He had been born millennia ago, back in a time that humans could no longer remember. A time when the mythical had roamed the mortal realms, free to do as they pleased. The humans had adapted though, found ways to conquer and vanquish their ethereal foes, and his kind had been banished to a realm of perpetual chaos. He'd spent eons trapped in a land that knew little about permanency. The land was always shifting, moving about, leading to the rise and fall of countless creatures, each seemingly more annoying than the last. Goblins were just the latest in a long line noisome animals; before the goblins it had been an elfin kingdom, unicorns before that, and kikimoris even before that. He could no longer remember who the original inhabitants of the Underground had been, only that he had taken them over and become their king, a crown that he had held onto through every change of the unending centuries.
He was bored with life, had little patience and no heart to speak of. The only thing the Wise Man lived for these days was a good game, something to break up the creeping hours. He had been playing a rather interesting one for the past eight years, but there were new players now and the rules were starting to change.
The next few hours were bound to be interesting, as they always were when Jareth was involved. It would have almost made him happy if he hadn't been so uncertain as to what the outcome of their coming confrontation would be. It hadn't just been the memory seals that Sarah had helped him break through; Jareth was now operating completely outside the contract that they had struck all those centuries ago—the magic no longer a loaned gift, but now an inherent part of who he was—which meant that the Wise Man had absolutely no control over him anymore. Add Sarah to the obvious danger that the blond one already posed and it made him more than a little nervous; two intellectual and outright cunning people, one with more raw power than he could fathom and the other possessed of a blinding determination, together as a united front.
He didn't stand a chance of getting out of the situation alive unless they played into his bravado. The chances were slim but, then, he had always been an ardent gambler.
It was hard to know where to stand in relation to Sarah. The room had simply gone dark with little indication as to where the danger would be coming from, so Jareth had absolutely no clue where to situate himself in order to shield her from whatever was coming. A thousand little spells were clamoring from the recesses of his recovered memories, each one he had painstakingly memorized—no matter how complex—in an effort to protect those he cared for. He had been a failure as a human—he had warned his parents that the carriage they loved so dearly was in poor condition and wasn't safe to take on long rides and it had been the last thing his father had ever had the opportunity to ignore him over and not long after that he had lost his brother in a fit of mindlessness—but magic had been a second chance to make things right, to save Byron and make sure nothing ever happened to him again.
The hair on the back of his neck stood on end and Jareth froze, his head slowly turning to the teen that stood on Sarah's other side. Blond hair, hazel eyes, haughty features, all mind numbingly familiar. Byron, his brother. The goblin that he had spent centuries researching, learning, and perfecting magic for was human and here.
Something shifted in the darkness, snapping Jareth out of his blank wonder. He knew who was coming, but the question was what was the Wise Man really after and was the old man really stronger than him? Quietly, he insinuated himself between Sarah and Byron, hoping, for once in his long life, that he would be able to protect what was dear to him.
Sarah, for her part, was not particularly surprised. She'd had a feeling that the Wise Man would appear once Hoggle's plan had been blown past any chance of success, though she had been hoping for a little more time to sort things out with Jareth.
Her eyes darted to sneak a quick glance of him. He had the lean build and stance of a protective animal, but his eyes were what told the true story. The blue gaze was piercing and aware, all but screaming angry predator. He hedged between her and Byron, all fluid grace and keen protectiveness, like a wolf that felt as if his pack was being threatened. Power rolled off of him in waves, adding an element of danger to her already formidable writer.
There was absolutely no doubt that the Goblin King was back, she thought with some relief.
Sarah had been at a loss when he had first opened the apartment door and hadn't seen any sort of recognition in his eyes. How was she supposed to get him back? She had known, from first hand experience, that explaining the situation would have little effect; in fact, the only thing that had previously worked was having sex, which hadn't been an option since his brother and two friends were standing right behind her. At that thought her mind had done a funny little skitter and decided to go down the opposite route; passion had brought out the Goblin King before, and if she couldn't induced passion of a sexual nature then she would just have to do it through anger. Her possessive narcissist was in there somewhere and it seemed a rather good bet that he would come out for threats just as well as he would have for a little love-play.
