A/N: Apologies for the enormous length of this chapter. I didn't actually mean for it to get so long, but there was a lot to work in. I may be a bit slow in updating in the weeks to come. Thanks for reading! Enjoy the chapter!
Jessie stood before the twins' bedroom door, shifting her weight back and forth. She really, really didn't want to meet these children. She'd had enough weirdness for one day, and she could just picture how bizarre these kids might turn out to be. She sighed, lifted a hand, and knocked. "Marie? Elizabeth? I need to talk to you," she called.
There was a small pause, then a scampering of little feet. The doors both swung open simultaneously, at a stately, slow pace, revealing a huge room with an arched ceiling. The top of the ceiling was painted like the sky – half of it covered in bright fluffy clouds that began to fade into stars against midnight blue towards the back of the enormous room. The sky plunged downwards into tall painted trees, in which strange birds nested. Around the bases of the trees weird looking creatures peeped out, smiling, cackling, glaring – and all staring out with frighteningly real eyes.
When the doors had opened as far as they could go, there was a soft sound of shuffling and two small girls stepped out from behind either door. Jessie's breath caught in her throat as she saw them, for they were the oddest-looking children she had ever seen.
They were beautiful children, to be sure; their faces were round and young, and they had the perfectly delicate, upward-tilted noses that so many girls longed for. They had wide eyes with long and lovely lashes, and small but flawlessly rounded and pouting lips. Yet there was something beyond eerie about them. They were very, very pale, as though they never saw daylight, and their hair was similarly pale and blonde. On both, their yellow locks were straight, but stuck out every which-way, as though they could not be controlled by any brush or hairspray in the world. What was willing to stay down hung to the middle of their slender, straight backs. Both were costumed in tiny, dark green gowns that seemed like perfect replicas of ancient medieval dresses. Most disturbing of all were their eyes – for both had two different colored eyes. The left eyes were such a dark green that they almost seemed black, but the right eyes were bright, icy blue.
"Who are you?" they asked simultaneously.
Jessie blinked. Weirdly enough, something about them and the way they spoke seemed familiar. "I'm Jessie," she said, looking directly into both their eyes as though to show them she was not intimidated. "Can I come in?"
The girls glanced at each other, then turned as one and motioned her inside. Jessie followed them with a good deal of trepidation, but she didn't focus on them for long – she was soon looking about their rather extraordinary bedroom, rather than paying attention to them.
There were low shelves running the length of the walls, covered in homemade dolls and stuffed animals representing all sorts of strange creatures. There was a wardrobe on either side of the room at its middle; one had its doors standing open, revealing a vast array of costumes. There were dressers standing on either side of these wardrobes, which Jessie assumed held the girls' real clothes. One of the dressers was tipped onto the floor, its contents spilled everywhere around it. Behind it, stuffed animals and other toys were hurled haphazardly about. At the furthest end of the room, a large picture window leading to a balcony stood open, allowing the breeze inside.
Jessie tore her eyes away from the back of the room and brought it back to the children. Out of the corner of her eye she spotted a small alcove that appeared to have chairs in it. "Can I sit down?" she asked politely.
The girls glanced at each other, then smiled up at her and nodded. They came to stand on either side of her, took both her hands, and led her towards the little alcove. "These are our thrones," one of them explained. "Mommy had them carved for us."
Indeed, they were thrones; they were gorgeously painted and ornately carved, big enough to fit a full-grown person and cushioned with hand-embroidered pillows set onto the seat and tied to the back of the chairs. "These are very nice," Jessie said appreciatively as the girls let her sit in one of the thrones.
They sat cross-legged on the floor before her and folded their hands demurely in their laps. Jessie looked back and forth between them; they were exactly identical. "Which one of you is which?" she asked.
The one on Jessie's left announced, "I'm Marie."
The one on Jessie's right followed suit. "I'm Elizabeth."
"Well, hi, Elizabeth and Marie," Jessie said with a reassuring smile. "I'm Jessie. I'm looking for your mommy."
The two girls gave each other knowing glances. "Did Red hire you?" Marie asked.
Jessie was a little surprised to hear a four-year-old calling her father by his name – nickname or not. "Yes, he did," she said. "He's very concerned about your mommy, and he thinks you might remember what happened before she disappeared. He told me that he came home from work and found your room all messed up, and that you'd seen one of your mommy's old friends."
Both smiled serenely. "Jareth," they said at the exact same time.
Jessie nodded. "Yes, Jareth," she said. "Your daddy doesn't know anything about Jareth, but he thinks he may have something to do with your mommy's disappearance."
