The goblins had one rule: do not let Sarah see them while they watch her.
Because, if they got caught, Sarah would see them, and then she would get mad and tell their King. And if the King found out, then they were all going for an extended vacation to the Bog. They did not want to spend any time in the Bog of Eternal Stench, so they made it a habit to not let Sarah see them, even if they stole her things from time to time. She had nice socks, after all.
And then one day, a goblin got caught.
Poor Skampers. He just could not scamper away fast enough.
To his great surprise, Sarah did not look shocked that he was trying to make off with the remnants of some mashed potatoes and stuffing from Thanksgiving that Sarah had left to cool on her desk. Not only did she smile at him, but she let him take it home! And then, she did not tell Jareth!
The entire goblin population was amazed! They had to thank Sarah somehow for being so generous. And so they thought, until they could think no more. Then, Skampers went and found the small pine tree that he had stolen from Sarah a year ago, and the answer was found: bring back all the stuff they had stolen!
But alas! Most of the stuff would be returned in a few days, so they would have to spread it out and find more things. They figured that if they showed their thanks for at least a month, then Sarah would stay nice and not tell their king what had happened. Yes, clearly, a little bribe never hurts. And so the search began to find more appropriate things to give to Sarah.
Meanwhile, Sarah was experiencing post-Thanksgiving blues.
Black Friday had been an unsuccessful day, getting two hours of sleep, a dented car, and a toaster out of the whole day spent trying to find gifts for her family and friends. There was too much leftover Thanksgiving food, and she was sick of mashed potatoes and stuffing.
She was getting ready to go back to homework and studying to finish off those last couple weeks of classes of her fall semester of college, and she wanted no part of it. She wanted to have only one semester left of college, yes, but it was going to be rough getting there. It was now the last day of November, and she was not excited for what the next day brought. Because tomorrow meant that it was December, and the beginning of Advent, a time of joyful preparation before Christmas. Joyful, her foot. More like excruciating chaos by the time all was done.
Her list of things to do before Christmas was daunting (at least by her standards). She needed to finish three papers and take three final exams (she always wondered why everything bad came in threes).
She had to practice for ballet (not a stress-free elective as hoped), as her final would have her performing the Nutcracker with Toby (forced into it by his mother), and she was not at all ready for that. She would be Clara, and the guy playing the Nutcracker Prince was a stuck-up narcissist that she really wished would float away, based on the size of his ego. But she only had to deal with him for another month, and then she was free from him and his nasally voice demanding attention.
She had to find gifts for all her family, and she did not know how she was going to find time to do it between the classes and ballet. But find time she would!
And so, on November 30, Sarah saw a goblin. She was already in despair about what else could go wrong, so finally having visual confirmation of her hunch was actually kind of nice. If only she could get her socks back. But she smiled at the goblin and happily let him have the food that she did not want to eat any more.
Little did she realize that in doing this one good deed, she would be repaid tenfold for her troubles.
She woke up on December 1, opened the first slot on the Advent calendar, only to see something green catch her eye. While eating the chocolate in the calendar, she sought out the green item, which turned out to be her missing pet pine tree. She had assumed that it had been thrown out because it had died or had Merlin do his business in it, but apparently not.
It seemed the goblins had taken it, and now wished to give it back. That was fine with her, as now she could decorate it. The only thing was that there was a peach inside of it, for reasons she could not fathom. She had heard of partridges in pear trees, but peaches in pine trees? Definitely goblins afoot.
It was either that, or Jareth had planted it, but she did not want to think about him. He was an active part of her fantasies, and that was it, thank you very much. She would never see him again, and she was resigned to that.
Sarah went about her business until the next day, when she went to her Advent calendar to discover that the flap was already slightly folded, and the chocolate gone! Some injustice, no doubt goblin in nature, had happened there, until she saw that two pairs of socks had appeared, each with chicken feathers stuck in them in a decorative fashion. Sarah shook her head as she placed the feathers on her tree and took the socks to the washing machine to be thoroughly cleaned and bleached of all goblin residue.
The rest of the week continued in this fashion, with her chocolate being taken, and more items being returned. She ended up getting back eleven more pairs of socks (each with more feathers), bouncy balls (Toby would be glad), some rubber bands, and many pencils. Sarah had never seen more chicken feathers in her life, and her tree looked as though a chicken had been skinned over it.
And that was perhaps the only good news about that week.
Everything else had not worked out so well, especially money-wise. The car had cost more to fix than she had expected, so she had less to spend on gifts. That, and her work was giving her less hours, so less cash flow in general. She had found something nice for her father, but it had cost more than she expected. Part of her had wanted to stamp her foot about the state of unfairness of the world, but thoughts of Jareth smirking and asking her about her basis for comparison shut her up quickly, as she was distracted by some lovely thoughts of him from when he had said that to her.
