Continuing Tales

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 15 of 15

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A Forfeit of Dreams

You'll be given love

You'll be taken care of

You'll be given love. You have to trust it.

~ Bjork, "All Is Full Of Love"

It was a dark and stormy night.

"Damn," the young man standing by the window cursed. "That's going to be hell to walk home in." He gave the downpour outside a look of deep disgust.

Brian laughed as he pulled his cloak off over his head. "Want a ride?" he asked his dresser. He and Chris had an easy, friendly relationship; a good thing, considering all the time they spent together. The getups of the Goblin King involved so many laces, hooks, and buttons it was a wonder Brian ever made it out on stage in time. He handed over his shirt and gloves absently as he undressed.

"That'd be great," Chris said, folding the sumptuous articles of clothing. "So, how was opening night?"

Brian grinned in spite of himself. "Amazing. It's a great part - and I never thought being the villain would be so much fun. I guess tapping into the dark side is easier than it looks."

Chris chuckled richly. "Right. Pose pretty, make some threatening noises, and die in a burst of glitter. A real meaty role."

Brian shot him a glare as he sat before one of the wide, lighted mirrors, shucking off his boots. "Hey. You're just jealous."

"Damn straight, I am," Chris rejoined. "Dude, you've got the best role! And you get to seduce Sarah, which I wouldn't mind."

Brian replied automatically. "She's got a boyfriend."

"Yeah, I know. Jareth, right? Talk about a weird coincidence."

Brian ignored the comment. "So you shouldn't get hung up on Sarah."

"Hey, she has a boyfriend. She's not married."

Brian placed his boots to the side, raising his head to give the freshman a pointed look. "Have you met him?"

Chris grimaced, then reluctantly assented: "Yeah."

With a satisfied nod, Brian went back to the task at hand. Jareth was the kind of boyfriend that made other guys back off. Way, way off. It wasn't that he was a jerk; he wasn't overly protective or even very aggressive. He was actually fairly friendly. He'd smile and shake your hand firmly when he met you, in a very reassuring way. Don't worry, that smile soothed. I know you're not trying anything. But there was an edge to it, a slight tightening of his hand around yours. Because if you ever did, that edge promised, I'd break every bone in your body. Twice.

A crash of applause over the loudspeaker in the dressing room corresponded with an ominous rumble of thunder outside, signaling the end of the play. With a muttered "oops," Brian tugged his boots back on and shot out the door. He was too used to getting undressed right after his grand exit in rehearsals, and had forgotten about curtain call. He made it in time, thought only just, and in his thin undershirt (meriting a few whistles of appreciation from the audience). He took it all in stride, bowing with extra flourish. The cheers were magnificent.

 Laughing and chattering amongst themselves, the cast made their way backstage to the dressing rooms, eager to be out of their cumbersome costumes. He let himself be drawn along in the tide of their movement, randomly exchanging casual kisses and congratulations. When he got back to the rooms, Chris was thoroughly occupied with getting a couple of goblin guards wedged out of their heavy armor, so Brian simply tossed the rest of his costume into a locker, drawing on his jeans and jacket. Throwing his book bag over his shoulder, he called to Chris, "I'll meet you in the lobby, okay?" before turning to the door - only to find his way barred.

Mentally, Brian scowled. It simply wasn't fair. An hour spent on makeup and hair, a half a dozen outfits, and he still couldn't quite achieve this look. This regal, lounging elegance; this attitude of untouchable charisma. The man in front of him managed it in scuffed jeans and a worn leather jacket, his only ornament a glittering diamond in one ear. Sarah wondered why people still looked askance at her boyfriend, dethroned as he was and robbed of his demonic crown. Brian couldn't bring himself to break it to her that, in this case, the clothes certainly didn't make the man. It was ridiculous, in a way. Like putting a leash on a smoldering panther and expecting your friends to scratch his ears.

Not that Jareth wasn't human. He was, and undeniably so. There was a definite flush of warm blood beneath the formerly pale, porcelain skin. There was a tint of gold in his cap of hair; a much more natural shade than frost-blonde. And there was a slight human softness in features that had once been harsh, fey, and completely alien. But he wasn't human enough - not nearly enough for Brian's tastes. No mere mortal had that sense of feral awareness.

And he still has those fucking creepy eyes.

"Hey, old son," Jareth said from his position of leaning against the doorframe, hands tucked casually into the pockets of his jeans. He used the nickname frequently, and Brian had swallowed down his itchingly raw memories and gotten used to it. After all - in a dank oubliette, or backstage at a college theater - did your surroundings influence your interactions with other people that much?

Apparently not.

"Looking for my green-eyed girl," he continued easily, lifting himself away. "Seen her around?"

"Yeah," Brian replied, jerking his head in the direction of the girls' dressing room. "Here, I'll show you." He didn't bother to ask how Jareth had found his was through the labyrinthine tangle of hallways that led backstage. The man seemed incapable of getting lost.

He let his hand slap heavily against the door to the girls' room as he called out gruffly, "Everybody decent?" A chorus of muffled laughter was his response, and the click of the doorknob being turned as a dark-haired girl with a pixie cut edged open the door and peeked out.

"Come on in," she said, smiling.  "I'm not sure about decent, but we don't mind."

"Hey, 'Tasha. I know - I wouldn't make a big deal about it, but I've got a visitor for Sarah."

"Oh?" Natasha blinked, sighting his companion for the first time. "Oh." Her eyes widened, and her smile turned a little shy as she held open the door for them both. "Well, come in anyway. I'm sure Sarah'll be glad to see you."

Brian wondered if Jareth ever noticed the way women responded when he walked into a room. It wasn't a really big thing. It wasn't even a unified reaction; some of them merely glanced up a moment, while others went as far as to straighten up and give him a slow smile. But they noticed. Now that he thought about it, it wasn't just women - though the reactions of most guys were of an admittedly different nature. They bristled just slightly. As if they expected to be challenged, even charged, at any given moment, and wanted to be on their toes. Jareth fell off nobody's radar. Everyone's instinct whispered: "Hey. Keep one eye on that one."

If Jareth was in any way aware of the attention he gave no outward sign. He cut through the room, through the chaos of chattering girls and discarded costumes, with a surety and singleness of purpose that was almost (but not quite) insulting. He stepped over piles of glittering shoes and knotted ribbons casually, with an absent nod to those who waved and called for his attention. Jareth was well known around the department. He was there often - as often as he could be, as he was usually working out in New York - and he went along with Sarah to parties or movies whenever possible. He was oddly welcome in their crowd, with a flair for the dramatic and a dry wit gaining him allies right and left. And the fact that he earned his living as a musician garnered no little respect among students of the arts. His name was beginning to be coupled easily with Sarah's. But not in that condescendingly tolerant way that people talk about couples who seemed attached at the hip, practically incapable of making a decision without having the other nearby for life support. It was oddly respectful: envious, perhaps, and even a little awed. It sounded, Brian acknowledged resentfully, like "their Majesties."

Jareth reached his goal in a few moments despite the obstructions. Sarah was seated before one of the large, lighted mirrors, framed by naked bulbs that harshly illuminated her made-up face. She was frowning in concentration, rubbing her cheek distractedly with a cleansing cloth at a particularly stubborn patch of glitter. She was still clad in the full, shimmering skirt of the heroine, the same one she had admired what felt like so long ago. Her dark hair was caught up in a net of star-like flowers, a few dislodged strands curling against the milky whiteness of her neck.

Jareth knelt behind her. He reached out his hand, long fingers caressing the line of her jaw in an oddly possessive, predatory gesture. Sarah smiled at his reflection, saying something - Brian couldn't hear from across the room. Jareth came closer as she spoke, wrapping his arms around her, careful not to crush the billowing sleeves that fell away from her pale shoulders. He said something in reply, causing Sarah to laugh delightedly as he bent his head to place a soft kiss on her bare skin.

Brian shifted awkwardly where he stood, looking away. He shouldn't have been bothered by it. It wasn't as if he was unused to public displays of affection. Most of his friends were coupled, and a few were even married, and he was often with people that couldn't keep their hands off each other. That wasn't the problem. He had just never seen anyone so. intense. The way Jareth looked at Sarah was a little frightening. The lightest of touches - taking her hand, a chaste kiss - took on a discomforting intimacy, because it seemed so important to him. They'd all been together at a party, once, and Brian had been more than a little buzzed. He'd remarked, snarkily, that Jareth acted like he'd never had a girlfriend before.