"He does," Elizabeth said with an excited nod.
"But it's not all his fault," Marie said, shooting her sister a stern glare. "Jareth doesn't come unless he's called, you know."
Jessie frowned. "No, I didn't know," she said. "Do you know how your mommy and Jareth know each other?"
"The Labyrinth," the girls chorused.
There was that damned Labyrinth again. "Really?" Jessie said cautiously. "How is Jareth involved with the Labyrinth?"
The girls looked at her as though she were stupid. "He owns it," Elizabeth said, as though Jessie were the four-year-old.
"Does he?" Jessie said unenthusiastically. They were leading her back towards Jareth's status as Goblin King. She pulled out a notepad and scribbled down some notes. "Do you know where it is?"
"It's in the Underworld," Elizabeth revealed.
"No," Marie said impatiently. "The Underground. It's below us."
Jessie wrote the quote on her notepad and put a question mark by it. "You said Jareth was in your house?" she asked. She was obviously getting nowhere with her questioning in regards to the Labyrinth; maybe if tried another tactic she'd find out something worth noting.
Both girls nodded very seriously. "We called, and he came," Elizabeth said. "But he got angry when we talked about Red. He knocked stuff over."
Hmmm. Jealous ex-lover, perhaps? "Did your mommy hear that?"
"Yes, but he wasn't here when she came into our room," Marie told Jessie. "But he came back, and they talked."
"Did you hear what they were talking about?" Jessie asked.
"They were arguing," Elizabeth said, looking very sad. "We snuck out of our room and went down the hall to the door so we could hear better. They were talking about us and Red."
"What about you guys?" Jessie asked, studying both girls great curiosity.
"Lots of stuff," Marie said with a shrug. "Mostly about Red and how mommy doesn't love him and how he's not our daddy."
Jessie froze, shock bursting like a water balloon on impact inside of her. "Jared's… not your daddy?"
The girls shook their heads solemnly. "Jareth is," Marie said, by way of explanation.
Oh, God… things just got a lot more complicated. "Oh, I… see," Jessie said slowly. "How often have you seen your… real daddy?"
"Just last night," Elizabeth said. Her whole face lit up with a bright smile. "He's very beautiful," she told Jessie happily. "Someday he's going to take us away and we'll live with him and mommy in the Underground."
This was all a bit much for Jessie. "Did he tell you that?" she asked.
"No; he told mommy that," Elizabeth said. "When they were arguing."
"Did she seem happy about it?"
Elizabeth shook her head sadly. "Not really," she said. "But when they stopped arguing she said she wanted to go away."
Jessie drew in a deep breath and closed her eyes. "Did your mommy leave with Jareth when they stopped arguing?" she asked.
"No," Marie said in a level voice. "Red came home while they were talking, and our father left. Then she went downstairs and she and Red got in a big fight. That's when she disappeared."
Jessie's eyes flew open, and she stared penetratingly at both girls. "Jared said your mommy was gone when he got home," she told them.
They frowned at each other. "No," they said together. "That's not true."
Jessie sighed unhappily. "So she and Red fought, and then she disappeared?" Jessie asked for confirmation.
Elizabeth leaned in confidentially. "He said the words," she whispered.
Jessie looked confused. "The words?" she repeated.
Both girls nodded gravely. "If you want to send someone away, you say the right words and the goblins come and they go away," Marie explained. "He said the words."
Jessie felt dizzy and sick inside. The last part of her interview wasn't making any sense, but what the girls were telling her indicated that Jared was the actual cause of Sarah's disappearance. "I… I think that's all I need for now," she told them, her voice shaking. "It was… very nice to meet you both."
She stood and started towards the door, unsteady on her feet, but before she reached it, Marie's voice stopped her. "You're like us, aren't you?" she said – very much a statement of fact.
Jessie turned back to them, thinking that she couldn't handle much more weirdness for the day. "What do you mean?" she asked.
Marie smiled. "You're like us," she repeated, linking arms with Elizabeth. Their expressions were exactly matched; they were like two parts of one person standing together. Jessie felt a pang in her heart as she looked at them, and her hand reached out to the side to stroke empty air. "I… don't know what you mean," she said slowly.
Elizabeth looked up at her with large, sad eyes. "She's gone, isn't she?" she said. "We're very sorry."
Jessie felt tears well up in her eyes; of course that's what they meant. "I – thank you," she choked out, trying to smile. "I was – we – thank you."
She turned on her heel and stumbled out of the room, swallowing a sob.
"Keep your eyes closed."
"Why?" Sarah asked, reaching blindly behind her. "You have your hands over my eyes!"
