Chapter 7: The Return of the King (and his fine leather pants)
Sarah's final romantic disappointment happened the night before her wedding.
Sarah was staying in her childhood home during the lead-up to the big day. When Geoff had knocked on the door that evening, she had jokingly refused to open it because it was bad luck to see the bride the night before the wedding. He had given a weak chuckle and then asked her, quietly, to please let him in.
They had then proceeded to have a very civilized, very adult discussion about some very hard truths and one very large secret. At the end of it, Sarah hugged him close, wished him well, and told him that they would always be friends, which she meant from the bottom of her heart.
After he left, she broke the news to her parents; her father was angry on her behalf and Karen was devastated. Toby gave her a hug and then proceeded to eat the entire first tier of the wedding cake.
Sarah ate the second tier while watching an old Cary Grant movie on late night television, dressed in an old pair of fox-covered flannel pyjamas that Toby had given her for Christmas. Her family had thought it best to give her space and had retreated upstairs, leaving her to self-medicate with sugar.
When the movie finished, she sat in the dark, thinking about her entire romantic life, from the moment that Hoggle had burst through her hedge with dire warnings of adventures, until the moment Geoff had walked out of her life.
For the first time, she let herself to wonder whether she would have been rescued by now if she had allowed herself to be holed up in that tower.
She wondered what her One True Love was doing right now.
With her head full of 'what ifs' and her stomach full of red velvet cake, she slowly climbed the stairs to her room. Just like old times, she sat in front of her dressing table mirror and looked at her reflection.
"I'm not sure who I'm saying this to," she said, directing her comments to a place beyond her reflection. "I guess I'm saying it to anyone who wants to listen. I just wanted to let you all know that I'm ok with this. I mean, with Geoff cancelling our wedding."
Her gaze automatically turned to the reflection of the long, white gown hanging from the door of her closet. She took a deep breath.
"But more than that, I guess I wanted you all to know that I'm finally ok with the fact that Love and I don't seem to be destined for one another after all."
She was pleased to see that her reflection seemed calm, sure. She turned her attention away from herself and toward the many photographs of her family and friends that were stuck haphazardly around the mirror.
"If I had the chance to go back in time, knowing what I know now, I would be sorely tempted to wait in that tower, even with all that lava. But I still wouldn't choose that path. If I had waited in that tower for my One True Love, it would have hurt too many people— people who loved me and needed me."
Her fingers traced over a photograph of a young Toby, who was clutching her hand and standing on unsteady feet. Right after Karen had snapped that photo, he had said Sarah's name for the very first time. She smiled.
"I would have missed so much time with my family, and with you, my friends. I would have missed the opportunity to grow up and to learn from all my many, many mistakes. So, at end of the day, I would have made the same decision, but perhaps for better reasons."
"I guess after everything, I have no regrets. Well, maybe about Kenny's Pontiac and Bryce's adventure with that permanent marker," she said, ruefully.
"But other than that? Nothing. Just as long as I have you—all of you—in my life, for the rest of my life, then I'll have all the love I'll ever need." She cleared her throat, her eyes tearing up. "And you should know that I love all of you in return. So we'll have our own version of Happily Ever After—one with more ale and chickens and...and tea parties than the usual kind of Happily Ever Afters. Ours will be a love story based on the kind of friendship that lasts forever, which sounds pretty wonderful to me."
She wiped her eyes. "I guess that's all I wanted to say. Thanks for listening."
She waited a moment, just in case, but the mirror only showed her reflection—no friends or beasties looked back.
With a sigh, she turned her back to the mirror, toed off her slippers, and walked over to the bed. Just as she was pulling back the covers, she heard an unexpected voice.
"As usual, you completely turn everyone's world upside down and then expect everything to be forgiven and forgotten with a couple of pretty words."
At the sound of THAT voice, the fine hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She clenched her hands.
Get a grip, she told herself. He has no power over you. Just turn around, look him in the eye, and you will be ok.
Unfortunately, looking at him led to a reaction that was completely the opposite of ok, in fact.
No-k, so to speak.
The Goblin King was reclining on her armchair, both leather-clad legs hooked over one of the armrests. She noted, rather wistfully, that he was still obscenely beautiful. She also noted, with some alarm, that he was wearing quite a lot of leather, armor and pointy accessories—and all of it was black. Given what Hoggle had told her about the King's wardrobe choices, she took this to be a Bad Omen.
