Never before has the Goblin King looked quite so weary. She has absolutely no words to give him, no thoughts that can escape past the jumbled mess in her head, and so he goes on. “She was the only one at the ball who knew who knew what you truly- … who you were supposed to be. The dress should have been blue.”
Her throat clicks as if finally unlocked, her words all but creaking out. “You're not making any sense.”
A small smile plays over his mouth. “No, I'm not, am I? This is difficult for me, love – for both of us, I know. Orlaith had … every reason to think I was to declare my intentions before the court that night. In her own odd little way, I suppose she thought she was helping. If a formal announcement were to be made regarding my queen-” He stops short, eyes widening, perhaps seeing the pain flare in her own.
Oh, god, he's said it at last.
So many lies.
The most stunning woman at his ball, possibly the most stunning woman in his kingdom is actually jealous of her? She's somehow convinced herself that despite whatever she and Jareth have – Orlaith also means a great deal to me, he whispers in her head – that a mere mortal girl is some kind of threat to her position? That Jareth would ever choose her over his intended queen? That she could ever hope to compete-?
She can't help herself; she starts to laugh, low and tuneless. “That's ridiculous. You never asked- … neither of us has even shown any inclination toward-”
Jareth is quick to nod. “I know. I know that, love, but as I said, Orlaith is nothing if not stubborn. I made no mention of whom I was staying with during my time Aboveground, but the moment she saw you, she jumped to conclusions – rather embarrassing ones, as it turned out, for both of us.”
“And she wanted you to tell me right away, to put me straight that nothing was ever …” She's equally helpless to stop the shiver that runs through her. She pulls her makeshift jacket-blanket a little tighter around herself – an awkward task, when she has to do it one-handed.
His eyes drop to that much cried on jacket. She has a moment to feel embarrassed – apparently, her humiliation quota for the day isn't exhausted after all – and then with a wave of his hand, she feels the material change, grow heavier, its warmth curling around her shoulders as well as her front. When she glances down at herself, she finds she's wrapped up in one of his dark capes – no denying the magic and masculine energy that's purely his as it surrounds her. Still holding her hand in his, he goes on to summon a glass of water out of the air, urging it into her free hand, urging her to drink, seemingly unconscious of what he's done.
His first thought, the immediate need to give her warmth and comfort, led him to conjure not a blanket, not one of her coats, but something of his own to give to her. She decides there and then that no matter what happens next, she's keeping this cape for good. Her hand trembles a little, spilling water over her lips as well as into her mouth. She can only manage a single sip before she sets the glass aside. She burrows herself deeper into the cape's soothing warmth – into the unmistakable scent and being of him.
“Why didn't you just tell me sooner?” she asks. It hurts – god, does it hurt – but she needs to know. “Why did you lie? About … about Orlaith? You said she means a lot to you, so I just don't understand how you could-”
The hand around her own squeezes tighter. “Sarah. Please, love, for one moment, please just stop jumping to conclusions. This is a delicate enough situation as is, and I'm trying-”
That earns him a glare and an end to the hand holding. “It's your fault things are so 'delicate'. I know I fucked up everything with the wish – big time – but we could have worked it out. If you had problems you needed to deal with in your kingdom – with her – then we could have dealt with them, instead of spending all that time in bed-”
His face hardens. It's almost imperceptible, but she notices, and it drives home just how well she's gotten to know him over the years – how very intimate the past couple of terrible, wonderful weeks have been for them. His words are clipped, defensive, and she knows he's trying to hide behind all his careful barriers again, but still he asks: “Do you regret our time together?”
“No. You know I don't, I couldn't ever regret- …but … oh, god, Jareth, if you'd have just talked to me, told me you were supposed to be getting married-”
“This is exactly what I mean about you jumping to conclusions. Think about it, precious – think hard. I've been entirely at your mercy here, Sarah. I could have been sent back in the blink of an eye, whenever your wish was fulfilled. Can you blame me for trying to take whatever I could in that time? What are a few missed meetings, or a handful of minor disputes in my realm, compared to holding you, filling you?”
