The Afterparty

Sometimes, the end is the beginning…

Throughout her young life, Sarah Williams had hosted several rather odd parties. There had been her fifth birthday, where the hired clown had not only turned up drunk but newly divorced. Much to the puzzlement of Sarah and her friends, he had spent the entire party singing mournful Spanish love-songs while making balloon animals fashioned to look like his ex-wife.

Then there had been her eighth birthday when her mother's solo rendition of 'Happy Birthday' had caused the pony to go berserk and repeatedly head-butt the birthday cake.

And the less said about Sarah's tenth birthday—which had featured a stampede in the orangutan enclosure and a lifetime ban from the zoo—the better.

Yet, despite her history of odd parties, there were several reasons why the victory party celebrating her triumph over the Labyrinth and its all-singing, all-dancing king was the oddest party that Sarah had ever attended. Most of those reasons were the guests. Black chickens roamed free-range through Sarah's bedroom, pecking at the confetti scattered across the carpet, while the fire-bright creatures perched on her bed canopy roared with laughter as they threw colored streamers and spare limbs onto those unfortunate enough to be standing below. A fox-ish knight played Scrabble with a group of brownies, who were more interested in flipping the tiles and remarking the letters than spelling words; and a shaggy, yeti-like beast in a party hat bellowed a commentary of the event using as few syllables as possible ( "Scrabble hard," "party good," "feathers itchy").

But what made it the oddest party of all was that many of Sarah's former enemies were in attendance, and they seemed thrilled to be there. Several even volunteered to go downstairs into the kitchen on a reconnaissance mission, bringing back anything that looked edible for a post-victory feast. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that what looked 'edible' to goblins was bound to cause gastrointestinal carnage in ordinary folk. Sarah winced as she watched one of the goblins gulp down a bottle of furniture polish, smacking his lips in enjoyment, and grimaced as another made a sandwich out of a can of sardines and two dishrags.

Despite their lethal taste in snacks, the goblins were excellent party guests: they were ecstatic about her victory and more than ready to make amends.

"Um…I hope there are no hard feelings about that whole 'taking-your-brother-away thing,' " a goblin with tinsel wrapped around his tusks said, scratching the back of his head nervously.

"None," Sarah said, bending down to hug him.

"Phew!" a goblin with a dirty, white bandage wrapped around his head exhaled gustily. "That's a relief!"

Sarah peered at him closely. "Hey! I recognize you! I hit you over the head with a plate during the battle in the goblin city."

"Yep, that's me," he said proudly, puffing out his chest. "You got me good when I poked my head through the window."

Sarah gestured to the bandage and winced. "Sorry about that."

"Are you're kidding! The King'll give me a medal for getting wounded." The goblin stroked his bandage wistfully. "I just hope I get a nice scar."

Sarah patted him on the shoulder and handed him a cookie.

As the hours wore on, and the sugar consumed led to what could only be called breakdancing—with the emphasis on 'break'—Sarah realized that almost everyone she had met on her adventure had crammed themselves into her small bedroom.

That is, with one notable, villainous exception.

Goblin King, Goblin King, wherever you might be…

Yet, just as the fireys were suggesting a game of 'Pin-The-Brownie-On-The-Noticeboard,' to which the brownies were objecting rather strenuously, Sarah heard the sound of something banging against her window.

A white, feathery something.

She spun toward the noise and, for the second time that evening, watched the incredible sight of a barn owl trying to enter her family home. The snow-white bird beat its wings against the glass once… twice … before a goblin hoisted himself onto the window seat with a grunt and opened the latch.

The curtains billowed wildly as the crisp, night air gusted into the room, the owl following in its wake. The glorious bird circled the rafters gracefully before landing with a hop beside the window seat. The windows slammed shut with a bang, but the night wind remained; it swirled about the owl's small form, surrounding it in glitter and confetti until, in a tangle of feathers and fabric, the bird disappeared, replaced by the long, lean form of the Goblin King.

All things considered, it was quite the entrance.

An appropriately-awed silence filled the room (interrupted by discrete coughing as several members of the crowd accidentally inhaled the cloud of glitter).

Then there was a raucous cheer.

Sarah quickly turned to face the crowd. "Shhh! Do you want my Dad to come up here?"

"That would be most unfortunate," a melodious voice drawled, right beside her ear.

Sarah jerked forward in surprise. Unfortunately, the soda bottle she had been holding jerked right along with her. A stream of soda left the bottle in a colorful arc and fell like sticky, orange rain over the goblins below her.

"That was refreshing!" said one, smacking his lips.

"Do it again!" said another, licking the drops off his hand.

Sarah ignored them and turned slowly to face the King. For a moment, she was hit with a sense of déjà vu so powerful that her knees almost buckled. He looked the same as he had during their confrontation in the tunnels beneath the Labyrinth. He wore the same intricate, russet-colored leather jacket, open-necked shirt, and—Sarah looked down briefly before quickly resuming eye contact—obscenely form-fitting, dove gray breeches tucked into knee-high boots.

He even graced her with the same expression: a thin-lipped smile of barely veiled amusement that made her teeth itch.

Sarah stifled the impulse to turn around to see if the Cleaners were behind her and instead, pushed back her shoulders and held his gaze.

The Goblin King stared back, a rather sardonic glint in his mismatched eyes, one eyebrow raised in challenge.

Sarah took up the challenge: she narrowed her eyes and stared back even harder, unwilling to be the first to look away.

(This continued for some time)

Someone cleared their throat.

A chicken clucked.

And just as Sarah's eyes were starting to water, the Goblin King smiled his pointy smile and spoke.

"Hello, Sarah."

Relieved, she smiled back.

"Hello, Jareth," she answered, deciding to use his name—after all, they were now equals.

"Phew!" a goblin said in a stage whisper. "That was awkward."

Searching for something to say, Sarah looked around and noticed the plastic cup in her hand, still miraculously half full of soda.

"Um, would you like something to drink?" she asked, offering him the cup.

Jareth took the cup politely then peered at the orange liquid within. "Forgive me for asking, but did someone juice a firey to make this concoction?"

The fireys and their miscellaneous limbs rose up from around the room, deeply outraged.

"Don't get any ideas, boss man!" one yelled, his ears flapping in agitation.

"We ain't no-one's juicy-juice!" another cried, waving his limbs around wildly.

Sarah grinned. "It's orange flavored."

Jareth raised the cup to his nose and sniffed, his expression remarkably similar to those who have had the misfortune of smelling Bog water. "I shudder to think of what kind of orange made this atrocity. Clearly, it was diseased."

