In the harsh light her face was pale -- weary. Her dark hair was caught roughly in a knot at the base of her neck, silky tendrils escaping to trail down the rich fabric of her dress. Her dark eyes were wide, startling in their contrast against her delicate complexion. She looked at him, and he felt as if her soul was in those eyes.
"Give me the child."
The command was soft but backed by an undeniable strength. He could see a pulse fluttering at the base of her throat. She was frightened, but hiding it well.
"Through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle, beyond the Goblin City -- to take back the child that you have stolen."
Her eyes hardened. He could feel the anger emanating from her slim fame - she had been pushed too far. She was fighting back.
"For my will is a strong as yours --"
Knowing it was pathetic, he still wished for those adoring eyes.
She raised her chin defiantly. "-- and my kingdom as great."
"That's the line I never really got," he interrupted. "I thought she was a servant girl, or something -- what's with this kingdom stuff?"
All the defiance leaked out of her. She stamped her foot, hands on her hips. "Brian! You're supposed to be helping me, not providing textual analysis."
He grinned. "Sorry. Can't help it, darling -- your performance was so enthralling, I forgot to behave." He avoided her playful slap. "Ooh, such a lady, attacking her king."
"Stuff it," she said, finally smiling back at him. "You haven't got the part just yet."
He shrugged, shoving hands into his pockets. "It's mine."
"What can I say? I'm good." He avoided another swat. "You better get out of that dress, babe. You're more likely to tumble off the stage than actually score a hit."
She gathered glistening folds of fabric into her hands. "It is beautiful, though."
Brian snorted. "It's immense. The material in the skirt alone could clothe the entire cast.”
She smiled again, stepping into the wings. "Go away so I can change."
"I will not," he said, acting offended. "Come here and help practice, now go away -- I'm not your servant to command, you know." Instead he leaned against the wooden frame of the stage which shielded the wings from the audience's view. There was a tall mirror still left on the stage, probably from the scenery construction class earlier in the day, its frame hugely ornate and glittering.
It was to be used in the production, he knew -- somewhere in the first scene. He watched her bare back in the mirror as she slipped the dress over her head, feeling a twinge of regret that she had left her jeans on underneath. None of that, he told himself. "You've got it, too, you know," he said abruptly.
"What?" Her voice was muffled as she pulled a t-shirt over her head.
She paused in the act of fastening her watch. "I'm only a freshman."
"Don't give me that crap, Sarah. You're amazing. Really."
Sarah sighed, lifting her long hair out of her shirt. She walked out from the wings slowly, a small frown on her face. "I'm not even sure I want the part."
"What?" He stared at her in amazement. "You've got to be kidding. Miss Sarah Williams, turning down a part? The driven Miss Williams? The one who demanded an audition before she'd even enrolled in the college?"
She sighed again. "I know. It's just..."
"What?" He turned toward her, squashing the impulse to take her hands in his. "You told me yourself you've always loved this story."
She frowned, digging one shoe into the floor. "That's just it. I was totally obsessed with the book when I was younger."
"So? It's perfect. Fulfill a childhood dream. Make the fantasy come true."
She jerked her head up with a start, eyes wide with shock. "What did you say?"
He blinked. "Nothing that important. Sarah, what is with you today?" He placed a tentative hand on her shoulder. "Is something wrong?"
She slumped. "No."
She grinned. "Really. I'm just being weird." She walked over to the edge of the stage, dislodging his hand. He followed her quietly. "When I was younger... I really lived this book."
He sat next to her on the edge of the stage. "So? I called myself Frodo when I was eight. I was convinced my parents were part of a conspiracy to keep me from reaching the ring, which," he lowered his voice dramatically, "makes perfect sense when you take into account my ridiculous bedtime hour of seven o'clock. One cannot save the world before seven. It isn't done."
She grinned, abashed. "Well, I was a little older than that."
She squirmed. "Fifteen."
He raised his eyebrows. "Well. Highly nurtured imagination. Explains why you're such a good character actress."
