"Why didn't you tell me I was turning into a big lizard?"
Jareth blinked at her, obviously caught off guard by the sight of her lounging in his doorway. She had meticulously avoided his room and this was the first time she had seen it. When he said nothing, she wandered forward, looking about curiously. It was not dark as she had expected. Oddly, it was decorated in shades of blue and green and it wasn't until she recognized a painting of Jiann and a younger Jareth staring from the wall above the mantle that she realized these really were his rooms.
He still hadn't moved and she looked at him to catch a bemused expression on his face.
"What?" she asked, startled.
"How did you find me?" he asked curiously.
"I asked,"she admitted.
His right eyebrow rose sharply and she began to wonder what rule she had broken this time.
"What?" her tone was exasperated.
She began to clue in."Oh for gods sake. My reflexes have tried to jump you at least three times in the last week. Do you honestly think people don't think we are sleeping together?"
A smile flickered and disappeared."Sleeping, my love? Nothing so harmless, I assure you. However that is not quite what you have announced to the world."
"What did I do?" she asked warily, her earlier euphoria draining away.
"These are my private quarters,"Jareth pointed out.
Jareth grinned again, eyes gleaming.
"You look too damn much like your mother, you know that?" she pointed out.
"Thank-you," he said."However, back to the issue at hand. I am a member of the Royal Family, ergo; my quarters are located in the Family Wing of the palace."
"And..." she gritted out, resisting the urge to whack him. Or take that smile off his face in another much more physical way. She eyed the bed behind him with interest, then gave herself a mental smack.
Jareth shrugged expansively,"Why nothing my love. Just that by asking directions you announced to all that you felt you had the right to come here. And since I have not tossed you out the nearest window..."
She stared at him appalled.
He snickered and leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs casually,"Would you like a June wedding?' he asked politely.
She blinked, then shook herself,"Never mind that. I'm a dragon,"she announced with a cheerful grin.
"You never told me," she resisted the urge to dance and settled for spinning in place, knowing she looked slightly manic. She did not care. After days, weeks -hell, years- of feeling trapped by circumstance, this was pretty damn cool.
"You did not know?"
She glared,"How could I have known?"
He blinked, then nodded,"Good point. My apologies. How did you find out?"
She grinned again,"Jiann told me."
The eyebrow went up again,"And does the knowledge please you?"
"Are you insane?" she demanded.
His lazy smile caused her to catch her breath.
"I am glad, then." he said.
It was strange. An hour ago, she was certain she hated him, and yet he was the first one she had wanted to share her joy with. She had not even questioned the impulse that had sent her speeding off to find him. Now, looking at him smiling at her, feeling the carnal impulses racing through her body, she acknowledged that very little of that reaction had anything to do with dragon reflex.
Whatever the dreams might have started, it had clearly become something else.
Maybe it was time to put dreams away.
She eyed him hesitantly, and watched as his smile faded to wariness. Before she could decide how to phrase what she wanted to ask, he slowly picked up something from the table in front of him and stood. Whatever was in his palm gleamed with a hint of gold, and she could not read his expression as he looked at it. Then his hand closed, hiding it, and he looked at her, mismatched eyes oddly blank.
"I wish you to return Above, Sarah."
She narrowed her eyes.
Jareth waved his open hand, drawing her eyes to the ringless state of his fingers. She had planned to give him her ring, but in spite of the fact that both Jiann and the High King swore she had passed all the tests-and had a Chalice embedded with seven amber gems to prove it- a coat of arms had never appeared. Jareth's grandfather thought it had something to do with the fact she had sworn to wear Jareth's arms before she passed the test. The Champion oath was a magic all its own and it was possible that by swearing it, she had made Jareth's ring her own.
That oath alone told her he wasn't sending her away forever.
"For how long?" she asked suspiciously.
Jareth shrugged. "As long as you wish. As long as you need. Take the time to say good-bye to your world." He slanted a cautious look in her direction. "I am not unaware of what the Goblin Kingdom will demand of you. I cannot regret that the land chose to act on its own, nor that you were the one chosen, but I can grant you the respect you deserve for the oath you swore. Make no mistake. You are my Champion first, beyond all other oaths you might swear to me. That is not a gift I will sully with impatience."
She stared at him, for the first time feeling the gulf in their ages.
"I'm not sure I understand what you mean," she admitted quietly.
Jareth met her eyes gravely, tilting his head,"Then we will discover it together, as all oathsworn must do."
