The Never Series

Never One: It's been a few years since Sarah faced down the Goblin King and walked away victorious; neither of them really expected to ever see each other again. But Sarah, in a moment of blind panic, makes a very strange mistake.

Genre: Romance, Adventure, Multiple Folklores

Rating: M


Never Nose Through A Goblin King's Closet

It didn't happen often, but occasionally Sarah took the time to reflect upon her mistakes. This one ranked rather highly on her list of bad decisions, somewhere between wishing your brother away and letting Brad Mikals pop your cherry. It had started out rather innocently though, which was strange since most of the events that made her list came from doing things she knew she shouldn't. The naughty brat streak ran a mile wide in her.

But this one hadn't been like that and, further separating it from her other bad decisions, it had been years in the making. She could pinpoint exactly when it had started, a handful of years ago when she had only been fourteen, on the very night that she had conquered the Labyrinth.

It had been a night for celebration—she'd saved her brother!—and nearly all the strange creatures she had met on her journey had packed her room from wall to wall with games and dancing.

Nearly all.

Oh sure, the guests of honor had been there, after all there wouldn't have been much to celebrate if it hadn't been for Hoggle, Ludo, and Sir Didymus. They had helped her in more ways than she would ever be able to count and she had no doubt that she never would have made it through each successive level of the Labyrinth if it hadn't been for their guidance. She'd probably still be trapped in an oubliette if it weren't for Hoggle!

But the guest of dishonor hadn't made an appearance. Not that Sarah had expected him to, but… she had rather hoped he would, even if just to sneer at her and act like a sore loser. For several days after the party, her naughty brat side had tried to convince her that the desire had only stemmed out of an urge to lord her victory over Jareth, but she knew better. Thoughts of the ethereal king had taken up residence in a dark corner of her mind, and it wouldn't have been going too far to say that she had become quietly obsessed with him.

And, though she was ashamed to admit it, that had been half the reason she had stayed in such good contact with her Underground friends. Each new conversation became a puzzle to muse over for hours on end, looking for even the barest mention of how Jareth might be fairing or what he was up to. As one year bled away into two, her friends had become more daring and opened portals for her to visit the Underground. On those occasions Sarah was careful not to let her dark interest slip and had spent many an interesting afternoon viewing the wonders of her friends' homes. Then two years faded to three, and her friends became downright impish, suggesting a trip into the Goblin City. They had walked right up to the castle in broad daylight, a silent kick to Jareth's ego.

And it had thrilled her. The inner brat had crowed joyously at her brassy actions while the hopeless romantic nearly melted at the faint touch of his powerful aura.

They should have ended it there, they should have left well enough alone. But they hadn't. For months after that, the four of them had explored every secret passageway, every nook and cranny of the old castle until Sarah felt that she knew it better than her own home. The brat was pleased with her silent invasion of his territory, but the young woman was overwhelmingly disappointed that, in all those months of lurking behind his walls, she never once caught sight of him. Not even a stray glimmer of blond hair or a jacket carelessly forgotten over the back of a chair. It was as if the man was a ghost in his own home.

And it was absolutely maddening.

She would dream of him on those nights following her little adventures. Dreams of a pale and seductive god, thrust into her world for no other reason than to tempt her. She was glorifying him, she knew that. The real Jareth was like satin laced with barbed wire: smooth and bewitching, but rough around the edges and more than capable of cutting someone to ribbons. Her dreams cared little for reality though, and in those nocturnal fancies the Goblin King began to consume a dangerous amount of her; already obsessed with the man, she could ill afford to lose anymore of herself to him. But, with a worrying frequency, her thoughts turned more and more to an unearthly face that she was terrified she would forget. Soon, the blue gaze and commanding presence that had once held her captive would fade from her mind, a distant and murky memory that she would chase after and never catch.

That thought scared her more than it should have. She had every reason to hate the man. He had refused to return her brother, even though they both knew she hadn't really meant to wish Toby away; he had dogged her steps within the Labyrinth, making her journey as hard as possible; he had forced Hoggle to give her that stupid peach, adding a whole new mistake to her list of bad decisions—eating hallucinogenic fruit; and, to top it all off, he had teased her with everything she couldn't have. Oh, it would have been easy to forsake Toby—the brother she had never cared for until he had been taken away—and the brat inside her had set its eyes firmly on the bait that Jareth dangled just out of reach. Himself. And she had wanted him, fiercely, with the deep-seated hunger of a young woman who was just beginning to open her eyes to carnal possibilities. But the universe thrived on balance, and for every brat there was a voice of reason. No matter how badly she had wanted Jareth, she knew, deep down where it really counted, that even if she didn't like the baby, she still had to save him; she would not condemn an innocent child for the sake of her own immaturity. So, in the end, Jareth's offers had tormented more than they had appealed to her.

But that hadn't stopped the Goblin King from haunting her thoughts.

As year three became year four, Sarah decided it was time to lock the dangerous obsession away. No puberty-challenged boy from school would ever compare to Jareth, but she hadn't seen even the barest hint of him in four years, and she was getting mighty tired of being the only girl in her group of friends that didn't have a boyfriend.

It hadn't always been easy but, for a while, she had reveled in just being a normal girl. She pushed away anything that could lead her thoughts back to Jareth, slowly pulling away from her otherworldly friends and refusing to return for any adventures Underground. That, more than anything, had shut her inner brat up. And, without the constant torment of fantasy and desire, or devilish urges from the demon under her skin, normal life had actually been pretty fun.

Enter Bad Decision List entry number three, Brad Mikals.

They'd been playmates as children, but had grown up and away from each other as the years passed. In a peripheral sort of way they'd always been friendly, but more like distant acquaintances than old friends, so it had come as something of a shock when he asked her out. Handsome, quirky Brad had seemed like a safe choice. He was well known without being part of the popular High Society, he was funny and kind, still reminded her of that laughing little boy who had chased her through the playground, and she really did like him.

They'd made a striking couple: a tall, ginger-haired teen and the dainty dark-haired girl at his side; people had dubbed them the Redhead and the Raven. And they complimented each other well; she livened him up with her wild-child love of adventure, and he kept her grounded in the mundane world that was suddenly holding so much interest for her. Dating had once been boring and awkward for Sarah, but Brad changed that, let her be herself when other men would have found it exasperating.

And all too soon, as so often happened with hormonally charged teenagers, things had started to get hot and heavy between them. Sex had never really been a question, somehow they had both known that things would end up there and, honestly, Sarah could think of very few other men at school that she would have trusted enough to give her virginity to. Brad was safe and familiar and she knew that, even if the experience wasn't satisfying in the end, he would do his best not to hurt her any more than he had to.

But, in that single moment when he pierced her maidenhead, Sarah knew she had made a mistake.

The first time hurt, she knew that and it wasn't as though she had gone into the situation expecting very much. But, deep down, she had always felt that in giving pleasure she would receive it in return; some long hidden, innately feminine part of her had thought that, with the gift of her submission, with hearing his cries of passion and adoration, she would achieve some measure of satisfaction. But, as sweet Brad rose lovingly above her, she felt nothing, save for pain where it could least be tolerated.

Sarah didn't mourn the loss of her virginity; a membrane that nature had granted in the most inopportune of places was not something worth grieving over. She didn't mourn over the fact that there would never be another first-time for her. What she mourned was that the experience left her with nothing, that her first real exploration into her sexuality—that coveted first-time that burned itself into a woman's memory—had been an absolute failure. She had always considered herself sensual at heart, and this disappointment tore at her.

In that moment of weakness, of solitary contemplation in the aftermath of a deed that had only taken place the day before, the demon had slipped its leash.

What if it was just the boy? Her inner brat had asked snidely. Sweet but inexperienced; Brad can make you tingly, but he never made you burn. And you have burned before, haven't you? Let's face the facts, Sarah, compared to Him every man will come in at a poor second.

Her voice of reason tried very hard to push the thoughts down, back into the dark corner where she had locked away everything about the Goblin King.

But the brat was not about to be ignored.

Remember the way those azure-flame eyes pierced into you? How they seemed to look straight into your core so that they could offer you everything you were never brave enough to ask for? the brat purred. Remember how he just seemed to drip seduction, even when he was intimidating? She paused then, with a wicked laugh, added, Or maybe because he was intimidating.

Sarah closed her eyes, trying not to think about that particular quirk in her preferences.

You'd like that, wouldn't you, Sarah? The brat purred on, obviously vindictive after being ignored for so long. All those sexy, lean muscled bunched and ready to strike as your fantasy man gets demanding.

"Shut up!" It didn't bear reflecting that she had technically been shouting at herself, but that inner voice had started to sound much too good.

Does the past hurt, honey? the brat mocked. Remember how good he always looked? How his clothes were always tight and teasing? You could have had that. But no, instead you're sitting all alone in your room, post-cherry-popping, and lamenting things that cannot be changed!

"I'm not going back to that stupid adolescent obsession; I spent so much time thinking about him that I almost stopped living in the real world!"

But don't you miss the way he smelled? A longing sigh. Like sex and cinnamon.

Oh god, did she ever! Her mouth watered and her heart clenched at the mere remembrance of it.

And that—fates preserve her!—was when the collective innocence of four years bled straight out of the situation, when the naughtiness crept back into the brat, and an interesting thought became a very bad decision.

You know your way Underground, y'know, the brat had suggested slowly, maybe it's time to put that knowledge to good use. You could get a little memento positively drenched in that wonderful scent of his; I mean, the man changes his clothes so often he'd probably never notice if something went missing.

The fact that the idea didn't set off warning bells for her should have been a clear indication that her obsession had not truly been dealt with or diminished in any way. But her alarms remained silent and, the more she thought about it, the better the idea sounded. If the brat hadn't been so persistent, so powerful in a time of uncertainty, she would have given herself a day or two to think things over, ample time to discard the idea as risky and ridiculous, but the brat was strong and Sarah was desperate to recapture something that would remind her of the passion she knew she could feel.

