Author's Note: This was originally written by request for Tallulah99, who insisted upon stringent guidelines. No death, she said. No angst or peril, she said. It must be fluffy, romantic, and it had to have a happy ending. After much wailing and teeth-gnashing on my part, I grudgingly complied. This is the end result. Everyone who's ever asked me if I would ever write something happy (Solea...), please accept this wretched offering. Just don't think I'll make a habit of it.
Warning: This story has no death and virtually no angst. It is fluff and HEA-compliant.
But it has a little bit of peril.
Summary: When Sarah Williams was twenty-one, the Goblin King decided to grant her another wish.
The Third Wish
It rained all day, a warm summer rain that spilled over the gutters in quicksilver sheets. Sarah opened the kitchen window just a few inches, breathing in the scent of fresh cut grass. She listened to the rumbles of thunder in the distance, rainfall pattering on the roof a continuous murmur in the background. In the back yard beneath the apple tree was a widening pool, droplets dimpling the surface and rippling outward.
All the afternoon's heat had been washed away and it was cool for late June. Sarah searched the hall closet for her father's cardigan, pulling it on over her t-shirt and rolling up the cuffs. Running down the front were buttons the color of old pennies, each one worn thin as a coin. Leaning against the counter, she rubbed one between thumb and forefinger.
Make a wish.
In the empty kitchen with pale, cloud-filtered light, the sweater didn't seem quite warm enough.
And besides, thought Sarah--
"Wishes don't come true."
She filled the kettle and set it on the stovetop, the gas burner roaring to life with the click of a knob. The kitchen seemed warmer already. Merlin dozed in the corner, his shaggy head resting against the pantry door. He was no longer a puppy to be frightened by thunder and lightning, even though he'd romped and barked like one when she'd returned home for summer vacation. Sarah knelt on the cool black and white tiles, bare feet curled up beneath her.
"How can you sleep through all this?" she scolded him softly, "I remember when you used to hide under my bed during a storm."
She dug her fingers into his thick coat, untangling a snarl of fur on his back. Merlin always needed brushing. Sounding a soft, whuffling bark, the sheepdog frantically paddled all four legs in the air as if chasing squirrels in his sleep. Sarah muffled her giggles. How she'd missed him! Next year, she promised herself, she'd find an apartment off campus and take him with her.
The kettle interrupted her thoughts and Sarah took it off the burner before its high-pitched whistle could wake Merlin. She let the tea steep, cupping her hands around the sides of the mug for warmth.
With Toby at camp and father and Karen on their annual cruise, the house felt too empty. She missed hearing her little brother running around, and the only noise at night was the creaking of the house as it settled. Not even her summer job at the bookstore could fill all the hours, and weekends lasted forever.
Sarah blew on her tea to cool it. Enough with the moping.
Tonight she'd order in Chinese food. She'd watch old movies on cable and read on the couch until she fell asleep. She wouldn't even go upstairs to bed. The living room was comfortable enough and more importantly, it had only one large bay window facing the well-lit street.
She walked to it now with her mug of tea in hand, settling herself on the cushioned ledge and resting her forehead against the cool glass. Rain dripped from the leaves of the oak tree outside, streaking the windowpane in endless wet tracks. It distorted the familiar view, all the colors mingled like the brush strokes of an oil painting. Dark green leaves framed the sky, the clouds a swirling mist above.
Sarah wondered if it would rain all night and if the fog would block the moon from sight. She half-hoped it would.
Jareth watched the girl from the comfort of his study, her image neatly contained in the shining sphere before him. The firelight caught it as he deftly rolled the crystal back and forth along the length of his arm, a spinning prism that refracted tiny rainbows across the chamber walls. Yet it was not the bright bands of color that mesmerized him, but what he saw within.
The girl sat curled up in the window ledge, her tea growing cold as she looked out over the empty streets. Her gaze was focused on something in the distance, as if she did not truly see the slick pavement or the late-flowering tulips bowed heavy with rain. Jareth wondered what she saw when her eyes had that faraway look. Many things about her had changed but this had not, and for that he was glad.
"Ever and always the dreamer." he said aloud.
But she had not dreamed her way back to him. There were nights when she'd come close, Jareth thought.
He'd been sitting in his study, reading by firelight during that elusive hour well after midnight but before dawn. There'd been no sound, no warning except that imperceptible tug on the farthest reach of his mind, like a silver needle pulling along the thread of his thoughts after it.
The book dropped from his hand and Jareth was at the window before he could even think of what it might be. When he finally realized who called him, he hadn't slept all night.
It had been so for years now, often enough that it no longer caught Jareth by surprise. He came to expect it, knowing that if the night was clear and the moon high, he could wing his way to her and settle himself in the oak tree outside her window. He watched and waited, nothing more. His power over Sarah was over, but he always knew when she was thinking about him.
The Goblin King was not a patient man. It was a virtue he'd learned with time.
He cupped the globe in his bare hands to better see, even though he'd already memorized every detail. Scarcely a day went by that he did not look upon her. There were times she almost seemed aware of him watching, but Jareth doubted this. If Sarah had known, she would not have spoken so lightly or openly as she stood alone in the kitchen.
So wishes do not come true, do they?
He laughed and the crystal danced in the air before him, revolving slowly like a small planet. As if she heard, Sarah started a little from her reverie, looking around her as if she wasn't quite sure where she was. When the moment passed, she got up from her window seat, quickly drawing the curtains closed. More lights went on inside the house, and Jareth could see her slender silhouette cross the window once, twice... and then she was gone.
One and twenty years. It seemed so few, but she was an adult by mortal standards. And yet she still believed in some of the most childish things... Like the belief that the light could keep away all the things that haunted her.
Jareth permitted himself a slight smile. He knew better.
Author's Note: This is the first of four parts.