My apologies for taking so long to write this chapter. I had so many things keeping me from finding the frame of mind to write that I don't even know where to start in naming them all. Between working as much as possible to have money for my road trip, packing for my road trip and making last- minute arrangements, actually going on my road trip for three weeks, getting back and having every friend on the planet drag me out to do things because they all missed me -so- much, having to look for work -and- pack AGAIN -and- move everything out so that we can renovate my house -and- going in there with a hammer to tear down walls (I stepped on a three-inch nail and had to go to the clinic for a tetanus shot and a Band-Aid.. so much for my dreams of demolishing my house =P) ...Anyway, I'm staying at my sister's during aforementioned renovations, and since there's little here to distract me and I'm forced to stay off of my foot for a few days, I finally get to curl up with my laptop and write! Yay! ...Alright, so that's no excuse. *bows apologetically* I'm sorry, everyone. n.n() Kudos to everyone who nagged me to write *waves at Cormak3032, Anne-Marie and C. Selene Belyea (??) especially*. This is the last chapter, I'm afraid, but don't worry, a good chunk of it is waffy sugarfluff. n.- And hopefully I tie everything up okay (except for parts which I deliberately leave as loose ends, but if I resolved everything, that wouldn't leave as much room for a sequel n.- ). Oh, and since I don't really see it used a lot and many people usually ask me what it means, 'akimbo' just refers to having one's hands on one's hips.

Disc: ....Y'know, if you've gotten this far, you probably realize by now that I don't own any of these characters (with the exception of the extras and Alex, but no one really likes him. I still do, though, but that's because I made him and I understand the poor boy n.- ) Anyway, yeah. o.o On with the story! n.n()







No matter how much Sarah had begged and pleaded to be driven to the rehab center, her parents had refused. Eventually, they had sent her to her room and informed her that she wasn't allowed to set foot outside of it until tomorrow. She'd gone willingly enough, and then pulled on a pair of worn running shoes and snuck out through the window around midnight. Technically, it was tomorrow, so she wasn't disobeying them, really. She had climbed down the big tree and headed for the nearest payphone to find the address in the phone book before tearing out the page and heading in the appropriate direction. Which was why she now found herself picking her way along the side of a deserted highway in the dead of night.

She glanced at her watch. 2:57 am. Sarah hugged herself and shivered. She should have grabbed a jacket, but they had all been downstairs in the closet by the door, and since it was too late to go back now, she'd just have to do without and hope that it didn't get too cold. It was nearly summer, but it was still a bit chilly at night. The sky overhead was mostly overcast, and she hoped that the storm clouds were just passing through. At least she'd had a bit of money, so food wouldn't be too much of a problem. She had no idea how far the center was, other than that it was just outside of the next town, but she was guessing that it would take a day to walk there at the very least. She'd counted on being able to hitch a ride, but as luck would have it, the traffic along this road was very low right now, and what few cars did pass by didn't stop. Sarah was well aware of the dangers of hitchhiking, so maybe it was a good thing that no one stopped to pick her up; still, she didn't like the idea of walking for so long and her legs were starting to ache. She sighed and kept walking.

She wasn't quite sure what she planned on doing once she got there, but she'd get Jareth out of there somehow. She owed him that much, at least. God only knew what they'd done to him already. He was probably going to be furious with her when she finally got him out. Sarah shook her head and decided to cross that bridge when she came to it.

At about a quarter after three, it started pouring. Sarah let out a frustrated groan and tried to shield her head with her sleeves, but she soon gave up on that idea when they soaked through and started dripping water on her in big droplets. There wasn't a tree in sight, or anything else that she might be able to take shelter under. Cursing the unusual amount of rain lately, she trudged on along the wet pavement. If she caught her death of pneumonia, it would happen whether she stayed in one place or not.

A familiar car pulled up beside her. Part of her wanted to rebel and keep on walking, but she was cold, and tired, and her feet hurt. Feeling like a failure, she climbed into the front seat to face her father's wrath.

