[personal profile] psifi872
Sportacus flipped his way down the streets of LazyTown. The children were in school, so he had some free time on his hands. The empty streets were a bit lonely, with all the people going about their daily tasks. Still, it was a good time to get some practice in and LazyTown was becoming more and more beautiful, now that all the citizens were taking better care of her. There were flowers in window sills and everything was shiny and clean. Flipping through the shopping district, because even heroes like to window shop, Sportacus saw Robbie Rotten, sitting alone on a bench.



"Good morning, Robbie!" Sportacus called out, as he ran by.

Robbie didn't answer, but Sportacus was used to that. Robbie was usually too busy scheming or sleeping to respond to greetings. A few yards later, Sportacus realized that today, though, something had been different. Surely he hadn't really seen that? Flipping back again, Sportacus stopped a few feet away from Robbie and stared. He had seen that.

Robbie was cradling a tiny baby in a blanket in his arms, a warm smile looking out of place on his face. Sportacus watched, as Robbie leaned forward and blew a soft raspberry against the baby's cheek. The baby laughed, waving it's hands, happily. Robbie laughed, too, gently bouncing the tiny child.

"Robbie?" Sportacus said, moving a bit closer. "You have a baby?!"

Robbie looked up in surprise, then looked from Sportacus to the baby, back, and again, his nose twitching in confusion.

"In...my arms, yes?" Robbie agreed, hesitantly, before shaking his head decisively. "It's not my baby, Sportaloon! This is Tricky's little sister."

"Oh, yes!" Sportacus agreed, sitting next to Robbie on his bench. "Little Jenny!"

"Sure, whatever," Robbie agreed indifferently, before turning his attention back to the child. "Is that your name, little one? Huh? Just look at you. Janie, Jeannie, Jenny, you're too young to care, anyways. Look at that tiny little nose, wrinkling all up! Is that a smile? Are you practicing smiling? Yes, that's a good girl."

Sportacus sat stunned. Robbie with a baby was just strange. Sportacus had thought Robbie held all children in contempt, but evidently not. He watched the self-proclaimed town villain tickling the baby under her chin, drawing out squeaky little laughs and cooing playfully.

"I found that tickle spot!" Robbie crowed, softly, chuckling. "Are you trying to get me, waving those little hands around? Look at those fingers. They're so tiny! What can you grip with those?"

The baby managed to latch her hand around one of Robbie's fingers, as he waved them at her. Sportacus laughed.

"Well, she caught something!"

Robbie spared Sportacus a brief glance, shrugging.

"Okay, you got me...or you got my finger. Yay. What are you going to do? Slobber all over it? Go ahead, then," Robbie offered, as the baby did just that. "Yuck-o, kid. That can't taste good. I hope I got all the grease off."

"Um, Robbie? I do have to ask. Why do you have Trixie's little sister?"

"If you must know, Sportaflop, her mother is shopping and the shops are a bit too cold. The kid's apparently been fighting a cold. Those nasty little sniffles have been bothering the little lady, yes," Robbie crooned.

"And, she left her baby with you?" Sportacus asked, skeptically, with only a hint of apology for it.

"What? Are you jealous?" Robbie asked derisively, then rolled his eyes. "Fine. You can hold her."

Sportacus scooted an inch or two away, ending up on the far end of the bench.

"Ah, no! No, thank you, Robbie. If Mrs. Troubleby asked you to watch her, then that's fine."

Robbie's smile turned predatory.

"Why, Sportacus! Don't you like babies?"

"I think babies are wonderful!" Sportacus said, defensively.

"Well, come here, then. If you get your way, you'll be teaching her baseball someday!"

"Robbie, no. I-I need to be free, if my crystal goes off."

"Uh huh. Admit it! You're afraid of babies!" Robbie gloated.

Sportacus glared, then sighed in defeat, nodding.

"All right, yes. I am. They're so small and soft!"

"Okay. So?" Robbie asked impatiently. "You're fine with small children. She's not that much smaller than Candy Boy."

"Ziggy," Sportacus corrected sternly. "The thing is, though...Ziggy can talk. If I squeeze a bit too hard, he can tell me."

"Well, that's what you get for being a muscle-bound Sportajock. Seriously, though, if you're going to be a hero, then you better know how to help and handle babies. What are you going to do? Send someone else in, if one gets in trouble?"

Sportacus gave a sigh, shaking his head.

"You're right."

"Of course. Now, come on. Come here," Robbie coaxed, patting the bench right next to his own leg.

"What are you getting out of this?" Sportacus asked, obeying.

"Seeing you squirm. What else? Now, hold your arm in an el, close to your chest. I'll let you know, if you're doing anything wrong."

Sportacus rolled his eyes, both amused and annoyed.

"What if I..."

"It's not that hard, Sportadork! Just support her head and her butt and don't let go."

Sportacus placed his arm into position. He couldn't help tensing, when Robbie placed Jenny in the crook of his arm. Robbie smirked, shaking his head and adjusting Sportacus' arm and hand.

"There. See? Now just place your other hand over her or around her side."

"Robbie," Sportacus said, not sure he had the baby held securely, but afraid to tighten his grip.

"I'm right here. Come on, relax. I won't let you drop her. You can hold her a bit tighter than that! She's not an egg."

"She's fragile!"

"She's also resilient and flexible. Besides, there's this thing called crying. If you really do squeeze a bit too tight, she can protest."

"But, then she'll be hurt!" Sportacus protested, alarmed.

"No, she'll be mad and fussy, but she'll complain long before she's injured."

Robbie scooted closer, until his side was pressed up against Sportacus, leaning in to the child. Sportacus blushed, as the other man's warmth penetrated into his side. He hoped Robbie mistook the reaction for frustration or annoyance. It didn't help, when Robbie wiggled around, finding a comfortable position that let him see the baby, too.

"See? You're doing it. She's happy enough. Now, try actually smiling and talking to her."

"Uh, okay!" Sportacus agreed, a new determination in his voice. "Hello, Jenny! I'm Sportacus."

Robbie stared at him, incredulous, shaking his head.

"I hope you're not waiting for her to reply."

"I know she can't talk yet," Sportacus said, dryly. "I didn't say I didn't know anything about babies!"

"Okay! So, quit trying to have a one-sided conversation with her and just let her get used to the sound of your voice."

"Why do you know so much about babies?"

"My little brother is five years younger than me," Robbie said, flatly. "Now, talk to her, not me."

