The heat was stifling, but at least the apartment had a nice cross-breeze.
Sarah had shrugged off the warnings about Tuscan summers when she’d rented an apartment without an air conditioner, but there were times when she wondered if that might have been hasty. The view, though—an endless expanse of green fields and the faint glimmer of the ocean in the distance—made up for it.
She had just finished smashing up some ice cubes to mix with fresh raspberries and a glass of club soda when she heard a knock at the door. Wrapping her stained fingers in a towel, she answered it to find the building’s manager standing outside with a basket.
“Ah, Saarah, buona serata,” the short, graying figure in front of her said, his face as usual lit up in a red-faced smile. “Lovely sunset, no?”
“Si, Signior Nunzio, it is.”
“Saarah, Saarah, call me nonno, everybody does, I tell you.” He did his best to look stern.
Sarah laughed. “Okay, nonno.” She glanced at the basket. “Cosa c'è nel…basket?”
He held it out to her and lifted the cloth cover to reveal a round loaf of focaccia. “My wife, she make this. Too much for us. For you.”
Sarah didn’t take the bread, even though the aroma was intoxicating. “Really, nonno, you can’t keep giving me food like this, I can’t eat it all on my own.”
He pushed the basket into her hands. “And what will I tell my wife, I bring this back? She is insulted, no? No, you must take.”
Sarah resisted one more time, fairly familiar with the ritual at this point. “Per favore, your wife shouldn’t be going to all this trouble—“
“Trouble? Is no trouble, she love cooking!” He took the focaccia out of the basket, wrapped it in the cloth cover, and firmly pressed it into her hands. “No more argue, you eat.”
Sarah smiled and gave a little nod of her head to show defeat. “Grazie.”
“And how is the novella?”
“Not bad. I got a lot done today, it’s about half finished now.”
“Magnifico! This countryside, is good for creative spirit, no?”
Sarah nodded and gently moved to shut the door, knowing that Mr. Nunzio could keep her occupied with conversation for a good half hour if she allowed him. At least he’d heeded her gentle requests not to knock between ten a.m. and five p.m. “I’d better get back to work, actually. Thank you for the focaccia.”
“Eat all, you need strength. All you American girls, too skinny.”
Sarah gave a small wave as she closed the door. “Will do, nonno. Lo prometto.”
She tore off a hunk of the focaccia and popped it into her mouth, closing her eyes as fresh olive oil and salt hit her tongue. She’d tried to explain to Mr. Nunzio about carbs, but he didn’t seem to care, and after two weeks in Tuscany she didn’t really care either.
The ice cubes on her cutting board had started to melt, so she quickly finished hammering them into smaller pieces, chopped up some of the raspberries, and poured everything into the glass of club soda before returning to her desk by the window. If she were at home she imagined she’d feel guilty about eating a whole loaf of bread right before dinner, but this vacation had a way of banishing guilt.
It had also been a long time since she’d felt so content. The sadness was still there, a cool little stone in the corner of her mind, but it didn’t chill her as powerfully as it once had.
A breezed rustled her hair slightly, and with it came now-familiar sounds from down below—people returning home from work, neighbors greeting each other with kisses in the street. Anghiari was picturesque, but it was enough off the tourist track that it wasn’t inundated daily by buses or hikers.
She had finished half the focaccia, drained half her glass, and started on a new paragraph when there was another knock at the door. Sarah rolled her eyes, wondering if she could simply ignore it—Mr. Nunzio was overly chatty, but usually good about letting her work when she needed to. Which made her pause—if he was knocking again, maybe something was wrong.
She got up, focaccia in hand (perhaps to prove to him that she was definitely eating it and had no intention of insulting his wife’s cooking), and opened the door…
…to find the Goblin King standing in front of her.
Later Sarah would wonder how she must have looked to him in that moment—slightly sweaty, her shoulder-length hair pulled back from her face with a kerchief, a loaf of bread in her hand (and probably crumbs on her lips). Black tank top, cutoff jean shorts, purple Havaianas.
He, of course, looked as though the weather hadn’t touched him, in an ensemble of leather, metal, and silk that would surely have been sweltering for anyone else. His hair was similarly unfazed by the heat or the humidity.
He smiled at her as if his presence on her doorstep were every bit as ordinary as Mr. Nunzio coming to deliver a loaf of bread and gave a little bow. “Sarah. It truly has been—“
She shut the door in his face and locked it.
Her heart was pounding. In the ten years since that night she’d mostly convinced herself that she’d dreamed it all, even if her own occasional dreams of that time felt alarmingly realistic. But now her old nemesis was standing outside her door.
Maybe the heat’s getting to me. Maybe no one actually knocked at the door, and I didn’t see what I think I saw.
She turned back toward her desk and screamed.
The Goblin King was sitting on her windowsill and doing a very good job of making it look like a throne.
She pointed a finger at him. “How—what are y-you—“
“If you’re going to be so rude as to shut a door in my face, Sarah, I see no reason to stand on ceremony and wait to be invited in.”
Sarah shook her head as if trying to clear her mind. “But how can you—I didn’t invite you in here!”
He chuckled. “No, you didn’t. But given that I am not a vampire, that matters little.” He examined one of the metal studs on his jacket. “That doesn’t work for vampires, either, for future reference. Should you one day find yourself dealing with one.”
Sarah sighed, realized she was still holding the focaccia, and set it on her kitchen counter. “Why are you here, for God’s sake?”
He spread his arms in a gesture that seemed to take in both the apartment and the view. “Who wouldn't want to be here, Sarah?”
“For the love of—I will straight up murder you if you answer questions with questions, I lost patience with those sorts of games a long time ago.”
The king smirked and crossed his arms. “Intriguing. You were never very patient to begin with, as I recall.”
“Will you please just answer the damn question?”
He sighed. “Surely you spent enough time with my goblins to understand why one might need a vacation from such creatures every decade or so.”
Sarah folded her arms and then let them fall to her sides again when she realized she was imitating his body language. “Again, doesn’t explain why you’re here, in this apartment, with me, when you could have gone anywhere in Italy. Or, you know, to a different country.”
The smirk returned. “Am I to believe that you never thought of me once in all these years?”
Her mind flashed to a few rather vivid dreams from her late teenage years, and a particular one from college that had been quite…specific. She gritted her teeth to fight the rising blush in her cheeks.
“Nope,” she said, the word coming out much more high-pitched than she would have liked. “Can’t say that I did.”
He crossed the small room to her with unearthly grace and speed, and she felt for the first time in ten years that overwhelming sense of powerlessness mixed with a kind of anticipation, a feeling that sent tingles to all of her extremities. Even if he didn’t physically tower over her the way he used to, the sheer power of his presence was still there.
“You intrigued me, then,” he said, his voice a strange mix of sensual and flippant. “I was curious to see what you had become.”
“Well, you’ve seen me. Mission accomplished.”
His eyes traveled over her very, very carefully. “Hardly.”
Sarah threw up her hands. “Not that I’d expect you to understand, being so much wiser and more powerful than us puny mortals, but…I am actually starting to feel good again, after a long time of not feeling good.” She clenched her hands into fists at her sides. “And I’d really appreciate it if you wouldn’t fuck that up.”
He looked genuinely sad. Not that she trusted her perception where he was concerned. “You truly wish for me to leave?”
She nodded, ignoring that tiny ember of curiosity that had sparked in the back of her mind. “Yeah. Do I have to, like, wish you away? Or can you just walk out the door, or, I dunno, fly out the window.”
He smirked, though it seemed tinged with a very slight hurt now. “No, you needn’t wish for anything. I’ll be on my way—“
“Good, thank y—“
“—for a price.”
She resisted the urge to throw the half-eaten focaccia loaf at him. “Ohhh no. I did not spend four years studying folklore and classical mythology to be so stupid as to trade favors with a Goblin King.”
“I haven’t even told you my price.”
“I can guarantee it’ll be too high.”
He smiled. “One kiss.”
She blinked. “One…what?”
“I believe you understood me.”
Sarah shook her head. “Aren’t there, like, immortal fairy women lining up to kiss your boots back where you come from?”
“There may well be.” His piercing gaze made eye contact hard to maintain. “But I want a kiss from you.”
“And you really won’t get the hell out of here until I give it to you?”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine.” Sarah reached for his face and made to kiss him on the cheek.
“Oh, no, that won’t do at all.”
She pointed a finger at him. “See? There’s a catch, there’s always a goddamn—“
He gripped her outstretched finger and very slowly lowered it to her side, and she shivered at the strength in that small act. “If you want me to leave,” he said quietly, “you will kiss me as if it were the first and last kiss you will ever give. As if you were pouring all your dreams into me through my lips. As if,” and here he ran a gloved finger slowly over her palm, “you had been waiting for this kiss all your life, and it were finally here.”
Sarah felt dizzy. She absently wondered if the circular motion of his finger was hypnotizing her in some way.
