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Chapter 1: Dreams and Duties

Karen walked into Sarah's room to place her stepdaughter's laundry on the bed. She put the shirts and socks and small things into neat stacks and turned to leave. When she stepped away from the bed, her toe caught something under the bed and kicked it out into the open. Without thinking about it, Karen bent to pick up the little red book. She placed it the dresser and smiled at the changes Sarah had made to the room in the past week.

The fantasy figures were still there, as were dolls and a music box, but the room wasn't overcrowded with these things any longer. She saw the box by the door, filled with toys Sarah mentioned that Toby might enjoy-nothing too girly for him, but still rich with fantasy and magic. As her eyes surveyed the cleaning project and the beautiful furniture and taste Sarah revealed as she chose her favourite memories to cherish, the golden gleam of letters on the red book caught her eye.

’Labyrinth," Karen whispered, picking up the slender volume again. She was deaf to soft footsteps on the stairs. Closing her eyes and hugging the book to her, Karen whispered, "Give me the child..." The figure at the doorway paused to listen. Her voice grew a bit stronger, "Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the Goblin City..." Finally, with the full passion she had felt as a girl, she cried, "My will is as strong as yours, my kingdom as great!" Tears of memory and pain welled in her eyes as she whispered again, a sad, sweet longing in her voice. "You have no power over me."

Feeling the tears, the memories of her childhood dreams so close to the surface, Karen lowered her head and allowed herself to remember the love of the story, the wish that a prince would sweep her away to his castle. Just as a tear began to slide from her lashes to her cheek, a voice behind her spoke her name.

Karen whirled, startled, and saw Sarah in the doorway.

"Oh!" Karen smiled and gave a little sniff. "I was just putting your laundry in here for you. This was on the floor..." She felt so foolish, having to explain everything. She didn't want to pry, but Sarah was so sensitive about her here-in the house, much less her room-that Karen just couldn't stop babbling. Why did she always babble around the girl? Sixteen just yesterday, and somehow she had always managed to make Karen feel like the child, which was just silly. And yet...for a few precious moments, Karen had been back at that age herself; just her and the memories of her dreams.

"I didn't mean to startle you, Karen, I just..." Sarah started over again. "I didn't know you knew the story of the Labyrinth." It was an invitation. Karen blinked, then nodded. "It was one of my favourite stories as a girl."

"Those last lines-I never imagined them like that." Sarah grasped for something else to say. "I never understood why she was about to cry when she rejected the Goblin King." The look in her eyes made Karen avoid the 'when you're older you will' line. Older didn't always make it easy to understand, just more painful.

"It's an allegory, Sarah," she said as Sarah sat down on the bed. Karen sat next to her. "It's the story of a girl facing her fears-"

"-and finding friends and growing up, but those last lines." Sarah shook her head, a bit glum that her chance to talk to Karen about something was slipping away.

"Actually," Karen said slowly, "I was going to say facing her fears and choosing duty over her dreams when the price for that dream was too high for her to pay."

"But shouldn't someone follow their dreams?" Sarah's eyes were pleading for something that Karen didn't quite understand.

"There's a price for everything, Sarah. In this case, the price for a king's love was to give up her responsibilities for her brother-just a baby who would never be with his family again. Even if she could have gone herself, she couldn't choose for the child, just change his life in an instant."

"It happens, though," Sarah said, resentment in her voice. When she saw Karen flinch, she stammered, "Oh, no. Karen. Not you. Just...Mom running off and..." Sarah reached for words. "She was chasing a dream and I wasn't...convenient."

"Sarah where did you-"

"I heard her. When she left. Dad...doesn't know." Sarah looked at the older woman, realizing they were the same height. When had that happened? "Neither does she. I guess...I always loved fairy tales, but I just myself get lost in them. Dreaming..."

"I never dreamed I'd be a second wife or stepmother to a girl half my age," Karen said, smiling, "but I'd found chasing my dreams wasn't right for me."

"What did you want to do?" Sarah asked, finally showing some sort of curiosity about the woman who'd taken her mother's place.

"I was a dancer, Sarah. I wanted to be the most celebrated dancer in history. I had so many grand ideas..." Karen laughed softly. "Then I got to New York and realized that I was good - could even be great - but the price was too high. I had no time for anything other than work and work-related dinners and parties. I hated it. The beauty I knew I could create just wasn't enough. Everything that had seemed so wonderful suddenly was horrid. Appearances were more than the substance." Karen sighed. "So, I took a year off. I had the money, I was in terrible health, and I came to Podunk, USA. Then I realized I liked it here." She looked at Sarah. "Then I realized I didn't need to be adored by the masses. That was a girl's dream. I wasn't a girl anymore. I met your father and wanted to be something more than the temperamental artiste. The rest...you know."

"But...what happened to your dreams?" Sarah asked.

"Those gave way to the reality of being a wife and, well, something like a mother. And I had opened my business already, so it wasn't like I abandoned everything altogether." Karen smiled, thinking of her dance studio and the children and adults she taught to move with grace and rhythm. "But why so many questions about dreams?"

"If you had the chance," Sarah asked, her voice soft, "and there was a handsome prince out there, who offered you everything - like in the book - would you take it?"

"There's a price for everything, Sarah. If the price were to abdicate my responsibilities, I'd have to decline. But if my duties were done and it was my own life and only my life...Oh, Sarah, what girl doesn't still long for the handsome prince?"

It wasn't what Sarah had expected to hear, but she understood.

"Karen," she said, "does giving up dreams always hurt?"

Karen opened her mouth to give a pat reply, then paused. "No," she replied, her voice slow and careful. "Sometimes, it is a relief. Sometimes, though, it hurts so much that it feels like nothing can ever be right again."

"And the girl in the story-" Sarah stopped and closed her eyes. "That's why she's about to cry. She fell in love with him, too."

"Yes," Karen whispered, "but duty called louder than her own dreams, even louder than her own heart."

"Do you think there's a sequel?" Sarah asked, her voice almost flippant. "Where she gets to tell the king how much it hurt to let him go?"

Karen smiled and hugged her stepdaughter. "Maybe you need to write it, Sarah. Finish the story - it's always felt incomplete. The king is left in the ashes, the girl is the broken heroine...maybe there's something more, just waiting to be told."

Sarah nodded and hugged Karen back.

For two years, Sarah worked on her story, the book she called Broken Dreams. For two years, she read and scanned and studied Labyrinth, until she understood every subtext, every unspoken desire. Every moment that was too much for the girl, but the woman inside understood.

During those years, she never gave up contact with Hoggle and Didymus and Ludo. Several times, she would have them in her room, laughing and partying. Every time the party was over, Sarah would look at her desk and sigh. On the corner of her desk, she kept a crystal ball that had been a gift from her father, so many years ago. It was in it's little stand, perched on the back of a comical little goblin. When the others were gone, she would pick up the crystal and practice running it through her hands, over her fingertips, from one hand to another. Tears would gather and slip slowly down her cheeks. She never realized she was watched by a snowy white owl, the ghost at her window.

She understood the reason she had been so close to tears in the Goblin King's castle. It still hurt.

One night, she put down her pen and smiled. It was done. She picked up the little crystal ball and ran it across her hands. She let herself be mesmerized by the glittering sphere as it flashed and spun from hand to hand.

"Jareth, I wish I could tell you why. I wish you were here..." She missed an exchange with the crystal, laid her head on her desk and began to sob.

She had written her dreams, finished the story, and it wasn't enough.

Nothing would ever be enough again.

She picked up her head and reached for a Kleenex. Hovering at the edge of her vision was the crystal she had dropped. As she reached for it, she realized that it was held in a gloved hand. Wide, tearful eyes slid up and up...to the most beautiful, cruel, loving face in the world.

Sarah didn't say anything. She rose, her head foggy with tears and dreams and the pain of letting go of those dreams in order to fulfill her duty - so long ago. Without a word, she stepped up to him, pressed her face against his chest, and whispered his name. She pulled back and did what she had dreamed of doing, what she had ached to do in the Labyrinth.

She kissed him, her heart open, her eyes closed. And again the tears fell.

It was too sweet to be real, too real to be anything other than a dream.

"It is only a crystal," Jareth whispered as she drew back, his heart breaking again.

Sarah's eyes flew open and the shock of seeing him again robbed her of breath and speech. She fainted in his arms, forcing him to drop the crystal to catch the girl.

"No half measures with you, are there?" he muttered, lifting her with a sigh and carrying her the few steps to her bed. He sat and waited. He had been summoned by her wish. Now he had to wait until she told him why and let him leave.

Chapter Text

Jareth watched the young woman as she lay on her bed, slowly beginning to recover from her rather dramatic hello. Both of them.

Yes, he had been captivated by the girl who bested his labyrith. Yes, he had watched her before and after. Yes, he loved her. Yes, he had offered her everything. No, he was not happy with her or her rather abrupt summons. He had gone out of his way to forget her and everything about her.

To find himself here, at her command, was simply…annoying. He had watched the crystal ball drop to the ground, enjoying that two years of practice had not yet rendered her proficient in the art of contact juggling. He had appeared in the room the instant she had wished him there. Watching, waiting, he had listened to her sobbing. He tried to pretend he didn't care, but he did.

When she lifted her head, he lifted the crystal to her, returning it to her and that silly little stand. Goblins never held that still unless they were passed out, and they were terrified of his crystals. Mortals never got the details. He stifled a sigh, and nearly dropped the crystal as his arms were suddenly full of Sarah. Sweet, hot, curvy Sarah…oh, my, but those were lovely curves. Quite different from the last time he'd seen her, though she had shown great promise.

Then she had kissed him. Every wicked, cutting, cruel comment he had imagine fled from his mind as her lips met his in a kiss so passionate he wondered if she really was just eighteen mortal years. She stole his breath from him; he took hers in return. For a long, blissful moment, they were locked in a lover's embrace. Then she drew back, let reality come flooding back in, looked at him - and fainted.

And here he was, sitting on her bed waiting for her to tell him what the hell was going on.

"I should have frozen time in that damned ballroom," Jareth muttered. "Kissed you, taken you, let you see everything that we could be - then let you finish the damned thing." Mismatched eyes glared at her. "But no, you wanted the slightly terrifying, somewhat villainous, ultimately honourable opponent. Damn, you're exhausting." He sighed. "Even lying here, passed out, you're giving me a headache. I'm tired just from being summoned. Probably a good thing I never did get you in bed. You just might have killed me." One gloved hand skimmed down her body from collar bone to hip. "You might kill me yet…"

"Sarah-OH!" Karen froze as she stood in the doorway. There was Sarah, seemingly asleep and a man, the very image of the Goblin King from that story, sitting on her bed. "You're…" Karen's voice rasped from her as the man turned to glare at her. "You're him." The most irrational thought ran through Karen's head: It's a good thing the boys are out at the game tonight. They'd never understand… The world went dark around her.

Jareth found himself with a second woman collapsed in his arms.

"Well, damn," he grouched. "Sarah fainting, this one fainting. What's next? The damned tree fainting?" He carefully placed Karen on the larger bed Sarah had gotten last year. They were a lovely pair. And the redhead…despite the silver in her hair, she seemed familiar. There were so many girls who dreamed of him, it wasn't surprising, really. Faces flashed through his crystals constantly. Those girls sometimes wished for him to take them away, or take their siblings or children away, and he obliged. He was nothing if not obliging.

Many gave him up for a dream, which was fine. It made those few who hung on that much more special. And that was when the memory came to him. The woman, the redhead, had called out to him, spoken the last lines of that damned book - he really needed to do something about the thing - and done so with such passion that it caught his eye. Her sorrow, her knowledge, her love of the fantasy was sweet. Jareth smiled, much as he had while he watched her recite the last words. Oh, there were a few mistakes, but the passion was there.

And Sarah…was Sarah this woman's daughter? He had been trying so hard to forget Sarah that he really couldn't remember the details now.

What was taking them so damned long? Here he was, waiting for some information so he could bid this girl a polite, if slightly frosty, goodbye, and he'd already gone through two memory sequences and a reflection. Didn't these women understand that time was measured in memories and reflections? These mortal seconds ticking by were nothing to him. Numbers made the people seem more at ease, so he limited their time to thirteen hours. He gave them the number, but watched their memories and reflections. Sarah's had been particularly shallow then, allowing her time to complete the entire damned puzzle.

And he'd removed time for two of each from her at that!

Frustrating girl, and there was another long moment lost!

"Oh, wake up, dammit!" he snapped at the women. "I'm losing time!" Here in the mortal realms, his time was finite for any one visit. He could stay for no more than 30 memories and reflections. The girl would say thirty minutes, but she would be wrong.

Jareth stood and began to pace. When he had to abort several memories of Sarah running his labyrinth, when he began to reflect on time, he cursed and began plundering through the room. Snooping and discovering did not count for reflection or memory, and so his time was ample.

Sarah had grown up in the two years since she ran his labyrinth, that much was obvious from her clothes and tastes. The room was neater, more refined in the fantasies she kept alive. There were sketches of many different aspects of his home, and of him, but nothing that explained the crystal on her desk or her desire to move it through her hands as he did.

Then he saw the manuscript in the leather-bound book. Loose pages surrounded it with bits and pieces crossed out, rearranged, arrows here and there…but inside, she had written the story neatly, complete with the large, loopy "The End."

He flipped back to the first page and read the opening lines aloud.

"The girl found herself back in her room, holding the baby the Goblin King had taken from her. Carefully, gently, she walked to the boy's crib and put him to bed. The love in her motions made it clear that the boy was a duty, but one she now accepted gladly. She loved the child, this darling brother of hers, and watched him with a smile on her lips and gentleness in her eyes."

Jareth recognized the end of the story that kept him and his alive. It was a good story, if a bit mushy at the end. No clarity, no real ending, just a moment where the author had gotten a hand cramp or something and quit. His eyes skimmed the next words.

"Turning away from the crib, her smile faded and she tears welled in her eyes and throat." Jareth paused. This was new. Very new. He turned and looked at the beautiful brunette on the bed, her womanly curves neatly shown in the light skirt and blouse she wore. Lovely.

And deeper than he had thought, more feeling.

Damn! That was another realization.

"Wake up, girl, else I drag you with me when I have to go."

Those were the magic words, it seemed, because both women began to stir.

Sarah opened her eyes. ,i>It couldn't be. He couldn't be here… she thought. Then she remembered her wish, the wish her heart had sent to her lips without pausing to check with her brain. "Oh, what have I done?" Sarah whimpered, knowing she had just brought more pain into her life. She sat up slowly, wondering how to fix this, to change it.

"You summoned me, dear girl," came the cool, calm voice from her desk. "And now, do you mind explaning whatever it is you want to explain?"

"I…Oh…There's so much…Can…Karen?" Sarah's attempts at explanation were short-circuited by seeing Karen next to her. "Did you…"

"No. She saw me in here with you and fainted." A small smile curled the edges of his lips into a wicked curve that Sarah wanted to kiss. "She recognized me." The sheer smugness of that statement made Sarah's eyes pop open.

"Recognized? Did she ever-" Sarah didn't get to finish her question.

"Again, no. But she had such lovely dreams about the Labyrinth and about me." He laughed softly. "She wanted to be the Dancing Queen of the Goblin Court. Lovely girl…" He let his voice fade off instead of revealing that her dreams had changed.

"She does love to dance," Sarah said, smiling. "She owns a dance studio here in town." Karen stirred and began to sit up.

"Mm." Jareth said nothing more. "But she is not what I came here to discuss. Why did you call me?"

"I…I didn't think about it," Sarah said, honestly. She blushed. "It was something I didn't realize I had wished." Sara sat upon the edge of the bed and let out a deep breath. She went straight for the issue. "I had a duty."

"Did you now?" Jareth held back a yawn. "Well, congratulations. May I go now?"

"I'm not holding you here," Sarah said, surprised at the question.

"You stated you wished to tell me why, that I was here. Come, come. We haven't got all day. If that is the grand truth you wanted to tell me, I shall be going-"

"No." Sarah said, forgetting Karen was in the room, listening. "That's not all. I had a duty. That duty was to take care of Toby-"

"Toby?" Karen whispered, staring at Sarah.

"-and I did it." Tears welled up in her eyes as Jareth watched her and listened. "It hurt, it cost me, and I did it anyway. I hurt you," Sarah said, rising and walking over to the proud, seemingly unaffected man. "And I'm sorry, but I couldn't stay with you. Not then."

"So your duty is over? No longer do you care for your brother?" Jarethe's eyebrow lifted in disbelief.

"My duty was - and is - to take care of him when Dad and Karen need me to. They needed me to that night, and now Karen is here, so I don't have that duty. I've graduated from school, I don't have any college classes yet, or a job, and my work here is done." She did not mention that her work had been the book. "So, no, I have no duties here at the moment. I'm free to choose for me, now. I never was free to choose for Toby."

Karen watched, eyes wide, as Sarah lifted her hand up to Jareth's face. She wanted to warn her stepdaughter, the girl she'd gotten so close to over the past 2 years, but found she was choked by her own tears. So this is what changed her…

"And yet you did," Jareth replied, his voice light.

"I did," Sarah admitted, "and I immediately regretted it. I had a choice at the end, and the price was too steep, then."

"Then?" Jareth said, closing his eyes. "What makes you think the offer is to be reissued?"

"Nothing," Sarah said. "But would you give up your kingdom, your subjects, and come here to stay with me?"

"Don't be daft, girl," Jareth snapped, "I have responsibilities that-"

"Exactly." Sarah interrupted the man without a second thought. "And no matter how much I hated the choice, no matter how much it hurt, my responsibility that night called me back to this place." She lifted and gave him a soft kiss. "I just wanted you to know that I didn't want to refuse you. I had to."

"Do you know how much it hurt?" Jareth asked, his eyes trained on hers, her lips a breath from his.

"Yes," she replied softly. "Because it hurt me just as much."

Jareth closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He felt her breasts brush his chest as it expanded. What the girl did to him!

"And now you want me to just offer everything again? Why? What is your wish, Sarah - your dream?"

"I…" Sarah remembered what she had written in her book. "I want to be worthy of you, worthy of being your Queen." Behind them, Karen gasped. "Whatever that takes, that is what I want to do."

"Sarah!" Karen finally found her voice. "Be careful!" Tears were in her eyes and falling down her cheeks, dripping slowly from her jaw. "A queen is so much more than a dream…"

Turning to look at her stepmother, Sarah felt Jareth's arm steal around her waist. "I know," Sarah said, taking a deep breath and letting it out. "I have to do this, Karen. I have to try." Thinking back to their conversation so long ago, she added. "This is my dream, and I have to chase it. The price may be too high," Sarah gulped back her own tears, "but I'll never know if I don't try. The book…that's what I learned. Guessing, thinking, imagining just isn't enough."

"What…what will I tell your father? Toby?" Karen knew she had to let Sarah go, and that Sarah would never be gone, not really. Karen still believed, in her heart of hearts, in the places where dreams lie slumbering, she still believed.

"Tell them…I had the chance to chase my dreams, and I couldn't resist." Jareth's arm was possessive around her waist, pulling her into full contact with him. Sarah's hands were over his, holding him that much closer.

Karen nodded. She spoke to the Goblin King. "Goblin King, would you hold her from us forever?"

Jareth hesitated. He sensed that this older woman feared him, loved him, and desperately needed him to be more than the wicked king or handsome prince. She needed him to be fully man, as complex as he was in reality.

"No," he said softly. "Sarah will be able to contact you, perhaps even to visit." He paused. "I will have a home some distance from here where we can meet." His free hand traced the curve of Sarah's cheek. "But not so close that you will easily be able to visit."

Sarah felt her body relax as he said this. The words he whispered to her were well known to both the women.

"I can be cruel."

"But you do not have to be," Karen said, smiling. She had read and discussed much with Sarah over the past two years. "Thank you, Goblin King."

"Call me Jareth," he sighed. "And, Karen?"

"Yes?" Startled, Karen felt the pain of losing Sarah lessen with the assurances of contact.

"Dreams never really go away, my dear. They just sleep for a while, waiting for the right moment to awaken and return to you." He paused and let that sink in. "Call me by name and look into the mirror. Then, touch the crystal ball," he sent the crystal into Karen's hand, "to the mirror and wish to speak to Sarah. She will be connected through the next mirror or crystal she is near."

"Like a telephone line?" Karen snickered.

"Mm." Jareth grinned. "Extension Gorgeous King of Goblins in the Castle beyond the Goblin City, Labyrinth."

Sarah felt the laughter beginning to take hold of her as Karen giggled. The moment was surreal and wonderful and perfect. She belonged here, in his arms. Familiar crystal magic swept over them, and Sarah found herself outside the Labyrinth.

On a dust-swept hill she stood, the Goblin King pressed close behind her. His lips caressed her ear as he whispered.

"You wish to be worthy of being my Queen? Then, Sarah, you must solve the riddle of my Labyrinth, and you must do it alone."

"It doesn't look that far," Sarah lied, remembering well how far it was, and how strange.

"It's further than you think." He turned the woman in his arms and kissed her gently. "This time, Sarah, you will face the darkness of the Labyrinth, not just her challenges. You compete not for a child, but to rule by my side."

Sarah closed her eyes, wondering what in hell she'd gotten herself into. "Do I have a time limit?" she asked, her voice raw with want and memory.

"Time is different here," he said, holding her close, relishing the feel of her against him. How had he made himself forget this girl? That he had managed to succeed at all was beyond him. Then again, wishing often made things so, here. "You will have no more than 27 memories, 18 realizations, and 9 lessons taken to heart to reach me."

"Will you tempt me again?" she asked, hoping and fearing the crystal ballroom that had so captivated and terrified her before.

"Oh, yes, my Sarah," he kissed her hard this time, his hands rough on her body. He was breathing hard when he released her. He bit her neck. "And even should you fail, you will be mine."

"But not your Queen," she managed, shuddering at the contrasts in his touch, his lips. The feel of his bite.

"Never my Queen," his eyes glowed with magic and passion, "but forever mine." Jareth forced himself to step back and pulled in his magic and sensuality.

"Remember your time limit and keep track of it carefully." He waved his hand and a small notebook and pencil appeared next to her. "I would suggest a tally." He paused. "I cannot help you, nor may you ask for or take assistance from any within these walls. I will tempt you," a dark promise filled his voice, "but I will give you this before you start: Discoveries and curiosity cost you no time, nor does learning the way of the land. Lessons that you learn and keep forever are not the same. Do not let the past colour your perception of my home. I live in a world filled with dreams, and those can be deadly."

"Nothing is what it appears to be," Sarah whispered, then recited, "Fair is foul and foul is fair; nothing is but what is not…"

"Ah, the Bard," Jareth smiled. "For your journey, I offer you this: Dreamers often lie."

"In bed," Sarah replied, smiling for the first time since her transport to this place. "Asleep, where they do dream things true."

Jareth did not smile. "Be wary, dear girl. Queen Mab may visit you here. Time is not measured by the sun here, but only by memories and realizations and lessons taken to heart. You will sleep, you will dream, and you will eat here while you prove yourself. I would not lose you to your dreams, Sarah, when you have wished aloud to be my Queen."

Sarah nodded. "Then dreamers often lie." Jareth began to fade. "Wait!"

"Yes?" Solidifying, Jareth waited for the question.

"Doe that count as my first realization?" she asked, biting her lip.

Jareth laughed. "Your time begins the minute you enter my puzzle. Here, you are…not safe, but not, what is that phrase? Ah, yes. 'On the clock.' Take your time, Sarah. I will be…somewhere."

Before she could speak again, he faded away, leaving only his laughter ringing softly on the air.

Chapter Text

Sarah stood outside Jareth's Labyrinth and thought for a long time. She took her time remembering the various challenges, who had helped her and how. She looked deeper into what Jareth called the challenges and saw darker, universal truths. Some always lie, some always tell the truth, but there is never an always or a never. The way forward often travels down paths you have seen before. There is no turning back, for time always moves forward. Asking for help does not mean you will be put upon the right path. Moving too quickly can be as dangerous as not moving at all. Even friends may betray you in order to save themselves. A friend who has betrayed you may turn out to be the one that saves you.

And nothing is ever all that it seems to be. Even when there seems to be nothing left, there is always another layer, another truth to be discovered. The sun began to rise on the far side of Jareth's Labyrinth. Sarah started to realized that she had spent the entire night preparing her memories and realizations prior to entering. The lessons learned, she had only three: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it, and love is not just an emotion filled with romance and joy, it is a burden that can break a man down to his soul. Sometimes persistence was more than just being stubborn, and sometimes being stubborn could be mistaken for persistence.

Rising, Sarah sighed to herself. "Well, if I'm ready, I'm ready. If I'm not, I hope I will be by the time I reach the Castle beyond the Goblin City." With that she skipped down the hill and to the gates, which were positioned just where she remembered them. Chastising herself for taking even that much for granted, Sarah stepped forward into her dearest dream.

Immediately inside the gate was a small strip of earth and a door. Rather, it was thousands of thousands of doors, all on one wall. Some doors were inside other doors. Some doors intersected with other doors or were upside-down or sideways. Sarah stared at the insane thing for a long time, pacing back and forth. The solution to this puzzle was just in front of her. If only she could discover it…And then it came to her. The doors were just that, doors. They would open into different sections of the labyrinth, but then she would bypass the other sections. She just needed to get the doors to let her go to the very next step, and to do that she had to find the master door. She began looking for something that didn't quite make sense, a door that wasn't a door.

An old riddle floated up into her thoughts, "When is a door not a door?" She smiled, "When it's…" she stopped the memory of the teasing her parents had done and ruthlessly squelched the automatic pun. She wasn't letting the memory play out. There was something in Jareth's words that made her think that a memory was a completed recollection of past events. If she didn't complete the thought, it didn't count. Okay, so it was welshing, but this was the labyrinth. A certain amount of welshing was to be expected.

Sarah dropped to the ground, muttering to herself. The door of doors was as irritating as the Goblin of goblins. Suddenly, the answer was in front of her. "When it's every door." She had discovered the key to this riddle: A doorknob, not attached to any of the normal doors, but just on its own. At eye level, too. As soon as her hand touched the lone knob, the puzzle dissolved and Sarah walked into the next part of Jareth's home-a huge, grassy field, filled with berry bushes with a little well some distance off in the heart of the field.

