Continuing Tales

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 5 of 18

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Second Chances

Jareth moaned as he slowly came back to himself, his head swimming with stars. The last thing he remembered was taking an involuntary roll down a steep hill, and landing on a rock at the bottom of it. But now it felt like he was laying in something soft, and warm, and comfortable. What had happened? he wondered dazedly. Where in the world was he?

And why was someone rubbing wet sandpaper across his face?

He slowly opened his eyes in time to see a tongue coming at him, attached to a mouth with large fangs, which was in turn attached to a large, shaggy head. He was barely able to make out a whimper of protest as the tongue raked across his chin again. What a way to go! To be eaten alive by this…this…*whatever* this creature was! He’d rather have frozen!

"Here now! Get away, Isaac, before you scare the poor man to death!" a sharp voice proclaimed suddenly, and the head vanished. A light fell upon him, momentarily blinding him, and he flinched. "Well, now," the voice proclaimed again, somewhat dryly. "You’re awake, so I guess that means you’ll live."

Jareth raised his head slightly. Or rather…tried to raise his head slightly. It didn’t make it up very far before it fell back onto the pillow like a lump of lead, leaving his mind reeling like a pinwheel. "Ouch," he proclaimed sulkily.

The voice chuckled, and a new face appeared in his line of view. An old face that bore faint wrinkles and a pair of dark, sparkling eyes that could put a sprite to shame. For a moment he thought he was back in the Underground, and the woman before him was an elf. But no, she was too common to be of the fae. A mortal, then. One who had saved his life. "Serves you right," the mortal was telling him primly. "Maybe you’ll learn to lie still now."

"Where am I?" he asked sharply, looking around as best he could. He appeared to be in a bedroom, although it was nothing like his own grand bedchamber in the castle. "Who are you? Are you a peasant, from Earth?"

The woman gave a sharp laugh. "‘Peasant from Earth’?! And where do you think you’re from? Mars?" she snorted. "I’m not a ‘peasant’ from anywhere! My name’s Pixie, and you’re in my house, and I just saved your life, so you might be a little kinder in your words," she said firmly.

"Of course," he stammered, momentarily taken aback. He wasn’t used to having people talk back to him. Not if they valued their lives. He was offended, but pushed it down. She had no idea, of course, who he was. It wasn’t her fault. Besides, she *did* save his life, so he supposed he could put up with her insolence. "How did you find me?" he asked after a moment.

"Isaac," she stated simply, reaching over to pat the head of a huge, shaggy beast, the same one who had been trying to lick the skin from his face earlier. He regarded the creature with a mix of curiosity and loathing. Pixie noticed the look and laughed. "What’s the matter?" she asked teasingly. "Ain’t you never seen a dog before?"

A dog…Jareth searched his memory. There were no "dogs" in the Underground, they being strictly mortal pets, but he remembered that Sir Didymus’ steed was a dog. A very cowardly one, at that. Ambrosias was its name? It looked nothing like this huge, black creature though! His confusion must have shown, for Pixie shook her head. "Must’ve hit your head harder than I thought," she said. "Isaac is a Newfoundland. I’ve had him for years. He must’ve caught your scent on the wind or something, ‘cause he’s the one who led me to you. Good thing, too, elsewise you would’ve frozen solid. You may have a bit of frostbite on your toes; those boots of yours ain’t good for snow, you know. But it ain’t nothing serious."

"I…see," he replied slowly. "Thank you, then, for coming after me. If there’s anything I can do to reward you…"

Pixie gave a sharp laugh. "Reward me? Oh, piff! I done you a favor, is all. You’d do the same, were the positions reversed."

"Um…right," he replied, a bit guiltily, knowing that most likely he would have let her freeze rather than waste his time helping a mere mortal. The thought…shamed him somewhat, which made him uncomfortable. Shame wasn’t an emotion he was used to dealing with. At least, not often. He attempted to sit up again, and Pixie, sensing that he wasn’t about to quit, sighed and helped him up, shoving a few extra pillows behind his back.

"Are you hungry?" she asked. "I’ve made some chicken soup, to ward off the cold you’re liable to catch. Also some tea, to help with the pain. Eat up! Mind if I eat with you? It’s not often I have such intriguing company." Without waiting for his consent, she pulled up a chair and handed him a tray of food before settling herself into it, her own tray balanced on her lap. Isaac sat at Pixie’s side, watching her intently, and she laughed and gave him a bit of a sandwich, which he gulped eagerly. "Now," she said, turning those impish-yet-wise eyes back to Jareth, "if you’re up to it, why not tell me a bit about yourself, such as who you are, and why in blazes you were wondering about in a bloody snowstorm. Were you lost?"

