Epilogue: The Places Where All Things Meet
Sarah Williams, still unused to sharing a bed after several weeks, was understandably startled when someone woke her by whispering into her ear.
"Hnnhh," she gasped, eyes flicking open and body flinching violently. Then her brain caught up with her body and she remembered where she was. Underground, Goblin City, bedchamber of the Goblin King, wrapped up in the sheets. Alone.
Jareth was smirking down at her, standing fully dressed next to the bed.
"Stop," she groaned. Her voice was rough and creaky from sleep. "What do you want?"
"Tch, testy in the morning, are you?"
"Why did you have to be a morning person?" Sarah asked plaintively, combing her tangled hair back with one hand. "I mean, for a man with an otherwise decadent lifestyle..."
"Who ever said I had to be consistent? I try to keep you guessing, my love."
"Great. Can I go back to sleep now?"
"I wouldn't suggest it." Jareth nodded his head to a mirror across the chamber, which was conveniently enchanted to show the view into Sarah's bedroom in the Aboveground. Cool golden light was pouring through the curtains, illuminating Sarah's neatly-made bed. "Don't you have somewhere to be?"
Sarah could feel the gears whirring in her head. She sat up and rubbed her eyes before the answer clicked.
"Graduation!" she exclaimed, aghast. "Oh, no. What time is it?" She leaped out from under the covers, not noticing or caring that she was stark naked. Reaching the mirror, she squinted at the surface. "Six... six-thirty? Thank god. Karen won't be pounding at the door quite yet."
Sarah spun around to address the Goblin King, who was leaning against the bedpost.
"Can you send me back now?"
"Can I? Undoubtedly. Do I want to..?" He leered at her half-heartedly, but there was more humor in it than anything. He was in a good mood this morning. Sarah, who once would have been embarrassed by the attention to her body, merely placed her hands on her hips and gave him her best reproving look.
"We had an agreement, Jareth," she reminded him.
"Can't it wait a few more minutes?" The expression on his face had changed, the humor morphing into something a little more intense. This time Sarah did feel a slight heat in her cheeks.
"A few more minutes?" she asked skeptically, smiling slightly. "That's all? Sorry, I'm not buying that one."
"Maybe if we hurried..."
"No!" Sarah said emphatically. "There's something really tacky about going to graduation... you know... in a state."
"Actually," he replied incredulously, "I really don't know. A state?"
"Don't bait me." Sarah's face was now bright red. "You know what I'm talking about."
"Your maidenly modesty never ceases to amuse me, Sarah."
"Yes, I'm a riot. Send me back now, will you?"
"Would you like to get dressed first?"
With an annoyed twist of her lips and a flick of her wrist, Sarah summoned a silky dressing gown to her hand. Slipping it on quickly, she raised an eyebrow at the Goblin King. He raised an eyebrow right back at her. He did it better.
"Go ahead, feel free to borrow my robe. I'm going to want it back, though."
She saw him make a quick gesture before they were both suddenly standing in her bedroom. The transition was always a little too abrupt for her liking, leaving her feeling disoriented. As soon as she got her bearings, though, she looked at Jareth pointedly again. He just smiled and sat down on her bed, leaning against her pillow and throwing his legs up onto the blanket. It was an odd but not entirely unpleasant tableau, giving her a moment's pause before she opened her mouth to chide him.
"Sarah!" called a voice from outside the door. Karen. "Are you up yet?"
Sarah clapped her hands over her mouth in horror, looking down at her barely-clad body and the Goblin King on her bed and then at the door. I did lock it, I know I did, I better have... yes, she had. She let out a huge breath. Jareth watched her panic with a fond expression, not moving from his comfortable position.
"Just about to go to the shower!" Sarah called back hurriedly. "Just a minute!"
"Don't rush yourself, you have plenty of time," replied Karen. "I'm making french toast for Toby. Do you want any?"
"Um, sure. That would be nice."
"How many pieces?"
"Two," Sarah said in a strangled voice as she watched Jareth stretch luxuriously on her bedspread. "Thanks."
Sarah didn't move until she heard Karen's feet on the stairway. Then she grabbed the pale dress hanging from the doorknob of her closet, ran over to her dresser to rifle around for clean underthings, and then walked calmly over to her bed. She glared down at its occupant.
"Do you think that your step-mother would make french toast for me too, if I asked her nicely?"
"No, she wouldn't. She would scream and then my dad would come and try to punch you. Then I would try to stop him and you would just stand there looking amused, and I'd say Daddy, don't punch him, this is Jareth the Goblin King who I happen to be sleeping with most every night of the week, and then he would go berserk and try to kill you and have a heart attack and die. And then Toby would grow up fatherless and join a gang, and Karen would start drinking and beating him, and they'd throw me out onto the streets, and I'd later kill myself from remorse."
Sarah's story, told without a pause for breath, seemed to entertain Jareth greatly.
"I'm almost tempted to try, just to see if all that would actually happen. What, exactly, is 'french toast'?"
"I'm going to get ready now. Don't you have any kingly business to be doing?"
"My kingly business, at the moment, is taking a nap. I didn't get much sleep last night—a certain nubile young lady of our mutual acquaintance was taking out her nerves on me." He settled farther back on the bed, closing his eyes pointedly.
"I am not nervous! Why would I be nervous?" Because she wasn't. Not really, at least. I mean, one doesn't graduate from high school every day. Or go to graduation parties that include your bitterly divorced mother and father, their new spouses, and the family of your ex-boyfriend. A little apprehension is to be expected.
"Did you not say you were going to get ready now?"
"Don't mock me, you insufferable man." This was said with a half-smile to soften it.
"Ah, but you prefer me that way. Run along now."
So she did, still half-smiling, certain that Jareth would remain hidden despite his teasing. It was an odd feeling, to be on such good terms with him, but not at all an unpleasant one. He would never be an entirely comfortable man to live with, proud and capricious and tyrannical as he was, but that made him all the more fascinating.
