Chapter Ten

After her morning run to the shops, the day settled into a quiet one – Boxing Day was usually like that. She had wandered from Toby's room downstairs to grab a late brunch; she didn't take long, but by the time she came back, Hoggle was impatiently waiting to confirm his delivery. When she haltingly asked how he had received it, Hoggle had gruffly replied that he had been in a right-royal bad mood as usual, and he had merely gone very quiet when he had handed the gift over. Hoggle's tone rather smugly implied that the reaction had not been a favourable one. Although Sarah was a bit worried at his description, she knew Hoggle was irreparably biased against his king – and perhaps rightly so. One smell of the Bog would be enough to make anyone's thoughts rather uncharitable, Sarah thought wryly. Instead she tried to imagine Jareth's reaction, as she hoped it would be; she remembered him as he had been in the dream last night, laughing carelessly, smiling broadly, eyes crinkling at the edges, their depths rendered the soft, joy-filled blue of a summer sky. She hoped her picture was nearer the truth. She distractedly thanked Hoggle as lavishly as she could, placating him somewhat, and left him to recover from his ordeal – well, both of them - in peace.

The phone rang a bit after lunch; she had to scramble to get to the living room in time to pick it up. The voice she heard through the receiver made her smile instantly. With all that had happened, she had completely forgotten that her mother had said that she would call on Boxing Day.

She heard an animated tale of the Christmas pantomime's successful production, and in return she described the fabulous presents she had received – making sure to thank her mother for the ones she had sent – and recounted some of Toby's antics (tactfully omitting certain ones, the significance of which only she, Toby, and one other understood). They chatted for almost an hour before her mother offered to put Jeremy on the line. Jeremy's talk was boisterous, as was his manner when he was around her – she always found him to be great fun, as well as thoroughly charming. They had been talking and joking for quite some time before he asked the question:

"How did you like those little trifles I sent over with your mother's feather duster?" - he jokingly referred to the quill pen. "Were they alright? Did I pick out the right things for you?"

Sarah paused before answering. She thought back to the presents, to Christmas Day. And to what had come after. She only perhaps fully realized now the significance of what she had received then. A slim hand closed around the chain, and the pendant that hung upon it; her skin prickled excitedly as she remembered the flutter of snowing rose petals, the whisper of a fur-edged cloak over the slick white ground, and the light touch of the arms that had guided her gently, moving her through the steps of a dance over the snow…

A couple turning about amid a soft fall of snowflakes, accompanied by a tinkling little tune… turning in the midst of a glass orb, a glistening vessel for a wistful dream… a dream that was wistful no longer… a dream that had come true…

"Yes," she said, trying to convey to him as much genuine gratitude as she could with her voice alone. "Thank you, I love them. They were perfect. I couldn't have wished for anything better." And she meant it completely when she said it. The beautiful smile on her face would have told the rest of the story, if he could've seen it.

Something brushed against the glass of the window opposite the couch where she sat; engrossed in the conversation, she didn't notice it. It was a soft sound, like a light, snow-filled breeze grazing the window pane. Or perhaps a wing tipped with downy white feathers which lightly touched the glass as it spread and flapped away, over the snow-covered treetops.

That afternoon, she went for a walk down to the park.

There was little else to do. Irene had gone out for a post-Christmas catch-up over coffee with some friends; Toby was taking his afternoon nap, and her father was comfortably browsing through a book before the fire.

"What necklace is that?" he asked when she went to tell him where she was going. The question startled her slightly, though she had prepared herself to answer it.

"Erm, it's an old one of Mum's," she answered as innocently as she could manage. "She gave it to me ages ago, she didn't wear it much and since I liked it, she said I could have it. I thought it might look alright on my new chain."

He peered at the gold inlay glimmering in the firelight. "What an unusual design. I don't remember ever seeing it."

"Mum said she didn't wear it much, and I didn't have a chain to wear it on until I got this one from Jeremy. It was too heavy for a bit of ribbon, and it didn't look too good on string." She surprised herself with how complete the lie she had created was. She supposed play-acting was good practice for this sort of thing. Learning lines and delivering them convincingly; that was all it was. She had perhaps gone to unnecessary lengths; her father wasn't exactly a man who was too interest in jewellery. At her words, he merely considered the necklace casually over the top of his book.

"Well, make sure you take care of it. Both the chain and the pendant look well-made and expensive. You don't want anything to happen to them, especially if they were presents."

As she went out the door, pulling on her parka and making sure her knitted gloves were in her pocket, she silently agreed with him, clasping her fingers, as was fast becoming a habit, protectively around the silver heart.