In a single leap, the suddenly agile teen had vaulted over her bed, rushed to her closet door, and firmly flicked the doorknob.

The idea had been Sir Didymus', two or three years ago. After it had become apparent that Jareth wasn't going to wreak divine retribution against any of them for Sarah's appearances Underground, they had all agreed that it would be safest to find her a stable portal to use. It had been Didymus—bless the cunning old fox—that had returned with Alice's Door, as he called it. Together they had used it to replace the door of her closet and decided, to avoid any unnecessary accidents and so that she could still have the use of her closet, that to trigger the door one had to flick rather forcefully against the doorknob. The bruised fingertips were mildly unwelcome, but it was a small price to pay for her very own portal into another world.

It was always a bit of a gamble as to where the portal spit her out—sometimes she found herself in the middle of the hedge maze, the junkyard, the tunnels and, on one notable occasion, stuck on a bolder in the middle of the Bog—but this time fortune had smiled on her, setting her down within the narrow space of her favorite hidden passage in the Goblin Castle. It had been months, nearly a year, since she had traversed those well memorized halls, and to suddenly find herself surrounded by the familiar sights and sounds felt like that urgent and giddy first breath of fresh air after having stayed underwater for far too long.

Sarah knew her way to Jareth's room but, either by some strange fluke or because he had designed it that way, there were no secret passageways that actually connected to it. Every other room in the castle had its own network of servant's passages and escape tunnels, so she had often figured that he was either paranoid or valued his privacy very deeply. Though she knew the way there, she had never actually been within his room, had never even come close enough to dare trying. Tonight was different; the torch lit halls were empty, the brat was riding her hard, and in all her post-conquering-the-Labyrinth adventures she hadn't even seen Jareth's shadow. At that moment she had been more worried about crossing paths with a goblin than she had been of their king.

The door had opened and closed on silent hinges and the room that laid beyond it had astounded Sarah. It was a world of dark wood furniture, stained-glass windows, and heavy drapes; a haven of velvet and Irish linen coverings. Soft candles burned lowly throughout the room, allowing just enough dark for the shadows to play with the unwary. Here and there was a personal touch, a bauble that likely had more meaning to the Goblin King than any actual value. Fraying ribbons peeked playfully from between the pages of a book, a cord of soft-brushed leather dangling from a cabinet knob banded together a mismatched group of feathers, a piece of rough hewn wood rested idly on the desk and next to it, flashing gently in the candlelight, was a wicked, ebony-handled carving knife.

Sarah had been halfway to a door that she was guessing belonged to the closet when the baby-fine hair at the back of her neck stood on end. Without knowing why or how she had known the feeling was caused by the massive bed dominating a large portion of one wall, her gaze had quickly swiveled in that direction, half expecting to see a pair of blue eyes staring back at her. The relief she felt at finding the bed devoid of any people had almost blinded her to what was there.

Bonds.

Some were rough and twine-like, others like silky scarves, and a few even looked suspiciously like belts. Dotted here and there were manacles and other hand or ankle restraints, hidden among the pillows like macabre stuffed animals.

Sarah had roughly swallowed at the lump that had formed in her throat and quickly looked away. She had obviously stumbled upon a den of excess, unless Jareth had a thing for tying himself up. In that moment, while she had tried to banish the image of the bed that had burned itself into her mind, it had started to seem like a very good idea to just get what she wanted and leave.

The closet was a pleasant surprise, large and lofty with a towering assortment of shelves and drawers. Light spilled into the room from no identifiable source, a soft, pulsing glow that illuminated the clothing but carried the intimate atmosphere from the bedroom. It was, by no means, a modern closet but nor was it an anachronistic throwback. Most of the Labyrinth had a vaguely medieval air to it, but the closet felt timeless, as though it reflected no period of history and existed in whatever time it pleased. Silk breeches mixed with woolen trousers and heavy denim jeans; linen business shirts lived alongside satin frocks and soft looking sweaters. It was bewildering and didn't seem to follow any sort of order that she could discern; all the same, each shelf held a new discovery and every drawer was a surprise. In the low lighting, surrounded by strange and interesting clothes that smelled purely of sex, cinnamon, and magic, she had forgotten about the urgency that had flooded her just moments prior.

And that was, more or less, how she found herself trapped between a row of scarves and a very frustrated looking Jareth, her mind running through all the reasons this had turned out to be a bad idea while she stared blankly at the man framed by the closet door.

Sarah backed up a few steps, nearly flush to the wall, then stood perfectly still, taken over by the timeless instincts of a creature that knows it's being faced by a beast. No sudden movements to excite the predatory instinct, no noises to irritate the hunter into action, no visible signs of fear to betray any weaknesses to the creature. Shallow but even breaths breezed through the small parting of her lips and, though she knew it was against one of the rules that were suddenly flaring bright in her mind, she felt fear icing its way through her veins. Faced with the reality of Jareth, when she had stupidly and naively not expected it, was like a slap to the face that had adrenalin flooding her system and sending signals that conflicted painfully with the instincts that had reared up within her. Fight or flight is what the adrenalin demanded, while instinct persisted that she exude as non-threatening an air as she could so that the predator would lose interest and leave.

It was an interesting reaction, some distant part of her brain acknowledged, that she should view him as some sort of primal hunter and that that simple identification raised forth a mess of visceral thoughts and actions that were not strictly associated with humans. She had learned of racial memory in biology and had always thought that the idea was absolutely ridiculous, that some events in the human experience could be so profound that its subsequent effect would become part of humanity and be borne into each successive generation. The concept had seemed perfectly laughable right up until about a minute ago, when she had locked gazes with the creature before her, emerald green ensnared by electric blue. All too easily, Sarah could picture the proud and arrogant Jareth leading wild hunts, flushing humans out from their hiding places and capturing them with the ease of a natural predator. It was possible that it hadn't happened that way, that perhaps their respective species had never mixed in the past, but the uneasy fluttering of her heart and the vague, half-formed images that floated through her imagination suggested otherwise.

His blue gaze drilled into her, intense and laden with frustration, quickly becoming more than she could meet. Darting her eyes away provided little relief—she could still feel the weight of his stare—but it allowed her to take in her first real glimpse of him in years.

Dear god, how she had romanticized him! The disparities between what she saw and what she remembered where slight in most cases, yet alarming all the same.

Jareth's hair was still blond and unaccountably wild, but streaked with a glittering earthy green; runic designs danced under one eye, along the ridge of a well defined pectoral, and across his brow, forming a delicately etched circlet; his skin glowed a pearly silver, the perfect counterpoint to hair that didn't quite hide the impish points of his slightly elongated ears; his body was lithe and muscled, displayed to perfection in what she could only describe as a strangely decorated kilt over what appeared to be deerskin trousers. He growled then, a deep, bestial sound that rumbled low in his throat, curling back his lips in a vicious looking snarl. She had remembered his teeth as having looked rather canine, but what she saw now was sharper, fang-like and frightening.

"Why is it," he asked with quiet anger, "that every time I try to do right by you, you throw the effort right back into my face?"

Hundreds of thoughts danced through her mind and died on her tongue; something about him was different, something aside from his appearance. It cowed her, that strange sense of extra. Unacceptable, her pride snarled. Sarah had stood against him before with nothing on her side but sheer will alone. There was no way she would face him now as a shivering mess of jangled nerves. Bravado came like second nature, and for once the brat might actually come in handy.

She schooled her thoughts, threw a haughty mask up, and never once thought about moving away from her spot on the wall. "New look?" she asked blandly, ignoring his question.

"Old," Jareth replied, matching her tone, " very, very old." He took a step forward, still blocking the exit, and as he did shadows seemed to slither up from his palms to dance around his forearms where they flickered and solidified into thick leather guards.

"Could have fooled me," she shot back glibly, her heart beating a rapid staccato against her breast. He was like a darkly sensual fantasy that had been dragged through the murky delirium of a nightmare. As much as she hated to admit it, he was just as tempting as he was terrifying.

His gaze raked over her, unreadable and alien. "I did," he finally replied. "Your kind is never ready for reality, you always need something that's more human, so that's what I gave you."

The man of four years ago had been a watered-down, modified illusion of the creature that now stood before her. He still smelled like sex and cinnamon though; his eyes were still a shockingly clear blue, one pupil larger than the other; his face was still all angles and pure masculine arrogance. He was, essentially, the same person, there was just more of him. "What made you change your mind?"

"I didn't," he snarled, taking another step forward. More shadows appeared, sweeping back the hair from his temples and wound them into tight plaits, reminding her of the ancient Greek and Celtic war braids. "How the hell was I supposed to know that you were nosing through in my closet like some deranged frat boy on a panty raid?"

"I was not after your underwear!" Sarah snapped, momentarily forgetting her instinctual wariness as outrage crashed through her. Yeah, all right, she had been after an article of clothing, but more along the lines of a shirt or jacket; underwear had seemed vulgar and pants too risqué. So what if she was a modern woman, she still had some sense of propriety.

"Could have fooled me," Jareth threw the words back at her.

A silence stretched between them then, one he made absolutely no attempt to fill. Explanations clamored for control of her lips, the automatic response of a brat caught red-handed. Somehow, though, she doubted that he would accept a plaintive, 'The devil made me do it,' so she remained staunchly silent.

A final pair of shadows slid down his arms, slipping beneath the leather guards, flowing over his gloved hands like a living liquid. For a moment they formed a tight seal over the heavy material, then ate away at them until it looked as though he had never been wearing gloves in the first place. His hands were large, strong, pale like the rest of him, and tapered off into fingers that were long and elegant without appearing feminine. Somehow the sight of his hands, of the pale appendages that she had never seen without some manner of encasement—linen, velvet, or leather—was unnerving. Gloves had simply been part and parcel of Jareth in her mind, and without them the moment seemed tense and strangely intimate.