An altogether absurd situation, she thought as she waited for the shower to warm up. Crazy. Insane. Impossible. She slid off the robe, folding it carefully and laying it as far from the shower spray as she could manage. Half-unbelievable that I should have the Goblin King napping on top of my bed, though his present location is probably debatable. Even more unbelievable that I should be gelatinous with happiness. She hated being a sap, so she tried to muffle the impulse as much as possible. It wasn't like she was floating around on a cloud of joy, but little things—taking god-awfully hard finals, babysitting Toby when she'd rather be reading or hanging out, sitting through math class—seemed far less onerous, because she had a secret to come home to at the end of the day. A good secret.
So if her mom and dad had a fistfight in the middle of graduation, well, she could handle it.
Sarah stepped into the shower and promptly stuck her head under the spray, groaning. Alright, maybe she was nervous. No big deal. It would pass.
The borrowed bathrobe was gone when Sarah stepped out of the shower, and her bedroom was empty when she returned. She was equal parts relieved and disappointed—relieved because she never underestimated Jareth's ability to cause trouble, and disappointed... well, I sort of like having him around.
"I am such an idiot," she told her reflection wryly, pausing in front of her vanity's mirror. She adjusted the sage green towel wrapped around her wet hair before letting one hand trail down to her collarbone. The young woman contemplated the pendant around her neck for a moment before undoing the clasp on the chain and tucking it down the front of her dress. It was a pretty thing, all glimmering gold and elegant curves, but she couldn't wear it openly. Not here.
She went downstairs to the kitchen, padding softly in her bare feet, her pale blue skirts frothing around her knees. Toby grinned at her from the table, a napkin tucked into his collar; Karen looked over from her station in front of the sink.
"Oh, Sarah, that looks wonderful. You are going to do something to your hair, aren't you?" Karen's tone was both admiring and solicitous, the combination of compliment and implied criticism that had driven Sarah crazy for years.
"Yes, Karen," she replied tolerantly, mouth quirking to one side. "I'll blow-dry it after breakfast."
"Oh, right, right," Karen added quickly, perhaps realizing what she was doing. Just as Sarah had learned to tolerate her stepmother, her stepmother had learned what bothered Sarah. "Of course. I put the plate over on the island, it should still be warm."
"Thanks." Sarah carried the plate over to the table, sliding in next to Toby. He was still in his pajamas, blond hair sticking up in cowlicks all over his head. He leaned over to Sarah's ear as she took her first bite.
"I have a secret message for you," he whispered into her ear. Sarah grunted and swallowed.
"Is it from Bumble Bear?" she asked, glancing at the ragged stuffed animal lying limply on the table next to her brother's plate.
"Lancelot, then? How is Lancelot doing lately, anyhow?"
"No," Toby whispered again, brow furrowed in annoyance. "He said, if you steal his robe again he'll put all your clothes in the bog and you'll have to go naked and that was a good idea and maybe he'd do it anyways and he'd see you later and don't trip or throw up and say hello to Jeremy and never mind he'd do it himself. And that's the end."
Sarah paused as she raised the fork to her mouth again.
She didn't move.
"Did you hear me?"
"... yes," she finally breathed, turning carefully to look into Toby's innocent blue eyes. "You remembered all that?"
"Course I did," he assured her proudly, leaning back away from her. He took a clumsy bite of of his breakfast, the syrup-soaked toast dripping all over his plate in sugary-sweet brown globs.
"When did... he... give you this message?"
"When I went upstairs to get Bumble Bear for breakfast." Toby lowered his voice even more, mischief dancing in his eyes. "He said he'd teach me a magic trick someday, if I was good."
"Hmm," was her reply. I'm not sure how I feel about this. "He doesn't scare you, does he?"
"Naw. He's neat."
"Hmm," she said again. She ate another bite of french toast, feeling bewildered. Toby wasn't afraid of his old kidnapper. Jareth promised to teach him a trick, which implied that Toby was capable of magic. A frightening thought--an eight-year-old Toby floating salamanders into girls' backpacks at school, or using it to start fires on Boy Scout camping trips. Toby doing magic is way too scary to think about this morning. I have enough scariness on my plate already.
So Sarah let it go. She ate her breakfast and let Toby prattle on about other things.
Eventually it was time to leave; ten minutes later, Robert and Karen had dropped her off at the school cafeteria. Sarah regarded the milling ocean of blue-and-white clad students with trepidation.
And an hour after that, they all graduated. Considering the four years of work and the two hours of nervous energy before hand, it seemed almost anticlimactic.
Months before Graduation Day actually arrived, Sarah and her three closest friends had begun considering a thorny question: what to do afterwards? It's a problem that faces all graduating students, and they deal with it in a number of ways. Some go to school-sponsored events, some celebrate with their families, some go out to fancy restaurants, and some drive to the beach. Some sit in their basements and get plastered. After a great deal of thought, these particular students came up with a solution that fit them.
So bare minutes after flinging her cap into the air, Sarah found herself attending a semi-formal pizza party, her pale blue sun-dress floating around her like mist.
With four guests of honor, Dinah's family's restaurant was packed to bursting. Mostly with people that Sarah didn't recognize. Benjamin's family was fairly easy to pick out, given the polished-mahogany hue of their skin, but Dinah's relatives and Aaron's relatives blended into a huge mass of boisterous strangers. Sarah was doing her best to avoid Aaron's crowd. She and her ex-boyfriend were on semi-cordial grounds, but Sarah had the distinct feeling that Mr. and Mrs. Bouvier were still a little offended that she had dumped their beloved son.
"Hey, babe," commented a deep voice, somewhere above and behind Sarah. She turned around to find Ben towering over her, red tie askew and dress shirt untucked. He smiled at her kindly and unreservedly—unlike Dinah and Aaron, Ben had accepted her return to the Aboveground without comment.
Sarah had offered the simplest of possible explanations to her three friends: she told them Jeremy had talked Angharad Dara out of her harebrained plans. Dinah had questioned this in her usual outspoken manner, while Aaron maintained a disbelieving silence. She became aware of a chasm between them that hadn't existed before, or at least hadn't been so overt. Sarah hoped that it could still be breached. They were still friends, but the gap was unsettling.
