August 2012 update: Sorry, just catching a couple of typos. Nothing new to see here. But if you want me to continue this story, please give me feedback!
DISCLAIMER: If it's from the Labyrinth, I don't own it. That's all (c) Henson, Lucas, Froud, etc. OCs are mine. I tend to use the same friend names repeatedly, but this story isn't linked to any other.
A/N: I owe a HUGE thanks to KnifeEdge for writing "Immortal Love," especially Chapter 1, which was part of the inspiration for this. This is intended as a one-off. Yes, I know I left myself the openings to continue and fill in, but have no immediate plans to do so. Please review, provide feedback, etc!
Haircuts & Birthdays
For my 16th birthday, my stepmother, Karen, arranged for me to have a spa day with my best friends. I was excited. No, I was thrilled. This meant that, for once, she was thinking enough about somebody other than herself to consider what I'd like best. Yes, that sounds selfish, but let me give some context.
For my 12th birthday, she gave me a book, something about "The Ultimate Guide to Being the Best Baby-Sitter in the Universe" or some such nonsense.
For my 13th birthday, she gave me (and my friends) a course at the local community center: "First Aid at Home – Ideal for Parents, Siblings, and Baby-sitters".
For my 14th birthday, another book "How to cope with a new sibling: learning to play and teach". Oh, and that was how she told me that she and Dad were expecting. I learned afterward that Dad had wanted to tell me himself, one-on-one, but that Karen got in there first. Shocker.
For my 15th birthday, another course at the community center. "Transitioning from child to adult: putting away, giving away, and throwing away those dearly-loved but out-grown toys."
Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating on all the names and titles, but that's the gist of it.
Anyway, so Karen arranged for a spa day for me with Tricia, Portland, Deirdre, and Martine. This was going to include a day of massage, mani/pedi, make-over, and hair-style. Mine was to include a haircut, if I wanted one.
Um, yeah, I definitely wanted one. I had had the long, dark brown hair ever since I could remember. And I liked it, and it made me look even more like my Mom, but it was starting to be a hassle. For example, keeping it out of the way for gym class was nearly impossible. I had to get it into a ponytail, then braid it, just to keep it from making me blind while running!
So I spent a couple of weeks discussing hairstyles with the girls, combing through magazines of our favorite stars, weighing the options. We didn't come to a full agreement, but we narrowed it down to three. Considering how different our opinions are sometimes, that was quite an accomplishment.
Anyway, so we brought the pictures with the spa day. First off, . . It was AMAZING! We all felt so pampered. Not like princesses, because there always seemed to be a nasty catch whenever the princesses get treated well. More like millionaires' daughters or something. None of our parents are poor, but this spa day was probably going to be the only major indulgence for any of us, until we finished university.
I had given the pictures to the aides when we checked it, so that they wouldn't get lost or anything. Before the makeovers, it was time for my new hairstyle. We descended on the stylist en masse. Fortunately, she was professional AND used to large groups of high-energy clients. Or she had been warned, and had prepped for us.
Anyway, she studied my face shape, bone structure, whatever, and guided me through my best style options. She did comment about how lovely my hair was as-is, but didn't press that point. Anyway, we decided on something that just brushed the shoulders, with some shape, a little longer in back, undercut, etc, etc. Trying to describe a haircut just doesn't work well. Suffice it to say that we were all glad that I had listened to the stylist's advice: With all due modesty, I looked really good. As though I were actually 16 years old, not a little girl pretending.
Then came the makeovers, which were just fun.
At the end of the day, we agreed that we'd all start saving up, so that we could do this again, maybe for Senior Prom or something.
We made one mistake: no pictures. That's okay, we all thought. There's no way we'll be able to forget how fabulous we all look. Both Martine and Portland's parents took pictures of them once they were home, and we all figured that my haircut would be good for a few days. Granted, I might not be able to style it exactly, but the idea would be there.
Karen was all excited when I got home, and even made a big deal of it to Toby, AND to Dad! All about how pretty, grown-up, and sophisticated I looked. At that point, I began to wonder if this surprisingly generous gift from Karen wasn't a little more self-serving than I had thought. She probably thought that it reflected poorly on her that I had kept my same "look" for so long.
