Author's Note: This is the final chapter. Thank you all so much for all your interest and encouragement. It could never have happened without the reviewers and their support. I hope it was enjoyable and I hope this ends as well as I would like to think it did.
Author's Note2: I've never had to apologize for a shorter chapter, but I have to point out that this chapter is shorter than the previous one. That said, it's still long enough. Enjoy.
Toby woke up in his own bed, still clad in the shirt he had forgotten to take off when he stumbled back to his room. They had agreed on that; no point beginning this new phase with scandal and stories about secretly sleeping together. The goblins couldn't help but gossip. It was in their blood.
Dawn was just breaking and Toby elected to continue with the schedule he had been falling in and out of since he had begun this peculiar year. He got up, got dressed and took up his sword. It had been mended from its fall down the stairwell, but Toby got the feeling the weapon was still upset about that. He had attempted to explain, naturally, but the metal was… well, unbending. It still refused to balance properly in his hand. But he made his way out. No one else was out in the training pen apart from a few sleepy-eyed goblins that greeted him and trudged along their way. The sounds of the rooster crowing and the world coming to consciousness hummed quietly just below the surface, carried faintly on the cool breeze.
Toby slung his old brown jacket over the fence and drew the sword. For a long while his eyes and ears and thoughts were focused upon the shining blade, letting nothing and no one come between that intense concentration. Now, more than ever, he needed to perfect his skills. He would be adopted by one of the most powerful families in the Underground. Even discounting Jareth, the family had always been at the forefront of Underground politics. Hence the title. Jareth had a title too, though no one ever used it. Only on formal occasions would he be announced as both King of the Underground and titled Lord.
Toby found it all singularly depressing.
He never had aspired to being someone important. Perhaps someone useful, but not important. Being seen was not his delight. He liked the discreet organization of little details that no one ever saw, drawing pleasure from knowing that everyone just assumed these things existed. It gave him a laugh. That sense of humour had got him into a lot of trouble before.
"You look grim. Is something wrong?"
Toby looked up with a start and then looked down. Braan. The mountain sprite was looking up at him, crossbow and bolts hung around his sturdy person. Braan seemed to read the scepticism because he smiled and shrugged, "I cannot have my skills shown up by a lady of leisure. I would be redundant."
"I am sure King Gildred relies on you for more than your weaponry," Toby answered as a matter of course. And then his sense of humour kicked in, "That being said, I would certainly practise to reach the Lady's high standard."
Braan did him the honour of laughing heartily at the joke. And not the controlled titter of practised politicians, who polished their manners in the mirror every morning, but the genuine laugh of someone enjoying a good jest. "I shall endeavour to match her," he chuckled, nodding and making for the targets set at the other end of the yard.
Toby watched him go and shook his head. Any who said the other races were excluded from popular positions were clearly blind. Yes, people wanted to like pretty people, and yes, dwarves and sprites and goblins were not the prettiest of races, but they had their jobs, their place in society. Fire sprites rarely attended the Council because they could not be bothered. They existed merely to have fun. They didn't even procreate as the other races, seemingly growing from another's discarded limb with no real reason why. The fieries. They still spoke of Sarah in vague remembrance as the girl who cheated by throwing someone else's head.
Hoggle still talked of Sarah too. But not very often. They didn't meet very often. Hoggle was busy with the Labryinth gates. It took him a year to make sure every brick in the wall was in order, and when the year was up, he began from the very beginning. A coward, was Hoggle, but one who feared what he feared enough to do a better job than anyone else. Hoggle had already returned to his post, refusing to stay more than was necessary in Jareth's close presence. They hated the other, since far before Sarah. But Sarah had made things worse, since Hoggle hated how Jareth had treated her and Jareth hated that Sarah had made a place in her life for a dwarf and rejected him.
Toby didn't much care either way. Sarah was dead. Any duty to her that he might have had was relieved the moment she swallowed those pills. He barely remembered her. At one time he had clung to this last bit of his family history, but no more. Not when her shadow loomed so ominously over the rest of his life.
