Elim Garak paced his quarters the entire night, but wherever he went, temptation followed. Jareth's power of persuasion was frightening. Elim despised himself for becoming weak, for allowing his stupid infatuation to subvert his perception of reality. He was a Cardassian, an exile, and a disgrace. He enjoyed lying to Julian Bashir and would undoubtedly continue to do so. The human would never accept that, would never accept him. No talisman could ever change reality, and he had been a fool to allow Jareth to gain such power over him. No one had power over him, not Tain, not Dukat, not the Bajorans or Sisko, not Jareth. And certainly, not one Starfleet doctor, however enchanting.
By 0600, Garak's resolve was iron-clad.
He would accept Jareth's offer of power. To regain his place in Cardassian
society, to rule...that was all the reward he needed. And now, he
really must prepare for a meeting with Commander Sisko. Order.
He would have order. And control. Always, he must be in control.
For the first time since Jareth's collapse, Bashir felt he had the situation mostly under control. He'd given a favorable report to Captain Sisko and the senior staff.
"It took forty trial runs, but we at last have an inhibitor both His Majesty and I can live with," he'd begun, launching into a lengthy explanation of how he'd combined enzymes from several different inhibitors to form one powerful substance that seemed to do the trick. Jareth said he was now able to hold off the destruction of his realm for a week at most. That was all Bashir could permit him to do, but he promised that Jareth would soon be sufficiently recovered to resume his endeavors. The discussion had then turned to Garak's information, and a heated debate had issued over whether or not it, and the tailor, could be trusted. Sisko held off making any decisions until the meeting with Jareth tomorrow.
It had been a long day, and Bashir entered the Infirmary feeling somewhat drained. He was surprised to find Doctor Elaine Zohar waiting for him. His energy level lifted a bit. Finally, some stimulation outside work...and a distraction from his fascination with Jareth. Elaine was intriguing. But he couldn't shake the nagging and irrational thought that she might just be using him to finish the paper. He certainly hadn't been able to entice her into any activity beyond the purely intellectual...of course, getting rejected was hardly a new experience for him. He wondered for the millionth time what gross gaffe he kept making with women. And even men...
"Hello, Julian." Her thin lips smiled, and for a moment her usually haughty marble-white face relaxed. She completely ignored Jareth watching in the background. "Are you busy? I know there's been a lot going on lately."
"I think I can spare a minute." Bashir turned on his charm. "Particularly for you."
Jareth watched and surreptitiously shook his head. The coldly lovely woman attempting to chat up his doctor was a leech. An intelligent leech, but still a bloodsucker, only out for what she could get. Definitely unworthy of Julian.
"It's about our paper," Elaine
said, handing Bashir a datapadd. "Could you take a look at these revisions?"
Bashir scanned the datapadd and frowned. "Elaine, these rates of neurosynaptic regeneration aren't taking into account the factors we noticed. The way you've presented the data is inaccurate and might give rise to overconfidence in the nanites. And I really think we should mention Wesley Crusher's experiment on the Enterprise-"
"Oh, come on, Julian, nobody is going to take a teenage boy's science project seriously." Elaine spoke in perfectly measured, even tones. No doubt to mask the superciliousness, Jareth thought spitefully. "And the data is accurate. So we discovered a few aberrations-"
"Actually, I was the one who noticed them."
"Speaking of teenage boys, your attitude is truly adolescent."
"I'm sorry if I seem that way to you. Suppose we talk about this in an adult fashion over dinner? Things are slow here, and-"
"I should be getting back to the Sutherland." It was a clear brush-off. "I need your approval on these revisions before we submit it to the Journal of Nanotechnology. I want to do that before the Sutherland leaves at 0930 tomorrow."
"I can't approve those revisions," Bashir said, feeling very high-minded and extremely stupid. "Why don't we take some time to think about it, then talk about it in a week?"
"Why don't I just take your name off the paper," Elaine said sweetly. "I'll give you credit in the bibliography."
"Thanks for that crumb," Bashir muttered, surrendering once again to disappointment...and relief. "I have to get back to my patients."
"See you later." Elaine breezed out of the Infirmary. Bashir sighed and felt weary all over again.
"I don't know about you, but the chill has left my bones," Jareth remarked lightly.
"Am I really being adolescent?" Bashir sighed aloud. "Or could I have misjudged her that badly? And why am I wasting time on this?"
"If I may make an observation, you are well rid of that woman. Actually, 'woman' is a gross misnomer. 'Intellectual prick-tease' suits her much better. Not to mention 'bloodsucker.' Are you certain she isn't related to the charming Kai?"
"Only spiritually," the doctor murmured, stifling a laugh.
"Such a pity," murmured Jareth. "Such a sinful waste of a glorious body."
Bashir hid his blushing face. Really, he was too transparent. "Yes, well, she has other redeeming qualities. She's the best at what she does, she's brilliant, she's disciplined-"
"I was talking about yours."
The bold words made Julian's mouth hang open. He shut it quickly. <Face him, Jules, act as if he never said that...>
He looked at Jareth, and felt as though he were drowning in heat.
Jareth reclined on the biobed, propped up on one elbow. The sheet had somehow worked its way down around his knees, and even in the purple pajamas every patient wore, he was impossibly sexy. Tall, lean, and leonine, he filled the room with his sheer physical and mental presence. The animal magnetism radiated from him in potent waves. His eyes smoldered as they traced a path up and down the other man's body. For the second time in as many days, the sensation of a caress seared Julian's skin-just from a word, a look-and the bliss he experienced was indistinguishable from agony because he knew he should not be feeling this way, not for his patient...God, but the man looked magnificent, was magnificent...Bashir sought refuge behind a console to conceal the growing hardness between his thighs.
"Er...is there anything you need?" It was a fatuous, stupid question, but he couldn't put together any other coherent thoughts.
"You." The word was infinitely seductive in its directness. "Not right now, of course, not while I am your patient. I respect your professional integrity, and don't think that your response to me diminishes it in the least. You have done nothing but look out for my welfare, defended me from Winn, and done more for me than anyone in years, and I'm grateful...but that is the least of my feelings for you."
"It's quite a common occurrence to get a crush on your therapist, and I suppose that applies to physicians too-"
The sound of his name on that man's tongue ensorcerelled him, and he forgot everything but Jareth. His rationalizations were thin shields, and the other man knew it.
"We barely know each other, but you are everything I've been searching for. Your fiery, gentle spirit, your brilliant mind, your character are rare in my experience..."
"I'm not what you think I am," Julian mumbled. He had to dissuade this man...nothing could be gained from these feelings...
"We are never who we are," Jareth said cryptically, paraphrasing Shakespeare. "You, endowed with so much goodness and somehow doubting it, and I, the center of my universe and envied, feeling that I am nothing but decay. We are both trapped in our loneliness, Julian, but we need not be. I don't expect redemption-I am far past that-simply someone to cherish, to be my companion, to be stimulated by, intellectually and physically. In return, I am capable of giving you what you crave. I suspect it's been a long time since someone has touched you intimately, received the gift of your passion, or even simply held you and taken pleasure in your nearness."
"It's been forever." The words were almost a moan. Contrary to station rumors and his own boyish bravado, he didn't bed very many women-or men for that matter-let alone find a true meeting of souls. "But I don't think..."
"Stop thinking and listen. Your wait is nearly over. Once I'm out of here, you and I will be free to indulge our desires." The voice was gentle and achingly sensuous. "I'll start by slowly removing your clothing, not that dreadful thing you wear. I leave the attire up to you, since I'm infinitely more intrigued by the satiny skin that lies underneath...and there's not an inch of you that I won't caress, stroke, lick, kiss, and tease into total, quivering, ecstatic responsiveness. I'll begin with your long lovely legs, starting at the toes and slowly working upward...leaving what lies between your thighs alone for the moment, just to drive you wild and prolong our pleasure, although I'll be aching to taste you and have that luscious mouth on me...I'll watch your face as I kiss my way around your chest. Then perhaps I'll have you lie down on your stomach so I can fondle your pert, perfectly shaped ass, which I intend to pay particular attention to. Before I'm through, I will find everything that pleases you, and teach you what pleases me. You'll have ample opportunity to reciprocate and have my body at your mercy...When we can't bear another moment, I will take you and savor every second of being inside you, of sinking my cock deeper and deeper into you while I caress yours. Never fear, I'll let you return the favor. The thought of you driving into me is enough to take me over the edge right here, but delight is always much more satisfying when deferred, and when shared. The anticipation will keep me from going insane with desire until I finally have you...."
The words turned his leg muscles to jelly. Julian clutched the console to keep from falling, but he had already fallen under the spell of that magnetic personality, of those words that seduced him more than anything else had in a long time. He should have nipped this in the bud immediately. The attraction had started from the moment he'd looked into those eyes, but he'd denied it, knowing instinctively the potential danger, just as he'd denied what he felt for Garak, and subsisted on the tailor's friendship, fearing he could not possibly be reading Garak's feelings right It was better that way, yearning after what he couldn't have...like Jadzia Dax. Dax he could handle. Dax was safe. She would never return his affections, and he'd learned to be content with friendship and with tortured longings, because she was unattainable, had lived seven lifetimes and was infinitely more sophisticated...rather like Jareth, except Jareth was within his reach and it excited the hell out of him while making him want to run...but he couldn't do that, not to a patient...not to this patient, who had awakened his deepest, most concealed needs and would never allow him to bury them again.
"You have no need to fear me," Jareth said, reading the shyness in Bashir's body language. "I would never hurt you in any way."
"It's not you," Julian muttered. "How could I let this happen?"
"You're only human, with desires."
"I should be above that." The doctor straightened up and took a decisive step away from the console. "I'm a professional, for God's sake, and I will not let your mind-games distract me."
"Mind-games? You confuse me with M'sieur Garak. I've been completely open with you-"
"Have you?" Julian challenged. "Then tell me, what happens on the proverbial morning after? Do we walk off into the sunset? Do you turn me into a goblin...or a plaything?"
"Afraid of the future? I know that prison as well as you and I've just handed you the key to unlock both our cages. Are you going to reach out and take it, or will you continue to hide yourself away on this remote station-"
"Hide!" Julian spluttered. "I am exactly where I want to be. I have a full life-"
"Your eyes tell me a different story. Behind that boyish facade, I see the hidden soul crying out in quiet desperation, stifled by 'whatever will my friends think if they know I'm not as wonderful as I pretend, what will happen to my career.'"
