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The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell

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Ten years on and she's been here before.

Toys spilling out of a basket in the corner of the room, talcum powder dusting the edges of a change table, an empty crib under the window with its pale pink blankets pulled back and discarded...

In the living room she can hear her partner questioning the parents still, working out the timeline. When they put her down, when they last checked on her. What they did and didn't hear, did and didn't see --

There's a teddy bear, yellow and worn, on the floor, half-hidden under the crib. She picks it up and runs her fingers over its tiny little bow, its soft soft fur, its brown-black eyes.

Lancelot, she thinks, and aches, suddenly, to find her cell and call Toby.

Shaking her head, she puts the bear down in the crib and tries to ignore the glitter clinging to her palms. She might be wrong, after all. She's worked a hundred of these cases and in nearly all of them there was nothing even remotely magical about the abduction.

The first door across the hall is the parents' room, the second a linen closet, but the third...

The older child's room is teenage-messy, clothes on the floor and posters dripping off the walls. It's a normal room, a room she's seen too many times to count over the years, but it's also a room with a collection of sketches on the desk, dragons and wizards and goblins oh my, and a pair of sneakers at the foot of the bed caked in red-dirt.

A noise in the doorway behind her; she turns.

"Please --" The sixteen year old's eyes are red-rimmed, his skin drawn and white. His hand shakes when he holds it out to her. "The other detective wouldn't listen -- can you -- I didn't -- I couldn't -- can you bring her back?"

To her horror, her first instinct is to laugh.

She stares at the crystal globe in his hand and wonders what his dream was, and how hard he fought to refuse it. The dirt on his sneakers proves only that he made it to the door to the Labyrinth, not how far he made it inside. Did he reach the oubliette? the forest? the castle?

Did he even try?

The boy's voice turns small and pleading in her silence. "Detective?"

Does he not know how this works? Does he not know him? There's no second chances in the play, no way for a sub to step in and save the day when the clock has already struck thirteen and night has fallen...

"Kevin, right?" she says kindly, the tone she saves for victims and too-fragile perps (and which is this boy, she wonders, now that he's failed so ruinously?), stepping forward and gesturing that he step back into the hall and walk ahead of her. "You should go back to your parents."

"But --"

"Don't worry," she lies (and maybe her guidance counsellor was right; maybe law enforcement wasn't the best choice for her; maybe she should have sought the stage after all). "We're going to do everything we can to find your sister."

As they walk down the stairs, she brushes her palms together and dusts away the glitter.




She becomes an actress.

In hindsight, it's an uninspiring story. She forgoes college for experience and waits tables by day, pours beers at night, auditions in her lunch hours. She makes below minimum wage for too many years to count, living off ramen and couponing. She starts in New York, the off-off-off Broadway scene, chorus roles and one-line walk on's, before following a friend west. In LA she lathers, rinses, repeats, and gets a tan.

Her big break is a series of smaller fractures. Commercials and TV guest spots and voiceovers, the odd telemovie or two. She gets the lead only once and goes straight to video. It isn't what she had dreamed of, all those years ago, a young girl of fifteen, but it's steady work eventually and it pays her bills. She moves to Silverlake and exchanges the ramen for actual food, buys a car.

She meets a guy, an exec at one of the studios, and gets engaged, gets married. He wants to start a family almost immediately but there's always another part, another role, another line that she needs to remember and the timing's never quite right.

She's not exactly disappointed.

"You're not your mother," he says, sometimes, when it's late at night and they've just come home from a dinner with friends and their unending stream of photos and stories about their children. "You'd never abandon our kids for some play."

Maybe not now, no. But once upon a time...

She may have beaten the Goblin King once, she knows, but she's not so sure she could do it again.

"I know that," she says though, kissing his cheek and turning back the covers on their bed. "I'm just --" She waves a hand.

"Not ready?"

She nods, relieved. "Yeah."

He pushes, just a little. "But one day...?"

At the window she moves to close the curtains and pauses to stare at the owl sitting, waiting, on their mailbox outside. Without thinking, her hand raises to press against the glass, fingertips white on the cold surface.

"Sarah?"

She shudders, and turns away from the window. To her husband, she smiles brightly. "Yeah," she acts, "one day."




He's waiting for her when she gets home.

Leaving her briefcase in the hall, she picks up the feather lying on her hardwood floor and steps into her living room.

"Hello, Goblin King."

He's standing in front of the bay windows, moonlight gilding his sharp edges, and his smile hurts as he watches her stop inside the room.

"Sarah," he says, "oh, Sarah," and the false sympathy in his tone burns.

In that instant, she knows.

Her heart cracks, just a little. "The child?" she asks unnecessarily, and then sags when he nods. "Damn."

He laughs.

Bristling, she straightens and points towards the window. "If you're here just to gloat --"

The laughter ceases, his smile remaining, dangerous and cruel. "And why should I not? Hmm?" Leaving the window, he circles around her, the edges of his cloak whispering around their feet. "Such a poor, foolish woman..."

