A/N – This little scene wouldn't leave me alone, it kept distracting me until I finally gave in and fleshed it out. There is some small inspiration for continuing on with it and turning it into a real story, but I'm not sure if I have the time. So if I don't update this, my apologies, but real life does unfortunately have priority over fanfic.
Disclaimer – I don't own Labyrinth. Don't sue me. I do own Bran though. Even so, don't sue me.
The subtle, elusive feel of magic gave the air in the corridor a faint charge, just enough to be noticed, subconsciously, by anyone sensitive enough to feel it – just enough to identify the wielder by the unique 'taste' of his power, and by the arrogance it took to even think of using magic for their own purposes here, of all places in the Underground.
Here, in the stronghold of the High King, the very heart of the Underground, the oldest and most sacred site in the land, the Fae walked in respectful awe, conscious of the sanctity and the very real power that beat, like a great pumping heart, right under their feet.
This was the Centre of the Underground.
And yet, and yet…
On a balcony overlooking the West, a pale, elegant form braced his forearms against the stone balustrade, leaning against it, narrowing his eyes against the glow of the sunset. But whatever he watched, in his solitary vigil, it was not the forests and the rivers and the shadows of the mountains – not with that amused, almost cruel half-smile curving his lips…
Not with the feel of his magic – powerful and exquisitely controlled – rising like perfume, like thunder in the air. And most definitely not with that crystal – so deceptively delicate – dancing almost absently along his gloved fingertips.
The Council of Lords, held under the High King every nine years, was a meeting of the utmost importance, where vital decisions affecting the whole of the Underground were undertaken in concert and consultation, overseen by the High King's guiding and mediating hand. It was not something to be taken lightly, and yet the Goblin King stood staring off into another world, laughing – as only he could laugh – at something he found more fascinating than the business of the Council.
A soft, almost imperceptible sound – a scuff against the tiled floor, a whisper of a breath – and with a graceful flick of his fingers, the pale figure banished the crystal, and turned his head fractionally, just enough to identify the interloper who came up behind him.
He smiled – a genuine smile, despite the amusement that infused it. The Goblin King rarely did anything that was not, in some way, infused with mockery or amusement…
"Brother Raven," he said, his voice light, his eyebrow tilted. "You disapprove."
The man known only as Bran said nothing, but leaned against the balustrade beside him. He was dark where Jareth was fair, grim where Jareth was bright. Finally, he turned towards his King, who was waiting patiently for his answer to what had not been a question.
"You were watching her," he said; gazing at the mountains, face impassive.
Jareth turned towards him, towards the first man who had ever sworn loyalty to him, the first man he had ever fully, truly trusted. And knowing the depth and the strength of that loyalty, he dropped all of his pretences, all of his masks, and all of his defences.
They knew each other so well dissemblance was unnecessary.
"Is it such a crime then?" he asked. "To want something, someone for myself?"
Bran's mouth curled in genuine, if bitter amusement. "You would ask that of me, of all possible Fae in the Underground?" He had been known by another name, once, long ago – and had been stripped of the right to bear it, had been stripped of everything he owned, and valued, and loved.
Jareth knew that much, at least. It had always been enough for him, before. "I would ask that of you," he said quietly.
Bran's eyes closed, and he tipped his head back, offering himself to the sunset, to the light. Finally, he only sighed, and opened his eyes once more, fixing them – cool, steady silver – to Jareth's mismatched ones. "When kings develop desires, they become vulnerabilities." His smile gentled, became wry. "Especially when the king is so indiscreet as to indulge his desires in the High King's very palace, during the Council."
Jareth smiled, razor sharp and mirthless. "Ah, yes, the Council…" His standing among the Lords of Fae had always been precarious – he had carved his own Kingdom out of the chaos of the last Great Wars, had taken influence and power for himself rather than inheriting them – and they lost no chance in reminding him of it.
Goblin King. Lord of Outcasts, of Exiles, of Renegades and Pariahs…
Oh, how they would love to see him fall.
If the Goblin Kingdom failed, far away to the west under the shadow of the mountains, the reverberations would not trouble the greater kingdoms of the Fae. If the Goblin King fell, or was pushed, there would be no great recriminations, no retaliation for the youngest son of a father who had exiled him without hesitation.
He refused to go under, to give in, but his Kingdom could not – no matter how much he might like it – exist in total isolation. There had to be some trade, some interaction with the rest of the Underground. And thus he had to play their Game, to come to the Council, to interact and intersect, to play politics in all its hypocritical glory.
Youngest – and once best beloved – son of the real power behind the throne of the Summer Court, of the Seelie King, he had grown up with the Game in his blood. He was a master of manipulation, of deception, of misdirection.
And that was why he watched her.
Because she was untouched, untainted by the Game that tarnished everyone who played it. Because, even innocent, even untrained and naïve, she had turned his own Game back upon him, had shattered the web he had woven, the web that would have trapped all those others, so experienced, so confident in their abilities – and in doing so, had turned what would have been an illusory offer into something very like the truth…
She had beaten him. She knew the way through his Labyrinth, she knew the way he thought and the way his magic worked. She was indeed, as Bran had said, a vulnerability – and just as he had also said, she had become his desire.
And the mix of the pragmatic and the emotional responses were enough to fascinate him – fascinate his Sidhe mind that thrived on puzzles and mind games – to the point where he forgot himself enough to watch her even here, even at the Council where his enemies would go to great lengths to destroy him.
But, even knowing that, he couldn't deny himself the pleasure of watching her, watching the innocence and the cruelty, the naiveté and the unconscious wisdom of a girl just on the edge of becoming a woman, who, once she attained her full growth and maturity, would be everything he had ever wanted, and could never have.
Shaking his head to dispel the wistfulness, he turned his eyes back to Bran, who watched him so steadily, so clearly – Bran, who watched but never judged, who had been by his side almost since the beginning, and who knew him as no one but she had ever done.
"Allow me this one indulgence," he said softly. "It will go no further than observation. I will not allow desire to turn into vulnerability."
But there was no hiding the truth, not when it hovered so clearly between them, even unspoken and unacknowledged. It was too late – far, far too late.