Not Just Skating Through
Toby Williams was the smallest seven year old in upstate New York. Jareth, King of the Goblins, still had no trouble locating the boy because he was also the blondest. Even in a lobby area full of juveniles and chaos, the two met up quite easily just beyond the ticket counter at the roller rink.
"Hi, Jay!" Toby exclaimed, and launched himself at Jareth's leg, clinging when he got a good hold. Jareth smiled and put a gloved hand on the child's head. (He would concede to blue jeans in the mortal realms, and fully closed shirts, his youthful face, an elfin haircut, and only the most tame of his leather coats. The gloves, however, were Not Negotiable.)
A small brunette woman with a haircut not dissimilar to Toby's came over, smiling that smile worn by tutors and governesses of young children all over the world and throughout the ages. The hordes of rambunctious juveniles, not unlike his own goblins, parted ways for the woman as she approached. "Hello," she said, holding out a hand, "I'm Ms. Davis. I'm assuming from the similarity that you're a relative of Toby's?"
Jareth looked down into the similar eyes and Toby grinned up at him. "Jay's my bother-in-law," Toby explained in a piping, happy voice.
"Brother," Jareth corrected the pronunciation delicately.
"That, too," Toby agreed with a goblin gleam in his brilliantly blue eyes.
Jareth chuckled, then noticed that Ms. Davis seemed to be peering at him in complete surprise. "I'd assumed Mr. Williams' instructions had reached the school..." Jareth began warily.
Ms. Davis blinked. "Oh, no," she said with a strange titter. "No, it's not that at all. It's just, I went to school with Sarah. I wasn't aware she'd gotten married."
Jareth shook his head. "Neither was I," he admitted. "Toby was..."
"I thought he said you're..."
"My gran says Jay and Sarah is living in sin."
"Are living," Jareth corrected automatically. "Two people are, Toby. One is. Wait..."
Toby smirked at him, then scampered off. "It'll be the Bog for you, you imp!" Jareth called after the boy. He started to laugh as soon as he was sure the child was out of hearing.
Ms. Davis was peering at him with a curious, strange expression. "So you're where Toby gets his vocabulary?" she ventured.
"I am where he gets his grammar," Jareth amended. "Sarah supplies his vocabulary, sometimes in spite of herself." When the woman continued to stare, Jareth finally flicked an artful eyebrow at her. (If she kept gawking, she was going to get an eyeful of annoyed faery. Hopefully this would put her off, as Sarah tended to frown at him when he made people pass out in public.) "Weren't you one of Toby's instructors when he succumbed to appendicitis?"
"Yes," Ms. Davis said delicately. "As I recall, we had a hard time reaching the family."
"Indeed," Jareth answered coldly. "By the time I arrived, at the child's own summons, he was in considerable pain, in addition to his distress. I had to fetch his sister out of her examinations before anyone would allow me to remove him to a proper medical facility."
Pale and shamefaced, Ms. Davis stammered something about procedures and policies and parental consent, and legal action in this day and age and... Jareth cut her off with a regal, dismissive wave of the hand. "All in the past now, of course," he said. "Mr. Williams informs me that I'm now legally able to care for Toby whenever or where ever he should need me."
"Um... yes," squeaked Ms. Davis, and then she staggered off to annoy some other adults standing near the door way. Jareth smiled a bland but pleasant smile at no one in particular, and imagined bogging every administrator in Toby's school just to pass the time.
Joining the growing cluster of harried and parental looking men, standing like juveniles he introduced himself as Jay King. Toby had called him "Jay" all the time until just last winter, and the child's parents had always assumed that was correct, and then they'd overheard Sarah calling him "Goblin King". Somehow, they'd gotten the idea that the "Goblin" part was a nickname. Toby's parents' gift for self-deception was nearly blinding.
While they waited for the teachers to collect the children and hand out tickets, Jareth found himself in the middle of the standard, "and what do you do?" discussion that seemed to plague mortal males wherever they congregated. (He supposed it might plague faerie kind as well, but everyone knew what Jareth did and never had to ask. He made a point of knowing the occupation and station of everyone he met before the introductions, so it simply didn't happen Underground. There were days he really wanted a protocol liaison for Sarah's world.)
He was mercifully spared having to actually participate by the sudden rush of the children into the "roller rink".
