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Title: Knew you at all
Summary: Sarah Williams wants to be a wizard.
Author's Notes: Crossover between the movie Labyrinth and Diane Duane's Young Wizards series. Co-written between [livejournal.com profile] katarik and [livejournal.com profile] ilyena_sylph.
Word count: 9997

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two


Sarah wasn't sure how long she had been reading under the tree, absorbing everything she could about this new... almost a new reality, really. An entirely new way of thinking, at the very least, with Merlin snoring happily and sprawled over her feet, when she heard a woman's exhausted, desperate voice hiss out, "I wish the goblins -- "

She didn't need to hear the rest of the sentence before she was up, out from under Merlin, and running. But she didn't make it over to the thin blonde woman kneeling next to a baby carriage before the woman finished speaking: "-- right now."

"No," Sarah whispered, fear in her voice from her place frozen just a couple of feet away. "No. Take it back, take it back before he comes!"

Localized darkness fell around them without a cloud in the sky and Sarah heard sounds that still echoed in her nightmares. Cheerfully malicious light laughter spilled from all of the nearby trees, and there was a rustle of a dark shape's movement in the grass under the carriage wheels, skittering movements half-seen and half-heard everywhere in the trees and the brush...

If she'd been just a little bit faster...

For a minute, Sarah was fourteen again, lightning ripping through the air and a white owl banging at the windows. No, Sarah told herself. She was older now, and she was a wizard. She could fix this. She could make it right. She could. She wasn't sure what right would be, looking at the woman's face. She looked startled, a little worried, but she also looked at the suddenly silent carriage with something that Sarah was sure couldn't actually be relief, but looked... too much like it.

"Don't come, Jareth," Sarah said under her breath, too quietly for anyone but herself to hear. "Please don't show up."

All around her, it was as though the goblins cackled louder at her words. One of them popped its tiny fox-face over the rim of the carriage to waggle its tongue at her and make a loud obnoxious noise before it disappeared again, vanishing out of the carriage.

Sarah resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at it. "One of these days, I'll have goblin-skin boots," she muttered darkly, moving closer to the woman to try to talk to her.

There was no lightning, and no loud crash... but suddenly Jareth was walking towards them from where a moment before no one had stood. The expression on his face was completely unrecognizable, indecipherable, as he turned his head and looked at her for one long moment. His clothes were simpler than Sarah would have expected, just dark boots and deep rust-red tights and a dark leather vest over a blood-red shirt that fell without the frills. After that single look, it was as though he ignored her completely as he walked to the thin woman, standing before her. "You've made your wish. I have taken the babe. Did you mean it?"

"No!" Sarah said loudly. "No, she didn't mean it, she didn't know, she -- "

"Will you hurt him?" the woman interrupted her, looking up at the Goblin King with a half-stunned, half-fearful expression. Sarah understood that fear completely -- she'd been there.

"Be quiet, Sarah," Jareth said, offhanded and easy, then looked at the woman with an almost terrifying gentleness in his eyes. "I do not harm the children wished away, Melissa. He will be a goblin babe, but he will grow."

The woman -- Melissa -- smiled, slowly, like it hurt her. "Then I meant it."

Jareth smiled back at her, just as slowly but much more easily, and twisted his hand with a flick to bring a crystal to his fingertips. With little of his usual flare, he held it out to her, offering her everything she could want, caught in that clear little ball. "Here, little mother. I bring you a gift, for the one given to me. Here. See your dreams."

Sarah couldn't move, looking at the two of them, seeing the darkly bitter expression on Melissa's face as she answered him, rocking back on her heels and away from the slim outstretched hand and the shining crystal in it. "I don't want to see them. I want to live them."

Jareth blinked, just once, and his head cocked to the side as if he had never heard such a thing in all his existence. It was almost startling, how much he looked like his avian form when he did that."I do not take without giving in return, Melissa. What would you have of me, for your child?"

"You're welcome to him, if he'll be safe with you," Melissa answered, leaning her head against the carriage. "You've given me my life back, Mr. Goblin. You couldn't give me the rest of what I want."

"Wait," Sarah interjected, her voice thin with distress.

Jareth's head turned, and his eyes narrowed to jade and ice chips as he looked over at her. "Sarah, this is not yours."

She glared back at him, hands tightened into fists at her sides. "I'm not going to make her run the Labyrinth. I'm not even going to try. But I'll do it."

His lips set thin, and he shook his head at her, his expression dark. "You have no claim on her child, Sarah. Nor any claim on her. No."

Sarah growled at him, glancing around for Merlin, and spotted two kids watching them -- unlike, she noticed, anyone else in the park. She couldn't believe she hadn't noticed before. When she looked around, it was as if everyone else completely failed to see the localized fall of darkness and the man standing in the middle of it wearing clothes from easily three centuries before... or possibly a theater company. As if no one else could see or hear the giggling malice dodging between the trees, only half-seen from the corners of her eyes. It was like everyone else in the park was blinded to it -- except the other two teenagers. They, unlike everyone else, were headed towards her.

"Guess this is her Ordeal," the boy said in a New York accent, a Spanish lilt adding to the dryness in his voice. "Dai stiho, cousin."

"Dai," the girl said with him, from her voice also from New York, watching Jareth warily as she spoke. "So you must be Sarah Williams?"

Jareth's head tipped to the side again as he looked at the two newcomers, then his eyes went cold even as he answered them. "Well, young wizards. Ill-met," he said darkly.

"Which I guess makes you the Goblin King. Nice teeth. Ever cut your mouth if you're careless?" the boy sniped back.

"... Dai stiho, and what are you doing here?" Sarah managed to ask, ignoring the frisson of shocked fear up her spine.

"Being their interfering selves, as they usually do when they turn up," Jareth growled softly in her direction. "Not that any of you have any right to do so. Melissa... you do not wish the boy returned, true?"

"Not ever," Melissa -- didn't snarl, it wasn't loud enough to be a snarl -- but Sarah took a step back from the fury in her expression anyway. "I didn't want him. I can't look at him and not hate both of us -- him for ruining my life and me for not having been brave enough to go against my mother and get the abortion I wanted. Aaron will be safe with you. That's all I need to know."