The creature in question - aggravatingly levelheaded, as he always was at such gatherings - had given Brian a steady look.

"Not like Sarah," he'd replied.

The whole thing made Brian's stomach sour.        

From the corner of his eye, he saw as Jareth stoop up and walked away, hands lingering for a moment on Sarah's naked shoulders. With a sharp jerk Brian brought himself to attention, following the taller man out the door.

"She'll be done in a minute," Jareth said easily as he passed. "You going home?"

"Yeah." They walked together, skirting along the edge of the hallway, careful to remove themselves from the bustle of the stagehands and run crew at work. "I'm giving someone a ride. You know Chris? He's a freshman. My dresser."

"Where are you meeting him?"


"I'll wait with you."

Brian fought to shove down the chagrined rush of pleasure that casual promise inspired, but to little avail. It was hard not to feel a little flattered. Jareth was not the warmest or most sociable of people, and the offer betrayed the fact he didn't consider talking with Brian a total waste of breath. It was hard - really hard - to resist the man's unconscious charm, to reject his acceptance. Even though Jareth made no move to integrate himself, or to bring others into his orbit, people were drawn to him regardless.


All kinds of people.

Brian winced slightly as they stepped into the wide, warmly lit lobby, the shriek beating at his eardrums. From the corner of the spacious room he could see a girl weaving through the chattering crowds. Her stride was graceful enough, if rather stilted from the tall black pumps on her feet. She reached them, a bit breathless, shaking long, pale red hair back from her face.

"Jareth!" she said again, as if she had just coincidentally stumbled upon them. "What a surprise to see you here! How are you?"

Jareth leaned against the wall, hands tucked into his pockets. "I'm sorry. Do I know you?" The tone was polite enough, but something - maybe the way he held himself, or the closed-off look on his face - made it oh, so very cold. The girl's smile slipped for an instant as Jareth turned his gaze to Brian. "Do you know her?"

Brian swallowed. He'd forgotten how much the man actually relaxed around friends. Compared to a normal person, Jareth still treated Brian pretty distantly. But compared to the way he treated strangers.

"Yeah," he managed. "Hey, Erica. Ushering for extra credit?" he ventured in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere, taking in her simple blouse and black skirt.

"We met at Jon's party," Erica continued with her eyes still on Jareth, coolly ignoring Brian's question.

"Oh?" Again, that infinite politeness.

"Come on!" Erica giggled. She managed to sway a little closer to him, the edge of her skirt whispering against her thighs with the movement. "You remember! Anyway," she continued blithely, ignoring Jareth's set expression, "What're you doing here?"

"Why shouldn't I be here?" he replied quietly. "My girlfriend is in the play."

"What?" she asked distractedly. "I didn't know you were still with Sarah."

"I am."

"Wow," she said brightly, her smile now a little forced. "Color me shocked."

"Really." It was softly said. But something indefinable shifted in Jareth's stance, and Brian suddenly felt as if a dangerous creature had just woken up, stirred, and uncoiled.

"Well, you know," Erica continued casually, oblivious, "you're always touring and stuff, right? With your music. I could really understand if Sarah got tired of waiting around. I mean," and here she put her arm out, let her hand rest against the soft sleeve of his shirt, "I understand. After all, you're an artist. But not all girls."

"Don't touch me."

A flat statement, stripped of all politeness and expected banality. A direct order backed by the promise of raw aggression. Erica, the idiot, didn't even seem to hear.

"Sarah's a freshman, right? Freshman girls can be pretty immature -"

She ceased talking, her prattle ending in an abrupt squeak as Jareth's hand closed around her wrist. Brian could see that his knuckles were white.

"Don't. Touch. Me." He removed her hand with exact, insulting precision, lifting it away from his arm and immediately dropping it from his fingers. Erica stared at him, absently rubbing her wrist against her hip.

"Jesus," she muttered. "Fine." She took a step back, tossing her long hair away from her slightly flushed face. "Well," she said airily. "I never really saw you guys as a couple, is all. I mean, I told Sarah -"

Brian didn't know what happened. One moment, they were all just standing there in a rough triangle, surrounded by the quiet talk and golden light of the lobby. Then he blinked - and somehow Erica was up against the wall, eyes wide and staring in a white face. Jareth stood facing her, hands outstretched on the wall on either side of her as he leaned in; close enough for his soft voice, just above a rasping whisper, to reach her ears.

"Listen to me." His smooth, urbane accent rendered the words a hypnotic command. "I don't want you. I'll never want you. So you can cease your pathetic attempts to worm your way into my favor. Because I already have the girl I want." He leaned in a bit closer, his fine hair falling slightly forward and into his eyes so that Brian couldn't see them clearly. "Who has, by the way," he continued, casual words belied by the quiet passion in his tone, "more beauty, talent, and compassion in her little finger than you could ever hope to possess. Now that she's mine, I will not let you or anyone else jeopardize that." He was quiet for a moment, calmly regarding Erica's look of abject terror, as if from a great distance. "If I ever hear you were talking about me to Sarah again, I will make you regret it."

Brian wanted to shout, to scream a warning to the crowds around them, but his throat was choked with fear. This was insane. This kind of thing didn't - couldn't - happen in the warm, comfortable lobby of their college's theater, surrounded as they were by chattering and congratulating people in their Sunday best. The incongruity of their safe, familiar surroundings and the scene being played out in front of him with such murderous intensity screeched against his senses, as if his consciousness had slammed on the brakes.

Jareth looked up. Seeing Brian's transfixed stare, he seemed to catch himself, pull back a little. He shrugged imperceptibly and drew away from the wall. Gently, he tugged at Erica's arm, pulling her forward.

"Here," he said easily, handing her off to Brian before she could jerk away from his touch. "Go play with Brian. He's single."

Brian caught the girl without thinking about it. She stumbled over and burrowed her face in his chest. Knowing she needed it, needed the warmth and safety of another completely human being, he put his arms around her shoulders. Erica was shaking softly, but without a sound.

Numbly, Brian looked back up. Jareth was watching him with an odd expression, those mismatched eyes mesmerizing and distant.

"Brian doesn't mind being second choice," Jareth continued, voice low and dangerous. "Do you. old son."

The statement pricked Brian out of his fear. "I will if you keep breaking them," he retorted.

Jareth laughed, the tension going out of his slender frame as he relaxed back into that slouching, elegant stance. They were back on easy ground again, and his attitude returned to companionable acceptance. "She's fine," he assured Brian. "Just a little rattled."

Brian felt his heartbeat returning to normal. "What the hell was -"

A whoop of excitement interrupted his question, and the only warning was the thump of Sarah's backpack hitting the richly carpeted floor before she jumped, launching herself into the air. Quick as a cat Jareth spun around to catch her, staggering a little as her weight hit him. But his arms around her were sure, and he grinned as she threw her head back and laughed, legs wrapped securely around his waist.

"Wasn't it wonderful?" she cried, eyes shining. "Wasn't it amazing? We did so good! No one missed a cue or dropped a line, and even all that drat technical stuff poofed when it was supposed to poof and nothing set my hair on fire -"

"It was perfect," he interrupted, his eyes holding a mischievous glint. "Actually, I'm lying, I have no idea how tonight went. I wouldn't have noticed if the entire set collapsed, I was entirely distracted by the way your hair fell across your face. Or the way your mouth moved, one of those things. I'm sorry, what was the play about again? Something about leprechauns or boogie monsters or -"

She stopped him with a firm kiss, her arms going around his shoulders as he set her gently down upon the ground. Brian watched as Jareth's lips curved into a satisfied smile.

Sarah noticed, belatedly, that they had an audience, and broke away. "Oh my God, Brian!" she gasped, laughing at her self. "I'm sorry, I didn't even - I mean, I - oh, hell with it," she gave up, grinning. "Did we rock, or did we rock?" She made as if to catch him up in a huge bear hug, Jareth's hands reluctantly dropping from her waist as she stepped away. But she paused in mid-movement. Curious, she tilted her head to get a better look at the shivering figure in Brian's arms. "Um. Erica?" she asked, softly hesitant. "Are you okay?"

