Disclaimer: Doesn't belong to me, but I wish it did.
Beta: Devil Girl, thanks so much for all your work.
Note: Sorry this took so long. I had out-of-town company and then my beta was on vacation for three weeks. Though I feel the end product is much improved for the extra work I did on it while I waited her return.
Ch 8 –Learning Curve
For the second time that night Jareth was woken by Sarah moving restlessly in his arms and muttering his name. "You're safe. I've got you," he whispered as she turned and snuggled against him. "Go back to sleep, love." This time he didn't simply pull her closer, but caressed her cheek with his ungloved hand.
"You'll be gone in the morning if I do." She fought her way from the depths of sleep. In the fading light of the setting moon his face was blurred and indistinct through the thick lashes of her partially opened eyes. She sighed, relieved that if her dream had to be so intensely real, that it was one of the happier ones, instead of her usual nightmare where she'd find herself standing over his smashed and broken body in the remains of a crushed Escher Room.
"I'm not going anywhere, Sarah." He kept stroking her cheek, and burying his fingers deep in her hair with each caress.
"You say that now, but you always do…always…." She breathed deeply of the scent of stardust and enchantment. As her lids became too heavy to remain open, she gave up the battle to stay happily suspended between waking and sleeping, in that magic place where dreams were so real she could reach out and touch them.
"Oh my dear," he whispered as he kissed her forehead. Jareth had known the last six years had been hard on her, but he hadn't realized how difficult they'd been. Ellamora had reported that the girl hardly slept, now he was beginning to understand why. He remembered the pain he'd felt when he'd thought her dead. What would it have been like to feel that for years instead of the days he'd experienced?
Sarah woke slowly, warm and content, in the fog-filled dawn. The first thing that met her gaze was the Goblin King's sleeping face. Her breath caught in her throat and her stomach lurched. Was she dreaming or was he really alive and holding her close? With fingers that trembled, she skimmed the contours of his face and ran the pad of her thumb against his bowed upper lip. When he responded by nipping her playfully she blinked and jumped in surprise.
"You're awake." Sarah grinned and then laughed as relief flooded through her. "We're both awake!" He was really there beside her. It wasn't her imagination working overtime. Last night had really happened. "For a moment I thought I was still dreaming."
"I surmised as much. Was I a happy vision or your incubus?" His left eyebrow rose in question. The thought of coming to her in her sleep as a demon lover made his eyes sparkle in anticipation.
"What makes you think I dreamt about you?" She looked at him under her lashes avoiding his question.
"You called to me during the night." He was suddenly serious, a worried expression on his face. How often over the years had she cried out in her sleep for him only to receive no response? No wonder she'd believed him dead!
She had trouble meeting his eyes, and her chin jutted stubbornly. The night before she'd told him she loved him. This morning he was worried about her. She shouldn't be shy about the fact that she dreamt about him. But she was. "I can be a restless sleeper. Toby didn't say anything, but I could tell he was happy when Ellamora provided us with separate beds."
"You needn't worry that I shall be making the same request." He rolled onto his side keeping her held tightly in the crook of his arm. "I told you once that I'd be there for you when your world fell down. It appears as if I've done a poor job of it so far, but no longer." Many nights over the years he'd watched her in owl form, but once she'd fallen asleep, he had flown on, lonely and hurting. Never once had he guessed at the pain she was suffering. Her dreams could call to his if he was sleeping very soundly, but she had to be awake in order to break the spell that had been cast when she'd denied him years ago.
"Please, I don't want to talk about the past," she sniffed as tears prickled in her eyes.
"We must if there is going to be a future."
"I realize that, but…" She shook her head as if to push all thoughts of long ago aside. "About last night, I remember hearing your voice and feeling you beside me, but it was real. I hope I didn't waken you too often."
"Once or twice, but it doesn't signify. I received all the rest I needed."
"That explains why your coloring is so much better. You're all luminous and sparkly again." She rubbed her finger against his cheek, amazed that no star dust transferred to her skin. "I didn't realize it last night, but you were getting pale." It hadn't been the sickly death-white of the Escher Room from long ago, but he'd lost his glitter and shine. And the color, that looked like make-up, which was as much his trademark as his mismatched eyes, had faded as the afternoon had worn on.
"My skin tone is the outward sign of the magic. I can control it if I choose. My power was never in doubt." He watched her closely and knew that as much as she didn't want to talk or think about the past, she was remembering their final confrontation when she was a teenager. "It wasn't your fault six years ago, Sarah. I was tired and in need of a meal when it was over, but my inner strength was never diminished. It was my final cruelty toward you that I appeared before you as I did."
"You were faking?" her voice cracked with hurt.
"No, though I was desperate to keep you with me. I merely let you see me without the sheen of power that I always wear. It is present naturally most of the time, but occasionally, it needs a bit of help." He knew that it was one of the reasons she'd believed him dead. In his attempt to subtlety manipulate her, he'd pushed her further out of his reach.