Despite his menacing choice of clothing, his pose was one of regal indolence—well, as regal and as indolent as one could look whilst sitting on pink, paisley velour—and his rather sharp features were arranged in a rather pleasant smirk. Sarah realized that his expression was probably the result of seeing her foxy flannel pyjamas.
Before she could reach for her robe, he spoke.
"Hello, Sarah," he said, those honeyed tones conveying a wealth of condescension.
Again, his voice set off the fastest physiological chain reaction that Sarah had ever experienced. Her heart started to race, her stomach twisted as if it was attempting some kind of complex, internal-organ yoga manoeuvre, and her palms moistened within a nano-second.
What was possibly even more distressing to Sarah was that this reaction didn't feel like fear per se, but more like anticipation mixed with a healthy appreciation of how well the Goblin King wore leather pants.
Damn hormones. Nothing but trouble.
"What are you doing here?" she said, possibly a bit more aggressively than was warranted.
Despite the indolence of his pose, Sarah couldn't help but feel that the Goblin King was furious at her question and her tone. His jaw clenched, his hands fisted at his side, and his black cloak started to flutter menacingly in the non-existent breeze.
"Why," his words positively dripped venom, "I'm here to comfort you, just like my subjects have comforted you after your many, many, many..."
Sarah clenched her jaw.
"... romantic blunders." He brushed a speck of glitter off his sleeve. "Apparently, it is my turn this time. Allow me to begin."
He stood up in one fluid movement and began to clear his throat rather theatrically.
"Oh dear, poor Sarah!" he said, his voice full of exaggerated concern. "It appears that you've lost your fiancé." He placed one gloved hand over his throat in false sympathy. "Such a pity. He seemed like a wonderful fellow, this Gerald of yours."
"Geoff," she corrected automatically.
"Yes," he said agreeably.
He crossed the room and perched on the very edge of her dressing table, his long legs stretched out before him. With a pointy smile, he removed a photo that Karen had taken of Geoff and Sarah at Coney Island from her mirror.
"Simply marvellous chap," he said flatly. He graced the photograph with a rather superior smirk. "That is, until George..."
"...fell out of the wardrobe."
"The term is 'came out of the closet'," she said between clenched teeth.
"Yes." His grin was far too smug to be even remotely sympathetic. "And he certainly evacuated that piece of furniture just in the nick of time, didn't he?"
"That is none of your business," she said firmly, folding her arms.
The Goblin King ignored her. Instead, he looked at her closet curiously, as if he was trying to picture Geoff within.
"From whence you came, Geoff," he said dryly.
With a deft flick of his wrist, the photograph soared across the room and slipped into the tiny gap between the closet doors.
"Hey!" she yelled.
Levelling a disgusted look at the King, she walked quickly over to the closet to retrieve the photo.
Again, the King ignored her, and proceeded to busy himself by adjusting his gloves.
"For what it's worth," she said, wrenching open the closet doors and picking up the photograph. "I think he is very brave to finally—"
The Goblin King held up his hand, halting her mid sentence.
"How typical," he sneered. "Always defending the indefensible. But not to worry," he said, his tone so acidic that it could easily strip paint from walls, "I'm sure that there is yet another suitor for you, waiting in the wings. Perhaps even one who will refrain from jumping out of your furniture without prior warning."
There were words—hot, angry, defensive words, liberally sprinkled with the odd expletive—on the tip of Sarah's tongue. But there was something about the Goblin King's brittle demeanor that stopped her in her tracks. It was almost as if he wanted her to argue with him.
Sarah had rarely acted in accordance with the Goblin King's wishes and saw no reason to start now.
"Forgive me," she said sarcastically, placing the photo on her nightstand, "but the prospect of yet another suitor leaves me cold. And frankly," she said, folding her arms, "given Geoff's announcement, I am a little suspicious of all men right now." Her lips twisted into a triumphant little smirk. "Perhaps some men more than others."
She gave his ensemble a meaningful look, pausing at the high-ish heels on his black leather boots; the jewels sprinkled over his black armor; and the peach lipgloss liberally coating his thin lips. She ended her scrutiny at his mismatched eyes which were rimmed with at least three different shades of eye-shadow, one of which looked remarkably like Max Factor's 'Earth Spirits Eye Shadow #117' in 'Smouldering Silver'.
