If Wishes were Fishes
Things like this didn't happen to people, not real people. Things like this only happened to actors in the movies or to other people you didn't know, but heard about on late night news. Then you shook your head in sympathy, sighed and commented 'how awful' or 'how sad', but it never really touched you. Not really. Not like this.
Sarah Williams focused all of her will on washing the dishes by hand, slowly. The dishwasher stood at the ready, but the physical chore kept her mindless, made it easier to live in the now rather than remember or worry. Or think about them.
"Sarah, I'm ready for bed."
"Huh...oh, okay Toby," Sarah looked over her shoulder at her younger half-brother standing at the foot of the stairs wearing his brand new Star Wars pj's that he insisted he needed to help him sleep.
"Will you come read me a story?"
"Sure...in a minute," she said and Toby heard her voice grow distant. Already she pulled away from him, every week he tried harder and harder to yank her back to their world but their parents' ghosts held a stronger tether. He knew she wouldn't come up tonight. Not because she didn't love him or didn't want to, but because the grief and worry made her forget sometimes. Toby watched his sister wash the day's dishes in slow motion; her expressionless face reflected in the nighttime window over the sink and thought she looked older than he remembered just a few months ago, older, sadder, and more isolated than ever before.
"Sarah?" He said, she didn't answer this time and his heart clenched. Thought maybe he heard a hitch in her breathing, was she crying again? He was losing her, just like Mom and Dad but differently, slower. Somehow he had to find a way to keep her with him before she forgot him entirely.
"Night, Sarah," he whispered and crept upstairs to his bedroom, his feet dragging as if through wet cement. What could he do? He wasn't anybody, just a little boy. How did one help with adult stuff like money and bills and talking about dead parents? He hated talking to strangers about what happened months ago, didn't want school counselors with their fake smiles and their faker pats on the head forcing him to remember. But he didn't want to forget either, not like Sarah who drifted farther out each day. Toby saw how her eyes glazed more, how she cried easier, how it got harder for him to get her to talk. Sitting on his bed with slumped shoulders, Toby held back his own tears with a sniff and a finger rub.
"I wish I knew what to do. I wish someone could help Sarah."
"You called, young Tobias?" A man's deep voice spoke from the direction of his window. With a yelp, Toby jumped up from his bed and spun about. The oddest man reclined on his window seat, all pales and darks, tight leathers and flowing cloth with a sheen of glitter; he looked like a character from the Renaissance fair Sarah took him to every year—only more authentic.
"Wh-who are you?" The man gasped with a shocked expression, one Toby suspected he shouldn't trust, and he sprang from the window seat gracefully.
"Really, I'm quite insulted you don't remember me."
"Yes, I'm told I'm quite unforgettable," Toby gave him a skeptical glare, "Granted you were a great deal younger then, Tobias. How old are you now?" The man hunched down by the waist and pointed a leather stick at him while cocking one of his feathery eyebrows inquisitively.
Toby considered whether he should tell this strange man his age or not, but something about him did seem familiar. It made him think of chickens, ugly little monsters and...And singing and dancing?
"I'll be ten next month," he answered warily then added in a stronger voice, "and you still haven't told me your name!"
The man laughed and it mesmerized Toby, how he laughed using his whole body. His arms akimbo at his flanks, the leather pointer sticking out, his head thrown back which made his long, hair float; wow...Toby hadn't seen anyone laugh wholeheartedly for months and it made him smile.
"I like you, Tobias. Possibly more than the first time we met." The man knelt placing them eye-to-eye, smirking and Toby noticed his sharp teeth. The better to eat you with—wasn't that how the story went? Holding out a black leather-gloved hand the man said:
"Allow me to introduce myself once again, I am Jareth, King of the Goblins, at your service young Tobias." Toby cautiously slipped his hand into Jareth's shaking it firmly, Jareth's smirked broadened.
"Tobias Christian Williams, but everybody calls me Toby...uh...at your service."
"A pleasure to make your re-acquaintance, Master Tobias," Jareth said bowing his head slightly.
"Cool, it's good to meet you, too, um again I guess." They dropped hands. "You do seem kinda familiar...did you used to babysit me?"
Jareth cocked his brow again, stood, and dropped his smile, "Indeed not. Kings do not babysit."
"Okay..." Toby stepped back at the sudden change in Jareth's expression and demeanor. It made him nervous and his fingers picked at the seams of his pj's. "So why are you here, King...uh, your majesty."
"Please call me Jareth; I tire of honorifics," he waved the stick dismissively then noticed how tense Toby appeared. Dropping back down to a crouch, Jareth relaxed his features and smiled again, his eyes sparkling, "You may call me Jareth, young Tobias and I should count it an honor. As for my presence in your home, I am here because you called."
"Yes, did you not wish for assistance?"
