AN: For JetRedGirl. Rest easy now, my friend. You are stardust. You are magic. You are always.

I hope you know how much you're missed.

"The only dependable law of life – everything is always worse than you thought it was going to be."

Dorothy Parker

Cern paced the storage room while he waited for the silly chit to return in fencing appropriate clothing. It had taken no more than a small bribe of dragon scale stout to see the space cleaned by a few goblin grooms. Cleaned being rather relative if the smell was anything to go by. It was rarely used, which made it the ideal place to potentially fuck things up even further.

And Cern was very good at fucking things up, as Morrigan was wont to remind him.

Testing the dwarven steel of the blade reflexively, he couldn't decide if he should laugh or cry at the recent turn of events - or more likely get mind-numbingly drunk and plough his way through a bevvy of buxom ladies until oblivion or Morrigan herself finished him off. In theory, giving Sarah a few lessons with a pointy stick was far down on the list of stupid things he'd done and would continue do.

…In theory if you squinted and held your breath until you almost passed out… it might even qualify as a wise decision.

He could keep an eye on her while his cousin was otherwise occupied, lucky bastard, and ensure she didn't plan any uprisings. And it wouldn't hurt the highly breakable little thing to learn a thing or two about blade work should she need to defend herself in that fashion.

…On the other hand were all the reasons he was being a monumental fool.

Jareth had been extremely vehement on the subject of Cern keeping his sword out of Sarah. Any while Cern could behave himself, despite the nigh overwhelming desire to cuckold his third-favourite cousin, he was certain Jareth wouldn't want him accidentally sticking a literal blade in her either. It would be far too easy to do serious damage to a mortal. And he in particular had never been a bastion of restraint. He highly doubted Jareth would choose him as her tutor even were he a eunuch.

The unexpected truth was that he'd started to feel sorry for her, and he wasn't particularly used to feeling pity for anything bipedal. Annoyed by her stubbornness, yes - a trait upon which he'd always assumed the fae held the monopoly – but he didn't think she needed to roll over and play dead either. Above all, he held no doubts that they'd both be more amenable to brokering some kind of tenuous peace if only they'd fuck it all out already.

Ah, well. That seemed increasingly unlikely after the disastrous High Court. Most ladies – and he knew more than his share - were not overly keen on getting tossed into a pit of no bottom. It was the sort of thing the fairer sex didn't forget.

But bloodshed was almost as good as fucking, he reasoned, and Cern held no illusions that Sarah wouldn't immediately use whatever he taught her against Jareth. In which case he planned to be very thorough in his instructions. Jareth would be a little less inclined to stab her in the thigh. Or the shoulder. Or the groin, he grimaced in memory. Which meant it would serve the bastard right if she got some good licks in while Jareth figured out how not to kill her accidentally.

He had just shaken off the lingering twinge in his ballsack when he heard the wooden door creak open. Turning, it immediately took all of his restraint not to laugh, but something must have flashed across his face.

"What? What is it?" Sarah looked down at herself and then back at him. "This? It looked like it would work for sword play?"

Cern scrubbed a hand across his face and bit his tongue.

"Tell me." Her tone was as gentle as a dry razor on raw skin.

"It's nothing." Though it was probably better to tell her before she was armed. He flexed the blade again and moved to retrieve its twin from the rack. "It's just Jareth never wears lingerie when we spar. I can't believe he's been denying me the pleasure all these years."

Stunned silence and then the door slammed.

Cern choked down another laugh. Perhaps this marriage business wasn't all bad. He'd actually have two of them to rile until the end of time.

"You're… joking…" But there was a waver of uncertainty in her voice he found irresistible.

He bowed with dramatic flourish. "What I meant to say, of course, is you look ravishing."

Sarah shifted uncomfortably and looked down at herself again. It had seemed like something you might wear to fence. Cut from a rich caramel leather, it was built like an under corset that cinched around her waist via three buckles. The leather continued on either side of her bust to wrap around her shoulders, in decorative epaulets. A single strap extended across her collar and laced around her throat with a golden cord. From the corset, two additional straps extended down like garters and attached to what looked like upper thigh bracers. It had come with matching fingerless gloves that laced to her elbows. The whole thing had been quite intricate to put on by herself, but she thought the final effect was sort of battle-ready way when layered over a pair of buckskin leggings and a fitted linen shirt. She eyed him doubtfully.

He smiled widely back. "Normally one wears nothing underneath it."

Her shoulders hitched. She'd put on some type of fae fetish-wear apparently.

"I'm not sure how armour works in the mortal realm, but something meant for protection would cover the oh so important life sustaining bits," he motioned towards her chest and then groin, "and be less concerned with leaving the more fun bits accessible."

"Yes, I get it now! Thank you," she bit out acerbically. "Give me a few minutes to change."