"Would Your Majesty prefer some furniture polish?" one of the goblins asked, offering it up for the King's perusal as if it were a fine bottle of wine.

For a moment, it seemed as though Jareth considered the option, but he eventually shook his head. "The odds are that it would be less toxic, but I shall decline."

Directing another grimace at the cup, he looked around the room until his gaze alighted on a small goblin standing beside his right knee. With a flourish, Jareth balanced the cup of orange soda on the goblin's pointy, little head.

"Do be a good fellow and try not to move," he instructed. The goblin froze, his beady eyes wide with panic. "There's a good chap."

The goblins snickered into their hands.

Sarah rolled her eyes. Placing the soda bottle on the bookshelf, she crossed over to the pointy-headed goblin and carefully removed the cup, handing it to him with a reassuring smile.

"Thanks," the goblin whispered and gulped down the dreadful soda as if it were hard liquor.

Jareth's lips twitched, but he said nothing. Instead, he strutted toward the armchair beside the dressing table, pausing when he noticed a black chicken roosting on the seat. He gave the chicken a stern look, and it jumped down, clucking indignantly.

A small goblin rushed over and brushed the feathers off the blue-and-white gingham cushion with a dirty, red rag.

"Many thanks," Jareth said.

"Don't mention it, Majesty," the small goblin said, bowing his way back into the crowd.

As he was about to take a seat, Jareth's attention caught on the goblin king figurine perched on the dressing table. He stood before it and touched the doll's wild hair with the tip of his gloved forefinger.

"My, my—aren't you a handsome devil?" he said to his counterpart with a leer.

The crowd roared with laughter, but Sarah inwardly groaned.

Why didn't I put that away? she thought, cringing.

The Goblin King turned to Sarah with a knowing look. "Astonishing resemblance, don't you think?"

Sarah lifted her chin. "Are you here to celebrate?" she asked, her tone as sharp as his smile. "Or is there some other reason why you're here?

"Ah, straight to business." Jareth winked at the figurine and sat on the armchair, stretching his long legs out before him.

"First things first…" He tilted his head, his gaze oddly guarded. "Was it everything that you wanted it to be?" he asked quietly.

Sarah looked around the room. "More," she said with a smile, still in awe of the fairytale that surrounded her. She turned back to the King, her hazel eyes bright. "Thank you."

To Sarah's surprise, Jareth looked utterly shocked. But before she could ask why, he smiled—a genuine smile without a hint of point or leer. It was such an unexpectedly pleasant sight that Sarah smiled back.

For a moment, there was something between them: something unexpected, something tentative and warm.

Something that made Sarah's heart beat like a wild thing.

We could be friends, she thought, looking at the wildly handsome man sitting in her armchair. He looks like he needs a friend.

But before she could tell him just that, the strangest emotion flashed in the Goblin King's eyes. It was a tangled thing: a hint of longing, a dash of regret. Sarah only caught a glimpse of it before it was replaced quickly by the same distant, rather arrogant expression he had been wearing for most of her adventure.

"Good," he said, his tone clipped. "I'm pleased to have met your expectations."

Sarah felt strangely deflated. For a moment, it felt as though they were moving forward, moving toward something new but now…now it felt as though they were right back at the beginning.

"So," she said dully, "what brings you to the party?"

Jareth looked down and fussed with his gloves. "It would be remiss of me not to attend. After all, I'm here to bring you a gift. Two, in fact."

Sarah blinked. Gifts? Oh no

"Forgive me," she said cautiously, "but I'm a little wary about accepting your gifts."

He looked up at that, and his lips twisted into a smirk. "As well you should be. But I am afraid these gifts cannot be refused nor returned."

Now Sarah was curious and just a little uneasy. "Are you offering me my dreams again, Goblin King?"

Jareth looked at her intently. "Two of them…in a manner of speaking." He gestured toward the window with a flourish. "Your first gift."

With a quizzical look at the King, Sarah faced the window. Beyond the glass panes, she could see her favorite tree. If she tilted her head just so, she could see the full moon peeking out from between its branches.

She turned back to Jareth, a crease between her brows. "I don't understand. There's nothing out here. It's just a window."

Jareth's expression was curiously blank. "Open it."

The crowd parted, clearing a path between Sarah and the window. Sarah turned to friends, a question in her eyes. Sir Didymus nodded at her eagerly, beckoning her forward; Ludo simply shrugged. But Hoggle looked away, fussing with the beaded bracelet at his wrist.

Biting her lip, Sarah hesitantly crossed the space until, half kneeling on the window seat, she opened the window …

…and saw not the tree nor the moon but the Labyrinth sunning itself beneath a sky the color of dirty peaches, its twisted paths leading to the Castle Beyond the Goblin City.

A breeze moved through her hair in welcome, tinged with glitter and the bitter tang of magic.

"I don't understand," she whispered.

She flinched when she felt the tips of Jareth's hair tickle her cheek.

"Your first gift is a kingdom," he whispered back.

She turned to him, wide-eyed. "What?"

A crystal appeared, perfectly balanced on the tips of his fingers. With a sharp twist of his wrist, a picture began to form within it, a blurred figure of dark and light.

"Did you, or did you not, dream that you were royalty, Sarah?" He held the crystal out toward her. "In a gown of white with a crown of flowers in your hair?"

"How did you—" Sarah stopped. Within the crystal, she saw herself in the park earlier in the evening, the red book that started this whole adventure clutched in her hand.

"You were there," she said, breathless. "In the park—the owl. You were watching me!"

He merely inclined his head. "And in your heart of hearts, as you sat through your classes and read your plays, did you not dream of being a queen?"

He twisted the crystal once more, and it disappeared. In its place was her old, costume crown: a flimsy thing that she had made out of gold cardboard fleur-de-lis and cheap, plastic pearls.

With a mocking bow, he placed it on her head. "A queen in her castle, surrounded by her loyal subjects?"

Sarah tore the crown from her head, her cheeks flushed, and tossed it onto the window seat. "Yes, but—but those were just dreams!"

"And now those dreams have come true."

He made it sound so simple, as if he had handed her a sandwich rather than a fairytale realm.

The creatures surged forward in excitement, surrounding her tightly on all sides.

"Three cheers for the fair Goblin Queen!" Sir Didymus cried. "Hip-hip!"

"Hooray!" cheered the crowd.

"Hip-hip—" Didymus began, but Sarah lunged off the window seat and clamped her hand over his mouth.

"Hang on a minute!" she said desperately.

Didymus's bushy eyebrows rose. "Bwut off cwourse!" he mumbled from behind her palm.

