And here is the second and final chapter. More Jareth-ness to come. Still rated M.
Sarah looked up from her knitting with a smile as her seven year old daughter capered across the park towards her. It had been a brisk spring day and the late afternoon sun shone yellow gold in the child's long platinum blonde hair. As the light fell across her face, Sarah found herself repressing memories of another blonde face with high cheekbones, thin lips and intense eyes.
She looks so much like him...
The little girl skidded to a stop in front of her mother. "Look what I found!" she exclaimed proudly, holding out a large white feather.
"That's a lovely feather, Elina," Sarah told her, reaching out to take it. Rummaging through her handbag, she pulled out a sandwich sized plastic baggie of bread pieces. "Here you go. Time to go visit your friends at the pond."
Elina grabbed the bag with a grin and took off towards the pond at the other end of the park. Her 'friends' would be expecting her, as they did every day.
Elina had always had an unexplained fascination for birds, owls in particular. It had discomfited Sarah a great deal at first – the owl being such a close connection to the Goblin King and his owl form. She had thought it might be some sort of channel he was using to establish some sort of contact with herself, or, worse, Elina – but the girl seemed to genuinely like birds. She had scores of books on them, her bedroom walls were covered in drawings and photographs of them and bird figurines littered her dresser and the windowsill next to her bed. Elina had recently taken to collecting feathers she found in the park.
This new addition to Elina's feather collection would be ceremoniously joining it's fellows in her room later, but until then, it was Sarah's task to Keep It Safe. She stowed the feather between the pages of a book sitting next to her on the park bench, forgotten in favour of some knitting. She was currently making a pink fluffy beanie and scarf set for her daughter.
Sarah had once offered to buy her Elina a bird as a pet, but she had refused.
"No Mummy!" she had exclaimed in the pet shop, scandalised. "I would have to keep it in a cage." She had said 'cage' like it was some sort of dirty word. The pet shop attendant had tried to explain that you could keep some birds on a cage-less perch and they could go everywhere with you, usually sitting on your shoulder. Elina had then asked some very pointed questions about wing clipping and Sarah had steered her daughter from the shop before an 'incident' could transpire.
Secretly, Sarah had been proud that her daughter had refused to keep an animal against its will. She often thought back to Merlin and felt slightly guilty about keeping him, especially in the face of her young daughter's fierce belief that all animals should be wild and free. She often wondered how Elina knew as much as she did about birds, being so young, but she generally chalked it up to her daughter's stacks of books and enquiring mind. It was easier to dismiss the creeping feelings that perhaps Elina wasn't quite... normal... that way.
Elina's fascination with birds was mutual, or so it seemed. Birds of all kinds seemed to be naturally attracted to Elina. It was common for their yard to be full of pigeons and doves, even the occasional parrot or parakeet.
The appearance of the owls had frightened Sarah at first, particularly given their tendency to roost in the tree outside Elina's bedroom window each night. However, they weren't white barn owls (which would have caused Sarah to immediately pack up and move, bird bigotry be damned), but snowy owls.
Under the persistent cajoling of her daughter, Sarah had eventually agreed that yes, they were pretty, just like Harry Potter's bird, Hedwig. Although, Elina had told Sarah, very seriously, owls don't really deliver mail.
After a couple of weeks of their nightly appearances, nothing had changed, no one had disappeared (or appeared) and Elina was acting perfectly normally. Sarah had eventually attributed the owl visits to the general odd interest the creatures seemed to have with her daughter.
Sarah watched Elina now, standing near the pond's edge with a flock of birds clustering around her. The ducks in particular loved Elina, and tended to follow her around the park. They even let her pet their fuzzy little ducklings once in a while. That was always rather exciting for Elina, who had a special love for baby birds of any kind.
Sarah vividly remembered when she and Elina had hand-raised two baby pigeons who had fallen from their nest two Springs ago. It seemed so unbelievable for a five year old to be so dedicated to the care of two such tiny creatures, but Elina had been a consummate foster mother and Sarah was only needed to occasionally adjust the heat lamp or heat the gruel in the microwave.