"He will," Jareth agreed, nodding once to her, sober and firm. "Go, little mother. This is my trouble, now."

Melissa rose, brushing wisps of blonde hair out of her face, and walked to stand in front of Sarah. "I didn't know he was real," she said angrily, glaring at her. "But I meant it. Don't you dare think I didn't. I have my life back. I have my dreams back." Her voice broke. "I want him to be safe and happy. As far away from me as I can get him. I'd say goblins work well enough."

She turned around and walked out of the darkness, leaving the baby carriage behind, sunlight gleaming on her hair.

Jareth let his eyes follow her until she was gone, then flicked his fingers at the baby carriage, sending it... somewhere. It would make an interesting addition, perhaps to the junk heap. One of the goblins would surely want it. Or if not, it would find its own place somewhere eventually.

"Jareth, you can't keep him," Sarah said quietly, dismissing the kids with them from her attention for the moment. Right now, she couldn't think about anything but some little boy named Aaron stuck with all of the goblins. Was he scared? Did he understand what had happened?

"Of course I can, Sarah. It's what I do."

She couldn't think about the pleased, happy look on his face as he'd watched the hedges, or the strangely worried tone in his voice when he'd said she might die on Ordeal. She couldn't afford the distraction, not with that little boy on the line. "You can't keep him. I can beat you again."

"You might. You might not. The point is, you have no right to try, Sarah."

"Why not?" she did snarl, her hands planted on her hips as she glared up at him.

The boy sighed, catching Sarah's attention for a moment. "Hey, I get that you two are old buddies, but I'm really feeling ignored."

"Because she. Made. Her. Choice, Sarah. She does not want the boy. He is, in her own words -- oh, do be silent," he snapped over at the young man.

"Wizards aren't supposed to intervene with the Goblin King," the girl explained quietly, still eying Jareth like she thought he'd bite her. "We are on errantry, and we greet you. Both," she added, and the look on her face as she looked at Jareth now approached a glare.

"Then take your errantry and begone," Jareth replied sharply, his eyes snapping over at the pair of wizards again. "And you as well, Sarah, 'less you can give me any reason you should intervene where you are unwanted."

"Why can't I intervene?" Sarah asked them, completely unwilling to accept anything that kept her from rescuing that child from the goblins. She wasn't going to just leave him with those things! She was going to get him back, and Jareth wasn't going to stop her. She ignored him as much as she'd been ignoring the pair of wizards earlier, looking at them, now. "And who are you?"

"Kit," the boy introduced himself, glaring at Jareth. "She's Nita. We're here because Somebody thought you'd need us.

"So we're not leaving just 'cause you tell us to, Your Majesty."

Jareth raked a gloved hand through his hair, and otherwise ignored them as completely as Sarah was currently ignoring him. He took a breath and twisted his power around him to leave...

...and could not. He kept any trace of how much that startled him off his face, unwilling to betray it, as his mind whirled over how in the names of the Many anything was holding him in the mortal realm beyond the call. What was --

Sarah staggered for no reason she could think of, clutching at her head. The worst migraine ever had just hit her, stabbing bars of iron through her temples, and she couldn't help the whimper of pain that ripped out of her throat as she tried to stay on her feet.

"Sarah!" the girl -- Nita, Sarah thought, distant through the pain -- exclaimed, running to hold her steady, arm low around her waist. "Hey, you okay? Kit, check for -- "

"On it," Kit answered, flicking out a book and skimming through it.

Her low, pained noise had snapped Jareth's head around well before the female wizard's startled cry, and his green-blue eyes went wide at the pain written all through Sarah's body. //'Less ye give me... oh, idiot, to let her have that much!// Jareth snapped inside his own mind. But even the building of that mild geas should not have held him from leaving... What... the agonized look on Sarah's face did more than enough to tell him who, if not how. She was in pain -- the knowledge snarled through the back of his mind.

"Nobody's attacking her," Kit said to Nita, who was still holding a shaking Sarah up against her. "Just looks like she's using a hell of a lot of power without having cast any spell."

"She is," Jareth growled, not quietly, and his desire to leave this situation, to have this ended surged again. He did not want to fight with her.

"I'm not doing anything," Sarah -- it was still a whimper, and her pride hated that; a small and distant hate underneath how much her head felt like it was coming apart, making her whimper again. Like she was forcing something too big into a tiny, tiny jar, and the jar was cracking. "Make this stop, I -- Jareth!" His name was a plea more than anything else.

He was at her side in the next instant, all the power he'd gathered cast away for the moment. He stroked a hand down lightly over her hair, other hand slipping behind her back, ignoring that that meant touching the female wizard as well as his Sarah. That didn't matter. She did.

"Ssh, Sarah. Ssh," he breathed gently. She had always been what mattered, since the moment he saw her, felt her whisper to the world...

He'd made it stop. He'd made it stop. Her head was still throbbing, but she could breathe, she didn't feel as though every heartbeat was going to break her any more. Sarah shoved away from Nita's hand enough to grab Jareth, hiding her face in the strangely familiar scent of his hair until she could breathe without shaking.

The Goblin King held her close in against his body, and his eyes blazed hotly dangerous at the pair of young wizards over her dark hair as his hand petted gently down over it.

Nita put one hand on Kit's shoulder, gripping hard enough to keep Kit still now that Sarah had twisted out of her grip. "I think the Powers might have underestimated her," Nita said softly, watching Jareth and Sarah. She didn't understand this at all, not given how they'd been fighting just a minute before... but she'd heard that kind of helpless, pleading cry before.

Jareth just held on to Sarah gently, stroking over her hair again and again; nothing but light, gentle caresses that he intended to ease her pain as he savored the fact that she'd called for him. Pushed away from the wizard-girl looking at him warily and pressed into his arms instead. It had been him that she wanted, that she clung to even now... triumph blazed up in him and he petted her again, his hand sliding even more gently. When in pain, she had called for him.

Sarah rested her head on his shoulder, drawing in deep, shuddering breaths as the ache in her head continued to fade. Then she realized that what was under her forehead was cool leather, and the faintly itchy rasp on her cheek was Jareth's hair, and her face went hot as she jerked backwards.

