"Persistive vegetative state... damage too extensive... nothing more we can do... life support..."
Jerry Williams numbly listened as a neurologist spoke in a soft, dispassionate voice and damned his daughter to a hellish existence. Not a life — an existence.
"No," Karen wailed suddenly and Jerry jerked slightly as the loud sound shattered the air. "If you turn off those machines, she'll die. You said so yourself."
The doctor arranged his expression into one of detached sympathy. "Mrs. Williams, I am sorry, but when that horse threw your stepdaughter, the fall broke her neck and her spinal cord was severed. In addition, the damage done when her head stuck the rock... She has no awareness of herself or of her condition, and there is no chance for improvement."
Jerry Williams vaguely registered the sound of his wife's muted sobbing as he nodded slightly at the doctor and turned back toward the dark-haired woman lying silent and unmoving on the hospital bed. Countless tubes that breathed for her, dripped nutrition into her body, and carried waste away almost obscured his baby girl completely.
'Oh, Sarah,' he thought, gently brushing his fingers over her pale forehead. 'How am I ever going to be strong enough to let you go?'
At home, Jerry and Karen told Toby of their decision, speaking as gently as possible to the eleven-year old boy.
"No," he shouted, his face going white. "You can't kill her. Sarah will be fine. She has to be fine."
"Toby, sweetie," Karen whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks, "She's not going to be fine. She's not ever going to wake up. No matter how much we wish that she would get better, she's not. It's best if we let her go be with God."
"God," Toby spat out contemptuously. "You said if we prayed, then everything would be okay. Well, I prayed over and over, and it's not okay. It's not!"
He jumped up and fled the living room, running to the safe haven of his bedroom. Pacing the floor, silent tears streaming down his face, Toby tried to figure out what to do. There had to be something to do. He couldn't just let them kill Sarah. He didn't care what they said. Sarah had always told him that he could have anything that he wanted if he just wanted it badly enough. She would be all right if he just knew what to do.
"No matter how much we wish..."
Toby froze in mid-step.
"God isn't listening," he said fiercely. "But maybe somebody else will."
In the attic, Toby found the box that held the things that Sarah had packed away ten years ago. She'd told him the story of their adventures in the Underground many times throughout those ten years. She had warned him never to repeat those tales, that no one would believe that they were real.
And she had told him of the crystal she had found in his crib upon their return.
"He threw it to you when we were in that awful room. I guess you just held onto it." The echo of Sarah's voice whispered through his mind. "I don't think that it's anything more than a crystal ball now. But I put it away. It's better to be safe than sorry."
Toby's hands shook as he opened the carton and moved the music box and the other things to the side. His fingers touched something hard and round wrapped in layers of tissue paper.
He pulled at the paper, shredding it carelessly until a clear sphere rested in his palm. He held it up and watched, fascinated, as light seemed to gather inside the crystal, causing it to glow faintly.
He screwed up his courage and said clearly, "I wish I could talk to the Goblin King right now."
Sarah had told him of the storm, the lightning and thunder that preceded the Goblin King's visit. She'd told him of the owl bursting into the room and the sparkling shower of magic that announced his arrival, and as soon as Toby had made his wish, he turned toward the window and waited.
But nothing happened.
The night outside remained still and calm. Toby strained his ears but couldn't hear even the faintest sound of thunder, and no owl appeared to scratch at the glass, demanding entrance.
His shoulders slumped and his head bowed. "It's not fair," he whispered.
"I truly detest that phrase," a melodious voice said from behind him.
Toby whirled to find a tall blond man leaning casually against the wall, his arms folded over his chest. Long hair fluttered softly about his shoulders, even though Toby couldn't feel any breeze in the room. The man was dressed in a pair of beige breeches and a white shirt open almost to his waist, revealing an odd medallion hanging from a cord around his neck. His mismatched eyes gleamed with secretive mirth as he regarded Toby.
"I—" Toby swallowed and tried again, shock causing him to blurt out the first thing that crossed his mind. "I thought you dressed all in black."
The man arched an eyebrow. "I only wear my formal attire when someone has been wished away. And that hasn't happened. Yet." He gave a predatory smile, and his voice lowered to a confidential tone. "But you are considering wishing someone away to me." His nostrils flared delicately. "I can smell it on you."
His eyes narrowed when he saw the crystal held limply in Toby's hand.
"Where did you get that?" the Goblin King demanded sharply.
"Sarah said that you gave it to me," Toby said, his voice shaking.
The Goblin King tilted his head. "Sarah?" he repeated in a remote tone, and his eyes narrowed. "You are her brother."
Toby nodded. "I need your help."
"My help?" The Goblin King looked astonished for a moment. "Why ever would you need my help?"
They sat side by side on a trunk in the attic, the eleven-year-old mortal boy and the ageless Goblin King. The tear-stained face of the boy was a stark contrast to the emotionless expression the king wore.
"Will you help me?" the boy entreated. "Will you make her well?"
"I'm not certain it's possible," the king replied quietly.
Toby looked stricken. "But Sarah said... Sarah said that you could do anything."
