The King's Bride
AN: i disclaim. just in case you were wondering. and there is maybe an itsy-bitsy concept crossover with Clare B Dunkle's Hollow Kingdom trilogy. (has anyone else compared the two and thought that they could mesh really well or is it just me?)
Footsteps echoed clearly through the twilit hall, booted feet striding surely across the pale marble. The low buzz of eager chatter faded, every eye turning to the newcomer in anticipation.
"My King?" the eldest of them asked, rising to bow.
The King's face was upturned to one of the high windows, watching the rose-tinted sky fade to midnight blue. "The alignment is as predicted?" His tone was detached.
The speaker smirked. "Exactly so, my King. The Heavens themselves declare that the time has come again."
"The Heavens themselves?" the King mused, his voice soft and melodic. "Well, then. Who am I to speak against the Heavens?" Every being in the room held its breath, waiting, muscles coiled in expectation. The King was taking his time about it, apparently transfixed by the glimpse of visible sky. Several younger ones shifted restlessly. This time came so rarely, but nothing could be done without the King.
Abruptly, the King dropped his gaze, adjusting his gauntlets, resettling his cloak. A particularly impatient sound escaped a member of his audience, an almost pained moan. His gaze snapped to the perpetrator and the young one blushed, holding his head boldly high.
The King grinned. "We ride."
The assembly leapt to its feet, relieved laughter and ribald banter sounding loudly through the hall as they followed their King to the stables where proud stallions tossed their manes, snorting and stamping their hooves. The last pale rays of sunlight gleamed in a slit-pupilled eye, on a sharp fang, a wicked claw, glowing inhuman beauty…
The Host rode out.
Running, hoofbeats thundering, heart a raging cross-rhythm. Gasping for breath, icy air stinging her throat, darker shadows flashing past. Feet flying, stumbling on unseen obstacles, twigs snatching at her hair, her eyes, got to run, got to get away… A desperate glance behind revealed that the horsemen were still there in hot pursuit, their steeds easily tearing through any obstruction, never losing speed, the dark-cloaked riders occasionally calling briefly to one another in a strange, ringing language which hurt her ears. What were they doing?
Her foot caught on something and her attention snapped back to her escape, catching her balance by sheer fluke as she yanked herself free and forced herself into a surge of speed to make up for the momentary hesitation. What is going on? She dodged around a tree that suddenly loomed ahead, trying to quell the hysteria that was trying to drown her. Isn't it obvious, Sarah? You're being chased by a group of cloaked horsemen! What isn't there to understand in this situation?
Another hasty look thrown over her shoulder encouraged the scream that was wavering in her voice box, torn between renting the peace of the night and not restricting her breathing. They're gaining on me! Irrational tears prickled her eyes and she tried to will them away. Of course they are, you stupid girl, they're on horses and you're on foot!
Another tree loomed and she was forced to put a hand out and swing around the trunk to stop herself crashing into it, the rough bark tearing at her palm. Ignoring the pain, she ran on. What the hell is going on? This is the twenty-first century! We don't wear cloaks, we hardly ride horses, we don't go for moonlit hunts, and we most definitely don't chase defenceless young women through the night! She wanted to shout it, scream it at them… And then what? They will realise that they can't possibly exist and disappear in a cloud of logic?
She darted around another suddenly-appearing obstacle – not a tree this time, maybe a tangle of brambles? – and stumbled, a tidal wave of horror breaking over her as she registered that she was tiring rapidly. Why isn't there anyone to help me?