"Oh," Toby plopped onto the edge of his bed, stunned. "But I didn't think anyone would show up. I mean wishes don't really get granted, do they?" Jareth strolled over and sat gracefully next to Toby on his bed, careful not to touch or frightened the young boy.
"Generally speaking, no they don't. But you're a special case, you and your sister, Sarah."
"Huh, you know my sister?"
"I know a great many things about you and your sister, Tobias. I know you grieve deeply for your parents. Neither of you have family to support you, even Sarah's mother offers no assistance. I also know how burdensome the world becomes for Sarah, even though she loves you so."
"Okay, now you're just freaking me out." He scooted a few inches away from him.
"Tobias, would you allow me to prove to you that I mean to fulfill your wish."
"To help Sarah?"
"Yes." Toby was caught in Jareth's intense stare and realized his eyes were weird. One was more dilated than the other...huh...
"I guess so," Toby shrugged, torn between wanting to trust Jareth and seeking help and his naturally suspicious nature. Toby watched as Jareth's arm and hand twisted in a complex maneuver and a crystal orb appeared at his elbow, rolled over his forearm then landed in Jareth's palm as a peach.
"Cool...what is it?"
"It's present for your sister."
"Trust me, she'll understand the significance."
"It won't hurt her will it?"
"Cross my heart," Jareth said with a sardonic twist of his lips.
"You're making me seriously doubt you here, Jareth."
"Tobias," he said, sighing, "Occasionally, the best for a person isn't always pretty or easy, but I swear to you my present will do exactly what you wish. All you have to do is give it to her and I'll take care of the rest."
Toby studied the ripe fruit gripped in Jareth's palm for a few seconds then nodded, "I'll do it, but if anything bad happens to my sister I'm kicking your glittery ass."
"I would expect to less, Tobias." He grinned, proud of the young boy's gumption. So much like his sister.
Toby took the peach from Jareth, sniffed it once...it smelled divine...his mouth watered...
"Aha...no snacking, off with you." Jareth made a shooing motion with one hand while still seated upon Toby's bed.
"Yeah, okay." Toby left his room running off downstairs, Jareth's present clutched safely to his chest. Watching Toby scamper off, Jareth smiled and waited. Only a matter of minutes until the predictable signal arrived. He listened easily to the siblings' conversation in the kitchen. Toby's proud presentation of the peach, Sarah's strangled choking cough, and few words of disagreement then her insistence that Toby return to bed immediately, he heard the boy's frantic footfalls upon the stairs and five, four, three, two, one...
"Ah, Precious, your voice is such sweet song to my destitute ears after so lengthy time apart," he said directly into her ear from behind her, his voice saccharine and husky. She jerked away and spun, tossing the peach at him which he easily caught, the flesh barely bruising.
"What the hell are you playing at, Goblin King?"
"Playing? Why ever do you think I'm playing?" he asked sidling closer as she stepped back. Her face flushed, her eyes flashed and he knew she never looked more beautiful than at this moment.
"You can't be here. I won! You can't have Toby!"
Jareth 'tsked' her, "Sarah, I can be here and I'm not here for Tobias." He tilted his head and frowned a bit, "Well, not exactly." Glancing at the peach still in his hand he brought it to his mouth. "It's unbearably rude to refuse gifts freely offered."
"I don't want your gifts! Especially not peaches! You know what that means!"
"Oh, yes, I remember quite vividly your fantasy."
"My fantasy?" she said, sounding momentarily flustered.
"Of course, what else did you think? I admit I provided the magic and the...inducement, but the trappings...all yours." He licked the peach and Sarah made an 'ugh' sound. "Ironically, you even pulled me into your little dream."
"What do mean?" she asked, her voice softer. Sarah stopped backing from him but refused to watch him molest the fruit.
"I mean exactly what you think I mean. I intended for you to become trapped in your own imaginings, Sarah, like any typical runner. My presence was not originally part of the plan. You, however," he vanished the peach with a twist of his wrist and pointed his leather swagger stick at her, "have a delightfully frustrating way of unraveling all my plots for you."
"Oh, yes." He stalked closer. "A skill which is both rare and..." he grinned, "precious to me." Chilled fingers tickled up her spine. What did he want? Why was he here? Now?
"You have no power ov—" Quicker than she blinked, Jareth moved from his position several feet away to press his body flat against her, his gloved hand covering her mouth, his other hand snaked around her torso and holding her snug to him.
"I wouldn't say that if I were you," he said harshly into her ear, his warm lips touching her skin, making her shiver, "A word of warning, dear Sarah, those words only work to your benefit once. If you were to utter them again in my presence not only might it invoke my ire, but all my protection would be lost."
Keeping his hand over her mouth, he drew back and watched her brows furrow, her eyes question him, but she didn't struggle. Good gods, she felt wondrous in his arms! All softness and strength, warmth and light!