It hadn't been hard to get angry, she'd always had a pretty active temper and the last two months had been hell, to say nothing of what had happened that very day. Sarah had already been stressed out enough from the past few weeks and then, in less than three or four hours she had faced the realization that she was pregnant with no lover or husband at her side, had been forced to swallow the bitter pill of Jareth and Byron's past, and then had finally been told what Hoggle and Didymus had been doing. She had felt rough and raw, trying to digest so much information, fighting too many emotions and sympathies and, by the time Jareth had confirmed that he didn't know her, Sarah's temper had been more than primed. Anger had fueled her, not anger at him but, rather, the situation—it was all so convoluted, everyone making bigger messes simply by trying to protect each other, all of it seeming so unnecessarily complex—and it had made it easy to stand there snapping and threatening a man that she knew was never going to give her heart back. If her sadistic idiot could make her fall in love with him and forget about her—whether it had been his choice or not—then there was absolutely no way that he was getting off without an earful.
For the most part her plan had worked well; she had seen the brief flashes of acknowledgment in his eyes with every new word. His otherworldliness had started to filter back in: the blond hair becoming more of a silvery-gold, pale skin taking on a mystical illumination, the eyes becoming less confused and more hawkish. Perhaps she had been overly giddy at receiving such wonderfully instant results, because after that the threat of all threats had bubbled out of her lips. "Now get up off your ass and help me raise this baby or, I swear to God, I will marry someone else who will bring the kid up as their own…" She knew she never would have married another man out of spite, but the words kept coming. "…and you will never set eyes on your child!"
As soon as it had left her lips she had somehow known that it was the wrong thing to say, the absolute breaking point for someone like Jareth, who she had known, in a visceral sort of way, wanted children and would do everything in his power to protect them. Not to say that it hadn't had the desired effect, because in that very moment he had gone from a slightly wild looking Jareth Corbett to a snarling and furious Jareth the Goblin King, so it had certainly worked. She hadn't really meant it, in any case, but Sarah was no fool; in the few seconds before the room had been plunged into darkness she had seen the look in his eyes. The possessiveness there had sent chills up her spine and, regardless of whether there had been any truth or not in what she had snapped at him, she knew that she had goaded the animalistic core of him; had threatened to leave, to walk away, until that wildness had been driven past any thought but claiming. Underneath that, though, lurking in the corners that his higher thoughts had been shoved off to, had been a quiet steeliness that promised a long chat about what was and was not acceptable to contemplate in his presence, whether the circumstances called for it or not.
Now the situation was looking a little grim: the room had gone dark, the Wise Man was lurking behind those preternatural shadows somewhere, and she had a feeling that, though Jareth seemed ready and willing to do whatever it took to keep her and Byron safe, he wasn't going to be inclined to help Hoggle or Didymus should trouble head their way—not until after he had heard some kind of an explanation at least, and even then it was probably negotiable; he had looked halfway to a rage before the lights had been leeched out. She could only hope that the Wise Man would rely on negotiation rather than try to attack them; at the moment Sarah wasn't too sure how viciously Jareth would respond to violence, but she had a feeling that her nausea from earlier that day would come back with a vengeance if she was forced to find out. The man at her side was radiating many things; mercy wasn't one of them. Besides negotiation would work better into the plan that Didymus had roughly outlined just before they had left Hoggle's apartment.
"I have a problem," a sandpapery voice wheezed from around them. "Two broken contracts and no resolution."
"Show yourself," Jareth growled, his gaze fixed to a single point, though, no matter how much she squinted, Sarah couldn't make out whatever it was he saw there.
A gentle, greenish glow illuminated half the room, revealing the figure that stood only a few feet in front of them. The Wise Man seemed more stooped and gnarled than she remembered, his deeply lined face surrounded by a mass of coarse white hair, with eyes that looked more weary than they did piercing.
Jareth made to step forward, but she stopped him by lacing her fingers through his, wordlessly trying to convey that she had a plan. When he turned those electric blue eyes to regard her, Sarah knew she was walking a very fine line; all of their futures were riding on the outcome of this single meeting and the confrontational hellion in him didn't seem to like the idea of her facing this challenge alone. 'You forget, Mr. Goblin King,' she thought to herself, 'that I was once a confrontational brat that gave even you a run for your money.'
Sarah turned her attention back to the man before them, making sure she had a tight grip on Jareth before calmly saying, "I have a proposition for you, Wise Man."
A shaggy eyebrow lifted. "Indeed?" he asked curiously.