She expected to be yelled at, or given a lecture. Instead, Robert just stared straight ahead. She waited for him to say something as they drove in silence.

"Where's Karen?" She asked, trying to break the tension in the car.

"At home with Toby," her father answered flatly.

"Oh." She didn't know why she'd expected her stepmother to be there. Of course Toby was more important. Maybe it was selfish of her, but she'd thought that Karen would have cared enough to at least help look for her. Sarah watched the rain run down the passenger-side window tiredly. It shouldn't have surprised her one bit.

The motion of the car, the rhythm of the storm, and the lack of conversation were more than enough to lull her to sleep. The sound of her father's car door slamming shut jerked her awake. Rubbing her cheek where it had been pressed against the cold window, she blearily got out of the car and followed him into the house. All she wanted to do was go to bed and sleep forever.

She was denied that privilege once she stepped inside, however. Her stepmother was waiting for her again, and she was beyond furious.

"Sit down, Sarah," Karen ordered, and her tone left no room for objections. Sarah obliged, steeling herself for the lecture she knew was coming. Let her stepmother yell all she wanted. Sarah wouldn't have had to sneak out if they'd just agreed to take her to the center in the first place.

"Well?" Karen demanded, slapping her palms down on the tabletop for emphasis. Sarah jumped. "I want an answer, young lady."

"Huh?" Sarah looked at her blankly. Karen exploded.

"How are we supposed to solve anything when you keep tuning me out!? Honestly, Sarah, I don't think I can handle this attitude of yours any longer! You don't talk to any of us, you break all of our rules, you sneak out in the middle of the night to heaven only knows where, you care more about some... some filthy bird than about your own family," Karen spat the words out, "You fight me at every turn, Sarah, and I don't know what to do to fix it!"

"We're really worried about you, Sarah," Robert added. "You're not acting like yourself lately. I thought that everything was worked out between you and Karen."

"Well, it's not!" Sarah snapped, and pointed an accusing finger at her stepmother. "She doesn't care about what I want! She wants to see me suffer! She didn't care when they came and took Jareth away, she just let them do it!"

"Sarah, I will not break the law to make you happy," Karen answered. "I was very tolerant of that thing when it attacked you and you still wanted to keep it. I could have told you right then to get rid of it, but I let you have your way."

"So? You wouldn't take me to see him when I asked you to earlier. He probably hates it there and someone needs to reassure him that it's alright!" Sarah shot back. God, he was never going to forgive her for letting them take him away like that...

"Sarah, they're professionals, they know what they're doing! Someone needs to curb this... this obsession you've developed over that animal! I think that taking you to see it will only make things worse. It was a mistake to let it stay here in the first place. You're acting like a spoiled brat!"

"Why? Just because I won't abandon someone I care about? How is that acting spoiled!?"

"Sarah, it's only a bird! It's a wild animal! It doesn't belong here, it belongs outside in the woods. That's the way things are supposed to be. I think you're taking this way too far!"

"You wouldn't say that if it was Merlin I was worried about," Sarah muttered bitterly.

"The dog's not illegal, Sarah. You can't have everything you want! I swear, you get so caught up in your fantasy world that you don't have any sense left in that head of yours!"

"Just because your imagination is dead doesn't mean you have to make everyone else suffer..." Sarah grumbled.

"Now Sarah, that's enough," her father intervened. "Your mother and I have discussed it..."

"She's not my mother!"

"...And we think," Robert went on, ignoring the outburst, "that you need to see a therapist about this."

"What?" Sarah gaped.

"We want to help you, Sarah." Karen added. "I know a good doctor... he's very easy to get along with, and I think he can help you work through this problem of yours."

"What problem? I don't have a problem! You two are the ones who can't see what's right in front of you! You wouldn't know magic if it bit you in the ass!"

"Sarah! Don't use that sort of language towards your mother!" Robert scolded.

