Continuing Tales

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 16 of 18

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Second Chances

At breakfast, Sarah stared down at her plate as she mindlessly pushed her sunny-side-up eggs around with her fork, deep in thought. Pixie, who was sitting across from her, finally gave a rueful chuckle and waved to gain her niece’s attention. "You know, if you would’ve rather had scrambled, I could have made them for you instead," she teased gently. Surprised, Sarah blinked at her, then looked down at her plate and grinned sheepishly.

"I’m sorry. I’m just not very hungry," she replied. "I’ll wash the dishes now, if you’re finished."

"That would be fine. My joints are a bit stiff this morning. I think I’ll go take a hot bath," Pixie replied, rising to her feet.

"Pixie…" Sarah bit her lip. "Are…are you okay? I mean…after what happened last night…are you really…you know…okay?"

Pixie eyed her niece, then smiled. "My mind’s still intact, if that's what you mean," she replied with a chuckle. "Don’t worry. I’m dealing with this little revelation of yours well enough. Actually, it makes more sense now when I think as to how I found Jareth. In the middle of the forest in a snowstorm, and dressed like some renaissance faire escapee, no less." She shook her head and laughed softly. "Something about his story never did quite fall into place, but now…I suppose a king running away from his kingdom makes as much sense as anything. I always thought he did have that air of royalty about him. He was the most arrogant man I’d ever met, until he realized he couldn’t push me around."

Sarah snorted. "He’s still arrogant," she muttered. "He always was, and he always will be. That kind of personality is genetic in his world."

Pixie laughed outright at that. "That’s true," she replied. "But you got to admit he pulls it off well. It’s amusing to see him get all huffy when someone insults him. Kind of charming, as well. He’s rather cute when he pouts, did you notice that?"

Sarah couldn’t help it; she burst out laughing. "Pixie…when I think about Jareth and his little tempers ‘cute’ is not a word that comes to mind," she giggled. "But…well…I guess you could say he’s…cute." She grinned and shrugged.

"Ah…so you *do* like Jareth," Pixie said slyly.

She grimaced. "I never said that," she hastened to reply.

"No, but it’s implied," Pixie insisted, nodding firmly. "Child, there isn’t any shame in thinking the man’s sexy. I’ve thought so a time or two myself, in fact."

Sarah snorted. "So why don’t you marry him?" she retorted.

Pixie laughed. "If I were fifteen years younger, I might just consider it," she teased. "Younger men aren’t my style, you know."

Sarah shot her a wry look. "Pixie, you realize that Jareth has probably been alive for several centuries already, don’t you?" she asked dryly. "I don’t think younger is much of a problem."

"I never thought of that." Pixie winked at her. "He looks good for being a few hundred years old. I’d love to know what his secret is." She listened, pleased, when Sarah started to laugh again, more than she had in the past week. Quite satisfied with herself, she left her niece to the dishes and headed upstairs for her bath.

* * * * *

Jareth dumped the last bucket of grain into the trough for the horses, gave Clyde a pat on the nose, and turned to leave the barn. He stopped in surprise when he saw Toby there, perched on a bale of hay, watching him with a mix of curiosity and caution. "Toby! I didn’t even hear you come in," he exclaimed, offering the boy a smile.

Toby didn’t answer for a moment, just kept staring at him with an unsettlingly discerning gaze. Jareth returned his gaze uneasily. Something about the boy’s manner set him on edge. "Is something wrong?" he asked, trying to hide his tension.

"Are you in love with my sister?"

That was the last thing Jareth had expected him to ask, and he opened his mouth to reply, found none, and closed it again, thrown completely off-guard. "What kind of question is that?" he said with a nervous laugh.

"A perfectly logical one. Well, are you?" Toby obviously refused to be put off so easily, and Jareth grimaced. Yes, the boy was definitely Sarah’s brother.

"I don’t see how it is any of your business…" he began, but stopped at the disgusted look Toby shot him, as though he was something one might find out in a cow pasture. He cleared his throat and nodded once. "Yes. If you must know, I am," he finally replied. "Does that bother you?"

Toby frowned. "I don’t know," he replied. He shot Jareth a knowing glance. "I heard what you were talking about last night. The thing is, I kind of already knew it."