She felt something click into place. Some understanding beyond what she had just started to comprehend during their recent journey. This was hers. He was hers, in a way more permanent than anything other than death. Whatever else they might - or might not -become, this could not be altered or forsaken. She could not damage it by reaching for more, and it could not be taken away. Not by anything or anybody. Nor would he cheapen it by trying to bribe her to stay.
He did not need to.
And he had known that all along.
No one could threaten this. Not Jiann, not his grandfather, not Leann or some fictional future wife. Not even Saren, she realized suddenly, and the last piece settled into place. Why the magic had worn Jareth's face as he tested her. She could hurt him, but she was also the only one who could foreswear herself. She was his strength and his weakness. Beyond even the plans the land had made for her, she was the one who could bring him down. Not through treachery, but because he could not guard against her. Not if he trusted her the way he must.
"Christ, Jareth," she muttered, appalled," What the hell did you think you were doing?"
No wonder this oath was rare.
The risk he had taken. She took a shaky breath and shook her head. On the other hand, perhaps to him it had been worth it. Not only because she was a child of fire. If her oath said he found her worthy to swear it, his ring told the world she found him worthy enough to accept it from him. Thinking back, there had been a rock solid confidence in him these last few days that had not been there the night of the Champion selection. She had noticed it, but had simply written it off as her own lack of knowledge of his character, or the experiences of the Trials. If it was her, if she could do this for him, with all she knew now of the fight he had been waging against the land crying in his heart, then...
...perhaps she did not regret being the one the land had chosen, either.
While she had been having her epiphany, he had been moving on in topics. The uncertainty on his face did not feel like the same issue.
"Sarah..."he started to say, then stopped when she met his eyes curiously.
Silently he laid the item in his hand on the table in front of her. She reached a hesitant hand toward it, pausing when the land shifted uneasily. It muttered unhappily to itself, but did nothing further to interfere. Given that reaction, she considered the ring in her hand with some foreboding.
"It is a Consort Ring," Jareth said hesitantly.
"And...?" she asked suspiciously.
His eyes flickered, but oddly enough did not turn gold.
"When you return...if you choose to wear the Goblin Crown,"he said slowly,"I would not have you feel you must..."he stopped, looking uncertain."Years ago, my mother was asked to consider a political alliance with a neighboring kingdom. Blood, not marriage."He read the confusion in her face."A child,"he explained.
"She was with your father at the time?" Sarah guessed.
Jareth nodded. "Mortals married all the time for political reasons, especially among my father's caste. She thought he would understand. She had no objections to the alliance. The man was pleasant enough and the child would have healed a breach several centuries old. She thought at first he felt threatened by the alliance and reassured him it was a blood alliance only, not a marriage."
Sarah winced, Jareth's bewilderment telling her more about Sidhe culture than a dozen history books. Nor did she have to wonder how Jareth's father must have reacted.
Jareth's eyes grew shadowed," He told her he would have nothing to do with the child and when she told him it was her decision, he left. Even when another was chosen for the alliance, he did not come back." He looked at her cautiously, then nodded at the ring," I would not have you feel you must make the same choice."
She looked at the ring blankly," Are you asking me if I'll agree to a political alliance?"
Jareth looked confused for a moment, then sighed and rubbed at his forehead," Sarah, the Goblin Crown is a political alliance. But there is no law that demands the children you bear be mine unless I demand it. That ring acknowledges that I do not. Should you choose another; I will raise the child as my own. It will inherit as though it were mine. In law, it will be mine, shared with you and your consort. You will not be forced to choose between your consort and your duty to the crown. Do you understand?"
She stood silent, her mind blank as she tried to sort through everything he had just told her. She stared at the ring in her hand. She suspected the normal purpose was to forge just the sort of blood alliance that had ruined his mother's relationship with his father.
Jareth was giving her permission to bring back a human lover.
For a moment she wondered why he would bother to marry her under those circumstances, then remembered what she was becoming. Dragon. The only living child of fire the Sidhe possessed. If her children inherited the ability, she could see the advantages of a child of fire in line for the Goblin Throne. She might not know much about court politics, but the only thing she could see Jareth losing politically would be the blood connection to the Sidhe High Court. Given what had happened last week, she was not sure that mattered any more.
From the unhappy murmur of the land, it was not as sanguine about the plan as Jareth appeared to be. Oddly, she believed him. He would not resent any child she had by another. That came through from the land - and she could see the truth in his eyes. Her first reaction was hurt, that he could contemplate her relationship with another man so easily. Then she remembered what he had said about his mother. Jiann had seen no conflict between sleeping with one man for political purposes and loving another.