He hadn't realized she was moving quite in time to not hold on just long enough that she fell when his grip released, and he shook his head in bemused frustration as he gently offered her a hand back up.

Sarah scooted back on her rump, babbling apologies, before she stopped mid-sorry and took one more deep breath. "This," she announced to the world, "Didn't happen. I'm getting up now." Without Jareth's help, thanks.

Jareth let his hand drop to his side when it became obvious that she wasn't going to take it... and gave up and laughed at her words and the absolute affront written on her features. "Of course it did. But you didn't have much of an audience."

Sarah glared at him, obscurely comforted by his normal teasing behavior as she brushed dirt off her pants. "It did not." Then she glanced at their audience. "Sorry."

Kit just stared, and before he got a grip on his mouth, "What the hell just happened?"

"I'll tell you when you're older," Nita answered dryly, walking forward to help the other girl. "Here, Sarah, you missed a little."

"HEY," Kit protested, watching as Sarah shifted to let Nita lend her a hand.

Jareth was nowhere near feeling obliging enough to give the boy an answer, and waited for Nita.

"We're still auxiliaries to her Ordeal," Nita told Kit calmly, trying to distract him from the momentary irritation. "Check her status."

Kit glared at her and flipped to the listing. "On Ordeal: no calls."

"This is my Ordeal? Jareth?" Sarah protested. "I thought I'd get something harder!"

Jareth snorted quietly, though in the privacy of his own mind he predominantly agreed. Ordeals were supposed to be great trials, and she had won his -- him, if he were honest -- years before. "Well, given as you have yet to convince me that we're not going to be standing here arguing until you fall over from old age, Sarah, perhaps you've received what you just asked for." He had really thought she'd gotten better about that.

Sarah tossed her hair, trying to pretend she wasn't still blushing with embarrassment. "Why would you say I can't?"

"Still not listening? I thought you'd learned better."

Sarah glared at him, honestly angry now, and still seeing some little boy surrounded by goblins in the back of her mind. "You can't keep him. I'm not going to let you." How could she have yelled for Jareth to help her? The Goblin King? How could she have forgotten what he was here for?

"He was given to me. By what right do you interfere?"

"By right of -- " Sarah paused, then continued more quietly. "By right of my Oath. To preserve what grows and lives well in its own way. To put aside fear for courage. Would you have me forsworn?"

"No." His voice was oddly quiet on the single word, gentle with the truth that he would never wish to see her torn by a broken oath. He would not have her injured, not by breached oath or other hand, if it were in his reach to stop it. However. "But your Oath has no hold on my land, and the babe will live as well as a cosseted goblin babe in my Court as he would as a human babe hated by his mother."

"His name is Aaron, and he lives just fine as a human baby," Sarah snapped at him. "I'm not going to give him back. She made her choice, she doesn't want him. I'm just not going to let you keep him."

Kit and Nita glanced at each other. Nita shook her head no, forestalling the 'should we interfere?' question in Kit's tilt of his head. This felt like something the two of them had to resolve, and it was almost interesting, listening to the two of them debate, all old phrasings and deliberate cutting courtesies. They sounded more like theatre than anything else, but she knew it was deadly earnest.

"And what will you do with him, Sarah? Would you keep him? Take care of another screaming baby?" His voice made as much an insult of the last two words as he had the first time she'd heard it from his lips, and Sarah flushed dark again.

She lifted her chin, telling herself Jareth couldn't tell that he'd gotten her. "There are adoption agencies. Foster homes. Plenty of people want children who can't have them."

Jareth's smile was all flash of teeth sharp as a wolf's, and his eyes were flat as slate and jade as he studied her coolly. He hated this, hated with every shred of his will that it had come to this fight with her... but he was what he was made to be, and he would not give over what had been given to him. Not even for her, not when she considered it some kind of right. "Do you think that none of my goblins come from those places, Sarah? Do you know how long children languish in that 'care'?" His voice made it a curse.

Sarah flinched, but her voice stayed steady as she looked up at him. "I'm not letting him stay in your castle beyond the goblin city." She spat the last words out like poison, her eyes as cold as chips of sharp-cut malachite.

"Convince me, then, Sarah, that you have any right other than your misplaced passion to intervene. You may tell me you "will not let" me keep what is mine by right until the end of time. That does not grant you the right to do anything about it."

"I'll keep him! All right? Does that satisfy you? I'll take care of him. He'll be mine," and Sarah could hear the universe listening to her, the world waiting for her will to reshape itself, but all she could see was Jareth.

"What's said is said, Sarah." His voice was a whip-crack of warning, and a long roll of thunder echoed it. "You will take on all care of him, allowing no other to have a hand in his raising? You will see that he has as much that he needs and desires as you are capable of providing, before seeing to any of your own needs? Think carefully, Sarah, before you speak again." She was not going to do this. He was not going to have it. He turned his gaze from her for a moment, looking to the pair of young wizards with an indescribable expression on his face, then looked back at her, waiting.

Sarah opened her mouth. She shut her mouth, and her eyes, thinking. She knew she had always had a bad temper, and she took things for granted when she was angry. "... In Life's name, and for Life's sake," she murmured under her breath. "Death for life, and fear for courage, when it is right to do so -- until Universe's end."

She wasn't seeing Jareth now.

She barely still knew he was there, despite the haughty, arrogant cast of his face that she still saw sometimes... often, when she woke up crying.

She was seeing a little boy named Aaron, a boy she had never met, whose face she didn't know. She was seeing Toby, who had looked safe when she had finally seen him. She was seeing Melissa's desperate, tired face, and the dawning hope that had been in her eyes when Jareth had offered her her dreams. She was seeing the goblins, who had fought her, had laughed at her, but who hadn't seemed to have hurt Toby at all. And Jareth had said Aaron would be safe. Sarah didn't think Jareth would lie about something like that. Part of her was quietly certain he couldn't, any more than he could have stopped her from running the Labyrinth to get Toby when she demanded the chance. "When it is right to do so," she murmured again, even more quietly, softly enough that she could barely hear her own voice. "That's the question, isn't it? That's what I'm taking for granted. That this is right."

