Continuing Tales

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 14 of 18

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Second Chances

Another week passed by, and things were becoming increasingly strained between Jareth and Sarah. She avoided him as much as possible, still confused about her feelings—and she was forced to admit now that she *did* have feelings for him—and whenever she could not avoid Jareth, he always made her uncomfortable with his words and gentle touches and the sly, knowing glances he cast her way…

What was worse was that Pixie was catching on to what was happening. In fact, she even seemed to be *encouraging* it, much to Sarah’s dismay. She always had some excuse to leave them both alone, and if Toby was there, she’d take him along with her. Jareth, naturally, was very much amused, and gratified, that the woman was on his side. Sarah, on the other hand, was beginning to feel like she was trapped in the middle of World War Three, surrounded by the enemy on all sides with no ammunition left in her weapons.

She tried to tell Pixie, several times, that she had no romantic interest in Jareth *whatsoever*, and that if Pixie knew him half as well as she thought she did, she would not be so eager to pawn him off onto her niece. Pixie simply replied that Sarah didn’t need to be so cold-hearted; it was obvious the man loved her. Why couldn’t she return his affections? Or at least admit to herself that she had them!

"Because he isn’t who he claims to be," Sarah would snap, exasperated. "He cannot be trusted."

To which Pixie would reply, "How is it that you seem to know so much more about him than I do if you’ve never met him before?"

Sarah, of course, had no logical answer…at least, not one that her aunt would believe. The best she could do was to hope that Pixie would discover some other little hobby to keep her interest besides the single status of her only niece.

* * * * *

It was on a lovely spring afternoon that Sarah found herself once again sitting on the stone wall in the field, joined not only by Mistofolese, but by Rumpleteaser, as well. She sat cross-legged on the wide wall, stroking the cats’ backs, deep in thought. About Jareth. As usual. "He’s of the fae," she told the cats, for maybe the tenth time. "The fae are not to be trusted. Especially this one! Yes, I admit that I feel a certain…attraction to him, but what I feel is only…infatuation. He’s incredibly handsome…okay, he’s downright gorgeous! But that doesn’t mean anything. I’ve known plenty of gorgeous men who were all as shallow as an empty swimming pool, and this guy’s the worst of them all! I mean, would he even know what love *means*?"

Mistofolese meowed loudly, a clear statement that he could care less whether or not the man knew what anything meant; all he wanted was another good scratch under the chin. Sarah snorted as she complied to the cat’s demands. "And here I am, taking orders from a stupid cat," she muttered.

A sudden whinny drew her attention to the far side of the field, where the Clydesdales were grazing. Two figures stood near them; Jareth and Toby, she realized, and wondered briefly whether or not to vanish before she was seen. No, she decided. She’d tried that once before and look how well *that* had turned out. Besides, Toby was there. She wouldn’t want him thinking his sister was weirder than she already was…

Just then, Toby spotted Sarah on the wall and waved excitedly, shouting something at her. She frowned and shook her head, indicating that she couldn’t hear him. He rolled his eyes, then gestured at her to come over. With an indulgent sigh, she obeyed. "Jareth’s taking me riding on the horses," he exclaimed proudly once she’d reached him. "Come with us. I bet you and he can fit on one horse."

Sarah gave her brother a sharp glance, then turned a glare to Jareth, who was attempting to smother a laugh. "This is your idea?" she asked suspiciously.

He looked properly innocent. "I have no idea what you mean," he replied calmly. "Well, do you wish to come riding with us or not? There’s plenty of room on Clyde here. I’m sure Toby would much rather ride on his own, but I wouldn’t mind some company."

"I’ll just bet," she muttered, trying to rid herself of the somewhat disturbingly vivid image of her seated atop the horse with Jareth’s arms wrapped securely about her waist, his breath warm on her jaw as his face brushed hers ever so gently…

"I’m going for a walk," she abruptly announced, trying to ignore her burning cheeks. "I’m sure you can ride a horse by yourself without falling off. You don’t need me to hold you on. You can always tie yourself to the saddle." She tried to make her voice sound mocking, but by the knowing look Jareth gave her, she knew that he was quite aware of the reason for her sudden haste to leave.

Gritting her teeth, she turned and strode into the woods, breathing deeply to cool her temper and her emotions. "What is the matter with me?" she wondered irritably. She was losing it. She had always been able to face Jareth down before, but now she turned tail and ran if he looked at her cross-eyed. She was a coward. "Coward! Ha! I can run through a giant rat maze without flinching, but as soon as some guy starts pouring on the charm I turn into Little Miss Muffet," she muttered. "I’m a disgrace to my gender."

