Continuing Tales

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 15 of 18

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Second Chances

Sarah tossed restlessly in her bed, trying to find a more comfortable position, before she finally gave any hope of sleep up as a lost cause and sat up with a heavy sigh. This was getting a bit annoying, this insomnia she’d been cursed with lately. She didn’t know how to cure it, either. Padding down to the kitchen to fix herself some chocolate, she was surprised to see that Pixie was still up, even though it was well after midnight. The woman smiled at her great-niece, not at all surprised to see her there, and offered her a chair at the table, which she accepted with a wary thank-you. A cup of hot cocoa was already resting before her, proving that Pixie had, indeed, known Sarah would be there.

Thankfully, though, she didn’t say anything as Sarah cradled the mug in her hands and stared into the dark liquid as though all the secrets of the universe would be revealed. As usual, her thoughts turned to Jareth, or, more importantly, to how Jareth made her feel. Strange was the best term she could come up with. Very strange, in fact, as though her emotions were on an out-of-control Ferris wheel and flying off every which way.

At one moment she was furious at Jareth for causing her some grievance, real or imagined, and wanted nothing more than to kill him for invading her life again when she’d made it very clear that he wasn’t welcome. But then, in the next moment, whenever he looked at her or smiled at her, or whenever he spoke to her in that gentle, almost loving manner, it was all she could do to keep herself from grabbing him and kissing him in ways that she’d only read about in books.

She didn’t know *what* was the matter with her. Nobody had ever made her feel and act so…so crazy before, and she wasn’t at all thrilled with the idea of feeling this way for the rest of her life…or at least until she left to go back to the "real world".

She grimaced. That was another problem. She was recovered fully, and she knew that she couldn’t hide up here in Daniel Boon land with Toby forever. At one point she was going have to end her little vacation and get back to work, and Toby had to go to school; he’d already missed too much as it was. But the thought of leaving her aunt was depressing; she had never realized how much she’d missed Pixie until she was back in her life again, and now that she was…

And this place was good for Toby, too. Sarah couldn’t remember seeing him so happy since before their parents died. He had grown these past months. His skinny frame had filled out due to the hard work Pixie put him through and to his own excursions in the forest, and his normally sour countenance had taken on a new life. He was a completely different boy from the little punk who’d played hooky and shoplifted convenience stores. His hair was growing out, and he refused to let Pixie or Sarah trim it, saying he wanted it to grow as long as Jareth’s.

Again, Sarah grimaced. **That’s another problem,** she thought. This misguided case of hero worship that the boy had apparently developed for the former king bothered her to no end, and she was honest enough to admit that she didn’t know whether or not it was fear for Toby’s safety or jealousy at their closeness that caused her to feel that way. Maybe it was both. After all, Toby was *her* brother, and the last time Jareth had seen him, he had attempted to turn the boy into a goblin. They should by all rights be enemies, even though Toby was hardly old enough to actually remember anything that had happened, but it seemed that Jareth, for some odd reason known only to him, had decided to take the boy under his own wing, so to speak.

Sarah scowled. Toby was *her* brother.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

Sarah jumped; she had forgotten that Pixie was still there. She smiled sheepishly and shrugged. "They aren’t worth that much," she replied. "But, if you must know, I was just thinking about Jareth and Toby."

"Ah, yes. It’s wonderful how they’re getting along, isn’t it? Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how well Jareth would deal with a teenager, especially one as curious as Toby. He’s a loner, you know."

Sarah smiled grimly. "Yeah, I’d kind of figured that out," she replied wryly. "He’s not the family man type."

"Oh, now that isn’t true. I think Jareth would make a wonderful father someday," Pixie replied impishly.

Sarah nearly choked on her mouthful of cocoa and stared at Pixie as though she’d suddenly grown another head. Jareth? A father? A *good* father? The woman was going senile!

Pixie, for her part, chuckled at her niece’s reaction. "Well, don’t you agree?" she asked with a teasing smile. "You’ve seen how he acts with Toby. He pays attention to him, and he treats him with respect, though he’s firm when he needs to be. Every boy needs a father, and Toby has found one with Jareth, and Jareth has taken on the responsibility like a true friend."

"But you don’t even know who Jareth is!" Sarah blurted without thinking. "He’s just some man you found in the forest! He could be a…a murderer for all you know! Or maybe he kidnaps little boys. He could be a pervert! I mean, come on! Do you even know anything about him?"

Pixie’s expression was grim as she regarded her niece. "I know that Jareth is an honest, honorable, caring man, and that whatever may have happened between you and him in the past is just that…in the past. It had no bearing here. You and he were brought back together for a reason…perhaps for a second chance. Why don’t you give it to him? It’s obvious you love each other a great deal, only you’re too stubborn to admit it."

"*I do not love Jareth*!" Sarah nearly yelled, leaping to her feet, the chair falling over backwards with a loud clatter. Her hands gripped her mug until her knuckles turned white, and she didn’t realize she was shaking until she glanced down to see the liquid in the cup quivering. Slowly, she took a deep breath, and her calm returned to her…enough so that the full impact of Pixie’s words suddenly sank in.

