When she comes back to herself, the first thing she becomes aware of is his breathing. She can feel the steady rise and fall of his chest against her back, the warmth of his breath as it stirs her hair. It's slow, regular, but she knows the sound of his soft snores from all the time they've spent together, and she can tell he isn't sleeping right now. He's awake, may have been for some time, just waiting for her, as he always seems to. She can't bring herself to turn around, can't bring herself to speak, and so she just goes on breathing – even though just that simple task pains her, deep down – feigning sleep, wishing for sleep, delaying the inevitable.
She should know by now there's no fooling the king of dreams and wishes.
Jareth knows she's awake – probably noticed the second her breathing changed – but he chooses to let their silence go on. Without a word, he starts to unravel the now-wilting flowers from the night before from her hair, bypassing magic in favour of using careful, graceful fingers for the task. She gets the feeling he's doing it just to touch her, bring them closer with such an intimate caress, and it's unbearable. She can't take any more of his kindness, any more of the things that make her hate him any less than she knows she should.
Resigned to him, she rolls onto her back, giving him no choice but to draw back from her, so he'll abandon those small, soft, painful touches to her hair, in favour of shifting their chained arms to a more natural position. He does draw back, but only a little. He remains on his side, his warm body pressed against her hip. It takes her a full minute of staring up at the ceiling before she feels strong enough to try meeting his eyes. The concern written there absolutely crucifies her. He does want her, there's no doubt of it, but he can't – he won't – have her. It's a definite enough answer, a definite enough end to her hopes, and yet life goes on – the wish goes on, because despite how much he's hurt her, she knows she'll never stop wanting to be attached to him.
“We should get up,” she says, lying perfectly still.
“We can't keep using sex to put off talking, put off doing something about this. It isn't fair on either of us.”
Her eyes drift down to his mouth. “You can't keep just kissing me to make it all go away.”
“No,” he agrees, already moving in to give her that kiss.
It's sweet and terrible, hopeless and hopelessly good, and she can't bring herself to hate him enough to slap him when he finally pulls back. Her body wants to give in, and she closes her eyes, letting herself succumb to the comfort and heat of his lips pressed against her skin. She's going to let him. Oh, god, she's going to let them both just carry on like this, chained together forever, never speaking, only surrendering to that pleasure that both of them need. She threads her fingers into his soft hair, throwing her head back as he mouths at her neck, soothing and familiar, exciting and too addictive to ever give up. His tongue finds the sensitive spot just at the hollow of her throat, and it's only when her sigh of pleasure emerges sounding more like a sob, the clench of pleasure she feels low down in her belly reverberating through her heart as well, that she gets a hold of herself.
She opens her eyes at last.
Jareth leans down and brings his mouth to her bare breast, pulling at the nipple with soft, warm lips, but his eyes remain on her face. There's more than lust in his gaze, more than she can stand. She's too vulnerable to take him right now, laid bare before him in every way possible. She turns her head away, guarding the hurt she knows must show in her eyes, and he relinquishes his touch at once.
“Please,” she whispers.
“Please?” he prompts.
“Please, could you just … get us washed, dressed? Magically, I mean.” She can't bear the intimacy of a shared shower that day.
He nods, his face a carefully neutral mask. “All right.”
Out of bed, safely clothed, she wants to scream at him, demand he tell her why he doesn't want her. She needs to know why, after all these years of wanting and loving him for god's sake, she's only good enough for a little fun, but little more besides. She wants to know why he lied about being unattached – if it was just to assure his place in her bed, or if he truly didn't think it mattered, just because he technically isn't married. She isn't quite sure which answer could possibly hurt her the most. She doesn't dare to ask.
Both of them decline breakfast in favour of a sudden flare of brilliance from her. With a smile of grim determination, she asks him to conjure a handsaw, with the wild vision of somehow managing to cut them loose when all else has failed. He does as she asks with no protest – he never can deny her – and the saw he magicks looks sharp enough for the task, though the look on his face says he isn't convinced she won't use it on his arm.
