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Proposition

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Sarah fell ungracefully back into her usual schedule, but the castle seemed changed after she had returned. Despite Jareth’s warnings, some of which fell more into the ‘threat’ category, the guards increased the security of the castle and insisted on accompanying Sarah every time she went out into the city. But there was something else, too. Jareth couldn’t put his finger on it. Sarah seemed different as she returned to her studies, and he just couldn’t tell why. He kept silent, hoping it would work itself out without any intervention.

It didn’t.

“Sarah,” Jareth called in what he hoped was a gentle voice while he stood at her door. He knocked and was met with no response. Opening the door a crack, he found the door to be completely empty.

Jareth spun on his heel quickly enough to make himself dizzy and began walking down the hall.

The guards would make a big deal about it, he knew, so he would have to find Sarah on his own. Hopefully, she was still in the castle.

He walked briskly down the halls, only pausing to open doors he passed by. Empty, empty, empty. Why were there so many rooms in the castle, anyway?

Going past the library, he skidded to a halt.

“Of course.”

Jareth opened the door quietly and looked inside. Sure enough, Sarah was there. She was sitting on the windowsill and looking out.

Jareth hadn’t been to any of the libraries in, what, years? The books still had traces of dust that Sarah had tried to wipe off. As he walked into the library, he felt his footsteps were painfully loud against the ornate tile, but Sarah didn’t do anything to acknowledge his presence.

“Sarah,” he whispered, standing behind her.

Sarah’s face was pressed against the glass. She was gripping something tightly in her hand, and Jareth couldn’t see what it was. Oddly enough, she was wearing the outfit she had on when she had first come into the underground.

“Sarah,” he said again, reaching his hand out.

Sarah turned to look at him. Jareth flinched, drawing his hand back.

“Would you consider yourself a human or a goblin?” she asked.

Jareth stared, considering the question. “I suppose I would call myself a goblin now.”

“How long did it take for you to stop saying you're human?”

Jareth took hold of the necklace he wore. It brought comfort. “Is this about the forest?” he asked, dodging her question with his own.

Sarah frowned, looking out the window again. “There are names I feel I should remember, but I never do. What about the rest of Toby’s family, or that woman I see in all the black in white pictures? You wouldn’t know the pictures, never mind. But then there’s my friends, or I think they were my friends, and all those books I used to read that I don’t remember...”

“I understand.”

“But I was thinking,” Sarah said. “Time moves faster up there, doesn’t it? I don’t think I’ve changed at all, except my hair growing out.”

“It’s not just your appearance that changes,” Jareth said.

“I know,” Sarah said. “I’m just...worried about everyone up there. It could have been decades. Or, I don't know, centuries. They could be dead by now!”

Jareth glanced up, calculating the time differences in his head. It was  never exact, but he had a vague idea of how much time could have passed.

Making his decision, Jareth leaned forward and unlatched the window. “Sarah, do you remember our lessons in flight?”

“I’m not so good at it,” Sarah admitted, slipping whatever was in her hand into her shirt pocket. Jareth noticed it was some sort of rock but decided not to ask.

Jareth climbed up onto the windowsill. “You’re going to have to try your best, then. Just trust me.”

He jumped off and started flying.

In a moment of panic, Sarah dove after him.

Deafening wind whistled in her ears, and she willed herself to change. Reality seemed to flicker until she took the shape of an owl. She flew after Jareth like they were racing in practices. This time, he was going faster than Sarah had ever seen him go before. Had he just been letting her win the whole time? Or was there something else going on?

Sarah sped up as much as she could. When she finally caught up with Jareth, he would just go faster, over and over again. She flapped her wings harder and flew farther.

Jareth didn’t even look back as the scenery around them changed.

Sarah, startled, fell down from the sky, flapping frantically until she landed roughly in a tree. Jareth swooped downwards and landed beside her to be sure she was okay.

“I’m fine,” Sarah tried to say, but she only succeeded in a shrill owl’s cry. She tried again: “I’m fine. Fine.” Some swearing. “Why can’t I talk like in the underground? Where are we?”

Jareth watched as she slowly figured out that she couldn’t actually communicate the way she was used to. She gave Jareth a nod, and they flew off together.

It was a neighborhood, hers? The houses were unrecognizable, but it could have been the change in time. There were the same neat sidewalks and clean lawns, but the people watching them were different. Sarah had hundreds of questions to ask, all of which remained burning in the back of her mind.

Jareth landed on the branch of a large tree filled with bright green leaves. Sarah landed next to him, and they stared at each other.

Sarah wished she could say something to him.

Jareth looked down, and Sarah turned to follow his gaze.

Below the tree was a young boy holding a crowded-looking notebook. He was scribbling something out on the paper. He had curly blond hair moving about in the wind.