"She didn't know any better!" she snaps.

His voice soft near her ear. "I wasn't," he breathes, "referring to her."

Whirling, she shoves him away from her, the fine ridges in his armour warm under her palms in that split-second of contact.

He dances back two steps and glares at her, raging. "Do not."

You have no power over me, she knows. "You should have taken the husband!" she says instead. "You know that's what she needed -- what Adam needed --"

Two year old Adam and his sad, sad blue eyes. The way he trembled in his mother's arms this afternoon as she lied to Sarah and told her that everything was okay. Everything was okay and, no, she didn't want to press charges against her husband -- or leave -- because couldn't Sarah see that there was no need -- the police who had responded to the initial domestic disturbance report had gotten it all wrong -- everything was fine...

"But not," he cuts in, "what she wished for."

She glares at him, and he glares at her, and for a moment -- for a heartbeat --

His rage disappears, his expression flicking back to mockery. He waves a hand dismissively. "What was done was done."

Her own expression turns sullen. "She didn't know any better," she repeats.

"And who's fault is that, I wonder? A book gifted without understanding..."

"I was trying to save him!" Just like the others. The ones she couldn't save alone, no matter how many options she gave their mothers, how many follow up visits she scheduled. The handful that could not be helped through the system, their mothers trapped and in desperate need of an escape from the evil in their lives... just read the words aloud, she'd promised them, and they will give you the strength to make that evil go... and most of the time they got it right, their husbands disappearing in the dead of night, never to threaten them again.

"Sarah," he says again, and this time she hears something real in his tone. She doesn't believe it. Can't. "Do not do this again."

Her eyebrow arches at his audacity. "You cannot tell me wha--"

"There are names for rulers like you," he says softly. "For those who would purify their kingdom by buggering another."

She shies, horrified. "That is not --"

"It is."

Another pause as they stare at each other, pregnant and weighted. In the sudden silence, he takes a step closer, gloved fingertips reaching out for her --

-- and vanishes.

In a rush, she lets out the breath she hadn't realised she was holding and looks down at her hand, at the feather she's still clutching, and thinks, he's wrong.

He has to be.




Just as her doctor had advised, the cramping eases sometime around midnight.

Her pain does not.

(And she had been so sure this time. So goddamned hopeful...)

Beside her, Peter shifts in his sleep, his hand falling away from hers. Staring at him, she wonders at his ability to close his eyes, to escape, when she...

Rolling off the bed, she finds her feet slowly, swaying a little. Her abdomen pulses with the echoes of a cramp, familiar and agonising. Her chest seizes and she realises, distantly, that she's crying again.

Or maybe still.

Swiping at her cheeks, she leaves the bedroom. Tea, she thinks. She'll make herself a cup of tea -- or maybe coffee, now that she doesn't have to be so healthy -- and.

The second door on the right is ajar.

Oh.

She can smell the fresh paint, still, even from the hallway. Blue. Pale and pastel and perfect, with white trims and white cotton curtains. She was going to order the furniture next week, a deep mahogany that would glow in the morning sun, and on the wall above the crib there would be animal decals, lions and giraffes and elephants...

Choking, she pushes the door all the way open and turns on the light, sagging against the jamb.

The room looks exactly like how she left it last, drop cloths and a lone kitchen chair for reaching the high parts.

It looks nothing like how it was going to.

How it now never will...

No. Too much. She can't -- this grief --

Closing her eyes, she reaches out and flicks off the light again.

Something hisses in the darkness.

What...

The hissing gets louder.

How...

He arrives with no less theatrics than the first time she saw him, all those years ago, a storm of glitter and dreams, moonlight streaming in from the curtain-less window behind him. "Hello, Sarah," he says, stopping in front of her. "You really must stop confusing my subjects so with these emotional requests."

What? "I don't --"

"Understand?" He smirks. "No, I don't suppose you do. Such a pity."

She shakes her head; grips at the door jamb a little tighter. "What are you --"

He laughs.

He laughs, and spreads his arms wide, his cloak billowing behind him, shades of night and nightmares. "'I wish the goblins would take you away right now,'" he intones, and bows low and humble.

The world spins, nausea and grief swallowing her whole. "No... NO! I NEVER! I DIDN'T --"

He snaps upright, snaps his fingers. "Oh, come, come, Sarah." He sounds annoyed or amused or some strange combination of the two. "Must you always be jumping to conclusions and assumptions?"

"But my baby..."

"Is not mine."

Relief. Overwhelming, drowning relief...

... that flickers back to heartache in an instant. "But --"

He shakes his head. "No."

"I wouldn't run for him," she promises suddenly, wildly, desperation and hope spinning her words too fast, "I swear I wouldn't. If you took him... if he lived..."

"Sarah."

