This is the world's worst idea, Sarah thought frantically as she ran up the stairs of her childhood home.
It was Boxing Day, and the smell of Christmas still hung over the house, an enticing mixture of mince pies and pine needles and woodsmoke. Awkward family reunions had come and gone, presents had been eagerly distributed, food had been eaten, and the house had been impeccably tidied by Karen; all the same, a sense of expectancy was palpable in the air.
Jareth was coming to visit.
Karen was unbelievably excited. The day she'd dreamed of for so long had finally arrived, and her step-daughter was bringing a man home. She'd spent the morning cooking lunch, which rather than leftovers (the traditional Boxing Day meal, in Sarah's view) was going to involve an enormous ham with a honey and mustard sauce. Meanwhile, Robert had demonstrated his nervousness by polishing every single shoe in the house, several times over, and then going outside and shovelling excessive amounts of snow into piles. Toby, on the other hand, was oblivious to the tangible tension and busying himself playing with all the new toys he'd received the previous day.
Sarah had divided her morning between panic attacks and frantic attempts to put Jareth off. He'd given her a crystal that, as it happened, worked rather like a mobile phone to allow her to contact him; but every time she'd begged him to change his mind, he'd just rolled his eyes and reminded her that she'd agreed to this in the first place. She was feeling distinctly harassed, and also paranoid that yesterday's overeating had brought out spots. None of this was being helped by the fact that the goblins had decided to "help" and were running through the house, visible only to Sarah (and, as it turned out, Toby, who wisely kept his mouth shut) as they caused chaos.
She sprinted down the corridor, and then skidded to an erratic halt as she caught sight of her reflection in the full-length mirror. Automatically, her hand went to her hair to smooth her neat, grown-up looking up-do, and she straightened her blouse and critically examined the backs of her stockings for any ladders. It had been a nightmare trying to figure out what one wore when introducing the boyfriend to the parents; eventually she'd settled on smart but not overly dressy. She now concluded that she looked like a secretary. A highly-paid, successful, reasonably good-looking secretary, but a secretary nonetheless. Dammit. Well, it was too late to change now.
What had she been looking for? Ah yes, perfume. Jareth was due at any moment, and she wanted things to be perfect (or as perfect as they could possibly get when she was looking like a secretary). She burst into her old room and scattered things haphazardly until she got her hands on her little bottle of vanilla and jasmine scent and sprayed it all over herself. There, now she was ready to face whatever the day had to bring.
The doorbell rang.
"Sarah!" called Karen. "He's here!"
Sarah fought a very strong desire to hide in the cupboard, or possibly the bed. She steeled herself.
"Coming!" she shouted back.
This was going to be stressful.
When she got downstairs the door was already open and Karen was making the sort of welcoming noises that parents all over the world make when an interesting stranger comes to dinner. Toby was peeking excitedly round her legs and Sarah's father was shaking hands with Jareth with a half-bemused, half-polite expression on his face and saying "Yes, quite, very nice to meet you."
"It's my pleasure," purred Jareth. He was wearing normal clothes, Sarah was eternally grateful to see – or at least as normal as Jareth was ever going to get; dark close-cut trousers and a suit jacket over a plain top. His hair was once more tied back loosely, and he wasn't wearing gloves – she wondered how much nerve that particular decision had taken to implement. "I take it this is Toby?"
"Say hello, sweetheart," said Karen gently to Toby, who waved at Jareth with an enormous gap-toothed smile. Sarah could have sworn that the Goblin King winked at her little brother, but it happened so quickly that she couldn't quite be sure she'd seen it. "Well, do come in and sit down," Sarah's stepmother continued, her voice taking on that slightly high-pitched tone it always did when she was nervous. She led the way to the sitting room, Jareth following and looking around the house with interest… just as if he'd never seen it before, Sarah thought sarcastically, remembering an owl flapping clumsily in the hallway many years before. She grabbed him on the arm and pulled him back before he could reach the sitting room.