Or she hoped that it would help my social / dating life. (Ugh. Different story.)
I hated to wash my face that night, or brush out my hair, but I did, and I slept well. If I had any dreams, I didn't remember them. That didn't surprise me; I had had my One Memorable Dream already that month. The ballroom dream again. That had been recurring ever since… ever since… yeah. Ever since. I suppose that it wasn't quite a recurring dream since it had been changing slightly. Anyway, it didn't come back early, and I slept well.
It wasn't until I was brushing out my hair before washing it that morning that I realized that something was Very Wrong. My hair was long again. Not just as though I hadn't had it cut just the day before, but even an inch or two longer. It was behaving as though it had just been trimmed; the ends were lying nice and smoothly down, and it wasn't tangling.
Okay, maybe this is just a dream. I'll go wash my hair, and the imaginary water will wake me up.
Yeah, except it didn't. My hair had grown back all of its inches, with interest, overnight.
I was not looking forward to explaining it to Karen. Well, not to anybody, but Karen was bound to take personal offense, and then blame me for it.
Except she didn't. And when I saw my friends at school on Monday, they didn't think anything was strange either.
I began to think that I had dreamt that one part of the experience: the magazine pictures, the consultation with the stylist, the rave reviews from Karen. I couldn't even find the magazine pictures. I was sure that I had decided to keep them, since we hadn't taken pictures of me with my new haircut, but no, they were nowhere to be found.
Martine and Portland did have their pictures to show off around school later in the week, and we all agreed that it was too bad we didn't get a group shot, to commemorate all of us looking soooo glamourous.
Eventually, I stopped stewing over what had happened to my hair. Strangely enough, it started behaving better for gym, and whenever I had to put it up or pull it back. Now a quick braid or ponytail would suffice, despite my hair being longer. And it grew a little faster, too. By the end of the school year a few months later, it was nearly to my waist.
For my 17th birthday, my friends and I went out on a group date. It was simpler than going out as couples because of where we went. It was actually celebrating EVERYONE's birthday. We went out, the five of us girls with five of the better guys from our class. Tricia actually had a boyfriend in the group, and Deirdre was kinda, sorta not-quite seeing another, but the rest of us were single. We went to a truly fancy restaurant. I lost count of how many forks and spoons we went through.
But let me back up, and provide context. Again.
By this time, my hair had reached a little past my waist, and I was becoming known for it. Not quite enough to be nick-named "Rapunzel" or whatever the miller's daughter who bargained with Rumpelstiltskin was called. But still. I kept my hair braided while I was in school because it made life easier. Except while in theatre. Then I did my hair however the part called for it.
I tried to get a haircut over Christmas. It was strange: every time I'd go to a salon, they'd either suddenly be closed, or super busy, or one time they were closing because the Mousetrap Festival was coming into town. Yeah, I'd never heard that our town had a Mousetrap Festival, and neither had my friends. They thought I was making another of my random jokes.
Finally, I asked Martine to ask her cousin to cut my hair. She knew that I was tired of it being so long, but didn't ask why I couldn't just go to the salon. She figured it was something with Karen, and I let her think that. Martine's cousin did a wonderful job. My hair was about three inches past my shoulders, and I felt so much lighter; it was wonderful! I helped sweep up, and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon.
That night, I brushed out my hair and slept well.
I was brushing out my hair the next morning when it hit me. My hair was almost as long as it had been before.
Oh, no. Not again!
I tried not to panic. Who'd ever heard of super-fast growing hair that nobody even remembered? So I continued about my normal routine, even talking with Martine about her cousin's schedule, and her apologizing that her cousin was so busy she'd probably not be able to fit me in for a while. I told her "thanks, but don't worry about it," and that I had changed my mind.
For my 18th birthday, we went antiquing. This doesn't sound like much fun, but Deirdre had gotten a new-to-her car, and we were allowed to go with her to the big Antique Show a couple of towns over. Granted that none of us was really into antiques, it was a "normal" adventure, and Karen was surprisingly enthusiastic about it. She kept hoping that I'd display sophistication in at least one area, and tried to encourage me in activities which hinted at it.
We enjoyed ourselves, wandering around. Each of us brought a little money to spend, although we were still saving for the Prom Spa Day fund. Incidentally, we had already saved enough to do the full spa treatment for everyone PLUS enough for something else, we just hadn't decided what.