Berry bushes surrounded her. She saw various creatures speaking to the bushes, which then shivered and shook berries into their hands or mouths or beaks or baskets. Sarah observed, growing hungrier and hungrier as she did. Finally, she walked over to a bush with all different colours and sizes of berries and held out the bell of her skirt like a basket. "Please, bush, fill my basket."

Nothing happened. Sarah listened as another bush nearby wiggled and shook. Her eyes grew wide as she listened to what the speaker was saying. The way to get the bush to hand over the fruit was to…flirt with it? And flirt dirty? This was just wrong. Sarah leaned over and began to whisper, blushing even as she did. Just as the berry bush started quivering and shaking, a low chuckle sounded behind her. Sarah kept blushing and whispering as a very familiar blonde man walked up behind her and, putting his hands on her hips, whispered into her ear.

"You should see them in pear season. Or when it's time for vegetables. They have very…interesting cucumbers." With a soft nip at her ear, Jareth and his wonderful hands disappeared. Sarah's skirt was overflowing with fruit, and she was shaking almost as hard as the bush.

The thoughts the man inspired…with just a few words and a caress, of sorts, Sarah could just feel the touch of his hands on her calves. Something was touching her calves. Caressing her calves.

Caressing? Sarah looked down and leaped back with a shriek as the leaves on a vine in the heart of the bush were brushing up and down her leg suggestively, a droopy pink leaf wagging suggestively at her. She spilled half the berries in her skirt and, with legs shaking, shocked, and mouth hanging open, managed to make it to a little shrubless hill before her knees gave way.

"Oh, my. My, oh, my. Oh, dear." She kept blinking for several minutes. Finally, the feeling of being flabbergasted passed and she managed to pick up one of the berries. It was a pretty golden colour, much like Golden Delicious apples. When she bit into it, that was what she tasted. The texture, the juice, the sweetness of the meat - all were there. The next berry she lifted reminded her of a radish, just that odd shade of faded pink. When she bit into it, the radish-berry bit back. Sarah grinned and determined to enjoy her breakfast. A warm gold-brown berry looked like freshly baked bread. Another reminded her of the pink of well-cured ham. Yet another had the colouring of honey-drizzled biscuits. Sarah feasted on the berries and began to get thirsty. The few times she had been reminded of a beverage, the berries had had a wicked taste, like strong licorice and cold medicine. Those had been spat out quickly.

Needing a drink, Sarah rose and let the remaining berries fall to the ground. She thought for a moment, then spoke to the last little spheres, "Thank you berry much."

The berries giggled - which Sarah found mildly disturbing, but less so than a horny orchard of bushes-and then vanished into the ground. By the time Sarah got to the well and turned to see the little hill where she had been sitting, a small group of little shrubs had grown.

"Jareth, you have one twisted little kingdom," she commented, knowing that Jareth would be listening for her comments about his home.

"You have no idea," whispered the wind, ripe with suggestion.

Sarah shook her head and looked at the bucket on the ledge. The height of the well had deceived her. Because of her previous perspective, it looked like a standard waist-high well. In reality, the stones piled around it barely raised the lip of the well off the ground. There was no sign, no indication of danger or of safety, so Sarah thought before kicking the bucket. She listened as the bucket slid down from the little ledge and splooshed into the water below. Leaning down for the rope, she hauled the bucket, which was about the size of a teacup, back to the ledge.

Carefully, Sarah sniffed the water. It didn't smell of any dangerous chemicals. She sniffed again. No, it wasn't stagnant or brackish. After feeling the water with a finger, she realized it didn't feel any different from water at home. It was silky and dripped properly from her finger back to the tiny bucket. Remembering the naughty bushes, she lifted the water to her ear. It wasn't saying anything suggestive, so it probably wasn't alive, though there was really no guarantee of that here. She studied the water, moving it from light to shade. It was as clear as, well, water.

"Four out of five tests are complete and the verdict seems to be that this little bucket holds water." Sarah stopped and groaned. "Puns. I'm trapped in the Punning Fields." She shook her head, toasted Jareth silently with her bucket, and drank deeply of the water.

Immediately, her vision darkened and she swooned onto the hillside. She was lost in sleep.

"What the hell?" she muttered in her dream, sitting up. She knew what had happened to her and she really didn't appreciate it. "First I have dirty bushes, then creepy little vines, then multiple personality berries, and now a well that makes me…sleep? And dream? I've heard of wishing wells, but this is a bit different. It's a dreaming well." Sarah considered this for a minute and nodded. "On the other hand, this is the kingdom of wishes, so it stands to reason that the wells are for dreams or realities." She giggled and remembered the last water she'd been exposed to here. "At least it wasn't Stench water."

Sarah stopped giggling and slapped her hand to her mouth. That was one memory. She took out the little book and pencil Jareth had given her and carefully marked a one under the M column she drew. "One down, twenty-six to go. Have to be careful."

Sighing, Sarah thought for a minute. This was a dreaming well. Wishing wells didn't work in her world, not really, and especially not if you didn't have a silver coin to toss in. It stood to reason - which meant nothing here - that the dreaming well would also demand payment. Payment she didn't have. She considered what she knew of dreams.

"Dreams are important. Everyone knows that, it's hardly a surprise. And dreams can cost, especially if you want them to come true." She shook her head. "No, that's still not quite right, because I'm not paying for the item, just the possibility that it might come true - which doesn't work. Or does it?" She considered everything that had happened in the last twenty hours. "All right, I got a wish once. It had nothing to do with a well. This is a dreaming well. It has nothing to do with the dreams I already had."

Sarah stopped, frustrated with the loops she was talking around herself. She worked on the problem until she was ready to scream. The difficult thing was that she hadn't dropped in a coin, so she shouldn't be laying here asleep. And then it hit her.

"Dreaming doesn't cost anything! Chasing the dream does." Sarah smacked her forehead repeatedly. "Stupid, stupid stupid!" Then she waited. Apparently that wasn't a full realization, nor was it enough to get her out of this water-induced dream. "So if dreaming doesn't require payment, do you have to pay for it? Answer: No. Unless…" her voice trailed off and her eyes grew wide. "Unless you spend all your time dreaming, in which case you miss out on life which is where your dreams come true." Sarah grinned. "So my first realization is that dreams are free, but they can cost you everything."

Sarah woke with a start. "And so dreamers often lie," she whispered. "I hope I'm not still just a dreamer, Jareth."

Mulling over what she had just realized, Sarah noted down her realization in the little book and marked a tally under the R column. She looked at the sheet where she noted her pithy little phrase and shook her head. "And it's still not complete. So dreams are free, but they can cost you everything. There has to be the inverse, or converse. Like the 'those who can't do, teach, but those who can't teach, do' statement. So dreams are free, but they can cost you everything. Conversely, without dreams…what is life without dreams? OH!" Sarah grinned and scribbled as she spoke. "Conversely, a life without dreams is worthless."

The field disappeared.

"OH!" Sarah found herself sitting on a set of flagstones, this time in a high, rock walled passage. All around her, passages opened and yawned. Nothing grew. "Odd," she wondered, staring at the familiar-yet-unfamiliar walls. "This seems like before, but it's not." She nibbled her lip, then came to a conclusion.

"Jareth?" she called into the air. To her surprise, he appeared before her.

"You called, my dear?" he gave her a wolfish smile.

"Yes. I have two questions for you. Can you answer them?"

"I'm sure I can." His expression was puckish.

"I mean, will you answer them, and will answering those questions somehow void this contest?" She clarified.

"Yes and no." He held up a hand as her expression changed to irritation. "In that order." A cheeky grin flashed back at her. "Now, what do you ask me?"

"Last time I was hear, I did a lot of walking. Beau coup walking." A grumpy expression crossed her face as she thought of how much walking she had done. "And a lot of running, too. Now, though, I just solve one little riddle or puzzle and I'm poofed to something else. What's going on?"

"Ah. You noticed that, did you?" Jareth pursed his lips. She was quicker than he'd expected. He debated how much truth to tell her now, how much she would have to figure out for herself. "Well, your purpose is different," he hedged, knowing he couldn't help her with a true answer. "You are here to see if you are fit to be my Queen. In order to become Goblin Queen, you must defeat the full Labyrinth."

"So as I defeat one portion, I'm shunted onto the next section, like at a subway track?" she looked a bit confused. Then, something clicked and she nodded. "All right. I can accept that part."

"And your other question?" Jareth was relieved that Sarah hadn't pressed him on the first part.

"What happens if I run out of, oh, Memories before I've solved the full riddle?"

The leering eyes and wicked smile gave her the answer. He looked like he could eat her for lunch, which, come to think of it, wasn't that far off. The sun was much higher in the sky than it had been when she finished her breakfast, and there were no shadows around her.

"Gotcha." Sarah squinched up her nose and thought for a minute.

"Is that all, Sarah?" Jareth asked, striding over to her and sliding his hand up her hip. "Just a few questions and off I go?"

"Ummm…maybe?" she squeaked.

Jareth gave a wicked laugh. "Oh, no, my dear. Not even close." Jareth backed her against the hard wall of this section and leaned down to capture her lips. Sarah moaned and lost track of time and thought as he very carefully touched her lips with his. His hands were not on her body, and even his hair didn't brush her. The only point of contact he had was with her lips.

He broke the kiss before it broke him. "Tell me," he breathed, "what did you say to those naughty bushes?"

Sarah blushed. "Do you remember Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare?" When Jareth nodded, Sarah continued. "Well, I explained Act II, scene i to it, the part where," she nearly glowed red now, "Mercutio is trying to conjure Romeo by, um, insulting him and his, um," she giggled, "fascination with his lady's, er, parts."

Jareth snickered. "By her fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh/ And the demesnes that there adjacent lie..." He leaned close to whisper in her ear. "One of my favourite…parts." And he disappeared.

Sarah gulped. Did he mean the quote, or…

"I refuse to think about that!" she said and firmly chose a direction. She started walking and kept on walking, taking twists and turns as she went.

Finally, she came to a small cottage. In front of the cottage was a tree that had small baskets growing on it.

"Okay, this is different." She looked at the tree. No sign of sentience, but that didn't mean anything. Shrugging, she reached up and reached up and tugged on the basket. It didn't come off.

She studied the baskets for a minute. The basket she had reached for was all yellow. A few others were bright green. Sarah closed her eyes and recited, "'A tisket, a tasket - a green and yellow basket.' I have to find the green and yellow basket in order to get lunch. Well, at least the losing it part will be easy."

As she said it, she wondered if she was talking about a love letter she would write to Jareth, the basket, or her mind.

Chapter Text

Sarah searched the tree and found one green-and-yellow basket within reach from the ground. She tugged on the basket and it snapped loose from the tree with ease. Grinning at the thought of an old song and a basket tree, Sarah took the basket over to a little table that was set up outside the cottage.

The meal was sufficient, light, and quite delicious. A simple sandwich was inside, along with a small jug of cider. Finally, at the bottom of the basket, was dessert, a ripe peach. Sarah loved peaches, even after eating the enchanted fruit Jareth had sent to her via Hoggle, she loved them. One bad apple and all that. In this case, one freaky dream from eating a peach does not all peaches freaky make.

It was an old and familiar truism, but as Sarah finished the peach and rose to explore the cottage, she felt a familiar spinning feeling.

"What have I done?" she whispered as her limbs grew slack. The cottage around her faded into a crystal room.

Inside the crystal walls were rich, hedonistic furnishings. What else could she expect form Jareth's bedroom.

 

Sarah found herself dressed, not in a sweet ballgown, but in a rich red brocade robe. Underneath, she had nothing on. A little fearful and a lot upset, Sarah searched for Jareth. It didn't take long to find him.

Jareth lounged next to the fire and smiled at the woman in front of him. She was in his room, but not inside his castle. Ergo, she had eaten the peach in the basket. Lovely. She was scared, and while that was gratifying, it was also a bit disappointing. Sweet, young, and inexperienced. He looked at her as she tried not to squirm or blush. Very inexperienced. This was going to be…not dull. Dull was not the word. What was it the humans used? Baby steps? This was going to be another baby step, and he really, really wanted to run.

As Sarah was conveniently mute, Jareth figured it was up to him to say something.

"Oh, come now," he drawled. "Don't tell me you haven't wondered."

"I've wondered, but this is all a bit much," she managed to choke out. "Wondering is one thing. Like before, I wondered what a masquerade would be like in the old sense, but I wasn't ready to be part of it. Not really. This is…"

"Not the same at all. No one is laughing or jeering at you. I'm the only one leering at you, but you're just so worthy of a good leer. An ogle even." Jareth noted that his jokes weren't making a dent in her fear. "Are you really that terrified of the idea, Sarah?"

"I…Well…There's just…" Sarah stopped and took a deep breath. Jareth liked the fact that she took a deep breath. It made the top of the robe separate and loosen just a little bit more, leaving more for him to enjoy ogling. "I don't know."

"Mm." Jareth pursed his lips and gave her a long look. "If you're going to be this delicate, Sarah," he said kindly, "the rest of the labyrinth is going to be difficult for you. You've not yet passed the first wall."

"Wall? You mean the doors-"

"No, the first wall." Jareth paused. "There are twenty-seven walls to my labyrinth. Do you know why?"

"Three times three times three," Sarah answered immediately. "It's a sacred number to the same sacred number, or in human terms, three cubed." She paused and thought. "And the two and the seven added together make nine, which is divided into a three of threes. So it's an infinte number, which makes it, well, sacred."

"Exactly. And you've come far today, but you've further yet to go. And you're not to the first of these walls. No, the gates don't count." He paused and deliberately drew up a memory. "How are you enjoying my labrinth?"

"it's…" Sarah paused, remembering the exchange from last time. She did not repeat it, but instead marked another tally in the memory column. "It's not as easy as I could say it was, but it hasn't required all that much thought from me yet. It's not what I had expected, Jareth."

"And yet, there are dangers untold," he continued. "Why are they untold?"

"I…don't understand."

"Why are you nervous now?" he asked, pointing out their wardrobe and chambers again. He was wearing a black robe and his gloves, nothing else.

"I'm in your room, Jareth." The unspoken 'duh' hung on the air between them.

"And?"

"And…I don't feel old enough to be in here. I mean, you're, what, a few millennia old and I'm just eighteen-"

"Mortal years mean nothing here. Our time is measured differently. I explained that, Sarah."

"Well, I never really dated much. I was…" Sorrow filled her eyes and she turned away from him.

"Scared? Uninterested?" he asked, his voice light. Then, huskier, more darkly, "Wounded?"

"Yes," she whispered. "Wounded. I knew that the boys at school would never understand, especially when I couldn't explain everything…"

"So you didn't bother." Jareth smiled.

"Did you?" Sarah asked, hating herself for asking something she wasn't sure she wanted to hear.

"Oh, I bothered." A wicked smile flickered on his lips while his eyes grew hot with pleasant memories. "Lots of women." It felt like a punch to the gut. "But it didn't help much," he sighed. Jareth walked over to her, catfooted, and wrapped his arms around her. He kissed her hair, her neck, her ear, her cheek-any available skin. Then he moved to her modestly clad shoulders, letting his eyes dip down to scope out the shadows under her slightly open robe.

Sarah closed her eyes and felt Jareth's lips and hands as they slid over her. She wanted to learn from him, now, so much. But she wasn't ready for this lesson. The realization came to her on a gasp.

Whirling around in Jareth's arms, she pressed against him and kissed his lips. Jareth felt a surge of triumph and pressed his advantage, but Sarah managed to bring the kiss to a natural conclusion without giving in.

"I realize," she said softly to Jareth, "that I want this, but I'm not…ready - I hate that phrase - yet. Desires that we're not old enough to understand or explore are part of being human, and yet without those desires coming upon us, we can never grow." The sound of slowly cracking glass surrounded them. Sarah spoke more quickly. "What I want and what I can handle are two different things right now. I want to…more than you know. You're too much for me right now, Jareth."

"Soon," he said as the cracks ran up the sides of the crystal room, beginning to meet with other cracks.

"Soon," she whispered back, her eyes promising more than she realized to a man who read wishes like children's books. Sarah wished she were ready, but wishing did not always make it so - not even here among the enchantments he commanded.

The room faded and Sarah felt the lingering touch of Jareth's gloves on her cheek as tears began to form in her eyes.

"Why do realizations like this hurt so much?" she whispered. "I should be used to things like this now, but why does it hurt?" Then answer came from within her, from the place she recognized from her last trip here. It hurt for the same reason the confusion was so constant last time: This time, she was here, it was real, and it was happening to her, not a character in a book.

Inside the little cottage, Sarah woke, her throat tight with the desire to cry. She pulled out her booklet, wrote the realization and the tally, and looked at the scores.

"I'm not even to the first wall yet," she despaired. After a moment of feeling wonderfully sorry for herself, Sarah snorted and got up. "Well, sitting around never got anything done, and if I'm to solve this thing before I run out of time, I need to get to it. Now, this is the center of this maze, and there are arches all around, which means I'm inside a small labyrinth, and there has to be a way out from here. I came from over there," she looked behind her at the door due south of the basket tree, "so I need to pick the door with…with…Damn."

Sarah looked around the horizon, hoping to see something helpful. She did.

"The door that faces the castle and the center of the labyrinth. I've got to keep travelling in a constant line, even if the path meanders along. Okay, here we go…"

It wasn't until after she was well into the miniature labyrinth that she discovered she was wearing a rich red brocade robe, and nothing else.

After walking and negotiating twists and turns by the dozens, Sarah saw an exit onto an island in the center of a clear, blue lake. On this island, a man and woman were arguing. The man was dressed as a knight, and the woman vacillated between ancient crone and gorgeous maiden. Behind them was a hut, not what a knight was expected to call home. The woman, though, could call it home as a crone, but not as a lady. The age bouncing started making Sarah dizzy.

"Who are you?" the man snapped as Sarah began walking over.

Sarah snorted and muttered, "Men!" under her breath before replying, "I'm Sarah. I just came from the minature labyrinth," she glanced over her shoulder, and, true to form, nothing was there except water. In front of her, in the distance, the castle still stood.

"Ah." The man and woman looked at each other, then at her. "Well then, perhaps you can help me," the man said.

"That depends on what you need help with," Sarah replied, watching as the woman flashed back and forth more rapidly now. She shook her head and tried not to look in the woman's direction again.

"My wife has offered me a choice - I can be the husband of a crone in public and be a laughingstock, but in private she will be young and beautiful; or I can be married to the beauty in public, but in private she will be old and ugly. It doesn't matter which I choose, because both ways I lose!" The man's voice went from reasonable to yelling. By the time he finished yelling, he was facing his wife.

"Oh." Sarah stopped and looked at the man. "Okay, I have a question for you."

"What is it?" he asked, his shoulders slumped in misery.

"Have you bothered to ask what she wants, or are you just going to pick and choose to suit yourself?" Sarah was trying not to grin. She loved this story.

The man opened his mouth to reply, then stopped. Then he blinked several times and mumbled. "Damn, why didn't I think of that?"

Sarah smirked, then, in an imitation of Karen at her most righteous, chirped sweetly, "Probably because you were thinking with your pride…the one below your belt. If you think with what's between your ears, your life will be easier."

The crone-beauty-crone was snickering. "Ain't it the truth!"

Sarah continued smirking at the man while he glowered at her. Her smile changed to one of real happiness when the man turned to his wife and said, "Darling, I'd rather you chose. Whatever makes thee happy, I will abide and be glad of it."

The woman danced in triumph around her husband and then threw her arms around him. "Then I choose beauty without and beauty within! For, my love, I would never displease thee with a spiteful heart."

Sarah sighed as the man kissed his wife and mumbled, "Are you taking notes, Jareth?"

"Copious amounts, I assure you," he paused, then hissed, "Sarahhh." The word on the wind made her shiver and, as the man and wife walked into their hut, Sarah felt the island moving. Once the door shut, the hut disappeared and she was on the far side of the lake.

The wind whirled around her in a caress. "That's two walls, sweetheart," his voice rode the wind. "After the third, the difficulty begins to rise."

Sarah smiled into the wind and let the spectral fingers run through her hair. Without replying, she began to walk down a path and thought of walls that people choose to create between them.

After several minutes of walking, the path emptied onto a wide, open courtyard. The first few stones in front of her were coloured differently from the ones around them. Sarah wracked her brain to figure out where she'd seen something like this before. It had been in a book, for history class. But it wasn't her textbook, it was research. Research led her to castles, which took her to chapels, which landed her squarely on-

“Labyrinth!" she cried, opening her eyes.

"A traditional labyrinth, one that was found in churches and holy places." Sarah sighed and thought before she began walking. It was critical to play close attention to the intricate curves and follow them exactly, even though she could, technically, just walk right to the center and be done with it. The labyrinths the holy places held weren't for a physical journey, they were for insight into a problem or into one's soul. Since there wasn't a real problem, Sarah wondered where her thoughts would lead her as she studied herself and walked a careful path. With each turn of the lines, her thoughts were supposed to turn to a deeper place within.

Now, what had happened recently that she needed to be sure of? What did she need to understand about herself and her life? What frightened her?

Sarah began to walk, and as she walked, she asked herself questions, answering each with the short turns and asking another question of herself as she walked onto the longer pathways. There were no traps within this ancient form. There didn't need to be. The traps and the solutions were all within herself.

When she reached the center of the labyrinth, Sarah closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I have discovered the reason I was scared, Jareth. I'm not strong enough for you yet. It may be years before I am your equal, but, right now, you could overwhelm me completely. I love you, I want to be with you, and I want to give you myself freely - but I will never give you my mind. That is mine, and mine alone. Right now, I fear your strength because you could make me forget that. If I forget that, I'm not myself anymore, and you don't want me or love me - do you still love me?" The wind answered with a gentle caress on her cheek. "Well, if I weren't me, would you still?"

A soft laugh and another gentle caress, this time against her lips, gave her the answer.

"Work your way out, sweet Sarah," called the wind. "I wait for you. The third wall is conquered."

Sarah smiled and began walking the intricate paths back out of the labyrinth, being careful to continue moving along the out-bound path.

As the sun was setting, Sarah came to a table laid out for her. The landscape was unremarkable, but pleasant. Without fear, with a feeling of hope and peace, Sarah sat down to a nice meal of stew and cider.

***

Jareth watched as Sarah ate and drank and prepared to sleep in the field. His eyes were worried. So far, the labyrinth was lulling her into a sense of security. This was to be expected. Darker times were ahead. Jareth knew his part of these temptations was about to change, and even as he rejoiced in the darkness, he knew she would grow white with fear and want when she confronted him.

As complex as Sarah had become over the past two years, she was still young and unformed compared to him. Darkness and light travelled in Jareth in equal measure, for he was a king. To taste the sweetness, she must also face the dread he could inspire.

"Sleep well, Sarah, for I fear you will not do so again during this contest."

The crystal faded to an ordinary sphere again, and Jareth walked over to his high tower to watch the night fall across his beloved kingdom.

During the night, Sarah dreamed.

***

Queen Mab smiled as she watched the dreamer. Oh, this one was rich with dreams. She would be so sweet to taste. A whirl of activity readied her carriage, for Queen Mab ruled the outer third of Jareth's realm as his proxy. She controlled the first nine gates, and it suited her to do so. A being filled with whimsy and a keen eye for desires and weaknesses, Mab was well-suited to her task. With a flourish and a wicked laugh, Queen Mab stopped her tiny horses on Sarah's closed eye and licked the base of an eyelash.

Sweet, yes, and ripe for longing. What dreams could Mab bring to this woman-child, seeking to hold one of Faerie's most elusive sovereigns? What dreams did she cherish, what nightmares did she fear?

What would she cling to when she began to dream of her dark desires and how greatly she cherished the man who embodied all?

As Sarah slept, a queen plotted and planned while a King watched and waited.

Chapter Text

Sarah rose, refreshed. The sun was peeking over the labyrinth walls, the music was wafting across the land on the wind, and she was…dressed in a fancy housecoat and barefoot.

"Okay, so things get weird here. Not like I didn't know that, but, honestly! Why the sex-kitten routine?" She spoke to Jareth, and he answered her. He was behind her. Again.

"Because it looks so delicious on you, sweetheart." The grin he gave her was toothy and wicked as he leaned over he shoulder and leered for a moment. Then he straightened and became much more businesslike. "Did you want a conversation, or were you just spouting off words to the air?"

Sarah shrugged, "Six of one, half-a-dozen of the other." She stood and stretched, a full-body stretch that made her robe cling to her. Jareth appreciated the view. "I didn't expect you to answer, but I knew that you might. What's up with this thing, anyway? Can I get a change of clothing?"

"Mm." Jareth studied her, enjoying how her mood shifted from mildly confused to irritated. "It is quite fetching, however not what you need today." He grinned at her. "And what do I get in exchange for a new wardrobe for you, my dear?"

Sarah snorted and said, "Well, I can safely say you don't get to cop a feel." When Jareth gave her a look of confusion, she shook her head. "Never mind." She thought for a long minute. "You get to…eat breakfast with me?"

A rich laugh spilled from Jareth's lips before he could stop it. "So you'd have me clothe you and feed you, too, with only the promise of dining with you? My dear, you are either a delightful tease or a delusional chit."

"I choose C, a little bit of both with a helping of 'she who's running the labyrinth and requires more than a housecoat and hunger to do so." Sarah's voice was teasing, but her words, Jareth knew, were not.

"Oh, very well," he said, waving his hand. "Breakfast first and then we'll discuss payment for services rendered."

Wisely, Sarah chose not to push the issue, but instead accepted that Jareth was being generous with his time and power to, not help her, but get her started on her way. Jareth produced a crystal and spun it across his hands. Sarah watched, entranced. She had practiced for hours a day, but the ease and delicacy with which he moved the crystal made her ache. For what, she wasn't quite willing to say-but she knew she wanted to be both hands and crystal at the same time.

When Jareth tossed the crystal, it flew a little ways from them and landed on the sweet green grass. A table laden with food and drink sprang from the heart of the crystal.

"Is it real?" Sarah breathed, no little of the enchantment reaching deep into her dreams of magic.

"As real as anything here," Jareth replied, extending a hand for hers. When she placed her hand on his, he led her to the table and bade her sit on the delicate chair that had come into existence with the table. Jareth took the stronger, more regal chair, and smiled as he watched her case the table. She looked ready to pounce on the meal, and he was more than willing to let her begin.

