AN: You knew it was coming. A leopard can't change its spots… blah, blah, blah. It's still a tremendously big step forward for the idiots.

Hopefully you'll have forgiven me by next chapter.


"Never go to bed angry. Stay up and fight."

Phyllis Diller


Sarah teetered on the edge. It was no longer a question of if she was going to fall, but which way. It would have been easier if he'd not stopped to ask her; they could have just ravaged each other silently. Words, like feelings, only complicated things.

Her hand cupped his cheek. He immediately leaned into it, unravelling her all the more by making her touch something somehow precious. She rose to kiss him and recapture the mindless fervour that had swept them away from all doubt, but he drew back and snared her wrist. He was not going to make it easy on her, she realized. As much as he wanted her he'd decided it would be on his terms. All of her or nothing. To ensure she couldn't take back later and blame it on mindless lust. Tension was radiating off of him in waves. Say your right words…

She would, of course, never get the chance.

A loud crack sounded and Jareth's head shot up to look across her shoulder. Just as quickly she was being roughly shoved behind him.

Sarah peered around him, her face flushing in mortification as she realized they were no longer alone. Behind his back, she desperately tried to fit the sodden bodice back into place over her breasts.

His fervour had not abated, only changed. If she'd thought he'd been murderous over the mushy peas, it was nothing to the fury now. If she touched him again, she imagined she would burn.

Morrigan, Cern, Calli, and a finely dressed stranger stood at the edge of the lake. The goddess was garbed in a stiff, regal gown of unrelenting black. Pieces of polished ebony armour were intertwined in the heavy fabric, giving the impression she was poised for battle. Her expression was just as implacable, with her familiar perched stoic and unblinking on her shoulder.

For his part, Cern looked decidedly uncomfortable to be there. Perhaps even remorseful. He scrubbed the back of his neck and kept his eyes focussed on the water.

Calli didn't bother to hide how absolutely delighted she was to glean exactly what they'd interrupted, and just as keen to let it continue. "Let's come back later, shall we?" she suggested merrily to the group. "Give them a few."

"Can I not have even one afternoon?" Jareth snarled, and for a moment Sarah thought he was going to attack them physically.

"Hush, boy," Morrigan replied coolly. "You know how this works."

"You're killing him," Cern protested. "Have you not had enough?"

She silenced him again with a flinty look.

The stranger ignored the family squabble and kept his eyes trained on the Goblin King even as he addressed the goddess. "I was under the impression she hated him." Sarah thought she recognized him as part of Rhiannon's clan though she couldn't be sure.

Cern placed a friendly hand on his shoulder. "As you can see she does not. It is not too late to withdraw your claim, Aodhán."

Aodhán jerked him off irritably, and only stared harder at Jareth. "I lay my challenge."

Morrigan's expression remained guarded. "Blood is owed."

Jareth threw his head back, breath whistling through clenched teeth. "You really are a cold-hearted bitch. You never forgave her. You can't punish her, so I'll suffice? Is that it?"

Sarah's eyes widened at the unexpected scorn in his tone. The bitterness. She couldn't imagine anyone speaking to the goddess of death that way. Even Calli looked momentarily quelled.

Morrigan didn't acknowledge her nephew's harsh words, instead cocking a brow. "Your mind must be addled, boy. Blood is owed."

Jareth stared at this great aunt for a long moment, his whole frame growing taut like a cord about to snap. And then his shoulders sank in resignation. He waded through the water to the shore.

"Wait!" Sarah clutched at him desperately. She had a sudden visceral feeling that something bad was going to happen. "Where are you doing? What's going on?"

Jareth disentangled her; his head slanting to the side but not fully turning. "I will see you later." A muscle ticked in his cheek when he looked back towards his cousin. "Should it come to it, you know what to do, Calli."

The siren nodded solemnly. She didn't make any glib comments and her ethereal face had turned uncharacteristically grave. That chilled Sarah more than any of the words spoken.

"What's going on?" She demanded again, her question ending in a nervous laugh. "Why won't anyone tell me?"

No one acknowledged her. Aodhán took the opportunity to peruse her now that Jareth had moved away, his gaze coolly assessing. Sarah felt naked in the wet dress, which was not far from the truth. The silk clung to every curve and the soaked bodice was almost completely transparent, the roses now out of place and doing little to disguise her breasts. She wrapped her arms around herself self-consciously.

"You must be worth it, I suppose," he remarked cryptically. "This game you're playing… You're either very stupid or very cunning-"

A hand shot up and gripped his throat, cutting off whatever else he might have said.

"You don't speak to her," Jareth grated through bared teeth. He squeezed. "You don't even look at her. This is between us. You've wanted this for a long time."

Morrigan snapped her fingers. Cern looked annoyed by the command, but he dutifully pulled his cousin back.

Aodhán laughed hoarsely, massaging his throat. "I'll being doing much more than looking by sundown if that's the best you've got. I'd heard you were spent." His eyes flicked again to Sarah speculatively. Sarah ducked down into the water self-consciously, which only made him laugh harder. "I didn't see the appeal before now, but I think I'll keep her too. At least until I grow bored." He gestured to his throat. "For this indignity alone."

Cern gave him a sharp jab to make him move before the Goblin King could lunge again. He was still laughing to himself as he disappeared through the ruins. Cern followed as a buffer between them.

Calli watched them go and then turned back to Sarah, her face brightening, and winked. She made an O shape with one hand and then a threading motion with the other in the universal sign for 'getting some'. The subsequent motions she made, however, were rather more complicated.

Sarah, still crouched in the water shivering, blinked at her. "Wait… hold on, what was the second thing you did?"

"Oh, my sweet summer child, I forgot. I would have to remove your spine to show you firsthand, though I assure you it would be worth it."

"Calliope!" Morrigan warned. "Run along, you oversexed tadpole."

The siren pouted prettily. "But I thought I'd offer to finish her off. As a kindness really. Jareth's left her all worked up and all alone."

Another more lethal look from Morrigan had Calli skipping off into the bushes.

Alone with the formidable goddess, Sarah rose from the water awkwardly and approached the shore, still clutching the dress around herself carefully. Fresh mortification swept through her as she pulled herself back onto dry land, but it was second to the burning curiosity at what had just transpired. So similar to the library.

"I…" she began, intending to apologize, but it died in her throat. She owed no one explanations. Nor did she think the goddess particularly cared for empty sorries and false meekness. Sarah was embarrassed… but she wasn't sorry. "Is this where you send me back to my room, off to bed while the adults have their private conversation?"

Morrigan's pale brow rose but she didn't comment on Sarah's foolhardy bravado. "No. This is where I tell you what happens now, since my foolishly proud nephew will not. And before he gets himself killed. Contrary to what he may believe, I do not want the petulant boy's blood. Yet."

Sarah shivered in a way that had nothing to do with the water, taken aback by the frankness of the goddess's words and by her acerbity. No one ever seemed to speak earnestly.

