A/N – Much love to my friends Aaron and Christine for beta-reading.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Labyrinth. This piece is not for profit.
A crawling infant was climbing a stairway, his father close behind him watching proudly. The child was vaguely aware he had crawled to a place he normally would not be allowed to go, but at the sight of the glinting ball, all thoughts save catching it had been pushed aside. He could see the glassy sphere just beyond his reach, bouncing up the stairs, and hurried after it. When he reached the top of the stair, he stretched his little arm out, and grabbed for the orb he had been chasing.
Giggling in triumph, the child sat on the landing and turned the crystal sphere in his small palms, staring into his shiny new toy. When he turned it just so, looking into the crystal sideways, he caught a glimpse of a skirt, of a fine chair, of books. Curious, he gazed full on into the crystal. Unknowingly, the child had fallen into a gap between worlds when he caught the crystal, and soon found himself watching a scene unlike any he might see at home.
It was a large, circular room, its walls serving as shelves for hundreds of thousands of books. The books did not appear to be in any particular order and some were not in the best of condition, but they were shelved and free of dust. There was even a sliding ladder to reach books on higher shelves. A few tables were placed around the room, each with a set of chairs. The furniture in the library was worn but rich, and a fire burned brightly in a stony but stately hearth. The only difficulty with the room was its lack of outside light. Dark velvet curtains hung covering tall, thin, windows, blocking the moonlight gracing the outdoors late that night.
A young woman with long dark hair was seated in an arm chair beside the hearth. She was dressed in a silver gown over which she wore a fine black cloak. A laughing exasperation promptly passed over her face as she looked about the room she had entered just a few moments earlier. Standing, she walked to the drapes covering the windows. It was just like him, she thought with a grin, to have the castle shut up so completely after dark. He did so enjoy intimidating visitors arriving at unseemly hours of the night, having them sent to poorly-lit, shuttered rooms to await his welcome.
She would have to speak with him about the habit, again. She knew how beautiful the library could be on a moonlit night, and about the concealed entries he was so proud of. She would not wait for him to make an entrance. Walking about the room, she pulled many of the curtains open, and sighed with pleasure as shafts of light pleasantly lit the library. It was her favorite room.
She stood in front of a window, looking out into the gardens she had helped grow, and smiled. She was back a few days earlier than she had expected to be, but she was happy to have returned. Her occasional travels were enjoyable adventures, but she was glad to be home. She belonged here.
Where was he though? It was quite early in the morning, but his highness must have been aware of her arrival. He was a light sleeper.
"Good morning," she greeted warmly when she felt arms wrap firmly around her waist. "Where have you been?"
"Woken at this hour, I felt obliged to make you wait."
The way he was gently nuzzling her hair with his cheek belied his cold words. She laughed.
"I see you had the drapes shut while I was gone."
"I see you opened them," he retorted. "You've always been keen on altering the decor on a whim."
She turned in his arms and could see the mirth dancing in his eyes. She took his face in her hands.
"I missed you," she said.
"Yes, well, you have been gone rather a long time."
She smiled up at him, and ducked from within his arms playfully. She meandered off with a grin, climbed the library's sliding ladder, and picked through the books at hand. She looked over her shoulder towards him and noticed he had moved to lean against a wall and was watching her, sporting the crooked smile she was so fond of.
"And what have you been up to while I've been gone?" she asked, picking out a tome that looked interesting as she turned to him.
"This and that," he told her. "None were wished away in your absence. The goblin disputes were as usual. The ambassador from Hale arrived three days ago to finalize terms of trade for Hale's commercial passage through the labyrinth. I do believe I got the better end of the deal," he grinned. "And your journey?"
"Wonderful. It was good to see Toby and his wife again. And little Matthew is crawling now. He's fifteen months old."
His eyes warmed to see her as happy as she was telling him about her visit. Concern followed close behind as she continued, though.
"But every year I visit it is more and more noticeable that they are getting older and I'm not."
He could see her deflate as she broached the subject of the one damper on her visit. He went to her and cupped her cheek in one hand.
"You knew the Labyrinth would slow your aging, as did he, when you told him you had chosen to stay with me. Your brother and his wife have been understanding."
"They have been wonderful, yes," she admitted. "I am happy in the Underground. I am happy with you. I just wasn't ready for the reality of the divide between my brother's world and ours. Even though I've known for years it would be there, I hadn't expected what I saw this visit."
He came closer, took her in his arms, and began to stroke her hair. She leaned against him and found comfort. He always knew how to make her feel better. They had come a long way since they had first met, a thought which always brought gladness to her heart.
A few minutes later, she spoke again.
"Who would've guessed when I somehow ended up here at twenty-four that I'd never want to leave?" she asked him a bit later, her vivacity returned.
"Certainly not I," he teased. "However, the Labyrinth will forever thank you for the assistance you offered."
"And I'll always thank the Labyrinth for calling me back to help. For bringing me home."
"As will I," he said quietly.
She lifted her head from beneath his chin, and looked up at him with a soft smile. She would have missed his words if she had not been listening closely. She had missed him terribly the past month during her visit Aboveground. Wonderful, infuriating Goblin King that he was, no one made her happier.
"I love you, Jareth," she told him.
The happiness that always lit his face at those words from her lips would always melt her heart. He seemed to come alive, and next she knew his mouth had descended upon hers. Hot, soulful kisses that she would never grow tired of.
When he was able to pull himself away from her for a moment, he pressed his forehead to hers.
"Forever is not long at all, when it is spent with you," he whispered.
Then he gave her a mischievous grin.
"I believe I would like to return to bed now, my dear," he announced.
She laughed and darted for the door to the library, turning the handle to open it.
"I'll get there first," she challenged him playfully.
Warmth shone in his eyes and a small but true smile curved his lips. Next Sarah knew, he had transformed into a white owl and flown out of the library toward their quarters, his laughter ringing through the hall. She could not help but laugh herself before she chased after him. She should have guessed.
The child fell out of the time warp when he heard his father's voice. No time seemed to have past at all since the boy had looked into the crystal sphere.
"Very good, Matthew," his father praised as if no time had passed at all since his son had reached the top of the stairs. "You climbed all the way up here!"
The boy's father then noticed the orb in his son's hands. Startled, he gently took it as he picked up his son and carried the boy downstairs. Even as he had proudly followed his son taking his most enthusiastic jaunt yet, he had not known what the boy was so interested in following. Matthew had never crawled so far or fast before. Now he knew. His son had found one of Sarah's crystals.
Toby smiled. Matthew would not remember anything he had seen today, or his aunt's recent visit, but someday he would know his aunt and uncle.