The doctor picked up a hypospray and administered the new inhibitor with a force that made Jareth suck in his breath. "So you do have claws and teeth," the sorcerer murmured. "I was beginning to wonder..."
"If I was as naïve as I seem? I've got news for you. You are not the first man to proposition me like this, and you won't be the last." Julian turned aside and muttered to himself, "Must be retribution for all the times I came on too strong to Dax and she turned me down."
"Poor, lovelorn Julian," Jareth mocked. "Forever pursuing what you cannot have because it's safer that way-"
"Shut up," Julian whispered, appalled at the uncanny perception.
"I will be far better for you than even the magnificent Dax...or anyone else. Physically, mentally, emotionally...I will demand everything you have and I will give myself wholly to you in return. If this is not what you want, what you've always wanted...what you want with me....just say it now, and I shall never importune you again."
"I thought as much," Julian muttered. "You're only doing this because you're on that bed and helpless. When you get out of here...tomorrow morning and not one minute sooner...nothing will come of your promises."
Jareth smiled brilliantly. "You've just thrown down your glove, dear Julian..."
Jareth was wearing his gloves, Julian noticed dazedly. Nurse Jabara had taken them away...he must have an endless supply that he conjured. Jareth noticed Julian's fascinated expression and slowly peeled off his gloves. He held his bare, elegant, beautifully shaped hands up for inspection. My God, Julian thought, even his hands are perfect. Jareth tossed the black leather gloves to him. Still bewildered, Julian caught them in one hand.
"And I accept the challenge. The only reason you are not lying across my lap right now is because I know, my ethical one, that I would drive you away...and I must conserve my strength. But the moment you discharge me..."
Julian opened his mouth, and Jareth placed a hand over it, feathering his fingers over the full lips. A shudder ripped through Julian, and his groin tightened.
Jareth let out a sigh, and his own manhood hardened. "Think about it," he whispered, caressing Julian's cheek once before dropping his hand. "I'll be patient...I've been waiting a long time for you..."
To Bashir's befuddled brain, his own voice sounded like a transmission from the other side of the galaxy. "Ask me again after you're out of here..."
"Is that a yes?" Jareth pressed his advantage a little too quickly and wondered anxiously if he'd overplayed it.
Julian didn't trust himself to speak.
But his eyes answered for him.
Jareth gave a soft, contented sigh and settled back down, closing his eyes. "You won't regret this..." His voice trailed off, and he forced himself to feign sleep. He'd gambled for high stakes and won but it was time to lay down his hand and let the cards fall where they would. At least as far as his Julian was concerned.
In slow-motion, the doctor checked his patient's vital signs, then moved about the infirmary attending to three cases of Rigellian flu and one shattered leg.
He nearly jumped and whirled around. "God, Miles, you scared me."
"Sorry." Miles O'Brien made his way to the back, holding his left shoulder as though it would fall off if he didn't. "I just thought, since you're still here-"
"What was it this time? Kayaking? Racquetball? The Jeffries tube?" Julian helped his friend to a biobed and gently massaged the shoulder. "Pulled muscle. You'll be fine."
"It doesn't feel 'fine,'" grumbled O'Brien. "I was chasing one of those goblins, you know, the baby one they couldn't change back. She escaped, and I was checking a power fluctuation n the conduits when she ran past me. I went one way through a junction...and my shoulder went another. She moves faster than Molly. I couldn't catch her. Luckily, Odo blocked the conduit and got her. Poor thing wasn't happy about being caught."
Julian talked as he worked on the injured shoulder. "With any luck, once we get those daj'zhas reunited, we might be able to change her and the others back to their natural forms. That's what the Vedeks say."
"Hope they're right." O'Brien shivered. "Y'know, I grew up with tales of the Little People, fairies, Tir-Na-Nog, hobgoblins...but I never thought I'd meet them in person."
"It's a huge galaxy, Miles. Room for everyone."
O'Brien nodded at Jareth. "Even him. Not giving you any trouble, is he?"
<If you only knew, Miles...> "Less than you," Julian said lightly. This was one romantic episode he could never confess to his friend. "It's quite a refreshing change. There you are, just try not to chase any more goblins."
"Will do." O'Brien lowered himself off the biobed. "You should get some sleep. You don't look well. I can nag too, you know."
Julian smiled warmly. "Goodnight, Miles."
"Goodnight, Julian." Something in his friend's face made Miles O'Brien pause in the doorway. "Anything bothering you?"
<Oh, no, nooo, nothing, I've just been propositioned by a potentially dangerous and definitely powerful Goblin King and agreed to a tryst with him...what could be troubling me?> "I just need some rest." Julian did one last once-over of the Infirmary, then followed O'Brien out the door. "Tomorrow I'll feel as right as rain."
Tomorrow, tomorrow, there's always
tomorrow, and after all, tomorrow is another day...Julian waved to O'Brien
as the Irishman disappeared into his quarters. His other hand clutched
around something. He glanced down and saw he was still holding Jareth's
gloves. He started to turn around, to return to the Infirmary, give
back the gloves. Then, inexplicably, he shook his head, did an about-face
and strode down the corridor to his quarters. The leather gloves
felt cool and sensuous in his hand.
Garak smiled and greeted Promenade passers-by affably as he headed to the Infirmary. Outwardly, he was the Cardassian they knew, or thought they knew. Inwardly, he was a changed man, a man stunned by the complete mental reversal he'd undergone.
He would look Jareth in the eye and accept the gift. It was the least he could do to protect Bashir from someone as insidious as Jareth. It did not mean he was going to actually use the absurd talisman on the doctor. It simply meant that Julian was far, far too naïve and trusting to be left vulnerable to Jareth and his whims. He didn't need Jareth's help to pursue Julian...
The Cardassian entered Julian's domain and hid his dismay. Jareth was upright, miraculously dressed in his flamboyant clothing, chatting to Nurse Jabara and an attentive Jadzia Dax as Julian conducted scans just to check his vital signs. For once Garak blessed the Great Gul that the doctor was such a stickler for procedure. And Dax's divertissements didn't hurt. Jareth absorbed it all as though he ruled the Infirmary. He spied Garak first and imperiously beckoned him over. "Good morning, M'sieur Garak!"
"Ah, I see you've fully recovered," Garak said as genially as he could.
"And not a moment too soon," Jareth answered. "I doubt I could stand to spend another moment in this sterile place. I've never been fond of hospitals."
"Or doctors, either?" Garak just kept smiling.
"I've loathed doctors for centuries." Jareth glanced lightly at Julian. "Although I'm changing my mind."
"Julian's bedside manner wins over another patient," Dax said, elbowing Julian teasingly.
"Me? I've done nothing but poke and prod him." Julian's manner was as easygoing and relaxed as ever. Garak carefully scrutinized the doctor's face for any sign of dissembling, any hint of anxiety or coyness or flirtation. "I'm not surprised he's relieved to get out of here."
Jareth winced as another hypospray full of inhibitor pressed against his neck, followed by a stimulant. "That's an understatement."
Julian's comm badge chimed. "Doctor,
incoming transmission for you. It's Dr. Zohar from the Sutherland."
The doctor sighed in irritation and glowered at a grinning Dax. "Not a word out of you."
"Who, me?" Dax said innocently. "I just came here because a Klingon warrior gave me a nasty scratch in the holosuite. Julian fixed it and now I've got to start my shift in Ops. See you later, everybody. Behave yourself, Jareth."
"A bientot, Jadzia," Jareth murmured as the Trill exited.
Julian nodded at Nurse Jabara. "I can handle discharging this patient. I'll be back in a moment." He disappeared into his office, and Nurse Jabara prepared to end her shift.
Garak and Jareth regarded each other in silence. Garak spoke first. "I've made some progress on simulating a daj'zha explosion. A programmer recommended to me by Quark can create a holographic illusion that the Federation sensors can't penetrate. If Captain Sisko decides to undertake the recovery of the daj'zha, Starfleet personnel will be secretly involved...and I've learned never to underestimate their skills. The programmer can have the simulation done by 1500 hours tomorrow...but he comes at a high price."
Jareth produced a glittering diamond and tossed it at Garak, who caught it. He'd posed as a jeweler during one of his missions for the Obsidian Order, and his eye told him that the diamond was worth a small fortune. He took out a small mirror he always carried and scraped the diamond across it. The glass shattered instantly. Jareth smiled. "Humans say breaking a mirror means seven years' bad luck."
"Cardassians don't believe in superstitions. The bad luck would only befall us if the diamond weren't real."
"Trust me, your artisan will have no complaints." When Garak simply nodded, Jareth continued, "Once Captain Sisko approves the mission, I'll tell you just how I plan to make it look as though you thwarted a Cardassian attempt to destroy Bajor."
"And how will you factor the Labyrinth into the equation?" Garak demanded.
"Oh, I'll think of something," Jareth murmured. "You've performed well so far. You deserve this." He twirled his black-gloved hand and produced the talisman. The gloves had been in Julian's possession for a night, and he had graciously returned them this morning. The thought of Julian with the black gloves was titillating...He dangled the charm before Garak's face. Jareth hated to make the offer again, but tradition demanded it. Besides, he had found the way to subtly dissuade Garak if necessary. "Have you reconsidered my gift? Time grows short. I'll soon be discharged."
"I'm surprised at your insistence, considering your interest in our young doctor."
"Come, come, Garak. You and I don't subscribe to the foolish notions of eternal, sacred love that plague these humans. We're more pragmatic than that. We see someone we desire, and we take him or her. Affection may be involved, liking and respect, but love? Romantic love is an illusion...one that can destroy everything we work to build. Empires and civilizations have fallen because of these foolish entanglements, and still humans continue to write ballads, sigh and become pathetically insecure when the object of their love doesn't turn out to be who they thought, or conform to their ideals."
Garak thought of all the times Julian had failed to understand Cardassian culture, had chased after beautiful women while disdaining his overtures, had argued with him over something as trivial as morality, human morality at that...and he knew that Julian would never understand his reasoning that the Bajorans could afford to live without two insignificant relics, but he, Garak, needed so much more than a tiny tailor shop on this wretched station, he needed power...They were simply too different. It could never work. The sex would be pleasurable...once he'd taught the human how to satisfy him...but Julian would probably mistake it for more than it was. It wasn't only human females that were so damned sentimental...
