Title: Dubious Gifts

Rating: PG

Characters/Pairings: Jareth/Sarah, mostly friendship. Also Hoggle.

Summary: Sarah and Jareth have a combative friendship on the best of days, but his latest escapade seems to be beyond the pale. Or is it?

Author's Note: Written for the very patient and generous Kerravonsen, for her winning bid in LiveJournal's Help_Japan. As such, this is born of her prompt.

Chapter One: Coffee and Clashes

When Sarah Williams was fifteen, she had a most harrowing adventure, one that featured a captured child, a glittery nemesis, and several impossible puzzles. Two years later, the freshly-seventeen Sarah found herself battling a very different challenge: Endless distraction and beastly piles of pre-finals homework. Junior year of high school was turning out to be killer. So, she abandoned her bedroom's friendly mirrors and the tantalizing, green-scented breeze from its window, turning instead to the low din of a quiet coffee shop. Swamped in delicious, wafting smells, it subdued some of her restlessness. Unfortunately, the beverage itself never tasted as good as it smelled, even when it wasn't burning the roof of her mouth away, but she kept on trying to like it, right up until the Goblin King sat across from her at the booth. At which point she reflexively chucked the swill at his chest.

He tried to dodge and failed, gaining a banged knee to go along with his burning front. He growled indistinct invectives before pausing to glare at Sarah, at which point she contemplated the cost vs benefit of abandoning her schoolbooks and essay and just hightailing it. However, he merely closed his eyes and switched outfits with a small burst of glittery magic.

"A t-shirt?" she asked stupidly. It finally occurred to her that he had been wearing modern clothing before and even now adorned himself with a sinfully tight black t-shirt. His hair looked darker as well, definitely blonde and punkish but no longer otherworldly.

He also wore a flat glare. "You just assaulted me with no provocation whatsoever, possibly ruining my clothing, and that's the first thing you say?"

"I, uh-" she stuttered, "…I'm sorry?"

He scoffed. "I suppose that'll have to do, considering." Wait, should she even be ashamed of herself for that? He was a villain, and it wasn't like he didn't have enough clothes; she'd seen him in something like five outfits over the course of ten hours.

She straightened in her seat and tried to shake off her wrong-footedness. "What are you doing here?" she demanded.

"Funnily enough, I was hoping to sample this establishment's coffee."

"What are you doing at my table, Goblin King?"

"I'm not here as the Goblin King." He paused to give the words gravity. "And it would please me for you to call me by my given name, Jareth." He then smiled, no doubt impressed with his own magnanimity, but Sarah just stared in utter confusion.

"Okay... Jareth, but that still doesn't tell me why you're here, in my booth. Unless finals really have gotten to me, and I'm hallucinating."

His smile faded, but he spoke without reproach, "Would you believe that I'm bored? Running a kingdom is labor-intensive, but I do have time for leisure. What I don't have is sufficiently engaging companions. You've met goblins, yes?" A teasing smile accompanied the last part, and Sarah couldn't help but smile back, to his apparent delight. "There are non-goblins in my kingdom, such as your friends – who you'll note I have very kindly not punished for defying me – but you're more different still. Human, for one thing. Precious few of you in the Aboveground even believe in us anymore, much less distinguish yourselves as Labyrinth champions." Emphasis on the champion part made her want to beam, though she bit on it. "I think I should find such an otherworldly companion amusing. So, would you consent to spend time with me, now and again, Sarah? Will you lessen my drudgery?"

It was a concerted attack: A winning smile, open but tinged with attractive wickedness. The affectionate tone in which he'd said her name. The expert stroking of her ego. Was it any wonder she had a "yes" on the tip of her tongue? Her hard-won caution did force her to (politely) ask, "This isn't some kind of trick? You'll still have no power over-"

He scowled briefly. "Yes, yes, not over you or your brother."

She winced through the next part but had to say it: "And it's not… revenge?"

"Sarah Williams, I swear it on my crown." They shared a smile, then, and he even spent the next two hours sipping coffee and quizzing her, the picture of a helpful gentleman.

And then the honeymoon, as they say, was over.

