Disclaimer: I do not, nor probably will I ever own more than a copy of the Labyrinth DVD. Others own that--go them--and all I own is.... well.... err.
Author's note: Thanks to all the fabulous writers who inspired this one..... If you want me to link to your story, tell me.....

Sarah, Jareth and Toby Makes Three

Sarah Williams had barely walked in the door when Karen came in and scowled at her. "About time that you're here!" she snapped. "Toby's been crying and totally ruined my visit with Kelly." Karen scowled again, looking at the loose poet's blouse and slacks and sneakers that Sarah had on. "Go up and see what's going on!"
Sarah sighed. Her stepmother, as usual, was impeccably dressed in a lavender silk blouse and white pencil skirt, with her new matching set of pearl earrings and necklace. In the living room, just beyond Karen, Kelly sat in a turquoise blue blouse and matching skirt and shoes with her black Pomeranian "Pooches" in her lap and what was apparently a new ring, if her idle glancing at her jeweled hand was any indication.

Which meant that Karen would probably want a trip to the jewelry store sometime soon.

Karen hissed at Sarah again, "Will you get going? I'm NOT going to listen to that boy squall another minute!" With a rough shove, Karen moved Sarah out of sight of the living room towards the stairs. Sarah slid quietly up the steps as Karen went back into the living room, sighing dramatically, "Honestly! I don't know what on EARTH has gotten into her--she expects me to do EVERYTHING. Now, Kelly, you were saying about Corrine?...."

Sarah went to Toby's room, dropping her backpack on the bed. Poor Toby wasn't "big enough" (according to Karen) to use the full sized bed, but Karen had insisted on buying the matching bed when she bought the baby furniture. Otherwise, it wouldn't look right. Toby's cries muffled to sniffs and whimpers as Sarah picked the boy up.

"Oh no!" she grinned. "You need to be changed." Toby, sensing his discomfort was about to end, stayed still as Sarah pulled out a clean pair of rompers and underwear. She frowned slightly--Toby was potty trained and even starting to talk--but Karen had apparently left him to his own devices for some time. And now Toby's wardrobe would need some updating, since he was growing like a weed.

Karen would scream.

Toby sighed in contentment and began to wriggle away towards his bookcase. Sarah scooped him up and hauled him to the other side of the room, where a mismatched pile of stuffed animals--including dear, frazzled Lancelot Bear--and a stacking ring and some plastic blocks awaited him. Karen had filled the bookcase with wonderful books--leather-bound editions of all the children's classics and great literature--and highly collectable toys and models. The first time that Toby saw it he squealed in delight and began wriggling toward it. Karen, showing off her child's perfect bedroom to Kelly and Corrine, was appalled and shrieked when Toby grabbed a model car and began to happily stuff it in his mouth. Sarah came running, gingerly pulling the toy out of Toby's mouth and handing him a teething ring. Kelly and Corrine laughed in their brittle, icy way and Karen hissed that Sarah better keep him away from those models--they were expensive and Toby should know better.

With Toby safely occupied building a block fort around his stacking rings and chucking the rings at Lancelot, Sarah pulled open her backpack. She had only a scant hour to study before putting Toby in his high chair to eat and putting him down. After that, she had to balance the books, fill out the order forms for supplies and other general paperwork for her job. She sighed, looking at Toby who had given up hurling rings at Lancelot and was now on his back, happily kicking the bear and teething on its ear. At least Mr. Sing was generous in that regard--she could study quietly if no one needed her and if she was done with the other paperwork.

Not that his shop--one of the most highly reputed Japanese apothecary shops in town--was quiet for long. But Mr. Sing loved his work, loved teaching about the mysterious flow of Yin and Yang and how herbs, acupressure, acupuncture and massage, could maintain health--even to a pale skinned girl. Even Mr. Sing, with all of his knowledge, couldn't always stop the flow of time. A great grandfather now, his eyes weren't what they used to be and his writing was a little shaky--which made filling out the devil inspired license forms, accounting forms, tax forms, and other tiny printed forms. So, Sarah kept the books, tallied receipts, checked inventory and did other chores around his shop. Mentally, Sarah thanked whoever had scheduled "Small Business Law & Accounting" during the last period of the day at her high school. When her first and second choices filled up, she randomly chose those courses.

So now the days were filled with Toby, whatever school classes she could cram in at the local community college and working for Mr. Sing--who enrolled her in an introductory Japanese course at the local community college to satisfy her foreign language requirement. Sarah was getting pretty good at figuring out the herbs and what was needed, although she often had to refer to the charts and her notes and Mr. Sing sometimes as well. So, Mr. Sing was now sending huge scrolls and tomes home with her that intricately described the various maladies and the cures of the human male and female.

After 30 minutes of relative peace, Sarah heard the side door--the one from the driveway that squeaked so--open and close. Daddy was home. Toby's eyes lit up and he began twisting to his feet and to the door. Sarah slid her book shut and scooped him up. Toby giggled as he batted Sarah with his teething ring of huge plastic keys. Sarah laughed--how quickly and carelessly she had almost thrown away all of Toby's chortles and giggles and laughter and screams!--and hauled him downstairs.

"Honestly, I don't know what to do any more!" Karen was gesturing wildly at Sarah's father--Robert. "I ask her to do only a few simple things around the house and she huffs around like I've killed her! She's been against me from since we've been married."

Robert's voice was low. "Maybe she's just working too hard--"

"Nonsense!" Karen exclaimed. "She's--"

Toby butted in with a whimper and clung to Sarah. Robert grinned a humorless grin and gestured to the Thai take out he had brought home.

Toby grinned at his daddy. "Da-Da UP!"

Robert picked up Toby and swung him high in the air. Toby laughed. Sarah grinned at Toby. Even Karen's lips lifted slightly.

"Sarah," she said, pulling out some dishes. "Why don't you feed Toby his supper now?"

Sarah glanced at the little boxes of food. "Umm......"

Karen glared at her behind Robert's back, then smiled acidly. "Could you pretty please? Your father and I have some things to talk about...."

Sarah didn't miss the hint. She pulled out the heavy tray from the high chair in the kitchen and put Toby's food in the microwave.

"Well--you're living it up, sport," Robert said. "Looks like you've got pears--"

"YUM!"

"--applesauce--"

"YUM!"

"--and spinach!"

Toby grunted and twisted his mouth. He used to love spinach, but Karen made the mistake of feeding him some in front of Kelly and Corrine as some function or other. Toby slammed his fat little hand in the middle of the spinach and splattered it everywhere--including all over Karen's designer, white silk shirt and cream pants. Then, with wide blue eyes, he calmly began sucking the green goo off of his thumb and fingers. Karen shrieked and practically threw Toby to Sarah. Sarah could have told her to get him strapped into the high chair and hand his sippy cup over to prevent that. Toby never did like spinach after that.

"Just kidding, sport. It's your favorite--hot dogs with cheese!"

"YUUUUMMMMM!" Toby squealed as his dad lifted him up high again. With a wide swing, he deposited Toby in Sarah's arms. Toby grinned at the lit up microwave and the spinning plate of tot sized hot dogs.

Karen set out two settings at the table in the dining room, and said with a slight grin. "I'll just put yours in the microwave until you've finished with Toby." Sarah knew that Toby was finicky at the best of times--despite saying "YUM!" he sometimes could be downright ornery. Feeding him, with him actively chucking bits of food all over the floor, then giving him a sippy cup of milk, could be a time consuming undertaking. And woe betide if he dropped some of his yummy hot dog on Karen's dining room rug--so he was relegated to being in the kitchen.

Toby, in his favorite fire truck bib on, clapped his hands as Sarah pulled out the hot dogs, daubed some ketchup on the plate. Thankfully, the fruit was easy to dispense and the sippy cup was filled with milk already. Robert was scooping into the buckets of Thai, and the smells of sweet and sour duck filled the room. Sarah's mouth watered as she sat down at the kitchen table and cut up the hot dogs into bite-sized pieces. Toby grinned as Robert came back into the kitchen.

"Da-Da!"

"Just getting a glass of hows-your-father, guys," he said in a sheepish voice. Karen stood in the doorway, darting glances at Sarah, Toby and the decanter that Robert was pouring an amber liquid from. Robert poured a tumbler full with a sigh.

Sarah carefully daubed one piece of hot dog with melted cheese into the ketchup and, looking at Toby said, "Open wide!" Toby looked away. "Who's got the hotdog?"

Toby turned to her and grabbed her hair. "Mama!" he shrieked gleefully, planting a slobbery kiss on her cheek.

Robert straightened and looked curiously at Toby, a grin spreading over his face. Karen gasped. In a moment, she was bright red--no, she was livid red. Robert slid past Sarah who gaped at Toby's new word and steered Karen into the dining room, kicking it closed with his foot.

"Ouch!" Sarah said softly, drawing Toby's attention. "You're going to be a lonely old goat if you keep pulling girl's hair!" She scooped up another bit of hot dog and ketchup in his spoon and softly stammered, "Who's got the h--hotdog?"

Toby gingerly felt for the spoon and began guiding it to his mouth. "Toby!" he gurgled.

The voices in the dining room rose. Karen was beyond pissed. Sarah winced. She rushed through his feeding, scooping up huge bites of applesauce and pears. Toby artlessly plowed through them, slurping up the applesauce and gulping down pear cubes faster and faster to the rising crescendo of voices.

"You are spoiling that girl!" Karen's voice rose in anger. "She's pushing me out of her life! And now out of Toby's life!"

"Maybe if you wouldn't push her to take care of him--" Robert started.

"I can't get near him without him screaming for her!" Karen's voice rose higher. "She's going to destroy our marriage to keep you for herself!" Her voice suddenly had a saccharine, artificial sob. "And she's trying to take my SON--YOUR SON--away."

Robert's murmurs were muffled. A glass slammed down on the tabletop. Sarah looked at Toby's frown. He was going to start howling any moment now. Carefully, she picked him up and, going the long way around through the den, Robert's office and the mudroom, went upstairs. Toby began wriggling restlessly--with the worried look of one who knows that his world is about to change. Sarah grinned at him and scooped up some towels and his favorite rubber ducky. Everything was strangely silent--even Toby who liked to flood the bathroom and throw Mr. Duck around was subdued--except for the rising voices from the dining room. Sarah washed and dried Toby, then powdered him and fastened him into his pjs.

Toby yawned sleepily then waved at the duck that bobbed in the slowly draining tub of water. "Bye-bye" he said softly.

Sarah bit her lip and stepped out into the hall, hauling him to his room. She read him three books, and went through five nursery rhymes before his eyes started closing. Gradually, she began dropping her voice, slowly rocking him and watching the worried frown fade from his brow. Finally he nodded off. With a soft sigh, he went down in the crib with Lancelot.

Sarah carefully turned off the lights, set out a pile of changes of clothes, and turned on the "darling" stained glass nightlight. The silvery moonlight filtered in the sheers--whoever heard of putting delicate sheer curtains and expensive dry-clean-only window dressings in a toddler's room?--and the whole room was alight in the soothing blue light. For the moment, things were quiet. Sarah picked up the backpack and scooped up her books. Perhaps tomorrow she would have time to study.....

Something thumped into the wall behind her. Sarah whirled and Toby, awakened now, started sniffling. Sarah raced to him and picked him up, wary of the weaving shape in the doorway.

"Yous knows," Robert began unsteadily. Sarah gasped at the smell of alcohol. "Yous could try to getalongwith 'er." He stepped more fully in the moonlight and took a thirsty swallow from his Scotch bottle. "Yous just--" He stopped briefly, looking curiously at her. "Yous are wiggling...."

Sarah would have laughed if Toby hadn't started clinging to her hair. Warily, she backed away from her father and set Toby down on the floor at his blocks. Robert leered at her as she straightened.

"Yousa pretty girl, Sarah," he warbled. "Yournicer than that ol' bat." Sarah stared at him curiously.

"Thank you, Daddy," she said, carefully emphasizing the title. "You need to get to bed, Daddy." More and more he was talking about how pretty she was. How nice she was--and how much nicer she was than her stepmother. It was starting to get creepier and creepier.

Robert nodded and stared at the suddenly empty bottle in his hand. Then he grinned. "Why don't you come what--wish--wi--....wish me? Like you used to?" He licked his lips. "Make yer Daddy happy to be his little girl...."

Sarah frowned. "Daddy, why don't you go to bed?"

"Don't ARGUE wish ME!" he suddenly bellowed. "That's All that ol' BAT doesh.... argue and argue and argue."

Sarah stepped back. "Umm.... Daddy, just go to bed and --" She glanced around, looking for ideas. "--and I'll come after I've finished cleaning up after Toby."

Robert snarled and drew back. With a sudden jerk, Sarah felt her neck wrench from his backhand. "Yoush just LIKE HER. Yous argue and argues and argue..... You wan' Toby so bad? You can have 'em! Get out! Both of you!" With a sudden movement, he spun on his heel and left the room.

Sarah collapsed on the perfectly made up bed in shock. He had polished off another bottle--this time the expensive Glenfiddich Scotch that Karen was saving for Christmas company. It was bad enough that Karen accused her of stealing the alcohol and demanded her check each week to pay for the missing booze. But now Daddy was up to three or more bottles a week. Sarah fingered her cheek, distantly considering that she had been hit--almost like it had happened to someone else. But of course it had--her Daddy, Robert S. Williams, would NEVER backhand her!

Numbed to the core, Sarah picked up the squalling Toby and Lancelot and sat down to read to him and rock him again. He settled fitfully, keeping a wary eye on the door as voices began rising again. She pulled out the rugged red book that she had tucked away in her pocket.

"Once upon a time, there was a beautiful girl named Sarah who loved her brother. She really did love her brother." Sarah smiled here. This poor book--"The Labyrinth"--had seen too much action. But it was Toby's favorite. "She really did love her brother, but sometimes--" Sarah grinned at Toby. "--he could drive her crazy."

Toby giggled at that, his attention finally fixed on the careful ink illustrations. He would giggle as she mimed Hoggle's voice and chortle as he was bounced and her voice rose to Sir Didymous's high tenor or lowered to Ludo's bass. He would coo at the various voices of the Helping Hands and gasp satisfyingly at the deep booming voices of the stone faced Doubts. And Sarah loved doing them all.

So easily could this have passed away. So easily wished away.

"The baby, who really loved his sister, would cry for food and would cry to be picked up and cry to be played with," she continued. "And his sister really did love him, but sometimes she really wished...." Toby's eyes lit up as she described the delicate fairy wings and he pointed at the pictures of the card dogs--Ralf and Alf. His eyes drooped at the description of the oubliette and were closed completely at the Battle at the Goblin City. At the Escher room, Toby snored softly and Sarah's voice dropped low and quiet. The party afterward--with the Fireys and Ludo and all the wonderful creatures--with the white barn owl looking in from his perch outside the window and Toby was snoring. Sarah carefully carted him to his crib, tucking him in with Lancelot. "You remind me of the babe," she whispered, arranging him on his back and the blankets one last time. "What babe? The babe with the power. What power?" Toby snored one more time, rubbing his face. "The power of voodoo. Who do? YOU do!" Sarah poked his tummy here. "Do what? You remind me of the babe." With one last sigh, she tucked the book into her backpack and left the room.

Never seeing the pure white barn owl on the branch outside the long French doors.

The next morning, a Saturday morning, Sarah's alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. She sleepily gathered up her books and got ready for work at Mr. Sing's store. Robert was leaving the bathroom, pale and shaking. Sarah nodded at him, trying to ignore the smell of stale Scotch.

"You'd better take Toby with you," he whispered. "Karen's really upset."

Sarah nodded absently. Translated: Robert and Karen were fighting and Robert had a hangover. She hauled Toby up and gathered his things. Mr. Sing's tiny wife often had neighbor children over. Hopefully with her limited Japanese and Mrs. Sing's limited English, it wouldn't be a problem.

Mrs. Sing was delighted to meet Toby. Toby, a little shy of strangers and more edgy because of last night, quickly warmed to the warm cookies and milk she offered and sat to happily play with a stuffed dragon and some oversized toy cars. Business was busy, and Sarah felt many curious eyes on her. Not unfriendly though--Mr. Sing allowed no disrespect--just curious. But Toby's wide blue eyes and blonde curls charmed everyone.

Around lunch, Robert came into the store, eyes downcast. He thrust some cash at Sarah, mumbling about paying for Toby's lunch. Mr. Sing came up cautiously, sniffing and examining Robert.

"I have powder," he said in a singsong pidgin. "You feel better."

"No, thank you," Robert said, blushing. "I really appreciate it but I feel--" Mr. Sing thrust a paper packet of powder in his hand. "--fine."

"You come back in--" Mr. Sing glanced at his lunar calendar. "Two weeks."

"No, really, I feel fine," Robert repeated, laying the powder down on the counter. He flushed as several curious sets of eyes landed on him. Sarah backed away slowly. "I feel great in fact--"

The tinkle of bells of the door opening interrupted him. Karen, in a red silk dress, glanced inside the glass door. "Are you coming?" she said with a quiet hiss.

Robert looked up, as if dazed for a moment. "Just a second honey." He pulled out another few bills and flapped them at Sarah. "I have to give Sarah some lunch money...."

"Hurry up, darling," she said, with a glare at Sarah.

"KITSUNE!" Mrs. Sing shouted. "Kitsune-tsuki! Shoo shoo!" Mrs. Sing shooed at Karen.

Karen's pretty face snarled for a moment. Then she turned to Robert again, saying, "I'll just wait in the car for you, dear." And left.

Mr. Sing went up to Mrs. Sing, who was frantically lighting incense and chanting. The handful of other customers began chattering amongst themselves, and crowding around Toby. Robert slunk away and Sarah could just barely see his car merge into traffic. It was ages before Mr. Sing could calm everyone down. Mrs. Sing staggered up the steps to the tiny upstairs apartment to lie down with a cup of tea. Sarah, shaken, began gathering Toby's toys.

Mr. Sing finally satisfied his customers and closed the door behind them. With a satisfied click, he locked the door. "Too much excitement, hai?"

Sarah nodded. "Yes--I mean, 'hai'" she whispered.

Mr. Sing put on a pot of water and began selecting herbs. In a marble mortar, he ground them fine and then let the hot water steep them. "How long?"

Sarah started. "How long what?"

"How long she there?" he repeated, watching the tea darken. "The kitsune."

"Karen's been married to my father--" Sarah swallowed. "--for about 5 years."

"Oh...." Mr. Sing pulled out two delicate china cups. "Very long."

Sarah frowned. "What happened? I don't think she liked--"

"No," Mr. Sing switched to his own language. "She didn't want the kitsune in the shop. Very bad for the wa--to have a kitsune. Better for it to be in the woods." He pulled up two chairs and brought the two cups over.

"What is a kitsune? What did err... it have to do with Karen?"

"Karen?" Mr. Sing tested that on his tongue. "No..... not Karen. Its name is not 'Karen'. Whatever it is, that is not it." He sipped his tea, then nodded. "The kitsune is a fox kami. The spirit of the fox can take over a person and then cause mischief. The kitsune causes chaos. Very bad for the chi."

Sarah sipped her tea. She didn't recall ever sampling this mixture, but could readily identify some of the components, at least.

"Where there is a fox, there is theft. Women's hair is cut. There is--" Mr. Sing stopped here, thinking. "--illusion."

"Illusion?"

Mr. Sing nodded with a smile. "You don't believe me, eh?" He smiled again and set his cup down gently. "Don't believe in the kami. Don't believe that a fox can possess a human. Don't believe that the illusions of a fox can keep an army from crossing a single rice paddy in 3 days. Don't believe that the illusions can steal the chi of a man."

Sarah thought for a moment. Jareth's eyes--his beautiful, mismatched eyes--swam in her mind. "I do believe that there could be, but, forgive me, I do not understand--"

Mr. Sing smiled, "Ahh...." He sipped his drink again. Then he stood and brought over a very, very old book to Sarah.

"Kitsune can drain the chi. The strong man becomes weak. He is cold in the heat of the summer sun. He forgets his family and sometimes cannot figure out the simplest things. His chi, out of balance, invites illness and spreads to his family. Soon, all the family is weakened--until the kitsune is satisfied and departs."

"Karen? A kitsune?" Sarah was astounded.

Mr. Sing nodded. "You need to protect yourself and your brother."

Sarah felt her head spin. Karen possessed by a fox spirit? After a moment, and a grateful gulp of tea, she looked at Mr. Sing. "What do I need to do?"

Sarah walked up the steps to the front door with Toby asleep on her shoulder. Mr. Sing had been most helpful in recommending a Taoist priest, finding herbs and incense in glass vials, red paper with prayers written in simple script, and more. Of course, it meant biking with two bulging backpacks instead of one. After explaining her predicament, Mr. Sing came up with an old bulky set of bicycle baskets. "It's like my birthday," Sarah thought humorlessly as Mr. Sing carefully bolted the baskets on. "Wait--it IS my birthday!" Shaking that depressing thought, she was soon on the road, with Toby laughing at the whizzing scenery.

