Continuing Tales

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 13 of 18

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Second Chances

When Sarah finally woke up, it was close to supper time. She heard Toby laughing hysterically from downstairs, and wondered what the fuss was. Yawning, she got out of bed and went down to the kitchen, the smell of beef stew letting her know that it was time to eat. Good. She was starving. After her day, she felt she could eat the whole kitchen. She smiled wryly at the thought as she entered the kitchen.

"Hey, Sarah! Jareth told me what you did to those reporters. Wish I could have seen it!" Toby exclaimed, grinning from ear to ear.

Sarah wrinkled her nose. "It was nothing spectacular, and it probably didn’t help much. They’ll be back, especially that creepy Vance. He saw Jareth. He’s probably typing the story right now about my secret lover." She rolled her eyes, attempting to make a joke out of it. Toby made gagging noises, and she swatted his head. "It isn’t true, dummy," she added playfully. "Just another rumor to feed to the idiots who read those magazines. If he told them I was married to Bigfoot and having an affair with Elvis’ ghost, they’d probably believe him."

"So why not tell them the truth?" Pixie suggested.

Sarah shrugged. "Won’t make a difference. They’ll just think I’m denying it. People believe what they choose to believe, and the thought that the Ice Queen might actually have a man tucked away somewhere will probably drive them all crazy with curiosity."

"The Ice Queen?" Jareth, who had remained silent until now, gave her a curious look, and she felt heat rise to her cheeks.

"Um…it’s a dumb nickname someone gave me, because I don’t date," she mumbled. "They all think I hate men because of that." She forced a laugh, for some reason embarrassed to be telling him this. "Pretty dumb, huh?"

"Do you hate men?" he asked curiously, and there was a hint of something hiding in his eyes that she could not quite see…

She stared at him incredulously. "Of course not! But they were never worth the effort of getting involved with, either. My career is too important. I don’t want to choose between a family and a career. The family I have is enough for me." She smiled at Toby, who rolled his eyes and kept eating.

Jareth seemed to sense that the subject was closed, so he turned back to his meal and ate in silence. He couldn’t help but wonder though…if Sarah’s career was so important to her, did this mean that she never intended to marry? Career-driven people had a habit of pushing those away who cared about them. He had done that several times himself, back in the days when he’d fought to secure his position as a king. He’d had several opportunities to settle down, as it were, but he had not taken any of them, not caring how many broken hearts he left behind.

It pained him to think that maybe it was his turn to be the spurned, would-be lover. He had seen something in Sarah’s eyes in the past several days, something that gave him a thrill of hope that maybe she did not find him to be as repulsive as she would like everyone to believe. But if it came down to choosing between him and her career—her very dream—he had a feeling as to who might be left in the dust. So what I must do is convince her that acting isn’t her dream. I must make her long for a new dream.

He would not use subterfuge and trickery to do it, however. He was certain it wouldn’t work this time around, anyway. He would do as the mortals did, court her as any fae or mortal gentleman would court his chosen lady. Of course, he wouldn’t tell her what he was doing. That was a sure way to make her turn tail and run. But he would sweep her off her feet, cause her to fall in love with him without her even realizing it. Maybe then…

A laugh from Pixie brought his attention back to the present, and he blinked and looked around. Sarah was relating to Pixie some humorous story about her job, and the older woman was nearly bent double with laughter. He smiled gently as he watched Sarah talk. She radiated such life and beauty. It reached out to him and drew him to her as no one had ever done before. They were bonded; he was almost certain of it. Now all he had to do was to make her realize it, as well.

* * * * *

Sarah stroked Mistofolese’s soft fur and stared out across the field. She was sitting on the low, broken-down stone wall that divided the field from the forest. It wasn’t much of a wall anymore, actually. Most of it had long since disintegrated from lack of care, and now only a few isolated sections were left jutting from the damp soil. One of the horses whinnied from where they and the cow grazed around the barn, where the spring grass was finally starting to grow. March was coming to an end, and so was winter, at last. It grew warmer every day, and flowers were beginning to bloom. Sarah hoped that another late snowstorm would not come to kill them all again.