Sportacus thought that was a rather strange demand, from someone who had almost squirmed his way into Sportacus' lap. He didn't protest, though. As he turned his attention back to Jenny, she gave a long yawn. Sportacus grinned.

"Naps are very important for small children..."

"DON'T LECTURE HER, SPORTACLOWN!" Robbie objected, a growl entering his voice.

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry!" Sportacus said, laughing. "You said to let her get used to my voice."

"I didn't mean like that," Robbie groaned, letting his head fall. It almost landed on Sportacus' shoulder, but Robbie caught himself at the last minute and tilted his head to the back of the bench.

"I don't know what to say!"

"Tell her she's adorable. Hum a lullaby. Anything that doesn't require her to talk back and isn't part of your hero agenda."

"Lullaby? I can do that!"

Robbie rolled his eyes, but sat back up, when Sportacus began softly humming, then singing. He was surprised at how good the elf's voice was. He was less surprised at how gentle and kind Sportacus sounded. As the soft song filled the air, Robbie found himself yawning and, again, having to concentrate to keep from curling up on Sportacus. Once Jenny was asleep, Sportacus stopped and turned back to his sleepy nemesis.

"Why do you need so much sleep? A good night's sleep should leave you full of energy for the day!"

Robbie arched an eyebrow at him.

"How wonderful for those who get a good night's sleep," he retorted, then looked away shiftily.

Sportacus frowned at Robbie's inadvertent confession.

"Why don't you sleep at night?"

"I'm cursed," Robbie said with blunt sarcasm, earning another eye roll from Sportacus.

"So, how did you end up baby-sitting? It doesn't seem like something you would enjoy."

"I've baby-sat almost every kid in this town, at one time or another. Usually, I just end up watching them, when their moms are shopping."

"But, you don't like kids."

"No, I don't like noise," Robbie corrected. "I like kids a lot, when they're being good and quiet and not waking me up from naps."

"Babies can be pretty loud."

"Sure. Babies, though, usually, usually quit making a lot of noise, if you give them what they want or need. Keep them clean and dry, well-fed, and warm and voila! You have a happy, quiet child!"

"But, if they make noise, play, and have fun, then they're brats," Sportacus said, unable to hide his disapproval.

"Exactly!"

"And, you don't like me, because I encourage them to have fun and be healthy."

"I would argue that being healthy and having fun are exactly opposite things," Robbie said, amused.

"They aren't!"

"Nevertheless, I had the life I wanted, before you came."

Grimacing, Sportacus nodded, looking away from Robbie, at the shops across the street. Robbie studied him, then continued in a softer tone.

"You're kind of like the kids, in that way. I don't so much dislike you, just...the effect you have on my life. I want some peace and quiet and I'll never get that with you around."

"It's peaceful, sometimes."

"Sportacus. I went to the moon to get away from the noise," Robbie reminded him. "And it followed me."

"That...they didn't mean to," Sportacus said, sighing.

"That doesn't make it any less irritating."

Robbie gently shifted Jenny from Sportacus' arms to his own, cradling her close. The men were silent for a few moments. Sportacus began doing stretches, reaching down to touch his toes. Robbie watched him, head tilted.

"What does it matter?"

"Pardon?"

"Whether I like you or not...what does it matter?"

Sportacus froze for a brief second, before continuing his stretches.

"I want you to like me."

"Yes, but why?"

Sportacus looked up in surprise, a puzzled frown wrinkling his brow.

"I like you."

"Heroes aren't supposed to like villains."

Sportacus laughed, shaking his head.

"Villains aren't supposed to follow rules," he countered, grinning.

"Fair point," Robbie conceded, chuckling.

"I really do want to be your friend, Robbie."

"Yes, well. That's part of the problem."

"Sorry?"

"You have, more than once, offered to be my friend. You have, however, never asked me to be your friend."

"I don't understand what you mean. I want us to be friends!"

"No, no. Those things are not the same. Asking for my friendship or for us to be friends suggests mutual benefit. Offering your friendship implies you're doing me a favor or want to give me something I can't get myself."

"What?! Robbie, I didn't mean that at all!" Sportacus protested, horrified.

"No?"

"No! How does your mind even come up with such things?"

"I'm a genius."

Sportacus huffed in annoyance, staring at Robbie in wonder.

"That doesn't make it seem like a lot of fun!"

"Well. Everything has its downside. On the other hand, I come up with excellent schemes, am a brilliant inventor, and can disguise myself as practically anyone or anything."

"Yes, you can," Sportacus agreed, chuckling helplessly.

"No more talking, for now," Robbie ordered, staring down the street.

Sportacus followed his gaze and saw Mrs. Troubleby coming down the street, pushing a stroller, with some groceries tucked in the back. She stopped at the bench, staring down in surprise.

"Well, hello, Sportacus," she said.

"Hello, Mrs. Troubleby. Robbie was just introducing me to Jenny."

"Oh, that's nice of him," she said, ignoring Robbie's grimace. Mrs. Troubleby reached into a bag and pulled out a large, chocolate cake, with crushed Oreos over vanilla frosting from the local bakery. She set it down on the small bit of space between Robbie and the edge of the bench. "Here you are, Robbie. Thank you for watching Jenny for me."

"You're welcome," Robbie said, handing Jenny back over, with a bit of reluctance.

"Oh, there's my good girl," Mrs. Troubleby said, giving her a brief cuddle, before strapping her into the stroller. "Have a good day, you two."

"Uh huh," Robbie said, disinterested.

"Good-bye!" Sportacus replied at the same time, cheerfully.

Robbie gave a sigh of contentment, lifting the cake onto his lap and eyeing it greedily.

"Are you always paid in cake?"

"Or cookies or cupcakes. Surely, you agree it's polite to make some small gesture of thanks?"

"Of course. Can we talk again now?"

"I have cake. You have about ten seconds to come up with something good."

"Can we please be friends? To each other?"

"Hm. Are you going to expect me to eat sportscandy, stay awake all the time, and play sports?"

"No! I can't promise to never give advice, but you're an adult. You make your own decisions."

"Right! And, now, I decide I'm going to eat cake. We can be friends later, whatever that involves."

"Are you going to eat all of that?"

Robbie gently booped Sportacus' nose.

"You're just jealous that you can't have any."

"I'm really not," Sportacus assured him, dryly.

"Well, you should be!" Robbie insisted, then looked a bit sad. "A life with no cake. That's tragic. I might have to invent a cake that won't give you meltdowns."

"I certainly would appreciate that more than sugar apples."

"I've eaten those. They're delicious."

"I...didn't actually want to know that."