"Not on my account certainly. All together it does strike a rather fearsome 'please fuck me though I may kill you afterwards' look." And then he smiled as though something had just occurred to him.

Sarah was almost loathe to ask. "What now?"

"Nothing, nothing." He handed her the sword hilt first. "I was just wondering how many people saw you wearing that on your way here. Ah, ah, ah." He quickly stepped out of her range now that she was armed. "At least allow me to teach you how to use it properly before you try to kill me. I suspect it will hurt far less."

"Tell me again, slowly this time, and preferably with all the words in their proper order."

One of the goblins trembled at the Goblin King's tone.

"Maybe… uh, maybe it would be better if we just showed his majesty?" gulped the goblin, who may have been braver or more foolish that average.

Typically that sort of suggestion was met with a swift kick in the arse – the only universal language understood by goblin kind – but none followed. All the goblins gasped. It was a moment that would be recorded in the goblin annals for all future generations. Or would have been if the annals hadn't ended sadly been used as lavatory paper in an unfortunate mix-up only the week before.

Far from feeling benevolent, the Goblin King instead found he had a rather perverse desire to see firsthand what Sarah had been up to in his absence. He'd already divested his room of her charming additions, but it seemed that was only the beginning. Some of the more intelligent goblins had begun to question his bride's requests enough to alert him. They themselves weren't particularly bothered by the changes, but rather they worried what his reaction might be and wanted to know how many stitches they could anticipate as a result.

And Sarah had been busy.

And thorough.

And fae-level spiteful.

When he entered the Goblin City square he immediately saw that the monument, once glistening in all of its burnished glory, had been replaced. Where his likeness had once stood tall, it now cowered at Sarah's feet. While the Sarah, who had a much smaller nose and more evenly spaced eyes, now towered indifferently above him. His own likeness was flattering by comparison. The sculptor been particularly stingy with the bronze in some areas of anatomy. The hands were clasped together in unmistakeable supplication; his face an effigy of desperation and slavering devotion. He might have even been drooling.

Jareth's lips twisted wryly as he read the inscription. 'Please let me be your slave.'

"If it's any consolation the master craftsman has already bogged himself, sire. Thought to save you the trouble."

"Did he now?" The king glanced down at the nervous goblin steward. "What a pity." And he found he actually meant it. He was not in fact a cruel ruler, at least by goblin standards, which demanded a certain level of violence by nature. He would not in good conscious hold responsible a loyal subject when he knew very well who was really to blame.

It was at that unfortunate moment one of the town's citizens, so used to his daily routine that he hadn't noticed the recent change in the square or Jareth and his attendants, chose to empty his chamber pot over what happened to be the newly positioned head of the bronze Goblin King.

Watching goblin piss drip down one's likeness tends to put things in perspective, Jareth found. The goblin, still not aware of the gobsmacked onlookers, scratched himself enthusiastically, spit, and then shuffled away with empty pot in hand.

"I don't suppose this would be a good time to ask if you would you like to see more?" the steward asked tremulously.

Sarah had made broader changes as well. All of the oubliettes had been removed or sealed shut. His personal garden had been replanted with a very rare flower to which he was deathly allergic. In between violent sneezes, he made a mental note to discover the individual who'd let that slip that little slice. No doubt someone related to him by blood.

And in a more vicious turn, Sarah has apparently relocated a portion of the bog to his boot closet. Each pair had been carefully filled to the brim with the malodorous sludge. None could be saved.

She'd also made use of her newly bequeathed chicken army by letting them loose on his heirloom grain stores. The ones used to make his favourite ale. When he entered the storeroom, led by his now profusely sweating steward, it was to the sight of paunch-bellied, armour-bedecked poultry sleeping off their gluttony. Not one morsel of grain was left. Their black-feathered leader gave a weak attempt at a battle cry and then fell back into post-food lethargy.

Jareth was slow to notice that his subjects were looking more smartly dressed than usual as well. It wasn't until he spotted his favourite leather waistcoat being worn by a passing goblin that he realized the majority of his wardrobe appeared to have been donated to the goblin charity bin. The other half, it was reported, had been dumped in the pit of no bottom. Perhaps the nobler end, he considered, as he watched a goblin mother use his seventh favourite shirt as a nappy.

Not all the changes were entirely spiteful though. The junk piles surrounding the city walls had apparently been cleaned, organized and relocated. He's always allowed the goblins to do as they willed, but it certainly made the east entrance much more appealing. The only one who seemed to voice any complaint was Agnes, who understandably wasn't keen on the change, as she explained with a troubling number of lascivious winks.

A seed of something small and almost negligible took root. He wondered what Sarah would say if he pointed out where she'd made improvements. The mass distribution of anti-monarchical literature and pro-revolutionary war tactics to the lower denizens of the Underground was a little harder to forgive, but he tried not to let it dampen his spirits.

