Continuing Tales

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 7 of 18

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Second Chances

Sarah pulled up in front of the old farmhouse and shut off the engine of the truck, staring at the building as though her life depended on it. **When was the last time I saw this place?** she wondered silently. She had been a child, and Toby hardly more than an infant, it seemed. She glanced at her sleeping half-brother, slumped down in his seat, the silver skull that pierced his ear glinting in the light. She frowned at it, knowing that she’d told her brother to get rid of it. Of course he didn’t listen. He didn’t listen to anyone anymore, since he was almost thirteen. His fine, blond hair was cut short and spiked on top, like a perverted version of an army drill sergeant, completely at odds with the angelic-looking face with the baby-blue eyes. His black jeans were shredded, his shirt was positively demonic…he looked like one of the Wizard of Oz’s munchkins gone bad.

She sighed and nudged him. "Hey. Wake up. We’re here," she said softly.

Toby stirred, then sat up and looked around, his face clearly showing his expression of distaste. "Still wish we could’ve stayed in the city," he grumbled.

"Why? So you could go back to your pals in jail?" Sarah retorted sharply. "Look, Toby, I know you’d rather be out holding up banks or something, but I’m going to get what’s left of my family back together, even if it kills me! Aunt Pixie was gracious enough to allow us come to her house, even though we haven’t so much as sent her a letter in years, and we’re going to stay!" She took a deep breath, feeling that familiar rattling in her lungs as she fought to get it back. She was obviously not fully recovered.

Toby heard her wheezing, and his expression turned worried. "I’m sorry, Sarah," he said. "I don’t want you to get sick again."

Her expression softened. "I know. This will be good for me, and it’ll be good for you, too. You’ll love it here. I promise. Can we go inside now? Aunt Pixie’s probably waiting."

Toby smiled halfheartedly and nodded, and they got out of the truck as the front door suddenly flew open and a sprightly-looking old woman came out, grinning broadly. "Oh, I can’t believe this!" she cried. "Sarah! And is this little Toby? Oh, you’ve grown up so much! Oh, come here and let me look at you!" She threw her arms around them both, laughing, and Sarah found herself grinning.

"It’s good to see you again, Aunt Pixie," she said. "I didn’t realize ‘till now how much I missed you!"

"Oh, I know," Pixie replied. "Well, don’t just stand there in the cold! C’mon in and warm yourselves! I have hot chocolate waiting." She frowned, seemingly puzzled. "I had hoped Jareth would be here, but he seems to have vanished…" She shrugged. "Oh well. I’m sure he’ll be back soon."

Sarah froze, her eyes going wide. Had her aunt just said…? No. She had to have been hearing things. "Um…who is this you’re talking about?" she asked. "Jareth. He’s a stray I picked up a few days ago," Pixie replied with an impish smile.

Sarah relaxed and returned the smile. A stray. Of course. Pixie had always been picking up stray animals when Sarah was a kid. No reason for that to have changed now. "What is it this time? A dog? Another cat? A goat, maybe?" she asked teasingly.

Pixie’s smile turned absolutely devilish. "Oh, you’ll see, when he comes back. He’s on a walk right now," she replied slyly. "Well, come on in and get some chocolate." She turned and went into the house, leaving Sarah and Toby to glance at each other curiously. Toby shrugged, then followed his aunt into the house, more concerned with getting some of that chocolate than with Pixie’s latest pet. Frowning uncertainly, Sarah followed them both in, seating herself at the table as Pixie set a huge mug of cocoa in front of her.

"So, Toby, how have you been doing in school?" Pixie asked.

Toby looked up from his cup, shifting uncomfortably. "S’okay," he muttered, and gave Sarah a glance. Sarah merely raised an eyebrow as she sipped her chocolate. Toby was not doing very well in school, at all. He was too busy playing hooky to study or do homework, but she wasn’t about to bring up an old argument now.

Pixie, however, appeared to be psychic. "Just okay?" she asked, fixing the boy with "a look", under which Toby began to squirm again. Luckily for him, at that moment, the back door opened, and a blast of cold air blew in, making them shiver. Then Pixie’s face lit up. "Jareth! There you are! I was just telling Sarah and Toby about you! Come on in and meet them," she said.