"I know you," Jareth said in amusement. "You'll peek."
"Will not!" Sarah exclaimed, her hands finally making contact with Jareth's body. "Why do we have to do this? I know you're taking me to try on clothes."
"You make it sound so… dull," Jareth said. "Walk forward."
Her hands flew out in front of her. "Don't walk me into a wall!" she said fearfully.
Jareth smirked. "That wasn't in my plan, but now that you mention it…"
"I'm not serious," he laughed. "Just walk."
Sarah reluctantly took a step forward, and Jareth followed, his hands still over her eyes. "Why all the secrecy?" she asked again as she felt before her with her foot.
"These aren't plain human clothes, Sarah. Do you remember that gown you wore at the masquerade ball – the one in your dreams?"
"The dreams you falsified for me?" Sarah asked impertinently.
"They were your dreams," Jareth insisted. "Answer the question."
"Of course I remember that dress. It was stunning." Sarah gave a wistful little sigh.
"These are even better."
"Liar!" Sarah tripped over a loose stone and would have fallen if Jareth hadn't caught her around the waist with one arm while snapping the other hand over her eyes.
"Careful," he chuckled, pulling her back to her feet. "We're almost there. Turn to your left."
"Okay…" Sarah turned, stepping timidly around a bend. Her hands came into contact with a solid door. "Can I open the door?"
She did, and the door swung open. Jareth walked her forward into the room. "All right," he said, drawing his hands away. "You can open your eyes now."
Sarah's eyes flew open – and her jaw dropped. The room appeared to be endless, and it was filled with gowns of every possible color, cloth, and style. "Oh. My. God," she breathed, pressing a hand to her chest.
"I take it you like them," Jareth chuckled.
"I'd be an idiot not to," she said, reaching out to touch a crimson and gold gown nearest to her fingertips. "Where… how did you get all these?"
"Oh, I can summon rooms like this with magic," Jareth said nonchalantly. "The magic designs the clothes to the tastes of the person to wear them. It's very convenient."
"There are hundreds of them!" Sarah exclaimed, pushing her way through some of the hanging dresses to another row. The gowns seemed to swallow her, and she disappeared from Jareth's view. "How in the world am I ever going to wear all of them?"
"You have eternity to do so," Jareth said in amusement. "I think you'll find the time."
Sarah peeped her head out through some of the gowns – a sight so ridiculous that Jareth had to laugh. "Don't peek," she said severely to him. "You can't see back here, can you?"
He shook his head, still smiling. "No, I can't – unless I happen to part the dresses a little or something to that effect…"
"Don't you dare," Sarah warned, glaring at him. Then she disappeared behind the row of gowns again. The crimson and gold gown she had been fingering at the start disappeared from the front row.
Jareth crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the wall, looking somewhat impatient. He tapped the toe of his boot on the floor, shifting his position every few seconds while staring at the layers of organza and velvet in front of him. "Does it always take you this long to dress?" he questioned.
"I haven't been at this more than a minute," Sarah said, and Jareth could just picture the way she'd be rolling her eyes. "So you can just relax."
There was a rustling of fabric, and Sarah emerged from amongst the dresses. "How do I look?" she asked, lifting her arms and spinning a circle.
Jareth pushed himself away from the wall, staring at her admiringly. "You look… stunning," he said. The gown was made of crimson velvet and was off the shoulder; it had draping bell sleeves and a flowing skirt and train. It was embroidered with thin gold thread flowers, with gold ribbon at the neckline, waistline, and at the wrists. "All you need is a crown, and you'd look like a queen."
Sarah blushed prettily. "I don't suppose there's a mirror in here?" she asked, looking around. As soon as she spoke the words, one magically appeared. "Wow," she said in delight as she walked towards it. "I could get used to this…"
"You like the dress, then?" Jareth asked.
"Actually I meant I could get used to anything I want magically appearing when I want it, but yes, I love this dress," Sarah said, admiring herself in the mirror. Her long dark hair was hanging in waves around her shoulders, framing her face perfectly. "It's been a long time since I've even worn a costume like this," she sighed wistfully.
"Not so long," Jareth said, still admiring her from the wall. "You're forgetting that masquerade party you went to with Jared a few months ago. You wore quite an attractive gown for that."
Sarah looked back at him with a raised eyebrow. "Been spying on me and Jared, have you?" she said dryly.
"You can't be surprised," Jareth laughed. He looked at her more seriously and said, "I'll never understand why you stayed with him."