He was still examining her list of changes when Morrigan appeared to collect him; her expression so phlegmatic it was easy to miss the unbridled bloodlust roiling in her eyes.

Jareth waved his steward away. "Where's Cern?"

"Fooling around with 'some tart' in the stables so I hear," the goddess replied. "Shall I drag him out by his entrails?" She sounded almost affectionate.

"No, leave him." Jareth removed his jacket. "Allow someone to find some sliver of pleasure today."

"Argh!" Cern growled in pain. "I am not a bloody pin cushion, woman!"

"I'm sorry!" Sarah winced as another spot blossomed on the hunter's shirt.

He'd begun to regret not wearing more padding. Though he had assured her that his kind healed quickly and very few things would actually end him for good, he was no longer sure he she wasn't in fact, actively trying to kill him.

He'd spent the last three quarters of an hour trying to teach her to control her thrusts; to know exactly where each lunge would take her so she could react, and how far and to what depth, so she could anticipate where she would always end up. Dueling was as much about keeping your opponent alive as it was about killing them. Something he'd apparently explained poorly. To that end he had her repeatedly attack him; blocking her only intermittently, to see if she could control her advances. It was a finesse of great swordsmanship, but more importantly it helped anticipate your opponent's deflections so you wouldn't lose your footing. He'd ensured she'd landed on her ass – hard – enough times to drive the point home. Cern couldn't help but wonder what Jareth's reaction would be to finding out he was the reason Sarah couldn't sit down comfortably.

He braced himself and let the next lunge through, his face creasing in a mixture of relief and pride when she managed to only graze him this time. Sarah returned the smile, her brow sweaty and cheeks flushed with the previous hours' exertion.

Cern was suddenly thankful mortals seemed incapable of reading minds, because all those thoughts of bruised asses coupled with the rush of a good fight, made his cock twitch in awareness. Fighting always made him want to fuck. He quelled it with the thoughts of Morrigan eating his entrails. For a mortal she was appealing enough. And then there was his with Calli. But he respected Jareth enough not to poach. He respected Sarah enough too. She was clearly proud of her progress. He didn't want to diminish that.

He was also fairly certain his stubborn fool of a cousin was thoroughly, hopelessly, disgustingly in love with her. The kind of sickly incomprehensible love that would enslave an otherwise respectable gent. At first he'd assumed it was all to do with lust and power. Something as natural as breathing to a fae. The good ole' thrill of the hunt. But Cern was no fool. He might be a letch and a drunk, and a ruthless bastard who sometimes cheated at cards, but he knew the signs enough to know the way forward spelled disaster. Loving a mortal was a dangerous thing. Jareth should know that better than anyone.

Feeling the weight of hunter's mood shift, Sarah's smile faltered. "What is it? I kept my wrist supple like you said. I think I am getting better?"

"Markedly so. But that's enough for today, I think." Cern re-sheathed his blade without wiping it down.

"Is something wrong?"

"Perhaps. Perhaps not." Cern scrubbed another hand down his face and then seemed to come to a decision. "Do you love him?"

Heat crept up her neck at the unexpected and rather bald question. She returned her sword to the rack and gave a forced laugh. "Why would you even ask that? When you know I am trying to get out of this."

He gave a noncommittal grunt.

"I am. What is it you anyway?" The flush of embarrassment turned to anger. "Is every relative so bored they have to interfere?"

Cern snorted. "Be thankful the Norse side of the family tree couldn't make it."

"Where is he anyway? Planning another public evisceration of my character?" She pressed her hands to her heart. "Oh yes, how could I possibly not be in love with someone who does that?"

"To be fair I think you opened that door." His tone was gentle. "It is not for me to say where he is."

Sarah nodded. "Covering for him no doubt. Thank you for the lesson." She swept past him towards the exit.

"You two need to talk."

Sarah stilled against the door.

"I mean I think you need to fuck too. Relieve that tension like a burning itch so you both can focus." Some of his characteristic mirth had clearly returned. "But you need to talk and preferably soon. Just talk. And before you do try not to assume the worst of him right now. I assure you he doesn't relish his present engagements. Ones you set in motion."

He left her wide-eyed in the doorway.

When Cern found Jareth, he expressed his apologies for missing their engagement. He was relieved to see him looking a little drawn but undamaged.

"Whisper your sweet sorries to Morrigan," Jareth replied affably. "She's the one who'll eat your liver. You know I don't need my hand held."

"Still. I should have been there. Something, ah, pressing came up and I completely forgot the time."

"So they say." Jareth started on his cravat in the mirror. A smoke grey that matched his shirt and coat perfectly. Some of the few pieces that escaped Sarah's wrath. "Something about pressing yourself up against some scantily clad wench in the stables." At Cern's look of panic in the mirror, he laughed. "Don't fret. I'd hardly begrudge you enjoying someone soft and willing."

