Ch. 36 A Plot Is Hatched
Note: Sorry for how long it took to update this. I've been dealing with a whacking horrible bout of writer's block since early November. I've tried all kinds of things to break it and nothing helped, until I started writing in 15 minute bursts. It's still a struggle, so please be patient with me. My health has been lousy since before Christmas and work is a mess, so I don't have much time to write and when I do have time all I want to do is sleep.
Anyway, as always, please review :)
The steady ticking of the clock upon the mantel punctuated the rhythmic beating of Jareth's heart, the quietness belying the sense of unease that crawled beneath his skin, setting his very being on edge. A week had passed since Sarah had accepted the training collar and willingly consented to their relationship becoming more intimate, both emotionally and physically. On the surface, everything seemed normal, but he couldn't shake the sense that something was decidedly off.
Frowning, Jareth stared intently at the the computer screen upon his desk, neat rows of financial figures filling his vision, yet remaining unseen. The sound of ice cracking in the crystal highball glass by his right hand, melded with the ticking of the clock, doing little to distract him from his thoughts.
Thoughts of Sarah.
When his clock went off Monday morning, the week started on a high note, with Sarah wrapped in his arms. During breakfast she was quieter than usual, but he attributed that to the way she was checked her homework calendar and reviewed for her Calculus exam. That evening dinner was a quiet affair. Both he and his parents tried to draw her into the conversation, but she was uncharacteristically reserved. Jareth watched her as he spoke to his parents, wondering at the slight hollow sound to her laughter and the dullness in her eyes.
Promptly at nine o'clock that evening she appeared in his study and sunk to her knees on the blue embroidered cushion next to his desk chair, even leaning against his leg as he finished up his work. The silence was companionable enough. As he worked, Jareth stroked his fingers through her hair, smiling at the soft sighs from Sarah. When he shut down the computer at 9:15 and moved to his leather armchair, Sarah followed, curling up on the cushion once more and asking for her punishment - a punishment that was summarily delivered. There was no need to strike her hard, her entire demeanour spoke volumes. From her downcast eyes to the quiet tears of regret that followed each stroke of the cane, it was clear that Sarah finally understood the seriousness of her choices and was learning the lesson.
But Jareth took no pleasure in the victory.
That night she came to his bed as usual, waiting quietly for him to undress her, before she slipped under the covers clad only in the diaphanous purple silk. Jareth finished his evening tasks, all the while keeping watch over her, wondering at the strange feel of her mood - muted and dull, a strange metallic scent hanging around her, where he had grown accustomed to the scent of love, or even desire. Sliding into the bed with her, he picked up his book, pausing to watch the way her fingers caressed the fine chain around her throat. She said nothing to him and he did not push her to speak. Falling into their usual pattern, Jareth began to read, the words having a mechanical quality to them, as his thoughts turned toward Sarah and his growing suspicion that something was very wrong.
From there his suspicions only grew, as did his frustration. Each evening Sarah spent dinner with his parents, while he dealt with kingdom matters Underground. Promptly at nine o'clock, his study door would open and she would appear. Taking her place as was required in her training, she responded to questions and addressed him properly, with no cause for him to remind her of her training protocols. It was as if the flame inside her had been doused, yes she still drew near to him, leaning into his caress as he stroked her head or cheek, one of her hands tracing the embroidery upon her cushion, while the other glided possessively over the collar around her throat.
Frowning Jareth loosened his tie with an irritable tug. A long pull of the whiskey in his glass did little to assuage him. If it weren't for the fact that she continued to wear the collar, the symbol of her submission, he would have been sure she had changed her mind about her training, yet she seemed to treasure the collar and her place beside his chair. Only then, in that place behind the heavy door of his study, was he able to feel her emotions, a bittersweet mix of peacefulness and sadness that was reassuring and confusing. Outside of his study, it felt as if she she was actively pulling away from him, until even her emotions were muted and hard to feel, something that unnerved him greatly.
Add to that the fact that had stopped seeking comfort in his bed at night, and the Goblin King was more than unnerved, he was worried.
A quiet knock on the study door drew his attention, before the door was pushed open, the ruddy face of Mrs. Brown peering in. "Oh, excuse me Sir...it is so late I assumed you had retired for the evening."
Nodding, Jareth waved the housekeeper in with a quiet smile. "It's fine, Tess...come in and do what you must. I find myself struggling to sleep this week."
"You aren't the only one. Must be the moon," she quipped.
Jareth cocked his head and peered at her, as she moved around collecting the dessert tray she had delivered during Sarah's evening lesson. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, just that Sarah seems to be having trouble sleeping too. Several times this week I went in to wake her and she was asleep on her sofa, and once asleep sitting in her desk chair with her head on her books and papers. I don't think she's slept in the bed all week, it hasn't been touched."
