A Land Serene
Epilogue - Approx. Ten Months Later
The deckled vellum edges of the large postcard sized invitation tickled her fingers as she plucked at it. The gold embossed lettering glinted, glaring at her from its position at her coffee table. Next to it sat a clear crystal orb with accompanying instructions for its use. Seated, palms flat to the table, chin resting on her chest, Cassie stared at both objects. They arrived over week ago, materializing exactly in the spot where they currently rested; and she remained undecided, though she should've already used the crystal over an hour ago.
Chewing her first finger's nail and picking up the expensive paper, she considered–again–the pros and cons of this particular invitation. If she didn't go her relationship with her quasi–brother would be further strained. The past few months doing little to improve her easiness around him, though she tried as promised, while her mother now lived with Sarah and Jareth full-time. Since her move at her grandson's birth, Cassie heard nothing from her mother other than messages from Jareth or Sarah. She missed her, terribly. She laid the invitation flat to the table with a thick, papery snap, thinking of her mother. Months since she last saw her, a pang of odd homesickness hit her, made her vaguely nauseated. Should she go? Mum would surely be there ... and she had yet to see Jacen since his birth, made her a horrible aunt, assuming she called herself aunt.
"You're late." Jareth spoke from her left, sitting on her recliner. Months ago she jumped when he teleported unannounced, but grown used to it, Cassie merely turned her head and smiled wanly feeling her melancholy leak through.
"Hey, I was wondering if you might show up."
"When you neglected to arrive and I didn't sense my crystal used," Jareth said, nudging the orb with one gloved finger. "Naturally I wondered."
She shrugged, unwilling to meet his penetrating stare.
"Hmm, I see." He watched her count the wood grain in her table. "You never intended on coming, did you, Cassie?" Head hanging, she wrung her hands and frowned. Jareth's hand slipped over her forearm, into her line of sight. "Why wouldn't you attend?"
She looked up, felt heat and moisture fill her eyes. "I don't fit in there, Jer. I don't belong."
"What?" Brows furrowed, he squeezed her wrist. "Of course you do, you're family."
She laughed harshly, shook her head, and wiped her eyes with her hands. "Family—how can you say that?"
"Easily," he said shifting to sit next to her on the couch, draping an arm over her shoulders. "I have all these memories of you, of us, in my mind." He leaned his forehead to her temple, tightened his fingers into her opposite shoulder, holding her tight. "It doesn't matter to me we're not blood related."
"What about-" She paused, swallowed. "Do you remember what happened at the club? What Jeff did, you going to the hospital?"
"Being angry with you?"
"Yes," she said in a small voice.
"I remember, luv. I remember everything."
"You're my sister. You will always be my sister, and I'm grateful." He kissed her temple, pressed his cheek to her hair. "I love you, Cassie, and I forgive you." Her sharp intake of breath surprised him, and he jerked back to see her crying.
"I'm so sorry!" Flinging herself into his arms, she clung to him, burying her face in his silken clad chest. "I never meant for anything like this to happen, Jer. I did suspect he was up to something, but I swear, I really didn't know what until it was too late."
"I know, I know," he murmured, combing her hair, cradling her, rocking her.
"But I should've said something, done something."
"It's not okay! I should've never involved Jeff; he's always been such a loser..."
"Cassie, listen to me." He gently guided her face upwards, his expression firm. "I was never meant to live as a mortal. My time as Gerard was temporary, should've never occurred, and now I've returned to my original life, I understand so much more."
"Everything is as it should be; please stop carrying this burden."
With a hard sniff, she said, "I'll try."
"Well... why don't you start by coming to Sarah's birthday party?"
"I doubt she'd want me there."
"Nonsense," he said, trying to reassure her morose mood. "She's the one who sent me."
"What?" With of twist of his wrist, he handed her a cloth hanky and she promptly dried her eyes and blew her nose.
"That's right, luv. I lost track of time playing with our son; Sarah informed me you hadn't arrived yet, asked me to fetch you."
"Yes, she also informed me I wasn't to return to the castle without you." He grinned, twisted his wrist again, and produced a crystal, perching on his fingertips. "So if you don't mind making my life simpler..."
"I'm not even dressed!" Cassie tugged on her lazy day t-shirt.