Brian stared at her helplessly. She took another step, then halted. Her head began to turn, as if against her will, towards Jareth, but she snapped it forward again, gaze fixed on wide-eyed Brian and pale Erica. A shadow seemed to fall across her face; some kind of sadness, or resignation, perhaps. Her shoulders slumped a bit. All the joy that had just moments before lent her a kind of dancing energy was gone.

"Brian." She spoke gently, but there was a definite note of command. "Is something wrong?"

He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. His eyes shifted slightly to focus on the tall, imposing figure standing behind his best friend. He expected. he didn't know what he expected to see, really. A glowing halo of sickly evil would have been nice and unambiguous. Even a flash, a look that said Jareth knew, he remembered, would have been enough for Brian to reach out and jerk Sarah out of harm's reach and start shouting for help. Even a smile: that cruel grin, a vicious twist of those thin lips that had mocked him and damned them both, ages ago in a world of darkness and stone, dust and bread.

But there was nothing. No, it was worse than nothing. Jareth looked concerned. He was frowning slightly, hands shoved deep into his jean pockets, and his unnerving eyes were on Brian's face. It was obvious he couldn't have cared less about Erica, but Brian. Jareth also stepped closer.

"Alright?" he asked simply. And there was a promise of solidity and strength, if it were needed, behind the word. Because they were friends.

They were friends.

And as Jareth tightened the circumference of their little circle, he placed his hand on Sarah's shoulder: a natural, unthinking gesture. And Sarah - even though she and Brian both knew what she was really asking, and what she was afraid his answer would be - reached up to place her hand over his. Without hesitation.

And Brian decided.

"No," he said smiling a little. "I mean, yeah, everything's alright. Um, Erica's just had a bad week." Absently he ran a hand up and down the girl's back in a soothing gesture; she had stopped shaking, but seemed content to hide her face in Brian's sweater. "Bad grade on a Theater History paper. That kind of thing."

Sarah gave a small sigh, as if she'd been holding her breath. The tension went out of her slender frame, and she leaned back slightly, accepting the support her boyfriend offered. "Good," she said stoutly. "I mean, uh." She colored slightly, casting a contrite look at Erica. "Let me know if I can do anything, okay?"


"'Kay." She stepped closer to place a gentle kiss on his cheek, careful not to jostle the girl in his arms. "See you tomorrow."   

"Two o'clock, sharp. Be late again and Veronica will serve your ass for dinner."

Sarah laughed at the familiar joking about their stage manager's ferocity. "Got it," she said easily, nodding. She fell back, her arm going around Jareth's waist. It was an easy gesture that spoke of familiarity. But as Jareth slipped his own arm around her shoulders, he leaned his head briefly against hers, eyes closed for a second as he took in the scent of her hair. Those flashes of intensity. Brian wondered if they'd ever fade. Or if they'd ever stop bothering him.

"You guys going home?" he asked, hating the strained note to his voice.

"In a bit," Jareth answered him, comfortably distant as before. He turned away as Sarah began to pull him into the crowd, but threw back a: "Take care, old son."

Brian watched them leave, weaving awkwardly through the throngs of people. They kept getting stopped - men and women in elegant finery wanting to congratulate Sarah, or college kids in jeans and vestiges of stage makeup running up to celebrate a perfect opening night. Abruptly, Jareth swung Sarah up into his arms: one arm hooked under her legs, the other supporting her back, as her laughter rang throughout the vaulted room. With determined politeness, he cut through the mass of flabbergasted onlookers and carried her out the door.

Brian watched them go without moving from his spot, still cradling a post-hysterical girl. They were happy. It was obvious to anyone that looked at them. And Jareth. So he might not be altogether human. You put an immortal soul into a mortal body and - well, it couldn't be the smoothest transition imaginable. But Brian didn't think Jareth actually knew who he had been: that brooding, hurting, hateful figure, to which love had been so alien and unattainable it had cut him up inside like swallowed glass. Jareth was no longer the dangerous immortal that still haunted Brian's nightmares. He didn't think. But.

I wonder what his dreams are like?


 "I can't believe you did that!"

She slid out of his arms, laughing with mixed outrage and amusement. He shot her a wry look, catching at her arm before she completely lost her balance and landed, hard, on the cement tiles of the outdoor plaza. What was usually an open-air area was now slightly protected by a fancy awning extending a few feet beyond the doors of the theatre. They could hear the soft drumbeat of the storm above their heads, and even though they were safe from the drenching rain the air was heavy with the scent of wet pavement on a warm night.

"Believe it," he replied calmly. He pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her waist so that her back was to him. "They've had enough of you for one night. It's my turn."

Sarah leaned against him, relaxing into his long body. Her head barely came above his shoulder. He was ridiculously tall, really, she mused to herself. But she was willing to make do - under the circumstances.

"You know," she said, angling her head back so she could catch his eye, "this is opening night. Some of those people were sponsors. You know, donators? Nice people with money?"

"Mmm?" He was much more intrigued by the bared curve of her neck as she looked up at him. He bent his head to touch his mouth to the soft skin, making her breath catch.

"Yes. And it's not the best impression to make when a lead actress gets carried out in a Neanderthal-like -" Her words were lost in a gasp. Jareth was now working along the line of her shoulder, employing lips, teeth, and tongue in some very interesting ways. and she was very close to whimpering. She remembered herself, gathering just enough self-control to growl: "Stop that. We've discussed this: this is not a valid conversational tactic. This is cheating."

Jareth laughed softly into her shoulder for a minute before bringing his head up to place a gentle kiss on her temple. "As my lady commands," he whispered.

"Besides," he continued in a normal tone, drawing back a bit, "You're being pessimistic. I'll bet you most of those lovely old women in there thought it was devastatingly romantic. If they clutch at purse strings, it's only because they're eaten up inside with envy for your having such a dashing young man all to yourself."

"Huh. Somehow, I doubt they'd back you up on that."

"Really?" He grinned cheekily. "Want to go ask them?"

"No!" She clutched at his wrists, knowing he was capable of going inside and doing just that. "Don't you dare," she threatened, "or I'll tell Veronica who keeps stealing the backstage brownies."

"Ah." He cast a wary look over his shoulder, where somewhere an irate stage manager was probably fuming about missing baked goods, yet again. "Can't have that. Shall we go home, then?"

Sarah cast a wide-eyed glance at the torrent of rain that was currently flooding the parking lot. "You're joking," she said in deep disbelief. "In this? On your bike, right?"

"What else?" He tugged at her hand, a little impatiently. "Little water never hurt anyone."

Sarah balked. "Can't we wait until the storm passes?" she pleaded. "Please?"

"Alright." He abruptly pulled her into the shadows so that she leaned against the brick building, gently tilting her head back so he could tear at her mouth with a fierce kiss. After a moment her arms went up around him, tangling her fingers in his hair, bending her body along his in a way that made him take in a sharp breath. He slowed - taking long, languorous kisses from her that left her shaking.

"I thought you said you'd stop doing that," she managed to get out.

"You didn't specify for how long."

Her shirt was riding up, just a little, his slightly roughened hands resting on her waist. She was boneless in his arms, the dark curtain of her hair falling across his back as she broke away to rest her head on his shoulder. He traced kisses along the line of her jaw, trying to pay attention as she murmured: "We really shouldn't do this. They're all leaving now. someone will see us."

"Wasn't my idea to camp out here."

"I didn't know you were going to - oh, hell."

A couple emerged from one of the glass doorways just a few feet away. They were obviously not students: both were dressed in elegant evening clothes, the woman bedecked in tasteful jewelry and the man wearing a watch that would probably cover half of Sarah's tuition. It wasn't prohibited, of course, for her to be making out with her boyfriend on school property. But these were patrons, and if Sarah was caught - well, it would be very, very embarrassing. She tried to inch even deeper into the darkness, but no luck. They were both tucked neatly into a corner: out of sight, out of mind.

"This is your fault," Sarah said softly, right into Jareth's ear, as she watched the couple help each other shrug into expensive raincoats. She was trying hard not to choke on the irrepressible giggles that kept bubbling up inside her. "I hate you."