"Don't envy me too much." Cern touched his front unconsciously. He'd changed his clothing before seeking Jareth out, but the sword wounds beneath the pristine fabric had not fully healed yet. "And soft is not the particular word that comes to mind."

Jareth turned, his expression a mix of incredulity and disgust. "Morrigan's frigid tits! Don't tell me you had another go at a rock troll? At least the last time was a dare."

"Given by you! Don't leave out that part."

"Yes, because I thought it would be a particularly awful experience. I didn't realize you'd develop a taste for getting your cock chafed."

"It-she… wasn't a rock troll. And anyway, he who hath no 'cock chafing' shouldn't throw… rock trolls."

"Truly, you are a wordsmith," Jareth replied wryly as he finished the knot by rote. He smacked this cousin on the chest affectionately and moved past him to select a pin, effectively missing Cern's hiss of pain. "Stick your prick where you will, Cern. With any luck I am almost through with this," his lips twisted, "nonsense and your duties to me will be discharged. Then you can have your way through every nook and cranny in every wall. Hell, my false alarms if the fancy strikes you." He turned. "Speaking of, did you know Sarah somehow had them relocated to my personal study? Before I had them moved back they expressed a lot of questionable advice on foreign diplomacy. And one in particular took issue with my penmanship. She's been creatively spiteful to say the least."

"About that, actually." Cern folded his arms and leaned against a wardrobe. "You and she need to talk."

"Regarding penmanship or my foreign policy? I'm not sure I'd trust her advice on the latter and having seen her writing, she'd have no stones to cast." When Cern said nothing, Jareth looked at him. "Ah. You've said that more than once now. But you see, we talk all the time. She says 'I want to leave'. I say no. Then she fills my boots with bog water. Proverbial marital bliss."

"You want her. You want this." Cern gestured vaguely. "I told you I would help you even if I don't understand it. I still don't. Not after… well. Anyway. You know you have my loyalty, even when you don't bloody deserve it. And you very rarely do. It has been entertaining watching you flout her at almost every turn. It's been more amusing watching you fail. But show her why it's worth wanting you back or let her go before the rest of us are the ones who get royally fucked."

Jareth's air of indifference fell away like a mask; revealing a hint of the simmering rage, weariness and bruised dignity beneath. "I know what I am doing."

At that Cern finally laughed.

Sarah took a particularly circuitous route back to the castle in the hopes of remaining unseen, mulling Cern's words over as she walked. When she opened the door to Jareth's bedroom instead of her own, she assumed she'd been too distracted. She backed out and opened the door down the hall.

Back into Jareth's bedroom.

Shaking her head in confusion, she crossed the space and opened the adjoining door.

Which led right back into Jareth's bedroom.

"Son of a bitch." Her room no longer existed. Not only had he undone her recent redecorating efforts in his own room, he'd somehow vanished hers out of existence. Or rather all doors now led to his bedroom. The lack of subtlety was almost breathtaking.

There was only one bed between them both. Certainly it was obscenely large, but it was only one bed nonetheless. Her eyes strayed to where the copper tub had stood the night before when she'd inadvertently... She'd sleep in the stables first.

Sarah quickly bathed the sweat and stench of stables from her body and then rifled through her-newly relocated closet. She settled on a simple but exquisite gown she was fairly certain wasn't a form of lingerie or fetish-wear. The underdress, which was exposed from bodice to the floor in a centre panel, was cut from a sheer nude fabric carefully embroidered in gold filigree. The tightfitting sleeves matched. The outer gown, by contrast, was fashioned from layers of matte black chiffon that drifted to the floor. It framed her waist, rising up an over shoulders before tucking back under her arms to expose the entirety of her back. She braided her hair and pinned it into a coronet to keep the damp length off her skin.

Once finished, she chewed her lip in indecision, before finally deciding to just freeze them all out. Dig her heels in and refuse to go along with their plans any longer. She'd keep to her room like Mrs. Bennett and her nerves.

His room.


With that in mind, she carefully arranged herself on a settee to wait; her abused rear immediately protesting the decision.

The problem with any plan, of course, is that everyone must play their part. Someone would need to actually be looking for her. As the time passed it became apparent that no one was. No attendants had tried to forcibly bathe her. Rook hadn't popped back in to see how her inevitable death was coming along. Calli, who has unconventional views when it came to privacy at the best of times, had kept her distance. Even the ticking of the clock above the fireplace began to feel personal.

She supposed she could at least get a book to pass the time. She was therefore surprised to find the increasingly difficult to catch Goblin King there already, doing nothing more secretive than reading. The librarian, so overcome with shock and something approaching joy at having multiple visitors, promptly fell off his perch. After apologizing to the books he'd made collateral damage, he managed to recover with enough equanimity to make himself scarce with nought but a meaningful look from the king.