Bravado could only hold her up for so long, and the more time that ticked by the less control Sarah felt she had over the situation. It was time to beat a hasty retreat, lick her wounds, and try not to obsess over the fact that this encounter brought the score up to Sarah- 1, Jareth- 1. It nagged at her pride as much as it had probably nagged at his those four years ago. Still, pride could only rob a girl of so much reason, and she definitely still had enough left over to realize that nothing good could come of this situation. It was time to end it.

"Well," Sarah said in the brisk and mocking manner of those who couldn't get away fast enough, "this was fun; we should do it again in another four years. Bye now." She took what could have barely been considered half a step before something grabbed at both her wrists from behind—halting her movement, dragging her back, anchoring her to the wall.

"A simple get thee behind me won't work anymore, girl," Jareth tsked, coming within an arm's reach of her. "I was willing to be lenient, but you've been like a wolf pup, testing your boundaries by snapping at the heels of the pack leader." One bare hand came up to cup her chin, gently forcing her to meet his eyes. "Perhaps it's time that the alpha put you in your place."

The inner brat reared its head at his words, bristling at the challenge. "I beat your Labyrinth once, I could do it again," she snapped, ignoring the silky feel of his skin and how his touch seemed to open a hyper-awareness for him within her.

He laughed, a chilling sound that echoed off the vaulted ceilings of the closet. "No more games, Sarah," Jareth replied, running his thumb over her bottom lip, "just tradition. You run, and I chase."

She shivered, his words calling up another half-formed image: this wild creature patiently stalking her steps from the shadows, waiting for the right moment to spring his trap. Racial memory or forgotten midnight fantasy? The fact that she couldn't quite answer that question was a little disturbing. The very idea was primal and mythic. Mythic? The word suddenly gave her pause. There were countless myths and folk legends from countless countries about Others—the Nordic Hillmen, the Celtic Fae, the Slavic Leshii, the Druidic Green Man—and they all had one thing in common: the humans in those stories hardly ever evaded capture. That thought had the fine hair at the back of her neck rising on end and her suddenly dry mouth trying to push out a denial.

"No," she finally managed to say, proud of the firmness in her tone, "I just want to go home." Her wrists pulled against the strange scarves that held them to the wall, emphasizing her desire to leave.

Jareth shook his head and let his free hand trace the length of Sarah's forearm while the other hand began to stroke her jaw. "I was forgiving where no one else would have been," he murmured. "You wounded my pride and summarily rejected everything that I offered, but I was willing to let you go. Even when you began to flagrantly invade my home, I did everything within my power to ensure that we never crossed paths; it tried my patience nearly beyond endurance, but I was resolute. You've caught me off guard one time too many, however, and I'm tired of pretending that I had no choice other than to let you leave."

"You're going to blame me for the failed seduction of a fourteen year old?" she asked incredulously, hoping that provocation would keep him off balance enough to find a way out of the situation before it got any worse. "Which, by the way, is illegal where I come from."

"And where I come from," he purred, eyes focusing on the slope of her neck, "I don't have to bother with seduction at all; I just take what I want."

She swallowed convulsively, her mind suddenly blooming with all manner of things that Jareth could take. The part of her that wasn't caught up in raunchy fantasies dimly realized that the situation was beyond salvaging at this point. Jareth was intent upon his plan, and Sarah was scared and aroused in equal measures, the fear and eroticism forming a powerful natural aphrodisiac that heightened both instinct and senses. Instinct told her what sort of dangers he could present to her, while her senses registered his soft touch and fleeting caresses, one feeding off the other until the fear was as delicious as the burning arousal that slowly licked its way down her abdomen.

His hand ghosted over the length of her arm, coming to rest at the spot on her neck that he seemed fixated with, fingers gently tracing over the sensitive erogenous zone. "Right here," he growled, approval lacing the roughly spoken words. "This will be the first spot I take once I get you," Jareth crooned lazily, but the warning in his tone was clear. No one else was to touch that spot, it was already his, was what he said without words.

"When does the chase end?" Sarah asked, her voice hitching when he began to tease the skin of her throat by lightly raking his nails over the smooth expanse.

"When I catch you," he answered with a slow smile, his eyes already dancing with a devilish inner light.

Which meant that, theoretically, the chase could go on forever, that the only way she could win would be to die, which wasn't really winning at all. She didn't like those kinds of odds. "Maybe we should—"

"I'll even be generous," he teased with a mocking smile, "and give you a head start."

And, just like that, she found herself staring at her own front door, Jareth's last words echoing in her ears. The burning question was, of course, how much of a head start? She was inclined to say thirteen hours because that seemed relatively logical, given their past, but he hadn't specified so it could have been anywhere from minutes to years. That thought was like a damning black axe that could fall on her at any moment: running was pointless if you had no idea when you were actually being chased.

Sarah sighed in momentary stress, knowing that she was holding the full impact of the situation at bay by obsessing over little details. With an irritated shake of her head, she opened the door and walked to the stairs in the foyer with all the aplomb of an inmate on death row.

Karen, who had lately been on a cleaning spree, was dusting the banister and, though she never looked up to exchange pleasantries, she still said, "Hello Sarah. How was your day?"

"Oh, you know, the usual," she sighed. "Ran into a half-crazed immortal that I pissed off a couple years ago who is now bent on hunting me down in some sort of bizarre parody of sexual domination."

"That's wonderful, dear," Karen murmured.

Sarah figured Karen was either ignoring her or had simply taken that statement for her normal blend of sarcasm and metaphors. She was banking toward the ignoring, however, because if Karen had really been paying attention she would have realized that the younger woman had never left the house. Not by normal means, at any rate.

The comfort of her room seemed somewhat dimmed, she noted once she was enclosed within its walls; after all, Jareth could go anywhere he wanted in the blink of an eye.

The situation finally crashed down on her.

She was being chased—hunted—by a creature that she was beginning to realize she barely understood. Where she would have merely reacted with the huff and bluster of anger, Jareth had banked on instinct; primitive, brutal instinct. The Labyrinth had been a game, a washed-out childish version of the ancient rite that he was now evoking upon her. This wasn't the simple sport of tag between two playmates; he would run her down until she was exhausted, and then he would "take" her. Heaven help her if that had the same connotation to him as it did to her, because Sarah was pretty certain she wouldn't survive it, not after four long years of obsession, not after having just consented to a physical relationship with Brad Mikals. She had a feeling that none of that would seem particularly important to Jareth, though.

He was different and she was still trying to get her mind around that concept. The man she had met four years ago had been the epitome of civility and high class, there had always been a mocking and sardonic air about him but, at the same time, he had never strayed from courtly manner, even at his most menacing. Now she understood that it had been an act for her benefit. He looked different, he acted different; it was as if a veil had been ripped aside and she was finally seeing what had really lain beneath all the flash and glamour that had blinded her those few years ago. He seemed more beast than man now, as though he knew what civility was but deigned not to practice it in favor of a more pagan existence. He was a natural predator with all the skills and cunning of that wolf he had compared himself to, and he was turning all that deadly focus on to her.

How were you supposed to protect yourself from that? Thousands of years ago man had led a more naturalistic lifestyle, they had been able to hunt and hide as well as any animal, and when Jareth's kind had threatened them it had probably been easier to find some semblance of safety. Unfortunately, she couldn't disappear into the morning mists like ancient man had. Sarah had responsibilities—school, a boyfriend, family—normal teenage concerns that now felt as though they were mooring her to the tiny town, keeping her trapped within its unprotected borders. Not that she could have left even if those matters hadn't kept her in constant obligation; the modern world made it difficult for someone to pass through life unnoticed. She couldn't cross the seas without a passport, couldn't drift from place to place without a large sum of cash that she didn't have, didn't know the first thing about camping in the wild or living off the land. The closest she had ever brushed to survivalist mentality had been in the Labyrinth, and back then she hadn't been running away from something but, rather, to something, which was completely different.

Sarah flopped gracelessly onto her bed, her mind running in circles. Logic dictated that she had to stay where she was and live out her life like normal; it wasn't as if she was a CIA agent who could drop off the radar at a moment's notice. She had no means by which to go anywhere, and no one would believe her if she asked for help, so she had no choice but to remain where she was. Then again, it wasn't necessarily such a bad situation. People tended not to look for things in obvious places, so perhaps hiding in plain sight wasn't such a bad idea. If their roles had been reversed Sarah knew that she would have automatically discounted looking at the Goblin Castle or the Labyrinth because it would have been way too obvious.

On the other hand, she didn't know when he was actually going to start the chase. What if Jareth waited a couple of years to lull her into a false sense of security? By then she would be in college, or perhaps even starting a career, outside the dubious safety of her little hometown; she still wouldn't have the means to disappear, and she would be out of his blind spot. She couldn't stay in her room forever—that was nothing but the recipe for a wasted life—but she would never feel comfortable leaving the protection of her home without the financial means to hie herself away at the drop of a hat.

It was classic psychological warfare, Sarah thought ruefully. By not telling her when he would begin his hunt, Jareth had ensured that she would be on constant edge, fighting against circumstances and fretting about the future, overtaxing her with the knowledge that she was being hunted without ever having to betray his presence.

Something whispered over her wrist, causing Sarah to choke on a scream. Her arm reared up in an instinctual move to get away but the sensation followed, meaning it was on her, which was not a welcome thought. After several seconds worth of procrastination she worked up the nerve to dart a look, imagining all manner of horrific vermin or poisonous beastie. What she saw was almost worst.