A slip of paper was fastened to the screen door. Daddy wasn't even home for her birthday.

"Sarah -- Karen and I are going out tonight to celebrate. We're going to be very late. Feed Toby and watch him until we get home. If he messes anything up, you'll have to pay for it--so watch him closely. Karen says not to get into the alcohol again--she's upset about the Scotch. Dad P.S. Check out Karen's new ring when we get back."

Sarah re-read the note 3 times, then crumpled it in her fist.

"It's not fair, is it?" a smooth, accented voice asked behind her.

Sarah whirled around to see no one around. Only Toby staring at her with huge, curious eyes.

Sarah drug in the backpacks and gradually made her way up to Toby's room. Fortunately, a day of playing with Mrs. Sing had worn him out. Usually fussy from tension, he was practically asleep when he finished the last sip of milk and was snoring softly when Sarah tucked him in. Sarah dug through the backpack, flopped on Toby's bed and began reading the smallest of the tomes that Mr. Sing had pressed on her.

Sarah was about halfway through her restless reading when Robert and Karen rolled in. Robert was singing some love ditty to Karen, who was laughing and squealing. Sarah held her breath as the front door slammed and she heard the raucous noise coming up the steps. Sarah scooped up all of the books and papers into the backpacks again, and shoved them under the bed. If Mr. Sing was right, Karen would pitch a fit to end all temper tantrums if she saw the wards, scrolls, incense and herbs. Picking up her copy of Labyrinth, she lay on the bed, pretending to read.

Karen and Robert caroused through the house, laughing and giggling. Mercifully, Toby didn't wake up. Sarah heard this clinking of glasses nearby and felt her neck prickle. Staying quiet, she pretended to ignore them, hoping that they'd go to bed soon. The words held no appeal for her and so Sarah stared at the book, praying for a mercifully quick end to the evening.

The door burst open. Sarah yelped softly at the noise and Toby let out a whimper that grew to a wail. Sarah hopped up and picked him up.

Robert and Karen stood giggling in the doorway. Robert held an empty bottle of champagne with his shirt unbuttoned to the waist. Karen stood with two champagne flutes precariously balanced in one hand and the other stroking Robert's chest.

"Hi honey," she cooed, flicking her hand to show off her new jeweled ring. Karen frowned as Toby buried his face in Sarah's neck. Sarah turned and began softly chanting nonsense rhymes to the child. "I see that you got Robbie's note. What do you think?" She waved the ring at Sarah.

"I think it's very nice," Sarah said politely. It was a very nice ring and if half of what Mr. Sing's book said was true, Sarah knew that she'd better watch her step. A kitsune could be unpredictable, wild. It could walk through walls, according to legend, and had a vicious appetite for vengeance.

"Very nice-shhh," Robert lisped. "Nice-shhh ring. Nice-shh family." He wove a little bit on his feet then grinned. "Nice-shhhh wife." He dropped the bottle on the carpet and began kissing Karen.

Karen smiled, but the smile didn't quite reach her eyes. "Why don't we let Sarah put Toby to bed--he really should be in bed, dear--and go to our bedroom?"

Robert seemed to appreciate that idea. He turned and began weaving out of the room, humming some love song.

Karen smiled coldly again at Sarah. "Now put him to bed before he starts howling."

Sarah turned and set Toby back down. He snuffled and began wriggling. Karen watched as Sarah hunted around, finally finding Lancelot on the floor. Sarah hurried and pulled Lancelot out to hand to Toby when Karen shrieked.

Wrapped around one ragged ear was a red string with a warding scroll wrapped in it.

"Get OUT!!" Karen shrieked. "Get OUT you--" She began sputtering, then screaming hysterically, incoherently.

Sarah tore the string off of Lancelot's ear and shoved him at Toby, who began screaming. Karen advanced, a fierce light in her eyes and her hands curled into clawed hooks, screaming. The paper scroll fluttered in the slight breeze of the room, wandering towards Karen. Karen hissed at the paper, at Sarah and Toby, and then at the paper again, and began retreating.

"Get out of here," Karen hissed from the doorway. "Or I'll make you leave."

"Try it," Sarah yelled back. "And I promise that I will make YOU leave!"

Karen smiled acidly. "I'd like to see you try, girl!" Suddenly, she glanced away and ducked into a shadow in the hall. Sarah lost sight of her for a moment, then heard her howling and crying.

Robert came blustering into the room, holding his head. "What's all this NOISE?!" he bellowed. Sarah blanched and held Toby tightly, watching as Robert's heavy foot crushed the scroll.

Karen burst into the room, her face covered in scratches and her blouse torn. She leaned against Robert and began sobbing. "She attacked me. I--I can't believe it." Karen sniffled. "I can't believe that she attacked me when I went to play with Toby."

Robert looked dazed for a minute, then wrapped his arms around his wife. "Sarah," he growled low. "You have explaining to do."

"But Dad, I didn't!" Sarah protested. "I couldn't--not while I was holding Toby!"

"SILENCE!" he bellowed again. "You will pack your things and leave right now, young lady! I will NOT have you attacking Karen, who has tried her hardest to be the sweetest, nicest, woman to you. You have 10 minutes and if you are not out in 10 minutes, I will call the police and have you arrested for assault and trespassing!"

Sarah gaped at Robert as he led a sobbing Karen away. "Ten minutes!" With a lurch in her stomach, Sarah grabbed her backpacks, stuffed Mr. Sing's books and scrolls and talismans in there. Acting on instinct, she grabbed her purse and slid some clothes into the backpack.

Robert came bellowing back, holding the cordless phone. "You have two minutes left!" Toby snuffled and began bellowing back in terror. "And take that brat with you! We don't need him howling EITHER!"

Sarah staggered under the weight of her backpacks and stuffed another duffel bag with Toby's gear--a bunch of clothes, another pair of shoes, a binky, a paci, and other traveling gear. Picking up Toby and the three bags, she barely made it to her trusty bicycle before her arms gave out. Toby whimpered as she locked him in his seat and then precariously stacked the bags on the bike. She pedaled off, praying desperately to reach Mr. Sing's before she gave out entirely.

Robert watched her go, feeling as numb as if a neighbor's child was peddling off down the dark street. Something nagged at his conscience--something like a half-remembered dream. But Karen came limping down the stairs, her eyes huge and suffering, the cuts on her face outlined with orange iodine like the mask of a forest animal. She sniffed bravely.

"Is she gone?" she asked timidly. "Is she really gone?"

Robert felt confused for a moment. Was who gone? With a perplexed grin that he hoped was reassuring, he nodded. What was he doing by the door, watching a stranger--some homeless mother, probably--pedal away? He needed to tend to Karen.

"Thank you," she said, cuddling up close to him. "Thank you." She closed the door quietly and then led him up to the steps. "I'll lock up."

"Are you sure? I don't mind being down here."

"I'm sure. I'll yell if I need anything." Karen's hooded eyes flickered around the silent foyer. She listened for Robert to go up the steps into the hall. Then, she began walking around, glancing with a smug smile at the flawlessly decorated rooms. Finally, she stopped in front of the massive mirror in the living room. The small cuts on her face would heal quickly--but she'd have to keep them fresh for a bit longer, just in case Sarah returned. It was a pity to ruin such a flawless appearance, but all's fair in love and war. She laughed softly and mercilessly. Now if Sarah could just be whisked away somewhere--somewhere far away and kept there......

.....a large white owl peered through the window, waiting.....

....somewhere where the police couldn't trace her. Somewhere where she could have her hands full and be out of the way, permanently. Karen studied her reflection a bit longer. "I wish that both of them were somewhere far away and would not return."

The white owl cocked his head to one side. Not the right words--the exact words that would force him to take Sarah--but perhaps they were close enough. With a push off the branch, he flapped into the scant moonlight. Sarah was easy to spot--her bike a fluorescent pink with a bright blue child seat and a clear street. She turned onto a side street in the Oriental section of town and stopped in front of a low building with a fabulous black and white rock garden in the back. The owl flapped lower, choosing a thick branch surrounded by lush leaves.

Sarah propped the bike up twice and it fell down twice, unused to the heavy burdens it was carrying. Toby, sleepy and crabby, wouldn't hold still in her arms so Sarah reluctantly let the bike lean at a precarious angle against a low fountain. Surely Mr. Sing would be able to help her out. Sarah began walking down the path to the front door.

Mr. Sing slid open the door and glanced around. Spying her, he gestured for her to come inside. Mrs. Sing had just finished fixing some supper--perhaps Sarah-san and Toby-san would join them? Sarah nodded with relief, relishing the warm ginger chicken soup and the delicately prepared hibachi style beef and vegetables and steamed rice. Even Toby deigned to eat a bit of soup and some beef--although if Mr. or Mrs. Sing were surprised to have him ask for ketchup--"Kapatch"--they didn't show it. Toby, contented, collapsed into a boneless heap into Sarah's arms, sound asleep. Sarah spread out his blanket and set Lancelot beside him on the floor of the adjoining room, but it was apparent that he wouldn't stir again.

Over green tea, Mr. Sing calmly whispered. "Why?"

Sarah told them a brief sketch of what happened that evening. Mrs. Sing tutted softly and Mr. Sing shook his head. "Do you have a place to stay?" he asked softly.

Sarah blushed furiously. How do you begin to ask if you can stay with these nice people? Such a thing was probably unheard of in their culture! But she needed some help desperately, until she could find a place of her own.

"I need to find a place to stay," she said finally, fiddling with her cup. "Someplace safe with Toby."

Mr. and Mrs. Sing exchanged an enigmatic look. "There is a warm futon here, Sarah-san," Mr. Sing said. Sarah nodded and scooped up Toby. The spare room, in traditional fashion, was simply furnished with a cabinet for the futon, a larger cabinet for clothes, and a wide, white-sheeted futon. Nothing looked so inviting. Tucking Toby in on one side, Sarah climbed into the other and fell asleep, staring at the play of moonlight on the crisp white walls through the trees in the garden as Mr. Sing hauled her bike around the house and propped it up on the porch.

"Sarah," a soft voice called. "Sarah, wake up."

Sarah snuggled down into the futon further. She was so tired and surely it couldn't be time to get up already. The voice called again--soft and melodious and hypnotically accented. She cracked open an eye.

Jareth sat at the end of the futon, twirling crystals in his hand.

With a start, Sarah sat up. The sheets, tangled around her, yanked up and Toby whimpered at the loss of heat. Sarah glanced down and carefully tucked a corner of sheet around him again.

"What do you want?" she whispered.

"I'm here to grant a wish, Sarah." His mismatched eyes glittered in the dark.

"I haven't wished," she said desperately.

"Not your wish, Sarah," Jareth said softly. "Your step-mother's wish." He looked almost sad.

Sarah's eyes went wide. "She wished me into the Labyrinth?" Sarah's entire world came crashing down again. "How could she? And what about Toby?"

"Both of you were wished away," he said softly, the balls spinning more slowly--almost thoughtfully. "I am sorry, Sarah."

"I solved your Labyrinth," she said softly. "You have no power over me."

Jareth smiled. "That worked before. Not now--you are both now denizens of the Labyrinth and so I very very much DO have power over you." He looked around. "Unless you have somewhere else that you and Toby can live?" He watched as Sarah gazed at Toby. "Someplace safe for him to play. Someplace where he can have friends and be protected." His voice dropped lower. "Someplace where you can afford to live....."

Sarah shook her head. "You know I don't."

Jareth nodded sagely. "And of course, you'll need to consider how to pay for food and clothing and whatnot." He looked around the room. "And with Mr. Sing's son coming back in a few weeks, how do you suppose that they will work things out?" He smiled. "Of course, you have all these things worked out, don't you, Sarah?"

"I'm working now and can get help until I find more work," Sarah said hotly.

"Except for one thing."

"What?"

Jareth looked deep into her eyes. "A certain wish....."

After a silence, she said sadly. "I have no choice but to go with you."

In a flash, Jareth, Sarah and Toby vanished into stardust.

The sun was rising over the Labyrinth as Sarah got her bearings. She stood in front of what she could only term an Olde English cottage. The building itself was made of stone, with a wooden loft covering half the ground floor. There were three main rooms on the ground floor--a kitchen area with a sturdy, dirty table and stools and a door in the floor leading to a root cellar, a sitting area and a back room that was completely devoid of furniture but held the most magnificent view of a sprawling garden through the dirty windows. The thatch, thankfully, was thick and shaggy, which meant it would be dry and warm inside. There were several large windows, including two bay windows--one in the loft area and one in the back room, which meant there would be cool breezes. The large fireplace had a wooden mantel that cried out for Christmas stockings and candles.

Exploring the grounds, there was a small--though not tiny--area in front with thick grass and two over grown beds with a low stone wall surrounding it and a wooden gate leading to what appeared to be a main road into the Goblin city. The back--Sarah's mouth watered here--the back held not only another patch of grass, but held three huge beds with a pebbled path forming a huge white cross with a fountain in the middle. There were many herbs that she could identify, some that she couldn't, and plenty of obvious weeds. But there was a porch with a sturdy bench built into it, providing shade with the help of a peach tree, an apple tree and a positively ancient pecan tree.

Jareth watched silently as Sarah inspected the little house. It seemed to be a good fit--not too large and not too small. There was even an area that, with a little work, could be walled off as Toby's room. A sardonic smile slashed his mouth--Sarah was feeling her away around like one of the barn cats did when he brought it into the palace the first time--testing all the corners and rooms. A sudden picture bloomed in his mind of Sarah with whiskers and he chuckled.

"Something is funny?" Sarah's eyes bored into his own.

"Not really," he said, trying to keep a straight face as he pictured the cat-Sarah fighting for a bit of fish. "I don't really have anywhere else that would work, but I hope that you like this place......."

Sarah looked around. This was a definite "fixer upper opportunity", but this was infinitely better than anything she could have afforded on her budget in the Aboveground. "Toby will be safe? He won't suddenly turn into a goblin?"

Jareth sobered quickly. "No.... he won't." Sarah looked very relieved at that and Jareth could hear the proverbial wheels turning. "You know, Sarah," he started uncertainly. How to tell her? "I wouldn't have turned him into a goblin--"

"Oh really?" Sarah arched an eyebrow.

"I wouldn't have--I just said that to--" To what? He wondered. It was just a habit--threaten the baby with something and usually someone came running. So why? "--to--" He searched for words--finally plucking them from the air. "--to give you a sense of urgency."

"To what?!?" Sarah's mouth dropped open.

Jareth shrugged. "To give you a sense of urgency."

Sarah laughed. Really really laughed. Jareth stared at her for a moment like she had just eaten Toby and turned purple. "You sound just like Mr. Timmons--my English teacher." Sarah felt real humor flow through her--it was too bizarre hearing fat, balding little Mr. Timmon's words come out of Jareth's mouth.

Jareth scowled for a minute. "Well, it's not like I really NEEDED ANOTHER goblin running around...."

Sarah laughed harder. Toby awoke to Sarah holding him and laughing, and began laughing too. ".....so you tell me about turning him into a goblin to 'give me a sense of urgency'!...."

Jareth scowled for a moment more, then smiled. "Do you need anything else?"

Sarah smiled at Toby who yawned widely. "First of all, I need some breakfast for Toby and me. Then I need to get my stuff from Mr. Sing's." She sobered a little, thinking. "Toby's going to need some clothes and I need--" Sarah glanced around. "--I need about 3 weeks of non-stop cleaning." She grinned. "Then I'll tackle the garden...."

Jareth's face fell. "That much?" He wandered over to the kitchen table and began running a gloved hand over it.

"Well, it will be livable before then, but it will take some work." Sarah glanced over at Toby. "And he'll need some watching."

Jareth smiled briefly at Toby. "I suppose that I might be persuaded to donate some of my time...." He ran his hand over the grain of the wood again. "For a price...."

Sarah glared at Jareth and put Toby down. Glancing at Toby, she said, "I suppose that it's all right this time--go and get dirty."

Toby looked up at her, then grinned and began to explore the floor. Sarah glanced around, then rolled up her sleeves. "Let's get started with breakfast."

Jareth nodded absently and conjured a copper kettle and a shiny copper pot. Five brown speckled eggs rested in cool water. The kettle held quite a bit of water. Sarah glanced around and suddenly there was a log fire in the fireplace and two shiny metal hooks embedded in the stone. Sarah hung the kettle and pot over the fire, mentally noting that she would quickly need some more firewood.

Walking over to Jareth, she glanced down at his hands. "What's so special about this table? You haven't stopped rubbing it."

Jareth started then glanced down. "It's mahogany--very rare in these parts. I had no idea it was here--or that it was in such poor care."

Sarah stared at the wooden table. Mahogany? "Umm.... how does one care for mahogany?" She could just bet that it wouldn't be with Pledge or Murphy Oil Soap either.

Jareth stared at the table, even squatting to view the table top from the side. "It's in remarkable shape--even level which is difficult for goblins to accomplish." He glanced at her. "It needs desperately to be sanded and then oiled." He stroked it one more time. "I just wish that I had the time for such a project....."

"Me too," Sarah muttered.

Jareth looked wistfully at it for a moment. "While that is boiling, shall we go to the market? You'll need some milk, vegetables....."

"Won't everything boil over?"

Jareth grinned. "Sarah--I have reordered time and space for you. Do you really think that I can't prevent a pot from boiling over?"

Sarah started. "I suppose that I will need supplies." She flushed. "I guess I'd better start making the best of things--get started getting settled--" Her eyes widened for a moment. "Oh no!"

Jareth stared at her. "What's the problem now?"

"I don't have any money--and right now nothing to trade with! I can't afford supplies," Sarah mumbled worriedly.

Jareth rolled his eyes. "I'll--how do you say it?--'spot you' for right now." Sarah glanced up at him and smiled. "After all, Hallgle--"

"--Hoggle!--" Sarah corrected him automatically as she gathered Toby up.

"--yes--will never forgive me if I ever let you come to harm."

Jareth made a courtly bow. "Would milady care to accompany me to the market?"

The goblin market was enlightening to say the least. Colorful stalls that seemed to be painted largely with bright finger-paints featured all kinds of goods--from needle and thread to fabric fine enough to be mosquito netting to heavy mattresses to eggs and carrots--which seemed to be largely operating on a trade basis. Jareth patiently hired a small pony and cart to carry the starting supplies--a small supply of milk in a washable crock, a measure of butter, a sack of flour, a sack of sugar, a bag of mint, a large laundry tub, a sack of potatoes, another of onions, a mattress for her and another for Toby, and other basic supplies. When the cart was almost full, Jareth stopped at one more stall, ducking inside the tent structure as Sarah examined the next stall's clay cups and saucers and plates. Toby walked a little further down to watch a chicken seller hawk his chickens.

Sarah had picked out five saucers, five cups and five platters, as well as two big bowls when she heard Jareth's voice ring out "Toby! Stop that!" Sarah stepped back and saw Toby chasing two black chickens around and around the makeshift corral. Plucking Toby up, Jareth dusted him off. "Now, you are a goblin, aren't you? What did those chickens do to you?" Slinging him over a shoulder, Jareth handed one more package to Sarah, who packed it in the carriage.

Sarah almost dropped her new crockery seeing Jareth's eyes widen as Toby, giggling, grabbed some of the wheat colored tresses and yank it to his mouth. Jareth yelped painfully, almost dropping Toby. With his one free hand, he fished a little wooden toy out of his pocket--a drum that sounded when you turned it right and then left with a bright green dragon painted on it--and handed it to Toby. Several of the goblins gather around as he precariously balanced Toby and then showed him how to work it. Toby, ever the inventive sort, grabbed the toy and hit the Goblin King with it, laughing loudly. Goblins stared wide-eyed at the impudent little boy. Sarah just about bent double with laughter.

"Just thought that you could bribe him, huh?" she said, eyes sparkling. She deftly touched Jareth's head. "You'll have a small knot, but you'll be fine."

With a rueful grin, he said, "Let's get home."

Although Sarah would have sworn that the kettle would have boiled dry and the eggs been ruined, amazingly, the eggs were just right and the kettle wonderfully hot. Setting out the plates and cups, Sarah hoped that Jareth liked mint tea and eggs. Yanking out the shirt tale of her poet's blouse, she wiped down the table. Jareth came in--Sarah hadn't even noticed that he was missing--with a pail of cool water from the fountain and began peeling the eggs and depositing them on the plates. Toby giggled as Sarah bounced him on her lap and fed him bits of egg and--despairing of finding a sippy cup right at the moment--carefully helped him with his milk.