"I told you, she's not my mother, and she never will be! My mother actually cared about whether I was happy or not!"

"She didn't care enough to stick around, did she?" Karen said icily. Sarah slapped her.

There was a moment of stunned silence. Even Sarah looked surprised that she'd done it.

"Sarah, go to your room," Robert said finally. Sarah went without arguing, glad for the escape. She heard her stepmother say something very unflattering about her as she headed up the stairs. Well, let her insult her all she wanted, Sarah told herself. Karen had no right to say those things about her mother. She'd had it coming. Sarah wiped the tears from her eyes angrily and threw her door shut behind her. It wasn't like she cared what Karen thought of her.

She flung herself onto her bed and stared angrily at the wall. Her wandering gaze fell upon Jareth's wardrobe pen, the door still hanging ajar. He'd been there only hours ago, before they'd come and taken him away. Now it was hauntingly empty, lifeless, and Sarah felt a creeping sense of emptiness along with it. Wherever he was now, he was out of her reach.

God, she'd failed him, she thought miserably as fresh tears pricked at her eyes. How was she supposed to help him now that he was so far away? She hadn't even known what to do for him when he had still been here. Right in her own room. She hadn't felt this helpless since her mother had left and her dad had married Karen. And no one was willing to help her do something about it.

Sarah curled herself into a tight ball and cried herself to sleep, feeling more alone than she had in a long, long time.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~



"Morning, Aaron," a middle-aged brunette poked her head into the main office of the Raptor Rehab center and smiled a greeting. The man in the office looked up from his coffee and smiled in return.

"Hey Macy, haven't seen you in for a few days. Been away?"

"Travis had the flu, and he's really susceptible at his age," Macy explained. "Hey, is there any more of that coffee?"

"Just brewed a pot," Aaron jerked his head towards the coffee machine. "Help yourself."

"Thanks, don't mind if I do." The brunette reached under the counter for a mug and poured herself some of the steaming beverage. "So what'd I miss? Anything new on the agenda for today?"

"Same as usual. Oh, we picked up a new one last night. Big barn owl. Trapp brought him in." Aaron took a sip of his coffee and added, "Poor thing's past saving, though. Ian wanted him put down first thing this morning. No point in the poor creature suffering." Macy nodded.

"Want me to handle this one? I know how much you hate this sort of thing in the morning." Aaron made a face.

"I hate this sort of thing any time," he clarified, then reached for the phone as it rang. "Go ahead," he told her, handing her a clipboard before turning his attention to the person on the other end of the line. Macy took her cue and left.

She found that, when she got to the appropriate cage, her safety gear wasn't really necessary. The owl inside barely seemed alive as it was. She'd seen some pretty bad shock, but never quite this severe.

"Oh, aren't you a pretty one," she murmured, gathering him up and carrying him over to the examination table. He looked like he had been through a lot, and from the looks of things, he was incapable of flying as well. Macy's heart went out to the poor thing. The injuries were at least a month old, and she wondered how he'd managed to survive this long. She'd have to ask Aaron later. Still, she had to admire the owl for making it this far. It was a shame that he had to be put down, but if Ian Trapp had decided that it was what was best for it, then far be it for her to argue.

It was such a shame, though, she thought as she readied the needle that would end his life.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~



"Liar!" Sarah hollered from the living room. A moment later, she came storming into the kitchen, seething.

"I beg your pardon?" Her stepmother looked up from feeding Toby and regarded Sarah impatiently.

"You lied!" Sarah accused. "You told me they'd take care of him! I can't believe you'd do something like this!"

"Sarah, what are you talking about?" Karen demanded. "I told you exactly what Dr. Trapp told me!"

"Well, then he was lying, because I just got off the phone with the center where they took him, and the guy there said that they were putting him down!"

Karen blinked. "Maybe they were talking about a different owl?" Her stepdaughter was shaking her head angrily.