“Toby,” Sarah tried to whisper as she flew down to greet him.

Toby looked up and smiled. His face was covered with freckles, and his eyes were a bright shade of blue. He was drawing something. She landed in front of him.

“Hi bird,” Toby said, holding out his hand.

Sarah wished she could have smiled in response.

Toby reached under his notebook and pulled out another book, red with yellowed pages. “My book is about an owl! Sort of.”

Sarah squinted at the cove.r Where had she seen it before?

“You’re not the owl from the story, are you?”

Sarah shook her head no.

Toby’s jaw dropped. “You understand me! But you’re not this owl. So there’s two owls! or maybe two goblin kings?”

Sarah looked up at the tree, where Jareth was waiting and keeping his distance. Toby followed her gaze and jumped up excitedly.

“There’s two owls! And you’re both here, too!” Barely containing his energy, he sat down and crossed his legs. He grinned at Sarah. “Why did you decide to come here today?”

Sarah stared at him.

“Oh, right, you probably can’t talk back. Since you’re a bird, I guess you can’t write what you want to say, either. But you know what I’m saying, or at least I think you do, and that’s something!” Toby flipped to an empty page of his notebook. “Stay here, and let me draw you. Please.”

Sarah stood on the grass and waited. Toby started sketching on the paper, occasionally looking up at her for reference. Sarah kept her eyes on him as he drew. He seemed so happy here, living his life out normally.

Jareth was still waiting in the tree. His eyesight wasn’t the best now, with things from a distance anyway, but he could make out the forms. He was happy because Sarah was. And his promise had been fulfilled before his...well, going away. He was free from one more tie.

Toby finished up the drawing and showed it to Sarah. She nodded with approval.

“I’m going to go now,” she tried to say, “but I will come back to visit sometime. I know I won’t be able to forget about you.”

Toby nodded along blankly, not understanding the owl cries.

Sarah flew off.

“Come back soon!” Toby called. “You can come inside next time if you want!”

Sarah landed on the branch beside Jareth. They stared at each other for a few seconds before making the flight back to the underground.

Jareth flew in through the library window and landed in his human form. Sarah made sure to land similarly, though nearly running into the table. She sneezed as a few extra feathers flew around.

Jareth was gasping for breath. “You could have—changed back and talked to him—you know that—right?”

Sarah gestured frantically for him to sit down. He collapsed at one of the chairs and caught his breath.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Are you?”

Sarah frowned, watching him with concern. “I suppose. I mean, I got to see Toby...” She bit her lip. Why was it that she wanted to cry now ? She passed her hand over her eyes.

“You’re fine,” Jareth whispered.

Sarah sat down in a chair next to him. “It was good that I could see him. And he’s okay, right? Even though he was talking about a goblin king. But it’s not like he’s going to wish anyone away. Because he doesn’t have anyone to wish away! I don’t think, anyway.”

Sarah ran her fingers through her hair and took a deep breath to calm herself.

“Is it normal for goblin kings to visit people in the aboveground?” Sarah asked, leaning over the arm of the chair. “Not just when they wish for something?”

“So long as it does not interrupt your duties, you can visit him whenever you like.” Jareth looked over at her. “Well, do you remember a white owl?”

Sarah squinted, trying to come up with the memories. She opened her mouth, then came at a loss for words. Finally, she stuttered out, “That was you?”

“I had assumed you had figured it out?”

“I never thought about it! So you were just, what, there? And what about when I bought the book from the store and—”

“That was me.”

“All those times I was playing in the park?”

“That was me.”

Sarah ran her fingers through her hair again. “I can’t believe it!”

“I’m sorry!”

“No, it’s...” Sarah sighed, taking the pebble out of her pocket and rubbing her thumb against it.

“There’s something else.”

“Something else?”

“Your...no, Toby’s mother, I believe, had me promise that I teach you how to enter the aboveground. My part of the promise is done now. All you have to do is fly quickly and will yourself to be there, similar to other magic.”

“Eilleen did that?”

“Eilleen?”

Sarah frowned. “Irene. Maybe. It doesn’t matter.”

“Will you be okay?” Jareth asked.

Sarah nodded. “I’m fine,” she said unconvincingly. “It’s been a long day.”

“Hasn’t it?” With difficulty, Jareth pushed himself up into a standing position. “Look, it’s already late.”

Sarah glanced out the window. The sky was turning the usual strange shade of blue that indicated nighttime.

“We should be getting to bed,” Jareth said, extending his hand towards her. He walked her down the hall, and Sarah wasn’t quite sure why. At her door, Jareth bid her goodnight and disappeared.

Sarah was too excited to sleep for the night.