"Yes," Jareth agreed, just as quietly, relief sliding through his veins that she had stopped. "You are."

Sarah didn't realize she was crying until she felt the wet warmth when a tear landed on her collarbone. "I... don't have a right." She lowered her head, taking a step back, moving away from him. "Aaron's yours."

He reached out, gentle as snowfall and quick as a striking snake, and brushed the tears gently from her eyes, baffled that she was crying. "Does it mean that much to you?"

Sarah nodded wordlessly, brushing his hand away from her face. She couldn't have left Toby there. She couldn't have walked away from her family. He was her brother, as much as she'd resented him. But Melissa was no one Sarah couldn't have been, and Aaron could just as easily have been Toby. She'd had to try.

He hated seeing her cry, hated having her reduced to the wordless agony in her eyes and the way her body had seized up around her pain. He would not give up what was his for her pride, but... her pain was more than he could stand. When it had only been her pride and her fear, he had been able to stand it better than this honest, real grief. He was accustomed to her pride, often delighted in it as strongly as he wished to see it break... but this wrenching, gnawing grief in her sank knives into him even as the cause baffled him.

He took a breath, and another, and spoke, driven to ease that pain. It was in his power to do... "Then you have thirteen hours. If you succeed, afterward, you will see him placed in the best care all of your Art can find for him, or I will reclaim him."

Sarah stared at him in confusion, her vision blurry with the tears she couldn't blink away. "What?"

"Be careful, Sarah," he told her. "Wizards die on Ordeal, and the Labryinth is as dangerous as you believe it to be. You have precious little time." He stepped back, completely away from her, and turned away.

"But I -- you won, and --" The incomprehension in her voice was balm to his pride, and he was content that he could still confuse her as deeply as she baffled him.

Kit glanced up from his manual and opened his mouth; Nita kicked him in the shin before he could say a word. "We're still coming with her," Nita said quietly. "I know you don't like us. We don't like you, either. Take it up with the Powers."

Jareth looked over at Nita for a moment, then back at Sarah. "Do you wish their help?"

Sarah thought about it for a moment. She knew the Labyrinth, or at least she had. But something in Nita's voice told Sarah that she wouldn't win. /Take it up with the Powers,/ Nita had said, with the utter confidence of someone who knew she would trump any argument. "Yes."

Jareth nodded, accepting her will on this run of hers. "If any of you are still in the Labyrinth proper when the thirteenth hour strikes, then you, Sarah, go back to your own world. But if either of the others are still there, that one must stay there," he warned.

Sarah, Kit, and Nita looked at each other. Sarah was the first to speak. "Can they be won back?"

"Yes. The Labyrinth changes. The rules do not."

Kit shrugged, uncaring of the danger. "I trust Neets."

Nita nodded, sharing a grin with Kit that said she trusted her partner to get her out, too.

"Then they will be all the help you have," Jareth told Sarah, and it would have been easier for her to deal with if his voice had been cold. If she could have banked her anger against his uncaring reply. "They were not meant for my Labyrinth... though..." he looked at Nita again, knowing her this time, "I heard you whisper, once. But not the right words. Thirteen hours, Sarah." Behind him, between two trees, the ruddy light of the Labyrinth's sky spilled out into the darkness.

Nita went pale in the corner of Sarah's vision, but Sarah was focused on the Labyrinth, and she was already moving. "Not a piece of cake this time," she reminded herself quietly.

His laughter rippled out, warm and light and truly amused, as he winked out of their sight.

Sarah got through the tree-crafted entry before she wiped the tear tracks off her face, pulling a tissue out of her pocket and blowing her nose, familiar unearthly light on her skin. "Okay," she sighed. "Nothing is as it seems in this place," she finally said, a little muffled but understandable. "Don't take anything for granted. If anything gives you advice, listen, but make sure you ask it why. And don't touch the faeries. They bite."

"The faeries what?" Kit asked, still trying to get over the fact that he had never been ignored that totally, and with that much ease, in his life. He'd had run-ins with the Lone One and It had never ignored him that thoroughly. Of course, and his grin as he thought it was a little bit feral, that One was generally too busy trying to win to be able to afford to ignore him.

"They bite." Sarah looked at them. "Jareth wasn't kidding about thirteen hours. Hopefully this time he won't mess with the clock, but I don't plan to get his attention that much this time." Why had he let her in? She'd surrendered. He'd won. "Thank you for coming with me, and we need to get moving."

"Lead the way, then," Nita said, her voice a little unsteady. "Not that it's real hard to tell where we're going, I guess."

Sarah nodded, looking out towards the spires shimmering in the reddish light. "The castle beyond the goblin city." She looked down the hill, and saw that the gates were already open this time, to her great relief. No Hoggle spraying faeries for her to ask, Jareth had told her. No help at all other than what she'd brought with her. "Listen, did the Powers or anyone tell you anything about this place?"

Kit shook his head as they jogged down the hill, trying not to pay attention to the fact that the entirety of what he could see... was moving, even if just a little. Solid stone walls... were not being the still, solid things they should be, and he didn't want to notice that. "No. We're not really supposed to be here, from what our Seniors said."

"You mentioned. Nita did, anyway. Wizards not intervening with Jareth." Sarah stopped in front of the open gate, eying it, and caught Kit's arm absently as he started to walk past her. "Not yet. I want to look at it first."

"I'm okay with that... except for the part where that shifting pattern up there wants to give me a headache," Kit answered.

Sarah glanced at him, picking up a rock from the ground as she decided to test her theory that the Labyrinth was never, ever this cooperative. Especially not when she had just royally angered its King. "Watch the gate instead." She threw it, watching how the air shimmered and the rock... contorted.

"We don't want to try walking through that, I don't think," Nita said quietly, looking at the rock hanging there, twisting in on itself. She heard a quiet chiming of song, and turned her head to see a ...faerie, a tiny and palely glowing naked girl with fluttering wings flying along, lighting on one of the vines. //Real faeries... that bite,// she shook her head, and put that away. It didn't seem like the little creatures held much importance in Sarah's eyes, even as fascinated as Nita was with them.