"It -was- him! They said it was the one Dr. Trapp brought in with the injured wings. I made sure I described him on the phone." Sarah's expression was one of angry betrayal as tears rolled down her cheeks. "They had him put down!"

"I'm sorry," Karen offered lamely. She at least had the decency to look like she meant it, but Sarah didn't care. It was a little late to feel bad about it now.

"'Sorry'?" She repeated in disbelief. "'Sorry' won't bring him back, will it!?"

"Now, Sarah, calm down..." Karen touched Sarah's shoulder gently.

"No, I won't!" Sarah shrugged off the hand violently and fixed her stepmother with an enraged glare. "This is your fault! You let them take him! I' m never going to forgive you for this, ever!" She turned away and ran for the stairs, retreating to her room and slamming the door behind her. The loud bang it made wasn't nearly satisfying enough, and she kicked it a few times for good measure before spinning around in frustration. She didn't care if she was throwing a tantrum like a child. How could she possibly take this calmly? It wasn't fair!

Jareth would be so irritated to hear her say that. Sarah sank to her knees with a sob, burying her face in her hands and weeping quietly. The guilt she felt was overwhelming. She had blamed Karen, but it was really her own fault. It was because of her that he'd lost his powers and been trapped in that form. Even if he'd been her enemy, she hadn't wanted any harm to come to him. If only she'd known how to help him, if only she'd gotten the chance to ask. And now it was too late. She'd failed him.

"I just wish that everything was right again..." she whispered miserably.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~



Something was surrounding him, wrapping him tightly in black, hot, airless fog. It was almost tangible, and he was suffocating slowly, agonizingly slow. He'd been like this for ages, for longer than his dazed mind could remember. Weakly he fought at the blackness, making halfhearted attempts to free himself, knowing it was hopeless but trying nonetheless. Gradually, his struggling slowed and then stopped altogether. What was the use in such a pointless battle?

He lay still, swathed in the strangling darkness. Something was nagging at him, like a dull itch at the back of his skull as he tried to recall what he was holding on for again. Once more the reason escaped him. He closed his eyes and waited for oblivion to swallow him whole.

From somewhere above him he heard an almost-familiar voice, far away and incomprehensible, breaking the deafening silence. Something burst like a floodgate, and the blackness was swallowed up by light and cool fresh air. Joy, life, power, relief, completion suffused him as he fought his way free with renewed strength. The black tethers that held him in place snapped and disintegrated into nothing, no longer able to hold him. He felt like laughing as he broke free.

Smiling, he opened his eyes.



~*~*~*~*~*~



Macy heard a soft sigh behind her. She turned back around and nearly dropped her needle in surprise. After all, a tall, slender, well-built blond man sitting where a barn owl had been seconds earlier was certainly the last thing she had expected to see. Of course, it wouldn't have been nearly as much of a shock, save for the fact that the man in question looked less like someone who belonged at the center and more like the lead singer of a rock band. That, and he was stark naked.

Macy, being the calm professional that she was, shrieked.

The man rubbed his temples and winced. "Must you make such an awful racket?" He sighed. Instantly, he was clothed (and in the most outlandish outfit Macy had ever seen). He stood and strode towards her, and she backed away. There was something almost predatory in the aloof way he held himself. This was not a man to be taken lightly.

The corners of his well-shaped mouth curled up in a smirk as he approached her. "I don't think you will be needing that," he observed, effortlessly prying the syringe from the woman's slackened grip. He gave a little twist of his wrist, and... Macy blinked. Had the needle just vanished before her eyes?

"I-I'm sorry, but this part of the center is not open to the public, and...uh..." she stammered, uncomfortably aware that he was watching her every move. Oh, for crying out loud, she felt like an awkward teenager. She licked her lips and tried again. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to see some authorization, otherwise I'll have to ask you to leave..." she finished weakly.

The man paused and seemed to consider, and Macy noticed a faraway look in his eyes. "Very well," he conceded. And simply vanished.