Sarah shrugged slightly; suddenly his gaze was far too intense for her. She hurried back into the rows and rows of dresses, pulling the sultry crimson gown over her head and shuffling through the other gowns, looking for something slightly more modest. "Things weren't always as difficult as they are now with him," she said, a little defensively. "I have plenty of happy memories with Red. Lots of good times at college, stuff like that."
"Trust me, I know all about them," Jareth growled, the envy in his voice unmistakable.
Sarah smiled wryly. "I'm sure you do," she said, pulling out an enormous peacock-colored, Elizabethan style gown from amongst the others. "In fact, I think you followed me a bit more closely than you'd like me to believe."
"What in all the Labyrinth would make you say that?" Jareth asked, without sounding remotely curious. Sarah took this as confirmation that he already knew the answer, but she kept talking anyway as she slipped into the dress.
"I wouldn't say my life was exactly normal after I beat the Labyrinth," she told him. "You know Hoggle, Ludo, and Sir Didymus all visited me while I was in high school?"
"Yes," Jareth said, staring shamelessly at her as she shuffled her way out into the open again.
"I'll bet," Sarah said with slightly narrowed eyes. She turned to look at herself in the mirror and went on. "They had this bad habit of making appearances at the most inconvenient times," she said. "Like that first date I had with that boy – what was his name?"
"Eric," Jareth supplied.
Sarah looked quite taken aback. "Good God, Jareth!" she said in amazement. "How do you remember his name when even I don't?"
"I believe there is a mortal proverb that states, 'Know thine enemy,'" Jareth said calmly. "And that dress is enormous. You'll have trouble walking in it without knocking a goblin over."
Sarah huffed and moved back into the dresses again, determined to find something smaller and more normal looking this time. "I really liked Eric, you know," she said a bit sullenly as she stepped out of the huge, bejeweled gown.
"He was a scabby, weak little pig of a boy," Jareth retorted with considerable dislike. "So fragile that he looked like he would break if he stubbed his toe. Why in the world were you attracted to him?"
"He was the first boy who showed any interest in me," Sarah said, a warm glow starting inside her.
"'Boy' being the key word in that sentence," Jareth said contemptuously. "You had a man – an immortal, no less, the damn Goblin King, who offered you the entire world on a string – but of course that wasn't enough. Sarah had to have her milky, pale, sickly little boy flings first."
"Oh, shut up," Sarah said with a touch of exasperation. "He wasn't that bad."
"I assure you, he was," Jareth said fervently. "You deserve much better."
"And I suppose you'd count yourself as 'much better'?" Sarah asked innocently. She emitted a small squeal of joy upon finding a slender, elegant hunter green gown with long sleeves.
Jareth arched both noble brows at both the remark and the squeal. "Wouldn't you?" he replied.
Of course she would, but she didn't want to admit it to him. She returned to her original thought. "Well, anyway, on me and Eric's first date, we were sitting in my room, just talking about school and theater and life in general," she said, making several indelicate grunting noises as she attempted to pull the green dress over her head, "And right as he leaned in to kiss me, Ludo burst in. He went absolutely berserk when he saw Eric and started roaring and stomping like he was being attacked by goblins with Nipper sticks."
Jareth couldn't control the smug smirk that burst across his face. "As I recall, the little scab fainted on the spot," he said with a wicked cackle. "Courageous fiber in every bone of that one."
"You're terrible," Sarah said, stepping out from the dresses and spinning to show off.
"No, I'm the Goblin King," he parried.
"Same thing," Sarah retorted.
"Ouch," Jareth said in mock pain. "That was uncalled for."
"Think of it as payback for all the time you spent spying on me and ruining my love life," she said coolly. Her expression suddenly broke into a wide smile, and she laughed. "Did you see Ludo's face when I finished scolding him?" she giggled. "The poor thing. He looked so dejected. I had to promise him at least twenty times I was still his friend…"
"Yes, yes," Jareth said impatiently. "Very… er…"
"Cute?" Sarah offered as she floated to the mirror to admire herself.
Jareth wrinkled his nose. "I suppose that'd be the word for it," he said in distaste. "Really, he's just a big stupid lout. You shouldn't be so fond of him, you know."
"I'll decide who I'm fond of and who I dislike, thank you very much," Sarah said loftily, turning back to Jareth with her hands on her hips. "Anyway, he never burst into my room without permission again."
"That must have been very relieving for your… what is that word you use to describe your suitors?" Jareth asked, chewing his lip as he thought about it.
"Boyfriends," Sarah said.
"Ah," Jareth said with a nod. "How very… apt."
"What?" Sarah asked, taken aback.
"Well, they're just boys, really – not even close to being men," Jareth explained, "And they'll never get beyond being your friend, so the title seems very appropriate."
