**Graduation**

"Hoggle, I need you."

Sarah's voice called to Hoggle like a whisper on a breeze, waking him from his mid-afternoon nap beneath the canopy of a large oak. He sighed, brushing the dirt off his pants as he stood and meandered to the nearest fountain. Any reflective surface would work, but Hoggle hated squeezing through tight places.

It had been 5 ½ years since Sarah journeyed through the Labyrinth and she had yet to say the eagerly anticipated "L" word. Oh, she needed him at least once a week, but if she admired him in any way beyond a friend, she had not found the will to say it.

Hoggle had been tempted to tell her first—get her to admit she loved him by repeating the words as if she were a parrot, but Jareth had visited him shortly after the first goblin victory party and warned him that all their interactions would be monitored closely. She would need to admit her love for him freely, without prompting, in order for Hoggle to be released of his curse. So he waited.

And waited.

For FIVE bloomin' years he waited! Sometimes she would want a friend to visit with her after Toby went to bed when her parents were out for the evening. Or she would call to rehash a disagreement with her stepmother. She called to get a second opinion on colleges. She called to discuss clothing choices.

Basically Hoggle was her best girlfriend in dwarf form.

And as Hoggle jumped in the fountain only to end up dry in her Aboveground apartment, he could see today was going to be another fashion advice kind of day. "Sarah, why do you have a checkerboard on your head?"

Sarah chuckled. "It's not a checkerboard. It's a graduation hat," she explained, shoving her arms into a long, black, silk robe of sorts. She buttoned a few buttons at the top over her t-shirt then twirled in place, the bottom opening to reveal her tennis shoes and jeans underneath. "Well? What do you think?"

Hoggle smiled inwardly. He'd been through this with her three years ago when she'd graduated high school and had to give the commencement speech. She was graduating at the top of her class once again—this time an entire year early. Hoggle was bursting with pride. She had worked exceptionally hard. While other young women her age were out attending parties, Sarah took full course loads year round and worked two part-time jobs to pay her rent. It was no wonder she didn't have any close friends besides Hoggle, Ludo, and Didymus—and she rarely even called the others anymore.

But he kept his feelings of immense pride in her accomplishments to himself. It was best to keep their interactions simple—she seemed to prefer it that way. "Yeah, it's all right. I don't know what all the fuss is for though. You paid them so that you could do all the work."

Sarah rolled her eyes and began taking off her robe. "Thanks Hoggle. You're so encouraging." Placing the robe back around the hanger, she stepped into her closet—a curtain rod hanging in the corner of her apartment, hidden behind old, black, flannel sheets hung from the ceiling. "I'm just a bit nervous, you know?" Sarah admitted, her voice muffled slightly as she hung up the robe. "It's not like high school graduation. They are making me stand in front of thousands of people. Granted I will not be giving the commencement speech this time, but still…"

Her voice trailed off and Hoggle felt a twinge of sympathy. In his old life, Hoggle had been accustomed to such attention, but it had been a thousand years of loneliness. The coward in him wanted to tell her to run away. After all, the ceremony wasn't necessary for her graduation; they didn't need her there.

But Sarah wasn't like him. Sarah wasn't a coward. She was a young woman of integrity—brave, good, and honest—a true heroine. Everything he was not. She deserved all the accolades they would send her way.

"Uh, Sarah," Hoggle began as Sarah flopped herself onto her sofa. She opened a bag of chips and began chomping away. How dignified.

"Yes, Hoggle?" Sarah encouraged.

He blushed and began shuffling his feet. He had almost professed his admiration for her, a foolish thing to do to be certain. Not only was Sarah not the type to gush out words of love, causing her great embarrassment, but also, Jareth could be listening. Who knew exactly what the Goblin King would consider "prompting". "Oh, ah, it was nothin'. I just wanted to tell you, you'll do fine."

She smiled, touched by his sentiment, sensing that it held more than he would say. "Thanks, Hoggle."

Silence hung in the air between them, but Sarah's hunger won out before more words could be spoken. The crackling of the bag as she grabbed a handful of greasy goodness was all that was needed to release the tension of the moment.

"So, Hoggle, do you want to stay and watch a movie with me? I finally have a day off and I can't wait to spend it veggin' out." She held the bag out in the universally accepted symbol of 'want some?', and Hoggle took the bait.

"Sure. Why not?" he agreed, reaching his oversized hand into the bag. "What's it gonna be today?"With a handful of the salty snack balanced precariously in his stubby fingers, Hoggle carefully sat beside her on the sofa that she had tucked beneath the loft that held her bed. Her apartment was tiny—even by Aboveground standards. A studio apartment was all she could afford by herself; she had no intention of garnering a roommate. So she lived in 300 square feet of nothing, with loft storage above, and a toilet and walled-in shower hidden in the corner behind a screen. Bookshelves were secured to the walls near the ceiling to maximize floor space and the only chair in the room doubled as a ladder. Definitely not the accommodations of a princess, though that was what she was: a princess in all but title.

"Gremlins," Sarah announced as she shoved the tape into the VCR. It was a favorite of hers. Hoggle had long ago determined that it was one of his favorites as well, simply because he enjoyed hearing her laugh adoringly whenever the little mogwai shouted, 'bright light!'

The remainder of the afternoon was spent in companionable silence, interrupted only by the periodic sound of a crackling bag. Halfway through the movie, Sarah drifted off to sleep, her head coming to rest upon Hoggle's shoulder. It was not the first time she'd slept in his presence, but she'd never used him as a pillow before. The rest of Sarah's body lay curled up on the couch in an awkward position; he knew she could not sleep long as she was, but he would take all the contact that he could get. Gently, so as not to wake her, Hoggle laid his cheek on top of her head and prepared to pretend to be asleep should she wake. He relished the fact that she felt so comfortable with him—just one more sign of her love.