"Humans amuse me," he told Jareth. "That's all Doctor Bashir truly is, an amusing diversion, just to fill the hours. There is no one else on this godforsaken station who can hold a decent conversation. He would be a good lay but hardly worth the trouble. I'd much rather have the power you offer."
"Very well." Jareth made the talisman vanish with a gesture of finality. "I'll see you in half an hour. Adieu, M'sieur Garak."
"Adieu." Garak marched out of the Infirmary, holding in a deep sigh of relief...or was it regret? Best not to think about it.
Jareth stared after him and smiled smugly. If Garak was willing to give up that easily, he truly didn't deserve the prize. No question about it, he was going to be good for the doctor. It terrified him to think of how quickly this being had come to matter to him, and he wished he meant his cynical words...but Garak would never know that he didn't. And after all, for the moment he was merely infatuated with the doctor.
Think of the devil, or the angel in this case.
Julian strode out smiling. "Sorry about that. Doctor Zohar wanted to tell me once again what a mistake I was making. I told her that she was the true author of the paper and she deserved whatever accolades she got. It'll be interesting to read the criticism next month. Someone will point out the gaps in her methodology."
Jareth chuckled. "You are more devious than you appear."
Bashir blushed like a guilty child and performed another scan. "Where did Garak go?"
"He had some hemlines to raise, or some such business, before the meeting. Speaking of which...will you be there?"
"Yes, Captain Sisko has asked me to report on the Bajoran transformations...three more children have begun to change."
"Not for long," Jareth said determinedly. "Where are they?"
"Their parents are keeping them sequestered in their quarters. I'm sure Kira could get you in to see them...and when you do manage to change them back, they're coming straight to the Infirmary for observation."
"With so much ahead of me, must I stay in this Infirmary a moment longer?"
"You're free to leave," Julian said. "But if you disobey my instructions, you'll be back in here before you know it."
"I'll behave myself," Jareth promised jauntily.
"I find that difficult to believe," Julian shot back.
The sorcerer laughed softly. "I do want to thank you for all you've done for me."
"It was my duty." Julian felt awkward, and comfortable with the dry words. He was expected to say them. Never mind that this man had given him an unforgettable erotic experience while barely touching him. His words had been potent enough...and that voice. The voice had filled Julian's dreams. He'd expected to be tormented by vivid, explicit, searing night fantasies. Instead, he'd dreamed of a room lit with candle flames and stars, the night enveloping him with its cool fingers, the sultry smell of sandalwood, and an indefinable but sweet and haunting melody...and he'd known the sorcerer was singing to him. He'd heard Jareth croon to himself during the many tests they'd done yesterday, and he'd been charmed by the melodious sound and the song, "Witchcraft," that Jareth sang. In his dreams, he couldn't make out the words, only the sound of that voice around him, and it seduced him thoroughly. He'd awakened to find himself hot, bothered, and fully aroused, and it had taken several cups of lemon tea for him to go back to sleep. He'd tried to figure out the hold this man had on him...damn it, why did he always fall for mysterious, sophisticated types?
The glitter in Jareth's eyes penetrated the doctor's confused thoughts. "Nevertheless, I must repay your kindness. Dinner tonight, my quarters?"
It wasn't a question. And they both knew it wasn't only a dinner invitation. Julian swallowed, and said in his most assured voice, "Dinner sounds great. Around 1930 hours?"
"Perfect. A ce soir." Jareth leaned forward and brushed his lips over Julian's, then grinned and sauntered out of the Infirmary.
Julian touched his trembling mouth, sighed and was grateful for the respite. Thank God he would only have to see the sorcerer at that meeting, then avoid him until 1930 hours. He needed time to think and wonder what he had just let himself in for...had he just made the worst mistake of his life?
Mistake or not, a Jem'Hadar squadron couldn't keep him away from that dinner.
"So be it," he murmured.
"Are you sure about this, Emissary?" Kai Winn asked sweetly. "This mission cannot violate the treaty between Cardassia and Bajor."
"That's why I'm not authorizing anyone to take the Defiant for this mission," Sisko said. "Besides, strictly speaking, this isn't a Starfleet matter. A shuttlecraft will have to do. Mr. Garak, Your Majesty, you will travel with a minimum of Starfleet personnel."
"And me," Kira added. "But a shuttlecraft will be too risky. Quark's negotiating the price for a nondescript merchant vessel. Bajoran Intelligence has learned that the Cardassian colony is due for a shipment of medical supplies. Quark's working to convince the merchant captain who makes the run to stay home."
"When is the merchant ship due at the colony?" Sisko asked.
"Two days from now," Kira answered. "Quark thinks he'll have everything arranged by tomorrow. Of course, Quark's insisting on a finder's fee."
"Tell him we'll pay, and tell him not to take too long," Sisko said. "Your Majesty, is this acceptable to you?"
"I have no complaints, Captain. It seems to be the only solution. The Vedeks and I have made little progress with the daj'zha, and I have been unable to change the fully mutated Bajorans back into themselves," Jareth said. "Your Eminence, how say you?"
"Bajor stands to benefit," Winn said diplomatically. "I approve this mission. And I hope that the endeavor will solve your world's troubles, Your Majesty."
"I'm certain it will. Ask your Prophets to guide us." Jareth turned and moved toward the door. "Now if you'll excuse me, there are some other Bajoran children who have begun to be afflicted by the daj'zha's effects. I feel somehow responsible for this, and so I must help."
"I'll come with you," Kira said, matching her steps to his.
"Thank you, Major. Your presence will facilitate matters. Eminence, would you care to join us?"
"I would like to be witness to this miracle, yes." Kai Winn followed them out of Sisko's office.
Garak nodded at Sisko and Bashir. "I hope I've been helpful."
"Very," Sisko said. "Now, all we do is wait."
"I'm quite good at waiting. If you'll excuse me, Captain, Doctor, I have a shop to tend to." The Cardassian left, and Bashir started after him.
"Just a moment, Doctor," Sisko said.
"What is it, Captain?" Bashir turned about and stood with his hands behind his back.
"What do you make of our visitor? You've observed him for two days."
<How do I answer this question?> "He's a complex man. Brilliant, charming, arrogant, poetic. He's told me quite a bit of his history."
"Yes, I've read your preliminary report. But is that all he's revealed to you?"
<If you only knew...> "He's guarded. If his behavior is any indication, he's maintained order in his kingdom by being very controlled and not exactly approachable, not in the way that you are, for example. He keeps everyone at bay, letting no one get close."
"Sir?" Bashir's heart pounded.
"He came in here a few minutes before the meeting and spoke of you in glowing terms. Among other things, he mentioned you were one of the most compassionate, brilliant and personable people he'd ever encountered. I'd say you made quite an impression."
"He...impressed me as well. On the surface, he might seem evil, but I believe there's more to him than that. Hidden depths."
"Any hint that he might be a serious threat to the station or Bajor?"
"We still don't know the story behind the daj'zha's appearance in his realm. Yes, it is possible, but he's been fairly cooperative so far."
Sisko nodded. "Doctor, I have an assignment for you. You are free to decline, of course."
"What's the assignment, Captain?"
"You are the only one he's established a rapport with. I want you to use that rapport. Spend time with him outside of the Infirmary. See if he drops his guard and reveals something."
Bashir was nonplussed. "I think you should know he invited me to dinner tonight, in appreciation of all I've done."
Sisko tried not to react. He hadn't missed the looks Jareth had been giving the doctor, and he seriously questioned the wisdom of his decision. It was a potentially incendiary situation. He didn't want the doctor under Jareth's power, in a situation that might jeopardize not only his safety but that of others. "Do you have any reason to believe he might be interested in you romantically?"
"I suspect he's just a natural flirt. He was all over Dax in the Infirmary this morning." <That's it, Jules, lie to your commanding officer...it should be easy by now.> "This assignment will be no problem, sir."
"I'm glad to hear it," Sisko murmured. "Dismissed."
Bashir left with alacrity. A moment later, Dax rang the door chime and walked in. "Well? How did it go?"
"Sit down, Old Man," Sisko sighed,
using his pet name for the woman who had once been his male mentor, Curzon
Dax. "I'd like your input on a few things..."
Stifling the qualms surging inside him and the butterflies in his stomach, Julian slowly strolled toward destiny. He carried a foil-wrapped bottle. The linen fabric of his trousers caressed his legs. He'd chosen to wear his new suit and paired it with a white silk blouse. He felt oddly confident.
Julian whirled around to see Garak leaving his quarters. "Evening, Garak."
"You finally decided to wear my suit," Garak murmured, breathless at the sight of his creation on his doctor. "It's breathtaking on you."
"Thank you, but you did all the work."
"And who are you wearing it for tonight?"
"Oh..." Julian tried to sound casual. "Jareth asked me to dinner in appreciation for all my efforts. I didn't do anything, really, but he was insistent."
Garak wanted to bounce the ungrateful human off a bulkhead-repeatedly. He'd made that suit for his own delectation, not Jareth's! He opened his mouth to expose Jareth, but all that came out was more dissembling. "I hope you have an interesting evening, Doctor. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a dinner engagement as well and Constable Odo does not like to be kept waiting."
"Have fun," Julian said, suppressing a twinge of guilt as the Cardassian strode away. He would wear the suit for Garak at their next dinner. Shrugging off the increasing unease, he continued along the corridor, carrying the bottle. He stopped outside the door to Jareth's guest quarters, took a deep breath, and pressed the door chime.
"Enter," came that unmistakable voice.
The doors parted, and Julian walked into one of DS9's standard guest quarters. It was unadorned, bare, but then, Jareth hadn't exactly spent much time there, and what use would a sorcerer (if sorcerer he was) have for luggage? He could produce whatever he needed, magically.
Hold on, Jules, you don't believe in magic.
But as he looked at Jareth, his disbelief was not only suspended, it was blown to pieces.
The elegant man had risen from his chair at Bashir's entrance. He was swathed in luxurious white and blue silk. The white silk shirt was open to the chest, and the flowing blue silk trousers set off his legs even better than the tight leggings. He wore no gloves, but he did wear his horned pendant. On impulse, Julian had researched its shape and found that it was similar to symbols associated with the Horned God of Celtic mythology. The Horned God was a tempter, a teacher, not quite the Christian devil, although some might have seen him that way...just as they might see the exotic Jareth as a demon. But Julian only felt a thrill as he looked at the silk-clad man standing before him. His hair was drawn back in a ponytail, but it threatened to spill from its confinement. His ensemble was simple, it was stylish, it was sexier than the low-cut outfits on Quark's Dabo girls. Julian couldn't take his eyes off the man. It took him a moment to notice Jareth was looking at him with the same appreciation...and hunger.