Jareth was ensconced in a shadowy corner; boots kicked up on the arm of an adjacent chair in a way she was certain he'd excuse from no one else. A book lay open on his thighs. He steepled his gloved-fingers across his middle at her approach.

For a moment they simply stared at one on in silent appraisal.

"Migratory Patterns of Rocks or Sexual Reproduction of Swamp Trolls?" she asked finally. It wasn't the opening volley she'd envisioned when designing their next confrontation, but he'd somehow managed to make her feel like she was the one who'd invaded his privacy.

"Neither in fact. Someone already spoiled the ending of the former, and the latter was quite recently and very graphically illustrated on the ceiling of my bed chambers. My education in that subject feels rather complete."

Sarah chewed the inside of her cheek. "Calli suggested I redecorate."

"Did she now?" There was a note of amused acidity in his tone that suggested he'd be having a conversation with his cousin later.

"Well not exactly," Sarah gave a small shrug, "but she did suggest I change what I wanted."

A muscle in Jareth's cheek ticked, but he looked more amused than annoyed. "And you decided the first thing you'd do with that power was have troll pornography painted on my ceiling?"

She wagged a finger. "Ah, but you said it was educational. And anyway you already got rid of it I see."

"Do sit." He lowered his feet.

"Actually I'd prefer to stand. But speaking of redecorating…"

He leaned forward and regarded her seriously. "I missed you today."

Sarah blinked at the unexpected interruption owlishly. He sounded entirely guileless. Something the Goblin King never was. Which meant it must be a trap. She shook her head. "I'm sorry but-"

"Apology accepted." He offered her a winsome smile and leaned back again.

"That's not what I meant and you know it. I am not apologizing to you-"

"Not even for the boots?" A pale brow arched

She sniffed delicately "I don't know what you mean."

"Or the clothes?"

Her lips twitched.

"My study?"

She shook her head.

His voice dropped. "The statue?"

"What statue would that be?" she asked as sweetly as she could manage.

"Lies become you beautifully but you are astonishingly abysmal at it."

"I haven't had your lifetimes of practice," she shot back. "We can't all be deceiving, conniving," Sarah counted off on her fingers, "mercurial, amoral, foppish Goblin Kings."

"No, indeed. But you can ensnare them into marriage." He held up his hands in supplication when she looked like she physically attack. "Mercy! I withdraw my final statement."

At the same time, a tremulous voice called out, "Please! No blood on the books!"

"Foppish I must object to. Especially as I've barely any clothes left to be foppish in." He looked more amused than cowed though, and it struck her again that he might have been sincere when he said he missed her.

It was a peculiarly troubling thought. She plucked at her dress fitfully. "What are you doing here?"

Jareth's brow arched and he motioned to the book in his lap. "Other than the obvious, you mean?"

Sarah pulled a face.

"Perhaps I was finding the one part of my kingdom to which you didn't add your unique touch." He looked about the space. "Or is that why you're here now?"

"Hardly." But she was loathe to say she'd been looking for him, even if it was to respectably tear a strip for the bedroom. She pinched two fingers together. "I suppose this very tiny slice is passable as is."

There was an unintelligible sound of pure unadulterated joy from somewhere in the wings again.

"It's becoming difficult to ignore that we have an audience," she whispered.

"We always have an audience." There was a trace of weary annoyance in his tone that had Sarah eyeing him curiously.

"But back to the reason I'm here-"

Before she could say more the doors to the library snapped open.

Morrigan was framed in the entrance, flanked by a rather cowed-looking Cern and an unknown fae, Sarah assumed was one of the guests. Though the lot of the lords and ladies tended to look ageless, and could clearly glamour their appearance to suit their mood, he looked like he'd barely entered adulthood. His dark hair was artfully tousled in a way Sarah imagined was carefully contrived. His attire was lavish and formal in its detail, and cut to his lithe frame within an inch, but they seemed to be wearing him more than the other way around. He was ethereally handsome and quite likely knew it.

Jareth stiffened when his eyes landed on the male. "Really?" he drawled, and his expression twisted into annoyed disbelief. It was directed towards Morrigan and Cern, but a betraying redness stole across the youth's face at the king's obvious dismissal. It made him look younger.

Morrigan ignored Jareth's rudeness, her unflinching stare sweeping between them briefly to pierce her nephew silently. Cern eyed Sarah and Jareth with interest but at a questioning look from Jareth he merely shrugged helplessly.

The young lord appeared discomfited by the scrutiny of the Goblin King, but rallied after a moment and turned his attention to Sarah. His eyes, a particularly unusual shade of violet, widened when Jareth rose and casually placed a hand on her lower back.

Sarah bristled at the unmistakably proprietary touch, made all the more intimate by the cut of her dress. His long fingers flexed for a moment against her skin. Despite the leather of his gloves, heat skated up her spine in the most disarming way. Later she would convince herself that was reason she'd not slapped him away immediately.

That and the touch also seemed to be conveying something important.

