The party is starting to empty out a little, the crowd at the bar noticeably thinner, but there's still a handful of revellers making an effort at dancing. As Sarah crosses the large function room, Jareth in tow, the music they're moving to blends seamlessly into the opening chords of one she's heard often on the radio lately. It's the one where the female artist's husky voice is singing something about genies and wishes. It's hardly an accurate portrayal of her own situation – she's not the one stuck in a bottle, bound by another's wishes, after all – but she can't help but think it's an apt soundtrack, given her current predicament.
Maybe a little too apt.
She shoots a sharp glance back over her shoulder. Jareth meets her gaze, eyes wide with his innocence, or feigned innocence, at least. She all but marches him the rest of the way to Molly's table.
With little surprise, she sees that the other couples who were sitting with them have already moved on, probably making their excuses to get away from the dull party in general, and Richard in particular. The man himself is conspicuously absent, too, but she feels wary all the same, half-expecting him to pounce at her from one of the neighbouring tables. Molly remains in her seat though, still half-draped over her younger lover. Sarah sidles back over to their table, as innocently as she can to say her goodbyes.
Molly glances up with a little wave and a smile. “I thought you left already.”
“Nope, still here. Where's Richard?” she asks, as anxious and creeped out as ever.
The other woman grins. “He decided to go looking for you. You just missed him.”
“Oh, thank Christ.”
Molly no longer seems to be listening though, her eyes slowly giving Sarah's new partner the once over. “And who is this?” she asks, voice and eyebrows both on the rise. It's obvious she approves of what she sees.
She feels Jareth about to step forward to make his introduction, and gives a quick but vicious shrug, pulling his arm backwards again, denying him. “This is Jar … ed. Jared. Old friend,” she admits. “We just … we just ran into each other.”
Molly's grin grows wider at once. “Uh-huh. I bet. How do you two crazy kids know each other?”
Well, it all started when he appeared in my bedroom …
Every possible response deserts her – every single word in the entire goddamn English language abandons her, and she's left stammering for what feels like an eternity. She feels Jareth's hand press against the small of her back. Maybe it's an attempt to comfort her, maybe just a reminder of his presence to set her heart racing faster, her nerves frazzling to a crisp. If it's the latter, it's working. He seems content to let her fumble for a response, maybe looking to teach her a lesson, too. How has she learned nothing from all these years of mistakes?
“He was … my professor at college,” she says, her tone light and positively inspired. “He taught me. It was a long time ago.” She shrugs. “We stayed friends.”
“Oh, really?” Molly shoots her a brief look of disapproval, before turning her attention back to Jareth. “She's been holding out on me – she never even told me she was seeing anyone, let alone a professor. Do you still teach, Jared? What's your subject?”
“Oh, I've taught her all sorts of things, over the years,” Jareth says from over her shoulder, before she can object to the other woman's assumption. It sends his breath ghosting along her neck, and she's ashamed to find herself shivering with the sensation of it. He moves a little closer, and she's about to warn him back, but then he murmurs softly in her ear. “Don't look now, love, but I think your little friend is on his way over.”
She doesn't dare turn to look. “Oh, just kill me now,” she moans.
“We've talked about this – particularly while I've been 'teaching' you – mind your words. Now, how do you want to do this? Say the word, and I can inflict him with the most delightful rash in the most delicate of places.”
That almost makes her laugh. “Tempting, but no. Can you just ward him off, play the alpha male for a while?”
He chuckles softly against her ear. “You know me so well.”
Without even a second glance at the approaching shitstorm, Jareth seats himself in the nearest chair, and immediately pulls her down with him. She lands in the warmth of his lap with a small gasp, their joined hands still clasped together, and her free hand goes to the nape of his neck by instinct. She stares at him in wonder as he brings his face close enough to kiss her.
Surprisingly, he's polite enough to ignore her widening eyes, that sudden look of hope. Instead of kisses, he uses his free hand to wrap a lock of her hair around his fingers, simultaneously giving the impression of deepest affection, and hiding both of their faces as he speaks.
“He's almost here – do try and look happy to see me, love.”
Despite her now-pounding heart, she manages a crooked smile, and then a dark shadow is looming over them both. She knows the other man is taking in the scene – the distinctly male jacket around her shoulders, not to mention the man whose lap she's currently draped across – and her smile widens.
“Richard Dunham,” he spits, by way of introduction. “And you are?” he demands of her new-found friend.
“Busy, at the moment,” is Jareth's mild reply. He doesn't even bother to look up at Richard. As she predicted, the Goblin King knows the other man is beneath his interest.
