Energy, clear, cold, and wintery, greeted Sarah on the first day of the New Year.
She knew right away that something was different. Even with her eyes closed, she was vividly aware of the beating presence in her room, seated on the end of her bed. Her nerves tingled, like she'd just bitten into spearmint gum.
She opened her eyes, propped herself up on her pillows, and looked at him.
Jareth had cracked, that much was highly evident. He had dark circles under his eyes, the lines on his face looked like they'd been set in stone, and there was blood on his cloak, and for some reason she was certain it was his own.
But, cliché though it might have been, Sarah could tell by his eyes. Like sparkling water left out over night, they were flat and hollow. Vacant. He didn't look happy to see her, but then again, he didn't look happy, period.
And she was frightened, not for herself for once, but for him.
Unable to control the impulse, she crawled over to him and put her head in his lap, curling her rejuvenated body around his emaciated one. It was impossible that he was here, but she was too relieved to fight it and too concerned to risk sending him away.
Looking over the edge of his knee, she could see the dawn through window of her bedroom, the curtains she'd kept from her dorm in college, the glass jars from her vacation in Maine. They were so human that she was almost embarrassed.
Her warmth had no effect on him, but she could see him staring down at her. He still smelled like nighttime, but there was the faint wisp of something burnt and rotting.
His voice was rasping and slow when he spoke. "I'm not sorry for coming here. There was nowhere else to go."
She rolled over and looked up at him, finding those eyes and holding them fast.
Their reunion was nothing like she imagined it. This was no world shaking, rock shattering light show. This was his only option, the last stop on the road of a dying man. He'd come here with no other choices, which put Sarah in a position of power.
Perhaps that was why he looked so put out.
There was a long silence, and she could see him standing on the top of a huge emotion, about to jump off into an abyss.
"It's all gone, Sarah." he choked. "I burned it down. Only ruins remain."
He took her head in his hands, gripping her tightly as if he thought she would run away. His hands tore through her hair, but she didn't mind the pain. She sat there, her head on his lap, viewing him sideways as he confessed his sins.
"My city, Sarah. I used your powers to lay waste to it. I've never known such power, it nearly killed me." His voice cut off abruptly and he drew in a sharp breath.
"I promised myself that I wouldn't come here, but...it hurt." he mumbled, like a child offering an excuse. "I saw the ruins of it all, the horrible, ghastly void, and I couldn't do it."
She would not do him the indignity of looking away.
"There was nowhere to go. Nowhere but to you. I freed you, Sarah, but you never freed me, and I couldn't just stay there, I was too weak. And I offer apologies to no one.."
She sighed ruefully, and sat up. He let her go without a struggle. Crossing her legs like a school girl, she turned her body to look at him, and his gaze never left hers, but she said nothing.
"You were always going to be the ruin of me. I knew it the moment I laid eyes on you. Both times that I lost you I thought that I'd won, that I'd bested you in ways you didn't understand, and that made me superior." he paused, building up to something.
"But today makes three times that you've beaten the Labyrinth, Sarah."
A ray of sunlight struck the floor, inching towards the bed, creeping like a vine on old stone.
He kicked off his boots, arched his feet, and hauled them onto her bed in a gesture that was so human that Sarah that felt like she was witnessing something private. He turned her body to face hers.
"And I suppose," he said, finding her gaze again, "that I've come to admit defeat. I haven't got any more tricks, and you've got nothing I could possibly take from you. And I was rather hoping that we could be equals."
The silence that followed was the blissful moment when the earthquake stops rumbling, when the danger ends, when the dust begins to clear.
"Well," she murmured with a reverence that surprised her, "I suppose the third time's the charm."
He looked at her for a moment, and the look of surprise on his face was so perfect that it was comical. And he must've thought so too, because suddenly he was laughing, wrapping his arms around his side to hold in his mirth. He flopped back on the bed, his bootless feet jumping in the air before crashing down on her bed with enough force to shake the bed-frame.
"You..." he chortled, clearing the tears from his eyes and looking at her from his sprawled position on her bed. "You are a magnificent creature."
"You," she said, "are getting glitter on my bed."