Sarah released him and turned to Jareth. "You can't give me your kingdom! What about you? Where will you go?"

"Oh, this is not gonna go down well," Hoggle mumbled and quickly shuffled to the back of the crowd.

The rest of the creatures took his lead and also stepped back, leaving a clear space between Sarah and the King.

Jareth leveled a frosty glare at his subjects. "Cowards."

They shrugged, completely unrepentant.

Jareth sighed and turned back to Sarah. "I won't be going anywhere."

Sarah glanced at the kingdom outside her window. "You'll still be in the goblin kingdom, but you won't be the king?"

He stared at her keenly, almost daring her to make the connection. "That's not what was said."

Despite the rather impressive trail of destruction that Sarah had already caused this evening, she was a little surprised to find that she still felt the urge to throttle Jareth, particularly as he was smiling the same enigmatic smile that had annoyed her throughout her entire adventure.

She took a deep breath and tried to suppress the urge to kill. "I'm afraid that I don't have the energy to solve any more puzzles. Could you please speak plainly?"

Hoggle snorted. "Good luck gettin' him to do that."

Jareth glowered at him. "One more comment such as that one and I will bog you, dwarf. Is that plain enough for you, Hogbreath?"

"Hey!" Sarah said, stepping between the King and the crowd. "While you're in my home, you will treat my friends with respect."

Jareth clenched his fists at his sides, his expression hard and hawk-like. Sarah braced herself for another snake or an oubliette or—at the very least—a cuttingly-worded insult delivered in a tone dry enough to wither a cactus.

But he did none of those things. Instead, he merely stared at Sarah for a long moment, as if taking her measure. He seemed to come to some decision because he nodded, almost approvingly, and continued.

"Very well, I shall speak plainly. Your first gift is a kingdom." He gestured to the Castle Beyond the Goblin City. "Your second gift is a king for your kingdom." He gave her an ironic little bow. "A matching set, so to speak."

Sarah's jaw dropped.

"Are you saying that you—" She pointed to Jareth.


"And—and me?" She pointed to herself.

"Yes," he said, with a delighted smile.

Sarah swallowed hard. "Together?"

The smile slid from his face. "That is the general idea of marriage."

At Sarah's horrified look, Jareth scowled and began to stalk the room, his tattered cloak disturbing the confetti on the floor.

"Come, come Sarah—is this really that much of a surprise? All of your fairytales end with fair maidens triumphing"—he almost spat the word—"over dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, and riding off into the sunset with a handsome prince."

He paused to face her. "The only difference here is that you've done better than those peasant girls and won yourself a king instead," he added, rather jauntily.

The crowd roared with laughter.

"Definitely an upgrade," one of the goblins cackled.

"Quite," Jareth agreed. He folded his arms and looked down at Sarah, one kingly eyebrow raised. "Well?"

Overall, Sarah took the news quite well.

The goblins peered at Sarah in horrified fascination as she clutched her stomach and tried to breathe.

"Ahh…Sarah?" Hoggle asked cautiously, stepping toward her.

Sarah turned panic-stricken eyes his way and then looked frantically around the room.

"She's looking kind of red," observed one of the goblins.

"I think the lady is gonna blow!" a firey announced gleefully, as Sarah desperately tried to breathe in a reasonable fashion.

"No, you idiots—she's hyperventilating," Jareth said. "Get her something that she can breathe into."

Immediately, the goblins handed Sarah a pillow, two spoons, and a chicken.

The King looked down at the haul and sighed. "You really are imbeciles."

The goblins puffed out their chests proudly.

"It appears that I have to do everything around here…" Jareth muttered, conjuring a crystal and tossing it into the air.

A brown paper bag—albeit a rather shiny one—fell into his hands. He caught Sarah's arm as she lurched past and gently guided her to the bed.

"Here," he said, seating her on the edge of the bed and holding the bag to her mouth. "Breathe in and out of the bag."

Sarah tentatively took the bag from him and sucked in a breath.

"That's right," he said encouragingly, as he sat beside her. "In and out, in and out ..."

"In and out, in and out," the crowd chanted helpfully.

That is, until they started to speed up.

"Inandoutinandoutinandout," they cried.

Sarah gave Jareth a panicked look above the rim of the bag, and he rolled his eyes.

"Shut up!" he yelled.

"Sorry Majesty," one goblin said contritely.

"It was kind of catchy," said another.

Sarah nodded her thanks and continued to breathe into the bag. Once her breathing had returned to normal, Jareth shook his head.

"Really, Sarah; I tell you that you have thirteen hours in which to solve a treacherous Labyrinth, and you skip to the gate. I tell you that we're about to be married, and you try to expel your lungs from your body." He snorted. "It's enough to make a fellow feel somewhat unwanted…"

Sarah decided that it would be best to ignore that comment.

"Thanks," she said, placing the bag on the bed beside her. "How did you know what to do?"

Jareth brushed a streamer from his boot. "Let's just say that not everyone is as accepting of my presence as you were when I come to collect their wished-away children. In fact, some react quite badly. Over the years, challengers have attacked me with furniture, jugs of water, rottweilers—"

"Pepper spray," a goblin supplied.

"Ah, pepper spray," Jareth said fondly. "Now that was an interesting evening …"

The goblins snickered at the memory.

Sarah took a deep breath. "It's not that I don't appreciate what you're trying to give me; a kingdom, and… and …" She paused, unsure of how to continue.

"An exceptionally attractive husband?" he supplied helpfully.

She thought it best to ignore that comment, too. "But I am afraid that I must decline your generous offer."

"Oooooooooooh," the crowd crooned ominously.

"Shut up!" the King yelled. He clenched his jaw. "You have no choice, Sarah. Too much was said and done over the course of your journey for you to return to what you were before."

Sarah stared at him, wide-eyed. "What do you mean, 'too much was said and done'?"

"You ate our fruit!" one of the goblins piped up, rubbing his stomach.

Sarah could suddenly taste ripe peaches on the tip of her tongue.

"You marked-y marked-y marked our walls!" the brownies called out, holding up the stub of her lipstick.

A swarm of fairies flew beside her ear, their rainbow-hued wings fluttering in time with her heartbeat.

"Our venom is in your blood," they trilled.

One of them made a biting motion. "You were delicious," she crooned.

Sarah shooed them away, and they flew off laughing, to surround the King.

Jareth gave them an indulgent smile as they blew him kisses. He pointed to Sarah's hand.

"You absorbed my magic," he said.