Again Sarah froze at the mention of that all-too-familiar name. She heard a heavy step behind her, and saw Toby look up with interest. Slowly, she set down her mug and turned in her seat, letting her gaze travel upward over a slender body that, while clothed in jeans and cotton shirt, was no less graceful for all that. Her breath quickened, then froze, as her eyes fell upon his face.

She *knew* that face! The soft wisps of fine, moonlight-colored hair were pulled back into a ponytail, a few stray wisps escaping from its bonds. That arrogant tilt of a slender chin, the perfectly formed, aristocratic features, the elegantly arched brows…those *eyes*! There was only one person that she knew of in all the world that had eyes like those…

**But…he isn’t real! He was only a dream…**

Apparently, he didn’t know that, because there he stood, real as life, staring down into her eyes, that familiar, coldly beautiful mask firmly in place. She slowly rose to her feet, realizing that she was trembling, and turned to face him fully. "What are you doing here?" she rasped. "What are you *doing* here?! You aren’t real! Go away! Please go away! I’ve grown up! I’m not a child anymore, and you…you have…no…" Here words failed her, as the world suddenly began to spin around in quick circles. She closed her eyes and grasped the chair, but her legs suddenly refused to hold her. She faintly heard Toby’s cry of alarm, and Pixie’s astonished exclamation, and then her senses faded into blackness…

* * * * *

She woke up feeling disoriented. **What happened?** she wondered groggily. The last thing she remembered was sitting at her great aunt’s kitchen table drinking cocoa, and then…and then…*he* had shown up! Her eyes flew open then, and at that moment she realized that she was still laying on the floor, and that she was being held, propped against someone’s chest. "Pixie?" she asked weakly, looking around behind her. Then she shrieked and scrambled away as though the house was on fire, because it wasn’t Pixie that held her but…"Jareth!" she gasped, looking at him through fearful eyes.

Jareth? *Here*? It wasn’t possible! But it was he who had held her up, and he certainly *felt* real enough! In his hand…which was, for once, gloveless (and was really quite the most elegant hand she’d ever seen)…there was a wet cloth, which she faintly remembered had been pressed to her head. She looked frantically around for Toby and Pixie, whom, she suddenly realized, were missing. She was alone with the Goblin King…

"They’re in the living room," Jareth suddenly told her, quite calmly, as though reading her mind; a thought that made her exceedingly nervous. "They’ll be wondering how in the world we know each other, so best we think up a suitable excuse. You made quite a scene, by the way, fainting like that. Nearly gave your brother and poor Pixie heart failure."

Sarah’s hackles rose at his words. "Well, what did you expect me to do, you moron?!" she snapped. "You kidnap my brother, terrorize me, and then vanish in a funk when you lose the game. Now, twelve years later, you suddenly reappear at my great-aunt’s house out in the *middle of nowhere*, right at the time I’m down on my feet! What, did you expect me to warmly greet you and offer you my chair?!"

He laughed at that. "Hardly," he replied humorously, and his expression turned impish. "But did Pixie not warn you that she had a ‘guest’?"

"I thought she was talking about a *dog*!" she exploded. "I didn’t think that the Goblin King was here for a visit! I mean, it isn’t a normal occurrence, you know!" She glared at him when he shushed her, reminding her that there were two other people in the next room. "Just *what* are you doing here, anyway?" she hissed. "Taking to manipulating old ladies now? What, like teenage girls aren’t good enough for you?"

"It’s a long story," he muttered darkly.

She smirked and crossed her arms. "So? *You’re* the one who can manipulate time, remember? Use that great power of yours!" she replied snidely. "Well? Go on. I’m listening. *Enlighten* me!"

He huffed a sigh and scrubbed at his face with his hands. "Very well. I owe you that much, at least," he admitted grudgingly. "First of all, I suppose you should know that I am no longer the Goblin King." Judging from her expression, she clearly didn’t believe him. "I swear to it," he insisted.

"So what happened?" she asked snidely. "Did your subjects finally develop enough brains to throw you out?"

"No, I *left*!" he snapped. "I’m on a leave of absence until further notice. These past twelve years have been absolute hell, no thanks to you, so I needed a long vacation."

"Oh, and what is this? A guilt trip? I’m crying buckets of tears, can’t you tell?" she retorted bitterly. "Whatever happened to you was no more than you deserved for the hell *you* put *me* through, and you know it!"