Those cosmetically-enhanced eyes narrowed. "I do not appreciate the implication of your statement or your gaze, Sarah."
Before she could say anything, he spied her wedding gown hanging from the closet door. Shaking his head, he sauntered over to it.
"Good lord, you weren't going to get married in that rag were you?"
He looked disdainfully at the simple, white satin sheath dress, and then prodded it disapprovingly with his index finger.
"That comment is really not helping your case," she said dryly.
He rolled his eyes.
"Look," she said briskly, her patience finally at an end, "for the record, your presence here isn't all that comforting. Quite the opposite, in fact. Even the fieries did a better job of consoling me after a breakup. So, unless you're going to offer me another tier of wedding cake or a bottle of hard liquor, you can show yourself out."
The King tilted his head to the side, surveying her. "Those are my only two options? Come, come, Sarah—wouldn't you much prefer me to unleash a minotaur on Geoffrey? I do have a spare one." His brow creased. "Odd fashion sense, if memory serves but menacing nonetheless..."
Sarah blinked. "Ahh...thanks, I guess. But no thanks."
The Goblin King's gaze turned shrewd. "And if I could, hypothetically, order the minotaur to gore Gordon in a sensitive area the next time he engages in amorous activities with his male assistant—would that change your answer?"
Sarah's eyes opened wide. Huh. His assistant. Well, that... explained a lot actually. Lucky for Geoff, she had lost her taste for vengeance long ago.
"Still no thanks. We're friends...and friends don't let friends to get gored by minotaurs."
The Goblin King gave a harsh bark of laughter. "Friends," he sneered, "Of course he is your friend."
He crossed the room in a flash, closing the gap between them until he loomed above her. Sarah was forced to take a step back to regain any semblance of personal space.
Undeterred, he began to circle her. "You befriend dwarves who conspire against you; foxes who were ordered to oppose you; beasts who should have devoured you; and men who have lied to you and betrayed you." He paused and leaned toward her, close enough for her to count each strand of his moon-bright hair-close enough for the hem of his cloak to brush against her calves. "Given your penchant for the devious and cruel, I find it odd that you haven't sought to befriend me in all these years."
Ah ha! Sarah thought triumphantly. Now they were getting somewhere.
Funny, she had never considered that the Goblin King might have feelings (beyond villainous urges), but clearly his feelings were hurt and he was lashing out at her. The thought made her oddly sad.
"You know," she said thoughtfully, refusing to back away this time. "I often wondered about that. I eventually became friends with everyone in the Underground—except you. I guess it's because you didn't make the effort to befriend me."
At his stunned expression, she merely smiled, tiredly. "I mean, if you had come over here one day, and said 'truce', I guess we could have gotten past our grievances and become...well, friends." She shrugged. "Or not. But we could have tried."
Jareth stepped away from her. "That is all it would have taken?" he asked, shocked.
She shrugged. "Probably. I don't hold a grudge. In fact, I even became friends with Jeremy Botts. "
His expression turned gleefully nostalgic. "Ahh...Jeremy Botts. That odd little man."
"Yes," she said dryly, "and looking back, that was probably my most successful relationship to date."
At the mention of the word 'relationship', Jareth's mood turned dark again. "Ahh yes. The first of so many."
Sarah was too tired to deal with His Majesty's bipolar turns. "You know what? This has been great. Thanks—your insults really took my mind off my romantic woes, not to mention the sordid details about my ex-fiancé's love-life that you managed to drop into the conversation." She walked over to the mirror. "I'm sure you've got a long day ahead of you, bogging and terrorizing your subjects, so let's just call it a night. It was great seeing you—really; we'll have to do this again in another fifteen years or so."
She made a meaningful 'go back to where you came from' gesture toward the mirror. The King, however, ignored it and simply looked at her, his expression inscrutable.
"You are exhausting," he said simply.
She blinked. "Me? I'm exhausting? I'm exhausting?"
He ignored her. "Why couldn't you have simply allowed yourself to be taken by that damn dragon?"
His tone was so wistful, his posture and expression so defeated, that for a moment, she was stunned into silence.
But only for a moment.
Sarah marched up to him until they were toe-to-toe.
"Allowed myself to be taken?" she said, furious. "You mean 'kidnapped and kept in a tower surrounded by lava, at the mercy of some deranged villain', don't you? And for what? True Love?"
The King's wistful expression fled, replaced by a fury to match Sarah own.