"I wish I'd known," she sighed. "It would have…" Sarah shook her head as she listened to her words. Six years ago she'd given up wishing. She'd only been back in the Underground for four weeks and the word was slipping off her tongue as casually as it had when she'd been a child. "It would have been nice to know that I caused you no harm." She sighed as she realized no matter how hard it would be, the past had to be dealt with. "You're right. We do need to talk about what happened or we'll be forever tripping over it. But as you said last night, it is a conversation better saved for after we've eaten."
"Ahhh, so my lady expects to be fed?" He grinned at her, glad to see she wasn't allowing herself to brood.
"If it wouldn't tax your powers too much," though she meant to tease him, there was too much truth to the question for her to laugh about it. "Yesterday was exhausting for both of us. I worry about you, you know?"
"So I've noticed." He smiled at her gently and kissed the tip of her nose, relieved that she harbored no grudge against him for his final deception. "Last night my odd coloring was real. I didn't think about hiding it because I was with you. There was no trickery involved. It was due to that white beastie out there." He glared at Moonbeam who was placidly grazing in the tall grass beside Magic. "Not only didn't I get any sleep the night before, but it required a goodly sum of power to keep him in line. Despite that, I am myself again this morning." Jareth tipped her chin upward so he could examine her face.
"Thank you." Sarah was deeply moved. "You posses great magic, and can appear in any form you choose; to know that you'd willingly let me see you vulnerable means a lot."
"I like to think it was what I was attempting when you were a child of fifteen, but I'm not sure my motives were that honest." He remembered those last minutes with teenaged Sarah, but couldn't clearly pin point what had been going through his mind.
"It was such a muddle. We seemed to have been working at cross-purposes," she murmured and snuggled closer, thrusting her left leg between his.
"Easy, my sweet," he gasped as desire shot through him at her inadvertent caress. "When you move against me like that, first thing in the morning, it gives me ideas that will delay your breakfast, upset the animals, and keep us here much longer than we can afford to tarry." He leaned into her until her abdomen fit snugly against his.
Sarah's jaw dropped slightly and she could feel her face flush as she became aware of his predicament. Her naiveté was showing but she brazened it out by meeting his eyes. "Ahh…" She found she needed to clear her throat before she could speak. "Is it getting very late?" was all she could think to ask, with his distracting presence pressed against her.
"Oh, my dear, it is later than you think," his voice was low and husky as he ran his nose against her cheek. "But as we discovered last night this is neither the time nor the place for us to have that discussion." Jareth pulled back slightly to answer the question as she'd meant it. "The sun has just risen, but the valley will be fogged-in and in shadow until almost midday." He caressed her cheek with slim white fingers and couldn't look away. "I seem to have misplaced my gloves," he murmured mesmerized, by the sight and feel of his skin moving against hers.
"I've got them. They're in my pocket." She remembered boldly working the supple leather from his hands the night before and wondered at her temerity. "I didn't want them to get lost." Her chin rose in defiance, daring him make fun of her gesture.
"I can make articles of clothing appear or disappear at will." His voice lowered and his words slowed. "No one has ever done that to me before. I found it most erotic."
"Well…ah…good!" she nodded decisively as if she'd known all along he would find it pleasing, but the moment her hand began to slide between them to retrieve the gloves, she froze. Their position was too intimate and she was too inexperienced to be able to casually reach into a pocket that was caught between them.
Her struggle was written plainly on her face. It filled his heart with love and made him groan with desire. "I've never found innocence an aphrodisiac, but with you, everything excites me. It would be best if I set you free before your hand goes any further," his words were heavy with longing.
"I love you," Sarah whispered. He was giving her space, time and the precious gift of the truth, as he sat them up and pulled back from her, loosening his cape that had kept them bound to one another.
"And I you, my sweet one." He cupped her cheeks with bare hands and kissed her, but was careful to keep it light and gentle.
"Jareth," Sarah moaned as she gripped his wrists to keep from burying her hands in his hair. "Please, when you touch me like that, it makes it very difficult."
"Then it would be best if you handed me back my gloves. As much as I'd like to have you put them on me, I fear that it would bring about the same result as when you removed them."
"I think you're correct." Her hand shook as she placed the white leather objects in his outstretched palm. Once his gloves were securely in place he stood and bent to help her up. Sarah looked closely at their clasped hands in wonder. Her skin didn't vibrate at his touch. "It really does make a difference. Or are you doing something different?"
"My magic is potent, but I control it. Wearing the gloves masks its strength and power. If it had been anyone else with me last night, my hands would have remained covered."
"You wear them when you make love?" The question popped out before Sarah could stop it. She had a comical mental picture of him naked, with the exception of his hands.
"Hardly," he huffed as she fought to keep from laughing. "But then we didn't make love last night."
"No, no we didn't," her words were stiff, almost gagging her with jealousy. Suddenly there was nothing to laugh about any longer, as she thought of all the others he had been with. It made her eyes burn and her stomach feel hollow.
"Sarah, I'm not going to apologize for my past." He tipped her chin upward until she was meeting his eyes again. "I am Fae. We set great store by pleasure and I'm a male with strong desires. But that is all those liaisons ever were. You can call them many things, but love never entered into them. With you it is different. There is want like I've never felt before. You give me pleasure just letting me hold you while you sleep. When we come together it will be making love."