She stopped to rest against a fallen tree, looking up at the sky. It was getting rather dark. Perhaps she had not been wise to walk in the woods. She sighed and hugged herself to fight off a chill that had nothing to do with the cool air, then turned and started back to the house.

She had not taken more than a few steps, however, when her foot caught in a hidden root and sent her tumbling to the ground. She landed with a thud at the foot of the tree. "Oh, now *that was graceful," she muttered, glad that nobody had been around to witness it. Especially Jareth. What would he think of her then, stumbling about like a drunk goat? Not a good impression to make on a king.

**And why the hell do I care *what* that creep thinks?** she thought savagely. His opinion was not supposed to matter to her. She picked herself up and examined her hands, which had scraped against the stones lying in the path. They were scratched, and bled slightly, but did not look too serious. The stinging was already becoming annoying, but it was nothing to worry about.

Her ankle, on the other hand, was. She hissed as she carefully removed her foot from the clutches of the tree root, cursing herself for her clumsiness. She was no doctor, but even she could tell that her ankle was severely twisted just by the pain of it, and by the fact that it had already swollen to twice its normal size. "Perfect," she muttered. "Oh, that’s just great! It figures! As soon as I get over being sick I have to go and injure something. I’m surprised I haven’t killed myself by now! Why don’t I just walk through the Bronx with a sign saying "Please shoot me" taped to my head?"

Using a low-hanging branch for leverage, she managed to gain her feet, but as soon as she set her injured foot to ground she nearly yelled from the pain of it. "Well, I guess walking is out of the question," she commented wryly. "Hmmm…that leaves me either sitting here waiting for someone to realize I’m gone, thus chancing a run-in with a not-so-friendly animal, or me crawling on my hands and knees back to the house with Jareth smirking at me all the way." She snorted. "Tough call."

Chances were, as soon as the sun set and she wasn’t back, Pixie would send out Isaac to find her. Probably Jareth would be sent to sniff her out as well, and she didn’t want to imagine the look he’d be wearing. That infuriating, superior smirk he always wore when he knew he was right about anything. At least if she tried to make it back on her own she had a slight chance of keeping her dignity intact.

Grimacing, she hopped forward a little, her hands gripping the trunk of a sapling to keep her balance. She tried again, and then again, and soon had a fairly regular pattern going. Hop and grip, hop and grip…stumble occasionally when her handhold broke under her weight…hop and grip. This was all well and good, but what happened when she reached the field and ran out of trees? She grimaced. Well, she’d think about that little problem when she got to it.

"Well, aren’t we in a bit of a pickle," a voice suddenly exclaimed, startling Sarah so badly that she yelped and released her death grip on a branch. Before she fell, however, a pair of hands caught her under the arms and steadied her, and a warm voice chuckled in her ear. "Run into a bit of trouble, have we?"

Sarah glared at the ground in front of her. "Yeah," she replied testily. "It’s standing right behind me."

Jareth laughed again, not at all put out. "That isn’t a kind thing to say to your savior," he scolded teasingly as he lowered her to the ground.

"My savior? Oh, please excuse me while I die laughing," she retorted. "Do you mind? I’m busy here!"

"Which is why it’s a good thing I’m here to help," he replied, and fixed her with a stern look. "We’ve been worried about you, you know. Are you aware that it is now six o'clock? Dinner was an hour ago. What have you been doing out here? Besides injuring yourself, that is."

"Cute," she sniffed. "I’ve been thinking, if you must know. I lose track of time when I think sometimes."

"Thinking about what?" he asked.

"*That* is none of your business," she replied haughtily.

"I see. Thinking about us then, is that it?" His voice was carefully neutral, and he did not look up from his task of examining Sarah’s swollen ankle. "Well, you certainly did a number on this," he continued. "It looks like it may possibly be fractured. I’m going to have to carry you back, to keep it from getting worse."

"Over my dead body you are!" she huffed. "And I was not thinking about ‘us’!" she added peevishly. "There is no ‘us’ to think about!"

"Isn’t there?" His gaze fixed on her, piercing her right to her soul, and she found herself unable to look away from his eyes. "There is more to what you feel than mere attraction," he continued in a soothing murmur, "although you no doubt have plenty of that. All you need do is let us happen. Is it such a terrible thing to love me?"