"Too late, now. And, your ten seconds is up," Robbie announced, standing up with his cake tucked under his arm. "See you later, Sporty."

"Bye, Robbie," Sportacus replied, smiling.

Leaping up, Sportacus threw himself into a series of joy-fueled flips. Robbie had agreed to be friends! A wonderful warmth filled his chest, bubbling up to his throat and becoming laughter. He paused, considering. If Robbie was going to make a special cake for him, maybe Sportacus could find a way to help Robbie nap, without making the kids lazy! Most importantly, now that they were friends, Sportacus could start trying to win Robbie's love.

This should be fun.



"Robbie! Hello!"

Robbie suppressed a flinch of surprise, turning around. Shaking his head in disbelief, Robbie watched Sportacus cartwheel towards him. Once the hero was upright and still enough to notice, Robbie rolled his eyes at him.

"What do you think you're doing?!" Robbie complained. "You're not supposed to do things like that here."

"Why not?" Sportacus argued, grinning. "The aisles are plenty wide enough and there was no one in my path."

"One Stop Shop is a store, not a gymnasium."

"Obeying rules again? You'll lose your villain cred," Sportacus teased.

"HA! It'll take more than that to knock me down from villain number ONE!" Robbie crowed, crossing his arms over his chest in pride. After a moment, he shoulders sank down and a puzzled frown took over his entire face. "What are you doing shopping in a store, anyways?"

"I don't just eat raw sportscandy. I need to buy things like bread, eggs, meat, milk..."

"Okay, okay, I don't need your entire shopping list, Sportadork!"

Sportacus laughed, shrugging, and said, "Okay, what are you buying?"

"Nothing that won't make you cringe," Robbie promised, smirking. "Where's your shopping basket?"

Sportacus removed the cloth shopping bag that hung diagonally across his shoulder and chest. He waved it at Robbie, sternly.

"This is much better for the environment, than plastic bags."

"You'd be surprised what you can do with a plastic bag."

"True, but I wouldn't be surprised by what you can do with one," Sportacus countered, with a fond grin.

"Very smooth," Robbie praised, dryly. "Well come on then."

"All right!" Sportacus agreed far more cheerfully than necessary, in Robbie's opinion. "Where to first?"

"Dairy, since we both need milk and eggs," Robbie said, pushing his shopping cart towards the cold section.

"I'm not cringing," Sportacus teased, grinning.

Robbie stopped and looked him dead in the eye, smiling maliciously.

"Only because you don't know what I'm going to do with them, Sporta-oblivious."

"Make a cake?" Sportacus asked, mischievously.

"Sure, good guess, Sporta-obvious, but there's cake and then there's cake," Robbie assured him. "I'm going to make a fudgy coffee chocolate cake with white chocolate buttercream filling and caramel toffee crunch frosting."

Sportacus looked at him with awed dismay.

"I hope that tastes wonderful, because that has no nutrition at all."

"Nonsense. There's plenty of calcium and those anti-oxidant thingies," Robbie offered, playfully. "Y'know. In all that yummy chocolate."

Sportacus started to nod, still staring, then shook his head.

"Y'know," he tried, "zucchini and carrots can add a very nice moisture to cakes, I've heard."

"Zuch? Zuchni?" Robbie said, trying to sound out the strange word.

"Zu-cchi-ni, Robbie!" Sportacus said, mildly scolding. "It's a type of squash!"

"It's squashed? Gross," Robbie said dismissively, watching in amusement, as Sportacus began juggling eggs.

"Sir, could you please not do that? I'm sure you're a good juggler, but if one drops, you'll create a huge mess that someone could slip in," a friendly voice asked.

Sportacus caught the eggs and turned to see a young man in a dark slacks and a bright, white shirt, his expression friendly, but firm. Smiling warmly, Sportacus nodded. A name badge on his chest said both manager and Larry.

"I'm sorry, Larry. I promise I won't make a mess or let anyone get hurt," Sportacus assured him.

Larry nodded, heading back to his work. Robbie laughed, clutching his sides.

"Right, continuing on," he told Sportacus. "Come on. Put your stuff in the cart."

Sportacus set his eggs down, grabbing a couple of gallons of the milk Robbie seemed to have forgotten. He got them in the cart, just before Robbie grabbed his wrist and began trying to drag him down the aisle, struggling to control the cart with his other hand. Sportacus gently pulled his wrist free.

"I'm coming," Sportacus said, laughing. "Just be careful with the cart."

"What are you talking about?! I'm always careful!" Robbie boasted, turning the cart sharply into the next aisle and nearly ramming it into a display, handing on the side of the shelves. Sportacus winced a bit, but chose not to argue. He sighed, though, at the aisle's contents. Chips and other salty snacks were prominently displayed.

"Oh, cheer up," Robbie told him, grabbing a large bag of cheese puffs. "This is a fun aisle."

"Those look like packing peanuts," Sportacus said, with a bit of disdain.

"WHAT?! They do no...okay, they do. So what? They taste great! These are white cheddar flavored," Robbie said, holding the bag out to give Sportacus a good look. "What could you possibly have against cheese and a bit of cornmeal, huh? And they're puffed, so I think they're baked and not fried. What more can you ask for?"

"Vitamins," Sportacus retorted, with a sigh, looking around for anything that might be remotely nutritious, his concern for the residents of Lazy Town increasing by the moment.

"Sounds fake. Gotta watch out for those additives," Robbie lamented mockingly.

"Funny, Robbie," Sportacus said dryly.

"Ooo, here's something for you!" Robbie announced, grabbing a white bag off a shelf. "Vegetopia!"

Sportacus walked closer to Robbie, peering down at the bag. A tomato, a carrot, a beet, and a green blob, spinach maybe, danced on the front. A bright purple scrawl announced Vegetopia above them. Sportacus laughed, holding his hand out.

"I don't think so!"

"Aw, give them a chance!" Robbie teased, turning the bag over. "Let's see now. These have potato flour, potato starch. Huh, stuff I like, not you. Ah, here's the yucky stuff: spinach powder, beetroot powder, tomato paste, dehydrated carrots...good news, Sporty! There's no sugar in here, at all!"

"That sounds terrible, Robbie!"

"We're buying them," Robbie decided, throwing them in the basket, while Sportacus looked on in disbelief.

"What? Why??"

"One of us is bound to like them. They'll either taste like potato chips, in which case I'll eat them. OR, they'll taste like your sportscandy and you can eat them."

"Robbie, sportscandy is not a powder!"

"Sportanerd...if they left the moisture in the chips, they wouldn't be crunchy and would have a short shelf life!"