"That helps some, but…well…I still don't like it!" She frowned and clinched her fists. "I'm going to freshen up." She stalked away toward the stream above, leaving a bemused Goblin King to check on the animals.
Sarah stared at her rippling reflection in the slow-moving water as her face dried in the breeze. The stream had been icy cold, but she'd cleaned up as best she could. Now she sat trying to get her mind to settle. Too many emotions were bubbling to the surface.
God, she loved Jareth, but she was panicky with fear and jealousy and was angry at herself for feeling that way. In the rare moments when she let her mind give in and accept that he loved her as much as she did him, she was hammered with guilt. It had taken her farther and Karen dying to get her back to the Labyrinth and the being she loved. Now she was this emotional person who cried far too easily and tried to spout logic that made no sense. For the last six years she'd lived her life in perfect control. When she'd packed away her toys and costumes, she'd done away with dreams and make-believe. Looking back, she knew that she'd done what she needed to do to survive the terrible sorrow and guilt she carried because she believed she'd killed the Goblin King. Now it all seemed like such a waste.
"I've already rebuilt myself twice in my life and am trying to do so a third time. If I let him in and things don't work out, I don't think I'll have anything left to start over with. What am I to do?" she asked the woman looking back at her from the water.
When her mother Linda had packed up and left, Sarah's world had crashed down upon her for the first time. She had gone from a happy, secure child to a young girl who was discontent with her home life and very unsure of her place in it. It had been almost a relief when her father married Karen. Her stepmother became a focal point for her anger and feelings of loss, without having to condemn her own mother.
The second time Sarah had had to start over had been after she'd returned from the Underground. That first night, she'd carefully made a pictorial record of everything that had happened. She'd filled every blank space of her Labyrinth book with her drawings and had even added a series of pictures on a separate piece of paper that she kept folded against the back cover. She'd been sure it had all been a dream and didn't want to forget a single moment. But as days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, her memories became clearer, surer and more distinct. It had been no dream and she'd grieved for Jareth's death at the same time that she was angry at him for making her decide between him and Toby.
"Are they all right?" Sarah called to Jareth as she made her way down the rocky path from the stream. Moonbeam and Magic were foraging for breakfast in lush, tall grass. Curtains of gray mist swirled around them, leaving their shapes indistinct and muffling the occasional whinny or snort. Some time during the night thick fog had been sucked into the Valley of the Moon leaving it swathed in white.
"I'm pleased with their progress this morning, considering their exertion yesterday." He pulled a crystal from the air and used it to produce a cup of steaming hot tea and a scone for each of them. "Here, drink this." He handed her one of the cups and a plate as he settled on a rock beside her. "I'd like to give the unicorn a bit more time to rest before he takes them back to Corramar. He's still being extremely possessive, and won't permit my assistance in the transport, but we need to be gone before the sun burns away the fog. It isn't wise to stay longer than that."
"It feels like we're completely cut off, as if there isn't another living being anywhere." Sarah warmed her hands on her mug, enjoying the quiet and the press of Jareth's shoulder against hers. "Is there danger?"
"Not down here, but from above." He pointed north, toward where he knew the highest peak stood, even though it was hidden beyond layers and layers of clouds. "That mountain is one of the oldest in the Underground. It is home to the few dragons who have lingered in these lands. Legend has it that they find horse flesh to be a particular delicacy."
"Then we need to leave now!" Her worry for Magic far out-weighed her wonder at the idea of seeing a dragon. "What about Moonbeam, is he safe?"
"From direct attack, yes, the two species have been allies for eons, but I don't know what would happen if he tried to defend his mate." Jareth sipped his tea as he watched the sky. "It is said that in the time before Oberon, when both dragons and unicorns were a common sight throughout the land, dragons would ring the valley top during breeding season to watch over and protect the horned beasts when they were at their most vulnerable. It is not a legend I wish to put to the test, especially when one of the mated pair is a horse."
"'There be dragons here'," Sarah quoted. She'd seen the words written on more than one ancient map.
"You and your brother have been studying geography as well as history." Jareth knew that was how this particular area had been marked by the official cartographer.
"Yes," her voice broke, because it wasn't the map Toby had brought home from school one evening that caused a lump to form in her throat. "My father…ah…my father collected antique maps. That's where I first saw those words."
"The pain will lessen with time, my dear."
"I know," she could hardly get the words out. "The memory caught me off-guard. With all that has happened in the last day or so, I'd forgotten that they are dead…how they died. How could I do that?" She shuddered as she always did when she remembered the horror of the fire, and took deep, even breaths to drive away tears that were clogging her throat.
"It's only been four weeks. Allow yourself time to grieve." Jareth wanted to hold her close and lock out even the slightest thought that might cause her pain, but he refrained because he knew that no matter how uncomfortable healing was, it was necessary. He settled for holding her hand so she would know he was there if she needed him.
"I know…it's just...well, it's hard," her voice hitched and she knew that if she didn't change the subject she'd end up crying. "I've got a question. It was something you said last night."
"Ask me anything you like." He'd wanted to finish the discussion they'd begun the night before and was pleased that Sarah cared enough to initiate it.