Macy stood gazing blankly at the table for a moment before shaking her head almost dazedly. What had she come back here to do again? With a shrug, she decided she was in need of stronger coffee and walked back towards the main office to ask Aaron for the day's schedule.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~



The feel of the wind moving his feathers as he soared through the air was the most exhilarating feeling Jareth had ever experienced. He swooped and dove effortlessly, his fully-healed wings holding him aloft with ease. He was back in the Underground, making his way towards his kingdom. Certainly he was anxious to see the state it was in, but he had opted to fly there instead of taking the more direct route. He had missed flying, and he wasn't about to take the ability for granted again.

As much as he'd wanted to, he couldn't stay and play with the woman. His labyrinth had been left for far too long without it's master, and Underground law dictated that he wasn't permitted to show his human guise to those who had not directly summoned him. That had been a mistake; he had been so caught up in the euphoria of regaining control of his power that he'd slipped back into the form of a man without thinking. Thankfully, the woman had been the only one to witness his little slip-up, and it had been easy enough to confuse her and make her tired mind forget what she had seen. By the same token, the brat next door to Sarah would have to go unvisited for the time being. His hands were tied by that blasted Gratitude law, and so any action he wanted to take against the little punk would have to wait until he was summoned again. If he was summoned again.

That gave Jareth pause for thought. Certainly Sarah had been willing to help him get back home in the end, but that didn't necessarily mean that she would welcome his presence again. It could very easily indicate the opposite. And as much as he may want to, he simply wasn't allowed to return unless she willed him to do so. It was very possible that she never wanted to see him again, and if that was the case, then he could never see her again, either. She had all the control. It was a depressing scenario, and Jareth pushed it firmly from his mind. Now was not the time to dwell on such things, not when he was still reveling in this latest victory.

He could see his kingdom clearly now, and he was pleasantly surprised to find that it was still in one piece, if not a bit worse for wear. What damage there was wouldn't be too terribly difficult to fix, to his considerable relief. Sarah must have held onto her belief after all. He admitted that he had had his doubts (alright, so he'd let himself believe the worst), but she had proven his fears to be ill-founded. He felt more light-hearted than he had in months as he swooped in through the window to land in his throne room, transforming as he did so.

His smile quickly turned into a frown as soon as he got a good look around.

It looked to all appearances like a giant ogre had picked up the room, given it a good hard shake and flipped it over a few times before setting it down and going on his way. Calling it a mess would be a gross understatement. And 'gross' was certainly the right word for it. The first thing to hit Jareth was the awful reek that permeated the stone chamber, and it was nearly enough to send him reeling. The floor was covered in all sorts of foul substances (no doubt the cause of the terrible odor), some of them unidentifiable and others simply unmentionable. Jareth noted with unhindered disgust that it was on the walls and ceiling as well, and he immediately decided that he didn't even want to know how it had gotten there. Someone had apparently decided to throw an impromptu party in the king' absence, as evidenced by the empty barrels of wine from his private reserves which now lay scattered around the room, while their contents formed puddles in the general mess or filled the bellies of the goblins snoring on the floor. His throne was propped upside-down against the far wall, forming a makeshift cage around a young pair of goblins, one of which was whining and hiccuping unhappily while the other snored loudly beside the first, oblivious. A few black chickens completed the scene, pecking at what little floor space there was (and there really wasn't much at all; it was a minor miracle that Jareth had found enough room to stand).

With an irritated sigh, he nudged the nearest goblin with the toe of his boot. It snorted and awoke with a blink, and Jareth picked it up by the scruff of it's swamp-green neck to give it a shake.

"Wake up," he ordered. The goblin went wide-eyed and let out an alarmed squeak, now fully awake. Jareth tossed it to one side where it landed with a thud, completely unharmed, if a bit startled. The Goblin King turned to address the room at large, his voice rising. "All of you, get up," he snapped authoritatively, standing akimbo, his displeasure coloring his tone. "Go on, move it! Stop lazing around and clean up this mess, or it's the Bog of Stench for every single one of you!"

