Universe: Firefly x Labyrinth
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon owns Firefly; Jim Henson owns Labyrinth, though I think David Bowie owns the entirety of Jareth’s delicious rump.
Characters: River, Jareth, Simon, Mal
Status: Complete, word count 4,119
Summary: The Goblin King comes for River but she's got a few surprises up her sleeve.
Notes: Post Serenity for Firefly. This story began with the seeds planted in Tiny Dancer
, a double drabble from Jareth’s POV. It’s reprinted here for your convenience. Some of the dialog was lifted from both source materials and reworked for my own use here. Cookies for everyone who can find them all…~~~ Tiny Dancer ~~~
A lifetime ago, Jareth taught her to dance, twirling and weaving through the other couples like they were mere statues. Each new step was like a revelation; River took to it like flight.
He had caught her when she fell from her world and spun her away. She did not come the usual way, through fear and hate. She wished herself to his realm—but not all of her, just the part that needed to dance.
He was safety in her darkness.
She was never truly in his world, but he could not resist the phantom temptation of her small hands, the tremble of her breath on his shoulder. His magic called, and she slipped away to answer him whenever she could. She danced on the thin line between realities, a sliver of imagination that shattered against his magic with the grace of death.
She waltzed like one entranced.
He wondered if she ever understood he was as real as she. River spoke rarely, a ramble of thought that sparkled against his magical splendor. He wondered what her body was doing while her mind danced with him.
And whether he had the strength to follow her into that bright life.~~~ Sarabande ~~~
The Black whispers, but only River can hear it. She feels badly for the others, who only see darkness and can’t hear the sparkling shine of the stars. They sing such marvelous songs of mathematical precision, whirling in their dance of decimals and logarithms, perfect in their arcs and revolutions.
River dances with the stars in curving sweeps of flight, her steps in time with music only she can hear. In her mind, she sees the other dancers in celestial finery; their ball gowns are the soft hues of distant nebulas and streaks of dying dwarf stars.
She remembers the other dancers, the ones that crowd her memory. They were real, then, when she had no other escape, real like he
was, the one who taught her to dance outside herself, to flee the scraping blue lights of the Academy. Her mind would slip away to that other kingdom and skip along inside the safety of his strong arms.
Miranda took her away from him. Simon thinks this is a good thing, that River no longer needs to hide from her own mind, but River disagrees. She can still remember the smell of leather and the feel the lace under her fingers if she tries hard enough, but it’s not the same.
She misses him and tells Simon that the mirrors have shattered and the dancers have flown way. Her brother offers her new medicine and worries. She wishes she could explain in a way he could understand, but his thoughts only bend in lines.
Serenity sings to her, too, the mechanical hum of a mother to her sleeping children, lying in their beds. Under her breath, River hums along. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word. Mama’s going to buy you a mockingbird,” she sings softly, her hands gentle on the controls. Kaylee has taken good care of Serenity, and the ship is pleased with the duet.
She can hear the rest of the crew, the gentle mutterings of their mind in sleep. Even Zoe is sleeping better; the raw edges of Wash’s empty spot at her side are dimming with the passage of time, the lost wife’s mind wrapping trauma in spider-webs. They stick to River as she touches Zoe’s mind, clinging with aching need. River smoothes them down with lavender strokes and Zoe rolls over in her sleep.
River checks the instrument panel again and after the lights blink up at her in satisfied order, she stands to leave. A pause, the whispers hiccup and shudder. Something changed, the neural network of the planetary bodies has realigned and the ‘verse as shifted.
She lifts her skirts and begins to run. The dance has begun and she’s late, late, late for a very important date.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Simon wasn’t sure what woke him up, probably another nightmare about River. The nightmares were better now that she
was better, but old habits die hard, especially bad ones.
His skin was clammy and his hands were clenched tightly in the sheets. Kaylee’s bare back was curled away from him, but her feet were touching his. He smiled at her sleeping form as he slipped from the bed and shrugged on pair of trousers and a loose-fitting shirt. A brief glimpse of himself in the mirror made him pause. The Simon that he used to be would no more be caught dead in this outfit than he’d cut off his own surgeon’s hands.
My, how the times have changed.
He shut the door carefully behind him as he wandered down the corridor toward the mess. It was empty. With a yawn, he grabbed a cup of bitter, lukewarm tea and slumped into a chair. It was quiet, almost too quiet, the sort of stillness before a dust storm.