"They don't quite fit you so well as I'd like," Jareth said. Other men could fiddle with laces and socks and all the features of these annoying, vilely colored devices. Jareth magicked them onto Toby's feet when no one was looking. "And these strings are easily long enough to wrap your ankle in them. No matter." A quick, well hidden flash resized the skates ever so slightly. "Much better," Jareth approved.
"But they're not mine," Toby pointed out.
"I'll restore them when you take them off," Jareth explained. "For now, they will fit you without causing blisters or turned ankles."
"Aren't you going to skate with me?" Toby asked.
"In time, perhaps." When the aches from learning had subsided a little, maybe. "Surely you want time with your school mates?"
Toby looked at all the kids who were bigger than him, then at Jareth with a reluctant half-smile. "I guess so," he said dubiously.
"Come now, Toby. You are a prince, not a peasant. It hardly behooves your highness to behave as if these others were somehow your betters. Do not seek dominion over them: they are not your subjects. But certainly, they can be your friends."
"I'm the smallest kid in the whole school," Toby pouted, though admittedly accurately. "Smaller even than the kindergarteners."
"You'll grow," Jareth promised. "Besides, your stature is no excuse. Think of Master Ludo and Sir Didymus. They are great friends, are they not?"
Toby suddenly straightened and squared his shoulders. "Sir Didymus wouldn't be afraid, would he?" Toby asked.
"No, I'm rather certain he's incapable of such a thing," Jareth said blandly.
"And you're never afraid," Toby added.
"On the contrary, I am frequently afflicted with such difficulties. I am in love with your sister, after all, and I assure you love is more frightening than anything. Nevertheless, we learn nothing if we do not face our fears. We gain nothing if we do not meet our challenges head on. Your sister has surely taught you that, even if the rest of us have failed."
"All right then," Toby said, squaring his shoulders, "I'll give it a try."
"Good lad," Jareth congratulated. "Do try to remember that the floor is slicker than the carpet."
It was perhaps an hour until lunchtime when Jareth finally gave up and got on skates to try his hand or, in this case, his feet. The majority of the persuasion came in the form of the mother of two: one large, sulky boy, and one girl in Toby's year. The woman had the same color hair as Ludo, the giant rock-caller. She was, in Jareth's mind, very nearly as furry, and was certainly as large and as loud.
She seemed to be of the opinion that Jareth was rabble, and irresponsible rabble at that. He'd admit (if forced) that he'd spoken rather sternly with her brat because the child had deliberately knocked down another of the children, and then skated off, laughing. He'd even admit that he had offered to help her daughter get started, if the unfortunate, sad-eyed little creature wanted to put up the Gameboy and give it a try. He failed to see how any of this made him irresponsible, never mind whatever she'd implied with that expression like he was dirt under her feet. However, Jareth would be proud to show her rabble, and penciled his goblins in for her dreams this night. But for now he was stuck, impersonating a mortal, and biting his tongue.
Sarah wasn't there to defend his honor (though there was a certain Eastern Queen whose ears probably still rang under the force of Sarah's chill, precise, and sword-sharp words). Toby was learning to like what he called skating (this mostly involved pushing himself along slowly with one foot, a technique quite popular with the children in Toby's year). Jareth decided roller skates were his only chance of being saved from the woman, since he couldn't, logistically speaking, chuck goblins at her. He doubted they had skates that would fit her.
He was unwilling, however, to stoop to the orange and brown monstrosities available to the general public. Jareth was almost certain that wearing orange for any length of time might kill bits of his soul. So he made his own skates, modeled on the pairs on display at the skate shop next to the skate rental, and on his favorite pair of knee-high, black leather, goblin-kicking boots.
He slipped in to the rather disturbingly immodest public facilities to change a few things with minimum witnesses, then straightened the fine leather laces on his new least-favorite pair of shoes. The slightly widened leg of his jeans allowed for better freedom of motion. He smiled slightly as he considered the wheels, clear like crystal and full of glitter.
He was the flamboyant performer King of the Goblins. Glitter went with everything.
"It's time to do the Hokey Pokey!" the chatty gent with the microphone commented from the glassed-in booth above the heads of the children.
Jareth had seen the chap outside his box a little earlier and found himself forced to admit that his goblins were quite correct. The fellow was quite the most hirsute mortal the King had ever seen, including the woman who was still eyeing him vindictively from the sidelines. He was also wearing a sleeveless, collarless t-shirt that did nothing to hide this, with a loudly patterned orange and purple shirt thrown over it in a sloppy sort of cheeriness.