Mistofolese purred as Sarah scratched his chin, and she smiled humorously. She didn’t know what had made the cat—who normally avoided everyone but Pixie—decide to join her, but she was glad for the company. A movement from the barn caught her attention, and she saw Jareth coming out of it. Quickly she slid from the wall and crouched on the other side of it, crossing her fingers and hoping that he hadn’t seen her. The cat gazed down at her quizzically and meowed loudly, as though asking what in the world Sarah was doing, hiding like a little kid who had done something bad.

She frowned and shooed the cat away, afraid he would attract attention. With a disdainful sneeze, Mistofolese stalked away, nose and tail in the air. Sarah leaned back against the wall, wondering if Jareth had gone inside yet, and then suddenly realized the absurdity of her situation and allowed a small chuckle to escape. What am I doing, anyway? Hiding from Jareth? How childish can I get?

It was just that lately Jareth had been acting rather…odd…around her, and she didn’t know how to deal with it. It was just little things, really. Offering to help her clean dishes, or commenting on how nice she looked…even when she had been out the barn and was covered with dust. It was also the way he watched her. She could feel his eyes on her all the time, and yet when she looked at him, he was always absorbed in some task and seemed oblivious to her presence…except at certain times when he almost seemed to want her to catch him staring.

Then he would look her straight in the eye, as though he was silently daring her to protest. He always held such secrets in his eyes, and she knew that they had to do with her, but she never tried to discover them. Some inner sense—possibly fear—told her to best leave well enough alone. But sometimes she just wanted to stare into those beautiful eyes until all the secrets of the universe were revealed…

Sarah blinked and shook her head, feeling the muscles in her legs cramping from squatting for so long. He was sure to have gone by now, she decided, and so grabbed the top of the wall and pulled herself up…

A pair of amused, blue-and-green eyes met her own, and she froze at the sight of Jareth leaning on the wall, chin resting on his fist and a slight smile on his lips. "Hullo," he greeted her cheerfully. "Might one inquire as to what you were doing hiding behind the wall? You weren’t hiding from me, were you?"

Sarah fought back the heat that flooded her cheeks. "My, aren’t we full of ourselves," she retorted. "Why would I want to hide from you? And I wasn’t hiding. I was…" She paused and searched frantically for an answer. "I was tying my shoes," she finished triumphantly, crossing her arms.

"Really?" Jareth’s grin widened, and he peered over the edge of the wall at her feet. "Well, that must have been some job, considering you’re wearing your loafers," he added smugly.

Sarah closed her eyes and stifled a groan. "Go away," she half pleaded.

Jareth frowned. "Why, Sarah, that isn’t a very nice thing to say," he replied in a condescending tone, though his eyes were glowing with wicked humor. He had caught her, and they both knew it. The best Sarah could hope for now was an escape…hopefully one with the remainder of her dignity fully intact.

"I have chores to do," she informed him stiffly, and moved to go around him. He blocked her path, and she glared up at him. "Do you want anything in particular, or are you just harassing me for lack of anything better to do?" she snapped.

He cocked his head at her. "You know, your hair is beautiful in the sunlight," he told her, quite softly and seriously. "It glows like shining satin. Is it as soft as it looks?" He reached out and ran his hand over her hair, twining elegant fingers through the dark, silken strands, as she gaped at him in amazement. Who was this guy? One moment he was making a mockery of her, just as the old Jareth was prone to do, and in the next he was treating her the way one would treat a lover! She didn’t know whether to be thrilled or alarmed at this sudden change in attitude toward her and the confusion she felt was beginning to wear on her nerves.

His hand was still buried in her long hair, and his fingers had found the back of her neck and were massaging it gently in a way that made her heart pound. With great force of will, she made herself jerk away from him, taking her hair with her. After giving him a long, searching glance, she shook her head, then turned and jogged toward the barn.

"Sarah, play Hide and Seek with me!" Toby begged. "It’s almost dark out, and it’s a great night for it! Please? We haven’t played in a long time."

Sarah looked up from her book, chewing on her lip. "I don’t know, Toby," she replied. "I mean, Hide and Seek is sort of a kids game, isn’t it?"

"Not the way I play," he said enthusiastically. "We dress up all in black, and the seeker carries a flashlight around to find everyone, but we have the whole barn and the field and some of the woods to hide in! It’ll be great!" He bounced on the balls of his feet for effect, and she grinned.

"Well…" she hedged.

Toby, naturally, took that as a sign of consent. "Great!" he hollered, racing to the kitchen. "Hey, Jareth! She said she’d play! C’mon! It’s almost dark out!" she heard him yell.

