It had been ten years since the Labyrinth, though Sarah had never forgotten. She had remembered her friends and her adventures, and she had remembered him. She was twenty five now, and she had learned to live in her own world, studying art history in New York, and writing children's fairytales on the side, all inspired by the Labyrinth. Everything was, for a grad student living in a one room 3rd story walk up and barely scraping by to pay each months rent, perfect.
Then the call came.
It was January, and a driver had skidded on a patch of ice, spinning into traffic and ramming head on into her father's car. Her father had been killed instantly and her stepmother was in a coma. Toby had been in the back seat, and miraculously he was unharmed, aside from a few scrapes and bruises.
She drove as fast as she dared, dropping everything to rush home, straight to the hospital. The nurses had directed her to Karen's room kindly, but she could feel their eyes on her as she rushed in, immediately searching for Toby, and wrapping him up in her arms. The nurse that was sitting with him told her quietly that Toby was fine, but he hadn't made a sound since the accident, he hadn't even cried. He'd just sat by his mother's side clutching a stuffed toy and staring blankly at the wall. Sarah did a double take when she saw that the toy Toby held was a snowy white barn owl, but she quickly dismissed the idea that he was involved. Toby had buried his head in her shoulder and clung to her tightly, never uttering a sound.
The list of Karen's injuries was long and unyielding. Broken bones, internal haemorrhage, and the worst, severe brain trauma. There wasn't much hope that she would ever wake up, they didn't expect she would hold on more than a few days at most. In the blink of an eye Sarah had lost her father and a stepmother she had come to respect. She couldn't breath, she could only hold Toby closer.
She drove Toby back to their parents house and tucked him into their bed, sitting with him until he fell asleep before she went into the bathroom and sat in the tub, arms wrapped around her knees as she cried silently. When she finally cleaned herself up and dressed for bed, she slid under the covers carefully so she didn't wake Toby, who was sleeping fitfully, and she didn't notice the white owl sitting on the windowsill, or the mismatched eyes watching them both, filled with sadness. She didn't realise she whispered his name as she fell asleep.
Morning didn't bring any relief to Sarah. She was groggy when she sat up, rubbing her eyes as she noticed Toby was splayed out on Karen's side of the bed, clutching her pillow tightly. He was still asleep, exhausted after the day before. She signed, taking a breath and holding back her tears for now. She'd cried enough the night before to get her by for a while, now she needed to be strong for Toby, keep it together for him. She had no idea what was going to happen, she didn't know if either her father or Karen had a will, what had been done to provide for Toby's future, none of it. She hadn't expected anything like this to happen, but then no one expected to have their lives ended so suddenly.
Her eyes turned to the stuffed owl, now lying abandoned between the pillows. She reached for it, biting her lip to stifle a gasp when she saw its eyes were different colours. It wasn't possible, he couldn't be here. It was just a toy, something Karen had probably bought at a thrift store when Toby was younger.
It had been ten years since she had seen him, not at the top of the stairs with the castle floating in pieces around them, it had been later, a few days after she returned from the Labyrinth safely…
She was running through the park with Merlin barking happily at her heels when the wind had stirred, whipping around her and bringing her to a halt as her hair blew in every direction. She had spun around, freezing when she saw him standing there behind her.
“You...” she began but he raised a hand to stop her, eyes never leaving hers.
“I am not here to harm you, Sarah,” he said quietly, not moving toward her. “I only came to tell you that I am not angry that you beat my Labyrinth, merely saddened that you chose to leave. I will not try to persuade you to change your mind, I will not haunt your life, easy as it may be. I came here to say goodbye, Sarah. And to tell you that like your friends, if you ever have need of me, you need only say my name.”
She remained silent as he reached forward slowly and took her hand gently in his gloved one, raising it to his lips to place a kiss on her knuckles. His eyes never left hers as he faded into nothingness.
Sarah fought back a sob as she came back to the present, holding the owl close. His name was on the tip of her tongue, but she knew she couldn't call him, not now. She acknowledged that she may have, one day, when she felt she was ready for the complicated emotions that came with the Goblin King, but now everything was different. She was all Toby had left and she couldn't leave him. And she wouldn't ask for help, she was a grown woman now and she would act like it.
“I'm sorry,” she whispered to the owl, not knowing if he could hear her. “If things had been different…I was almost ready. Now…I'm so sorry.”