Sarah rolled her eyes. "You know, Red was my boyfriend at one time," she pointed out.
"Exactly," Jareth said, raising both eyebrows.
Sarah huffed and snapped, "Well, I don't suppose you would happen to know about that time when Hoggle leapt on Alex from the bushes, would you?"
Jareth was the picture of innocence – which usually meant he was guilty of something. "I had no idea," he said in false astonishment. "I'm sad I missed it – it sounds vastly amusing."
Sarah stared at him disbelievingly. He caught the expression and widened his eyes in an obvious attempt to appear guiltless. "What?" he asked. "You don't really believe I had anything to do with it, do you?"
"I'm certain you did," Sarah said. "So you can stop pretending that you're an innocent bystander in all of this."
Jareth pressed a hand to his heart. "It hurts me that you don't trust me, precious," he said, feigning wounded-ness.
"Oh, God," Sarah groaned. "You're terrible."
"We've been over this before," Jareth said with a mischievous little grin; "The official title is 'Goblin King'."
"Shut it," Sarah advised. "Well, what about that time that Sir Didymus came out of nowhere and charged my third boyfriend? He totally punctured all of Jason's tires."
"Robert's," Jareth said automatically, then winced. "Damn," he sighed.
"Ha!" Sarah exclaimed triumphantly. "I knew it! I knew you wouldn't be able to resist correcting me."
Jareth took his fist and beat his forehead with it briefly. When he'd finished, he glanced up towards the ceiling and confessed, "Well, I may have had something to do with that one…"
"May have?" Sarah repeated incredulously, but Jareth would concede nothing further. She huffed, but decided to probe in a different direction. "You know, your possessiveness surprised me at first," she told him as she moved back into the dresses to change.
"Oh?" Jareth said blandly. Sarah caught the immense curiosity at the edge of his tone and smiled.
"I don't think I really realized what you meant with your final offer in the Labyrinth," she said as she removed a black gown heavily embroidered in silver from its place. "But as I thought about it, I guess I realized that you…" She hesitated briefly; she didn't want to say "in love" and upset him.
Her uncertainty caught his attention, and he waited for a long moment before supplying the words she had feared to say: "You realized I loved you," he said, very matter-of-factly.
She blushed. "Yes," she said softly, pausing in the midst of dressing to stare blankly at the floor.
"You apparently didn't like that particular revelation," Jareth said bitterly.
She awoke from her momentary trance shook her head, a crease appearing between her brows as she frowned. "It wasn't a matter of liking or disliking it," she said, hurrying to finish putting on the dress. "At first I was flabbergasted. You would have laughed at the ridiculous expression on my face – I was in the middle of a math class when I realized. I'd been thinking about the Labyrinth to avoid actually thinking about school, and it just… hit me. My friend Lisa told me I looked like a moron most of the class with my mouth hanging open the way it was."
Jareth chuckled at the thought of Sarah staring uncomprehendingly at an immensely dry and boring mortal professor with her jaw practically dropping all the way to the floor. "Pity I missed it," he said quietly. "You said 'at first.' Then what?"
Sarah slipped out of the dresses to show off the gown she'd chosen, and Jareth nodded approvingly. "I was flattered," she answered honestly. "I didn't really understand it. I still don't, actually. I mean, I was just a girl and one who rejected you rather vehemently at that. And you were… well… the Goblin King. I just assumed you had better options."
Jareth snorted as a few of the so-called "better options" flashed through his head. "Just wait until you meet them," he said with a shake of his blonde mane. "You'll understand it then."
"I'm sure they're not that terrible," Sarah said with a slight shake of her head.
"They are," Jareth said shortly. "Trust me. You were saying?"
Sarah paused again, and Jareth inwardly braced himself for a not-so-pleasant revelation. "Well, then I was sort of… horrorstruck," she admitted, looking at the mirror rather than at him.
Jareth winced. "Did you have to use such a terrible-sounding verb?" he asked.
She bit her lip, frowning in concern as she turned to look at him. "It's not what you think," she said gently. "After the incident with Eric, and then Alex, and then Robert, etc. etc. etc., I realized that there was no possible way I would ever find a human partner to spend the rest of my life with so long as you were interested – because you'd always be interfering."
"I protect my own," Jareth said, completely unruffled. "And I protect them damn well."
"You don't need to tell me that," Sarah said deprecatingly. "Trust me; I know it better than almost anyone else." She paused, then continued, "That's why I picked a college far, far away from my hometown – not that I thought that would prevent you from finding me," she said hurriedly.