"You told me that you didn't understand how I had the words to wish Toby away. That those words are only available to a parent or guardian of a child." She frowned trying to remember exactly how he'd phrased it. "But you also said things that made me think that you believed we had some sort of destiny to be together. How could it be, if I never really should have come here?"
"You are correct about the words and about us. You are my chosen one as it was written in the ancient texts. 'When the great maker looked down on his people he knew that their love of pleasure might hamper their ability to sustain their race, so he matched one for another; perfect pairings to be separated at birth and joined again later in life, never to be parted'," Jareth quoted.
"You really believe that?" She was taken aback. It was so unlike the being she thought him to be.
"I didn't want to believe it for decades. It was considered old-fashioned even in my parents' time." He wasn't happy discussing his mother and father in romantic terms, but he had to make Sarah understand. "I'm not sure what they believed before they met, but once they did…" He shrugged as if that said it all.
"Aboveground it would be said they were soulmates."
"Soulmates is an apt word. Mother believes that the great maker joined them at the beginning of time and that nothing, not even death, will separate them." His smile twisted at his arrogance. "I fought it. Flustered and pushed you away the last time you were here, only to be left with this." He pulled a crystal from the air. "Do you recognize it?"
Sarah's throat went dry as her eyes were drawn to the colors that swirled in the orb he held on his outstretched palm.
"I see you do." He didn't like how pale she'd become, but it was important she understood. If this was the only way, he would use it. "I offered it to you once before. It is your dreams."
"What would have happened if I'd taken it then? Would we have been spared all this heartache? Would Daddy and Karen still be alive?" She needed to know the answer, and had been avoiding the question for four weeks.
"Even back then I knew you'd never take it. A woman who would accept such a bribe would never be fated to be Queen. It was my ego and bad temper that made me offer it." He frowned at how foolish he'd been. "I'd known for half my life that my chosen one would be different. But to admit that would be to admit that my parents' beliefs were correct. I was the heir-apparent to the Goblin Kingdom. In my mind I was in perfect control and lived my life accordingly. It was easier to believe that life held only pleasure and that love was a myth perpetuated by the ancients. I fought the idea even after I became king. Then almost two centuries later, you were born and I felt a change in the air. It pulled me to your world. The first time I watched you at play in the park, I knew fate was staring me in the face."
"It all seems so farfetched." She wanted to deny what he said, but she knew that she'd loved him before she met him. It had been a childish version of love, but it was love.
"For a long time, that's what I tried to tell myself too. Look closer and you'll see the truth, as I did." He held out the crystal and dared her to look into it. "It doesn't only contain your dreams but mine as well."
She gasped as the colors solidified within the magic sphere and she could see Jareth holding her passionately. His lips moved along her arched neck and her body pressed into his. In the background she could make out an ancestral crest which was dominated by the pattern in the medallion he always wore.
"Put it away, please, just put it away." Her heart was pounding and she sipped her tea to try and gain some equilibrium. Jareth could see guilt written clearly on her face and immediately knew the source.
"I don't know how you had the words to bring me to you six years ago. You were far too young for what was foretold. It may have been an accident or trickery by some unknown force or being." The crystal vanished as he spoke. "But those dreams have lived in there for a very long time. Before you were born they were bright and distinct as they are now. When you were a child they were hazy but potent. The year after you won your brother back, they were nothing more than us dancing in the ballroom, but then they began to change. As you matured so did the nature of your dreams."
"I didn't have the words at first." Sarah forced herself to remember the night she had been babysitting with her brother. "I said something, but it was wrong, only part of a game. When I was leaving the bedroom, I heard an odd, scratchy voice in my head. I thought it was my imagination. I repeated the words it had said, and Toby suddenly stopped crying. He was gone."
"I suspect you were never meant to call to me at the age of 15. Where those words came from we'll never know." He would have liked to question every goblin who had been on watcher duty that night, but he knew it was useless, their memories were too short. All it would do was call attention to a matter he'd rather stay hidden.
"But when would I have done it, if not as a child? As I grew older, I loved Toby more and more. I never would have wished him away." Sarah knew that her feelings for her brother had started further back than when she'd rescued him from the Labyrinth. She'd been fascinated by him from the moment he was born, though at times he'd tried her patience beyond belief. "I can't believe that I'd ever say those words and truly mean them."
"I pose this to you," he spoke with even, precise words and Sarah knew without asking that this was what he believed. "Suppose you had never been pulled into the Labyrinth at such a young age and therefore no portal had been left open through your mirror for you to accidentally discover. Suppose you hadn't given up believing in fairy tales and make-believe. Suppose on the night of the fire, you hurried home from your other dwelling because you were worried about your family. Given those circumstances, caught in a blazing house with no escape, might you not think it the lesser of two evils to wish your brother away to the goblins, rather than letting him die terribly in a fire?"
"In order for me to have been able to do that, I would have had to be Toby's only…" she gasped and forced herself to go on. "In that moment Toby would have had to belong to me," her words came out raspy and rough with doubt.
"It is my belief that his parents had already perished." He would have spared her the knowledge, but it was obvious she was carrying guilt for the deaths of her father and his wife. She needed to know how things had been.
"It wasn't an accident, was it?" Her lips had turned white as she remembered her father's easy acceptance of police protection, for his family, though he'd never believed anyone but he might be in danger.
