The world came back to me, but so slowly. My brain reminded me that I was laying face down on a hardwood floor. I was trying to recall how long I'd been there, more importantly, how I got there, and where all the pain in my

head had come from.

My hearing returned must faster than my vision, but my body had yet to respond. My right eye was pressed against the floor, doing me no good. My

left opened a little, and saw the world in a dimly lit haze. I turned back

to my ears, hoping I'd find a clue that would kill my amnesia.

There were dozens of voices. Each one sounding shocked and surprised about

whatever had been going on before I woke up.

"Oh my god, sis, is that-"

"I told him not to cut in line."

"What have you done?"

I was listening, filtering through the voices when I stumbled on to a sound. It was rhythmic in tempo, but it held an emotion all its own. It fell solid on it's mark, over and over, like a piston.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

I turned my face toward the sound. My vision was starting to clear. Near my legs, I placed the origin of the sound. It was the flat of a boot, lifting and descending on the floor. It was the sound of anger. The sound

of impatience.

"Get up, Jareth." The tone in the voice held the same emotions as the boot. I knew that voice.

It all came back in flashes, like the tapping. Tap. Tap. Tap. Halloween. Home. My friends. Sen. The dance. The kiss. Fist. Floor. Thud. Now.

I put my palms on the floor and pushed against gravity. I felt dizzy, and I wasn't positive that my brain was still in one piece. I turned myself over

on the floor and looked up at her.

Maybe she hadn't done it on purpose, but she was backlit by the candles and

the lights in the room where she stood. Strings of purple lights on the windows behind me cast an eerie glow on her face. I was staring up at her,

leaning back on one elbow, trying to remind myself that this was Sen, and not Judgment herself.

...This was the big plan, hm? Good one, you're going to get us killed in your own home...

I rubbed my jaw, slowly pulling myself to a sitting position.

"Alright, I deserved that." I looked around the room, no one seemed to know what to do. Leah's eyes kept darting between Sen and myself. Reece knew better than to get involved in this for the moment. Delaney just kept looking impressed at the situation, and almost anxious to see what would come next. I felt my heart sink, Connor was standing behind Reece looking absolutely smug.

"Get up. Right now." She stood over me, her arms crossed over her chest.

I lifted myself to a crouch and then stood up.

For once, I didn't know what to do with myself. In the past, this would be

an argument between her and me, maybe someone else would accidentally be caught in the middle as the referee, but I wasn't ready to start anything in front of this many people.

I saw her eyes dart from me to the crowd watching us.

She turned to Leah and the others. I could tell she was sending them a thought. Leah's eyes shimmered, she was responding.

Seren turned to me, whispering. "Out the front door now." I could feel the edge on the words, and knew I shouldn't argue.

I turned, making my way to the front door. Anyone in my path parted without word or sound as I walked. I almost expected the door to open on its own.

...Dead man walking...

I swung the door closed behind me, but inside, I could hear everyone move into action. They were ushering everyone out. I lamented being on the outside of this one, it would have been nice to see everyone move as a team

again. I missed working with a pack mentality, I'd been solo for too long.

I was standing in the apex of the building. From here, you could access everything but the attic and the basement. A staircase ran along the wall,

leading to the upstairs apartment. Across from me was the door to Leah's pad. We- No, they used this as an over-sized foyer. It really held no better purpose than temporary storage, everyone used the back staircase to get from place to place. But this was sheltered from everything. There were few windows here, and the walls were thick. She put me here so she could confront me, probably alone.

I lit a cigarette and took the first drag as the door swung open, I didn't have time to turn around before she was already in front of me. She pointed menacingly at me, then swung an open palm that connected with my face. Fortunately, she came from the other direction this time, not landing on the same side that her fist had earlier.

My face whipped around and I felt the sting sink into the skin. I straightened slowly, almost expecting another assault.

"You've gotten slower since you left." Her face was a mingle of emotions, some of them real, some of them imagined. I couldn't tell which was which because the only light source in the room came from the streetlight on the corner. "The Jareth I knew could have blocked that without blinking."

I inhaled, finding oxygen where there should have been smoke. I looked around. I picked my still-lit cigarette up from the corner, where it landed when she hit me. I tried again. The smoke made a momentary nest in my lungs and gave me enough calm to speak.

"I've gotten faster since I left, you just haven't seen it." I refused to meet her gaze. If my eyes met hers, and I didn't blink, she'd take it as a

challenge, and I really didn't want that right now.

"So, you just took those shots? Didn't even try to block them?" I let her

get it out. She had every right. I had done her some serious wrong in the

past, and now it was time to pay for my sins. This time, my eyes met hers.

"I admit, you got me by surprise on the first one. This one," I traced the searing flesh on my cheek. I didn't know if she could see my mannerisms or

not, but she knew what I was referring to, just the same. "This one I took, I deserved it."

