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Humans and Humanity

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It was peaceful by the sea.

Sarah was happy for a change of atmosphere. Their new house in friendly suburbia was a fairly quiet place to live, but the rowdy kids in the neighborhood meant that there was never any real peace around the house, and the bright streetlamps cut through even the darkest of nights and the heaviest of curtains. She’d never really felt alone there, not since Jareth’s visit.

In a way, never having complete darkness was nice. It helped her nightmares to know that having a light was only a tug of some fabric away, and to know that the house it all began in was far behind her.

It did not, however, help to know that the subject of her nightmares could visit whenever he wished.

Also whenever she wished, which was a much less disturbing thought because Sarah could control that bit of the equation. Although… Sarah’s control over his visits was quite a bit more literal on the subject of wishing.

On the fourth day of their family’s summer vacation to the northeastern seaboard, Sarah had their hotel room to herself. Toby was off at a kid’s day, one of the programs that the hotel offered, and Sarah’s dad and stepmother were off to take a day to themselves looking at historic places or something. In Sarah’s opinion, the lighthouse that rested in the cliffs just beyond the hotel was as historic as she wanted to go, and it was the perfect spot for thinking.

The hotel itself stood where the old keeper’s home had been, out on a tiny peninsula just a short ways off from an even tinier cape town. It was quiet, it was secluded, and it was as about as “ordinary little town” as you could get in the way of scenery, if still very pretty.

She took Jareth’s crystal, a pencil, and a blank sketchbook (a gift from her dad on her last birthday) and made her way over to the base of the structure. The lighthouse was surrounded by rocky cliffs, some gradually leading to the shore by way of twisting, stepped paths, and others with nothing but a sheer drop into the ocean. The building itself probably wasn’t stable enough to climb on, so she settled for leaning against the base and letting the sea breeze blow her long hair into tangles while she drew.

Sarah used to sketch all the time when she was younger. She wondered if she still had a knack for it…

Draw something real.

Draw something solid.

Draw something sane.

Draw…

But her attempt at drawing the waves and the large rocks just offshore turned into a mermaid’s tail peeking from behind the rocks, and her snapdragons had dragon’s teeth. She did manage to sketch an outline of the view down the coast, but she grew bored with it quickly and sat the book down with a huff.

Forget all hopes of being normal, the world seemed to cry out. You are not normal. You are Sarah Williams.

Wasn’t that what she wanted to be, though? She picked up Jareth’s crystal from beside her and looked into it. The same image played inside the glass bubble, the same dream. She originally thought that the fairy ballroom dream from four years ago would play at some point, but it seemed that she shattered that dream in the Labyrinth in more ways than one.

There were sketchbooks full of fairy characters in some place or other, probably boxed up in the attic. Sarah had pushed those away as well in her rush to grow up and regain her sanity. Now it seemed like she wouldn’t find any peace unless she just… let go.

Draw what you see.

So Sarah sketched.

She drew the strange fields full of brown, wheat-like plants and tall grass, overshadowed by a strangely-colored sky. She drew two figures in the grass, and in the middle… a tree. The same tree that she was standing beside when she first saw the Labyrinth. On the other side of the tree was a street lined with perfectly ordinary houses, resting somewhere in a perfectly ordinary neighborhood on perfectly ordinary earth.

She drew a meeting of the worlds.

It was far past the time for Sarah to think of her sanity. She realized something when she decided to throw away the peach, and that was that sanity is relative. After all, what is sanity but being able to cope with the world around you and with the situations presented without breaking down? She’d broken down, but now she was clawing her way back up from rock bottom and trying to discover who and what she wanted to be. What is sanity but sound, rational behavior? If everyone else had run Jareth’s labyrinth when they were fifteen then perhaps her behavior would be considered completely normal.

Standing, she tucked the crystal in her small bag and the sketchbook under her arm, planning on going for a walk. The salt air did wonders for sinuses (or so her dad kept saying), but it didn’t do much in the way of clearing your mind. She needed motion, energy, a way to divert all the pent up feelings inside her into the wind and let them blow far away.

Jareth’s words kept ringing in her mind, over and over… “So why should the fact that you age physically mean that you can’t keep the curiosity and strength and spirit of the child you were alive?” It never seemed to stop playing in her mind, actually. Every time someone mentioned how mature she was, or some kind (but also very nearsighted) old church patron said something about what a beautiful woman she had become, or Irene pushed her towards getting a date because that was what girls her age did she thought about those words.