Jareth took the cup from her shaking hand and placed it beside his on the ground. "I was distracted at the time, thinking you had died in the fire, and only did a cursory search of the premises, but I did pick up signs of foul play." He didn't tell her of how his anger had produced a spell that was destined to follow the perpetrators and hound their sleeping hours until they would long for the release of death.
"My father and Karen were already dead when I got home," she whispered and tried not to tremble as she was filled with certain knowledge. "That's why the house was totally silent as I stood on the landing listening for them. I'd tried phoning from my car, as I entered town, but there was no answer, not even on Daddy's emergency number." She leaned into Jareth's side seeking his strong, sure presence as she delved deeper into her memories of that night. "When I thought Toby and I were trapped, I wanted to call for you. I knew the words to wish us away. I hadn't thought about them in years but they were clear in my mind. I was sure you were dead, the spell broken, so I said nothing. I prayed silently for you to give me strength. I wanted desperately to get back to the Labyrinth. The next thing I knew I was falling backwards to the very place I wanted to be."
"Precisely. Destiny was restored. I'm sorry, my love. I know it has caused you much pain these last weeks. We should have had this conversation that first morning at Corramar."
"No, you were right to wait. It's hard enough to comprehend now. That first morning I was still in shock; too much had happened in too short a time." She took a deep breath, needing to ask something that had been a source of constant pain, no matter how numb she'd been to anything else. "Were their lives the price for getting back here?" She looked into his mismatched eyes and prayed he'd tell her the truth. "Did I trade them for you?"
"No, my dear, it doesn't work that way. A human can not trade a life for a life, or for a change in circumstance. No being that I know of can."
Tears of sorrow and relief ran down her face. She'd wasted four weeks shriveled up with guilt, pushing Jareth away when all he'd wanted was to help her. She'd piled excuse upon excuse to keep away from him, to try and rationalize away her guilt rather than face it. "Thank God, oh thank God," she wept into her hands.
"My darling girl," he whispered as he kissed her temple and pulled her close against him. In an attempt to shield her, he'd caused her pain again when it could have been prevented. He was beginning to wonder if he'd ever do anything right where she was concerned. "We are all ruled by destiny, even if we choose not to believe it."
"You're saying that there is nothing we can do to change fate?" Sarah had always believed that she had control over what happened to her. "I can't accept that I should sit stoically by and let life happen around me. Though in this case, I am more than willing to believe it." She clung to him, needing to feel his warmth against her.
"I believe that some things in our life are pre-ordained and some are not. The truly difficult part is knowing the difference." Jareth slid his hand under Sarah's long, dark hair and began to massage the tight muscles of her neck. "You and Toby were meant to live out your lives in the Underground. That I am sure of."
"I believe you're right." She rested her forehead against his chest and moaned softly as knots of tension slowly dissolved under his careful ministrations. "Yesterday morning at about this time, I was finally falling asleep. I had resolved to never let myself get involved with you." She looked up into mismatched eyes and spoke with her heart. "I knew I loved you. It's silly when I think about it." She shrugged at her contrary nature. "How much more involved can one be? Loving says it all. But I had decided that I'd never…ah…make love with you, because if I did, I would be lost when it fell apart. Now look at us. I have agreed to let you court me…or that we would be courting…or however you say it. Last night we almost became lovers and this morning you tell me we're soulmates."
Jareth listened carefully and realized that she had finally given voice to her greatest fear about a relationship with him, her fear of losing him. That combined with the guilt she'd been carrying about her parents had been the driving force behind all her attempts to push him away. "Sarah," he whispered her name, and cupped her face so she couldn't look away. He would allow no misunderstanding this time. "I will love you forever. You are a part of me. I could no more leave you than I could my heart."
"I will love you forever, Jareth, but I will be leaving you far too soon." She blinked, refusing to cry again even when she remembered the jagged pain she'd felt when she'd thought she'd killed him. How much worse was it going to be for him as he watched her grow old and die? "A human lifespan is but a blink of an eye compared to yours."
"Oh, my dear," his voice was harsh with emotion. "Ellamora needs to teach you less about etiquette and more about the way life is in the Underground."
"Jareth," she argued. "I'm not like a wished-away child who gains magic and power when he or she goes through puberty. I came here as an adult human. I will grow old and die in a matter of decades."
"If you lived in the Aboveground, that would be your fate, but not here." He ran his thumbs gently along her cheeks trying to give reassurance though his touch. "The magic seeps into your essence and is a part of you, even if you can't access it. Your kind is granted the same long life as any of the other beings who inhabit these lands. But know this, without a doubt in your mind: if that was not the case, and you had only fifty or sixty years ahead of you, my feelings for you would not change, ever!"
"Please, give me a minute." Sarah pulled out of his arms and walked a few feet away. She was getting too much information too fast to process it. She should have been thrilled. Her heart's desire was a possibility, but she'd had her dreams shattered before and it had almost destroyed her. "You're saying I'll live centuries here…maybe even thousands of years?"
"Baring accidents, the average human lifespan is at least three thousand years. Cotter Greene who runs the pub in Corramar village came from the Aboveground in my grandfather's time, before the portals were closed on that side."