"Ah, yes...you're wondering about the protection. If you promise not to say that horrid phrase, ever, I will explain. Do we have an accord?" She nodded under his hand, he almost regretted letting her mouth loose as he felt the loss of her heat from his leather glove instantaneously. He could kiss her now before he released her completely. She would rail at him assuredly, but to kiss her!
"Your explanation?" Sarah poked a finger into his chest and glared. He had yet to unwrap his other arm.
"Yes, of course." Reluctantly, he unwound her and she stepped from his embrace, though not as rapidly as he imagined she might've even twenty minutes ago...fascinating. Jareth cleared his throat. "Likely you will find this difficult to believe, but you and Tobias have been under my protection since you became Champion."
"Excuse me?" Sarah scowled and strolled around the opposite side of the dining table. "Why would you protect us? I beat you."
"True and my gracious thanks for the polite reminder," he said snidely. Sarah gulped but kept her gaze locked with his. "However you may have painted me to be, I am not such a...what you call...sore loser...as to allow both of my best and brightest to walk Aboveground bare."
"Sarah," he said her name with exasperation, "have you never noticed the odd occurrences around you? Small objects missing or appearing? Have none of my residents told you that you reek of magic now and that my goblins are assigned to guard you both at all times lest another being deign to make a morsel of you?"
"Uh...no?" At least she gave him the courtesy of a sheepish expression. He paced her kitchen, driving her ahead of him around the table, his swagger stick slapping his thigh.
"Sarah, Sarah...still walking around with your head in the clouds, I see."
"Hey! I'm not like that...anymore!"
"Oh really? Then where is young Tobias now?" She made a strangled noise, her eyes agog. "This could've all been a rouse while my goblins lured him away."
"You wouldn't...you promised..."
"Did I now?" He said, leering at her, his finger tapping his chin. "I don't seem to recall a promise..."
"Oh, God!" Sarah ran from the kitchen, Jareth listened to her stomp upstairs calling for Toby. The boy wouldn't hear her; he'd already made sure of that. A snap of his fingers transported him to Sarah's side as she stood over Toby's sleeping form huddled under his blankets. She knelt down and caressed Toby's hair from his face and Jareth crouched beside her. Without looking at him she said in a low voice:
"I thought he'd be gone. I thought..."
"I know what you thought."
"He looks so peaceful."
"I've enchanted him to sleep deeper," at Sarah's sharp look, he added, "just for tonight. He hasn't been sleeping well, and neither have you, Sarah."
"It's been so hard." He heard her voice crack and catch on a sob. Jareth guided her upwards by her elbow and miraculously she followed his lead without a battle. He added his other hand to her opposite elbow and she allowed it, another miracle.
"Do you want to know why I came tonight and not before?" he asked keeping his voice sincere, his hands supportive and firm, but not grasping. Sarah nodded, her head and eyes lowered. He felt the restrained sobs trembling in her body.
"Tobias wished it, lifting your geis against my presence, Sarah. However, the protection of my goblins started without question since you left."
"He worries for you. I wished it as well. I've watched these many months, waiting for an opportunity to help."
"It was so sudden, so awful." Her sobs erupted then as the memories flooded over. "My own mother refused to help me, Jareth. Said, 'you're an adult now, you'll manage.' How? I've never done this, raised a kid. Can't afford to finish college, the life insurance barely paid off the house but what about all the other bills? When can I get a real job with real money? I'm waiting tables for Pete's sake! I'm stuck here and poor Toby...what's going to happen to him?"
"Yes, I know, Precious." Gently, he pulled her to his chest until she cried her grief and agony upon his silken shirt, his arms a comforting band around her shoulders. "I know everything. You needn't talk about the accident unless you wish it."
Her fingers dug into his chest through his shirt as she cried harder. She'd leave bruises but he couldn't muster the desire to care as long as she found relief, even for a moment. After a time her wails slowed as did her breathing, finally she slept...standing in his arms. How exhausted she must be! Smoothly lifting her, Jareth carried her from Tobias's room to her's, the doors opening obediently for him with a wave of his fingers.
Reverently, Jareth laid his precious, sleeping Sarah upon her unmade bed. He noticed how untidy the house appeared, and not due to goblin mischief. He added a sleeping enchantment to her as well before brushing her dark hair behind her ear and lightly kissed her forehead.
"Sleep, Sarah, I shall take care of you both. You'll have no more worries to trouble you, Precious." Standing, Jareth rubbed his hands together gleefully and backed away from his heart's desire. He smirked, imagining Sarah's reaction in the morning.
"First thing we start with is the house."
A/N: Don't own the characters- bah humbug.
Just a little one-shot that came into my head when I woke up this morning on my day off. I neglected my housework to write this, lol! I could continue this fluffiness although I have no specific direction at this point and it all depends upon reader/review response.
Enjoy! Lather, rinse, repeat!