A sudden increase in volume of hoofbeats was her only warning. She cried out in shock, jerking reflexively aside as one snorting, steaming creature thundered past, its rider reaching out towards her. Another appeared on her other side, and she leapt back, realising with a surge of terror that this meant they had her surrounded. Her fear gave her a burst of energy and she bolted forwards, her only thought to get away…
A call rang through the night, sending a stab of pain through her ears, and the next few riders to pass her kept their hands to themselves. Does this mean it's over? she wondered briefly, incredulous relief sapping her strength as riders continued to gallop past her as if she didn't exist. Perhaps they only wanted to scare me…
An arm like a steel band snagged her waist, wrapping tightly around her, easily lifting her off the ground. The scream that had been building inside her burst free, shattering the night, fearangerdespairconfusionfear…
"Hush, precious," a smooth baritone told her soothingly, the immovable arm hoisting her up to lie like a sack of grain across the horse's neck in front of the rider. Sarah began struggling furiously, yanking her hands free from where they were pinned underneath her body, flailing wildly, shrieking for them to let her go! Her hands were impacting, she was sure: a terrified glance revealed her captor wincing slightly at the blows, but then a low chuckle reached her ears and a gloved hand shifted to cover her eyes. "Sleep," the voice told her firmly.
Everything went black.
The atmosphere was joyful as they dismounted in the yard as the sun rose, the successful hunters crowing as they swung to the ground and led their steeds into the stables, careful to balance their prizes. The others tended to their mounts, then looked on, making crude comments and teasing mercilessly.
The King lifted his prize and laid the limp figure down on the straw, making sure to keep himself between the prize and the door. He had learned three years ago to be sure to take the lessons he taught others to heart: nothing is as it seems. Never underestimate your prey.
He watched the unconscious form for a long moment, as if mesmerised. Her raven hair was spread in a dark halo on the golden straw, her golden, fine-boned face relaxed in sleep. She was definitely a woman now, soft and curved, her breasts gently rising and falling with each slow breath.
"She's beautiful, my King." He recognised the voice of one of his closest advisors, but did not look up. "Strong, too. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would not believe such a delicate creature could lead the Host on such a merry chase."
Again, he did not respond verbally, but a half-smile teased the corner of his lips as he recalled how she had fought, struggling against him even as he swept her off her feet. If he had been human, he would surely have bruises from the impact of her fists. A sly note entered the speaker's voice. "Are you going to stare at her all day?"
"Callum," he replied at last, dryly, "Do you not have duties to attend to?"
He sensed the being behind him straighten and salute. "Of course, my King. I shall begin the preparations at once." He bowed and walked away.
Grinning, the King turned to his stallion, the majestic creature steaming in the chill air, foam flecking his black satin hide, rubbing him down and lifting a brush. "What do you think?" he asked, indicating his prize with a wave of his arm. The stallion tossed his head, then stepped closer, lowering his muzzle to lip her cheek.
The King laughed. "Find your own mare, my friend," he admonished, easing a tangle out of the wild mane. "This one is mine."
Ouch… Sarah felt herself begin the process of waking up, and almost instantly regretted it. What the hell was I doing last night? Her legs ached fiercely and her head was throbbing. I was walking in the park…
Two pairs of eyes watched as the human woman snapped up into a sitting position, instantly becoming still, lips forming swear words as she covered her face with her hands and gasped for breath.
The King grinned, casting a smug look at his gaping advisor. "This, Callum, is why I will not "stop hovering", as you so eloquently put it," he announced. Ignoring Callum as he spluttered in shock, the King stood, padding closer to his prize, waiting for the questions he knew would inevitably come.
"What…?" she croaked, her voice giving out as she swayed dangerously.
The King reached out and gripped her shoulder firmly, steadying her, ignoring the way she flinched from his touch. "Hush, precious," he said softly, more in hope of soothing her than actually keeping her quiet. "You are weak and dizzy from fighting a sleeping enchantment. It may take a while, but it will pass."
She took several deep breaths before speaking again, her voice hoarse. "You… kidnapped me?"
Callum gave a surprised snort, giving his King a wry glance as the monarch laughed. "Not quite, precious." She scowled, opening her mouth to retort, but the King was speaking again. "The word "kidnapped" carries connotations indicating that I plan on returning you."
Sarah went still, trying to focus through the dizzying swoops of the world around her, cold fear beginning to grip her. "Not… kidnap?" she managed, stomach rolling suddenly, swallowing convulsively against the sickness.