"Not to worry, luv." Another crystal materialized next to the first and he tossed; soon as it touched her, the lounging t-shirt and shorts transformed into a lovely, casual dress, make-up and hair-do appropriate for a family party.
Grinning, he inclined his head in silence acknowledgement of her thanks. "I can't have you meeting your nephew again dressed so informally, he's nearing five months already. And this is a big day!"
"Right, the queen's birthday, I read the invitation," she replied, dead–pan.
"Precisely." Brushing the hair from her face, Jareth cupped her cheek. "Don't be so glum. You'll love the Underground. I promise, luv."
"You've been saying that for months."
"And you've been refusing to visit for months." Standing, he pulled her upright by her hand. "Now come along then, no more delays."
"Alright, guess I can't avoid this any longer," she said, standing near him, making him chuckle as he held her hand, fingers intertwining.
"Close your eyes, luv, it helps with the dizziness." The next moment the world tilted, and spun. Cassie gripped his hand harder, her eyes shut tight as vertigo swirled inside her head.
"It's okay, we're here," he whispered in her ear. "You can open your eyes."
"That was quick," she said, cracking her lids cautiously, unsure what to expect.
"Teleportation always is."
"Jareth!" Sarah said from a short distance, and they both turned left to face her. Rows of peach trees protected the area, their scent permeating the air, their branches shading the small clearing they stood within. Sarah walked from a table set with food and gifts, her arms welcoming towards them. Cassie recognized Sarah's friends Cathy and Todd sitting at the table; they waved, smiling, the piles of party goodness threatening to inundate them.
"Cassie, you came!"
"Jer convinced me I was being silly." She gave him a grateful look; he smiled, squeezing her hand before releasing it.
"Well I'm glad you decided to come. We couldn't start the party without everyone present." Sarah returned her smile, and Cassie felt its genuine emotion strike her while noticing Sarah's breathtaking beauty. Her features appeared sharper, more delicate, with a sheen dusting her skin. "Your mother is walking in the orchard with Jacen, Hoggle, and Dee. They'll be back soon."
"And your family?" Jareth asked, stepping forward to kiss her. Sarah tilted her head back, returning it, and a twinge of envy flared in Cassie. Not for Sarah's capturing of Jareth's attention, but for the easy affection between them. Would she ever find a comparable love to theirs?
"Exploring by the lake with Cathy and Todd's girls," she answered then faced Cassie, said gently. "Your mother misses you. We hoped you would've visited sooner."
"I'm sorry. I just—"
"Why don't we announce the party's commencement?" Jareth said, steering them away from further emotional conversations. Both ladies readily agreed and together they strolled towards the brightly decorated table brimming with gaily colored boxes and rich foods. Cathy and Todd shifted over, clearing a space on the long bench.
"Hey Cassie," they said in unison, their eyes a bit glazed with the look only alcohol granted. They seemed mega relaxed and Cassie wanted to snigger. A crashing sound came to them beyond the nearest trees and a moment later Cassie saw a gigantic, shaggy, orange monster lumber into the clearing with an extremely chatty fox–like dog in Shakespearean dress holding a staff.
"What the –?" Cassie started, pulled back from their little group, but Jareth held her arm lightly, slipping his hand up to lie flat on her shoulder blade.
"It's alright; they're friends."
Okay ..." she replied, drawing the word out in disbelief.
"Ludo! Sir Didymus! I want you to meet someone." They both pivoted at Sarah's voice, moving in their direction, the dichotomy of their strides amusing Cassie: one lumbering and lazy, the other spritely and short. Who were these creatures? Better yet ... what were these creatures?
"My lady, you honor us." Sir Didymus bowed, the long feather in his cap sweeping the lush grass while Cassie pressed her back against Jareth's reassuring hand.
"Ludo, Sir Didymus," Sarah said formally, her hands moving from one to the other in presentation, "I would like you to meet Jareth's mortal sister, Cassandra Scott."
"It is my pleasure to be of thine acquaintance at last." The gallant old knight bowed again, deeper, until Cassie feared he might topple forward under the weight of his fawning. Neither Sarah or Jareth appeared phased by his archaic behavior, so after a moment's delay absorbing the ... fox's/dog's/creature's? ...greeting Cassie bowed her head, feeling awkward.