“Not that I’m…completely inexperienced,” she said, her breath catching slightly, “but I’m not sure I can pour all of that into one kiss.”
His smile was positively feral. “I have complete faith in you.”
“And then you’ll go?”
He gave that little bow again. “On my word as a king.”
He was probably lying. She didn’t really believe all the stories about fair folk being unable to lie. But he might not be. It might work.
And she suddenly didn’t mind the price.
I’m a good kisser, she thought to herself as she slowly reached up to smooth a strand of hair away from his cheek and cup the left side of his face. And hey, I used to act. This won’t be that hard.
She kept her eyes open until the last possible moment and pulled him down toward her mouth, letting a whisper of breath tickle him before she pressed her lips against his. He was warm, so warm and inviting when she had imagined he’d be cold and unyielding, and that made it easy to pour everything he’d asked for into that kiss, all her want and unfulfilled desires and dreams, and even all of the pain that she’d felt over the past year.
In the end she wasn’t really sure it was acting.
He was the one who finally pulled away, and where she expected to see a smug look of victory she saw only surprise, and maybe even a bit of delight. His grin was infectious.
“My faith was not misplaced,” he said.
She swallowed hard. “Right then. Off you go.”
He bowed slightly lower this time. “I am a man of my word.”
He moved toward the door, and Sarah’s knees felt slightly wobbly. Dammit, one kiss and I’m a cliche.
But then she noticed that the chain on her deadbolt was rattling slightly. In front of her, the king reached out a hand to steady himself against the wall, something she felt fairly sure he’d never done before.
She gritted her teeth. “Dammit, are you magicking things?”
He turned, and she was surprised to see alarm on his face. “I assure you, this is not my—“
And then the faint rattling became a cacophony, and that very short briefing that Mr. Nunzio had given her when she moved in came back in sharp detail.
“Quake,” she whispered. And then louder, “Quake!”
The Goblin King stared at her as if she were speaking a foreign language. “Sarah, what are you—“
She grabbed his arm. “Under the table, now!”
She pulled him under the table and said a silent prayer of thanks that it was large enough to accommodate a small Italian family as they crouched beneath it. Around them the shaking continued. She shrieked as a small cup fell from a shelf and shattered on the floor. Outside she thought she could hear someone screaming.
The king still managed to look unruffled, though slightly less so. “And here I always believed the mortal world was mostly free of danger, at least compared to mine,” he shouted over the din.
Sarah gripped the table leg. It’s not stopping. Why is it not stopping? I don’t want to die here, I don’t want to die here…
She hadn’t realized that she’d said that last part out loud until the king grabbed her and pulled her close. “You’re not going to die, Sarah.”
Sarah was too shocked to pull away. “How the hell do you know that?” she shouted.
She felt a sudden tingling sensation that seemed to travel from where the tips of his fingers gripped her shoulders, all the way down her body to her toes. She shrieked as another cup fell from a shelf, bounced near the table…
…and then bounced away as if it had hit an invisible wall.
She reached out to touch the space that the cup had hit and the king grabbed her arm and pulled it back. “You don’t want to do that,” he said.
“What are you doing?”
She laughed. “Protecting me? Last time I saw you you sent a machine made of knives after me.”
“You needed me to be frightening back then. You don’t need that now.”
“Oh, I love it when men tell me what I n—“
“If you don’t mind, Sarah, I really need to concentrate for this to work.”
She shut her mouth and closed her eyes, willing the horrible shaking to stop, absently noticing the scent of leather and a sort of spice that seemed centered around the Goblin King’s chest. The tingling sensation faltered, and his grip seemed to tighten, his hands shaking slightly…
…and then the din subsided and the ground stopped shaking.
Sarah’s heart was beating wildly in her chest. Her tank top felt soaked with sweat. The king released her, and it took her a moment to scuttle away from him and out from under the table, which she then leaned on, her legs less than steady.
Half her dishes lay shattered on the floor, but other than that the apartment seemed to be undamaged. She went to the window and saw people rushing outside holding crying children, talking animatedly. At least no one looked severely injured. She pulled out her cell phone but couldn’t get any reception.
She went to the door and struggled for a moment to get it open, stepped outside, and shrieked.
The staircase was a shambles. There were two large holes in the steps, and looking upward she saw sky peeking through several other large holes in the ceiling. Walking down those stairs looked distinctly dangerous.
She should have expected that Mr. Nunzio would be first on the scene. “Nonno! Are you all right? Is everyone—“
“Saarah, non muoverti! No move! Is no safe!”
“Not safe? Is the apartment building going to fall down?”
“No, no.” Mr. Nunzio was sweating even more profusely than usual, his white hair disheveled and hanging in his face. “Appartamento is okay. Just this staircase—roof, pieces of roof from next door, they fell. Damage. Please stay, for now. I tell you when safe.”
She turned back to the apartment, relieved that the Goblin King had had the sense to stay out of sight. Though she was irked to see that he had returned to leaning against the window, seemingly unfazed by everything.
Sarah shut the door and brushed nonexistent dust off of her shirt. “Well then.”
“I’m alive. We’re alive.”
“My ability to survive was never in doubt.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine. Thanks for, whatever that invisible wall thing was that you did, you probably saved me a piece of broken glass in the eye.”
He bowed. “It was a trifle.”
She felt herself smiling and banished it quickly, clearing her throat. “I believe you were on your way out?”
The king put a hand to his heart. This time, she felt, his expression of pain was definitely fake. “Are you so eager to see me go?”
“I just had a near-death experience, I may not be able to leave this apartment for a while, and all I’ve got to eat is half a loaf of focaccia and half a bottle of wine, so yeah, I do not need you complicating things right now, if you please.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Complicating them how, exactly?”
Sarah gritted her teeth. “You gave your word.”
The king sighed. “So I did. Farewell, then, and I hope that gentleman downstairs finds a way to supply you with more food and drink.”
He raised his hands upward slowly and then gave them both a flick, rather like a cross between a magician and a dancer.
She saw a flicker of unease on his face, but he quickly dismissed it, closing his eyes and adopting a serene pose. His hands went up and he flicked them again.
She sighed. “What are you playing at now?”
He cleared his throat. “Believe me, Sarah, if I were playing at anything we would both be enjoying ourselves a great deal more.” He shook both of his hands. “This is…rare, but it does happen.”
Sarah felt uneasy. “What happens?”
The frustration on his face slowly changed to a mischievous smile. “Suffice it to say that I cannot remove myself from this place through magical means, and it would appear that neither of us can leave it through non-magical means.”
His grin was positively delighted as he strolled across the room and actually tapped her on the nose like a kitten. “Which means, precious, that for the time being, I’m not going anywhere.”
She stared open-mouthed as he reached over to the kitchen counter, tore off a hunk of focaccia, and popped it in his mouth. “Good thing we have bread.”
Hi folks! It's March 2020, a lot of us are under some form of quarantine, and I've been wanting to write a forced proximity story for a while now, so why not? But I felt that forcing these two to share the same space for a while due to a quarantine would just be a little too close to home, so--quake!
Another first for me: I'm posting chapters before I've got the whole story written! Which is both thrilling and terrifying--nobody's driving this thing, so we'll just see where it goes! Rest assured there will be sexy times at some point, though. Along with a lot of descriptions of Italian scenery and food.
Sarah’s formerly cozy and charming studio apartment suddenly felt very, very claustrophobic. She took a deep breath, willing her words not to come out as a shout as the Goblin King nonchalantly snacked on Signora Nunzio’s fresh-baked focaccia.
“Will you please explain to me why you’re not able to magic yourself out of here?”
He swallowed a mouthful of bread and wiped his fingers on her dishtowel. “It’s a bit complicated, Sarah.”
He sighed and opened her refrigerator door quite as if he’d lived in the apartment for a long time, pulling out the half-empty bottle of Casale Falchini that she’d opened the night before. “You wouldn’t happen to have a gl—“
“Tell me why you can’t leave, dammit!”
He tsk-tsk’d at her and opened one of her cabinets, pulling out a clean wine glass. “I see your patience truly hasn’t improved.” He poured himself a glass of wine and leaned against the counter, smiling in a way that she knew was designed to provoke. Slowly, he raised the glass to his lips and took a sip.
I will not murder him. If only because I don’t want to share this apartment with a corpse until I’m able to get out of here.
He set the glass on the counter. “Suffice it to say that my magical “reserves,” as you might call them, are already somewhat taxed in this plane of existence. Making that shield during the…quake was probably not wise.”
“So you’re spent and can’t perform for a while?”
He smirked. “Not the wording I would use, though I do like the direction your mind is headed.”
“It’s not—“ She threw up her hands. “So…how long before you’re, you know, filled up again?”
He took another sip of wine. “Difficult to say. It’s been many years since this happened.” He closed his eyes. “This is delightful, by the way, I’d forgotten what good Tuscan wine—“
“Focus, your Majesty. An hour? A day?”