"No." The smooth baritone of her as-yet unseen captor spoke much closer to her ear than she was expecting and she reflexively jerked against his grip on her shoulder. "Not kidnap, precious. I stole you."
Sarah gave up on trying to work out what that meant other than "bad". "Bastard," she muttered as heaviness dragged at her awareness, her strength vanishing so that she found herself leaning drunkenly into her captor's grip. He was strong, she realised, finding herself pressed against a firm, muscled chest. Strong, young and fit. And nice, so nice to lean against…
"Indeed." She could hear his amused grin as he eased her down until she was lying flat again. "Rest, precious. It will all make sense soon enough."
Everything faded into nothingness.
The King looked down at his prize with a fond smile, smoothing her raven locks back into place.
Callum grinned. "I like her already," he commented. "She has spirit."
The King couldn't hide his delight. "How soon will it be ready?"
The old advisor shook back his long white hair. "By midday."
Eyes sparkling with joyous anticipation, the King laughed.
When she woke again, there were people everywhere. She could hear them bustling around, murmuring to each other in low voices. Recalling the sickening dizziness she had felt last time, Sarah was a lot more careful sitting up, opening her eyes to look around.
Nothing. Terror froze her heart. She couldn't see anything. Just blurred darkness… Fingers trembling, she raised a hand to her face, tracing her features, smooth skin, soft lashes, open eyes. There was no blindfold. She just couldn't see.
She made a soft whimpering sound, curling up tightly on herself. What had happened? I stole you, she remembered, a shiver going down her spine. Then: you are weak from fighting a sleeping enchantment. Enchantment? What the hell was going on for them to be talking about an enchantment? What type of being…?
"Precious?" The gentle voice of her captor spoke close to her and she flinched, curling up tighter, trembling. "What's the matter?"
"I can't see," Sarah managed to choke out. "I can't…"
"Hush," he soothed. She felt him grip her shoulder again and was irrationally comforted. "It will pass."
Sarah swallowed convulsively. "Who… What are you?" She stumbled over the question, unsure as to which she should ask, equally unsure as to whether she actually wanted to know the answer.
He laughed softly. "Very astute, precious," he complimented. "Don't worry. None here shall do harm to you."
"My King!" a voice called, male and husky with age. "All is prepared."
Sarah flinched. King? She remembered a King, a beautiful, otherworldly man of lightning and magic, powerful and magnetic, drawing her in like a fish on a line. "King?" she forced out.
Her captor tugged her to her feet. "Come with me, precious."
Uncertain, Sarah stumbled after him. Why does he keep calling me that? "King?" she repeated insistently.
There was a breath of movement and suddenly he was behind her, a hand on each shoulder as he turned her to face a particular direction. "Indeed, precious," he murmured in her ear, making her shiver at his breath across her cheek. "Only a King could be worthy of one such as you."
Leaving her to puzzle over that statement, he spoke loudly, his voice carrying through the entire room, the same ringing language as last night, setting her teeth on edge and sending pain shooting through her head. Whatever he said, there was a roar of approval from the rest of the room, and she shied back from the sheer volume, startled. How many other people were there? Why were they all watching? What was this King going to do?
He was speaking again, another few short phrases, then his gloved hands slid down her arms, raising her right arm out from her side. "Hold steady," he murmured in her ear. There were quiet footsteps, then a light, cold touch on her arm and she flinched violently, startled. The King held her forcibly still, relaxing his grip as soon as she stopped. "It is just paint. Stay still, precious."
Shivering, bewildered, Sarah did as she was told, trying not to react as cold patterns were drawn up her forearm, past her elbow to just below her shoulder. Shoulder? Her unease grew as she recalled that so far as she remembered, she was wearing a long-sleeved top and jeans. Her top had been replaced with something – a vest? When did that change? How? Why? The painter appeared to be finished. The King leaned over to inspect her arm, then straightened, calling out, eliciting another roar from the crowd. "Come this way." He turned her and nudged her forward. "Kneel."