He went to the stables and put down his sword, holding out his hand to stroke Serenity. She was pacing in her box and whinnied to greet him, tossing her head and blooming dark charcoal in the shelter of her stall.
"What should I tell him, Serenity?" Toby whispered, "The truth? He does not want to hear it."
She nosed at his pockets, unconcerned for his trouble but wanting some treat.
"What do I tell him, in any case?" he continued, "I really do not love him. We argue and we fight and there are times we barely tolerate the other. I despise some of his ways and I know some of mine are maddening to him. Yet… it is none of it really serious. We always seem to make do, somehow."
She snuffled harder at his coat when the treat was not forthcoming.
"You really are not listening, are you?" he accused, "Silly mare. Never mind. It is none of your concern. Beran is taking you back to his estate for a few months, hmmm? That should settle you."
Serenity snorted once and left him alone, bored completely with his attitude. She pretended not to notice him, pacing in her stall as she wavered between sulking and making do with the hay provided. Toby just smiled and watched her, taking in the grace of her long limbs and her sleek elegance. The grey wings were furled tight to her body, slightly damp from the morning dew that rested in her mane and tail.
He left her there, making his way back to his room. Gibil had already drawn him a bath in the bathroom down the hall and he fumbled only long enough to select what to wear. Considering the occasion, he should by rights wear something suitable. But he didn't want to make a fuss. The Lady would, he just knew it. It made him smile but she was so excited. He got his shaving things out and decided to just wear shades of russet and black. Sombre but different, as befitted the occasion.
Breakfast was noisy considering the peace of his morning so far.
"Toby! How did you sleep, dear?" Pandora gave him a big smile and offered him a kiss.
He accepted and sat down, resigned to being the centre of attention. "I slept very well, My Lady," he said.
She leaned forward and took his hand, holding it in both of her weathered ones, her smile lovely as she looked earnestly at him. "This is what you want?"
He didn't need to think about that. Not once. He already had in the two days before. He wanted to remain a part of the Lady's life, to be to her what he had always been. If there were certain other conditions entailed to it, then so be it. He would adjust. "I am honoured to be asked," he murmured, "And I can think of nothing better."
"Well, said," Gildred commented, putting down his spoon, "Your educator has taught you well."
"Jareth?" Three out of the eight people burst into peals of laughter. Elban spoke first, wiping his eyes, "Jareth? Manners?" He set himself off again.
Toby bit his lip to hide the grin that threatened to break out, "The Lady has always been my first teacher," he insisted, his eyes dancing, "And the best."
"I am wounded by that, I really am," sounded sosoftly in his ear he jumped.
Jareth entered less than a second later, grinning like the devil himself and blandly evading the queries as to what the private joke he and Toby seemed to be sharing. He sat down, looked askance at the food on the table and gratefully sipped at his viraag.
Elban and Beran shared a discreet glance of knowing, both having noticed the unconscious give and take this time. Jareth entered and sat down beside his sister, but he nodded at Toby even if it was with a mocking nonchalance. Toby wordlessly poured another glass of viraag and passed it to him and Jareth took it without question and drank, in his turn passing on the sugar for the porridge the minute the mortal began serving himself.
"Sandalwood," Elban said suddenly, getting it.
The table stopped and stared at him in surprise.
"I, er, thought I smelt sandalwood," he excused.
Jareth raised an eyebrow. "I doubt it. There is no sandalwood in the room. The smell interferes with the food. Mrs. Bonn would quit her job if I dared."
Toby chuckled and nodded. "She might make an exception," he murmured, "If I took the blame and announced your innocence."
"Your unselfish attitude gives me great heart," Jareth mocked, "Eat, brat. You need your strength to sign that document. I just extended it by another five pages."
Elban groaned, Toby sighed and the rest of the table laughed.
"I should charge you," Elban threatened, "I should! I have read that thing so many times my eyes blur the moment I think of adoptions."