The swans at the pond always ate out of Elina's hands and let her stroke their graceful necks. None of the geese had ever hissed at her, nipped her or chased her away. All the birds just seemed content to form an orderly queue and wait for their piece of bread and human attention. Elina was always totally relaxed and at home feeding the birds. Of course, if Sarah were to approach, the spell would break and Elina's little friends would all scatter in fright. She had learnt to keep her distance while her daughter held her feathered court.
As the sun sank behind the tree-line, the park began to grow dark and colder than just the nippy Spring afternoon. Time to leave. Sarah called her daughter back from the pond, gathering up her knitting, book and handbag. They trudged home together through the dusk, giggling at the swishing sounds their gore-tex jackets made in the otherwise silent suburban streets. Elina insisted on carrying her new feather and Sarah watched the girl absently as she pranced ahead waving it, mentally planning the evening dinner-bath-bed schedule.
After a messy dinner of tacos and a bath that took far longer and used more bubble bath than it needed to, a clean and pajama-clad Elina headed upstairs to her small loft bedroom to play a little before bed-time. Elina's bedroom was the only room on the second storey of the house and she loved it, because her bedroom window was level with the treetops and she could watch the birds roosting.
Smiling in anticipation of a little time to herself, Sarah decided to put some coffee on and curl up on the couch with the new season of True Blood. Watching the whole fairy saga never ceased to amuse her. They were nothing like real fairies, vicious little bitches.
"She is quite an enchanting child."
Sarah spun, catching her coffee pot with her elbow and knocking it to the floor. Wincing a little at the loud crash, she staggered back into the kitchen wall, hand grasping the front of her sweatshirt.
There he was. The Goblin King. Leaning his hip against the end of her kitchen bench, arms folded, looking perfectly at home. The years hadn't changed him one iota, he was still devastatingly perfect and not human. Sarah tore her eyes away ruthlessly as they started to drift downwards.
Surely... the Goblin King hadn't come for Elina?
"You," she gasped, half terrified, half furious. "What are you doing here? You have no right to look at my child. Stay away from my baby Goblin King! Don't you go getting any funny ideas about kidnapping her!"
"Now why on earth would I want to kidnap her?" he chuckled. "I don't kidnap children. Besides, no one has wished her away. I knew you would not be as irresponsible with your own child as you were with your brother."
Sarah flushed and hated herself for it.
"You should call me Jareth, precious," her visitor drawled as he sauntered out of the kitchen and sat down on her couch like he owned it. Sarah gaped at his nerve. "After all, you are the mother of my child."
"Elina is yours?" Sarah hissed, wondering at the dual feeling of being so surprised and yet not surprised at all. "Bullshit!"
"Of course she is mine," Jareth snapped, frowning. "Do you honestly think I would let you carry another man's seed? Besides, I doubt you're even aware that Elina is a name for Underground royalty. Considering I was the one who suggested it!"
Sarah, for once, was speechless. It seemed pointless to keep denying it in the face of Jareth's certainty.
He fixed her with a penetrating stare. "Don't try to tell me you don't remember that night," he said in a softer voice. "Because I know you do."
Sarah couldn't look him in the eye. But she did remember. It had always been easier to tell herself that it had been a dream and Elina was her ex-boyfriend's child. After all, he'd been blonde and devastatingly gorgeous too. All the men she'd had since the labyrinth were.
"Well then," she snapped "If she's your daughter like you say, where the hell were you when Elina was born? We both nearly died you know!" She glared at him.
"And why was it, do you think, that Elina did not die? And you did not die?" Jareth asked her softly.
"But I didn't see you anywhere," Sarah shot back, not wanting to believe he would care that much. "How do I know you're not just trying to trick me?"