I was wandering with Portland when I thought I saw HIM. I stopped walking for a half a second as he caught my eye. I swallowed and tried to keep walking, but Portland had stopped right in front of me. I tried to look away, but couldn't. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the crowd broke eye contact, and I glanced down at the display, which had had Portland's attention the whole time. She was looking at a miniature portrait of somebody. Somebody with an enigmatic smile. And fluffy blond hair. And something not quite matching about the eyes. She saw that I saw it, too, and asked me what I thought about it.
"Looks unusual. I wonder what happened to his eyes," was all I managed. Fortunately, that was enough for her, and she set it down, to continue browsing. My hand began reaching toward it, until I quite firmly prevented it. Besides, I saw an unusual paperweight.
It was clear, and looked sort of like glass, but not like regular glass. As soon as I touched it, there he was, across the table from me. I didn't even have to look up to see him. I just knew.
I swallowed again, and tried to ignore him. Yeah, that was effective. About as useful as ignoring a stalking panther.
He picked up the sphere, and I should have KNOWN that it wasn't really a paperweight. Really, what truly spherical, glass object can be a paperweight? It would have needed at least one flat area so that it wouldn't roll away, right?
Anyway, it was more as though the sphere stopped being on the table and was suddenly in his hand. My gaze followed it, and was caught in his.
"Didn't you like my picture, Sarah?" His voice was even more… something than I had remembered, even despite the regular dreams.
And I couldn't string together a coherent phrase in response. Just "you… that… why… here… when…" etc.
He gave that half-smile of his, the mix of a grin and a smirk, that said, "Oh, you just gave me the cue I've been waiting for, and I'm glad you're here, and that you can see me, and I might notice that you've been growing up." Yeah. That loaded smile. He had so very many.
"To answer the questions that you haven't quite asked: Yes, I am here. Yes, that is my portrait. Yes, this is one of my crystals, but when it was on the table, it was only a faulty glass paperweight. Yes, I've been here all day, waiting. Did I miss any, precious?"
Our conversation should have attracted the attention of those around us. It was certainly a strange and very personal conversation to have across a table at the Antique Show. Somehow, that didn't matter. The crowd was still there, milling about and examining trinkets. I could spot two of my friends easily enough. But there I was, having an oddly intimate chat with the Goblin King. Well, if you can call sputtering on one side and arrogant reply on the other a chat.
I forced a real question: "Why are you here, at the Antique Show?"
The smile changed a little, to something that I couldn't quite identify. "To see you, of course." I could have sworn that he said more after that, and he probably did, but with his eyes and smile only.
Unsure about the source of this next question, I lobbed it at him anyway. "And my haircuts? You've been sabotaging them, I presume."
"Pfft. That's certainly the wrong word to use. However, if you mean to inquire if I interfered to restore your hair, then yes, I admit it gladly."
I tried to glare at him, truly I did. It's disconcerting to shoot someone a LOOK when he's been doing that mind-bending contact juggling for the last 10 minutes, especially when nobody else seems to notice.
I suddenly tensed, and he stopped the crystal. "All these other people, can they see you, too? Or does it look as though I'm having quite the conversation with myself or the table or something?"
He resumed the sphere's motion, and regained his I-can-reorder-time smirk. "Oh, Sarah, people see what they expect to see. What they wish to see. And you've made it easier by not ever telling your friends about our adventures together. Nobody else would even think to watch."
This made me sputter again. "Togeth… adVEN… OUR?!"
A patient sigh. "Yes, precious. Adventures together. The first was probably somewhat traumatic for you, and something of a mess for me to clean up," he said, with a slight note of scolding in his voice. "Wouldn't you like to sit down somewhere, to have this conversation in greater comfort? No? Well, since then, I've enjoyed our monthly meetings to dance and talk and laugh. If memory serves, didn't we try bowling once, and going horseback riding two or three times? Let's see… what else…" And suddenly the sphere was gone as he counted off our previous encounters.
"But those were in my dreams. How can you count them? How can you KNOW about them?" My eyes widened, and I tried to take a surreptitious step back, but to no avail. My legs simply wouldn't move.