"Then you really shouldn't kiss me like that," he whispered feverently.

"Did you hear something, David?"

They both froze upon hearing the woman's imperious question, Sarah letting out a startled squeak. Jareth brought up his hand to cover her mouth, glaring sternly. But he couldn't keep his lips from twitching.

"There, I definitely heard something. David, what could that be?"

He companion didn't even look up, absorbed in the task of figuring how to open his umbrella. "Oh, probably nothing," he said brusquely. "A squirrel, maybe. Students feed them, you know, and they become the nastiest fearless little scamps you've ever seen, hiding out everywhere." The umbrella clicked open, and he gave a satisfied grunt. "There. Off we go!"

They walked out onto the plaza, huddled together under the shelter of the shared umbrella as they chatted. Sarah and Jareth watched them go until they rounded a corner.

Jareth looked at her, eyes dancing. "Home?"

She gave a sigh of defeat, grinning back. "Home."


The rain was surprisingly gentle and warm, especially as it wasn't even spring yet. It soaked through Sarah's clothes in minutes to plaster her thin shirt to her skin. It made her acutely aware of the elements, especially the wind that whipped her hair behind her and made her shiver slightly as they rode. She held onto Jareth tightly, hands twisted in the soaked material of his own shirt as she huddled against the brief warmth of his back. He took curves smooth and tight, the motorcycle leaning toward the ground in a way that made her fingers slip slightly - and he would take one hand off the bars to cover her clutched hands with his own. Despite this - or maybe even because of it - she never felt scared when riding with him. She'd long since learned he was absolutely fearless on his bike: he drove in all kinds of weather, rain, snow and fog. He'd even done a few tricks in an ice-covered parking lot once. The people around them were struggling to just walk on the stuff, and falling right and left, but the wheels of his motorcycle never even skidded. He'd finally stopped by coming to a perfect half in front of her. She'd cheered from her perch of the roof of a snowbound car, clapping her gloved hands. He'd drawn off his helmet with a triumphant flourish, nose and cheeks whipped red by the bitter cold, and bowed.

And here, now, on the rain-swept roads. It wasn't even like driving, not really. There was no sense of someone grappling to control a bulky, weighty machine powered by battery and fossil fuel. It was more like coasting; just passing the other cars so effortlessly it was like they were on a separate road, mapped out for the two of them. She waved at other drivers as they shot by, there and gone like a dream.

Like magic.

But she didn't like to think about that kind of stuff. Oh, she acknowledged it, sure, but didn't like to linger on the oddities. Like how you never look directly at the sun.

But there was no way she could ignore them - oh no, no way. For instance, she couldn't hide him from her friends forever. Not that she didn't try. Brian, naturally, had made himself scarce in the weeks following that terrible, wonderful night at the Grey Cat. So he wasn't a problem. But Nikki. oh, Nikki. She had known something was up. She had sniffed it out with the instinct of a terrier after a rat, and had demanded to know why Sarah was never in the room anymore, why she got home so late at night, and it was a boy, wasn't it, and she couldn't believe Sarah was being such a dork not telling her about it and what, was he deformed or something?

Despite the ongoing interrogation, Sarah had still managed to hide Jareth for quite some time. He'd even asked about it, in fact - wondering why he never met these friends she talked about so often. Sarah'd stammered something about finals and everyone being really busy. He'd nodded his acceptance of the white lie, but the look in his eyes made her miserable. She hadn't wanted him to think she was ashamed of him. She wasn't - but she had been a little wary of the consequences of bringing him further into her life. 

Her problem, however, solved itself rather quickly.

Jareth came to pick her up one evening and Sarah, remembering something she'd left in her room, asked him to wait for her downstairs in the common area. She lingered a little, pausing to check her hair and brush a little scent on her wrists, feeling safe since Nikki had claimed she would be researching in the library all night. Sarah clattered back down the stairs, taking them two at a time, face lighting up at the sight of Jareth, sprawled elegantly in one of the battered armchairs students had dragged inside. Her feet had just touched the floor when the door slammed open.

"Goddamn," Nikki swore as she had backed into the lobby with her arms overflowing with books. "That hurts! I've got to get a cart or something next time - oh, hey, Sarah. I'm going to strangle Rosenthaal," she said cheerfully, trying to scoot through the doorway without the use of her hands or arms. "'No internet research,' my ass. What that woman sees in dusty books," she grunted, managing to get in and turn around fully, "I'll never -"

And then she saw Jareth.

The books tumbled to the ground with a series of dull thuds, spilling out of her nerveless fingers to fall open on the floor, their yellowed pages exposed. Nikki stood like a deer in headlights, frozen with wide-eyed disbelief. Slowly, she began to shake her head.

"No way," she said softly. "No freaking way. Either I'm physic, or -" And then she blinked, her focus shifting. She looked at him - really looked at him - hard. "Huh."

"Didn't you ever hear it's rude to stare?" Jareth asked coolly. Insolently, he propped one leg up on the armchair in front of him, rough black boot resting on the worn fabric. "Or do I remind you of someone?"

"Honestly? Yes, you do." Nikki said baldly, her hands coming up to rest on her hips as she relaxed into a more aggressive pose.

Jareth's eyes narrowed at the challenge. "And who would that be?"

Nikki smiled sweetly. "All of Sarah's old boyfriends."

Sarah groaned and let her head fall back against the wall with a soft thump.

Jareth's attention, however, never left the young woman who was picking a fight. One eyebrow shot up, and he swung his other leg over to also rest on the chair back, achieving a look of effortless arrogance. "Really," he drawled.

Yes, really," Nikki mimicked his tone, rolling her eyes. She then sighed, and gave a slightly embarrassed shrug. "Don't sweat it - it's something of a compliment. Sort of." She looked at the pile of fallen volumes at her feet. With a toss of her blonde head, she hopped over them to stride over to the chair in front of Jareth, unceremoniously shoving his feet off before plopping down in the seat. She smiled winningly. "I'm Nikki. And I think you are the reason Sarah's broken the sacred roommate code of never lying about where you've been all night."

"Jareth," he introduced himself, a wry, but not unhappy grin tugging at his mouth as he accepted the backhanded apology. "'Sort of' a compliment?"

"Oh, that." Nikki leaned back into the chair, crossing her legs. "I used to tell Sarah she was looking for someone who didn't exist." She gave him a considering look. "Guess I can stand being wrong. Once in a while." She craned her neck around to look at Sarah, still watching the two of them apprehensively from the stairwell. "Going out? I don't want to keep you."

"Just out to eat," Jareth answered, wearing a similarly contemplative look. "Want to join us?"

Sarah's eyes went wide.

"Love to," Nikki said promptly. "If it's okay with Sarah - I mean, I don't want to crash your special time."

"It's fine with me," Sarah burst out, finding her voice "I mean, that sounds great!" She tried to swallow a huge smile that threatened to make her look like a dork. It was only dinner. Not the successful integration of two realities. Nothing like that at all.

"Just a guess," Nikki began, lazily rolling her head along the back of the chair so that she was looking at Jareth, "but that midnight-blue Harley outside wouldn't be yours, would it?" He nodded, and she gave a gusty sigh. "Damn, I'm good." She rolled her head back to Sarah. "You guys weren't going far, were you?"

"Just down to Marathon."

"Yum. Okay, I'll meet you in fifteen. Obviously I can't ride with you, and I want to dump these books in our room, anyway."

"Okay." Sarah practically skipped over to them. This was wonderful. Better than wonderful. No explosions, no weird accusations or awkward explanations. And Jareth seemed fine - friendly, even, and it was so normal, maybe, just maybe, this would work.

"Oh, Sarah?"

She turned, caught in the act of walking out the door Jareth was holding open. He was already across the threshold, sunlight picking out the golden glints in his pale hair.

"I'm sorry. Could you help me pick up this mess?" Nikki asked pitifully, crouched amidst the sprawl of crinkled pages and cracked, dusty bindings.

"Um, sure." Sarah smiled at Jareth. "We'll be right behind you." He nodded, expressionless, and let the door fall shut.