A week or so ago, Sarah had asked Ben why he still treated her the same way. Ben had shrugged and smiled. I always knew that you were different, he had said. Not quite this different, maybe, but I can deal with it. Dinah will come around. She's just a little high-strung.
High-strung was a good word for Dinah.
"Hey," Sarah replied, looking up at him.
"My niece tells me that she's going to marry your little brother," Ben told her, deadpan, nodding to a little girl with pigtails. A small flock of children had been herded into one corner, Toby and Ben's niece among them, with a couple of tolerant adults standing watch. "I'm not sure what that makes us."
"Howdy, Uncle Benjamin," Sarah said, suppressing a grin. "It'll be nice to have more family around."
"Weren't your mom and step-dad at the graduation ceremony?" he asked, suddenly looking guilty; no doubt he was worried that he had brought up a touchy topic.
"Yep." Sarah infused her reply with cheer in an attempt to reassure him. "Mom said they'd be coming to the party too. They'll be here in a bit."
Because she felt a little lonely here, with only three family members to contribute to the raucous crowd. Her father, an only child, had lost his parents years ago. Karen's parents lived across the country and were unwilling to travel so far for a step-granddaughter they barely knew. And Linda had been estranged from her own family since before Sarah was born.
"Well, feel free to borrow some of my folks," Ben said wryly. "I have more than I can deal with. I don't think Dinah would mind renting out a few, either; she's tired of getting her cheeks pinched."
"Really?" Sarah glanced through the crowd for a sight of her best friend, a real grin pulling at her face. "Literally, getting her cheeks pinched?"
"I am completely serious. Have you seen her great-aunt? Beehive hair, thick glasses, about three feet wide? You wouldn't believe the cliché. And she called me a negro."
Sarah snickered involuntarily. She couldn't hold it back.
"Poor Dinah. Poor you. Maybe I'm better off without family—I'm not in danger of being smothered in three feet of great-aunt."
"Nah." Ben blinked rapidly and peered behind Sarah; one of his eyebrows quirked upward and a slow smile spread across his face. "No, you just have to worry about your boyfriends falling in love with your mom. I'm assuming the vision walking towards me is your mother?"
Sarah whirled around and saw two familiar faces pushing through the crowd—Linda and Jeremy, both looking far too posh for this bunch. She raised a hand to wave them over, making sure that the pair saw her. Benjamin began to edge away.
"Hey!" Sarah exclaimed, grabbing his sleeve. "Where are you going? You've been hearing so much about Mom and Jeremy, and now you're running off instead of saying hi?"
"You bet. Your mom has a definite 'Mrs. Robinson' vibe going on. I'm going to go kiss my girlfriend and ask if I can get her a drink."
"You bet. We'll catch up with you later."
Sarah turned her eyes toward her mother again as Benjamin fled. She and Jeremy had shifted, and Sarah could see two figures following behind Linda and her stepfather; one long and lanky and pale, the other shorter and plumper and darker. Her two rebel cousins. Gabriel managed to look as cool and disinterested as ever, hands shoved in the pockets of his slacks and tie hanging loose from his collar. Callista's face was merely uncertain. Gabriel seemed to be pushing her forward with a hand on her back.
Sarah grinned, surprised but pleased; at the same time, she felt her stomach twist with a sudden onslaught of stress. Oh, god, Aaron and Ben and Dinah will recognize Gabriel. Need to warn them--no--introduce them on good terms, or something-- just find them before a fight breaks out--
She found herself enveloped in a pair of slim arms and a faintly scented cloud of perfume. Linda embraced Sarah for a long moment before pushing her back to arms-length. She offered her daughter a wide smile full of bright white teeth, followed by a flurry of words.
"I am so proud of you! Graduation already, I can't quite believe it! You'll go to college in the fall, and in a year you'll be the same age I was when I met your father, if you can imagine such a thing. So watch out for smooth talking young men... Oh, you were such an adorable baby, for all the noise you made... seems like just last week you were still wearing pigtails..." Her smile began to wilt a little bit around the edges; Sarah watched her mother blink a few times, like a sleeper waking, and a hint of an unfamiliar expression rose in the older woman's eyes.
"When did you grow up?" Linda asked, voice breathy. "I swear, I..."
And that might have been the closest that Linda had ever come to realizing that she had done something wrong when she walked out on Sarah. Sarah appreciated this, seeing her mother falter and bite her lower lip. And she let it go.
Maybe I really am growing up, she thought humorlessly as Linda re-plastered the smile onto her face.
"Watch me getting all weepy like that! Such a cliché, isn't it, the mother getting misty when her daughter graduates from high school? You know how I hate being clichéd. I better go get a drink before I disgrace myself further. I'll catch up with you later, dear. Jeremy, come find me when you're done with Sarah, will you? I don't feel quite up to making nice with Robert alone."
Linda strode off with her head held high, hips swinging, face determinedly cheerful and aloof. Sarah was astonished to find herself more amused than hurt.
"Your mother is one of a kind," Jeremy muttered under his breath, swiping a lock of yellow hair off of his forehead. "I don't know how one woman can be so dense and so clever at once. Lord knows I love her anyway."
"We don't always have the sense to find easy people to love," Sarah said slowly, watching her mother accept a glass of champagne from Dinah's mother, near the refreshments table. "Maybe it's worth more that way."
"Maybe so." He gave Sarah an odd look that she didn't notice. "But back to the topic at hand. Congratulations on surviving high school, your Majesty."
Sarah recoiled as if she had been slapped, head whipping around to look Jeremy in the face.
"What!" she exclaimed. "No. No, no, no, no. Don't you dare call me that!"
"It's a much as you deserve," commented Gabriel, looking over his uncle's shoulder. "I've been trying to upset the family all my life, and I've never managed half so well. I couldn't be prouder if you were actually related to me."
"Don't... oh, please don't mention it," Sarah said, flushing red. A fine queen I make, becoming mortally embarrassed when anyone mentions it. This won't do. "No one knows about... it. Except for you three."