"I suggest you break the habit," Jervohl teased, "You might have to sign one of those yourself fairly soon."
The forest sprite spluttered, choked and went bright red. "I b-beg your pardon?"
"Surely you and Beran want children some day?" Pandora asked, "I know you have your business to run but neither of you are getting much younger. Starting a family soon would be best for the both of you."
Jareth grimaced to himself and shook his head.
"As should my son," Pandora said louder, catching that distaste from the corner of her eye, "Jareth and I have a pending discussion on his state of unattachment."
Gildred looked delighted. "Surely a broken heart can mend with the right person," he suggested gravely, "What you need is a wonderful female to make your life a joy and a privilege. Someone who can give you children and be there when your world is dark."
Jareth looked nauseous and he carefully put down his glass and leaned away from it. "Thank you," he grunted, "I think I shall pass."
"Sarah was a long time ago, Jareth," Pandora broke in, this time wholly serious, "And we all know she meant a lot to you." She hesitated to say more with Gildred and his two generals there. "Be that as it may, your life should go on. Whoever it is, I want you to be happy."
"You," Jareth said tellingly, "Only want grandchildren! And you are not getting them from me."
Jervohl crowed with mirth. "But Jareth! You would make such a devoted father."
Toby bit his lip harder but this time the laughter slipped out in any case. Jareth glared at him. "The only time I saw you with a child, was when one had been wished away. I swear to you, Jervohl, no one could have been gentler or more considerate. I barely recognized him!"
"I shall remember that," Jareth threatened, "And I will have my revenge."
Toby smiled at him and shook his head. "I shall look forward to that." And he meant it. It was, after all, the only way they could look forward to interacting. Those peculiar soft moments that still seemed so surreal would never happen again because the family were sensual but not with each other. They snapped at each other, and they harassed each other and they insulted each other, but they meant it in love. Toby didn't quite have the hang of it, but he would learn. He was confident of that.
Jareth seemed to understand because he nodded once and let his gaze linger longer than usual on the pleasant face with its plain features and its honesty. The night had been harder for him. He was letting go of his Sarah, for once and for all. It had hurt, and he had spent his restless energy flying in the Aboveground, sitting on the tree outside of Sarah's old bedroom and thinking of both the brother and the sister.
It was all so annoying because the rumours were that he had bedded both. He hadn't. Seduction was all very well but he didn't seduce minors. But he had seduced the brother. And Toby had responded so well Jareth could only feel a little guilty for the first time that he had completely turned that perfectly ordered, quiet life into one of confusion and chaos. He had meant well mostly, but Toby could have lived just as well in his oblivion. There would have been nothing wrong with that.
But it had been such a crime! The brother of someone so sparkling, so alive- staidly occupied with schedules and boring common sense. Sarah would have dreamed half her life away if she had come down to the Underground. She would have been an elf, with that stubborn ruthlessness and her blatant disregard for any rules but her own. And then Toby had stood there and been like anyone else and Jareth had made his mind up. Well, he had succeeded. A little too well if the last night was any indication.
Jareth was still just a little sore.
Elban coughed behind his hand and those mismatched eyes snapped out of the hold of those blue ones and blinked rapidly in dawning reality. "We should finish the signing," Elban proposed, "We leave tomorrow morning."
Toby nodded and rose too, wiping crumbs away and steeling himself to go through with it. He wanted it even less, he had to admit. But for Pandora and for the lack of options, he could do it.
Jareth got up and led them out, taking them up to his study. He met a few goblins on the way that he stopped and snapped out orders to. The closer they approached, the more sober his manner became. By the time he reached the study door, he wore a mildly forbidding expression and didn't stop to exchange niceties with either Elban or Toby. "Here are the documents. I made no changes in what we already had, but I added a few more clauses and a few conditions. Toby, to summarize, one of the conditions is that you will accept the duty of running my mother's estate and you will have full responsibility for that. I will not interfere. But if the estate falls in ruin, no one else but you will be blamed."
