Paul Travers returned to his flat around 2:30 in the morning, cold and wet and ready for a shower, or sleep. He figured it would end up being both at once, he was so tired. The gallery's post-opening party had been endless and even though he'd made a few good connections that night, he'd just been unable to enjoy himself.
He had left the party earlier than planned, choosing to walk instead of taking a cab, and been unfortunately caught without a mack by a steady rain that broke after two.
Walking through the kitchenette, past his answering machine, he noticed the messages and frowned. Everyone that would call him in the hours since he left had been at the gallery or in bed for the night. Paul frowned again wracking his brain for a reason anyone would have called him as he pressed the button to play the message. He almost didn't recognize the harsh and desperate voice coming out of the machine.
"Fuck, Paul!" A pause, "Where the fuck are you, you sodding bastard?" A long pause, "Oh, shit. Shit, Paul. I...I don't know what's going on anymore. S-something's happening...she's...shit, I don't know what's come over me. She's...oh fuck, it's not her fault. This is me. Something's happening to me, Paul. I...I don't know..." An even longer pause and a muttered, "Fuck," followed by the muffled click of disconnection and the beep of another message. A friend from art school had dialed him drunk. Paul deleted the second message and replayed the first, thinking hard.
Paul had only ever heard Jay's voice sound like that in between whimpers and moans coming from below him in the dark. He spoke words with that voice that Paul had never been able to make out.
When they were really small, Paul would cry until Mum came. When they were older, after Jay had threatened him into silence, he would try to wake his afflicted brother by shaking the rickety bunk bed or dropping anything he could find on or near Jay's head. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.
Paul knew that voice well. But in the message, Jay was speaking to him. He had never done that before.
A feeling of unease was rising within Paul. Jay wasn't one for practical jokes and he would never joke about something like that anyway. As reason tried to convince him that he was over reacting, Paul hit the button to play the message once more.
"Something's happening to me, Paul."
Jay's brother swiped his keys from where he had tossed them on the counter and threw his bag across his shoulders. He didn't stop to grab his mack from where it hung next to the door as he headed determinedly back out into the wet, hoping he could at least get some sleep on the train.
For several minutes Ruby had been staring through bleary eyes at her ancient toaster as it attempted to blacken two pieces of bread, before the abrupt ringing of the telephone, which hung on the wall right next to her ear, jolted her out of her usual late Sunday morning stupor.
She let out a yell of surprise and pain, cursing at herself for wanting a loud ringer so they could hear it in the bedrooms. Ruby picked up, snarling a "Hello?" into the receiver and biting back a "What the fuck do you want?" as she tried to shake the still vibrating ring out of her skull.
"Hello? Ruby?" The voice on the other end was one she would recognize anywhere, but there was a tone of urgency in it that set her immediately on edge.
"Paul? What's the matter? Are you all right?" The questions came before Ruby even considered that she could be over-reacting.
"What? Oh, yeah. I'm fine...uh, sorry." There was a short pause, she heard him take a breath, and decided he was probably trying to get himself to sound more normal. Typical Paul, pretending everything's fine. She frowned at him and wished he could see it as he asked, almost naturally. "Is Jay there?"
"Er...no. He and Sarah went away for the weekend. Is something wrong? Did something happen?" Ruby remembered her father's heart attack the year before, her mother's panicked voice over the phone.
She clutched the counter with white knuckles when he didn't respond right away. His voice was hesitant, "I don't know."
Ruby flipped, how could he not know? "For Christ's sake, Paul! Are your parents all right?"
"What? Ohhh...yes. I'm, er, actually home right now. They're both fine."
"Jesus! You nearly gave me a coronary...what the bloody fuck..." He cut off her looming, curse-riddled tirade before it could even get started.
"Look, I just got a...strange message from Jay last night. I wanted to know if he was all right..."
Ruby was taken aback at this. Had something happened in Glastonbury? She felt dread sink into her gut as she replied, "Well, they're due back, um...what time is it? Erm, in about a half an hour. I haven't gotten a call or anything from Sarah...What..." Ruby hesitated at the question; she didn't want to pry into something he didn't want to share.
Paul's answer sounded flustered and not a little angry, though Ruby was pretty sure the anger was not directed at her, "Oh, fuck, just forget I called. I'll talk to him later. And...don't say anything about it to him, okay?"
"Um, sure thing." She tried to sound casual, but now he was the one who was worrying her. "You said you were home. When can I see you?"
She heard him smile at the change in subject, "Come for supper. Mum's making some sort of fish, I think."
