Sarah stood on the sidewalk among the familiar faces of her neighbors. It seemed everyone on this side of town had come out to celebrate the Choi boys' recovery, as if pulled from their cozy homes by the force of the family's love and that edge of grief for all those years lost in the wind, but mostly to share in the miracle.
She wandered through the crowd, back and forth like a cat stalking its prey. She was hungry to witness every hug, tear and lingering look shared between the family members.
Jareth shadowed her every move as if tethered to her, unable to allow her to stray too far in case she just kept going.
Unwilling to be seen, to disturb, Sarah stooped behind a news cameraman, then bounced to another as one or both of the brothers' faces turned in her direction. It took a single, too slow step and she got caught in Roland's gaze. She froze, staring back, expectant despite herself in the deep, stubborn pit of her belly.
He did not recognize her. He did not react, call out her name or bring her in to share the hug, as she was sure he would have if he could remember her. But, for a moment, as her shoulders slumped in a swirl of relief and sorrow and she turned to slip away, she caught the faint glimmer of a half remembered something flit behind his eyes.
"Did Roland see you?" Jareth asked, glancing back as they broke free of the crowd and floated down the deserted street.
Sarah tilted her head slightly, a slight smile tracing her lips. "Almost."
She stopped short as she recognized the car driving up to join the long line of vehicles scattered down the street. When her father, Karen and Toby popped out, rushing to the crowd, Sarah gasped and started to run after them, but Jareth's touch at her elbow stopped her.
"What? It's..." Her words faded as she understood the meaning in Jareth's gaze. "If I go to them, that's it isn't it? You'll be gone."
His eyes were solemn and Sarah turned to watch Toby's fluffy hair bob through the crowd from his perch on Karen's hip.
She felt the lightest touch where Jareth's fingertips pressed to the inside of her wrist. Relaxing her fist, her palm tingled as he slid his hand down to weave his fingers with hers. They turned a corner and she felt the ache for home spread through her as they approached, she squeezed his hand to ease the burn. Her gaze fell to the road, sweeping side-to-side like a blind man's cane, hesitant to glimpse their destination too soon. Could she leave this all behind? Would she ever stop craving for whichever place she had turned her back on? Maybe she would never be content, whichever world she chose.
Her gaze jerked up as she recognized the curb in front of her house. It was just as she had left it and it had never looked more inviting in her entire life. The yearning to throw the doors open, run inside and never leave was as tangible as Jareth's hand entwined with hers. She turned to him, startled. He hadn't said a word or done anything to draw her attention in awhile and she, just for an instant, had forgotten he was there. She looked up to stare at him, hard.
"Shouldn't you be trying to sway my decision? Don't you want to?"
He pulled his gaze from the house he hadn't seen in years and focused on her searching face. "Not even a little."
Feeling a twinge of annoyance she said, "'I thought you'd be trying harder to get me to stay with you?"
He remained frustratingly silent, gazing down at her with a weak smile that barely turned up the corners of his mouth and did not even come close to touching the blue of his eyes.
Turning back, she gazed up at her window. Her feet guided her forward as her mind wondered where her family was, the family car was not in the driveway. As she moved forward there was the faintest tensing in Jareth's fingers, threatening –for a moment—to refuse to release her, before unclasping and slipping away. Reaching the porch steps she stooped to swipe up the extra key then hoped up to open the front door. The bite of cool air from the a/c nipped her face after the fuzzy warmth of outside. She gazed around her childhood home, the only home she'd known until recently, and not a bad one she admitted to herself. Climbing the stairs to her room she smiled at the family photos that decorated the walls. She wished she could wrap Toby in her arms this instant, as she was in the photo at the top of the stairs. Maybe rumpling that golden mane would make the decision easier. She turned away and floated to her room. Her heart leapt as she entered. She'd missed this place. She missed her family.
She spotted her phone on the edge of her vanity and snapped it up. Oh! Erin, no, Nathaniel had been calling and messaging her all this time. What a horrible friend she'd been, but at least she'd made it up to him by reuniting him with his family. Maybe he'd stay in town now, instead of going to California for school and leaving her alone. And Roland, maybe that spark in his eye would one day unlock a memory, but if not, and she had to start all over with him, she'd do the remembering for the both of them. Either way, the three of them could go to school together, spend the weekends together, go to the park and read plays and stories while out on the lake in the old rowboat like she and Nathaniel used to do back in high school. She would read aloud while Roland rowed and Nathaniel could hold her bright white parasol over them for shade while the breeze cooled their faces.