Sarah gave him a quizzical look and looked at her hand. Turning it over, she noticed a circle of glitter on her palm; it tingled faintly when she traced it with the tip of her finger. All at once, she remembered the crystal falling into her palm and dissolving like a bubble.

"You bled onto the land," a small goblin said, gesturing to her arm.

Frowning, Sarah pulled back her sleeves; there were scratched and scrapes all over her forearms. Among them, fingerprint-sized bruises were beginning to bloom beneath her skin, no doubt from the Helping Hands. Her knees hurt too, she realized; she'd probably skinned them, sliding down trap doors or tumbling across the Goblin City, fighting to get to the castle.

"There are remnants of you all over my Labyrinth," Jareth said.

He crossed the room until he stood before Ludo and carefully pulled away a long, dark hair tangled amongst the shaggy, orange fur. He handed it to the beast, who held the strand as if it were as precious as gold.

"Sawah hairy!" Ludo said with delight.

Jareth turned to Sarah, his hands on his hips. "You have left too much of a mark on the Labyrinth for you to be free of it forever. Even if you were to stay here, it would call you back."

Sarah turned to Hoggle. "Is this true?"

Hoggle cleared his throat, the sound like a handful of gravel thrown into a garbage disposal. "I did try to warn ya, Sarah."

And Sarah remembered.

Even if you get to the center, you'll never get out again.

Jareth sneered at the dwarf. "As did I."

Turn back, Sarah. Turn back before it's too late…

"I didn't listen," Sarah said softly. She gasped out a laugh that was mostly a sob. "I was too focused on getting Toby back."

Jareth sighed. He suddenly looked weary, the markings around his eyes as dark as shadows. "If it is any consolation, no one ever listens."

The crowd nodded gloomily at that.

Sarah's vision blurred. She swallowed hard, refusing to cry. "I don't want this."

"Are you sure?" Jareth tilted his head in an oddly birdlike gesture. "Even before you came to my kingdom, you called for us without even saying 'I wish.' "

Someone save me! Someone take me away from this awful place!

"But—but I said the right words!" she cried.

She looked around the room, but none of the creatures would meet her gaze.

"I said the right words," she whispered brokenly.

The silence was interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat. Sarah turned toward the noise and found the Wiseman eating crackers at the foot of her bed.

"Sometimes," he boomed, "words only bind you tighter… even when you think they are setting you free."

"Ain't that the truth," his bird-hat chirped.

"And what were your right words, Sarah?" Jareth asked.

Sarah closed her eyes and recited the fateful words yet again. "Give me the child. For my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom is as great."

" 'For my will is as strong as yours.' " Jareth snorted. "I have a city repair bill to confirm that. It's the next part that gets problematic."

Sarah dragged her lower lip between her teeth. "My kingdom is as great? How could that be a problem?"

The King's look was almost feral in its intensity. "Think, precious thing."

Sarah tried to think. Really, she did. But it was all too much. She was exhausted, high on orange soda and adrenaline, and now…now she had been given a puzzle that she knew—she knew—was a trap.

Would this night ever end?

Jareth eyed her distress and sniffed. He began to pace before her, a riding crop appearing in one gloved hand.

"Could all those in the room who have their own kingdom raise their hand?" he asked the crowd mockingly, gracefully raising the crop.

A few goblins checked their pockets. One goblin raised his hand but was quickly crushed by his friends.

Sarah stared at the King and waited for him to get to the point.

"Oh," he said, making a grand show of looking around the room. "It appears that it's only me."

Sarah raised her chin. "I didn't mean it literally. I meant it more … metaphorically."

Jareth waved his crop dismissively. "Words, as you may have realized, have power. There is no room for lexical whimsy at this point. Registered kingdoms only, precious thing."

Sarah's jaw clenched. "What's your point, Goblin King?"

"You"—he pointed the crop at her with a flourish— "declared that your kingdom was as great as mine. There are no kingdoms as great as mine, which suggests that you would have to have my kingdom. Sarah, how does one attain a kingdom?"

"Battle," she said quickly, eagerly.

He slapped the crop against his boot. "Excellent suggestion! However, you didn't beat me in battle, Sarah. The nature of our confrontation was preordained by that little, red book of yours. It was a battle of wills … not of magic or steel. If you had met me on a battlefield, well…" He shook his head. "Let's just say that the outcome would not have been in your favor." He made a 'continue' gesture with the crop. "Try again."

Sarah tried to think, tried to remember …

"Inheritance," she suggested, looking up at him hopefully.

Jareth snorted. "As much as you may wish me dead, my kind tends to be quite resilient; we live for a very, very long time."

"Unfortunately," someone muttered in the crowd—someone who sounded suspiciously like Hoggle.

Several members of the crowd coughed.

The King spun on his heel to face the crowd. "And those who attempt to test that fact via assassination attempts—even the feeble, mostly-accidental ones—will be thrown into the bog. Need I remind you of Frezil?"

"Poor Frezil," the crowd sighed.

"Hey, Frezil apologized," one goblin piped up. "He even sent you a gift basket!"

"A fancy one at that," a tiny goblin added, "the sort with cheese in it."

"Besides, the chicken made him do it," another goblin cried. "It was a crime of passion!"

A chicken clucked in agreement.

"A likely story," Jareth muttered and turned back to Sarah. "To return to the matter at hand: I can't be bested in battle, and I'm extremely difficult to kill. So, Sarah—what's left? How can your kingdom be equal to mine?"

Say it, his expression seemed to taunt. Say the RIGHT word.

"Marriage," she whispered.

Damn. He had her on a technicality.

Jareth's smile was pure triumph. He stretched out his arms at his sides like a ringmaster. "Give me the child. For my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. And Sarah…" He dropped his arms and leaned over her until he was so close that Sarah could count each of his golden lashes. "I gave you the child."

"You have no power over me," she bit out defiantly, hoping that he would turn into an owl again and fly out the room…and out of her life forever.

But nothing of the sort happened. In fact, the Goblin King appeared pleased.

"Given our earlier discussion, what is the only way that I could have no power over you?" he asked.

And she knew the answer, dammit. "If I were co-ruler."

"Well done," he said, bopping her gently on the nose with the crop.

Sarah clutched her nose and scowled.

He stepped away from her. "You said the words and declared yourself my equal, my co-ruler."

"That's not what I intended," she cried. "That's not what I meant."

"Isn't it? As far as the Labyrinth is concerned, you said the words and gave a token of promise."

Sarah heard a shuffling, tinkling sound—the sound of metal sliding over wood.

Turning toward the sound, Sarah watched as the Wiseman shook his beggar box. Through the gap at the top, she could just catch a glimpse of gold.

