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The Spirits of the Season

Chapter Text

“And of course, as you all know, Columbus’ discovery would lead to the first steps of America’s colonization.” Mr. Rotten droned on, finally clapping the book shut.

The ending of Mr. Rotten’s lecture seemed to catch the children’s attention, awakening them from their collective daydreaming and dozing. Five heads shot back up, eyes widened with surprise and fear, as well as a collective hope that their headmaster hadn’t noticed how bored they’d gotten.
Dropping the textbook back onto the desk with a loud thud, Mr. Rotten paced back and forth in front of his desk, examining his pupils with tired yet steely eyes.
“Hmph, as I can see you are all clearly enthralled with my lecture, perhaps we should adjourn class early today. No use trying to educate the dull and dreamy eyed.” Mr. Rotten said with a hard-bored frown.
The kids recoiled, with Trixie glaring back.
“But, I will only let you all go on one condition: you must give me a single, count that one, good reason I should end class early today. If not, then you leave me no choice but to continue, and I know you all will love learning about the sailing of the Mayflower.” Mr. Rotten said, striding towards the blackboard. Turning on his heel, he scanned the lowered heads of the children, seeing no hands up.

Finally, after a lengthy pause, Pixel shakily raised his own hand.
Mr. Rotten gestured to him.
“Please, Mr. Hyperbyte. Restore my faith in our nation’s next generation. Enlighten us.” He said, leaning back against the blackboard before standing back on his feet, flinching at a pain running up his spine.
Pixel, jumping to his feet and standing stalk straight, cleared his throat.
“Um well, I believe we should be allowed home early to…to um, attend to our chores? I have quite a few today. I must help my mother prepare the potatoes for dinner.” He said, biting his lip.
Mr. Rotten slowly nodded, tapping his chin.
“Perhaps, a decent argument. But surely, there is a greater argument hidden in the heads of your classmates? You may sit down, Mr. Hyperbyte. I wish to hear what your other classmates think.” He said, turning to stare straight at Stingy.
Stingy gulped, and shot up onto his feet.
“Mr. Spoilero, what evidence do you wish to present?” Mr. Rotten asked coolly.
Stingy’s face paled, his eyes drifted to the floor as he dug through some potential answers.
“Er, well Headmaster Rotten, I know personally that our English assignment is due next week. P-Perhaps it would, um, be in our best interest for us to be given more time to work on them? If the lecture isn’t going smoothly, that is, and I personally think it’s wonderful and insightful – “
“Save your rear kissing for when you join the business world, Spoilero. You may sit down.” Mr. Rotten said, rolling his eyes.
Stingy, once Mr. Rotten had turned away from him, shot him a glare as he sat down.
The heels of Mr. Rotten’s dress shoes clicked against the hard wood floors as he strolled across the rows of seats, his pacing stopping as he reached the desk of the youngest and smallest boy in class. Ziggy hid away his sweets and looked up fearfully at the imposingly tall headmaster.
“Mr. Zweets, your eyes are absolutely brimming with ideas and strong arguments. Perhaps you’d like to speak next? Stand up boy, and let’s hear what you’re thinking.” Mr. Rotten said, giving a less harsh look to the child.
Ziggy shook in his seat, his eyes darting to Stephanie, who sat next to him.
She gave him an encouraging nod with a weaker smile, urging him to talk.
Ziggy, shakily standing to his feet, felt his lip quiver as he finally spoke.
“Well, uh, it’s getting close to Christmas, isn’t it? And I-I hear that at Christmas, you spend time with family so…we should go early to do, um, that?”