Most of the men had eyed him with contempt, but there'd been more than the expected amount of envy in their eyes as well. The man apparently owned and operated the roller rink, several movie theaters, and a small "head shop" (whatever that was) out on Main Street. He was, in short, a businessman of the recreational sector, and those of the more suit-wearing enterprises envied him greatly.
Jareth was inclined to include himself on that list. Even dragged from his bed in the middle of the night (which happened quite frequently between the Goblins and the Wishers), he had to look regal, stern, and forbidding. Of course, if he turned up in some adolescent brat's bedroom with a purple nightshirt and a matching elf hat, he imagined he could get a great deal of amazement still, though not any of the sort he wanted.
At the moment, though, his concern was with the two older youths in logo shirts who skated out onto the course bearing a box of some sort. And, of course, with the announcement the man had just made, regarding poking. The Goblins were ample proof that children allowed to poke one another would shortly degenerate into fighting with one another.
The female of the pair bubbled and fawned up to Jareth, reminding him much to his dismay that very few females in either world considered him anything but a free agent. His subjects knew who their queen was, and Toby knew to whom Jareth belonged, but no Faery princess or, apparently, mortal equivalent could be easily persuaded that his heart did not wander. "You're the only chaperone out here," the skate girl enthused effusively. "You can help us."
He wasn't the only chaperone, actually. The middle-aged harridan who screeched and fussed and theoretically taught the year above Toby's had turned out to be shockingly spritely on skates and was currently doing backward figure eights around the children as she helped herd them toward the large oval drawn in the center of the rink. All the same, she seemed quite busy, so Jareth nodded easily enough while the young man of the pair sulked at him.
Never having known anyone except Sarah worth sulking over, Jareth found this behavior nearly as ridiculous as the girl's. They were too young to understand any affection they might have for each other, this pair, the shallow perceptions of youth holding them back. The boy dreamed of the girl often, but it tended to end in nightmares. The girl had dreamed of the boy once - and enjoyed the dream so much it terrified her.
Taking at look at the resentful young man who skated along reluctantly beside them, Jareth leaned over to whisper advice. "Smile," he ordered. "Show some enthusiasm. Your friend obviously enjoys her job."
The girl had skated on ahead and was laying the box down. Jareth followed the boy as they attempted to straighten out the kids along the line. "I have it on authority that 'being good with kids at them' makes even the most cynical of women more susceptible to our charms," Jareth explained, smiling down at Toby's brave little face. "Good lad," he added, patting Toby on the shoulder.
"If I fall down..." Toby threatened.
Jareth shook his head. "If you fall, you will pick yourself up like everyone else, Prince. Now, do try your best."
The girl in the center of the ring was already burbling out enthusiastic as Jareth and her friend skated up to them. "I admit I'm not sanguine about this at all," Jareth confided quietly to the boy. "Children poking one another..."
The boy stared at him. "Where've you been, dude? Living underground?"
"Certainly," Jareth agreed, amused. "Why?"
Wide-eyed and baffled, the boy decided to ignore the statement and just explain his instead. "It's a dance. It was probably invented by cavemen."
"Ah," Jareth nodded. "That's different." He looked at the bubbly ginger who was smiling at him expectantly. "I beg your pardon?" he said.
"Just tell these kids who you are," she encouraged cheerfully.
"I see." He waved away her amplification stick. "I'm Jay King," he announced, well able to make his voice carry to all and sundry in the entire large room.
"Great," said the girl. "Jay, Mike, and I will be here watching you and helping out. Mike and I are going to pick the winners at the end and Jay will be in charge of the prizes!"
The "prizes" appeared to be several certificates for free snacks or visits, and one exceptional prize of a family pass for the summer ahead. Jareth rather hoped Toby didn't win it, because he couldn't bear to see the disappointment in the boy's face when his parents couldn't come with him.
Jareth and Sarah did everything they could to make up for the Williams' home situation, but not everything could be fixed by going away with the faeries. Not even for the young Prince of the Goblins.
What the "Hokey Pokey" turned out to be was a ridiculously childish song involving gestures. Jareth would have been fine laughing uproariously at the children as they attempted certain maneuvers on such things as one skate, but he was, apparently, expected to demonstrate.