It was one of the scarves from Jareth's closet, lazily twining itself around and over the length of her arm. The creature was a concoction of purple and red, glittering like a precious gem, and soft as crushed velvet. Its movements were serpentine in nature, reminding her of the snake that Jareth had thrown at her during their first meeting; then again, that snake had turned into a scarf for a brief moment, so perhaps it was the same little twist of magic that she had met before. For the life of her, Sarah couldn't figure out why it was there; perhaps Jareth had sent it along to keep an eye on her—if it even had eyes—or perhaps it simply liked her. Its little head—or rather, what she assumed was its head—eagerly rubbed against the skin of her elbow, as though scenting her, so she was guessing that it really liked her.

It was going to be a damn long night, Sarah thought with a sigh.


Red oaks, birches, maples, lindens—trees of every imaginable species surrounded her, running off in erratic distances before disappearing into the fog like ancient mystics. A fine mist peppered the air, coating her dark hair in a bright sheen of crystalline droplets and slicking her skin with the chilly fog. It clung to her clothes, making what should have been a lightweight dress feel heavy and cumbersome and, above all, easy prey to the elements.

The morning was dark, damp, and cold. Fog rose in ghostly coils in the predawn stillness, its inherent humidity more chilling than the light coating of ice that crackled over the fallen leaves. It was the sort of chill that crept into a person's bones and stayed there until they'd spent a few hours by a fire and had an extraordinarily hot meal.

Sarah shifted restlessly, the heat leeched out of her body from the dress that clung to her damp skin. The frostiness had already invaded her innermost centers of heat, thanks to the misty fog, and the wet clothes were completely unable to retain any heat that may have been left. Shivers wracked her body, automatic spasms of the muscle meant to generate warmth that, unfortunately, could neither be felt nor sustained. She rubbed her quickly numbing hands down the goose pimpled flesh of her arms, but she might as well have been running ice cubes over snow for all the good it did her.

Seriously, she thought with no small amount of annoyance, who the hell had dressed her? She wasn't always the most practical person, but she definitely knew better than to wear a short-sleeved dress on a late autumn morning.

Something crunched quietly in the distance, the fog carrying the sound in a rolling wave of eerie echoes.

Sarah ran.

It was instinct that drove her, not fear. Often the two were confused for being one and the same, but it typically wasn't so. Instinct was nothing more than a set of pre-programmed responses to various stimuli, whereas fear was, more often than not, a simple paralysis in the face of the unknown. The sound had not scared her, too many animals lived in the forest for her to fear every unknown noise; instinct had driven her to action though, because her primitive mind had recognized the gentle crackling of a soft-soled shoe shuffling over frostbitten leaves. That the sound could have been made by someone wanting to help her barely crossed her mind; good Samaritans did not sneak up on the people they wished to help.

It was only then, after her mind had sorted through various possibilities based on the signals it was receiving, that she felt fear. Animals did not wear shoes, therefore it wasn't an animal; people of goodwill tended to announce their presence, therefore it was not someone of goodwill. Someone lurking in the hidden misty depths of the forest had meant to get a closer look at her, and it wasn't likely that their intentions had been all that pure in nature.

The air around her seemed to erupt into a cacophony of noise. Sarah's steps, made laborious and uneven by the chilling numbness that had settled into her bones, crashed against the frozen leaves and echoed through the fog, bouncing back against unseen trees and rocks until it sounded as though there were a dozen of her fleeing through the woods. Clouds of white raced past her through the darkness while the fine mist lashed at her face and eyes, both of them working together to obscure the path before her. Trees popped up out of the misty ether with a suddenness that was startling, forcing her to joust and weave at a moment's notice, lest she run headfirst into ancient oaks that were thicker around than she was tall.

But beneath the noise she made—through the thunderous slaps of her feet against the frozen earth, the frantic scrambling around and over the rugged terrain, the explosive breaths that sawed in and out of her dainty chest with a frightening intensity—was the gentle and sure footwork of that which she was running from. Every second that she spent tripping over a hidden root was one second that they drew closer to her, their movements easy and unhurried.

Sarah's footing faltered again, but she refused to slow and angrily tore herself away from the thorny root that had grabbed hold of her ankle. That simple second's inattention cost her dearly; she had continued moving forward while focused on the offending greenery, and out of the mist a great bolder had appeared. By the time her attention refocused it was already too late, and she ran bodily into the massive stone, landing flat on her ass, stunned and bruised.

A shadow fell over her, and with dread she looked up. Resting delicately upon the crest of the tall rock was the figure of a man, crouched like an animal ready to spring. His form was made indistinct and shadowy by the thick fog, but he was muscled like the lean jaguar and seemed just as deadly. Swallowing, Sarah lifted her head fractionally, hoping to see a face through the heavy mist.

Brilliant, predatory blue eyes watched her every move.


As a matter of fact, it was a damn long night. The precious few moments of sleep that she managed to steal were far from restful, plagued as they were by frighteningly vivid dreams. The last one had jolted her out of bed, the memory of those intense blue eyes prickling her skin and sending not entirely unpleasant shivers down her spine. An unnatural cold laced her tired body, forcing her to huddle under the comforting weight of her bedclothes where she couldn't help but remember the dream that had unfolded mere moments ago.

To say that her dream had felt real would have been painfully obvious—hell, she was still cold and her legs ached as though she had run a marathon. The only thing that kept her from deciding that it hadn't been a dream at all was that she wasn't bruised or bloodied anywhere from her frantic flight. More unsettling though, were the emotions that her nocturnal fancy had left in its wake. She wanted to say that she was angry, perhaps even a little terrified, but she wasn't. Oh sure, she was scared—after all, what person wouldn't be after having been followed so easily with only the barest amount of effort—but beneath that was something far more unsettling: the constant, heady pulse of arousal.

And, try though she might, she couldn't be ashamed of it. Something about the situation had echoed through her soul, back to a time when humanity had only been one step removed from their animal brothers, when brides hadn't been proposed to but, rather, won by any means necessary. Warriors from the dawn of history had pursued their chosen women with vigor and zeal, hoping that positive characteristics from the match would go on to make strong babies. There was something unfailingly honest about that, something subtly romantic about a man choosing one woman above all others because he felt that she was simply the best match for him. It wasn't like modern dating at all, where a man chose based on aesthetics and tried to convince a girl that she could do no better through washed-out, re-used words and meaningless gifts; primitive man had shown his woman that he was good enough because he was the one that had caught her.

The chase itself had been a subtle seduction. The misty forest had brought forth pure and primitive instinct while the run had flooded her blood with adrenalin and, therefore endorphins. Endorphins were often attributed to joggers' high, a natural levity that produced a drug-like gaiety. But endorphins, the sneaky little hormone, also found its way into the blood after consuming chocolate and often left people with the feeling of being in love. Granted, it hadn't been chocolate that had gotten her running, but the feeling had still been there, a strange fluke of human chemistry or perhaps a natural adaptation because of the way that mankind had once mated. Running through those trees, high on fear and chemical love, Sarah had felt more alive than ever before. Reckless, perhaps, but the fear hadn't been for her well-being, rather it was the fear of a changing future. It was the same fear that women had been feeling for millennia, knowing that childhood laid at her feet but not quite sure about stepping into full womanhood. A chasing man inherently challenged that feeling because, if he caught her, it meant that babies were on the way and a child could not have children of her own.

Knowing that it had been Jareth chasing her, running through an otherworldly rite that strangely coincided with human rites, wreaked absolute havoc on her senses. Where she was inclined to say that the simple situation had made her horny, blue eyes flashed and lean muscles rippled. Pure stimulation could make a woman pant, but she didn't spread her legs unless she liked the man and really wanted to. And Sarah really wanted to. She had lost her virginity the day before yesterday in whirlwind of mediocrity and disappointment to a boy that she genuinely cared for, and yet it was the man that she viewed as more of a nightmare than a fantasy that had her impossibly ready to try that horizontal dance once more.

The unfairness of life still continued to shock her.

A quick look at the clock told Sarah that she only had ten more minutes before her alarm went off. Having the time to spare, she gave an exultant stretch and muffled a shriek when the motion was mirrored across her belly. In a jerky move she ripped the covers off, only to find that her nightshirt had ridden up over her midriff and the little snake-scarf had curled itself over the exposed skin. If a living scarf hadn't been such a creepy idea, she would have found the scene kind of cute. The little creature raised its ambiguous head, as if to protest the abrupt removal of linen warmth, then gently moved up her side like a flowing liquid before wrapping itself around her arm once more.

"You need a name," she decided suddenly, tired of thinking about the scarf in neutral terms. "Are you a boy?"

It squeezed her arm. In terms of responses, something like that could have been interpreted either way but, despite the fact that it was purple and red—colors that she considered relatively feminine—the snake-scarf carried some strange air of masculinity around it.

"Okay," she mused, getting up to turn her alarm off before the vile thing began its ear-piercing shrill, "how about Fluffy?"

It bit her. She didn't know how, seeing as it had no discernible mouth and, last she had checked, scarves didn't come equipped with teeth.

"All right, not Fluffy," Sarah retracted the joking words quickly, running a finger over whichever part of the creature that was currently soothing the minuscule bite on her arm. "Serin, then."

It pondered this for a moment, projecting an air of deep thought, then gave its gentle squeeze of affirmation.

She was halfway through dressing for another tedious Monday at school when she realized that Serin had no intention of leaving her arm. "You can't come with me," she told him levelly. "It's bad enough that I'll be looking over my shoulders for Jareth, I can't worry about my friends thinking I own a haunted scarf as well."

He let out a tiny hiss, then looped his head under the coils around her arm, forming a bandage of sorts over her bicep. For good measure, he gave her skin a tiny little nip, telling her in no uncertain terms that he wasn't going anywhere. His persistence was a little surprising but, then again, if Jareth really had assigned this job to him, it made perfect sense.

With a sigh Sarah relented, choosing a long-sleeved shirt to cover up the little bundle on her arm. Why were the men in her life so difficult?