Sarah spares at least a quick glance upwards, and sees Richard eyeing the pair of them with the small and shiny eyes of a weasel. “Is this guy bothering you, Sarah?” he asks her.
“Not half as much as she'd like me to be,” Jareth answers for her, smiling all the while as he toys with her hair. “We're old friends, you see, Sarah and I. We didn't think I'd be able to make it tonight, me being so busy and all, but in the end I just had to come for her. Didn't I, love?”
The closeness of his lips is making her dizzy, and she can only smile and nod.
When their unwelcome company continues to linger, the Goblin King at last graces him with a cool stare, without caring to release the lock of her hair he's holding. “Something else we can help you with?” His eyes return to hers at once, as though he doesn't care for whatever the other man's answer will be.
“N-no. I mean, I just thought … I thought …”
“If you wouldn't mind 'thinking' somewhere else, then – we're a little occupied here, if you'll forgive us.”
That, finally, is enough to get rid of him. He isn't happy, shooting the two of them a hard glare over his shoulder as he walks away, and Sarah's convinced she hears the word 'tease' amongst his muttering.
“Charming fellow,” Jareth says. “Can't imagine why he's here alone.”
Molly starts to laugh the minute the man in question is out of earshot. “Oh, that was perfect! You need to hold on to this one, Sarah – he's a keeper.”
Jareth, damn him to hell and back, smirks. “Yes, Sarah. I think you'll need to stay very close to me indeed.”
Somehow, some way, the Goblin King manages to keep up a polite conversation. Molly is keen to know everything she can about her new friend, and to his credit, Jareth answers all her questions with ease, glossing over everything of a supernatural nature without batting an eyelid. It's the first time Sarah has seen him in company with anyone other than goblins, and he's more knowledgeable about current mortal events than she would have ever thought him capable of, not to mention more of a gentleman than she realised. He's positively charming, and if he hadn't already won her over all those years ago, she's positive her heart would be melting right now.
The fact that she's still sitting in his lap, his free hand now firm on her hip, is the only detractor from his chivalrous behaviour. That hand is doing more to her than he could possibly imagine. It's no wonder she's letting him do all the talking right now, distracted as she is. How the hell did her evening turn into this?
More importantly, why does hearing the Goblin King talk about computers, of all things, turn her on?
She glances around the room, telling herself to behave, and regrets it at once. She spies Richard standing over by the bar, and it's clear he's doing his best to spy on her. He's eyeing her the way a hungry dog eyes a freshly cut piece of steak, and it makes her cringe. Clearly, he hasn't given up hope, no doubt waiting for Jareth to go to the bathroom or something so he can weasel his way over and convince her to leave with him instead. Sitting on another man's lap apparently isn't enough – she's going to have to be more direct.
“Kiss me,” she hisses, when there's finally a lull in conversation.
For the first time in years, it's obvious she's managed to surprise him. He turns his attention back to her at once and raises his eyebrows, smiling only a little. “Come again, love? I don't think-”
“Oh, you heard me just fine. He's still over there staring at us, and I want him to stop. Please, just kiss me.”
She doesn't have to ask him again.
He tilts his face up to her, capturing her mouth with his own, and she's not too distracted by their captive audience to appreciate it fully – it's enough to drive everything else away. She's waited years for this kiss – thirteen of them, in fact – and it doesn't disappoint. His lips feel softer, fuller than she's always imagined them to be, and she's apparently shameless enough to moan against them. She can't help but tug a little at the lower one with her teeth, light and teasing, before her own lips part to accept his tongue. He kisses with as much confidence as he speaks, thorough and unhurried as he stakes his claim on her for all to see, and her only clear thought during that time is 'Dear god, yes'.
When he finally releases her, she can feel the goofiness of her grin, but damned if she can do a single thing to change it.
“I think he's stopped looking now.”
She blinks down at him. “Who?”
“Your admirer, love.”
“Oh.” As far as she's concerned, the creep can watch all he wants, as long as they get to carry on doing this. Unable to stop herself, she's already leaning in for another, and Jareth looks extremely willing.
“ … wow.” The sound of Molly's voice is ice-water on the heat of that kiss, and she pulls away from Jareth's mouth, shocked and a little ashamed – not to mention more than a little excited, now. She looks to the other woman, guilt rising in her throat, but Molly is grinning wildly. “You definitely need to hold onto him,” she says again. “Don't let Richard stop you – hell, don't let me stop you. You kids go home and do what you gotta do. I've got Alex here to keep me company.”