"All right. See you tonight." She said simply and hung up the phone a moment later with a worried frown. She turned back to her toast, which was in serious danger of starting a fire, when a tangle of long and skinny limbs tumbled through the door.
Jay's ironic chuckle filled he room as he helped Sarah up, "You and I don't seem to have very much luck with this door, love."
"Oh! They're here!" As he trudged down the narrow stairs, Paul rolled his eyes at his mother. Marian Travers' voice rang out again with unsuppressed excitement, "Paul, oh, your brother's here and he's brought a girl! Your Father will be so pleased when he gets home."
Paul sighed heavily and clenched his fist. If Jay could find the patience so could he.
Her exclamations of delight went on regardless. "Oh! And Ruby too!" She rounded on him as he walked into the kitchen. "You didn't tell me Ruby was coming! What if there isn't enough filets for us all?"
Paul looked at his mother guiltily, but still tried to defend himself, "I rang her rather early and fell asleep almost immediately after. You know I only woke up a half an hour ago. I didn't have time to tell you, did I?"
He flashed a sheepish grin in Ruby's direction and she gave him a cheeky one right back, "I did almost the same thing. Of course I had to deal with these two love birds first." She pointed with suggestively raised eyebrows at Jay and the slim woman, whose coat he was removing gallantly.
Coughing to conceal his guffaw, Paul turned his attention to Sarah. She looked similar to the girl he'd met hanging on Jay's neck that night, but she seemed completely different. The first thing Paul had noticed about Sarah, other than the extreme inebriation, was the air of quiet desperation surrounding her, as if she were some sort of magnet for despair and tragedy. He had had no doubt that night that it was something she would retain, even when she wasn't so thoroughly intoxicated.
But, the thing about her that really bothered Paul in the bar was how she had looked even more desolate when she looked at his brother. Even when she'd made the joke about sleeping with Jay, it was in an almost tragically ironic manner, as if, maybe later would never come at all. That was why he'd told Jay to be careful, hinting at him to stay away. There was no way around it; the girl had been a mess.
Had been was the key though. As he looked at Sarah standing in his mother's kitchen, Jay's arm comfortably around her waist, he almost thought she was a different girl. She was wearing a pretty green dress that, his artistic sense noted, complimented her eyes and skin beautifully. The tragic aura surrounding her was completely gone. Her face was serene, still painfully thin, as was the rest of her, but she carried herself with more assurance. She seemed happy and relaxed. Paul found her transformation astonishing.
Sarah blushed slightly at Ruby's eyebrows and smiled at him as Jay chimed in, disrupting Paul's train of thought, "Don't worry about the food, Mum. Sarah doesn't eat much anyway."
Their mother stepped closer to the slight woman and looked her up and down, "Well, I can see that. You're thin as a rail, child! If anyone goes without food tonight it'll be the boys."
The girls both laughed and Paul pounced on his brother, hissing in his ear, before he could voice any indignant outrage, "I need to talk to you."
Jay turned to him with a steady gaze, "Sure." Sarah looked up worriedly at him, but he smiled almost indulgently at her and squeezed her hand, "Be right back, love."
Paul rolled his eyes again as he pulled Jay up into their old bedroom. They faced one another, Jay leaning against the bunk bed and he against the dresser opposite. Jay broke the silence first, speaking casually; they both knew what the subject was going to be, "Mum told me you took the early train to get here."
"What was that message about, Jay? What's going on?"
"Let me just say that I'm so—"
Paul cut him off right away, he just wanted a straight answer, and he didn't need to hear apologies. "Were you high?"
"Well, what am I supposed to think? You were high or you were having a nervous breakdown. You seem to be functioning all right, so...what the fuck was going on?"
Jay sighed and closed his eyes for a moment, as if summoning patience. Feeling patronized, Paul scowled as his brother began brushing off the question, "It was nothing. It's fine now. Sarah and I had a...fight, but everything's fine now."
There was a tinge of warning in Jay's voice, but Paul persisted, "Jay, you've got to be kidding. That message was not the result of just a fight."
"Don't worry about it, okay? I'm sorry I freaked you out. Everything is fine now." Jay spoke painfully slow, his rising annoyance plain on his sharp features.
"Is it?" Paul wasn't sure why he was pushing so hard. That message had shaken him. Something big had happened between his brother and Sarah last night and Paul wished Jay would tell him.
