the way she was chasing after fairy-men with her head so often in the clouds, and her lack of restful sleep so apparent. Perhaps it would be easier to give up? She was destined to be a failure, after all.

An old room-mate asked if she was ever going to invite a guy back to the dorms. She was boring.

Vicious, angry man-children – the ones she had too often rejected, for dates, and for sex – vented their rage at her. She had refused them what she gave away so freely to a man she hardly knew. She was a whore. She was a prude. She was worthless.

She was crazy to think she deserved any happiness.

Maybe, just maybe, she was just plain crazy.

So much noise – so much hatred, and blame, and negativity – that it slumped her already-aching shoulders into near-submission.

In all, it was a longer, more painful ascent than she could have ever imagined, leaving her exhausted, and desperate for silence. She pressed on, having to fight hard to keep moving, and even harder to keep her sobs locked down. The rock blurred and prismed before her eyes, but somehow, she found she had almost made it to the top. She reached blindly for one of what must have been only a couple of holes remaining, and that was when the worst of all the voices came – the Goblin King himself decided to torment her. The hand that closed around hers was soft, and deceptively gentle. It was his words that delivered the real blow.

“How pathetic. I do believe you've somehow convinced yourself you stand a chance at defeating me. It would be an almost pitiable scenario, had you not proven yourself such a wretched, damnable little tease, testing my endurance all these years … and I must tell you, my patience has now all but run dry.”

“Yours and mine both,” Sarah growled, and yanked her arm back.

She stretched higher, the top of the rocky outcrop inching ever closer, and if she had been a little taller, she might just have reached safety. Instead, she was forced to trust herself to one last terrible hole. She winced only a little, expecting some other voice from her past to haunt her one last time, before giving her freedom at last. She did not expect the hand that enclosed her to be like iron, cruel fingers digging deep into her delicate wrist. She cried out once, then fell silent as the Goblin King's cool tone assaulted her ears once more.

“You will not dismiss me so easily, Sarah – I assure you of that. You may move on easily from your silly human woes, but never from me. You forget yourself when you address me. I'm not one of your tedious friends, or another of your lowly mortal acquaintances. I am your king and your better, and you will bow to me.”

Sarah could picture all too well the ice in his eyes as he spoke. Though she loathed herself for it, she could feel the beginnings of real fear welling inside her, tightening her chest. “Let me go,” she said.

He only laughed. “You dare to command me? Sometimes even I forget what a foolish little girl you truly are.”

She grimaced and grunted, and pulled, but she still could not free herself. “I'm twenty-one, you condescending jackass.”

“And how old am I, in comparison, dear? Your human pride and vanity is what will be the death of your kind, in the end, and how we all shall laugh to see you fall. You inhabit this earth for such a short time, and yet you've so stubbornly come to believe yourselves the dominant and all-powerful species. There are beasts of burden whose power I value more. There are parrots capable of outliving you, and, believe me, they flap and squawk far less.”

There was something about this Jareth that disturbed her greatly. He had mocked her, and he had revelled in her embarrassment – never had he spoken so coldly of her insignificance. “I … I'm sorry,” she said, though the words felt foolish and clumsy in her mouth.

He carried on as if she had not spoken at all. “Do you realise how uninteresting a single human lifetime truly is, Sarah?” She could hear the sneer in his voice – the hint of an unpleasant smile. “Of course not – you have no other basis for comparison. Fear not, I'll educate you.”

“You're no more than an ember, really, caught up in the bigger fire, and gone within an instant. Pretty to look at, perhaps, but only for a moment's distraction … and I've had many such distractions over the years. Women in their throngs, virgins and whores alike, who would throw themselves at my feet. I've sought out the greatest beauties your world has had to offer through the ages, making them mine, and then leaving them ruined for any mortal man. And the bold Apollo dared take credit for the unfortunate Cassandra's descent into madness.”

His bitter laughter was painful to her ears. “I've been at the midst of the ancient world's most sordid orgies, and most extravagant parties – and the modern one, for that matter. Your 'Studio 54' was quite a favourite of mine. Your human drink and drugs are nothing of what delights I've sampled in my own realm, but they've proven somewhat amusing to me, and I've had them all. I've seen them change over the centuries, just as I've seen your walls and borders surrendered through the changing times. I've seen entire civilisations rise and fall. I saw the soil of Troy turned red with blood, all for mindless pride and vanity. I watched from the sidelines as Nero plucked his cithara, while Rome burned around him. I grow weary of your broken hearts, and your petty conflicts, and your bloated leaders' ceaseless bleating.”

He knew so much – had seen and experienced first-hand much more than she could ever hope to imagine, things that had all but crumbled to dust, relegated to mere myth and legend in the eyes of history. Sarah's mouth opened and closed again. How could she ever compare? She had no argument to give him. The poison of his words continued to wash over her, as if sensing her defeat.

“What hope has a mere slip of a girl to keep my bed and my attentions for anything more than a single and quite dull night? What have you to offer me, hmm? The great wisdom of your college education? Your charming yet rather insignificant virginity? Make no mistake: I will win this foolish game, and I will have you – as is my right. I will fuck you any – and every – which way so pleases me. I will make you moan, and I will make you beg, and I will make you scream, long into the night, and then send you on as a broken plaything for one of my kingdom's low lordlings' amusement. You will yearn for the time we had together, and you will dream of me forever, but I will forget you at once. You are nothing.”

Hot tears poured freely down Sarah's cold cheeks. She could find no verbal response to his assault, her throat closed and thick with her tears, but somehow, she did find she had the strength left to fight him. She pulled against the hand that held her prisoner, desperate for escape, and heedless for her own safety. She could feel herself growing more frantic as the fingers trapping her own refused to budge an inch. She had all but forgotten her other hand, until she felt that imprisoned, too.

Immediately, the cruel voice ceased its taunts, the sinister hand that bound her losing its grip – perhaps in light of the larger threat than now made itself known. When Sarah looked upwards, the Goblin King himself stood atop the precipice above her, framed by the orange sky. He had bent to take her in his clutches, his pale white fingers wrapped around her right wrist. Fresh fear and panic erupted inside her, at the sight of his cold eyes, looking so sharply down upon her.

He had come to rescue her a third time.

“No,” she cried, fighting this captor even harder than the last. “I don't need your help! I don't want it! I can save myself!”

The Goblin King only tightened his hold on her wrist, and dragged her, kicking and protesting, up to join him.

 

Chapter Text

Prick! Goes The Scorpion's Tale
Black, black is love's potion.
We drink, we drink from its well.
And in their name, let's drink to true love,
For a toad and a scorpion fell.
Yes, in their name, let's drink to true love,
For true love can break the spell.
(For true love can break the spell.)

Awake from your dream, Frog Maiden,
Skin green as the emerald sea.
Let me tell you a tale,
Of a love that did fail:
Prick, prick, prick-!
Goes the Scorpion's tail.

She blushed as she walked by the water,
Having known him the evening before.
She liked how he spoke,
But aware of his poke:
Prick, prick, prick-!
Goes the Scorpion's tail.

Oh, love, it is foolish and green, my love;
How quickly we forget the sting, my love.
What a pretty, yet dangerous line, my love;
What bitter, yet delicious wine, my love.

With a flick of his prick he surprised her,
Shell red as the rose in his teeth.
“Fair maiden, join me,"
"Let us ride out to sea!”
Prick, prick, prick-!
Goes the Scorpion's tail.

She pondered if his love was poison,
But he pricked her so gently, she swooned.
His words poured like wine,
As their fates intertwined;
Prick, prick, prick-!
Goes the Scorpion's tail.

Oh, love, it is foolish and green, my love;
How quickly we forget the sting, my love.
What a pretty, yet dangerous line, my love;
What bitter, yet delicious wine, my love...

- TDC

He was distant, and more terrifying than she had ever seen him, looming impossibly tall as he pulled her up beside him. He lifted her as though she were no more than a doll in his grasp, brusquely, and with no real effort, but there was no joy in his victory. His face was set like some cold and ancient stone mask, the depth of his anger exaggerating every hard line and tight curve, celestial yet horrifying to look upon. Sarah shrank back from him the moment he released her wrist. He did not appear to notice. The Goblin King was enraged, all right, almost to the point of madness, by the looks of him, but not – she soon realised – at her.

He set her safely back from the cliff's edge with hardly a glance, and turned his attention to the stone itself, where Sarah had made her pained ascent, his eyes ablaze with cold and dreadful fire. With a twist of his hand, he conjured a crystal orb between his fingers, but this crystal glowed with some sickly orange light that pained Sarah's stomach the longer she looked upon it. She was able to watch long enough to see him take the orb firmly in his palm and pitch it, with what looked like all his strength, towards the rocky outcrop below.

There was a bright flash of light – the eerie, grinning orange of rotting jack-o'-lanterns, painting the contours of his face a dark and terrible shade – and a deep, guttural rumbling from beneath them. In it, Sarah could well imagine the long and treacherous climb she had faced, now crumbling away to dust, those ghastly black mouths that had tormented her giving one last yawn before collapsing in on themselves, one by one. She watched as Jareth sent a second crystal plummeting after the first, to destroy more of what he had not prevented. There was more of that awful light; more grinding, earthly thunder. She did not have the energy to witness a third.

She caught at his arm before he could send the next ball hurtling to earth, feeling the tightly-corded tension through the muscle there. Hers was a light touch, but it brought him to a stop at once. It was something of a relief to see his fury reined in. The awful crystal collapsed into nothingness within his hand. He had broken a sweat, and she could feel the minute trembling that had taken hold of his body, twitching akin to a wounded animal. He showed some reluctance, his breath coming in harsh bursts, but eventually he turned away from the cliff's edge, and from that blistering rage. It was good to release him.

The eyes that fixed upon hers were narrowed, the right pupil tightly constricted with the remnants of his anger, but they were, at least, lucid. “That you thought such things of me … that you had to hear such things, in my own voice-” His eyes widened. “You were crying …”

His hand reached out to caress her cheek, and for the first time ever, Sarah flinched away from his touch. She swiped her arm across her drying cheeks, and closed herself as best she could to the fresh pain it awakened in those strange eyes. She ached for comfort, then, body and soul, but he had hurt her too deeply. Her wounds were too fresh to face his touch, just then.

“How much of it was true?” she asked him. “I get it – the labyrinth wants to hurt me, and I sure as hell know my family would never say half of those things to upset me. Most of what came from them, and those other people, was in my head all along … but we're different – we're linked together.” She swallowed hard. “How much was pulled from my mind … and how much of it was from yours?” Something was beating its way out of her chest, fear and sadness and loathing scratching wild against her throat.

He did not immediately rush to proclaim his innocence, and despite the detached nature of his words, the fact was reassuring. “I have lived long, as I have already told you. I have seen many things – the fire of Rome amongst them. I have loved many women, fae and human alike, in all my years. Perhaps I have not treated them all as well I should. I was young and reckless, once. I have overindulged in base pleasures: sex, opium, wine, to name but a few. I've felt my blood run hot in the fires of passion and war. I have wounded others, in true battle, and fought yet more in drunken rages, over some perceived insult or other.”

His words slowed as he spoke, betraying possibly a small amount of shame as he gave voice to his own faults. “I have cheated. I have stolen on precisely four occasions – wives from their own husbands' beds – adultery – and, once, a purse of gold from a pompous market seller in Crete. I have misled and I have enchanted, to suit my purposes and to hide my true face from mortal eyes, but I have never felt the need to lie. I have never lied to you. I worship you. Give me the chance, and I will show you this a thousand lifetimes over. Forgive me, allow me to love you, and I will make you forget you ever heard such cruel words.”

Her shattered ego needed more, and, perhaps sensing it, he gave a weak smile. “I can speak of only my own emotions, not a certainty than binds the world, but I can promise you this – I don't think you will ever have it in you to bore me, precious one. I am enamoured, and I am fascinated.”

Still, there was that tremble in his hands, his throat rising and falling rapidly each time he swallowed. Sarah realised then that he was fighting the urge – perhaps the need – to touch her once more. To reassure himself, as much as he sought to reassure her. He had promised her safety from physical harm, and now he believed he had failed her – the words had, after all, cut far deeper than any knife was capable. She resisted her own urge to reach out to him – not now, not while his victory hung over them both.

There was fear, yes, but weighing heavier on her heart was bitter truth – not just in his words, but in those of all that knew her. Her own brother – just a kid – had been wise enough to accuse her of being too wrapped up in this fucked-up excuse for a fairytale to think of anyone but herself. She had been selfish to think that she was the only chip at play in this game of theirs. She had bet her family, as well, and when the Goblin King chose to cash in, she would never see them again. She had been weak; had lost a third time to his labyrinth and must now pay the price, but the worst of it was, it was by his own doing.

“I never needed your help,” she said, as if he had not spoken at all. “You never gave me the chance to free myself. I know not everything can be fair, but I thought that … that you'd love me enough to at least let me try.”

His smile, small and wretched though it was, now disappeared completely. “Had I not wounded you enough? Did you want for my other-self's lies and insults to rend you deeper still?”

“I wanted a fair chance at winning – one you've now stolen from me.” More tears still threatened, but she willed herself with real fury not to cry – not in front of him. “Will you at least give me time to say goodbye? I know my family mean nothing to you, in the scale of things, but I promise you, if you don't give me at least that, I'll do anything still in my power to make this eternity as miserable for you as it will be for me, I'll-”

“A little premature, don't you think? There's still over an hour left.”

Even now, he had to torment her with false hope. She felt a tight smile stretch her lips, and it was bitter. “Three strikes and I'm out, remember? You made that pretty clear at the start, and now, thanks to your 'help',” she spat, as though the very word disgusted her, “I have to pay the piper. At least you're happy now, though, right?”

There was a subtle tightening in his jaw, but this time, Sarah gave no retreat as he stepped closer. “You,” he said, “are a foolish woman indeed. Do you really think your pain is your burden alone? I have told you that you own my heart, and still, you expect me to care nothing whilst I watch you suffer. My tolerance reached its end, by my own miserable voice's doing. A trifle selfish, perhaps, but I eased your suffering to soothe my own. Your 'three strikes', as you call them, don't come into it.”

Another chance. She felt a sensation of both relief, and of utter, appalling weightlessness – of having the rug pulled from beneath her, so abruptly and so completely that it sent her reeling. She had been freed from whatever eternity he had promised her, but at the same time cast back into the perils of the labyrinth – that endless uncertainty, the weight of failure hanging pregnant above her head as the Sword of Damocles. For the briefest time, she had been granted an end – one she was not certain she wanted, but an end, regardless. Now, she was to be thrust back into this cruel game, and she no longer knew if she had the strength to face it.

“Oh, God … oh, God …” There was no air left in her lungs, and the ground tilted beneath her like some sickening carnival ride. She reeled; stumbled a little, but he was there to aid her once more, and she felt too weak to push him away. His hands closed around her shoulders, steadying her, but she could not bring herself to look at him. “I can't do this any more, I can't!”

“Sarah-”

“I can't keep playing this game any more – I'm done! I can't keep on pretending I want to forget about you; stop the dreams. It's been six years, and you've never left me all that time, you've seen and experienced all I want – it's almost like you're a part of me. You've always been with me, and … and I want that, but I don't know if it's enough. You can't expect to keep me under your thumb forever – I have a life. I have people who love me just as much as you do, and it's twisted to put me in a position where I have to choose between losing them and losing you, and … and I hate you for it! I hate you, hate you-”

He did perhaps the only thing he could, and kissed her. It was soft; searching, and Sarah pulled back from it at first, whimpering faintly. Her eyes found his through the blur, wavered, and then she pressed her mouth tightly to his, her moan giving voice to the tumult of emotion that threatened to overwhelm her. When she ceded to him, he took a step nearer, and it was only then that she became aware of how much she needed his heat; the assuring solidity of his chest. Her fingers slipped into his soft hair, urging his face closer, kissing him; breathing him. He cupped her face in his palms, kissing her back with a passion, brushing the tears that spilled away with his thumbs.

As the kiss deepened, she let her hands move to cover his, holding them against her face – needing that touch. It would be easy to lose herself in that kiss, deny her problems, but in time, she pulled back, coaxing him to release her, and shaking her head sadly.

“I can't,” she said again.

He bowed his head, lowering his hands to her shoulders as he rested his forehead against hers. “I know this isn't easy, just as it's been exhausting for me, having to choose which would pain me less: clipping your wings in order to keep you for my own, or else losing you altogether.”

“This is impossible. I don't … I don't know where we're supposed to go from here.” In spite of everything, she found a wry little smile curving her lips. “You're the all-knowing, all-powerful one, right? Any ideas?”

Jareth snorted. “If only. I fear matters of the heart are beyond even my power.” He seemed to notice the way she stiffened and avoided his gaze, as he quickly corrected himself. “Matters of desire, I mean.”

It was not enough to relax her. Tension drew her shoulders in tight enough for him to let go of her entirely, and put distance between them. There was nothing for Sarah to say, and so she stood in silence, more awkward than she had ever felt before him, her restless hands trying and failing not to wring together. It was clear he felt the same, the proud Goblin King for once avoiding eye contact entirely. He cast a glance back toward the still-smouldering wreckage he had caused, thick plumes of dust and smoke drifting lazily towards the sky. A moue of distaste twisted his mouth.

“I'm sorry you had to see me in such a way. Sometimes, I feel that, in my distraction, I've lost power over my own realm.”

“It's always about power, isn't it?” Sarah asked, softly.

Jareth's eyes moved back to hers. “The infinite shift of it, yes. Though recent events lead me to wonder just how far it has veered from my grasp.” It was painfully obvious that he did not speak only of the labyrinth.

I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave.

Sarah found she couldn't acknowledge that request, nor what it implied. As troubling as his need for power over her was, the idea of how her own might still be growing was altogether too much to even consider. She felt like running again.

“I … I don't know what to say.” It was the only truth she could put voice to, right then.

“Then say nothing.” He took her right hand in his left, then, and it was warm, and grounding, and she did not object to it. “Are you all right?” His voice was more gentle than she could bear, his other hand moving to embrace her at the small of her back.

It reminded her of the way he had held her, all those years ago, in his grand ballroom – the way he had looked into her eyes, and that stare had been almost enough to make her give up everything but him. There, they had danced, and the outside world had ceased to matter, at least for a short time. Though fresh tears threatened her lashes, she could not help but smile at the memory, particularly when she saw a similar knowledge light his eyes.

“A difficult situation – as delicate as any dance, eh, Sarah?” There was a sadness in those eyes, too – one she half-remembered from when she had torn away from him, running blindly to find a way out. “How much simpler it would be, if we had never found it in our hearts to stop ours, back then.”

She remembered soft candlelight and crystals; the certainty that he would lean in to kiss her. “I wish we could just go back to that room.” The words were out before she could hope to stop them.

He lifted her hand to his lips; kissed her there once. “Done.”

The change of scenery bothered neither of them – rocky terrain and orange skies melting, almost unnoticed, into high ceilings and bright walls draped with fine, diaphanous fabrics; candles, and crystals, and magic. Sarah began to smile, but gave the room only a cursory glance – the real draw of that enchanted time had always been him.

“A place outside time,” he said, without needing to be asked, walking her unhurriedly towards the room's centre. “As much or as little as it takes for you to be satisfied – it is your wish, after all.”

She had to laugh a little, and it seemed to cheer him also. “You've been so generous today.”

“Hardly. I haven't yet given you anything for your birthday.” It made Sarah think of his kisses; of the dizzying peak of pleasure he had brought her to earlier. She remained silent, though, conscious of her blushes as he continued. “I had intended to remedy that earlier, but certain other … activities … found a way of distracting me. I hope you don't find me too lackadaisical.”

In that moment, she found him only entrancing. She could feel her heart speeding away within her chest; a growing certainty in the pit of her stomach that a great and unknown something was yet to occur between them. She took a deep breath, and could almost taste the electricity in the air – the same charged aura the storm had carried with it, only now, it was his sheer presence that set the very atmosphere around them crackling. She wanted to kiss him, but did not quite dare, given that sparking energy that surrounded them, feeling strangely giddy; as skittish as some small animal. She waited as he reached into his jacket, her eyes locked on his face until he drew out his hand, and offered it to her.

A small silver chain was twined between his fingers, as thin and fine as silken thread, but it did not hold her attention long. Once, he had told her he would move the stars for no one. Now, she saw it had not been true.

In the palm of his hand, he held a star.