Sarah laughed. "I know it sounds silly. But I really believed in that book. I was convinced it was real." She swung her feet absently, brooding. "I built an entire fantasy life on the idea that I was the heroine."
"Then what happened?"
"I grew out of it. Pretty quickly, in fact -- it's amazing how much you change between fifteen and eighteen, isn't it? And then I heard Professor Herbert was doing the stage adaptation, and I became so excited about auditioning..." Her voice trailed off. "And it feels so good to be saying those lines again," she said softly. "I'm just a little afraid I'll get lost in the part. Again."
Brian gave her a careful, brief hug around the shoulders.
"Don't worry," he said soothingly. "I'll be sure to take full advantage of your delusion, as your enticing and irresistible Goblin King."
"Don't be an idiot," but smiling all the same. "You aren't really my idea of His Majesty, anyway," she proclaimed loftily.
Brian gasped, clutching his heart. "A hit, my lady, a hit..." He groaned and toppled backwards, listening to her giggles. "Well?" he asked from his prone position. "What is your image of Jareth?"
She went very still beside him. Carefully, he sat up. She was staring into space. "Taller," she said, almost too quiet to be heard. "More -- even more arrogant." She closed her eyes. "Terrifying."
"Sarah?" She didn't look at him. "Are you alright?" Her face twisted suddenly, as if in pain. He touched his fingers to her cheek, making her look at him. Startled, she opened her eyes. Their faces were very close.
"Sarah," he whispered hoarsely. "I --" He leaned toward her.
"I have to go." Quicker than thought, she jumped off the stage and grabbed her bag from the seats in front of them. "Thanks for the practice."
"No, Sarah, wait, I'm sorry --"
"See you tomorrow!"
He sighed as she slammed the theater doors behind her, slumping. Slowly Brian dragged himself to his feet. He walked over to the mirror, gazing at his own reflection. "I'm an idiot," he murmured. He swept downstage, raising one arm grandly. "I," he announced in a ringing voice, "Brian Harr, ladies and gentlemen, am a fucking idiot."
He bowed very low, twirling his upraised hand to imaginary acclaim.
The sound of one man's slow, measured applause came from the back row.
Brian froze, listening to a voice call out: "I seem to have missed most of the performance, but declare the conclusion to be top notch."
Brian straightened. "Who's there?" he demanded. "Who the fuck is out there?"
"Such language." A figure stepped out of the darkness. "I admit I cannot understand your distress."
Brian frowned. The man was wearing a long coat and a fedora, leaving his face completely in shadow. "Who the hell do you think you are, Dick Tracy?"
The man laughed, and Brian felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. As an actor, he recognized the laugh of a villain. This guy had nailed it. Brian grinned in spite of himself.
"You're a performer, aren't you?" he called out. "A friend of Professor Herbert's?"
The man raised the brim of his hat, and Brian stared. The face was strangely compelling: all sharp, clean angles. It should have been unattractive, but some line of the mouth or jaw had kept it from being so. Instead the face had a kind of cruel beauty.
"Do I know you?" he asked, confused.
"Why?" The man grinned, and Brian had a flash of sharp, white teeth. "Do I look familiar?"
Slowly Brian shook his head. "No." He caught himself. "I mean, I'm sorry, should you? I have a terrible memory for faces."
The man simply looked at him, and it was all Brian could do to keep from squirming. "Anyway," he began, a little too loudly, "Are you here to help with the performance?"
"Something like that. I'm quite an expert on the subject matter."
"Really? On Labyrinth? But it's only been played once or twice, professionally..." It dawned on him slowly. "You couldn't have been in it. You're too young."
"Ah, but I am much older than I look."
"Really?" Brian asked, disbelieving. The man nodded slowly. He was still standing in the audience, terribly relaxed for a man on his feet. It was a kind of regal slouching, Brian decided. Damn, I want to learn how to do that... "You were Jareth, weren't you?" he asked. "I'm just guessing, but…"
A smile tugged at the corner of the man's mouth, revealing a glimpse of remarkably pointed teeth. Brian took that for an affirmative, jumping excitedly off the stage and striding toward him. "Could you talk to me about it?" he asked eagerly. "Auditions are tomorrow, and I'd love to get some additional homework under my belt before going in."