He thought about that message again... Something's happening to me, Paul. Jay remained silent, but his eyes flashed, almost dangerously, and his jaw clenched. It looked as though he were restraining himself. Paul took the chance that he was holding back some sort of answer, "Just tell me what happened between you two. Did she do or say some—"
The speed and violence of Jay's movement did not even register in Paul's mind until seconds after he was pressed hard against the rickety structure of the bunk bed. His brother held him painfully by the shoulder and neck, pressing the right side of his face into the bowing wood. Paul could only see him out of the corner of his eye, but he could almost feel the anger radiating off of Jay. A bolt of fear shot through his body as he realized Jay had been attempting to refrain from physically harming him.
Jay leaned forward, as he spoke, soft in volume, but harsh in tone, "Tread lightly, boy, you do not know of what you speak." Paul gasped and coughed a little as Jay's hand pressed further into his neck, "You know nothing about her and less than you think you do about me. The message was a mistake. I was not thinking clearly, but let me assure you that I am now. Sarah has not done anything to me that I did not want her to do. I am fine. We are fine. But you will not be fine if you do not let this go."
Paul was having a really hard time wrapping his mind around what exactly was going on. He coughed again, louder this time, and wheezed a little, his lungs protesting against the limited air Jay's taut hands were giving them. And then, just as suddenly as he had struck, Jay released him, backing away a few steps, as Paul collapsed half on the mattress and half on the floor.
A moment later he looked up uncertainly into the face of his brother. Jay had backed into the dresser, knocking some of their boyhood knickknacks over in the process. His muscles were visibly tense and his breath came labored. His expression was still angry, but his eyes looked almost wary, as if he was unsure of what he would do next.
Jay was not a violent person. Sure, they had wrestled and fought together before, they were brothers. But Jay had never struck him in true anger. He had never done anything close to what had just happened. Paul remembered once when they were teenagers, Jay had accidentally pushed him down a few stairs while they were tussling. He had been fine, but the fall had looked bad, and Jay didn't stop apologizing until Paul was forced to instigate another fight just so he'd shut up about it.
Now Jay offered no apology. He only looked at him in silence, his eyes flashing a mix of emotions that Paul couldn't decipher. Something's happening to me, Paul.
It took a moment for Paul to find his voice, and then another for him to find the words, "Wh- what...what the bloody hell...happened to you?"
A humorless laugh seemed to escape from Jay as he closed his eyes and shook his head. His limbs eased slightly and he leaned against the dresser rather than pressed against it. The laugh lost momentum as he began to speak, "I wouldn't know where to begin..."
Paul felt pang of uncertainty, trying to fathom what could be so complicated. What could have happened between the two of them in the last three months that Jay could be unable to explain? Paul tilted his head so that he could rub his aching neck and still keep his eyes on Jay, "Begin at the beginning. What's the problem?"
Jay had sunk to the floor as Paul asked the question. His arms were resting on his raised knees and his head hung defeated as he shook it in denial, "There are so many beginnings...It's all jumbled...Sometimes I think I'm starting to lose track..." He pressed his hands to his eyes for a moment and looked up at Paul, a tearing guilt plain on his face, "I can't tell you, Paul. I'm sorry."
Paul felt a huge gulf open up between them. This was big. Whatever it was, it was life-changing. How could Jay not tell him? "But—"
"Can you, please, just trust me that everything is fine now? Sarah and I are fine."
Jay's plea did not fall to deaf ears, but Paul could not hide the hurt from his voice. "I can understand that there are some things that you can't tell me, Jay. But, it's going to take a while for me to accept that everything is fine."
By the time Jay and Paul returned from their "talk", Mrs. Travers had brought Sarah and Ruby into the sitting room and unearthed the family photo album. Sarah turned slightly to cast a speculative look at the brothers. Both were tense and she recognized the increasingly familiar set of Jay's jaw that meant he had been fighting against the instincts of his Fae half. She smiled at him as he came to stand behind where she sat on the sofa, but did not attempt to disguise the worry in her eyes.
"...and this one was taken on Paul's first birthday," the beaming mother pointed to a snapshot of one-year old Paul with icing all over his face, smiling up at a mischievous-looking, toddler Jay with icing all over his fingers.
Ruby reached up to ruffle the hair of Paul, who had just perched on the arm of the sofa next to her, "Awwww, isn't he cuuuute!"
But Paul swiftly knocked her hand away, ducking his head, "Come on, Ruby. It's not as if Mum hasn't pulled out this old thing every single time you come to the house."
As the two scuffled, barely aware of the others in the room, they bumped the album in Mrs. Travers hands and a loose black and white photo fell to the floor. Ruby pulled away from Paul's onslaught and picked up the picture, "What's this one? I don't think I've seen it before."
