Disclaimer: The Same

The Incentive

By Fou Fou

Chapter 24: In Which There Is Much Storming Off Down Hallways In A Dramatic Fashion

"Garith, wait up!"

Garith tried and failed to resist the urge to roll his eyes as he heard Nomar's voice echoing down the hallway. Needless to say, he didn't comply with the fertile plea to slow down and continued to plow his way through any goblin or chicken that failed to get out of his way in a satisfactory amount of time (this being approximately .5 milliseconds).

"Garith, I really must insist you wait!"

"I'm in a hurry. I don't feel like waiting," Garith replied, shoving yet another goblin out of his way.

"We need to talk!"

"If you want to talk, get your elf ass into gear, and catch up. Otherwise, stop yammering and leave me alone."

There was some scuffling down the hallway behind him as Nomar shuffled his way through the goblins littering the hallway before he was finally able to catch up with the vampire.

"Look, will you stop moving so fast?" asked Nomar, grabbing a hold of Garith's arm to slow him down. Garith shoved the arm off, maintaining his fast, unrelenting pace.

"I'm going to keep following you until you slow down," continued Nomar, trotting off after Garith again.

"Well then Nomar, you're going to be following for awhile, because I'm not stopping."

"You have to stop eventually."

"Really? And what made you come to that brilliant conclusion?" asked Garith.

"Previous experience."

"Why, you often have people trying to avoid you?"

"No. I mean that I don't think vampires can walk through walls and we've reached the end of the hallway."

Garith glared at the offending wall that seemingly popped out of nowhere into existence. He was quite sure the wall was towering over him in a smug manner, or as smug as an inanimate object could be being as inanimate as it was. While mentally cursing whatever evil sadistic monster thought it would be a brilliant idea to place the offending wall in the middle of the hallway he was trying to broodingly storm down, Garith turned towards Nomar.

"So, I'm here. You've stopped me. Congratulations. Now get out of my way."

"Actually, it was the architectural design of the castle that stopped you. I had nothing to do with it. And no, I won't get out of your way."

"Nomar, I'm a vampire. You're an elf. While you are stronger than the average human male, I'm sure I could easily knock you down."

"And may I remind you, Garith, that I am elfin royalty. While I am willing to be polite to you because you seem to be a friend of Mara's, I can easily get you court marshaled for touching me."

Garith laughed. It wasn't a pleasant laugh. "Wow, the elf's got a bit of a backbone after all. And just when I thought you were nothing but a pansy boy."

"And you're nothing but a rude, pompous arse stuck on himself and his problems."

"You don't know anything about me! You don't even know anything about what's going on! You actually think that Mara and Jareth marrying is a good idea!"

"Because for all appearances, it is! It's a brilliant political move for one thing, and Mara and Jareth are both close enough of friends that married life would at least be tolerable," said Nomar. He sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Look, I know I'm not good with people. I'm aware of the fact. I'd much rather be sitting in my study reading a book. Those are at least straight forward and make a whole lot more sense than any of this interpersonal stuff does. But even I, with all my social disabilities, can see something is wrong with this situation. It might have taken me awhile, but I'm beginning to see that."

"Really, and what clued you in, Your Highness?" said Garith. "Because last time I checked, you seemed to be under the impression everything was fine and dandy. That the world was full of big fluffy bunnies and rainbows and everyone lives happily ever after."

Nomar glared at Garith. "Sarcasm noted. And I think that make out session back there was a bit of a clue in, that at least one person isn't happy about the current couple pairings. Which naturally begs the question as to why it was Mara and you doing the snogging, and Jareth really didn't seem to care."

"You are an observant one, aren't you?"

"I think we can both safely say I'm not. But I try to actually care for people, and whatever you may believe, I do care for Mara. I was going to marry her."

"Please, save me the heart wrenching details. I couldn't care less," snapped Garith. "Look, I've had enough of this conversation. If you don't mind, would you get out of my way?" Garith went to shove his way past Nomar and was surprised when Nomar didn't move easily out of the way.

"I'm only going to say this once, Garith," said Nomar, ignoring Garith's muttered comments. "While I may not understand what's going on here exactly, it seems to me that something is going on between you and Mara. Now while I realize that Jareth and Mara have always seemed happy in the past being together, if you think you could make her happier, fight for her. I'll help you."