"You're stunning," Jareth said. Bland, banal words. If Julian had been handsome in that uniform, he was irresistible in the sable-hued clothing that complemented his dark and golden coloring. The vest and white shirt were both open slightly, exposing a tempting slice of bronze skin. The trousers rippled softly against the muscles of his legs. The thought of those limbs wrapped around him made him falter in his resolve to take everything slowly. He would have given anything to leap on Julian and ravish him immediately, but he'd vowed he wouldn't rush this night. The dear boy was only now overcoming his apprehension. He must wait...besides, the idea of having their first tryst in this cold, sterile place was enough to kill his ardor. He wanted everything to be perfect. Not quite candlelight and roses, perhaps, but this was no maudlin romantic evening. He wanted first simply to be with Julian, to converse with him, to let the young man relax...and the best way to do that was to take him off this station. Soon now.
Blushing from the compliment and Jareth's blatant appraisal, Julian held out the foil-wrapped bottle. "For you. Or should I say, for us."
Jareth took the bottle with a smile. "What a thoughtful gesture." He deftly unwrapped the bottle and his smile grew wider. "Champagne? How perfect."
"Tholian champagne, no less. The best in the galaxy. A colleague gave it to me at the last medical conference I went to. Shall I open it now?"
"Lovely notion, but we do need to get going."
"Going?" Julian blinked. "Where?"
"Somewhere with more ambience." Jareth produced a crystal and tossed it at the man. Julian couldn't even duck. The crystal expanded, enveloping him, and he closed his eyes, experiencing the sensation that he was moving quite rapidly...He had the feeling of vertigo, but it faded quickly, and he gradually realized he was standing still, with a breeze blowing on his body. The air he smelled was not at all like the air on the station. Fresh, for one thing, alive and redolent with unfamiliar but tantalizing scents...
"Open your eyes, love." Jareth's husky voice resounded intimately in Julian's ears.
Obediently, he opened his eyes and gasped at the dizzying vista below.
They stood on the balcony of a great castle overlooking a giant maze. Not just any maze, but a huge, wandering, twisting, sprawling, complex, bizarrely beautiful marvel of engineering. It was truly a Labyrinth, and it seemed alive with an energy that he could feel even here, standing on this tower...but then, one would expect that and more, because although Julian didn't believe in magic, there was just something mystic about this place...
"My God," the young man breathed. "It's incredible."
"Welcome to my kingdom, Julian." Jareth nodded at the endless tangle below.
Julian took a step forward and felt as if he were on the verge of infinity. The maze surrounded them and seemed to have no visible end...
No. There was an end. Red-and-silver fire burned in the distance and seemed to grow. It was a brilliant conflagration...
"You weren't lying," he said foolishly. "How...are there any people in its path?"
"The outer sections have been evacuated. Thanks to the Vedeks' efforts, I have been able to control the daj'zha and throw up a shield against the energies...but it can't hold for more than another three days at most. The other daj'zha must be recovered, and soon."
"Why can't you simply teleport to the other daj'zha? Of course, if you could, you wouldn't need us."
Jareth laughed hollowly. "I'm simply incapable of it. The universe's idea of a cruel joke. My powers are not infinite. Besides, after the daj'zha destroys my world, it may go on to consume your universe."
"I hope not," Julian said. "Right now, we're most concerned about your world and Bajor. For the moment, all we can do is wait."
"And I for one intend to take advantage of the respite," Jareth said. "I have lived with this problem for three months...and you have been sucked into it for three difficult days. More than long enough, and it's not over." He held out his hand. "Come. Dinner awaits."
Julian went to his side. Jareth put an arm around his slender waist and guided him through majestic stone corridors, past goblins working at various tasks who looked at them both curiously, past rooms with splendid fountains and intricate tapestries, and finally to a vast solarium with a roof open to the sky. The sunset bathed the chamber in red-gold radiance, and the floor was decorated with intricate tile. There was a magnificent antique grandfather clock...and its face had thirteen numbers on it.
Jareth noticed his guest staring and grinned. "A peculiarity of this world." He motioned toward the center of the room. There sat a well-spread table that would have done credit to any official Starfleet function. Lit candles threw soft light on the crystal and china. A serving cart filled with covered dishes waited beside the table. Jareth took the champagne bottle from Julian and placed it in a chilled bucket on the table. Two champagne flutes materialized.
Before they could sit down, a gnome-like little man in a ruffled cream shirt, green breeches, and a bronze hat burst into the room. "Jareth...Oh, there ye are. I was beginnin' ta wonder if ye'd left us fer good." He noticed Julian and skidded to a halt. "Who's this, then?"
"Hoggle," Jareth said with the utmost cordiality, "I have no intention of abandoning the Labyrinth. I was ill on that distant station, among strangers. Julian," he grinned at his guest, "is a skilled doctor and the reason I am alive."
"Don't know whether he should be praised or horsewhipped," muttered Hoggle.
"Hello, Hoggle," Julian said with his usual friendly manner.
"How do ye do," Hoggle said politely. "Jareth, when ye got a minute, there's summat we need t' talk about. The army, they're out on the front-"
"Against my orders?" Jareth snapped. "I told them-"
"Orders don't do no good if the King's off gallivanting in another universe," Hoggle interrupted.
Jareth sighed and gave Julian a forgive-me glance. "This won't take a moment, love."
"Are there casualties?" Julian asked. "Is anyone hurt?"
"Are ye joking?" Hoggle scoffed. "They all ran. They're cowering up in the trees."
"Smart move," Julian commented.
"For army goblins," Hoggle agreed.
Jareth fixed Hoggle with a look. "Keep our guest company, won't you, Hoggle?" He vanished without even waiting for an answer.
"He'll be back in no time," Hoggle said. "When he says jump, they jump. Not much else you can say about Jareth, but there it is."
The little man's no-nonsense way reminded Julian of Miles O'Brien, and he warmed to Hoggle. "Oh, I don't know. He seems to care about this kingdom."
"Holds it together with an iron fist," Hoggle muttered. "Ever since I've known him. And I tried not to know him for...oh...five centuries. 'Course he made it easy. Cold, distant, harsh...I was just the gardener then and he ignored me, when he wasn't teasin' me, not friendly-like, and ordering me about ...'course, ever since Sarah, he's been a little different. He promoted me going on ten years ago, gave me this fancy job ordering around the goblin mayor and the generals, which I should 'cause I know this place better than any of them. But we ain't exactly friends. He's the boss, and so far it ain't been horrible...'course Sarah had a lot to do with that."
"Who is Sarah?" The portrait Hoggle painted was disturbing, and reminded him how little he really knew the man he was about to dine with.
"Someone who beat Jareth at his own game." The little man offered no details about what game that was. The Labyrinth...or seduction? "Someone he took a shine to but she wouldn't have him. He tried to win her back, but nothin' happened. Still, he tried. Jareth doesn't give up when he wants something or somebody."
"Just watch yerself around him," Hoggle warned. "Ye seem like a nice enough fella. Wouldn't want ye to get hurt-"
Jareth reappeared in time to hear this last remark. "Telling tales on me, Hoggle?" The voice was threatening, but Julian got the impression it was just a show. Jareth seemed utterly relaxed.
"Just warning him to be careful," Hoggle said defiantly.
There was a hint of fondness in Jareth's tone. "Good man. Go to that Goblin General and tell him his men are away from the front, as they should be, and if he doesn't control them better...well, make up some suitable punishment."
"Got it. Nice meeting ye, Julian." The little man shuffled out of the chamber.
Jareth moved to the table and seated himself. "Now...where were we?"
"We were about to uncork the champagne," Julian reminded him. He was brimming with questions, but he was also famished. Over dinner, he would get at the truth about this complicated creature. The image of the cruel Jareth Hoggle had conjured up was not entirely at odds with the man who had lashed out at Winn and bullied Kira. But there had to be more to the picture...
"Ah, yes, the champagne. Will you do the honors?"
Julian popped open the cork and waited until the golden bubbles had stopped overflowing. He lifted the bottle and poured champagne for both himself and Jareth.
"Now please...sit down," Jareth invited.
Gracefully, Julian seated himself, and the meal began.
The food was sumptuous, the champagne just right, the conversation lacking in nothing. Julian couldn't remember what he ate. All his attention was on the man opposite him. Jareth was, by turns, amusing, serious, coquettish, gentle, childlike, self-deprecating, full of himself, and through it all, Julian found him to be sophisticated, intelligent, urbane, witty, thoughtful, highly attentive to what Julian had to say, and as he'd told Captain Sisko, charming and poetic. They discussed and debated about literature, Earth drama, Bajoran beliefs, history, philosophy, politics, art, music, scientific advances and whether or not technological progress was damaging to the spiritual well-being of the galaxy's races, humans in particular. Julian quickly discovered that Jareth blamed technological advances in the human world for the increasing isolation that stifled his realm, and for the destruction the Labyrinth now faced.
"I'm confused. You told Winn the Bajorans were destroying the Labyrinth."
"Not quite," Jareth said. "The Bajorans and their daj'zhas are like the virus that ravages a body already weakened by years of malnutrition and neglect. It's a vicious virus that is all but the last step in a centuries-long illness. I reached out for a cure when I found the daj'zha, but it was a last-ditch, desperate attempt."
"Like prescribing an experimental and unproven drug to a dying patient."
"Exactly. I was foolish enough to try it without knowing what effect it had on my world. And I will pay for that...for a long time." Jareth took a long gulp of his champagne. "But I do not bear the blame alone. Thousands of years ago, humans painted blue marks on their faces and performed magic rituals to strike down their enemies, to cure their wounded, to raise the crops. Now, all they have to do is touch a button and beams of light burn so casually through metal and into flesh. Now, all they need to do is wave a device, and pain is forgotten. As for crops, who needs the land when you have-what do you call them? Ah yes, replicators. Not so very different from my magic, after all. I pretend to play god, while humans-"
"You're human, too," Julian interrupted quietly. Jareth's words pricked at him. <If he only knew what technology did for me...> "And I don't particularly see that your magic has helped you all that much."
"Don't confuse appearances with reality," the sorcerer told him. "You understand little-"
"Oh, I know." The sarcasm was light. "Let me see if I can become enlightened-"
"As I told Kai Winn, enlightenment is not without its costs."