Alex. It should be nice to finally put a name to the boy-toy's handsome face, but Sarah's jumbled mind hardly registers it. She's too caught up in what's happened – what's still happening – and exactly what Molly assumes will be happening later. Her lips are still throbbing with that kiss. “We … we were just …”
“Leaving,” Jareth finishes for her, helpful as ever. He slides her off his lap and onto her feet with easy grace. When he's established that her knees will hold her after all, he stands beside her, his arm still neatly tucked inside the jacket with hers. “It's been lovely to meet you, but we haven't seen each other in such a long time … you know how it is.”
“It sure has, and I sure do.” Molly gives Alex's knee a not-so-subtle squeeze under the table, and gives Sarah a lift of her eyebrows. “I'll see you at work, honey. We'll talk,” she says, pointedly, before gracing Jareth with a charming little smile. “You take care of her.”
“I intend to do just that. Come along, love,” he says, and then he's gently leading her away from the table, towards the blessed relief of escape.
Somehow, that irks her. He's the one who's come along to wreck her evening, and somehow she's just allowing him to take control. No, she can't let that happen, no matter how many knots her stomach is currently in with just that one kiss. She has to show at least some control. With new determination, she quickens her pace, marching ahead of him so that she's in the lead as they walk towards the doors. She comes to an abrupt stop when she realises he's stopped walking, almost yanking their bound wrists out from their hiding place in the process.
She stops in her tracks, looking back at him with a combination of dismay and disbelief. He's far too calm for the situation, and it's only pissing her off more. “What?”
“You're still angry,” he observes, then smiles a little. “Would it help at all if I offered to kiss you again?”
Yes. Oh, god, yes. “No!” she makes herself hiss. “How would that possibly help anything right now?”
He shrugs. “It'd help me. Besides, you seemed to approve of the last.”
The man is unbelievable. She gives a firm tug on his wrist. “Come on!”
“What now?” she all but growls.
He gives a nod towards the bar. “We haven't said goodbye to your friend.”
Following his gaze, she spots that Richard is still there, nursing his wounds and a glass of what looks like whiskey. He's alternating between sips of his drink, and open glaring. “You can't be serious.”
A small smile spreads over Jareth's face. “I most certainly am, and this will only take a moment. Come on.”
With his larger strides, she has no choice but to go trotting back with him. As they approach, Richard greets them with a hard stare, before letting his eyes drop back to his glass, as if the pair of them are no longer of any concern to him. When they stand before him, Jareth doesn't immediately speak up, and, feeling annoyed, Sarah wades in to fill the silence.
“Well, I guess we're leaving.”
Richard still doesn't care to meet her gaze. “Uh-huh. Right.”
After all the unwanted attention, he says this in a way that makes her feel beneath him, and it puts her on the attack at once. She opens her mouth to finally give the guy a piece of her mind, but the hand holding her own gives her a little warning squeeze, and she remains silent.
“I was unspeakably rude earlier,” Jareth says, and the genuine warmth in his words causes both Richard and Sarah to peer at him in confusion. “I do hope you'll forgive me. No hard feelings, eh?” he says, and holds out his hand.
“Uh … sure,” Richard replies, but there's a curl of distaste to his mouth as he reluctantly takes the Goblin King's proffered hand.
“Good, good.” Jareth gives a wide grin, seemingly oblivious to the other man's obvious dislike of him.
When Richard is too quick to release his hand, Jareth takes it in his stride, still smiling, and quick as a snake as he lets his hand slip around to the back of the other man's collar instead. Before Richard can protest, Jareth is leaning in close, too close, and Sarah can hear him muttering something into his ear, though she can't tell exactly what it is. All she knows is that when Jareth finally lets him go, the formerly crass and confident Richard Dunham is wide-eyed with what seems to be fear.
Those eyes meet hers. “Yes. Sorry,” he says, and licks at his lips. “Tonight was … um …”
“It was 'um' indeed,” Jareth says, grinning as though the other man has graced them with the height of his wit. “Well, we'd best be off. A pleasure.”
As he leads her away, smiling faintly and walking at a quite leisurely pace, she's full of questions he doesn't bother to answer. He heads directly for the exit, and as he does, Sarah hears for the first time the music they're leaving behind. It's Madonna, declaring she's going to take a chance on a beautiful stranger; how looking into his eyes brings her world tumbling down.
Her own eyes all but roll back into her head.
This man is no stranger, but a 'devil in disguise'?