The blade is thin but firm in her hand, and she ignores his doubtful look as they sit on either side of her kitchen table, the golden chain pulled taut between them. One way or another, they're getting out of this mess today. He can go back to his golden-haired goddess, and she … well, she can go back to never daring to wish again. She brings the saw down on the chain, biting silver teeth against gleaming, unyielding gold.
Ten minutes later, her short, sure strokes have been replaced by sheer speed and stubbornness, her forehead dotted with sweat from her efforts. The saw makes an awful high tinny sound as it grates back and forth over the chain, but as far as she can see, it's yet to make a dent in the smooth metal. She's breathing hard now, determined to ignore the obvious, but she can't help the breathless little gasp of anger that escapes her. It's that small, despairing sound that makes Jareth finally speak up.
“Sarah, a saw isn't going to break the enchantment surrounding the wish. You know that as well as I.”
If anything, his outright dismissal of her efforts only makes her go at the chain even harder. “Maybe an enchanted saw might,” she mumbles. “If this one breaks, we can try that next.”
“Don't you think I would have suggested that already, if I had any belief whatsoever that it might work?”
She grits her teeth as she goes on sawing. The blade wobbles a little with the force she puts into it. “If you'll forgive me for saying so, Your Highness, I no longer have any confidence in what you might or might not do. Now shut up and keep the chain pulled tight.”
“Sarah, I'm telling you this won't work. I think we need to calm down and talk about this.”
“No. No more talking. I'm done talking. The only thing we 'need' to do is try harder to get ourselves out of this mess. Then you can go back to your life, and I can go back to mine. Talking isn't going to make that happen, and neither is fucking each other senseless every day instead of actually trying to get loose.”
At any other time, he'd take her words and twist them into something even more suggestive, but now he remains silent. Perhaps her seriousness has finally rubbed off on him, or even the great Goblin King is afraid of the determined fire that's in her eyes right now. Regardless, she's glad of the quiet as she goes back to her work, the blade wobbling even harder as she puts her weight into every push of the saw. There, that's a scratch on the metal, isn't it? It's just a matter of willpower. Her strokes are near manic now with the force of her desperation, but she can't stop now, can't stop until they're out of this mess for good.
“You know this isn't going to work, love, and keeping this up even longer isn't going to help matters. Please-”
“Shut up! Just shut up,” she hisses.
“Sarah, this is madness. It's dangerous. You need to slow down.”
“I can't slow down. Don't you see? We need to get out … need to get this … this fucking thing off-”
The saw slips. It's only a brief skim as the blade skips off its intended path, but it sends an immediate flare of heat along the back of her hand. She gasps at the sudden pain, frozen in place for what seems like an eternity as a red line of blood blossoms along her skin.
“Shit. Give it here, let me look at it.” Jareth plucks the saw from her slackening fingers and wills it away with a grimace, before taking her injured hand in his. He seems to be concerned, but she can hardly register the emotion – everything is numb. “It isn't too deep,” she hears him say. “Easy enough to heal. Hold still for me, precious.”
Magic – his magic – takes hold of her entire hand, cool and healing, soothing away the pain and knitting the ragged edges of the wound together until only the finest of pink lines remains. She knows even that thin line will heal fully in a couple of days, leaving her hand clear and unblemished once more. She's okay, he's made her okay again, the perfect veneer to cover up the fact that, inside, she's crumbling to pieces right in front of him. She goes on looking at that small mark on her otherwise smooth skin, the golden cuff just above it that just seems to mock her.
How much more would it hurt, really, if she actually tried to take her hand off? Would the power of the wish finally let her go then, or would that evil cuff simply tighten around the stump of her wrist, keeping her bound until she simply bled to death – and maybe not even then? She has a sneaking suspicion that even if the Goblin King was crazy enough to let her try, she wouldn't like the result.
“Sarah? Sarah, I think you might be in shock, love. Can you hear me? You've gone very pale.”
She can hear him, all right: more of his concern, more of that nicer side of him that she just can't bear. She turns her eyes on his again, and she wants it to be with as much hate and loathing as she can possibly muster, but it's so hard to look intimidating when he's still holding her hand in his, when her tears have come and there's not a damn thing she can do to stop them.