She reached forward, and I thought I'd dodged the next assault on my face.

My face wasn't the target. She took the cigarette from my lips and inhaled

deeply. I watched the bright ember jitter in the darkness. Her nerves had

taken a serious toll, I knew, as I watched her hand shaking in the darkness.

"Why did you come back, Jareth? Why now?" Her words stabbed at me in the darkness. "Dammit, I was almost getting used to life without you. I was starting to heal. Of course, you would come back now. Ever since-"

"The dream," I finished. "I've been trying to get back here. Every night, when I close my eyes, I see you reaching for me as everything falls apart.

I figured it was a sign that it was okay to come back."

She was about to say something, but her words caught in her throat. She took another drag of the cigarette.

"It's always been okay to come back." She was starting to calm down. I lit another cigarette, throwing my head back to blow the smoke all the way up to Connor's apartment. I felt her arms wrap around my waist, her head rest on

my chest. She squeezed until I thought her intent was to crush my spine, then she relaxed. I put my arms around her, happy to be in the calm again.

She gave one more squeeze, "I've missed you, you bastard."

I returned the hug, resting my chin on the top of her head, like I used to.

"I've missed you, too, Sen."

She withdrew from the moment and looked at me, a crease appearing in her brow. Like she was trying to place something that had changed. I opened my mouth to question, and instead of words came a jumble of vowel sounds that never should have left my vocal chords en masse. There was a sharp pain erupting from my shin, and I realized as I reached down, trying to tear the

pain away from my flesh and bone, I should have gotten the leg guards from Leon. I wrapped my hands around the leather boot, as if I could wipe away the wound without actually touching it.

I was still focusing on the pain in my leg, I hadn't even stopped to question why it happened, when I was distracted by something completely new. Someone had thrown a baseball into the room and it flew deftly around my limbs and the bends of my body, finding refuge in my stomach. The impact propelled me off my center of balance and sent me backwards.

Before I fell, though, it started to make sense. There was no baseball, I knew. It was a very strong fist leaving my abdomen as I stumbled. The fist led to a forearm, which followed to an upper arm, which connected to a shoulder. And through the further process of connecting muscles and bones,

led me to a face. The only face other than mine in the room. She smirked as I fell against the wall.

...'Okay to come back' my sorry-

As I settled into the wall, a flood of thoughts sank in while the initial pain died away. It was more confusion than I had dealt with in a year, and

as much as I'd been through, I wasn't up to the task. Sen had dealt me blows that struck much deeper than the muscles she'd connected with. She'd

struck to my very core, and I felt it. Deep inside, I was hurt, more from the fact that she'd lashed out at me than the action itself.

I tried to hide it, tried to fix the mask over my feelings, but I knew it was too late. I could tell by the raised eyebrow and the telltale smile on

her face, I looked wounded. But she wasn't revealing how much she knew, how deep she'd cut.

...And you're not going to tell her either, are you? You're just going to hold it in, be the tough guy you've been since you left, right?...

"Yeah, your reflexes aren't what they used to be." She was matter of fact as she spoke. Far too casual for someone who'd just put a fist into my gut, after kicking me in the shin. She stepped back, crossing her arms. In the

darkness, I couldn't tell, but it appeared that she was nodding, as if satisfied with the result of the attack.

I repositioned myself against the wall, not up for another onslaught, but more than ready for the debate she was pushing.

"That's so not fair, you had that whole female closeness thing working against me."

I didn't miss her reaction this time. She blinked, I was sure of it. The kind of reaction that says, quite clearly, 'I wasn't expecting that retort.'

"Don't kiss me again, Jareth." I stood as she spoke, and then it set in. I tried to recall, but no, I hadn't kissed her out here. Aquarian logic was rearing its ugly head. Only an Aquarian can bring up something that happened a half hour ago, like it was the current agenda. "Bran."

Of course, it could also strike with things from out of the blue, and you'd

never know where they came from. She was hard pressed to distract me with her Aquarian logic, but I wasn't going to fall for it.

"While bran is a part of a balanced breakfast, chock full of vitamins and minerals essential to a body, it really doesn't hold a candle to the texture, taste and mental well-being of a good makeout session." I took a step forward, letting a slight grin play across my face as she backed up. I was about to press my advantage, but she brought up a fist as a reminder of

what she'd already done. She smiled as quickly as my grin faded.

"He'll be here soon." She said as she walked back to the door, leading back to the room where I'd have to face the rest of them. She knew she had me, and she knew that I couldn't run away now, even though I would have preferred it than face them all at the same time. "Let's get back inside, I'm sure all of the non-important people are gone."

