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"Sarah didn't really take to you at first," his mother is fond of sometimes saying. "But she came around in the end. After all, who could resist a cute little fella like you?" she finishes, leaning forward to pinch his cheek.
"Mom," he growls in embarrassment, as she and his father laugh.
It's an old family joke. Only Toby seems to notice that Sarah never laughs at the punchline. She sits, and looks down at her hands, and says nothing.
He's not sure why he connects the two, but whenever he thinks about Sarah not laughing, the expression that is almost shame, he also thinks about her asking him about the goblins. It's happened more than once, that she has approached him with her too-casual questions, spoken in a too-casual voice.
"Toby... Do you remember when you were very small? And I told you the story about the King of the Goblins?" She usually adds a quick disclaimer: "But I don't suppose you do. You were so little. Just a baby."
"No," Toby always answers, as innocently as he can. "I don't remember." One time, when he is ten years old, he asks the question back to her. "So what is this story about anyway?"
"I'll tell you about it later," Sarah replies hurriedly, beating a hasty retreat. "That is, I don't really remember it myself." She's never brought it up again.
They're liars, both. In all ways they are close except for this, their shared and unspoken secret. It's been fifteen years since it happened and Toby, like his sister, bears the marks of it still.
He has had the dreams as long as he can remember - "all my life," he would tell you if you asked, but that would not be true. At their heart is the man with the mismatched eyes and the castle beyond the labyrinth. Leering goblin faces, a room of a thousand staircases, the fragrant peach with the rotten centre, a crystal shattering: these phantasms can drift into his consciousness at any time. They are fragmented visions, incomplete, as subtle and insubstantial as music from another room. Music - and yes, he dreams about this too, the mocking songs that the pale king sings.
Strongest of all is the dream of his sister, young and proud and defiant. Dark-haired Sarah standing above him, an avenging angel, and beyond is the looming disdainful figure of the Goblin King. She cries out the words of power, and as the world falls to pieces - he wakes.
When he is still young, he thinks that such dreams are normal. Older, he realises that it's not so. Though armed with this new awareness, teenage Toby shies away from looking too hard or too deep. He lets the dreams and their meaning lie, just as he does his sister's fleeting guilty look. If this story hurts Sarah to remember, he reasons dimly, then it might hurt him to remember too.
Later, when they are both a little older still and after Robert is born, there is at least one occasion, as Toby afterwards realises, when Sarah does, at last, try.
"He can be a real pain, I know," she says apologetically, just as she and Brian are about to leave, "and I wouldn't ask you to do this except that your mom rang at the last minute and said she couldn't take him..."
"It's okay," Toby reassures her for the fiftieth time. "I don't mind looking after Robert, really. So long as you pay up, that is," he adds.
"Brat," she says fondly, and punches him in the shoulder. Then her expression turns serious again. "Look, Toby," she says, slowly. "If Robert gets too much for you - you call me, okay? Call me. Don't just. Don't just try to wish your problems away..." She stops, bites her lip. There is a strange emphasis to her words that he does not understand until later.
"Of course," Toby replies blithely, sensing she is upset but not knowing why. "Look, I've got your cell phone number right here. Now go on," he urges, giving her a friendly little push. "Brian's waiting in the car already."
So she laughs, and leaves, and the moment is broken. Toby has a minute of peace, just enough time to watch the car pull out of the drive-way, before Robert upstairs begins to cry. "Alright, alright, I'm coming," Toby calls, running up the stairs. Being an uncle is a pain, he reflects ruefully.
That same night Toby sees the snowy owl for the first time, watching him with unblinking gaze from its perch outside the window. Toby feels a chill run down his spine as he met the owl's tawny stare. Why doesn't it fly away? he wonders.
The sense of tension grows - for he has conceived the strangest suspicion, that the owl is there for a purpose. Quickly Toby steps forward and closed the shutters on its terrible stare, before turning away with an embarrassed laugh. How stupid I am, Toby thought. But he does not go back to the window again.
Several nights pass in such a fashion, when Sarah can find no one else to mind her child and Toby must come to the rescue. He doesn't mind it, except for the owl. It's not just the owl's stare. It's Robert too. Even though Toby tells himself that it's silly, that it's just coincidence, he's beginning to notice that although Robert may cry when the owl is not there, he never refrains from crying when the owl is there.
But he's loathe to follow those thoughts and their obviously laughable conclusion, so Toby says nothing, not to Sarah or anyone. He says nothing, not a word, even when the owl begins to appear in Toby's dreams. The pale king and the owl - they are connected. He senses that even as he tosses and turns in slumber. Lovely one, the pale king whispers. Beautiful boy. You will be mine. The owl beats its wings, covering his eyes and mouth with feathers of snow and gold, and at first it is beautiful, even pleasurable. But what seems wondrous soon becomes oppressive and at last frightening. For endless minutes Toby thrashes and gasps before waking to a mouth dry as dust and the memory of drowning, deep in a sea of down and feathers.
One night, tonight, he is again minding his sister's son. The scene plays itself out as before: Sarah's worried words and Toby's reassurances, Robert's insistent wail and the owl at the window. But tonight is worse. For Robert won't be calmed, won't be quieted. He screams and screams, and all the while the owl stares and stares.
"Shut up, Robert," Toby growls, to no effect. Feeling that he could scream himself, Toby puts Robert back into the cot and folds his arms, scowling. He neither deserves nor needs this. He never asked to be an uncle, did he? "I wish," he says in a sudden burst of anger, and stops, not knowing how to finish the sentence.
And then, unbidden, the spell rises to his lips. I wish the goblins would come and take you away, right now. From memory, from dream? He knows not. Outside the window, the wind wails and gusts like the ghosts of so many drowned children, and on its perch the owl blinks, once. I wish the goblins would come and take you away, right now... And Toby knows, with the certainty born of experience, that these words will work.
As slowly as a dreamer, Toby opens his mouth. He says it again, the words rolling heavy and thick from his tongue. "I wish..."
Far far away, the goblins chatter and gibber excitedly. A shadow passes across the room, the passing shade of a tall and lonely king. The owl spreads its wings and beats them once, and the shutters clash against the nursery walls like thunder.
With the slow deliberation of an underwater swimmer, Toby looks toward the window and stares into the owl's tawny, eager eyes. "I wish..." he whispers.
Memories of flying above a labyrinth of thorns, the arched and vaulting ceilings of a high and dusty castle. Visions of a world entire held within the sphere of a single crystal ball, playing lightly atop a king's supple fingers. An amused laugh, echoing.
"I wish the goblins would..."
Then like a beacon rises the memory of his sister, crying the words that set them free. You have no power over me. You have no power over me! And as the world shatters like a broken mirror, Toby sees a snowy owl beating its way free of the falling shards, upwards and away, whilst he and Sarah float and drift downwards to the welcoming earth.
Toby blinks, and shakes his head, and turns away. He picks up Robert again. "There's a good boy," he whispers, bouncing the squalling baby in his arms. "Don't cry, little brat. Toby's here. I won't wish you away." Robert grizzles, and whimpers, and quiets.
From outside, he hears a distant and disappointed cry. Is that just the wind? It doesn't matter. Toby reaches out and closes the shutters with his free hand. He doesn't need to look to know that the owl is already gone. He doesn't need a premonition to know that it will, one day, return.
But not tonight. Toby sings a lullaby as he walks up and down the room, rocking his nephew into a sound, safe sleep. Not tonight.
Jareth's version: Wait
Disclaimer: Labyrinth and associated characters are entirely and utterly the property of the Jim Henson Company, etc. This is a non-profit fanwork, completely unaffiliated and benign.