NOTE: This is for all you romance hounds out there...
The gravel crunched under Aaron's boots as he plucked a long stemmed flower and twirled it in his fingers. Tess was leaning against the large trunk of a maple tree. Its twisted branches held an air of morbidity to the serene castle gardens. Aaron knew how it looked in the fall with its leaves turning deep red, like blood. He had never found comfort with maple trees, by the looks of it Tess was not at peace either.
"What is on your mind?" Aaron asked moving over to her. Tess was without her cardigan and her hair was tied up in a messy bun on her head. She had a distant look on her face.
"Just thinking" Tess replied. Aaron leaned against the tree beside her. He could almost feel her inner-conflict. He recognized the looks and the expressions that she had presented since they had woken up and dressed. Growing up with numerous sisters gave him some basic insight on the female kind.
"We should talk about us" Aaron said. Tess's eyes snapped to his. "We do live in two separate worlds and everything."
"I was thinking about that" Tess replied. Her voice was cold compared to his. "Perhaps our earlier indiscretion should be forgotten."
"I've never been inclined to forget such things" Aaron replied keeping the warmth to his voice. Tess took a deep breath and walked away from the tree. Aaron easily caught up with her. "You seemed to enjoy things earlier."
"That has nothing to do with it" Tess replied. "It's just as you said. We're from different worlds, we probably want different things, and with my luck you probably have some major flaw that I am not seeing right now."
"A major flaw?" Aaron asked with an outraged guffaw.
"No one ever thinks that they have a major flaw. Starting uprisings against your brother could be a major flaw. See? Flaw." Tess replied. Aaron stepped in front of her and held her shoulders to stop her from walking. The flower he had been hold was now being crushed between them.
"I am not like the others that came before me" Aaron told her. His voice dropped into a whisper. "We will just go slowly. Give me a chance before you disregard me." He silently pleaded with her until he spoke. "Please, Tess."
She bit her lip and her good hand clenched, then unclenched. She gave him a nod 'yes'. Aaron brushed a hand against her cheek and smiled. He stepped back to give her space. Tess took a couple of steps down the garden path when she stopped and looked back at Aaron.
"You wouldn't happen to know where I could find paper and a pen, would you?" Tess asked. Her fingers on her right hand fidgeted.
"There should be something in the desk in our room" Aaron replied.
"The room, right" Tess said lightly. She wandered off talking to herself. Aaron could hear a little bit that sounded like "of course it's in the writing desk in our room. Writing instruments are in writing desks." Aaron waited for her to leave the garden before heading for the castle himself. Birds were singing, keeping his heart lighter than it should have been.
"Aaron!" Sarah called out when she noticed Aaron stepping up to the patio. He waited for her. She was finishing up a peach as she approached.
"Don't let Jareth see you with that" Aaron said. Sarah took the last bite and tossed the pit into the flowers. "Those peaches are his pride and joy."
"It was delicious" Sarah said with a smile. "He knows I had it." She caught up with him and they crossed the patio together. "I've never had a peach that was so flavorful."
"Jareth has been manipulating those plants for a very long time in order to create the 'perfect peach'. I've seen him throw people in oubliettes for taking a peach without permission" Aaron said. He held the door open for Sarah.
"Why doesn't he just use his magic to change them?" Sarah asked. Aaron led the way towards the stairs that would take them to their rooms.
"Magic is only a short term solution. If you want to create a plant that you think is perfect, you must do it by hand" Aaron told her. "He's been working on it since he was in his teens."
"Does that mean that Jareth is a botanist?" Sarah asked.
"No" Aaron replied. They began to climb the stairs to the second floor. "He just dabbles in botany. By your world's standards, he is more of a jack-of-all-trades."
"Where's Tess?" Sarah asked. Aaron paused in his steps, only briefly before carrying on.
"She headed for the room" Aaron replied. "I've watched her for some time now." Sarah raised an eyebrow and gave him a look. "As an owl." They walked down the hall, passing the bedroom doors. "I caught sight of Tess one day when I was trying to peddle that damned book for Jareth. I went back to the same spot the next day at the same time and there she was. It went on like that for a few months. Most days she showed up."