"What if neither of us likes them?"

"Then, we'll give them to the kids."

Sportacus sighed, shaking his head, but not arguing further. He followed Robbie through the aisle, listening to him whistle "You are a Pirate." The baking aisle was next. He couldn't watch. Sportacus turned away, as Robbie began loading the cart with things to make his cake. He wasn't sure if Robbie didn't know how damaging those foods could be or if he just didn't care. Worrying wasn't going to help, so Sportacus distracted himself by walking up and down the aisle on his hands. He did a triple flip at each end of the aisle. He had just landed back on his hands, when he heard someone harshly clearing their throat. Sportacus flipped onto his feet, turning to see who it was.

Larry stood just outside the aisle, his hands on his hips and a stern expression on his face.

"Hello, again, Larry!" Sportacus said, giving a charming smile, but Henry sighed.

"Look, Mr. Sportacus, I know you're a great athlete, but you can not do that in here! You could fall. It's potentially dangerous, no matter how skilled you are. This just is not the place."

Sportacus frowned, shuffling his feet. He couldn't argue. Rules were in place for a reason and, as a hero, he knew that. He stared away for a moment, then nodded, smiling contritely.

"I am very sorry, Larry. You're right. I'll be more careful and follow all the rules!" Sportacus promised.

"Thank you," Larry said, relieved, before turning and walking away.

Sportacus turned back to Robbie, expecting to find the villain laughing. Instead, Robbie had his arms crossed over his chest and was scowling after Larry.

"Mehmeh memuh mehmuh meh," Robbie mutterd, mockingly. "Stuck up prig!"

"Robbie, he was doing his job," Sportacus corrected gently. "You said yourself I shouldn't do that here."

"You're listening to me again. I'm not sure if I should be flattered or frightened," Robbie said, with a dramatic sigh, his nose twitching in agitation. "You've been in Lazy Town for years now. You've never been in an accident that I didn't cause."

"I'm not perfect. I'm just as capable of making a mistake as anyone else," Sportacus insisted, ignoring Robbie's derisive bark of laughter. "Where to next? I still need bread and tea."

"Yeah, yeah, bread aisle, coming up," Robbie conceded, grumpily.

Sportacus followed, grinning. He picked out a loaf of multi-grain bread, watching as Robbie piled white bread, bagels, and snack cakes into the cart.

"'Obbie! 'Obbie!" a tiny voice piped, eagerly.

Sportacus turned to see a very small child, not even two, running clumsily towards Robbie, his hands out-stretched.

"Well, look who it is," Robbie drawled, crossing his arms over his chest, though his lips quirked in amusement. "Well, what do you want?"

"Candy!" the boy answered, pointing to Robbie and making grabbing motions, with his hands.

"Oh, all right. Come here," Robbie said, picking the boy up.

"Who is this?" Sportacus asked, confused. "I don't think I've seen him before."

"Why would you? He's an only child, too young, and his parents aren't accident prone."

"'Obbie! Caaandy," the boy whined.

"Yes, yes, here!" Robbie said, handing the boy some chewy caramels.

"Robbie! Shouldn't you ask his mother, if he can have that?"

"Certainly not. If I don't ask, she can't say no, which makes the answer YES."

"What's your name?" Sportacus asked the boy, choosing to ignore Robbie's villainous philosophy.

The boy didn't answer, resting his head on Robbie's shoulder.

"He's Danny. He's kind of hit a shy stage."

"Do you know every child in town?"

"By sight and name, at the least," Robbie agreed. "The adults, too."

"Ah, I see you found my grandchild," a cold voice interrupted.

"EEp!" Robbie gulped, starting violently, holding Danny away from the approaching male. "Who is THAT?!"

A tall man with a comb-over strode up to them, frowning, followed swiftly by a woman in her twenties.

"It's all right!" she said, hurriedly. "Robbie, this is my father-in-law. He's visiting from Learnsville."

"Just visiting?" Robbie asked with disdain.

"For a few days!" she agreed.

"I'm feeling a bit lost," Sportacus said with a small laugh.

"This is Nancy Candid, Danny's mother," Robbie introduced. "And that...is a stranger."

Thomas gave Robbie a scathing look.

"Between the candy and being held so much, the boy's going to be spoiled."

"Is he going to cause problems?" Robbie asked Nancy, sharply.

"No!" Nancy said, soothingly. "He's just full of hot air and cranky from the drive."

"What's your interest in my grandson?" Thomas asked sharply.

Robbie drew himself to his full, impressive height, stepping closer so he could loom over Thomas, menacingly. Sportacus tensed. Robbie wasn't a fighter, generally speaking, but he knew some nasty tricks. Thomas wasn't making a good impression, but Sportacus couldn't stand by and let him be harmed.

"I am Robbie ROTTEN, the number one villain in the WORLD. If I want to stuff children full of candy and sweets and make them lazy, you don't look heroic enough to stop me!"

"I am, though," Sportacus reminded him, amused. "Strawberries!"

A few strawberries flew from his backpack into his hand. Sportacus handed them to Danny, who took them eagerly.

"There you are. Something healthy will balance out all that sugar," Sportacus promised, surprised, when Robbie laughed.

"I hate to tell you this, Sportakook, but you're spoiling his dinner, too!" Robbie said, chortling, then frowned at Nancy. "What is for dinner anyways?"

"What does that matter to you?" Thomas demanded.

"Oh, Dad, hush," Nancy said, wearily, then turned back to Robbie with a defiant smile. "Actually, we're having taco salads."

"That sounds delicious!" Sportacus said approvingly.

"Hardly! That is a nasty thing to do to innocent tacos," Robbie growled, making Sportacus laugh.

"Have you ever had one?" Nancy asked pointedly.

"ME?! Eat...lettuce?? Don't be revolting."

"Nancy, I think we should go, now," Thomas said, glaring at Robbie.

"Please, stop being a pill," Nancy pleaded. "Why don't you go pick out something for dessert, okay?"

"Fine," Thomas conceded, ignoring Robbie and giving Sportacus a curt nod, before walking off.

"Robbie," Sportacus said, sighing, "you could have been friendlier. I know Thomas seems strict, but I doubt he means any harm!"

"I don't like his attitude and I don't like strange people coming to Lazy Town and doing who-knows-what!"

"I don't think he wants to take your place as town villain," Sportacus said, rolling his eyes.

"Your face will freeze like that," Robbie mocked lightly. "Anyways, he couldn't if he tried. Now, if you'll excuse me, I forgot to grab some cream."