"True Love, is a gift!" he snarled. "And you threw it away as if it meant nothing. You cast away your First Kiss without a thought, even though it rightly belonged to another! As usual, you were spoilt, selfish—"
"Selfish?" she interrupted. "The only person I hurt by not being in that tower was me. How is that selfish?"
At that, he threw his head back and laughed, the sound as sharp as glass shards.
"Tell, me precious thing; while you were composing your great and glorious speech about how you rejected True Love in order to be there for the people who needed you, did you ever spare a thought for what your actions may have cost your One True Love?"
Sarah looked at him blankly. "What do you mean?"
His eyes bored into hers. "When you rejected the possibility of True Love, what do you think happened to your One True Love? Do you think that he simply moved on? Do you think that he could move on, knowing that his One True Love was out there, even if she cared nothing for his existence?"
Sarah opened her mouth to retort and then abruptly closed it again. In all these years, she had never truly considered what her actions may have cost her One True Love. If her One True Love had known that she had rejected him— and if he had subsequently experienced the same kind of romantic failures that she had experienced—well, then her One True Love was entitled to be somewhat annoyed with her.
Then again, if he had waited for her all these years, hoping that somehow they could be together...
Sarah's expression turned to one of horror. "I didn't know," she whispered. "I didn't realize. Hoggle..."
"Hoggle," the King sneered. "That damn dwarf ruined everything. He warned you needlessly and look what came of it."
Sarah, of course, came to her friend's defense. "He tried to protect me from dragons and lava and villains," she said passionately. "He was a good friend who didn't want me to sit in a tower for a century for absolutely nothing."
The Goblin King paced the floor frantically before her. "A century? A century? You would have been up there for thirteen hours at the most!"
He stopped in shock, his eyes wide at his confession.
And suddenly, it all made sense to Sarah.
"You," she whispered. "It was you, all along. You are my One True Love."
For a moment, the Goblin King stood completely still. A look of such raw longing briefly softened his harsh features, only to be quickly extinguished.
Slowly, he began to clap his hands, the sound oddly muted by his leather gloves.
"Well done. You've finally figured it out. Give the girl a peach."
He stormed past her, walking toward the mirror.
"Wait a minute!" she yelled, grabbing onto his arm.
Jareth stopped and looked down at her hand, pale against his black armor.
"That's quite the grip," he said mildly, "you should consider taking up arm-wrestling."
Before she could reply, he resumed walking, towing her along with him.
"Damn it, stop!" she yelled, stumbling behind him.
When he didn't even pause, she set her jaw.
"Right," she said, determined, "you asked for it."
She deliberately hooked her ankle around one of his boots, and wound her leg around his.
Jareth looked down. "What the—?"
They toppled over, forming an odd, tangled heap of leather and flannel, his cape fluttering nervously over them both.
"I want answers," she panted, clutching his leg.
The King turned his head so that his face was no longer mashed into the carpet.
"And I want to rule a kingdom where the inhabitants don't accidentally set fire to their own pants," he huffed, trying to untangle himself from her limbs. "Clearly neither of us will get what we want."
With a few efficient movements, he was almost free. Just as he was about to stand, Sarah reached up and touched him briefly on the cheek. He looked at her in shock.
"Please," she said quietly, pushing her advantage. "Please, Jareth."
He closed his eyes, almost savoring the sound of his name.
"Please," she whispered again, her fingers tingling from where they had touched his skin.
Slowly, he opened his eyes and turned his body so that they were face-to-face.
"I thought Hogsbreath told you all about my 'beige phase' and your ill-fated adventure," he said, resigned.
She sighed in relief. It appeared that he had decided not to run away after all. "Clearly, he missed out on a few important details—like the identity of my One True Love. And who my kidnapper was going to be. Please, I need to know."
The King brushed a dust bunny from his sleeve. "A dragon by the name of Reginald. And before you ask, he was doing it because he owed me a favor."
Sarah relinquished her grip on his leg—making a mental note that he had rather firm calves— and hoisted herself up to her feet. "And that's it?" she said, puzzled. "Just the dragon? There was no other villain?"
Jareth also stood up next to her, so close that they were practically touching. Oddly enough, she didn't mind this time.
Though, it was somewhat distracting.
Jareth didn't notice her lack of focus. "Good villains—yes, that is an oxymoron—are hard to find. Strictly speaking, there doesn't need to be a villain when you have lava. Lava is an extremely villainous substance."