"I was there," Jareth insisted. "I was behind you. I answered your call and saved our daughter." His expression became completely serious. "Giving birth to our kind is often... difficult, even if the mother is human. I would have been there the entire time, but she came early. I was in the middle of challenging a runner. I only just made it there in time."
Sarah couldn't think of a thing to say. She couldn't very well continue to be a complete bitch when he had answered her prayer and kept Elina from dying. Our kind? Was it true? Did that mean that Elina... was like Jareth? She certainly looked like him. Her uncanny little mannerisms and unnerving focus on her interests had always made Sarah wonder about her daughter, but her thoughts had always seemed to head down the Aspergers Syndrome or Autism tracks. Something tangible. Something human.
A long silence stretched between them.
"So." Jareth eventually spoke. He looked less than completely self-assured and it gave Sarah pause. She only remembered seeing an expression like that on his face once before. It was when she had won the game and destroyed the Labyrinth for good measure.
"You want to meet Elina properly," Sarah said, deciding not to make things more difficult than they needed to be. Jareth nodded.
"I've waited a long time for the right moment, watched you both," he said. "She's growing up and I didn't want to stay away for too long."
Sarah wasn't feeling sure if this was the right moment. She felt a sort of maternal possessiveness towards her daughter. Elina was hers, no one else's, the little spark of light that kept her going, even on the really bad days. Having a responsibility to love and care for a child was what had kept Sarah tied to the real world all these years. Without Elina, Sarah would most likely have lost all sense of purpose and drifted away into nothingness many years before.
But still… she felt that denying Jareth access to his child was unfair to the point of spite. As far as she knew, he had no other children. What if he was a first-time parent, just like her?
"Am I the only… I mean, are there any others…?" Sarah trailed off, unable to think of a delicate and polite way to phrase the question.
"Are you asking me whether other women have borne my children, or whether I have other children?" Jareth asked shrewedly.
Sarah felt her face flush. Why was this so important and at the same time, so embarrassing to ask? "Both."
Jareth shrugged elegantly. "It is very difficult for a Sidhe woman to conceive a pureblood Sidhe child. It's one of the reasons I never married. Human women, on the other hand, are extremely fertile. It only took one encounter with you before you became with child."
Sarah's nostrils flared. "How nice for you, finding your very own brood mare," she snapped. Taking a second, she looked away from him, reining in her temper. "Answer the question Jareth, please."
"Elina is my only child and heir," Jareth answered. "She will rule my kingdom when I retire as monarch."
It was an exciting feeling for Sarah, knowing that Elina was the first and therefore, most important of Jareth's children. But it was also a fearful feeling. If Elina had simply been one of many children sired during Jareth's dalliances with mortal women, perhaps they wouldn't have drawn his attention, and been free to live their lives in peace.
But now, she had a Goblin King in her lounge room, asking for some absurd parody of an access visit. She had a feeling that their peaceful lives wouldn't be resuming any time soon. Trying to ignore her nervousness, Sarah stood and walked to the bottom of the stairs.
"Elina," she called, knowing her voice would carry into her daughter's bedroom. "Come downstairs please. There's someone here who would like to meet you."
"Coming!" Elina called back, her voice slightly muffled. Jareth stood as he heard the thumps of her footfalls begin down the stairs. He had seen his daughter countless times over the years, but never in the flesh. Not since the day she had been born. He was most definitely not nervous. At all. Not even a tiny bit.
Elina paused next to her mother, who was still standing at the foot of the stairs. She could tell her mother wasn't happy about something, but wasn't sure what that something was.
She spotted the tall blonde man standing in the lounge room and approached him for a better look, her face full of the bright curiosity that only children can manage.
"I know you," she declared confidently, after studying him for a few moments. She sat down on the couch and patted the seat next to her enthusiastically.
"You do?" Jareth's voice sounded genuinely intrigued. He sat down next to his daughter. The mocking undertone Sarah was so accustomed to hearing was completely absent. She moved quickly to join them but froze halfway across the room as her daughter spoke.