"Oh! I thought we'd lost this." Mrs. Travers took the photo from Ruby reverently, "Boys, this is your father and I just after we got married. He was still writing his book." She smiled sadly.
Sarah remembered that Jay had told her his dad was a creative writing professor. He'd written one book, a smash hit and bestseller for weeks, but never published another work of fiction. He now taught only theory at Bristol University. Sarah had friends who had taken his classes before and they'd all complained he was a bore and a merciless grader.
Jay's mother passed the photo to her, murmuring about checking on supper, she moved from the sofa and out into the kitchen a little too quickly. Sarah held the old picture lightly in her hands, scanning her eyes over the two smiling faces. She thought they looked very much in love, but remembered Jay's curt descriptions of how things were now and wondered what had happened.
Suddenly she felt Jay tense behind her and she started as he snatched her wrist, leaning forward to peer at his parents. Surely he had seen the picture before; Sarah wondered what could be wrong.
Sarah saw Paul turn his head from the quiet conversation he and Ruby had been having at Jay's actions. But all thoughts of his brother flew from her head as Jay whispered harshly, "He ran it...oh God..."
Gasping in surprise she twisted around to face him, and as she turned, a shadow passed through the light from the kitchen, someone was standing in the doorway. Sarah turned back, knowing that Jay's eyes were fixed on the older, sterner version of the man in the photo as he walked around the side of the couch to stand next to where she sat.
"Oh," Mrs. Travers spoke from behind her husband, with only a trace of her earlier excitement, "Daniel, we've got some extra visitors tonight. You remember Ruby Davis from the neighborhood." As his mother went on obliviously, Sarah saw Jay mouth his father's name, his eyes still wide in recognition. "This lovely young lady is Sarah, Ruby's roommate from America."
Sarah stood quickly, slipping her hand into Jay's, and speaking directly to his father, "Jay and I are also dating. I'm very glad to finally meet you, Professor Travers."
The older man looked at her for a moment, a strangely impassive and somehow disapproving expression on his face, and then moved his eyes over to Jay. He seemed to note his son's own expression of shock and horror without any reaction and said simply, "Yes," before moving on into the kitchen.
Sarah heard Mrs. Travers murmuring something in the other room as Jay sank down onto the sofa. He freed his hand from hers and leaned his head against his hands. His eyes were wide and staring faraway. She knelt in front of him, moving her hands up and down in his arms in an attempt to soothe him somehow.
She thought she heard Ruby move from the couch and leave the room and Paul moved somewhere behind her, but he was still near. Her hands found Jay's face, caressing it lightly, she spoke his name, "Jay...babe, what is it?"
His eyes flicked to her face, but quickly away as he thrust his hands through his hair in a desperate gesture, "Oh God, Sarah...he ran it...that fucking maze..." The last was in a whisper, but Sarah gripped his arms hard to get him to shut up.
She turned to Paul, he stood with his back too the doorway, confusion and hurt plain on his face. Jay looked up abruptly at the sound of his voice, sharp and bitter, "Everything is not fine, Jay." He spun and stalked out of the room.
Jay's eyes grew distant again as they followed his brother. She rubbed his arms once more, "Jay..." Her voice could only produce a whisper.
He put his palms against his eyes and spoke in hushed but fervent tones, "Oh, Mother of Light, Sarah, he ran the Labyrinth...he lost a child...that book he wrote...but I took the rest...Oh, Mum..."
"Jay, you have to slow down. I don't understand."
"My father ran the Labyrinth almost thirty years ago. He lost and Aidan and Nadia took the child. I...I gave him his dream, he wrote his best-seller and after that...Mum said he was never the same...he's, Oh God, he's such a bastard and I've hated him, but all this...this is all my doing."
His hands had begun to shake and Sarah grasped at them as she cried, "No!" Pulling his face up to look at her she spoke fiercely, "It's not your fault, Jay. You know whose fault it is. You couldn't have known..." Sarah trailed off as something did not quite add up, "How would writing his book make him...change like that?"
He moved his hands to her face and into her hair, "Oh, love, I never told you. I didn't think...it wouldn't have mattered...you didn't need to know..."
Sarah's brow creased, she thought they had moved beyond secrets, "Know what?"
He looked past her, remembering, "When the Labyrinth...when I offer the runners their dreams, if they take them...if anyone acquires a dream without achieving it...they loose the ability to create any more dreams...at all."