"Um ... thank you, Sir ..." She looked to Sarah who mouthed out the knight's name, "Didymus." Cassie finished in a more confident voice. "It's good to finally visit the Underground."
"And my brother, Sir Ludo," he said, snout pointing upwards to the great, orange, furry thing, "He has been most anxious to meet you, Lady Cassandra. We have heard much of your exploits."
"Cassandwra, fwiend," Ludo bellowed, his beady yet kind eyes focused on her, made it difficult to remain fearful of him. Smiling, Cassie nodded at Ludo, finding his speech impediment surprisingly endearing. What sort of scary monster spoke like this while looking at you with sweet, brown eyes? Jareth's hand rubbed small circles on her back and he whispered in her ear.
"Feeling more welcome, luv?"
"Uh – huh..." She did actually. Who knew the Underground could be so ... nice? And that's when everything fell into place. The peach trees-too beautiful to be cultivated normally with their symmetrical shapes and shimmering leaves–separated with a shivering whoosh, revealing her mother walking slow and easy with what must be her nephew in her arms, nose-to-nose. She cooed to him and he giggled, reaching for her face. She'd never seen her mother glow before, but as she drew closer, Cassie saw years dissolve; her mother obviously relished being a grandmother. So enamored of the sight, Cassie nearly overlooked the short man waddling next to her mother–he must be Hoggle. And she immediately recognized Dee sauntering a bit behind the two of them, her rich blue sari swirling with every step. An air of self-satisfaction surrounded the goddess, floating to Cassie like perfume.
"Georgia, look who's finally arrived!" Sarah announced, breaking Georgia's keen attention from her grandchild, and Cassie felt her mother's boundless love spill over to include her, gaze shifting from Jacen to her daughter.
"Mum," she said. Months since they last saw each other, after Georgia's decision to accept Jareth and Sarah's invitation to live with them, Cassie and her mother blossomed at the sight of one another.
"Cassie!" Her mother's brilliant smile told her everything, all the words missed since Cassie tried talking her mother out of moving to the Underground. Selfish, how selfish of me to try and deny her this, Cassie realized, once again humbled before the splendor of familial acceptance. One arm reached for her daughter while the other clung tightly to her grandson, tears springing to her eyes.
"Oh my dear girl," she said, voice thick, "come here."
"Mum!" Not wasting another second on doubts or fears, Cassie ran to her mother, wrapped her arms around both her and Jacen, who protested with a wiggling squeak. Laughing, Cassie pulled back to free her nephew, seeing him for the first time since his birth.
"Cassie," her mother said, a contented look on her face as she bounced Jacen once, earning another giggle from the boy. "Meet your nephew, Jacen."
"Hello, Jacen." Grasping one chubby hand in her first finger and thumb, she solemnly shook his hand while admiring his angelic face of spiky, ice blond hair, pale skin, and living emeralds for eyes which studied her keenly. No ordinary child: Jacen tilted his head, blinked once, and withdrew his hand from hers lying it on her cheek. It felt hot, almost excessively so.
"Caa–" he said then laughed, and Cassie felt her heart explode with love and hope, warmth filling her chest.
"I know..." said her mother, adoration pouring off of her in waves, spinning and weaving its spell over Cassie. "He's quite the heart–breaker, isn't he?"
Whispering to herself, unheard by any, Dee said, "You have no idea." Then hid her smile behind her hand, little did Jacen's family know what his future held.
"Mum, he's so..." She shook her head. "I don't have the words."
"I have the words," Sarah said behind her and Cassie pivoted, surprised, forgetting they were there. "Try dealing with the little terror in the middle of the night."
"Bloody hell, yes." Jareth agreed, a wry smile twisting his mouth. "You have our permission to baby–sit whenever you like."
"And he hasn't begun walking yet."
"Though his magic started peeking through last week."
"Do not get me going on that!"
"He's a devious little trickster."
"Just like his father!"
"I was never that bad." Jareth groused, crossing his arms with a pout.
"He was worse!" Hoggle said, jumping into the conversation, making everyone laugh.
"And how would you know, Hog's brain?"
"Don't forget how long I've know you," Hoggle bravely replied.
"This is the respect you show your monarch?" Jareth said, imperious, towering over Hoggle until he quailed and backed away while everyone silently watched.