She looked over at Toby again, smiling tiredly when he opened puffy eyes, gaze darting around the room. After a moment his gaze landed on the own and Sarah held it out to him. He took it, sitting up as she brushed his tangled hair out of his face. First priority was food, then Toby needed a bath, and she needed to clean his cuts again, to make sure nothing became infected.
“Hey, Tobes,” she said softly. “You hungry?”
Toby nodded, burying his face in his mother's pillow for a long moment, taking a deep breath before he sat up and followed Sarah downstairs to the kitchen. She made him in favourite sandwich, peanut butter and M&M's, thinking really, he'd been through enough that he deserved all the comfort food he wanted right now. Plus she figured the sugar would help with the shock. After that she managed to eat some scrambled eggs, and got Toby cleaned up before the phone calls started. She settled him in the living room with the TV, the owl still clutched in one hand, while she went to the kitchen.
First it was her father's lawyer, then it was Karen's lawyer, then the hospital, then the funeral home.
Each call began the same, 'Miss Williams, I'm sorry for your loss. How is your brother?'. After a while Sarah wasn't sure she knew she was answering, it was so automatic.
It turned out that, thankfully, her father had planned ahead in case anything had ever happened to him, and Toby already had a significantly padded college fund waiting for him. There was also an inheritance account for her, that would come into her control on her twenty-seventh birthday, originally meant to be a gift for finishing grad school. Then there was the money that was inherited from her father and stepmother. They hadn't been hard up for money, and along with the house, she was relieved to find that Toby would always be taken care of. Sarah had been appointed as Toby's legal guardian from the time she was twenty-one, in case anything happened, and she was a little miffed that in four years they had never told her.
The worst call was the hospital. There had been no improvement in Karen's condition and the doctors suspected she may go at any time. If she didn't go naturally in the next few days, Sarah would have to make the decision about life support. The woman Sarah spoke to assured her they had councillors to help with these types of situations.
The call to the funeral home nearly broke her, but the man on the phone was so kind, and so willing to do anything and everything to make it as bearable as possible, she just managed not to cry again until the phone was back in it's cradle. Her father's funeral would be held the next Friday and the funeral director promised that they would have things ready for Karen if she passed before then, so that they could be buried together.
She was still sitting at the table an hour later, staring blankly at the wood grain, when Toby came into the kitchen, the owl clutched in one hand and Lancelot in the other. He climbed into her lap and pushed the bear into her hand, curling up against her and tucking his head under her chin. Sarah held him close, silent tears streaming down her face, still completely unaware of the eyes that watched them from the window.
Sarah's mother didn't come to the funeral, but Karen's sister had. Karen had passed away two nights after the accident, and the next day 'Aunt Azalea' had turned up at the door with cookies, stories, and enough food to last them a week. She had held both Sarah and Toby as the caskets were lowered into the ground three days later, and the wake that followed passed in such a haze for Sarah that she was eternally grateful that Karen's wayward sister had appeared. She hadn't even known Karen had a sister before the eccentric woman appeared on the doorstep, cooking and fussing over the two of them. It had been a relief having someone to help take care of Toby, because Sarah still wasn't used to taking care of him full time, and she was worried.
Toby still hadn't spoken, or cried, since the accident, not even when they buried their parents. He seemed to be in his own world, though he would sit with her for hours, in her lap or at her side, still looking for comfort. He wasn't completely closed off, but it was still worrying to Sarah when he would sit and stare out of the window for long hours, not making a sound. She wondered if she needed to find a grief councillor for him.
Sarah stood at the kitchen table, all the thoughts whirling through her head as the murmurs of the wake's attendees just barely floating to her from the living room. Her hands rested heavily on the table as she hung her head forward, her hair hiding her tears. She felt so lost, so broken down, she didn't know what she was going to do. She had a year of college left, a deadline on her next book and her little brother to take care of. She had so many decisions to make and today it was all too much. The last week had been like a fog, but this morning she had woken with a pain through her heart like she had never felt and a panic in her mind that had grown every hour until it boiled to the surface.
“I can't do this alone,” she whispered to the empty room. The curtains stirred over the sink and the phantom feeling of warm arms wrapped around her, holding her tightly.
'You're never alone, Sarah,' the ghost whispered. Sarah closed her eyes and leaned into the embrace for a moment before she shook herself and opened her eyes. Imagining the Goblin King would fix nothing. Steeling herself, she straightened and wiped the tears away and walked back to the wake, knowing she should be there for her guests, if only to accept their condolences.