Morrigan's gaze turned stony. "I also believe the one at fault should know what she wrought."

Perhaps a little less frank would be nice.

"Excuse me?"

"Oh, it's far too late for excuses, my girl."

"That's not what I… never mind. If this is about the wedding…" And then something clicked into place, though the puzzle itself was not complete. "It's not about the wedding is it?" He'd only begun disappearing after the court. But she'd lost… hadn't she?

Morrigan waited silently.

"Are they…" she glanced in the direction Jareth had left. "They are going to fight, aren't they? Something about challenges and blood owed." She took Morrigan's lack of response as confirmation.

Sarah's face screwed up in disbelief. "Over me?"

"Do not imagine yourself so beguiling," the goddess sneered. "Whatever weakness Jareth may have for you."

The sting was tempered by relief. "But when you said I somehow at fault…" She deflated slightly. "I made him appear weak in the court. I said he was unfit."

"You are not as stupid as your kind looks."

"So he's being challenged, isn't he? For the throne? His kingdom and his power?"

The goddess did not deny it.

"And by extension, me."

"Not all would have you, but some might. By showing your will in the court you've made yourself something of an oddity. Those who covet power would hold it at any means. I've no doubt some wouldn't mind taking you to their beds out of curiosity or spite."

Sarah's stomach sank. "And I would have no say in it?"

"You could say whatever you like. Assuming they let you keep your tongue." Morrigan folded her hands and for the first time Sarah thought the goddess might indeed be capable of pity. Even for her. Which was in no way comforting. If the goddess of death pities you…

"You imagine mortals to have more rights than they do here. My nephew should have disabused of that notion. He's left you vulnerable. Defeat him and they are entitled to all that is currently his. Including you."

"I'm not his," Sarah bristled.

Morrigan regarded her dispassionately. "Let me speak more plainly since you are determined to waste my time."

Sarah wasn't entirely sure she wanted her to.

"Whatever you may think of Jareth, and I begin to think it is not so indifferent as I once supposed, he is by far the lesser of all the evils. You had best hope he wins again."

"And exactly how many times has this happened?"

The goddess's eyes bled crimson, and for a moment her face was transformed into a horrifying contortion of pure, unadulterated hunger. Powerful in its grotesque beauty. The goddess of death was in her element. "The blood flows."

Sarah could feel the tendrils of power licked at her like barbed tongues, but her heart thudded painfully. "Then I have to stop it. How do I stop it?"

Morrigan's eyes faded back to normal and she shuddered for a moment, like a beast had just been put back in its cage.

Sarah was shaking too. "I didn't ask for this. It is not fair to lay this at my feet." She ran a trembling hand through her tangled hair. Resentment coloured her words. "Why didn't he tell me?"

"Pride no doubt. I do not begin to understand his actions in this."

"Then why are you telling me?" Sarah stilled. "Why now?"

The goddess said nothing immediately, but an emotion that was out of place flickered briefly across her face.

"You… you believe he might not win this time." Resentment turned to worry. "Why not? Tell me."

Morrigan's eyes darkened again and it occurred to Sarah she was not at all used to receiving orders. Least of all from mortals.

"Please," Sarah tempered her demand.

"Magic is not finite," the goddess replied finally. "He is tired and has not had proper time to replenish. The iron has taken its toll, though it would have been worse had… Well. Those who can see through glamour will know it. Aodhán knows it. He's waited until now to issue his challenge for this very reason. He's from a very old family and his lineage is strong. He knows his chances are greatest. His house is aligned with Rhiannon's," she added pointedly.

"What… glamour?" Sarah's brow furrowed. "Why can't they wait then? It's not fair." But that was the point, and Sarah knew that lesson well. "Will you take me to them?"

Morrigan shook her head stiffly. "That I may not."

For the second time Sarah did something not even other gods had dared do. She turned her back on the goddess and ran.

Morrigan watched her go before vanishing with a crack. She'd eviscerated people for less.

But not today. Not today.

Rucking up her water-logged skirts up, Sarah ran barefoot through the brush, uncaring that she'd lost her shoes in the lake. Or that the ground was unforgiving on her tender flesh. Whatever she might think of Jareth, and on that score she was herself unsure, her mind was solely focussed on the goddess's insinuation.

He might not win.

When she broke through the trees again, she found Calli perched on a broken foundation stone picking at her claws expectantly.

"Calli!" Sarah threw herself at the siren gratefully.

She caught her easily. "Why, Sarah, I've been waiting for you to come to your senses and throw yourself into my arms."

Sarah shucked her off. "Not now, Calli. Please take me to them."

The siren hopped off the stone gracefully, her mien changing almost immediately. "Told you, did she? I wasn't sure if she would."

"Then you'll take me?"

"Afraid not." Calli at least had the grace to sound apologetic. "Silly blood pacts."

Sarah whirled away in frustration, before she spun back again. "What did he mean then, when he told you 'you know what to do'?"

Calli winced. "Ah. Are you sure you don't want to have a tumble in the grass first? I am much better at fucking than giving bad news."

"Calli!" Sarah shook her. "Be serious."

"I am serious. I cannot take you to him. I swore an oath. But I suppose since it's all finally out in the open, what he meant was I am to take you home. Back to your world."

Sarah's hands fell away in shock. "R-really?"

The siren nodded, which wasn't as reassuring as a promise of that nature should have been. "If he loses. When the bond between you severs, and before a new one can be forged."

"Then he… then he thinks might lose too?" It somehow seemed impossible. He was so bloody arrogant. So terribly self-assured.

"He's wise enough to know it is a possibility. The challenges have been relentless since... well." The siren had the tact not to finish. "But don't discount him yet. Even down, he's formidable if I know my cousin."

"That stupid idiot," Sarah exhaled. She suddenly want to scream at how needlessly complicated everything was between them.

"Most men are, darling," Calli commiserated. "Why do you think I usually save myself the trouble and just eat them?"

"Then help me stop this and just take me to them. Don't you want to save him?"

"Of course! I have feelings. Even if most of them involve sex or eating. The question is do you?" Calli eyed her cannily. "This could be way your way out. Your only way out."

Sarah's retort died on her tongue. It was true. If he won, nothing would change anyway. If he lost, she at least would be free. She could do nothing, which was apparently what he wanted anyway, and still go home. Her resolve shattered. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!"

"My sentiments exactly. But I take it you mean to try and save him," Calli beamed.

"Only so I can kill him myself." She found she was only partially-joking.

Calli placed a clawed hand over one of her two hearts. "I am so proud."

"Well then?" Sarah exclaimed expectantly.

"I still can't take you. I am bound." This time the siren sounded truly disheartened. "But… I also can't stop you from leaving and heading back to the castle, especially if I were to turn my head and look this way for a moment. Oh, what a lovely tree over there. Reminds me how the lower lawn below-the terraced-gardens-on-the-left-wing-of-the castle-just-north-of-the-stables-and-next-to-the-reflecting-pool is particularly lovely at sunset."