It's times like this where he almost lets her dare to hope, and it makes her want to kick and scream that it's just not fair. She snaps at him instead. “What am I supposed to think, Jareth? Okay, so you didn't lie to me directly about not already being married, but if the intent was there and you were as good as married anyway-”
“Oh, for pity's sake, Sarah, you haven't given me the chance to explain-”
“- and now we're having an argument in a goddamn closet-”
“You opened the blasted thing to begin with, I never told you to-”
“You never told me anything that-”
Jareth rolls his eyes up to the heavens. “Mother of Gaia, you're impossible.” Shifting quickly onto his knees, he snatches her into his arms, cloak and all, pulling her so that she's kneeling with him, and presses a hard kiss against her mouth. It silences her, as he knew it would, but she's still upset when he finally pulls back. She opens her mouth to speak, but he presses his fingertips to her lips. “Listen to me. Listen to me,” he says, when she starts to protest. “We've known each other for over a decade, love – I'm not going to weasel my way out of things now. Please, just let me speak.”
Against all her better judgement, she settles back on her heels and waits, silent and expectant.
“Thank you.” He nods, and then cocks his head to one side. “I don't know quite where to start. Orlaith, I suppose, since that's made you the most upset. I should explain, the two of us have been practically bound together since birth-”
“Betrothed?” The word leaves her lips in a tight squeak before she can stop it, but she can see from the way Jareth recoils, almost as if struck, that it isn't true.
“Good gods, no. As cradle mates,” he corrects her, seeming almost to shudder at the thought. “Had we been betrothed, I would have merrily abdicated my throne long ago.” He stops and grins – actually grins – as if he has no idea just how badly it makes her want to shake him to go on, to explain, dammit. “I love her dearly, I do, but I think we'd have torn each other asunder – and probably the kingdom too – if we'd ever been foolish enough to try and rule together. Gods give her true husband infinite patience.”
“She's-” She croaks, tries again. “She's already married?”
“Yes, but even if she wasn't, there would be nothing between us. That's what I've been trying to explain – you have it wrong, love. Despite our arguments and our differences, she's been my closest friend for centuries – like a sister to me since before we both could walk. She's seen me grow from snivelling brat to snivelling king, dragging every one of my wishful thoughts and cursed secrets from me over the years. Like I said, she has your damned tenacity, and I think that's half of what I find endearing about her, despite how domineering she can be at times. She knows everything about me – including all my years spent with you. Every time I left to attend your wishes, every time I returned once they were granted.” He eyes her for a long moment, before clarifying. “She's a friend, Sarah, as I told you – a dearly loved one, yes, but nothing more. I've been honest with you about that all along, pet.”
This is … new. Her would-be rival isn't what she expected, and now she feels almost guilty for her judgement. That brief anger she managed to find, that strength seems to melt again, more tears pricking at her eyelids. That one piece of what should be good news just leaves her weak and exhausted, wanting nothing more than to get off this whole roller-coaster of emotions before it makes her sick. “Oh,” she whispers.
“Oh,” he agrees, more softly, that careful edge creeping over his words. “I can't tell you everything just now, but I can tell you that, love. I'm not attached to her, nor anyone else in my world for that matter. That's all I can say, Sarah. Anything else is up to you.” His eyes are so intent on her face now that it almost makes her heart stop.
An echo from long ago comes into her head then: say your right words. Everything hinges on one thing now, and she can feel her heart pounding a little harder, a little faster against her ribs as she finally starts to realise just what that thing is. This is her wish, and he would deny her nothing, if only she knew how to ask.
“Why would Orlaith have reason to think that, Jareth?” she asks, her voice soft and wondering. “Why would she think I'd agree to be your queen?”