Right arm and left arm were no problem. Neither was picking up the little ones who fell as they did the whole "turn yourself around" thing, which involved skating to the other line to play on. However, standing on one skate would have left even the Goblin King in quite a bit of trouble. To his very great fortune, several of the children took this opportunity to fall over and, while Jareth helped them right themselves, he missed the whole standing on one skate thing.
His favorite part turned out to be the shouting. Jareth was a big fan of noise, couldn't help it if he was going to be a Goblin King. The goblins, when quiet, were often up to something, and Jareth had long since learned that the same thing applied to small children. The children were all encouraged to shout as loud as they could at the whole, "That's what it's all about" part.
Jareth helped several of the smaller children off the floor after they tumbled. Toby, however, made him button-bursting proud when he fell three times and determined to get up again anyway. He was the littlest person there, but he shouted the loudest, absolutely no contest. His enthusiasm was adorable and brilliant and Jareth found himself wishing for one of those picture flashing things so that Sarah could see this herself later.
When the game was over, Jareth was delighted to twirl and swirl around through the children, handing out certificates for the most spectacular fall, the best singer, the best skater, the fastest skater, and the overall winner.
Much to Jareth's distress, the winner was indeed Toby. He was thrilled and proud but also very sad, because of what was coming.
However, he needn't have worried. With a fierce little frown and a stern little stare, Toby skated up to a small girl that Jareth hadn't noticed Toby talking to or even looking at. His eyes widened as the boy handed the certificate over to the girl, without ceremony or even pausing to see what she thought. Then, he took his place back in the group as if nothing had ever happened.
Jareth felt a lot bigger than a King at that moment. The girl and the boy who worked for the rink were talking behind him, but he was too filled with pride and delight to even notice for a moment.
"That's all the prizes, everyone," the girl announced. "Make sure you all say thanks to Jay for being such a great help!" She grinned at the King and he grinned back, then grinned at her male friend for good measure.
"I enjoyed this," he said, as he noticed several of the children bouncing around Toby.
"Bob's not gonna like that, Mike," the girl murmured dubiously. "That's the Ellises, and there's like ten of them!"
"It's still a good thing," the boy said. "Bob won't mind, Anne, he never does. Besides, the Ellises couldn't come at all if they didn't have a pass, and this way, they might come and rent skates and stuff."
Jareth looked at the boy with a new respect. "You're a wise one, aren't you?" he mused. "I'll talk to Bob," he added, and skated off to check on his tiny charge.
Toby gave him a concerned look when Jareth skidded up to him. Laughing, the King of the Goblins snatched the boy into his arms and twirled him around. "You were splendid, my boy, positively splendid," he enthused.
"I did ok, really?" Toby asked.
"Ask your friends," Jareth said, looking down at the beaming children in Toby's grade with him. They'd been strangers until now, but the boy had won the contest, so they all wanted to know him. Still, they were all too young for politics, so Jareth didn't bother to explain.
It happened too suddenly for Jareth to ever explain it, even to himself. The kids were bouncing around his feet, as excited as a gang of Fieries on butane, and he was laughing and encouraging them, letting them twirl and twist around his feet. Then, one of them fell, and it started a domino effect. Jareth's only thought was, "I'll hurt one of them." Then, he was flat on his back, on the floor, with a startled looking Toby sitting on his stomach and a huddle of fallen children sprawled all around.
It was thoroughly ignominious, completely without even one shred of his immortal dignity. He knew without even trying that he looked completely ridiculous and the only consolations he had were that he'd managed to twist himself to protect Toby, and that Sarah hadn't seen it.
Then again, he'd know that laugh anywhere. His only consolation was that Toby wasn't hurt, apparently. "Is anyone injured?" he asked the ceiling. Several of the children began to cry.
Jareth was on his knees in an instant, Toby held tight at his side with one arm, and inspecting other children for injuries with the free one. Sarah was standing there in a second instant, and took Toby from him while she helped him right the others.
There wasn't a single injured child, just several shocked ones and more than one sympathetic cryer. As the teachers gathered round to help get the kids off the floor and to their seats, Jareth managed to ignore his chagrin. He simply knelt there and picked up kids and looked for boo-boos and teased and smiled and straightened mussed hair.
Then, Sarah smiled at him over Toby's golden head, and it was all worth it, every bit of it. Even the bruises to his backside and his dignity seemed mended by her unexpected generosity.