The young boy could hear the repressed, yet still audible, groan from his classmates, who shook their heads as Stephanie stared at him with a fearful cringe.
Mr. Rotten, in response to Ziggy’s answer, screwed up his nose disdainfully and looked disappointedly at the boy.
“Mr. Zweets, that may just be the worst answer I’ve ever received in all my years as a headmaster.” He said with a frown.
Ziggy shrunk back, his eyes glistening.
Mr. Rotten, seeing the boy’s reaction, seemed to soften slightly, his frown fading. He strode away from Ziggy and back to his desk, standing and looking attentively at the class of children.
“Class, I understand that Mr. Zweets is new, thus he may be unaware of the truth of the Christmas holiday. Please, assist me in educating the boy on the truth of the holiday. What does Christmas represent?”
The other four kids, standing with fallen expressions, recited with little emotion:
“Christmas was meant to represent the change in humanity, from evil to good. It’s a time for others to be better and to be kind to their neighbors. It’s meant to remind everyone about the goodness of the world.”
“And does that happen? Do people magically become better? Kinder? More sympathetic? Just because of one month’s time of celebration?” asked Mr. Rotten, taking on a haughtier air.
“No, Mr. Rotten. No one changes in one month.” The children responded.
“Correct, children. The sentiment of Christmas is both empty and corrupt. The belief that any single season can instantly change someone’s behavior to that of a morally upstanding individual is false, and should not be encouraged.” He stopped and directed his gaze to Ziggy. “That’s why, Mr. Zweets, Christmas is no reason at all to be let out early from school. Education and hard work will mold you into a paradigm of moral character, not singing useless songs and wasting your money on shiny drivel! It’s best you remember that. Do you understand, Mr. Zweets?”
Ziggy shrunk back, nodding slowly as he sat back down.
Mr. Rotten, sighing, turned back to the rest of the class.
“Now, does anyone else have a reason that you should all be released early?” He asked.
Stephanie raised her hand and slowly stood up, brushing the creases out of her dress.
“Headmaster Rotten, we should be released early because since we’re inattentive to your lessons, it would be illogical to waste your valuable time.” She said quietly.
Mr. Rotten sighed and nodded.
“Finally, yes. The answer I was seeking. Class is dismissed. Remember to finish your arithmetic assignments for tomorrow morning. We will discuss the answers tomorrow.” Mr. Rotten announced, as the children gathered up their packs and coats.

The children clambered out of the schoolhouse, their nice shoes clacking against the wooden steps as they walked down onto the sidewalk. Ziggy lagged behind the group, dragging his feet and keeping his eyes fixed to the ground.
Trixie, seeing the boy’s distress, slows down and pats him on the back.
“Cheer up Zweets, Mr. Rotten gives that lecture to every new kid in his class. And trust me, most kids make the same mistake you did. We all did.” She said.
Ziggy sighed.
“Why does Headmaster Rotten hate Christmas so much? I mean, I know most of the town doesn’t seem thrilled or excited for it, but he really seems to hate it!” He asked.
Pixel shrugged.
“Who knows? Headmaster Rotten’s always had a thorn in his side about the holidays, especially Christmas. He just gets crankier for whatever reason. I wouldn’t take it personally.”
Ziggy frowned, still looking crestfallen.
“Come on, let’s head on home. Best we get started on Headmaster Rotten’s English assignment. Judging by the page count, it’s a doozy.” Pixel said.
Trixie snorted.
“Only if you’re not resourceful. I’m getting mine from my older brother.”
“Didn’t your brother fail that assignment?” asked Stingy.
“So? It’s better than nothing.” Trixie said with a frown.
“I’m certain anything is better than copying your brother’s homework. A pig could probably do better than him.” Stingy said, smirking.
Trixie yanked on the boy’s shirt collar, dragging him off his feet.
“You wanna say that again, Spoilero?” she hissed.
Stingy gulped.
“Nope! I think I’m good!” He squeaked, before Trixie let him go.

Trixie shook her head before she stopped, noticing Stephanie speeding up ahead of the group towards the town center.
“Hey Pinky! Where are you going?” She asked.
Stephanie stopped and gave her friend a strained smile.
“Oh, Uncle just needs me back home soon. I shouldn’t stay out that long anyways. Lots of homework to do, you know.”
“We could work on it together! That might be helpful.” Ziggy suggested.
Stephanie shook her head.
“Thank you, Ziggy, but I really need to head home now. I’ll see you all tomorrow, okay?” she said, before hurrying away.
Ziggy looked on worriedly.
“Is Stephanie okay? She seems…off.” He said.
“Stephanie just always gets distant around Christmas.” Trixie said.
“Should we follow her? Maybe talk to her?” asked Ziggy.
Pixel shook his head.
“She’ll never talk about it. Trust us, we’ve tried. She just says she’s okay and leaves, so we kind of stopped asking.” He said.
Ziggy, sadly, nodded.
“Come on, let’s get back home. I don’t need my mom giving me an earful about getting home late.” Pixel said.