"My range," Jareth said a bit ominously, "Spans the entire world. So I'm glad you weren't directly attempting to escape by going far away. It was something I expected of you anyway – to leave home and flee the tyranny of your wretched parents."
Sarah wrinkled her nose. "They're not so wretched," she said, rolling her eyes.
"You didn't think that when you were fifteen," Jareth laughed.
Sarah looked more than a bit embarrassed at that. "I was stupid when I was fifteen," she said shortly, turning away and disappearing back into the gowns. "But you know, I at least wanted to attempt to have a normal relationship at college," she revealed, returning to the original topic of conversation. "It gets very irritating trying to explain to your boyfriends why they're under attack. You have to invent some very creative excuses. You have no idea how long it took me to convince Eric he hadn't seen Bigfoot jump out of my closet."
"Yes, I do," Jareth said with a sly smile. "I helped you convince him."
"You did?" Sarah said in surprise, almost dropping the rich purple and gold velvet number she had just taken out.
"Oh yes," Jareth said. "A little spell, a little nudge there… works wonders."
Sarah made a face as she pulled the dress over her head and stepped out. "Don't try that on me," she warned.
"If you stay as stubborn as you are I may have no choice," he said with a resigned sigh. "So you've come to Jared now. Is that right?"
Sarah nodded. "Yeah, we've gotten to him now," she said with a small, wan smile. "When Red appeared, literally nothing seemed to drive him away. My stepmom liked him. She said he 'had both feet firmly planted on the ground.'"
"What good is that to an artist like yourself?" Jareth demanded, full goblin wrath contorting his features. "What use was he? Sarah, why the hell did you marry such a swaggering, single-minded bastard?"
Sarah sighed. "Red was… a very determined suitor," she said with a small shrug. "In fact, in some ways, he made me think of you."
Jareth cringed. "Don't insult me like that," he said, shuddering slightly.
"Well, your names are similar," she said defensively. "And occasionally I thought I saw a little of your face in his. And, let's be honest here – you were both equally persistent."
Jareth laughed mirthlessly. "Oh, yes," he growled. "He was a persistent little bastard. I had planned out his murder more than once, but the scum seems to have found a way to cheat death every single time."
Sarah looked alarmed to hear that Jareth had planned to kill Red. "I didn't realize you were attempting to kill him," she hedged.
"Not until the bitter end," Jareth said resentfully. "I spared him because you seemed to care about him – and because I thought something would make you change your mind."
"I almost did when my bed sheets literally would not release me from bed on the morning of our wedding," she said with a disbelieving chuckle. "God, my mother had to cut the damn things from me with a kitchen knife!"
Jareth smiled serenely. "I'm very proud of that spell," he said. "You know it doesn't work unless the bride herself is not actually destined to marry the groom?"
"Sure, Jareth," Sarah said, in a voice that suggested she was humoring him.
"It's true," he said calmly. "I'd advise you to look it up in one of the ancient scrolls, but you couldn't read them anyway, so there'd be no point."
Sarah rolled her eyes at herself in the mirror. "Well, I don't suppose I can disbelieve you, considering the shambles my marriage is currently in," she said forlornly.
Jareth started to reach out to touch her, but he drew his hand back quickly. "Try to remind yourself that you don't have a marriage," he said quietly. "Because you don't anymore. You're not part of that world. You're here – with me. This is where you belong."
He hadn't meant to set Sarah off with that comment, but it infuriated her. "No, it isn't," she said, anger edging her voice. "I belong at home, with my daughters and their father."
Jareth's eyes narrowed furiously. "He's not their father, Sarah, and you know it," he said. "We've already had this discussion. They're my girls as well as yours."
Sarah set her jaw – never a good sign – and glared coldly at him. "That doesn't give you the right to lock all of us away here for your own happiness," she said. "You didn't even think about what I'd want, or what the girls would want!"
"There was nothing to think about!" Jareth snapped. "Jared wished you here, and so I brought you. That's what I'm supposed to do, Sarah. It's in the laws of the Labyrinth."
Sarah closed her eyes tightly and shook her head. "I can't deal with this right now," she said, abruptly hurrying past him to the door. "I'm going back to my room."
"It's actually my room," Jareth said in irritation.
"If you value the assets that you seem so keen to show off with your ridiculously tight pants, then you won't come back to it tonight," Sarah warned, and then she was out the door and gone.
Jareth stared after her for a moment, then let out a long breath with a shake of his head, murmuring, "I may yet have to kill that girl…"
Sarah closed the girls' door behind her and leaned dazedly against it, remembering their words to her only moments before: The Goblin King, of course. Our real father. "This can't be happening," she said quietly to herself. Oh, sure, she'd fantasized about Jareth enough – God only knew why he had such a hold on her mind – but her fantasies hadn't led her to let Jareth into her bed – had they?