Sarah jolted violently in protest. Kneel? What could be going on for her to have to kneel? His hands on her shoulders pushed down and she obeyed, almost numb with confusion and slow-rising panic. She was blind, weak and helpless in a room containing hundreds of possibly-magical beings. Whatever they wanted, she couldn't stop them. She felt a surge of anger at the thought.
"Give me your right hand," the King instructed quietly. Hesitant, she obeyed, unsure if it was wise to even try to refuse him, regardless of her resentment. He gripped it gently, his leather gloves soft on her wrist, turning her palm up. There was the soft ring of metal on stone. She tensed. What…? "I am going to cut it."
Sarah recoiled so fast that she nearly catapulted herself over backwards, yanking her hand away. Cut it? He laughed softly and she felt herself begin to tremble, head shaking in refusal, reaching behind her to try to back away.
There was another ching as he no doubt replaced whatever implement he had lifted to cut her, then he was so close she could feel his body heat, his strong hands gripping her shoulders firmly. She tugged away, trying to free herself, but his grasp didn't shift. "Hush, precious," he murmured, slowly but surely drawing her back until she knelt in the same place again. "I am not going to kill you. I simply require a little blood."
Sarah cringed. She had no real knowledge of magic, but in all the old tales, in every fantasy world she could recall ever reading of, anything to do with blood was often dark and always powerful and binding. How did she know that this gentleness the King was showing her wasn't simply a ploy to keep her relaxed? How did she know that she wasn't here to be sacrificed in some archaic ritual?
But there was nothing she could do. The King's fingers were wrapped around her wrist as he lifted her hand, prising her clenched fist open and gently stroking his fingertips across her palm with a tenderness that took her breath away.
"Trust me." The two words whispered in her ear made her shiver helplessly, and she couldn't make herself move as she heard him lift the weapon again, then there was cold metal across her palm, followed by a burning pain. She remained frozen, motionless, feeling the blood pool in her hand, then he was pulling on her wrist, leading her hand forwards. She felt heat – a candle? – then he made her hand tilt, the blood dripping onto the heat source.
Apparently satisfied, he let her move her hand away, but didn't let go of her wrist. She heard soft leather move over skin. Was he taking off his glove? He was speaking again, some kind of chant or invocation in that unearthly, ringing language. What was he doing? What was this whole ceremony for? Why did he steal me to begin with?
His bare hand grasped her bloodied one, and a bolt of lightning shot her down into unconsciousness.
It was a good ceiling, Sarah decided. It wasn't decorated or ostentatious: in fact, it was simple stone. Tiny crystals glittered in its structure when light succeeded in penetrating the clinging shadows to bring it warmth. Above all, it looked strong and reliable, the two best qualities a ceiling could possibly have.
She blinked slowly. There was something odd about her being able to see a ceiling. What was it? Her mind wandered in search of an answer as she admired the ceiling's sturdiness.
Her memory returned in flashes that jolted through her being and left a gnawing feeling of trepidation in her stomach. Horses. Running. Low laughter, stolen, blind, pain… Then nothing. She lunged upright with a yelp of shock.
And fell back almost instantly, pressure tightening around her wrists and ankles. Her breath caught in her throat. Increasingly frantic, she tried to catalogue her surroundings. All four limbs were bound securely, she was on her back, on something soft – a bed? – and even if she could move, by craning her neck to the side she could see only one door and no windows, and the door was big and solid and probably locked. Not good, not good, really not good…
"Hush, precious," the familiar voice of the King almost crooned. "Don't fight it. Just relax…"
Irrationally, Sarah's sense of panic redoubled, her head turning from side to side in a desperate attempt to catch a glimpse of this King. There was no one. The room was bare. Don't fight what? she wondered.