A heavy sense of dread hit Sarah neatly in the solar plexus. "My ring."

Hoggle threw his hands in the air. "I tolds ya not to give that away! You never give a ring away! It's practically a proposal right there an' then!"

The Wiseman tipped the box into his palm and retrieved the ring. "Blood on the soil. A mark on the ground. The right words. An offering…" He held the ring up to the light, the gold circle glittering madly. "And a promise is made."

Sarah shook her head fiercely, the dark strands fanning out around her shoulders. "But—but I gave that to you, not to the Labyrinth." She pushed the heels of her hands over her eyes. "This is madness. It doesn't even make sense!"

The Wiseman's hat nodded. "Quite well, then." He tilted his little bird head. "You're screwed now, señorita!"

Sarah dropped her hands. "No. I'm not doing this." She turned to Jareth. "I'm too young to marry you—I'm only fifteen." She stamped her foot. "Fifteen!"

"Really?" Jareth watched her foot-stamping with amusement. "I would never have guessed."

Sarah glared at the King in disgust. "What kind of man marries a fifteen-year-old?"

Jareth's eyes narrowed. "First, I'm not a man … strictly speaking. Second, I have no desire to marry anyone. And third, if I were to marry, it would not be to a teenager with a penchant for theatrics, destruction, defiance, and—" He touched her sleeve with the tip of his crop and grimaced. "Polyester."

Sarah felt a tug on her jeans.

"He's talking about you," a goblin stage-whispered from beside her knee.

"I figured," she said dryly.

"Being fifteen is not a permanent state of being," Jareth continued. "It's something that changes swiftly with time, as you will soon see."

"But I'm fifteen right now," she said meaningfully. "You want to marry me right now. And I'm not ready to be a—a—wife right now."

Jareth stared at her for a long moment and then pinched the bridge of his nose with a long sigh.

"Too old to turn, too young to keep…" he muttered under his breath.

"What did you say?" she asked, baffled by the bridge-pinching.

"Many fairytales feature young girls marrying royalty," the Wiseman noted. "Snow White, Cinderella—"

"Not this fairytale," Sarah interrupted firmly. "Not me." She turned to Jareth, who was still pinching the bridge of his nose. "I will not be your underage fairytale bride."

When Jareth did not move, she raised her voice. "Are you listening to me? I will not be your—"

Jareth dropped his hand impatiently. "Yes, yes—underage bride tra-la-la …"

"Hey!" Sarah lurched to her feet. "Don't tra-la-la me! This is serious!"

She gathered her courage, her outrage, and stalked toward the King, just as she had during their final confrontation.

"And if you try to make me your underage fairytale bride," she declared, her voice vibrating with anger, "I will burn down your castle—"

"Technically, it's your castle too, now," Jareth interrupted dryly.

"—destroy your city—" she continued.

"Hey!" piped up a goblin. "We live there!"

"—and do my best to make your life a living hell," she finished, her eyes as hard as flint.

"My, my—doesn't marriage sound like fun?" Jareth drawled. "I wonder why I waited so long to try it …"

"I mean it," she promised.

"I know," he said quietly. "And I cannot wait to unleash you upon our enemies. It will be a glorious thing to watch you destroy someone else's kingdom for a change."

Sarah blinked, shocked out of her anger. "Wait—what?"

"Sarah, you will be a queen right now," Jareth said, ignoring her question. "But nothing more. I have no desire to play husband to a willful child." He glanced out the window at his kingdom. "And as I have no doubt that you'll carry out your destructive promises, the decision of when you will become a wife will rest with you."

The knot in Sarah's stomach eased a little.

But only a little.

"Good," she said cautiously. "But—but what about my family? I don't want to leave them. And Toby—I just got him back!" She shook her head. "You're not giving me a choice …"

"Choices are, at best, an illusion." He grimaced. "Besides, it's not as if your actions have left me with a choice …"

But Sarah barely heard him; she was too focused on the thought of leaving everyone she loved behind. She turned to her friends.

"Hoggle," she pleaded.

Hoggle's big, watery eyes widened. "Sarah, I—"

"Enough," Jareth hissed, "I grow weary of this spectacle." He held out his hand. "Come, come, Sarah—neither of us want this, but this is The Way Things Are Done."

Sarah could feel her blood pounding in her ears. Just beyond the door, her family slept, tucked inside their covers, their heads filled with dreams, oblivious to the fact that she was about to step into a fairytale and never return.

"Jareth," she blurted without thinking, her vision blurring. "Please."

As soon as she said it, she knew it was useless: how many times had she begged the Goblin King to let Toby go, only to have him stand by, unmoved?

But to her surprise, Jareth's hand faltered. A look of something very close to regret crossed his features.

"Please, Jareth," she repeated, hoping.

For a moment, he closed his eyes as if he were in pain. But before she could say anything more, he opened them again and sighed.

"Come," he said quietly, raising his hand. "It's time to fulfill your destiny."

Sarah's heart plummeted to the soles of her shoes. There was nothing more she could do: this was The Way Things Were Done. She had rescued the child, defeated the King, and won herself a kingdom.

That's it, then, she thought with a sob.

For a moment, her vision seemed to cloud; she vaguely wondered if she was going to hyperventilate again.

And then, she heard it.

A guttural, muffled sound.

A sound that wasn't a sound, but rather a word smothered in a cough.

"LARGENESS," the voice coughed once again, coming from somewhere below her.

At the sound, the Jareth's eyes widened, and his hand lowered a fraction.

Seeing the King's surprise, Sarah looked down. Amongst the cookie crumbs on the carpet, just beside her brown, leather loafer, stood the Blue Worm.

Puzzled, Sarah knelt beside the tiny creature.

"Ah … did you just say 'largeness'?" she asked politely, brushing away her tears.

The Blue Worm shook his head. "Nah, sweets—I said 'largesse' but that's close enough."

Sarah frowned. "Largesse?"

Hoggle slapped his palm against his forehead. "Of course! Largesse!"

"Largesse!" the rest of the creatures cried.

"Could someone please explain?" Sarah asked.

Sir Didymus cleared his throat quite importantly. "My Lady, thou art Champion of the Labyrinth. And as Champion, thou hast the right to call upon the King's largesse—his generosity—and make a request."

Sarah scrambled to her feet and turned to Jareth. "I get a wish?"

Jareth sighed. "A request. A wish is a different thing entirely. You may ask for something that is within my power to give. Traditionally, it takes the form of a present." He grimaced at the word as if it tasted too salty.

Sarah's eyes narrowed. "Why didn't you tell me this earlier? Why didn't you tell me that you owed me a request?"