Ballet practice had been frustrating, as Toby kept complaining about the male lead, who in turn made snide remarks about Toby. She had to tell off the dude once, and she had a feeling she would be doing it more by the end of the month since he did not think Toby deserved to be listened to.
Her “Nutcracker Prince” (more like a nutcracker with his exaggerated looks) spoke of accidentally dropping her once, but she gave him her best death glare to discourage that line of thought. She wanted to drop him in the Bog of Eternal Stench, and she would bet good money that Jareth would gladly help her.
At least she got one paper done. She was sleep-deprived, but it was worth it. She could deal with it if it meant one less thing to worry about later on.
The second week of Advent was not very joyful, either. The goblins were still taking her chocolate, but they were giving her more interesting things. Now, she not only had enough chicken feathers to fill a pillow, but she had more gel pens, paper clips, sticky notes, and general office supplies to open a black market on the items. A pity it all did not appear when she first went to college.
Why the goblins gave her such things she had no idea, but she could use them, so she was glad. Some part of her wondered if Jareth told them what to give her, since everything was so practical. But she ignored those thoughts of Jareth as much as possible. He had no reason to think of her at all.
Sarah managed to finish off the other two papers during that second week, so she was glad. She had to finish them, as her family wanted to decorate, and she had to help with that. Her joy was short-lived, however, as the sleep-deprivation she had from those nights managed to help her catch a cold, leaving her stuck in bed and missing class and ballet practice, as well as get no shopping done.
Sarah thought that she had a fever or was at least hallucinating because she could have sworn that she heard Jareth’s voice whisper “Feel better, Precious” at least once, right before kissing her on the cheek, but that was not possible. She was determined to get better after that.
By the time Sarah was feeling better, the third week was upon her, and she was beginning to panic. Finals were right around the corner, and she still had a lot to catch up on.
Thankfully, the goblins decided that for the third week, they would give her cups. But these were no ordinary cups. Each day, she received three hand-painted ceramic cups with an awful-smelling hot liquid inside that she threw out each day until the last, when the window and door would not open, so she was forced to drink three cups of it. She hated it, but magically all the windows and doors opened, so she would survive.
Sarah decided that the cups would be loved and taken care of properly by her step-mother, so she decided to give all but the very last one as a gift set. The last one had a white owl on it, and since it reminded Sarah of Jareth, she kept it for herself.
Hoggle had told her that Jareth sometimes turned into an owl, and she was sure that she had seen an owl follow her before. Sarah wrapped all the cups up nicely with little bows on each, just the way her step-mother had taught her. With that gift done, all she had to do was find one for Toby.
Sarah spent much of the third week catching up on what she missed in practice and classes, which was not as much as she feared. Rudolph the nasal-nosed wonder had spent much of the week she was gone complaining about how he deserved time off like Sarah, so she caught up within a couple of days. That allowed her to practice with Toby more, which made Toby happy since Sarah was so busy. With classes, much of it was review, so she went to more office hours, in addition to studying in the library.
When the fourth week was upon Sarah, she was praying that it was Christmas already. The big performance was right around the corner, along with finals, and Toby still had no gift. She was feeling a certain amount of energy she did not feel before, so she took advantage of it to tackle that last week.
Sarah went shopping on the weekend and found the perfect toy for Toby, only to have someone swoop in and take it. When the shopper grabbed it, she babbled on about how her son would love it and had been asking for it all year, until she saw Sarah poised to grab, and realized that Sarah had wanted it, too. She tried to give it to Sarah, but Sarah insisted that the woman keep it, as her brother did not want it as bad as her son, to which the lady was glad and skipped off.
Sarah searched around and found something else not as cool, but she knew Toby would love it no matter what because it came from her. When she went to pay for it, she was not allowed. Someone had already done it for her, a woman. Sarah could guess who, and she was grateful, as it was that much more she could put aside for something else. She decided to treat Toby to ice cream on dress rehearsal day, so that he would not be so nervous.
Sarah survived finals (take-home ones had their uses), and she was pretty sure that she passed all of them. That put her in a good mood after studying so much, and that left just The Nutcracker to perform on Christmas Eve. She exchanged gifts with Hoggle, Ludo, and Sir Didymus earlier in the week, so she was curious about what the goblins would do.
The goblins’ gifts had become even more extravagant, with fine cutlery, table cloths, and plates appearing near the Advent calendar (besides the missing chocolate). What surprised Sarah was that there was no gift left on Christmas Eve, even though the chocolate had been taken. This mystery continued to baffle her until she arrived at the ballet studio, where she had to go into performer-mode.
