Sarah fumbled with her car keys, buttoning her coat one handedly as she tried to extricate them from her purse with clumsy, gloved fingers. She slipped slightly on her parents' sidewalk, and braced herself against the car.
Something made her pause, and she looked up at the sky. Exhaling, she watched her breath hang in the air. It had been snowing steadily for the past week, and it looked like another storm was on the horizon. Something tugged at the edge of her thoughts, but she shook it away. A flutter of wings in the treetop outside her old bedroom window made her look again. Her breath caught in her throat as a barn owl swooped out of the tree and wheeled away towards the woods.
Sarah didn't stop to think. She dropped her purse and ran, skidding down the icy driveway and out into the street. One eye trained on the sky, she raced towards the park, half-buttoned coat flapping around her legs. Her hair streamed out behind her like a dark banner against the snowy world around her, and the cold air burned her face and lungs. The owl swooped low, and disappeared at the edge of the tree line, camouflaged by the stark pattern of brown-black tree branches against the white-white sky.
Sarah burst through the low brambles in a flurry of snapping twigs. Winter had opened up the forest, but the deep snow slowed her steps, and the bare branches created an optical illusion. It was hard to judge depth, and everything looked the same.
"Jareth!" she tried to shout, but the air caught in her chest and it came out cracked and breathless. She stumbled to a halt, looking around wildly. She tried again. "Jareth!"
Her vision shifted and the Goblin King materialized in front of her, feathered cloak emerging out of the tangled, snow-covered branches so smoothly he might have been standing in front of her the entire time. She had to look in just the right way, or he would blend into the trees entirely. His hair was nearly white, paler than she had ever seen it before.
"Jareth?" Sarah said softly.
"Sarah," Jareth said. His voice was barely above a whisper, but the sound resonated in the silent, snow-muffled world.
"I –" She stopped, swayed. Her world spun at the edges. "I –" She breathed in sharply, closed her eyes, opened them again. I'm sorry, she didn't say.
A hundred unspoken truths hung suspended between them like glass orbs against a bright white sky.
"Why?" she said, because it was the only syllable that summed up everything she couldn't say.
He looked at her, and it was the most open expression she had ever seen him wear.
"I can't do this anymore, Sarah. I can't watch you leave."
Sarah licked cracked lips. Gravity threatened to disobey. She nearly cried, but then thought better of it. "So ask me to stay."
They stared at each other in silence across the frozen clearing. The entire world stopped with them, frozen and silent under a blanket of snow. Waiting.
"Stay," Jareth breathed.
"All right." Sarah smiled, and it was as though the sun had suddenly broken through the clouds on a rainy day. "All right."
She took a step forward and so did he, and she pulled his face down, cold lips meeting in a desperate kiss, and one minute they were in the silent, snowy woods, and the next –