"You're my Daddy," Elina told him, in a tone that suggested she was explaining something very, very obvious.
Jareth raised his eyebrows. "How do you know that?"
Elina rolled her eyes. "You've been talking to me for ages." Sarah jerked as if she'd been stung. Jareth looked completely nonplussed.
"Don't be silly Daddy. Of course you have. You've been sending the white owls to come and talk to me."
Sarah locked eyes with Jareth across the room, furious. So he had been making contact with Elina without her knowledge. How dare he! She expected to see a guilty expression, but he merely looked confused.
"I sent the white owls to see you, not to talk to you," Jareth said carefully, flicking glances at Sarah's irate face. "I couldn't see you myself, because I'm so far away. So the owls would keep an eye on you for me."
"But they talked to me," Elina insisted. "They told me all about you, that you're a King and you have a big kingdom. They told me about The Book and where it was, so I went and found it and read the story."
"The Book?" Sarah choked out. There was only one Book she knew of, and it was buried at the bottom of the linen trunk in her wardrobe, wrapped in an old tea towel.
"Yes Mummy!" Elina said, exasperated. "The red book, the one where you wished Uncle Toby away by accident and met Daddy the first time. You never read that book to me at story-time." She pouted, then turned back to Jareth.
"I was wondering why you never came to see Mummy and me, but then I saw that your kingdom was very far away and it would be hard to come visit."
"You saw…?" Sarah, struggling valiantly to speak calmly, felt faint. Of course it followed that Elina would be 'special' in that way, being Jareth's daughter, but it was still a shock to hear her speaking about her talents so matter-of-factly.
"The owls showed me," Elina said. "They asked me if I wanted to go to see Daddy—" Jareth's expression darkened at this "—but I told them I couldn't possibly leave you Mummy." She paused thoughtfully. "I had this feeling that if the owls took me away, it would be very hard to come back."
"Go back up to your room Elina," Sarah blurted. The girl fixed her mother with a questioning glance. Sarah looked between her daughter's face and Jareth's, feeling thoroughly unnerved.
"Your mother and I need to talk a bit," Jareth explained, drawing Elina's gaze, when it became apparent Sarah wasn't going to be saying anything any time soon.
Elina considered this for a moment, then nodded. "I'll go and play with my figurines," she told him, then crossed the room and clumped back up the stairs.
Sarah took a few steps, then flopped down on one end of the couch. A few minutes went by and she still did not seem inclined to speak. Jareth sighed and sat down on the other end, knowing she was waiting for an explanation.
"Elina was right, you know," Jareth told her grimly, breaking the tense silence. "If she had gone with the owls, her Sidhe blood would have overtaken her human blood as soon as she arrived in the Underground. She would never have been able to return." He glanced at Sarah, who was still very pale, her fingers twisted in her lap. "I'm sorry," he said earnestly, wanting to comfort her. He raised a hand to touch her, thought better of it and pretended to adjust his lace ruff.
"The owls were interfering against my instructions," he continued. "They knew that she was the future Queen and they were trying to preserve the Goblin Monarchy. They will be punished for what they have done."
"She kept all these secrets from me." Sarah burst out. She was distraught. Was this her baby? How could such a young child keep such huge, amazing secrets?
"You forget that Sidhe love secrets and intrigue," Jareth told her gently. "And games," he added, as an afterthought.
"She's not Sidhe!" Sarah hissed reflexively. His words had unleashed a flood of memories of her time in the Labyrinth. Secrets and games. She had been done with both for a long, long time.
Jareth watched her. She was not coping. He couldn't entirely blame her. She knew very well what he was, but Elina was something entirely different. Everything Sarah thought she knew about her child had been turned on its head in the last hour.
Taking a risk, he moved a little bit closer to her on the couch. To his relief she sank against his chest gratefully, seeming to want some physical comfort and not caring who gave it.