Sarah knelt next to her roommate, smoothing her skirt across her thighs as he knees touched the rough carpet. Tucking an errant strand of hair behind an ear, she reached for a book.

Nikki's hand shot out, fingers locking round her wrist. Shocked, Sarah looked up to see a wild look in the petite blonde's eyes.

"That's him, isn't it?" she asked, voice intent. "The guy. the one who was."

"In your dream?" Sarah supplied weakly.

Nikki yelped, her whole body flinching as if she'd been stung. "It is him, isn't it?! He's so freaking recognizable and I can't even - How did he - And you? I mean, what the hell is." She took a deep breath, letting the tide of unfinished questions ebb. "No." She shook her head. "You know what? I don't even want to know."

"Nikki -"

"I don't want to know." She took another cleansing breath, shaking it off as she released Sarah's wrist. "Whatever," she muttered, gathering in an armful of books as she staggered to her feet. "My life is weird enough as it is."

"Your life?" Sarah asked pointedly. The words were spoken before she could think. Belatedly she clapped a hand over her mouth.

Nikki gave her a highly suspicious look. "Hah," she said significantly." Like you don't thrive on this kind of thing."

"What?!" Sarah sputtered. "I do not - I mean, Nikki, I didn't -"

Nikki smirked, turning to make her way to the stairs. "You owe me a Chicken Gyro Supreme deal for this," she called over her shoulder.

"What for?" Sarah shot back good-naturedly, scrambling to her feet as she scooped up the rest of the books.

"Because silence is golden. Or, because brevity is the soul of wit. Or no, wait, it's because a good woman holds her tongue when." She paused, frowning, and then shrugged as she began to climb. "Whatever, you're buying me a gyro."

That night had been one of the best of Sarah's entire life. They'd hung out at the deli, full of food and the laughter of new friends, until the owner had shooed them out onto the streets. And then they had wandered, walking through the town and talking together until it was far too late to go to bed, which made it (Sarah and Nikki agreed) pretty much a done deal in terms of going to class later than day. It had still been deep in winter, then, but the warmth of Jareth's arm around her shoulders and Nikki's hand clasped in her own had lent whatever comfort her heavy coat lacked against the cold air. And that night chased away any lingering vestiges of icy apprehension. Her happiness, before, had seemed too raw and wonderful to bear the burden of any eyes but her own. But that night she knew everything would be just fine.

And the timing couldn't have been better, she realized several weeks later as she paused at the entrance to her dorm, fumbling for her key. Because the next Very Important Person to meet Jareth wasn't nearly as. easy going.

"Hey there!" she heard someone calling just as her fingers closed around the cold metal key in her pocket. "Over here, Sarah!"

It was, in fact, her stepmother.

"Karen?" Sarah asked, feeling a little bowled over. Her wide eyes took in the dusty blonde who stood across the street, smartly dressed in a pale pink pantsuit with a white silk scarf twisted around her neck, cravat-style. She waved, smiling widely, the dying winter sun glinting on the wedding ring on her left hand as she made her way over to her stepdaughter.

"Hi, honey," she said, shifting her sunglasses up so that they nestled in her coif of short hair. "How are you?"

"Um," Sarah spoke distractedly, "I'm fine, I guess." She stared at the figure in front if her. "Karen, not to sound rude, but what are you doing here?"

Her stepmother beamed. "Oh, well, your father's out of town on business, and I got lonely all by myself. I decided to visit a friend in the area, and then I thought I'd come by and surprise you!" Her smile wilted a bit around the edges, a note of hesitancy creeping into her voice. "Is that all right?"

"Of course it is," Sarah covered quickly, mentally kicking herself. No matter how much their relationship had improved over the years, Karen still had undeniable insecurities when it came to Sarah, mainly to due with the unspoken guilt of replacing her real mother. Sarah knew it, and knew it was her job to make sure Karen never felt like a true interloper. "I'm just - I'm sorry, it's just a shock to see you." She stepped down off the stone steps to give her stepmother a friendly hug. "What'd you do with Toby?"

"Oh, I bundled him into the back of the car and brought him with me," Karen said, regaining her easy smile. "Janice hasn't seen him since he was still in diapers, and I knew you'd want to say hi. Come on, have lunch with us. He's sleeping in the car." Without waiting for Sarah's answer, she linked her arm with her stepdaughter's and began to walk off in the direction of the parking lots. Sarah was content to listen attentively to Karen's breezy chatter about work and Sarah's high school friends, but she was grateful when they reached the family's blue sedan. She couldn't help smiling the minute she spotted the familiar towhead of her baby brother, sprawled out on the back seat.

"Karen!" she exclaimed upon reaching the car. "You didn't even crack a window for him!"

"Oh, he's fine," Karen said, opening up the driver's door, keys rattling. "I swear, Sarah, you fuss more than I do." She smiled when she said it, though - it was a familiar point of contention, and one she was secretly pleased about. "Climb on in, it's unlocked."

Sarah grumbled as she did so, pulling her long legs in the car door as she slid onto the back seat, careful not to disturb the very-close-to-five-year-old sleeping there. But he stirred anyway, looking around in that adorably befuddled way of little kids everywhere. He rubbed his eyes as he sat up, hands slightly grubby with graham cracker crumbs. And then he simply moved over so that he was comfortably seated in Sarah's lap, his soft arms going around her neck as he rested his head on her shoulder. And promptly went back to sleep.

Sarah gently wrapped her arms around his tiny body and gave him a squeeze. She looked up to see Karen smiling softly at the picture they made.

"He's missed you," she said.

Sarah placed a kiss on top of Toby's mussed hair. "Ditto."

They drove a little ways into town, stopping at a café that appealed to Karen's taste for dainty eateries. Sarah ordered hot chocolate, warming her hands on the mug as Karen talked and gestured vividly with a fork that had speared a cherry tomato from her salad. Toby roused himself long enough to eat the real whipped cream on Sarah's chocolate, and then curled up on the booth with his head on her knee. She smiled down at him as she listed to Karen with one ear, stroking his hair gently. Sarah leaned back into the cushioned seat, letting herself relax into the comfort of family. She began to drift a little, lulled by the rich sounds of Edith Piaf playing over the speakers.

Long fingers, calloused by guitar strings, slipped gently over her eyes. "Guess who," someone murmured behind her.

Giggling, Sarah caught hold of his wrists, taking his hands away from her face. She turned in her seat to see him hanging nonchalantly over the high back of her seat as he knelt on the booth behind. He placed his chin on his folded arms, which rested on top of the wooden divider, and gave her a roguish grin.

"What are you doing here?" she asked softly, surprised.

He contemplated this for a moment, as if it was a complicated matter. And then he reminded her solemnly: "We had a date."

She blinked. "Oops," she said sheepishly.

"Oops?" His upswept eyebrows came together in a stern frown. "You stand me up, force me to come and fetch you, and all you can say is 'oops?'" He swung around the barrier to stand beside her table, one arm still resting on the divider. His free hand reached out and, taking her chin between his thumb and forefinger, gave her head a gentle shake. "Who taught you manners?" he asked aggrievedly. "Attila the Hun?"


Startled, he looked up to see Karen, who had been trying desperately to catch his attention. She was leaning forward avidly, eyes bright with interest. When he finally focused on her, she turned on her high-watt smile.

"Hello," she burbled. "And who might you be?"

Jareth paused. Then, slowly, he turned to the dark-haired girl beside him, still careful to keep one eye on Karen. "Sarah," he asked softly, voice velvet-deep. "Who is this person?"

Sarah swallowed a smile. "Jareth, this is my stepmother, Karen," she introduced them gravely. "Karen, this is Jareth."

The aforementioned regained his composure quickly, deftly catching Karen's hand to place a kiss on her knuckles. "My pleasure, madam," he said smoothly.

To Sarah's amazement, Karen actually blushed. "It's very nice to meet you," she murmured. To hide the fact that she was a little flustered, she picked up a menu. "Would you like to sit down with us?"

"Nothing could please me more," he returned, giving her a charming smile. The flush on Karen's cheeks darkened, and she hid behind the laminated menu, eyes scanning the desserts. "Move over then," he muttered to Sarah.

She glared at him. "Only if you stop flirting with my stepmother," she whispered mutinously.