Seeing her employer lost in thought Mrs. Brown slipped from the room with the dirty dishes, blissfully unaware of the speed with which Jareth locked the door upon her exit. Jareth caressed the large crystal resting in the golden holder on the desk, "Mother… a word if you please."
The grey mist within the shimmering orb cleared, revealing the High Queen flanked by her ladies in waiting, secluded in a floral bower that Jareth knew well from his childhood. Titania's lavender eyes glowed warmly as she smiled at him. "Good evening, Jareth darling. I take it the children are off to the land of Nod?"
Sighing, Jareth ran a hand through his hair. "Toby is happily dreaming about a pirate ship crewed by pirate goblins, but it is not my boy that worries me."
"Is there a problem with Sarah?" she asked, her face pinching at the thought.
"I was hoping you could tell me."
Titania waved a hand, dismissing her ladies before turning her attention back to the crystal. "She has been acting odd this week. Your father and I wanted to enquire, but thought it best to give you two some space as you had seemed to be getting along so well. Have you had a falling out of some kind? A misunderstanding perhaps?"
Shaking his head, Jareth sighed. "Not that I am aware of. Sunday night we went to bed as we have been, with her curled into me and woke up the same way Monday morning. From that point on something has felt off, and I'll be damned if I can figure out what it might be. I can't even feel her emotions as well as I could before. It's as if the bond is dying," he said, a hint of misery creeping into his words, in the unguarded moment with his mother.
The High Queen nibbled her lower lip, a sheepish cast to her face. "Well, I may have had something to do with the meted emotions, darling." Seeing the storms brewing in her son's eyes, she shook her head, "Don't be angry, Jareth. She came to me and asked for help controlling the bond link, as she was finding it difficult to focus on schoolwork during the day because she was constantly being inundated with your feelings of frustration or boredom at High Council. Sarah thought it would be best if she could control the link."
Torn between admiration of the Sarah's queenly logic and frustration, Jareth downed the last of his drink in one long swallow before answering. "While I can understand and appreciate her desire not to feel things that distract her, that does not explain why she chooses to keep her emotions muted at all times now."
"Jareth, give the girl time. She is still young as a human and as a Fae. While she seems more content with you, it will still be a struggle. Our world and expectations are vastly different to the Aboveground. It must be overwhelming to take it all in so quickly, and she has really done marvelously at adapting in the last two months."
Nodding, Jareth found that he could not argue with her assessment. "I'll try, although I don't think you quite appreciate how difficult it will be not to push her. I want her to talk to me, mother. I don't want her to revert to hiding things from me. Not now...we've come too far."
The gentle warmth of Titiana's smile soothed his fears in the way only a mother's love could. "If it has you this concerned, then try talking to her, Jareth. Don't push for answers, but show her how her pulling away makes you. Sometimes, it is not strength that breaks down barriers, but an admission of vulnerability."
Jareth's fingers slid over the glittering skin of the crystal, his mother's words striking a chord within him. While he had given Sarah ample opportunity to speak to him if she wished, he had not opened up to her about how it was affecting him. "There is logic to what you suggest, Madame."
Titania's tinkling laugh echoed from the crystal as the mist once more swirled within, "Of course there is, darling. There is a reason I get on so well with humans and your father's dalliances never last long - I understand how they think."
Watching the last of the mist swirl through the orb, Jareth considered her words.
"Why must love be so complicated," he muttered, shutting down his computer and turning off the light in his study.
Glancing at the clock, Jareth shut the book in his lap and leaned his head back against the headboard of the bed. In the next instant he was on his feet, snatching up his dressing gown and pulling it on as he strode toward the hall, the door to his parlor and the suite flying open before he reached them. 'Six nights without her in my arms. Seven days of her quiet responses, lifeless laughter and dull eyes. Enough is enough.'
His footfalls were silent on the thick carpets that lined the stairs and hall. Reaching her door, he paused, staring at the heavy wood for a long moment before raising his hand and giving it a quiet rap. Without a word, the door opened. Blinking, he peered inside, curious to find her still sitting on her sofa a sketchbook open on her lap, her hair twisted into a knot upon her head, held in place with five different pencils. With her eyes still on her drawing, she said nothing, as he entered the room, only stabbing her pencil into her hair and plucking another one from it, before returning to her skitch.
"Your control over moving objects is coming along, Sarah," he murmured from the doorway.