And Red. Damn him. Red made the entire situation even more complex. Red meant a good deal to Sarah, but suddenly she wasn't sure that she actually was in love with him. Even more importantly, she wasn't even sure when Red had actually been himself in their marriage. Because if Marie and Elizabeth were Jareth's children… well, Sarah was damn certain she had only willingly given herself to Red, and unless Jareth had mysteriously shape shifted into Red's form…
She could see him doing that, actually.
Her fury abruptly exploded inside her at the realization of how personally Jareth had invaded her life. She pushed herself forcefully away from the door, going into her bedroom and throwing wide the window. "Jareth!" she screamed into the rainy night. "Jareth, I know you're out there! And you'd damn well better come right now before I slaughter you!"
As soon as her cry had dissipated into the night, a beautiful snowy owl swooped from the sky and made to land inside her window. She stepped back and watched as the owl suddenly transformed into Jareth's tall, lanky form, the shock of blonde hair bursting from his scalp. He was dressed in a black cape that swept over his chest, and dark breeches with tall boots. The cape dripped from the rain outside. And, damn it all, he looked sexy – ridiculously, blatantly, stunningly sexy, in a way that only Jareth could. "Is that any way to summon the father of your daughters?" he asked her, a wide smirk blossoming across his perfectly sculpted face as he opened his arms to her – almost as if he expected her to hurl herself into his embrace and kiss him right there.
His smugness was maddening. "You are not their father!" Sarah cried, stomping her foot.
"On the contrary, dear Sarah," he said with a laugh. "I can assure you that I am, even though you may disbelieve it."
"You've never touched me!" Sarah exclaimed.
"Now, how is that possible?" Jareth asked with mock confusion, placing a hand ponderously on his chin. "Unless I'm much mistaken – and I don't believe I am – children cannot be created without some form of touching. Am I right?"
"Jareth," Sarah said through gritted teeth. "This. Is. Not. The. Time."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Jareth said derisively. "Do tell me when it is. I'm always available to mercilessly tease, insult, and ridicule you."
"So I've noticed," Sarah said hotly. "You can lie to me all you want, Jareth, but you can't lie to my children."
"I've never told them a lie in all our brief acquaintance," Jareth said, sounding a bit put out. "Granted, that brief acquaintance only lasted about five minutes. They brought up a certain Jared character, whom I don't happen to be particularly fond of, and I got a little angrier than I should have. I may have destroyed some of our girls' property – I apologize for that. Once all of you agree to live in the palace with me, I can replace it with much finer gifts. But as long as you stay with Jared…" Momentary hatred twisted Jareth's otherwise elegant features. "I hate that man," he snarled. He seemed to calm himself, and he added, rather jauntily, "He stole my Queen, you know."
"Did he now?" Sarah said, crossing her arms over her chest. "Well, that obviously wasn't due to lack of effort on your part. You enchanted my bed sheets on my wedding day!"
"I would have much rather been in the bed with you restraining you by far more pleasurable means, believe me," Jareth told her with a wolfish stare.
"Apparently you magically found your way there without my knowing it," Sarah said in disgust, "If what you allege is, in fact, true."
"You can't really find it that hard to believe."
"I do!" Sarah cried. "I saw Red's face."
"Every time?" Jareth asked archly.
"I – yes!" Sarah lied.
Jareth shook his head and tutted. "It's not nice to lie to the father of your children – and it's an especially bad idea when he happens to be King of the Goblins."
"I'm not afraid of you," Sarah said defiantly.
"You probably should be," Jareth told her, but there was nothing threatening in his voice. "And considering how very intimately I happen to know you, it's not particularly wise on your part to provoke me."
"More intimately than I ever realized," Sarah said bitingly.
"I don't think you were quite as oblivious as you insist you were," Jareth said, taking several steps towards her. Sarah held her ground, but she wanted to run. "Think, Sarah – think of every time you've been with Jared. I'm certain you'll recall at least one occasion where something about Jared wasn't right."
Her wedding night sprung instantly to mind, and she flushed heatedly. Uncertainty flashed across her features. "You couldn't have," she said falteringly. "Unless… did you… I thought it…" She turned and hit the wall in frustration. "I don't ever remember you!" she exclaimed in aggravation – which was not completely true.
Jareth's eyebrows shot up at her response. "Well, you weren't entirely aware that it was me," he conceded. He paused and tilted his head to the side. "Then again," he said thoughtfully, "Perhaps you were." The smirk returned. "It certainly wasn't Jared's name you were moaning."