She nodded. "I want Jareth to stay like he is right now; I want Hoggle, Didymus, and Ludo to have the freedoms that they've exercised over the past eight years; I want Byron to be apprenticed to Jareth so that he can eventually take over as the Goblin King," she paused, trying to remember if there had been any other stipulations that someone had brought up earlier that day, "and I want you to leave us all the hell alone."
On the surface his ancient face looked amused, but there was something shifty playing around his eyes. "I hardly consider that a proposition, Miss Williams; more like a dictate. What will you give me in return?" he asked, briefly eyeing her midsection in interest.
Jareth let out a vicious curse, managed to shake his hand free of hers, and wrapped both arms around her waist in order to shield her deceptively flat belly. He was curled around her back, a wall of solid strength, and she could feel the energy building up in him as he began to snarl in a language she couldn't understand—though from his tone of voice she was willing to bet that he was cursing a rather furious and impressive blue streak right now. It was flattering in a mushy my man wants to protect our baby kind of way, but distracting in a time that they could ill afford it. Heedless of the fact that her authoritative posture had been shot to hell, Sarah slapped a hand over Jareth's mouth before she turned back to the problem at hand.
The ancient one looked taken aback, and perhaps a little shaken up, from Jareth's outburst, which struck her as a little odd. After all, he was the one that had had all of the cards throughout most of this stupid game; why should he be nervous now? Unless, she thought in dawning realization, he already knew he was beaten. The unnatural darkness made sense now; he had been trying to throw them off guard, to affect an authoritative air while they were still pulling their thoughts together. The shiftiness that she had witnessed had been his own nervous unease, and Jareth's outburst had completely shattered the elder's poker face.
Sarah fought down a smile. The Wise Man was bluffing, and she was about to call him on it.
"Give you?" she mocked. "I already have given you something, Wise Man. My ring, remember? And, regardless of that fact, I still have yet to exercise my Winner's Right. You owe me, old man."
"You are far kinder than I am," Jareth growled from behind her hand, "I wouldn't have let him off with his life after that completely unwarranted implication."
And the Wise Man finally understood that Sarah Williams had come to this meeting far too prepared. She had known exactly what she wanted, had already known that she had paid for it all ten years ago, and had been banking on Jareth's anger in the event that her negotiations fell through. She had him beat in both logic and strength. It had been a losing battle from the start; he had gambled on his bravado to see him through, and he had lost.
For some reason, she had never expected to see the Goblin Castle again. As a teenager and a young woman she had visited it quite often in her dreams but, even once she had run back into Jareth, had never really thought that she would ever be given a second glimpse of the eerily beautiful towers the spiraled up from the cobblestone city. Yet here she was, in a comfortable sitting room no less, trying to recuperate from the last few hours.
The Wise Man had beaten a startlingly hasty retreat after granting Sarah's demands, likely trying to get as far away from Jareth as possible. It had all seemed rather anticlimactic, really, but maybe that was because she was used to facing off with Jareth, who was the only one she had ever met that was her equal in stubbornness. Still, the Wise Man's quick getaway had been surprisingly cowardly for someone so old.
The minutes that had followed the end of the 'negotiation' had been utter chaos. Jareth had alternated between wrapping himself around her like he couldn't quite believe he remembered the sensation, grilling his younger brother for answers, and outright glowering at Didymus and Hoggle. After a while, Sarah hadn't known where to turn her attention to anymore and had managed to get Jareth to stand still long enough for everyone to decide that everything would best be talked over Underground.
That had been before the impromptu party, of course. The second that Jareth had been seen back in the Goblin Kingdom news of his return had begun spread like wildfire. In less than half an hour they had found themselves at the center of a rather exuberant celebration. By the end of the first hour, so many creatures had arrived to welcome home their king that the party had spilled out of the castle and onto the streets. Between dances with people they didn't know and strange well wishes from some seriously deranged goblins, Sarah and Byron had managed to convince Jareth—albeit grudgingly—of Didymus and Hoggle's good intentions; he didn't seem willing to completely forgive them yet, having muttered something about the pathway to hell, but his acceptance and relaxing toward them had definitely been a start.