He looks at her. He simply goes on looking at her, pain and hope and something etched in pale, unyielding blue … and she doesn't need to know any more. She doesn't need to wait for his answer, his permission, his blessing for her to go on wanting him the way she does, because her need for him is there no matter what, and only growing the longer she stares back at him.
She swallows hard, and finally takes the plunge. “Jareth … whatever I am to you, whatever any of this has meant … I love you. I've loved you for so long it hurts, and even though I've told myself to stop, I can't, because you'll always be a part of me, always granting that wish just to go on being with you – always with you.”
His eyes finally close. At the same time, there's an almighty crack, and she looks down just in time to see the cuff at her wrist fall away. It hits the ground at the same time as the one that held the Goblin King bound does, the golden chain that's kept them prisoner all this time dropping away from both their wrists with ease. The sight is almost laughable – a few honest words able to do what days and nights of struggle and worry have not – but she doesn't have time to go on looking at it for long.
Jareth takes her face in both of his hands – his freed hands – and she looks up just as he leans down to kiss her. It's so soft, so tender that she can't help but respond, shoving aside the shocking thought that he's only doing it because he's so happy he's finally free. He draws back before she does, and the strange light when he opens his eyes confuses her at first; it takes a moment to understand that the great Goblin King is actually fighting back something so fragile as tears.
“Sarah,” he murmurs, as though marvelling at her name. “Sarah.”
Her own tears are back, but she smiles through them. “Looks like it finally worked, huh? Unattached at last.”
Jareth's smile only grows. “No, love. Never. Never again.” He makes as though to wrap his arms around her, but decides better of it, holding her eyes with his, his palms stroking each side of her face as he speaks. “Sarah, I have wanted you,” he says, “I have loved you, since that night when you were nineteen, and so very beautiful, and you asked me so sweetly to make love to you for the first time. I loved you before, my fierce Champion, but that was the night you truly tore through my defences, when I at last felt myself fall for you – when I fell in love with you.” He goes on, cupping her cheeks, his eyes locked with hers. “I have always wanted you, love,” he says again, and she believes every word.
Love. It's the sweetest word, and she's heard it so many times before from him – terms of endearment that should have been telling, but brought her only torment, never knowing – never daring to hope – that her own feelings might one day be returned. Her breath hitches in her throat, her lips parting in pleasure. “You … you remembered,” she breathes, then: “Why didn't you say something?” she almost moans. “Why didn't you come to me that night?”
“Both of us know it wasn't the right time. I couldn't have lived with myself if you came to regret what would have been the sweetest night of my long life. You may have wanted me at one time, but you needed your own chance at life – your own chance at love, without my meddling. You could have found a good man – the right man. Someone who wasn't me. I left you to discover what it was you truly wanted. Sarah, I can move time, and I can move the stars, and many of my kind would use those powers to coerce, to seduce in the worst possible way. I could never have done that to you. I never wanted my magic, my hold over you to bring us together. I wanted you to come to me of your own accord. All along, I wanted you.”
It feels like her whole being is lifting towards the ceiling, her chest filling with light and air and hope for the first time in so long. “I've never stopped wanting you. I just … I had no idea you felt the same way.”
“Of course I want you – of course I love you – how could I ever do anything less? Always have. Always will. I knew this wish would be our last chance at happiness, however it ended. It meant I was finally given the chance, the freedom to be with you … to touch you, lay with you after so many years of wanting. It made me weak, that chance, and I had to take it. I told myself, fool that I was, that if I could never be anything more than a physical attraction to you, I would never let our time together be anything more to me, unless you said the words outright. I would seduce you, yes, if you allowed me, but I would never let myself love you, lest my feelings sway your decision in any way.”
His small smile warms her, through and through. “I should have known you could never do any less than possess me completely. You truly are my everything, Sarah. Falling in love with you was the easiest thing I ever did – pretending that love was any less so, near impossible.”
