Title: Dubious Gifts
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?
Chapter Two: Girls and Boys and Fae
"This is where you wanted to go, isn't it, Sarah?"
Sarah grimaced. Her birthday dinner was turning out less than pleasant. She found she couldn't take her mind off of a ball of appalling fabric buried in her drawer and the infuriating man that had given it to her. She ought to have thrown it away. Still, she managed a smile. "Of course, Dad. You know I love their chicken marsala."
"You've barely touched it, is all."
Karen joined in, "Don't take it personally, dear. She looks distracted. Problems with friends at school, Sarah? Or is it boy problems." She added the last bit with a teasing smile, more a quip than a question, but something in Sarah's face must have given her away. Karen's expression lost its humor. "It's boy problems, isn't it? Why didn't you tell us you had a boy?"
"A boy? What kind of boy?" asked her father.
She protested, "I don't... He's not my boy." Nor is he a boy at all...
"But there is a boy?" her dad pressed.
Crap. Sarah thought that she of all people would know about choosing words carefully, but no.
He demanded, "What did he do?" Good lord, who knew he had Mr. Protective hidden somewhere under that sweater vest?
"This guy, he's a friend, and I just... He's not the kind of guy I thought he was, is all." She stared glumly down at her food, hoping it would discourage further questions.
Karen made a sympathetic noise. "Well, honey, I haven't known you to be a bad judge of character, not for years anyway. The whole thing could be a misunderstanding."
"And if it's not," her dad added, "don't be depressed. He's the slimeball, not you, and slimeballs aren't worth your time."
Dad and Karen mostly left her alone after that, but she still thought about what they'd said. A misunderstanding? Could it be? Or was Karen just trying to make her feel better? She could have been; Sarah knew that her parents probably saw her as happy but withdrawn, an inevitable effect of living life with one foot in a secret, magical world. Karen would doubtlessly prefer it if nothing scared Sarah further into her "shell." Her dad's advice seemed more honest. But still... a third opinion wouldn't hurt.
Once back in her room, she called into her mirror, "Hoggle." As luck would have it, he was near his own mirror, unoccupied and happy to visit.
"Didn't think to see you tonight, Sarah. The others coming soon?"
"I, uh, just invited you."
At that, he raised his expressive eyebrows.
Sarah smiled sadly. "You're the one I need just now, Hoggle. Can you give me some advice?" She figured Ludo wouldn't be good for much more than commiserating ('King bad!'), and Didymus, well, she wasn't sure about him. He'd likely give her a courtly explanation of everything, which might or might not apply to the unpredictable Goblin King, and she felt too run-down to deal with his abundant energy just then. Or maybe she just didn't want to even mention the word "lingerie" to the proper old fox.
"Advice? Suppose I can try, but I know a lot more about tending Underground gardens and killing Underground pests than I do about anything that goes on Above."
Sarah sat on the ground, pulling her knees up to her chest and staring at the ground, and Hoggle sat in front of her.
"That's actually pretty close to the nature of my problem."
"Underground pests," Sarah answered ruefully, flicking her gaze up to the dwarf.
"It's Jareth, is it? Pest is right; I don't know how you stand him. I swear he's been feedin' the fairies honeycomb when I'm not looking, just so they'll be harder to catch. I got bit twice yesterday!" He paused to look around. "Er, he ain't around here, is he? No owls outside or nothin'?"
"I might not have to stand him anymore." Her voice broke halfway through the sentence, and tears fell through the cracks, unbidden.
"Oh, no – I – Sarah-" Hoggle fretted, apparently thoroughly alarmed. He reached out to gingerly pat her arm, then awkwardly put his hand behind his head, shifting from foot to foot. "Don't cry over that royal peacock. Royal vulture, more like – but painted – er, like a peacock." His profound discomfort might have been funny on another day. "Tell me what he did, so I knows what to call him, like."
He coaxed the whole story from her, reacting with surprise and confusion.
