The Power Struggle | Teen Ink

The Power Struggle

January 3, 2011
By Your_Beautiful_Lies SILVER, Cairo, New York
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Your_Beautiful_Lies SILVER, Cairo, New York
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Favorite Quote:
"Expirence is a brutal teacher, but we learn. My God do we learn."~C.S.Lewis

What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939, translated from French by Lewis Galantière

Author's note: Inspired by Jim Henson's Labyrinth!

Sarah woke up in the morning and stretched until her bones creaked and popped. She smiled to herself; she’d had another dream last night. It wasn’t like her other dreams where she’d wake up and forget about most everything that happened in a matter of hours; no, Sarah knew she’d remember every detail just like it had been with the others.
It was the seventh dream Sarah had had in the past two months involving the Labyrinth. The first time, she’d shrugged it off as just another wonderful dream away from the whole realizing-you’ve-gone-to-school-in-your-underwear sort. The second time was odd and the third was just plain weird. The fourth had Sarah wholly freaked out but by the fifth she’d learn to relax and have fun with it and the sixth she and Sir Didymus had thrown a party in the midst of it. All of the dreams had been around the same vein but with definite differences every time. In all them, she sat in the messy goblin-infested room and watched as someone else ran the Labyrinth. A teenage girl, a young boy, a young mother, all in differing states of interest in the matter and another who refused to even try.
There had been something missing, Sarah realized now: she hadn’t seen hide nor hair nor puff of glitter from the Goblin King…until this last dream. It had been over ten years since she’d seen him but she could still picture him, down to the wild hair and nearly indecent tights. This time, she’d seen his face as he walked into the room just before the dream ended and she woke up back in her bed. Still, that icy look beneath furrowed brows sent chills down her spine; she’d seen him frustrated before but not full out angry.
She reflected back on the dream, reliving it bit by bit. First she had to orient herself to her surroundings, surprised to find herself yet again surrounded by rowdy goblins, a random chicken, and whatever else happened to wander in. The next thing Sarah had seen was a mass of orange fur as Ludo enveloped her in his giant hairy arms with a cheery “Sawah friend!” After pulling bits of hair from her mouth, she laughed and returned the hug. Hoggle had decided to make an appearance and sat next to her for the majority of the run while Sir Didymus had to leave early on to intercept the runner. This time, it had been a woman who was slowly sobering as the thirteen hours passed; her young daughter had a happy laugh when Sarah tickled her but otherwise was a sad, half-starved little girl. Sarah kept herself entertained devising new traps and obstacles to confuse the tipsy woman, still curious as to why she had even bothered. Time moved quite rapidly and soon she was sentencing and returning the woman back to her home. When she’d returned back to the main room, celebration of the Labyrinth’s successful run went on for what seemed like hours until finally they had roused the King. As much fun as running the dream-Labyrinth had been, Sarah’s smile melted when she thought of Jareth’s expression.
The drapes fluttered in the breeze and the bright sun of a beautiful May morning poured through the window. Resisting the urge to just settle back in bed, Sarah stretched again and sat up. The curtains fluttered again and Sarah glanced over, gasping in surprise.
Suddenly the room seemed so much colder, darker. Jareth stood in full Goblin King Regalia, arms crossed and piercing mismatched eyes honed on Sarah’s.
“Stay on your side, Sarah.”
Subconsciously pulling the covers closer and stealing herself, Sarah stammered, “What? J-Jareth, what are you doing here?”
“Sarah,” he repeated, obviously agitated all the more, “Don’t defy me. Stay on your side. I will not warn you again.”
Too astounded and full of questions to formulate a response, Sarah said nothing as the curtains fluttered in front of the Goblin King and he disappeared.

“Sarah? Are you okay?”
Sarah started and blinked certain that she had seen something in her glass paperweight. “I’m fine, Jen.”
“Are you sure, Sarah? You were staring at that paperweight like you were trying to will it to fly across the room.”
“Maybe I was trying to telekinetic-cate that thing right through Derek’s office window.”
Jen giggled for a moment. “Sorry, Sarah, I still don’t think he’d take a hint.”
Smiling, Sarah still had to grudgingly agree. “No, I daresay he wouldn’t. After four months, he was certain we’d be together forever.”
“Haven’t you talked to him yet?” Jen asked with a sigh.
“Yes and again. He just willfully misunderstands me.”
Jen made a noncommittal noise and shrugged. “I always thought he was such a sweet guy.”
“Oh he’s sweet and thoughtful and caring and—”
“Tell me again why you broke up with him?” Jen interrupted disbelievingly. “Most girls would kill for just one of those traits, dear.”
“He has no imagination, Jen, no impulse or spontaneity. Too caught in this world to think of anything more. If it’s not practical than it’s not worth his time. He doesn’t even read historical fiction.”
“So? I’d be willing to overlook it,” Jen said with a smile.
“All the same, you can see he’s pretty possessive.”
Jen shrugged, “It still could be loads worse.”
“Please, be my guest,” Sarah said with her hands raised in exasperation. “I’ve told you before, you just have to go and ask him.”
“I couldn’t say anything to him. I’d just…freeze…or make an idiot of myself.” Sarah closed her eyes and shook her head. “Besides,” Jen continued in a depressed tone, “He’s never even looked at me.”
Sarah opened her eyes and she glanced at her friend with a quizzical expression. Jen’s curly black hair fell halfway down the back of her tasteful pantsuit with a couple of locks across the flawless makeup of her face; the word around the office was that Jen had been a model and Sarah swore that if she wasn’t Jen’s friend she would have likely hated her. “I don’t know how you could say that, Jen. Just go show him who you are and he’ll never let you go. One way or the other, trust me.” Jen remained unconvinced but Sarah let it be, instead veering the conversation back to the sketches of Mr. Richard’s living room they were supposed to be designing.
More than once during the day, Sarah found her thoughts drifting back to her dream and more importantly the apparent ramifications she hadn’t yet considered. Obviously, her harmless dreams were something much more significant to have brought Jareth out of the Underground without the draw of a spoken wish…assuming that that had actually been Jareth and not a figment of her half-awake imagination (but for some reason she couldn’t manage to convince herself of that possibility). She was certain that the Underground existed, finding it impossible to shrug the experience off as merely a complicated dream, especially when the lessons therein didn’t fade like a normal dream…that and a few scrapes and bruises from the ordeal hadn’t escaped her notice. Afterwards, she called on her friends on a limited basis (less and less frequently as she grew older) but when she was truly feeling low they often found a way to meet her before the words crossed her mind. The small battered book had a special place in her new apartment, hidden away from peering eyes just in case.
Against her own will, Sarah had grown. Oh she still kept her dreams but thrived in her ever-growing fantasies when she was sure she could get away with it and held it in her thoughts when she couldn’t. Perhaps, she mused, this was why her dreams had ventured back to the Underground, her imagination stifled to only half the day rather than its entirety. New responsibilities and boundaries to her fantasies had slowly constructed themselves over time and soon she was an independent woman working as a designer in the profitable firm of Froman & Alexis (complete with her own business cards) whose specialty was in dream homes with an eccentric twist (the medieval castle for her first client was a huge success). Slowly but surely, she was making a name for herself.
When she finally unlocked the door to her apartment, she plopped heavily on the couch with a banana and a Pepsi, ready to enjoy a night free of any restraints. The phone started ringing and she was a few inches from the receiver when the answering machine picked it up, indicating that someone else had already left a message. Caution suddenly kicking in, she was grateful she didn’t pick up the phone before listening to it was; naturally it was Derek.
“Hey Babe. If you weren’t up to anything tonight I have a ticket with your name on it for the symphony. Just give me a call on my cell. I’ll keep an ear out for you. Sure hope you can make it.”
“I told you we’re through,” Sarah grumbled at the answering machine, deleting the message as quickly as possible. Hitting another series of buttons, another voice rang out of Sarah’s answering machine. The first was the dry cleaner’s but the second brought a smile to her lips.
“Hiya Sarah! It’s Toby. Umm…Mom and Dad just wanna know if you’ll be home for my birthday on Saturday. You’d better be there. Just ‘cause I’m not old enough to drive don’t mean I won’t come after you and you know it. Later!”
Snatching up the phone, she dialed home and was met with Toby’s enthusiastic, “Hi Sis!”
“How’d you know it was me, Squirt?”
“Caller ID has been around for a few years now, Sarah,” he replied dryly and she could nearly hear him smirk.
“Very funny. Maybe I’ll just return your birthday present then…”
“Don’t you dare!”
“Oh, and why not?” she teased back.
Having troubled coming up with a retort, Toby just laughed, certain that his sister would refrain from committing such an unspeakable crime. “So you’re coming, then?”
“If that’s alright with you.”
“Duh. Mom and Dad have your old room made up and everything.”
“Great. I’ll be there on Friday evening and I can stay until Wednesday so we’ll have plenty of time to hang out.”
“I’ve still got school,” Toby grumbled with an audible pout.
“You’re almost free for the summer, don’t complain too much. At least you have the summer.”
Seeing the opportunity, Toby gloated for the next few moments until Sarah threatened to retain his present until Christmas and he backed off. Some twenty minutes later after much cheerful raillery, Karen’s voice broke through and ushered Toby toward his neglected homework.
“I gotta go.”
“Yeah, math waits for no one, I hear. See you Friday.”
“Yep. Bye.”
“And don’t forget my present!”
Sarah chuckled. “I won’t!” As Sarah hung up the phone, she smiled to herself with the thought that at almost eleven years old he was a bit too clever for his own good. Sighing and taking a slurp of her Pepsi, Sarah pulled out her sketchbook and started on a random drawing. Her thoughts drifted away from the TV and her sketchbook page had little to show but a rough outline of…something…as instead she settled back on the dilemma of Jareth’s appearance. Not his appearance, really, but why he’d suddenly been in her room. He was still as attractive and alluring as she remembered (though her memory had toned down his hair a notch) but she tried to shrug that off in light of the situation. Besides, she’d pushed aside that schoolgirl-crush years ago.
She shook her head. Evidently, understood from his warning to stay on her side, she had crossed a line somewhere…somehow. Sarah leaned back on the couch, further wondering that if she had actually been in the Labyrinth, was she somehow working magic? What had happened to those children? Racking her brain, Sarah realized she had no clear memory of what had become of them, something perhaps she didn’t wish to consider. So where had he been in the midst of those other challenges? Why was a mortal doing his job?
If all of this had been in the context of a regular dream, Sarah mused, then this mental discussion would be much simpler. I never have that sort of luck. All the same, there wasn’t much she could do about it, seeing as she was certain really what had happened or how it had happened. The phone rang and Sarah jerked, reaching for it as Jen’s voice started to chirp from the machine.
“Hey, I was wondering if you were up for something tonight?”
Sarah smiled. “What have you got in mind?”
Sarah squinted and glared at her alarm clock, willing it to cease its shrill and unwelcome beeping. To her relief and mild surprise it did, but she peeled herself from the warm covers regardless, head still aching. Her fumbling hands managed to compile some form of breakfast that she barely tasted after a shower she scarcely felt. Last night was a haze, well most of it but for a few key points. Jen and a few other friends from work (Matt, Hailey, Virgil, and that new girl with PR) went for a night on the town, starting at a roller rink just because Hailey finally convinced the rest of the group that they’d all have a great time…though most of the group nursed some new bruises while she started on all sorts of little tricks and spins. Miraculously, no matter how many times she’d fallen Sarah sported no injuries. The group decided to move on after Matt took an elbow in the face when Jen wind milled for the umpteenth time. From then on, it was a series of clubs and whatever else struck their attention. At the bar of one club, Martini Bill’s or some such thing, Sarah was intercepted by a most unwelcome sight as Derek immediately flashed one of his devastating smiles.
“Hi Sarah! I guess you didn’t get my message earlier.”
Sarah cringed. “Guess not,” she said noncommittally.
Thankfully, Jen sashayed her way over. “Derek! How’re you?”
Sarah tried to sneak away as discreetly as possible while they made small talk but Derek kept managing to draw her back in some way or another. Just when Sarah was about finished with being polite, she noticed a waitress scuttle through the crowd, full tray floating dangerously over his head; willing it silently to topple over, she was just as surprised as he was when the whole thing spilled down on top of him. Simultaneously cursing her cowardice and thanking her good fortune, she snuck away while the waitress effused her apologies.
She’d taken her leave of the rest of the group then, still trying to figure out what had happened and opting to take a taxi home after a few goodbyes. The gruff driver kept a clean cab and was soon on his way back to her apartment.
The voice in the front seat suddenly shifted from a deep voice to a lighter, commanding tone and she was immediately at attention. Sure enough, her driver was replaced.
“You need to stop.”
Sarah glanced at his eyes in the rearview mirror, the irony not lost on her that the King of the Goblins was in the driver’s seat of the taxi while she rode in the back, the meter still ticking away. She chose not to laugh, all the same.
“Stop what?” she asked.
“Stop. No more magic.”
“Jareth, I don’t even know what you’re talking about. How can I stop if I don’t even know what’s going—”
“—Miss? Is there something wrong?”
Sarah stopped, flabbergasted and furious that the driver had suddenly returned. Swallowing her frustration, she simply mumbled, “Nothing. Just thinking aloud.”
Shoving the events from her head, she realized that she was already halfway to work. Two visits from Jareth in two days…chances were, Sarah mentally declared, this wasn’t a good sign. It’d be easiest just to declare herself insane than deal with this. Only one thing was left to do, she shrugged, bury herself in work and ignore it.
Jareth slumped back in his chair alone in his private study. His wide, rich red finish desk was strewn with assorted papers of all sizes and a few different languages, some matters of national diplomacy and others pertaining to simple matters such as a feud between two goblins that had started over the wishbone of a chicken dinner. Books lined the walls, again, in varying sizes from one volume no larger than Jareth’s thumbnail and another that would take two men to lift back into place. The large windows which usually presented the room with a glorious view of the Labyrinth were dark but for the light of the waning moons. The walls and ceiling were of the same stone as the rest of the castle but the normal dankness wasn’t an issue for the cozy room. A knock disrupted Jareth’s silence but he didn’t answer, already certain of who it was. Marek knew as soon as he entered that the King was not himself as soon as he saw the normally erect posture relaxed and hunched. No matter how tired Jareth was, he wouldn’t have let anyone else see him in such a way so as not to infer any sign of weakness but Marek wasn’t just anyone.
“Care to talk about it?” Marek asked lightly.
“I’m seeing to it on my own,” he deadpanned.
Marek sighed but knew it wasn’t any good to press him further; instead it was better to wait and Jareth would open up eventually. Of course, knowing that didn’t make it any easier especially when “eventually” could be years down the road. Something of importance was definitely happening. The first sign had been sometime back when Jareth had overslept an important meeting with the Elves who were far from pleased but agreed to return; Marek had nearly run to the king’s chambers ready to demand an explanation…not expecting to see Jareth’s ashen face looking truly ill for the first time in nearly two hundred years. His normally pale skin now had a tint of grey in it that made Marek uneasy again. Then there was always the castle gossip to filter through but even Marek had been baffled by the stories goblins shared when they thought no one else was around. Something with a mortal. A female mortal who’d been here before. A female mortal who’d been here before with some sort of authority.
“I can send your apologies to your appointments today if you wish to cancel.”
“No, that’s not necessary.”
Marek bit his tongue for a moment but decided to try to pull rank. “As your advisor, Jareth, I’m asking again.”
“As your king, I’ll again refuse,” Jareth stated, his eyebrow rose in mild surprise.
Marek sighed. “Then as your friend, I’m telling you that you don’t look well and I’m asking you to take some time to get some sleep.”
“I’m fine, Marek,” Jareth assured him with a sigh of his own.
“Jareth, I’ve known you for how long now? Ask me if I believe you.”
“What’s the point?”
“Is it something to do with this mortal?”
Jareth’s face darkened for a moment. “What have you heard of that?”
“Nothing more than what you’ve told me before,” Marek said innocently. At Jareth’s disbelieving glance, he added, “And what the castle gossip has been going on about.”
Jareth rubbed the bridge of his nose for a moment, making Marek all the more worried; Jareth during one of his headaches was not an experience for the faint of heart. “Of course, the gossip,” was all he said. The fireplace crackled and hissed but no one paid it any mind. Marek took a seat and watched his friend and king. Jareth pretended not to notice, attempting to focus on what needed to be done.
“Has it something to do with what we talked about on—”
“Yes,” Jareth interrupted.
“I see,” Marek replied, leaning back in his seat and running a hand across his face. “This mortal, though, she is the one that beat the Labyrinth before.” It was a statement rather than a question and Jareth knew full well what he had implicated with his probe.
“Nothing’s certain yet.”
“But it doesn’t look like it could be anything else.”
“No,” Jareth confessed, “it doesn’t.”
“Well, I guess we’ve got nothing left to do but wait,” Marek sighed.
“Wonderful,” Jareth mumbled and returned his attention to the sheet of paper before him without really reading it.

Thankfully, the rest of the week passed rather quickly (and comparatively uneventfully) for Sarah and soon enough Jen was wishing her a happy weekend before she went home to pack. A few hours later, Sarah pulled into a familiar driveway and shut off the engine of her soon-for-the-scrapheap car. She’d barely stepped out of the car when Toby clung to her waist in a fierce hug, having just bolted off of the bus. He was talking so quickly Sarah had trouble ciphering what he was saying as he condensed four words into two syllables again and again. When she finally managed to disentangle herself and walk forward six steps, Sarah’s father and stepmother emerged from the house to survey the commotion. “Good to have you home, Sarah,” Robert Williams pulled his daughter into a hug and kissed her forehead. “Good to see you, Dad.” He took her bags from her, except for a long wrapped package which Toby eyed suspiciously. Before he could spew off a myriad of questions, Sarah was faced with Karen who hugged her, welcoming her home. After her experience through the Labyrinth, there had been an unspoken truce between the two of them and, over time, a friendship; all of this was a relief for her father who was no longer forced to choose sides on a daily basis but the new threat of co-conspirators assured him that life would keep an interesting edge. Toby squirmed about in his hyper anticipation. “What is it, Sarah? Come on, tell me! Tellmetellmetellme!” She grinned and ruffled Toby’s hair as they all walked across the porch and through the front door. Sarah sighed, taking in a flood of memories. Her father took her bags upstairs while Karen drew Sarah into conversation on the sofa. “So how was your trip?” “Fine, hit a little bit of traffic an hour in but mostly because of gawkers rather than the actual accident.” “How are things with Derek?” “Yeah, Sarah,” Toby put in with a taunting slide, “How’re things with your boy-friend?” “He is not my boyfriend, Toby,” Sarah laughed. She sobered and turned to Karen, “At least not anymore. He refuses to leave me alone though.” The two of them discussed the matter further with Toby putting in his unhelpful, roll-your-eyes-at sort of comments while Bob came down and played the protective father. After some time, Karen mentioned the prospect of dinner, an idea readily accepted by the rest of the Williams family. Much to Sarah’s delight, there was already a reservation set for them at Jefferson’s, her favorite restaurant (Toby started complaining about the pathetic children’s menu but he never wanted anything else than what he found in that corner). Her father went through all the changes that had occurred during her absence and Karen caught her up on the community (shifting precariously on the edge of gossip), while Toby was a font of elementary school news, all of which combined with Sarah’s office and the members therein and ultimately to a steady conversation. Sarah returned to her old room and flopped down gratefully on her old bed, weary from traveling and nearly talked out for the evening. Rolling off of the edge, she began to hunt through her belongings, searching firstly for her PJ’s and ultimately settling in. There was a small knock on her door and Sarah glanced up from her travel bag. “Come in.” Toby slowly opened the door and Sarah grinned. “If you think you can convince me to give you your birthday present early, you can just turn around now and save yourself the trouble because you’re not getting it until tomorrow.” “That’s not why I came in.” Sarah raised her eyebrow in mock-suspicion and Toby chuckled. “Okay, maybe it’s not the entire reason. I was wondering if we could just talk. You wrote me an email the other day, saying that you’d had a dream about the Labyrinth, remember? What was it like?” Sarah gave a half-smile. A year or two ago, she’d spilled the whole story to Toby who naturally thought his older sister was just telling him another bedtime story…then he’d met Hoggle one night after swearing up and down that he would never tell Mom and Dad. At the time, he seemed more upset that he didn’t remember the ordeal rather than dissect the meanings of the actions of his sister, the sister who’d always been nice to him for as long as he could remember, taking him to the park or out to get ice cream (even when Mom had said no). Sarah had felt the guilt lift from her shoulders when Toby had mentioned that he was glad she’d won him back. All the same, she didn’t feel like relating the dream in its entirety to Toby at this point. His imagination scarcely needed any feeding, for that matter. Sarah summarized the ordeal quickly, yawning intermittently while Toby involuntarily copied. “I never told, Mom. I kept my promise. Do you think you could take me there sometime?” Sarah hesitated. “I don’t know, Toby. I don’t think it’d work that way. I mean last time, you were nearly turned into a goblin and I’d much rather not have to explain that to Mom and Dad.” “Someday I really, really wanna go there. You’d never have to give me a birthday present again.” “Sure, you say that now,” Sarah mumbled. “Besides, Toby, it’s not exactly a vacationing spot.” He gave her a pleading look and she chuckled. “If I’m ever in the position where I could actually have any say in the matter, I’d see what I could do but don’t hold your breath.” “Have you talked to Hoggle lately?” “Yeah, just the other night, actually.” Soon, Toby’s eyelids began to droop and she ushered him from the room. Settling back into her pillows and breathing in the scent of the laundry detergent and a sense of the security of home, Sarah fell asleep in a matter or moments. Sarah was dreaming, she was certain of it. Somehow though, she was also very awake…at least, her dream-self was. She was walking down a stone corridor decorated with various tapestries and portraits. Torches lined the walkway in some parts but as she looked more closely Sarah saw that the fire was actually some sort of fire fairy, mini humanoid torches dancing delicately. Either the sun had set for the night or, she rationed, she was deep enough in the castle to where the rays of any sort of sun just wouldn’t reach. As it turned out, she passed a window along the way over looking a moonlit courtyard, empty but for a snoring goblin curled up near a towering hedge with wide flowers. Sarah kept walking. She didn’t know where she was going but that didn’t seem to matter; in the other dreams of the Labyrinth, her feet just knew where she needed to be. Trusting them again, she turned right and was soon faced with a cluttered but open room; the observation room is what she had taken to calling it. Setting herself on the dais and the only chair in the room, Sarah overlooked the mess (from a sleeping goblin or two to broken mugs to scraps of food and God knew what else). This room is where she had spent the majority of her dream visits, watching the runners; she could picture Jareth holding a young Toby and glancing in on her progress. Even more so as a crystal appeared in her hand. It took a moment for the result to register in her mind; the act had been so natural but certainly this would be a part of what Jareth had been referring. Good thing it’s just a dream, Sarah thought with an edge of hope though she believed it less and less with each passing moment. She swung one leg up over the arm of the chair, her PJ’s (complete with frogs, “Still waiting for my prince” printed at various angles, and fuzzy frog socks that kept the chill of the castle out) somehow not managing to fit in with her environment. This suddenly struck her as odd. On all the other trips, her clothing had shifted to match the situation. This dream was obviously different…a fact all the more confirmed when someone Sarah was unfamiliar with entered the room. He was certainly attractive with trim, slightly curly brown hair pulled back and a sturdy if slim build. Sarah was all the more made aware of her state of dress when taking in his relaxed but still elegant clothing, black pants meeting a loose white shirt with a red vest halfway unbuttoned. He stopped short when he realized someone else was in the room, his exaggerated eyebrows (much like Jareth’s though not as boisterous) rising all the same. “My Lady, what are you doing here? This side of the castle is not for the likes of you,” he chastised in a gentle and chivalrous tone. “If I may escort you? I was unaware that the castle was entertaining any other guests.” Sarah finally found her voice. “I’m not sure if you understand. I don’t even know how I got here. …And in all actuality if I am really here.” “It seems you are here. The castle can be rather confusing to those unaccustomed to its particular style,” he said carefully in his light voice. “I’m sure that’s true but I mean I’m not from the Underground.” “Ah, I wondered what sort of woman would sport men’s clothing.” Sarah was taken aback for a moment and the gentleman continued, “I meant no offense, merely that it appears you’re not from around here.” “I suppose you could say that,” Sarah agreed with a snort. He offered his arm again. “I believe I know someone who could help us sort this out. If you would come with me?” Deciding that the nature of her new acquaintance was honorable, she took his arm. “Might I ask the name of my guide?” “I apologize. My name is Marek.” “I’m Sarah.” A queer look crossed Marek’s face but it was soon hidden before Sarah could read it. “Come. I do believe I know someone who could help us,” he repeated, sounding distant. “It’s not far.” After a couple moments of walking in silence, Sarah asked, “Is there something wrong?” “No, I don’t believe so,” he flashed her a winning grin in reassurance. “So, if you don’t mind me asking, where are you from?” “I could tell you a state and a city but I don’t suppose that would make much sense to you. I’m from Above.” He nodded politely but was otherwise obviously distracted. Sarah had a sinking feeling in her chest, somehow fairly certain that this dream would not end well. She began to pull away. “Listen, Marek. Thanks for your help but I’ve got to be moving on.” Marek seemed torn, not wanting to lose her company but not willing to take drastic measures to ensure such. “Please, just a little further. Wait here and I’ll fetch him myself. I will be back momentarily.” Sarah sighed but realized she didn’t exactly have any pressing appointments to uphold in her dreams. “Alright. I’ll be right here.” Marek grinned and thanked her, walking briskly away. Alone, Sarah ran her fingers along the stone wall, feeling all the indentations and allowing her mind to wander. Wondering vaguely who Marek would seek advice from, a possibility struck her mind with staggering force; she was in no mood to confront Jareth after his sporadic, cryptic messages. Despite what she’d told Marek, she decided (convincing herself in the process) that it would be better to see if she could find her friends. Sliding slightly in her socks, she turned and headed back down the hallway. Taking another sharp turn, Sarah stepped out on a balcony, suddenly caught by the biting wind. Rubbing her arms in a feeble attempt to keep goose bumps at bay, she glanced out over the Labyrinth on a relatively clear night, the light not sufficient for Sarah to comprehend its berth. A snowy owl soared through the air and the ominous feeling in the pit of her stomach began to intensify. Sarah was very aware that she wanted out of this dream now. Walking back to a warmer section, Sarah stopped and pinched her arm. Nothing happened but it sure hurt like it shouldn’t have. Any doubts Sarah had about the reality of her dream were swept off in a wave of panic. Forcing herself to calm down, Sarah took a deep breath and continued to walk down the hallway. Off in the distance, she could hear Marek’s voice calling her name and continued in the opposite direction. Jareth was very surprised to turn down a corridor and see Sarah glancing over her shoulder and walking straight toward him. Thankfully, she turned back around in time to avoid crashing into him but Sarah was too distracted to notice who she’d nearly bumped into, muttering a small apology automatically. Jareth turned and watched her walk past, crossing his arms with a glare. Six steps later she turned around, eyes wide. “What are you doing here?” he demanded. “Search me. I suppose this really isn’t a dream.” “No.” “Yeah, I thought so. That would have been nice though.” “Sarah, I’m not sure how you got here but—” “—Look, I’m sure as hell not sure either so don’t go all indignant-royal-p***k on me, just send me back home and I’ll try and stay there.” Jareth took three large steps and stood just before her, “I’ve banished others for less than that. You will show me the proper respect in my kingdom.” Sarah set her mouth in a stubborn line but held her tongue, acknowledging that arguing would probably get her nowhere. She wished she could just disappear, that she could just go home. Jareth blinked in surprise as Sarah no longer stood in front of him. He suddenly felt as though his knees would no longer support him and stumbled for a moment. Someone was at his side but Jareth pushed Marek back and stood on his own, making his way toward his study with Marek following at a safe distance behind. Behind closed doors, Marek spoke up, “What happened?” “She managed to bring herself here without the enticement of a spoken wish.” Marek closed his eyes. “So that answers one question.” Jareth made his way over to the fireplace and leaned against the hearth, staring into the flames that suddenly roared to life and bathed the room in warmth. “The way you described her, though, I was expecting a gangly teenager but she is a very lovely young woman.” “I suppose she has matured in body,” Jareth bit out. “But you’d still rather it be anyone but her?” Marek meant it as a question but he really had no need to ask. “The rules of the Labyrinth are clear,” Jareth replied. “Just because you resent rules doesn’t mean you have to resent her. She seems a charming young woman and she’s a brave one to talk back to you.” “You’re not the one who’ll have to marry her.”

Sarah woke up troubled. She had returned to her room around three in the morning and slept fitfully for the remainder of the night. Yanking back the covers but refusing to move any further Sarah stared at the ceiling. What happened last night was very real and she had no idea how it happened. Sarah could think of no reason why she’d need to go there and Jareth’s gruff question implied that it wasn’t any of his doing. Jareth’s appearance had been most surprising again; even the brief interview had been more contact with him that what she’d had since her initial trip. Still amazingly attractive, he didn’t seem much different in manner than what she’d remembered but perhaps her intrusion to his turf merely set him off balance, on both instances.
Sarah gave in and dressed absently. She shrugged off her discursive thoughts before they were allowed to progress any further, before she began to obsess and make the whole ordeal sound very much like a schoolgirl crush. The facts, she told herself, were that he was still a jerk and that she was finished with the Labyrinth.
Naturally, her second assertion was soon proved false when Jareth stood in her room.
“Sarah,” he began in a weary voice, “we have much to discuss.”
“Get out of my room,” Sarah demanded.
“I don’t have time for this.”
“Maybe I don’t either.” Matching his glare with her own, Sarah noticed the slight strain around his eyes and sighed, acknowledging that they were probably both suffering from a lack of sleep. “Fine. What do you want?”
“Stop using magic,” he said bluntly.
“Excuse me?” Sarah’s eyes widened. “So that’s what’s been going on. I have magic?”
“You don’t,” he stated emphatically, with a hint of frustration.
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s my magic.”
“Then how…?”
“Not by any action of mine, of that you can be sure.”
Although irked, Sarah swallowed and tried to speak evenly. “So how is this possible?”
“I don’t know all of the details yet,” Jareth replied cryptically.
“What do you know, Jareth?” Sarah asked suspiciously.
“If I am to keep control of my magic and therefore my kingdom, I must do all that is necessary to secure it.”
“Meaning that we must be married.”
Sarah gawked for a moment and shook her head, “Run that by me again?”
“If I’m to regain the magic you keep borrowing, as it were, and therefore have the means and right to rule my kingdom, we must be married,” he related smoothly, betraying no emotion but perhaps fatigue.
“And if I refuse? I’ve got a life here, Jareth. I can’t just up and leave.”
“I wasn’t asking, Sarah,” Jareth remarked firmly.
This was far from her final—well what she thought of then as “final” anyway—confrontation with Jareth. Sarah hadn’t understood then but she had plenty of time to consider the matter down the road. Still no obvious exit but this time there was no crystal, no enticement that he seemed willing to give at the moment, no choice given.
“Isn’t there some other way?”
“Would I honestly be here unless I had to?” Jareth snapped.
Though hurt by his statement, Sarah set her chin in a stubborn line. The door flung open banging against the wall before she could reply; in fact she was nearly bowled over by a rather excited preteen.
“What are we going to do today, Sarah? Can I have my birthday present now?”
When she only smiled at him, instead of launching into what adventures the two of them would have, Toby frowned for a moment…then realized someone else was in the room.
“What are you doing in my sister’s room?” he asked warily.
“That’s none of your concern,” Jareth replied dryly.
Toby puffed up his little chest. “It is if it’s my sister.”
Sarah glanced fearfully at Jareth, afraid he’d do something terrible (seeing as his mood hadn’t been very pleasant to begin with). To her surprise, his mouth creaked up in a smirk.
“I’ve done nothing to impugn upon your sister’s honor, young sir.” He gave a mock bow.
Toby raised an eyebrow, entirely uncertain of what to make of him. “Sarah…who is this?”
“Yes, Sarah, introduce me to Toby.”
“How do you know my name?”
“We’ve met before, several years ago.”
“But I don’t remember…”
“Here,” Jareth produced a crystal and Toby watched in awe, seeing a miniature version of himself as a baby in Jareth’s arms, a ghost of the past. “Surely Sarah must have mentioned me.”
Toby’s eyes went wide. “You’re the Goblin King!”
Jareth nodded with a smirk.
“What are you doing here?”
“That’s a matter I’ve come to discuss with your sister.”
“Can I see the Labyrinth?”
Sarah burst in, “Absolutely not.”
Jareth tipped his head slightly to the side, “Oh, come now, Sarah.”
“Yeah, Sarah, please? For my birthday?”
“No, Toby. It’s not safe.”
“I see no reason why not. But Sarah must come as well.”
Sarah never thought she’d see the day where her little brother and the Goblin King were on the same side, trying to coerce her. Still, she had to ask (though she really had no intention of going), “How do I know you won’t trap Toby down there?”
“You have my word that Toby will return home.”
“And me?”
“That I will not promise. It’s very taxing to transport between worlds, especially with the extenuating circumstances we’ve already discussed.”
“Then we’re not going,” Sarah replied firmly.
Immediately Toby launched into a series of complaints.
In an uncharacteristically sudden hunch and a face set in a grimace of pain, Jareth muttered, “Best to choose quickly.”
Sarah’s instant concern melted when Toby clapped his hands together.
“Oh, I know how to make this easy.”
“Toby don’t you—”
“You’re my sister but you’re not Mom. I wish Sarah and I would return with Jareth to the Underground. Oh. Right now!”
Jareth stood straighter, the strength of the wish infusing new energy to his body. With a look somewhere between satisfaction and the knowledge that he was performing his duty, he swished his hand and they all plopped down in front of the Labyrinth.
Jareth sighed, looking much improved already. “Much better. Lovely to be home again.”
“Wow! We’re actually here!”
Sarah couldn’t speak for the horror welling up inside of her. “Toby, do you know what you’ve done?”
“Relax, Sarah, we’re just visiting.”
“Yes,” Jareth agreed with a sly smile, “Visiting. And this time, you can stop and enjoy yourself.”
Sarah stooped down in front of Toby and seized his arms. “Listen to me, Toby; you’ve got to wish us back.”
Toby set his chin in a stubborn line, something he’d learned from his sister. “No. I want to stay.”
Jareth tusked. “Sarah’s not enjoying herself, Toby. Why don’t we go to the castle and let her cool down?”
Toby shrugged. “Sure. Bye, Sarah. It’ll be fun.”
While Sarah briefly wondered where Toby’s sudden trust in the Goblin King had spawned, she watched helplessly as Toby faded out of her arms until her grasp collapsed against the air and she fell forward. Pounding a fist on the ground, she vented her rage in a guttural shout. Collecting herself with a heavy breath, she marched down the dusty hill and toward the stone walls, just as she had years ago, while mumbling curses under her breath.
“Who’s this?” Marek asked, perplexed. “I thought you had gone to fetch the girl.”
Toby latched on to what Marek had said. “Wait, you came to kidnap my sister?”
Jareth sighed, “Not exactly, Toby. There’s a lot more going on.”
Wary, Toby watched Jareth in a manner that made Marek stifle a laugh. After a few tense moments, Marek turned to Toby, “Well, my young sir, where would you like to go? I can only assume that you’re a guest in this castle and the grounds are therefore open to you. So long as you respect the scenery, it probably won’t eat you. My name is Marek and I would be happy to help you in any way that I can. Perhaps you’d like to see a fantastic view of the whole Labyrinth?”
Toby’s face brightened. “That’s why I came.”
“Splendid. If you start up the hallway, I’ll be with you in just a moment.”
After another calculated glance at Jareth, Toby took off running.
“So, care to explain?”
“No, not really.”
“Where is Sarah?”
“Heading toward the Labyrinth somewhere.”
“Well, at least she’s in the Underground,” Marek conceded. “I don’t believe that you’re doing much for a first impression.”
“It’s a little late for that, anyway,” Jareth remarked dryly.
“Perhaps, but to make everything else run more smoothly, it couldn’t hurt to try.”
“See to Toby, Marek. We can discuss the matter with all your infinite wisdom later. Maybe you could try telling Sarah and watch it rebound in a fantastic failure.” Jareth stalked off to his private study, feeling a definite need for a drink.

Sarah’s brief hope that her old friend Hoggle would meet her in the outer courtyard quickly slipped away when she noticed how empty it seemed without him, excluding the massive fairy infestation. In fact, the shimmering white creatures zipped around her head in a hoard, tugging at her hair and clothes and nipping at her ears. Remembering her lesson from last time and too agitated to do much else, she swatted them. A few rogue fairies snapped tiny jaws onto her hands but the rest took heed and stayed clear, sniggering in their own little twitters. Viciously tossing another fairy as far as she could chuck it, Sarah shrugged off her guilt and found the opening once again; chances were, when she found her way through the Labyrinth she’d need her wits about her so it was best to let her anger out now…not that those little bugs didn’t deserve it.
With a significant bit of effort, her mood worsening by the moment, Sarah slowly shoved the noncompliant door out of her path. Panting with the exertion, she wiped her forehead…and saw the already open gateway a few feet down.
“Jareth, your sense of humor is NOT appreciated right now,” Sarah growled fiercely. Refusing to let her hard work go to waste, she plodded down her open pathway, running her hands along either wall and feeling for some sort of spot when another entrance would present itself. So focused on what was to her sides and stepping over assorted branches, she nearly didn’t see the little blue worm inching across the ground until it let out a shrill cry of terror, almost under her foot. Stumbling backward in her attempt not to mash the tiny creature, Sarah tripped over a branch and stared at the sky from a perspective she hadn’t been expecting. Desperately wanting to throw a temper tantrum, she instead groaned and picked herself up.
“Thanky kindly for not mashin’ me. The fairies said you weren’t so kind to the small ‘uns this time.” The worm looked at her with his overly large eyes, hair tufted in odd angles. “You alright?”
“It’s been a long day and it’s barely past morning,” she replied with a rueful grin. “It’s not your fault though. Sorry I didn’t see you.”
“Nah, think nothin’ of it. ‘Slong as you ‘eard me. Why don’t you come on inside and meet the misses? Have a lovely cup of tea?”
Realizing that this time she had no time limit, Sarah shrugged and let her arms fall to her sides. “Sure, why not. I’d love to.”
“Come on inside then. She makes the best cup ‘o tea you’ve ever had.” The worm slowly retreated back into a hole in the wall.
“Umm…How do I get inside?”
“’Salright, not that complicated, really. You ‘aven’t tried yet, ‘sall.”
Shaking her head, Sarah put her fingers up to the whole and peered inside. It certainly looked cozy, a worm with equally crazy hair and a lovely shade of pink squirmed about on a few tiny tasks. A little spark burnt a few twigs in the fireplace and a small square of cloth served as a rug. Sarah leaned closer to get a better look and found herself tumbling into the tiny den, a look of surprise plastered on her face.
“Well don’ jus’ stand there, come by the fire,” the worm invited cheerily in a slightly higher pitch than her husband.
With a laugh, Sarah resolved to herself what she had in her dreams: the Labyrinth was much more fun if one only took events as they came through quirks, twists, what didn’t make any sense and all else. Madame Worm grasped the tiny kettle in her mouth and squirmed her way over to the thimble tea cups, still a little big.
“Can I help you with that?” Sarah asked, aware that opposable thumbs could perhaps come in handy in this situation.
“Nomph, I gah it ‘eerie,” she managed out with her mouthful, artfully tipping it to a skilled degree. Madame Worm set the kettle down and sighed briefly. “Tha’s better. Don’t trouble yourself at all, your Majesty.”
Sarah spluttered in her half swallow of tea, somehow managing to cough out, “What did you call me?”
“You’re Majesty, o’ course,” she repeated brightly. “Maybe you’re not officially yet bu’ the Labyrinth recognizes you.”
“How do you know that?” Sarah asked in awe.
“Bes’ just to trust the misses on this. She’s always right in these sorts o’ things.”
“It’s very easy when you spend enough time in the walls,” she explained with a slight blush. “The Labyrinth has a spirit o’ its own. It tried to give you a door earlier bu’ you didn’ see it.”
“So I can manipulate the Labyrinth?”
Madame Worm hesitated. “Yes an’ no. Your emotions an’ will can ‘ave an effect on it but you can’t force it.”
Sarah couldn’t help the smile that curled across her face. Oh the fun that could be had from this little discovery. Putting devious thoughts aside for a while—until she could be close enough to plot more efficiently with her surroundings—Sarah returned her attention to the delightful little conversation involving some of the Labyrinth gossip and whatever else happened so slide in.
Jareth frowned, but that in itself was not too uncharacteristic for him recently Marek noted. Toby had preoccupied himself with a young dragon, too much in awe to do anything but stand there for several minutes then tentatively run around with the inquisitive creature (its parents standing guard nearby).
“It’s quite nice for Eleazar to let Toby play with his son,” Marek commented. Jareth made a noncommittal noise and returned his attention to the crystal in his hand.
“You’re awfully quiet.”
Jareth turned and raised an eyebrow, letting the crystal fade away. “And?”
“Well, when you suggested that Toby might like to see the dragons, I’d assumed you’d have some other reason for coming here.”
“It’s already done.”
“Ah,” Marek replied, searching for something else to say. “So what’s wrong now?”
Jareth gave a short laugh and settled back again. “Nothing’s wrong, per say. No more than usual. I haven’t heard from Sarah in some time now.”
“What, worried?”
“Not exactly,” Jareth drawled. “We both know the Labyrinth won’t hurt her. And who knows what will happen if she discovers she has some control. But I have a feeling that if she’s left alone for too long, it’ll make matters quite unbearable later.”
Marek chuckled. “I have a feeling you might be right.”
“Naturally. What would ever give you cause to doubt me?” Marek just laughed.
Toby rushed over. “It can talk to me and it’s all in my head!”
“Of course he can and he probably doesn’t like to be underestimated quite like that, I imagine. Isn’t that right, Reginald?”
Reginald did look truly miffed, if a dragon’s face could look displeased (beyond the stereotypical gnashing and snarling).
Marek went on to explain what Jareth had started, “Dragons are not puppies, Toby. They’ll be the first to tell you that they’re pets to no one. In fact, that’s probably the surest way to insult yourself into a crisp.” Toby looked fully alarmed and glanced at his new friend, instantly halting his stroking hand. Despite the small trail of smoke twisting from his nostrils, Reginald had his own toothy smirk.
“Luckily for you, Reginald has a sense of humor,” Jareth noted. He turned to the fully grown dragons, their long tails swishing slowly.
“We must be going. Thank you Eleazar, Victoria.”
“Goodbye, Jareth. We will see you soon.” A booming deep voice responded in Jareth’s skull. He nodded and both dragons bent their iridescent knobby-spiked heads.
“It’s time to go, Toby.”
“Already?” Toby whined.
“Yes, there are a few more errands to run.”
“Where are we going next?” Toby asked, his interest suddenly piqued.
Marek turned conversationally to Jareth, “How is the Dwarf Kingdom this time of year?”
Jareth gave a short laugh and formed a new crystal in his hand. “Cold. What else would it be?”
Dropping the crystal, Toby nearly fell backwards under the new weight of a fur coat that hadn’t been there moments before. A moment later, they popped away from the lovely mountains and left the dragons to what they were doing before taking in unexpected visitors.
The worms proved quite a useful fount of information. The Labyrinth served more purpose than a trial for neglectful parents but it also provided housing for all sorts of different creatures and was a gateway to the Underground itself. Jareth, then, stood as the gatekeeper and protected those united lands against invasion from opposing forces. When Sarah expressed her confusion that it would be much simpler to walk around, the worms only laughed and reminded Sarah of the fluidity of her environment.
“What I don’t understand then,” Sarah had mentioned, “Is how Jareth can be the guardian of all these other places and have such an ineffective army.” The worms had had another bought of good natured laughter before informing her that that was hardly the regular army and instead a scant but willing militia of goblins who had yet to see a human make it so far though they could be quite effective if their hearts were in it. As enlightening as the conversation had been, Sarah recognized her need to continue on, time limit or not. Thanking the worms profusely for their hospitality, she tumbled out of the wall, shook off the stun of it and orientated herself once again.
She stood in front of a wall and stared at it, mentally demanding that it open up and provides a new path for her. Sarah sighed as her stare-down didn’t seem to be working and closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again, the wall had opened to reveal a sandy cove, lined with trees and filled with the sound of flowing water. Satisfied with the results, Sarah stepped boldly forward. After a few steps, she turned around to see that the way she had come had vanished but she wasn’t really surprised.
What did take her off guard was the sudden rhythm that bubbled to the surface of the lagoon. A curious laugh filled the air and a furry blue creature slid on the surface of the water, freezing a pathway beneath him. Four more followed, stumbling for solid footing on the glassy sheet. Sarah laughed. After meeting the Fireys, these Frosties were equally merry company during the fourth dream when a sullen five year old was her new charge, wished over by the sitter’s boyfriend.
“Chilly Bill, good to see you again,” Sarah greeted the foremost Frostie. As if on cue, the Frosties all tumbled on shore in a heap…promptly falling apart in the process. With hysterical tears in her eyes, Sarah spent the next fifteen minutes helping sort limbs to their proper owners. Fria and Frio managed to find themselves in a heated argument and smacking each other in a flurry of snowflakes before dissolving into giggles; Fria ended up with all legs and Frio ended up with all the arms but they were content.
Chilly Bill seemed to have a bit more sense than the others, much like his distant cousin Smokey Joe, so he had full lead of his band of Frosties. “Hey, Sarah, you still rememberin’ to keep it cool?”
Sarah held up her hands, “Oh yes, I remember. Don’t you try and turn me into a snowman again, please. The Fireys wanted me to take off my head; you want mine to turn into a ball of ice.”
“Hey, don’t knock it until you try it.”
“Don’t you worry. If I’m getting too uptight or just need a break, I know a few guys I can turn to.” The lagoon slowly shifted from a tropical paradise to a winter wonderland…and Sarah quickly found herself in the crossfire of a massive snowball fight while the Frosties sang of such wintry war and hot chocolate. Her cheeks pink, Sarah eventually begged for peace between the two sides in a fit of laughter.
When one team had stuffed the other into a large enough bank of snow, the five Frosties and Sarah hunkered close together.
“So where are you all off to?”
“Meetin’ with the Fireys again.”
“I heard that the last time that happened, the party didn’t stop for three days.”
Frio grinned. “Four, actually.”
Sarah chuckled. “Must be some occasion.”
Chilly Bill looked surprised but only said, “It is, your Majesty.”
The other four Frosties quickly grew restless and started to shove one another around on the ice, inventing all sorts of games as they continued on their way. Shivering, Sarah was only mildly surprised when the weight of a blanket suddenly fell on her shoulders but chose not to question it. She took a careful step and nearly lost her footing on the thick ice, scrambling about warily and glad no one would be able to witness an inevitable fall.
Sarah was aware of the presence of someone else (the source of her blanket judging by three thick comforters now scattered about) when they fell behind her with a heavy thud.
“Owena, what are you doing here?” Sarah asked as the form groaned.
“I heard you were in the Labyrinth so I came to help you.”
Sarah grinned down at Owena’s shining eyes and helped the goblin to her feet. “Well, let’s get somewhere with a little more traction first.”
“Yes, you’re Majesty.”
“You, too, huh?”
The little goblin blinked, her expression twisted in confusion.
“Never mind, let’s just get back to the forest,” Sarah suggested with a shiver.
Scrambling about clumsily, Owena gripped on the back of Sarah’s shirt and nearly dragged her down three times and successfully tripped her twice, each time tearily apologizing. Sarah couldn’t be angry at her and instead found the situation so ridiculous she collapsed into a fit of giggles after she’d fallen for the third time.
“Your Majesty, I’m so sorry,” Owena effused, mistaking her laughter for grunts of either pain or anger, Sarah wasn’t sure which.
Sarah rolled over on her back, still laughing. “It’s alright, Owena,” she managed out. “I just get the feeling we’ll never have stable footing.”
Owena’s tears were still on her face as it shifted from mourning her own lack of grace to sharing in her mistress’s joy. Sarah bit back another laugh; it was simply goblin nature to be either all or nothing, in whatever situation.
“You’ll see, we’ll get there soon,” Owena promised, using her tiny body in a futile attempt to pull Sarah up from the ground. The Frosties had certainly paved a path through the forest, icicles hanging off of flowers and green leaves but already dripping as the sun returned the usual warmth to this particular area when it peaked through the clouds. Finally, the path turned to mud and then to dirt.
“Where are we going?”
“I’m not exactly sure, Owena. The castle probably but I think I’m just wandering around until Jareth decides what else to do,” Sarah admitted with a hint of sullenness. Owena froze for a moment and Sarah was immediately suspicious.
“What’s wrong?”
“Owena, you’re a terrible liar,” Sarah admonished. But the little goblin only continued to shiver and run a hand over her sloppy brown braid with her green hands.
“Owena, what’s going on? Is there something I’m not supposed to know about?”
“You’re Majesty, I cannot say,” she squeaked, curling into a defensive ball.
Sarah sighed as Owena sobbed once again. “Oh don’t start that again, just tell me.”
Owena only sobbed harder and Sarah rolled her eyes with a “Why me?” sort of sigh. “Alright, alright. Can you give me any hints?”
She shook her head fiercely and Sarah gripped her by the shoulders. “Okay, I won’t ask any more. God knows I’ll find out eventually. Calm down.” Though being patient was driving Sarah steadily insane, she continued to consol Owena until her hiccups subsided.
“I need to go now, Mistress. There is much to prepare.”
“Prepare for what?” Sarah asked, instantly biting her tongue as tears pooled once again in Owena’s eyes. “Never mind. I’ll see you later.”
With a smile that stretched impossibly far, Owena nodded and disappeared into the thicket. Alone again, Sarah stepped into the thicket for herself, coming out on the other side in a pale stone courtyard with a fountain in steady trickle. She sat down on the ledge of the fountain and ran her fingers in the pool, racing her mind on what sort of affair really was going on in the Underground from what the worms had told her. She glanced up and wondered at the beautiful mosaic on the wall, her interest fully piqued when the stones rearranged to seem as though the subject, a willowy young maiden was winking at her.
“Hi,” Sarah waved, feeling slightly foolish, at least until the mosaic waved back. “I don’t suppose you know what’s going on?”
The figure held out her hands on either side and shrugged but the smirk still etched from the many stones did not lead Sarah to put too much trust in the gesture.
“Fine, be like everyone else. Could you at least show me where I could get some breakfast?”
The mosaic girl inclined her head and the squares raced along the stone wall, fluidly curving around corners. Sarah jogged after, coming to a quick stop when her guide stood with one arm gesturing to a grove of trees, though she looked awfully cramped in the small section of wall with half of her body curved around a corner. Sarah turned back to her guide with a grateful, “Thank you.”
The mosaic girl curtseyed and the blocks slid away back to a larger wall. As she drew closer, Sarah’s stomach started grumbling in earnest. Several trees of all different heights with twisting branches and jagged branches, thorns and all else were bordered by a stone wall. But what was really unique, though they certainly had enough different about them in the first place, was the oddly shaped fruit that hung dispersed in between the leaves and branches. The first tree had several thermoses dangling off in odd angles and Sarah nearly wept with relief when she unscrewed the lid.
“Hot chocolate. Oh blessed caffeine.” She bit off a laugh as she glanced at the next tree. “And the ever classic peanut butter and jelly. I don’t suppose there are any trees that just have fruit?” She pulled one of the PB&J sandwiches down and took a large bite…but instantly spat it back out. “Yuck. Not ripe yet.” She plucked another from the tree and took a tentative nibble before she was satisfied and bit in with a delighted chomp.
“Sure ya don’ wan’ one of these?” a craggily voice said from behind another tree, a rough hand holding on to a peach.
“Hoggle! It’s so good to see you,” Sarah cried out through a mouthful of sandwich. Scuffling his feet, Hoggle still wasn’t quite sure how to accept displays of affection as Sarah drew him into a hug. Hoggle stopped her before she kissed his forehead, just in case Jareth had neglected to lift the spell.
“I ‘eard you was back in the Labyrinth.”
“Yes, this time it was Toby’s doing.”
Hoggle just nodded. “Yeah, I ‘eard he was here, too.”
“Do you know what’s going on? If anyone can tell me, despite whatever gag order Jareth’s put out, it’d be you,” Sarah pleaded.
Hoggle looked quite uncomfortable, staring down at his feet. “Course I know. Not sure you’re gonna like it, ‘sall, from the palace gossip I’ve ‘eard.”
Sarah smiled but continued to press her case. “Please, Hoggle. I only want to know what’s going on.”
Though he was about to say something, Jareth’s voice smoothly interrupted Hoggle’s attempt.
“My dear, why ruin the surprise?”
“Surprise?” Sarah parroted, immediately suspicious. She rose to her feet, absently screwing the lid back on the thermos.
“Though I suppose it’s hardly a surprise when you’ve known about it already.”
“Jareth, what is going on?” Sarah asked directly, feeling her patience slipping bit by bit.
Jareth didn’t seem perturbed and plucked a strangely shaped fruit that Sarah had never seen before from a tree, biting into it sharply. “The celebration of course. Are you enjoying the Labyrinth?”
“Don’t change the subject now, Jareth. What’s the celebration for? And where’s Toby?”
“Toby’s at the castle. Now who’s changing the subject?” Jareth taunted.
Sarah didn’t say anything but crossed her arms across her chest, setting into a demanding glare.
Jareth sighed. “If you must ruin all the fun.”
Sarah twisted her face into a smile that held no mirth. “I believe I must.”
“Naturally, the celebration of our wedding. Traditionally it starts a week before the wedding but we do what we can.”
Sarah was so shocked she barely noticed that Jareth had transported both of them to the castle

“Sarah, are you okay?” Toby asked with real concern. Sarah smiled weakly. “I’m not sure yet Toby. Have you had a good afternoon?” “It was amazing! We went to see some dragons and some dwarves like Hoggle and some elves and we saw some creatures that I’d never even heard of.” Toby went off describing everything he’d seen and Sarah had to work to cipher out the words as he smashed then together excitedly. She did her best to pay attention but her mind was on other matters. After Jareth had dropped her off and introduced her to her new room, he left abruptly to some matter or another just as Toby burst in. The room itself was large and had a delightful wide balcony where she and Toby now sat, overlooking the Labyrinth. The view was fantastic but Sarah’s eyes were fixated either on her brother’s animated gestures or her tea cup. Marek knocked on the door after half an hour, politely asking Toby if he would like to have a tour around the castle. “You’re welcome to join us, Sarah,” Marek added. “No, I think I’d just like some time to myself.” Marek nodded his understanding and lead Toby away, further aware that there would be plenty of time for Sarah to orient herself later. Sarah took to better orientating herself first and foremost to her room. She had been given a large bed with a deep wood finish and dark pink canopy complete with light pink covers, ultimately bordering on Sarah’s sense of too much pink but somehow in a pleasant matter. All the doors had the same brilliant varnish as the intricate bedposts, complete with similar twisting designs carved in the wood. A bookshelf was built into one wall and she inspected it to find some of her own books shelved by author with a few new books she’d never seen before. Sarah pulled out one particularly dusty tome and coughed when the scent of old paper filled her nose. She plopped down on a large rich red chair, kicking her feet up on the small table. “Getting an early start?” Sarah jumped as Jareth stood behind her chair, glancing over her shoulder. He leaned down and picked up the book from her lap. “Social etiquette and history already?” “I couldn’t even read the title on this one, thanks,” Sarah bit back. “A likely excuse. But seeing as this is written in a language even I am scarcely familiar with, I accept it.” He flicked his wrist and revealed a crystal, offering it to her. Sarah only eyed it suspiciously. Jareth chuckled. “It’ll only help you understand much faster than learning a new language.” Tentatively taking the sphere, the swirling script shifted into a much more familiar format. “Thanks,” Sarah mumbled half heartedly. “I think it’s time you and I had a talk.” “Oh,” Jareth replied noncommittally, plopping down on the other chair and swinging one leg over the chair’s arm. “But I want one thing perfectly clear. I expect you to answer me honestly in this conversation, no joking around…or at least minimal joking around. Just answers.” “I’m not inclined to take orders. Would you follow your own conditions?” Sarah sighed, mentally noting the wonderful beginning. “Listen Jareth, I can make your life a hell of a lot more difficult and don’t think I won’t,” she warned when Jareth already showed signs of protesting. “You need my cooperation but I will not simply bow down.” “You might have to,” Jareth informed her with an edge to his voice. “Fine. If you want this to be some sort eternal power struggle, that’s just dandy with me. The only reason you’d win would be with my untimely demise.” “If you wish to start a war of will, Sarah, I can assure you—” “No, that’s not the point. I’m sure we’re both too stubborn for our own good. All I’m trying to say is that I’m hoping you’ll be willing to bend every now and again and meet me halfway.” “I do not bend.” Sarah sighed, noting that her turn of phrase was not serving her as well as it normally did. “All the same, can you tell me plainly what’s going on?” Jareth looked her up and down with a vaguely suspicious expression. “What is it you want to know?” “Why did you come into my room and say that I had to marry you?” “Mostly because that’s the situation I find myself in.” “Why me?” “Why not?” “But why would you choose me?” “The shortest answer is that I didn’t.” “Oh. I thought at the end of the Labyrinth that perhaps…” “Ah, well that is quite an effective tactic, saying exactly what the female runners, and the occasional male, always wanted to hear.” Sarah tusked, pushing aside her slightly bruised ego. “That’s not a fair strategy at all.” “Perhaps not. Why so upset? Did you believe it?” “At the time, well, yes I did,” Sarah admitted, trying to do her part in the bid for truth. “I suppose to be ‘fair,’ as you put it, I did go the extra effort in that category. The Labyrinth has always kept its eye, if you will, open so I knew that a runner was always a possibility. Seeing as how you were the farthest in a century, I did hope that the prospect would not be quite as repulsive as it seems now. I admit that I was disappointed when you refused, seeing as how you passed the Labyrinth’s test and would likely be bound to it unless it found some reason not to. Were there any deeper feelings, I suppose the infatuation is gone.” “Are you bitter that I rejected you as a fifteen year old?” Sarah teased lightly, reading into Jareth’s tone. “It was a blow to my image. I’m not used to being refused,” Jareth shrugged defensively. “That’s going to change,” Sarah said under her breath. In her normal voice, she continued, “So what have I got to do with this?” “Very simply, the Labyrinth had some part in interfering with my magic and has since given access to you. Why you have it is not entirely clear but the Labyrinth has chosen you, nonetheless. You completed the challenge so you’ve won the prize. Your brother’s freedom was just a nice little incentive.” “When you put it all that way, it sounds so…nastily simplistic.” “I will not see my kingdom torn apart because my magic is off in the Aboveground, turning off alarm clocks and making coffee or spilling drinks on unwanted boyfriends—” Jareth smirked as Sarah turned red, “—when I need it to keep control down here. Magic loses its potency in the Aboveground if you’re not cautious. Even if I waited for your death, unless I sent a bus barreling down the road the next day, the Labyrinth would never be the same again. This is the only way.” Sarah raised an eyebrow, noting that this was probably the closest Jareth had ever come to begging in his life. “I really don’t have much choice in the matter, do I?” “I’d certainly prefer it if you chose a much smoother temperament instead of the kicking and screaming option.” “So we’re forced together by a meddling hunk of stone and whatever else?” “Not entirely. There are other matters at work.” “Such as?” “Nothing you need to be concerned with now. It’s far too complicated.” “You know, as annoying as comments like that are, this is the most civil conversation I’ve ever had with you.” “Fascinating, isn’t it? I was waiting for a temper tantrum.” “Allow me to grow up somewhat, Jareth,” Sarah drawled with a hint of contempt. “Regardless of whether you’re grown up or whatever else, we will be married in three days time.” “You’re never going to let me go home, are you?” Sarah whispered after a long moment of silence, despair tingeing her words. “You are home, Sarah. The sooner you can accept that, the easier this will be.” “What about Toby?” “He can stay until the wedding then you’ll need to focus on your studies for a while.” “I’ve agreed to nothing yet,” Sarah pointed out. “And it’s moot all the same. You can see Toby in a year or two.” Sarah felt anger rising: “If you’re going to make this as difficult as possible, why don’t you leave now so we can save the fights until after the damned ceremony?” “And there,” Jareth’s tone still held a general lightness that now rounded to a point, “is the temper I’d come to expect. Don’t make matters worse for yourself, Sarah.” “Well how do you expect me to react? Forced into marriage with a pr***k who has yet to say a kind word to me or really made an attempt to make it any easier? I don’t appreciate your arrogance when I’m honestly trying to sort this all out. Marriage is more than a contract, Jareth, and I don’t take it lightly.” “Are you suggesting that I do?” “Not exactly. I’m trying to be upfront here.” Sarah sighed and docked her voice to a weary but quieter level: “We’re really not getting anywhere now. Let’s wait until we’ve both calmed down.” Jareth nearly snarled as he bit out, “As you wish,” and was gone. Sarah flopped back into her chair again, not really recalling when she’d stood up. “Well that went well,” Sarah said to no one in particular. A voice at her doorway agreed. “Pardon my intrusion, but at least you did make some ground before the conversation turned a little less friendly.” Sarah shook her head. “Come on in. How much did you listen to, Marek?” “Oh, pretty much the whole thing.” “Weren’t you taking Toby on a tour?” “Well, he wasn’t truly interested in the history of the castle anyway and seemed much keener on opening random doors and discovering secret passageways for himself.” “If this is how all our conversations are going to end up, I might just set myself in front of the bus and save Jareth the trouble.” Marek wore a look of utter confusion. “A bus? What is this and how would it solve your distress?” “Don’t worry about it. But tell me honestly, how well could you hear the louder bits of the argument through the door?” “Well enough.” “It didn’t start out so bad, at least,” Sarah admitted. “I just don’t think he understands. And even if he does, he’s not making it any easier.” “With all due respect, you’re not the only one forced in this situation.” “You have a point, Marek, I’ll give you that. But at least Jareth’s on his home turf and with some semblance of control. I hate being subject to his whims.” “With all due respect again, everyone else in the Labyrinth is subject to his whims.” “Marek, you’re not being as helpful as I would have liked,” Sarah shook her head again. “But all the same thanks for trying. Apparently, this is just going to take some getting used to. This isn’t how I pictured my wedding at all but what really gets me is how fast this is all happening. I’d hoped for at least a little time to figure this all out. If you don’t mind, I’d just like to be alone.” “Of course, my Lady.” Marek bowed courteously and walked out the still open door, closing it behind him. Sarah plopped heavily on the bed. The book Jareth had picked up sat on the corner and she shoved it off with a satisfying clunk, certainly not wanting to dwell on all the little rules now…there would be plenty of time to argue about that later. Seemingly of its own accord, the book was carefully and slowly pushed back into its place. Sarah frowned and leaned over, watching as Owena stood as tall as she could and hoisted the heavy book. “Your Majesty dropped it. I was just returning it to its spot.” “That’s alright Owena. So am I right in guessing that my own wedding was what you couldn’t tell me?” Owena nodded slowly. “And where the Frosties were going. And probably something to do with Jareth’s tour of all those different places Toby mentioned, I’d imagine.” Owena nodded again. Sarah let out yet another sigh. “Maybe if I pretend I’m okay with all of this, I’ll actually get some say in my wedding dress.” “Mistress—” “Just call me Sarah, please Owena.” “Yes, you’re Majesty. Sarah, the gown is already picked. ‘Tis traditional.” “Wonderful,” Sarah muttered sarcastically. “Now it is a pretty gown.” “I’m sure it is but that’s not the point.” Sarah held up a hand to stop Owena from immediately asking what the point was exactly, not sure if she could find sufficient words for the matter. “Is there any other quirk I should know about?” Owena stood wringing her hands and shifting nervously; Sarah had her answer: “I thought as much.” “The surprises will be wonderful, you’ll see.” “I sure hope you’re right, Owena. So where did you go after you left?” “I had to tend to a few things here. Flowers for the wedding, too.” “I don’t suppose you could tell me about them, at least? Never mind,” Sarah shook off her own question when she noticed Owena’s agitation growing once more. “What else did you do?” “Well,” a blush filled Owena’s deep green cheeks, “I did go visit Tyrin.” Sarah grinned, happy for a distraction as she teased Owena mercilessly. Jareth sorted through his work, signing another document with a rough stroke of the pen, the only obvious sign of his anger…if one happened to miss the scowl across his face. “So…you’re making progress with Sarah?” “Not exactly.” “Have you tried much?” “She needs to understand her place.” “Maybe with time but you can’t expect her to cope with everything at once.” “As your future queen, I thought you’d agree with me in that she needs to be ready for many situations.” “This isn’t one of those that might come up in a diplomatic crisis.” Jareth sighed and turned to Marek. “So what do you suggest, since you’re obviously dying to do so?” “She resigned to the marriage, that I could gather. But you could make the effort to make the situation a little less hurried and overwhelming. At least try and get to know her. I don’t believe you’ll find it a waste of your time, in any account.” Marek took a deep breath. “I know you’re not particularly fond of the circumstances but perhaps the two of you can make the most of the situation.” “Perhaps you could do two things to ease my mind?” “Anything,” Marek promised. “Stop all this meddling and you be the one to tell Elizabeth that our engagement is canceled in lieu of this new one.” Marek grimaced but none the less inclined his head respectfully. “As you wish, Jareth.”

Sarah wished she could disappear. The woman and her company had arrived about an hour ago, judging by the commotion in the castle, announcing her presence with a new onslaught of havoc when the goblins flew again to their favorite sport of gossip (in the castle, it certainly was a sport and one which required cunning, the ability to remain unseen, and swift feet to spread the story along). All that Sarah knew was that Owena had officially set herself in charge of getting her ready and somehow she’d been left out of the loop…again. Marek had popped his head in and sympathetically informed her that her presence would be required in an hour.
“Owena, slow down,” Sarah grumbled as the excited goblin viciously pawed at her hair.
“I’m so sorry, you’re Majesty,” Owena practically bawled, certain that all of Sarah’s frustration was her fault.
“Just calm down, Owena. I don’t suppose you know what’s going on this time?”
Owena shifted nervously from one foot to the next and refused to pry her gaze from the floor.
Sarah nearly growled. “This is ridiculous. Jareth!” Sarah barked at the ceiling. “I’m pretty sure you can hear me. I need to talk to you.” There was no reply and the only sound Sarah could hear was Owena’s continued shuffling. Sighing in frustration, Sarah plopped back down in the chair in front of her new vanity and glanced at her reflection. The dress was lovely and thankfully not ridiculously covered in bows and frills and all else that the first few specimens had (Sarah had a strong suspicion that Jareth had them in her closet as a joke) and the hair arrangement Owena had started was promising, but Sarah couldn’t bring herself to be happy about the situation.
An idea sparked in her mind and Sarah’s lips curled into a smile. Focusing her thoughts, she willed Jareth to appear in her room. Still nothing. The longer it took her, the more frustrated she became. Finally, there was a knock on her door before Jareth burst in, an oddly glazed look about his face and his jacket in one hand.
“Well it’s about time,” Sarah stated with her hands on her hips.
Jareth seemed to shake off whatever grip he was in and looked vaguely confused for the briefest of moments before he registered where he was. “Hm, I suppose you needed something? I was just having a discussion with my tailor but I suppose he’ll understand why I left abruptly.” He glanced down at his boots and a few multicolored threads still tangled around them. “Apparently, walking through whatever he was trying to show me.” He shifted his focus back to Sarah sharply. “I thought I told you no more magic.”
“Look, Jareth, this has all gone on long enough. We need to come to an understanding.”
“Oh?” he replied flippantly.
Biting her tongue, Sarah forced herself to relax. “Please don’t make this difficult. I’m tired of being the last one to know what’s happening. Can we reach some sort of truce?”
“Were we warring?”
“In a sense. You don’t think that I’ve grown up and I don’t think that you’ve changed much since my first impression. Let’s just drop some of the subtle cuts and whatnot. Start over. I’m not exactly one of your subjects to rule over. You need me or you need me dead. But it’s what I was trying to say before; I need you to meet me halfway.”
Jareth said nothing for a few moments, eyeing Sarah somewhat suspiciously. “If you stop using magic for the time being then I will agree. Just what does this entail?”
“Well, for starters, who are the people who arrived at the castle today?”
Jareth bit a laugh. “You will see.”
“I’d rather not walk in there with no idea of what I’m up against.”
“My, Sarah, already on the warpath? Know thy rival?”
Sarah grinned sardonically, “Perhaps. Is there some reason to be worried?”
“That depends. Are you going to be a jealous wife?”
Sarah just laughed.
Jareth eventually grinned, too. “The first is Elizabeth. We were engaged until the little development of your late night adventures, subconsciously taking over my duties and whatnot. She’s followed by her mother and her lady in waiting. I imagine they’re still trying to talk some sense into her.”
“I’m stepping into the middle of an engagement?”
“Don’t be too upset. Elizabeth was groomed for this position and we would have gotten along well enough, but for all your faults you are far more interesting.”
“Was that something like a compliment?”
“Perhaps, depends on what it gets me.”
“A little less animosity.”
“Then yes, it certainly was.”
Sarah sighed and shook her head with a smile. “Jareth, even if I never love you, I hope we can be friends.”
“That sort of affection is rewarding in its own right.” Jareth threw his jacket over his shoulders and buttoned it quickly. He held out his arms. “How do I look?”
Sarah glanced him over, his odd taste for pants still strong. “You don’t want me to answer that.”
Somehow looking slightly miffed, he disappeared. Owena peered out from the spot she’d hidden behind the bed throughout the exchange. Sarah returned to her seat in front of the vanity and Owena plucked the brush from her hand before she had a chance.
“I never heard anyone speak to the king like that before,” Owena whispered in awe.
Sarah rolled her eyes. She and Jareth weren’t friends yet, nor were they married, but at least they weren’t enemies.
Elizabeth was of the very animated sort, caught somewhere between plain and beautiful except when she was laughing and lit up with a brilliantness that didn’t seem part of her. However, she was most assuredly not laughing now. Rather, she was pacing back and forth, slowly wearing a rut in the rug, as her mother cared to put it. Still, her graceful skirts caught up with her at each turn, swirling around her elegant frame.
“Honestly, Elizabeth, why are we here?”
“It’s very simple, Mother. I want to hear it straight from Jareth.”
“And no doubt to see who your replacement is,” Frannie added from her chair. Thankfully, her position afforded her enough familiarity to get away with such statements. Elizabeth knew better than to argue; the three of them certainly knew it was true.
“Where is he?” Elizabeth fumed; plopping down on her chair and pouting in a most unattractive way that made her mother roll her eyes.
“You called?” Jareth drawled from the doorway, acting every bit of the annoyed monarch.
Unable to hold on to her rage against him in his presence, Elizabeth’s face slipped from the angry mask to a wide smile…at least until she recalled her reason for this visit.
“Jareth, so good of you to join us,” her mother began.
“Lovely to see you again, Janice.”
“Please, call me Jan, Jareth. We’ve known each other for a century or two and I’ve known your mother for much longer than that.”
Jareth’s mouth quirked into a half smile but the corner of his mouth fell back to a neutral line as he returned his focus to Elizabeth.
“I trust you want an explanation.”
Elizabeth nodded with an equally level gaze.
“It’s quite simple. This is the girl who beat my Labyrinth a few years ago.”
“But other people have beaten the Labyrinth before, what makes her so special?” Elizabeth demanded.
“Well, those that had beaten the Labyrinth before didn’t manage to leech magic let alone develop as many ties as Sarah did,” Jareth replied bluntly.
Jan nodded slowly. “I see. So regardless of the circumstances, your hand is forced.”
The expression on Elizabeth’s face was interesting to watch as she shifted from relief in knowing that she had not personally been rejected but also frustration and disappointment upon having the story confirmed. Jan watched her daughter and cleared her throat.
Elizabeth took her cue diligently, “I wish you happiness and congratulate you.”
“I’m sure that you have many matters to see to so we won’t take up any more of your time,” Jan added with a smile. “We shall certainly be present at the wedding. Let’s go home now, Elizabeth.”
Frannie stood and collected their belongings, practically pushing Elizabeth out the door, while Jan lingered.
“Elizabeth’s still very young and this did come as a shock, Jareth, considering how long this has been in planning. She was growing quite used to the idea. I will make sure she doesn’t do anything rash. I’m sorry to leave so abruptly but I assume it would be better for all parties if Elizabeth does not meet your new queen now.” Jan chuckled and winked. “She’ll calm down soon enough but right now, no one needs that sort of help.”
“For that, I thank you. I don’t really need much else to worry about as it stands.”
Jan surveyed him with a calculating glance. “I doubted you enjoyed the situation. And the mortal? How is she?”
“Sarah and I have come to a truce and that’s as much as I could ask for from her.”
“For right now perhaps. Jareth, I’ve watched you grow up, even when your mother passed away from that bizarre strain of Dragon Flu. I really do wish your happiness. With a little work, this situation won’t be as bad as you’re assuming. I’m certain.”
“That’s what I’ve heard. But forgive me if I’m a little resentful of being forced into a marriage by some rules I’m more accustomed to bending.”
“You’re used to getting your way so I think this will be good for you,” Jan said with a cheery smile. “This experience will be good for my daughter certainly. Just remember that this is not as bad as it could be. It’ll all work out somehow.” She pulled Jareth into a hug as he followed suit rather awkwardly. “I shall very much like to meet this Sarah and properly instruct her in what ways to best torment you,” she added with another wink as she pulled back.
Jareth only shook his head, full certain that she would make good on her threat, as Jan followed after her daughter. He sighed and decided to mention the cancellation to Sarah who would likely appreciate such news, given her earlier complaints. Perhaps, he noted, he could give her an update of everything that went on in the castle…even in the wee hours of the morning until she conceded that ignorance was bliss. Jareth smiled to himself, well aware that until she was accustomed to his nature she’d likely misinterpret his motivations…though just to watch her twitch was not the purest motive to begin with.
Toby was quite enjoying himself, Sarah noted with a pang she recognized as envy. Marek had apparently taken quite a liking to Toby and had showed him many of the little quirks of the Labyrinth (among other things, leading to a near dip into the Bog of Eternal Stench when going over its technical upkeep regimen; somehow it was quite difficult to keep it up to its fine stenchy-proficiency). Naturally, Toby had also spent much of his day partying for his sister’s wedding. When Sarah asked him about his adventures with the Fireys and Frosties in a less than interested tone, he’d been quite confused.
“Sarah, you’re getting married. Aren’t you happy?”
“Toby, I wanted to get married someday to someone I loved. This isn’t what I had in mind at all.”
“Aw, don’t you like Jareth?”
“He’s not my favorite person, no, Toby.”
Toby hadn’t been quite sure how to take this news and mulled it over in his mind for a moment.
“You’ll get to live in the Labyrinth.”
“But that still doesn’t change the fact that I have to marry a total stranger and leave my life.”
“Jareth’s not a stranger.”
“But Sarah, you get to live in the Labyrinth! And I can visit you all the time…can’t I?”
Toby stopped when Sarah looked quite unsure. “I’m not sure if I’ll see you for a long time, Toby.”
He bit his lip for a moment. “I’m going to go talk to Jareth.”
“You can try,” Sarah grumbled.
“It can’t be that bad, Sarah. I mean, they don’t arrange marriages anymore, do they?” Toby smirked.
Sarah chuckled. “In some cultures, Toby…” He ran off before she could finish her sentence.
After taking a deep breath and trying to take a few moments to just be alone, Sarah found herself interrupted again, this time by Marek. “Jareth’s explaining the matter to Toby. I know you’re not happy about this, but I can assure you that Jareth takes his word seriously.”
“However he likes to twist it is another matter,” Sarah added, not feeling particularly helpful.
“There really isn’t much time to debate the issue now. There is a reason the wedding is being rushed. I made him promise to explain everything a little more fully after the ceremony. There’s too much to do as it stands now.”
“Of course,” Sarah muttered.
“I would like you to promise me something.”
“And that would be?”
“Please don’t do anything ridiculous before the wedding.”
“Define ‘ridiculous.’ Vague terms are open to loopholes.”
“Don’t make any daring last minute escape attempts.”
Sarah raised an eyebrow, staring at Marek incredulously. “You mean you want me just to sit and accept this whole mess quietly?”
“Maybe not quietly; that’s too much to ask anyone. Just not, violently.”
Sarah crossed her arms. “What’s in it for me?”
“You’ll stay out of the bog, for one thing,” a voice answered suddenly at her left. She jumped then recognized Jareth’s obvious amusement dripping over the sentence.
“Can’t I just have one conversation without three other people jumping in and out of it?” Sarah muttered in exasperation.
Jareth quirked an eyebrow but said nothing. Instead he glanced at Marek who quickly took his cue to leave.
“You won’t put me into the bog,” Sarah declared.
“Really? How can you be sure?”
“I know you well enough to be pretty sure that you wouldn’t want to have that sort of disgraceful queen at all your little parties.” Sarah hoped he’d actually had parties but she seemed to hit the mark.
“But you’re only ‘pretty sure’? Are you willing to wager on that?”
“No, I’m quite satisfied in knowing that I’m right,” Sarah replied smugly. “So what are you going to do with your favored threat proved empty?”
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll find more creative ones as I go.”
“Anyway, what’s in it for me?” Sarah knew that she was being childish but she shrugged it off in recognition that Jareth liked to play games. “Cooperating, I mean. If I marry you, your problems solved and everything’s hunky dory in the Labyrinth, but in the process, I lose my life and all my ties to the world I grew up in and all I’m familiar with. Who has the better deal here?”
“Well,” Jareth ticked off on his fingers, “You will be Queen with all the privileges it offers, you will still borrow my magic though at a much more acceptable manner, you will be able to see your friends, you will be able to indulge in all of your fantasies whenever you wish, and, oh, did I mention that I’m quite a catch?” He raised his eyebrows with a cocky smile.
“No, couldn’t forget that one,” she replied with a short laugh and a shake of her head. “God help us all if your fragile ego gets shattered.” She sobered, “But honestly, Jareth. I can’t just sever ties with my family and my friends. I really do understand the problem and I’ve done a lot of thinking. In fact, I haven’t slept much since I’ve been here.” Sarah bit her lip. “I will marry you, Jareth, and relatively peacefully if you will allow me some time Aboveground, before the wedding,” she added quickly, “to get a few things and spend some time with my parents, try to explain something they would believe.”
Jareth nodded thoughtfully. “That can be arranged. We have a deal.”
“When can I leave?”
“You may go back with Toby tomorrow and I will return you in the afternoon. There is still much to prepare.”
Sarah chuckled to herself, finding it fairly interesting how gender roles had swapped, where Jareth was making all the wedding plans.
“Oh, one more thing. Toby can visit sooner than two years, right? I mean, that’s ridiculous.”
“My company is not enough for you?”
Sarah answered with a knowing glance and Jareth sighed, waving her off. “Alright, far be it for me to break fraternal bonds. I’ll see what I can do.”
Sarah smiled with a genuine grin. “Thank you, Jareth.”
“Sarah, you can be somewhat lovely when you smile. You should try it more often.”
Sarah promptly threw one of the cushions from her chair directly at Jareth’s cheeky smirk.

With such matters decided, Sarah had spent the rest of the afternoon with Toby, the Frosties, the Fireys and whatever other Labyrinth creature didn’t feel much like working…essentially all but those under direct supervision from Jareth. Since her wedding was obviously being planned on its own, Sarah allowed herself to have some fun despite her situation—especially after a disastrous attempt to help found herself escorted out of the room with bits of confetti stuck in her hair and one of the smarter goblins commenting loudly about how much they now had to catch up on. She hadn’t always kept to that philosophy but when her mother had died a couple of years after her Labyrinth experience; it was something she’d allowed Karen to teach her.
The rest of her day Sarah tossed around ideas of what she was going to tell Karen and her father, Jen, and all else. The truth would be so much easier (in a complicated sort of way) but Sarah had no idea how Jareth would react to that, let alone whoever she told. Certainly they wouldn’t let her leave, establishing a strict guard (not that it’d do much good) or lock her up (which would do even less good). Perhaps, she reasoned, she could borrow just enough of Jareth’s magic to have him come charging in and explain the situation for himself. Smirking to herself at the image of Jareth facing her parents, Sarah sat down and wrote a hasty to-do list.
On the off chance that she managed to leave the Underground, she needed to give her boss some explanation. Though she had to admit to herself that the real reason she wanted to stop by work was to firmly tell Derek to shove it and to say goodbye to Jen. Sarah set down her pen, throwing a quiet grateful thought that Jareth didn’t stock her with some ostentatious feather pens, which seemed as though they’d be his style, and instead a couple of fountain pens even if they weren’t ball-point. She was caught in the realization that she still honestly had no idea of what to tell her family, Jen, or anyone else…though she was strongly considering telling Derek, the imagination-deprived-wonder, everything just to laugh at his reaction.
There was a soft knock on the door and Sarah turned around.
“Come on in, Marek.”
“How did you know it was me?” he asked with a perplexed look, shutting the solid door gently behind him.
Sarah counted off on her fingers, “Toby doesn’t usually knock and when he does he bursts in anyway. Jareth doesn’t even bother with doors. Hoggle’s off on something errand for Jareth. Sir Didymus is still off on some errand for that matter. Ludo would have broken down the door. I don’t think I have any visitors left in the castle. The goblins, maids or otherwise, knock as loud as they possibly can. Believe me; I’ve seen a couple broken fingers.” Sarah grinned. “I was reasonably sure it was you.”
“Ah hah, but now I know just how to confuse you.”
Sarah sighed and rolled her eyes. “Great, more confusion. I certainly don’t have enough of that.”
“Oh?” Marek twitched a questioning eyebrow.
Sarah resisted the urge to roll her eyes again. “Do you know how much I’m actually allowed to say about all this?”
“Hmm.” Marek’s face contorted slightly in thought. “I don’t know you well enough to say something sarcastic to that question. It requires a more serious answer. In the end, I think it’s more up to your discretion.”
“Best to keep your answer vague, huh?”
“To avoid conflict? I think so,” Marek agreed with a rueful grin.
“That’s probably not what Toby’s been told, right?”
“What discretion would Toby have?”
“Not the right sort, unfortunately.”
There was a thunderous knock on the door and Sarah bit off her laugh for a shout of “Come in!”
The goblin, with an already swelling hand, fumbled into the room. “His Majesty wants Her Majesty to be ready so that His Majesty can take Her Majesty and the Prince, er, Majesty to Her Majesty’s destination so that His Majesty can say to Her Majesty that His Majesty held up His Majesty’s side of His and Her Majesty’s bargain.” His green little face had turned slightly blue and he was breathing heavily, though he still looked quite pleased with himself.
“Thank you. I’ll be ready soon. Why don’t you find something to drink, Tiglaf?” Sarah mentioned with real concern and an honest hint of amusement.
The goblin Tiglaf grinned. “Thanky much, I’s be doing just that.” He scampered out on his irregular limbs, an overly large arm pushing off of the ground to gain some extra speed.
“You know he’s heading right for the tankard, right?” Marek asked while shaking his head.
“I guessed as much. Owena will keep an eye on him though. He’s her nephew. Now, do you have an idea how to work this thing?” Sarah gestured toward the closet.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“How do I make it work? I just want a pair of jeans and a long sleeve shirt.”
“Have you tried opening the door?”
Sure enough, Sarah pulled the closet door open to reveal a pair of jeans and grey shirt while Marek chuckled.
“I take it you never told the closet what you wanted?”
Sarah sighed. “I suppose not. I was getting tired of dresses, pretty as they’ve been, but I guess I was trying to will it too hard. Would you mind leaving so that I can change? Tell Jareth I’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
“As you wish.” Marek gave a bow and closed the door behind him. Sarah shook her head, not sure when she’d get used to that sort of response.
Jareth was apparently so busy that he couldn’t even spend a moment to give many instructions, much to Sarah’s delight and simultaneous worry.
“You will arrive late the evening you left so it’s best the two of you confirm your story of where you’ve been all day. I will come to pick you up tomorrow afternoon, Sarah.” Then he returned his attention to muttering over some list or another.
He’d given her one crystal to store all her material possessions to be moved to the Underground that she nestled gently in her bag. Toby was officially pouting, but stood next to his sister obediently. Sarah was about to screw up the gall to ask him how much of the Underground she could expose but he’d already vanished them to their respective places.
Sarah was relieved to find herself in her own apartment but instantly depressed all the same to think it was probably one of the last times she’d be there. She picked up the phone and dialed.
“Hey, Sarah,” Toby’s voice greeted her.
“Hey, Toby. Caller ID again?”
“I was just checking to make sure you made it back to the right place.”
“Jeeze, Sarah. I’m fine. Your car’s still here. How am I supposed to explain all this?”
Sarah sighed, assured that she hadn’t really thought this mess through quite as thoroughly as she’d hoped. Coming to her apartment first and saying goodbye to Jen seemed the most logical, as she really wanted to end her time in the Aboveground with her family but there were more complications. “I’m not sure yet, Toby. But for now, tell the folks that I’ll be back tomorrow. Just tell them that I had to take care of something back at work. Real emergency. As for where we’ve been…”
“I’ll say that you’ve been showing me around a few places and that we had an awesome time,” he added dryly. “I still wanna see what they’d say if I told them everything.”
“Is anyone else there with you?”
“Nope, looks like the house is empty.”
“Alright, call Mrs. Anderson and she’ll be happy to stay with you until they get back.”
“Sarah, I’m not a baby. I can totally—”
Toby’s reassurances were cut off by Karen and Bob arguing through the front door. Sarah listened to their muted voices grow louder as they came closer.
“Toby! We were just about to call the police. Where have you been? We’ve been looking everywhere for you,” Karen’s voice half-shouted in a frantic voice.
“I’m fine, Mom,” came Toby’s voice, someone muffled by what Sarah assumed was a bone-crushing hug.
“Where’s your sister?”
“She’s on the phone, Dad.”
Sarah could still hear Karen frantically checking over Toby in the background (despite his affirmations that he was indeed unharmed) and chuckled to herself as her father came on the line.
“Yeah, Dad?”
“Thank God you’re alright. Where are you?”
“I’m back at my apartment. There was an emergency that came up. Sorry my cell died. I left Toby with the strict instructions that he goes to a friend’s house or the Andersons until you got back but I guess he didn’t leave a note?” It was all relatively true, especially since her cell phone didn’t get a great signal in the Underground (nor appreciated the whole reordering of time mess), but Sarah still chafed. “I’ll be back tomorrow as soon as I can.”
“Well as long as everything’s alright…”
“I can explain a little more tomorrow, Dad. I’ll see you then.”
“Love you, Sarah. See you then.”
“Love you, too, Dad.”
Sarah hung up the phone and glanced at her apartment. She’d taken about a year to scrape and square everything away just so and now she had to dismantle it all. The phone, no one to call in the Underground. A beautiful floor lamp, not much use in the Underground without electricity. Much of what she needed was already supplied to her. Sighing, she tossed her books, a couple of sketchbooks, and all her clothes at the crystal which absorbed everything it touched (save Sarah’s skin and the floor) with an odd ripple. There was still a lot of furniture. Sarah yanked a pad of paper from next to the phone into her lap and started writing instructions. Her landlady could keep the rent for the rest of the month if she could take Sarah’s things to the Salvation Army or Goodwill or wherever she knew folk who could use it. Her parents had co-signed for the car a few years ago and could probably take care of that issue. Her savings, she could transfer that to Toby’s college fund so he wouldn’t waste it on something ridiculous.
Sarah sighed. It was funny, she noted, what really seemed important when you were about to be essentially rubbed out. She wouldn’t have died because there’d be no closure, but she’d just be gone while those who knew her were left to wonder. Sarah rested her head on her hands. It was going to be a long night.