Jareth gave her a look that clearly said, "You're joking, right?"

Realizing that he wouldn't be of any assistance, Sarah turned back to Didymus. "Tell me more about this request. Can I ask for anything? Can I ask not to be given the kingdom?"

And not to marry the Goblin King, she thought desperately.

Didymus shook his head sadly. "I am afraid not, fair maiden. As His Majesty explained, thou art too intertwined with our world."

The small flame of hope that had begun to flicker in Sarah's chest stuttered and died.

"Oh," she said softly.

Then, she heard it again. That scratchy, muffled coughing sound that wasn't really a cough.

"REPRWEEVE," the voice coughed from below her.

Jareth looked down at the Blue Worm in disbelief. "My, my—you are full of surprises."

Sarah ignored the King. "What did you say this time?" she asked the worm.

The Blue Worm puffed up his chest. "I said 'reprieve.' "

Sarah huffed in exasperation. "Well, why not say just 'reprieve'? Why cough and make it incomprehensible?"

The Blue Worm tsked. "I was trying to be discrete, I was. 'Specially since His Nibs is standing right there. Wouldn't be polite to insult the King, now would it? The missus would have my hide."

"Much obliged," Jareth said dryly.

But Sarah wasn't listening. She was thinking.

"Reprieve," she repeated to herself.

"REPRIEVE-ITY REPRIEVE-ITY WAKKA WAKKA!" the brownies yelled, jumping up and down on her bed.

And then it hit her.

"Jareth," she began, turning to face him.

For a moment, she faltered. The Goblin King had drawn himself up to his full height, his expression remote and regal, his gaze blade-sharp. Power emanated from his form, lengthening the shadows around him, and billowing his cloak behind him in a non-existent breeze.

He had never looked less human.

The fine hairs at the back of Sarah's neck rose.

Tread carefully, some primitive part of her mind warned.

Sarah clenched her fists and ignored the flutter in her gut. She took a deep breath, raised her chin, and spoke.

"Your Majesty," she corrected, deciding formality wouldn't go astray. "As Champion of the Labyrinth, I ask for a reprieve."

"Oh?" the King asked coldly. "What sort of a reprieve?" He began to pace around her, tapping his boot with his crop at every step. "Do you desire a reprieve from your duties? From your responsibilities?" He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, his expression hard. "There is, after all, precedent …"

His last comment had a nasty, mocking edge to it, but Sarah ignored the jibe. Yes, she had shirked her responsibilities where Toby was concerned earlier in the evening, but she had more than made up for it. The past was the past.

It was the future she was worried about.

She wiped her sweaty palms along the sides of her jeans and held his gaze. "I'm requesting that you not take me away tonight. Rather, I wish—I wish for more time."

"Really? Why?"

Think fast, Williams, she told herself.

"S-o-o… that I can learn the ways of the goblin kingdom and—and—" She glanced around the room, looking for inspiration. Her gaze caught on the pile of textbooks piled haphazardly on her shelf.

"—and become educated in a manner that will enhance my rule," she finished in a rush.

She was going to college, dammit. There was no way that she was going to rule a kingdom and deal with a twisty, cunning husband with just a high school education under her belt.

Jareth looked at her appraisingly. "And just how long will this reprieve of yours last?"

The creatures held their breath. From the corner of her eye, Sarah could see the Wiseman. He was still eating crackers, seemingly oblivious to the drama around him or the crumbs in his beard.

Oh, to be that serene, she thought. It's probably something that comes with old age ...

Then she blinked as an idea unfolded.

"Eighty years," she announced.

"Oooooooh," the creatures gasped.

"Did not see that comin'," Hoggle muttered dryly.

The corner of the Jareth's mouth lifted in a reluctant smile. "An excellent try. However, do you truly wish to begin your rule of the goblin kingdom—a rather taxing job, I can tell you from experience—at ninety-five years of age?"

By then, I won't care, she thought. "Yes."

Jareth folded his hands together in front of his chest and brought forth a crystal.

"Are you sure?" He held it out to her.

Reluctantly, Sarah stood beside him and peered inside.

Within the crystal, she saw what appeared to be a celebration scene. There was an arch of pastel-hued flowers set up in an open field. Stone benches were placed before it, each decorated with gold and purple ribbons. Refreshments were neatly arranged on a long, oak table: exotic fruits of all colors arranged abundantly on gold trays; tiny morsels of what looked like lilac-colored Turkish delight covered in sugared lavender; nuts of different sizes—some as small as the fingernail on Sarah's pinkie finger, others as large as her fist—piled high in great wooden bowls; towers of tiny cupcakes with pink and silver icing covered in glittery, gold sugar; and an ornate pewter punchbowl filled with bubbling liquid the color of ripe pomegranates.

In the center of the table sat a many-tiered cake, covered in silver icing and ropes of confectionary pearls.

Is this a birthday party? she wondered with a frown, staring at the cake. There are no candles but—oh—oh no …

Her breath caught. On top of the cake were two small figurines: a woman in a white gown and a wild-haired man in a glittery suit.

This was a wedding.

The scene blurred for a moment. When it reappeared, Sarah could see her friends sitting together on a bench amongst the crowd. Hoggle was wearing a ridiculous black hat and a mutinous expression, whereas Ludo was smiling happily, a circlet of violets tucked over his horns. Sir Didymus was wearing a fancy gold-velvet vest and an extra-long feather in his cap. He was saying something to Ambrosius, who was wearing a gold-velvet collar.

Unconsciously, Sarah reached out and touched the crystal, and all at once, she could hear him.

"—and you know weddings always make me cry," Didymus said, sniffing into a voluminous handkerchief.

His trusty stead rolled his eyes.

The Wiseman stood beneath the arch of flowers, reading from a large, leather-bound book. He turned to his left, where the Goblin King stood, resplendent in a golden tunic embroidered with crystals, his thistledown hair a bright halo in the setting sun.

"And do you, Your Majesty, promise not to bog your new bride, toss her into an oubliette when the fancy strikes, or set the Cleaners on her... again?" the Wiseman asked the King.

"I do," crystal Jareth answered solemnly.

But Sarah barely heard him: her focus was on the old woman, hunched and wrinkled, who stood beside him. A long, silver veil covered her snow-white hair, secured with a coronet of crystals; her lumpy figure encased in a magnificent silver gown embroidered with stars.

"That' s—that's me!" Sarah gasped.

"Hush," Jareth said, "or you'll miss the best part."

Too shocked to protest, Sarah turned her attention back to the crystal.