"Did you tell her this?" Sarah asked.
"No, not really" Aaron said. They stopped by an alcove with a window. Above the window was a work of stained glass that featured roses and an owl. "She is pushing me away and I've barely had time to even stand before her."
Sarah nodded in understanding. "You are telling me that you want to be involved with Tess Fulton?" She pursed her lips. "Really?"
"Is there something wrong with that?" Aaron asked. "She's lovely, intelligent, she's tough, and she is very independent."
"I know a little about Tess Fulton" Sarah said. She leaned against the cold alcove wall. "She's written a handful of books that have all sold pretty well. The last three were on the bestseller list." Aaron looked out the window while Sarah was speaking. "I read an article from maybe ten years ago. I had just started high school. Anyway, in the article she told the reporter that she didn't believe in love for herself, but thought it was great for characters in a book." Aaron rubbed his chin. "I don't think she's naturally romantically inclined. I've never heard of her being involved with anyone."
"In your world, Tess is a popular figure?" Aaron asked.
"Yeah" Sarah replied. "Not the most famous or anything, but I think one of her books is in the works for being turned into a movie. She's getting recognition."
"She lives incredibly simple for being so well known" Aaron said. Admiration and appreciation was apparent in his voice. "I wouldn't have guessed."
"We discussed her in one of my writing classes" Sarah said. "She's a bit controversial when it comes to her personal philosophies."
"I think I understand what you're saying" Aaron said. He stood up straight. "Callea. Thank you, Sarah."
"You're welcome" Sarah replied. He left the alcove, heading for his shared room. Sarah watched as he barged into the room he was sharing with Tess.
Aaron burst into the room and stood as prim as any noble before Tess. Tess watched him and her hand never stopped its scrawl of the paper. She glanced at the paper, finished her sentence, and pulled herself from the paper.
"I'm taking off for awhile" Aaron told her. "I am not sure when I will return."
Aaron walked over to the balcony doors and opened one of them. Tess swiveled in her seat to watch him. "Where are you going?"
"I have some business aboveground" Aaron said. In one smooth move Aaron took a step onto the balcony and transformed into an owl. Tess stood up and watched him take off, flying away from the castle.
Jareth ascended the stairs to the second floor and hurried down to the hall to next flight of stairs. He was still in his fencing garb and was covered in a light sheen of sweat. Towards the end of the hall, Sarah stepped out of the small window alcove and looked a little surprised to see him. Jareth stopped. Her smile faded from her face.
"Jareth" Sarah said in surprise and acknowledgement.
"The proper way to address me would be 'Your Highness' proceeded by calling me 'sir' or 'sire'" Jareth said. "Especially if you aren't prone to liking me."
He continued past her, rounding the corner and taking the next flight of stairs up.
"Yes, sir" Sarah said under her breath.
Before dinner, Sarah found a simple red satin dress on the bed in her room and a pair of simple black ballet flats next to it. Sarah had spent her afternoon searching for Hoggle, but he was nowhere to be found. Questions had been piling up in her head about this area of the labyrinth. Sarah picked up the dress and held it up to herself.
Of course it would be my size, Sarah thought. She laid it back on the bed and disappeared into the bathroom. She didn't shower as much as rinse off. She kept her hair dry and the water hot. After the strangest day, or night, the heat and steam were satisfying. She climbed out of the shower and toweled off. She wasn't sure what time it was, in her world or the world she was currently in. She wrapped the towel around herself and headed for the bed to begin getting dressed.
The dress fit, but was exceedingly simple. Despite the bold red color it was in a fairly conservative style with a fitted bodice and high neck, a full skirt that fell just below her knees, and ¾ sleeves. Sarah used the vanity mirror to examine herself. It wasn't her usual style, but it wasn't terrible. She grabbed her hair and held it up from her neck. It looked better up. She wound her hair into a loose bun. Sarah was without a hair tie and simply used the pencil next to the journal to pin her hair in place.