Sarah woke up to the drone of an alarm clock, a sound she decided firmly that she would not miss. She smacked it fondly all the same. She took a quick shower and flumped down on the couch with a cup of coffee and a banana, turning on the news to look for the weather. She settled happily into the couch, remembering the first time she had sunk into layers of padding at the store to where it felt like her knees would fold into her chest. She had bought it right then and eaten Ramen noodles for the next two months. It was well worth it. On a snap decision, Sarah hunted for the crystal and set it on the couch, leaping off of the brown leather as it sucked the small couch into the clear ball. The couch may not fit in well with the décor of her room, but she vowed she would guard it herself from any goblins (or their king) moving it out. Sarah sat down in front of the TV on the carpet with her legs crossed and finished the rest of her banana. The room seemed so empty now, even though the large wooden shelving that held the TV, the matching bookshelves, and glass coffee table stood just where they were. Perhaps she could convince Jareth to let her redecorate her own room.
She glanced at the microwave clock in the kitchen and finished getting ready. Sarah had every intention of arriving early to avoid as much confrontation as possible. Naturally, traffic had other plans.
It was odd, she decided, going to work in jeans though few enough people would be worried about what she wore…especially if she was never going to see them again. Pushing that thought firmly out of her mind, Sarah hopped on the bus and stared out the window. It really wasn’t fair. The life she had built was gone. She’d be stuck with Jareth until she died, though knowing Jareth there was probably still some rule that stopped senescence that he’d just failed to mention. Sarah rested her head against the window. Being out of the loop for centuries didn’t seem practical, on top of the fact it was rather annoying (hence why Jareth continued the trend, she guessed). What kick Jareth got out of annoying her was beyond her comprehension but, she smiled to herself, king or not he’d have to suffer his own in good time. If there was one thing she had learned thus far about Jareth was that he did have an innate love of games and winning them for that matter. Losing might be good for him every now and again, she thought cheerily.
The bus crawled along in the midst of traffic and Sarah continued to work on her story, still getting nowhere fast. Her thoughts returned to a discursive mess, wondering how much of the Aboveground she was going to miss. Even the scraggly woman who sat next to her on the bus held new novelty in that she’d never share a bus seat with someone probably ever again…unless the Underground developed some sort of mass transit but the thought of goblins in charge of anything but their own feet was terrifying. Signing up to be a traffic cop would be akin to suicide. Even Ludo’s reaction time would bar him from driving anything slower than a giant pink snail. Though that produced yet another amusing mental image, Sarah was jolted out of her reverie as the bus gave an almighty lurch, stopping for the umpteenth time.
She was just a few blocks away now. Shrugging, she called out, “Excuse me, can I just get off here?”
The already agitated bus driver grunted and Sarah hurried up to the front and out anyway. Dodging traffic and people alike, Sarah maneuvered her way four blocks west and two blocks north. She rode the elevator anxiously and arrived at her desk after stopping by the recycling sector of maintenance and grabbing a large cardboard box. When she made it upstairs, Jen was focused on the stack of papers in front of her at her desk. Sarah snuck past as quickly and quietly as possible, compiling all her sketchbooks. She slipped as much as she could into the crystal, aware that leaving with a rather full box would be more than obvious (not to mention suspicious) and it would probably be much easier to have Jareth get rid of what she didn’t need instead of running into any additional curious coworkers.
“Hey, Sarah,” Derek greeted with one of his winning smiles, at least until he realized what she was doing. “Where are you going?” She continued organizing stacks of supplies and papers, refraining from using her crystal for a moment, and refused to look up.
“Sarah’s here?” Jen asked excitedly. “I thought I was the only one called in on Saturdays.” Her smile slipped as well. “What’s going on?”
Sarah looked up guiltily from what she was doing. “I honestly can’t explain now, Jen.” It was true enough; Sarah was under a time limit and she never got around to figuring out a story. Sarah began filling her box again until Jen’s hands wrapped around her wrists and stopped her gently.
“What’s going on?” she repeated. “You know you can tell me anything.”
“I wish I could, Jen.” Sarah’s eyes fell to the floor and she held back tears. Jen could obviously tell that something was really wrong and only held her friend in a comforting hug.
“I don’t think I’ll ever see you again, Jen,” Sarah mumbled into her shoulder.
“Why not?” Derek demanded, his face twisted in confusion.
Sarah bit off a short laugh. “You’d never believe me.”
Jen crossed her arms in front of her chest, an elegant eyebrow raised in a “Try me” fashion. Sarah tried to return to packing her things but Jen stood in front of her. Derek stood on the opposite side of the desk, blocking her alternative route with another wary look.
“I’d do anything for you, Babe. Tell us how we can help,” he coaxed.
Sarah could see Mr. Lawson lean back in his plush chair in his office across the hall; as strict as he was about deadlines, his dry sense of humor had made Sarah glad to have him as a supervisor. He didn’t look too pleased now, possibly for the stir they were starting to drum up.
“I really can’t say guys. I’ll be fine.”
“But you can’t say where you’re going?” Jen asked with a glimmer of hurt.
“Have you gotten wrapped in something, Sarah?” Derek added.
Sarah allowed a wry grin to grace her features as she haphazardly tossed another item in the box, taking advantage of Jen’s distraction. “You could say that, I guess. Despite our differences, Derek, I will miss you. And yes we did have differences before you say anything,” Sarah warned, and Derek shut his mouth quickly. “Jen, I think I’m going to miss you most of all.” Sarah pulled Jen into a quick hug and started to move toward the door. She stopped at the frame and turned around. “I owe you an explanation someday.”
Derek placed a sturdy arm across the doorway. “Sarah, you can’t just up and leave.”
“I don’t have a choice. Get out of my way,” Sarah muttered with a hint of annoyance.
“Please, just tell us what’s going on,” Jen pleaded. “There’s always a choice, Sarah.”
“Tell that to my fiancé.”
Jen and Derek blinked; Sarah bit her lip and cursed her tongue.
“You’re engaged?” Jen mustered. “That’s great, Sarah, but…well…”
“What kind of hold does this guy have over you?” Derek questioned, obviously still a little dazed and with a steadily growing sense of being miffed, though he wisely said nothing on that vein. Sarah wondered vaguely why she had dumped him, until he mentioned, “I won’t let him take you.”
The effect undone, Sarah remembered another flaw: “There’s no way you could stop him, Derek.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You don’t have enough imagination to fight this guy.”
Derek blinked and blinked again. It didn’t do much good; he was still hopelessly lost.
“Sarah, there are places you can go. We can keep you safe.”
Sarah sighed and ran a hand down her face, the other she set on Jen’s shoulder. “I promise, I’ll explain this someday. It’ll make a hell of a lot more sense later. That’s going to have to be good enough for now.”
“It’s not, Sarah.”
Derek agreed with a nod, still mulling it all over. He was still blocking her path. “What do you mean we can’t stop this guy? There’s always a way, Sarah.”
Sarah stepped back and let her box thump to the floor. She held up her hand and a crystal appeared. Sarah, for her part, was just as surprised as Jen and Derek but held the clear glass high in front of them.
“What do you want?” a cold voice echoed from the crystal. Sarah glanced away from Derek to see that Jareth’s face did indeed fill the space, clearly annoyed.
“I need to go to my parent’s house. Can you send me there?”
“What is that?” Jen murmured, nearly touching the surface with a perfectly manicured nail.
“You’re not alone,” Jareth spoke without it really being a question.
“Before you start that attitude, I didn’t mean to do it.”
“What is that thing, Sarah? Who’s the hologram?” Derek tapped on the crystal with a soft tink tink that sounded like thick glass.
Jareth turned to face the voice. “This one looks familiar. Yes, I remember.”
“You know me?”
“You know him?” Sarah’s voice more surprised than Derek’s.
“Wished his brother away about sixteen years ago.”
“I don’t have a brother,” Derek retorted quickly.
“Not anymore, no.”
Derek’s face shifted to a sickly pallor.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Sarah said in a low voice, resting her forehead on her palm.
“Some folk do forget more than others, if that answers your question, Sarah,” Jareth replied flippantly.
“I had a brother?” Derek mused aloud, finding that each new bit of conversation really didn’t seem to clear up much of anything.
Sarah dug into her purse and handed an envelope to Jen. “Give this to Mr. Lawson and if my landlady has any questions about my lease, I trust you’d know what to do better than I would anyway.” She turned back to the crystal in her hand. “Jareth? Can you send me there? A secluded part of the park maybe so I don’t pop up in the middle of the street?”
Jareth waved an impatient hand. “Yes, yes. I’ll send you wherever you need if you stop using magic.”
“I keep telling you, I don’t mean to.”
The crystal faded and dissolved into the air but Jareth’s voice was still quite clear: “I’ve heard that once or twice, yes. You’ll be transported in about a minute. I will collect you in another hour or two.”
Sarah moved Derek’s arm enough that she could shut the door. She turned to Jen and hugged her again. “I don’t think I’ll be seeing you for quite a long time, Jen. I’ll find my way back up here someday.”
In the middle of a rather tearful goodbye, Sarah disappeared. Jen stumbled as she was no longer supported by a solid body. Her wide eyes met Derek’s equally frightened glance.
Sarah’s box had been left on the desk but she still had her purse with the far more important crystal nestled securely. She didn’t mind losing the box; it was only the extra junk she was planning on tossing out once she had left the building, saving the cleaning crew some work and ultimately giving whatever detective group her family would hire something more to look for. The park was relatively empty and Jareth had placed her under the branches of a willow tree, obscuring her arrival but making it tricky to dig herself out from the branches.
Once out in the open, Sarah sat down on the stone bridge, wondering if she could disappear if only she leaned back and fell into the water. She needed a moment to gather her bearings, that was certain. Her family could never be bought off with promises of a real explanation eventually. Her father would certainly stand between her and anyone who threatened to take her away. Karen would cling to her stepdaughter as though anchoring her in this world.
Sarah slid back to her feet and turned around, staring in the creek and noting how her reflection had changed, wondering how much more it would change in a century or so (one way or the other). There’s no time better to live than in the present, she decided with a laugh to herself. Of course, that may be difficult to balance if Jareth started reordering things around all willy-nilly. Somehow, Sarah could see that as a possibility. At least her life would always be interesting.
With a resigned sigh, she headed home. Whatever was going to come from this mess, she knew she could find a way to be happy…even if that meant sending Jareth to an oubliette for the thirteenth hour of every day. She snickered; it’d be worth it just to try, even if he actually did send her to the bog of stench or the land of incessant goblin music (not a pretty sound at all) or some other mess that strongly dis-appealed to the senses. Sarah stopped in front of her house, willing her mind to take a powerful mental photograph, better than her digital camera that had a habit of erasing what she wanted to keep. As she walked up the stairs on the creaky porch (registering a new fondness for the decaying boards, as she was not trying to sneak in), she was bowled over by Toby. Luckily, she kept her footing well enough to stumble into the wall instead of over the edge.
“Woah, watch it there, kiddo.”
“Sarah! I’ve been looking at stuff on the internet and I’ve found out a ton of stuff about Fae and it’s all really really cool.”
Sarah blinked, trying to register what he’d said at that speed and wondering how many Mountain Dews it had taken to get to that point (though more likely it was entirely natural). “Like what, Toby?” she asked, once she’d processed and disentangled herself.
Toby grinned. “Well first off, iron is really bad for them. I mean iron is like one of the only things that can actually hurt them. And their magic comes from—”
“Is that Sarah I hear out there?” her father’s voice called from the living room. Toby shut his mouth with a soft pop.
Sarah grinned and stepped through the door. “Yes, Dad. I’m back. I can’t stay for very long though.”
He wrapped his arms around Sarah for a hug but she had already seen his perplexed face. “Is there something wrong?”
Sarah bit off a short laugh. “Yes and no, Dad.” She glanced at her watch, monitoring her time and wishing that she hadn’t spent so long on introspection when she would probably find a way to seclude herself later…except for the really curious goblins, of course. In the other room, Sarah could hear Karen intoning her usual polite goodbye and hanging up the phone.
“I suppose I’d better try and explain this to both of you. Karen?”
“Yes, Sarah? When did you get here?” she asked, plopping next to her husband and accidentally setting the throw that rested on top of the couch askew.
“Just a moment ago.”
Karen was frowning and Sarah shifted slightly.
“How did you get here? Your car’s been here all night.”
Judging by the skeptical glance she still held, Karen was unconvinced; Sarah felt as though she were fifteen again…without the whole temper tantrum thing coming on. Sarah plopped down in the armchair that match the couch and Toby, already bored and playing with some video game or another, sat down on the floor next to her.
“I’m going to be out of contact for a while.”
Though Sarah didn’t know that was possible, Karen’s look sharpened. Both parents patiently waited for her to continue and Toby, unhelpful as always, chuckled to himself.
Sarah chose her words slowly and carefully. “I’m leaving the country. There won’t be any easy way to contact me. I have some friends who care about me there and will make sure I’m safe. I should be perfectly fine.”
“For your sake, young lady, I sure hope there’s more to this story,” her Dad mentioned, brows twisting down in a different emotion. Karen’s face hadn’t changed.
“Oh, there’s a lot more,” Sarah promised. “I just don’t know where to begin. Or how much I’m actually allowed to say.”
Bob’s eyebrows shot up. “Unless you’re in some government witness protection program, I suggest you add as many details as possible and start at the beginning.”
“Perhaps you could start on how it took you only twenty minutes to get from the city to here?” Karen supplied.
Sarah stared at her. “Well, I…uh.”
“That’s not possible,” Bob answered for her.
“That was Mr. Lawsen on the phone. He was very worried about you, wondering why you suddenly quit your job today.”
“He called my parents?” Sarah asked to the ceiling, incredulous.
Bob’s eyebrows shot up again. “So you were there?”
Sarah’s face fell into a sheepish smile as she laughed nervously. Toby smothered his giggles but was still shaking.
“And what do you know about this, young man?” Karen asked, focusing her Mom-glare at her son.
Toby swallowed. “Well…”
“Do you believe in magic?” Sarah blurted out. It was as good a place to start as any.
“Sarah, is that really important now?”
“Yes, Dad. It’s probably the best way to start this whole mess.”
Dumbfounded, Bob leaned back into the couch. “I’m listening.”
Sarah took a deep breath. “This is all going to sound ridiculous, but I assure you, it’s the truth. Please, hear me out before you call the nuthouse. It wouldn’t stop him anyway.”
“Who, Sarah?” Karen shot in quickly.
“My fiancé.” Her parents continued to stare at her. “…We’ll get to that.”
“I sure hope so,” her father grumbled.
“Look, when I was fifteen and had to watch Toby, you guys remember how I was back then. Remember that day I actually started trying? When I wanted to be a family?”
“Not the exact day. But we noticed that you made the effort to meet us halfway.”
“One night, I made a wish. I don’t know if I actually expected to have it granted or not but all the same, the goblins came to take Toby away.”
“Why did you do that?”
Sarah sighed. “That’s really not the important part, Dad. The Goblin King, he came and told me I could run the Labyrinth to get Toby back. His name is Jareth and, he’s now my fiancé. And I’ve probably attracted his attention by mentioning his name. It’s weird like that.” She raised her voice a little bit, “Maybe if he’d come here and help me explain, he could make this much easier!” Sarah glanced around and for some reason wasn’t vastly surprised to see he hadn’t responded. Her parents seemed slightly frightened at her ravings. “Anyway, like I said we’ll get to that part later. Obviously, I opted to run the Labyrinth and made a few friends along the way. If you really want to full story, Toby knows it by heart.”
They shot their son a look. He sheepishly sank against the chair, well aware that his information would be thoroughly pumped by the time Sarah had been gone eight minutes. He resumed pretending to play his game though failing to maintain his nonchalance, clearly interested in the conversation.
“He hasn’t known for more than a couple years, I’m not quite sure how long. But anyway, back on track here. I really don’t have much time for tangents.”
“Why not?”
“Because Jareth’s going to transport me probably sooner rather than later, knowing him. I might be able to transport myself one day but now I’m sort of dependent. That’s how I got her so fast.” Karen nodded, more inclined to accept magic than one amazing driver with a flying taxi. “As I was saying, I got to the end of the Labyrinth and won Toby back and thought it was over.”
“And?” Karen prompted after Sarah fell silent for a few moments.
“I started having strange dreams and he started appearing places.”
“He’s stalking you?” Bob rose from his seat, immediately defensive.
“Something like that but it’s really more complicated,” Sarah tried but her father had already latched on to something that made sense.
“Sarah, you don’t have to go anywhere with this guy if you don’t want to. He can’t force you to quit your job and leave your family. We won’t let him.”
“Dad, I really appreciate that,” Sarah began sincerely. “But it really won’t do any good. He’s the Goblin King. If he just poofs me away, there’s nothing you can do about it, no matter how good an army we raise.”
“What’s he going to do? Turn us into frogs?”
Sarah couldn’t help it as the laughter erupted from her throat. This whole mess was far too absurd. She wasn’t sure when Karen pulled her into a hug or when her snorts shifted into sobs.
“I’ll miss you all.”
Toby wrapped his arms around Sarah’s trunk, tired of only watching the ordeal.
“What are you doing, Bob?”
“Calling the police,” he shot assuredly over his shoulder.
“Dad, don’t. Just don’t. I mean it when I said it won’t do any good. It’ll make it a bigger mess.”
Bob joined the hug, adding in tears of his own.
“Sorry to interrupt,” a light voice broke through the companionable silence. Jareth sat with his legs flung over the arm of the chair.
“You’re early,” Sarah muttered, wiping her red eyes on her sleeve.
Bob caught on quickly. “Get out of my home.” He stood in front of Jareth with his fists shaking. Jareth didn’t seem too worried.
“I’ll be gone soon enough. Sarah? Do you have everything?”
Toby still clung to her waist as she rose to her feet. “Almost. I need to run upstairs first.”
“Hurry. There’s much left to do.”
Sarah rolled her eyes and bit off the sarcastic comment she was about to make. Unpeeling from Toby, she snatched her purse and went upstairs. She could hear her father’s voice but not what she was saying. Truth was, she didn’t need to. She’d known his response since the beginning, only missing on how fast it would all move. Sarah rushed through stuffing what she wanted to keep into the path of the absorbing crystal, trying to finish before her father did something truly stupid.
Too late, Sarah heard a loud thump and bolted down the stairs. Toby had wisely retained his distance, never having seen Jareth in a truly foul mood but Bob was firmly planted to the wall.
“Jareth! Let my Dad go!”
“I do not care to be threatened,” Jareth stated simply, as though it explained everything.
Sarah grabbed the lapels of his jacket. “I don’t give a damn! I don’t care how stressed out you are or what he said, let him go now!”
Jareth dropped his arm to his side and Bob relaxed, sinking to his knees. Sarah noted that Jareth was evidently still annoyed and she knew she’d hear about it later.
“That’s no way to meet your in-laws.”
The side of Jareth’s mouth quirked in a half grin. “I suppose you’re right, Sarah.”
Bob pulled himself back to his feet, still a little off balance. Jareth held out his hand, from what he had heard of Aboveground customs.
“I am Jareth, King of the Goblins.”
Robert Williams practically snarled but shook his hand. “Bob Williams. I still don’t want you anywhere near my daughter.”
“Your sentiments are noted,” Jareth replied cheerily. Sarah hoped a bolt of lightning would find its way through the ceiling and strike her dead.
“Where is your mother?”
By means of introduction, Karen swung a large skillet at the back of Jareth’s skull. He fell like a stone into the slopping muck of the bog, helpless to do anything about it. Sarah stared at his limp body and back at Karen. No one had noticed when she snuck into the kitchen or when she had come out again with the large black cookware behind her back. Blood leaked out of Jareth’s head, staining his feathery hair.
“Is that a cast iron skillet?” Sarah breathed.

After they had moved Jareth to the couch and cleaned up his wound best they could, Sarah faced her parents.
“Honey, are you sure that we shouldn’t get him to the hospital?” Bob asked warily.
“I keep telling you, Dad. He’s not human. That he bleeds is news to me. I mean, if iron is poisonous to him, what’s his blood based on? The best thing we can do is wait until he regains consciousness and go from there.”
“If you’re sure, Sarah,” he replied slowly, taking a seat on the chair facing the prone Goblin King, his unconscious face with an odd greenish pallor.
“He’d better wake up.”
“Toby, you’re not helping,” Sarah muttered shaking her head.
Toby tried a new angle, in an actual attempt to be helpful: “Maybe Hoggle’d know what to do.”
“I think Jareth prefer we not drag anyone into this more than necessary. The fact that he’s gone this long anyway probably already has all the goblins talking, and if I call Hoggle away, then it’s more than speculation.”
Toby blinked, not entirely following, and Sarah rubbed her temples. “Long story short, Toby, it might ruin his image and Jareth likes his image.”
“Since we have some more time, are you going to start explaining whatever it is that you keep insisting I don’t understand?” Karen asked with her arms crossed and her weapon of choice still dangling from one hand.
“Yeah, I suppose I do owe you an explanation.”
“With a capital ‘E,’” Toby added with a grin. Sarah shot him a glare and he wisely returned his attention back to his video game, still listening all the same.
“Can I ask why you felt the need to involve a frying pan, first?” Sarah asked. “A cast iron skillet? I thought that was something that only happened in cartoons.”
“It was the best solution I could come up with at the moment,” Karen defended. “He had Bob pinned to the wall until you stopped him and was obviously ready to whisk you off without so much as a word, forwarding address, anything. That’s not the sort of man I wanted to see you with, Sarah.”
“And he’s not even human,” Bob added offhandedly.
Despite herself, Sarah chuckled. “Unfortunately, as I was telling you before, you chose your weapon well.”
“I’ll remember that,” Karen stated with a grin.
Sarah rolled her eyes. “I suppose it’s my turn.”
“Right,” her father agreed curtly, still eyeing Jareth warily.
“I’m still not sure if you guys understand what I mean by magic. I don’t even know what’s really happening there except that somehow I’ve been able to borrow Jareth’s and he’s not happy about it. It apparently manifested after I defeated the Labyrinth and didn’t show any major signs until a couple of months ago. From what I actually do understand he either needs to marry me or kill me in order to retain enough control of his magic to rule his kingdom which protects the boarders of the rest of the Underground. He was nice enough to lean toward the first option. I know that’s a lot to absorb at once but that’s really as clear as I can put it.”
The room was silent except for a few assorted beeps as Toby’s video game character died again.
“Sarah, if he’s forcing you into this…there’s got to be another way,” Karen said as she laid a gentle hand on her stepdaughter’s arm.
“I’ve sort of already agreed to marry him.”
“Sarah…” her father started but faltered. “We want you to be happy.”
“I know, Dad. But I really don’t have much of a choice here. I have a lot of friends in the Labyrinth who would inevitably be in danger if I don’t do this, plus several other species that’ll…actually I don’t know how often the Labyrinth is attacked by invaders but watching this land crumble wasn’t a great prospect either. I’ve always loved my fairy tales and I can sort of understand where he’s coming from, even if I still don’t like it.”
“But will he make you happy, Sarah?” Bob asked, turning to face his daughter for the first time. His eyes were glimmering with unshed tears.
“Oh, Dad,” Sarah stood and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. “I don’t know.”
“You’ll always be my little girl,” he choked out.
“And you’ll always be my Dad. I’m going to miss all of you. I’ll find some way to visit. Even if you have to wish Toby away every other week.”
Bob chuckled. “Maybe not that far. This Labyrinth doesn’t sound very safe.”
Sarah nodded, with her eyes still misty. “If I’m running it, maybe I can help you cheat. A worm and his lovely wife gave me some fantastic shortcuts. At least one of those’ll work on any given day.”
“A worm?” Karen asked, wiping her own eyes.
“Toby could tell you. It’d make a great kids movie. I’m going to find a way to give you a tour someday or maybe just a crystal that’ll show you everything. I’d try to ask him now but I daresay he’s probably not in the best of moods to oblige anything.”
“That and he’s not awake.”
“Toby, you’re still not helping.”
Toby shrugged but put his game down. “Jareth said I could visit sometime. Maybe I could ask him to bring Mom and Dad, too.”
Sarah fought the urge to ruffle his hair, then remembering that she wouldn’t have the opportunity to do so for a while did it anyway. “It’s worth a shot.”
She glanced over at Jareth. “We really should try to wake him up. There weren’t any chunks of iron, or skull for that matter, that we missed were there?”
“He was bleeding. I can’t say that my first priority in helping the man who was stealing my daughter away, whom I’d just efficiently declared my resolution to—”
“Is that what you call it? I didn’t know you often walloped peopled you didn’t like with skillets.”
“There aren’t many people I dislike that much.” Karen waved it off. “Anyway, it still wasn’t my top priority. We needed to slow the bleeding first anyway, assuming his anatomy isn’t that different, and, between the two of us, we cleaned him up best we could.”
Sarah bit her lip. Karen headed toward the kitchen and came back with a small bowl of water. Sarah was half surprised that she didn’t just dump it on his face but instead flecked small droplets. Jareth didn’t respond.
“He’s still breathing. I think that’s a good sign.”
“Toby! Still not helping.”
“I say we should call the police,” Bob mentioned.
“And it would just make matters more complicated. Do you want to try to explain this mess?”
“It wouldn’t be too hard. This strange man is harassing my daughter. When we caught him in the house, we took necessary action. That’d probably be enough for them.”
“Until both him and I disappear and no manhunt will ever find us. It would just give him more of an excuse to keep me there. Not to mention make trips here that much more difficult if there’s enough people constantly on the lookout.”
Karen broke into the conversation. “See there’s one thing I don’t understand. Why do you have to be there?”
Sarah thought for a moment. “I’m not entirely sure.”
“Because it’s easier to rule in the kingdom in which you’re ruling,” came a gruff voice from the couch.
Karen abruptly dropped the bowl on Jareth’s chest as she backed away. He groaned as he sat up, brushing the water off his clothes with a scowl.
“I’m not even sure that really made sense, Jareth.”
“I’ve just suffered a blow to the head, Sarah. Do forgive me,” he muttered darkly.
Bob stood in front of his daughter with Karen at his side. Even Toby took a stubborn stance in front until his father pushed him a little more to the side. “I don’t think we’re finished here.”
“I think we are,” Jareth disagreed, wearing a vicious smirk in his annoyance. With a small gesture, Karen and Bob were flung apart with startled yelps. They both scrambled back to their feet, trying to stand in front of Sarah again.
“Mom, Dad, stop. It’ll be alright,” Sarah promised, gently stepping in between them before Jareth took any further measures.
“Don’t try that again,” Jareth cut in sharply, as Karen reached for her skillet. His threat was implied in his glare, the room suddenly much darker. Karen wisely relaxed her grip and set the frying pan down.
Sarah hugged her family, blinking back tears and wiping away those that managed to escape.
“There will be more time to get to know each other after the wedding,” Jareth stated coldly with a calculating stare at the Williams. “Perhaps long after.”
Sarah shot him a nasty look but for the sake of her family nodded and stood next to him. On a whim, Sarah twirled her fingers and a crystal formed in her hand. Next to her, Jareth gave a tiny lurch that Sarah pretended not to notice; being unconscious probably hadn’t helped him much. She set the crystal in Toby’s hand.
“If any of you need to talk to me, you should be able to call on me through this. It’s probably best if you wait for a couple days,” she added, glancing back at Jareth’s stony face.
Toby nodded and cradled it gently in his palms.
“I’ll come to see you as soon as I figure out how,” Sarah promised. She waved to her family as with a flick of Jareth’s wrist, they disappeared from the Williams living room.

Back in the Underground, Jareth hunched over.
“Are you alright?” Sarah asked in real concern.
He straightened painfully but said nothing, stalking quietly toward the direction of his study, Sarah guessed. He faltered and swayed for a moment, still wandering forward.
She caught up to him quickly and wrapped one arm around his waist and flung his arm across her shoulders. He awkwardly un-entwined himself with a bit of a grumble, marching slowly but resolutely to somewhere private.
“Oh, stop being so stubborn,” Sarah admonished, catching up with him again.
He jerked away again, this time with more force and nearly sending himself keeling over.
Fed up with quite a long and exhausting day, physically and emotionally, Sarah took his lapels into her fists one more time. “Listen!” she muttered with clenched teeth. “I know you like keep up that you’re strong and whatever else but this scene will do far worse than allowing your future queen walk you to your study, worse if you collapse on the floor even. And so help me I won’t let go unless you let me help you.”
Jareth’s eyes flashed for a moment but Sarah refused to back down. Eventually, especially since he could hear some ominous clattering down the hallway, he nodded curtly and raised his arm slightly.
Sarah pulled his arm over her shoulders and he settled his weight against her. She staggered for a moment but set a brisk pace. Once they made it past the thick wooden door, Jareth’s head sank a closer to his chest and his knees crumpled a little further. Sarah caught him and half dragged him to the couch.
“You’re welcome,” she muttered under her breath. “Can I get you something to drink?” she asked a little louder.
“No,” Jareth replied curtly. Sarah busied herself by trying to arrange the pillows so she wouldn’t have to notice his dreadful color or the tight line of his mouth.
“Should I call Marek?”
“Is there anything I can do?” Sarah asked with real exasperation.
Jareth flipped his eyes open and glanced at her. Sarah nearly looked away, not sure what he was searching for. Eventually he sighed and muttered a much softer, “No.”
“You know, asking for help doesn’t make you weak.”
“You’ll learn about goblin politics and its tricks.”
“I’m not sure I really want to. What’s happened to you?”
He gave a very short, pained chuckle. “Iron poisoning, a blow to the head, and more importantly you’re still leeching on my magic.”
“I wouldn’t have done that last bit if you had, I don’t know, somehow managed to make a better impression on my parents.”
“You still have to learn your place,” he muttered coldly. “And you will. I have been lenient because you have yet to receive any proper instruction.”
“I really don’t think it’s fair to argue this now while you’re laid up,” Sarah mentioned sardonically. “It’s just going to have to wait.”
Jareth glared at her for a moment, then chuckled. In a tired, mildly bitter voice, he told her, “I suppose you could hand be a sheet of paper and a pen.” Sarah raised her eyebrow in question and he rolled his eyes. “I’m trying this meeting halfway thing. You can’t help so I will ask someone who can. And in return perhaps you could heed some advice about etiquette?”
Sarah was speechless.
“That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”
“Are you sure you’re not dying?” Sarah spluttered.
Jareth laughed again, a deeper laugh that would have been more contagious had he not been breathing quite so heavily at the end, still exhausted. Sarah waited patiently for him to stop, entirely at a loss as to what was quite so funny but a small smile tugging just the same.
“Dying? No. But I’m out of options for now.” He was starting to look a little better, with a twinge of the slightest pink returning to his cheeks and his hair regaining a luster that she hadn’t realized was missing.
“Really, what causes that, Jareth?”
“Using too much magic. Transport spells are expensive and anything in the Aboveground is even more so. Still, this consistent pull has made it difficult for me to recharge.” He glanced at her seriously, “You haven’t realized how much you’ve been using, have you?”
“Guess not,” Sarah admitted, rising to take a clean sheet of paper from his desk. He started to sit up but Sarah pushed him back down. “You can show me later, just take it easy, okay?”
Renewed strength apparently implied further defiance because he adjusted himself anyway into a sitting position with an expression somewhere between a mocking dare and a smug look of assurance that he wasn’t going to back down now.
“I’ll sit on you if I have to.”
“I’m quite certain that will not help your cause.”
Sarah sighed and thrust the paper and pen into his hands.
“Magical drain aside, I don’t understand why you haven’t just waved a hand and be done with all these preparations.”
Jareth raised an eyebrow. “No? There are several reasons.”
“And they’re worth all this extra stress? What are they?”
Jareth started to tick off on his fingers: “The goblins like to feel useful, for starters. If you don’t entertain them, they find their own mischief. Nothing on this short of notice will be done correctly. You’ve been draining my magic. Some of the elements within the ceremony are contributions from other realms and their magic does not always work the same way; to offend them with such a gesture could start a war if the rulers have been too bored recently. Most importantly, if you have everything by magic, what’s the point? In the Underground, we understand that doing something yourself rather than a spell makes it more meaningful. There is a considerable gesture in preparing it oneself.”
Sarah set her hands in front of her. “Alright, I am convinced.”
Jareth wrote a quick letter and signed it with a flourish. He held a crystal in his other hand that sucked up the letter before disappearing with a soft blip.
“Jareth? I do appreciate the gesture,” she told him with a soft smile, trying to fill the settling quiet.
He nodded but said nothing but, “I expect we will have some visitors tomorrow so it would be wise to be presentable to greet them.”
“And that’s all you’re going to tell me?”
“In accordance to your request, Ruckas will be in your room to brief you on the day’s happenings within the castle.”
Sarah smiled, approving and somehow missing Jareth’s smirk.
“Thanks. Try to get some sleep or whatever it is you do.”
“You as well. Goodnight, Sarah.”
Sarah closed the door behind her, still wondering at what had just happened.
As soon as the door softly clicked shut, Jareth slumped down into a comfortable reclining position on the couch and stared at the fire the goblins had tended (entirely within the fireplace this time). There would be a long discussion on the actions of her family at a later time, when he was more able make good on his threats. Jareth was mildly annoyed that he was forced into a compromise, but if it made Sarah a little more cooperative, he would not complain. Especially when it set her so off balance and she truly needed some work on social and political etiquette. But there was time for that tomorrow, at least until the evening.
“You’re Majesty! You need to wake up!”
Sarah groaned as Owena poked and shook her. She owed Jareth a few sharp words. Of course he knew that Ruckas would drone on and on for hours about every detail within the castle (a scuffle over a chicken, who was sent out to tend the garden, who polished the stairs and promptly fell down them, etc) and that he would burst into violent and loud tears of hurt should she appear to (or actually) nod off. All the same, she pulled herself out of her warm cocoon of blankets, trying to cipher what Owena was squeaking about as she ran about the room. Sarah yawned and stretched, glancing over in surprise as Owena placed a cup of tea into her hand. She shrugged and drank it anyway. Owena looked as though she was ready to collapse from nervous exhaustion but Sarah took her by the shoulders.
“It’s alright, Owena. I’ll be ready as fast as I can.” As though she’d flicked a switch, Owena’s face split into a large smile.
“I can help,” she declared and set herself about the room, no less hectic but without the wails. Owena put up quite a fuss when Sarah pulled out a pair of blue jeans from her closet but she put them on anyway.
“But you can’t meet your guests like that.”
“No one’s going to hold you responsible for this, Owena. I think I’m getting a lesson on etiquette today anyway.” Ruckas had mentioned something about the guests around the end of his lecture but Sarah was too relieved that he was nearly finished to remember.
Sure enough, four sets of stern looks (actually, probably only one in full honesty as three were mildly amused at the same time) as soon as she entered the room made her rethink her rational that being late was probably worse than being underdressed. Marek excused himself from the room with a small smile and there were only three pairs of eyes focusing on Sarah.
Jareth started the introduction, “Sarah, I’d like you to meet Janice and her daughter Elizabeth. Janice, Elizabeth, this is my fiancée.”
As Sarah was wondering how to respond, the two ladies dipped into a small, graceful curtsy. She tried to do the same but it was slightly difficult to hold out one’s skirt when one was not wearing a skirt.
“Nice to meet you,” Sarah added.
“She’s lovely, Jareth. Please, dear, you must call me Jan.”
Sarah smiled, warming to this woman instantly. Her daughter on the other hand remained quiet, inspecting Sarah carefully and still with the same disapproving glare.
“Well, I look forward to getting to know you but unfortunately I believe there is much to be done,” Jan added, turning to Jareth.
“Elizabeth will be instructing you on manners and etiquette. Absorb what you can, Sarah, and perhaps we can avoid major incidences,” Jareth stated with a bit of a smirk but a level tone.
Sarah sighed. “I suppose. You and I need to talk later, by the way.”
Jareth’s smirk deepened. “Oh?”
“You know what I meant. I didn’t need Ruckas detailing every aspect of the entire castle.”
“Perhaps you need to be more specific next time?”
Jan and Elizabeth wore a look of shared confusion as Sarah rolled her eyes.
“We will collect both of you for lunch,” Jan broke in with another look at Jareth that, if Sarah didn’t know any better, indicated she would be asking for an explanation.
The door closed behind them and Sarah turned to face Elizabeth who had already taken her seat and gestured for Sarah to do the same. Still exhausted, Sarah flumped into the chair unceremoniously. Elizabeth raised a startled eyebrow.
“I know, I know. I’m going to take a lot of work, aren’t I?”
A smile tugged at Elizabeth’s mouth but she pushed it back down. “Obviously,” she agreed staunchly.
“I guess a good a place as any to start is what in the world I’m supposed to call people. Am I right in guessing that I probably can’t call your mother ‘Jan’ in public, let alone refer to Jareth as a stubborn jerk?”
Though she had been determined to be a rather gruff instructor to a pupil she was far from willing to undertake, Elizabeth laughed.
“I guess that would be a no,” Sarah added weakly with her own laughter joining Elizabeth. “It might be an interesting just to try it once.”
“Depending on the company,” Elizabeth replied seriously, though a smile stretched across her face all the same.
“What can I call you? Is there a Your Highness title or…”
“For now you may call me Elizabeth.”
“Nice to meet you, Elizabeth. I’m Sarah but I guess you knew that.”
Instead of returning the gesture, Elizabeth turned away. “I might as well be upfront with you. I was supposed to marry Jareth before you turned up.”
Sarah settled back in her chair and bit her lip. “I’m sorry to have interrupted everything. It wasn’t something I had planned either.”
Elizabeth met Sarah’s eyes. “No?”
“It’s a long complicated mess and Jareth hasn’t felt like telling me all the details yet, but that’s what I understand.” Elizabeth made a polite but noncommittal noise as a reply. Sarah took on a serious tone: “I’m really sorry to break up the two of you, especially if you loved him. Believe me, you can still have him if it doesn’t break all these Underground taboos I know nothing about.”
Elizabeth considered her for a moment. “Hmm. I used to think I was in love with him, but honestly I’m relieved. All the same, I was determined to dislike you as soon as I heard about you and I think I owe you an apology.”
“We’ve only known each other for two minutes. No harm done.”
Elizabeth grinned and Sarah marveled at the difference in made from the impression made by her original stormy expression.
“Perhaps we can be friends?”
“I think I’d like that, Sarah. But for now, we must get started. First off, please, do tell me what you are wearing?”
Sarah laughed and tried to explain that women in the Aboveground where she lived had been wearing jeans for a long time, the one article of clothing that never actually went out of style. And while Elizabeth did take a closer inspection of the material, she still frowned and asked if she could change Sarah’s attire. Sarah shook her head with a gentle smile but gave her permission, finding herself magic-ed into a pale pink dress, simple and flattering.
Sarah’s head was reeling with all the tiny rules jumbling about her mind, each point with six or so exceptions depending on the situation. Curtsying itself had nine variations, one for each kingdom and one for formal gatherings of the entire Underground and another for less formal gatherings of the monarchs of each kingdom. Elizabeth rattled off the names of all the monarchs and Sarah nearly quit, certain that she would never remember everything. Her teacher slowed down when she noted Sarah’s distress.
“Is something wrong?”
“How can you remember all that?”
“I was brought up with this marriage in mind.”
“I remember meeting Jareth many years ago and being told that we would in all likelihood be married one day. I won’t deny that I wouldn’t have minded being the Goblin Queen, but Jareth hasn’t exactly been warming.”
“I’m not entirely surprised for some strange reason.”
“I’m sorry?”
“I was just being sarcastic. Please don’t take offense to this, but I’m wondering why he was arranged to you.”
“Mother’s an emissary to Amphitrite and her son Triton. I grew up playing with her son Triton. Their kingdom appreciates their privacy and any additional link to their kind is fine leverage.”
“Wait, as in Greek mythology? How did I miss that?”
“I don’t understand…”
“My guess is that some of these names leaked into the Aboveground. I mean, that would explain a lot.” Sarah sat with her fingers steepled. “I have to ask, Elizabeth, how much of this am I actually going to have to know for the wedding?”
“I suppose that we should get started on that, seeing as it’s this evening.”
Sarah felt the blood rush from her face. Three days. How had she forgotten? It was happening today. She waved off Elizabeth’s concern. “I just didn’t realize it was so soon. I mean, it never fully registered.” She snorted to herself. “I didn’t even get a bachelorette party.”
“A what?”
“Don’t worry about it, Elizabeth. It’s not really worth worrying about. Let’s just keep going if I really have to remember a lot for this evening.”
With a large grin, Elizabeth launched into a series of explanations with gestures and histories behind the different parts of the ceremony such as why the alignment of the moon was crucial. Eventually, the conversation dissolved into different customs of the Underground verses the Aboveground when Elizabeth noticed Sarah’s confusion on a few of the finer points.
“I wish we had that in the Aboveground,” Sarah mentioned. “I mean, I’m sure there would be a lot of problems but it would keep more couples together.”
“The fidelity stone did cause a lot of problems, that’s why it’s no longer used. Marriages of state are still practiced and there are other links involved. Mentioning them anymore is essentially outright accusing your future spouse of dallying around before you’re even married.”
“Yeah, I could see how that might lead to a few broken engagements.”
There was quick knock at the door. “Come on in, Marek,” Sarah instructed.
“Not so loud, Sarah,” Elizabeth insisted. “There’s really no need to raise your voice unless you’re talking to a troll and they’ll expect it.”
Marek walked into the room. “Ah, yes, your eerie way to read knocks. How could I have forgotten? If you are both ready, Lady Janice and His Majesty Jareth are waiting for you out in the garden.”
“Can we take a break from the lessons or are you going to critique my table manners?” Sarah asked with chagrin.
“I’ve been instructed to teach you, Sarah,” Elizabeth replied simply.
“And you’ve still got a lot of work on this one, M’Lady.”
“Marek, you’re not helping,” Sarah grumbled good-naturedly.

Though it seemed entirely strange, Sarah was nervous. As the sun began its descending course, Sarah’s anxiety steadily built into a scary, smothering troll (thankfully not literally). Being nervous at your own wedding was certainly acceptable, but Sarah was fairly sure that in whatever form she had envisioned this moment, her future mother-in-law would have very different reasons and reassurances that what Jan had been feeding her in a bemused manner while Elizabeth still tried to force a few more fine points of behavior into her brain. Noting that Sarah was fraying dangerously, Jan wisely sent Elizabeth out on an errand to check on the flower arrangements. Since this was a particular favorite hobby for Elizabeth, she obliged without question. Had Sarah not been so distressed, she might have chuckled at the chaos which would ultimately follow. Some of the goblins were quite particular on how everything must be; there was an ongoing feud between Fleetch and Flim on whether a statue in the south hallway (well, most days it was south, anyway) should be a quarter turn left or right.
Jan stood in front of Sarah and gently pulled Sarah’s hands away from wringing any further. “You must calm down, Sarah,” she chuckled. “It is quite unseemly.”
“This is just so…” Sarah glanced at the gently flickering fire in fireplace with an odd expression, searching for something to accurately sum up her situation.
Jan smiled warmly, and Sarah could tell by the glint that sage advice, welcome or not, would be soon to follow. “Bizarre? A dream come true? A nightmare? Not what you had in mind? Interesting? I daresay it is many things, Sarah, but maybe because it is so many things, it’d be best to see them in hindsight with a clearer perspective. That said, it’s best not to worry about it now.”
“I won’t have time to mull over it later if I cause an international incident.”
“Just keep your wits about you and you’ll be fine. If something goes wrong, blame a goblin.”
“That’s terrible.” Sarah thought about it for a moment, “I suppose they’d be used to it with Jareth.”
“Not necessarily, but they’re far easier to make amends with. Not all of the other royalty can see them anyway, some through a genetic disposition and others bred that way.”
“I still don’t think I could do that.”
“And that’s why I have faith in you as their leader.”
“That’s probably something else I don’t want to think about right now, Jan,” Sarah commented on dryly, plopping down in a chair.
“It’s hard but rewarding work, Sarah. You’ll learn about it as you go. For now, you need to relax.”
“I’m getting married to a man or whatever Jareth is—”
“He’s Fae, dear.”
“I know but that’s not the point. I don’t know him. I don’t know this world. I’m going to be in charge of part of this world. The impression that I’m getting from all the other folk in charge of their part of this world is that everyone is bored and wants a war to stir things up. That doesn’t sound incredibly promising to me.” Sarah closed her eyes and rested her head on the back of the chair.
“Are you finished?” Jan asked sweetly.
“In a manner of speaking,” Sarah mumbled back.
Jan laughed. “You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, Sarah. Everything will work out fine. Elizabeth and I will help you out as much as we can when Jareth isn’t. You can’t believe that Jareth would thrust you in the middle of everything without some inkling.”
“To watch me squirm? He might,” Sarah mused, a grin slowly creeping across her lips all the same. “But I guess he wouldn’t put me anywhere strictly dangerous.”
“No, he wouldn’t,” Jan agreed. “He’ll keep you safe.”
Sarah sat up in the chair and focused on her hands. “Yeah, I trust him that much.” She glanced up to Jan with another smile. “Otherwise he would have had the bus barreling down the street kill me off.”
Jan raised a curious eyebrow.
Before Jan could question, Sarah held her hands up, “Don’t ask. Sort of a joke but probably in poor taste.”
“All the same, we should probably start dressing you.”
“Dressing me?”
“I assure you, it’s much easier.”
“Well, I understand that but it’s still a little strange.”
“Have you seen your own wedding dress yet?”
Sarah confessed she had not and Jan insisted that it must be righted immediately. Jan marched over and flung open the doors to the closet. The room was dark except for several soft candles and the moon beginning its steady ascent, but the dress still glowed in a white that was nearly tinged blue for how it brilliantly reflected the light. Despite all her misgivings, Sarah had to touch it. It was elegantly simple with long sleeves ending in a flash of small color from the jewels sewn on. The same crescent that Sarah had seen around Jareth’s neck and a few spots (everywhere really) around his private office, was lightly outlined in a pale grey on the bodice that dipped low, but not scandalously so, into a soft V.
“Hard to believe it’s a few millennia old, yes?” Jan asked with a sly smile, noting Sarah’s expression.
Sarah nodded dumbly, running her hand down the soft, gentle skirt. She wouldn’t have admitted it, but it was a lovely gown, something she would have sketched idly and wished she could sew a decent enough stitch to do it justice. “It’ll do,” she whispered, now tracing the insignia.
Jan watched Sarah with amusement. “Would you like a few minutes first?”
“No, I’m fine,” Sarah insisted.
“Let me lace you up then, dear. Unless you rather a goblin help.”
As though summoned, Owena popped her head in the door. “Majesty need help?” she squeaked. Her unwashed hair was tied into two long braids ending in white bows, the ends of which were trailing the ground and likely to be stepped on by a particularly mean-spirited goblin. As she whipped around the room, tidying up first, she nearly knocked down most everything she fixed as her hair swung behind her, bursting into tears of apology when she bumped into Jan’s skirt.
“Calm down, Owena,” Sarah sighed. “You can help and Jan will supervise.”
The waterworks stopped and Owena’s face switched to determination. Jan was smart enough not to try to instruct Owena, the goblin’s stubby but nimble fingers working the intricate lacings together at a furious pace. Just as Owena stepped back to arrange Sarah’s skirt and the short train, Elizabeth entered quickly and closed the door behind her with a bit of a scowl and sprigs of leaves and petals strewn in her hair and stuck to her dress. Her expression dissolved into a smile.
“Sarah, you look wonderful.”
She was right. Sarah knew she couldn’t argue but then she didn’t really have any wish to. Instead, she murmured her thanks and inspected herself in the mirror. Owena had already found a chair and started trying to set Sarah’s hair in a pattern; she’d scoff when Sarah moved too much one way or another, jumping down and scooting the chair to where it needed to be more than once.
“I still wish Karen and Dad and Toby could be here,” Sarah whispered. “It’d make it a little easier.”
“I wish I could help, Sarah,” Jan said with real remorse. “We do not have the authority to bring mortals into this world.” She held Sarah’s hand and squeezed it gently. “I would not assume to take your family’s place Sarah, but I hope you know that I will be there for you whenever you need me.”
“And should you ever need a friend, Sarah,” Elizabeth added.
Sarah hugged them both as Owena squawked in protest, nearly toppling off the chair again. “Thank you both so much,” she stated softly. “I really needed that.”
“An’ speakin’ of friends…” a gruff voice mentioned at the door.
“Hoggle! Ludo! Sir Didymus! You’re here!”
“My Lady,” Sir Didymus acknowledged with a bow.
“Sarwah pretty,” Ludo cooed loudly.
“Verily, my Lady, you are resplendent, indeed.”
Hoggle met Sarah’s eyes with a quirked brow and nodded his mutual approval. “We thought maybe you mights need some company. ‘Is Majesty mentioned that we could escort you to the main courtyard soon.”
Sarah’s face fell slightly. “Oh.” She perked up with a lighter air. “Well, it’s still good to see you all again.” She moved to draw them into a hug but Owena, finally finished with Sarah’s hair, stood between them, afraid that her handiwork would be quickly undone.
“’Salright, Sarah,” Hoggle assured her. “Course, should you want to escape, we’re on your side.”
Elizabeth and Jan had watched the whole exchange curiously and then shared a significant look between the two of them. Sarah still caught it in her peripheral vision.
“I guess it’s only something like treason if the Labyrinth already recognizes me,” Sarah mused. “Thank you, Hoggle, but I can’t.”
“Sarwah sad?” Ludo asked, clearly confused.
“Oh, Ludo, not exactly,” Sarah assured him, reaching up to rub behind his long ears.
Sir Didymus considered Sarah with a calculating stare, his little fox eyes sparkling with something more than instinct. He shared a glance with Hoggle who seemed to share his conclusions. Sarah couldn’t take it anymore.
“Alright, this is getting ridiculous. Let’s talk about something else.”
Sir Didymus launched into a story on his adventures, with the occasional loud BA-RUKE from Ludo as he remembered the same events fondly and Hoggle scuffing his shoes with a few modest statements. Jan and Elizabeth contented themselves with giggling along with Sarah, especially Didymus mentioned when fairies playing a practical joke setting a whole village into a superstitious frenzy.
Eventually, Hoggle reached into his small jewel pouch and retrieved a crystal, now glowing red. “Sarah. It’s time,” he explained.
Sarah’s heart clenched but she nodded all the same. Owena, who was evidently quite taken with Hoggle and blushing furiously, snapped back into her hysterical self and set a small circlet and veil gently on Sarah’s head, again with the help of a chair strategically placed. With one last hug, Jan and Elizabeth excused themselves with a few more words of encouragement that Sarah smiled at but didn’t actually hear.
In fact, as she walked down the hallway with her honor guard (Ludo nearly stepping on her train more than once and Hoggle swatting him for it) with a growing sense of numbness. The large doors opened with a generous shove from Ludo and Sarah walked forward with an assortment of flowers that had been thrust into her hand by an energetic goblin clasped in front of her.
Had Sarah not been numb to her new world, she might have noticed the creatures and monarchs that had gathered ranging from dragons, dwarves, goblins of course, elves, dark creatures that scuttled off to their own corner, a pond of many aquatic guests, and a collection of those from ancient myths, each representing their own kingdom. Had Sarah not been numb, she may have noticed Jareth’s white clothes strongly resembled those he had worn after her experience of the Labyrinth as he now stood waiting patiently. Had Sarah not been numb as she walked serenely down the aisle laid with dragon scales to bless her marriage, she might have noticed the moonlight solidifying into a man with brilliant skin. Had Sarah not been numb while the man drowned in a lilting voice using a language she did not know, she might have taken time to not the craftsmanship on her wedding band (a gift from the dwarves) and the ornate crown (passed down from the ancients) or perhaps the sapling from the elves or the seal of protection tainted from the dark creatures but effective. Had Sarah not been numb to her new world, she might have noticed her new subjects cheering and shouting with all propriety lost.
What Sarah did remember, however, was the end of the ceremony when, Jareth lifted the veil and she looked at him for the first time throughout the whole ordeal. Really looked at him. Maybe there was something in those eyes besides that cool image, and she thought she saw something. She could not explain what she saw in his mismatched eyes but it gave her a sense of hope that she had been lacking. Maybe, just maybe, they could make something of this, make it work.
Then, supposedly under the instruction of the glowing man overseeing everything, he kissed her harshly, and Sarah had to restrain herself from slapping his cheek.
Maybe not.

Toby sat on Sarah’s bed, fingering the long package she had brought with her…well, it was technically only a couple days ago, but with the time changes, “Jet Lag” didn’t quite seem to cover it. Amazing new worlds were much more than he had expected for his birthday, but he found himself wanting only what he had originally wanted in the first place: some time with his sister. At times such as these, he would normally have sent her an email or called her, but his options were a little more restricted now.
That last look on Sarah’s face was still frozen in his mind. He didn’t know how long he sat there—a record for being quiet, certainly—though it was long enough to where the room was steadily growing darker until his mother came in to check on him and flipped the light switch.
“Are you okay, Toby?”
He nodded, still looking at the card that had been attached to the present.
“You can go ahead and open it, Toby. I’m sure Sarah wouldn’t mind,” Karen mentioned gently. Surely Sarah would have wanted to see Toby’s reaction, but Karen recognized that there still had to be some semblance of normalcy in the Williams household. The members of the house moved along like unseen spirits, all skirting around a painful issue as though not saying anything aloud meant that Sarah had returned safe and sound to her own apartment. They had yet to ask Toby for the full story of Sarah’s first visit to the Labyrinth; after Jareth had taken her, Toby had run up to his room and slammed the door.
“I already know what’s in it,” Toby mumbled sadly.
He passed her the card and small sheet of paper tumbled out. She glanced at the sheet first and saw that Sarah had bought Toby fencing lessons. Inside the card, in Sarah’s scrawling hand, was written, “You ought to be prepared when you embark on your own adventures. Have fun swashbuckling’! Your favorite sister.”
“It’s my own foil and maybe a glove,” Toby explained dully. “She got me the right size, the right grip, and everything.”
Karen took a seat next to her son and drew him into a hug. “We’ll see her again, Toby. Sarah’ll figure something out.”
Toby pulled away, meeting his mother’s gaze to convey his seriousness. “Mom, I’ve never seen Jareth like that. I mean he was always nice to me and all but as tough as Sarah is, well, that was just freaky.” He took a deep breath and relaxed again in this mother’s arms.
“I know, Sweetie,” Karen whispered into his hair. “I’m worried, too.”
Sarah held her tongue behind a wide, false smile as Jareth escorted her down the aisle, nodding at all the words of congratulation as they passed by quite quickly. Once they had crossed the last row, Jareth stopped and held Sarah’s arms. Sarah shook off the disconcerting shudder as she looked around, now suddenly in the Goblin King’s chambers by the look of things. Where Sarah’s room had bordered on too much pink, Jareth’s room equally bordered on her sense of too much red, the deep burgundy of drapes, chairs, and bed coverings set off nicely against a dark wood finish.
Sarah turned to face him. “Was that entirely necessary?”
Jareth, whose attention had been focused on springing the fireplace to a cheery light, grinned. “Was what entirely necessary?”
“You don’t have to be rough and possessive.”
“Oh?” Jareth asked with another example of a smirk that flirted with the qualifier of “creepy.” He entered what Sarah assumed to be the bathroom.
With no good answer for that response, Sarah plopped down on a chair and took a deep breath. “Thank God that’s over,” she mentioned after a moment, once Jareth had returned in a pair of black loose-fitting pants.
“You know,” Sarah couldn’t help but mention, “You’re looking a lot healthier than you have for the past couple of days.”
It was true. His hair spiked out at even odder angles, his brows arched in rich color that stood against his skin (which was not quite as abnormally pale) in clear lines, and he walked without so much weariness settling on his bones…or whatever it was that held him up, who could say for sure?
“You really weren’t kidding about the whole marriage thing.”
“It would seem so.”
Sarah rolled her eyes and sighed as Jareth’s eyes focused into impish slits.
“This is going to be an interesting marriage, at least,” Sarah mused.
Jareth sat down next to her and ran an idle hand through Sarah’s hair, at least what was allowed free in Owena’s design though he still managed to knock out a few carefully placed pins. Sarah sighed and took out all the pins, relishing in the freedom.
“Is there no reception or anything?” Sarah asked, leaning forward in the chair.
“Not today. That’s in another couple weeks.”
“Strange but I’m not complaining.”
Jareth’s hand had moved from her hair to her neck, and further to make small circles down her back. Then Sarah started to get a little worried.
“Jareth, what are you—”
But before she could finish her question, he had leaned forward and kissed her, simultaneously scooping her up. Sarah quickly moved to full out worried.
Jareth’s kiss was insistent, not in a punishing way such as the wedding kiss had been, and he set her down on the bed.
Then Sarah was scared. She shoved him off as firmly as possible, standing away from the bed.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“We’re married,” he responded simply, as though this explained everything. He propped himself up on one elbow.
Jareth to his credit looked surprised. “We must be married in every sense, Sarah.”
Sarah’s eyes flew wide. “You never said I’d have to consummate it.”
“I assumed you knew.”
“Obviously you assumed wrong.”
“I can assure you—”
“Jareth, I know you would just tell me that you’d be a gentleman, which is debatable, or that I would find it pleasurable or that I really want to or some other such nonsense. The truth of the matter and stop trying to interrupt me,” she added sharply, “is that I don’t know you. And while we may have agreed to be friends, I’m putting my foot down this time. I married you which is all I agreed to do. It doesn’t mean I have to sleep with you.” After she finished her rush of words, Jareth’s face shifted to some odd emotion.
Sarah stared again after a deep breath: “And again before we start arguing and deteriorate to eight year olds—”
This time Sarah was cut off as a booming voice saturated the room. Sarah squeaked and covered her ears in surprise, feeling very undignified, but the blast of “I wish the goblins would come and take you away, right now!” was worse.
Jareth snarled and his formal-child-stealing-clothes (as Sarah had mentally taken to calling them) appeared on his body, darker streaks spotting his hair and the glitter factor escalating several degrees.
“Wretched timing,” he muttered darkly. “We will discuss this later,” he growled with all mirth erased from his eyes.
Sarah nodded dumbly as he disappeared. The runner of the Labyrinth this time would be lucky to return home with all his limbs.

Jareth nearly smashed the crystal over the boy’s head when he refused to take his dreams. Couldn’t he see that the King of the Goblins was in a particularly nasty mood? He jerked the boy to the Underground with probably a little more force than necessary, enough to where the boy—Anthony or some such thing—looked a little green. Jareth crossed his arms and waited for him to recover.
“You’d better start moving,” he growled.
“Where’d you take my sister?”
“Solve the Labyrinth in thirteen hours and you’ll get her back. Now either give up and save me the aggravation or start moving.”
The boy trembled but didn’t back down. “Where is she?”
More dark streaks of color spilled through Jareth’s hair and he snatched the boy by his shirt, hoisting him to eye level. “These are the rules of the game. There will be no negotiations. Either quit or solve the Labyrinth. You waste everyone’s time sitting here arguing with someone who wouldn’t listen to you on a pleasant day.” He dropped Anthony quite suddenly who landed with a yelp. “Am I quite clear?” he enunciated while showing as much of his clenched teeth as possible.
Anthony scrabbled to his feet and started running. With a slight swell of pity, Jareth sent a crystal of light to follow the boy, a rather small, dim light but it was something a little more than the moonlight. He could have easily illuminated the entire Labyrinth with a whim, but Jareth was a bit of a sucker for pathetic fallacy; instead gentle grumbles of thunder rolled in the distance, not much lightning in sight but the threat was still there. He transported himself to the castle and found himself ankle deep in goblins, all of them eager for a good show as usual. Jareth kicked through them as usual, perhaps with a little more force than purely necessary. He sighed and took a seat (as usual), rubbing the bridge of his nose before whipping a crystal up to take a glance. He sent a few of the goblins to intercept the boy and torment him for a while and the majority of the cluster eagerly leapt up and scrambled for the exit.
Then Jareth noticed that something was missing. The child was not in the chamber. Jareth was many things but he was not necessarily irresponsible, particularly with children. He stood up and prayed that the goblins hadn’t thought to take it with them, conjuring another crystal.
The picture in the globe focused first on the girl, roughly three or four and with her hair in two sloppy pigtails. She wore a confused expression then started giggling, though Jareth couldn’t hear it. The scene stretched back and Jareth recognized the room instantly. Sighing again, Jareth transported himself to Sarah’s old room.
The little girl sat on Sarah’s lap as Sarah read from a large book Jareth did not recognize. Sarah glanced up and made eye contact with Jareth (his arms crossed and eyes with an almost skeptical glare) but proceeded to finish the story. The taken child laughed at the voices Sarah used for each character and clapped her small hands, trying to turn the pages sometimes before Sarah finished reading them, eager to see the next picture. Eventually, the girl looked up and pointed to Jareth.
“Who’s that?”
“Who’s that?” Sarah parroted. “That’s the Goblin King.”
“He looks angry.”
“Probably because he is. He’s keeping an eye on your brother.”
“Brother?” the little girl asked, highly confused.
“She might not remember,” Jareth began to explain. “I’ve found in the past that a small memory spell can make the transition, however permanent, a little easier.
“Why did she come here and not to the main chamber?” Sarah asked. “That’s how it worked before.”
“Sarah, you are a recognized sovereign of the Labyrinth. If you were a living block of stone, plant, and who knows what else, would you rather trust those children wished away to the care of some goblin or your rulers? I was seeing to the brother so the sister was placed in your care. It’s not that complicated.”
The little girl on Sarah’s lap looked confused, having followed the conversation back and forth with a flip of her pigtails. Sarah gave her a warm smile. “It’s alright, Becca. You just stay with me for a little while.”
She seemed satisfied.
“We still need to have a talk,” Jareth said in a low voice. He turned to Becca and tossed her a crystal which promptly turned into a doll with long red hair. Becca was delighted and took her doll to a cradle that had appeared out of nowhere.
“I see you retreated to a safer ground.”
“Something like that,” Sarah shrugged. “I knew I had a book or two in here that Becca would appreciate. Don’t you have to watch the runner?”
As a response, Jareth glanced into a crystal and after a moment of thought sent another whizzing off presumably in the boy’s direction.
“I believe we will have plenty of time.”
“I don’t know if I’m ready to talk yet.”
Jareth’s countenance immediately darkened, but he took a moment to consider Sarah seriously before saying anything. Minutes ago, she had been panicked and screaming; now she was calm and nonchalant. He’d had much more practice dealing with screaming (a natural side effect of being King of the Goblins and their well-intentioned but juvenile ways). His experiences with calm had always taught him to be wary.
“Jareth, if you tend to the runner for the next few hours and give me just a little time to think, I promise we will discuss this then. It’s just how I work through big decisions…or arguments. Please.”
Jareth considered his options, eventually deciding that he’d rather not let the circumstances deteriorate to another shouting match and that Sarah’s solution was probably the best method to ensure such on her side; he could use the time to take out some of his frustration on the runner (who was currently trying to figure out why down was up).
“I’ll return in two hours.”
She offered a rare smile. “Thank you, Jareth.”
He knew he was being far too lenient but he left anyway. Though it wouldn’t be difficult to speed up relevant time, Jareth thought that perhaps Sarah would refuse to uphold her end if he chose to do so.
Anthony went through one of the most frustrating experiences of his life and after he started crying for the second time, Jareth decided to just let him run, particularly as he was so disoriented that he started to backtrack. At least the goblins were certainly enjoying themselves, allowed a more active part than he normally would have (their continued presence would have an unfavorable effect on his mood). Two hours passed rather quickly and agonizingly slow all at the same time, for both parties.
Jareth returned to Sarah’s old room and leaned against the wall, arms crossed.
“You know, a lot more is riding on this than your personal happiness.”
“Your ego for starters, yes, I know,” Sarah sighed. “Two hours must be up then.”
A silence settled for a moment until Jareth broke it in a quiet voice, suddenly next to her ear. “I would not force you.”
Understanding his meaning, Sarah nodded, without looking at him. “I trust you of that much, at least I think so,” she added with a brief small quirk of a smile.
“I could have forced you from the beginning. A simple spell and you’d be my simpering little servant,” he mentioned flippantly, twirling a piece of her hair in his fingers.
Sarah only nodded. “I know how much trouble it is, me having free will and all. But that doesn’t seem like your style anyway.” She took a breath, “No, I don’t understand how all this works together in the master plan and I think that’s part of the problem. What’s with this urgent timeframe? Care to enlighten me?”
“Let’s just say that we take prophesy rather seriously here. It’s really too complicated to explain fully without a few years worth of back-story to cover the basics, and I do literally mean years.”
Sarah sighed. “So I have to trust you and understand that this is what’s best for the kingdom?”
“Yourself and myself as well.”
“Not exactly but my bride and the Queen of the Goblins. I can’t say there’s a specific section detailing how to deal with your insecurities.”
Sarah bit her lip before she said what she was intending. Becca was curling up on the bed, with the doll tucked under her arm and thumb firmly set in her mouth. Jareth followed her glance and realized what she was thinking, that this conversation ought not to end in shouting.
“Look,” Sarah whispered, “The best way we’re going to get through this is not to keep sniping at each other. We’ll drop the sarcasm, or at least most of it, and argue some more later, okay?” Without waiting for an answer, Sarah continued, “I know there’s a kingdom at least at stake here and probably more considering the Labyrinth’s position in the Underground and all. And I know it’s immature, but I reckon I can hold a grudge for all of eternity.”
In response, Jareth raised an eyebrow, not smiling.
Sarah sighed. “I know I’m not saying this very well but the important thing is I’m…” Sarah faltered. “The honest answer is I’m just not ready. I know you don’t know me any more than I know you, and because of that, I think sex would really just complicate things too much at this point. I mean, we’ve been vying for control the whole time or rather I’ve been trying to find some sense of it and…”
Sarah trailed off, noticing that Jareth’s expression hadn’t changed.
“Well, say something,” Sarah said exasperatedly.
“What is to be said?” Jareth intoned wearily as he straightened. “You’ve made your decision.”
“That’s it?” Sarah whispered, shocked.
There was another grumble of thunder in the distance but Sarah waited for his answer. Jareth started for the door, turning his head to say over his shoulder: “Sarah, I will make sure you are aware of your duties. All of them. I expect you to make an effort.”
He flung the door open but stopped short of slamming it, apparently remembering that the little girl was asleep on Sarah’s old bed.
Left to her thoughts, Sarah stepped out on to the small balcony and wished she had someone to talk to, talk things through. She didn’t feel comfortable talking to her Labyrinthian friends about this matter—Ludo would cock his head to the side, utterly confused and without an answer; Elizabeth would simply insist on Sarah’s duty; Hoggle probably couldn’t offer any practical advice; Sir Didymus would offer his sympathies but no help; Sarah did not know Jan or Mrs. Worm or even Marek well enough to ask any such questions. What Sarah really needed was Karen.
Plopping in front her vanity, Sarah prayed and wished as fervently as possible that she could see her stepmother. She watched the mirror for any signs of change, her eyes welling with tears as all she saw was her own rumpled reflection, her hair sticking up slightly where Jareth’s hands had been.
From the observation room where Jareth sat with his elbows resting on his knees, Jareth watched her through a crystal. With a sigh, he completed the connection and allowed Sarah to talk to her stepmother who was just as surprised, tearful, and relieved.
He allowed himself a small smile for a moment before releasing the crystal and returning his attention to another crystal where the boy was tearing at his hair, the blond now streaked with dirt. Perhaps the goblin symphony was a little harsh, but they always had the desired effect.
Jareth glanced at the doorway; two voices were approaching but he paid them no heed, even when the owners of the voices opened a side door and stopped mid-sentence. The lady stammered her apologies and Marek bade her a hasty but charmingly polite farewell. Marek closed the door and unabashedly peered into the crystal the King held in his palm (the boy still curled up even after the music had stopped while the goblins pretended to switch songs; they only knew one but called it many things).
“That was the Duchess Melocka, a tall dwarf or a petite Fae, I’m not sure which. She was very interested in your castle.” Jareth made no indication that he had heard. “I hadn’t expected to find you here,” he concluded somewhat lamely.
Jareth exhaled and closed his eyes briefly. “I hadn’t expected it either.”
“But I can see you had little choice in the matter.”
“Perhaps not all bad.”
“When Sarah is the alternative? I’d be annoyed, too,” Marek jibed with a wink. When Jareth’s scowl was a darker sort than those his teasing usually provoked, Marek shifted his smirk to a serious expression. “What’s wrong? Did something happen already between you two?” Marek furrowed his brows in quiet thought before they shot up when he hit a moment of revelation. “Or did something not happen between you two?”
Jareth returned his focus to the crystal in his hand as a bit of thunder echoed far off in the distance; that was all the answer Marek needed.
“I see.”
“What? What do you see?” Jareth asked icily. “Have you some hackneyed advice to spit out and smooth everything out? You probably knew what had happened before you even came in the room.”
“Well, actually, it is harder for eavesdroppers to pick up anything when you’re not yelling. That and I asked even my informers to allot you some privacy tonight,” Marek replied. “Even I have some boundaries.”
There was a flash of lightning in the distance, and Marek could tell that he was perhaps not helping.
“I still think that you can make the best of this entire situation.” When Jareth looked at him sardonically, Marek added, “Well, maybe not at this precise instant but this whole marriage overall. I know this whole thing is new to both of you and you’re still trying to figure it out…perhaps I should find someone who’s actually been married to explain this; I only have all the lessons Mother drilled into my head to go off of,” he admitted.
Jareth nodded.
“Still, what Sarah doesn’t know is that you are trying, mostly because she doesn’t know you.”
“Really? How astute.”
“But this goes both ways. Neither of you really know that the other is trying or what to actually do or—”
“Are you done yet?” Jareth interrupted harshly.
“I suppose,” Marek said resignedly. “This circumstance is just unusual. Underground arranged marriages have a decade or two to resign to their partner and most other situations involve a scandal anyway, though I daresay many would include these circumstances in that category, just based on speculation, much like back when Sal was…” Marek went on to ramble for another minute or two as Jareth watched him pace back and forth. Once he realized that he was caught in his own ramblings, Marek stopped his history rant and switched back to the matter at hand.
“Really though, I think you’ll find it easier to maybe even love your wife if you get to know her a little bit. I’ve heard you guys bicker without aiming to actually attack one another…or rather my informants did but still. Be patient with her. Maybe she’ll return the favor, which just might make her a saint, putting up with you.”
Marek gauged Jareth’s glare, noting that it was more relaxed than it had been.
“Look, I’ll stop giving you advice, for a little while anyway, I can’t make many promises,” he waved his hands dismissively. “And hopefully you’ll do your own thinking instead of pouting and causing all these little thunder fits.”
“Watch your tone, Marek,” Jareth warned half-heartedly.
“If you so much as hint at the Bog of Eternal Stench, I’ll—”
But with a wave of his hand, Jareth had transported Marek on his way to the Bog, because really there wasn’t a better place to throw unwanted advice-givers.
Sarah glanced out her window as a soothing rain began to fall, contemplating on Karen’s well meaning threats and then what advice she had ultimately given her as Becca slept peacefully on her old bed.

The next few days were terribly awkward. For three days, Jareth allotted Sarah some space, until Sarah questioned his existence between dinners (as this was the only times she really saw him). On the fourth day, he joined her for lunch with a request that sounded more like a declaration, as per usual.
“Sarah, are you aware of the power of gossip?” Jareth asked her with a twirl of his fork.
Suspicious and still finding thinking of Jareth as her husband strange, Sarah asked, “In what context?”
“In the context of my kingdom and this castle.”
“I daresay I’m going to find out.”
“Yes, you will, one way or the other. And while we have reached some of our own decisions, we need to keep up appearances.”
“We will share my room.”
“What’s wrong with my room?”
“It is not our room.”
“And that is precisely the problem,” Jareth declared.
Sarah focused intently on her salad.
Jareth sighed. “Let me put it this way. Do you know how easy it is to bribe a goblin? For example.” Jareth waved a hand and one stray goblin hiding behind a long tapestry slowly walked forward. Jareth held out the same fork and the goblin’s eyes followed it.
“Go tease Marek, do something he won’t like and you can have this shiny fork,” he said, stretching the word shiny out while the goblin twitched with excitement. With a quick nod, the goblin scurried away.
“That’s one of Marek’s informers,” Jareth said, taking a bite. “Granted, that was something few goblins need bribing to do but the point stands. Other kingdoms have agents everywhere, and they bribe with far more than a salad fork. That and they are better skilled at interpreting any possible meaning and implication, having been schooled in all Underground prophesy since infancy. The reception rescheduling is enough for some.”
“Why? What does that mean?”
“It’s not really a reception of sorts though it’s the nearest equivalent that I could gather. Ordinarily it takes place a few years after the wedding but given our circumstances, well…”
“But what does it mean, Jareth?”
“The ‘reception’ is usually where the impending birth of an heir is announced.”
“Ah,” Sarah replied noncommittally, again focusing on her salad. “Actually, that’s more of a baby shower.”
“Am I correct in assuming that you will wish to reschedule?”
“I really hadn’t thought much about children,” Sarah stammered.
“This is part of the contract. It does not have to be now, though sooner is better than later.”
“And you still won’t tell me why?”
“This would fall more into the category of ‘you don’t want to know,’ I believe.”
“See that’s the thing, Jareth, I do want to know.”
“I will tell you some of the basics if you drop this tone of animosity.”
Sarah raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
“I believe you were the first one to bring up…oh what is the word? Compromise, after all,” Jareth added.
“Fine,” Sarah breathed with a shake of her head and a bit of a smile. “Let’s start with the urgency of all this.”
Jareth was silent for a moment, gently tapping his lips with one gloved finger.
“Well?” Sarah asked impatiently.
“It’s difficult finding where to begin. We have a whole language specifically for prophesy, Sarah. To butcher a long and fantastically dramatic story to its immediate shortness, some of these prophesies will be coming to fruition and along with some inconvenient cosmic timing, well, let’s just say that there is the potential for much to fall out of our favor.”
“That’s still fantastically vague,” Sarah muttered.
“You wanted an immediate answer.”
They were interrupted by a sharp yelp followed by several loud but unrecognizable words in Marek’s voice.
Jareth smiled. “Ah, I owe a certain goblin a shiny fork, I believe. I daresay we’ll hear about it later.”
“Back to the matter at hand…” Sarah trailed off, hoping Jareth would pick up her hint. He didn’t.
“Is this going to another one of those ‘ask the right questions’ things?”
Sarah thought for a moment. “What particularly affects the Goblin Kingdom in these prophesies?”
“Well really what affects one kingdom will affect its neighbors. But I can tell by your expression and even a little bit of experience that this answer would not satisfy you. Few other Fae are quite so fond of these creatures as I am.”
“Fond?” Sarah asked disbelievingly.
“They are charming in their way. But the Goblin Kingdom itself is likely to be parceled off should we fail.”
“…Okay. How about the Labyrinth?”
“Ah, should that fall into the wrong hands, both worlds can fall apart.”
Sarah blinked.
Jareth sighed and launched into an explanation: “The Labyrinth protects all the Underground, yes, but it also ensures that barrier so that the Aboveground is not flooded with all sorts of beings. As you can imagine, that would certainly throw the world of your parents into a dreadful state. Ultimately, however, without the Labyrinth, which would naturally crumble if too many unregulated crosses take place, both worlds will collapse into each other and fall into oblivion.”
“The prophesies say that?”
“That is one point they are very explicit on, a couple volumes worth.”
“Sounds serious.”
“The end of the world usually is, Sarah,” Jareth drawled.
Sarah scowled but only half heartedly as if to say, which she did: “Yeah, I figured that much. I get how this affects you and, well, our worlds, but you’ve taken care of this for…How long have you been in charge of all this?”
Jareth gave a short laugh. “Our years and your, shall I say, former year span do not always translate well.”
Sarah waved impatiently. “Well, ballpark it.”
“Ball park?”
“It means just give me a rough estimate.”
“A handful of centuries. Forever can be a long time and not much at all, particularly when I can shift it around.”
Sarah sat back in her chair for a moment. Jareth decided he did not like her quiet on this matter.
“Is something wrong?”
“Well, assuming that you didn’t take the crown immediately at birth, or however it happens here—”
“—Yes, we’ll get to that eventually—”
“—Anyway, that means you’re several years and a handful of centuries older than I am.”
Jareth still did not fully understand the problem. “And?”
“Well, it makes you look like a total perv for starters.”
“Otherwise this might complicate our relationship, yes?”
“Time is all relative here, Sarah. Perhaps it is best not to think about it.”
“At least not right now, I agree.”
Jareth sat forward with his elbows on the table and his fingers steepled, bits of sunlight filtered through the window and made his hair shine. “Sarah, I do believe that might be the first time we have actively agreed on a matter without dragging it out unnecessarily.”
Sarah snorted most unbecomingly. “Have you been keeping count?”
“No, but I have,” a voice at the door replied. Marek grinned for a moment. “Believe it or not, that puts you up to three.” His grin melted when Sarah started gagging on the smell and Jareth’s smirk deepened. “And you,” Marek pointed to Jareth with an accusing finger, “I believe that you sent this one?”
Marek pushed the goblin he had hog-marched down the hallway in front of Jareth.
“Really, Marek, you’re dripping Bog water all over the floor,” Jareth said simply. He turned to the goblin. “It’s alright, Bex, laugh.”
The goblin fell to helpless giggles on the floor and Sarah couldn’t help but smile at the contagious laughter. She glanced at the bucket in Marek’s other hand. “Just a wild guess, tilting the bucket on a half-open door?”
“Precisely,” Marek grumbled.
“And the smell didn’t tip you off?” Sarah laughed.
“Well, I heard that there was some particular news that she wanted to tell me and was too focused on my informers.”
“You mean your gossip, right Marek?” Sarah corrected.
Marek just chuckled.
Jareth ordered the goblin to be silent and tossed it (Sarah still had yet to figure out some of their genders as some were not as clean as Owena, though Sarah had thought on more than one occasion that perhaps they were not limited to two genders) a fork. “As promised. Excellent job.”
The goblin caught its prize and scurried out of the room.
“Much as I delight in the combined efforts of your teasing, I must retire. Have you any idea how hard it is to get the stink out of my clothes?”
Sarah turned to Jareth once Marek had closed the door behind him and asked “You mean it washes out?”
“Not without a lot of magic.”
“And it’s still called the Bog of Eternal Stench?”
“It’s all relative, Sarah. Wouldn’t you agree that just minimal exposure to the Bog seems like an eternity?”
Sarah laughed. “Okay, I guess we’re up to four points of agreement now.”
“An excellent start, considering your nature.”
Sarah was about to snap at him then realized that his expression intended no hostility. Instead, she laughed again. “Coming from you?”
Jareth put on an innocent expression…which ultimately looked far from innocent.
“Alright, alright,” Sarah waved her hands, palms out, slowly in front of her. “Let’s get back to the question. You’ve been ruling this place for significantly longer than I’ve been alive and somehow never got married in that time period, which I’m sure links back to all this prophesy stuff again.”
Jareth grinned enough to show his slightly sharpened teeth. “You’re learning.”
“The point is, you’ve been around and running this place this long, why is it in trouble now?”
“Perhaps you were just late?”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Obviously I had full control over that.”
“True. Though I had anticipated this particular time of trouble, as it has been the subject of debate for centuries—”
“Ah, well some of the prophesies are not quite so easy to determine their meaning until foreseen events are passed or missed. Different interpretations vary by reader.”
“Wait, did you just say not all of the prophesies come true?”
Jareth hesitated. “In a manner of speaking, I suppose. The point, however, stands that while I was preparing for the possibility of fighting for my kingdom, I did not expect to have my powers leeched off by my future queen.”
“But that’s fixed now, right?”
“Halfway. Whether or not you realize it, you have still been using my magic. But since you’re in the Underground and we have been united, the drain is not nearly as detrimental as it had been. When we are united in all ways, then our shared power supply will grow.”
“So I have some magic now?”
“You have access to it but I still wouldn’t say it’s yours.”
“Oh, don’t be a magic hog,” Sarah teased.
Jareth, unsure of how to take her comment settled for a confused look.
“I was just joking around, Jareth.”
“Without being spiteful?”
“Yes, that does happen occasionally, Jareth. So can you teach me some magic?”
“I thought you wanted some answers.”
“I have plenty of questions, but I want to get a handle on some of this before I blow something up…well, without meaning to anyway.”
“Are we finished eating then?”
“Looks that way.”
Jareth stood. “Perhaps we should head to the garden then.” He held out his hand which Sarah took without hesitating, a bit of a surprise to them both. Sarah blinked, breaking eye contact with Jareth and the sunny room they’d taken their meal in and opened her eyes a second later to a bright and colorful courtyard. The light breeze tugged at Sarah’s simple, pale green dress, and she rolled up her long sleeves, the left refusing to stay up. Jareth mimicked her actions, taking his time to roll up his sleeves in a more refined and patient matter.
“So what’ve I got to do?”
“Where would you like to start?”
“At the beginning.”
“Perhaps with crystals.”
“Maybe you can teach me to flip them around one of these days.”
Jareth chuckled. “You don’t want to know how much time I’ve had to practice, remember?”
Sarah blushed ever so slightly. Jareth gave a small smile in response.
“Magic generally has a lot of rules and takes a lot of work to perfect. However, in your case we will not have to spend as much time on theory.”
“Why’s that?”
“Since you will have to channel through me, you will already have the benefit of my experience.”
“That’s a nice perk.”
“Much of this will still take some getting used to,” Jareth acknowledged. He held out his hand and turned to look at Sarah who had mimicked his arm movement. “Now the condition I ask in teaching you this is that you will stop when I ask. You will not feel the strain but I will.”
Sarah nodded. Jareth twisted his wrist sharply and formed a crystal sphere with a slightly purple tint. Sarah did the same, her crystal sphere not perfect and looking decidedly more yellow.
“The hardest lesson with magic is knowing when and when not to use it,” Jareth mentioned after they had formed several more crystals, Sarah’s improving with each new one when Jareth managed to be polite in pointing out the imperfections. These all seemed much harder to Sarah, considering that every previous attempt at magic had been reflexive.
“You’ve said as much before, that it means more to do it yourself.”
“But apparently, Sarah, we need to first help you reach a point where you understand when you’re using it.”
“Makes sense.”
“Like how you gave Bex the idea for the prank.”
Sarah turned to look at Jareth. “I did that?”
“That prank had never been previously seen at this castle, and while goblins can be clever in their mischief, they usually stick with pranks they can easily reach instead of needing a ladder or a stack of goblins,” he pointed out.
Sarah chuckled. “I don’t think you have the supplies here for some of the other ones I might involuntarily send Marek’s way.”
“That sounds like an exciting endeavor. I assure you that the goblins are good at improvising.”
“Using chickens instead of packing peanuts?”
Jareth looked confused, and as a response, Sarah produced a crystal with a slightly off color but otherwise perfectly viable presentation of the results of some of her chosen pranks, all contained in a crystal.
Jareth’s smile grew. “Marvelous. Should I call the goblins or should you?”
“Depends. Who will Marek blame?”
“Myself, regardless of what happens.”
“I don’t know why he puts up with you.”
“Us, Sarah. Why he puts up with us,” Jareth corrected seriously. “Perhaps we should all get used to it.” He grinned again and added, “Particularly Marek.”

Conspiring with Jareth at the expense of Marek provided not only a practical magic exercise but a time for Jareth and Sarah to get to know each other in pursuit of a common, albeit mischievous, goal and ultimately resulting in the beginnings of adjusting to the other’s company. Sarah thought back to Karen’s advice (after Karen had relaxed enough to drop her frying pan) and began making conscious steps to get to know her husband. When he took a break from matters that needed to be seen to, they reached a point where they could have a frank and lively conversation, politely skirting around a couple of subjects, their current sleeping arrangement one of them.
The first night Sarah had stayed in Jareth’s room, or rather their room, they had argued for quite some time, long enough that they could hear quite a crowd of not-so-subtle eavesdroppers on the other side of the door. The conversation was settled quickly for the time with both parties slept on the floor—Jareth due to some gentlemanly upbringing and Sarah out of acknowledging the original ownership of the furniture in question and symbolically allowing Jareth the space after he flatly refused to magic in another bed. When they walked around with stiff necks the following morning, they agreed that another solution must be reached; Marek was too busy to keep count any longer, particularly as he was quite paranoid making his way through seemingly innocent halls of the castle, what few there were. Over breakfast, Sarah acknowledged that though they could obviously fight over the matter every night, perhaps they could alternate, the other sleeping on the couch. Jareth suggested a contest rather than a rotation, adding a further focus to Marek’s torment in that the monarch who upset him the most throughout the course of the day would be allotted the space.
Five days later, Sarah had stayed in the bed twice and Marek was quite seriously threatening to leave. As she found a better understanding of the magic she’d been granted, each trick grew more extravagant, Jareth matching her step for step. When Marek had reached the end of his tolerance, so did Jareth. The conversation that evening was broached in a stilted manner but to the point.
Jareth stretched out on the bed, having already changed into his preferred sleepwear of loose black pants, and propped himself up on his elbows, watching as Sarah bustled about the room, readying herself. “I have given you time to adjust to the same room. We will share the same bed.”
“I’m fine with the floor, thanks.”
“There is no doubt you would have won this night, under our original agreement. Marek is thoroughly displeased with his new hair color, particularly how it reacts to his magic.”
Sarah smiled to herself, remembering the particular look of horror on Marek’s face when he tried to undo the damage and instead found his hair was now two colors instead of one shock of don’t-shoot-me-orange. He was up to seven(a fluorescent rainbow), last either had heard, but stuffed under a hat. Sarah had felt bad initially but winning the bed was a good cause.
Jareth smiled as well at the memory but continued, “But we will share, Sarah. Do you not trust me?”
Sarah sighed. “I’d rather just avoid everyone’s temptation.”
“You find me tempting?” Jareth purred.
“Look, don’t you even start,” Sarah warned, her face flushing red all the same.
“You do find me tempting,” Jareth repeated with a hint of surprise, rising to a sitting position. “Your face confirms as much, Sarah.”
Sarah turned her head so that her hair covered her face as she dug through her drawer, silently cursing her genetics; ever since second grade, she’d hated how easily she blushed.
“I’m sure that’s good news for your ego, Jareth, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to start calling you Jare-Bear or that I’m ready.”
“Jare-Bear?” Jareth parroted with obvious distaste.
“Marek suggested that one. Said that perhaps if I needed some sort of small edge one of these days, we should drum up a number of embarrassing endearments.”
“You mean there are more?”
Sarah smiled a wicked grin which Jareth was not certain he liked…somewhat, anyway. “Perhaps,” she stated flippantly.
“Back to the matter at hand, I will tell you what is in store for the next week if you indulge me.”
“State your terms clearly, sir,” Sarah replied with a raised eyebrow. “Indulge?”
“We will stay in the same bed, Sarah. Need I remind you again that we are indeed husband and wife?”
“We will stay in the same bed and I will tell you the events of the next week.”
“You’ve already said you’d keep me in the loop, Jareth,” Sarah pointed out.
“Yes, but I will also allow you some say in your wardrobe throughout the events.”
“What’s the alternative?” Sarah asked boldly, though Jareth could see by the quirking corners of her mouth that she didn’t expect an earnest threat.
Jareth waved his hand, and Sarah’s wardrobe flew open revealing all sorts of pink concoctions, some positively covered in bows and others revealing far too much skin.
“Alright, enough,” Sarah cried out, laughing slightly. “I don’t think anyone should have to see those again.” She closed her eyes and formed a crystal.
Before she tossed it at the wardrobe, Jareth called out, “It’s just an illusion. Don’t waste the energy. It’s been a long day already.”
Sarah allowed the crystal to dissolve into the air. “Oh?”
“Solving minor situations that could easily escalate into a mini-goblin war that is far too messy than what I have patience for today, for starters. Managing all of our affairs so that we could leave in a week for a few weeks has taken up much of my attention as well.”
“Where are we going?”
“Ah, do we have an agreement?”
Sarah bit her lip but nodded.
“Oh, come now, Sarah.”
“I’ll trust you until you give me a reason not to. You push anything too far and you’re sleeping on the floor.”
“Oh?” Jareth asked with a raised eyebrow, certainly looking as though he was far from intimidated.
“Jareth, humor me or something here.”
Jareth smirked. “‘Or something?’ That could work.”
“Seriously, Jareth, please.”
“Oh, I will allow you just this once,” Jareth drew out.
“I suppose that will have to be good enough,” Sarah muttered as she closed the bathroom door behind her and changed into some pajamas. When she came out, Jareth flipped back the covers and grinned at her again, already on his chosen side of the bed.
Sarah scowled for a moment before standing in front of her respective side.
“Are you going to go through with your part of the bargain?”
“Why Sarah, I am insulted,” Jareth replied as petulantly as possible.
Since he looked positively miffed, Sarah clambered in.
“Of course,” Jareth added, pulling the burgundy covers over them both, “We did not officially agree—”
Sarah immediately untangled herself and stood next to the bed with her arms crossed.
Jareth laughed and shook a finger. “So suspicious, Sarah?”
“Are we agreed?” Sarah replied curtly.
“If we must be so formal, yes, indeed.”
“You’re the one who brought it up,” Sarah retorted.
“Yes, but you did not allow me to finish.”
“You did that on purpose.”
“Well, I admit it is quite entertaining to watch you squirm,” Jareth stated with a smirk.
Rolling her eyes for the thirteenth time, Sarah took a breath and resumed her place. Jareth raised an eyebrow, noting that she situated herself as close to the edge as possible which left a considerable gap in between them; for now, he counted it a compromise, however tempting it was to give her a tiny nudge and send her sprawling to the floor.
“I won’t even bother to explore the possibility that since you did not specify when I would be to relate this information to you that I could easily push it back until past the specific event.”
“Your charity is overwhelming,” Sarah drawled.
“This time, I will allot that the timing was implied, especially since you are obviously not in the mood for much more of our usual means of discussion.”
Sarah snorted. “At least you picked up on that.”
“As to what I was referring to, we will be taking a trip. I had initially canceled the visit due to circumstances…just you, really. We will be visiting some of the darker lands.”
Sarah propped herself up on one elbow, mirroring Jareth. “There isn’t a cool name for them?”
“Not in any language that will be uttered in this castle. The name itself might make you violently ill.”
“So we’ll be going somewhere where casual conversation is in a language that can make me ill just by listening?” Sarah threw up her hands. “Oh, goody.”
“Actually, they’re very polite to strangers.”
“Well that’s a relief,” Sarah bit out tiredly, lying on her back to stare at the overhead canopy.
“It’s too late in the evening for sarcasm, Sarah.”
“Isn’t time all relative here?”
“When it suits my purpose, yes.” Jareth yawned. “Continue this impertinence and your rights to choose your dress for this event will be revoked.”
“So we’ll cause an international stir, then.”
“And how do you propose this?”
“I’m sure I can think of some dreadful taboo.”
“If you start a war, Sarah, I will need to have an heir much sooner than you seem willing. They would not kill you if you were pregnant at any rate.”
“Safe for nine months and then what?”
Jareth gave her a quizzical look. “Nine months?”
Sarah met his gaze. “Yes, the normal human gestation period…” She stopped for a moment and thought aloud, “But I’m sure that this wouldn’t exactly be normal by my standards because that would be far too easy.” She sighed and continued, “Given that the general biological trend follows that animals that live longer have longer gestation periods and that you live pretty much forever, I have a feeling I’m not going to like to hear this.”
“Paid attention in school, I see.”
“Looks that way. Care to break the bad news?”
“It’s probably not as bad as you think it is.”
“Let’s have it, Jareth.”
“A Fae child will take three and a half years in the womb to reach readiness.”
Sarah ran her hands down her face but wisely chose not to say anything (though the phrase “forty-two months” kept repeating in her mind to form a dull roar between her ears).
“You did wish to know,” Jareth reminded her, most unhelpfully.
“This is just going to have to fall into the category of ‘I’m sorry I asked.’ Say something more about what we’ll do over wherever the hell we’re going.”
“Perhaps it is better to form a rough itinerary of how we intend to spend the next week before we leave.”
“In other words, you’d rather not tell me what we’re going to do on this diplomatic visit.”
Jareth shrugged.
“Oh, this is going to be fun,” Sarah mumbled pulling a pillow over her head. “Okay, all I’m contributing right now is that we sleep in tomorrow and decide the rest later.”
Jareth nodded. “Alright, but you’ve still lost your privileges regarding your choices of clothing.”
“We had a deal, Jareth,” Sarah warned. “Please, let’s just get some sleep.”
“I’m far too patient with you, Sarah,” Jareth mentioned. “If I did not have to live with you for all of eternity, I don’t think I would put up with you.”
Sarah found herself caught between wanting to hit her husband or start laughing. She ended up giggling uncontrollably.
Jareth grinned; his words did hold a bit of irony. He reached over and turned off the lamp so that the room was ablaze with the flashing shadows cast from the fireplace. Sarah eventually calmed and began to breathe deeply.
Smiling to himself, Jareth had to admit that he was growing accustomed to her company. Still, he’d have to knock her off at some point if she was stubbornly going to shuffle to the edges of the bed.