"We're hardly going to proclaim it to the rafters," Jeremy replied. "For many reasons, as you can guess." He grimaced then, face a comical mixture of humor, sourness, and bemusement. "Still, I find it hard to... no. I'm not going to think about it now. I don't have the luxury of getting drunk afterwards. But someday, Sarah, when we have a spare moment together, you have a lot of explaining to do. Now enjoy your party." He kissed her on the cheek and walked off in the direction of Linda.
Sarah was left with her two cousins. She looked at them; they looked at her, Callista still obviously uncomfortable. Sarah sighed heavily and threw her arms around Callista, who stiffened in surprise.
"I am glad that you came," she whispered into the other girl's ear. "So stop looking like that."
"Oh--I'm sorry--it's just we weren't invited, so I felt strange..." Callista shrugged and smiled sheepishly after Sarah released her. Gabriel rolled his eyes and shook his head ever so slightly.
"Uncle Jeremy told us about this, saying we might like to come and you might like to see us," the young man explained. "And apparently both are true. I also have a matter of business I'd like to take up with you."
"Business?" Sarah inquired curiously.
"Yes. You see, I have decided to leave the Underground for a time--never mind why--and live in the Aboveground. I have leased an apartment in Manhattan where I plan to stay. Callista plans to stay with me, and hopefully the family won't be bothered enough to try to prevent it."
"Really? How did you manage to rent an apartment, without ID or a bank account or anything?"
"Oh, we have our ways." Gabriel's thin smile grew mischievous. "There are more Undergrounders living in the human world than you would believe. Expatriates, you could say. A few of them assisted me... but now I'm getting sidetracked. You see, Jeremy told us that you were going to university in New York this fall. I take it that is still your plan, despite recent developments?"
"Yes," she replied cautiously. And if discussing him wasn't so embarrassing, then I would be really amused how we're all dancing around the subject of Jareth. No one can come right out and say it. Even me.
"What he's leading up to," broke in Callista, looking up at her cousin with some exasperation on her face, "Is that we'd really like it if you wanted to come and stay with us. Another roommate would be nice, you'd have a bit more freedom than if you were living with some human who doesn't know about your other responsibilities, and if you're there, my family is less likely to show up and try to make me go back to Idunn. No one's going to mess with you now. So it works out good for everyone."
"Really?" asked Sarah again, feeling slow and stupid. Her mind tried to process this surprising request, but it didn't happen quickly. That is a good point... what would a roommate say to me disappearing at odd hours? They'd be curious, at the very least. Hardly any privacy to practice my magic, too. All the same, she felt a small pang at the thought of not having a roommate, not living in a dorm. But no matter how much she tried, she would never be able to live a normal college life. Any sort of normal life. That was the price she paid for the Underground.
"It's in the same neighborhood as your school, I believe," Gabriel offered. Sarah blinked.
"How did you manage... no, never mind. You have connections, I know. Wow. I might have to argue with my father, but just by myself, I say 'yes'. Yes, and thank you very, very much."
"Good!" exclaimed Callista, jumping a little and clapping her hands. "It will be wonderful to be around family that's agreeable, for once. No offense, Gabriel."
"None taken," was the dry response. "We can settle details later, I think--I do apologize for taking up so much of your time." Gabriel's head swung around, surveying the space of the restaurant. "Do you need to be mingling?"
"No, well, not really. Most of these people are everyone else's family. I should check up on Mom and Dad later to make sure they haven't killed each other... oh! Speaking of. I need to introduce you two to my friends, Dinah and Ben and Aaron. They saw you when you came to collect me, Gabriel, so I don't want them to jump up and start attacking you here now..."
"Loyal friends," Callista said. Sarah smiled a little, standing on her tiptoes to scan through the crowd.
"They are." And I wish I didn't have to repay that loyalty with lies upon lies.
She saw Ben where he said he would be, standing in a corner with Dinah and sipping a can of Coke. Dinah seemed happy but harried--trying to steal a spare moment away from the relatives that were crowding the restaurant. Her brilliant hair, which had started out the day in an elegant up-do, was starting to snake down around her neck and ears. It had been a long day.
Sarah crooked a finger and the three companions threaded their way through the clumps of chattering adults. Ben and Dinah didn't notice their approach, so Sarah had a scant moment to hold up a hand before the two humans turned, saw Gabriel, and stiffened.
"Hold on, hold on!" she exclaimed quickly. "Calm down. He's friendly this time."
"But--" began Ben. Sarah shook her head.
"It's okay. He was just following orders. But you're done following your grandmother's orders, aren't you, Gabriel?"
"At least where Sarah's concerned," he replied, addressing Sarah's friends. He had dropped his normal expression--enigmatic amusement--for something closer to friendliness. It gave him a more human demeanor. "I'm not going to touch her. Or anyone else. I do apologize for the altercation a few months ago."
"So there you have it," Sarah cut in again, hands moving to her hips in an imitation of Karen. She gave everyone her best reproving look, which was difficult when both of the young men were considerably taller than her. Still, if she could handle Jareth, she could handle anyone. "Everyone's going to play nice now. I'll even make formal introductions so you can pretend you've never seen each other before. Dinah, Ben, these are my two step-cousins, Gabriel and Callista. They came with Jeremy and my mom, which was very nice of them. I think all of you will get along very well."
"Pleased to meet you," said Callista meekly. "We're sorry for coming uninvited..."
"Oh, give it a rest!" Gabriel pushed out through gritted teeth, rolling his eyes for good measure. "Where's your sense of entitlement? I can hardly believe our family produced you."
"Don't worry about it," put in Dinah, who had been watching the proceedings with uncharacteristic silence. Her gaze was calculating as her eyes traveled between Sarah and the two cousins. Sarah knew that Dinah's curiosity about the whole Grandmother affair was still intense. She could imagine Dinah mercilessly pumping the Shining Ones for information the moment she walked away. An unnerving thought.
"What brings you two all the way here?" Ben asked evenly. Is that the beginning of a conversation or an attempt at interrogation? Well, whatever. At least he's trying.
"Just visiting," was Gabriel's smooth response. "We're the black sheep of the family. Or at least I am; if Callista ever finds her backbone, she might be one too. We've decided we prefer our step-cousin to our other relations."