Sarah pondered that. "Hogg—, I mean, my friends were convinced that the lava would make rescue difficult."
He raised an eyebrow. "Do you really think that a little hot liquid would have posed any kind of trouble for me?"
At Sarah's less than encouraging look, he rolled his eyes. "Good lord, you insult me at every turn..."
With a flick of his wrist, a crystal appeared, dancing across his fingertips. "I spent many an hour planning ways to cross. It helped pass the time."
He held the crystal before her. Peering inside, she saw a rickety old castle with a high tower, surrounded by spitting, hissing lava. At the top of the tower, she saw herself sitting at the window, her long, dark hair whipping around wildly in the high winds. This Other Sarah watched in amusement (and a fair bit of relief) as the Goblin King rescued her from the tower in a multitude of ways—each of which contained at least one costume change and a catchy song-and-dance number. There was one dramatic moment where one of the King's costume choices appeared to be somewhat flammable ("Rayon, rayon, tra la la"), but even a flaming cloak was not enough to stop him from his mission. In fact, he barely missed a note. The Other Sarah applauded enthusiastically.
By the end of the five minute montage, Sarah had a new found respect for the ingenuity of the Goblin King.
"Show off," she said, a little admiringly.
He merely grinned his pointy grin.
Sarah's answering smile soon disappeared. "I was too young for a True Love back then. I barely recognized that boys existed. I certainly wouldn't have known what to do with you."
Jareth made a rather dismissive hand gesture. "You could have put me in your closet until you were ready to attend to me. Geoff could have kept me company," he said, with a sly smile.
Sarah elbowed him in the side. "Not cool."
Jareth appeared not to mind her physical assault—probably because he was wearing armor. He moved the crystal effortlessly back and forth, from palm to palm. "True Love waits, Sarah."
He handed the crystal to her once more. Within its depths, she saw what might have been between them: A rescue, followed by a tentative friendship, which led to a bond that grew stronger and stronger between them each day. Then, after enough time had passed, the attraction that had always flickered between them was allowed to finally burn bright, leading to a Love...no, a True Love...that endured throughout the ages.
When the crystal turned dark, Sarah gave a sudden bark of laughter which sounded more like a sob. She looked up at Jareth and noticed, with some surprise, that he was still staring at the crystal with a wretched kind of longing. She'd bet her salary that, at that moment, her own expression was probably eerily similar.
Lord, what a mess.
"I don't know about you," she said, clearing her throat, "but I could use a very strong drink."
She crossed the room, her legs a little shaky. "I'm going to raid my Dad's liquor cabinet. Do you want anything?"
He gave her a sharp smile. "No need, precious thing."
With another flick of his wrist, he tossed the crystal into the air. When it returned to his palm, it had turned into a small bottle, the contents of which were the color of mother of pearl. Suspended in the liquid were thousands of golden flecks.
Sarah shuddered. "If that's Floraqua, I'm going to pass; this day has been horrific enough."
He tsked. "Ye of little faith."
Looking around the room, he spied two rose-print tea cups on the shelf behind him. He carefully poured a generous quantity of the liquid into each cup.
"Trust me—good lord, that isn't a phrase I utter often—you have never truly sampled Floraqua." He silenced Sarah's protests with a gesture. "As if I would leave a precious liquor—distilled only once every century—where that thieving dwarf could find it."
He held the cup out for Sarah. "Hogwash delights in raiding the liquor from my cabinet—I delight in swapping the liquor in my cabinet for ever-more unpalatable substances."
Sarah turned a little green. Nevertheless, she walked across the room and took the cup from the King. "Do I even want to know what substance you put in Hoggle's Floraqua, bottle?"
Jareth contemplated that for a moment, tapping a gloved finger against his lips. "Given that I wish to continue this lovely truce of ours, I do believe the answer is 'no'." He picked up his own tea cup. "Besides, what's done is done. This, I assure you, is the genuine Floraqua,."
Sarah tentatively brought the cup to her nose and inhaled. The floral scent was utterly bewitching. She bravely took a sip and moaned happily.
"Wow," she said, reverently, and took another sip.
It was like drinking liquid sunshine. She felt wonderful—as if anything and everything was possible, as long as she kept drinking.
She made her way carefully to the foot of the bed, her limbs tingling in a pleasant way, and sat down. With a happy sigh, she took another sip.