Sarah woke up the next morning with her hand splayed over Jareth’s chest and the owner of said chest smirked broadly. He settled one hand over hers.
“My dear, perhaps you should keep to your side of the bed and not worry about anything I might do.”
Last week, Sarah would have wrenched her hand away so fiercely that she would have fallen off the bed, but, being too sleepy to do much else, she mumbled her apology and gently slid her hand away. She didn’t watch Jareth’s eyes in the process and missed an eyebrow raised in a quasi-pleased questioning sort of quirk.
Trying to yawn her way out of her morning stupor didn’t seem to work so Sarah wandered toward the bathroom. At first, she had been confused on why the water started itself but then Sarah remembered the luxury of Underground facilities that seemed to know what she needed before she did, even a sudden stiff breeze that not only dried her hair but styled it halfway, allowing Sarah to make adjustments in accordance with her wardrobe. She figured it all had something to do with her magic, though she fondly remembered times singing at the top of her lungs while the hairdryer blared out any evidence. Gas lamps and magic seemed to replace electricity all too perfectly.
“You had best hurry,” Jareth mentioned on the other side of the door.
“And why’s that?” Sarah grumped back, feeling a slight twinge in the back of her mind indicating that she needed some coffee.
“You have an early morning appointment and it would be quite rude to keep them waiting.”
“If you’re going to ask ridiculous questions, I’ll send them away.”
“I have a feeling I don’t want that.”
“Precisely why it’s a threat.”
“I’m hurrying, I’m hurrying.” And Sarah did, especially when she heard a rumbling BA-RUKE from the hallway in a voice that was unmistakably Ludo’s.
Sure enough, Sarah was soon engulfed in a furry hug and two (three if one counted Ambrosius) other voices advised loudly that Ludo should not be so exuberant as to crack Sarah’s ribs.
“I will collect you later. Be sure that that one doesn’t shed,” Jareth commented with a particular glance toward Ludo. “Or any of them for that matter. Yourself while you’re at it.”
“Har, Har, Jareth.”
“I will hold you personally responsible,” Jareth assured her.
Sarah shook her head. “If you say so, Jareth. Go run along and do some King-y stuff.” At Jareth’s odd expression, Sarah thought perhaps she had gone too far.
“Do not forget that you have your duties as well,” he reminded her coldly.
Ah, Sarah thought, that’s it. Jareth was still wary that perhaps she took her new title a little too superficially, at least that’s what she could gather particularly in light of some of their recent conversations. “Yes, we’ll have to go over all that. But I’m assuming the role of hostess is among them?”
Jareth nodded his head once.
“Well they’re helping me practice.”
The corner of Jareth’s mouth twitched into a bit of a smirk.
Satisfied, Sarah smiled. “See you later, Jareth.”
“Yes you will.” And he disappeared.
Sarah knelt and drew Hoggle into a hug while Sir Didymus took her hand and with a gallant “My lady” planted a soft, fuzzy kiss to the skin there.
“It’s good to see you all,” Sarah beamed. “Well, should we go for a walk?”
“My brethren and I have been asked by His Majesty to see that you receive a full tour of the Labyrinth,” Sir Didymus replied, already excited for the adventure.
“But that’ll take days.”
“Well, yes, normally,” Hoggle agreed as he pulled a rock out of his pocket.
Sarah glanced at the rock. A perfectly ordinary rock that Sarah waited to hear the explanation of how it was not a perfectly ordinary rock. Hoggle tossed the rock to her and she stared at it.
“You best put it in your pocket,” Hoggle explained.
“Why? What is it?”
“My lady,” Sir Didymus answered while sweeping a bow, “it is a rock.”
“Well I can see that but isn’t there something special about it?”
“It’s a rock. It’s heavy. What more does it need to be?” Hoggle replied gruffly.
“Rock good,” Ludo agreed.
“If you don’ put it in your pocket, you mights float away.”
Sarah raised an eyebrow and shrugged as she placed the stone securely in the front pocket of the simple linen dress she’d chosen that morning.
“Now what?”
“Verily, my lady can be quite impatient,” Sir Didymus chuckled. He tossed Sarah another stone.
Immediately, the world seemed to fall into slow motion, except for her and her small knight (Ambrosius wore a stone atop his saddle). Sir Didymus placed a stone in Ludo’s paw and Hoggle’s hand and they, too, joined Sarah.
“These will help us cover mos’ everything ‘cept the Bog and a couple other spots I’d sooner forget.”
“Like what?” Sarah asked, fully curious as to what could be comparable to the Bog of Eternal Stench.
“The Marsh of Invisible Hands likes to poke and tickle and don’ get me started on the Canyon of the Goblin Orchestra. Jareth made them rehearse out there for everyone’s sake.”
“Smell, touch, sound, what about the other two senses?”
“Ludo. Scared,” Ludo crooned miserably.
“What my brother means is that there are a couple aspects that are perhaps not suitable for polite conversation. Mayhap we can discuss it later.”
“We ain’ts got time for all that anyway. Let’s go. We have to have you back by lunch.”
It was probably the most surreal tour Sarah had ever been on, all manner of creatures that she passed, all stuck in perpetual slow motion. When she passed the Fireys, she had the urge to knock a couple body parts around and stand back to watch the chaos that would inevitably follow. What sort of tricks and pandemonium would they instigate given this sort of power? Hoggle, Ludo, and Didymus gave brief explanations of different pieces of the landscape (from the practical aspect to a grunted exclamation or quickly-summed war, respectively) and Sarah wished she had a photographic memory to store all these new visions, all of which would have some relevancy in her future; at least she had a long time to figure things out.
The group did manage a full stop overlooking a series of shallow canyons.
Hoggle regarded her seriously. “There are natural iron deposits down there. ‘Til you know how it’d affect you, I wouldn’t go near there’s if I was you.”
“I’m still human, Hoggle…only different I suppose.” Sarah did note however that Jareth’s eventual heir (though the thought still made her uneasy) would probably not be and whatever flecks she brought home would scarcely do Jareth much good. Still, if he pushed her too far…
Sir Didymus pulled out a watch from his little jacket pocket. “We had best head back soon, my lady.”
“What’s out past it?” Sarah couldn’t help but ask.
“Hard to say,” Hoggle stated uncomfortably, scratching his head.
“Why’s that?”
“Lost,” Ludo replied simply.
“It is perilous for far more than iron,” Didymus expanded, scanning the landscape grimly before turning away.
Taking the hint, Sarah turned to go, following her friends through some familiar trails and a few new ones that had popped up since their passing.
At the castle, she bade her friend’s goodbye, promising that they would have a real conversation one of these days.
Jareth was kind enough to explain why this would probably not be possible for some time. Quite simply, she’d already been booked and scheduled for a little while, yet. Most of her afternoons consisted of lessons in courtly manners (again with Jan and Elizabeth) and evenings would be spent on lessons in magic until Jareth deemed her no longer a danger to herself (or himself, accidentally anyway). Mornings were left with several different options but with a twinge of regret they were soon parceled out to new adventures, two of which included a brief interlude home under the stipulation that she transported herself there (under much guidance from Jareth considering the sizable drain).
The first day was her official tour of the castle, given by Marek and therefore much more interesting and full of amusing anecdotes. The next day was less entertaining as Jareth was in a stormy mood (some new goblin rebellion of some sort or another)

had smashed a wall or two of the Labyrinth down; Sarah knew better than to book any argument as he essentially thrust a list of all her supposed duties into her hands and assured her that he expected them memorized immediately.
The third day she was granted a break and was fully relieved to collapse into the surprised arms of her father and stepmother, not comprehending until that moment how much she’d missed them. It’d taken the first hour to convince her parents that there had been no ill treatment. The bruises on her arms were actually from a random goblin named Fruke who clambered around Sarah like a jungle gym while trying to scrabble away from another goblin who was threatening to tear his/hers/its eyes out because of something involving a missing chicken. Naturally, after a good laugh, Sarah’s parents were all too pleased to hear about her adventures thus far, despite their misgivings. With a stroke of forward thinking, Jareth sent Jen to pick up Sarah (along with a crystal to take them both back) rather than do so himself; Karen’s skillet sat close by just the same though she and Jan quickly found some common ground, particularly when Karen extracted Jan’s dedicated promise of watching over Sarah. Though they were loathing to see Sarah leave again, her parents felt better nonetheless. Sarah kissed Jareth on the cheek upon her return, feeling it particularly necessary when she noticed how drawn the excursion had made him (still having not fully recovered).
The fourth day he accompanied her on a trip to survey the troops, meeting his regimental leaders, Rufus and Rumble, Rumble being the brother to Ruckas who had previously been in charge of relaying all the castle activity to Sarah. Rufus and Rumble looked nothing like Ruckas, however. They had more human tones to their complexion rather than earthy greens and stood only slightly shorter than Sarah. They spoke well but the truth of their origins was certainly obvious when they caught interest in a subject and were animated and impulsive once more. As the worms had promised Sarah, the true goblin army was a staggering force; Sarah could tell well enough from their discussion that they did indeed take their work seriously, as though a particular phrase set them into a hypnotic trance until they found a more relaxed subject. They proved excellent and knowledgeable company, and in their exuberance promised to teach Sarah any manner of defensive and offensive techniques. Starting immediately. Jareth rolled his eyes and started down the path to observe the rest of the army, leaving Sarah to their mercy.
On the fifth day, Sarah spent nearly the entire morning being fitted for whatever clothes she may need on the trip, meaning that after she’d chosen her fabrics, Sarah had to stand quite still to avoid pricks. Not that her tailor was careless but because her tailor worked so quickly that unnecessary movement shifted stitches out of place. Ultimately, Sarah had several finished gowns by the end between the tailor and his assistants but each one meant another half an hour of standing perfectly still. The results were stunning, but Sarah was officially ready to fall asleep during Elizabeth’s explanation of how behaving in court was easily compared to acting in a play and being able to ad lib properly. Jan noticed her disinterest and passed the news to Jareth who insisted on Sarah continuing her magic lesson that evening regardless. Sarah scooted as far away from him as possible on their bed that night but was too tired to really care.
The sixth day was interrupted from its strange routine when another child was wished away.
“How often are we going to be called upon?” Sarah asked, bouncing a healthily chubby toddler on her knees with a series of ptttbbbllll and coos.
“Sometimes many in a row and others years apart. They have been increasing in frequency lately. Somehow I suspect this is your fault.”
Sarah was aghast. “My fault? How?”
“It’s all in the timing, Sarah.”
She rolled her eyes. Goblins tumbled through the door, scrambling and flowing nearly as one solid mass in their effort to get close to the show. Sarah watched on, still keeping Timothy amused, as Jareth instructed the goblins to laugh and then would boot them from his path in one breath. Sarah had thought it was harsh at first until she’d had enough of excited goblins pawing at her ankles. From time to time, he would hold a silvery orb in front of Sarah and ask her to construct her own plan for how best to deter the runner. The goblins were pleased with her creativity, particularly when it involved themselves, of course. Jareth made no comment either way, allowing Sarah the freedom to fail and succeed…but he wouldn’t have been Jareth without pointing out afterwards why it clearly wouldn’t have worked, with a smirk all the same. The goblins watched as Sarah swatted him, aghast at what she was allowed. One goblin was foolhardy enough to try it himself only to be transported to the Bog before his stumpy fingers ever made contact; he morosely waddled back in about two hours later and the room nearly cleared out before Jareth asked him to leave (rather, had him hurled bodily from the room). He took it in good humor, somehow, peaking through the window when he found a place that was downwind.
Time elapsed and the father or fiancée or whatever he was found that his sense of direction he’d bragged about from the beginning didn’t hold up against the shifting passages of the Labyrinth. He was quickly sentenced and ejected back to his usual plane of existence. The child disappeared from Sarah’s arms.
“Jareth?” Sarah shot out with concern. It took several more shouts of his name to get his attention over the din of the celebrations before he finally managed to wade through the mess and stand in front of her, arms crossed and expression waiting.
“What happened to Timothy?” Sarah mouthed.
Jareth looked at her curiously then motioned for her to follow…until he realized that perhaps trying to walk through the mess again was not the best idea and, taking Sarah’s hand, transported them to the library where they were relatively unlikely to be interrupted by goblins.
“Well?” Jareth prompted.
“What happened to Timothy? What happens to any of the wished away children for that matter?”
“You haven’t wondered this before, Sarah?”
“Only to assume that they all turn into goblins. You didn’t turn him into a goblin did you?”
Jareth sighed. “Not exactly.”
“Well, what happened, then?” Sarah demanded.
Though his immediate response to Sarah’s tone would have been to chastise her for her tone, Jareth saw a glimpse of her desperation. “That depends.”
“Where is Timothy?”
“I believe Marek showed you the room, calling it something catchy like ‘The Changing Room’ without really explaining it. That would be something he would enjoy, playing with double meanings.”
Sarah nodded.
Jareth, finding no reason to mention the sound negating spells on that specific room, continued: “The magic of the Underground affects all humans differently. I merely speed up the process.” The process could be quite painful, apparently, but this revelation would not decrease Sarah’s anxiety.
A glance at Sarah proved that she was waiting for him to continue.
“Some of the children wished away do turn into goblins though they are prolific enough when left to their own devices. Some children who adjust well live as servants for the Fae and others choose to be farmers or some such thing, living quite contentedly. Some don’t acclimate well at all, fading into the walls of the Labyrinth itself. Others still invent their own scenario.”
“Do any of them become Fae?” Sarah couldn’t help but ask.
“No human has ever ‘become’ Fae. This is one exception that has not been breached and for all intents and purposes will never. I could quote the origins of our civilization for clarification but this would take some time.”
Sarah nodded, accepting his explanation. “What happened to Timothy?”
Sarah nodded, accepting his explanation. “What happened to Timothy?”
“He has kept his form and has been offered a position. That’s all you need to know for now.”
The room fell uncomfortably silent for a moment until Jareth announced that he had a question for Sarah.
“What?” Sarah queried, wary.
“What is that you’re sitting on?”
Sarah glanced down and saw a familiar old couch. “I’ve been looking for this! I-I didn’t know where it ended up.”
“This is yours then?”
“Well, yes. It’s my couch from home. And before you say anything, I’m telling you that I’d much rather it stay.”
Jareth rolled his eyes. “Shall we return?”
“Actually, I’m pretty tired.”
Jareth eyed her with a hint of curious concern. “You did channel plenty of magic this evening. There will be no need for lessons tonight in light of this practical exercise.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you later, Jareth.”
After another brief sojourn home (in which Toby happily monopolized the conversation with his enthusiasm in seeing his sister mixed with his envy on the possibilities of her position), Sarah collapsed on her and Jareth’s bed, not caring where her limbs happened to fall. Jareth had informed her quite curtly (who could understand his moods most days anyway?) on some of the details of their departure the subsequent morning, including a long ride in a carriage as transporting into the darker lands was seldom a good idea for the taint that could follow. That and the people within the transported destination would still be speaking their native tongue and could inadvertently melt some ears; no, it was best to call ahead.
Marek had already been sent ahead to see that everything was ready, already having vented to Sarah about the injustice in somehow becoming Jareth’s over-glorified valet. This meant, however, that Sarah would have plenty of time in close quarters with her husband. What she was supposed to feel about that was a mystery to Sarah. Austen-esque characters could perhaps serve as some basic precedents, but elements of magic and journeys to darker lands fell to another category altogether. Mentally shaking her head, Sarah decided to leave it alone and simply to face whatever as it came. She still had her wits about her, a healthy ability to improvise, and a sense of humor.
Sarah fell asleep dreaming of Timothy’s chubby arms morphing into an older version of his new self. All smiles on a handsome face before cheerfully setting out to work. She sleepily promised herself that she’d keep an eye out for him before nuzzling a little deeper into her pillow.
Tomorrow would prove to be its own new adventure.

Bleary eyed, Sarah swatted the hand that poked her awake. Jareth did not take to being swatted and transported her, clothes and all, into the bathtub, full of far-from-hot water. Needless to say, this did not exactly help Sarah’s mood nor spur her to move any faster. However, Jareth’s particular glare along with his darker than usual tones (his hair was a strong indicator, several metallic black and purple streaks intermixed with his normally pale hair) did not escape Sarah’s attention, despite her initial urge to send a horde of goblins his way after assuring them that Jareth’s boots were actually candy. Pulling in what Elizabeth and Jan had taught her thus far, Sarah put on a gracious mask…at least until they were alone. Then she fully intended to find some manner of revenge; magic made improvisation much easier.
Surprisingly, the two of them left on schedule. Jareth sulked on his side of the carriage and Sarah sulked on hers.
“Why couldn’t we just magic to the border?” Sarah asked, finally deciding to break the silence.
“You want to spend more time there than necessary? And for all I want them to know, I can’t do that except in emergencies,” Jareth snapped.
Sarah mentally allowed that she did not know all the delicacies of Underground politics but still did not appreciate his tone. “Look, what’s your problem?”
“Excuse me?”
Sarah refused to back down. “Seriously, what’s been with the attitude?”
A series of threats ran through Jareth’s head, from taking away Sarah’s free will (which could be problematic if anyone else figured out that little quirk) to cutting off an ear (the question was whether to actually do it or form an illusion; either way she’d have a fantastic reaction and would figure out how to magically undo it) or perhaps just exiling all her little friends would be simplest. He settled with the nastiest glare Sarah had ever seen and, in doing so, lowered the temperature at least seven and a half degrees and effectively shook Sarah’s resolve.
Fueled by genuine concern, Sarah switched tactics. She set a hand on his arm. Jareth regarded her touch with curious disdain; Sarah might have laughed at the expression some other time, but she was still searching for something to say.
“So how about them Yankees?” Sarah mumbled, shrinking back to her side of the couch and returning her gaze to the slowly changing scenery.
“What?” Jareth asked, completely taken aback.
“And I’m not even a Yankees fan,” Sarah laughed to herself, resting her head in her hands for a moment. Jareth was still waiting for an answer, the gloved fingers of his right hand drumming on his crossed arm. “It’s just something to say when you don’t know what to say.”
“Ah,” Jareth replied noncommittally. “What about them?” he asked after another moment of awkward quiet.
“Do you even know what the Yankees are?”
“In what sense?”
“They’re a baseball team. Do you know what baseball is?”
“Yes, I have some knowledge of baseball,” Jareth testily affirmed.
“I was just curious,” Sarah defended mildly. Against her better judgment, Sarah decided to pursue her earlier question. “Seriously, Jareth. We’re in a carriage that I think is heading toward the middle of nowhere—”
“—actually on the northeast side of—”
“—I don’t really think I could handle any additional information revolving around geography, family trees, and some of the other random information Jan and Elizabeth tried to plug into my mind, please.”
Jareth nodded, a slight smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth at the desperation in her plea.
“Anyway, the point is I really don’t think that you have to worry about any foreign deities eavesdropping right now.”
When Jareth merely stared at her, Sarah covered her eyes with her hand.
“Or can they?” she mumbled.
Jareth formed a crystal and released it. “They can’t now, though I do doubt that they would have been.”
“At least,” Sarah agreed with a snort. “But Jareth, the point I was trying to make is still there. You’ve been randomly snappish this week. What’s been bothering you? Is there anything I can do?”
“You have no idea what we’re getting into, Sarah.”
“It’s bad enough to where you’re not exactly looking forward to going, that much I get.”
“And bad enough that I really would look for any further possible excuse but all polite routes are already compromised.”
“But we weren’t going initially when—”
“Have you changed your mind?” Jareth purred, his mood recovering enough to tease her. “We would of course have to turn around and see that you had a physician ready at a moment’s notice and only mine would do, of course, particularly with your ‘fragile health.’ It would not be lying, exactly; few beings down here understand what mortality is anyway.”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “We’ll see if it’s really all that bad.” She sobered. “You’re really worried about this whole trip, aren’t you? I really didn’t make things easier by going home, then.”
“Perhaps,” Jareth shrugged, refusing to give ground one way or the other.
Sarah wasn’t fooled. Jareth watched as Sarah’s face crumpled in thought for another moment.
“I guess I took you for granted already, Jareth. I’m sorry. I really appreciated it in the midst of everything.”
Still a little confused, Jareth chose not to question his fortune. “You’re welcome.”
“But how did they find out that we had no excuse?”
Jareth leaned forward, his forearms resting on his knees. “Sarah, let me tell you this: distrust is an essential Underground life skill.”
Sarah blinked. “Even with all the times you’ve told me to trust you?”
“Sarah, if you trusted me entirely, I believe I would be somewhat concerned.”
“I don’t know if I can live like that for eternity, Jareth.” Sarah grimaced, knitting her brows together. “Do you think we could ever bend that rule?”
“Perhaps,” Jareth said again, this time with a more positive inclination.
Sarah knew that it was about as good as she could get, but it made her feel better. “All the same, that doesn’t exactly answer my question.”
“There are plenty of methods. As to which ones they specifically employed, that’s hard to say.”
“Can’t we just get rid of any leaks?”
“Then they might take out mine from their palaces.”
At Sarah’s obvious confusion, Jareth began to explain, “It’s all part of some many tiered manipulations, mixing a steady stream of fragmented truth and misleading moments. Unfortunately, those sources do occasionally get lucky.”
“This is all so twisted.”
“Call it what you will, it took centuries to create this balance and won’t likely be abolished just because you don’t follow it.”
“What’s the point if it doesn’t work?” Sarah persisted.
They argued about the merits of such an arrangement for quite some time, Jareth eventually admitting that he did have several other plans besides the more or less expected spies and double agents (who were far too often only pretending to be double agents). Why he didn’t just mention that in the first place was beyond Sarah. Any time one of the other royals mentioned him or his kingdom, he could tune in on a crystal, regardless of what boundaries they put against him. This lead Sarah to ask one all important question.
“Just how powerful are you?”
“More than many, less than some,” he replied truthfully. “It is difficult to tell in most situations and rude to ask. Plus, putting up an act, one way or the other, is more or less expected as well. Others play off of that further.”
“And it just gets more confusing as we go until no one really knows anything else about the other, right?”
Jareth nodded and Sarah felt her irritation rise, remembering vaguely that she swore revenge from the morning.
“Tell me it’ll be a few hundred years before I’ll be expected to understand all that.”
“I’m afraid not. You should start to understand a part of that now. Jan and Elizabeth probably told you, yes, that there is a significant bit of acting involved in being a royal?”
“Some of these bored monarchs will use whatever edge they could to stir up a war. Wars are far more interesting.”
“Why wait for an edge then?”
“Think, Sarah, what good is a war you cannot win?”
Sarah conceded his point but still held that it was all ridiculous anyway.
“While we’re on the subject of being royal, I do have a small favor to ask.”
Sarah eyed Jareth for a moment. “That being?”
“So that everyone bests underestimates you, there are several roles you could undertake. While I cannot give you a very good jumping block for all of this, I trust you will be able to take some direction as we go.”
“I can’t promise that, exactly, but I can try.”
“Firstly, some may patronize you because of your heritage. It’s best to take this graciously.”
“Because of my heritage?” Sarah questioned disbelievingly.
“For the same reason,” Jareth continued, “Others may look on you with awe and almost reverence.”
“I’m not sure if I really like either of those options,” Sarah admitted.
“Just try to be relaxed but distanced,” he coached. “The next item might be a little more difficult.”
Sarah eyed Jareth suspiciously. “Well?”
“To avoid unfavorable questions, it would be best to act lightly smitten.”
“Lightly smitten?” Sarah repeated, again disbelievingly.
“Too much and none would believe it, too cold and their tongues will wag all the more and some of these creatures have quite atrocious tongues; you’ll see what I mean when some of the lesser spit all over themselves trying to say hello.”
Sarah pondered on Jareth’s request, knowing full well that he of course did not mean it as much as a request as an ultimatum.
“Might as well officially call it a game,” Sarah mused aloud, more to herself.
“Would you care to lay some sort of stake on it?” Jareth asked in a tone Sarah would have almost put as eager in its own Jareth-ish sort of way. Somewhere in that Fae blood was a genetic love of games, Sarah was sure.
“I’m sure we could figure out something.”
“You may wish to set your terms a little more clearly, lest you find yourself the loser in every right.”
Sarah joined Jareth’s smirk so that even he was surprised at the malevolence therein. She knocked on the ceiling of the carriage. A goblin clambered into the carriage, nearly tumbling off of the side of the still moving vehicle. Sarah watched bemusedly and Jareth with curiosity as to what Sarah was up to. Sarah gestured to the goblin for him—or her or it, she didn’t want to debate that now—to come closer.
She took a gentle hold of an enormous green ear and whispered, “I’m going to tell you a secret. Can you keep a secret?”
Ecstatic, the goblin nodded and leaned in as close as he could to Sarah.
In a voice Jareth could quite make out on the other side of the small carriage, Sarah whispered, “See the King’s vest there? With all the pretty colors on it?”
The goblin nodded slowly.
“It’s actually made of candy. Yes, you heard me, it’s an amazingly sweet and sumptuous piece of candy made to look like clothes.”
The goblin trembled. He met Sarah’s eyes and she nodded. He lurched then and scrambled at his King.
Trying to hold the creature back and ask it what in the Underground did he think he was doing, Jareth still found a moment or two to glare at Sarah who was shaking with quiet laughter before bursting into a loud fit of giggles. Seeing as how the beast was after his vest, Jareth tore it off and threw both it and the goblin out the window and down the rocky ledge. Both Jareth and Sarah were so invested in their own miniature war (until Jareth insisted that they really ought to conserve their energy or he was going to cut off her magic indefinitely) that they didn’t notice when the goblin eventually caught up with the carriage, sat down on the roof, and proclaimed loudly that this vest was the best thing he’d ever tasted.

Marek greeted his monarchs at the gate, shivering at the omnipresent chill that even the sickly sun filtering through the black (not grey) clouds could do nothing to abate; crossing the border into the darker lands came with the additional baggage of “are you really sure you want to be here?” to where Marek was debating the merits of disobeying his king, if not in a fully serious sense. Following the carriage, Marek noticed that the goblins were huddling in a small ball (one of which appeared to holding a shred of cloth) underneath the carriage, gripping on painfully but refusing to be out in the open. Thankfully, the horse was well-trained (though Marek guessed its nerves were frayed to the point of breaking should anything truly unexpected happen) and stopped just before the main entrance. Marek opened the door and bit back a laugh. He hadn’t seen quite an expression on Jareth’s face like that, simultaneously amused and highly irritated, in a long time. Sarah reflected much of the same until she took a good look at where they had arrived. All mirth was lost as she set a rather stoic mask over her features, unknowingly mirroring Jareth’s.
To say that Sarah was uneasy would be a delicate way to phrase it. When even the sunlight seemed as though it was seen through a scratched and filthy camera lens, Sarah realized that this was certainly not somewhere she’d like to spend any longer than necessary. The castle itself was in every sense gothic, flying buttresses like spider legs in a deep grey shaded with black.
Spotting the goblins, Sarah instructed, “Bring our things to the room and wait for us there.” They rushed to obey, eager for the relative safety of the rooms of the King and Queen of the Labyrinth. Jareth stood behind Sarah and rested a hand on her shoulder, the leather of his gloves creaking softly.
“You do realize that there is a distinct possibility that our room will be completely uninhabitable by the end?” he muttered in a low voice.
“Honestly,” Sarah replied back in equal tones, “I think they’re too scared to do much but hide.” Sarah shivered. “I can’t say I blame them.”
“I could say that you get used to it but it’s simply not true. The taint seems to grow more than anything else,” Jareth answered matter-of-factly. “Your signet and your office will protect you. Marek and I will not be far. Betray no weakness if you can.”
With a surge of willpower, Sarah stopped shivering. “Let’s go put on a show then. What’re we doing here anyway?”
“We’ll get into that.”
Marek—who had been overseeing the goblins clumsily, if faster than Sarah could have believed possible, unloading the carriage—returned to their sides.
“Have a good trip?” he asked cheerily, already with some idea.
“It was interesting,” Sarah replied diplomatically.
Marek laughed, though it sounded hollow given their surroundings. “I’m sure it was. There’ll be more time to talk later, in safer quarters.” He bowed gently and left, catching up with the scurrying goblins, one of which was trying to fit into a suitcase rather than walk in the open.
Jareth took Sarah’s arm and led her up the stone steps, cracked and worn as they were, to the oversized doors. In typical horror movie fashion, the doors slammed shut behind them; neither appeared to notice. They stood in a small vestibule, dimly lit by some unseen light source. Sarah glanced around and eventually looked up.
“They even have a murder hole,” Sarah murmured.
“A what?” Jareth asked suspiciously.
“A murder hole. In old castles, when there is this tiny vestibule like this, they’d lock invaders, or whoever I suppose, between the doors and a guard would wait above the murder hole, chucking spears or shooting arrows or pouring boiling oil—”
“Yes, I know what it’s used for but it’s such a crude name.”
“Well, what do you call it?”
“’Justice From Above,’” called a new voice into the semi-darkness. “There are several names or euphemisms to choose from. I must say I rather like ‘murder hole.’”
A bat fluttered down the “Justice From Above” shaft and smoothly transformed into a humanoid form. While he was certainly striking, his features in sharp angles, Sarah happened to notice his fangs within his brilliant, wide and malevolent smile.
Jareth inclined his head slightly. “Orion.”
“Jareth,” he replied simply, a similar acknowledgement with the addition of a slightly extended hand, palm up. “And this would be your queen?”
Sarah gave a tiny curtsy, in accordance with her position. “Sarah,” she stated, finding no need to say anything else.
“Yes, a pleasure,” Orion acknowledged benignly. “I have been looking forward to meeting Jareth’s mortal bride. We have heard about you.”
“What kind of terrible stories have been passed about me?” Sarah asked lightly.
“Ah, nothing terrible, I assure you. And none of the descriptions do you justice.”
Sarah nearly laughed; regardless of his true meaning, it was straight out of some old movie, and she didn’t believe it anyway.
“Let’s get you out of this drafty hallway. Surely it cannot be good for your fragile health?”
Sarah nodded; fairly certain that he was trying to be gallant, though by what he meant by “fragile health” she wasn’t sure at first…until he remembered his earlier reference to her mortality. Sure she was (or had been?) fragile compared to immortality. Sarah mentally shrugged it off, sharing a quick amused glance with Jareth. So far, it didn’t seem that there was really much to worry about, if Orion was a sufficient sampling.
“Good thing he didn’t try anything,” Jareth whispered next to her.
“What?” Sarah whispered back, her confidence splintering.
“He didn’t even try glamour. He may have honestly been interested in meeting you.”
“Ah,” Sarah replied laconically. So much for that theory. Vampires couldn’t have been that simple anyway. Jareth patted her hand briefly, as though sensing her unease.
Orion led the two of them down the hallway, the portraits actively staring rather than leave any doubt of wandering eyes. He thrust open the doors at the end of the hallway. Sarah blinked. The room wasn’t any brighter than the rest of the castle she’d seen thus far so she wasn’t entirely certain of what she was seeing. Doing her best to keep to her role, she surveyed the others in the room without making direct eye contact (though this was extremely difficult with some of the creatures that had multiple eyes, glaring independently off of tall stalks). Every sort of nightmarish monstrosity she could imagine and some that she hadn’t filled up that room. Some goblins had defected to the darker lands years ago—hundreds of years ago by Sarah’s reckoning, noting the malevolent twisting within their features that weren’t typical in the usual ugly-but-somehow-vaguely-cute-and-harmless variety she was familiar with. They hung in a corner with a particular look of disdain for their ex-sovereign. Elves of a similar caliber had their own sort of smirk, and the trolls next to them had a strange half-grin, as though displeased but still holding a delicious secret. Many more without name intermixed within the mess. Vampires kept to their own side in a relaxed and intimate tangle. Sarah wondered somewhere in the back of her mind why she thought Orion might have been a threat; he and his people were obviously too regal to do something terrible. Shaking her head, the rational side of Sarah’s brain kicked back in, and she remembered warnings of their glamour…she’d read something about it in Terry Prachtett besides all the random information Jen, Elizabeth, and Jareth tried to shove at her. She glanced at Orion through the fussing of her vision (though at least she was now aware of it) who smirked at her as though aware she was trying to fight it all off.
Two of the vampires—a male (if not a man) in a deep blue shirt and smooth black trousers and a female (if not a woman) in a dangerously low cut dress (even for a Napoleonic era) of the same shade of blue against her pallor—stood and extended their arms over their dark company. The male spoke: “On behalf of all the darker lands, we welcome you, Jareth and Sarah, King and Queen of the Goblins and Keepers of the Labyrinth.”
He dipped a small bow, Jareth and Sarah following suite, as the rest of the company rumbled in some sort of response, sounding more like gnashing of teeth and growls than anything else (a couple, seemingly bored, starting gnawing on furniture).
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Queen Sarah,” the male vampire oozed, suddenly just in front of Sarah. “I am Fabian and this is my Anya. I believe you have already met my son, Orion?”
Not quite sure what to do, Sarah nodded and dipped another small curtsy. “Yes, he was kind enough to show us in.”
“Certainly you must be tired after your journey,” Anya mentioned sweetly, hanging on Jareth’s shoulder.
“Mother, I would be delighted to show Jareth and Sarah to their rooms,” Orion nearly demanded, still in a smooth, rich tone.
“The work of a servant? You honor us too much,” Jareth replied simply, though Sarah still could still feel that something was amiss in his reply.
“I insist.” And Orion did insist, not so much in voice but the peculiar venom within his eyes was much more efficient at conveying his sincerity.
“We look forward to deepening our acquaintance, Sarah,” Fabian whispered in a sultry voice.
Gallantly taking Sarah’s arm and leading her far enough ahead to untangle her from Jareth’s arm, Orion whisked her from the hall, Jareth following close behind. Orion pointed out several aspects of the castle along the way, reciting pieces of history or an occasional story from his childhood. He spoke quietly so Sarah had to lean in to understand what he was saying; trying to keep her distance and being polite at the same time proved tricky. Eventually, Orion announced that they had made it to their temporary chambers.
He leaned in close to Sarah, placing one hand on her shoulder and touching the base of her bare neck with his fingernails. “Should you need anything, I’m only down the hallway. Do not hesitate to call.” He slid away, with a polite (if curt) nod to Jareth. Sarah opened the doors and sat down on the nearest chair or flat surface, she didn’t really notice what (it turned out to be a suitcase, placed close to the door as the goblins weren’t keen on unpacking, perhaps almost subtly trying to push that the sooner they left the better). Jareth closed the door behind them quickly.
Sarah shivered before she could stop it. “I really don’t think I like it here, Jareth.”
“An understatement, I’m sure. Not that I say I blame you,” Marek stated flippantly, taking a sip of…something…from a teacup and making a face.
“If you knew what was in that, Marek, I doubt you’d be willing to try it again,” Jareth advised.
Not needing any more details, Marek spluttered on his current second sip. “So how was your trip?” he asked after recovering from a mild coughing fit.
“Not bad,” Jareth answered, noting the Sarah was still trying to recover from the whole scene.
“No more to it than that?” Marek replied, rolling his eyes. Jareth was seldom more forthcoming than he wanted to be, but Marek enjoyed the occasional dig all the same.
“Is there anyone else here? I mean someone not from the darker lands?” Sarah asked hopefully. If all her company for the next while were restricted to those in that ghastly room, Sarah feared for her sanity.
“No, you two were just the last to arrive, save for Sal and Triton but they probably weren’t coming anyway,” Marek answered while Jareth set about inspecting the room.
Sarah breathed a sigh of relief.
Marek glanced at her sympathetically. “Perhaps you should turn in early tonight, your majesty.” With a smile, he politely excused himself with, “I’ll talk to you two tomorrow.”
Sarah waved lightly, beginning to find herself again.
“Did we do alright?” Sarah queried gently, setting a gently hand on Jareth’s elbow.
Jareth sighed; he didn’t turn around. “Everything will be alright, Sarah. Now we have some idea of how this will all fit together. Follow what I say and we’ll be home soon enough.”
Home. The Labyrinth was home. Sarah mentally shrugged; it was true enough. She nodded and wandered back to their luggage. Cracking open the first, she took the first load over toward the closets.
“I can get that Sarah,” Jareth tossed over his shoulder, along with a crystal.
“No, please, doing something helps me think,” Sarah replied. The crystal dissolved before it contacted with the pile. She opened the closet and found the goblins, huddled and pleading for her to close the door. Rolling her eyes and almost wishing she could do the same, Sarah set everything in its temporary, proper place. Jareth still hadn’t moved from his brooding spot in front of the window.
It was too early to go to sleep, so Sarah pulled out a book from the shelves in the room. The room itself was not bad, per say, but it really wasn’t home. The bed, small table with chairs, bathroom, and even the tall bookshelf were not in any way lacking but there was still an invisible taint, all the way to the cream colored (though whether this was due to age or any dying process, Sarah was not sure) curtains. Looking from one ghastly title to the next, Sarah heard a voice.
“Sarah? Are you there? Can you talk?”
Sarah grinned and, with a flick of her wrist, produced a crystal. Toby’s face shone on the other side, distorted slightly by the curves of the surface.
“Toby! It’s great to see you.”
“Mom! Dad! She’s there!”
“Yes, we can see that, Toby,” her father chided, though with a wide smile and a wink, Sarah knew that he was just teasing.
“How’re things in the Aboveground?” Sarah asked, her cheeks aching dully from smiling so hard.
“Much the same,” Karen replied. “We miss you terribly. Jen’s been calling, trying to see if we can tell her much else. I’m not sure how much we were allowed to say so I told her the truth.”
“What did you tell her?” Sarah asked warily.
“Oh, more or less that it’s all some strange mystery, which is true enough.”
“So she’s still looking then?”
“Absolutely. It’s good to know that you have such a good friend.”
“Yeah,” Sarah agreed with a bittersweet smile. “Toby, have you tried out that foil yet?”
“I’m going tomorrow! It looks like it’s going to be so amazing, even though there are all these rules and no blood or anything.”
Toby was ever full of stories and quickly riled in Sarah all the detailed wonders of school and everything else in between.
Eventually, Karen broke back in: “Is he treating you well, Sarah?”
“Perfectly fine, I promise.”
“Good,” her father replied bluntly.
“We’re actually on a sort of diplomatic mission. I still don’t know all of what’s going on, but its one heck of a crash course.”
Naturally, the details of her “diplomatic mission” required a little more explanation, particularly as to what sort of system they actually had in the Underground and what sorts of nobles there were, stumbling all importantly on where she was now.
“Real vampires? Cool!” Toby replied obviously envious.
“Maybe not that cool, Toby.”
“I should say not. Sarah, you should get out of there immediately.”
“Dad, I’ll be fine. Jareth won’t let anything happen to me.” Her father still looked skeptical, but Sarah knew it was true.
“He’d better,” Karen agreed.
Sarah yawned. “I really hate to say goodbye, but it’s been a really long day.”
“Can we call back soon?” Toby asked eagerly.
“Wait a couple days. I think I might need a pick-me-up by then. This place is pretty freaky.”
“Alright, remember we love you, Sarah.”
“I will, Dad. Love you guys, too. Talk to you later.”
The crystal popped in Sarah’s hands as the connection dissolved.
Jareth still hadn’t left his spot at the window, except to pace a couple rounds every now and again (though he’d changed clothes at some point). Sarah could feel his tension from where she was. She started walking toward him but realized that she had no idea what to say. Instead, Sarah found the least offensive title given her choice and changed into her pajamas. Eventually, her eyes began to cross, and Sarah dimmed the lights, placing the book (How Not to Give Your Torturer the Satisfaction) to the side table. Despite how tired she felt, Sarah could not manage to fall asleep. Each tiny noise from somewhere else could quite literally belong to the boogeyman (he sat on top of one of the gargoyles in the room where she’d been introduced). Wrapping the blankets about herself didn’t work. Counting sheep quickly became counting goblins which became the twisted goblins. She vaguely wondered again if she’d feel safe enough in the closet with the goblins, provided they didn’t also suddenly become the evil variety.
“Jareth?” she called out eventually.
He made a small grunt of reply.
Sarah bit her lip, but she was tired enough to where she reasoned that she didn’t care anymore. “Could you do me a favor?”
Jareth turned slightly. “Yes?”
“This place is giving me the creeps—”
“The creeps?”
“I’m scared,” Sarah admitted.
“Understandable,” Jareth replied, turned around fully now.
“And I was wondering…if you could, well…”
“Could you just hold me?”
Though surprised, Jareth slid next to her and wrapped an arm around her middle. “I suppose I could do that.”
Despite her first reaction of “This is a really bad idea, Sarah,” she had to admit that she did indeed feel much safer, and both slept remarkably well.

It took Sarah a moment or two to process what was across her stomach and against her back, generating pleasant warmth that made her regret waking up and the inevitable shifting from the happy security of one’s bed. She decided that she didn’t care, snuggling a little further under the covers and closer to her heat source. Sarah’s brain registered her circumstances roughly the same time her warm pillow started moving to sleepily accommodate her. Several options flashed though Sarah’s mind in a matter of seconds: leap out of bed with way too much energy for this time in the morning; peel his arm off of her body; pull that arm a little closer and fall back asleep, pretending that she didn’t even notice; inform Jareth coldly that it was only a temporary thing and not to get accustomed to it; do absolutely nothing except lie there until her brain started making sense. While she was still making her decision, Sarah twisted slightly so that she could perhaps see Jareth’s face.
He was smiling. And there wasn’t any maliciousness to it. Just an honest, satisfied smile. Before she could stop herself, Sarah untangled an arm and began to reach toward that face.
“Good morning, Sarah,” Jareth murmured, the corners of his mouth curving more deeply but his eyes staying closed.
Sarah drew her arm back.
“I trust you slept well?” Jareth asked, his eyes creaking open.
“Yes, thank you. And thanks for humoring me last night.”
“You’re welcome.”
“Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, very much so.”
Sarah, uncertain how to take that answer patted him awkwardly on the arm and attempted to fully untangle herself.
After managing over with the ungainly morning stupor, Sarah threw open the closet. The goblins had vacated at some point, evidently feeling secure enough to explore or having found a better hiding space. It struck her quite suddenly that somehow Owena hadn’t taken it upon herself to travel with them, nor had she really smothered Sarah as much as she had been growing accustomed to; there were some goblins who were more frightened of Jareth than others, certainly, but Owena’s particular terror was quite remarkable. Still, it was nice to be able to take care of herself instead of fighting impatient insistence. Sarah hummed to herself and picked a simple pink dress, elegant enough (she hoped) for her company but certainly on the casual side.
“You still remember that?”
Sarah glanced behind her to see Jareth watching her, propped up on one elbow.
“The song,” Jareth clarified simply.
Sarah thought back for a second, her mind searching for what that tune fit to.
“Oh! Yes, that. Of course I remember. Are you sure you didn’t mean any of that in the ballroom, imaginary or not, that day?” Sarah teased lightly.
“Love? No, perhaps not, but I will admit that I was curious.”
Instantly self conscious, Sarah walked into the bathroom to clean up and change.
When she returned, Jareth was speaking to one of the twisted goblins, neither hiding their distaste. The goblin turned to Sarah and sneered, saying something it what Sarah could only guess was the dark tongue; it made her toenails curl. Instinctively, she reached out and slapped him…or it. After recovering from his shock, the goblin sneered again though with a hint of amusement.
“Bold one, this,” he muttered. “Best she not sticks no nose where no nose should be.”
“I don’t know how you came to be like this,” Sarah replied, “but I would gladly take steps to rectify it. For now, I’m still the Queen of the Goblins and you will treat me with restrained civility at least.”
“We shall see, my lady,” he spat nastily, though Sarah could see a hint of confusion in his eyes. He left without looking back or closing the door.
Jareth set a hand on the door and gently pushed it closed. “I’m not sure if that was the best thing to do.”
“What happened to them?”
“Honestly, I don’t remember the beginnings of what lead to their exile, and I doubt they do either. It’s all written down somewhere, going back a few hundred years ago.”
“What did he say to me?”
“It’s probably best you didn’t know. Let’s just say ordinarily it might have earned him more than a slap. You were faster on the uptake.”
“Chivalry is not dead after all. That’s good to know.”
“Perhaps not dead but limping; here we do certainly take it a little more seriously than you may be accustomed. You took care of the situation in your own way. We shall have to see what comes of it.”
“I’m not sure how reassuring that is, Jareth.”
Jareth merely grinned.
Sarah scowled half-heartedly. “You enjoy being cryptic, I know, I know. Why did he come here in the first place?”
“To deliver a message.”
Sarah sighed. “Care to expand on that?”
“Not in particular,” Jareth replied with a small smirk.
“Please humor me and do so anyway.”
“And what fun would there be in that?”
Sarah shook her head. “I’ll find a way to make it up to you.”
“I will hold you to it,” Jareth responded seriously.
Sarah reconsidered her wording, though there really wasn’t anything to be done about what had already been said. What’s said is said and all that. “I know you will. Now can you just tell me the message?”
“Evidently there are no official meetings today, allowing us time to acclimate and for the other nobles to meet you…or rather size you up. There will still be a dance tonight, as per custom.”
“Somehow, I’m not sure that sounds much better than sitting in meetings all day. At least then I could fade into the woodwork.”
In an overly gallant display, Jareth took her hand and kissed the back of it. “You, my lady? Fade into the woodwork? I should think not.”
Sarah laughed. “If you say so.”
“Perhaps it would be best today if you simply follow my lead?” Jareth mused, taking Sarah’s arm under his own.
“It’s worth a shot, I suppose. If you’re the one to cause an international incident though, don’t think I’m going to feel sorry for you,” Sarah replied flippantly.
He began to lead her down the hallway, strolling along the worn stone floor and between the flickering torchlight. “We had tossed around the idea of setting some stakes on this game during our trip here. It would certainly make all this useless show more interesting.”
“What, the one who has the most friends or the best position at the end of this gets something?”
“Depending on the prize, yes, this could be acceptable.”
“Okay, if I win, my family can visit on some random weekend that works out for them.”
“Within reason, I suppose that can be done.” Jareth fell quiet for a moment, and Sarah could practically see the cogs clicking in line and the scales of pro and con being weighed; the longer he was silent, the more Sarah began to fear what the wager may turn into. Finally, he made some sort of decision: “You will watch over goblin affairs for two weeks.”
“That’s it?”
“I could add more, certainly.”
“No, that’s fine.”
“You merely expected me to push some advantage?”
“Yes, to be honest.”
“Believe me, I will do that enough this week while I can. Remember, we agreed on ‘lightly smitten.’”
Sarah shook her head. “What have I gotten myself into?”
“Just another adventure, Sarah.” They came to two large, ashy-grey doors. “Do we have a bargain?”
“Looks that way.”
“Are you ready?”
Sarah took a deep breath. “Guess so.”
Jareth pushed open the door with a quiet authority.
Some of the sickly light entered the room through tall, yellowing glass and Sarah could hazard a guess as to which beings she honestly wanted to associate depending on where they orientated themselves around that light. The room itself was quite large, but this made sense as it had to contain two dragons; how they made it into the room in the first place was beyond Sarah though she could hazard a guess that magic was probably involved somewhere along the way. Fabian and Anya were stretched idly in the darker corners; Orion sat up when Sarah entered, watching her progress across the room. Some of what Sarah guessed were elves sat next to them; though they were unmistakably beautiful, they had a deadly look about their features. Sarah followed Jareth as he led her to a spot just next to them and the dwarves. With some relief, Sarah saw a familiar face, those of Jan and Elizabeth who promptly rose to greet her properly.
“So good to see you again, dear,” Jan whispered in her ear while pulling her into a small hug.
“We’re here to represent Amphitrite and Triton,” Elizabeth informed her perhaps a little more formally than she normally would.
“Amphitrite?” Sarah questioned. “Like the Greek goddess?”
“We call her Sal, usually,” Jan explained, “She insists. I’m sure you’ll meet her eventually.”
Sarah smiled. “That would be lovely.”
Jareth steered Sarah fully into her seat.
“Would you care for something to eat, Sarah?” Anya asked sweetly, the effect ruined by the small fact that didn’t blink.
Fighting off the urge to point out the series of cliché puns that could quickly flow from a conversation starting in such a manner, Sarah nodded politely with her gratitude as Anya gestured toward a side table full of all sorts of fruits and what looked something like cheese. Jareth walked her over to the table and with a significant glance toward Sarah, indicated by some of his own choices which was more or less safe to eat. Up to Sarah’s elbow, a dwarf made her presence known with a gentle grunt.
Sarah curtsied and introduced herself. The dwarf introduced herself as Joan and roughly indicated her consort, whose name Sarah unfortunately forgot; the only new names she remembered were Joan and the two dragons Eleazar and Victoria, mostly because they introduced themselves directly into her mind. The morning passed fast enough, all parties taking some interest in Sarah—some with honest curiosity and others with merely interested disdain—but this make some sense though it was tiring; Sarah was the newest thing in the Underground, full of all sorts of stories of how such a ridiculous world could run without magic. Sarah had studied one term abroad in college so the conversation of swapping customs and norms was vaguely familiar if completely different. Some of the clichés of the Aboveground fantasies made their subjects laugh uproariously or appear slightly offended (as Sarah tired to explain her way out of it) or occasionally ponder as to how mortals had received such insight. Sarah half contemplated making up how some modern appliances worked (since none of her company would probably have a chance to inspect otherwise) especially as most of the everyday objects certainly did not work like magic, figuratively or otherwise.
Jareth guided the conversation away from dangerous and uncomfortable topics smoothly, throwing in a joking jibe to lighten more serious moments and otherwise to set Sarah at ease. When she shot back with a tease of her own, Jareth would sometimes kiss her temple as Sarah blushed and said, “Not here, Jareth,” in a quiet, feigned modesty as the other nobles watched on in varying reactions. Who occupied the seat on Sarah’s other side changed from time to time—Orion hovering close by, Jan and Elizabeth offering support through their presence, or whoever currently had a question for the newest member of their society.
“So when did you first meet Jareth, Sarah?” one of the elves asked politely, smiling in a way that revealed several sharpened (naturally or otherwise) teeth.
“I wished my brother away when I was fifteen and won him back.”
“And you couldn’t forget about me that easily, could you, love?” Jareth added, giving Sarah’s hand a squeeze.
Sarah chuckled. “I suppose you could say that.”
“You beat the Labyrinth?” Joan parroted disbelievingly. “And at fifteen? Pray, how old are you now?”
“It’s been a few years.”
Joan turned to Jareth. “This girl cannot be queen. She’s still a child.”
“Bear in mind, for a mortal she is young, perhaps, but old enough to be in charge of her own destiny,” Jareth responded matter-of-factly.
“And fully capable, I imagine,” Orion added with a small wink.
Joan eyed Sarah up and down for a moment and grunted. Jan changed the subject.
By the time Orion was trying to explain that his family were much more caretakers than rulers and Sarah had an unexpectedly pleasant conversation with the boogeyman (who apparently just happened to like sleeping under the bed or in random small enclosed spaces, occasionally waking up in the Aboveground and merely taking advantage of the situation; he had a great sense of humor, albeit slightly twisted), servants brought in several trays full of, thankfully, normal looking food. Seeing that Jareth and none of the other royals had an aversion to one thing or another, Sarah tried everything, focusing her mind on the conversation instead of the origins of whatever she’d just placed in her mouth (particularly after Elizabeth mentioned that griffin gizzard was an acquired taste). The servants did not escape Sarah’s notice. She had wondered initially if any were Jareth’s spies then she saw each humanoid form clothed in white looked far too human and their eyes reflective and glazed. In fact, from what Sarah could tell, they were all children with smooth mirrors instead of eyes, wandering about in an ethereal way.
Jareth followed her gaze. “They look like whatever is looking at them.”
“They take the form of whatever sees them. The dragons will see dragons, you see humans, the elves see elves.”
“What are they really?” Sarah nearly whispered, watching as the figures floated to where they were called by Anya.
“I should be happy to enlighten you,” Orion offered.
“Not a story for polite company,” Jan chided lightly. She rose from her place. “I shall see you later tonight, dear.” She took Sarah’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze before her and Elizabeth made their way toward the door.
“Are you tired, Sarah?” Jareth asked with an odd look.
Recognizing her cue, Sarah assented, “Yes, a little bit actually.”
“Let’s rest before the festivities, then,” Jareth suggested, taking her arm.
“I shall look forward to seeing you all again,” Sarah promised her company, realizing that some part of her actually meant it.
They nodded politely, murmuring their wishes for a refreshing afternoon.
“We can continue our conversation later, Sarah. There will be plenty of time,” Orion assured her.
Sarah smiled graciously and allowed Jareth to steer her toward their room.
Once the doors to their room were safely closed behind them, Sarah turned to Jareth. “Did we do alright?”
“Wonderfully, my dear.”
“Thanks for not abandoning me to go talk about football or something.”
“You would have managed yourself well enough regardless, whatever football would be.”
Sarah, standing next to Jareth, put her hand on his back in an awkward almost half hug. “Oh, I bet you’re just saying that.”
Jareth shrugged slightly. “Perhaps.”
Sarah used the same arm to swat him playfully.
“So now what?” she asked, plopping down on the bed.
“We wait.”
“Sit around and do nothing until the party tonight?”
“If we claim fatigue then go on a sightseeing tour, it will be considered quite rude. If you are so eager to lose the wager, feel free to do so.”
Sarah shook her head.
“I daresay would could think of something to keep ourselves occupied,” Jareth added.
Sarah raised an eyebrow at Jareth, but, amazingly, he didn’t seem to be implying anything with his statement.
There was a knock on the door. Sarah, being closest, pulled it open slowly.
Elizabeth grinned. “Are you coming?”
“Coming?” Sarah parroted, confused.
“Mother and I are getting ready for the ball tonight. We thought you might want to join us.”
Sarah smiled and glanced over at Jareth. He waved a hand dismissively in her direction.
“Go. I shall find some way to occupy myself without you,” he stated tiredly but still with a lightness to it. “I’ll collect you later.”
Sarah touched Jareth on the arm lightly as a means of goodbye then quickly gathered her things and, with a final wave, left the room to hurry after a rather impatient Elizabeth.
Though Jareth had hoped to discuss some further matters with Sarah, he shook his head, wondering at why it took females several hours to get ready.

The only thing that Sarah immediately recognized as missing from their getting dressed party was—aside from the junk food, though they had been served a light dinner—playing the “Hot or Not” game, at least until Jan prodded (only half jokingly) Elizabeth on her apparent amazement with one of the younger vampires. Elizabeth colored but immediately shifted the focus to Sarah with mention that Orion was paying her specific attention. Really the fact hadn’t escaped Sarah’s notice and made her feel more than a little uncomfortable. She voiced as much and Jan nodded, slipping then out of maternal mode into the more relaxed demeanor she had previously undertaken. So it wasn’t quite like playing the “Hot or Not” game with her girlfriends when she was in high school and college, but it was close enough and thankfully over quickly.
However, the rest of the conversation was certainly more familiar and much more the jocund tone she was expecting, though neither could help adding in a reminder of etiquette every now and again. In the end, three immaculately dressed ladies waited patiently with eager chatter for their escorts. Two…something’s…came for Jan and Elizabeth. Sarah wasn’t quite sure exactly what they were but they spoke well enough and gallantly offered an arm, or rather paw, to their respective lady. With well wishes and promises to meet up with her soon, the two ladies left and Sarah was alone. She fidgeted at first until it occurred to her that she really could just conjure a book. Why that hadn’t occurred to her sooner when she was leafing through the dark books in the library, Sarah wasn’t sure, but it was a good thought to have at any rate. Having never tried anything quite like it before, Sarah thought perhaps a familiar title would expedite matters. Before she’d decided on a title, there was a commanding knock on the door. Jareth pushed the door open at her invitation.
Sarah waited while he scanned her, obviously in approval, and circled around her for the full effect. She arched an eyebrow when he finally made it to her face. Jareth only grinned. Crossing her arms under her bosom, Sarah stared back at Jareth. “Well?”
“Well, what?” Jareth replied nonchalantly. “You don’t need me to say how lovely you look, Sarah. The green suits you well and your time was certainly not wasted. But you’re already aware of that.”
Sarah blushed slightly all the same. The cut was quite flattering with a square neckline and a smoothly tapered waist with a full, but not obnoxiously huge, skirt. The sleeves ended in the middle of her forearm though they were trimmed there with gentle embroidery and fading into a picaresque sheen, simple but certainly elegant. Jareth’s choice had a similar theme though in reverse, the majority of his outfit of the shimmering, changing material and fading gently into the green.
“I suppose you look well, too,” Sarah added flippantly.
“There is something missing, however. And as annoying as it may be, it is not optional.”
Instantly wary of his meaning, Sarah had to ask, “What is it?”
With a flick of his wrist, Sarah felt a gentle weight on her head. Turning to glance at the mirror, she saw the crown on her head with the emblem of her office plainly and proudly displayed. “Ah, that.”
Jareth’s—made of thicker metal but matching hers in purpose if not exact design—settled firmly on his own head but at a slightly jaunty angle. Sarah reached up and tried to straighten it, leaning back to check for the effect. She frowned slightly.
“What is it?”
Sarah smiled and sighed. “It looks better crooked. It really shouldn’t surprise me, but there we go.”
Jareth offered his arm. “Shall we?”
“What, no last minute dos and don’ts?” Sarah joked, taking his arm all the same.
“Now that you happen to mention it…”
“No, please don’t,” Sarah interrupted. “It wasn’t a serious question unless you have a very serious answer. Just count it toward your advantage in our bet.”
Sarah didn’t have to look over to know that he was smirking again.
“Well if it is kind of important or a ‘you might want to know’ sort of thing, maybe you should just come right out and say it.”
“No, no we’ve already come to an agreement on the matter, Sarah.”
“Well, it’s not exactly last minute if I ask for it and if we actually have a few minutes to walk down there anyway, right?”
Jareth chuckled. “I suppose so.”
When he didn’t say anything more, Sarah shook her head. “But you’re not going to tell me all the same, are you?”
“What’s in it for me?”
“I’d say you could have the first dance but according to Elizabeth, that’s already yours anyway.”
“You have been paying attention. What else would you offer?”
“No, I think I’ll just manage this on my own,” Sarah decided.
“So that it will all be your doing, one way or the other, I suppose.”
Sarah swatted his arm with a grin. “Thanks for that vote of confidence.”
They came up to the impressively large double doors, coated in the grime of a century or two. Jareth stood behind her and kissed her temple, conveniently making himself close enough to whisper one last vouch of confidence before leading her on to the floor.
Despite the rest of the castle, the ballroom positively sparkled. The contrast, as hooky as it sounded, was in Sarah’s mind the moon to the rest of the dark night of the castle. Perhaps that was exactly what they were going for, judging by the crescents, circles, and stars all about the room. Gentle music played in the background but no one was dancing yet, mingling in clumps of stylish and flashy attire alike. Orion caught her eye, a female vampire draped over him like a shawl, and Sarah smiled lightly. The boogeyman—who insisted that Sarah call him ‘Ack’, considering that’s what countless children had called him—caught her eye as well and she returned his wave much more sincerely. Surprisingly, he cleaned up somewhat nicely, even if he was still dark, creepy and with an interesting set of claws (though they had been filed and cleaned from dirt and old blood).
Jareth led Sarah underneath the gracefully domed ceiling. Doing her best not to stare at everything and seem too much like a bumpkin, Sarah felt the weight of her crown and tried to reflect it.
Fabian raised his hands and the company stopped their chatter. With a gesture toward the orchestra, made entirely of the ethereal humans with blank eyes—at least human to Sarah’s eyes—all holding shiny black what Sarah assumed were instruments, music began to fill the chamber at a more suitable level though still not so loud as to dissuade all conversation. Turning to Jareth, Sarah smiled and prayed that she could at least fake the steps that she had not the time to master. She sent a silent thank you to her biological mother who had once been so certain that her daughter would follow in her footsteps that she had thrust her into a ballroom dancing class. That added with what her crash courses had afforded her left Sarah relatively confident, but she still hoped that whoever was leading was easy to follow.
The first song was fairly straightforward and Jareth led her through a series of simple steps while they could still quietly tease each other and otherwise enjoy the other’s company. In the middle of the dance, he blinked and twitched slightly.
“What is it?” Sarah asked, immediately concerned that either this twisted place had done something to him or she had accidentally trodden on his toe.
“I’ve been asked to choose the next song.”
“Sarah, how long have you been in the Underground?”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, that whole magic thing.”
“Yes, that ‘whole magic thing,’ if you really must call it such.”
The final strains of the song were followed by applause and each couple left the dance floor. To Sarah’s surprise, she was then nearly accosted by three men—or at least something she assumed to be male—each eager to claim the next dance, though all with a particularly frightened glance at the Goblin King. She glanced at Jareth who shook his head but with look reminded her to be polite, regardless. Sarah quickly reaffirmed that being the newest member of the Underground elite meant that you were quite a novelty. Courteously accepting the invitation of the first of the group, Sarah allowed herself to be led back to the dance floor as Jareth’s selection (surprisingly a piece of Mozart that Sarah was familiar with and probably wouldn’t have named as a dancing tune) began. She caught a glimpse of Jareth conversing with Anya and Fabian but he neglected to ask any of the long slew of women waiting in a cluster to dance (though several made eyes at him).
Sarah’s partner was an adequate dancer if terrible at conversation topics. He was an elf, so Sarah had been told, but he was certainly little like what Tolkien would have described. He had a sort of feral beauty, she supposed, though his pointed teeth when he smiled made Sarah about as comfortable as watching a vampire smile. As Jan had said a few hours prior, they were nice enough folk but you never want to see them eat. Upon questioning, Jan had revealed that their game was generally still moving; such did explain their distaste over lunch.
Straining for something, Sarah made the mistake of asking, “Do you have any hobbies?”
He grinned and went off on a rather descriptive tale of his last hunt. Sarah nodded and tried to add something in but was otherwise a little queasy by the end of it, partly due to the spinning of the dance, she claimed.
The next was little better, nearly stepping on her toes with cloven hooves several times and with only a small, and unfortunately vulgar, grip on English. Fabian claimed her afterwards with an odd aloofness. He spoke little during the dance, instead staring at Sarah with a slight frown as though trying to read her thoughts through her eyes.
Thankfully, Ack came to her rescue. Despite his hulking presence and the claws that held her hand, he was a skilled dancer…and Sarah had to ask if perhaps he actually had visited Toby’s room at one point in time.
He gave a barking laugh that would have terrified Sarah had it been in a dark room or deserted alleyway. “I can’t be certain but I would certainly be willing to give it a try.”
“No, that most definitely not an invitation to scare my little brother,” Sarah chided. Then she thought for a moment. “At least today, anyway.”
“Fair enough,” Ack conceded. “There are many copycats though, so I expect not to receive blame unless I have rightfully earned it.”
“I’m sure there have been plenty of situations where you have earned it.”
Ack laughed again.
Sarah felt a small jolt in her mind, a voice demanding that she choose the next song. Drawing a blank, Sarah thought for a moment, wondering just how far she could push such an open invitation. Then the presence abruptly left.
Ack noticed her stricken expression. “Something wrong?”
“I’m not sure what song I just picked. It’s going to be interesting, I think.”
Sarah noticed that Ack’s long, yellow teeth seemed impossibly large for his mouth when he grinned.
Orion was the first to catch up with Sarah as Ack escorted her to the side.
“My lady, Sarah, if you would favor me with the next dance?”
Sarah nodded politely and allowed herself, once again, to be led away. Orion held Sarah closer than her previous partners, save Jareth, but not uncomfortably so, for which she was grateful.
He leaned a little closer and said, “My parents informed me that this next song is your choice, yes? I am most interested to see what you have chosen.”
Sarah bit off her reply of “So am I” by smiling.
Then she heard a faint tapping on cymbals, though there hadn’t previously been a set of drums in the orchestra…or an electric bass. The entire court looked around in confusion. A small cluster of the servants had set down their instruments and opened their mouths; the words came spilling out though they made no physical movement to create them.
Well, Sarah had wondered how far she could push it.
“Sarah, who or what is Vanilla Ice?” Orion asked, brow wrinkled in perplexion.
What else was there to do? Sarah laughed and swayed to the beat, ignoring the fact that she was the only who was dancing, let alone the only one who could figure out how. Orion made some half-hearted attempts to copy some of her movements but did not lose the expression of confusion. By the end, faced flushed from embarrassment and exertion, Orion led her off the floor.
“That was quite…unusual,” he confessed.
Sarah chuckled. “Yes, I think next time I’ll at least pick a good song.” Unsurprisingly, Sarah did not have a slew of suitors waiting for the next dance. They needed a moment or two to process the possibilities of a musical revolution and why it may or may not be a good idea, Sarah reasoned with a shrug.
“I cannot say I have ever seen dancing like that before.”
Sarah nearly squeaked as Jareth was suddenly at her side.
“Believe me,” Sarah replied, “I did not intend to pick that song and I toned down some of the dancing a lot.”
“Really? It was quite evocative as it was,” Jareth purred, his warm breath next to his ear.
Sarah shivered slightly, though why out of several choice reasons she wasn’t completely sure.
The queue of curious Underground nobles was steadily reforming, probably, Sarah mused, to ask what that interesting display had been about. Jareth took pity on her.
“Let us adjourn briefly. You must be tired.” Sarah nodded and took Jareth’s offered arm. They walked in sync over to a cluster of tables set away on a dais overlooking the scene. The dragons were the only current occupants and surveying the scene with an odd sort of half smile, fangs partially exposed. Sarah could have sworn one of them winked her way.
“Have you been enjoying yourself?” Sarah asked once they sat down.
“You have been an interesting spectacle,” Jareth replied with a smirk. Sarah rolled her eyes, refusing to be baited into anything.
“Danced with anyone?”
“My wife.”
“Well, yes, I was aware of that one. Anyone else?”
“Our hostess, what decorum requires.”
“Funny, I wouldn’t have thought you to care much about what everyone thinks of you.”
Jareth spoke in a low voice, close to Sarah’s ear once more. “Yes, well, sometimes it’s all part of the game, Sarah. Should I lack control on my temper so that I lack the capacity to be polite in this instance could be seen unfavorably. Or even how I behave toward you, our plan of ‘lightly smitten,’ throws any political opponent into an interesting conundrum.”
“How so?” Sarah whispered.
“Perhaps they read it all as a weakness or general sign of distraction, unless I have already thought of that and am only putting on a show. With our cover story and conflicting signals from spies, it would be difficult to form any provable position.”
“Silly me, I thought perhaps that you suggested the arrangement just because you happened to like me.”
Jareth frowned slightly. “I do like you, Sarah.”
Sarah smiled and sighed mentally, wondering if she would have to try and explain “like, like” to the King of the Goblins. “You still haven’t sent the bus after me yet whenever I frustrate you. I tend to take that as a good sign.”
Jan, Elizabeth, and their respective escorts made their way over.
“May we join you?” Jan asked.
Sarah gestured to the seat next to her. The escorts left before Sarah could catch names, unfortunately adding to the growing list of “I know your face but couldn’t remember your name if my life depended on it.”
“Enjoying yourselves?” Sarah prompted with a smile.
“Very much, yes,” Jan replied. “It’s been quite an interesting evening. Sarah, what was that ‘song’?”
Sarah laughed. “I really didn’t mean to do that. I was idly wondering how far I could push it one moment and the next I’d apparently made my choice. That song always made me laugh, just the claims he makes in the lyrics.”
“This is common music in the Aboveground?”
Sarah hesitated. “I don’t know how to properly answer that question. There are many better examples of music, but it’s kind of a cultural reference now anyway. I’ll just try to be more careful next time.”
“Please, could you try to explain?” Elizabeth asked, with a look of honest interest. So Sarah stared with the Temptations, the Mommas and the Poppas, Elvis, and Chubby Checker, all in all ending up somewhere in the 80’s and early 90’s as far as American music. What sense she was actually making, Sarah wasn’t certain, but she tried to accompany a conversation she never thought she’d ever have with a small crystal playing bits of the appropriate song.
Sounds of a scuffle broke her concentration. The four of them stood and diverted their attention to the dance floor where most of the nobles had backed away though still encircling whatever the source of the commotion was.
Orion appeared next to them, shifting from bat to human but still hovering a good three feet above the ground. “Two goblins, best you two look into it.”
Jareth offered Sarah his hand. “Shall we?”
“Guess so.”
Calmly, they walked closer to the commotion though still at a brisk pace.
Indeed, two goblins were tearing at each other with all the fury and frenzy in their tiny bodies, but Orion had neglected to mention that half of the equation was one of the darker goblins.
In a quiet voice, Jareth commanded, “Stop.” Though they both hesitated, Sarah could see that they had every intention of defying the order; Jareth saw the same and separated them by magic, both hovering and scrambling in the air for some footing or means to find a way to again tear at the other.
Sarah had been a camp counselor before and put on her most authoritative voice. “What’s going on here?”
Both tried to screech out his own complaint first, aghast at what the other had dared to say about the matter.
“That’s enough of that,” Jareth decided, waving his hand and silencing both.
“Okay, one at a time then.” Sarah turned to the twisted goblin, “You first. What has happened here?” She glanced at Jareth who nodded and released the spell over it.
“Pathetic creature it is, yes it is. Not worthy of called goblin.”
“What caused the fight?”
The goblin continued on its slander of the other, and, from what Sarah could glean, her goblin had simply had the misfortune of looking at him sideways. However, this was the only way this particular goblin could look.
“Are you done?” Sarah asked when his grumblings lost some momentum.
He spat a couple of words in the dark tongue but nodded.
“Alright, now you, please, Wert.”
Wert looked quite ready to cry, his anger replaced by fear. He blubbered out a long reply, and Sarah made out something along the lines of it was an accident and his attacker continued to insult his homeland and his sovereigns. Though moved by his loyalty, Sarah knew that there was probably an innate hatred for the twisted goblin in there as well.
Sarah sighed. “It is not the time or place to deal with this.” She turned to Jareth. “Can we amend one of those?” He nodded, interested in seeing how she would deal with the entire outburst. “When Jareth releases the spell, you will not resume fighting, do you hear me?”
“Or what?” the twisted goblin asked sullenly.
Jareth said something next to her in the dark tongue which, apart from making Sarah decidedly uncomfortable, effectively silenced the goblin. Both plopped heavily to the floor. Sarah took each one by the arm and hog-marched them out of the middle of the dance floor.
Jareth watched stood behind Sarah in case his assistance was required but allowed her to deliver a stern talking to. The other nobles in the room resumed their dancing, the excitement more or less complete. Both goblins left and Sarah stood up.
“We’ll see if that helps. Really, if you want my guess, someone could have easily put them up to it.”
“And I thought you said you’d never get the hang of politics.”
Sarah laughed.
Jan returned to their company, Elizabeth already on the dance floor with the same elf that Sarah had danced with earlier. “Glad that’s over. Jareth, I do believe you owe me a dance, if I can borrow you from your wife?”
Sarah nodded and Jareth led Jan to the middle of the floor.
“Sarah, may I speak with you?” Orion asked, suddenly next to her yet again that evening.
“I suppose so,” Sarah agreed.
The next song started and Sarah had to fight the urge to cover her ears.
Sensing her discomfort, Orion suggested, “Perhaps we should go out on the balcony? There’s a lovely view and this particular song might be a bit too much of the local flavor for your liking.”
Sarah nodded and allowed herself to be led, trying to keep the headache from leaping to life in her skull. The view was quite lovely, in its own eldritch manner.
“Spectacular, isn’t it?”
Sarah nodded. “Especially when the moon comes through the clouds.”
“There are some wonderful things about this kingdom, but few really can get over that initial taint. Or so I’ve heard.”
Sarah’s head felt better and she allowed herself to relax. “Yes, it is a little disconcerting at first.”
He rested his hand on her arm. “I would very much like to show you more of the kingdom.”
Sarah registered the movement with a bit of alarm and crossed to appreciate the view from another angle, crossing her arms. “Jareth and I would appreciate that very much.”
“I doubt Jareth would enjoy it, though it is kind of you to say,” Orion replied. “He does not particularly care for our company, nor we his. You are something quite different, Sarah.”
The previous alarm melted slightly, in fact, everything had a bit of haziness to it.
“I could fly you over to the most beautiful aspects of this land now and no one would be the wiser.”
Sarah could hear her words but they seemed quite distant. “I appreciate your offer but I don’t think that would be such a good idea.”
“No?” Orion asked his head over her shoulder and his voice next to her ear.
“No,” Sarah answered again, vaguely wondering why she wasn’t moving away from him. He rested his head against her neck.
Then Sarah’s brain kicked back into gear, stepping away from him and shedding herself from his embrace in one swift motion. “And you should keep your distance. Not only am I Queen of the Goblins but I’m married.”
Orion chuckled. “You’re not married to him in all senses, Sarah.”
Biting back her shock, Sarah quickly settled into indignation. “What goes on between me and my husband are of no matter to you. I’m insulted by your presumptions, your complete disregard toward my feelings, your complete impropriety and—”
He gripped her forearms and held her a few inches from his face. Sarah again felt her mind grow hazy.
Orion smiled in a sultry manner. “I’m sure there’s more to it than all that, Sarah. You were saying?”
Before Sarah could react to some of the distant but still pressing violent intentions, another voice cut through her thoughts, effectively clearing the fog once more.
“There you are, Sarah. Orion, I would ask that you release my wife from your company.” The edge was subtle but Sarah nearly shivered at all that she knew it could mean. The magic around him and consequently also the magic that Sarah held became significantly more volatile. Orion obviously understood as well and slowly unpeeled his fingers from Sarah’s arms.
“Until later, my lady,” Orion replied with a courtly bow, exiting rather hastily under Jareth’s glare.
Sarah nearly laughed until that glare was rounded on her.
“How did you know that we were out here anyway?” she asked.
“You used magic to break his glamour, Sarah. Luckily for him, he is considered quite young and allotted leniency by his family, though you can rest assured that I find no such qualms. You, however…”
“Look, I don’t know why he won’t leave me alone but I was taking care of it,” Sarah defended.
“Oh? Do tell.”
“I have two feet both connected to my body by knees. He was standing right in front of me. Any questions?”
Jareth raised an eyebrow but gave a small huff of laughter. “I would say that offending the prince in such a manner would not make you the winner of our bet, but the musical interlude has perhaps already swayed some of the nobles away from your side if not toward mine.” Jareth lost his playful tone for a moment and sighed, resuming some of his earlier coldness. “We will…discuss this matter later, rest assured.”
“Somehow, I’m not surprised.”
“Shall we return?”
“Please,” Sarah agreed. The view had since lost its appeal, instead making her thoughts drift to nearly every horror movie she’d ever watched. The warmth of the ballroom was reassuring, aside from the strong, warmth of Jareth’s arm behind her back as he walked next to her.
“Would you favor me with another dance?” Jareth asked, as though nothing had happened.
“I’d be delighted.” Despite her smile, Sarah had an uneasy feeling. She hadn’t yet figured how he hid his feelings so thoroughly nor known him well enough to see through all that, and all their previous discussion of playing the court added on top of that made Sarah wonder. It was all a habit for him now; how much of their interaction was really contrived? Shaking her head—and only smiling at Jareth’s questioning glance—Sarah allowed herself to simply enjoy the dance in the arms of her husband.
Sometime later, Jareth and Sarah returned to their room. Once the doors closed behind them, they allowed themselves to show their exhaustion, Sarah by flopping down on a chair as she wrenched off her shoes with a grimace and Jareth by slouching slightly and a series of small stretches. Changing into her nightclothes and allowing her hair down the rest of the way, Sarah curled up on her side of the bed. Despite how tired she was, she still couldn’t fall asleep and it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. Instead, she watched Jareth get ready for bed, smiling slightly when he yawned simply because she wasn’t sure if she’d ever seen him do it before.
“I know you said we’d have a discussion later and whatnot, and I would like to point out that tomorrow is still later.”
“Agreed,” Jareth replied, sliding into his place in bed and saying no more.
Sarah edged slightly closer. “Well, I still can’t get to sleep in this place and…”
Anticipating the question, Jareth slung his arm gently across her middle and pulled her to him.
“Goodnight, Sarah,” he whispered in her ear.

Sarah awoke much as she had the previous morning, wondering what she really ought to do with the arm draped across her middle and further whether or not the comfort she took in it was a good thing. However, the decision was quickly taken out of her hands when a goblin of the darker lands materialized in front of her face. He sneered and thrust out his gnarled hand, a cream colored sheet of paper half-crumpled in his fingers (of which there were six and a half; Sarah didn’t care to ask what had happened to the rest of his third finger). Jareth reached out over Sarah, removing the warmth that had rested there a moment before, and promptly took the notice without a word. Sarah nodded as the goblin shot one more glare and disappeared again.
“What’s it say?” Sarah prodded.
“The meetings will start in an hour.”
“The meetings? Only an hour?”
Jareth stretched his arms over his head and Sarah had to marvel again at his catlike grace. “Less really.”
Shaking her head, Sarah asked again, “Still, what are the meetings?”
“I believe they have been mentioned to you at some point.”
“Wait, this is where all the arguments happen and whatnot, right?”
Jareth then propped himself up on one elbow with a relaxed grin, a sign Sarah took to mean that he wasn’t going to add much more to her explanation.
It didn’t make sense, really. Vampires would probably want a meeting time that was, say, at night. Why in the world would they choose to start everything as early in the morning as they could get away with? Such was the first problem of the day. The second she discovered upon opening her closet: all of her gowns had drastically changed style…and fabric.
“Jareth?” Sarah yawned. “I just put these in two nights ago and they definitely were not all velvet with high necks. Did you have anything to do with this?”
The easy smile across Jareth’s face slid off. “Yes,” he replied simply.
“Care to explain?”
He stood up and stretched a little more, pulling one arm across his chest. “No, not really.”
“Okay, given the fact that there are vampires down the hall, I understand why they’re suddenly all high necks. But long sleeves? I’m not quite that matronly. And I’ll be sweating enough as it is without sitting in velvet.”
She waved a hand in front of the closet, but Jareth caught her wrist before she could finish turning them all into their initial fibers.
“I have to override you on this matter, Sarah.”
Sarah turned to face him. “They are my clothes, Jareth.”
“Nonetheless, they will stay as they are now.”
“I might stop fighting you if you just start to explain why. Until then, I really don’t appreciate you making decisions regardless of how I feel about them.” Sarah pulled her wrist out of his grasp. “It’s too early in the morning to be squabbling.”
“I believe that it is also ‘Later’ as well.”
Sarah wracked her brains for a moment, glaring at Jareth suspiciously. Ah, of course, what happened with Orion?
“Look, I told you nothing happened with Orion. Can we get back to why you want to change the school dress code? I’m not afraid of detention anymore, Jareth. Please, just meet me halfway, here.”
“The man who says he is willing to meet you halfway is usually a poor judge of distance.”
“Laurence Peter,” Sarah replied, surprised. “All the same, I’m sure we can come to some sort of agreement here.”
“Your clothing options are non-negotiable, Sarah,” Jareth informed her once more.
Sarah gritted her teeth. “Give me a good reason why, Jareth, and I’ll stop fighting you.”
“What did Orion say to you?”
“What has that got to do with it?”
“It has everything to do with it.”
“I really didn’t think it was that severe of an offense by what you said then, talking about the bet and Orion’s youthful impertinence.”
“Would you rather have discussed all elements of political gleaning there were anyone could have walked by or cast up a ward to remove all doubt?”
Sarah threw up her hands. “Somehow I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere at this rate, Jareth. And before you even go telling me there are things I just wouldn’t understand, I’m going to go take a shower and get some coffee. Maybe then we could get something accomplished here.”
Thankfully, Jareth allowed her to enter the bathroom unimpeded. As she let the water from the tarnished workings cascade down, she sought to find to wake up enough to find some of the reasoning and motivations behind the whole discussion, and incorporating whatever body language she could remember to back up her theories. Sarah snorted, wondering when court intrigue techniques had started to leech into her skull. Still not any closer to an answer but calmer, Sarah wrapped a bathrobe around herself and went to face the issue of the wardrobe.
She stifled her surprised shriek just in time. Jareth was standing, fully dressed and ready, in front of the bathroom door with his arms crossed and glare set.
“Don’t do that,” Sarah admonished, willing her heart to resume normal function.
He raised an eyebrow, slightly amused, but quickly settling in again to his stony stance, though moving aside slightly so as to allow her into the room. Sitting down heavily on the bed, Sarah waved her hand and a small ceramic mug appeared.
“Look, I know neither of us like this whole bending thing or giving in or whatever the hell you want to call it, but if you give me some coffee, I guess I’ll get things started. Okay?” Sarah held out her mug. Jareth relaxed his arms and Sarah registered the sudden, slight weight in her hand.
“Thanks.” Sarah took a sip and grinned, in spite of it all. It was good coffee. “Now what do you want to know, specifically?”
“Best start at the beginning.”
“It’d still be easier if you gave me a starting question.”
“Why did you agree to accompany him to the balcony?”
“Did you not hear that song? It was absolutely wretched. He offered to get me out of there and escorted me outside.”
“What did you talk about? Try remember as much of his exact wording as possible.”
Aware that Jareth was probably searching for hidden meanings (particularly after the comment on ‘gleaning’), Sarah closed her eyes and tried to play back all that she could. “Some parts get kind of hazy,” she admitted, “but he started by commenting about the view and mentioning that there is still beauty in this kingdom and that he’d very much like to show it to me. Then I said we’d, meaning you and me, be happy to. He said he didn’t think you’d care for it and they don’t like you anyway…” Sarah faltered for a moment and opened her eyes, taking another long sip of her coffee as she gathered what she remembered.
“Yes?” Jareth prompted, one hand raised to his mouth as his eyes focused inward in thought.
“He said I was something quite different and everything really started to get hazy. Then he was trying to get me to agree to go then and there, getting a little too close. I snapped out of it and told him to back off.” Sarah sighed. “My guess is you won’t like what he said next and that’s probably why it’s important. He said we weren’t married in all senses. I started to tell him off, saying it was none of his business, and he grabbed me.”
She glanced at Jareth, who apart from meeting her gaze rather than an absent look, had made no other reaction.
“I take it none of that is good news?”
“Certainly not, Sarah. It does confirm my suspicions.”
Sarah stood up. “That’s it? You annoy me all morning to confirm your suspicions? Care to enlighten me?”
Jareth turned and took a seat, tossing one elegant leg over the other. “Later.”
“Oh no you don’t, it’s still ‘later,’ remember? We’re in this together, bet aside.” Sarah crossed her arms in across her chest, trying to copy his same glare, breaking that trace occasionally to take another sip.
Jareth only smiled at her in a way Sarah would have almost called an endearing manner if that patronizing edge wasn’t still there.
Exasperated, Sarah asked, “Could you at least explain the velvet?”
Jareth’s face took on a more serious expression again as he stood up and stopped his purposeful stride just in front of Sarah. She refused to back away although she was suddenly quite aware that she wasn’t exactly clothed, particularly resolute when she remembered why this was the case. Still, something about the whole thing made Sarah decidedly uneasy for reasons she didn’t want to dwell on at this particular moment. He raised one hand and Sarah watched as it came to gently rest on her cheek, his long fingers encased in the soft leather skimming her jawbone. Sarah, wishing that she was any good at reading expressions, refocused her attention to Jareth’s face as he seemed to inspect her features.
Finding her breath, Sarah prompted, “Well?”
The corner of Jareth’s mouth, which Sarah could see very well, quirked up slightly at her impatience.
“Sarah, you have surmised the reason for the high necks. The velvet has a similar reason.”
He rubbed his thumb along her cheekbone. Sarah stood in utter confusion, wondering if she should lean in to the small caress in with her instinct or demand that he explain the comment further or just have him explain himself further.
“Vampires have a rather acute sense of touch, Sarah. They find the texture repugnant.” He stepped away, taking his hand with him Sarah noted somewhere in the back of her mind.
“So why didn’t you try and do this in the beginning?”
“I didn’t think it was going to be a problem.”
Ah, Sarah thought, now we’re getting somewhere. Taking another gulp of her nearly forgotten coffee, Sarah asked, “What exactly is the problem, Jareth?”
“The way Orion cavorts around with you is insulting, Sarah, to both myself and your office. I will not have him touch what is mine.”
He said it all in such a matter-of-fact tone yet Sarah’s mind reeled at all the implications.
When Sarah made no reply, Jareth reminded her again, “It is not an option, Sarah.”
Realizing that they were running out of time, Sarah began to wave her hand toward the closet and form a spell, only to be stopped by Jareth snatching her wrist again, an expression of anger across his face even the simplest goblin could understand.
“Relax, Jareth,” Sarah soothed before the don’t-defy-me’s came in. “I’m only going to shorten the sleeves a bit and otherwise give myself some other places to breathe.”
He released his grip and crossed his arms again.
“What? You don’t trust me?”
“No, I’m curious as to what you meant by the latter part.”
Sarah completed the spell, the sleeves all ranging from deep bells, that though not shorter allowed for more circulation, to those that ended at her elbow. Some of the fronts and backs of her dresses had changed from the simple design Jareth had collectively cast to a sheer patch of fabric crossed and striped with swatches of velvet, some in varying colors, just enough to add a bit of air flow. Jareth nodded and surprisingly didn’t have any comments to make. Dressing as quickly as possible, Sarah took Jareth’s arm as they made their way briskly down the hall.
“If you have anything to add during these meetings, Sarah, you are welcome to do so, though I advise you consider all the implications of your words, what your education has benefited you with thus far, and therefore make any cleaning up I need to do as painless as possible.”
Sarah rolled her eyes, recognizing that Jareth was in better spirits again. “You could have said ‘choose your words’ wisely and that would have gotten the point across just as well.”
Jareth shrugged with a particular grin. “Perhaps.”
Sarah swatted his arm.