"Wait a sec! What do you mean ‘what happened in the past’?" she demanded, her face going white. "How do you know anything happened between us?"

Pixie nodded, as though confirming something. "I didn’t. Not until now, when you just admitted it. I had suspicions, of course, but nothing solid." At Sarah’s incredulous stare, she gave a snort of laughter. "Oh, come now, Sarah! I may be old, but I’m *not* senile! The way you two act, anyone with half a brain can see that you’ve met somewhere before, and the meeting wasn’t a pretty event. Something happened that you’d rather not speak about, and I respect that, although I wish you’d trust me enough to tell me, because I admit the curiosity is driving me batty!" She shot her niece a mischievous grin, and Sarah smiled weakly in response.

"Trust me, Pixie. You’d never believe me if I told you," she replied wryly. "It’s a rather fantastic account, and not quite your normal boy-meets-girl story."

Pixie fixed her with a thoughtful gaze. "Try me," she replied dryly.

Sarah frowned. "I think Jareth should agree to it first. It involves him as much as me," she said, looking for any excuse to put off the inevitable.

"I agree. Which is why it’s a good thing I’m here."

Sarah closed her eyes and stifled a groan as Jareth entered the kitchen, pulling out a chair across from her and fixing her with a look. She sighed, meeting his gaze. "Are you sure about this?" she asked.

"Well, the worst that will happen is that she’ll think her niece is insane," he replied teasingly, his eyes lighting in a wicked sparkle.

Sarah snorted. "At least you’ll go down with me," she muttered. "Well, okay then. I’ll tell the story, you listen, and don’t interrupt unless I say you can."

He raised an eyebrow. "Don’t I even get a chance to defend myself?" he asked with a small, mysterious smile.

"No," she replied bluntly, and turned to face Pixie, who was watching them with obvious interest. "Okay, just remember…you asked for it," she warned.

Pixie grinned ruefully. "I’ll try to keep from fainting from shock," she replied with a chuckle. "Now tell me what’s going on before I burst!"

Sarah shrugged. "Okay, well, I guess the first thing I should tell is that Jareth is not from England. He’s from someplace else entirely. Namely…the Underground."

Now it was Pixie’s turn to raise an eyebrow. "The Underground?" she repeated. "You mean…as in the land of the fae and the Sidhe and all that?"

Jareth was surprised. "You’ve heard of it?" he asked.

Pixie fixed him with a grin. "Dearie, I’m Irish, and my mother was Irish, and her mother was Irish. No self-respecting Irishman—or woman—would not know at least one tale of the fae folk, or anything about their home." Her grin was positively devilish. "Already this is interesting. I always did fancy a good fairy tale. Go on, then. I’m listening."

"This isn't any fairy tale," Sarah muttered. "Jareth, as I said, lives in the Underground. He’s…well…he’s the Goblin King. Or he was. But twelve years ago, when I was baby-sitting Toby one night, and sort of in a really bad mood, I went and…and wished Toby away to the goblins." She paused and searched Pixie’s face for any signs of disbelief, but her aunt’s expression was carefully neutral.

"Well, anyhow," she continued, "the goblins came and took Toby, and then Jareth came and offered me my dreams in exchange for him, but of course I wasn’t going to take them! I’m not a complete monster!" She fixed a brief glare on Jareth, who merely smirked. Disgusted, she chose to ignore him. Turning back to her aunt, she proceeded to tell her the whole story, from beginning to end. When she was done, she sat back in her chair and crossed her arms and waited for Pixie to either start laughing her head off, or to tear into Jareth for putting her favorite niece through such hell.

She did neither. Rather, she faced Sarah and, with sparkling, mirth-filled eyes, calmly stated, "My, you really *were* a brat back then, weren’t you?"

Sarah’s mouth dropped open in complete befuddlement, and Jareth let loose a loud laugh, throwing back his head, thoroughly amused at this most unexpected ally to his case. "Thank you, Pixie! It’s nice to know someone is on my side," he chuckled, shaking his blond mane.

"You’re not helping," Sarah growled, then glared at Pixie. "And what do you mean, I was a brat?! I’m not the one who tried to turn a baby into a goblin!"

"No, but you did wish for it, didn’t you? That’s just as bad, isn’t it? He only did what you asked of him."

Sarah opened and closed her mouth several times, speechless, not believing what she was hearing. Her own aunt was turning on her? It…it wasn’t fair! A glance at Jareth told her that she wasn’t about to get any help from him…not that she wanted any! "I didn’t know what I was doing!" she finally blurted. "How was I supposed to know the Goblin King was *real*? It was just a story!" She turned an accusing glance on Jareth, who gave her an innocent smile in response.

Pixie shrugged. "Real or not, you made the wish, the Goblin King obliged, and you learned a hard lesson. I think you should thank him, don’t you? He made you grow up a little, didn’t he?"