It was only when she got out onto the doorstep that she realized only one of her gloves was with her; she turned and trudged back inside, up to her room. After a rapid glance about, she spotted it on her desk; she must've put the pair down whilst she got ready and accidentally only picked up one on her way out the door. As she snatched it up, she couldn't help darting a quick glance at the other items on her desk. And she did a double-take. She leaned closer, peering at it to make sure she wasn't mistaken.

Then she smiled.

She set out on her walk alone. Even Merlin didn't go with her; he was fast asleep on the verandah, curled up in the middle of an old doona and most likely dreaming about the bit of ham rind he had been given as a lunchtime treat. She had shaken her head with a chagrinned expression when her suggestion of a walk had fallen on deaf ears. She had the feeling that Merlin and Ambrosius were perhaps more similar than she had realized.

The stream had frozen over. She looked into it as she crossed the bridge, seeing a slightly distorted version of herself looking curiously back. She wandered along a little path that snaked its way across the parkland, following the stream's path. The little pocket of wilderness was very still and peaceful, covered in a carpet of dazzling white; as she wandered aimlessly through the landscape, more snow began to lightly fall. She could feel it alighting upon her hair, drifting dreamily on a thin breeze that fluttered through the trees like an unseen wraith. Most of the trees that stood nearby lifted bare branches to the sky, covered in shimmering ice crystals which gave the enmeshed twigs the appearance of a lacy spider's web. A lot of words, those trees had heard over the years, when she had come down here to do her play acting; they were like silent stalls in a theatre during rehearsals. They had seen a lot of scenes reenacted, a lot of dramas unfurled. And they had seen the story at its beginning, all those months ago. In the distance, a lone conifer was tipped with white. It reminded her of other similar trees she had seen recently.

As she took a part-step, part-leap over a large, frozen puddle on the path, the pendant swung forward on its chain with her motion, falling back against the front of her vest as she righted herself. She smiled privately as she felt it tap lightly against her chest. Its weight there felt comfortable. Like another heart lying just over her own, beating in unison…

A muffled thwump caught her attention; she turned her head sharply. A few yards away, a branch swayed lightly, dripping and bare; the weight of the snow on it must've made its white covering slid free onto the frosty ground. She shook her head ruefully. For a second, she had thought the sound had been something else. Or perhaps she hadn't truly suspected, only hoped.

She wondered if she would see him again. After all, it was well and truly done with now. The game was over. Something like a truce had been declared; the outcome was a tie. Was this the only way to see him, though - to decide to play the game? After all, he was supposed to come when she called… But he wasn't exactly like a school friend she could ring up to invite over for the afternoon, or something like that. They were friendly now, that seemed implicit, at least… but it wasn't exactly a conventional friendship… really, it had to be more than that, it felt like more than just ordinary old 'friendship', it didn't seem right to call someone as… well, amazing as he was, a mere 'friend'… it had been more special than that… more magical, more unreal, more dream-like… it had been almost – well, in fact, exactly – like a storybook romance

Preoccupied with her thoughts, she hadn't been looking at the path before her; her foot hit a patch of ice, then slid out from under her, taking her by surprise. She lost her balance and toppled backwards-

It seemed a rush of wind flew across the parkland and swooped her up before she could hit the ground. One strong hand had fastened on hers; another supported the small of her back, lifting her upright again. Snow flurries streamed through her vision as the wind suddenly picked up; it took her a second to realize that amongst the snowflakes, a few stray gossamer strands of long, blond hair billowed in the breeze. The hands shifted, manoeuvring her safely back onto her feet. It was a strange echo back to another instance when she had fallen and disembodied hands had caught her; however these hands were not completely alone, divorced from any personage. She could feel him standing very close to her, as though his mere presence emanated from him. Still getting her breath back from the suddenness of it all – and at the expectation of who she hoped it might be – she turned to face him. She wasn't disappointed.

He was wearing a heavy winter coat that reached almost to his knees. It was made of rather ordinary, thick corduroy, yet it was of a style like none she had seen being worn around her neighbourhood before – its hem was cut almost like old-fashioned tails on a frock coat, and it was brownish-burgundy, almost red, with a wide ruff of fur on the collar and the wrist that didn't look like the synthetic stuff on the fashionable jackets most people wore. He was otherwise casually dressed in dark jeans, boots, black shirt and black denim vest. The long scarf knotted around his neck fluttered around his shoulders in the breeze, rather like a pair of outstretched wings. But she didn't really notice any of these irrelevant details. Her gaze was solely riveted on the hand that held hers. The heavy fur cuff on his coat sleeve was rolled back to reveal his shirt sleeve, which instead of having a button, was held together with a decorative cuff link – one in the shape of a little silver owl, with delicate feathers etched in silver on its wing and wide, rhinestone eyes glimmering in its tiny owlish face.