He grinned. "But darling," he protested, sotto-voice, "How else can I get in good with your family? Are you going to say nice things about me?" He shook his head. "As much as I adore you, I suspect you're apt to be more critical about my behavior than a sweetheart really should be. And that leaves me no other choice."

"I'm going to get you for this."

"See what I mean? Now, make room so I can get to know to your step-mum."

Feeling murderous, she did so, and Jareth slid in beside her, one arm going around her shoulders. Slightly mollified, Sarah leaned back into his shoulder to murmur in his ear: "How'd you find me, anyway? I mean, after I broke our date."

He shrugged as he smiled at her, their faces very close. "I just knew."

Sarah realized Karen was watching them both over her menu, and jumped, shifting guiltily away from Jareth's embrace. Karen's eyes narrowed.

"Sarah," she said in an I-will-brook-no-nonsense tone, "are you involved with this young man?"

Mortified, Sarah clapped a hand over her mouth in dismay. "Karen," she managed to get out, voice strangled.

"Well, I think I have the right to know."

Jareth settled back, obviously enjoying himself. "We are involved, Mrs. Williams," he informed her graciously.

Karen leaned forward attentively, abandoning her menu. "How serious is it?" she asked him.

"Extremely serious."

She considered him. "Do you think you two will be together for some while?" she asked.

"That is my definite intention."

They exchanged looks of mutual satisfaction. Sarah seethed.

"It's about time," Karen said decisively as she sat back in her seat, apparently to herself. "Jareth," she mused, tasting the name. "That's rather exotic. Are you foreign?"

He grinned hugely. "Why yes, yes I am."

"French?" she asked hopefully.

"Ah, no. English."

"Oh." She drooped a bit. Almost immediately, however, she perked up again. "Even so, they're both European. Europe is such a wonderful place, don't you think?" she chattered brightly.

"I'm partial to it."

"That, er. when you. um." She fluttered the hand he had kissed in greeting. "That was very European, of course."

His lips twitched, but his expression remained demure as he nodded. Beside him, Sarah covered her face with her hands and distantly wondered if any goblins would be up for a trick of snatch-and-grab for old times' sake.

"I think the European influence is such a gentling one upon American society," her stepmother burbled. "There's such a sense of refinement, romance." She gave a tiny, happy sigh. "England, of course, has also given us so much!" she continued earnestly. "Chivalry, culture, great literature -"

"Taxation without representation," Jareth supplied helpfully.

Karen blinked. "Pardon?"

"Mad cow disease?" he tried again.

Sarah's hand shot under the table to rest just above his knee. And squeezed.

He winced. "Alright, alright," he murmured under his breath. Then in a normal voice: "Well, it's been a joy, Mrs. Williams, but I'm afraid I have to take Sarah away from you now."

"Oh, wait a minute," Sarah said, a bit dismayed. "I'm really sorry, Jareth, but can we meet later? I mean, I can't just leave Karen -"

"Nonsense!" her stepmother chirped. "Sarah, we've lived in the same house for years! I wouldn't want you to miss a date just because of me!"

Jareth propped one elbow up on the table, chin in hand. "Madam," he said with a dazzling smile, "your generosity of spirit is surpassed only by your beauty."

Karen had to take a drink of water.

Sarah glared at him as Karen recovered herself. "She loves you, she adores you, she wants to adopt you," she whispered piercingly. "I'm sure she'll give a glowing report. Now will you stop? You're making me look bad."

"Tough luck, love. I'm having fun being the good child, for a change."

"Mama's boy."


"Anyway," Sarah said hurriedly, noticing that Karen was watching them with a suspiciously amused look, "it's not just Karen - it's Toby. I don't get to be with him every day anymore."

Jareth turned to her stepmother, one eyebrow lifted. "'Toby,' is it?" he asked softly. "Do I have a rival for my lady's affections?"

"Most definitely," Karen replied dryly, with a surprising amount of awareness. "But probably not in the way you think. He's Sarah's little brother. He's right next to her."

Jareth leaned across to see. "The blonde kid in the corner?"

"That's the one."

"How old is he?"

"Five this January."

Jareth examined the little boy critically. "I could take him," he announced.

"You are not 'taking' Toby anywhere," Sarah said in a threatening tone. She automatically picked the child up, cradling him defensively in her arms from anticipated attack. "You lay one finger on my little brother and I'll sic Brian on you."

Jareth's eyes narrowed. "You do remember the last time you tried that, don't you?"


"And how our dear Brian refuses to defend your honor anymore?"

"I'd make it worth his while."

"I see your point," Jareth murmured to Karen. "This has the potential to go badly."

"Well, you're the first one to notice that. So I'd say you were ahead."

"Good to know. I have a bike - kids like bikes, right? What if I took him for a ride? Think he'd like me?"

"You have a motorcycle?" Karen asked, eyes shining.

"I do."

She gave another one of those happy sighs. "Very European."

"Toby is not getting on your bike, either," Sarah said firmly. "The helmet's too big for him."

"We could get him a smaller one."


"His mom's fine with it."

"We've already discussed her partiality to you. Someone has to keep a cool head."

"She's probably right," Karen acknowledged with a wistful smile. Her eyes became distant, slightly nostalgic. "You know, when I was a little girl, The Leader of the Pack was my favorite song."

Jareth drew back a little, looking wary. "The what?"

As though aware the discussion had turned to him, Toby slowly opened his eyes. Solemnly he craned his neck to take in his surroundings, climbing awkwardly to his feet to stand on the cushioned seat so he could give Sarah a sticky kiss on her cheek. He then turned to see the second person in the booth. His eyes widened.

Sarah watched, heart in her mouth, as Toby stared at Jareth. That split second seemed to last an eternity. There was no way. He'd been too young - barely over a year old. Kids didn't remember things when they were that young. And even if they did, they probably remembered it as a dream, or something. Desperately her brain raced for excuses for the hysterics she anticipated: he didn't take well to strangers, he was tired and the car ride had made him cranky, Jareth did vaguely resemble her old boyfriends (actually, they resembled him) and they hadn't exactly been nice to Toby - Karen was right about that - or perhaps she could make up some story.

Toby squealed with sheer delight, small arms reaching out to the stranger that sat beside his sister. "Dada!" he said clearly.

Sarah's jaw dropped open. Then she winced as Toby climbed over her, his small sneakers digging into her thighs as he tumbled across her lap to land in Jareth's - who was looking utterly bewildered.

"Erm," he began, obviously confused about this sudden turn of events. "Do I really look like his father?"

"Not at all," Karen answered, considering her small son, forehead wrinkled in thought. "In fact, he doesn't even call my husband that. He says 'Papa.' That's also very European," she added as an afterthought.

Toby hugged Jareth's arm to him, a look of complete happiness on his face. Then he looked up with blue eyes that were quite similar to those of his re-found friend's. "Sing a song!" he demanded.

Jareth tried to shrink away, but Toby's grip was sure. "Sarah," he said testily. "A little help, here?"

But Sarah was laughing too hard to speak.


They reached the building where he lived inside of fifteen minutes, drenched to the skin. Laughing, they raced for the front door and the protection of the awning, Jareth cheating blatantly.

"You are so mean," she said plaintively, shivering as she wrapped her arms around herself. She leaned against the side of the building, watching him drag out his keys as she breathed in the warm night air, scented by the barely-blossoming honeysuckle that grew rampant over the high stone walls. "You're so lucky I put up with you."

 He threw her a dark glance as he grabbed her hand to walk up the stairs, their wet shoes squeaking along the carpet. They hurried up, growing colder as the air conditioning in the hallway lent a chill to their sodden clothing. Sarah stepped into the confines of his place with a relieved sigh.

  Jareth lived on the entire top floor - a loft with a low, sloped ceiling with windows that looked out over the town. It was scantly decorated: band posters were tacked up, here and there, along with old prints and posters whose colors shone, jewel-like, even in the darkness. He didn't even throw a rug over the polished hardwood floors, though he'd painstakingly laid out an old blanket in the corner where he kept his guitars to keep them from getting scratched. He also had the strangest collection of odd things - figurines, fans, and carved wooden panels - all from the places he'd traveled. He'd scattered them all over the apartment, resting idly on top of bookcases stuffed with an eclectic collection of everything from Shakespeare to cyberpunk. He'd bought the place a scant two weeks after meeting her, though he only lived there when he wasn't working in New York, which wasn't often. When Sarah had asked how a struggling musician could afford something like this, he'd explained his family situation in the briefest terms possible: his parents had died, a long time ago, but relatives had raised him. Relatives who had money.