"And do you, Your Majesty," the Wiseman asked grandma Sarah, "promise not to destroy the goblin city, smash through ballrooms—real or dreamscape—or bite His Majesty as you did when he came to collect you with or without your dentures?"

"What?" grandma Sarah asked, cupping her ear. "You have to speak up, young man."

"Just say 'yes,' precious thing," crystal Jareth prompted.

The woman peered up at him suspiciously. "Who are you?" She looked down at his sparkly, gold breeches, her eyes narrowed in disapproval. "I'm betting you're either a magician or a wrestler." She turned to the congregation and blinked. "Are we in Vegas?"

The Wiseman's bird-hat snorted. "We wish."

The Wiseman cleared his throat. "I now pronounce you husband—"

"And wife," his hat finished.

The Wiseman glared at his hat. "Wife," he finished pointedly. "King and—"

"Queen-a-rina!" the hat declared with a long wolf-whistle.

"And Queen," the Wiseman finished with a sigh.

Sarah stared in horror as crystal Jareth dutifully kissed grandma Sarah's wrinkled hand and turned her to face the cheering congregation. Although he appeared triumphant, soaking in the adoration of the crowd, her older self merely yawned, her rheumy, hazel-green eyes surveying the scene rather wearily.

Several goblin guards in shiny armor reached into two open barrels and began tossing gold coins into the crowd.

"A gift from the Royal couple," they declared, the coins glittering in the sun.

"Hooray!" the crowd cried.

That is, until the coins struck.

"Agh!" the crowd screamed, ducking their heads.

"This was poorly planned!" a goblin yelled, clutching his eye.

Ludo howled. "Coins bad."

Sarah barely noticed the coin-induced carnage; her eyes were glued to her older self. At fifteen, Sarah was a vain enough creature to be appalled by this particular vision of her future.

She tore her gaze away from the scene and turned to Jareth.

"That," she said haltingly, "was a dirty trick. And rather cruel."

Jareth blinked. "Cruel? I thought it was all rather charming! Look at how devoted I am." He gestured to the scene where crystal Jareth was carefully placing his arm around grandma Sarah's shoulders and supporting her down the aisle. "It appears that I am going to make a splendid husband. Oh, look—I even stopped you from falling into the punchbowl."

Sarah had to concede that he had rescued her older self from a rather wet fate.

"Yes. You are excellent husband material," she remarked snidely between clenched teeth.

"Thank you." He spun the crystal lazily in his palm. "Do you want it?"

"I want none of it," she said truthfully. "Not one bit."

The crystal stuttered to a stop.

"My, my," he said quietly, his expression bruised. "Your eyes truly can be so cruel …"

Sarah stepped back. He looked so wounded. "What do you mean? I—"

And then she realized: one way or another, she had been rejecting him all night. And even though the rejection had been completely justified—her brother and her freedom were non-negotiable, she told herself firmly—it had clearly taken its toll on the Goblin King.

"Jareth," she began, willing him to understand, "it's not—I didn't mean—"

But Jareth waved away her comments with a sharp gesture.

"What is the age that mortals use to denote passage into adulthood?" he asked, his tone glacier-cold.

Sarah sighed. "Twenty-one."

"Very well. I will return the night of your twenty-first birthday. Midnight. Is that a sufficient reprieve?"

"Better take it, luv," the Blue Worm whispered conspiratorially. "No good being Queen when you're too old to wield a spear."

Sarah's eyes widened in shock. "I'm going to have to wield a spear?"

Jareth shrugged. "Or an ax. The choice is yours."

"Ax?" Sarah turned quickly to face Hoggle. "Ax?"

Hoggle nodded as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "Better get one of each. You'll need 'em to fend off the minotaur."

"Minotaur?" Sarah looked up at Jareth, appalled. "There's a minotaur?"

"It came with the Labyrinth," Jareth said.

"He's not a bad guy," one of the goblins confided.

"Unless you call him by his name," another added. "He's not fond of his name."

"Admittedly, 'Cecil' is not the most appropriate name for a creature capable of causing unparalleled destruction," Jareth admitted.

"I don't know—I rather like it," one of the four guards said, nodding his pointy red helmet.

"Ooooh what a lie!" the blue guard said, shaking his head.

Sarah was almost too stunned to speak.

"This is nuts," she whispered, pushing the heels of her hands against her eyes. "You're all nuts."

"Ain't that the truth!" the Wiseman's hat said gleefully. "Welcome to the club!"

"Questions about our sanity aside," Jareth said dryly, "there are formalities that must be observed."

He held out his hand to the Wiseman. With a bow of his head, the Wiseman placed the ring into the King's palm.

Jareth held the ring up to the light. Before Sarah's eyes, the ring transformed, twisting into an intricate band of gold vines.

"Say it," the creatures chanted to their King. "Say it, say it, say it…"

"Words were spoken," Jareth said solemnly, stepping toward her.

His tone was thrilling, compelling; in its thrall, Sarah could not move, could not look away.

"A gift was granted."

He reached out and took her left hand in his.

Sarah felt her pulse pounding in her ears, but could not pull away, even as he raised her hand.

Without breaking eye contact, Jareth slid the ring slowly onto her fourth finger, his mouth curving into a smile that showed-off the points of his teeth.

"A token was given."

With almost superhuman effort, Sarah tore her gaze away from his and looked down at her hand, so small and pale in his black-gloved grasp. The ring felt heavy on her finger, far heavier than gold. She stared down at the band and tried to follow the pattern of vines, but the twists and turns made her feel lightheaded.

She barely registered Jareth's other hand cupping her chin, the butter-soft leather warm (too warm) against her heated skin.

"And with a kiss, the bargain is sealed."

Sarah looked up in alarm. Jareth was suddenly much closer, so close that she could feel the warmth of his breath fan across her cheek. She should have stepped away, but his expression trapped her to the spot, like a butterfly pinned to a board. There was a dark emotion in those strange eyes: something predatory, something anticipating that she was only just beginning to understand. Under that dark look, she felt a sort of prickling excitement, as if fireworks had been set alight just beneath her skin, and an unfamiliar pulse began to beat low in her core.

I'm not ready, she thought, her breath catching in her chest in panic. I'm not ready.

Jareth shifted his hold on her chin, his long fingers briefly caressing her jawline. He made a sound beneath his breath that was somewhere between a purr and a sigh—a sound that made her gut twist.

"Sarah," he whispered as his eyelids fluttered shut.

"Wait!" she cried.

But he had already closed the gap between them with inhuman speed. She felt the barest brush of his lips against hers (furnace-hot, her mind registered with surprise. And soft. So soft…) just before instinct and adrenaline and summer camp self-defense classes took over.

