It began almost immediately after Sarah's return from the Labyrinth. A flutter of movement at her window, the flash of a jewel deep in her mirror. Nothing overt, always at the periphery of her vision, but enough that she knew he was there.
He didn't seem to be specifically watching Toby, a fact she found comforting, especially on those bright sunny days when she would sit outside in the grass, holding Toby steady with one hand fisted in the back of his shirt, and Toby would surge toward the trees at the edge of their property, pointing a small finger.
"Ow!" he'd cry. "Ow!"
Sarah's stepmother always misunderstood, believing Toby to be in pain. She'd examine his finger closely, crooning, "Are you hurt?" But Sarah would snap to rigid attention, scanning the tree line with narrowed eyes. She knew there was no point in looking for a scratch. Toby wasn't injured. He was saying owl.
She would sit with gritted teeth until her stepmother went inside, and then Sarah would stand, gathering Toby close and facing the tree line.
"Go away, Jareth," she'd say fiercely. "I won."
Sometimes she thought she heard an answering whisper of laughter, but she was never certain. Maybe it was only the wind.
A brief but piercing flash of light woke her at midnight on her 18th birthday, and Sarah sat up in bed, pushed her tousled hair away from her face and flicked on the bedside lamp. She looked around the room and gasped. A bouquet of flowers rested on her dressing table.
She rose and approached it cautiously. The flowers were tied with a white ribbon, and she recognized the small blue blossoms immediately. He'd given her forget-me-nots.
As if she could ever forget.
Taking a deep breath, she said to the empty room, "No. Take them back."
For an instant, there was utter silence, then the rush of beating wings filled her ears. She whirled to the window, but there was nothing there except the pale reflection of her frightened face in the glass.
When she turned back to the dressing table, the flowers were gone. She stared at the empty space for a frozen moment, then rushed to check on Toby, but the toddler was safe in his bed. Lancelot the teddy bear, loved into a woefully bedraggled state by now, was snuggled in the crook of his arm.
Too frightened to go back to sleep, Sarah sat up all night, watching the snow fall outside her window and wondering what she was going to do.
The dreams started the next night.
She never fully remembered the dreams, something she considered ironic in the face of Jareth's proffered forget-me-nots, but she never fully forgot them, either. Bits and pieces were always there each morning as she awoke, images and emotions flooding through her mind just as she opened her eyes to begin her day.
Walking with Jareth through the Labyrinth, the tall hedges flowering with a wave of his hand...
Standing beside him in a throne room, laughing as goblins tumbled over themselves to chase away squawking chickens at his command...
Dancing with him, alone this time, in a crystalline ballroom, transfixed by his eyes and the song he sang...
There were more intimate dreams, as well. Seductive dreams that left her aching and unfulfilled when she woke alone with only vague memories of passion and pleasure.
The dreams continued, night after night, and Sarah was swept along with them. She was certain they were more than mere dreams. Jareth was sending them, but were they real in some fashion? Did they represent how he would treat her or were they trickery, an enticement to tempt her into letting down her guard?
Determined to wrestle some control for herself, she wrote questions on her hand in ink before she went to sleep one night. To her mingled relief and consternation, the questions were there, scribbled on her hand, in her dreams.
"Is this real?" she asked, as they twirled through the ballroom yet again.
"How do you define reality?" His retort was quick.
"Everything that happened... I created you, didn't I?" She hesitated over this, the most confusing question.
"Did you?" Amusement lit his eyes with a sly gleam. "Or did you merely attract my attention with your flights of fancy?"
She drew back, eyes narrowed. "Are you doing all of this so you can take Toby again?"
"Why would I want the boy when I could have you?" Gloved fingers briefly caressed her waist.
She frowned. "Then why are you doing this?"
"This? Do you mean dancing?" White teeth flashed as he grinned.
"Courting me," she blurted out. "That's what you're doing, isn't it? Why are you courting me?"
For the first time, the perfect, flawless dance faltered, and for the barest fraction of an instant, the gilt-edged King appeared nothing more than a weary man.
"I'm tired of being alone," he said at length. "Save me, Sarah. Save me, this time."
"But will saving you cost me everything else?" she cried. "I don't want to leave my family behind forever."
He regarded her for a long moment, then summoned a crystal with a turn of his wrist. He closed his fingers over it, and when he opened them, a glittering ring rested in the palm of his hand. The delicate gold band was etched with a pattern of forget-me-nots, and it cradled a tiny mist-filled crystal.
"For a year and day, this will take you between the worlds," he said, offering it to her. "You can come to my side by putting it on, and then return to your family by taking it off."
Sarah examined it, turning it this way and that, watching the mist shift inside. "And at the end of the year and a day?"
"You must choose whether to stay with me permanently or return to your family," he said.
In the dream, Sarah slid the ring onto her finger, and he smiled, drawing her back into his arms, and the dance resumed.
She awoke with his words ringing in her ears. It was hours yet until morning, and she wasn't surprised to see that same ring lying on her bedside table.
Was he telling the truth? She had no way to know for certain. Perhaps he was lying, or perhaps that glimpse of a lonely man she'd seen had been the real Jareth. There was only one way to find out...
Sarah dressed quickly, and just in case, she quietly went into Toby's room to kiss the sleeping boy on the forehead.
"I'll be back," she whispered, and hoped it was the truth.
Back in her room, she picked up the ring, and before she could second-guess herself, she closed her eyes and put on her finger. When she opened her eyes, Jareth stood waiting before her, the music already playing. She stepped into his arms with a smile.
The true test of his intentions would be later, she knew, when it came time to remove the ring and return home, but for the moment, she would enjoy the dance and give dreams a chance to outshine reality.
Author's Note: Written for the 2010 Winterfest on the LiveJournal Labyfic community.