Fighting down the wave of frustration at yet another one word reply from her, Jareth tried again, "Mother reports that you are even working on dampening emotions and protecting your thoughts?"
Sarah said nothing, merely giving a quiet nod. Although she studiously avoided her gaze, Jareth could not help but notice that her green eyes were slightly glassy, as if she had been crying. Still in the doorway, Jareth resisted the urge to rush to her, trying desperately to give her the space he had been advised to give, when every cell within him demanded he comfort his mate.
"Did you want something?" she finally asked, her voice thick with recently shed tears.
Tilting his head, Jareth gave her a warm smile, his pale eyes noting her every breath and movement. "Not particularly, Precious. You haven't visited the last few nights and I was missing your company - this whole relationship thing goes both ways, you see," he said, his tone light and teasing, hoping for a smile in return only to be disappointed with a smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes.
"Oh… well… are you going to come in then or just lurk in the doorway?" she asked, looking away from his penetrating gaze.
With her hollow words still hanging in the air, Jareth shut the door behind him and crossed the room, settling on the sofa at her feet. Without a word, he pulled her feet into his lap, gently massaging them through her thick slipper socks. Smiling at her quiet sigh, he continued to dig his thumbs into the pressure points she most enjoyed, his worry easing at the way she relaxed with the familiar caress.
"I didn't want to intrude until you had actually invited me, Sarah."
Plucking a pencil from her hair, Sarah went back to her sketch, giving a doleful sniff. Jareth frowned slightly as he watched her, his senses carefully probing the bond link, and being greeted with the dull, lifeless emotions he had felt for over a week. Around her swirled faint hints of cedar and winter wind - sadness. Despite the muted emotions he now felt through the link, Jareth felt sure she needed his comfort, yet he could not place why or how.
"Sarah… love…" he began, his hand gently stroking her foot, despite her stubborn avoidance of his gaze. "I can't help but feel something is off between us. I would dearly love to help resolve whatever is troubling you, if you would care to talk about it."
"It's not that, Jareth," Sarah sighed, tucking the pencil into her bun. Her eyes stared vacantly at the sketch in her lap, glassy and unfocused. Shaking her head, her fingers traced along the paper.
"You know you have no reason to feel guilty for what has happened. You are an adult and almost full Fae. To want to experience pleasure and intimacy with one you are bonded to, is natural."
Her cheeks flushed hotly, even as she hung her head, the scent of pine growing stronger around her. Jareth wondered at the sudden misery she was feeling.
"We...you and I… we're okay, Jareth," she said, her words barely a whisper.
"Darling, you've spent the last two weeks in my arms and bed each night. You accepted my training collar willingly, and now suddenly you have retreated back to your rooms. Yet Mrs. Brown says you are not sleeping well. On top of that you seem far more reserved than you have been," he replied, his fingers ceasing their firm caress of her foot. "I can't help you, if you will not confide in me. Others would simply order you to share what is bothering you, but...I will not do that, Sarah," he sighed, his pale eyes quietly pleading. "I just want to know how I can help."
"I just… I want to be on my own right now. It isn't you. I promise," she said, finally raising her head to look at him, her green eyes shimmering with tears threatening to spill over. "I...I need time. Please. Just a bit."
Reaching over, his fingers caressed the chain around her throat. "If it is this that is troubling you, Precious, I will happily remove it. I would rather this not come between us… not if it ruins that which we have managed to build."
Shimmering tears clung to ebony eyelashes, before beginning their slow descent down her cheeks, as her hand flew protectively up to the chain that lay with reassuring weight at the base of her throat. "I...I do need this right now. Please don't take it away, Jareth. Please!" she pleaded, her words punctuated with heavy teardrops that splashed on her arm.
Jareth caressed her cheek, his touch tender. "Sarah, if time is what you need to work through whatever is troubling you, then I will gladly give it to you. But remember this, I am always here for you. You can come to me with anything, day or night, and I will move the stars to help you if I can."
"I know," she mumbled miserably, her gaze dropping once more, while her grasp on the chain continued.
Curling his fingers gently under her chin, Jareth lifted her face so her watery eyes once more met his. "I love you, Precious Sarah. Do not forget," he murmured. Leaning toward her, he pressed a brief kiss to her forehead, hating the misery that encircled her, and hating more his inability to change it.
"I won't forget," she whispered, leaning into the kiss. Pulling away from his touch, she quickly ripped the sheet from her sketchbook and folded it in half, before offering it to him. "I...well...here," she mumbled. "Um… don't look at it here tho."
Jareth nodded with a quiet smile, the fact that she would share her art with him in any small way, touching him. "I promise," he murmured, then turned and strode toward the hall. Pausing in the doorway, he glanced back to her over his shoulder, his pale eyes flickering softly in the rosy light of her parlor. "Should you need me, Sarah…."
