"The Labyrinth is growing wild, my lady," Sir Didymus said, carefully placing a Scrabble tile. "Fairies breed everywhere. Hoggle can barely keep them in check."
"Hoggle likes to complain," Sarah said, and took a new letter.
Sir Didymus cocked his head. "No one's seen Jareth for months, now."
His ears flattened. "My lady, you do not deal fairly with me."
Sarah smiled to herself. "Sometimes, that's just the way it is."
Sir Didymus looked at her unhappily. She added, "Jareth is on furlough, sir knight. But he will return."
She laid down her tiles. They spelled "IF I WISH."
The second time, Jareth came as a man, not an owl.
The second time, she did not call him.
"Through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered," he quoted softly, with the dangerous, mocking smile she remembered. He was dressed in dove-grey silk and feathers, and on anyone else it would have looked absurd.
"You've fought your way here to the suburbs, beyond New York City?" Sarah said, looking him in the eye. She could, now.
"To take back what you have stolen."
Jareth's mouth twisted. "My peace of mind."
"Say your right words, then," Sarah said, and smiled.
It was only a matter of time before Sarah got bored at her new job, and the tokens started showing up. A sweet-smelling peach. A crystal snowglobe in which the snow never stopped falling. An automaton goblin that stomped around her desk, making little clanking noises.
She walked through the office hallways carrying a clipboard and pen, her head held high, and she pretended not to notice how the walls moved around behind her back and the doorknobs whispered to each other.
If she turned her head, she knew she'd see the worm, telling her which way to go.
The gilt-edged paper dangled from Jareth's fingers like a dead leaf. She had sent an invitation. The effrontery of it made his lip curl. As if he were the sort of person who would show up where he was invited.
Of course, should he not attend the ball...
He rapped his knuckles on the arm of his throne, then on the skull of a passing goblin, wincing as it screeched.
If he didn't go, she would believe she had won. He could see the triumph gleaming in her eyes already, the proud lift of her head.
Very well, my Sarah.
Sarah hunted him through the dancing throng, watching for gloved hands and hair like silk. The mask she wore was green velvet and silver spangles, and beaked like a bird of prey.
There. A fall of lace and the tip of an ebony cane, just visible behind a pillar. She spread out her fan and hid her gaze behind its serrated edges, waiting.
A goblin stepped out from behind the pillar, trailing a lace gown five sizes too big, and smirked at her. Glaring, she snapped her fan shut.
Just as she whirled round, someone tapped softly on her shoulder.
As they waltzed down the long gallery for a second time, it began to snow.
"Very impressive," she said, mirroring his turn.
He watched the flakes settle like diamonds in her dark hair. "Shall I ever grow tired of living up to your expectations?"
"Oh, I hope not." She smiled at him, fearless, challenging.
He thought to let the snow fall and fall until her white skin turned to ice, until she begged him again, feared him.
Still she smiled, and the moment passed, and her steps matched his so closely that he was unsure which of them was leading.