"Must have made for an interesting time growing up," Sarah had responded, watching him intently as he cooked lunch for her. It had been a school day, but she had the worst habit of dropping everything in order to be with him whenever he came around.

"You have no idea," he had responded dryly. "Especially since the trappings that go with wealth didn't always appeal to me, and I'd search out new friends every so often. I certainly kept a variety of company, which had an interesting affect on me personally. Not to mention my education."

"Your education? How so?"

"Ah. Well." He had pretended to become absorbed in what he was making. "How spicy do you want this?"

"Very spicy. How did it affect your education?"

"Full of questions today, aren't we?"

"It's your punishment for leaving me alone for a whole month. Now, tell me: education."

He had winced guiltily at the mention of his absence. "Well, how long did you spend in high school?"

"Four years, same as everyone else. What does that have to -"

"It took me six."

She had stared at him. "Had a little trouble, did we?"

"Me? No. Definitely not. No, I'd say it was the wonderful teachers who had trouble." 

"Trouble with what?"

"Finding me."

She had narrowed her eyes. "And why was this?"

He had shrugged. "Whenever I became bored - which was rather often - I made myself scarce. Took a trip. Traveled around a bit."

"What's 'a bit'?"

"Thailand is lovely in autumn. Did you know that?"

"So you didn't graduate until you were nineteen?"

He had thought about this for a moment. "Graduate? No, I wouldn't say I'd graduated, exactly. I'd say there was a mutual agreement between otherwise dissenting parties that I shouldn't go back to school. And they gave me a nice slip of paper saying I was excused, indefinitely, from class."

"Wow. Your family must have a lot of clout."

"Not just mine. Apparently a couple teachers protested that I'd given them a nervous breakdown. And quite a few parents claimed I'd seduced their daughters - accusations which wounded me to the quick."

"So you didn't seduce them?"

"I didn't say that. But I'd been very careful to make sure there wasn't any evidence of such, so those claims were completely unfounded."

"Maybe their daughters told them about it."

"Oh, no." He had shaken his head solemnly. "They would never have done that. Trust me. In fact, I heard they'd formed a petition to get me back in."


"Oh yes. You'd be surprised, Sarah, at how other women tend to think of me. I told you, you're the first one who's made me work this hard." He had offered her a spoon, innocently. "Taste?"

"No, thank you. I'm enjoying the story."

"Your choice. There's really nothing more to it. I got my piece of paper, the teachers got their peace of mind."

"And the girls?"

"You know, I don't think I'll tell that part. I have the distinct suspicion it'll get me in trouble."

"Good instinct."

"I've honed it carefully."

Sarah smiled to herself as she stepped inside his loft, remembering that day. The times they spent together were too often few and far between - he was constantly relocating to the city to work, either on other people's albums or working out the contract for his own. But she never worried, even though someone - who was it? Erica, maybe? - had warned her she should. Jareth would never lie to her. She knew that. And the times they spent together were so intense, it almost made up for the weeks she didn't see him in between.

He wrapped his arms around her as she stood, thinking. He placed a kiss on her neck, murmuring, "I've got some good news. Go get dry and I'll tell you what it is."

She turned in the circle of his arms to face him, placing her hands on his chest. "You won't tell me now?" she asked archly.

"I might," he said gravely. "If the information were extracted from me. In some way."

She considered this for a moment. "I'll go change," she said, twisting out of his grip.

She heard him sigh, a little regretfully. "Darn."

She laughed and ducked into his bedroom. She'd gotten into the habit of leaving a couple changes of clothing in his closet after one too many nights when he'd kept her up so late she'd fallen asleep on his couch between one word and the next. She'd always woken up the next morning in his bed - alone. Jareth was always up already, either making something to eat, or working on a song, or reading. She'd never seen him sleep.

She peeled out of her wet clothes and threw them into a corner, tugging on a button-down shirt and a dry pair of jeans. She swung out the door and into the kitchen area where Jareth, who had found a dry shirt somewhere, was peeling an apple.

"Tell me the good news," she said, hopping up onto the kitchen counter beside him. She leaned her head onto his shoulder, his wet hair tickling her face.

"The contact's all worked out," he said. Disentangling the apple from its waxy skin seemed to take up all of his concentration - he carved the knife just beneath the surface with the control and delicacy of someone conducting a much more important task. He bent his head a little as he worked so that she couldn't see his eyes. "I'm set to start working in June."

Sarah watched as his long, lean hands handled the knife. His fingers were slender, beautiful even, but contained a deceptive strength. "For how long?"

"All summer."

"Oh," she said in a tiny voice.

He smiled to himself. The apple had completely shed the cumbersome skin; it's white, juicy flesh rested in his palm, leaving slick trails on his skin. He began, methodically, to slice into the fruit; the path of his knife accompanied by faint rasping sounds. "I made that a condition of the agreement."

"Why's that?" she asked quietly. The apartment was silent except for the barely discernable hum of the air conditioning.

"Because." He removed a slender arc of apple from the whole, then split it in two. He held out the bite-sized pieces in one hand. "I wanted to make sure you could come with me."

Carefully, Sarah reached out and took one of the chunks of apple. She laid it on her tongue and chewed slowly, savoring the sweetness.

"You will, won't you?" He turned so that he was standing in front of her. She held out her hand for more, and he picked up the second piece between those beautiful, slender fingers, and fed it to her - letting his touch linger on her lips. "Sarah?"

She tilted her head back, considering. "Where'd you get this?" she finally asked. "It's really good."


She collapsed into giggles, holding her arms up in front of her face as he snarled, leaning forward on his hands. "Wicked child," he growled softly. She laughed again as she lowered her defenses, eyes shining. He was mock-glaring at her, faces inches away from her own. Impulsively, she kissed him - and was more than happy with his enthusiastic response.

"Of course I will," she whispered after a moment, breaking away. 

"Good," he murmured, sounding a little relieved. And then promptly resumed kissing her.

Sarah made a soft sound of contentment, placing her hands on his forearms as she relaxed into the embrace. He made a move as if to shift her closer to him, and she helped by wrapping her legs tightly around his waist and sliding forward so that their bodies met in a single line. He shuddered as she did, deepening the kiss. She could feel the wet denim of his jeans along her bare feet and ankles, the movement of his muscles under her hands as he adjusted to hold her close. She leaned back as he began to kiss her throat, tongue flickering along her pulse. She gasped and he held her tighter, hands slipping under her shirt to rest on the smooth skin of her hips. He bent his head lower, nuzzling the soft expanse directly beneath her collarbone as her hands gripped the material of his shirt between her fingers. His hands moved upwards, smoothly, along her ribcage.

"Wait," Sarah managed to get out. "Wait a sec." She sat back up, pulling at his shirt for leverage.

He took his hands away to brace himself on the countertop once more, raising his head. His lips were slightly swollen from kissing her. "Yes?" he asked patiently, but there was a rebellious darkness in his eyes that said: This better be good.  

Seeing that, Sarah's lips twitched. "I just want to make it clear," she said simply. "That I want to be with you."

"Is that all?" He smiled, sneaking in a quick kiss. "Of course. You've never been to New York, have you? You'll love it. And my place there isn't as nice as this one, but I know -"

"That's not what I meant," she said, avoiding his next attempt to get back to the matter at hand. "I mean, yeah, I want to stay with you there, of course. But I meant here. With you."

He drew back a little, searching her face. "You can always stay here. And I'm not going anywhere."

"Not just with you." She licked her lips, feeling a little nervous. "With you."

His eyes widened. His arms released her. "Sarah, why don't we talk -" He made as if to step away, but Sarah stubbornly refused to remove her legs from around him, and he was forced to stop, or drag her with him. He stopped. And gave her a stern look. "Let go, Sarah."

"No," she spoke softly. "Don't leave me."