Sarah stared at her incredulously and then she took off at another run, back down the winding path - uncaring this time as the branches slashed across her face with stinging accuracy.

She found the phaeton where'd they left it, but then spun in spot hopelessly. Sticking two fingers into her mouth, she blew. Nothing save spit. She tried again, sounding closer to a broken kazoo. The third time was no better.

She tried snapping her fingers and banging on the side of the phaeton with the flat of her hand.

Nothing.

"Here horsey, horsies… er, kelpy, kelpies?" she called desperately. "Please come back! Your master needs you. I promise to find and feed you a few people who deserve it."

Whether it was the feebleness of her plea or her morally bereft enticement of a meal, the sound of something thundering through the trees towards made her heart leap in hope.

The kelpies came to a sharp halt before her, almost taking her down in their haste. They danced in place, tossing their heads wildly.

"Oh, thank you," Sarah clapped her hands gratefully. "You are wonderful, terrifying beasties."

They stared down at her dubiously, unimpressed with her words. She looked at the complicated rigging resting on the phaeton doubtfully, and came to the conclusion she had no idea how to hitch them again. She came to the even more startling conclusion that she would in fact have to ride one immediately.

That presented yet another problem. They towered above her. Nor did they seem inclined to bend the knee no matter how she tried to coax them to do so by helpfully miming it for them. She wasn't sure if horses could snort in laughter but kelpies appeared to have the ability.

Swearing profusely, she managed to herd them closer to the phaeton. She then awkwardly pulled herself up onto the seat to stand. Very cautiously, having left her dignity at the door, she threw herself bodily onto the bony back of one.

It bucked in annoyance under the sudden shock of her sprawled landing, and for a brief moment Sarah was certain she'd be thrown right back off onto the rocks and bramble below. When the kelpie finally settled, she managed to swing a leg over its back, sodden skirts bunching up awkwardly around her thighs, and clutched its mane. A few more laboured movements and she managed to situate herself into a position that was vaguely rider-like. Surely even Tommy Whelan would be proud.

Sarah patted the kelpie's skeletal head and cooed. "Thank you for not killing me. Don't eat me and I promise never to do this to you again. Now… Please take me back to the castle? To Jareth? As fast you can."

The kelpie pawed the ground with a lethal looking hoof but didn't move.

She swung her bare feet back, kicking lightly, and then screamed outright when the kelpie immediately set off at breakneck speed. The sinewy muscles bruised her thighs as it tore through the trees. She clutched more fistfuls of its mane. Jareth has apparently restrained them to a leisurely pace. Without the added weight of the phaeton and its two passengers, and without anything resembling guidance from her, the kelpie had already blown through the orchard. The other kelpie kept an even pace, breathing heavily at her rear and reminding her that should she fall she'd find herself trampled beneath it.

Sarah had learned quickly to duck her head alongside the kelpie's, lest she be sling-shotted off by the low-hanging branches. Pure adrenaline and sheer dumb luck, rather than any sort of skills, kept her fixed to its back. It was the only reason she was still upright when they crested the hill overlooking the labyrinth. And the only reason she was still astride when the kelpie, clearly understanding her better than she'd thought or perhaps being more loyal to its master than she gave it credit, delivered her right to the Goblin King.

Jareth didn't notice her at first, focussed as he was on circling his opponent, sword in hand. They'd obviously delayed long enough for Jareth to change from his wet clothes. He was dressed all in black; his shirt uncharacteristically done right up to his throat. He wore gloves again and a spiked epaulet encased his unarmed shoulder.

Relief washed over her that she was not too late. Cern watched the duel from a position of prominence, arms folded behind his back and his expression grim. So did half the castle. Benches had been set up around the marked area on the lawn, and they were filled with wedding guests and goblin citizens watching the fight like it was entertainment put on solely for their enjoyment. Torches had been lit at intervals in anticipation of the fading light.

She wanted to screech at the lot of them. To their credit, many looked decidedly more concerned than entertained. Several had begun to whisper at her arrival, their heads – beautiful and ugly alike - turning in succession. She imagined she made quite the spectacle herself. Bedraggled and half-dressed, gown crumpled up around her waist and astride the slavering kelpie, with another beside her.

The change amongst the guests registered with Jareth and he looked up, eyes widening at the sight. It proved enough distraction for Aodhán to press his advantage, his blade sinking deeply into Jareth's side.

Sarah screamed, but it was drowned by the guttural roar of pain from the Goblin King. He recovered just enough to deflect the next punishing blow.

Sarah awkwardly pushed herself off the kelpie's back, and might have landed on her face had Cern not crossed the space to catch her. He righted her before slapping the kelpies on the flanks to send it away back to the stables, and then turned his attention back to the duel. He kept a steadying hand on Sarah's upper arm though she suspected it more to stop her from doing something rash rather than to support.

"You have to stop this," she whispered beseechingly. "Look at him." Because look she had, beginning to understand what Morrigan had meant by glamour. He was alarmingly pale, even for him and his expression was strangely pinched. His normally lithe movements were stilted and circumspect – economical and by necessity.

It was nothing to the duel she'd witnessed with Cern. No flourishes or exhibition of skill, instead pure savagery.

There were marks on his exposed skin - the little which was visible – his choice of clothes no doubt by design to hide the wounds he'd sustained and which had not fully healed.

"We all see, Sarah," Cern replied in a clipped tone. It belatedly sank in that Jareth had probably stopped the glamour himself to conserve his strength.

Her heart thudded anew and her eyes swept over the guests with scorn. "Why are they all just sitting there… watching this… this!?"

"Aodhán chose this. He wanted them to see. It isn't always public. The challenger's choice."

It was another reminder that this was far from the first. It had been going on, seemingly nonstop since she'd tried to publicly end their ill-fated union. She would unpack her own potential culpability later.

"He wanted them to see because he felt assured he would win."

Sarah surged forward but Cern jerked her back.

"Would you shame him further by running in there and declaring him too weak to fight?" His hold relaxed marginally. "My duty is to watch and ensure it is fair." The underlying behave yourself was implicit.

Sarah felt like a naughty school child being admonished. She also felt guilt that was difficult to parse beneath the weight of her festering resentment. She hadn't asked for it. Not for any of it. And yet the weight of it fell like a mantle across her shoulders.

Cern shook her slightly. "No, don't shrink. Don't you dare. You are here now. Use this to our advantage."

Our. The word felt foreign but somehow reassuring. She looked around and saw that attention was divided between the opponents intent on killing each other and her unusual arrival.

"They have no idea that you weren't aware of the other ones," Cern hissed, his eyes fixed on the fight. "The fact you arrived in such a panic and in such a state has sent a message today. They will think you care." The final statement was lifted, suggesting a question.

"I had no idea because no one told me." She hoped the accusation was clear in her tone, and if not, in her expression.

His sharp eyes narrowed. "Not by my choice, I assure you."