Sarah stared at him in shock, thinking how close she had come, but he kept on, his face stricken with the guilt of two lifetimes, "He could never write another book, he's still teaching the same classes at Bristol, we never moved out of this tiny house, because he never dreamed he could do anything else. Mum told us once what he was like before...I imagine he was a lot like Paul...and I hated him, we both hated him for the life he made her lead...she never understood why, but she never left him...Oh God...all because of me..." He had been speaking all in a rush, but now he put a hand to his mouth, "I think I'm going to be sick..."
Jay began to get up, but she pushed him back onto the sofa, "Jareth!" She had spoken a little louder than intended, but is attention snapped back to her. "This is not your fault. It's his for wishing away the child, for losing his dreams—"
"You're supposed to lose them. You were the only one," he interrupted, denial in his eyes and the slow shake of his head.
"It doesn't matter," she retorted, "Blame the Queen then. It's not your fault."
"But how many more lives did I ruin? How many more families like this one?" His voice was taking on a hysterical edge.
Sarah grasped his hair roughly locking his despair darkened eyes with her own, "You're not listening, Jay! It was her, not you. You didn't know!"
He tried to pull from her, but she would not allow it, "I should have known. I should have cared!"
She peered at him in confusion, "Why would you have?"
"What?! How can you say that?" He recoiled from her and she released him, realizing it was too soon. He was too close to it to see. But she had spent a year with her, she had heard his story and she knew what they were like, maybe even more than he did at that moment.
"Jareth," Sarah spoke his Fae name deliberately, "You're looking at this from a human perspective. It was remarkable that you even worried for the children. There was no reason for you to be concerned about what happened to the runners of the Labyrinth. And what would you have done for them? What's said is said."
Jareth drew a breath at the memory her words had triggered. What's said is said...spoken to a frightened child, in a mocking tone. He had once felt pity for the runners of the Labyrinth, but over the years all his emotions towards the game had grown cold, it became easier not to care. His hatred of the Queen and his sympathy for her victims had mingled together into an aloof contempt for anything associated with the endless charade. Jay remembered feeling that same contempt for Sarah at the beginning.
But she had won his respect and regard again and again. And the previous night...Mother of Light, she had been brilliant. He hadn't had the time to think how difficult it would be for her, to be alone after leaving the Underground, to be so long without him. As Jareth, he'd never thought that regaining his memories would be so...intense. He had never been other than what he was; he couldn't have known how he would feel, how he would be as a human or how frightening Jay would find Jareth to be.
And somehow Sarah had unraveled his conflicted reasoning. Despite her claims the previous night, she had seen what to do once things had been set into motion. She'd known almost exactly how to handle him when his Fae instincts were out of control, which was no mean feat. She must have had to overcome a powerful desire to get far away from him as soon as even the possibility that he could have harmed her became apparent. How had she done it? How did she always know what to do for him?
She was still doing it, even now. He knew he had stiffened in her arms when she turned his own words back upon him, but since then she had maneuvered herself next to him on the sofa, his forehead was resting on the curve of her shoulder and her fingers were combing soothingly through his hair.
Jay lifted his head and looked into the face of his beloved, and smiled to see the love shining from her hedgerow eyes, "Oh Sarah, I know that we haven't said much about all this yet..." He broke off, searching for the words, "It was just so new this morning...I couldn't get my thoughts in order..."
Sarah smiled back at him softly in reassurance, "Whenever you're ready, babe. We both know all that's happened. And I'm not going anywhere."
He shook his head earnestly, "No, let me get this out. Before last night...before you found me again, I was only half myself. I know now that I had been searching for you too, but I just didn't realize...I just want you to know...I would have said earlier, but I didn't want to scare you off..."
Jay took a deep breath to steady himself, what he was trying to say was not nearly as complicated as his mouth was making it, "I just wanted you to know that Jay Travers loved you before ever knowing about Jareth the Goblin King. Without really knowing why, he was head over heels in love and he desperately wanted to tell you."
Sarah's smile transformed into an all out grin and she chuckled as she spoke, "Oh, babe, I wouldn't have been scared off."
"Well, how was I to know that last night?" Jay raised his voice in mock defensiveness, feeling a grin of his own break across his face. He pulled her closer on the sofa, so close she was half in his lap. His chest felt so full with joy that he had to chuckle softly to release the pressure or he thought he might explode.
Sarah's arms came loosely about his neck, resting on his lightly shaking shoulders. "You know," she responded softly, "I was afraid to do anything to scare you off. I was so paranoid that you'd leave me if I said anything even hinting about the Underground...I guess I just ended up not saying much at all."