Sarah eyed Jareth thoughtfully, his mother's suggestion that Sarah let him please her suddenly rearranging itself in a different light. He was not human. Why did she keep expecting him to act like it? Was this why she had felt so little in his mind after the binding? Was it possible he had felt nothing for the simple fact that the act itself meant nothing to him?
The thought was disturbing, and in a way, more alien than anything else about him.
The Sidhe were too sensual not to feel desire. Her glimpses of the Court backed up that theory. It was her human instincts, however, that equated sex with love - even though any high school girl knew that was not always true. But, Sarah thought slowly, human beings pair-bonded through sex.
Maybe the Sidhe did not.
Sex alone was a weak foundation for a relationship lasting forty or fifty years. Sidhe lived millennia. What had Jiann said? That the fact her dragon had accepted him had given him hope. Hope for what? It occurred to Sarah that perhaps what Jiann had actually been describing trust, something that would be far more valuable to a being whose friendships spanned centuries and more. She had been upset at how shameless her dragon self was with Jareth, but maybe that had more to do with the fact that when all was said and done, Sarah was human. And humans thought about sex. A lot.
Although baring her throat to his teeth was about as pure an example of trust as it could get.
Who knew how dragons pair-bonded?
For the first time, she had no idea how to react, what to do next. She wanted to find Jiann and ask her a million questions that boiled down to just one. How did she keep from screwing this up? Jareth was here now, waiting for a response and he might not mind if his heir was fathered by someone else, but the enormity of the trust he had just handed her was staggering. There were men who would pursue her just for the position. If she chose a Sidhe, Jareth would need to deal with any political allegiances that might create. All because he respected what he was asking her to give up - and what it might cost her to do so.
She couldn't decide if he was a fool or the bravest man she had ever met.
She weighed the ring in her hand, torn with indecision. What was she saying if she kept the ring? That she intended to hunt for a lover and father for her children, obviously. But what was she saying if she gave it back? It was an extraordinary gift of trust. Probably more than she had the experience to understand. Whether he was in love with her, it was a pure act of love and generosity she could not - would not - refuse. Not if such a rejection could be interpreted as a rejection of him.
How did the Sidhe do it, she wondered?
How did they find love amidst glamour and illusion? How did they know what was real? She weighed the ring again and sighed softly. This was real. She might not know who Jareth truly was. She was still too confused over the dreams from the land, the dreams from Saren, and her own fantasies. She did not know where any of them ended and she began. She did not know if the man she thought she knew was even real. But the man who had given her this ring...
She thought it would not be too difficult to love him.
So...perhaps that was the answer. It was a risk. But she was Fire was she not? Sarah could not resist a smile. Jareth was watching her warily and she watched his shoulders relax slightly as he caught her smile. Was it her imagination or did his mouth tighten? It occurred her that he might not mind raising a child not his own, but he might mind very much the fact she did not find him acceptable enough to father them. So...that was her answer then.
Stepping forward she reached forward and he let her take his left hand without protest. He tensed when she brought the hand holding the ring forward. His gloved fingers flexed slightly, forming a cup and as a grim expression settled into his eyes she realized he thought she was giving it back. Well, in a way, she was.
The ring slipped over the middle finger of his left hand.
He might have mistaken her understanding of the ring, but he could not misunderstand the symbolism of choosing the same finger that bore a Champion ring on her own hand. His face was expressionless, but in spite of the fact the ring was snugged securely against black leather, his fingers curled protectively. She let out a careful breath.
He did not react when she reached to touch her fingers to the spiky ends of his hair, but when she pulled back after brushing her lips across the hollow in his throat, his eyes were bemused. For one moment she regretted that something she considered an act of love was nothing more than friendship for him. It occurred to her, however, to turn that thought around. She could not swear she loved him, but did that cheapen the fact it would please her to please him?
He did not react when she pushed him backward toward the bed, but his eyes had regained their wary look.
"Sarah, your body will need time to adjust to the magic,"he told her carefully."It is unlikely you will conceive for years."
Eying the man whose image had driven her nuts over the last decade, she smiled and peered up at him through her lashes with a look she hoped was universal.
"Practice makes perfect," she murmured.
He blinked, then he smiled a slow lazy smile before throwing his head back and laughing with delight.
And really, who ever said that wasn't a good way to begin?