It had been two weeks since the accident and a week since the funeral. Everything was finished in the way of paperwork from the lawyers, and she had full access to her parents money and was the custodian for Toby's college fund, which she would sign over to him when he turned eighteen. She had contacted her university in New York and told them she was taking the semester off because of the accident and there had been no issues there, her degree was on hold for as long as it took to sort out her life. Now all she had to do was figure out what she was going to do to sort out that life.
“Toby?” she asked quietly one morning while they were eating breakfast. “I need to ask you something. It might be hard, but you're a big boy and I know you can understand, ok?” At his nod she drew a breath and continued. “I have one year left of college, in New York. It's on hold for now, but if you want me to, I'll drop out and we can stay here. Or if you wanted, we can go live in New York.”
Toby seemed to consider it for a long while before he looked up and nodded fiercely, reaching for the pad of paper he had taken to carrying in the weeks since the accident. She had convinced him to write at least small things if he would't speak, and she wouldn't push him to talk if he didn't want to. She hadn't revisited the idea of a councillor yet. She had enough bad memories from the one her parents dragged her to after the whole Labyrinth incident, she wasn't going to do that to Toby unless it became absolutely necessary.
'I never want to see this house again,' he scrawled in a hasty note, shoving it at her. 'Sell it,' he added underneath.
“Oh, Tobes, are you sure?” she asked, putting her hand on his shoulder. He nodded and she sighed. The lawyer had suggested something along these lines but she wasn't sure she had wanted to sell this house, both their childhood home. She had leaned towards the idea, but she had guessed that Toby wouldn't want to. It was a weight off her chest that he felt the same way.
“You'll have to transfer schools you know,” she said and he nodded, already seeming a little happier.
Two weeks later the house was in escrow, snapped up the same day it went on the market, and Sarah was hefting the last of her boxes out of the moving van when a pair of hands caught her as she over balanced.
“Here, let me help,” said a richly accented voice and she looked up over the box, doing her best not to gasp. Holding the large box steady was a blond man, dressed all in black, with dark sunglasses obscuring his eyes. He was absolutely gorgeous.
“I've got it,” she said, wary as she ever was of people she didn't know, especially men who looked like this. She tried to pull the box away but he chuckled and shook his head, hefting it up on his shoulder as easily as if it weighted nothing. It did not weigh nothing, it was full of her childhood books.
“Now what kind of gentleman would I be if I let you carry this all the way upstairs on your own? Which floor by the way?” he asked with a grin as she followed him through the entrance hall. Sarah sighed, rolling her eyes.
“Three,” she told him as he started up the stairs. “And I managed just fine with the rest of it, thank you very much.” The man chuckled.
“Well I would have been here to help, but I only just got back from an early meeting, and I didn't know you were moving half a department store in this morning.”
“It's mostly my brother's stuff,” Sarah said quietly, instantly reminded of why she was hauling boxes up three flights of stairs while Toby sat in front of her small TV.
“He certainly has enough things,” the man joked, flashing white teeth that looked almost pointed.
“He's twelve,” Sarah said with a small smile. “Twelve year olds need a surprising amount of stuff.” She avoided mentioning the boxes also held what remained of their parents things that they had wanted to keep. The rest had been sold or put in storage.
“I'm Jason, by the way,” said the smooth accent, slightly obscured by the box. “I'm upstairs in 4H.”
“Funny, I've never seen you before,” she said as they approached her 3B apartment. She'd been living in this building for over two years and she knew most of her neighbours.
“Which flat are you?” he asked, and she moved in front of him to open the door. “I've been subletting for about a year,” he continued as he placed the box inside the door with the others that were already piled there. “I've been in England dealing with family business. I saw you in the laundry room a few times before I left, but you always seemed occupied with a book. I didn't want to intrude.”
“Hmm,” Sarah mumbled, eyeing him. She couldn't see all of his face because of the sunglasses, but from what she could see, and what the tight clothes showed off, he was what a romance novel might categorise as 'built like a god'. She nearly shook her head at the cheesiness of it. “Well thank you for the help,” she said, trying to smile at least a little. There was an odd feeling playing at the back of her mind, ever since she laid eyes on him. She wasn't scared, but she was unsettled, and wary.