"I feel like this is too big for me," she confessed, conscious of Jareth's chin resting on top of her head but letting it go. "The two of you are magical creatures with a completely different world open to you and I'm just…" she struggled for the words.
"The Queen Mother?" Jareth suggested, not daring to call her the Goblin Queen. Not yet, at least. Sarah giggled, surprising herself.
"That makes me sound so old."
They were quiet for a while. Sarah found her recollection drawn to the night that she now realised Jareth had come to her. In the dark, she had thought it had been Rhys, the guy she had picked up at the bar, but now, she knew differently.
In her somewhat limited experience of bedroom activites, no man had never made love to her like that before. She had had no idea sex was even supposed to be that good. It had confused her a little, but it hadn't been long before she was past the point of caring. Her lover had made her scream herself hoarse, wringing every last ounce of pleasure from her body.
She'd passed out afterwards, she remembered with a blush.
Rhys hadn't been there the next morning. She'd never seen him again and had never been able to find him when she discovered she was pregnant with Elina.
"What did you do to that man?" she asked.
"I sent him away when you weren't looking," Jareth answered unrepentantly. "He never even touched you. I couldn't risk having him accidentally involved in my child's upbringing. He started a new life in another country, quite unaware of his previous identity."
Sarah knew that she should be outraged. Jareth had obviously orchestrated this whole debacle from start to finish. But, she couldn't seem to muster the strength. She was exhausted and Jareth's warmth was very comforting.
"I want to take Elina back to the Labyrinth," Jareth told her at length.
"I forbid it," Sarah answered immediately.
"Sarah, she is the heir to the Goblin throne, the Crown Princess. That makes her a target. I can offer her limited protection now, but as soon as she comes of age, I can do nothing."
Jareth tugged his glove off with his teeth and wiped Sarah's tears away. "I never said you weren't welcome to come with us."
"You want me to come with you? After what happened last time?"
"I would never separate you from our child. Apart from that, you, as a human, are free to come and go as you please, so you need not sacrifice your relationship with your other family. As long as Elina is under my protection, she may travel Aboveground from time to time. When she becomes Queen, she may go back and forth as she wishes."
Sarah shook her head. "This is too sudden. I can't answer you now. I need time to rest and think about this."
"Then rest," Jareth said softly, pressing his bare hand to her forehead. He watched her eyes drift shut and held her sleeping form for a quiet, peaceful moment. Then, he called his daughter.
Elina entered the lounge room, answering her father's silent call and thinking nothing of it. She saw her mother, asleep in his arms.
"What did you do to Mummy?" despite the absolute trust she felt in her father, Elina was suddenly worried about her mother.
"Nothing, I promise," Jareth told her. "She was just a bit tired out after our conversation. She fell asleep."
"You want to take me back, don't you?" she asked. "Back to the Labyrinth."
"Yes," Jareth answered. "But I could never take you and leave your mother behind. She loves you too much."
Elina considered this for a moment. "Then are you going to take us both?"
Jareth grinned, showing a lot of teeth. "That was what I was planning yes."
"And did Mummy say that was ok?" Elina was obviously still suspicious and Jareth felt a twinge of paternal pride. She would be an excellent Queen one day.
"Yes," he lied without hesitation. He would convince Sarah to see his point of view soon enough. If she didn't agree to be his Queen straight away, he would at least have a lot of fun wearing her down.
Besides, Elina needed a mother and a father.
He watched his daughter as she came to sit beside him. "Are we going now?" she sounded half-excited, half-nervous.
"Yes," Jareth replied, tucking her against his side with one arm and gripping Sarah more firmly with the other. "Don't be nervous, everyone will be very happy to see you. I don't suppose you'll be wanting to try out your bird form when we get there, my dear?"
Misgivings forgotten for a moment, Elina bobbed her head up and down excitedly, caught up in the thrill of finally being able to fly with her owl friends.
In a burst of glitter, they were gone.