Her eyes opened wide and her back arched nearly off the mattress, the world blurring in a dizzying heartbeat around her. The bindings around her wrists and ankles were tighter, she could swear they were wrapping further up her forearms and shins, could swear they were inside her… A choked cry was torn from her throat and she collapsed back to the bed, breathing harsh, startled tears fogging her sight. What…?
"Don't fight it!" his voice repeated, more sharply. She flinched slightly. It was the first time he had spoken to her without that soothing gentleness in his tone, and now she guessed that he was truly terrifying when angered.
"What…?" she croaked. If she thought about it too long, she could feel something invading her veins, something huge and burning creeping into her. "What are you doing to me?" There was no immediate response, and she twisted her head, focussing on one of her pinned arms. Something was wrapped around it – a vine? – and as she looked on it curled further up her bare forearm, towards her elbow. She swallowed, blinking the tears away in order to focus more clearly. Was that… tendrils, creeping into her skin? Under her horrified gaze, another tiny frond was seemingly absorbed into her skin, remaining visible like a tattoo. Her mind blanked in terror. Relax, a voiceless presence seemed to whisper. Let me in… "No!" The shout was instinctive and terrified. She started to struggle, desperate to pull away, but the vine only constricted and wound further up her limbs.
It hurt this time, world-shifting disorientation and a jolt of razor-edged agony ploughing through every vein. She screamed, brief but tortured, and collapsed back to the bed, gulping in air, trying to think coherently through her fear.
"Don't fight!" His tone was urgent now, commanding and hurried. "Precious…"
"What is it?" She was half-crying, tears spilling from her eyes, questions tumbling from her mouth. "Who are you where am I what are you doing to me?"
There was a brief sigh, then: "Stay calm, precious." He was soothing again. She felt frustration begin to rise as he ignored her questions. She opened her mouth to protest but he was speaking again. "The land is changing you."
Sarah had to swallow twice before she could get any words out. The way he said it made her certain whatever the hell he was talking about was common knowledge in his realm or kingdom or whatever. Unfortunately, being a human – a stolen human – she had no idea what he meant. "Changing?"
"Yes," he confirmed. "You are a human. The land wants to give you magic."
She tried not to whimper as she felt the vines creep past her elbows, curl around her knees. "Why?" she managed to choke out.
Anticipatory humour touched his voice as he explained. "Because no magic-less human can be the King's wife."
The burning was spreading now, searing her veins as it flowed inexorably up her limbs towards her torso. Eyes clenched shut, she writhed weakly, tugging ineffectively against the vine, shifting constantly in the vain hope that the pain would go away. She could hear the King making calming sounds, trying to hush her, still her struggles, and the question fell from her lips a second time, half-sobbed in fear and pain. "Wife?"
"Yes, precious," he told her gently, a note of light amusement twining through his tone. "You are my wife."
Sarah's breath caught in her throat and terror seized her. No! She was breathing faster and more ragged, choking on air. "Who… who…?" she managed, distantly aware that she was hyperventilating.
Over her desperate, harsh breaths, she heard a heavy sigh. "Be calm…" A gloved hand was laid on her bare shoulder and she started, blinking in growing disbelief as a figure materialised by the bed, looking down at her, unreadable. "…Sarah." He finished in a whisper-breath, caressing the name, rolling it across his tongue like fine honeyed wine.
Blackness roared in her ears and for a long, sickening moment she thought she was going to faint. Her lips formed syllables, soundless in disbelief. She saw him, the constant in all her dreams and nightmares. Surely it could not be… "Goblin King?"
His features relaxed into a familiar half-smirk and he sketched a shallow bow. "Indeed." The smirk quirked wider mischievously. "Although, as my wife" – he made sure to emphasise the word, relishing its sound in his mouth, amusement glimmering at the spark of anger in her eyes at the form of address, the mulish set of her chin – "I believe you should address me by my name."
Her eyes narrowed as she shifted, the vines tightening warningly. "Pity," she sneered, imitating how she remembered him. "I don't recall you ever introducing yourself."