On went the cute dress for the slightly-more-grown-up Clara, and plenty of make-up so that she did not become washed out under all the lights on stage. Toby was ready, but ol’ Rudy was strangely absent. She took it as a good sign, as she stayed in a good mood as long as he was not around.
Sarah danced upon the stage with Toby for the beginning, and she was encouraged. Then, she got ready to dance with Rudolph. He was not where he was supposed to start, but she could not stop him.
The grand battle between the mice and gingerbread commenced, and eventually, the Nutcracker came out. Sarah danced and did her part until it came to throwing her shoe at the Mouse King. Sarah’s white ballet shoes were leathery-soft and light normally, but when she held one in her hand to throw at the Mouse King, it seemed harder and heavier than normal.
Sarah assumed it was her imagination and just threw it as practiced, and of course it hit her target on the head. The problem was that the Mouse King dropped far too quickly to the floor (though somehow the Nutcracker still got his move in), and she could actually hear the shoe hit the stage, sounding like bricks were hitting the stage. But, all these things were forgotten because it was time for the Nutcracker Prince to reveal himself.
And such a reveal it was!
Sarah almost had to stop and do a double-take because her normal dance partner was no longer there. Instead, Jareth was there, in all his glory.
Jareth looked good in just about anything as it was, but this outfit seemed tailored just for him, even if it had been meant for the Nutcracker Prince. Sarah was confused why no one else seemed to realize that Jareth was on stage, even though he had much lighter (not to mention messier) hair than Rudolph. But, Jareth seemed to know all of the moves, and he was the most graceful ballet dancer she had ever seen.
Jareth bowed down to Sarah in acknowledgement of his thanks to her, and Sarah enjoyed watching Jareth sparkle. Rudolph had spared no expense in making sure that he had the finest costume of them all, and Sarah loved the fact that it was Jareth who now wore it. It was perfect for Jareth, the (fake) diamond-studded white satin top with the three swirls of differently-cut diamonds flashing bright across the top of his chest. It did not hurt that the body-hugging, white tights (naturally with fake diamonds on the cuffs and waist of the tights) did wonders by bringing out his toned legs. Jareth made Sarah weak at the knees, but she would never tell him that.
With the bow complete, Jareth glided over to Sarah, and the rest of the ballet was a grand daze for her. She could recall doing all of her necessary routines, but she felt as though she were floating.
The only part of the chocolate dancing she could remember was Jareth moving his hands around her as she pirouetted in his arms, him wearing a smug grin that she wished she could remove. The coffee dance was not much better, each lunge back and forth between them producing tension, their white-clad feet never more than a few languid steps from one another, dancing around the other. Their faces were mirrors of the other, each gazing intently and earnestly as they reached for the other, but never quite making it.
The tea dance had been fun to leap about and have Jareth answer with his leaps, him trying to catch her as she joined the other dancers. The candy canes had made her dizzy from Jareth picking her up and throwing her into the air, only for her to land in his open arms and then dip her down multiple times.
It was on the final dip that he held her there, his arms about her waist, allowing her to extend one leg out as she leaned to allow him to turn her around in his arms until she faced him, now with both arms extended out. In that moment, trust had never come quicker. They were lost in the moment as they stood there, allowing the audience to clap.
The Waltz of the Flowers had always been one of her favorite parts, and dancing it with Jareth only solidified it. While she could not waltz in the traditional way with him, they still managed (thanks to the fine choreography of someone that she would be sure to give a present to later) to keep one set of hands always attached, folding in and out of the other dancers, Jareth once picking her up and twirling her so that she could perform a little trick with her feet.
The only damper of the waltz had been when she heard what sounded like a frog croaking, something quite low and almost gasping, and she half-expected Toby to suddenly come on stage in a black, curly wig wearing all pink and start to shimmy and shake his butt at the stage. He did not enjoy the girly dancing, and nothing had gone so far in the production, which meant that they were due for something. But, nothing untoward appeared, frogs or unexpected dancers. And Sarah could continue to smile at Jareth.
When it was finally time for their grand pas de deux, Sarah felt as though she were flying. Each slow, measured step from their entrance brought them closer to one another, their arms taking turns to reach out to one another. Then, with fingertips barely touching, Sarah jumped, as though burned by his touch.
But Jareth beckoned for her, and Sarah took a running leap into the air, and Jareth lifted her high into the air, with one of Sarah’s hands extended into the air, moving back and forth at the wrist, while the other lay against Jareth’s strong grip. Sarah’s feet began the motions, and she appeared to be swimming in the air.