"She said that?" Jareth looked pleased for a moment, and then he gave a small sigh. "From what you have told me, Sarah has been irreparably damaged."
Toby's face fell. His eyes narrowed suspiciously, and he jumped up to face the Goblin King. "You hate her," he accused. "Sarah was right. You hate her, and that's why you won't help."
"I do not hate her," Jareth snapped, taken aback by the boy's sudden hostility. His manner softened as Toby's words sank in. "Sarah thinks I hate her? Why would she assume such a thing?"
Toby nodded. "Because you wouldn't talk to her. She said she called and called you, but you wouldn't come. She said that's when she knew you hated her." Toby hesitated and then said, "She doesn't think I know, but sometimes... sometimes it made her cry."
For a split second, an unreadable emotion flickered through the Goblin King's eyes. "When she said those words, I was no longer able to hear her call." Jareth said softly. "I no longer had any power over her. I still do not. She hasn't rescinded the words. Now, it seems, she won't be able to do so."
"But if I wish her away, then you will have power, right?" Toby said hopefully. "And you can make her all better.'
Jareth shook his head slightly. How could he explain to the boy that in her current condition, the strain of transporting Sarah into the Underground would surely kill her?
Jareth thoughtfully tapped his lips with a gloved finger. But there was one way...
His eyes locked on the boy.
"I am not certain you realize what you ask, Toby. If you wish Sarah away to the goblins, then she goes away with me. She cannot remain here."
Tears welled up in Toby's eyes, and his bottom lip trembled. "I'd rather that she was alive with you than..." His voice trailed off and his breath hitched in his chest.
"Then we must come to an understanding," Jareth said. "If I do this, you must swear that you will not choose to run the labyrinth in an effort to get Sarah back."
"But... but..." Toby stammered.
Jareth merely arched an eyebrow and regarded the boy evenly.
"Are you going to change her into a goblin?" Toby asked suspiciously.
"Of course not," Jareth said, frowning slightly.
The boy dropped his eyes for a long moment and then looked back up at Jareth. "Are you a bad man?"
"What?" Jareth blinked in surprise.
"Sarah said that she thought you were only pretending to be bad because she expected you to be. She said she didn't think you were really bad."
"I won't harm her, if that is what concerns you." Jareth's eyes glittered with sudden amusement and sharp white teeth gleamed as he smiled. "But she's wrong. I can be a very bad man. However, I assure you that Sarah will not mind in the least."
Toby looked confused, and Jareth waved a gloved hand, dismissing his concerns. "I promise she will be happy and content. Do we have an agreement?"
Hesitantly, Toby nodded. "Okay, we have a deal."
"Well, then," Jareth said, "when and where did this accident occur?"
Sarah looked up and frowned as the sky darkened. The weather report had mentioned the possibility of thunderstorms but had claimed they would be well to the east. Apparently, the weather forecast was wrong again, but she thought she had enough time to finish her ride before the storm grew to full force.
Raindrops pattered against the leaves covering the forest floor, and the wind picked up sharply as Sarah urged her horse into a canter. She wasn't as comfortable on this particular animal as she would have liked, but it couldn't be helped. The riding stable had already given the gentle mare she normally rode to another rider.
Sarah enjoyed riding; it was a bit expensive, but it was a chance to get away from everything and just relax. No boss demanding a last minute report be pushed to the top of her priority list and no well-meaning Karen wondering if she'd "met any nice young men lately". There was nothing but Sarah, the horse and the riding trail through the pretty woods behind the stables.
Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, causing the horse dance skittishly. As Sarah held the reins firmly and fought to bring the animal back under control, she had a sickening moment of déjà vu. The sense that something terrible was about to happen was overwhelming.
She shook it off quickly. She had to get back to the stables. This storm was moving much faster than she'd anticipated.
As she turned the horse back, she caught a glimpse of an owl gliding silently between the trees. She pulled the horse to a stop as a dark figure stepped into the path ahead of her, blocking her way.
Her eyes widened in disbelief. The Goblin King stood before her, just as beautiful and as indomitable as she remembered. His long blond hair and black cape whipped in the rapidly rising wind.
But it couldn't be him. In all the years since she'd left the Underground, he'd never answered her, no matter how many times she had invoked his name. No matter how much she had wanted to see him again.
Jareth glanced up at the sky, his eyes widening in alarm at the dark clouds roiling overhead and called, "Now, Toby."
"Jareth?" Sarah whispered.
Lightning struck with a sizzling crack, so close that the hair on Sarah's head rose with the static charge, and the reek of ozone filled the air. In the split second of stillness following the strike, the horse gave a trembling jerk and gathered itself, preparing to bolt.
In his bedroom, twenty miles away, Toby peered into the crystal left to him by the Goblin King. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he said quickly, "I wish the goblins would come and take Sarah away, right now."
Thunder roared down from the skies, shuddering the trees and shaking the very earth. The horse screamed shrilly in fear and bucked wildly, then galloped frantically toward the safety of the stables.
But it had no rider.
Sarah and the Goblin King were gone.