“Of course,” he said brightly, holding out a hand. Her skin tingled when she shook it. “If you ever need any more help please feel free to come knock. I'm an artist, you see, so I work from home and I'm almost always there, now that I'm back in the city.”
“Thank you,” she said quietly, rubbing her fingers together, feeling like she was holding sparks now that his hand was gone. “We'll be moving out again soon, there isn't enough space here for both of us. Maybe I'll see if you want to carry more boxes.”
The man chuckled. “I never did catch your name,” he said softly, smiling. “I must admit I'm curious.”
Sarah really did almost laugh at how thick he was laying on the charm. “I'm Sarah Williams,” she told him. “Wherever he is, my brother's name is Toby.” She had glanced around on entering the flat and found the living room empty, which likely meant Toby was napping in the bedroom.
“Lovely to meet you,” Jason said with a swooping bow and this time Sarah did giggle slightly, the first time she had laughed since she got the phone call. “Please do not hesitate to disturb me, should you need anything, day or night.”
“Thank you,” Sarah said as he disappeared out the door and she closed it gently behind him.
Sarah smiled to herself as she leaned against the closed door and she shook her head. Dashing he may be, but this was not something she needed right now. She had too much think about and too much she was responsible for. She had no business falling for a dashing Englishman she'd probably never see again, once she moved out of the building. She put it out of her mind and went to work sorting the boxes.
In hindsight, Sarah really should have known it wouldn't be that simple. Three days later there was a knock on the door and when she abandoned the pile of school flyers for Toby and opened it, she was greeted with the sight of a giant basket of fruit and a bouquet of flowers. Jason's head was just barely visible over the whole bundle and Sarah bit back a genuine laugh.
“I brought a welcome present,” he said as he craned his neck to see her over the load in his arms.
“Flowers?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“The flowers are for you, Sarah,” he said with a smirk and she shivered at the way her name sounded on his tongue. This man was definitely dangerous, she realised, it would be exceptionally easy for her to lose focus and fall for him. But the flowers were lovely.
“Well,” she sighed, “Come in then, I'll just drop it if I try and take it from you.”
Jason smiled as she stood aside and he brushed past her to deposit the fruit basket and the bouquet on the kitchen counter. Sarah closed the front door and followed him, pausing and glancing down the hall when the bedroom door squeaked open and Toby stuck his head out, eyeing the stranger.
Jason, having heard the door as well, stood very still, almost like he was waiting for Toby to make the first move, like you might with a wild animal. Toby stared for a long time, before he glanced at the owl that never left his hand, then back at Jason. A tiny, almost imperceptible smile curved the corners of his mouth before he disappeared and the bedroom door clicked shut.
“I haven't seen him smile in weeks,” Sarah breathed, sinking on the couch in shock, relief flooding her. Toby had been so silent since the accident that she was beginning to worry what would happen when she put him into school.
“You never did say why he was living with you,” Jason said carefully, sitting in a chair across from her. “I understand you don't know me and it's a private matter but… if you need someone to listen…”
Sarah sighed, rubbing her hands across her face. She hadn't spoken to any of her friends since the accident, she hadn't even called her mother since she had let her know. It would be nice to actually have someone to talk to, but she didn't want his pity. Oh, what the hell. She was still convinced she'd never have to see him again once she moved, so what did it matter if she spilled her guts to him?
“About… five weeks ago,” she started, struggling to remember the date. “My dad and stepmom, Toby's mom, were in a car crash. He was with them, but he wasn't hurt. My dad was killed on impact and Karen died a couple of days later. Toby hasn't spoken since, although I did get him to start communicating by writing stuff down, and he does still want physical comfort. I didn't even hold him this much as a toddler, and he was a fussy baby. I've been doing some reading, to make sure I know the signs if he might be at a mental point where he might be in danger, and I'm so worried that I'm doing something wrong because he doesn't seem to be improving at all as far as communicating. I'm only twenty five I have no idea how to … he's too old for me to seem like a mom to him but I'm his guardian. I don't know what to do, and I can't ask any of my friends, they're all younger than me, my own mom is just…well, she left when I was twelve, that's why my dad remarried. Their friends were all great at the funeral and everything, but I don't know any of them and I can't ask any of them for advice. I feel like I'm all alone, and the one person I thought maybe I could ask for help if I ever had a problem … I can't. I just can't, not this. I can't ask him to help with this.”