But not to her.

The message was received and the unnamed youth's expression faltered for a betraying moment. He studied her reaction intently; his eyes sweeping down her figure appraisingly. It reminded Sarah of someone gauging the prospective value of a car or a piece of art. Not lascivious, but perhaps covetous.

Annoyed, she glanced at Jareth, expecting to see a flare of jealousy. If anything he looked merely amused in a condescending sort of way.

It stoked her irritation, so in a moment of pure spite she offered the stranger a bright smile.

Morrigan's head tilted towards the young fae. He swallowed noticeably at the goddess' attention, but he schooled his features and nodded after glancing back at Sarah one more time.

Cern, who'd been uncharacteristically silent, tossed his head back and muttered something under his breath. The youth immediately reddened and his determined mien wavered. He looked like he might speak, but Morrigan had already turned, voluminous skirts sweeping back as though even they didn't dare defy her, and left the library with the unshakeable conviction she'd be dutifully followed.

Jareth's hand dropped away in obvious irritation. But then he crossed the library and followed his formidable aunt out of the doors without a farewell.

The younger fae stepped aside to let him pass, acknowledging him with a nod. The Goblin King ignored him completely. He offered Sarah a bow before following in Jareth's wake. When she made to follow Cern shook his head. He snapped the doors shut behind him.

The confusing exchange had taken no more than a few minutes, but it left her more annoyed than before. And uncertain. The only one who had looked remotely pleased by whatever had taken place was Morrigan - insofar as the goddess of death ever looked remotely pleased by anything.

Sarah's skin where he'd had touched still prickled in hyper awareness, and she found herself irrationally missing his fingers splayed across her back. At the same time she felt an equally pressing desire to toss him to the cleaners for whatever game he was playing. Especially when she'd not yet had time to properly yell at him. She pressed a hand to her forehead, fingertips carding into her damp hair, and sank into the chair Jareth had vacated. In was still warm. The whole thing vexed her in the most perverse and contrary way, and cemented just how imperative it was for her to find a way back home. At home deception and intrigue led to billable hours, not fae pissing contests.

"Or whatever that was," she finished aloud.

"I've no idea either," replied the librarian sympathetically as he approached. "No one tells me anything."

Sarah offered him a wan smile.

His strange beard gave an immediate trill.

"Indeed. So many unexpected visitors today!" The librarian patted it affectionately, getting his hand stuck in a spoonful of what looked like honey that was incomprehensibly tucked into the knotted strands. "Oh, flibberdy gibbet." He shook his fingers free and then licked them. "I was saving the last of that for my evening tea."

Upon leaving she was surprised to almost immediately trip over a broom. And then another. And then another still. When she rounded the next corner, it looked as though every broom and dust brush in the land had been casualties in a great broom war. Perplexed, she carefully picked her way around each of the fallen soldiers and was therefore not prepared for the vase of the flowers that went sailing past her head to crash into the wall opposite. She yelped and jumped back, this time only narrowing dodging its twin and the entire rose bush that followed, its roots still clumped with dirt.

"What in the…" She heard several feet scurrying away, followed by angry whispers and what might have been the sound of a frying pan connecting with a skull.

Sarah turned in place, eyes darting about for more projectile plants. When nothing more took flight she made her way to the doors leading to the terraced gardens. She hadn't quite let her guard down, but was still unprepared for the moment her feet left the ground and she was swept unceremoniously into the spindly arms of a goblin. A goblin decidedly too small to carry her.

"What… a… blooming... honour!" the tiny creature grunted and wheezed under the strain; something in his knees cracking horrible. Unfortunately for them both, he missed the second step down and they ended up in a sprawl just over the threshold. Before she could demand an explanation, not to mention check if he'd be crushed the poor thing, she saw his feet being dragged back through the doorway with alarming speed. The doors shut and this time the muffled sound of cast iron meeting bone was unmistakable.

Sarah stood stiffly and dusted herself off warily. She began to wonder if the goblins had decided to try and outright assassinate her. They'd certainly expressed a litany of grievances against her at the court, perhaps old wounds had reopened.

The heavy sack of coins that narrowly missed braining her a moment later lent credence to her suspicions. Her heart thundered in her chest, as it broke open at her feet, spilling gold and what seemed to be tightly packed balls of lint, everywhere.

Her head tilted back to scan the parapets above. It was at that moment someone or something shoved a pillow case over her head. A very used, never washed pillow case judging by the smell. She spun blindly even as a small furry hand thrust a handful of coins down her bodice. Howling in outrage, she ripped the worn sack off to face her attackers. They had already vanished. She shook out her dress, the grubby coins clinking onto the garden steps.

"Whoever is doing this, stop it!" she ordered loudly. "Stop it right now!" She received no response.