Amusement glowed in his mismatched eyes. "Call me Jareth," he purred, coming closer, into her personal space. She bit her lip nervously, feeling weak and incredibly vulnerable. He was so much stronger than her, and she was pinned helplessly to a bed in pain… His lips were suddenly by her ear, his feather-soft hair tickling her face. "It is so much more… intimate…"
She gasped in outrage and he straightened, looking down at her like a smug cat. As she watched he deliberately dragged his gaze over her body from her feet up, a smirk full of seduction and promises curling his lips.
Furious denial surged through her as the heartbeat pulsed, leaving her crying out in agony as the invading magic lashed back savagely. She fell back to the mattress trembling uncontrollably, darkness eating at her senses, a faint ringing in her ears.
Jareth instantly sobered, anxiety growing. If any mortal was stubborn enough to hold out against the Labyrinth until death, it would be Sarah. He would not allow such a thing to pass. "Sarah," he said softly, gentle fingers stroking her sweat-damp hair away from her pale face. "Don't fight it." He saw her summoning the effort for a snarling refusal of his command, and amended it, so quiet that he sounded vulnerable. "Please."
The shock in her eyes was almost insulting, he reflected, seeing how the tearful emerald pools widened at his plea. Did she not believe him capable of humbling himself to ask such a thing? There was a long silence, then: "Why?"
He smiled reassuringly. "Which why?"
Her face twisted and she gasped for breath. "Why…"
She gritted her teeth and endured the pulse, hardening herself to the pain, focussing on the conversation to try to block it out. It seemed that if she just blocked it rather than tried to fight back, the pain was less sharp. "Why should I not fight?"
He met her gaze levelly and honestly. "Because if you do not accept the change, you will die." Die? She went momentarily still and he saw fear. He reached out. "Precious…"
"Don't!" she cried, flinching away from his hand. He drew back. "Why…" She dragged in a choked breath. "Why did you steal me?"
He looked down at her, head tilted to one side, assessing. "Because you were there." Anger at his reply flashed in her eyes and he decided that it would be best to elaborate before she exhausted herself raging at him. "Sarah, this is not because of your run through the Labyrinth," he told her gently. "Although that certainly made you a more coveted prize." She didn't understand, he saw. He sighed, resigning himself to a long explanation. "Why did you go out into the wilds yestereve, Sarah?" He saw her begin to protest and held up a hand to stop her. "This is relevant," he said patiently. "Answer the question."
A doubtful expression crossed her strained face. "I don't know… the moon…" She shrugged as best she could.
He was nodding. "Exactly. The moon." He sat down on the bed beside her. "The moon has many names. The Lady, The Lantern…" He gestured vaguely, shrugging to indicate their large number. "The relevant ones right now are Fate's Eye, and Destiny's Guide. It has long been known that the heavens speak of the future and guide us earthly beings in our paths. The moon presides over these tellings, watching us and indicating the way forward. Last night…" He sighed. "It is very difficult for Goblin women to reproduce, did you know?" he asked, an apparent abrupt subject change. "Females are uncommon, and meet many problems in birth. Seeing our plight, the Fates decreed that they would align the stars to tell the Host to ride out and steal brides from the mortal realm. It occurs rarely, this time, as we are a long-lived race. But when it does come, every unattached male of marriageable age will ride cloaked with the Host in the pursuit of strong and beautiful mortal maidens." Sarah felt her breath catch in her throat, recognising what he was saying. "The Heavens called out the Host, Sarah-mine, and the moon called out you." His gloved fingers drifted across her vine-wrapped forearm briefly, then he suddenly let out a short laugh, giving her a look of intense pride. "And what a chase it was! Never has a mortal led the Host on such a hunt. You are so strong! I am truly blessed to have caught you, precious." Sarah looked back up at him uneasily, unsure of what to say. Was that a compliment? "And then you fought off my sleeping enchantment!" He shook his head, apparently lost for words.
Sarah bit her lip, thinking over his words. "So I am here… to give you an heir?" Her gaze was full of doubt.