Garith stared down at the blond elf, not quite sure he was hearing correctly. "You'll help me?" he asked. "Why on earth would you do that?"

"Because I feel bad about what happened between us, and as a result, what happened between her and her sister. I want to make it up to her."

"So what, you're a philanthropist now? Thank you, but I can handle my personal life better than you probably could."

Nomar shrugged. "You're decision. Just know that I'm here. If you need any help." He smiled, in a sort of awkward trying-to-pals way, before turning around and walked off down the hallway.

Garith stared after Nomar, incredulous, before muttering, "Like I'd actually ask him for help. When pigs fly."

"Mara, for the love all things that are good, holy, or otherwise, we are not making the delusting potion!

"You might not, but I am! I'm sorry but you're Putting Me Into Tight Dress That Shoves My Boobs Up Plan really didn't work!"

"What do you mean it didn't work? It got Garith's attention!" argued Ari.

"Ari, he's a guy. He sees a girl flashing some boob and he tends to get interested. It doesn't actually mean he likes me."

"Mara, he likes you."

"He does at that," said Jareth poofing into existence in the middle of Mara's room causing the sisters to jump.

"Damnit, Jareth, you know I hate it when you do that!"

"Well, I believe you need an intervention. This has gone on quite long enough, thank you very much," said Jareth.

"What has gone on quite long enough?" demanded Mara.

"You and Garith and you're all 'I like you but too chicken to do anything.' Well, actually, it would be more you being to chicken to do anything. Garith has tried to make his affections clear. You just keep shooting him down."

"Oh, so now it's my fault?"

"Not exactly. I just think you need to deal with your insecurities about that whole bloody thing with Nomar. Garith likes you. A lot. He's been monogamous for quite a while . . . well actually considering you and he aren't doing anything, it's more like he's getting nothing. That's just plain depressing."

"Jareth . . . there isn't exactly an abundance of available woman in the Labyrinth."

"He's been that way for a while. I believe almost since the Olive Garden Incident." Jareth continued, choosing to ignore the last comment.

"Who told you about that?" demanded Mara.

"Garith told me all the details. And Sarah confirmed that he hadn't been seeing anyone."

"When were you talking about this with Sarah?"

"While you were making this potion of yours, I believe," said Jareth. He sighed, and turned towards Mara, placing a hand on each shoulder and looking her in the eye. "Mara, you and I have been friends for a long time. If you ever listen to me on anything, give Garith a chance. He's actually a good guy."

"Oh hell, not you too," muttered Mara. "Since when did you give romantic advice? You're a guy."

"Yes, me too. And yes, I am a guy. But, Garith has done more then he should to help us out of this situation, and I doubt he's doing it out of the general goodness of his heart. Garith is enough of a selfish bastard to be sure of that. He likes you Mara, genuinely. So bloody hell, just go find him and try to make up. It's not like you need to confess to being bloody soul mates. Just admit that you like each other. Or I swear to God, I'll lock you two up in an oubliette until you do."

"He's got a point, Mara," said Ari. "Minus the whole oubliette thing. That seems a bit drastic."

Mara sighed, running her fingers absentmindedly through her hair. "Fine, where is he?"

"I believe he was heading off to his private rooms."

"Right . . . I am not promising anything, but . . . I'll try," said Mara, before walking out of the room, determined to go before she lost her nerve. As she left, she could vaguely hear Jareth say to Ari, "So when did you and Mara decide to become bosom companions again?" before the door shut behind her.

This was going to be interesting.

Arinu liked Saturdays – or at least what passed for Saturdays in the Underground. There was only so much politics one could really take in one week. True, it wasn't like she actually participated in the barbaric circus display. She just filed the paperwork and that was as much of that word she wished to deal with on a regular basis, thank you very much.

On this particular Saturday she sat on one of the couches in the sitting room of her modest flat, reading her latest tabloid she had picked up that morning. Her parents had been scandalized when she had opted to rent her own flat (which was originally intended for a bachelor) rather then staying at home or one of the respectable woman boarding houses. Of course, that was a long time ago (far too long than Arinu cared to acknowledge) and her parents had quickly gotten over their initial shock – druids always seemed to Arinu to be some of the more forward thinkers of the underground. Of course, the fact that she wasn't royalty and therefore bounded by their ridiculous expectations helped too. She had a distant cousin who had been involved with that whole thing with King Arthur, but otherwise her family tended to be ordinary by the Underground standards.