The sound of Sarah's knee making contact with the King's flesh (rather a lot of flesh, truth be told) was viciously loud in the silent room.

The crowd sucked in a horrified breath as Jareth abruptly released her and doubled over.

Ludo groaned in sympathy.

Sarah stared at the doubled-over King in equal parts horror and disbelief.

"Oh." She pressed her hand over her mouth. "I am so, so sorry!"

She reached out to touch his arm, but Jareth—still bent over—held up his hand.

Sarah dutifully backed away. "I didn't mean to hurt you, but I said, 'Wait,' and you lunged and—and—"

Suddenly, she was furious. "And who does that, huh? Who lunges at someone with their mouth when they were asked to wait?"

Jareth, however, did not reply. Sarah looked over at her friends: Sir Didymus was staring at her wide-eyed; Ludo was wincing; and Hoggle had his hand clasped over his mouth, his shoulders shaking with laughter.

Jareth slowly rose to his full height with as much poise as he could muster.

"I do believe that"—he cleared his throat, his voice hoarse— "is my cue to leave."

Sarah covered her face with her hands. Could this party be any more of a disaster?

When she looked up, the Goblin King was gone…as were most of the creatures; the room was empty except for her friends and the scattered remains of streamers and party food on her floor.

"Midnight." The Goblin King's voice—still rather hoarse, truth be told—echoed through the room. "On your twenty-first birthday, Sarah. Be ready."

Sarah stilled, waiting for him to do or say something more, but there was only silence and a moderate sprinkling of glitter falling from the ceiling.

She exhaled in relief, her shoulders drooping, and turned to her friends.

"Some party, huh?" she said with false bravado.

Her friends rushed over to her.

With a groan, Sarah bent down to receive their hugs.

"Never fear, fair maiden!" Sir Didymus said, patting her leg. "All will be well."

"How can it be well?" Sarah winced. "I kneed him."

Hoggle snorted. "Well … that'll teach him not to try that again without askin' you first."

Sarah exhaled in a rush. "I guess it's important to establish boundaries, right? It's a good way to start any relationship." She bit her lip, remembering the scene. "Agh, who am I kidding? Kneeing someone is not a great way to start …well, anything. And to think, I had hoped that we could be friends." She shook her head, trying to shake away the memory. "This is all going terribly, terribly wrong ..."

"Now, now," Hoggle said gruffly. "You sound like a False Alarm."

Sarah gasped out a laugh. She bent down to pet Ambrosius, who licked her hand consolingly.

"Surely, it will not be as ill as thou fears, fair maiden," Sir Didymus said. He held up his spear proudly. "Thou shalt be the greatest queen in the history of the kingdom!"

Sarah could not help but smile at his enthusiasm. "Many thanks, Sir Knight. But it's not the queening part that I'm worried about."

Hoggle was a little more perceptive than his furry friends.

"Jareth ain't so bad," he said grudgingly. "He prances 'round the place, but you'll keep him in line, you'll see. Hmm, I wonder…?"

"You wonder what?" Sarah asked.

Hoggle tapped his chin. "I wonder if the Queen can bog the King?"

Sir Didymus looked horrified. "Brother, surely thou aren't suggesting…?"

Sarah smirked. "I guess we'll find out."

"My Lady!" the knight cried indignantly.

Hoggle chortled. "Serve His Tighty Pants right! Tell me when you're gonna try; I want front row seats. It would be worth smelling the Bog to watch his Majesty go fer a swim."

Ludo carefully placed his arm around Sarah's shoulders.

"Thanks, Ludo," she said, rubbing her cheek against his fur. She took a deep breath. "And I'll have you guys to help me, won't I?"

"Sawah friend," Ludo answered, patting her arm.

"But of course!" Didymus cried. He fell to one knee. "My sword and shield are yours to command!"

Hoggle rolled his eyes but nodded. "We'll help. Besides, you've got six years to prepare. You can do a lot in six years. Look what you did in thirteen hours."

Sarah blinked. "That's right." A flash of gold caught her eye. On the window seat, the foil crown sat, waiting. "I've got six years to prepare."

Hoggle patted her gently on the hand. "We'd best be off. But, just so you know: if it had to be anyone, we're glad that you're gonna be our queen."

Sarah could barely speak past the lump in her throat. "Thank you."

She turned away for a moment to press her damp eyes against the cuff of her sleeve. When she looked up, they were gone. Thankfully, so was the mess from the party. She almost laughed at that: her whole world was on the cusp of catastrophic change, and she was worried about getting into trouble for not cleaning her room.

All of a sudden, the adrenaline that had been keeping her going for the past thirteen-plus hours abruptly left her system, and her knees turned to jelly. She hit the light switch and collapsed onto her bed.

"I'm going to be the Queen of the Goblins," she whispered to the ceiling.

She brushed her thumb over the ring of vines on her finger and turned toward at the figurine on her dressing table which stood proudly in a puddle of moonlight.

"And I'm going to marry the King of the Goblins."

She expected to laugh at the thought, but it caught in her chest. Unbidden, a memory drifted to the forefront of her mind: a memory of being held within Jareth's strong embrace as he spun her around a candle-lit ballroom with effortless grace. She recalled how her breath caught in her chest as she listened to a song that promised her everything ... and the way her blood seemed to heat in her veins when his gaze promised even more. And even now, lying in bed, she could still feel the sensation of his jeweled coat against her skin as she pressed her bare palms to his chest … and the feel of his heartbeat beneath her hands racing, racing because of her

She touched her fingertips to her lips, where the ghost of a half-kiss lingered.

"I wonder…" she whispered into the dark. "I wonder what he really thinks of me."

And then, she remembered:

But what no one knew is that the King of the goblins had fallen in love with the girl, and he had given her certain powers.

She shivered. Mistaking it for cold, she drew her patchwork quilt around her.

"Six years," she said, yawning, her eyelids suddenly heavier than the band of gold around her finger. "That's more than enough time to prepare. I'll be ready for him."

As she drifted off to sleep, she could have sworn that she heard the tinkling strains of her music box playing a song that promised sunsets and gold and a love laid out amongst the constellations.

"I'll be ready for him …" she murmured and let herself fall into dreams.

[NEXT-The Epilogue: where some things are made clear, and other things are naked or drunk]

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I found this vintage scrap of a story while I was Marie Kondo-ing my hard drive (so little sparked joy). I decided to finish it instead of doing housework because housework is a trap, people. A TRAP! Please read on to the epilogue, because there should always be an epilogue...