Her grin had turned sheepish and he leaned closer to kiss her cheek softly, "It doesn't matter now, love. What's said is said and what's not said...well, fuck it, eh?"
The sound of her laughter was magical. He felt like a teenager again...well, not really. Jay had been a moody teenager and Jareth's childhood had been non-existent. He felt young. He felt light and full all at once as he leaned in again, this time seeking her lips.
"What is your bleeding problem, Paul?" Ruby hissed as she wrenched her arm from his tense grip. He'd just dragged her into the bathroom and was now pacing the tiny room in front of her. She was pissed at him. "What must your mother think? She saw you pull me in here. Jesus!"
Step, step, turn. Step, step, turn. He was obviously upset about something, but he didn't have to be such a bastard about it. Her arm freaking hurt.
He was still pacing, so she rephrased the question, "What is wrong with you?"
Paul looked up angrily, "Wrong with me? Wrong with me?"
"Yes, I would say that something is wrong."
He shook his head and began pacing again, "You should be asking what's wrong with Jay."
Ruby's eyebrows lifted in surprised, "You're talking about just now? With your dad? You guys have always had issues with him. Maybe he was just worried about Sarah meeting him."
"No." Step, step, turn. He hadn't stopped moving. He was visibly tiring, breathing hard and still shaking his head, as if he could knock some answers loose from inside it.
She finally moved away from the closed door and intercepted him, "Paul, stop it."
He stopped, but continued to deny her simple answer to the problem, "No...no, it wasn't just Dad. That was too severe a reaction. And then there was the message and before in the bedroom..." he trailed off, growing softer, as if he was loosing his voice.
"What happened in your bedroom?" Ruby softly inquired, eyeing his look of remembered shock.
"He got...angry at me...I was trying to figure out why he left me that message...I hinted that it had something to do with Sarah..." he looked at her for a moment, probably trying to figure out how much more to tell her.
"Well that wasn't very smart, was it? You know how he gets with his girlfriends. You were the one that told me he got jailed for a night over a comment someone made to Gina when she started working nights at that pub in Exeter. And remember when Franny and Collins had to make out in that terrible play their last year? Jay wouldn't talk to him the whole time it ran, just skulked about in a pissy mood all the time. I think it came to blows at some point. Franny was so pissed at him. It frigging broke them up and then he moped even more. You're the one who knows best, Paul, you don't insinuate anything about Jay's girls and you certainly don't get between them." Ruby frowned at him in exasperation and put her hands on her hips.
Paul nodded, but looked away as he spoke, "Yeah yeah, I remember. I guess I just never thought he would hit me."
"He hit you?!"
"Well, it's not like he punched me in the face or anything. He, um, grabbed me by the neck...and held me against the bunk bed...He said that he was fine, and Sarah was fine, but I wouldn't be fine if I didn't shut up about the message...He's never threatened me like that before. It...it was really frightening." Paul's voice was soft and uncertain. Ruby knew that he was undoubtedly regretting his words as he spoke them.
"Well, that's...surprising." She paused for a moment, considering, "What was in that message?"
"All this stuff about how something was happening to him...that maybe Sarah was doing it...but that it was definitely not her fault. It was kind of garbled. I couldn't make any sense of it." Paul's agitation grew as he went on.
Ruby felt a ghost of a smile appear on her face as she immediately remembered how the couple had been acting earlier in the day. "You know, Paul. This could be something completely different from whatever it is you're imagining."
He looked at her skeptically, "What do you mean?"
"Well, certain feelings...or strange reactions...can come over someone...in the throes of...passion...maybe?" She lifted the statement into a question, her expression now a full blown smirk. "Those two were very friendly with each other this morning. Something may have sparked, or possibly exploded between them in Glastonbury. They fell through the doorway and giggled their heads off on the way to the bedroom."
Paul looked at her in something akin to horror before annoyance settled on his features, "Quit screwing around, Ruby. This isn't a laughing matter."
She rolled her eyes at him, "And it isn't a matter of life and death either. If Jay doesn't want to tell you, he's not going to tell you, Paul. Suck it up and move on."
Paul looked at her as if she'd just slapped him in the face, but she stood her ground. She knew she was right. There wasn't anything that Paul could do now, and he knew it too.
He released a heavy sigh and sank down onto the closed toilet seat as she moved to run her fingers through his hair. He leaned into her touch and rested his forehead against her stomach. Ruby understood that letting this go was hard for him. Even though Paul was younger, he'd always felt the need to watch over Jay.