He laughed then. "Yes, they were during your dream-time, but trust me, Sarah, we were really together, and doing those activities. Although I did sometimes wonder about your appearance. Extremely tall or short, or with highly unusual hair. Didn't you ever wonder why you couldn't change my appearance, except for my clothing?"
At the mention of his clothing, I flushed completely. One dream was a day at the beach, and he was in swim trunks. No tight pants, which was a welcome change, but no shirt, and no gloves. His touch on my hand or shoulder that day was particularly memorable.
He laughed again, sharing my recollection.
I was tired of this reminiscing, and was ready for something definite. "So tell me, Goblin King, why are you here to see me? Isn't my home sufficient for you anymore?"
"Not since you haven't wished for me. Without your wish, a deliberate invitation, I could not make direct contact."
I spluttered, thinking of my hair, then latched onto one word. "Direct? Anything other than my hair, and the dreams?" The question was barely out of my mouth when I had an overwhelming flash of memories: those eyes on the other side of crowds, the melody from our dance or from the Escher room playing over improbable store sound systems, the way that my toys were still NEVER quite where I left them, and the way that there was usually an owl somewhere around me. My friends had made a game out of it at first, and then had forgotten about it.
He nodded, knowing or guessing what I had recalled.
"And you still haven't answered my first question: Why are you here to see me?"
"Because now you're no longer a child by your society's rules."
"And?! You don't interact with .adult. in my society."
He sighed, and some of the arrogance faded from his smile, leaving in it a mix of curiosity, humor, and hope. "Sarah, you made an… unusual… connection with the Goblin Kingdom and the Labyrinth during your quest. I need to figure out the full extent of that connection."
"Well, that sounds reasonable, but what, exactly, does that figuring out entail?"
And the arrogance was back. "Still want the rules spelled out, Sarah?"
I shot him my exasperated-at-Toby-for-deliberately-not-getting-it LOOK. "As I'm sure you're aware, I've stayed caught up with Hoggle, and Sir Didymus & Ambrosius, and Ludo. And as I'm even more certain that you're aware, several of YOUR goblins make regular visits. If you need all of that interaction to stop, I'm willing for the goblin visits to cease. However, I'd need time to explain it to my friends. Provided you explain it to me, first."
Somehow, during this conversation, and despite my declining to relocate our exchange, we were alone… somewhere. It felt like a large open space, but it wasn't empty. It didn't echo, either. I finally noticed it because he took one step closer, daring me with his expression to stay put. It had been a matter of principle for me not to back down from one of the Goblin King's challenges, so I stayed. Oops.
He caught my gaze again, and then took my hands in his. His black gloves were softer than even the most expensive leather I had ever felt.
"Sarah, the connection is deeper than that between you and my hapless and clumsy goblins, although they hold you in the highest esteem. It's much deeper than that between you and the rest of your erstwhile Band of Adventurers. Somehow, precious, somehow, you've never left the Labyrinth."
I startled, and tried to retrieve my hands, but he wouldn't release them. Strange, his hands were inexorably strong and firm, but I didn't feel trapped.
"No, Sarah, please. Please let me finish."
I goggled. The Goblin King had actually asked me something, using an unequivocal "please." So I nodded.
"I don't mean that you're actually there right now. You've obviously returned to your life and are making a success of it. I mean that you've become part of its identity, part of what makes the Goblin Kingdom what it is."
I wondered if this were a hallucination, brought on by hunger, thirst, and a driving need for oxygen.
"Sarah, you have become vital to me. Knowing who you are has given me surprising insight into my kingdom and my subjects." He swallowed, and the expression on his face was hope and… could it have been fear?
"Sarah, please allow me to call on you, to know you better. I'm certain that there's more for us to discover together."
I caught myself nodding, and then taking in a slow breath. "Yes, Goblin King, you may call on me."
Before I could add anything, he raised my hands, and kissed each of them.
I blinked. Twice, and there I was, still in front of that table, holding the crystal sphere and the miniature portrait.
Prom was anti-climactic for me. Yes, I did try to get a new haircut before it, when the five of us had our Girls' Spa Day again. Fortunately, the style I chose was one that I could do almost as easily with long hair, so all of our pictures turned out just fine.