“I know you can't grant a wish within a wish, but know this, Jareth: right now, I wish I'd never even met you. I wish you'd never brought me into your world, and I wish to god I never had to lay eyes on you again.”
She won't give him the satisfaction of acknowledging that it was her wish to send Toby away that brought them together in the first place. For once, he chooses not to lay blame either. There's hurt in his expression, and she feels a vicious surge of gladness that she's the one who's put it there. It lasts only a moment, before her world crumples once more. She doesn't want to hurt him. In spite of how much she's hurting right now, she still loves him, and it kills her to see him in any pain, knowing that it's her fault, that it's all her fault. The first of her tears hits the kitchen table, and his hands squeeze hers tightly enough to set her heart clenching again.
“I can't do this any more. I can't be here with you,” she says, standing quickly enough to send her chair tumbling to the floor.
She turns and walks out of the kitchen, and instead of pulling on their chain to stop her, Jareth comes along with her. The man doesn't even have the decency to let her fall apart in peace. She starts to unlock her front door, gets a perfectly clear, perfectly ridiculous image – stomping down the street, crying all the while, dragging Jareth behind her like a disobedient puppy – and lets her hand drop away from the doorknob. She turns back to face him, King Jareth the Constant and Inevitable.
“Sarah, this isn't helping either.” He reaches out to wipe her tears away, but she shrugs him off.
“Neither is listening to you.”
He gives a haughty little raise of his eyebrows that, in spite of her tears, sends her blood boiling. “Well, seeing as we remain chained together, it's not like you have much of a choice.”
She flicks her eyes away from him, unwilling to go on looking at an expression that manages to somehow be both caring enough to provoke more tears, and smug enough to induce rage. The door to the hallway closet is in her sights, and she pushes past him to get to it. “No, but I can choose not to look at you,” she says, yanking the door open abruptly enough to set the coats and jackets inside swinging. She pushes her way into them in a rattling of hangers.
“Sarah,” he says, from directly behind her, “what are you doing? This isn't going to solve-”
All the satisfaction in the world is made hers at once, just from slamming the door in the Goblin King's face.
The effect is spoiled somewhat when their chain catches, leaving a stubborn half an inch between door and frame. True to her word not to look at him, she edges as far away from the door as she can, pressing her back against the wall, angling herself so that she doesn't have to see him through that gap. It lets in only a sliver of light, but the darkness of the closet is soothing, even if the voice from outside it is anything but.
“Good gods, Sarah, come out of there at once. This is foolish.”
She doesn't bother to reply. It's cramped and awkward in there, but she manages to sink down to sit on the floor, giving him no choice but to sink down with her. There, as alone as she'll ever get, she pulls her knees up to her chest. In the hallway, she can hear him saying something more, his words softer, crooning almost. It's a voice that's designed to soothe, but she won't let it.
She starts to sob instead, reaching up blindly in the dark and pulling one of the hanging jackets down around her like a blanket. The realisation that it's the same man's jacket he conjured for her at the party only makes her sob harder, her tears soaking into the fabric. She curls her free arm around jacket and knees both, hugging herself and hating herself, knowing he can hear every wet sniffle, every pitiful display of human emotion that the heartless bastard just can't understand. She's better than this, better than him, stronger even at fifteen when she first bested the fickle fae king, but such thoughts mean little when her heart won't stop breaking over him.
“Sarah, don't cry, love. Please don't cry.” His voice is pitched low and just riddled with care, and she can't block it out, can't deny that a part of him must care for her, even when he's brought her to this. The nerve of him, trying to comfort her when he's all but pulled her heart to pieces. Even now, he won't have the decency to just stop giving a shit and let her hate him outright. “You've barely stopped bleeding. If you're going to do this, at least put your hand out here so I can make sure you're all right.”
With a growl, she yanks the door back just enough to thrust her arm through the gap. She extends her middle finger at the end of it. “How's that?”