They appeared in his throne room and Sarah quickly looked around in confusion. Goblins were everywhere. Some were racing around the room in a manic game of keep-away; some were dancing to music that only they could hear, while still others lay in inebriated heaps, far too drunk to move. At their ruler's appearance, the goblins slowly stopped what they were doing. Dozens of curious eyes turned toward them.
Sarah whirled to face the man who had brought her here.
"What's going on?" she cried.
"Your brother wished you away," Jareth said, clasping his hands behind his back. "I've granted his wish."
"Toby wouldn't do that." Sarah shook her head. "He knows better." This was a dream. It had to be a dream.
"He did it in order to save your life," Jareth said with a faint smile.
"What are you talking about? I'm fine," she said, perplexed.
"In another second you would have been thrown from your horse and left lying as close to death as any mortal can be without actually dying," Jareth said quietly. "Your family was on the brink of removing the machines that kept your body clinging to life when your brother called for me."
"How can you know that?" she whispered, appalled at the images his words brought to mind and she fleetingly remembered that horrible sense of déjà vu.
"Because it had already happened." Jareth tilted his head and his eyes bored into hers. "I have reordered time for you once again, Sarah."
"This... This is insane." Her eyes widened suddenly. "Oh, god, is Toby in the labyrinth?"
"No," Jareth said, shaking his head. "There will be no one to run the labyrinth on your behalf. You are now my subject."
"I don't understand. Why would he wish me away and then not... Why would you do this? What do you want?" She stiffened suddenly. "Revenge?"
He laughed softly. "Because I hate you?"
Pain flickered in her eyes, and then it was gone. Sarah lifted her chin defiantly. "Well, don't you?"
Jareth glanced around the room and frowned at the goblins that were hanging on their every word. He'd never known them to be so quiet without being directly threatened.
He waved his hand, and suddenly Sarah found that they were standing in the sitting area of a large suite. A quick glance around at the masculine décor and the large four-poster bed had her gasping in alarm. Why had he brought her to his bedroom? Just what kind of revenge did he want?
She anxiously edged away from him.
"What are we doing here?" she spat out.
He lifted an eyebrow. "I wish to speak to you in private."
"And we have to do it in your bedroom?" she asked suspiciously.
He gave a delighted smile. "Do I make you uncomfortable, Sarah?"
She tensed and then lifted her head high. She wasn't going to let him get the better of her. "Not at all."
His smile widened to a grin.
"Liar," he said softly.
Sarah dropped her eyes. "Send me home."
"You are home," Jareth said imperiously as he tugged a glove more snugly into place. "You were wished away to me and there's no one attempting to retrieve you. In exchange for saving your life, your brother agreed not to challenge me. I did not believe that you would want the child in the labyrinth. Was I wrong in making that assumption?"
"No, you weren't wrong." Sarah's shoulders drooped. "But you still haven't explained what you're getting out of this."
Jareth didn't answer for so long that Sarah thought he was simply going to ignore her. When he finally spoke, his voice was oddly strained.
"I want a companion," Jareth answered. "I am alone far more often than I would choose."
Startled, she looked into his eyes.
When Jareth glanced away first, Sarah almost reeled in shock. He never retreated, never. Was he really so very lonely?
"Just what type of companion do you want?" she asked slowly.
When she accepted his words calmly, he smiled slightly and reached out a hand to lightly hover over her hair.
"That will depend upon you and what type of companion you wish to be," he said softly. His fingers briefly caressed the air above her hair, and then he moved his hand away.
Was he implying... Her mouth went dry. He was so close that she could see little flecks of gold in his eyes.
"Why now? Why not months ago? Years ago? I called—" Sarah closed her mouth abruptly.
Jareth's smile turned knowing. "You called for me."
"And you ignored me," she said, her voice sharp.
"I could not hear you, Sarah. Your brother told me that you had called. If I had but known, I would have answered." He stepped closer and his voice lowered to a near whisper. "Why did you call for me?"
She fidgeted with the hem of her sweater. Talking to him when she was prepared and had mentally rehearsed everything she wanted to say was one thing; standing across from Jareth in his bedroom and blurting out her questions was quite another. She took a deep breath and plunged ahead.
"I wanted to know if... if you make the same offer to every girl who goes through the labyrinth," Sarah stammered, her cheeks reddening.
"You mean this?" As he spoke, he was suddenly holding a crystal. Jareth idly wove it through his hands in a casual display of skill before holding it out to her. "A trifle that will show you your dreams? I offer this to everyone in exchange for the child they have wished away."
"That's not what I'm talking about." Sarah shook her head.
Jareth grinned briefly and, with a twist of his wrist, the crystal vanished.
"Yes, I know," he said.
He moved even closer, and Sarah had to struggle to catch her breath. He smelled like a heady mixture of flowers and spices and leather.
"You were such a devastating age," Jareth murmured. "Too old to simply give the child up in frustration and yet too young to be seduced away from your quest. Nothing worked. It fascinated me that no matter the distractions placed before you, you ignored them and continued on. You were so innocent." Regret tinged his voice. "Too innocent to understand."