Sarah’s spirits plummeted. She had not known he was going to join in…

Jareth was smiling as he came into the living room. "So, you got sucked into this, too, eh?" he asked humorously.

"Well…I didn’t really say I was going to…" she stammered, trying to think of an excuse not to go.

He seemed to know exactly what she was trying to pull, and he grinned evilly. "Well, if you don’t think you can handle playing with me in the dark…" he began innocently.

Sarah’s eyes widened at his challenge. "I can handle anything you can dish out!" she protested. "I’m not scared of you!"

"Good. You’ll be joining us then?"

She pursed her lips. "Well, I wouldn’t want to disappoint Toby," she replied with a smirk. "But if I play, you’re the first one who’s going to be ‘it’."

He smiled at her, a real smile. "Deal," he agreed. "Go change into darker clothes. The night is not getting any younger, you know."

Sarah rolled her eyes and sighed. "The things I get talked into…" she muttered as she trudged up the stairs. Being alone out in the dark with Jareth was less than thrilling, but she wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of knowing that she was hiding again. Besides, Toby was there. He wouldn’t try anything with a kid skulking around. She squirmed into a pair of black jeans, pulled a navy sweatshirt over her head, and pulled her hair into a ponytail. Slipping into her sneakers, she pounded down the stairs and out the door, waving to Pixie on the way.

Jareth was lounging against the porch railing; Toby had already vanished. He smiled when he saw her. "You’ve got to the count of one hundred before I come after you," he told her, then grinned wickedly. "I hope you have a good hiding place in mind. I am quite the hunter, you know."

She rolled her eyes. "And I suppose you think that’s going to impress me," she retorted. "No cheating, and no turning yourself into that owl or anything to get a higher view."

"Dearest, I couldn’t turn myself into a mouse if I tried. My magic is not what it used to be," he replied dryly, surprised at himself for admitting it to her so readily. Yes, he had certainly changed since coming Above.

"Yeah, well, start counting," Sarah muttered, a bit uncomfortable at the term "dearest". He had recently started calling her that, and she wasn’t sure whether or not it bothered her. Deciding to ignore it for now, she turned and vanished into the night.

* * * * *

Where is he? Sarah wondered as she shifted her position behind the hay bales in the barn loft. She’d been there for almost half an hour, and Jareth had yet to even reach the barn. Guess he isn’t the hunter he claims to be, she thought with a smirk as she shifted yet again and fought to keep from sneezing from all the dust floating off the hay.

Just then, the barn door creaked open, and Sarah froze, her eyes going slightly wider and her heart rate picking up as tension gripped her. Relax! It’s a stupid game, for pity’s sake, she told herself dryly, but she couldn’t help but feel that there was something rather…exciting about being hunted, even if it was only a game. Now she remembered why she had loved it so much. The thrill of the chase, the survival of the fittest, friend against foe…Too bad we don’t have any paintball guns. That would make it even better, she thought regretfully.

Well, she wasn’t a millionaire for nothing. Maybe she’d go and buy some. Toby would love her for that. All that fame had some advantages, and she had a nice hefty sum saved up in various banks. Unlike most other stars, she didn’t spend everything she earned on frivolous things, and she handled her own accounts, knowing that there were too many dishonest people out there to trust anyone else to take care of them. Her parents had instilled in her a strong sense of preservation. Most of the people she knew would probably call her stingy, but she preferred to think of herself as being thrifty, not to mention smart. Should her career suddenly die (as it might very well do after that little stunt I pulled, she thought sourly), she’d still be well enough off to support herself and her family.

The sweep of a flashlight’s beam suddenly passed over her head and she ducked, stifling a gasp. The ladder leading up to the loft creaked, and she carefully inched her way back into the shadows, trying not to think about what creepy-crawly things might be hiding in them with her. Mice she didn’t mind so much. Even rats. They most likely would seek shelter elsewhere. But things like spiders could care less about sharing their space with people; they’d crawl over anything to get where they wanted to go, and Sarah had seen some doozies hanging around here…

She suppressed a shudder as the beam swept past her again and concentrated on breathing as quietly as possible. He was walking about, his footfalls little more than brushes against the wood and scattered hay as he checked each corner that might conceal prey. It really wasn’t fair that he should be so graceful, she thought with a pout. Why couldn’t she be half so light on her feet? Fifteen years of dancing lessons, and she still moved with all the grace of a pregnant cow next to him…

"Come out, come out, wherever you are!" Jareth softly called in a singsong tone, his voice filled with amusement. "I know you’re in here, Sarah. I can feel it."