So many nights of passion, of lying in the other's arms, both of them secretly wanting, wishing for something that was in their grasp all along. “How long would you have just sat by and let us go on that way?” she asks, her fingers pressing into his back as if they'll never let him go. She never intends to.
His smile wavers for a moment. “'My wish; my power', remember, love? It's true – this has always been about discovering what you wanted, after all these years. Not me. I hoped, of course, and sometimes I dared have my suspicions, but ultimately it was up to you. You had to decide, love. Only you. I knew one of two things would happen. I hoped – I prayed – you'd come to me, that true attachment – love – is what you'd want, but there was always that other option, another choice I could never have taken from you.”
He brushes a lock of hair away from her face and then cups her cheek as he goes on. “Like any of your wishes, it could very well have ended another way. Remember the wish for your stepmother, all those years ago?” He waits for her nod; she gives it, blushing as she remembers willing Irene dead, all because of some heat of the moment tantrum. “It was deemed granted because you no longer wanted the thing you wished for. You could have been rid of me the same way. At any time, if you decided in your heart that you didn't need me – didn't want me any more, or have any wish for us to be together – the chain would have loosened, and I would have had my answer at last. I would have known to finally let you go.”
“So if I hadn't figured it out, or if I decided it was best to just let go of you …”
“I would remain, as ever, here for you when you needed me. Every wish, every call, every part of your life that you would allow me into. When I first fell in love with you, I told myself that would always be enough – so long as I could make you happy.”
He's too blurry for her to see now, and a huge, shuddering sob escapes her as she swipes at her eyes. “You know it's probably not healthy to cry this much in one day, right?”
Finally, she sees another smile. “At least now I can do this.”
Despite the fact, maybe because of the fact that she's a snivelling wreck, he cups her face in both his hands, drawing his thumbs across her damp cheeks. His lips cover her own for only a moment, before moving across her face as he kisses away the tracks of her tears. Her eyelids flutter closed as he kisses the very corners, causing more hot tears to escape, and she gives a watery little laugh. “If you're waiting for me to stop, you're gonna be waiting a while.”
His smile means the world to her – both of their worlds, more than she could ever begin to imagine. “I'll always wait,” he says.
There's so much warmth inside her, she feels like she could burst. “And if all this crying makes me too breathless to even think about kissing you back like you deserve?”
He gives a roll of his eyes and a crooked grin as he taps her on the nose, a brief spark of magic leaving her sinuses feeling clear. “Demanding wench,” he mutters, before kissing her again.
By the time he sets her free, she's grinning too. “Hey, I didn't make a wish.”
“You don't have to – not any more. My Sarah.” Her name on his lips is like a blessing. He speaks it again, more urgently, this time. “Sarah, I spent so long a part of your life, always longing to make you happy, but no matter how hard I tried to deny it, I soon realised just how much I wanted to be a part of that happiness. Instead of being the one smiling from the sidelines, I wanted to be right there with you … the one making your eyes shine – just like they are right now. I wanted to be the one to give you everything. Tell me what you want – what you said a few minutes ago. You've only to ask, love, and it's yours.”
There's hesitation, but only long enough for her to edge closer to him, feeling the heat and life and longing in him, warm against her chest – within her arms at last. She smiles as she meets his eyes – eyes that live only in her, and she in them – and embraces that needful fire within them. “I want you – all of you. I want you to hold me, kiss me, be inside me, stay with me. I want you to love me, Jareth – just as much as I've always loved you.”
His arms come around her back, crushing her to him as they kneel together, half in her closet and half out, open and honest and whole at last. “I do, love. I do. I've wanted nothing more than to go on doing just that, always.” His hands are free to slide up and down her back, stroking and soothing, his breath warm against her hair. “Orlaith was right,” he says, softly, close by her ear. “The timing was all wrong, but gods, if I could have-”
She draws back from him just enough to look into his face. “If you're asking what I think you're asking, then please just ask it.”