"He doesn't look or act a day over forty!"
"It is the magic and how it works." He moved to her side and held her hand in one of his. "Why does it distress you so?"
"I don't know." Sarah frowned at a loss for words. "I think I've had too much information and too little sleep in the last twenty-four – twenty-six hours." She stumbled over the difference in the length of a day and shook her head.
"Here, sit." He guided her back to the rock where they'd been sitting before. "Drink the rest of your tea." As he handed her the mug, he quickly added a warming spell to bring it back to an optimal temperature. "We must leave shortly and there are some things that need to be settled between us."
"You sound very serious," she sighed, unsure how many more surprises she could take in one day.
"I am." He smiled at her and held her hand. "Here is my proposal." He felt her jump and grinned as she tried to pull away. "For the time being I wish to court you. Though remember that I believe we were joined before we were born and therefore all that is missing is the legal technicality, which will allow our child to be heir to the throne of the Goblin Kingdom."
"Our child?" she whispered. Her hand moved over her abdomen in wonder. As he said the words, she knew that she desperately wanted his baby. "Can we conceive and will they let him rule?"
"Most assuredly, they could not stop him or her." He grinned at the possibility of a daughter. "Our child will be a product of the Underground, and Fae." He covered her hand with his, content to feel her flat stomach and know that in the not to distant future it would grow round with his son or daughter.
"Even if his mother is human?" Sarah wrapped her arm around Jareth's neck and rested her head on his shoulder.
"Yes, my darling. You have no magic to compete with mine; therefore the babe will be Fae."
"You seem so sure."
"I am. I know how magic and biology combine." He held her tightly, reassuring her in the only way he knew how. "I also know politics. The worry you voiced last night is a minor one. I am the Goblin King and if I am not strong enough to marry the woman of my choice I am not strong enough to be a proper monarch. Only I rule the Goblin Territories. It is my birthright as it will be my child's. The High Court may make suggestions and I use their services often in diplomatic venues, but they do not rule my kingdom, or my life."
"When you say it that way, it makes perfect sense." Sarah tried to smile and hoped he didn't see her doubts and fears. She was filled with foreboding. When something was too good to be true, she'd learned it usually was. Though she was sure Jareth wouldn't deceive her.
He looked quickly at the horse and the unicorn in the valley and checked the sky. They were still well hidden, but the light was changing as the sun rose above the mountains. He knew that the outer layers of fog were slowly burning away.
"When we get back I'll speak with mother so she can set up the formal dinner that will be the official beginning of our courtship and to Toby as the eldest male member of your household."
"Wait a second here," she huffed. "You have to ask my little brother's permission to court me? He has nothing to do with this. My opinion is the one that matters."
"You are correct. It is only a formality, my love." He grinned at the fire in her eyes. "Though I'd like to know the boy approved of the match, it isn't like in times past. It is only your signature that is needed on the documents that I'll have Galen draw up."
"Documents, there are documents involved?" She glared at him.
"They are only a form…."
"I know, I know," she frowned. "They are only a formality. This is getting more and more involved."
"The contract is from an earlier time, but its use has survived over the ages. It states that the couple will be monogamous during the term of the agreement." He suppressed a laugh when Sarah rolled her eyes and blushed. "The male has full financial responsibility of any issue. It declares that said issue will be acknowledged by him, though family inheritances and titles will not be passed on unless the child is born after they wed. Either party may add stipulations or assurances."
"It seems so complicated. I just want to get to know you better," Sarah laughed as her eyes filled with tears. "I love you but I really don't know much about you."
"That is what a courtship is for, to learn all the intimate details about the other being." Jareth knew Sarah still had worries despite her willingness to go along with his plans. There was only one thing he could think of to offer her that might help reassure her. "It's highly unusual, but would you like it stated that we shall refrain from making love until we are married? That part of the document could be sealed and if anyone did find out about the stipulation, we could tell them it is a custom from the Aboveworld, though I doubt many would believe that we were not seeking pleasure in each other's body."
"How can you see my doubts and fears and still love me?" her voice was low with feeling. She knew once they made love there would be no turning back. She would belong to him utterly and that idea had the ability to take her breath away.
"It is because I love you that I can see them and they don't matter." He threaded his fingers through her hair on either side of her face and watched carefully for the slightest change in her expression.
"I'm touched at your offer, but it isn't necessary, unless there is no way of preventing pregnancy during our…ah…courtship," her voice shook with emotion. "I would prefer to let our physical relationship run its natural course." Her hand moved to her belly, again, and as much as she longed for his child, she knew it would only add to her confusion.
"I will take care of the matter." He assured her. "There is a simple spell, but I must use it each time. That should suffice."
"Thank you, it makes it easier." She stood on tip toes and kissed his cheek, suddenly certain that even if there had been no way in the Underground to prevent conception, she wouldn't have wanted to rule out making love in the near future.
"Just like that, you trust me completely?" They had cleared up much between them that morning. He understood her fears and what was making her cautious in her dealings with him.
"I don't think you'd ever knowingly do anything to harm me, or go against my wishes."
"But it is the unknown that can be terrifying. After all, I caused you great pain in the past. I like to think you feel the fear, but love me enough to take a chance," he whispered as he leaned down and kissed her.