As overused as the familiar threat was, it got results. Most of the goblins had roused at the sound of their king's angry voice, and they were now scrambling to obey, lest he make good on the age-old threat. No goblin in his or her right mind wanted the king's wrath on their head, even without the Bog of Eternal Stench.

Jareth could feel a migraine coming on as he watched his subjects rush around aimlessly to follow his orders. He already knew that they would no doubt find the most unorganized and inefficient method possible, and that the task would take at least four times longer than necessary. Leaving the goblins unsupervised always proved to be a mistake, however unavoidable it had been. It was bad enough when he was around to keep them at least marginally in check. He shuddered to think of what the rest of the castle looked like.

A goblin with a bucket of water collided with a goblin with a broom, sending the contents all over the floor and adding to the general chaos as several others slipped in the soapy water. Jareth closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose with a heartfelt sigh. Some things never changed.

And then without any warning, he started to laugh.

The goblins stopped dead in their tracks and turned to look at their king, wondering if he had finally gone off the deep end. At first he was only shaking with silent mirth, and then chuckling, and then he was laughing so hard that he had to lean against the wall to keep his balance. Several goblins started backing away unconsciously. Their bewildered faces only made him laugh harder.

He finally regained enough composure to fix them all with a stern look. "Back to work!" He barked. And then laughed again as they all fell over themselves in their scramble to obey. It felt good to be home.





~*~*~*~*~*~*~



Sarah sat by her window, gazing tiredly at the night sky. She'd had an exhausting day, and all she really wanted to do was curl up and sleep. And yet, she felt too restless for sleep to come.

Her stepmother had taken her in for a psychiatric evaluation earlier that afternoon. That had actually gone a lot better than expected. When asked about her insistence that a wild animal was some fairy-tale figure, Sarah had quietly told the pudgy little psychiatrist that she had just wanted attention and had made the whole thing up. After all, what did it matter now? The doctor had accepted that explanation without question and, after a brief talk with Karen and her father, had sent them on their way.

She couldn't shake the horrible sense of loss that she'd felt since that morning a few days ago. It was almost like a part of her had died.

Who knew that she could possibly miss him this much? He'd been her enemy, but... how could she hate him now? He'd been at her mercy for so long now that she couldn't be afraid of him now. She felt responsible for his safety, and now that he was gone...

She pushed away the fresh tears angrily. It frustrated her to no end that she couldn't do anything for him in the end, couldn't even be with him when he.... "Died." She whispered. "Say it, Sarah. When he died." She hugged her arms, shivering despite the room being comfortably warm. It hurt to admit it out loud. She wasn't willing to accept it. But he couldn't possibly have escaped...could he have?

She thought back to that morning, going over every detail in her mind. She had realized what she had muttered at some point during the next few days, realized the significance it held. But she didn't think it would have worked it he was already gone, and wouldn't she have gotten some sort of sign if he had made it? Anything at all? Did he hold that little regard for her? Or had he just not survived? Either idea hurt, although the thought that he might still be alive was a comfort.

"I need you," she whimpered at the mirror, unconsciously reaching for the old familiar comfort. She knew it wouldn't work; she'd lost contact with her friends a long time ago, and with Jareth gone, there was absolutely no reason for it to work now.

To her surprise, she looked up to see Hoggle staring back at her.

"Sarah!" He cried, partially out of surprise at hearing from her after so long, and partially out of concern for his friend, who had fallen right out of her chair.

"Hoggle!" She picked herself up and let her mouth hang open. What was he doing here? Why did it work now, when it hadn't before?

Fear clenched at her gut and she fell into her seat, feeling sick to her stomach. Of course... the obvious conclusion was that Jareth had been keeping them from contacting her somehow, and if they were able to get through now...