"Oh, leave him be, Jareth." Sarah pulled at his arm; he relented-reluctantly. Fortunately for Hoggle, Sarah's family wandered back a moment later, voices loud and boisterous, defusing Jareth and Hoggle's tiff until the next.
"Look, Robert, Cassie's here," Karen said, smiling and waving as they approached, herding Todd and Cathy's daughters ahead of them.
"Thank God, we can finally eat. I'm starving!"
"Toby!" Karen swatted his arm gently. "Don't be rude."
"But I am, Mom, and we've been waiting for hours."
"Don't be melodramatic," his father said, "it hasn't been hours."
"Ignore him, Cassie," Karen said, hugging her. "We've only been here a little while, but we are glad you're here."
Blushing, Cassie returned Karen's hug then nodded to Robert, Toby, and the two girls. "It's good to be here. I'm sorry I took so long." A moment of awkward silence reigned.
"Well!" Jareth clapped his hands, rubbing them together. "Shall we start the party then?" He looked to Sarah. "Luv?"
"Absolutely!" Her gaze lingered on the pile of elaborately decorated gifts amid the dishes of food and drink on the large table. Cathy and Todd, still sitting at the table, raised mugs of ale brewed specially for the occasion, adding enthusiastic 'here, here's'.
"About time, I say." Dee said, kissing Jacen on his head as she passed by and nodded to Sarah and Jareth.
Karen held out her arms for her turn at cuddling Jacen, who leaned into his other grandmother's embrace with reaching arms and a bright smile. Robert stood next to his wife, a look of awe overspreading his face, hand resting on Jacen's small back as the boy snuggled his head into Karen's neck, nuzzling.
Even Toby rubbed his nephew's head tenderly. "Hey kiddo." Jacen gurgled, giving his uncle a bright, toothless smile.
Sarah sidled up to Jareth, slipped her arm around his waist while his draped over her shoulders as they watched her family and friends gather around the table, chatting and laughing. This was life. This was living. This was perfection. A flood of gratitude and love washed through her; she squeezed Jareth tighter.
"Happy, luv?" he asked, kissing the crown of her head, inhaling the scent of her maturing fae magic. It still effected strongly, made him light-headed with desire.
"Oh yeah, the happiest."
"Good. I always want you to be happy."
Craning her neck, she looked into the eyes of her soul mate; the imperfect man who was perfect for her. "I want us all to always be happy, for as long as possible."
"And thank the gods for that," he said kissing her, pulling her snug to his flank, running his fingers through her hair.
"Amen," she murmured against his lips. "Amen."
serena221: Thank you! I'm so glad you've enjoyed it and what a wonderful compliment! I hope I can continued to meet such high standards.
Bowie's Mistress: Thank you! The last few chapters were challenging to tie up the way I wanted but I'm so glad I got them they way I wanted. And thanks for asking about my business. It's doing well, though with Congress stalling with the debt decision, I can tell it's making people hold on to their money tighter then usual right now. And my back is doing much better! Spasms all gone after a week of pain and a mega painful deep sports massage. But it works. I will be avoiding the activity which brought it on. I can appreciate a fractured tailbone, ugh! Can't sit on anything but the softest things. And OMG, thank you so much! One of your top 5 writers! And you crowned me queen of smut and lemons? Erk! That's...hell...thanks thanks thanks! I certainly did not take that as offensive! Someone else also titled mistress of all things twisting, lol!
littlenerd: LOL, thanks! Hope you enjoyed the epilogue!
alorindanya: That's okay that you haven't reviewed before now. I started out a lurker way back too. Though I do love reviews, I can see how much my stats jump on this story. Glad you enjoyed the Greek Myth. tie in. It was a fine line to walk to keep it interesting but realistic. Crossovers can be odd sometimes. As for Cassie, as you can see I spent more time on here in the epilogue, which I had intended. I didn't want the last chapter to drag, and preferred to spend more time on her 'future sense' in the epilogue. Cause I agree, and she did say she could be okay with, maybe, eventually. Thanks about Project Fiction. I should hear something at the end of Nov, but I'm getting awesome reviews on Fiction press, so that's good.
ladalum1167: Thanks! It's always great to hear how eager people are to read my new posts. Just as good as the review itself, honest! That's what a writer shoots for, getting readers scrambling to read their work before they do anything else. Hope you enjoy my other fanfic as well and I have a few things posted on fiction press too if you're curious. Thanks, I'll check out her story!