“Very mature, precious,” he murmurs. “Now, hold still.” He takes her hand in both of his again and turns it gently back and forth. “Okay,” he says at last. “You're all right.”
Sarah manages to squeeze out a few more tears as he places a soft kiss against the tip of her outstretched finger. She snatches her arm back at once and slams the door shut again. “You have no right, dammit,” she whispers. “No right.” That one tiny kiss is the only one he's truly ever stolen from her, and it leaves her defences in tatters.
“I know, I know, love. I'm sorry.” He lets blissful silence reign for a minute or two, and then he's back, invading her thoughts, reminding her of his presence. “There are a lot of things you don't understand, things I … things I'm not at liberty to explain, but I want to, love, I really do. I know it's no excuse, but …” His tone hardens, impatience tingeing his words. “Look, I'm not doing this through a closed door. Come out of there, and we'll face each other like adults.” When she ignores him, he changes tactics again, soft and soothing once more. This time, it only serves to piss her off. “I'm sorry. We never should have attended the celebrations. It only complicated things. I never meant …”
“What, exactly, didn't you mean to do, Jareth?” she asks, scrubbing at her damp cheeks with her free hand. “Hurt me? Humiliate me? Make me think-” She stops herself there, letting her head thump back against the wall as she clenches her teeth against the traitorous words that long to betray her.
He doesn't reply right away, and she knows that he's choosing his words carefully. It's another way they differ: she blurts out whatever's on her mind – minus the whole 'love' thing – where he's cool and calculating, selecting only what parts of the truth serve his purposes. Why else would he neglect to mention the other woman? No, Sarah, you're the other woman. You're the one who's ruining a relationship. Don't let yourself forget that. She makes herself pay attention to what he's saying.
“-never meant for anyone's feelings to get dragged into this, but can you blame me? You wanted me – we wanted each other – after all this time. You show no interest in me in nearly a decade, and-”
The pulsing anger behind her eyeballs all but detonates. “Interest? I've had a crush on you since I was sixteen, you jerk. You knew that, and-”
“Hmm, and what kind of man would I have been if I'd taken advantage of that 'crush'? What kind of man would I have been if I stole your innocence away, on what was just a teenage whim of yours? You needed your own life, love, and you have it now – I wouldn't have stolen that chance from you for the world. Aside from the odd occasion, you always seemed so happy-”
“I acted happy so you didn't think I was a pathetic mess! Why do you think I haven't even been on a date in over three goddamn years?” It's all coming out, her mouth open and talking and damning, and there's nothing she can do to prevent it. They're dangerously close now to the humiliating love she's guarded close all this time, but she just can't hold on to it any longer.
“You're an independent woman, and it never seemed to- …Sarah, can we have this conversation where I'm not having to address your closet door?”
“No! The closet door doesn't have your stupid face on it!”
“That's rather childish, isn't it?” he asks, damn him.
She honks bitter laughter, sounding how she imagines an angry, crying goose would. “Yep, childish little Sarah, just waiting to grow up enough for you to finally notice her. Christ, I feel like a sulky teenager again. Thanks.”
“I've always noticed you.”
“Bullshit. Why would you notice me, with the sort of people you have at home?”
“The people at …?”
“Her,” she says, venom dripping from the word. “The blonde. Orlaith. The one who was determined to insult me.”
“Insult you? I don't know what you-”
“Oh, spare me the excuses, Jareth. She was practically offended by everything about me, even what I was wearing, for god's sake, and you still haven't told me what I did to bother her so much. Care to shed some light on that?”
“I can hardly speak for what you women-folk deem worthy or unworthy in terms of dress,” he scoffs. “How am I supposed to know?”
“Jareth.” Her voice is pure ice. “You're the most preening, primped up man I know. Don't try to play dumb when it comes to fashion. That is the last lie you get to tell me today.”
“And it's also the last time I try to talk to you through this infernal door,” he grinds out.
She can't help but laugh. He's somehow daring to be angry at her, after all he's done. Even the tightest of his leggings don't do justice to the massive set of balls the man has on him. “Does that mean you're going to just shut up and give up? Because you're not talking to me any other way right now. I'm not letting you see me like this, I'm a crying goddamn mess.”