The sudden sound of swords clashing not far from her startled her before she could reply. Jareth grunted as he held off Aodhán's swift attack. One gloved hand came up to brace his wrist. She could see his arms quiver under the strain. His eyes flickered over to her above the crossed swords, but he was careful not to be distracted again. And then he was spinning away, a booted foot coming up to kick Aodhán back again.

Aodhán grunted and stumbled back, having taking it in this ribs. His expression turning ugly as he swore at the Goblin King. Both circled again, taking a moment to regain their breath and size up any weaknesses.

Calli joined them. No doubt intending on fulfilling her oath to Jareth and whisking Sarah away if needed. She still couldn't understand why no one would put a stop to it all. Rook and his parents were amongst the crowd. Lugh and Boudicca too. Dag was snoring beside them in his perennially dusty robes.

All the while she'd been kept in the dark. Anger clouded her mind for a moment.

Rhiannon was also present, though she didn't look as delighted by the affair as Sarah would have expected. In fact, quite the opposite. She was whispering to the lady by her side.

Sarah pulled again on Cern's arm. "Surely, there is a way to stop this."

"Perhaps once this is finished," he eyed Sarah speculatively. "But Aodhán was within his rights to stake a claim, and Jareth must see this to the end. Whatever end it may be."

Once again the fae lord in question managed to drop beneath the king's defences and land another slicing strike to his muscled thigh. Sarah saw the king's pants split beneath the blade, blood welling from the torn pale skin revealed below. Jareth grunted in pain and fell to one knee but he avoided the twin, which surely would have surely been a killing blow.

The more Sarah watched the more she realised that Jareth was focussed almost solely on defence. His few attacks were weak, almost glancing by comparison to Aodhán's power. Bloodlust was evident in both of their faces - all finesse was gone. They merely wanted to tear each other apart. And Aodhán seemed to be doing a better job of it.

"They are fighting with iron," Sarah asked flatly. Morrigan had said as much. And she remembered Rhiannon's reaction to the blade in the hunt. "Aren't they?"

Cern nodded.

Sarah swallowed, her eyes tracking Jareth's disjointed movements. His breathing was laboured. "And it will be to the death?"

"It's to first blood."

Hope welled…

"But Aodhán has not accepted it, as you can see. So now, yes, it is to the death."

… And was dashed.

Every cut would weaken his further. "And he's been wounded before. Not fully recovered..."

Cern said nothing, but a betraying muscle ticked in his cheek. And then his eyes flicked down. "He doesn't blame you."

She studied his expression and then her eyes flitted over his family. The ones he had entrusted to meet. Rook looked wan-faced as Jareth withstood another slanting blow across the back. She did not think he was so eager to see this death.

"He might not," she whispered.

"Don't fall apart on me now. Tears of regret won't help him."

"I am not crying." Not here. Not where they could all see.

The hunter searched her face. "You're not, are you?" If anything she looked livid. Determined.

"How do I stop it?"

"Now you begin to ask the right questions," he replied. And then more gravelly. "I only wish I knew the answer."

She worried her hands. "What if… if I throw myself between them?"

"You'll end up dead at best. At worst you'll get Jareth killed trying to protect you. Do you not think it would destroy him if his blade took you?" He gestured. "He's slow. His reactions are dull. Imprecise."

To her eye, he was still preternaturally fast but it was clear he was lagging compared to his opponent. That he was making more errors. Sarah wanted to scream in frustration at the impossibility of it all.

Like defeating the labyrinth had been impossible...

Sarah moved towards the combatants, shrugging Cern off when he tried to stop her again.

Aodhán and Jareth broke apart again. This time Aodhán managed to sweep a leg out from under Jareth, sending him sprawling into the dirt. Aodhán pressed his advantage and lunged down, Jareth just managing to hold him back from his neck with an upswept blade.

Aodhán grinned across at her and blew a mocking kiss.

Sarah glared at him from the edge of the boundary. "I wouldn't have you if the choice was between you and the pit of no bottom."

"That can be arranged as soon as this is over, lady." He inflected the last like it was a mockery to call her such. He looked down at the Goblin King who was still holding back the attack from taking his head. "After I finish what he apparently started in the lake."

Jareth snarled.

"You may try but you know my will is strong." She said it loud enough for all to hear, the crowd on tether hooks at this new development. "And you know I beat him once. When I was still a child and he was at full strength." She looked him up and down and sneered like she found him wanting. "I didn't wait like a snivelling coward before making my move."

Aodhán bared his teeth at her.

Sarah laughed, though she found nothing humourous in any of it anymore. "You have no idea what I will do to you." And then she turned her attention to Jareth as though Aodhán didn't matter and they didn't have hundreds of eyes upon her, making sure he understood her meaning. "I would have found the right words. I would have said yes."

Beneath the pain and bloodlust she saw her meaning penetrate. Jareth growled and managed to shuck Aodhán's weight from him. He still caught the tip of the blade across the face but he did nothing more than wipe the blood away. Coming to his feet, he feinted right and swung about instead on the left, slicing clean through the muscle in Aodhán's shoulder.

Aodhán screamed in pain, his arm hanging limp and uselessly. He was far from beaten, however and not nearly as weakened as Jareth. He merely switched hands and went on the attack again.

Exhausted though he was, Jareth was ready, adrenaline surging. Sarah realized that Jareth had also been studying his moves. His slow defence had been as much as about conserving strength as it had been about learning tells. He used Aodhán's forward momentum to drive his blade straight through his stomach where he may have lacked the power himself.

Aodhán went down hard, shock writ across his beautiful face as he rolled defensively onto his back. Jareth kicked his sword away and pulled his own free with a sickening squelch. It was not a death blow but it was a severely debilitating one. Before Aodhán could rise, Jareth ground a heeled boot down into the wound. The fae lord's face contorted in agony.

Morrigan stepped forward. Sarah realized she'd been watching from the shadows. "Do you accept first blood?"

Without answering Jareth sliced through his throat. Firelight from the torches cast the planes of his face into a vicious barbaric mask.

Sarah turned away, pressing the back of fleshly part of her palm into her mouth, almost retching at the sight.

When she looked back Jareth was still standing over him, dragging in ragged breaths, his own body covered in sweat and blood. Both his and Aodhán's.

Morrigan stood beside him, her face cast upwards and her hands spread to receive her tribute of death.

Cern declared a winner to thunderous applause. The highborn lords and ladies had been treated to more spectacle than they'd been promised. The grisly sight did not faze them.

Calli placed a comforting hand on Sarah's shoulder. "Looks as though you won't be going home."

"Yet," Sarah replied by rote, as much for herself as for the siren. She kept her eyes averted from the body, gorge still rising.

Cern turned his attention back to Sarah, ducking his head and lowering his voice under the guise of kissing her cheek in congratulations. "Well done. Now show all who watch why they should not challenge him again. He won't make it through another."