She remembered back to that afternoon, when she had gone back to fetch her glove. She had known then, known that the tiny silver dots she had seen upon the wrists of the goblin figurine on her desk - specks of silver paint that had never been there before – must have corresponded with these on the real thing… the sight then had pleased her, had made her smile… because it had let her know that he was wearing them, that he evidently liked her Christmas present

She continued her line of gaze past their still-interlocked hands, to the face that looked steadily down into hers, eyes glittering rather like rhinestones themselves, though these ones were of mismatched shades of blue. His hair only just brushed his collar, and was slicked neatly over in a contemporary style – the better to fit into the human world, perhaps - yet otherwise the face was the one she knew. At the moment its expression, however, was not a familiar one; it was far softer, and far more gleeful, than any that she had witnessed there before.

He unclasped their hands, uncoiling his other arm from around her waist, where he had caught her in mid-fall; she only realized when he drew away from her slightly that her face was hot and flushed, brought on by his close proximity to her. It hadn't really startled or frightened her to find him suddenly so close to her, as it had several months ago, when he had suddenly leant over her shoulder as they stood on a hilltop overlooking the Labyrinth. In this instance, his presence was actually comforting, and more thrilling than frightening. He offered her his arm. She took it, linking her arm through his in the old fashioned way. Together, they resumed the walk she had been taking along the path, his arm supporting her at the elbow, conducting her along in a gallant fashion. Like the couple in the snow globe again…

She darted a glance into the stream, just to check she wasn't dreaming; she saw two smudges of colour on the frozen surface, two reflections. Two people. Both of them were really here… this wasn't just a dream…

He held up his other hand, encased, as was his habit, in a glove of black leather. The owl cuff link's gemlike eyes twinkled at her in the weak winter sun that had broken through a gap in the clouds, making the snowdrifts shimmer like crystal, the still-falling snowflakes like sunbeams descending from the sky.

"Thank you."

The words were simple, yet their tone was rich as velvet; their slight tremor, coupled with the look of insurmountable gratitude written upon his features, impressed upon her the full import and sincerity of his words.

"My pleasure," she answered in a small, almost shy voice, yet clearly audible in the tranquil stillness of the snowy landscape. And as she said it, she meant it. In every syllable, every word.

His smile broadened; he beamed down at her. The mildness she saw in the sparkling blue in his eyes made her wonder if she had ever really feared him, or merely been fascinated by him – two points of blue light flashing in a handsome face. This time not haughty or defensive; this time lit by the gentleness of love.

"Merry Christmas, Sarah."

And although, perhaps, the words were a day too late…

…it was.

***THE END***

And so concludes my special holiday-themed Labyrinth story - a little after Christmas, but nevertheless, I hope people have enjoyed it. From the reviews I've been getting, it sounds like people have been enjoying it, thank you so much for your support, I have loved receiving so many reviews, they have been very encouraging. This marks the first multi-chapter story - barring a one-shot I once did - that I have actually brought to conclusion, which is a bit of a special event in itself (especially considering the lengths of the epics I usually write _ )

If you enjoyed this story, please feel free to check out my other Labyrinth story, 'Don't Dream It's Over', one of the aforementioned epics, and a story that delves very deeply into Jareth's past. And believe me, it is an epic, I've been plotting out the story and I can see it easily running for 20-30 chapters. I will be taking a break from Laby fiction after this one to update some of the other fics I've been neglecting, but a new chapter for 'Don't Dream' is underway, and will be coming out over the next month or so. Also, I am considering now writing another holiday-themed fic, probably just a one-shot, to go with Valentine's Day, since in the second-last chapter, Jareth mentioned the holiday. I wouldn't want to disappoint him, but don't quote me on that, it will depend on whether I have enough time, and whether the idea fully forms itself in my mind before Feb 14th.

Also, if you feel so inclined, please check out my deviantart gallery at wai-jing. deviantart. com (delete the spaces to get the link to work), I currently have a picture of Jareth, as he appears in his red-caped-fur-lined-outfit, that is currently in progress and my sketches are there to be viewed. I'll hopefully follow it up with some general Jareth and Sarah works later on, drawing is in fact my first love and I'd really like to create some Labyrinth-related stuff through it.

Otherwise, thanks a lot for reading, hope you enjoyed it, and have enjoyed the holidays.

Cheers, take care, and peace out,
~ Wai-Jing