Sarah didn't know if it was her magic reacting to an unknown presence or some sixth sense she'd developed the in the wake of threats and incursions both serious and trivial, but the instant the intruder stepped into the room she shifted from deep slumber to adrenaline-pumping wakefulness. She reached for the knife under her pillow as she woke, rolling off of the bed ready to shove her final line of defense into her attacker.
At the unexpectedly strident whisper she paused. She wasn't an expert, but she was pretty sure the typical assassin wouldn't announce his presence to his target. Besides, although even the best wards could be subverted it should have been damned difficult without help from within. She shaped magic into exploratory tendrils and reached out to confirm her suspicions of what he was and how he had gotten to the castle. She bit back a groan when she brushed against a familiar net of magic enshrouding him.
"Fear not, my lady! I have come to rescue you!"
"Rescue me?" She tilted her head and injected as much sarcasm into her voice as she could muster at o' dark hundred. It was a good thing she'd decided on the comfort of oversized plaid flannel rather than the fantasy of something silk and lacy. It would have been even better had she not woken to this absurd scenario entirely unprepared.
"From the evil Goblin King!" His glee was more suited to a small child than this twenty-something boy posing in front of her. Cute, she supposed, if you liked that black-haired, dark-eyed, swarthy-skinned type and didn't care that his looks far overwhelmed his intelligence and common sense. His physical armament matched his mental; she had seen better quality swords and more convincing armor on the goblins. He shifted from foot to foot at her continued silence and annoyed glare. She could only hope he would get the hint and just go away.
No such luck. His expression of wide-eyed enthusiasm had shifted to dogged persistence, and she resigned herself to not getting back to bed any time soon. She sighed, trying not to yawn. "What's your name, anyway?"
"Ah, the fair lady wants to know the name of her long-awaited savior!" He gave an eager grin and an elaborate, if somewhat awkward, bow. "Sir Raphael, my lady, at your service."
She combed fingers through her hair then rubbed the back of her neck. "I just wanted something to call you other than 'hey, you' when I tell you to get the hell out of my bedroom."
"My apologies for invading the sanctity of your bower, my sweet and gentle maiden, but my need is urgent. Your virtue is safe; you know I would never touch you without your desire."
If his current behavior was any indication, she didn't trust him to recognize what she desired if she wrote it out on a flashing neon billboard. She backed up a step and grabbed hold of the doorknob. "Do you not understand the phrase 'go away'?"
"Unlike that creature which has befouled you with his touch, I understand that you are a delicate flower, to be treasured above all others."
"'Delicate flower'? Not the words I'd choose. Neither is 'befouled'."
"I care not what the rogue has done to you—"
"How very kind."
"—but will gladly, lovingly, care for you until such time as you recover from your dreadful ordeal—"
"That I volunteered for."
"—and we can consummate our eternal love!"
Fight suddenly seemed much preferable to flight. She shuddered and tightened her grip on her knife, firming her stance and getting ready to lunge if he made any move towards an early taste of this mythical consummation. "Yeah, not going to happen in this or any other lifetime. Even if I wasn't spoken for."
Raphael stepped forward, undeterred. "I know he has convinced you of this, but our love will break through the lies that he has tightened about your heart!"
Hell, she was ready to use the knife just to give a merciful end to his speeches. His every word sounded like it had been written by an overly romantic teenager on a sugar high. Or by herself years ago during her teenage forays into overacting and overreacting, which was basically the same thing. "Love already won. Now scoot."
"His evil has blinded you to the truth—"
A smooth, cultured voice threaded with the barest trace of menace interrupted the boy's spiel. "If any woman Above or Underground knows her own mind, it's my future Queen."
Sarah grinned as the Goblin King, resplendent in his dark formal regalia, coalesced from a patch of shadows that hadn't been there a moment before.
"Vile monster!" Raphael waved the sword in the Goblin King's direction. "I will wrench her from your tainted clutches, free her from the wretched prison in which you have trapped her!"
"Hmm, yes." The Goblin King glanced about the richly appointed room, at the cheerful tapestries, the thick rugs, and the rumpled mountain of silken pillows and bedcovers. Sarah rolled her eyes when he finally glanced at her; he just raised an eyebrow in amusement he masked as he turned back to the boy. "I am such a cruel beast. Truly a gilded prison I've chained her in." He stalked to Sarah and wrapped an arm around his waist. One hand he spread against her belly and the other he trailed in a meandering path from her neck to her arm and back again that sent pleasant shivers through her. "Perhaps she'll let me bind her with silken cords and ravish her until she pleads quite fetchingly for mercy?"