A knock at the door disrupted her from the latest scandalizing article regarding the latest celebrity romance. Glancing at the clock on the wall, she realized it was a bit early for Merric to be visiting – in any case he most likely would have snuck into her flat and surprised her by wrapping his arms around from behind and start kissing her.

Curious, she went to the door and used a small scryring spell to figure out who her visitor was. Or in this case, visitors. Confused, but not upset, she opened the door.

Standing on her doorstop was the infamous goblin king complete with his poofy blond hair with light blue highlights, and a somewhat sparkly (a bit too much sparkly for Arinu's taste) dark blue jacket and black trousers. Next to Jareth stood an elfin woman that looked vaguely familiar, with dark brown hair and eyes indicating that she was one of the dark elves. She lacked the sparkly nature in her attire that Jareth seemed to favor, and instead wore a very fashionable dark green dress, often wore by the upper classes when they went out visiting. Now why would an upper class elf be hanging out with Jareth? Especially a Dark Elf, considering the whole situation.

"Jareth, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"

"Is it not enough that I simply yearn to look upon your fair face?"

"Somehow I doubt, considering you've brought a friend," said Arinu. "And you know that I'm not into that sort of thing. Plus, I still have that boyfriend."

Jareth shrugged. "Ah well, it was worth a try. Arinu, allow me to introduce to you Her Highness, Ari of the Dark Elves, and wife to His Highness Nomar of the Light Elves.

Arinu raised an eyebrow, but nevertheless curtsied to Ari as befitted her rank. "Pleasure to meet you, Your Highness."

"Oh, please, just call me Ari," said the elf, waving a hand. "From what Jareth tells me, the two of us have our work set."

"Our work?" asked Arinu.

Jareth smiled sheepishly. "We were wondering if you would be willing to help us out with our … predicament."

"I didn't realize that Ari and you had any sort of predicament. From what I've heard, Ari is lifebonded to her husband, so I doubt that she would be entirely willing to stray in her affections, charming as you are, Jareth. As this would rule out the common 'predicament' that involves you and another man's wife; I really don't know why you're here."

"The 'predicament' that Jareth is refereeing to is the marriage between my sister and himself," said Ari. "Apparently the two of them thought only sneaky behavior out of some Mission Impossible movie – if you haven't been Aboveworld and seen those movies, I suggest you do – was the only way to get past the Council's ruling."

"Really?" said Arinu. "And I assume that you must have some master plan that is much better then the general chaos of their not well planed out plan?"

"I'm right here," said Jareth. "And may I point out that it was Ari's plan, not mine."

There were many things that Mara did not like. Bunnies for one thing. There was only so much of cute and fluffy a girl could take and really, bunnies were about it. Of course this could have something to do with a rather traumatizing birthday when she was younger, so traumatizing she really did not want to think about it, thank you very much.

The other thing Mara did not like was admitting she was wrong. It was one of the many traits she inherited from her father, although both were pigheaded enough not to realize it. Having to admit that she was wrong normally indicated that the other party was correct, which generally lead to self satisfied smirks and an inflated ego that became impossible to deal with. (Mostly because the other party was one Jareth the Goblin King - Mara was quite well aware that if she and Garith actually ever got along, Jareth would never be able to shut up about it).

So, in order to delay the inevitable showdown with Garith that could end in either hurt feelings, or hot passionate love-making; Mara didn't actually go straight after Garith. Oh, she went after him, but in more of a roundabout fashion, all the while attempting to figure out what she was going to say.

"Garith, I love you most ardently. . . please, come ravish me."

No, that one wasn't quite right.

"We seem to enjoy fighting. This obviously stems forth from some sexual tension we both feel, so how about we go shag ourselves silly and live happily ever after?"

Definitely not. No mentions of shagging or happily ever after.