After breakfast, the dishes were piled in the sink. Sarah looked around for a good starting place. The cart--unload the cart. Carrying an egg and some tea to the driver, Sarah began unloading the cart. Jareth helped her heave in the mattresses and several of the heavier items before a rider--riding a peculiar dragon creature--approached the house.

Sarah sat down the packages of food on the table. Toby happily explored the first floor, although she really would have to find some way to prevent him from climbing the steps to the loft until he was ready for them. Jareth came into the room and tapped her on the shoulder.

"Sarah," he said softly--somehow a little more pale than normal. "I need to leave quickly." He passed her a glittering knife. "Use this if you have to, but you should be safe. I've told Zip and Squim to help you get things organized."

Sarah nodded. "Thank you, Jareth. You've been tremendously generous." Gingerly she took the knife from him, setting it far back on the counter.

His eyes lit up, Jareth nodded slightly and vanished.

Zip and Squim--apparently twins--showed up moments later and began hauling in purchases. Sarah's day was full trying to keep track of where everything was. For now, the mattresses would go on the floor, until an appropriate bed showed up. Sugar, salt, flour and other foods went down in the root cellar. Crockery was carefully cleaned and went onto one of the two shelves in the kitchen. Thankfully, something--the milk crock, Sarah thought--was wrapped in fabric, so she had a laundry bag.

After the cart was unloaded, Sarah heard a knock at her door.

Sarah looked around. Picking up the knife, she walked cautiously to the door. She could hear a low voice cursing and some metal banging around clumsily. Gesturing for Zip and Squim to stay quiet, Sarah braced for an assault as she opened the door.

Suddenly the door slammed against her, knocking her back and sending the knife skittering across the floor. Sarah fell flat on her back, getting the wind knocked out of her as a large mass of cloth landed on top of her with a metallic crash.

Glancing up, she saw two large blue eyes looking at her mournfully.

"We're sorry Sarah--"

"HOGGLE!" Sarah's face split into a wide smile. "I'm so happy to see you!"

Eyebrows lifted slightly. "You--you are?!"

Sarah gingerly rolled out from underneath the massive load. "Yes! I've been so busy and I've really wanted to see you!"

"Well!" Hoggle strutted in.

"My lady," a cultured tenor called. "May we enter?"

"Sir Didymous! Ludo!" Sarah called out. Her friends came wandering in with her Aboveground luggage and her badly banged up bicycle. "Come in! Come in!"

Sir Didymous and Ludo were pleased to meet Zip and Squim, who tittered softly. Quickly explaining the situation and how she came to be in the Underground, Sarah showed them around her house and garden.

"You have a most charming dwelling, Lady," Sir Didymous said. "And a most useful talent for setting things to rights."

Sarah blushed. "It will still be a while before it's all clean, but it's still enough."

"Why my lady, I wouldst be most happy to help you." Sir Didymous bowed over Sarah's hand.

Ludo nodded. "Sawah fwiend. Ludo help Sawah."

Hoggle grinned. "Well, let's get started."

The rest of the day was spent cleaning windows, sweeping, gathering firewood, stacking firewood, and other such chores. On impulse, Sarah hung the charms and wards Mr. Sing had pressed on her at the doors and windows. The red added dots of color, for which Sarah was grateful.

"Cor!" Hoggle said in a perplexed voice. "What are these, Sarah?" He handed her a couple of packages of folded white paper.

"Spices, Hoggle," Sarah explained. "This is cinnamon. That's some cloves. That's sage." Sarah dug through the backpacks.

"What fer?"

"They help food taste good, Hoggle. And they are useful in healing," Sarah grinned.

"Oh." Hoggle glanced at the packages and then back at Ludo and Didymous. "How do they do that?"

"Well, you first figure out what's wrong with the person, and then the herbs are used to help him," Sarah said. "For example, someone who is sick and thinks that they are going to throw up, you give mint to them to help them."

Another significant round of glances between Ludo and Didymous. Ludo and Hoggle. Hoggle and Didymous. Hoggle and Squim. Squim and Zip. Zip to Didymous.

Sarah sat down on the steps to the loft. "What's going on?" she demanded.

"Well, you see--" Hoggle shuffled his feet. "The truth is....." Hoggle dug his toes into the dirt like a small child. "Well.... Sarah, we were told not to say anything, but--"

"--but what, Hoggle?" Sarah just knew this would be very very bad.

"His Majesty," Didymous began, elegantly. "is very ill."

"How ill?"

"He might be dying."

Sarah felt all her blood go to her toes. Suddenly, she was glad that she was sitting. "What do you mean 'might be dying'?"

Hoggle and Didymous exchanged glances. Didymous took a deep breath. "When you left with Toby, Jareth was in a foul mood. Cursed and swore that he'd never fulfill another wish.

Of course, Jareth just can't STOP. It's his job--his destiny. That's what he does--he takes children and the trials of the Labyrinth teach their sisters or teachers or parents how much they really do love their children. When he stopped, the Labyrinth suddenly started to change--"

"--what do you mean 'change'?" Sarah interrupted.

Sir Didymous started talking. "Suddenly pieces of the Labyrinth going rogue, milady. Puzzles stopped working and challenges stopped leading further towards the Castle. They would lead directly to the beginning or into walls or into nothing. His Majesty went out to investigate, and almost ended up getting caught in a brick wall himself. The Labyrinth turned on him and he began to sicken. He'd be fine and then would get raging headaches or blinding pain. No one has been able to help him....."

Sarah sat silently. "But Jareth was out with me just today and he seemed fine."

"Your stepmother's wish was the first that he's granted since you left. Maybe it's helped him, but things have not been going well," Didymous said sadly.

Hoggle sat down on the floor. "And it's a start, but now the goblins are starting to revolt. They are starting to leave--to seek other places. If that happens--if Goblin City falls--Jareth will fall.

"He tries--he goes out and examines new pieces and helps out those who have gotten caught in the Labyrinth to get out. But without the goblins to help him--he can't rebuild it all by himself--he is sickening trying to hold everything together."

Sarah looked at her friends. "What can be done....?"

Hoggle looked up at her. "Well, missy, we don't know. We don't know how to get him to start granting wishes again. We don't know any new puzzles to put into the Labyrinth." He sighed. "Maybe you can talk to him. Maybe you can help....?"

"I'll try, Hoggle," Sarah said quietly.

"Right!" Sir Didymous said. "Now, let's get Sarah comfortable. If she's comfortable, perhaps His Majesty will visit more so Lady Sarah can figure out what's wrong with him."

Sarah grinned. "I need some furniture--some cabinets and two beds and a chest or two for clothes. Then, I need to see about a clothesline and some soap. And some sand paper...."

"Well," Hoggle began cautiously. "you can probably find the furn'ture at the dump. The beds 'n' all."

"I might have some spare clothes line," Didymous admitted.

"Well," Sarah said. "That'll get me started. But I really need a job."

"Wut?" Hoggle asked unceremoniously.

"Some way to earn money to buy or trade for the things that I need," Sarah explained.

"Them 'spices' are a fortune," Hoggle offered. "You could trade 'em."

Sarah eyed her fennel seeds. "Or I could plant them....."

The next week was spent in a flurry of activity. Hoggle and Sarah spent hours combing the junkyard for two cabinets, two beds and a chest that vaguely reminded Sarah of a pirate's chest. Sir Didymous led Sarah through the boggy marsh, where she found mallow, eucalyptus, soapwort, and other valuable plants as well as a healthy beehive, which would provide honey and beeswax for candles. Ludo called the rocks, removing them from the garden areas and settling them outside Sarah's walls. When he was rolling one particularly pointed rock, he plowed up several feet when Sarah got an idea. Ludo ended up plowing all three beds in record time, bidding the rocks to churn up the earth. Sarah spent some time pruning, cutting, weeding and tending. Sarah decided Toby could be trusted to play with rag dolls or toys that Sarah had made, or any of the wooden toys that Jareth had packed at the last minute in the cart and with Lancelot in the grassy areas, and, on occasion, had a goblin child over to play with him. By two week's time, she had several respectable beds with a variety of herbs and vegetables growing.

With the peaches coming in, Sarah found that she could trade for a number of things at the market. There were always necessities--salt, soap, and flour. But when a whole basket came in at once, Sarah found that she was able to trade for two chickens and a rooster--as well as a rickety corral to keep them in. Now she had eggs to get each day.

One bright morning as Sarah was gathering eggs from the hens, she heard a knock on her door. Toby crowed--a new trick that he had learned and applied every chance he got. Zip came panting in when Sarah opened the door. "Miss, I needs ya."

"What is it, Zip?"

"It's Squim, miss. Hissmajesters says yer learned and could help 'em."

Sarah nodded slightly. Scooping Toby up, she fastened him into his bicycle seat and sat Zip down in a basket. Gathering up her basket of general cure alls, she raced along the rickety roads to Zip and Squim's house. Squim was indeed ill--a fever from a small cut that got infected. Sighing, Sarah pulled out a willow branch and began boiling water. Squim drank some gratefully, and Sarah mixed a bit more willow bark extract with some comfrey, lavender, mint, and other herbs. The poultice, warm and soothing, seemed to help. For two days, Sarah sat in Squim's room as Zip tried to amuse Toby. Hoggle and Sir Didymous came by and took Toby around the market. Each night, she'd take Toby home and mix a poultice for the next day, allowing the herbs to mix and soak.

On the third day, Squim's fever left. It left him weak as a kitten, but Sarah was relieved, just the same. She left for home around noon that day, deciding to purchase a small bit of honey candy for Toby at the market. He'd been such an angel for Didymous and Ludo--although she suspected that he played with Ambrosious more than Sir Didymous and apparently (if his current method of attention getting was any indication) howled with Ludo--that she felt he deserved a reward. Perhaps she could get him started reading as well.... The candy maker's wife had a bad burn and Sarah recommended using aloe vera during the day as necessary and then soaking the burn in a peppermint and black tea mixture--thankfully there were numerous tea bushes, even in Sarah's garden--to help heal the burn. Sarah received a large chunk of honey candy and a square of fudge.

Within days, Sarah had a steady clientele of visitors. Mostly, it was to tend some small wound or other. Once in a while, she was called on to deal with a cough or fever or cold. She was paid in goods often--ranging from a clay pitcher in exchange for some healing salve to an extra high stool in exchange for watching a sick child. Sometimes she was paid in exchanges of plants--tea bushes, rosemary, sage, pennyroyal, thyme, and more joined her garden. Few and far between were the exchanges of coin, but Sarah was content at the end of the day regardless of the lack of hard coin.

At last, some three weeks into her stay in the Labyrinth, she began to teach Toby to read. As soon as she had finished making him his set of stuffed cloth of letters, the locksmith's son became fascinated and demanded learning. So, Sarah had two little students to teach their letters and numbers. Which occasionally became four students--as the locksmith and his wife would "just happen" to wander by.

Sarah lost count of the number of days that she had spent tending to the Goblin City as a "lernd heelr" when Zip showed up at her door again with his father in tow. Out of breath, he blushed when she recognized him.

"Miss," he piped up. "His Majesters is comin' t' visit."

Sarah arched her eyebrows. "Oh? Really?" Zip nodded enthusiastically. "When?"

"He's comin' back now and 'll be here--err.... tomahrah evenin'," Zip said sagely. Zip's father, Zap, nodded.

Sarah grinned. Jareth would probably hardly recognize the place. Some of Toby's artwork hung around--at least, as much of it as she had paper for. Three pots of geranium, two pots of lavender and a tray of tiny lettuce seedlings cluttered up the back room's bay window. Toby, who probably not a budding botanist in Sarah's opinion, had killed two aloe vera plants, a pot of geraniums and was now content to have some mint in his window. She now had 4 stools around her table--and another higher one for Toby--as well numerous cushions scattered around. She was still paying on the comfortable chair--a real chair--and the colorful rug that covered the floor in front of the fireplace, but at least it was small things now. She had carefully rationed the candlelight at night, but now she had fashioned several--err.... unique lanterns/lamps from odds and ends in the junkyard.

But most of all was the difference in Toby. He slept through the night and, despite the squeamishness that Sarah initially had, he used the chamber pot. He put on some weight, and was growing like a weed, but he was happier. Quite often now, he played games with other young goblins. Of course, he would get messy or fall or hurt himself. He would periodically find some frog or something and bring it home, but he was being a young boy. He was starting to read by himself, and to identify new words. But most of all the faintly haunted look was gone from his face.

"Zap," Sarah said quickly, grabbing up a shawl and basket. "Can you watch Toby?"

Zap nodded, this wrinkled goblin face splitting into a smile. "Yes'm." Zip smiled and wandered off to play with Toby.

Sarah smiled at him and set out two heavy mugs with milk and her last two cookies on a plate. "There you go, if you get hungry."

The butcher was just closing up when Sarah got there. Wiping his hands on his apron he grinned up at her. "Why, Missy! I's din't know it was your shoppin' day today. Be ready in a moment. Don't know where my mind is."

"Oh that's all right. I'm here to pick up some extras anyway. I don't suppose that you have 2 chickens?"

The butcher raised his eyebrows slightly. "I could cut some if'n you'll wait. What's the occasion?"

Sarah smiled and felt a bit of red stain her cheeks. "Just extra company--and please call me Sarah."

The butcher nodded. "It'll do ye good to relax some, Missy." Waddling into the back, he gestured towards a low bench. "Sits some--I'll be back in a minute."

Sarah sat down, turning her few silver coins in her hand. The butcher came back with two beheaded chickens in a moment. "Here you are, Missy Sarah." He glanced at the two birds. "That will be five silver." Haggling and bargaining down was a common practice, even among good friends. As prolific as the chickens were, he would be lucky to get three and some copper. Maybe four.

Sarah tossed him five of her precious seven silver coins without a second look and grabbed up the birds. "Thank you so much! Thank you!" She tucked them in her basket and headed for the door in a flush of joy.

"Me wife says that she'll be havin' some of the wild violet stuff you gave her last time, when you're in town agin," he called.

Sarah turned. "I won't forget. Thank you!"

The butcher watched the girl dart back down the lane in the approaching dusk. The girl was in love. He remembered buying a bunch of mint--never did remember what exactly he paid for it, but it was dear--trying to impress his wife. It would make interesting telling, the young healer and whomever she was so happy about. Maybe it was time to visit the healer's house....

Sarah practically flew home. Zip and Toby were playing in the front yard. "Toby, I need to pluck some chickens for tomorrow--"

"--Briny Chicken!" he crowed, throwing his hands up in the air. Zip smiled and suddenly the two of them started clucking and crowing at each other

"Yes, for Briny Chicken, so be careful in the kitchen, OK?" Sarah's voice hurt from trying to shout over the two "chickens" in the front yard. "Zip--would you like to come to dinner tomorrow?" Zip's head bobbed up and down and he started flapping his arms, crowing at Toby who crowed back.

"Do you mind if Zip joins us for dinner?" Sarah turned and asked Zap.

Zap nodded. "As long as you don't mind. He 'n' Toby are good friends 'n' I Know--" He glanced over at Zip who was pecking in the dirt. "--that he'll mind his manners." Zip stood up for a moment, grinned, and then bobbed his head again.

Sarah sat on her porch, plucking the feathers from the chickens. The butcher, bless him, had tied the necks closed, so she'd have to deal with the mess of retrieving the gizzards and cleaning the bird, but the feathers were the worst part in her mind. The first time she had tried to fix some chicken, she had missed some of the down, which burned and ruined the bird's meat. At least she had fixed some Thanksgiving birds, so she knew about removing the gizzards! Of course, Toby could be trusted to become messy with the feathers, throwing them up and watching them fall. Zip's mother, Tallis, had shown her about removing the down, cleaning it, and using it for stuffing. It wasn't really good for soft pillows, but it could be used for the canvas toys that the goblin children seemed entranced with.

Sarah finished cleaning the chickens. Filling her largest bronze pot--a cauldron, Toby dubbed it with wide eyes at Sarah--with water, she added the birds, a generous portion of salt, some pepper, rosemary and thyme, and sat it in the ashes of the fireplace with the lid firmly on it. The gentle, warm water, would be absorbed into the bird, seasoning it. Originally, she had tried putting the bird in the root cellar, but that really didn't work since she only had to bring it up again and ended up spilling water all over the steps. Tallis had rescued her again, showing her how to slow-cook the bird by sitting the sealed pot in the ashes of the fireplace, where it would slowly cook and become tender and juicy.

Sweeping up the feathers, Sarah looked around. Maybe she should put some flowers on the table.

The next day was a flurry of activity. Sarah baked a peach pie, some biscuits and cleaned up the cottage as well as she could. Toby danced around with Zip, playing pirates this time. Vegetables were a bit more of a problem--and finally Sarah settled for mashed potatoes and some carrots. It would be some time before the apples were fully ripe, and more time before any of the vegetables that she planted would be ready, but for now, they weren't starving. Pulling out a fanciful scarf from her Aboveground clothes, she draped it over the table, sending Toby and Zip out to gather some wildflowers and to gather more firewood. The wildflowers were a lost cause as both boys came back with a handful of weeds ripped out by the roots, but both Zip and Toby went out to see who could haul the biggest pile of wood home.

Sarah had her head in her pot of carrots when she heard a knock at the door. "Come in," she called without looking up. "I'll be right with you."

The door swung wide and the little bells on the knob jingled softly.

"I'm sorry--" Sarah said into her pot as she added a touch of cinnamon and some butter to the carrots. "--I'm a little busy and--"

"Hello, Sarah," Jareth said behind her.

Sarah stood quickly and whirled around. "J--Jareth.... I wasn't expecting you---I mean, I didn't think it was time yet.... I mean,---" Oh way to go, Sarah, she mentally jeered. Open mouth and insert your foot. She took a deep breath. "Please make yourself at home."

Jareth smiled at her with tired eyes. He wore a white poet's blouse and rather form fitting grey trousers and boots. Just like every other time she had seen him, his silvery blonde hair was wild and windblown. But he looked good--really good. Sarah flushed again. She wore her favorite blue skirt and a simple sleeveless shell top with her hair pulled back with a random bit of twine.

"I'm glad that you're here," Sarah said briskly after a moment. "I hope that you enjoy what I've cooked...."

"I'm sure that I will," Jareth replied smoothly. He couldn't remember the last time that he had a meal cooked especially for him. Well, not like this. The Elvish prince--purportedly some kind of distant cousin--would invite him over every so often, but otherwise he ate what the goblins ate. Or rather, what they halfway burnt or cooked to mush. Seeing the biscuits with butter and honey, he felt his mouth water.

Sarah nodded. "The rotten carrots--"

"The carrots are rotten?" Jareth looked perplexed. "You eat rotten carrots?"

Sarah's face straightened. "Of course! It's a delicacy Aboveground!" Jareth blanched and Sarah couldn't resist laughing. "No, silly. The carrots are ripe and fine--they are just taking forever to cook." Jareth didn't look exactly convinced. "It's a figure of speech, Jareth." Walking up to him, she unconsciously wrapped her arm around his waist. "It's meant to be funny. You know? We all laugh."

"Ha ha," he said solemnly.

"Ha ha," she repeated. "Let's sit down for a minute. The boys will--hopefully!--be back any moment and want dinner."

"'Boys'?" Jareth's brow lifted. "Two of them?"

Sarah nodded. "Zip and Toby are great friends. They play together almost constantly." She gestured out the open back door where Toby ran forward down the path, chasing a toad, with Zip running behind, shouting and laughing. "That's Toby and Zip--Toby will lead and Zip will follow. After some kind of contest--" Sarah rolled her eyes meaningfully. "--the winner will lead and the loser will follow. At least until the next contest."

"Sounds like fun," Jareth said in a non-committal voice.

Sarah wandered back over to the fireplace to get the carrots. "It is." The carrots were finally getting done--the butter almost completely melted. "Well, except for the time when they decided that they were pigs and rolled in the mud to see who would be the dirtiest. And the time that they decided to see who could catch the biggest frog, which they kept in my pot without telling me." Taking a fold of cloth, Sarah put the carrots on the table with everything else--the honey, butter, biscuits and potatoes.

"Why don't you have a seat? I'll call the boys in," Sarah tossed over her shoulder.

Jareth stood there for a moment. Sarah was so completely casual--at ease in her new surroundings. Gone was the frustrated teenager who cried out "not fair" every five minutes. Gone was the tired, whimpering boy with the continually worried look on his face. It was like a dream--seeing her here in his mother's house. She acted for all the Underground as if he were normal--an ordinary guest at her home. Of course, there were so many guests at her home--by all accounts her herbal preparations were useful and high quality and she did a good bit of business, along with teaching reading and writing--so she was probably comfortable with company in whatever form it took. But, it felt real--like she really wanted him to be welcome in her home. Not exalted or revered or feared like the elves or the goblins and not merely tolerated like he was by the elderly mages at the Mage's Tower. Just welcome.