Robbie handed Danny, still munching happily, to Nancy and left the aisle. Sportacus sighed, smiling fondly, while Nancy laughed.

"So, how did the town hero end up shopping with the town villain?"

"I've convinced him to try and be friends. We just happened to be here at the same time, so," Sportacus said, shrugging, "we're shopping. To be honest, I'm glad we found something we both do. I've been trying to think of something we could do that would be fun for both of us."

Nancy considered that, then smiled mischievously, tilting her head.

"You haven't experienced a Lazy Town Halloween, yet, have you?"

"Well, no. I still spend time in Lazy Town, but I spend most of October visiting my family."

"Oh. Well, it's just Robbie loves Halloween. He spends all October doing fun stuff, both for himself and even the older kids. If you're looking for ways to spend time with Robbie, just get into the Halloween spirit! He'll find plenty for you to do."

"I can't really do much, with all that candy."

"There's far more to Halloween than candy, silly!" Nancy chided. "Trust me. Just mention it to him, when you get a chance."

"Okay! I'll do that," Sportacus agreed cheerfully. "You know a lot about him."

"I've known him all my life. He's about twelve years older than me and he babysat me, when he was a teenager. Anyway, I better go. I still have salads to make. Good luck, Sportacus!"

"Thank you, Nancy! It was lovely to meet you!"

"She gone?" Robbie asked, entering the aisle, then placing cream in the cart. "Come on. If you're going to buy that disgusting sportscandy, then let's get it over with."

"Actually, I have enough sportscandy," Sportacus corrected, grinning. "I do need to get some more soccer and basketballs, though. The kids still accidentally destroy and lose them, pretty often."

"Well, that isn't as bad as sportscandy," Robbie conceded ungraciously, his shoulders still hunched in annoyance. "Lead the way."

Sportacus did, his eyes brightening at the sight of all the fun toys and games in the sports section of the store. He gazed fondly at all the different balls, the bats, and the other equipment. Robbie just yawned, unimpressed.

"Come on. These things are supposed to be fun, not torture!" Sportacus urged.

"Tell that to middle school gym teachers," Robbie countered, leaning against the cart.

Sportacus just shook his head, trying to stifle his impatience with Robbie's dismissive attitude. Looking in the middle of a path between aisles, Sportacus gave a small cry of joy. A large basketball hoop had been set up, as a display. The orange netting hung above Sportacus' head, just waiting to accept a ball.

"Come on, Robbie! Let's play. I'll show you some simple moves."

"Haven't you annoyed Larry enough today?"

"Why would they set the entire net up, if they didn't want people to try it out?" Sportacus said, innocently.

Robbie just shook his head, as Sportacus grabbed a basketball and began dribbling. He circled the net a couple of times, before jumping up and shoving the ball through the net. Robbie watched, rather fondly amused. Seeing Larry, he cleared his throat, trying to warn Sportacus. Unfortunately, the flipping elf was too busy showing off moves to a gathering crowd to listen.

"Mr. Sportacus," Larry snapped, bringing the hero to a grinding halt.

"What?! Why is it that easy for him?" Robbie whined, aggravated.

"Oh, uh, hello, Larry. I was just testing out your lovely net!"

"That is a display," Larry explained with strained patience. "We set it out, so people can get an idea of its size and what it looks like."

Sportacus' head hung down, as shame gripped him.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disobey any rules or cause trouble."

"I know, but I really can't make exceptions. Look, you need to go, okay? Go do some exercises, play a game, whatever you need to. But, you need to settle down, before you come back!"

"Oh," Sportacus said, blushing intensely. He handed Larry the ball, smiling sadly. "Okay. I'll go. Um. Robbie, I...I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Larry. I'll see you later."

Sportacus walked away, gratefully accepting the sympathetic murmurs of the crowd. Robbie watched in dismay. He hadn't realized Sportacus was able to look that sad! Frowning, the villain turned on Larry.

"Let me make this very clear. I am the town villain. I am allowed to crush Sportacus' feelings. Me, NOT YOU. Got that?"

"I get it," Larry said, sighing. "I tried to be gentle about it, but what else could I do?"

"I couldn't care less," Robbie told him, grabbing back the basketball and tossing a few other types of balls into his basket. "I'm outta here."

"Have a good day," Larry said, tiredly, mostly out of habit.

"Whatever," Robbie responded, turning down an aisle towards the cash registers.

Robbie paid quickly, at the self checkout registers, then made his way outside. He was a little surprised to see Sportacus doing rapid push ups, on a bench, just outside the store. He sat up, when Robbie set a few bags, including ones with the sports equipment, down in front of him.

"Thank you, Robbie!" Sportacus said with a grin. "How much do I owe you?"

"Don't make a fuss about it," Robbie grumbled, ignoring the question.

"Um, okay," Sportacus agreed, a bit bewildered.

"Are you going to quit being droopy? It's a bit creepy."

"Well, being in trouble isn't fun."

"Depends on the trouble," Robbie assured him. "I could teach you the fun kind, if you would cooperate."

"I'll think about it," Sportacus said, feeling more cheerful.

Rummaging in a bag, Robbie pulled out the chips they had picked out, a soda, and a bottle of water. He handed the water and Vegetopia chips to Sportacus. Settling on the bench, Robbie opened his cheese curls, then his soda, taking a long gulp of the syrupy liquid.

"Ahhhh," he said, smacking his lips in satisfaction. "That is so good! Come on, Sporty! Give your chips a try!"

With a rueful laugh, Sportacus obeyed, pulling a light purple chip from the bag. He looked dubiously at the strange looking snack, then placed it in his mouth. A salty, sweet flavor assaulted his tongue. He chewed, thoughtfully. Yes, he could taste the beetroot, but it tasted off. Swallowing, Sportacus shook his head.

"Robbie, the vegetable flavor is so weak, it's almost an aftertaste! This is not good!" Sportacus explained.

"Hand them over," Robbie said.

Grabbing the bag, Robbie took a handful of the chips, shoving them into his mouth. He chewed slowly, thinking the flavor over with care.

"Hmmm, plenty of yummy salt, nice crunch, and I can definitely taste potat...EW!" Robbie exclaimed, shaking his head. "You're right. There's definitely an aftertaste. I can taste the vegetables."

"That's not what vegetables taste like!" Sportacus protested.

"Well, these are defective, then. Guess we'll let the kiddos have them."

"I guess I'm just not a potato chip sort of person."

"Nonsense. There has to be something you can enjoy!"

"How's the cake experiment going?"