Surprisingly, they weren’t the last to arrive though Sarah later reflected that missing an extra couple minutes to extract more information out of Jareth would not have been such a bad thing…particularly as she soon found literal understanding of the phrase “bored to tears.” On the one hand, having no input on trade and treaty statistics was fine considering she wouldn’t get a word in edgewise, but still it might have made the whole three hour exchange thereof slightly more interesting. Ultimately, it led to too much time for her mind to wander, and naturally she couldn’t ignore what had happened earlier that morning. Jareth didn’t sit next to her during the meeting, mostly because (Anya explained in long overtures of an apology) a ceremonial chair could not be constructed for her in time. Sarah made a mental note to be shocked and offended if they offered to conjure her one, such things were to be done the old fashioned way and as intricately as possible (according to her lessons with Elizabeth and Jan…as well as what Jareth had told her once, that it was worth more to do it yourself). So Jareth let go of Sarah’s hand, kissing the back of it with a wink and gesturing with a nod of his head to some of the chairs a row or two behind him and to the right where Elizabeth was already seated.
Though she didn’t have the comfort of his presence—the thought in itself, as it struck Sarah’s mind, was vaguely surprising as it registered—she did have a good vantage point. He was gorgeous; no denying that one, sitting with a reserved dignity between an elf and one of the whatever’s that had escorted either Jan or Elizabeth. The small stolen kisses to create a face always made Sarah wonder, well, several different things at once. Perhaps because she liked some of those little attentions, perhaps because it was Jareth out of all males, perhaps because he was her husband, or perhaps because one’s mind can easily wander beyond a couple of pecks on the cheek. Blushing slightly, Sarah played back a few choice moments, him whispering close to her ear, dancing with him at the ball, his arm around her as they slept. Shaking her head, Sarah realized that it really was too soon to tell anything. Instances like those seemed clear enough, but all these masks and games were driving Sarah steadily insane. His anger directed toward her wardrobe still didn’t make complete sense. His uncanny ability to shift from one mood to the next always made her wonder what he really felt on the matter. And some of the things he would say completely straight-faced caught her entirely off guard.
Maybe she could form a spell to read his mind and see what he was up to. Or the simultaneously easier but so much more difficult route of asking him directly.
Sarah sighed. In a few years, perhaps she’d be able to read Jareth. Unfortunately, it wasn’t now. Fighting to stay awake, she noticed that he was firmly set in—for lack of a better way to describe it—“evil bastard mode,” refusing to give an inch and slashing down those who disagreed with a few razor words in such a subtle manner that some missed it completely. And there had been times in the Labyrinth where she had wanted to kick him. Had she been insulted here as the other monarchs were, well, whether it was the adult thing or not, name-calling and a few well-placed fists would ultimately ensue? He’d probably drop her into another oubliette but it would have been worth it.
Still, it was worse when her caffeine wore off. Elizabeth had poked her a few times but Sarah still couldn’t keep from slouching for too long. The hour, the late night before, and the tedium of staying in one place for far too long rendered Sarah exhausted and she was never so grateful (even in all her school days) to take a lunch break. She rose with the masses and waited patiently for Jareth to escort her, taking his arm.
His scowl softened. “Eager to get out of here?” he whispered close to her ear.
She shivered slightly as his breath tickled against her. “Something like that. How much longer do these go on?”
“Oh, that was just a warm up, dear Sarah.”
Sarah closed her eyes briefly. “Oh, goody.”
“I assure you, proceedings are much more interesting when we begin on some of the more touchy issues. Occasionally, you have to duck.”
Sarah chuckled. “You seem to be in your element.”
Jareth’s brows puckered slightly. “What do you mean?”
“One of the few things I know about you for certain, Jareth, is that you’re awfully stubborn.” He gave a quiet laugh and Sarah continued, “And you’re good at being an arrogant king which, by the look of things, is how you get things done here.”
“Quite a backhanded compliment, Sarah,” Jareth drawled, though he was grinning slightly.
“Oh, come on, you were having a bit of fun there, making everyone else look like idiots.” Jareth sent her a skeptical glance and Sarah reconsidered, “Okay, maybe not idiots but certainly mislead.”
“Much more diplomatic, Sarah, good.”
Sarah smiled. “Still, you’re not going to make many friends that way, Jareth.”
“I believe you would be in a much better position to accomplish this.”
“So not only do I win the bet but it helps us politically as well?”
“Oh, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll win.”
“We’ll just have to wait and see, then, won’t we?” Sarah laughed.
Jareth shook his head lightly but gestured toward the door. “If you want to make a dramatic entrance to express your displeasure, go ahead.”
Sarah rolled her eyes but stayed at his side. They entered the room together, some indeed throwing Jareth nasty looks (with a few approving nods mixed in, surprisingly). Laying a hand on his arm to get his attention, Sarah met Jareth’s gaze and he nodded, allowing her to sit next to Joan (who had taken a rather high chair to compensate for her height, her consort on a stool next to her).
A few smooth words later and Sarah had set Joan’s scowl into a broad grin, repeating Sarah’s offer.
“You will be welcomed in my kingdom, Sarah.” She sniffed. “You may leave your husband at home if you choose.” Really, all Joan wanted was someone to listen to her, nodding every once in a while, and take her instruction gracefully, then she became quite maternal. Still, Sarah felt almost smothered and was quite grateful when the dragons called her attention away from Joan’s triad on the proper way to hang royal tapestries.
How the dragons could take all of her confused and garbled thoughts and merge them into a coherent stream of anything was beyond Sarah, but they had a marvelous talent for saying exactly what she needed to hear. Not only did they sense a compatibility with her temperament, but they assured her she was well on her way to winning the bet. One of the best ways to stay awake was to pick out a monarch and count how many times they performed a certain quirk; not only would it keep her amused but it would successfully make the chosen target nervous without crossing any taboos. As for Jareth, they instructed her to just give him time and talk it out with him with the awareness that some habits will be difficult to break after however many centuries of being single and getting his way the majority of the time.
Mortified, Sarah confessed as much to the dragons who promised (with smoking smiles) that next time they would be more tactful about which thoughts they responded to. Still, they managed a cheery “conversation” once the initial awkwardness settled away, beginning with Victoria’s questioning after Toby.
Unfortunately, relations with some of the darker creatures of the party did not flow so smoothly. The elves had taken serious offense to what Jareth had said, refusing to have anything to do with the Goblin Kingdom so far as to kick several of the tainted goblins for show (though they certainly did not make it out of the ordeal completely unscathed). Sarah was glad that her goblins were choosing to stay out of sight, particularly as all the sore tainted sort hung in one corner and talked in murmurs and low growls.
And Orion still wouldn’t leave Sarah alone. She tried to dissuade him several times but he found excuses or comments to make. On the plus side, he did decrease some of his touchy-feely behavior toward her, having flinched slightly when brushing her sleeve the first time. Her hands and her face were bare, however, and he might rest his hand a moment too long on hers or brush her hair behind her ear faster than she could pull away. Frustrated and infuriated, Sarah wondered what “get the hell away from me” translated to diplomatic terms. She had the vague feeling that slapping his face would only make matters worse in several different ways. After pretending that it didn’t bother her for twenty minutes too long, she glanced about for Jareth, mentally screeching for an excuse where Orion couldn’t follow her.
Perhaps, Sarah mused, she’d wished too hard because Jareth had an odd glazed look on his face. Closing her eyes, Sarah realized that she’d tapped into his magic again to summon him. Though it had the potential to turn into quite a scene (besides nearly stepping on Joan’s consort), Jareth simply removed Orion’s hand and replaced it with his own, leading her away to a quiet alcove by the large bay windows revealing another gloomy day. He started to lean in before he blinked and took a quick survey of his surroundings without moving his head from the place a scant couple of inches from Sarah’s.
He grimaced slightly but so that only Sarah could have seen. “I believe we discussed this last time. Having my own magic used against me is degrading.”
“Sorry,” Sarah whispered, again noticing just how close they were together.
“Might I ask what was so important?” Jareth asked, though his tone had switched to something more like concerned.
Sarah dropped her gaze from Jareth’s face. “Orion was bothering me again. I really needed an excuse.”
The corner of Jareth’s mouth quirked slightly. “Best make it look convincing, then, shouldn’t we?”
Sarah’s eyes flew back up to Jareth’s again. He gave her a small wink, almost a challenge. This man was a total enigma, but, Sarah reasoned, she could figure it out later. She leaned in and kissed him. He met her eagerly. Sarah had been kissed by her husband before but neither was an event she particularly wanted to remember. This one was firmly set into a different category. Under his gentle urgings, Sarah opened her mouth enough to allow Jareth to sweep his tongue across hers before he broke away. Confused, Sarah frowned as Jareth winked again.
“Now I think its best that you act indignant and storm off. I’ll follow after you,” he whispered before hardening his face into a snarl that she knew he didn’t mean.
Sarah raised her eyebrows for a moment but took her cue, shoving him away and marching off, nearly stepping on Joan’s consort herself. Satisfied with her performance, Sarah waited on the other side of the door.
Jareth’s voice rang through the wood. “Mortals can be so difficult.” There was a bit of polite and even raucous laughter.
Again, Sarah had to question if some of his behavior was in earnest. She met him with a real glare. “That comment was uncalled for.”
Though surprised by her response, Jareth averted his gaze in thought. “I suppose you’re afraid that you will be undermined in the estimation of the others?” He returned his gaze to hers, now smirking again. “Sarah, it is certainly better to be underestimated that considered a threat at all times. I’ve had enough time to see both.”
“I still would rather be taken seriously,” Sarah replied, realizing that she might mean that on a couple different levels. They began to walk down the hallway without any real destination.
“Rest assured that I take your opinions seriously, Sarah. You are not a teenager any longer.”
Sarah relayed her thanks with a warm smile. “I was something like a brat.”
“Would there be any response that I could make that would not irritate you?”
Sarah laughed. “Probably not.”
“Then I may as well make the most of this opportunity.”
And he did. So she teased him about his pants. Jareth pointed out that she could indeed notice the fashion trend did not end with him. Sarah announced her surprise that with his general dislike of rules set by anyone other than himself that he should feel disinclined to invent his own.
Unfortunately, Jareth seemed to like this idea. They had meandered to their rooms, and Jareth was quite caught in the possibilities. Sarah sighed, acknowledging that they’d probably broken decorum several times over (all those small attentions did garner a reproachful glance by a few select members, but some of the vampires were pawing each other a little more openly so by comparison it was no real issue) so what was jeans and a tee shirt? Jareth hadn’t such a drastic change in mind but went for a textbook example of a more regency look that, though it was a bit startling at first, was more flattering that Sarah would have guessed. He took Sarah in a thoughtful glance.
“Oh, no you don’t. You’ve made enough alterations to my wardrobe as it is and empire waist makes me look pregnant.”
Sarah half-expected him to comment that he would like to see that eventually anyway, but Jareth had the habit of surprising her occasionally: “Perhaps you could indulge me for this afternoon?”
He could easily have continued on with what he wanted anyway or threatened her with some minor inconvenience or offered a trade, but he didn’t, even after Sarah paused for a moment, considering.
“I suppose, but I don’t think that they used as much velvet as cotton or linen. Might as well go for the complete effect.”
Jareth grinned at her compliance, one of those few without a mildly malicious tint. Sarah smiled back and allowed the spell to encompass her. She glanced at her reflection. “I feel like I’ve tumbled into a Jane Austen.”
And she looked it to, her hair swept up into a series of braids and curls with small flowers interlaced therein that matched well with the pale blue of the gown. A few sections of the dress were swathed with crushed velvet all the same but mostly it was of a soft, gently-flowing cotton. She looked down and saw that her shoes even matched.
“Does it meet with your approval, my Lady?” Jareth asked bowing over her hand and acting the part.
“Depends. Are you going to be my Mr. Darcy to go along with it?”
Jareth’s brows knitted together in confusion and Sarah sighed, trying to explain it.
“So you would rather I be someone else?” Jareth asked with a hint of distaste.
“No, that’s not what I meant. I don’t know how to read you, Jareth, but I still don’t want you to be anyone other than who you are.”
He seemed pleased with the answer and resumed character. “Would her majesty kindly accompany me for tea?”
Sarah reasoned that Jareth must have had some knowledge of the regency in the Aboveground to have such a spot-on portrayal. Not for the first time, Sarah found that she enjoyed his company.
Unfortunately, the meetings had to reconvene eventually. Before they entered the room, Jareth paused outside of the door. With a wave of his hand, he produced a small pendant and held it out for Sarah to see.
“This should complete your look.”
“It’s lovely, Jareth,” Sarah said warmly, as he fastened it around her throat. Against the white background, the entrance to the Labyrinth was painted with remarkable likeness, even a tiny dot of pink and blue on top of one of the walls which could be nothing other than Mr. and Mrs. Worm.
“Should you need an excuse or an escape again, hold this in your fist and say my name. I’ll hear.”
Sarah nodded, seeing that this was a remarkable compromise than accidentally turning him into a near drone again. “Thank you.”
“Perhaps for appearances sake you should also develop a habit of fiddling with it.”
Sarah laughed and pushed the doors open.
Their change in dress did indeed cause a small stir, judging by some of the blatant fingers pointed in their direction. Sarah leaned in and kissed Jareth’s cheek, allowing her to be close enough to whisper “Have fun,” in his ear. His smirk assured her that he certainly would as he led her to the same seat she had taken that morning before resuming his own.
To her delight, Marek sat down next to her. “Is this seat taken?”
“It is now. It’s good to see you, Marek.”
“And to see you, as well. You seemed so enthralled during the morning’s discussion; I thought perhaps you could manage to find a way to make it interesting for someone like myself.”
Sarah chuckled. “Yes, absolutely enthralled. Who could be otherwise?”
“I confess, I have found a way to be otherwise.”
“That doesn’t surprise me, Marek.”
Marek laughed. Then he gestured to her dress. “So do tell me about your clothing choice?”
“It was Jareth’s idea. We were talking about instating a few new trends.”
Marek held a hand to his chest in mock indignation. “And you didn’t include me in this little venture? I’m thoroughly offended.”
Sarah raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. “If you’re going to be upset…” With a flick of her wrist, she tossed Marek a crystal, despite his efforts to make from its path. After the magic was done, Marek glanced down.
“Perhaps it’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” he admitted. “Still, I’m sure Jareth has a steady conspirator. It’s left me with more free time than I know what to do with.”
Sarah wasn’t sure if she should smile or apologize, but Marek just winked at her. Then the meeting was called to order and there was little else to do. Marek tapped her arm and made an odd gesture in the air, as though scribbling with an invisible pen. Understanding his request, Sarah generated paper and pencils. After staring at the pencils for a moment or two, Marek tested one out, passing the note to Sarah.
—What am I writing with?
Sarah nearly snorted. —It’s a pencil.
—Ah, well, as long as we can be discreet, then we can continue our conversation.
—Hah, alright. I don’t know if that’s the best idea. Jareth did mention that occasionally we have to duck during these proceedings.
Marek smiled. —Maybe he does. We should be fine up here.
—Should, yes. One of us ought to stand guard while the other writes.
—You’d just duck yourself, wouldn’t you, Marek?
—That’s very reassuring.
Their conversation fell quiet from time to time, tuning in enough to see (and eventually comment) that Jareth was officially setting into his game. Occasionally, another member of the part would rise and bark something especially nasty, but Jareth would only drawl a long, biting response, refusing to look agitated.
Marek eventually passed another note. —He’s actually getting angry about this one. Just be forewarned if he’s in a nasty mood later.
—How can you tell?
—Slight twitch of his eye, particular frown.
—How long did it take you to learn how to read him?
—I’ve known him for most of my life. He still surprises me.
Sarah bit her lip for a moment, wondering if she should ask. She slid the paper over regardless. —Can you teach me what you know?
Marek smiled indulgently. —Only if you promise to use such knowledge to torment him at some point.
—I believe I could manage that.
—You’re still going to have to pick up what you can on your own. It’s not a science. But anyone plotting to annoy Jareth if fine with me, excluding serious bodily harm and all that, of course.
—Sounds a bit seditious if you ask me.
—Well, he’s never going to see this anyway.
—So sure, are you?
—Do you want him to see what you wrote earlier?
—Or perhaps these will find their way into the fireplace.
—That’s more like it. But really, Sarah, if you want to understand him, it’s best to talk to him.
Sarah didn’t respond for a while having received this advice a few times already. Instead, she tuned in to the conversation, particularly when she heard the word “goblin” mentioned several times before the creatures in question, the tainted sort, took control of the floor.
Fabian was arguing with the leader of their group, his elegance gone and reduced to a fiendish sneer. Whatever they were saying was causing Sarah’s ears to burn, the dark tongue working its nasty spell as they switched between both languages.
Sarah wrote hastily to Marek, remembering her previous revulsion and righteous anger on their behalf as well as at them. —What’s going on?
—The dark goblins are trying to bring up their grievance again.
—Their grievance?
—They want a chance to discuss what they want, why they left the Goblin Kingdom, and who knows what else. Fabian denies them every time they try to bring it up. After a couple decades, they only decide to bring it up every five years or so. Funny, I bet this is somehow your fault.
—How? What do you mean?
—That this is the second year in a row. They might need a champion, Sarah.
—Why doesn’t Jareth?
—He needs support from someone. He’s brow-beaten everyone but somehow they still haven’t seen to the matter. He’s chosen to focus his energies elsewhere than some futile case.
Sarah frowned. She listened to the argument a little longer, attempting to cast a translation spell for herself that seemed to have no effect.
She stood up, the sudden movement drawing the attention of both parties though they didn’t stop trying to talk over the other.
Trying to give her voice as much confidence and authority, Sarah spoke loudly but without shouting: “How long has this issue been put aside?”
To her surprise, Fabian and the snarling goblins stopped for a moment. Sarah could feel magic coursing through with some of her indignation. Perhaps they could see it. No time to back out now.
Jareth responded for them, with a glint in his eye that Sarah hazarded to guess was approval. “Centuries, Sarah.”
“Why hasn’t it been dealt with?”
The goblins offered up several explanations of conspiracy, their malevolent eyes perhaps reflecting part of their original merry goblin tendency in a confused sort of hope. Still, tumbling accusations and gripes on top of the next and the next was on the short track to giving Sarah a nasty headache.
“Enough, enough. I get the idea.” She turned back to the others. “This has been going on longer than my normal lifespan could ever be. Really, that’s ridiculous. Unless someone has a better reason for putting this off other than it’s merely unpleasant, it is irresponsible and juvenile to let this go on forever. Let’s just take care of it once and for all.”
Sarah sat back down and crossed her arms, waiting to see what would happen. Joan was the first to speak her support, eventually enough of the other members outnumbering those wishing to ignore it again. Jareth watched the whole thing with an aloof satisfaction, Sarah could tell (with some help from Marek’s nod in his direction and reflecting the same). It was agreed they would discuss it tomorrow, with the evening’s discussion already decided upon early that afternoon (something about the rights of the trees).
Once the situation settled down and the goblins disappeared quite suddenly from the room (presumably to begin forming their case), Sarah picked up the pencil again and slid the note to Marek. —That wasn’t so difficult.
Marek bit back a laugh. —It’s not done yet. You are aware that you will have to present some of their case tomorrow.
Sarah grimaced. —No, I was not. More homework. Oh, goody.
—You’re still glowing a bit. Turn the magic back down.
Sarah glanced at her hand, noting that perhaps that was not just the glow of health. —I didn’t even mean to do that. But it helped, right?
Marek snorted lightly. —It certainly didn’t hurt. Of course, just the fact that the latest addition to the Underground Council was speaking during her first meeting was surprise enough in itself. Just calm down and your skin will return to its normal pallor.
Sarah responded to that comment by shoving Marek away slightly. She scribbled another note. —Still, it wasn’t wrong for me to speak, was it?
—No, just unexpected.
—Jareth said I could.
—Then perhaps he knows you better that I do.
Sarah gave a small smile and glanced up to the man in question who happened to be staring in her direction. She winked at him and he nodded with a tiny smile.
She shifted the paper back toward Marek: —Perhaps

The rest of the afternoon slurred together and soon (thankfully) the group adjourned for another break. However, while Sarah was offered Jareth’s arm, she found herself shoved and pushed along by several dark goblins.
“I guess I’m going to talk strategy for a little while,” Sarah sighed, creating a small invisible shield about herself to keep off prying and craggily fingers. Jareth broke through the barrier and rested a hand on her cheek, a serious expression in his eyes overriding the smirk on his face.
“Be careful.”
Sarah gave a small, warm smile. “I’ll call if I need anything.”
The goblins then discovered that although they could not physically touch Sarah they could shove her protective field in their proposed direction.
“That’s enough of that. Calm down. I’m coming,” Sarah promised. The tainted goblins were unmoved but at least slowed in the ferocity of their shovings. Eventually, she found herself in a large empty chamber…well, empty except for at least thirty five nasty, murderous goblins all muttering at once. Despite the general incoherency of the meeting, Sarah was still far more invested in the arguments than she had been in the previous meetings. There were more fistfights, certainly, and enough of the dark tongue screeching through her thoughts to make sure she was not only alive but consciously aware that that particular goblin was displeased.
“Enough!” Sarah eventually yelled, casting a brief silencing spell for effect. “Now, it would be nice to know some of the details of what you’re specifically fighting for if you want me to speak on your behalf,” Sarah said as politely as possible while still retaining a stern edge. She released the spell.
The room remained deathly quiet for a moment. Then another. One of the goblins stepped forward and snarled. “We didn’ ask for no helps from yous. Yous follow what we say.”
Sarah raised an eyebrow. “How many years have you been trying to get some attention to your cause? Wasn’t it about time that someone spoke with you?”
“Didn’ have to be yous, no dids it? Yous workin’ for us. Don’ mean we owe yous nothin’ so don’ go thinkin’ yous rulin’ us. We don’ care what no prah-fah-see says, no.”
Despite her immediate reaction to ask more on what the prophesy had to do with it this time, Sarah sensed that perhaps they were needing more reassurance than anything else, counting off on her fingers: “I don’t understand what caused the schism in the first place, I’m not looking for leverage, I don’t expect to call in favors later, and regardless of all that, you won’t believe it anyway.” The goblins all stared blankly and Sarah sighed again. “If you answer two of my questions then I’ll hear whatever else you have to say.”
The tainted goblins looked uncertain if still ready to maul at a moment’s notice.
Sarah chose not to wait for a verbal answer. “What happened that made you leave the Goblin Kingdom? Let’s start there.”
Those who weren’t grumbling off in their own discontented clusters began talking all at once. After a long while, Sarah felt that perhaps she had the jist of it. “Okay, second question: so what do you want?”
This question left them utterly perplexed. Still with snarls and angry countenances but entirely bemused. “You’ve been trying to make a grievance for centuries and you’re not sure what you’re trying to change? It’s not enough to fight against something. You need to propose an alternative.”
They didn’t take well to this gentle chastisement and Sarah very seriously considered calling Jareth to get her out of there, playing with the necklace he had given with her just in case the need should really arise. Another series of grumblings and interweaving complaints droned into a cacophony that filled the room again, Sarah still trying to glean what sense of it she could. After what seemed like far too long anyway, several of the goblins shoved past her and rest simply disappeared, leaving Sarah in an empty, and supremely messy, room.
Shaking her head and collecting her bearings, she entered the hallway and headed toward her room.
“You should not wander these hallways by yourself, Sarah. They could be dangerous.”
Sarah turned to face Marek, sincere in what he was saying.
“Care to escort me then? I confess I’m not thinking straight at the moment.”
“Perhaps, then, I should ask you all sorts of impertinent questions that I normally wouldn’t get away with?” he asked casually, taking her arm and smiling again.
“Perhaps I should take my chances in the hallways,” Sarah replied with a laugh, taking his arm all the same. “I wasn’t sure if the uniform was going to work quite as well as it does. The red suits you.”
“Yes, I have been complemented on it twice and stared at more times than that. This is a military costume?”
“Well, with Jareth and I in the regency period, it seemed like a good idea to have an officer around.”
“I suppose that it depends on what rank you’ve given me as to whether or not I’ll agree.”
Sarah laughed. “Let’s go with Captain. I’m not sure with how to tell by looking at the stars and bars, sorry.”
“Captain Marek it is, then,” Marek agreed smugly.
“Best not let it go to your head or I’ll bust you down to Private.”
“If you didn’t have the authority to do so, I might have to test that out.”
Sarah pushed the door open. “I think somehow you’ll manage to push your limits anyway.”
“What’s he up to now?” Jareth asked, his arms crossed over his chest as he studied them both with a small smile.
“Captain Marek,” he corrected, taking off his jacket and resting it on the chair.
Jareth quirked an eyebrow. “I think I understand already. Interesting choice of dress, Marek. I presume you had help?”
Sarah grinned and plopped down on a chair in a rather unladylike way, a light layer of dust clouding into the air. “I think it suits him nicely.”
Jareth smiled and shook his head while Marek huffed himself up to indignantly ask what Jareth found amusing, unable to keep his smile hidden either.
“Well?” Jareth asked Sarah, once Marek had given up his mock, self-righteous attitude. “I take it the meeting went well enough that you didn’t have to call me to rescue you.”
“I seriously considered it.”
Marek laughed. “I can well imagine.”
Sarah shrugged, quietly laughing at herself. “I guess it’s one way to keep things interesting. I could have chosen something a little less hazardous, I think. Like tossing wads of paper at the elves.”
“Is that the best you can come up with?” Marek teased, taking one of the other chairs.
“At the moment, I think so. Give me another hour and I’ll find another mess to step into, don’t worry.” Sarah sighed. “I don’t suppose you could give me more information about them?”
“Depends on what you know,” Jareth replied as he took the final chair, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and fingers steepled.
Rolling her eyes, Sarah replied, “Well, yes, I figured that was coming.” She took a breath. “It all came out in a garbled mess but I could cipher some of the reoccurring complaints.” Jareth nodded; Sarah continued. “Apparently Jareth gave them some sort of ultimatum that they didn’t exactly take a liking to. That’s where some of this started, at least. Care to expand? They mentioned they wanted to get back to some of the ‘old ways,’ whatever that means.”
Sarah caught Jareth and Marek sharing a glance and chose to wait to say any more.
Marek was the first to speak. “I do remember this group,” he said with some wonderment.
Jareth sat back slightly. “Sarah, how would you describe the Labyrinth in its current state?” She raised an eyebrow and Jareth beat her to her question, “This will have some relevance.”
Shaking her head, Sarah thought about it. “Always changing, tricky, surprising, frustrating when turned around, not a piece of cake if not impossible…”
“A little dark?” Marek prompted.
“Yeah, there is a bit of a dark shadow there. Nothing like here, though.”
“Nothing like here now, yes,” Jareth agreed.
“But not everyone may find Firey dismemberment amusing,” Marek deadpanned.
“Sarah,” Jareth explained, “part of the reason the Labyrinth has had such a good record lies in the fact that there were some denizens who believed that tearing any runner to shreds was the most effective way to stop them. Back to the days of the Minotaur. Times have since changed.”
Sarah nodded, trying to allow herself to process all of what history now implied. “They have some general complaints of maltreatment but I think that comes from everybody.” Frowning, Sarah added, “That’s the part that confuses me. Why they’re choosing to stay if we—I’m assuming you’re on my side, at least—are offering them something at least not so bad. The whispered something about promises several times over but wouldn’t explain that any more than Ludo can do Shakespeare. They even mentioned the prophesy, once. Trying to tell me that I shouldn’t expect them to bow down because of it.”
“Interesting,” Jareth said cryptically.
“Is there anything you can add to all that?” Sarah prompted.
“In the past, we have offered them a way back. They offered no reason for refusing.” Jareth rose from his chair. “This is going to take some thought.”
“Tell me I don’t have to do any more of that today, please.”
Jareth grinned and Sarah immediately added, “That was not your cue to say something smart.”
“With an invitation like that, Sarah? That’s not fair.”
“Oh, don’t you even start that,” Sarah warned.
Jareth didn’t seem to feel threatened, just grinning all the wider.
Marek started laughing again. “As much as I hate to leave the show, I believe that you’ll be wanting to see if it’s possible to be surreptitious about borrowing a copy of the prophesies.” He left before either could say anything.
“That sounded like an excuse to me,” Sarah commented.
“What, you could just magic a copy of it anyway, right?”
“Not exactly.”
“Well, regardless, I think he wanted to let us be alone.”
“Now why would he want to do that?” Jareth purred next to ear.
Sarah shivered lightly. Still, she laughed and shook her head, ignoring the fact that her throat was momentarily too small to swallow properly.
Sarah also saw Marek’s jacket stretched over the chair he had just vacated. “Perhaps I should ask him. He forgot his jacket anyway. When I come back, we can devise other ways to torture him.”
Jareth had an odd expression on his face, and somewhere in the back of Sarah’s mind she realized she was running away. Sarah wasn’t sure why her immediate reaction was to run, but in the back of her mind she knew it wouldn’t help matters. There were some leaps she had to resign herself to taking.
With a small smile, Sarah rested her hand on Jareth’s cheek, kissing the other. “I won’t be long.”
He looked like he might have said something but Sarah took the jacket and ran to catch up with Marek. Sarah’s mind was buzzing mildly, vaguely wondering if perhaps she had been too bold…but really, she justified to herself, he was already her husband so she never had to worry much about being too bold. Laughing to herself, Sarah still had to wonder about him, considering she couldn’t solidify exactly what she was feeling either. There was eternity to figure it out, right?
It came to Sarah’s attention that she didn’t know which way Marek had gone. Picking a direction, Sarah started wandering, taking one last glance at her own room in hopes that she’d be able to find her way back as quickly as she had promised.
“You really shouldn’t wander around these hallways by yourself, Sarah,” a voice said behind her after she’d turned a third corner.
“Marek, I was just trying to find y—” Sarah turned and saw that in fact it wasn’t Marek. “Oh,” she said, not sure what else to say.
Orion smiled. “Alone at last, eh, Sarah?”
Sarah took a step back.
Orion held up his hands disarmingly. “Calm down, calm down. Can I point you in the right direction?”
“I was looking for the library.”
“Ah, that’s a tricky room to find. Perhaps the rooms don’t switch positions here like back in the Labyrinth, but it’s still difficult. I could try to describe it to you, but I fear it would make matters worse.”
“Try it, anyway, please. I don’t want to trouble you,” Sarah answered as tactfully as possible.
“Oh, it’s no trouble at all. Please, allow me to escort you.”
Seeing as this was certainly not a good idea in Sarah’s opinion, she insisted, “No, that’s alright. I’ll just head back to my room.”
“It’s not far,” he pressed, taking her arm with a little too much force. “I would very much like to speak with you for a moment.”
Sarah allowed herself to be steered; subtly snaking one arm up to hold a firm grasp on the necklace Jareth had given her.
He wasn’t lying about the distance at least. They were soon both inside the library and seemed to be alone. Sarah kept to her side of the room as Orion leaned on one of the tall chairs that didn’t look comfortable so much as stiff.
“What do you need to say, then, Orion?” Sarah prompted, still fingering the necklace.
“You don’t know all you’re stepping into, Sarah.”
Sarah snorted before she could stop herself. “Anything specifically?”
Orion’s expression darkened. “I think you know what I mean.”
Sarah raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to elaborate.
“Leave the goblins alone, Sarah. It’s best for everyone.”
“Yes,” Orion half-snarled.
Sarah took a moment to assess her situation: she was being bossed around (which she didn’t care for), it was a vampire (which made her nervous), he was angry (which made her wary), he’d crossed lines before (which made her doubly wary and a little more angry), she was alone in a room with him (generally not good). Best to be as diplomatic as possible before getting the hell out of there.
“I’ll consider it, Orion,” she answered, trying her best to act toward her conclusion. She started for the door.
He was in front of her in an instant. “Oh, no, you’ll do more than that.”
“If you have anything more to say, say it now. Otherwise I’m leaving,” Sarah declared, wrapping her fingers around her necklace once more.
He took her other hand and rubbed his thumbs on the back of it in small, overlapping circles.
“What’s your hurry?” he asked quietly.
Sarah took her hand back. “My husband is expecting me.”
“I thought I’ve made it clear that it doesn’t bother me.”
“And I’ve tried to make it clear that I’m not interested in you.”
He laughed then. It was not a pleasant sound. “Seriously, Orion, I have to get back. Jar—”
“No, let me clarify, Sarah,” he interrupted with a wicked smile. He seized her arm, further up, examining it with a lazy gaze. “Glad to see you managed to rid yourself of the velvet, however…”
Certain that she didn’t want to hear what he’d add next, Sarah wrenched her arm free and with a burst of magic flung him across the room. Turning to yank open the door, it was closed by Orion’s strong hand. How he did it Sarah wasn’t sure, but he then shoved her away from the door and she tripped over the leg of a chair.
Momentarily stunned, Sarah noted when she rolled over that the ceiling had several cobwebs and looked scorched in several places. Her brain kicked back in when Orion straddled her and held her arms on either side of her head. Then she began to struggle in panic, effectively kneeing him.
He groaned and pitched forward halfway, but then he started laughing again.
“You can keep struggling, if you’d like, Sarah. But the thing is, I don’t care.”
Sarah kneed him again and Orion decided to alter his position, still using most of his body to pin hers down.
“I don’t care that you don’t like me, Sarah. You’re a link to Jareth’s power and if my hunch is right…well, it could be very simple and quite exciting to diminish it considerably.” He kissed her collarbone and Sarah froze momentarily.
“It’s all down to you, Sarah. And your compliance is not necessary.”
It made sense in a sick way why he never used much glamour on Sarah. She could see in his cold eyes that he really didn’t care.
Sarah’s brain found focus again. Concentrating and channeling some of the magic she and Jareth shared, she wrenched her arm away and punched Orion solidly on the cheek, subconsciously grimacing as she felt the bone give a little more than it should have. Howling in surprise and pain, Orion glared at Sarah as she struggled for her feet. Orion knocked her down again, blood already pooling under his skin.
“Oh, I’m going to make you pay for that one, Sarah.”
He tried to get a hold on her wrists again, but Sarah already had both hands wrapped around her necklace. Before Orion could stop her, she screamed, “Jareth!”
Sarah might have called her husband’s name again, but Orion’s fist hit the side of her face. Her lip split and bleeding, she tried to spit out the blood as the sickly taste filled her senses. He took one arm and pinned her down and held her head to the side with the other.
“You have far too much energy, Sarah,” Orion chastised. “Let me help you with that.” He leaned toward her exposed neck.
Orion’s weight was suddenly lifted off of her. Jareth had his hand wrapped around Orion’s throat, his fingernails already cutting little crescents in a row in Orion’s skin. The vampire was clawing and scraping at Jareth’s arm; even when he tried to turn into a bat Jareth held him in an iron grip.
“I have been patient with you before, Orion, but this in inexcusable,” Jareth said in a truly vicious voice. He began to form a spell in his other hand. “She is my wife.” He pressed the crystal to Orion’s head and he began to scream.
The door slammed against the wall as Marek and Ack entered.
“Your Highness,” Ack said calmly, “you cannot kill the prince. Not here.”
Marek seemed too stunned to do anything but stand there, particularly when Jareth shifted his glare from Orion to Ack. Orion was still twitching and yelping at something unseen by the rest. He recovered himself enough to add, “He’s right, Jareth.”
“I will see to him, of that you can be sure,” Ack snarled at Orion. “You need to take care of Sarah now.”
Jareth’s gaze shifted, the blind fury ebbing but the resolution still in the air.
“See to Sarah, Jareth,” Ack repeated again, seizing one of Orion’s flailing arms with one claw and resting the other on Jareth’s arm as a silent entreaty.
Jareth released his grip and allowed the spell to dissolve. Orion crumpled except for the arm that Ack held, dangling like a wounded marionette.
Ack left the room silently, dragging Orion behind him, the vampire somewhere between dazed, sullen, and terrified.
Jareth knelt down in front of Sarah and scooped her into his arms without saying a word, pulling her as gently and as close as possible. Sarah clung to his lapels and cried into his chest, staining his shirt with blood and diluting it with her tears. His arms tightened around her body as she cried. After glancing at Marek who was standing stupidly, still trying to come to terms with what he’d seen, Jareth transported himself and Sarah to the privacy of their room.

Whether it was because it was the right thing to do or because he really didn’t know what else to do, Jareth said nothing as Sarah continued to curl to his chest and cry. He rested his cheek on the top of her head, having taken a seat on the bed, and rocked slightly. As Sarah’s tears slowed to long, shaky breaths, Jareth murmured a few quiet words of encouragement. He leaned back so as to get a better look at her as she glanced up at him, eyes slightly puffy and the cut on her lip still angry and red. Thankfully, there was no mark on her throat to match.
“Oh, Sarah. Why didn’t you call for me sooner?” Jareth asked, using two fingers to lift her chin and better survey the damage.
Sarah pulled away, ashamed. “I tried.”
Jareth gently reverted her gaze with his fingertips. “I started looking for you as soon as I felt the draw on the magic. I only knew where you were when I heard your scream echo inside my head. Please, don’t do that again.”
She turned away again, feeling herself flush. Jareth took her face in both hands and held it until Sarah met his eyes.
“Never be afraid to look at me, Sarah. And please never allow yourself into that kind of position ever again.” There was a strange look in his face as he said it, almost a softness within some of the sharp angles of his jaw and cheekbones. And as for what he was saying, well, Sarah was trying to process it as fast as she could, her brain temporarily on overload. The way he had said “Please don’t do that again,” hadn’t been a patronizing note like chastising a toddler who had made a mess of the kitchen; no, he certainly implied more than asking Sarah to use her inside voice. He ran a thumb down her lips and Sarah registered the slight tingling as he healed the split. Sarah leaned into his left hand, raising her hands to hold his other in place and hitching a small sob. Sometimes, Sarah was certain that she knew exactly how she felt about this man.
With a small smile, Jareth kissed her forehead. Tears began to fill Sarah’s eyes again, to her frustration. Her emotions were easily on overload along with her brain and there wasn’t much to do about it at this point. Anger, fear, relief, confusion, frustration, gratitude, affection, it was all building up. Sarah retreated back to her position against Jareth’s chest, his arms coming to wrap around her again and chuckling deep in his throat when she snuggled against him. The room fell quiet again. Jareth glanced over at the fire place and soon a gentle crackling filled the gaps of silence. Despite the cheery blaze, the room didn’t lose its eldritch cast. Sarah uncurled her arms and wrapped them around Jareth’s middle, taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly.
“It’s been a long day,” she mumbled against Jareth’s open collar.
“You cause so much trouble, Sarah. It’s a wonder I keep you around.”
Sarah snorted. “You could still send that bus after me, you know. If you pick a double-decker bus in London, my family could talk about the Underground without having to make up a new story each time.”
“I trust there’s an explanation for that?”
Sarah just laughed and soon found that she couldn’t stop. It wasn’t even that funny, but it was better than crying. Eventually, Jareth laughed, too.
“You are a strange creature, my dear.”
“That’s a bit rich coming from you, Jareth.”
Sarah could feel his smile, his cheek still resting on top of her head. “Perhaps. We do make quite a pair.”
A voice rang through the room. “Sarah? Are you there? When did you say we could call again?”
Sarah untangled an arm and conjured a crystal. “Toby, there’s no need to yell.”
“Sarah! Have you met the dragons yet?”
“Toby,” Sarah’s father admonished, allowing the rest of what he would have said to an implied silence.
“Sorry,” Toby mumbled, not seeming particularly sorry all the same, “How’s it going, Sarah?”
“I’m okay. Actually, this really isn’t a good time, Toby.”
Judging by the glance they shared, Sarah could tell that her parents had already assessed her tearstains. She managed a small smile. “I’ll call you guys tomorrow. Hopefully some of this will clear up by then.”
“You’re sure you’re alright, Sarah?” her father asked.
“I will be, Dad. I’ll talk to you soon.” Sarah waved the crystal away. Jareth’s hand had moved to her hair, Sarah’s skin tingling wherever his fingertips momentarily lingered.
“I would have thought you’d appreciate the comfort of talking to your family,” he mentioned offhandedly.
“You’re doing a pretty good job,” Sarah replied with a slight blush, finding his fingertips slightly distracting. “Plus, they really wouldn’t understand, at least not without a little bit of work keeping them rational enough to listen.”
“No, I wouldn’t imagine so. Skillets might make another storming appearance.”
“I’m pretty sure that was especially for you, Jareth. Orion would get garlic and a stake through the heart.”
“Most of the necessary tools at hand, at any rate.”
Jareth’s fingers had found Sarah’s neck and she shivered slightly as it ran down her back in a solid flush.
“He was after you anyway. I was just a convenient means,” Sarah murmured against the column of his throat.
Jareth nodded slightly. “I see. And you certainly gave him more than he was expecting. Looked like you broke his cheekbone to me.”
“Yeah, a little bit of magical help went a long way, I think.”
Jareth rested his temple to the top of her head. “You’re safe so I’d say it went far enough.”
Sarah took another deep, shuddering breath, allowing herself to relax a little more. “I never did thank you for saving me. If I had to be stuck in such a ridiculous situation, I’m actually glad that it’s you with me. I never would have considered it about a month ago, before things started getting weird with the dreams and all, but I’m still glad it’s you.”
She raised her head, turned and kissed the corner of his mouth. He responded with a kiss in turn, until Sarah found herself quite breathless.
“You’re welcome.” Then he kissed her again. Sarah hadn’t thought any further than that but the situation was quickly out of her mind’s control. Now, Sarah was thinking through flashing sensations. A delicious pang here, a rough tickle there. Sitting on top of Jareth’s lap, she was soon quite reminded that he was indeed very male. Though Jareth wasn’t wearing his usual style shirt (still sporting his regency garb though with the collar open to expose his clavicle), Sarah still managed to work her hands to the warm, smooth skin of his chest. Jareth’s kiss deepened and he rolled sharply, half pinning Sarah beneath him, running his hands along the material of her dress and simultaneously moving to her jaw line. Moaning softly before she could stop herself, Jareth quite suddenly broke away, resting his forehead on hers.
“Is this really what you want, Sarah?” he breathed, taking her lips once more with his as she caught his bottom lip between her teeth gently. He pulled back again and waited for her answer.
Her body was giving her the go-ahead, with an emphatic, uh yes, but her brain chose an untimely moment to kick back in, effectively causing Sarah to visibly hesitate.
Jareth sighed and dropped his head, his hair tickling Sarah’s exposed skin. “Not if you’re just seeking comfort, Sarah. Not this time.” He kissed her one more time, a possessive promise of the future, before standing up. Sarah propped herself up on one elbow and watched as he turned into an owl before jumping out the window.
She flopped back down, feeling vaguely rejected. Somewhere in her mind, she realized with a blip of surprise that he was doing the gentlemanly thing.
Damn it.
Sitting up quickly, Sarah decided she needed a shower. A nice, long (possibly cold) shower. Still, her mind was free to wander and had plenty of fodder; it had been quite an eventful day:
Acknowledging quite readily that herself and her husband had fantastic chemistry, wondering what was with the dark goblins, a fantasy or two involving the very shower she currently inhabited, righteous anger toward Orion, what Jareth was capable of in that kind of anger, what Jareth was capable of, whatever had happened to Orion under Ack’s watch, since killing the prince was taboo whether or not she could get away with castrating him, how was she supposed to act toward Orion’s parents after that, would her public face with Jareth turn awkward, how much was Marek going to tease them, what happened to Marek anyway, did she really have to follow through with the goblins after that, would a headache get her out of the meetings as it would have Elizabeth Bennet, but above all else, how did she get herself into this mess?
When she was ready to wish Toby over and mean it this time, Sarah stepped out of the shower and laughed at herself. Despite it all, Sarah thought she was taking everything remarkably well. What she needed now was some distance, if she was going to see anything clearly. However, in light of recent events, Sarah thought it wise not to leave the room. She conjured herself a book (which wasn’t quite as she had once remembered it) and curled up in a chair. With the emotional and physical drain of the day, Sarah quickly fell asleep though not soundly. The next thing Sarah remembered was sleepily acknowledging that the arms carrying her felt like her husband’s and they had his scent, too, as Jareth magically changed her into some pajamas and set her underneath the covers.
Sarah didn’t need to ask Jareth to hold her as she slept that night.
Sure enough, the next morning Sarah found herself quite uncertain as to what was, well, allowed. However, this did leave the door open for experimenting since she didn’t necessarily know what sort of reactions she might meet. Kissing his exposed collarbone, Sarah slowly ventured along Jareth’s neck, a spot she was growing quite fond of, to end just shy of his lips which were curved into a smile.
“Good morning to you, too,” he whispered in a low voice. He pulled her closer and kissed her in a way that left Sarah unable to think straight, other than she doubted she would tire of such affections any time soon.
“I have a few things to discuss with the dragons,” Jareth informed her as he touched her cheek and untangled himself from the bedclothes. “I’ll be back in an hour or so, perhaps less if you would like to talk?”
“I think that would be a good idea.” One way or the other, Sarah finished in her mind.
“Then I shall hurry back.”
Sarah smiled, and Jareth returned it before magically changing his clothes—back to the usual dress code for now—and exiting the room. Admittedly, Sarah hadn’t known Jareth much before the whole situation, but there was definitely a change in his behavior or perhaps it really had been there all along. While Sarah had her hopes, it would be best that they had an honest discussion instead of more guessing games.
Karen’s voice interrupted Sarah’s quiet cogitation. “Sarah Williams! Or whatever your last name might be now!”
It was a legitimate question, one Sarah wasn’t certain of herself. Another question for Jareth later. “Good morning,” Sarah replied to a newly conjured crystal revealing her stepmother’s stern and searching gaze.
“Your brother’s at school and your father’s out and about. It’s time for a girl talk and some answers.”
Sarah groaned. “Somehow I thought there’d be trouble.”
“Let’s hear it.”
Sarah sighed. “Not to mince words, here’s the short version: long day yesterday, I stuck up for the dark goblins, they want my help but they don’t want me, threatened by a vampire, almost raped by vampire, fought against the vampire, ultimately saved by Jareth, nearly slept with Jareth or at least we were heading that way.”
Karen blinked.
“I know, I know, you’re trying to surmise which questions you should ask first, right?”
“Something like that.”
“Take your time,” Sarah invited.
After a moment’s processing, Karen spoke again. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. I ended out better than Orion—that’s the vampire—did, especially when Jareth got in there and did…something. Not an experience that I’d particularly care to repeat, but it could have been a lot worse. Still a little shaky, though, I guess.”
“As for the next part, I guess I was right when I said girl talk.”
Sarah felt her face flush. “Yeah, guess so.”
“So how’re you doing emotionally? The goblins sound like just some further frustration, but what about the new developments with Jareth?”
“You remember everything I told you just after the wedding? When I talked to you through the mirror?”
Karen nodded.
“And all the extenuating circumstances surrounding the consummation of my marriage?”
“Yes, bits about a prophesy and all.”
“Not ‘a’ prophesy, ‘the’ prophesy, apparently. Well, Orion was trying to get to Jareth’s power by raping me, still don’t really want to think about that one.”
“What happened to make it ‘nearly’ instead?”
“He stopped.”
“Did he say anything?”
“He said not this time if I was only seeking comfort.”
Karen nodded slowly. “What do you make of that, Sarah?”
“He didn’t want to take advantage of the situation or make the day any worse if it turned out I was going to regret it later and all that.”
“There are two possibilities that occur to me, Sarah,” Karen confided. “That’s the first, that he’s being a gentleman. The other is inherently more complicated.”
Sarah was all ears. Karen had a natural talent for interpreting the actions of others when given the context and specifics—the more information, the more accurate she hit.
“If this prophesy mess is as complicated as it seems and I’m sure Jareth’s character is as complicated as well, then perhaps he had some selfish motivations, too.”
“Not in a terrible way, Sarah. Here’s the theory and remember it’s just a theory: if you slept with Jareth, he’d have his power in full, right?”
“Meaning that you would be less of a target.”
Sarah blinked. “Yes, I suppose that’s true.”
“So he was willing to sacrifice some of your further safety and his, meaning that he was either confident in his abilities or staff or however that works to continue to protect the two of you despite this new attack or that he really wanted the first time with his wife to have more meaning behind it than you were solely looking for some consolation or only because you were aiming for protection.
“Personally, Sarah, I think that it’s a mix of everything.”
Sarah rubbed her forehead. “There are so many things to consider and it just keeps building.”
Karen wore a sympathetic smile. “Do you need to talk through this whole Jareth situation?”
Sarah smiled back. “Yes, but not now. I’ll take you up on that some other time. Soon.”
“What about the everything else? I take it not as daunting if we save Jareth for another day?”
Laughing, Sarah agreed and allowed herself to work through the mess she had currently launched herself into. Karen, Sarah had discovered in high school, was a great sounding block, asking the right questions and helping Sarah to form her own conclusions through subtly directing the conversation.
“I wish I could give you a hug,” Karen lamented.
“If I win a bet, you guys can come for a visit one of these days.”
“And he’ll be alright with that?”
“Just leave the skillet at home. Really, I know the whole situation started off badly—”
“That’s one way of putting it.”
“— but it’s really not terrible. I mean, I could have done a lot worse. He’s a total imp but in an endearing sort of way.”
“I thought you didn’t want to talk about Jareth,” Karen pointed out with a grin.
“I’m still reeling from everything this past while here. Cut me some slack.”
“Just this once, I suppose. I can be gracious.”
“At this point, I’ll take whatever help anyone’s willing to give.”
“You’ll find a way to make it through this, Sarah. With some time and a little perseverance.”
Sarah smiled her gratitude and allowed the crystal to delicately pop in her hands.
Marek was knocking his particular pattern on the door. It had already been a busy morning, Sarah acknowledged with a light chuckle. He poked his head in on Sarah’s invitation.
“Is Jareth here?”
“Not right now, Marek. He said something about meeting with the dragons.”
Marek entered fully into the room, wearing a deep grin jacket instead of the brilliant red of the officer’s uniform. She was about to comment that she was glad he still preferred the style, but he seemed quite preoccupied.
“What’s up, Marek?”
“Pardon? Up?”
Sarah took pity on him. “Basically, what’s wrong, Marek?”
The confusion did not entirely leave Marek’s face as his brows knitted slightly closer together. “I haven’t seen Jareth display that kind of public emotion perhaps ever. As his friend and advisor, I wanted to make sure he was alright. Ah, what’s wrong with me? How are you, Sarah?”
“I’m perfectly fine if still a little shaken.”
Sarah watched Marek skeptically as he fidgeted enough to confirm her hunch that he was still on edge.
“What happened after we left, Marek?”
“Oh, just some cleaning up.”
Sarah knew she had to ask the next question but her throat still clenched as she summoned the words. “What did they do with Orion?”
He raised his eyes to meet Sarah’s for the first time since he entered the room. “I had to check in on him, too, yes. Apparently Ack thought the best punishment was to continue what Jareth had started.” He made a small laugh in the back of his throat before wandering toward the window. “I haven’t seen Jareth do that in years, decades. It was one of the things he swore off. We all swore it off. That he would do it opens the door for all sorts of trouble. The dark goblins will see him as hypocritical, some of the other leaders will see it as a mark of weakness and others will see it as a mark of strength but they’ll both recognize that he broke his word, no matter the circumstances behind it and disregarding that there was nothing binding then and—”
“Marek! Calm down,” Sarah ordered, standing in front of him and laying her hand on one of his shoulders. He had picked up speed as he slowly slipped into full rant, and Sarah easily identified that this was the source to some of his tension.
“What did he do to Orion?”
Marek hesitated, clenching his jaw with a small click of his teeth.
“You can trust me, Marek. And it seems you really need to get this off your chest.”
“Sarah, I—”
“On top of that, I also happen to be your queen,” she added with a crooked smile.
Marek exhaled with a half smile of his own. “You’re right, Sarah. I’m sorry.”
“Yes, off with your head and all that. It’s okay. Now tell me what’s on your mind, if you would.”
Though Marek seemed slightly disturbed with the flippant way she condemned him to death, he collected himself well enough after recognizing the joke.
“Well, Sarah, I made it back to the room, and Jareth asked if I’d seen you. After I told him I had not, he quickly decided that we should look for you. We ran into Ack in the hallway; he said he was on his way to speak with you. Then Jareth stopped walking quite suddenly, said you were in trouble and marched off while Ack and I ran after. Then he grabbed his head, glared in one direction, and disappeared. You know how hard it is to follow someone who disappears? See this was enough for me to be officially concerned…or panicked if you will.
“The spell that Jareth put on Orion, that was a nightmare spell. When Ack resumed its potency, Orion gnawed off two of his fingers as a result of whatever illusion he saw. With this spell, you don’t just see everything that scares you the most, it’s there.”
Sarah swallowed. “I see.”
“I can bet that Jareth wanted to use that spell on Orion the first time he was told to back off, but he knew better. I can’t immediately think of a good example of when Jareth lost his head like this. Probably never. All the delicate ramifications, not to mention a few highly agitated vampires.”
“And I’m sure there are more issues within all the lovely politics that would take hours to explain?”
“Pretty much.”
“Best that you not try, then, Marek. I get the jist of it.”
Marek nodded, allowing himself to deflate somewhat.
“However, if you still need to rant…” Sarah trailed off with a smirk.
“No, no. It’s quite alright. But I should be happy to return the favor at any time.”
Sarah shook her head. “Not at the moment, thanks. As a firm believer in comfort food, I think what we need now is some chocolate.”
“It just makes everything a little better, Marek. Trust me. And then I believe I’m going to need some time to think.”
Marek held up his hands. “I understand, don’t worry. But with such an introduction, I should very much like to try this chocolate.”
“I’m just going to try conjuring one piece at a time, make sure I do it right.”
She did, though naturally she had to test it first before handing it to Marek, testing it again just to be sure as he laughed. Then Sarah suddenly felt very lightheaded, followed by a flux of the distasteful sensation she recognized as the taint of the darker lands.
“Something’s wrong, Marek,” Sarah said, shaking her head in an effort to rid herself of the sickening awareness.
“What is it?” Marek asked through a large bite that left melted marks in the corners of his mouth.
By way of response, Sarah attempted to conjure a crystal. “Marek, the magic’s gone. I can’t feel it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes and if I can’t get to it…” They shared his magic and he wouldn’t just cut her off in a place like this without some explanation…okay, without some protection. Sarah’s eyes widened.
“We’ve got to find him, Marek. Make sure he’s alright.”
To Sarah’s surprise, Marek did not seem particularly upset. “Sarah, I doubt it’s anything to worry about…”
“Just come with me and help me find Jareth. He could be in trouble.”

Thankfully, Jareth was not exactly in dire jeopardy. Not even in a lot of trouble, really. In a matter of speaking, anyway. Marek had tried to explain as Sarah marched down the hallways (toward the great courtyard where she'd seen the dragons lounging before) that he truly found it unlikely that Jareth would be in any real danger. However, Sarah was not entirely comforted by his assertions, fully tired of just one more thing on top of all else and the sudden flood of the taint—ever so slightly and building—altering her thoughts, mood, and intent more than she would like to admit.
Jareth was on the ground, the dragons peering over at him with their heads cocked in concern. Dutifully, Sarah rushed to his side, checking for damage.
"What happened?"
The dragons gave her the equivalent of a shrug. "He tried to block part of his mind. Perhaps the strain."
Sarah frowned, but returned her attention to her prone husband. Thankfully, he stirred. As relief fused into Sarah's bones and she fought to keep herself from visibly sagging, she also noted that the invisible barrier between herself and the dark taint was steadily restoring itself; however, this now seemed to keep in all that had entered when her walls were down.
"Jareth, are you alright?" Sarah asked, running a hand along his cheek.
Once Jareth opened his eyes and ascertained his position, he immediately moved to right himself. Marek was speaking with the dragons so, taking advantage of their distraction, Sarah took a hand and shoved him back down.
"Oh, no you don't," she instructed in a sharp whisper. "If you stand up too quickly, you'll end up right back on the floor, one way or the other, trust me." He responded with a scowl though the pull at the corner of his mouth turned it into an annoyed but indulging smirk. He crossed his legs and placed his hands behind his head. Shaking her head, Sarah laid down next to him and copied his pose.
Sarah turned her head away from the grey sky filled with greyer clouds. "Now it's not just you, happy?"
Jareth smiled. "Yes, this is much better."
"We could go to the next meeting as hippies, but I don't think that would go over well at all."
Jareth gave a small laugh and they continued to stare at the sky. Some creature with webbed wings zipped overhead.
"What happened?"
"Long story," he replied.
"Don't care," Sarah assured him. "And I doubt that it's just low blood pressure."
"Call it retaliation."
"From what?"
"You think all that happens at these gatherings is talking? That's partly why Marek is here, to help facilitate some of what needs to be done. I have a certain reputation for a reason, Sarah, besides my verbal eloquence."
"What have you been up to?"
Jareth smiled again. "Lots of mischief."
Sarah sighed, noting that Marek was still talking to the dragons. "I don't know how much more of this I can take, Jareth. Leaving home, getting to know you, dealing with this whole taint thing, getting used to magic and the idea of ruling, the whole Orion thing…I—I feel like I'm going to snap."
He extricated a hand and held it in front of Sarah, two gloved fingers extended and two not, the thumb and the middle finger meeting. His leather gloves made the sound more of a thwip than a snap.
"Har, har. I mean it, Jareth."
"The Labyrinth, and the Prophesies for that matter, chose you, Sarah. And with each twist, I am reminded why."
"It's not just because I put up with you?"
He raised an eyebrow as if to say, "Me? What about you?"
"I'm interested to hear what these reasons are, but now those clouds look like rain and I wouldn't be surprised, especially in this courtyard, if it was acidic or something."
"Actually, it's—"
"No, not unless you're going to say 'quite refreshing.'" Sarah stood up and offered a hand to Jareth. "You're allowed to move now. Let's think of some way to make a grand entrance."
Jareth took her hand and pulled her back down. Sarah yelped and Jareth laughed as he caught her. "We can be late if we're going to plan a grand entrance," he assured.
Chuckling, Sarah squirmed out of his hold and lay so that her head rested on his lower chest, one of his arms still stretched over her stomach. All in all, she was quite comfortable. "I think I could stay here a little while longer," she quipped. "Do they ever take mental health days in the Underground?" Then she cringed. "Don't you dare say anything sarcastic to that."
"Would I do any such thing?"
Sarah swatted his arm.
Marek's face hovered over them. "Comfy?"
"Sure," Sarah replied with a shrug. Jareth just chuckled, causing Sarah's head to bounce slightly with the movement of his diaphragm and some giggles of her own.
"Much as I hate to spoil something sickeningly cute…"
"Cute?" Jareth interjected.
"Apparently," Sarah consented. "Who would have thought?"
"I am not cute," he assured her.
"Well, it seems we are."
"Exactly," Marek agreed. "Now stop it."
He walked off, shaking his head while Sarah laughed openly and Jareth grinned.
Jareth assisted Sarah to her feet and began to escort her back to their room. "What can we do, then, Sarah, to see that you do not snap?"
"Good question. No idea."
"None whatsoever?"
"Could you stop time for a few days?" Sarah asked hopefully.
"Now, Sarah, some of the creatures here would be sensitive to that much magic. I'm afraid not."
"An afternoon?"
"More doable, yes, but if you're willing to let time go on without you, then I'd say that is all the more likely."
"You mean I could just skip?"
"No, probably not."
Sarah swatted his arm. "Well, what would be reason enough?"
"Something real. Directly lying is distasteful, mixes poorly with magic."
Fixing him with another glare, Sarah pushed open the door to their room. "You're not giving me much to work with, Jareth."
He began to list, counting down with his fingers: "In ascending order, immediate health—sorry, stress will not win you any favors with the others—danger to alliances, danger to family, and attacks on the kingdom."
"Why do you put up with them anyway? Unless most of them gang up against you while you're asleep or something, I don't think they'd really be a problem. I mean, the Labyrinth is kind of essential and even if they think they could run it better, they still have to change its loyalties."
Jareth laughed. "You've been thinking about this for a little while. Do you really want to leave that badly?"
Sarah grinned ruefully. "Perhaps. Still, the Labyrinth, from what I can tell is pretty attached to us."
"That it is, Sarah," Jareth agreed. "And it would certainly fight in its own way."
"That doesn't answer my question though. Why do you put up with all this pomp?"
Jareth smiled in a way Sarah wasn't quite sure she would like if that maliciousness was purely directed at her. "It's the game, Sarah."
She might have laughed if she didn't know that he meant it. She smiled and shook her head anyway. "I guess that's one way to pass eternity."
"Some years are more tedious than others."
"I'm sure that Marek would agree that you make your own entertainment."
Jareth regarded her for a moment. "There is certainly more to it than that, Sarah."
"I know. But I still doubt you pass up many opportunities for mischief. Still, you have to be careful lest you put up with someone's grudge for all of eternity."
"If I may say so, your confessed stress does nothing against your tendency for sarcasm."
Sarah flopped down on the bed, one arm dramatically across her face. "Well, that's a relief."
Jareth set himself down next to her, arm propping his head up as he surveyed her carefully.
"Are you sure you're alright, Jareth? I've seen you unconscious twice now."
"The first time was not my fault."
"I'm not sure which part of that to question first, arguing that it was your fault or the implication that this time it was your fault."
"The first time was not my fault," Jareth repeated with a smirk.
Sarah rolled her eyes. "What kinds of mischief have you been up to?"
"All kinds, of course."
"That doesn't surprise me, but what kind of messing with people are we dealing with?"
"Oh, mostly placing ideas in their heads, pushing them in different directions."
"That doesn't sound too bad."
Jareth smirked, not feeling a pressing need to elaborate on what a dream invasion, false memories, or a good old fashioned illusion could really do. "Sometimes the subtle approach is much more gratifying than tossing them out the window or a nasty curse, at least for these."
"And do they always retaliate like this?"
Jareth shrugged his free shoulder. "On occasion."
"Try to avoid the whole unconscious thing while we're here, please. I mean, that taint is overpowering without that shielding."
Jareth suddenly looked concerned. He grabbed one of Sarah's hands, scrutinizing her nails in particular.
"Jareth what are you—" She stopped when his gloved fingers traced along the tips of her teeth. She swatted his hand away. "Jareth, what are you doing?"
"Checking," he replied simply, pulling her left eyelid up (before she could push him away) and checking that as well before pulling back to his same position, the other hand close to his mouth as he appeared to be thinking. Jareth, Sarah figured, had better be able to read her expression that demanded elaboration, for his safety at any rate.
He apparently came to the same conclusion. "Sarah, the taint is enacting no physical changes. As long as that doesn't change, the rest we can deal with."
"Wait, are you saying this could have been a possibility?"
"There are lots of possibilities, Sarah, but few are likelihoods. No one could know for certain how the Underground would affect you."
Sarah sat up, crossing her arms and looking straight ahead. "Let's not go back to the 'Leave Sarah Completely in the Dark' thing, okay? I know there's a lot you're not telling me as it is. Give me a flashlight, here."
"Sarah…" Jareth stretched her name out.
"Ignorance is bliss and all that, Jareth, but I can't do anything useful if you won't trust me. I can't get to know you if you won't trust me. Don't push me around to strategic positions of their own personal vexation like you do the others in this world or you'll find yourself not only very alone but with one angry thorn in your side who can suggest things to impressionable goblins."
Jareth just laughed. "That's one of the reasons the Labyrinth chose you, Sarah."
"What, my imagination?"
"That's another, yes."
"Access to magic plus sheer frustration will not bode well for you, Jareth," she sighed. "Everyone says this whole communication thing is important. We need to work on some of that."
"We're speaking to each other, yes?"
She turned to face him. "Oh, stop it. You know what I mean."
He sobered. "Perhaps we can add this to our talk?"
Sarah froze and considered for a moment. "I'm a little tweaked right now, Jareth. I don't think it would be a good idea."
Jareth frowned for a moment but nodded. "Then we should consider a grand entrance."
Sarah flopped back down on the bed and laughed. "Are lasers allowed?"
The meeting started a good half hour late, some of the more skittish members of the Underground still twitching at every loud noise or small reflection of light for the remainder of the day. Sarah and Jareth mirrored each other's enigmatic yet smugly satisfied grins for a job well done. Perhaps they could write a musical number next time.

Due to the distracted nature of the majority of the council, a unanimous decision was brokered for an early lunch. Those whom Sarah and Jareth were not already on good terms with gave them a wide berth. It wasn't every day a mock battle for the stars took place so soon after breakfast. Joan had sniffed at Sarah, admonishing that she expected better from Sarah. Her heart wasn't in it, judging by the barely suppressed grin, and Sarah was certain that she blamed Jareth for the majority of the escapade. Which really wasn't fair. He'd come up with the theme, but the timing of the pyrotechnics was all Sarah's doing and, in her figuring, the most effective visual. Still, if she was going to win the bet, it would probably be best to blame Jareth, especially since it chalked up another affirmation of his reputation.
Of course, their display also took away from Orion's reappearance, to whose benefit this was, Sarah wasn't certain. Orion was spared some inquisitive stares, but so was Sarah spared some uncomfortable questions, polite "What could have happened?" from those hadn't already heard through the flow of gossip. Fabian and Anya watched Sarah with particular disdain as she mingled with those willing to speak with her.
"Sarah that was quite," Elizabeth hesitated, looking for the proper adjective, "interesting." Then her face split into a grin, allowing the side hidden under all-that-is-good-and-proper to glow for a moment or two. "Perhaps next time, you'll allow Mother and I in on the joke?"
"You sure you don't want to be part of it?" Sarah asked.
Elizabeth bit her lip. "I do not know if…"
"Of course we would, dear," Jan spoke for her. "Within reason of course."
"With the Monarchs of the Goblin Kingdom?" Marek asked incredulously. "Reason has little to do with it."
"Thanks, Marek. It's good to know where we stand," Sarah drawled, shaking her head. "If Jareth and I didn't like you so much, we might just have to toss you in the Bog."
Marek groaned. "Oh, don't you start that now."
"She is a fast learner, Marek," Jareth intoned, suddenly to Sarah's left. "And she would be in her rights to throw you there now, for your impertinence."
Marek groaned again. "Yes, your majesty," he agreed sullenly with only a hint of sarcasm. "I plead your forgiveness, my Queen."
Sarah laughed. "You are forgiven, Marek."
Jan took Sarah's elbow and pulled her couple inches closer. "The vampires have been watching you with particular acidity."
"Yeah, I was pretending not to notice."
"I won't pretend not to know why. Word travels fast in this group. I'm relieved to see you're alright. If you ever need to talk—"
"I'll let you know. I'm doing alright."
Jan nodded with a distinctly mother expression, the kind that say "Well, you say that now, but I know you'll need help later."
"Really, I'm okay right now. I talked to my mom and Jareth was there for me."
Jan's eyes flickered to the man in question as he was saying something to her daughter. "You two are getting on well, then? Your public front is one matter, but I can't claim to know how matters are alone."
"We're doing fine, really. Right now, everything's kind of stressful, but we're getting through it."
"Let's just hope this is as bad as it gets for a while, then," Jan murmured, suddenly stony-faced.
Sarah stifled a groan. "What's that mean?"
Jan hesitated and Sarah quickly realized that this was not a good sign. Jan was confident and in control and this apprehension did not sit well with her.
"Jan, is there something I should know?"
"There are several rumors, Sarah. Be careful."
Sarah was just about to ask for specifics when their attention was pulled back to another conversation: "Sarah, tell us, do you have other plans for unnecessary displays this afternoon, or will your husband be expected to invent them on his own?"
Turning to face a sneering elf, Sarah put on a large smile, ignored the jibe, and laid a hand on her necklace just in case. "You'll just have to wait and see. I would advise you to stay out of the second row, however, if it's likely to disturb you."
With an exaggerated sniff, the elf skulked off, nearly bumping into Orion. Orion had been wandering through the room with wide eyes, as though everything were new again, holding one finger in between his fangs and inadvertently displaying the two stumps where, Sarah recalled that Ack had reported, he had bitten off two of his own fingers. His skin, which had been pale before, looked like a half-soggy cracker, bits flaking old scabs and others with a sheen of some sort of ointment, all with a jaundice glean. Sarah straightened when he realized she'd been watching him, bringing his chin to his chest at an angle as if to present his left eye at a more obvious stare. He scrutinized her carefully, his lips curling into a slight snarl. Then he blinked and seemed highly confused once again.
There was a hand on Sarah's shoulder, long fingernails grazing her collarbone.
"Perhaps," a voice hissed into her ear, "You could better explain what happened to my son."
Pulling all her sensibilities together, Sarah took a breath and turned to face Fabian. "Perhaps he merely went insane. I cannot say for certain how politics work here, but it's enough to turn my head around." It wasn't exactly a lie and feigning ignorance seemed to placate the ruler of the darker lands to a small degree.
"I do not care what he did to you," his wife whispered in her other ear. "We will find a way to torture your thoughts."
Fingering the necklace in earnest, Sarah turned slightly to mutter back, "Jareth won't let you touch me."
Jareth was already turning around and excusing himself through a mass of people who hadn't been between them moments before, his eyes locked on Sarah.
"And," Sarah added, "What makes you think you could get away with trying?"
With a growl, Anya shot away just as Jareth made it to her side.
"Fabian, how is your son?"
"As well as can be expected, Jareth. You will excuse me." Fabian's cloak brushed their ankles as he strode off.
Sarah exhaled, the tension really not helping her earlier sensation of splintering.
"Are you alright?" Jareth asked, scrutinizing her eyes for evidence of any internal scaring.
"I'm okay. They were just threatening. Not that that's really a good thing either."
"Let's go back to the room."
"Good idea. Talk about another grand display on the way out, just to fuel a few more rumors."
Jareth smiled slightly and launched into the necessity of including sensory input for all the five senses while Sarah argued that sight and sound would probably be sufficient for everyone, a couple dark goblins scowling (but twitching preemptively) in their wake.
Despite the conversation they had in the hallway, Sarah and Jareth fell utterly quiet once the door closed behind them. Jareth turned to Sarah.
"Now, are you really alright?"
"Yes," Sarah replied instantly. But she couldn't stop her face from crumbling. "No," she admitted as tears started to leak down.
Jareth seemed at a loss but pulled her to his chest.
"I'm tired of crying, I'm tired of mis-stepping, I'm just tired," she confessed to his shoulder.
"I know, I know." Jareth sighed.
"I'm not even sure why I'm crying now," Sarah mumbled, taking a deep breath.
"The last few days have been rather trying."
Sarah let out a bitter laugh. "The last month has been rather trying. God, was that when this all started?" Some of the dreams, then Jareth's warnings, then whisked off to the Undergound thanks to Toby's wish for about a week, then the week after the wedding, and this messy week. All packed in like that, Sarah mused, perhaps she did know why she was upset, let alone the past few days.
Jareth chuckled deep in his throat. "I'm sure you'll get used to it eventually."

"Sarah, do you trust me?"
Surprised by Jareth's question, Sarah replied warily, "I thought you said complete trust in the Underground was inadvisable."
"As a general principle, yes, but you also said you couldn't live that way. Sarah, do you trust me?"
"If I didn't trust you by this point, Jareth, I probably wouldn't be here."
Jareth, with a sardonic grin, shook his head. "Then listen closely. Go back down the garden we were earlier. Look for a plant with a black berry and five leaves. Eat three of these berries."
"It'll help."

"Do plants work the same way here they do in the Aboveground?"
Jareth shrugged, which seemed to say more or less. Evidently he wasn't a botanist in the Aboveground. "Likely more so, but trust me, Sarah. I'll walk down with you, and we'll cut through the garden on our way back to the main room. Try to be as inconspicuous as possible."
Sarah nodded, still not sure what to do with Jareth's tone and otherwise trying to recall if the plant he described was something she recognized. Knowing the Underground, it was going to halt time or something without all the other nobles figuring it out. Why Jareth hadn't mentioned it earlier was a mystery to Sarah.
They started discussing whether or not bring the Goblin Orchestra along for the next grand display (judging by the cringing, they already had a reputation) as they walked into the hallway. Jareth would occasionally send her a sideways look and ask if she was okay. Sarah was confused but kept answering that she was fine. The garden, by the time they reached the courtyard, looked the same as it had earlier with the exception of several feet of more grass, considering the dragons were elsewhere. They walked by the bush that looked like Jareth had described, and Sarah snuck three berries into her palm.
"Not here," Jareth whispered next to her.
They reentered the system of hallways and walked once more into the throng of visiting nobles. Sarah wished she could justify setting off a firecracker just for the hilarity but decided that trick was best reserved for a much more pressing circumstance. Sarah was quickly wrapped into a conversation with Jan and Elizabeth.
"Sarah, you disappeared. Are you quite alright?" Jan asked.
"I'm fine, Jan."
"The room's already terrified of these…fire works?" the word foreign on Elizabeth's tongue. "Please, tell me what they are."
Sarah laughed and began a small explanation, Jareth breaking off when Joan prodded him with a question of her own, asking what sort of mischief Jareth would have Sarah get into. He grinned and assured her that all trouble-making was a mutual venture, sending a small wink Sarah's way when he caught her watching.
Jan or Elizabeth had not missed this small exchange, however, and Sarah could see how, by their small, taunting grins that she was probably going to find herself the victim of some well-meant (and highly embarrassing) prying. Sarah shook her head, mentally threatening to show them first-hand what a firework does instead of explaining it if they dared to mention anything.
Taking a couple small assorted pastries from the layout of food, Sarah ate the berries. They had a mild, sweet taste mixed with a bitterness that settled on her tongue in an odd way. Sarah waited for the spell to take effect, carrying on with her explanation in the meanwhile. She was attempting to explain the different colors and designs when her brain started to feel a little fuzzy.
"Sarah, are you alright?" Jan asked when Sarah stopped talking and stumbled.
In between short, shallow breaths, Sarah managed out, "I-I don't know. What's happening?"
Jan pulled back Sarah's eyelid. "Something's not right here."
"Is she having a vision?" Elizabeth wondered aloud.
Sarah's heart was going too fast and she couldn't pull in enough air. Weird colors in the air. Shapes falling in and out of focus.
"Sarah, look at me, Sarah," Jan ordered. "Elizabeth, fetch Jareth."
Sarah stumbled to her knees. "I don't think this is right."
An arm underneath her knees and another behind her back hoisted her up.
"Oh, it's you," Sarah mumbled into his collar. Her mouth felt quite dry all of a sudden. And there was something about fairies she had to tell him. She could vaguely hear Jareth say something before a moment of sharp focus.
"I will find who poisoned her," he growled to the room, the sound rumbling in a way that cast reverberations enough to make Sarah in her delusional state giggle at the tickling sensation. The rest of the room was silent as Jareth carried Sarah back to their room.
Out in the hallway, Jareth's frown broke into a small grin.
"That should get them talkin' or at least the large elephant in the room should," Sarah mumbled.
"The dragons might disapprove, Sarah, if you called them that to their faces."
"I'm really confused," Sarah admitted, her eyes still not focusing.
Jareth looked down, frowning again though not in the earlier forced vehemence. "It'll pass, Sarah."
"Why do I trust you?"
"Because I'm right and it wouldn't look well to so early be a widower because you fell into some sort of trap."
"Oh. Okay." Sarah's heart was still pounding in her ears, and for another terrifying moment she wasn't sure she could pull in enough air.
"Try to stay as calm as possible, Sarah. The worst will be over soon."
"Am I flying?"
"No, Sarah, I'm carrying you."
Pushing the door open with a wave of his hand, Sarah's eyes widened briefly. "You have automatic doors here."
"No. Just magic," Jareth assured her, showing remarkable patience for her delusion as he closed the doors behind them.
"Magic! I can do magic, too!"
"No, Sarah, don't—"
The room virtually erupted as books danced off the shelves and whooshed from one wall to the next and back again. A coat rack that hadn't previously been there began to tap dance. The bed began to sing "Banana-phone." Sarah was quite literally flying now, eyes dilated and her breath still coming in short bursts.
"Sarah, you have to stop this!" Jareth demanded over the cacophony.
"Sarah, you're just a little confused right now."
"I ate the berry just like you said. With something from the table."
Jareth's head jerked to attention. He reached up and tugging Sarah down by the forearms. "What did you eat it with?"
"Jareth, that hurts…" The books tumbled to the floor, and the bed stopped, pulling its sheets over the pillows as though it were covering giant, fluffy eyes.
"What did you eat it with?" Jareth repeated through gritted teeth, shaking her slightly.
"I don't know what's happening." Sarah blinked for a moment. "Bella Donna. That's what the plant was, Jareth. You told me to eat Deadly Nightshade."
Jareth sighed and dropped his head. "Yes, I did. And you would have had a feasible excuse for staying back this afternoon along with an interesting scandal. But until you tell me what you ate it with, I won't be able to help you. This could be much worse. You could be really poisoned instead of a minor affliction."
Sarah started to panic again. The books resumed flying until they were blurs of green, red, and brown. "You poisoned me," she accused.
"Sarah, calm down," Jareth soothed. "I can't help you if you don't tell me what mixed with it."
"You asked if I trusted you," Sarah snarled. "Perhaps I should not." Jareth found he could no longer hold on to her forearms, his fingers unclenching of their own regard. Then his fingers continued to bend back too far, tendons stretching and creaking in unnatural ways, tensing underneath his gloves. Sarah stepped away, resuming her position two feet off the floor. Another wave of her hand pushed Jareth in the direction of the wall, inching him there steadily.
"Sarah," Jareth strained, his teeth clenching as the pressure continued to increase on his splayed fingers, his arms pressed out further from his body. A book contacted to the side of his head with a solid thwack. Another thudded into his side, just under the ribs, and he grimaced, still held in place.
"Sarah," Jareth whispered, his eyes watering.
Sarah's head snapped down, and a flash of concern crossed her features. The wind generated by the flying books slowed as the books found themselves back on the shelf, the room just as it was. Sarah and Jareth flumped to the floor as their knees collapsed out from under them, Sarah's by an extra two feet.
Released from his hold, Jareth pulled his arms to his chest, testing and flexing his fingers. He curled his hands into fists, allowing the pressure on his tendons to relax. Clutching his side with one hand, he stood and stumbled toward Sarah. Sarah, grasped her upper arms, shaking slightly.
"I think it's the dark taint," she murmured.
"The dosage of Bella Donna you took should not do that," Jareth replied in some agreement.
"Everyone's body chemistry is different, Jareth."
"It was a terrible idea," Jareth agreed. "That's why I hadn't mentioned it before. It was just supposed to make you ill enough to escape back to the room for the afternoon. I didn't think it through, Sarah."
Sarah rubbed her forearms again. "You couldn't have told me what I was getting into?"
"Your reaction was essential."
Sarah snorted. "Didn't trust me, huh?"
"Not exactly." He stooped next to her and rubbed her arms where her hands hadn't already covered. "Are you alright?"
"Maybe." Sarah shrugged. "I'm still not happy with you right now."
Jareth inclined his head. "Understandable."
Sarah scanned his face, particularly where a small trickle of blood slowed as the cut above his eyebrow closed. "Are you okay?"
"I'll be fine."
Sarah sighed and started to pick herself up, Jareth offering his support. "I really just want to say it's all your fault."
Jareth chuckled. "The poison angle was always an option I'd considered as a means out, but magically induced symptoms are never quite as realistic."
"Speaking of which, I'm still feeling pretty lousy right now. Can't you fix it?"
Jareth's lips pursed. "I wouldn't want to risk it," he confessed after a moment.
"Risk what?" Sarah growled as he helped her into bed.
"I could lessen the symptoms of Bella Donna, however, if it was mixed with other substances or if it is just the dark taint, I'd worry about a more adverse reaction."
"Oh, now he thinks about the ramifications," Sarah grumbled, pulling up the covers and rolling over.
Jareth sighed, running a stray hand through Sarah's hair. She didn't move. "Perhaps your spur of the moment ideas always work out better? I was trying to give you a solution that you seemed to need."
Sarah sighed and closed her eyes. It almost surprised her that he seemed to be hunting for her forgiveness, the gentle way he'd said that. Almost, besides the whole she used his magic against him thing again. He even looked fairly drained. "I'll think about it later, Jareth. Right now, I'm still really dizzy."
He nodded, running another hand through her hair.
There was a knock at the door. Jan and Elizabeth, breaching custom and courtesy or not, did not wait for an invitation.
Sarah glanced from them to Jareth, his face in a soft smirk. He turned down to Sarah. "I'll leave you in their capable hands, Sarah. Perhaps the trouble stirred up will cheer you later." He kissed her temple and acknowledged Jan and Elizabeth before leaving the room.
As soon as Jareth was gone, Jan gestured to Elizabeth who was carrying a tarnished silver tray. Tea, crackers, and broth apparently stand as the universal motherly cure-all.
"Are you feeling alright, Sarah?" Elizabeth asked urgently, setting down the tray on Jareth's side of the bed. "We've been quite worried about you."
Sarah smiled but covered her eyes with her arm when another wave of nausea hit her. "I'll be alright."
"Nevertheless, Sarah," Jan replied primly. "We're just getting to know you and will not have you die in the process."
"That's oddly reassuring," Sarah mumbled with a small chuckle. "I'm still a little disoriented."
Jan took Sarah's wrist, following her veins with a careful eye. "Well, let's just see what we can do about that. I did promise your family, after all."
The world had a weird haze to it again. Jan continued her inspection, and Sarah didn't fight her, sluggishly navigating herself when asked. Such as strange end to a long day, though it was only afternoon, Sarah mused. Her husband had asked her to do a trust fall and she wasn't sure if when she closed her eyes and allowed herself to believe that his arms would be there to cradle her, whether she had been caught or not. Was catching her by the forearms or with a shield of magic while he stood back with his arms crossed quite the same thing?
"I don't know why I put up with him," Sarah mumbled.
"He is your husband, Sarah," Elizabeth supplied. "It is your duty."
Sarah and Jan started in a stifled chuckle until all three were giggling uncontrollably, Sarah saved from shrieking by the inconvenient detail of her rolling stomach. At last, their laughter died back down to a cheered quiet.
"At least he's gorgeous," Sarah mused, only aware that she'd said that aloud when Elizabeth and Jan both looked at her with a disbelieving smile (though, again, some prodding was obviously forthcoming) that was apparently genetic for how identical it was. Sarah covered her eyes, and cursed to herself. When she uncovered her eyes, Jan's raised eyebrows and Elizabeth's gaping mouth, concealed by one dainty hand indicated that she had again not kept her thoughts quite as internal as she had intended.
"Well, this is all Jareth's fault anyway," Sarah deadpanned, by means of feeble excuse.
"Oh, please do tell us," Jan replied as if this was all new information.
Sarah eyed her suspiciously. "Look, just because I'm not exactly in the sharpest of states doesn't mean you should take advantage of it."
Elizabeth nodded until she caught her mother's look. Jan, Sarah guessed, was not about to be so obliging.
"I'm just not going to say anything," Sarah mumbled, covering her eyes once more.
"Oh, we'll see about that," Jan assured her. Taking hold of Sarah's arm, Jan pulled up Sarah's eyelids, scanning for signs.
Catching on, Elizabeth asked, "Should we withhold broth until after she has answered whatever questions we can think up?"
"That depends on what we're dealing with, Bess."
"I didn't know you went by Bess," Sarah mentioned, shifting her attention to Elizabeth.
"Oh, only mother really."
"Ah," Jan added, "Don't forget Triton."
"Oh, yes, him too," Elizabeth murmured, coloring. Sarah raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
"We'll discuss this in just a moment," Jan declared. "First, Sarah, I need to know more about your symptoms."
Sarah groaned, rolling over halfway. "I can speed this up a little bit. I ate some Bella Donna earlier."
That caught Jan's attention and she pulled Sarah back over to face her. "Sarah, why did you do that?" she demanded.
"Jareth's idea," Sarah shrugged, suddenly feeling quite tired and still more disorientated than she'd care for.
Elizabeth blinked and sat back in her chair. "Political intrigue, yes, but poisoning yourself?" she questioned.
"That boy is in trouble," Jan nearly growled.
Sarah looked at Jan in curious surprise before rolling back over, still tired and feeling the world start to spin again. "Good," she mumbled.
"Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. And it most certainly will make matters worse."
"What matters?" Sarah murmured.
"Later, dear. I don't want you to fall asleep until we have a better idea of what else is going on here."
"How'd you know something else was wrong?"
"Jareth didn't cure you and there was a bruise fading on his face. I hope you hit him hard."
"I didn't mean to."
"Sarah," Jan insisted, "I'll let you sleep in just a moment. I need you to talk to me just now."
Rambling off a list of symptoms as quickly as she could slur and taking a couple deep swallows of broth, Sarah closed her eyes. She was only pretending to sleep, partly to avoid the spinning world syndrome and partly to avoid questions. Jan and Elizabeth were not fooled. They gave Sarah a few moments before talking in muted but still completely audible voices.
Jan had started teasing Elizabeth on whoever this Triton was, but a good natured teasing, enough to make Elizabeth mildly uncomfortable but not upset. Sarah listened quietly for some time. Jan had mentioned their purpose here as acting for Amphitrite and her son Triton when they were discussing manners and Jareth had mentioned their connection, but any closer ties were unknown to Sarah. It made sense that there would be nothing official, considering that Elizabeth had been loosely engaged to Jareth for much of her life. But apparently, since Triton and Elizabeth had grown up together, they were quite close. Jan hinting at more than childhood friends and Elizabeth either managing flimsy excuses or at least turning another shade that Sarah could feel from where she lay, both of which Sarah was absorbing as her mind fought for clarity. The background conversation gave Sarah something else to focus on and eventually she had to chuckle when Elizabeth stammered yet again.
"Feeling better, Sarah? It's a miracle broth," Elizabeth exulted, glad to find some sort of distraction. "Family secret passed down for years, not even the help knows."
"Is it literally a miracle or it just seems like it?"
"No magic, just a miracle," Jan assured her, seeing the worry buried in Sarah's tone.
"Would you care for more?" Elizabeth offered.
"Just a little bit would be nice," Sarah agreed, sitting up. The rest of the bowl later, Sarah pondered aloud, "So has Triton ever needed it?"
Elizabeth flushed along the color spectrum, and Jan winked at Sarah. But then Elizabeth smiled that particular smile that made her ordinary features truly light up.
"Are you going to ask for the recipe should Jareth need it again?"
Sarah laughed but to her chagrin she felt a blush creep across her cheekbones. "Perhaps I should," Sarah added, after their laugher had subsided once more. Then she frowned. "Wait, what do you mean by 'again'?"
"I can remember two occasions when its presence was required. One we shall not speak of. The other was when his mother died, may she rest in peace."
"Really?" Sarah blurted. "But the whole immortality thing..?"
Jan and Elizabeth fell solemn. "There are ways," Elizabeth said slowly.
"Ways?" Sarah parroted.
Jan sighed. "I suppose that you should know. I daresay it will come up during eternity in the Underground." Sarah nodded with a tiny smile, still not sure how to feel about that complicated subject. "There are a few ways. Diseases that interrupt magic, that's what took Jareth's mother. It was a difficult time. Iron, too, can cause an untimely death. Well, untimely by our standards, anyway. Curses and substances can be helped if caught early enough, though really there are few with permanent effects. It's certainly possible but definitely rare."
"Good to know, I suppose, however I'm going to age in all this."
"There's no way to know if iron will affect you or not, Sarah, though I wouldn't risk it," Elizabeth warned.
"It's hard to say, Sarah. Your case either hasn't occurred before or hasn't occurred for quite some time," Jan added.
"Plenty of time to teach you the recipe," Elizabeth jibed.
Elizabeth gave a startled shriek as Sarah threw a pillow at her.
"Only if I'm lacing it with something to make him dizzy and nauseous for the afternoon. It only seems fair, regardless of what he thinks about the whole fairness thing."
Elizabeth was growing bolder, but she still looked shocked at the idea. Jan just laughed.
"You won't, will you, Sarah?" Elizabeth asked with some worry.
"No, she won't, Bess," her mother supplied.
"However," Sarah added with a grin. I do know a couple of goblins I could send after him, maybe a couple players for the orchestra."

Sarah spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with Jan and Elizabeth, talking about everything and nothing in ways that Sarah hadn't realized she'd missed. She tried to compare parts of Jan and Elizabeth to her friends back in the Aboveground, but though elements were the same, they were still their own unique selves. And the whole train of thought made Sarah feel quite homesick. But at least that sensation replaced the physical nausea, which steadily ebbed away due to the combination of miracle broth, relaxation, and time. Jan had a good story or two about Jareth, leading to many peals of laughter (particularly one story that had happened before Jareth had really learned to cheat involving a dare and the Bog of Eternal Stench). Elizabeth was quiet at first until she realized what her boundaries were and opened up with another burst of the vibrancy hidden under propriety, and Sarah was left to wonder what Elizabeth would be like when she was close enough to call her Bess.
Jan was dishing some of the dirt on how to best annoy Jareth when the man in question walked back in the room, closing the door behind him. When three pairs of eyes stared at him, he raised an eyebrow and looked as though he might just turn around and head back out that door, at least until Sarah recalled that he wasn't likely to back down despite the formidable challenge of Jan and herself.
She almost laughed until Jan rose and said quite seriously, "Jareth, I'd like a word with you."
Elizabeth lost the small smile she had worn moments before and met Sarah's gaze. Sarah had heard that sort of tone before and Elizabeth's gaze confirmed it; all that was missing was the invocation of the middle name. Jareth inclined his head—Sarah detected a slight wariness at the corner of his eyes, pleased to realize that she was learning. Jareth followed Jan out of the room, presumably where they could be alone.
"What's going on?"
Elizabeth gave an uncharacteristic smirk and said, "Oh, he's in trouble, alright. Mother will set him straight."
"Yes, Mother's lectures can be quite legendary."
"Please, do tell." Sarah winked.
"I would suggest listening in, but Mother has a special talent for recognizing those spells."
"Elizabeth, to find that information out you would have…" Sarah stopped for a moment. "You used to be a troublemaker?"
Elizabeth shrugged. "Mother's talking-to's are legendary," she repeated.
Sarah laughed and was still pressing Elizabeth for stories of her exploits when Jareth and Jan reentered the room. Jareth had a slight twinge of red around his high cheekbones, though Sarah was uncertain as to whether it was due to annoyance or mortification. Jan wore a peculiar smile, and Sarah could only guess that this triumph also alluded to a new secret.
"It's about time we returned to the rest of the assembly," Jan stated.
"Can we get you anything before we leave?" Elizabeth asked earnestly.
After setting another pot of tea ready for Sarah, Jan and Elizabeth wished her a pleasant rest, patting her hand soothingly, and left the room.
Once the door closed behind them, Jareth turned to Sarah. "Are you alright?"
"Better, thanks. I still don't know what to think of the whole thing."
"I've been accusing parties of poisoning and I believe that either the elves or the dark goblins are to blame."
"The dark goblins?" Sarah started to throw back the covers.
With a gentle, insisting hand, he pushed her back toward the bed. "They're involved in something, Sarah. And you won't be going anywhere this afternoon."
"But I'm supposed to speak for them today. Why would they do anything like that?" Sarah attempted to sit up again and Jareth again pushed her back down, taking a seat on the bed. "Come on, Jareth. I have to do this. Even if it was them, I can't let it stop me."
Jareth shrugged, still with one gloved hand on her shoulder. "They can wait until the next time comes around and what they think of you has little concern, nor is it likely to change. You're not leaving the room until you're well."
"This is just payback from me stopping you after you passed out, right?"
"Quite possibly."
Sarah sighed and fell back against the pillows.
"Perhaps it was a good idea," Jareth quipped offhandedly.
With a sardonic glance, Sarah asked, "So how was your discussion with Jan?"
Jareth scowled, crossing his arms when Sarah started laughing.
"Well, you must be feeling better, then, to be so cruel," he said somberly, the corner of his mouth twitching.
"As long as you learned your lesson," Sarah replied with a shrug and a wide smile.
Jareth's half-smirk dissolved into sobriety again. "Are you truly alright?"
"Aw, Jareth, I didn't know you cared," Sarah jibed.
His swooped brows puckered. "You didn't? Marek and Jan apparently find it quite obvious."
Sarah had no smart, immediate reply to that, partially because she knew it was true. With an icy claim he had protected her from Orion, he'd sought to comfort her and offer an admittedly poor solution to her stress (though he had, for what she could tell meant well), he seemed to enjoy conspiring with her, and really hadn't made this whole mess as terrible as it could have been. Sarah fingered the pendant resting against her skin, the tiny portrait of the Labyrinth he had given her with a promise to help when she called. Yes, Jareth cared, but what this was a reflection of, Sarah couldn't be certain. She found her voice after a moment. "Really? You didn't plan the whole thing out in a tactics meeting?"
"I had originally thought I might be able to, perhaps," Jareth admitted. "As you recall, however, I was opposed to being forced into this situation, too. Despite the methods, it is…nice…to have you around."
That sounded like "close friends" to Sarah, she acknowledged with a mental sigh. Despite her best efforts, she could not keep the disappointment from showing. He was leaning over her now, his hands still bound in soft leather encompassing her left hand. Warm, strong hands as he scanned her face. Perhaps Sarah wasn't certain how she felt about her husband, but she could grasp where things were heading. And, should things fall in that direction, she reasoned, Sarah discovered that she (especially her hormones, with his all-surrounding scent and nearness kicking everything into overdrive) was not opposed to the situation.
Jareth stood, leaving the phantom heat of his fingers still in her palm. His brows puckered again on his beautiful face and his lower lip pouting so slightly. Sarah realized that she hadn't said anything.
"Does this displease you?" he cut with an odd flippancy.
It was odd to hear Jareth ask such a question, but Sarah could only surmise that he'd read her disappointment as a direct response to his comment.
"No, not at all," she promised. He still looked weary and Sarah was again left to wonder when she had learned to pick up on more of his subtle nuances. Unless it was all another mask. "I enjoy spending time with you, too, Jareth."
He smiled then and Sarah felt her own rise to match his. Sarah wished she really could know how he felt, and though she didn't want to admit it, there was probably only one way to find out. Was there an easy way to ask?
"Thanks for telling me. With all the political intrigue, I'm really not sure what's real sometimes." Sarah met his gaze, trying to project her real questions and not merely wonder why she hadn't truly noticed the intensity of his eyes before (aside from when he was angry).
He crossed his arms, smirking. Jareth wasn't about to make it easy. "Oh?"
Sarah reigned in her scowl. "Well, the first few times we'd spoken since our reintroduction, you weren't exactly polite."
"However, my mood was warranted given the circumstances."
Sarah shifted her legs and Jareth walked back over to assure that she wasn't attempting to stand up again. "All the same, what was I supposed to think?"
"At the time, I don't believe that it particularly mattered."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Sarah, I didn't expect you to accept any of the arrangements of this affair."
"Okay, now what's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, come now, Sarah. You were inclined to see me only as the villain, an arrogant, cruel—"
"—which you haven't exactly disproved," Sarah butted in with a wink.
"And my case is proven. So why could I not think of you only as spoiled teenager?"
It made sense in some ways, Sarah had to admit. In some ways, there was still far too much uncertainty in their relationship.
"But that's not where we are now," she stated slowly, mulling the words over as she uttered them.
"Perhaps not," Jareth agreed, sitting down on the bed and crossing one leg over the other.
"I still see you as arrogant and cruel, you know," Sarah tossed into the momentary silence.
He shot her a short glare and Sarah laughed.
"Oh, it's not quite like that, Jareth. It's just a part of you. You're also exceptionally mischievous, intelligent, and have a wicked sense of humor. You do care about me and can be considerate when you put your mind around it. You choose to be patient at strange times or at least in intervals that I can't put a pattern to yet." Sarah gulped and decided to bite the bullet. "You're incredibly attractive. It's all just a part of who you are."
He raised an eyebrow. "And?"
Sarah could have chucked a pillow at his head, but she saw, again, the grin threatening to overtake his features. "Well, we already covered arrogant, didn't we?"
"Yes, you've made that clear," Jareth waved off. "But where does that leave your statement?"
"That's kind of what I'd like to find out, Jareth."
"I believe this all falls back to that talk I had suggested earlier."
"Sounds like that's where we are."
"And where did that statement lead your point, Sarah? Why outline my many perfections?"
Sarah snorted before she could stop herself. "I'm not looking for perfection. Your oddity is what makes you."
"You're still avoiding the question, Sarah," he pointed out in a low voice, leaning toward her. His breath was very nearly whispering on her cheek and she involuntarily shut her eyes, trying to focus on that small sensation. She realized what he was doing and really it wasn't fair…partly because it was working. On the one hand, all she wanted then was to get closer, as close as possible. On the other, her stubborn streak was wailing that he was pressing an advantage over her; she couldn't let him win that easily.
She had almost made her decision when she opened her eyes. At that point, she was quite certain that he wanted to get closer, too. More than that—Sarah's stomach jumped up a foot as if trying to get a glimpse at what her heart was freaking out about—it was feral. Then it was hidden again, an intentional change to another mask. It probably wasn't his fault; he'd had a handful of centuries of practice. She could play that game, too.
Sarah leaned back on the pillows and crossed her arms. "The point I was getting to is that I'm not entirely sure, Jareth. I like you. The contract never required us to love each other. I don't know where I stand, but I'm open to possibilities. Does that satisfy you?" Sarah thought she sounded pretty detached, but Jareth had a lot more experience in reading people so who could be certain?
"Perhaps not entirely," he replied in the same tone she had attempted.
"I believe it's your turn to answer."
"What point where your questions driving at?"
"You've already outlined some of my perfections. I don't need to continue until you add a tally to egocentric."
"It's kind of hard to be completely egocentric and run a kingdom or any larger body, Jareth. Besides, now who's avoiding the question?"
Sarah nearly yelped when he growled. Yes, her mind registered, growled deep in the column of his throat as his mouth fell on hers. Her shock dissolved and she kissed him back.
Jareth pulled away just enough to whisper against her lips, "Perhaps I'm open to possibilities as well."
That, Sarah reflected jubilantly, did not sound like "close friends." His lips found hers again, her fingers filtering through long, feathery strands. Vaguely Sarah recalled when she'd first heard about kissing being disgusted, still certain that boys had cooties, her first boyfriend Rick not exactly disproving that theory. Jareth was all at once warm and sweet and harsh and all sorts of adjectives that didn't seem to fit quite so well as the velvet smoothness of his tongue against hers as they allowed the other to explore. She pulled him closer, certain that she could never be close enough, and he growled low enough to be just on the cusp of human hearing, a threat and a promise. Again, not a human sound but also a door to curious thoughts as to what other sorts of sounds he would make. She laid one hand on his face and he leaned against it; the pulse behind his ear was racing with her own. He knew it, too, she was sure, one of Jareth's hands buried behind her neck and the other placed with his thumb hovering just below her left breast, the rest sprawled everywhere it could reach.
She broke away from the kiss and wrenched at his hand, pulling it to where she could see it. Jareth was confused, she could tell by the stiffening of his neck. She winked and ran her fingers along the leather, unbuttoning the small link on the side. Taking her right hand, she slid her fingers along his hidden grooves of his palm. The calluses on her own fingertips scuttled along the surface of his impossibly smooth hands.
"I want to feel your hands, Jareth," she explained as he continued to stare at her. Sarah had never seen him take them off, not even directly after their wedding when she was just shy of accusing him of rape. They were both breathing heavily and he watched her eyes as she finally revealed his hand, long fingers against her own. Interlacing her fingers in his, Sarah pulled his hand closer, kissed his knuckles and pulled the back of his hand across her cheek, concentrating solely on feel of his skin against hers.
With his teeth, Jareth quickly divested himself of his other glove before settling his weight more on top of her. "The things you do, Sarah. You fumble around this entire world with only the scantest idea of what's happening. You don't often get it right, but sometimes I think you know more than the rest of us." Sarah adjusting to the assuring pressure by arching closer, surprised to feel his erection irresolutely against her left hip. They both groaned and Jareth hesitantly rested his hand along the other side of her face, taking in the feel of the strands of her hair. "Better than I'd imagined," he murmured before meeting her gaze again. Through half-lidded eyes, she could see a real hunger there as he kissed her once more with a renewed vigor, his hands taking in new sensory input along the course of her dress, Sarah stretching open his collar and exploring his shoulders and chest. One dexterous hand tugged gently but firmly on the laces of her dress and Sarah rolled to the side, never breaking contact but making the process much easier.
Sarah had almost pealed his jacket off, using it to momentarily pin his arms to his side with one last yank, kissing her husband until she was lightheaded. With a snarl of frustration, Jareth shook off the offending piece of clothing…brushing against the teapot left by Jan and Elizabeth.
Both were ready to give it no other thought until a teaspoon lightly thumped on the floor.
Sarah could feel Jareth start to pull away but she clung to him. He chuckled lightly. "This was not the initial reason for you to be restricted to bed, Sarah."
"Perhaps not," Sarah breathed.
His eyes scoured her face again and he gritted his teeth. "I should let you rest."
"Should? Maybe. I'd rather you do something you shouldn't then," she whispered in his ear, nipping lightly at the lobe. He shivered lightly.
"The things you do, Jareth," she whispered, arching her hips slightly.
He kissed her again, already sliding his hands down her newly exposed back.
Jareth pulled back once more. "This is what you want?" he asked with a cocky grin, hinting all sorts of mischief.
"I've never cared about anyone this way, Jareth. Can you trust me?"
He swept his lips once, twice over hers before kissing her again. "Perhaps," he replied, lips again brushing with the syllables. It wasn't about anything but them.
Jareth was very late to the meeting. A servant had been sent to check in on his wellbeing but could only report that he was in his private chambers, where the servant could not enter unbidden. Jareth returned to the council on his own, bowing with the necessary apology before resuming his seat. The other leaders noted that Jareth was quieter during this session, no doubt concerned over his ailing mortal wife.