He casts a doubtful look around her hallway, at the coats that hang behind her. “It's hardly special or romantic for you. It isn't enough – nowhere near enough. I would give you flowers, music, brightly burning stars, a world bathed in moonlight. I would give you everything – would give my queen everything she-”
She shakes her head. “You can. We can have all that later. This is simple – better. My apartment is where you first ever started to flirt with me, and where we finally came together for something more. I don't need a big scene, I just need you with me … always … if … if that's what you want.”
Jareth cocks an eyebrow that should be disdainful, if only his smile hadn't returned in full force, bright and brilliant. “Sarah Williams, did you really just beat me to a clumsy attempt at a proposal?”
“I guess so.” She grins back at him, goofier than ever, but god, she's flying. “You're smug and irritating enough when you lose to me – the labyrinth proved that. I can only imagine what you'd be like if I start letting you win any time soon.”
“And … this smug, irritating man … you'd take him into your life for good? As your king, as your husband, your lifetime companion? You'd rule with him, love him always?” His voice grows soft. “You'd let him learn you and love you more each day, give him hope and passion and life and … and children?”
The tears are back, but she blinks them clear; he's too beautiful to miss. “Only if he'll have me.”
“He'll have you, love. He's always wanted you – always.”
“You're sure you won't get sick of having me around?”
“I promise.” He kisses her again, more softly this time, and then rolls his eyes. “After all, I've already put up with you for thirteen years – what's another thirteen?” He grins, and starts to nuzzle at her neck before she can complain. “Another thirty?” he continues in a murmur, moving his kisses up to her ear where he knows they make her melt. “Another thirteen hundred? I've got you for a near eternity now, love, and I have every intention of making it count.”
She gives something halfway between a laugh and a moan, threading her fingers into his soft hair. “That long, hmm? Maybe I should reconsider,” she teases him. Then, Jareth actually presses his tongue inside her ear, something she knows is meant to both pleasure and punish her, and she whimpers, all but ready to give in. “Ahh … maybe … maybe not,” she admits at last.
“Finally seeing sense,” he whispers, pausing to kiss her cheek on his way back to her lips.
With the heat of him, the press of his body against hers, she's sure she would agree to anything he said at that point. The Goblin King says nothing though, intent on her mouth as he is. His hands slip down her body to cup her ass, her legs slipping further apart as he draws her nearer, and she goes willingly, moving into his heat. As she does, her knee catches something on the floor. She pulls back to glance down to the floorboards at their forgotten golden binds, denying him her mouth for the moment, and chuckling when he groans his disappointment.
“Those blasted things have had all of your attention for the better part of a month – I was hoping you'd have a little more time for me now we're free of them.”
“I'm just wondering why they haven't just … you know, vanished into fairy dust, or something.”
Jareth cocks an eyebrow at that, and leans down to pick the cuffs up, stopping to brush a kiss against her shoulder on the way. He lets the chain dangle over one finger, and gives her a suggestive smirk. “Well, you never know when they'll come in handy again, should you need restraining for any reason.”
She laughs, folding her arms around his neck as his own encircle her waist. “'Any reason'?”
“Oh, every reason,” he says against her mouth. “Every excuse I can find to have you shackled to our bed, helpless to resist me while I put my mouth to good use.”
She puts his mouth to one of its better uses right then, silencing his teases with another hard kiss that burns leisurely between them. She possesses his mouth the way she's always longed to, deep and slow, her lips coaxing his, her body moulded against his as her fingernails rake over his scalp. Finally, she hears the sound of the cuffs hitting the floor, forgotten once more so his hands can move freely over her back. She has to break away to giggle, but he soon captures her mouth again, his kiss harder and more insistent, and she can't laugh any more, not while his hands and wicked tongue are making her moan. She's still full of questions, needing affirmations after years of doubt and heartache, but it's so much more important to have the heat of his mouth pressed to hers.
They eventually break apart, and she finds herself utterly dazed from his kisses, and from all that's happened between them. A drunken little smile curves her mouth. “Where were we?” she asks.