The group walked down the road towards the rows of townhouses, past window displays with scant decorations and through crowds of bustling people, all keeping their heads down and shrouded in gray and black winter coats, their shoes skirting against mud and dirt. No lights dotted the buildings and trees, no wreathes hung from the lampposts. The radios were shut off, and the colors remained as muted as ever.

This was an average holiday season in LazyTown.

--

High up in the north, where the aurora borealis dances across the sky and the dirt is eternally caked in snow and ice, a single man crosses the wintery plane towards a crest in the snowy desert.

The man, dressed in a white shirt, brown vest and boots, and mustard yellow treyja with matching trousers, stood tall and starkly against the pure whiteness of his surroundings. The frigid winds blew past his exposed ears and silvery white hair, but he gave nary a shiver or a tremble. Rather, he simply twitched his black, stick straight mustache, before continuing his stoic observation of the beautiful, untouched landscape. The wind tangled strands of his hair around his head wreath, made of holly, and blew his mustard neck scarf onto his chest. He sniffed, looking about the landscape, until his ears twitched towards the sounds of approaching hooves.
He turned, raising an eyebrow as a reindeer cow tromped through the thick snows and dusty snow, her milky hide nearly rendering her invisible in the white snow. The only contrast she held to her surroundings were born through her oaky brown antlers, still present in the harsh winter, and the blue harness with silver bells strapped to her torso. Riding atop this mighty steed sat another man, wearing an outfit much like the first save for the colors, with gray instead of brown and blue instead of yellow. Otherwise, the two were spitting images of each other, with matching mustaches, silvery white hair, and holly wreaths.

The first man crossed his arms and gave a single nod.
“Sportacus, you’re finally here. Right on time. I was worried you’d be late.” He said.
The second man, Sportacus, gave a bright grin as he dismounted his steed.
“I hurried as fast as I could, Íþró! I thought I’d be late too, what with all the toy orders pouring in, but luckily I got ahead on my hockey stick assignment!” Sportacus rambled, patting his reindeer’s nose. “Besides, I wanted to get here as soon as I could, after you said you needed to see me!”
Sportacus ran up the snowy hill, occasionally tripping as his boots sank into the snow, until he was finally by his brother’s side. He stood tall and proud, his fists on his hips, his smile never failing.
“So what do you need of me, brother?” He asked cheerily.
Íþró smiled faintly, before looking out at the horizon, towards the Northern Sea.
“Sportacus, you’ve been studying mortal cultures for some time now, correct?” He asked.
Sportacus lit up at the question.
“Of course! I still have my Compendium on Human History book on my shelf, and I’m certain it’s falling apart at this point. Which reminds me, do you think Santa would give me a new copy of it for Christmas? I think I’ve been good this year.” He said, giving a sheepish smile.
Íþró smiled warmly, unable to hold back his affection for his brother. Even after so many centuries, his brother still held the excitability of a child.
“Well, that will be useful, given the news I have for you. A representative of the Council of Magic Affairs recently visited me. They alerted me that you were needed on an assignment of utmost importance, and that you were to leave at once for the mortal lands.”
Sportacus’s eyes widened, growing as large as dinner plates.
“T-The mortal lands? They want me to visit them??” He asked, his tone betraying his bubbling excitement.
“Yes, but they wanted me to emphasize just how important this assignment is. You must understand that. This is no vacation.” Íþró said.
Sportacus’s smile faded slightly, though still remained. He nodded.
“Okay, I understand. I promise to take this assignment very seriously.” He said.
“Good. I never had doubts about that, but it’s still good to hear.” Replied Íþró. “Have you heard of a place named ‘LazyTown’?”
Sportacus shook his head slowly.
“It sounds familiar, but no. Is it an important place?”