"The lady breaks bread first," he prompted, his voice light and teasing. "Or was that not covered in your classes?"

Sarah started and smiled at him when he finished speaking. "No, we didn't exactly have manners classes in school - etiquette, I think it's called. My mother and stepmother are both artists, so I'm more well-versed with the drama of the table, not the delicate ins and outs of it."

"Then this is your first lesson, my dear. When dining privately, the lady breaks bread first - and privately means in a familiar setting with people one considers close. During a state function, the King will break bread, followed by the men. When the Queen breaks bread, then the women will do so."

"A bit archaic," Sarah said after taking a sip of what looked and smelled and tasted like coffee.

"Perhaps, but the symbolism is important."

"So the King and the men provide the feast, therefore they get to eat first? Sounds more like a pack of animals than a state dinner." Sarah was eating quickly, and mostly neatly, but she was also taking enough time to actually converse with Jareth.

"Ah, but the Queen is the one who controls the comfort of the court. None may take a sip of any beverage or even a sauce until she does. To drink before the Queen can be a death sentence. To flavour the courses, even if the sauces and seasonings are provided, until the Queen permits such liberties, is a breech as well. The king may be the one to provide the feast, but it is the queen who provides the sustenance for the spirit and the pleasures of the flesh." He grinned when Sarah gave him a sharp look. "Not quite that literally, my dear."

"Hmph." The little sound of disapproval was entertaining. Jareth hoped to hear more, but she forestalled him. "And for you, who has no queen?"

"We do not have formal dinners at my castle, not often. In every court that has a queen, though, that is how the balance of power rests."

Sarah thought about this for a little bit, enjoying a long minute of drinking coffee and considering Jareth's words. Then she began to giggle. Jareth raised an eyebrow in question and she snickered, "Like the t-shirt says, if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

Jareth blinked, then began to chuckle. "An apt way of putting it."

A long moment passed and the conversation turned to other things, such as Sarah's enjoyment of the basket tree and the dream she had shared with him. She refused to play coy, but she was not thoughtless enough to let him take more liberties than he had, even if they were only verbal. When they had finished the repast, Sarah rose, Jareth a moment afterward. The table disappeared and Sarah was left with nothing between her and her goal except a red robe.

Jareth smiled wolfishly and took a step toward Sarah, only to be forestalled when she raised her hand and frowned.

"Jareth, is that all I will be in your court? The woman who provides pleasure and spirit to the castle and guests? Is that the prize at the end of this journey?"

Stepping forward, taking her in his arms, and gently brushing her hair from her temple, Jareth answered. "No, sweet Sarah. That is only one aspect of being my Queen."

"You can't say anything more because I'm supposed to figure it all out by the time I reach your castle," Sarah sighed and leaned her head against his shoulder. "Damn, I knew it was more than just 'solve the labyrinth, get the guy'. You should come with a warning label, Jareth." The last she grumbled, giving him a look that was not pleasant.

"Oh, but I do, sweetheart," he drawled, leaning down to whisper, "it's King."

"Silly of me," she breathed in return. The touch of his lips on her ear made her yearn for what had begun in the cottage. "Forgot that part."

Jareth's chuckle faded quickly as he captured her lips with his. The kiss went on and on, until Sarah's head spun and she was lightheaded with the desire to keep on going until the mysteries of man and woman were revealed. When Jareth lifted his lips from hers, she moaned softly, her head still tipped back, eyes closed and lips open.

Grudgingly, Sarah opened her eyes and sighed. She didn't say anything, but then she wasn't exactly coherent yet.

"Not even a thank you?" Jareth teased, his eyes filled with mischief.

"For the kiss?" Sarah managed, giving him a smoky smile.

"Mm, no," he replied. "If you keep looking at me like that, you're going to get much more than a kiss, Sarah."

"For breakfast?" she teased, humour coming back into her eyes, replacing some of the desire that lurked there.

"Again, no, and I'll only warn you once more, my dear, in all your time."

It was a warning Sarah knew she should heed. She couldn't think of what else to thank him for, so she stared at him blankly. Jareth sighed, stepped back, and gestured for her to look down.

Sarah blinked to see she was wearing a pair of black pants, not quite skin-tight, but certainly not loose, a pair of knee-high boots, and a white shirt with a black leather vest.

"Oh." She smiled at him and said sweetly, "Thank you, Jareth."

"You're welcome," he said, smiling in return. "Now, your next challenge is waiting, my dear."

"And time?" she asked, knowing his answer would not disappoint.

"Can do whatever the hell it wants - you've still got plenty of memories, realizations, and lessons left. For now."

Sarah nodded, understanding the warning in his last two words. She had not received help from him, simply gifts and some conversation. What's more, she knew better than to ask for more.

"Would you like to walk with me today, Jareth," she asked, nodding toward her route.

"I would; however, business of the kingdom will not wait for me today." He smiled and kissed her again. "Enjoy your day, Sarah."

When he vanished, Sarah sighed and began to walk to the next challenge, whatever that may be.

It wasn't far, actually. Before her, a smooth wooden floor stretched out. Sarah couldn't figure out what it was for, so she studied it a bit longer. There was something here to trap her, make her doubt or want to give up, but she could not figure out what it was.

So far, she had not confronted anything serious. In her book, the heroine had already defeated two extremely physical obstacles, was the target of unhappy rivals, and had a few of Jareth's subjects working against her.

"Yeah, and my book didn't have bushes that thought their twigs and berries were for more than producing dinner for me!" She paused. "Then again, my book didn't have bushes that thought at all!" Shaking her head, she knew she would face something here, but what could a simple wooden floor do to her?

Taking a breath, Sarah strode forward. The instant her foot touched the floor she felt it. An audience. The stares of an unfriendly, bored, heckling audience. The urge to throw up nearly overwhelmed her. She forced herself to take another step. Mirrors appeared around the floor, and within those shining walls were mocking faces. Jeering faces that she knew well. The boys she was too busy writing to date, the girls she was too busy studying to gossip with, the teachers she was too busy learning to listen to. Hundreds of faces, some young, some old.

Falling to her knees, Sarah moaned. She saw herself in the mirror, dressed for the horrid school play that she had been forced to take part in her senior year. These memories were too near the surface to ignore. Sarah shuddered as the entire event began playing out again.

The lead actress, a vicious little witch who was dating the center for the basketball team, was convinced Sarah was trying to horn in on her relationship with the popular jock. Sarah was tutoring him in English because he was dyslexic, but other than that, they were simply polite to each other in the way of high school students. Sarah played a blind girl in a production written by the Creative Writing IV class, and she was utterly humiliated on stage. The furniture had been moved, and Sarah's costume, a rather skimpy set of rags, had been improperly laced by one of the girl's friends. When her top had come undone, Sarah hadn't been able to catch it - she was trying to catch herself after tripping over the furniture.

And here she was, replaying the entire event in front of the entire town. Everyone was there, from her parents to the neighbour's dog - literally, he was part of the play - and she had managed to choke out her lines after order, and her costume, were restored.

As she had on that night, Sarah removed her blindfold - it was only in the mirror-and looked for familiar faces in the crowd. When she found them, Karen and her father, they wore looks that were sneering with the rest of the audience. It was the taunting from Karen that snapped Sarah into moving.

"Clumsy girl! Not a shred of grace in her! Look-flat as a board, too!"

"NO!" Sarah snarled, standing. It took effort. "I will not be humiliated like this again." Sarah drew her head back and stood tall. In the mirror, her half-naked image did the same. Bravado could be showy, but it wasn't deep enough to move her more than a few steps.

The sound of Karen's voice came to her again, this time in a much different tone.

"When everything goes haywire, and it will on stage, just suck it up and go on like you mean to do it. YOU are the queen of the boards, and nobody and nothing is going to take that from you. Fake it until you make it - that's the way to get through the rough patches when everybody's eyes are on you and you know you're screwing it up!" Karen had grinned at her with a wicked look. "And if you're showing the goods at the same time, well, it'll spice up the dance!"

Sarah had been shocked, had shrieked, "KAREN!" but had laughed along with her, beginning to understand why Karen's audacity had not quite made the transfer to wife-and-mother successfully. She was, however, a strong and graceful woman when things went wrong.

Standing still, Sarah strained to hear the music from the castle - it seemed there was always music coming from there - and listened for the rhythm on the wind. There. Ghosting through the laughter, teasing the swirls of wind that made Sarah shiver with cold, even though the real Sarah was completely clothed. The mirror-girl was cold because she was clutching her dress to cover her, and Sarah groaned when she discovered that she was feeling everything that girl in the mirror did.

Slowly, standing still, Sarah was able to tune out the sounds of the crowd and pick out the music from the air. She began to hum in little snatches of song, then to make up longer sections of a song, based on the bits she could hear. Between what she could hear and the larger parts she made to fit the beat, it was a tune Karen loved. Sarah had danced to it before, with Karen, and the thought of dancing with her stepmother now made the crowd fade away. Sarah knew how to dance. Over the past two years, she and Karen had bonded over books, Toby, shopping, cooking, and dancing. Sarah wasn't hopeless, but Karen was a goddess.

Sarah hummed and began to sway with the music in her mind. The mirror girl began to hum with her, not quite ready to forget the crowd. As Sarah swayed and hummed, the girl began to get stronger. Soon, they were moving together.

Sarah began to sing in a low, husky voice that matched the pain of her predicament. The though that Jareth could see her and may well be watching her, no matter what he said about the kingdom, made her almost lose her confidence.

"I see so many golden women;
When they walk their feet don't touch the ground."

She moved lightly in a few steps to the left, letting her hands and head trail back to the right, the reluctant admission from one stepping aside to let a more beautiful woman pass.

"How I want, how I want to deserve you."
Her arms went out as she leaned forward, the supplicant.
"But me, I'm always out of rhythm."

Sarah dropped her arms, her voice gaining confidence and volume as she turned and began to make full steps back, then around in a turn. Sarah felt "her" costume slipping, but made no move to correct it. She heard the faint strains of music around her, but figured she was deep in her own mind, dancing her way through the pain.

"My needs too demanding, too proud."

She drew herself up in a chin-up, shoulders-back pose. Her costume slid dangerously close to slipping off her as she stepped forward and the suddenly whipped her arms around herself, bending low at the waist.

"How I want, how I want to deserve you."

The music sped up in her mind, the strength of the cry came through in her movements. Hands gripping the costume, she pulled it up and away from her, revealing her own skin and falling to her knees.

"I didn't want you to see me like this.
The light of the dawn can be cruel."

From her knees she reached up, even as she pushed forward with her feet. Moving was becoming easier, and she was lost in the song.

"How I want, how I want to deserve you."

Again, she drew in, only to explode upward in the next moment, voice and body crying out in the next lines,

"And if I could be granted a wish,
I'd shine in your eye like a jewel.
How I want to deserve you."

From wide, aching, flitting moves that sparkled even as they drew out the pain of being unworthy, she bent, her face in her hands, looking up slowly. She was nude from the waist up, and, despite the cold air tormenting her reflection, Sarah didn't care. She had more important things to do-like get through this stronger than she had gone into it.

"I would die for you.
Could you ever love me that much?"

She reached out, this time, lifting the material of her skirt in her hands.

"How I want, how I want to deserve you."

Keeping the material of the skirt in her hands, she danced on.

"Yes, you tell me this,
And I want to believe that it's true.
Aah, how I want, how I want to deserve you.
I didn't want you to see me like this."

Her movements and fingers had loosened the skirt until it was dangerously low on her hips.

"I'm weak and I fight like a fool.
How I want, how I want to deserve you.
And if I could be granted a wish,
I'd shine in your eye like a jewel.
How I want to deserve you."

She was clutching the discarded costume to her. She swung it around her shoulders and spread her arms wide, the material forming multicoloured wings behind her. She suited her dance to the words that seemed to consume her now, the beat that would not let her rest until she had won, or danced herself to death.

"If I could be your angel
I'd trade in my arms for some wings
To keep you close to me.
And if I could trade my voice
For the silence I know that you need.
Aaaah, how I want, how I want to deserve you."

The aching in the last line was now reflected by only her body, for she flung the costume away from her as she rose, heedless of anything but the music.

"I didn't want you to see me like this.
So frightened of losing so soon.
How I want, how I want to deserve you.
And if I've caught love in a grip,
Just tell me and I'll shake it loose.
How I want to deserve you.
Oh, na na na na na.
Oh, ohhhhh.
How I want to deserve you.
Na na na na na na na.
Whoa, ohhhhh."

Sarah reached the end of the long, wide, wooden floor and stood, shaking from exertion, but proud as a queen. The music faded slowly as she stood and panted, staring at the Sarah in the mirror, never noticing the man who had joined the crowd in the mirror, hungry eyes following every impassioned movement of her body.

"How I want to deserve you.
Oh, I want to deserve you.
Na na na na na na . . ."

A long moment of silence fell as Sarah let the dance and the experience settle into her fully. She had survived this much more gracefully than that damned play, but it wasn’t easy. The lyrics, though, struck her as more than coincidental to this wall. They were needed, as much as the deeper understanding that wanting wasn’t being.

"I will deserve you, Jareth," she whispered, her voice defiant and proud. She moved her eyes from her own proud, nude figure to the crowd that was now silent and still. She saw the correlation to what she would need to have as Jareth's Queen. Closing her eyes, she let the next realization come to her. She lifted the book from her pocket, not in the least surprised to see that she, the real Sarah, was fully clothed. With her reflection standing proud and strong, Sarah tallied up two memories and one realization.

"I must always be the Queen, and eyes will always be watching me. Even when I am alone, there will be an audience. I can never show my humiliation, no matter the cause or the circumstances. As Jareth's Queen, I will be unshakable." She looked down at the paper and shook her head. "That's close, but not quite there. When everyone is watching, every move is deliberate, even when it's not. Conversely, when no one is watching, even moments of…of…abandon must be deliberated." Sarah snorted. "Now I can see several situations where that just won't pan out, Jareth. Somehow, I doubt that sex is going to be staged like a movie set."

As the boards faded from under her feet and the mirrors slowly shattered, the voice of the devil's advocate whispered to her in that so-familiar rasp, "What ever would make you think that, dearest?"

Sarah opened her mouth to answer, then thought the better of it. After what she'd just seen her reflection do, well, Jareth might just decide to demonstrate. Sweaty and still recovering from the effects of memory, dance, and the refusal to back down that somehow overwhelmed her in this place, Sarah began to walk again, this time next to a little forest stream.

"Was that, um, dance a wall or a challenge?" Sarah called out after several miles of following a river path.

"A wall," said a voice from the left side of the path. "And quite an enjoyable one, too."

Sarah turned and saw Jareth in all his glory. She smiled and walked over to him. "So, you liked that, huh?" She couldn't quite keep from blushing. When he gave her a hot look, she couldn't resist adding, "You should see the stripteases Karen showed me."

Jareth blinked. "Your…stepmother showed you how to dance a striptease?"

Laughing, Sarah clarified. "It's an old record we had called 'How to Strip for Your Husband'. Dad was with Toby all day while Karen had classes. We were at the studio, and there was a horrible storm. It was so bad that nobody showed up for class, so Karen decided I'd get the benefit of all her experience onstage. We were in leotards and she showed me the movements with a scarf." Sarah grinned. "No stripping involved." Sarah sighed, thinking of Karen's talent. "I also got a private recital. Karen may say she's an old lady now, but she can still dance when she wants to. She even played Broadway and was in some videos made for some of the most famous productions - Cats, Gypsy, Phantom of the Opera, A Chorus Line…" Sarah's voice faded out.

"She sounds like a remarkable woman," Jareth added, knowing those productions because of his love of music. Several of the songs had a good beat, even if the lyrics weren't all to his taste.

"It took me a long time to admit it, but, yeah," Sarah nodded, "she is."

They walked in silence until they saw a large rock in the path.

"It is here I must leave you, sweet Sarah." He paused. "Do let me know if you're going to lose any part of your outfit for this."

Before Sarah could object to his ever-so-male expression, Jareth had vanished.

Chapter Text

Sarah stared at the rock, wondering what the big deal was. There was nothing obvious about it, nothing that shouted "important", but that, again, was simply part of the labyrinth itself.

Challenge or wall, she didn't know which, but she was ready for whatever it required.

Sarah walked closer to the stone and saw writing on it. The words were in English. Sarah had the sneaking suspicion that the words would be in whatever language the runner spoke.

"Here lie your desires. Touch me if you dare," Sarah read aloud. She frowned. It wasn't much in the way of a warning. No fancy riddles hinted darkly about dangers or what the road ahead would hold. "Okay, Jareth, I'm guessing that asking you what's going on is out of the question, so just listen for a bit, okay? If I'm wrong, there's no need to do anything dramatic, like sling lightning-bolts my way."

"Not my style," came the voice on the wind. "I won't speak for the Sky King."

"Oh." Sarah blinked, then got back to her original line of thought. "Desires and a dare. Either this rock is going to make me live out my desires, in which case you're in for a workout, or it's going to turn them into nightmares, which would really suck because, well, see first option."

The wind chuckled.

"But there's the dare part that doesn't quite jive. I desire you, to be your Queen, but I don't see how that's a dare - other than the whole 'run the labyrinth' thing, that is." Sarah bit her lip. "How can desires hurt?"

The wind held its breath.

"No help, huh?" She sighed. "Sometimes you're really annoying, you know that?"

"I've been told it's one of my better qualities," teased the wind. "The choice is yours, Sarah. Do you touch the stone, or do you not?"

Sarah groaned. "What is it about this place that makes me take up every dare and then demand more?"

"You're blaming my labyrinth for your own character flaws? Really, Sarah, I thought we'd gotten beyond that last time." Jareth's voice chided her, and she recalled the constant refrain of "But that's not fair!" that she had cried when things didn't go her way.

"Oh, we are, but I'm guessing it's something in the air." She grinned and finished. "Twisted, just like you."

"And you wouldn't want anything else," came the reply, suggestive and taunting at the same time.

"No, I suppose not," she said, thinking of her book. By now, the second day, the heroine was deep inside the labyrinth, searching for the key to the castle, which was hidden where no man could reach it and no woman could see it. It was a bitch of a riddle she'd made, but this was…just weird.

Before she forgot, Sarah took out her tally sheet and marked down 2 memories. "That's the price for chatting with you instead of getting my work done. Off with you now, Goblin King. I'm sure you've got other things to deal with."

"Mm. Indeed. It would seem I have a hero in a village not a day's travel from you. He's done very well, and I must reward the boy. Any ideas?"

Sarah shrugged. "I suppose you could grant him one dream come true - a pleasant one, Jareth. I know how sick you can be."

"Sick?" came the squawk of protest. "My dear, I may be deviant, twisted, and perverse, but I'm never sick!" The huffy silence from the winds made Sarah giggle. Stepping a bit closer, Sarah lifted both hands to the rock. With a light, open heart, she touched the stone.

And nothing happened.

Sarah lifted her hands from the stone and looked for any other instructions. If there were any other instructions, they were well hidden.

"Well, I guess that's it," she muttered, shaking her head and walking around the stone. She looked over every side of it, even going so far as to climb the tree closest to it in order to see if there was anything carved on the top.

Nothing.

Shaking her head, Sarah put her feet on the path to the inner rings of the labyrinth.

***

Queen Mab cackled. Oh, she loved her Stone of Desires Dark and Light.

Sarah had just become her own worst enemy.

***

Inside his castle, Jareth shuddered. She had touched the stone. The fifth wall was passed, and now Sarah would endure more from him than even she knew she wanted.

He almost pitied the girl.

Chapter Text

Jareth appeared out of the air shortly after Sarah passed the stone.

"Congratulations," he said, keeping his voice light. Inside he was screaming warnings and gloating with perverse glee. "You passed the stone and the fifth wall."

"That was a wall?" Sarah scrunched up her nose. "It wasn't exactly difficult."

"Are we forgetting something, my dear?" he asked, his voice amused at her confidence.

"I don't think so-o-o-ohhh no!" she cried. "Dammit! Nothing is ever what it seems. Dammit, dammit, dammit!"

"Such language," Jareth mimed shock. "What would your mother say?"

"A lot worse, if she were in my place. You'd be blushing." Sarah's mouth went on autopilot while her mind raced. How could she forget that the simplest things here were always some of the most difficult? Or dangerous? "The stone said 'Here lie your desires. Touch me if you dare.' It wasn't a dare to touch the stone to find my desires, it was something else."

"Well, what was it?" He moved closer to her, watching the play of thought on her face. She didn't realize it, but her thoughts were always reflected on her lovely face.

"I…don't know. And right now, that scares me, Jareth." Stepping closer still to Jareth, Sarah put her arms around his waist and laid her cheek on his chest. "I think I just screwed up. Big time."

Savoring the feel of her arms around him, Jareth returned the favour and smiled against her hair. "No, my dear. You must pass each wall. That one is very simple to pass."

"But it's probably dangerous," she shifted to look up at him. She really shouldn't have hugged him, but she had wanted to. And want was a desire. "Scratch that," she said, staring at his lips. "I know it's dangerous." Her voice was soft, her eyes a bit shadowed by her thoughts.

"How could you know that?" he wondered aloud. He took advantage of the moment and slid his lips over hers.

"I…Well," she didn't want to say anything more because she didn't want him to think worse of her.

"Does little Sarah have dark desires?" he teased, his voice low and filled with wickedness. Lips brushing her ear made her shudder and he teased. "Did she play naughty games with the mortal boys at home?"

When Sarah made a little sound, it burned in Jareth's ears like a plea of guilty. He pulled back from her and looked down. "Sarah?" There was a wealth of questions in his voice, and no little amusement.

"Not…exactly." Hedging again, Sarah tried not to think about what had changed in the past two years. "I didn't…date."

"Date? That lovely word that replaced woo and court?" Jareth's eyebrows raised. "Was it just casual sex? An exploration?" He knew more than a bit about that.

"Well, not…exactly." Her refusal to admit one way or another finally pushed Jareth to his limits with patience.

"Out with it, Sarah. Tell me, are you or are you not untouched?" Jareth's voice demanded answers. When Sarah stepped out of his arms, she saw his face and stance were implacable. She would not get to avoid this conversation, and she dearly wanted to.

"Well, not…untouched." The words rushed out and Sarah hoped he'd let it lie.

"Virgin?" An eyebrow raised.

"Um…I think so?" Sarah saw his eyes narrow and winced.

"How can you not be sure of that? It's a zero-one proposition. Binary. No halfway points. Either you are, or you are not. It's like being pregnant. Or…or…sentient." The frustration in his voice made Sarah cringe. Then she twigged to something he said.

"What would you know about being pregnant?" Sarah asked, the image in her mind more than a bit disturbing.

"What? No - oh, don't be ridiculous." Jareth snapped. "And we're talking about you, here."

"Fine," Sarah stepped back, lifted her chin, and told him exactly what he wanted to know. "About six months ago, I was failing my math class - no, you listen. You asked, here's your answer." The impatient look was tempered only slightly, but he didn't interrupt. "I was grounded, which I didn't mind, since it gave me more time to work on my book, but my parents did mind. I studied and studied and nothing did any good. Not long after I was grounded, my father had guests for dinner, one of the partners from the firm, his wife and son, who was in college studying to be an engineer. The subject of school came up, Karen mentioned the math difficulties, and Steven offered to tutor me in exchange for-"

"Sex?" Jareth was grinning. How he wished he could have been party to that conversation.

Sarah rolled her eyes. "Get what brain you've got above your belt out of the gutter. And no. The exchange was that I would make sure his grammar was correct in his papers and write clear rules for him on when to use commas and why. Apparently, no one had ever really explained that to him, but that's beside the point. We went for a walk after dinner, with the blessings of my folks, and on the walk we worked out a schedule."

"Lovely," Jareth began. Sarah took a step forward and put her hand over his mouth. She continued speaking.

"Every afternoon for the next month I was to go over to his parent's house and get help with my math homework. If he had something due, he'd get it prepared and I'd read it and make notes on what he needed to fix. Between his help and the extra study time, we started joking around. Sometimes, we'd take a walk while he explained something to me and showed me examples. On one of those walks, about a week or so into the given month, we were climbing over by the old quarry. I slipped, he caught me, and I realized he was…attractive." Sarah worked hard to keep the memory from coming alive in her mind. It was a fight that she ultimately lost.

Sarah stared into concerned brown eyes and smiled. "I'm okay."

"You sure? We can turn back," Steven had said, starting to move his hands away from her waist. She stopped him with a hand on his arm. She'd slid his hands closer together, tighter around her. Her breasts brushed against his chest and he smiled. Steven gulped.

"No," she had said. "We can't."

Steven blinked.

"Kiss me, Steven," she said.

"Sarah, you're seventeen and-" His objections were noted.

"And we both know you're going to do it anyway," she finished, dismissing his very valid reasons not to pursue this. "Kiss me."

Steven did, with wandering hands. Her hands had wandered, too. After that, their tutoring sessions had ended more and more frequently with kisses and touches. The sixth week report showed the improvement from a very low F to a high D, almost a C. Her parents insisted she continue the tutoring. One day when they were reviewing to make sure she was ready for a test (she was, she'd made an A on a math test for the first time since elementary school), she'd found him staring at an assignment that had nothing to do with his literature course.

"What's wrong?" she'd asked.

"I'm taking an art class - Anatomy for the Artist. This is the syllabus I'm required to sketch." He looked up at her and smiled. "Finish your review?"

"Yep, here it is." She handed him the paper she'd stuffed in her book and picked up the syllabus he'd discarded. The syllabus listed a series of nudes that he had to sketch, as well as the time in which he was required to finish them. More curious than embarrassed, Sarah waited until he'd checked her paper and asked, "So, who is your model?"

Steven had winced. "I'm thinking of dropping the class."

"Why? You love drawing - or you say you do. This seems like a class you'd enjoy," she gave him a wicked grin. "Admit it."

"Yeah, I mean…the human form is incredible and more than worthy of study, but this is…"

"A course that concentrates on the human form, as a series of studies." Sarah wasn't going to let him wiggle out of this easily. "What is it you really object to?"