"Next. You will take the Lady's place in politics when she eventually dies. Until then, you are her spokesperson unless she is too ill to be concerned with such matters. Do you accept?"
"Jareth?" Elban looked up and waved the pages at him. "They seem in order. You seem to have said nothing new."
"Just loopholes," Jareth agreed, "For those that might fight this and for Toby. The adoption is completely tightened, Toby For the last time, are you certain?"
Toby wasn't. He wasn't certain in the least. But what else could he do? How else could he respond but to say yes? There was no other way; either way he gave something up. If he agreed to this document, he gave up any hope of the slightest maybe with Jareth. If he said no, he gave up the only family he had left. What was he to say? "Yes. Absolutely certain."
Jareth nodded and whirled around in a flurry of movement, grabbing up the pen and scribbling his signature onto the end of every page. It showed that he had read every page and approved everything upon it. At the last, he looked up, caught the determined gleam in blue eyes and bent his head again. He completed the sentence easily enough, and signed it. Elban took the pen from him, reading over Jareth's elegant script before witnessing it.
They both looked at Toby.
The mortal came forward and held out his hand wordlessly for the pen. Elban handed it to him with a timid smile. The tension in the room was beginning to feel claustrophobic. And then Jareth broke it- "Could you excuse us, Elban?" He didn't give a reason.
The forest sprite thankfully made a dash for it, ears straining to catch any sound of dissent that Toby might make. But Toby made none and finally he was on the other side of the door and glad for that enviable position.
Inside the room, the slam of the closing door had broken whatever remained of the spell that froze the two males left inside.
"Are you sure this is what you want?" Jareth held the papers out, newly signed and witnessed.
"Yeah." Toby wouldn't say it, of course, he wouldn't.
"You will have to swear allegiance to me as a citizen of the Underground."
Toby sighed and ran a hand through his growing blond hair. "Jareth, haven't I proved my allegiance yet? I've sworn to protect you with life and limb for as long as I live. What more can I do?"
But Jareth was staring keenly at him, concern overflowing in his eyes, half-sitting back on the edge of the desk with his long legs stretched out to balance him. The papers still in his hand, clearly forgotten.
"The papers," Toby evaded quietly, trying to stop that look. What else was he to do? The Goblin King had not spoken to him of more and the photograph of Sarah continued to stand on his desk, just behind him where Toby could see it.
Jareth raised an eyebrow and stood up. He lifted the papers in question, read them over and then looked from his signature to Toby. "Do you really want to be my adopted brother?" he asked seriously.
Toby didn't bat an eyelid. Jareth was looking at him with so much worry for him in those eyes. Had he ever looked at Sarah like that? Probably. Probably when she wasn't looking. "No," he allowed, "But what else is there for me?"
The concern melted into a look of the frighteningly hopeful sort. Jareth was actually looking at him as if he was uncertain about something but was taking a risk. "There are ways to get your citizenship," he informed him, "Your status as my former ward alone will grant you one. You do not need a family."
"You do not seem to understand me, Sire." Toby took a step closer and tried to explain his situation. "I feel a part of your family. What other option is there for me?"
A slow smile. Not a smirk, but a smile- trailing slowly over the corners of that kissable mouth until it reached up and touched the relief in dual-coloured eyes. "There is another way for that too," Jareth replied.
Toby smiled back but then stopped, his eyes dropping over Jareth's shoulder. He brushed past and moved to the desk, picking up the photograph. "Jareth, I am not going to fight against ghosts and lovers of the past. Sarah was my sister. I would be a fool if I could not see the attraction in that."
"Then you are certainly a fool," Jareth growled, exasperated beyond measure, "Why in this world or the next would I want you to replace Sarah? Her position is irreplaceable."
"Exactly my point. And long ago, she was the one you chose to spend your life with. What will I be? I do not settle for second best."