Maturity was different than keeping her “childish spirit,” she knew, and she tried her best not to dwell on compliments on her physical appearance. She had never considered herself particularly pretty and preferred not to dwell on physical appearances. They didn’t matter when everyone thought you were insane, anyways.

As for dating… Sarah tried. She really did try, but it never lasted. She’d had three relationships in the past six years, none of them lasting longer than a couple of months for various reasons. The first didn’t like her constant obsession over the theater, the second couldn’t handle when people started passing him off as insane, too, and the last one… Well, Sarah ended that one herself.

Her feet padded softly over the rocky path along the cliffs. Time alone was so… refreshing. Ever since the move Toby had been clinging to her like his life depended on it, even though he’d made other friends quickly. It was like Sarah was supposed to be his rock, his comfort in the new atmosphere, but how could she support her brother when she was still trying to understand things herself?

Over the past few months, Sarah found herself peeking at the photographs of her mother in the drawer, running her hands fleetingly over the fabric of those old costumes, taking the fairy stories off the shelf just to riffle the pages and smell the old books and feel the thick, textured paper under the pads of her fingers... She found herself reaching backwards for familiar things, for a crutch in everything that swirled around her.

And most of the time she refrained. She held back from looking at photos of a woman who had everything that Sarah wanted but had never called once after she left ten years ago, she stopped herself from opening the box with the costumes, and she only stroked her fingers over the bindings of the books in passing rather than taking then from the shelf.

But not all the time.

Change is good, she chanted. Change is good. There is a whole life ahead of you, with new people and places and friends... This fall she would go to college to study theatre, and there would be another change. That was life, though. That was the way the world worked.

She wondered fleetingly what it must be like for Jareth. Immortality had to be taxing at some points, to watch the world shift and shape itself around you, while everything you knew slowly faded away to null. It might just be better to die after a while, rather than to wake up one morning and find yourself in a world that you never knew, in a place that you didn’t want to be.

Sarah was so lost in her thoughts that she wasn’t paying attention to her footing. As she walked along the path, her left foot slipped too close to the edge of the cliffs and the ground broke free from under her. Her arms flailed, book dropping to the ground, and Sarah slid feet first off the side of the sea cliffs.

She barely had time to cry out, scrabbling for anything to hold onto. Her hands found a stubborn tree root poking out from the rocky ground and held on tight, stopping her fall with a jerk.

Forcing herself to keep her eyes open, Sarah looked up. The root was a foot or two from the top of the cliff. It would be impossible to simply pull herself up- she didn’t have the arm strength or the arm length necessary to do so- but if she could get safely to the bottom there were steps cut into the rock a little ways back. She’d have to try to find a handhold somewhere before- before-

The root sagged with her weight. It was only a matter of time.

No sooner had this thought crossed her mind than her grip slipped, dusty and sweaty hands making it difficult to hold on. Her feet dangled far above the ground- no hope of jumping down unharmed. Maybe she wouldn’t have to worry about the root.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, she cursed herself for being so stupid as to walk that close to the cliffs without paying any mind to what she was doing. She was far enough away that no one from the hotel would be able to hear her, and if someone had heard her shriek when she fell they would have been here already.

There were no handholds, and every foothold she tried for caved away under her toes. It seemed like she had no other option but to drop, and… as much as she hated to admit it, dropping of her own free will was better than waiting until her arms gave out…

It was probably a thirty foot drop to the sandy shore.

One.

Inhale.

Two.

Exhale.

Three.

Sarah squeezed her eyes shut and let go of the root, expecting for her feet to hit the ground with a crash, but instead she felt someone grab onto her right wrist tightly just as she let go, holding her where she was. She looked up in shock at the person who had caught her.

Jareth.

“Well, come on!” he snapped. “Other hand, now. We don’t have all day.”

Sarah immediately reached up, and Jareth pulled her back up to the top by both hands until she could haul herself back over the edge of the cliff.

“And I thought you had a death wish when you ran the Labyrinth…” Jareth muttered, brushing his hands off. Sarah didn’t have the strength to stand right now- her heart beat out a panicked rhythm against her ribcage and she was positive her legs were completely rubber.

“Thank you,” she said, dazed. “But how-”

“When people fall, they all wish for someone to catch them. It’s simply that not everyone has someone who will hear.” He huffed in annoyance and sat down beside her, legs dangling off the ledge.