"Excluding Uncle Jeremy, of course," added Callista, sending Gabriel a look with some steel behind it. "And the Aboveground is terribly interesting."
"Is it really?" This from Dinah again. It sounded reasonably cordial, so Sarah relaxed a bit and scanned the visible parts of the room for Aaron. He was nowhere in sight. She broke into the budding conversation.
"Have you guys seen Aaron recently? I should run over and tell him too."
"He was over near the back hallway, a minute ago," Ben offered. Dinah nodded, a grin suddenly lighting her face. It counteracted the elegant appearance that her high-heels and nice dress had been giving her a moment ago.
"I think he was having a man-to-man talk with your step-father, Sarah. It was really funny. Maybe no one told him that you two aren't dating anymore?"
"What?" Sarah blinked rapidly, absorbing this information. That didn't really make sense. Jeremy followed Linda, right? And he wouldn't have been able to pick Aaron out of the crowd even if he had wanted to. She'd mentioned him when she visited her mom and Jeremy after her birthday, but it was unlikely he'd remember the description. "You haven't even met Jeremy before. How'd you know it was him?"
"You've described him. Short blond hair, British accent, really hot? He was wearing this cool leather jacket, too."
Uh-oh. Jeremy definitely wasn't wearing a leather jacket.
"Maybe I'd better go find them," Sarah said quickly, taking a step back. "You guys stay out of trouble, okay?" She turned and began walking as fast as kitten heels and propriety would allow her. There was a peculiar twisting feeling in her stomach, part fear, part exasperation, and the tiniest little dash of anticipation. The exasperation far overwhelmed everything else. The young woman had an inkling of an idea of who might be harassing her ex-boyfriend, and his name began with 'J' and ended with 'areth'.
Sarah broke through the edges of the mingling throng and emerged near the entrance to the back hallway, which lead to the bathrooms, the payphone, and eventually the loading dock. There stood Aaron, tie rakishly askew and hair falling over his eyes, hands fiddling with an empty plastic cup. To all appearances, he was having a pleasant conversation with the smiling older man standing in front of him. But Sarah knew better--that particular smile on that particular face had a predatory edge, and Aaron's shoulders were tense. The man was talking, but his words were too low to hear.
"What's up, guys?" the Queen of the Goblins said in a falsely amiable voice, approaching the two males with a smooth glide in her stride. Her hands found their way to her hips. Aaron spun around; the other one was more dignified in his movements.
"I was just talking to your uncle," Aaron said hastily. " But I need go, um, find someone. See you later. Nice to meet you, sir."
"My pleasure," replied her 'uncle' in a baritone purr. Only he could imbue those words with such oblique threat. Both of them watched as Aaron high-tailed it away, moving almost as fast as Sarah had been a moment before. She was vaguely reminded of the phrase like a bat out of hell.
"A very polite boy."
Sarah leveled a cold stare at the King of the Goblins. He had the temerity to smile back at her.
"I am so annoyed with you right now," she told him. Then she nodded toward the hallway. "Follow me. I want to yell at you in a less public place."
"Aren't you glad to see me?" Jareth asked, unconcerned. "I told you I'd see you later."
"You told Toby that you'd see me later," she said darkly. They started down the hallway; Sarah kept walking out the door on the end, onto the loading area at the back of the restaurant. There was a long railing going along the sidewalk, here; Sarah walked over and perched herself on top of it, feet dangling below. Jareth leaned on it next to her.
"So?" He raised his eyebrows. "What do you have to say?"
"What do I have to say?" she repeated. "Excuse me? That's what I should be asking you. What the hell were you saying to Aaron?"
"Just talking. I was curious about the other man in your life." Oh, he was good at the innocent act. If only one side of his mouth wasn't twitching up and down with a suppressed smile.
"Jareth, seriously. Do you really think..." Do you really think that there's room in my life for any man besides you, you idiotic control freak? No, best not say that. He'd take it as a compliment. "Anything between me and Aaron has been over for weeks now. You know that. So why the harassing?"
"I wasn't harassing him, exactly. Just... applying a little bit of pressure. Determining the extent of your relationship to satisfy my curiosity. All under the guise of a protective uncle, of course. Your secret is safe."
"You mean you were harassing him."
"Well... perhaps. If you wish to call it that." He wasn't the smallest bit apologetic. Sarah sighed heavily. She still hadn't gotten used to the fact that Jareth's code of conduct didn't quite line up with that of modern American society. She'd have to work on his manners.
"You could have just asked me about him."
"And you would have told me it was none of my business." True enough.
"But you can't just appear wherever I am to--to-- to finagle information out of people whenever you feel like it!" Sarah exclaimed, folding her arms. "I have appearances to maintain. God knows most people couldn't ever guess the truth, but they can still think something strange is going on. And my friends do know about the Underground. If I have any chance of co-existing between here and the Underground, I need to keep my Aboveground life as normal as possible."
Jareth listened to her speech quietly, watching her as she spoke. He was back in his human disguise, the same one he had used in New York: his blond hair was short and neat, eyes both an even shade of blue, eyebrows long and even rather than upswept and adorned with owl-like markings. The slacks, dress shirt, and brown leather jacket were not at all suspicious, though rather more expensive-looking than most of the clothes at the graduation party. Still--there was something that marked him as different. The smile was too sharp, the gaze too watchful, the movement too fluid. Most humans weren't that predatory. It made people notice him, and that's what she couldn't afford.
"Do you really think that you can?" he asked.
"Do you think you can live here and in the Underground?"
"Yes." Sarah shrugged and let her arms fall to her sides again. "I think so. I'm going to try." She sent the Goblin King a sideways look, watching him from the corners of her eyes. "You're going to do your best to keep me in the Labyrinth, though, aren't you?"
"I haven't decided," he replied simply. He sat down on the railing next to her. "I would like to try, but I'm afraid it would have rather the opposite effect than I intend. My plans for you never seem to go right. You're very stubborn and contrary."
"You're very manipulative."
"Ah, so true."