School that day was nothing short of torture. The crowded halls seemed to be smaller than ever, bodies pressing in on her until she thought she'd scream. Every flash of blond hair had her jumping and scurrying away, and every glimpse of blue eyes had shivers racing down her spine. Each class seemed to take an eternity, every second making her more aware that she was a sitting duck. By the time lunch rolled around, she was a nervous wreck.

And, as Murphy's Law would have it, that was precisely when her boyfriend caught up with her.

"I missed you this morning," Brad said, leaning down for a quick smooch.

Sarah returned his kiss absently, her eyes constantly sweeping over the cafeteria crowd. For a brief moment she could have sworn that she'd seen a hint of blond hair and naked torso reflected in one of the recessed showcases that lined the walls. And, for the first time in her life, she hoped that was the kid who made a habit of streaking having another one of his 'episodes'.

"Sarah?" Brad made a desperate grab at her attention. Loudly.

She grudgingly ripped her eyes away from the crowd and focused on the ginger-haired boy sitting next to her. He had an adorably confused look on his face and, not for the first time, Sarah couldn't help but think her boyfriend emoted like a puppy, all big eyes and head quirks. "I'm sorry," she sighed, "something happened yesterday and it has me on edge a bit."

The minute he frowned she knew she'd said too much. Brad was the innately concerned sort; he always had to know what was bothering people so that he could dispense his sage-like advice. "What happened?" he asked quietly, leaning closer so that the others seated at their table wouldn't hear.

Lie your ass off, the brat provided instantly. It was tempting advice, but guilt was eating at her. Here was the boy that she had given her virginity to, a boy who had been nothing but kind and gentle to her, and yet it was the beast-like Jareth that made her burn with desire. But Jareth, she had begun to realize, was more than she could handle, so she was going to do her best to avoid this little chase of his, which was beginning to make her seem genuinely paranoid. She could lie to Brad about it, but then she would feel even guiltier. Perhaps a watered-down truth? It's going to bite you in the ass, I guarantee it, the brat huffed.

"I ran into an old… acquaintance," Sarah said carefully, her head practically on Brad's shoulder so that no one else would hear. "We didn't really part on good terms the first time around and now he's a little… obsessive."

"Is he stalking you?" he asked in that 'indignant boyfriend' tone.

She wanted to say yes—it was the truth after all—but then Brad would feel obligated to protect her. If ever she had heard a bad idea that was it; her gangly redhead would be absolutely powerless in the face of the ruthless Goblin King. Still, the thought of lying to him made her feel bad; they were in a relationship, so he had a right to know, didn't he? Not the whole truth, obviously, since he would never believe it, but the general situation. She waffled. "I don't think so," she replied in a pinched voice, absolutely hating herself, then added, "but you never know."

Great, she was lying to her boyfriend and possibly putting him in danger! And that was completely ignoring the fact that she was on the verge of cheating on the poor boy. It couldn't be healthy to be in a relationship with a nice man while lusting after a bad one.

Brad looped an arm around her waist and pulled her close. "I'm here for you, Sarah," he whispered into her ear, "you don't have to face these things alone."

The hair at the back of her neck stood on end and she felt Serin twitch around her arm. Nerves and guilt ate away at her as she laid her head down on Brad's shoulder. She could practically feel Jareth's eyes on her and, in that moment, she wasn't sure if she was more guilty because she had lied to her boyfriend or if it was because arousal was slowly licking its way through her veins at the simple awareness of her pursuer.

The rest of the day passed in an increasingly slow march, and Sarah began to notice a pattern. Every time Brad was physically affectionate, Serin would rustle and wriggle a little and then she would feel those blue-flame eyes studying her. She never caught sight of Jareth, could never figure out where he was watching her from, but she felt his presence all the same. It was disconcerting that his appearances coincided with the physical intimacy of her relationship, and that thought began to put bad ideas into her head.

What if Jareth hadn't known she was dating? She couldn't decide if that would matter to him because she still wasn't very clear on the nature of this hunt of his, aside from the fact that it had basely sexual overtones. Would it make him jealous that she was already in a relationship? And if he was jealous would that make him dangerous? More and more she was beginning to realize that she didn't know enough about her ethereal hunter to gauge what his thoughts or actions may be. He was the epitome of a wild card and she didn't like the idea of Mr. Wild Card getting anywhere near her boyfriend, who may or may not have been the focus of some otherworldly aggression.

Sarah was about halfway home when she felt a chill race up her spine. The school wasn't far from where she lived, so she had made a habit of walking home, but her typical route took a shortcut through the park. Generally speaking, it wasn't much of a park—more of a glorified public garden, really—but the east side, the side she went through, was different. That side of the park was lined with towering, sturdy trees and the grass and flowers ran rampant, the landscapers having long since left the wilder area to its own devices. Usually she reveled in the quiet solitude of nature simply being where it wanted to, but the minute her feet had crossed that murky border from old city sidewalk to living forest, something had felt different.

Older.

Like, somehow, these weren't the woods she knew but, rather, the woods that had come before them. Like she had stepped through time and the little town that she lived in was no longer waiting at the other end of her little dirt trail.

Like she was being hunted.

Sarah's breath slammed into her throat, escaping in quick little pants as she took her first cautious step. She had walked this path countless times, knew every inch of it from beginning to end but, despite what her head was telling her, her heart was almost positive that she was about to get lost. The trees weren't where she remembered and there seemed to be infinitely more of them. The path looked the same though, so she took her second step, and then her third. It was around the fourth step that the fog rolled in and she began to panic.

This was turning into her dream, only it was a comfortable afternoon rather than a bitterly cold predawn.

A shadow darted through the mists, tearing a gasp from her throat. "I know you're there, Jareth," she said, fighting down the adrenaline rush.

"Of course you know I'm here," he teased, his voice echoing from all around her. "But the point of being chased is not to know your pursuer is there, Sarah, it's simply to avoid being caught."

She began a brisk walk along her trail, not wanting to leave its simple comfort.

Another shadow dashed in front of her. "You're surprisingly bad at this," he mocked.

Sarah was in a all-out run by now, flying over her path as quickly as she could, hoping to reach the end—assuming there still was an end—before Jareth reached her. With every step she took she remembered the forest from her dreams: the dark mists, the ancient trees, the bitter cold that numbed her limbs, and the burning arousal that had heated her core. Suddenly, a strong arm snagged her around the waist from behind, drawing her hard against the body that was at her back. She desperately tried to control her breathing as a head settled over her shoulder, so very close to that spot on her neck that Jareth had already claimed as his own. Blond hair tickled the side of her face as she struggled to get away, but her captor was inhumanly strong.

Jareth chuckled deep in his throat. "I've already let you go once, Sarah," he whispered in her ear, "I won't give you many more opportunities to get away."

Oh god, the dream had been real.

"Why are you letting me go at all?" she asked, curious to the answer, but hoping the question wouldn't make him change his mind.

"I'm trying to give you a sporting chance, little lover," he murmured, "but you don't quite seem to grasp the dynamics of being hunted. I won't always be so obvious in the future, nor will I always choose to chase in a forest, so consider yourself warned." He nuzzled her throat while his arm pressed her closer. For a split second, his tongue darted out to that spot on her neck that he seemed so fascinated with…

And then he was gone, his weight and support abruptly falling away, leaving Sarah disoriented while the fog disappeared and the trees somehow became familiar again.

The afternoon passed slowly but in a fashion that could have been considered relatively normal. Toby trundled through the house, making messes everywhere he went, Karen following in his wake in a vain effort to keep her home clean, and her father stayed out of sight until dinner. Sarah, for her part, was torn between finding comfort in the familiarity of the situation and being worried that relaxing would simply be foolish. Jareth wouldn't barge into her home when her whole family was there, would he?

She didn't know, and that kept her tense enough that even Karen had briefly asked if something was wrong. By the time night rolled around, she felt like a tautly stretched rubber band, ready to snap if strained any further. She had a feeling that sleep, if it came at all, would be less than restful, and the gloomy climb up to her room did little to settle her nerves.

Sarah closed her door, kept the lights off, and wandered blindly to her bed where she flopped down tiredly, clothes and all. She wasn't safe here any more than she was safe anywhere, but her room still felt like a haven. It was her territory, a place that reflected her desires and dislikes from every corner; it was a place where she could relax and be the Sarah that she wanted to be. Funny how, for as much as he complicated her life, she'd never had to pretend for Jareth; she rather got the feeling that he wouldn't have accepted anything less than the real her.

She snuggled her pillows, burying her face in the soft fabric. This day had been one of the most jarring she had ever experienced, and relaxing now probably wasn't a good idea but it felt wonderful to just curl up into bed and breathe slowly.

She jumped a mile high when the phone rang, and again when Karen shouted that it was Brad.

Sarah half sat up, her hand fumbling out into the darkness, and managed to grab the phone on her nightstand. "Hello?" her voice came quiet and just a little husky from her lethargic rest.

"Hey, sweetheart," Brad answered. "You weren't sleeping, were you?"

She closed her eyes and laid back down. "No," she answered, almost wishing she had been. Something in her was convinced that sleeping wouldn't be an option tonight.

"Good, I want to talk about that guy you mentioned during lunch," even through the faint static of the phone, she could hear the concern in his voice.

Sarah let out a heavy sign. "Look Brad, I appreciate that you want to help, but I really don't think you should get involved."

"We're dating, aren't we?" came his indignant question.

"Yes, we're dating," she answered calmly, "but I'd still feel more comfortable if you kept out of this."

"At least tell me what the guy looks like," Brad pleaded, "just in case you don't see him; two sets of eyes are better than one."

"He's not exactly –eep!" she cut off with a startled shriek.

"What? What happened?" Brad asked desperately from the other line.