Mara sighed and kicked the wall, resulting in a bruised toe. "Damn it all," she muttered, glaring at the offending wall. Sighing, she leaned up against the wall and sunk to the floor. "What the hell are you going to do with yourself, Mara?"

Mara was roused from her funk of self pity against the wall, when someone sat down beside her. "Hello, Mara," said Nomar.

Mara sighed. "Not now, Nomar. I'm really not in the mood."

To her surprise (and annoyance) Nomar showed an uncharacteristic amount of backbone and said "No. I think we should talk." In fact, her surprise was so great, that she promptly shut her mouth and squashed the rather snarky comment that was threatening to make itself known.

"What do you want?" she asked, in a resigned sort of manner.

Nomar didn't speak for a few minutes, leaving an awkward sort of silence between them as he seemed to gather his thoughts. Mara fidgeted uncomfortably next to the Light Elf, wondering if he was actually ever going to say anything, when he finally spoke. "When we – when I, called off the engagement . . . it didn't . . . or rather . . . I probably should have done it a bit more . . . tactfully."

Mara raised an eyebrow and looked over at her former love. "Ya think?"

Nomar, to her surprise, flushed a little at the unintentional biting tone behind her words. The flush made her uncomfortable – there was something almost puppy-like about the Light Elf. "I'm sorry," she started to say before she was interrupted.

"No, no, I probably deserved that," said Nomar with a small, sad smile. "It's just – you were so hard to read, Mara. You still are. Sure, you put on this whole front, a front that is all smiles and laughter and whatnot – and I honestly fell for it. I really thought you were okay with me leaving for your sister – I wondered a bit about it to be sure, especially when you went off to Jareth. You know I honestly thought there may have been something between you two?"

Mara attempted to repress the urge to gag and the thought of something like that between her and Jareth, but Nomar must have seen something in her facial expression that betrayed her nausea at the suggestion.

"Think about it, Mara. Right after I called it off, you went running to the Labyrinth. What was I supposed to think? We all figured – your sister included – that maybe that was what you wanted. To be with Jareth."

"But I don't." said Mara firmly.

"No, I know you don't," Nomar said. "And I honestly wish I would have noticed sooner."

"That I don't want to jump Jareth's bones?"

Nomar chuckled slightly at the turn of phrase. "That, and the fact that I hurt you. I knew things had gone sour between you and your sister, but I honestly didn't think it had anything to do with what happened between us."

Mara shrugged. "What's done is done."

"Perhaps," Nomar conceded. "And I've heard that you and Ari are getting along better, or at least I assume you were, since she succeeded in making you play dress up." He nudged her in the shoulder at the jab, reminding Mara of the corset-boob-lifting dress she had worn earlier. She groaned a little.

"Remind me to never let your wife do that to me again."

"I shall attempt to," Nomar said. "But only if you do me one favor."

"What is that?"

"Garith. Tell him how you feel. Don't hide your emotions. Believe me, us guys? We don't actually understand those sort of things. We're sort of straight forward people. That doesn't mean we want to be all touchy feely or anything – just, don't play any games. This hard-to-get thing, or whatever it is you're doing with Garith – it's driving him crazy. Hell, I'm pretty sure it would drive anyone crazy. Just be honest and upfront about how you feel, he deserves to know."

Mara started at Nomar for a few moments, a bit surprised that that particular bit of advice came out of his mouth. It was almost a surreal sort of experience, as her mind played back the conversation in her mind, while her brain couldn't quite grasp that Nomar, her former fiancé, the elf she used to love with all her heart, was giving her romantic advice.

This seemed to be the day for romantic advice.

And oddly enough, Nomar made sense.

May wonders never cease, Mara thought wirily to herself.

"Ok," she said. "I will."

"Good girl," said Nomar, leaning forward to kiss her on the cheek. There were no bittersweet memories that flooded Mara with the kiss, nothing at all, besides the comfort of a brother to a sister.

She blinked a little with surprise, then smiled. Maybe she really could tell Garith . . .

Of course, as the Fates would have it, it was at that precise moment that Nomar's lips were pressed up against her cheek that Garith walked around the corner of the hallway. His dark eyes darted between the two elves, his brows furrowed , before he abruptly turned around. "So sorry to interrupt," he said acidly over his shoulder as he quickly began to storm away.