"How?" she hissed, but Cern had already pulled away to begin arranging the removal of the body with Aodhán's grim-faced entourage, with whom stood a grim-faced Rhiannon. Several were looking daggers at the distracted Goblin King.

Without thinking Sarah did the first thing that came to mind and closed the distance to throw her arms around Jareth. He grunted in pain but his hands came up automatically to clasp her back. The sword dropped limply from his hand. He reeked of sweat, blood and death and something sickly sweet. She pressed her mouth to his anyway, tasting the copper of his spilled blood on his lips. He returned the kiss hungrily.

She pulled back but kept her hands on him as lightly as she could, mindful of his many injuries, but feeling the slew of curious eyes upon her.

"What a show you put on! Next time don't play with him so much just to make me worry," she chided playfully, though her stomach still roiled at what she'd witnessed.

Surprise flashed in Jareth's frenzied eyes, but he caught on quickly and his fingers rose to pinch her chin, leaving a smear of blood. "It was all worth it to see you so very worried for me, Sarah mine."

She felt truth in his words beneath the show, and shiver of something wanton made her tremble. Which way to fall…

Before she could say more, Jareth sagged into her suddenly with too much weight, almost knocking her off-balance. He was far heavier than he looked.

Keen-eyed Cern had already jogged over to clap him hard on the back, covering the stagger by adding to it. "Not to interrupt this touching moment, but we have matters to discuss about tomorrow's events." He hooked his arm around Jareth's middle in a show of brotherly camaraderie. Sarah realized Jareth had been about to collapse completely.

Lugh approached to clasp his own arm around Jareth's other side. "You owe me ten barrels of your best Goblin Ale." He hiccoughed. "Though I may have started without you. Shall we crack another barrel while Cern bores us to tears with his silly plans? Why you made him lord of festivities, I'll never know. Stab this and stab that." He hiccoughed again just as gregariously. "What happened to a good old fashion week of orgies?"

"You're already drunk, Lugh," Boudicca japed. "Do go easy on him, cousin. You seem to be in fine fighting form tonight. How you managed to drag that out so masterfully I'll never know. You should take to the stage in tomorrow's festivities."

"I am ever a bastion of restraint," Jareth smiled wryly, though his mouth fell slack again almost immediately.

They managed to keep him upright back to the castle with Lugh disguising Jareth's weakness by manufacturing a drunken stumble here or there as needed. Cern added to it by castigating him for his sloppiness and threatening to flay him if he spewed on their boots anytime anyone else approached the trio.

Sarah watched them leave numbly. Boudicca trailed at a distance, but she caught her eye first and nodded in an unmistakable sign of respect. She skillfully intercepted anyone willing to risk Lugh's stomach to speak to the king.

How Sarah managed her way back to the castle she wasn't quite sure. She fielded her own share of well-wishers, seemingly intent on ferreting out details of the spectacle. Had she demanded he risk himself as a show of devotion or had he skillfully fooled her into worrying over him so she would reveal her feelings?

When she finally made it back to the master suite, not knowing where else to go, Jareth wasn't there. She'd been expected, however, and someone had laid out a tray of dinner for her. She was not remotely hungry. The late lunch, and more pressingly, the recent events had stolen any thoughts of food. She peeled off her ruined dress and took a long, scalding hot shower, her bruised muscles finally catching up to her as the adrenaline fled.

When she finally came back out, the room was still empty. She'd pulled on a lush, velvet robe in midnight blue. She was certain it was Jareth's, his scent still clinging to it faintly. It was comforting as much as unsettling. She'd barely curled tiredly into a chair to wait when Calli knocked at the door.

She clucked as she took in Sarah's wan expression. "Well, wasn't that was exciting?" She lifted the lid on the tray to inspect at the contents, before turning back to pat her on the cheek. "Oh, my poor little guppy, you do look worse for wear."

"Where is he?"

"Being tended to. Privately." And then more jovially she added, "What a marvelous performance you put on. You exceeded even my expectations. I can almost imagine you're in love with him."

"Please don't." Sarah whispered, her throat strangely constricted. "This is still a sham and I fully intend to go home. I just couldn't… not that way."

Calli sank into the chair opposite. "And yet you passed up you best opportunity to do so, hmm? Curious and curiouser."

"Don't read anything into it," Sarah snapped, though her words lacked force. "I didn't want him dead."

"He'll be thrilled to hear that," Calli replied dryly. "But I think you may want a touch more than that." She made another crass hand gesture. This one seemingly not requiring the removal of spines.

"It's more complicated than that."

"Isn't it always?" Calli tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Well, I mean not for me. But for you, yes." Then she cooed. "You've never seen death like that before, have you?"

Sarah shook her head weakly, unable to get the image of his torn throat out of her mind. Or the look of relish on the Goblin King's face.

It was her own reaction which had disturbed her the most, however. A startling thrill beneath the horror and disgust. "I'm not sorry he's dead though. And I didn't even know him," Sarah's voice sounded weak even to her own ears. "Does that make me awful? When it might have been my doing, even unintentionally?"

"First rule," Calli held up a claw-tipped finger, "is never, ever admit you're at fault. Most especially if you are. Second rule," she held up another and then stared at it bemusedly like she was surprised it had risen, "… actually I have never cared for rules. Forget what I said."

When her attempt at levity fell flat, she continued more seriously, "It's more complicated than that, as you say. Don't fret." Calli rose and crossed to a sideboard, returning with a small glass of bright amber liquid in a cut-crystal tumbler. "Drink this. Fiery whiskey. Sip slowly lest you lose your head."

Sarah took it but didn't taste it, her eyes roving over the space like she was only now realizing where she was. "Jareth said I could sleep where I want."

"My, my. Is that a proposition, my quivering little oyster? In his very room no less?" she flashed Sarah a scandalous look.

Sarah shook her head but the shadow of a smile crossed her face. "Not what I meant. And you know it."

"I know. But a siren can dream. You do look like you're ready to collapse anyway and I prefer a bit more life left in my partners. At least until I take it. Come see me when you can put up a fight, though I suspect, alas, you have chosen the lesser cousin as the repository of your complicated feelings of lust."

Sarah stared at her.

"But to address your question masquerading poorly as a statement of fact… where do you want to go? There are other rooms that could be made up if that's what you're angling for."

Sarah fretted her lip tiredly. "No, I suppose I shall stay here for now. I would imagine it might cause talk if I move to another room so soon after I-"

"Boldly saved his neck? It does lend credibility if you don't tuck and run now." Calli looked around critically. "It's a decent enough space but you know… I think I miss all the troll pornography. You should put that back." She turned back to Sarah. "Now that you've picked your poison. Company or alone? I promise to keep my fins to myself."

"Why are you so being kind to me?" Sarah shook her head, swirling the untouched liquid in her glass, her eyes widening as it sent up a faint puff of steam. "When you don't even know me?"