Sarah didn't answer him. A soft touch was trailing up her thighs, caressing her through the material of her pants. Her hands shot out to stop the attack, but nothing was there; her palms rested flat against her legs, and yet the sensations continued.

A chill rolled up her spine as the phantom hands began to massage at her tense leg muscles.

"Sarah?!" she picked up the abandoned phone in time to hear her boyfriend's increasingly panicked questions.

She had two options now: one, she could end her conversation with Brad as quickly as possible or, two, she could grin and bear it. The second option seemed damn near suicidal—she needed to get out of her room, fast—but the first option would only make Brad more concerned, perhaps to the point where he would actually come over to see her, and the last thing she needed was her boyfriend getting involved with the Goblin King. So, despite the fact that it went against every instinct that was screaming to life inside her, Sarah stayed where she was and went with option two.

"Spider," she stuttered out, feeling like a fool, "it was just a spider that crawled over my leg."

One of the ghostly hands pinched her hip.

"Oh," he sounded relieved. "You had me really worried there for a moment."

"Sorry." Sarah bit her lip to hold off another shriek as a second pair of hands trailed over her shoulders and began to knead at the flesh of her breasts. A brief silence ensued after that, in which she tried to maintain even and quiet breathing.

"So, you were saying…?" Brad finally prompted.

"W-well, he's not exactly easy to find," she stuttered as a third pair of phantom hands played over her quivering stomach. "The sort of person who can hide really well, y-you know?"

"Still," he pressed, "the man's not invisible. What does he look like?"

"He, uh," she drew in a shaky breath and stood up, hoping that motion might stop the hands. "He has blond hair; kind of l-long and shaggy."

The hands continued their ceaseless teasing as Sarah paced up and down her room. A fourth pair began to rake gentle nails over her back as the pair at her thighs began to flirt just a little bit higher; suddenly, her knees felt like giving out. She felt like she was burning, the skin under her clothes craving intimate contact.

She swallowed roughly. "He's got b-blue eyes, his skin is really pale, and he's tall."

Something flashed briefly in the corner of her room and a fifth and sixth pair of hands began to unbutton her clothes. Adrenaline slammed through her blood, demanding action, and mixed with her arousal, bringing all of her to painful hypersensitivity.

"Is this freaking you out, sweetheart?" her boyfriend asked quietly. "You sound really nervous."

Her nerves were dancing, crying out against her motionlessness. "Brad," her voice cracked, "I have to go. The spider's still in my room." She hung up before he had a chance to offer his goodbyes or point out that she'd never had arachnophobia before, then quickly dashed toward her door.

But luck had already proven itself not to be with Sarah this night; the moment her hand closed around the doorknob, Jareth's rich and mesmerizing voice whispered out of the shadowy corners of her room. "'I'm sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high. Will you rest upon my little bed?' said the spider to the fly."

It wasn't the first time she'd heard that children's rhyme used in a sexual context and it probably wouldn't be the last either, but she'd never heard Jareth murmur those ambiguous lines, and it was wreaking absolute havoc with her already over-wound body. The phantom hands had kept up their steady pace, neither ceasing nor giving more; her shirt had been completely unbutton and the snap and zipper of her jeans had been undone. Her entire body seemed frozen in place, able to do nothing but receive pleasure, as she stared torturously at her motionless hand; she wanted to leave the room, to have an open place to escape to and yet, at the same time, something in her craved being around Jareth. She was torn between common sense and desire.

The inner brat howled with laughter.

"Why won't you leave me alone?" Sarah asked quietly.

She could hear him moving behind her. "I could have asked you the same question for the past four years," he whispered in her ear. "Now I'm more inclined to ask why you're not running."

"Because you keep surprising me," she answered without thinking.

He snorted. "That's a hunter's right, if not his duty."

Sarah resolutely kept him at her back. It was strange to have him so close to her and yet not feel his touch, only the caress of the magic that he controlled. "It's still not fair," she replied, her voice husky and laced with obvious arousal. "It's not like I can just pick up and go," she explained, whimpering a little when one of the ghostly hands at her thighs slipped inside her open jeans. "I've got responsibilities that I can't ignore and no money with which to go anywhere."

"So you're saying that, in the interest of fairness," Jareth drawled the word in obvious disdain, "I should level the field?"

Her breasts felt tight and swollen, the muscles of her belly were clenching convulsively, and the intimate flesh between her thighs was aching with empty fire, all of which added up to a state of physical torture that deafened her to his strangely phrased question. "Yes," she agreed on a moan.

He laughed, a dark and seductive sound that rumbled over her shoulder and left her knees feeling like jello. Abruptly, his warmth disappeared and with it went the phantom hands.

Lust and adrenaline swam through Sarah, making a hazy mess of her thoughts, but the sudden departure of those teasing hands was like a splash of cold water. Her thoughts cleared a little from the intense arousal, enough to realize that she was no longer in her bedroom.

Mountains rose up around her, beautiful and forbidding, laced with ancient trees and jutting boulders. A fine mist hung in the air, not thick enough to be a fog and not heavy enough to be a rain. The setting sun pierced through the mist, casting the surrounding nature in golden and sapphire shadows. It wasn't quite like the dream she'd had, or the encounter on her way home from school, but the similarities were enough to make her pulse race. For a moment she simply stood in place, frozen like a scared deer, but she couldn't feel her hunter anywhere. That didn't mean anything though; Jareth had proven, if nothing else, that he was more than capable of showing up when she least expected him.

A primitive urge reared up within her, a visceral desire to search for someplace to hide, to seek out cover and see if she could out-wait her hunter—she already knew from experience that she had little hope of out-running him. The problem was deciding which way to go: up the mountains, or down them? Higher up there could be caves, or at least crevices to settle down in, but lower down there would be trees and dense foliage that she could use for camouflage. A cave would provide shelter, but she could easily find herself trapped if Jareth picked up her trail, whereas a forest would at least allow her to move about freely. Shelter would have been a welcome reprieve from the chilly mist, but it was a chance she wasn't willing to take; the forest may not be able to protect her from the elements very well, but it gave her complete freedom of movement.

Her mind made up, Sarah carefully began to make her way down the steeply sloped mountainside, trying to reach the quickly thickening woods as fast as possible. The trees were spread quite a bit apart where Jareth had left her, and the lack of cover made her nervous, especially taking his owl form into consideration—she was painfully visible from above and a raptor like the owl would spot her in a heartbeat.

The last few slivers of light were fading from the sky by the time she reached the forest proper, and her newly reclaimed instinct was sending her conflicting signals. Part of her was demanding that she set up camp and rest until it was light out—even if that meant just climbing up a tree to keep away from the nocturnal predators—but another part was stridently arguing against stopping—she needed to keep moving if she was to have any hope of evading Jareth. Eventually weary muscles won the battle; she had been through the longest day of her life before even being taken from her room, and the trek down the mountain had only exhausted her further.

It took her a could of tries to actually make it up the tree she finally chose as her resting place for the night—she hadn't climbed a tree since she'd been a kid and was sorely out of practice. A sense of accomplishment flooded her when she managed to settle on the thick branch that was probably a good fifteen feet off the ground, but it was a hollow victory. She desperately wanted to build a fire, both for the warmth it would provide and for the human desire to bathe in light during a time of uncertainty, but a fire would attract unwanted attention and was therefore out of the question. Sarah knew she wasn't fooling herself though, even without the fire Jareth probably wouldn't have a hard time finding her, and the tree, despite it's thick covering of leaves, wouldn't protect her from truly careful eyes.

This is just sad, the brat grumbled. You were on the verge of orgasmic bliss not so long ago, and now you're up a tree; that's just wrong.

"You're the one that got me into this mess," she hissed quietly. "If it hadn't been for you, I never would have been in his closet in the first place!"

Oh honey, you would have cracked sooner or later; you're too passionate of a dreamer to ignore the impulse forever. Besides, I am you, the brat laughed.

Sarah was about to make a caustic reply when something rustled. Every muscle in her body seemed to freeze, her lungs seizing as her heart stuttered to a silent murmur. She held herself perfectly still, straddled over her branch, as the sound grew louder. At first she worried that perhaps these woods had large cats or bears—creatures that would not be deterred by trees in the slightest—then she worried that it was a predator of a different sort entirely. A gentle glow pierced through the night, a silvery-golden light that reminded her of fireflies. The rustling intensified as the glow became brighter, sneaking its way through the denseness of the forest.

And then, suddenly, he was there: Jareth, wearing only rough looking pants and a pair of soft boots, surrounded by the pearly luminescence, as though lit from within, the runic designs blazing like a black fire across his brow and pectoral. The green streaks in his hair seemed to blend into the night-darkened foliage around him, a quality that reaffirmed his wildness. He drew close to her tree and stopped, his head lifting ever so slightly as though scenting the air. Whatever his senses relayed seemed to satisfy him though, because he dropped into a graceful crouch at the base of her hiding place, calling forth a pack from thin air.

Sarah's mouth went dry as she watched him sort through his supplies; he seemed to have an inordinate amount of rope, and that worried her. The image of his bed flashed back into her mind: a silken expanse littered with restraints; she had joked to Karen that this chase was a parody of sexual domination, but she was beginning to suspect that she hadn't really been that far off the mark. He also had one or two hunting knives and a couple of bags of miscellaneous powders, all of which made her nervous because she had no idea what he intended to do with them.

A cheery little fire leapt to life as Jareth settled down, a whetstone in one hand and a wicked looking blade in the other. The rhythmic sound of metal sliding against stone whispered through the leaves, unsettling her as she fought to stay motionless upon her perch.