“To the humans, no. It’s a small town with little importance to the world. But to our kind, it is one of the most important places on the good earth. The site upon which it’s built was one of the emerging points for the huldúfolk. One of our primary portals to their world. And that town is losing its magic.” Íþró said.
Sportacus’s face paled.
“That...That is serious.” He said gravely.
“Very.” Íþró said, nodding. “That is why you must exercise the greatest care with this assignment, yet solve this issue at hand as quickly as possible.”
“What is the problem, specifically?” asked Sportacus.
“The town, over the last few decades, has lost its magic and spirit. It’s like the light of the town itself has been extinguished, and people seem to care less about the holidays that give us energy to move between worlds. Most specifically, the children are starting to lose their love and holiday born spirit.”
Sportacus felt his heart stop a moment.
“The children? But, if their love of the magic spirit is fading…”
“Then you understand why this assignment is so pressing. If the children lose their love of the holiday completely, the portal will die.” Said Íþró gravely. “At one point, the town was protected by a huldúfolk, but they seemingly vanished many decades ago. And ever since then, the town has been steadily losing its love of the holiday and, thus, its spirit, warmth, and magic.”
Sportacus looked at his brother slowly.
“And, I suppose I’m needed to restore that magic? Help the children remember their love of Christmas?” He asked.

Íþró nodded.
“Yes, exactly. You must restore the town’s spirit and love of Christmas before Christmas Eve. If not, then one of our portals will be lost forever. Yes, one lost portal isn’t a problem now. But it could start a dangerous pattern. Soon, we huldúfolk could lose access to the mortal world forever, and with it, our magic would disappear too.”
“Santa wouldn’t be able to visit the children.” Sportacus said in a hushed, horrified voice.
“Exactly why you must be careful and quick. Bring back their spirit.” Íþró said, clapping his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Out of all the elves, you hold the most spirit and enthusiasm for the season. I believe the council chose well, and I know you won’t fail us.” He said with a smile.
Sportacus, looking at his brother with determination, gave a firm nod.
“I won’t. I’ll bring back their spirit, and make sure Santa can keep visiting the world’s children!” He said with a bright smile.
He hugged his brother quickly before leaping over to his reindeer, preparing to hop atop it.
“Sportacus, hold on just a minute.” Said Íþró, tromping through the snow towards the reindeer.
Sportacus stopped, waiting patiently by his reindeer’s side.
“There’s something else you must remember. As much as you can, try not to be noticed as a huldúfolk by the mortals. You can use your magic, but try to be discrete if you can.” Íþró said.
Sportacus quirked an eyebrow.
“Why? In the past, huldúfolk were free to be seen and known by mortals!”
“That was the past. Nowadays, mortals are less accepting of beings like us. Here,” said Íþró, handing Sportacus a tome both old and faded, with lettering of gold on its cover. “this book has knowledge about the humans of present day. The last elf to visit a mortal settlement personally was nearly 200 years ago. Your compendium is good, but that’s how outdated some of its information is. You’ll need this to best blend in and not appear conspicuous.”
Sportacus opened the book, watching as the ink formed into letters and illustrations, detailing the presently existent countries, current fashion trends, and even colloquial language by country and region.
“Am I allowed to take Loftskip with me?” asked Sportacus hopefully, petting his reindeer’s neck.
Íþró, stroking his mustache, thought for a moment before slowly nodding.
“I suppose that would be acceptable. After all, she is your way of transportation.” He noted.
Loftskip nodded her head, shaking her bells.
Sportacus gave his brother a warm smile.
“Thank you, Íþró. I’m sure this will be invaluable on my mission.” He said, preparing to mount the reindeer once more.