"Neither do I," Jareth admitted frankly, "And what damned fool told you that you were second best? If it's Luka, I will have him hunted down and thrown straight into the Bog of Eternal Stench and then into an oubliette. Sarah is the only woman I would have chosen to spend my days with. Unfortunately, she decided not to spend any day at all with me and she died. You, however, are a man; you do not mind spending an entire day with me- and a night if I asked it- and you are certainly not dead. The Williams', it seems, are my archilles' heel."
"Which is to say?"
"I cannot guarantee any length of time, but I would like you to… stay longer? Yes."
"I am mortal."
"Not once you have signed another set of citizenship papers that will only take me ten minutes to write. A year from this day, you will have to take a journey through the Labyrinth, earn your powerstone and you choose what magical form you desire to take. After a course of study on the characteristics and lives of each type, of course … under my guidance."
"Of course," Toby said dryly," I suppose it would make no difference to tell you that I want to be a goblin?"
"Not at all," Jareth answered sweetly, smiling a smile that would have suited the purposes of a saint, "Goblins have their advantages. They are gratifyingly quick to take orders." He leaned forward with a conspirational wink. "And they have tremendous stamina."
Toby stifled a laugh. "What about an elf?"
"They love the outdoors," Jareth breezed, "And throwing off the shackles of hypocritically civilized life in favour of free emotions and unbridled passion. You will grow shorter, of course, and I will be much stronger than you."
"The better to hold me down, is that it?"
Toby thought a little more. "What about a centaur?"
If anything, Jareth's eyes darkened and his pupils began to dilate. "I never knew you had it in you," he gasped breathlessly, "What an absolutely erotic thought!"
Toby rolled his eyes and groaned to the heavens, reaching a hand to rub the tense knots from his shoulders. "I'm not going to persuade you that this is a bad idea, am I?"
"No. Are you serious about being a centaur?"
"Jareth, get your mind away from bestiality. I do not indulge such passions."
Jareth waved his hands in a mock disappointed gesture, a teasing grin twisting his lips. "Neither do I. I wouldn't be able to handle a stallion, thank you very much. Nor am I interested in one; Serenity will not tolerate it."
"I can see that I will be ordered to be fae." Toby couldn't help but flick a light blond lock of hair off the fae's shoulder.
"My King, still? Even when I warm your bed?"
"No." Jareth grinned disarmingly. "Equals in my bed. Unless you prefer to take another role?" He quirked an expressive eyebrow.
"Only if it makes you happy," Toby sighed, moving closer. He held his hand out and let it be captured by a very greedy tongue.
"You sound like an awful incarnation of the knight in shining armour, Toby."
"Not my fault you pulled me into a fairytale world," the mortal replied reasonably. Jareth didn't answer. "Jareth, you really should get the paperwork done. The sooner this is over, the better for the both of us. We still have to tell your mother."
Jareth shook his head.
Toby waited a minute and then yanked his hand away suddenly. The look on his lover's face was enough to break his heart and make him laugh with triumph, all at once. Jareth couldn't possibly look like that and be playing with him.
"Horrible, horrible man," the Goblin King fumed. He spun around and grabbed up another piece of paper. "I see you mean to be honourable about this. I suppose I should oblige."
"For now, may I add. I am not the obliging sort. Take a seat, Toby."
"This shouldn't take long."
"And on that note- Toby, how would you feel about being appointed my personal bodyguard as well? At least until this day next year?"
"Would it not be a conflict of interest?"
Jareth tossed him an amused grin. "Not at all. I would be completely sure of your loyalty and commitment. And you will be in the perfect position to oversee my every move."
"A chaotic but irrefutable point."
"There is another good point- you can be my voice of reason."
"Who is to say I could be reasonable around you?" Toby asked, laughing at Jareth's profile.
The pen moved smoothly over the paper as Jareth absently tossed off a look of mock dudgeon. "I do not have such a bad influence on people."
Toby stroked the back of a slender neck, feeling a possessive affection sweep through him at just that touch. "None that I would ever regret," he admitted.