And here was the blatant irony of life: something about the methodical sound of a blade singing over stone had her blood heating. The fact that the knife might be meant for her never occurred to Sarah. An image had risen within her mind—the murky impression of a warrior, blade raised high, ready to defend what was his. It was primal and unforgiving, and yet it spoke to something within her, to the dreamer that was unsatisfied with normal life, to the reckless brat that loved to court danger. A fire started low in her belly as she took a moment to really think about the situation. This wasn't a casual romp, or Jareth would have easily ended it already; he wanted her to fight but he intended to win, and the performance in her bedroom earlier made it abundantly clear what he intended to claim as his prize. What made her burn all the hotter, though, was the strange sense of permanence that the situation suddenly reeked of, despite her mind's insistence that you couldn't keep someone like Jareth.

But could she be kept?

She had to admit that, in reverse, it was an entirely different statement, and one that seemed completely probable. The thought sent a shiver down her spine. He had called this hunt a tradition and it had made her think of the various folktales that she had heard over the years; they all had one thing in common: when the Others won, the humans were rarely ever heard from again. He clearly had a prize in mind, but did he also have a timeframe? Was she going to be doomed to lust after one man for the rest of her life, or was she in danger of simply being spirited away from the world she knew?

The fire in her belly didn't care; it wanted one thing only: satisfaction. She had lost her virginity two days ago—had it really only been two days? It seemed so much longer!—and the experience hadn't touched her in even the most elemental of ways. It had been abysmally disappointing, at best, and the primal woman within her recognized a strong mate within Jareth. She wanted to have pleasure that would leave her shaking in the aftermath, and she knew that he could give her that. Already, despite the fact that they had only shared the smallest touches, he had aroused more desire and pleasure in her than anyone ever had or, she feared, ever would.

She was damned if she was caught, and damned if she wasn't caught. It was a struggle that had been plaguing women for millennia, and one that her baser instincts would inevitably win. Her body recognized him as a well-suited match, even if her mind wasn't nearly so certain and, at their basest, man was an animal—just like the wolf or the horse—and nature would have out.

Jareth put the whetstone to one side and inspected his hunting knife carefully, turning the blade to catch the light of the fire as he viewed it from every angle. Satisfied with its apparent sharpness, he put the stone away, strapped the knife to his thigh, and quietly faded into the darkness.

Sarah panicked; she didn't like not being able to see him, especially when she was coming to realize that she didn't know him nearly as well as she had thought. Had he vanished into the forest to hunt for dinner and, if so, how long would he be gone? She found herself faced with two choices: one, she could stay in her tree, praying that he wouldn't look up, and spend the night in acute physical torture; or, two, she could use this opportunity to shimmy down the tree and scamper off into the night before he came back, despite the fact that she would run the very real risk of facing off with him in the unknown wilds.

Damned if she did, damned if she didn't.

In the end it was more of a fall than a shimmy—she was just glad that she didn't land in the fire—and swore never to take up tree climbing again. Sarah stood on shaky knees, hoping nothing was too badly bruised; she wanted to stay by the fire for a little to soak up some warmth in the rapidly cooling night, but she had no way of knowing how long Jareth would be gone. With a longing look at the small puddle of light, she ventured off into the whispering woods, straining her ears for any noise that could indicate she was being followed. Her real problem on the ground now was knowing whether Jareth was in front of her or behind her. She knew the general direction that he had set off in, but that didn't mean much of anything; he could have doubled-back or taken a sharp turn away from that area.

Serin rustled in his resting place over her arm, and some instinct forced her to stop moving. The trees were dense with leaves and the night was cloudy, but enough moonlight trickled through for her to recognize what was at her feet, what the small snake-scarf had somehow known was there. A snare. Primitive, made mostly of sticks, but effective for trapping small animals.

"I mean to catch myself a rabbit, and instead I catch a woman," Jareth whispered into her ear, the heat of his body suddenly searing her back.

Sarah didn't even pause to think about it, or to acknowledge the burning in her veins at his voice; she jolted away from him, jumping over the small snare as she made a mad dash through the dark forest. He laughed, a wicked, exultant sound that had her speeding up as much as possible. Trees danced out of the night, appearing before her with a stealth that was almost unavoidable, and the mist thickened into a rain, slicking the ground and soaking her to the bone.

As she slipped and slid over the muddy earth, avoiding roots and rocks as best she could, she finally conceded that something was bothering her: this chase was different from the previous two. She couldn't hear him, whereas during the first chase she had clearly been able to hear his sure steps behind her, and she couldn't see him, when she had during the second chase. Both clues were denied to her senses this time; she heard nothing but her own thundering steps and the steady beat of the rain, and she saw nothing but the brief glimmer of the moon trying to break through the clouds. She knew she was being chased, she could feel it in the adrenaline that surged through her veins, but she had no way of knowing how close he was. A root caught her foot and she could have sworn that she felt his breath on the back of her neck as she pulled free, making a sharp turn and running wildly in a new direction. Moments later, a thorny branch caught her shirt, ripping her sleeve clean off and exposing poor Serin to the chilly rain, and she thought she might have heard a quick inhalation—that strange scenting of the air that he had done earlier when choosing his spot to rest. She shoved on, pushing herself mercilessly, knowing that being close enough to hear him breath was much too close—and to think, just moments before she had been worried that she couldn't hear anything!

Serin slithered down her arm, wrapping himself around her wildly flailing wrist. She would have felt bad for the creature if he hadn't then flashed out and wrapped his other half around a passing branch. Sarah was jerked to an abrupt stop, panting as she desperately pulled against the snake-scarf. He refused to give; if anything, he merely tightened the distance that was between her and the tree, exhibiting a strength that was far beyond her own.

"That's not fair!" Sarah screamed, panicked at Serin's sudden betrayal.

A strong arm wrapped around her waist from behind. "I gave you a head start, let you go multiple times, and changed the setting of our little chase, all for your benefit. How is this not fair?" Jareth asked, his lips brushing the shell of her ear.

She shivered, the warmth of his chest bleeding through her soaking shirt. "You can't set a trap that I have absolutely no hope of avoiding; that's cheating!"

"No," he chuckled, "that's winning." His free hand shot out to grasp the tautly stretched form of Serin, who instantly released the branch and wrapped around the length of Jareth's arm instead, practically tying her wrist-to-wrist with him.

"It's still not fair," she whispered though, honestly, she couldn't figure out why she had expected him to play fair; he never had in the past, after all.

"No, I'll tell you what isn't fair," he growled, his lips diving toward her neck until he was rumbling the words right over that spot that he always seemed so preoccupied with. "Not fair was being struck upside the head with the epitome of my desires when you were at an age that was too young to appreciate my attention." He finally staked his claim on that spot between neck and shoulder, biting the skin with his wickedly sharp teeth and then soothing the wound with his tongue. "Not fair is being temped and teased for four years only to find out that some pathetic mortal boy got to you first."

Lust, already at a steady simmer within her blood, roared to a level that was bordering pain from his bite. She could almost feel the magic of his touch seeping through the bite he had left, like an aphrodisiac-laced kiss. The skin of her neck felt as though it were on fire, despite the constant fall of the cold rain. "Brad?" she asked blankly, trying to ignore the lazy heat that was stealing over her.

He snarled. "You call him boyfriend but I guarantee, little lover, that he never pleased you the way I will."

Sarah admitted that she should have felt some kind of guilt at that statement—they were, after all, talking about a boy that she was still technically dating while on the verge of having sex—but she was too preoccupied with the hand tracing small circles over her belly; the gesture was as soothing as it was arousing. "That's why I started to leave you alone, you know," the brat in her taunted him, "so that somebody else could get to me."

Jareth snarled again, a sound so vicious that it almost made her shiver more than the tongue that was again lapping over the bite. Was it just her imagination, or was that spot getting hotter?

"Brad Mikals took my virginity two days ago, and do you know what it made me feel, Jareth?" She was playing with fire, teasing a beast that was already wound to the snapping point.

His teeth scraped over the bite once more, but the pain that she should have felt at the gesture was absent, just as it had been the first time. Instead it was as though liquid lust spread from his lips to infect every region of her that it could invade, sliding through the wound and curling around her body like the truest of conquerors.

"Absolutely nothing," she sighed, some part of her still mourning for the failed passion. Jareth paused and she could sense his brow quirking in silent question; it almost made her laugh. "Oh, I felt the penetration, but that's all it was. A simple interlocking of flesh that promised so much and delivered nothing. I was beyond disappointed; I wanted everything that the seduction had promised. But it was your seduction that had made those promises, wasn't it?" A knot tightened low in her belly, an empty pressure that demanded satisfaction. "That's why I came back; I wanted something to remind me that I could feel passion."

His lips pulled away from the side of her throat, but he didn't answer her declaration. Instead he turned her to face him, using the arm that Serin had bound them together with to trap her against his chest. He stared at her for a protracted moment, his blue eyes unreadable as he studied her own green gaze. She wasn't sure what he found there, but it seemed to please him because his azure-flame stare lit up with wicked pleasure. His lips quirked into a predatory grin seconds before they crashed down upon her own.

A hundred thoughts flashed through Sarah's mind—she was cheating on Brad; she was crushed up against the chest of a creature that most people thought only existed in dreams and nightmares; she should be struggling against Jareth, not meeting his touch; anything that happened now was bound to create more trouble than her stint through the Labyrinth ever had—then he nipped at her lower lip and her mind went absolutely blank. Her mouth opened to his urgings and he instantly invaded the territory beyond her lips. His tongue swept in, arrogant and challenging, and she caught her first taste of him. For years she had known that he smelled like sex and cinnamon, but she had never guessed that he would taste like the warm spice as well. And yet the flavor stole over her, curling around her tongue and heating her like nothing ever had. It was like a sip of ambrosia: one little taste and her quivering body demanded more.