He grinned, unapologetic. "I'd offer you mine, but unfortunately, I seem to have lit it on fire."
She frowned. "Did you really? That was foolish of you."
He looked at the ceiling, seeing something very far away. "It struck me as the thing to do at the time."
"Well, you'll just have to rebuild it, won't you?" she said pragmatically, and he looked over at her and nodded.
"It could be done."
"Ideally with fewer chickens and bogs of stench." There was a pause, and the seriousness of mood came back. "I didn't think you would come back unless I asked for you, Jareth."
He looked at her again, really looked at her, and she blushed.
"I didn't think I would either. And I probably shouldn't have. But we both know that you have the upper hand here, Sarah. If you want me to go, you need only send me away. You will always have that power."
She paused, reflecting on that. "The thing is, Jareth, I don't want the upper hand. Equals, remember? That was your idea. I won't accept anything less that that. No more power struggles. No more games. Unless you want me to send you out of my life, you must grant us that freedom."
Jareth sat up, stony and serious again, and she respected him for it.
"Do you truly desire to be equals, Sarah? I must hear you say it. It must be your choice, untempted."
"I want to be..." she cast about, seeking the right word. "I want to be..."
Why was it so hard to think of what she wanted? Wasn't that always the question between the two of them? How to get what they wanted. Well, what did she want?
"I want to be friends." she said.
He threw her a quizzical look and said, "Friends," as if testing it out. "I have never had a friend," he mused.
"I want to be your friend, Jareth." She extended her hand, and he looked up at her, startled.
He took off his gloves and slowly, tentatively, held out his hand, giving her ample time to retreat. She met him in the middle, and they shook on it. A warm glow suffused the room as sunlight broke over the windowsill, and she felt the implications of that handshake down to the marrow of her bones.
It flowed through them both, a lightness of being that made the room seem brighter, the colors more vivid, and the light in Jareth's eyes flicker into twin suns.
This is it, then, his expression said. Friendship.
He seemed in awe of her, of that feeling. The look on his face was that of a man holding his newborn child for the first time. He looked at their joined hands and at her face and joy, unadulterated joy, expanded to fill the shaky void of her world.
When he closed the space between them and kissed her, she could almost hear the ringing bells of redemption in his mind. He wrapped his arms around her, pulled her to him, cradled her body against his in a protective gesture.
"That," he breathed reverently against the skin of her neck, "Was better than sex."
She laughed and kissed him again, because what else could she do? She loved him.
"Still though," he said, his old humor leaking into his voice. "When we get back, I'm going to build us a proper bed. Not this creaky, wooden thing. Honestly, half the building would know if you ever brought a gentleman caller home."
"What kind of girl do you take me for?" she asked, poking him in the side.
He raised an eyebrow, "Well, Sarah," (and the way he drawled out her name was positively sensual), "At the moment, you're the type of girl who lets a strange, desperate man into her bed while wearing, I might add, nothing but her underthings."
She glanced down at her bed clothes and he smirked. She sat up, feigning outrage.
"Does my scandalous position shock you?" she said. Deftly, she leaned across him and snatched the cloak off his back. As light as a fairy, she danced off her bed and wrapped the dark fabric around her body.
"Well then, need I remind you that my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom-"
The look in his eyes was dryly murderous. "Finish that quotation, and I'll come over there and stop your mouth myself."
She smiled and opened her mouth. He was on his feet in a moment, grinning, holding her again, kissing her, his queen, his Sarah, his friend.
The light crept across the floor, traveling up their entwined, liberated bodies, and settling on the top of their heads, twin crowns of sparkling sunlight on the first day of forever.
Sarah Williams never finished that sentence, but somehow, she didn't mind.
Let's face it, I'm a happy endings kind of girl.
Thank you for sticking with me through this story, I hope you enjoyed it.
The song I listened to while writing this chapter was "Toxic" by Yael Naim.
If you've read the whole thing (bless you!) leave me a review and tell me your thoughts, or what your name is and what you're all about. I'd be fascinated to hear about the hardy lot of you who stuck around for all twelve chapters.
You're all marvelous, by the way.