Sarah contemplated this. One mulish teenager and one Machiavellian king, tied together by magic and a strange fascination with each other. Love was a funny thing. She wondered if they would eventually grow tired of one another, tired of arguments and power plays. What if she met a nice, normal guy at college who made her heart twist in the same way? What if Jareth became weary of sharing his life with an inexperienced girl only a fraction of his age? Hard to say, hard to say.
I'm so young, she thought. That's what any sensible person would say. I don't see how this could work. But I don't see how it couldn't work, either.
"I don't know why I like you," she found herself saying, looking down at the white-flecked pavement and their feet resting upon it. Side by side, two brown boots and two delicate white sandals, painted nails peeping out of the front. So completely incongruous. "I hardly even know you."
"A blatant falsehood."
"Is it?" She toyed with a cuff of his leather jacket, rubbing the supple material between her fingers until he shifted and caught her hand up in his own. "When I ran the Labyrinth the first time, you only popped in now and then to taunt me. Then I saw you at Mom's wedding reception, and then we argued once in a dream. I lived with you for a month and ran away. And then we've been together again for the past couple weeks. Not much time, added up."
"Then it is all the more astonishing that we are so well-acquainted."
"I don't even know your favorite color. Or if you have any family. Your birthday. Your favorite food."
"Would that help you know me better?" Sarah could hear the smile in his voice, even if she couldn't see his face. "I have known Ariadne and Daedalus for two millennia; I met your stepfather Jeremiel nearly a century ago. After a few hours in the Labyrinth, you were more comfortable around me than they were for years."
"Comfortable?" Incredulous, Sarah raised her head from his shoulder to meet his eyes. Yes, there was the smile she had heard. Not a full-on smile, but a sardonic twist of the lips. "Never."
"You addressed me by my given name and defied me with every step you took. Foolhardy, perhaps, but you did it nonetheless. That must mean something."
"Only that I was scared out of my wits and didn't want to show it."
"Ah, for the glorious days when I could still frighten you." His mouth twisted a little more, the self-mockery growing deeper.
"Poor put-upon Goblin King," Sarah replied lightly. "Emasculated by the little girl."
His smile faded into a half-hearted glare. She could see resignation, bemusement, maybe a little anger.
Narrowed eyes, mouth in a straight line, watching me from the corner of his vision. Feeling sorry for himself, a little resentful.
This realization struck her like a wave of cold water.
How long have I been able to read his face so well?
And laughter bubbled up from her throat. Sarah stretched toward him and kissed him quickly on the mouth, withdrawing after a brief moment. Then she laughed again.
"I think I understand what you mean," she told him.
"No one else has the temerity to laugh at me."
"That's part of it, I suppose. An important part. You need to be laughed at every now and then."
"Do you mind if I change the subject?" he asked. Sarah smiled.
"Go ahead. I can see this topic is too upsetting to your dignity."
"I simply wish to offer you a bit of advice," he told her. "And I believe I am being very magnanimous in doing so, so you better appreciate it."
"Go on, then."
"About balancing your life here and in the Labyrinth. I would suggest that you not keep them so rigidly separate, if you wish to succeed in both. You'll go mad doing so, and there is far more overlap between the two than you might think. When you arrive in the city, this autumn, I promise that you won't walk a mile through the streets before someone recognizes you as an Undergrounder."
"So what do you suggest?" she inquired. And in her mind, she was thinking, Really? Are there really that many expatriates (as Gabriel called them) in New York? How would they recognize me as one?
"Weave them together. Make a few nonhuman acquaintances--I don't think it will be hard. Practice your magic in spare moments. Don't think of yourself as only a denizen of the Labyrinth in one world and only Sarah, university student, in another. You are one person, and the same in both."
"I like when you pretend to be wise and helpful," Sarah said. "It's much more attractive than the self-absorbed bastard routine."
"Is it really?" he asked skeptically. "That always worked fairly well for me before."
Sarah didn't comment. On one hand, she didn't want to encourage him. On the other hand, he had a good point. She tended to find him attractive regardless. Very inconvenient. Especially in moments when she was supposed to be angry with him, like now. Her anger was quite unexpectedly gone. So she let it go and tried her own subject-switch.
"You know, Gabriel and Callista made me a very unexpected offer just now."
"Two of the Dara brats? I didn't realize they were here." Jareth's eyes narrowed. "Surely they aren't still bothering you."
"I like them. They're not brats. Or at least Callista isn't. I can't judge Gabriel for certain--he's an odd person. Very reserved."
"Yes," the Goblin King murmured, half to himself. "He's up to something. The eldest son of a wealthy family doesn't act that rebellious unless he has something big on his mind. Not unless he's very stupid, and I understand that is not the case with the young Lord Arian."
"How do you know all that?" Sarah asked suspiciously.
"Your step-father. In fact, that's what we were speaking of the very night that you and I met in your mother's apartment. He was uneasy about the situation. Of course you managed to steal the scene quite well." He took in a breath. "Now tell me about this offer."
"My two cousins are leaving the Underground and leasing an apartment in New York City, not far from where I'm going to college. They asked me to move in with them."
The blankness of Jareth's face told Sarah that this news surprised him. He was quiet a moment, contemplating. Sarah shifted in the silence and added, "I told them I was interested. It would be easier than living in the dormitory with the other students. For you and me."
"Very convenient, that they chose that spot in particular."
"That's what I thought."
"Gabriel obviously wants to send a message to someone."
"That I'm on his side?" questioned Sarah. "It would help if I knew exactly which side that was, but I trust Gabriel. He's always been very fair to me."
"As it benefited him," Jareth shot back.
"Not entirely. He's not completely self-serving--he brought Callista away from their horrible family, and she certainly can't do much to help him in return. She has even less magical ability than Jeremy. That's why they want me to move in with them, according to Callista--with me there, the Daras are less likely to try to make her come back."
"That seems overly optimistic," was his characteristically sardonic reply. "I won't argue with your decision, but I would still like to know what the boy's up to."
"Many thanks," Sarah replied wryly. "Glad to have your permission." They watched each other for a moment. Jareth could have brought up his superior knowledge of Underground politics and the dangers that lay in ignoring them; Sarah could have growled and brought up the fact that she had proved herself quite capable of handling her own affairs. They could have argued. But they didn't.