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In the months following the coffee shop encounter, Sarah cursed herself many times. Jareth didn't iwear/i a crown. He should have meant the oath as a reference to his kinghood, but she couldn't be sure. For one thing Jareth, the Goblin King himself, a man presumably brought up in some kind of high society like most royalty, wasn't very kingly at all. He did not stand for social niceties, which was something she really should have known after their first meeting. After all, throwing snakes at frightened girls wasn't the behavior of a professional gentleman. So, unlike with the non-human dwarf, little foxman, and orange-furred monster with whom she usually relaxed, expecting the Goblin King to mirror-call before he visited was right out. And though he was never rude enough to outright eject from her life, she swore sometimes that his antics were a form of revenge.

Just days after finals, he made to lure her to the park for a celebration picnic, his treat. However, he did so by sending a particularly dirty goblin to invite and lead her there. Karen had blamed its muddy footprints on Merlin, and thus on Sarah for not cleaning the dog before letting him into the house. The picnic, as such, was much delayed and strained.

Another time, he'd gifted her with a lovely potted plant that proceeded to somehow climb up her smooth bedroom wall overnight. By the time she got home from school and was available to deal with it, the demonic vine had worked its way halfway across her ceiling. One hysterical call to Hoggle later, the pair filled the room with a number of noxious odors – one ineffective weed-killer after another – and eventually had to resort to fire. Enraged yelling then summoned a red-faced Goblin King. He wouldn't admit to being breathless from laughing at her, but she iknew,/i dammit. She'd seen his scrying crystals! And even his magical clean-up job couldn't erase all the smells the debacle had caused, so the highlight of the next day for Sarah was an awkward, cryptic lecture about marijuana from her father.

So what if she had taught a bunch of goblins "I Feel Pretty" that one time, assuring them that their king would love to be serenaded regularly. And it was barely worth mentioning that she'd once given him mouse traps as a joke gift, explaining in a guileless voice that she thought his owl form might appreciate fast food. That didn't make it even.

Where her ire was concerned, the fact that she found him so attractive did work in his favor. Of course, she never forgot how devious and dangerous he was, and anyway, he'd never offered. But she was only human, and surely better women than her had mooned over delicate Fae features and perfect Fae skin. There was no helping it. But even if he did flirt from time to time, she pretty much assumed that's how he was and not that it meant anything.

Besides, even looks like his couldn't stupify her enough to keep from arguing with him entirely. Which he then, of course, turned into more opportunities for mischief. A pair of goblins might seem to bring flowers and apologies for a faux pas, but he must have guessed how they would tear into things like Easter candy and unattended homework. Sarah still shuddered to think of what became of her makeup box when it met with candy-charged goblins. Sherbet orange was not Gringa's color.

Was it masochistic of her to acknowledge that she wouldn't give up the chaos for anything?

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"Reading again?" Air puffed against the shell of her ear, and she jolted from her chair with a squeak. Four feet away, she glared at him while he gave her a dramatically put-out look. The humor in his eyes rather ruined the effect. "Need you propel yourself away from me so vehemently? A man might think he'd gained an odor."

"You scared me," Sarah admonished him. Then she sniffed haughtily and put down her book, absently examining the cover. "Besides, I wish you wouldn't pop in so close to me. With all the glitter your magic gives off, Karen's been giving me weird looks. And asking awkward questions." She felt the corner of her mouth twitch.

"Whatever about? It's not so odd that a girl would wear glitter, is it?"

"I think she wants to ask if I've become a stripper." Her eyes shot sidelong to his, but he merely blinked at her, head tilted. "That's someone who takes her clothes off for money."

After a frozen moment of comprehension, he laughed, and she joined him. She didn't worry about the noise reaching the house's other inhabitants; he somehow made sure it never did.

He joked, "You could tell her you've been spending time with a male stripper. It's only half a lie." Sarah laughed even harder.

"I don't think the men wear glitter, and somehow I don't think she'd like the idea of me rubbing on a guy stripper much better." She grinned at him, enjoying a wicked smile in return. She preferred the times like this over all others, when dirty jests or shared stories left her warm and happy with friendship. He never treated her like a child, not once since they first met in her parents' bedroom, and she adored that about him.

