A/N. Because I walked out of that cinema (twice) with a plot bunny gnawing on my brain that would not cease and desist and thus had to be written. The name 'Underland' might just have been what cinched it for me, Underland... Underground... The names were far too similar for my muses not latch onto, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. As of right now this may stay a oneshot, just as it is, but I am playing with making it longer, seeing if it has any chance of working or not simply because it could be rather a lot of fun.
Disclaimer: Don't own them. Never have, never will, just borrowing the characters.
The Owl And The Raven
It had been many years since he'd been here, since he had been allowed to cross the border even if he'd had the time to, advisors advising against getting involved in another war when his own kingdom was still recovering and being rebuilt, the unsaid but always implied while he was still recovering and rebuilding himself. Yet he had kept a sharp eye on the situation, eyes and ears where usual monarchs would have none, knowing more therefore than most and knowing it was safe when others were still cautious despite the official statements from the queen. This trip, however, was off the record, no one to accompany him across the deserts to the war torn lands, and so he had flown, gliding fast and free, taking days off of an otherwise much longer journey.
Once he was past the desert though he landed, choosing to go the rest of the way on foot, staring in a sick familiar wonder at the ruined country he passed through, the burnt and the broken and every once in a while a sign of life, greenery poking cautiously from the wreckage. All was not lost and given time it would be as he remembered it and he found himself looking forward to such a time as he continued to walk, letting his feet lead him, not quite realising until he stepped out into the open where he had been walking to. Not his intended destination of the palace but another place that had seen better, brighter days. He almost didn't recognise it. He almost thought it abandoned until his eyes settled on the occupied seat at the far end of the table.
Maybe he should have kept walking, but he didn't, choosing instead to take a seat to the left. Never the right; that seat was reserved.
The polite and expected inquiry came before he'd had a chance to even say hello: "Tea?"
He took the cup that he was offered with grace, frowning when he realised it was empty and placed it back on the table, clearing a space to rest his elbows as he counted how many things were wrong with the current picture. From his empty mug to the other's full yet cold one, the lack of laughter, of the twitching hare and boisterous dormouse, of things being thrown when asked for instead of passed politely. Usually they served nothing but the best in drinks, food and company. Everything that made the once-garden the garden was missing, all but the ringleader missing and he had to wonder how long it had been this way.
"Champions never stay long, do they? Not even long enough for a proper celebration."
"Sometimes they just choose to celebrate elsewhere."
He'd nearly finished that sentence differently, remembering looking through a closed and locked window: Sometimes they just choose to celebrate without you.
"It's just not proper, do they not think that their services may yet be needed?"
Glancing around at the half-dead woodland and seeing the ruins of a castle he couldn't help but agree, "They should fix what is broken."
"But it is fixed now, and that is why they do not stay, but can't they see if it is fixed then there is nothing left to do and what is fixed is good, a good place to be, is it not?"
"It is where they belong."
"Then why go back to that dreary place above?"
Dragging his gaze back from the woods to his host he saw the lie in his eyes. The man knew full well why the queen's champion had returned home, but like anyone else the truth was it still hurt like hell to be left behind.
"At least you were on the same side."
Maybe he hadn't meant to say it, or maybe he had, too much at ease in the once-garden he had visited so many times before. He didn't know anymore. But it got a reaction, his companion's head jerking up, a look of surprise and confusion flickering across his features as if seeing for the first time with whom he was speaking.
"Oh," he said simply, blinking, and his voice softened again as the words actually sunk in, "Oh, I see." There was a pause, and then perhaps for lack of anything better to say, "Tea?"
He gestured to the empty cup he had been handed previously, "Only if you actually mean it this time."
His host stared at the offending crockery for a moment before snatching it away, tossing it aside, busying himself with the simple work of serving a replacement which was both full and hot, speaking disjointedly between his actions.
"I do apologise; I do seem to have quite lost my mind of late. I don't suppose you've seen it anywhere have you?"
