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Seeking Solace

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The pub was small and lantern lit. There were no pictures on the wall, just brick, and old wood, and quiet conversations lost and muffled in a fog of smoke, the scent of black grass heavy in the air. And there was no live music, no dancing – you had to go to the pub in the Goblin City for that. This wasn't a place people came to when they wanted a good time. This was a place to forget, a place to be numb. It was a place to think and wallow in self-pity and talk about things close to your heart. While getting very, very drunk.

Hoggle was slumped on a stool at the bar in his favorite after-work pub, his craggy, dwarven features pulled into a grimace. He had put in a long day in the gardens at the entrance to the Labyrinth. His bum leg was hurting him and he was dead-on-his-feet tired. The bartender, a gruff goblin-dwarf hybrid of sorts, approached him, nodding at the new bauble around his wrist. "Plastic, eh? You could get a pretty penny for that one. I'd be willing to--"

Hoggle tucked the bracelet further up his arm under his sleeve. "Not fer sale."

The bartender shrugged, stepping back to grab a mug from beneath the counter. "The usual, then?"

Hoggle grunted his assent as he propped his head in his hand, his other fiddling with the bracelet now hidden beneath the rough material of his shirt. Perhaps it was a little bit of self-preservation that he had worked so hard today. He had yet to run across Jareth since all that had happened the day before. He thought, maybe, with a little bit of luck, that if he kept his head down and threw himself into his work...he just might be forgotten.

The bartender left him alone after placing a mug of goblin ale in front of him, refilling it twice as Hoggle sat quietly replaying the events of the previous day in his head. The details became hazier as the alcohol took its toll, but one thing was clear – he had a friend. Sarah.

After finishing his third drink, Hoggle slid off the stool, limping to the back of the pub, past the booths lining the rear wall and through the tunnel-like halls to answer nature's call. On his way back out to the bar, he noticed a figure in the booth nearest him - a shock of wild blond hair. He froze as he realized who it was. The figure underneath the unruly mop was slumped back into the booth, sitting longways on the wooden bench, one leg propped up with his arm dangling over his knee. His head was down.

Damn his rotten luck! He had never seen Jareth in here before, which was why he preferred it. Why tonight, of all nights? Holding his breath, Hoggle began a slow walk past the booth, looking down and away, fully intending to slink on by and hightail it out of there as fast as he could.

Unfortunately, that was not going to happen. Hoggle stopped abruptly, his eyes growing wide as a riding crop came down hard and swift in front of him, cracking loudly against the table to his right as it blocked his path.

Hoggle swallowed and slowly turned his head to meet the cool gaze of the Goblin King. "Hello, Higgle. Fancy meeting you here."

"Ah, er…yer majesty." Hoggle bobbed his head, looking frantically around for another avenue of escape. "Just, ya know, ah...having a drink or two after a long day workin'..."

Jareth withdrew the riding crop barring the way, curling his elbow around his knee. "Naturally." He affected a look of concern as he leaned closer. "You must be exhausted. Especially after your festivities last night."

So he knew about the party at Sarah's house last night. Hoggle swallowed again, fidgeting. Of course, he knew. He always knew. "Ah..."

A chair slid out roughly from under the table, the legs scraping against the stone tiles. "Have a seat, Hogwart."

Hoggle turned a little sideways, facing the Goblin King as he slowly shuffled past the booth in baby steps. Jareth tracked his movements. "Well, ya know, I was already sittin' at the bar, so I'll just find my way back and get out yer hair..."

Jareth flashed a snide smile and leaned forward to look Hoggle in the eye. "You're not really going to stand there and refuse my hospitality, are you? Not after all we've been through?" His smile faded. "Sit."

Hoggle stumbled backwards into the table behind him, wincing from the force in the command. Regaining his balance, he met the not amused gaze of the man in front of him, momentarily paralyzed in panic. After a tense moment in which they each took measure of the other, Hoggle drew in a long breath, steeling himself, before climbing up into the chair. With a wave of Jareth's hand, the mug Hoggle had been nursing at the bar was now in front of him, full. Hoggle wrapped his hands around it, sighing dejectedly. "I ain't going to help ya to hurt her or nothin', so you can forget it, if that's what yer gonna ask. I don't care what you do to me."

"Is that so? Since when did you become the hero?"

"I ain't no hero. I jus' won't do nothin' to harm her is all."

Jareth tapped a finger against his lips as if considering. "I wonder what could inspire such loyalty in a selfish, traitorous, little scrub like you?" He lowered his hand and slid him a sideways glance. "Oh, that's right. I remember - she's your friend." He hissed the last word on a sneer.

Hoggle sucked in a breath, puffing out his chest. "That's right! She is my friend, and if you so much as harm a hair on her head, I'll, I'll..."

"You'll what, exactly?" They glared at each other from opposite sides of the table for a long moment, Hoggle shaking with ragged angry breaths, and Jareth's eyes slitted and cold as he leaned threateningly across the table. Ultimately, Jareth was the first to relent, a snide smile curling his lips as he leaned backward against the wall. "So much trouble over a slip of a girl..."

Hoggle wasn't quite willing to let it go. "Don't talk about her. She's not--"

Jareth spared him a quick dismissive glance. "Calm down, Hoghead, before you get yourself hurt." He continued with a hint of faintly amused warning. "That chair's looking unsteady." Too illustrate this point, the chair wobbled ominously and Hoggle gripped the sides to keep from tipping over.

"I won't calm down, not if--"

Jareth sighed and waved his hand halfheartedly to shush him. "I have no intention of harming Sarah."

Hoggle stared at him a moment, blinking uncomprehendingly. "Uh...ya don't?"