Sarah leaned over and placed a soft, lingering kiss on his mouth; then, with a regretful sigh, she slid off the railing onto the sidewalk. "I should go back inside. They'll miss me if I'm gone too long."
"A good point. I'll come with you."
"Haven't we already been over this?" Sarah asked in dismay. Her forehead creased slightly as she regarded him. He just shook his head and made a tsking noise.
"Please don't underestimate me, Sarah. If I do not want the humans to ask questions, they will not ask questions."
The humans, she thought uneasily. I will never get used to hearing that distinction between us and them. So I can catch things on fire and make books hover in air. So I may live... a bit longer... than I thought I would. I was born human and raised human. That doesn't change just because of the other stuff. And I definitely don't like that tone of superiority.
"Do you have to mess with peoples' minds like that?"
"Would you rather I just walk in behind you, then? I'd still like to test that delightful scenario you mentioned this morning," he said in reply, a mocking tone in his voice. Sarah's eyebrows lowered heavily over her eyes.
"We were having such a nice conversation. Why did you have to go and spoil it? Do whatever you want. I don't care." And she turned to stalk back towards the doorway, then down the linoleum-tiled hallway and back towards the main room of the restaurant. She very deliberately did not look back and tried to keep herself from even listening for footsteps behind her. Grrr. God, having an entire world fear you for unnamed centuries does horrible things to your personality. He couldn't always have been this insufferably pigheaded. His parents would have strangled him before he passed puberty.
If she hadn't been so frustrated, the idea of a boy-Jareth with a cracking voice would have made her giggle. The very thought of Jareth having parents would have been worth a smile or two. But her mind was still roiling too much for amusement and she wasn't ready to let go of her sudden bad mood. I refuse to cave in, she thought stubbornly. He's never going to become more agreeable if I tolerate his... crotchetiness. No, that makes him sound like a grumpy old man. Rudeness doesn't quite cover it. Oh, nevermind.
Her feet had brought her into the room while her mind was elsewhere. Something tickled at her attention; there was something off about the room, an odd tension. Sarah wrenched her mind away from Jareth and looked around for the whatever-it-was that was causing the tightness in the occupants' shoulders. Familiar voices, familiar raised voices, provided the answer. They were towards the back left corner of the restaurant, away from the sight of most of the party-goers but unfortunately not out of earshot. Sarah ground her teeth together.
"Oh, goddammit," she swore softly, changing her direction. This was what she had been worrying about all morning. Nothing like bitter divorcées to make you feel confident about your own tenuous, argument-wracked relationship. Especially when those bitter divorcées were your own parents, and they were embarrassing you in front of a crowd of onlookers.
"... she idolized you, and you never supported her in one thing she did!" Robert Williams was shouting hotly as Sarah arrived, face reddened.
"I have always supported her!" Linda Carlisle, once Williams yelled back.
"In the form of checks in the mail!" her father replied. "I'm not sure you know what the word means! Where were you on her first day of middle school? When she--"
Sarah had heard enough. Her pent-up annoyance, formerly mixed with anxiety and uncertainty, had now transformed into pure rage. She turned to one of the party-goers who was determinedly trying to pretend they weren't noticing.
"How long have they been at this?" she demanded.
"Um." The man looked very uncomfortable. "Not too long. The volume's been growing gradually. Hopefully somebody will stop them soon."
"I'll say," Sarah muttered. She pushed her way towards the edges of the crowd. Karen and Jeremy were nowhere to be seen. How could they be stupid enough to leave those two alone? Where'd they go? I'm going to have to break this up myself.
"What the hell are you doing?" she asked coldly, hands fisting at her sides. Her voice was not as loud as theirs and Robert barreled on for a few moments more before processing the interruption. His eyes unfocused on her mother and he blinked slowly; Linda's head turned slowly to look at Sarah.
"We're having a disagreement, darling," she began in a harried tone. She might have said more but Sarah beat her to it.
"At the top of your lungs, at a graduation party for me and my friends? No, I'd say that you're making asses of yourselves."
"Sarah!" her father exclaimed, face still flushed. "Watch your language, young lady."
"I won't," she replied tightly. "If you're going to act that childishly, I'm not going to treat you like an adult. Isn't that what you always said to me?"
"I can't believe this. No, that's wrong. I can believe this, but I'm really mad anyway. I don't know exactly what you've been screaming about and I can't imagine what started it, but obviously neither one of you has any regard for me. Thanks to you, I can now add being humiliated in front of all these people to my graduation memories."
"Sarah," Linda began again, her normal coolness frazzled. She looked like she was grasping for words.
"Shut up for now, okay? I'm not done." Her fists tightened. "I am fucking tired of this whole family drama and I'm only going to say this once, so listen up." Her gaze settled on Robert. "Yeah, Mom left us, yeah, she screwed us over. But Dad, you have a great new wife who loves you and a 4-year-old who's probably listening to this right now and a happy life without Linda Carlisle. Get over it."
Then she looked directly at Linda. "Mom, the last six or seven years of my life would have been lot less shitty if you had actually been a mother, rather than the person who's uterus I happened to inhabit for nine months. But you seem be shaping up lately, and you married Jeremy, who I like a lot. I think we can still be friends, but only if you stop acting like a little girl and practice a little self-restraint. You're a successful actress, you're beautiful and relatively young, and you have plenty of money. You don't need to get in screaming matches with your ex-husband.
"As for me, if that's what you two are really concerned about--and I highly doubt that--leave it alone. I'm a grown-up now. The damage is done, but hey, I'm alive and most of the time I'm pretty happy. Not now, of course, but usually. Arguing about who-did-what isn't going to change anything, except making me really pissed off at you. Understand?"
Her parents were obviously dumbstruck. Sarah had never spoken to either of them like that before, with such honesty or with such tightly-controlled emotion. In the past, anger had been expressed in shrieks of I hate you and You don't understand and Leave me alone. This new self-control seemed to have astonished them.