"It occurred to me that I might not want to trust the Labyrinth making my life easy. I know about traps now. I didn't the first time." Sarah was watching the gate, too, and her mouth twisted into nothing like a smile. "Of course, I might just have been taking a trap for granted, so the Labyrinth gave it to me."

"Neets, did that make sense to you?" Kit wasn't entirely sure the new girl wasn't speaking 'girl' instead of English, and he understood alien rocks better than he understood 'girl'. So he asked his partner. She was better at that kind of thing.

Nita was staring at Sarah. "You didn't the first time... This thing changes based on whoever goes in it? It makes itself what you think you're seeing?" Her voice had spiraled up with each question, and Kit could still hear that fear under the disbelief anyone else would take her tone for. He really hated hearing it, too.

Sarah nodded, shrugging her shoulder as if that should have been obvious. "It changes based on who goes in it, it changes all of the time anyway... but there were big changes in my dream yesterday -- oh, you jerk, Jareth!"

Nita gave Kit a long, speaking look as Sarah snarled in irritation at the Goblin King. It was the patented 'don't you dare blame this on hormones' look, the one Nita had developed when Kit and Ronan started teaming up against her. She was obviously in no mood to put up with another round of that. "If we can't go in here, where can we go in?" But her tone wasn't just an exasperated question: Nita was thinking. It made itself what you wanted to see? What you thought you were seeing?

Did its King do that, too?

If its King did... what did that mean? Was one of them changing him? Was Sarah?

Nita had known to be scared of the Goblin King as soon as she'd known he was real, but the man Sarah had been arguing with... he'd been fearsome, in his way, all sharp-edged sureness and inhumanly vivid, but Nita had seen the Sidhe hunting in their full glory. The Goblin King was not at their level, even though part of her said insistently that he ought to be. That, in some way or other, he was, and she simply wasn't seeing it.

Which begged the question of why not. Was she just too frightened of a childhood terror to accept that the truth really wasn't as frightening as she'd thought he would be, or... was something about the situation changing him from the terrifying, powerful thief of children she remembered into -- whatever he had been while he was standing there?

Kit, though blithely ignoring the look and holding two fingertips against one temple as he tried to just look at the rock and the gate, was not ignoring its replacement by abstraction on Nita's face, even though something kept pulling at his attention, there was a pattern... "Neets?"

"What, Kit?"

Kit jerked his head at the gate and Sarah's focused expression. "Got any ideas?" He tilted his head, curious, wondering what was on her mind. "Or was that not what you were thinking about?"

"There's always a door. You just have to find it..." Sarah's voice was absent and quiet, as though she hadn't heard Kit and Nita, as she looked at the walls, trying to puzzle out this challenge.

"I.. was thinking about the way this place apparently changes -- means the book I read isn't going to be much use. Sorry, Kit."

Kit shrugged one shoulder, flashing a grin at Nita, relieved that that was all. Between the three of them, he was sure, the maze would not be a problem regardless of it switching up on Neets. "I guess I'll forgive you. This time."

"Thanks ever so," she grinned at him a little, and moved over to see if she could figure something out about getting them inside.

Kit went back to staring at the walls, but that pattern kept niggling at him, and Sarah's words replayed in his memory. 'There's always a door.'

"Don't you want to be a door?" Kit's voice was quiet, friendly, just a nice conversation in the Speech as he walked slowly along a stretch of the wall. Nothing big or flashy at all, just a casual conversation. "Isn't that better than trying to hide? I know it's a pain, being something you're not, like a piece of the wall, and we'd really appreciate being able to use you today... "

Sarah's head snapped around as she heard Kit's voice, but she understood what he was saying full well -- so fascinating, to understand another language so easily -- and the simplicity of what he was trying made her smile a little to herself. The Labyrinth could be difficult -- but if it worked, she certainly wasn't going to complain. It wasn't as though she had a better idea about how to coax Its doors into appearing again. Hoggle had done it the last time, just that whisper of magic in the air that brought them into being. This wasn't so different...

The corner of Nita's eye caught it as a bit of the wall shuddered faintly, and she looked that way. There was something strange about that piece of wall, what was -- no vines grew there, only one long creeper stretched along that span of bricks. That was a lot different than the rest of the wall's overgrowth, the thickness of the creepers along them. She walked over, her voice picking up in her own Speech to talk to the vine. "Hi, there. Isn't it a strain, holding up against all that empty air?"

Sarah had spent most of her time with her manual learning what it called the Speech, the language everything -- everything, and grasping that would take Sarah a while -- understood. She'd used it to talk to Merlin. She'd used it to hear the worms moving in the dirt under her. She tried to use it now, stretching up to touch the shuddering wall with her fingertips. "Don't you want to relax? Open?"

[I'm not supposed to!] came a cry from the shuddering wall, [... but yes. I do... you want me to, too...]

"Why aren't you supposed to?" Sarah asked cajolingly, stroking the stone gently as she spoke to it.

Kit made his voice even more friendly, even more persuasive, but he wondered the same thing. It wasn't often that rocks spoke that quickly, or that strongly... "We'd really appreciate it if you opened, and you know you'd feel better. It has to be so unpleasant, hiding this way..."

[...you're not the one we were meant for!] the wall told her, offense thick in its tone, [but you're the ones that are here... you were already here. You're not supposed to come through twice. But... I'm the door. I...] It shuddered again, violently, and the stone image fell away to the shape of the great doors. Doors which creaked open slowly, almost painfully, after a few moments.

"Thank you," Sarah whispered to it, pressing her cheek to the wood, hearing Kit and Nita thank it as well.

[You asked,] it told her quietly. [Only the goblins ever ask. And the Keeper.]

It simply wouldn't have occurred to her to ask the door itself. The worms, maybe, if she could find one. Even one of the faeries, from a safe distance, but not the door. She wasn't used to this yet. Sarah promised herself that when she was done, she would make sure she remembered this. That doors had feelings, and probably human doors did, too.

Kit stepped on through, and swallowed quietly as he looked up the walls. They glittered, sparkled like cut granite, but that rock wasn't granite, couldn't be, not to be shaded like that, and it looked almost damp, a sharp contrast to the bone-dry floor littered with branches at their feet, though the branches glittered with that same almost crystal dampness...