"All too well," he replied darkly, and Sarah was astonished at the flash of pain in his changeling eyes. "When you banished me from your life, my kingdom was shattered. The inhabitants of the Labyrinth ran wild, and my kin decided that I and my subjects were not worthy of their attention. I have spent these years rebuilding that which you so heartlessly destroyed, and now my kingdom is complete and greater than ever…and I find that I no longer have a taste for ruling it." He paused, smiling bitterly. "So, I’ve appointed another to rule in my place, and I took myself to the Above world to…find myself, as it were."

Sarah listened with open astonishment as Jareth completed his tale. "But…who is ruling now?" she asked hesitantly. "Another fae?"

"No. You’re little dwarf friend, Hogbrain," he replied with a smirk.

"Hoggle," she corrected automatically, and frowned. "And why would you go and make him king after his betrayal?"

"Because, surprisingly enough, it was he who was the greatest help to me in rebuilding my kingdom. But don’t go thinking that my appointing him as king is a reward! Oh, no! Far from it!" He chuckled wickedly. "Ruling that kingdom is a punishment within itself. No doubt he’ll soon come begging me to take over again!"

"That’s all well and good," Sarah said darkly, "but it hardly explains why you’re *here*." She gestured to their surroundings, and he shrugged.

"A mere coincidence, perhaps," he replied. "I came Above, straight into the embrace of a blizzard. Snow is a bit…rare in my world, so I wasn’t quite prepared to deal with it." He ignored Sarah’s smirk. "It’s said that I’m half human, on my mother’s side. Thus, the reason for my kins’ contempt for me. But I, who have spent my millennia of existence ignoring that part of my heritage, have decided that now would be a most opportune time to explore it. A move to Earth was in order to accomplish that."

"But how did you find Pixie?" Sarah asked impatiently.

"It is more like, *she* found *me*," Jareth explained. "I was injured, and half frozen, and Pixie and her dog found me and brought me into their home to recover. I’ve been here a few weeks now. In exchange for bedding and food, I’ve been helping her with some of the more difficult chores. I assure you, I’ve done her no harm. She saved my life, after all."

Sarah eyed him suspiciously. He *seemed* sincere enough, but…the idea of the powerful, seductive Goblin King pitching hay in a barn was…a little hard to swallow…"Did you, at any time, know that Pixie was related to me in any way?" she asked in a low voice. "Is that why you stayed after you were well, so that you might learn of my whereabouts?"

He cocked his head at her with a small grin. "My, aren’t we full of ourselves," he mocked lightly. "Do you honestly think that I spend all my time wondering about you?" His face hardened, and so did his voice. "I offered my heart to you once, and lost my kingdom as a result. Your answer was made very clear to me, and the Goblin King does not offer his love a second time."

At her wide-eyed glance, he shook his head. "Never mind," he muttered. "It matters little. I swear to you on my life’s blood that when Pixie took me in, I had no idea who she was," he added firmly. "Only after she received your letter did I discover that you and she were related, and it came as a shock, I’ll admit. *But*…" and he held up a finger, "…as I have never forced my way back into your life—as those words you spoke held me bound not to seek you out—*and* as I was *invited* into Pixie’s life, I saw no reason to leave. We are *both* here as guests, and I have as much right to be here as you do. I have no qualms about sharing a home with you, and I duly hope that you have none with me."

Sarah frowned thoughtfully as she thought this over, but she could find no fault with Jareth’s logic (curse him!). **But now that I’m here, who’s to say he won’t try something with me? What if he tries to snatch Toby again?** True, Toby was a little old to be turned into a goblin, but still…

She sighed. She could not force Jareth to leave, but she was not about to turn tail and run, either. She needed this long overdue vacation, and Pixie was her aunt, curse it! she thought jealously. What right did Jareth have to barge in on them? Well, technically, he had been there first, but still…

"All right," she conceded finally. "For now, we’ll call a truce on this little rivalry. Right now we’re just two…acquaintances, here for a rest. But if I see any funny stuff from you, or if you even *think* of trying to do anything to Toby with that magic of yours, I’ll make you regret the day you were spawned!" she hissed, glaring into his unnerving eyes.

He gazed calmly back at her, his eyes boring deep into her own until she had to drop her gaze, before he nodded once. "Agreed."


Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 7 of 18

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