He murmured, "You're so lovely when you're flushed like that." Surprise chased away her smile, and he said nothing else, looking faintly surprised himself. Sarah looked around reflexively.

"What's that?" A plain wooden box lay at his feet, roughly the size of a sweater's gift box. Had that been there this whole time?

Absentmindedly, he glanced down. "That? A trifle. I thought I might make you a gift of it. Today is some special occasion, yes?"

"It's my birthday, duh." She stepped up and shoved him gently, all smiles again. He caught her hand before she could pull it back, holding it in his own. "Dad and Karen are taking me out for dinner soon." She swung hers and Jareth's hands playfully between them, looking up expectantly.

However, he didn't offer the box just yet. "Hm, sounds important. And what other birthday plans do you have, my dear Sarah?"

"My friends are taking me bowling on Saturday," she answered distractedly. "What's in the box?" The teasing smile on his beautiful face and the intriguing scent of him – like a lightning storm on the cusp of beginning – were very pleasant, but little could war with her curiosity just that second.

"Again, a trifle, but I might be convinced to give you a proper gift later, depending."

"Huh?" Convinced?

"We'll talk about it later." He finally bent down to grab the box and gave it to her, and she hurriedly opened it. Setting it on the bed, she pulled out something soft and green and kissed with glitter. And small.

"A shirt?" she asked.

Jareth chuckled. "You wouldn't usually wear trousers with that. Here." He took it from her, turned them toward the mirror, and held the garment in front of her, apparently enjoying the view from over her shoulder. His body heat lazily seeped into her back, separated by inches as they were, and the hands on her shoulders somehow raised her temperature by several degrees. He had to feel it radiating from her burning cheeks, with his own so close to hers. Swallowing a moment of lightheadedness, she finally looked in the mirror.

Woah. That neckline was low. And was that a hole in the stomach area? Sure enough the cotton-like fabric had a gaping hole right around where her navel would go. It was three ovals pressed together, like a shamrock or something. And below that hole, there was… not nearly enough fabric. The – dress? Shift? – was forest green with a smattering of something shiny woven into it, and it seemed form-fitting until the waist, where it loosened to fit hips. However, even the most daring of Sarah's classmates hadn't worn anything as short as this thing. The skirt was made up of four pointed and layered pleats, sort of reminding her of leaves, but the point between leaves would come far up her thigh.

Sarah's brain suddenly found an inkling and latched onto it. The compliments. A "real" gift, talk of "convincing" him after she opened this one. The way he was surrounding her right now, dizzyingly close and leering over her shoulder. She turned eighteen today.

Oh god, was this lingerie? She sputtered, "What… wait, woa-" It couldn't be lingerie, surely, except it couldn't be anything else, either. If not intended to go with pants, the thing would never be acceptable in public. His proximity, so alluring a moment ago, started to stifle her, ratcheting up her heart rate.

Jareth finally seemed to pick up on how flustered she was, and he gave a little frown. "Don't you like it? I know you haven't worn anything quite like it before, but..." He seemed so puzzled. Maybe she should take a moment to check.

Slowly, she said, "Jareth, I can't exactly wear that out to a restaurant."

He snorted. "I would guess not, but I wasn't thinking of other humans when I picked it out. I hoped you might wear it when you're with me. I thought…" Oh, it was totally lingerie, wasn't it?

"What did you think?" she squeaked. "That I would- just- give in to you? You just take that for granted?" During her tirade, she'd broken the circle of his arms and turned to face him, and now his visage darkened. Slightly hysterical, she continued heedlessly, "I'm that easy to predict, am I?"

"No," he hissed. His voice was an arctic blizzard's wind, cold and sharp. "It's been many moons since I would have thought to call you predictable, Sarah. However, I admit I might have seen this coming if I had remembered what an ungracious brat you can be."

Ungracious? Well wasn't he just God's gift! "I think you need to leave." Her voice, audibly strangled, still conveyed more composure than she felt. She steeled herself, waiting for taunts or threats.

"Done," was all he said, disappearing abruptly. She blinked and looked around, stunned. He'd taken the box as well, but the... garment lay crumpled on the floor.