“Don't remind me. I never wanted to upset you. I want to hold you, comfort you, but you won't even let me do that.” She hears him sigh heavily.
There's a stubborn weight in her chest that just won't budge, an answer she needs, even if the added weight of knowing will all but crush her. She decides to just go with it – she's already humiliated herself enough, what's a little bit more? “There's obviously something going on here,” she hears herself say, “but you still haven't told me what it is. Something you didn't want me to find out – you made that pretty obvious last night. Maybe if you can answer a few questions, I'll come out.” She has no intention of actually coming out.
“Sarah, I hardly think bartering over complicated bits of information is-”
“Appropriate?” She gives a bitter little laugh. “Your choice, Jareth. You want me to come out, so here's your ultimatum: you finally give me some straight answers, or I stay in here indefinitely. It's not like I've got some place better to be.”
There's a long moment of silence, and then what she thinks might be a growl. “Ask your questions.”
“Okay. Good.” She swallows down her tears and narrows her eyes at the door. “What exactly did you hope to get out of granting this wish?”
“It's your wish, love, it's not my place to-”
“Spare me the bullshit, Jareth. I know how 'generous' you can be, but it's not like you've gotten nothing from this little arrangement, now is it? You've gotten a whole lot of 'something' every day.”
“If you're referring to our mutual pleasure-”
“Of course that's what I'm referring to. It's not like you've stayed here just for the joy of my company. I'll ask again: what did you want from all of this?”
“I wanted to give you what you asked for, you stubborn, infuriating woman,” he hisses, “as I have always done.”
“Yeah, and you certainly took a long enough time in claiming your reward,” she says. “Thirteen years of nothing, years of 'always wanting me', but you had to wait for me to come begging you first, didn't you?”
That line of questioning will get her nowhere – as much as she hates to admit it, he's done so much for her over the years, brought so much light into her life. Can she really blame him for finally forgetting himself, forgetting his kingly obligations for a few nights of pleasure, making her dare to believe-?
Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yesyesyes-
“Okay. Next question, and call me an idiot for asking, but what exactly do I mean to you?”
“Sarah, I-” He exhales, loud and long. “Sarah …”
“Nope,” she says, letting that last sharp plosive cut the air between them. “'Sarah' isn't an acceptable emotion, Jareth. Try again.”
“Your friendship has meant a great deal to me through the years,” he eventually offers.
“Yeah, that's what you said last night. Does my friendship mean so much that it broke your heart to lie to me, or-”
“I speak the truth: your friendship- … you mean a lot to me.”
She shakes her head and smiles a bitter little smile. “And Orlaith?”
He sounds almost confused when he replies. “You're treading the wrong path, Sarah, I assure you, but yes, Orlaith also means a great deal to me. I wouldn't have the two of you dislike each other for the world.”
“Dislike? The woman couldn't stand me. Not that I could blame her. It can't have been easy for her to see us together.” When Jareth doesn't reply, she pushes a little harder. “Must be hard to see someone you care so much about dancing with someone else.”
“I can assure you, Orlaith was delighted with you. If I'm honest, she's been desperate to meet you for some time now.”
That gives her pause. “You've mentioned me to her?”
“Orlaith is the only one I've spoken of you to. She's the only one I can speak to about most things.”
“And … and she doesn't mind you talking about me?”
There's a long pause. “She … disagrees with my methods.”
Sarah snorts. “'Methods'. You have some nerve.”
He goes on as if she hasn't spoken. “She can be quite … opinionated when she wants to be – and trust me, she wants it often. She's quite like you, actually, in a lot of ways.” He continues as if he hasn't a clue of how badly that wounds her. “She believes I'm wasting my time, living in an unnecessarily difficult past rather than moving forwards. Even considering my most bullheaded, most stubborn of advisers, she's the one person who makes her disapproval ring forth the loudest. I was expected to have … have made certain … developments before the turn of the millennium. I'm rather behind, with just a few months left to go.”