"Did you? And how is that?" Jareth asked warily.

"I had a dream," Toby replied. He grimaced. "Well, I thought it was a dream, but maybe it was memories, instead. I’ve had it ever since I was a little kid. I’m sitting in this big room, and there are all these weird creatures, and then I remember being in another room full of stairs that went all over the place, and Sarah was trying to get me, but she could never reach me. Then, she jumped down from a ledge, and that’s when I’d wake up." He paused and licked his lips. "I sort of remember you, too," he said. "Only you were a lot bigger in the dream…and scarier. Not ‘cause of what you did to me, but ‘cause you made Sarah so scared. I thought maybe it was from all the fairy tales she used to read me, but that wasn’t like any fairy tale I’d ever heard."

"You were only a baby. How could you possibly remember all that?" Jareth asked in astonishment.

"I don’t know. But it’s true then? It was memories I dreamed?"

Jareth nodded slowly. "Yes. It’s true," he replied slowly. "Perhaps it was the magic that made you remember. I don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter."

"Were you really gonna turn me into a goblin? If Sarah had lost, I mean."

He grimaced. "Probably, Toby, I would have. That is my job, after all." He sighed heavily. "If things could have been different…but there is no use regretting the past. It happened, and it’s over."

"Did you love my sister back then, too?" Toby asked curiously. "I mean, if you loved her, why didn’t you just let her go? Why’d you go and put her through all that trouble?"

Jareth ran his fingers through his hair, sitting down beside him on the hay bale. "Because that’s the way the game is played," he replied. "Love is not an emotion that is…familiar in the Underground. When she first wished you away to me, I took you out of obligation, and because I was bored and your sister offered an interesting challenge. More than I’d anticipated, in fact. As she continued on, despite everything I threw at her, I began to see her as more than a pawn in my game. She drew me to her as no other mortal had before. She is a great dreamer, your sister is, and dreams are as important to my kind as magic, for to us, dreams are magic. Hers were the strongest I’d ever touched."

His face took on a sad, searching look. "I tried to seduce her," he admitted. "I could hardly help myself; she had cast a spell of her own over me, all unknowing. She was just a child…I should have known better. My many charms were no match for her purity and innocence. To her, this was just a play, a story in a book, and she already knew how it would end, despite my best efforts to change it. I was the villain, and she was the heroine, and the heroine always wins."

He gave a grimace of self-disgust. "I thought if I could only make her see that I was *more* than the villain she had cast me as; that I could be as good as I was evil, and that sometimes even a villain could love, then perhaps the game would end differently." He shook his head bitterly. "I had no idea how to prove something like that to her. I used trickery and seduction instead of honesty. It never even occurred to me to simply *tell* her how I felt, although that might have frightened her as much as anything. She was simply too young, too much of a child yet, to be able to understand what it means to truly love someone."

Toby listened to him speak, frowning thoughtfully. "What about now?" he asked when Jareth had finished. "I mean, she’s a lot older. Why don’t you tell her how you feel now?"

"It isn’t that simple, Toby," he replied. "I have never done anything to gain her trust, and I am of the fae, which automatically makes me untrustworthy, anyway." He gave a somewhat bitter smile. "I don’t know that she’d even believe me."

"I trust you," Toby stated simply.

He raised an eyebrow. "Even though I tried to turn you into a goblin?" he asked with a touch of humor.

"Well, like you said, the past is the past. Besides, you didn’t try to turn me into anything this time. You’re pretty nice for a grownup, and Aunt Pixie likes you."

"Thank you. That’s kind of you to say," Jareth replied wryly. "Now, how do you feel about me being in love with your sister?"

Toby made a face. "As long as you don’t get all mushy around me, I guess that’s okay," he replied. "Sarah should have someone who loves her. Cliff says he loves her, but I don’t like him. He’s kind of a creep, and he doesn’t like me, I can tell. He’ll probably send me to jail or some place if he and Sarah ever got married, which is why I’m glad Sarah doesn’t love him. But if she loved you, I guess that’d be pretty cool. I always wanted a brother."

Jareth gave a surprised laugh. "I suppose we would be brothers in a way, wouldn’t we?" he replied with a smile. "Never mind I’m old enough to be your great-grandfather and then some!"

