[The characters of Labyrinth belong, of course, to Jim Henson. This story was inspired by a challenge on Marysia.com's message board and influenced by the idea in Saxonny's "Beauty and the Beast" (go read it!) of interweaving Labyrinth and other stories. Any similarities to certain fairytales (and ballets!) here is therefore absolutely intended.]
"Hoggle, you have got to be kidding me."
Sarah Williams stared down at the dwarf, currently twisting an envelope in his large hands. No, it was not the very existence of a dwarf before her that shocked her—Sarah, after all, had first encountered the Underground when she was fifteen. She had remained in contact with her friends there, particularly Hoggle, for the past dozen years since her adventure there, when she had beaten the Goblin King's Labyrinth. Furry giants, talking foxes with a chivalry fetish, even a dwarf in her living room—none of these phased her. Instead, it took the dwarf's request to stun her.
Hoggle looked, if possible, even more anxiously at her. "Sarah, ya don't understan'. I can't be goin' by meself!"
She suppressed a laugh in her throat, not wanting to offend him. God, he sounds like me, trying to drag all my guy friends to that wedding last summer, because I didn't have a date. Memories of how relieved she'd been when Mike had agreed to go made her suddenly feel guilty for her treatment of Hoggle. She sat down on her couch and waved Hoggle to join her, regarding him over the rim of her Diet Coke as he perched on the edge of the couch cushion. "Let me get this straight. You've received an invitation to some kind of Christmas ball?"
He nodded so vigorously he nearly topped off the couch, but managed to steady himself before disaster struck. "Yep, I got this invitation delivered to me home, just like I was fancy folk."
She regarded the fine quality of the envelope he handed her, first with admiration, then with suspicion. "Hoggle, this isn't a royal ball, is it?"
He looked at her with a frown. "'Course it is, it's held by 'Er Majesty."
Her Majesty. It's curious how words that seem perfectly innocent can have all the impact on a person that a gunshot might. Sarah blinked, breathed, fought back an abrupt wave of nausea. Give me a break, Sarah. Get your head on. Just because some old crush has a life of his own…Get a grip! You had no relationship with him whatsoever; he was just the first handsome guy you ever ran into…There's no reason to be upset… Thought failing to reassure her whatsoever, she glanced over at Hoggle; if she had been more observant, she would have noticed the intense interest with which he had been studying her. "Her—Majesty?" she croaked, despising herself.
He nodded serenely. "Yep, Jareth's mum, the Queen o' the Underground itself. She ain't at all like him, don't you worry. She's a good sort. I been working for her for a couple years now on the side, 'cause her gardens had so many of those damn fairies."
She tried not to look too relieved. Why should she be relieved? Good grief, it wasn't as though she wanted a relationship with him! Visions of certain late-night dreams flashed before her eyes briefly, causing an instant blush, but she shoved them aside. Okay, so I'm female, big deal that I have had fantasies about a gorgeous sex-god of a…
Reddening, she shook her head, coughed lamely, and waved her hand. "Oh, sorry, Hoggle, I was , um, just thinking about my own garden." Yeah, right, you could say that again…Shut up, self! "Um, since it is being held by his mother and all….You are sure the Goblin King won't be there?"
"Course. He ain't feelin' festive, I hears. He hates his mum's parties, too. But he gets invited to them all the time. I don't," Hoggle finished pointedly, his eyes pinned on Sarah. "She's asked me as a special thanks an' I gots to go, but I gots to at least bring a friend, in case I don't know nobody there."
Sarah sighed, convinced again that she was insane because she was actually considering this. No matter that she'd nearly lost her baby brother, or her own life, in her last trip to the Underground. No matter that she'd had nightmares about that incident for years afterward, nightmares of being caught there as the clock chimed the thirteenth hour. No, she was considering going back to that place because…well, a friend needed her. What else could she say? And since Jareth, who was the principal reason she'd been frightened in the Underground, wasn't going to be around, what real problem could there be?
"Yes, Hoggle, I will go with you," she heard herself saying, as a tiny voice inside whispered back to her: And this, Williams, is how you always get into trouble.
* * *
Hours later, a dwarf and another woman walked through a winter garden, blissfully fairy-free.
"She is coming, then?" asked the woman, musing over a rose that was emerging from the snow bank. "Excellent."
The dwarf rubbed his boot against the ground, frowning. "But Jareth—'is temper…Not meanin' to offend Your Majesty…"
A secretive smile moved across the Queen's face; her lips curled briefly in a smirk that made Hoggle tremble instinctively, recalling that expression on the face of another. "My son has a poor temper at times, I know, Hoggle, but do not fear, he will not lift a finger against you. Not even my Jareth can defy his mother!" And she laughed merrily, brushing snow off another rose.
Hoggle nodded. "Majesty, I trusts ya…but Sarah…"
"She will be quite pleased with us, I promise you, Hoggle." The woman, older than Sarah but no less fair in Hoggle's eyes for her great kindness, smiled down at him. "We will be giving her a Christmas present she could only have dreamt of."
* * *
Two days later, Sarah found herself standing in a small but cozy room within what Hoggle had said was the Queen's Castle. She shivered nonetheless; just setting foot into the Underground again had awakened old nightmares of losing to the Goblin King, condemning her baby brother to be his eternal prisoner.
Sarah shook her head to get rid of the thought. This isn't the Goblin Castle, after all. In fact, Hoggle had told her the Queen's Castle was the Queen's favorite retreat. Well, "retreat" would be a bit of an understatement, from what Sarah could see out of the window—the castle, all gleaming white with blue peaked towers, was simply enormous. But this Queen—Jareth's mother, she reminded herself with an internal wince—seemed to do everything rather excessively. Must run in the family.
Sarah's eyes drifted to the red velvet dress hanging on the door of the wardrobe; Hoggle had told her the Queen had granted him the favor of a new outfit for himself and his ball companion. She regarded the dress again, her fingers brushing against its softness. It seemed innocent enough; long, rather simple, and though off-the-shoulder, not particularly revealing. All-in-all pretty but hardly the overdone romantic statement that her first ball dress had been—but that had been a dream, she told herself firmly, and pushed the memory away. Her throat tightened briefly as she regarded the shoes; they were crystal-clear, almost like glass—she would've wondered if she was being mocked, had not Hoggle sounded so completely pleased with his Queen's generosity. Who knows, maybe it was just a joke for Hoggle's sake, that "we" must be feeling like Cinderella now…Well, sorry, I've got the wicked stepmother, but I've been to one ball already and let's just say the Prince there left something to be des—
A voice in the hallway caused Sarah to jump and reminded her that she was meant to change, not dally, in the little room. As if I'd want to stay here a minute longer than necessary! Why the hell did I agree to do this? Ordering her brain to quit worrying, she tugged the dress on and stepped into the slippers just in time to hear Hoggle's knock on the door.
* * *