He gave a slight shrug. “Perhaps. Or weeks.”
“Magic can be fickle, precious.”
She gritted her teeth. “Don’t call me that.”
“Oh, and what should I call you, then? Reginetta?”
“What does that even—“
Sarah felt the ground beneath her feet shifting again and groaned. “Fuck. Under the table.”
“Aftershock, I’m guessing.” She scurried underneath the kitchen table as the room began shaking more forcefully.
“I assure you I am quite safe.”
“Fine, stay where you are, this apartment already feels too goddamn small.”
The room continued to rock, though thankfully not as intensely as in the initial quake. After a few seconds the Goblin King joined her under the table. When she looked confused, he shrugged.
“You are afraid, which is natural, given your mortality. Perhaps my presence will comfort you.”
Sarah snort-laughed and then winced at the sound of dishes rattling—she really needed to save the ones that hadn’t shattered. “Comfort me? You?”
“I am, to a certain extent, what mortals make me. I can be comforting.”
Sarah gripped the table leg. “What would comfort me right now is if you would leave and this damn shaking would stop.”
“Well. I can accomplish neither of those things, unfortunately.”
The shaking eventually stopped, but Sarah momentarily felt too tired to get out from under the table. She sighed and pulled her knees up against her chest. The Goblin King, thankfully, was silent.
“I don’t even know your name,” she finally said.
He cocked his head at her. “No, I supposed we never did officially introduce ourselves to each other.” He smirked. “Though I must say I enjoy the sound of ‘your Majesty’ coming from your lips.”
“I bet.” She sighed and ran her hands over her knees. “Look, if we’re gonna be stuck in this very small room for a while, we’re gonna have to dispense with a few formalities, and while I’m still not buying the idea that you’re not, you know, evil incarnate, I *would* at least like to have something to call you that isn’t a title. And hey, you know my name.”
He seemed to consider her words. After a moment, his eyes twinkling slightly, he extended a gloved hand.
She blinked. “That’s a very…simple name.”
Jareth smiled. “The rest of me makes up for it.”
Sarah rolled her eyes and slowly extended her hand, which he took. “Sarah.”
He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it in a way that felt more age-old fairy tale than lascivious but still managed to make her shiver slightly.
“Charmed,” he said.
“Your brother wants to know about the cheese.”
Sarah tossed a pile of broken dish and cup fragments into her small garbage can and returned to her desk. “Sorry, what?”
Karen’s image flickered slightly on Sarah’s computer screen, which she had carefully angled away from the small sofa where Jareth was now reclining with his mostly-finished glass of wine. Before Karen could reply, a pajama-clad Toby hopped into the frame.
“Is the cheese okay? Italy’s where they make Parmesan, I learned that in school. Did it get broken in the earthquake?”
She felt Jareth move at the sound of Toby’s voice and quickly turned to glare daggers at him, mouthing “Don’t you dare.” He rolled his eyes and made a mocking “shhh” gesture before turning back to his wine.
“Hi Tobes. I don’t know about the cheese yet—a few of my dishes and glasses got broken, though.”
“Whoooah, cool! When can we play Jaipur again?”
Sarah smiled, her many current anxieties momentarily alleviated by Toby’s ability to jump from cheese to earthquakes to card games in a matter of seconds. “As soon as I get home. Or maybe we could play online while I’m here.”
“Cool. I’m gonna finish my pancakes now, love you, bye.”
Sarah waved as Toby bounded out of the frame and Karen slipped back in. “So you’re all right, then? We don’t need to send in a helicopter?”
“No, I’m good. I mean, it’s scary, and I may be cooped up here for a few days till they fix the stairs, but I’ll be okay.”
“I just wish you weren’t alone.”
Sarah swallowed and forced herself not to glance in Jareth’s direction, ignoring the very faint chuckle that came from the sofa. “Yeah, well, in a small Italian village no one’s ever really alone, believe me.”
She heard the faint sound of Toby calling for his mother from off-screen. “Right, I’d better deal with that, but call us every day, sweetheart, or we’re likely to lose ten years off our lives. I’ll tell your father you’re okay.”
“Will do, love you all.”
Sarah closed her computer. The relative silence in the apartment—except for the occasional sound of wind or bicycles from outside—felt strange.
It didn’t last, of course.
“Your brother could have had his fill of pancakes and cheese if you’d only made the right decision and allowed him to stay with me,” Jareth said nonchalantly, taking another sip of wine.
Sarah’s mouth fell open. “The right—are you conveniently forgetting the part where he would have been turned into a goblin?”
“Not necessarily.” Jareth rose from the couch and went to pour more wine—the bottle was almost empty, Sarah realized grumpily. Maybe it didn't affect him as much. “I could have made him a prince.”
“Oh, that really changes things, I’m sure my father and stepmother would have been fine with never seeing their only son again if they knew he was royalty.”
His gaze was piercing as it traveled over her again in that way that produced a reaction she didn’t want to think too deeply about. “You’re quite suited to royalty yourself, I think.”
Sarah glanced down at her disheveled tank top and shorts and pushed a sweaty strand of hair out of her face. “Uh…because all princesses are a sloppy mess?”
“Hardly. Because you fear nothing.”
Sarah blinked. “That’s not…what…”
Jareth continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “I’ve also often pictured you in regal attire. Something more…restrained, perhaps, than that white dress that was a teenage girl’s fantasy.” He smiled that slightly feral smile again. “Something that would let me see more of you.”
Sarah groaned. “Right, we’re not even at the end of day one and already you’re getting creepy, maybe slow it d—“
She was interrupted by the embarrassingly loud sound of her stomach growling. She sighed. “Normally I’d go down to the market and grab something to make dinner with, but seeing as that’s impossible—“
They both jumped at the sound of a loud rapping on the window overlooking the street. Sarah turned and saw a wooden pole poking through the curtains and then heard a familiar voice down below.
“Saaarah! Saaarah, I bring you foods, you there?”
Where else would I be? Sarah thought, leaning out the window to see Mr. Nunzio standing below, holding what appeared to be several packages wrapped in cloth.
“Nonno, stai bene? Is your house, your wife okay?”
“Bene, bene, all good. So sorry you stuck, we bring you food.”
Mr. Nunzio expertly tied the packages one by one to the long pole and carefully raised them up to the window, where Sarah untied them and placed them on her kitchen table until the apartment was full of amazing smells.
“Nonno, I don’t suppose you’ve got a ladder?” she said. “Maybe I could, you know, climb down in the morning.”
“Ah, sorry, only ladder very busy now, many broken things. And the…the dopo lo shock…
“Si, si, aftershocks. Is dangerous to climb now. But patient, we fix stairs soon.” He lowered the pole and hoisted it over his shoulder. “Is good for you, no? Nothing to do but write!”
Sarah forced herself to smile and to not look in the direction of the Goblin King, whose smirk she could feel burning a hole in her back. “Ovviamente.”
“Ciao then, buon appetito!”
Sarah closed the curtains and avoided Jareth’s gaze as she started carefully unwrapping the many packages of food. “At least I definitely won’t go hungry.”
She looked up to see him gazing at her with an unreadable expression, his arms folded across his chest (which looked rather smooth, she realized, peaking out from within his slightly-open shirt). She sighed. “What?”
“For a woman who kissed like she was starving, you seem remarkably eager to vacate this apartment.”
Sarah ignored the slight shiver that she felt hearing him call her “woman,” perhaps because so many people still treated her like a child. She examined individual dishes and put one of the two containers of freshly chopped apricots and plums in the refrigerator, along with—bless Mr. Nunzio!—a bottle of white wine.
“You told me what I had to do to make you leave. I obliged.”
He moved slowly around the edge of the table, right to the edge of her personal space. “It certainly didn’t feel obligatory.”
“Clearly you’ve never met an actress before.”
He laughed. “Acting. I see. We’ll leave it at that…for now.”
“Good, because I’m hungry and exhausted.”
She surveyed the table. Mr. Nunzio had brought enough food for dinner and breakfast for four. There was a glistening bowl of panzanella that smelled beautifully of fresh onion and basil, a container of still-steaming fried dough balls sprinkled with thin slices of pancetta and crumbles of Stracchino cheese, a bowl of minestrone full of white beans, a plate of sliced Florentine steak drizzled with olive oil and salt, a fresh loaf of Tuscan bread and another of ciabatta, and what looked like lemon-flavored cookies sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Yeah, there are worst places to be trapped. Even if I’m stuck here with my mortal enemy.
She forced herself not to look in his direction. Who’s kind of hot, dammit.
She grabbed a plate, bowl, cutlery, and some napkins from the drawer and then noticed that Jareth had taken a seat at the table. “Do you…even need to eat?”
He considered this. “Not exactly. But I do enjoy certain mortal foods.” He inhaled deeply. “I don’t believe I’ve seen anything like this since the Renaissance. Though table manners were dreadful then.”