"Well, that's the story. So if your air conditioner goes on the fritz

or your washing machine blows up or your video recorder conks out.

Before you call the repairman, turn o…"

Without warning, everything went dark save for the faint stream of light coming from the solar-powered streetlamp outside. It shone through a crack in her curtains, making a spotlight on Sarah's face and causing her pale skin to glow faintly. Hoggle groaned inwardly and debated with himself. It was not unusual for Sarah's apartment building to have a power outage, but it could be most inconvenient. He had intended to feign slumber when she awoke so that she had the opportunity to pretend she hadn't slept on his shoulder should the idea embarrass her, but waking in the dark in such a relaxed position would be awkward for her. Better to rouse her and move away quickly than risk added discomfort between them.

"Uh, Sarah?" Hoggle said softly, nudging her head gently with his shoulder. In her utter exhaustion, she didn't move.

He sighed. He would have enjoyed having the opportunity to observe her undisturbed for a little while longer, yet it was a bittersweet feeling as he was once again reminded of how repulsive and utterly undeserving he was to even be in her presence. He suddenly felt unworthy to be used as a pillow.

With renewed determination, he tried a bit harder. "Sarah. You need to wake up. You fell asleep and the lights went out." Moving his shoulder more aggressively, he attempted to wiggle out from beneath her. Unfortunately, his arm had fallen asleep making it difficult to move. He didn't want her to fall, but his functional arm was too short to catch her fully from her current angle. Despite the amount of movement on his end, she remained still.

Hoggle was growing concerned. He pulled his arm away and she fell, lifeless, into his lap. "Sarah?" Hoggle shook her shoulder. Nothing.

Sliding out from beneath her head, Hoggle began to grow panicked. "Sarah!" he called, touching her cheek. At the briefest touch, he yanked his hand away, nursing a burn. It was impossible! How could her skin be so hot?

Behind him, Hoggle heard a scrape as if a metal hook was being drug across the wall, ripping it open. He squinted, attempting to make out a shape within the darkness, but nothing was there. The building began to shake and still Sarah slumbered, though Hoggle could see enough of her face now to know that she was not sleeping peacefully. It was now obvious that the faint glow on Sarah's skin came from her and not from an external source. Something was happening and Hoggle knew well that he was unequipped to help in this strange world. There was only one thing he could do, though he was loathe to try.

"Jareth," he called, as if speaking to someone across the room rather than across dimensions, "the Portal King is needed here. Now."

Though nothing audible happened, Hoggle was suddenly aware of a presence behind him. The building immediately stopped shaking. Hoggle didn't have to turn to know that his request had been granted.

"Hello, Hogwart. What have we here? It seems you have gotten yourself into a bit of trouble." The silky smooth baritone held the biting edge that was typical of the Goblin King. It shouldn't have surprised him at the speed in which Jareth arrived—he had probably been watching them the entire time—and yet it worried him. If it hadn't been a serious issue, Hoggle had no doubt that the king would not have appeared. His sudden arrival set Hoggle's hair on end.

"Your Majesty," Hoggle said, attempting to infuse the proper amount of respect into his voice. It was hard. "Something is happening here. Sarah is burning up, the building was shaking, and I could swear I heard the wall opening behind me. As gatekeeper to the Portal Kingdom, I thought you should be made aware of the situation."

"Well aren't you the brave one," the Goblin King sneered. "And what of the girl?"

"She's glowing, your Majesty!" Hoggle practically yelled in exasperation, as he stabbed his thick fingers in Sarah's direction. Wasn't it obvious that there was something wrong with her?

Jareth glared at Hoggle as if he were some great simpleton. "Yes, I am aware of her present condition. My question was merely to ascertain why it mattered to you. You must have known she was a key. How else do you think you traversed worlds so effortlessly? It was through no assistance on my part, I assure you. And you have abused her position. It was only a matter of time before the role you thrust upon her became too much."

"Your Majesty…" Hoggle began only to be cut off as the Goblin King thrust his gloved hand at him.

"Enough! Your presence is no longer required." With a flip of Jareth's hand, Hoggle found himself standing next to the fountain at the entrance to the Labyrinth.

And he was livid.

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A/N: So, I really had every intention of getting this up sooner, but I've been busy—some bad things (family drama, illness, playing catch up) mixed in with some really good things (a CRUISE to celebrate my 10 year anniversary, my parents visiting, BABY GOATS being born…mixed blessing that one because we lost a mama goat in the process to birth complications, but we now have five new babies and they are ADORABLE!)—so, life happened. I am unfortunately a woman with too many passions and not enough time.

(FYI…for those of you who are curious, I am a caretaker of a hobby farm for developmentally disabled adults and care for 5 horses, 12 goats, 16 chickens, 3 dogs, 1 cat and 1 chinchilla…plus I homeschool my four small children and in my spare time, I teach musical theater twice a week…and that's my life in a nutshell…)

But enough about ME…YOU all are fantastic! I cannot tell you how much all your reviews/favorites/alerts have meant to me. Thank you so much for your encouragement. Poptart, your chosen name made me smile. Since I couldn't PM you, I will say thank you for your kind words here. Thank you!

I will do my very best to update sooner than 3 months (where has the time gone?), but I can't promise it in a week or even two. One thing I will promise, I will complete this story eventually. I hate reading fics that have been dropped and I won't do that to you. So be patient…it will happen . Now off to work on the next chapter…