The old Simon wouldn’t have even known what a dust storm was.
He stared morosely down into his tea and flirted with the idea of feeling sorry for himself. Then he breathed the smell of Kaylee from his skin and banished all self-pity with a swallow of luke-warm tea.
A noise in the corridor startled him and he looked up in time to see River’s slender form dart across the doorway. It almost sounded like she was singing to herself, but she was gone by the time he got to the door.
A running River was never a good thing.
Simon hurried down the hallways behind her, just out of sight, though he could easily follow the patter of her footsteps. He came to a halt on the landing to the cargo bay by running into Mal’s broad back.
The captain was staring into the rafters of the ship’s belly with a very strange look on his face.
“Mal?” Simon said, out of breath. “What’s going on?”
“I seem to be suffering from a slight case of owl-infestation,” he answered, hand rubbing his jaw.
Simon looked up and was barely able to discern a white-faced ball of feathers on the highest beam. “Huh,” was all he had to add. “I’m not sure one owl qualifies as an infestation.”
Mal scowled at him. “Fat lot of help you are, Doc. With that enormous brain of yours, would you like to explain why I have an owl roosting in my cargo bay?”
The smudge of pale moved, but Simon’s attention was caught by River on the floor of the bay, gently swaying in place. Her eyes were closed, head thrown back with long brown hair trailing behind her as she spun slowly.
“River always had a thing for owls. She used to write about them when she was at the Academy,” Simon said, moving to walk slowly down the stairs.
Mal had drawn his handgun, though he didn’t aim it at either River or the owl, which Simon thought was a plus. The last thing he needed was a Mal with an itchy trigger finger.
“I never understood what she meant by them. I just figured they were part of the code I couldn’t crack.”
“Not code. Real,” River whispered. “I would fly away on owl’s wings and dance.”
Simon grimaced and Mal cleared his throat. “Right. Real owls, appearing inside my ship in the ass end of nowhere.” He glanced at Simon, but the doctor only shrugged.
“It looks like a real owl to me, but I have to admit I’m no expert on owls. Maybe it flew on board at our last stop,” he offered, trying to be helpful and rational. It didn’t help.
“And we only noticed it two weeks later? I don’t think so,” grumbled Mal, who had circled under the owl and was staring up into the beams.
“Did you know, some birds will vomit in self-defense,” River said, her eyes still closed. She began to twirl, holding her skirts out over her boots.
Mal moved back towards the wall, looking upwards warily.
“Though that’s technically only true for turkey vultures, and they never left Earth-That-Was,” River added, finally opening her eyes.
Simon thought they glittered, pupils dilated wide and dark. He touched her arm, gently, and said, “River, honey, do you know why there’s an owl here?”
Her smile was brilliant, the smile he remembered from their childhood before her mind had splintered. “Of course! He’s come for me. I’ve been gone too long.” River’s face fell. “Never went away, they said. Never gone, but it was bad data. Starting parameters were wrong.”
Mal and Simon exchanged glances. The captain muttered, “I thought she was better, no more imaginary friends and all that go se.”
“Not imaginary.” She sighed. “You never see what’s in front of her. You never did. I tried to tell you but you don’t hear. No, no, mei-mei, the monsters under your bed aren’t real.”
She turned to her brother, her face plaintive, “What’s real? I thought I knew. Miranda showed me real, but he’s real now, too.”
Simon spared another troubled glance at the ceiling. The owl looked down at him, its eyes entirely too human. “Well, it doesn’t appear that this friend is imaginary, Mal. I can see it, and so can you.”
River began humming under her breath again, a soft, haunting melody that made Simon think of dark corners and sweeping skirts. His sister lifted a hand toward the ceiling, palm up. “I didn’t think you would come for me.”
The owl launched itself downward on silent wings. Mal jumped, pulling up his gun, but before he could aim it, the captain gave a squawk of surprise. Simon’s jaw dropped; the pistol was no longer a pistol but a tiny, brown, hairless monkey-like thing with enormous eyes. It scurried up Mal’s arm and began pulling out his hair.
“Ahhh!! Get this hwoon dahn thing off me!” Mal hollered, beating at it with his free hand. “What the guay is this?”
“A goblin,” River said, simply. “And now he’ll make it stop.”