"No, it's not," Julian agreed, "but the pain is better than not trying at all. You accused me of hiding, but it's you who have hidden-from the galaxy, from the universe, from people who could help you revive your kingdom. It's not the magic or the technology that solves problems, it's people. And goblins."
"Ah, to be that idealistic-"
"What's the alternative?" challenged Julian. "Remaining alone, shut up in some castle, blaming humanity and the rest of the universe for abandoning you, for going on and travelling to the stars? You talked about the despair you saw-children dying, overcrowding, people starving. That doesn't happen any more. We have medicines, enough food to go around, starships to discover planets for colonization, and we *don't* just go around casually blasting people out of the sky-"
"You personally don't," Jareth allowed. "But you've been there, on the bridge of those vessels-"
"Because it's my duty. That's something I don't take lightly."
"But you do take your technology lightly. For granted. And you forget that for one million 'haves,' there are twice as many 'have-nots.'"
"What would you know about being poor? About being desperate?" Julian grimaced. "I'm one to talk. Kira Nerys taught me just how smug I truly was. I remember swaggering into that Infirmary, oh so proud of my nobility, and telling her I could have my pick of assignments, but I chose 'frontier medicine' in a wilderness. She looked at me with eyes that could turn you to ashes and said, 'This "wilderness" is my home.' She knows more about sacrifice than you and I combined. She fought the Cardassians with nothing more than grit and cunning and hatred, and I've watched her struggle to rebuild a life that doesn't include scrabbling and fighting against overwhelming odds, facing despair and death." He was no longer talking to Jareth, but going off into a soliloquy of shame and confession. "She found a little happiness with Bareil, but then came that damn shuttle accident and I couldn't save him-"
"Ah yes, Vedek Bareil." Jareth had studied more on Bajoran history last night, and even he had to admit Bareil Antos had been close to a saint. He had also been at odds with Winn, who had no doubt been threatened by his saintliness. She'd kept him in line by making him part of her government, and then taken credit for the peace treaty he'd died completing. Jareth had noted with avid interest the description of the doctor's valiant attempts to save Bareil. "How many times did you try to revive him with implants?"
"More than I should have," muttered Julian. He wasn't sure why he was telling this to Jareth, a stranger, but he'd bottled up the feelings for so long, unable to express them to any of his colleagues, least of all Kira Nerys. "He wanted so badly to live, to finish that peace treaty between Bajor and Cardassia. Bajor needed him, Kira needed him...and in the end I had to look her in the eye and tell her that I could do more for him, but that I wasn't going to, because it would be destroying who he was, because replacing his brain would change who he was-"
"Did your technology help him?" Jareth asked quietly.
"No. No, it didn't." Julian laid his fork down with a decisive clatter and pushed his chair away from the table. He got up and paced the solarium as if trying to outrun a distant nightmare. "Are you satisfied now? You proved your point. I might as well have replaced his brain and made an android out of him, instead of one of the warmest, gentlest, noblest people I've ever known. I might as well have given him up from the start, sniveled before Winn and kept him in those negotiations at any cost so she wouldn't have to face her own inadequacies and I wouldn't have to face mine...and I did give him up. I kept him alive, for Bajor-"
Jareth was at his side, quicker than thought. He laid hands on Julian's shoulders and spun him around unresisting to look into Jareth's face. "Vedek Bareil was a martyr, a saint," Jareth said in that same quiet tone. "By his own free choice and will. It wouldn't have mattered what you or Winn or even his beloved Kira did. He chose to make the sacrifice...and he did it with an apparent purity of spirit and intention that cannot be denied. Could you have denied it, Julian? Could you have obliterated that spirit? The answer is no. Not only because it was beyond your power and something that pure cannot be stopped. I know nothing about being a saint, but I do know this: You helped him, when Winn would have abandoned him. You would not even try to extinguish what made him the man he was, but you did everything you could to save him."
"I couldn't stop her," mumbled Julian, lost in his own private hell. "And I keep wondering, what good is all my ability if I couldn't save him? I'm a fraud. I cheat death, that's all, and keep congratulating myself for delaying the inevitable."
Jareth did the unexpected. He grabbed Julian and held him so tightly the doctor couldn't breathe, couldn't fret, couldn't talk, and God it felt good, to be enclosed in this man's embrace, to smell the strange cloying scent of herbs, to hear the soothing, faint words Jareth murmured in a foreign tongue, possibly goblin or Faerie.
How long they stood like that Julian didn't know or care, but the thought penetrated his consciousness that it was really time to stop being coddled, and he disentangled himself from Jareth. The sorcerer let him go, watching him with shimmering eyes.
"I'm sorry," Julian muttered. "I didn't mean to spoil our evening-"
Jareth put a finger over Julian's lips. "Shut up for once and listen to me. I told you I would demand everything you had to give, and that was just the first part. I revealed more of myself to you than I ever have to anyone and it terrifies the hell out of me, but if I am willing to continue, then you, my dear confused Julian, are not going to hold back."
Julian tried to formulate a response, flustered by the sheer strength of Jareth's will.
The sorcerer removed his finger and slowly walked toward the table. "Where were we? Oh yes...we were in the middle of dinner. Come, it's getting cold."
The young man followed him blindly, idiotically, and sat back down. He had the sense that he'd just undergone some sort of test, but whether he'd passed or failed was a mystery. He reached for his champagne and sipped deeply, wondering for the hundredth time what he was doing here, calmly sitting at this table as if the past ten minutes had never existed. He tried ignoring Jareth and concentrating on his food, but he just picked at his plate.
"Did anyone ever tell you you're adorable when you sulk?" Jareth imitated the set of Julian's mouth. "And the pout-like this-is just precious."
Julian rolled his eyes but adopted a more adult expression. "I stopped pouting and throwing temper tantrums when I was eight."
"What did your parents do during one of these tantrums?"
"Oh-the usual parental things." He waited for the expected question, but Jareth simply sat watching him, and that mildly intense stare made him relent. "Actually, I'm not sure who threw more tantrums, me or my father. God only knows how my mother endured two of us in the house. It's one of the reasons I haven't visited often during the last ten years."
Jareth glossed over that for the moment. "Where did you live? Your accent-"
"You mean, where didn't we live. We had a home in London--still do, and that's where my parents live--but during my father's many jobs, we were halfway across the galaxy, not to mention everywhere and anywhere on Earth. Rome, Normandy, Saudi Arabia, where my mother is from, Cornwall, where my father came from-there's a huge difference between my accent and my father's...Anyway, we moved constantly, according to what my father took it into his head he wanted to do. He was an ambassador at one point, but quit after a row with a Tholian envoy-of course, he was growing tired of the whole diplomatic racket. He was a steward on a commercial transport but got fired in short order. He tried writing an adventure novel but got permanent writer's block. He wanted to be an actor but had a 'personality conflict' with the theatre group he joined. The last I heard, he had taken quite an interest in gardening. The one thing he never tried to do was join Starfleet, and it's a good thing, too. He wouldn't have survived the first week at the Academy. 'Undisciplined' is an understatement. But he's quite the charmer."
"A family trait, apparently."
"I suppose." Julian blushed at how much he was revealing. No one knew this much about his past. "But he's not a bad sort, really, and I love my mother. Every son says that, but she's incredible, so gentle, but strong at the same time, and not afraid to put anyone in their place-especially me."
"It must have been quite an adventure--or a trial--having such an unpredictable childhood. And yet, here you are, salutatorian at the Academy, hailed as one of the best minds in the Federation and the jewel of Starfleet Medical, with a string of accomplishments behind you and a promising future that fills me with pride, as if I had known you for years." Jareth's face showed only admiration. "You are truly remarkable, caring as well as frightfully brilliant-as I told Captain Sisko this morning."
"Yes, he mentioned it. Thank you," said Julian softly, strangely more embarrassed by the accolades from this man than from anyone else. He hadn't even bothered to repeat his standard pre-ganglionic/post-ganglionic nerve story. Shame filled him to the core. <Could it be because you're spying on him, Jules? Or is it that old truth, that you never deserved those accomplishments, let alone your entire life? That right now you should be pushing a broom around on Earth with an idiotic grin on your face, resigned to being a mental cripple...>
"Whatever the past, your parents must be extraordinarily pleased-"
"They ought to be," Julian said darkly. "I'm their creation. Everything I've done I owe to them."
"Such modesty...and such pain behind it. Julian, however much your parents pushed you, everything you've achieved has been purely yours-"
"No, it hasn't, because I don't exist!" The odd, angry words burst forth after long years of holding them locked away. "Julian Bashir doesn't exist, don't you see? I'm not real."
"You look real enough to me."
"You of all people should know that appearances can deceive. You were the one telling me that we are never who we are."
"It's not Julian," the young man corrected evenly. "I was born Jules Bashir, Richard and Amsha Bashir's only child and profound disappointment, with the brain power of a rock and the dexterity of a slug. I was as stupid as you say your goblins are. My earliest memory was the sense that the world was fuzzy and just beyond my grasp. When I was six, I still felt that way. I was awkward physically, not very bright, still trying to keep my hands on a stylus when all my classmates were already working with computers. I remember them looking at me and whispering about the class dunce Jules, all alone, sitting in a corner trying once again to learn the alphabet. Of course I'd have to stay after because I never got it right. My mother would come to take me home and I could see her trying to be happy, trying to tell me, it's all right, you'll get it eventually. But once my teacher told her I might be better off in a 'special' school, and another bluntly said that I would never be good for anything but menial work. I couldn't comprehend their meaning, but I knew it made my mother unhappy. I remember my parents whispering late at night when they thought I couldn't hear or understand..." He said it all dispassionately, as if he were delivering a lecture. He was oblivious to the growing blaze in Jareth's eyes. "Once, my father threw a glass at the wall and shouted, 'I can't bloody bear him any more!' I knew he was talking about me...that he hated me for what I was.
"One day, they pulled me out of school with no explanation and took me off-planet to some research facility. I didn't know what they were doing, but it was supposed to be a secret, and anyway I was too excited by all the aliens I saw. Then, doctors took me into an operating room and started to work on me..."
"How? What did they do?"
"You know of recombinant DNA, right? Genetic engineering and molecular biology?"
Jareth nodded. "Something you humans seem to be afraid of because you simply don't know how to handle it."