"I…no, I’m not lost," Jareth stammered, thinking quickly. Well, as quickly as his muddled mind would allow him to. He suspected there was more in that tea she’d given him than painkillers. "My name’s Jareth. I’m…a wanderer," he continued. "I came from a far-off land, and I’ve been…wandering." Oh, now *that* sounded intelligent! He grimaced with disgust.

"A far off land? You mean England, don’t you? You sound like a Brit," Pixie replied.

"Er…yes. England," he agreed, making a mental note to find a map as soon as possible and study up on this "England" place. He really ought to have paid more attention when the Elders of the Grand Court had tried to teach him about Earth so long ago. Of course, back then he had never imagined he’d be coming here to live…

"So when you say you’re a wanderer, does this mean you have no place to live?" Pixie was asking, eyeing him carefully.

He hesitated. What was that word mortals liked to use…"I’m a vagabond," he replied triumphantly. At her raised eyebrow, his triumph deflated. Perhaps that term was a little old-fashioned…

"That’s an English term for a bum?" she asked wryly.

He hesitated, then wrinkled his nose. "Well…vagabond sounds so much more…"

"More what? Romantic?" Pixie laughed. "A new coat of paint don’t make an old car any less a piece of junk," she stated wisely.

Jareth had no idea what that meant, but he suspected it wasn’t a compliment. He drew himself up haughtily and gave her his best baleful glare.

To his consternation, she merely laughed. "Down, boy!" she teased. "Don’t go getting your knickers in a bunch. What were you over in England? An unknown king or something? You certainly have that air about you, don’t you? Never seen a prettier face on a man in all my days. The rest of you ain’t so bad to look at, either." She gave him a playful wink. He gaped at her, and she laughed again, eyeing him slyly. "I can tell you’re the type who ain’t used to taking your own medicine," she added wisely. "Well, let me tell you, long as you stay here, don’t expect me to go bowing to your every wish and whim. You want something, you can get it yourself, once you’re feeling better, and I also expect some help around the house in exchange for my hospitality."

"‘Help around the house’?" he huffed. "Do I look like a servant?"

She grinned. "Don’t make a heap of difference to me what you look like. A pretty face can feed horses just as well as a plain one. I expect you’re not half as frail as you look, once you’re at your full strength, am I right?"

"Yes," he admitted, somewhat sulkily, and turned back to his soup.

Pixie cocked her head at him, then shook it. "I suspect there’s a lot more to you than meets the eye," she murmured. "Well, eat your soup, Jareth, and then get your rest. We’ll talk later. It’s near dawn, and I’ve been up all night tending you. There’re clothes on that chair there, left from my husband, Ian, before he died, ten years ago now. He was about your size, a little larger in the waist, maybe, but they ought to fit all right. Your other clothes were a bit torn up. I’ll mend them later. I’ve been wondering where in the world you would’ve gotten clothes like those, but if you’re what you say you are, then I suppose I need not wonder. Anyway, sleep well. I put enough sleeping powder in that tea to knock out a moose, so it ought to do its job on you. Ta-ta." With those words and a wave, Pixie left the room with Isaac trailing after her, leaving Jareth alone to ponder what in the Underground he had gotten himself into.

He felt much better by the next morning, his magic apparently having come back to him enough to heal whatever wounds he may have had. They must not have been too serious, except for the head wound; it still ached a little. He wondered how he was going to explain his miraculous recovery to Pixie. He smiled slightly. Pixie. What an odd name, and yet it seemed to fit her. She was certainly unique, for a mortal. She was fair brave, to take a complete stranger into her home like this, one who might possibly attempt to harm her despite her kindness.

Of course, what with him being so weak and all, and with that monster of a dog she had to guard her, he’d probably have more than a little trouble getting close enough to her to do much damage, and she herself would probably fight like a wildcat. Besides, this woman was his ticket to survival, at least until he could come up with a plan as to what he was going to do. He’d learned a hard lesson last night. If he was going to survive for any length of time, he was going to have to find some way to provide for himself. Until then, he supposed a little help around the house, as she’d put it, wouldn’t kill him, so long as it provided him with food and a place to sleep. If he didn’t like it, he could leave.

Feeling much better with that thought in his mind, Jareth rose from the bed and looked around the room. There was another small room just off to the side, which turned out to be a bath chamber. What was it called again? Ah, yes. Indoor plumbing. A kind of magic all on its own. He grinned and turned the faucet on the tub, letting hot water pour into it. Yes, the Above world definitely had its quirks.