Sarah took a breath, feeling a weight lifting now that she had told someone her worries, even the irrational ones.
“I'm very sorry,” Jason said quietly. “Do you not think that this friend will be willing to help you? Because of your brother?”
“I don't know,” Sarah mumbled, burying her face in her hands. “I can't ask him. We have a … history, from a long time ago. I was young and foolish and I didn't see what was right in front of me. He's older, you see, and I thought maybe when I was finished with school there might be a chance… but now with Toby I can't, I can't ask anyone to take on that burden as well.”
“Children aren't a burden, Sarah, they're a blessing,” Jason said with a soft smile. “Anyone who would walk away from you simply because you are now responsible for your brother isn't worthy of you or your time.”
Sarah smiled, peeking out from behind her hands. With a start she noticed that the glasses he wore, not as dark as the sunglasses, nonetheless completely obscured his eyes and she shivered slightly.
“Besides, how will you ever know for sure unless you ask? Maybe you should call him?”
Sarah snorted at that. No, no she was absolutely not doing that, she was not asking that question, especially when she knew all it would take to summon him was the breath of his name. She hedged instead.
“Well, he lives in Europe and I don't have his number anymore I don't think,” she shrugged. “Besides, what is he going to do? Get on a plane and swoop in all knight in shining armour?” She nearly dissolved into giggles at the idea of Jareth on a plane.
Jason shrugged his own shoulders. “You might be surprised what people will do for love. I once loved a girl who I would have done just about anything for. I would have tried to move the stars if she had asked.”
Sarah's gaze sharpened as she stared at the man across the room. It wasn't possible, it was absolutely not possible, and yet who else had ever said those words? In poetry, in romantic letters two or three hundred hears ago, but who talked like that now?
No, it wasn't him, it couldn't be, Jason was just a posh English artist who lived upstairs and had nothing better to do than pester her. Although he was very sweet about it, bringing flowers and all.
“I, uh, should get Toby some lunch,” Sarah said finally, glancing at the clock.
With a grin Jason stood and swept a regal bow as he offered to take them both out for pizza at the restaurant around the corner. Reluctantly, Sarah agreed, provided Toby wanted to go, and went to fetch her brother.
Toby seemed excited about pizza, though he did hold her hand the whole time, and he seemed happy to leave the apartment. There was certainly no impact on his appetite and he consumed nearly a whole pizza by himself. Sarah sat through most of the meal with horrific visions of her food bills for the next five years, because she had heard things about teenage boys and those things involved the words 'bottomless' and 'stomach' with far too much regularity for comfort.
Jason carried the conversation the whole time, including Toby even if he didn't answer, though he nodded now and then, and walked them back to their apartment, leaving them on the doorstep and insisting they kept the leftovers. He once more reiterated to Sarah that if she ever needed anything, all she had to do was ask.
The very next week Sarah found herself in desperate need for the sincerity of his words and she took a deep breath before she knocked on Jason's door at 5:30am with a sleeping Toby balanced on her hip. He was about to turn thirteen, he was really getting too old for this, but he just wouldn't wake up, and she wasn't going to leave him alone in the apartment.
“Sarah,” Jason grinned when he swung the door open. “To what to I owe this pleasure so early in the morning?”
Sarah half paused, her eyes taking in the fact that he was only wearing pyjama bottoms and a very loosely tied robe. There was a very generous amount of his chest visible, his perfectly defined and gorgeous chest, and his hair was mussed from sleep, giving him an almost otherworldly look. She gave herself half a second to look, then rememberer she was late, and too frazzled already to be noticing such things, like how her very hansom, very British, seemingly very single and possibly very interested in her, neighbour was only half dressed. And still wearing those special reflective glasses that she'd seen when he came to her apartment.
“I'm really sorry,” she said, shifting Toby as he slipped a little. “I have to meet my devil woman of a publisher at 6:30, she's flying to Croatia of all places at 8:00, and we really have to discuss changing the deadline and putting my contract on hold because of the accident and oh, I'm rambling, and I just…” Sarah sighed. “I know it's a huge imposition, and I know we only just officially met, but… I … trust you and … would you be willing to watch Toby for a couple hours? I couldn't get any of the sitters to come this early, and Louise might publish children's books, but she won't go near an actual child of any age up to about twenty.”
Jason smiled, taking a step back and holding the door open. “Of course, Sarah, just tuck him on the couch, there's a blanket across the back.”