“Wait, Sportacus.” Íþró said, placing a hand on his brother’s shoulder.
Sportacus stopped, and turned to face his brother once more.
“Yes?” he asked.
Íþró, giving a warm and slightly sad smile, gestured Sportacus to lean forward. Sportacus complied, and Íþró turned the elf’s holly wreath.
“It was crooked. Couldn’t let you go on such an important mission with a crooked wreath.” He said with a quiet laugh.
Sportacus smiled.
“Aren’t they not supposed to see it though?” He asked.
“I know they aren’t. But,” Íþró said, looking at his brother sadly. “Please, lítilblá, be careful. The mortals are not like our kind here. They are complex and troubled beings, and not all are kind and good of heart like you. The mortal world is one of darkness and light, kindness and evil. You’ll need to be wary of that. Keep yourself safe, finish your mission, and come back right away. But most importantly, guard your heart. Okay?”
Sportacus, giving his brother a warm smile, hugged him tightly.
“I’ll be careful, and I’ll come back as soon as I finish my work in LazyTown.” He said reassuringly.
“I know you will.” Íþró said quietly, hugging his brother back.
Sportacus, pulling away, gave his brother one last smile before he climbed atop his steed, brushing some of her fur on her neck.
“Loftskip! Up! To LazyTown we go!” He called.
With a huff and a start, Loftskip dug her hooves into the snow, digging until her hooves finally gained traction. Both her and Sportacus sped along the wintery landscape, leaving a shallow trench in their wake. A few hundred yards out, Loftskip lifted her head skywards, her body following suit. Sportacus laughed excitedly as his reindeer gained flight, soaring up into the cloud layer and away from the lands he’d known all his life.

Íþró watched for as long as he could, until Sportacus had finally vanished across the horizon, the world going quiet.
“Spirits, protect my brother. He may believe he’s ready for the world, but I worry still. The world he learned about in his books has grown far darker and hostile. Keep his heart protected and safe on his mission, and ensure he comes back safely.” Íþró said, looking up towards the sky.

His prayer uttered, Íþró began his slow and arduous trek back to his guard post at the edges of Santa’s workshop, ready to assume his position once more.

Chapter Text

The first ringing of the school bell alerted Stephanie to the fact that she’d need to get going soon, lest she be late for school.

Trudging along in the cold, morning air, she pulled her coat tighter around her body and her scarf tighter around her face. She shivered, being careful to breathe through the scarf, in an attempt to warm the air before it hit her nostrils and lungs. These mornings were so intolerably cold, yet not even a centimeter of snow. The worst combination in the world, in Stephanie’s opinion.
Her lunch box tapped against her thigh, filled with a lunch of her own creation: a simple ham sandwich, an apple, and a piece of fudge from the bakery down the street.
She always made her own lunch, given how busy her uncle was every single morning. She’d also became accustomed to waking herself on time and preparing her book bag the night before.
Most adults would look at her routine and praise how mature and composed Stephanie was, for a girl of only eight. Stephanie supposed they were right, but the stillness of an empty house was not particularly comforting to wake to in the morning. But she had no room to complain, she supposed; her uncle had a very important job, being the mayor of the town and all. She was doing her part to help his job be as seamless as possible.
She shivered once more, carefully stepping over the edge of the sidewalk and crossing the street. Her lunchbox and bag tapped against her thigh and back respectively, in a monotonous rhythm. Looking up, Stephanie saw the schoolhouse growing closer. She sighed, patting her bag once more for her own assuredness. Indeed, she’d remembered to pack her arithmetic homework. She wouldn’t forget that again.
Stepping forward, she prepared to step onto the sidewalk right in front of the school.

Except she didn’t, or at least not completely.