"He must really be dead, then..." she whispered, her voice shaking as the tears threatened to fall once again. This time, she made no attempt to stop them. Her hands went to her eyes and her head fell forward, causing her hair to form a dark curtain around her face.

Hoggle looked confused, to say the least. "Who's dead, Sarah?" The girl shook her head, unwilling to say his name aloud. Hoggle's expression became one of sympathy. "D'you want someone there with ya? Everyone here misses ya, we'd all be happy to try an' cheer ya up some... y'know, if you want..." He looked away shyly.

Sarah looked up and managed a weak smile. "Yeah... I think I'd like that..." She dried her eyes on the hem of her sleeve. "I need all of you," she announced with feeling.

"Glad to hear ya still feel that way," Hoggle sounded relieved beside her as she turned to look at everyone present. Everyone -had- come, Hoggle and Didymus and Ludo, some goblins and the Fireys and...

Her eyes froze on the tall figure standing among them, and all she could do was sit there, gawking stupidly. Oh my god, her mind repeated. Oh my god, oh my god oh my god...

Jareth's tentative smile dropped from his face at Sarah's shocked expression. Her statement of needing 'all of you' was open to interpretation, and he'd chosen to believe that she wanted to see him as well. It had really gotten under his skin that he hadn't been welcome at the last little gathering she had had, and he'd wanted to be included this time. He fought the urge to fidget uncomfortably. He'd been wrong, she didn't want him here. It was best if he left now, lest his presence mar the occasion.

Before he could make a move to leave, Sarah shook herself out of her trance. With a glad cry, she closed the distance between them, and Jareth's face lit up in a genuine smile as she reached him and flung her arms around his neck. Somewhat hesitantly, he brought his arms up to hug her back. A warm feeling crept over him. She -did- want to see him.

He was acutely aware of having an audience. Most of Sarah's guests had opted to throw another party (not surprising), but her four travelling companions were watching them with varying emotions. Ludo had his shaggy dog ears perked up slightly in a show of curiosity, Didymus' jaw was hanging open while Ambrosius looked unconcerned, and Hoggle was looking away, a blush coloring his face. Jareth felt his own cheeks start to burn, and he could practically hear their thoughts regarding his uncharacteristic display of affection towards the girl who had defeated him, of all people. Sarah looked up in time to notice his discomfort, and she pulled her arms behind her back, thinking that her attention was unwanted.

"I'm sorry," she told him, them smiled when he didn't seem annoyed by her. She could feel the stinging at the back of her eyes that meant tears were building up, and she forced them back so that she wouldn't embarrass him further. He was here, he was actually here, real and warm and alive. Not dead, like she'd thought. And he didn't seem to be mad at her for not saving him from the rehabbers. "You came," was all she could think of to say. It seemed so inadequate.

He gave her a little half-smile. "I wasn't sure whether or not I was welcome among your friends." He seemed so uncertain, such a glaring contrast to the haughty enemy Sarah had faced in the Labyrinth. If she hadn't become accustomed to his warmer side when she had been taking care of him, it would have shocked her into silence, but as it was, she just smiled at him reassuringly.

"Of course you are, Jare," she told him, using the nickname she had given him as an owl. She felt giddy with relief, and it must have showed. Jareth raised an eyebrow and gave the other occupants of the room a cursory glance to see if anyone had overheard, but no one was listening. Sarah's companions had stopped watching and were mingling with the crowd. Sarah tapped him on the nose playfully to get his attention back, another gesture she had picked up while he had been in his other form. "I do consider you a friend now, y'know."

Jareth frowned. "Why do I get the feeling that you're never going to take me seriously again?" He lamented, but there was a playful note to his voice and Sarah giggled.

Something fell to the floor and smashed, and Sarah glanced over to see that a goblin had knocked a glass off of the nightstand. "Karen's going to have a fit," she observed, glad that it wasn't one of her treasured possessions.

Jareth raised an eyebrow. "I'd be happy to fix it if it will prevent trouble with your stepmother," he murmured in a low voice, not wanting anyone to overhear.