Sipping the fresh tea, relishing the subtle taste he had been unable to find anywhere else, he replied dryly, "You never had a mind to lose in the first place, Hightopp."
There was a snatch of something quite different, sharper and more real, as he snapped back with uncanny speed, "And the same to you, you feather-brained kook."
He smiled over the rim of his cup, giving an almost indiscernible nod, "Better. So, why are you not in court with the others now everything has been fixed?"
"I'm waiting for her, you see she said she'd be back, but she is always late. That's why the tea's gone cold, you know."
"I know. I always had the opposite problem, always too early, taking half the time she should have even with time taken away."
The words made him smile again if for different reasons, "Truly."
"Early or late, never on time and ne'er a wit of concern for those left waiting."
He was losing him again, eyes growing distant, caught in what ifs and when. It was one thing to be lost in those, another to live in them.
"If she said she will be back then she will, one just has to remember that time runs differently between here and there, hours and days mean naught, and neither do the months nor the years. If she said she will be back then in due time she shall be."
"You can change time, can you not? So, why do you not just make it so?"
"You already know why, and," he sighed and shook his head, hating the admittance of his own failure. "For me it makes no difference."
There was another moment's silence, and then: "You were turned down flat."
He resisted the urge to flinch, "Yes, and yet I still wait in foolish hope, so believe me when I say you have nothing to worry about, your little girl will be back before you know it."
"No hope is foolish, and I happen to have been told quite recently by a very reliable source that to be a fool makes one a whole heartedly better individual."
He raised an eyebrow at that, taking in the perfect sanity in the heart of the madness, and raised his cup as well, "Then we must be the best of them all by far."
The clink of china and silence that followed was thoughtful and companionable, different and familiar as they thought on champions, chaos and caffeinated drinks. He knew he was late, but it didn't seem to matter, time of little consequence in this garden outside of everything yet so intrinsically connected to it all. So he stayed until the tea was gone, declining the offer of more and pushed his chair back from the table, dusting himself down.
"Are you coming?"
He had expected as much, but he had to ask nonetheless, "Good luck."
"She'll be back you know."
"Of course, she said she would, did she not?"
"No, not Alice; Sarah."
He stopped, turned and stared at the Hatter, eyes clear as crystal beneath the brim of his ever-present hat, a grin as wide as that of Chessur and possibly just as all-knowing. He had never given the name of the Labyrinth's champion, not wanting the people to know who had beaten the kingdom's greatest challenge. Not wanting her to be used.
"A man with a bird on his head came by a few weeks ago, said you'd be passing through, said to pass the message on, something about costume jewellery payments. She'll be wanting it back when she realises what it means." There was a flicker of silver or gold, a lost keepsake, gone again in a flash, hidden in a jacket pocket. "Until then…for safe keeping…"
The Goblin King might have laughed if he wasn't so sure he should be ringing the necks of both Wiseman and his hat as he turned to leave again.
"Oh, and one more thing…"
Pausing once more, "Dare I even ask?"
The Hatter smirked, a touch of mischief returning for the first time since he'd sat down at the table, "Why is a raven like a writing desk, old friend?"
Laughing, Jareth waved and continued walking, calling back over his shoulder in taunt, "It isn't, Tarrant, I just wondered how long you would continue to ponder it."
He ducked on instinct as the empty china cup sailed over his head, crashing harmlessly to the ground and he knew the mad old coot would be just fine, and maybe, just maybe he'd take a trip Above and see this Alice for himself, this Alice who sounded in so many ways so similar and yet so different from his Sarah.
But in the meantime he was here to see the White Queen, so see her he would, walking the whole way and knowing the Hatter wouldn't be far behind him once he realised that time could still be filled with useful things, he flexed his fingers and called a crystal, like hunting down the Wiseman and finding out just what it was Sarah had left in his Labyrinth and thus in his care.
After all, just because one chapter had ended it didn't mean the story was over.