I couldn't see her face, but she had to be holding back a laugh. She knew what I was thinking, even without reading my thoughts. If she had reacted so badly, what could I expect from the rest of them? I was closer to Sen than to any of them. I could only imagine, as I stepped toward the door, that she was ready to signal a mass beating on my behalf. I waited, just beyond the threshold, collecting my thoughts, trying to pull myself together. There was a dull throbbing emanating from my leg, and a large knot where my stomach should have been. I couldn't tell if the knot was from Sen's fist, or from my own nerves. Maybe I didn't want to know.

...In with the good air, out with the bad air. Come on, you've faced worse

things this life. Remember that thing? In New York? The one that followed you all the way to New Orleans? You beat it. Twice! And you weren't so shaken then, why are you now?...

Because I can't kill any of them. I can't even defend myself against them.

I know, whatever's coming, it's my retribution. I deserve whatever's thrown at me.

...Martyr complex, huh? Fine, but don't come crying to me when it's over...

Sen was directly in front of me, beyond her stood Leah and Reece. Sen had just finished saying something to them, but I couldn't make it out. They stood motionless, and again, I didn't know what to do.

...Best to go with your instincts...

I opened my mouth and let the words fall out. Any words, I just had to break the silence.

"You guys aren't going to go kicking my ass too, are you?"

...Beautiful. Spoken like a true champion...

For a moment, nothing happened, and that moment seemed to stretch into an eternity. Knowing how cruel time can be, I'm sure that almost no time actually elapse in that eternity, but when it ended, Reece erupted in tears

and charged me. My first instinct was to brace myself against another volley of friendly fire, but I realized this wasn't the case.

Reece wrapped her arms around me, and buried herself in my shoulder. I put

my arms around her and nestled myself where I could find room. She held me

tight, giving me little room to breathe, but it didn't matter. I was just happy to be back, to be welcome. Reece's reaction made me realize that even Sen was glad to have me back, even though she, unlike Reece, was going to make me pay my dues.

I heard Sen's footsteps drift out of the room, and for the moment, I didn't

care where she was going. I knew she'd be back. She wouldn't be able to stay away from this reunion, no matter how angry she was at me inside. We would work through it in time, or we'd kill each other. At the moment, it was anybody's guess which.

I opened my eyes through the mass of hair and saw Leah waiting just outside

my grasp. I let go of Reece with one arm just long enough to reach out to Leah and engulf her with it as soon as she was within my grasp. The reunion was too much for me. My eyes watered uncontrollably, but I didn't cry. It's not that I wouldn't let myself, I just couldn't. I'd been through too

much in the last year to fall prey to tears. But that didn't save me from being a willing part of the blubbering huddle we had become.

I opened my eyes once more when I heard footsteps crossing the living room.

I saw Delaney standing in the middle of the room, watching us. For a moment, I thought I saw a smile on her face, but when I blinked away the blurriness in front of my eyes, all I saw was Delaney's ever-present mask looking at us.

I did my best to give her a full wave from the middle of the huddle, but from the strangled movements, I can only imagine it looked something like the last signal for help from a drowning man. She gave a half-wave back and headed toward the kitchen, where Sen's footsteps had trailed off.

Reece, Leah and I released our loving deathgrip on each other and just stared, waiting for someone to find the words we were all searching for. In the outskirts of my vision, I saw Connor gesturing. I didn't know what he was doing specifically, but it didn't matter. It was Connor, and Connor was doing something that annoyed me. My arms were still slung across Reece and

Leah's shoulder, but just behind Leah was a bookshelf, completely within my


As inconspicuously as I could, I wrapped my fingers around a votive candle.

I smiled softly at Leah.

"Could you do me a favor?" She was wiping tears from her bright blue eyes.

Blue eyes that said she was willing to entertain a request. "Can you duck for a quick second?"

Her brow furrowed, but she complied. The moment her head was low enough, I

began a fast arch that brought me around, releasing the candle right next to Reece's shoulder. The quick intake of her breath in surprise was almost enough to make my night. The look on Connor's face as he saw that votive careening toward him, knowing it was already to late, took my spirits over the top.

The small candle deflected off his brow, jerking his head back and causing his hands to instinctively go to the place of impact. I replaced my arm on

Leah's shoulder and whispered, never taking my eyes off Connor, never letting my grin fade.


Connor rubbed the spot where I'd hit, glaring at me. "Ow. Butthole."

I shrugged, "I have to make up for lost time, Connor."

He bent down and picked up the candle, thinking he'd return the favor. I tightened my arms around Reece and Leah, pulling them closer. They exchanged a look, then turned to me. I smiled. The hug was genuine, they knew that from the feel, but they also knew that, I being one for ulterior motives, I was genuine about using them as a shield as well. I turned to Connor, anticipating his move. His head moved left to right, then back again, trying to find an opening through my shield. Like always, he gave up quickly, frowned and tossed the candle aside, grumbling.

I giggled, feeling more at home than I'd been all evening. If only Sen would get her butt back in here to enjoy it with us.