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Proposition

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Sarah clawed her way out of the sinking piles of junk. The creatures grabbed her, imploring her to stay. They showed off fancy objects, fancy junk, promising that they would be hers if she just stayed with them. Sarah screamed, kicking and batting them away. She heard the shrill voice of the Junk Lady, wading through the crowds and insisting that she come back to her room.

Sarah had to get to Toby. That was all she cared about now. She imagined him trapped in that horrid castle with that horrid king. The anger kept her alive.

She pried herself free from the creatures and stumbled forward into the clear ground. Gasping for breath, she ran. She willed herself to go faster, but her legs were like gelatin.

It was like she was in a nightmare.

Was it just that, a nightmare? Another trick, another dream?

Ringing. Bells ringing. It was the most awful sound she had heard, worse than any of Toby’s screams.

A great thirteen-hour clock appeared before her in the sky. She was too late.

“No!” Sarah screamed as the wind picked up around her.

She crumpled to the floor and let out a sob.

There was glitter on her jeans. Slowly, she pulled her hands away from her face. It was a cold, stone floor. In other words: Not home. She wasn’t done yet.

Looking up, Sarah saw Jareth at the throne. He was holding Toby.

Sarah stood. “Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered,” she began.

Jareth held up a hand. “Save it.” He stood, carrying Toby with caution. “You didn’t make it to the center in time. That speech won't matter now.”

“You cheated!” Sarah shouted. “The peach—you weren’t supposed to do that!”

“It’s my own labyrinth.”

“That’s now how it works! In the book, she solved it without any of this.”

“This is not the book,” Jareth murmured, stepping forward. He was rocking Toby gently to prevent him from crying. “It’s no matter now. We are here, discussing your failure to unriddle the labyrinth in time.”

Sarah narrowed her eyes.

“The agreement was that your brother would be turned into a goblin and live with us for the rest of his life forever. But these are not the laws of my land.”

Sarah looked up. “What do you mean?”

“There are rules we follow here in the underground,” Jareth said, walking towards her. “But the fate of the wished-aways is not set in stone. It is more of an agreement, between king and champion. And this agreement can be altered under certain circumstances.”

“What are you trying to do?”

Jareth smiled. “Would you like to take the place of your brother?”

“I thought only babies and young children could be turned into goblins.”

“I want you to think bigger than that. Here is my proposition: You agree to take his place. I send Toby back—perhaps with a note explaining the situation if you’d like. Toby lives his life as a normal, boring human. Just as he deserves, yes? And you, Sarah, you stay here. Become my heir.”

“Your heir,” Sarah said. “Like you want me to be the next goblin king?”

“So many questions. If that’s what you want, then yes.”

A cradle appeared. Jareth put Toby to bed. The baby in question was much calmer than he normally would be, especially considering the situation.

“I am not as young as I once was,” Jareth continued in a quiet, almost ashamed voice. “I’ve started aging, as a human would.”

“Is that bad?”

“For me, yes, it is. To suddenly start aging like this is a terrible sign. I need to be certain that I will have an heir I trust to take over when it’s all said and done.”

Sarah frowned, processing the new information. It was too much, all at once. She swiveled her eyes upwards, looking at him. He was paler, and there were lines about his eyes and mouth that definitely showed signs of aging.

“You think you’re going to die?” Sarah asked quietly, and he winced at the word.

“Yes,” he murmured. “Sometime, as we all must.”

Sarah looked down at her hands.

“If you stay here, you will live in the underground. I will teach you all the rules and the magic. I’m sure it will come to you easily. And then when I—”

“Die?”

“That. Then you will take over as the new leader.” Jareth stopped, catching his breath. He acted as if it were a dramatic pause done on purpose. “Or you can go back home. Leave your brother here, where he will become one of us. He will see new champions run the labyrinth while you go back and play with your toys. What is your choice?”

Sarah chewed on her lip as she considered her options. Each had bad points, the way she saw it. Stay here forever, or have Toby stay here forever. Stay with the goblins, or stay alone.

She pictured Irene and Robert when she told them what happened. They wouldn’t believe that it was the goblin king. They’d try to find him, but it would be too late. Just thinking about it made her want to cry again.

“No tricks?” she asked, looking up pointedly at Jareth.

He smiled.

“I’m serious, Jareth.” Her voice was forceful. “If I decide to take his place, I have to know you’re not going to do anything like the ballroom again. I can’t deal with that a second time.”

“No tricks. You will be my heir, so it would do no good to have you disappear on me.”

Sarah sighed. She looked over at Toby, sleeping peacefully. It was all for him, wasn’t it?

“Then it’s settled.” Sarah held out her hand. “I’ll be your heir. And Toby will go back home.”

Jareth smiled. “Good.”

He shook her hand.

Their fates were sealed.