"That's an understatement. In the early twenty-first century, recombinant DNA technology gave rise to the Eugenics Wars-"
"And Khan Noonien Singh."
"You've been studying up on our history."
"I've had a ringside seat to your history. The one thing I notice throughout it all is the fear of what you don't understand-a fear that led to the prohibition of genetic engineering, except of course in the case of life-threatening birth defects."
"It's a sound prohibition, a good and moral law. Genetic engineering gives children an unfair advantage-"
"Are you going to tell me the rest of the story or not?"
Julian sighed and continued. "They laid me on that operating table, and as if by your magic, my world began to change. Physique was improved, hand-eye coordination too, but only after mental ability. Everything changed about me but my name, and I changed that when I was fifteen and found out what had been done to me. The nine years in-between were the happiest years of my life. We moved to London, changed schools, gave me false academic records, and I became the star pupil. Instead of whispering about me in derision because of my defects, the children talked about my abilities, and if they accused me of showing off, at least I had something to show off. My parents were so proud of me. My father had steady work as an ambassador, and it was on one of his diplomatic journeys that I discovered I wanted to be a doctor, and I'd always been enthralled by Starfleet...Then, two days before my fifteenth birthday, I was nosing around for some hint of the surprise my father had promised me. Oh, I got a birthday surprise, all right. I found the records that told me I was a fraud. When I confronted my parents, they didn't deny it, although they had been hoping to keep it from me my entire life so I wouldn't be burdened by the knowledge and I could forget that they had once been ashamed of me, so much that they had me altered illegally and without my consent. Right there went my hopes for a career in Starfleet and in medicine-unless I lied on my application, a criminal offense, but obviously I did it anyway, and lived with the lie. I told myself I had to. Genetically enhanced humans are forbidden to serve in Starfleet. And what patient would trust a doctor who couldn't obey the laws, who lied to everyone, including his friends and his commanding officer?"
"What terminally ill patient-or real friend-would give a damn? I certainly didn't." Jareth said bluntly. "You see what I mean about your technology. It gives a false sense of superiority, a sense that 'oh, we know better than anyone else what genetic engineering can do and so we'll outlaw it completely, because we have the indisputable moral capacity and right to do so.' Never mind the opportunities your society throws away-"
"I wouldn't have expected you to comprehend the gravity of this-"
"Oh no, my dear confused Julian, I comprehend perfectly. More than you. I am a product of magic, you of science, but there is no real difference between us. The end results are identical. Do you think my wishes were consulted when I was turned into a goblin? Am I not the creation of my 'father,' just as you are? Do I not still resent my mother and my mentor even as I enjoy the fruits of what they wrought? At least it's possible your parents acted out of love, and don't you dare try to deny it, not to me. Think it to yourself, but know that if your parents died tomorrow you would spend the rest of your life hating yourself for not simply asking them, 'Do you love me or were you ashamed of me?' For allowing something so unforgivably, collossally stupid to come between you-" Jareth sighed and shook his head. "It's not entirely your fault. Your attitude is, yes, but your society bears much of the blame, as it does for everything children have had to suffer throughout millennia."
"Including being turned into goblins?" Julian was still reeling from Jareth's blistering attack, and the fresh guilt wounds it inflicted. No, they were old scars, reopened by the sharpest instrument of all.
"Much. much worse. By the way, when you said you were as stupid as one of the goblins, nothing could be that hopeless. They could use a little DNA resequencing." Julian actually smiled at this. Jareth grinned too, but then became serious again. "Anything has the potential to be harmful to children. Poverty victimizes them...but so does abundance."
"You mean, because they become spoiled? I can attest to that. I was."
"I was thinking more of your former classmates, the ones who didn't envy you. They had all the advantages in the universe, and yet could they spare so much as a kind word for you? Did they defend you, or try to be your friend? Did they help you learn your lessons, or did they give up, as your teachers did, and look on you with callous pity? Children learn cruelty from adults. There is no better model," Jareth said bitingly. "I can just imagine the brutal teasing you endured from them."
"Sometimes. Mostly, though, they just ignored me."
"Even more devastating. Children at that age are vulnerable, anxious to be liked, needing attention and approval." Jareth abruptly switched thoughts but was no less indignant. "How in the world could any so-called teacher callously tell a mother her child was good for nothing but a life laboring at other people's whim? Oh, I know, robots do almost everything in your world, but someone has to dump nuclear waste, or build houses, or cut other people's grass. This is why I have a less than favorable view of your society. Smug in its own perfection, it dooms those who are different to a lifetime of virtual exile, of despair and dead ends. It teaches a sensitive young boy, who was at heart better than all his peers combined, to hate his parents because they chose to do something about his plight. And once they do, it teaches him to hide his gifts, to resent them rather than exult in them."
"So we should all genetically enhance children who don't live up to their potential? Who decides what is and is not their potential, what is a genetic rather than a character flaw? Therein lies ruin, a 'keeping up with the Joneses' sort of situation where everyone enhances their children or themselves in order to be better, smarter, more handsome or beautiful, more athletic. The playing field isn't level-it's turned upside down. We sacrifice our humanity. That's why the 'except in case of life-threatening defects' clause is a sensible one."
"Who decides what is and is not a life-threatening defect?" Jareth mimicked his tone. "Your society couldn't solve that one when it came to euthanasia, and it can't in this case. What of the quality of life? Think of spending your life as someone else's servant, or worse, a criminal, because you have been conditioned to despise yourself. Think of what would have been lost. Thousands-millions-of lives that only you could have saved. Countless other lives you've touched-"
"It's all unnatural," Bashir said, pleading for Jareth's understanding. "None of it is me-don't you see? Another doctor, a normal doctor, could do everything I've done-"
"My dear, who presumes to judge what is unnatural and what is normal? Those who have a vested interest in maintaining order-their idea of order. Take it from a self-acknowledged autocrat. I've kept the goblins down for hundreds of years, so yes, before you say anything, I am hypocritical. I am guilty of every accusation I've hurled at your society but I still cast the first stone. I have been trying to change, ever since a rather humiliating defeat forced me to reevaluate myself, and among other things, promote Hoggle-"
"Because of Sarah. Who was she?" Julian was anxious to get off the subject of his genetic enhancements, to suppress the questions and feelings Jareth had awakened...but he promised himself he would think about them later. "How did she defeat you?"
Jareth sighed. "Hoggle, I presume. I shall tell you later--but not before I have said this: We can augment our brain power. We can alter our physique. Genetic engineering can do all this. But can it provide the tenderness, the gentleness I see in your eyes? Can it produce the conscience, the sense of duty, that makes you remain on that space station and near the Bajorans where you are genuinely needed, but where another 'normal' doctor would disdain to practice medicine, choosing instead some sterile research lab and fat salary? Could it possibly make you what you are to your friends?"
"I don't know." Julian looked down, astonished at how much sense Jareth made, and how close he was to abandoning the guilt he'd carried for half his life...
With a gentle hand, Jareth reached
over and tilted Julian's face upward. "I do." He dropped his hand and reached
out with both his hands to grab Julian's. The grasp felt warm, comforting...and
more. An empathy and synergy flowed between the two of them, two
lost and lonely souls who had found each other and were connecting, tenuously,
passionately, despite their fears and inadequacies. Jareth's face
was filled with earnestness, affection, and wistful longing, as well as
a tentative courage. "We both have been running from ourselves forever.
Perhaps it's time we stopped...and helped each other to truly become who
Julian squeezed Jareth's hands in affirmation. On his own face, hope unfurled, as well as the beginnings of deep affection. It occurred to him that he could be falling in love with this man. Whatever his feelings were, a deep bond had been forged between them. He got lost in the eyes locked on his and held Jareth's hands until his own ached. With a nervous laugh, he released them and reached for his nearly empty champagne glass. He swallowed the dregs and tried to ponder the events of the last few minutes.
"More?" Jareth nodded toward the champagne bottle.
"No, thanks. I'm feeling giddy enough as it is."
"And I am positively intoxicated." Jareth smiled boyishly. "More boeuf bourguignon? Or shall we move on to dessert?"
"Oh, no. I couldn't eat another bite." Julian looked upward and discovered to his astonishment that night had long since fallen. The odd clock's hands said it was ten-fifteen. Where had the time gone? Should he get back to Deep Space Nine? Stay, he told himself, just a little longer, then you both can go back...
Jareth rose gracefully. "Then we can leave the dinner for the goblins. You haven't seen the Labyrinth yet. Shall we go for a walk?"
"I'd love to." Julian clasped Jareth's hand, and the two of them vanished, reappearing inside a tortuous, lush and deadly-appearing garden. Stone statues formed a stone forest, and vines embraced the statues. The faint sound of whispering filled the garden, and as Julian stepped around the columns, he wondered fancifully if the vines, or even the statues, were watching them. Eerie or not, it was a beautiful place.
"Is it all this peaceful?"
"Not in the least." Jareth turned a corner and disappeared into a sea of blackness, Julian held his breath, then stepped into the darkness...and promptly fell, through endless blackness, tumbling, being thrown about by what felt like hands...a bit rough and disorienting, but not exactly threatening. Eventually, he pitched forward out of the darkness and landed with a thump on a precipice overlooking an absolutely putrid bog...no, putrid was a pale, hackneyed, inadequate word for the morass of slime and ooze with its spurting fountains making what sounded like rather obscene noises...
"Ohhh," Julian gasped, trying to breathe. "What is that horrendous smell?"
"An obstacle," Jareth said, appearing beside him and whisking him into a deep canyon of stonemasonry, a forlorn, vast place with jagged walls that was starkly beautiful against the night sky. The wind swirled through the stone fingers. This place somehow suited the unpredictable, untamed man who stood beside him.
Julian gazed around in quiet wonder. "I've never seen anything like this. Even with that awful bog, it's still a remarkable place."
"The Bog of Stench is a test." There was an odd glitter to Jareth's eyes. "It's important that you know the dangers of the Labyrinth, the unpleasantness of what I do...occupational hazards. You see, Julian, I haven't merely taken children who were wished away and just turned them into goblins. There is always a possibility that those who wish them away do so in a fit of anger that they will later regret. But they must face the consequences of their impulsive anger. There is a rule that's been handed down from one King of the Labyrinth to another. You offer the supplicant his or her dreams, whatever those may be-"
"Just like your mother was offered her dreams."