Knock, knock. The tapping came from the door. Sarah stepped into the flats and went to answer it.
"Come with me" A small goblin said before Sarah even had the door fully open. Sarah stepped out and followed the goblin. It was one of the first goblins she had seen since she had been brought here. During her wanderings she had spied a few from a distance, but the area of the castle that she had been in was free of them.
"Are there many goblins in the castle?" Sarah asked as she hurried to keep up with the small creature.
"In parts" The goblin replied. The goblin took her around to the far end of the castle, down a flight of narrow stairs, into the Escher room where they went up a stairwell and through a door, and finally down an old hallway that had no windows and no doors, except for the set at the very end. The goblin jumped up and opened the door for Sarah. As soon as she stepped into the room, the door shut behind her.
The room was dark, except for a table that was lit up by a chandelier that was covered in drip-dried wax and strands of glass orbs. There were a few candles on the small table, nestled near a cluster of green grapes. Jareth stood behind one of the golden chairs. He was dressed in dark grey clothes and a simple royal blue frock coat.
"Sarah" Jareth said with a slight bow. Sarah returned the bow before it occurred to her that she probably should have curtsied.
"Your Highness" Sarah replied. She moved to her seat and sat down.
"You look lovely" Jareth said softly. He took his seat as soon as she sat. "The red makes you look like Snow White."
"Thank you" Sarah said. A waif of a girl emerged from the dark. Her skin was golden and she had in her hands a bottle of wine. She quietly filled their glasses. "Is blue your favorite color?"
"Why would you ask that?" Jareth asked. The golden girl disappeared into the shadows. As soon as she was gone Jareth took a sip from his wine glass.
"I just remember you wearing a bit of blue when I was here last time" Sarah replied. She reached for her glass and smelled the wine before trying it. As far as Sarah could tell, it smelled like a chardonnay. Like many things in his kingdom, the wine had a light peach flavor. Jareth was watching her, blatantly watching her. "Aaron told me that you have been growing that orchard of peaches for a long time."
"It is a hobby of mine" Jareth confirmed. He set his glass down and rested a wrist on the table edge. "How did it taste?"
"It was good" Sarah said. Jareth waved a hand.
"No, no, no" Jareth said. "You're a writer. Describe it to me. I would like to know what you tasted, felt, thought…"
"Oh" Sarah smiled and accepted the small challenge presented to her. "I could smell the peach before I even bit into it. I just thought it smelled like an orchard of ripe peaches. When I plucked it, I thought I smelled a hint of…vanilla and cream? Is that even possible?"
"I suppose it is" Jareth replied.
"It was soft" Sarah said. "You showed up and I couldn't help but rub my thumb over the skin of the peach. It was soft like…delicate skin." Sarah continued with a smirk as she noticed how intently Jareth was listening to her. "I couldn't help but think of lips brushing soft, delicate skin. It was more of an image than a thought." She paused for a small sip of wine. "I didn't take a bite of the peach until you left. I flicked my tongue on the skin before taking the first bite and that first bite was oddly crisp for being so juicy." It took Jareth a moment to grasp what Sarah had said and how sensual she was making it sound. "That peach reminded me of absolute delight. It tasted like there was cinnamon and vanilla, but not in a sweet way." She held up her wine glass. "In the same way this wine has peach tones to it."
"Is it safe to say that you liked it?" Jareth asked in a soft hungry tone.
"It was the best peach I've ever had" Sarah replied. Jareth leaned back in his chair.
"You describe the peach well. Thank you" Jareth told her. The golden girl returned with a cart. She quietly pushed it over to them. She placed two covered plates before them and removed the silver covers. Steaming roasted vegetables, some kind of roasted meat, and something that looked like a rice pilaf made Sarah's mouth water. The golden girl retreated again.
"You were wrong earlier" Sarah said as she spread her cloth napkin over her lap. Jareth glanced at her before picking up his fork and spearing some vegetables. "I don't dislike you. You just…you frighten me sometimes."
"Frighten-?" Jareth said. His face drooped into a passive frown.