He took a long shower, marveling at the impression of the hot water pounding against his weary body. Before, he merely had to snap his fingers, and he’d be cleaned and dressed, and he’d never had to actually bathe. But now, especially with his magic so unpredictable, he resolved to bathe every day at least once. It was actually quite…pleasant.

An hour later he emerged from the bathroom cleaned and dressed in a pair of jeans—which he didn’t care for all that much, as they were rather rough against skin that was used to the touch of linen and velvet—and a soft cotton shirt, which was actually more like his poet blouses with the somewhat loose sleeves. He wandered down the stairs until he came into what must have been a kitchen, judging by the delicious smells that emanated from it. Pixie was there, and when she saw him she grinned. "Well, don’t you look a sight!" she exclaimed. "Better than last night, although you’re still a bit pale." She eyed him critically. "Funny, I could’ve sworn I bandaged up your head last night from a nasty cut, but there ain’t nothing there now."

"I…heal quickly," he replied evasively, ignoring the suspicious look she shot at him. "My, that does smell wonderful! What is it?"

Pixie shot him an incredulous glance. "Don’t tell me you’ve never smelled coffee before!" she exclaimed.

"I…er…of course," he stammered. "I just…forgot for a moment. The…head wound, and all…" Another mental note; find out what coffee was, and any other strange, foreign foods he might need to know about!

Pixie was shaking her head. "You don’t make much sense, you know," she said. "But, I suppose that’s okay. Makes you more interesting. Anyway, how about a cup of that coffee?"

"I…suppose," he replied, and she poured out a cup of a dark, steaming liquid and handed it to him. He eyed it uncertainly. It certainly didn’t look half as good as it smelled. Well…looks could be deceiving, after all. Should not he, of all people, know that? He ruled a place where things were never what they seemed! So, aware that Pixie was watching him, he took a cautious sip…and almost choked on the strong, bitter taste that filled his mouth. It was only with great effort that he was able to swallow the foul-tasting brew, wondering for a moment if he’d just been poisoned. "Delicious," he gasped, trying to keep his eyes from watering.

Pixie chuckled knowingly. "Perhaps some creme and sugar will sweeten the taste for you," she suggested, sliding over a small pitcher of creme and a bowl of sugar. He spooned some into his cup and stirred, then took another cautious sip. Ahhh! Now that was more like it! "Better," he agreed, taking another large swallow. Pixie chuckled again and returned to the task of cooking breakfast. Actually, considering it was nearing noon, it was more like brunch, but she doubted her guest would know the difference. A strange fellow, indeed.

At that moment there came a knock on the door, and Pixie looked up from her cooking with surprise. "Now who in blazes could that be?" she muttered, wiping her hands on her apron and going to the front door. When she opened it, there stood a postal worker, holding a "special delivery" envelope in his gloved hand. "Well, for heaven’s sake, come on in, boy, before you freeze," she exclaimed, pulling the shivering lad inside. "How on Earth did you get out here through all that snow? Here, let me get you some coffee."

"Thanks, ma’am," he replied. "No coffee, though. Uh, here. Special delivery, and I have orders not to leave until you have a reply ready."

"Oh, well, in that case I guess I’d better read it now," Pixie exclaimed, leading the boy into the kitchen. "Oh, don’t mind him," she added, seeing his nervous look to Jareth, who was eyeing him suspiciously. "He’s just the hired help." At that, Jareth gave her a truly outraged glare, to which she replied with an impish smile as she tore open the envelope. She scanned it quickly, her face registering first surprised delight, then shock and concern, and finally to a satisfied smile. She nodded once. "Well, now, what a treat," she murmured, taking out a sheet of paper from a drawer and a pen. "It’s been a long time since I’ve seen those two." She quickly scribbled out an answer, sealed it in an envelope, and handed it to the waiting postal boy, along with ten dollars. "There. That ought to cover the cost of the letter, and the trouble to deliver it," she said.

"Thank you, ma’am," he replied with a grin. He covered his face with his scarf, tucked the letter and money securely in the zippered pocket of his parka, and headed out the door with a wave. He had come on a snowmobile, and now took off across the field toward the country road on the other side that lead to the small town below the mountain. Pixie watched him go, then closed the door, a pleased smile lighting her face.

"Well, isn’t this a treat," she exclaimed happily to a curious Jareth. "We’re soon going to have some company!"

Jareth frowned, not at all certain that he liked the idea of company. "Who’s coming?" he asked suspiciously.