She bit her lip and willed herself to blend in with the shadows. It was then she felt something brush her hand. She froze, her eyes going wide as the brush turned into the sensation of hairy legs crawling onto the back of her hand. She bit her lip harder and looked down at her hand, barely able to make out a dark form crawling over it…

Please, oh please let that be a mouse…

The longer she stared, the clearer the creature became. It was black, and it was huge…and it most definitely was not a mouse…

A spider. It just had to be a spider…

Well, there was no help for it now. Leaping to her feet, Sarah opened her mouth and let loose with a scream that would have made a banshee proud, flinging the huge, hairy wood spider—which looked like it could have been the distant cousin to a tarantula—into the air. The creature landed on its back, right at Jareth’s feet, its legs wiggling frantically in the air before it managed to turn itself over and scuttle away into the shadows, probably screaming its own little heart out.

Sarah, in the meantime, continued to hop all over the loft, her skin crawling, yelling and cursing and wringing her hand to rid it of the feel of those eight excessively hairy legs. She kept that up for some time before another commotion managed to penetrate her ranting, and she abruptly stopped when she realized what it was.

It was the sound of laughter.

Jareth’s laughter.

Jareth—*her* Jareth, the guy who rarely ever let go of that dignified façade he always wore—was sitting in the middle of the floor, holding his sides, and laughing fit to bust a gut. His eyes were closed, tears leaking from the corners, and his entire body was shaking as his mirth filled the loft. His velvet voice almost roared with his amusement, and Sarah could only stand there and stare at him like a complete ninny, her own mouth wide open in shock. Eventually, she finally remembered that she was the object of his merriment, and her face heated in a dark flush.

"I’m so glad I could amuse you, your highness," she bit out angrily. "Now if you’re done making a fool of me, can we please get on with the game?"

Jareth seemed to realize that he was upsetting her, and he slowly calmed himself down. "I’m sorry," he told her seriously. "It’s just that…I have never, ever seen you react like that to anything, and I…" He broke off as his lips twitched, and his eyes filled with laughter again. "What in the world were you doing?"

"I was dancing the polka!" she shot back. "What did it look like I was doing, you moron?! And you’d react the same way if you’d had that crawling over your hand!"

"I highly doubt it," he replied with a smile.

Sarah glared at him, then abruptly turned on her heel to march away, but he gripped her shoulder. "Don’t be angry," he pleaded softly. "I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings." She pouted for a moment. "Let’s just go find Toby," she finally replied. "And if you breathe a word of this to anyone, you’re dog food. Got it?"

He grinned. "You actually looked rather cute dancing about like that. And here I didn’t think anything could phase the unshakable Sarah." At her warning glare he held up his hand. "No more jokes," he added quickly. "Now, let’s go find Toby." He started for the ladder, then suddenly turned back to her, his face a mask of concern as he laid his hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes. "Are you all right?" he asked her softly, taking her completely by surprise. "You weren’t hurt or anything, were you? Honestly, from the way you were screaming, I thought you’d gotten something cut off at first."

"N…no," she stammered, staring at him with wide eyes. "J…just spooked."

He nodded. "Good," he replied. "I feel better knowing that. Well, we’d best go find Toby before he dies of old age." He smiled at her gently. "This has been a rather interesting evening, hasn’t it?" His smile widened at her hesitant nod. "If it makes you feel better, you startled me half out of my wits when you leaped up screaming like that, and I am not one who startles easily. You might regain a little pride in knowing that you one-upped the Goblin King with that little display."

She wrinkled her nose. "Oh, I feel so much better now," she sniffed.

He chuckled, and then his look became sly. "Well, perhaps this may help soothe your injured pride," he murmured, and before she knew it, he had leaned in and was fitting his mouth to her own in a most tender gesture. It was just the briefest touch of warmth and softness against her lips, the barest mingling of his breath with hers as his hand came up to stroke her cheek softly, and then he had drawn back, gazing into her eyes with more intensity than he had ever used before, before finally turning and climbing down the ladder, leaving Sarah to stare after him in astonished wonder.

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 13 of 18

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