"You’re that old?" Toby looked impressed. "Boy, you sure don’t look like an old geezer, although sometimes you act like one!" With a cheeky grin, he hopped down from the hay bale and bolted from the barn before Jareth could retaliate for that insult.

Later that day, as Sarah walked down from her room to grab some lunch, she heard talking coming from the kitchen. It abruptly stopped as soon as she entered, and she looked around in surprise. Around the table sat Jareth, Pixie, and Toby, and all three of them wore guilty looks, as though they’d just been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Sarah glanced at them suspiciously. "What’s going on?" she asked, narrowing her eyes. "You three planning on robbing a bank or something?"

"Of course not," Pixie replied innocently, taking a sip of her tea. "Whatever gives you that idea?"

Sarah rolled her eyes. "Only the fact that you look like a bunch of cats getting caught with your paws in the bird cage and feathers in your mouths, is all," she retorted. "What’s up?"

"We was just talking," Toby said. "Don’t have a cow!"

"Yeah, whatever." Sarah rolled her eyes, grabbed some leftover chicken from the refrigerator, and headed back up the stairs. Part of her was dying to know what the Three Stooges were planning, but the other part was far more interested in the book she had left upstairs, waiting for her to resume her reading. Whatever was going on, no doubt she’d be finding out about it soon enough.

* * * * *

She was right about the soon enough part. A knock on her door interrupted her reading. "What is it?" she mumbled distractedly.

"Sarah, I’m heading into town again today. I forgot to pick up a few things before. Toby’s coming with me, just to let you know," Pixie’s voice called through the door.

The story immediately forgotten, Sarah jumped up eagerly. "Well, hang on a sec, let me put on some shoes, and I’ll come with you," she called back.

"No!" Pixie’s voice sounded suspiciously alarmed at that suggestion, and Sarah immediately became suspicious. "I mean, I really need the bathrooms cleaned today, hon. Could you clean them for me? I don’t know how late we’ll be getting back. I’m going to stop at the post office to send a letter to Toby’s school, requesting that they send the lessons for the past few months to us, so he can catch up."

Sarah heard Toby give a groan of protest, and grinned in spite of herself. "That’s a good idea," she replied, loudly, so Toby was sure to hear. "That way we can be sure to keep him out of trouble. Threaten him with three pages of math lessons a night."

"Ha ha!" Toby retorted faintly.

Pixie chuckled. "Anyway, could you be a dear and clean those bathrooms for me?" she asked beseechingly.

Sarah sighed. "Oh, all right," she muttered. "If you insist."

"I insist." Pixie’s voice was teasing, and Sarah smiled.

Then a thought came to her, and she frowned. "Pixie, is Jareth going with you?" she asked suspiciously.

"Why, of course…unless you’d much rather have him stay here with you…" Her voice was sly as she answered, and Sarah felt her cheeks burning.

"By all means, take him," she replied hurriedly. "No need for us both to be locked up here."

Pixie gave another knowing chuckle as her footsteps receded down the hall.

* * * * *

Sarah finished scrubbing the floor of the last bathroom and sat back with a contented sigh. Done, finally! She turned off her Walkman and pulled off the headphones, wrinkling her nose at the smell of cleaning solutions on her gloved hands. As she put away the supplies, she suddenly froze, her eyes going wide. She could have sworn she’d just heard a noise from downstairs. It had sounded like something falling…

She slowly stood, heart pounding. **Okay, no need to panic. Probably just Isaac, knocking over a chair or something,** she thought. It had only been a few hours; the others wouldn’t have returned yet. She silently crept into Jareth’s room, whose window faced the front, and looked outside. Her truck sat there, but the old truck Pixie owned was missing. Biting her lip, she walked to her room and stared out the window toward the barn. Her heart sank upon seeing Isaac lounging in the sunshine, apparently asleep.