"Ugh, that man, he doesn't make sense!" Sarah finished. She sniffled again, but the retelling had mostly covered her depression with rekindled anger. A long pause set in.
"But he's not," said Hoggle softly.
"Huh? Not what?"
"A man. Sarah, he's not a man, just as I ain't. Not the way you mean it. He's male, yeah, but he's Fae, not human. Now I'm a dwarf, so I ain't gonna say I can understand him better'n you can, but I will at least say when I don't know what's what."
"I... don't know what's what, Hoggle."
He nodded. "'Course you don't. Fae live their whole useless lives not making sense. They might not lie to you, not with words, but they can make you see and even hear whatever they want. But that's all setup for their sharpest weapon: the truth."
Sarah thought back to the villain she'd first met when she was fifteen. She'd seen an armored, evil adversary and heard the sinister snickering of goblins all about her, but it had all been window dressing for the facts: He'd taken her little brother, and she might not get him back. He had discouraged her from fighting him with his display and warnings, but he hadn't lied. "Why would he want me to see and hear him being... a perverted jerk?"
"I reckon he wouldn't, not on purpose. Could be things didn't go to plan for him." There it was again: the suggestion of a misunderstanding.
"I'll say," she intoned glumly. Another long pause arrived, in which Sarah sluggishly contemplated everything.
"You know I don't like Jareth much, but I like seeing you this upset even less. You should... you should at least be sure why you don't have to see him ever again. 'S better, in the long run, with less wondering. Remember what I said about Fae; he won't lie to your face. I say you ask the slippery cad of a cod, and use your right words."
Sarah wiped away her tears. "I guess there's nothing for it, huh?"
"Nope." A beat. "After I'm gone, o'course. For your sake. He's like to work up a strop, having to be that frank in front of me."
She rocked forward onto her knees, reached out, and pulled him into a hug. "Thanks, Hoggle. You're a real friend. Even if he pitches a fit, I'll make sure I can still see you guys, okay? On my rights as Labyrinth champion."
The next day Sarah took a walk to the park, finding a slightly secluded copse of trees. Rested and scrubbed of tears, she took a breath and steeled herself.
"Jareth," she called politely. "When you have time, I'd like to talk to you, please. I'll be waiting here." With that, she sat against a tree. She knew he'd heard; he always heard when she used his name aloud.
Ten minutes later, he appeared in front of her, clad in ripped jeans and a red t-shirt with torn-away sleeves. This nearly made Sarah wince; when he sported the punk style of Aboveground clothing, it rarely boded well for his mood. And even with the human clothing – even if he had worn shortpants and a bowtie – nothing could have detracted from the regal look of disdain on his handsome face. His eyes could chip ice; the line of his mouth alone made her want to dig a hole and die in it. Wordless, he raised his chin in cold greeting, and Sarah had to look around them anew to remember that it was late spring, with warm sunlight dappling the ground and greenery everywhere.
Standing, she said, "Jareth, I..." and then stopped, considering. Crap, what had she meant to say?
"Yes?" It was just one word, but spoken in a brittle voice. She knew he had other tones that would wound her or show disdain. Brittle meant that he was hurting, too, and that was enough to move her brain along.
"Jareth, I'm confused."
"Not half as much as I, though I oughtn't be. I should have kno-"
"Yeah, I get it; I'm a bitch. Jareth, if you're so offended, can you tell me why? Because I thought I was supposed to be offended."
He stared incredulously. "Offended? What bloody reason do you have to be offended? I gave you a gift, woman. One that was finely made."
"But what for? And why did you leave it when you stormed out?"
"If you'll recall, it was your birthday," he explained dryly. "And not everyone has your appalling manners. That dress was my gift to you, and it is yours to keep, regardless of anything that transpired after. Anyway, I can't exactly wear the thing myself."
At that, Sarah's brain slammed to a halt. Jareth... tiny green dress... wait, dress? She shook off her befuddlement, stowing those disturbing mental images. "Dress? That was a dress?" The look she received in return made her feel like she'd drooled on herself.