He smiled at her gently. "Never fear, Sarah-mine. We may be wed, but I will never force you. After all" – there was a glint of challenge in his eye, daring her to believe him – "the magic of the land itself declares that no child shall be born of a loveless union."
She was reassured – despite all the trickery she remembered from the Labyrinth, something about him screamed truth – but another thought occurred to her and her face fell. "So you stole me because I was there?"
His head tilted to one side questioningly. "What is it that you mean?"
"If… If I hadn't been outside…" she blurted. "You would have just snatched up someone else, wouldn't you?" It came out like an accusation and she flinched.
Jareth actually laughed. She stared at him, shocked and hurt. What was so funny? "Ah, Precious." He looked back at her, mismatched gaze shining with affection. "Furious with me for stealing you, but outraged that I might have taken another woman…"
She blushed bright red. "No!" she insisted. "That's not…"
He laid a finger over her lips, instantly silencing her. "Sarah, the moon called to you. We are fated. Even if we did not know of it, the Fates knew it and the moon watched to see that it was done. It could not have happened any other way."
She frowned. Fated. So he hadn't chosen her. He just saw that she was strong and stole her before anyone else could. The thought was strangely painful.
The heartbeat, almost forgotten amidst the explanations, shocked her into weakening her defences for a moment. The invading magic instantly took advantage and surged into her, making her arch and scream, convulsing as she tried to push it away, crying, pleading for it to stop!
When she was aware again, she found that he was wrapped around her, holding her close, steadying and grounding her, half-singing as he crooned soothing nothings, stroked her sweat-damp hair. Tears trickled from the corners of her eyes and her heart nearly stopped when he leant forward, his lips brushing them away. "Hush, precious," he murmured, his warm breath tickling her skin. "Please…"
"Why should I?" she choked out, no more than a whimper. "What am I to you?"
His arms tightened momentarily. "You are mine," he growled in her ear. "That is what you are. You are my prize, my wife, my queen, the mother of my heir. You are my sun and moon; you are my greatest blessing and heaviest curse. You are mine, beloved, and I am yours. We will never be free of each other."
Sarah shivered, a thrill shooting through her. Was it fear, or…? "I didn't choose this," she croaked. It somehow needed to be said. He remained silent, and she was suddenly furious, struggling wildly, jerkily under him. "I didn't choose this!" she shouted, breath catching in a sob, tears spilling. "I don't want this!"
She screamed, a blood-chilling shriek of anguish, empty, dead greyness advancing on her mind, blurring and dulling her senses. She collapsed back to the mattress and Jareth looked down with horror at the limp body in his arms, devoid of any visible sign of life.
"… Sarah!" a voice was saying urgently. It sounded desperate, almost broken, as if it didn't know whether it would ever be heard. "Please, Sarah, don't let it end like this." A shaky breath, almost, perhaps, a sob. "Sarah!" A sense of violent shaking. Then stillness. "So you're just going to let it end this way?" The voice was harsh now, derisive. "The poor, kidnapped mortal maiden, a helpless victim, kidnapped and brutally killed by forced magic? I had no idea you were so fond of horror stories." She felt something then, faint discomfort. Whatever she was, however she was, she didn't like what the voice was saying. There was a sharp bark of joyless laughter. "How typically… mortal." The word was a sneer. "So melodramatic, never considering the options. You've been stolen by a goblin, forcibly wedded, so you have to die, unsullied by magic and immortal touch. How… noble." The discomfort was growing, perhaps into… sadness? Anger? Regret? "A goblin could not have taken you out of love, or affection. You have to be the victim, snatched by an unfeeling, evil, inhuman creature that could never feel any kind of compassion…" Definitely anger. She didn't like what he was saying, it wasn't right…
"Sarah…" The voice was just tired now, weary and near-defeated. "Why are you making this the end?"
Surprise at the question, the realisation – why am I making this the end? – sent air rushing into her lungs.