"I can't find a good model," he said in a rush. "There are a few women I'd ask, but they're dating or otherwise unavailable. And, face it, Sarah, not many females of any age are willing to shuck it all off and say, ''Do it!' - at least not to me."

Sarah cocked her head to the side and studied Steven. He wasn't the kind of artist that could pull that off. He was more than a bit nerdy, even if he wasn't ugly or out of shape. The attractions that Steven had were not immediately apparent, which was what Sarah had appreciated. Let someone else have the star player, she wanted someone who would challenge her. Steven had, and did. And she enjoyed the way he touched her.

"So I'll pose for you," she said just as he took a sip of his drink. A glorious spray decorated the table.

"You…can't," he choked. "You're only seventeen-"

"Eighteen in three weeks," she corrected, "and the nudes aren't all full-body. In fact, there are several on here that you could do right now. Like this one," she pointed to a section that listed the study of the hand at rest. "See?" she said, wiggling her fingers at him. "Look, ma, no clothes."

Steven thought for a minute. Sarah wasn't sure, but she was almost certain that his answer would be yes.

"All right," he said, his eyes suddenly warm and enjoying the thought. "In that case…we'll start with your hands and work our way through this one body part at a time."

Sarah gave him a smug smile. "And my review?"

"Perfect." He held out his hand. "Let's go into my studio and I'll set up the lighting for you." Sarah stood up and took his hand. She'd seen his studio before, and it was a comfortable, airy room with a lot of natural light. When they had gone upstairs and into the room, he stopped her. "But before we get started…" One kiss had led to another, and hands were roaming freely.

The hands were sketched that afternoon, and he started on her feet. Over the next three weeks, Sarah's clothing had been discarded, bit by bit. It hadn't bothered her or made her nervous. As her clothes peeled off, so had layers of her inhibitions, at least with Steven. The poses had run from simple, delicately modest ones to extremely explicit.

The assignments left a great deal of room for interpretation, and one sketch had been of the play of skin and tendon where the inner thigh stretched outward. The sketch was excellent, and Steven had a novel way of inducing tension. Sitting on his desk, Sarah had kept her legs spread wide. Whenever she started to relax or the tension faded from the joint, Steven would tease her with his fingers or lips. By the time he had finished the sketch, Sarah had been whimpering and wired for sound. Paper put aside, Steven went about relieving the tension he had induced with those same lips and had then been able to sketch what was listed as "a boneless pose". Another listed item was "private moments". Sarah had driven him crazy by running her hands over her body. That had been the last assignment, and they were close to completing the acts she had suggested with her fingers, Steven just pressing into her, when the front door to the house slammed shut, three hours early.

"Stevie!" yelled the lady of the house. "Aunt Marie is here for the week! Bring Sarah down!" Their parents were under the impression they had fallen in love, which was not even remotely close to true, as Karen now knew.

Cursing and scrambling for clothing, Sarah and Steven been forced to stop short of their goal. Nor had they managed to get back to that pleasant pastime - after Aunt Marie's visit, he'd gone to see other relatives across the country. Not long after that, Sarah had graduated from high school. They hadn't seen each other since.

"…and that's why I'm not exactly sure," Sarah finished, leaving Jareth staring at her. He had covered his lips with his fingertips several minutes earlier. Sarah had stopped holding his mouth shut and had begun pacing. When she turned to look at him, she saw his lips twitching behind his fingers. "It's not funny," she snapped, sending him off into gales of laughter.

Sarah stomped off, cursing. Several minutes down the path, Jareth had appeared, quite recovered, and walked beside her. She was still angry with him.

"Technically, since the hymen was not breeched, you are still a virgin. A knowledgeable little virgin, but a virgin nonetheless." He glanced down at her as they walked. "It does leave one question, though. Why weren't you ready in my bedroom the other night?"

Sarah shook her head, she did not want to explain that, but she knew she could get him to leave it alone if she just answered him quickly and precisely. "Because you're not Steven and Steven wasn't someone I was attached to. We liked each other, and each thought the other was attractive, but I didn't really care about him as anything other than a friend." She looked up at Jareth. "He didn't matter."

Studying her eyes carefully, Jareth saw the truth of the statement. "Oh, your eyes can be cruel," he whispered. It gives me hope that you will survive this, he thought. Wrapping an arm around her waist, Jareth stopped Sarah and dragged him to her, taking her lips in a passionate kiss, one hand sliding up to fondle her. She had admitted much, had done more than he thought possible, and so she was making herself more accessible to him. He wanted her. He knew she wanted him. Something in him compelled him to warn her, if only once.

When he released her, he whispered in her ear. "No, I'm not your little Steven. I will not always be gentle with you. In such a situation, I would have taken you and to hell with the rest."

Sarah shuddered at the promise and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, he was gone.

***

"Mab!" Jareth called, appearing in her private suite. "Come to me!"

The door opened and Queen Mab, in her natural form, strode over to her King. When she wasn't carrying dreams to sleepers, she was almost his height. A shiver slid down her spine. She knew that look well.

"My liege," she purred, curtsying low. "I live to serve."

"You do." Mismatched eyes narrowed on the Dreamweaver. "Tell me of the girl."

Mab smiled. "Oh, that one is rich with desires, Jareth." She strode forward and put her hand on his chest. "She has left you wanting, has she not?" Her hand slid down to cup him, and she fondled him through his breeches.

With a hiss, he took her wrist in his hand. Smiling ferally, he ground the bones of her wrist together as he snarled, "Be careful, Mab. I am not in the mood to play nicely."

"Neither am I…" she whispered, eyes wide and dark with desires they would not need to define between them.

Thoughts of the girl were tabled for a time as Jareth took Mab to the room she reserved for his unofficial visits. Soon she was bound hand and foot, screaming for mercy from her king. When he granted it, when he soothed the fires he had ignited in her blood, he was not gentle.

Passions spent, they rested and discussed the business of the kingdom. Mab did not mention Sarah to Jareth, nor did he inquire further into Sarah's desires. Instead, between subjects, he kissed the lip he'd bitten through and lapped at the blood like a cat. Jareth knew much of Mab's nine walls, and he knew that the last three were the most traumatizing. Still, they paled in comparison to the next two sections of his land.

"The boy in Gainstock," he said, " by the name of Helston. Do you know of him?"

"Yes," Mab replied, smiling. She curled her tongue through one of the deep scratches she had given him when he freed her. "He did a hero's work in that flood last week. Have you decided to reward him?" She pouted when Jareth slipped down further to rest his head on her breasts.

"I have. He will receive one dream," Jareth grinned and teased her with hands and tongue. "A nice one."

"Oh, and in Gainstock, those can be very nice indeed!" Mab laughed knowingly and ran her hand over Jareth's chest. The village was renowned for its open embrace of hedonism. "Be a love and hold time outside this room…" she moaned, holding his head still as he laved her tender skin.

Jareth complied, not bothering to look up as he flicked his hand to stop time. A second short wave created velvet ropes that restrained his deviant queen on her still-bleeding back. He slid down her body, nipping and kissing to the juncture of her thighs.

Mab thought of the possibilities the girl running the labyrinth presented to her for a moment and smiled. Then she turned her attention to the man in her bed and her smile faded in favour of the screams as Jareth drove her toward the pleasures of her flesh.

***

Sarah continued walking until she reached a river that was too wide and deep to ford.

"Well, damn," she muttered. "Ain't this a bitch?"

Her mood and her language had deteriorated greatly after Jareth's demands for information. She still wanted to know, even after all that she and Steven had done, she still needed to cross that last line. And she wanted Jareth. That kiss…the way he'd spoken to her…Sarah shivered.

Then she realized the true danger of the stone. Not all desires were sweet and light. Some of the things she'd seen and had thrilled to were considered perverse by the standards of her home. Almost all of those things had somehow been tied to Jareth within her thoughts, and that is what scared her - and thrilled her - the most.

Chapter Text

Sarah stood at the edge of the river and thought for a long time. She searched up and down the riverbank, but there was no sort of craft in the vicinity. The path didn't seem to be a popular one, so she couldn't count on company, even if Jareth had mentioned a village close by. For a river, it wasn't exactly impressive. The water was not exactly swift, and it didn't have any rapids or obvious ripples where the water flowed over submerged rocks. She wasn't sure of the depth, but that would be quickly determined. After a short debate, she took off her boots and waded out a few feet. The drop-off, she found, was very steep. She would have to swim, not wade it. Back on shore, she found a stick and tossed it into the water, as far as she could. The stick was swept away, but not too quickly. This would be a relatively easy swim. She recalled learning to swim as a child in a faster, scarier river, but she was much bigger now.

It had been years since her last visit to her grandparents, but her grandfather had taken her to swim in the river near his home. She'd learned then that she should pick her landing place and swim at an angle to the current in order to reach that spot. Granted, the river had been much smaller, and so had she, but the lesson remained the same. Sarah shrugged and got on with what she had to do. With a roll of her eyes and a perverse sense of letting Jareth get what he had asked for, she spoke.

"Jareth, I hope you're watching," she sighed, "because I have to strip to swim the river."

"Lovely," came the voice behind her. She turned to see the blonde king leaning against a tree, arms crossed, just waiting to leer. "By all means, begin." When she just stared at him for a minute, he made a "come on, time's a-wasting" motion with one hand. Muttering something under her breath that he didn't catch, Sarah began to take off her clothes.

"I don't suppose anything around here is waterproof," she asked, sliding the leather vets off and folding it neatly. Her shirt was next.

"This plant's leaves are waterproof, to an extent." Sarah saw where he was pointing and nodded. "One large leaf should do."

"Good," she said, grinning. "I'll let you pick one that will hold everything, including my boots."

"Moi?" asked Jareth, raising an eyebrow.

"Mm. Least you could do for getting to ogle the goodies," she replied, hoping he couldn't tell she was blushing just a bit.

Jareth chuckled and a large leaf appeared over her shoulder.

"My dear, for handing you this, I expect much more than an ogle." His free hand skimmed up her side and cupped one breast. "Now," he whispered, "what is the going exchange rate for oilleaf plants?"

"I'd say you've about reached it," Sarah breathed, trying to sound normal.

"Only about? The price must have increased recently," Jareth mused. "Well, this must even the balance." With that, he stepped up fully behind her and dropped the leaf. Wrapping one arm around her waist, he slid his errant right hand down between her legs, teasing her with the leather of his gloves and the varying pressure of his fingers until she arched and wriggled against him. When he stopped, he heard her curse softly under her panting breath. "There, one oilleaf for one good grope."

"You call that a grope?" Sarah rasped, whipping around to face him. The last time she'd felt something like that, it had involved Steven's tongue and he hadn't stopped until she'd thoroughly enjoyed it. Jareth was a tease, and a cruel one at that.

"Why, yes," Jareth said, putting on his best innocent face. "You don't? Very nice, by the way. I can see why Steven wanted to use you as a model. Your breasts are just about perfect." He paused, lifted his hands up to massage said breasts, and found her reaction gratifying in several ways. She was turned on, angry, not quite willing to tell him to stop, and, if he was reading that expression correctly, uncertain of how he would react to a shove into the river. Oh, she was going to be much more fun than he'd originally thought. "Well? Was that a grope or not?"

Slack-jawed, Sarah stared for a moment. Then she spluttered, "No, that doesn't qualify as a grope."

"Oh." Jareth reached out for her again and said, "I must make amends - tell me when a grope has been achieved, will you?"

Sarah stepped back and avoided his hands, trying to make sense of what he was saying, quite sure that it was not something she wanted to hear.

"You…now…there's…You passed grope!" she hurried as his hands reached her waist.

"Did I?" he looked down at her as he drew her closer.

"Yes! By a lot!" she added, hoping she could get him to back up or…something. Something that didn't involve touching her so intimately or for so long she was tempted to grab his hands and guide them back to what they were doing. And they were on the riverbank…in the middle of the forest! Anyone could wander by!

Jareth just grinned at her wickedly. "Too bad."

Sarah's eyes grew wide just before his lips touched hers. This time he didn't stop his lips at her neck. He teased her with lips and, again, hands until her knees were weak and she was aching for more of his touch, breathless little encouragements escaping her lips. When he let up, she swayed on her feet and leaned toward him again.

"Enough playing, Sarah," he admonished, the mischief in his eyes not matching his tone at all. He stepped away from her, severing all physical contact as he continued to speak. "You need to get swimming in order to reach shelter by nightfall." With that, he vanished. The sun was past its zenith, and the afternoon shadows were creeping across the forest.

Sarah recovered some of her wits when he spoke, but not all of them. His disappearing act was beginning to irritate her. She called him several names, but only received the response of a chuckle on the wind.

Grabbing the oilleaf and her clothes, she placed her belongings into a corner of the wide, flat leaf and carefully rolled her clothes into it. The end result resembled a large green burrito from a restaurant that had a strange owner with an even stranger sense of humour. Shrugging, Sarah used some vine to secure the bundle and tie it to her back near her waist. With a firm resolve to put Jareth out of her thoughts for a while, she stepped into the water.

It was cold enough that Sarah's temptations vanished quickly. As she got farther out into the water, she realized that the cold water routine wasn't the most effective method for banishing desire, because her skin was still tight and it made her breasts throb. The feeling reminded her of Jareth's touch, and she fought off the pleasant memories with success, though it wasn't a pretty fight. She forced herself to concentrate on the river. Following her grandfather's instructions, Sarah swam at an angle and arrived at her chosen point without much difficulty.

When she passed the halfway point of her swim, she heard Jareth's voice on the wind. He congratulated her on passing the sixth wall.

Something was nagging at her. Something about the difficulty of what she had faced with these last 2 "walls" and the nature of the labyrinth itself. Whatever it was escaped her as she stumbled from the cold river into the warm sunlight. Shunning her clothing for a while, Sarah stretched out in a patch of sun on the sandy riverbank. The area she'd chosen as her landing was more open than the path where she'd entered the river, and it received full benefit of the afternoon sun. The heat of that sun made her skin tingle as it warmed her. The day was still hot, especially here on the riverbank, and her arms and legs were a bit tired after swimming against the current, so she leaned back on her elbows and baked in the sunlight.

As her eyes closed in a drowse, for she had expended more energy than she had thought and the seductive heat of the sun was leeching even more from her, a young man from a nearby village saw her. He watched her, filling his eyes with her nude form. Carefully, he crept up to her, making no noise as he moved into her clearing. She didn't open her eyes when he reached out a hand and touched the tip of one rosy nipple. She hadn't noticed the change because her nap in the sun had caused her to dream about Jareth's touch. Her body was reacting to a combination of fantasy and memory that no mere feather-light touch could interrupt.

The man held himself to that one touch. He watched her as she dreamed restlessly, murmuring just low enough that he couldn't understand who she spoke to in her fantasy. He watched as her skin blushed rosy pink and her body writhed in want.

When it became clear to him that she would soon awaken, he hurried off, as silently as he could.

If he had a dream, it was to touch the woman who laid so boldly upon the riverbank, to touch her and take her until she cried out in ecstasy, and to do so in front of all and sundry, so no one could doubt his claims.

Back at Mab's court, Jareth and the queen had returned to time several hours earlier. Mab sent out invitations to court, including one the young Helston of Gainstock and his friends. They had accepted, and it was time for Helston to be rewarded.

Preparations had taken most of the afternoon, but Jareth didn't mind. He and Mab had discussed the villages and puzzle she controlled at length, simply working on maintaining and improving Jareth's kingdom.

"Well, if that is everything," Mab said, "then tomorrow during luncheon we will have the festival for the heroes of this season."

"I will attend," Jareth said, leaning back in his chair. "How does the girl?"

"The runner? Oh, she has passed the sixth gate, but you knew that," Mab answered, her smile pure wickedness. "She has underestimated my puzzles, and will not be prepared for the last three gates. For your gates."

"Tell me, Mab," Jareth ordered. He knew Sarah would have to face him. All who vied for the position of his Queen must, and they must do so quickly in order to help the labyrinth prepare for their presence in later sections.

"She swam the River of Longing," Mab said smugly, "naked, after you so obligingly stimulated her senses."

"I teased her for several minutes and denied her the pleasure of release," Jareth corrected, "and she rather enjoyed it."

"Oh, she did. Her body thrilled to those touches all during her swim. In fact, the cold of the water only made it worse. She will long for your touch, Jareth. If she calls out to you, answer her." Black eyes bore into Jareth's mismatched eyes. "Answer her and demand her obedience. Demand she submit to you and obey you. Make her know that she is yours in all ways."

"I know how to make her a citizen of my realm, woman," Jareth replied coldly. "I forget nothing, even if it has been long since a potential consort ran the labyrinth. Be careful that you do not find yourself replaced for such simple puzzles."

"I have the first six walls deliberately set to disconcert the runners, to lower their guard." Mab's eyes narrowed in pique. "You have known this for the thirteen hundred mortal years you have ruled, for the sixteen women who ran the labyrinth and became your consorts, yet you snap at me - threaten me - now?"

"I want my Queen!" Jareth snapped. "I am sick of broken dolls that fade and wither after a few decades." Jareth rose and paced for a moment. Snapping at Mab like that was unnecessary, even if it was somewhat cathartic. He was letting the wildness of his land rule him when he should have remained calm. He faced out a window and took a long, deep breath, his body language said he would speak no more.

"She must take this oath, and you must mark her as your potential Queen, your runner, and most importantly, a citizen of the labyrinth at your command." Mab spoke calmly, removing herself and her emotions from the discussion. "The seventh wall will be giving in to her desires. Whether she calls upon you to relieve her of her inhibitions after taking the oath or whether she wanders into the taproom of the inn and services every man there until her need is gone, I care not." At this, Jareth turned to watch her, his face dispassionate even as his heart rejoiced and ached. This girl had something in her that was unique, even among those who were brave enough to run to be his Queen. He did not want her used up by the tavern patrons, but he would enjoy watching her do anything for relief. He wanted her body for his pleasure, and he was not averse to taking her as his own under duress, tricking her into submission before he sated himself and her with the feast of the senses. "The eighth wall will be her fear of you. Your methods, of course, will be your own, though her swim in the River of Longing will highlight what she fears most from you. I trust my liege will do all that is required to force her to bend - or to break."

"Of course, Mab," Jareth said, smiling softly. He was calmer now. "And you know I shall enjoy every moment of her pleasure as much as I shall delight in her pain and terror."

"Yes," she replied, expecting no less from this man who ran tender and vicious by turns. She had not taken his words personally, but was gratified to see him return to his normal, serene self. "The final wall…will be decided tomorrow." She waved her hand, letting the moment slide away. "It will take her some time to recover from the first two. I suppose you'll end up stopping time to ensure she is properly dealt with." A thought occurred to her. "Oh, and there is the Festival of Delights in Gainstock that begins this week. Will you join the festivities this year?"

"Perhaps," Jareth refused to commit. "Barring pressing business, I shall do so, at least for a time. Will you take your court there again this year?"

Mab smiled. "Of course. I do so enjoy Festival."

Jareth laughed. Mab was, despite his frustration at having no true Queen, still the best at what she did. Better still, she had the time to focus on the runners that entered her section for various purposes when he did not. While he did take extra time for those who ran to be his Queen, he did not have time to administer to everything personally. And at this, the labyrinth had slowly faded over the past six thousand mortal years. During his rule the losses had ended, but the string of weaker kings and queens had taken its toll. Nonetheless, Jareth was master of the labyrinth, he was determined to win back lost lands and expand his kingdom to reflect its original and enduring glory. He was powerful, but he depended upon his lords and ladies - of which Mab was one, despite her royal title - to do their duties with the specific portions of the game board while he controlled the game itself and dealt with other realms. He often wondered if they understood the true nature of the labyrinth.

Sarah woke in the late afternoon. Drawing on her clothes was a kind of torture. She found the rasp of cloth against her breasts made her ache for Jareth's touch. The whisper of her breeches on her thighs and hips made her want to wriggle and writhe as she walked. It was the boots that were the worst. The calf-high leather was snug on her calves, like a continued squeezing caress. The dress heel was almost ideal for walking on the easy path, but just enough of an elevation that it felt sexy to her. She usually wore loafers or Keds, and even danced in the flat jazz and tap shoes. Upon reaching the village inn, Sarah was almost ready to explode with need. Ruthlessly, she tamped down her desires and asked to speak with the proprietor.

"That be Gemmie," said an old man with a slight cackle. "He be knowing of your coming, then?"

"No, sir," Sarah replied, being polite, "I am a traveller from the Gates."

"Welladay," he nodded. "Well come and welcome."

"Thank you, sir," she said, smiling sweetly as she could.

"Ah, I'm no sir," he said. "Call me Rolf. Good a name as ever I've had."

"Thank you, then, Rolf. I'm Sarah," she replied, walking into the inn. She didn't bother wondering if that was his name, or just what he wanted to be called at the moment. It didn't particularly matter either way.

Rolf simply nodded and called out to another woman walking in the street.

Inside, Sarah let her eyes adjust to the dimness. There wasn't much light, but it was a clean place, and one that welcomed travellers easily.

Quickly, she found the proprietor and bartered cleaning and some cooking for bed, bath, and dinner. The man agreed, and Sarah would spend the part of that evening cleaning dishes and the morning cleaning the taproom tables and floor. Gemmie's wife shooed him out of the way and placed a serving of steaming stew in front of Sarah. It was served in a bread-bowl, a trencher, she recalled the name. There were no forks or spoons, but Sarah remembered the medieval dinner her history teacher had hosted, making the history come alive for them. Sarah had drawn Margaret of Anjou as her historical persona, and so had dressed to fit her character. The trencher bread was to be torn off from the top and used to scoop up the stew. Having to concentrate on how to eat this particular meal was a relief from the feverish want she had been combating all day. Gemmie's wife was an amazing cook.

As she ate, Sarah listened to the conversations around her. They all centered on a man named Helston and a flood in the next village. From what she gathered, he had gone to the village (she never did catch the name) to trade, and been caught in a flood. The cause of the flood was debated, but was generally deemed the combination of the villagers building too close to the river and tremors a few weeks back that had weakened the natural dam upstream. The young man had been credited with the single-handed rescue of the children of the village from the rickety schoolhouse and orphanage, though Sarah doubted he had done it all alone. He had probably led the rescue effort and put himself into great danger for some of the children. The dam was repaired shortly afterward by the lord of the area, and the river was behaving nicely now. The village had to move, but no one had been particularly surprised. As one elderly woman summed up the disaster, "If ya build on tha floodplain, ya've no right to be upsot whan tha floods coom. T'er river doesn' care about yer house enny more than tha mountain does a flea."

The young man was to be rewarded for his bravery by none other than the Queen of Dreams, and it was rumoured that the King would even be there. This didn't surprise Sarah. Jareth had mentioned a hero, she recalled as she brushed the crumbs from the table and walked to the kitchen. She tossed the crumbs into the fire and began cleaning the dishes that had piled up earlier in the day. Supper was trencher bread and stew, but apparently breakfast and lunch were meals that required actual plates. Either that or the inn had room service.

Soaping up the dishes in the tub of warm water made the fever come back again. The water was so soft and lapped at her skin like a delicate tongue. In desperation, Sarah remembered the brief conversation that she had had with Jareth about a reward for a young man as she washed dishes. She hoped that this was indeed the man, and even began inventing dreams for him. As a distraction from the sensations bombarding her hands and wrists, it was insufficient. She worked until she was exhausted, scrubbing pots and pans and even the kitchen counters, far outstripping the expectations of the proprietor. When she had finished wiping down the counters, she was exhausted and aching from the work, not the unsatisfied longing. Finished for the night, Sarah had simply nodded and dragged herself upstairs, hoping that the arousal that had plagued her all day had been worked into submission.

She hoped in vain. Sarah went to bed not long after moonrise, but woke only an hour later, achy and feverish from her need to be touched. She tossed and turned in the bed in the tiny gable room that the innkeeper kept for barter-guests. She hadn't dared bathe before bed, despite the feel of sticky sweat from the kitchen. She knew what would happen when water touched her skin. She had only reluctantly put aside the black cloth and leather Jareth had allowed her and slept only in her shirt. No matter what she wore, the friction on her skin from the blanket and single sheet stirred the need again. Giving in, she used her own hands as Jareth had used his earlier, but even the feel of her own hands on her skin and teasing herself to release did nothing to abate the fires in her blood. Perversely, her indulgence seemed to make the need swell and she felt helpless in the face of this overwhelming desire.

It was nearly midnight when she finally sobbed in defeat. There was nothing left for her to do. She said her right words.

"Jareth, I need you."

***

In Gainstock, a young man dreamed of the woman on the bank of the river, of her touch and taste and sweet cries for more. In his dreams, she was completely uninhibited, letting all of his passion slide across her and into her, giving him her own. In the night, he ached. When morning came, he relieved his aching body and prepared for the day.

Chapter Text

Jareth appeared in the small garret room kept for barter-guests. He watched Sarah writhe, her hands still teasing her flesh in a vain effort to ease the ache. She found no relief from her own skin.

"Sarah," he said softly. Her eyes flew open and she saw him. She sat up, her hands reaching out for him.

"Jareth, make this stop," she pleaded.

"I cannot," he replied. It was even true. He could mitigate the effects of the River of Longing, but he could not change them or end them. If he tried, it would only be worse when she finally gave into the needs she felt. "Not the way you wish me to."

"Then what can I do?" Desperation clouded her voice. She would do anything.

"Are you willing to do anything to end this?" he asked, examining her with disinterest. She was nearly his. All he had to do was ease her through the oath she needed to take.

"Yes!" she cried, not caring how it sounded. "Anything. Please, Jareth!"

"Then swear to obey me - that you are mine to command," he said. It seemed so simple. She grasped at it.

"I swear it." Her words were quick, unconsidered.

"Repeat it, and use my name," he whispered.

"Jareth, King of the Labyrinth, I am yours to command." As a reward for that much, he touched her cheek. She nuzzled into his hand and felt some of the terror of her own body leave her.

"To take," he gave a wealth of meaning to the word, and Sarah shivered with the thought.

"I am yours to take," she continued, sighing as his hand moved slide fingers down the side of her neck. Her concentration was not very good, but the touch of his hand was.

"To give," Jareth continued, feeling no regret at using her own needs against her to gain her agreement. She was not curious about what she was agreeing to, and that would be to her sorrow - and her joy.