"Tell the goblins to go away," she hissed, indicating the rows of wide-eyed watchers on the stairs. Jareth gave her a sideways glance.
"Nice to see you too, dearest," he said dryly.
"Please," she begged. "They're driving me crazy and I know they're going to break something, or trip me up, or something. Don't you want to make a good impression on my parents?"
"I already have," he grinned. "Oh, and by the way, you're looking rather delectable today."
Sarah flushed. "Just get rid of the goblins. Please?"
"Anything for you, you know that." He snapped his fingers, and all of his Labyrinthine subjects promptly disappeared. Sarah drew a breath of relief.
"You're welcome," he said in his best melting-chocolate voice. "After you, my dear."
She was just thinking that maybe today wasn't going to be terrible (and wondering what it was about human clothes that made him look so darn kissable), when she walked through the door he was holding open for her, and he took the opportunity to grab her butt.
"Jareth!" she hissed, outraged, and he just laughed at her and went to take a seat beside her father. Fuming, she sat as far away from him as was humanly possible, and prayed that neither of her parents had noticed.
There was the shortest of awkward silences before Karen started flapping again. "I'd offer you something to drink, but lunch is nearly ready; we're just waiting for the potatoes to come out of the oven."
"Of course, of course," Jareth said smoothly. Jerk, thought Sarah.
"So – Jared, is it?" began Robert.
"Jareth," interjected Sarah impatiently, her voice coming out a little louder than usual. Everyone turned to look at her and she cleared her throat and crossed her legs. "What?"
"…Jareth," said Robert, raising one of his eyebrows warningly at his daughter. "What is it you do for a living?"
Sarah choked, and then turned it into a pretend cough. Everyone looked at her again and she gave them a beaming smile. Jareth's polite mask was beginning to look a little strained. He was probably dying to kick her. The thought made her feel a little better.
"Oh, nothing in particular. I run a business; I'm sure Sarah has mentioned it." He gave her one of his sharp-toothed grins, and she scowled at him. "Trading, you know, this and that. Mainly it's a matter of keeping my subordinates in order."
"I see," nodded Robert. "And, er… how did you meet Sarah?"
There was a loud beeping sound from the kitchen and Sarah jumped up. "That's the potatoes," she gabbled. "Lunch time everybody, let's go and sit down!"
Lunch wasn't much better, though at least food gave everybody something to do. Jareth made all the right comments; he complimented Karen's excellent cooking, pointed out how beautiful the garden was looking much to Robert's pleasure, and spent twenty minutes listening to Toby's story about his "best fwend" at school and what games they played every day. All the same, Sarah was panicking. This whole situation was so bizarre that she was almost ninety percent convinced she was dreaming, and the ten percent of her that wasn't was shouting HE'S GOING TO START TALKING ABOUT GOBLINS AND MAGIC ANY SECOND NOW! As a result she was quiet throughout the entire meal – such an unusual event that Karen asked her twice if she was feeling okay.
She somehow survived, though, and even made it through the moment when Karen brought pudding through from the kitchen: a concoction of soft meringue, jam and sponge that made Sarah want to smack her own forehead. She'd forgotten to check on the dessert, and she deserved what she got.
"Jareth, I hope you like Queen of Puddings?"
The King of the Goblins shot a look of glee at his girlfriend, who did her best to look anywhere but back at him. "I love it," he said emphatically. "I have, shall we say, a penchant for royalty."
I am not your Queen! Sarah thought furiously at him, knowing that he knew exactly what was going through her head.
Not yet, was quite clearly his response. She glowered at him for the rest of the meal and pointedly refused any of the pudding, to Jareth's evident amusement.
After lunch Karen and Robert suggested a time-honoured family tradition of going for a walk, to which (somewhat to Sarah's surprise – she had never had Jareth down as a countryside person) Jareth enthusiastically agreed. It turned out, however, that it was probably the best solution; Jareth was a lot less prim and proper wrapped up in borrowed wellies and coat and scarf, and tramping through the snow eased Sarah's bad mood and lent a flush to her cheeks and a sparkle to her eyes.
