Only because he'd visited this area before did Jareth know where his feet should go. On every side he found himself submerged in an expanse of white snow, it crept upwards over his ankles, and soaked his feet to the core.
The snow was pleasant, if not a little inconvenient. Underground, they simply weren't used to this type of weather, and the last three times he'd travelled aboveground the season and therefore general warmth had suited his attire. Now though, his knees shivered and his hands grew blue to match the sky. He pulled black leather gloves out and slid them on, and a few minutes later he could feel his fingers once again. His strides matched in their intensity with his expression. The houses around Jareth passed in the way a child's crib toy would replay the same few images over and over, all melting into one lovely and relaxing non stop picture. They all looked the same, inside some settled a family of four or five gathered around their fireplace, seeking warmth from the cold bitter wind that spread its icy fingers across the land. A mother wrapped her arms around her two tired babes, as the father hung up the last decorations on their Christmas tree. They embodied the picture of yuletide tranquillity.
'Quickly Peter, indoors now!' a lady called as her son came running round from the back of the house, giving his boots and coat an energetic shake before jumping into his house.
Some ten twenty feet awayJareth found his destination. The snow seemed to glow brighter on its roof, as though the very house emitted a special kind of magic.
He smiled with delight as he saw the young boy spreading his arms wide and bringing them close to him again, as his body imprinted a fairy or angel-type figure upon the snow covered garden.
A young woman emerged from the house, her dressing gown barely falling to her knees as her tall graceful legs carried her down the front porch steps. Her feet touched the snow and she froze, momentarily dumbstruck by the sharp coldness of its touch. She retreated backwards a few steps then looked at the young boy, both amusement and annoyance mingling her smile into an unreadable curve.
'Toby…' She sighed loudly, causing the boy to jump up.
'Sorry Sarah,' he said looking down at his feet, apologetically.
'Just come in now and I won't tell Karen,' this seemed to lighten his face up again. He gave her a playful head tilt as he looked up.
'Thanks Sarah,' he whispered as he ran past her.
Jareth remained hidden behind the hedge separating their house from the next, and only stepped forward once Toby was safely out of hearing distance.
Sarah had already begun to turn, but the second his eyes settled on her back she appeared to sense she was being watched. Her shoulders shivered as she turned. Though it took her a few moments to locate him in the darkness of the street he saw her mouth quiver as her eyes settled on his own.
'You' she thought, and when he smiled and nodded she seemed startled and a little scared that he'd read her mind. He made his move, walking towards her he couldn't ignore that she subconsciously reached a hand out, just a little but enough for him to realise she wasn't sure he was real.
'It's really me Sarah, but don't fear I'm not here to take either you or Toby away again.'
Her eyes widened, and there was such a childish innocence there that it took all logic for Jareth to remember she had now grown into a young woman. It was too late for her to feel safe, too dark for him to appear to be on a casual friendly visit. He could tell she thought he was here for a reason, and knowing Sarah as he did there was no doubt in his mind that she expected that reason to not be a good one. She was never wrong but not always right.
'What do you want Jareth?' Ah, he thought, the most predictable five words ever uttered. In fairness what else was she supposed to say to him? After all he was hardly a family friend, made to feel welcome any time of year.
'Nothing Sarah, I'm just here to see how you are.'
She scoffed a little and the rebellious teenager shone out of her eyes for a brief moment, then she was gone again.
'To see how I am? Yeah right Jareth, you don't fool me.'
'Believe me Sarah. After facing my labyrinth there's no real guarantee that you'll go back home unharmed. For some, the idea of a fantastical dream world is merely too extravagant to accept, and once they leave they go mad. Forgive me, but you did travel further than most so it seems perfectly reasonable for me to want to make sure you're alright.'
He had said those words four times now, every time he came, and every time she still believed him.
He cursed the young for their inability to question something so long as it sounded legitimate. Perhaps, in Sarah's case, Jareth noted, she just didn't want to fight him anymore. This idea soothed as much as it did scare.
'Can I ask you something Jareth?' of course, he mused. But although he could already answer her unspoken question, he decided, as always, to humour her anyway.
'What was the point of it all?'
He frowned, 'And by that you mean?'
'Well all the mazes, the trails, it was so complicated,' said Sarah. 'And I get the feeling now that you never would have kept Toby anyway.'
'Oh you do, do you.' Jareth replied.
The snow began to fall more in a downpour than a gentle sprinkle, eddying around Jareth's feet.
'Come, Sarah.' Jareth said, holding out his hand for her to take. 'I want to show you something.'
He had a pull that seemed to compel her forward, yet Sarah knew it was entirely of her own free will that her fingers enclosed around his, letting him steer them off down the street.
Her dressing gown kept the chill at bay as they walked but her slippers were no match for the icy snow as it caved in around her toes. Sarah kept her attention on Jareth, she did not know where they were going, and somehow she had the feeling it wasn't the time to ask.
'Years ago I took your brother Sarah, as you know. And what happened that night changed you, am I correct?'
She had heard people say she'd changed, and though she'd never addressed it herself she was aware of it. Sarah nodded.
'You see being exposed to magic such as you were then, makes you seek some sort of reality, as it were. Magic itself is real Sarah, there's no doubt on the matter. But when faced with the extraordinary, human nature entails you to find the ordinary. Do you understand?'
'Not really.' She replied.
'What is the most ordinary kind of magic you can think of Sarah?' asked Jareth, holding her hand a little tighter than he had been.
'Love.' She whispered, trying not to accidentally meet his gaze now. The topic of love was an uncomfortable one for some, for Sarah it was taboo around him.
'And if you had the choice, now, would you swap the love you hold for your brother, for some fantastical, magical world?'
'Of course not! How can you say that-'
'But that's the point, isn't it Sarah, because there was a time-'he frowned '-and don't deny it, there was a time when you would have done so in a heartbeat.'
She didn't want to hear this. 'I love my brother Jareth, and I've grown up. It's not fair to expect a child to understand love before they've had a chance to properly experience it!'
'You were fourteen Sarah, hardly what I'd call a 'child'.'
In silence they walked for a while, the pale moon shining down as it began its long ascent into the sky. Sarah began to subconsciously chew her lip: a teenage habbit she'd never bothered to break.
'I think I need to get home now. They'll wonder where I'm gone.' Sarah muttered, breaking a silence as cold as the snow on her toes.
'Yes. They will.'
As she turned away a gust of wind came from nowhere, pushing her forward a little and snatching Jareth's hand away. She stared down the path they'd just walked and her eyes focused on the single set of footprints leading down her road.
She turned to Jareth, and his face was a mask of sorrow. His expression was too familiar, considering she hadn't seen his face like this since she was fourteen. And then, surprising Jareth, she smiled.
'Have you been to see me before tonight?'
She looked at the snow-covered path again.
'Why do you never leave footprints Jareth?'
Upon turning around she gasped to find herself alone and suddenly a weight tugged on her heart as she realised just how lonely she was.
A single tear made for her cheek, and it was only to her that the sad voice replied.
'Because otherwise you'd remember I was real.'
Jareth watched her go, his invisibility being the only thing separating them, and he fought the urge to reach out to her more than usual, because this time he knew it was really goodbye.
Thanks for reading! Please review... and in the hope of not being snowballed for saying this too soon ... 'Merry Xmas!'