[JFK Airport, New York City]
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this, Cait."
Sarah peered out the window of the plane as she settled into her seat, snapping her seatbelt into place while the stewardess began the flight announcement for the departure to New Orleans taking off shortly. Am I seriously doing this? Sarah nervously jerked on the bottom hem of the shorts, hearing her friend's small snicker beside her. Yes, apparently, I am…and why did I agree to let Cait pack for me?
Oh, yes. Because I'm boring.
She glanced over at the small Irish woman sitting next to her and rolled her eyes at Caitlin's grin, not an ounce of remorse on her face. She was practically bouncing in her seat from excitement, her pale skin and ginger curls looking radiant even in the plane's abysmal lighting. Despite her inner turmoil, Sarah couldn't help but smile as her friend's obvious buoyancy was semi-infectious.
"This was a bad idea…and why did you have to pack me clothes that are three sizes too small?" She grumbled, only to be cut off mid-complaint by a friendly smack from her friend.
"Are you kidding? This is going to be epic!" Caitlin playfully glared, slapping at Sarah's hands. "And stop fidgeting! You have a great figure, I'm only showing it off a little. You've nothing to be ashamed of, girl! You got it, flaunt it!"
Sarah groaned, covering her face with her hands. "Your idea of flaunting and mine are two totally different concepts, you know."
Caitlin patted her arm and giggled. "Sarah, relax. Have I ever steered you wrong?"
Sarah dropped her hands, glaring at her. "You hooked me into a blind date with Jeremy Hooker. That was the single worst night of my life. I thought he'd never stop calling me."
Caitlin winced and batted her eyelashes. "When have I ever steered you wrong since then?"
Sarah shook her head but laughed faintly, leaning back in her seat with a groan. "Please tell me this is the worst of the outfits you packed for me. I am not spending my vacation looking like a mix between a drag queen and a Victoria's Secret Model gone wrong."
Caitlin grinned faintly and shook her head. "Nuh-uh. Remember, you promised you'd give this a chance. In the entire time I've known you – what, eight years now? – you've never once done anything daring. You need this, Sarah Williams!"
Sarah stiffened at Caitlin's words, her mind whirling back to ten years ago. She smiled weakly as her friend gave her a knowing look, thinking of what she'd always witnessed since meeting her: a selfless, cautious, over-planning type who avoided any kind of adventure for the sake of safe, responsible level-headedness.
If she only knew what kind of adventures I'd been on and what I almost lost in the process…
Sarah forced her mind away from thinking of him and all that came with it, instead sighing and shrugging a shoulder. "Ugh, fine. Have it your way. But if I get arrested for indecency, you're a dead woman."
Caitlin grinned and shook her head in amusement. "Threats, schmets. Trust me, with what I have packed for you, the worst thing you'll have to deal with is choosing which guy you want. They'll be lined around the block!" She leaned forward to whisper in Sarah's ear excitedly. "I went last year and let me tell you – completely insane! Booze, parties, men in various states of undress! You'll never want to leave!"
Sarah laughed and hid her face in her hands once more as her friend almost shouted out her plans for their week, throwing her fist in the air like she was raising a gauntlet for some kind of battle. "I'm on a mission! We're going to get you laid, girl!"
"Jesus Christ, Cait!" Sarah hissed, blushing furiously, sliding down lower into her seat to avoid a few curious stares from other passengers in their direction. "I'm not sure you said it loud enough, the back half of the cabin didn't hear you!"
"What? We don't know these people..." Caitlin chuckled with a careless shrug, either unaware of or uncaring of the stares directed their way.
"Oh hey, look. He approves…" Caitlin wiggled her eyebrows and pointed, grinning. Sarah moaned pitifully in mortification when her eyes met a handsome man several rows ahead who had looked back at them with a small grin after hearing Caitlin's outburst and gave them a thumbs up when he caught her eye. Sarah want to die on the spot, feeling her face flush a hot pink. When he winked before turning back in his seat, she almost fainted.
"Is it possible to die from humiliation?" She moaned softly, pulling the lapels of her cardigan over her red face as she sunk low in her seat.
Caitlin laughed softly and tugged on Sarah's arm, forcing her to sit up straight again. "Oh my god, girl, lighten up! Look at it this way, he was cute!"
"Nooooo…shut up, I hate you…don't talk to me…" Sarah whispered, still mortified, but eventually she began to giggle, unable to help herself.