"Boys!" Sarah called. "Guys, supper's ready! Come on in."

Toby and Zip came bustling in and looked at the table greedily. Zip's nostrils flared at the smell of the fresh biscuits and Toby's eyes lit up at the plate of chicken.

"Wash your hands!"

"Awww! Miz Sarah--we's not dirty!"

Sarah pulled out a wooden spoon and waved it in their general direction. "I saw you playing outside. Now wash your hands."

"It's not fair!" Toby stuck his lower lip out.

Sarah looked up at him. "No, it's not. But that's the way it is." She nodded towards the pitcher of water and the shallow basin.

Toby pouted some more. "Momma!"

"No--don't 'Momma' me, young man. Wash your hands or else you won't get any dessert!" Sarah sent Toby her best I-am-the-mother-and-mean-it look.

"Well, gents," Jareth said. "Let's go wash our hands." Taking Zip's and Toby's hand, he led the way to the basin. He poured the water over everyone's hands--even Sarah's when she came up--and started washing with the soap, passing it to Zip who soaped up and passed to Toby and on to Sarah. With a wink at the little guys, Sarah passed the soap back to Jareth, who took it and began soaping his hands again and passed it to Zip. Round and round, until Toby and Zip couldn't take it any more and burst out laughing. Jareth looked up confused as he soaped up his hands for the third or fourth time.

"Let's rinse and then let's eat!" Sarah laughed, picking up the pitcher and pouring it over the basin. Everyone rinsed and then Jareth held the pitcher for her to rinse off the soap.

Seated at the head of the table, Jareth dutifully took portions of the potatoes, carrots, chicken and biscuits. When had Toby learned to sit by himself? And on the stool too! Buttering his biscuit, he listened half-heartedly at the conversation between Zip and Toby as they related the stories of the frogs that they had caught and the games from that day. Arbitrarily, he picked up a chicken slice and began nibbling it.

"Good heavens!" he said, looking up at Sarah in surprise. "This is wonderful, Sarah."

Sarah looked confused for a moment. "I hope it is." Then, she smiled as Jareth's face lit up with a smile and he began digging in. "Just save room for dessert!" Zip and Toby cheered.

After everyone had finished with their dinners, Sarah collected the dinner plates and quickly washed them while Toby brought out the peach pie. Setting the washed plates down at the corner of the table, she handed Jareth the knife he had given her. "As the guest of honor, you get to dispense the dessert. I will be back in a moment with the whipped cream."

Toby and Zip cheered again. Smiling, Jareth made the first cut. Steam billowed out in gentle waves from the crust. "Sarah, how big a piece do you want?"

"Just a small one--as small as you can make it. I ate too many biscuits!" she called.

Jareth winked at Toby and Zip. Cutting a decent piece, he carefully scooped it out onto a plate. Shushing both boys, he waved his hands. The pie piece began to shrink--further and further. Toby clapped his hands over his mouth and Zip giggled. "Pass this down, Zip," he said gravely.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Sarah reappeared with a crock in her hands, frowning. She set the bit of crockery down on the table and opened the door.

The butcher stood there, all innocence.

"Missy, me wife says that she needs some tea," he said, eyes wide.

"Well, come in," Sarah waved him inside. "What's the problem?"

The butcher stared at the Goblin King sitting at the head of the table, slicing peach pie. "Ummm....what? Oh! Her stomach is queasy." That seemed innocuous. Wouldn't this be something to tell the wife! Jareth--the King of the Goblins--eatin' peach pie with the healer's family!

Sarah nodded and measured out some mint and chamomile tea and then another measure of fennel. Glancing around, she found two small boxes. Filling them, she handed them to the butcher, who was actively staring.

"Was there anything else?" Sarah asked politely.

"Umm... oh?! Oh, no ma'am!" The butcher nodded at her. "I'll be returnin' these to ya tomorrow." He bobbed at the table. "Good evenin'."

Frowning at the strange behavior of the butcher, Sarah stood at Jareth's elbow as he dished out generous slices of pie for Zip and for Toby, ladling a dollop of whipped cream to the tops. When she sat down at her place, she stared for a moment at her plate. Her piece of pie, still steaming on her plate, was now about the size of a coin.

Zip and Toby looked at each other and then at Jareth. The Goblin King's mismatched eyes danced wickedly. "I hope that isn't too big a piece, Sarah," he said.

Smiling and rolling her eyes, she said, "Oh no. It's just right...." Trying to keep a straight face, she passed daubed her finger in the whipped cream and then on to the piece of pie.

"Is something wrong? Would you care for a larger piece of pie?" Jareth asked in a careful, solicitous voice, raising the knife meaningfully. Sarah finally giggled and Jareth waved his hands again, restoring the pie to its normal size. And as calm as anything, Jareth cut himself a piece twice as large as anyone else's.

Zip and Toby burst out into giggles again.

Finally, after the pie was finished, the dishes washed and put up on their shelf, Jareth and Sarah put Toby and Zip to bed in Toby's bedroom in the loft. Toby yawned widely and Zip was rubbing his eyes sleepily as Sarah tucked them in.

"Good night, Zip."

"Goo' nigh' Ms. Sarah."

"Good night, Toby."

"Good night, Momma."

Sarah nodded and blew out the candle in the lamp. She'd have to clean out that one again--there were several drips of wax that could be salvaged for another generation of candles. But for now, there were only two little boys who were asleep. Pulling Jareth out of the room, she closed the door.

Jareth was smiling softly as she led him downstairs again. Picking up the one spare biscuit, Sarah expertly cut it open, ladled some butter and a few slices of chicken on it. The rest of the crumbs went into a little sack by the door for the chickens. The extra chicken was stored in a cool cabinet in the root cellar for lunch tomorrow. Taking the mashed potatoes, Sarah mixed in a little flour and made flat patties for potato pancakes for the next morning.

Jareth leaned against the counter by the large basin that was the "So Toby thinks that you are his mother, now?"

Sarah dumped the few leftover carrot slices--not really enough to save--into a slop bucket. Lollas would be by in the morning with his pig, Preen, and would collect the scraps. Preen was expecting her next little of piglets, so Lollas--the businessgoblin that he was--arranged with five households a little deal. They would get a reduced price on a piglet in exchange for scraps, to be collected each morning. Sarah had been the last one to get in on the deal, and hoped to have a little store of bacon, ham and sausage for what she thought would be winter.

"Yes," she sighed softly, taking up a rag to dry a mug. "He thinks I'm his mother."

Jareth nodded. "Are you going to tell him any different?"

Sarah's brow knitted and her hands paused. "I don't know. I don't know how to say 'your mother threw you and me out when you were so young you couldn't feed yourself' to him. I just don't know how to break it to him."

"It's not fair," Jareth sighed thoughtfully, twirling a round crystal between his fingers. "Not to him or to you."

Sarah looked up at him in surprise. "The great Goblin King saying that something is 'not fair'? What's wrong with this?"

Jareth shrugged. "It's not--he should have a mother and father who both love him and his sister should be his sister and not have to be his mother." With a morbid twinkle in his eye, he added. "I only asked what you were using as a basis for comparison." He glanced at here mischievously from the corner of his eyes. "Not that I'm ever unfair, myself."

Sarah snorted and smiled softly, and gestured towards the sitting area. "Let's sit down." Sarah claimed a comfortable purple pillow that "mysteriously" had a bright orange and blue hand print on one side that was amazingly the same size as Toby's hand. "Why did you take Toby?"

Jareth sat down in the chair. "You had wished him away. The Labyrinth had something to teach you and you were ready for the lesson. So...." He spread his hands wide.

Sarah snorted. "So you decided to teach me a lesson?"

"The Labyrinth decided it could teach you a lesson. But I was the one who was taught. I was just sure that you would give up--that you'd decide it was too hard or too long or that it was hopeless. When you showed that you weren't going to give up, I began cheering for you." Jareth stared into the flames. "I can't tell you how happy I am that you made it through. Not because I disliked the idea of having Toby--he's wonderful--" he added hastily. "--but because you really deserved to get through it. To have an adventure."

Sarah thought about this. "So the Labyrinth is alive?"

Jareth regarded her for a moment, then slid off the chair and claimed another cushy pillow on the floor. "Yes and no. The Labyrinth is alive in that it responds to the person who is in it--it teaches them what they need to learn and gives them just enough to solve it. It's like a prophecy that wants to be self-fulfilled."

Sarah thought about that one. Then, carefully she asked, "Hoggle says that the Labyrinth is falling apart."

Jareth stared for a moment, seemingly lost in thought. "Yes, I suppose it is. There are peculiar events happening. Tunnels will appear and end inside a wall--leaving the person trapped inside the wall itself. The walls will crumble to rubble and the towers and landmarks will appear scorched to ash." He watched as Sarah put her hand over his. How odd that he touch could be so comforting. "I'm trying to keep the damage to a minimum. Trying to rebuild and revive those parts that are dying. But, it isn't easy. And it seems to get worse and worse."

"How did this start?"

"I don't know. I think, according to everyone that I've talked to, it started in the Green Wilderness--"

"--'Green Wilderness'?" Sarah echoed.

"Yes, the Green Wilderness beyond the Firey Forest. I don't think that you traveled there. But apparently, whatever it is, it happened there."

Sarah thought about it for a moment. "What can be done to heal the damage."

Jareth shrugged eloquently. "I don't know. Right now, it's becoming all I can do to keep others from getting trapped." His hands bunched into fists. "I don't know what else to do." He snorted. "Those rotten mages won't help me either."

"Oh?" Sarah swallowed the idea of mages--after all she was sitting here with the Goblin King with a goblin upstairs with her brother so she could hardly start whining about what did or did not exist.

Jareth glanced at her sideways for a moment. "They say that I'm too reckless--too chaotic--with my magic. Can you believe that?"

Sarah looked at him for a moment. "Ummm......well...."

Jareth smiled to himself. "I'll have to do it alone, then."

"Why do you have to be alone? Can't someone help you?"

"It's my responsibility as King to maintain the Labyrinth so that it can go on...."

Sarah gently squeezed Jareth's hand. "I'd like to help you, if I could."

Jareth stared down at Sarah's delicate hand covering his fist. "I'm glad," he said softly. Then, oh so slowly, he turned his hand and wrapped his longer fingers around hers. "I'm glad to have your help."

Sarah smiled. She gently began squeezing Jareth's fingers. When his breath hissed in, she jerked back. Jareth had pulled his hand back and was curling it under his chest when Sarah reached out to hold his wrist.

"Hold still...." she said in a low voice. "Let me see." Jareth--she would swear--whimpered, but gradually unfolded to let her see. Like a barely tamed animal, he gingerly let her see his hand.

Sarah gulped heartily. His hands were in awful shape. She could see places where the skin was an angry red and rubbed raw or bleeding. There were several large blisters, and tiny holes, apparently the work of stone or wood splinters. Across the back of one hand was a burn and across the wrist of the other was a bruise with a shallow cut.

"How did this happen?" she asked, leading him to her box of general cures. "I didn't see these before dinner."

"I had an illusion covering them," he admitted. "I didn't think that you'd let me ....." His voice died down.

Sarah half smiled at him. Taking out a needle, she carefully began picking out a tiny splinter. "At least we know that your hands are clean."

Jareth laughed shortly. "I almost started screaming when that awful stuff touched me."

Sarah laughed, picking out a salve that would numb the pain. "It's a good thing you didn't. Otherwise Toby and Zip would have begun screaming and probably not stopped." She laughed again. "You should have seen him after his first trip to market. He and Zip would cluck like chickens and peck around the yard by hours. Then they'd start crowing at the top of their lungs. For hours, there were two big ol' chickens in my front yard."

"Oh?" Jareth winced. If he weren't in active pain, he would be very very amused at the thought of Toby--bright, happy, little Toby--crowing and pecking. Imitation was a common goblin game--but guaranteed to drive anyone with any intelligence out of his or her skull with hours and hours of noise.

"Yep," Sarah nodded. "Until Sir Didymous came by with Ambrosious and then there were two little dogs and one big shaggy dog all playing with bones and digging up the front yard."

Jareth smiled at that. Toby and Zip crowing and digging in the front yard. Thankfully, they could crow and bark and snarl to their hearts delight.

An hour later, Sarah finished wrapping Jareth's hands in bandages. "You'll have to be careful for a few days, but you'll be fine." She began cleaning up the various herbs and salves.

Jareth gestured lamely around. "And how exactly do you plan on me doing anything like this?"

"Well, I'm sure you'll think of something," she said crisply. When she turned around, he was gone.

Along with the leftover chicken biscuit.

The next morning, bright and early, Sarah was frying potato pancakes for Toby and Zip. The grease hissed and spat and Toby and Zip had taken to their pirate game again, chanting and growling at each other with pillowcases tied over their heads like pirate bandanas. Sarah dished out two eggs and some pancakes and milk to each one when she heard another knock at the door.

The tinker stood there with some bowls, looking curiously inside. "Miz Sarah, could I interest you in something today? Perhaps some bit of metal work?"

Sarah glanced around. "Umm.... no. I can't think of anything that I need. Thank you, though."

The tinker smiled, glanced once more around and nodded, walking back down to the road.

Just as Zip was finishing his milk, another knock sounded. Sarah answered it and found the butcher on her doorstep again.

"My missus says that she's feelin' better, Miz Sarah," he said blushing and craning his head to look inside. "And that here's your things, like I's promised." He handed the boxes to her blindly.

"Thank you," Sarah said, bemused. "Can I help you find something?"

"Oh? Me? Oh, no, Missy," he protested gruffly, looking around the yard and house.

Raising an eyebrow, Sarah asked, "Or perhaps someone?"

"What? Me?" he blustered. "As if His Majesty would have any business with me!"

"So you are looking for him?" Sarah ventured.

"Umm.... I think I hear the missus calling. Bye-bye." The butcher walked down the path to the road and waved.

Sarah frowned. How strange. Putting up the boxes, she and Toby and Zip were about to leave when the candle maker came up to the house, claiming to have burnt her finger. On the way out the door, the candle maker's best friend, a spinner, came up, all wide-eyed. Sarah walked with Toby and Zip, still acting like pirates, to Zip's home. They were stopped three more times by curious goblins, all inquiring to their health and how was dinner last night?

Zap was happy to see them come home. Shooing Zip inside, he grinned at Sarah. "So, you'll be wantin' to be hurryin' home, I suppose?"

Sarah frowned slightly. "Ummm.... Zap, what's going on?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I've had three people come to my door before breakfast was over and more stop me on the road. What's going on?"

Zap began roaring with laughter. "That wretched butcher is what's going on. Regular gossip, he is. Went around talking about how he saw Jareth at your place!"

Sarah nodded with a blank look on her face. "Jareth visited us for dinner."

"Ach!" Zap snorted. "Of course, that's not how the story is now!"

"Oh really?" Sarah smiled, beginning to understand. Apparently, even the Underground had its gossip. "What is it now?"

Zap schooled his features, merry laughter dancing in his eyes. "There are several stories currently. That Jareth propositioned you and you kicked him out. That you got married last night--"

"WHAT?!?"

"--That you 'n' Jareth are lovers. That he is enchanted by your cooking and will imprison you in his castle to cook for him. Ach! The tales are wild indeed."

"Jareth? And me?" Sarah gasped. "But he was there for dinner. After dinner, we talked a bit and then he left!" She scowled for a moment. "And with my last chicken biscuit!"

Zap laughed again. "Lass, don't you realize that the grapevine is what holds the Labyrinth together? The tales that fly from one to another?" He laughed again. "There is even the idea floatin' around that he's Toby's father."

Sarah just had to laugh at that. "Jareth? Toby's father?" After a moment, tears were forming in her eyes. "No--" she gasped for air. "No... Jareth isn't Toby's father." For a moment, Sarah pictured Jareth holding Toby up as Toby munched on his hair. Toby's face sparkled with happiness and Jareth seemed at peace, laughing gaily as he showed Toby the toy drum. For a tiny moment, Sarah felt the wish--the wish that Jareth was Toby's father.

Zap laughed again, snapping Sarah back to the present. "I told the butcher as much. Hoggle told the butcher as much! Gossips like an ol' woman he does--almost as much as his wife."

Sarah laughed again.

But it was true. Sarah was stopped time and again with curious neighbors who just had to get something or return something to her or just stop and chat. Unsure how to handle all the attention, Sarah answered truthfully and politely -- and with as little real information as possible. Yes, His Majesty did stay for dinner. Oh, we had carrots and chicken and potatoes. His Majesty is very busy, so I don't know when I'll see him again. Perhaps you could find him at the castle?

Sarah giggled, shooing away the last caller, herding Toby inside. It was really late in the day--she'd end up spending forever in the garden, plucking weeds and hoeing the back left bed. But at least the peppers were blooming and she thought that there might be a tomato plant with one red, ripe tomato. Turning, she started to lead Toby upstairs for a much-deserved nap.

And the Goblin King was stretched out in her comfortable chair in front of the fireplace--sound asleep.

Sarah almost giggled. Precariously perched against the chair was a stack of rolls of parchment. A large book was crumpled beside the chair--obviously fallen from his limp grasp. At Toby's squeal of delight, he stirred slightly in his sleep, looked around sleepily and stretched with a wide yawn.

Looking over at them, he yawned again. "Hello, Toby!" He smiled. "Hello, Sarah."

Toby walked over to him, gabbling all the way. Jareth's smile thinned a bit as he picked Toby up but he seemed as happy to have Toby on his lap as Toby was to be there. With a wave of his hand, he showed Toby a bright purple ball that hovered in the air for a moment before dropping to the ground and bouncing up in the air again. Toby scrambled down and began chasing after it as it bounced this way and that, eventually going to the play area outside.

Sarah shook her head. Boys will be boys, she supposed. But would men be boys, too? Taking out the leftover chicken, she mixed it with some milk in a pan, dumped some cheese in it, and added onions, garlic, and spices in it. Mentally, she sighed. What she wouldn't give for a grocery store! Of course, she grinned, she would also like a freezer and a fridge and running water.

Jareth stood, lightly brushing off his trousers and shirt and stretching again. "I'm sorry that I wasn't more polite--you weren't at home and--" He shrugged elegantly. "--trust me, budgets and reports for a kingdom are not interesting reading."

"It's all right, Jareth," she said. Hopefully this recipe would come together. It really should have some veggies with it, but right now she didn't feel like trying to convince Toby to wait until they cooked. "What can I do for you?"

He waved his bandaged hands at her. "I believe that you said that I would figure something out when I said that I couldn't do anything like this?"

Sarah frowned. "Yes...."

He smiled evilly. "I have figured something out. I'll dictate the responses to you!" A grin spread across his face.

Sarah smiled sweetly. "I really don't think that I can help you--I have chores to do and Toby to watch. However, it was a very clever idea--such a pity it didn't work out."

Jareth smiled. "I really won't take no for an answer."

"Life really isn't fair, is it Jareth?" Sarah mocked gently, setting three plates and mugs on the table. "Such a pity."

The Goblin King flopped down on a stool. "Don't defy me--"

"Or what? You'll put me in the oubliette--again?" Sarah glanced at her nails in seeming nonchalance. "Hoggle said that there was always a portable door down there."

"Drat that Horrle," Jareth muttered.

"Hoggle." Sarah corrected.

"Right." Jareth looked up at her. "I'm really not asking much--just a bit of handwriting--"

"No 'love me, fear me, etcetera?" Sarah asked, her eyes sparkling. Jareth was just too much fun to tease.

Jareth pouted. "I really can't believe that I -- that you--- Oh never mind!" He started to pick up the stuff around the chair.

"Jareth," Sarah called. "I don't mind doing it for you."

Jareth whirled around. "Really?"

"Really really."

In the end, Jareth's correspondence didn't take that long. Just a few brief missives here and there and a series of orders to a unit of guards. A letter to the elves for something or other and another to the King of the dwarves. Quickly, each piece of parchment was scribed, blotted, and neatly folded. Toby wandered in and Jareth absently served him some cheesy chicken stuff, sounding out a sentence or two to make sure it sounded correct. He served Sarah a plateful as well, adding some sliced tomato while she blotted out the letter to the elves. Glancing up, Sarah watched as Jareth summoned a bowl of peaches and plums and cherries and sat it on the table, along with some slices of her day old loaf of bread, carefully toasted in the fireplace.

Toby ate in relative silence, and as Sarah finished blotting the last letter, Jareth hauled Toby up to bed for his nap. The plates were cleaned up--the pot scrubbed out.

"So now, was that really so hard?" he asked mildly.

"It was a --- " Sarah looked at him. "Never mind."

Jareth's eyes went wide--the picture of innocence. "What?"

"I was going to say 'it was a piece of cake', but I remember what happened the last time that I did."

"Mmmm.... yes, the cleaners."

"And you moved the clock around a bit--"

"--Just a few hours! Besides, you made it didn't you?"