Paul was always the more grounded brother, despite being the artist in the family. Jay put all of himself into whatever he did, living more, loving more, and inevitably hurting more than Paul, or generally most people. After a first look and a few words, people couldn't help but notice, if not fall in love with, Jay. He'd always had that easy, devil may care attitude that was so attractive, especially to women. But having been around Paul for so long, it was easy to see everything that made him just as wonderful, because Paul stuck by his family and friends, and watched over them, no matter what. That was just what he did and Ruby loved him for it.
"Something happened to them last night." Paul's voice broke through her thoughts about him, slightly muffled, as his face was still pressed against her navel.
She smiled wryly again, "I'm certain something did happen."
"No, I mean something bigger than just sex, Ruby." His tone was frustrated once more and he lifted his head to look at her, gripping her forearms in his conviction. She turned her expression sympathetically, her hand still in his hair. "How could things have changed so drastically in three months? Why can't he tell me?"
"Paul, love develops at different times and in different ways for everyone. It changes people whether they like it or not, whether you like it or not. You can't expect him to tell you everything, all at once." She tried to be gentle now that he'd come down from his anger.
"But I can expect him to tell me something, can't I?"
His voice and expression were filled with hurt and loss. She cupped his face in her hands and kissed his brow, whispering, "Maybe not, luv. Give it some time, you'll work it out."
Her hands fell to capture his and she pulled him up and towards the door, knowing that soon they'd be missed. But he turned her back around, wrapping his arms around her and lowering his lips to hers in a sweet, lingering kiss.
Ruby smiled wistfully after they parted and let herself be held by him for another moment or two. He sighed, finally letting go of his worry for Jay, and whispered a "thank you" into her hair.
She missed this, missed him so much while he was gone. Stupid London and its stupid art scene, stupid Bristol and their stupid full scholarship, she grumbled internally. She loved Paul so much, but because of the distance, because of the time, they'd never been more than casual. But seeing Sarah and Jay find each other over the past few months...Jay's obvious infatuation with her mysteriously traumatized roommate, and their newly blossoming love from that morning...Ruby wanted nothing more than to drop everything and marry the man in front of her.
Instead she sighed and wrapped her arms tighter around him. She still had...Ruby's thoughts stopped as she realized...a whole week before she had to present her dissertation to the department. A smile slowly crept across her face as she pulled slightly out of his embrace.
Paul looked curiously at her, knowing this particular expression as the Ruby-with-a-mad idea-smile. "What are you thinking, luv?" He asked almost tentatively and Ruby laughed.
"Do you happen to be doing anything of importance within, oh, the next week or so?" She kept her voice light, but knew he wasn't fooled. Maybe the idea was mad, but she was pretty sure he'd go along.
"Nothing I can't change to the week after," he answered slowly. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, I was just wondering if you'd fancy a trip to Gretna Green or some such place in the general Scotland area, a nice town, nice inn, nice...chapel..."
She broke off as a smile similar to her own spread across Paul's face. After another few moments of kissing and embracing and all around happiness Ruby spoke, plans running rapidly through her head, "Well that's that. We can leave tomorrow morning. You can pretend you're going back to London and I'll write something vague to Sarah in a note after she leaves for campus."
Paul only nodded, seemingly unable to speak since she broached the subject. She laughed again, feeling lighter than she had in a long time, "I hope you recover soon, darling, or people are going to wonder what we've been doing in here."
Sarah rested her forehead against Jay's. All day relief had been flowing over her periodically in waves. A ball of tension, of fear, had been quivering within her for six months. First, that she would never find him, and then later, that he would never remember. But now it was done, the fear was gone and Sarah had never felt so relieved.
And she felt the beginning of a happiness, the like of which she had never known before. It seemed as though she had lived and waited ages to come to this day, to live through the previous night and feel the joy she was feeling at that very moment.
Sarah's broad smile returned as she leaned back to look Jay in the eyes again. All her hesitant thoughts and tentative plans flooded through her mind, now that the ball of fear no longer fed her doubt. Now that Jareth was here with her and everything would be fine, she let herself think about the future.
She wanted many things for herself and for them both. She wanted to see her family. She wanted her father to approve of her choice. She wanted Toby to see that she really was all right, that she wasn't just putting up a good front over the phone. She wanted...a life with Jay and she wanted her family to be a part of that life.
"We have so much to do before the summer, babe." And she laughed out loud as his expression changed from gentle curiosity to bewildered confusion.
Jay looked at Sarah, wearing the same dress that she had in that day in the forest, smiling at him without a trace of the sadness she had felt then. He smirked at her mysteriousness, "What are you planning, love?"