Sarah woke up feeling like all the linen had just come from the dryer, warm and soft. But the linen wasn't the only warm object encompassing her body. She snuggled to his chest, Jareth's arm lightly quashing her naked breasts as he sleepily drew her closer as well. He breathed a sigh, exhaling near enough to Sarah's ear to make her shiver. The rise and fall of his chest as he chuckled brushed against her already overly-sensitive skin. Sarah arched her neck and kissed his jaw; it just wasn't fair, really, how he could do that.
"Good morning, Sarah," he purred into her ear, making her shiver again.
"Good morning. Do we have to get up?"
His grip around her tightened a little more. "Not yet. Perhaps we could be very late to the next meeting."
Sarah smirked, momentarily shy but quickly overcoming that little bother. "After yesterday's 'lecture?' Are you sure that's a good idea? Maybe I should stay right here."
Jareth had returned the night prior with a very stern look. Sarah could tell he wasn't actually upset as he accused her of all sorts of trickery, distracting him from the proceedings with all sorts of devilish thoughts. She had only giggled until he had seen the joke through enough to join in her laughter.
"As distracting as you are, Sarah, I'd prefer to have you with me."
She reached back and pulled him into a kiss. "This time you go for the Deadly Nightshade."
He kissed her again, chuckling against her mouth. "If that's the excuse I need to spend more time with my wife…"
"Can I ask you something?"
"Other than that question?"
Sarah rolled her eyes. "Yes, Jareth, other than that question."
"I suppose."
"This isn't another mask, is it?"
His arms stiffened around her.
Sarah sighed. "I didn't want to ask, Jareth. But I really want to be sure, best to clear the air now and all that," she ended lamely.
"Is affection so out of my nature?" he asked coolly.
"No, it's not like that. I just don't know how to read through some of your masks, how much is really you. This relationship is still new." She twisted in his slackened arms to face him. He was doing the I'm-not-revealing-anything sort of expression that tended to make Sarah a little wary. "I know that I'm falling or fallen for you. I meant it when I told you I've never cared about anyone this way before. Now I know you like me at least and—"
Jareth's mouth crashed down to hers again, all at once a tender and ravenous force working to assure her understanding. "Perhaps there are moments when I am not entirely certain as well. The first time I saw you, you were indeed intriguing though I did not understand what it could mean. I did not know on your second visit that it might evolve to something quite like what it is steadily becoming."
Sarah rested her head against his chest. It was carefully phrased but honest, she could tell (how, she wasn't quite sure, but it was there all the same). "I guess that answers my question."
"Not mine, however."
"Perhaps we could be late to the next meeting," he repeated in a low growl that tended to make Sarah melt.
"I don't think that's actually a question so much as a suggestion."
"Will that change your answer?"
She slid her hands down his chest and along to his abdomen, pausing at his navel. "Probably not."
They were very late to the next meeting. Sarah did her best to pretend that she was still ill—tactical advances and all—though Joan noted that at least her countenance had improved. The other leaders in the Underground welcomed her reappearance in varying levels of sincerity. Jareth was never very far. Strangely enough, she could feel it. Given the fact that she was surrounded by magic and she was in fact married by magic, Sarah chose not to question it too much. She did, however, notice that her husband seemed to be glowing. Stepping closer, Sarah took his arm and confirmed that he was indeed emitting some sort of light.
She gently pulled him into a confidential whisper. "Jareth, you're glowing."
"So kind of you to say, dear."
"Seriously, Jareth, you're glowing. What's that mean?"
"Sarah, I shall not go into detail here, but you do recall the conversation shortly after our marriage in regards to what relevance our, ahem, level of relationship might have on my power?" Sarah nodded. "Consequently, you're glowing, too."
Sarah glanced at her skin and nearly squeaked. "How do I turn it off?"
Jareth chuckled and waved his hand. "Don't worry."
"Sorry, I'm slightly mortified all the same. How long have we been…advertising?"
Laughing a little louder, Jareth refused to give her an answer.
There was a tap on Sarah's shoulder. "I'm glad to see his majesty is in better spirits than yesterday. A pity, actually. Some of the trolls were more shaken by such a change in tactics than anything else. They're certain he's going to pull something."
Sarah grinned and turned around. "Ack, it's good to see you again."
"I'm pleased to see that your health has returned, Sarah," he replied, taking her hand in his claws and displaying his fangs in feral welcome.
"Getting there, yes, thank you. And I wouldn't discount the theory that we're planning something."
Ack laughed. "Oh, I do not doubt it. Just tell me which side of the room I should be on to have the best vantage of all the chaos. I do so enjoy a terrified stampede for the exit. And there is the added bonus of assessing how much of our frivolity is entirely practical."
Sarah laughed while Ack tried to further explain how heeled boots could either be a hindrance or a benefit (tall, spike heels could get stuck however short, blunted ones inflicted pain without slowing movement) and otherwise headdresses and overlarge bows could be used to clear a path by thwacking and cracking the ribbon like a whip. "Alas," Ack commented while Sarah was still giggling, "few of the leaders here seem to consider the limitless possibilities."
"Tell me, Ack, what should be done with an additional cummerbund?"
"Blind whoever's blocking your path."
"What would you suppose feathers are best for?"
"Ah, now that is a tricky one. Mostly I've seen them fall out and slipped upon but we can certainly come up with a much better purpose for them."
"Turn it into a giant chicken?" Sarah suggested.
Ack grinned, eyes flickering red briefly. "That could work."
"More schemes?" Jareth questioned, sliding one arm along Sarah's middle.
"Quite possibly involving giant chickens."
Jareth gave her a startled look. "You're not enjoying this splendid vacation from the wretched beasts?"
Sarah had to admit he had a point.
"I believe it's time to return to the meeting hall," Ack stated wearily. "I should like to sit with you, Sarah, in order to best judge when to duck or start running." Sarah laughed again as Ack inclined his head and started making his way.
"I think we should invite him to the kingdom one of these days," Sarah said with a smile.
"I daresay we can find the time."
"Oh, yeah, that whole immortality thing. That's still kinda strange to think about."
"If you prefer to think of it as reordering time to omit the various parts you would simply age…perhaps it will help."
"And you're not going to use that as an excuse to put everything off, are you? A show of 'we've got all the time in the world so why bother this decade?' sort of thing?"
Jareth tapped his lips with a gloved finger. "An intriguing idea."
She swatted him. Jareth took her hand and kissed the back of it.
"I should like you to sit next to me," he murmured just low enough for her to hear. The others in the room were already moving out, the two of them caught near the back of the heard.
An image of playing footsie with Goblin King nearly made Sarah snort. "As much as I'd like to, I get the impression that I'd really just be a distraction. Plus, the sudden shift might arouse some suspicion."
Jareth sighed but didn't argue with her logic. Sarah was gratified to see him deflate ever so slightly.
"You can thank me later when you make it up to me," she added flippantly.
"When I make it up to you?" Jareth repeated as a question.
"Yes, I saved you from all sorts of trouble, much to our mutual vexation," Sarah clarified ruefully.
He laughed. "We will make a politician out of you yet."
"I sure hope not."
Jareth sobered momentarily. "I hope so as well."
Having no snappy comeback, Sarah bade Jareth to escort her to her seat. She allowed him to take her hand and steer her to where, he explained, he could keep an eye on her. By means of farewell, Sarah grazed the skin of his wrist with her thumb, evoking a quickly concealed smile from her husband. He kissed her forehead and saw her to her chair. Sarah had the distinct feeling that he would perhaps have done something quite different if their front of "lightly smitten" was not somehow blastedly important.
"I saw that," Marek commented on her left.
Leaning forward to better the aims of conspiracy and secrets, Marek answered, "You touched his wrist."
Sarah blinked. "…Yes?"
Marek leaned back slightly, trying to gauge Sarah.
"Does that mean something?"
"Of course it does, Sarah."
She sighed. "I'm not terribly surprised. Care to enlighten me? Why does most of the court wear gloves anyway?"
"I am somewhat surprised that he did not insist that you wore them as well. I suppose the two of you have had differing opinions on fashion."
Sarah smoothed the folds on her dress, mostly velvet again though the style was comparatively modern, circa 1950s. While Jareth found it unlikely that Sarah should be attacked again, he did not want to raise any further suspicion or induce any attacks on the assumption that they had lowered their guard…and he admitted to finding the texture pleasing.
"So what does it mean?"
"It falls back to some tradition. Do you shake hands in the Aboveground to seal an agreement?" Sarah nodded. "Some members of the Underground would introduce a poison in this manner."
"So everyone wears gloves to keep from getting poisoned instead of changing the shaking hands ritual? It can't be comfortable to wear them all the time."
"Practical or not, shaking bare hands is a symbol of near-ultimate trust."
Sarah recalled Jareth's surprise when she had freed his hands and the look in his eyes that had followed, repressing the shiver the memory cause. "Ah," was all she said.
"I don't know if it would be a good or a bad thing if anyone else saw that. I was only watching for it because you two have been acting somewhat peculiar."
Sarah could tell what Marek was up to, the barely suppressed smirk giving his game away. She refused to feel any embarrassment nor would she allow him any satisfaction, despite his teasing. Ack soon took a seat on her right. Sarah knew better than to thank Ack for her rescue, lest he take up the charge on Marek's side; it seemed like something he would do.
Marek's attention was soon monopolized by the Duchess Melocka who Sarah could only guess was a tall dwarf or a petite Fae, stocky and lovely. Ack took up the conspirator's spot and stance. Most of the court followed a similar trend, a few in semblance of an open group though the significant glances revealed that there was certainly something else going on. Sarah had to wonder why anyone bothered to pretend secrecy, let alone if anyone was ever tired of it. She voiced her question to Ack.
He barked a laugh that Sarah could best describe as disturbing. "I'm quite exhausted for one. I enjoy telling the truth on occasion just to watch how it muddied and confused my company for the afternoon. I wouldn't recommend trying it until it can contradict another solid opinion."
Sarah laughed again. "My husband hopes that I'll never turn into the whole secret-monger pattern."
"You will be quite dull if you do. For my own selfish reasons and entertainment, please don't."
"I'll do my best." Sarah glanced up to see her husband watching her, sending her some sort of smirk in his eyes, reading that he had some idea of what she was discussing.
Ack took her hand in his claws again and Sarah returned her attention, his muzzle closer as he lowered his voice. "I have heard some rumors recently that I think you should be aware of."
Sarah's smile deflated somewhat and she nodded. "Any help is good. Jan tried to mention some before but it hasn't come up again. What have you heard?"
"The court knows that your husband only acts this way in public because a mortal such as yourself would expect it of a fairy tale. I hope you are not taken in by this?"
Sarah sat stunned for a moment but mentally shook it off. Instead, she gestured impatiently for Ack to continue, before he could ask.
"I only mention this as the veneer has come up to much discussion. Ignorance is not your best option in the thick of this. What do you know of the Prophecy?"
"Some," Sarah conceded, falling into the act of the diplomat.
"I do not believe Jareth has told you enough." Ack looked down at Sarah's hands in his own claws and sighed with a giant collapse of his furry body. "As much as I do enjoy your company, I almost wish you did not come. For all your potential, it is unfair. I do not want to see you hurt when some things come to fruition."
"What do you mean by that, Ack? What am I not being told now?"
"I have already said too much."
"And why would that stop you?"
Ack grinned. "It shouldn't.
"Especially when it's apparently this important," Sarah urged. "You still haven't told me anything solid."
Ack calculated, the white of his eyes quite yellow with a red iris surrounding an oddly shaped pupil all staring at a fixed point along the wall. The dark goblins clambered into the hall, all muttering and grumbling as one stuck a gnarled finger, longer than it was tall, at Sarah. Sarah frowned and made to rise. Ack pulled her back to seated.
"You should not deal with their like today. You are still considered ill. Regardless of how you feel, your opinions might be brought to question if it suits the vampires and they are not in any particular mood to like you anyway. In return, I will promise to tell you more later, in some other environment."
Sarah nodded and kept her chair. The meetings began and she even dissuaded Marek's attempt to pass notes. The normal ennui was overshadowed by wondering what could have bothered her friend so much. Ack seemed to have regained himself, laughing and making small comments to Sarah and Jan on his other side who had entered late.
Then a twinge in the back of Sarah's mind erupted through her thoughts. Her emotions began to ebb and flow in a steady flux, fear, anger, desperation. Something was decidedly wrong. She glanced up at Jareth and noticed that he was resting his head in his hand, trying to look as nonchalant as possible, but Sarah could see the slight strain around his eyes as he stared at her, waiting for her to acknowledge the same thing. He waved over one of the humanoid servants with the blank eyes, dressed in a dusty white that looked coated in mildew. Sarah watched as he scribbled a small note and whispered directions. Most of the court was so involved in the argument between the troll and the dwarf (considering that objects were beginning to fly across the room; Marek had already been splotted with a discarded inkwell) that they did not watch as the servant snaked, unnaturally graceful around knees and various appendages over to where Sarah sat. Sarah took the paper and glanced back at Jareth. He kept eye contact as he waited for her to open the note, shifting his head to the side slightly as the leg of the chair whizzed by, unsettling a few strands of his hair.
Sarah opened the note and read Jareth's flowing script, made jagged in haste: something is wrong with the Labyrinth. Make an excuse.
Glancing back up, Sarah nodded, allowing the note to burn in her hand. Jareth returned his attention back to the argument, still watching Sarah from the corner of his eye. Sarah made a small gesture with her hand, trying to tell him to wait. If anyone had been watching the note progress across the room, they would know something else was wrong…that and Sarah had to come up with some reason to leave. To her own disgust, her first inclination was to stand up and faint dramatically. It would have worked in the Victorian era; the dark goblins would poke her if she did it now, before three of the party would tend to her which still did nothing for Jareth.
The answer came much more simply than she expected. She met her husband's gaze one more time, nodding slightly. He nodded back, waiting. After the ordeal quieted (the troll conceded that he was indeed tall and this was not meant as an insult) and the next was beginning ("Midget?! Upon my honor, I will not stand for this."), Sarah stood up quite suddenly, her chair thudding to the floor. "Silence!" she demanded, cocking her head to the side and staring at the ceiling. Tapping into the magic, she jumped and glided over the heads of vampires and elves to stand beside her husband.
"Listen," she hissed, aware that she had the full attention of the court. Jareth's mad mortal queen was still the newest commodity of the Underground. "Someone's going to say the words."
The tiny bunch of confusion between Jareth's brows dissolved as he stood up, too. "Yes, very soon."
Praying that it worked, Sarah waved her hand over her front and changed into her own version of Jareth's formal-child-stealing-clothes. It worked. The gown had no sleeves though her forearms were wrapped with laced cloth that ended in trailing sleeves entirely disconnected from the dress and cuffed in black leather. The high collared cape around her shoulders created quite a shadow as the room darkened even further except for an ethereal light. Gold and glitter shimmered in her brown hair, the straight locks suddenly swept in soft curls. The deep blue matched Jareth's when he made the transformation himself.
Sarah tilted her head toward the ceiling again, as though the action helped. She smiled. "We are summoned." Praying once more that her grasp on magic could come through in a pinch, Sarah turned herself into a hawk and barreled out of the open window, a white owl quickly overtaking her to lead the way.
Just on the edge of earshot, Sarah could hear Marek call weakly after them: "I'll just get the luggage then?"

Sarah was quickly made aware of a new problem: she really hadn't the faintest idea of how to fly. Getting out of the window and out of sight of the castle had been the result of luck, magic, and a lot of frantic flapping. A couple of updrafts sent her spiraling and some creature with membranous wings zipped and circled her a time or two before Jareth clawed through its wing. On top of that, Sarah was growing tired.
Jareth led, much to her gratitude, but risked his flight path on more than one occasion, assuring himself that she was still following and trying to set an example by altering his wind-foil with the currents. Sarah tried every muscle combination she could, still not certain how to perfectly mimic anything Bernoulli might have approved. In her mind, her high school physics teacher and her biology teacher shook their heads, but all Sarah could remember was the idea of lift (if not how to achieve it) and something called the uropygial gland (which had something to do with maintenance). Jareth's owl face looked back on her once more, projecting concern and, somehow, the assurance that they were nearing the border. Sarah, in turn, tried not to project her panic and fatigue, her flight path still bouncing at odd intervals. Sure she had the benefit of his magical experience enough to turn into a bird, but muscle memory for a different slew of muscles was another matter.
After what seemed like ages and Sarah was quite ready to tumble out of the sky (with spite along the lines of "gravity be damned"), she all at once felt a soothing wash: the baggage that was the dark taint was mostly lifted away. Mostly. There still existed a swathe of it, but the comparison made Sarah feel quite light. She almost didn't notice Jareth pulling down to land. He landed with two humanoid feet on the ground and turned to Sarah. Considering how much trouble Sarah had staying up, she had a pretty good idea of what to do to get down, though a sudden drop was likely not a good idea.
She ended up in a dive. As she neared the ground, Sarah felt two hands close around her sides.
"Stop struggling," Jareth ordered with a laugh, pulling her feathery form to his chest to hold her steady. She was human again, standing on her own feet and still held steadily in place in the arms of the Goblin King.
"Just a short break, please," Sarah whispered, lowering herself to sit down as Jareth's arm carefully released her.
"You were using a lot of magic. I even felt the strain, despite our increased supply," Jareth replied sitting down next to her. He sighed. "Yes, I believe we might need our faculties when we arrive back at the Labyrinth."
"Any idea what's going on?"
"Something is wrong. A demand for help is not always specific."
"Ah, one of those plan-for-every-contingency things."
Sarah laid back against a large rock. "It was strange, going back through the veil. How is all that mass of bad feeling relegated to that area?"
"An explanation would take quite some time."
"No, it wouldn't," Sarah insisted, rolling her eyes. "Magic, right?"
Jareth grinned. "When you boil it down, perhaps."
"It feels good to get rid of most of that taint except…" she glanced at her husband, scanning him over.
He watched her carefully, as the silence expanded. "What is it?" he asked, noting her peculiar expression.
"Well, I don't feel attracted to you anymore," she answered with a flippant gesture.
Jareth frowned. "That is not funny."
Sarah's giggles indicated that she felt otherwise. "Your expression was worth it." She pulled Jareth in to reassure him with a kiss.
"It still was not funny," he insisted.
"Are…are you pouting?"
"I assure you, I am merely displeased."
Sarah laughed again.
"I must say that I am not so insensitive and find this look quite fetching on you," he murmured, nipping at her ear.
Sarah took a quick glance at her formal-child-stealing-clothes and made a mental note—as Jareth ran his fingers through her curled and glitterfied hair and wrenched her into a firm grip as he kissed her—to perhaps wear her work uniform more often. Though, Sarah mused, her husband showed little need for incentive. Jareth's hand had migrated down the front of her dress and hers were far from innocent when another distress call from the Labyrinth effectively reminded them that there was a sense of urgency they had temporarily mislaid.
Sarah sighed. "Maybe we should just poof at this point."
"Poof?" Jareth parroted with a raised eyebrow.
"You know," she gestured widely with one hand. "Poof." Jareth still showed no sign of comprehension, and Sarah shook her head. "Okay, I'm a little tired, but poof-ing, where we start in one place and are suddenly in another?"
"Instantaneous transport?" Jareth filled in sarcastically. "I wonder what we'd call that. Hmm…a transportation spell? Of course that's too easy."
"What's wrong with 'poof-ing'?"
"Sarah," Jareth deadpanned, "I will never refer to a transportation spell as poof-ing."
She leaned against Jareth, and he wrapped his arm around her. "We'll see."
"No," Jareth insisted. "I will not budge on this matter."
Sarah sighed and snuggled a little closer. "Whatever. Just wait a little longer before we poof anywhere, please. And now I'm really still trying to catch my breath, here, no thanks to you."
He kissed her forehead. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather fly?" Sarah glared, and her husband chuckled. "Alright, I suppose we could wait a little more before I use a transportation spell."
Staring off into the distance over the grassland spotted with a few scattered trees that seemed aggressively territorial (judging by the snarl and swipe of one towering species), Sarah thought back to Ack's hintings and murmured, "Nothing too bad has happened in the Labyrinth, right?"
"It doesn't matter. It is our job to protect our kingdom."
"Let's go home, Jareth."
"That is perhaps one of the best things I've heard you say, Sarah." He stood and offered a hand. "Shall we?"
Sarah took his hand as he pulled her to her feet, adjusting herself as necessary. It was difficult to process the sudden shift in her surroundings, no tingling sensation or physical jarring, just the realization that the world had suddenly changed. The view was pleasantly familiar.
"This is the third time, now, that I've seen this particular view," Sarah commented as her husband led her down the hill to the entrance of the Labyrinth. The dusty breeze hadn't inspired much hope on either previous visit, rescuing her brother on both instances, but today, well, Sarah just knew she was heading home. The significance of what she had said to Jareth sunk in fully, that she was going home. Somehow, the Labyrinth and the Goblin City had a place in her heart, and she couldn't help a small swell of pride and peace as she surveyed the distance. She glanced at her husband once again and knew certainly he had a place in her heart as well, somehow. Her Aboveground friends, especially Jen and Derek, would renounce it as Stockholm syndrome, she was sure, but she hadn't exactly been kidnapped. Instead, she had complied and cooperated and secretly wanted to help, felt a responsibility to help maintain her fantasy world. Jareth had perhaps pressured some of her decisions, but they had been at an unspoken resolution for quite some time. Sarah had her own authority but depended on Jareth's experience; in return, Jareth had to be open to Sarah's unique perspective for the solutions and possibilities therein.
But that didn't account for the warm, fuzzy feelings, though Sarah doubted they would have been possible had it not been for that unspoken, relative equality. It didn't sound romantic put quite that way, but the smile of contentment across Sarah's face as she pulled Jareth slightly closer and his arm wrapped around her waist was enough for her.
Of course, Sarah's mood immediately shifted to the matter at hand when she retracted her gaze from the massiveness of the Labyrinth to the outside wall. About eighteen feet of wall had been reduced to scattered pieces of stone, like linebackers blasting through a child's wall of cardboard blocks. Strange marks of punched indentations along the next layer of wall affirmed Sarah's assessment, that something had landed there, unable to break through both at once. Hoggle was already shuffling some of the small debris closer to the wall, setting small columns of broken stone as high as his stumpy limbs could manage.
Jareth surveyed the destruction with a careful eye, probing with magic, Sarah was certain.
"Hoggle," Sarah began, gaining the dwarf's attention, "What happened?"
"Sarah, when did you get back?" Hoggle greeted, nearly dropping a stone on his toes and leaping aside with an odd little gallop.
"Just now. Do you know what happened here?"
"I didn' see nuthin,' jus' heard it. Came up and saw this." He gestured to black and grey stone.
"Are the Worms okay?"
"I think so, bes' you look for yourself."
Jareth was still inspecting different pieces, wandering down the healthy part of the wall as he scanned with a frown angling his eyebrows all the more severely, so Sarah crossed the rubble.
"Hoggle, stay here. Whatever it was could still be here."
Plucking up what there was of his courage, Hoggle insisted, "Then I should go with yeh."
Sarah gave him a small, warm smile. "No, Hoggle. Stay here and bring some of these stones a little closer to the wall. We'll talk later."
Hoggle grumbled but assented. Sarah began exploring along the wall. Large gouges in pairs and triplicates scored sections, so Sarah could surmise that the Labyrinth had been fighting back in its own way.
"Worms? Are you alright?" There weren't any tiny cries of response that Sarah could hear. She closed her eyes. "Labyrinth, please show me the home of the Mister and Missus Worm." She opened her eyes again. The walls looked perhaps the same, but the overhanging branches had shifted. Gently running her fingers along the wall, Sarah called again. "Worms?"
"Over here, dearie!" a tiny voice called. Sarah turned around, watching as the pink worm assisted her husband to his…belly.
"Is he alright?" Sarah asked, stooping to help Mrs. Worm to right him.
"Oh, jus' a bit of a shock. He'll be fine."
"What did he see?"
"Perhaps the owner of this," Jareth suggested, standing behind her. Sarah turned around and stifled a yelp. In Jareth's hands (and conveniently at eye level) was an arm, a gnarled arm ripped off at the shoulder and still oozing black sludge.
"Look familiar?" Jareth asked.
Sarah glanced again and nodded. She'd been shoved and pushed by arms like those, attached to ruthless and tainted minds. "Why would the dark goblins be running around the Labyrinth?"
"That is what we will be investigating."
"Well, I'm glad to see that the Labyrinth was able inflict some damage back."
"The Labyrinth did not tear off this goblin's arm."
Sarah blinked. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. There would be a particular sense of pride that is missing. Right now, it is hurt and upset, possibly angry." Sarah didn't need to ask for clarification; she could feel it, too.
"What did it then?"
"That is another question to consider for later."
Sarah turned back to the Worms. "Could you tell me what you saw?"
"We didn' see much, jus' wha' was running around afore we wen' hiding," she confessed, somewhat abashed.
Sarah thanked Mrs. Worm and stood again. "Are we done looking?"
"I believe I've gleaned all I can currently."
"Well, let's clean it up, then. Can you take us back to that initial landing, please?"
Jareth's frown reduced until his expression read both situational concern and mild amusement. He nodded, allowing Sarah to take the lead. They were standing next to the fountains at the entrance of the Labyrinth an instant later. Placing her hand along the wall, Sarah closed her eyes.
"Labyrinth, show me where it hurts," she commanded gently. She stepped back and opened her eyes. Three separate breeches of the outside wall presented themselves, lined up with their surrounding blocks. Sarah ran her hand soothingly along the wall, watching as Jareth gingerly explored the other two broken segments with similar concern. Turning her attention first to the segment they had already searched (how Sarah knew, she wasn't quite sure) and began to focus on reconstructing with magic one stone at a time, half-tempted to inscribe "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here," on stones she had to replace. Making sure that each piece was equally coated in ethereal shine (under the Labyrinth's insistence), Sarah turned back to see Jareth already beginning reconstruction on the second section, indicating with a nod that Sarah could begin on the third.
Sarah caught a good glance at what Jareth was doing: in the rebuilding, he was setting a scene within the wall. Himself he depicted standing to the side with a smirk while a figure (who looked remarkably like Sarah) and a shorter figure (who looked remarkably like a much uglier Hoggle) were scrambling away from the Cleaners.
"Really, Jareth," Sarah said shaking her head.
"It's designed to scare the runner, Sarah," Jareth claimed with a smirk.
Sarah snorted and racked her mind for some moment she could depict. Her final moments of the first visit seemed too personal, as did her hallucination. The Escher room, too, seemed a little too close for reasons she could not pinpoint. Movement caught Sarah's eye and she watched as her friend from her second trip through, the silent mosaic girl waved from the stones, colored in darker tones but unmistakably the same.
"Good to see you again."
The girl in the mosaic curtsied, picking up the corners of her simple, flowing dress.
"I'm trying to think of what to place on this wall, any ideas?"
The mosaic girl pantomimed a bird with her hands.
"Owls? No, I don't know if that's going to strike fear into the hearts of many runners. That and it's all too easy."
The mosaic girl thought for a moment. She pointed to Sarah and set herself in an aggressive pose, then pointed to Jareth and did the same.
"A portrait of me and Jareth in our formal child stealing clothes? I think that'll do the trick."
A few feet away, Jareth gave a start. "What did you call it?"
"Our formal child stealing clothes?"
Jareth began to laugh, a deep chuckle building to a full laugh of real abandon. Sarah had to marvel at the difference it made on his face. There was a new brightness exuding from his eyes as he turned to meet hers.
"Okay," Sarah conceded, giggling along, "I doubt that's what the outfit is actually called but it's what I kept referring to it in my head and…oh, stop it!" Sarah insisted while Jareth continued to laugh.
"What goes on in your mind will continue to be a source of fascination to me, my wife," Jareth managed, still grinning.
Sarah snorted but smiled back all the same. "I'm trying to create here, Jareth. Now do me a favor and stand there and glower."
"I do not recall ever being asked to glower before."
Sarah smirked again. "Really? But you're so good at it. And you're still smiling instead of glowering."
"As much as you enjoy being difficult, I thought you would understand."
Sarah couldn't resist sticking her tongue out at him. "I think I've seen it enough to create an accurate depiction. And if I can't, it's your own fault for refusing to cooperate. Call it tough love."
Jareth chuckled again and Sarah returned her attention to the wall. She had indeed seen Jareth's glower enough times, but, Sarah reflected, she had not seen it as frequently as she once had, especially after those first couple weeks. She set to work, closing her eyes and focusing on that mental image. Opening her eyes, Sarah saw the finished product, the Goblin King with his arms crossed and challenging scowl in place. His expression, hair, eyebrows, everything was well in place…and, if Sarah did say so herself, he looked good. Admiring her handiwork, the real Goblin King inspected the image, his arms crossed as well.
"It's missing something," he said at last.
Sarah waved him off, rolling her eyes. "By all means, help your machismo."
Moments later, Jareth stood back from the wall. "Much better."
Sarah scanned the wall for his alterations: the portrait of the Goblin King was unchanged, but the high, scowling portrait of the Goblin Queen leaning with her arms crossed back-to-back against her husband was new. The sleeves, her gown, her hair as far as Sarah could tell was perfect down to the detail, if somewhat glossed in Sarah's opinion.
"I was going to add that myself."
"I thought you might benefit from my perspective."
Sarah smiled. She could complain or comment that her breasts were not actually that size, but she only sighed. "It looks wonderful. And properly terror inducing."
"Yes, it is," Jareth agreed.
"The Labyrinth likes it, too. I can feel it." The mosaic girl inspected the inscription and nodded her approval as well.
"Of course it does. With two such beautiful people tending to it and leaving such art as this, how could it be otherwise? The Labyrinth appreciates a little attention." Jareth ran his gloved hand along the stone.
"I'm sure you never spoil it either," Sarah replied with a grin.
"I take good care of what I am responsible for," Jareth replied, mildly indignant. "You just happen to find more mischief than I expected."
"Hey, I do pretty well for getting chucked into all this. I still don't understand why you bother to comply with any of the politics."
"The simple reason, Sarah, is that I cannot defeat them all should they decide it is in their best interest to be rid of me." He looked away for a moment, suddenly quiet. "It has happened before."
Sarah rested a hand on his arm. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Jareth shook his head, still not meeting her gaze.
Nodding, Sarah accepted his response, veering the subject away. "Well, it's beside the point anyway. For as impish as you are, I thought you might appreciate my own mischievousness."
Jareth's lips quirked up again. "Perhaps I am merely unused to this side of continuum."
"How did my flair for mischief affect our wager? The one we made on the way to the darker lands regarding number of allies?"
"Oh, as much as it pains me to admit, I believe you won. Sympathy for your illness was a powerful motivator."
Though she was incredibly tempted to gloat, Sarah understood there would be time for that later. Although, Sarah thought, it was more likely to be a constant struggle to ensure that squabbling didn't turn into full-out homicide. "I'll talk to my folks."
"Frying pans and other instruments of torture are to be left at home or our deal is void."
"Only if you will be on your best behavior," Sarah warned.
Jareth laughed. "Haven't we already established that wild streak is present in both of us?"
Sarah chuckled herself. "All the same, you know what I mean." Sarah scanned their portrait again, mentally instructing the Labyrinth to return itself to rights. "Well, it seems that our emergency has passed. Race you to the castle? No flying or poofing?"
Jareth grinned. "What does the winner gain?"
"We'll figure that out later. Are we agreed?"
Jareth held out his hand and shook Sarah's, her fingers grazing his bare wrist, sending a shock through Sarah's system and, judging by the sudden flare in Jareth's eyes, his as well.
Coyly grinning, Sarah stated, "On your mark, get set…" Focusing all of her energy in connection with the Labyrinth into one single command, she yelled, "Go!" and simultaneously instructed the Labyrinth to enclose Jareth between four walls. She could hear him laugh behind her as she ran, asking the Labyrinth for a clear path home.

Sarah couldn't resist ambushing her husband at several points within the maze, directing the Labyrinth to herd him in specific directions. She was sure Jareth was aware of her manipulations, but he still appeared where he was expected and Sarah managed to assure her lead at each stopping point, magically hiding his clothes (after regaining her own) at the particular detour near the hedges. She smiled to herself at the memory of that little diversion. Sarah continued to hurry along, promising the Labyrinth that she would personally give the entire structure a new coat of glitter should it continue to lock Jareth in dead ends. In the back of her mind, she could feel his amusement battling with his frustration. The Labyrinth just seemed to think the whole thing was quite funny, though it expressed some confusion on what had occurred in the nook of the hedges Sarah had sealed herself and the King.
After Sarah stood on the steps of the castle, she rolled her wrist and stared at her husband in the crystal. He was scolding the Labyrinth, disapproving of its entirely insubordinate behavior; the Labyrinth had refused to let Jareth retaliate after any of Sarah's traps, enraptured (near as Sarah could tell) with the promise of glitter and otherwise enjoying the undertaking of an activity that would normally get itself in trouble. Truly, it had likely not had the pleasure of purely playing with Jareth in a handful of centuries. Sarah found herself grinning again as she watched. Jareth peered directly into her eyes, aware that she was watching. Sarah gave a small wave with a smirk, Jareth shaking his head.
Sarah closed her eyes, fulfilling her end of the agreement with the Labyrinth and politely asking it to allow Jareth a direct, abbreviated path. The Labyrinth began to protest but was soon too entertained by the tiny bits of sparkling lights and otherwise aware that Sarah's sharp tone meant business. Jareth strolled to the front doors of his castle and gave Sarah a mild glare.
"It's good to see you, too, Slowpoke," Sarah commented, standing and wrapping her arms around Jareth's middle. "What do I get and what should we do first now that we're home?"
"I'm sure I could think of something."
A blur dashed through the doors of the castle and attached itself to Sarah's legs.
"Majesty is back! Majesty not munched by nasty creatures! Majesty never leave again?" Owena asked in a voice thick with pleading and with enormous eyes.
Sarah laughed, noting the lack of the grammar that typically set Owena apart from some of the other goblins. "I won't be leaving for a while at least, Owena. Don't worry."
The goblins began to peak their heads out of every possible crack in the wall, door and window, all hiding in the safety of the castle after something was attacking. Before Sarah could mutter a proper expletive, she and Jareth were promptly smothered by a happy hoard of goblins. They were so overjoyed at the return of their monarchs that they immediately forgot the breach to the Labyrinth. Those in the Goblin Army were relatively calm though reassured to have their commanding officer returned (judging by the pile of chewed fingernails). All the others had apparently been inconsolable. Later, some of them could give basic descriptions of the terrifying dark goblins, but the celebration was ready to last well into the next day. Which it did.
Sarah and Jareth had none of a moment's peace in order to discuss what motivations and creatures lay behind the attack on the Labyrinth. Any time Sarah managed to find herself alone or solely with her husband, Owena had tearfully sought her out, afraid of being separated and certain she was left behind again. Jareth, to his initial bewilderment (considering that he had left his kingdom before), was asked by several goblins to throw them out of the castle. Apparently, this added a sense of normalcy to their day that had been missing, the restoration thereof made all the more necessary as a result of the Labyrinth's sudden breach. Eventually, just as Marek and the goblins that had accompanied Jareth and Sarah to the darker lands managed into the castle, the entire group seemed to collapse together.
"Heck of a party, eh? Figures I'd miss it, cleaning up after you," Marek noted, sitting on a chair an inebriated goblin had recently tumbled from. "The goblins who returned with me—"
"The ones who hid the whole time?" Sarah asked.
"Yes, those, are moving your personal affects to your room since I am tired of dealing with them."
"Marek, you aren't upset about being left behind, are you?" Jareth queried innocently.
"You left me in the darker lands, Jareth. I must say it was not appreciated. I shall carry a candle with me to go anywhere in the dark for the next month."
"There's no need for that Marek. Take a crystal instead."
Marek caught the crystal Jareth tossed to him, scowling lightly.
"So what happened here?" Marek asked, pocketing the crystal and gesturing to the goblins scattered around the room as well as the remnants of whatever imaginative welcome home activity they had created next (the sand castles made with ale was particularly messy and led to much eaten sand, though the flaming chicken hunt had been almost as disastrous).
"Catastrophe," Jareth deadpanned.
"The goblins were welcoming us home," Sarah clarified.
Marek surveyed his surroundings. "I missed quite an event, that I can see." He sighed. "That's not what I was really hoping to know, however."
Jareth nodded. "To the library, then." Holding his arm out for Sarah, Jareth lead the way.
"Why the library?" Sarah asked.
"We may need to looks something up," Jareth replied.
"Right, why didn't I think of that?"
"You asked the question, Sarah. Why are you asking me?"
Marek was chuckling behind them. "I missed the two of you, for some reason I don't understand."
"I bet it's our entertainment value, Jareth."
"For his sake, I hope it's our capability to rule and otherwise forgive his impertinence."
"Well," Marek admitted, "That is a good mark in your favor."
Sarah stepped over a sleeping goblin. "Tell me, Jareth, did you put something in the grog?"
"A spell was much easier. Their enthusiasm delayed its reaction more than I would have liked."
"When was it supposed to have kicked in?"
"Oh, about five hours ago."
"And you couldn't have made it a more potent spell?"
"I didn't want to kill them, Sarah."
"You could have tried a lullaby."
Jareth paused for a moment, considering.
"I know you can sing, Jareth. It would have been worth a shot. As impressionable as they are, it might have worked by sheer force of will."
"Perhaps next time, Sarah," Jareth conceded, still thinking through the idea.
"We'll talk about tunes later," Marek interceded. "There are some other matters that need our attention first."
"Something's more important than expanding Jareth's song base?"
Jareth gave a half smirk that Sarah found endearing. "A thing or two, perhaps, Sarah." He took on a serious tone. "This will certainly be one of them."
One stumbling goblin giggled as it bumped into a couple walls, tangling itself in the edges of a semi-charred and perpetually grubby tapestry.
"Perhaps when we're away from any owners of quick-to-panic ears," Sarah pointed out. "There's no telling how long they'll be out if it took the spell that long to work."
"Agreed. We'll continue to the library," Jareth directed, stepping over the now snoring goblin.
Sarah was all too eager to flump down on the brown leather couch, remnant from her old apartment and permanent (or else) fixture of the library.
"What is that?" Marek asked.
Jareth sat down next to her, appreciating the couch for the first time, Sarah noticed, with a smug detachment she had somehow expected.
"It's comfortable, that's what it is, Marek," Sarah assured him.
"Ah, it must be yours then," he commented.
"Now what's that supposed to mean, Marek?" Sarah shot back.
"Sarah is quite defensive about her couch," Jareth noted. "I would not threaten it in any fashion."
Marek raised his hands defensively. "I will say no more against your furniture nor your bizarre Aboveground customs."
Sarah shook her head. "Gee, thanks, Marek. But to the matter at hand—"
"Yes, what information can you tell us from the darker lands? Rumors? Reactions?" Jareth demanded.
Once more Marek raised his hands defensively, this time in all seriousness. "I have many of both."
Promising to herself that she would ask Jareth to explain the full ramifications later, Sarah listened to Marek report on all the parties present, many stories began with a feigned search for the missing goblins (though they had squarely packed themselves away in a suitcase, forcing Marek to conjure a new one with his minimal magical supply). Jareth was silent except for a handful of questions. He sat with his elbows on his knees and his fingers steepled together.
"By all I could gather," Marek concluded, "No specific group revealed any real knowledge as to what drew you away, though the theories they put forward were most entertaining."
"Not even the vampires?" Sarah asked, bemused.
"Not even the vampires. Fabian and Anya were quite affronted that you left so abruptly, perhaps, but they were about as clueless as the trolls, though at least the trolls fully believe that you were called to respond to 'The Words.' Really, Sarah, I nearly split myself trying to keep from laughing. Appropriately dramatic, but ridiculous."
"Like you could have come up with anything better, Marek," Sarah retorted. "It worked well enough in my opinion."
"Yes, it did," Jareth agreed, breaking his silence. "And it was one of the few excuses that cannot be contested. They know the necessity of fulfilling a magical contract."
Marek chuckled. "I was almost scared, too. Sarah, you will grow into a fine queen; when I see how you've gone from Aboveground stranger to a leader who can think on her feet all in a little more than a month and a half, well, I have high expectations for your future."
"Has that all it's been?" Sarah wondered aloud. "Weird when all that seems normal." All at once, Sarah felt a wave of nostalgia for the world she grew up. When had she started moving on? When had she adjusted to the time fluctuations subject to Jareth's moods? In some ways, Sarah felt she was betraying her heritage, leaving it all behind.
Sensing her mood, Jareth turned to Sarah. He didn't say anything, just looked at her. But the particular warmth that it gave Sarah when he took her hand was enough. Sarah had left a lot behind, but this was the latest step in her adventure and where her life would ever be affected as a result. Nostalgia was a bittersweet thing. Sarah knew better than to let it interfere with where she was now, mysterious threat, new husband, and all else.
"Not to interrupt an endearing moment, but if you'll just tell me what you found here, I'll leave you two alone. What was so urgent? I've been dying of curiosity."
Leaning a little closer to Jareth, Sarah asked, "Do you still have the arm, Jareth?"
Marek's brows constricted together. "The what?"
Jareth smirked and tossed Marek a crystal. The crystal promptly transformed into the dismembered arm upon landing in Marek's outstretched hand. He dropped it was a bit of a yelp.
"What is that?" Marek inquired, gingerly lifting the hand by one of its elongated fingernails.
"What does it look like?" Jareth replied.
Marek inspected the remains again. His eyes widened. "Is this what I think it is?"
"Depends on what you think it is. And there was the matter of three separate breaches to the outermost wall."
Absorbing the information, Marek appeared to be thinking it over. "Some of the twisted goblins were muttering more than usual, but they wouldn't do this without some directing or higher purpose."
"I know. Otherwise they would have done it by now," Jareth replied.
"So either the rest of the nobles didn't know what was going on, or they have suddenly become much improved in their subterfuge skills," Sarah concluded.
"Exactly," Marek agreed.
"Well that's encouraging."
"Such is the way of Underground politics, Sarah."
"Politics are confusing enough without the vampires and trolls, thanks."
Jareth stood up, his hands clasped behind his back as he strolled, rather than paced, back in forth. "We're still missing why," he said finally.
"Ack might know something," Sarah recalled. "He wanted to tell me something."
Marek shifted from one to the next and grimaced. "I don't know if we can trust him."
"Ack's been a good friend," Sarah defended.
"A point worth mentioning here, Sarah, is that though you have adapted well, you have only been here for nearly two months. Perhaps he merely has not had enough time to betray you yet," Jareth pointed out matter-of-factly.
"Ack was the best friend I made there. He really seemed concerned," Sarah asserted again.
"We shall have time to see," Jareth replied soothingly. "We still need to consider the entirety of recent happenings in order to determine what gain could be in attacking the Labyrinth."
"Well, it did get us out of the darker lands at least," Sarah murmured.
Marek and Jareth fell quiet and Sarah realized that she was being stared at. She thought through what she had just said. "It got us out of the darker lands. Orion was telling me I was in the way." Sarah huffed. "This is all going to boil down to a prophesy thing again, isn't it? This is so incredibly frustrating!"
Jareth and Marek exchanged a glance. "She's right, Jareth, on many counts."
Jareth nodded. "You know what to do."
Marek sighed. "Yes, I suppose I do." He bowed. "Majesties, I take my leave and will report at a later time."
After the door had closed behind him, Sarah noted, "Does he always get formal when he's tense?"
Jareth resumed his seat on the couch. "Depends on the situation. There are worse ways he could react."
"There's so much all this could mean, isn't there?"
"The short answer is yes."
"The long answer?"
"Would take several years of back-story, that being the abridged version."
"Sure I couldn't just Vulcan mind-meld and borrow it?"
"I'm assuming that this mind-meld process would not be a good idea."
"Yeah, probably," Sarah admitted, leaning against Jareth as he wrapped an arm around her. "But it would still make it a lot easier."
"All we can do now is plan and wait." Jareth noted Sarah's grimace. "Perhaps we should take a break from thinking about it."
"I'd like that," Sarah confessed, hoping to have some time to fully process.
"What should we discuss then?"
"Well, we'll have a two month anniversary crazily soon. What should we do?"
"I might be able to think of a thing or two," Jareth whispered, laying a kiss on Sarah's forehead.
"There are still a lot of things about you I don't know. Before the whole darker lands thing, that was sort of my priority, to start to figure you out. You've watched me for a while but I don't even know your favorite color."
"Brown is a sensible color. Who would suspect?"
"I suppose I have a fondness for a good wine red."
Sarah smiled. "That makes more sense."
"And does it make you feel better to know?"
"A little."
"I will tell you most anything you wish to know, Sarah."
"Tell me about your first days as the Goblin King."
"They were perhaps as eventful as yours, for differing reasons…"
Sarah laughed to think of the man on whose shoulder she rested her head, green in office and aghast at the well-meant but horrendous welcome planned by bumbling goblins and pre-twisted goblins alike. His stories died off after a while as they both stared into the fire beneath the hearth. Secure in his arms and again thankful to have returned home, Sarah fell asleep listening to his breathing.

The Goblin Kingdom calmed over the next week, and Sarah soon found that her duties were comparatively easy to what was expected of her in the darker lands. Goblin paperwork, though messy and full of scribbles, was more understandable than she would have guessed. Surprisingly enough, her experience with all the detailed paperwork of her old job had her sorting and sifting through piles at a rate that amazed her husband.
"Why do we even have paperwork, Jareth? I mean, where does it all go?"
"Records. And it slows how quickly the goblins will complain if they have to be able to spell it."
"That makes a lot of sense actually."
"Aside from that, I can look for potential problems before they become anything more, and other Fae spaced out in the kingdom can put in petition this way without fear of a goblin welcome."
"There are other Fae in the kingdom?"
"Did you think that Marek was wished down here? No there are Fae, a handful of secluded humans, and several other beings that are filed away somewhere as well."
"Written down so you don't have to remember. Okay, I think I got it."
"You are so expedient that I hardly see how it matters. You may see to any and all paperwork from now on."
"Like hell. A, you're not pushing all this on me. B, notice the lack of goblins in the room right now; you'd definitely miss it. And C, call it quality time. We'll bond over mutual suffering and papercuts."
"I suppose if you're going to put it that way."
"Yes, I am," Sarah affirmed with a chuckle.
All the same, they had to desert their relative peace for a few hours of what Jareth formally called grievances, though they both agreed it was more an outlet for inane complaining from a chunk of the goblin populace. Surprisingly, they had a system of sorts, though Jareth swore he had never attempted such, to where Sarah was certain with a little time she'd be able to predict which goblin was going to complain next. Sometimes, Sarah noted sleepily, Jareth had to lay down a sensible solution, otherwise he would lay down the suck-it-up-and-deal treatment, both of which the goblins thanked him profusely for. One point of interest in the whole ordeal for Sarah (since under their wager she was not even required to be present for the week of grievances, let alone invent a solution) stood in the back of the room, a rough cloth cloak sheltering him from the misting rain. He pushed back the red hood and met Sarah's gaze from across the room, inclining his head.
"Jareth," Sarah whispered as Urk recited his usual whine that someone had hidden his favorite chicken again, "Who is that?"
"His name is Lyle. I imagine since he is here you will have the opportunity to question him later."
The rotation finished its course and the goblins sat at Jareth's feet waiting for him to bellow their dismissal, typically in the form of threats and sending at least four goblins bodily from the room. An uncharacteristic silence fell as Jareth asked, "Are their any other matters that need attending?"
Lyle took his cue to stand up and walk toward the platform, upon which Jareth and Sarah surveyed the packed room. "I seek your blessing, your majesties."
"In what endeavor?" Jareth asked, nodding to the dwarf scribe (who had a little more intelligence than the rest of the mob).
"You are aware that I have tended to the orchards east of the Labyrinth since my arrival." Sarah felt this bit was added for her benefit. "Recently, for reasons not yet determined, the trees have been declining. The fruit turns rotten."
"I have heard of this development. Two elves have been sent to survey what they can, though they will not arrive for some time. For what do you seek my blessing?"
"Seeing as my services are not in heavy demand, with the death of a third of the orchard, I wish to start a new farm."
"Do you wish this tract of land to be near Maggie?"
Lyle colored, the red fading into his olive complexion as he brushed his dark hair from his face. "Yes, I seek your blessing in that matter as well."
"And you shall have both."
"Thank you, my King."
"Now, if that is all," Jareth announced to the room, casting a dangerous glance to the goblins hanging on the fixtures. Most of the able goblins had already started for the doors, though Jareth had found the minimum four goblins to chuck from the room.
"That's enough of that for now," he muttered, though Sarah could see the sardonic smile tugging at his lips. "Please stay for a moment, Lyle. I believe my wife wishes to interrogate you."
"Oh, nothing quite that harsh," Sarah assured him as Lyle looked momentarily stricken. "I just haven't met as many humans here as I might have suspected."
Lyle's eyes widened slightly. "You're human? From Above?"
"Freshly plucked out of. Do you remember anything about it?"
"A little. I've been here a long time."
"Only about seventy five years," Jareth shrugged.
"You look pretty good for over seventy five."
Lyle smiled. "Part of living in the Underground."
Sarah asked about Maggie, who had apparently been wished to the Underground forty eight years prior, but otherwise, as refreshing as it was to talk to another human, the conversation soon grew awkward. Lyle whispered his respects again, bowing and keeping all proper decorum, before exiting with perhaps only a little less trepidation than the goblins.
"You had hoped to gain a human friend?" Jareth asked when Sarah sighed.
"It might have been nice. But the only thing he really remembers is Franklin Roosevelt. Not exactly the best conversation starter. And he looked like he thought I was going to send him off to an oubliette if he stuttered, human or not."
"You could."
"I wouldn't without reason."
"Sarah, you've been in office for about a month. He doesn't know that. You're still queen. It's going to affect your relationships regardless."
"Scary thing is I think I'm started to settle into the role."
"I never doubted you."
"Never?" Sarah asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Perhaps there were a few occasions," Jareth admitted, standing and offering Sarah his hand.
"Maybe that just means I should arrange my family's visit sooner rather than later before I'm irreparably a queen. If my novelty wears off, I'll actually have to figure out what's going on."
"Sarah, you will always be more than just your job."
"So sure are you?"
"From what I know of you, Sarah. I don't think you could function any other way."
Sarah wrapped her arms around Jareth's middle. "As long as you see me that way, I suppose that's good enough."
They were both quiet for a moment, thinking through the loaded conversation. Other than the grievances and taking advantage of the momentary (and comparative) calm in the kingdom to repair and ready against future attacks, Sarah found that she was growing more and more fond of her husband. In moments like these, Sarah was tempted to start a "Define the relationship" conversation, though knowing full well that Jareth would state that they were married and make the conversation awkward for her thereafter stayed her tongue.
Besides, he'd inevitably ask her the same question, and Sarah didn't have a good answer for that. Not that she hadn't been thinking about it. While Jareth ran her through rudimentary flight lessons and other magic exercises and Marek began taking Sarah through tactical relations, Sarah gauged her circumstances. She'd only known Jareth for about a month; was that long enough to fully love him? They'd been through a lot, depended on each other to play roles, appreciated each other as confidants, and Sarah had officially decided that she was indeed falling for him. The question was had she gone from falling to fallen? The more Sarah agonized over it, the more important the tense of the verb stood in her mind. All the little signs she had read about in magazines, the gushy feeling she remembered with her first real boyfriend, the knowledge that he was taking a place in her life where he made her happy and simultaneously exasperated just by existing…Sarah knew she was in trouble.
There was no denying that Jareth was at least fond of her as well; Sarah wished she could have a full glimpse into his head, instead of the occasional bombardment of sentiments flooding through their magical bond, despite the control she had been slowly building. Those tended to be moments when he was staring at her, and Sarah found it incredibly reassuring.
Aside from Sarah's inner turmoil, another week passed relatively smoothly. Jan and Elizabeth sent updates from the meetings but sent their regrets that they had to convene with the water kingdom before they could return to spend time with the monarchs of the goblin kingdom. Neither confessed any disappointment that the meetings were over. Jareth, Marek, and Sarah scanned Jan's letter carefully, aware that some of what was written was phrased in such a way that those who may have been checking the flow of mail, magical or not, would let it pass with only the level of suspicion granted for any legal document. Another letter arrived with it, a personal petition from Ack, requesting to visit the goblin kingdom, with stated particular interest in the mechanical bits of the Labyrinth, from the Cleaners to some of the moving walls, though Sarah could only hope he had the insider information he had hinted.
Marek related what he had researched, he and Jareth communicating in fragments that made Sarah's head swim. But she got the jist of it, that something big could happen. They had to be ready.
Marek, spurred on by the information in Jan's letter, retreated to his rooms, which according to all goblin maid report looked worse than the throne room after the welcome home party, though Marek refused to let any being touch his resources. Supposedly he had a system.
"What about Ack?" Sarah asked at the end of the discussion, once Marek had returned to his book forts. "Can he come to visit?"
"Should we invite your family at the same time so they can entertain each other? Or should we put that off, too, and allow us this adjusting time as we had agreed?"
"I believe most of that conversation was you being selfish with my time."
"Be that as it may, I am giving you this choice."
Sarah chuckled, laying back on her brown couch. She enjoyed the library all the more for the use her and Jareth found in the couch. Sarah curled against him, both of their faces toward the fire in the grate.
"Before I allow Ack into the gates, I need to know again what he told you. We never did discuss it fully."
"Really, Jareth, he didn't tell me anything. He just said there were some rumors going around, wanted me to be careful." Sarah stopped and bit her lip. "He didn't want me to have anything to do with the dark goblins that day. I don't remember much else."
"Nothing else?"
"Well, he did say something else," Sarah recalled, "But I don't know if it's worth mentioning."
"It couldn't hurt."
"It's just kinda silly, but it stuck out to at the time."
Jareth turned to face her, Sarah was sure, but she kept her eyes on the fireplace. "It could be important, Sarah. You should know that about politics by now."
"Look, it's not worth all this build-up."
"Sarah," Jareth chastised, turning her chin gently so she faced him, "Don't hide things from me."
"Really, it's not that big a deal."
"All he said was that everyone knew the way you were acting to me was a farce but expected because I was mortal, okay?"
Jareth frowned. "I explained that to you."
"I know, but at the time everything was still really new and it struck a bit of a nerve."
She waited to gauge his reaction best she could. He seemed to be processing what she said and what she wanted to say.
After a few moments, he stood up. "I want to show you something." He offered his hand and Sarah took it, rising to her feet.
The hallway was remarkably empty, partly due to some event the goblins had created out of boredom, some sticks, and a profound lack of caution. They were silent, returning to their room. Sarah, for her part was thoroughly nervous, shy of wringing her hands if one of them had not been encased in Jareth's light but resolute grip.
Once Jareth had closed the door behind them, he released her hand and pulled a small wooden box out from under the bed.
"Sarah, I know that you trust me." He held the simple box in his grip for a moment. "I could outline ways that I have demonstrated my trust in you, but this one gets right to the point."
Jareth flipped open the lid.
"What is it?"
"I believe Jan and Elizabeth were to have mentioned it prior to the wedding." He pulled out the smooth stone, about as large as his palm, and broke it. "There is a half for either of us."
Sarah racked her brain, taking a seat on the bed. "Is that a fidelity stone?"
"Exactly. It's ours. I'm giving you your piece."
Sarah took the piece gingerly into one hand. "I didn't even know we had this. I mean, the wedding was kinda hazy, but I don't remember seeing it. Jan and Elizabeth said they weren't really used anymore because…" Sarah trailed off, staring at the lightly porous surface of the smooth tan rock. The information from that conversation filtered back into her mind. "You wanted to make sure I wasn't going to cheat on you," she deadpanned.
"Considering the circumstances, it was a precaution."
"From the beginning you didn't trust me at all."
"Sarah, I could not risk my kingdom, and in light of your reaction that night and Orion's interest in you, can you not see how this action might be at least partially justified? The stone, on top of the magical bond, helped me locate you when Orion was attempting to rape you," Jareth explained coolly, though his fists clenched at the final point. Sarah nearly didn't notice.
"But you didn't trust me," she repeated. "You might not have ever told me."
"Perhaps I did not completely trust you, Sarah. And I had anticipated this reaction. What I'm trying to show you now is that I trust you perhaps more than is safe to trust in the Underground. Marek knew nothing of this stone nor will he know a number of things that will remain between you and me."
Sarah ran her fingers around the piece of stone in her hand, allowing her thoughts to churn over what Jareth meant with this gesture. "Just give me a moment to think."
Jareth to his credit sat patiently. Sarah bit her bottom lip, still eyeing the stone. Eventually, she stood and held out her hand. "I think I get it, Jareth. Thank you for telling me."
Without hesitation, Jareth took off his glove and shook her hand. Sarah beamed and laughed as she threw her arms around Jareth's neck. Off guard, Jareth awkwardly caught her before they both toppled over, stumbling back until he (still unfairly managing to maintain his grace) sat heavily on the bed. Taking a handful of Jareth's hair, she pulled him into a kiss, the stone still in her other hand. His bare hand caressed her cheek while his other hand migrated underneath the blouse she had chosen to the curve of her waist. With a moan, Sarah deepened this kiss, pulling Jareth even closer.
"I want," Sarah panted, holding the stone a little higher, "I want this to go back with your half, Jareth."
"You sure you want to be stuck with me?" Jareth asked impishly as Sarah reached over him for the box.
"There are worse things," Sarah replied, setting the stone quickly in the box, shutting the lid, and returning her attentions immediately to her husband. She could vividly sense everywhere his fingers had been for the electricity that still sparked in his wake. She kissed his collarbone, making a trail down his chest proceeded by the light grazing of her fingertips. His breath hitched and Sarah smirked, noting the particular clouding in his eyes that was usually followed by a growl and she knew he wouldn't take much more of it. Sarah took her time, grazing her fingers lower but returning her lips to nip at his earlobe. "Jareth, I'm happy to be stuck with you," she whispered huskily.
"I never thought I'd be grateful to the Prophesy," he purred back.
He growled then, as her hands found the length of him, and began to kiss her with a new frenzy.
Stars in their eyes, they took the rest of the afternoon off.

"You're looking much better than the last time we saw you, Sarah," Karen greeted warmly.
"Things have gotten a lot better since last I saw you. Firstly, we're out of the darker lands. Well…we have been for a little while now."
"And you didn't call sooner?" Karen scolded.
"No, Jareth and I needed some time to adjust and get to know each other without a bunch of evil goblins and vampires around."
Sarah watched Karen's expression shift to obvious interest. "Oh?"
Covering her already flushing face with her hands, Sarah mumbled, "Toby's not around to overhear this conversation, is he? I really would rather not hear a giant 'ew' after every other sentence. And considering how Dad feels about him, I think I'd prefer that it was only you and me right now."
"The boys are out, don't worry."
"This is still a conversation I would have pictured with a group of my friends in sleeping bags, a stack of Cosmos, and ice cream on hand. I haven't even been able to talk to Jan and Elizabeth, I mean, and they know Jareth and what all the little cultural things mean. I had half a mind to talk to Jen yesterday."
Karen shook her head. "Sarah, checking in with your friend Jen using one of these bubble crystal things would not go over well. You've been gone about two months and she hasn't wavered. She'd be all the more determined, something I have a hard time imagining at this point. Secondly, you know I'd have the story from you eventually anyway."
Sarah grinned. "Yes, I do."
"So let's have it."
"Well, Jareth and I were quite glad to get out of the darker lands. Really, the whole trip was such a mess, though I made a couple of friends. Still not the sort I'd take to my childhood home."
"Well, I think Ack would freak Toby out so I'd save that until he deserved it."
"Who is Ack?"
"Ack's the boogyman. Honest to God, he's the boogyman," Sarah repeated at Karen's incredulous look. "You can keep telling Toby he doesn't exist, if it makes him feel better. Ack would get a kick out of it."
"What about you and Jareth?" Karen asked, settling down on the couch, judging by the shift and the familiar pattern behind her.
"We've gotten quite close." Sarah paused for a moment. This was her time to utilize her sounding board, and she still had to think through what she was trying to say.
"You're trying to decide whether or not you love him," Karen stated. It wasn't a question; it was just Karen's ability to read people.
"Would it make me a coward if I said it'd be easier for me to tell if he told me he loved me first?"
Karen chuckled. "Not exactly."
"I know we've got some mutual trust going on and he's been increasingly honest and some of the things he does all point toward it. And I know on my part that he's turning into a fixture in my life. I've grown more than a little fond of him. I mean we argue about what tricks to play on Marek and upcoming war and all, but we manage to get through it."
Karen blinked. "I'll ask about the war later. Tell about some of these signs."
"He gave me part of the Labyrinth to redesign, however I wanted. I made it so the further you go in the more lost you become. The way forward is the way back and all that. Mostly it's just little things here and there. But just how he acts when we're alone and there's this one particular smile that always gets me. And sometimes, I get a wave of his feelings through the bond created when we were married, and it's pretty definite, except that I don't know how temporary that one is. Our conversations have ended in sentimental notes recently, as though he's trying to reassure me. Well, especially after the discussion that started with gloves."
"Yes, the high-ups here wear gloves and only touch bare skin to signal real trust, knowing that they weren't going to poison you. I asked Jareth why he hadn't insisted I wear them and he came up with the reasoning that I shouldn't be closing any deals without him anyway and we had a bit of a row about how I could if I wanted to and how he didn't think it was a good idea. I brought up the safety factor, said he was just lazy for not wanting to let me know the cultural significance and whatnot. He said I didn't need anything else to be paranoid about." Sarah shook her head. "That argument's done, though. He wasn't even sure that I'd been told about what the gloves meant now anyway, though he said that did explain my reaction with the stone."
"What stone?"
"Oh, that's an entire explanation to itself. I've been doing some research."
"I think I get the gloves thing. Let's hear about some rocks."
"It's called a fidelity stone. It kinda does exactly what it sounds like it might. It makes you stay loyal. They were pretty high in fashion a few hundred years ago, but using one now is akin to accusing your fiancé of being unfaithful before you're even married. It was all some huge attempt to preserve bloodlines. It works in a couple other ways, too. For example, neither party could be raped so you couldn't even be forced to be unfaithful. It also clues the other member in if that's a possibility. If the stone is broken in half, it loses its pull, hence why a lot of royals stuck them in an oubliette. Different colors hold some different traits, too. Ours is tan which offers some additional protection, though the book didn't exactly mention how or when. Jareth said the stone actually came from part of the Labyrinth. He asked and it gave it to him."
"Stop, Sarah, you're rambling today."
"I've got a feeling it's not going to get any better."
"Put the brakes on for just a second. Please, let me absorb all that. Where does the stone come in anyway?"
"Jareth didn't tell me we had one until a few days ago, when he gave me my half."
Sarah watched as Karen worked through the logic. "Do you still have your half?"
"No. I decided to put it back with his then we shook bare hands, back to the gloves thing."
"Does putting the pieces back together restore the magic?"
"Pretty much. I'm planning to take a look at it later to see if it's magically re-fused like the book said. There might be some other important markers on it, too, that'll be worth looking for."
"But you didn't keep it?" Karen asked.
"I told you, I gave it back."
"He offered you as close to freedom as he could, Sarah, and you chose to stay. I think you don't really need my help to decide if you've fallen for this man," Karen gently pointed out.
Sarah was certain there was a goofy smile on her face, but she didn't care. "Sometimes, I'm really sure. Just something when he holds me, I don't know. Then other times I feel like I'm just queen and know that I'm included because I'm expected to be a part of it and that we'll work better together if we know each other better."
"Why can't it be both?"
Sarah thought about it for a moment. "Because that makes too much sense. It's too direct for the Underground. Sometimes it seems that if you haven't taken three wrong turns and stood on your head, you haven't tried."
"Is it really that bad?"
"Oh, Underground politics are ridiculous. I mean we are sitting on one heck of a possible mess here. Something directed an attack against the Labyrinth. We left the darker lands quite abruptly because of it."
Sarah poured out all her worries on the war, all the strategies she'd heard since her return. Whether or not Karen followed completely, Sarah wasn't sure, but it felt good to get it all out. She even voiced some of her half-baked theories. Eventually, the conversation drifted back to Jareth. Funny how he kept managing to creep into the conversation.
"Really, though, when you, Dad, and Toby come for a visit, you'll be able to see more for yourself then."
"We're allowed to visit without having to work through any maze?"
Sarah beamed. "I won the bet. We just need to organize a time. I would say either soon or a good deal later, depending on whether or not anything else happens to the Labyrinth. The longer we're in the clear, the more I flip between increasingly nervous and relaxed. Really, it's the shifting that bothers me, wondering if it's all a false sense of security."
"Jareth would be alright with this plan?"
"He thinks I should schedule Ack to come visit at the same time, see what would happen. Yeah, he's a good little troublemaker."
"Sarah, I can't give you an easy answer in this case, mostly because I still think you've already figured it out."
"Thanks for listening. I'll call back to catch up on your end properly later this week. Send everyone my love."
"You know you have ours and our support, regardless of how strange this all is."
"I know. Thanks."
"And I'll bring my frying pan if I need to."
"Love you, too," Sarah chuckled, ending the enchantment. Using her thumb, she rotated the wedding band on her finger. It was about time to meet Jareth for lunch, even if she didn't feel all that hungry yet.
Sarah yelped as a booming voice echoed in her mind and through the castle. "DMITRI, YOU'RE SO STUPID! I WISH THE GOBLINS WOULD COME AND TAKE YOU AWAY RIGHT NOW!"
Sighing, Sarah focused and changed into her formal-child-stealing-clothes. An instant later, Jareth was at her side already changed. "Ready? The goblins will watch the wished while we make the issued challenge."
Sarah nodded. "Let's go." There was a particular pull in her mind, luring her to the spot where the wish had just been uttered. A young girl of about seven or eight glanced around nervously, lower lip trembling. Intimidation was all too easy.
Jareth and Sarah stood in front of the girl, arms crossed with an untrustworthy smile.
"W-where's Dmitri?" the girl whispered.
"You have wished him to the goblins, our subjects. He is ours now, Havilah" Sarah explained flippantly, not sure how she knew the girl's name.
"No! He's my brother's best friend. Ben would never forgive me or let me play with them again. Bring him back!"
"Too late for that now. The wish has been made and fulfilled," Sarah replied, determined to use her own expressions. "If you really want him back, you must run our Labyrinth in thirteen hours or we shall keep him."
The girl pouted and changed tactics. "He's just a stinky boy and he picks on me. You won't like him anyway."
"Sometimes," Sarah suggested, breaking character, "Boys pick on you because they like you."
The girl seemed to consider Sarah's words. "No, he's still icky and he wears dirty clothes."
"Are you saying you won't run?"
There was a bit of fear in her eyes as she looked over the expanse of the Labyrinth, seamlessly transported to the hill seconds ago. "I don't know…"
"He's your brother's friend. You need to decide, Havilah, whether you will run the Labyrinth or take this." Sarah held out a crystal. "It will show you your dreams. The decision is yours."
"I won't get in trouble, will I?"
"I cannot promise that."
Sarah wasn't really surprised when, after a moment of indecision, the girl bit her lip and snatched the crystal. They returned immediately to the throne room, where the goblins hoarded around a small boy with blond hair.
"Well that was easy enough," Sarah muttered.
Jareth turned toward her. "Sarah, I have to ask, did you realize that you were speaking Russian?"
Sarah blinked. "What?"
He nodded. "I thought as much."
"We were in Russia?" Sarah took in Dimitri's clothing and recalled the home she had just vacated.
"Did you think folklore was relegated to the English-speaking world?"
"Of course not. That's a movie thing." Sarah thought through it. "Though I guess a lot of people would say that about magic, but here we are."
"Indeed. I will see to the boy, if you could inform Marek." Surveying the goblin hoard, he added, "Possibly some crowd control."
"Are you taking him to the changing room?"
"Well, you've had me learn the rest of the process so far. What happens to the wished away children seems important."
A goblin tugged on Sarah's skirt, looking up at her with large pleading eyes. "Party?"
Sarah grinned. "Yes, Olec, party." A roar cascaded amongst the goblins as they pulled out ale and, much to Sarah's chagrin, chickens. Dmitri for his part, looked highly confused as the goblins began to dance around him.
"If you wish to see the process, I won't deny you that. It is important. However, I will warn you."
"Warn me?" Sarah repeated, immediately suspicious. "About what?"
"You will not like what you see."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You will see. Please, do as I have asked. Meet me in the room."
With a nod, Sarah set off immediately to find Marek, leaving Jareth to wade through a sea of bouncing, cheering goblins. She ran into Marek in the hallway.
"We're back."
"Well, I can see that, Sarah. I guess the wish-er did not want to run?"
"Nope. Quick visit." Sarah watched Marek to gauge his reaction. "I'm going to meet Jareth in the changing room."
Sure enough, Marek stumbled for a moment. "I-I'm not sure that's a good idea."
Sarah sighed, resigning herself that she would indeed not be pleased by…something. "Well, if both of you say that, it's probably just as well that I see it sooner rather than later."
Marek still appeared unsure. "If that is what you wish."
"Right. Let's just go before I change my mind."
Markedly quiet, Marek walked next to Sarah. She was considering changing the subject to inquire as to how he had recovered from the latest practical joke (the goblins had discovered that Marek's entire bathroom had been turned into a swimming pool…not by magic-ing it into such, but by sealing the lower half of the door, plugging the drains, and filling it steadily with water) when they stood in front of the door.
"Sarah, I don't care for this, but I will stay with you, if you'd like."
"Are Jareth and I going to have an argument afterwards?"
"Quite possibly."
"Alright, then. Find out through your gossipers like you usually do. I swear, you're worse that my aunt. She'd even set herself underneath the windowsill, sitting in a patch of whatever plants where there, just to get the latest."
"Unfortunately, your window is a good distance from the ground."
"I'm glad you don't see it as a necessary use of magic, then."
"Nonsense. A glass against the door works just as well."
Rolling her eyes, Sarah pushed open the door. "If you need to know that badly, I'll tell you later."
"And ruin the fun?"
"Ruin your fun? Isn't that what we do?" Jareth replied, hand on the shoulder of the small, blond boy.
"I think it's just one of the many services we happen to offer."
"Before I find myself in any real trouble," Marek interrupted. "I believe I'm going to disappear and try to avoid whatever cruse you wish to inflict on me next." He inclined his head and left.
"Jareth, let's switch the place of two of his sources, see if he notices. My guess is he's still listening outside of the door anyway."
Grinning, Jareth sent a crystal rolling impossibly squeezing beneath the door and down the hallway, chased by Marek's yells of "Oh, no you don't! Get back here you blasted ball!"
The little boy gave a nervous laugh.
"Well, Dmitri," Jareth began, "You have been wished here to the Goblin Kingdom, of which I am king and Sarah is queen. You will henceforth be under our charge and protection, such also our rules and decisions."
The boy nodded with wide eyes, though Sarah wasn't sure how well he understood it. The speech, however, had a tone of ceremony behind it; Sarah wondered if he gave the same speech to infants.
"This place," Jareth continued, "is full of magic and such will affect your body in time. As few people survive that process, this room is where we speed up whatever manifestation your body would take with time. Brace yourself and take this crystal."
Sarah watched as the boy set a shaky, bruised hand on top of the crystal, and began to scream. He fell to the floor, still clutching the crystal to his chest as he twisted in all directions at once, his skin pulling from his bones which seemed to shift underneath. Sarah took two quick steps toward him, only to be stopped by Jareth's hands on her arms.
"You cannot interfere."
"Jareth, look at him!"
Sarah shot Jareth a look of disbelief, returning her attention to the boy. His hair grew and shrank back to his scalp, eventually falling out and re-growing in course bristles only to fall out again. The former-boy crawled on knobby hands that were turning green, shards of the crystal that had been clutched now jutting from his chest and dripping blood. The creature retched and screamed again, writhing as his bones audibly splintered and fused into new formations. Sarah covered her eyes and leaned against her husband.
The noise stopped except for heavy, tearful breathing. Daring to look, Sarah saw a goblin on the floor, looking incredibly miserable. She turned to Jareth, and he nodded, releasing her.
"Hey, there," Sarah cooed, "What's wrong?"
"Mirt is all by his self."
"That's not true. We're right here." Sarah set her hand on the new goblin's arm, pulling out a piece of glass as surreptitiously as possible.
"I just wanted to play," he nearly wailed.
"Well why don't we take you somewhere else to play? I know where there are a bunch of goblins that would love to play with a new friend."
The goblin turned to her with new light in his squinty eyes. "Really? Go play?"
"Yes, Mirt. Let's go play."
The goblin leapt around Sarah's throat and hugged her, crying again as he thanked her again and again. Sarah met Jareth's eyes.
"Mirt, why don't you run ahead to the throne room? Do you know where that is? There will be all sorts of new friends to play with."
Jittering with excitement, the new goblin gave a cheer, nearly strangled Sarah once more, and ran into the door before exiting through it.
Jareth raised a questioning eyebrow, scanning her body language with concern.
"You were right, Jareth," Sarah said after a moment. "I didn't like it. But we're going to make sure he's one happy goblin, right? We'll talk more about it later." Whether it was because of the look in her eyes or her tone, Sarah wasn't sure, but Jareth accepted her answer and led her to the throne room to oversee Mirt's welcome.
Sarah for her part smiled warmly over her goblins, but did not join in the festivities. Hearing about dark goblins, Firey dismemberment, and other discussions about the Labyrinth's not-so-pleasant roots was one thing; torturing a child like that after a running of the Labyrinth was another, if she had sentenced others to that fate when she directed. And Sarah couldn't get her mind around whether she was angry at Jareth or not. He explained it to the boy, had been doing it for a handful of centuries, warned her, all points in his favor. What helped the most was Sarah's belief that he wouldn't do that to a child without reason, whether or not she could rid her mind of the boy's screams. Jareth had a streak to him, Sarah knew, he'd react when pushed. She only had to recall Orion for verification in that. He could be ruthless, and he could be cruel. But that he allowed her request and trusted her enough to let her see this, Sarah saw the gesture.
Seriously, she was spending too much time around Underground politics. Either that or she was starting to get a hint on how Jareth's mind was wired.
Smiling to herself, Sarah watched as Jareth chucked a goblin across the room. Despite what she had witnessed, she wanted to laugh as he seized another goblin (this one at its request) and flung him as well. Who'd have thought she'd fall for him? Her friends might seriously question her taste if not her eyes.
As though in tune with her thoughts, Jareth shifted his attention to meet her gaze. Giving him a small smile, Sarah nodded. He nodded back, allowing a half-smile before wading in her direction through the playing field (hopscotch with a chicken instead of a pebble was proving to be chaotic enough for the goblins, as simple as Sarah's suggestion had been).
"Shall we allow the goblins to acclimate their new member on their own?"
"Sure," Sarah replied, taking Jareth's outstretched hand. He began to escort her to the library, but she shook her head and nudged him further. Once returned to their room, the discussed what would happen to Mirt now that he was no longer Dmitri, but not touching on how he became that way. The conversation had drifted to speculation on when Jan and Elizabeth would make another visit when Sarah wandered back to the bed, leaning over the side and groping with one hand.
"Jareth, where's the stone at?"
"It should be just underneath. Why?"
"I'm not reclaiming my side if that's what you're worried about. I haven't met anyone in the past six days to take it back. You're still stuck with me." He rolled his eyes so Sarah continued, "Anyway, I was doing some reading in the library and wanted to take a closer look at it. I mean, when I saw it last time, I only had my half for a minute or two then shut it back in the box. Where is it?"
Jareth knelt down on the floor, helping her search. "Ah, here," he declared, pulling the box out.
Sarah took the box. "Great. I was wondering if it'd fuse back together or if there'd be a crease or what and—" Sarah cut off as she opened the lid. "What does that mean? The books didn't mention this." The stone was pulsing with a red glow. "I don't think it was doing that earlier, but then we just flipped it closed so quickly and—"
Sarah was startled as Jareth laughed and pulled her into his arms, kissing her long and tender.
"Not that I'm complaining, but what was that about?"
He kissed her again, the warmest kiss Sarah could ever recall receiving. "What was that about? Sarah, look at the stone."
"Yeah, it's glowing and red…" Sarah was beginning to get a bad feeling. "What's it mean?"
Jareth set his hand on Sarah's abdomen. "We're expecting, Sarah. That's what the stone means."
Sarah stared at her husband. The eager grin across Jareth's face slipped.
"Sarah, aren't you happy?"
"Sure, of course," Sarah murmured. "I'm just little shocked and…I think I need to sit down."
Releasing her, Jareth set her gently back to where she had been on the bed, holding one of her hands. "Do you need anything?"
Sarah shook her head. "No, just give me a moment." She drew her hand to her abdomen, still trying to process the dramatic shift in her circumstances.
Jareth's grin returned. "Don't worry, Sarah. You'll have three and a half years to get used to the idea."
Sarah laughed then. "Yes, I suppose the shock will have worn off by then. But, you're sure, Jareth? The stone wouldn't give a false positive or anything?"
"No. The stone's behavior means our child is growing inside of you as we speak."
"With us as parents it's going to be one eccentric little terror." Sarah matched Jareth's smile, feeling her emotions well up in the form of tears in her eyes. "Our little terror."
Jareth laughed again, kissing her once more as he wrapped his arms around her torso and rested his cheek on her head. "Indeed."
Sighing happily, Sarah settled against him. "I think I love you," Sarah stated as though it were the most natural thing in the Underground.
Suddenly (but gently) twisted around to face him, Jareth searched into her eyes as Sarah smiled enigmatically. "If you could have said anything to improve this moment, that was it."
He kissed her again, and Sarah could tell by the outpouring of affection it voiced that he was in just as much trouble as she was. Wiping away the happy tear that had managed to escape, Jareth laid back on the bed as Sarah rested on his chest, his hand stroking her hair.
"Marek's going to be insufferable."
"While I was resenting getting forced into marriage in order to keep my kingdom, when my magic was leaching away, he kept trying to tell me that something good might come out of it. He's going to think this is all his doing. Our intimacy, this child, he'll claim to have known all along."
"Somehow, I could believe it. Maybe we should pretend to have a huge row, stem the gloating as long as we can."
Jareth smirked. "Possibly. I wouldn't be the only one you're affecting."
"Well, that seems only fair."
"He complains that he picks up your Aboveground colloquialisms. He said 'Okie-dokie' this morning and looked positively mortified."
Sarah chuckled. "Regardless, let's talk about it later. I'm quite content to enjoy this moment."
"As you wish, my queen." He kissed the top of her head again. "Whatever you wish."

Sarah crossed her arms and huffed. This did not bode well. Alain was probably a nice enough Fae, but he was one demanding doctor. And she was quite tired of being poked. She was seriously considering ripping off his mutton chops (surprised to see there was perhaps one look that the Fae should not attempt) when Jareth joined them. Truthfully, he nearly didn't allow her to meet the doctor on her own, insisting that she wait until he had seen to a particular letter. When he had another float in via crystal on top of that, he read it with a stony expression and told Sarah that he would be along shortly.
Undoubtedly, it was some sort of repercussion from what had disrupted their conversation earlier, the first letter. Of course, conversation is a polite way of putting it. After the serenity of yesterday's moment had passed, well, Sarah's mind did a massive overhaul and she slept very little. Perhaps it had been further sparked by the arrival of Mirt that morning as he dropped off their breakfast he had made himself, shaking, Sarah could only surmise, for fear of rejection. They weren't done with that matter.
Sarah gave Jareth a look as he entered what Alain had designated as an examination room that reminded him they still were not done, regardless of the respite. Even if Jareth had initially intended to have her speak with the physician in the afternoon, it seemed somewhat underhanded to use their unborn child as a distraction. Once that news had settled in, all sorts of thoughts ran through Sarah's mind, meaning that Sarah was already at a disadvantage in the morning from lack of sleep, not to mention easily agitated. Really, the whole talk surrounding what had happened to Mirt had started off well, Jareth explaining the situation in a surprisingly patient tone, listing both the pros and cons. He was alright until he finished with, "…and even though they don't remember the experience clearly, it instills a little fear in them."
Who, Sarah wondered, could leave that just lying there? "So it's a power trip?" Oh how the conversation degenerated from there, like watching Dmitri transform all over again.
"Anything else?" Sarah asked the doctor as he finished his litany of what she should avoid for the next forty two months.
"I think that covers a good bit," Alain replied, snidely noting her undertone. "Be sure that you follow all that. I'll have it transcribed and sent to you and the King. Congratulations to you both." He bowed to both her and Jareth and excused himself.
Sarah pointed at Jareth. "And if you dare go the overprotective route today, sir, I warn you that I'm not in the mood."
"Rest assured, Sarah, that you will follow everything on that list."
"Brilliant, just brilliant."
Jareth sighed and took her arm, transporting both of them to her couch in the library. "I don't understand, Sarah. You didn't have this reaction last night."
Sarah took a deep breath. "I know, I know. I was still in shock from the whole gruesome transformation thing and then that little bit of news. I'm allowed to freak out a little bit, alright? I don't even know how much I can blame my hormones in any case yet, okay?"
"I had expected a strong reaction to Mirt. You're passionate. But that's not all that's on your mind?"
Sarah was quiet for a moment. "I didn't sleep much last night, thinking about everything."
Jareth nodded, not looking too surprised.
"Well, on top of having no idea how the Underground medical facilities work and trying to figure out how I'm going to tell my family and stretch-marks for God's sake because that's certainly not enough, it's just that this changes everything. It's like a bad novel, this happening now, the timing, like a cheap ploy to increase the odds. I wanted kids someday, but this is not a good time. The Labyrinth's been quiet, but you keep muttering about prophesy and Marek's turned into the great researching hermit and there's all the talk about war and I'm so incredibly sick of waiting for something to happen and—"
"Sarah, calm down," Jareth ordered, taking her arms.
"No, you asked and I need to get it out," Sarah snapped back. "And now I lost where I was in the rant. Heck, I've been flying by the seat of my pants for how long anyway. I was just getting used to you—and I can care and be angry before you get indignant later—and now I've got you and your kid. I'm responsible for another life. And things are so unpredictable here that I'll probably end up with twins that are destined to be the most powerful beings the Underground has ever seen or develop some weird telepathic link or they'll make the Bog of Eternal Stench grow or shrink still in-utero…oh, stop laughing!" Sarah demanded, sidetracked as Jareth began to shake.
"I'm sorry," Jareth apologized, still stifling a smile. He schooled his face. "Please, continue."
"What, that's not enough? What am I going to do about a baby shower if war explodes then?"
"Ah, we already have the preliminary plans for that, if you recall around our wedding."
"Fine. That's a little easier then, but what about my Aboveground friends? I don't know if I can ever spend any extended period of time up there again with the hunt Jen's put out. And don't you dare tell me I can't go up there during the pregnancy, even if it is item number one hundred and twenty eight or whatever on Alain's list, because I'm going to need some maternal support and though I love Jan and Elizabeth and they can do a lot, you're not going to take this away from my parents. I know that I'm making a lot of demands and I'm rambling and…oh dear Lord, what's my problem?"
Jareth pulled Sarah to his chest. "Sarah, my Sarah, you're anxious. I know there's a lot to worry about, but we'll take it one turn of the Labyrinth by the next."
Sarah sighed. "The baby's going to be okay, right? Timing's not its fault in any case."
Jareth's face shifted. "Our child will cause us a lot of grief. This I understand is merely a part of the deal." He grinned.
"I really wasn't ready for this step, yet. Not by a lot," Sarah admitted.
"Regardless, here we are. Stone by stone, we'll get through it."
With a rueful smile, Sarah chuckled, "We're turning mushy pretty quickly here."
"I take it you are feeling better?"
Burying herself a little closer into Jareth's shirt, she mumbled, "Maybe."
"If all you needed was some assurance, it would have been easier if you had asked, rather than the whole explosion."
"There was more to it than that," Sarah warned. "And there will be more."
"I see that, Sarah. It was a jest in poor taste."
"Got that right," Sarah mumbled again, feeling decidedly un-Goblin-Queen-y for the whole morning.
They were quiet for a moment, Sarah allowing herself to calm down more than she had felt since she had talked to Karen the night before.
"You know, even when you were running the Labyrinth, I felt that you were someone I could love."
Sarah raised her head. "You said you didn't love me then."
"I didn't, but I was sure that I could. Now, however, it is quite a different story."
"Yes. Do I need to show you?"
"Quite possibly," Sarah breathed as Jareth ran a line of kisses down her jawbone. "Jareth, we're just in the library. Anyone could walk in."
His hands wrapping behind her thighs, he asked, "Would you rather I stop?" before stilling her protests with another kiss that made his case quite explicitly.
She pulled her husband closer, tearing away from his lips to kiss his newly exposed collar bone. "I suppose not," she replied as he gripped her closer. "I knew I liked this couch."
The day officially improved after that point. Still not perfect, but starting in the right direction, at least to where Sarah felt much more like her capable self.
Another letter appeared for Jareth while they were taking lunch later that afternoon. He snarled and stood, barking at the goblin near the door, "Show them in. They'll be waiting by the front door."
He stormed back to the table, taking a long swallow from the goblet in front of his plate.
"What's this about?" Sarah asked politely.
"You'll see in a moment."
Really, Sarah could hear them grunting as they made their way up the hallway. Judging by the yelping, they probably kicked their goblin escort more than once, and Sarah took an immediate dislike to whoever their visitors might be.
Lyle had mentioned in his visit that a couple elves would arrive to survey the trees, and Sarah could only surmise that these were them. They both wore their hair back and were armed with the nastiest pruning shears Sarah had thought possible, certain that the trees would retract their branches just to keep from getting between the sides of that monstrosity. One elf openly sneered, though the other had a half-grin with one fang protruding and over his lower lip. Their simple, crude clothes were stained with dirt and some liquid of questionable origin.
Sarah copied Jareth's pose, crossing her arms and looking severe.
"What have you discovered?"
The sneering elf spat on the floor and raised his dangerously lovely eyes. "Not much. In a couple days, it won't matter any more."
"Your people know the most about Underground vegetation, and that's the best you can present?"
"There is little else to tell. Plant elsewhere," the elf suggested snidely.
"If we do not understand why these trees are failing, we cannot change it in the next generation if these cannot be transplanted," Jareth pointed out. "Neither of you have been very forthcoming in that respect."
"Looks like something wrong with the soil. Micro-magic must be drained," the spokesmen retorted. "Leave these orchard trees be, do not touch them or disrupt their immediate environment. Perhaps then they can recover."
Though Jareth's look definitely read "you could have said that in the first place," he instead responded with "Very well. You are both dismissed."
The elves turned to leave just as Jareth added, "Oh, one more thing." Suddenly upon them both and hoisting one with either arm, Jareth hissed, "Do not touch any of my subjects while escorting yourselves from my castle. On this matter, we will be understood." He made no threat, though the flaming tips of Jareth's hair made his point quite clear.
Wide, fearful eyes marring their carved faces, they nodded before resuming their bitter expressions and scampering from the room.
"So were the letters complaints or notices of their arrival or just some red tape?" Sarah asked once the room was theirs again.
"A little of each. I'll need to speak with Lyle later. Care to make the visit with me?"
"Sure. Could be fun."
"King! Queen!" a voice squealed on the other side of the door. "Help now! Help now!"
"Nez, Owena," Sarah chided, opening the door, "What's the problem?"
"Mistress," Owena cried, flinging herself around Sarah's legs.
Nez shifted from one foot to the next. "Trouble, nasty trouble," he moaned.
"What's wrong?" Sarah asked, frowning.
"Oh, there's an intruder," Owena explained, her eyes wide and worried. "He came out of one of the guest rooms. Tiglaf heard a noise, the furniture getting shoved around, went in to look, and saw the intruder. It's some kind of monster with giant claws. Terrible, just terrible."
Sarah met Jareth's eyes, concern there overtaken by fury.
"Which room?" he demanded.
"Wait, giant claws and moving furniture?" Sarah asked, odd points in Owena's explanation absorbing in. "Owena, did Tiglaf say the intruder was moving the bed?"
Owena considered it then nodded. "Tiglaf said he was halfway under it, cursing."
"What does it mean, Sarah?" Jareth asked.
"I've got a hunch." With a flick and twist of her wrist, Sarah produced a somewhat lumpy but perfectly viable crystal and peered inside. She grinned.
"Let's go greet the intruder and invite him to tea."
Jareth's brows knotted in confusion.
"Ah, don't form your own crystal and peek. You'll see."
"Sarah, this is serious," Jareth insisted, not exactly placated.
She rested her hand on his arm, feeling the tension in his muscles. "Trust me. It's okay. You can talk to him about how he got in yourself. Come on." She turned to the goblins. "Which way?"
They pointed and Sarah indicated with a nod of her head to Jareth that they should start heading that direction. With an irritated sigh, he took her arm and escorted her brusquely down the hallway.
Sarah saw him as he half-stumbled out of the door, calling out to him, "Hey!"
Ack's scowl melted as he turned to the sound of Sarah's voice. "Your majesty, I apologize for intruding like this. The bed in that room was a little closer to the ground than I would have liked."
Jareth released Sarah's arm and crossed his own, still skeptical.
Sarah gave Ack a hug, certain that she was breaking some kind of propriety as well. "I'm just glad it's you and not a walking manifestation of the Bog."
Ack chuckled. "Seen many of those, have you?"
"It's the Underground. It really wouldn't surprise me as much as it should."
Jareth coughed.
Ack inclined his head. "Good to see you as well, your majesty."
Jareth nodded curtly. "How did you get in?"
"Ah, it's a little trick I configured. I've scared the snot out of some kids. There's some strange magic that allows me to start under one bed and end up underneath another."
"Who else knows about this?" Jareth asked, stepping closer.
Something clicked in Sarah's head. "No one else knows how to get in the castle this way, do they Ack? No agents or spies or armies or random plates of griffin gizzards?"
Ack's look of polite interest shifted to a look of contemplation. "I have not detailed my methods to anyone else nor has it ever, in my own research after the first few instances, been noted as a means of mysterious, instantaneous transport. Nor would many have the patience for it to take effect, let along the odd habit of sleeping under beds. There's no reliability in the first place and few ways to direct it."
"But it could still be used?"
"Not if there is something already under all the beds, your majesty," Ack replied with a half-smile.
Jareth nodded. "Then welcome. I need to oversee some movement of storage so I will leave Sarah to acquaint you with the castle. You are welcome to stay for dinner."
Ack inclined his head again.
Taking Sarah's hand, Jareth led her a few steps away from Ack who respectfully gave them space.
"Before I am accused, no, I do not trust him completely, Sarah. But I trust you will not do anything to put yourself in danger and will call me immediately if there is any hint of something remotely unsafe."
Sarah sighed, but Jareth did not give her a chance to disagree. "Otherwise I will send him home. Do not defy me in this, Sarah. If there is a potential that he revealed a pathway into our castle, someone will use that. Furthermore, if he had to sneak in this way in the first place, that opens up many questions."
Nodding, Sarah couldn't help a small chuckle. "You haven't done the whole 'don't defy me,' thing for a while. Please don't make a habit of it."
"Yes, I understand. I was just trying to lighten things up a little bit. I've got a bad feeling we'll need as much of that as we're going to get if the whole war thing blows up and out. Right, then. I suppose we shouldn't mention our news to anyone either, with the whole war thing."
"Depends on necessary strategies."
"Great. Just great. Go have fun moving furniture. The goblins probably need something constructive to do. Maybe if you tell them they'll have better hide-n'-seek spots if they clear out the linen closets and shove all the tablecloths under the beds, you can join Ack and I once we get halfway down the hallway."
Jareth gave a short laugh. "If I mention hide-'n-seek, they'd probably stay under the beds themselves."
"That'd work, too. Go have fun."
Jareth raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, yes, I'll let you know if there's anything suspicious. I've still got my necklace so listen for that, however that works."
"For his safety and our own, it's probably best that he does not make this an extended stay. He'll know this, but you should be aware as well."
"Okay, I'd best stop ignoring him then."
Kissing her forehead, Jareth turned and left.
"Well," Sarah smiled turning back to her guest, "what would you like to see first?"
"Unfortunately, Sarah, I cannot stay long. They might assume I've just disappeared again under another bed, but they will suspect something if I do not return by tonight."
"So, no grand tour, then?"
"I'm afraid not. I promised you information, and I'd rather give it to in a time it would be of use."
Ack's manner was more agitated than she had perhaps seen him before. Sarah allowed her hopes of a pleasant, relaxed conversation to exchange for focus. "You'll have to return when you can spend more time, see if you could meet my little brother if it works out. Well, let's get some tea and go somewhere to talk."
As Sarah led the way, she could not suppress one particular question: "What made you take to sleeping under beds in the first place?"
Ack barked a laugh. "There's a story behind that." Ack in his youth had insisted that there were monsters under his bed, ironically enough, and ultimately took to ending up under a different bed every night, attempting to terrify someone in the household or at least escape his caretakers. His family had only humored him for so long then a young Ack had to devise further ways to make his nighttime visits more fear-inducing and otherwise, as he got older still, find new targets. In the end, after he had caused a particularly bad family feud, he picked one bed to sleep under, content enough with the entertainment of the warring neighbors. He had never cared to sleep on any sort of mattress since.
They stopped and sat at a shady terrace overlooking the Labyrinth. Sending a crystal to ask the kitchen for some tea, Sarah noticed that Ack derailed again to a more serious mien.
"I wish I could explain everything in full detail, but I do not imagine you would understand my citations of the Prophesy."
"Oh, that again. No one seems keen on getting me started to any real understanding in it."
"I tell you this, Sarah, there are many ways to interpret it. There are two pieces of information that you should be aware of. The other information I would present would not help you."
"Could you tell my husband some of those particulars?"
Ack made a small grimace. "Unlikely. There would be some further explanation that I don't want to attempt."
Unsure of what kind of answer that was, Sarah, prompted, "What are those two pieces of information?"
Ack collected himself, taking Sarah hand between his long claws. "Some of the Keepers of the Prophesy believe that you are key to the invasion of this place. Your potential for power, under their interpretation, could win over your husband. Jareth has aligned himself with you to prevent much of this."
Sarah nodded, not sure what to do with that information either.
"There's more to it than that, but that's what it winds down to. The other piece of information is rooted in the Prophesy but pressing, especially considering a couple other rumors I have heard. Talking about underground in the Underground. They have been working on some sort of entrance for quite some time. Have there been any signs of intruders? Displaced dirt or unexplained hills?"
"No, I don't think so…"
Sarah thought as quickly as she could, searching her memory for any sort of news she had heard, regarding topography in any way.
Sarah stood, hand wrapped around her necklace. "Jareth, meet me in the hallway," she muttered, striding for the door. Ack said something Sarah did not pick up on as she nearly ran into her husband just past the door.
"What's wrong?" he demanded. Sarah took his arm and began to lead him briskly down the hallway.
"The orchards. The elves that were here earlier today, they knew, that's why they said leave it alone. How long have those trees been dying?"
Eyebrows pinched together, Jareth replied, "A few months now."
"Is there a sort of pattern or path to them?"
Jareth nodded, eyes already calculating. His pace quickening, Jareth peered into a crystal.
"Lyle, inform all of those in the human settlement that they will be on their guard. We have reason to believe that enemy tunnels have breached our lands. Attack could come at any time."
Though Sarah couldn't see Lyle's image in the crystal, she could hear his frantic voice. "There already here!"