"That's not the point. You weren't--"

"Playing fair? Really, Sarah, I have to wonder--"

"What my 'basis for comparison' was?" Sarah scowled at him. Then she laughed bitterly. "I guess life isn't fair no matter what." Looking out the window idly, she murmured, "It isn't fair that Toby calls me 'Momma'. It isn't fair that Karen kicked him out. It isn't fair that we're here--" A tear fell down her cheek. "--and can't go back." Snorting at herself, she wiped her eyes. "Man, what I wouldn't give for some old fashioned peanut butter!"

Jareth raised an eyebrow. "What?"

"Peanut butter." Sarah looked at him. "It's made from nuts and a little oil--a thick sticky stuff that is great with jelly." At his less than perfect understanding, she threw up her hands. "It's from Aboveground. There's a lot of things that I miss--central air, running water--" She glanced over at her kitchen. "--a refrigerator freezer."

Jareth smiled, confused. "So you would be happier with some of these things?"

"I suppose," Sarah said. "But most of all I feel like a fraud. Toby's not my son--but he acts like it. What if he asks one day--where Karen is? What if he asks why is he different from the other goblins? I sometimes feel like it would have been better for him to become a goblin the first go around."

Jareth stood slowly. Sarah's rages, her fits of anger and determination, her giggles and laughter--these were simple things to deal with. Sarah's sorrows and worries were more difficult. Would she accept help from him? "Sarah--Toby loves you very much. He knows that you care for him and is very happy here. You're his mother in every way that counts." He took her gently in his arms. "If he does remember the Aboveground, we'll deal with it then. As for him being different--" Jareth pulled away and lifted Sarah's chin so that she looked into his eyes. "--well, not all of us can be a good looking as I am!"

Sarah burst out into giggles. Giving him a big hug, she said, "Thanks. I guess I'm just tired and really needed a laugh."

Jareth smiled back. "Sarah, seriously. Toby adores you. I don't know how your world works, but no one could be as tender and patient as you have been with him. He loves you. And it's not really the biology--it's the bit between the birth and the death that really counts." He glanced around. "Now, lets see about some of these improvements."

Finally, the "refrigerator/freezer" was in the root cellar. An old wood wardrobe was found in the dump. The left hand side had a rod for hanging long clothes and the right hand side had a bunch of drawers and a cubby at the top. Deciding it would do, Jareth and Sarah checked the hinges and ended up replacing one of them. When the doors were secure, Jareth stuck one of the crystals in the back of the freezer. The crystal vibrated with an eerie blue light for a moment, then began to flood out chilly air. Sticking her head in, Sarah puffed a smoky breath. The refrigerator would be chilly, but still warmer, since the wooden separator wasn't entirely as airtight as the outside. As a last step, Jareth and Sarah rubbed the outside of the wardrobe with oil and with beeswax, to further seal it. It wasn't Frigidaire (r) or Whirlpool (r), but it would do.

Sarah grinned at Jareth. Now this was something! Quickly her few perishables in the cabinet, she grinned at Jareth, who picked idly at the bandages around his hands. Leading him upstairs, she began gathering her herbs and ingredients for Jareth's hands. Jareth sat on a stool, watching her closely as she examined the wounds and began applying ointment to the cuts again.

"I'm sorry--I shouldn't have.....err.... well, I should have remembered your hands," Sarah whispered. Looking at the strain his hands had gone through was quickly eclipsing the exhilaration of having a real fridge and freezer.

"Sarah," Jareth said softly, tilting his head. "I did what I wanted to do." Sarah glanced up into his eyes. She had beautiful eyes--clear and blue like a sapphire. Toby had blue eyes as well--but hers were older, wiser and in a strange, enticing way gentler. "I am glad to help you--and if it will help Toby as well, then I'm doubly glad." He smirked, watching her eyes shift from wary to filling with laughter. "Besides, it means that I get a little of your undivided attention--"

A knock interrupted him.

Sarah looked up at the door. It really was terribly late. She hopped up and propped open the door a little ways. A short goblin--of course, they were all short to her but this one was only as tall as her knee--was standing on her doorstep, his dragon steed panting by her front gate. "Milady," he said shortly. "If you could tell me where His Majesty is--then, I would hurry on and not bother you. I have an important message from the drawvish kingdom."

Sarah glanced inside, watching as Jareth's shoulders slumped briefly. Then with an effort, he straightened up and resumed his regal position. "Let him in Sarah," he said softly.

The little goblin strode inside, stopping to salute smartly at Sarah. With a brief bow, he presented an elaborately sealed package to the king. Jareth fumbled with the elaborate seals and quickly scanned the contents. With a frown, he summoned a few sheets of parchment, a stick of purple sealing wax and another bottle of ink and a fresh, white quill. "Forgive me, Sarah," he said, glancing up at her with a curious trace of guilt. "I need to reply to this immediately." He sat the quill in his hand and arranged the parchment in front of him.

Sarah sat down at her table. "It's all right." She frowned at bit, watching the Goblin King struggle to situate the quill in his bandaged hand. She would have to bandage the left hand first! Gingerly, she took the quill from him. He glanced up, a bit wary and definitely shocked. "Perhaps if I help...?"

He grinned widely. Then, in a truly magisterial voice, began dictating a reply. Filled with flourishes and delicate diplomacy, the King apologized for the brief problem that a dwarvish peasant had encountered with the Labyrinth--apparently a sheep or two had been killed. Stating that the border was now regularly patrolled by goblins, checking for such problems--Jareth ended with another few words cautioning that perhaps the dwarves would send him word if they were planning on traveling through his domain. Then more apologies.

Sarah finished up as neatly as possible, taking care to blot the pages dry. Then, she watched the whole letter get checked again, signed, and sealed with a blob of purple wax. As the wax hardened, it formed the shape of a barn owl--its wings stretched wide and clutching a ball in its claws. The goblin accepted the signed package with aplomb, and then departed as elegantly as he arrived.

Sarah yawned deeply and began to apply the salves and herbs to his hands again. It had been such a long day. Then, she grinned.

"Sarah, you look like you've got a secret," Jareth said, watching as she wound a fresh strip of cloth around his right hand. "A nice one."

"Perhaps," she said primly.

"I hope it's a nice one," Jareth replied. "I like the idea of you having nice secrets."

Sarah reached out and wrapped an arm around his neck, hugging him. "It probably is." She began gathering up her bowls and herbs.

Jareth cleared his throat. "I would like to see you tomorrow, if I may." He raised his arms and looked at his hands. "I will have additional letters....."

Sarah nodded. "Of course. I would like to see you tomorrow." She turned around, glancing at him.

He smiled wanly. "I will see you tomorrow then." He shifted slightly in the chair and then, with a whoosh of magic and a fluttering of feathers, became an owl. Sarah rushed past him and opened the door, watching as he flew past and into the deep, Underground night. With a smile, she locked up her house. Jareth didn't know about peanut butter, huh? Well, he was in for a surprise.

Sarah was up early as usual. Washing her face, she smiled as Toby bounced out of bed. Changing into regular clothes, they made the beds. Toby grabbed a basket to gather eggs as Sarah went out to go to the dairyman's. She supposed that she should gather the eggs--but they hadn't pecked Toby at all. Of course, she grimaced, that might be because he was too busy making noise that they were terrified to peck him. But he had a way with them, no mistake. She had even taken to showing him how to weed her gardens--showing him some of the obvious weeds. He loved pulling up the weeds--mainly because he could grub in the dirt.

The dairyman smirked as she approached, laden with fresh slabs of cheeses. Deep in thought, Sarah ordered her usual slab of cheese. With some thought, Sarah ordered a gallon of fresh milk, and two pints of cream, as well as a pound of butter.

The milkman stared at her. "Whatcher mean, missy? You laughin' at me?!" His voice rose angrily. "Yous can't drink that much or use that much 'afore it goes!"

Blushing, Sarah tried to think about what to do next. "It won't go bad," she said, reassuringly. Pulling out her purse, she showed him the coins she had.

Snatching the coins up, the milkman hissed at her. Sarah jumped back, surprised. The other few goblins standing at his store stared openly. With another snarl, the little goblin reached up to and slapped Sarah. Sarah felt a heavy cool air around her, and remembered a brief flash of her father slapping her. Peculiarly, as she pictured the scene--Toby in his crib, her father standing over her as she held her cheek--she also pictured Karen standing in the room, grinning madly.

With a whoosh of wings and magic, Jareth appeared in front of Sarah, holding the hand of the yelling milkman. Scowling madly, Jareth squeezed the goblin's arm. Sarah heard a crunch and saw the little goblin crumple in pain, gasping.

"Jareth!" Sarah cried. "Please, let him go." Gently taking his other arm, she tried to face him. "Please, Jareth, I'm fine--please let him go."

Jareth glanced at her, his face easing from its angry scowl. Growling, he threw back the goblin and gathered up Sarah's purchases. "Let's go home."

Sarah glanced at the goblins behind her. "Is everyone all right?" she asked softly. The milkman looked at her blankly, holding his skinny arm.

"Miss? What happened?" he asked.

Jareth stopped, watching Sarah and glaring at the little goblin. Sarah examined the bruised arm. Luckily, nothing seemed broken--but there would be a bruise there. Glancing up, she looked into the confused eyes of the goblin. "You mean you don't know?" she asked.

"No'm," he whimpered. "I don't....." He began shivering. "I was takin' yer order. Then HE was there grabbing me arm and all angry. What happened?"

Sarah frowned, unconsciously echoing Jareth's frown. "I don't know. But maybe we can straighten this out later...." She nodded at Jareth, who stood behind her, mumbling angrily. "I have a breakfast to fix." She nodded and gave an uncertain smile to the little goblin.

At the cottage, Sarah stuck her head out the back, watching as Toby carefully pulled up weeds and piled them in a corner. The eggs were in a basket, sitting on the table. She put them in the pot, sliced the bread, and poured the milk. Setting the butter and honey on the table, she stored the second loaf of bread, the cream and other dairy in the cabinet downstairs. The eggs were boiling and Jareth was sitting down the Toby as she came back up. He clumsily hauled the pot of eggs and set it on the table.

"Breakfast is served, milady," he smiled.

Breakfast was quiet and quick. Sarah smiled as Jareth cleaned Toby up, only to watch him go out and get dirty pulling weeds again. Fortunately, it was laundry day, so after breakfast Sarah hauled out the laundry tub and dumped the dirty clothes in it. Toby grinned as Sarah started hauling in water and joined in. They hauled the two buckets of water up to fill the tub when they saw Jareth standing over the tub, twirling a crystal.

"You twirl it one way," Jareth said softly as he rolled the ball over his knuckles. "and it runs hot." The ball twirled over his palm. "And the other way it runs cold." Water ran over his hands in cold and hot spurts and into the tub.

"Jareth that's wonderful!" Sarah grinned. The worst part of laundry day was hauling the water.

"WOW!" Toby gaped, sticking his hand into the stream of now cool water. "Teach me!"

"In a while," Jareth nodded solemnly. "Now, why don't we add some soap--"

Toby hauled out the bag of soap scraps and dumped an old, rusty tin can full into the mix. With a staff, he began churning the wet clothes around, laughing and splashing at the bubbles. Jareth smiled and dropped a crystal into the water. The crystal hit a faded blue shirt and sank, dragging the shirt down with it out of sight. Toby squealed and laughed as he fumbled around trying to find the crystal.

Jareth sat down at the table. "Let's get started with this letter to the northern border guards--they need to step up security...."

Sarah spent the morning writing letters and orders, in addition to drafting laws and other important documents. Toby squealed noisily as he would spot the crystal and then pounce after it. Somehow the crystal eluded him, just slipping out of reach, until he was actively in the tub--fully dressed--and splashing around. Laundry did end up with Toby--and usually Sarah--getting wet. Several times the three were interrupted by goblins seeking Jareth or Sarah for advice or medicines or spices or whatnot. Between a letter to the southern guards, advising of a pit with spikes in the bottom--an obvious anomaly in the usually peaceful Labyrinth--and a listing of orders for the castle kitchen staff, Jareth and Sarah and Toby hauled out the tub and, pulling the cork from the bottom, drained it. As Sarah began making out a shopping list and checking it against her supplies and mixing a tonic for fever, Jareth and Toby rinsed the clothes and hung them on the line to dry. Jareth began to check the kitchen's request for supplies and collared a patrolling city guard to take his letters back to the castle for the runners to deliver, and Sarah swept and harvested a bunch of pennyroyal and then disappeared into her root cellar.

Sarah came back up from the root cellar, smiling. Jareth and Toby, oblivious to her presence in the room, were hunched over a spot in the floor, giggling like mad. Jareth had his back to her, apparently whispering to Toby who was giggling in response. Sarah smiled and tied her bunch of pennyroyal off for drying. With a glance at the two still hunched over that spot in the floor, she grabbed up her basket and set out to harvest some vegetables.

Sarah had found a couple of carrots, some beans, two tomatoes that were so ripe they fell into her hands, a green pepper with rabbit nibbling on it, and was checking her corn when she glanced out over the fields beyond her land. A dirt path ran from her high back gate with deep forest on one side and a wheat field on the other to a cultivated orchard and, beyond that, was a gated field with black and white cattle grazing peacefully in it. A breeze wafted through the forest and whispered through the wheat.

It was peaceful here. No blaring music or rushing cars. No noise from rumbling trucks or angry shouts and curses raging around them. In fact, the lane was rather peaceful--kind of tucked away even from the regular traffic of the Goblin City. Toby was perfectly safe in her back yard or her front yard. In a bit--perhaps as little as a month or two--he'd be wanting to go to Zip's house by himself soon. Sarah idly pulled a ripe ear from the stalk. What then? She smiled softly--he was growing up so fast.

Inside the house, Jareth was helping Toby study his reading, smiling as Toby carefully sounded out the words to "Hansel and Gretel" and pointed to the drawings. Sarah washed the vegetables carefully, chopped them, and began adding them to her cauldron. She pulled out a long strip of dried, salted beef--the rough equivalent of jerky--and sliced it, dumping it into the pot with a bit of milk. Quite quickly, the pot was bubbling and murmuring to itself as the vegetable beef soup simmered.

The afternoon flew by, sped on by the simmering soup. Sarah left briefly to help someone with a sprain. Jareth vanished for a few hours to hold court and hear a few cases of dispute as Sarah sewed a new pair of pants for Toby and repaired the missing knees in another pair. Jareth brought in the warm, dry clothes as Sarah went out to tie some tomato plants to stakes, gathered up a collection of household spices for an order from the butcher's wife, and to water the back bed. Together, they rigged a collection of tin cans that clanked in the breeze and would, hopefully, scare away crows and rabbits.

That evening set gently, as singularly peaceful days do. Sarah sat the soup out on the table with fresh toast with cheese melted over it. Taking a bowl of the soup, Sarah carefully cut every piece of every vegetable that she deemed too large for Toby--thankfully she hadn't left too many large chunks. Jareth took a huge bowl full of soup, sniffing and smiling hugely.

"Mmmmm," he sighed. "This smells delicious."

Toby stared for a moment. Then, he sniffed his soup dramatically, puffing out his chest. "Mmmmm.... This smells de--dell...."

"Delicious." Jareth supplied the word.

"De-li-shus," Toby carefully sounded out.

"Thank you kindly, sirs," she smiled at both of them. "Let's dig in! I'm starved!"

There was half a pot of soup left when Jareth and Toby began holding their stomachs. Sarah smiled as she poured the soup into a crock and set it in the "cool-box" (as Toby had dubbed it). Pulling out a large bowl from the freezing cold side, she walked upstairs grinning madly.

"You know," she said solemnly. "It's a shame that you guys ate so much soup. You don't have room for dessert!" She sat the bowl down in the middle of the table.

"Ice cream!" Toby squealed, lunging for the bowl as Sarah grabbed it away from him.

"Ice cream?" Jareth looked at Sarah with a confused expression. "Err... Toby, why don't you sit down and we'll get ice cream."

Toby plopped down instantly, grinning and banging his suddenly licked clean spoon. "Ice! Cream! Ice! Cream!"

Jareth watched as Sarah scraped up the white mixture and dumped it into bowls. She took out a pot of jam and drizzled red jam over one bowl, a purple-blue over another and left the third one plain. Then she carefully set the rest of the mixture back down in the root cellar--probably in the cabinet where the ice wouldn't melt. Amused, he stood and sat the bowls on the table. Toby grabbed for one and Jareth--luckily--managed to grab him and get him sat back down before Sarah returned.

"So who wants their with strawberry jam?" she said.

"TOBY DOES!" Toby shouted.

"What about with blueberry jam?" she asked again.

"TOBY DOES!" Jareth's head began to hurt in sympathy--he thought the goblins got noisy when excited. He shot a pained look at Sarah -- who grinned back in malicious innocence.

Laughing, Sarah shifted the bowls of ice cream with strawberry and blueberry jam so that two of the bowls had a mix of jams. Jareth took the third bowl and dug his spoon in. The ice cream--very very cold cream with sugar and vanilla and a few other things--was delicious. And he'd never had anything like it--even in the ice lands to the north. The Aboveground scored a mental point in its favor that night, as Jareth sat back and enjoyed his ice cream, watching Toby and Sarah enjoy theirs.

The routine for the next few days settled peacefully. Jareth would show up in the morning before breakfast, sometimes bringing extra eggs or bacon or bread with him and often bringing apple juice, which was Toby's favorite. Everyone would eat breakfast and Sarah and Jareth would sit down to the writings of the kingdom as Toby did his morning chores. After that, Jareth would vanish to his castle to meet with dignitaries, hear disputes and run his kingdom. Sarah took the time to do her chores, make deliveries and see patients. She'd then start a simple lunch, at which point Jareth would show up briefly again. After lunch, Toby would go with Sarah to work in the gardens, then sit for lessons with the two or three other goblin children who were interested in reading and writing. At the end of the afternoon, Jareth would appear to teach math to Toby, and the lore of the Labyrinth, the Goblin City and surrounding kingdoms. Sarah would be able to complete chores and start dinner. Throughout the day and well into the afternoon, goblins would appear at the door, seeking either Sarah or Jareth. After dinner, Sarah would be able to do mending and other light chores as Jareth played with Toby and put him to bed. Then Sarah would treat Jareth's hands and they would sit and talk quietly in front of the fireplace.

The goblins were frequently at Sarah's door seeking Jareth for one reason or another. Occasionally, Sarah ended up stacking the pile of parchments, letters and requests at the head of the table, waiting for Jareth to return. Sarah had even scavenged a coat rack from the junk yard, so now Jareth's long leather coat often hung beside her shawls and Toby's sweater. There were a few more pillows scattered around the floor--which is where Jareth often ended up in the evening and where the shorter goblins could sit and wait for Sarah to finish writing the replies and responses, as well as wait for her to treat their injuries. Sarah often debated offering to keep a change of clothes in her chest for him, but since he vanished politely at the end of every evening, she didn't know how to broach the subject. Then she'd shake her head, clearing out the mental cobwebs--Jareth's hands were recovering nicely and he would be able to leave the bandages off in a few days. Then he'd vanish and Sarah had no idea if he'd return.

In any case, she had things to attend to--such as finding a way to get heavier clothes for Toby. The nights were starting to get the first gentle hint of cooler breezes. The forest outside her walled garden had a sprinkling of golden leaves. Her fall vegetables were starting to show the signs of final ripening. Her little freezer was well stocked with cuts of meat wrapped in parchment and a few crocks of soups. She had saved cheese slabs and had rubbed oil on the surface to prevent it from going dry, then stuck it in the freezer to prevent it from going bad. Soon, she'd have to harvest what she could and dry it for storage.

"If you keep frowning like that, your face will freeze and you'll have to become one of the False Alarms," Jareth said behind her, standing on the porch. His voice deepened. " 'Don't go on!' " he boomed. " 'Turn back before it's too late!' "

Sarah couldn't help but grin. Jareth's even baritone was no match for the deep barreling bass voices of the False Alarms, but his solemn frown was a perfect impression. She watched him hop off the porch and come up to her. Perfectly dressed, as usual, the Goblin King wore a white poet blouse and tan pants that resembled riding pants tucked into the turned down tops of brown leather boots. He never seemed to mind that she continually was wearing casual, sturdy--and often dirty--clothes.

"So what are you frowning about?" Jareth asked, taking Sarah's hands in his.

Sarah grimaced. "Just thinking about the winter. And how hopeless a seamstress I am." At Jareth's slight confusion, she smiled. "Toby needs some new clothes--he's growing so fast!--and I am hoping that I can store enough for the whole winter." She glanced down shyly. "I haven't ever done this before."

Jareth wrapped his hands around hers. "You'll be fine. You can always come to the castle if you need anything."