Nomar nudged Mara. "I believe this would be the appropriate moment to run after him," he whispered. "It's what they always do in those romance novels Ari reads."

Mara glared briefly at Nomar before jumping to her feet, and began rushing down the hallway, calling Garith's name.

Nomar meanwhile, sat for a few moments, smiling to himself. "You go get him, Mara," he whispered. "And best of luck."

"So let me get this straight. You have decided that instead of being all sneaky and going behind the Council's back about this whole marriage thing – which you've been doing for years – that you're now going to fight back against them politically?"

Jareth shrugged. "Ari and I were discussing it, and considering the fact that everything else has failed, we might as well."

"While lifebound couples aren't exactly a dime a dozen," said Ari, "There are enough of us who truly appreciate what we have. If it became known to the greater public and certain key individuals that the Council was interfering with a lifebound, some of them could get very irate about it."

"May I remind you that Jareth is known as a playboy?" Arinu said. "He's offended a fair number of girls and their families due to his galvanizing over the centuries. And Mara doesn't have many friends in court either." She looked over at Jareth, who had a sort of insulted expression on his face, and shrugged. "Sorry, it's true. How do you know these lifebound couples will be willing to help?"

"Lifebound couples, with a few exceptions, tend to want people to have their happiness. It's something I've heard from many of them – that they wish that there was someway for the other people they know to have the same amount of happiness as them. That 'happily ever after' dream. Thus far, with the exception of Mara and Garith's images being splattered on the front of a tabloid, Mara and Jareth have been very quiet about everything – and up until the Council found out, that was a good idea. What we've got to do is make it sensational so that the public gets interested. A tragic love story between fey and mortal when it seems like all the odds are against them."

Arinu raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure you're not trying to make a romance novel out of this?"

"Sensational romance novels sell," Ari said matter of factly. "For some reason, people tend to love a good love story. And the story will rally the younger generations, who have been grumbling about how old fashion the Council is – especially the immortals who have gone up to the Aboveground in the last century – and seen how different it could be. No arranged marriage. A government built by the people, with the possibility of common citizens to gain power, instead of it always belonging to a single bloodline…"

"Don't tell me you are attempting to have a social revolution all because of some arranged marriage scandal. I think that might be pushing it a bit too far, and the Underground is slow to change a system that has been in place for centuries. Not to mention what you are suggesting could quite possibly create a lot of problems for you, if it became known that you were harboring such ideas."

"I'm not the only one. There are others who believe it too, but we've all lacked something to rally against."

"What do you think of this, Jareth?" Arinu asked, a bit incredulous that all of this was being suggesting in her living room. It was one thing to date a guy who she was pretty sure was involved with semi-illegal things. It was another to sit around in her living room and discuss the possibility of starting a social movement that could seriously alter the infrastructure of the Underground – all started by using a lifebounded couple as the poster board couple of the century. On one end the whole thing sounded ridiculous, some poorly contrived plot that was doomed to failure. On the other – well, there was a possibility that her employers would be very upset with her if they found out that Arinu was involved in such sort of scheming.

But I've already helped them, she reasoned. The amount of information that I've smuggled to Jareth? Either way if this goes down, I'm implicated. And Jareth is my friend . . .

"I think it sounds crazy," Jareth said, echoing her thoughts. "But if living in the Labyrinth has taught me anything, it's crazy enough that it just might work."

"That settles it. I'm in. What do you need me to do?"

Author's Note: I've been really bad. I've actually been sitting on this for far too long, editing it here and there and then faced with a large dose of writer's block. I wanted to have the scene with Mara and Garith's epic confrontation in this chapter, but try as I might, I couldn't actually write it. So I decided that I should just stop sitting on this chapter, and post what I do have, and end this really long lull. If anyone has an ideas for the Garith/Mara epic showdown, it will be much appreciated. Silly or serious.

Since apparently allows you know to personally respond to reviewers now, instead of my usual shout out to people at the end of this, I'll try to message all of you who reviewed the last chapter. As always, I do appreciate the support, all of you have been great over these five-ish years, and I appreciate the fact that you put up with my epically long lulls between posts. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I shall try to work on that and get these last few chapters out a little bit sooner.

Thank you, everyone.