When Jareth brought Sarah down, each took their turn to dance their solo, Sarah’s dance a slight variation of Jareth’s as he danced around her. As they finished, Sarah took another leap, where Jareth picked her up and waited for Sarah’s legs to wrap around him before he dipped her once more, Sarah dangerous close to the ground. And then, ever so slowly, Sarah’s legs began their journey down Jareth’s body, until they landed on the ground, and still Sarah remained at a ten degree angle off the ground, Jareth’s body now melded to hers. Jareth drew Sarah up until both were upright, eyes lost in one another again.
It took loud applause to get Sarah away from Jareth, but away she got. Sarah did not remember anything else about the performance after that, and all she wanted to do was find out how and why Jareth was there, after so much time.
After three encores and many family hugs, Sarah was almost to Jareth when a shocked, nasally voice screeched, “You little upstart! How dare you steal my show!”
Sarah turned to see Rudolph heading toward her, anger smoking off of him as though he were made of dry ice. He had more words to say, and while she was confused about what had happened to him, she did not like being called names. Neither did Jareth.
“I will see to it that you fail this class, you brown-nosing-“
“Excuse me, but do you have a problem with Sarah?”
“Yes! I have a problem with her and-“
But Jareth was not going to let him finish that thought, lest everyone else get some clue about the fact that he had glamored himself to look different, to everyone but Sarah. And he certainly was not going to let Sarah be slandered by him.
“You have no reason to be angry with her. She did as she practiced, did she not? She had the same number of solos as you, and you had a better outfit than her. You have no right to speak right now.”
Jareth grinned as he spoke, and Sarah got a tingle in her spine, as though Jareth were up to no good. It was not until the director came over to congratulate him that he opened his mouth to speak, and no words came out.
“Aww, isn’t that precious? He’s so in awe of how good of a job we all did that he’s speechless!”
The director led him, and finally, someone had found a way to shut him up. Sarah would have to thank Jareth for that too. Speak of the devil….
“Congratulations, Sarah. You had a good performance tonight.”
Sarah’s eyes widened before turning and smiling at Jareth. “You did pretty well yourself, for never going to a practice.”
“It’s good to be the King.”
Sarah wanted to roll her eyes at that, but decided to figure out why he was even there to begin with.
“Is that why you came tonight? To show off your prowess in ballet?”
“No, Sarah. I came here for you.”
Sarah did the wise thing and kept her mouth shut, lest she let it gape open like a fish. She nodded to him so that he would continue.
“I took the liberty of making him switch places with the Mouse King, and then it just so happened that your shoe had lead in it, causing him to be knocked out until the Waltz. I was hoping he’d stay knocked out for the whole performance, but he has a rather thick skull.”
Sarah laughed at the description of her former dancing partner, as well as realized that the odd noise she had heard earlier was from him. That would explain some things. Before she could ask any further questions about the performance, Jareth continued.
“I also came here to set things straight between you and my goblins. I’m afraid they’ve taken some liberties of late that I was not expecting.”
Sarah giggled at the thought of Jareth opening the castle cabinets and discovering that all his fine cups and cutlery gone. Then she thought about it seriously, remembering where the cups were, and paled.
“I see you know to what I am referring? Have you seen any of my goblins before?”
“Yes, I’ve seen one goblin. It was right before December, and he took some food from my plate while I was close by.”
Jareth’s hands could be seen at his side, conjuring a crystal as he spoke, his tone surprised.
“Why didn’t you tell me that you had seen one?”
“Because I know they’ve been coming to see me for years. They kept stealing my socks! Do you know how many pairs of socks they’ve stolen from me over the years?”
Sarah’s righteous anger amused Jareth.
“I imagine quite a few.”
“But, at least now they’ve given a few back.”
Jareth looked taken aback. “They did?”
“Yes, and they’ve given back a few things over the past month. I just didn’t expect…. everything else.”
Jareth cracked his knuckles as he leaned in closer to Sarah.
“Such as the castle’s private tea cup collection?”
“Yes,” said Sarah. She felt a little bad about that.
“And the cutlery that was handmade by elves for the royal family?”
“That too,” admitted Sarah. Now she was beginning to worry.
“And the plates that were wedding gifts for my parents?”
“Yep, that, too,” squeaked Sarah. Now she felt like a terrible person.
“It seems that they have a soft spot for you. You can’t help that, Sarah.”
Sarah let out the breath she was holding as Jareth flexed his fingers and then entwined them in hers.