Sarah grinned. "I can't come running to you every time that I encounter a problem." She smiled at him. "But thank you." She fingered a tall basil plant, releasing a spicy smell into the air. "And I owe you so much already."

Jareth grinned wickedly. "Really?" His voice dripped. Sarah sent him a glare that dissolved into giggles. He really was the most outrageous flirt and his tone brought to mind all of the raunchy, wickedly sensual adult scenes in the little grocery store romance books that Sarah had been addicted to.

"Hmmm.....I suppose that I could pay you back in installments?" she offered innocently.

"I suppose that could work." Jareth agreed amiably, leading Sarah back to the house. He leered at her, causing Sarah to blush, and then leered at the Sarah's bed in the back of the house. Sarah's 'bedroom' overlooked the back yard gardens, with a narrow partition between it and the kitchen area. No door or anything, but enough to block most of the light from the main areas of the house. At some point, Sarah wanted to make it an enclosed bedroom, but there wasn't time right now. So now Jareth got one more eyeful of her rumpled bed, a large book tucked face down under a pillow with her night shirt, Lancelot peeking out from under the corner of the bed with a spare eye patch (courtesy of Sir Didymous) and one of Toby's shoes somehow jammed at the foot of the bed.

Sarah laughed and began fixing lunch. Today it was one of her favorites--chicken salad with celery, pecans, and apples on a bed of baby spinach with tomato slices. Jareth started picking up random bits and putting them away, and hauled in a fresh bucket of cool water as Sarah dished out the cool salad and began slicing tomatoes. Making the mayonnaise had been difficult at first, but at last Sarah had found a cookbook with most of the recipes that she wanted. There were a few that were truly advanced--like making pasta or souffl├ęs--that Sarah felt a little less than completely confident with, but she now had basics like mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, and Toby's new favorite food--pickles. Over lunch, Sarah discussed the upcoming season with Jareth while Toby alternated between listening and fidgeting.

"The winters are a bit harsh," Jareth admitted as he picked at the last bits of spinach and tomato. "We'll get probably 5 or 10 snows of over 6 inches during the season. Usually, everyone closes up shop around those times--stays at home by the fires."

"So I'll need lots of firewood," Sarah mused.

Jareth nodded. "You'll need too keep your chickens and pig dry and warm as well." He looked up meaningfully at the bottom of the loft and the rafters supporting the thick thatch roof. "But this old home has seen plenty of harsh winters before and you'll be safe and warm."

Sarah smiled in confusion. "I suppose that this cottage has been around a while."

Jareth started a bit. "Err....yes, yes it has." He smirked. "You'll need to do a major shopping trip to make sure that you have basic supplies -- potatoes, salt, sugar, flour, and so on." Taking a narrow knife from his belt, he absently peeled a peach for Toby. "You'll also want to have plenty to do. The goblins don't usually get bored during the winter, but we don't get out much and tempers can get snappy." Cutting the sticky sweet fruit into slices, Jareth handed them to Toby.

Sarah picked up the dishes and began washing them. "So I'll need to go out to the millers and stock up, pull in my vegetables--maybe buy some bits and pieces. And talk to the dwarvish trader about more salt...." She began ticking off on her fingers what still needed to be done. "Get some heavy cloth from the weavers.... Some thread from the spinners....." There wasn't much she had in the way of coins. Her trading and haggling was fair, but it seemed like such an awfully lot. She'd need to stock up on wood, too--and make candles. Perhaps she needed to figure out a way to split the beehive so that she could make some more candles.

Lost in thought, she stopped washing the dishes. Jareth watched her carefully, washing Toby up with a wet rag.

Only halfway changing the topic, he said casually, "Usually the winters are more wet than anything--it rains and rains. The goblins end up losing more shoes and boots in the mud and in the spring there is a Shoe Festival where everyone tries to reclaim the shoes that are lost in the mud. They'll end up bartering, trading, stealing, cajoling--anything to get the other shoe. There are contests to see who can pull the most shoes out of the mud, even." He paused, watching Sarah smile and start the dishes again. "But, there will be a festival in a few weeks--everyone ends up carting all kinds of things to the square in front of the castle: pigs, chickens, eggs, vegetables and fruits, grain, flour, herbs, clothes--you name it. It's a tradition to trade or buy what you need for the winter then."

"In a few weeks?" Sarah asked.

"Yes, followed by a party that night. It's so that you have time to preserve whatever you get. But the party and fair would be fun for Toby--a lot of bards and players come through so there's games, contests, races, clowns, tumblers, trained dogs......"

Sarah smiled. "That does sound like fun."

"Yes, well, I'll keep you posted. The goblins do things when it feels like they should be done--which is sometimes never," he grumbled good naturedly as Toby went outside to do some chores. "I'd put it on a day and keep it there."

"But aren't you the King? Can't you wave your hand and make it so?" Sarah laughed.

"If only the goblins could remember that I had made it so," he grumbled with a smile. "Anyway, get your herbs together and we'll see about setting you up a table or something." Jareth leaned against the sink right next to her.

A knock sounded at the door. Sarah jumped a little and ran to answer it. A castle page came bursting in with a sheaf of papers. Jareth took the papers and began reading them, shuffling them several times trying to make sense of them. Sarah frowned, echoing the building frown on Jareth's face.

To the page he snapped, "I must be here for another two hours. Then I'll be at the eastern castle gate. Gather two units." The page saluted in a hurried, sloppy manner and darted out.

"It's bad, isn't it?" Sarah asked softly.

"Yes, I suppose it is," Jareth said, glaring at the pages again.

Sarah gathered up her bowls and mixed a double batch of the salve for Jareth's hands. Taking one hand, she began unwrapping the bandage. Jareth looked up at her, silently watching her as she applied more salve, tossed the bandages in the laundry, and packed up clean bandages and the extra salve in a clean shawl. Handing the bundle to him, she whispered, "Here. You'll know what to do--pick out the splinters and wash the cuts then put the salve on them."

Jareth carefully took the precious bundle. In a quiet voice, he whispered, "Thank you, Sarah. I can't tell you how much this means to me." Sarah--his irritating, funny, willful, teasing Sarah--had prepared this just for him. No bullying or begging or exchange, no sly winks or deceitful gestures or lobbying--a simple gift.

Sarah looked at him and then looked deep in his eyes, trying to feel brave. "Just come back with the scarf--that's all I ask." She glared at him with a smile. "Actually--just come back in one piece!" She stamped her foot.

Jareth laughed softly. His Sarah was a tyrant. "Yes, my lady." Looking around, he spotted Toby outside, pulling clothes off the line and dropping them unceremoniously in the laundry basket. "Now let's get Toby and go to the market."

Jareth wove in and out of the market stalls expertly, leading them to the dwarven trader's elaborate wagon. The dwarf, a short pudgy man with a long silver beard, one blue and one white eye, and sooty clothes looked up as they approached. He was bald--the sun shining off his head--and sweaty and as he worked in his portable forge he periodically would take a sip of his tankard. The "portable forge" was probably a misnomer--it was a heavy square of iron set on granite flagstones and was obviously built on site to hold the glowing coals. A leather bellows leaned against the stone in easy reach of the dwarf. Spotting them, he wiped his brow with his beard and jammed the iron he was working back into the coals.

"What can I do you for?" he said. "Nice ring? Some spurs?"

Jareth's mouth twitched as the dwarf showed them rings made of horseshoe nails, various picks and knives and kitchenware. Everything was iron. "I think we're more interested in axes."

"Ahh...someone after my own heart!" the dwarf bellowed. He pulled an axe out from under his wagon and hefted it. "Let's go!" The iron battle-axe gleamed softly--it's two curved blades wickedly sharp.

"I think that fine weapon would be wasted on the trees that need to be cut," Jareth said dryly.

"Trees? TREES!?!" the dwarf bellowed. "There's no fun in chopping TREES!" He sniffed. "Now, you want to deal with some orcs? Then I'm your dwarf!"

"Just trees," Jareth said smoothly. "What about that axe over there?"

The dwarf grumbled and pulled out a somewhat lighter axe. With a single blade and a wooden handle, it looked lighter and easier to wield. Sarah tested it in her hands. The dwarf set up a few logs he 'happened to have lying around', set a wedge--which he called a grenade--, and let Sarah split the logs. Sharp and heavy, the logs split. Not easily or quickly, but Sarah felt confident she could split them. As the tossed the splits in the forge, she noticed Jareth handing the dwarf some coins.

"Come on, Sarah," he called out. "Bring them both so that we can get home."

Sarah smiled. "I'm supposed to be paying for it, remember?"

"No."

Picking up the grenade, she followed Jareth around. He seemed less confident now--a little bit worried. After purchasing some lunch at a goblin inn--some kind of chicken stew with toast--he led Sarah and Toby home. Toby went running in as Sarah and Jareth lingered at the gate.

"Thank you, Jareth," Sarah said, testing the heavy axe in her grip. Looking up, she frowned. "Jareth--you look pale. Do you feel all right?"

"It's nothing."

Sarah glared at him, hefting her axe. " 'Nothing? Nothing--tra la la?' " She snorted his own words back at him. "You didn't believe us when we told you 'nothing' in the Labyrinth."

Jareth stood silently for a moment, then said softly, "Just don't let that out of your sight."

Sarah carefully put the axe down. "What's wrong, Jareth?" She felt his forehead. "You look awful."

"Let's go inside," Jareth replied. Sarah went inside, carefully putting the axe in her chest at the back of the room. Handing Toby a book about goblin legends, Jareth told the boy to go outside and read for a minute. "Sarah, I--.... I don't know how to say this."

"Let's start with the axe. Is something wrong?" Sarah wrung her hands.

"Sarah, how much do you know about the fae?"

She frowned. "I know of the Seelie and Unseelie courts. That the fae comprise elves, leprechauns, brownies, and so on. Supposedly, there was a fae--Morgan Le Fae--"

"No," Jareth interrupted. "I mean really--what do you know? About ....killing the fae?"

Sarah's face paled. "Iron. You use iron to kill them." She glanced at her axe. "But I don't understand....." She wrung her hands.

"Sarah, you didn't think that I was a goblin did you?"

Sarah plopped down on the stool. "I suppose not.... I hadn't really thought about it." She looked at the axe. "I'll get rid of it immediately."

"No, Sarah," Jareth protested, grabbing her wrists as she lunged for it. "Axes can't be made out of copper--they'd get all bent out of shape. Gold wouldn't work. Silver might, but it would be punishing and likely not hold an edge. Platinum might, but you want an axe, not a dwarf's dowry. Lead would poison you." He looked at her in the eyes. "No, Sarah. Iron is the only thing that would work." He looked at Toby, hunched over his book and leaning against the back wall of the house. "You'll need to provide for Toby and yourself."

"There's got to be another way," she whispered.

"Look," he said sternly. "I don't have much time. There is something happening along the eastern borders--and I don't know what so don't ask." He glared at her for a moment. "Do what you have to do and get ready for winter. You are close to the woods, so use the axe if anything attacks you. I'll tell the goblins to come by to check on you periodically, but as scatterbrained as they are, they may not be regular." He fished in his pocket. "Here." He dropped a few coins in Sarah's hand. The golden coins were warm and glimmered softly. "Send word to the castle if you need more." He turned smartly on his booted heel.

"Jareth, don't--" Sarah stopped herself. Don't what? she jeered at herself. Don't save the kingdom? Don't save the Labyrinth?

Jareth looked back. "If I don't do something--then who will?" he asked softly. Sarah ran up behind him, wrapping her arms around him. "Sarah, be strong for Toby. As soon as I am able, I'll return here. We'll go to the festival together."

Suddenly, with a gasp of air and a sprinkling of golden dust, Sarah's arms were empty.

The next few days were spent in bouts of frenzy and then in restless worry. Sarah would go into a frenzy of work--cleaning, dusting, hoeing, raking--then, when she couldn't go any further, she'd go through math and study with Toby, devouring the books she brought with her. At night, she'd toss and turn, watching the silvery moon float across the sky.

Toby was fiddling with a fork as she served him dinner. "Momma," he said in a timid voice. "Why is this fork funny colored?"

"It's an old fork," she replied with a grimace. "It was old when my mother inherited it from her great great aunt." She rubbed the fork with a rag. Sure enough, there was a slightly discolored spot--a duller silver metal than the shiny silver covering the rest of the fork. Wait. She rubbed harder. Flipping the fork over, she examined the tiny inscription--"Silver Plated".

With a shout, she hugged Toby.

"HEY!" he protested. "MOM!"

"Toby you're BRILLIANT!" she smiled, hugging and kissing him.

"WHAT?" he shrieked, dodging the kiss. "What did I do?" He thought for a moment, rubbing the kiss off. "And can I have some ice cream?" He made a face at the turnip greens on his plate.

"Yes," Sarah smiled. "Let's have ice cream."

The next day Sarah tromped through the market with the axe. The goblins parted to let her pass, but she paid only scant attention to them. The dwarf, working with an iron skillet, saw her advance, holding the grenade and the axe.

"Now, missy," he warned. "All sales are final. I ain't takin back me own axe!"

She beamed at him. "I don't want you to. But I do want to see if you're up to the challenge....."

"What challenge?" He puffed out his chest. "I can do anything!"

Later that afternoon, Sarah held her axe and grenade. Hopefully, the bronze would hold up, but most importantly, it covered the axe head. The dwarf had sharpened the head, coated it with a sharp fold of steel, and then plated the entire thing with bronze. The grenade received the same treatment. Steel was expensive and a trick the dwarves alone had mastered, but it wasn't iron. And even if it was, it was--Sarah hoped--a weaker iron. It would hold an edge, but wouldn't be quite so .... bad.

Sarah packed a snack and went boldly into the woods. Leaving Toby to his studying, she selected a tree about 4 feet tall and a foot in diameter. Tapping it and talking to it, she made sure that it wasn't going to start complaining when she took a swing at it. Deciding it was safe, she took her first swing. The jolt of the axe jarred her arm. Grunting, she tried again, aping the style she had seen on TV in the World Lumberjack Championships. It took some time--about 30 minutes she estimated--but the tree fell. Balancing precariously, Sarah began sectioning off the tree. In an hour, she had her first section. In another half hour or so, she had a second roll. Rolling the sections back to her house, she set the first one in the grassy patch. Setting up the second one, she set the grenade and pounded it. Settling for splitting it into 5th when the grenade went through, she stacked the fifths on the pile on the porch.

Then she noticed the blisters on her hands.

Toby was fascinated the next day, when she went back into the forest. She had finished weeding and hoeing in record time. As Toby hunted for branches, Sarah slid on her work gloves and began chopping away. She stopped at three sections, rolling them back to the garden. The next morning, she showed Toby how to set the grenade and she began splitting the wood into chunks. The little log pile grew. Toby still foraged for branches each day, so the wood was able to sit and dry for the winter weather on the front porch. Sarah managed to get some waxed canvas to cover her little woodpile, and coax a carpenter to give her an estimate on making a lean to. Sarah gulped as he named a price, and she said she'd think about it.

Hoggle showed up the next day, wanting some pennyroyal oil. Ambrosious had fleas and Sir Didymous never went anywhere without Ambrosious. As the herb soaked in the oil, Sarah told him about the carpenter.

"Ach!" he snorted. "Why would you need to do somethin' like hire him when you could probably find something in the junkyard?"

Sarah frowned. "Are you sure--?"

"It's what my pig--he's called 'Winter Dinner'--sleeps in. A big metal can I found in the junk yard."

Sarah giggled. "Let's go."

It was Toby's first trip to the junkyard. As he skipped and explored the piles and piles of stuff, Sarah and Hoggle started looking for a something to house Sarah's pig in. A very late litter, the pig wasn't nearly big enough yet to have butchered. So, Sarah had reluctantly decided to keep it until next winter, fattening it up in the meantime. Sarah found a huge doghouse and Hoggle found another trashcan--this one with a dent in it. Toby had found a few chess pieces, a hammer, a little knight figurine and a piece of a knife blade. Sarah almost screamed when Toby came back with the piece of the knife blade. Miraculously, she got it out of his hands before he cut himself. However, Toby wandered off again, finding some pretty gold buttons--"Pirate treasure Momma!"--and a discarded lathed wooden bowl. Satisfied, the three hauled their treasures home.

Hoggle opened up the back of the doghouse, putting it on a crude hinge. The hens, curious, soon seemed content to have their nests moved into the crude henhouse.

The pig, however, was terrified of the rattling galvanized trashcan. Toby soon began chasing it, squealing. It dodge left of Sarah, right of Hoggle, then squeezed underneath the steps to the porch.

A soft laugh rang from the shadows of the porch. Hoggle started, staring as Toby ran forward, giggling.

"Now, Hoggle," the Goblin King smiled from the shadowy corner by the woodpile. "You act like you're surprised to see me." He hugged Toby close. "Go inside, Toby. Get washed up for dinner."

Toby squeezed Jareth's waist and ran inside, scaring the already terrified pig out from under the porch. The pig darted in a full circle and ran inside the chicken corral, straight for the henhouse. With loud squawking, the rooster chased the poor pig out again, and into the row of corn.

Sarah gasped. "You're back," she shouted, running up the steps. As Hoggle gaped, Sarah ran up the porch and grabbed Jareth in a bear hug. "Thank goodness--you're back."

Jareth draped his arms around his arms around Sarah's shoulders with a relieved sigh.

Hoggle cautiously stepped up to the porch. "I'll--uh... I'll be seein' you, Sarah." He waved hurriedly and left--all but running through the front door.

"Come inside," Sarah said, tugging on him gently.

Jareth's silhouette turned sharply, looked at her wildly for a moment and then smiled. Alarmed, Sarah pulled him into the light.

His hair--normally a frosted blonde, was peppered with streaks of white. His eyes seemed almost sunken and he looked almost gaunt as he gazed at her. He had bags under his eyes in addition to the deep, dark purple circles and a vaguely unsettling glazed expression reminiscent of deep shock. His lips were chapped--even a dab of blood where they had split. A gash marred one cheek and several bruises marred his pale chest. Sarah just knew in her heart that his hands--his beautiful, magical hands were torn up again.

She sighed softly. "Come inside." Pulling him in, she mentally gave thanks that she had just finished washing the bed linens and had her bed reasonably neat. Yanking back the covers, she pushed him down. The look on his face was of pure bliss as he sank into the mattress. Kneeling at his feet, she gingerly took off his boots and swung his legs up on the bed. Covering him, she pushed him down into the pillows.

Tiptoeing into the kitchen, she whispered. "Toby, Jareth is hurt and very tired, so we're going to fix him a big meal in bed and then we're going to be like little mice and either go upstairs to bed or study quietly, okay?"

Toby frowned slightly. "Hurt bad?"

Sarah frowned in return. "I don't know. But he needs to rest, okay?"

Toby nodded conspiratorially. "OK." He giggled, clapping his hand over his mouth with wide blue eyes, as she winked at him.

Sarah began preparing a simple meal, slicing bread and cheese. Toby buttered the bread and put the cheese between the slices. Sarah put the sandwiches on a copper skillet. Hoggle had found a peculiar looking contraption--a flat piece of bronze which was now burned black with loops of copper to hang it over the fire. It wasn't exactly an electric range, but Sarah found that with a bit of practice she could hang it on one of the fireplace hooks and set pots or pans down on it--just like a range. As the cheese sandwiches fried, Sarah and Toby washed some fruit--mainly apples and grapes, with a pear thrown in. Sarah peeled several pieces and Toby "helped" slice them and arrange them on a plate. Debating between milk and some herbal tea--a tisane as it was properly called--Sarah put the kettle on to boil and poured the cool milk into three mugs.

With exaggerated tiptoes, Toby led the way around the partition into Sarah's bedroom area. Holding the tray of fruit, he peeked around the edge. Jareth lay in the bed, barely visible in the dying light from the windows. Listening for a moment, he whispered back to Sarah in an overloud voice, "I think he's asleep--our dinner's ruined!"

Sarah peeked around the corner, trying to balance a precarious four cheese sandwiches on a plate and three clay mugs of milk. If Jareth was asleep, Toby's "whispers" would wake him up. She smiled at Toby, who was frowning in confusion and frustration. Setting the mugs and plate of sandwiches down on the chest, she stood for a moment trying to decide what to do.

"I think that I'm awake," Jareth whispered softly.

"Hooray!" Toby shouted. Sarah glared at him sharply--she was getting truly terrifying in her range of glares and stares. Then he blushed and whispered, "Hooray."

Jareth smiled a little. Toby darted in and squirmed up on the bed, happily curling up next to the Goblin King. "Momma said that you were hurt and tired, so we fixed you dinner in bed!" he gleefully announced.

"Did you?" Jareth smiled and slowly rearranged an arm around Toby. "Well, then, let's eat." He tried to sit up further in the bed, wincing.