Caitlin grinned back and reached down, grabbing the printout of the hotel they were staying at for the next five days from her purse.
"Feast your eyes on this baby! I got us two of the best rooms at the Royal Sonesta off Bourbon. I can't wait for you to see them! They even have jacuzzies in the suites! In the actual suites, can you believe it?! We have our own private balconies if we decide we can't deal with the street crowd, though you better believe I am dragging you out for a few hours, because that's where the real crazy shit goes down…"
Sarah blinked, drawn out of her discomfort as she looked over the glossy photos of the hotel, looking at Caitlin in confusion "Wait, two rooms? We're not sharing?"
Caitlin stared at her and began to laugh again. "No, baby girl, we ain't. Remember my mission? I fully expect by a certain point of the trip you and I won't be leaving rooms for a while and I don't like an audience…"
Jesus take the wheel, Sarah thought, feeling another deep blush creep over her face as Caitlin grinned wolfishly and launched into another explanation of their plans as the plane began to taxi towards the runway.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans was shaping up to be a memorable experience, that was for sure.
[The Castle Beyond the Goblin City, Labyrinth, Underground]
Things never could be simple when it came to the Goblin King, Niall was quickly figuring out.
"Where is he?" Niall barked, glaring at the row of goblins lining the trashed throne room. They either heard and didn't understand or were too drunk to care. When he opened his mouth to ask again, one fell over, out cold, and the others began to giggle wildly, belching in the process.
"You've got to be kidding me," He muttered, running a hand over his face as he grimaced at the group. They found his distaste even more hilarious, their loud laughter ricocheting off the stone walls. How Jareth can rule these little imps is beyond me, he must have the patience of a god.
He turned and stalked out of the goblin throne room, heading towards Jareth's study, hoping to find him there. He was already in a sour mood, aggravated at his friend's stubbornness, having made the trip to the Labyrinth when Jareth had failed to arrive at his estate prior to their trip Aboveground.
As expected, when he opened the doors to the study he found Jareth leaning over his ledgers, studying the kingdom's recent export logs, utterly remorseless for failing to meet him.
"Is this what you think of promises towards old friends?" Niall tsked, stepping into the room. He saw Jareth pause, glaring up at him from his books before setting his quill aside and snapping the tomes shut with a curt gesture.
"Perhaps I do, when they're frivolous and take me away from my duties..." Jareth drawled, crossing his arms over his chest.
Niall glared at him, almost wanting to strangle him. He was going to mess it up – again! If he was like this around her all those years ago, was it any wonder why she said no? He almost snorted, studying Jareth's stony expression, trying to figure how he'd get him Aboveground in time.
So we're going to have to play dirty, are we? Game on, my friend. Really, this effort better be worth it. You better marry this girl and name your children after me for the effort I'm putting into this, you fool.
"My, my. I never took you as a coward, Jareth…" Niall drawled, purposefully goading him. He hated being so…well, Goblin King-like, but…if the shoe fit then you best lace that bitch up and wear it.
"Why is it you avoid the Aboveground at all possible costs these days? Do you fear mortals, just because one beat you?" He chose his words carefully, flashing Jareth a predatory smile as the man's gaze narrowed at him, nostrils flaring. Oh, it was working…and for the icing on the cake…"Sarah, wasn't it? I mean, she is such a pretty thing these days. If you won't join me, perhaps you won't mind if I have a taste then?"
"What?" Jareth hissed, raising his hawk-like gaze towards Niall, his frame tensing as a dark emotion flickered across his face – jealousy, perhaps? Or possessiveness? Niall wasn't sure. "I'm not sure I heard you. What did you just say to me?" His tone was certainly deadly, Niall noted.
"Sarah Williams. That pretty mortal runner of yours? I've been spying on her. I rather like her spunk, actually. I think I might head up and sample her, see what it is you've been sulking about for years no – "
Niall hadn't even finished his words when Jareth slammed him against the far wall, his hands around his neck. Niall gasped but Jareth's tight fingers were making it more difficult to breathe by the second.
Well, I suppose that answers my question on whether or not he still loves her – shit! Get control of this before the fool kills you!