“Thank you,” she breathed, stepping into the mirror image apartment and brushing past him, close enough to feel the heat coming off him. He smelled wonderful too, and that wasn't helping her concentrate on dropping off Toby and getting to her meeting.
She glanced around, trying to take her mind off of that distraction, making a note of the furniture and decorations, feeling a sense of an older world closing around her at the sight of velvet upholstery and dark stained wood. She absently noticed a bowl of peaches on the kitchen counter and firmly told herself it had absolutely nothing to do with anything. A lot of people liked peaches. A part of her mind strictly told her peaches weren't in season, to which she pointed out this thing called a greenhouse.
Shoving away her mental arguments she settled Toby on the couch, tugging his thumb out of his mouth because while she may have plenty of money for the moment, braces were expensive, and their rent was going to go way up when they moved, there was just no way around it.
“Hey, Tobes?” she whispered. “Jason is going to watch you while I go and meet Louise, alright?” she said softly and Toby mumble-shrugged, turning away and burrowing himself into the couch. With a slight sigh and a smile, Sarah tucked the blue woven blanket around him and rose, turning to Jason with a smile.
“Thank you so much,” she said as she made for the door. “I should be back by nine.”
“Please, don't feel the need to rush. He will be perfectly safe with me, I swear it,” Jason said, holding the door for her.
Sarah paused, looking up at him for a long moment. She could almost sense that he was waiting for her to do, or say, something, but finally she just nodded and left.
“Hey,” Sarah said when Jason opened the door a few days later. “I cooked, would you like to join us for dinner?”
Jason smiled and opened the door all the way, revealing he was dressed in jeans and a dark button up shirt, opaque glasses still firmly in place. He pulled on a pair of short boots and followed her downstairs to her apartment.
Toby turned his head and watched them for a moment when they entered the apartment before he turned back to the TV. He had already inhaled his dinner and Sarah rolled her eyes, reaching over the couch for his plate.
“More?” she asked.
Toby nodded, not looking away from the documentary. Sarah rolled her eyes.
“He's going to eat me out of my inheritance before he's seventeen,” she muttered as Jason joined her in the kitchen and she went about filling two plates with lasagna and refilling Toby's. Jason laughed accepting the plate and taking a seat at the tiny kitchen table while Sarah took Toby his plate.
“You said he's thirteen?” Jason inquired and Sarah nodded.
“Just about, a few more weeks.”
“I'm afraid it's only going to get worse,” he chuckled and Sarah groaned dramatically.
They ate in companionable silence for a while, listening to the quiet narration from the living room, which really, was just the other side of the open plan room.
“How come you always wear such dark glasses?” Sarah asked finally, too curious to keep her question to herself any longer.
“I have very sensitive eyes,” Jason said easily. “The doctors told me when I was younger that if I exposed them to too much light I could go blind. I find I'm more cautious the older I get. After all, it's hard to paint when you can't see. Not impossible mind, but much more difficult. I'm not sure I'd have the patience to adapt at this point in my life.”
“Wow…that must be scary,” Sarah said, taking a bite of her food.
“I learned to live with it,” he shrugged. Sarah smiled, still wishing she could see his eyes at least once before she and Toby moved away.
She had pretty much found a new apartment, a nice two bedroom with a spacious kitchen, and the best part was it was close to she school she and Toby had picked out, as well as being closer to her own school. Neither of them would have to fight with the subway all that often. The landlords were dragging their feet on the paperwork and move in date, but it wasn't going to be much longer, and she'd already given notice on this place and started packing.
Jason talked about England while Sarah cleaned up the dishes and she found herself chuckling every so often, laughing more than she had in weeks and finally relaxing and letting some of the tension go after everything she'd been holding on to. She was charmed by his storytelling and half mesmerised by his voice, helpfully ignoring her own inner monologue that she was never going to see him again after she moved. Which was vaguely ridiculous, she though, New York wasn't that big, they'd still be in the same city.
Everything was packed, and Jason was just sealing the last box with the tape roller, which had almost looked like it was out to get him a few times throughout the evening. He glared at it triumphantly when the box was finished and Sarah barely covered a giggle. Well, it was now or never, she had no more reason to wait.
“Jason?” she said quietly, feeling his gaze on her as he turned his dark glasses toward her. “Can I see your eyes? Please?”
