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Proposition

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Jareth sat on the throne with one hand clutching the arm and the other at his heart.

“Let’s take a break today,” he whispered.

Sarah, on her knees before him, nodded quietly. She was resting her elbow on the other arm of the throne and watching Jareth with a concerned expression.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I just need to rest.”

Sarah frowned, chewing her lip.

“If we are not studying today, then may I go into the labyrinth unaccompanied?”

“The labyrinth,” he murmured.

“If I get lost, I can fly out of it.”

“So you can,” he said with a smile. “It’s the guards that need convincing. Tell them you have my permission.”

Sarah nodded and thanked him. She wasn’t sure what else to say, so she turned on her heel and left.

“The king has given me permission to go out alone in the labyrinth,” Sarah said as she walked past the guards at the door. “He can confirm this if necessary. I know I will not lose my way, but thank you for the concern.”

Out of the goblin city she went. The junk creatures allowed her to pass as they did the last time, and the forest was just as peaceful as Sarah remembered it. She walked among the trees. Without any intention, she came upon the house in the forest and knocked on the door. She realized all at once that it had been some time since she last saw them, and she had left quite suddenly. Hopefully they’d be understanding.

It was Sir Didymus who opened the door. “Fair maiden! You’ve returned!”

Sarah smiled. “It’s good to see you again, Didymus.”

She sat at the table just like usual and apologized for leaving so suddenly. “I just went out for a walk, and it turned out Jareth was looking for me,” Sarah explained. “I didn’t want to mention you in case he was still angry about it, so I just went back...And I forgot to mention it to him! I was planning on bringing up the subject later to see if he wouldn’t be angry if you came back.”

“It’s fine,” Hoggle said. “We’re fine here. Will you be staying?”

“Just for the day—if you don’t mind! I think Jareth...isn’t feeling well or something. He said we wouldn’t be doing any studies today, so I came back to visit.”

“We’re glad you’re here.”

Sarah smiled. “And I’m happy just seeing you.”

After some discussion, Sarah dove into the story of her visit with Toby. She excitedly explained what happened, even mentioning that she could return if she wanted to. This turned into a discussion of their time going through the labyrinth, which then turned into a bit of a rant about Jareth.

Their conversation was interrupted by someone pounding at the door. Sarah jumped up so quickly that her chair fell over.

“That can’t be good,” she said. “Maybe I should answer it so they don’t know it’s you...?”

“But then they’ll wonder what you’re doing here!” Hoggle said.

“Danger,” Ludo pointed out.

“I shall go,” Sir Didymus offered, walking up to answer the door before anyone else could protest.

It was a goblin guard. Sarah felt like the breath had been knocked out of her chest.

“There is an emergency in the castle beyond the goblin city, and we are in search of Sarah Williams, the goblin princess,” the guard said. The guard looked over Sir Didymus’s shoulder. “Oh, there you are.”

Sarah ran forward, putting up her hands as if to surrender. “Please don’t tell the king about this, okay? Don’t even mention where you found me. I'll make something up—”

“We don’t have the time to worry about that right now!” the guard said. “It is of the utmost importance that you come to the castle immediately. Your friends may come with you if you so desire, but we must be quick!”

Sarah faced her hands. “Will you come? Please? I promise nothing will happen to you. I’m just afraid to go alone.”

“Immediately, I said,” the guard warned her.

“Let’s go!” Hoggle said.

They followed her out. The guard was practically running through the forest, and Sarah jogged to keep up. They went through the gates, through the city, through the castle doors. The place was crowded with panicked goblins, but Jareth was not in sight. The guard quietly pointed to a door and informed her that she was to go to the king’s room.

“I know where it is,” Sarah said. “Follow me.”

They came into the room of stairs that went upside down, sideways, and all the ways a staircase really shouldn’t go. Sarah stumbled through the room with all her friends in tow. Finally, the room evened out into a normal hallway, and Sarah hesitated at the door to Jareth’s room.

“I’ve never been in here,” she said. “I only waited outside for him, and even that was limited...”

“But he did say that it was an emergency,” Sir Didymus pointed out.

“Right,” Sarah said with a nod. She took a breath and pushed the door open.

The room was as elegantly decorated as the rest of the castle. There was a bed surrounded in curtains and a bookcase more used by Jareth than the ones in the libraries. Near the window was a pair of chairs, and Jareth sat uncomfortably on one of them. He wasn’t wearing his gloves anymore, and Sarah never looked directly at his hands.

“you brought your friends,” he said in a strained voice. “That’s lovely.”

“What’s happening?” Sarah asked, walking towards her.”

Jareth forced a smile. “Sometimes—magic grows old. Sit.”

Sarah sat on the chair beside him. “Magic grows old?”

Jareth raised his hands weakly. They fell back into his lap. He looked over at the friends who had followed her in.

“I can never remember your name,” he said.

“Hoggle.”

“Hoggle, and Sir Didymus, and his steed, and Ludo. These are the friends who helped you through the labyrinth, aren’t they?” He gave another forced smile. “I can now forgive what you have done, but I do hope you obey Sarah better than me.”

They exchanged glances between each other.

Something was wrong.

“What were you saying earlier?” Sarah asked, bringing attention back to the original subject.

Jareth frowned. “Do people in the aboveground die of old age?”

“I don’t remember.”

They both laughed uncomfortably.

“Magic keeps us here, but it can’t keep us young forever, can it?”

Sarah paled.

Jareth reached behind his back and unlatched the necklace he wore. He handed it over to Sarah gently.

“Keep this,” he said. “It is of utterly no value or use.”

“Thank you,” she said, putting it on anyway. “I’m assuming this alone was not your emergency.”

Jareth laughed again. He sounded weaker this time.

The others stood at the edge of the room and watched uncomfortably. Sarah needed them there, but what were they to do? Listen in on the conversation?

“Were you ever someone else’s heir?”

“Never,” Jareth said. “When I arrived, I was alone. Sometimes one must be alone to figure things out.”

“I don’t think I want to,” Sarah asked. “I couldn’t handle someone wishing a child away.”

“It’s not just anyone who can become a runner of the labyrinth,” Jareth said. “I trust you will understand should the time ever come.”

“There is still much I need to learn,” Sarah said, looking around the room at anything but Jareth. “I don’t know the right questions to ask.”

Jareth put his hand over hers. They burnt her to the burns.

“I know you are more than capable on your own, Sarah. I’ve taught all I can.”

Sarah didn’t pull her hand away, even as tears welled at her eyes from the pain.

“Will you be okay?” she asked him.

“I will be fine. I would like to have some time alone to rest.”

“Will you at least promise me to make it until the end of the day.”

Jareth grinned, almost laughing. “I will  not.”

Sarah nodded and stood. He smiled back. Sarah walked out quietly, and the others followed. Sarah closed the door behind her and took a few deep breaths.”

“Fair maiden,” Sir Didymus whispered.

Sarah cried out and kicked the wall. She slid down to the ground and brought her knees to her chest. She buried her head in her hands. Her friends gathered around her, providing what comfort they could.

They stayed the rest of the day. Sarah avoided the room at the front, where goblins were waiting for answers. She spent her day in the library, where she read books and forgot them instantly and barely contributed to her friends’ attempts at cheery conversation.

When the sky was just beginning to darken, Sarah felt a surge of panic. Calling for her friends to stay and not follow her, she flew off. Down passages she went, alone, dizzy, or maybe the room was just spinning around her. She burst into the room like an explosion, and Jareth was at the bed.

He wouldn’t get up.