She surged against him, coming alive at his touch, as though her whole life had been lived through a gray haze that only he had the power to lift away. Frustration laced her every jerk and shudder: she wanted to wrap her arms around him, but he had both of them trapped to her sides; she wanted pleasure enough to make her scream, but he was ruthlessly controlling the kiss, making sure that she only received what he deigned to give. When he pulled away it was much too soon for her liking; his taste was heavy on her tongue and she wanted more. His spicy flavor had spread through her, like the heat from his bite, lacing the adrenaline that pumped in her blood. She felt weak-kneed and frustrated, his every move priming her for the carnal promises that lurked behind his brilliant eyes.

Jareth didn't wait for her to recover from the kiss; he sat on the ground, pulling her down to straddle his lap, and for the first time she noticed that they were back at his small camp by the tree. The little fire cast long shadows and didn't seem affected by the rain, dancing on the small breeze and keeping the surrounding ground dry.

Her hands shot out to his shoulders as he leaned forward a bit, a moan escaping her at the small amount of friction his move had caused. "Do you know why you're never supposed to kiss an Other, Sarah?" he asked quietly, his voice low and husky as his gaze darted between her eyes and her lips.

She shook her head, squirming a little bit when his hands clamped over her hips, preventing her from rubbing against him like her body was demanding. Even through the fog of her lust she had to admit that she had never heard any story of the sort; she had heard and learned never to eat their food, but not that kisses were forbidden as well.

He grinned darkly. "It is because, very much like a snake, we have venom. To certain creatures it would be deadly, but to humans? It is the purest and most addictive of aphrodisiacs; a hormone so powerful that, once it's in your blood, it never truly leaves."

The preternatural heat that was weighing her down suddenly made sense; the chase had warmed her up, but it was Jareth's very chemistry that made her burn. He had bitten her both to stake his claim and to inject his strange hormone into her blood; his kiss had been as much for pleasure as it had been to get her addicted to his taste. Now she was straddling his hips, craving stimulation more and more as the seconds ticked by, whipped higher and higher into sexual frenzy as he merely talked while the potent chemical worked its way through her body. She had an awful suspicion that, given enough time away from stimulation, her pride would be mercilessly beaten and she would beg for his touch.

"Relief is within the hormone itself," he continued, still denying the instinctive rhythm that her hips were trying to engage. "It is both venom and anti-venom. To find satisfaction you must have more of it, but the more you have of it, the more you'll crave it." He held up one of the bags of powder that she had seen him sorting through earlier. "This is a concentrated form of the chemical. You can choose to go home now, and I will give this, and only this, to you; it won't last forever, but the choice is yours."

She whimpered, both hating and adoring that he would allow her a way out before things went too deep. Unfortunately, their definitions of too deep differed greatly.

"I was your villain once before," he whispered, rolling his hips gently underneath her. "Would you like me to be your incubus now?"

Even when he was offering her an escape he didn't play fair.

"This isn't enough?" she asked, indicating his proffered satchel.

"Barely enough to get you through the year, if used at a sparing and steady rate," he answered.

Sarah swallowed hard; her skin felt tight and swollen, still tingling from the tiny thrust Jareth had given her. "But I wouldn't, would I?"

"No," he agreed, a smile playing about his lips. "It would take a larger and more frequent dose to quell your hunger every time."

"How long would it really last me?" Her fingers tightened on his shoulders.

He shrugged, rocking against her softly once more. "That depends on how hard you find it to control the hunger. But, I assure you, once it's gone you will find yourself in acute sexual agony that no amount of stimulation could ease."

She sucked in a breath, trying to move against him but his hands still held her down. "And if I didn't take it?"

Jareth hissed. "Your decision is final, Sarah. Binding. This isn't a dream that you wake up from, come the morning, and I intend to take full advantage. I've caught you, trial by hunt, do you accept my claim or do I send you home?"

It was a dirty trick, the trap he'd spun around her. He offered to let her go, but made it clear that the fight would never end; her other choice was to stay and let him finish what he'd started, but it would be a permanent arrangement. Either way, her life would be turned upside-down, so did it really matter what she chose? The bag danced tauntingly in front of her, she could take it and try to stabilize her life as best as possible, avoid complications with Jareth and go back to Brad. Her mind surged with the intimate images of her and Brad together; sweet and unsatisfying, would she doom herself to a lifetime of that if she chose to leave?

Her body wailed in agony at the thought. She had never been so aroused in her life; this wasn't the sort of passion that her boyfriend, or any mortal man, could light within her. It was Jareth's gift alone, and if she left him now she would never get the satisfaction that she wanted, never experience the sensuality that she dreamed of. She had always been drawn to him, even when she had been too young to truly understand what he offered; some part of her had simply recognized a kindred spirit, someone who was searching for something that was just outside of his grasp. For four years she had obsessed over him, unable to let go of the striking figure he had posed from her memories; even when she had tried to distance herself from the fantasy, the dark corners of her mind had still seethed over him, still viewed the normal world and everything in it with disdain. She could have that dream now, at a definite cost, but then nothing was ever free.

Sarah licked her lips nervously as she searched Jareth's eyes. It was hard to mistake his very male arousal, to miss the honest determination that blazed in his sapphire eyes. They both wanted the same thing; was she brave enough to take it?

The inner brat laughed at that question and leaned down to brush her lips against his own. It was a soft kiss at first, a questioning exploration, as though her mind were taking the small contact as a trial run before she made a real decision. But she already had made her decision, and within scant moments the kiss deepened, became harder and more demanding as the lust within her reached a frenzied height.

The world melted around them, fading from the wet forest to Jareth's bedroom. He stood them up and broke the kiss, staring down at her for a moment, then spun her around to face the bed. It was just as imposing now as it had been the day before. It was a monstrous creation of solid wood framing with metal accents; silk and velvet stretched from all corners, giving off an air of welcoming luxury. But leather, silk, and rope twined around the bedposts, wrist restraints hid amid the plush pillows, and even an ankle restraint or two lazed carelessly at the foot of the bed.

"Take a good look at it Sarah," Jareth whispered into her ear, one hand caressing the length of her jaw so that she couldn't look away. "This is your future; are you absolutely certain you want it?"


Epilogue

"I'm really sorry, Brad."

The ginger-haired teen gave her a sad but knowing smile. "I always had a feeling it would come to this," he replied. "Even when we were kids you were like moonlight, Sarah: I could catch you, but I couldn't keep you."

Sarah fought hard to push down her guilt. In a matter of hours most of her dreams had come true, but to achieve them she'd walked all over her poor ex-boyfriend. She owed him at least this much, an apology if not an explanation.

"He must be one hell of a guy," Brad murmured.

She laughed. "He's an ass, but he definitely grows on you."

An awkward silence stretched between them.

"I don't regret dating you, Brad," she finally said, "you're one of the best friends I've ever had, but… Jareth has haunted me for years, and it's just not something I can run from anymore." She didn't even want to try; her life would change in countless ways, but she was done hiding. "I'll be around," she continued, "but probably not much, so I guess this is goodbye."

He gave her a tight hug, looking like there was so much he wanted to say but couldn't put into words.

Sarah's chest felt tight as she turned away from him. She had walked into the situation with her eyes open, so couldn't say that she hadn't known how much goodbyes would hurt. Still, some part of her felt rotten for doing it, especially to someone as sweet as Brad.

He didn't offer a goodbye in return and she was already off his porch and halfway to the street before he spoke. "How did it happen?"

She smiled to herself. "Let me offer you some advice: never nose through a Goblin King's closet."


A/N 1: This thing totally went off on its own tangent and ended up being three times the size that I originally planned. You know, as a writer, sometimes I really just have to wonder how my brain can decide one thing while my hands decide another. This is the longest single one-shot I've ever written, and the longest single-sided narrative as well. (P.S.- The phantom hands are a blatant homage to Daemon Sadi, just, you know… less malicious.)

This short story/chapter is dedicated to my Harem sisters for taking a look at the first half for me… and because I feel bad about taking so long getting the second half finished. Sorry for the wait, my lovelies!

A/N 2: While wandering through the Labyrinth fandom I noticed a strange lack of AU stories; there were many potential sequels and alternate endings, but very few stories that simply took the characters and dropped them into another time and place. I think that's a shame and, after toeing the murky borders of alternate universes while writing Bodice Ripper, I decided to do this series of short-stories.

First of all, let me say that, as a series meant to be dedicated to AUs, this is a shaky start. This particular story would better fall under the category of potential sequel, but I have two reasons for doing it. 1) Since the Labyrinth fandom is so thin on AUs, I figured it would probably be a good idea to have one story that is a concession to the standards and to ease people into the series. 2) It won the poll with an outstanding 26 percent of the votes.

I'm going to create a new poll at the end of every chapter/story with the titles of the other stories I have planned for this series; I was planning to just leave the original poll open for the whole duration, but I keep thinking up new stories to add in. Your voting is purely for the sake of order, since I intend to write them all, so if you have a favorite you'd better vote for it, otherwise it may not get written for quite some time. The top vote is what gets written next, and I probably won't be taking previous polls into account, so make sure you express your opinion while you can. (The new poll is already up for the running on the next story!) And, if you have any suggestions you'd like to share for future stories then, by all means, feel free to contact me.

Now, on a more technical note, I have this to say: This series is a side project for me because, right now, Listen For Thunder is my main concern. I will do my best to update both, but LFT takes priority, so I can't say that this series will follow any sort of timetable. On top of that, each chapter is its own story, which means they require more thought and are likely to be longer than my standard chapter, so they will take longer to write (this story took me upwards of three months to complete). Please be patient with me.

If anyone has made it this far, thank you for taking the time to read all that!

Please Review!

Disclaimer: I do not own the Labyrinth or any of the characters thereof. The phantom hands, and Daemon Sadi for that matter, of the Black Jewels Series, belong to Anne Bishop. The poem "The Spider and the Fly" was written by Mary Howitt. The idea of hormone laced saliva was borrowed from Lora Leigh's Breeds series.