Sarah laughed and grabbed another plate, bowl, and set of cutlery. Yep, just sharing dinner with someone who experienced the Italian Renaissance, no biggie. “I figured you’d be used to bad manners by now, what with the all the goblins.”
Jareth wrinkled his nose and carefully ladled panzanella onto his plate. “Just because something is ever-present does not mean that one grows used to it.”
She sat down and dipped a hunk of Tuscan bread into her bowl of minestrone, took a bite, and closed her eyes in pleasure. “I really don’t know if I can ever go home again.”
“I believe I gave you the option not to.”
She shook her head and speared two pieces of steak with her fork. “Nope, we are not arguing about the past until dinner is over, you can give me that much.”
He took a bite of fried dough and pancetta and smiled. “I suppose I could. If you’d give me something in return.”
“You’re not getting another kiss.”
He took a glistening slice of plum from the container without breaking eye contact. “Your sense of fairness appears to have been replaced with a misguided sense of certainty.”
“Whatever. Ask for something else.”
“All right then. Answer me one question. Truthfully.” He trailed one finger over the surface of the plum in a way that made her blush. “And I’ll know if you’re lying.”
She sighed, moving a tomato-soaked slice of bread around on her plate. “Fine. But after dinner. One question answered in exchange for a few moments of peace.”
He bit into the plum and grinned at her. “Agreed.”
He was true to his word, and though Sarah wouldn’t have called the meal “relaxing” or even “pleasant” at least the deliciousness of the food made up for the strange situation. There was a small aftershock during dinner that rattled the plates, but thankfully it wasn’t strong enough to warrant hiding under the table. She thought of opening the bottle of wine that Mr. Nunzio had sent up but decided against it—she was a lightweight and needed all her wits about her. When she got up to pour two glasses of water Jareth chuckled slightly but, again true to his word, did not argue.
She nibbled on a lemon-flavored cookie and sighed contentedly as a breeze ruffled the window curtains. I survived a college roommate who turned out to be a hoarder. I can survive a few days of this.
A while later Sarah emerged from the shower feeling slightly more human, her hair still damp (a nice way to stay cool as she fell asleep, she’d learned, though Karen would have been horrified at the thought of her going to bed with her hair wet). She’d agonized a bit over pajamas, thinking she should probably cover herself as much as possible, but in the end comfort won out over care—the nights were still warm and humid, so she wore a thin, oversized Metropolitan Museum of Art t-shirt over her underwear. Thankfully it reached almost to her knees.
Jareth, reclining on the couch with what looked like the last of the Casale Falchini in a wine glass, cocked his head at her.
“This is what mortals sleep in?”
She grabbed a bottle of lotion from her bedside table and squeezed a small amount into her hands. “This is what I sleep in.”
“I pictured you in something long and flowing.”
“You seem to spend a lot of time picturing me.”
He smiled and took a sip of wine. “It helps to pass the time.”
She glanced between the sofa and the bed and rolled her eyes at her sense of hospitality that he definitely did not deserve. “Do you…want the bed? I could sleep on the sofa.” She rubbed the lotion more vigorously into her hands when he didn’t respond. “You’re, like, a lot taller.”
He smiled and removed his boots. “Very generous of you, but I do not require sleep in the same way that mortals do.” He removed his jacket. “I will remain here.”
She quickly turned away as he started to take off his shirt, wondering exactly how far he was going to strip down. She busied herself with turning down her bed, and when she looked again he was, thankfully, still wearing his trousers, his jacket and shirt neatly folded on the arm of the sofa.
His skin seemed to glow slightly in the faint light of the room. His arms were lean but firm, like a dancer’s, and his smooth chest revealed hard angles that descended in a perfect ‘V’ to his waist. She wondered what his skin felt like.
As if reading her mind, he gazed back and smiled.
She shook her head and turned off the lights, leaving only the faint light from the window. “Right, this has been an insane day, I need some sleep.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
She crawled into bed as nonchalantly as possible. “What?”
“You promised to answer one question truthfully.”
Sarah groaned and turned over on her side so that her back was facing him. “Fine. Ask.”
He let the silence hang in the room for just a little too long before he spoke.
“What did you dream about, when you dreamed about me?”
Sarah felt a chill and sat up in bed, staring at him. “How the hell did you know that I dreamed about you?”
His smile was triumphant. “I didn’t for certain…until now.”
She leaped out of bed and pointed a finger at him. “You goddamn cheat, that’s not—“
“Do you really want to finish that sentence, Sarah?” He leaned back on the sofa and crossed his arms behind his head. She thought she could see his eyes gleaming in the darkness “Why not simply answer the question? And please don’t bore me with an uneventful dream. Tell me about the most memorable one.”
Her whole body felt hot, and she knew it wasn’t the weather. She wished she didn’t remember that dream in such clear detail, but of course she did.
Right, just get out the words as quickly as possible.
She sat on the edge of her bed and took a deep breath. “We were dancing,” she said quietly. “In that…place that you made me dream about—“
“That place was entirely your creation, Sarah.”
She held up a hand and glared at him, not caring whether or not he could see it. “But we were alone.”
He sat up. “Go on.”
She felt a flush creeping into her cheeks. “At some point I said ‘Will you touch me?’ and you laughed and said ‘I already am.’ And we danced, and then I said it again.”
The dream had happened when she was twenty and before she'd had a serious boyfriend. She remembered vividly that feeling of wanting something but being inexperienced enough to not really know what it was, and not sure if once she had it she would run away.
“And you stopped dancing with me, and you leaned down and whispered in my ear, ‘Where should I touch you?’
Sarah could hear Jareth breathing from the sofa. She let the silence linger for a moment, admittedly enjoying the effect she was having on him.
“And I took your hand…and then I woke up.”
There was a long silence. Finally, Jareth made a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a choke.
“Now who is being unfair, dear Sarah?”
She shrugged and lay down again. “You said you’d be able to tell if I was lying. Must be clear that I’m not.”
“Indeed.” She heard what sounded like him stretching out on the couch. “And where would you have had me touch you, I wonder?”
“Nope, that’s enough questions for one day. I’m going to sleep.” She pulled the very thin sheet over her lower body. “And stay on the sofa.”
“I have no interest in interfering with you while you sleep, Sarah.”
She gave a short laugh that hopefully conveyed a general sense of disbelief, though somehow she knew he was telling the truth. She turned her back to him again, trying not to imagine the very pleasing appearance of his upper body, the feel of his eyes on her, or that still-vivid memory of heat in that long-ago dream, and the many continuations of it she’d imagined over the years.
Can you tell someone's been fantasizing about eating fancy food during this period of quarantine? Or, you know, TRAVELING?
We'll get to the sexy, I promise--I have a faint sketch of about six chapters for this thing, though that could change. Thank you for reading!
Sarah was driving down a steep hill in her parents’ neighborhood, one of the ones that had always made her nervous, especially on rainy days. As usual, her foot was pressed firmly on the brake.
Far ahead, a woman in a long white dress was crossing the road. Sarah had seen her before—many times, in that exact spot, she realized. Every time, she would think to herself that the woman was far away, there was plenty of time, she’d be across the road by the time Sarah reached her.
But the woman moved so slowly, and the car didn't slow, and that’s when Sarah realized that the brakes weren’t working and the car was gaining speed. And she screamed and screamed, and just before the car was about to collide with her the woman turned so that Sarah could see her face…
Then everything went dark, and she was thrashing violently, still screaming, but something was pinning her down, an unfamiliar voice repeating her name.
“Sarah. Sarah, wake up.”
“I killed her, I killed her—“
“Sarah, you didn’t kill anyone, you were dreaming.”
The last vestiges of the dream slipped away and Sarah felt the weight of her body lying on her bed, the sheet below her soaked with sweat, her heart thudding in her chest. She stopped thrashing…
…only to realize that the Goblin King was on top of her.
Not entirely on top of her, to be exact, but he appeared to be sitting on the edge of her bed, his upper body bent over hers, his arms pinning her shoulders down, his face close enough to hers that his hair was brushing her neck. She pushed against him and it was like pushing against a steel wall.
“Get off of me!”
“You need to wake up first.”
She kicked violently, but he easily avoided her legs. “I swear to fucking God if you don’t let go of me right now—“
“I will, once I’ve ascertained that you won’t leap out of bed and jump through the window.”
Her words died on her lips as her mind transitioned fully from the dream world to the waking world, and she remembered the nights that Karen or her father had talked her down from these dreams. How frightened they had been.
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “I’m awake now. I won’t jump out the window, you can get off of me.”
Slowly, Jareth released her shoulders and moved back slightly so that he was no longer hovering above her. She winced, sitting up and rubbing the spots where his fingers had gripped her. Pieces of the dream still flickered in her mind.
Of course this would be the night that the other dream, the one she thought was finally gone and that most definitely did not include romantic dance interludes, would come back.
