Disclaimer: Ownership was in the crystal, alas that I said it had no power over me.
Author's Note: Attention Jareth, I would strongly recommend you stop blocking my Tin Man muse forthwith. You may ask Cain why – my sense of humour will retaliate, and you spend way too much time playing with crystal balls for that to be entirely healthy. For you. And since, unlike most of the people on here, I am not particularly enamored with you, you will not have the kinds of protection Cain has. Seriously dude, not smart. And yes, I realize that you are not the only culprit, but you are the one making yourself the most immediately available. My narrator shall be dealt with in time. MUWHAHAHAHAHAHA! The group project people have, fortunately, thrown me a bone.
That being said, thanks again to lemonbalm for the beta work. Also, I would like to dedicate this story to dansemacabre, who recently pulled me up short on an issue of communication. I have no idea if she is going to read this, but I'd like to show my appreciation anyway.
PS Well, that only took three stories - those of you who know me will know what I mean.
He loves the puckishness of her nature, the little – and not so little – tricks she plays, that she won't own up to, no matter how obvious it is that it must be her. She can tell him the most outlandish of tales without so much as a bat of the eye or a twitch of a smile, that he almost believes her when she claims the goblins did it. Each prank is more elaborate than the last, and even when they cross the line, when they become almost dangerous, when she spends one hour patching him up and another locked in her room berating herself, she still refuses to admit to anything. It's almost as if she can't help herself, the mischief of her makeup being a law onto itself, and unable to stop it, she tries instead to shield him from its consequences.
He loves that about her, that sense of responsibility, the way she is so careful of what she says. As if she knows the truth about sticks and stones and how it is the names that can truly hurt you. If she has spoken a careless word in the four years he's known her, he would be very much surprised. There is a quiet wisdom in her actions, the way she doesn't take anything for granted; a unique sort of insight that makes her almost impossible to fool while allowing her to find the wondrous in the oddest of places.
He loves the way she blends childlike innocence so seamlessly with utter cynicism. She can parse a single word of a priest for the veriest hint of a hidden meaning, spot a conman at a glance, suspect a birthday wish of having ulterior motives, and yet go home to a room full of stuffed animals and a myriad of imaginary friends.
He loves the quirky way her mind works, the way it seems to follow twist and turns others wouldn't even realize were there. She never accepts things are the way they appear, not without irrefutable proof to the fact and even then she can be skeptical. Her odd logic can see clear through the murkiest of issues, and turn the simplest idea on its head. Don't even think about trying to bargain with her, she could trade a miser his fortune for a trinket and dare to steal his loyalties while he isn't looking.
He loves her bravery, even though it scares him sometimes. Neither the darkest of alleys nor the most beastly of thugs hold any fear for her, which is what brings him out here on these kinds of cold, miserable nights. She'd think nothing of wending her drunken way home alone in the wee hours of the morning. Not to worry, she always tells him, her stalker won't let anything happen to her. And while he's not entirely fond of that particular appellation, he tries to take comfort in the nonsensical philosophical debate that always follows, about whether a stalker is really a stalker if you let him stalk you. At least she only calls him that when she's drunk, and she never seems to aim the nickname directly at him anyhow.
He'd hate to admit it, but he also loves these kinds of nights. It's the only time she lets her guard down regarding her opinions on personal space, allowing him to lend her a supporting arm as he walks her home. His brother has told him several times that it is a bad idea to date your roommate – or, indeed, anyone you'll still have to live with when things go wrong. Roomcest, he calls it. Typical that his brother should assume that things will go wrong, has he ever considered what it could be like if things went right?
He wishes that she, too, could find love in their little two bedroom apartment.
There is a certain temptation to these nights, not to take advantage exactly – he never would – but to…test the waters. With the incomparable Sarah Williams, it's the only time he thinks maybe he could take the risk. If his brother is right, if things go wrong, if she rebuffs his advances, he can chalk it up tomorrow to drunken misunderstandings and thereby avoid the awkwardness that certain people insist shall be the inevitable result of hitting on your roomie. But if she doesn't…if it's possible that she might…he is the main focus of her pranks after all…and really, he tells himself as he guides her faltering steps through the apartment, it's just a kiss. One kiss, and maybe…
Then Sarah trips with a laugh, and suddenly there she is, plastered against his chest and smiling. The temptation is just too much…
…until one of the kitchen shelves gives way, burying him in a shower of cold pots, all of which miraculously miss Sarah but still manage to clobber him in the face, for all they were mere inches apart. For a moment there is only pain and the threat of a bloody nose, and then he realizes that Sarah's attention is decidedly elsewhere.