"You still haven't answered my question," she persisted. "Do you make the same offer to every girl?"
"No," Jareth said quietly. "I had never made that offer before nor have I made it since."
Her eyes widened, but before she could ask anything else, Jareth stepped back.
"Come along, Sarah." He gestured toward the door. "I'll have a room prepared for you."
While the servants were cleaning her room, Jareth gave Sarah a brief tour of the castle.
Surprisingly, there were very few goblins to be seen. Jareth explained that he tried to keep them contained to certain areas of the castle.
"They tend to congregate here, even though they have homes of their own," he said, shaking his head. "They're like children in many respects. They're happier surrounded by their own kind."
"Are you the only..." Sarah's voice trailed off. She wasn't even sure what Jareth was.
"Yes," he said gravely. "In this kingdom, I am the only of my kind."
He volunteered no further explanation and Sarah decided it would be rude to ask. At least, right now.
When they returned to her room — next to his suite, she noted — it had been made ready. While not overly lavish, it was comfortable, and it was obvious that effort had been expended to make it cheerful. Vases of flowers were standing around the room, and the curtains were drawn back to reveal an open set of doors that led out onto a small balcony containing two chairs and a table. A quick glance confirmed that Jareth's much larger balcony was right next door.
Sarah walked out and looked down on the sweeping view of the labyrinth. Sections of the huge maze were brightened here and there with splashes of color. Flowers, she realized. There were whole areas that were covered with flowers.
"It's much prettier than I remember," she said.
"It can be beautiful," Jareth replied, walking to her side. He leaned forward, resting his hands on the stone railing. "But it has the potential to be very dangerous. I would prefer that you do not enter the labyrinth unless I accompany you."
'Beautiful but potentially dangerous,' Sarah thought, glancing at Jareth. 'Who does that remind me of?'
"I would very much like it if you would dine with me tonight," Jareth said, still looking out over the labyrinth.
She looked up at his profile. He continued to study the view, seemingly unconcerned with her answer, but Sarah glanced down and saw that his hands had tightened on the railing.
"Yes," she said softly. "Thank you for the invitation."
As she spoke, his hands relaxed.
Jareth straightened and turned to her with a smile. "I must leave you now. I have duties to attend."
When he reached the door, she stopped him. "Jareth, can I never go home again? I did before."
He turned back to her. "In that instance, you were the one who had wished someone away. Now, however, you are the one who has been wished away. I am sorry, but you cannot leave." His expression was sympathetic, and he hesitated. "Your friends are still here. I'll have them brought to the castle to visit you in the morning."
Sarah bowed her head and nodded, but her throat was too tight to speak.
When Jareth left, and the reality of her situation finally sank in, Sarah bowed her head and cried. She made her way over to the bed and sank down onto it, sobbing. When she'd finally cried herself out, she lay back onto the bed, staring blankly at the ceiling.
As difficult as it would be, she had to accept that could never leave this place. If she didn't, she would drive herself insane.
Sarah had slipped into a fitful sleep that was broken by a servant knocking on the bedroom door. A chubby little goblin female came in and introduced herself as Lydie, Sarah's maid.
"My maid?" Sarah asked, incredulous. "I don't need a maid."
"It's His Majesty's orders, ma'am," the girl said, wringing her hands. "I'm doing what I was told."
As Sarah looked into the goblin's anxious eyes, she remembered that Jareth had said they were similar to children.
"Then obviously I'm mistaken, Lydie," Sarah said gently.
The goblin looked relieved and announced that dinner would be served shortly. She was there to lead Sarah to the dining room and told Sarah that she would return after dinner to draw a bath.
"I don't have anything to sleep in," Sarah said softly. "Do you think you could find something for me to wear?"
Lydie assured Sarah that she would try to find something suitable to use as a nightgown.
Sarah followed the goblin through the hallways until they finally stood in front of the closed dining room door. Lydie left, and Sarah hesitated. Was she supposed to knock? Finally deciding to just go in, she cautiously opened the door.
A huge dining table draped with white linens dominated the room. The two place settings looked a bit forlorn grouped together at the end of the vast length of the table. Jareth was across the room, standing with his back to her, looking out a large window.
Sarah cleared her throat, and he turned to face her, a smile lighting up his face. At the sight, her heart stuttered in her chest. 'He looks happy,' she thought. 'Can he really be that happy just because I'm here?'
Sarah was suddenly and acutely aware of her grubby jeans and plain pullover sweater. Compared to Jareth's lace and leather finery, she felt like an ugly duckling. If she was going to stay here, she needed clothing.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know that dinner was formal, but I don't have anything else to wear," she said.
"You'll need a wardrobe," Jareth agreed. "I'll have one prepared for you." He crossed the room and held her chair. She was to be seated to his immediate right, she saw.
Sarah took her seat and then nervously smoothed her napkin out in her lap. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do," she said quietly.
He sat down and gave her a puzzled look. "About?"
"About anything," she said, horrified that tears had appeared in her eyes. She blinked them back viciously. "Where am I going to live? How am I going to make a living here? How am I supposed to pay for new clothes?"