"What?" Sarah yelped. "That's a lie!"
"Is it?" Jareth chuckled. "I realize our names are very similar – I fancy that's why you agreed to marry him, since I know that somewhere you understand you are destined to be mine – but there's a definite difference between that English d and th sound."
"You were hearing what you wanted to," Sarah said heatedly, but her face flushed darkly; she could recall more than one time where the wrong name had escaped her in unguarded moments.
"Then why are you blushing?" Jareth asked mischievously. He took another step towards her as her hands flew to her burning cheeks. "Come now, Sarah, just admit it: it's me you love."
"I love Red!" Sarah said insistently, her voice ringing loudly in her own ears.
"Do you indeed?" Jareth said, his expression darkening. "How can you love a man who demands that you crush your spirit to suit his needs?"
"I can't," Sarah choked out, "Which is why I never loved you!"
The words hit their mark; the normally implacable expression on Jareth's face morphed first into pain, then anger. "I can take our girls away from you," he threatened. "And I will."
"You can't!" Sarah gasped. "You have no right!"
He chuckled mirthlessly. "I'm their father, Sarah," he said. "Of course I have the right."
"It's impossible," Sarah said weakly. "I saw Red. I know it was Red…"
"Jared," Jareth said in disgust, "Was passed out in the lounge of your honeymoon suite from drinking too much. I just… borrowed his form for a bit." He paused momentarily, regained his composure, and added impishly, "You'd be amazed how difficult it is to control one's shape when one's focus keeps being diverted by something far more interesting."
"Don't share with me the gory details," Sarah said with a flinch. "How did you… how did you take on his form?"
"Please, Sarah," Jareth said in exasperation. "It's the oldest trick in the book. Merlin even employed it for Uther Pendragon when the great king longed for the Queen Igraine; and thus King Arthur was conceived, in case you didn't know."
"You know the King Arthur legends?" Sarah asked, momentarily distracted.
"I know King Arthur himself," Jareth replied, arching a brow. "Well, I should say I know his caretakers, as he's been sleeping for quite some time now…"
Sarah opted not to ask how Arthur had found himself in the Underground. "It doesn't matter," she said, waving her hands in frustration. "Why did you appear to my daughters?"
"Our daughters," Jareth corrected irritably. "They summoned me – in far kinder terms than you, I might add. And when either my children or my Queen summon me, I cannot deny them."
"Queen?" Sarah repeated, inhaling sharply. "I'm not queen of anything."
"Yes, but you ought to be," Jareth said. "And you would be, if Jared wasn't standing in between us."
"I wouldn't," Sarah said defiantly.
Jareth was growing annoyed. "No?" he said, stepping very, very close to her. "Come now, Sarah; tell me you don't find me attractive. Look me in the eyes and tell me."
Sarah met his intense gaze and felt her heart begin to pound harder against her ribcage. "I…" she whispered. Her mouth went dry and the words stuck to the roof of her mouth. "I…"
Jareth smiled. "Yes, my Queen?" he said in a low voice.
The honorific angered Sarah. She tore her eyes from Jareth's and pushed him away, walked across the room and saying harshly, "I don't find you remotely attractive."
"Aha!" Jareth exclaimed triumphantly. "You can't say it to my face, so it must not be true."
"You're insane," Sarah said, crossing her arms over her chest and staring at the wall before her.
Suddenly she felt his breath, hot against her ear. "Look at me, Sarah," he breathed. "Turn around and look at me."
Sarah thought she had control of herself, but it became obvious to her that she didn't when her body turned to face him of its own accord. She cursed herself silently as she stared into Jareth's intense gaze.
"Try saying it again," he commanded softly.
She inhaled deeply and opened her mouth to say the words, but something entirely different burst forth: "Jareth… I can't lie to you..."
Sarah was surprised to see he looked almost – relieved. "Sarah, my wicked little imp," he sighed, and suddenly he captured her lips with his.
She let him kiss her far longer than she should have, but the awareness of her marriage sunk deep in her conscience. She jerked violently backwards and gasped out, "We can't!"
Jareth looked wounded. "Why not?" he demanded.
She held up the hand bearing her wedding ring, and Jareth glared at it in disgust. "A mortal token of an equally mortal bond," he said contemptuously. "It means nothing."
"Not to you," Sarah said, "But it means something to me. And if you care about me even a little, then you'll understand and leave me be."
He studied her intensely for a moment, and then said, in a very low voice, "I can't do that, Sarah. I just… can't."