She’d had it several nights a week up until a few months ago. It was, in fact, the absence of the dream that made her think that she was ready to write again, and to spend time away from everyone she loved.
She sighed and pulled her knees up to her chest, feeling her heart still drumming loudly. She took a deep breath in, another one out. It would pass. It always did.
“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me what you were dreaming about?”
Sarah groaned, trying to ignore the extreme nearness of Jareth’s naked chest gleaming in the faint light from the window. “No.” She let her face fall forward onto her knees. “You can go back to the sofa now,” she said, her voice slightly muffled.
“I’d rather not.”
She shrugged. “Then don’t.”
He chuckled. “One day you will actually admit that my presence does not repulse you.”
Sarah laughed. Damn him, he still smelled good. “There’s a big gap between “repulse” and “please.”
“And I am a great builder of bridges.”
Sarah sighed. Her heartbeat gradually slowed back to its normal pace. The images of the dream had mostly faded, but she found herself reluctant to return to sleep.
“Do you really think I’m afraid of nothing?” she finally asked.
He shifted slightly on the bed. She imagined his eyes traveling over her. “You were afraid of me, once,” he said. “But not anymore.”
“Yeah, I’ve got plenty of other things to be afraid of now.”
“And yet you still live.”
She laughed. “Well, yeah. I guess that’s something.”
A faint light played at the window curtains. Sarah wondered if it was almost dawn.
“Why were you sad?” the Goblin King asked.
“When I first arrived, you said that you were finally ‘good’ after a long period of being ‘not good.’ What was it that made you ‘not good’?”
Sarah lay down on her side. “Not tonight.”
When Jareth remained seated on the edge of the bed, she said “You, uh, really don’t need to stay here.”
“I remain unconvinced that you won’t dream that dream again and do damage to yourself or the furniture.”
Sarah laughed. “Yeah, well, you’re not sleeping in this bed with me. That’s against the rules.”
She groaned. “We…I…don’t share a small bed with men that I’m not, you know…”
She could feel him smirking. “I’m afraid I don’t know. Do enlighten me on this fascinating mortal custom.”
“Oh, like you don’t—look, mortal women don’t usually sleep in a t-shirt and underwear squeezed next to men that they haven’t been…physically intimate with.”
“I see. So you’re saying that we should be physically intimate as soon as possible, then.”
“That is not—“ She could tell he was trying to hold back laughter. “Damn. I walked right into that one, didn’t I?”
“Perhaps.” He stood and pulled the thin sheet up to cover her lower half. “I will abide by your strange logic which apparently counts sleeping as more intimate than carnal relations.”
“It’s easier to kill someone when they’re asleep.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Is it, now?” He stood, and a part of her frustratingly ached to see his lean form stride back over to the couch. “You’re a wealth of fascinating facts, reginetta.”
She thought to herself that she really needed to look up that word before she fell, eventually, into a peaceful and deep sleep.
Sarah awoke to the feel of a breeze against her skin and the sound of plates and cups clanking against each other. She glanced at her phone on her bedside table—nine-thirty already? She never slept this late.
Blinking the room into focus, she could see the Goblin King (now shirted, she was slightly disappointed to notice) moving around in the kitchen, pulling containers out of the refrigerator and laying cutlery on the table.
She blinked again. A magical being showing up unannounced on her doorstep and finding himself confined to her Tuscan vacation home was something she could wrap her brain around. But waking up to find him preparing breakfast? That might be too much.
She surreptitiously pulled on her cutoff shorts and flip-flops and joined him in the kitchen. “Morning. You, uh, been up long?”
He turned to her holding two coffee mugs and smiling. “The princess awakens from her slumber. There is fruit, bread, what appear to be cured meats, and the beginnings of this delightful stimulant that I cannot recall the name of…”
He closed his eyes in rapture. “Yes, coffee. Which the goblins must never find out about, but which I adore.” He placed the mugs on the counter. “Sadly I fear the means to magically turn it from powder to drink are not available to me at the moment.”
She opened the lower cabinet. “Italian press. I’ll show you.”
He watched carefully as she unscrewed the bottom of the metal coffee maker, poured water inside, carefully ladled spoonfuls of finely-ground coffee into the cup, and then put the whole contraption onto the stove.
“Maybe you could take some of this back with you,” she said as the hot water began to sputter. “You know, as long as you could keep it hidden from the goblins.”
“Nothing worth having stays hidden from the goblins for long,” he sighed, peeking under the lid at the bubbling coffee. “Though it is duly noted that you are already planning for my departure.”
“Of course I’m planning for your departure. I’ve got work to do, and I prefer to do it alone.”
“I can make myself invisible.”
Sarah laughed as the coffee maker finished sputtering. “Unless you mean in the literal magic sense, I don’t think it’s possible for you to be inconspicuous.”
“My my, did you just pay me a compliment?”
“Of course not.” She avoided his eyes as she poured the coffee into two mugs and took hers to the table, sitting in the chair closest to the window. “Just…I meant that, you know, you don’t exactly blend in with the walls and furniture.”
“Indeed, I do attract the eye.”
She resisted the urge to argue, knowing that was what he wanted and, by some primal instinct, not wanting to give it to him. He sat in the other chair, as always spreading his body out over it in a way that made it look like a throne. A trick that she really should learn to master, Sarah thought.
“Anyway, aren’t you planning for your departure? I’m guessing you weren’t planning to relocate to Italy permanently. ”
Jareth held the coffee mug in both hands and inhaled the steam that wafted near his face, smiling. “At the moment I’m planning for a very satisfying cup of coffee. Beyond that, I have learned not to plan.”
“Well, as long as you’ve lived I guess you’ve kind of seen it all.”
Jareth took a slow sip of coffee, leaning back and closing his eyes with an expression of such ecstasy that Sarah almost blushed. She grabbed a slice of apricot and quickly popped it into her mouth, silently thanking the heavens that Mr. Nunzio hadn’t brought them sliced peaches.
He opened his eyes and smiled at her as he grabbed a piece of bread and a slice of mortadella. “I haven't seen this, right here, right now,” he said.
“Huh.” Sarah covered a piece of bread in berry jam and took a bite. “That’s one way of looking at it.”
They made it through breakfast without incident. Sarah found herself hungrier than usual and filled up with more fruit and bread, leaving crumbs all over the table. Jareth, for his part, seemed partial to the mortadella, eating slice after slice with crusty bread (and somehow avoiding any mess).
“Right,” she said eventually, gathering up plates and cutlery. “I, uh, need to work.”
“Mortals do far too much of that.”
Sarah rolled her eyes as she ran water over the dishes in the sink. “Yeah, well, we don’t have the option of magicking food and shelter out of thin air.”
He brought his own plates and cutlery to the sink—she couldn’t tell if he was being helpful simply to get on her good side, or if he actually cleaned up his own messes in the castle. Probably the former, she decided, not that she was complaining.
“As I currently do not have ability to magic anything out of thin air, I might make use of your bathing facilities and ask you for a spare set of clothing.”
Sarah blinked. An image of the Goblin King naked in her small shower flashed vividly through her mind, and she shook her head to quickly banish it. As usual, Jareth smirked as if he could see inside her head.
“Right, uh…” She shook her head and transitioned into hostess mode, grabbing a clean set of towels from the bathroom and rummaging in her bureau drawer. “I, uh, don’t think I have any pants that will fit you, but maybe this’ll do for a shirt?”
She handed him the towels and another of her oversized sleep shirts, this one an official Wicked Broadway T-shirt with the neck cut out. He smiled at the image.
“Right, off you go, then.”
He chuckled. “You do love telling me to go.”
Sarah sat down at the small desk where she’d set up her computer and other writing-related books, trying to convince herself that this would be a day like any other. “You, uh, know how to use a shower?”
“The apparatus may have changed somewhat since my last visit to this realm, but I will manage.”
Sarah nodded and booted up her computer. She heard the sound of water running and immediately pictured Jareth sliding out of those very-tight trousers and stepping under a cascade of steaming water…or maybe he preferred the water cold, which would mean goosebumps all over that smooth skin…
She shook her head. What the hell is wrong with me? Sure, I had one…okay, maybe more than one sexy dream about him, but still…
She threw her sleep-shirt in the laundry basket and grabbed another tank top from her bureau, pulling it over her head quickly before seating herself at her desk to stare at the document on her computer screen, trying and failing to remember what she’d been writing before her world turned upside down the day before. She swore she could hear satisfied moans and sighs coming from the bathroom.
Dammit, he’s doing this on purpose.
She closed her eyes and forced her fingers to type, even if she had trouble remembering the most basic things about her novel right now.
Eventually the water stopped, and Sarah forced herself not to look toward the bathroom, turning herself into the picture of concentration so the Goblin King would have no excuse to smirk at her when he emerged. But then the door opened and she couldn’t help herself.