She made it through the bowered entrance and into the gardens unmolested. The colourful space was already occupied by a large number of well-dressed guests. They greeted her politely. A few directed the same appraising looks as the young fae lord in the library, but none displayed the scorn she'd expected after the High Court and she began to breathe a little easier.

On a terrace of carefully manicured contrasting mosses, Reina and Reagan were hosting a live chess tournament. The pieces were being played by the guests themselves, and Rook was cheering raucously whenever one was taken. Largely because it seemed to involve more gratuitous hair-pulling and enthusiastic eye-gouging than any chess game she'd witnessed before. He gave her a friendly wave when he noticed her watching and Reina immediately motioned for Sarah to join them on the small judging dais where Dagda was already dozing. Sarah declined politely with an answering wave.

When she spied the lady Rhiannon amongst the match's spectators she immediately steeled herself for another confrontation. Instead she received nothing more than a small nod. It was all the more unsettling for its lack of venom. In fact, everyone she passed seemed to be enjoying the leisurely afternoon outdoors in their various pursuits, unbothered by the notable absence of their host. Whatever Jareth was doing, he'd apparently ensured his guests were well entertained in his absence.

When neither Jareth nor Cern or Morrigan joined them, Sarah made a few inquiries after Calliope and was finally directed by a bevy of seas nymphs splashing about in a garden fountain. By the time Sarah reached her, she was out of breath from the steep climb up the rock-hewn steps leading up the bluff.

The view, however, stole her breath completely. Sweeping azure seas stretched beyond the impossibly long horizon. It brought into stark relief that Sarah had really only seen an infinitesimally small portion of the lands over which Jareth apparently ruled. She swallowed thickly.

Though the sea was calm, the waters roiled against the rocks far below. Calliope was stretched along a flat slab of stone on her front, sunning herself in the midday heat. Her curtain of shining white hair spilled down her back to pool on either side of her. A thin scrap of iridescent cloth was wrapped around her waist, leaving the majority of her legs bare.

Sarah had no doubt she was already aware of her presence and she wasted no time. "Tell me what's going on. What's up with your cousin?"

The siren snapped one eye open sideways. "Lovely to see you today too. 'What… is… up'?" she tested the foreign expression experimentally. "A strange question when so many things could be up. His ego? His hair? His prick when you give him that come-hither look you don't think you make."

"That's not what I meant." And then paused. "What look?"

"Not that one certainly," Calli replied without bothering to open her eyes again. "Right now I'd imagine you look more like a guppy. And there's nothing less fuckable than a guppy. I assure you."

"I mean that he keeps disappearing," Sarah pressed on, caught in that place between amusement and annoyance that she always found herself when dealing with Calliope. "With Morrigan and Cern."

"Oh that," Calli sounded bored. "Nothing exciting."

"Then why won't anyone tell me?"

Calli huffed and rolled over, showing that she'd been sunbathing topless. She tossed her the pearlescent hair over her shoulder to afford Sarah an unhindered view. "Aha. Now that look is eminently more enticing, my delectable little crayfish." She pointed. "Especially that little flush of red in those chewable cheeks. So deliciously warm-blooded."

Sarah was by no means a prude and had seen many other women nude in gym locker rooms and the like, but Calli was sex on legs… with a few delicate fins and preternaturally sharp teeth.

"Now what say we forget about silly Goblin Kings, and get you out of those clothes and into my arms?" The siren's melodic tones coiled around Sarah's limbs like silken tethers. Her knees turned liquid and her eyes fluttered shut against the bright sun. Sun that would feel so much better against her bare skin.

Sarah swatted at the empty air between in annoyance. "Stop that! It's been a very confusing day as it is. Disappearing bedrooms. Pissing contests in the library. Broom sticks everywhere. Flying flower pots. Coins shoved down my cleavage."

Calli blinked at her slowly. "I understood virtually none of what you just said. Is it some mortal riddle? I do enjoy your tongue twisters. Twisting tongues out too now that I think of it."

"Never mind. Just how many ships have you sunk with that little act, anyway?"

A clawed finger pressed to her lips. "I never kill and tell."

"You really are the worst, you know?" But her tone was light, perhaps even affectionate. Sarah was confident she was never in any real danger from the siren. She sank down carefully onto the pleasantly warm rock beside her, wincing only slightly.

"Such lies," Calli scoffed. She stretched and crooked an arm restively beneath her head. "I am decidedly the best, but alas you shall never knows since you are determined to be more frigid than a northern sea current. I suppose its back to my cousin and 'what is up' with him."

Sarah folded her skirts beneath her and waited expectantly, trying very hard not to stare when Calli absently toyed with a pale purple nipple tipping one of her exquisitely perfect breasts.

"Why don't you just ask him what is up?"

"I haven't had the chance." She hoped her tone didn't sound bitter.

Calli tittered in a way that said it had. "It sounds like that's really the problem then, hmm? You miss him."