Pixie chuckled. "My great-niece and nephew. My niece has been ill and is all worn out, the pour soul, so she needs a good rest. She’s an actress, you know." Her voice swelled with pride. "I haven’t seen her or little Toby since Ian died, and then what with their parents dying in that horrible accident…poor souls…and then her career suddenly taking off, well, they haven’t been back here in a long time. Not that I blame them. It’ll be good to see them again.

Jareth was barely listening. He had frozen at the mention of the name Toby. Toby had been Sarah’s brother’s name. And what an odd coincidence, that this Toby should also have a sister who was an actress…just like Sarah had wanted to be…

"Tell me, how old is Toby now?" he asked cautiously.

"Toby? Why, he’d be…Oh, let’s see…He’d be about thirteen or so by now. Yes, that’s right. He was almost three when he came here last. Doubt he’d remember me, but oh, he loved those animals of mine! Used to ride Isaac around like a pony, he did! Of course, I’ve since sold most of the livestock, since Ian died, but I’ve a few old friends left. When I take you out to the barn I’ll introduce you…"

Jareth wasn’t interested in being introduced to a bunch of smelly animals. He was at the moment far more preoccupied with this revelation. Pixie’s great-nephew was thirteen years old. As Sarah’s brother would be by now. **No!** his mind shouted. **A mere coincidence, is all. It cannot *possibly* be the same Toby…**

"Why, Jareth, you look like you’re about to pass out!" Pixie suddenly exclaimed in alarm. "Are you feeling okay?"

"Yes. Yes, of course," he murmured, shooting her a weak smile. "So your niece is an actress, is she? Why did she choose to become that?"

Pixie grinned. "Well, I admit, I used to be somewhat of an actress myself, back in those olden days," she replied with a smirk. "Never got to be as popular as I wanted, and when I married Ian I put it aside for him. It was better that way, and I’ve never regretted it. I used to tell stories about my short-but-sweet theater career, and my niece would sit and listen for hours. We’d even put on little shows together. It was great fun!" She sighed happily, caught up in her memories.

Jareth felt relief flood him. There had been no great aunt in Sarah’s dreams, he recalled. It had been Sarah’s mother that turned her to acting. But then Pixie’s next words left him feeling cold.

"Her mother was also an influence, probably more than I was." Her tone held a definite hint of disapproval.

Jareth nearly fell off the chair. Luckily, Pixie had turned her back and didn’t notice. "Her mother?" he asked faintly.

"Aye, that’s right," she replied, then snorted. "Her mother’s one of the flightiest creatures I ever seen in my life. Lovely as a queen and twice as selfish. Anyone who can up and leave their family behind like she did is nothing but a tramp, in my book! And all over some actor! Never mind her husband and her poor daughter! It hit the girl really hard, ‘though she done her best to hide it. Done gone and turned all the bitterness she had to be feeling into a misguided case of hero-worship, instead."

Jareth was nearly shaking by then, as the implications of what Pixie was telling him began to sort themselves out. It was a definite coincidence. Perhaps too much of one. But…to have come all the way to Earth to escape his past …only to end up running headlong into it…could such a thing happen? There was an entire *world* up here, filled with millions of people and hundreds of countries! Out of them all, what were the chances that he should stumble back into the life of the one who had so nearly destroyed him? The only one he ever remotely cared about? Was this the hand of fate guiding him? Perhaps helping him to face his past and make peace with it once and for all.

Perhaps giving him a second chance…

There was only one way for him to find out, and he dreaded asking the question, for if it wasn’t who he hoped it was, he felt the disappointment might be enough to kill him. On the other hand, he had to know, or he’d be driven mad. So, taking a deep breath, he asked carefully, "Pixie, what is your niece’s name?"

Pixie looked at him, surprised, but then she laughed. "Oh, silly me, not even mentioning it!" She grinned, then left the room, returning a moment later holding a picture frame. "Here," she said, handing it to him. "This is my niece and nephew. It’s kind of old, taken about the time Ian died. Never got around to asking for a new one."

Jareth didn’t hear her. He was staring at the picture, and what little color he had slowly drained from his face. It was her. That flowing hair, the lovely smile, those dark, flashing eyes, although they seemed to be looking out at him with a sadness he didn’t remember seeing before. Her face was eternally etched into his mind. He knew he’d never forget it. She held a little boy on her lap, with blond hair and bright blue eyes and an eternally curious expression. His fingers traced the picture, his lips forming her name at the same moment Pixie told him, "That’s her. That’s my Sarah."

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 5 of 18

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