Her desperation cracks, her grief resurfacing. In the maelstrom of emotions, she finds herself crying.

He rolls his eyes. "Oh must we do this every time?" Spinning on his heel, he backs away from her, his cape swirling above the half-empty paint cans she'd left on the floor. "Take my grief... no, my baby... now the tears again -- honestly, Sarah. This really is becoming most tiresome."

Take her what?

"And yet --" He signs, all drama. "And yet, a wish has been made -- again -- and I am -- again -- bound by your capriciously cruel heart to -- oh, yes, again -- grant your dream in return." A flick of his wrist and a crystal rolls over his fingers, shimmering and translucent. He holds it out to her. "As you wish."

Through her tears, she stares at it. "What is it?"

"The same as the last, nothing more, nothing less."

He tosses the crystal to her and she catches it without thinking, the globe transforming as it lands on her palm.

"A peach," she chokes out, looking up at him. "But why --"

And then she remembers.

He smiles at her, the expression strangely sincere. "Hello again, Sarah."

I wish...

She doesn't look away as she bites into the peach, as she tastes it, the sweetness mixing with the salt of her tears. She swallows hard.

The room begins to spin.

Letting the peach fall from her fingers, she takes the hand he extends without another word. Lets him glide her into a dance, a waltz, familiar and haunting, her memories flickering in the moonlight as he grants her wish, as he takes her grief, her heartache for this unborn baby, this miscarried child, just as he did for the one before it, and the one before it...

"Thank you..." she whispers, while she still knows enough to, between one step and the next.

He says nothing but pulls her closer for this bittersweet moment that she knows won't last, this moment where she can still feel the grief, and know what she has lost, what she couldn't save, but not drown from the weight of it...

The nursery-that-won't-be fades as they dance.

And she forgets.




She's reading in the throne room when he returns.

"OUT!"

Wincing slightly at his overly-dramatic volume, she ignores him and stays where she is, focusing on her book. Around her, his goblins scramble to obey, the ever-present din peaking briefly and then fading as they tumble out of the windows and archways and down to the lower levels.

The resulting silence in the room is deafening. She turns a page.

"Sarah."

His tone is controlled, a mix of soft and dangerous that she knows all too well. Biting the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling, she keeps her eyes on her book.

One of the chickens, forgotten in the exodus, clucks loudly before suddenly squawking and she looks up just in time to see it fly out of the window.

"Well," she says lightly, "there goes dinner."

A flash of glitter and now she does smile, closing her book with a snap and letting it slide from her lap as she watches him appear on the dais and lean over her, his hands finding the edges of his throne and gripping tightly.

"Hello, dear." She lets her smile turn sweet. "Good day at work?"

He hisses something under his breath that she's pretty sure she wouldn't want to hear anyway.

Rolling her eyes, she moves to pick up her book again. "If you're going to be like that about it --" The book vanishes. "Jareth!"

He kisses her then, his mouth darting down hard and unkind against hers, and she turns her head, breaking the contact.

"Jerk," she mutters.

He remains where he is, his head bowed towards her, his body still caging hers into the throne, and breathes out an epithet of his own, "traitor."

Oh for... "Fine," she says, leaning back in the throne and waving a hand. "Let's have it then. Tell me how wrong I was to interfere, and how I should never have taken the child you'd already stolen, and how it was your divine right to keep the child when his father failed to run the Labyrinth in time --"

He looks at her, surprised and pleased. "Then you apologise." He nods imperiously. "You apologise and you will return the child."

She continues as if he hasn't spoken. "-- just as it is my right, as your Queen, to banish any one of our subjects if I so choose." She smiles. "Which is exactly what I did."

He curses.

"And now little baby Lisa is safely in the hands of her mother and forbidden to ever return to our kingdom."

"Wicked wretch! I should send you to the Bog."

She rolls her eyes. "You'd wish that stench into our chambers for all time? I think not."

"Sarah."

"Jareth." Leaning forward, she reaches up to touch his face, her fingers light on the curve of his cheekbone. "My King." She kisses him this time, gentle and sweet, before pulling away and smiling softly. "I am sorry you had a bad day."

He growls and lets go of the throne, gathering her into his arms and kissing her back. He pulls her off her seat completely, turning neatly until he can sit in her place.

She laughs, breaking the kiss. "Thief," she complains, settling across his lap.

"Cruel thing," he returns. Raising a hand, he conjures a crystal and tosses it lightly across the room. She watches it bounce and roll across the stones, down to the lower levels.

A moment later, the familiar cacophony of sounds that always precedes the goblins echoes up the stairs.

"I warn you now. Your pathetically noble attempts to save each and every lost child will not succeed again," he says as the goblins start back into the room. "I will not allow it."

Smiling, she presses herself against his sharp edges and watches as some of the goblins start to squabble with a chicken. "That's okay," she says softly. "I will."



The End