Sarah gasped, and peered closer. It was a stone roughly the size of her thumbnail, of the clearest, palest blue she had ever seen, shot through with gossamer strands of pure white. It glowed far brighter than any diamond, casting its brilliance upon his skin, and seeming to dance with its own inner light.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Just a pretty trinket. It's a moonstone – a traditional gift of lovers, for passion and for protection, so I thought it appropriate, but what's inside it is a force of it's own. It's magic, ever moving and never twice the same – pure energy.”

“It's … it's so beautiful.” There was something in that light that made her feel somehow full inside, struggling to describe aloud the way it tugged at her chest.

“Will you wear it?”

“Of course.”

He smiled; stepped lightly around her to fasten it on her. His fingertips brushed the nape of her neck as he lifted her hair, and when the contact caused her to shiver, he pressed a kiss there in its place. When he was done, the light weight of the stone hanging just below the hollow of her throat, he came to stand before her again. The two of them admired it together, the magic playing waves of pale light over her skin.

Sarah finally tore her gaze away to look at him. “Is the magic yours?”

“In part, yes, but it never truly belongs to anyone – it can just be harnessed for a while.” He grinned, then. “Like yourself, I suppose.” His smile faded somewhat, as he reached out and lightly fingered the stone. “Though the idea troubles me far less with mere jewellery.”

“But you can still create magic, right, even if you don't own it? You can still experience the power of it. Isn't just having something enough? Why does it need to be under your ownership – your property?”

He tried another smile, but this time there was no real humour in it. “That's a very communistic attitude to take, love. In that vein, why choose to own anything, locking all our belongings away inside whatever home we call our own; our private thoughts kept hidden within our minds? Why choose to marry, to put forth children, if not just to be able to call something our own? It all boils down to desire, and ego. I want you to be mine, and my pride will stand for no less.”

“Is pride more important than affection … than the love you say you have for me?”

He shook his head, but they both knew it was no answer. “Enough. You wished for a dance, did you not?”

When she nodded, he took her hand in his once more, bringing the inside of her wrist to his lips and pressing a kiss there. Sarah couldn't help but smile. These small, stolen kisses came more naturally to him now, and no longer felt like he was challenging her to resist them. His mouth raised a pleasant warmth within her, and she gave a soft sigh as he relinquished her wrist, only to lean in to her throat. He planted a longer kiss just beneath the cool touch of her necklace, the contrast just above her pulse point causing her to shiver bodily against him. It was as though he had captured her heart in his mouth.

When he pulled back, he was smiling. “Come on, dance with me,” he said.

There was no need for formality between them, this time, his arms coming to hold her around her waist, just as she wrapped her own around his neck. They made perhaps a curious sight, he in his shirt and everyday finery, she in her battered old boots and slip of a nightgown, but there were no other guests to steal even a glimpse of their moment, and no elaborate suit nor meringue of a ball gown to impede their closeness. The look in his contrasting eyes was the same as she remembered; the steps of their dance as familiar as they remained in her dreams. For a time, only the music he conjured guided them.

Yet, on the outskirts of her contentedness were her worries, begging for her to voice them. Sarah swallowed hard. To speak now would be to drag all the problems of that cruel outside world into this one small haven, but in the end, she knew she had to … or did she? “Could we?” she asked, gazing up at him. “Never stop this dance, I mean, if both of us wanted it?”

Jareth nodded, the ghost of a smile upon his lips. “I would deny you nothing, but the labyrinth and your remaining time left there would always await, should you ever grow weary of this.” His right hand moved to cup her chin. “Do you want to live in this dream, love? You can ask anything of me – know that – but I would give you a reality, rather than this.”

She shook her head. “No, I get it. I need to wake up, eventually. No more fantasies, even if they're easier to handle.”

His smile widened, and it was warm. “I would grant you a fantasy, every now and then. I believe you're entitled. Your dreams are, after all, what has brought us closer – the only thing that allowed me to see you all these years.”

“Are they what made you love me?”

He laughed softly, wrapping his arms around her once more. “I think you had my love the moment you dared challenge me.”

Sarah wet her lips, lowering her eyes to stare at the less daunting sight of his shirt collar. “Are they what made me start to love you?”

He stiffened almost imperceptibly in her arms, his sure steps faltering but for a moment before continuing the dance. She felt the way his chest gave a sudden lift against hers; the way the arms around her waist squeezed her a little tighter. The kiss he pressed against her hair before he answered was strangely resolved; the words that followed perhaps lacking but a modicum of his usual control. “That, I cannot say.”

He did, however, take possession of her chin again, urging her face up towards his, and there was no triumph to darken his gaze. He leaned down, and gave her the kiss she so needed. It was softer than she could have ever imagined of him, at the same time giving her everything she longed for in that one moment, and making her yearn for more. Through it all, their dance continued.

As he moved her around the room with confidence and effortless grace, she thought of how their last dance had ended – shattered glass and shattered dreams; the tiny old woman who had tried to trick her with all the familiar trappings of home. The music box that had held the fairytale princess in her flowing ballgown, the little stuffed fox toy that had so greatly resembled Sir Didymus …

“They were never real, were they?” she asked in a soft voice. “My friends in the labyrinth, I mean. They were just something I dreamed up to get me through the maze – that's why they disappeared from my dreams, and why you said they wouldn't be there to help me this time – why you couldn't even keep Hoggle's name straight before.”

“True, love, but not something I ever wanted to upset you with. They were beings of comfort that your young and troubled mind called upon, and the labyrinth gave them to you – but only for a short time.”

“Why friendly faces, though? Why not those awful voices?” She shivered against him, and was grateful when he drew her more firmly against his chest. “I'm pretty sure I couldn't have handled those as a kid. You and your labyrinth would have won.”

“I can but guess, having no real control over the accursed thing. It acts as a deterrent for all who may seek to reach my castle, but mostly it serves its own purposes – to confuse and feed on the woes of all who enter its walls. It plays with the mind – as you've now seen – and I must play along, for the sake of my 'guests'. Perhaps it thought such reminders of home might make you want to admit defeat and return to the safety of your bedroom – the Gods knew I did at first – but you persevered, drawing strength from that which sought to break you.” She felt him smile against her hair. “How I admired you, for that damnable tenacity, even then.”

She gave a wistful smile of her own. “They helped me, but they weren't enough. They brought me a long way, but in the end, I had to face you on my own, just like I've had to grow up and face what I want.” She tilted her head, thinking. “But, those others who were dancing-”

“My true subjects, yes. I brought you outside of the labyrinth and into my true kingdom, for a brief spell. Those you saw were others of the fae kind, like myself, but in other parts of my world you'll also find lesser fairies, goblins, sprites … no 'Hoggle's, I'm afraid.”

“They were nice while they lasted … while they were real, for a while.” She nuzzled her cheek more firmly against his shoulder. “You were real enough, though.”

He laughed softly. “I've always liked to think so.”

They danced on in companionable silence for a while, each content with the comfort of the other's arms.

Finally, she spoke again, fighting her dread. “If … if I do lose, what am I going to do about my family?”

He sighed against her hair. “Only you can decide that, precious, but I can give you as much time as you need. I've waited years for you – another few won't harm, provided you'll allow for me to see you in the meantime. Outside of your dreams, I mean.”

“So it isn't a closed door? I can go between worlds, not just stay in yours?”

“Yes, but by committing yourself to me, to being my queen, you will ever be a part of my – our – realm. You'll be a part of me, ” His hand caressed her back in slow, gentle strokes, as if trying to soothe the blow of his words. “The least of it is, you won't age, love – not by any mortal standards. Regular folk, particularly those close to you, will notice, in time. The growing power within you will frighten them.” He pressed another kiss to her hair. “I've seen it before – other fae men who've taken human women as brides. There was … a sister, driven to her death with madness. It was … unpleasant, to say the least. It can't be helped – thus is the price of love.”

“So, you're saying it'll only hurt them if I stay in contact?”

His outtake of breath stirred her hair again. “And here is where I become the villain once more, snatching your family from you. If there were any other way, love, believe me, I would make it known to you. I've no desire to see you hurt, nor to see those you care for lost to you. All I can give to you is time, and my own love – a poor substitute, perhaps, but all that I have to offer. I can grant you however much time you need to say goodbye, but eventually, you would have to, before they truly saw you.”

Sarah's breath hitched in her throat, but she forced herself to press further, burying her face against his shoulder. “And when I made my … my disappearance … would I still be able to look in on them, from time to time?” As she said the words, the horror of it rose like bile in her throat – watching as her parents, and even her little brother, aged and died without her. There wasn't enough magic in the world to prepare her for that sight. “No … no, forget I asked. Christ, this is complicated.”

“I told you the price was a high one, Sarah, before we made this wager. I truly am sorry.”

This time, it was her who initiated the kiss, giving him what forgiveness she could with her lips. It was long and sweet, but even it had to end, eventually. “Take us back,” she said, against his mouth. “Let's finish this.”

He released a sigh, then gave her lips one last nip with his own. “And here I thought you'd finally seen fit to surrender after all.”

“Would you really want me to?”

Jareth smiled, allowing his forehead to rest briefly against her own. “At this late stage? Never. My girl plays to the end.”

The air felt cooler around her as he withdrew, and as the lavish ballroom soon became the labyrinth's strange and harsh landscape once more. Sarah saw that the temperature of his smile had changed, too – a poor substitute for what only moments ago had been genuine warmth. He had detached himself, again, into that more familiar guise of her adversary – one who sought only victory. Perhaps it was easier for him to distance himself whilst she was set against him this way, but it made things all the harder for her in the process.

“I must admit, your persistence is admirable, if not a little foolish, given we both know who will win in the end,” he said, still wearing that cool smirk.

Sarah frowned. “You're far too conceited, Goblin King.”

“As are you, my queen.”

Irritation had already begun to thread itself through the brief peace he had bestowed her with, and she hated him for it. “I wish you'd stop talking like it's already been decided. If you were so determined to trap me, you'd have claimed victory when you pulled me to safety just then.”

His grin widened. “Perhaps I find it more arousing to watch you actually fail – perhaps to make you beg a little. Maybe it adds to the anticipation.”

“Maybe you're too afraid to claim me, in case your appeal wears off, before an eternity's out,” she shot back. “Maybe you're scared of me hating you long before our time together is up.”

His laugh was maddeningly mild. “I don't think you could ever quite bring yourself to hate me, precious thing – you forget just how much of you I've come to know, both in the dreams, and out. You've resisted me, all this time, but now your walls are crumbling, love. How you long to let me in. You need only say the words – give in; welcome that power which I hold over you, and all this nonsense can be put behind you … and I above you.”

He was pushing her again, she realised, provoking her to the point where she would be so annoyed with him, she would go stomping off on her quest without a care, landing her back in his debt. He was toying with her – taunting her – and it really wasn't fair. He would always strive to have that control over her, but this time, she wouldn't stand for it. With all her strength, she pushed back. “That's where you'll always be in your eyes, isn't it, Jareth?” she snapped. “Above me.”

He only smiled, apparently undeterred by her venom, and determined to infuriate her. “For a time, perhaps, but there are many other positions you know I long to bend you to-”

“Stop it!”

“But I've barely yet begun.”

“Haven't you done enough? You act like this is all some sick game to you – one you're guaranteed to win, no matter how I play it.”

Jareth scoffed at her. “I've given you more than enough chances-”

“And for what? So that you get your payback every time you watch me fail?” She flapped a hand, exasperated. “Your kisses? Your little power games?”

“I do wish you'd stop pretending you haven't enjoyed every moment of it. Never forget, Sarah – I know you have it in you to submit to me.”

“You've never given me a choice! No matter where I go or what I do, or even what lengths I've gone to, finding someone who isn't you – you've always been there!"

He drew himself taller, and the eyes that fixed on hers were ice. “I only came to you at your call – took your baby brother at your command. You said my labyrinth was too easy, so I upped the stakes – at … your … command. When you bested me, I offered you everything, and you left me with nothing, but still, I came to you in your dreams, whenever you willed it. Even now, despite the labyrinth's new terrors, I have given you everything needed to win your freedom, knowing all the while any help might cost me my own prize of having you become mine forever – a desperation you have driven me to in the first place. I have been your slave, bowing to a mere mortal girl without ever being given reason to hang on your every word this way.”

She set her jaw, unconvinced; unwilling to back down. “None of that's my fault. We wouldn't be linked this way if you hadn't given me your poisoned fruit in the first place. You didn't have to come to me like this – you could have just broken the link and let me go free.”

“Ah, yes, the last selfless act of a man who has been so weakened by love that he's willing to sacrifice all but his last breath for it. How well that would have suited you, to loosen my leash for a time, only to draw me back in when it finally came time to acknowledge your own feelings.” He shook his head. “Continue to deny me if you really must, Sarah, but spare us both the foolishness of continuing to deny yourself what you want.”

She was growing desperate, now, reaching for what ammunition she could. “How do I know this is what I want? How do I know you haven't been manipulating me all this time, forcing me to desire you?”

His voice was as hard as one of his crystals, enraged at the accusation. “Rape of the mind is as unappealing to me as the physical act – a vile breach of trust, but if you still think me capable of such crimes after our time together, I will be frank. The peach has connected us, yes, but the only thing I'm guilty of is responding to your desires. You wanted me; I came to you. Your conscious desired a more experienced man to teach you the ways of pleasure; I showed you things you never knew existed, only too thrilled to see the way they brought you delight. You never called upon me to enact such things in person, and now that you finally have, we're brought to this …”

He blew air out through his nose; ran a frustrated hand through his unruly hair. “I have told you time and time again – I will never hurt you. I have done nothing worthy of being named the monster you think me to be.” He shook his head again, his lips pressing into a hard white line. “Your words from earlier – if this is what you think love to be, I suggest you look up the definition.”

She was going to cry in front of him after all – she could feel it. “I … I'm …”

In his own anger, he did not allow for her to finish. “I've asked only that you admit the same power that you have wielded over me these long and miserable years be acknowledged – that you say the words that will grant me my own equal footing, and still you refuse me that power. Every turn, every step, I have been your willing servant, catering for your every whim, and still you question my motives - my very character. Very well, have it your way, Sarah.”

With no warning whatsoever, he reached out to her, and his hand closed abruptly around her throat.

 

 

Chapter Text

Prick! Goes The Scorpion's Tale (cont.)
She offered her back quite demurely,
He climbed, and they swam out to sea.
She stroked, and she smiled,
And his stinger went wild!

Prick...prick! Prick...prick!
Prick! Prick! Prick! Prick!
Prick! Prick! Prick-!
Goes the Scorpion's tail.

Black, black is love's potion,
Take heed, take heed of the thorns.
Don't scream when it stings -
Remember that you were warned.
Come, drink,

Drink...drink...drink!
Drink...drink! Drink...drink!
Drink! Drink! Drink! Drink!
Drink! Drink! Drink! Drink! Drink!
Drink-!

A cup of my scorn!

- TDC

Instinct caused her to gasp, but Sarah drew in no air as the Goblin King's pale hand cut off her breath. His touch was light, his fingers no more than resting against her bared throat, but that touch seeped into her vulnerable flesh like poison. She felt a great and terrible pressure on her windpipe, that seemed to squeeze her from the inside out. She found she could not pull herself away from it, no matter how much she tried to twist her body away from him.

She was rooted firmly to the spot.

She was helpless, trapped by his unyielding and unkind hand.

She was entirely at his mercy.

“Please, don't fight me, Sarah. This is the only way,” he said, his words soothing, in spite of the hand at her throat – smoother than ever, even faced with her obvious fear. “Trust me. This will only take a moment, then it will all be over, as perhaps it should have been from the very start.”

With panic lodged in her throat, she brought her own hands up to fight him as best she could. It was no use. She tugged and she tore at his fingers – fingers that had once been so gentle, almost delicate in their caresses – now as firm as iron in their grasp. With every ounce of strength she could muster, she tried to wrench them away from her throat, finding, to her dismay, that they would not budge an inch. There was no question that he was stronger.

Despite her fear, she had no breath to scream with.

He had promised her no harm, most lenient so far in their game, yet now he refused to bend to her will as she struggled to free herself. Sarah's eyes widened in betrayal, meeting his hard stare in the hope of finding mercy, but seeing only cold determination in it. His gaze was almost clinical with his detachment, watching her as if she were no more than a butterfly in a killing jar as he stole the air from her lungs. There was no reason in those eyes; no hint at how, in his love, he could do such a thing to her, and that was most terrifying of all.

In her growing desperation, she turned her nails on him, but her scratching and clawing seemed to make no difference, even as it raked deeply into his bare skin. Her mouth opened and closed, useless, unable even to beg for his forgiveness for however she had wronged him. Already, she could hear the blood pounding thickly in her ears. Her mind screamed for her to fight harder, but she was quickly losing the will to, sinking faster and faster towards that place where she would no longer be able to fight at all.

Dizziness stole swiftly over her, sweeping her body with the crude caress of a lover who has been made rough with his greed. She could not hope to fight it. She felt her knees starting to buckle, weak as water as her whole body swayed in his grip. The hands that battled his lost their strength, slipping down, down, to hang loosely by her sides. Her eyes rolled in her head as she sank closer toward unconsciousness, using her last bit of strength to find his – to implore him again for mercy. Still, he held her, and she saw not a flicker of emotion in his strange, cold eyes, even as her own vision began to blur.

Then, all at once, he released her.

Her neck and her feet were free once more, and Sarah stumbled back from him the moment she was able. She was desperate to regain the air she had lost, but still she could not seem to draw breath. He had done something to her – closed her throat off with some magic of his – and she was choking. Oh, god, she still couldn't breathe. She sank to her knees on the rough ground beneath them, gasping for air that just would not come. Dizziness rocked her forward onto all-fours, hardly caring for the grit and small pebbles that dug into her palms.

Dimly, she saw Jareth's boots moving closer; felt his hand come to rest between her shoulder-blades as her own hands splayed upon the cold ground, struggling even to support her own weight, now.

“It's almost over, love. Let it come; don't resist,” he said, and though he had left her dying before him, all traces of anger had drained from his voice.

I can't, she wanted to sob to him. Don't you see that I can't?

There was something pressing at the inside of her throat. She gagged and spluttered, then gave a hard, heaving cough, and felt it dislodge. She retched and spat, and whatever it was went tumbling from her lips. Cool, sweet air rewarded her at last, and she wheezed and gasped and drank it in with deep, shuddering gulps. She had barely noticed the light breeze before, but felt it now against her face and swollen lips, and she arched like a cat, throwing back her head to embrace it.

Air. Blessed air.

It soothed her ravaged lungs and senses, calming her panic as it sank in that she was breathing at last – that she was still living. If they had been near the Bog of Eternal Stench, she thought she would have inhaled its stink just as gladly. She breathed hard and deep, greedy for oxygen. In her relief, she almost forgot to be afraid.

Almost.

When the frantic hammering of her heart against her ribcage had finally begun to slow, she looked down, and saw a wet, faintly goldish scrap of flesh, lying between her hands on the rocky ground. As she looked on, it began to blacken and wither, rotting away to nothing before her eyes. Disgust roiled up in her belly, and she pushed herself away from it – further away from him in the process – then swiped at her mouth with the back of one hand.

“What was that? What the hell did you do-” she croaked, and then stopped. As she spoke, the sickly-sweet echo of peaches stung her tongue, and she grimaced at the long-forgotten flavour. She hadn't been able to bring herself to touch the fruit for years, now, not since-

But any normal food would have long since-!

It had never been normal food.

She cast a sharp glance upwards. Jareth had taken a respectable step backwards, giving her space, but he was still too close for her liking, right then. “The peach? That thing was actually inside me all this time?” Her voice still sounded weak and hoarse, and she reached up to her clogged throat by instinct, pausing when she caught something cold and solid beneath her palm.

The necklace.

More of his godforsaken magic.

He'd freed her from one set of chains, only to loop another around her neck – and she had been fool enough to accept his gift.

Anger surged, sudden and hot through her body, and her hand closed into a hard fist around the moonstone. In the time it took her to draw breath, to prepare herself to rip the cursed thing from her throat, she saw his eyes flicker – saw something dawn in them that was close to despair. She felt a responding cold spike, deep down within her belly, and it caused her to relent. She let her hand fall open again.