Jareth looked surprised. "You needn't concern yourself with those things. You will live here in the castle, and whatever you want will be provided for you."
"I'm used to working for a living," Sarah said stubbornly. "I want to pay my own way."
Jareth laughed. "So independent, but it is completely unnecessary."
"I can't just live off of you," she insisted. "That would make me a—" Sarah stopped abruptly, horrified. She'd been about to say 'whore'. What had brought that to mind? She didn't know him well enough to even consider being intimate with him.
"—a leech," she finished quickly.
"And so you wish employment in exchange for your food and clothing?" Jareth mused. "This would please you?"
"It would make me a lot more comfortable with this situation," Sarah said firmly.
Jareth nodded slowly. "Do you know anything of gardening?"
"A little bit," Sarah answered, surprised. "I used to help my dad take care of the lawn when I lived at home, and I've got a window box in my apartment with flowers that I've managed to keep alive. Why? Do you want me to be your gardener?"
He smiled. "Not per se, more of a supervisor. I have a private garden that is tended by the goblins. Unfortunately, they require almost constant direction. I don't have time to instruct them as closely as is needed, and the plants have suffered for it. I would be appreciative if you would take over that role."
"This isn't something you're making up just so I'll have a job, is it?" Sarah asked suspiciously.
Jareth grinned. "After dinner I'll show you the garden, and you may judge for yourself," he answered.
The torches along the garden walkways were lighted with a wave of Jareth's hand. Sarah slowly looked around. It had the potential to be very beautiful, but there were places where weeds had overtaken the grass, and most of the shrubs were badly in need of trimming. Roses had been allowed to run wild instead of being trained to a trellis, and a marble bench by a decorative pond had been completely overrun with creeping ivy.
"I see what you mean," Sarah said, looking around. "But it's really nothing that a little hard work and patience won't fix."
"Then you will accept the task?"
"Yes," she answered absently, her mind already making lists of things to be done.
"Good," Jareth said, smiling. "I shall look forward to seeing your progress. You may start tomorrow, after you visit with your friends. Are there any other areas of the castle that you would like to see?"
"You have a library, don't you?" Sarah asked.
Jareth nodded. "Yes, we'll go there now."
As she entered the library, Sarah looked around in awe at the sheer number of books lining the walls.
"It's apparent that you like to read," she said. She pulled a book at random from a shelf. "The First Thousand Years," she read aloud.
"A beginning history of our world," he said, glancing over her shoulder. "It's quite accurate, if you are interested."
"You've read all of these books?" she asked, curious.
"It helps to pass the time." Jareth shrugged. "You're free to read anything here."
She held up the book in her hand. "May I take this back to my room?"
"Of course. This is your home now; these things are yours as well," he said.
Sarah looked at him sharply. "No, these things are yours. I don't have anything here."
For a moment, his eyes grew bleak.
"I hope you'll come to feel differently in time," he said softly.
Sarah dropped her eyes. She hadn't meant to hurt him. When she looked up again, his implacable mask was in place.
"It's growing late. I'll escort you to your room," he said.
When they arrived back at Sarah's room, Jareth hesitated.
"Would you care to join me for breakfast?" he asked. "Your friends should be arriving at the castle shortly thereafter."
"All right," she agreed.
"Then I bid you a good night," Jareth said. He bowed slightly and waited for Sarah to go into her room before walking to his own chambers.
Once in her room, Sarah found Lydie waiting. As soon as Lydie saw Sarah, the goblin began to pour water into a large bathtub set behind a screen in the corner of the room. When Sarah disrobed and sank into the hot water, Lydie gathered up her clothes.
"I'll take these things to have them washed, and I'll bring 'em back first thing in the morning," the goblin said.
"Wait, Lydie," Sarah said. "I don't have anything else to wear. I still need a nightgown."
"I've laid it out on the bed." Lydie popped her head around the screen and smiled at Sarah. "It's so soft."
Sarah blinked, not sure if the girl was talking about the nightgown or the bed. "Um, I'm sure it will be fine."
"Do you want me to stay and brush your hair?" Lydie asked.
"No, thank you," Sarah smiled. "I prefer to do that myself. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, ma'am," Lydie called out as she left.
When Sarah finished bathing, she wrapped a towel around her body and went to get the nightgown.
"Uh oh," Sarah said as she picked up the garment.
It was obviously one of Jareth's shirts. As soon as Sarah touched the shirt, she knew that Lydie hadn't been referring to the bed. Jareth's shirt was made of the softest fabric that Sarah had ever felt. The temptation to know what it felt like against her skin was overwhelming, and she finally gave in. She loosened the towel, laid it on the bed and pulled the shirt on over her head. The sleeves went past her fingertips, but she could fold those up. The hem fell to mid-thigh, making it fairly modest in that respect. However, it was the neckline that gave her the biggest concern. While the shirt might open to mid-chest on Jareth, it plunged almost to Sarah's navel.