Like magic, the beast turned back into the gun and dropped to the floor with a clang. Simon knelt to pick it up when he saw Mal’s face. The doctor left the gun on the floor and slowly turned around.
River was standing only inches away from a tall, slender man dressed like nothing Simon had ever seen. Leather pants, diaphanous shirt covered by an embroidered vest the color of the owl’s wings. His hair was wild, his teeth just this side of too sharp. He looked down at Mal and Simon with a look of profound contempt on his slightly alien features then smiled.
The owl was nowhere to be found.
“I’m not seeing this, am I?” Mal said. “I’ve lost my marbles. There is no strange man standing in my cargo bay turning my guns into goblins. This is Not Happening.”
Simon swallowed, and at the look of rapt attention on River’s face, tried to speak, “I, mei-mei, what…do you know this…man?”
River blinked slowly, like a sleeper surfacing from a dream. “Not a man. He’s the Goblin King.”
The apparent Goblin King said nothing, merely drawing his arm around River’s shoulders. He moved like this was an old motion, something ingrained, familiar and totally expected.
Mal knelt to pick up the gun slowly, very clearly gesturing that the safety was now on. “Simon, the Goblin King is wearing one of your vests. I thought you’d gotten rid of all of those.”
“I can see that.” Simon said, his voice strangled. “He’s also hugging my little sister.”
“I noticed,” Mal responded, moving slowly toward the intercom on the wall. The stranger merely watched with an ironic arch of an eyebrow. River smacked him lightly on the chest.
“Naughty. Don’t think such things about them. They’re family.” She turned to Mal and said, “You can try to call, but it won’t work.”
“Why the kao won’t it?” Mal barked, hand gripping his gun tightly.
“Because I wish to speak to River and I do not want to be interrupted,” The Goblin King said.
Simon shivered. There was something profoundly wrong with that voice, like it came from very far away through alleys of moss-covered stone. He gathered his courage and said, “Why should we let you? How do you know her, anyway?”
“She came to me and danced in my halls.” He reached one hand up to smooth down River’s hair, and the look on her face made Simon’s heart skip a beat. “She has drunk of my wine and eaten of the fruit of my kingdom. Your sister is one of us.”
“One of you,” Simon spat out, stepping forward. “How could she be one of you?
“She is magic. Didn’t your tiny little mind notice?” the Goblin King said, his voice tumbling over them like water over rocks. “Such power in her; she sings to the stars.”
“And the stars sing back,” whispered River, her fingers tracing patterns on that increasingly loathsome vest.
“River, sweetheart, the stars don’t sing. They’re just stars,” Simon tried, but River shook her head hard.
“The girl’s not crazy any more, Simon. You’re thinking about all those medicines in vials just steps away in the infirmary. But I’m
not crazy. And now you truly see.” She looked up at the Goblin King as he gently spun her away from his body. He gripped her hand lightly as he drew her up into a formal dance, their steps barely touching the metal floor of the cargo bay. Simon swore he could almost hear real music as River brushed by him, a look of wonder on her face.
Simon poked Mal in the shoulder. “Are we going to let the crazy man dance with River? This is…wrong.”
“And he turned my gun into a goblin. What do you think he’s going to do if we charge him? I don’t fancy being something other than Malcolm Reynolds today. Besides, it doesn’t look like he’s hurting her.” Simon tried to ignore the look on Mal’s face, the one that said he was crazy.
Okay, so maybe he was crazy, but no more so than River. Who apparently wasn’t all that crazy after all. “Oh, God, what have I done?” he moaned.
“You?” Mal said, but whatever he was going to add was cut off when River stopped the dance.
She stood, swaying slightly in place, a look of wonder on her face. Simon moved to step forward, but the Goblin King froze him with a glance. His face was marble cold, carved like a Greek statue from Earth-That-Was.
“ No one can blame you for walking away, but too much protection, no love injection,” the Goblin King sang softly, voice rippling over both men. Mal shuddered, like shaking off cobwebs, and Simon tried to walk forward again.
“Tsk,” hissed the Goblin King, stepping towards them. River was frozen, her arms still upraised in the dance, a statue of herself. Even her hair failed to move as the Goblin King brushed by. “You think you know what she wants, who she is. You want to box her up, keep her away from herself. She came to me
. Do you know what that means?”
“It means you’re as crazy as she is,” said Mal, raising his gun again.