“So you can’t… you can’t just come around whenever you want?”

“No, of course not.” He seemed genuinely surprised that she didn’t know that. “Do you realize how much havoc it could cause if the Fae people could just… just traipse about your world whenever they wanted?”

“Um… I’ve never really thought about it,” Sarah admitted, hugging her needs to her chest. She made a mental note of how she seemed to do that more and more often- literally try to curl herself into her shell when she felt scared or uncertain. Work on your posture, Sarah.

But not now. Now she wanted to stay curled up in safety while Jareth talked.

“What’s that expression you people use… oh! World War Three?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. Would it really be that bad?

However, the mortal world didn’t really seem to be on good terms with anything magical or out of the ordinary. Everyone that Sarah knew operated by the policy that if you can’t explain it by science, math, or psychology, you shove it to the side and call it insane, and then you wait for it to die.

“But what about the- the owl thing?” She made a spinning motion with her hand, seemingly an attempt to indicate bird flight. Or maybe she was just fumbling with words. Who knew anymore? Certainly not Sarah…

“That’s different. As an owl I’m just a bird. I can’t cast any spells or cause any mischief or work magic of any sorts- the only thing I can do is fly around without fear of being killed by a bullet or any other means.”

“So you basically spy on people as a bird,” Sarah concluded, thinking that she should make extremely certain that her curtains were closed from now on.

“I do nothing of the sort!” Jareth scoffed, straightening his posture slightly. It suddenly struck her how odd this scene might look if any casual bystander could see it. The Goblin King’s clothes were hardly modern and definitely not casual, and here they were, talking like people nearly fell off of cliffs and Goblin Kings showed up out of the blue every day.

“Not even a little?” she asked, a smile playing around the corners of her mouth despite herself. “Not even once?”

“Well… maybe once or twice.” He winced slightly. “But that doesn’t make me… a… what do you call it in this century?”

“There are a lot of words for that, Jareth,” so many, in fact, that she wasn’t even going to bother going through them all to make suggestions, “but I think the one you’re looking for is ‘stalker.’ Are you really that unfamiliar with modern English?”

“Yes, I’m afraid my vocabulary is a tad archaic. I blame the era of my birth and my life with the Fae. They aren’t exactly the most up-to-date bunch.”

“When were you born, anyways?” Sarah uncurled herself and slid forward slightly to sit beside him on the ledge, only inches apart from brushing together.

“Hmm… the way you measure time, I believe it was about eighteen hundred years ago. Give or take.”

Wow. Her jaw dropped open slightly in shock. She’d been expecting maybe a hundred? Two hundred? Over a thousand years- closer to two thousand, actually- was more than she could fathom.

“A little old for me, don’t you think?” She smiled, hoping that he would notice that she wasn’t serious. It seemed to take a moment to register that she was only kidding, but Jareth half-smiled and shrugged in response.

“A year for you is a blink for the oldest of the Fae. We don’t measure time in the same way, and thus age becomes less significant to us than it might be.”

That explained why he didn’t seem to care that she wasn’t even twenty years old yet... and possibly why he’d very nearly proposed marriage when she was fifteen. The Fae had an eternity, and when you have infinite time, time itself becomes insignificant.

“So… how did they find you? The Fae, I mean.”

“The Fae are… drawn… to those especially beautiful or especially talented. Some changeling children are gifted with bravery or artistic talent, and others are simply physically beautiful, though all the children who are not what the Fae consider pretty… The Fae amend that,” Jareth sighed, twirling a crystal. Sarah wondered if it was a nervous habit. “None of it lasts, though. The children are all ultimately human, and thus will all ultimately die, so the Fae slowly erode away the parts that keep them human, and their favorites… well… we live as long as they do.” It was warm and pleasant outside, but Sarah felt a chill seep through her very bones. The thought of children snatched from their families and taken to live with immortals… it was positively sickening.

“How long is that?”

“No one knows. The oldest Fae generation recorded retreated into a far-off world millennia ago. They could be alive, or they could very well be long dead.” Jareth fingered the tips of his strangely pointed ears, as if thinking on his heritage, while the crystal floated freely in circles in front of them.

Sarah wondered if the children that the Fae made beautiful liked what happened to their appearance. What happened to them- all of them? What happened to their changelings? Were they simply flattered to be singled out by magical beings, or were they like Sarah and Jareth, torn between worlds? Most of the stories talked of baby snatching fairies, but sometimes you heard a tale where an older child was taken, one of eleven or twelve rather than one or two…

“What’s it like?” Sarah asked suddenly, tilting her head to look at him.