"I think that you should go apologize to Mr. and Mrs. Valenti for causing a scene at the party they so kindly organized. You could also apologize to Dinah, Ben, and Aaron for interrupting their celebration. You could apologize to me too, if you want, but I'd rather that you just keep in mind everything I just said. I'm going to go away now and get something to drink. Please don't follow me."
She turned on her heel, head held high, and kept her face very blank. Jeremy came barreling toward her from the direction of the door, a half-extinguished cigarette in hand.
"What happened?" he asked, panting.
"My parents were about to start a fist-fight. It's okay now, but you should go chaperone." She patted him on the arm and continued her progress. Distantly, she noticed that everyone cleared a path for her as she walked away. As if they really didn't want to touch her. It was almost funny; no one here had ever been intimidated by her before.
Very carefully, she took a styrofoam cup from a stack and picked up a two-liter bottle of cola. She poured the liquid into the cup, watching the foam rise and disappear with clinical interest, as if she had never seen soda before. As she picked up the cup to take a sip, she noticed that Jareth was standing next to her.
"Oh, it's you again," she sighed.
"Tell me again why you won't come live with me?"
Sarah couldn't help but laugh, a soundless and desperate sort of laugh that held more wryness that happiness. "Most of the time they're perfectly reasonable people. Just put them together, and..."
"Sounds familiar," he murmured. He helped himself to a cup of Seven-Up and tasted it gingerly. Then he winced and quickly set it back down.
"You know, I'm really scared that'll be us someday. That our disagreements will lose their charm and we'll just start hating each other."
"You worry too much," Jareth replied absently, looking among the other bottles on the table. "Maybe we will, but that's life. It's the risk everyone faces, even us."
"Why do my parents have to be such assholes about each other?" Sarah sighed plaintively. "Everything else was going so well. I'm not married to a random nobleman, we managed to come to an agreement, I somehow passed all my finals, my friends are still speaking to me, and I graduated. Then they had to go humiliate me in front of the entire room. Why can't I just have a nice happy ending? It's not..." Sarah stopped herself before uttering that last fateful word, gulping it back down her throat.
"Fair?" Jareth finished for her, eyebrows tilting.
"But life's not fair," she told him with another sigh. Jareth smiled faintly and patted her on the head.
"Good job. I'm glad you remembered." He glanced around the room. "If it makes you feel better, I don't think the entire room heard your parents fight. Maybe half the room, at the most."
"Really? That makes me feel so much better." Sarcasm dripped heavy from the statement. "Fifty-odd people, rather than a hundred."
Still, she felt the compulsion to look around the room; and she found that Jareth was right. The people closest to her parents were very determinedly looking anywhere but at them and making loud, fake-cheerful conversation. What a surprise--her parents were actually apologizing to Dinah's parents, and Linda had the grace to look mortified. Good for her. Jeremy was waiting at a distance; Karen was farther away still, holding Toby in her arms and talking to him softly. Sarah's eyes moved on.
On the other side of the restaurant, the party-goers looked the same as ever. There were Dinah and Ben, standing with their arms wrapped around each other, just smiling goofy smiles at each other. Gabriel was talking to three other young men, perhaps Ben's cousins, and somehow making them laugh. Sarah could only wonder why. In a corner nearby was Callista... talking to Aaron. He was wearing his usual earnestly pleasant expression, eyes totally focused on the buxom girl in front of him; she was blushing slightly and looking pleased, most likely unaware of the appealing picture she presented. Sarah's mouth quirked, only the tiniest hint of a smile. She'd feel a lot less guilty about dumping Aaron if he suddenly developed a crush on her bashful step-cousin. He deserved someone as nice as he was.
If they had heard the fight, no doubt they'd be running to your side, Sarah told herself. Or at least that's what you'd like to think. Maybe they just don't care about your dramas anymore. You're getting as bad as Linda. But then Sarah gave herself a mental shake and chided that tiny little voice in her head. Oh, shut the fuck up. You really do worry too much.
"What are you thinking?" asked the Goblin King.
"I need to lighten up. Relax. Take a vacation."
"I could help you with that," he replied smoothly. Sarah looked up at him through her eyelashes.
"I don't doubt that for a moment," she said. "Maybe later. Right now... right now, I have a job to do."
"Oh, really? What would that be?"
"To go be eighteen." She flashed him a smile, this one brighter than the last. "Run off and do whatever you do when you're not stealing babies or stalking me. I need to hang out with my friends."
"As you wish, my lady." He inclined his head, a mock bow. "Do try to stay out of trouble."
"That should be easier without you around."
"Probably." His peculiar eyes lingered on hers a long moment; then he turned and strode toward the glass door of the pizzeria; strangely, the bell attached to the entrance remained silent. She continued to watch him as he stepped out onto the cement sidewalk. A couple steps, a shrug of shoulders... then all she could see was a flutter of strong white wings.
Sarah blinked and then forced herself into movement. She put her empty cup down and picked up the one Jareth had poured, curling her lips around the rim where his had touched. The soda was a touch flat, perhaps, but not so bad. She began walking back toward Dinah and Ben.
It had been a long time since she had felt so free; she wasn't going to let her stupid parents weigh her down again. They could spoil their own afternoons if they liked.
She had a lot of celebrating to do.
First of all, I would like to apologize abjectly for the delay in getting this out. I really did mean to update this months and months ago, but I just couldn't quite figure out how to end the story. Not to mention that I had my own high school graduation and first semester of college to go to. But here the epilogue is, as good as it's gonna get. Finally.
Secondly, but more importantly: thank you, thank you, thank you, to everyone who has read this, especially those of you who had the patience to stick it out from the beginning of the story. I appreciate your comments enormously--without your help, I don't think I would have finished this 200+ page monstrosity. Even if you didn't ever comment, thank you. Hopefully I entertained you for a few hours.
Will there be a sequel, or unrelated Labyrinth fanfiction? I dunno. I have some ideas swirling around in my head, but I'm not sure they'll ever amount to anything. I want to dabble in some other fandoms... the Stephanie Plum books, The Silence of the Lambs, or FF7, maybe. I haven't decided yet.
So. This is the end. Thanks for persevering. I love you. Kiss kiss. Good bye.