She looked down at herself and shrugged. It wasn't as if anyone could see her, and she had nothing else to wear. Besides, Lydie promised that Sarah would have her own clothes back first thing in the morning.
Sarah took the book that Jareth had loaned her, climbed into bed and settled down to read.
The sound of someone knocking on her bedroom door woke Sarah. For a moment, she was disoriented and couldn't remember where she was, and then it all came flooding back to her. She sat up abruptly, and the book she'd been reading slid to the floor with a thud. Bright sunlight shone into the room from the balcony.
The knock sounded again, and Sarah jumped out of bed. It must be Lydie with Sarah's clothes.
Sarah opened the door to find Jareth standing there. His eyebrows shot up as his eyes moved over her, and the pleasant smile on his face quickly widened into a grin.
Sarah glanced down and gasped. She was revealing a lot of skin. She turned bright red and hurriedly grasped the neckline of the shirt, pulling it closed.
Jareth lifted his hand and suddenly a dark blue silk robe dangled from his gloved fingertips.
"Since you're already wearing my shirt," he said in a clearly amused tone, "perhaps you'd like my dressing gown as well."
"Lydie took my clothes to wash. This is what she left me to sleep in. I didn't have anything else to wear. It was this or a towel." Sarah winced as she heard herself babbling. She snatched the robe from Jareth and struggled to put it on with one hand. She wasn't about to let go of that neckline.
Jareth finally took pity on her, and smothering his grin, he took the robe from her and held it up in front of him so that she could slip her arms through the sleeves. Sarah quickly wrapped the robe around her, tied the belt at her waist and turned back to face him.
"I believe that looks better on you than it does on me," Jareth drawled. "You look quite charming."
"Is there something I can do for you?" Sarah asked, exasperated.
His eyes gleamed, and he gave a low laugh. "Several things do come to mind."
At his words, the blush that had begun to fade from Sarah's cheeks suddenly intensified. But it was the warmth that had quickly spread through other parts of her body that disturbed her most.
"However," Jareth continued with a smile, "at the moment, I will settle for your company at breakfast."
"I can't go like this," Sarah protested, gesturing toward his robe.
Before Jareth could reply, Lydie came running down the hallway.
"Ma'am, ma'am, I've got your clothes," she panted. Lydie skidded to a stop in front of Jareth and Sarah, and then dropped into an awkward curtsy to her king.
Sarah scooped her clothes out of Lydie's grasp even before the goblin maid had even risen from her curtsy.
Jareth smirked at Sarah's obvious haste.
"I shall meet you in the dining room," he said. As he walked away, he called over his shoulder, "Although, it is such a pity that you feel the need to change. Your current ensemble is really quite fetching."
Lydie looked at Sarah and giggled.
"Oh, oh, the king likes you," Lydie teased in a singsong voice.
Sarah watched Jareth's retreating form with a smile hovering on her lips. "Yeah, I think he does."
After breakfast, Jareth led Sarah into the castle courtyard to greet a very surprised and somewhat bewildered Hoggle, Sir Didymus and Ludo. As her friends surrounded her with joyous cries and crushing hugs, Jareth stood apart and watched them before turning to leave them to their visit.
Sarah frowned as she watched Jareth walk away and go back into the castle. After a few minutes, movement at one of the upper castle windows caught her attention, and she glanced up to see Jareth looking down at them.
"I am alone far more often than I would choose."
As her friends pulled her into another round of hugs, Sarah laughed, but her eyes were continually drawn back to a castle window where a king stood alone.
Supervising the goblins was trying, but not impossible. Sarah quickly learned that firm repetition was the key to gaining their attention, and her life settled into a pleasant blur of days spent tending the garden and visiting with her friends, and of evenings spent talking with Jareth.
She found that he had a particularly wicked sense of humor, and his sly remarks and skillful mimicry often caught her off guard before causing her to gasp in surprised laughter. They began trading stories of their worlds, and those tentative exchanges quickly escalated to more personal discussions.
Sarah told him of her hurt over her parent's divorce and her initial childish jealousy of Toby, and then of her disappointment in failing at her bid for an acting career. Jareth, in turn, revealed his restlessness at being obligated to rule over the goblins. While he didn't explain fully, Sarah was able to glean that his kingdom had been thrust upon him as a form of punishment for a youthful romantic indiscretion with the wife of a very powerful Underground noble.
"It is not something of which I am particularly proud," Jareth said, shaking his head. "But the woman was willing."
"Yes," Sarah had murmured, "I can well imagine that she was."
Jareth had looked surprised at her words, and then a speculative look had crossed his face. He obviously hadn't been certain if she'd been flirting with him or not, and at the time, Sarah hadn't been certain either. But that had been weeks ago and in the time since, they'd continued to grow closer.
He wasn't the cruel Goblin King he'd pretended to be for her earlier benefit. Well, she amended, sometimes he was but only when he had to be. He was merciless when defending his kingdom or his subjects, but he had never been anything except gentle with her. Sarah looked forward to their evenings together, spent talking or playing games or, like now, just reading together in the library in companionable silence.