She’d expected him to be wearing his trousers and new shirt, or maybe, maybe the larger towel that she’d given him. But no.
He was wearing the hand towel around his waist. And it left very little to the imagination.
He dried his hair with the larger towel and sighed happily as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening. “So refreshing,” he said. “Something else that magic can’t quite replicate.”
She realized that she’d been allowing her eyes to move up and down his still-damp body and quickly turned back to her computer screen. Her eyes definitely couldn’t focus on the screen, but she could at least pretend not to notice him.
“Something wrong, Sarah?”
“Nope!” she said, her voice a high-pitched squeak.
She could hear him rubbing the towel over himself, which certainly didn’t help her maintain her composure. “Then why are you typing as if you were trying to murder your machine?”
She gritted her teeth. “Just waiting for you to put some clothes on.”
“I have covered the part of me that I thought might cause you offense.” She could feel him smirking. “Am I really that distracting?”
Sarah groaned and turned to face him. “Are you seriously telling me it wouldn’t distract you if I were just standing here in nothing but my underwear?”
He smiled, continuing to casually pat his hair with the towel. “Only one way to find out. And we know that you’re far too much of a rule-follower for that sort of thing.”
Sarah’s cheeks felt hot. “A rule-follower?”
He sighed as if this fact made him genuinely sad. “Yes.”
Sarah felt her heart pounding. “I thought I feared nothing, at least in your eyes.”
“I stand by that assessment. You don’t follow the rules out of fear. I believe rules, as arbitrary as they may be, give you comfort." He ran the towel slowly over his upper body. “They keep everything from getting…complicated.”
Sarah clenched her fists at her sides. I will not give in. This is a game to him, and if I get riled I let him win. I will not get riled.
She rolled her eyes and stood up. But dammit, I will wipe that smug look off his face.
With a grace she didn’t normally possess, Sarah kept her eyes focused on Jareth’s and quickly removed her shirt and shorts. Planting her feet firmly so that she wouldn’t tremble, she crossed her arms under her breasts as casually as she could manage.
Jareth froze. He stared at her in genuine surprise, his mouth slightly open. She felt herself smiling—mission accomplished, at least.
And then the surprise on his face changed to a look of open hunger. His breathing quickened. He dropped the towel he’d been using to dry his hair.
She cleared her throat. “I win,” she said quietly.
He smiled, but there was nothing smug about it this time. “Oh no, reginetta. I believe I’m the clear winner here.”
The distance between them suddenly felt a lot smaller. Though they stayed still, it felt like they were running at each other at full speed, and Sarah couldn’t help wondering who would swerve first.
He took a small step in her direction, waiting and watching, maybe to see if she would stop him with a word or a look. She didn’t.
Another step. Another. She could see the steam rising off of his body now.
She could see everything that would happen before it happened, feel it, how warm his skin would feel next to hers, the way his hands would grip her, the places he would put his mouth. She wondered if he would push her back onto the desk, or take her up against the wall, or maybe carry her to the bed…
She wanted it up against the wall, she realized with shocking clarity.
He was inches from her now, his hand reaching out to grip her neck…
“Saaarah! Saaarah, stai bene?”
She froze. The look of rage on Jareth’s face was genuinely frightening.
Sarah blinked, and world seemed to come back into sharp focus again. She quickly pulled on her tank top and shorts and went to the window, where Mr. Nunzio was waving to her from the street.
“Nonno, yes, bene, and you?”
“Good, good. We bring you more food later, yes?”
“Si, grazie. And thank your wife, breakfast and dinner were delicious.”
“Prego, ciao for now.”
Sarah took a few deep breaths. When she turned away from the window Jareth was standing with his arms crossed.
“Let me guess,” he said, his voice dangerously calm. “ ‘That was just a game, you provoked me, I don’t know what you’re talking about, stai immaginando?’”
Sarah forced herself to keep her eyes above his waist and sat down again at her desk, staring at her computer screen. Her heart was thumping so loudly in her chest she was sure he could hear it.
“Something like that,” she said, letting her head fall into her hands.
Jareth sighed, returned to the bathroom, and closed the door. She could hear him putting on his trousers.
“As soon as my magical abilities are restored,” he called out to her, “I am turning that man into a goblin.”
Thanks for reading! I totally stole the GK-in-a-towel-that's-way-too-small idea from Girls Next Door #306, so thank you to Pika-la-Cynique for that inspiration.
Chapter 4 coming soon, there will be more food and maybe even a baking scene...
Sarah had been correct when she said that the Goblin King was not good at being inconspicuous.
He didn’t even have to move. Or say anything, though she could practically hear all the un-uttered jibes just waiting to fall from his lips. No, he just had to sit on her sofa in this apartment that really hadn’t felt cramped until he arrived, radiating a hundred different bad ideas that she wasn’t entirely convinced were bad at all.
She couldn’t focus on her writing. She’d write a paragraph, delete it, write a sentence, delete it. Jareth’s breathing was far too loud, she decided, though she knew it wasn’t any louder than mortal breath.
He seemed, of course, completely unruffled. At one point she glanced over to the sofa to see that he was reading her copy of Pride and Prejudice, one of the many books she’d stacked near the television set, turning the pages rapidly. Less than an hour later he had opened a different book, one with a rather salacious-looking cover. An hour later he was reading a contemporary romance novel with a colorful, pastel cover illustration. It seemed that his more-than-mortal abilities included speed-reading.
Dear God, I hope he’s not getting ideas.
Or…maybe I do?
She shook her head, trying with limited success to focus on her writing. The heat wasn’t as intense as usual but by late afternoon she could feel sweat trickling down the back of her neck. Sighing, she stood up and went to the fridge, pulled out the container of berries, and began chopping up ice and fruit to make a drink.
“Why are you reading those?” she finally asked.
He didn’t look up. “I find the mortal concept of attraction intriguing.” He gestured to the stack of books. “Regardless of the century or locale, it always seems to begin with animosity and end with marriage.”
She laughed and scooped ice and berries into a glass. “Yeah, well, the story wouldn’t be very interesting if there weren’t any obstacles to overcome.”
She could feel him smirking. “Indeed.”
Her urge to be hospitable appeared again, though she kept reminding herself that she hadn’t exactly INVITED him here. “You, uh, want a cold drink?”
He kept his eyes in his book. “I’m not sure,” he said, turning a page. “I’ve been warned about accepting gifts from mortals.”
Sarah gave a short laugh. “It’s not poisoned, I promise. Or, you know, full of hallucinatory peach juice.”
“A shame, mortal hallucinogens are delightful.”
“Do you want the drink or not?”
He closed the book. “Patience, Sarah. It isn’t as though we have a pressing schedule. ” He rose from the sofa. “And given that the heat is working against me…yes, I would love a drink.”
She poured club soda into a second glass as he came just a little too close, that delightful smell and slight sense of prickly electricity surrounding him. She mixed in mashed berries with a bit of syrup and ice and handed him the glass.
“Alla vostra salute,” he said, clinking his glass with hers.
She shook her head and took a sip, closing her eyes at the pleasant feel of the icy cold drink on her tongue. “It’s embarrassing that your Italian is better than mine.”
“I have had a few more millennia to study it.”
She smiled and met his eyes—and then quickly looked down, because those were definitely eyes you could get lost in. After a moment of silence, he slowly pressed his cool glass against her neck. Unable to stop herself, she sighed in pleasure, rubbing some of the condensation over her face and fanning herself.
When she opened her eyes again Jareth was gazing at her with fairly obvious thirst.
She downed the rest of her drink quickly. “I think I also need a snack,” she said, opening the fridge.
Miraculously, he refrained from making any sort of comment on her choice of the word “snack” and instead glanced over her shoulder. “Or perhaps we should cook something. This is a common theme in your contemporary love stories that I have been reading. And it usually leads to intimacy, which is an added benefit.”
She turned to look at him. “You’ve been speed-reading romance novels…and your main conclusion is that cooking leads to fucking?”
“Particular types of cooking. Usually involving a mess, a less-than-stellar result, and the opportunity to lick dough or cream off the other person’s fingers.”
Sarah laughed. “Yeah, well, we’re not baking anything in this heat, so don’t get your hopes up. Although…” She noted the container of leftover rice and several eggs in the fridge. “Rice pudding! Perfect.”
Jareth seemed disappointed that the recipe in question would not require long hours of trial and error or make a significant mess, but perked up when he was allotted specific tasks. Sarah heated the milk in a small saucepan and had him add the sugar slowly, then had him stir the mixture while she cracked an egg yolk into it. Finally, she dumped the re-heated rice into the pan and mixed everything together, then spooned two portions into small bowls and grabbed a small container of cinnamon from the cabinet.
“Right,” she said. “Now we just sprinkle on some cinnamon and it’s done.”
He examined the container and proceeded to pour a very hearty portion of cinnamon over both servings, so much that some of it spilled onto his hands. He smiled, looking triumphant.