"I am yours to give," she repeated, feeling that she should listen more closely, but not caring.

"To pleasure," again, the word drew images into her mind.

"I am yours to pleasure," she moaned, feeling his hand reach the back of her neck and cradle her head. She leaned back, trusting him with her weight. She didn't know that Jareth studied her, his eyes both hot with desire and cold with calculation. There was only one phrase left.

"And to punish," he whispered. He did not have to wait for her to speak the last phrase of the oath.

"I am yours to punish," She sighed, not thinking that he was serious. By now, she should have remembered that Jareth's words were a trap in themselves, no matter how freely he offered them. In fact, when he offered something freely, she needed to be more wary.

"Repeat it, and use my name," he whispered, nuzzling her ear. She didn't need to, since that little series of submissions bound her to him, but he wanted to hear it all from her. He would brand her has his own, no matter if she tried to back out now. It was rare that he gave in to his desire to take so completely. When the opportunity came, he seized it with both hands. Sarah did not disappoint.

"Jareth, King of the Labyrinth, I am yours to command, yours to take and give, to pleasure and to punish. Please, Jareth…" The last words were whimpered as she slid her hands to his chest.

Jareth did not wait for a more specific invitation. He leaned on one knee on the bed and stopped time outside of the room. In truth, he was unable to “stop” time, but he could and did place them between moments, so that they would have as much as a full day in the time that place between two moments of "real time". Jareth slipped off his gloves and touched her body with one hand. He slid his hand inside her shirt and let his thumb caress between her breasts, right over her heart. A small, black, magical tattoo appeared under his thumb, an image of the amulet he wore. The symbol of his domain and dominion was forever marked in her flesh. Queen or consort or broken body devoid of life, she would be his forever.

Sarah knew none of this. At the touch of flesh on flesh, Sarah arched and grasped for his clothing. She began to tear at the cloth, seeking more skin and finding it. Jareth stripped the shirt from her, and gazed at her as he helped her remove his clothing. She wanted to take his clothing off of him, and he was willing to give her what she wanted. He would be a generous, careful, caring lover for her, and she would spend her need and lose her inhibitions with him. Following that train of thought while his body slid into position over hers, he realized again how very cruel Mab could be.

And his heart rejoiced.

Sarah felt all of Jareth's skin against hers, eagerly parting her legs as he took her mouth in a kiss that left her head spinning. She felt him there, at her entrance, pushing forward. Felt him break the kiss as the need suddenly ebbed. Her eyes grew wide and there was none of the excessive longing that rode her through the day when he pushed fully into her and filled her. All of the pain, the discomfort, the feeling of being split in two was hers to experience, and the tears welled in her eyes. Her breath was coming in gasps and pants, but not from the need or the pleasure she had felt before.

"Patience," Jareth crooned. He said nothing else, just waited for her to calm down. He had only just recalled before he entered he that the water-induced need would fade suddenly when she was about to have her need fulfilled, but it would return shortly after she relaxed. The results of the return would drive her into a mindless frenzy. He just needed to be a little bit patient. Meanwhile, he licked the tears that fell from her eyes and savored them.

Slowly, she began to relax, the immediate fear of him and what would happen now nagging at her while she was still adjusting to this strange, uncomfortable feeling. When she realized he was waiting for her to relax, to trust him, the fear started to abate. It wasn't long after that fear left her that she felt the need returning. As soon as she was able to take normal breaths again, it seemed every inhalation brought back the desire. She let out a shuddering breath as the same fever swelled in her. Jareth smiled and began to rock into her. As her body heated with the sensation of Jareth over and inside her, her thoughts disappeared. He began to touch her as he moved, to kiss and bite, whispering instructions and lover's teasing words to her. She listened to him, did as he said, and soon she was matching his movements, meeting his thrusts as want turned into need. Jareth drove her mercilessly through the desire into the sweating, grasping, biting, scratching, screaming ecstasy, waiting and watching as she shattered from the inside and her body locked and pulsed around him.

This dance may have been new to Sarah, but Jareth was much, much older, and had all of the power and command over his body that he had over his kingdom. Over two thousand mortal years of pleasure and experience stayed with her that night-between-moments, and Sarah was swept away by his unabashed sensuality.

He took his pleasure as well, not so generous to simply give. Sarah was moaning, exhausted and so overwhelmed with the physical demands that she was near collapse when he finished for the night. They slept in that broken moment, broke their fast, and indulged their senses in the daylight - a circumstance that turned Sarah a bit shy. It wasn't only the morning light that worried her, though. Jareth had absolutely no sense of propriety.

"Jareth," she gasped as he nibbled his way up her neck. "We may be eating breakfast in bed, but that doesn't mean I'm the meal!"

"Of course it does," he had replied. He pulled her in front of him, back to him, then pushed her forward and slid behind her. "Shh. Here, like this." He guided her over him and slowly slid her down onto him, revelling in the feel of her around him again. He had to hold tight to her as he leaned back against the stack of pillows he had added to the room. He watched her in the mirror, again his addition, and saw how uncomfortable she was laying back against him. He could almost hear her complaining that they were supposed to be eating breakfast, not…doing whatever this was called. She was so very new to this, so sweet. So shy. Oh, he was going to enjoy this as long as it lasted. "Just relax." He lifted a peach to her lips. "Eat. I'll make sure you enjoy it."

Sarah didn't say anything, but ate the bite he gave her. He watched as she tried to relax. He fed her another section of the sweet fruit, smiling as she continued to think. Finally, she spoke.

"I…I should be sore," she said, after eating the peach. "Jareth, this should hurt. A lot. I shouldn't be able to move this morning, much less-" she tried to turn around, raising up. From her voice and her movement, she was more than a bit worried. She was truly frightened and unsure.

Jareth held her shoulders and pinned her back to him. "Hush. Eat. Relax."

"I can't. I need to know -“ she pulled away from him again. Again, he pulled her back against him and lost some of the patience he had demonstrated throughout the night.

"Dammit, Sarah, I'll explain. Do not make me tie you up and feed you." When she went still at the threat, he chuckled and nuzzled her ear. "Got your attention, did I?" he asked, his voice low and teasing. "Perhaps I'll tie you up anyway." It hadn't been his imagination. She had trembled a bit, tightened around him. "And yes, my dear, you will enjoy it immensely." He leaned back, wrapping his arms around her tense body. He waved the floating tray right to his side, in easy reach. After feeding her an bite of peach and taking a bite of fruit for himself, he explained why she felt so normal. "I made sure you wouldn't hurt this morning." He took a drink of coffee, one of his favourite imports into his realm. "A bit of healing magic, some sleep, and you're ready to go again this morning." Sarah thought about it as Jareth held the coffee cup for her to take a sip. When she had eaten a few more bites and nodded, relaxing against him, she reached for a breakfast roll. "Ah-ah. Wait for me."

She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms under her breasts, covering one of his hands and making him chuckle. It was only when she had rolled her eyes that she had noticed the mirror on the far side of the room. It was a huge mirror, one that she couldn't believe she had missed before. Sarah looked into the mirror he had to have conjured sometime during the night. Jareth was smirking at her over her shoulder as she was sprawled back against him. She could see where his hand lay on her belly, how her crossed arms lifted her breasts higher, his face and free hand as he looked for and reached for the roll she had wanted. She had been kneeling when he pulled her back onto him, so her legs were doubled under her. Staring at them in the mirror, she realized she could see where they were joined, her legs splayed wide apart, resting her weight on his hips and chest, keeping her ankles and knees from being pressed painfully by her weight. As the bite of the roll came to her, she opened her lips, taking the bite as she tried to keep calm. She didn't know if she was upset or fascinated by what she saw. Was that really her?

"Do you like what you see?" Jareth whispered, watching her in the mirror. He saw her eyes close and felt her shiver. She was feeling the effects of the riverwater again. He deliberately exacerbated the situation. "The way you fit against me, the way I fit inside you…the feel of my hands on you as you take sustenance from me…You are mine, aren't you, Sarah?" he asked, wanting to hear her say it again.

"Yes," she whispered. "Yours."

"Tell me what you think of this," he coaxed. She was blushing, and that was not acceptable. He wanted her to be as free and comfortable with herself as he was with himself. Unrealistic, perhaps, but desires often are. Jareth was not immune to desire.

"I see…" she started. Then stopped. "Jareth, I can't."

"Of course you can," he encouraged. "Just look and speak. Forget for a moment that it is you. How would you describe the pose of that woman in the mirror?" To give her a moment, he gave her another bite of breakfast. As her lips brushed his fingers, he determined that she would definitely be learning more things to do with her mouth than eat and drink.

"She looks…wanton. His hands are on her," it was true when she said it, "but not…not…anywhere…"

"Say the words, Sarah." He moved his hands to her breasts. "Her breasts." She shivered at the touch, at seeing and feeling the caress, so he named each part of her body as he touched it. When he had touched, caressed, and named every inch of her that was within arms' reach, his rested his hands lightly on her belly. "Tell me," he whispered in her ear, the coaxing words laced with command. Sarah complied, aroused by his touch and the vision before her.

"His hands are on her, but not between her legs or on her breasts. He's…holding her gently. Carefully, while he feeds her bites of fruit and bread…" She continued the description for him, making him smile and kiss her ear, her neck, sliding his hands over her and forcing her to continue the description. She never realized when she stopped saying "he" and "she" and started saying "your" and "my". That she had stopped simply describing what was and had started giving commands on where she wanted his hands slipped by her completely. Through it all, Jareth kept feeding her bites of fruit and bread, sips of coffee, spoonfuls of yogurt or heavy sweet cream. When she had become so distracted by want that she had forgotten about food, he told her to lean forward onto her hands and watch them in the mirror. He rode he carefully from behind until she was groaning and trying to push back against him, demanding more. He left her shaking and shuddering, begging for more when he disengaged from her and leaned back on the stacked pillows again.

"My breakfast, Sarah," he said when she objected. Her eyes grew round with surprise then narrow with anger. "A peach," he said, a wicked grin on his face. "From your lovely little hand." He put his hands behind his head and waited. Sarah did not disappoint.

The peach was in her hand and arcing toward his nose without conscious thought.

It landed short, fell on his chest, and the way he spoke to her made her think before she threw the contents of the cream pitcher on him.

"That was unacceptable." There was a thread of menace in the soft-spoken words that made her pay close attention to him. "Pick up the peach in your lips, then feed it to me. You will then lick the juice from my chest."

"And if I don't?" She wanted the words to be defiant, but they came out breathless and almost moaned. That look…it made her squirm with want and a little bit of fear. She did not want to cross Jareth, not really. Not over this, even if she was still on fire.

"You do not want me to answer that," he replied, "for when I do, I will demonstrate."

Sarah hesitated for a long minute, then nodded. When she had done as he directed, she felt the want growing. Because of her use of the fruit as a ballistic missile, she was required to feed him without using her hands. Before he was finished with his breakfast, she was begging and pleading him to take her, then cursing him when he refused in favour of mere food.

When the tray was returned to wherever it was he had conjured it from, he helped her over to stand in front of the mirror. Still, he did not give her what she wanted most. Instead, he taught her all the ways that he could torment her using only his mouth. By the time he finally slid into her, she was a quivering mass of need - need that he had fostered, then denied completion. That afternoon, he taught her to do the same to him, smiling as her efforts were frequently derailed by her own longing.

Days-within-broken-moments passed in the blissful haze of losing inhibitions and the delights of learning and discovering the feasts of the senses. There were some notable exceptions to this smooth introduction to sexual games, but in all, she had been a magnificent student. An overachiever in the best sense of the word.

Again and again they joined, the fire in Sarah's veins only heightened by each successive encounter with him. It hadn't taken long for her need to crest, and they began the slow return to the normal ebb and flow of her desire. Finally, the night he left her, she curled into his arms after a rather satisfying encounter and sighed contentedly.

"Mm…" she purred, her voice lazy and relaxed. "How long have we been in bed?"

"About five weeks," he replied, his hands lightly caressing her. He kissed her shoulder. "Why?"

"Five…weeks?" she asked, tipping her head back to stare at him. The words didn't quite register properly. "Don't you have a kingdom to run?"

Jareth chuckled. "We're in broken time - most people say I stop time, but really I just take us between moments. It's only been about…three minutes for the rest of the Realms."

"Oh," Sarah said, not doubting him. She wanted to think about this, but she had been so very active…and now she was ready to sleep for a very long time. Maybe a week or so. Jareth had been…amazing.

Watching Sarah drift off into a hazy right-after doze, determined to stay until she was deeply asleep, Jareth considered the past five weeks. They had done any number of things together, and Sarah had initiated several after the first river-induced fever and the remnants of shyness had been soothed. They had fed each other bites of dinners he'd summoned, teased each other mercilessly, tasted each other - she did have a wicked tongue, after all - and basked in the inventiveness, hedonism, and sexuality of each other. They enjoyed many of the same proclivities when treading the lighter paths. Sarah had only briefly tasted the darker pleasures, and her initiation into those joys was through an unwise choice of words on her part.

"What are you going to do," she challenged, "tie me up?"

Jareth had grinned evilly and summoned padded restraints that ran from her wrists and attached to the bed. He had enjoyed watching her eyes grow wide as she struggled against the cuffs that slowly drew her backwards, prone and vulnerable, then cuffs at her ankles and knees that drew her legs down and wide apart, until she was and realized she was helpless before him. She begged him to let her go, but, as he began to caress and taste her body, then arrange their dinner on her belly and breasts and thighs and carefully pick up bites only with his mouth, feeding her one bite for each of his own, those cries changed to sighs of pleasure and pleas for more.

In the end, he had done much more than he had originally threatened, which was to make her his plate for dinner. She had moaned and begged for climax before he took her. After her first orgasm, he had teased her back to want and turned her onto her belly. When she realized his intent, a combined bolt of fear and desire swept through her. This time, fear had won.

"No, Jareth," she'd protested, trying to squirm out of the way. She couldn't, of course, but that didn't prevent her from trying.

"Yes, Sarah," he replied, sliding against her, letting her desire coat him.

"Please, don't…I don't want…this," she whimpered. That wasn't entirely true, because a part of her wanted to know.

"Is that true?" he asked, pressing lightly against her puckered bud, a place where she had honestly never considered having someone touch, much less a man try to push inside her. "Is it true that you don't want this at all? Don't lie to me, Sarah. I'll know it if you do." He would know because of the spells that he had cast prior to her call to him. He had created an empathic bond for the duration of her need. He could tell that she was as curious as she was scared.

"I…I…" she tried. Another fear held her - the threat of his punishment for a lie. He had simply said he would demonstrate the punishment without describing it. Enough sense and experience with him made her shy away from anything so open to his interpretation. "I'm scared," she whispered finally.

"Why?" he asked. He could sense fear, but he couldn't read her mind.

"Because I…shouldn't want this. I shouldn't like this." She was crying now, he could hear it in her voice, feel the tears spilling from her.

"Want what? Like what?" He refused to play to her delicacy or her desire to avoid certain words unless she was screaming for more.

"Like…being tied up. I shouldn't like it." Misery was working into her heart now, and he moved to soothe away her fear and hurt. She was too scared to mention the other. He released her from the restraints and pulled her to rest her head on his chest. Arms wrapped around her, holding her gently, he began to assuage his own curiosity.

"Wherever did you get that idea?" he asked, mystified. There were some villages in his kingdom that weren't as tolerant of such things, but there were others, like Gainstock, that openly embraced all facets of the nature of the races. There were rules, simply to keep his citizens from doing irreparable harm to one another, but such a reaction to a simple little game? The idea was as foreign to him as automobiles had been at the turn of the human century.

"No one…but…there's," Sarah was lost for words. Jareth had released her, more worried about her losing this irrational shame than he was about the wall or her inhibitions. If she could not bring herself over this with his coaxing, well, he'd seen the results of a woman who had broken before entering the second segment. She had lived seven years as his consort before she faded.

"There's what, Sarah?" he asked gently.

"There's a lot of…talk about what…good girls don't do." Sarah shook her head, knowing she sounded like an idiot. "I mean, I'm not a slut or a whore."

Jareth hid his smile against her hair. "No one could confuse you with a whore, Sarah. But answer me one thing: What's wrong with a woman who knows what she enjoys and goes to get it, despite what other people think?"

Sarah shook her head, frustrated with her inability to make herself clear. Jareth slid his hands over her body.

"Does this bother you?" he asked, his hands running over her and bringing the fires roaring back with an innocent skin-to-skin touch.

"No," she mumbled into his chest.

"What about when I lick you, suckle your breasts, tongue you to orgasm?" he added, his hands finding more intimate places to tease.

"No," Sarah confessed. "I like all of that." She didn't even squirm at the language he used.

"When I'm inside you so deep that you moan and writhe?" He lowered his voice even more, the sound coming from deep in his chest.

"You know I enjoy that." Her voice was a whisper now, smoky with remnants of body memory.

"The different positions we've used - and I know you remember every single one," his voice was teasing and serious at the same time.

"One or two were uncomfortable, but after a while I forgot about that." Sarah was looking up at him now, her chin propped on his chest. Her eyes were bright with pleasurable thoughts.

"Did you like it when I pinned your wrists to the mattress?" he asked, pulling her down to him and nuzzling her neck.

"Mmmm," she shivered. "That was fun." He had held her hands over her head and done things with his hips that she wasn't convinced were possible for anything other than a snake. She slid to the side and pulled at his shoulders. He knew she wanted him to cover her with his body, to feel surrounded by him. Jareth obliged the unspoken request and turned it to his advantage and her enjoyment.

"What's so different when the restraints are padded manacles? You are still held in place, and I am still doing what I want with your lovely body," he pointed out, nuzzling and laving her breasts. She took a long time in answering, trying to think while he fanned the flames inside her.

"I…don't guess it is different, really," she said, sighing as he slid lower on her abdomen. She tangled her hands into his wild hair, which was more wild now than usual. Well, in bed after several days of doing nothing but indulge in sex, what could she expect? If he was following the trail she'd come to know so well, she was going to enjoy this immensely, and, if what he'd told her was true, so would he.

"And the other? The way I want to take you?" His words were muffled against her skin, but she knew he wanted her to answer. He had yet to let her squeak away from answering a question, even going so far as to deny her orgasm until she told him exactly what she wanted and how and where. The end result was gratifying enough that she had worked through the initial difficulty and repeated the experience with more than satisfactory results. Jareth could definitely follow instructions well, even though he was deliberately obtuse when her directions were vague. In time to come, she would look back on some of those "mistakes" and laugh. For now, everything was still a bit too raw for her to give over to levity.

Sarah felt her blush return in full force. "But that's just…it's…not…right."

Jareth lifted his head and stared at her. "Right?" He was asking for the definition, but Sarah misunderstood him.

"It's…kinda gross," she stammered.

"Gross? It's one hundred forty-four pieces? Or do you mean morally gross…reprehensible?" he asked, now a bit confused by her imprecise use of language.

"Morally…I don't think it matters. It's just…the wrong, um," she searched her mental thesaurus for a synonym, "orifice." When Jareth's shoulders started shaking, Sarah swatted at him. "Either keep going down or get up here, but there's nothing to laugh about!"

"Oh, there is, my dear." He buried his face in her belly and made a loud, rude sound against her skin. Sarah blinked, then burst out laughing. Jareth, never one to play fair, gave her a wicked look before starting to tickle her. She struggled as she laughed, the impromptu tussle not abating the arousal she had been under for the past several days, but making the intensity of the longing seem more enjoyable than demanding. When he wrestled one of her arms out of the way, he put it back in the padded cuff, making her shriek and tug against the restraint as she laughed. The second arm soon joined it, but it took him some serious effort to get her legs still enough to shackle. Once she was tied up again, he spent surprisingly few minutes turning her focus from the teasing loveplay to a more earnest endeavour. She was as eager as he was to continue their sexual encounter. He took his time and his pleasure with her, making her curse him for slowing her down and making her wait time and again when she got close to climax.

After that intense round of teasing and pleasing, she relaxed into the restraints, enjoying the fact she couldn't get away from him as much as she did the way he looked at her like she was a feast spread out just for him. They spent several minutes curled together, her hands out of the restraints to encourage blood to circulate properly, and floating in that dreamy, peaceful state that follows ecstasy.

"Jareth," she whispered, suddenly a bit shy. "Let's try it."

"Try what?" he asked, pleasantly floating after the third game of Sarah-in-cuffs. He was not currently tuned in to her mental processes or capable of sensing anything other than a shy, hesitant eagerness. He was a bit confused.

"What you wanted to try earlier," she hinted. When he showed absolutely no sign of comprehension. "The…um…alternate route," she tried.

Jareth had caught on by the time she finished her second attempt at explanation, but she had to say it, to tell him exactly what she wanted. She was still dancing around what she enjoyed when she wasn't in the throes. He wanted her to admit both her pleasures and her curiosities while she was sober and, if not unaroused, not blinded by need and want.

"I don't know…what to call it," she confessed. She didn't. As much as she had tried before Jareth, as much as she had done with him, there were still huge vistas of the sexual landscape that were shrouded in a fog that would make London's seem anemic.

"Ah," he said, smiling as she, not currently restrained, acted as his pillow. "Then consider the act itself and the anatomy of the body," he continued, smiling and knowing she couldn't see it. "What, exactly is it that you want me to do?"

Sarah was still blushing when she stammered. "I want you to have sex…with me…" she began, then halted.

"How?" he prompted. When she didn't reply, he changed that to, "Where, then? Where do you want me to enter you?"

"I…through…ummm," she hesitated. "Jareth, this is embarrassing!" she groaned.

"Why? Are your desires something that you are ashamed of? They are a part of you, so are you ashamed of your entire being?" His voice was complete reason. "Or are you just ashamed of wanting a particular thing, like you were about being tied up?"

"I like being tied up," she replied, shivering a bit. She lifted her hands to the restraints, closing one wrist in on her own and then saying, "Close the other side for me." Jareth, pleased with her active move to fulfill her own desire, did so, then leaned over her, not quite close enough to kiss.

"Answer the rest of the question, Sarah. Offering yourself up like a virgin sacrifice isn't an answer." The look she gave him in response made him grin wickedly at her. She finally responded verbally.

"No, it's just that I'm not used to saying these things." Sarah felt something between dirty and sexy and stupid for having to explain anything to Jareth. He caught the confused emotions on the bond he had fashioned. He recalled his own youth, many human years before, and how he had danced between excruciating shyness and shocking boldness. His lovers had not always been kind in their remarks regarding his prowess during those years. Since then, he had it on excellent authority that he had improved by such vast measures that it couldn't be quantified. Her gripe was one he knew well.

Jareth chuckled. "Then who was it giving me directions earlier? Lower, higher, left, right-" he was laughing more fully when she tried to swat him and the cuffs prevented it. "Faster, slower, suck my clit…" his recitation was drowned out by her howl of frustrated physical reactions, none of them sexually beneficial to Jareth.

"That's different and you know it!" she snapped, left to glaring daggers at her lover as he propped over her and teased her nipples with light brushes of his lips, never quite managing to do more than tempt.

"Really? You didn't want me to do any of that?" His eyes were wide with mock innocence.

"Jerk. No, it was during, well, sex, when I was…" she let her words trail off, at a loss to explain what the difference was.

"Not capable of worrying what someone else would think of you?" Jareth was being considerably more merciful than he usually was, but then she wasn't just a fling or an old standard, like Mab. "I can tell you now that I enjoy hearing exactly what you want. I am very powerful, but I can't read your mind, my sweet," he nipped the rosy tip of her breast and held the nipple in his mouth, his tongue teasing it as he spoke, "succulent, saucy, Sarah." He sucked hard on her for good measure, happy to hear her whimper and feel her lift to offer him more. Much better responses now, and she was actually capable of thought, too. The mindless wanton was nice, but Jareth could have a mindless wanton any day.

"Telling you what to do turns you on?" Sarah asked, the wondered aloud, "So why am I the one in chains?"

"Because, my dear, not only did you ask, it's good to be the king," he said. "Now, tell me what you want me to do to you."

"I want…" she thought for a long time, working on the exact phrasing as Jareth slid down and played between her shackled legs with his tongue. His distraction was compelling. Finally, she came and thought of the phrase, "Anal sex." She ruined her statement and her buzz by asking, "Is that even a term?"

"Yes," Jareth helped her roll over onto her belly, a move she wasn't exactly expecting. She was still mostly limp from Jareth's tonguelashing. "That is exactly the term you were looking for."

He didn't make her ask for more than that, taking this as an intermediate step while he prepared her for what was to come. He explained in detail what he would do, teasing her with his fingers, pulling her onto her knees a bit to demonstrate the way their positions would change as she grew used to him. By the time he began the actual process, she was wriggling in anticipation. It was then he decided to make her ask for any touches or caresses other than the exact, simple process he defined. She did more than ask. She cursed at him when he informed her that she would have to give him instructions for anything other than the long, slow slides in and out of her, so she demanded, gasped out, whimpered, growled, and otherwise gave explicit instructions, since he refused to do more than the most basic slow thrusting without her detailed demands.

By the time she had fully experienced what Jareth considered another ordinary sex act, it was late in the afternoon. Jareth was in no hurry to end this particular day of exploration of the girl who had captured his attention two years ago. She was learning about herself and her desires incredibly fast. More, she trusted him and so tried things that she would never have thought of before, not outside of a fantasy that was immediately followed by the form of guilt reserved for a deliciously wicked daydream. He took his time, used several facets of his considerable experience to strip her of her usual reactions to sex and sexual situations without creating a bawd, and otherwise thoroughly enjoyed her body. He was certain she had enjoyed his as much, if not more. She had remained chained up for several hours at a stretch, including the one blindingly delicious anal sex interlude and several orgasms induced by only using tongues and lips on each other. She had given him looks so hot during her turn at pleasing him he would swear he felt his skin burn. Through it all she had climaxed over and over again. In fact, she had fainted before he could release her to sleep that night. The feeling of having her helpless and restrained before him had tempted him too much, he realized, and he had finally reached the limits of what he could manage in one day after nearly a week of almost pure sex just before she collapsed. Thankfully, he retained enough energy to release her from the shackles and curl up with her under the covers.