She snorts loudly, her throat thick with tears. Attractive, Sarah. Oh, who gives a shit any more? “You're behind? How do you think I feel? Try 'new millennium, thirty in less than two years, and still hanging out with your childhood boogeyman'.”
“Really, Sarah, I can hardly be called a-”
“Missing the point, Jareth,” she snaps. She squeezes her eyes shut, getting a firmer hold of the anger that just wants to crawl out. “So … so she wants you to move on from this past of yours?”
“In short, yes.”
“I figured as much.” She tips her head back against the wall, eyes opening again, and this time she doesn't bother trying to stem the tears that trickle down her cheeks. “She seemed pretty eager to get you away from me. At least I understand, at last.” She holds back a sniffle, at least an audible one – this is pitiful enough as it is.
“You really don't understand, love. Not a bit. You have no idea, none at all.”
“I think I can understand a woman scorned, Jareth. She wants you to stop playing genie to an ungrateful brat who hasn't stopped wishing for crap in over a decade.” She shakes her head, a wan smile curving her mouth. “Shame she hated the dress you gave me too. I thought it was gorgeous, but I guess I don't know a lot of things when it comes to your realm, do I? I must've looked pretty stupid to her.”
“Orlaith is not the issue, Sarah, please understand that. We're close, yes, but-”
“Yeah, you seemed it. You made two women cry last night, Jareth. I hope that's a record for you.” He doesn't answer – hopefully, he's too ashamed to – and so she pushes on. She wants to stop, she doesn't want to hurt like this any more, but she has to know. “What did she want you to tell me? What is it you've been hiding from me … from us?”
“I can't tell you that,” he says at once. “Trust me, precious, I want to, but-”
“How can I trust you? How can I trust you when you're keeping secrets from me?”
He sounds almost desperate now, his voice low and urgent against the door. “I've given you all you asked for, but I can't give you this. Not now. Not until your wish is over. If it … if anything happens, it has to be you. I can't …”
She bites back a sob, feeling the hysteria wanting to rise again, hearing it in her voice. “I can't take this wish any more – I can't take feeling like this any more. I hate myself for ever making it. If I hadn't, things wouldn't be like this between us. We'd just be normal, and … Oh, god, this is all my fault, and I'm too stupid to wish us out of it, can't you see that? I can't have what I want, can't ever have that wish, and … and …”
There's a soft thunk – what she thinks might be the Goblin King's head against the door. He sighs loudly enough for her to hear his resignation. “It was supposed to be blue,” he says at last.
The words register in her ears, the oddity of them halting her tears. The words don't make any sense. “I … what?”
“The dress. The dress you wore. In an ideal world – the one Orlaith no doubt conjured up in her head – it should have been blue.”
The statement is so disjointed from anything she's expected that for a moment, she just goes on staring at the door. “Blue? How … how does that …? I don't understand you.”
“Sarah, if you trust me, even just a little, then please let me say this to your face. I've asked for nothing from you all these years, love. Please … please give me this.”
Slowly, she opens the door and shuffles around to look out at him. Jareth is sitting beside her, looking right at her. One arm is folded across his raised knees – even their posture is the same, she notices – but the other, the one that holds them bound reaches out through the doorway to her. Something deep in his pale, mismatched eyes makes her take the hand he offers.
“The first time we danced, when I meant for nothing more than to distract you, to trick you into staying all those years ago … do you remember what I wore at the ball? The colour?”
How could she ever forget? “Blue. You wore a blue suit,” she says. There's a funny little tickle in the pit of her stomach, and she can't quite say why. It gets a little harder to breathe.
“And last night? The suit I wore?”
She gives him a long look. “Blue.” Her voice is little more than a whisper now. “Blue again.”
Jareth nods, the fingers that hold her own tightening. “Blue,” he echoes. “It's a well-known custom at formal gatherings – has been for centuries, passed down through generations of my family. Blue … blue is traditionally worn by members of the royal family, or an intended-” His eyes drop, but find hers again quickly, his fingers squeezing tight again, as if to draw strength from her hand. “For as long as my realm can remember, it's always been worn by the king and … and his queen.”