By the time they'd made a loop through the park and round the lake and were heading home, the walk had deteriorated into a snowball fight of epic proportions between Toby, Sarah and the ruler of the Labyrinth. Sarah was so busy laughing and shouting and throwing snowballs that she entirely forgot about being dignified and calm, and when Jareth slipped an arm round her waist and said "hello, you" to her, she grinned up at him, feeling happier than she had for a long time. She even let him kiss her on the cheek when her parents were watching.
When they got back and had shaken the snow off their boots and rubbed some feeling back into their cold fingers, Karen made tea for everyone and they sat cosily in the kitchen and ate chocolate biscuits and (in Sarah and Toby's case) scrounged leftovers from the previous day's Christmas dinner. After a while Toby started begging for a film, so the party relocated to the sitting room and introduced Jareth to the delight that was the third Harry Potter movie. He insisted on holding hands with Sarah all the way through, and for some reason she couldn't quite fathom she let him. It felt warm and cosy and right, and it was scaring her far less than it usually did. At least he hadn't tried to grope her again.
After that it was seven o'clock and time for more tea and cake and scones and jam, and then Jareth was on the doorstep and kissing Karen's cheek and saying goodbye, and somehow Sarah had got through an entire day of introducing her boyfriend to her parents.
"Ooh, he was lovely!" gushed Karen as they did the washing up. "Robert, darling, pass me that teatowel."
"He was a lot older than I expected," said Robert, a little grumpily. He was quite clearly suffering from overprotectiveness, and Karen pointed this out.
"Don't be ridiculous, Robert, he's obviously a gentleman. And he got on so well with Toby!"
Toby looked up from the table where he was playing with his new toy car and T-Rex. "I like him," he said briefly, and then went back to making the dinosaur use the car as a skateboard.
"That's right, and you know Toby doesn't always get on with new people," pointed out Karen. "He seems to be very good with children, Sarah; does he come into contact with them often?"
It was the last straw. Sarah burst out into hysterical laughter. Her family stared at her while she choked and spluttered and gasped for air, completely confused.
"Sarah," said Toby carefully, "have you gone mad? Can I have your gameboy if you have?"
Sarah calmed down enough to gasp out: "I'm fine, thank you," and then fled the kitchen before she could convince her family any further that she was completely insane.
In the refuge of her old room, she sat down on the bed and waited for the giggling fit to pass. When it had she lay down and stared up at the ceiling. This house had seen a lot. It had seen her tantrums as a child, her teenage phases of rebellion, and her abrupt change to decency after her adventure in the Labyrinth. It had seen her laugh and cry and a whole range of emotions in between.
She wondered if it had ever expected to see her bringing the king of the goblins home as her significant other.
"You and me both, house," she muttered with a rueful grin.
I was gonna write a nice A/N at the top then thought - no one cares about my ramblings, I'll just give them what they want first :P
So life has been rather tricky of late and exams and essays and relationship dramas have sort of taken over, hence the long wait. I *am* still writing though and I *will* finish, however long it takes. Here - have a nice Christmas chapter on Easter Sunday, because why not?
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who has reviewed. Getting one in my inbox can make a bad day a very good day, and I only hope that my writing can return the feeling a little. You are all babes. (What babes? The babes with power!)
Also I'd like to shout out to Sylphien who has been wonderfully patient with me; I'm her beta but I've been super-behind lately. GO READ HER STORY. IT IS AWESOME. I promise I'll get your chapter back to you at some point my dear!
ALL OF THE GLITTERY EASTER EGGS (but watch out, some of them may have chikins sneakily hidden in them...)
P.S. If you're impatient for moar! chapters, might I suggest you go back and read the whole thing again and perhaps even drop a cheeky review here and there? Just a suggestion, you understand. It may speed up my creative processes. ;)