Ironically, it was that night that had begun the cooling of her longing and the slow death of her inhibited tendencies. Not so ironically, it took another four weeks for her to lose her embarrassment with him completely. She had even gone so far as to sneak the restraints around his wrists and tease him mercilessly before releasing him from the restraints. Had she not been willing, ready, and eager, the end result could well have been called rape. As it was, she had laughed in delight as he shoved her into the mattress and then screamed for more when he was shoving roughly into her.

No, she was no longer the bold-in-theory-while-fully-clothed Sarah that she had been before, but neither was she as uninhibited as she thought herself to be. It was enough to pass the wall. He whispered just that to her before she dropped off to sleep the night before he joined her in slumber.

Jareth relaxed and slept in broken time. Sarah would sleep longer, but the past several weeks had not changed his schedule for the next several. His power helped him recharge more quickly than Sarah, which is how he had managed to send her into an exhausted slumber. He would sleep the night through with her, but the "sunrise" would see them back in real time. He had a long day tomorrow, and resting in the broken moments was one of the ways he managed to be available to go anywhere at any time. It was much easier to run a kingdom, he reflected, when one was not required to waste valuable time sleeping.

Chapter Text

When Sarah woke the next morning, she felt her body aching with the sense of repletion. She wasn't sore, though by rights she should be in agony, and she knew Jareth had taken very good care of her while they were learning to please each other. She couldn't quite make herself admit that they had had purely sexual relations, though she knew very well that neither one of them had actually invested emotions in their exploratory days. She rose from the bed slowly, relishing the feel of Jareth's caresses ghosting over her in body-memory. The thought of him and of pleasures past made her move sinuous as a cat's while she stretched slowly and carefully, the way Karen had taught her. It wasn't the same as those after-dance stretches, and yet it was. Sarah looked around the room at the changes he had created and left. She watched herself stretch in the mirror, unabashed at her nakedness or the various marks left on her pale skin. The bed was much sturdier, and the sight of the restraints on the bed made her smile. A flash of white caught her eye by the far wall. Jareth had left his shirt.

They had been naked together for five weeks in no-time, but they hadn't spent every waking moment in bed. They had bathed, gone for walks outside - the inn was deserted in no-time - and she had even cooked a simple dinner for them when she lost a bet. The bet, she recalled with a grin, had been one she hadn't expected to win. Either way, the results had been more than just fun. Everywhere they went, every surface in the room and most of the walls - even the joists anchoring the ceiling - had some sort of sensual memory attached to them. Sarah smiled to herself as she let her body recall every single instance. She was thinking about a bath, so she didn't consider those purely physical remnants as memories on her tally sheet. The bathing chamber was on the ground floor by the kitchen, the hot water supplied by an ingenious series of pipes that ran through the ovens and open hearths.

Sarah slid her shirt on and carried the rest of her clothes downstairs. It was early enough that she didn't hear anyone else moving around. As it happened, there was one more person awake, the proprietor's wife, Meg. The older woman just looked up at her, saw how she was moving, and gave her a wide smile and a bawdy wink. Sarah didn't realize it, but she smiled back like a cat in cream. At no time during those five not-weeks, stretching, bathing, or dressing, did she notice the little black tattoo that branded her as Jareth's.

Sarah finished her bath just as others in the inn were coming awake. Still smiling, she slipped on the heavy silk shirt Jareth had left behind and basked in his scent. The liquid-cool cloth slid over her warm, still sensitive skin and she shuddered as if he caressed her again. He had left marks all over her body, and she never knew what movement or what little brush of water or soap or cloth against skin would make her breath catch and her senses reel. Pulling on the rest of her clothes was an adventure, for each time something triggered body-memory, it heightened her now-real arousal. Before she finished dressing, she had been forced to bury her face in her leather jerkin and let the pleasure take her. It took her several minutes to recover, but her walk and her expression left no one in doubt of why she walked with a rolling, swaying, gait and lounged almost bonelessly at her seat in the taproom. What continued to amaze Sarah, though was that even though she felt well-loved, she was not exactly sore, nor was she tired.

After eating a simple breakfast of milk, bread, and cheese, she skipped lightly into the kitchen to finish paying for her bartered room.

***

Jareth woke pleasantly sated, stretched like a great cat, and readied himself for the long day ahead. The moment he returned to real time, he popped into his castle at the heart of the labyrinth to go over correspondence with the other Realms. So far, nothing had really changed. He was not surprised. Sixteen of some three hundred requests for immigration into his kingdom were from hostile realms. While the other applications moved quickly through, these several were pending his approval, and he studied the requests and, through his crystals, the applicants carefully. All but one was granted, and that one required more study and an interview with one of his lords. The woman would not be pleased, but as king he could not risk inviting the viper in to his nest, however large said nest may be. He left instructions regarding all these things with his secretary and considered his wardrobe for the upcoming luncheon. He had at least five minutes before he had to appear. Plenty of time.

The day passed quietly as Mab's court drew closer and closer to the time of the luncheon feast. Jareth returned in time to see the tables as they were covered and set by the servants of the castle.

"Very nice," Jareth complimented her.

"Thank you, Sire," she replied, smiling happily. "Oh, I do hope this day does please you!"

Jareth smiled at the girlish tone and statement. No matter how light or dark the day did end, he was certain to be pleased. Mab knew well the complexity of his tastes, and the day, no matter what, was going to end in his pleasure.

"You've not long before the guests begin to arrive," he teased, spirits high since his work at the castle was done for the moment and he was able to reward a justly deserving man this day. Even though he delighted in all aspects of his nature, the young man who had striven so long ago to become a Knight of the Realm still thrilled to hear tales of others who gave selflessly, without regard of cost to themselves. As a knight, he had striven to do just that, usually succeeding. As a king, it gave him hope that the men he ruled were strong and fit for anything he required of them. It assured the succession of the knighthood, the magic workers, and his armies.

"Oh, I must change my dress!" she teased back, noting his crisp black cloak, fitted black iridescent leather jerkin over a silver-grey shirt, and suitable black breeches and boots. His riding crop, one of the symbols of his rule, was held lightly in his hand, tapping against his boot.

"See that you do, woman," he growled at her lightly. "Else I remind you of your duties."

Mab laughed at the threat he gave her, knowing he was serious. Both knew that the words and the brandishing of the riding crop was completely unnecessary. Mab would no more shirk her duties than poison an infant. With a wave of her hand, her dress changed to a lovely silver frock that called to mind spider webs on the wind. She pivoted for him on one heel. The servants ignored it all, frantic to finish their work before the guests arrived.

"Eh," he said, pursing his lips. "It'll do." The light mischief in his eyes made her feel light as air and less than a tenth of her age. She was considerably older than her king, after all.

Mab gave him a glare that was more contained laughter than burgeoning ire.

The lighthearted banter continued until the first guest was announced. By then, they had made their way up to the dais where Mab's throne of moon-struck silver was only slightly lower than Jareth's half-circle of stone and blood. Many who first saw his throne thought it strange that it was not a gilded monstrosity or some exotic material. Instead, the throne was made of what dwarves called the bones of the earth, a hard whitish stone whose only colour came from the patina of age and the blood of those who would take the it for their own.

Jareth lounged in his chair, his riding crop tapping against his boot. He ruled here and in all the courts of his kingdom, but he allowed the local lords to reign according to their own style. Mab was formal, light, and airy. Her people were comfortable with her, and even those who came forward with trepidation left feeling wanted and loved. The few remarks Jareth made were simple, designed to foster these feelings for Mab and for himself; he was not blind to the potential of Mab's people rebelling against the king. It had happened before in his father's reign. It would not happen to him. He would not allow it.

Finally, the object of this particular luncheon came forward with one other man, the one he had invited as his friend.

"Ah, Helston of Gainstock," Mab said, rising and nearly floating down the steps to meet him. She embraced him fully and heaped profuse thanks upon him for his quick thinking and quicker actions. The man blushed and stammered through several attempts to thank her, and his younger companion seemed like he was trying to hide behind the man who was the focus of all the court's attention, including the queen's rather personal brand.

"Ma'am, I mean Majesty, I…I don't know what's been said, but I didn't do it all myself," he rushed when she finally allowed him to speak. "I mean, I thank you, but I can't take all the credit. If Couric here," he indicated his friend who looked like he was ready to crawl away and hide behind a curtain, "my apprentice, hadn't been with me, I'd've died myself."

Mab's eyes grew wide and she turned her ample charms and attention to this young merchant-apprentice called Couric.

"Couric? Of Gainstock?" she asked, taking his hands in hers.

"N-n-n-no, Majesty," he stammered. "Of Realiche in the Kingdom of Grea. I j-j-j-just moved here a f-f-f-few months ago." From his face and manner, he wanted to scream for help. Grea, an island kingdom renowned for its formality in the daily dealings of its citizens, was not a place where a queen of any stripe spoke to, much less hugged and kissed and thanked, a mere merchant-apprentice.

"Are you citizen of Gainstock now?" she queried, thinking of how much of a shock this youngster would have in a few days. He was quite young, perhaps twenty of those human years Jareth used to refer to physical and mental traits.

"Y-yes, Majesty," he said, breathing a little easier now that she turned the charm down a bit. It wasn't much, but every little bit helped.

"Well, then this feast must be a welcome to you as well as a thanks to you and your master!" Her language was more formal with him, for she didn't want to send him into a fit of apoplexy. "And for your deeds, Helston and Couric, our own King, Jareth of the Labyrinthine Realm, has consented to join us!"

Both men stared up at the dais where Jareth still lounged, staring down at them, the tip of his whip pressed against his lips. When both men began to kneel, Jareth spoke.

"Stand," he said, his voice reflecting the very real power he held. He rarely spoke in another court, much less in his role as King, complete with the earthly and magical powers he held lacing his words and voice. The two men were almost compelled to remain standing. "We thank you, and for your reward offer you any dream that you have had to come to you. Choose wisely," he cautioned, "for a dream is only fantasy, but to have a dream become flesh can cost more than you believed."

"Yes, Your Majesty," both men replied, their voices ghostly in the hall that now resonated with Jareth's essence. The very stones Mab had trod for years reminded her that, though she was granted dominion of part of the labyrinth, only one man held its heart. The feeling gave her a very real moment of terror as she realized again how very indulgent with her he was.

She resolved to make these last two walls the most difficult Sarah would face in any part of her run, except the third section of the final segment. That knowledge was reserved for only the Kings of the Labyrinthine Realm.

"Sire," Helston managed to speak. "May we…take some time before we…answer you?" The phrasing was rough but honest. Neither man dared be anything but honest with the King.

"You have three days, when the Festivals begin in Gainstock. After that, I shall choose for you," he held up his hand, fingers in the air, and a crystal appeared. "I will…study your dreams, should that be the case." He tossed the crystal to Helston, who caught it and cradled it carefully to his chest. "Simply speak your dream into the crystal, or come to see me here the day before the Festival begins. I will hold audience open to you at any time." With that, Jareth waved his free hand to the side, acknowledging the thanks of the men as he dismissed them. He nodded to Mab, who curtsied low and spoke in a hushed voice.

"His Majesty is generous," she said, unable to resent the power he held even as it coursed through her from toes to hair. She rose from her curtsy, ascended to the dais, and turned to face the crowd. "To the tables! We feast!" she cried, not bothering to sit. Jareth and Mab waited until the crowd dispersed and the tables were filled with people waiting for their arrival.

"I had forgotten, Jareth," she murmured, shivering.

In response, Jareth granted her an enigmatic smile, nothing more. He held out his hand to her, offering to be her escort, if she dared to walk beside him.

Shuddering with excitement, fear, and no little knowledge of both the pleasure and pain he could inflict, realizing that he had only given her measured doses of each, she placed one now-gloved hand very lightly on his black gloves. She would not presume to touch his veiled skin with her own bare flesh after this, not for a long time to come.

Accepting the almost non-existent pressure of her hand on his, King Jareth escorted Queen Mab into the dining hall. The chamberlain announced them.

"All hail Queen Mab, Dreamweaver and Mistress of the Lower Labyrinth!" A polite cheer came from all sides of the room.

"All hail King Jareth of the Labyrinthine Realm, King of Goblins, Blood-lord of Mysteries, Lord of Night, Lord of Dreams, Sovereign of Wishes, Keeper of Secrets and Shadows, and Knight of the Realm of the line of Carnelian!"

Jareth felt a jolt as his formal titles, the major ones, greeted him. There were a host of other titles that he had gathered prior to becoming king, and even afterward. The entire court stood, and as one bowed or curtsied to him. Had it really been long enough since his last formal dinner that the list of his titles sounded dusty? The man, young for his post at perhaps six hundred human years, had obviously learned them from rote. In this moment, Jareth prayed to whatever gods deigned to listen to his world that Sarah made it through the Tests hale and whole. He did not want to become a story-book figure during his own rule. There would be time enough after it to become mere legend.

"Rise, good people," he said softly, his voice carrying in the silence. "Be seated and rest easy, for this day is to be of joy and fellowship." The words were still infused with power, but it was a lighter, joyous strain of the harmonies he carried within. A crystal song of cheer, if he wanted to believe the poets.

The good people sat. Despite themselves, they relaxed. Jareth did not hold the festivities, but broke bread quickly, inviting the court to join him. Mab, also cognizant of her place, was unwilling to refrain from drink or sauces.

Jareth enjoyed the dinner, the lightness of his mood and the joy he was taking in the occasion transmitting far and wide throughout the castle. From the castle, the good cheer radiated into Mab's holdings. Common citizens far from the merriment at the Keep of Dreams found themselves standing taller and whistling merry tunes as they went about their daily work.

The effect on everyone in the court was astounding. Even so, Jareth refrained from exercising the bulk of his strength.

Such was the price of power.

***

Almost two full days later, Helston spoke into the crystal.

"Sire, perhaps it's an indecent dream to you, but I…I would like to open the Festivals with a certain girl…" He continued on, explaining what he could and finally resorting to projecting his memory into the crystal. It was a trick every schoolchild learned, for it was how judges found truths in testimony, how births and deaths and other important events were recorded for the villages, and how the King would communicate with the chosen few. As always, there were some exceptions, which was what had disconcerted a certain gnome-dwarf whose duties centered on the scraggly growth outside the Labyrinth walls. Dismayed and discombobulated as Hoggle had been, he had never lied to his King, for his fear of crystal was no match for his abject terror of the King's rage.

There was a silence, then the crystal clouded for a moment. Helston could see his King's face in the heart of the crystal, and, when the lips of the image moved, sound radiated from the sphere.

"I will inform the girl of the honour you have requested for her. The townsmen, I understand, already agreed that you should open the Festivals." The image paused. "Has Couric made his decision?"

"I…couldn't say, Sire," Helston replied, frowning. "He hasn't said anything to me."

"Mm. Remind him of his deadline. I will not be pleased to go searching on my own." Something in that voice made Helston nod rapidly.

"I'll remind him, Sire, every moment of every sunrise, and thereafter, too, if need be!"

Jareth chuckled. "I doubt that much will be required, but your enthusiasm has been noted. Bright paths, Merchant of Gainstock!"

With the blessing of good fortune ringing in his ears, Helston carefully put the crystal back onto its little stand on his desk. A crystal from the King's own hand! What a thing for him to have! In truth, that was worth more than a dream, but tales of this King's displeasure at those who scorned his gifts had made Helston speak of something other than that little sphere. He wasn't entirely sure, but he got the impression that the King knew his opinion on the matter of the crystal and the dream-grant, and from what Helston gathered, his King wanted to grant this dream even more than Helston probably wanted it. Had he thought to say it, he should have said that simply meeting the King and being recognized by him in open court was a dream come true. Come to think of it, it wasn't Helston's dream of recognition, but his father's. Maybe Jareth knew that, too.

Breaking the reverie engendered by the little ball, Helston hurried into his warehouse to badger his apprentice into making up his ever-so-parochial little mind.

Really, why did the boy have to be so…Grean?

***

Jareth sighed and looked toward Mab's castle, more accurately a done-up keep, not a true castle like his own home.

"You are a miserable bitch sometimes, Dreamweaver," he murmured, "and I do love you for it."

***

It was now the day before the Festival began, and Jareth was visiting Mab's home. He stayed there, sending a message to Sarah to meet him at the castle, which she did with a speed that gratified him. She met with him privately in his rooms at the castle.

"Jareth," she said, walking into his arms and kissing him. "Why did you want to see me?"

"Mm," he replied, his original intentions disappearing as she wrapped her arms around him. He was comfortable interrupting the incipient conversation with a second kiss. "We'll talk later."

Sarah blinked, then laughed as his hands were pulling at her clothes. She returned the favour and soon they were very relaxed and quite comfortable in the bed. Sarah watched as Jareth stood and located his clothing. He hadn't stopped time for this encounter, and she was still revelling in the incredible relaxation he'd given her, albeit through a circuitous route. She wasn't quite up to dressing, yet she wasn't trying to hide under the covers of his bed or jump to dressing, either. As Jareth dressed, she watched, the weeks she'd spent with him and the fact that she enjoyed watching him prompting her to stare boldly at him.

"Have you enjoyed Gainstock?" he asked, knowing that she would not appreciate the news he brought to her, and wanting her unguarded when he told her.

"Is that the name of the village?" she asked, only mildly curious. "So far, it's been fine. The innkeep and his wife are nice people, and the work I'm doing in exchange for room and board is easy." She shrugged. "I don't want to live there, but it'll do until after their Festival."

"Ah, so you've heard about the Festival," Jareth smiled. "What have you heard about it?"

"From what I gather, it's a spring rite. The reasons I've been given for having the Festival are that it promotes fertility and growth for the people, the businesses, and the farmers; that it allows everyone in the village a three-day vacation; that it attracts tourists; that the parents of small children throughout the Outer Lands send their children to the Queen's Festival at her castle and have a small holiday without them; and that it's great fun for everyone there to show off." Sarah ticked off the different things she'd heard about the three-day party on her hands. "It sounds like an excuse to send the kids away and party for three days without worrying about anything else."

"It is, and it isn't," Jareth replied, leaning on the bedpost and crossing his arms. He watched Sarah as she spoke, enjoying the view with a small part of his brain even while he explained the Festival of Delights to her. "While tourists do appear, while children do come to the castle for a large celebration with Mab, and while they do party, there's more to it. It is the oldest rite for prosperity in my kingdom. I frequently attend, even though it's not possible for me to show up every year. To open the Festival is a great honour."

"Oh? How is that determined?" Sarah asked, less interested in the goings-on of the Festival than the methods of choosing the ceremonial duties.

"In this case, a local hero - the man I was telling out about a few days ago - has the honour, by the choice of the townsmen." Jareth smiled, thinking of his gift to the man. "In fact, opening the ceremony is his dream come true."

"Really?" Sarah seemed happy. "That's great!"

"And you'll be helping him," he continued.

"Can I do that? As your runner, I mean," she clarified.

"Again, part of his dream." Jareth raised an eyebrow and gave her a long, head-to-toe look, lingering at the pertinent parts in between. "He saw you on the riverbank and thought you beautiful."

Sarah blinked. Then she blushed. "Oh. Well," she said, trying to assimilate this information. "Nothing I can do now but be glad he liked the view."

Jareth gave her a small, close-mouthed smile. "I'm glad you said that," he said softly, "because you'll be his partner for the opening ceremony, which is held the hour after dawn tomorrow."

Chapter Text

"I'll have to wear something other than those breeches, Jareth," she said, suddenly worried.

"Oh?" he asked, wondering what she was thinking.

"Well, your shirt is lovely," she said, "and the black boots and pants and jerkin are nice but it's not appropriate for the Festival." Sarah thought she was being reasonable.

"You won't be wearing anything at all," Jareth replied, stifling a laugh at her lack of information. "In case no one has mentioned it, the opening ceremony involves the chosen pair coupling in the village square, on the bare earthen dais."

"What?" Sarah wasn't sure she heard correctly.

"It's a…what is the term from your world? Dionysian festival, though for prosperity and fortune in years to come, more than the rest of it."

"Dionysus, as in the Greek god of sexual abandon, fertility, vegetation, partying, wine, and mysteries?" Sarah said, not processing anything else that he had said just yet. She was still trying to picture a man and woman willingly having sex while the rest of the townsmen looked on.

"The very one," Jareth replied. "The entire festival is rather Dionysian. You won't be the only ones coupling, just getting the ball rolling, as it were."

"Wait." Sarah's eyes grew wide as she finally realized that she, not some nameless, faceless woman from the village, would be in the square, naked and…"Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "Not me."

"You, Sarah. It is the man's dream, and I have already agreed to grant it." There was steel in the softly spoken words.

"Then have him pick someone else. I am not going to be in that village square…screwing someone I don't know!" Sarah raised her voice to him, growing louder with each word. She was almost yelling by the time she finished.

"You will," Jareth's voice was cold and distant. "And you shall do so willingly."

"Who do you think you are, giving me away to someone else like that?" she snapped. She was standing now, the better to fight with him.

Jareth took her chin lightly in his hand. "Mine to command," he said softly, coldly as he looked into her angry eyes. "Do you remember that, Sarah? You swore to be mine to command, to take, to give, to pleasure, and to punish."

"Oh, please, Jareth! You couldn't be serious about that! It's not an oath - it's…it's…slavery!" she retorted.

"Nonetheless, I have taken you and pleasured you. You are delicious, Sarah. Now I am giving you to a man who has done more for my kingdom than you have, and it is my command that you go to him at the Festival tomorrow with an open and willing heart." The soft, low voice held menace in it. Sarah was too angry to heed the warning.

"I will not!" she hissed, jerking her chin out of his grasp. "I refuse to be…whored out! I am running the labyrinth to be your Queen, not your glorified whore!" She gasped as Jareth grabbed her upper arms in a steel grip and hauled her so she was nose-to-nose with him. Her vision was filled with angry, mismatched eyes, the blue eye cold and the hazel-brown eyes hot with the rage he was projecting.

"The greatest reward I could give to any of my kingdom is the body and blood of my Queen," Jareth hissed. Rage was awakening in him now as her stubbornness proved itself out. He shook her once and continued speaking. "As my Queen, should you actually manage to make it that far, you will be mine still - to command, to give, to take, to pleasure, to punish, to bear my children, to rule and fight by my side, to provide comfort and solace to my court, to have, to hold, and to suit your life to mine, living only to serve me and my realm. If you are so squeamish you cannot stand to be touched by another before an appreciative and reverent audience, you do not deserve to finish the run, much less become my Queen."

"I accepted you as my King with those words, Jareth," she hissed back, "not my pimp! I am no one's to give away, and you will have to force me to go through with it! I will not be willing or happy!"

"An' you be mine," he whispered, the familiar line spreading a cold fear through Sarah, "I give you to my subject." She knew what should come next, but this was Jareth, and he was angry. "And you be not," Jareth paused, "I will break you first and then give you to my subject, a pretty doll to use and discard."

"You wouldn't," she whispered, wanting to be certain of him, having the sinking feeling that she was wrong.

"Will you obey me in this?" he asked, ignoring her hopeful statement and focusing on the argument at hand. This was the crux of the matter. She had vowed to do as he commanded, honestly. That his symbol was dark black above her heart proved her oath was true. Now she was refusing this politely worded command.

Sarah grew hot with anger, the blush of her cheeks not from a delicate innocence any longer. "I will not!" she hissed. It was worthy of Elizabeth Taylor's Kate in Taming of the Shrew.

In response, Jareth's hand struck her cheek hard, making her stare at him in shock. She reached out one hand and found the riding crop he had put beside his side of the bed. Without thinking, she slashed the whip across his face, leaving a bleeding stripe from the corner of one eye down his cheek. Jareth smiled at her.

"Once again, my dear," he said, snatching the whip from her hand, "you choose the most difficult path." He said nothing more as she screamed his name and tried to back away from him, turning to run to the door.

Jareth grabbed her arm and pivoted, slinging her toward the bed. Her thighs hit the bed and she fell forward, catching herself on her arms. Just as she started to push up, Jareth's hand tangled in her hair at the base of her neck and shoved down. Restraints appeared at her wrists and pulled her arms out wide to the far bedposts, chains drawing tight enough that she felt muscles in her shoulders tighten. She tried to crawl up onto the bed, but again, restraints at her ankles anchored her in place.

"No! Please, Jareth! Don't do this -" Her words ended in a scream as he brought the riding crop down hard across her bare back. The first stripe glowed red. The second left stinging welts. Thereafter, he drew blood with each stroke.

Sarah screamed and begged for him to stop, but it didn't matter to Jareth now. The minute she cut him with his own whip, he had pulled them into the broken moments. Minutes, hours, weeks, or months, they would remain almost motionless in time while he taught her to honour her oath. When she had stopped screaming, he stopped the beating.

"Will you obey me, Sarah? Will you go to this man with a willing heart?" he asked, his voice soft. Ah, but she screamed so sweetly!

"Why are you doing this," she rasped between sobs. "Why?"

Jareth sighed in response. That was not the question he had asked. She needed to learn to answer only what was asked, not go out into her own conversations.

He looked at her bleeding, welted back, the stripes he had placed at the top of her buttocks, the matted hair bunched around her head, the streaming tears. She was beautiful. Sarah couldn't hear the sound of him unbuttoning his breeches, nor the whisper of cloth as it peeled away from his skin. She felt him, though, when he forced himself into her. She screamed again, then again as he pressed down on the bruised, bleeding flesh of her back. Jareth rode her until he climaxed, noting that, though she had become wet and begun responding to his demands, it was nowhere near as quickly or as copiously as when she had held this position for pure pleasure. She had not come close to climax, but her pleasure hadn't been his concern. He righted his clothes and smiled at the scene. Beautiful.

Jareth stretched out on the bed beside her, making sure that he was on the side she was facing.

Sarah moaned when Jareth came into view. Her eyes begged him for a reason, but her lips could only form whispering moans as her eyes were red with the tears she had shed.

"You are mine to punish," he said, leaning over to lick her tears. "Sweet," he commented, then returned to his point. "You refused to obey me, and so I am punishing you. This will continue until you agree to do as I say and do it willingly, no matter what you want or what you think or what you feel. I am the King, Sarah. I do not require you to be happy, only to do your duty."

"But…this?" Sarah wasn't specific. She didn't have to be. It was clear to Jareth that she meant all of it - the dream, the Festival, the beating, the argument that resulted in her rape.

"Necessary," he replied in clipped tones. "Now, will you obey me?"