"Not as bad as I thought. I've got the taste right. I just have to get the sponge properly fluffy."

"I wish you luck."

"Yeah," Robbie agreed, standing and throwing his now empty soda bottle into the trash. "Well, time to get my cold foods home. Make sure the kids get to try those!"

Robbie handed the veggie chips back to Sportacus with a stern look.

"I'll make sure they don't go to waste," Sportacus promised, smiling cheerfully. "Thank you. I liked shopping with you."

"It...was fun," Robbie admitted, awkwardly, his fingers fumbling around each other. "Even if you did get thrown out on your ear, for being a Sportajock."

"I hope that didn't embarrass you. I..."

"Oh, please! I mean, who doesn't get kicked out of these places, every so often? It's no big deal. So. Yeah, bye!"

Robbie rushed off, disappearing behind a couple of trees. Sportacus stood, hefting his bags over his shoulder. He would have to ask Stephanie and Pixel about Halloween!


Chapter Three

A child's scream pierced Robbie's ears, yanking him painfully awake. Unfortunately, Robbie was used to noisy children costing him sleep. Sportacus had recently found quiet ways to keep the kids active, so Robbie could nap more. Most days, however, they were still loud, laughing and screaming around town. Usually, Robbie found the noise irritating.

This scream filled him with terror.

Following the noise, Robbie found Stephanie lying at the bottom of the tree house's ladder. Weeping, she was trying to turn herself over, lifting up on trembling arms.

"Pink Girl! Hold still!" Robbie commanded, relieved, when she obeyed.

Blood covered her leg. Rushing over, Robbie released Stephanie from the ladder, then carefully turned her over. He examined the ladder and saw a blood-soaked nail, sticking out from it's place. Stephanie whimpered, breathing shallowly. Robbie examined the wound, relieved that there was no bone in sight. It was just a deep cut, though further down the leg was at a bad angle.

"My leg," she whispered, distressed, twisting to try and see the damage.

"Oh, no, you do not get to look at that!" Robbie said, quickly using magic to fetch a blanket from his lair and wrapping it around Stephanie's bottom half. He ignored her astonishment, asking, "Where's Sportacus?!"

"His crystal beeped and he left," Stephanie said, pointing toward's the sky over the center of town.

Robbie bit back a curse, seeing smoke in the air. He didn't bother wondering what was on fire. He turned back, seeing Stephanie still crying freely. Robbie took out his handkerchief and gently stroked away the tears. As he did that, he sent some magic into the blanket. He couldn't heal her, but he could ease the pain a bit. Pressing the cloth into her hand, he sighed.

"Keep that. Blow your nose or whatever," he instructed. "Okay, I know you want Sportacus, or even your uncle, but your leg is broken and bleeding. NO, DON'T LOOK! Just...I'm going to take you to the hospital, then I'll call them. Right?"

"Mmhm, but how are we going to get there?"

"The easy way, of course," Robbie drawled, bending over her, then standing with her in his arms. "Ready to see a neat trick?"

"O-okay," Stephanie agreed, looking bewildered and afraid.

"Here we go. One--two--three!" Robbie counted, taking a step with each number.

On the first and second steps, Stephanie was surrounded by light. The third step left her gaping. She and Robbie were in the emergency room of the hospital, on the west side of town! She stared at the nurses, doctors, and patients, milling and sitting around. A sharp pain jabbed across her leg and she burst into tears again, fear catching up to her.

"What?! What's wrong? It'll be okay!" Robbie promised, frantically.

"I twisted my leg, as I fell," Stephanie said, half-choked by her tears. "What if I can't ever dance again?"

"Yeah, it'll never happen," Robbie said flatly, then smiled at Stephanie's indignant huffing. "What do you want to bet Sportaflop is just an EXCELLENT physical therapist? Not that you're likely to need one!"

"He probably would be," Stephanie agreed, then frowned, trying to be stern, though Robbie thought the tears just made her look tragic. "And, you shouldn't call him that, if you really are his friend."

"Look, Pink Girl, I just happen to find it easier to identify people by inherent traits than by random syllables chosen as 'names.' What is a Stephanie? What are the intrinsic qualities of one? Name one latent characteristic that identifies you as Stephanie."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Stephanie answered, shrugging helplessly. "It's just my name."

"Good. So, let's change the subject and get that leg fixed."

Robbie walked a bit deeper into the room, shifting Stephanie, so he could place two of his fingers in his mouth. He made a long, shrill whistle, that seemed to bounce off of the walls, bringing everyone nearby to a halt, eyes focused on Robbie.

"You!" he said, pinning a nurse holding some files with his gaze. "What are you doing?"

"I...I'm taking some records to be sorted into patients' files."

"That'll wait. Call the mayor and tell him his niece is here with a broken leg. You!" Robbie said, targeting another nurse, who was talking to a young man in sweats. "Quit chatting and find a doctor who isn't busy with something worse than this."

Stephanie watched, amazed, as both nurses quickly obeyed, abandoning their previous activities.

"Are you controlling them with magic?" she asked, her tone managing to be awed and disapproving at the same time.

"No, they just know me," Robbie assured her. "Everyone used to listen to me like that, before you brought Sporto to town."

"Why? I mean, don't they have rules for people coming in and who goes first?"

"Yeah, yeah, but you'd be surprised what some hefty donations'll get ya," Robbie said, chuckling.

A handsome young doctor, with bright blue eyes and very dark brown hair, came over, smiling.

"Hello, Mr. Rotten. Who is this young lady?"

Stephanie blushed, smiling nervously.

"I'm Stephanie Meanswell."

"Stephanie, I'm Dr. Curas. The nurse said your leg is hurt and I can see some blood. How bad is the pain? Are you holding up okay?"

"It hurts, but not too bad."

Dr. Curas looked at Robbie, whose face radiated enough innocence to be suspicious.

"Uh huh. Well. A nurse is going to show you to a room and take your temperature and blood pressure, that sort of thing. Then, I'll be in a few minutes later to look at your leg."

"Okay. What about my uncle and Sportacus?"

"I'm sure they'll be here soon," Dr. Curas said. "Here's Nurse Aida. She'll take you to your room."

Dr. Curas walked away, as Nurse Aida came forward. She had a kind and competent appearance, with her hair done in tight, gray curls and a warm smile on her face.

"That's not fair," Robbie complained, staring openly at Curas' backside. "I always get wrinkly, old fellas and you get Dr. Eye Candy. And you're too young to care!"

"Quit ogling him," Stephanie ordered.

