Waiting

He would be back. Sarah Williams was sure of it. She had been sure of it since the night of that victory celebration in her bedroom. At fifteen, she had been the plucky heroine and he had been her villain. He had also fallen in love with her. But fifteen was too young. Those kind of feelings had barely begun to awaken in her and she had brushed aside his words, thinking that they were spoken merely to distract her from her goal.

At eighteen, Sarah had changed from a girl on the edge of womanhood, to a young woman. The day after graduation, she looked in the mirror and smiled, full of the confidence and energy of youth. That night, her friends came back to her childhood bedroom and they celebrated once more. He made no appearance and Sarah wasn't sorry for it. The idea that there might have been more to his offers had already begun to surface at the back of her mind but the thought was half-formed and easy to push down.

Sarah graduated from the university at age twenty-two and left behind the formal education part of her life forever. The start of the next school term found her again in a classroom, but this time it was she who was responsible for the educating. Often trying but always rewarding, Sarah never regretted her choice to teach English and literature to teenagers. She worked hard and slept like the dead at night, which was good because it kept the dreaming to a minimum.

She was old enough now to understand what had been offered to her seven years before. A king, an immortal king with vast powers, had fallen in love with her and offered her a place at his side. It was a staggering thought, but the truth was that Sarah would not have accepted his gift then even if she had been fully aware. She still would have chosen Toby. He had to know that, he had to understand that it was the only choice she could have made, and he had to come back for her now that she could make a decision freely. He would come back. He had to come back.

When she was thirty, Sarah met someone. He was tall, and handsome, and kind and he loved her, so when he offered her a place at his side, Sarah said yes because she could not bear to say no again. The morning of her wedding, Sarah looked into the mirror and a grown woman in a white dress stared back out at her. He still had not come for her. Why hadn't he come for her?

In the fall, back in her classroom, Sarah knew that the students were whispering to one another about her. She knew they had noticed that Miss Williams was quieter and sadder than she used to be. She was as patient and good-natured as ever, but it was tempered with something else now, something that most of her students had not had experience with yet. Sarah let them whisper and tried hard not to notice when their gazes swept over her left hand where her wedding ring should have been.

At thirty-seven her belief wavered and she grew angry. She had waited long enough. In a moment of temper, Sarah stood again before the mirror and threw furious words until she was exhausted and in tears. "I hate you," she said, over and over, but with no conviction. "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you." As she spoke his face flashed in the mirror and she fell silent. His mismatched eyes met her wet and angry green ones for just a second before he was gone again and Sarah broke down and wept bitterly.


He had all the time in the world. He could, after all, do what he liked with time; could bend it to his will, reorder it on a whim. That was what Jareth the Goblin King told himself when a mortal girl defeated his Labyrinth and spurned his offer to make her a queen. He would give her time. It was the only gift that she would be unable to throw back in his face. So Jareth swallowed his anger, his loneliness, and his longing and gave her time, because he loved her.

Life went back to normal, at least as normal as if ever was when you were in charge of a kingdom of goblins. He rarely allowed himself to think of the girl. If he did, he would surely forget that he was trying to be something more than just her villain. But once and awhile, after suitable long intervals, he checked in on her, and in this manner, Jareth watched Sarah Williams grow up.

She was eighteen the first time she almost contacted him. Her shadowy image appeared in every mirror in the castle and for one wondrous moment, Jareth thought that she would come back to him on her own. But no, she never pushed at the barrier between their worlds and he watched and listened as she called the dwarf, the knight, and the rock-caller to her side instead.

He let time pass again, forced himself to wait four of her years and many more of his own before looking again. She was in her early twenties now and instructing mortal children in their own language and written word. She was no longer a child herself. Her features had matured and sharpened, making her more beautiful and Jareth almost went to her. Four years though, it had only been four years for her even if it had been much longer for him. He could wait; he had the time.

But when she appeared in all the mirrors again, Jareth thought he had waited too long. Her image was clearer than it had been when she was eighteen. She wore a white dress and for a brief moment, Jareth saw the ball gown from her dream all those years ago, but she reached up to straighten an ivory veil on her head and he realized that it was not a ball gown but a wedding dress. Sarah was getting married.