Instead, she felt her foot fly forward, and her weight of gravity shift decidedly backwards.
Stephanie gasped, her lunchbox flying up and over her head, clattering on the road behind her.
She flinched, forcing her eyes shut as she prepared to meet, painfully, with the cold and hard asphalt below her.
That is, until she instead felt herself be braced by a pair of arms, her body jerking forward in response to the sudden barrier between herself and the earth.
“Whoa there! Are you alright?” She heard a voice ask.
Opening her eyes, Stephanie found herself face to face with a pair of very blue eyes. Almost too blue. Like the blue had been stolen from the sky itself. And the face that housed those blue eyes was very warm and cheerful, with rosy cheeks and a wide grin, and blonde hair that framed the face with loose curls. The man helped her to her feet, and brushed some dirt off her skirt.
“You should be more careful! The sidewalks are very slippery this time of the year!” said the man, whose voice she realized held a very noticeable accent. But what accent it was escaped Stephanie.
“T-Thank you!” she said, still shaken by her near fall. Looking about, Stephanie’s face paled as she noticed her lunchbox sitting in the road, in the path of oncoming cars.
“My lunchbox!” she cried disappointedly.
The man, seeing her distress, immediately leapt to his feet and, running into a rolling tumble, swept up Stephanie’s lunchbox and rolled away, just narrowly missing being hit by the car. The car honked its horn furiously as Stephanie watched fearfully, hoping the stranger hadn’t been hit.
Her fears were assuaged as soon as the car passed, and she saw the stranger standing, perfectly unharmed, on the other end of the street, her lunchbox clasped in his hand. He jogged back to her side of the street and, brushing off the dirt on his coat and her lunchbox, handed it back to her.
“There you are! Glad I was able to get that for you. I’d hate for you to lose your lunch!” said the stranger, with a small laugh.

“Y-Yeah, that would be terrible.” She said in a quiet voice, her mittened hand brushing the surface of her lunchbox.
The stranger’s smile faded slightly.
“Is everything okay? Are you hurt?” he asked.
“No, I’m fine. I just…you jumped in front of that car! You could’ve been killed!” Stephanie exclaimed.
The stranger laughed and shook his head.
“Oh, don’t worry about that! I knew I would be fine.” He said.
“How? …do you do this regularly?” She asked nervously.
The stranger stopped, and smiled with a chuckle.
“Well, if a yes would make you more nervous, then this was my first try and I was very lucky.” He said.
Stephanie giggled, a relieved smile crossing her face.
“T-That’s good. It’d be terrible if you jumped in front of cars for a living. My uncle says those people are usually involved with something called ‘insurance’.” She said.
“Oh no, no worries about that. You have my oath, I’m no crook.” Said the stranger, crossing an ‘x’ over his chest.
Stephanie giggled again, covering her mouth.
“What’s your name, mister?” She asked.
“My name…is Magnus Íþróttsson. But you can just call me ‘Magnus’.” The stranger said.
“Why did you pause?” asked Stephanie, cocking her head to the side.
“I forgot for a moment. Perhaps I hit my head when I was saving your lunchbox?” Sportacus suggested jokingly.
“Oh no! Please tell me you’re joking!” said Stephanie in horror.
“I think I am?” said Sportacus, smirking.
Stephanie, catching on, laughed in relief before sticking out her hand.
Sportacus’s eyes widened.
“I’m Stephanie, Stephanie Meanswell. I’m the mayor’s niece.” She said politely.
Sportacus slowly took her hand and shook it.
“Very formal! And very good to meet you, Ms. Meanswell.” He said.
Stephanie chuckled and shook her head.
“No! No need for that! Just ‘Stephanie’ is good.” She said.
“Alright, then good to meet you, Stephanie.” Said Sportacus warmly.

The ringing of the school bell broke their conversation.
Stephanie’s eyes widened.
“Oh dear! I’m running late for school!” she exclaimed.
Sportacus pointed at the school building.
“Is that the schoolhouse?” he asked.
Stephanie nodded.
“Yes! That’s where everyone goes to school!” She started, before pausing. “Were you looking for it too?”
“As a matter of fact, I was.” Sportacus said with a smile. “I was hoping to apply as a teacher there. Would you know who I’m supposed to talk to for that?”
Stephanie gasped happily.
“You are?? Oh, that’s wonderful! We haven’t had a new teacher in years. Usually we’re taught by the Headmaster, Mr. Rotten, but…well, I guess that’s going to change!” She said excitedly.
“Mr. Rotten? Is that who I’m supposed to talk to?” asked Sportacus, scrunching his nose at the name. Mortals did have such strange surnames.
Stephanie nodded.
“Yes! He’s our headmaster, so he runs the school. You’ll need to talk to him about a job.” Said Stephanie, before she looked towards the door, where Pixel was waving at her. “I have to go! Hope to see you there!” said Stephanie, before she sprinted towards the group of children entering the schoolhouse.
Sportacus smiled, and stood back up. He looked over the school, admiring the quaint yet nice exterior, with the painted wood and brass bell on top. It looked like something out of his books, and that only made him more excited. Straightening out the blue-gray scarf that hung around the lapels of his jacket and tipping his homburg forward, he strode into the small schoolhouse.
He waded through the gaggles of children, all rushing towards a room near the end of the hallway. The classroom, he assumed. An adjacent, smaller hallway caught his attention, and he soon saw the door that sat at the end of said hallway.
The name, “Robbie Rotten, Headmaster”, was painted on the frosted glass window on the door.
Grinning, Sportacus strode towards the door and gave it an energetic knock.