"Am I the only one getting the feeling that when people say walls have ears, they mean these walls?" he joked, looking back at his partner -- and was answered by a torrent of words in the Speech from almost every stone of the walls around him. [We hear, we remember! What do you want to know?] they asked in thousand-part harmony.

A few feet away, a sprout of coral-looking plant turned towards him, eyes at the end of the stalks blinking as it whispered to itself... if anyone cared to notice it.

"They do," Sarah said, nodding with wry agreement. "They're taller... but then, I'm taller too."

Nita did hear the plant, even if she couldn't hear anything the walls were telling Kit, and she went to crouch by it. "... Do you know the way to the castle beyond the goblin city?" she asked in the Speech, slipping into the kind of language the book had used, the way that Sarah and Jareth had fought. Sometimes, how you said something was more important that what you said.

[We remember her,] the plant told her, excitedly waving its stalks and blinking its multiple eyes to speak. [She asked the vurm. The vurm told her.]

"Do you remember what it said?" Nita kept her tone friendly, a little curious, ignoring Kit and Sarah completely for the moment. Some plants were sensitive to things like that. This didn't seem much like a crabapple, but she didn't want to be wrong.

[The vurm said 'not that way! never go that way!'] the plant answered, blinking its eyes as if in morse code as it whispered and chittered to her. [Then it said 'if she'da gone thatway, she'da gone straight to tha' castle.'] It wriggled all of its stalks in a shrug, [but tha' way is thi' way, now, and we don't know which way is which. We just grow.]

//If something gives you advice, ask it why,// Nita thought. //Boy, she wasn't kidding.// "Thanks," Nita told the plant, rising. "Did you know the vurm lied to you?" she asked Sarah.

"..what?" Sarah asked, turning around to look at Nita... and then at the plant she had been talking to. It blinked at her, and in the blinks she heard [hello].

"Hi," Sarah answered back, her voice gentling on sheer instinct. "You look familiar."

Kit, for his part, was trying to fend off the screaming headache this much chattering, living, garrulous stone was giving him as it all tried to tell him everything it had seen and heard in what felt like the last hundred years.

[We remember you! You were here!] it said back, waving in the same excitement it had shown Nita.

Sarah smiled, nodding as she spoke back to it.. "A couple years ago, yeah. Was it that long here?"

Nita let Sarah have the plant, moving over to Kit. "You okay, el Niño?"

[Seasons and seasons, many moves,] it blinked at her, stretching out an eyestalk tenatively.

"This stuff is loud, Neets, and it knows I'm here, because it's all trying to talk to me at once. I can't understand it, there're so many voices..."

Sarah thought for a minute. Plants could talk, obviously. This one was proof positive of that. Could they talk to each other? Could she ask this one how to get to the hedges? The hedges had been close to the city walls...

Nita frowned, glaring at the walls for giving her partner so much trouble. "Hang on, I think I brought my headset with me... hopefully it works better than my watch is." Her watch hadn't ticked another second past since she'd stepped into this weird other world. If it wouldn't go back to working once she was in the real world, she was going to be so pissed. She couldn't just use the sun in front of non-wizards, after all.

His eyes widened hopefully as she dug into her bag. "Oh, man, I hope you did, Neets..."

"Here. I think the batteries are fresh, too." They would be, if Nita had to have a word or two with them. Kit not protesting his nickname always meant something was wrong, and she'd heard choruses of plants that were as bad as what he was talking about once or twice.

Kit slid the headphones into his ears gratefully and fiddled with the volume to where he could still hear her, but not the background noise of the yelling rocks. "Thanks, Nita."

"Welcome, Kit." She squeezed his shoulder in comfort, then headed back towards Sarah.

She was still in the middle of coaxing the way to the hedges out of the friendly plant when Nita touched her shoulder, crouching down to listen with her. The plant was telling her what it could, but all it could really tell her was that it sounded like the hedges were 'that' way... which happened to be straight through the walls.

But it was a direction to aim for, Sarah thought, and if she had learned one thing in the Labyrinth it was to take any help offered. "Thank you," she told it, and got back up.

"Yay, chatty plants?" Kit asked, head tipped to the side.

"The hedges are that way," Sarah said wryly, pointing through the wall. "How to get there, I don't know. I can't climb these. I think I'd break something. But it's something to aim at, if we can keep track of which way that is..."

It might have been a trick of the light that the walls seemed straighter, higher, and wetter the moment that she mentioned climbing them. And then again... it might not have been.

Sarah's eyes narrowed. "I might be able to," she said testingly, walking forward and resting her fingers on one damp patch of stone that felt almost like it was breathing under her hand. "Could I climb you?" she asked in the Speech, trying to sound just idly curious.

[How long can you climb?] they asked in return, [How strong are your fingers?]

Sarah thought about that. She'd climbed trees a lot when she was younger, before deciding that wasn't what princesses did, and after she'd gotten home from the Labyrinth she'd gone back to climbing. She had never tried to climb anything this wet-looking, or this steep. And the way that they had asked that question... "Would you be making yourselves taller if I tried?"

[Yes.]

Sarah snorted air out through her nose, sure she knew why. Jareth. But that was taking things for granted, wasn't it? "Why?"

[Because that is not the way.]

Sarah tilted her head, letting the curiosity bleed into her voice. "Why not?" She was wasting time, she knew it, but last time she had succeeded because she had taken time to help Ludo, to talk to Didymus, to ask the bird man. Asking the walls made just as much sense as trying to negotiate with Hoggle in the beginning had.

[The ways are the open places. You know that. You walked in us before. Climbing is not the way.] The walls sounded almost scolding.

//The path you will take will lead to certain destruction,// a False Alarm said in her memory, and Sarah nodded, leaning her forehead against the stone. "There are open ways on top of you." That was a bit of an exaggeration, given the upthrust spears of stone above the walls, but she could surely slip around those. She was aware of Kit and Nita listening behind her, but they weren't interfering. Asking their own questions, maybe, or looking for more doors.

[...that is not the way,] the walls answered, stones shifting under her hand.

"Why isn't it?" Sarah asked again, but she could hear in their tones that stone did not yield because a human asked it to. If she were a plant, maybe, but she wasn't. Sarah was just Sarah, wizard or not. Maybe that was why the Powers had wanted her to run this again.