Calli looked momentarily taken aback by the unexpected question. "Jareth asked me to be, I suppose…" she began thoughtfully. "And I do adore the little snot despite all the ways he tries his hardest to be unlikeable. But… I've also rather come to enjoy you for yourself, and all the ways you try your hardest to be unlikeable."

Sarah snorted but it turned into a yawn. "Alone I think. I'm tired."

"Well, the good news is that no one expects to see you until tomorrow." She bopped Sarah on the nose in lieu of goodnight.

Once alone again, Sarah noticed that a fire had been lit by someone while she was in the shower. Perhaps the castle itself knew she needed it. She moved to the settee closest to it on and finally took a cautious sip of her drink. After choking on the intense burn, she took another. It tasted vaguely of cloves and cardamom, and once you got past the initial lava-like scorch to the throat, it warmed her from within far faster than the flames crackling in the grate. She took another sip. They were mesmerizing to look at in fact she found, and the longer she drank, the more they resembled the very namesake of the drink. Sarah stifled a deeper yawn. And then another. She could take the bed to herself she considered blearily, but that seemed like a concession she was not prepared to make, even given the events of the day. Maybe especially so. And it was so very far away all of a sudden…

Sometime later, through the coils of a deep sleep, she thought she caught voices in the dark; the fire having banked to nothing more than glowing embers. But the whiskey had done the trick and apart from an unfocused blink, she sank back into a dreamless sleep.

When she next woke, the first rays of dawn were filtering through the drawn curtains. Someone had covered her with a blanket at some point. The events of the evening played back through her mind in flashes. She sat up unsteadily to peer over the back of the settee to find she was no longer alone.

Jareth was breathing deeply from one side of the large bed, covers pulled to his waist. He'd evidently returned, or been returned, at some point in the night. His middle was heavily bandaged and he still looked unnaturally pale, even for him. The even rise and fall of his chest was reassuring at least and some colour had returned to his cheeks. Sarah adjusted her borrowed robe and padded over to the bed on tip toes to better study him.

Without the glamour in place and now shirtless, she could see the evidence of the healing wounds mottling his skin; some fresh, others older and fading from purple to yellow. The deepest ones were bandaged. His angular cheeks look flushed – like he was in the midst of fighting off a fever. Perspiration beaded on his brow making him almost look human in his vulnerability. Almost. It was impossible to forget how he'd efficiently dispatched Aodhán.

She reached out a hand to touch his forehead instinctively before pulling it back.

From beneath lowered lids, he rasped. "I do hope you're contemplating ravishing me."

Sarah jerked guiltily and then recovered with a wobbly smile she couldn't restrain. "No, but if I wanted to finish you off for good, I might just do it right now."

His eyes flickered opened at that. "I'm happy to hear that's the only reason you're not."

Sarah pulled a face, but fidgeted as all the words unspoken seem to fall between them. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Why didn't you take the bed?" he countered, shifting slightly to prop himself up against the pillows. She could tell he was still in pain though he was hiding it still. His voice was at least growing steadier.

"You know why," she whispered. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Jareth reached for the carafe of water beside the bed. Sarah moved to it first, filling one of the glasses and handing it to him. His finger brushed along hers as he took it. "It wasn't your fault, Sarah."

"I know." She snatched her hand back as though it burned worse than the whiskey. "You still should have told me."

"Perhaps," he demurred. And then he really looked at her, his eyes glassy from the fever but lit by something else altogether. "I think I may have underestimated you once again."

She took an unconscious step back, as much from his words as from the feelings they stoked in her. She busied herself with rearranging the blankets that in no way needed rearranging. "You're clearly very sick," she deflected. "Should I get someone?"

"Not sick enough not to notice you didn't choose to sleep with Slepinir in the stables."

She shrugged. "I was too tired to find another room." Not a lie.

"Or the bed apparently," he replied pointedly. And then he waved a hand when she didn't rise to the bait and instead continued to look concerned. "As delighted as I am to know you care, it's iron sickness, Sarah. Nothing more. It will pass. Nothing to do but wait as my magic replenishes and my body does the rest." He regarded her soberly. "I am very strong, Sarah. Despite what you might have seen."

"Unless you're challenged again," she bit back impatiently. "You realize this is all the more reason to end this… this foolishness right?" It wouldn't occur to her until later that it was pride speaking again; that he hated that she'd seen him so weakened.

She started pacing. "Declare me unfit as a bride and I won't contest. I won't contest it and once home," she swallowed down an unexpected pang, "everything can return to normal. For both of us. If you were my client I would advise you that this is in your best interests."

Jareth stared at her, and then sipped his water thoughtfully and considered her over the rim. "But I am not your client. I am your husband."

"You're not," she hissed.

His expression changed again, and his eyes swept over her with interest. "That's my robe, Sarah."

Sarah adjusted the belt self-consciously. "It was convenient."

"If you're not my wife, then you have no right to it. Convenient or not." Even with his fever bright eyes, his tone was coy – calculating. "In that case I should really insist you return it immediately."

"Try it." But she took a step back anyway. "I don't think you're in any position to put up much of a fight right now."

It was the wrong thing to say, as he immediately sat up and made to get out. When the covers dipped, she saw enough to glean that he had been put to bed naked.

Instead of retreating she closed the distance and physically shoved him back down into the pillows, her hands landing gingerly on his shoulders to avoid the worst of his wounds. She had to hitch a knee up onto the bed to reach him. "Don't! You'll tear something, you idiot!"

He covered her hands with his to hold her in place against him. "Cern's crude handiwork. Be thankful we don't scar."

She tugged fruitlessly. "Then behave like a good boy." Her voice came out a little huskier than she'd meant. His skin was so warm. From the fever, she reminded herself. Don't play with fire, Sarah.

"Answer my question and I'll let you go, like a good boy," he grinned at her unrepentantly.

She yanked again, harder this time. But a full night's rest and he'd regained enough strength to be stronger than her.

"Be serious."

His lips twitched. "Answer my question honestly and I'll be as serious as you like."

She scowled down at him, weighing her options before huffing a much put upon 'fine'.

"Did you mean it?" His hold tightened on her reflexively. "When you said you'd you would have said yes. Or was it just for show?"

She should have expected it. In fact, she'd perhaps expected something far worse, but it still managed to take aback. It had been so easy to say in the moment when it seemed to matter. Far more difficult in the light of day.

"Oh," her voice hitched tellingly. She was tempted to lie. Any concessions now would make it more difficult to leave. And she was more determined than ever to leave – for both their sakes. He was in the midst of a fever and may not even remember any of it. She wet her dry lips nervously, but met his glazed stare. "Yes. Yes, I meant it." In that moment.

He exhaled slowly, his chest sinking beneath her touch. His eyes glinted with something cunning again but he kept his promise and released her hand. One of them. The farther hand he kept tight against his heart.

She tugged on it impatiently. "I'm not answering anymore questions right now, Jareth."

"I'm not asking any." His voice rumbled against her palm. The beat of his heart had sped up.