Sarah was on a balcony overlooking the Labyrinth. The sun was especially warm and welcoming to her face. She closed her eyes. An arm snaked around her waist and Jareth rested his chin on her shoulder.
"Hello to you, too," Sarah murmured.
"Junior learned a new word today. Actually a new sentence," he whispered into her ear.
"Junior?" Sarah parroted, turning around to look at her husband.
Jareth gestured toward the doorway where a miniature version, coming up to about Sarah's waist, of himself plodded in.
"Well, Junior, let's show her."
The child smirked and puffed up his chest. "Don't defy me! Don't defy me! Don't defy me!" he trumpeted, marching in a circle around her and gaining speed.
Sarah clutched her head in her hands with a despondent grunt, cursing her existence.
Thankfully, Sarah woke up. She couldn't muster the strength to turn around and glare at her husband however. She was still exhausted.
Instead, Sarah rested closer to his body. She'd tell him later. After another six hours of sleep. Though they probably didn't have time for the three they were attempting, let alone a lofty number of nine.
"You should go home and rest, Sarah."
Sarah sighed. "The magic needs to go toward the wall, Jareth. At least until we get it stabilized."
"Then you should stay here. I'll have Alain see to you."
"He needs to be patching up the army," Sarah mumbled, really wanting a few more minutes of sleep instead of starting the argument again. "Playing handmaiden to me isn't in his job description anyway."
Half growling, Jareth rolled out of bed and stood up, his head a few inches from the top of the tent. "Once the wall is finished, Sarah, you will return to the castle."
"Are you coming with me?"
"Then we have some difference of opinion," Sarah finished.
"Sarah, we have been through this."
Sarah couldn't deny that. It had been quite a sore spot these last twenty six days. Jareth would transport her away and find her later working on another part of the wall. Why they were building a wall, Sarah found out much to her consternation, was due to some obscure line of the Prophesy. A combination of magic and mortar, Sarah and Jareth working below and the (surprisingly focused) goblins compiling above, the wall was staggering. But it was certainly not enough nor was it finished.
The goblin army and a militia that was not already assigned to the wall were on the other side, staving off twisted goblins, elves, a couple commanding vampires, and all other sorts of dark whathaveyou. The days belonged to the ambushing guerrilla goblins. The nights were filled with shrieks. Neither side was getting any time to rest and plan, each attacking when they were comparatively stronger. Jareth and Sarah were left to steal a few hours of sleep, let alone much time to themselves, at infrequent intervals. At times, they could talk while working on the same section of wall, but the majority of those conversations consisted of Jareth trying to coerce, intimidate, demand, ask, and, on rare instances, nearly plead for her to leave to safety.
Sarah would have none of it. It wasn't an easy decision, but Jareth could feel just as well as she could the fear and pain experienced by the Labyrinth. They were both assigned to protect it. Jareth continually reminded her that she was also assigned to protect herself and his heir, included in the initial job description. He had Alain give her routine check-ups and voice his disapproval; the goblins thought she was receiving some sort of additional battle training, noticing that Sarah always left Alain's tent ready to hit or kick something, Alain once leaving with a nasty bruise (that Sarah still insisted was an accident). Sarah pointed out all the protection spells in addition to all the amulets (which Jareth was surprised to confirm their authenticity) given to her not only by her three dear friends but one by the mosaic girl (on a piece of stone), more by a few random goblins, and one from Marek before he disappeared.
After the initial chaos in the orchards had died down to a more manageable surge, Jareth, Marek, and Sarah had returned to the castle. Thankfully, their enemy's underground tunnel had not reached any of the underground paths of the Labyrinth, near as they could determine at this point. This would need to be further prevented; otherwise the Labyrinth would be an open battlefield with itself as a casualty. That's when the wall came in. Marek and Jareth argued about the Prophesy, quoting bits in a mellifluous language, while Sarah went to organize members of the castle and whatever else she could and direct them toward the skirmish.
Then they had left without her. Sarah had spent that night in the castle, thoroughly pissed off. Jareth returned the next afternoon and Sarah had insisted on going back with him. Their private war had officially started.
Jareth refused. Sarah walked to the camp in a few hours, the Labyrinth giving her shortcuts. He returned her to their room with additional commands and wards. Sarah went to the library and found a few books on war and the architecture of the castle itself, smiling as she left the books in front of him and Marek while they were discussing further strategy. Jareth transported her back and locked her in the room. It took most of the afternoon, but Sarah managed to transport herself outside of her door and then make it to camp. Jareth blocked his magic from her. Sarah discovered that turning into a hawk was now a function of her body in the Underground rather than entirely dependent on their stock of magic, though she apparently couldn't turn back without it. Jareth put her in an oubliette. Sarah was glaring at him within the hour. He placed her in the care of Jan and Elizabeth. After three days, she had returned with insights about the war itself and the blessing of her caretakers (likely as they were not informed about the pregnancy, as requested by Jareth).
Three factors allowed this truce, where Jareth was at least not routinely depositing her: Sarah's recently developed symptom of transporting in her sleep (that she still preferred to the alternative of morning sickness) left her in vulnerable position unless Jareth could maintain the safeguards, the drain of much needed magic and energy wasted when he tried to move her and her returning, and Marek's disappearance.
The latter, Sarah didn't want to think much about. Jareth, she could sense, checked up on her more frequently since that day, but otherwise they couldn't quite lead a search party in their current circumstance. There wasn't the man/goblinpower nor the energy. They asked the Labyrinth to alert either of them if it found any trace of him, but the Labyrinth was too absorbed in the enemies at its borders to be an attentive soldier.
She could still feel its terror, frustration, and discomfort, ready to panic as much as a heap of stone and creature could.
"I'm going to go see if I can calm the Labyrinth down some, Jareth," Sarah declared quietly, sitting up. "It's especially disheveled this morning or afternoon or wherever we're at now."
Jareth still did not look convinced, frowning like that.
"Jareth, I have the strength, the ability and the need to do something. Today I won't directly be working on the wall. I'll even try to take a nap in the moss glade. Is that better?"
"I suppose it will have to be," Jareth breathed, taking a seat next to her. "Remember to hide in the runes and to ask the Labyrinth to watch over you in the moss glade."
"Join me if you can. You could use some rest yourself."
And he did look tired as he pulled on his boots. Worse than before she had married him, with the strain of drained magic. Still, outside of their tent, he wore his armor and his office with a stern pride and confidence. Sarah did all she could to follow his example, hoping to inspire her subjects, too, with confidence and compassion. Image was an important aspect of politics, after all.
"There will be time for that later."
"Oh no you don't. You can't deflect me that easy. Jareth," Sarah laid a hand over his, "I worry about you, too."
Jareth stopped the systematic placement of his armor to look at his wife. "This will not last forever."
"Immortals don't have that much of an attention span, right?"
Jareth's lips quirked to a smile, as if to say, "Well, yes." He sighed. "We will defeat this threat and fix all the old wards and barriers for at least a few millennia."
"Then will we stop arguing about how much I'm 'allowed' to be involved in war in my kingdom?"
"You just have fun getting me started when it's not serious."
He kissed her. "Quite possibly."
"Even when it is serious," Sarah amended. "Remind me later to tell you about my dream. It was really scary, but I think you'd just laugh at me."
That caught his attention. "What kind of dream? What did you see?"
"Oh, this was definitely one of those weird crazy neuron firing random dreams, not any prophetic source, I'm pretty sure."
"How can you be sure?"
"Would you name your child Junior?" Jareth's brows quirked together. "I didn't think so. I mean can you imagine Jan and Elizabeth saying 'We're going to visit Jareth, Sarah, and Junior'? It just doesn't have the right kind of ring to it."
Jareth laughed. "I suppose not."
"I haven't even had time to adjust to everything yet, except that I refer to him or her as LT in my head," Sarah admitted.
"Little terror," Sarah clarified, much to the amazement and amusement of her husband. "Well," Sarah defended, pointing a finger at Jareth, "If irascibility and mischievousness are at all genetic, we're in trouble."
"And help us all if your stubbornness leaches in."
"Oh, you're one to talk."
A figure stood on the outside of their tent, not knocking but gently scratching on the fabric. "Sir! One of the captives has a few things to say."
"I will be there shortly," Jareth replied.
"And that was still the most civil talk we've had in a while," Sarah stated with a sigh. She stood up and began pulling on a pair of trousers instead of the nightgown she had made out of her shirt, now shortened back to its normal length. "If you do find yourself with some time today, let's just talk."
Standing as well, Jareth pulled her to his chest and stood there without a word. After a moment, he kissed her forehead and strode with strong confidence from their tent.
Satisfied with her appearance, Sarah, too, marched with confidence.
Outside of her tent, she picked up a fairly sizable rock, setting it in the large pocket of the tanned smock over her shirt; though not necessarily fashionable, the leather gave some protection but was essentially designed to sit as a layer between armor, none of which Sarah hoped to need today, as per agreement with her husband. A resounding call reverberated through the camp, and the stone in Sarah's pocket began to pull forward and left. Chuckling, Sarah followed the pull to where Ludo stood with one paw on a pile of stones while still calling more.
"Hello, Ludo," Sarah greeted.
"Sarwah," her friend bellowed.
She chuckled as she was enveloped by orange fur and reached up to scratch an ear, laughing again as Ludo leaned to her hand, closed his eyes, and began to tap a foot.
"I'm going to borrow this rock for the day," Sarah held the rock for him to see.
"Good rock. Rock Sarwah's friend," Ludo agreed.
"The rocks have been most helpful building the upper wall, Ludo. Thanks for calling them."
"Rocks help. Rocks strong." He nodded so solemnly that Sarah nearly laughed again.
"We'll see if we can get some extra supper sent to you tonight. You're looking a little scraggly."
"And maybe some glitter for the rocks once this is all done. The Labyrinth has a tendency toward the stuff."
"Rocks like shiny," Ludo huffed sagely.
"I'll come back and talk to you later, Ludo," Sarah promised, hugging her friend one more time.
"Goodbye, Sarah."
Taking a small pebble from the ground, Sarah spent some of their depleting magic to transform it into one of the stones Sir Didymus had once tossed her, allowing herself and her companions to survey the Labyrinth at an impossible velocity. Seconds later, she was in front of the outer wall. She would get as close to the eastern corners as she could, since that area was closest to the invaded orchard, resting just outside of the official embankment. But close enough to have had a few stragglers and miscreants inflict some kind of damage to the structure itself. That these forces were in their lands at all was bad enough, but damaging the Labyrinth was unacceptable.
Sarah ran her hands along the wall as she made her way along, a twinge in the back of her mind informing her that the Labyrinth was comforted by her presence already. She walked slowly along the wall, listening with her fingertips to the Labyrinth's worries and projecting her own assurances. They reminisced about her adventure, the Labyrinth pleased to bring up all the little tricks it had pulled. Sarah suggested further traps for runners, once this whole mess was sorted out. She didn't mention to the Labyrinth that, knowing immortals, it could easily last for a few hundred years, partly as she was violently opposed to such a reality occurring. She told the Labyrinth about the progress of its next ruler and what horrible concoctions Alain had her drink to assure that she was receiving all the proper nutrition. The Labyrinth asked for a new grove, once the old one was cleaned out, and a water hazard.
Having meandered to the moss grove, Sarah and the Labyrinth were still negotiating the logistics, discussing floating platforms or whether to have the runner become a swimmer around the kelp walls or if they'll be yanked below the surface by a goblin only to realize they can suddenly breathe underwater. The moss grove held a specific peace for Sarah, shared now by the Labyrinth. One large slab along the wall held letters of a peculiar sort large enough for Sarah to curl up in. On her tour of the Labyrinth, her friends had referred to them as the runes, and there was a special kind of protection in these moss-layered alcoves.
Her stomach began to rumble, two and a half hours having passed since she'd left her tent.
Owena tip-toed into the groves, quietly calling, "Your majesty?"
Though briefly startled, Sarah sat up a little straighter. "Over here."
"His majesty sent me to make sure you had something to eat and to give you this. And this bottle is from Alain," she reported, passing a wooden tray with the described items.
"Thanks, Owena. How're things by the wall today?"
"It's getting bigger," she squeaked. "But we haven't heard from our side stuck on the other side today. The king was talking to some of the captives."
Sarah nodded with a distinct feeling she probably didn't want to know, but would eventually have to address, what would then happen to prisoners of war. Sarah assumed it would just become another argument she'd get tired of. All this stress couldn't be a good thing, especially with her hormones flipping out.
"Anything I can do for your majesty?" Owena asked, her large eyes shining.
"Please give a message to the king. Tell him I'm resting."
"Yes, majesty," Owena promised. "It's a good idea. You've been a little pale recently. I will come if you need anything."
"Thanks, Owena. Right now, we need your help on the wall."
Owena bowed and left.
Sarah took a good look at the assortment placed before her: all kinds of fruits, bread, cheese arranged with a certain precision that prevented pieces from tumbling off, at least until Sarah took the first piece. It did not escape her notice that what was set before her was certainly too much for one person.
Grinning, she picked up the letter: "Drink the vial from Alain. I shall join you shortly."
Sarah held up the vial and swished it around, the viscous muck a shade resembling the bog. She asked the Labyrinth what it thought and received a response along the lines of "that's icky" in not so many words. Stalling, Sarah started to eat.
Her spot huddled in the runes was suddenly more compacted.
"Shortly, indeed," Sarah chuckled as Jareth's arm wound around her stomach. "Hungry?"
He kissed her cheek and reached over to the tray. "Yes."
"I don't suppose we have any peanut butter?"
A crystal later and Sarah was spreading it on her bread.
"Surprisingly, that's the second request I've had for that today. Ack stopped by and apparently has an odd fondness for it."
"He stopped by again?" Sarah parroted, her mouth full.
"Yes. He showed up long enough to make a few quips then disappear again. I don't know what to think of it."
"Well, I guess it does sound a little weird. I'll talk to him next time."
Sarah could feel Jareth's eyes rest on Alain's concoction. "You didn't drink it."
"I will. I just wanted to hold happier tastes in my mind before downing the sludge. You try this stuff and see how eager you are." Sarah took another bite. "Want to hear about my dream?"
Jareth nodded, taking a grape from the tray. "Yes, about Junior."
"Essentially, you came up to me and told me Junior had learned a new phrase after which your half-sized clone started marching around going 'Don't defy me! Don't defy me!' It was terrifying."
Jareth chuckled. "I think it's best if I say nothing at this interval."
"Probably," Sarah agreed, rolling her eyes. She picked up the vial. "Do I have to?"
"For your health and the health of our child, I'll force it down your throat."
Sarah turned and gave him an odd look. "That was weirdly endearing…" She took the bottle and swished it about again.
"Oh, don't you start that tone," Sarah warned. She yanked the stopper out, took a deep breath, rested her head against his side, and threw back the bottle.
"Blech. There. Next time, you have to take it, too."
Jareth chuckled. "I'd rather not, thanks."
"Not fair," Sarah mumbled, suddenly quite exhausted. Especially exhausted. "So I don't suppose we have time to just talk?"
"Probably not. You'll be asleep shortly."
Sarah's eyelids felt ridiculously heavy and her muscles didn't feel strong enough to hold her head.
"Jareth, you massive jerk," Sarah mumbled. She felt herself lifted off of the ground.
"Sarah, I know you'll be angry with me, but stay here." Jareth's voice was growing more distant. Sarah felt herself righted as he held her up, rough brown arms becoming the new support as she lapsed fully into unconsciousness.

Sarah was dumbfounded when she woke up. She could see nothing, but she could feel the coarse furrows on all sides of her in the small space, recalling the strange brown arms she'd seen before passing out.
"I'm in a tree," she muttered aloud. "Why the hell did he put me in a tree?" She thought for a moment. "I can't believe that bastard put me in a tree."
Vowing to get out of the tree and get a hold of a weighty frying pan, Sarah huffed and slumped against the wall of her…cage. Drugging her? That was low. What to do with the tree thing, well, Sarah didn't have a ready answer for that one. It was all too Greco-Roman, people and nymphs getting turned into trees. Okay, Sarah reasoned, she wasn't actually a tree, but this was still a situation that had her officially baffled. She began to explore the edges of her confinement. How long had she been there anyway? Judging by the crust around her eyes and the weakness of her limbs, she guessed at least the rest of the day, but that whole magical world thing tended to throw her theories off. At least she wasn't hungry, so something interfered with that during her stasis.
She rested a hand on her abdomen. There was no way Jareth would have allowed anything to happen to LT, she knew that. So somehow she was probably also still getting all the prenatal stuff Alain had been making. But then again, Sarah reminded herself, the whole magic thing throws everything off. At the very least, her abdomen didn't seem to be pooching out any further so (performing the math in her fuzzy mind) if a normal human pregnancy didn't start showing until around the fourth month and Underground pregnancies lasted forty two months, then she shouldn't show until sometime between the fourteenth and the eighteenth month, if everything went at the same scale if not the same rate. So, at least she hadn't been in the tree that long. She nearly wouldn't put it past him to leave her wherever she was until either the war was contained or it was time for their child to make a debut, as insistent as Jareth had been.
Sure, Sarah could understand his position, but she was by no means about to gleefully accept it. Running her fingers along the grooves of her confinement again, Sarah could only assume that she wasn't supposed to be awake yet. There would have been someone here to explain things, make sure that she didn't run off anywhere else and ultimately tell her how long she had been there. The more she stretched her stiff limbs, the more Sarah was certain that she had been there longer than just a few hours. A considerable bit longer than a few hours. One of her fingernails snagged on strange wood and she pulled her hand back. For the first time, she registered just how long her fingernails were. Automatically, she reached up to check the length of her hair.
Oh, he was so dead.
Sarah suppressed her ire and fought for focus. Clearly, she could burn herself out of the cage if necessary or poof herself away, but Jareth would definitely be aware that she was now awake, if he didn't know already. That he wasn't here and had not sent anyone lead Sarah to believe he was either knee deep in goblin issues or oblivious. He was at least alive, she could feel in the back of her mind. Why tip him off by using magic now? She shut off that connection best as she could.
Closing her eyes, Sarah sensed the Labyrinth and asked for its help. The Labyrinth was too distracted to answer her, though she could sense immediately that something was very wrong. It was terrified, angry, despairing, and beyond consul from where she was. Something had happened. Something big.
She had to get out of there. The best course of action was to wait and see who would check in on her next and see if she could make an escape then. In the meantime, she fumbled with her amulets and tried to find her own escape route. The stones and bits clinked together as held them all up, the weight on her neck lessened. Fingering them one at a time, she found the one that Sir Didymus had given her. Running her thumb along its smooth surface, her place of confinement suddenly lit with a soft glow.
"Yep," Sarah said aloud, "Definitely in a tree." She searched everywhere she could manage to twist, looking for some kind of hidden switch, button, handle, hinge, anything. Finding nothing, Sarah instead pushed with both hands in various places, trying to find a weak spot where she might just be able to break through. One spot flexed against her fingertips. She pushed. She struck it with her elbow. She came to the conclusion that she was doing herself more harm than the tree.
Ludo's rock was still in her pocket. It wasn't a large rock, but Sarah took it and bashed it against the wall. Primitive, perhaps, but if it worked, Sarah would never begrudge a rock anything again. Digging into her other pocket, Sarah pulled out the speed stone, wondering if not allowing the surface to recover would make the difference. Still, she had to hold it with one hand and bash the tree with the other, meaning that her strikes were not as powerful and she could not see where she was hitting, not that she had much room to draw her hand back anyway.
Still no progress (aside from a chipped dent) and sometime later, Sarah flumped against the back wall ready to try a new strategy. She tried to remember what all of her amulets did, though none of them, she was sure, had anything to do with this specific situation. She rifled through them one by one, finally stopping at the impossibly thin tile from the mosaic girl. Far from fragile, Sarah was certain this small piece of slate was as 3D as the mosaic girl could manage, getting it on to this plane of existence and off of her own. Intersecting planes and geometry filtering back into her head, Sarah held the piece against the bark. Only one object can occupy a space a time, but there were unlimited lines in that space if they did not constitute any mass, right? Perhaps if she could manipulate the lines and points in a different dimension, she could shift them enough to move.
It sounded like a bad science fiction plotline, so Sarah wasn't surprised when it didn't work. It did however, turn a portion of the tree two dimensional. She pushed the section aside and it spun like a revolving panel. The sky was an eerie grey, making the rest of the world oddly bright, but Sarah was out of her confinement. She took a good look at herself. Her hair was about three and a half inches longer and her fingernails were officially ridiculous. Awkwardly holding a knife kept in her boot, Sarah cut her fingernails to a more manageable, if still feral, length. Her hair, she quickly braided while forming a plan in her head. First, she needed to get back in touch with the Labyrinth.
As soon as she stepped outside the runes, Sarah staggered, suddenly hit with the full force of the Labyrinth's pleas weighing down on her weakened muscles. She rested her hand against a wall, and images flashed through her eyes: the army had gotten past the wall, Jareth's troops were still fending them off, both sides popping out of crooks in the Labyrinth, dark goblins tearing her goblins to gory shreds, a corner of the Labyrinth knocked down, blood and dirt smearing over glitter. Sarah pulled away from the wall, reeling.
Processing the information as quick as she could, Sarah set her hand on the wall and asked calmly what the king was doing about it. A new flash of images: luring them into the bog, Fireys and Frosties dismembering while selectively burning and freezing, sending them through the new traps including a vortex that lead to non-existence, many succumbing to the nightmare curse and tearing out their own eyes or assaulting their own comrades, the goblin army forcing the invaders away and into a space, scouts picking off stragglers, frustrated commanders barking out orders in the dark tongue.
Sarah smiled to herself, reminding the Labyrinth not to give up hope. After she had promised to do everything she could and feeling the Labyrinth calm even that small bit, she felt it raise the alarm again.
Sarah could hear it, too. Grumblings and clankings, just on the other side of the wall. Taking a tentative peak, she confirmed that the creatures just on the outside of the moss glade were indeed not on her side.
"We can't have them in the moss glade, can we?" Sarah whispered to the wall of the Labyrinth. She could feel its agreement, still terrified.
"Well then, Labyrinth, let's play dirty."
Righteous anger overtook her thoughts as the Labyrinth swore to follow any instructions she gave. They were near the other entrance to the glade.
"Close the entrance when I say," Sarah ordered. Just as the first two creatures were in the doorway, Sarah made the call and the stone closed in on both of them with an echoing crack. All the blood Sarah had seen in the visions was one thing, but this was surreal, seeing it. Still, there was no time to be squeamish, Sarah realized with some distaste. No time especially when another fifteen creatures were clambering over the wall. They spotted her.
"Labyrinth," Sarah spoke calmly, "squash a few more."
The entrance opened again to close on a few of the dark goblins that had tumbled off the top of the maze. A section of the wall up-ended and fell, long side down, on top of several more goblins. This left a small gap in the wall. Those who ran through (one of which was a haggard minotaur) fell promptly into an oubliette, lined by Sarah's request with something to knock them out. A harpy of some sort flew toward her, until two sections of the ground from the Labyrinth swung up from the ground to crush it. Sarah stood with her arms crossed as the Labyrinth took over, using its walls, stones, plants and all else to rid itself of at least fifty invaders. The Labyrinth was almost giddy.
A strange blast broke through the clearing and the tree Sarah had recently "inhabited" splintered over the glade. An elf stood at the other corner, admiring his handiwork. He was readying another blast. Sarah could feel the Labyrinth quail slightly, startled out of its earlier confidence. Closing her hand around the speed stone in her pocket, Sarah ran behind him and shoved him into the oubliette.
"Sarah, Sarah," said a voice beside her.
Immediately creating some distance, Sarah searched for the source of the voice, finally resting her eyes upon the vampire resting on the top of the wall. He had blond hair without the slightest hint of a wave pulled half back. He sat cleaning the crust out from under his fingernails with a curved dagger. Clearly, he had little time for hygiene, considering the bloodstains around his collar, where his meals had dripped down his throat, and all other kinds of muck splattering what used to be a fine garment. Sarah recalled seeing him talking to Orion once, before Orion went insane, of course.
"We were told you'd be in stasis. I imagine the stone you have there had something to do with it. Little matter." He alighted from the wall and stood in front of her. "You will still come with me."
He was trying the whole vampire charm thing, Sarah could tell. The rest of the world was running in slow motion as the Labyrinth continued to shake of its intruders, but the vampire was keeping up with her somehow. Doing her best to fake a vacant stare, Sarah thought to try and wheedle some answers.
"Where are we going?"
He grinned. "That's a good girl. We'll be going back to the main camp."
"Is it far?"
"A short walk west."
She sighed, attempting to seem as moony as possible. "How did you know where to find me?"
The vampire's grin faded to a frown. He wasn't buying it.
Sarah let go of the stone and the Labyrinth threw up a shield as the vampire moved to attack her. Silently, she asked the Labyrinth for a path and fell through the ground. Pulling herself out of the temporary tunnel, Sarah was still close enough to hear his yell, but in an enclosed section at least three walls away. The Labyrinth promised to take care of the remaining surge, taking great pride in its performance. After congratulating the Labyrinth, Sarah took a seat against one of the walls, watching peripherally though images given to her by the conscious of the Labyrinth and releasing a long breath.
Then she could hear new voices a few walls away. The images sent to her by the Labyrinth confirmed that it had reinforcements. The goblin army was there. She could hear Jareth barking orders, and she noted the grim efficiency of his battalions. They finished what the Labyrinth had started in a skewed time Sarah lost track of. Jareth, Sarah could feel through the Labyrinth (having still blocked their connection in her mind), was surveying the chaos, asking the Labyrinth what had happened and calculating some of the damage, much of which was self-inflicted if highly effective in thwarting its attackers. The Labyrinth had never been so proud to sport a few bumps and bruises.
Eventually, the chaos slowed and their enemies were reduced to dead or prisoners. The images the Labyrinth showed her immediately focused on Jareth's quick steps toward her cage, splintered bits of the tree covered with armor, limbs, and debris. Sarah quickly told the Labyrinth not to give away her position, also asking it for a quick path to the outside wall of the glade. She rested her hand on the wall, pulling herself out of the hole, chunks off delicate moss tumbling off in singed crumbles.
Jareth immediately asked the Labyrinth about Sarah, she could feel. The Labyrinth wondered why Jareth didn't tell it where she had been in its own childish way, sensing Sarah was indulging in some kind of trickery. Sarah could see from her position the worried twist at the corner of his mouth that none of his commanders would have noticed as they currently accosted him for new orders. Once he set them about their tasks, he closed his eyes and she could feel him probing their connection with some urgency.
Sarah stood behind him with her arms crossed.
He tried harder, pushing against the block she had erected in her mind; Sarah watched his eyebrows furrow.
"What?" she asked impatiently.
Jareth's eyes snapped open as he turned and took her in. She unblocked their connection for effect. He took two steps toward her and kissed her without preamble.
Sarah broke away. "Why Jareth, it's like you haven't seen me in ages," she commented snidely.
He made a tiny grimace. "This is not the place to discuss it."
"You put me in a tree," Sarah accused, all her previous anger returning full force. "And you want to set terms?"
"It was for your safety."
Sarah glanced at the remnants of the trunk. "Safe place, right. I'm guessing I wasn't even supposed to have been awake when I was. How long were you going to keep me there? How long have I been there?"
"Sarah, we will discuss this elsewhere."
"How long, Jareth?" The goblins were beginning to stare, but Sarah didn't care.
"How long? I can make this much worse," she promised in a growl. "Now tell me how long you've locked me in the damn tree."
"Six and a half months."
Taking advantage of Sarah's momentary shock, Jareth grasped her arm and transported them to an alcove.
"You're upset. I expected that. But now is not the time to give the troops any other impression than precise control," he began. He smiled then, adding, "But since we're alone, you may rave and rant. How I've come to miss it." He guided her to a stone bench and sat down next to her. "I've missed you very much, Sarah. I'm immensely glad that you are safe."
Sarah's brain and mouth reconnected. "I can't really say that I missed you, being unconscious and all. You drugged me."
His words were quiet and he took her hand in his. "I would do it again."
She stood up, pulling her hand away. "You had better not. Honestly, Jareth, if I can't trust you, this is going to have to be a splitting point because I don't have the time nor the means to fight the war and you."
"I didn't want to lose you."
"No, you didn't want to lose to me, isn't that right?"
Jareth looked at her oddly, but Sarah was on a roll: "There's something about it in the Prophesy, right? You married me in the first place to keep control of your kingdom, aligning me on your side. Maybe I don't want to play this game any more, or maybe I'll win it just to spite you. Well, Jareth, the kingdom needs to win. Not you. Not even us. The Labyrinth and the whole both-worlds-not-destroyed tack needs to win. Your Prophesy, since it never was really mine, stated that I needed to be here. I know I need to be here. But, God help me, I'll find a way to fight elsewhere if you insist or approve of getting me out of the way."
Sarah took a couple deep breaths. "You're doing a better job of driving me away than protecting me, Jareth. If you're only invested in this, in me, because of the Prophesy, just keep doing what you're doing or better yet, tell me. We'll work through child visitation rules later."
Jareth's calculating, nearly bewildered look shifted to a furious snarl. "Visitation rules? You think you could get away from me so easily?" he ground out. "Was I lying when I told you I missed you? Was I wrong in my want to protect you? Has this one action blocked out all other memories of our relationship?"
He broke eye contact with her, but not before Sarah saw a glimmer of hurt. "You can argue my methods, Sarah, but do not challenge my motives." He took her hand again. She didn't pull it away, so he pulled her closer, clutching her hand to his cheek. "Six and a half months, Sarah. You were gone. In another two months, we'll have our first anniversary, and you'll have spent half of it in a tree."
Sarah snorted. So it was a little ridiculous. "That'll be a story to tell LT."
"Don't think I didn't want to pull you out of there, just to see you again." Taking her hand from his cheek, he tugged her into his lap. "I do not want any such separation to happen again."
Sarah leaned against him as his arms wrapped around her. "Me, either." He nuzzled against her neck. "This doesn't mean you're off the hook, though."
Jareth's chuckle tickled behind her ear. "No, I didn't think so."
"No more trees?"
"No more trees," he agreed.
Sarah chuckled. "Well, that's a good step for any relationship." She kissed her husband and he responded hungrily, his hands twining in her hair as she settled her arms around his neck.
Eventually, they talked for a while longer and the subject veered back to other serious matters.
"You should contact your family. The crystal has been buzzing with demands from my mother-in-law."
Sarah snorted. "Well, if you had made a better impression on them or not put me out of contact, it wouldn't be a problem. Did you even try to explain it to them?"
"Not exactly."
"I didn't think so. She's alright talking about you with me, but aside from the fact that I haven't been showing her bruises or coming to her in tears, they haven't had much reason to trust you."
"Toby would speak for me."
"Toby is eleven. No, he'll be twelve in another month or so. Ah, it's screwing with my head."
"The time fluctuations don't help much either."
A high scream rang out from the sky, somewhere to their left. They both tensed.
"What has happened in the war, Jareth?"
This was no short answer, and Jareth gave her a rather full if still condensed report. Their enemies had found their way into the Labyrinth tunnel system which had since been cleansed (a regiment of cleaners received high praise), but the wall was still overtaken. The result of both, however, meant that the war had spread deeper into the Labyrinth. Marek had been found thanks to the last crystal of light Jareth had given to him though he had yet to regain consciousness; he was in a different tree, oddly enough, while he was in the process of re-growing a few vital organs that even Fae couldn't live without. No word on what had happened to him.
There was still no real understanding as to what the army was aiming to accomplish. Jareth had his hunches, the most plausible and unsurprisingly worst of these being that they were out to control the gateway between the Underground and Sarah's world. This shift would mean destruction for the other kingdoms and all else. Some reinforcements had been sent from other kingdoms, but no real information had made it to the other monarchs. Many assumed that it was a show at the whim of the new queen and sent a few brigades to humor her, only to then have all communications blocked a month back. The source of the ambiguity and confusion of their situation was fairly summed up in their leader: Orion.
"Somehow," Sarah muttered, "I'm not terribly surprised. Fate wants me to be a little more traumatized. It'll be amazing if LT doesn't turn sociopath by the time he's a hundred and four, just to fit in."
Jareth's arms tightened on her for a moment. "Do not let Orion find out."
"About what? LT?"
"Wasn't there some weird protection clause for pregnancy?"
"He's not following any of the rules, Sarah. That's one of the reasons I came to the tree conclusion."
Sarah nodded. "You know that a 'tree conclusion' is going to be my new expression for a dumb decision, right?"
Jareth bristled. "I better understand your position now, but I stick with my reasoning. The execution and means thereof were perhaps poor."
"You can have a dumb decision with all the right backing. I'm still not okay with the original tree conclusion. Don't make another one by pretending it was no big deal."
Jareth groaned. "I'm going to have to put up with that phrase for some time, aren't I?"
Sarah smirked. "What part of being stuck with me for all eternity didn't you get?"

War has a habit of ebb and surge, in more ways than one. All in one day, of course. Now it ebbed to an underlying tension that the couple would have readily forgotten had it been possible.
After spending a little time merely enjoying the forgotten pleasure of mutual company, the Labyrinth reported that the sun was setting with a tiny rumbling quake in its walls. They could hear Alain calling for them moments afterward.
"Don't answer him, if it means I have to drink any more sludge."
"You will. It'll be much easier now that you're awake."
"Jareth…" Sarah warned.
He held up his hands. Sarah stood to glare at him.
Alain called once more, sounding fairly close. Sighing, Sarah set her hand on the Labyrinth wall, asking to give them a direct path. Sarah nearly laughed at the startled look on Alain's face.
She opted for a stony expression instead; Alain had had some part in this. "Yes, I'm out of the tree. You were looking for us?"
"Yes, it seems that Marek moved today."
Concern flooded over Sarah's attempt to be stern. "Is that good?"
Alain nodded. "A very good sign. However, these next few hours will be somewhat critical. I'm still trying to figure out how they took it out of him."
"And what are your theories so far?"
With a mirthless smile, Alain replied, "For both our sakes, I'd rather not go into it." He handed her a vial.
Eyeing suspiciously, Sarah offered it to Jareth. "You first."
"If it's vitamins and 'healthful magic,' you could use them anyway, Jareth."
"It's for you and our heir, Sarah."
"Don't you even. You're still in hot water, sir." She shook the vial at him, noting that Alain was watching with some interest.
Growling, Jareth took a small taste, refusing to make a face. After a moment, Sarah downed the rest of the vial, turning to Alain. "I trust you will not put something else in these supplements without first informing me." It wasn't a question and Alain nodded, looking slightly wary.
Abruptly, Sarah felt as though she wanted to burst into tears. She turned to Jareth, silently urging through their magical bond for him to get Alain out of there quickly. He gave her a quick look of concern before turning to Alain.
"Sarah will visit you for a physical examination at her convenience. We will be along shortly to discuss further matters for this evening's plans."
Bowing to both, Alain took his leave. The Labyrinth closed the wall behind him and Sarah felt tears leak out of her clenched eyes. Jareth said nothing but held her close.
"I hate not trusting you," she muttered against his shirt. "And I shouldn't feel guilty for it. I don't. LT has other plans. Damn hormones making up for lost time." Sarah dug the heel of her hand into her eye. "I'm fine, really. It's just been a long day."
"I could always put you back in the tree."
Big mistake. Sarah was certain that Jareth's expression (in immediate response to her expression) meant that he was about to take it back, but Sarah wasn't ready to wait.
"You are not going to joke about that, do you hear me? I thought we made this clear earlier, but I'll say it again and you'd better listen this time: you pull something like that again, and soon as I get out of it—and you know I will—I'm gone. We'll figure out how to save the universe and rule the kingdom a different way, meaning that I'll give up my title or you'll give up yours, because that's why I agreed to this whole thing in the first place. But we'll never be a team again, especially since we can't apparently be a team now, not if you're going to not let me in the first place. I'll go back to the Aboveground and renounce magic or something. LT would come with me. Believe me, I'm not being flippant with it this time. We'll let him make his own decision when he's old enough. Trying to figure out how to explain to the OBGYN why the same child is taking so long to develop will be an adventure, but the Prophesy will give you some advice, I'm sure."
Jareth took off his glove and cupped her cheek. "Sarah, it won't give me any other option that I would want. I had six months to figure that out."
Sarah pulled away from his hand. "It gives you no other option, so that's it? Doesn't help your case much, Jareth."
"No," Jareth assured her, with his fingertips resting on her cheek again, "There are other possibilities. But this is the only one I could ever want." He kissed her forehead. "Sarah, you are so much more than I bargained for. For your sake and for the sake of our child, I would risk more than I have ever been willing to sacrifice. Yet, I cannot sacrifice the kingdom or we will all be lost. We are in a terrible position."
Another scream echoed across the sky, and Jareth sighed, wearing his handful of centuries openly. Whether his openness was a result of his own fatigue catching up with him or an earnest need to bridge the gap, Sarah wasn't sure, but she held her breath. "We are not leaving this conversation at a point I would wish to, but there is nothing to be done for that now. I can only reorder time so far, and the magic must be conserved. The whole situation is not fair, Sarah, but I want you to trust that I will find a way to make amends. You mean too much to me to lose. Please trust that if you don't currently trust me. I love you, precious one."
Sarah bit her lip, her mind and hormones fluttering all directions at once. "You've never told me that before, Jareth," she murmured dazedly.
With a small, warm smile Jareth pulled her gaze to his face with a hand gently adjusting the position of her jaw, noting the tears pooling in her eyes again. "I've not told it to you nor anyone else. Until now and only because it is true. I wanted you to know." He kissed her more tenderly than he ever had before as though trying to convince her to stay in one final argument.
Sarah wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her head on his shoulder and consequently dampening the fabric or rusting the metal, she wasn't sure which anymore. "Jareth, I—"
He shushed her with a finger over her lips. "We need to return and get our plans into action, Sarah. We will find time later to talk."
Sarah nodded. It was just as well since she wasn't sure what she was going to say. She knew as surely as held him in her arms that she loved him. She was still hurt and frustrated with the tree conclusion. There was still the option of kissing one another senseless. She was ready to take another nap. She knew that they should at least take cover given the darkening landscape. Instead, she took a deep breath and pushed her emotions aside.
"Let's get to work."
"That's a good idea," said a voice from the top of the wall.
"Startled or just happy to see me, Sarah?" He grinned and leapt down from the wall. "The Labyrinth is much shorter this way."
Sarah smiled, pulling to Jareth's side with his arm set on her shoulder. It was awkward, having Ack drop in at the end of their conversation, not knowing how long he had been listening, but Sarah found it easier to slip on her mask with another party present. "That would be cheating, Ack. Can't allow it."
"I suppose not. It's good to see you again, Sarah."
"Good to see you, too."
"It has been some time," Jareth added noncommittally.
"Yes, I've spent a good deal more time on the other side recently. Trying to talk sense to Orion is ridiculous."
Sarah frowned. "What kind of sense were you talking to him?"
"Attack strategy."
"I wonder what kind of reasons work on insane vampires. What information are you giving them?"
"Much the same I give you."
The cogs in Sarah's mind began to grate and rumble forward. "Ack, do they know that you're talking to our side?"
Ack's smile widened. "Ah, someone finally asked."
Jareth's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean by that?"
"Oh, I let them find out a couple months ago, it was the right time to enact a few things."
Sarah was flabbergasted for a moment, staring at the mischievous glint in Ack's eyes. She found her voice: "Ack, whose side are you on?"
"Sarah, I do not choose sides. I thought I explained my philosophy once to you before. I merely like to make the issue as complicated as possible and watch how it all explodes. Watching the neighbors war is vastly more entertaining than this whole peace thing, particularly if a few careful nudges push it forward."
"Did you tell them where Sarah was?" Jareth demanded, fists drawn to his sides.
Ack, Sarah noted, did look a little chagrined. "Sarah, you have made this more difficult. I do very much like you, so I waited a little bit longer than I might have." His face shifted to another visage of impish glee. "I must admit though that the results are better than I would have expected."
"What have you done?" Sarah demanded in a whisper. "They'll know—"
"Quite a lot," Ack agreed with a grin. "I've told you as much as I could to bring you to up to a necessary level."
A section of wall sprung from the ground behind Ack, and as he was peering behind him to see what had happened, his face was pressed against it. Jareth's arm was just under Ack's muzzle and the other pinning Ack's claws to the wall. "Leave now," Jareth growled.
Sarah was torn between helping Ack or helping Jareth. It was true Ack had never claimed to be on any side, but information of their plans had ruined many assaults and cost the lives of her subjects. He broke their trust, but he made it possible for the goblin army to push Orion's subjects back again and again, ambushing them in corners and taking key prisoners.
Ack smiled again, looking significantly more nervous. "I have an important piece of information to pass on, first."
Jareth snarled and pushed Ack more firmly against the wall. Even still, he was not angry enough to ignore Ack's information. "Say it and remove yourself from my kingdom or I'll banish you to Sarah's old world, particularly an area known as 'space,' which I understand is uninhabitable."
"He'd explode, actually," Sarah murmured, still trying to absorb everything.
Jareth's grin deepened something sinister. "Perfect."
Sarah sighed, her tone distracted. "Maybe explode him later, Jareth. He's not evil, just morally ambiguous. He's right, that he doesn't choose sides. He kept you from killing Orion so that'd get messier. He told us about the attack so we could start the battle going…" She trailed off, shaking her head. "You know what? Ack, we'll deal with this later. Give us the damn message."
Ack nodded. Or at least he would have. "Orion means to send a party to where iron deposits make the veil weak. I'm not entirely sure where that is or when he means to attack, but because this could mean the end of the world, it seemed important. Any idea of where he means?"
"Yes, actually," Sarah admitted. Jareth turned to her. "The shallow canyons on the edge of the Labyrinth. I saw them on the tour Hoggle, Ludo, and Didymus gave me."
Jareth released his hold on Ack who scampered to his feet.
"You do realize if there is no world there will also be no entertainment of warring factions," Jareth pointed out, a sneer still over his features.
"Oh, it has given me a lot of grief these past few weeks. I've been worried about the necessity of taking an active part. Now that Sarah's back in the equation, however, I think I can relax some. The Prophesies were more than explicit that you were needed in this, Sarah."
Sarah waved him off. "Ack, you'd really better leave before Jareth hurls something at you. He's had enough practice with the goblins to have wicked good aim."
Ack scampered off, lumbering with as much speed as his taloned feet would allow, the brown hem from his robe whisking around the stone corner. Sarah thought idly that perhaps he should have picked a color that didn't match his long fur.
"I don't suppose we could just take a newspaper and bop him on the snout? I'd say pull his ears if I thought they needed any more stretching. Jeeze, Jareth, this is just what we needed."
"I had a feeling he wasn't to be trusted."
"Congrats, Jareth. Though why you kept him around this long, even with the in and out-ness, I don't know."
"It was clear that the other side did not trust him completely, judging from his need to prove himself to them. I figured there were two options. Either his side failed to trust him because he was not sympathetic to their cause, or they didn't trust him because he was simply untrustworthy."
Sarah exhaled and threw up her hands. "Sounds like we've got the latter. Mark this conversation for therapy later. If I try to figure everything out now, I'm going to go bonkers. Can we just ignore it for now?"
"As you wish."
Although fantastically tempted to make a Princess Bride reference, Sarah held her tongue. "Again, I'm just going to think about it after this is all over. There's only so much I can process in one day. Shouldn't we be at a war council meeting or something now anyway?"
Jareth nodded and took her arm, taking them inside a tent where Ruckus and Rumble were already arguing with Smokey Joe of the Fireys with Chilly Bill of the Frosties equally incensed, particularly surprising given the normal, carefree attitude Sarah had come to know of the Fireys and Frosties. As it turned out, the other side had apparently stolen a few body parts; the only thing worse than throwing someone else's head was keeping it.
Sarah put on her camp counselor voice and Jareth stood by and looked angry and regal. Incorporating imagination and strategy made for a fascinating meeting, especially when it was emphasized that the Labyrinth itself would want a more active role in ridding itself of the unwelcome guests. Part of the plan for that night subsisted of a path to the False Alarms which had agreed to chew on any invaders instead of spouting disparaging prophesies. Surprisingly, it was a very productive meeting. And judging by the sounds of the growing screams, it was over none too soon.
After communicating instructions to the Labyrinth, Sarah found the armory and began to load up. Considering the kind of day she had muddled through, she wanted an aggressive role tonight. Even Jareth knew better than to protest too much.
Intermixed with the final flank of the goblin army, Sarah watched and waited. A voice broke through her concentration: "Sarah? Are you there? Sar-AH!"
Forming a crystal in her hand, Sarah barked, "Toby, can't talk now. Fighting a war." She allowed the crystal to dissolve and went back to watching the horizon.

"Hey, anyone there?" Sarah called into the crystal in her hand.
Her stepmother's relieved grin filled the space of the crystal. "Sarah, it's good to hear from you again."
"I'm sorry I don't have too much time to talk, but I thought I should check in."
"I understand. We'll take what we can get. Every time you close the connection and go back to your war, I always worry that's it, Sarah."
With a rueful smile, Sarah replied, "I know." She sighed. "More than a year, closer to a year and a half. There's no telling how much longer it's going to be either."
"We've made some good strides. The helping hands have placed themselves around the Labyrinth and tend to filch enemy weapons. The fairies have been spying. We finally had some reinforcements show up, a few cotillions Jan and Elizabeth managed to convince Sal to send some help from the water kingdom, but it's limited where they can help, being aquatic and all. The dwarves and the dragons have started sending in all kinds of supplies since they can't get involved actively for a giant, twisted list of reasons. All in all, we've pushed the vamps and Co. back to one part of the Labyrinth. Unfortunately, this is an area relatively close to the shallow canyons."
"That's the region—"
"With all the iron that's close to the veil between the worlds," Sarah finished.
Karen nodded sadly. "Yes, the whole end of the world thing."
Despite it all, Sarah grinned. "Yep, now that you actually believe me. I can't believe it took me half an hour to convince you."
"Can you really blame me, dear? It's a little overdone."
"Karen, the very nature of the Labyrinth is not the real world. Any other fantasy clichés I can actualize for you while I'm here? Jareth's evil twin could kidnap me if he had one, but I'm sure something could be arranged."
"Just come visit us in one piece, Sarah. Maybe for Christmas. That would be enough for me," Karen replied seriously.
"You know I can't do that until this is over."
With real sympathy, Karen acknowledged, "I know, Sarah. I understand. I just worry about you and this whole mess. As long as we don't have another six month gap before we hear from you again, we'll have to make do. And if Jareth pulls something like that again…"
"We've talked about it thoroughly. Jareth and I spend at least twenty minutes a day together. It doesn't sound like much, but it's what we can manage some days. We go down into an oubliette and forget about everything else for a while. That's where I'm at now if you can see all the dark behind me."
"I was wondering about the ethereal glow."
Sarah gave a small grin. It also effectively hid that she was beginning to show. For simplicity's sake, they both agreed not to tell Sarah's family yet. Knowing her parents, they would have found a way there (probably by Toby recommending a wish), and it simply wasn't safe for them to be there. Thus far, herself and Jareth had been fairly successful in making up excuses and altering clothing styles for everyone else, but not everyone was fooled. Marek bluntly pointed out one day that she looked like she was getting chubby, his eyes widening ridiculously (along with some fantastic spluttering) when Sarah and Jareth immediately shared a significant look.
"Yes, that would be the one entrance, aside from poofing," Sarah replied, explaining the glow.
"I keep meaning to ask whose idea that was."
"The oubliette or the 'us time'?" Sarah smirked not allowing her stepmother's well-meant picking. Karen responded by raising an eyebrow and shaking her head. "Oh, fine, it was a mutual decision. We're getting a lot better at that, actually. It's weirding Marek out."
"How is Marek doing?"
"Much better. He's stopped using the cane."
"Any further updates on what happened?"
Sarah hesitated. "They think so. It's not pretty." Karen waved for her to continue. "Alright, but I'm still going to gloss. Marek was captured while he was trying to recruit a few inhabitants who had missed the royal decree before scoping out for foreign aid. There were all sorts of tortures that Marek still hasn't sorted through, if you ask me. Those that he did tell us, though, well, they weren't anything I'd heard of or really want to think about. The worst was some of the spells they were testing, one of which involved seamlessly removing internal organs. It took some practice."
Karen shuddered.
"Exactly. He's still not completely back to himself yet. I think that's partly because we're still in war mode, and he hasn't had time to cope and deal with everything." Sarah sighed. "Sometimes, I really know what that feels like. For our second anniversary, buy us some therapy."
"Your father has been saying we should just take you out of there since it's only caused everyone headaches to say the least."
"Well, it's really more the timing than anything. There have been a lot of things I really wouldn't trade. And this whole thing is not Jareth's fault. I know Dad didn't care for the first impression, but to blame him or this world is simply not fair. I know that sounds really juvenile, but this whole war is the result of some insane vampires and not us. "
"We know, dear," Karen soothed. "It's more a statement of frustration. You don't have to defend your situation."
"Sorry. I'm just a bit edgy right now," Sarah explained, trying to quell some of her irrational anger. "This whole thing is ridiculously stressful."
"I should say so."
Sarah shook her head. "I don't really want to talk about that now. Tell about what's going on at home. It's been about three weeks since I could check in."
"Well, Jen still hasn't given up on you. I didn't even know they still did pictures on milk cartons. The fliers, though, have faded. She's had to pull back on her efforts, but she still calls in to check on occasion. It's awkward, but we repeat that we know you're safe somewhere and will find a way home eventually. Then we both laugh about how that's the Sarah we know, and the conversation falls dead. I think she believes we've given up hope, especially since we didn't help much in the beginning. We knew we weren't going to find you because we put up another roadblock, but there had to be some appearances."
"I'm sure it wasn't easy."
"Yes, well, the whole situation has had its moments. Oh, what about the traitor?"
"Ack? Well that situation's still a bit mucky. Basically he just sits and watches. On days when there isn't much I can do or I'm hanging back to help set other things in motion, I'll take a seat next to him. It's like he's four years old, watching cartoons and giggling and clacking his paws and claws together. Then he falls asleep under a bed somewhere, wakes up under another bed, and figures he might as well scare another kid. He says it's been happening a good bit more recently. Oh, he's the boogeyman," Sarah clarified when Karen gave her an odd look. "Can't believe I haven't told you that. Anyway, he says it's been happening more frequently, and on top of that there've even been a surprising amount of kids wished away to the goblins. I've been taking care of most of those, usually trying to convince the wishers that they really would rather win their sibling or whatever back so I don't have to warp them."
"What, warping?"
Sarah shuddered. "I've had to do it a few times now. It's terrible, forcing them to change like that. It's what the Labyrinth would do naturally."
"Then why do it?"
"Ever since Becky, well, it has to be done. I hate it. I truly hate it. But it's the way it is."
"Who is Becky?"
Sarah closed her eyes and took a breath. "Who was Becky, you mean. She was a teenager, about as old as I was on my first run of the Labyrinth. Her wisher lost, and I didn't want to force the change on her. So I hid her, tried to let her be. After a week—I didn't tell Jareth about it either, which was a mistake—I went to check in on her and the whole change was beginning on its own. Only a week. There were no immediate physical changes but she was all curled up and vomiting like she had cholera or something. Apparently, she'd been like that for a couple days. I called Jareth in. We didn't have the magic to spare to save her."
"Nothing could be done?"
"Nothing. When people say the words, there's a burst of power that lasts for some time, but not long enough at the rate we've had to use it."
"Oh, Sarah. I'm so sorry. How did Jareth take it?"
"He still didn't say a word. He just let me cry into his chest and put her out of her misery. At the end, Jareth just gave me this look of 'you should have trusted me,' but he didn't say a word. He knew. Jareth can be a righteous bastard when he wants to be, but he really doesn't irreparably maim or kill if he doesn't have to. From what I've seen, I mean. We're in a weird situation to judge that. Heck, according to some of our prisoners, the Goblin Kingdom's gotten really soft over the years."
"I asked Marek once. Really not pretty. It totally makes my skin crawl just about as much as Orion does. Like all else here, it's overly complicated. A big reason for the shift had something to do with the fluctuation of where the dark taint was since it used to be everywhere Underground, but otherwise it just made sense that if you needed the Aboveground to believe, there had to be survivors to tell the tale." Sarah took a deep breath. "It's bizarre to talk about these kinds of things so, I don't know, detached. I've seen more blood and destruction than Saving Private Ryan all before breakfast." Sarah pulled her knees to her chest, as well as she could anyway. "I don't want this to be normal."
"Sweetie, it will end," Karen assured her.
"Sooner would be better," Sarah grumbled.
"I know, I know, dear. Find some time to relax today somehow, Sarah. You look exhausted."
"I'm working on it, Mom."
"Well stop talking to me and take a nap instead."
Sarah yawned. "If you insist."
"Remember we love you."
"Love you guys, too. I'll call you when I can." Sarah allowed the crystal to dissolve and rubbed her arms against the darkness. She hadn't meant to end the conversation with her stepmother on such a morbid tone, but while she wanted to put on a brave and optimistic face, she also just wanted to punch a wall. Or break down and cry. Pretty much a toss-up, actually. Between hormones and sheer frustration, Sarah wanted to crack. Pity she was in a leadership position.
She had been in the Underground for a little more than a year and a half and otherwise pregnant for sixteen of those months, tracking the length of the war about the same. LT, despite terrible timing, forced her to find a way to calm down, for his or her sake if nothing else. Ack gave her an objective perspective. Marek made her laugh at the complete ridiculousness of the war and her circumstances. Karen, Toby, and her father gave her an escape. Her husband, Sarah was certain she would have cracked without him. Sure, Jareth was quite serious about the war and inspiring in that, but they found twenty minutes (minimum) every day to talk about nothing, say nothing at all, talk about what tricks they were going to play on Marek (and when it was appropriate to do so again), opt for a different form of (ahem) stress relief, talk about a nursery, talk about the growing up, coaching to help Sarah learn to fly properly, or talk about the necessary victory celebrations for when the war was done. Sarah idly remembered once threatening to ruin his "little parties" with bog water, not understanding then it could have started something like this all over again, especially had it been her first introduction.
Sarah gave a start as another set of hands rested on her upper arms. She relaxed against his chest, and he rested his chin on her head. She took a quick glance up to note his insane hairstyle, streaks of red and black interspersed in the blond.
"I'm really glad it's you and not the vampires to kidnap me. That would really be too much and otherwise ridiculous."
"As though I would let that happen," Jareth mumbled into her hair.
"We really might not forgive you, not that I'd be happy with myself either in that case. What kind of stupid situation would I have to walk into for that to happen? Go without any sort of guard, without telling you? Jeeze, we at least have better communication than that, I hope."
He chuckled wrapping his arms around her middle, one hand splayed protectively over her abdomen.
"LT kicked today," Sarah mentioned. "It's really faint, but I think that's what it was. Quite possibly one of the weirdest things I've ever felt."
Sarah could feel Jareth's cheek shift to a smile. She turned to kiss him, reaching one hand back around his neck. Smoothing his hair away from his face, he allowed her to thoroughly explore his mouth as she drank in as deeply as she could, pulling him closer. He moaned softly as she pulled back, sucking gently on his bottom lip.
"Don't you go getting kidnapped either. I don't know what I'd do without you, Jareth."
"You could rule this kingdom well, Sarah. I have every faith in you."
Sarah gave him an odd look and resting her hand on his armor, today a closed collar than ran halfway up his neck with the arms ending capped over his shoulders, a painstakingly woven chain mail shirt underneath ending in a point at his wrists. She traced the insignia on his chest with her fingers. "That does not mean you can keel off any time soon, do you hear me?" She looked up and brought a hand to his cheek. "You look like hell, Jareth." Sarah led him to sit on the ground and pulled his head to rest on her shoulder. "Glamour's off, huh? I'd say we could just put you in a tree, but we know how that would go."
He nodded. Sarah ran a hand through his hair, even that with an odd, starchy texture that lacked its normal sheen. His skin had a grey tint and the shadows under his eyes bled into the natural highlights of his eyebrows. In essence, he looked like an early zombie, Sarah now having seen enough to say for certain. Sarah knew the circles under her eyes and unkempt hair she sported today had a similar if lesser effect, but setting fingers for helping hands as she had all morning did not require massive morning preparation. At first, Sarah had thought the glamour was unnecessary, but having twelve goblins panic and fret over her (and their own fate) was enough. Sarah knew still that as soon as they both left the oubliette the masks would be back. Masks were left outside of the zone; that was the one rule. They could be exhausted or optimistic or pissed off or sappy or whatever. They would leave with their heads erect and as the image of cool confidence.
Sarah stretched against the pillows they had brought to their particular oubliette, taking Jareth's hand and drawing him against her. "Today, I think we've earned an hour of sleep. Save the glamour and let your magic recoup for a bit."
Jareth's eyes were already closed as he snaked his arms around her middle again, holding her securely to his chest. "Or we could argue over names again. That's one of my favorites."
Sarah snorted. "I'm just about ready to insist that LT forever be LT. It's gender neutral and has the whole 'fear me' thing implied."
"My heir will have a proper name," Jareth declared.
"Well, you know what? Our child will also be firmly grounded in reality. No fairy tales for this one."
Jareth opened one eye to gaze up at Sarah with a bemused expression. "How will you go about this, Sarah? Deny the world around you?"
"No fairy tales period. To state a few examples, ladies are not always in distress. Dragons must never be ridden without permission. There is not good guy or bad guy. Goblins are roughly this size," Sarah gestured with her hands, "to this size. Never trust a deus ex machina. Things are not always what they seem. Never take nightshade from strangers. Make a good impression on your in-laws or you've earned your frying pan. Mom and Dad are the only ones who can grant wishes."
Jareth was laughing openly by the quip on dragons as Sarah giggled through her jibe involving the frying pan.
"Sarah, LT will lack imagination entirely if you're so quick to limit it."
"Somehow, I think LT is going to manage. Remember? He'll turn sociopath just to fit in, right? One loved, happy sociopath."
"Well," Jareth intoned, beginning to drift off to sleep, "that doesn't sound so bad."

A few days later, Sarah and Jareth found themselves in much better spirits as for the first time in a long time, they slept through the night now for the third night in a row…or at least Sarah would have if LT hadn't been stomping on her bladder before making her incredibly nauseous. Sarah had been lucky enough not to have many issues with morning sickness, but LT had only been letting her sleep at odd intervals lately. Still, that they had one night without any major attacks was an incredible accomplishment, but three in a row was more of an implication of efficacy rather than a fluke. Their enemy was entirely limited to the Firey Forest, lured away from the shallow canyons. The Labyrinthian side continued to take more prisoners every day as either the aliens from the darker lands succumbed to goblin intimidation or (in the smarter ones) it was realized that Orion truly had no real plan. The goblins fought with renewed vigor and confidence, their monarchs and Marek able to relegate most of their power to obscure contingency planning because thankfully there was little else for them to do.
Sarah was feeling particularly exhausted and begged off as Marek and Jareth debated the tiny possibility of the other side suddenly being able to breathe fire and how it could be countered. She found Ludo alongside the supply tent, calling to the rocks to tumble and help in un-denting pieces of armor, many soldiers (goblin, a handful of fae and human, and whatehaveyou, all allowed a respite given they were simply not required currently) assisting. After talking to Ludo for a while, she fell asleep to his gentle crooning as though he were an orange, furry recliner.
She woke to several pairs of staring eyes and Ack's gentle prodding with his woody claws.
"Sarah, you cannot sleep through the best part!" Ack insisted.
Groggy, Sarah yawned. "What?"
"It's a turning point, Sarah. You need to be there," Ack nearly whined. He sounded, Sarah mused, like an overly anxious eight-year-old, certain that the Christmas presents would disappear if not opened at five am.
A small jolt of fear shocked Sarah awake as she wondered what would cause this anxious excitement in Ack. "What's about to happen, Ack?"
He grinned at her. "That's why it's so exciting. I'm not sure."
"I don't think I believe that, Ack. You at least have some idea."
"Well of course I have it narrowed down, but this part was entirely out of my hands. And there's luck to factor in! Here's where it can all come together or fall into oblivion. Come on!" He tugged on her arm. "There's another place you should be."
"Yay, here goes Sarah into another one of Ack's machinations," Sarah said lifelessly. "Seriously, Ack. Tell me what the potential outcomes are or I'll take all the fun out of it."
Ack hesitated. "Even if you do not act, that, too, will affect this next moment. The fun is still there."
Sarah smiled overly sweet. "Ack, if you're not conscious, then the fun goes on without you."
She wanted to laugh as Ack blanched. "But all the work and watching and waiting—"
"All to miss the best part at the end. I can certainly be that mean, Ack, before you insist that I wouldn't."
Though stunned for a moment, Ack's muzzle split into a wide, fang-filled grin. "I have liked you from the beginning, Sarah. There is much we can teach each other in deviousness. Yours is delightfully straightforward."
"Perhaps someday I'll show you around the Aboveground so you can see where I learned it. It'd have to wait until Halloween or All Hallow's Eve or good ol' October 31st or whatever you want to call it to take you around. Otherwise, you might cause a bit of a stir. Now about those potential outcomes?"
Ack swept a small bow on his hunched frame. "As my Lady wishes. But I would beg that we wait until after this particular interview. Without it, these scenarios might not make much sense, and they will be much more relevant afterwards."
"They won't be too late by that point, will they?"
"I swear it."
Sarah sighed. "Then let's get going. I'm guessing that Jareth and Marek are already going to the same place we are?"
Ack nodded.
"Well, we might as well attempt to beat him and look smug."
Finding where they were supposed to be was surprisingly simple. Aside from a sullen but necessary cluster of the Labyrinthian forces stationed around the main encampment, the rest were gathering. Unfortunately, Jareth was already there so Sarah was denied her chance to look smug, but the altercation was fascinating enough that she scarcely noticed. In one line, the leaders of the invaders knelt with their hands behind their heads, surrounded by the spears of the goblin army.
Though her immediate response was to leap and shout as though she won a new car, Sarah instead surveyed the scene with a cautious eye. Jareth stood in front of the vampire she recognized from the day of the destruction of her tree confinement. His name was Fitzgerald, and his limp hair hung in front of his face like a curtain, some sticking to the gash on his cheek that oozed some sort of black substance. The other vampires (since the trolls and elves were certainly not bright enough to lead) were much more worse for the wear, one missing a limb, another an eye, and all speckled with bruises and scrapes. Their clothing was nearly unrecognizable from the finery they had flaunted upon Sarah's visit. One looked as though he had vomited over himself and had not had an opportunity to change. Another ensemble was so ripped that Sarah had to wonder how much magic or luck was holding it to the vampire's body. The second from the end stared with glazed eyes, saying something in the dark tongue that made Sarah's toenails want to curl until a goblin struck his face with an armored palm. The vampire on the furthest end from Sarah, Marshall, swayed, nodding as he held on to consciousness.
"As prisoners of the Goblin Kingdom, you will be submitted to the punishment dictated by her rulers," Marek stated imperiously, beginning a short litany of what was expected of and for their status as prisoners. Sarah stood next to Jareth, crossing her arms as well and glaring down the lines of those responsible for making her life far more interesting than it had needed be for the past year and a half. Marek stopped his tirade as he stood in front of Marshall. With one finger and a gentle shove, the vampire flumped to the dirt. What really surprised Sarah was the visible effort Marek undertook to keep himself from ramming his tipped boot into the vampire's midsection. Sarah had never seen Marek quite that angry before, but she could sympathize with his need to restrain himself against his righteous anger. Marshall had been in charge of the "advanced interrogation tactics" and was more than qualified. His ghastly stamp Sarah had come to recognize with distaste and complete disgust. Sarah could only guess what sort of hand Marshall had in Marek's treatment, judging by the sharpened glares Marek continued to shoot to the prone form of his opponent.
"Your surrender will be taken into account upon your sentencing," Jareth declared, almost sounding bored. His voice took on a hardened caste when he asked, "Where is Orion?"
Fitzgerald raised his chin. "It doesn't matter. He'll be there soon enough then everything will change around us. You can take the magic repressing spell off. It won't do any good. Orion absorbed all he could from us before he left."
"Forgive us if we're not immediately trusting. Vampires are excellent actors," Sarah declared.
Fixing Sarah with a weary and annoyed gaze, Fitzgerald continued: "Victor's missing his arm and Marshall's nearly unconscious. Even under the restrictions we have put on the use of our magic in these times, neither would be in so low a shape. Orion took advantage of his birth, and there was little to be done to prevent it."
"Where did he go?" Jareth demanded, a haze of darkness around his features that successfully imbibed a seed of terror into even Sarah.
"Those canyons," their spokesman replied guardedly. "He's gone to find the veil between the worlds, certain that it's at the other edge."
"That explains the need for the extra magic," Marek commented. "Though one has to wonder why the confession comes so easily."
"Our magic is gone for the foreseeable future, and it is possible for us to die in this state," the vampire Henri explained with underlying urgency, holding a handkerchief to the space where his eye once was. "And his plans ceased making sense some time ago, even as to why he seeks the veil. We are bound to our prince. Taking our magic is his right, but it also takes that bond with it. Would we have surrendered otherwise? Could we not also be fed up with this mess?"
Fitzgerald glared at his companion but did not contradict him.
Jareth's brows furrowed. Sarah could practically see his calculations. "When did he set out?"
"This morning," Henri mumbled, cowed under his fellow vampire's gaze but that overridden by eagerness for any possibility of medical assistance.
Sarah's mind was buzzing. Orion was off in the shallow canyons, taking extra magic to protect himself from all the iron deposits and presumably by himself in order to reach the veil between the worlds. Should he reach that, he could implode the universe for whatever twisted reason he liked. By all accounts, he was likely certain control over the veil would allow him control over both worlds. They had to go after him, but magic transportation was out of the question, the iron weakening the spell to make the results entirely unpredictable. Any attempt to follow Orion would be dangerous for the same reason, the iron deposits poisoning the denizens of her kingdom.
Except for her. Suddenly, it all made sense to Sarah, why she had to be there and what interaction she had already had with Orion. She could carry Jareth's magic further, though still not as potently. She knew the Aboveground and the Underground and could justify the boundaries better than any other creature in either world. She turned to Jareth.
He met her eyes: "Absolutely not."
Sarah fought the urge to sigh. This was going to be a fight, and she needed to rally herself together. Jareth seemed to sense the same as portions of his hair shifted to dark tones, some changing into feathers as his face took on a nearly animalistic intensity. It was another reminder to Sarah that despite their relationship, he—Jareth, the King of the Goblins—was not to be tamed.
However, he could be reasoned with. With a small spell, she cast a sound nullifier that would assure that their public argument would only be a visible show.
Sarah crossed her arms and set herself in a characteristic stubborn posture. "Before you tell me that this is a tree conclusion if you ever heard one, Jareth, it's the only way."
"Sarah, you know full well what lengths Orion is capable of and his insanity only makes him all the more unpredictable in that spectrum. Even were you to be facing a predictable villain on your own, I would refuse to let you out of eyesight in the shallow canyons. Creatures and demons of all sort, worse than that of the dark kingdom, are exiled there for a reason. No one really knows what sort of effects and monstrosities it harbors because no outsider survives long there."
"I have my wits, I have my amulets, I have your magic that channeled through me will have a stronger affect there than if you used it, and I am determined that nothing I encounter will stop me."
"This is not something that you can will your way through, Sarah."
"For the sake of the world, I will try. You've said it before, Jareth. If we all fade into oblivion, nothing else matters."
"That's why I will go."
"And keel over from iron poisoning? Jareth, you think I'm going to run into all sorts of trouble, but you'd be done in for sure, weakened and subject to the same unknowns. It'd be even more dangerous for you."
"You'd be willing to risk yourself and our child to that assertion?" he asked acidly, taking a grip on her arms.
Sarah could feel her eyes tearing up. Blasted hormones. She still kept her tone even: "I am well aware of the risks, Jareth. To protect my child's inheritance and for LT's chance to exist, I'm going to try."
"You still have no idea what the effects taking a Fae child amongst all the iron deposits could do."
"Neither do you." This was a conversation they already had, dating back to the numerous items on Alain's list. "LT will be protected by my body."
"You cannot be sure of that."
His grip on her arms was tightening by increments. It would be painful soon. Sarah wrapped her forearms around so she could rest her hands just on his biceps, contrasting his unyielding hold with a gentle touch. "No, I cannot," she admitted. "But I also can't think of another solution. At least not one where we succeed. And we don't have much time. Orion has a head start."
Again, Sarah could nearly see the gears in his mind turning. His love of games also made him a brilliant and swift strategist. He was running through as many scenarios in his head as he could, weighing through the same options and risks she was. After a few moments of silence, he relaxed his grip on her arms, still holding on to her but without the punishing force. "I cannot immediately come up with other conceivable possibilities either," he admitted to Sarah's surprise. "But I refuse to send you off without tapping our other strategic resources, the Prophesy, and our prisoners for more information."
"We'd better make it fast." Sarah knew she was getting off easy. Had it not been for their pressing timeline, Sarah was certain they could have argued the possibilities to the ground and out again, neither conceding in a massive power struggle until the pressure erupted into the best make-up sex in the history of ever or both were reduced to a pile of embers, still glowing angrily at the other…or, having grown tired of the debate, one chose to see the other's side, this time. Discussions with her husband were always stimulating, his stubbornness and hers both fronted by logic and wit, but the implied equality behind it made Sarah appreciate their relationship and emotional intimacy more than should could say. Despite the difficulty along the way, Sarah had never found such a satisfying stalemate. She tried to convey this all without saying a word, searching her husband's face and finding an underlying softness that no one else could have interpreted. He understood.
The feathers in his hair were back to their blond locks as Sarah removed the spell, gazing with amusement at the perplexed stares around them. After a few ordered barks, Jareth transported himself, Marek and (under Sarah's insistence) Ack to discuss matters in a tent in the main encampment as the prisoners were dealt with, muttering something about going from one insane ruler to another.
Sarah instantly rounded on Ack. "Spill," she ordered. "Let's hear it or I'll knock you out here and now. Trust me you won't be getting up for a while. You'll wake up in a nest of ivy or something."
Ack held up his claws defensively, though a grin stretched across his muzzle. "As my lady commands."
"What information are you going after?" Marek asked, bemused.
"Ack calls it 'the best part,' so that in and of itself makes it interesting. He says it's because he no longer knows precisely what is going to happen. However, as long as he tells us the potential endings, he gets to keep watching."
Jareth nodded, a twinge of amusement indicated by the twitch at the corner of his mouth though the gravity of the situation prevented him from acknowledging it any further.
"As promised," Ack intoned, sweeping an overly formal bow. "By now, I can guess by your silent argument that Sarah has determined that she must be the one to chase after Orion." Sarah fought the urge to watch Jareth from the corner of her eye. Ack however did shift his attention to Jareth. "I can site portions of the Prophesy, if you wish, your Majesty."
Jareth nodded as he and Marek listened to the beautiful language, seeming out of place when spouted from Ack's fangs, though perhaps made all the more lovely because of the affect. He nearly sang. Sarah listened mesmerized, noting that Jareth and Marek scrutinized its meaning by their frowns and eventually a despairing resignation. Fighting the urge to comfort her husband, Sarah waited for the situation to revert back to a language she could understand. Surprisingly, there was either a lot of Prophesy or it took a long while to say anything in Prophesy-speak, whatever the language was.
"There are four major possibilities, five I suppose if you wish to count it. I could make an educated guess, but this is the point I can no longer be certain or even relatively sure. The first is Sarah does not go and nothing happens because Orion either is overtaken by some unseen force or loses interest partway through the journey—a definite possibility given his temperament. The second is that Sarah does not go and the world ends. It will not be as much fun if this is what happens," Ack intoned quite seriously, tempting Sarah to giggle. "Third, this is the one I suppose could be added as its own: Jareth goes first, ignoring other reason, dies and is followed by Sarah where she either fails and leaves the Goblin Kingdom without rulers (where it will fall) or the world ends OR she succeeds and rules on her own. Fourth, Sarah sets out and fails, leaving Jareth to either follow after or the world to end the latter more likely unless the aforementioned stipulations happen to Orion. Fifth, Sarah goes and succeeds, besting Orion or otherwise mending the veil (which has been fraying with time anyway) making the Labyrinth and the borders between the worlds stronger than before. All that's left after that is to escape the shockwave."
"What's the shockwave?" Sarah wondered aloud, still trying to process the mass of information.
"Any alteration to the veil will have repercussions, Sarah. You will need some sort of protection or a means out. If he touches it at all, you will need to fix it."
"How would I know how to alter the veil?"
"It would tell you. If you do not change it now, I daresay it has aged enough that it could ultimately cause further blurring between the worlds in another couple hundred years."
"I'll focus on stopping Orion first. If that can be accomplished without altering the veil, then I don't have to worry about the shockwave. We can deal with the veil later."
Ack shrugged. "Given a portion of the Prophesy, I do believe it will come about one way or the other."
"I would have you returned immediately in any case," Jareth added.
"Thank you, Ack," Sarah dismissed. "Don't worry. We'll let you know before anyone leaves."
Ack's ears perked up. "I will wait eagerly. This will certainly be something to watch." He bowed and exited the tent.
"Well," Marek began, "Those are some of the strategies I would have outlined, especially in light of Ack's proficiency in conniving and background in Prophecy. All else seems like suicide. Even if we sent in any one of ours in a protective covering, they would still have to remove that to alter the veil and would die then."
Jareth ran a hand through his hair. "It sounds as though our options are clear."
Marek frowned. "Jareth?"
"Marek, prepare a pack for Sarah. Anything she might need," Jareth ordered quietly. "Then see what else you can glean from our prisoners, any information that could be of use."
Marek nodded, bowing. Before leaving the tent, he met Sarah's eyes and gave her a small reassuring smile. Then they were alone. Sarah couldn't see his eyes. They were shadowed by his hair which was quite suddenly a frayed, split-ended mass. He reached out and took her hand without a word. A second later, they were in their oubliette.
"Could," he halted, still searching for his words, "Could we argue about names again? That's one of my favorites."
Sarah's breath hitched in her throat. She flung herself to his chest, his arms wrapping around her as she sobbed into his shirt. After she had stilled, Jareth took Sarah's face in his hands, gently wiping her tears away with his bare thumbs. Sarah reached up and kissed away a couple of his own. She leaned against his chest again. "If it's a boy, I still like Mathias or Gregor. And for a girl, recently I've been leaning toward Hope. Kinda schmaltzy given our situation, but I can pronounce that one, at least."
"My preferences are all pronounceable."
"Not in a you're-in-so-much-trouble sort of way."
"Heston and Iris are not unpronounceable."
"Well, you chose the only two. We could still stick with LT and end the argument there."
"That's out of the question, remember?"
"Not right now, at least. Isn't that right, LT?"
"Your mother is an ornery one, LT." Jareth laced his fingers between Sarah's. "We'll have to keep an eye on her and keep her out of trouble." He took a deep breath and rested his forehead on her shoulder. "Sarah, if you don't come back, I don't think I could ever forgive you."
Sarah kissed his cheek, squeezing her eyes shut. "Me either, Jareth. Me either."