Mr. Rotten, who was inside grading a few essays he’d received, looked up at the door, furrowing his brow.
Visitors? At this hour? And one not in my appointment book.” He thought to himself, screwing his lip. He laid down the papers and contemplated whether or not to let the visitor in. He knew he couldn’t ignore the visitor, since he’d have to leave to teach his class soon anyways. But at the same time, he hated random visitations. But yet again, he’d have to leave soon, so he’d have to deal with the visitor sooner or later.
Sighing, Mr. Rotten waved a hand.
“The door’s unlocked; come in.” He said.
The door swung open, and the two men finally got a good look at each other.

The first thing Sportacus noticed about the school’s headmaster was his eyes and cheek bones. The man had sharp cheekbones that were quite striking on his face that, paired with the gray of his irises, made the headmaster look both daunting yet elegant. He could understand, just by looking at the man, how he would’ve been made headmaster. His face and energy exuded order and command. And matching that look with hair dark like pitch and skin paler than Sportacus thought normal, and the man was quite the imposing figure. Sportacus, usually the jovial type, found himself oddly intimidated, yet also unable to look away.
On the other end, Mr. Rotten was left rather puzzled yet intrigued by the stranger who’d walked through his door. One thing was readily apparent to him, and that was that the stranger was incredibly well built. Even under the man’s suit coat and winter jacket, Mr. Rotten could see the definition of his arms and torso through how the clothes clung to his body. A former, or current, athlete he theorized. It was the only explanation that made sense. Top that with the blue eyes and the rather ridiculous mustache that he sported, this stranger was already quite the attention grabber by Mr. Rotten’s standards.
But even more distracting was that hair.
Even though much of it was hidden by his homburg, Mr. Rotten could see that the stranger had hair white like snow, and it was all he could look at. He blinked, wondering if the lighting had just made the stranger’s hair look lighter than usual. But no, the stranger’s hair still looked as white as ever. And for whatever reason, that was sparking alarm bells in his head, but he had no clue why. He just knew something was off.
Sportacus was first to break the silence, his stunned expression finally replaced by his usual smile.
“I’m glad I was able to find you. My name is Magnus Íþróttsson, and I was told your school was looking for a second teacher.” He said, sticking out his hand.
Mr. Rotten, finally broken from his own staring, frowned at Sportacus.
“I’m not sure who told you that, Mr. Íþróttsson, but I assure you my school is adequately staffed. We have no openings available at this time. It would be best for you to look for a teaching position elsewhere.” Mr. Rotten said dismissively, turning back to his paperwork.
Sportacus raised an eyebrow and, leaning on his hands against the desk, he looked at Mr. Rotten curiously.
“Are you certain? When I walked through the hallway, I saw no other teachers.” He asked.
“Our town’s population of children is fairly small, as you might’ve noticed. One teacher is perfectly serviceable.” Mr. Rotten stated.
“Serviceable, perhaps, but is it the best system?” asked Sportacus.
Mr. Rotten frowned.
“I’ve given you my answer already, Mr. Íþróttsson. We are not hiring at the moment, so please leave. I have work I must attend to, and the children’s class starts in a few minutes.” He said, straightening his paperwork with emphasis and turning away.