The moonstone glowed brightly in her palm, and slowly, she let it rest against the hollow of her throat once more. Love. Protection. There was no harm meant in this magic, pale and pure as it was, lacking that awful orange aura of menace and rage that had tainted those earlier crystals he had used only to destroy. It truly was a gift; nothing more. She looked up at him.

“No. You didn't … you'd never …”

“Hurt you,” he finished for her, and there was a sense of weariness in his deep voice. “Are you all right?” he asked.

“How can you even ask me that? One minute, you're kissing me; the next, you wrap your hand around my throat! What am I supposed to think? For a minute, I thought … I thought-”

“That I meant you harm.” He sighed deeply. “I gave you my word, Sarah. I gave you that promise long ago. You have come to know me, but even now, you still can't bring yourself to trust me.”

She lowered her eyes again. For whatever reason, he had chosen to free her, and yet her first instinct had been to accuse him of trying to harm her – to believe him worthy of ensnaring her again. Guilt and shame clung to her breast in equal measure, and for a moment, she couldn't speak; couldn't bear to raise her eyes above the level of his leather boots. After a time, even that became too much, and she turned her face away, cheeks burning with her remorse.

He did not move; stood waiting for her, as he always would. Sarah cleared her throat, more for something to occupy her voice, than out of any real need or discomfort. “Thank you,” she said at last, to the amulet that lay upon his chest. It was the closest she could come to his face, then. She knew she owed him more. Wincing inwardly, she risked a timid glance up at his face, regretting it the moment she saw the pain in his expression.

“I know, deep down, you wouldn't hurt me. You just scared me for a minute there,” she said, as softly as she could. “ Old habits die hard I guess,” she said, trying for humour, and finding none in his face. "I'm sorry,” she murmured. “I know it isn't much, but I really am.”

Jareth gave a curt nod that revealed nothing, his words clipped and cool. “Your apology is accepted.”

She rubbed at her throat, her gorge rising at the thought of the rotted fruit that had come from it. Still, she was free of it now – free of him – but she couldn't imagine why. “I don't get it. Why remove it now?” she asked.

Jareth cocked his head to one side, staring back at her with a calmness she would have thought impossible only minutes ago. “I gave you your choice back, Sarah. No matter what, you have already won your freedom from that which binds you to this realm, and to me.”

She climbed slowly to her feet, and scoffed her disbelief. “Just like that, huh? What about the wager – Sarah wins, or Sarah has to bow to you forever? I can't imagine you've managed to forget about that, just out of the goodness of your heart.”

“Whether you choose to believe it or not is irrelevant. It's gone, as you saw with your own eyes.”

Once more, she felt lost in his game. His castle stood before her – she could see its towers, now – but it was still far into the distance; far from her reach. If there was any chance of getting to it before her time ran out, it was a slim one. She could see no possible reason why he would surrender the only hold he had over her, with his victory in plain sight.

“Why would you do that?” she demanded. “Why would you cut that tie between us when you're winning?”

“Winning at what cost, Sarah? That any victory I might have be forever tarnished by your doubt and accusations? That if you finally find happiness with me, you believe it all to be caused by some enchantment?” He gave an exasperated sigh. “You still think I long to keep you captive – that I wish to see you weep in despair. I freed you, because I cannot accept the blame, should you make the choice to remain with me. Your chains are gone. Whatever decision you reach will be entirely your own – not mine.”

Sarah shook her head, and buried her face in her hands. “Why do you keep doing this to me?” she moaned. “This game is tough enough as it is, but you keep changing the rules, and I can't keep up.”

“Spare me your self pity, precious.”

She almost growled in her frustration, lowering her hands so that she might stare him down. “Why do you keep on helping me? Why do you have to be- … why can't you just be …”

“Evil?” he asked. “Yes, I quite wondered when we were going to come back to me as the villain. It never occurs to you that I might wish for redemption – for us to put behind the troubles of our past. You give me soft words and promises in your every kiss, and yet refuse to acknowledge that you care for me at all, nor I for you. It pleases you to go on denying that we two possess anything but fear and contempt towards the other, to ease whatever other thoughts are burdening your own mind.”

He clapped his hands together once, his face lighting in a tight mockery of a smile. His words were high and airy, and full of dark humour. “So! Once again, I must sweep my cloak and recite my villainous words, and allow for the brave Sarah to vanquish me, or else rub my hands and snicker wildly as I keep her locked away in my dungeons. What a delightful dark fairytale this must be for you, with all its seduction, and yet none of the consequences. How precious. How your teenage self would have pouted and swooned.”

Sarah's jaw clenched. “You don't have to treat me like I'm still that girl.”

“Oh, but you must be, love, for am I not still forced to cater to your whims of old? Do I not still have the exhausting task of living up to your expectations of me – however low they might be? You expect your dark prince, the torrid romance of your fantasies, and yet you're too afraid to admit aloud that you want any of it … but it's not just that, is it?” His eyes commanded her own, and the sense of guilt they invoked was stifling. He went on.

“You long to keep me caged, until such time as you see fit to ask something more of me. All this time, you've chosen to deny what I offer you – anything that would in some way cause you to need me, the way I have always needed you. I offered you my service, my love; my kingdom, damn you, and asked for so little in return. You denied them all, crushed them in your fist, and yet still you demand more of me. You want for me to sate that hunger in you, but only on your terms. Am I truly deserving of nothing but your hatred and distrust after all these years? Am I so very far from the man you would desire that you must refuse me everything?”

Sarah shook her head. “You know that's not true. I … I don't hate you. You know that.”

“Do I?” He raised his stubborn chin, staring down the hard ridge of his nose at her. “Tell me one thing you have given me – one single truly selfless act, where you have shown me in some way that I am worthy of your affections.”

She frowned, and opened her mouth at once to speak, to deny it … and stopped. Her mind had drawn a blank. The kisses they had shared had been fuelled only by her own lust and longing. She had allowed for him to take the first – so many hours ago, now – because her own body had willed it. She had taken her own from him without thought, simply assuming that he, in his obvious desire for her, would respond, and she had not been disappointed. What had come after had always been at her own will, not his.

He had teased her, demanded that she yield to him before he would grant her pleasure, and then – when she had refused him yet again – had given it regardless. He had been granted permission by her own words and actions; given no more than what she herself wanted, heedless of whatever his own feelings might have been. She had given him nothing.

Nothing, tra-la-la?

Oh, how that mockery burned her now. Even as she pushed it away, her own words of all those years ago came back to torment her, playing over and over in her mind.

You have no power over me.

You have no power over me.

You have no power over me.

Six years. Six years, she had been allowed to bask in her victory, the knowledge of the Goblin King's longing and love tucked away securely in her pocket, and brought out only at those times when her own lust caused her to long for him in return. How she had thought herself tragic to have been plagued with those desires – too stubborn to make any attempt to call upon him, but driven mad by that need to have him. She had no concept of what true madness was.

Oh, yes, she had suffered – had even felt the pain of the Bog's deep and powerful longing, but for a few minutes. Even so, the desperate agony she had seen in Jareth's eyes after, when he had saved her from its clutches – that was true madness. He had suffered it all along.

It was a weight she had made him bear – alone – ever since his defeat. Six years. Six years of nothing, except that which she, on occasion, allowed him. Six years of loving her deeply, and never once knowing for certain if she would ever accept that love – without even the ability to ask such things of her. Six long, cold years, in which only her dreams could bring them together – six years of never being able to call on her by his own will. No, only her power could do such a thing.

He had been her slave all along, and she had been a distant and cruel mistress. The peach had been the single, small scrap of control he had ever been able to wield, and now even that had withered and died between them both – by his own doing. For her. She was her own woman, as she had always been – but he would be forever hers. How deeply the thought of such pain and misery now cut her.

“It's hard to do, isn't it?” he asked, in a softer voice. “Having to analyse your every word and action – to pore over them for some greater meaning, to judge if you have, at any point, given me cause to go on.” He gave a weak smile. “I know the feeling well. I've had nothing but time to think on even the smallest gesture within your dreams – time where I've lived our last real conversation over and over, in an attempt to glean where it all went wrong.”

Just fear me , love me , do as I say and I will be your slave.

How had she never known?

Jareth cocked his head and simply looked at her for a moment, and then took a small step towards her. “You have always feared me, and perhaps I was wrong to demand such a thing of you. Never, I think, has there been a time you have ever done as I've said. I won't let that other – your love – be said to have been forced by me. If I am to have no power over you, then so be it. If you do find it in your heart to love me, then you must know it is by your own volition, not by any magic's doing. If you do not…”

He trailed off, as if his words had only just begun to hit home for him, as well as her. There was that deep sadness in his eyes again when they flicked away, staring far beyond her, but when he looked upon her again, he managed a small smile. Again, for her. “If you do not … well, it's been fun while it's lasted, hasn't it, love?” he said, finally.

God, those sneaking tears again - where had they crept from? Her throat felt lined with them, her first attempt at reply emerging only as a hoarse croak. She swallowed hard. “I'm starting to think the woman you've been waiting all this time for isn't really worth it, is she?”

In spite of everything, Jareth laughed softly. “After all these years, still wanting you more than life itself, you would ask me to dignify that with a response?”

“I guess not.” She sighed, freeing a little of the weight that had sunk into her chest. It felt like she had nothing but exhaustion left to give. Never had she been so very drained of everything. The tears felt so, so close.

Are you all right?” he asked again.

Slowly, she nodded her head – but was she, really? Once more, he had loosed the bonds that held her – this time for good – and now she had been cast entirely adrift, with no will to possibly guide her, but her own. Right now, that will was guiding her right back to him, and it frightened her badly. He was right. She had been relying on the decision being made for her – either she would win, or he would win. She had never allowed herself to think of going to him willingly – of freely accepting the power of his love over her. It made everything far too complicated, yet if she took the freedom he had given her …

“What if I just decide I want to leave right now, now that you have absolutely nothing to hold over me?” she asked, perhaps a little too forcefully.

“Then … you will leave.” He sounded as lost right then as she felt. “You have only to ask.”

He could be completely out of her life in less than a heartbeat. He was willing to let her go, if she asked it of him. The thought was a sobering one; the power such a decision demanded more than she could bear. She forced herself to meet his gaze. “After all you've done, I guess … I guess I at least owe it to you to finish this thing – see it to the end.”

Relief flooded his expression; perhaps, even a whisper of hope, but he was quick to guard it from her. He arched an eyebrow, and then nodded. “Very well.” With no more than a flick of his wrist, he sketched a clock face in the air between them. “You have precisely one hour and thirteen minutes left to reach my castle, for whatever that's worth.”

“Wait. Please, not like this.”

He only shook his head. “Sarah, please, I haven't the patience, nor the strength for this conversation to go on any longer. Say whatever it is you wish to say, and let's have done with it.” He sounded so tired. When, still, she hesitated, he rolled his eyes; sketched a mocking half-bow before her. “Come, now. Far be it from me to silence you this way. I am, after all, your willing-”

“Please don't.” It was more than she could bear to have his taunts and his scorn right then.

He relented, with a sigh, his tone softer. He would always relent. “What is it, love?”

Sarah took a hesitant step towards him. “I think it might be, and that scares the hell out of me.”

“Might be …? I'm afraid I don't follow.”

The next step was more difficult, bringing her close enough to touch him, if she so wished – and suddenly, the need to was overwhelming. She reached out, a little clumsily, and laid her right palm flat against the middle of his chest. The steady rise and fall of his breathing anchored her; gave her strength. Despite his claim to impatience, he seemed content just to allow her to touch him, his strange eyes searching hers, once again, for some deeper meaning.

“Love,” she said, finally. “I'm not sure, but I think it has to be, with how much it burns me to think of … of leaving you here. Of having to be without you. I thought that was what I wanted, at first - to be free of you, but now …” Through her fear, the words came easier than she had anticipated, perhaps needing to finally free herself of them before they could drown her. “I'm still learning, just like you. There's always been this dynamic of power between us, but from my side of things, it's always been tipped in your favour. I've never seen it from your side before. I've taught myself to hate you, for making me feel things I've never …” She shook her head. “It's always seemed wrong to want you, when I'd be nothing more than a notch in your bedpost.”

He seemed to surge forward at that, but she restrained him with nothing more than a gentle press of her palm. “I know,” she said. “I know, now.” She had to search for the right words a moment, content at last that they were the truest thing she could offer. “Time moves differently for me. What's no more than a drop in the ocean for you could be years of me the way I am, trying to figure out what I want out of my life. I've never known love – never known, or ever will know half the things that you have. All I know right now is that I still want you in my life.”

She drew in a deep breath; continued. “I … I think we both have some understanding of what that means, but I just don't know if it'll ever be exactly what you want from me. I don't know what I want, but I know that a part of me wants you – cares for you.” His eyes were beautiful as she gazed up into them, and they made her feel strangely like crying again. “Is that enough?” she asked. “I don't know how to make it more.”

It was a long time before he spoke. “It's something. More than you let me dare hope, for a while.”

Sarah could feel the weight as it slid from her chest. She moved closer to him, letting both palms rest on his chest, now. “You're … you're not what I expected, and that scares the hell out of me, too. “I'm sorry,” she said again.

Jareth nodded. “Accepted.” His recognition was softer, this time, and it made Sarah's stomach knot to see that his eyes had regained some of their former light with her admission.

She knew something more was needed – something that would reassure them both that all was not quite as lost as it seemed. A sacrifice – one she burned to offer him.

She could give him herself.

Slowly, hesitantly, she let her hands start to move, to stroke soothingly at his chest - the first time she had ever sought to touch him for something more than her own need. She traced the beat of his heart, the rise and fall of his breath; the warmth of his skin that radiated through his clothing. Her fingers twisted into the lapels of his shirt.

“I want this – I … I want you.” The words felt right on her lips, and she had to repeat them. “I want you,” she said again, more sure of it, this time. “I want to make things better between us, somehow – at least let me show you that.” Her eyes searched his, her voice hardly more than a whisper. “Can we make everything else go away again – everything but us – while you make love to me?”

His hands came to hold her hips, at last, and her whole body revelled in the contact. “Gods, Sarah.” His eyes blazed with sudden heat – lust and something far more. There was a barely-restrained longing in those words, his voice rumbling low with a passion that made her long to press her lips to his throat, that she might feel it. She found herself tipping her face up toward his, urging herself on; urging him to come to her at last.

“Please,” she said, softly. “Please, let me … let's …”

Their respective surrender came together. Time itself seemed to stand frozen in awe as their lips met, as their bodies melded; as if salvation had at last been found.

 

 

Chapter Text

Heaven's All Around
When the sky is dark,
And the moon aglow,
And the Morning Star,
Burning from afar,
Enters into view.

All that I can say,
All that I can know,
Is that I'll be dreaming,
Pieces of you.

When the clouds are grey,
And the angels low,
And a daffodil,
Bends against its will,
What am I to do?

All that I can say,
All that I can know,
Is that I'll be dreaming,
Pieces of you.

Cast my reverie,
Back into the sea,
Underneath my pillow,
Where it's meant to be.

When the wine is gone,
And the carriage goes,
All the spirits turn,
Who did I adjourn,
Bidding no 'adieu'?

All that I can say,
All that I can know,
Is that I'll be dreaming,
Pieces of you.

Cast my reverie,
Back into the sea,
Underneath my pillow,
Where it's meant to be.

All my little troubles,
Haven't got a prayer.
Heaven's all around you,
When you haven't got a care.

Heaven's all around you ...

- TDC

The familiar sight of his bedchamber awaited them, and this time Sarah's hands were far from idle, pushing into his thick hair, drawing him nearer as his mouth moved so wonderfully against her own. Their kisses felt healing, the heat of his mouth doing more to drive away her fears than any words could; that she had ever imagined possible. There was sanctity in his embrace – a growing certainty that somehow, all would be well. The heat of his hands upon her was one she never wanted to fade.

Those hands ran all the way down her back now, his palms making an enticingly slow journey over the contours of her ass, before moving higher again. His fingers combed through her hair, running softly over her scalp and the nape of her neck, kissing her deeply all the while. He used both hands to trace the long strands that framed her face, the backs of his thumbs caressing her cheeks, her neck, all the way down until they grazed the sides of her breasts. Sarah moaned into his mouth, arching her body into his touch, needing more.

Taking that as his cue, he finally released her hair, his hands cupping the weight of her breasts. The heat of him was palpable even through her clothing, and she could feel herself blushing at just how quickly his touch caused her nipples to tighten, knowing he would feel that hardness against his palms. On the contrary, the rest of her body seemed to be melting for him, bending to his will, letting him touch her however he wanted. There was something exhilarating in giving him that control, her body and mind for once in agreement as she gave him her surrender.

It would be the first time for either of them, laid wholly bare before the other's gaze, and just thinking it sent a warm blush stealing up through her skin. When his mouth finally released hers, and he simply looked at her with nothing but longing in his stare, she had to look away. Her eyes darted towards his bed, and she gave a little grin as she thought of lying together there, shyness and excitement duelling for dominance as the reality of it all sank in.

“Second thoughts?” he asked.

She was quick to reassure him, eyes returning to his at once. “No, of course not. I want this just as much as you, only …”

“Only …?”

“It's kinda silly, I guess. You've already seen me in the dreams … touched me …” Even the thought of it now tugged between her thighs in the most delicious way, leaving a noticeable pause in her words. She was only too aware of the weight of his gaze on her throughout it. “It's just … it's the first time you're going to … well, see me, and I guess I'm a little shy. That's not stupid, is it?” She risked a glance up at him and was thankful to see no ridicule, nothing but the deepest yearning etched in his gaze.

“Not at all, love,” he told her. “I'm well aware that this will be the first true time, and I have every intention of making it last. Just remember, you can say yes, and then change your mind immediately after, if it feels wrong. I'll stop, and it will change nothing between us. I'll still love and hunger for you, just as much as I always have. This happens only if you're sure you want it, and if you trust me enough to give it to you.”

Her need for him was overcoming that shyness, now, and she held his gaze as she spoke. “It's been three years since that first … since that first really hot dream – the first time you seduced me. Three years that I've known just what I wanted.”

“And what is it you've wanted so long, Sarah?” Jareth asked, his voice low and heavy with his desire. The question was just as much for him as it was for her, Sarah knew – he had to hear it from her lips, had to have the power of her longing, too.

For all he spoke of stopping, Sarah knew that there would be no going back from this – not for her, at least. If she agreed to let him have her, she wouldn't stop until he had taken all of her. She swallowed hard; took the plunge. “I've wanted you for years. I've wanted you inside me all this time.

Her confession earned her a deep groan from him; another kiss, this one harder, pressed against her willing mouth.

There could be no question of her readiness now, not with the passion that surged up within her chest and set her heart pounding; how every fibre of her being seemed to pulse with longing for him. She savoured the heat of his hands through her thin nightgown, no hesitation in his touch now as he stroked her breasts and hips; cupped her ass to pull her body flush against his. He knew exactly what he was doing – what both of them had dreamed of for so long – and was now free at last to take it. It didn't take him long to have her gasping and moaning, amazed at just how hot his hands and mouth had her before they'd even gotten undressed.

Her inexperience alongside that powerful desire made her hands a little clumsy, yet Jareth didn't seem to mind, helping her with the buttons on his shirt, and then shrugging out of the thing entirely. The amulet that hung around his neck tingled with the essence of magic, strangely cool to touch, but the chest beneath it was warm and firm, and she let her fingers splay across it, letting her palms explore him for the first time.

She groaned softly as she felt his hands slide down to her thighs, his fingers starting to inch up the hem of her gown. He broke their kiss only long enough to remove the garment entirely, a slip of satin over her head and then it was gone, and she was in his arms again. He began to kiss his way down her neck, and she tipped her head back in pleasure, letting him, sighing her pleasure as he moved lower.

His tongue traced a hot line along her collarbone, both his hands sliding up over the curves of her ass and along her spine until they reached the clasp of her bra. He peeled it from her body slowly, sliding first one, and then the other strap along her bare arms, and chasing them with his hot mouth. When he at last cast her bra to the floor, Jareth pulled her against him again, hands tracing the side of each breast as they pressed into his chest. He spent a long time just holding her that way, letting her body mould to his, kissing her deeply as his hands explored her.

His thumbs teased at her stiff nipples, sending the most divine fire licking its way between her parted thighs, and Sarah couldn't help but grind her hips into his, as though seeking something to quench that flame. She found only more heat – the hard length of his cock pushing back against her – and how her body welcomed it. That heat only grew when he bent his head to kiss at the slope of her breast, setting the tender skin his mouth touched tingling, before taking one firm pink nipple into his mouth. He sucked and lightly grazed her with his teeth until he had her moaning for him, drawing his tongue roughly along the hardened bud as his hands lifted and squeezed.