Sarah looked surprised by his offer, then her mouth curled into a smirk. "Nah, leave it," she grinned, eyes twinkling mischievously. "Let her freak out over some broken glass."

"Sarah, what's going on in there? What's all that noise?" As if on cue, Karen' voice came drifting through the door, accompanied by loud knocking. Sarah and Jareth looked up as Karen opened the door and poked her head in. Her jaw dropped at the cacophony she was greeted with. "Sarah, what in God's name... OH!" She let out a shriek as a fiery popped up in front of her.

"Hey, lady!" The Firey shouted, grinning impishly. "Want to play a game of heads?" It pulled off it's cranium and started bouncing it on one knee like a soccer ball.

Karen fainted dead away.

Jareth materialized a crystal on his fingertips and casually tossed it at the unconscious woman, where it sucked her inside and disappeared into the hall. "Back to her bed," he explained when Sarah gave him a questioning look. "She'll think that it was a dream in the morning."

Sarah relaxed visibly and smiled. For just a second, she'd been worried that Jareth was going to extract some sort of revenge on Karen. Not that she would have blamed him. Karen certainly deserved it, in her opinion. But part of her didn't want to think about what Jareth's sort of revenge might involve. Who knew what he would deem a suitable punishment for all of the woman's meddling.

Thinking about how Karen had almost ruined things reminded Sarah of how close she had come to losing Jareth when she'd only just realized his value as a friend, and she hugged him again to reassure herself that -she- wasn't dreaming. Part of her still couldn't believe he was alright. She stopped herself just before she started scratching his neck, reminding herself that he was -not- an owl at the moment and probably wouldn't appreciate it.

Jareth hadn't really been expecting another display of affection, but he couldn't really say that he minded, and after another self-conscious look around to make sure no one was watching, he hugged her back. Something occurred to him as he held her, the memory of her tear-stained cheeks and red eyes when he had first appeared in her room. He pulled back and looked down at her. "Sarah, why were you crying?"

Sarah blushed and ducked her head. "I thought you were dead," she admitted.

Jareth didn't know what to say. She had been crying for him? "Why?"

Sarah shrugged. "You never told me you were alright," she explained, misunderstanding the question. "I was worried about you."

But Jareth had heard what he needed to hear. "Worried about me?"

"Yeah," she rubbed the back of her neck and shrugged again. "I'd worry about any of my friends if I thought they were in danger. I mean, I've said before that I need them all every once in a while, and I guess I finally realized that, even before I found you in that cooler, on some level... I needed you, too." There, she'd said it. She looked away, embarrassed. Would he understand what she meant? He'd been an important part of her childhood, and he held a special place in her heart, even as the villain. Even more so now that he was her friend instead of her enemy.

Jareth gazed at her as her words sunk in. And then he smiled, not one of his cocky smirks, but a real, warm, genuine smile. He wanted to laugh, to hug her tightly and spin her around until they were both breathless. She needed him. She didn't return his love now, she was too young for that yet, but it was a start. He was content to be her friend for now, safe in the knowledge that she needed him, just like he needed her.

And maybe that was all the revenge he really wanted.







Well? What did you think? Love it? Hate it? A lot of you are going to think that I ran out of ideas near the end, and I admit that that's what it looks like. Sure, all it is is a revision of the movie ending. But the truth is that when I originally started on this idea, this was the first scene I came up with. At first I was only going to write it as a one-shot alt-ending to the movie, but then it occurred to me that there are a million and one of those out there already, and I wanted to do something more original. I didn't want to write it without more substance to it, some sort of back story so that it made sense and Jareth and Sarah were actually in-character. It couldn't have happened with the way the movie ended, because neither of them were at the point where they would have done anything remotely like this. So I guess you might say that I wrote 'Bound' for the ending. n.- I'm sure I'm not the only one who wished that Jareth had been at that party in Sarah's room at the end.