The Goblin King merely raised an eyebrow. “Petty toys of petty men, guns. They don’t concern me. What should concern you, little men, is what becomes of her.”
He turned back toward her, wrapping his unnaturally long arms around her torso, burying his nose in her hair. “She smells of life, of power.”
“Now look here,” Mal said, stalking forward to poke the Goblin King in the back. “Get your hands off my pilot.”
The stranger turned with fluid grace, hissing, “Your pilot? Bah. You know nothing of flight. I’ll show her what it truly means to fly.”
A low mist gathered along the floor of the cargo bay, curling around Simon’s feet. He tried to lift one booted foot and found it stuck to the deck. “What are you—“
The mist swirled higher, completely engulfing his sister. Both Simon and Mal were held in place, unable to move as the stranger gently curled River into the outstretched folds of his cloak. The Goblin King’s laughter swirled as opaque as the mist, and he said, “Don’t worry. It's only forever; it's not long at all.”
With a crack like lightning, they both disappeared, leaving nothing but the dissipating mist in their wake.
Released from his stasis, Simon fell forward onto the deck where River had stood. He ran his hands over the metal desperately, and looked up to see Mal pounding on the intercom in the corner.
“Ta ma duh! Zoe! Kaylee! Jayne! Hell, even Inara! Get your sleepy asses down here! Now! River’s been stolen by the Goblin King!”
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
The night air is cool on her skin, smelling of jasmine and sweet olive, smells she knew only from her dreams. It is real air, planet-side air, and she knows she is home again. Her feet walk on stone, the grain rough through thin slippers, and her sparkling full skirts snag on rough edges.
She hears music threading through the open hallway, and her steps quicken. She is almost there, just around the corner. A vine snags her wrist, but she pays it no mind, pulling away as quickly as she can.
A burbling fountain.
The soft cry of a night bird.
She is there, the honeyed light falling around her like silk. The ball is in full swing, other couples moving in time to that distant music, no closer now that she is there in person. She scans the hall, seeking, searching.
He waits, a shadow within a shadow, his lean face hungry. She moves toward him, carried by the song, and he opens his arms.
“At last, you have come home,” he purrs, his voice more animal than man.
She curls her fingers into his cloak, warm with summer heat. “I didn’t know how to come back. Miranda took me away and the dancing girl forgot her footing.”
He twirls her, arms outstretched, through an opening in the dance. She melts to him in a sigh of perfect ellipses, her body long against his. River feels the blood coursing through the veins in his wrist, and is only slightly surprised to feel his warm breath on her neck.
“You could never forget. I am with you, in you. You are never free of me.”
She leans back, looking at his silver eyes with knitted brows. “Jareth.”
He looks inordinately pleased. “You remember my name.”
“You love me, the girl with blood on her blades.”
He strokes her hair. “You are hardly a girl any longer. All grown up and battle tested. What sweet sounds you made as you sliced through your enemies. I watched you spin in my crystals, cutting down the creatures who hunted you. Child of my heart, you feasted well with me.”
She leans into his touch, a cat into a caress. “You showed me how to fly, but this is not our dance.”
He freezes, hands encircling hers. “I wove song from nothing and glitter from air for you. This ball is all for you; all is for you. Everything I've done, I've done for you. I move the stars for no one, except you. They dance for you!”
River pushes him away. “The dancing girl knows what’s real now.” She gestures wide at the spinning forms. “Illusion, light bends around dense bodies, gravity pulls colors from the waves.”
With a twist, the dancers shudder, shattering apart into individual forms of gurgling goblins. They seem surprised at their new attire, fumbling and tripping over each other with feet too large for their bodies, still trying to keep up with the music.
River smiles, her face bright. “Now they’re free to take the wrong steps.”
“River, precious thing, why? Isn’t my magic good enough for you?” His voice is plaintive, but the fire in his eyes is dangerous.
She doesn’t appear to notice, fitting her hands into his once again, guiding him back into the dance. “Of course it is, silly. But I like real magic, not the other kind.”
Jareth grips her shoulder, pulling her tightly to him as if afraid she would disappear. The music carries on, reflected in the mirrors in ever increasing complexity. River can hear the fugues rising and falling in cascades of light, the way the rhythm multiplies to keep up with her steps. It makes her sigh.
“You’re real magic to me, Goblin King. I danced in your halls. I; not the sleeping girl with nightmares under her skin. Me.”