“What?”

“Being immortal.” It seemed like… well, she didn’t know what it seemed like. With Jareth it was generally better not to base her opinions on what something seemed like, anyways. He licked his lips, thinking.

“Boring, mostly. Lonely, definitely. Immortality is a cruel fate for even the strongest of humans. The days pass and you never change, while the world falls down around you and reforms into a new day and age, and after a while it becomes too much.” He lifted his gaze from the waves to look Sarah directly in the eyes. “After a while you don’t want to live in the world any longer. You don’t want to watch everything you know and love die and decay into nothing more than dust while you look on… so you leave the world for a new one. You don’t interact with other people and so you lose any sense of humanity you once had in favor of isolation and self-loathing. Immortality is a different kind of doom, Sarah. Mortals are doomed to die. I am doomed to live.”

The world seemed to stop spinning. She stared at Jareth, who had dropped his gaze and wouldn’t look back over at her. No wonder he seemed so cold all the time- he was the only near-human in his domain, or at least the only one she knew of. He wasn’t married, and she imagined that the Fae probably did not get together for dancing and peach pie…

Peaches.

“If immortality is so cruel, why did you offer it to me?” Sarah asked, thinking of the other side of the peach.

“Because I knew you wouldn’t take it. Or, I hoped you wouldn’t.” He reached a gloved hand up to rub the back of his neck nervously. “And, I suppose… a certain amount of selfishness. I can’t imagine immortality would be half so bad with you.”

Sarah was torn between flattered and offended. She didn’t know how to respond, so she simply nodded and bit her lip, hoping she didn’t seem insensitive. Was this how the other side of unrequited affection felt?

Except that “affection” wasn’t the right word, no matter how much Sarah internally cringed at calling it “love.” Affection generally meant that you cared for someone, not necessarily on a romantic level… and she couldn’t lie, not even to herself, that she did care at least a little about Jareth.

Love was a different thing entirely.

“I’m sorry,” Sarah finally said, no louder than a whisper.

“For what?” A breeze caught Jareth’s cloak and it whipped around behind Sarah, billowing out an expanse of inky black fabric.

“I’m just… sorry.” She shrugged, hugging her arms around her chest. “I’m sorry the Fae took you. I’m sorry you have to come whenever I wish for you. I’m sorry I wished my brother away. I’m sorry I caused a huge mess. I’m-” She bit her tongue before she said the next sentence, shaking her head.

Jareth looked like he didn’t know how to react. Granted, he hadn’t been around humans for so long that he was probably unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the normal way of comforting someone… or it could just be that he didn’t want to seem too forward. It was impossible to read him.

“I don’t have to come, Sarah,” he said softly. “And trust me, if I did then you would know it. I am only required to come whenever someone wishes for the goblins to take whoever away. I’m the Goblin King, not the Blue Fairy.”

“Oh.” She briefly questioned the fact that the Blue fairy was apparently real, but brushed it aside quickly. "Then… thank you. For coming today. I… um...” Sarah stopped mid-sentence, chuckling at how ridiculous she was being.

“What?”

“If I were you I wouldn’t like being called. I was just going to say that I wi-” she stopped abruptly before she said a word. “I wondered if there was a way you could come visit on your own terms, without me… you know.” She shrugged.

“You mean you wish?” he chuckled.

“Alright, I wish,” Sarah repeated, thinking that it certainly couldn’t do any harm now. Jareth suddenly smiled, grabbing hold of the crystal still floating in the air in front of them, and stood.

“Done.”

“What?” Sarah’s heart dropped. What did she do now? Hadn’t she fumbled up enough for one lifetime?

“Well, you just gave me permission to visit whenever I like. Looks like you’ve forgotten just how powerful your wishes are.”

She wasn’t sure if she should panic or slap the smirk off his stupid face. On the one hand, Sarah had quickly realized that she really did enjoy talking to him, but on the other… Should she enjoy it? What did she want from this? Certainly not… not…

And yet she had allowed her tongue to slip, allowed herself to wish for something again.

She settled on something between glaring at smiling at Jareth.

“Tomorrow?” He asked. Amazing- even now that he could (apparently) come without being called, he still chose to give her the final say.

“Tomorrow.”