As Jareth lavished attention on her breasts, she had been content so far to run her hands over his naked back, revelling in the hot ripple of muscle beneath her fingers, but now she grew bolder. She let her hands slip lower down to cup his ass, squeezing him and driving her hips forward at the same time to increase that contact between them. The move caused him to push deep into the crux of her thighs, the hard shape of him running the length of her slit through her panties.

Instantly, he pulled free of their kiss, and Sarah heard his sharp intake of breath. His eyes met hers, and they flashed with dark desire. “Oh, you've done it now,” he told her, in a low growl. “Always pushing me, aren't you? My little minx.”

To know she was having such an effect on him was thrill enough, but she had to push harder, moulding that heat between her thighs to him, a wicked smile upon her lips as they brushed his. “Hmm. But what are you going to do?”

You,” he said, and then his strong hands were gripping her ass, lifting her, capturing her squeal of surprise in a fierce and ravenous kiss.

Sarah wrapped her legs around his hips, her arms firmly around his neck, returning that kiss as best she could as he carried her over to his bed. When she thought he would set her down, he only held her body against him as he began to nip at one bare breast, thrilling her with just how easily his arms took her weight; the light sting of teeth against her sensitive skin. How could she hope to deny his power when every display of it only made her blood pump hotter? As he suckled at her tender flesh, her eyes drifted back towards the bed again, and the sudden, scorching-hot thought was: we're going to lie on that – he's going to fuck me on that.

“Stay with me, precious,” Jareth urged, drawing her gaze back to him at once.

“I am, I'm just …”

“Impatient?” There was just a flash of that smirk as he bent to her neck again.

“God, yes.”

“Mmm. Then who am I to keep you waiting?”

True to his word, he lay her down on the bed, and immediately set to work on baring her completely. He pulled off her boots, casting them aside without a second thought, before bending to wrench off his own. He wasted no time in covering her body with his own, his mouth retaking hers, but not for long. He moved his kisses down her neck, over her breasts, and blazed a hot trail all the way down along her stomach, stopping to dip his tongue into her navel, making her writhe upon his bedsheets. Through it all, she could feel her body stretching for him, pulling taut with the anticipation as his hot mouth finally reached the thin barrier of her panties.

She remembered her underwear, then – just plain white cotton – and began to blush; began to apologise. “Sorry, they're not exactly-”

He leaned in and hushed her with a firm kiss against her left calf. “I've never seen you so beautiful. You're far lovelier than any dream.” Sure enough, he looked upon her as if she was the goddess he had proclaimed her to be, reverent as he peeled away her panties, unwrapping his virgin offering. His voice was deeper than usual – rough, as though once more he was struggling to rein in his lust. “Far wetter than I could have ever imagined. Gods, you have no idea how much I want you.” The look in his eyes as he knelt before her told her enough; the hard shape of his cock stretching his trousers only confirmed it.

The naked lust in those eyes made her blush hotter, and as he lowered himself so that he was half-lying between her thighs, she knew exactly what he had in mind, and it set her skin positively burning for him. The screaming ecstasy she had found in her dreams – the ones where he had brought her to orgasm again and again with no more than his mouth – almost overwhelmed her, sending a shockwave of pleasure through the pit of her stomach. She sat up, blushing.

“Oh, you … you don't have to …”

He stopped her with a glance. “Do you have any idea how long I've wanted to feel you, ripe and wet and wild against my face? How much I long to drive my tongue deep inside you as you come, feeling you pulse around me in your pleasure?”

His words reassured her enough to lay back again, but they only worsened that pulsing ache between her thighs. She looked down at him, her king, positioning himself to lie between her thighs so that he could worship her with his mouth. The sight sent more of her wetness pooling between her legs in readiness for him, her body trembling with the sweetest expectation she had ever known.

There was time for her to see the smile on his lips, and then his mouth was buried between her thighs. Sarah cried out, clutching at the sheets beneath her with both hands. His tongue pressed her open, sending hot jolts of pleasure through her core as he explored, probing between the slick and swollen lips of her sex. Even through her own cries, she heard his moans of contentment; felt them echoing through her skin. He sounded hungry, intent on devouring as much of her as he possibly could. His hands came to press her thighs wider, holding her that way as he took his own pleasure from her, his hot tongue stroking her, teasing her.

She was entirely at his mercy, naked but for his necklace at her throat, wet and wide open, arching into his expert mouth. It seemed as though every muscle was tightening, clenching, the tension mounting deep down in her belly until she could hardly stand it. Her body pulled taut beneath him, her head tossing helplessly back and forth against the pillows, as though she could hope to deny such perfect pleasure. Her moans were high and cracked with emotion as his mouth continued its ministrations, circling the swollen bud of her clit with zeal, driving her swiftly toward delirium.

Through it all, she felt his eyes on her face, and when she dared at last to look down, the heat in his stare made her breathless. It was the knowledge that he was watching her, those dark, lustful eyes urging her on, that sent her over the edge. Her orgasm swept through her body like wildfire, and at the pinnacle of its heat, when she cried out and began to shudder for him, her right hand splayed flat against the sheets, and she felt his own close around it at once. He held onto her, squeezing her hand tightly, guiding her through those incredible flames as he drank from her, drowning himself in her ecstasy.

When her sobs had quieted, lessened to the occasional hitch in her breathing, she realised some time must have escaped her, lost in that dizzying high and the blissful haze that followed. When she came back to herself, Jareth was soothing her down, soft kisses against her sensitive lips between each deep shudder, his tongue lapping gently at her juices. She became aware of a low-pitched humming, and realise that it was coming from her own throat as she rode out the aftershocks. It was so much more than anything she had felt alone. She squeezed his hand, thinking that there might be no heaven closer than the one she had been brought to – the one he had helped her find.

On her own, when she had brought herself to orgasm, there was normally a calm after the storm, followed by reluctant rest, and sometimes guilt. Now, there was only delight and fresh longing for him. Jareth had retreated some by then, avoiding those most sensitive parts to trail his mouth along her thighs instead. He looked in his element, stroking and kissing her bare skin, but the lust in his eyes only made her want more. He was looking back at her even now, bathing in her pleasure – waiting. When she whispered his name, he came to join her at once, kissing his way back up along her body, belly, breasts, and finally her mouth.

Their kiss burned slowly, the solid warmth of his body atop her own only adding to its heat, but soon, she needed more. There was no shyness now as she reached down between them, cupping the stiff length of him through his trousers, and moaning when she felt that such delicious endeavours had only made him harder. He gave a deep groan and knelt up at once, eager to remove that last barrier of clothing between their bodies. It made Sarah flush to see that he was bare beneath them. She couldn't resist reaching out to touch him, finding him hard as steel, yet smooth as velvet beneath her hand. She circled him, stroked him, only relinquishing her grip when he was kneeling between her legs once more.

His fingertips trailed delicious fire along her inner thigh as he positioned himself, his cock rubbing along her moist slit, parting her lips just enough to be accepted between them.

“Oh, Sarah.” His moan stirred one of her own, coaxing her hips to move along with him as he slid up and down; up and down. “I've wanted this for so very long.”

The tip of him nudged her still-throbbing clit, and she gasped loudly, reaching for him, gripping at his shoulders. “Me too,” came her hoarse whisper.

He was teasing them both now, drawing out that moment where he would claim her at last. “You're quite certain this is what you want?” he asked, and it was satisfying to hear the roughness in his voice. “We can still stop. Refuse me. Deny me now – you've only to say the word.”

“I don't ever want you to stop,” she said, tangling her fingers in his hair and urging his mouth down to cover hers.

He leaned down to oblige her, covering her body with his own once more as he possessed her mouth in a deep, hungry kiss, his hips keeping up that luscious friction between them all the while. Her entire body burned for something more, grinding into his every thrust to encourage him. Still, he remained in charge, keeping that luxuriously slow pace; keeping that needful flame burning hot for him. His soft mouth captured her moans, his free hand sliding around her hip to cup her ass, drawing her body more tightly against his. Finally, she was forced to break the kiss, flushed, breathless; growing desperate.

“Jareth …”

“Tell me what you need, love. Ask it, and it's yours.”

“You,” she said at once. “Inside me.” Then, looking into his face, so alluring and open in his pleasure, feeling a wave of longing so powerful and pure wash over her: “Make me yours.”

His groan was music to her ears, her own name whispered hotly against her neck. Gracing her with one last kiss, he shifted his hips to obey, guiding himself inside her. Sarah gasped as her body opened to him, accepted the thick head of his cock as it sank into her. She cried out for him as, at last, he lay all the way inside her – as, at last, she was his.

It was nothing she had ever felt before, and yet the feeling was one she thought she recognised. She had woken so many mornings empty and alone, and now, finally, what she was feeling was whole. The warmth that knowledge stirred inside her was like no other. She looked up at her lover, wanting to say something, express in some way just how she felt, but she couldn't find the words. Right then, it seemed she could only lie there and take him; remain joined with him. When Jareth smiled down at her, she knew that it was enough.

He supported himself with one arm rested across the pillows above her, cocooning her, using his free hand to stroke her cheek as he began to move, drawing back only to push further into her. There was pain as he sank deeper still, and she couldn't help but whimper softly, tensing beneath him. He stilled at once, stopping to kiss her deeply. It was both soothing and stirring, making her body long for more, ready for that friction. Ever so slowly she began to arch her hips upward for him, urging him on.

Encouraged, he began to move again, filling her in slow, sure strokes that seemed to set some new fire burning deep inside her. The flames were sweet, and soon the pain was lost to them, her pleasure rising anew. As he moved, he laid hot kisses on her mouth, her neck, her breasts, and soon she couldn't hold back the sighs and groans of delight that tumbled from her lips.

“Talk to me, love,” Jareth urged.

“It feels so … I … I don't kn- oh … oh.” Something seemed to shift into place inside her, and she loosed an incoherent cry of pleasure, louder than the last, and she saw him grin.

“Getting better?”

“Oh, yes,” she moaned.

“Mmm. Good.”

When she rocked her hips up to meet him again, harder now, it was good, and she wrapped her legs around his hips, urging him deeper. Together, they found a steady rhythm, and it grew faster as her body learned to accept it – to accept him – learning to love that exquisite sensation of fullness. As their lovemaking grew more heated, she saw her own pleasure reflected in his mismatched eyes, and his excitement only made her need him more. Her hands gripped his ass tightly, driving him to the hilt inside her, squeezing down around his cock and savouring the way his whole body seemed to jerk in response.

“Oh, Sarah,” he groaned. “My Sarah – mine at last.”

He took possession of her lips before she could reply, kissing her with real fire as he drove them both higher, toward some impossible peak. Their bodies rose and fell together, moving harder, faster, taking and giving, breathing with one breath, fucking with one pure intent. This was sex – this was what she had dreamed of, longed for all these years. The connection between them was more powerful than she could have ever imagined, and when she tipped her head back against the pillows to savour it, Jareth bent to kiss her neck, only adding to that blissful fire inside her.

Her hips began to lose their rhythm, growing desperate as she arched beneath him, burning for her release. She watched him as he, too, started to come undone above her, his eyes dark and wild with passion, leaning down to take hard, hungry kisses from her between his groans. When she could no longer stand it, her body drawing taut under his, Jareth seemed to sense it, those incredible eyes filled with need and awe, holding her own.

“Soon, love, soon. Come with me,” he said, and kissed her again.

Sarah moaned into his mouth as she finally gave to him, her hips arching up to take him deep as her climax took hold, rocking through her whole body. She tore her lips away from his to cry out, clutching tightly to his back as the pleasure overwhelmed her, burying her face against his trembling shoulder. As she called out to him, urging him to join her, she heard her king moan into her hair; felt his body stiffen atop hers as he came along with her, burying himself deep inside her, filling her at last.

When he had recovered enough to kiss her, it was more gentle this time, sealing their passion as their bodies still trembled with that ecstasy – trembled together.

Sarah smiled up at him, feeling starry-eyed, almost drunk on that pleasure. Never had he left her feeling so incredible – so much a woman. There was a deep ache between her thighs where he still filled her, but it was a good ache – one that only grew when she squeezed gently around him. The light she saw in his eyes was one she thought she might never tire of seeing. She leaned up to kiss him again, content right now to lie with him forever.

“How are you feeling, precious?” Jareth asked, and the huskiness of his voice, raw from their sex, sent goosebumps rippling up Sarah's arms. There was a confidence in his smile that said he already knew the answer.

“Amazing,” she heard herself say, and knew at once it was true. She felt like she was flying.

He murmured his agreement, before leaning down to mouth at her neck. “Worth the wait,” he said against her skin, speaking for them both. “I love watching you – feeling you – as you come. I could get used to this.”

There was a surge of warmth inside her chest – a happiness both that he would say such a thing, and in knowing she felt the same way. Nothing else mattered, cloaked in the safety and warmth of his body, the hands that stroked her face and hair doing as much to please her as the wild lust of their sex had. There was love there, in his every caress, and it would be so easy to live and die within his smile, reaching out to him in kind. She could forget everything but that desire and adoration he had awoken in her, everything that lay outside of his kingdom … his labyrinth …

The labyrinth.

There had been no real agreement between them this time – no reassurance from him that the trials outside would wait for them. He had told her atop the cliff that there was still at least an hour remaining, but that seemed a lifetime ago, now – long before their dancing, and the peach, and the new bliss they had found together. There was no telling how much time they had passed in his bed.

She had been so lost in his kiss and in his arms, so overwhelmed by the incredible heat of him inside her that all else had ceased to matter. Through the warm afterglow of their love, she felt the first stirrings of worry, drawing tightly around her body. She had wanted his love – taken it gladly – but had she really yielded everything in return to him for it?

“Sarah, sweet one, what is it? What's wrong?” he asked her.

There was concern in his voice, but she hardly registered it in light of her own. “Did the time run out yet?” she asked him. “Is it over?”

His eyes searched hers for a long time before he replied. “No, love,” he said, at last. The words were spoken softly, but there was a chill to them that pulled at her heart. “No, I don't believe it is.”

Chapter Text

Boss Of Me
Tell me when you're sad,
I wanna make it cool again.
I know you're feeling bad,
Tell me when you're cool again.

Who'd have ever thought of it?
Who'd have ever dreamed?
That a small town girl like you,
Would be the boss of me?

We fly through the night,
The tears on your lips.
Life has your mind and soul,
It spins on your hips.

Who'd have ever thought of it?
Who'd have ever dreamed?

Who'd have ever thought of it?
Who'd have ever dreamed?
That a small town girl like you,
Would be the boss of me?
Would be the boss of me?
Would be the boss of me...?

You look at me, and you weep for the free blue sky,
I look to the stars as they flicker and float in your eyes,
And under these wings of steel, the small town dies.

Who'd have ever thought of it?
Who'd have ever dreamed?

Who'd have ever thought of it?
Who'd have ever dreamed?
That a small town girl like you,
Would be the boss of me?

Who'd have ever thought of it?
Who'd have ever dreamed?
That a small town girl like you,
Would be the boss of me?
Would be the boss of me?
Would be the boss of me ...

Boss Of Me (David Bowie - The Next Day)

The Goblin King closed his eyes, alone and all at once finding himself far too weary of the world. It was easy enough to will himself into a memory far away from the present: a ballroom full of beautiful and distinguished guests, all dressed in lavish costumes, all filled with joy and excitement, all vying for his attention. Their chatter and laughter echoed in his ears, and when he opened his eyes again he was truly in their midst, moving among the ghostly recollections of his mind. Grinning masks surrounded him, men and women draped over one another, whispering, kissing, dancing – always dancing.

The memory was a particularly poignant one; there had been no such costumed balls for several years now, not since the last had ended so poorly. How they had danced that day, their king in a particularly jovial mood, still confident of his victory despite the best efforts of the foolish girl who had dared to challenge him. Dressed in his finest, he had been oblivious of the fact that she would soon bring the celebrations to a crashing halt, and him to his knees.

All of that remained in the future, though; in this memory, in their past, the dance went on. The costumed revellers were hazy at the edges, their voices not quite true, tinged with the aura of his magic, but she seemed real enough when she appeared before him. The party's newest guest was open-mouthed and wide-eyed with wonder, wheeling in amazement to gape at those around her. She was dressed in a shining silver gown both too young and too old to suit her, tainted as it was by her own mind's tangled thoughts, princesses in fairytales, and her perceptions of adulthood. She was a flower on the very brink of that last; a pretty enough sight, though nothing would compare to the woman she had yet to become. Such an innocent flower would easily be crushed in the mass of heaving, writhing bodies surrounding her with their impurity.

Jareth thought now, as he had back then, it was that innocence that had called to him, shy and overwhelmed as she was, first by his labyrinth, and now by this entirely new world of drunken, laughing guests and amorous lovers. Bringing her here, he had sought only to distract her from her quest, ensnaring her in his power, but now that she was here, she exuded some small power of her own, calling out to him to aid her. It had been her innocence that had bid him to go to her, a guide to draw her through the chaos and confusion of the crowd; a dance he would lead her on that would, in due course, set each of their worlds crumbling down around them.

Perhaps it had been destined even then, that one day she would come to him again, wide-eyed and so very beautiful, wanting for him to claim that innocence for his own once and for all. Even through her denial of his power, she had always looked to him that way – as her elder, her mentor, needing his guidance, and so eager to learn from him in the dreams they had later shared. As a king and as one far more well-versed in the ways of the world, he would always be above her, but all that had ceased to matter when, to his astonishment, he had begun to need her, too. The master had become weak, desperate, relying on his charge more than she had come to depend on him, hoping for more than she seemed willing to give.

Sweet words were one thing, elevating his senses when she spoke of longing and that tiny chance of love, but no man could live on promises alone. He had tried, and the past few years had been hellish with their endless waiting. She had sworn him everything, and left him with naught but a handful of dust and bitter memories – memories of a time when his power had been just as great as it always had, and he had bowed to no one.

In this memory, at least, he was free to move his own stars, denying the truth that had been. Instead of going to her, he remained in the shadows at the edge of the masked ball, watching as the younger Sarah lost herself amongst the crowd, always searching for him to save her, never losing that small, pathetic hope. Jareth found himself smiling, laughing almost. There is a bitter satisfaction in hurting those we love when they have first wounded us, and now he found himself basking in that hateful glow.

For a time, he supped on her bewilderment, tasting pleasure in her fear, finding his own glee paired nicely with the wine that ran like water though these raucous gatherings. He drank deep of both, revelling in their warmth, and that of the supple bodies surrounding him on all sides. His two female companions were hardly known to him – he had not bothered himself to go looking at what might have been revealed outside their masks – but their heated grinding and busy hands had already begun to arouse him regardless. In reality, he had stopped them back then, pulling away before they had gotten much further, choosing innocence and Sarah instead of desire and debauchery. In this new, carefree state inside his memory, he allowed for the fun to go on.

Smiling his satisfaction at such liberty, Jareth freed one woman from the lacings of her dress with nimble fingers, lowering the gown from her shoulders with ease. He took one breast firmly in his hand, squeezing the soft globe and grinning at the woman's equally soft sigh of pleasure. Not to be ignored, her companion snatched up his free hand at once, suckling at each of his fingers in turn to entice him. The Goblin King laughed, and dipped his hand inside the bodice of her gown, squeezing her breast hard enough to make her groan, her nipple quick to peak against his palm.

This is how the party should have unfolded – a belly full of wine, a warm and willing woman grasped in each hand, his cock straining against his trousers with the promise of what was still to come. The throng of merry guests around them made no difference as both women returned his caresses, their hands roaming freely over his body.

The first woman leaned closer, and he captured her mouth at once. Their kiss was slow and deep, tasting of alcohol and lust, and the power that had at long last become his again. By the time Jareth pulled back from it, his head was reeling with his excitement. The wine they shared poured freely over the first woman's bare breasts, her companion taking a nipple between red, smiling lips, while Jareth captured the other, lapping at her font with an eager tongue, drinking lustily as Bacchus had from his conquests.

Wine, and women, and no worries; how much he had missed, all for the sake of a snivelling mortal. He had hungered for no one but Sarah for years, true, but now he had finally rid himself of that craving, finding his satisfaction between her thighs at long last, who was to say he could not move on to lusher pastures? He grinned around the plump pink nipple he had claimed, grazing it with his teeth and relishing the nameless woman's moan.