A short hour after the decision was made, Sarah hoisted her pack. Marek had pumped Sarah with as much information as he could on her destination and what she might face. Ack had excitedly wished her well, advising her as cryptically as he could which Sarah appreciated, that in and of itself a great sign of support despite his philosophic preferences was warming. Naturally, the hardest parting was her last as she stood on the edges of the lands of the Labyrinth alone with her husband, overlooking the canyons and the journey before her.
"Take these," Jareth instructed holding two crystals. He began strapping them to the outside of her pack, not making any eye contact as he focused on the task. "These will last regardless of the iron concentration. I've made sure of it. The first is to contact me when you have disabled Orion, have reached the veil or ideally both." He finished securing the crystals and stood in front of her again, rubbing her shoulders with his hands. "The other is to transport you home immediately, whether that is to avoid the shockwave or not, it's going to get you out of there and take you to wherever I am." He gritted his teeth. "As soon as it's done, Sarah."
A weighty, dull ache settled from her chest to the pit of her stomach. "I won't stay away a moment more than I have to, Jareth. I know this isn't easy for either of us, but I'll be back as soon as I can, with as few risks as I can manage."
"If it takes longer than two days, I'm coming after you."
"It won't take that long." She poked him in the chest. "Don't you dare get yourself killed."
Sarah found she didn't care if anyone was watching as Jareth's snatched her face to his, his lips crashing down on her own. Half-breathless, Sarah whispered into Jareth's ear, "I won't be gone long. This isn't goodbye. Remember I love you, Jareth."
"I love you, too, Sarah. I will be waiting."
"Please, have a bath ready for me when I get back. After all this, I'm going to need it."
"Which reminds me, Alain sent this." Jareth produced a vial.
"You'd better try this one. Before you give me a look, come on, I've already had one today, and if I were going to drug me, this would be the time."
Jareth smirked and tossed the vial aside. It disappeared. "That's my wife."
Sarah shook her head at his gall, grinning anyway. "Yep. You're stuck with me, remember?"
"Not such a terrible fate."
Sarah smiled at the ritual as he kissed the corners of her mouth. "We'll see what you say when LT and I are ganging up against you, surprising you with a wet willy from both sides when you least expect it."
Jareth frowned. "A what?"
Sarah held up a finger. "Observe," she directed. He watched with interest as she placed that finger in her mouth and sucked on it longer than was purely necessary. She smirked at him, her finger still between her teeth. Then she quickly put it in his ear. Jareth jerked away, taking a grip on her hand and looking both cross and confused.
Sarah giggled as Jareth rubbed his ear. "You did ask, Jareth. Show it to the goblins and that'll entertain them while I'm gone."
"Rest assured, precious one, LT will be brought up to take my side."
"Maybe he'll be a momma's boy."
"Perhaps he will idolize his father."
"Perhaps she'll want to be just like Mom."
"Or she could be daddy's girl." He had shifted from worried to playful to annoyed and came around once more to resigned. "I want to find out for sure, Sarah. Be careful." He wrapped his arms around her.
"I'd better get going. Otherwise we'll be sappy for our last few hours alive." She kissed him again.
"I'll be waiting."
Sarah reached into the pocket of her linen skirt, having opted for speed rather than bulking up (aside from the chain mail worked into portions of the smoothed leather of her long overcoat). She pulled out the handkerchief and held it in her hand as she picked up a rock and placed it in her other pocket. "I'm guessing it won't work quite as well, but anything that'll get this whole thing over with faster is worth a shot." She kissed him one more time, brushing hair away from his face as she ran a hand down his cheek. "Until later, Jareth."
Sarah took a hold of the stone, leaving the handkerchief to settle in the dust after she was already nearly a mile away. She knew better than to look back; otherwise there might be no leaving at all. Sure enough, the deeper she ran into the unexplored land, the more she slowed down. Still, Sarah was moving at a rate that would make any track star nod in wonderment. The world around her was the color of yellow curry, dark chasms breaking up the landscape, all with a grey, tinted partly blue, above. Sarah planned her stops with caution. Not only did she have to choose a direction, but she had to watch for other signs of movement that could mean any sort of trouble. If she heard roars, Sarah had been instructed to run since aiding this kind of monster would end in maiming rather than a furry orange companion. On one stop, she stood on the ledge and surveyed the path in front of her. Still no sign of Orion or life at all for that matter. Sarah had no desire to find out what sorts of nasties would appear once evening fell.
A small twitch caught Sarah's eye and she formed a crystal, chucking it immediately. The explosion was a small one, but it properly destroyed the stones and any living thing that could have existed in that space, leaving a black splotch on the ground. As she was uncertain if the minor blam brought any unwanted attention, Sarah ran again, spurred on by a strange twinge of where to go…well, that and the ethereal glow to the east.
She tossed another few crystals in front of her to see that her path would still be unimpeded by all sorts of whatevers, particularly as she was certain she saw a meaty fist make a slow reach for her ankle (made slow only relative to the speed she was moving). Even running at the speed she was, it took her a few hours to really understand what she was running to. When she stopped to rest and venture into her pack to see what resembling food she could find, the veil was still far enough away that she couldn't make out the details. What she could see was its movement as the odd material fluttered in a wind that didn't actually blow. She eyed her surroundings, making sure that nothing was moving around her as she chewed a mouthful of bread.
Mulling over the thoughts, Sarah refused to let her mind drift to anything that could tempt fate, such as "Well, this place doesn't seem so bad." A few rocks shifted behind her, even though her back was against a solid ledge. Standing instantly, Sarah seized her pack and watched the new opening with interest. A snout and two yellow eyes emerged. What was unnerving though was not how those eyes and teeth followed her, but that the entire surface of the creature rippled and squirmed. Instead of fur, it was covered in some amorphous ooze. It didn't so much as walk as project a piece of itself forward in an odd paw at a time.
Sarah decided to take her meal on the run.
There were other monsters along the way, some Sarah passed while running and could get a cautious but interested look over, and the others she saw when she stopped were either blown out of her path with a well-aimed crystal or otherwise quickly detoured. She walked for some time, still clutching the stone. There was little else to this part of the Underground, that she could see, though Sarah decided she would much rather remain ignorant to much else. There were certainly more creatures to avoid as she ventured further, and there was still the terrible thought of what might come out at night.
And then Sarah stood in front of the veil. It fluttered again in a nonexistent breeze, floating like drifting snow tendrils along a plowed road. Water and fabric, movement and order, and all so much larger than she thought it was going to be. The veil was at least twice her height, likely three or four times, though it was difficult to measure from her angle. The width was impressive, too, taking her about a minute to run the length of even with the stone. Despite the odd nature of the veil, she could see where it was fraying. Ack was right; she knew how it should be altered and could see how to do it. Sometimes, when the veil fluttered forward, Sarah swore she could see small pieces of the world she grew up in. She was staring at what she swore was a park she had seen in London when she was twelve when she recalled that she needed to be on her guard rather than allow herself to be entranced. Taking a quick survey of the land around her, Sarah saw a few things lurking but nothing immediately pressing. She tossed a few crystals to create a wider radius anyway as she pulled out one of the specific crystals Jareth had given her. She had to detach both, setting the poofing one next to her pack as she stood again.
She peered into it. "Jareth? I made it to the veil."
His face swam in the crystal until it fixed on an expression that almost appeared neutral…almost. Relief with a strong showing of concern somehow managed together. "Sarah, are you alright?"
"I'm fine. No sign of Orion. How're things there?"
"We're tying off ends and picking off stragglers. The goblins have enjoyed it. The rest of us have been waiting to hear from you. Jan and Elizabeth send their regards."
"They're there?"
"They could help with the clean up if not the war. As both ladies are greatly displeased with me at the moment, perhaps when you return you will explain that this was your idea in the first place?"
Sarah grinned. "What fun would that be?"
Jareth favored her with a half-smirk and a raised eyebrow. "Why thank you, Sarah."
"You're welcome. Looks like I'm just cooling my heels now. Maybe I'll fix the veil while I'm waiting and let the shockwave take out Orion."
"Sarah," Jareth warned, taking on that particular tone that made Sarah feel like she had at the beginning of his re-entrance into her life—totally patronized. Good thing, for his sake, she knew when to let it slide, tense life or death situations being one of them. "Don't take any unnecessary risks." He grimaced for a moment. "It's probably best, too, if you use magic sparingly. Our store is still very low."
"I probably shouldn't even let you distract me. I'm going to keep my eyes open and wait for Orion."
"Don't close the connection," Jareth ordered quickly. "This spell will only work once and I'd rather have prolonged proof that you're unharmed instead of intermittent relief."
Sarah wore a rueful smile. "Alright, but I'm setting you down while I hunt through my pack. I'm bored and famished, which means I'm going to have to eat something."
Jareth gave a short chuckle but did not object to being "set down" in the clumps of yellow-brown dirt and stone. After taking a quick glance around, Sarah dug once more into her pack, resigning to a long sit. The water came first, but Sarah grumbled when she could only find healthy sorts of food, eliciting another chuckle from Jareth. She glanced around one more time, then dug head first into the pack.
A hand seized her throat and threw her down. She yelped as Orion pinned her, but thought enough to use the heel of her hand against his sternum to keep him as far from her as possible.
"Hello, Sarah," he sung, eyes oddly wide and grinning snarkily. "Good to see you."
How, she berated herself, had she forgotten to check the sky, too? Glancing to her left, she saw Jareth's face still in the crystal. His helpless shock was quickly outweighed by a snarl of anger. Nodding, Sarah turned back to Orion and punched him with her other hand, along the cheekbone she had broken once some time ago. She rolled out from under him, closer to the veil than she felt comfortable, but far enough to find her footing and collect herself. She held a crystal in either hand.
"Sorry if I'm not as excited to see you," Sarah replied as nonchalantly as possible.
Orion, on all fours, shook his body and chuckled. Sarah watched him carefully as he mumbled to himself, coming to his feet. He recovered his grin, and Sarah fought the urge to shiver. The crystals in her hands sparked. Sarah glanced down for a brief moment, noting that Jareth was still watching, wisely saying nothing considering neither of them had any idea what would trigger Orion further. Orion was looking past her, if he was focusing on anything real at all.
"Orion, why do you want to mess with the veil anyway? You've lost. Just go home."
Orion looked genuinely perplexed. "I don't mean to mess with the veil. I mean to mess with you. It's much more fun." His grin was back. "Now if one means the other, then all the better."
Sarah threw a crystal at him. It hit him square in the chest and he fell backward, sprawled out on the ground. "Oh, I am so sick about all this Prophesy and let's-pick-on-Sarah-Williams crap! Unless you have a better reason, I'm blowing your head off."
Orion sprang up, eyes clear. "Alright, I will control the entire Underground holding this place for ransom. It's been the plan for years though now suddenly seemed as good a time as any. Mental breaks can be very liberating."
Sarah frowned. "But you just said—"
"Sarah, I'm insane. Can you take anything I say seriously?"
She chucked the other crystal at him, zapping his arm this time, before forming two more. "Okay, you've got a point there."
His face faded to a blank expression again. "Besides, the stream and cacophony."
"The stream?"
Orion nodded, as though this explained everything. Sarah threw another crystal for good measure.
Sarah attempted to appeal back to Orion's momentarily rational side. "How do you expect to survive out here? You had to borrow magic to get this far."
"Cross into the other world, feed and recuperate where and when necessary," he retorted with momentary clarity. Evidently he had considered all this before.
"There's a lot of iron in the Aboveground," Sarah shot back, throwing yet another crystal and blasting one of his feet out from under him. He didn't take another step forward after that.
He folded his arms, tilting his head to the side. "Hmm. Perhaps you could show me."
"You know I won't go anywhere with you."
Orion looked perplexed again. "Why? Who is suggesting you would? Where are we going?"
Officially confused as Orion started babbling and otherwise utterly frustrated, Sarah went back to her default: she aimed another crystal at him, one with more pep.
That got his attention again. Of course, now he was incensed. With a shriek, he lunged at her. Sarah managed to dart out of the way, mostly. She ducked down, one of Orion's arms connecting with her shoulder, his other hand tearing against the veil with its jagged fingernails. It sounded like ripping tissue paper.
Sarah was momentarily more concerned with the scratch on her neck as it tingled and stung, until she realized what had just happened. She was crouched, ready to fling whatever else at Orion she could. Orion however was preoccupied, staring in wonderment at the tattered, flowing fabric. Still in awe, Orion detangled his fingers from the shredded piece. Sarah fought the urge to scream. Not only would she now be required to fix the damage he'd done, but it was effectively a ticking bomb. What's worse, it was a ticking bomb without a visible timer; Sarah had no idea when it was going to explode.
She whipped up the nastiest crystal she could manage and smashed it into Orion's chest as soon as he was far enough away from the veil not to accidentally fall on it. She ground the spell and its shards as deep with all her stored agitation and a releasing a furious yell. He hissed, and that soon dissolved into wordless roar. Orion shoved her away with both palms and a foot.
Sarah landed some nine feet away with a hard thud. By reflex, she clutched her stomach where she had been kicked, praying as fast and fervently as she could think and speak while still trying to find her breath. She lay curled around herself, Orion temporarily forgotten for this new panic. LT, their first child that yet unborn Sarah was already irrevocably attached to, might suffer the worst for that attack. That kind of trauma on top of every other stressor Sarah was experiencing—emotional stress to iron deposits to latent dark taint—could mean the loss of her child. Thankfully, Orion wasn't in a hurry to get to his feet, distracted enough by murmuring to the sky in multiple languages, including Prophesy-speak and the dark tongue. Using what time she had, Sarah ran as thorough of a quick physical inventory as she could manage without drawing any further attention to herself. If she was lucky, Orion might temporarily forget about her. She could quell her panic and form a plan.
However, a quick glance to the south revealed some new creatures daring to get a closer look. As Orion was still distracted (now with his knees halfway curled up), Sarah gingerly rose to a sitting position (grateful that she felt no spasms or any pains other than expected soreness from the landing, though this was still not a sure indication) and formed another crystal. Sarah stared at her sphere, noting its discoloration and sections where the surface indented and stretched. That wasn't a good sign. She was running out of magic. Blowing on the misshapen orb, she let it drift toward its target, rather than wasting energy throwing it.
That bought her some time, but a ghostly pulse from the veil caught Sarah's attention. One of Ack's obscure pieces of advice had involved something with a pulse, but Sarah couldn't pull it out of her mind and didn't have the time to dwell on it. She didn't have the luxury of screwing this up. Sarah's mind raced through whatever objectives she had to cover, still keeping an eye on Orion as he rocked back and forth on the ground, a dead circle in the middle of his chest: clearly she had to get herself back to Alain to make sure LT was alright as soon as possible, she had to completely disable Orion so he couldn't inflict any more damage to the veil, she had to fix the veil because though it could be left frayed it could not be left shredded and it was going to blow anyway. All this to be accomplished with minimal magic usage. Peachy. Time to use her head.
The veil pulsed again, and Orion sat up with a dazed but oddly cheery grin. He turned to Sarah slowly. "I had a plan at first, you know." He was looking in her direction but past her. "The dark goblins were going to help me take the Labyrinth, and I was going to have my own kingdom, out from Mother and Father. The Labyrinth would have been restored to its original darkness, and the veil between the worlds would become weaker than before, meaning all the more sport was to be had. Amassing that kind of magic and belief enables anyone to control the entire Underground if manipulated correctly. Jareth made it all too..." he contorted his mouth as he searched for a word.
"PG? Cartoony?" Sarah supplied before she could stop herself.
"Safe," Orion concluded, giving no sign that he had heard her. Sarah shuddered to think what the Labyrinth must have been to make the Cleaners something "safe." "It was all too safe. Pity Jareth read the Prophesy incorrectly. Sure, everyone says that there are many interpretations, but he wasn't reading into it right."
Sarah was torn between fascination and trying to force her mind to come up with a feasible solution. Orion continued to talk to himself, often disagreeing and clarifying and otherwise growing more and more muddled, though his glazed eyes continued to follow Sarah as she returned to her pack. If she could just render Orion unconscious, then she could fix the veil and use the crystal to take them both home. Orion made no movement as Sarah moved closer, still rambling about something now involving books.
Sarah swung her bag at Orion's head. He ducked. She overbalanced and dropped her pack. He caught her wrist, saving her from a fall but holding her out a few inches from the dirt, still unable to catch her feet for a moment. Orion was all attention again. Sarah didn't even wait for a response, grabbing the first thing she could wrap her fingers around and smashing it against Orion's skull.
To Sarah's utter surprise, he disappeared. With nothing left holding her up, she fell those few inches, knocking the wind out of her. She rolled over, coughing and taking a few deep breaths.
She had used her transportation spell, the crystal Jareth had given her specifically. Another swell of panic overwhelmed her. She couldn't outrun the shockwave this thing was going to have, especially with how sluggish her stone had become. There wasn't enough magic to poof her home given the malformation of the last spell. Flying had been vetoed for sheer targetability and the whole tumbling out of the sky bit. Orion had taken her escape route because she had hit him with her transportation crystal instead of a rock.
"This," Sarah said aloud, "is not fair."
"Sarah!" Jareth's voice rang from the other crystal.
Sarah searched for the communication crystal frantically, eventually lifting up her pack from where it had fallen. "I'm still here."
"And Orion is not," he nearly accused. "He's in custody now until we can take care of him later. You need to get out of there."
"I didn't mean to send him back yet. I just had to hit him with something and…" Sarah sighed, tapering off. "There's still time to figure something out."
Jareth's impressive brows closed together. "Are you sure you're unharmed?"
"No," Sarah admitted. "So that's why we're going to figure out something quickly. I'd say I should just take off running for home now if it weren't for the giant hole Orion tore in the veil. If you and the gang over there can come up with something or get a magic infusion somehow, I'll see to the veil in the meanwhile. It won't blast immediately, apparently."
"Sarah, leave it alone."
"I get the feeling if I leave it alone for too long it's going to make it blow sooner, like touching the mouse occasionally to keep the computer from hibernating now that Orion's let it go into screen saver."
In fact, the area Orion had torn had its own black light emitting from the veil.
Sarah tore her gaze away. "Sorry, all the Aboveground phrases haven't left me yet, but just trust me. We don't have a ton of time to deal with at any rate. I'll stay on the line, ready to click my heels and do the 'there's no place like home' as soon as you guys have that figured out."
Jareth only nodded, though Sarah could sense his worry rise with her own. Unless her husband could suddenly restock his magic for a costly spell or her speed stone could be totally amped up, she was stranded. With a bomb no less. Flying would get her knocked out of the sky when a wave came. No shield would be strong enough on its own. None of it sounded like a good option.
Sarah set the crystal in her dress pocket…next to the rock she had forgotten was there, the one that countered the speed stone enough to keep her from floating away. Sarah really wanted to scream. Knowing that she'd have to waste time explaining her scream to a concerned husband demanding an explanation, led her to instead fuel that frustration to a forced sense of calm. She ran her hands over her abdomen once more, trying to silently assure LT that everything would be okay.
Sarah turned her attention to the veil as it grew brighter once more, holding its radiance for longer than it had for the other previous pulses. Ack had mentioned something along the lines of gentleness. He'd also given a number when he referred to the pulses. She still couldn't force her mind to remember it. Taking one last check to make sure no other mishap was closing in on her position, Sarah knelt and examined the frayed ends of the veil first. After a few experimental touches, Sarah ran her finger along the edge, easing the cool threads of the fabric back into place. The broken pieces needed reorganization. The veil which had set the boundary between worlds only needed an update. Where did this piece belong, in the Underground or elsewhere? Each gap in the fabric meant something that Sarah could pick up on by feeling the frayed ends. The higher she touched on the veil, the further back in time it represented so thankfully all of her work would be allocated to portions she could reach.
It was a slow but necessary process, new fantasies by mankind mixing with new policies from the elves and dictating what should cross. The sky was beginning to darken when Sarah again reached the splotch where Orion had torn through. This would be fixed last as it would require the most help from her resources on the other side of the crystal and would otherwise break the momentum she had started. She paused to pull out her amulets, using what protective measure she could. Occasionally, the veil would pulse half-heartedly, though these still were prolonging in length. After the one lasted for a full two minutes, Sarah pulled out her crystal again.
"Tell me you've thought of something. I think it's going to go soon, no matter what I do."
Jareth looked woefully chagrined.
"I'll take that as a no," she mumbled, her hopes dissipating.
"We have a few solutions, Sarah. I like none of them."
"You didn't like them last time either, Jareth, but we have to go with something," she snapped.
A few streaks of black sheen appeared in Jareth's hair. "I know that, Sarah."
Sarah sighed and took a slow breath. "I'm sorry, Jareth. I'm all on edge, too. We both need to be calm to get through to any feasible solution."
Jareth nodded, though not all of the black disappeared (most faded to a deep orange, as though still to highlight the urgency of the situation). "First, take those amulets around your neck. All of them hold some residual magic. We can consolidate that to give us more to work with."
She held up the small mass, loathe to see any of them go considering the well-meaning of all these gifts. "I'm going to save the light Sir Didymus gave me as it could come in handy." Sarah hesitated. "Dear, is this really a good idea? With LT and all I really want to keep as many safety nets as we can or—"
"Please do not outline any of the possibilities for disaster, precious one. I'm fully aware of the likelihoods of everything falling to pieces and would prefer not to be reminded." He sounded so despondent that Sarah said nothing more. She spared only the light and the necklace with a picture of the Labyrinth he had given her to call on him (the scene of the Labyrinth depicted did include the dark clouds over the horizon she had seen before she left, the pink and blue dots that were the worms huddled together). She kept all the pieces in her pack as she absorbed their magics; perhaps they could be recharged later.
"Okay, that's done. Where does that put us?"
Jareth's stare went vacant as he evaluated the magic. He said nothing, but Sarah witnessed a few portions of his hair shift to a soft cerulean along with a shock or two of yellow. Despair and the closest the Goblin King came to panic: this did not bode well. Since Sarah had no visible markers like her husband, she instead said as little as possible to better keep it out of her voice.
"Right. I'm working on the veil for now." She set the crystal on the ground without another word.
The black light from Orion's tear gave her skin an eerie cast as she shed her overcoat. There was no way Sarah was going to risk dragging her sleeves against the veil and tear it any further. To her surprise, she did not have to enlist help from the other Undergroundians as she had once thought. This part of the veil made an odd sort of sense to Sarah, pertaining to what creatures belonged in the Aboveground or the Underground. There were pieces that could be rewritten here, casting away the vampires or the dark goblins or returning all humans to the Aboveground. …But none of that decision, Sarah resolved, should be made now. She could give herself the title "Lady of the Veil" and come back to change it when everything wasn't quite so pressing and their magic wasn't depleted and they had argued the ethics through the floor or decided to play a joke anyway.
Sarah allowed herself to smile as she close up the final gap.
The veil began to hum.
Sarah scrambled for the crystal. "Jareth! Do you hear this?"
Jareth's brows furrowed. "What is that?"
"Ask Ack what it means if the veil starts to make noises."
Ack's snout appeared over Sarah's shoulder. "Sarah, by any possible means, leave now."
"Sarah," Jareth ordered, "Run as far as you can until you find a cave in the canyons. Blast whatever is living there out, but make some sort of shelter, the deeper the better. We'll combine that with whatever kind of spell we can muster. It's all we can do."
Sarah nodded, fumbling to gather her coat and pack, sure that the other supplies (a knife and other camping utensils) might come in handy somehow.
"I think I remember one a ways back. I'll call you when I find some place."
Before she could close her hand over the speed stone, the earth shook. Sarah began to lose her balance. She gasped as she tumbled into the veil, the communication crystal slipping from her fingertips. Sarah cried out as she fell, softly, softly tumbling and finding no sudden end to her fall. A blue light enveloped her.
Miles away, Jareth shouted her name into a crystal where all he could see was an innocently shimmering portion of the odd cloth.
Ack leaned away from his shoulder. "That," he commented quietly, "Was not one of the conclusions I would have guessed."
Everyone's attention was quickly diverted to the massive blast that erupted in the distance. The crystal in Jareth's hand shattered. Whether this was due to the blast so close to the other crystal or the force of his grip, no one was immediately certain. The wind began to pick up; despite how far away the explosion of light had been, the shockwave was already on its way. Though he swayed for a moment as though his knees were buckling beneath him and caught his forehead in his hand for a few still seconds, Jareth soon boomed orders for all his charges and the Labyrinth itself to prepare for the full force of the veil's affect. All that could be done was to bunker down and wait.
Another world away, Sarah tumbled onto an odd surface, her head landing on something soft if her lower back was not so lucky. She glanced around dazedly. It was a place she recognized. Her eyes widened. She had landed with her back against her old bed, the cold frame against her spine but her head cushioned by her comforter. All of her gear was sprawled next to her, yanked through the veil, excluding the communication crystal. Sarah took several deep breaths, trying to calm herself down. This was not as bad as it could have been. This situation could be dealt with. She was away from the blast zone. Heck, the shockwave was probably done with, considering how long she had floated in the odd limbo of light, though likely that was all relative anyway. Surely Jareth would be trying to locate her soon enough.
It was then Sarah realized that she could not feel him in the back of her mind any longer. She probed and searched but that link that allowed her to sense him was muted at best, shattered at worst.
Sarah wrapped her hands around her necklace and said his name aloud. There was a small twinge in the back of her mind, as though he were trying to answer, then nothing. She tried again, focusing all of her energy and calling again with more force. Again, the twinge happened, no stronger than last time. When he didn't appear, Sarah stood up. There were other ways.
"I wish the goblins would take me away right now," Sarah stated confidently.
Sarah waited for ten minutes, watching her alarm clock tick by at a ridiculously slow pace from six forty three to six fifty four, the sun still not to rise for a little while longer. Nothing happened.
She tried again: "I wish the goblins would come and take me away right now."
Once more, she was met with no response. Sarah began to pace.
"I wish the goblins would come and take me away RIGHT NOW," she yelled. She switched tacks, her panic rising.
"I wish the King of the Goblins would come and take me away right now! I wish that Jareth, King of the Goblins, would come and take me away right now! Goblin King, Goblin King, wherever you may be…get me the hell back there with thee? I wish the Goblin King and the goblins would come and take me away right now! I wish the ruler of the Labyrinth would come and take me away right now!" Sarah slumped to her knees, her voice quavering. "I wish that Jareth would come take me away right now!"
Just as her stepmother entered the room with a surprised "Sarah!" and immediately went to consol her (quickly followed by her father and Toby), Sarah whispered, "I wish my husband would come and take me away right now."

Sarah could hear the voices in the kitchen. Her reappearance, particularly with the screaming and crying, certainly shook up her family's morning routine. Toby had finally left for school after a lot of arguing and a few angry tears, only agreeing when his father promised to pick him up early, after the math test. Laying her head back on the couch, Sarah took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Brow-beating for answers would come later, once everyone had calmed down and after her parents finished arguing about what to do.
A swell of determination soon outweighed her panic and homesickness. Jareth would come for her. Either that or Sarah would find a way back. The magic needed time to regenerate. She would think through the rest later.
She opened her eyes. In the meanwhile, there were a few things that needed to be seen to. After the most pressing errand was addressed, Sarah reasoned that she might as well tie up another few ends in the Aboveground to make future visits less difficult. Keeping busy, Sarah felt, would keep her focused and help her ride through any residual panic.
Karen and Robert Williams emerged from the kitchen, her stepmother in a robe but her father already mostly dressed. Taking a seat down next to her, Karen passed Sarah a can of 7up and some crackers.
"Since you've already had your water, I figured you might want something else in your stomach. Are you still feeling nauseous?" she inquired gently.
Sarah gave her a small smile. "It's better now. Thanks." She nibbled a cracker or two before taking a deep breath. "I know you guys are aching to ask some questions but there are a couple things that I'm going to need to take care of first."
Her parents frowned. "Like what?" her father asked.
"Like the missing persons report for example. I might as well clear that up during this sojourn, seeing as I have no idea how long I'm going to be here." Sarah focused her attention to Karen. "There's something much more pressing, however. Alain's the one who has been handling my case and all, but I think going to him right now is unfortunately a little impossible. Mom, can you get me the number of your OB/GYN and mine for that matter?" She rested hand on her stomach, such a natural gesture.
Understandably, Mr. and Mrs. Williams were momentarily stunned. Her father sat down heavily on the easy chair.
Karen's face grew into a wide grin. "Oh, there were just a few things you said when I talked to you and little things and I thought you'd put on a bit of weight even in the middle of war that I was beginning to wonder, but, oh Sarah, this is great news!"
"Before we get too excited," Sarah broke in, though warmed by Karen's reaction, "I need to make sure the baby's okay. I've just been tossed around in a war."
Karen nodded. "I'll hunt through the address book. We'll go for the first appointment we can. They do have emergency spots just in case."
"You can tell them I fell and have been feeling lightheaded, if that'll help," Sarah supplied.
"I'll tell them you have been having pains after falling down the stairs if that will get us in." She kissed Sarah's head and ran off the kitchen.
Sarah raised her gaze to her father, feeling somewhat nervous for reasons she didn't want to think about.
"That man—or whatever he is—let you fight a war while you were pregnant?" he growled after a moment's silence.
Sarah nodded.
"I'll kill him."
"Dad, no, it's not like he forced me to do it. You know me. I couldn't let everyone else protect the kingdom while I hid somewhere."
Her father flexed a fist. "Still going to kill him, Sarah."
"You will not make LT grow up without a father, Dad, let alone make me a widow."
"Little Terror. It's just our gender neutral way of referring to the heir of the Goblin Kingdom."
He leaned back in his chair again, speaking wistfully. "This could be your chance to get away from all this mess, Sarah. People can help you see if this marriage even needs to be annulled and do it, put you into protective custody, and you can give up the baby to adoption or whatever."
Sarah blanched, horrified at the notion, and she could tell by her father's nod and expression that he caught it. "I figured as much, Sarah. From what I've heard through Karen and through your infrequent messages, it sounds as though, circumstances aside, you're happy. We'll get everything sorted out, no matter how long we get to keep you for." He took another deep breath. "My son-in-law is a psycho, but I'm going to be a grandfather," he announced to the room.
Sarah beamed. If her father could take the news without flipping out (though more was certainly to come later), she wasn't too worried about the rest of the world. "He's not a psycho, Dad."
"The only man I would allow to kidnap and impregnate my daughter had to be the one she was entirely smitten with. Guess I was right though. No one in this world was deserving of you."
Sarah smiled at his bluntness, recalling their old joke (he claimed it was a father's prerogative, Sarah found it just plain weird) and knowing he was still trying to cope with it all. Otherwise she would have glared. "And he's as excited and, though he wouldn't admit it without a fight, terrified as I am."
"Grandpa. Christ, I'm old."
A part of what her father had said struck her: "Dad, where is that crystal I gave you?"
"Upstairs, why?" he replied, still dazed.
Sarah immediately moved to bound off of the couch though she was stayed by her father. "I'll get it," he assured her. "You take another cracker or two, until you're feeling better."
Nodding her thanks, Sarah did as she was bid, finding herself ridiculously hungry though that combated with anxiety. Karen poked her head into the room, one hand over the receiver. "They'd like to know how far along you are."
"With time and everything, it translates to a little over four months." So it was actually a lot over four months, but Sarah was going to wait for doctor-patient confidentiality to kick in for some of that discussion.
Karen nodded and went back to bulldogging; she was a good ally to have when dealing with the medical field, shortening "nurses' minutes" to something more resembling real minutes. Really, if Sarah was too sick to argue for herself, her parents had the good cop, bad cop routine figured out.
Her father returned with the crystal and a frown. "I've never seen it look like this," he reported.
Sarah took the item in question eagerly. Even though Jareth couldn't transport himself or his thoughts through their connection, this should still work.
The whole sphere was black. Sarah shook it, calling into it. Part of the sphere turned brown, otherwise there was nothing. Squeezing her eyes shut and quelling the urge to chuck the crystal across the room, Sarah allowed her head to flump back against the couch.
"Sarah, what's wrong?" her father asked, taking her hand with one of his, the crystal in his other.
"He hasn't come for me yet because he can't," Sarah murmured. "If you guys are right in that I didn't miss a huge chunk of time, then his magic's so depleted right now—and he needs some small amount to stay alive and immortal—that he can't risk the spell. But, even when that recoups some, he might not be able to make it here."
Sarah took a few short breaths, grateful that her father allowed her to continue at her own pace.
"Dad, when I left the Underground, I might have locked the door behind me."
Fighting the urge to cry as she was enveloped by her father's arms, Sarah snuggled into his shirt like she hadn't since she was eight. He would ask for an explanation later, Sarah was certain. But now he was content to let her collect herself and pull away in silence when she was ready.
Karen returned from the kitchen. "Either 1:30 in the city or 3:45 in town are our best options."
Trading her fears off again, Sarah nodded. She had to make sure LT was safe first. Once that was reassured, Sarah would be free to focus on planning and worrying about her return. All disparaging thoughts would also be displaced until such a time because these last few hours had been emotionally taxing enough. At least she hadn't missed more than a few hours hovering in the veil; that might have pushed her a little too far at the moment. She would have flat-out refused to believe it had she landed in some alternative dimension.
"Where did Jen put in the missing person report?"
"Possibly both precincts, but if you go to one they should inform the other."
Sarah weighed the two hour drive with the two hour wait. "I'll take the appointment in the city. My doc is going to have all my information anyway. I'll ask him if there is anyone he'd recommend closer to here."
Karen nodded. "In the meanwhile, I think it would be best if we got some food in you and you got some sleep. You look exhausted, honey."
"Food would probably be a good idea in another half hour. Some orange juice if we have it. I haven't had proper out-of-an-honest-to-God-carton orange juice for way too long."
"Later. Work on that first," Karen directed, gesturing toward the 7up and crackers.
"That nap doesn't sound like such a bad idea either." Sarah leaned back against the cushions. "I don't even want to tromp back upstairs."
"Then don't. We'll bring you whatever you need."
Already feeling herself dozing off, Sarah yawned and said, "Obviously details are pending, but there are a couple things you guys should know."
"It's not twins, is it?"
Sarah gave a small half-smile. "No, nothing like that, though that wouldn't surprise me given everything else. Just this: the war is over and we won."
Her parents started to say something, but Sarah immediately stopped paying attention as her vision began to tilt and sway. She took several deep breaths to keep from vomiting. Randomly transporting had been the apparent exchange for morning sickness, but on the rare instances it struck, it hit with a vengeance. All the transporting and moving today probably wasn't helping. Thankfully, she mused from a stable part of the back of her mind, she should be essentially finished with that symptom (the cynical portion of her mind, unfortunately not currently caught in her vertigo, reminded her that all pregnancies were different and it could only be the beginning). She felt her mother place a bowl in her lap, saying…something.
While the vertigo was highly unpleasant, the part that truly scared Sarah was the sudden contraction of what seemed all her core muscles at once. That was something new. It wasn't enough to cause her to throw up (nearly), but it was enough to double her over as she prayed for it to pass without damaging her child. Forget what Jareth would do, Sarah wasn't certain what she would do if she miscarried.
Once she could focus her horizon again, she realized her parents had left the room. She took several more deep breaths and her muscles clenched again. Sarah curled up and heard the sound of the car being pulled out of the garage. Karen came down the stairs slightly more dressed and stuffing a set of Sarah's clothes into a small bag. Her muscles relaxed again, but Sarah was trembling and now officially panicking.
"Sarah, can you stand up?" Karen demanded in a soft voice. "We're going to take you to the Emergency room, alright?"
"Let's go, please," Sarah whispered, eyes wide. Karen helped her off of the couch, as gingerly and quickly as possible.
Her father pulled the car up as close to the house as he could, throwing his door open to run around and yank the door to the backseat open for his daughter. Sarah coiled in back, her head on her stepmother's lap as her father buckled himself again. The heads of the Williams family were grave but confident during the quiet ride, even as Sarah felt her body wring together once more. Indoctrinated in the ways of holding up appearances, Sarah fed off of that energy, realized why she was doing it and that the goblins weren't around to see, and broke down into tears anyway. This was too much, really. But her head felt strangely disconnected from her body, and Sarah found herself instead focusing on all the queer spots of color floating through her field of vision.
Once she was in an examination room, there were questions asked by men and women in blue scrubs, hands gently prodding her abdomen with latex incased fingers. As Sarah began to regain her mind again, she was surprised to realize that many of those questions revolved around drugs. The obstetrician came in and warned her quite sternly, but to her immense relief announced that they would be doing a full checkup shortly.
The rest of Sarah's treatment ran under the assumption that she was going through withdrawal of some sort. When her parents had informed her of all the questions they received and thoughts from the doctor, it was either that or some heavy metal poisoning. Regardless, the IV gave Sarah some much needed hydration and her parents gave her some much needed comfort. Of course, then she laughed quite thoroughly that she was being helped through withdrawal, especially when her parents showed her a handful of pamphlets they had been given. There was no way to really refute it either. All she could do was deny any and all interaction with drugs until the blood test came back. Jareth would have found it amusing. Magic withdrawal wouldn't show up on any test she would undergo here.
The whole mess had been a wretched haze, from waiting room to examination room A then G, after she was wheeled down to maternity. Except for one shining moment, despite the unpleasantness of the goop on her skin: Sarah saw LT for the first time. The Ultrasound picture naturally wasn't one for amazing detail and the technician reported that LT was not turned in such a way she could immediately tell the gender, but Sarah could not take her eyes of the screen. LT was still there, the heartbeat going strong though the world seemed to slow. Sarah only regretted that her hand was not held by a certain gloved palm.
The doctor spoke with her one last time, privately, before she was allowed to leave: "Sarah, you've obviously been through something. I'm bound to keep everything between us confidential if there's anything more you can tell me."
The tears of relief were still wet on Sarah's cheeks, unabashed. "Is everything alright with LT?"
"I've told you twice now, Sarah," he replied gently.
"I know, but I just need to hear it again."
"I would call it a high risk pregnancy—" Sarah nearly snorted, "—but, yes, right now your child is relatively healthy."
Sarah smiled, no longer looking at him.
"You need to be taking better care of yourself, Sarah. You're a little anemic and we'll get you some iron supplements for that with some prenatal vitamins and all sorts of information you should have seen some time ago." He sighed. "Is there anything you wish to tell me?"
"My husband and I saw an alternative healer," Sarah offered, hoping not to seem like an entirely incompetent mother.
He pulled out his pen and began to write a few things down. "Good, what sort of healer?"
"When should I schedule another appointment?"
Her doctor frowned as she avoided his question. "Given all that's occurred, two weeks at the latest."
"I will tell you more then," Sarah promised, hoping that LT would have shown a lack in growth at the "normal" rate that he might be more willing to believe her. Starting that conversation when he might still suspect her to be an addict would not help her case at any rate. "Anything else?"
He put away his pen. "Keep in mind, your child is lucky this time, Sarah. Do not engage in anything that might jeopardize that again."
"Thank you Doctor…?"
Sarah gave a small start. "Not related to a Jen Yeardly, are you?"
"I have a cousin named Jen Yeardly who has recently been searching for a Sarah Williams, if that's what you're after," he replied with a stare of stern inquiry. "I know you've been missing."
"It's a long story. I promised to tell you more next time. You're not going to mention this to your cousin, are you?"
"Legally, I can't. But you should."
Sarah nodded. "I will. I just need to get myself together again. It'd be better if she heard it from me anyway."
"With all the work she's put in to finding you, you'd better believe it," he said rather pointedly. "Show this to the nurse on your way out," he instructed, holding out a few pieces of paper, one being a prescription, "and make an appointment with her there as well."
Then Sarah had to restrain herself from laughing, mentally comparing all the do's and don'ts given to her in one list compared with the one Alain had given her. She could technically now participate in the goblin chicken toss should she so choose. Not that she would, really. Underground chickens that managed to survive more than a year and a half were something to behold, certainly one of the more frightening and clever creatures in the Labyrinth. When Sarah was greeted again by her stepmother, she numbly handed her the stacks of information save for the picture in her hands. Evidence that her child was alive. Evidence that LT was actually there.
Karen stood next to Sarah, looking down at the sonogram and altering the angle Sarah had it only slightly for the glare on its surface. She pulled Sarah into a hug, resting one hand over her mouth though Sarah could see her deep grin by the crinkles and crows feet that only deepened at the corners of her eyes when she was smiling hard enough not to know what to say.
"Everything's okay," Sarah announced quietly. "My doctor thinks I'm an idiot, but LT's okay."
Karen gave her another gentle squeeze. "Your father went to pick Toby up, since we forgot about him for an hour. He won't be happy, but he will understand later."
"He's a smart kid," Sarah agreed, eyes still focused on the image in front of her. With one hand, Sarah wrapped her fingers around the necklace Jareth had given her, eyes filling with tears for the umpteenth time. Not having him here to share that feeling of the first sonogram, something Alain couldn't even do, was harder than she could have imagined. If only there was a way to send even this to him, probably with a short explanation scribbled on back with pen, then he wouldn't worry about either of them. Something just to show him they were alive so he could work on a solution without driving himself insane.
Sarah took the tissue Karen offered. "You wish he had been here," she said, not really asking.
Sarah nodded mutely. She put both hands over her necklace, gently crinkling the sonogram.
Karen hugged her once more, rubbing her arms soothingly. "Your father left us money for a cab. Let's get you home to rest."
"For a little while," Sarah agreed. "I really should go to the police station as soon as possible. My OB recognized me, though I'm wondering why the emergency department didn't clue in."
"Well, I'm fairly certain there are a few 'Sarah Williams' in this county alone."
"None of them are queens, I bet," Sarah pointed out absurdly. Her brain and body felt entirely fried. "Ask for a non-crazy cab driver, please. Or offer the driver a bonus if I feel secure enough to fall asleep on the way home."
Karen snorted. "I've got a feeling it wouldn't be a problem at any rate."
Sarah yawned. "Perhaps."
Sarah was asleep before the cab arrived. She woke up long enough to move from bench to vehicle then vehicle to couch. Just before she fell asleep in earnest, an object on the coffee table caught her eye. She wrapped her fingers around the communication crystal and brought it closer to her face for inspection. The crystal sphere was still an opaque mass, black and empty, empty, empty.

The sky was dark when she mustered the energy to sit up. However, as it was mid-November, it was hard to say if that meant she slept long enough at all. But there were still two things to take care of…plus the ever-important necessity of finding food.
"Mom? Dad?" she croaked, voice groggy from sleep.
She pulled herself off of the couch and wandered into the kitchen. The rest of the family appeared to be cleaning up the dinner settings as Sarah blinked in the light casting through the doorway.
"Sarah!" Toby cheered, barreling around the table.
"Be gentle," Karen warned.
Toby threw his arms around his sister, considerably more nicely than he would have. Apparently, he'd already been filled in to the day's events. Sarah hugged him back with a light squeeze.
"It's good to see you, too, Toby."
"Are you okay, I mean really okay?"
Sarah hesitated. "I'm not sure, Toby. Everything feels a little…off, right now." She gave a half-hearted chuckle. "I think I'm going through magic withdrawal which apparently isn't good for me or LT."
"LT is the temporary name for your future niece or nephew."
Toby pulled away to get a better look with a wary eye at his sister. "I don't think I'm old enough to be 'Uncle Toby,' Sarah."
"Oh, come on, I started babysitting you when I wasn't much older."
"Well, we all know how that turned out."
"Oh, that was low, Toby Williams," she reprimanded though both Sarah and her brother were laughing too hard to really mean it. After the Williams family could calm themselves and breath normally once more, Sarah's stomach put in a complaint.
"I don't suppose there's anything left from dinner?" she asked hopefully.
"Are you up to eating?"
"I wouldn't care if you gave me a plate of catfood at this point."
Karen smiled by means of reply as she walked over to the microwave and pulled out a rather heaping plate of spaghetti. "I was keeping it warm for you."
Sarah thanked her profusely before taking a twirling forkful. Aside from Karen's comment to stop inhaling her meal, the family watched her in silence. Once the hunger pangs had begun to subside, Sarah met her family's eyes with a quick glance toward each of them before she sighed.
"I take it you guys are curious as to how I ended up here?"
Unabashed, Toby nodded with an expression that read, "Well, duh."
"It's a bit of a story. Mind if I start telling you on the way?"
"Where are we going?"
"The sooner I clear up the missing persons report, the better."
Her father's brows knitted together. "Sarah, you've spent all of today on the couch or at the hospital. This is not a good idea."
"Tree conclusion or not, looking a little sickly might get me out of there faster, especially when I'm going to run out of obtuse ways to phrase everything."
Her father crossed his arms. "And what are you going to tell them?"
"This is going to be one of those whole it's completely true but entirely misleading type of things, I think. It's something you pick up when dealing with Underground politics."
"Do you have a better idea? I can tell you guys the truth, but if when Jareth comes to pick me up I'm in the psych ward because no one else believes me, I will never hear the end of it."
"That's an important question," Karen acknowledged. "When is he coming for you?"
Sarah dropped her gaze. "You've started with a question I can't answer."
Toby's face shifted to bemusement. "Is this another one of those state secret things?"
"No, Toby. I honestly don't know. And no offense to you all, God knows I missed you and it's good to see you, but being stuck on this side when he has no idea what's happened to me and LT and I have no idea what's going on over there, it goes beyond anxiety. I don't know if the Labyrinth made it through the shockwave. I don't know what kinds of casualties we ended up with. I don't know how Jareth's dealing with all that while starting up search efforts, because I do know that he's doing something if he can." Sarah took a deep breath, smiling slightly as Karen rested her hand on Sarah's arm. "And I just miss my husband." Sarah wiped her eyes. She was officially too weepy recently.
"So," she declared, trying to sound reassuring to herself, "I don't know when he's coming to get me, but it will be as soon as he can. The sooner the better, really, since Alain knows better how to deal with Fae pregnancies and I'm not sure what sort of health insurance I can get. I don't even think it's worth getting a job if I'm going to eventually disappear at a moment's notice."
"We kept paying your health insurance, just in case," her father assured her.
"Your health insurance. Given all the mess, we were wondering if you would take a sojourn home, and we wanted you to be covered in that time."
"We were only going to keep it for the rest of the year, given that it didn't seem likely you would visit any time soon," Karen explained. "That and there was a penalty for canceling before then."
"Well, that's one less thing to worry about," Sarah announced, unsure of what to say. "I'm hoping that I won't have to use it." Sarah sighed again. "The thing is, though, I'm afraid that it could be a little longer than I would like before I can go back home. I—I think I screwed something up with the veil or there's another rule about it, because the boundary between the worlds, for all evidence I can gather, has been more or less sealed." She closed her eyes. "Jareth and I will figure something out. I'll be looking for obscure loopholes on this side as much as I can and then some. He'll be searching potential solutions on the other. In the meanwhile, I think it would be better for the police not to be asking questions on some idle Tuesday when I won't know what to say and I'd rather not go into hiding as an alternative, so it's probably best I just take care of it now. Can we go?"
Karen and Toby were still trying to process the information, but her father let out a long breath and took the car keys off of the key rack. "I suppose I can't convince you to wait until morning."
"I'd rather just get it done."
Karen caught up with her thoughts: "The veil. I'm thinking that if you can explain whatever that is, everything else of what you said should make sense."
"Honey," Robert admonished, "I don't think anything's going to make sense until after she gets started on the whole story anyway." He turned to his daughter. "And I think we should probably not just get the abridged version."
Sarah nodded. "It'll take a while, but I definitely think I'll be home long enough to tend to that."
The car trip was relatively short, given that Sarah began the war (with asides back to her venture in the dark lands) and had only gotten through to the buildup of the tree conclusion by the time they arrived at the station.
"I don't suppose either of you know the procedure for this sort of thing, do you?" Sarah asked her parents hopefully.
"I would just go up the first desk you see and go where they send you."
"Yeah, that's kind of all I had in mind." She gave a short chuckle. "Flying by the seat of my pants again."
There was a bit of a queue, even at seven thirty in the evening, but Sarah stood in front of the window (bullet-proof glass, Sarah assumed) and spoke to the small speaker. "I'm here to resolve a missing persons report."
"Name, please?"
"Sarah Williams. I've been gone for about a year in a half."
"Do you have some ID?" he asked, typing her name into the system. Karen reached over Sarah shoulder and produced Sarah's passport and drivers license. Sarah flashed Karen a grateful smile and slid them through the small gap beneath the window.
He took a look at the proffered documentation and spoke to the radio on his shoulder.
"Miss Williams, if you could take the door on your right and go through security, Officer Mackie will take care of you."
Sarah nodded, taking her passport and license back from the gap. "Thanks."
This, Sarah got the feeling, was not a typical closing to this sort of scenario. They passed the necessary security and split from there, her family resting in the chairs along the wall while Sarah sat down in front of the desk she was led to.
Officer Mackie was a courteous gentleman with sandy brown hair. The desk he shared with his partner was understandably messy from the day's (bleeding into the night's) paperwork, aside for an inviting dish of M&M's. As Sarah began to muse that she hadn't had chocolate since the last time Jareth had specifically conjured it for her, Officer Mackie returned with the promised Styrofoam cup of hot water and a Lipton tea bag.
"Now, Ms. Williams, your report had suspected foul play. Is there anything you would like to report?"
"I'm fine. I went of my own volition."
He glanced over the paper and Sarah read her description and details upside-down as he flipped. "Someone named Jareth was involved? Your fiancé?"
"My husband, now, yes."
"Your friends were very concerned," he stated neutrally.
Sarah gave a weak smile, wondering what sort expression was appropriate in this sort of scenario anyway. "Yes, well, the circumstances of my leaving were a little stressful. I made the decision on my own. I could have found help if I had wanted it." She moved one gesticulating hand (the other with her tea seeping in growing tendrils) in small circles as she tried to find the words. "We left sooner than I had expected. I didn't even have enough time to announce the engagement properly."
Officer Mackie paused in his writing and asked. "How did you know your fiancé?"
"I had met him years ago. It was a surprise to see him again. That whole period of time was a jumble, actually." That was certainly true.
"What was the reason for leaving so abruptly, cutting off your friends and family?"
Sarah had to admit the situation sounded highly suspicious when he put it that way. "My husband's position was what made this all difficult." That was true enough. "He's a foreign diplomat." Also true. "There was a situation that needed attending." "Situation" was vague enough to cover a good many interpretations.
Officer Mackie's gaze, however, was unreadable as to which interpretation he would take. "Where is your husband from?"
Sarah gave a tiny, rueful grin, taking a small sip of tea. "Unfortunately, I don't think I should give much of that information up. It's all pretty delicate. My husband, the politics, the ensuing war, it's all Underground." Very true and entirely misleading.
"Are you saying this could be a threat to national security?"
"No, no nothing like that. It's all contained. But any interference would just make matters worse at this point." Especially considering that the skirmish should be mostly finished.
Officer Mackie gave her a careful look.
Sarah set her hands, both wrapped around the cup, on the edge of the desk, looking directly into his eyes. "It sounds fantastical, I know, and in a lot of ways it is. Given that, I'm not expecting you to believe me, except to record that I'm alive, not missing, and there was no foul play. My family can back up whatever you need them to, and I'll be staying with them if you need anything else."
Officer Mackie seemed to be considering this statement. Legally, there was little he could do, despite how fishy the whole thing may have sounded.
"Have you been checked out?" he asked after a few moments.
Sarah held up her wrist, the hospital bracelet still attached. "I went there first. Things were becoming really heated and my husband didn't like me in the thick of it." Again, very true. "It wasn't easy." Well, falling down had been easy, per say, but scuffling with Orion and whathaveyou hadn't been necessarily easy.
"Well, then, welcome back, Ms. Williams, or what should we call you now?"
Sarah's brain raced furiously. How had she still not asked Jareth about last names? "Ms. Williams is fine."
He extended his hand. "Good luck, Ms. Williams. I imagine there are a couple of your friends who will require more of an explanation."
Good lord, Jen must have gone on some kind of rampage to leave that sort of impression. "Yes, I think so. Have a good evening, Officer."
"Take care."
The Williams family filed out of the police station and into the car before Sarah breathed a sigh of relief. "That wasn't so bad."
"How did it go? Anything else needed to followed up on?" her father inquired.
"I think that's it."
Karen had a thoughtful frown. "What did you tell him?"
"My husband is a foreign diplomat and there is a war Underground?"
Toby snorted.
Sarah rolled her eyes. "It's true and vague and utterly suspicious, I'm sure, but it got the job done." Sarah sighed. "I think that's enough adventure for one day."
"That," her father declared, "is an understatement."
"So are you going to tell us more?" Toby inquired, poking Sarah's arm.
"How about over some hot chocolate at home?"
"That can be arranged," Karen assured her.
After arriving home and the mugs were clinking together as Karen pulled them from the cupboard, Sarah sank into the couch, hoping to stay awake long enough to tell the story as promised.
On impulse, Sarah reached over to take the phone, listening for the dial tone. There was one more thing she needed to cover. Sarah called Jen's work number, which then directed her to voicemail. Getting the message at work was perhaps not the nicest way for Jen to find out, but Sarah didn't feel she could take the assault of questions that would naturally follow if Jen had picked up. Jen's voice rattled off the typical instructions and Sarah readied herself for the tone: "Hey, Jen. It's me, Sarah. Yes, it's actually me, and don't make me spout off a certain embarrassing story to prove it, because we both know that I'm capable of reciting all of it, puppets optional. The important thing is I'm okay. Hope you are, too. I'll be staying with my parents for a little while. Just thought you'd want to know." Sarah turned off the phone then, shaking her head at the lame ending but unable to think of anything better at the moment.
Karen entered with two mugs, the men filing behind with a sizable dollop of whipped cream threatening to spill out of their own mugs.
"Who did you call, sweetie?" Karen asked as Sarah hung up the phone.
"Just left a message with Jen, telling her I'm alive. I imagine she'll be calling back tomorrow."
"I'm sure of it," Karen acknowledged, handing Sarah the warm ceramic.
Taking a sip, Sarah grinned. Her stepmother made some of the best hot chocolate, family recipe passed down involving cinnamon and a few other things Sarah had asked her to write down once and had been unable to reproduce regardless. The warmth was incredibly soothing, too, in a filling way that a Styrofoam cup of tea hadn't been. Pulling the blanket over her legs, Sarah yawned and took another sip. A long day, indeed.
"Where did I leave off?"
Trying to explain Underground politics even fully alert was a task, but Sarah finally managed to break things down and detail the scale of the war if not all of its grotesque nature. There were some parts still that her family didn't need to know. Given that she'd glossed over most of the war in their previous conversations, preferring not to think of it for a while when given the opportunity, there were many gaps to choose to fill. She was arriving at waking up inside the tree when Karen interrupted with a frown.
"Going back a ways now, you were in a tree for six and a half months?"
"My hair and fingernails were significantly longer than how I'd last seen them, yes. Believe me, I was not happy with Jareth for a long while, but we've since come to an understanding. Now, every time someone does something stupid for perhaps the right motivations, it's a tree conclusion."
"No, that I understood, but how did he do it?"
"Slipped me something in the potions I was taking from Alain, or maybe had Alain do it."
"The potions to keep the baby healthy?"
Karen was flabbergasted. "Sarah, I don't want to bring up anything that could be upsetting, but what happened to the first baby?"
Eyes widening with the realization, Sarah immediately assured her, "Mom, this is my first baby." Sarah shook her head and started to giggle. "It seems I've left out an important detail." Exhausted after a long day of landing home and running errands, Sarah couldn't stop her laughter. Her family watched, unsure of what to do, as she composed herself.
"Fae pregnancies last about three and a half years, not nine months," Sarah explained.
Toby made a face. Her father looked uncomfortable but mumbled that the timeline made more sense. Karen was officially shocked.
"But you're not Fae?"
"No, but today's sonogram is what I have to show for about sixteen months. I'm pretty sure it's going to be a one or other situation and I'd really rather not have to deal with prematurity on top of everything else. I mean, trying to explain this to the doctor, let alone the insurance company, is going to be hell. Today I was told to take some iron supplements and I'm not sure that's a good idea at all, with what iron does to Fae and all. But it should also be buffered by me, which could mean that it's fine. Baby can't develop if mom's not healthy, anyway. It's all going to be pretty touch and go, which is definitely not the attitude I want toward my baby." Sarah rubbed her temples aware that she was starting to ramble. "Unless you guys can think of something better. I don't even think the situation should be biologically possible, except for that whole magic thing."
"I'm sorry, sweetie. Things will be okay."
"I don't know if I'll ever recover from the varicose veins and stretch marks…"
Grimacing, Karen nodded. "Yes, this does change a few things, but we'll adjust."
Sarah sighed: "His genes are complicating everything even if he's not here."
Karen wrapped her arm around her stepdaughter. "I think that's probably enough for tonight. You're starting to slur, dear."
Truly, Sarah did not need to be told twice. In short order, she was changed and tucked in to her old bed. After the door was closed, sleep was surprisingly slow in coming. She was cold and alone. In the quiet of her room, the day fell and fell hard onto Sarah's heart and mind. She was trapped.
Her husband wouldn't come for at least a week or two, given the magical drain. That was the most optimistic option, that he would have enough magic to overcome the barrier. If she had managed to close the veil in a manner that couldn't be immediately magicked over, that in turn would take a new tactic and further time to sort that out. In order to get the Labyrinth set to rights, more attention would be required which would slow any rescue mission down, no matter how much Jareth delegated. Sarah took a few deep breaths to stave off the weight of her despair. It was so much easier to dwell on it in the solitude of her room.
Still, she had cried enough today. It hadn't helped much then, but it had been necessary all the same. Resting one hand on her stomach and finding reassurance in small bump there, Sarah realized that she was spent, as far as worrying went for today. Tomorrow, she could try to wish herself away again. Tomorrow, she would answer to her friends and family, knowing they would support her. Tomorrow, they would start plotting possibilities.
But tonight there was one more avenue of communication Sarah had not explored. Wrapping her fingers around the necklace Jareth had given her, she whispered his name and went to look for her husband in her dreams.

The sunlight pouring through Sarah's window seemed extraordinarily bright. Rolling out of bed, Sarah saw the remnants of her crash zone, sleepily noting that she would need to go through it later as she stepped over it to the window. It had snowed last night, a good two inches, and the sunlight made a crisp, blinding scene. There had been some ice involved as well, judging by the droop of the trees. After registering the height of the sun, Sarah glanced at the alarm clock next to her bed. It was almost noon.
Opening the closet, Sarah found one of the few items of clothing she had left at home, a grey hoodie, and pulled it on, wandering down the stairs. Toby had apparently had a snow day because he was perched in front of the TV. Once he spotted her, he got up and gave her a hug.
"It's about time, Sarah. I thought you were going to sleep all day."
"Hey, I needed it. Plus, this is the first time in over a year that I've woken up and not had to think about what part of the war effort I should do today."
"Still, you went to bed at like nine thirty last night."
Sarah ticked off on her fingers: "War, pregnant, long day, jet lag sort of, annoying little brother. I think I had reason enough."
Toby stuck out his tongue.
"Who's home today?"
"Dad had to go to work, but Mom called in. She's in the kitchen."
Sarah nodded and wandered that direction. Breakfast, or lunch by this point, sounded great, especially if it included some form of caffeine.
"Good morning, Sarah," Karen piped, putting something in the oven. "Did you sleep well?"
"I slept alright. Didn't dream at all, unfortunately. Everything is still kinda weird."
"Uncomfortable or just different?"
"Just different."
"When it gets to be uncomfortable, let's talk. I had to sleep half-propped up for Toby. There are all sorts of tricks. I don't suppose you're hungry?"
"Absolutely. I don't suppose I could get some coffee?"
"You're going to need to limit your caffeine intake, Sarah."
Sarah grimaced. "I was hoping you weren't going to mention that."
"How about some decaf tea?" Karen offered, with sardonic smile.
"I guess that'll work."
Karen put the water on to boil. "I received a call this morning."
"Yes, Jen will be stopping by this afternoon. She didn't really ask, but when I told her you were sleeping, she demanded that I, oh how did she put it? 'Strap her down if have to, just keep her there.' Last night's storm will slow her down, but I imagine she'll be whirlwinding in soon enough."
Sarah smiled to herself. "That's going to be an interesting conversation. Last time I saw her, I poofed away."
"I would imagine you have a lot to talk about, then."
"Somehow, I don't imagine there will be as much talking as something stronger. A lecture maybe."
Karen sat down across from Sarah. "Do you know what are you going to tell her?"
Sarah shrugged. "Probably an abridged version of everything. I think it's going to depend on what sorts of questions she asks. If she's clearly not going to believe in anything about the Underground, I'll gloss over the details. She'll have to accept something when it comes to LT anyway, so I can add on from there."
"That's another thing I've been thinking about. Sarah, are you sure you can carry this child?"
Sarah frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Sweetie, I'm not questioning your ability to be a mother, more of the mechanics. After three and a half years, it's bound to be a huge newborn. And with how you describe time between these worlds, I have to wonder how much leeway there is in that. If it'll be longer or shorter than this ridiculous timeframe. Sarah, I'm worried about your back if nothing else. I know I'm not making much sense, but there's just a lot to think about."
Sarah closed her eyes, nodding. "That I understand. I had a long talk with Jareth and Alain about this one day, though I still don't get everything and I don't have an answer about time zoning. It really does get tricky. Apparently, some of the extra development time goes a lot toward the magical development, which then establishes the rate for the rest of the development. A lot of it's because of the immortality thing, but in theory I'm wondering if a Fae child is then supposed to be a little more self-sufficient or something. Honestly, I have no idea if being away from the Underground is going to speed things up or what. I find it's better if I don't try to think through it.
"As for back problems, we're going to have to see what happens, I think. Symptoms and side effects will be ever expanding categories. Combining the lists I've gotten, everything from purple hair to stretch marks is covered."
"Thank goodness for your sense of humor," Karen replied wryly, rising to check on whatever was in the oven.
"I think you'll need to remind me about that as we go."
After closing the oven, Karen took off her mitt and set a hand on Sarah's. "Of course, dear."
"Since I'm going to be here for a week at the very least, I don't suppose it would be possible to go shopping this afternoon? I hate to ask, but I have PJ's, and two, maybe three, outfits otherwise. Nothing extravagant, just a few cheap things."
"I think that should wait until after Jen comes. If you're not here when she arrives—"
"I know, I know. She'll be foaming at the mouth. I'm wondering what kind of energy I'll have left after that anyway."
"I can go while you're talking with your friend, take Toby with me so he can grimace at all the girl clothes, give you some privacy."
"And leave me without any backup?" Sarah asked dolefully.
"Oh, I think you'll handle it fine."
"Well, I guess if we compare it to goblins and the war," Sarah had to admit, "I'd be fine even if she sets the curtains on fire. My definition of 'emergency' has changed. It's weird being back. She could probably put a giant fissure in the floor and I'd just ask her 'is that all?'"
"Please don't let it come to that," Karen pleaded, pulling the glass dish from the oven. "If you could peel your brother from the TV, I think it's time for lunch."
There was a knock on the door two forkfuls from finishing. A very demanding knock.
"I think that's for me," Sarah announced, rising and heading toward the front room as the knock came again. Sore-tempted to announce through the wood that she had given at the office, Sarah instead pulled open the door and offered a warm smile.
"Missed me?"
Jen was shocked for a moment, her mouth charmingly agape, before her mind (by evidence of her facial expression) rebooted. "Sarah Williams, I'm going to kill you," she declared coldly. The frown dissolved after a moment, as Jen threw her arms around her friend's neck. Between sobs, she managed, "God, I'm so glad to see you're alive."
Sarah recovered and wrapped her arms around to Jen's shoulders. "I missed you, too, Jen. Let's go inside and talk."
Jen nodded, wiping tears from her face as she followed Sarah inside. Jen took a seat on the couch as she composed herself.
"I think I'll get some tea going," Sarah suggested. Something calming was definitely in order.
Jen's eyes widened and she stood up. "Oh no you don't. You're not going anywhere without me. Last time I hugged you, you disappeared. I'm not letting you out of my sight until you explain a few things."
Noting that Jen's resolve was back, Sarah sighed. "And by that I know you mean for me to explain everything. I won't be disappearing for a little while, Jen. Come pick your tea out. Karen's always had a closet full and always knows what to pick for my mood. She's worked her magic once this morning already, figuratively speaking."
Jen grabbed Sarah's shoulder and spun her around. "Sarah, you've been gone over a year and a half. You can't just come back and talk as though I was just over for dinner yesterday."
Sarah held up her hands. "Calm down, Jen. I promised you when I left that I would explain someday. I owe you that much at the very least. Other than that, I can't talk to you any other way. It is what it is, and I can't change that."
Jen looked her over with a critical eye. Fading bruises, tone of voice, how she held herself, everything, Sarah knew, was up for judgment.
"A lot has happened this last year, hasn't it?" she said at last.
"Oh, you'd better believe it. And trust me, I've needed a girl-friend to talk it all over with. Maybe Karen can pick us up some Ben & Jerry's."
"I'll add it to the list," a voice cried from the kitchen.
Sarah chuckled before turning back to Jen and rested a hand on her shoulder. "I'll answer whatever I can, Jen. I've really missed talking to you." With a small smile and a small squeeze of Jen's shoulder, Sarah added, "Now let me play good hostess and get you something to drink."
"I'm going to need something stronger than tea," Jen mumbled.
"Not this early, Jen. Save that for when we get to the vampires and boogeymen."
"No, I think now will do just fine if that's where we're going to end up."
Karen was just buttoning up her coat as Jen and Sarah made their way into the kitchen. "Good to see you again, Jen. Anything I can pick up for either of you from the store?"
"Actually, I would like a journal," Sarah requested quietly.
"Chunky Monkey?" Jen piped in, dazedly. Sarah made note that any hint of normalcy seemed to throw Jen off, if the whole discussion turned into an actual fiasco. Truthfully, she was still waiting for the real explosion; it'd all been too easy so far. Karen and Toby bade their farewells, and the kettle began to whistle as Jen plopped down with her chosen tea package in hand.
"Do they know where you've been?" Jen asked once Sarah set the mug in front of her.
"Let's go out to the living room. I've a feeling we might as well be comfortable."
Jen rose to follow but insisted, "Did they know, Sarah?"
"They knew some," Sarah answered. "There wasn't any real consistency that I could call home. There was a point when I was locked in a tree for six and a half months."
Jen stopped walking and stared at Sarah.
"…We'll get to that."
"Damn straight we will," Jen declared. "Do you have any idea what I've gone through trying to find you? One day you announce that you're leaving, break down into tears as you're packing up your office, talk to some guy in a bubble, then you've vanished off of the face of the Earth! Your family seems utterly hopeless in finding you again, and there are no leads to speak of except the bubble guy. I've talked to everyone about magic who will talk about it with some seriousness, I've exhausted the police, and started my own campaign."
With a pang in her chest, Sarah realized how taxing the effort her friend had put forth truly amounted to. She was touched…and taken on the most effective guilt trip she could remember.
Jen wasn't done. "And then you're standing here as though nothing's happened. As though I shouldn't have worried and just wasted my time."
Sarah wrapped her arms around her friend. "Jen, I'm so sorry. I could never have asked for a better friend in either world."
"You really could have called, Sarah. However you were contacting your family, you could have told me you were alive at least. Or let them tell me, for crying out loud."
"Given your last interaction with crystal communication, I wasn't sure it was a good idea. I should have trusted you, but I didn't want to drive you off the deep end. Believe me, when it comes to the Underground, everyone thinks you're nuts until you poof a few times to prove it."
"Oh, bubble guy almost became a webcam when I was telling the police. How could I explain that I saw the guy but didn't stop him from taking you? Why the hell did you go with him anyway, Sarah?"
Sarah sat down on the couch. "That," she agreed, "is a good place to start."
"This had better be good, Sarah, to up and leave like that. I'll find a way to haul you off to therapy regardless, rest assured."
Rolling her eyes, Sarah decided to let it slide. "There were a few things going on at the time before Jareth—bubble guy—picked me up that day. I met him back when I was fifteen and ran the Labyrinth."
"Creeper, much?"
"Well, it does sound sketchy, but time doesn't mean the same thing in the Underground. I'll get to that explanation later. Besides, he didn't start coming back until years after."
"Obsession? That still doesn't sound healthy at all, Sarah."
Sarah held up her hand, the seal of the Goblin Kingdom stamped in the gold around her ring finger. "Of the ways you could describe my husband, I don't think 'conventional' is one of them."
Jen took Sarah's hand to examine the ring. "Still sounds like a creeper, Sarah. I mean he was an attractive creeper from what I could see, but why would you go with him?"
Sarah dropped her hands to her lap. "I've asked that of myself a few times. Really, in the end it was my decision. Pushed forward faster than I would have liked, but what I probably would have chosen."
"It didn't look like you were too happy about it last time I saw you."
"No, at the time I was confused and a little overwhelmed. But I really could have fought Jareth on this whole thing. I chose to go along with everything—well, not everything."
Jen crossed her arms. "Oh, do tell."
Sarah raised an eyebrow at her tone. "Do you want to hear or not?"
Jen waved for her to continue, still mumbling something about therapy.
"There were a couple of things all coming together, all revolving around the Prophesy, capitalized Prophesy. That's where the sudden marriage thing came as a solution because I was leaching Jareth's magic which he needs to control his kingdom."
"Two things: A, you were borrowing magic? And B, his kingdom?"
"Jareth's the Goblin King, which makes me the Goblin Queen. And yes, magic is definitely a part of all this."
Jen shook her head. "I'm going to ignore the royalty part for now."
"If it helps." Sarah shrugged. "Anyway, I was borrowing his magic which meant that the land recognized me at any rate. The only way Jareth could keep control of his kingdom was to get that magic back, by either killing me or marrying me."
"So you went to help him? Married him as a favor? That's still blackmail or extortion or whatever, Sarah."
"I didn't want to see the Labyrinth or the rest of the Goblin Kingdom torn to pieces. I was tied to it, too. And something about the Underground always felt right, felt like home. And Jareth…well, Jareth, there was always possibility there, not that I understood or really wanted to think about that in the midst of everything. Now I can't picture my life without him. At the time, I think I needed to feel that it was out of my hands in order to accept it." Sarah shook her head. "Oh, and believe me, it took a while to realize it. The Underground can be an amazing place if you have the right attitude. I knew it was where I needed to be, even if my logic seems all muddled. "
"That's one way of putting it. Underground? Labyrinth? Goblin Kingdom? And now you're stuck with this guy? Dear, we can annul that sucker faster than you can say 'Hocus pocus.' The guy abducted you."
Sarah sighed. Clearly, the rest of any explanation of her story would revolve around establishing that Jareth had not coerced Sarah with her friends or family as leverage, had not extensively brainwashed her, was not a total psycho, or otherwise let it alone and let Jen think what she wanted as persistently defending him would make matters worse, particularly when she analyzed her own explanations. Other details would fall into place as they went.
Still, the first thing Karen and Toby heard when returning about two hours later was Sarah's shout: "If you say 'Stockholm Syndrome' one more time, so help me God, I will turn you into a goon and dump you into the Bog the first chance I get!"
"A goon?" Jen parroted on the verge of laughter.
"Bug-eyed little slimy things, stupid as all get out, southeast corner of the Labyrinth," Sarah huffed.
After a rather unladylike snort from Jen, both girls erupted into laughter.
Toby plopped down next to Sarah on the couch and fixed Jen with condescending stare. "If you knew what the Bog of Eternal Stench smelled like, you wouldn't find it so funny."
Sarah and Jen laughed until their sides ached.
Thankfully, though, when they had recovered themselves enough to speak coherently, Jen seemed to take everything in with much less animosity, until the exchange became more of a conversation and less of an interrogation. After all, Sarah had missed a year and a half of her friend's adventures, too, even if it involved less dirt, blood, and vampires than her own. Karen joined them in and out while Toby waffled between playing a video game in the same room and wanting to get away from "girly talk."
The evening, Sarah recounted later, was comparatively much better than both her afternoon and the previous day. Jen stayed for an early dinner, through the course of which pulled a long and complicated series of promises to affirm that Sarah would in no way disappear literally or figuratively for at least another forty-eight hours, no matter how many times Sarah assured her she would be Aboveground for a little while. After a final assertion, Jen hugged Sarah goodbye to head back home, insisting that some sort of baby shower was an absolute must and under instructions not to be too vocal to the office. Fairly certain that Jen would be back with a companion or two, Sarah waved goodbye to her friend, wondering what she would tell her other friends as both Sarah and Jen agreed that the whole thing probably wasn't to be repeated to the whole group. Still, Sarah couldn't shake her discomfort, when Jen rejoiced that it was all over now, that uncertainty.
Officially talked out for the day, Sarah asked Karen for the journal picked up from the store. Securing herself in the room, Sarah tapped her pen twice against the plain, blue-cloth cover before opening it up. Curling one hand around the necklace, he had given her, Sarah wished herself away, unsurprised when she remained just where she was. She spoke his name once more, willing him to hear that if nothing else.
November 17th, Day 2, she wrote on the top of the page.
This warrants a little introduction, I suppose. Jareth, we're missing our quality time, being stuck on opposite sides of the veil and all. I don't want you to miss anything about me or especially LT. So guess what, buster? The written equivalent is what I've got to work with. You are going to hear about every complaint and every joy, whether this temporary separation lasts eight days or eight weeks. I'll give you this journal personally or find someway to slide it through a gap if some portal isn't big enough for one of us to slide through or give you the best I can remember from it in a dream.
God, I hope you don't think I'm dead. Even if the thought has crossed your mind, if I know you like I think I do, you'll be looking for me as hard as I'm searching for you. This journal will stand as proof that you're in my thoughts. And you will have the opportunity to see them. I pray that this is the only volume I'll have to write.
Regardless, here are the basic facts: I'm okay. LT is okay. I'm staying with my family. The whole veil thing is confusing to me, too.
Most importantly, Jareth, remember I love you.
Sarah sat back for a moment, to absorb what she had written. It wasn't perhaps the best letter she had ever composed, but it covered what she needed it to. She went on to describe her arrival and the sorting of details on her first day back home.
Some time later, Toby knocked on her door, entering without waiting for a response. "We're going to watch a movie, Sarah. Wanna watch with us?"
Sarah tucked the first sonogram picture between the pages and turned back to her little brother. "Sure, Toby. That sounds great."
Toby grinned and took off down the stairs as Sarah wiped away the one tear that had managed to escape, smiling.
Four weeks and a few days (running in a frustratingly linear direction) had passed since the veil had sent a shockwave over his kingdom, and Jareth's magic had still not fully returned. Not that he would let it show. Still, the constant drain made for adverse affects, hence why many Fae, if they did die tended to die during times of war, when their magic had been consistently pulled for years. Granted, this war had not lasted quite as long as the five hundred year war a millennia ago, but circumstances being what they were, well, it still wasn't a quick fix, unfortunately. All the goblins and other creatures under Jareth's care knew that they were to keep an eye out for any sign of their queen as the reconstruction continued. He was more somber, enough that the goblins noticed, but otherwise to his subjects he was the ruler they had always known, as impenetrable as they had always known him. Aside, of course, from those who knew how to read him. Such was another story all to itself.
Jareth took a deep breath. There was her voice again, on the barest periphery of his senses. He could never hear the words around it, just his name. Each day he heard it, and each day he would try to transport to some hazy destination, which was firstly dangerous and secondly blocked by something. His magic, along with the rest of the Underground, was in massive need of recalibration.
Sarah would have laughed, tell him to get over it, having lived most of her life without any magic to speak of. A tentative smile crossed his face, though he quickly shunted it away. Any possible hint of approval was a bad idea in a goblin grievance hearing.
This particular goblin had been bawling for the last four minutes. The chicken statute had been one of his best and simultaneously worst declarations. On the one hand, the goblins had plenty of initiative to work on reparations. On the other, their promised weekly reward of the infamous chicken toss (followed by the chicken chase) led to hoarding of specific birds. "Lutz, give Zam the chicken."
With another wail, Lutz clutched the chicken tighter. It squawked horribly.
"It's not your turn, Lutz. You can either give Zam the chicken now, or you can swim in the Bog and not get another turn for a year."
It was one of his harsher punishments, but it also had the desired affect. With no shortage of tears and an oversized pout, Lutz passed Zam the chicken. Zam stuck out his tongue and stalked off, bird over his shoulder and flapping uselessly.
Lutz sat down, sulking heavily. The rest of the room began to clear as Marek stepped away from the wall and closer to where Jareth sat.
Jareth met his eye. "Any word?"
"Not much, no. Essentially, we were given the same information that Ack had already told us. The veil will take some time to adjust, and until such time all magic is vastly unpredictable."
Jareth gave a small nod. "How long will it take?"
"For the veil? That depends. It hasn't happened often enough to know for sure."
"How long, Marek?"
"Anywhere from five months to several years."
Jareth closed his eyes but said nothing.
Marek grimaced. "On a happier note, they also agree with Ack in that she probably was sucked into the Aboveground. Sarah will be fine."
The unspoken "if she survived the trip" weighed the air around their shoulders.
"'Probably' is not a certainty. We will explore all options."
Marek closed his mouth and sighed, nodding. "As you command."
The goblin Lutz felt that the hall was too easily forgetting his misery and began sobbing all the more loudly at the injustice of the world: "Mean majesty. Lutz miss Pretty Majesty."
Jareth sat up slightly straighter, eyes falling again on Lutz who suddenly looked immensely terrified. Standing up, Jareth strode just in front of the wide-eyed goblin before sitting down next to him, arms resting on his bent knees. Lutz continued to stare, snot dribbling down his nose.
"I miss Pretty Majesty, too," Jareth said quietly.

The pages in Sarah's journal steadily cluttered, the binding plumping out with the additions of pictures and small mementos as she continued to tell Jareth every time she felt a kick, felt uncomfortable, felt particularly maternal, been given another onesie by Jen, been teased by Toby, tried to argue with her doctor, been talking about him to a friend, and whatever else spilled onto the page. One scathing entry began with a photo, officially Karen's favorite: Sarah pointing to the first stretch mark (one of very few, due to the steady progression) with a growling accusation set in her face. One happy entry came after a long discussion with a new mother and what sort of fun to expect. There were serious portions, too, where Sarah recapped conversations with all persons she could contact that had something to say on where the veil between worlds was thin. Even Toby helped by Google-ing "veil between worlds," and going from there. Unfortunately, many of these options did not sound particularly safe, that the shift would be jarring and possibly detrimental.
Soon she filled a journal and went for another. The first page of the third began with "This waiting thing really sucks."
Eleven months. It was almost Halloween. She had been Aboveground in the home she grew up for eleven months. It was even a leap year. Sarah was not about to give up on her husband, but after eleven months of nothing, anyone would think those terrible what-ifs that had been steadily avoided four months ago. Still, most every night, Sarah wrote in her journal and checked the communication crystal, which was unfailingly black and opaque. That it hadn't merely shattered or disappeared gave Sarah hope. The Underground couldn't simply cease to be without her knowing, could it?
A month of nothing taught Sarah that doing nothing was not an option. On top of whatever research she could get her hands on, she found places to volunteer (since finding a job would be entirely too awkward when it came to the pregnancy issue, particularly as she now looked to be a the cusp of six months) and some basic projects. Still, it felt as though she were biding her time, not signing up or trying anything lasting in the eventuality of leaving it behind again. She'd get used to reading to a group of kindergarteners at the library and have to stop a month later, before anyone would ask questions. Her mother had insisted that she try these new neonatal gym classes and after a little more than a month, polite inquiries and the conglomeration of little half-lies made that atmosphere uncomfortable to a point where Karen suggested they find another way to keep her healthy.
LT was true to Sarah's mental timeline, much to her chagrin. If anything had sped up due to a lack of magic in the Aboveground, well, it hadn't sped up noticablely, yet, anyway. Maternity shopping, Sarah was sure, had never been so ridiculous. She could find seasonal items for next year in the clearance rack. Amazingly, with all the hitches (and a little insurance fraud), the only persons who knew about LT's special circumstances were her family, Jen, her doctor and a few trusted nurses (after the initial "this is impossible" was thankfully outweighed by his curiosity and a few threats from his cousin), a very understanding new friend named Amber, and even Derek received the highlights.
Still, as Sarah riffled through the decorations, Halloween was something she was looking forward to. By all reports, there was just something weird about it. Surely, there would be some sort of sign. It was difficult not to get her hopes up. Though, she thought ruefully, she could always wait for the official year mark and pray for a breakthrough then, or there was Christmas, or any number of days she hoped to be significant to the cosmos.
She stopped and took a long breath. Something had to happen on Halloween or she might just tumble off the deep end. She grabbed a package of fake spiderweb and went out to the porch. Amber would be arriving later to help, but Sarah needed to keep busy, having finished all her morning projects. It was a slow process, particularly whenever she tried to reach or bend farther than her abdomen would allow, but by the end, the cotton fluttered menacingly in the breeze, still attached to the porch aside from one final piece. Sarah had no intention to drag out a ladder only for this, so she held on to it, wondering if she could fish it into place with a broom handle.
A lumbering figure hunched along the sidewalk and called up to her, "Do you need some assistance?"
Sarah stared. Halloween was a week away, but this guy had one hell of a costume. Whoever this weirdo was, he had thick, matted hair sprouting out from his collar all over his head, ears shorter than Ludo's, thick and expressive eyebrows, long woody claws…
Sarah's mouth went dry. "Ack? My God, it is you!"
The figure in question flashed a grin. "It seems I finally have the right house. It's good to see you, your majesty."
Sarah bounded—as much as she could bound, anyway—down the step as Ack opened his arms to receive her hug.
"God, it's good to see you. Where's—"
"It's just me, Sarah. Jareth isn't here. Can we talk somewhere out of direct sunlight?"
Sarah's smile fell momentarily, but she nodded. "Right, creature of darkness, got it. Let's go inside before the neighbors freak out."
He flumped heavily on the couch inside with a loud groan of protest from the injured furniture. Out of the sun, Sarah took a long look at him. "You don't look so well, Ack."
His fur and clothes were dirty and frayed, tinting grey. More importantly, his entire demeanor was dull and subdued, looking more like something that had come out from under the bed than she had ever seen him.
"On your part, I must say that you're looking quite well, perhaps larger than I last saw you. Myself, I've been away from home for a while, now. I'll explain in a moment, if we could please draw the blinds?"
Sarah obliged. "And I'll put on some tea. It always seems to help."
"Then, by all means."
As surreal as the transition had been returning to real life after the Labyrinth, serving Ack tea while he collected himself in her living room was certainly weird. Oh, how she missed the healthy dose of bizarre.
"How long have you been here, then, Ack?" Sarah asked when she couldn't stand the silence any longer.
"I've been Aboveground for forty-seven days, now," Ack replied solemnly.
Sarah's eyes widened. "And you're just coming here now?"
Ack heaved a great sigh. "It is a complicated ordeal."
"Please, enlighten me." Sarah crossed her arms and met Ack with a stare. "I assume this will also explain why my husband has not arrived?"
"Again, the entire matter is complicated. Let me find a way to word it." He took a deep draught from the bowl of tea Sarah had given him (his claws would have made for an interesting display with a mug) and scratched the top of his head.
"All of the magic in the Underground has shifted. It works in similar ways than it once did, but never quite the same. Even time has aligned itself with the Aboveground method, linear and frustratingly stable. It has caused a bit of an uproar. It's all because of the veil's recalibration. It does not have a set period, but it will finish in time. Another affect of this was the sealing between our worlds."
"But you've managed to cross over."
"Yes, well, that was considerably more difficult than it had been. It took a lot of variations and trials, but eventually I found the gap again. I slept upside-down in a closet with the bed angled against it, underneath but decidedly not. Even that was less, shall we say, seamless as usual." He gestured toward his arm, which appeared to have a strange, albeit healing, burn. "This was not the only scar from the process."
Sarah let out a slow breath.
"The owner of the room that I ended up in was confused but most helpful when I offered to traumatize the victim of his choice in exchange for some information," Ack continued. "As for what took me so long, are you aware that there are many who go by the name of 'Sarah Williams' in your world? I couldn't risk returning to the Underground not to find a way back again after the trouble it was to get here, so I started walking. You had mentioned this Halloween custom before and I think it has indeed made searching much easier. The methods I used were varied and aided in part by some interesting folk, though they still seemed to need to remind me that it wasn't yet Halloween. The telephone was most useful in narrowing down my search. Finding someone who replied to 'Queen of the Goblins?' with 'she's not home right now' was actually not always helpful. I'm quite pleased to have found you. Otherwise, I would have had to walk another few inches on my map, and those inches are quite deceptive in regards to actual distance."
Sarah knew she was staring. Her father had mentioned that phone call a couple weeks back. She had blamed Derek at the time, since he had taken to calling her "your majesty."
Shaking herself out of it, Sarah asked, "Did Jareth send any sort of message with you?"
"No, he did not."
Sarah's hopes deflated. It must have shown on her face because Ack immediately went to reassure her.
"There is a very good reason for that. I'm sure he would have. However, he simply does not know I'm here."
"He doesn't?"
"Not that I am aware of. I am quite certain he is still angry with me. After the veil took you in and shockwave was done, we had a little, shall we say, discussion. He demanded all information I could give him on the veil and where you were. I told him what I knew and what I speculated—that you had been sent to the Aboveground, probably in one piece—and this was evidently not something he wanted to hear, particularly when it came around to the minor detail that nothing could be done until everything had settled back together. Then there was the accusation of me knowing this all along and my counter of how the fun would be entirely ruined. He was not pleased indeed. Oh, the worst was when I told him even I could not pass through the veil by my usual means. I hid for days, particularly as I could not readily transport out of the castle and was otherwise forbidden from leaving. After such a time, I decided to try and find you on my own. Honestly, I would find no fun otherwise."
Sarah nodded. "Ack, how is he?"
"A master of the public front, but even without those particular moments where he, hmm, 'expressed his frustration' I would agree that there is some definite strain, magic being as facetious as it has been on top of rebuilding from a war. He has been most insistent in finding you again. The goblins, when they realize someone is actually upset, can be very good at comforting in their way. Last I saw him, he was in quite a rage. I advised him to check the Prophesy again, because I'm sure I included something about fixing the veil—"
"Hold it, you included something?"
Ack gave a sheepish little shrug to her accusing finger. "Well, yes. I did not mean to mention it. It just slipped out."
The gears in Sarah's mind were at a loss on whether to jerk to a halt or chug forward faster than they could safely turn. "The Prophesy is your doing? This stupid, ambiguous mess that complicated as many points of my existence as it possibly could was just something you made up?"
"In a way, I suppose. I did not drum it all up. The original prophesies were passed down and fairly extensive. After they had been forgotten about, I stumbled on them and did some—how shall I put it?—creative editing. The best thing I ever did was put it all in a new language." He was animated now. "That made everything delightfully muddled. After that, I merely made sure they were found by the right people and could be confirmed."
Sarah nearly saw red. She couldn't form words.
Ack's ears fell slightly.
Sarah was fairly certain Ack didn't share this information very often, for the same reaction she was feeling. Quite emphatically, Sarah wanted to maul her friend.
He was saved by a knock on the door.
"Come on in, Amber," Sarah bit out.
Amber's smile shifted to a curious look as Ack scrambled to hide under a blanket that was a few feet too small to cover him.
"Amber, this is Ack. Yes, the real Ack. Ack, Amber. Excuse me, I'm going to go outside and scream."
Sarah pulled herself up from her seat and began to make her way from the room, until Amber caught her shoulders. "Sarah, what's wrong? Isn't this a good thing?"
Sighing, Sarah met Amber's questioning eyes. She could tell that Amber wasn't all too sure about whatever was going on, as Ack peaked out from under the blanket, but regardless of what she really believed about the whole story, Amber was blessedly adaptable, perhaps too analytical to get the whole magic factor but she could give the Underground a good run.
"That's not the problem. Remember what I told you about the Prophesy?"
"That it pretty much screws with everyone?"
Sarah pointed at Ack. "He wrote it."
Amber's eyes widened. Then she rounded on Ack. Sarah felt more civil after watching her eight-month pregnant friend chew out the boogeyman. She even managed to sneak out her camera; that was a picture for the journal.
After Amber stopped to catch her breath, she sat down next to where Sarah had placed herself to watch the onslaught.
"I'm…sorry?" Ack attempted.
Amber huffed. "That's right, mister."
"Well, now that you've been introduced…" Sarah trailed off with a grin. Ack for his part looked back and forth between the two women, as though expecting either of them to eviscerate him if he so much as swapped his syntax.
"Despite all that, Ack, it's good to see you again," Sarah assured him. "I'm not sure yet what to do with this new information regarding the Prophesy. Suffice to say, I'm not happy about it."
" and that's a doozy of an understatement," Amber added.
"But more importantly right now, I would like to hear anything you can tell me about what's happening in the Underground, particularly anything relating to the Goblin Kingdom."
"Jeeze, Sarah," Amber commented, "You sound so official."
"Yes, well, queen and all, you know." She stuck out her tongue for good measure. "Anyway, Ack, please, anything you could tell me."
"I regret that I do not have much to say. Again, I was not much in the King's confidences."
"Ack, we both know that you have your ways, much as you like to know everything."
Ack chuckled. "Well, I suppose if you put it that way. I can tell you that Orion is continually faced with his nightmares in an undisclosed oubliette. Since the echoing screams have stopped, the general assumption is that he has taken care of that matter for us. The darker lands made to stage some new attack, but those nastier sorts of goblins tripped things up in addition to the majority of the Underground standing alongside the Goblin Kingdom, once the real threat to both worlds was brought to light. Your husband was heavily lauded in that, particularly with the sacrifice of his queen."
"So popular opinion in the Underground is that I'm dead?"
"Close as you were to that explosion and given the current state of magic, many others think that you've embodied the magic somehow, just to spite everyone. It makes for some interesting alter displays, I can tell you. Jareth has not had a shortage of visitors either, given those circumstances. This has been increasingly frustrating from what I can gather, particularly as he has continued to search for you. He nearly missed the ceremony held in memorandum of the heroes of this war which most popularly has been named the Battle of the Veil or the Short War."
Ack gave a grimace and shrank back in his seat. "Sarah, I wish there was more I could tell you, but my return is more pressing. All this iron and having been away from the Underground for this long, it is taxing."
Sarah nodded. "What do you need?"
Amber had shaken herself out of her amazed stupor. "If you can make it here, doesn't that mean Sarah's hubby can, too?"
"I don't think it will work that way," Ack reported sadly. "It is incredibly unlikely that even I would find it again, given the shifts. It does however prove that something is trying to set to rights. I would guess that the veil is a little less than halfway done recalibrating."
Sarah quickly did the math in her head. "I don't want it to be another eleven months, Ack. That's cutting it too close. Can't I just go with you?"
Ack shook his shaggy head. "Even if that would work, even if that were safe, I would not recommend bringing the child back when the magic is this unstable."
Sarah wrapped her arms around herself. It was a timeline, at least, but it wasn't good news. Amber rubbed Sarah's hand with a sad, sympathetic smile.
Ack grimaced again. "I would like to go."
"Right, what do you need?"
"My theory is that this way should not have changed. I just need a bed to be underneath."
"Alright, follow me. I hope you'll fit." Sarah led Ack up the stairs to her room, Amber tailing up the rear. "Are you sure I can't just go with you?"
Ack took Sarah's hand in his claws. "I apologize, particularly as it will mean my further imprisonment in the castle, after I relay the message of your wellbeing. I will see you again, your majesty. Then we can have our devious conversations once more."
"I will be forming a 'keep Ack amused so he doesn't screw around with your life' coalition, when I get back. I've said it once, but I mean it."
He chuckled. "I look forward to seeing what you intend to schedule."
"A ball of yarn?"
Ack laughed again, kneeling down on the floor. He had slid himself halfway underneath when a thought struck Sarah.
"Ack, wait." He paused and watched as Sarah sped to the bed stand.
"Please, take these to Jareth. Tell him we're still waiting." She handed Ack her journals.
"Perhaps it will pacify him enough to allow me to return home. There is more prophesy to work with."
"It's best that you don't mention that to either of us right now, or I'll leave a note asking him to leave you in an oubliette."
Ack scowled. "No appreciation for a brilliant piece of art."
"Not right now, no. Ask me in a few years. Please, just take these to him."
"I shall. Goodbye, Sarah."
"Take care, Ack."
"Now if both of you will pretend to be asleep, this should work."
"I think by this point, it's just time for a nap," Amber commented.
Sarah took her spot on her bed, Amber making due with propping her head up seated at Sarah's vanity. The room was silent except for Ack's low, rasping breaths until they suddenly stopped. Sarah peaked under the bed. Nothing was there but her slippers.
Amber fixed Sarah with a stare.
"What?" Sarah asked finally.
"When I mentioned that we should hang out more often, I didn't know this kind of thing typical."
"Hey, I'd told you the back story, come on."
"Yes, well, it's still different seeing it in your living room drinking tea."
Ack took a deep breath. The Underground felt decidedly welcome. A few more days with all that nasty iron and he was certain he wouldn't have been able crawl under a bed. He needed a good long rest, but the books jabbing into his chest reminded him he should probably see to that matter first. If he were to withhold these from Jareth for any reason, he would indeed find himself in an oubliette. The sheer boredom would do him in within a week. Pulling himself out from underneath the bed, he was not surprised to find himself in the castle beyond the Goblin city, though he was relieved all the same. Scuffling to his feet, Ack made his way down the nearly empty corridor, past a couple ladies loudly whispering on how best to comfort a widower.
He spoke to a goblin who, in its own nonsensical way, indicated that the king was in his study. Ack shuffled a little faster. He stopped in front of the door, catching his breath and wondering at himself. Here he was about to do something nice and he was surprisingly more concerned with doing it for Sarah rather than watching the ensuing reactions. Ack shook his head and knocked with the back of his hand, lest he get his claws caught in the wood. Marek opened the door and gave Ack a perplexed look, moving aside to let him in.
"It's been a long while since we've seen you. How did you leave the castle?"
"It doesn't matter," Jareth stated from his seat behind the desk. "He wouldn't tell us anyway, Marek." He eyed Ack, taking in his appearance. "Well? You've obviously been up to something strenuous by the look of things and something duplicitous by character."
"Indeed," Ack agreed, giddily waiting for Jareth to ask the right question.
"I'm in no mood for a long, circular interrogation. Unless you've been to the Aboveground, I suggest you leave or you will be forcibly removed."
Ack stood where he was, cocking his head with a small, terrible grin.
Marek and Jareth shared a quick glance. With a growl, the King of the Goblins stood and marched in front of the boogeyman. Taking a handful of Ack's shirt, Jareth pulled him to eye level.
"There are two reasons why you would still be standing here—that you know something useful or you want to be thrown out—both of which are incredibly unlikely."
"Sarah asked me to tell you 'we're still waiting.'"
Marek gave a start and Jareth's eyebrows shot up, the rest of his face in a long line of shock.
The grip around Ack's shirt tightened one more time. "If this is any sort of trick…"
"Here, let her tell you herself," Ack supplied, holding out the journals. "She asked me to give that to you as well. If there's anything in there about throwing me into an oubliette, however, I'm sure it's utter forgery."
Jareth took the journals from Ack's outstretched claws, releasing him in order to flip through the pages.
He closed his eyes, one hand still sprawled over her words. "She's alive."
"By the 'we,' I would assume they both are," Marek added with a grin.
"By the size of her, I would have to agree," Ack asserted, picking himself off the floor and easing onto a chair. "Though, she's still not due for a while, I would say."
Jareth opened his eyes, gently folding the journal shut, still resting his hand on top as though to assure him of its presence. He fixed a perplexed stare at Ack. "How did you—"
"Get up there? Unfortunately by no means I think can be duplicated. Nor did I think it was worth the risk to try to drag her back through," Ack explained tiredly.
"If you did it once," Marek insisted, "you can do it again."
"Perhaps," Ack agreed reluctantly. "But certainly not now. If you would excuse me, I will soon rival the Bog if I wait much longer for a bath. Somehow, I was relatively sure that had I seen to that first, before delivering these, I would never hear the end of it."
He began to amble toward the door.
He turned at the sound of Jareth's voice, an uncharacteristic trepidation settling over his tone.
"How is she?"
"You know Sarah. Resilient as always. She looked quite healthy and, again, growing larger. I'm afraid she has forgotten some etiquette. Here I was on her doorstop, going through so much trouble to see her, and she would only ask about you and the kingdom. Quite impatient in that regard, actually." Ack's mouth split into an impossible yawn. "I suspect she has told you much more than I could in her own words. Read those first and wake me, if you must, in a couple days. Undoubtedly you'll find a reason to interrogate me further."
Ack gave a small, pained bow and shuffled out the door.
Marek peered over Jareth's shoulder to get a better look, but Jareth had hunched forward slightly as though to protect those small books.
"They're safe."
"I don't understand why you sound so surprised, adamant as you have been."
Jareth gave Marek a disdainful look, despite the teasing grin on Marek's face. "Of course I knew, Marek, but it's quite different to have reassuring evidence in your hands."
"Vice grip, more like."
Jareth gave a short chuckle.
"However," Marek pointed out, "I'm guessing this news is too good to pass on?"
"At this point, I think so. If you would excuse me, Marek. Please inform all my appointments that I am indisposed. Make up some story."
Marek nodded with an understanding smile. "I think I will tell half the group that it's your dead wife's birthday and the other half that you've gone to inspect a mysterious new area of the Labyrinth. That'll cover both major camps, I think, the mourners and the kingdom supporters."
"Barricade the library while you're at it. I do not want to be disturbed for any reason."
"You will give me the abridged version, won't you?"
Jareth waved him off, heading toward the door himself. "We'll see."
"Oh, just because it's your wife you…" Marek trailed off as the door shut behind Jareth, one magical ability still intact if no others seemed to keep it straight. He barely had had the heart to tease Jareth. This was the best news they'd had in almost a year.
Ordinarily, Jareth would have poofed into the library and made the door disappear, but there was no way of telling what the magic might do. It wasn't worth the risk that he might end up in the main hall or in the wrong oubliette; either way, surrounded by a gaggle of admirers or left without any light to read by, his purpose that afternoon would be defeated.
Instead by some stroke of luck, he made it to the library undeterred. It seemed quite peculiar to have to lock a door rather than magically sealing it, but such small habits had been generated out of necessity over the last…Jareth stopped for a moment. Nearly a year. It had been nearly a year. He sat down on the couch, the spot that had come to be one of his favorite parts of the castle because it still smelled like her.
Jareth took the journal with a large "one" scrawled across the cover in a fat, black marker. Torn between the desire to savor and the need to devour as much of her message at the same time, Jareth began to read.

I hope you're happy. I'm working my way toward being a felon. The surprising thing, insurance fraud isn't as difficult as I would have thought. And yes, it's started already. Find a friend who knows the system, and a few free clinics that don't keep accurate paperwork, and I've got another prescription under a new alias. It's especially not so difficult when I think that I don't intend to be here for trouble to catch up with me. This attitude is not something you should be encouraging, no matter how creative or inventive it is, by the way.
LT's starting to get a hold on this kicking thing. It's incredibly and endearingly annoying, a lot like you, actually. Otherwise, everything's going pretty typically, I suppose. On both counts, this is a new thing to me, so I guess I'm not the authority; I have little basis for comparison, I guess. Oh, yes, I still remember that. I'd had NO idea what to do with you, then. If you'd told me then we'd end up in something like this, I'd have sworn you'd had a goblin brain transplant or something. I could have believed I would love you, not that I ever would have admitted it. Weird how we get where we are sometimes.
I didn't mean this entry to get sappy. This whole hormone thing is a pain. First off, I'm not allowed to be in a bad mood anymore. If I'm the slightest bit irritated, my family just goes "oh, it's hormones again," not Sarah's angry because of the snotty remarks from lady at the bank or something could otherwise actually be wrong. You'd think they'd forgotten I have a temper…on occasion. Sometimes it's hormones. There are other moments, where I'm just too weepy. I found myself humming that song you've sung to me when you think I'm asleep, but tears make sense there. Today, I was watching Harry and the Hendersons, this movie about Bigfoot (kinda like Ludo only smaller and more brown than orange) and this family he more or less follows home, and lost it. A movie about Bigfoot. I mean, that's just sad.
Toby's enjoying fencing. He just had his third tournament yesterday afternoon. I've wished I could join him, but A) I don't tend to have the energy and B) I'm pretty sure you'd flip out, not that this would normally stop me and even if I find the image amusing. Plus, getting stabbed in the stomach seems kind of counter-intuitive right now, given the high-risk protocols the doc has been shoving at me.
But anyway, Toby's really taken to it. Today, he showed me his arms and demanded that I tell him which looked bigger. I stared for a moment, but the forearm of his sword arm was slightly larger. He was ridiculously excited about it. I'd love to see what Ruckas, Rumble and all the rest would do with him.
That reminds me: everyone still gets to visit at some point. Remember way back when, that bet on the way to the darker lands? Can they come to the welcome back party? I'm assuming there will have to be something, maybe like a couple weeks after. I intend to be selfish with your time upon my return. And, yes, that statement was meant to be entirely loaded. I miss your smirk, I miss your teasing, I really miss just talking to you, and I have no problem saying I miss your body, too. I won't go too far into it, in case we show these to LT someday, but we both know how much imagination we've got between the two of us.
Funny, I remember joking once about "ruining one of your little parties." If I would have known that sort of threat could have winded us up in any kind of mess resembling what we wound up in, well, I guess I can understand why you blanched a little bit at that. Suffice to say, I had no earthly clue what I was getting into. Is there ever a point where I officially know too much? No such luck, I'm sure.
With love,

I'm officially exhausted. Took a minor road trip over the last couple of days, didn't even have enough time to write in between. Met with a woman. She talked about the veil and seemed to know a good bit about it. According to her, she doesn't know why it's messed up, but the veil is not letting much pass between the worlds. Guess that explains the extended stay. She picked up that I wasn't from around here, and I wasn't sure whether to correct her or not. Don't really know for sure. Was originally. Don't think so now. It's like when people ask you where you're from after you've moved twice. Anyway, she said she didn't have any real answers, but there were a few places I ought to investigate. Apparently without much magical aid or at least an invitation, it's really not a good idea to force through the veil, particularly with LT. I'm hoping I won't have to wait until LT's old enough to make the trip. LT would have to be able to walk, can't be carried. We'd better figure it out before then. Maybe there's some way to make it safer or speed up the healing process of the veil.
Love you. Going to sleep. Meet me there if you can,

There really isn't much to say about today. It was decidedly unmagical for no immediately discernable reason. Weird.
With love,
--Esteemed Cohort in Deviousness

Alright, maybe I would prefer an unmagical day. My hair turned purple. Yes, honest-to-God purple. LT gets the hiccups, and I'm left with purple hair. Tell me how this is fair?
The family wasn't much help, laughing a bit too hard to do much. Between bouts, I went and got it cut. It's easier to manage dramatic color shifts with shorter hair, if I have to stuff it under a hat or do something more drastic. It's layered to the shoulder now, not like your insane layers. I guess that reminds me: I think I should be in charge of LT's apparel, mostly because I know that declaration will make you scoff.
Still love you. Still waiting.

Give this back to Jareth, you giant sneak. Of course I knew you were going to get your hands on them at some point, at least for a glance, and I figured you'd be naturally attracted to your name.
Yes, I miss you, too, Marek. Jareth will share what he wants to, and otherwise we'll have plenty of time to catch up.
Seriously, stop reading and give this back to my husband.