She smiled and gazed out of her window, imagining them walking each other home from class. She and Nathaniel and Roland would grow into adulthood together, get jobs nearby and live happily ever after. Their families would have picnics and chat about how big Toby was getting and how he was getting to be so clever. Her mother would start visiting again and together they would act out scenes from her latest show for everyone else like they had when she was little.
Her eyes danced on the images she painted for herself until she something on the sidewalk flickered in the sunlight, catching her eye. Concentrating, the form of Jareth flickered once more, his image sharpening then becoming opaque and misty.
"Jareth," she gasped, and his form solidified until he was once again as solid and real as his surroundings. His eyes, soft, pierced through her from below and that weak, mournful smile still pressed at the corner his mouth.
She dashed down the stairs and out of the house. She almost flung herself to him but skidded to stop an arm's length away, throat constricting around the words she spoke.
"You were leaving me," she accused.
"You were moving on."
"No, I don't want to forget…"
His hand reached out and smoothed across her shoulder to her neck so his thumb could stroke the curve of her jaw, the soft leather of his gloves ticking where it touched yet leaving a path of burning skin where it passed. Her eyes dropped to the button on his royal blue jacket.
"You have finally found peace here."
"Yes," she admitted, playing with the button. "Now, more than ever before, I see how happy I could be, how happy I should have been all this time."
His other hand cupped her cheek and she found that she could no longer look anywhere but his face.
"But what about you, Jareth?"
When he didn't answer, just stared down at her, feeling her warmth through his gloves and wanting to never lose it, she sighed and yanked his hands down.
He tried to replace them. "Sarah—"
But she held him fast. When he stilled she gripped his fingertips and tugged until the gloves released his hands and slid from his long fingers. She took his wrists and brought them back to her face, soaking in the feverish heat of his palms.
"What about you?" she whispered.
He smiled down at her, his thumbs dimpling her cheeks as they stroked back and forth. "I tried to make you do as I wanted once, and you ran from me. I won't make that mistake again. I would not want any decision influenced by me."
"You foolish king. Do you really think there is any way I will make a decision without your influence? After all this? There will always be a part of you guiding me." She leaned forward and rested her head in the scoop of his neck.
"Then I presume I must let you keep that little piece of me, always."
"You couldn't take it back if you wanted. You know, I think that little piece of you is what coaxed me back to the Underground."
He chuckled and his breath blew warm and comforting through her hair. "How naughty of me."
"There was always something reminding me, nagging me, telling me there was something missing, somewhere to escape to." Her brow crinkled a she realized something.
Jareth began rubbing his chin across her scalp, sensing her tension. Sarah fought the soothing sensation and pulled away. "You wiped both Roland and Nathaniel's memories when they came back, why not mine?"
"I suppose," he sighed. "I did not want to be forgotten, not by you."
Her smile couldn't have been brighter as she gazed up at him and cursed the tears that swam in her eyes for obscuring her view of him.
"Now," he said, gently, "it's time to decide, Sarah."
She nodded and turned back to her home, feeling a chill as she lost contact with Jareth. "I suppose there comes a point in life when you realize you can't have it all, and your choices narrow to the two most beloved parts of your life that for whatever reason cannot conceivably exist together. You know the path you choose must be the one that is enough to get you through the pain of losing what you'll leave behind, and that enough-ness will be the only reassurance that you've made the decision your heart can survive making." She slowly turned to face him. "I'll miss home if I choose you, I'll miss you if I choose my family, but only one of my options is enough to make up for the gaping hole in my heart I'll be left with."
She shivered as his fingers traced along the back of her ear, tucking away a slip of hair. "Sounds like you don't need a little piece of anyone guiding you anymore, little adventurer."
"No, I guess you're my cure for wanderlust."
His lips were sweet, velvet softness. She could taste a tang that hinted at a future of possibilities as she opened her mouth to him and knew, in the pull of his lips, the urgent sizzle of his hands cupped to her jaw and entwined in her hair, that he also tasted in her everything that would fill him up and make him strong enough to face whatever yet unrevealed obstacles were in his future as a 'different kind' of Goblin King-and she knew she'd made the right choice.
a/n: If you have enjoyed even a small part of Sarah's journey in this story then I will allow myself to be pompous enough to brand this story a success. Thanks for all of the support, and extra love to any who stuck through my atrocious habit of never updating. I am glad to give you a 'forever in progress' story to finally cross off the list. Happy reading and support all of our writers of Labyrinth adventures here and review!