Yet, when the Goblin King finally tore his attention away from the festivities, his ardour left him at once. Sarah – his Sarah, his mind still insisted – was weeping openly now, hope for salvation as lost as she herself was, frightened and miserable, swallowed up by the crowd.

The woman he had drank from reached out for him again with her welcoming warmth, but Jareth felt only coldness in his breast as he pushed her gently aside. The two women mourned the loss of him for but a moment, before losing themselves once more in their own pleasure without him. The Goblin King cared not. The pleasure he had felt had died with Sarah's tears – the single person in this room of many who truly mattered to him, weeping by his own doing.

The pleasant haze of his enchanted memory cracked and shattered as his own dismay pulled him back from it, drawing him back to cold reality. Yet, even in those last moments when it was already too late, he was pushing his way through the crowd to get to her, swiping at the wine that stained his lips, the grapes long dead and cloying on his tongue, trying in vain to wipe away that sickeningly-sweet pleasure he had tasted at her expense. He went to find her, to guide her as he always should have, but this time he did not reach her.

He came back to himself with a jolt, rubbing at his mouth in his shame before his eyes had even fully opened, but the only taste that haunted him was that of her. Try as he might, other women or no, there would be no blissful escape, no mending the damage that she had already done to him. He was Sarah's now, as he had been for years, the Goblin King kneeling at last to another.

Oh, but he was pathetic, lying on his back in his own bed – in his own castle – yet entirely enveloped in her. The sight of her as she had been only moments ago danced behind his eyelids with every blink, seeing her lost in pleasure beneath him, the taste of her still rich on his tongue. When he threw his arm back over his head, the smell of her hair came warmly from his pillows, and when he arched his hips, he could still feel the silken wetness of her around him. The smell of their sex was in the very air he breathed, intoxicating, and the heat their bodies had made together had yet to cool from his sheets. He was a prisoner in his own castle, the great Goblin King bested once again by a mere mortal.

Elixir, had he thought her? Poison? The woman was divine vengeance made corporal, hell twined with heaven in his bedsheets. There was a trace of Nemesis in every beguiling glance and flex of her smooth thighs, laughing in his face as she pulsed around him, as she demanded and then took from him her pound of flesh, squeezing it inside her. The climax she had pulled from him had been draining, sapping him of the very last of his power. Whatever crime the greater gods had found him guilty of, it was clear now he would be shown no mercy.

Through the blasted self-pity that had seized him, the anger was hot inside him as well – he could actually feel it burning inside his chest – but the worst of it was aimed at himself, as well as her. But for some pitying smile from those gods, it was likely to have been both the first and the last time he would ever be granted the feel of her in his arms, the heat of her body surrounding him, and he had soured it for them both. When she had questioned the time she had left, hinted at leaving him, he had done the deed for her, sending her back into that hellish labyrinth with her shoes and clothes magicked upon her back, and hardly a goodbye. His wounded pride had demanded no less.

He had given her everything and more – had all but rent his chest open and given her his heart. Still, still, she denied him. He had let her go, given her the freedom she had demanded all along, and could have seen himself rid of her, yet that deepest, most shameful part of his mind never would. He would go on torturing himself with the promise of her, re-opening that wound over and over, until she had finally grown weary of him, stealing from him even those last pitiful grains of hope for the future, and leaving him with peaceful agony at last.

In his current mind-frame, he would do well to welcome it when such a time came. This pitiful creature who had sat brooding in his castle all this time, staring deep into his crystal just to steal a glimpse of the one who would never truly be his – this was no king. Such loathsome behaviour was beneath him. He knew this even as he sat up in his bed, his fingers already curling to form another crystal so that he could look upon her the same way until the very end.

No. He would be bound in this wretched castle no longer – no more a prisoner to her will.

He redressed with no more than a muttered word, cloak and boots and all, a true king in all his splendour as he slipped from his lonely bed with renewed purpose. The half-formed crystal he tossed into the aether, before he called upon a deeper strength, and changed. The Goblin King left behind his castle and all who might seek it in a majestic beating of wings, a pale and beautiful bird of prey against the darkening sky.

He flew to escape everything, but it was impossible to ignore the sight of her far beneath him as he soared overhead – a precious jewel of deep green and pale skin set against an otherwise desolate landscape. It put him in mind of Zeus and Leda – the great and powerful god brought low by the promise of earthly sin, sweeping down in the guise of a noble and handsome swan to claim his mate in a fit of lust. He found such base desires were harder to ignore in his animal state, particularly now, with the new heat of her still fading from his loins. It was with some effort that Jareth climbed higher, his wings beating proud and resolute, his mind in tatters with thoughts of the woman who was his undoing.

She had come on leaps and bounds in the last few hours, allowing him to hope perhaps more than he had ever dared in the past, which made her reluctance seem all the more cruel to him. After all this time, she still treated whatever small affection she had for him – the small chance of their love – as a burden, rather than a blessing. He could no longer deny that the fact wounded far more than his pride. She had allowed for him to taste of her, and he knew he should be grateful for even that chance, but such sweetness only made him yearn for more.

There was not a soul in his kingdom who would dare deny the Goblin King whatever he so commanded, but this foul and oh-so-fair creature was not of his realm – she was not his. He would never command her, and what vicious hope he clung to that she would ever come to him of her own accord still refused to die, no matter how foolish such hope was. The agony of it was, he loved her enough to release her, if she asked it of him. Their game was over; perhaps from the very start, when she had returned his kiss, he had already been lost. Yet, still, his Champion moved on, steadfast and resolute in her intent to reach his castle, to break down his walls as she had so many years ago, leaving him defenceless and entirely broken once more.

He should send her home and have done with it; he should preserve the last of his dignity and pretend he would not spend the rest of her short mortal life clinging to the whispers of her world, begging the gods to once more hear his name upon her lips. He would not send her away though, not unless she asked, and not while time still remained to them – perhaps the last minutes she would ever be near to him again. When her time finally ran dry, she would see just how powerless he had become. A wise man would treasure those last few minutes, spending every second drinking in his last fill of her – a man resigned to the gallows, and determined to take in whatever last breath of life he can.

Instead, he flew, a coward unable to bring himself to look upon all he had lost.

In some confused way, he told himself he was trying to prepare for the future – that time after. There had been a labyrinth before Sarah Williams had come to destroy him, and unless he took care of it, it would continue to grow wildly out of control long after she had left him – long after her mortal bones had turned to dust beneath the ground, but never in his memory. He must set to rights all that had been corrupted in his labyrinth long before then – before he lost everything the same way he would one day lose her.

Melancholy was not a constructive mistress, and those small steps he might have taken towards restoring the balance in his realm seemed impossible – enormous. The crumbling walls and dying trees of the outskirts he flew over did not right themselves in his shadow, though with only a nod and a will, he could have made them do so. Such small matters were beneath him in his current state of mind, or so he told himself. He needed a greater exercise to occupy his clouded head and pounding heart, and, so thinking, his wings turned him towards one such challenge he had put off for far too long.

He found his human form again on the outskirts of the wastelands, and when the beast that lay at their centre roared in challenge, the Goblin King roared back, fit to shake the stones of the labyrinth itself. When the sound died, absolute silence reigned in its absence, but he knew better than to think the creature had been cowed into submission so soon. New fury blazed within him, and he embraced the chance to loose some of the frenzied tumult of emotions that battered at the inside of his skull, visions of love and betrayal, and the rotten peach that had been the start of it all. He raised a fist, and within it grew a crystal tarnished a deep and terrible orange, alive and pulsing with dark magic between his fingers, a grim imitation of the fruit.

He was half-tempted to set the whole cursed place alight and have done with it, but then he would rob himself of the confrontation, deny himself that chance to vent the blind sickness that enveloped him. Cursed with love, and with no hesitation, he strode into the tall grasses to meet the beast head on, hand raised and prepared to do battle. He pushed on bravely, fist full of dark magic and hell bent on making something pay for his displeasure. The straggling weeds bowed before him, but the scent of her hair seemed to cling to every wretched one, giving them their own beauty, and in the end he found he could not go on. Another angry cry tore from his throat at such cruel distraction, less forceful this time, but he heard the creature rumble in response, sounding oddly chastened.

Jareth laughed aloud, shaking his head as his tantrum subsided somewhat. The pain of another would not heal his own, and it would be unseemly to subject even such a foul creature to his rage, simply because he wasn't strong enough to control his urges. He closed his fist, sealing away the crystal's awful power with it.

“A warning, then,” he called out to the beast. “Mind yourself, and we might find some place in my kingdom for you yet.” He took wing again, without waiting for whatever might pass for a reply.

Flying above the forest she had run through, in all her desperation to find him, he sensed her again, her sheer presence calling out to his mind as loudly as if she had spoken in his ear. When he stooped lower, reaching for her now, he found the smallest swatch of silken fabric caught amongst the trees. It was a scrap from her gown, barely an inch wide and fraying where it had torn away from her sleeve. Its absence had been noticed by neither of them in their passion, but now the material became the centre of a king's attention as the owl became the man once more, held as reverently as a rare and precious jewel. Jareth turned it carefully between his fingers, holding onto that sense of her, yet still feeling that there must be something more close-by. He flew on, the scrap tucked safely away into a white sleeve that once more grew wings.

The trees receded beneath him, the land dropping steeply away, and there it was. There, upon the cliff's stony edge, he spied the enchanted boots he had pulled from her feet – a small and sorry heap, cast aside without a second thought. They were grey and lifeless, leached of the magic that had protected her, that he himself had instilled them with. Another piece of her; another reminder.

He regained his true form again beside them, thinking how easy it would be to add these to his collection – to worship the boots as well as the one who had worn them. A reluctant smile curled his lips. He was not so far gone yet, nor would he allow himself to be. A lift of his hand brought a clear and glowing crystal to life in his palm. He lifted it to his lips, blowing upon it as softly as one might send on a lover's kiss, and the shimmering orb took flight, drifting on the breeze until it reached its target. The boots caught alight at once, licked with pale blue flame.

Jareth watched them burn, feeling the smile fading from his face, some new coldness creeping into his chest. Still, he hesitated only a moment before adding the scrap of her gown as well, dropping it into the small fire that had blossomed. The green satin was gone almost at once, eaten away by the flames. It was as good a tribute as he would ever manage, this solemn goodbye, knowing that when the time came, he would never be able to bring himself to visit the last resting place of his beloved's mortal remains.

He forced a laugh, cursing himself once more for a fool. Only minutes ago, he had felt her warm and wet and willing against him, surrounding him with her joy and vitality. She was still young, with many years before her; a vision of life, and here he was contemplating death for the second time that day. Foolish indeed, and yet he knew that human lives – as were the lives of so many creatures outside of his kind – were so, so short …

There was something to be said for this owl form though, he thought, as he grew wings once more. They were magnificent creatures, and how he envied them their simple lives right then. Tawny owls, in particular, were solitary creatures up until such time as they found a mate, and then the pair would remain bonded for life, fiercely protective of one another, and what offspring they might have. When one mate died, the other would, more often than not, be soon to follow.

Still, the act of their coming together was far simpler than the past years he himself had suffered through. The male would court, pitching woo with a call, and a choice morsel to tempt his intended. How, at any other time, that might make him laugh at the irony, given it had taken the removal of such a morsel before his own mate saw fit to accept him. Even now, there was no promise of anything between them beyond the remainder of the day, let alone the many seasons.

A part of him could not quite believe the sex had been the end of it all. A single act of physical love between them – the truest display of affection his kind knew – and then this infernal nothingness. With any normal conquest, he would reminisce on their time together with joy and lust, the memory made all the sweeter when he thought back on how he had seen and coveted, greeted and wooed, and then finally taken his lover. His time with Sarah had been sweet enough while it lasted, but now the memory left a bitter cast over his thoughts; with her, their lovemaking had felt oddly like saying goodbye.

He had promised her – warned her – that he would come to worship only the body of his queen, and the words had been true enough when he had spoken them. How quickly his resolve had crumbled, though, faced with such powerful longing in her eyes – at last, in the flesh, longing for him. He had foolishly let himself hope that there was love, mixed with that lust. He would forever be under her spell, and no doubt hurt fit to die when her own time came – if she, in her trying nature, was not the death of him first. It was a fact he had long since accepted, but one that vexed him even so. He was bound to his cruel and cold mistress for good, but for now, the air was warm and freeing against his body, and he embraced it.

He flew ever higher, courting the sun like Icarus, allowing for its rays to kiss his wings before barrelling down towards earth, only to repeat such divine courtship anew. He rose and fell on the breeze, thinking of life and death, love and loss.

He landed again on the outskirts of what passed for his kingdom's crypts: a vast field that spread for miles and miles around, long grass bursting from the fertile earth in rich, snowy-white clusters. There were no earthly remains to bury when the fae kind passed on, but after the many eons bonded together, the magic that consumed the last of their bodies went to ground here, erupting into colossal living crystals, their smooth facets catching the light of the sun and turning the pale grass around them into an opulent spectrum of all colours.

Some crystals had barely peeked their heads above the soil, as small and delicate as newly-seeded plants, their owners lost to the living realm only a matter of centuries ago. Others towered overhead, shimmering rainbow columns that reached longingly toward the sky in all their majesty. Some stood alone, but others were in pairs; sometimes, in the cases of those who had found solace in life with multiple partners, the crystals clustered in threes and fours.

At the centre of this great field, Jareth could already see the area where the crystals grew their brightest. It was a place he refused ever to tread, though it was where he himself would end eventually, and, somewhere amongst the dazzling glow, he knew, was that of his own parents and the ancestors that had come before them. In that most special place, the magic was at its strongest. It was said that you could hear the voices of the long dead, faint but there all the same, talking and rejoicing amongst themselves forever – for how could they not? Every single crystal there had its mate, standing equally tall and proud beside them – a companion whose love and laughter would illuminate the very air surrounding them for all eternity.

It was the resting place of every last goblin king, and his queen.

 

Chapter Text

The Devil's Carnival
Run, little blind mice,
Scurry down the trail;
Chop! Goes the farmer's knife,
Coming for your tails!

At bedtime, tales and fables,
For your greedy hearts;
Some have razors,
Some have keys.
How they end depend,
On how you play your part.
Unfortunately, how you played your part,
Has got you here!

Sing a song of six-pence!
A pocket for our king!
Sire, let me hold the reins,
While you pluck your fiddle-strings!

Keep your hands and arms,
And legs and head,
About you at all times.
Use discretion;
Stay alert!
And pick the pace up, tortoise,
As the gate smacks your behind.
Welcome to eternity,
Now eat your just desserts!

We're in the Devil's Carnival,
Come one, come two, come all,
Devil's Carnival!
You're in the Devil's Carnival,
You can't help but fall,
Devil's Carnival!

You can't help but fall...

- TDC

She didn't know what they were playing for any more.

He had sent her back out into his labyrinth, given her those last precious minutes to try and win, but she found herself with absolutely no idea of what she was supposed to do, no idea of what she wanted to do.

She had wanted her choice back – her freedom – but oh, god, not like this. He had given her sweetness beyond compare, and then snatched it away so cruelly, leaving her with the threat of bitter tears and a sourness that would not leave her mouth. Used, it said; he used me. The worst of it was, despite her sadness, despite the need to blame him, she remained level-headed enough to know it wasn't true. She had seen the pain in his eyes before he had willed her away, but that did not make his decision any less cruel. He had taken from her all she had to offer, given all of himself in the same way, but once again he had left her cold and alone.

Cast out, cast aside, she had wasted those first few minutes of freedom, shocked into near-sobbing, breathing hard, deflowered and utterly, hopelessly distraught. She needed someone to touch her, hold her, but the only man she had ever trusted enough to do so was the very source of her pain. It occurred to her that if she were to speak his name, welcoming him again, Jareth would no doubt, in his love for her, oblige, in spite of the new rift that had been opened between them. He would give her anything – everything – if she only dared ask it, but right then she could not. She couldn't give him the satisfaction, even at the price of her own unhappiness, and so she fought to keep from weeping instead, the tears that wanted to fall enough to drown out their time together.

The shadow of some great bird passed overhead, but she did not look up at it, hoping, in all her pain, that he was at least hurting too. Bitterness wasn't the greatest step upwards from sadness, but it was at least enough to get her moving at last, walking towards the great castle that stood in the distance.

It was hard going at first; she was so very tired. Both of them had been through more than enough that day, her entire world turned on its head with all the trials and long-hidden emotions she had been forced to face, and yet it still wasn't over. She had asked for her time, and he had given it to her. Generous to the last, she thought, with a bitter little smile.

From the beginning, he had sought nothing more than to trap her here, keeping her for his very own; she would be the poor princess captured by the villain and locked away from everything, like the ones in so many fairy stories she had read. She had fought this dark king tooth and nail, resisting the urge to give in to him, but in the end it had all been for nothing. The more she had seen of him, the harder it was to ignore her feelings, impossible to deny that she shared the passion and longing he so clearly felt for her.

With every step she had taken in his labyrinth, she had been brought closer to victory, and yet also a step closer to him, learning that the helpless need she had felt all this time had been a shared one, learning that more than lust had kept her wanting him all these years. He had severed the bond between them, but she remained trapped here all the same, bound to him, cursed to go on wanting him. Unfettered, there was nowhere she longed to fly but back into his arms.

You have no power over me. The words were as true now as they were back then. There was nothing keeping her here, save for her own stubborn refusal to let go. Though she no longer truly wanted to be free of him, she had resisted the idea of giving in to him completely, and for what? To spend another hour traipsing along a path that, in the end, would lead her nowhere? She had already won her victory; there was nothing in his castle that could make leaving here any easier. The castle was where it had last ended between them, and there it was where they would say their cold goodbyes again. The irony that she had been sent out from within its very walls, only to seek it again did not escape her, but to have ended their game in his bed would have meant …

She didn't want to think of what it meant.

The pain of his dismissal was enough for her to fret upon; to be cast so cruelly from his bed seemed unforgivable, and yet deep inside, a part of her screeched bitter laughter at the fact. She had kept him at arm's length for years, starting with that first cruel rejection, and stretching on into the stubbornness that had kept them apart all this time, brought together only by her drunken whim. It made the pain no easier, but how that dark part of her mind revelled in that sting. Have your piece of cake, Sarah, it said. Have it, and choke down every last bite. She had gotten herself into this whole mess, and now only she could get herself out.

She couldn't see a clear answer, couldn't call upon him for help, a prisoner to her own thoughts … and thinking hurt so goddamn much. So, swiping away her brimming tears, she concentrated on walking instead. Walking was safer, blocking out all else except the need to push on through the pain, fighting towards an end she was no longer sure she even wanted. Hills and paths, rocks and trees blurred around her, her surroundings unimportant, focusing only on what lay dead ahead: the Goblin City, and beyond it, the castle. Her eyes never wavered from her goal as her steps began to pick up speed, filled with new determination.

The blood sang through her veins, her muscles pumping with adrenaline as her steps grew faster, more sure of themselves. Her breath became heavy in her throat as she moved from a gentle trot to a slow jog. Soon, she was running flat-out, her feet flying over the rough ground beneath them. All she had to concentrate on was the wind on her cheeks and in her hair, the steady thump of her feet moving forwards, one in front of the other. When her thoughts threatened to chase her down, she had only to move faster, keeping her eyes set on that goal, letting it be the only thing that mattered.

He had turned her loose, and now she ran; from him – from everything.

She didn't know what they were playing for any more, but she ran all the same.

She ran until every gulp of air she took burned in her throat, hearing the rasp and whistle of her own breathing, only realising it had finally turned to sobs when the first hot tears hit her cheeks. She came to an abrupt halt around a half-mile from the city walls, in what appeared to be the outskirts of some threadbare and meagre woodlands. No city of junk here this time to confuse her, she thought bitterly – the only garbage was the teeming mess that was her mind. She threw her back against the nearest tree for some solidity as she wheezed and wept, pressing both hands to her mouth to stifle the cries that threatened to overwhelm her. She sucked in air through her fingers, and even still, the occasional braying sob escaped, and she was helpless to stop them. Finally, she sank down against the tree trunk, curled her arms tightly around her knees, and simply wept.

It's just sex, Sarah; stop this – you need to get over it. I'm pretty sure lots of women are disappointed their first time, and now you're no different. Suck it up – there'll be other men eventually.