I had a dream last night. I'm not sure if you were really there or not. It was actually three dreams in succession. I'll give you the highlights where you featured.
The first one, we were across the room from each other and you caught my eye, directing with a glance to meet you on one side of the room. After maneuvering through the crowd, I waited for a moment or several and eventually you came over and we danced. Then we separated again and I met up with you later. There was a part in between there involving something with clothespins and some weird custom, but that's dream logic working. I mean in this one I wasn't even pregnant, it was as though the whole darker lands thing didn't happen, let alone the war. We were all cute then, and you acted as though I'd never been gone, even though my dream-me definitely was aware of it and confused.
The second was a little freaky. Okay, I was scared. Apparently, I was resolved against marrying you so you were trying to kill me. You were weirdly polite about it, except you were definitely going to make it a nasty sort of end, I could tell somehow.
So those first two I think was just my subconscious going on about things that could have happened.
If you were actually there at all it was the last one. We were in a blank space. Both of us were just kind of standing there. I really felt like me and I looked like me, and you definitely looked like you but tired and with your hair pulled back. You just kind of stared at me, like you couldn't believe what you were seeing. I wanted to ask you if you were actually there or not, but I was confused, too, wondering why you were keeping your distance. Finally you said something about how you thought about what you were going to tell me when you first saw me again, but now you couldn't think of anything to say.
I woke up with tears in my eyes. I was still wondering why you didn't move toward me, but it didn't sound like you thought I was dead at least.
That's something I've been worried about. I really hope you know that I'm not dead. I've mentioned it before, but if some Prophesy mess leads you remarry or something, I don't know what I'll do when LT and I make it home. Plus, I don't want you to have to go through any of that. I don't even want to think about the shockwave doing anything to you. Please be okay. I'm praying for you to get every sort of strength. Isn't it about time to start getting to the hindsight part? You know, when it's all over?
I know this whole bit sounds depressed, but I know it's just a matter of time. I'm not stupid enough to say it can't be worse, but I think this is honestly about enough. We totally deserve a break. LT agrees, by means of kicking, as I write. Either that, or it's a plea for a nap, considering I didn't sleep much after all that.
Until I see you again, all my love,
--Precious One (and Precious, too)

--Jareth, my angel of vengeance,
I was so mad earlier, I couldn't hold the pen still. It hadn't started that way, of course, these things never do. I was instructed to turn in a design I've been freelancing for my old job directly to the boss, which actually turned out to be a ruse for a bit of surprise party. It was the whole "we're glad you're alive" sort of thing, which turned into a bunch of my old buddies gushing about how I was glowing. (I had to check that it wasn't the magical sort as that would have been hard to explain.) By now, I have a story pretty well down, what I tell strangers verses what I tell friends, and what sort of vague details don't contradict each other and aren't necessarily a lie. Every now and again it would make Jen snort since she knows what I actually mean (even helped me phrase a few things). My favorite bit, when asked if I could talk about whom my foreign diplomat husband was warring against, I said "just a bunch of soulless vampires," and everyone chuckled. Jen nearly lost it.
That wasn't the problem, though. Everything was great, catching up with people and just sharing time with everyone again. Eventually Debbie asked me when LT was due. I told her "not soon enough," and the group just kind of chuckled again. Derek was feeling a little tipsy by that point, I think (Mr. Lawson brought a couple bottles of wine), because I don't think he normally would have blurted it out.
He asked me who my new beau was. I stared at him for a moment, and he added, "You know, the father of your kid." I informed him that my husband was the father of my child. He pointed out in a bit of a slur that there seemed a bit of discrepancy in the timeline, that I'd been home for about six and a half months and was about five months (the best estimate I could give them) pregnant. In private, a perfectly logical question. In public, a nasty accusation that I had to defend. Oh, I wanted to kill him, particularly when everyone was staring at me either expectantly or looking highly embarrassed.
What else could I do? I slapped him and reiterated that I couldn't go into any of the details pertaining to the situation, particularly any contact I'd had with my husband, and even though I'd made it home to be safe there was still no absolute. I told him how LT was definitely my husband's child and how upsetting it was not to have you with me during this time. At that point, I made myself cry, and Jen took up the charge. I think that's only the second or third time in my life I've made myself cry to get out of something, and let me tell you it works. Most everyone was on my side, glaring down Derek for upsetting me.
The damage was still done, however. They're all at a loss as to what sort of situation I've landed myself in, so they'll form their own conclusions and speculations. I've got my character to speak for me, but for all they know I could have totally switched personalities after a year and a half of being gone in addition to six months of reintegrating back into this world. He managed to take a great mini-reunion and make it utterly suck. Stopping back by the office will now be overly awkward.
Maybe some minor smiting would be good, hint, hint.
And now I'm angry all over again. Time to go calm down, I think.
With love,
--Your Sarah

--J, angel of vengeance,
Alright, I guess Derek doesn't have to be smited. Smote? I don't know. He called to apologize, and we agreed to meet for coffee. I'll give him the abridged version. My guess is that he'll freak out and leave early, calling me later that evening after mulling a few things over. When I left last time it did shake him up a bit, but I think he'll swing around to it after a while. Plus, LT's slow development will at least confirm that part of the story. Eventually, too, he'll just be glad to be in on the secret. AND he won't be making comments like what he did in front of the group. He's not off the hook yet by any stretch, don't worry, but he doesn't have to be a pile of dust at least. He's at least going to pay for coffee.
I'll update you afterwards.
With love,
--Sarah, somewhat pacified

J, A of V,
Did I mention that Derek is utterly predictable? Two years away and still he practically followed a script. Even called back in the evening.
I love that you still surprise me, if I ever forget to mention it.
With love,

I know you're grimacing at the address, but I really couldn't resist. Have you gotten used to that? The knowledge that you're going to be a father? Sometimes, the whole thing makes my head spin, honestly. At the same time, I'm insanely attached and ridiculously excited. Take a look at the newest sonogram. I know it looks like it was taken in an oubliette, but you can see a clear outline of LT's head. And that bit next to it is definitely a hand. The nurse asked if I wanted to know the gender, but I said I preferred to wait, not that I don't have my guess. I'd rather wait until you can go with me. I don't even want to write it here, until I can tell you in person.
Is the Labyrinth going to be the godfather? I don't know if we ever discussed godparents or what sort of relation the Labyrinth would have. We'll figure it out, but I just had to ask it that way, see if you'd give the paper a funny look. I'd imagine we could ask Marek, not that it wouldn't go to his head.
Anyway, I said I'd keep you informed. The doc still is pretty incredulous about everything. I'm pretty sure Jen has brow-beaten him enough to keep him from doing anything stupid, on top of the whole confidentiality laws he'd be breaking. Of course, now that he's "on my side," he's pretty protective about the whole thing. The way Jen must have worded it or at least the way he's thinking, if anyone else gets a whiff of this, he's going to be in some sort of uncomfortable position. Frankly, I don't get it, but he's taking care of us and doesn't look at me with the "you're probably insane, but I'll humor you for now," look as much anymore. That one got old real fast. I think the karyotype helped my case a lot, too. When the machine reading a Fae/human child involved something a little crazy (and the machine coughing up glitter), well, it definitely supported my case. Oh, and when my hair turned purple in the exam room. Again. That helped, too. He's a very nice guy, but then he puts on the "I'm a serious doctor" face and reminds me a bit too much of Alain, even if he's not thrusting foul slop at me. It's weird that he now switches between "serious doctor" and sheer excitement. Dr. Yeardly wants to see how this pans out, whether he'd admit it or not. Given his shoes, I'd probably be fascinated by the whole thing, too. He doesn't remind me that I shouldn't be drinking too much caffeine when he's speculating on whatever, either.
Sometimes, though, it makes both of us incredibly nervous. Neither of us have any idea what to expect. We can't check for birth defects like we normally would and a genetic breakdown gave him, in his words, "garblydee-gook." He'll give me an instruction and half the time I ask if it's actually a good idea. The other half of the time, I ask him to explain his logic, after which I ask if he's sure it's a good plan. His response is either an uneasy grin with "I think so," or that it's worth a shot or signs point to yes or try again later. He's a magic eight ball; shake him and you still might get another vague response. Really, though, I know he's thought through a lot of this. I've seen the man's reading list.
Still, both of us are incredibly uneasy with how everything about this is touch and go. I know some of that is to be expected, but I've used this argument for caffeine a few times, and managed to win myself a Dr. Pepper or two. This whole in-between thing. It's like when my aunt got sick while I was in high school. They had no idea what was up so they kept trying one new thing after the other. Some things made it better, others made it worse, and they still weren't entirely sure why. Once they put a name to it, everything just got so much better, even though there's nothing they can really do for fibromyalgia (nasty disease, inexplicable pain). Her treatment has always been touch and go since then, but at least they have a basis to go off of. Okay, I'm pregnant and not turning into a hippo (don't you dare say that's a potential side effect) or crippled by random joint pain (aside from overall soreness from the extra weight), but I still don't want this attitude toward my child.
Honestly, everything up here seems pretty touch and go. I've volunteered a couple of places and had a couple of part time jobs now, but I can't stay or go anywhere routinely too long, or they start to ask questions, specifically after a month or two why I don't look more pregnant. In the end, it just makes me feel disconnected. First and foremost from you with a physical barrier (which still sucks, by the way, if I haven't said that recently). Then from my jobs and other ways to keep occupied. Even my family when there are just those moments when they can't really understand what I've gone through. Jen has been keeping me pretty sane. She just keeps me smiling even when I had half a mind to be furious all day just because. I don't know how she does it. It's kind of frustrating, actually. My new friend Amber has been a great help, too. I met her reading to some kids at the library (I really miss that), her oldest child being in the group. She's a writer and a mom, so we've met up at all sorts of crazy times. She's a great listener.
This is turning into a long entry. Remember that I love you. Still waiting. Not giving up.
--Baby Momma

Today I feel like a cow.
It's been one of those down sort of days where I miss you especially. Every song on the radio makes me want to cry and my ankles are swollen and I just want to be miserable with my carton of ice cream.
It's just so hard.
After the whole tree conclusion episode, I thought we agreed that no such separation should happen again. I don't want to get used to this feeling. And I still feel like a whale.
Tomorrow will be better. Today, though, today I just need to feel.
Still waiting for the day I can hold you again,
--Sarah, the unattractive blob on the couch

--Goblin King
I talked to another person about the veil today, taking Derek with me. Honestly, they freaked me out. At first, we covered a lot of good ground and several possibilities. He talked a lot about the magical buildup and everything he and a group of others have been working to do to stabilize the veil on this side.
Then, he started veering off and it didn't sound like the veil and the magical world as we know it. Eventually, he got around to blaming me for disrupting the veil and declaring that I needed to be sacrificed in order to restore the flow between worlds. In the end, I bolted. Derek held the guy back until I was safely in the car.
That was too close. Derek was all excited on the drive back, the adrenaline and all. He's been much more useful now that he's in on the secret. One day he almost offered to adopt LT, if I was stuck here forever, but I didn't let him. You've no reason to be jealous, Jareth. Derek was just trying to help. It's the only way that makes sense to him, I think. He's finally given up on the thought of him and me as an actual item. He's a friend, and he's been unwilling to let me make any of these trips alone. At first, I only agreed because driving tends to make me nauseous nowadays, but in light of this episode, I'm glad he was there.
I'm still searching. I know you are, too. Maybe this is partly my fault, for saying "it won't be that long" before heading for the veil. I mean, that was just asking for trouble. If you bring that up later, I will deny, deny, deny, mister.
With our love,
--Goblin Queen and LT, Heir to the Goblin Throne

While we were just hanging out today, Jen asked me if I was worried about being a mom. Essentially, I told her not really. It's going to be okay. One way or the other, I'm not going to be alone in this. And if something, God forbid, goes terribly wrong, I can always blame you. It's incredibly comforting. I can see it now: "He's his/She's her father's child," and the court would just give a resounding "OHhh" of understanding.
I get the feeling there will be an equal share of, "Well, to be raised by someone who grew up Aboveground…" But it'll work, somehow. It's one of those things I just know.
With knowledge that we'll see each other again,

I wish I could hang out with the Fireys or the Frosties today. It was just the first thing that occurred to me this morning, not that I was waking especially depressed or tense. One of their songs was caught in my head, and it's been stuck there all day.
LT's still getting bigger. There isn't much to say today.
With love,

Toby and I just hung out today. He's a good kid. The best thing, if he babysits for LT, he can wish our kid back to us, no harm, no foul.

Jareth flipped through Sarah's journals, scribbling a few notes down as he poured through her entries yet again. The first few times he read, he had been utterly overwhelmed. Who would not cherish such a gift? How much he missed her, how much he loved her spirit. The words were undoubtedly her own, her tone making him laugh and cry all at once, leaving his chest in a dull ache. The pictures, ticket stubs, and all else made her adventures real, and he delighted and despaired with her in turn. He wanted to share those experiences with her in person, and remind her how beautiful she was on those days she felt down. One of the dreams he remembered himself, entirely uncertain if she had been there and consequently freezing rather than relaying any important information before she dissolved away. And his child. Their first child.
Two things struck Jareth when he read for a third time. The first was the reason for the notes he was making. Something about LT's developmental timeline seemed…off. Recording relevant dates and symptoms, Jareth poured through the journals again, unwilling to part with them but certain that Alain would need both Sarah and the baby's progress to make an accurate guess. He had to know what sort of timeline they were dealing with. Missing the birth of his first child was out of the question.
Still, as Jareth skimmed her thoughts and entries, he found it nearly impossible not to be caught up in them all over again. The most contact he had had with his wife in nearly a year was within these pages, sad as it was. And regrettably one-sided.
"You called?" Marek asked from the door, rubbing his head and blinking.
"Yes," Jareth replied, disregarding his companion's state.
"It couldn't have waited until morning? First you won't let me have any information then it can't wait?" He yawned. "You strange, fickle man."
"I've just been dragged out of bed by goblins threatening me with bog water, your majesty. I beg your forgiveness."
Jareth smirked, finishing his page. He had thought this other matter required some immediate attention as well. "Sarah has brought up an interesting point in a few of her entries."
"Does she agree that you're a strange, fickle man? Because I've been saying that. Or maybe she wants to name the child after me, right?"
Jareth raised an eyebrow.
Marek waved his hands. "Sorry, sorry. Please, elaborate."
"We've been spending all this time trying to find ways to get around the veil. What can we do to help heal it? Faster?"
Marek leaned back, bringing one hand up to his mouth and frowning. "Count on Sarah to think of the deceptively simple solution that just might work."
And he was off. Marek began to mumble something under his breath, pulling at a fresh piece of paper and beginning to scribble a few things down.
"My thoughts exactly," Jareth agreed with a small, hopeful smile.

He could hear her voice. And her voice was not happy. Distressed, at the very least. Needless to say, Jareth was moving about the castle with a particular urgency.
Marek didn't see his king at first as he strolled down the hallway engrossed in his reading, though the thundering from clouds that had formed over the Labyrinth ought to have been anyone's first clue that something was going on. Jareth knocked the book in Marek's hands shut and seized his arm, propelling him in a new direction.
"Hey, what's going on?" Marek demanded as he found his footing. He was about to complain further when he caught the look on Jareth's face. The majority of it was an attempt at neutral, aside from his exposed gritted teeth. His hair was flashing different colors.
"Right," Marek asserted. "Something big. I'm moving, I'm moving. Alain's in the study if that's where we were heading."
Jareth took the detour suggested by Marek. Marek could then only surmise the situation, thinking through what evidence he had. If Jareth had continued on, then there was some affair of state that needed immediate attention. If he had turned the opposite direction, then he simply wanted a private conversation which could mean any number of different things, likely another controversial lead on bettering the veil. But if Jareth wanted Alain, then he wanted thoughts on Sarah and LT. Marek's took long breath and held it. Seeking Alain with this kind of frenzy did not bode well.
"Is it time?" Marek nearly whispered.
Jareth's jaw tightened further.
Marek wisely said nothing more.
"Alain," Jareth roared, storming into the study (his hair strictly blond, now, through no small amount of effort). Marek quickly shut the door behind them.
"Your highness," Alain demurred with a bow, "What would you request of me?"
"No time for that," he snapped. "What are your most recent calculations in regards to Sarah?"
Alain considered his words carefully, trying to avoid the brunt of Jareth's rage. "It is within the realm of possibility for the child to come now. I take it there has been some indication?"
Jareth held out his hand, slowly unclenching his fingers. "Sarah's voice was ringing through my head, urging me to get there soon. I checked the stone immediately."
The rock was red and pulsing at irregular intervals.
Marek's eyes widened. "Have you had that all along?"
Jareth ignored him. "Alain?"
"The stone's reaction is definite, Jareth. You don't need me to confirm that."
He dropped his arm. "I need to know if the child will be healthy."
"Ah," Alain noted, glad to be back on familiar ground. "I would say we don't have any specific reason to believe otherwise. Given what information we have, it appears Sarah has progressed on a faster but similar trend. It goes without saying that we would like her to be here for the event, ceremony aside. Who can say if they even know what a proper midwife is? The stone, too, is giving no indication of danger, yes?"
Jareth nodded, brows furrowed as he clutched the stone within his fist closer to his chest. "I need to be there."
"Keep an eye on the stone and let me know of any changes. We may be able to use its connection to help her somehow if something goes wrong but only if it indicates something. I'm afraid that's all I can do."
"Have you had that all along?" Marek repeated.
Jareth ignored Marek again. "Using the stone?"
"Only as a focal point," Alain clarified.
"Exactly!" Marek cried. "We could have used this months ago. Why didn't you mention it?"
"It is mine and Sarah's," Jareth answered with a glare.
"But we could use this," Marek insisted. "If we amplify a few things here and there and concentrate one of the six spells I ran across that uses the stone with the veil better than what it was then—"
"Transport could be arranged," Jareth finished. "Let's get to work."
While Jareth was finding reassurance, Sarah was…well, not.
"Why the hell can't we get a room yet?" Sarah demanded, panting from the last wave of contractions, still a good twenty-two minutes apart.
"They're getting it ready, Sarah," Karen reassured her. "Jen's giving them hell."
"Good. They can join me there," she grumbled.
Karen hugged her stepdaughter. "I promised to remind you that you still have your sense of humor, but I don't think I'm quite that cruel."
Sarah's frown crumbled into a soft smile. "Thanks, Mom."
"It'll all be worth it in the end, hon. Just keep focused on that."
Sarah took a deep breath. The next few hours were going to be interesting, to say the least, and long. She closed her eyes and thought as hard as she could in Jareth's direction. For the first time, she heard a response formed in words: "I'm coming." Those words were quickly followed with a series of muted emotions through their bond, emphasizing that the urgency of the situation was understood and amplified by his own. There was a definite sense of hope, meaning that there were a few things he was trying. A soothing stream of wordless support followed.
Breathing a little easier, Sarah opened her eyes as Jen returned.
"Right, someone is coming to show us a room."
"Where's your cousin?" Sarah asked in even tones.
"He's on his way," she assured, beginning to push Sarah's wheelchair in the direction of the nurse's station (the occupants of which wisely made no verbal note to Sarah's change in hair color, even as it faded back to its usual brown).
The admissions volunteer led them down a series of walkways and hallways broken up with atriums filled with benches and plants until they came to the proper wing. The room itself had a bed, a padded rocking chair, an IV pump, a rolling adjustable table tray, two additional chairs, a large TV, and a small bedside table. Sarah noted her surroundings as she entered, aware that she would be very familiar with these walls by the time she left, the utilitarian white broken up by a teddy bear border with pink and blue balloons, a plain clock, and a crucifix. Jen and Karen assisted Sarah into a hospital gown before the nurse returned to start her IV.
Somewhere at that moment, it hit Sarah that this was really happening. She ate some ice chips, not trusting her rolling stomach to hold anything more.
Once Sarah had been situated, supported by her own pillow and covered with her own blanket, Karen excused herself. "I'm going to call the boys, let them know which room we're in. Anything I should have them bring?"
Sarah shook her head. She reached over to pick up the communication crystal. Staring in, she prayed to see a wisp of blond hair.
The TV began to flicker on and off. Sarah glanced around to make sure no one was sitting on a controller, but no such luck. Sarah took a few long, deep breaths, preparing herself.
"Hey!" Jen yelped, raising out of her chair and scrabbling to grab on to something. "Sarah, put me down!" As the contraction hit, Sarah vaguely noted that Jen had bumped into the ceiling, though she kept enough sense to push Sarah's IV pole back toward the ground so it wouldn't be pulled from her arm.
"Sorry," Sarah grunted.
There was a quick knock on the door and Dr. Yeardly entered, too busy pulling on a pair of gloves to immediately notice his cousin on the ceiling. When it did occur to him that his cousin was successfully defying gravity, he only raised an eyebrow.
"Hey, cuz."
Jen stared at him, still struggling with the IV pole.
"How're we doing, Sarah?"
Sarah took a couple shallow breaths, half scowling and unaware that her hair was changing color again, along with her eye color flashing a range of impossible colors. Jen caught herself on the IV pole as she fell back to her feet then knocking over her chair as she fell. Scrambling up, Jen glared at her cousin.
"I don't see how you can be so calm about all this. It's like the Exorcist in here, for God's sake."
"Jen," Doc chided gently, "If I panicked every time a baby was born, I wouldn't be a very good obstetrician, now would I?"
Sarah laughed, suddenly relieved to have him in the room.
"If this is just the first few quirks, this could get interesting," Sarah admitted. "Jen, if you see the IV line turn into something it really shouldn't, I give you my permission to pull it out."
Doc nodded. "Probably a wise precaution." He proceeded with all the necessary questions as to how far apart Sarah's contractions were and any other specifics they could offer him before he proceeded with a quick exam.
"Still a ways to go," he declared with a small smile. "I know we have mentioned it before, Sarah, but I will say it again. I believe a natural birth is the best plan. We just don't know what sort of reaction your child will have to whatever drugs we could give you."
Sarah nodded. "I know, barring an emergency cesarean. I was listening. I just didn't want to think about it."
"Anything I can get you to make you more comfortable?"
Sarah smiled at his concern. "Not yet."
He nodded and left to go attend to something at the nurse station, promising to check back on her shortly.
Jen rubbed her head where she had bumped it. "I think I'm going to need as many days to recover from this as you will, Sarah. Being a supportive friend is pretty hazardous."
"You knew what you were getting into," Sarah pointed out.
"No, I don't think I did. No regrets all the same. Who wants a boring friendship? I'm going to get some caffeine. I think I'm going to need it. Sure I can't get anything for you?"
Sarah shook her head, her stomach still churning.
"I'll be right back."
Sarah picked up the communication crystal again, still brown and translucent. "Okay."
There was a tiny explosion of smoke as the crystal hit the stone. Apparently, it had been a good idea to stand back, particularly as the smoke was soon followed by vortex that took up half of the wall, absorbing only green objects for no discernable reason before imploding on itself.
"Well, a dramatic failure like that means were closer to finding the correct answer, right?" Marek supplied from behind his screen, the green tie that held his hair back now missing. "I'm not even sure whether the vortex was to take you there or spit her out."
"Hence why when I make a suggestion I think through it," Jareth growled behind clenched teeth.
"At least the vortex was there, though I don't understand the green." He snatched another volume, pouring through it as the sun was beginning to set over the Labyrinth. They had sequestered themselves in the library for a few hours now, Sarah's demands for his arrival still pounding in Jareth's head. He could hear more of her words. Surely they were getting closer.
But they were also getting sloppy, this being the last of a series of attempts. Had Marek's half-baked idea pulled Sarah through the vortex at this time or had any party been caught, the situation would be much worse, to say the least. Jareth raked a hand through his hair, staring out across the Labyrinth as his mind plowed through one scenario after the next.
He pulled off his glove and set his hand on the smooth surface to their stone, nearly pulling his fingers away at the unexpected heat until it cooled under his touch, still pulsing. Marek continued to murmur half-formed sentences as he jumped from one text to another. Jareth watched him though his focus was still on the fast beating from the stone. He fed it his magic, wishes, prayers, and positive thoughts. The stone turned blue for a moment, and Jareth smiled. "Message received," it seemed to say.
"How did you do that?" Marek demanded. "Blue was mentioned in one of these, I swear…"
Jareth sighed. "Marek, we're not getting anywhere. All of the solutions that could feasibly work require more preparation, weeks worth. They simply were not made for this."
Marek slumped into his chair with a grimace. "I didn't want to be the one to say it. I was hoping for a moment of frantic inspiration."
"It's nearly nightfall," Jareth noted. "There is another option we haven't explored."
Marek frowned. "I don't think the Spirit of the Moon grants many requests, if that's what you're thinking."
"Outside of his duties, not often, no. But I need to try."
"He might not do it for free," Marek pointed out.
Jareth hardly needed to be reminded of the rules and quirks of the world he lived in. "I have a case I can present."
Marek eyed him warily. "Don't do anything too stupid. A rash decision now could affect everyone in the kingdom."
Jareth's glare read that he most certainly did not need to be reminded of that, and Marek wisely stopped speaking, breaking eye contact and taking a more submissive mien. "I suppose it's worth a try. There was some mention about the moon knowing its own, whatever that means. I had thought you didn't like meeting with him."
"It's not necessarily a matter of like," Jareth clarified.
"I guess the only thing, then, is what we're going to do until night falls."
Both Fae let their eyes veer to the orange cast coloring the Labyrinth as the sun continued its downward path. A few hours at least, until the moon would be in the proper position. Pity he could not reorder time until the veil returned to normal.
With a sigh, Jareth murmured, "We wait."
Dr. Yeardly stood in a corner, cleaning off his fingernails in an effort not to look anywhere. Or at least Dr. Yeardly's body was off to the side. Toby's body, however, was stripping off a pair of gloves and standing up from the examination. "About six centimeters. We're getting closer, Sarah."
"This is officially the weirdest thing ever," her father who was really Jen commented.
"You're telling me," Sarah laughed hollowly. "I was just examined by my kid brother, for God's sake. The nurse was just lucky she stepped out in time."
"The other kids would never believe this," Jen who was really Toby asserted, looking at his temporary body with curiosity.
"It should wear off in a moment or two," Sarah declared airily.
"I hope so," Dr. Yeardly who was really her father declared, "For your mother's sake at the very least."
The room turned to look at Karen, the potted plant. She shook her leaves.
"Someone hand me my camera and my journal," Sarah asked, trying to suppress her laughter. "This is just too good to leave out."
"I'm glad it's making you feel better," her father who was actually Jen replied in gruff tones.
"I guess I'll wait here until it wears off," Toby who was really Doc breathed. "It's strange to be this short again."
Toby in Jen's body frowned.
"Just think, Doc, if LT decides to leave this minor alteration. We'll all have to wait until Jareth gets here," Sarah sniggered.
Her father who was Jen chuckled, too, then the TV began to flicker again. The group met one another's gaze, wondering just what was going to happen next. Sarah watched as their eyes glazed over, and Karen reappeared next to them.
"That was…strange," Karen commented, wiping invisible dirt from her hands. "How are you, Sarah?"
"I've been here seven hours, Jareth still isn't here, and God knows if this hospital is going to make it through all this weird shifting. Just peachy, Mom."
Karen squeezed her hand. "I know it's not easy, sweetie, and I know it hurts, but you'll be holding your baby soon and all these months will be worth everything."
It was a little hokey, perhaps, but it gave Sarah some reassurance, particularly paired with Jareth's steady stream of support muted in her mind. He was there as much as he could, given whatever was still holding them apart.
"He'll be here," Sarah murmured, as though trying to convince herself.
Karen looked to the rest of her family. "Are they alright?"
Sarah gave a small smile. "They will be. Just give them a moment."
Her father seemed to shake it off first. "Are you two okay?"
"We're fine, Dad. Take a seat."
"This day has certainly been memorable for more reasons than one," he observed dazedly.
"I don't think you want it over faster than Sarah does," Jen rang in.
"What else are you going to do, Sarah?" Toby asked, more eager than anyone else about the whole thing.
"Don't have any control so I can't rightly say," Sarah replied, ruffling his hair.
Doc took a moment to check himself over. "I don't have a tail or anything else, do I? Hair the right color?"
"Can't really tell under the cap, there, Doc. After today, though, you can really say you've seen it all."
He smiled. "Except that I can't tell anyone the details, aside from where it specifically affects your continued treatment. Which reminds me, I need to talk to the next nurse on shift. We'll see how much I can prepare her."
"Good luck," Jen called after him. "I'd say this couldn't get much worse, but we both know what that does."
"Please, don't," Karen begged.
Sarah agreed. It was going to get more difficult, she could tell, if the intensity of the labor pains with less and less time in between to recover were any indication. By the looks of things, though, her family was setting up camp. Toby didn't have school the next day, but he seemed caught between wanting to be there to make his sister smile and fidgeting. Her father was at a loss and benefitted from Jen's soothing presence as much as Sarah did. Whenever he felt especially uncomfortable (or some sort of smell was getting to him), he went down the gift shop to pick up a different flower or trinket, hence the small pile on the window ledge. As for Karen, Sarah really wasn't sure what she would do without her, her attitude toward the magical and medical changes along with her constant support made the whole situation almost tolerable.
Sarah allowed her head to flump back on the pillow. "So, how about them Yankees?"
"What?" Jen asked.
"I don't know. Just talk about something, anything, please."
Jen was very good at playing the distraction, but LT was better. Her family braced themselves for whatever additional "symptoms" would present themselves. A difficult few hours, indeed, she mused. Who could say what would be after body swapping in LT's agenda? Out-of-control magic was not helpful in the best of times.
The contraction was long and painful, and Sarah felt that she would break the sidebar of her hospital bed should she hold on any stronger. Gritting her teeth, she looked over at the crystal: still brown. She gingerly settled back to the bed again, breathing heavily as her mother wiped her brow and spoke in soothing tones, completely unaware that she was speaking backwards.
Jareth appeared along the mosaic girl's wall. She appeared to have been waiting for him and curtsied.
The words appeared next to her head: "You're looking for the Spirit of the Moon again, yes?"
Jareth nodded, not trusting his voice.
"I will show you."
With a small dive, Jareth shifted into an owl to better keep up with her, banking around corners in an effort to soothe his own hurried thoughts. The mosaic girl stopped just in front of the moss glade, where the stone shifted to shrubbery. She pointed.
"In there," the word above her head directed.
"Thank you," Jareth replied, eyes focused on the swatches of light peeking through the formed branches.
Again the Spirit of the Moon walked along the trees, oblivious to the world other than the natural subjects of whatever his imagination and sight could stir.
Jareth set his hand on the figure's shoulder, causing the glowing man to turn with curious eyes.
"I need your help."
"King of the Goblins, you never come to just talk," he replied with a sigh. "I help you too much as it is."
"I wouldn't ask if I could think of any other option," Jareth declared softly. "Please. My wife is in labor. I would wish more than anything to be there."
The Spirit of the Moon gave a small frown. "You are sure?"
Jareth revealed the stone, the red pulse shifting purple.
The Spirit nodded. "You are sure." He seemed momentarily distracted by a firefly across the glade, particularly as it spewed a small burst of fire. Then, he frowned again, considering. "The price would be too much. I am sorry."
"No, that cannot be your answer," Jareth insisted, anger and desperation warring for his face.
The Spirit of the Moon rested a hand on Jareth's shoulder. "I'm afraid so. I pity you, Goblin King, but this is the world order as it currently stands."
"Damn order," Jareth growled, jerking away from the Spirit's grasp. "This is a land of change."
"But this change falls in a structure," the Spirit explained slowly. "I cannot."
"Even for your own grandchild?" Jareth erupted.
The Spirit stood very still for a long moment. "I do not remember—"
"Father, there are many things you don't remember," Jareth interrupted gently. "You're right. I do not come just to talk. I find it too…strange…and the conversation too stilted when there are so many things I cannot speak of. Few even knew about it when it happened." The confusion still plain on the Spirit's ethereal face, Jareth continued, "There were many conditions involved in becoming the new Spirit of the Moon. You were chosen. You were needed. I do not begrudge you for accepting. You no longer recognized me nor have you shown me any partiality, such was the goal." Jareth took a deep breath. "I would never have dared to try in most any other circumstance. You asked me not to, much as I might have wanted to."
The glow in the moss glade seemed to ebb. The Spirit stood in front of Jareth and scrutinized his face. Jareth did not meet his gaze, his heart pounding in his ears: this response could end in the stripping of his title or death. Even Marek didn't know that small detail. The Spirit directed Jareth's face to turn with a knuckle.
After an impossible silence, the Spirit murmured, "That's my chin."
Jareth could have wept with relief, but the Spirit could still decide an extreme punishment for disrupting his sense of order. "So Mother said."
"Your mother?"
"She died before you left," Jareth admitted.
The Spirit of the Moon was at a loss, the light from his skin dimming to a much less blinding level if still an unnatural glow. He took off his headpiece, revealing short, sandy hair. "How?"
"It's a long story. In the end, dragon flu."
"But for that to have happened…"
"Again, it's a long story. If you wish, I will tell you another time. But now there are still more pressing matters."
"It does seem remarkably familiar, somehow, so much to take in. I have a son, a daughter-in-law, and a grandchild on the way," the Spirit mused in wonder. "Anything else I'm missing? I guess that would explain a couple things. I will need to talk to that Ack creature at some point. Regardless, it still cannot be done, especially now." He face reflected genuine sorrow.
Jareth could have torn his hair out. "Why?"
The Spirit—though now his face more resembled the man Jareth had once known—met Jareth's eyes with a bit of a scold, as though to remind him not to raise his voice. "I cannot allow you to take the risk. There is a cost. And any method I have might take more time than you can spare, thus making that cost in vain. The veil will right itself eventually."
Jareth closed his eyes, shoving aside his inner panic and despair with practiced control. "Father, what kind of compromise can we manage?"
"Remember, Sarah, when I said that it was like The Exorcist in here? I guess I spoke too soon."
"Jen! That is not helping at just this moment!" Sarah panted. This part was not fun. Not fun at all. After twelve hours, Doc caught sight of the head, even directing Sarah's hand so that she could feel the damp hair of her child's head. The fetal monitor had been taken off, as it kept turning into other things. The major objects in the room that did not seem to fit included a nurse working with Doc and the fresh equipment he had asked her to bring. Most everything else was a spot-on match for the castle in the center of the Labyrinth. An eyed lichen in a damp corner read through one of the magazines Sarah's father had brought up on one of his many excursions—he and Toby were waiting out in the hallway, though dressed in an incredible facsimile of the clothing of the court. Apparently, there was a stairwell in the hospital now that only led down, regardless of how one climbed. The torches on the wall somehow did not set off the fire alarms, and the crest of the Goblin Kingdom took the place of the TV. The clock had changed to thirteen hours but had so far refused to keep any sort of accurate time. The nurse continued to eye it warily, until the situation pulled her back. Karen and Jen, garbed in gowns of a different sort than Doc, were on either side of her.
There was a small knock on the door. "Doctor, did you need…" The nurse's aide trailed off as she took in the room.
"Another gawker," Jen noted.
Between breaths, Sarah managed, "I don't care if they sell tickets at this point!"
Jen and Karen continued to cheer her on best they could, secretly wishing they could feel their fingers again.
"The head is out," Doc announced, pulling a bulb syringe from the kit to suction LT's mouth.
Sarah gave an odd sound between a laugh and a sob. Then she took a few shallow breaths. "Oh, God…the shoulders."
"Almost there," Karen and Jen seemed to chant at her.
The world seemed to slow for Sarah. At first, she thought it was just one of those moments where your body takes everything in and a series of profound thoughts explode over the conscious. But no, everything was actually moving significantly slower. Sarah took a much-needed moment to breathe.
"LT, if you reorder time and make this last any longer than it needs to," Sarah calmly said, "You will be so grounded before you leave the crib. No magic ponies either."
It didn't hurt here, at least. And it seemed that things were progressing all the same, Doc focused and moving, albeit very, very slowly. Jen and Karen were watching her with concern and frantic energy, the blue and pink sleeves of their gowns brushing her arms though she couldn't feel it. Sarah glanced around, wondering if Jareth could do anything in this lull in time. Releasing the bar of the bed from her aching fingers, Sarah laid a hand on top of the necklace he had given her.
"Jareth, now would be a good time for a dramatic entrance," she whispered. "You've missed enough already."
"Sarah," a familiar voice breathed back, echoing in the odd muted space, sounding strained.
Sarah snapped back as a louder voice caught her attention, her mother taking her face into her hands. She stared at her mother in mild surprise, and then the pain returned causing Sarah's breath to freeze in her throat.
"Breathe, honey," Karen reminded. "Almost done. One more push," she coached.
Doc, mindful of both of his patients, told her what was happening and directed the gawker nurse—Daphne, he had barked—to watch over Sarah. Then she was all reassuring business.
One last push, indeed, was all it took, everything being relatively easy past the shoulders.
"You're doing wonderfully, Sarah," he encouraged, taking a couple of clamps from his instrument tray. "Absolutely textbook, aside from the whole changing the walls upside-down and around."
Sarah gave him a weak smile. Then she could hear nothing but a cry, exploding into an indignant wail. Laughing and crying herself, Sarah fell back to the bed. Jen and Karen hugged her and each other excitedly, stumbling through congratulations and shouts of joy and relief.
Sarah's smile collapsed, and Karen caught her eye. "What's wrong, Sarah?" The nurse, too, seemed ready to leap at any indication.
"He…he didn't make it." A fresh line of tears fell down her cheeks.
"Oh, sweetie," Karen murmured, hugging Sarah.
The walls were beginning to fade back to their original white, the clock having already righted itself to note a proper time of birth, seemingly fixing itself there. LT was still displaying the strength of new lungs as the nurse took to an efficient cleaning before swaddling the infant.
"Ms Williams," she beamed, handing off the bundle, "your daughter."
Her face was red. Her skin was blotchy. Her face was scrunched, though the cries had tapered off. Her tuft of damp, light-brown hair was sticking out of a pink cap at strange intervals.
Sarah had never seen anything so beautiful in her life.
Another line of tears streamed down Sarah's face. "So you're what I've been waiting for all this time. I'm so glad you're here. Brianna Iris, you have no idea how much I love you."
The first of many to come, Sarah kissed her daughter's forehead.
"Your daddy's going to love you, too."

I've scarcely found time to write these last few days. For what entries there are recently, it comes down to several pictures and a few gushing sentences about what an amazing creature our daughter is. I'll catch you up on some of what has happened since Bria's birthday.
7 lbs, 11oz. 6:14 in the morning. Grandparents were standing by and pretty ecstatic. Uncle Toby has held her once already, still not quite sure what to do with her. In some ways, I'm not sure what to do, yet. All I know is that right now I'm really inclined to be selfish and keep Bria to myself (have I mentioned how amazing she is?). Doc says she's got the all clear from his standpoint. He's run about every test he can get away with (within reason). I gave him permission to take a good long look at the cord blood, which he might be sending off to some "very reliable" analysts. Otherwise, he just wants to keep close tabs on her.
The rest of the hospital bit wasn't too bad. Immediately after Bria was born, Jen had a minor freak-out that I'm not going to let her forget: after the baby comes the placenta. Jen either forgot in all the excitement or didn't know. She was sure there was a twin, for a moment. Okay, so I might have had to double check with Doc, too, but he just laughed.
We all got home from the hospital yesterday. She's already six days old. No, I'm not going to stop being all gushy and mushy for a good while now. After the whole birthing thing, I think I've earned it. Especially since I'm incredibly sore still, sitting on inflatable pool rings and hospital pads. Karen's been excited about having a baby in the house. I don't remember it much when Toby was born, but there were some other family things going on then, too. Jen and Amber have been over, alternating between needing to amuse me and insisting that I get some sleep. I'll be glad when I can move a little easier at any rate.
The whole exploding magic thing simmered down, which is definitely a relief. All in all, it seems that the world figured we'd suffered enough grief so as not to seriously complicate the actual birthing part, for which I am incredibly grateful. I wish you could have been there. I understand. It must have simply been impossible. But there's still some disappointment, I'm sure on everyone's part. I'm not blaming you. It's just a fact.
There might be some new things I can try now, since LT won't be in such immediate danger. It's still going to be well-researched and tested before it goes near my baby, don't worry. Again, after all this, I'm not going to let anything happen to her.
By the way, as we never came to an agreement in the name argument, I want to state, for the record, that this is a combination of our favorites, after my maternal grandmother (she gave me that figurine that looked like you. You would have liked her) and your mother's favorite flower. She's also a Williams because that's how we're keeping track of things here. You're legally Jareth Williams for Aboveground visits. It's a common enough last name that it's believable, if still weird, that I married someone with the same last name. You can make up a joke about how that's the only reason I picked you or whatever. "Williams," I've heard, means "master of." Thought you might appreciate that.
I'm sorry. My thoughts are everywhere right now. It's just a huge adjustment. In a lot of ways.
Missing you, love you.
Sarah signed the entry and set the journal down on the coffee table. She was definitely turning into a sappy sort of thing. Really, though, to a point it was to be expected.
There was a small sound on the baby monitor, a weird crackle before a few quiet noises from Bria. Sarah smiled and hoisted herself, carefully, off of the couch, grabbing the journal to replace next to her bedside. Each stair she took was precise and slow. The soreness was improving steadily but still highly uncomfortable. Trying to focus on something else, Sarah wondered what story she might tell her daughter next, recounting "proper" fairy tales to her daughter, those that were true and otherwise filled with thoughts of home. Bria would stare at her, curious blue eyes. Sarah wondered what color they might change to, given another week or so. Finally up the steps, Sarah opened the door to her room.
There was a man standing there. Sarah stopped breathing as a gloved hand reached slowly, tentatively down to rest on Bria's sleeping head, covered in a purple cap with butterflies. Still frozen, Sarah's mind recovered the instinct to breathe.
"I…I missed it," Jareth said, turning his head to the side but not looking at Sarah. His face was hidden by the shadows of the room, his hair tied back. "I tried every route, calling in every favor, coerced a few new ones, and still it wasn't enough. Tried everything I could." He dropped his head down for a moment, continuing in a voice of sad disbelief. "I could hear you, Sarah. I was so sure that meant I was close. I could almost hear her, somewhere after you held the necklace and announced I had a daughter. I missed it." He turned to face her then, still partially obscured in the dark though Sarah could see the sheen in his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Sarah."
Sarah broke out of her trance and ran to him, clinging to his shirt as he wrapped his arms around her, the journal slipping to the floor. He rested his cheek against her temple and shook with his own silent tears, eyes clenched shut. Sarah didn't care how loud her crying was. He was there. The world was going to right itself. He lifted his cheek away, resting his forehead against hers, taking in the nearness of each other once more after so long. He brushed a few strands of hair away from her face and behind her ear. She smeared away the tear marks, gently resting a hand on his face. With a shaking gloved hand, Jareth directed her jaw to his for a soft kiss. Sarah emitted a sob and returned to lean against his chest. His arms pulled tightly her to him, wrapping around her lower back.
Sarah hissed, "Ow."
Jareth let her go. "Did I hurt you?"
"I'm just a little sore is all. That whole delivery thing isn't exactly easy."
His arms returned, holding her firmly but gently. Jareth kissed her again. "You did a wonderful job. She's beautiful."
Her breath in broken shudders, Sarah continued to burrow closer to his chest. "You're here now. It's okay. It's going to be okay." Fragments of phrasing were murmured through their veils of tears, mixing with relieved, delighted laughter, caught in the wonder of seeing one another again after so long. The simple relief of holding and being held by the man she loved—reminding her that she had missed him more than she had written in her journals—was pleasant dull ache. The way he kissed her so lightly and sweetly seemed to say the same, as though he had to remind both of them what the sensation felt like.
"I'm so glad you're here. I almost can't believe you're here." Sarah whispered, noting the dark angles under Jareth's eyes as she searched his face, no longer required to pull it from memory. She traced his cheek with her fingers and he leaned toward her hand, a few stray tears spilling.
"I'm so sorry I couldn't be here for you, Sarah," he said again.
"You're here now. Please don't keep apologizing. You can make it up by not going anywhere for a while."
Jareth hesitated. The dark angles under his eyes seemed to spread, but Sarah couldn't be certain at with the angle.
"What's wrong?" she asked. Exhaling and with a depressed laugh, Sarah voiced what she already knew: "You can't stay. The veil isn't fixed, is it?"
"No," Jareth admitted.
"Can we all just go home now, sort things out back in the Underground?"
"I don't think it would be safe," Jareth confessed.
Sarah bit her lip and nodded, fresh tears submerging her vision into colorful waves. Bria began to fuss, a particular whine that Sarah was quickly learning turned into a full cry if left long. She broke out of Jareth's loose cradle to lift her daughter into her arms.
"You should at least meet your daughter," she declared with a sad smile. Bria hushed as Sarah rocked her, squirming into place.
"Jareth, this is your daughter. Brianna Iris, this is your daddy."
"Brianna Iris," Jareth repeated in awe, pulling off a glove to set a bare hand on her tiny cheek. "Was that one of the combinations we agreed upon?"
"Hon, we never agreed in the name argument. I've been calling her Bria. It seems to suit her, or there's always LT."
"I will call her mine," Jareth murmured, laying a gentle kiss on her forehead.
Sarah smiled more than it seemed her face could hold. "Would you like to hold her?"
"Right now, more than anything, but it will be hard enough to let you go again, Sarah."
Sarah met his eyes again; the dark angles had dipped into sharp corners, expanding halfway down his face and still moving.
"You need to go."
He closed his eyes and did not disagree.
"There, take that," she gestured to the journal she had dropped, "and the others by the bedside table there. It's not much, but it's something." She pulled him into a long kiss. "What did you do to get here, Jareth?" she whispered.
He responded with a strange grimace that made Sarah very nervous. After Jareth had the journals in hand, Sarah held him close again, the three of them standing together in her old room.
"I don't know if I can leave," Jareth lamented next to her ear.
"Go. We can wait a little longer." Sarah could feel her voice cracking. "I need you whole."
"Soon," he promised as he disappeared from her side with a ghost of a kiss on her cheek.
Sarah stood where she was for a moment, before easing herself on to her bed. She stretched out, allowing herself to absorb it all. Bria stared up at the ceiling, small legs curled. Sarah set her on the bedspread just watching her, laying a hand on her tiny body as it rose up and down, quick and strong.
"Soon, LT. We'll all be home soon."
Sarah waffled between a beacon of optimism and a cloud of worry for about a week or so before Karen commented on it. Jen had only waited three days. Still, after Post Partum depression had been mentioned, politely, the second time, Sarah broke down and told her family.
"He was here," she blurted. "I didn't want to tell you at first because I was still trying to sort it all out myself, and I knew you'd reassure me in a way that I wasn't ready to deal with either. But Jareth was here, and we can't go back just yet. I have no proof other than my missing journals."
Karen looked relieved. "I thought you'd given up on him when I saw they were gone and you weren't writing as much."
Jen took a different approach: "I still can't believe you didn't tell us. When?" she demanded.
"Shh, you'll wake Bria," Sarah said with a cheeky grin, clearly implying that the rest of the subject was going to be off limits for a while.
Karen had a question before she would let the subject drop: "Why does that make you upset? Is it still just the waiting thing or are there other complications?"
Sarah's face fell. Her mother was far too good at this. "He did something in order to get here. It was obviously draining him. As wonderful as it was to see Jareth again, I'm afraid he did something stupid."
"Well, probably," Jen supplied with a wide gesture.
"You haven't even met him, Jen."
"He was in the bubble, remember?"
"Jen, that so doesn't count. It was about—dear God—three years ago. We need a clip show or something."
"Please, no."
"Well, obviously. Still, you'll get a chance to meet him. Mom, I wish I could say that last time didn't count for you either. It wouldn't hurt for you and Dad to meet him properly, again, though. I'm sure once we get past the frying pans and magic spells, you guys would have all sorts of fun embarrassing me."
Karen gave a small smile. "Sarah, he's important to you. I don't believe I will have to resort to a frying pan again…unless he does something very stupid in which case it is a mother's prerogative to look after her own and I will not hesitate."
"If he does something worthy of frying-pan-ing," Sarah assured her, "I'll do it myself. Despite all the massive catastrophes, we have a healthy relationship."
Jen snorted, then lost it completely. Sarah had to admit to herself that her statement, indeed, had not been terribly reassuring. She had meant to say something more along the lines of "We've grown together," or "We've worked through it," but there was no retracting it now. Sarah couldn't help but giggle.
Sure enough though, Karen and Jen rejoiced and reassured Sarah of what Jareth's visit meant and could mean, going as far as to help her plan packing. Packing itself was relatively useless, given that a simple crystal could glean exactly what Sarah wished to take with her, but the activity made it seem real and allowed the three women just to spend time together before chatting around the kitchen table. Sarah begged off as Brianna awoke, likely demanding to be nursed as well as some basic attention. Jen confessed a need to leave and Karen to start dinner.
As Sarah was halfway up the stairs, Bria's crying suddenly stopped. Feeling that it was all too reminiscent of Toby's trip to the Labyrinth, Sarah frowned and began to climb faster.
Sarah cautiously crept through the half-open door. Her daughter—fussing but quietly so—was in the arms of a strange glowing man. He turned to face her.
"Please don't be alarmed, Sarah. I will not harm either of you."
Sarah stared at the strange man. Something about him was familiar. Sarah opted to keep the door cracked unless she needed to shout for help. "Who are you?"
The glowing around his body dimmed slightly as he gave a small, sad smile. "That's a question I've been asking of myself recently."
"Well, I don't think my daughter is going to be of much help," Sarah pointed out, wanting to keep her distance and otherwise suppressing the urge to snatch her daughter away and run. "Who are you?"
"I am her grandfather," he answered, his eyes fixed on Brianna's.
Sarah's brows knotted in confusion. "That's not all of it, though, is it?" She took another look at his glowing skin and clothing. "You're also the Spirit of the Moon."
He smiled, and Sarah noted a family resemblance. "Quite right."
"Jareth didn't tell me you were related. I mean he talked about his father, but not as though he could stop in any time soon."
The Spirit sat down on the bed, his glow dimmed further. "Yes, well, there are reasons for that." He glanced at the spot next to him then back at Sarah, silently inviting her to join him.
Still wary but not for fear for her daughter, Sarah wordlessly obliged.
"I did not know I had a past. I did not know I had a son, though I performed his wedding ceremony and knew that his new wife was trapped Aboveground while with child. There were other duties I have to attend."
Bria continued to fuss, now in earnest. Sarah held out her arms. "She's hungry. I don't think there's much you can do for that."
"Perhaps not," he admitted, reluctantly passing her over.
Covering herself and Bria with a blanket, Sarah began to feed her daughter, still trying to figure out her strange visitor.
"How did you remember?" she asked politely, also indicating that it was okay for him to turn his head back around.
"Jareth told me. A last resort, perhaps. Neither situation has been exactly easy for him, I understand."
"Yeah, I'd say so. I'm guessing that he isn't technically allowed to say anything to you?"
"Absolutely not. He could be banished, at the very least."
"Well, tree conclusions and otherwise count, I guess. He did say he tried everything," Sarah mumbled.
"That in mind, I hope you understand that you cannot tell anyone that I was here. I came before the veil was fully healed. I cannot be tracked or disturbed this way. Were anyone to suspect, my position and the alignment of the Underground could have been shifted." He sighed as Sarah watched wordlessly. "I just wanted to see her, even meet you properly, before I forget again."
"I'm glad you had the chance to stop by, then."
They shook hands, awkwardly but warmly all the same.
"It appears that my son has done well for himself, though I do not know how much of this to attribute to myself. There are some particular flashes of memory, but it is somewhat unsettling."
"Ordinarily I'd ask if you had any good dirt on Jareth, but I guess that nulls it. It seems sometimes that I have more to catch up on because he's lived so much longer than I have."
"Well, there is one particular story that comes to mind when he was quite young involving the bog. I don't suspect he enjoys tell it much."
"You two have the same smirk. It must be a good one."
"This little youthful indiscretion actually created the bog. From what I can piece together, I think he kept it around as a matter of pride and now tradition."
It was a good story, and soon Sarah and the Spirit were relaxed and laughing. Bria finished, burped, and fell asleep so Sarah passed her back to her grandfather who held her with rusty experience.
After the conversation died to a relaxed silence, Sarah added, "You know, he's a good king. Mischievous as hell, amongst other things, but a good king."
"That I have seen," agreed the Spirit, his luminance returning. "Again, I might take a strange sort of pride if I sure I had anything to do with it." He gently offered Bria back to Sarah. "I need to leave."
"I'd say stop by again, but I take it that's not possible. I won't say anything."
"Thank you, for my sake and yours." He adjusted his garments and Sarah had to squint as the full brilliance returned. "Expect Jareth in about three days."
"Will the veil be healed this time?"
"I suspect the veil will shift tomorrow."
Sarah frowned. "But he won't come for another two days?"
The Spirit's eyes began to take on glossy, distant sheen. "He'll still be unconscious."
Sarah set a hand on his arm, biting her lip. "What did he exchange in order to get up here? Can you tell me?"
"We reached a compromise," the Spirit murmured, suddenly entranced by the last stretch of sun reflecting along the wall. "He gave up some of his immortality. I must be going, Queen of the Goblins. I hope we can talk again, soon. The child will have to be blessed properly." A glimmer appeared in his eyes for a brief moment, replaced by the glassy stare.
"Goodbye, your Eminence." Sarah inclined her head in respect. When she went to meet his gaze again, she found the room was empty, save for her daughter sleeping in her arms.
"Three days," Sarah whispered as she placed Bria in her crib and switched on the monitor. She and Jareth would have a conversation about this compromise later, but for now: three days. With a wide grin, she went for the stairs. There were a few ends to tie up. She had to tell Karen.
Jen insisted on pulling together a celebration, Toby was allowed to skip school and the whole family refused to let Sarah and Brianna out of their sight all day, lest they miss a chance to say goodbye. Still, as soon as the sun had set, the Williams, Jen, Doc, Amber and her children, and even Derek gathered in the living room.
"I think this waiting thing has gone on long enough," Sarah declared, reclaiming her daughter from Toby. "Once everything has settled in the Underground, I'll send for you all. I can't wait to show you the kingdom."
"I'm still not going to get used to that," Derek stated, shaking his head.
"It's not that hard. Sarah's always felt she's superior to the rest of us," Jen jibed.
Sarah rolled her eyes, but instead turned to Brianna, setting her down in the sling draped over her shoulder. "I think it's time to go home, don't you, Bria?" She waved her arms—growing steadily chubbier as the days went—which Sarah took as a yes. "Alright, then. We wish—"
A pair of arms enveloped her from behind. "There's no need for that, precious one," a beaming voice spoke in her ear. "I'm here."
Arching her neck back, Sarah found those lips, twisting around to kiss him soundly. "It's about time."
Bria fussed with the shift in position, drawing her parent's attention. With an adoring smile, Jareth gently laid his hand on the side of his daughter's head. Meeting Jareth's gaze, Sarah could tell that the same choking bubble of joy in her chest was causing the unshed tears to build up in his eyes as well.
"Oh, he's here," Karen gushed, wrapping her arms around them. The rest of the group broke out of their stupor then, excitedly congratulating and laughing. Sarah made introductions, relieved that both Jareth and her parents were more receptive to one another, both parties thanking the other for watching over Sarah. Amber's children pulled at Jareth's jacket, wondering if they could see more magic. Holding Tyler, Amber apologized and tried to pull them away, until Jareth assured her it was quite alright and gave them each a crystal, which promptly changed into a number of objects.
"Shall we all go?" Jareth suggested to his wife.
Sarah caught the twinkle in his eye. "Yes, I think so."
Jareth tossed a crystal in the air.
"Wait! I haven't had a chance to—" Karen stopped speaking, realizing that she was no longer in their living room.
The whole party was, in fact, in the ballroom, surrounded by goblins, guests from neighboring kingdoms, and all other denizens of the Labyrinth. A great cheer erupted around them. Jan and Elizabeth pulled Sarah into a hug, gushing over Bria. Ack stood close to Toby who wasn't sure what to make of that toothy grin. Doc recovered from his shock and began laughing with the Fireys and the Frosties, wondering how they could detach, mix and match, and still have such a fine sense of humor, let alone function. Jan and Elizabeth introduced Sarah's parents to Joan of the dwarves and her consort. Sarah broke away from the pile of goblins at her legs to pull Jareth in with her, thanking him for the amazing welcome home. Amber and her children joined in an impromptu chicken chase, until Eleazar and Victoria accidently swished the chickens out into the courtyard with their tails, apologizing in everyone's minds that dragons simply take up a lot of room.
Sarah called Ludo over, and Sarah momentarily disappeared in the orange fur as Jareth reluctantly released her to the beast's hug.
"Sarwah back!"
"That's right, Ludo. Could you please lift me up?"
"Sarwah up," Ludo agreed, plucking her off the ground and setting her on his shoulders. Sarah was about to whistle when it occurred to her that she could tap into Jareth's magic again. Looking down at her husband, she winked, watching as his grin expanded. The firecracker certainly gained everyone's attention.
"It's good to be home," Sarah announced, finding it difficult to get the words out. "It's been too long." There was a cheer of response and Sarah held up her hand for quiet. "I'm sure much has changed here, and I look forward to exploring, but first I have someone to introduce to you." Sarah pulled her daughter from the sling and turned her to face the group. "May I present Brianna Iris, Princess of the Goblin Kingdom." As the cheers reverberated, Sarah indicated that Ludo should put her down. Jareth pulled her and his daughter close, resting his forehead against Sarah's. Through their re-established mental connection, Sarah could hear Jareth assertion that he would not allow either of them out of his reach again.
The party lasted for some time, including questions over Bria's unusual clothing ("It's called a onesie. They're very useful.") and curious pokes from many goblins who hadn't noticed the bundle until Sarah had made the announcement. The Frosties and the Fireys (along with an inebriated Derek and tipsy Doc) insisted that the party continue out onto the Labyrinth, the majority following in a massive parade.
The throne room suddenly quieter, Brianna put in a demand to be fed. Passing her daughter to her husband, Sarah hugged her family, Jen, Jan, Elizabeth and the others that had stayed (promising that they would be poofed home by midnight), before taking Jareth's hand and transporting themselves away from the group. Alone in their room, Jareth held his daughter with the included practice of simply being the officiator of the Labyrinth. She could tell this was different, though, by the look on his face.
She kissed her daughter's cheek. "I told you your daddy would love you, LT."
Jareth wrapped his arm firmly around Sarah, kissing her soundly. "I cannot say how good it is to have you home, both of you."
Brianna shrieked in earnest, tired of being ignored. Jareth reluctantly began to pass her back to Sarah.
"Would you like to feed her?" Sarah asked, understanding.
He frowned. "I lack the equipment."
Sarah laughed and twisted her hand, a bottle appearing. "I will teach you about the pump later. I think it will be coming back with me."
Jareth did not question any further, taking the bottle and offering it to his daughter. Sarah sat down next to him on the bed, and they watched her in silence. Eventually, she began to nod off, after spitting up a little on her father's shoulder. Sarah mopped up his jacket.
"Eau d'baby spittle. We'll get used to it. I stopped carrying about the stains by the second week."
Jareth smiled at Sarah, laying Bria down on their bed. He pulled Sarah down so that their daughter lay between them. The gloves were off, Sarah noted with a tiny grin as Jareth ran his hand along her cheek, into her hair.
"Hard to believe it's real, huh?" Sarah murmured, clasping her hand over his.
He nodded, alternating stares of amazement between his wife and his child. "What words are there, Sarah?"
She cupped his cheek, just relishing in the feel of his skin again. "Yeah, I kinda noticed you've been at a loss for them today. There's some I can think of that I'd like to hear you say, though."
An echoing voice filled the room: "EMILY, IT'S NOT FAIR. SOMETIMES, I JUST WISH—"
Before Sarah could register that their moment was about to be ruined by a wisher, she noted that she was standing in front of the child in question, possessively held by her husband, and both were dressed in their formal child stealing clothes.
"Don't," Jareth growled through gritted teeth. "Don't. This is your warning. Make your petty wish some other time."
The girl released her hold on her younger sister, eyes wide. Satisfied that the would-be-wisher was sufficiently terrified, Jareth transported himself and Sarah back to where they were.
Sarah snorted, then couldn't stop giggling. "Oh, God, did I miss you."
Jareth opted to stop her laughter with an incessant kiss. "She ruined our moment. I could have done much worse."
"I didn't even know that was allowed."
"Strictly speaking, it's not. Our secret?"
Sarah kissed him again. "Agreed."
"I love you, Sarah."
"There are my words," Sarah beamed, wrapping her arms around his neck, still careful not to disturb Bria. "I still love you, too, Jareth. Remember you're stuck with me. And LT. And whatever other adventures we manage to get ourselves into."
"I have never been so delightfully cursed, precious one."
"Good answer, love, good answer."

I've scarcely found time to write these last few days. For what entries there are recently, it comes down to several pictures and a few gushing sentences about what an amazing creature our daughter is. I'll catch you up on some of what has happened since Bria's birthday.
7 lbs, 11oz. 6:14 in the morning. Grandparents were standing by and pretty ecstatic. Uncle Toby has held her once already, still not quite sure what to do with her. In some ways, I'm not sure what to do, yet. All I know is that right now I'm really inclined to be selfish and keep Bria to myself (have I mentioned how amazing she is?). Doc says she's got the all clear from his standpoint. He's run about every test he can get away with (within reason). I gave him permission to take a good long look at the cord blood, which he might be sending off to some "very reliable" analysts. Otherwise, he just wants to keep close tabs on her.
The rest of the hospital bit wasn't too bad. Immediately after Bria was born, Jen had a minor freak-out that I'm not going to let her forget: after the baby comes the placenta. Jen either forgot in all the excitement or didn't know. She was sure there was a twin, for a moment. Okay, so I might have had to double check with Doc, too, but he just laughed.
We all got home from the hospital yesterday. She's already six days old. No, I'm not going to stop being all gushy and mushy for a good while now. After the whole birthing thing, I think I've earned it. Especially since I'm incredibly sore still, sitting on inflatable pool rings and hospital pads. Karen's been excited about having a baby in the house. I don't remember it much when Toby was born, but there were some other family things going on then, too. Jen and Amber have been over, alternating between needing to amuse me and insisting that I get some sleep. I'll be glad when I can move a little easier at any rate.
The whole exploding magic thing simmered down, which is definitely a relief. All in all, it seems that the world figured we'd suffered enough grief so as not to seriously complicate the actual birthing part, for which I am incredibly grateful. I wish you could have been there. I understand. It must have simply been impossible. But there's still some disappointment, I'm sure on everyone's part. I'm not blaming you. It's just a fact.
There might be some new things I can try now, since LT won't be in such immediate danger. It's still going to be well-researched and tested before it goes near my baby, don't worry. Again, after all this, I'm not going to let anything happen to her.
By the way, as we never came to an agreement in the name argument, I want to state, for the record, that this is a combination of our favorites, after my maternal grandmother (she gave me that figurine that looked like you. You would have liked her) and your mother's favorite flower. She's also a Williams because that's how we're keeping track of things here. You're legally Jareth Williams for Aboveground visits. It's a common enough last name that it's believable, if still weird, that I married someone with the same last name. You can make up a joke about how that's the only reason I picked you or whatever. "Williams," I've heard, means "master of." Thought you might appreciate that.
I'm sorry. My thoughts are everywhere right now. It's just a huge adjustment. In a lot of ways.
Missing you, love you.
Sarah signed the entry and set the journal down on the coffee table. She was definitely turning into a sappy sort of thing. Really, though, to a point it was to be expected.
There was a small sound on the baby monitor, a weird crackle before a few quiet noises from Bria. Sarah smiled and hoisted herself, carefully, off of the couch, grabbing the journal to replace next to her bedside. Each stair she took was precise and slow. The soreness was improving steadily but still highly uncomfortable. Trying to focus on something else, Sarah wondered what story she might tell her daughter next, recounting "proper" fairy tales to her daughter, those that were true and otherwise filled with thoughts of home. Bria would stare at her, curious blue eyes. Sarah wondered what color they might change to, given another week or so. Finally up the steps, Sarah opened the door to her room.
There was a man standing there. Sarah stopped breathing as a gloved hand reached slowly, tentatively down to rest on Bria's sleeping head, covered in a purple cap with butterflies. Still frozen, Sarah's mind recovered the instinct to breathe.
"I…I missed it," Jareth said, turning his head to the side but not looking at Sarah. His face was hidden by the shadows of the room, his hair tied back. "I tried every route, calling in every favor, coerced a few new ones, and still it wasn't enough. Tried everything I could." He dropped his head down for a moment, continuing in a voice of sad disbelief. "I could hear you, Sarah. I was so sure that meant I was close. I could almost hear her, somewhere after you held the necklace and announced I had a daughter. I missed it." He turned to face her then, still partially obscured in the dark though Sarah could see the sheen in his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Sarah."
Sarah broke out of her trance and ran to him, clinging to his shirt as he wrapped his arms around her, the journal slipping to the floor. He rested his cheek against her temple and shook with his own silent tears, eyes clenched shut. Sarah didn't care how loud her crying was. He was there. The world was going to right itself. He lifted his cheek away, resting his forehead against hers, taking in the nearness of each other once more after so long. He brushed a few strands of hair away from her face and behind her ear. She smeared away the tear marks, gently resting a hand on his face. With a shaking gloved hand, Jareth directed her jaw to his for a soft kiss. Sarah emitted a sob and returned to lean against his chest. His arms pulled tightly her to him, wrapping around her lower back.
Sarah hissed, "Ow."
Jareth let her go. "Did I hurt you?"
"I'm just a little sore is all. That whole delivery thing isn't exactly easy."
His arms returned, holding her firmly but gently. Jareth kissed her again. "You did a wonderful job. She's beautiful."
Her breath in broken shudders, Sarah continued to burrow closer to his chest. "You're here now. It's okay. It's going to be okay." Fragments of phrasing were murmured through their veils of tears, mixing with relieved, delighted laughter, caught in the wonder of seeing one another again after so long. The simple relief of holding and being held by the man she loved—reminding her that she had missed him more than she had written in her journals—was pleasant dull ache. The way he kissed her so lightly and sweetly seemed to say the same, as though he had to remind both of them what the sensation felt like.
"I'm so glad you're here. I almost can't believe you're here." Sarah whispered, noting the dark angles under Jareth's eyes as she searched his face, no longer required to pull it from memory. She traced his cheek with her fingers and he leaned toward her hand, a few stray tears spilling.
"I'm so sorry I couldn't be here for you, Sarah," he said again.
"You're here now. Please don't keep apologizing. You can make it up by not going anywhere for a while."
Jareth hesitated. The dark angles under his eyes seemed to spread, but Sarah couldn't be certain at with the angle.
"What's wrong?" she asked. Exhaling and with a depressed laugh, Sarah voiced what she already knew: "You can't stay. The veil isn't fixed, is it?"
"No," Jareth admitted.
"Can we all just go home now, sort things out back in the Underground?"
"I don't think it would be safe," Jareth confessed.
Sarah bit her lip and nodded, fresh tears submerging her vision into colorful waves. Bria began to fuss, a particular whine that Sarah was quickly learning turned into a full cry if left long. She broke out of Jareth's loose cradle to lift her daughter into her arms.
"You should at least meet your daughter," she declared with a sad smile. Bria hushed as Sarah rocked her, squirming into place.
"Jareth, this is your daughter. Brianna Iris, this is your daddy."
"Brianna Iris," Jareth repeated in awe, pulling off a glove to set a bare hand on her tiny cheek. "Was that one of the combinations we agreed upon?"
"Hon, we never agreed in the name argument. I've been calling her Bria. It seems to suit her, or there's always LT."
"I will call her mine," Jareth murmured, laying a gentle kiss on her forehead.
Sarah smiled more than it seemed her face could hold. "Would you like to hold her?"
"Right now, more than anything, but it will be hard enough to let you go again, Sarah."
Sarah met his eyes again; the dark angles had dipped into sharp corners, expanding halfway down his face and still moving.
"You need to go."
He closed his eyes and did not disagree.
"There, take that," she gestured to the journal she had dropped, "and the others by the bedside table there. It's not much, but it's something." She pulled him into a long kiss. "What did you do to get here, Jareth?" she whispered.
He responded with a strange grimace that made Sarah very nervous. After Jareth had the journals in hand, Sarah held him close again, the three of them standing together in her old room.
"I don't know if I can leave," Jareth lamented next to her ear.
"Go. We can wait a little longer." Sarah could feel her voice cracking. "I need you whole."
"Soon," he promised as he disappeared from her side with a ghost of a kiss on her cheek.
Sarah stood where she was for a moment, before easing herself on to her bed. She stretched out, allowing herself to absorb it all. Bria stared up at the ceiling, small legs curled. Sarah set her on the bedspread just watching her, laying a hand on her tiny body as it rose up and down, quick and strong.
"Soon, LT. We'll all be home soon."
Sarah waffled between a beacon of optimism and a cloud of worry for about a week or so before Karen commented on it. Jen had only waited three days. Still, after Post Partum depression had been mentioned, politely, the second time, Sarah broke down and told her family.
"He was here," she blurted. "I didn't want to tell you at first because I was still trying to sort it all out myself, and I knew you'd reassure me in a way that I wasn't ready to deal with either. But Jareth was here, and we can't go back just yet. I have no proof other than my missing journals."
Karen looked relieved. "I thought you'd given up on him when I saw they were gone and you weren't writing as much."
Jen took a different approach: "I still can't believe you didn't tell us. When?" she demanded.
"Shh, you'll wake Bria," Sarah said with a cheeky grin, clearly implying that the rest of the subject was going to be off limits for a while.
Karen had a question before she would let the subject drop: "Why does that make you upset? Is it still just the waiting thing or are there other complications?"
Sarah's face fell. Her mother was far too good at this. "He did something in order to get here. It was obviously draining him. As wonderful as it was to see Jareth again, I'm afraid he did something stupid."
"Well, probably," Jen supplied with a wide gesture.
"You haven't even met him, Jen."
"He was in the bubble, remember?"
"Jen, that so doesn't count. It was about—dear God—three years ago. We need a clip show or something."
"Please, no."
"Well, obviously. Still, you'll get a chance to meet him. Mom, I wish I could say that last time didn't count for you either. It wouldn't hurt for you and Dad to meet him properly, again, though. I'm sure once we get past the frying pans and magic spells, you guys would have all sorts of fun embarrassing me."
Karen gave a small smile. "Sarah, he's important to you. I don't believe I will have to resort to a frying pan again…unless he does something very stupid in which case it is a mother's prerogative to look after her own and I will not hesitate."
"If he does something worthy of frying-pan-ing," Sarah assured her, "I'll do it myself. Despite all the massive catastrophes, we have a healthy relationship."
Jen snorted, then lost it completely. Sarah had to admit to herself that her statement, indeed, had not been terribly reassuring. She had meant to say something more along the lines of "We've grown together," or "We've worked through it," but there was no retracting it now. Sarah couldn't help but giggle.
Sure enough though, Karen and Jen rejoiced and reassured Sarah of what Jareth's visit meant and could mean, going as far as to help her plan packing. Packing itself was relatively useless, given that a simple crystal could glean exactly what Sarah wished to take with her, but the activity made it seem real and allowed the three women just to spend time together before chatting around the kitchen table. Sarah begged off as Brianna awoke, likely demanding to be nursed as well as some basic attention. Jen confessed a need to leave and Karen to start dinner.
As Sarah was halfway up the stairs, Bria's crying suddenly stopped. Feeling that it was all too reminiscent of Toby's trip to the Labyrinth, Sarah frowned and began to climb faster.
Sarah cautiously crept through the half-open door. Her daughter—fussing but quietly so—was in the arms of a strange glowing man. He turned to face her.
"Please don't be alarmed, Sarah. I will not harm either of you."
Sarah stared at the strange man. Something about him was familiar. Sarah opted to keep the door cracked unless she needed to shout for help. "Who are you?"
The glowing around his body dimmed slightly as he gave a small, sad smile. "That's a question I've been asking of myself recently."
"Well, I don't think my daughter is going to be of much help," Sarah pointed out, wanting to keep her distance and otherwise suppressing the urge to snatch her daughter away and run. "Who are you?"
"I am her grandfather," he answered, his eyes fixed on Brianna's.
Sarah's brows knotted in confusion. "That's not all of it, though, is it?" She took another look at his glowing skin and clothing. "You're also the Spirit of the Moon."
He smiled, and Sarah noted a family resemblance. "Quite right."
"Jareth didn't tell me you were related. I mean he talked about his father, but not as though he could stop in any time soon."
The Spirit sat down on the bed, his glow dimmed further. "Yes, well, there are reasons for that." He glanced at the spot next to him then back at Sarah, silently inviting her to join him.
Still wary but not for fear for her daughter, Sarah wordlessly obliged.
"I did not know I had a past. I did not know I had a son, though I performed his wedding ceremony and knew that his new wife was trapped Aboveground while with child. There were other duties I have to attend."
Bria continued to fuss, now in earnest. Sarah held out her arms. "She's hungry. I don't think there's much you can do for that."
"Perhaps not," he admitted, reluctantly passing her over.
Covering herself and Bria with a blanket, Sarah began to feed her daughter, still trying to figure out her strange visitor.
"How did you remember?" she asked politely, also indicating that it was okay for him to turn his head back around.
"Jareth told me. A last resort, perhaps. Neither situation has been exactly easy for him, I understand."
"Yeah, I'd say so. I'm guessing that he isn't technically allowed to say anything to you?"
"Absolutely not. He could be banished, at the very least."
"Well, tree conclusions and otherwise count, I guess. He did say he tried everything," Sarah mumbled.
"That in mind, I hope you understand that you cannot tell anyone that I was here. I came before the veil was fully healed. I cannot be tracked or disturbed this way. Were anyone to suspect, my position and the alignment of the Underground could have been shifted." He sighed as Sarah watched wordlessly. "I just wanted to see her, even meet you properly, before I forget again."
"I'm glad you had the chance to stop by, then."
They shook hands, awkwardly but warmly all the same.
"It appears that my son has done well for himself, though I do not know how much of this to attribute to myself. There are some particular flashes of memory, but it is somewhat unsettling."
"Ordinarily I'd ask if you had any good dirt on Jareth, but I guess that nulls it. It seems sometimes that I have more to catch up on because he's lived so much longer than I have."
"Well, there is one particular story that comes to mind when he was quite young involving the bog. I don't suspect he enjoys tell it much."
"You two have the same smirk. It must be a good one."
"This little youthful indiscretion actually created the bog. From what I can piece together, I think he kept it around as a matter of pride and now tradition."
It was a good story, and soon Sarah and the Spirit were relaxed and laughing. Bria finished, burped, and fell asleep so Sarah passed her back to her grandfather who held her with rusty experience.
After the conversation died to a relaxed silence, Sarah added, "You know, he's a good king. Mischievous as hell, amongst other things, but a good king."
"That I have seen," agreed the Spirit, his luminance returning. "Again, I might take a strange sort of pride if I sure I had anything to do with it." He gently offered Bria back to Sarah. "I need to leave."
"I'd say stop by again, but I take it that's not possible. I won't say anything."
"Thank you, for my sake and yours." He adjusted his garments and Sarah had to squint as the full brilliance returned. "Expect Jareth in about three days."
"Will the veil be healed this time?"
"I suspect the veil will shift tomorrow."
Sarah frowned. "But he won't come for another two days?"
The Spirit's eyes began to take on glossy, distant sheen. "He'll still be unconscious."
Sarah set a hand on his arm, biting her lip. "What did he exchange in order to get up here? Can you tell me?"
"We reached a compromise," the Spirit murmured, suddenly entranced by the last stretch of sun reflecting along the wall. "He gave up some of his immortality. I must be going, Queen of the Goblins. I hope we can talk again, soon. The child will have to be blessed properly." A glimmer appeared in his eyes for a brief moment, replaced by the glassy stare.
"Goodbye, your Eminence." Sarah inclined her head in respect. When she went to meet his gaze again, she found the room was empty, save for her daughter sleeping in her arms.
"Three days," Sarah whispered as she placed Bria in her crib and switched on the monitor. She and Jareth would have a conversation about this compromise later, but for now: three days. With a wide grin, she went for the stairs. There were a few ends to tie up. She had to tell Karen.
Jen insisted on pulling together a celebration, Toby was allowed to skip school and the whole family refused to let Sarah and Brianna out of their sight all day, lest they miss a chance to say goodbye. Still, as soon as the sun had set, the Williams, Jen, Doc, Amber and her children, and even Derek gathered in the living room.
"I think this waiting thing has gone on long enough," Sarah declared, reclaiming her daughter from Toby. "Once everything has settled in the Underground, I'll send for you all. I can't wait to show you the kingdom."
"I'm still not going to get used to that," Derek stated, shaking his head.
"It's not that hard. Sarah's always felt she's superior to the rest of us," Jen jibed.
Sarah rolled her eyes, but instead turned to Brianna, setting her down in the sling draped over her shoulder. "I think it's time to go home, don't you, Bria?" She waved her arms—growing steadily chubbier as the days went—which Sarah took as a yes. "Alright, then. We wish—"
A pair of arms enveloped her from behind. "There's no need for that, precious one," a beaming voice spoke in her ear. "I'm here."
Arching her neck back, Sarah found those lips, twisting around to kiss him soundly. "It's about time."
Bria fussed with the shift in position, drawing her parent's attention. With an adoring smile, Jareth gently laid his hand on the side of his daughter's head. Meeting Jareth's gaze, Sarah could tell that the same choking bubble of joy in her chest was causing the unshed tears to build up in his eyes as well.
"Oh, he's here," Karen gushed, wrapping her arms around them. The rest of the group broke out of their stupor then, excitedly congratulating and laughing. Sarah made introductions, relieved that both Jareth and her parents were more receptive to one another, both parties thanking the other for watching over Sarah. Amber's children pulled at Jareth's jacket, wondering if they could see more magic. Holding Tyler, Amber apologized and tried to pull them away, until Jareth assured her it was quite alright and gave them each a crystal, which promptly changed into a number of objects.
"Shall we all go?" Jareth suggested to his wife.
Sarah caught the twinkle in his eye. "Yes, I think so."
Jareth tossed a crystal in the air.
"Wait! I haven't had a chance to—" Karen stopped speaking, realizing that she was no longer in their living room.
The whole party was, in fact, in the ballroom, surrounded by goblins, guests from neighboring kingdoms, and all other denizens of the Labyrinth. A great cheer erupted around them. Jan and Elizabeth pulled Sarah into a hug, gushing over Bria. Ack stood close to Toby who wasn't sure what to make of that toothy grin. Doc recovered from his shock and began laughing with the Fireys and the Frosties, wondering how they could detach, mix and match, and still have such a fine sense of humor, let alone function. Jan and Elizabeth introduced Sarah's parents to Joan of the dwarves and her consort. Sarah broke away from the pile of goblins at her legs to pull Jareth in with her, thanking him for the amazing welcome home. Amber and her children joined in an impromptu chicken chase, until Eleazar and Victoria accidently swished the chickens out into the courtyard with their tails, apologizing in everyone's minds that dragons simply take up a lot of room.
Sarah called Ludo over, and Sarah momentarily disappeared in the orange fur as Jareth reluctantly released her to the beast's hug.
"Sarwah back!"
"That's right, Ludo. Could you please lift me up?"
"Sarwah up," Ludo agreed, plucking her off the ground and setting her on his shoulders. Sarah was about to whistle when it occurred to her that she could tap into Jareth's magic again. Looking down at her husband, she winked, watching as his grin expanded. The firecracker certainly gained everyone's attention.
"It's good to be home," Sarah announced, finding it difficult to get the words out. "It's been too long." There was a cheer of response and Sarah held up her hand for quiet. "I'm sure much has changed here, and I look forward to exploring, but first I have someone to introduce to you." Sarah pulled her daughter from the sling and turned her to face the group. "May I present Brianna Iris, Princess of the Goblin Kingdom." As the cheers reverberated, Sarah indicated that Ludo should put her down. Jareth pulled her and his daughter close, resting his forehead against Sarah's. Through their re-established mental connection, Sarah could hear Jareth assertion that he would not allow either of them out of his reach again.
The party lasted for some time, including questions over Bria's unusual clothing ("It's called a onesie. They're very useful.") and curious pokes from many goblins who hadn't noticed the bundle until Sarah had made the announcement. The Frosties and the Fireys (along with an inebriated Derek and tipsy Doc) insisted that the party continue out onto the Labyrinth, the majority following in a massive parade.
The throne room suddenly quieter, Brianna put in a demand to be fed. Passing her daughter to her husband, Sarah hugged her family, Jen, Jan, Elizabeth and the others that had stayed (promising that they would be poofed home by midnight), before taking Jareth's hand and transporting themselves away from the group. Alone in their room, Jareth held his daughter with the included practice of simply being the officiator of the Labyrinth. She could tell this was different, though, by the look on his face.
She kissed her daughter's cheek. "I told you your daddy would love you, LT."
Jareth wrapped his arm firmly around Sarah, kissing her soundly. "I cannot say how good it is to have you home, both of you."
Brianna shrieked in earnest, tired of being ignored. Jareth reluctantly began to pass her back to Sarah.
"Would you like to feed her?" Sarah asked, understanding.
He frowned. "I lack the equipment."
Sarah laughed and twisted her hand, a bottle appearing. "I will teach you about the pump later. I think it will be coming back with me."
Jareth did not question any further, taking the bottle and offering it to his daughter. Sarah sat down next to him on the bed, and they watched her in silence. Eventually, she began to nod off, after spitting up a little on her father's shoulder. Sarah mopped up his jacket.
"Eau d'baby spittle. We'll get used to it. I stopped carrying about the stains by the second week."
Jareth smiled at Sarah, laying Bria down on their bed. He pulled Sarah down so that their daughter lay between them. The gloves were off, Sarah noted with a tiny grin as Jareth ran his hand along her cheek, into her hair.
"Hard to believe it's real, huh?" Sarah murmured, clasping her hand over his.
He nodded, alternating stares of amazement between his wife and his child. "What words are there, Sarah?"
She cupped his cheek, just relishing in the feel of his skin again. "Yeah, I kinda noticed you've been at a loss for them today. There's some I can think of that I'd like to hear you say, though."
An echoing voice filled the room: "EMILY, IT'S NOT FAIR. SOMETIMES, I JUST WISH—"
Before Sarah could register that their moment was about to be ruined by a wisher, she noted that she was standing in front of the child in question, possessively held by her husband, and both were dressed in their formal child stealing clothes.
"Don't," Jareth growled through gritted teeth. "Don't. This is your warning. Make your petty wish some other time."
The girl released her hold on her younger sister, eyes wide. Satisfied that the would-be-wisher was sufficiently terrified, Jareth transported himself and Sarah back to where they were.
Sarah snorted, then couldn't stop giggling. "Oh, God, did I miss you."
Jareth opted to stop her laughter with an incessant kiss. "She ruined our moment. I could have done much worse."
"I didn't even know that was allowed."
"Strictly speaking, it's not. Our secret?"
Sarah kissed him again. "Agreed."
"I love you, Sarah."
"There are my words," Sarah beamed, wrapping her arms around his neck, still careful not to disturb Bria. "I still love you, too, Jareth. Remember you're stuck with me. And LT. And whatever other adventures we manage to get ourselves into."
"I have never been so delightfully cursed, precious one."
"Good answer, love, good answer."

Epilogue There are many moments Sarah could use to explain her life because words themselves wouldn't do. What person could be summed up in a matter of lines and pages? Sarah continued to keep journals, though now when the page was stroked just so on the upper right corner, a captured image from a modified flat and flexible crystal would relay the episode in clarity. One activated page depicted her eldest's blessing by the Spirit of the Moon before all the leaders of the Underground. If the viewer looked closely, he or she might see a strange look cross the Spirit of the Moon's glowing face as the brilliance faded for a short second. There were unrecorded visits where the Goblin King would come to just talk, the Spirit offering him advice and thoughts on other kingdoms and listening to the Goblin King's life, family and politics, all in a professional capacity. A few subsequent pages detailed the outcry of a few scattered parties declaring this would lead to favoritism, though this was dealt with in time. The pages could only hint at the change in policy and practice over the kingdoms as no single event encapsulated it. Another activated page depicted their eldest in a particularly rebellious stage, constructing crystals of cubes rather than spheres as a subtle protest, much to her father's consternation and her mother's amusement. Otherwise, Brianna Iris's particular flair for magic was a result of her unique birthing—physician and father not being present to contain the potentially dangerous flashings—so that her early use of magic was very carefully watched for how quickly it would exhaust or overload her. There were more pages of worried moments, uncertain as to whether their daughter would recover, than Sarah would have liked, intermixed with a strange flux in children wished away in those early years. Thankfully, by the time their son Kai was born, Bria's magic had settled. Marek despaired at the thought of another addition to the Goblin monarchy sent specifically to torture him, even though Sarah reminded him, while allowing him to hold her son, that it wasn't always about him. Regardless, chickens were somehow magnetized to his boots for the rest of the day. Pages of frustrated magic. Pages of joyous exploration. Pages of pressured indecision, disappointment, tough love, happy tears, and contentment. But this is not the page I will leave you on. Those in between moments—laughing parents chasing toddlers down the hallway, new battles and coping with the demands of a kingdom, the epic game of hide and seek that still turned up a well-hidden goblin every couple of months or so, the fights and make-ups of the Goblin King and Queen, their children coming unto themselves—will be left mostly to your imagination. Unless the reader takes it upon themselves to break into the Royal Library and steal Sarah's journals, of course. I will leave you on this page. Jareth is holding Sarah on their balcony. Sarah has been crying silently and Jareth has been absorbing her tears. They are wearing black. Jareth rubs her back and she looks up at him. He kisses her temple. "Is it time?" she asks him. "Whenever you're ready," he replies with an indulgent smile. She exhales and rests her head on his chest again. "Then it's not time yet." Jareth chuckles and rocks her. "As you wish." Sarah sighs. "I shouldn't be this choked up, but it was all so sudden and I wanted to get all my tears out now." "You can be as choked up as you need to be. There are no mandates on how to mourn, Sarah." "Well, loud wailing is somewhat disgraceful." "Unseemly, yes, but forgivable and understandable." Sarah wipes the last tears from under her eyes, smiling up at her husband. She lays a hand on her lower abdomen. "It's partly your child's fault." "I would have thought after LT, L2, and Cal, number four would be easy, particularly after LT. And that without mentioning Ack's latest mess and the new campaigns." Sarah swats her husband playfully. Her smile fades again, and she looks out over the Labyrinth. "Do you think he'll be okay?" she asks after a moment. "Toby? In time, yes. I'm sure he will need you now." "I couldn't imagine losing you or Bria, let alone both on the same day. Maggie loved this place almost as much as Toby did, and when Cara was born he was so excited to be a dad. Now he's got Kevin to raise by himself. Half of his family gone just because some a-hole ran a red light." (Offstage, said a-hole screams from the bottom on an oubliette, already hoarse.) "If there's one thing I understand about time, it continues even when you rather it didn't. Toby will learn that grieving is not a matter of getting over something, but coping with it." "Put on your Wiseman's hat this morning, oh sagacious one?" Sarah teases. Jareth shrugs, smirking. "I'm right." "Yes, you are," Sarah agrees, squeezing him a little tighter. "Are you sure it would be a tree conclusion to bring everyone to the Underground?" Jareth exhales with a sympathetic smile. "Yes, I'm sure. It would be a selfish thing to do." Sarah meets his eyes. "What if they chose it and you fixed everyone's memory? I could wish them all here." "Would I then be bringing all of Jen's family? And what of their extended family? Would Maggie's family all come, too, or would they be separated from her remaining child? And what would they have to give up? Not everyone wants to live forever. Wouldn't Toby want to be reunited with his wife and daughter some day? And what other possibilities are we taking from the next generation to keep them here? Neither of us knows for sure." Jareth finishes his recitation. Resting her head against his chest again, Sarah breathes, "Thanks. I needed a reminder. This won't be the last time." "No," Jareth agrees, "It won't." "It still makes going home awkward, running into people who tell me I haven't aged a day. Telling them that I feel it even if I don't look it won't work when Jen is seventy-eight. The rest of the sewing circle is going to notice." "By then, you can claim to be your daughter." "Not if she's standing next to me." "You can joke that she's not really your sister, questionable circumstances and all." Sarah swats her husband again, not appreciating the implication she would be making on herself. "Or," Jareth continues, "There is the whole magic thing. Best yet, tell them the truth. When both your friends and Jen become old enough, you'll have their senility on your side." She turns serious again. "I'm slowly going to completely detach from the Aboveground, aren't I? As they all die away?" "Only if you let it happen that way, Sarah. You know you're free to come and go as you please between worlds." "You say that, but you'd come after me eventually, Jareth." "Of course." He smiles and kisses her, possibly manipulating time to his advantage. "I cannot let someone who has such power over me spilling my secrets for starters—" "—oh, come on, Kai's surprise attack on your birthday was priceless." "—and otherwise, you know there are a multitude of reasons why I wouldn't let us be separated if all it takes is a tiny bit of magic to be next to you again." Sarah has a particular half-smirk that Jareth associates with a specific good kind of trouble. "I suppose I'd miss you, too. But seriously, I might need to spend some extended time with my family." "I'll be there as much as I can. For whatever events Bria does not want to attend with us, I suggest we allow her a few additional responsibilities. She has a knack for creative solutions." Sarah rests her head against Jareth's chest again. "With Toby's wife dying, it's got me thinking. You know you're not allowed to die without me, right?" Jareth's brows merge closer together. "Sarah, is there something you're not telling me?" "No, nothing like that. It's just you and the kids. My parents, Toby, Amber, Jen, Doc, everyone else Above will be hard, but you and the kids, I don't think I could do it." "Sarah, we don't have to worry about that." Sarah eyes her husband. "Jareth, we both know that's not true. Remember that long discussion after Bria and I returned home? What you gave up to get to us? That my whole immortality thing was one of those 'seems like' things and essentially that's what you're at, now, too? How we still haven't figured out if that's passed to the kids or not? Because I do. It's been on my mind." Jareth takes her head between his hands, rubbing away the fading tear streaks on her cheeks with his thumbs. "There's always a risk, Sarah. But this is one we cannot do anything about. We'll fade into the Labyrinth, and our story will be done. But we get to make it now. See how far we've come already." Sarah snorts. "You really did put on your wiseman's hat this morning." Jareth shrugs with a grin. "Perhaps so. But I'm still right." "Careful. You'll use all that ability up in one day and I'll just have to be right for the rest of forever. For however long it's going to be." "I'm willing to find out." Sarah takes a deep breath and releases it. A small, calm smile forms. "I love you, Jareth." She kisses his cheek. "I think it's time to go. Should we go round up the troops?" Jareth gives a small start. "Goblins to Toby's wife's funeral?" Sarah rolls her eyes. "Our troops, Jareth. Jeeze." "That makes a good deal more sense." "Where are they, anyway?" "Bria is in her room, last I knew. I think she's mad at something Marek said about the Duke. I don't know if I like the looks she's been giving Duke Carrig." "Jareth, I think he knows you would eviscerate anyone who makes Bria sneeze, let alone cry. Bria knows that, too, which is probably why she hasn't told you who she's really interested in." Jareth raises an eyebrow, but Sarah waves him off. "Later, I promise. Kai and Cal?" "They are with Elizabeth and Triton. He is showing them some tricks with the main fountain, I think." "I hope none of those tricks will work with the bog, or we'll have an interesting mess. That Triton is so quiet, but he and Elizabeth are pretty adorable." Sarah eases out of Jareth's arms to check a mirror. "It doesn't look too bad, does it? Oh, here." She waves a hand in front of her face and is magically refreshed. "I still forget about that sometimes. Let's go round them up, then. Toby's going to need all of us, whether he ever mentions it or not, particularly as he won't be able to escape here for some time with all the things to tie up. Shall we go?" Jareth offers her his arm (his own shirt magically dried of Sarah's tears). "To the next adventure? Of course." The room is suddenly empty as the couple poofs away.

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