She stole a glance at Jareth sprawled out comfortably in a library chair. She liked seeing him relaxed and at ease. Sometimes it was all she could do not to simply sit and stare at him. He was so beautiful that it was almost unreal, and her fingers tingled with the urge to reach out and touch him.
Sarah nibbled on her bottom lip in thought, staring blinding at the book in her lap. Jareth was flirtatious and charming, sometimes even blatantly suggestive, so why had he never tried to kiss her? He seemed very careful never to even touch her. But sometimes she would look up to find him watching her. It was as if he was waiting for something, but Sarah couldn't figure out what it was.
She glanced back over at Jareth and met his eyes. The clear longing that she saw there left her breathless. She blinked, and the self-assured mask he wore was instantly back in place, but in that unguarded moment, Sarah suddenly understood.
He was waiting for her to decide what she wanted from him.
Later that evening, Sarah sat at her vanity, idly running her brush through her hair. The days in the Underground had grown warmer and tonight the weather was verging on uncomfortably hot. She'd washed her hair and wanted it to dry before she went to bed. Maybe if she went out onto the balcony there would be a breath of air, she thought.
She glanced down at the delicate silk camisole and panties she was wearing and then looked over at the clock. It was very late, and Jareth was surely already asleep. There was only a quarter moon, and Jareth had once assured her that no one could see onto her balcony from the labyrinth.
Sarah leaned out the balcony doorway to peek at Jareth's windows. They were completely dark, so she should be safe enough without her robe. She stepped out onto the balcony and was greeted by a cooler breeze. Sighing contently, she lifted her damp hair high off her neck.
She sat down in one of the small chairs and began brushing her hair, her thoughts turning back to Jareth. Each night he escorted her back to her room and — like a perfect gentleman — politely left her at her bedroom door. And each night the urge to pull him in after her was becoming more difficult to control.
What did she want from him? Obviously much more than friendship. But she knew that wasn't the important question. The important question was how did she feel about him? If she could go home right now... Her breath suddenly caught in her throat as she realized the answer. She wouldn't go. At the mere thought of leaving Jareth, her stomach twisted and she felt sick.
She laughed softly. Well, what should she do now? Wake him up and make an announcement? Bring it up over breakfast? 'Could you pass the butter and oh, by the way, I've fallen in love with you?'
The tiniest of noises from Jareth's balcony caused her heart to skip a beat. She quickly looked over, but his windows were still dark. When the noise didn't occur again, she gave a small shrug and relaxed. It had probably been a bird. She drew the brush through her hair again, noticing that it was almost dry. The breeze increased, and Sarah bent her head forward, allowing her hair to fall freely over one shoulder while she brushed it. As she turned her head, she noticed a new variation in the shadows on Jareth's balcony. A lighter gleam where his chairs were. Almost as if someone with fair hair was sitting there.
Sarah swallowed hard. Her eyes widened as she made the connection. She wasn't the only one enjoying the cool night air. The noise on his balcony, a bird... He'd been out flying and had just returned. Now Jareth was sitting there silently watching her.
While she couldn't see him, she knew his ability to transform into an owl gave him almost perfect night vision, so he could certainly see her. Sarah turned her head away, ostensibly looking over the labyrinth. 'But he doesn't know I've realized he's there,' she thought with a smile. 'Maybe I should give him something to watch.'
She laid her hairbrush aside and tilted her head back. Arching her back, she slowly ran her fingers through her hair, fluffing it out and then shaking it into place with a languid toss of her head.
Rising, she stood at the edge of the balcony and leaned forward, resting her hands on the railing. Softly humming a song, she began to sway back and forth to the melody, adding a bit of extra swing to her hips.
As Sarah finished the song, she slowly went still. Without turning, she called out softly, "Jareth?"
"Yes?" His voice didn't hold the slightest tinge of remorse at being caught watching her.
"Why are you so far away?" she asked. She'd meant to sound confident, but her tone was plaintive, even to her own ears.
The silence stretched out until Sarah began to become uncertain. Had he not heard her? Or had she completely misread the situation? Maybe he didn't want her after all?
"Would you prefer I was closer?" he asked. His voice came from a few feet behind her.
She smiled but didn't turn to face him.
"Yes," she said. "But you're still too far away."
He moved nearer, and she could feel his breath on her cheek even as his voice spoke softly in her ear. "Is this close enough?"
Her nipples tightened and warmth bloomed in her stomach, rapidly spreading lower.
"Not yet," she whispered.
His arms slid around her waist, and she gasped as he pulled her against the length of his body. As he pressed an open-mouthed kiss onto the curve of her neck, her head fell back against his shoulder.
"And now?" he murmured before nipping at her earlobe.
Her breathing was already erratic, but she didn't try to hide it. She wanted him to know exactly how he was affecting her.
"Much better. You know, I figured out something tonight," she said softly.
"Hmm, yes, I could tell. Dancing about in your underwear? Wicked girl, you were doing that deliberately." Amusement colored his voice, and his tongue traced along the edge of her ear.
She shivered. "Not just that I want you, I already knew that," she said. "I realized that I love you."