That thought was of little comfort, particularly as she hadn't been disappointed at all – not until now, when it was over. Her first time had been as wonderful as she had ever dreamt it could be. Her lover's every kiss, his every touch set her skin on fire, leaving her tingling with their intensity, her heart beating that little bit faster just from being near to him. If it was just sex, why did the thought of having anyone besides him send her stomach turning in on itself, all but winded just by the idea of being without him? She had denied it all – denied him – for too long, and now it was all too much, every emotion a weight she could not hope to bear alone.

How she longed for her friends of old, then, false though she knew they were. Hoggle, and Ludo, and Sir Didymus. Those precious illusions had followed her out of the labyrinth, making her long-ago victory all the sweeter with their dancing and laughter. Truly, she had been a champion, back then, bending the labyrinth's power to suit her own will, conjuring one last goodbye to those imaginary friends that had aided her on her quest.

Though they had walked with her in the dreams she had, she had never again been able to call them to her in person, no matter how hard she had wished in her bedroom mirror. Eventually, she had let them fade away, discarding them as she discarded her old toys and costumes as more adult things came into her life, and into her dreams. Thoughts of Jareth – that very real, very adult companion – had outweighed all other thoughts of monsters and magic, but how much simpler it would have been to go back to that one last celebration with her childhood friends, putting off all painful thoughts of adulthood for good.

When she returned Aboveground this time, life would go on as it always had, but there would be no songs and laughter to celebrate her victory this time; she would be alone. She had always been alone, to some degree, preferring her stories and fanciful daydreams to the cold real world; a quiet evening with a book was always better than a crowded party. In the real world, she had her family and her handful of friends, but there was also that vague sense of horror at becoming older, normal, of ever losing that spark of interest she had in the strange and the fantastical. Small wonder, then, that the man to delight her dreams had been straight out of some dark fairytale, rather than some handsome hunk in a suit.

She hated her dark fairytale king right then, but found herself wanting more of him even still – more of what she had only tasted so far. There was still the pleasant ache of having him at his deepest inside her, the memory of his hands and lips against her skin; the look in his eyes as he had loved her. She wanted those things again, wanted to forget everything but that feeling of utmost warmth and passion that had burned between them. Most of all though, she wanted what would come after – that nameless something she had so far been denied.

Through her tears, her mind sent up bitter-sweet images of happier things, normal things: sunny afternoons spent lazing in Jareth's comforting arms; long, cold evenings wrapped up tightly in his loving warmth. She had been alone for so long, and she needed something to hope for, some promise of what would come after all this, even though she knew it could not be. He was the only man she had ever wanted, the only one she had ever found herself in need of, but he would never be a 'normal' man, any more than what life they could ever hope to have together would be 'normal'.

Perhaps, from the moment she had first set foot inside his world, she had been doomed never to have a 'normal' life.

Jareth was as far from a 'normal' man as she could get. He was the most beautiful man she had ever laid eyes on, but when he held her in his arms, it was more than mere beauty that made her long to stay there forever. There was a warmth there that she had never felt in even the most heated of her dreams – a need for him that ran far too deeply inside her to be called lust. The best of it was, looking into his eyes and truly seeing him at last, she knew he felt the same. Behind the teasing, behind the sharp wit and the verbal sparring, he had laid his emotions bare; he worshipped her, would live and die for her, if only she would go to him, and admit she would be willing to do the same.

It was him, and yet it was also more: it was the magic she had felt in this realm, the sense of mystery and romance at his masked ball. The Underground was her Neverland, its many secrets ones she longed to explore, its king the one who had captured her interest and her heart so completely that no mortal man had ever stood a chance. Ah, but there was that terrible thought of normalcy again. A normal man would not need her to bow before him; a fae king, however, would. She would not simply be his lover, nor his girlfriend; she would be his queen.

At least Peter Pan had never had to grow up, playing the kid forever. Here, far from some dream of Neverland, she would be very much the adult, thrust into the limelight, ruling an entire kingdom … or half of it, at least, with her king ever at her side. Even without the other thoughts troubling her, that idea of ruling terrified her. She knew nothing of laws and decrees and royal audiences; hell, she knew nothing of marriage. Even worries of kingdoms and subjects paled in comparison to that deeper fear of him.

Though Jareth had done his best to reassure her, she could not help but think he might one day grow weary of her, leaving her entirely alone in this new and strange world. She was more afraid than she had ever been, of the feelings she was struggling to keep reined in; of losing him; of actually having him for her own at last. There had been no one else, but only because she had wanted no one else. She had longed for him, and only him all this time, and let herself come to hate him because of it.

She was so confused, so very tired, and her mind kept insisting on how much easier it would be to just let Jareth decide – let him win. If she were to agree to become his queen …

Would he truly be winning, if the prize was one they both now desired?

It was madness, really. She had spent countless mornings cursing the very thought of him, wishing for a way out of the dreams, an escape from that seemingly endless wanting, and now it seemed she couldn't bring herself to leave – to finally wake up. By all rights, she should have grabbed the chance and run the moment he rid her of the enchanted peach, free at last, embracing that chance of having a normal life. The truth of it was, in spite of everything that had happened between them – perhaps because of all that had unfolded between them – she still wanted him; she still wanted to go on wanting him.

He could not force her to stay – did not have power enough to force her into becoming his – but that longing she felt had made her his regardless. She had no doubt in her heart now that she had let herself fall in love with him, the bond she had felt between them far stronger than any magic he might once have thrown her way, and that love had made her weak.

With a sigh, she lifted her head, knocking it firmly against the tree trunk behind her. There she was, bawling like a baby, and actually considering his offer like it wasn't the craziest idea in the world. It really wasn't fair. Having to deal with falling in love was one thing; having to love the Goblin King was something else entirely. She was supposed to have won, supposed to have been free of him, and god, she was angry, but there was no one to turn that anger on now but herself. She was alone in some strange world she both loved and hated, with nothing but her own tears and self pity, and it disgusted her. This wasn't the same girl who had once made a king bow to her will.

Get it together, Sarah. You're being ridiculous, and you're running out of time.

Time – so little of it left to go. The city gates lay open, the castle in reaching distance, but what lay beyond it? An eternity either way, of solitude or near servitude, and still she couldn't decide which was worse. Either way, she knew she had to get moving again soon.

When her sobs at last began to taper off, she took in her surroundings, and saw they were as miserable as she herself was. On her first visit, she had been come through a city made entirely of garbage to reach the Goblin City, but somehow this was even worse. The towers of junk that had tarnished her last visit here were nowhere in sight; in their place, small, pitiful trees struggled to raise their trunks from the dry orange soil, their thin branches looking weak enough to snap in the breeze. They made for a pathetic sight to match her mood, made all the worse through her sniffles and the odd tears that just kept on escaping. Everything around her seemed pale and wan, trees and scrubby bushes dry and close to dying, lacking that all-important hope. She knew just how they felt.

She sniffled loudly, swiping at her damp cheeks with the backs of her hands. So, what, then? Surrender to him, and spend the rest of her long life playing the fairytale queen, playing at romance reading sonnets and weaving flowers into her true love's hair? She had to snort at that – the preening Goblin King would hardly let her do anything that might mess up his flowing blonde locks. It was a ridiculous dream, the ideas of staying with him, but here she was, dreaming it anyway, wondering in what conceivable way it could ever become a reality. As much as they had hurt one another, she knew it could be overcome – it was the thought of that lifetime that would come after that pained her most of all.

After all, whatever decision she came to would affect both of them; she would shape both of their eternities.

It was surprising just how much it pained her to think of him being left alone. No, she corrected herself, not just alone – in pain. How strange it seemed that only the barest thought of that pain – his pain – made it her own, cutting too sharply to be called mere pity. She had held his heart hostage all this time, and just wanted to end that torment. Still, even through that pain, she knew her decision would again need to be a selfish one – one she could, beyond any shadow of doubt, name her own. If her heart wasn't entirely in it, it would be crueller on them both if she stayed. It would be kinder to leave him here alone.

He would never be truly alone, she realised – there would always be the memory of the dreams, and the time they had shared together that day, however brief, to haunt him. There would always be that connection between them, the longing that would never quite fade away. Through all her muddled thoughts, she found it was that sense of longing that finally got her on her feet; got her moving again. If nothing else, she owed it to them both to finish this. Neither of them had anything left to give; it would be cruel to make him come searching for her when their time finally came to an end. When – if – she said her goodbyes, she had to be strong enough to do it in person, at his castle, rather than snivelling here at his city gates.

With still no real idea of what her decision would be, she walked on, her mind full of tangled thoughts, dreams and realities.

Was it so wrong to long for more than the dreams, for that infinite bounty she knew he offered her? He had laid everything at her feet: an eternity, an entire kingdom; its king on his knees before her. So much power of her own, whilst his pleas for the same went unanswered. That was what everything came back to – power. How she hated it, right then. She had a choice to make, and it was hers alone – a lifetime to decide upon. Selfish though it was, maybe even crazy, god help her, she found herself leaning towards him.

She made her way through what seemed to be an entirely abandoned Goblin City, bereft of life, with hide nor hair of its strange and unruly citizens to be seen. Not a single guard had been posted, and that in itself spoke volumes of her imminent victory. Her tired feet took her through narrow, dusty alleyways, but her mind remained elsewhere, somewhere perhaps just as dusty and lonely, lost in that infernal battle for power.

She had asked him if that power was more important than love, needing to know which desire was stronger in him. She had never gotten her answer, and now she realised she had yet to ask herself the same question, afraid of what it might uncover. Even in the most heated of her dreams, the only power he had ever wielded was that which she had allowed him to have. She could no longer deny that submitting to him sexually did anything less than thrill her – both of them knew all too well just how sweetly a journey down that road would end – but over other aspects of her life; over her?

Such submission wasn't possible. He didn't get to win her that way.

She had earned her freedom by beating him once; she was only a matter of minutes away from doing it again – and none too soon, either. Though she wore no watch, she knew her time must almost be up by now, his grand clock poised to strike thirteen and make an end to their game. She had to push past these doubts and hurry, if she wanted to best him again, but still her thoughts held her in place. No matter what he had said to her, and how he had crowed about claiming his own victory over her, she was the one with the real power, the one who had faced hardships untold and dangers unnumbered; the one who had faced a king head on, and made him crumble in defeat. She was the true winner, the Champion of the labyrinth-

She was as stubborn as he was.

The sole reason she couldn't allow to win was that, in doing so, she would be admitting defeat, sharing the power that had always been hers.

Power. Always power.

Becoming aware of a coolness against her palm, she realised that she had curled a fist around the moonstone at her throat. Protection. Love. A gift from the man who had already given her all else he had to offer … including his surrender. He knew there was nothing he could do to keep her here if she didn't want to stay. He had already accepted that she would leave him, and all the pain it would bring, but still he had given her all that she asked for, even up to the end. He had admitted the mistakes he had made, and let them go; he had let her go.

At first, he had tried to demand her love, and she had baulked because, in spite of his generosity, her heart had owed him nothing; she was no prize, no matter how much he had wanted to win her for his own, growing impatient when she would not respond. Mere love did not, in itself, deserve love, earn love back in kind like some cheap trade, but a gift of love, given freely …

Sarah found that was worth far more to her than anything he had given her so far. It was as honest and pure as the moonstone he had placed around her neck; she would leave him with nothing, no return of his affections, and instead of hating her for it, he would let her go, and go on loving her just the same. Could she say the same for herself? Could she ever be selfless enough to truly give her own love, letting it reign regardless of what she got back in return; even if it meant surrendering, her heart left open and vulnerable as she gave up some of her own power?

Was love more important than power?

There was a warmth in her chest, a small flicker of hope inside her which said that it was. Another gamble, another risk, but she had played this far and she couldn't give up.

Slowly, but a little more certainly, she began to walk a little faster, clinging to that hope when there was nothing else left to guide her.

She climbed the stairs to the castle's heavy double doors, seeing that this time, they stood open, waiting for her entry. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, making one last attempt to gather the tattered threads of her thoughts, trying to figure out what she would possibly say to him when they met at last – when, one way or another, the game came to an end. She would pass through his throne room, and up more stairs to take her to the place where she had last claimed her triumph, but by crossing this last threshold, this new victory would be all but won. When her eyes opened again, she took those last few steps.

Her right foot was almost beneath the doorway when she realised she couldn't do it. Her eyes widened with realisation, and something she felt was close to regret, her travel-worn and dusty boot drawing up short.

Not power after all; it was pride.

She had been wrong. Her mind raced over Jareth's earlier words:

'It all boils down to desire, and ego. I want you to be mine, and my pride will stand for no less.'

She hadn't asked him about power; she had asked him if his pride was more important than the love he felt for her, but she had never gotten her answer. Now, she feared that she finally had. True love would come before pride; true love would mean no games to be won, no needless vanity between them. True love could never allow their time together to come to an end this way.

No matter how far she had come, no matter how much she wanted to, no matter how hard her heart was screaming at her to go to him, she knew she couldn't allow herself to enter. There was only one way out of this whole mess still open to her, and she wouldn't find it inside these walls. She backed away from the archway, backed away until she had almost reached the top of the stairs that had brought her here. Thirteen hours and many miles she had taken to travel here, but she would go no further that day.

More hot tears stung her cheeks as slowly, she turned her back on his castle – on him.

Chapter Text

In All My Dreams I Drown (reprise)
I closed my eyes, heave ho, heave ho,
As the ship was rent and felled.
Eddies in the water headed,
To the mouth of Hell.

"Hush, now; hush, love - here's your gown."
"There's the bed, lantern's down."
I'm begging you please wake me up ...

- TDC

His Champion stood at his gates, but she did not enter.

Seated in his throne once more, the Goblin King looked into the cruellest and most generous of his crystals yet. It was the one that would show to him – time and time again if he so willed to torture himself with it – the moment his Sarah came to him, and took from him his last chance at true happiness. It would show such a moment, if only she would enter. Instead, she baulked at the castle's threshold, teetering on the brink for just a moment, refusing to go on. It appeared she had stopped playing their perplexing game, and immediately every part of him demanded to know why.

This was the moment he had perhaps been waiting for all along, inevitable, filling him with terror and longing, and now she seemed about to deny them both of it. Not for the first time, Jareth turned his face upward and called upon the greater gods to grant him power – power to see exactly what was going on inside his beloved's brilliant and beautiful mind. As usual, he was granted no such reprieve. His heart had risen to terrifying new heights when she had been but a step from victory, and now it plummeted as she gave her retreat – even more so when she turned her back upon him.

He vowed she would not be rid of him so easily.

New determination rose up within him. He was a king after all, not some cowering, snivelling Bog-beast. If she was to refuse him a second and final time, she would do so to his face.

With but a muttered word, he stood outdoors, the castle at his back; before him, the woman who continued to torture him in the most wonderful, most impossibly cruel of ways. He knew he made for an intimidating sight in his full regalia, cape and all, but it was a sight she did not care to see. She continued to give him her lovely back, though the sight only served to dismay and anger him.

“Sarah, what is the meaning of this?” he demanded. When she did not answer, did not even lift her head at his voice, he stiffened, not too worried to take offence at the insult. His gloved hand clenched at the stone archway, as he forced himself not to go to her. “Sarah, I'm warning you, I will not be made a fool of.” Still, she gave him nothing, and he was helpless not to go to her, helpless not to bow to her whim yet again.

He closed the small distance between them. “Look at me. Look at me, gods damn you.” His hands lifted, meaning to take her shoulders and force some last confrontation to take place. Then, he let them drop to his sides. She was beyond his touch, beyond his control, as she always had been. “Sarah, please. I ask so little. Don't let it end this way – at least allow me that.”

By some mercy, she did.

 

.o0o. You have no power over me .o0o.

 

When she turned to face him, Sarah saw the way his eyes widened. Jareth drew back slightly, giving her a moment to feel ashamed of what she knew must be a set of reddened eyes and tear-blotchy skin. Then, he cupped her cheek, the leather of his glove cool and soothing against her skin, the edges of his cape blowing around them, enfolding the both of them and shielding her from the outside world.

“I never meant to hurt you again, love. I just wanted … I had to …” He sighed deeply. “I needed you gone, Sarah. I've tried not to let my feelings come into this but … I'm sorry.”

She made herself shrug. “It's okay. I understand. It doesn't matter. I'm just sick of this … this never-ending war between us; I'm done fighting.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Then what is it that stopped you?”

Sarah only shrugged again, chewing at the inside of both lips to keep her mouth busy. If she didn't, if she allowed herself to start speaking, thinking

Jareth continued to stare into her eyes, searching for what she wasn't giving him. Finally, clearly no wiser and reluctant for the fact, he released her cheek, and took a careful step backwards, giving her space; she could go on, or go back – god knew how much she wanted to do both right then. Instead, she remained still, burning under the Goblin King's scrutiny.

“The doors are open,” he said at last. She could not help noticing his tone was as clipped and cautious as his movements.

“I know.”

A wry smile curved his lips. “You never could make things easy, could you, precious?” With a sigh, he backed off even further, gesturing towards the doors. “Time's almost up. Let's end this.”

Sarah wavered for a moment, but still she did not move, her teeth now worrying a deep groove into her lower lip. Her refusal had clearly unsettled the unflappable Goblin King; he seemed to reject her very stillness, rebel against it, almost, constantly in motion. He shifted his weight from one booted foot to the other and then back again, stopping just shy of starting to pace. His expression strove for indifference, but his lips were pulled into a tight, thin line, the fingers on each hand popping and twitching, restless. Finally, he spoke up again, his words darkened with anger.

“What game do you still insist on playing? Haven't I shamed myself enough for you? If you want me to send you back to your world, then just say the words and have done with it.”

“I don't want to go back. Not yet.”

“Then what do you want, Sarah? Haven't you demanded enough of me?” Clearly itching to move, he closed the distance between them again, and though she saw the brief hesitation in his eyes, his hands were firm as they closed around her upper arms. “I've given you all I have left to give you: time. You insisted on it, and now you waste what little there remains of it. What more could you possibly hope to win?”

The ridiculousness of it surprised her into laughter, though it was without much real humour; only she could dare to laugh in the face of the Goblin King, and hope to come away unscathed. Judging from his expression, he was unamused. She met his narrowed eyes, refusing to look away. “Win? Haven't you figured it out yet? I'm losing, Jareth– losing like you always wanted me to do.”

Guarded as he always was, her words left him entirely open, this time unable to hide his surprise from her. His eyes widened, the hands holding her losing enough of their grip that Sarah thought he might go reeling backwards. Still, he regained his composure quickly enough, scowling down at her, his hands tightening once more. He began to stroke her arms with his thumbs, as though by instinct, and it took him a moment to stop himself. “Are you trying to absolve yourself of blame by deliberately losing to me?”

He didn't understand – she had only just begun to herself.

“When I told you that you had no power over me, it was true. It's still true,” she told him. “You can't force me to stay here against my will, you can't force me to feel the things that you feel … and, as we've already proven, you can't even make me go through a door unless I want to. That idea of being weak, of being made to feel powerless, just because of another person … no.”

She was hurting him, she could see it in the subtle tightening of his jaw; she pushed on. “But that's the way it's always been with you and me. We felt something for one another, and neither of us knew how to handle it. I've never felt like this before; I had no basis for comparison, and even though you're more, well, sexually experienced … I don't think you did, either. I don't think you've ever really loved someone until now.”

Jareth said nothing. She went on. “You've had lovers, partners, but never anyone who took your heart and turned you down. You begged me, threatened me, tried to trick me … all because I'd hurt your pride, and there is power in pride – power that you wanted back. I took that from you, so you tried to strip mine from me. You wanted me to spend my days and nights thinking about you and only you, wanting you; powerless, just like you were … and I did want you.” She swallowed, wanting no more than to go back to silently chewing her lip, but knowing she had to get it all out at last.

“I wanted you more than anything, and spent so much time telling myself it was just sex, that it'd go away if only the dreams would end. I kept telling myself I couldn't feel anything for a man who only wanted to … to fuck me … that I couldn't submit to someone who only wanted to rule me. Even though you said you'd be my slave, I'd be the one having to give up my dignity and call on you, admitting I wanted you. And you … you tried to make me lose – you would have won me, made me stay here, and never had to give up your dignity again by asking me to. Pride, messing up both our lives, but you managed to admit you were wrong before I did. You helped me from the start; you set me free.”