"Excuse you, but I am a VILLAIN. I do NOT OGLE! I might admire ruthlessly, but I do not ogle," Robbie claimed, making Stephanie giggle.

"If you'll come this way," Aida said, motioning to the hall on the right.

Robbie followed, still carrying Stephanie, going into the room Aida indicated and setting Stephanie down on the bed. He pulled the chair close to her, sitting down. Aida examined Stephanie, then efficiently cleaned and put stitches into her cut, placing a bandage around it. By the time she finished, Sportacus arrived, smiling warmly at the nurse, as she left.

"Stephanie!" the hero greeted, his usual cheer drowned in concern for his young friend. "How are you doing?"

"I'm okay. We're waiting for the doctor," Stephanie told him, trying to put on a brave face, though tear tracks were still visible on her cheeks, despite Robbie's efforts.

"What happened? I knew you were hurt, but the crystal showed Robbie helping you."

"I fell out of the tree house," Stephanie admitted.

"I'm sorry I couldn't be there to help," Sportacus said, sadly.

"You were dealing with a FIRE!" Robbie said, incredulously.

"Yes, Robbie," Sportacus agreed, dryly. "I do know, but I still regret not being able to help her. I'm glad you were there, though."

"Yeah, yeah, you're both welcome," Robbie said, a bit sullenly.

Dr. Curas came in.

"We're going to take Stephanie down for x-rays, now. If everything goes well, we'll take her from there to set the bone and get a cast put on. You can wait here for her."

As soon as the doctor and Stephanie were gone, Robbie hopped up onto the bed, curling up with his arms wrapped around his legs and his head resting on his knees. Sportacus sat down in the chair and tentatively placed his hand in Robbie's back. Robbie peeked sideways at him, frowning.

"Are you all right?" Sportacus asked, gently.

"OF COURSE I'M NOT ALL RIGHT!" Robbie shouted. "Your little pink PROTÉGÉ went and broke her LEG, Sportakook!"

"I know," Sportacus said, looking miserable. "I should have been there."

"No," Robbie rasped, angrily. "You should quit encouraging them to live dangerously!"

"Robbie, I don't do that," Sportacus answered firmly, trying to control his own temper.

"You don't mean to, but this is what happens, when kids are active. Running around, playing, being in trees...someone always ends up hurt!"

"Robbie. I understand. You want the kids to be safe. But. They need to grow and learn and that means playing and being active. Letting them take risks is part of letting them learn. If you don't, they might be safe, but they'll never be really happy."

"So, it doesn't matter, if they get hurt??" Robbie growled.

"Of course, it matters! I do my best to protect them, Robbie, and that includes teaching them to be careful. I feel terrible that this happened!"

Robbie stared hard at Sportacus for a few moments, then nodded, sighing.

"Yeah, you do," he agreed, relaxing. "I keep forgetting you aren't him."

"Him?"

"Your predecessor."

"Nine. You ran out him out of town. I have wondered how you did that."

Robbie grinned, unpleasantly.

"I fought hard and dirty. A lot dirtier than anything I tried with you."

"Why?"

"He wasn't like you. Nine didn't like excuses. Limitations were to be conquered and fears faced. Nothing else was acceptable."

"Facing fears is part of growing."

"Children aren't always going to be ready, because an adult wants them to be. He pushed too hard, Sportacus."

"I didn't know he was so...unkind."

"He isn't...wasn't. He just very aggressively encouraged them and the kids...they wanted to please him. They wanted his approval and they got it. Even if they failed, he'd praise them for trying. So, they learned to ignore their limits, for him."

"You were his villain. Are you sure your memories aren't biased?"

"I didn't start off his villain. When he first came, I was indifferent to him. Some lonely kid sent him a letter, just like Stephanie did with you, and he adjusted well enough. I kept an eye on him though. I keep an eye on everyone who stays in Lazy Town, especially strangers."

"You know, a lot of this doesn't add up. Nancy said you babysat her, when you were a teenager. But...Nine was here a long time ago. The Mayor never even knew him!"

"No, Nancy lied to protect me. Nine was here when the Mayor's dad was a child."

"You're older than you look, then."

"Yes, I am," Robbie agreed, smugly.

"What happened, between you and Nine?"

"He let a child from my town get hurt!" Robbie raged, his fingers digging deeply into the bed.

"Badly?" Sportacus asked, gently, and watched Robbie deliberately relax.

"No. Fortunately, no. The boy, Richie, got lucky. He fell off a climbing wall three times his own height that Nine pushed him to climb. Richie was afraid of heights and Nine thought conquering the wall would cure him. Instead, the boy got vertigo and fell from the very top. Walked away with a sprained wrist and a bruised backside."

Sportacus winced.

"Nine didn't catch him?"

"Nope. I don't know why. Probably he was distracted, helping some other kid. Falls happen fast. I got mad and decided he needed to leave. SO! Now, you have my villain origin story. I was always cranky and lazy. After that, I was dead set against having a hero in my town."

"And you decided the best way to keep children safe was to keep them lazy."

"That, too, yes."

"Robbie," Sportacus said, sighing, then asked, sadly, "Are you going to try running me out again, now?"

"QUIT MAKING THAT FACE!" Robbie demanded, stricken by Sportacus' sorrow. "No, I'm not going to run you out of town. This wasn't your fault, not really, and certainly not in the same way."

"Good," Sportacus said, relieved. "I like us being friends."

"Nine couldn't stand me, even before we fought," Robbie laughed.

The door opened again and Aida wheeled Stephanie in, her leg in a fresh cast.

"Hi, guys!" she said, cheerfully.

"What in the world are you so happy about?" Robbie asked, frowning, his brows lowered.

"The break in my leg is super clean and I'll be just fine, once the break heals! I'll be dancing again in a bit over a month."

"Oh, goody."

Sportacus rolled his eyes, chuckling, as he leaned over to give Stephanie a hug.

"That's great news, Stephanie! I'm glad you're okay."

"Yeah. My uncle called and he's on his way with Pixel and the others. Mr. Spoilero lent Ms. Busybody his car, so they could all come at once."

"Just what the hospital needed, it's own circus!"

"Robbie!" Stephanie scolded, laughing. "Can I tell the other kids you can do magic?"

"Well, since you just told Sportacus, I guess you can. It's not a secret. Frankly, they'd already know, if they were paying attention."

"Well, I didn't know!" Stephanie assured him. "Sportacus, you should have seen. It was great! We were at the tree house, then Robbie took three steps and BAM! We were right here at the hospital."