Closing her eyes, feeling the tears begin again, Sarah gave her answer.

"No."

"Oh, Sarah," Jareth sighed. "I was hoping you'd say that."

He picked up the slender leather whip again and the first cut fell across her thighs. This time, she was panting and trying to scream, to sob. She couldn't. She was becoming dehydrated, and, for some reason, she hadn't passed out. Several times, it felt as though she were going to, but she never did. Jareth knew she wanted to faint and was ruthlessly preventing that escape.

"Think on this," he said as he timed and placed the last several lashes. "A whip is only the beginning of your punishment. There is more, and worse, to come." Again, the sight of her bleeding body was pleasing to him, arousing him. He kept the whip in one hand as he stepped behind her again. She felt his legs brush the tender, raw skin of her thighs and closed her eyes. She knew what was going to happen.

Again, she was wrong. This time, Jareth moved gently into her, slipping one hand around to tease her. Sarah's head swam as the sensations of pleasure pulsed within the agonies he had inflicted upon her. Her body responded, tiredly, even as her mind was lost in the vying reactions. She began to shiver and shudder with pleasure, the responses he had instilled in her during their time together evicting her outrage and competing with the pain of the beatings he had given her.

Jareth smiled evilly as he drew her close to pleasure. He withdrew from her and changed his position, pressing into her as he had only once before. He listened to her groan as he stretched her anew, smiled as he felt her body shake with remembered pleasure. This torture used her own body against her, insult to injury. No matter that he had just beaten her as no one in the world had ever done, she still wanted him, responded to his touch. He opened the magic between them, tasting her emotions

Knowing it was his touch driving her toward ecstasy was a dagger to her heart. These same hands had just beaten her; the same body that was moving carefully within hers, the angle of his thrusts teasing out the most pleasure from her too-cooperative body, had not long before shoved into her and torn her tender flesh. The bitter pleasure tested his control. He moved his concentration from her emotions to her reflection in the mirror. Watching, he smiled.

He knew what she was thinking now. She couldn't see it, but her face reflected her thoughts so clearly. Her body tensed, then shuddered in release. He withdrew from her again. After carefully cleaning himself with magic, he moved back to where he had started, carefully drawing her back to pleasure. As he drove her toward her second release, the hand holding the crop whipped down across her back.

Sarah screamed, unable to stop the pain that ripped through her or the climax that swept her from herself. She felt his movements speed up, become sharper. He did something with the fingers that tormented her that brought her over and over again. She didn't feel it when he climaxed, but when he pulled out of her at the end, she was left shaking, so close to another release that she started whimpering.

Jareth stepped back and, with a wave, cleaned his body and clothing, restoring his appearance to its usual impeccable state. He watched as Sarah struggled to find something that wasn't going to come her way. Running the whip through his hands, he smiled cruelly. Then he brought the whip up hard between her legs, heard her shriek in pain-pleasure-pain.

Sarah felt the agony between her legs and screamed - but the same snap that made her arch in agony also brought her release, then faded into throbbing, mind-numbing pain.
Before she finally blacked out, she heard Jareth's voice.

"You will obey me, Sarah, and you will do it willingly."

Darkness cradled her mind, even as her body was left on its own to suffer.

***

Hours passed. Days passed, and still Sarah would not obey. Jareth was pleased and worried by her stubbornness. He enjoyed hurting her and bringing her to orgasm by turns. He didn't often have the chance to let his darker nature play so freely with a runner. He cherished each scream, be it of pain or pleasure. The ones she gave him that were fueled by both were pure enchantment.

Each time Sarah passed out, he would leave her in his "room" and rest in the adjoining chamber. His room more closely resembled a torture chamber now, but a nice one, meant for pleasure and pain. He was careful to heal her flesh, even while he left the pain and bruising behind. He had fed her, bathed her, freed her to order her about the room, testing her obedience. Even when she came close to perfectly obedient with him alone, when he ordered her to go to Helston and the Festival with a willing heart, she rebelled. He would start over with her. Sometimes, he pleased only himself. Others, he would make her beg for mercy from him when he had tortured her solely with her own need for release. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for him. Had he asked Sarah for her opinion, she would have given a different answer.

Nearly two weeks later, Jareth had finished whipping her breasts and belly with a torny vine as she hung from wrist-retraints in the ceiling, swaying on tiptoe with each blow.

"Will you obey me, Sarah?" he asked again, as he had throughout her ordeal.

Sarah was silent, her eyes closed, tears falling again. Instead of answering immediately, she was silent as she hung from the rafter, her wrists raw from the tight, iron manacles. This was new. Jareth waited. He could see the small changes in her face that indicated thought.

"I will leave you to consider your answer," he said, turning and walking out the door.

Sarah heard the door close quietly behind him. She knew he wasn't in the room, for his presence was tangible now. She could feel the weight of his eyes upon her, smell his desire, his anger. His pleasure. His voice engendered terror, but there were memories of his gentleness, his kindness that tormented her.

She didn't know how long she had endured this siege of the senses. Pain and pleasure blurred for her when he was near, when his were the hands giving her one or the other. Maybe that was his intent. She didn't know. Now, she just felt. She was a raw, throbbing mess of feeling. The vine he had shown her, the one he had just used to whip her, had sharp thorns. The had caught in her flesh and torn bloody scratches on her. She had simply accepted the pain, the weight of his gaze. Yes, she had screamed, cried, moaned. But this time she was able to think through the pain.

And he had asked that question again.

Again. She had lost count of how often he had asked her. She swayed on her tippy-toes, the pull of her weight on her shoulders causing lances of fiery agony to run down her body. She couldn't feel her hands. Her legs were cramping. But she could think.

He had warned her, hadn't he, when she said he should have a warning label. "It's King," he had said, his voice teasing. She believed him now.

She remembered giving herself to him in five different ways. She was his, by her own volition, to command. Yet she refused this one command. Was it worth it? Was the pain of his displeasure worth the command she was working to avoid? The answer…was no. He was giving her to another for pleasure. This pain was a high price for her…what? What had made her reject his command? Fear? Pride? Embarrassment? Whatever it was, she had paid for it over and over. She was tired of paying for something that, really, she didn't miss. Whatever had prompted her to refuse was gone now. Only her stubbornness had kept her hanging on this long - hanging here to be beaten, raped, tormented by…him. Her lover.

She was his to take. He had, oh, he had! He had taken her in more ways than she thought possible, and mostly with her own willing participation, if not instigation. He had taken her again in here, forcing her, tormenting her with her own physical needs and reactions. Still, she had found pleasure, despite the pain. Shuddering, she knew she wanted this form of pain from him as much as she had wanted the pleasure. She knew her desires now, why she had played the games of restraint and command with him in those weeks of pleasure. Somewhere deep inside, she wanted to feel his anger, and she had wanted it in conjunction with the pleasure he could give to her. He had taken her in ways she didn't understand yet, and she had screamed in pain. But she had also screamed in pleasure. As long as he wanted to take her, she would crawl to him, if he wanted her to, and revel in his touch. Twisted, perhaps, but it was all part of her desire.

She was his to pleasure. Even in pain, he had given her pleasure. Tears slipped from her eyes again as she remembered the sweet days in bed with him, the way he had led her to admitting her desires and acting upon them. She was willing and able to take pleasure from him in bed. Would doing the same with another man be so different? She didn't think so, since he had explained to her more than once that the man would be focused entirely upon her pleasure. He would feel different under her hands and inside her, but he was still a man, wasn't he? Formed in the same manner, pleasured by the same basic things. Jareth had been so brutal with her sometimes, that the pleasure hadn't come. But then he would turn around and be so careful with her, especially when she was bruised and torn inside, that she wouldn't stop the bliss he gave her, even if she could.

She was his to give. He didn't say it was forever, that he had tired of her. He was simply giving her to another man for one ceremony, perhaps a few hours. Sarah was familiar with Jareth's control and stamina, she had no other referents to consider. Was a few hours of enjoying herself that bad? And he would be there, she knew he would. Watching. A thrill shot up her aching body. Jareth watching her take pleasure with another man, as he had watched and forced her to watch as he took her. She had entertained the thought before in a flash of what she had then considered perversion, but given the opportunity to do just that, had scorned and scoffed. Desires were just that - there was no good or bad to them, only the ability to live with the aftermath of chasing them. She desired another man, any other, so long as Jareth was there to watch. And she was his to give. He was giving her to another. It was easy to accept, when she admitted her own desires.

The audience was…also a thrilling thought. With Jareth, with another man or woman or more than one, the thought of an audience focusing on her as she found pleasure…Sarah wanted to rub her thighs together at the thought, but her stretched-out position did not allow for such movements.

She was his to punish. She had fought this, but now she was so hurt and tired. When he had hurt her that first time, the shock and confusion had clouded her mind and judgement. Now, though, hanging here after days upon days of torment, she accepted this. It had taken her much pain before she was willing to admit it, but she…she was happy that he was the one beating her. No one else had touched her so intimately, in pleasure or in pain, as Jareth. She craved his touch. When he left her, like now, she ached for his presence. Tears fell freely onto her bloody breasts as she gave in to her own nature. She was a creature of deep, sometimes dark, desires, and Jareth was the one to teach her something of all of them. She was his to command, through her own will, and now, finally, she could accept that she wanted it that way. Queen-candidate or not, she would be his to command from now until forever.

Perhaps she was sick, twisted, perverted, and marginally insane, but she was glad that he hadn't handed her over to someone or something else to torture. Everything had come from his hands.

From the King's hands.

Sarah groaned as she finally recognized the lesson here: From the King's hand came her pleasure and her pain; she had accepted his authority over her when she agreed to run the labyrinth to win the place by his side as his Queen. She herself had confirmed that authority when she gave herself to him in five ways. She had no right to refuse his command. Conversely, she was not required to obey any other, especially if it countered a command he had already given her. The King had claimed her, and she had handed him the right to her body and her obedience. Granted, she had withheld her mind, but he had told her he didn't want to take her ability to think from her. It was what made her uniquely Sarah. This punishment and submission cost her nothing except her illusions of her self. Since she was being honest with herself, she admitted that Jareth had long had her love - had it even now, after the brutality he had shown her. She had surrendered her heart to him two years ago, and even when he hurt her, she could not bend that love and remove it.

Sarah felt a deep peace wash over her as she took this harshly-learned lesson to heart. When she relaxed in the chains, letting her weight rest entirely on her wrists, she felt gloved hands gently lift her weight. She had not sensed his return while she was thinking through her lessons.

"Sire," she whispered, her voice filled with reverence. "Forgive me. I will thee obey. I am yours to command. Yours to give, to take, to pleasure, and to punish." Jareth released the restraints from her, but she did not move other than to lower her heels to the ground and let her hands drop to her sides. The tingling pain of circulation returning to her hands couldn't penetrate her current peacefulness.

"Then you have accepted your place in the dream I have granted?" he asked, wondering if she was going to suddenly change her mind, like Kate in the play she reminded him of so much.

"I have, Sire, and I go with a willing heart." She opened her eyes and looked up into that face that had so tormented her with pleasure and pain. She lifted one hand to the cheek she had slashed with his own riding crop, caressing his perfectly healed cheek. No trace of the cut remained. "I understand now."

"What do you understand," he demanded, urgency filling him. Let it be true, he thought. Let her understand!

"That you are my King, that I am your subject, and that even as your Queen, I will never be other than yours." The peacefulness in her eyes as she spoke made him close his.

"Sarah," he breathed, crushing her to him. He took her mouth in a kiss, the first since she had refused him in Mab's castle, and drank in her whimpers. As he kissed her, held her, his hands gentled. He healed her, breathed in her scent. She had accepted him, his dominion. Stubborn, demanding, and now submissive, perhaps she would survive the labyrinth unbroken.

Sarah accepted his kiss, not willing to do anything other than accept what he gave to her. He was her lover by his own choice, not by hers. A stray thought made her smile. Her book had been nothing like this. It was more like the labyrinth she had run to rescue Toby, only more intense and dangerous. She had not realized it when she was writing, but the most dangerous creature in this realm was the man holding her like she was made of glass.

When Jareth released her, she was back in the room where they had started, a richly appointed bedroom. She was still naked, but now he was as well. Sarah wrapped her arms around her king and opened herself to his pleasure.

Jareth felt the change in her. She was not the bold little vixen he had taught so much. She was not the defiant woman-child who tested his authority over her. She was not Sarah-of-Before. She was his. Utterly and completely his. When he laid her back on the bed, she smiled up at him, everything about her broadcasting his power over her. He took what she gave him, gently and carefully.

Sarah basked in his power over her. Why had she been so foolish? In this moment, she could not remember why. It seemed like the dream of a girl to want an equal as her lover. There was no such thing as equals, not in relationships. Not in this one. She didn't care about equality now, just this moment, when her King was pleased with her and pleasured her in return.

Hours later, Jareth brought them out of the broken moments. Perhaps two human minutes had passed. They were still lying in the bed together, Sarah curled into him as he wanted her to be, when a knock sounded at the door.

"Enter," Jareth called, relaxed.

Mab walked in, her eyes taking in the scene before her. The girl was lying in his arms, utterly submissive to him. She raised an eyebrow at her King and saw his cat-in-cream smile
in return.

"Couric, the young merchant-apprentice, is here to see you, Jareth. Shall I send him up?"

Jareth read her wicked tone correctly. She wanted to do just that, shocking the young man to his ever-so-proper toes.

"Behave, Mab," Jareth drawled, eyes dancing with appreciation. "Serve him tea. I'll be down to see him by the time it's poured." Sarah had moved a bit, distracting him.

Mab saw the way he looked at the girl next to him and snorted. "Will you be dressed?"

Jareth gave her a smile that promised nothing.

Mab, having long ago learned when to leave well enough alone, curtsied briefly and let herself out. A faint ripple in magic, one she had felt many times before, told her he had taken his prize out of time. She smiled to herself. My, but he was determined to be thorough.

Chapter Text

Downstairs, Jareth appeared in the room with the young man from Grea. He had popped into the room behind the man. Jareth watched the man as he watched the shadows on the floor. Couric's posture was painfully perfect, even as he was obviously trying not to squirm. Why he would squirm, Jareth wouldn't know. After another moment, Jareth walked over to the chair next to the boy.

Couric started as the King dropped casually into the chair next to his. Couric watched in amazement as the King turned in the chair, threw his leg over the arm, and motioned to the pot of tea between them on a small table, uttering only one word.

"Pour."

Couric did. He waited until Jareth took a sip, then tasted the tea. It was a lovely drink, one imported from his homeland. This particular blend was much more expensive than he would ever have tasted at home, but here? Here he not only drank it, he drank with a King. They finished the first cup, as was custom in Couric's home. Did the King know that? Couric chided himself for doubting - but of course he did! He was the King!

"Tell me," Jareth said breaking the silence as they returned their cups to the table. "What is your dream?"

"Sire, your recognition and this moment is sufficient -" Couric began.

"Bullshit," Jareth interrupted. "I did not ask for your idea of sufficient. I asked for the dream you wish to have fulfilled, the one you desire more than any other."

Couric blushed and stared down at the carpet. "Forgive me, Sire. I did not intend to sound ungrateful."

Jareth waved it away. "Just tell me your dream."

His blush deepening, his gaze at the carpet intensifying when his eyes weren't simply closed, Couric told him.

Jareth's eyebrows flew up in surprise.

Well, who'd have thought a boy from Grea would harbour such a dream? Smiling slowly, Jareth purred one word: "Granted."

Couric's head snapped up and he looked over at the King of the Labyrinthine Realm, his adopted homeland.

"Truly?" Couric managed to invest shock, joy, and sheer terror into that one short word.

"Truly," Jareth sat up and smiled, his eyes warm as he saw what was before him. It hadn't escaped his notice before, but Couric was quite handsome. He was slender, like Jareth, but darker of skin. His hair was black, like oil, and his eyes were a rich, dark-earth brown. His face was well-formed, not as delicate of appearance as Jareth's own, but not as sharply defined, either. Jareth's gaze ran down the young, muscled form and rested on the man's hands. Those hands had known hard work, but they were not thick or gnarled with abuse. The fingers were long, still dexterous, and lightly calloused. There were ink stains on his thumb and forefinger, the mark of one who worked long hours at a desk.

Couric ruined the King's view by dropping to his knees and leaning forward until his forehead touched the floor.

"Sire, I am honoured -" he began, only to break off, confused, when Jareth's hand slid under his chin and pulled him upright.

"Your dream was to be my lover," Jareth said, his voice gentle lest the young man beg forgiveness for his presumption and bolt for the door. "I have granted it. As my lover, I do not expect you to grovel or beg or bow to me constantly. Simply be who and what you are." Jareth paused. "I know you are from Grea, but you are in this realm now. The rigidity of your homeland's social structures is not a part of my kingdom. Here, you are free to achieve what you can, provided you are willing to pay the price for your efforts." Jareth paused, seeing he had gone too far. "You'll understand more fully in time."

"Yes, Sire," Couric breathed. The King was touching him! And, if Couric was to be his King's lover, perhaps he would even be allowed to recite poetry to him or hear the same from the King. Or sing or be sung to. Or even…even to kiss the glove on that kind hand…

"We shall discuss your…duties as my lover this night." Jareth felt the call from his secretary and sent his voice to the crystal on his secretary's desk. "Duty calls me away for now." Jareth caressed the young man's cheek and looked deep into the wide, dark eyes. He saw surprise and hope there. "Think of tonight as ours," he added, "and take this from me now." With that, Jareth leaned forward in his chair and kissed Couric full on the lips.

Couric felt the touch of his King's lips upon his own and swooned with delight. A kiss! A kiss from his King! Oh, the rapture!

Couric was still kneeling before the empty chair several minutes later. It took even longer for him to gather his scattered wits and consider that he had just become one of the King's lovers. In Grea, this position was highly sought after, an emotional bond formed between King and subject that transcended the strictures of society and permitted emotional release to both King and subject. Others were granted the same as they witnessed the various moments between busy King and chosen subject. Sighs would echo through the palace or across the fields as the king and his lovers sang to each other of passion and love. Any who heard would weep for the poetry of longing and joy they recited to one another. Should the king deign to touch his lover, a hand covering a hand for a brief moment or a gentle brush of that same hand against cheek or hair, oh, the entire nation would sigh in rapture. A kiss on the hand or cheek, much less the lips, would make onlookers swoon in repletion.

Still Grean at heart, Couric did not yet realize that the delicately formal relationship between king and lover in Grea was not what Jareth had accepted or granted. He only knew that his King, the King to whom he pledged his loyalty and obedience as a subject of the Labyrinthine Realm, had made the very air vibrate with power days before, but had touched his hand - kissed him!

Couric had pleased his King, and his heart was glad.

***

Upstairs, sleeping peacefully, Sarah rested for the next day's opening of Festival. She was untroubled now, having surrendered to Jareth in this.

She still desired to be his Queen, would endure much to become his Queen, but in this moment, body, heart, and mind were at peace.

That night Jareth ate dinner with Sarah, discussing sleeping arrangements. They were both fully clothed for the dinner and the discussion.

"I really should be in the village, Jareth," she said, still relaxed, but now able to think more as she had before. "It would be much easier for me to attend, and I wouldn't feel like I had to explain why I was showing up with you. I've seen a lot of people in town, and they think I'm a lone traveller."

"Not unusual," Jareth remarked. For the safety of travellers from the ordinary dangers of the road, the Labyrinthine Realm was without peer. Even richly-laden merchants required no guard when inside Jareth's power. Outside, a woman travelling alone would be considered easy prey, but Jareth was ruthless with those who would endanger his people - especially if those doing the endangering were his people!

"So I've gathered," Sarah smiled at him. This felt wonderful.

"It's probably best that you remain in your little garret, then." He smiled at her. "I'll place you just outside of town in the woods.

"On the ground or in a tree?" she teased, wondering how she had let this ease with him slip away over something so trivial as sex.

"Would midair do for you?" he asked, his voice light and happy. Sarah was beautiful in her passion and in her pain, but like this, she was pure joy.

"Only if you give me wings," she simpered, placing one hand on her heart and fluttering her eyelashes.

Jareth seemed to be considering it for a moment, then shook his head. "No, you'd just break them, and then I'd have to rescue you. It would be a horrid mess of feathers and tree
branches. Best to just put you on the ground."

"You're too kind," she snickered. Conversation moved on from there, the light banter between them restored. After dinner, Jareth was as good as his word, sending Sarah back to the edge of the village, as if she had returned through the woods instead of on the path.

***

Jareth and Couric were standing in Jareth's bedroom. Couric was caught somewhere between open-mouthed gawking and what was a textbook case of shock. Standing, Jareth noted that they were of a height, which would make things ever so much more convenient.

"Sire, this is…your chamber!" Couric cried.

"Well, yes," Jareth said, looking at the younger man. "Is this a problem?"

"I…well…here…in…if…" Couric could not seem to hold a thought long enough to speak it through.

"You are my lover, are you not?" Jareth asked.

"Y-y-yes, Sire," Couric answered. This he knew. Yep, King had said it. Granted. Lover. Couric. King. Help?

"Call me Jareth," he instructed.

"Jareth?" Couric squeaked. Given name? King? Yikes!

"Yes. Jareth. As my lover, recognized by me to any and all as my lover, do you not want to please me?" Jareth was only asking because it would make Couric relax. Maybe. If
anything could. Maybe a few shots of pixie liquor would make it easier for the man.

"Of course!" Couric's reply was quick. King, happy. Good!

"And as my lover who wants to please me, you will come with me when I so desire, stay with me when I so desire, and otherwise make yourself available to me as I desire, correct?"

"Yes, Jareth. Of course." Couric was relaxing. This was easy! But when would they start with the poetry?

"And when you are not with me, what pleases me is that you study history or philosophy, or work in your chosen trade, or learn the ways of magic and the court. That you play music or take long walks-when you are not pleasing me, I require that you please yourself. Can you do that?"

"Yes, yes I can," Couric was almost glowing now. A generous lover, this King!

"You will still be my subject, loyal and obedient." When Couric nodded, Jareth continued. "You will stand next to me tomorrow at Festival and join in when I do." Again, Couric nodded. "You will learn what I enjoy and what I do not."

"Gladly, Jareth," Couric said, now completely relaxed. He was even bold enough to ask, "What would please you now?"

In response, Jareth said nothing. He simply took Couric's hand in his and pulled him into an embrace.

"Jareth?" Couric whispered, more than a little nervous.

"Now," Jareth said into Couric's ear, "it pleases me to touch you and be touched by you." Jareth forestalled any objections Couric had with a kiss that deepened slowly. When the kiss finally ended, they were locked in a close embrace.

"This…pleases you?" Couric gasped, eyes wide and slightly dazed. He was no innocent, not after living in Gainstock with its easy ways, but this was…wicked. King's touch for a mere peasant? Forbidden pleasures loomed before the young lover, and he found he was easily seduced by them. He sighed softly as Jareth's hands rubbed along his back, massaging and caressing. The thousand Grean torments may await him, but he was utterly Jareth's now.

Jareth chuckled as Couric relaxed in his embrace and even began returning caresses tentatively. Jareth nuzzling his lover's neck as he slid between moments again. As he returned to the task at hand, namely introducing Couric to the delights of his bed, he reflected that this ability to stay in broken moments was even more useful than he had imagined it would be when he was new to his rule. If the time he had spend in broken moments were counted, he would be twice again his true age.

As it was, these broken moments had been imminently satisfying these past several days.

Couric and Jareth melted together in the stolen hours. For Couric, the time with his King was all the sweeter for its gentle intimacy.

***

Sarah rose in the morning. She was nervous now that Jareth was not right there beside her. There was no question in her mind about going through with what he had commanded, but at the moment, there was more trepidation than confidence about her.

Nonetheless, she had spoken with Helston the evening before and gotten all the information she needed. She walked down to the bathhouse in the early morning light and took her time. As she bathed, she heard Gemmie and Meg leave. The night before, she had asked Meg how to tell time here. For her own uses, Sarah still used the term hours - it was something Jareth did for her, as well. Meg pointed out the stripes on the floor and notches carved into various windows and door facings. They didn't have hours, exactly, just general times of day. The Festival would begin, Meg said, when the sun was about two inches past the second stripe or second notch.

Sarah soaked in the hot water and watched the progress of the sun across the floor. When the sun had almost reached the second stripe on the floor, she stepped out of the hot water and towelled off. She did not dress. She looked outside, where the crowd was walking quietly to the village square. Several townsmen were carrying bundles of flowers or crops. These would be placed around the dais where she would perform with Helston. The thought made her stomach flutter with anticipation. Yes, she had completely accepted her nature, her desires. She let the buzzing in her blood increase as she watched the crowd disappear down the street and the sunlight slide across the wood of the doorpost.

She waited just inside the door of the deserted inn until the sunlight was one inch above the second notch carved into the door. It was time.

Shivering a bit with thoughts of what she was about to do, Sarah took her first step out onto the porch of the inn. Lifting her chin and thinking of what she had promised Jareth, she opened her heart to that same peacefulness she had discovered inside herself and started walking to the village square.

***

Helston, whose shop and house were combined in one building of the square, had taken his place next to the dais when the sun rose. He would greet the dawn, waiting patiently for the Lady of the Season of Life to come to him. He was Lord of Earth today, and he hoped that he would not embarrass himself.

The King had promised his dream come true, not his nightmare, so he tried to put his confidence into the dream. It was said that Jareth had a wicked sense of humour, but he had never been accused of making light of the rites of the realm.

Helston waited as villagers came to the square in the early light, placing their offerings around the dais. With those offerings, they placed their hopes and their fears. It was his duty to do his best to ensure the hopes were realized, not the fears.

The sun climbed higher, baking his nude body as he stood at the steps to the dais, and he watched and waited. She had said she would come from Gemmie's inn, so Helston faced in the correct direction. Was it time yet? He didn't dare look at the notches at the base of the dais. It was his place to watch and wait and hope.

Please, let her come soon.

***

Sarah saw the crowd before her. A man posted to watch for her approach saw her and tapped the man next to him. That man stepped aside, taking three others to the side with him. They parted, giving her plenty of room to pass between the press of bodies to each side. She walked toward the dais, seeing Helston there, waiting.