Something unreadable flickered across his face, then was gone behind that careful mask he maintained, hidden from her once more, no matter how hard she looked. Jareth returned her stare. “And I suppose you want me to do that begging now?” he asked. “Must I fall down on my knees and plead with you to leave me; tell you I was wrong, how I've changed my mind about wanting you confined here?”

“I don't expect – or want – anything like that. This isn't about what you want … this can't be about you.”

He shook his head. “How can you expect me to live with this, knowing you've given up at the last hurdle, knowing you've chosen to bind yourself to me out of … what? Some misplaced sense of pity for me?”

Sarah felt herself smile. “You really think I pity you, after all I've been through today?” When he made as though to speak, she overrode him. “I know – it's been hard for us both. It's been awful … but sometimes, like … like before … it's been wonderful, too. When we were honest with each other – no games, no struggles for power – it was better than any dream. When you're forced into submission, driven into doing things for someone because there's something to gain, or there's no other choice, that's one thing,” she said, with a grimace. “But when you find yourself wanting to do those little things because you care, looking out for someone, and asking nothing in return, like you have today … that's not obligation; that's affection … and I do feel it towards you. I can admit that.”

“You've felt powerless all this time, stripped of pride. Well, I know now: pride isn't more important than affection … than what I want. You lost to me once, and we can't go on if there's still that imbalance of power between us. If it's what you need from me, to prove we're on the same level, then I'm not too proud to do it – I'm not too proud to lose to you. We could carry on like this forever, lusting after one another, tormenting one another, but now … now it can finally be over.”

As if summoned by her words, there came the first thundering chime of the great clock from within the castle – the first of thirteen. Sarah's eyes flicked towards it, and then back to him, seeing the way his whole body seemed to stiffen.

“Sarah.” His voice was low and urgent, his pale eyes wide beneath their curious markings. “Sarah, you can still-”

She shook her head. “Not enough time. Even if I run, we both know I'd never make it. It's over, Jareth. I lose.”

Heat flashed in his glare. “You had time,” he hissed. “If you'd only entered the castle and climbed the stairs instead of this … this.” He seemed to shake off his anger, desperation clouding his eyes as the clock rang out, on and on towards its final toll. “Time … I … I can lay more at your feet if I must, but-”

“Don't you dare. Just … please, let me do this. I have to.” She dug her teeth into her lip again, fighting to keep her emotions in check. She had lost count of the chimes, but it would only be a matter of moments before it reached thirteen.

“Sarah, please, you don't have to pretend-”

“I know.”

“Gods, woman, then why-?”

Finally, she snapped. “Stop trying to change my mind. I'm losing. I'm losing because it's what you need, and because I love you, dammit! I don't know how to make it work – I don't know if it can work between us – but I want it to. I want to be with you, I want that so much, and this is how it has to be-”

Before she could finish, Jareth was on her again. His arms came around her waist, the deep folds of his cape lifting in the wind and enshrouding them both in inky blackness. There was a sense of both rising and falling, of being pushed back but at the same time drawn in, the ground on which they stood seeming to crumble away and yet grow more solid beneath her feet. The only constant was him; him, and she clung to that thought, and that thought alone, with every last part of her being.

The clock gave one last great knell, the sound resonating off the stone walls surrounding them.

When Sarah could see again, she found herself inside the Goblin King's throne room, empty but for the two of them, her cheek pressed to his chest. His arms remained locked around her waist, and somehow, her own had made their way around his shoulders, squeezing him just as tightly as he now held her. “I …”

“Won,” Jareth finished for her. His voice was thick with emotion, and it took a moment before he went on. “You won, Sarah. You won long before you set foot in my realm a second time, precious. You've always had that strength, and I won't let it be crushed for my sake. You made it here in time, and I will not see your victory lost though some obligation to me.”

She pulled back just enough to look up at him, searching his face, praying that she hadn't come this far only for him to reject her this time. “But … you wanted power over me. I thought … I thought you needed to win.”

“The only thing I've needed all these years is you at my side.” He shed his gloves so that he could cup her cheek properly this time, warming her skin as he ran his thumb over her lower lip. “If this is truly what you want, then say the words, Sarah. Say you'll be my queen.”

She pressed her cheek into his touch, her heart fluttering in her chest. “Yes. Yes, I will.”

It was all he needed. When he smiled at her, it was full of elation, awe; it was beautiful. He was beautiful, looking at her as only a man deeply in love can, holding her in his arms, kissing her passionately, thoroughly, like he would never let her go. Deep down, a part of her relished the fact.

When he eventually did release her, she buried her face against the side of his neck, happy just to hold him, and to be held. There was pain to come, she knew, but he would guide her through it. “I … I'm going to need time to say goodbye to my family,” she said at last. “I can't say how long that will take, but-”

“You'll take however long you need, love. That doesn't matter a whit to me, knowing I'll have you for eternity one day.”

“But what about the changes in me? You said they'd be able to tell I wasn't one of them any more.”

Smiling, he touched the moonstone at her throat. “They will, but only when I replace this necklace with a queen's – the day you become my wife.”

“And that doesn't have to be right now?”

“Not if you don't want it to be, precious – your promise is enough. If more of your mortal life is what you need before you come to me, then I accept.” His lips quirked up at the corners. “I can afford to be generous, after all, with the life we'll have together. I want you – I've always wanted you – but I will wait for you. All I ask is that you don't make me wait another few cursed years to see you in the meantime. I can wait for you to marry me, love, but now that I've got you, I can't bear to have you gone from my arms that long again.”

Sarah began to laugh – she couldn't help it, hope and happiness bubbling up in her chest. Both worlds – the best of both worlds, made possible by the man standing before her. “I don't think I could be apart from you for a day. You're going to get sick of me asking you to fly in through my bedroom window when you have stuff to do here.”

“Impossible,” he growled, against her neck. “I told you, pet, you don't have it in you to bore me, and I have every intention of making my visits Aboveground last. That is, unless you'd prefer to while away an evening or two here instead? Maybe you'd like to reconsider being tied to my bedposts …”

“I've gotta say, it's looking a lot more appealing.” She grinned at him. “What about your goblins; your subjects? Aren't they going to object to this whole thing, you taking me as your queen? I'm only a plain old mortal woman, after all.”

“A mortal woman strong enough to best their king twice, love – I'll never let it be said that you're anything less. When our people speak of this in years to come, there will be no denial that their Champion conquered the labyrinth a second time, not to mention brought a king to his knees.”

His smirk was devilish, and she had no doubt of exactly where that mouth was headed as he started to sink down before her. He would have her moaning in minutes, just the memory of his clever mouth already making her tremble, but it hardly seemed right for a king to kneel in his own throne room. She had no doubt her own smile was at least a little devilish as she reached out to him instead, feeling daring, stopping him with a gentle press of her palm against the generous bulge in his trousers.

“Mmm … what exactly are you doing?”

She leaned in closer, cupping the warm weight of his cock, squeezing him through the thin material, feeling him start to stir to life in her hand. “You may not have wanted me to lose, but you always wanted me to yield, didn't you, Your Highness?” she asked, letting her lips graze his with every word. “This is me, yielding, ready to worship you.

Jareth grinned. “You do it so well.”

He kissed her, held her, ran his fingers through her hair and over her body with eagerness, and yet a certain reverence, as though for the very first time. His mouth was soft and sweet, so very sweet, and she could feel her whole self melting into that kiss, giving and taking, love and desire warming every last inch of her skin. With just a few skilled touches, he had her wanting him all over again, her body wet and willing, arching into his keen hands.

“Gods, I need you again,” he murmured, and the raw lust in his voice made her shiver. “Are you ready for me, love? I know this is all still so new to you, but-”

In answer, she took one of his hands between her own, and guided it beneath her gown, between her thighs. “Show me,” she said, softly. “The way it was in the dreams. You've been mine since the beginning, but you need to know that I'm yours, too. I want all of it – everything from the dreams, every part of you. Show me what it'll be like as your queen. Make me yours.”

Needing no further encouragement, Jareth slipped his fingers into her panties, and though the contact made her moan at once, she did not miss the hot spark of lust it brought to his eyes, the way his nostrils flared with pleasure, searching for her scent.

“You're soaked,” he said, eyes wide and wanting, his hand pausing momentarily, as if torn by the need to go on feeling that wetness, or to tear her clothes away to see it for himself. Sarah solved the problem for him, arching into his touch and encouraging him to go on, sighing her pleasure as his fingers began to move over her slick flesh.

“Ready for you,” she murmured. “I think I'm only just realising how long I've been ready.”

He gave her that grin that always had the ability to set her insides fluttering – the one that lit his strange eyes, and told her he was truly happy. “You're sure?” he asked, his fingers caressing her in a way that said he already knew the answer. “You're positive this is what you want?”

“Mmm, this and so much more.” The hand between her thighs made her knees want to buckle, her eyes long to roll back in her head, but still she held his gaze. “I want you inside me again.”

“Oh, love, there's no place I'd rather be.”

The two of them stumbled up the steps to his throne together, half-pulling, half being pulled by the other. His mouth was hot and eager against hers, his hands moving, stroking between her legs, caressing her hair, her back – seemingly any part of her he could reach. He fell back onto the throne itself, drawing her down on top of him, wrapping his arms around her waist and continuing to kiss her as she straddled his growing erection. When he finally released her mouth, it was only to turn his kisses to her jaw, the line of her throat, rediscovering every inch of her with his lips and tongue.

“What you said earlier,” he murmured, his breath growing ragged against her ear. “Did you really mean-?”

“I said I loved you,” she told him at once. “And I do. Of course I mean it.”

There was little time for talk after that, not when his lips captured hers again with a fierce passion, not when he was groaning his happiness against her mouth. Their hands worked in unison, moving to tug confining fabric aside, wanting to be joined once more, needing to have that deepest of connections between them. His fingers brushed her slit as he pulled the crotch of her panties aside, and he hissed and sucked her bottom lip between his teeth when he found her hot and now all but dripping for him. When she freed him, he was rock hard and ready, that need pulsing against her hand.

With a soft moan, she guided him to her entrance, and everything else ceased to matter as, ever so slowly, she let her body sink down on top of him, gently rocking her hips until he was seated all the way inside her. This way, he felt even deeper than the last, her walls clenching around his cock as he urged her body to open for him. She was slick enough to accept every last inch, but he was so thick, so very big … That feeling of fullness – total, blissful fullness – had her gasping atop him, relishing his solid heat.

“Oh, so tight. So tight,” Jareth whispered, starting to move inside her, rising up to meet her. He took a firm hold of her hips, helping her, guiding her, drawing her body down onto his. His legs urged her own wider still, and he unleashed a deep groan as the new position caused her weight to sink down further on his shaft. He ran his hot tongue along the hollow of her throat, just above the moonstone he had given her, and that reminder of his love made her skin tingle.

Sarah soon learned the rhythm, her head tipping back in her pleasure as pure instinct took over. It was an age-old cadence – one her body had been more than ready for these past silent and lonely years. Inhaling his scent, fisting his soft hair and caressing the nape of his neck, savouring the pull and thrust of him inside her – exquisite physical pleasures, tangible to her senses, but even they paled in comparison that that deeper delectation within her. It was one that told her she would never again be empty. With this man, the one her mind had sought out through countless restless nights and sinful dreams, she would always feel full, in every way.

Her hips rose and fell, and there was nothing but that deep, beautiful rhythm, the steady, rocking pace that seemed to match the pulsing of her heart, whispering take me, fill me; love me. She clenched him between her thighs as he peppered the tops of her breasts with brief, fiery kisses, every inch of bare skin he touched seeming to sizzle with wondrous heat. She keened softly as he pressed his lips more firmly to the swell of her left breast, and she hoped he might feel the thrumming of her heart there. It would always beat just a little bit faster for this; for him.

Just when everything had begun to come together at last in her mind, her body was swiftly coming apart, melting for him, her hips losing their rhythm as the overwhelming urgency of her climax began to build. She bucked in his lap, not allowing him to pull back all the way now, keeping him buried deep in hard, hurried thrusts. The swollen tip of him stroked her – yes – right there, again and again, his arms locked vice-like around her waist, keeping her body in place as he drove himself to the hilt inside her. His chin pressed between her breasts, his head tipped back, his lustful eyes commanding her own as he gazed up at her.

Ahh … do you remember the first time I had you in my lap?” he asked. “Seated as a true queen, I said then, but this is the real proof of it – our true union.” He encouraged her to move faster as he spoke, heated and breathless, rocking her in his lap and filling her deeply with each movement. “Ohh … I'm going to wed you one day, and then you'll truly belong to me, and I to you … but this … this will always be the moment where we first ruled together. You are perfection; my queen my goddess – and I've never loved you more.”

“I love you … ah! Oh, god, so much … so much, Jareth. You're … oh, you're gonna make me come,” she whimpered, her eyes turning up to the ceiling, her lips parted with her pleasure.

“And how you've earned it, love,” he crooned. He drove his hips upwards more forcefully, thrusting deep and making her moan. “Look at me,” he ordered, both hands taking a strong hold of her hips, moving her harder, faster. “Look at me when you come, love. I want to watch your eyes burn for me.”

She obeyed at once, and the look in his eyes almost undid her at once. It was too much; it was far too much. “Soon, oh, god – Jareth – so … so close …”

“Yes, yes, come for me, my Sarah – my queen,” he moaned, his arms holding her body tightly to him, thrusting desperately inside her, driving them both to completion. “Your king commands it.”

His name was the last thing she gave him, before surrendering completely, her body tightening around him, squeezing him as her pleasure rocked over her. It brought him tumbling over the edge soon after, his body shuddering beneath her with the power of his release, filling her with his own heat. It was as intense as it had been the first time, lost in that place of dizzying pleasure where only he would find her again. They came down slowly together, his hands tracing lazy circles at the small of her back, her fingers tangled in the golden silk of his hair.

When she regained her wits enough to pull back, looking into his face, his beautiful contrasting blue eyes were alight, alive with new power and pleasure. It was what he had wanted all this time, that power shared with her as it was perhaps always destined to be. She had finally bowed to her king, but never so deeply as he had always bowed before her, and there wasn't a single shred of doubt left in her that he would always worship her that same way – would always love her that same way. Funny how the word seemed to lose its awful, damning power when she was here with him this way; it felt more than right – it felt good.

She leaned in to him again, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I love you,” she whispered against his hair, smiling at the sound her words made, soft, but fiercely determined. “Love you.”

He gave a sigh of pure contentment as his arms tightened around her in a secure hug. “Always loved you, precious thing. Always will. I loved the girl – that strength and tenacity, hardly knowing what you'd eventually become – but oh, how hard I fell in love with the woman. I've waited so long, just hoping to hear you say it in return.”

She smiled, wrapping a silken strand of his hair around her fingers. “Then I'll just have to keep saying it. Was it worth the wait?”

Jareth released her and urged her back so that he could look up into her face, his fingers steeped beneath her chin. “Oh, yes. I told you, love, I'd wait a lifetime for you – for my queen to come to me.” He ran a finger down along her neck, soft and sensual, smiling to himself when he reached her necklace. “It will look beautiful on you, one day. I know it.”

She glanced down at the moonstone he had given her, deep in thought as she watched his fingers toying with the stone. The bond between them would wait until she had taken the Goblin Queen's emblem, their love allowed to flourish and grow in the meantime without it. All she had to do was ask, and he would come to her as he had promised. Still, there was something more, that itching feeling that came with those problematic thoughts of power and responsibility again. Though she had every intent of calling on him often, there was still that imbalance of power – the sense that he would be bound to her whim once more. It wasn't fair … but it could be.

“Is there a way for you to come Aboveground without me calling on you?” she asked. “So you're not just waiting for me, like you were before?”

The grin he gave her, the look of joy in his eyes near overwhelmed her, and he captured her mouth in a long, passionate kiss before giving his reply. “Yes, love. Yes, if you want it. There are words you can speak – a charm that will grant me permission to come freely into your world, so that when I send you back home-”

She stiffened against him; she wasn't ready to leave, not yet. “You won't … you won't send me away from here tonight, will you? Even if we can't marry right away?”

Jareth smiled. “Sarah, after all I've been through to finally have you, I would be a foolish man indeed to be rid of you so soon – particularly when I'm far from done showing you just how much I have wanted you … craved you … lusted after you …” His eyes had started to move down her body again, but now they reclaimed her face. His expression turned a little bashful as he reined in that lust long enough to reassure her. “Nevertheless, you have my word: unless you ask it, I'll never send you away again.”

That was enough to make her relax, smiling anew, and she couldn't resist taking the hand that held her chin between her own, pressing a kiss to each pale fingertip. Just the feel of his skin against her lips was enough to make her body feel warm again. The man was addictive … and he wasn't the only one who was far from done. She wanted him again, and could feel herself blushing with the sheer wantonness of it, more so when she considered their current position; they were lucky a handful of goblins hadn't disturbed their tryst.

“Could you … um … send us somewhere else?” Even though he remained buried inside her, she felt a little shy asking outright. “I'd like … I … I didn't get to see your bedroom for too long the last couple of times …”

“Our bedroom,” he corrected, brushing a kiss against her throat. He seemed to favour that place where her necklace met her skin, where he might feel the way it made her shiver, and the way it made her pulse race a little faster. “And here I thought your attention would be solely on me, not our surroundings.”

She chuckled. “It was, which is why I'd like the chance to actually see them this time.”

“Mmm. Then how could I possibly deny you?”

His magic took them to his – their – rooms, and before she knew it, there was silk against her back, and a very naked, very amorous Goblin King at her front, ready to have his way with her again.

As it turned out, she was far too distracted to pay much attention to their surroundings after all.

Neither of them noticed when the sun finally set, throwing them into total darkness – her journey complete, at last. It had been the longest day of her life, and he left her thoroughly exhausted by the end of it. She lay spent and naked in his arms for a long time, thinking herself the luckiest woman in either of their worlds.

When the two of them had regained sense enough to be aware of anything but the other, Jareth brought life back into the dying fire, and set several candles alight with nothing more than a nod. He kissed her hair, and fed her sweet fruits and cheeses, the fae food robbed of its troubling reputation, now that she had no reservations about being trapped here, and he had no need to try. It tasted heavenly.

She had never felt more decadent in her life, sprawled Roman-style across his – their – wide bed, eating and drinking, her legs still entangled with those of a king; her king, the delightful, devious, delicious fae-god of sex. His smile was wicked, flashing whenever she would pause to nip at his fingers instead of the food. He was happy to return the favour. She was content to stay awake most of that first night, sharing food and wine, and long, lazy kisses, talking deep into the early hours.

As he began to caress her breast, it was far, far too easy to imagine a lifetime of this, of him, passion and pleasure galore, moulding to every last one of her lover's whims. Maybe a little assertion of power would be needed after all; it wouldn't do for the Goblin King to think he was in total control – she was quite certain she'd never hear the end of it from His Royal Smugness.

“Listen,” she said, starting to smile in spite of herself. “I may like it when you control me in the bedroom-”

Jareth leaned over her body, flicking his hot tongue briefly across her nipple, before moving higher to graze her earlobe with his teeth. “I think 'like' is an understatement, precious, given those wonderful screams I remember hearing, but do go on,” he purred.

Easier said than done, with dexterous fingers rolling and pinching her nipple as it peaked for him, his warm tongue sliding along the sensitive ridge of her ear. Already, he'd discovered her weaknesses – a kiss or a nibble on her ear, and she would melt like butter. She knew she would have to start uncovering some of his, before he could gain too much of the upper hand.

She pulled away from him, trying to keep her face straight long enough to finish. “Be that as it may, if we're going to be partners in this thing – marriage and ruling together – then you're gonna have to listen to me, too. I might want you to take the lead for a while, you having more experience and all, but I won't be the simpering little lady forever. You can't expect to try and control me outside the bedroom-”

His laughter was warm and genuine, as was the kiss he pressed against her cheek. “Sarah, sweet one, I don't think I'd ever dare to try. I never want you to be anything less than you are: a champion, and a queen.” Still smiling, he kissed her neck, her jaw, finally working his way back to that irresistible spot at her ear as he whispered: “Though if you have no objections, and since we're already in the bedroom, I can think of plenty of other things I would like to try, when you've recovered.”

She knew he must hear the way her laughter was already turning to moans, feel the way her nipple had long since grown rigid from his attentions. “You're insatiable.”

“Only for you, love. Only for you.”