"This," she said dreamily, "is bliss."
He lifted an eyebrow. "Better than your last Floraqua, experience?"
"Somewhat," she said, with an impish smile. "Unlike last time, I don't want to rub my tongue with sandpaper."
He threw back his head and laughed. Oddly enough, it made her happy, really happy, to see him laughing like that. She wondered if she could blame her reaction on the Floraqua.
Jareth crossed the room and sat down beside her, the entire length of his thigh pressed against hers. Sarah found this development oddly thrilling.
They sat together, sipping companionably.
"What a don't understand," she said eventually, "is why you went to all the trouble of organizing a dragon so that you could rescue me from a tower when you could have simply visited me here and let me get to know you. Or better yet, why didn't you just simply tell me that you were my One True Love?"
Jareth sighed. "I wasn't allowed to tell you that I was your One True Love—that's not 'The Way Things Are Done'. As for visiting, at first, I couldn't come to you." At Sarah's puzzled look, he grimaced. "I had no power over you, remember? And just when I had figured out a way of getting around that particular impediment, you went and rejected True Love." He gave her a disapproving glance and drained the last of the liquor from his cup. "After that, I wasn't allowed anywhere near you. It was the Underground equivalent of a restraining order."
It was Sarah's turn to grimace. "Then how are you here now?"
At that question, Jareth smiled a pointy, devious smile. "In that heart-rending speech you gave earlier, you said that you loved us, all of us, which apparently included me, too. Your words broke the spell, so to speak."
Sarah thought that over. She must have meant it, on some level, otherwise it wouldn't have worked.
Sighing, she noticed that she was out of Floraqua. Pity; these soul-wrenching conversations were so much easier while mildly intoxicated.
Without being asked, Jareth reached over and refilled her cup and his. "Even if I could have ventured here and courted you, I wouldn't have; I thought that True Love deserved a grand gesture. Perhaps I went too far with the lava." He took a long sip from his own cup. "Damn lava," he muttered.
"Damn lava," she agreed.
"Besides," he said quietly, in the tone that one usually reserves to tell a secret, "I was rather looking forward to playing the role of rescuer for once. Those fellows always get to smash things up."
Sarah was about to laugh but she stopped, abruptly. It made sense— it really did. Jareth, King of the Goblins, was a villain who yearned to be a hero for once—if only to see how the other half lived. The clues were there throughout her run through the Labyrinth: His costumes, for instance (aside from the villainous black) were ridiculously romantic—all those poet shirts, not to mention that feathery beige ensemble he had worn during their last encounter; in her peach dream, he had played the role of a (slightly sinister) Prince Charming, whirling her around the dance-floor and singing of love and devotion; even in his final monologue, he had implored her to love him, though he had slipped it between villainous commands, possibly so that she wouldn't notice. At the time, she had thought that his romantic overtures were simply a ploy to get her to give up Toby; now, she wondered whether he had been struggling to juggle both his role as her villain and as her One True Love—and failing somewhat at both.
Talk about eye-opening. If only she had known...
"Thirteen hours, you say, and I would have been out of that tower?
"At the most," he said morosely. "Damn dwarf."
"Damn dwarf," she agreed, not feeling disloyal at all.
With an approving smirk, Jareth clinked his cup against hers in a toast. She reciprocated with her own smirk and took another sip.
"I couldn't have known that," she said quietly, "so I chose the best option available to me at the time."
He nodded, finally acknowledging the point.
They sat in comfortable silence, feeling the potential growing between them. She noticed that Jareth was starting to look remarkably relaxed; his eyes were almost half-closed, his posture far less rigid than she had ever seen it. It was as if telling her all the secrets he had kept bottled up for years had leached the rigidity from his form. That and he was probably mildly intoxicated.
"You never gave up, did you?" she asked admiringly. "Even after you watched every one of my dating disasters."
At that, he smiled. "Good lord no! You had such horrific taste in suitors; they were all so dismal. Though," he said, thoughtfully, "I should thank them—they provided me with a most flattering basis of comparison."
Sarah laughed. "I can't argue with that." She sipped the very last of her Floraqua. "I had such wonderful plans for my First Kiss and for Love in general...and it went terribly wrong each and every time."
Jareth turned toward her, his head tilted to the side with almost birdlike curiosity. "Is it really the fault of your suitors for not living up to your expectations?"