The stranger arched one eyebrow. "You're attempting the role of the Goblin King?"
And we discover The Ego, Brian thought. Attempting? Jesus. Certainly fits Sarah's criteria. The thought of Sarah made his stomach hiccup. "Yeah," he spoke with forced casualness. "Give me some pointers?"
The man fell back into one of the plush red chairs, propping one booted foot on the back of the chair in front. He was silent for a moment. His coat had fallen open to reveal black leather pants and a simple grey shirt. Definitely a villain complex, Brian thought.
"How much do you know about legends?" the man asked abruptly.
Brian shrugged. "There's lots. They involve magic."
"No, they involve fear." Resting his elbows in the armrests, the man steepled his black-gloved fingers in front of his face. "All legends are based on fear. It's where they begin, how they evolve. In ancient times, what do you think the greatest fear was?"
Brian shoved his hands into his pockets, uncomfortable with the history lesson. "I don't know... death?"
The stranger shook his head. "Death was a part of everyday life. Men accepted the fact of their own death. They were content with it, expecting to live on through their children. And there is where their weak point lay."
"I don't follow."
"Children were extremely precious then, especially boy-children. There were black markets, slave trains. The greatest fear of a man's heart was coming home one day to find his sons had never returned home that evening, or that they would disappear from their beds in the middle of the night."
"Which is where the goblins come in," Brian said slowly, beginning to understand. The man nodded.
"Magical creatures with no other joy but to snatch those precious darlings from their wee little beds," he said, "in order to create more of their own." He shrugged. "An easy explanation for an all-too-common mystery."
Brian frowned. "But the king," he said. "Why isn't he a goblin?"
"Aha." The man raised one finger. "You are quick. Goblins for the boys, a king..."
"For the girls," Brian finished in an admiring tone. "Damn."
"A king to seduce their daughters, to steal their hearts and bodies away from the home. Wives, too." The man sighed and let his hands drop, relaxing further into his seat. "The shape of the legends change, of course, as the world does. But belief is an amazingly powerful thing. And at the core, the stories are all the same."
Brian shook his head. "That's amazing. I never thought of it that way." He grinned. "I admit, I thought it was a rather silly tale. And that Sarah was an idiot for getting so into it -- course, she's cute like that."
Out of Brian's sight, gloved hands tightened on a plush armrest. "Sarah?"
"Sarah Williams, a freshman. She's got a damn good chance at the main part, though. She's a big fan of the book. Didn't you see her storming out?”
"I must have missed that. Storming out?"
Brian, in his own way, had felt as if he had bonded with the stranger, discussing a part. He threw a grin over his shoulder at the man as he walked toward the stage, ducking to the front seats to get his bag. "Yeah, you missed the drama."
"I see," the man said gently. "You wouldn't believe how sorry that makes me."
"Don't be," Brian chuckled. "It's nothing new in this world." He paused in the act of gathering the books, strewn across the floor where they had fallen. He sighed. "Ever meet one of those girls? The ones you know are completely our of your reach, but you can't help trying for, anyway?"
He looked up, but there was no movement from the stranger. Brian shook his head. "She's got a face like a fairytale princess, too, which doesn't help." He shouldered the bag, mouth twisting. "And I had to go and royally fuck it all up. Just like me."
In the audience the man pushed his hat back over his head. Pale hair fell roughly to his shoulders. Brian could see his face clearly now, and could believe the man's claims of playing Jareth. It was the eyes. Framed by long strands of wheat-gold, they glittered with a strange knowledge. Perfect, Brian thought to himself, for playing a character that has spent eternity among other people's dreams.
As if conjured by that very thought, the image of Sarah rose up in his mind's eye. How close she had been to him. How quickly she had pulled away.
"Y'know," Brian laughed bitterly, "I wish the goblins would come and take me away. Right now."
"Really?" The stranger smiled. "How convenient for you, then," he spoke lightly, brushing the brim of his hat, "That I am here."
All at once, the theater went dark.