As the first light fingers of dawn came pressing through the window of his – their – bedchamber, they drifted into companionable silence once more. Sarah gave a great yawn, wondering if she would ever be able to move properly again. She stretched lazily upon the well-warmed silken sheets, spreading herself along his arms, and hips, and legs. She revelled in the pleasurable ache of her muscles, and in the feel of his warm, lithe body, matched so perfectly with her own at last. She found she could hardly keep her eyes open, a leisurely smile curving her lips as his fingers stroked through her hair. His firm chest was comforting against her cheek, and the steady thudding of his heart lulled her down into sleep.

She thought of flying that night: pale wings against the dark curtain of the night sky, a billion bright stars watching overhead. As her mind took her on swoops and rolls, there was only the most fleeting awareness of self. In it, she remembered thinking that, for the first time, it was his dream they shared. He held her close as they soared.

When she woke from this dream, she was not alone. Her king was where he would always be: in her bed, by her side. He had given her hundreds of nights of dark, lustful dreams, lost in his carnal embrace, but now, together, they at last found the bright wonder of morning.

 

Chapter Text

Amazing 
Life's still a dream,
Your love's amazing.
Since I found you,
My life's a roll,
Go, go, go,
And it's amazing.
Amazing (David Bowie/Tin Machine - Tin Machine)

It has been a lifetime since she has come to him, perhaps even several, by now. An eternity; a hundred mortal lifetimes sketched out within his lover's eyes. The Goblin King has been too occupied to bother keeping count. Time is, after all, for him, a face on the water, and since the glorious day his queen finally came to him, that face seems not even to blink. After years of longing, she is finally his. If there was excitement in the chase, then the true thrill lies in the discovery, not just of her, but of how well the two of them work together.

She's still young and bright and full of ideas, filling him with new hope and energy, but she isn't too proud to learn from him. There's a special sort of satisfaction in seeing her bloom under his tutelage. She is worthy of everything, and it honours him to see the eagerness in her eyes as she absorbs all he has to offer. Hungry to learn, she talks to him of magic and history and culture, wanting to take in as much of his realm as she can. It's invigorating, how passionate she is, and he does indulge her, but sometimes, smiling, he has to remind her to slow down – though she can still hardly dream it, time is no longer the enemy. She has already lived far beyond her mortal years, and the life and vitality in her is still far from even beginning to fade.

Still, her human side is a reminder that some true treasures have come to light this past century, books and films and music from her past home all nourishing to his senses. He devours them as eagerly as he does her, taking all they have to give and relishing in their goodness, the delicate complexities that make both the mortal realm, and indeed her, exactly what they are; exactly what he loves.

She grows wiser, but not exactly older – not in face, nor form, at least – and manages to surprise him near enough every day. After all their time spent together, she remains as much of an obsession to him as ever. The love he feels for her is unimaginable, something he never could have thought himself capable of possessing, even in his long life. He knows her, body and soul, perhaps better than he knows himself, but the urge to rediscover her is a constant and powerful one, and he submits to it daily. He spends minutes, hours, mapping her face and body, and that delectable mind. There is no need for him to move the stars when she turns his world the way she does, when every single day, he finds heaven in her eyes.

The sight of her wearing his royal sigil never fails to make him smile. Of course, in first donning the jewellery, his lovely wife had her say, as she does in all things; of course, a normal necklace would never be enough for his Champion. At her request, beneath the symbol of the queen at her throat, a silver owl's claw hangs suspended, and clutched in its talons is the very moonstone he first gifted to her. She had been so loath to give it up entirely, it being the first physical symbol of their love, and as always, he could not and cannot deny her. It's somewhat satisfying to see that extra piece of himself adorning her skin, knowing it is always with her, aglow with magic, even when he himself is not.

He makes it his mission never to be far from her side for long, naturally, but now and then, some matters of business inevitably call him away for a while. Her handling of magic is a slow process, as it is for any human-born, but she's learned enough by now to at last master her crystals, sending him delightful, and sometimes debauched visions, whenever they're apart. Still, nothing compares to the warmth of her embrace, the tenderness of her kiss, nor the love in her eyes before she falls asleep beside him. The pleasure that greets him upon his return makes any trip worthwhile.

She has surpassed him, this queen of his, as he has always known she would.

She has taken to his people, and they, her, his mortal wallflower now blossomed into something far more exotic than he can lay name to. He feels no need to prune her – rather, relishes the untamed way in which she continues to grow, beautiful beyond all others, and yielding to no one but he. The human woman with the strength enough to best their king not once, but twice – as he insists often – is a formidable force indeed.

In one of her fairytales, he might have gifted her with a library, or perhaps even a special, secret piece of garden that she might call her own, where the flowers bloom only at her will. Whilst she indeed devours his books, and there are enough blossoms surrounding her to weave a carpet wherever her feet may tread, he is, after all, a physical creature, and delights in giving her gifts that are far more tangible to both their senses. He has never truly spoiled a woman, and he enjoys being able to do so now very much. She deserves everything.

In addition to her necklace, he bestows her with more jewels than she could ever hope to wear, though none of them seem to shine as brightly as she. For his queen to have anything less than perfection – or else him – clothing her body seems a sin, and so he gives her a wardrobe beyond all imagining. His most skilled craftsmen provide for her the finest both their worlds have to offer, from tightly tailored boots and leggings, to exquisite ballroom gowns, to an elegant cloak as thin and fine as mist, silvery dewdrops held together by whispers of magic.

She wears his offerings with delight, and never sees fit to question his choices – though she makes several of her own. The nightgown she wore when she first became his remains a great influence on them both; the many silks, and satins, and velvets she wears are often varying tones of green. She shows him true beauty, though the body beneath such fine clothes is all he ever really needs.

She grows sexually, and is a delicious tart – one that tempts and teases daily at his senses. It makes him hard as steel sometimes, just thinking of how that teasing first began.

On a whim one morning, he had brought her to near-completion, her body glistening with sweat and arching beneath him, beautiful and alluring, her cries wild and needy, and yet something had made him stop, denying them both their release. He had given her no reason for his sudden withdrawal, and had buried his own urges, so that no matter how much she moaned and demanded and finally even swore at him, he would not give in to her. He had left her sulking in bed as he dressed himself, and her final angry words to him had been to tell him that she was in charge of her own orgasm; once again, she dared to speak the words, to tell him that he had no power over her …

Given his queen's most atrocious behaviour that evening, the Goblin King is almost inclined to believe it.

She intends to make him jealous.

It isn't the first time she has flaunted her power before him. If they disagree, the gods know she has no fear in standing up to him during their council meetings – a fact that has, on more than one occasion, made him painfully hard to see the passion raging in her eyes. It is, however, the first time she has ever flaunted her body.

After their encounter that morning, she has avoided him all day, leaving him to make the last preparations for that night's masquerade ball alone, and only joining him when they must make an appearance before their guests. Despite his most charming efforts, she refuses to speak to him.

She is angry.

She is rather … exquisite.

The curves of her hips and breasts flow beneath the cool, deep blue silk of her gown, sending hot, liquid lust pooling at his groin. She lets him revel for only a moment in the contrasting heat of her; a light touch to the small of her back as he guides her – cool; a slightly firmer squeeze of her wrist, her pulse thrumming beneath his fingertips and sending his swelling cock throbbing in unison – hot. It's an effort to focus on anything beyond her, but somehow he manages to address their guests in a short, distracted welcome. She disengages from him the moment he is done, and without a single glance backward, leaves him watching, wanting her.

She leaves him alone under the pretence of mingling with the guests, but he can't help noticing that every single one she speaks to is a young and handsome male. Her attention appears to be fixed entirely on the men she flocks to, but Jareth can't help but suspect that the small, secret smile she flashes now and then is for his benefit, and his alone. She knows exactly what she's doing to him, and the little wench loves it.

He can only watch her as she struts around their ballroom, wearing a sapphire-dotted domino mask and dressed in that thin blue whisper of matching, glistening silk that could almost be called a dress, basking in the attention such sinful attire brings her. Fae creatures are enticed far too easily by the joys of the flesh, and his queen takes full advantage, temptation incarnate as she walks among their subjects, the amount of creamy skin on display looking as smooth as her silks beneath the ethereal candlelight.

The lordling she's currently speaking to is a green one, still in his first centuries, drunk on mead and the excitement of what is perhaps his first time attending one of the king and queen's costumed balls. The lad's face is flushed a deeper crimson than his Venetian mask, and he has no idea of any real danger as he chats eagerly to the receptive and resplendent queen. To Jareth's eyes, the grinning lordling seems ignorant of all else but the beautiful creature before him. He has no clue that his king is watching the encounter with his wife with great interest.

Fortunately, that king knows very well that his Sarah can feel him, watching her from the outskirts of the party, watching that little smile as it winks for him often. Outwardly at least, her attention lies only on the impudent whelp before her. Her laugher rings out as clear as a bell as she lays a hand upon the lad's arm, squeezing him with casual affection through his suit-coat.

Jareth smiles. Silly creature. Gorgeous creature. She knows better than to tease him in public, and yet she insists on goading him where everyone can so plainly see it, determined to try to give insult to him. He reminds himself to tell her that some of the old kings and queens happened to be rather fond of sharing their partners, and indeed themselves with their enamoured subjects. Still, he lets her go on thinking she's being daring, for now. She peddles her wares as well as any street-walking strumpet – a crude thought, but one that excites him considerably in his current state of heightened awareness, and almost painful arousal.

He knows he could very well match her game, sliding an arm around the waist of any of the all-too-willing ladies that watch him from the alcoves; he could soon have his queen frothing with jealousy as he dances body to body with another, the way he has so far reserved only for her. It would be sweet enough to watch her expression change from smug satisfaction, to shock, to anger. What a joy it would be to have her come slinking back across the room, seething as she subtly reclaims her husband from whatever insolent wench dares touch him. Hushed words and apologies in a private corner would be enough to put both their minds at rest.

Tempting, indeed, but whimsy forces his hand in a different direction. After all, his lovely wife is the one who insisted on making this such a public affair; it would be rude not to repay her in kind.

He's still smiling as he crosses the room, approaching from directly behind, where his queen cannot see him coming. He says not a word, to her companion nor her, but his hand is unquestionable in its purpose as it closes around her upper arm. He hears a soft cry of surprise, perhaps even protest, but he pays it no mind as he gently leads her away.

By the time he's gotten her halfway across the room, she's trying to shrug off his hold as subtly as she can, and failing. She smiles as politely as she can manage through clenched teeth at the people they pass, ever the gracious hostess. Under her breath though, she hisses things at him that are even worse than the ones from this morning – curses that would no doubt make a nun blush.

Still, he goes on smiling as they reach the very centre of the room, charming as ever as he sweeps his queen into a dance. She goes along with the motion, more for the many eyes watching them than for his benefit, he's sure, but the look in her green eyes is one of fury, lightning sparking behind her dark pupils, seeming to reflect their angry glow off the jewels of her mask.

You didn't have to come over,” she dares to say.

Oh, but I did, love – how could I not?” he replies. “You were putting on such a fine show, after all, and both of us know it was entirely for my benefit.” His queen turns her face away, then, mumbling something about conceit, and perhaps even darker things. Little hellion. He tips her chin back towards him, so that he may look into those stormy eyes once more. “What was that, precious? I didn't quite catch it.”

How that gaze burns him! How very white and sharp her teeth, his wild hellcat, as she hisses her reply. “I said that maybe if Your Highness deigned to actually let me come this morning, there wouldn't be any need for such a show.”

Such venom is potent, and he cannot help but be aroused by it. He allows the hand at her back to dip lower, cupping her lovely arse and drawing her lower body against his. “I'm not in the habit of denying you, dear heart – all you needed do was ask me nicely. There's no need to pout, and sulk, and throw yourself at every man in sight, just to get a reaction from me. It's quite unseemly.”

Oh, so it's fine to have me bow to every little sordid request inside our bedroom, but not to act the slut in public, is that it?”

He tuts his disapproval close by her ear, and is gratified to feel the way she shivers bodily against him. “You know how I dislike that word. And here I thought you'd outgrown that terribly human habit of shaming your women-folk for their … urges.”

Her voice is pleasantly unsteady. “So you're saying you don't have a word for a woman who's … who's-”

Flirting with everyone with a cock, in a desperate yet quite, quite futile attempt to make her lord king and husband jealous?” He smiles. “I'd call her a bit of a tart, perhaps.”

Her scowl is positively precious. “If I'm such a 'tart', Your Highness, then feel free to bite me.”

His little strumpet has to know just how that makes him throb within his breeches, given their proximity, and he presses a little harder against her to make certain of it. “I thought you'd never ask, love.”

He starts with her left earlobe, taking it between his teeth and applying gentle pressure, and is pleased with the way she gasps. Smiling, he moves on, just grazing the sensitive flesh that lies directly beneath her ear, his tongue flashing out to heat her skin. She gives a soft moan of encouragement, and it emboldens him even further.

He wraps her sweet, soft hair around his fist and tugs on it just enough to make her head tip back for him. With a low growl, he leans in to nip at her bared throat, his mouth and his words burning hot against her skin. “Precisely how hard do you wish for me to bite you, love?” he asks, knowing how difficult she will find it to reply.

I … I …”

With a low and rather devious chuckle, he runs his tongue along her neck. Oh, she likes that, her body melting into his arms. Bliss. “Don't worry, precious. I'll give you just what you need.” True to his word, he presses his teeth into the pale line of her throat, biting her just as she wanted, sucking her creamy-white flesh into his mouth. He applies just enough pressure to leave a mark, before moving on, biting and sucking again, this time a little further along her sweet neck.

He follows the line of her necklace, leaving the darkening red imprints of his teeth all along the top of the chain. By the time he reaches the middle of her throat, she's moaning, every sound causing her throat to vibrate most enticingly against his smiling lips. What a delectable little treat she is, head bowed back like this in clear offering to him. The bite he applies to the very centre of her throat is the hardest yet, suckling at her just above her quickening pulse, and the shape of her silver emblem. There's no doubt that it will bruise – a delicious reminder he knows seeing will make his cock twitch for days, long after this night is through. She truly is remarkable.

At first, he had rather thought she would object to such display in front of their guests – that it would shame her into begging him to stop. Instead, it's plain the little harlot loves the attention. The other people in the room matter not. Her eyes shine like twin dark emeralds, wide and overflowing with lust for him. She sighs softly as he continues to ravage her neck, her hands clutching to his shoulders with the desperation of a woman who's drowning, but her body … oh, her body is limp in his arms, melting with her desire, melting just for him. She cares for nothing but the feel of him at her tender throat, willing to let him do whatever he wants, right there in the middle of all their guests.

She is unquestionably, totally his.

There's no question of who owns her now, her creamy flesh darkened red, claimed before his entire court for all to see. The sense of satisfaction this gives him is a deeply primitive one, and oh, it's heady, filling his now aching cock with fire and blood for her. If he were a lesser man, he would insist on having her right here, her firm body pressed against the mirrors, her dress hiked high to expose her to his lust.

There's no denying that the thought of filling her – making her body come apart for him with a hundred eyes upon them – excites him. He wouldn't be the only one – several couples are already canoodling in the darkest corners of the party. Decadence and lust are good friends here; the people here are good friends too, but she is worth more than all of the guests put together. Only he is worthy of the privilege, the sheer beauty of seeing his queen as she comes undone.

He pulls her into his tight embrace again, giving her only chaste kisses against her hair. It's not enough to calm her completely, but it gives her enough clarity to remember where they are, and speak freely without fear of moaning.

His beautiful queen presses her face to his cheek, her full lips brushing enticingly against his ear, but she doesn't try to seduce, or demand. Instead, she whispers: “Please. Please, Jareth, my love, I need you. Please … take us back to our rooms. We can do anything … anything you want, only please …”

He smiles, almost deciding to grant his sweet queen her request, but he presses further. “And …power-?”

Is always ours, my darling,” she finishes for him. “But tonight, I want you to have it all.”

How can he possibly deny her, with such sweet surrender as she gives?

Soon, she's on her back, stripped of all but her mask. Her body is even more of a delight now that it's shed of her dress, the tight, wet heat that surrounds him even smoother than her silks. She's a delight, any man's wet dream, and she's his, all his, but he has to push her just that little bit further. He stares deep into her eyes as he makes his thrusts.

How far were you willing to go, Sarah?” he asks her. “Would you have let that insolent little whelp have you like this, hmm? Would you have allowed him this deep inside you?”

Her deep moans are music to him.“Oh, gods – never!”

She pleases him with that immediate, outright denial, and he rewards her with a wicked grin, and an especially deep thrust. “Only for me, eh, love? Only I can make you feel this way.” She is exquisitely tight around him, wet and warm to welcome him, and as her walls finally constrict around him, bringing him over the edge and milking him of all he has to offer, he knows it is true.

His release is all the sweeter for having her submit to him in such a way, and later, sated at last in his arms, she tells him she feels the same. Power is something to be shared, to be respected between the two of them, but that urged, encouraged surrender of it is one hell of an aphrodisiac.

They tease one another often after that, surviving on naught but promise and anticipation. On occasion, she has been known to be the one to instigate it, keeping him waiting days, sometimes even weeks to have her, until she finally grants him release – a jesting throwback to those long ago years of wanting. He's learned to be a patient man; he could wait another lifetime for her to come to him, satisfy him, but he's come to love the way her eyes darken with lust when he gives in. So, to please them both, he pleads ever so sweetly for his queen to grant him her kiss.

When he is the one to refuse her, stringing her along with vague promises of satisfaction, he is always pleased – both by how strong, yet so very weak her resistance proves in the end. He tempts her with every weapon in his arsenal, using every delicate gesture of his hands and curve of his mouth to show her exactly what she's missing. Finally, she begs, and it elates him to hear the raw need in her words. He has been known to spend hours, sometimes even days proving to her, time and time again, that it was all worth the wait, revelling in the way her body responds to his every caress. He remains willing to give her everything she could ever dream of, and her pleasure gives him the utmost satisfaction.

Sexually, their appetites run as deep and ever-changing as the sea. She jokes, sometimes, that he has stolen her away, like some wicked pirate king. He is more than happy to play the part, watching her moan and buck against the silk scarves and ropes that hold her down. More often than not, these sessions of bondage are also a race to see who will make the other surrender first, tempting one another with everything they have to offer. She wins often – no small feat for his beloved, when her wrists and ankles are tied. She brings him constant excitement.

Somehow, he teaches her to appreciate the taste of peaches again. He offers her the fruit from his own lips, sweeps slices of the pale, orange flesh along her milky-white skin, and drinks its juice from her body as if it were the finest nectar. When she returns the favour, the contrast of the cool fruit and her hot mouth is enough to bring him to his knees. They bring to each other an ecstasy they have never before known. Despite this new appreciation for fruit, their passionate unions that result after remain fruitless, and he would have it no other way. They have no desire to share one another just yet.

She will give him children, one day, when they both want it, but for now, the only scurry of tiny feet is that of his goblins – they who serve him, and, at the behest of his most assertive queen, are treated far better than such creatures might deserve. She has not needed to teach him kindness, per se – only to direct it, to his occasional embarrassment, at others beside her. It matters not. The contented feeling in his belly is more than enough for him to spare some. She gifts him with a happiness beyond compare, and an acceptance he has never before known.

One day, he takes her to the place where his parents and all their ancestors rest, and there, among the shining crystal monoliths, she weeps in his arms, every tear turned to a small and glistening jewel in that peaceful and unearthly light. It is the release from her mortal burdens that she has needed all this time, at last unleashing any lingering grief she has borne ever since she left her world behind. He has given so much to her, and yet he cannot give back to her the life she once knew. He weeps with her, and the pain is one they share, for everything and everyone they have lost through the years. Through it, they bring one another comfort.

Eventually, they find solace in that shimmering garden together, remembering fondly the memories they have that will never die. Their talk is soft, at times such as these – whispered words of love and joy, as the kings and queens of old whisper around them in kind. The resting place serves as both a reminder, and a promise – the reassurance that neither of them will ever be alone. Together, they find peace.

He is her lord king and humblest of servants, her ruler and her slave, devoted husband and friend, and most passionate of lovers; he is every last one of her dreams made real – but to him … to him, he thinks, she is everything.

The Goblin Queen sighs softly in her sleep – the sound of truest happiness as she lies in bed beside him – and the Goblin King goes willingly to join her in her dreams.