His arms tightened around her, and then he turned her around to face him.
The absolute joy on his face brought tears to her eyes.
He dropped a light kiss on her lips. "Once again, Sarah, once again I will make this offer." He took a deep breath and said softly, "Just fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave."
Sarah looked up at him and smiled. "I was too young to understand before, and I'm sorry for that. But I understand now." She slipped her arms around his neck. "I fear the power that you have over my heart, but I trust you not to hurt me. I do love you. You're my king, and as your subject, I will do as you say." She gave a mischievous smile. "Now, I think that makes it your turn."
Jareth laughed. "And what is your first command?"
"Take me to bed," Sarah whispered.
Sunlight streaming in the window finally woke Sarah. She stretched sleepily, and Jareth's arm tightened around her waist. Smiling, she turned over carefully and watched him sleep. One strand of blond hair had drifted over his eyes, and she brushed it back. At her touch, his eyes opened.
"Good morning," she said.
He smiled. "Yes, a very good morning."
"I have an important question to ask you," she said.
"And that is?"
Sarah traced her fingers down his neck, across his chest, moving steadily lower. When her hand found him, his eyes widened, and she grinned.
"How many times do we have to do this before I don't want to do it all the time anymore?"
"I definitely think we should find out," he said solemnly.
"What a wonderful idea," she said, moving her hand slightly and wringing a soft groan from him. "And then you can reorder time so that we can go back to last night and start all over again."
He gave her a devilish grin. "Why, Sarah, how do you know I haven't done so already? I did promise to be your slave, after all."
As she blinked at him in surprise, he pulled her close and rolled her under him.
"Have you?" she demanded.
He kissed her, silencing her for a moment, but she pulled back and looked at him suspiciously. "You didn't answer me," she said.
"Shh," he said, kissing her neck, "I'm busy."
"You're kidding, right?" she persisted. "Right?"
As his mouth moved lower, she decided that they could talk about it later. Besides, even if he wasn't kidding, who wanted to argue with the possibility of an eternity of this?
One year later...
Toby sat in his bedroom, struggling to do his math homework. Who cared how long it would take two trains going 136 and 97 miles per hour to meet if they left New York and Chicago at the same time? You weren't going to be riding both of them at the same time.
"Your sister sends her love," a voice behind him spoke quietly. "She misses you very much."
Toby whirled to find the Goblin King standing behind him. He held a large wicker basket in one hand.
"Is she okay?" Toby asked frantically. "Can I see her?"
"She is quite well," Jareth assured him. "And she has asked me to visit you."
Jareth gestured for Toby to come closer.
Toby walked over, and Jareth pulled back the light blanket covering the basket. Toby gasped in surprise at the infant inside.
"Did you take somebody's baby?" he asked, horrified.
"No," Jareth laughed. "This is your nephew. Sarah wanted you to meet him. She wanted you to know that she has named him, in part, after you. His name is Quinn Tobias."
"Wow," Toby said. He reached into the basket and gently traced a finger over the sleeping child's tiny fist. Toby looked up at Jareth. "Who is... I mean... Is he yours, too?"
"Yes, he is my son. Sarah is my wife now," Jareth said. "I wanted to thank you, Toby. If not for you, I wouldn't have either of them."
Toby's eyes filled with tears, and he blinked them away quickly. "I miss her, too. But she's happy, right? You promised that she would be happy."
"Yes, she is happy," Jareth said. "And I promise that she will remain so."
Toby frowned suddenly with a flash of insight. "I'm not ever going to see any of you again, am I?"
"No," Jareth said gently. "My son and I have no place in this world. Sarah cannot leave, and you cannot go. But she has never forgotten you, and she asks that you do not forget her, either."
Jareth turned his wrist and a crystal appeared. "I've brought you a gift."
Toby looked at it suspiciously. "The last one disintegrated after I made that wish."
Jareth smiled. "This one will not grant a wish, but it will show you something very important."
"What?" Toby took the crystal and look at it curiously. It remained dark. "I don't see anything."
"Nor will you, yet." Jareth answered. "Look again on your 18th birthday, and it will show you the woman you are meant to spend your life with."
"A girl?" Toby said, disgust coloring his voice.
Jareth threw back his head and laughed. "Trust me, Toby, in time they will become quite appealing." He sobered. "Your sister wanted you to have a head start, so to speak. She doesn't want you to be alone as she was for many years. Sarah wanted you to know this woman's face so that when you meet her for the first time, you will recognize her. So that you will not waste time. In its own way, this is a truly extravagant gift."
"If you say so," Toby said doubtfully.
Jareth carefully tucked the blanket back over his sleeping son. "Goodbye, Toby. Be happy in your life."
At that, Jareth and his son simply faded from view.
Toby looked down at the crystal in his hand and shrugged. He carried it up into the attic and found the box of Sarah's things. Carefully, he wrapped the crystal in tissue paper, tucked it into the box and went back downstairs to finish his math homework.
In the attic, the magic within the crystal swirled and shifted, and then settled down again, patiently waiting for the right moment in time.