"You... you...." Raphael spluttered and scrambled towards them. The Goblin King spun a crystal down his arm and tossed it at the boy's feet; the boy rebounded against a wall of magic.
"Quit it, you." Sarah's backwards jab into her lover's gut hit his breastplate. She huffed and rubbed her elbow.
The grin he shot down at her was pure Jareth, devoid of the formality of his office. "But my dear, watching the puppy froth is such entertainment."
"He's just naive, misguided, and way too caught up in unrealistic fantasies for his own good."
"Ten years ago, you would have swooned over that claptrap and begged for more."
"Give me a little credit. I wasn't quite that bad."
"Perhaps not. Even I in all my glory wasn't enough to win you."
She snorted and shook her head. "Besides, I grew up to really realize what an ass you were."
"Still such a sweet little thing."
"Oh, you know I love you anyway." She reached up and wound a handful of his gilded moonlight hair around her fingers and gave a gentle tug. "Not the pretty fairy tale, but the grumpy, bipolar, arrogant reality."
"Be still my beating heart. I grow faint with your copious praise." He glanced up at the boy still struggling against the invisible wall. "I would almost wonder if I should reconsider his offer."
Her eyes narrowed. "Killing you would be too good. I would hunt you down and make you miserable for the rest of my life."
"Less miserable than I would be without you? Highly unlikely." He gave a put-upon sigh. "I suppose I must keep you, if only for my own sake."
She let go of his hair, patting him on the side of the head before dropping her arm. "So generous." Her grin was deliberately oversweet; his more than a little crooked but full of laughing affection.
With a wink he slipped inside his Goblin King persona once again and turned to the boy. "So, you won your way through my Labyrinth but you clearly failed the challenge of wooing my lady away. Begone, and don't seek to trouble my beloved again."
Raphael's eyes widened. "But—"
Jareth waved his hand and the boy disappeared. None too soon, as far as Sarah was concerned.
She tossed her knife onto the bed and sagged back against Jareth. "Will they ever get the hint and stop thinking I need rescue? I'm almost beginning to prefer the threat of assassins."
Jareth dropped his chin to the top of her head and traced gentle patterns against her aching temples with his fingers. "This one had a good heart or he never would have won through to the castle."
"Great. Makes me feel so much better." She pulled out of his arms so she could glare up at him more easily. "And you didn't tell me that your Challenger was another deluded romantic out to rescue the innocent princess trapped by the evil beast."
His smile turned wicked. "I thought a little dash of excitement and adventure might amuse you."
"You thought inflicting him on me would amuse you."
She shook her head and scowled, fighting to keep the grin off her face although she was sure her amusement was reflected in her eyes. "Not funny."
He spun a crystal into his hand. Deep inside she could see images of her encounter with Raphael. "I beg to differ, my dear."
Her sidewise glance was speculative. "I do like the idea of you begging."
"As much as I like the idea of you bound to our bed by silken cords?" The images in the crystal shifted to reflect his words.
Now that they were alone and she had visuals to match the hypotheticals, the concept caught her and set her brain stuttering and her body singing in anticipation. She opened her mouth, closed it, then cleared her throat several times before trusting herself to speak. "But then how would I escape from your dastardly attentions?"
He leaned down and whispered against her ear, his breath raising goosebumps where it ghosted against her skin. "I have faith you can free yourself from any unwanted bonds that may try to entangle you, no matter who or what might be attempting to take advantage."
And that, right there, was one of the many reasons she'd fallen completely head over heels in love with him. "Well. I really do need to show you your faith is warranted."
His eyes darkened. "Oh, Sarah, you precious thing," he murmured as he gathered her into his arms, "there has never been a doubt in my mind." In a swirl of sparkles, they transported into his chambers, rooms that would belong to them both when their bond was formalized. "You are truly the only one fit to be mine."
She blamed the last vestiges of her inner teenager on the pinpricks of tears in her eyes and the lump in her throat. "My honor and my pleasure."
Jareth raised his chin and straightened his spine to his full and commanding Goblin King best. "As well it should be. Despite being an evil and tyrannical ruler, I am, after all, considered quite a catch among a certain set."
She just snickered. "Y'know, after we practice rope tricks we really should work on your begging." She tackled Jareth to the bed as he convulsed with laughter.
Sarah happily didn't get back to sleep for hours.