Sarah shook her head and smiled. Gingerly, she pulled Jareth up to a sitting position and Toby piled pillows and a rolled up spare blanket behind him. She smiled at Jareth and brought out one of her handmade lanterns and lit it. Jareth and Toby cuddled up together. With careful movements, Jareth passed him a mug of milk and then took one for himself. Sarah passed out sandwiches, trying not to think of the crisp crumbs she was inviting in her bed.

Toby devoured his sandwich in his usual artless way. Jareth and Sarah ate theirs in silence, listening to Toby talk excitedly about his adventures with "Dog".

"'Dog?'" Jareth asked. "You have a dog?"

Sarah shook her head. "No--that's the pig's name. For some reason, he named it 'Dog'."

Jareth took a bite in silence, watching as Sarah served the fruit to Toby. She had ended up laying across the foot of the bed, watching them with amused blue eyes. It felt right to have Toby and Sarah all crowded into the bed with him. He could practically hear the laughter and feel the warmhearted affection that filled the place. He had a huge bed with grand curtains and a midnight blue canopy in his massive bedroom at the Castle, but nothing felt as nice as being all tumbled together like this.

Toby finished excitedly with his wild tale of the pig scrambling under the porch and smiled. Jareth had to laugh with him and hug him close. Planting a kiss on his forehead, he said, "Well, that does sound exciting. But for now--"

"For now," Sarah interrupted. "We promised that we'd be quiet. Didn't we Toby?"

Toby nodded uncertainly. This had all the earmarks of an early bedtime.

"Awww," Jareth pouted, his blue and black eyes sparkling. "I just got here."

Sarah rolled her eyes at the two of them. "All right," she said with a dramatic sigh. "How about we work on our reading?"

Toby grinned and scrambled off the bed to find his latest book. Sarah turned the light up a bit. "You sure about this? We can go upstairs...."

"I wouldn't hear of it," Jareth mumbled, draining the dregs of his mug. He grinned wickedly. "Besides, I like having you here."

Sarah rolled her eyes again.

Somehow, they all three managed to squeeze together, reading through the exciting adventures of Grimm's fairy tales. Toby stumbled over several words, but seemed to be doing well. Sarah had long ago decided that he could proceed at his own pace in his education. Of course, this meant that he occasionally raced through particularly interesting books and plodded through others. But this volume of Grimm's fairy tales was particularly fun for both of them.

Toby started yawning at the middle of "Hansel and Gretel" and was nodding off in the middle of "Jack and the Beanstalk". Hoisting him up, Sarah took him upstairs. He was getting a bit big for her to just pick up and haul around, but for now she could carry him up the steps to his little bedroom. Sleepily rubbing his eyes, he allowed Sarah to help him change into his pajamas and tuck him in. "But no kissin' stuff," he protested.

"No kissing," Sarah said, amused. He had lately decided that kissing was 'girly' and started protesting and wriggling around her good night kiss. "Good night Toby."

"Goo' nigh'..." he sighed softly. With one more yawn, he whispered, "Will Daddy be around in the mornin'?"

Sarah blinked a few times. Jareth? Jareth as "Daddy"? Could Toby have forgotten Robert so quickly? Or was he talking about Robert? Finally deciding on a non-committal answer, she muttered, "I don't know, Toby. Good night."

"Good night," he chirped, turning over and kicking Lancelot off his bed.

Sarah quietly slipped downstairs, frowning and deep in thought. She blew out the candles and banked the fire. She locked--such as it was--the front door--and went out the back to haul in some firewood for the morning and check on the chickens and 'Dog' the pig. Two chickens roosted in the house while the rooster perched on a bit of log. Dog, against all odds, was asleep in the trashcan. Sarah gathered up the firewood for the morning.

The door opened suddenly and Sarah jumped and let out a muffled yelp. Almost losing her grip on the wood, she stared at the wan, pale face of the Goblin King.

"Sorry," he muttered shortly. "I meant to help you out..."

Sarah brushed past him. "Get back into bed. I can't carry you if you fall." Not that she wouldn't try, she vowed silently.

Jareth leaned heavily against the partition, watching her carefully. He cursed silently--cursed the Labyrinth for starting to fall apart, cursed the weakness that spread through him, cursed his exhaustion, cursed random and specific mages.... Now, all he could do was watch Sarah stack the wood she brought in. His vision darkened briefly and he shook his head to clear it. He was so tired. So thirsty. Sarah had taken him in and had taken care of him--and he couldn't even pick up a stick for the voracious fireplace. The edges of his vision clouded again and he closed his eyes against the headache he felt coming on. Just for a moment, he wanted to close his eyes and rest. Just for a minute....

And Sarah was in front of him, crooning to him softly as she led him to the bed. Firmly and gently, she tucked him in again. Jareth relaxed visibly, especially when Sarah mixed some cool water with the kettle water, some lavender and eucalyptus to create a warm rinse. She gently washed the dust from Jareth's face and chest. Pulling out two clean linen cloths, she soaked them in the warm water then wrapped them around his hands. The heat seeped into his aching hands and sore wrists. Pulling up a stool, she brought out a purple jar of a very useful, multi-purpose salve. Carefully, she daubed the salve over the wounds she could see. She had a slick mix of oil, beeswax and aloe to daub on his mouth. It wasn't Chapstick, but it would hydrate his lips, hopefully healing them. Jareth was almost asleep--half unconsciously he silently relaxed under her ministrations.

Finally, she had done all she could right at the moment. Jareth regarded her through half closed mismatched eyes, silent and still. She smiled, whispering encouragement and telling him to rest. Blowing out the candle, she padded to the pile of pillows in her sitting area with a spare blanket and curled up. Watching the firelight dim and die, she let her mind wander. For all that Jareth had been irritating, cheated and was generally a pain when she went through the Labyrinth the first time, she could see that he was a responsible and caring ruler and actually a gentle man albeit with a stinging sharp wit and a horrible sense of humor. In a way, he was a Daddy figure now--he took care of Toby, played with him, taught him, supported her and helped out in whatever way he could.

Sarah turned over on her back. Jareth, the Goblin King, cast as Daddy. It was a relief to have him around--have him there to listen to her problems, watch out after Toby, and to laugh with. He took on part of her burdens himself, sparing as much time as he could, apparently. She wasn't alone here. Neither was Toby. Sarah's eyes closed slowly. Toby was safe--if anything happened to her, Jareth would take care of Toby which is what she wanted anyway. She was Mommy, now. Jareth was Daddy. Family....

A loud hammering sounded at the door before sunrise. Sarah started, then hopped up to rush to the door. The captain of the guards held a handful of letters, missives, and random pieces of parchment, and demanded to see the King. Frowning, Sarah stepped outside, carefully closing the door behind her. Glancing at the sky, she saw only the most faint glimmer of pink to the east.

She held out her hand. "I'll see that His Majesty gets this when he--..... err.... is available."

The captain snorted. "Ain't no time like the present."

Sarah frowned, feeling a throb in her temple. "There is a tremendously better time than the present--say, around noon?" She yawned widely. "When people are awake."

The captain glared at her. "Ain't like this at the castle!"

Sarah snorted back. "This isn't the castle and in any case I wouldn't let you in if it were. I'll thank you to wait until a civilized hour to conduct your business." Sarah grabbed the door and slipped back inside.

The captain hammered at the door again, louder than before.

Sarah cracked it. "What?!"

"I ain't leavin' until I's see the King, Missy," he snorted. "So's you just stand aside." He jammed his foot in the door.

She frowned. Then adopting a sweet mien, she said, "Give me a moment."

The captain nodded warily. "A moment and naught more."

Sarah closed the door and crept to the back of the cottage. Hauling up the axe, she grinned madly. Walking back, softly and confidently, she held the axe behind her back and slipped out on the front porch. The captain glared at her for a moment, then gaped in shock as Sarah took out the heavy axe and hefted it in front of her. Idly, she commented, "You know, I can split logs with this and I've spent the past few days doing precious little else. This axe--" She waved the blade of the axe in his general direction, her eyes on him and narrowing. "--will split branches as wide as my arm in one swing." The goblin peered at her arm, then at his and again at hers, swallowing heavily. "Now, I believe that you were going to hand me the letters or whatnot or--" She arched an eyebrow. "--or I will take it VERY personally."

The captain gulped again. "Well.... mebbe there is some other time. In fact, I hear me wife callin' so here's them letters and--" He passed her the packet and started backing away. "--good mornin' and pass on my regards...." He stepped out of the gate and hopped on his steed--another of the two-legged dragon or lizard beasts--and trotted away.

Sarah scooped up the bits and pieces that were falling from the pile. She smiled wickedly, but really it was too much to be forced out of bed at this hour and be forced to deal with such idiocy. Setting the axe down by the door, she closed and locked it again. Surely whatever it was could wait, and Sarah dutifully piled it at Jareth's place at the table. Then, in a moment of rebellion, she stuck her tongue out at it.

Chuckling at herself--Oh that was REAL mature Sarah!--she threw herself into the morning chores--getting water for washing, gathering the eggs, slicing cheese, and so on. It was only an hour or two before she usually got up anyway. She plucked a bunch of herbs as well, getting ready for the medicines she needed that day and set them on the table. Since she was up early, she was the first at the door when the baker opened up and selected fresh, steaming rolls and a loaf of bread. Sarah delivered some sage and dried red peppers to the butcher, in exchange for some sausage.

At home, Sarah threw cut slices of sausage and began frying it up. If she was really careful--she could save some coins to get some fabric soon. Of course, Toby needed some new clothes immediately since his were getting tighter and tighter by the hour now. Sarah watched the sausage cook, thinking. Perhaps she should expand her number of chickens. Her pig would provide pork as soon as it got large enough, but that didn't help now. With the extra eggs a few more chickens would provide, she could maybe sell some, instead of having just barely enough for her and Toby. While her herbs kept them in some of the basics--dairy products, bread, and so on--it might do her good to expand into vegetables and more herbs. Sarah began thinking--cinnamon was very very rare here, as was bay leaf. Chocolate--her all time favorite--was unheard of. Perhaps it was time to venture into the neighboring realms--and see if she could trade for some of the plants. Sarah turned the sausage carefully--of course, she could also get grapes and plant them--maybe do her own cordials and wines?

Sarah chuckled. My, what grand ideas you have, Sarah she mocked herself silently. She had enough to make ends meet. There wasn't any sense in worrying about what she didn't have.

The smell of cooking sausage filled the whole house with warm sage and red pepper. Sarah drained the sausage and made gravy. At last she had an appreciation for sawmill gravy--it stretched the sausage further. And, warmed up, it made a filling snack drizzled over biscuits. Sarah mentally thanked Jareth again as she remembered how hard it had been keeping good food before his magic and ingenuity had created a modern convenience for her. She heard the familiar slide-thump that was Toby navigating the steps. At first, she had been terribly afraid of him falling down the steps. At some point, he had developed a way of sitting on a step and then sliding to the next, bracing on the rail. Now he could, with the careful precision of the very young, climb up and down the steps on his own.

Toby made his way close to her, yawning and stretching. "Momma, is Daddy still here? He's promised to take me fishing and out to the cows!"

Sarah glanced over at her bed. The black leather boots still stood by the bed and a foot was sticking out from under the coverlet. With a smile, she nodded and put her finger to her lips. "He's still asleep," she whispered. "Let's get breakfast ready." She laughed at Toby's face--he hated bath day. "For him, silly." Toby smiled and went to wash up.

Jareth stirred briefly, sniffing the air. He could smell pepper, sage--sausage. Burying his head in the fluffy pillows, he smelled the cotton and the faint essence of violets and lavender. He heard Toby and Sarah laughing and heard her cracking eggs. Opening his blue eye, he looked around for a moment. This had to be a dream--a warm, clean bed instead of the haphazardly tangled nest of blankets that the goblins deemed "clean". Sarah laughing and fixing breakfast. Toby talking about "Daddy". Oh yeah, it was a dream--a very bad dream like he had had ever since Sarah had left him behind in the Labyrinth. He had often dreamed of waking with Sarah nearby--Toby too. But it was too soon bittersweet as, in his dream, he would see some other male come in to claim Sarah.

Jareth closed his eye again. This had to be another dream. Gritting his teeth, he decided to get the dream over with--and to get up and try to go to Sarah. Usually he ended up mute and rooted to the spot, watching as she danced out of his dream with another and he woke up sweating, panting and shaking with anger and jealousy.

But this dream seemed very real--the sounds of breakfast calling. And he couldn't remember being this sore in a dream before.

"Daddy!" Toby shouted. "Daddy's up!"

Sarah turned and smiled at him. "Hi...."

Jareth looked at her dumbfounded for a moment. "Good morning." As he eased into a chair, Toby climbed up in his lap, hugging him. The last of the cobwebs of dreams left him as he hugged Toby. "Good morning to you, too," he murmured to Toby.

The biscuits were hot and tasty with a thick gravy over them. There were exactly two sausage slices for each person, and two eggs. Then honey, biscuits, butter, and cheese completed breakfast. It was Toby's favorite breakfast--particularly the honey that he seemed to get smeared all over his face.

Jareth sighed, looking at the pile of papers on the corner of the table. So the knocking hadn't been a dream. He really hoped it had. He had hoped for a day that he could devote to Sarah and Toby. Just as he was about to reach for the first one, Sarah scooped up the entire bundle and dumped it in an empty basket, which she took down to the root cellar.

"Sarah," he smiled. "Give those back."

"No," she said sternly, raising an eyebrow. "You can afford to take a bit of a rest. If I feel that you're better this afternoon, then you can have them."

"Since when do you decide what's good for the kingdom?" He gave her a half-hearted attempt at a glare.

"Since you slept in my bed," she said primly. "Besides, it's time Toby and I had a bit of a holiday."

Toby cheered. "Do we get to see the cows? Do we get to go fishing? Do we--"

Sarah raised her hands, throwing a meaningful glance at Jareth. "We'll see, but first, we have to do a few chores--"

"--AWW!" Toby pouted.

"--like gather up the dirty clothes. Then we'll got out and visit the cows."

Toby darted to the steps, and slowly started climbing them. In a few minutes, as Sarah cleaned up the dishes, Toby raced around, dropping the clothes from the loft and watching them flutter down.

Jareth watched, amused. "You let him throw things down?"

"Only dirty clothes," Sarah replied. "It's one of the ways to keep it all fun for him. In time, I'll set out a basket and see if he can hit it from up there--make it into a more challenging game."

Jareth watched as a pair of pajamas floated down. "You know," he said with a deep musical laugh. "My mother never let me throw clothes down from the loft."

Sarah stared at him for a moment. "Your mother? Here? -- I mean, I didn't realize.... ummm....." For a moment, she felt like a gauche teen again.

"It's nice to see the place filled with laughter again," Jareth sighed. "It's been empty for too long."

"I didn't realize it was your mother's place," Sarah said softly. "We'll try not to do too much damage."

"Sarah," he grinned. "This is now your place. Now, let's get out and go visit the cows and so on before Toby bursts. Or someone else comes looking for me."

Toby scooped up the clothes and dumped them in a large basket. "Now, you leave, Mommy," he told Sarah in a serious mien.

"Oh?" Sarah said, her eyebrows raising.

"Yeah," Toby chirped. "Men talk."

"Oh," Sarah grinned. "I see." She looked at Jareth, who smiled benignly and innocently back at her. "Now where would he get the idea of 'men talk'?"

"I have no idea."

"Daddy said 'men talk' means 'no mommy'," Toby explained.

Jareth's eyes flared widely. "Daddy?" he whispered.

Sarah looked at him innocently. "OK, 'Daddy'. I'm going to get some tomato and stuff for sandwiches and you can 'men talk'." She swept out the back door. A tomato, green pepper, and a cucumber later, she peeked in the window. Jareth and Toby were crouched over a hole in the floor with a rock pulled out and to one side. A bag of jacks, some dice, a few handful of things--a young boy's treasure trove--were strewn out until Jareth pulled out a leather pouch. Opening it, he pulled out a shiny fishing hook, a cork and a wooden spool of line. Sarah smiled. Some 'men talk'--apparently even in the Underground, some things never changed.

The walk to the orchard and the cow pasture wasn't nearly as long as it looked. Toby was enchanted with the black and white cattle and even more enchanted at the chestnut colored cows. Sarah knew vaguely enough to know that the black and white ones were milk cows but she didn't know about the red ones, or the solid black ones or the two golden ones. Jareth patiently explained that the solid black ones were for beef--and the two gold ones were for cream and called "Golden Gurnsies". Today, sheep had been turned out as well and grazed patiently with the cattle as Toby went around to pet each one.

Sarah spread out the picnic in the orchard shade. Toby came back, triumphantly riding Jareth's shoulders and crowing about the adventure of seeing "the big bull, Mommy". Then, veering away from the orchard, Jareth led them down a narrow pathway--almost completely overgrown now--to a small, quiet pond. Geese wandered through and took flight as the three approached. Jareth selected a thin bamboo plant and within moments, Toby had an excellent fishing pole with the old cork bobbing in the water. Jareth and Sarah hunted around fallen trees until they found a rich nest of decomposing leaves filled with worms.

Sarah and Toby squealed when the cork bobbed for a second and then dipped under the water. Jareth rushed up and scooped Toby--rod and all--up into a bear hug as they wrestled the fish to dry land. Sarah was sent to fetch one of her heavy sewing needles and some thread to keep the fish on as more "men talk" commenced. By the time the sun set, there were five fish, waiting for the skillet.

Jareth and Sarah walked back together, watching Toby scramble around them. Everything seemed to interest him from the little buttercups growing beside the path to the mushrooms on a rotting log to a tiny purple lizard that darted in front of them. Toby relished repeating the adventures that he had and "men talk" had become his new favorite words. Sarah rolled her eyes and went to get some washing water as they went inside whispering little secrets about what to put in the hiding place under the rock in the floor.

She dipped the wooden bucket into the fountain, staring at the reflection of the sky for a moment. The reflection rippled slightly and Sarah looked up to see a fox sipping from the water. Sarah's mind went numb as the fox casually inspected her with cool green eyes and continued drinking.

"Go away," Sarah whispered, feeling chills run down her spine.

The fox glanced at her again--almost looking amused--and continued drinking.

"Leave now," Jareth commanded from behind her. He conjured a round crystal which shimmered with magic.

The fox sat down with a sigh, watching him with an eerie glint in its eyes.

Jareth strode down off the porch. Coming up to Sarah, he wrapped one hand around her shoulder. With a gentle nudge, he whispered, "Go back into the cabin, Sarah."

Sarah backed away, gripping her bucket with all of her strength. "Be careful, Jareth," she whispered. She carefully stepped onto the porch and into the cabin. Toby whimpered, watching from a window. Sarah pulled him away and further into the house as lights started flashing outside. Sarah built up the fire and fished around her almost empty backpacks. Finally, her fingers twined around it. Sarah jerked up and ran outside, telling Toby to stay inside.

The garden was alight with crackling energy. Jareth crouched with several glowing crystals floating around him, forming a defensive shield. The fox growled and bristled, it's eyes glowing. Sarah walked up behind Jareth then threw as hard as she could.

The tiny red scrolls on their red ribbon fluttered softly in the breeze to land near the fox. The fox, startled, stopped bristling for a moment. A stray breeze twirled the red scrolls and, with a brief dance, they landed at the feet of the fox. The fox backed down, barking once at them.

Jareth stopped for a moment--the floating crystals stalling for a split second in his confusion.

"Kitsune," Sarah called out. "Why have you come?"

The kitsune let out a barking wail.

Jareth cautiously stepped back, wrapping an arm around her. The orbiting spheres stalled again for a brief moment, then began circling both of them. With awe in his voice, "He says that he seeks a healer to help him." He paled for a moment. "He seeks his mate."

Jareth turned to her sharply. "Sarah, I know that you are soft hearted and want to help everyone, but this is a fox spirit and he will try to trick you. They are quite dangerous and if you are trapped in an illusion, you may not see the dangers around you."

Sarah shook for a moment, then she whispered, "Can you conjure rice and red beans? Boiled together?" At Jareth's nod, she said, "Conjure a big bowl and give it to me."

Sarah took the big bowl. While the steaming rice did nothing for her, the red beans smelled good. "Kitsune, I will leave this bowl in good faith for you. Tomorrow evening, I will tell you your answer. In return, leave us tonight in peace and--" Sarah glanced at Jareth. "--do NOT harass me or any of mine."

The fox looked at her for a moment, cocking its head thoughtfully. With a bark and a swish of its tail, he pranced around a bit. Sarah set the bowl down and backed up to Jareth. Jareth expanded the shield again as she approached. Then they both carefully backed away into the cabin.

Jareth slumped against the door as it closed. Sarah's hands shook as she drew the shutters and locked them.

Toby wandered in, tangled in more red ribbon. "Momma, what's wrong?"