[Because it is not how we were made. If you climb, we grow. That is the way.]

Sarah let her hand drop. "Thank you for the conversation," she whispered before lifting her head from the stone. She couldn't argue with something doing what it was meant to. Sarah would just have to find her own door, one that led to the hedges.

[You are welcome. ...remember, the ways are the open places.]The stones fell silent then, with a rustle of finality. She wasn't going to get anything more out of them.

"I will." The open places? Like, for example, not the underground paths Hoggle had used? Sarah hadn't intended to go those ways anyway, much as she would have liked to visit the False Alarms.

"No luck on the climbing?" Nita asked

"No. They're made to grow higher if someone climbs. They're very... insistent on the ways being the open places." Sarah's tone was openly speculative. She still wasn't sure if the walls had been giving her advice, a warning, or something else.

Something tickled in the back of her mind, a voice... Hoggle saying grumpily that 'I wouldn't go either way.'

She never had asked him which way he would go. She wished she had, now. There was something there, and she didn't know what. Through the walls? Maybe. That was how she had found the door last time. She'd walked through the gap between the walls. Maybe there was a spell... Sarah remembered seeing something about a Mason's Word in her Manual. She didn't feel inclined to trust it on stone that breathed.

"The open places?" Kit asked, and he slipped the earphones out of his ears, fingers running very light along the stone as he walked back towards her. His fingers skipped past a vine... and then his entire hand went deeper than it should have, looking -- from where she stood -- as if it had sunk into the wall.

"... The open places," Sarah agreed, grinning. "Last time I ended up going left. If the vurm lied, I still want to go left, if the walls still point the same way. I'm not sure they do, so... does anyone have a coin?"

Nita handed her one after a moment's digging in her pocket, though it was accompanied by a very doubtful look.

"Heads, right, tails, left. It makes as much sense as anything else here, I'd say?"

"If you say so," Kit agreed with the headphones back in, feeling with his fingertips to figure out how wide the 'door' in front of him actually was.

Sarah flipped the coin. It landed on its edge, balanced perfectly on a crack in the stones, and Sarah -- snarled.

The coin fell, tail-side up.

"Looks like le -- Kit, get back here!" Nita snapped as her partner started to suit deed to word and go through the opening.

"What? It said left!" Kit protested.

"None of us," Nita said slowly, quietly, and calmly, "Go through different doors. How do you know the doors don't change? Look, I'm the one with a little sister close to my age, okay? We hold hands, and we go through together. Sarah, you grab my left hand, Kit, you grab my right."

Sarah nodded. "She's right. It does things like that." She dipped to pick up the coin, then wrapped her hand in Nita's. Kit gave her a look for a second, then remembered doors that could do just that and reached back for her hand, grabbing hold of it. It felt a little silly, but if it would make her happy -- and it did make sense -- he'd do it.

"If either of you let go, I will make the walls eat you," Nita threatened evenly. "Let's move."

Sarah didn't chuckle, but her hand tightened a little, and they snaked through the thin opening and headed left... down what looked like another endless corridor of tall, damp stone.

"Try finding another open place?" Kit suggested.

"Yeah," Sarah agreed, reaching out to run her fingers along the walls. Then she said in the Speech, quietly, "Can anyone show me where an opening is?"

The question was carefully worded, and several of the stones murmured [I can.]

"Will you? Where is one?" she asked then.

One stone shuddered, saying [Here. The open place is here.] The stones around it groaned, complaining that it had told, and protesting that no, there was no opening there.

Sarah reached out, stroking the stone that had answered her for a long moment. "Thank you," she told it, then reached to see how the opening stretched.

She hadn't let go of Nita's hand, and she was grateful -- it felt like the door was trying to swallow her, like it had felt falling through to the oubliette with the Helping Hands. She set herself, using Nita's grip to do it, and pulled back out of the opening. "Oookay. I think I know where that one goes, and we don't want to take it. Let's find another."

Did every door have two sides, like the one she'd used the first time? Sarah moved her hand to its opposite end testingly, searching out what felt like a perfectly normal door.

The door felt normal... Sarah wasn't sure she trusted anything in the Labyrinth to be normal, but what else could she do? "Strange... this side feels like a normal opening, not... that. Okay. Keep to this side, tightly." She slipped through, staying as close to that wall as she could, tugging Nita and Kit with her.

"More stone," Kit groaned, coming out into what looked like an identical damp, shining corridor. "How many ways in and out of this place can there be?"

"... don't ask that," Sarah told him softly. "Unless you want it to tell you."

Nita and Kit glanced at each other sidelong. Kit swallowed and nodded to Nita, shoving the headphones more securely into his ears. He didn't want these walls to try and give him answers, and the best way not to get them was to not listen right now. They kept wandering in the high, solid walls of rock, slipping though the openings when they could find ones that were "safe"...

Until what felt like hours later, when Sarah breathed a quiet sigh of relief when they reached the sharp, smooth-edged, small sections of bent, twisted walls.

"Don't try to mark our way," she tossed over her shoulder as she led them along, still keeping a tight hold on Nita's hand. "The Labyrinth doesn't like that -- or maybe it's some of the denizens. The marks will move. Now, which way... ?" The signpost wasn't trustworthy, she'd known that the first time, but it marked as good a direction as any other she could see.

"The marks will move?" Nita wasn't sure if she wanted to be curious or shocked, and her voice wasn't either.

"The smallest-folk," Sarah explained, using Jareth's words for them since she didn't have any better ones. "They don't like the walls or the floor to be written on; they'll move the tiles and change them around."

"What're the 'smallest folk'?" Kit asked her, looking up at the balls of rock poised on top of the walls at apparently completely random intervals.

"I have no idea," Sarah admitted. "I've never seen one of them. I just saw what they did the last time I tried to keep track of which way I'd gone." Her answer was absent as she studied the signpost. Only three paths, this time, when she had seen four, five, even six roads branching off at other points. Jareth had given his permission for Kit and Nita to run the Labyrinth with her, but... had it? "Could the Labyrinth be trying to split us up?"