**More than she knows…** Sarah thought grievously as she relived the bittersweet pain of her journey. She had gained some insight and wisdom on that quest, but what had been the cost? Shattered illusions? A broken heart? A piece of her soul heartlessly torn away from her…but who was it that had done the tearing? Jareth? Or herself?

It was all too much to think about, so she refused to do so, instead focusing on another concept of this night’s revelation. "Are you saying that you actually believe all this?" she asked, fixing Pixie with a doubtful look.

"Well, I admit it would be easier if I could see some proof, but what reason do you have to lie to me?" she asked.

"Proof? That’s easily remedied," Jareth spoke up. He held out a graceful hand, concentrated, and in another moment a shining, delicate crystal hovered on his fingertips. A single flick of his wrist sent it spinning and dancing into the air, right toward Sarah, who instinctively flinched away. The crystal landed in front of her, an inch from her hand, and in a flash of light it had vanished. In its place lay a pendant. It was shaped in the form of a silver-white owl, suspended on a silver chain, with tiny sapphires for eyes and a small, glowing crystal cradled in outstretched wings.

Sarah’s mouth formed a silent oh as she slowly reached out toward it. It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. Before she actually touched it, though, she remembered where it had come from, and that it was most likely enchanted, and jerked her hand back as though burned.

"What’s the matter, Sarah? Don’t you like my present?" Jareth’s voice was lightly mocking, and she glared at him, but still did not touch the pendant.

"Sarah! It’s a gift!" Pixie scolded. "You should at least try it on!"

"You haven’t heard a word I said, have you?" Sarah snapped. "The peach was a ‘gift’, too, and look what happened with that? If you know anything about the fae, then you *know* they can’t be trusted!"

"But Jareth is only *half* fae," Pixie pointed out.

"How do you know that?" Jareth was obviously surprised.

"Well, any true fae could never survive as long as you have outside their own world, what with all the magic being gone from here. And the way you can handle iron. Any true fae couldn’t get anywhere near it, am I right?"

"Yes," he replied with a nod. "And I *am* only half fae. My mother, I’m told, was human. Which is why most of my kind refuse to have anything to do with me, as though ruling the goblins, the most despised of the races Underground, wasn’t disgraceful enough." His voice was bitter as he spoke, and he seemed to be gazing into some far-distant place that no mortal eye could see.

Pixie looked at him pityingly. "Why don’t you tell me your side of the story," she suggested kindly, to both Jareth and Sarah’s surprise. Sarah opened her mouth to protest, then slowly shut it again. After all, she’d had her say. Why not let Jareth say his piece? She sat back as Jareth began to recount the aftermath of their confrontation, his voice low and subdued.

Pixie was completely enthralled, Sarah could tell, and she could only imagine what her aunt was thinking. How her beloved niece wasn’t so great after all, that she was nothing but a selfish brat who nearly destroyed a man’s life. Sarah couldn’t blame her. The thought had crossed her own mind a time or two. In fact, it was crossing her mind right now as she sat there, and she began to feel more and more guilty as Jareth recounted how he had been forced to rebuild his entire kingdom with nothing but goblins and a dwarf to help, how his magic and his pride had been all but shattered, how he’d had to escape to the Above world to try to make sense of what was left of his life.

In fact, she felt about as low as a cockroach by the time he was done, and she didn’t dare meet his gaze, for fear that she’d burst into tears if she saw the pain and hate that was sure to be hiding in his eyes. Maybe that was why they were so shadowed all the time. Maybe that’s why he never let her see what he was feeling, because he was kind enough, at least, to spare her the guilt. For the first time, she wished she could go back in time and redo the entire event. Only this time she’d do it differently. She’d make a deal with Jareth, offer herself in Toby’s place. After all, she was the monster, and she was the one who deserved to be turned into a goblin or worse. Too bad Jareth’s magic *had* been shattered; he probably could have made it happen.

Slowly, aware that Jareth had finished speaking, she made herself look up until she met his eyes, steeling herself for the worst. What she saw, however, was enough to make her breath still in her throat and her heart to pound furiously in her chest.

What she saw was not hate…but love. Pure, unadulterated love.

There was pity there, as well, but not the kind of pity one might cast on a dead cat on the side of the road. It was the kind of compassion one felt when they knew a loved one was feeling pain, and shared their feelings. She stared at him for a long, unbelieving moment. He had never let her see so much of himself before, choosing to hide behind his masks of indifference, and the fact that he was allowing her to see his feelings now confused and scared and overwhelmed her. She abruptly stood up, her face nearly white, and stammered some excuse as she turned and fled from the kitchen.

Behind her, Pixie and Jareth exchanged knowing looks, and Pixie smiled reassuringly as she patted Jareth’s arm before standing to retire to her bed. She bid him goodnight and shuffled out of the room, deep in thought, apparently still trying to adjust to the fact that there was a mystical faerie sitting in her kitchen. He smiled as he watched her go, then sighed as his face took on a more melancholy cast. He stood and pushed in his chair, and then he, too, retired to his room for some much-needed sleep.

Neither of them noticed the shadowy form lying on the couch in the living room…

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 15 of 18

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