"I'll call…." she answered, giving him a wan smile. "Thank you, Jareth."
With a resigned sigh, Jareth shut her door and started down the hall, only to stop when a quiet voice spoke from the middle of the stairs below him.
"She's still upset isn't she?"
Jareth stopped and looked down at the small boy sitting hunched over on the steps, a stuffed goblin clutched in his arms, while a real goblin sat next to him, it's orange eyes as tearful as the lad's. Fighting back his own concern for Sarah, and the feeling that he had been neglecting to see to Toby's emotional well-being while focusing on Sarah's, Jareth sat down next to Toby and pulled the child into his lap, "Yes, my boy. Sarah is upset."
The diminutive goblin crept closer to his King, until he was snuggled against Jareth's hip and clinging to the leg of his human charge. "Lady unhappy, Sire," the goblin moaned pitifully.
"So it seems, Squidbait," Jareth murmured, petting the small goblin's bushy green head. "I only wish I knew why she was so sad."
Toby burrowed deeper into the Goblin King's arms, his small body shaking slightly with tears.
Hugging the child close, Jareth rocked him. "Here now, Toby. Why the tears...hmm? Just because Sarah is sad is no reason for you to be sad too."
"But I know why she is sad," Toby whimpered, scrubbing his wet eyes with the cuff of his pajama shirt. "I feel the same."
Jareth stroked the child's back gently, feeling Toby's own anguish through the familial link. 'Blast and damn, I should have checked on Toby's emotional state,' Jareth cursed himself for a fool. Shaking his head to clear away his own frustration, he gave the boy a warm smile and a reassuring squeeze. "Well, perhaps if you told me what was troubling you both, I could fix it and we could make you and Sarah happy again?"
"No...you can't. I asked Poppa and he said that as much as he loved all of us, it was the one thing he couldn't do," Toby whimpered miserably, a fresh wave of tears dampening Jareth's chest through his shirt.
An icy feeling coiled around Jareth's heart, at the realization of what Toby must have asked the High King to do. Sighing, he brushed sandy hair back from the boy's tear streaked face, knowing that he had to ask, but dreading the answer he was sure to come.
"What is that, Toby?"
"Bring back our Mummy and Daddy," Toby mumbled against Jareth's chest.
Jareth felt his heart ache for the child, wishing fervently that he could do as the boy asked, but such magic was forbidden. After several long minutes, he sighed, still stroking Toby's back, "Toby...my son… is there a reason why you and Sarah are both feeling this so keenly now? Has something happened? Has someone said something thoughtless or mean?" Toby shook his head, sitting up straighter in Jareth's lap. Smiling gently at the small boy, Jareth tenderly wiped the remaining tears from the child's eyes. "You know I will fix it if someone has been thoughtless."
"Next week is Thanksgiving," Toby sighed, pulling Squidbait into his lap and squeezing the little goblin's neck so tight, the poor thing's orange eyes bugged out and it grunted in pain, but didn't utter a word of complaint.
Frowning slightly, Jareth pondered the child's words, delivered with a matter-of-fact tone that suggested that the answer should be apparent - yet for the Goblin King it was anything but.
"So Thanksgiving is next week… how is that a problem? I was under the impression that Thanksgiving was a happy time for Americans?"
"It is...usually. Sarah loves fall and Thanksgiving especially. But it's… it's a family thing. Mummy always made a huge feast and Daddy always got the Christmas decorations out of the attic, then he and Sarah would plan the decorations for the yard. Then we'd play games and make s'mores, and Daddy always let me fall asleep in his lap by the bonfire," Toby said, his wistful words tinged with tears once more. "I miss them. I think Sarah's sad like I am - we're in England now. There'll be no more Thanksgivings for us."
At the boy's heartbroken sob, Jareth pulled him close once more, vowing to do what he could to assuage their combined pain. They needed a distraction.
"Toby...how would you like to plan a big surprise for Sarah? A surprise that will make her smile again...I promise there will be s'mores, food and fun games in it for you as well."
Sniffling, the child rubbed his eyes and nodded. "Sure. What d'ya want me to do?"
Jareth lifted Toby in his arms and started back toward the boy's bedroom. "I'll tuck you into bed and tell you all about it. But you are sworn to secrecy, under penalty of no more sleepovers with Ludo, Hoggle and the goblins."
"I swear, Sire!" Toby whispered fervently, his blue eyes wide in their seriousness.
"Good boy…now...what we're going to do is this…."
*shakes little wooden box*
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