"Most of my memories of you come from when I was 15 years old" Sarah said. She had a forkful of the rice pilaf and finally took the bite when she stopped talking. Jareth looked perplexed and turned his focus on his food. Sarah ate quietly and slowly. Jareth matched her pace with royal grace and remained silent.
"You're upset" Sarah stated. They finished their food and the golden girl returned to collect their plates.
"Upset over what?" Jareth asked. "The pity dinner we are having or perhaps your feelings of fear towards me?"
"This is not a pity dinner" Sarah said quickly. "I don't have pity dinners with anyone. This is our dinner date that you wanted and you're not being very gentlemanly."
Jareth leaned back and scoffed. "Ridiculous."
"You didn't talk at all while we ate" Sarah stated. "You became upset and pouted."
"I'm a king. I do not pout" Jareth said. Sarah nodded and placed her napkin on the table. She stood up. "What are you doing?"
"Your Majesty, the food was delicious and the wine was lovely" Sarah said. "Have a pleasant evening."
Sarah turned and headed for the dark area where she came in. All she found was wall. She touched the wall and felt the ornate wall covering, but the door had vanished.
"Do you only fear me?" Jareth asked from behind her. His voice wavered somewhere between confusion and slight anger. Sarah turned around. She could only make out his outline with the candles from the table illuminating space behind him. She felt her heart race just slightly.
"You have a kind side" Sarah said softly. She was afraid that if she spoke louder, Jareth would hear a quiver in her voice. "You like to hide it behind a stoic facade."
"A stoic facade" Jareth repeated. He stepped closer until he was leaning one hand against the wall, trapping her. "I like that." Sarah's cheeks blushed slightly at his closeness. Like his brother, Jareth could see nearly perfectly in the near-dark. "Tell me what I can do to win your favor."
"I can't even see you in this darkness" Sarah whispered.
Sarah gasped when she felt his breath on her cheek. "You don't need to see to tell me."
Jareth gently pressed his lips to hers. The slow, gentle nature of the kiss ilicited a noise from Sarah and Jareth groaned in return. Jareth's free hand slid to Sarah's waist, pulling her body towards his. The hand that was braced along the wall fell to cup Sarah's cheek. His gloved hand had a delicate touch. He felt Sarah's hands on his chest. One clenched his coat while the other snaked up to his neck.
"Sarah" Jareth whispered. He left her lips, trailing kissed along her jaw and finding a tender spot on her neck. He took her hand that was balled up in his coat and raised it to his mouth. He kissed and nipped at the tender inside flesh of her wrist. Sarah made a soft noise that drew Jareth back to her lips. Jareth ran on instinct when he felt Sarah demanded a deeper kiss.
He had barely been aware that he had done much of anything until he felt himself lower Sarah onto a bed, her bed. Sarah pushed his coat from his shoulders and he obliged in taking it off. Jareth pushed up her dress enough so he could rest between her legs while he kissed her. He resisted the urge to tear at the dress. Instead he ran a gloved hand along her leg until he reached her hip.
Sarah's fingers deftly danced along Jareth's vest, unbuttoning it, and reached for his shirt to undo the buttons there as well. Jareth bent his head to Sarah's side and lightly bit her through the dress along her ribs. Sarah moaned and Jareth pushed himself up. He removed his vest and shirt; excitement filled him as Sarah watched him with devouring eyes. In the room, the light from the moon outside was plenty for both of them.
"Will you have me Sarah?" Jareth asked. She sat up and ran her hands over his bare chest. His usual horned pendant remained.
"Yes" Sarah whispered. She reached her side and unzipped her dress. Jareth gathered the skirt of the dress and pulled the dress from her body, leaving her pale skin to be covered by the moonlight.
"You're absolutely stunning" Jareth said before kissing her and pushing her back down to the bed. With her help his pants and boots were removed. He whispered into her ear "You're beautiful."
He ran his gloved hands over her. He was delighted to find that she had neglected to wear panties as his hands ran from her waist to her thigh. He groaned into her neck. Sarah's hands ran along Jareth's back, keeping him close to her.
When he slid into her, he whispered "My lovely beauty."