Toby was sound asleep in the bedroom and only one small lamp illuminated the living room, the curtains drawn to block out the street and moonlight. Jason watched her for a long moment, then sighed, standing and taking their empty wine glasses into the kitchen, leaning heavily on the sink. She followed him, watching the hard set of his shoulders.
“Why, Sarah?” he asked softly and she bit her lip.
It couldn't be him, her logical mind knew that. There was no way it could be him, but then at the same time… the comment about the stars, the peaches that were always on his counter, the way his voice made her shiver. And Toby watched him, always watched him, with such a strange expression that Sarah had been watching Jason more over the last few weeks, and somehow she knew the impossible was possible.
She moved forward to stand by him and he turned, gazing down at her through the opaque lenses. She reached up, one thumb brushing across his high cheekbone.
“Please,” she said quietly. “I have to know for sure.”
“You sound like you already are,” he whispered and Sarah smiled, reaching for the glasses.
His eyes were closed when she pulled them away and she huffed a laugh, laying her palm on his cheek and stepping closer.
“Stop cheating,” she said quietly, feeling one of his arms circle her waist and hold her carefully, not pulling her closer, but keeping her steady.
“Are you sure you want to ask this question?” he said.
“I'm not asking, Jareth,” Sarah said and his eyes popped open, mismatched pupils meeting hers as the glamour faded, pressed button down replaced by a billowing black shirt, jeans replaced by leggings, his hair sweeping down past his shoulders and the telltale eye markings appearing slowly.
Sarah laughed, tears already running down her face as she lurched forward, wrapping her arms around him and burying her face against his neck, sighing when his arms wrapped around her and held her tight as she sobbed, half in joy and half just because she hadn't cried since the funeral all those weeks ago.
“You're here,” she said softly, refusing to let him go or move away. The way his arms tightened around her told her he wasn't planning on letting her go anytime soon either.
“Of course I'm here, my darling,” he said softly, his voice just a touch more melodic then it had been under the glamour. “Where else would I be?”
“Don't you have a kingdom to run?” she asked with a sniff, pulling back and reaching for the tissue box, wiping away some of her tears. “Or goblins to coral?”
Jareth laughed quietly, shaking his head. “The goblins can take care of themselves, and my kingdom can do with out me now and then. You needed me more."
Sarah sighed, taking a breath and looking up at him.
“Has it been you all along?” she asked bluntly and Jareth's arms loosened a little, letting there be some space between them as he shifted.
“You refused to call for me,” he said, almost defensively. “I had to improvise.”
Sarah would come back to that in a minute.
“The owl Toby has,” she said, and Jareth nodded.
“A gift,” he said. “I do admit I waited to present it to him until you had left for college. I was unsure of your reaction, but I promise you it is a gift for his protection.”
“Is that…” Sarah wasn't sure she could finish her thought without choking up. “Is that why he wasn't hurt in the crash?”
Jareth nodded, tucking her hair behind her ear and gazing at her. “I swore I would always do everything in my power to protect you both,” he said quietly. “I am sorry that protection didn't extend to your parents, but even the Underground has rules.”
“How are you here?” Sarah asked, her fingers unconsciously playing with the ends of his hair.
“As I said, you refused to call,” Jareth started and Sarah shook her head.
“I'm sorry, I felt like I needed to do this alone. I have so many more responsibilities now, I just…”
“Sarah,” Jareth said, bringing her eyes back to his with a finger under her chin. “Did you truly think that just because you are now Toby's guardian, I love you any less?”
Sarah's breath caught. She knew, she'd always known, but to hear those words from him.
“Sarah, my beautiful girl, I will love and admire you until the day I die, and when I say that you must understand that it will be a very, very long time. The strength you have shown in the wake of this tragedy is astonishing. You have more strength than even I believed, and you had the strength to defeat me when you were barely more than a child.”
“But how did you get here?” Sarah persisted, wanting the last of her questions answered before she was entirely swept up in his poetic words.
“You called for me in your sleep,” Jareth said quietly. “I am aware that I cheated, but technically it lifted the veil enough that I was able to come to you. I didn't want you to be alone.”
Sarah thought of the kitchen, the phantom arms wrapped around her, and she smiled. “Thank you,” she whispered. “That day at the wake, I thought I was just imagining it, but that gave me the strength to get through the day. You being here has given me the strength to keep going.”