"Exactly. If the supplicant accepts the offer, the child instantly becomes a goblin and the supplicant is left to enjoy what she thinks she desires more than anything. But should the supplicant choose instead to rescue the child, or whoever was wished away-it's usually children, but there have been exceptions-he or she must solve the Labyrinth and defeat me in thirteen hours. If the supplicants fail, I can either send them back and have them face the anger of their families, or I can simply leave them to make their way in my kingdom as they will. Permanently exiled, just like your friend Garak."
"It sounds rather harsh."
"People must face up to their responsibilities. I don't always enjoy performing mine, but I am bound as every Goblin King before me has been bound."
"You can change it," Julian said. "Somehow."
"Whatever would the goblins do with themselves then?"
"That's up to you to figure out. Some things you have to do on your own. It's not easy. But I know that beneath all that posturing and resentment, you truly care about your realm. You need to find a way to do things differently."
"Perhaps you're right," Jareth said, unconvinced. "I've been having serious doubts about the whole soundness of the practice ever since the defeat that marked a kind of turning point in my life-"
"You were going to tell me about Sarah," Bashir reminded him. "Who was she?"
"I don't suppose you've heard of Sarah Williams?"
"Twentieth-century actress and writer, later a politician and delegate to the first United Earth congress?" Julian's eyes widened in surprise. "I know all about her. She was one of my ancestors on my father's side. There's a portrait of her in our house. She was quite beautiful and talented. The legends surrounding her were legion but I never heard of her meeting you. Of course, the Bashirs and the Williams family never quite got along."
"It wouldn't matter if they did. You wouldn't have heard of me anyway. I'm afraid Sarah's descendants gradually forgot me." Jareth stared at the young man standing so close to him. Ever since he had met Julian, there had been something about him that reminded Jareth of Sarah. The innocence in those eyes, the defiance, the caring, the intelligence, the stubbornness...It was a profound irony that the woman who had been responsible for his darkest hour...a woman he thought he loved...was indirectly responsible, four centuries later, for giving him the one being who could dispel his loneliness. "You remind me so much of her," he said simply. "Difficult childhood and all...and she too had her problems with being different."
"What was she like?"
"I'm the wrong person to ask. I never knew her at all. When she wished away her baby stepbrother Toby, I thought her an easy mark. Childish, petulant, forever saying 'It's not fair'...but I should have remembered my own rule. Never take anything for granted. She was beautiful, intelligent, courageous, stubborn. She fought her way through the Labyrinth, through her own heart and mind, for that's what the Labyrinth reflects for each person who tries to solve it. Finally I thought I had Sarah trapped in her own fantasies, but she made it out of there, stood and faced me alone, looked me in the eye and tell me I had no power over her...She insisted on seeing me as the villain, that was my role, but I could have given her anything she wanted-"
"Because you were in love with her," Julian guessed, disturbingly reminded of Gul Dukat's posturing...no, at least Jareth was aware to some degree that he'd been arrogant and cruel, and anyway, the melancholy look on Jareth's face was the lovelorn one Julian knew all too well. "You did love her terribly."
"Once," Jareth said softly as the look faded, "but it's been fifteen years, and the last time I checked...four centuries ago...she was happily married, apparently forgetting all about me and thinking that what she experienced was just a dream. One that changed her life, but a dream nevertheless." He smiled endearingly. "I do hope *you* won't forget me that easily."
"As if I could," Julian said. Fifteen years was more than long enough to pine for a woman who didn't love you...wasn't he the expert on that, after nearly four years waiting for Dax to come around and return his feelings? "Are you sure you aren't in love with her?"
Jareth shook his head and pulled Julian into his arms. "I need you, I want you, and I do think I might be falling for you ..."
"I wonder," the young man said unsteadily, feeling the warmth of the arms holding him so loosely, not forcing him. "Is *this* a dream?"
Jareth's smile was pure devilishness. "Shall we find out?"
Who leaned forward first, neither of them remembered--or cared to. Their lips met in a kiss that started out gently and languorously. There was no hurry, no urgency, just an exploration that took sensuality to its limit and did more to enrapture them both than a passionate plundering would have. A floaty sensation overtook Julian as he savored those lips ravishing his with a slow, deliberate eroticism, no hurry, no rush, and he felt as though he were lifting off, his feet leaving the ground of their own accord. Remembering Melora and the way she'd made him fly, he put out his toes and encountered only air.
"Oh!" His gasp forced their lips apart, and he looked down to find the ground twirling below them. He quickly anchored his hands around Jareth's waist. "What are you-"
"Just relax," Jareth whispered softly, kissing his beloved captive, letting the man in his arms feel that he was safe and cherished. "Come fly with me, love..."
Those sensual lips covered Julian's again, and he forced himself to relax. He kissed Jareth more passionately, concentrating on the intoxicating taste of the sorcerer's mouth. Jareth slipped his tongue inside Julian's own mouth and explored the delicious recesses. Julian was strangely aware of every movement he made, of the way his legs tangled with Jareth's, of the night wind brushing their bodies. He came up for air and found that he was on top of Jareth, who floated on his back in mid-air. He stared down at the sorcerer in amazement. "This isn't a dream--and if it is, I don't want to wake up."
"That's more like it," Jareth said huskily. "Enjoying yourself, love?"
"Kissing, yes." Julian was feeling reckless and wanton. He had already surrendered himself to what Jareth wanted-what he wanted too. "But anything else could be tricky, not to mention dangerous." Even he and Melora hadn't attempted anything beyond kissing when they flew in her quarters.
Soft laughter. Jareth could take a hint. "Very well, my cautious little doctor, we'll do it your way."
In an instant, they descended to earth...but it wasn't earth, it was a magnificent Oriental rug underneath Julian's feet. He looked around and saw a royally luxurious bedroom filled with rich tapestries and rugs. A mahogany bookshelf crowded with books lined one wall. Crystals hovered near the high ceiling around a magnificent painting of the constellations. Directly underneath the painting was a massive four-poster bed carved from ebony wood and covered with purple satin. The coverlet was turned down, evidently in anticipation of the moment when Jareth and his guest retired to bed. A faint floral scent wafted through the air.
"You approve?" murmured Jareth.
"Oh--yes." Recovering his breath, Julian glanced around and did approve, but his attention wasn't on the furnishings. "Much more comfortable."
"Comfort, dear one, is in the mind...unless you're feeling anxious. You *have* been with a man before, haven't you?"
"What a time to ask," Julian sighed, feeling a twinge of anxiety that manifested itself in a subtle bodily tremor that Jareth noticed. "Yes, I have been with a man--two, in fact. That isn't the problem. It's just that this is happening--"
"Too fast? Do you want to stop? Go back to Deep Space Nine?"
"No," Julian admitted honestly. He tried to tell himself that he barely knew this man, that he was on assignment for Sisko, that he could be walking into a calculated trap...but his instincts told him to ignore his fears, and trust in the rightness of this moment. "It's been a long time for me-well, you already know that."
Jareth let his hands wander to the buttons of Julian's vest. "I promised I wouldn't rush, and I won't. Whatever you wish tonight, I am yours to command."
Julian grabbed the hands and deterred them from their task. If Jareth touched him right now he would be lost, and he wanted to maintain some semblance of control...besides, who said the evening had to proceed strictly according to Jareth's fantasy? Julian had an alternate plan in mind, one that filled him with a heady rush of anticipation. "There is something that would make it easier for me."
"Anything, love. Do you want me to tie you to the bed, then undress you? Blindfold you? I confess that isn't my favorite option-I'd rather watch your beautifully expressive eyes-but if you want..."
"Let me undress you first."
Jareth's eyes widened, but with a playful, tender smile, he surrendered, eager to see what Julian had in store for him. "I'm all yours."
Julian's hand went up to caress Jareth's cheek, and for the first time he allowed himself to marvel in the fine, silky feel of the skin, the long, lean cheekbones. His hands wandered to Jareth's hair and loosened the tie that bound the golden mane. The strands spilled into Julian's hands, and he ran wondering fingers through the spiky mass, so coarse and different from his own, making his hands tingle pleasantly. Jareth closed his eyes as Julian gently kissed him, his lips, his chin, his eyes, his throat, the hollow at the base of his neck. He swept Jareth's pendant aside with his mouth and kissed the skin underneath. A slight brush of the tongue there made Jareth suck in his breath and exhale languorously. "Mmmm, don't stop."
The talented hands undid what few buttons remained closed on Jareth's shirt. Julian eased the shirt off Jareth's shoulders and pulled it free of the silk trousers. He let the shirt fall like a white flag and stood a moment, just drinking in the beauty of Jareth's chest, the deceptively lean chest that concealed corded sinews, pale, tempting skin, the rosy small nipples, already hard from the cool night air, the elegant, fluid lines of the shoulders and arms. Jareth's eyes had opened, and he was watching Julian stare at him. "Do you approve?" The question was more meaningful.
"Ohhh, yes." Julian feathered his hands over Jareth's chest. Incredibly warm, velvety instead of silky, the skin quivered under his fingertips. He brushed his thumbs over the pouting nipples, then did it again when Jareth let out a small moan. Leaning forward, he kissed both of them briefly, then began to kiss Jareth's neck. Jareth growled and tried to guide him back down. Julian responded by kissing the juncture of Jareth's neck and shoulder, then gently nibbled. Jareth trembled and held himself under control. He wanted to take his time with his new lover, not throw Julian onto the bed and ravish him right there, but if the dear man didn't cease this torment...Jareth held himself in check and contented himself with the knowledge that when it was *his* turn, he would make Julian pay--delightfully!
While Jareth was thinking these lusty thoughts, Julian was busy stroking his back with a touch that bordered on tickling, which made Jareth ache to have those fingernails rake down his back when he took Julian thoroughly. Julian kissed Jareth's shoulders, reveling in the way the man could be aroused so easily, enjoying the way his eyes glazed over. Now to undress him fully...no, wait. That chest was still too tempting. Slowly, he licked his way around the hollows, worshipped the contours with his mouth, and darted a hand down to the waistband of Jareth's pants. The garment had a simple drawstring, and Julian undid that with an easy tug.
"One moment, my ardent one." Jareth turned and quickly removed his boots, then slowly slid the pants down his legs, revealing a modest pair of blue briefs. Julian took in the sight of the legs. They looked like they could join the earth and the sky--long, white, and heavenly. Jareth was all power and sleekness, like a tiger. Did the hand that made the lamb make Thee? Julian thought as he pulled the sorcerer to him and grasped the buttocks, firm and perfect handfuls that he kneaded lustily before ridding Jareth of the briefs. Except for the pendant, Jareth stood naked, every bit as regal, proud and confident as when clothed.