"Stop," she warned. Though she wondered how forceful it could be when her voice quavered so tellingly.

"Kiss me and I'll let you go."

"Are you really in a position to be making demands of me right now?" she countered.

"Are you so cruel to deny a man in pain? It might make me feel better in fact."

"You're not a man."

"Even better."

Rather than argue with him, she ducked her head and pecked him on the lips quickly. So quickly it mostly landed on the corner. A platonic goodbye she'd give to an older relative.

"Enthusiastic as that was, I am afraid I'm not hurting there," he chided. Surprising her, he used his free hand to point to the wound on his arm.

Frowning at his audacity, she bent awkwardly and pressed her mouth lightly to the bandage. "Better?"

"Much." Then he indicated a faded bruise on his pectoral muscle. "Here as well."

Her lips threatened to defect into a grin, but she lowered her mouth regardless, hovering a little longer against his bare skin this time.

When she pulled back his eyes were hooded but intent. Wordlessly he pointed to a fresh looking bruise on his neck. She leaned into him, flicking the tip of her tongue over the mark to taste the salt of his skin. He made a raw, almost primal sound that had nothing to with pain. She knew he needed rest more than anything but she suddenly wanted nothing more than to make him do it again.

Which was why she needed distance. To forget the madness and find a way to fix everything. Remember that it was all a mistake.

Because it was, right? Impossible and will absolutely only lead to heartache.

Her hand on his chest flexed against his erratic pulse. He threaded this fingers with hers.

When she pulled back this time he was staring at her mouth. But he motioned to the bandage on his ribs, pointing to the bare skin just below the cloth strips.

Her lips twisted shrewdly, but she lowered her head nonetheless, exhaling slowly as she passed to tease the sensitive skin of his navel. His stomach drew in deeply and his breath caught. He smelled of herbs - something medicinal beneath the bandages - but also like the intoxicating mix that was only him. Her lips slanted across his fevered flesh, trailing dangerously closer to the edge of the coverlet. Whatever pain lingered, it was clear from the tented fabric that he was hard. It would only take her moving her mouth a few inches lower to confirm...

The position had her stretched part way across the bed, one foot on tip toe on the floor - her final connection to reason and rationality - while her other knee pressed close to his flank. Though the borrowed robe was generous, it had parted at her upper thighs to accommodate her stretch. Jareth's free hand settled lightly on the back of her thigh, his fingers curling around it possessively. It would be so easy to sink down onto them a few inches…

He shifted towards her intently, perhaps gleaning her stray thought, but this time the sound he made was unmistakably that of pain.

She rocked back onto her calve. "There. All better." She pulled her hand free and scooted back to her feet, swaying unsteadily.

He caught the edge of the robe's tie before she could retreat further. "Spoilsport."

She clutched the belt beside his hand to stay him. "You need rest. You're injured."

He stared at her, a mix of emotions warring across his face. In the end he released her. "I won't be soon."

A knock barely preceded the door flying open. Cern strode into the room, slamming the door behind him. He didn't spare a glance for what he might be interrupting. "Another challenge is forthcoming. Presently."

Sarah sputtered incredulously. "You can't be serious! Again?"

Cern nodded sharply. "It seems most potential challengers have been convinced they were mistaken. But that snivelling little toad, Cormac, is thinking to finally increase his prospects. He may be a coward but he's not stupid." And then to Sarah he added, "Normally he would stand no chance against someone of Jareth's power but he's hedging his bets he could win under the circumstances."

"And could he?" she asked.

They both looked back to Jareth, whose fever was clearly spiking. His hair was matted to his head with sweat and his chest heaved liked he'd run a race. Sarah felt a wave of guilt for entertaining his little game when he needed sleep. All the more reason to end things as soon as possible.

"You can't delay him?" she asked, "Make him wait a day or so under some pretence?"

"He's on his way presently with Morrigan now. I ran on ahead under the pretence of needing to collect something from you."

Jareth pushed himself back up against the headboard weakly, but his words were clipped. Imperious. "Help me dress. I'll greet him on my feet."

"No!" Sarah and Cern said in unison and then exchanged glances.

Cern shook his head. "You'll fall where you stand. It will be a bloody execution by a fop who normally wouldn't know which end of a blade to hold. I didn't patch you up to have you made a pin cushion again. And even if he does accept first blood-"

"Your faith in me is heart-warming," Jareth replied sardonically. His eyes flickered tellingly to Sarah. "And you know I won't accept that."

"Stuff your pride. You'd destroy him normally but you can't even manage a decent glamour yet. Come, we'll hide you away and delay as long as we can then. Maybe the shit will get cold feet." Cern reached for him just as a knock sounded at the door. "Fucking hells!" he ground out. "Come. Now!"

Jareth pushed his cousin away. "I won't flee my own bedroom in my own bloody castle!"

Another knock and the handle jiggled. Cern must have locked it.

A thought flashed and before she could weigh it further, Sarah pushed the hunter out of the way and slid under the covers beside Jareth. She ran a hand through her hair, mussing it further. Hiking up the sheets to her neck, she pulled her robe open and down to her waist beneath. Wrapping the edges of her blankets around her breasts she pressed herself fully into Jareth's side, tugging up the sheets and draping her arm strategically to cover the majority of his wounds on his torso. She kicked a bare leg over his outside of the covers.

Jareth, recovering from the sudden shock of having Sarah finally throw herself almost completely naked into his bed under the most absurd circumstances, fitted an arm weakly around her shoulders. Fate had a hell of a sense of humour.

"Shut up and kiss me back. Hard as you can," she whispered and then without waiting caught his mouth with hers.

The doors flew open. Cern stepped back, a mask falling over his face to cover his own surprise at the strange turn of events.

Sarah took her time, making love to his mouth deeply, before breaking the kiss and craning her head back to look over shoulder. She willed her face not to betray her.

Morrigan strode into the room, accompanied by a reedy looking fae dressed in a flamboyant waistcoat in puce. He was, by mortal standards, still striking, but Sarah could well imagine why they had referred to him as a toad, his eyes too wide for his face and bugging, almost amphibian-like, at what he had interrupted. His expression shifted from shock to almost comical mortification.

Sara gave a mock mew of indignation and then pillowed her head on Jareth's shoulder lazily, her fingers idly tracing patterns on Jareth collarbone that belied the tension in her spine.

"Shhh," Jareth hushed. "I'm sure Cormac will explain the meaning of this outrage."

"Well… I…" the slope-shouldered fae swallowed thickly. "Well, you see..." his eyes took in Sarah's bare back, her swollen lips, their laboured breathing, before settling on the mottled skin of Jareth's chest with a critical eye belying his vapid expression.

Catching his focus, Sarah tilted her neck and sucked on Jareth's neck, worrying the skin until a fresh mark blossomed. "Do make him go away," she pouted. "Or will you kill this one for me too?"

Cormac shifted his weight in discomfort at her words.