“Aren’t you going to help me clean this up?”
She laughed. “I think you’re capable of washing your own hands.”
He reached up and smeared a trail of cinnamon over her cheek. “As always, what I’m capable of is not always what's most fun.”
She reached for the water faucet and he gently blocked her wrist, moving in quickly to kiss her cheek, his lips lingering just a bit longer than they should have. She forced her expression to stay neutral.
“Learn that from your research, did you?”
He pulled back to meet her eyes and smile, and yet again she felt like the ground beneath her feet was wobbly. “No, that was entirely my own invention.”
His lips were so close to hers. A familiar voice in the back of her mind told her to turn away, that she didn’t deserve this sort of thing, at least not yet, but it was much fainter than it had been.
His lips brushed hers, ever so lightly, and she tasted cinnamon. “Tell me no and I’ll stop,” he whispered.
When she didn’t speak he pressed against her and pushed at her lips with his tongue, and she felt herself opening, her body pliant as his arms snaked around her and reached up to fondle her hair. His tongue pushed and probed and hers pushed back, loving the taste of him.
In the instant that her own arms reached up to grip his hair and pull him closer, though, he abruptly stepped back, smiling an all-too-casual smile and picking up one of the dishes of rice pudding. “Our efforts are getting cold,” he said, raising a spoonful to his lips.
She stared at him, her heart pounding. “It’s supposed to be eaten cold,” she said, knowing that her attempt at nonchalance was failing.
“Hm. I prefer it warm.” He licked the spoon slowly.
She crossed her arms as her heartbeat gradually slowed. “What game are you playing?”
He took another bite. “I’m not playing a game, Sarah. But you are, it seems.”
“I haven’t quite determined all of the rules and conventions yet, but I do know for certain that you would have stopped me before things truly became…complicated,” he said. “And so I stopped things for you.”
She folded her arms. “You don’t know that. You don’t know me.”
He smiled, and it seemed genuine. “Not nearly as well as I’d like to, reginetta. But I do know that you’ve a wall up, and it’ll take more than rice pudding to bring it down, contrary to what your novels may believe.” He handed her the other dish. “You really should try this, though. It’s lovely.”
She took the dish. A part of her did want to tell him everything. But another part of her wanted to win, and winning meant that she didn’t give the Goblin King anything he wanted, at least not easily.
Winning was starting to feel a lot like losing, though.
She took the dish of pudding over to the window and looked outside, taking a bite as she looked over the colorful rooftops to the ocean beyond. A bicycle went by on the street below, the bell ringing.
“My mom died,” she finally said.
She turned back to look at him. “My mother. She died. You wanted to know why I’d been sad for a long time.” She gave a mirthless laugh and took another large bite of rice pudding. It was good. “Not a very interesting reason, I know.”
He was silent as she continued eating. “We weren’t even close. We hadn’t been, for years. She would call me up and promise some grand weekend getaway with some glamorous new boyfriend and then cancel at the last minute.”
She turned away again, feeling that familiar cascade of emotions that therapy had tried to help her work through. “That night she was walking somewhere in the city, maybe going to a bar or a party. A car ran through the crosswalk. They said she died instantly.”
“So in your dream…”
Images from that dream she’d been having for months flashed vividly through her mind—the woman in the white dress, the horrible feeling of helplessness as the car barreled toward her. “So yeah, I was sad for a while, and I was having bad dreams, and I know it’s not my fault that she died but I still feel like shit a lot. Like I don’t ever deserve to feel good again.”
She felt Jareth come up behind her. “You genuinely believe…that you do not deserve to feel good?”
She shrugged. The feelings were less raw than they’d been a year ago, but they were definitely still there. “Basically, yeah. I keep thinking about how it might have been different if I was with her. Lots of bad memories.”
She took another bite of rice pudding as he seemed to consider her words carefully. “I believe the solution to your problem is clear, even if you can’t see it.”
“Yes.” He ran a finger over cheek and it came away with cinnamon on it, which he licked slowly. “You should make new memories. With me.”
Sarah laughed and then stopped short as he casually took the spoon out of her hand and helped himself to her portion of pudding.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
He took a bite and smiled. “Taking what I want. Which I would advise you to do as well.”
“Something tells me this isn’t about what I want.”
“Oh, I don’t claim to be selfless in this arrangement. But sometimes people want the same thing.”
Sarah’s mouth twitched slightly. “And what do I want, exactly?”
He set the rice pudding on the table and leaned against it, appraising her. “I think you want…you deserve…an evening of indulgence. Good food, good wine, physical pleasure.” He took her hand and kissed it. “With someone who will, much to your relief, make no demands on you after it’s done.”
She laughed. “And you’re the one to provide that?”
He smiled. “I am, if anything, very good at giving people what they want.”
Sarah ran a hand through her hair. He’d offered her a gift once, and she’d refused it. Her dreams about him had certainly been memorable. And once he was gone, he would likely never come back.
You know you’ll always wonder if you don’t.
She cleared her throat. “Even if I did want you—“
“You do. Not much point denying that.”
“Fine, but we’re a bit low on fancy food, and the wine is—“
Sarah closed her eyes. “Buona sera, nonno,” she called out.
“Buona sera! More focaccia, and fresh Pecorino Toscano, a fresh bottle of wine, and Signiora Folliero’s cured olives!”
Jareth grinned. “Maybe I won’t turn your landlord into a goblin after all.”
Sorry this chapter's a bit short! There WILL be sexytimes eventually, I promise! We've got one, MAYBE two chapters to go. ^_^
When she emerged from the bathroom sometime later he’d set all of the food and drink on the table in an aesthetically pleasing way. As Mr. Nunzio had said, there were olives, more focaccia, a think chunk of Pecorino, and also what looked like fresh slices of prosciutto, a bowl of olive oil, and more fresh berries, sliced apricots, and plums. Jareth had cut the bread into slices and arranged the fruit, prosciutto, and cheese onto a wooden cutting board.
There was music playing, too—piano music, slightly jazzy, with quiet drumming in the background.
Jareth himself somehow looked slightly more regal than when she’d left him—he still wore the Wicked T-shirt, but his hair was smoother, his face slightly rosier in the cheeks. She let her eyes linger on him, remembering what he’d said about taking what she wanted.
He admired his handiwork for a moment and then drizzled a spoonful of olive oil over the Pecorino. “Right, hardly a meal fit for royalty, and yet sometimes simpler is—“
He glanced in her direction and went silent.
She smiled and smoothed her still slightly-damp hair, a large portion of which was piled on top of her head and fastened with sparkly clips. She wore tiny crystal earrings and had applied just a hint of blush and burgundy lipstick that complimented her white-and-red floral sundress rather nicely, she thought. As a final touch, she was wearing heels—he didn’t tower over her, but she still wanted to be closer to his eye level.
She’d felt fairly pleased with the overall effect when she looked in the mirror—especially in contrast to the cutoffs-and-tank-top uniform she’d been wearing for the past week or so—but Jareth’s reaction made her grin harder to hide.
He moved toward her slowly. “Clearly I should have brought a change of clothes,” he said.
She laughed. “You’d look regal in a bathrobe.”
He reached out to trail a finger down her neck. “You, on the other hand, look…” He took her hand and kissed it. “More regina than reginetta, to be sure.”
She threaded her fingers through his. “Why do you call me that?”
He pulled her closer. “Because you’re quite regal yourself,” he whispered.
He moved in to kiss her and she pushed a finger against his lips, smiling at his look of frustration. “Dance with me,” she said.
He smiled. The music, as if listening to their conversation, shifted into a slightly more waltz-adjacent rhythm, and she let herself be gently twirled around the small room, her hair coming slightly undone and falling around her face, the skirt of her dress fanning around her. Eventually the music slowed and she found herself slightly breathless, one of Jareth’s arms gripping her waist and the other holding her hand up to his lips. She let herself rest against his warm chest as he rocked them both gently back and forth.
“You’re asking for what you want,” he murmured.
She smiled. “I’ve been writing characters who do it for years. Strange I never tried it myself.”
He pulled back slightly and twirled her away from him again. “What is your novel about, anyway?”
She let him pull her back into his arms and and move in a small circle around the room. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Oh, but I think it does.”
She laughed and felt herself blushing. “It’s…it’s a sort of fairy tale retelling. About a girl who falls in love with someone she’s never met.”
Jareth raised an eyebrow. “What sort of someone?”
She somehow had a feeling he already knew. “A king. A king trapped in a castle tower, that she has to rescue.”
He grinned and twirled her again until she felt slightly dizzy. “You say you never thought of me, and yet your novel is about a girl who pines for a king.”
“Lots of stories are about girls pining for kings. Or princes.”
“This is true.” He pulled her in close again, lowering his mouth to her ear. “So it seems you’re skilled with words.”
She felt a rush of heat. “Maybe,” she whispered.