"But why a dress like that? I mean – not that I don't appreciate dresses – I like them, and – but why?"
"You needed something more modest, so I provided it. Now answer my question. What did you think it was?"
"Wha-" Sarah sputtered, completely lost, "Why would I need something more modest? How is what you gave me MORE modest?"
"It looked like lingerie, okay!" She was past embarrassment. "Lingerie. Bedroom clothes, but not the kind you sleep in. How he hell – a modest dress?"
Jareth seemed to zone out for a moment, then zeroed back in on Sarah and boggled. "You thought I gave you lingerie?"
Oh, wait, there was the embarrassment. Her cheeks burned. "I tried to ask about it, if you remember. But answer my question; how is it modest?"
He sighed. "Think about the over-tight denim trousers you tend to favor. Actually, you're wearing them right now. You must admit that such things give an entirely too detailed view of your posterior."
Sarah resisted the urge to crane her neck and look at her butt, opting instead to press herself back against a tree. "Talk about a view! Your trousers give a too-detailed view of-" some remaining shred of sanity derailed that thought for her "-You wear Lycra! I can't believe you're upset about skinny jeans."
"I am male, and when in a given society I cover what is proper to cover. You'll note I wear your 'skinny jeans' when we walk about your town. Also right now. And I am not upset; I'm used to your people's customs."
Sarah finally felt like she had bought a clue. "Then who was I meant to be modest for? In the 'dress' that shows off my entire legs and half my belly but obscures the exact shape of my butt?"
For the first time that day, Jareth appeared uncomfortable. He looked away to speak. "I wanted you to have something suitable. I... had planned to invite you to a meal at my castle when my sister visits. In a week. As I said, I'm accustomed to your risque Aboveground fashions, but my sister's maid would declare them downright slatternly. It would best keep the peace to have you properly clothed, and it would keep outrageous rumors from reaching my parents."
Oh, no. He'd wanted her to meet his family member, someone he cared about, and she'd... He hadn't been exactly clear about his gift, but still, Sarah had seldom felt like such an ass. Absolutely no words came to mind.
So she hugged him instead. Deliberately, she placed her chin on his shoulder, one arm around his upper back and the other around his middle, and she squeezed, trying to impress her remorse on his body. After half a moment, he enfolded her and said nothing.
They had never held each other like this before. It felt right, a peaceful respite in the often tempestuous nature of their friendship. After several long moments in which both of their bodies relaxed, a tiny, happy sigh escaped her, and her head turned toward his neck, the better to take in his scent. A few seconds later, he gave her an extra squeeze and loosened his hold, letting her part from him but only so far.
"Sarah." He moved his hand from her waist to her cheek, drawing her gaze up to meet his.
She blushed, warmer now than she'd been in the hug. How did this just happen, going from outraged confusion to... whatever this was?
"I promise, in the event that I'm trying to seduce you, with lingerie or otherwise," he leaned closer, "you will know."
She blinked at him, taking in an impish grin and half-lidded eyes. Had any man ever looked so wicked? Still, she didn't pull away.
"So, you will come to dinner with my sister and me. In the frock I gifted you."
She supposed she owed him that much, assuming she could get away with some some opaque tights, and thus nodded. Showing a little stomach wouldn't be so bad, especially if it was as common as his reaction implied. His smile widened slightly before almost vanishing altogether. Sarah knew this, because her eyes were locked on his lips. Lips that appeared to drift infinitesimally closer with each second. Or was she moving closer to them, or was it both?
Then, just when they were a ghost's breath away:
She whipped her head towards the voice, the spell abruptly broken.
"It's time for dinner. Who's this?" Richard Williams tapped his foot expectantly.
Endnote: *Author ducks thrown produce.*
Don't worry! I will write a sequel to this. Kerravonsen, I hope this satisfied your prompt in a way you liked!