"No."

"Um...I guess that's okay then." Hoggle settled back in his chair, eyeing him warily as Jareth poured a shot of what appeared to be whiskey and downed it in a gulp. The bottle was already half empty.

"Trying to forget the girl, eh?" Hoggle looked up from his mug to see the old man with the crazy hat that he and Sarah had come across in the hedge maze. Jareth slid his eyes up to the bird-hat that had spoken before pouring himself another shot without answering.

"Ah...your majesty. Lovely to see you again. It's been too long." The wiseman sidled closer to the table and Jareth nodded his head in acknowledgment, throwing back the shot he had just poured.

The hat looked from the glass to Jareth, and then down at the old man beneath him. "He's drunk."

The wiseman nodded his head, the bird perched on top bobbing along with the movement. "Ah, yes. To drink the waters of Lethe is to drink the waters of forgetfulness – to obliterate perceived hurts from one's consciousness, to--"

"Aye, me. Will you listen to this rubbish?"

He glared up at his hat through his bushy eyebrows, the rest of his sentence ground out from between clenched teeth. "...to forget what is too painful to remember."

The hat looked disinterestedly out over the bar. "I wish I could forget this conversation."

The wiseman rolled his eyes and looked back at Jareth. "But...with the memory goes our wisdom, or knowledge, that which brings us understanding and enlightenment--"

"Woo-woo-woo! Check out that hot little number!" The hat had spied a pretty elfish girl sitting alone at the bar and had started bouncing in his excitement.

Grabbing the earflaps of the hat, the wiseman pinned it to his head with a downward tug. "Will you please desist!"

Finding his movements arrested, the hat strained against the downward force, stretching his neck upwards one way and then the other, with no noticeable effect except that he appeared to be swaying to some tune only he could hear. Finally realizing the futility of the struggle, he stopped, slumping downwards with a click of his beak. "Ah, nuts." He hung his head dejectedly, with a long-suffering sigh. "I need a drink."

Seeing that his hat had sufficiently composed himself, the wiseman looked over his shoulder at the girl in question, his eyebrows rising. Turning back to the booth, he patted the Goblin King consolingly, and quickly, on the knee. "The way forward is sometimes the way back."

Hoggle watched as the wiseman wandered over to the bar, sitting next to the young elf. "Well, hello there, young lady..."

The hat chimed in with an excited bounce. "Hey, pretty lady!"

Hoggle snorted. "Psh. I don't think he even knows what that means."

Jareth barked out a laugh. "Perhaps not." He swished his riding crop through the air once before bringing it in and flexing it with both hands. "But then again..."

They both watched as the bartender set a mug of ale in front of the old man, the girl laughing at whatever he had just said. The hat looked down at the mug, then back up at the bartender. "And a straw."

Hoggle rolled his eyes, taking a swig from his own mug. They sat silently for a while, Jareth staring moodily down at his boot, thrumming out a staccato beat with the riding crop. Hoggle braved a glance at him. Jareth didn't seem angry; in fact, he looked like Hoggle felt yesterday when he thought Sarah would never forgive him. He felt a tug of understanding, against his better judgment.

"Ah...yer majesty?" Hoggle scratched his head, looking back down in his mug. "For what it's worth...she asked about you."

Jareth lifted his head slowly to look straight ahead. "Did she?" The question was flat, almost as if he didn't expect an answer or care for one at all.

Hoggle snuck another glance up at him to find his expression blank and faraway. "Ah, yeah...she asked if you were gonna be okay."

Jareth laughed then; it was a cold, weary sound. "She breaks my world and then asks if I'm going to be 'okay'."

Hoggle didn't answer and Jareth was quiet for a few minutes before looking his way, twirling the empty shot glass in idle spirals on the table. "Did she say anything else...about me?"

Hoggle narrowed his eyes; his empathy only stretched so far. This was still Jareth. "No." Even if she had it's not like he would tell him.

Jareth nodded his head, looking back across the bar. "Well, Hoggle, thank you for the company." He stood, and Hoggle watched him as he started to walk toward the exit. He didn't get far before he paused and spoke without turning around. "Oh, and Hoggle. As a reward for your service and...loyalty to the crown, I'm giving you a promotion."

"You are?"

"Yes. I need someone to oversee a new construction project. It was brought to my attention earlier today that there's a bridge that needs rebuilding. You start tomorrow morning." He began to walk again. "No doubt you'll see at least two familiar faces."

Hoggle sighed. "Yes, yer majesty." He looked back down at his mug as the door closed behind the Goblin King. Well, it could have been worse. A lot worse. Maybe if he got drunk enough he wouldn't notice the smell...

Or perhaps not. Hoggle pushed his mug aside. He didn't want to be so drunk he accidentally stumbled into the bog. Scooting out of the booth, he hobbled over to the bar to pay his tab. The bartender shook his head as Hoggle approached. "Taken care of."

Hoggle's eyebrows shot up. "Oh..alright then." He started toward the door, pausing when the bartender spoke again.

"Since when did you start having heart-to-hearts with 'is majesty?"

"I wasn't! I'm not! I..." Hoggle stopped his adamant protest suddenly, his shoulders sagging as he waved at the bartender dismissively. "Ah, whatever. See you tomorrow night."

Stepping out into the night air, Hoggle looked toward the castle and could just make out the shadow of an owl mid-flight. He heaved a sigh before beginning the short trek back to his cottage, his expression thoughtful as he rubbed absently at the plastic circlet around his wrist. He shook his head, a little bewildered. Even cowards and villains needed a friend sometimes, he supposed, whether they deserved it or not.

~o0O0o~