“Oh, Sarah, you never needed me for strength,” Jareth whispered. “You have so much of your own, I can only hope to stand in the shadows beside you.”
Sarah shook her head, smiling. “I don't know what the last few weeks would have been like without you here,” she admitted. “Even though I didn't know for sure it was you, it helped me more than you can know to have someone there. I know we didn't part on the best of terms all those years ago, but I always thought one day I would get the chance to apologise for being such a childish brat.”
“Sarah, there is nothing to forgive,” Jareth said, his arm tightening around her waist and reminding Sarah how close they were still standing. “You were naught but a child, and I was too foolish to see that. I let you go, and I stayed away, because I knew you had to grow, to become the woman you are today and make your own choices, take your own path, of your own free will.”
“Thank you,” Sarah whispered, held unmoving by the burning look in his eyes. They drifted closer, almost like …
“Sarah?” a small voice asked and Sarah gasped, pulling away. Toby stood by the counter, rubbing one eye, owl clutched in the other.
“Toby,” she said in wonder, realising this was the first time he had spoken in months.
Toby looked at them, how close they were standing, then he looked at Jareth for a long, long moment. Finally he looked back at Sarah, then the goblin king before he smiled tentatively.
“She can see you now, can't she?” the boy whispered and Jareth nodded, ignoring Sarah's critical and accusing eyes on him. “Are we going home now?” Toby asked around a yawn.
“Home?” Sarah asked, one eyebrow raised.
“Back to the Labyrinth,” Toby said, as if it were the simplest thing in the world.
“That is for your sister to decide,” Jareth said, shifting uncomfortably. “I haven't actually asked her what she would like to do yet.”
“Oh,” Toby said, tilting his head. “Oops.”
“Back to the Labyrinth?” Sarah asked, looking at Jareth. He had the grace to look embarrassed. If only a little.
“It is one option for you, yes,” he said, pulling a crystal from the air and handing it to her as he stepped back slightly, releasing his grip but keeping a hand settled on her hip. “But let me remind you, this is what you would be dealing with.”
She took the crystal gently and giggled when she looked into it and saw goblins tossing each other across the room, seemingly trying to aim one so that he landed astride a saddled chicken. The throne room was absolute chaos.
“Would it really be so bad?” she asked and Jareth held his breath. “Are goblins so much worse then humans?” She thought of all the horrible things that happened every day in the world. Living in a fairytale world had to be better, she reasoned, if only because there was magic, and she could truly make a difference there, be the person who she wanted to be.
“I would give you the best rooms in the castle,” Jareth promised, hoping against all hope she would say yes. “You would have a library larger then any you had ever seen before, books both of my land and of yours. Anything you wished, Sarah.”
Sarah was smiling, a wide and joyful smile, and Toby came to stand next to her, taking her hand as he looked up at her pleadingly. It was clear his choice was already made, it probably had been for months. He had probably known it was Jareth all along.
“And what if I only had one wish, Goblin King?” she asked, leaning a little closer as his arm slid around her waist once more. “What if I only needed one wish?”
“I would grant you any wish, my lady,” he said, nearly breathless at the look of joy in her eyes.
“I wish the Goblin King would ask me the question he really wants to ask me,” she whispered.
“Sarah,” Jareth breathed, her name rushing out with the breath he had been holding. “Would you do me the honour of accepting my hand? Would you take the place at my side, and be my queen?”
“Hmm,” Sarah hummed teasingly, a wicked grin on her face. She wanted to make a comment at him about the last time he'd spoken similar words, in a much more threatening manner, but Toby's ears were a bit too young for it.
“Sarah,” Jareth said, eyes pleading, and Sarah laughed, wrapping her arms around him and pulling herself up on her toes.
“Yes,” she whispered a breath before she kissed him.
Jareth gasped, pulling her closer and running a hand into her hair, tilting her head just so and kissing her deeply, the way he had been dreaming of kissing her for weeks. She sighed in his arms, so close that he almost expected them to melt together into one being. Next to them Toby rolled his eyes and muttered “Finally.”
Jareth and Sarah both chuckled, and Jareth drew back finally, pressing one last soft kiss to her lips before he reached down and put a hand on Toby's shoulder.
“Home?” he asked them both and Toby nodded with a grin. Sarah just smiled.
“Home,” she whispered, and the apartment around them dissolved into nothingness, replaced by the beauty and magic of the Labyrinth.