"We do have to get out of bed eventually, precious," he chuckled indulgently. And then to Cormac, "She's insatiable. Hasn't let me sleep all night."

Sarah tilted her head and scowled at Jareth so only he could see. She only hoped his fever-clouded eyes could be construed as lust.

Cormac nodded effusively. "Oh, aye, I'd heard that about mortals. They like to bite if not properly trained."

Sarah's couched scowl deepened.

Jareth kissed it away. "Give me a moment and I'll be right with you, Cormac. I could use the stretch."

"No, no, rush…" he sounded deeply uncomfortable by the idea of proving any kind of exercise for the Goblin King, and had begun to inch back towards the door.

Sarah tossed her head in a way she hoped was more coquettishly than horse-like. "Or maybe he's here because he likes to watch."

Cern made a strangled sound he managed to cover with a laugh.

Jareth's hand tightened on her spine. "I'd have to kill him for that alone wouldn't I, my toothsome little vixen?"

Cormac shook his head emphatically, his eyes fixing carefully on the rug like it was the most interesting thing in the room.

Morrigan rapped her cane. "And your challenge?"

Cormac paled further, his attention still averted. "C-challenge? What challenge?" his nervous laugh cracked. "I simply came here to congratulate you on your victory last night."

"Wasn't it horrid of him to draw it out like that?" Sarah cooed. She smacked Jareth's face deceptively playfully, when his hand dipped to cup her bare ass beneath the coverlet. "He wanted me to worry over him. He's so needy that way. He was very upset I didn't attend the others. Sulked even. And… well you saw once I arrived." She made a slashing motion across her throat and then affected a giggled that inwardly grated.

Cormac took several more steps back.

"And look how well it worked, dearest" Jareth agreed. "You can only imagine what she let me do to her last night. Indeed, she was even begging for more."

If she wasn't so intent on keeping her alive she might kill him herself on the spot. "Yes, well, if you need to kill him now, don't let me keep you." Sarah's eyes flicked to Cern vengefully. "Perhaps your cousin can take over since I've clearly worn you out so."

The hunter made another strangled sound that morphed into a laugh.

Cormac held his hands up. "Again. My heartfelt congratulations on your victory… ah Jareth. He gave a weird little obsequious curtsey bob to Morrigan. "I do fear there has been an unfortunate misunderstanding and I have wasted your time, my ah… most deadly lady."

"You have indeed." Her words were as sharply honed as knives.

"Oh, do let him go," Jareth sighed. "I'm feeling… strangely generous."

Cormac wasted no more time, fairly tripping over his feet to get out of the room. Morrigan followed but not before a lengthy pause, her eyes sweeping over the unlikely trio. For a moment, Sarah swore she saw her normally haughty expression flicker towards amusement. Then she was gone too.

Cern exhaled noisily before laughing himself completely hoarse, "So, about tagging me in?"

Jareth shot his cousin a warning look.

"The thanks I get for putting you back together." Cern t'sked and then gave a small deferential bow to Sarah. "Though thanks seem to be owed to you once again. Your mind is a truly fearsome thing. Jareth should be rightly terrified. Are you certain you have no fae in you?"

"If you'd kindly remove yourself from this room," Jareth interjected, "that can be arranged."

"Stop it," Sarah swatted him away and did her best to put as much space between them as the bed and modesty afforded her. "Will it work?"

Cern nodded. "I think so. Cormac is horrible gossip. The entire castle will know what transpired in this room by midday. Embellished no doubt." He laughed again. "And there can be no more challenges as of sundown today.

Sarah nodded gratefully.

"Cern?" Jareth asked in a deceptively bland voice.

"Yes?"

"Do fuck off."

Cern cleared his throat awkwardly. "As much as I would like nothing more, you know you need your rest. I'd also like you to remember that when you're feeling more yourself and looking for something to take your frustration out on." He looked to Sarah. "I leave it in the lady's hands. She saved the day. Again."

"I'm comi- I'll follow." She looked towards Jareth. "You know he's right."

"Yes, and now he'll never shut up about this." And then more cagily, "Perhaps the royal bathers are available."

Her eyes narrowed at his bait. "By all means." She shrugged indifferently, as much so as one was able to while lying naked in bed next to an even more naked Goblin King. "Though seems like you had the matter well in hand the other night."

Jareth's eyes widened in slow understanding just as Sarah's closed in abject mortification. "You can definitely fuck off now, Cern. I apparently need to have a discussion with my bride on boundaries."

Cern inclined his head. "I'll wait outside." And then to Jareth. "Scream if you need rescuing from her insatiable appetites."

Alone again in the room it was impossible to pretend they weren't pressed naked against one another in the bed. That her breasts hadn't just been flush against his ribs. That his half-hard cock wasn't jutting into her hip with renewed interest… that if she just angled herself slightly…

"Sarah," he began roughly.

His skin was so hot to the touch.

"It was an accident - I didn't see much - You need to sleep." It all came out in one disjointed and angry sentence.

He nuzzled her shoulder with his nose. "I'm not angry. Nor have I ever been shy. Next time join me. Or at least allow me to give you an unfettered view."

Sarah shivered at his offer. "Stop it. And it was an accident. You need time to rest more than anything."

"I need you." His hand found her breast beneath the sheets, cupping her fully. He thumbed her stiffening nipple until her breath grew fractured. "I haven't forgotten my mouth on you." He breathed into her neck. "I haven't forgotten how wet you were." He sounded almost smug. "For me." His other hand found her folds, though she clamped her legs shut. "I wonder if you are now-"

She shoved him hard, falling backwards from the bed onto the floor onto her already bruised rear. She managed to tug the robe loosely into place before she stood. "No! You will sleep now." And I will rescue us both from this insanity.

His expression was intent in a way that had nothing to do with the raging iron fever. "You found the words, Sarah. Don't forget them again."

"They are just words, Jareth. They don't matter."

He watched her as she snatched up some clothes from the wardrobe and made for the door. "You're wrong, Sarah. The right words mean everything. You know this better than anyone."

She glanced back at him fitfully. "I don't plan on rescuing you again. So get some rest."

"I intend to," he promised darkly, sounding entirely like himself despite of the exhaustion staining his voice. "And then I fully intend to remind you of them. You're a fool if you think I would let you go now. What's said is said."


AN: I thought a scene that would have surely *somewhat* made up for the beginning of this chapter would happen in this one, but alas – they talked too much. It's been written for months.

Next chapter though. Promise! Hope this at least explained where Jareth has been going.

I just realized that October marked my 13th anniversary of writing in this fandom! I started Goblin Market October 14th 2008. So actually the last chapter was posted on anniversary itself. Happy coincidence I meant to have this damned chapter out almost two weeks ago. That's how long ago it was written, but work is a beast for me right now and it took forever me for me to get to editing. Happy belated Hallowe'en!

Credit: The kiss me where it hurts scene is totally an ode to Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. That scene on the ship always killed me.