Jareth looked into her opened eyes – pale jewels, so cruel – with surprise, pride and hope. She had heard him. She had heard his words, and had fought back from death… He reached down, caressing her pale cheek. "Sarah?" he asked gently.
"How?" The question was scarcely audible, weak in a way that curled his stomach in fear. He never wanted to hear her so vulnerable again. Her eyes begged his to hear the rest of her question that she did not have the strength to speak. How do I make it a beginning?
He exhaled in a rush, trying to hold back a surge of near-delirious joy. "All you need do is surrender, precious," he told her softly.
Doubt shone in her eyes. Surrender? she wondered. I've never… "How?" she managed to repeat.
Pride surged and he had to fight off the impulse to kiss her, embrace her so tightly that they were almost as one. She is so strong… He lowered his forehead to rest on hers. "Close your eyes and breathe with me," he instructed gently. Her eyelids flickered shut, her breathing changing until they breathed as one. "Now, let go, precious." His own eyes shut, revelling in her sweet taste in the air, the smoothness of her skin against his. "Just relax, and let it all go…"
He felt the instant it changed. She gasped, magic flooding her being, every part of her body, every corner of her soul, but there was no pain, only cleansing, purifying, blessing…
Her indrawn breath left her in a sigh. The vines were gone, dissolved back into the wellspring of life from whence they came. Her eyes opened. Where they had been green, they were now luminous, flashing emeralds and deep forests glowing with life. He held his breath as she looked at him, hoping, hoping…
She smiled. "It's a beginning," she said simply, a promise of nothing and everything.
"A beginning," he repeated, a vow, breathless with joy and childlike excitement. He gathered her in his arms, lifting her from the bed and spinning her around, laughter tumbling from his lips, joy sparkling in his eyes. With a sound like sails billowing in the wind, her clothes changed, sweat-stained jeans and vest into a fluid skirt and a gypsy blouse, her hair revitalised and flowing behind her as she held onto him, gasping with contagious laughter as he set her on her feet. He held her close, his face buried in her hair, and she snuggled comfortably into his chest. It is a nice chest, she realised again, recognising it from her almost drunken episode under the influence of the sleeping enchantment. She could get used to snuggling into a chest like this…
"Comfortable?" his voice teased, rumbling in his chest like the purring of a great tawny lion.
Sarah blushed, hiding her face, then shyly looking up at him. She had never had a husband before, let alone a Goblin King…
Jareth looked down into her timid, hopeful eyes, and grinned. "Sarah-mine," he drawled, leaning his head down to murmur in her ear, hearing her breath catch at his proximity. "If you want a kiss, all you have to do is ask." She flushed darker, turning her face away, and he straightened, looking down at her with a wicked grin.
She paused. He watched curiously as she hesitantly looked back up at him with a look that, young and innocent as she was, she could not possibly know the power of. "Will you?"
He couldn't hold in the laugh. She was turning away again, embarrassed, and he caught her back, his finger catching the curve of her jaw, nudging gently until she unwillingly met his gaze. "Of course," he told her. Her eyes lightened and he dipped his head so his lips could brush against hers, careful not to frighten her. She went up on tiptoes to meet him, tentatively reciprocating his actions.
There was a knock at the door, and they jerked apart, Sarah instantly flushing bright red. "My King?" a familiar dry, old voice called.
Jareth couldn't hold in his grin, embracing his wife more tightly. Mine. My wife; my stubborn, strong, beautiful, innocent Sarah… "Come in, Callum, and meet your Queen."
so, that's that. *shrugs uneasily* to be honest, i'm not sure how this fic happened... it just sorta materialised... to all who await the sequel to "opening move", i swear it's coming! i really was not expecting sudden and complete writer's block. I know what i want to say, but i just can't quite get my brain around how to say it... i'll work on it. promise. and to any waiting on a sequel to "sure i can"... i'm thinking about it. the trilogy seems kinda open-yet-complete to me, but i do have half an idea for another oneshot, so maybe. hope you liked this!