She disappeared from the mirror and with a shaking hand, Jareth conjured a crystal. As he watched, there was a knock at the door in the room where Sarah stood. A woman entered and said, "It's time, Sarah. Are you ready?" Sarah turned and Jareth could not see her face but he could hear her answer, "Yes."

With a snarl, Jareth threw the crystal and it shattered against the far wall. Everything! He had tried to give her everything and the only gift that she had not scorned, she had used against him; she had taken the time he had given her and used it to love another. For weeks afterward, the goblins cowered as his rage and anguish broke across the castle and the Labyrinth.

Jareth swore to himself that he would never look in on Sarah Williams again, but it was a promise he could not keep and he watched her more often than ever. When it became apparent that she had not married, that she was his still, Jareth began to hope again. And when the castle mirrors all filled with her beautiful face, he decided he would not take anymore chances. He would go to her and... she was speaking. He touched the barrier between their worlds so that he might see and hear her more clearly.

Her angry voice filled his ears as she flung furious words that could only be meant for him. "I hate you," she said. "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you."

Inside his chest, Jareth's heart clenched and turned to stone. His control wavered slightly and accidentally, he made a small tear in the barrier between them and she saw him. He met her wrathful gaze only for a few seconds and then he turned away. He could not endure her hatred, not when he had loved her for so long.

But he continued to watch her, even after that. In his realm, time passed much the same as it had for millennia. In the mortal realm, Sarah Williams aged. Jareth stopped keeping track of how many years were passing. He only knew that they were passing and that there would come a time when she would go where he could no longer watch her.

He decided that he had to see her once more. There was no danger in it now; he had given her his heart long ago and there was nothing more she could take from him. So he gathered himself and made the journey into the mortal world.

"I knew you would come," Sarah said when he appeared in her living room.

She sat in an old rocking chair, a blanket tucked around her. Her hair was white and her skin bore wrinkles and age spots. In her hands, now gnarled with age and arthritis, she clutched the little red book that had started it all: Labyrinth. Jareth looked at her and loved her no less in than moment than he ever had.

"I waited for you," Sarah spoke again and she smiled tiredly. "You were almost too late."

She had waited for him? She was still smiling at him and there was no malice or hatred in that smile, only sadness and... Had he really misjudged her that badly? All this time he had thought he was the the one waiting. Was it possible that she had longed for him over the years just as much as he had longed for her?

"I was angry that day in mirror," Sarah said when he did not speak. "I had waited so long and you hadn't come. I was so angry. I am sorry, Jareth. Can you forgive me?"

Forgive her? What was there to forgive? The blame was more his than hers. If she spoke the truth, then they had both been waiting on him for a lifetime. "Her lifetime," he thought bitterly.

"I have been a fool, Sarah," he said at last.

"We are both fools," she corrected.

She was right, of course, but he was the one who had the power to rectify it. He was with her now and while she lived, his magic would still work for her.

"I cannot erase the years from your memory," Jareth said, "But you know very well what I can do with time. You could come back with me, to my realm, and you would be queen." Her eyes sparkled despite her age and he went on. "The things I would show you, Sarah, things even you couldn't dream of."

She leaned her head against the back of the rocking chair. "I have always wanted to see the Labyrinth again," she said quietly. "It must be quite a site in the winter." She closed her eyes, as if she were already imagining it.

"You will see it," Jareth assured her. "In winter and every other season. And I will love you, Sarah. I will love you for a thousand lifetimes and more if that is what you wish."

She did not respond but she was smiling faintly.

"All you must do is say the right words," Jareth said.

But Sarah could not say the right words. Sarah Williams, at age eighty-two, had died as Jareth told her he loved her. For a moment, Jareth blinked, unable to take in the enormity of what had just happened. Numbness spread through him as understanding seeped in little by little. Sarah would not be queen. She would not see his Labyrinth in winter as the snow sparkled across the hedge maze. He did not know where she had gone. She had crossed a line that Jareth, being immortal, had never and would never cross, and she had passed to a place beyond where his magic could touch.

Jareth stood beside her, fighting the desolation welling up in his soul. He touched her wrinkled cheek gently and bent down to kiss the top of her head. Wherever she had gone, he wished her nothing but peace, even as his own world was crumbling.

"Go Sarah," he said, his voice breaking only slightly. "Go and wait for me no longer."