"Did the hand that made the lamb make Thee," Julian murmured, his gaze drawn to the royal jewels that crowned the top of those milk-white thighs, and the "royal staff," so to speak. Gods, he'd never seen anything like that...fully aroused and rock-hard, the color of rubies...
Jareth smiled at the young man's open hunger. "Let's see what *your* hands can do..."
"I've got a better idea." Julian knelt at the sorcerer's feet and grasped the buttocks to bring Jareth closer. His tongue touched the head of Jareth's cock, briefly at first, then swirling around it, kissing it, employing his mouth in a way that made the sorcerer shudder and sway.
"Be still or I'll stop," Julian commanded softly.
Becoming still, Jareth looked down at him through heavy-lidded, smoldering eyes. God, what an unbearably arousing moment. He marveled at having this fully clothed man at his feet but in complete command, that voice ordering him around, those lips ready to torment him again. "I am a slave to your desires."
Brown fingers kneaded the soft sac that held Jareth's jewels. A wild notion caught Julian's mind and wouldn't leave. It was something he'd always wanted but could never bring himself to ask his lovers for. He slowly took both Jareth's balls in his mouth.
He didn't get much further than that. With an ecstatic growl, Jareth bent down and mercilessly tickled Julian's back. Julian, undaunted, caressed the soft jewels with his mouth until Jareth hit a sensitive spot. Julian quit abruptly and fell back on the rug laughing.
Jareth pounced. He scooped up the young man and carried him straight to the bed. Julian mock-struggled, laughing, wondering what Jareth was going to do in retaliation. Jareth's taunting words made him shiver with anticipation. "Now, my overconfident little tease, you are going to get as good as you give."
He laid Julian on the bed and sat down beside him. "First, these boots must go." He deftly removed the black Starfleet-issue boots and set them down on the floor. Then the black stockings. He kissed the arches of Julian's feet, then sucked the toes. Julian's surprised laugh made Jareth grin as he moved forward to hover over his lover's torso. With patience and unhurried sensuality he unfastened the vest buttons, then kissed the firm chest through the silk shirt. Julian's back arched in bliss, and Jareth put a hand underneath him, supporting him as he methodically stripped the doctor of the vest and shirt. Julian held his breath, thinking that now Jareth would kiss his chest again...his bare chest. The sorcerer didn't. Instead, he kissed the young man on the lips. Not just one kiss, but a long stream of kisses that made Julian forget everything else but those lips on his. While Julian was breathless from the kisses, Jareth stripped away Julian's trousers and underwear as easily as he did the young man's every inhibition. Calmly, he tossed the clothing on the floor and began a leisurely inspection with his eyes of the beauty he had just uncovered. Under that scrutiny, Julian unconsciously stretched with a natural sensuality.
"You are even more exquisite than
I imagined." The hungry gaze started with the beautiful dark head resting
on the pillows, watched the shimmering eyes, then traveled down to devour
the caramel skin, the contours and hollows, the tightly muscled but not
bulky chest. The athletic body spoke of a lifetime of activity and
care. Every inch glowed with health and vitality. Jareth swallowed
and idly touched a finger to one of the chocolate nipples, then to the
other. A jolt of pleasure went through Julian and he moaned.
"So responsive. So beautiful." Jareth admired the curved hips, the long heavenly legs, the dusky toes. Finally, he allowed himself to look upon the slim but perfect and erect manhood that jutted from the apex of his lover's thighs. "Quite impressive." He saw the questions in those eyes and smiled. No, he wasn't going to touch Julian there just yet. "Wait, love. Patience. I am going to drive you out of your mind with pleasure before I'm finished. And that luscious body of yours will obey my every command."
"Ah, ah." Jareth put a hand over Julian's lips and pressed them closed. "No talking unless I permit it. The only sounds I want to hear out of that mouth are cries of rapture. Is that understood?" His hand released the soft mouth. "You may answer."
"Yes." Julian nodded helplessly, suppressing the flutters of anxiety. It was just a game, after all, just a fantasy...and the idea of this man dominating him was strangely appealing.
"Excellent." Jareth's hand moved downward, not even brushing the inviting chest, but hovering over it, making the air around Julian's heated flesh tingle. "Do you want me to touch you here? You may answer."
"Yes," Julian whispered.
"Not yet, impatient one. If that genetically enhanced brain of yours remembers, I described my plans for you in detail." Jareth pulled back and lay on his side to have better access to the delectable body. He ran his hand up and down Julian's leg. "First your legs." Gently, he stroked Julian's thighs until the young man whimpered softly. "Perfectly shaped." He kneaded Julian's calves and massaged the legs, smiling at the moans of contentment this produced. The young man relaxed completely, letting his limbs become loose.
"Turn over," Jareth directed.
In a daze, Julian rolled onto his stomach and was rewarded by Jareth's teeth scraping his buttocks. Julian groaned loudly as Jareth licked, nipped, kneaded, fondled, and massaged the twin globes. He worked his way downward and trailed that talented mouth along the sensitive backs of Julian's thighs and knees. Occasionally, he would kiss his way up and down the caramel back, kiss the shoulders, even provide an affectionate neck rub that became a sensuous back rub. Jareth paused to fetch a bottle of sandalwood oil from the bedside table. He poured a generous amount on his hands, then massaged it into Julian's back, buttocks, thighs, and legs, splaying his fingers across the heated skin and enjoying the contrast between the pale fingers and the dusky back they caressed. Julian could barely speak, but contented himself with incoherent, blissful moans as the leisurely but vigorous massage made him utterly boneless.
When the last of the oil had disappeared into the soft and sensitized skin, Jareth ran the tip of his tongue over Julian's ear and whispered, "On your back."
The young man obeyed with alacrity. His eyes were ablaze with passion. He reached for Jareth, but Jareth shook his head and lay down beside Julian again, this time to nuzzle the inviting chest, to suckle the waiting nipples, to taste the clean skin, inhale the musk that seemed uniquely Julian, kiss and caress the neck, cover the handsome face with kisses, then move back downward. Jareth coaxed Julian to lift his hips, then grabbed the provocative ass and held it in a sensual clinch. As he'd promised, he watched the fiery hazel eyes as he further teased the skin with his tongue, then kissed his way down to the patient and aroused manhood. He licked the salty-spicy drop of moisture from the tip as he cradled Julian's balls.
All he got was a groan.
"Julian, I am going to take you in my mouth now."
With the delicious moans ringing
in his ears, Jareth swallowed the hard length and caressed it up and down
with his lips, sucking slowly. Julian's labored breathing and louder
moans reverberated in the chamber.
"What is it, love?" Jareth's eyes flashed wickedly as he stopped. "What do you want? Ah...I think I know. Scream for me. Now."
The moment Jareth touched his tongue to his lover's balls, Julian climaxed with a shocked scream. His body had been brought to a fever pitch just from the anticipation, and he gasped as he gave himself up to the intense sensations. Delighting in that voice crying out its ecstasy, Jareth lazily lapped up the bounty from the young man's body, then slid upward and lay beside his lover, who was still gasping out his pleasure while breathing rapidly. Jareth kissed him gently and let him relax, laid his palm on the young man's chest and felt the labored breathing slowly become deep and rhythmic. The young man stayed silent for several moments, just staring at Jareth with wondering eyes.
"You can talk now, love," Jareth prodded teasingly.
"God," Julian breathed, "I never...Thank you."
His lover kissed him on the nose. "Your passion is a joy to me, a precious gift."
Reaching out, Julian curled his fingers around Jareth's cock, still gloriously erect. "And how can I return the favor?"
"Lift your legs."
Julian did as he was asked and raised his knees to his chest. Jareth reached for the sandalwood oil and anointed his sex with a copious amount. He wanted the first joining to be painless and perfect. The young man trembled, more than ready for what was going to happen. Jareth knelt between the parted thighs. "I want to be inside you."
"No one's stopping you." The answer was a sexy whisper. Julian's eyes started to drift shut in anticipation.
"Don't close your eyes, love. I need to see your face when I take you..."
Jareth slipped one finger inside the tight puckered opening, then two, and rubbed until the muscles started to relax. God, but it was going to be a snug fit, and it would be so damned good. He coated his finger with more of the oil and massaged more deeply until he could feel Julian becoming ready to accept a more intimate invasion. Effortlessly, Jareth entered him inch by inch, no hurry, no rush, letting the young man become accustomed to him. Joy radiated from the fully open hazel eyes as Julian welcomed Jareth inside him.
"You feel so good around me," Jareth said huskily, flexing within the young man's body. "You fit me so perfectly...how do I make you feel?"
Julian couldn't even speak.
Feeling Jareth inside him, joined to him, was more powerful than anything
he had ever experienced, on a level he couldn't begin to comprehend at
the moment. He kissed Jareth passionately, and the other man accepted
that as the most eloquent answer of all. The dance of flesh upon
flesh began in earnest, both men quietly straining and crying in shocked
ecstasy, because nothing they'd imagined or experienced could ever compare,
nothing was this good. Jareth reached in-between their bodies and
stroked Julian to arousal again. They fit together, coupled, rocking
slowly at first, then shaking with the force of Jareth's thrusts
Jareth rolled over and lay back smiling up at the man who sat on top dominating
him. The young man undulated atop Jareth, pressing so intimately
they melted into each other, fusing their flesh in a chiaroscuro of desire.
Jareth's rhythmic strokes came harder and faster, pounding into his lover
as though he could somehow touch the essence of the man riding him with
abandon and loving every minute. This was more powerful than gravity,
nuclear fusion or any other known force. Feeling everything his lover
was feeling, Julian drew out the pleasure before he finally gave in to
his lover's impatience, tightening his body around Jareth and exulting
as the sorcerer stiffened, arched his back, and came in an endless rush
with a musical, keening cry that sounded like the song of an exotic bird.
The wave of happiness flooding through Julian triggered a cascade of pleasure
that Jareth built to a crescendo by pumping his lover's sex as his satisfaction
ebbed and his limp sex slid out of Julian's body. Julian was too
caught up in his own astonishing second climax to fully notice the separation,
but he was conscious of the arms holding him tightly as his body spilled
its seed. He shouted and raked his nails along Jareth's back as the
petite mort drained him of energy, thought, even consciousness, everything
but the knowledge that he had never been so happy...
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