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In Any Other World (we're all mad here)

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Sarah stretched and felt her back slide against the sheets of her bed. Somehow, after all these years, it was still “her” bed. Never “his”, never “theirs”, but hers. Some strange thought process, tied into an as-yet uncovered part of her subconscious psyche.


She contemplated being lazy, and just rolling over again. It was warm and sunny, and Uncle Toby was willing enough to babysit. She didn't have to get up.


But she did, in the end. Because it felt a little weird, to lie there and feel her brain think about “her” bed.


She felt like Sophie, in the moving castle, the first time she had walked down the hallways here. It was like the moving castle, really. A big, wonderful facade outside. But most of it was smoke and mirrors. Scaffolding and the mechanical winches that moved the walls about when guests weren't looking. What they had, more or less, was the living room, converted from the throne room; the bedroom; the kitchen and laundry; the bathroom; the four other bedrooms that currently housed Toby, Sally, and Jack.


Jareth had argued with her, about that. He'd said that the heirs to the goblin kingdom needed exciting, flourishable names. She'd looked at him, and then gone back to stirring their porridge.


I'll give them flourishable names when your goblins grow enough real vegetables to make our food taste a little less like imported wheat goop.”


He didn't get around to that job until the kids were old enough to refuse to eat, by which point their names had stuck. Sarah felt like she'd done a damn good job about it, too. In a world as ethereal and inconstant as this one, they needed solid and heavily real names to keep themselves grounded.


When she entered the kitchen, and sat down at the table, Sally brought her a cup of tea. Toby smiled happily, and Jack crossed his arms at his plate.


Come on, Jack, don't you like what your Uncle Toby makes?” Toby looked like he was getting desperate. Sarah would have checked the time, but it would be all the same, really. Late enough, given Toby's frustration.


She sipped her tea for a few moments, letting Sally snuggle up beside her, running her free hand absently through her daughter's soft hair. The children's hair hadn't grown out of baby-fluff into blonde, or brown, or even any other real colour. It was, at best, mouse-y. Frizzy and straight and always at odds with itself. Sarah liked it much more than her own hair, or that of normal human children, unless it was her turn to wash it. So dull and grey-brown, yet so inescapably alive and charged with energy.


But as the tea cleared her mind of sleep, and she could focus on her thoughts, she shifted a little, and, without even thinking, slipped into the flow of the morning. Toby wasn't to know, he'd never had children of his own.


Jack, if you eat your breakfast, all of it, and be good about it, and take your plate to the sink, then Uncle Toby might just reach into his pocket and find something.”


What something?”


Toby flustered, and suggested, optimistically, “A candy?”


But Jack, for all of his five years, was very mercenary.


No. That's not worth a whole meal. I want something better. I want... um... um... a... no, a...”


Sarah watched as Sally climbed into her father's lap and started pretending to eat his food. Sally pushed the porridge around a little, and carefully, deliberately, began to stir in small chunks of Toby's forgotten eggs.


Jareth was too busy laughing at Sarah's brother being had by Jack, so she wouldn't move the bowl, or tell him. He deserved it.


“...oh, and one of those things. A Gameboy, yeah? A Gameboy, with ALL the games!”


Sarah decided that she'd had enough of the morning.


Jack, eat your food. If you don't eat it, you know what will happen. When we're sitting down at our picnic with our sandwiches, and cake, you will only be able to eat your leftovers. Until they're all gone, and you feel too sick to eat cake. You should eat most of it now instead, because you know your father and I will let you get away with it now. And, in less than four hours, you will have cake.”


Jack stared at his plate, thinking about it. Toby turned back to his plate, gratefully, only to realise that most of his food was missing.


Jareth kissed his daughter on the very top of her head, and began to eat.


Sally, smart girl, had disappeared somewhere under the table as Jareth had reached for his spoon. If Sarah had been completely awake, she would have tried to find the girl, or at least help clean Toby up when the bowl of porridge-egg-toast mix was upended into his lap, but instead she let her eyes hang droopily and her hand laconically reach out for her mug again.


As Jareth raged about, stomping around like Godzilla, pretending to be mad, growling in anger, but laughing all the time, and as Sally and Jack squealed and giggled and ran around with him, Sarah felt a strange warmth in her chest.


She'd have to clean up the awful mess later, she knew. Porridge everywhere, and egg. But it seemed so wonderfully perfect right at that moment.


Toby placed a warm, conciliatory hand on her shoulder, and placed Jareth's bowl back on the table with his free hand.


You know, Sarah, I'm glad that you're happy, but you are aware that you, he, and they, are all insane? Utterly and completely insane?”


Maybe,” She smiled back. But what was sanity, in an incredibly small, mundane world pulled together out of huge sweeping landscapes and logical impossibilities?


But, Toby, in any other world, you could tell.”


He snorted, shrugged, and shook his head.


I still think you're all completely mad.”