Summary:  Sarah's father reflects upon the recent changes in his daughter.  Short, with a little surprise ending.

A/N:  I was going to classify this as humor, but then I figured not everyone might find it funny.  So, take it whatever way you want.  Review please!

Disclaimer:  Among the list of many things that I DO NOT own, you will find the Labyrinth and all the characters used in the following story.

His Little Girl

His little girl had changed.  So sudden it was, really.  They left her home one day, as usual, to watch after Toby while they enjoyed a night out.  It'd been the first time since about Karen's seventh month of the pregnancy that they'd had a change to enjoy themselves, alone, together.  The way they used to in the old days, when they were dating, or when they were newly married, before the demands of parenthood, the first time for her, and second for him, put an end to those ways.  By then they were finally able to trust Sarah enough to watch after him, and Toby not to have a fit every time his mother left the room.  They were allowed some freedom.

Sure, they had indulged a little, maybe a few weekends in a row, and Sarah wasn't quite as understanding by the end as she had been at first.  But then, Sarah was always a little melodramatic.  She had a tendency to blow things out of proportion, say things that she later regretted.  He supposed it was in her blood, taking after her mother and all.  And they wouldn't have asked if she had had other plans, but she never did, so they couldn't understand why she felt it such a burden to look after her own brother.  It was only for a few hours, a couple of nights a week, and it was the only thing they ever really asked of her.

Anyway, she had changed.  They came home that one day and she was just… different.  Not necessarily bad, at least not right away.  At first, she was happy, agreeable, ready to accommodate everyone.  Even volunteered to baby sit Toby without being asked.  But a couple of days later, it all changed, and it was like a dark cloud hung over her day and night.

He'd never actually seen her cry, but sometimes when she came to dinner, on those occasions when she could be made to come down from her room at all, her eyes were puffy and red, dark circles standing starkly against her pale skin.  She looked… empty.  Like someone had bled the very spirit from her.

She never threw any of her temper tantrums anymore, but it wasn't the relief he had always imagined it would be.  It was as if she weren't really there at all.  Absent-minded and ever forgetful, as if nothing in the world were worth her concern.  They were reluctant to leave her alone with Toby anymore, reluctant to leave her alone at all.

It lasted for about a month, and then one day it all suddenly changed… again.  Back was the bright cheery girl that had appeared for those few short days before, and gone was the depression that had threatened to swallow her whole.  The transformation was baffling.

"I think it's drugs," he told his wife one night, forehead creased in worry.

She had smiled at him, in that way only a woman could smile at you, when she knew something that you didn't.

"I think it's love," she replied.

For one horrified moment, he could only stare at her, unable to get his mind around that prospect that his little Sarah, his princess, could be… in love?

He groaned.  "God, I hope it's drugs."

He didn't think it would last, this pleasant mood, but he was wrong.  Month after month passed, and yet she remained… happy.  Contented.  In a way that she hadn't been since those days of their original little family, before Karen and Toby, when she'd had both her father and her mother by her side.

But if his wife was right, and it was love indeed, he had yet to meet this boy who'd captured his daughter's heart.  She never brought him home, never even went on dates.  And he couldn't understand how she could be sneaking around behind their backs when she spent her nights and weekends at home.  The only time she left the house was when she went to school, to the park afterward, or occasionally to the library.  She might have been lying, but he'd followed her a few times—out of paternal concern, so he felt it justified—and had guiltily realized she spoke only the truth.

Alone, she was always alone, and yet happily so.  He just didn't understand it.

One night, on his way back from getting a glass of milk to settle his troubled stomach, he happened by her room and noticed the light from beneath the door.  He found himself knocking on the wooden surface, perhaps seeking company in his restlessness.

"Just a minute!" came the uneven reply and he frowned at the frantic sounds coming from within the room.  Hurried, panicked movements.

Then the door flung open, and there she was, standing in her pajamas, cheeks slightly flushed, a little out of breath.

"Hi daddy," she smiled, but the expression was somewhat strained, more for appearances than genuine pleasure.

"You okay?" he asked worriedly.  He couldn't help but let his eyes drift beyond her shoulder, taking in the rumpled sheets, but the otherwise normal room.

"Sure, why wouldn't I be?" she replied airily.  "I was just… cleaning up."

He nodded, feeling a little foolish for his suspicion.  This was his Sarah.  It was the middle of the night and she was in her bedroom, where she should be.  Maybe she was flustered, but she didn't look high.

"Okay.  Good night."

"'Night daddy."  The door closed again and he walked away, reassured.

He settled into acceptance and four months had passed with the "new" Sarah.  Maybe this was normal.  She was sixteen, and teenagers went through phases.  Maybe she had just reached that point of maturity where she was finally seeing the world through adult eyes.

And it wasn't as if she were the perfect vision of agreeableness.  They still argued on occasion, although nothing serious, just those regular parent-child disagreements.  She wasn't always happy to oblige when asked to look after Toby, and sometimes her grades could be less than what he knew her capable of.  She seemed… normal.

Then one night, after Toby had been put to bed and Sarah was off in her room, as usual, the illusion was shattered.  Permanently, irreparably so.  It was his wife, actually, who shattered it for him.

"John," she began hesitantly, as they sat in the den, the room quiet without the noise of the television, which she had turned off a few minutes earlier.  "There's something I think you should know."

Apprehensive from the tone of her voice, he lowered his newspaper slowly, carefully, folding it and placing it off to the side before he answered.  "What's wrong?"

She sighed.  Concern colored her features and the way she nibbled at her lower lip indicated that she was thinking on just how to word whatever she was about to say.

"Karen?" he insisted, worry increasing with her reluctance.

"I was…" She paused and sighed again.  "I was doing some dusting earlier today, and when I was in Sarah's room, I found…" She opened her hand before her, showing him what she held.  "I found these."

He stared quietly for a moment, gathering his thoughts to temper his reaction.  He had to take this calmly, because if he acted out of anger, chances were, he would just make things worse.

"So it is drugs," he said finally.

There was an awkward pause.  "No John," she replied, and if possible, she looked even more uncomfortable than she had before.  "They're… they're birth control pills."

Normally, he wasn't a violent man, but at that instant, his found his vision clouded by a haze of red.  Rage was all he knew as he moved without thought.  Up, out of his seat, climbing the stairs to his daughter's room.

"John!" Karen called after him, genuine fear apparent in her voice.  "John, please!"  He ignored her.

His hand was on the doorknob, turning it, but he found it locked and that only served to fuel his anger.  He slammed up against the door, putting all his weight behind his shoulder.  It was sturdy, but not sturdy enough, and after the third try there was a loud crack and it burst open.

His breathing loud in his own ears, blood pounding in his head, he found himself staring back at his daughter.  Sitting upright on her bed, sheets clutched around her obviously naked form, she wore an expression of utter shock and horror.

His little girl.

"Where is he?" he fairly roared, glancing about the room.  Window firmly closed, bed empty but for her, no one present but the three of them.  Whoever had been there—for clearly he was there no longer—seemed to have simply disappeared into thin air.

"Who is he?"

Behind him, he was vaguely aware of Karen's presence as she came upon the scene and let out an audible gasp.  Neither father nor daughter paid her any heed.

Eyes that were wide with terror suddenly narrowed in determination.  Jaw set firmly, she raised herself to her knees and glared back at him.  The look on her face, he could only describe as regal, as she opened her mouth and proudly declared, "Daddy, I'm in love with the Goblin King!"