"Don't you even think about touching her, I'll kill you – "
Niall grasped for the hidden back up plan in his breast pocket and once he had it, he slammed the vial against Jareth's temple, watching the blue potion whisk over his face and cover his entire mouth and nose, sticking wetly and clinging. Jareth backed away sharply, struggling as the substance coated his face but wouldn't remove itself, finally dropping roughly on the stone floor, out cold, once the spell kicked in.
Niall gagged and coughed once the agonizing pressure of Jareth's grip was gone, sagging against the wall of the study as he sucked air into his bruised windpipe. "Fuck! I'm trying to help you, you idiot! That hurt!"
"How's that workin' out for ya?" Niall heard a grunting voice from the hall, looking up sharply.
"Not great, thanks for pointing out the obvious," he snapped, watching as an old dwarf shuffled in the room. He stared at Jareth blankly who was still out cold, glancing back at Niall with a curious expression. Niall found it odd he wasn't upset or sounding the alarm that his monarch was comatose on the floor.
Niall blinked, looking appalled. "Hell no, he's not dead. I just knocked him out and placed a mem wipe on him until I can get him Aboveground. He was being…stubborn."
"That's too bad…" The dwarf muttered.
"What?" Niall wasn't sure he heard him right.
"Nothin'. Stubborn, heh. That's one way of puttin' it. What do you want to do with him Aboveground?"
Niall shifted uncomfortably on his feet. "There's a mortal girl, a..."
"Oh hell na, you're not thinkin' of match makin' him up with Sarah are ya? Of all the daft ideas…" The dwarf shouted, glaring at Niall.
Niall glared back, briefly startled the dwarf knew about Sarah but deciding to press his point. "He's in love with her, you ingrate! I'm tired of his moping! Aren't you? You ever think that she'd do him some good, eh?"
The dwarf rolled his eyes but looked ready to fight, amusing Niall in the rather impressive glower he was giving him. "That's debatable at best." He crossed his arms over his chest, studying Niall curiously. "Listen, I don't know ya, but yer a fae and ya seem t'have your mind made up on this. At least YOU seem ta have a level head, unlike his royal assness over there. If yer really doin' this… gotta promise me somethin'…if Sarah don't want him, you can't make her come here. He was a rat bastard to her years ago and he's a rat bastard now. I don't want her hurt. If he can't play nice, he don't deserve her. An' if you bring her against her will, so help me gods this whole kingdom will make it their personal mission to make yer life a livin' hell for as long as that'll be."
Niall blinked, studying the dwarf a little more closely. "You have my word."
The dwarf grunted and held out his hand. "Hoggle."
"Niall…" He took ahold of the dwarf's hand and gave it a firm shake.
The dwarf's bushy eyebrows raised. "First name basis, eh?"
"Well, considering I just drugged the king, plan to send him Aboveground and force him to consider a human mate, we should know each other in a more informal manner."
Hoggle snorted and stared down at Jareth while Niall studied him a little more clearly. "Sarah, she means a lot to you?"
Hoggle looked up at Niall, briefly showing a hint of softness in his otherwise rough appearance. "She's m'best friend. Always has been. We all adore her, we just don't talk about her 'round him. Sends him into a fit for days, sometimes weeks. We don't want t'see her hurt."
Niall pondered this, his opinion growing of this woman he had yet to meet. She already seemed to have the heart of the Labyrinth masses. If Jareth managed to fuck this up, he most likely would screw up his only chance at having a decent queen.
"I've been spying on this mortal myself for years. Jareth admitted to me once her importance to him. I find her extremely inspiring. You have my word she will not be harmed, nor brought here against her wishes. If things go south, I will simply remove Jareth and his memories. Deal?"
Hoggle seemed to study him for several moments, finally giving him a curt nod. "I always knew Sarah fancied him, y'know. But don't mean she deserves his baggage. If ya promise to protect her…ya got yerself a deal, fairy boy."
Niall almost wanted to snap at him for the tone the dwarf was using but figured, since he was technically committing treason against the Labyrinth crown, he'd let it drop. "No word of this to anyone? Will you and the others be able to control the subjects for a few days?"
"Mum's the word, pretty boy. You gettin' on or wha?"
Niall grinned, snapping his fingers and whisking him and Jareth from the study.
"Feckin' fairies…" Hoggle groused, wiping glitter from his clothes as he stepped out of the study.
"Didymus! We gotta rangle up the goblins for a few days…" He shouted, wandering down the hall.