"We're not letting it, are we?" Kit asked, looking at the knobby, pointing stone hands sticking out of the obelisk warily.

Sarah snorted. "Since I don't want Nita feeding me to a wall... "

Nita smirked, tossing her hair back a little, and tried very hard not to think about what the Goblin King would probably do -- given the look on his face when he'd stroked Sarah's hair -- if Nita tried. "Rock, paper, scissors?"

"Yeah. Kit, which way do you say?" Sarah asked. Nita's hands were busy, after all, so it fell to them to play the game out.

"We keep going left, so I vote the right-hand way this time," Kit answered.

"...I buy that logic," Sarah nodded, and shifted to face Kit. She thought about his current problems with the Labyrinth while the two of them counted off, and when her hand snapped out it was in the closed fist of rock.

Kit had gone for scissors, trusting his affinity with metal, and made a face at Sarah's rock. Trust a girl to mess with him.

She chuckled, bopped his fingers with the heel of her fist, and shrugged. "Looks like it's left some more..."

Kit grumbled under his breath, but he followed Sarah and Nita when she headed left.

If Sarah had had any doubts that the Labyrinth was trying to split them up, the way the passages narrowed and turned into mostly flights of quick stairs was dispelling them fairly quickly. She growled, "Jareth, this is cheating," under her breath. She did not say it wasn't fair. Sarah had learned better than that quite a while back.

/Why are you blaming me?/ was carried to her on a wisp of wind, the faintest echo of his voice that might have been entirely in her head.

//It's your Labyrinth,// she thought, but did not say aloud. She frowned, though, as she realized that stairs meant that either they'd turned wrong, the Labyrinth had shifted massively, or... they were climbing one of the rock-piles she'd only seen from a distance before. If they were, that meant they were going to have to go back down.... she stopped, turning her head to meet Kit and Nita's confused looks her way. "I think we turned wrong somewhere. Let's have some water, then see if we can get back down into the main Labyrinth." And see if they could get a clear view of the rest of it on the way.

Kit nodded agreement with that, thirsty himself, and fished into his knapsack for a bottle of water. "Got one of your own, Sarah?"

"In my backpack somewhere. And granola bars. And some other stuff." She let go of Nita's hand to take her backpack off -- and the flagstone she was standing on dropped out from under her, making her scream as she fell into one of the Labyrinth's many underground passages. She grabbed at the walls, uselessly trying to slow herself down as she just kept sliding...

-- and tumbled out onto grass, cursing as she stretched carefully to see if she'd hurt anything on the race through the tunnel-chute thing -- she'd hated those the first time, with Hoggle, when they'd both nearly landed in the Bog. At least this was grass, and she'd kept hold of her backpack. The question was where was she now? For that matter, where had she left Kit and Nita? Hopefully the Labyrinth hadn't managed to separate them yet. They seemed like they'd be better off together.

'If either of the others are still here, they must stay here,' Jareth said in her memory, and Sarah's mouth firmed in a determined look that had made Jareth take a step back more than once. That wasn't going to happen. She wasn't going to leave anyone in this place. Not Aaron, and not them. No matter what he wanted.

***


this way for Chapter Four

Date: 2009-01-19 02:37 am (UTC)
sharpest_asp: Nate Ford sitting on a bench, Sophie Devereaux resting against his lap (Default)
From: [personal profile] sharpest_asp
I love the intricacy of Sarah and Jareth here. So much.

Date: 2009-01-19 10:43 pm (UTC)
ilyena_sylph: picture of Labyrinth!faerie with 'careful, i bite' as text (only forever)
From: [personal profile] ilyena_sylph
+grins+ Thank you very much. They can be a trial.

Date: 2009-01-22 04:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katarik.livejournal.com
They are in *love* and that... doesn't change much of anything.

(*smooshyhands*)

Date: 2009-01-19 02:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] second-batgirl.livejournal.com
God, now I want to watch the movie again. So badly. *adores*

Date: 2009-01-19 10:42 pm (UTC)
ilyena_sylph: picture of Labyrinth!faerie with 'careful, i bite' as text (only forever)
From: [personal profile] ilyena_sylph
+grins+ So go watch! +grins+

Date: 2009-01-22 04:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katarik.livejournal.com
*laughs* That is probably one of the best compliments you could have given, frankly.

Date: 2009-01-19 06:12 pm (UTC)
ext_1186: shadows of utena and anthy (Default)
From: [identity profile] rynia.livejournal.com
OK, so, I have no coherency here. *flail* It just keeps getting better. Y'all are handling the interplay between Sarah and Jareth remarkably well, especially not letting it go to romance novel land. And the scene with the young mother made me wince in the way that it *should*. Sosososo *good*.

Date: 2009-01-19 10:28 pm (UTC)
ilyena_sylph: picture of Labyrinth!faerie with 'careful, i bite' as text (only forever)
From: [personal profile] ilyena_sylph
Thank you for making my day! +grins+

I'm so glad you enjoyed the Jareth-and-Sarah show. They can be really problematic to handle, because the fact that he's stupid in love with her really doesn't change anything about them.

That poor, poor young mother is, yeah, supposed to make you wince, so I am so pleased to hear that it worked! Thank you!

Date: 2009-01-22 04:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katarik.livejournal.com
One of the things our dear beta was so insistent on was the *creepy* coming through, because it *should*: he loves her. He is stupid in love with her. He is a *creepy supernatural entity* and if she had the sense God gave a doorknob she would be running like buggery in the other direction.

Melissa breaks my heart really a *ton*. I hope she got her dreams.

Thank you! :DDDDDDD

Date: 2009-01-21 06:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sara-lakali.livejournal.com
Until I started reading this, I hadn't realized how much of a Sarah/Jareth shipper I am.

This is lovely.

Date: 2009-01-22 03:09 am (UTC)
ilyena_sylph: picture of Labyrinth!faerie with 'careful, i bite' as text (only forever)
From: [personal profile] ilyena_sylph
Thank you so much! *grins delightedly*

I'm glad you're still with us, too!

Date: 2009-01-22 04:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katarik.livejournal.com
*ahahahahahahahahaha* JOIN USSSSSSSSS WE HAVE peaches COOKIES.

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