"That's not even hard. It's just taking a short cut from a to b. I'm good at short cuts."

"Oh, Robbie," Stephanie said, hopping up from the chair and clambering up next to Robbie, giving him a hug.

"Hey, guys!" Pixel greeted, coming in with the others in tow. "Are you doing better, Stephanie?"

"Yeah, I'm all right. Robbie brought me here with magic! Did you know he can use magic?"

The other children just looked bewildered, shaking their heads and scoffing. Laughing, Robbie produced a marker.

"Here, kid. Let me sign your leg. Tradition and all," Robbie offered.

"OOOooo, yes, please!"

Stephanie moved her leg towards Robbie, who signed his name with a flourish neatly down her shin. He wrote in large, purple letters, then smirked, offering the marker to Pixel.

"Your turn," Robbie said, smirking.

Pixel took the marker and signed his own name just below Robbie's. This time, the letters came out in a brilliant orange color. The boy gaped.

"Hey! How did you do that?" Trixie demanded.

"He's showing off again," Ms. Busybody said, with a sigh.

"Obviously, the marker has multiple tips," Stingy lectured, primly.

"Uh. No, it doesn't," Pixel said, confused. "It's just an ordinary marker. A purple one."

"I think Stinky is up next," Robbie said, serenely.

"My name is STINGY," the boy corrected, haughtily, taking the marker from Pixel and examining it closely. He didn't find anything to explain the different colors, but maybe the marker was fading. Orange wasn't that far off from purple, without the blue...nope. Stingy shook a bit, as he signed his name, the letters coming out a golden yellow.

"That's just not possible!" Trixie exclaimed, grabbing the marker.

"That's miii..."

"It's my marker and Tricky's turn," Robbie interrupted, rolling his eyes and beginning to gloat a bit.

"It's magic, guys!" Stephanie insisted.

Trixie looked down at the signature she had created, admiring the deep red against the stark white of the cast.

"Yep, sure looks that way," she agreed, handing the pen to Sportacus.

Sportacus signed, his own letters coming out a perfect, sky blue. He laughed.

"That's just right! Your cast is very pretty now, Stephanie."

"I knew you would want to see your friends, Stephanie, but it's time to go home now," Milford told her.

"Oh, okay," Stephanie said, a bit disappointed.

"Mr. Mayor, I have an idea. Stephanie could probably use some fresh air, after being so long in the hospital. Why don't we all bring some food and eat together at the picnic tables, in the park?" Sportacus suggested.

"Oh, well, that sounds just fine," Milford agreed, to the cheers of the children.

"Robbie? Will you come too?" Stephanie asked, timidly.

"Sure," Robbie agreed, shrugging. "I'm not piling into that car with you, though."

Robbie disappeared, in a flash of light, removing any lingering doubts about his magic.

"Well, it's not like I drive badly!" Ms. Busybody huffed. "All right, everyone to the car!"

Everyone obeyed and they made the trip home, while Stephanie told about her fall and Robbie's rescue. Everyone went to gather food for the picnic, then regathered at the park. Robbie was already there and had, naturally, brought cake, for his contribution. Two huge cakes sat on one table, both tall and frosted thickly. Sportacus grinned, shaking his head.

"You seem to have outdone yourself, Robbie!"

"That's more true than you know. It so happens that my genius has prevailed. The cake on the right should be one hundred percent safe for flip-flopping elves!"

"You made a cake Sportacus can eat?" Ziggy asked, eagerly, loving the idea.

"I have indeed!" Robbie crowed. "His cake is, ugh, a lemon cake with blueberry filling and lavender buttercream. The other cake is a purple jelly cake with peanut butter ganache filling and honey buttercream frosting."

"You mean grape jelly?" Sportacus asked.

"I certainly do not!" Robbie denied, firmly. "Now, come on. Let's eat!"

"Healthy foods first, then dessert!"

"Oh, come ON! Really?!"

"But, Robbie, we all brought really yummy food! Uncle and I brought oven fried chicken and Pixel's parents made their famous potato salad."

"Yeah and I brought cornbread and cole slaw, which at least has a little sugar in it," Trixie added.

"Okay, okay! I'm already starving! Can't we just eat everything all at once, cake included? If you're gonna eat a bit of everything anyways, why not just slice up the cakes now?"

"I think that will be all right, at least this once," Sportacus agreed, proud that Robbie even suggested a compromise.

Everyone else agreed, readily enough. Robbie sliced up the cakes, then grabbed a piece of his, before piling a second plate with the other foods. Sportacus made himself a plate, with much smaller portions, then settled across from Robbie at one of the tables.

"I'm glad you came. I appreciate you making a cake for me."

"Well, I hope you like it. No one should have to suffer through life without cake."

Sportacus laughed, then took a bite of his cake, chewing thoughtfully. He grinned. The lemon was sweet and tangy, complimenting the blueberries nicely. The soft texture seemed strange, but somehow delightful. Well, there had to be some reason Robbie was so fond of these things. Now, Sportacus thought he understood a bit better.

"That is delicious! You did a wonderful job."

Sportacus was surprised, when Robbie blushed, biting back a smile.

"Yeah, well. I've certainly had enough practice at making cakes. And, you have been helping me get more naps."

"That was simple enough. I just take the kids hiking away from town or to do games at the beach. Building sand castles takes a lot of energy."

"Nine would never have even considered it."

"Then, he and I really aren't alike. You need sleep and, if you can't at night, well, that makes naps understandable. Though, I do wish I knew why you can't sleep at night."

"You and me both," Robbie said shortly. "Do you remember what you said, when I agreed we could be friends? You said I'm an adult and make my own decisions. Funny thing is I said almost those exact words to Nine. Do you know what he said?"

"I take it he disagreed."

"He said I had the habits of a spoiled child and he intended to treat me like one...for my own good, of course."

Sportacus winced.

"That's terrible!" he proclaimed, making Robbie laugh.

Robbie reached across the table, giving Sportacus' arm a friendly pat.

"Yes, well, he's him and you're you and he's not here. So eat up, Sportapal. There's only so many things we're both willing to do, after all."

"Speaking of that, Nancy said I should talk to you about Halloween."

Robbie's whole countenance lit up with excitement. Just seeing that much happiness made Sportacus more interested in the subject.

"Well, now," Robbie said slowly, leaning forward. "That is the one thing I might look forward to more than cake."

"I don't know much about it," Sportacus admitted. "But, I can move some of my family visits to November, so I can learn."

"Oh, this is going to be fun," Robbie gloated.

Sportacus believed him.








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