He sighed, placing his hands on either side of her. "I'm not," he promised.

The sat for a moment in silence, at an impasse. Sarah lifted one of her hands from around his neck to touch his face: softly, hesitantly. "You know what I realized?" she asked quietly.

His eyes, dark with repressed, unspoken passions, held hers. "What's that?"

"You're being very gentle with me." She traced the line of his cheek, harsh planes unsoftened by mortality. "Very careful. Always so far, and no farther. Like I was made of glass." She held his face between her hands. "Don't."

He took one hand in his own, laying a gentle kiss on her palm. To her surprise, his hand was trembling, ever so slightly. "I know. I'm just not taking any chances."

She frowned. "What are you afraid of?"

He gripped her hand tightly. "Losing you."

She laughed a little, leaning forward so that her head rested on his shoulder. "No such luck."

He kissed the fingertips of her captured hand, sending shivers through her arm. "Promise?"

"Cross my heart." And she felt his mouth curve in a smile.

"Alright." He carefully placed her arms back around his neck. "But I've got a few conditions."

"Really?" She drew back to see his face. "Like what?"

"Rule number one." And he wrapped his arms around her waist and swept her off the counter as she gave a little shriek of surprise. "I'm making breakfast. Indefinitely. You can't cook worth a damn."

"I can, too!' she protested as he carried her through the living area. "That once didn't count."

"Life is unfair, darling," he said, "and that once certainly did count. My landlord made it very clear that if I allow you to use my kitchen again, he's going to kick me out."

"I've never seen food catch fire that quick, anyway," she muttered. "I think your stove is jinxed."

"Rule number two." He opened the door to his bedroom with one hand, still holding her rather effortlessly. "No more of this, 'Jareth, he was only talking,' or, 'Jareth, he didn't mean anything by it'," he mimicked her in a high falsetto. "If we're sleeping together, I get full boyfriend rights. That means I'm allowed to go after anyone who even looks at you the wrong way."

Sarah sighed melodramatically as he laid her gently on his bed. "I don't suppose this is up for discussion?"

He grinned wickedly as he held himself above her. "Not if you want to get any tonight."

She rolled her eyes. "Fine."

He lowered himself down next to her, their bodies pressed close. He cradled the back of her head in his hand. "And thirdly," he murmured as he kissed her, "you've got to swear you'll still respect me in the morning."

She giggled at that, and it got even worse as he tickled her mercilessly until she gave her promise. And then he took her laughter and turned it into something else entirely.


She woke up hours later. It was still night - the sky outside his window was dark, speckled with cold stars. They lay a little apart, facing each other, her head pillowed on his outstretched arm.

She watched him sleep for a while. And then she said something - strange, to think she'd never said it before. But it seemed right, now, to whisper it as he slept.

"I love you."

He didn't move at all - he didn't even open his eyes - but she knew he was awake. His body went rigid next to her, filled with such unbearable tension it felt like he had turned to stone. He simply lay there, breathing, and for one long, horrible moment, Sarah wondered if she'd made a mistake.

And then:

"Say it again."

She smiled. "I love you."

He drew her closer into his arms but still didn't open his eyes, as if savoring every syllable. "Say it more."

She nestled into the hollow of his shoulder. "I love you," she murmured. "I've always loved you. If you left tomorrow and never came back, I'd still love you. I love how you laugh, how you make me laugh. I love your singing. I love the way you touch me. I love that you refuse to see my side of an argument."

He opened his eyes at this, and she reached up to brush a stand of wheat-gold hair off of his face. "Sorry," he said quietly.

"Don't be. It's you." She grinned at him, placing her hand on his smooth chest. "I love how you glare at me when you're trying to be serious. I love the way you sleep." She turned mischievous. "You're cute."

"Am not."

"Are, too."

He leaned over to bite her shoulder, gently. She laughed and pulled away, determined not to be distracted. "Loving you is like breathing - natural, and easy." He stilled at that, but didn't raise his head. "And I can't not love you and live," she ended simply.

He was quiet for several moments. And then he tilted his head to kiss her, hard, almost savagely, his hands moving over her body in a way that made her liquid in his embrace. But she touched her fingers to the tears on his cheeks in a silent question.

"Nothing." He whispered the word hoarsely against her lips, and then stole it back again with a kiss. "It's nothing. I just. I feel like I've been waiting to hear that for a very, very long time."


She woke up a second time, some hours later, and the morning sunlight was just spilling over the horizon. She got up out of bed, pulling on one of his sweatshirts hanging over a chair. It hit her just at the tops of her thighs, wrapping warmth around her. She walked over to the window and tugged it open. She stood on tiptoe to breathe in the chilly morning air. But there was something different: the scent of newly overturned earth, of green things pushing out from brittle winter cocoons. Spring had arrived, and even the early sun felt a little warmer on her face.

"Sarah," she heard a dark voice call, softly. And she knew that, if she turned around, she'd see the long, pale body and crystalline eyes of a man who had slowly taken hold of her life, through force or coercion by turns. "Come back to bed."

The world was born anew.


This world was different.

They knew, standing there; the rich colors of her heavy dress glowing like jewels amidst the gnarled and naked branches strung with softly shimmering cobwebs, his glossy black boots becoming dulled by the dusty earth at their feet. They could feel it the moment their lungs drew in the air, the moment they tasted the fresh, sweet breeze that swept over the Labyrinth before them. It had a heady savor, like a rich wine not yet tempered, full of the promise of unharnessed potential.

It was the scent of magic without a master.

"He's gone," the man said. He uttered the words lightly, as if expecting to have to snatch them back, surprised at any moment by the sight of a brooding figure with mismatched eyes revealed out of shadow. But no one appeared.

"I know," the woman beside him replied. Her eyes never strayed from the sight of a castle, now in ruins, that could be seen just over the horizon. "I told them he was gone. I could feel it."

The man turned his gaze to her. His hair, which spilled over his shoulders in a gleaming curtain, was pale and fine. Hers was bound up in braids into a coiled crown, and was darker than night. His skin was rough, sun-bronzed, while hers was petal-smooth and pale enough to show a faint tracery of blue veins at her temples. And yet there was something so similar about the two of them that any passer-by would have guessed them siblings, or somehow related. It was a resemblance that the man they talked of - had he been there to surprise them - would have shared.

"True," the man continued after a moment. "However, it has been a very long time."

Her eyes were the color of fire. They burned with banked passion as she stared off into the distance, as if memorizing every line and fall of the crumbled fortress she found there.

"But then," the man continued, as if she had spoken, "the two of you were always close."

She shut her burning eyes. Astonishingly, a drop of flame fell from them, singeing her cheek in a long, red line before it fell, where it sizzled and burned the earth black. The man watched, with detached interest, as the burn mark on her skin healed to porcelain perfection in a matter of seconds. She opened her eyes, and they were just eyes, and her tears were simple tears.

"Where is he?" she asked in a broken whisper.

The man shook his head. "I don't know, Roksana. The castle is destroyed, but I would have known if he had died. And now that we're here, I agree with you - he has certainly gone. But I don't know where."

"We must find him." She turned to him in an oddly trusting gesture, slipping under his arm to rest her head on his shoulder. "When he left, I let him go without a word. I was so angry. And then he stayed away for so long. And now." She shuddered softly, gripping the stiff fabric of his cloak. "Promise that - promise you will look for him. Swear you will bring him back to me."

He sighed, but his hand reached up to smooth her hair in acceptance. He turned his troubled gaze to the entrance to the maze where, as he watched, the wild magic gave seed to thick bramble-vines. They writhed to free themselves from the dank earth, reaching up along the battered stone walls to insinuate roots in every crack of mortar. Clambering over each other in a riot of slick dark leaves and hidden thorns, the vines quickly grew rampant over the main gates, sealing off the entrance. Watching, the man knew that elsewhere other entrances were closed, or cut off, grown over or pulled down. It was becoming, effectively, a fortress in of itself, impervious to attack or even approach. It would remain so until the being that had been designated its caretaker was returned to his crumbled throne and leashed the power that now ran wild on the softest breeze. 

"I give you my word," he said quietly. "Don't worry, dear one. The Labyrinth needs him. It will help me.

"And we will bring him home."

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 15 of 15

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