A/N – Thank you to all those who have reviewed and expressed your support and enjoyment. It was greatly appreciated. And to all the lurkers (come on, I know you're out there) I hope you've enjoyed the story.
Disclaimer – I don't own the Labyrinth. Don't sue.
The Goblin King sat, hands restlessly playing with a clear glass crystal. Staring intently out the window, he tracked the progress of the peach –
"You sent her a fantasy."
He turned his head. Bran, in his usual black attire, was leaning against the doorjamb, his expression disapproving.
"Her eyes are full of dreams. Who am I to deny her?"
"She is a selfish brat who wished her brother away in a fit of pique."
"Bran," he said patiently, "she will lose herself in the fantasy. It'll delay her –"
"Jareth. Please. Already she watches you, fascinated; her awakening sexuality responding to the fantasies you fulfill for her. Don't let her catch you in her spell."
Jareth spun the glass crystal over the backs of his fingers, holding it out to Bran on his palm. His hands, long and white, were framed by falls of crisp lace –
Bran remembered when they had been scratched, calloused and battered, covered in mud and blood and worse.
"I sometimes wonder, Bran, whether you, too, see me as you would like me to be."
There was a moment of silence as Bran raised his eyes to Jareth's, a long, silent assessment of the true value of that statement.
"There was a time, once, when the goblins were more than gibbering, mindless creatures, and the Goblin King more than a flouncing dilettante."
Just like Jareth's earlier words, Bran's were designed to sting. Centuries had passed since Jareth had ridden through blood and iron to conquer a kingdom of his own, with Bran always behind him, ready to support him when he tired. Now there was no more need for such heroics – Jareth's battles were political, fought out in the glittering ballrooms of the courts, or psychological, in the winding corridors and mental games of his Labyrinth.
Jareth sighed. For a moment, he looked exhausted –
"We could not have foreseen my father's geas, Bran. These mortals and their careless cruelties – they expect so much! And yet I can't simply let them win…"
The Labyrinth was the manifestation of Jareth's control over the Goblin Kingdom; his power over the land funneled through its winding, tortuous corridors. If one of the humans managed to find their way through – well, there were a number of different theories.
Bran huffed a small, weary laugh.
"Rumours, myths, supposition – they have not bled for this land, Jareth. I don't believe the magic works that way."
"A comforting thought. Nevertheless –"
There was a subliminal tugging, a twist of magic. "Your fantasy," Bran said ruefully. "I wonder what she will make of it."
It was a pseudo-Venetian ballroom, light, airy and glittering, with just enough of an air of danger to titillate a young girl-woman with dreams in her eyes. She was wearing a girlish, innocent dress, as befitted the princess, the belle, the heroine.
As Bran watched, she looked about her in undisguised wonder, searching for her natural counterpart. It did not escape his notice that she was wearing no mask, employing no deceptions; Jareth, in almost-villainous dark blue, was capricious, enigmatic, the Rake – drawn, almost against his will, until they were face to face.
Unmasked, under a spell of almost painful honesty, they danced –
And then, her face hardening with determination, with revulsion, that he had tried to trick her so, she twisted herself out of his arms and smashed her way out of the illusion…
Jareth stared after the fleeing girl, his expression unreadable. Quite how much of himself he'd put into the girl's fantasy, Bran did not know, but as the crystal shards rained down around them, dissolving into shimmers of illusion, the harsh, cynical lines on Jareth's face were graven deeper than Bran could ever remember before.
For a moment, he hesitated, wondering how far he should push the issue. "How much of that was her shaping?"
"All of it," Jareth grunted. "Or, at least, most of it – 'the King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the girl'. Her dreams and fancies have real power."
"Enough to drag you in against your will?"
Jareth gave him a sharp, unfriendly look. "You know, Bran, sometimes you infuriate me –"
"These mortals with their careless cruelties, their heavy expectations – is that not what you said?" Bran demanded. "Why are you indulging this one?"
"I do not have to explain myself to you," Jareth snarled.
"I am responsible for the security of this kingdom. If you endanger it on a whim, or in a fit of infatuated madness –"
"Damn you, I am the King!"
Jareth's eyes were narrowed and dark with fury, his face white and taut, his nostrils flared, as they stared at each other across a chasm of strained expectations.
"Yes." Bran said, with awful softness. "You are the King. Do not lose sight of that, in the throes of your grand passion."
White, strained, clearly exhausted, Jareth had been stripped of every single one of his pretences, pared down to the very essence of his being.
"Generous? What have you done that's generous?"
"Everything! Everything that you asked of me, I have done. I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you!"
Listening to those words, Bran's heart ached. He remembered the magnificent, extravagant creature he'd first met, so many years ago. He remembered the white owl, soaring across the gloriously blue sky, and the uncontrolled plummet towards the earth. He remembered the fierce recklessness that had so awed the goblins –
"I am exhausted from living up to your expectations."
But she did not – or would not – see. Determinedly, she recited the lines she'd once read in an inferior play.
She paused, held by the urgent authority in his tone, and the world held its breath with her.
"Look what I'm offering you, Sarah. I ask for so little..."
But Sarah was determined not to be deceived again. Bran watched, numbed by the certain sense of inevitability, as she shattered their whole world.
When it was done, when the bell finished tolling, Jareth crouched, shivering, amongst the ruins of far more than his castle. He heard rubble crunching under a sure, slow step, and knew even without turning that it was Bran, watching him with those inscrutable grey eyes.
"Well?" he managed to force out through the numbing veil of weakness and exhaustion.
For once, Bran remained mercifully silent. A steadying, reassuring hand gripped his shoulder, and just for a moment, he leaned into Bran's strength and calm, steady purpose. Then, with a pained grunt, he forced himself to stand up and survey the extent of his defeat.
Goblins rioted in the streets. Other creatures milled about, shocked by the unthinkable concept of their king defeated at his own game. His Exiles, grim faced, were clearly displeased to find that their sanctuary was not invulnerable –
"Was it worth it?" he asked Bran. "Your own grand passion?"
It was not something they had discussed, before. But it was an old, half-remembered story, a rumour, a whispered comment on the road…
Bran's eyes flicked away, and then quickly back, irony overlaying faint echoes of an ancient, terrible grief. "I lost everything," he said dryly. "Stripped of wealth and title and honour – in the end, I lost even my name..." Turning away to look out over the rubble, he grinned mirthlessly. "So tell me: did you think it worth the price?"
There was a long, fraught silence. "At the time – yes."
Bran sighed. "I suppose," he said gently, "that I should know by now not to expect half-measures of you."
Jareth forced himself to laugh, wincing as he stumbled and almost fell. Instantly, Bran's arm was around him, supporting him, upholding him – he shook it off, and stood up by himself.
"Well," he said, in a very different tone this time. "Come then. Let us do what we can to clean up this mess."
Drawing himself up, surrounding himself with the aura and authority of the Goblin King, he ventured down into the midst of the disaster area, issuing orders and instructions as he went. All around him, his subjects took heart, working with more purpose, their fears eased as he walked among them, just as strong and authoritative as he had always been.
Bran followed behind him.