Sarah didn't answer him with words. Instead she ran the tip of her tongue against his lips where they covered hers. With a harsh moan he instantly granted her access. Their kiss became hungry as they clung to one another. He wedged one thigh between hers and pulled her body tighter, higher against his, until she straddled his leg, her feet off the ground. One of her hands grasped the deep V of his shirt as the other ran searchingly over the long muscles of his silk-covered back. Only need for breath caused them to pull back. Jareth gripped her tightly and watched with hooded, smoldering eyes as her body separated from his.
Sarah gasped at the sensations that were created as she slowly slid down his muscular thigh. "You make me feel things I've never felt before. If we had been foolish enough to decide on the stipulation you offered, I doubt we would have been able to abide by it for long."
"If it had been your wish that we not become intimate in the immediate future, I would have abided by it." His jaw was clenched and his fascinating eyes lit with a strange fire. "I would not have led you into temptation in an attempt to change your mind."
"I am learning that you are a much more honorable being than I ever realized," she whispered and gently ran her hand over his cheek.
"You give me too much credit, I would have had to have had you measured for a chastity belt," he teased and kissed her hand. "Give me your crystal. There is something I should have included in it when I first gave it to you." When she handed it to him he murmured a spell and rolled it between his hands until he felt the changes in the magic sphere. "Now you can access me almost as easily as you can Toby. Touch the orb and say my name. It is your choice if I simply appear in the crystal, or if it brings you to my side." With a flick of his wrist he rolled it into her cupped hands.
She was caught by surprise by how different the crystal felt. "It's stronger, more powerful. My palm is tingling the way my skin does when you touch me with ungloved hands." Her brows rose at the changes he'd wrought.
"It now has the magic necessary to call upon a king." Jareth shrugged and explained away the greater intensity of the crystal while he wrapped his hands securely around hers as she held the sphere in wonder. "It is yours and always will be. It can't be used by anyone but you and it can never be taken away or taken back. The powers I have granted you belong to you alone."
"I can't take your magic, it is what you are. It defines you."
"What I've given you is like a drop of water in an ocean of power. I would gladly share it all with you if I could."
"Thank you; your gift is very precious." Sarah smiled. The enormity of what he'd given her was just setting in. There was no doubt in her mind that over the last few weeks he'd occasionally watched her in one of those crystals he could conjure so easily. In one neat move he'd put her on equal footing in that aspect of their relationship.
"Despite my desire to always be readily available to you, there will be times when my duties would make it imprudent. On those occasions, I will feel you touching the crystal as if you were touching my naked hand and I shall transport you to a nearby, safe place."
"In the last four weeks I've learned that there is much more to being King of the Goblins than I had been led to believe in the past. You are a real king, not some fairytale monarch who roams the countryside granting wishes and taking children." She swallowed and forged on, not letting her mind dwell on that aspect of Jareth's position. "It means a great deal that you'd give me such open access to your life."
"There is one other small warning included with the added magic to your crystal. You may want to look before you arrive at my side or you might find yourself joining me as I bathe." He gave her an impish smile that was more invitation than warning.
"Your Highness, you could always block me from your bath as you would your diplomatic meetings." She grinned teasingly at him.
"Oh no, my dear, I look forward to that particular arrival with great anticipation." His eyes sparkled and he looked very much like the haughty Goblin King who had arrived in her parents' bedroom six years ago.
Sarah discovered one other difference in her crystal when she put it where she always kept it. "What happened, it disappeared! But I can feel it resting lightly against my stomach." Now her dress lay smoothly against her body instead of gaping slightly at the pocket.
Jareth shrugged and added casually. "I didn't want it to ruin the lines of your gowns."
They walked hand-in-hand to where Moonbeam and Magic were grazing lazily in the fog. It was time to leave the Valley of the Moon and as much as Sarah wanted to get back and try and put her new knowledge into perspective, she had enjoyed the almost complete privacy they had had.
She rubbed the horse's nose as Jareth spoke to the unicorn in that strange language only the two of them seemed to understand. Moments later Moonbeam bumped Magic's shoulder and the animals vanished. Jareth stood completely still with his eyes closed, all of his energy focused outward. "They made it back," he whispered as he opened his eyes and smiled at Sarah.
"Did he let you help him?"
"No, but I sent a discrete spell to follow behind them in case intervention was needed. I believe if we were standing beside the unicorn right now, he would be snickering at me for my wasted efforts."
"It put your mind at ease, so I would hardly call it wasted."
"Come, it is our turn." He held out his hand and neatly turned her until she was facing him. "Hold on tight," his whispered warning was the last thing Sarah heard before they were engulfed in a roaring wind.
Sarah and Jareth arrived back at Corramar to a bright, sunny day and a Goblin Kingdom that was bubbling over with gossip about its monarch and his newest human conquest.
"Your Highness, lady Sarah," Livia the Dowager Queen greeted them formally. She smiled brightly at the couple, but her eyes were shadowed with worry. She'd lived her life in the public eye for too long to doubt that there was a large audience watching the first meeting between the king and his mother since he'd vanished, taking the beautiful dark haired woman with him. "It is good to have you back."