The rest of the party had been a haze of bad puns and constant motion, strange foods and even stranger drinks—though everyone seemed particularly careful to point out to her anything that had alcohol in it, and she dutifully kept away from them though had started to tally up a mental list of things she'd like to try when she was able. At some point Sarah had lost count of the number of times she had been swept to whatever was currently serving as the dance floor, and knew she would never be able to put any names to faces, though she did remember that the tango on the stairs had been with Didymus and the strange little jig on the oak table had been with Byron. Jareth had held out much longer than she had expected but, inevitably, had begun shooing all her would-be partners away and started claiming her dances for himself.
It had taken hours to wind down, though that was hardly surprising seeing as everyone had about eight years of bottled up mischief to let out; honestly, she was surprised it hadn't gone on for much longer. After the vast majority of people had found their way out of the castle, Hoggle and Didymus had excused themselves home, and Jareth had rounded her and Byron off to a cozy little sitting room that Sarah had a sneaking suspicion was part of his bedroom suite.
"How?" Jareth—after lounging himself across a chair and managing to get Sarah settled into his lap—asked Byron. The question had been plaguing him all day. He hadn't seen his brother in ages and now, not only was he here, he was human.
Byron, sitting in his chair very properly for someone who had spent the past few hours dancing on tables more than eating on them, shrugged his shoulders. "Things got pretty bad, the land went dormant and goblins were disappearing left and right, so a group elected me to go get you back. That was when I met Sarah. After that I thought about trying to cast a human glamour to see if you would remember me…" he trailed off.
Jareth raised an eyebrow. "And?"
"I didn't have enough strength to do it, so I channeled energy from a storm. It must have been too much energy though, because it broke through whatever enchantment was used to make me a goblin in the first place." He gave a sheepish grin and said, "After that, I panicked; I had no idea how you would react if you saw me, so I thought it would be a better idea to meet up with Sarah and form a plan."
"Of course, shortly thereafter you disappeared," Sarah grumbled, elbowing him in the side.
"Not by choice," he replied, pinching her hips until she removed the offending appendage.
"And I've been staying with her ever since," Byron interrupted before the childish squabble could escalate. If Jareth were completely honestith himself he would have to admit that the thought chafed quite a bit. His brother had spent more time with his little green eyed minx than he had.
"I still can't believe you're human again," he said wonderingly, "and talking to me, at that." He paused, then said quietly, "You don't have to do this, you know. You don't have to take on the throne."
Byron cocked his head to the side. "What do you mean?"
"I was a selfish ass back then-" he began.
The younger blond interrupted, "Finally, we agree on something. And it only took you three hundred years to admit it!"
Jareth fought down a smile and carried on. "-and because of that I destroyed your life. I would never force something like that on you again, so believe me when I say that you do not have to assume this role."
"I have a debt to pay," was Byron cryptic answer before he quietly excused himself from the room.
Sarah slumped against Jareth, ready sleep now that all immediately important discussions had been taken care of. The look on his face, though, suggested he was more of a mind to go after his brother than curl up in bed with her and, after two months of sleeping alone, there was no way she was letting him leave that room.
"You've served your penance Jareth, let somebody else have a turn now," she whispered into his shoulder. "He feels guilty, and if this is how he chooses to make amends then let him. You became the Goblin King to help him, now he wants to become the Goblin King to help you, because you're going to be too busy raising our child with me."
The acceptance seemed to come slowly, and she could tell that he would likely try to talk his brother out of it few more times before he was really all right with the idea, but eventually his habitual smirk bloomed wickedly over his lips. "Child; as in singular? I was rather hoping for dozens," he pouted, tightening his arms around her waist.
Sarah snuggled further into him, feeling at peace for the first time in months. "Alright, but only if you're the one who explains to my father why his baby girl is having shotgun wedding."
A/N: I think I might do a few one-shot follow ups but, as things stand, this is the end of Bodice Ripper. Frankly, I'm sad to see it over; I had way too much fun writing this story.
I still cannot believe the number of amazing people I have met over the course of this tale; some of you came reluctantly, others plunged right in with both feet and, either way, I'm glad to have gotten to hear from all of you. It was an endeavor that lasted longer than planned and turned out to be a pretty interesting ride. Thank you all for your opinions and encouragements, and for telling your slightly crazed-looking Events Coordinator that it was an enjoyable party.
Well, ladies… On to the next story, yes?
Disclaimer: I've written over 65 of these things in the past year and a half. Labyrinth and all the characters thereof do not belong to me.