Jareth kissed her neck and ran his hand up the side of her dress. “Not that you aren’t also good with images,” he said. “Though I do wonder what would you say to me, if words were the only weapon at your disposal.”
She smiled, feeling bold. “My words could make you hard in a matter of seconds,” she whispered.
He trailed his teeth over her throat. “I think my words have already made you wet,” he said.
She gripped the collar of his shirt. “When I dreamed about you you had me up against a wall, and I wanted you to fuck me so badly it was painful.”
His breath quickened and he gripped the back of her neck. “I thought a girl like you would want sweet and slow, but no, I can see you’d want to feel me hard and hot up against you, my mouth everywhere on that lovely skin…”
Her hand moved slowly downward. “…and I’d kneel in front of you and just look up, my mouth wide open, waiting…”
“…and I’m generous enough that I’d give you everything you wanted until you were moaning and begging for more of it, with my hands messing up that lovely hair of yours as I pulled it hard…”
She reached down and smiled as she gripped him, giving his neck a long, slow lick. “I win,” she whispered.
He reached under her dress, slipped his fingers between her legs and smiled as she moaned. “I’d say it’s a tie, regina.”
It was a bit of a blur after that. Her competitive side wanted to believe that he’d moved first, but really they might have both lunged at the same time, tongues coming together with soft moans as she pulled his shirt off and he pushed her dress down her body, growling softly when he saw that she had nothing on underneath. His smooth hands brushed and squeezed all over her, finally gripping her breasts and squeezing one nipple hard until she cried out and bit his neck, her hands hurriedly fumbling with his trousers and reaching inside…
“You want this so badly I can taste it,” he whispered, one hand still massaging her nipple as the other reached down and pushed her own hand harder against him.
She stroked him, and he grimaced slightly, and she pulled his trousers down and wrapped one leg around his waist, grinding against him. “Not as badly as you want to be inside me,” she whispered back.
He kissed her hard and then moved his mouth down to her breast, sucking a nipple into his mouth and then kissing roughly back and forth across her chest. “You do love to win, don’t you, regina?”
She felt slightly dizzy as her hand continued to stroke him, his hot mouth trailing slowly downward. “About half as much as you do.”
He knelt and kissed the inside of her thigh. She rather liked the sight of him on his knees, she realized. “At the very least I’m going to make you scream loud enough to wake Rome.”
She cried out as he gave her a long, slow lick. “I’ll make sure you wake Lisbon, then.”
His tongue pushed and circled expertly, and when he reached up she bit down on his hand to keep from crying out too loudly, but as he circled faster and slipped a finger inside her her cries got louder and louder until yes, she admitted that he might have won this round. But they had all night.
All night turned into the next day.
We should really get up from the floor, Sarah thought absently.
But the floor is fine, a voice in her mind responded. Plus it’s where the food and the wine are.
She couldn’t quite remember how they’d gotten to the floor—though she thought that at some point they’d been against the table, then against the wall, then in the bed. She also couldn’t remember who’d had the wherewithal to pull down a blanket and bring the food and wine. But that was where they were now, and it was a nice place.
She propped herself up on an elbow, popped a slice of plum into her mouth, followed by an olive, and then took another sip of Tignanello. An arm snaked around her waist and pulled her closer.
“Care to share, regina?”
She grabbed a chunk of focaccia and dipped it in olive oil. “Not particularly.”
He laughed and reached over her to pluck an olive from the wooden board, laughing again when she grabbed it from his hand and popped it into her own mouth. “I’m so glad to see you being selfish.”
She drained her glass. “The wine helps.”
He casually waved his hand over the board…
…and another olive jumped into his palm.
Sarah blinked and turned to look at him. He looked genuinely surprised, though she felt sure that he could easily have faked it.
She smirked. “Wanna tell me how long you’ve had the magics back?”
He raised an eyebrow. “I assure you, I’m just as surprised as you are.” He stood up. “Though you must be relieved, as I can now finally leave you in peace.”
She grabbed his hand and pulled him back down to the floor, her expression teasing. “Oh, and you’re not eager to get back to the place where everyone cowers before you?”
He glanced at her hand gripping his, his smile mirroring hers. “Tell me that you want me to stay and I’ll stay.”
“Tell me you don’t want to leave, at least not yet.”
She laughed. “Count of three?”
He kissed her hand. “One…two…”
He smiled with genuine delight and kissed her mouth insistently. “Only if you’ll let me have some bloody food eventually.”
She kissed him back and pulled him on top of her. “Later. I promise.”
“Only a fool believes a mortal prom—“
She silenced him by wrapping her legs tightly around his waist and kissing him again.
Sarah didn’t really notice the passing of the night, or the next day, though she was relieved that Mr. Nunzio chose not to pay them a visit. At some point she indicated that they should probably get dressed and get off the floor, because they couldn’t very well do nothing but fuck, sleep, and nibble focaccia forever.
“Why, pray tell,” Jareth asked her, eating a fresh slice of apricot, “would one spend time doing anything else?”
At some point she slept and woke with him inside of her, and she moaned with the beautiful ache of it as he moved slowly and carefully, pinning her arms above her head as she kissed his neck, his hair falling in her face, and then moving faster, harder, his fingers touching her just so until she cried out so loudly that he laughed and muffled her cries with his mouth. In a daze, she slept again.
When he suggested they move from the floor to the bed she insisted on showering first, delighting in covering every inch of their bodies with soap and then watching the water run down the hard lines of his pale form, and almost as soon as they were done she felt sure they’d need another shower soon.
She kissed him slowly. “I don’t think I’ve kept my promise to make you cry out loud enough to wake Lisbon,” she said.
He ran his hands over her still-wet skin. “You can certainly try.”
She kissed her way down his stomach. “You do love to goad me, don’t you?”
“Only because it produces such delightful results.”
She smiled up at him and gave him a long, slow lick, enjoying the struggle on his face. “Just so you know,” she whispered, “this is the only time I’m ever kneeling before you.”
At some point she wondered if Jareth had casually reordered time to stretch the days. She knew, at least, that she hadn’t worn clothes for a while, only throwing on a shirt once or twice to lean out the window and receive the containers of food that Mr. Nunzio did eventually bring. It was all a haze of wine, fruit, bread, and sex, and she certainly wasn’t complaining.
Eventually, though, she woke from a deep sleep on the sofa to see Jareth wearing the shirt he’d arrived in and quietly riffling through the kitchen cabinets, eventually pulling out a half-empty bag of espresso beans. She smiled, feeling a twinge of sadness that wasn’t overpowering.
He turned and smiled at her. “Hardly. Though I am stealing your coffee. And this.” He held up a plastic package of mortadella. “To hell with the goblins, I’ll keep these in a magically locked box.”
She laughed and rose from the sofa, wrapping the bedsheet they’d been laying on top of around her body. “I suppose the goblin chaos needs managing?”
He pulled her toward him, his arms slipping under the sheet to grip her waist. “I am tied to the place, ramshackle mess that it is.”
“Shame you had to spend your whole vacation in this apartment.”
He smiled and kissed her. “Indeed, it was torture.”
She stepped back and toyed with one of the pillows on the sofa. “I could invite you back, you know.”
“Again, not a vampire, and I don’t need—“
She tossed the pillow at him. “I know you don’t need an invitation, you dolt. Maybe I’d just like to give you one.”
He kissed her again, and she kissed back, filling her senses with him one more time. He held on just a bit longer than she’d expected.
His face was slightly flushed when he finally stepped away and blew her one last kiss. “I’ll be waiting, then.”
He snapped his fingers and vanished.
Sarah glanced around the apartment as though seeing it for the first time, or at least the first time in several days. She wrapped her arms around herself—she still smelled like him.
After cleaning up fallen clothes, tossing sheets in the washing machine, having a shower, and changing into a tank top and shorts, she heard Mr. Nunzio calling out from below.
“Tomorrow, Saaarah!” he said. “Tomorrow we fix stairs, you can leave soon, okay?”
She smiled down at him from the window. “Grazie, nonno.”
“So terrible, trapped inside for so many days, mi dispiace!”
“Si, terrible.” She let her gaze wander to the distant ocean and the sun glimmering off its surface, her mind awash in very pleasant memories. “But I survived.”
And we're done! Thanks for going on this fluffy little ride with me--it was a bit freaky posting chapters without having a full story draft written, but hopefully I managed to tie things up.
A reviewer on ff.net noted that Sarah would have to be pretty dense not to know what "reginetta" meant, which...fair enough, though when the Goblin King shows up on your doorstep and you've had a scary dream it might make you less inclined to remember such things. Still, in this chapter she's clearly figured it out--I might go back at some point and edit those earlier bits, so forgive me that moment of inconsistency for now.
Cheers to everyone who's surviving this bleak time in some version of isolation or lockdown, may we all have a chance to visit exotic locations (or just the corner coffee shop) and eat good cheese and good bread sometime soon.