He smiles back. “I believe, rather foolishly, this all began because you were bemoaning your terrible fate: of being faced with a new millennium, the dreadful age of thirty – really, Sarah, you've barely lived – and the constant presence of your childhood 'boogeyman'. I'd be offended, love, really I would, but I'd much rather save my breath to go on kissing you.” He moves to reclaim her mouth, but some pinprick of curiosity actually makes it though her blissful haze. Jareth moans when she pulls back. “Oh, fine, talk all you want, but I get to go on kissing, at least.”
She laughs as he mouths at her neck, a small moan escaping her. “Hmm … what's the big deal with the millennium anyway? Do you have to marry before then or lose all your powers or something?” That actually makes her pull away from him completely, eyes wide. “Oh, god, you don't, do you? We'll need to start planning a wedding right away-”
“Now that I approve of – the sooner the better, really – but no, I'm in no danger, precious.”
She cocks her head to one side as she considers, mimicking one of his long-ingrained habits without thought. Her fingers press idle paths through his thick hair. “Then why the big hurry? You made it sound like there was a lot of pressure on you to act before then.”
He draws in a soft sigh, his ardour cooled a little for the time being as he leans in to kiss her softly on the forehead. “There was pressure, love – just not for marriage, per se.”
“Once every thousand years, a fae king may ask a gift of the High King of the Underground.” His mouth quirks a little at the corners. “A wish of his own, if you will. This wish is treated with utmost respect and honour, and it's very rare the High King will refuse whatever he's asked. Orlaith … Orlaith suggested I make use of my request, concerning my predicament with you.”
She blinks up at him. “She wanted to make me fall in love with you?”
Jareth shakes his head. “She knows by now I would never have forced such a thing from you. No, she saw how I suffered and, if the time came and you had still not come to me of your own accord, she bade me to ask for something impossible … something I could not ever have brought myself to ask of him.” He looks at her for a long time, as if struggling with the mere thought of it, and this time she simply waits until he's ready to go on.
“She wanted me to ask to have my memories of you erased, to be able to forget you for good, and put an end to my pain. She swore to me she would take my place, bind herself to your will and grant you every wish you ever made in life – as I always wanted – but leave me without that constant longing, the ache every time I had to leave you. You would have everything you ever dreamed, you would have been happy, even if I remained blissfully unaware of you … but I never could have brought myself to do it. No matter how much pain it brought, even if I had to watch you fall in love with another, I never could have made myself forget you … and Orlaith knew it.”
He shakes his head again. “She thought herself doomed to having to watch me go on suffering indefinitely, but to see you in my realm again, on my arm, no less-”
She swipes away more of those goddamn tears, but they just keep on coming. “She thought you'd finally found happiness. She thought all that pain was finally over for you. God, she must hate me.”
Jareth cups her cheek. “She loves you because I love you. She knows how deeply you're in my heart – she knows just how much you mean to me.”
She manages a watery little smile. “I'm surprised she hasn't sent you a hundred messages to ask what's going on by now.”
Jareth raises a hand, and behind her she hears an avalanche of scrolls hitting the floor. “You could be right,” he says, with a grin.
“You'd better reply to at least one of them before she thinks I've ripped your heart to shreds.”
“Why not tell her in person? She deserves to be as happy as I.”
Sarah ducks her head. “I'm kinda nervous about seeing her again.”
He lifts her face and gives her that smile that, if she wasn't already head over heels in love with him, would send her tumbling in a heartbeat. “Trust me, love. Trust me.”
His arms slip around her waist, and there's more rippling warmth beneath the circle of his cape, the swirl of a dress about her ankles, and she thinks it's blue – the colour of royalty, of promise and of him. She gets the vaguest sense that he's swathed in blue as well, but everything is changing so fast, mist and magic swirling before her eyes, and so she closes them and simply feels him – him and his magic, letting it take her over at last.