Sarah blustered, "I do not."

"You do. And it's adorable. Or disgusting. I haven't quite decided. Nothing else explains how you can possibly resist me right now. In my element no less. And on a Tuesday!" From anyone else it might have sounded arrogant or vain, but from Calli it was little more than bald honesty.

"You know what he's doing though. You implied as much yesterday. And the Cern did this morning. But you're not telling me for some reason."

"Mayyyybbbe. Foolish males. Wait… you saw Cern?" Her eyes glinted in realization. "No… were you the tart in the stables? Hades take me," she laughed in delight. "Jareth's going to skin him. Or Morrigan."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Sarah lied. Poorly. "Anyway, I'm asking you because I thought we were friends." She found she actually meant it.

"How charmingly mortal. Shall we braid each other's hair now? Is that what you and Cern did?" She tapped her chin with a claw. "The question is what hair and where?"

Sarah ignored the bait. "I didn't ask to be here. And I think I have a right to know."

"Not everything is about you, my prickly little sea urchin… although, now that you mention it, this is in fact about you." She waved a hand. "Carry on."

At the pointed silence, Calli huffed and sat up. "Fine if you're going to pout about it. Perhaps you should ask who 'he's doing' and why." She flashed Sarah a mischievous wink, rose in one fluid movement and dove gracefully off the ledge into the treacherous waves below.

Sarah craned her neck to watch as the siren's her long hair and pale limbs became one with the foam in a few graceful strokes There was no doubt in her mind that Calli had made the comment to be purposively oblique. Maybe even provoke a jealous response. And it was hard not to immediately think of the nymph she'd found in his bed. Monogamy, though not unpracticed by the fae, was by no means expected.

Not that she cared of course. No, never that.

Sarah glowered and toed some of the loose shale into the waters below. "God, I really hate this family." She kicked some more when she realized she would have to climb all the way down again.

When she made it back to the castle, her body ached in all the wrong places and her stomach was grumbling in protest of the lunch she'd missed entirely. Someone had removed all the brooms and broken flower pots, and she made it to the private family dining room unscathed. The room was unsurprisingly empty given the hour, but a single place had been set as though she'd been expected.

Greedily, she lifted the elegant silver cloche only to find a single folded note and another of the dark roses in full bloom. Despite the woeful lack of sandwiches, she found herself sniffing the rose, its scent lightly spiced and its petals like velvet while she unfolded the thick. She immediately recognized the arrogant scrawl.

'I've been remiss. Allow me to make it up to you with a late lunch. Away from the castle. Join me at the stables at 3. A truce? Yours – J.'

There was a post script that added, 'As you are reading this, I know haven't eaten. You'll have to find another excuse… or a very good hiding spot. And I will come looking.'

AN: Freakin' November since the last update?! Never ever do the math!

This chapter should have been finished awhile ago but I kept ignoring it for a variety of life reasons. The good news is that in writing this chapter, I actually wrote about half of the next chapter in the process (one I've been excited to get to for awhile) and in addition to some much needed romance, it's largely of the smutty variety. About 3,000 words worth of lemony goodness (albeit no promises on fully unblocking the cock yet). Stay thirsty, my friends!

I'm sure you've gotten an idea what Jareth's been up to, and it will all come out in the next chapter if not. More on what the goblins are up to next chapter as well – I picked the Bog Mind in LFFL (well over a year ago) for this one and it's finally reached that part of the story.

In other news, I was super chuffed that this story won second place for Best WIP in the 2020 LFFL awards. Morrigan also earned third place for Best OC. Mavvy from A Fairy's Tale most deservedly won first place in that category, and if you haven't read that story, you need to immediately. BustedBrain very kindly let me play with Mavvy in chapter 12. She's an absolute delight of a foul-mouthed fairy. Go read her story now. We are spoiled with so many awesome stories by so many talented authors in this fandom.

Side note: I've noticed that at some point I switched from fey to fae in this story. Both are accepted spellings but I will endeavour to commit to one and stop being such a slut-bag.

On a serious note. I hope you all are well and are taking care of your general well-being. Both mentally and physically. I've admittedly been feeling the sting of 2021 and wasn't keeping the best tabs on myself. I was already feeling a little stressed by various things in life, but then just over a week ago we lost our 7 year old giant beast of a dog, Loki, quite suddenly. I won't go into the specifics but I wasn't prepared for gaping hole he left in our lives. We brought him home as a puppy and he's grown up alongside my kiddos. He's the same age as my middle one (they even used to share a baby swing). The house is too quiet. I miss stroking his fur. The kids are devastated. My H is a wreck. In the fear of the pandemic, losing him never even crossed my mind. But that seems to be the theme of 2021.

Tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. Do it right now. Be sappy for a hot minute. Cuddle your furry ones. Be well. Stay safe. Find joy in small things. The answer is 42. Don't give up and always bring your towel.