Sarah held open her arms. "Nothing, honey." Toby barreled into her bear hug, slamming her against Jareth who fell down on top of them. Toby squealed and suddenly everyone was on the floor, tangled in a pile of arms and legs and laughter.

Jareth and Sarah cooked a tasty dinner of fresh fish and salad. Apparently an expert with the knife he had given to her, he cleaned the fish and picked out the bones. Sarah watched in amazement as he heated the skillet and melted some butter in it. He collected the juice of several conjured lemons, he then spiced the fish with more butter, a handful of chopped fresh parsley, a bit of garlic and a bit of (also conjured) white wine. Even Toby's mouth was watering by the time that Jareth set down the platter of fish and Sarah slid a bowl of salad on the table.

Jareth and Sarah both smiled and chatted easily in order to keep Toby from being upset. In time though, they relaxed and chatted merrily about the fishing trip, savoring the last of the conjured wine with the last of the fish. Toby, not at all fooled by the happy faces around him, started to pick up his fish and throw it down, making faces. Jareth then stuck a forkful into his mouth. Toby's eyes went wide for a moment, then he slowly chewed and swallowed. Suddenly, he began slurping up his portion of fish with relish.

Jareth conjured a crystal and ran a hot bath for Toby, who sleepily submitted to being bathed. Sarah wearily washed the dishes, hearing them play in the water with loud splashes and giggles. Ignoring the crystal that in the air towards the front door, she pulled out the laundry basket, hoping for a clean towel.

"Y--yes, yermajesterswhatcanIdoforyou," a poor little goblin mumbled, bowing.

Jareth wrapped Toby in a towel that Sarah had never seen before and picked him up. "I'm sending you to the castle. When you get there, find the two chests in the blue and red bedroom. Put this crystal on the one on the left."

"Y-ye--y-y-yes, yermajesters," the goblin squeaked. "I puts the red chest in the crystal.... no, wait, that's not right. I take the right chest and put it on the blue crystal... no the left. ....no, I puts the crystal in...no....which bedroom?...."

Sarah grinned sardonically, almost swearing that she could hear his eyes rolling in his head. Studiously, she collected the skillet and serving platters to clean up.

Jareth counted to 10 three times--in goblin, in common, and in Elvish. Then again in drawvish. "Ledo, how about this?" He tossed the goblin another crystal. "Go to the red and blue bedroom."

Ledo looked at the crystals. "The red and blue bedroom."

"And put one crystal on both the chests you find in there."

"Put a crystal in both the chests."

"Yes, one crystal in each chest," Jareth held on to a squealing, wriggling Toby.

"Which one?"

"Which one what?" Jareth looked momentarily perplexed.

"Which crystal goes in which chest?"

Jareth counted to 15 in draconic. He gestured to the one in the goblin's right paw. "Put that one in the unpainted chest." He then gestured to the other paw. "That one in the painted chest."

"The one with the red dragon on it?"

"Yes! That's the one!"

"Well," Ledo sniffed. "Why didn't you say so?"

Jareth waved a hand, causing the goblin to vanish in a puff of glitter. Sarah giggled. Then she couldn't help it--she burst out laughing.

"Do you see that, Toby?" he asked seriously. "Here I am trying to be generous and do her a favor and she laughs at me. What am I to do with her?" Toby giggled, watching in awe as Sarah turned red, flopped down in a chair, and began to cry.

"Is Momma okay?" he whispered.

Jareth looked at her for a moment. Sarah was gasping for breath, then after a look in his face, she began chuckling again. Holding her aching belly, she guffawed and chortled, tears running down her face.

"I think she's being silly," Jareth said seriously, his lips curling. "Don't you?"

"Why -- wh---why didn't you SAY so?" Sarah repeated, gasping for air.

Jareth rolled his eyes and then walked over to the two chests--sure enough, one with a dragon painted on it--and flipped it open. Sarah mopped her eyes briefly, smiling hard, as Jareth began rooting through the chest.

"Here you go, champ," he said, pulling out a small shirt and set of breeches. "Try these on."

Toby clapped and, with a little help, tried on the new clothes. They fit him well--and were perhaps a little big. But when he fingered the folds of fabric and then looked up at Jareth, his face broke into a wide smile.

"Momma!" he shrieked. "We're alike! Daddy and me!"

Sure enough, Toby and Jareth looked very similar. Toby's hair was drying into its usual nest of curls and his blue eyes sparkled back at her. They both had on a cream colored shirt with wide sleeves gathering into cuffs and soft breeches. Toby's breeches looked a bit worn at the knees, but otherwise they could be father and son.

Toby hopped around, twirling and dancing, dodging the attempts of Sarah and Jareth to catch him. Finally, Sarah tackled him, and Jareth tackled her. Putting the little kiddo to bed, Jareth moved the dragon chest up to Toby's bedroom, where it settled into a corner with a sigh. Sarah frowned at that as she tucked Toby in, then went back downstairs.

"Jareth, I would swear that chest sighed," she said.

"It probably did," Jareth said, not glancing away from the chunk of wood and the knife in his hands. He stretched out by the fireplace and began whittling. "I loved that chest when I was growing up." He looked at the hunk of wood speculatively and said, "You should find several changes of wool breeches, a couple of heavy shirts, and so on, for the winter."

Sarah smiled at him. "Thank you--that's really sweet of you. I'll try to take care of them."

Jareth smiled softly, sliding the knife down the piece of wood. "They should wear well, but if you should happen to find any with the knees out of them or any big holes, then don't tell anyone."

"Why not?"

Jareth smiled that cat like smile that made Sarah's cheeks flush. "I'll give you your answer in return for something."

Sarah rolled her eyes at him. "OK, what?"

"Empty out the tub and take a hot bath." He held out his hand at her protest. "I'll turn my back and take care of the little goblin if he wakes up."

"Promise?"

"I promise."

Sarah and Jareth emptied the tub and Jareth's crystal refilled it with warm water. Jareth shoved the chair around so that it's back was to the fireplace. Only out of the corner of his eye could he see the very rim of the tub. Sarah stripped down behind him and he heard the splash as she stepped in with a relieved sigh.

Sliding into the warm water in front of the fireplace, Sarah felt her muscles unknot. This was wonderful. A nice meal with her family, a quiet evening, a roaring fireplace.... She giggled, all it needed was bubble bath. Suddenly foamy piles of bubble bath formed around her, smelling softly of peaches and vanilla cream. Sarah sank down as far as she could, relishing the warmth.

Jareth felt his hands shake a little and his jaw clench. This was a torture he had never dreamed of--being this close and this far away from Sarah. He watched, almost detached, as his fingers glided the knife around a curve that was slowly taking shape. He cleared his throat noisily, trying to drown out the little mewl of pleasure from Sarah enjoying her bath. "So, how did you have a charm against the fox?"

Sarah smiled sleepily, with her eyes closed. "Mmmm?"

"Where did you get that charm against the fox? And know about the rice and beans?" Jareth repeated.

Sarah played with a pile of foam lazily, almost starting to frown, but then feeling too relaxed to actually frown. "My stepmother."

Jareth raised an eyebrow. "Your stepmother taught you?"

She looked up at him, pain in her eyes. "No, my stepmother was a fox."

"WHAT?!" Jareth gasped, gripping the wood tightly. "You've lived with a fox?"

Sarah nodded. "She possessed my stepmother. Mr. Sing gave me the charms and herbs to help protect Toby and me. He seemed to think that she'd harm me...."

"And you got a female?" Jareth moaned.

"Ummm...... Jareth, what's going on?" She frowned for real, opening her eyes. "What do you mean 'I got a female'?"

He sighed, shaping the other side of the wood and studying the duck shape it was taking. "Sarah, when something is taken from this world--it's hard to explain--but it changes. It becomes a tangled, twisted version of itself. If this fox--your stepmother--is the one from my Labyrinth, it will may have become completely demented."

"But I didn't," Sarah protested weakly.

Jareth turned to look at her. "You changed a lot in the Labyrinth--you grew up. In your case, the changes were--" He sent a comical leer her direction. "--completely complimentary."

Sarah smiled at him, sinking back into the bubbles in a flush.

"But," he said, shifting the topic back with a frown. "The fox spirits are another issue altogether. The pack won't leave without all of its living members. If one of them did escape from here when I sent you back, then I have done you a grievous harm."

"Well, Karen was like that before I went--err.... came?....whatever. When I was here the first time." She leaned her head back against the back of the tub. "No one would believe me when I tried to tell them what was going on."

Jareth carved in silence then. "I believe you. The kitsune, hurt and separated from her pack, might have be driven to nest wherever she could. So, she had to drive out the rivals--such as .... oh, I don't know.... you? In that case, she would very cleverly have you leave or have you forced out in such as way that you couldn't return." He thought for a moment. "But that explains a lot."

Sarah arched an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"My labyrinth is built on illusions and pranks and riddles. The fox spirits usually thrive on such things, but they cannot stay in one place for long or else it becomes too familiar. They are creatures of chaos and have to move on. So they travel through the Realms, leaving behind only traces of their riddles and wit. If a fox is gone and the pack cannot move on, they have to nest--it's their instinct to defend themselves and their young--so they ended up weaving illusions and traps."

"Which you've been trying to unravel without undoing the Labyrinth."

Jareth snorted, and began working on one carved eye. "I've been trying, but it hasn't been easy. To be honest, the fox spirits keep to themselves so much that I didn't even know the pack was here."

"So the answer is simple," Sarah sighed with a yawn.

"Oh?" Jareth studied his carved duck. "And what would that be?"

"Hold on while I get dressed."

Sarah dressed and emptied out the tub--her muscles feeling like rubber. The fox had nestled down by the back wall, watching her but not moving. Sarah nodded briefly to it, and, as an afterthought, picked up the little red charm. Tying it to the chicken corral, she bowed deeply to the fox and wished it a good night.

Jareth set the duck in a bowl of water, pleased when it floated merrily. Sarah smiled at him. "That's wonderful. Toby's missed his duck at bath time."

"So he said," Jareth said, stroking the back of the duck as it bobbed back and forth in the bowl. With a dramatic sigh, he said, "I could have been a wonderful woodcarver."

Sarah arched an eyebrow. "What about being King?"

Jareth plopped down on the bed and took off his boots. "Who would want to be King over a bunch of snot-nosed, silly, mindless, brainless goblins?" He smiled wistfully. "But I could have been a woodcarver. Carved ducks and dolls and all kinds of things."

Sarah plopped down beside him. "Why didn't you? Become a carpenter or woodworker or whatever you wanted to?"

Jareth stretched and chucked his boot to the floor. "Because I was afraid." He felt Sarah's eyes on him. "I didn't want to disappoint my father because he would tip people into the Bog who disappointed him." He looked around. "My mother was a carpenter's daughter--I've got my grandfather's tools somewhere--and she was engaged to a fat pig of a carpenter. My father and mother were in love since forever and he--" Jareth blushed here. "--he installed my mother here as his mistress. He was engaged to a skinny wraith of a princess who was barren, and he didn't feel he could marry a commoner without risking war from her kingdom. I was born 10 months later. The carpenter was outraged. He began attacking Mother and Father whenever he saw them. Father finally tipped him in the bog--so that Mother could smell him coming." Jareth smiled cruelly. "I wish he had killed the bastard."

Sarah wrapped her arms around Jareth, squeezing his waist.

Jareth didn't seem to notice. "Father came for me when I was five years old, to take me away and make me a prince. His little wife had died in childbirth--killing the child--so I was it. I was taken to the Castle and started the endless monotony of the state dinners, lessons, politics, Counsel Meetings, and so on. I could escape a few times a month to spend the day here--if Father knew it, he never mentioned it--but I couldn't stay because Father would come up and demand that I come with him. Then punish me because I was late." Jareth's hands balled into fists. "When I was eight, the carpenter shot my mother as she gardened, pregnant with my Father's child---my little sister. It was the first person who I tipped in to the Bog, then I tipped him nine more times and he drowned the tenth time. I couldn't believe that my mother was dead. So I was raised at the palace." He looked up at the ceiling. "Toby would be taken in a few months, but I don't want that for him.

"I want him to be happy and play and be a little boy still. I want to play with him and go fishing and look for toads and find another way to make a good King....." He looked over at Sarah, with something like anguish in his eyes. "Sarah, I'm counting on you to fight for Toby against whoever tells you that Toby should be taken from you--even me."

"I won't let you take Toby at five. We're going to find another way."

Jareth sighed and stretched out on the bed. Sarah doused the lights and curled up next to him. He gasped in surprise. She giggled. "You think I'm going to let you have the bed all to yourself?" She got a firm hold on all of the blankets then flipped over on to her side, dragging them all on top of her. "And I like LOTS of blankets."

Jareth grinned and pulled on a corner, rolling Sarah back over to face him. "So do I," he grinned, kissing her on the nose and yanking the blankets over himself.

Sarah retaliated with a pillow, smacking him upside the head. Jareth sprang up with a wicked grin and picked up his pillow, swinging it at her. Suddenly the game was on, flinging pillows and tugging on blankets. They couldn't stop laughing and finally nestled together in the bed, sharing the blankets and one pillow. Jareth nipped at Sarah's ear, sending shivers down her spine as she wriggled further down into the bed. Jareth sighed in pleasure, feeling like he was finally coming home.

Then the fox barked outside.

A hush fell over the room. They lay still, listening to the replying barks and a howl.

"They've found some food and are sharing it with the fox in the garden. He's telling them it's okay," Jareth translated.

"I'm going to have to figure out how you know that," she yawned.

"I'll teach you if you tell me what your plan is."

"Well," Sarah said. "We must defeat the fox, right?"

"Right."

"Chances are, my father will defend her unless we can get her alone, right?"

"Mmmm.... probably, since he didn't defend you when you got thrown out."

"And you're probably more powerful here, right?"

"Right."

"So, I will wish her here."

Sarah's plan didn't include much beyond that--just bring Karen here and fight her or whatever needed to be done. Jareth reluctantly agreed--only a mortal could wish appropriately and no other mortals were around--but only reluctantly. He translated the idea to the fox, who agreed, so long as the pack was there. Then with some reluctance, they both sent Toby to stay with Zip and Zap overnight.

"Why does he want the pack?" Sarah asked, confused.

"I don't know," Jareth reluctantly admitted. "But they say that they'll take care of it."

"Ummm... okay," Sarah said, watching as one of the bolder fox approached a timid Toby and sniffed his hand.

"Sarah--be careful how you word your wish," Jareth said. "Your wish needs to be exact and detailed. But if you tie my hands, I can't protect you."

"Just--just take care of Toby," she choked out.

"I will."

Sarah whistled softly and the foxes gathered around her in a circle. Sarah had set up four of the little charms--one on each side of the garden so that the fox couldn't get out. She took a deep breath and said, "I wish the Goblin King would bring my stepmother--the Kitsune--here to the middle of this circle of foxes." Jareth's eyes gleamed and he smiled at her with a slight bow. "Right NOW!"

With a poof of magic, Jareth vanished.

The fox in the circle sat impassively, waiting as a slight breeze ruffled their fur, watching Sarah. Sarah shifted on her feet, nibbling her bottom lip as she waited.

With a puff of magic, Jareth reappeared with the wrestling form of her stepmother. Her stepmother's hair flew in wild disarray and the lovely rose colored blouse she wore was missing two buttons. Her stockings--expensive, pale silk--had runs and her skirt had a rip and she was missing a high heeled shoe. She saw the foxes stand around her and suddenly stilled.

Sarah saw Jareth disappear and reappear behind her. The largest fox barked.

Jareth snorted in reply, then shrugged. Sarah frowned in confusion. He smiled sadly, and whispered, "They know that the wisher has the option of running my Labyrinth in order to get that person back. Do you want to do that?"

Sarah frowned and grimaced, shaking her head.

Before Jareth could reply, the largest fox seemed to smile and turned to close the circle around Karen again. The fox began a harmony of growls and barks, circling her.

"No! No! Please, it's not like that!" Karen whispered, falling to her knees.

The growling continued and a howl sounded occasionally.

"You don't understand!" Suddenly Karen's perfect face split into a wide, bright, scared smile. A showing of teeth, Sarah thought, shivering in Jareth's embrace. "We could rule the humans! It's easy!"

The dance around her stopped as the largest one stared at her. With a few short growls and barks, Karen's face fell.

"No... not that! Anything but that!" She dropped to her hands and knees before the leader. "Anything but that."

The leader howled and the whole pack pounced on her. Sarah shuddered and closed her eyes, hearing Karen's scream fade into yelps and barks of pain. Turning away from the scene, she made it to the front porch, heaving and nauseous. Jareth came up behind her, holding her as she shuddered and heaved in short pants.

The pack sent up a last howl and Sarah looked around. One fox faced her directly--the leader--the rest formed a semicircle behind him.

In a vaguely familiar accent, he sighed and said, "I'm sorry that our vixen has caused so much trouble. She was sick--an illness sprung from fever--and escaped into your world. If you could have known her before--she was a good hunter and raised three healthy litters." The fox sighed softly. "Because she was not traveling with the pack, the jump to your world twisted her sickness even further, driving her mad. We regret that she took everything from you, and thank you for your help."

Jareth conjured another bowl of rice and beans and set it down in the garden path.

The fox glanced at it with a smile. Wolfing up a few bites, he continued talking softly. "She was magnificent before she fell to darkness."

Sarah found her voice finally. "Yet, it wasn't without blessings--I have found my home here because of her."

"You are finally starting to understand," he chuckled. At Sarah's amazed eyes, he shifted form and became the wizened form of Mr. Sing. "I told you fox were masters of illusion!"

A small fox cub tumbled out of the ether and became Mr. Sing's great-grandson.

"Now, I must return to my pack and we must move on." Mr. Sing said. He glanced at Jareth as the baby pulled his hair. "Your kingdom is safe and you will not be troubled further. Sarah, if you would remove the wards."

Sarah gathered up the scrolls and the pack began vanishing. Mr. Sing smiled. "You have both have found your destiny. Farewell, Jareth, King of the Goblins. Farewell Sarah, Queen of the Goblins. And give my regards to Toby, the Crown Prince of the Realm." He bowed.

"Wait!" Sarah gasped out. "He hasn't even asked me....."

"Just wait until you see the ring in his pocket!" Mr. Sing winked.

Jareth growled in his throat, turning pink.

Mr. Sing laughed. "You can't hide secrets from a fox!" The little baby in his arms shifted to fox form and began sniffing around, wriggling.

"I don't want to lose you or your help," Sarah said sadly. "Is there no way to co-exist?"

Mr. Sing smiled up at her. "You do my pack too much honor!" Then more soberly, he said, "You can always return to my shop to visit us. My cubs miss you." As he vanished, she heard the last whispers, "Look for our wedding gifts in the spring."

Jareth proposed that night, over a bottle of peach brandy, with a large star sapphire ring that slid on to Sarah's finger perfectly. That winter they opened up the palace and every goblin saw them married. Hoggle, Ludo, Toby and Ambrosious stood with Sarah, watching in awe as she stood there in her fur trimmed, white satin gown. Sir Didymous, being a Knight, presided over the ceremony, as three fox cubs played with the long tasseled bookmark hanging from the Book of Marriages in front of him. With a flourish, Sarah and Jareth signed their names in the book.

That spring, the Labyrinth bloomed as it never had before. Sarah hadn't begun to show--but she and Jareth just knew. Blossoms and flowers scattered all over the Labyrinth--a fact Hoggle cursed since the fairies seemed to have multiplied. But there was every sign that the crops would be plentiful. The Labyrinth had healed itself beneath the snows--becoming more wonderful and warm place with a few more quirks--and mysteriously one oubliette that seemed to vanish on a whim.

Jareth and Sarah stood toe to toe in the creepy oubliette with a single candle and pillows piled up to their knees. Without the cobwebs, the sparkles on the wall glowed softly as the candle was blown out.

Sarah giggled as she was gently lowered to the pillows. "So here I have you all alone in this little place of forgetting..... What am I to do?"

Jareth chuckled dryly. "Love me, fear me, do as I say and I will be your slave."

"I do love you," she sighed. "And little Maggie does too." "Maggie" was "Margaret Suzanna Ambrosious". Margaret after Jareth's mother. Suzanna after Sarah's mother. Ambrosious because Toby pouted about it and called her Al anyway.

Jareth stroked her stomach gently. Amazing what a single season could bring. The herb gardens, which is where Sarah could typically be found, blossomed and bloomed, running wild with herbs and vegetables. The foxes' gift appeared that spring as well--outside the garden two cinnamon trees sprang up as well as a vanilla bean bush--flavors Sarah had a craving for now and then. In addition, Sarah had found three magnificently carved mahogany apothecary chests--filled with the herbs and bones and powders she used during healings, as well as copies of the charts that Sarah had referred to. Jareth had even begun granting wishes again.

"I love you too," Jareth whispered.

fin