He first looked surprised and then inordinately pleased at her recognition. She, however, was simply shocked that she had said it. She peered into her cup.
"This stuff is stronger than I thought," she muttered.
Jareth, however, was in the mood to be gracious. "Yes, but I had to bend the very fabric of time to do it," he conceded. "You had me dancing to a merry tune, precious thing. And if even I, with all my cunning and magic besides, was exhausted living up to your expectations, well...those mortal boys never stood a chance."
She thought back to their dance in the white ballroom and her eyes narrowed. "It's all your fault—you gave me ballrooms and dances and handsome princes in shining—"
"Kings," he interrupted. "Handsome kings."
"Still," she persisted, ignoring him, "it was a hard act to follow."
"Deliberately so," he revealed, still smiling.
"Ahh. Then mortal men never stood a chance?"
"Never," he said with a satisfied smirk.
Sarah pressed her thigh a little more firmly against his. He noticed and gave her an approving look.
She took a deep breath. "So...what happens now?"
"That depends," he said mildly. He took her cup from her and put it on the floor beside his. "Have you finished playing with your mortal suitors, precious thing?"
"Didn't you hear my speech? I'm through with love," she said dramatically.
She placed one hand over her eyes and fell backwards in a rather spectacular swoon onto the bed. She removed her hand when she heard the sound of his laughter but almost put it back again when she caught the predatory look in those strange eyes.
"Pity," he said wistfully, "I'm ready to begin."
In a flash, he had left the end of the bed and was kneeling by her side. With a strange smile, he took her hands and crossed them over her chest.
"Whatever are you doing?" she whispered.
"Hush," he whispered in return, "this is 'The Way These Things Are Done'."
He leaned over her and carefully spread her dark hair so that it spilled artfully over her pillows.
"The way 'what' is 'done', exactly?"
He tsked. "Can't you see that I am trying to create the right ambiance here? And do be still," he said sternly, pushing her gently back onto the bed when she attempted to sit up.
"Fine," she huffed.
She watched as he pulled flowers—large pink peonies and roses in shades she had never seen before—from thin air. He placed them around the bed, weaving the smaller buds into her long, dark tresses.
"You can't even give me a clue?"
Jareth rolled his eyes, clearly enjoying himself immensely. "So many questions, Sarah." He tucked a final rose in-between her clasped hands. "Those princes had it easy—their women were in a coma," he noted dryly.
She raised an eyebrow. "Are you talking about Sleeping Beauty and Snow White?"
"I am talking about taking back my right to your First Kiss—a right that was stolen from me."
Flower petals, pink and white and red, began to fall from the ceiling.
"Now, close your eyes," he coaxed. "Precious thing."
She looked up, enchanted at the scene. "But, I'll miss—"
"Sarah," he said, a smile in his voice. "Don't defy me."
With an exaggerated sigh, she closed her eyes.
"Do try and enjoy it," he chided.
She laughed and then tried to play her part. With her eyes closed, her senses came alive. She could feel the weight of the petals as they fell over her body and across her hands; she could hear the sound of her own breathing and the fragment of a familiar song that Jareth was humming; she could smell leather amongst the summer scent of peonies and the richer fragrance of roses; she could taste a thousand flowers on the tip of her tongue.
The scene was perfect.
Suddenly she felt the warmth of his breath brush against her lips like a caress and her heart began to beat so fast that she could hear it pounding in her ears.
How could Sleeping Beauty have slept over the sound of her heartbeat? she thought, wildly.
Then his lips touched hers and she finally knew why a First Kiss had the power to wake heroines from apple-induced comas. It wasn't simply lips pressed against lips— it was a melding of souls. His lips touched hers and her entire being flooded with such energy, such light that she felt incandescent. She could feel him—everything that he was, everything that he could be—in every molecule of her body.
This kiss could rouse her from sleep, from death, from the bounds of forever.
This kiss promised a thousand 'Happily Ever Afters' and centuries of 'As Long As They Both Shall Lives'.
This kiss ruined her for all others, while assuring her that she would never need to seek out anyone else, now that she was safely sheltered in the arms of her One True Love.
When his lips finally left hers and she opened her eyes, she was no longer in her room; starscapes twinkled knowingly down upon her, a full moon illuminated the white-gold strands of Jareth's hair. And if she inhaled deeply enough, she could smell the fragrance of wild honeysuckle over the scent of roses and blossoms.