"You!" she hisses, and not at him.
There is a rustle of cloth and he follows Sarah's gaze to discover what could only be one or her theatrical classmates, or rather, he corrects on closer inspection, one of her professors. Though what he thinks he is doing here, in their apartment, in the middle of the night dressed like a manga version of an eighties rocker…
"Jaresh," Sarah slurs sharply, distracting him as she draws herself up to the full of her not so impressive height, "I tol' yoo dis gotta shtop an' I mean i'. Call da gob'inshoff. 'e's jusht my roomie, leave 'im alone!"
Wincing, her roommate feels it makes his night just that much better when the stranger flashes them – no, her – that smug, knowing smirk and drawls ever so mockingly, "Appearances can be deceiving, Sarah." Her name is a spoken caress that just makes him want to punch the stranger in the jaw.
An ambition Sarah perhaps shares as she takes an uncertain step forward, eyes narrowed and voice dangerously quiet as she snarls, "Don' shtart wif me, Jaresh, an' what do ya think yur doin' here? I didna call yoo, yoo haf no power o'er me!"
The smirk widens into the smuggest grin the world has ever seen, "I was invited, Precious."
"Like hell," she growls back, taking another, steadier step forward, seeming almost to sober slightly as she draws nearer, "I'm no' that drunk, an' I know I did no sucsh thing!"
A pair of arrogant, mismatched eyes flicks briefly away from her face to meet those of her roommate for the briefest of instances, the self-satisfied amusement evident even in so minute a glance. Then his gaze is fixed back on Sarah, for it is with Sarah, not her roommate, that his interest lies, even if she is currently doing her best to give him a piece of her mind.
He should look ridiculous, said roommate realizes as he watches them…not argue…spar. With that poofy hair, the bizarre leather armour, and the absurdly tight pants, the stranger should look entirely out of place, and yet, somehow it is the room that looks wrong. As if just by entering it, the unknown man has made the world and everything in it ridiculous…everything except Sarah. An ordinary girl he would have called her just this morning – a wonderful, beautiful, fascinating girl, but an ordinary girl, yet somehow she fits. Still drunk, still slurring and swaying slightly, somehow she belongs so perfectly in the strange, dreamlike world that has suddenly taken over his regular, humdrum living room. All because of the stranger, who doesn't so much as extend a hand to steady the wavering girl; rather it looks more like he's hoping she'll topple forward into him.
And does he have to be such an insufferably smug bastard? Sarah's roommate wonders if he is doing it on purpose, or if it just comes naturally for him. A careless word, a snarky reply, a tilted head, a mocking tone, he winds Sarah up so easily, pushing buttons her roommate never knew she had, all the while with a perfect relaxation in his manner. As if there is nothing he'd rather be doing right now, nowhere else he'd rather be.
One wonders what Sarah is thinking as these moments pass, standing so close at this point they are practically arguing nose to chin. There is a flicker of movement, and for a second he thinks that the stranger means to caress her cheek – except that there is a small crystal sphere rolling across his fingers, and Sarah pulls away sharply as if burned, suddenly truly furious as she totters then rights herself through the force of pure indignation. Then she is storming down the hallway to her room, calling for Ludo to block the door, Hoggle to fasten the windows, and Didymus to stab anything with feathers that moves. Imaginary friends to protect against a real Goblin King – Goblin King? – who hasn't stopped smirking and, smug as ever, moves to follow.
This, at last, is what breaks him out of his stupor. He may be just a roommate, but he still squares his shoulders and steps forward in preparation for the oldest kind of confrontation known to man. His turf, his…friend, his territory, and he will defend it. Except that he finds, for all the stranger's slight build and shorter stature, when that unfathomable, mismatched gaze is turned on him once more, his hind brain recognizes what his forebrain does not, cannot: the stranger is not the prey here. Sarah's roommate realizes he is far, far out of his league, for all his size, this is not a fight he can win. Those eyes have stared down far more deadly adversaries than mere college boys – stared them down and won.
The stranger needs no more than that, and he finds himself insignificant – no, he was always insignificant – out of mind as the stranger settles himself in front of her door, leaning casually against the wall and spinning the crystal idly on his fingertips as if he is prepared to wait there forever.
And it is only then, when he has already lost, that certain, pertinent facts from their argument – a suddenly familiar argument – finally percolate into the reluctant observer's consciousness. Call the goblins off. Watching flecks of light from the crystal dance along the wall in simply, carefree patterns, he realizes that he loves her.
He just doesn't really know her.