"I do *not* love you!" she protested quickly. Too quickly. He gave her another one of those knowing looks, but wisely did not press the issue. Much to her annoyance. She was raring for a fight, and he wasn’t going to make it easy for her to pick one. She frowned. Yet another example of how much the Goblin King had changed since she’d last seen him. Before, he no doubt would not have hesitated to toss her into an oubliette, or perhaps the Bog, for her smart remarks, but now he took everything she dished out, and although he could give back as good as he got, he rarely ever reacted to her temper.

Right now she wished he would though. She longed to see some sign of the old Jareth she knew, that she disliked so much, because then she would have an excuse, any excuse, not to like him. With this Jareth, who treated her so tenderly, she had no such excuse, and she felt increasingly guilty at her harsh treatment of him, despite effort not to care.

"I believe I can heal this," Jareth said abruptly, causing her to blink in surprise. She looked at him uncertainly. "With magic, I mean," he elaborated with a smile. "I have enough power to do that much for you."

"No way am I letting you witch me!" she protested hotly. "I still remember what happened the last time I had a run-in with your magic!"

He smiled slightly and cocked his head to one side. "Yes," he murmured. "One of the more pleasant memories of your visit. At least it was in the beginning. You dance very well, you know. Perhaps we should do that again sometime. Only this time, I’ll make sure there are no crystal walls for you to break through." His eyes twinkled teasingly, and yet she could not help but see that under the humor lay a lingering sadness. The same sadness she had seen before, right as she had torn away from him and escaped.

**It’s funny,** she thought. **I had never been able to see any of his emotions before. He was always so cold. But now…I wonder if he lets me see what’s in his heart because he…trusts me.**

The thought made her feel…well, not uncomfortable. A bit flattered, if anything. Also a bit flustered. Why would he trust her so much? And why would he want to love her? She had practically ruined his life, after all. She wasn’t sure she’d be half so forgiving were their positions reversed. She watched him as he took her ankle, his hands warm and gentle, hardly causing her any pain. "Just relax," he murmured to her soothingly. "Trust me. I’ll do nothing but heal you."

She finally nodded her consent, and he smiled slightly and closed his eyes, inclining his head over his hand, which hovered a mere inch from her ankle. There was a moment of complete silence, as though the very forest was holding its breath, and then suddenly she felt a faint tingle race along her leg, as though she were touching a live wire. She jumped slightly, biting back a gasp as his hand began to glow, the light streaming from it into her. Her mouth dropped open as she felt a soft warmth envelope her, and the pain in her ankle began to fade until it was reduced to nothing more than a twinge. The swelling went down, and very shortly Jareth held a perfectly sound ankle. Her mouth dropped open in astonishment. That had not been at all like she’d expected.

He was smiling triumphantly, although he looked a bit tired. Very tired, in fact, she noticed with alarm as she took in his white face. "Are you okay?" she asked, unable to keep the concern from showing in her voice. He smiled at her slightly.

"Of course. Why shouldn’t I be?" he asked, rising to his feet. He paused and winced, swaying slightly as he put out a hand to steady himself. Sarah immediately leaped to her feet to help steady him.

"Okay nothing, Mister! You’re exhausted!" she accused.

He chuckled. "Just a little tired," he replied with an unconcerned shrug, but she clearly wasn’t convinced. He watched as she searched his eyes, touched and hopeful at her obvious worry. "I’m not going to fade into the dust, if that’s what you’re worried about," he said teasingly. "Don’t worry. I’ll be fine after some rest."

"Jareth! If you knew healing me was going to take so much out of you why did you do it?" she asked in astonishment. "I would’ve healed on my own. It would have been longer, but I’d heal."

He met her gaze squarely. "There is nothing I would not do for you," he replied quietly. "You were hurt; it was my honor to heal you. Thank you for your concern. It’s quite touching."

She ducked her head, feeling unaccountably pleased by his words. "Well, it’s only polite. I mean, you’re in this state because of me," she mumbled. "Come on. We’d better get back. Here, lean on me if you’re tired. I’ll help you walk back."

He smiled slyly. "I certainly won’t object to that," he murmured, slipping an arm about her and pulling her closer to him. She ignored the odd elation she felt at his nearness, but she did allow him to keep his arm around her the whole way back to the house.

She couldn’t bring herself to admit how much she enjoyed that walk…

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 14 of 18

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