She looked up at her One True Love, who was now wearing a fetching beige ensemble that matched her own. He was looking down at her with a look of such wonder and fierce joy that her heart simply melted. She gently traced her fingers along his cheek and smiled up at him madly. His look turned wildly triumphant and, after that kiss, she felt that he had grounds to be, so she allowed it.
"May I have another First Kiss?" she asked, a trifle breathlessly.
"Greedy girl." His voice was husky and kiss-roughened. "According to the fairytales, you are only allowed one."
She didn't bother to ask again; she simply reached up and took another.
And still another.
Until she lost count.
"That," she moaned, as Jareth's lips nipped the smooth skin of her pale throat, "isn't part of a First Kiss scenario. I doubt Prince Charming gave Snow White a love bite."
"Princes," he said disdainfully, placing soothing butterfly kisses on the spot, "always do things by halves. Which is why it is much better to be rescued by a debaucherous King."
"I quite agree," she said, tilting her head so that he could place more kisses against the delicate curve of her neck.
"Though," he said, between kisses, "if we are talking about First Kiss violations, I doubt that Snow White had groped her Prince in quite that fashion," he said, referring to Sarah's hands, which were currently caressing his chest beneath his pendant.
"Which is why it is better to rescue a Champion rather than a virtuous maiden," she said impishly.
"I quite agree."
Though, the thought made her pause. Jareth made a displeased sound at the interruption.
"I am the Champion, aren't I? Perhaps I should have been rescuing you all along."
Jareth paused and looked up at her. "Hmm, your argument has merit. You are the Champion. And I am the exceedingly noble King, who lives in a tower, trapped under a curse..."
Sarah's eyes widened. "You're under a curse?"
Jareth lifted one eyebrow. "Have you met my subjects? Ruling them definitely counts as a curse. "
Sarah rolled her eyes.
"I do believe that I am in need of rescuing."
Sarah nodded briskly. "Very well, then. Let's swap places."
With a laugh, Jareth complied, easily flipping their positions so that he was now lying on the bed amongst the petals and Sarah was arranged above him. He dutifully crossed his hands over his chest and attempted a virtuous expression.
He failed miserably.
"So, fair King," she said teasingly, "shall I weave flowers into your hair?"
He gave her a dull glare. "There are limits to even my androgyny."
She smiled in delight and let her fingers slide through his wild, golden hair. He closed his eyes, positively relishing her attention.
"Perhaps," she said, thoughtfully, "you went about this all wrong."
He lifted one impossibly arched brow. "How so?"
"Well, if Hoggle had burst into my garden that day and told me that you had been snatched by a dragon and then taken to a tower, surrounded by lava, then there is a very good chance that I would have rescued you."
He opened one eye. "A very good chance?"
She thought about it a little more. "Definitely."
He opened both eyes, his expression contemplative. Suddenly, his eyes widened.
"You would have rescued me," he said with conviction. "Your ridiculously noble heart, your desire to protect those around you, and your love of smashing things up would have guaranteed it."
He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. "Damn. Remind me to bog all my advisors."
"Sure," she said brightly. "Though is there any room to bog them, what with Kenny's Pontiac in there?"
At the mention of the car, Jareth's expression soured. "That Pontiac took an entire year to sink to the bottom. During that time, my Bog became a tourist attraction. The atmosphere was positively festive. "
He looked so put out, it made her smile. "Poor Jareth." She carefully placed a rose between his hands. "Now hush, and allow me my First Kiss."
"How you turn my world," he whispered.
And with another First Kiss, True Love (who disliked Sarah on general principle but had a soft spot for men in leather pants), finally removed all obstacles between Sarah and her King.
And they went on to live Happily Ever After.
Author's Note: *sob, sob*. And that's the end of the story! (insert adult-type touching). Thank you, so much, for reading. I certainly enjoyed reading your reviews; as usual, they are far better than the actual story.
(For those of you who have emailed me about Christmas Pretty, yes, I shall finish it. Though probably not until Christmas. I'll need a lot of eggnog to get me through those last few pages. Though, I am so sorry for the delay; I've actually been writing an original fantasy story, with a feisty heroine and a sarcastic hero (who also, oddly enough, wears leather pants. What can I say? I have a type...) and that has been sucking up the writing bits of my brain. If I can get the CP chapter done beforehand, I shall definitely post it asap)
Farewell for now, fangals/fanguys! Stay crotch-tastic!