**Isaac is a great watchdog. If someone was in the house, he’d be having a fit out there.**

Unless he’d been drugged…or killed…

"Okay, enough of those thoughts," she scolded herself. "You’re being paranoid, as usual." Still…Isaac was awfully still out there…

"Enough!" she hissed to herself. "Only one way to find out what that was, and that’s to go down there and look!" Gathering her failing courage, Sarah nevertheless picked up a baseball bat from Toby’s room on the way, just in case. Hopefully the element of surprise was on her side. Of course, she’d probably made enough racket while cleaning to wake a dead man, and she knew she’d been singing along pretty loudly to her tapes…

**Maybe one of the cats managed to sneak inside,** she thought. **That Rumpleteaser is a little terror…**

Another clatter nearly sent her heart into cardiac arrest, and she paused on the stairs, gasping for breath while clutching her chest. She gripped the bat so tightly the tendons creaked in her wrists, and she crept slowly…slowly down into the living room…

**Do I smell…roast beef?**

She paused and sniffed the air deeply. Steak. And was that mashed potatoes? She scowled. **What on earth is going on? Don’t tell me someone broke into the house to cook me dinner!** She gripped the bat and strode boldly forward to the entrance of the kitchen, peering around the corner.

A face was peering back at her, and she shrieked at the top of her lungs in terror and instinctively swung the bat…right into the intruder’s gut. At the same moment, she recognized the face, and her terror fled as consternation took its place. In slow motion, she watched as Jareth fell to the floor, gasping in pain, clutching his middle and curling up into a fetal position.

"Oh, Saints, Jareth! I’m so sorry!" she gasped, tossing the bat aside and kneeling down beside him. "Are you okay?"

"Of *course* I’m not okay!" he gasped. "You just slugged me with a bat!"

Sarah sat back, gesturing helplessly. "I’m sorry!" she wailed. "I didn’t know anyone was here! Pixie told me you were going with them…I heard a noise…" She shook her head. "What was I supposed to do? Wait for the thief to find me instead? Gees, Jareth, you scared the hell out of me!"

Jareth slowly sat up, wincing painfully and clutching his side. "I suppose I can see your point," he muttered.

"Let me look at that," Sarah said, lifting his shirt. "I hope I didn’t break anything." She examined Jareth’s smooth, pale side critically, where a dark, ugly bruise was already beginning to swell. She touched it gingerly, and he grunted.

"I’m sorry!" she immediately apologized. "I…I can’t tell if any ribs are broken." She bit her lip, looking at him with a worried gaze. "Maybe I should take you to a doctor or something."

"No need," he grunted. "I can heal myself. Nothing feels like it’s broken. I can breathe okay. Just a nasty bump." Indeed, already the bruise seemed to be fading. He shot her a rueful look. "I suppose I should be glad you didn’t bring it down on my head, instead. That might be a little harder to heal myself from if I’m unconscious."

Sarah sat back on her heels, looking absolutely miserable. "I feel like such a moron," she muttered. "I should have looked first…"

He placed gentle fingers against her lips to silence her. "You were only trying to defend yourself," he replied gently. "Of course, if I had known you would come down packing a bat, I would have made my presence known much sooner." He shot her a smile designed to calm her fears, and it seemed to work. She relaxed, slightly.

But then a glint of anger came into her eyes. "Just what the hell were you trying to do, pulling a stunt like that?" she asked accusingly. "Do you enjoy attempting to give me premature heart attacks?"

"No more than you enjoy attempting to rearrange my insides with that bat," he replied, deadpan. He stood up, then, having finished healing himself, and with a gallant smile offered Sarah his arm. "My lady," he said with a mischievous gleam in his eye, "might I have the honor of escorting you to your dinner?"

Sarah eyed him, wondering for a moment if he hadn’t gotten brained with that bat, after all. Then she shrugged. "Why not?" she acceded, slipping her hand around his arm. He laid his other hand atop hers, giving it a gentle squeeze, and led her out, much to her surprise, to the back porch.

Her mouth abruptly dropped open in complete wonder. It was not the back porch they stood on, but someplace else entirely. Candles were everywhere; tall, pure white candles that glowed with brilliant, golden light, casting dancing shadows across the ground. White satin tapestries draped the walls, and gauzy streamers hung from the ceiling, floating softly in an unknown breeze. Crystals hung suspended in the air, twirling lazily, throwing thousands of rainbow lights across the room. Sarah froze. She knew this place, had seen it in her mind’s eye a thousand times.

It was the crystal ballroom.


Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 16 of 18

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