"Sarah? Planning? I don't know if this is such a good idea." Ruby teased jovially as she entered, pulling a somewhat dazed looking Paul by the hand. Jareth held back a heavy sigh as scrambled off him and the both stood up from the sofa. Of course they would get no privacy for more than two minutes. If he'd wanted to have any kind of lengthy conversation with Sarah, he never should have brought her home.
"What's that supposed to mean, D?" Sarah frowned at her roommate.
"Well," the grinning Ruby looked at her, clearly warming to her subject, "You're more of a blowing-in-the-wind, seat-of-pants-flying type of girl, don't you think? You...live life like you're trying to solve a maze. Always looking for what's around the next corner or the next, right?" Through her speech Ruby's expression had become more and more thoughtful and after a moment, her face broke into a grin once more and she laughed, "Well, that was my deep thought for the day. Let's go eat. All this psychic-analit-o-cizing has made me hungry!"
She finished with a wink at the room in general and pulled the still distracted Paul back into the kitchen. Jay wondered idly what that girl had done to his brother before smirking as Sarah rolled her eyes. He spoke evenly, not letting his laughter break through, "Trying to solve a maze, beautiful? Looking around the next corner?"
Sarah snorted and seized his hand in hers, "Maze solved!" She brandished their intertwined hands, "Goblin King defeated and captured! Now...it's time for making plans."
He leaned in to plant a soft kiss on her brow and then on her lips, "I think it's time for supper."
Just as he spoke, his mother called from the kitchen, "Dearest! Food's on! We've set out everything in the back garden!"
Sarah smiled but quickly produced a sad little pout, "Aww, can't I bask in the glow of my victory a little more?"
"You did that all morning. Aren't you tired of basking?"
"Silly, Goblin King," she chuckled, "Basking is very relaxing. It does not tire one out."
"Well then, I'll let you bask all night long."
An unexpected voice emerged from the other room, "Will you children quit making sick innuendo? Your mother sent me to get you. Don't let her catch you discussing the dirty deed." Ruby's head poked around the doorframe, "What the hell is a Goblin King anyway? You didn't name anything of his, did you, doll? I am simply scandalized!"
Jay shook his head, laughing; she had to be in one of these moods today. "Never you mind, darling. We're coming."
Sarah buried her face in his shoulder to suppress a fit of giggles, and then turned to stick out her tongue out at her roommate, "Get your mind out of the gutter, Ruby. It's just a nickname and, no, I will not tell you its origin."
"Can I call him that too, then?"
"Of course not," she replied as Jay rolled his eyes at them.
"Can I tell Paul? Can he call him that?"
He heard Sarah snort as he stopped mid-stride and exclaimed, "Good God, no!"
Ruby trilled a laugh at them and looked over her shoulder as she continued out to the garden, "You, my dears, are too much."
Jay and Sarah stopped in the doorway to the back, chuckling together as Ruby walked over to Paul, speaking in her loudest stage whisper, "Paul, Paul! You'll never guess what Sarah calls your brother..."
Sarah produced a very put upon sigh, saying "We're going to have to tone that girl down a bit before Toby gets here."
Jay's eyebrows rose, "Toby? Here? And when will that be, love?"
"The summer. That's why we have so much to do."
She gave him an excited grin and he felt his own expression mirror hers immediately. They certainly did have a lot to do, but now they had time. Two months would hopefully be enough to get things settled for Toby. And then they had all the time after that for everything else.
This was their time, the very start of what Jareth had come Above for, of what Sarah had come back for, journeyed through his world and her own. Their love could thrive here and it would. They would build a life together, what the realization of their combined dreams would create.
"It all starts tomorrow, babe." She murmured in his ear, effortlessly following his thoughts.
And smiling, he pulled her into the garden, her fingers tightly intertwined with his.
A/N: And wheeeeee! Here I come crashing back into your life, dear readers. I am so so sorry about the horrific wait I made you all go through for the last chapter of this epilogue. I hope that it lives up to your wishes and expectations.
Know that, as you finish this story, there's a sequel in my head, as well as a little one shot exploring events that occur after Toby and Jay/Jareth meet. So there's more coming from me at some point.
It was the dreaded Writer's Block and Real Life combo that prevented me from finishing this chap with any decent amount of expediency. Sadly, Real Life will once more be intruding big time on my writing, as I'll be studying abroad in Japan in two weeks for a whole semester. I will have free time and internet there, but I don't know how much of either of those things I'll be spending on writing.
Thanks so very much for spending your time reading my poor neglected epilogue. I hope that you enjoyed it and will review with your thoughts.