“You fell to me and I caught you.” He twists his lips upward in what humans would call a smile. River sees only bared teeth. “I will always catch you.”
“But I don’t fall anymore. I know how to stand.” She ducks under his arm in a graceful swoop. “You fear me, love me. I can feel you inside.”
She is pulled up sharply by a tug on her hand. Jareth looks as if he was in pain, his body trembling with suppressed rage. “You cannot know me. I am the Goblin King, lord over this dominion. I am the end.”
River smiles dreamily, her fingers raised to trail down his cheek. She pauses, and pushes herself to her tip-toes to kiss him lightly on the lips. “I know. But you also know that you have no power over me. I came because I wanted to. I can leave any time I want.”
She pulls back to see a flash of fury on Jareth’s face before it crumples in defeat. “You are divine, a whisper in my darkness.”
“I know. But I will return when the calculations are finished. They’re not quite done; some parameters are missing, errata in the final steps.” She gasps as he tightens his arms around her waist, his body hard and fierce against her own. “Once you have been of the Labyrinth, you are always there.”
“Fairy tales to frighten children,” He grumbles as he backs her against the wall, kicking gawking goblins from under foot.
“Not a child anymore,” River whispers, the stone rough against her back. She is wearing her own clothes again, and the boots scrape the flagstones. Jareth’s face is mere breaths from her own and she licks his cheek. It tastes of salt and sadness.
Flickering lights flash in the Goblin King’s eyes, sparks of the magic he keeps inside. River thinks they looked like stars, waltzing to their own music. He growls, deep in his chest, and covers her mouth with his own. She is lost for a moment, the girl that bit the forbidden peach, before pushing him away again.
“Not fair, cheating,” she says, smoothing down her skirts. “I’ll come back.”
“Of course I’m not fair,” he says, puffing out his chest and stalking away. A child’s walk, when the toys have lost their shine.
“Come for me again,” River says, “But be nice to my brother and my captain. They’re mine.”
“You are mine,” Jareth barks, his voice sharp.
River shivers, but smiles anyway. “Always.”
Reality twists, turning under her feet like twisting stairways. Time rumples in ribbons thrown into a chest after a ball, and River falls from the Goblin King’s palace back onto the cargo deck of the Serenity in time to hear Mal yell, “Get your sleepy asses down here! Now! River’s been stolen by the Goblin King!”
“No I haven’t,” she says, calmly.
Simon falls over onto his backside with a thump. Mal’s mouth hangs open, his fist still clenched around the intercom. He makes a few noises like he was clearing his throat and speaks again.
“Er, disregard that. This was just a drill. Everything’s fine. No owls, no goblins, everything’s fine.”
Simon rises to his feet, and River clutches his hand. “Are you okay? He would never have hurt you. He just likes to show off.”
“That…thing stole you away!” Simon cries. His eyes were full of panic and his voice in her head was raw with worry.
River wishes he would think softer; he makes her head hurt.
“I went for a ball in my honor but my dance card was full,” she explains, but Simon doesn’t stop his frantic thinking.
Mal seems to understand a little bit better, though it could be because he is in shock. His thoughts tumble over each other so quickly they smother all rational thought. He is tired, and River wishes he could sleep.
Mal mumbles, “Doc, your sister is fine. The crazy owl-man is gone. It’s late. I’m tired and going to bed. And when I wake up, there are going to be no more goblin guns. Ever.”
Her captain glares at her and River nods eagerly. “No more goblin guns. I’ll make him promise.”
Mal shakes his head and stalks up the stairs. Simon stares at her as if she was made of mirrors so she ruffles his hair.
“Jareth, my Goblin king, will be back. Our number is not up yet, but when it is, he’ll take me home.”
“Serenity’s your home,” Simon says, his voice weak. He looks shaken, like his world had taken two steps sideways and left him standing there.
“Of course,” she answers. “And she needs me right now. The stars are starting the new sarabande; Corelli is on their mind.”
Simon blinks at her and River takes pity on him. “Kaylee is awake and wondering where you are. Come on, we’ve got things to do.”
She pulls him up the stairs and heads for the bridge, not looking behind to see a few stray owl feathers settling to the floor in a flurry of shine.
~~~ The End ~~~
Would you like to read more? How about Simon's reactions to it all...Find that in Red Letter Day
, on my Livejournal. Enjoy!