“I first discovered that they were up to something when they asked me if I preferred neon green or sparkly purple gel pens best. Once I realized that they intended to give you gifts to help you since you helped them, I let them do as they pleased.”
“What?!” Sarah ground out. Then why did he feel such a need to make her feel bad? Jerk!
“Oh, Sarah, it’s a nice change to see you look so repentant, though I admit that I still prefer you when you’re angry with me.”
“You’re not helping your case right now, Jareth.”
“All in good time, love.”
“I have family I need to get back to.”
Jareth threw the crystal in his hand, and everything went backward around them.
“You were saying, Sarah?”
Sarah gave Jareth her best withering look, but it was hard to maintain when he smiled at her like that. That pointy half-smile of his was one of her weak spots, bogdangit.
“Is there anything else you’d like to explain, Jareth, since we have so much time?”
“A question, and then an explanation. Sarah, do you realize what was inside those tea cups?”
“Not a clue. It smelled awful, rather like the Bog.”
“It’s Guard Glop.”
Sarah’s face contorted from a grimace to a smile at such a name, as it seemed a bit odd.
“What’s in it exactly?”
“I don’t know myself. I’ve learned not to ask sometimes when it comes to what my subjects eat and drink. However, I do know that Sir Didymus swears by the stuff, as do the rest of the Royal Guard, that it keeps you awake when you need to, and is known to heal you pretty well. The goblins gave that to you on purpose to make sure that you stayed better after you were sick and I visited you.”
“So you did visit me! I knew it!”
Sarah triumphed for a moment until she considered what else Jareth had done while there. Jareth enjoyed the answering blush a good deal.
“Yes, I did visit. I was worried that you would stay sick and miss all the stuff that you had been working on for this past month. We couldn’t have that, now could we?”
“No. I wasn’t about to let that happen.”
“That’s my Sarah. So, yes, I visited and then forced you to drink three cups of the Guard Glop. You’ll feel that pep for days more I suspect, as you’re mortal.”
Sarah narrowed her eyes at Jareth, who only laughed.
“You’ll thank me later, Sarah. Now, as for the cups, I’m fine with you gifting them to your step-mother. You’re very unselfish in your giving, which is admirable. Despite all the problems you’ve had this month, you’ve still managed to put your family first and have a smile on your face. It’s a rare type of perseverance.”
Such praise from Jareth made Sarah blush more, and she chose her words carefully.
“Thank you, Jareth. I didn’t realize you paid so much attention.”
“Why else do you think the goblins visit? For your fine socks alone?”
Jareth went from gaining so many points in Sarah’s eyes for the praise, to going into the negative zone for admitting to watching her. Wait, why was he admitting it?
“Jareth, why are you really here? This doesn’t seem right somehow. You’ve been gone for so long, only to be spying on me. Why tell me now?”
“I thought you deserved to know the truth about everything.”
“Is that it?”
“There may be ulterior motives, yes. I thought I had expressed them fairly well while we were dancing together.”
Several images of being held by Jareth flashed through Sarah’s mind, and she wondered if they were true.
As though reading her mind, Jareth said, “I’ve never lied to you, Sarah. I can’t lie.”
Sarah’s mind was on the fritz, sheer overload of fantasies flying free at the thought that Jareth liked her. Heck, he probably still wanted to marry her. Nope, not considering that right now.
“But, you can, you must, you-“
“Sarah, who’s this?”
Sarah coughed awkwardly before the words spilled out, her smile large but genuine.
“Oh, Jareth? He’s just my boyfriend. He’s a bit of a surprise for you all.”
“Well, we saw the way he handled that low life earlier, so he must have a good head on his shoulders. Welcome, Jareth.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Williams.”
“Please, it’s Robert.”
“Shall we go home? I think it’s time to do some caroling,” said Sarah.
“Yay, cookies! C’mon! Let’s go home!”
Toby led the way, glad to be out of the stupid tights, and Jareth held Sarah back for a moment.
“Sarah, you do realize what you’re doing, right? You’re inviting me into your home and called me your boyfriend. It’s Christmas Eve, when you’re supposed to spend it with those you care about.”
“I care about you, Jareth. I want you to come.”
As much as Jareth wanted to take advantage of the situation and just go along with it, it was hard for him to do, given his feelings for Sarah. His precarious position with Sarah made him pause; he did not want to have hope and then go back to hiding around Sarah if something happened.
“Are you sure, Sarah?”
Jareth’s eyes showed all the hope he had, his big chance to finally be a part of her life. If Jareth was this determined, it was bound to happen at some point. Better now than later and see where things led. Sarah did like him, and it was Christmas. She nodded and smiled before kissing him on the forehead.
“Tis’ the season.”