Shenlong Girl: Thanks! It is important to tie up lose ends, :o) And a nice little epi to finish it off.
startraveller776: LOL, glad S/J nervousness came through, and I really wanted a nice way to explain Georgia's premonition without being to creepy about it or info dumpy. This seemed the best place. But it's been a fun rollercoaster, right? I do love writing rollercoasters, muhhahahaha!
BuffyMyraRae: Yeah *sniff* it's done. I feel bittersweet about it. I happy to have this out of my head but sad that's it's over cause this has been amazing to write. So much more than I first envisioned. Thanks! I was a bit anxious about 2/3 of the way through that I wasn't going to be about to wrap it up just right, but I pushed through and got the scene I wanted to work. and you never have to apologize for not reviewing! You've been such a loyal reader since my beginning and I love all your support! Good luck with your new job!
Trelweny Rosephoenixwolf: Awesome! Glad you loved it! This story was such a build up I was a bit nervous I'd blow the ending, lol. As for Cassie, she did say she could accept things, 'eventually' As you can see by the epi it was all hearts and flowers. Still, I think she's starting to learn her lessons of being selfish. Glad the sacred worked better. Sometimes too smutty is too smutty, but I had to toss in some more smut, teehee. Glad you enjoyed and yes...that dance floor scene is one of my faves too. I had that in my head for weeks, couldn't wait to write it and it got me all worked up for days...whew!
moira hawthorne: Thanks! Here's a bit of baby Jacen...awww...
rahnaesmomma: Thanks! Glad you liked! A sequel? Well...I have no current plans since I have 4 or 5 other stories I'm currently working on. However, I have deliberately ended this in a way that leaves it open for one. So...maybe...
Hachimanskitsune: LOL, you are very welcome! And thank you for the awesome compliment!
Autumn O'Shea Swan: Thanks! I do try and this one was harder than usual to tie together. Very ambitious this one...ugh. Sorry I didn't give you more Williams or Todd but it just wouldn't come in the epi...maybe more later.
futrCSI1490: Thanks! Not too nerve-wrecking but just enough right? heehee! I know right? Calming down GK would be great. Hope you enjoyed the Epilogue.
xxyangxx2006: Yep! The Loom and the Fates were behind everything the entire time, even Dee's actions. Makes you question how much free will we really have. LOL, well , I couldn't have them not have a little tiff at the end. The are J and S after all, you know. Thanks, and the twist was fun, just a little, wha-huh? to make you rethink the whole story. Thanks!
mynagoldenwings: Thanks! Hope your story is going well! Hope to read the next part soon.
Proxy-messenger: Wow! That's totally bad-ass :o) Glad you enjoyed and hope the epilogue was fun too. I might write a sequel later or one shots if my muse gives me an idea. Never say never right?
A/N: This fic has been amazing to write, and amazing to see the responses from everyone. It's been my longest running fanfic - seven months. Whew! And I swear, I haven't deliberately drawn it out. At one point I was stumped at how to get from one scene to the next to make it all work, how to bring it all together at the end. That's because I write on the fly, from my head to computer, no outline. While I know the entire story it still has details I work out as I go along. I write all my stories like this. I find it brings me surprises along the way that I would've never thought of otherwise.
I am so appreciative of everyone who's followed, favorited, alerted, and especially reviewed this story. It's been my fastest growing favorite since my first story I posted "Last Resort" and I suspect it will soon pass it. This grew larger than I first envisioned, far more ambitious than I believed I could write, it really made me push my boundaries which I'm so grateful for. In fact, writing this fic made me brave enough to start writing and posting original work again this summer. I can say enough of what that means to me. And everyone who's followed me to fiction press also has my undying thanks. To know anyone is willing read one's work (and likes it) is the best compliment any writer can receive.
As I've said in a few answers above, I might write more to this story in the future. I have no current ideas or time frame. But I have 5 other works in progress and am a slave to my muse so who knows. But I can also see myself revisiting this versions so never say never, right?
Hope everyone enjoyed the epilogue and more importantly the story. As always, I love hearing comments or receiving messages to chat.
Thanks! and Enjoy!