It was as if she were in a dream now, her body pulsing with desire, but her mind soft as with sleep. She saw the crowd, registered their existence, but didn't care. Jareth was there, standing with one arm around a young man, both watching her. She noted them in passing, her attention focused on the man at the dais.

Sarah reached the foot of the dais and took the hand Helston held out to her. They walked together up to the wide raised platform and stopped. Facing each other, they slid into an embrace so close that there was no light between them.

"Lady, I have waited long for you," he said, his voice raspy as he began the rites.

"Lord, did you doubt I would come to you?" she replied, her voice rich with warmth. She did not question the response she had ready, or from whence the words had come.

"Lady, I did not doubt." He denied it, his words soft with longing.

"Lord, I am here." Her words were simple, yet infused with power beyond her own.

"I praise and worship thee." His voice was filled with wonder and rapture.

"I give to thee all that I have to give." Her voice was generous and rich with promise.

With that, they joined in a deep kiss, and Sarah was swept away by a magic older than time.

***

Couric felt his lips open as the pair on the dais spoke. There was something in the words that made him tremble. He turned to Jareth, only to be met with a finger across his lips and a silent order to watch. Turning back, he felt Jareth's arm tighten at his waist, supporting him as the ancient magic of the Rites of Spring Returning washed over him.

Jareth shuddered as he supported Couric and felt the magic of his land ripple with the desire renew itself. He had attended this festival many times over his life. Once, before he was King, he had been the Lord of Earth to another Lady of the Season of Life. Every year after that, he had returned, be he man or knight, and the power of this simple ritual filled him again. After he became King, the Festival of Delights had become a sweet torment for him. The power of his realm filled him, growing and expanding as the Lady gave her gifts to the Lord upon the bare earth. Raised dais or not, the core of the dais was pure earth, reaching down to the ground and lower, to bedrock. As Sarah and Helston became Lady and Lord, the magic of life surrounded them, leeching into the soil.

Leeching into him, filling him. Empowering him.

None were immune to the enchantment. Around the square, lovers turned to one another and joined the Lord and Lady in their rites.

No one broke the silence of the crowd, the sounds of the Lord and Lady echoing through the square. The rest of the world was silent, waiting. No animals sounded, no breeze ruffled the trees. The only sounds were of Lord and Lady joining in the ancient dance of life to the waking earth.

Lady arched and shuddered, but, true to his dream, Lord continued to worship her.

Around the square, focus remained upon the sacred couple as bodies silently joined the dance of ages.

Jareth pressed his lips into Couric's shoulder. The magic, the power tore at him and he resisted the urge to scream. Jareth pressed harder into Couric's shoulder, then opened his mouth around the muscled flesh covered with the thin cloth and bit deep. Couric went rigid as Jareth drew blood from him. His mouth opened in a silent cry, the sound unable to leave his throat. A long moment passed, but finally the taste of life in Couric's blood was enough to calm the magic that pulsed and surged and ripped through the King. Couric felt Jareth relax, his bite loosen and the sweep of tongue cleaning the wound. In response, Couric was mortified as his body tightened in need.

Couric wanted to turn away from the vision before him. The woman was now over the man, writhing as he touched her. The sight made him ache with desire, even after the hours of "broken time" he had spent with Jareth. He wanted to run from the village, from Jareth. The bite had made him ache for more of what he had tasted the night before. It shamed him that it did not seem to matter that he touch a woman or his King, his need blind to the differences. Desire should not, his Grean heart cried, be so easily stirred by a woman and a man - one of them his former master!

Two women near Jareth and Couric pressed closer. The magic had consumed them. They were magicworkers, drawn to the power pulsing around the king. Jareth felt a slender hand slide along his thigh and looked at the two women, running hands over each other and felt the magic that pulsed between them. He pulled one woman to Couric. When Couric looked at him for confirmation, Jareth gave him a little shove and the two slid together to the ground. The second woman, the one who had stroked his thigh so boldly, was in his arms shortly after, and Jareth gave in to the magic. Neither King nor lover broke the silence as they joined the rites.

It wasn't long after Jareth joined in that his power combined with the burgeoning pulse of life returning to the realm to push Lady and Lord into a frenzied, almost violent climax. The sharp completion of the spell swept all there into it, and the sharp cries of Lord and Lady were drowned out by the echoes from the crowd.

Jareth closed his eyes and felt the tears spill from his lashes. How long had it been since a Lady had driven him to this unexpected communion?

Let her succeed, he begged the land he ruled.

The land could not answer. He had earned his right to rule only through his own will. Sarah must do the same to become his Queen.

Jareth felt the witch with him stir and murmur her appreciation. He returned the kind words, glad she had seen his need and responded to it. Couric would have survived such a coupling, but his spirit would have been wounded. Jareth would no sooner taint a sacred rite with the pain of another than he would slit his own throat.

Around the square partners rested, then remained together or parted, as they chose. The sounds of celebration began, and the revel, at the moment relaxed, would soon be the study in abandon it was rumoured to be. Couric, lying on the earth next to the witch he had bedded, watched his King as he recovered. The two men were close to one another, the women partially lying on them as pillows from the hard ground.

"Sire?" Couric asked, his eyes finishing the questions.

"As it should be," Jareth murmured, smiling as the witch began to nuzzle his neck. "All is as it should be," Jareth whispered again, closing his eyes and shuddering lightly with the memory.

Couric was not convinced and determined to discuss this with him at length later. Meanwhile, there was a lovely woman in his arms and his King did not seem averse to her being there.

"Go ahead, Couric," Jareth said, as if reading his thoughts. "This is the Festival of Delights," he murmured between kisses. "Delight yourself. Bask in your desires. I know I shall."

With that, all conversation ended and the magic of life and growing things fed on the indulgences of the people of Gainstock.

***

On the dais, the Lord and Lady returned to being Helston and Sarah, who were oddly shy with one another now.

Not knowing what else to say, Sarah broke their silence. "Thank you, Helston, for choosing me to be Lady to your Lord."

"You were truly a dream come true, Sarah," Helston replied, his voice soft and still reverent. "Thank you for consenting to join me." When Sarah smiled without speaking, Helston added, "A willing, open Lady makes the rite more sacred." He shook his head. "No, that's not the word. I…don't know how to explain it, but it's important to more than the rite or the village. It affects everything for the spring seasons."

Sarah put her fingers on his lips and said, "You don't have to explain. I understand. I felt it, too."

Helston sighed and relaxed. They stayed there for a while longer, not quite relaxed, but not sure how to end this strange camaraderie. Lacking words, they simply let their hands wander along skin, conveying their appreciation and enjoyment of before.

The sun was warm and gentle when they joined together again, this time, simply a man and woman who desired the touch of another.

***

The festival days passed quickly for the village, but there was joy everywhere. There was debauchery on a grand scale, but the spirit of joy and giving had swept through the crowds and cries of lovers peaking was rivaled with shouts of laughter among friends.

Sarah had found Jareth late in the first day. Most of the Festival she spent with him and Couric. They even went so far as to join her in her little room above the inn for the night. Neither Couric or Sarah knew it, but each night, when they were deeply asleep, Jareth slept in a broken moment and returned to his castle at the heart of the labyrinth to fulfill his duties as King.

During the Festival, Sarah had indulged her desires completely, going so far as to join Couric and Jareth or others for pleasures at night and in the day. Jareth had been in unusually good spirits, and even Couric, prudish as he was, had sensed something more was at work. All three knew the importance of this was more than just a grand debauch for the villagers. The strength of the season would depend upon the reactions of these men and women to the rite Sarah and Helston had performed. She hadn't noticed at the time, but it occurred to her that the offerings had disappeared sometime during the opening ceremonies, but she knew no one had touched them. She had seen and felt a difference in the dirt of the town - it was darker, richer, than the dusty clay it had been when she arrived.

It didn't seem to matter whether the partners were mixed or even limited to two - the generosity of the lovers was the key to a prosperous year for this town and, for some reason Sarah thought it would be true, for the entire realm, too.

It was strange, she mused the last night as she watched Couric and Jareth in their bed in the little garret room, to think Jareth had had to force her to accept this. She had reacted as if it were evil, disgusting, unworthy of someone to use her body in such a way. A hand reached out to her and she slid into the joint embrace. It had been she who had not been worthy when she was called. Jareth's hands, the hands that skimmed her body now as Couric took her mouth, had forged another part of her into the form he would require as his Queen.

***

In the night, Mab smiled. Sarah had passed the seventh wall - her willful oath and subsequent awakening and teaching by those very talented hands. She had passed the eighth wall, willingly submitting to the command of her King. She had, with the end of Festival, passed the ninth wall, accepting her desires as a part of her and being comfortable with them, alone and in company.

It was true that Mab could have used other desires for the Outer Lands walls, but so many of Sarah's human race had such notions about sexual desires and what was and wasn't proper that Mab couldn't resist using those against them. While Sarah had been stubborn, she had also become a devotee of passion in all its forms.

Mab watched in the moonlit pool as Jareth lifted his head from his lovers and stared back at her.

"Join in or go away," came his voice from the pool.

With a laugh, Mab vanished from her garden.

The Festival was over at midnight, but there were those who would swear they heard rich laughter, male and female, coming from the garret room at Gemmie's inn until the wee hours of morning.

Chapter Text

Sarah woke alone in the late morning light. On the table next to her bed, she saw a creamy piece of paper with instructions to go to the Keep of Dreams for the afternoon court session. Sarah saw the position of the sun and cursed. She had to hurry - and she was more than a bit sore from the attentions she had received the last three days.

Nothing for it, she had to bathe, dress, and run. She didn't even have time for food. With a shout and a wave to Gemmie, she ran out of the inn and started a ground-eating lope down the road to the castle.

She arrived with just enough time to wash her face and hands in the basin provided and catch her breath. As soon as she was breathing normally, her name was called to come before the court.

"Sarah Joy Williams," announced the chamberlain to the court. Taking a wild guess on what she was supposed to do, Sarah walked down the center runner to the foot of the stairs, looked up at Queen Mab and Jareth, and bowed.

"Queen Mab," she murmured. "Sire." She stood back up without waiting for permission. Something about the way these two were made her think that was the right thing to do. It was.

"You have conquered all nine outer walls of the labyrinth, Sarah Joy of Earth," Mab said, her tone warm and oddly formal. "You have won the right to become a full citizen of the Labyrinthine Realm. Make your home here with us and live out your days in our embrace."

Despite the night before, Sarah doubted the queen meant that last literally. So, she was part of Jareth's kingdom formally now. Interesting.

"Queen Mab, I do thank you for the offer. While I am glad that I am now a full citizen of this realm," Just wait until I get my hands on you again, Jareth! "I am not here simply to immigrate. The offer is kind, but it is not enough."

"My liege, the offer has been refused," Mab said, turning to Jareth. She seemed surprised, but Jareth could read the wicked glee in her eyes as she faced him.

"Why then do you run my labyrinth?" Jareth asked Sarah, carefully modulating his voice to reflect only the question. "Was it not to become part of my kingdom?"

"It was, Sire," she replied, "but not as a citizen. My intentions were stated clearly to you when you offered me the chance to chase my dreams. I run your labyrinth to be your Queen."

A gasp went up from the crowd. Whispers of "Runner!" "Another runner!" "Consort or Queen?" "Will she make it?" resounded from the courtiers and servants.

"So be it," Jareth said. "Dine with us this night, Sarah Joy, and in the morning you will be transported to the Central Lands of my kingdom."

Jareth rose and walked down the steps. Mab rose and waited by her throne. Sarah stood still, seeing the look in his eyes and knowing she was not yet dismissed.

"Turn to face the court," Jareth ordered. Sarah did. "Remove your jerkin and shirt." Sarah did. She took in a little breath when he wrapped one arm around her and used his hand to frame a patch of skin right under her breast, over her heart.

"Witness, all, my mark upon her skin. Sarah Joy, whether she succeed or fail, shall be mine." Jareth pulled her back against him and, leaning her to one side, twisted her to face him over her shoulder. He took her mouth in a deep kiss, then released her so suddenly she nearly stumbled.

Sarah waited in Jareth's arms, his hand moving over her breasts as the courtiers watched them. They watched, waiting for her to object to such treatment. When they saw she was relaxed, easy with the way he touched her, they bowed and left the throne room for the dining hall. Mab waited until the room was empty and walked down the stairs of her dais. She stopped in front of Jareth and Sarah, smiling sensually as she watched the play of leather-clad gloves over pale skin.

Jareth said nothing, just lifted one eyebrow at the queen and waited. She sighed softly and pressed fully against Sarah, whose arms went around her waist. Without looking at Jareth again, Mab kissed Sarah, long and deep.

"Such a pity you do not stay," Mab murmured as Sarah sighed at the end of the kiss. A slender hand slid up to caress Mab's breast in return. She smiled wryly. "Then again, perhaps not. Jareth has taught you too well."

Sarah gave the queen a slow smile and leaned back against the man Mab named. She felt Jareth chuckle in her ear and waited for him to finish teasing her. She thought it was a tease, but Jareth disabused her of the notion when Couric walked over to them and waited patiently to be acknowledged.

"We are out of time," Jareth murmured. "Give the queen a sweet memory, Sarah."

Sarah felt his hands release her and walked over to the queen. Jareth and Couric watched human and fairy queen as they indulged the desires they had not had time to fully sample the night before. Neither man offered to join the women, but instead curled together to watch the sensual feast.

It was several hours in the broken moments, but only a minute later that Mab and Couric entered her court dining room together, Sarah escorted by Jareth only a step behind. The chamberlain announced the couples as they walked into the room. Jareth took center, Sarah on his right and Couric on his left. Mab took the seat beside Sarah. It was not easy to remember all she had been told about the formal dinners, but she managed with little hints form Jareth and Mab. The King began the feast, and shortly afterward Mab partook of liquid and spices, freeing the court to eat and drink as they wished.

The feast lasted for some time and was followed by dancing and music. It was late when Sarah walked up to the room she would share with Jareth and Couric. She did not consider it strange that Couric was called the King's Lover, seemingly a titled position in the realm. The only thing that concerned her was that Jareth would want more than sleep tonight, and with more than Couric.

Before the two men joined her in the room, Sarah opened and studied her tallies of memories, realizations, and lessons. She found she was down only one lesson, but she had lost 7 memories and 7 realizations. Determined to take care with the ones that remained to her, Sarah put aside her quest for the night and smiled as the door opened to reveal Jareth and his lover.

Chapter Text

Karen jolted. The force of the phone slamming down just now had rung through the line, buzzing into her ear.

Robert had been enraged with her when he returned home to learn Sarah had run off with "some damned artist!" There was no way he would accept that Jareth was no artist, damned, perhaps, but not an artist, not in any way her husband would recognize. It didn't matter that she was his wife, the mother of his son. Robert wanted his grown daughter, his little princess, to be there when he came home, to do what she had always done - right down to eating potato chips on the couch while watching The Muppet Show and calling it babysitting!

It had been only a few days, was it Friday now? Four measly days, and Robert was only just civil to her when Toby was around, which he wasn't right now. Toby was at Karen's friend's house, being watched while she taught dance.

Seven o'clock, and her day was done. Instead of rushing over to retrieve Toby and hurry home, like she would have only a week before, Karen walked into the full bathroom she had installed and drew a hot bath. The tub was decadent, purely for her. She poured in the Epsom salts to help her aching muscles and added a measure of her favourite bath oils, a sandalwood-rose combination that never failed to relax her.

She needed relaxing. Home was like a minefield. For the first time, she was actually scared of Robert. He had been so angry…

Karen left the water in the deep garden tub and went to lock the door, close the blinds, and in general ensure her privacy. When she returned from her duties, the tub was not even halfway full. It was a huge Jacuzzi, big enough for three to stretch out comfortably, which had happened more than once. Granted, those times had included bathing suits, but after hours of demonstrating, walking, staying cheerful and upbeat when she wanted to curl up and whimper from the pain in her joints and back, she deserved it. So did her two oldest students, both ladies in their fifties who had danced for years, but never got formal training until now.

The thought of those two should have lifted her spirits, but she was so strung out from the hatred Robert kept spewing at her that she only felt worse.

"I should wish myself away to the goblins," she laughed, trying to keep the tears away. "Maybe take Toby with me…" She indulged in that little fantasy while the tub continued to fill. She thought of the crystal in her purse, the one she had taken to carrying around with her for…some reason. She wasn't entirely sure why she wanted it near, but she did.

Carefully placing the crystal where it wouldn't roll, she turned off the water and peeled out of her leotard and tights. It felt so good to get out of the skin-tight garments. Yes, the material gave, but it still cut into her on the seams and around the waist. Nothing on this earth could keep the top of tights from rolling, no matter what the companies said.

Feet on cold tile, she grabbed a thick, fluffy towel and stepped down into the huge tub. It was big enough and deep enough for Toby to swim in-and he had, more than once.
Karen didn't laugh at the memory. She caught her breath on a sob, and choked it back down. She looked around the room, the mirrored walls forming the area around the tub - so much easier to clean! Mirrors didn't mildew! - and saw the gleam of light on the crystal.

Without considering what she was doing, she lifted the sphere and touched it to the mirror closest to her.

"Jareth, I wish to speak to you," she whispered, afraid it wouldn't work. Afraid it would.

The mirror fogged briefly and Jareth appeared in it. He was sitting at a desk piled with paper and surrounded by walls of rich, leather-bound books.

"Karen?" he asked, surprised. "Sarah is not here -"

"No. I…needed to talk to you," she cut him off. She sniffed, then berated herself for being such a twit. "About Sarah, yes, but…about Robert and Toby, too."

"Ah," Jareth looked around his study for a moment, said something to someone Karen couldn't see, then nodded. "I think this conversation would be better face to face. Give me just a moment and I'll get back with you."

"All right," Karen whispered, feeling better now for some reason. She figured he would be calling back through the mirror to set up a time and place for them to talk.

***

Jareth finished giving his secretary instructions, checked his crystal for Sarah - she was in the rocky plains at the outer edge of the Central Lands - and left a message for Couric not to expect to see him this night.

He wasn't a cruel man, or necessarily a kind one, but something in the way Karen spoke gave him the sense that she needed him. It was odd that he should treat her so like one of his subjects. On the other hand, she practically was, given her attachment to Sarah and to her girlish faith in him and his realm. By her age, most women had long given up their dreams, or dismissed them as youthful fancy.

Yet another way Karen was an exceptional woman. He hoped that she had had a greater influence on Sarah than either one of the women thought.

Karen had just relaxed and turned on the jets, her eyes closed as one jet worked on a particularly nasty knot in her back when a soft, carefully modulated voice made her open her eyes.

"Interesting invention," Jareth mused, staring at the swirling water. "What is it called?"

"A Jacuzzi," Karen blurted, too surprise to worry about covering herself. Not that she would worry about it. She was adequately covered with frothing water. More people had seen much more of her onstage and backstage.

"I must study this and see if I can create one," he said, fascinated. "It looks decadent."

"It is," Karen said, feeling lighter than she had since telling Robert that Sarah had left with one Jareth Rex, an independently wealthy businessman who travelled so much that they wouldn't see Sarah much. With an impish smile, Karen blurted out, "Try it for yourself."

Before she could blink, Jareth had vanished and reappeared in the swirling water. He sniffed.

"Sandalwood is quite acceptable," he said, "but rose? A bit…girly for me." He leaned back and considered the water as it flowed over and around him, taking the time to find just the right spot for the powerful currents to knead his muscles. "Oh, yes. This is quite lovely."

Karen shook her head, leaning back and relaxing. They let the water bubble and swirl around them for a minute, then Jareth opened the conversation.

"What's wrong, Karen?" he asked gently.

"Robert wants Sarah back. He's…he scares me, Jareth. I'm afraid he'll take Toby, throw me out, divorce me - or start…hitting me." Karen shuddered. Her life in New York had included a huge number of experiences she had never shared with Robert or Sarah, among them an abusive lover. "I don't want to lose my son."
Jareth listened and noted what she did not say. Instead of speaking to her fears, he addressed what she had left out.

"How long has there been trouble between you and Robert?"

"Since shortly after I had Toby. Three years ago now - closer to four? It was a difficult birth…" she trailed off, turning her face away from him. She was still hurting from the news she had been given: She would never have another child. It was a miracle that Toby had survived. She hadn't. The doctors, she had been told, brought her back twice; the first time after one minute, the second after six. Every day she was grateful for her life, and every day Robert had wanted more and more of her to change to his ideal. She explained this to Jareth, who saw the reason Sarah had fought so hard for Toby. Even then, she had cared about the woman who had replaced her mother in the house, even if she didn't know it.

"And because of the birth, and the surgery, we couldn't…" Karen let her voice trail off.

"The bedroom was not your favourite room," he supplied, allowing her the gentle phrasing because he didn't want to hurt her any more. "I can understand that."

"Robert didn't. He started having an affair. When I had healed, we tried again, but there was nothing there. None of the passion, the love… He's been seeing other women since then." Karen shook her head. "I should be miserable about it, but I'm just grateful. I'm glad he isn't pestering me. God, what kind of wife am I?" she asked, leaning her face into her hands and finally crying.

Jareth moved over to her and let her cry on his shoulder. He whispered gentle words to her, comfort and peace. When she recovered her composure, she continued.

"I haven't bothered to look for an affair, or to go back to Robert, not sexually. We get along fine most of the time. We put a good face on it, but there's so much missing between us. I'm glad Sarah isn't at home, so she doesn't see how empty our relationship is."

"You aren't worried about Toby?" Jareth asked, noticing that Karen had relaxed next to him, leaving his arm over her shoulders. She hadn't given any indication of desiring him, and he wasn't particularly interested in seducing her. Today. Tomorrow, well, it was another day.

"He's too young to understand what marriage is. He knows that we live together, that we're his parents, that we care about each other, but beyond that, it's a difficult concept." Karen sighed and went on. "Sarah, though - how is she?"

"Doing well," Jareth said, smiling. "She passed the first set of trials and has a good start on the second."

Karen chewed her lip. "Could she…call home? Like on the telephone? I know that the mirrors work, but Robert needs to hear from her." Hating herself for caring what the man thought and felt, she added, "It's killing him, not knowing, not hearing from her."

Jareth was quiet for a long time. Too long.

"I'm sorry," Karen apologized. "I shouldn't have asked."

"No," Jareth said, stopping her. "It's something I should have considered before now. The women who choose to run to be my Queen don't usually have a loving family behind them, much less a parent who understands the legend of the Goblin King. I hadn't planned for it, but that will change now."

"What…do the other families think - does that mean you've had a Queen before?" She couldn't resist asking.

"No. Consorts, but no Queen. And no children," he added, a soft ache in his voice.

"Ohhh…" Karen was quiet.

Jareth continued. "The other girls died, or appeared to be dead. Bodies were found that were wearing their clothes, had their fingerprints, blood type, and so on. Simulacrums, of course, but dead is usually buried and forgotten. Since you saw me take Sarah, and I think you were encouraging me," he grinned at her when she blushed and smiled guiltily, "I didn't create the same situation."

"If…If Sarah hadn't brought back Toby," she asked, her words slow and hesitant.

"She would have been returned to her room, never remembering the labyrinth, and a Toby substitute would have been found in his crib, dead from SIDS." The words and the calm way they were spoken chilled Karen. Ironically, she searched for comfort from the man who promised her nightmare.

"Does that happen a lot?" she asked, needing to know.

"More than you'd think," he said, "especially in this age of reason - and I do use the term loosely."

Karen nodded. "I…probably shouldn't ask what happens to the children once they're yours," she said.

"Nothing bad. Many go to families that will love them. Most of those change over time to match their families, taking on the traits of elves, pixies, orcs, goblins, and so on. Pixies adore little ones, and so do fairies. Some, though, remain what you would call human in form, though they absorb and learn the magic of the realm."

"What do you call the human-looking children?" Karen asked, able to assuage her curiosity.

"These belong to the same race as I, the race of kings." At Karen's snicker, he added, "It's not arrogance. No other race has succeeded in becoming king or queen of my realm or any other. Except the dwarven realms, but then again, those are ruled only by dwarves, so," he shrugged, "res ipsa locutor."

They talked for a while longer, even after Karen turned off the jets and they were soaking in the still, warm water.

When they were both relaxed from the water, but Karen was still loathe to move, Jareth stood and grabbed a towel from the shelf. He dried off, raising an eyebrow at Karen when she didn't bother turning away. In a move that would disappoint her for some time, he waved a hand and his clothes reappeared on his body. Still, he wasn't quite ready to leave yet.

"Karen," he said softly, picking up the crystal she had put in a safe corner of the wall, just outside of the tub. "I'm been in the mood of late to grant dreams."

With that, he lifted her arm from the side of the tub and poured the crystal onto her hand. He watched her face, filled with wonder as he directed the crystal down her arm to her shoulder, then around her collar bone to the jugular notch, then down between her breasts to her belly and past it. By the time it reached her shoulder, the sphere had started to glow. When it fell down into the bottom of the tub, just between her legs, it was shining like a beacon. The glowing sphere touched her and Karen arched back with a cry of surprise. There was no foreplay, no warning. It was over as suddenly as it began, not lasting more than a few seconds.
By the time the crystal had gone dark again and Karen was laying back panting against the tub, all that remained of Jareth was a lingering, soft laugh.

Karen lifted the crystal from the water and placed it on his discarded towel with shaking hands.

"You are a wicked sonuvabitch, Jareth," she said, knowing he was listening. "And Heaven help me, I envy Sarah."

"You should," came the ghostly reply.

Karen considered that response while she dressed and pulled her things together to go home. It would be easier to face Robert tonight, but it still wouldn't be much fun. As she tucked the crystal back into her purse, she thought about Robert, Toby, Sarah, Jareth, and her love of the tale that had actually come to life, complete with one of her fantasies about Jareth - a fantasy from only a few days ago, not from her youth - had come shockingly true.

"If that was what he can do with a crystal," she muttered as she got to the car. She looked at the booster seat in the center of the back and sighed. Back to her life, such as remained of it.

Robert would be angry, Toby would want all of her attention, dinner wouldn't be cooked because God knows Robert couldn't be bothered, and through it all, Sarah's empty chair would be the elephant in the room that nobody acknowledged.

The dread returned.

Now she really wished the goblin king would take her away.