"Ma'am," Sarah tried to pull her hand free of Jareth's but he was having no part of it. There was nothing for her to do but attempt to curtsy anyway.
"Such formality is not necessary in private among family." Livia held gently to the girl's forearm to indicate she should remain standing upright.
Jareth nodded slightly in understanding at what his mother was trying to convey but unsure why she felt the necessity to do so. "We would have returned sooner, but the unicorn refused to allow me to control their transport back here and I wanted to be sure he was fully rested from his exertions of yesterday."
"Your Majesty," Sarah gasped. "I'm sorry, but I have misplaced the hat you loaned me. It was lost somewhere in the transfer." She was mortified that she'd forgotten to even attempt to find it.
"That is simply rectified." Livia grinned and held up her right hand. She rotated her wrist and whispered a spell. Moments later the aforementioned hat sat jauntily on her extended fingers, swinging in the breeze.
"Why didn't you do that last night when we first realized it was gone?" Sarah gave Jareth a pained look, which warmed Livia's heart. It was obvious the human was not going to take any of her son's usual nonsense.
"My darling, I had more important things on my mind," he whispered to the woman at his side, and then added for his mother's benefit. "We have news. Sarah has agreed to let me court her."
"Oh, I'm so happy for you children." Livia's eyes danced with joy and she relaxed for the first time since Jareth had vanished with Sarah the day before. It hadn't taken long for her to become aware of the gossip that action had generated. She'd carefully orchestrated how she would greet the returning couple to show they had her complete support and that in her mind this was no simple dalliance on the King's part. "Come, we must have celebratory tea."
"Your Ladyship, I need to check on Magic." Sarah was worried about the horse, but she was more worried about Livia's private reaction to her son courting a human.
"Mother, I should get back to my castle, to be sure it is still standing; though I do need to speak with you once I am sure affairs of state are well in order." They spoke in unison.
"You will both come with me." The Dowager Queen commanded almost under her breath, but her words were clear and decisive. "Jayord and Millwinken are attending to the animals." She neatly dealt with Sarah's argument then turned to her son. "My dear, you are very well organized and planned for Magic coming into season with great detail. Galen assured me you've kept your calendar almost clear and those tasks which remained are not outside his realm of authority." She stepped to the girl's right side and in an unprecedented show of public intimacy, wrapped an arm around her waist for the walk to the manor house.
When Chazel opened the door for them, Livia smiled and nodded to the steward. He was one of her most trusted servers and they had discussed how this would be acted out between them. It was necessary that any who might be watching or listening understood where the Dowager Queen's affections and loyalties lay. "Have cook prepare a light repast, and tea. We shall be in the east drawing room." The significance of where they would be eating wasn't lost on the Goblin King. His mother was taking them to the family wing of the house and doing so in the most public way that was available to her.
"Mother, what has happened?" Jareth only waited to ask until the doors had been closed to the spacious, homey looking room.
"There's been gossip." The Dowager Queen turned to face them. "I'm sorry Sarah, but you're being touted as the King's latest conquest. The talk runs from casual speculation to catty and cruel." She didn't miss her son's growl of anger, but knew a show of temper on his part would only make matters worse. "The fact that you returned with a commitment between you will help to calm things."
"But we were only gone over night and believe me a mating unicorn and his chosen one were excellent chaperones." It took all of Sarah's will power to keep from crying out that it wasn't fair! "If my reputation must be ruined, I should at least have had the joy of doing the ruining!" She glared at Jareth when he laughed at her rush of anger.
"Easy, my love, all in good time." He nuzzled her neck as he wrapped both arms around her from behind.
"Don't talk like that in front of your mother," Sarah warned as her face turned pink.
"Talk is perfectly all right." Livia tried not to laugh because it would only add to Sarah's embarrassment. "We're Fae." She shrugged as if that said it all. "I'd hardly give my blessing to a courtship if my son didn't feel that way about you."
"Do we have your blessing?" Sarah asked quietly. She didn't realize she was holding her breath in anticipation of the answer until Jareth whispered quietly in her ear for her to breathe.
"Of course you do." A shaft of pain and joy shot through the Dowager Queen's heart at the girl's question and her son's careful ministrations of her. "I thought you already understood. You've had my blessing since you collapsed in tears in my arms during out first meeting. When you walked into my formal drawing room burned and exhausted, I already knew Jareth loved you. It was your intentions I was unsure of. In those short minutes we spent together I learned without a doubt that you loved him despite your fear that he might harm your brother." She remembered the shining joy that had lit Sarah's eyes when she'd finally understood that the Goblin King hadn't died and then how it had been blotted out moments later by the girl's panic that Toby might be turned into a goblin.
Livia's eyes met her son's and she nodded gently. Jareth would have to tread carefully or he could ruin things beyond redemption. The Dowager Queen remembered the talk she'd had with Echelon her healer after he'd examined Sarah four weeks ago. His biggest worry for the girl had been that she suffered from a broken heart. The break was badly scarred and would be difficult to remove. Only the one who had caused the break would be able to do it and he would have to be patient and careful. If he caused further damage, her heart would likely shatter and she would never have the capacity to love again.