Sportacus’s lips thinned, and he looked down thoughtfully, nodding slowly.
“There’s nothing I could do to convince you otherwise?” asked Sportacus hopefully.
Mr. Rotten sighed tiredly and turned back to Sportacus, an annoyed expression on his face.
“I can’t imagine what you could possibly do to convince me, Mr. Íþróttsson. All you’ve done is pollute my office and schoolhouse with your presence and irritating resistance to the word ‘no’. You aren’t helping yourself for any potential of hiring.” He said with a frown.
Sportacus, for a moment, looked rather hurt by Mr. Rotten’s comment. He puzzled to himself, tapping a finger against his chin before his eyes lit up with an idea.
Sportacus leaned forward, looking deep into Mr. Rotten’s eyes.
The headmaster shrunk back slightly, his nose twitching nervously.
“What if I told you that you may need more help than you realize? That perhaps, I may be the perfect fit for your school, and to pass by this opportunity would be a poor decision indeed?” Sportacus said, his voice lilting and smooth.
Mr. Rotten frowned, furrowing his brow as he noticed how much brighter Sportacus’s eyes seemed. Like the blue had crossed from noticeably vibrant to unnaturally so. He felt something, but convinced was not it. He hmphed, and sat back, shaking his head.
“If you were to say that, Mr. Íþróttsson, then I’d say you need to take a lesson in humility, as your ego has clearly grown to unhealthy levels. Now please, leave my office and let me attend to my work in peace.” Mr. Rotten said through gritted teeth.
Sportacus’s smile wavered, a confused look crossing his face. He looked at the headmaster curiously, before finally accepting that his attempt had failed. He bit his lip, before slowly nodding, standing back up straight and backing away from the headmaster’s desk.
“I see. Forgive me for wasting your time, Mr. Rotten. I will see myself out.” Sportacus said quietly, as he slowly turned away and towards the door.
Mr. Rotten scrunched his nose and made a non-committal sound in his throat, his eyes drifting back down to the paperwork.
Sportacus tipped his hat, turning to exit as the door swung open, him jumping back in response.

Appearing in the doorway was Stephanie, looking far more nervous than she had that morning. Her nervous demeanor faded, however, as she caught sight of Sportacus standing near the doorway.
“Hi Magnus! I’m glad you found Headmaster Rotten’s office!” She said chipperly.
Slapping down his paperwork, Mr. Rotten frowned at the young girl.
“You know this man, Ms. Splitz?” He asked.
“Ms. Splitz?” asked Sportacus in confusion.
“Apologies, Ms. Meanswell.” Mr. Rotten said quickly.
Stephanie nodded.
“Yes I do! He’s very kind. He caught me when I tripped on the ice outside the schoolhouse, and he saved my lunchbox from being smashed by a car!” she said happily.
“Did he now?” said Mr. Rotten, his expression unmoved. “I will make a note to salt the steps outside the front entrance then.”
Stephanie looked hopefully at Sportacus.

“So, did you talk to Headmaster Rotten? Did you tell him you wanted to apply?” She asked.
Sportacus tried to not let his failure show in his expression.
“Well yes, but he kindly let me know that your school’s staff is full presently. But no worries! I’ll apply at another school and have a job in no time!” He said encouragingly.
Stephanie frowned.
“But we only have one teacher! And with so many of the younger kids getting older, we’ll surely need another teacher soon! Headmaster Rotten couldn’t teach over fifty children in one day!” Stephanie protested.
“I-I believe Ms. Meanswell exaggerates, Mr. Íþróttsson! My school’s staff is completely capable of handling the forecasted flux of children!” said Mr. Rotten, more nervously. He shot a stern look to Stephanie. “Ms. Meanswell, it’s rude to refer to your elders by their first names.”
“Well, I did give her permission, Mr. Rotten. It’s okay.” Sportacus said placatingly.
Stephanie shook her head and skipped up to Mr. Rotten’s desk, looking at him pleadingly.
“Please, Headmaster Rotten! You must give Mr. Íþróttsson a chance! He is so kind and caring, and he’d be wonderful as a teacher!” she said.
“How long have you known this gentleman, Ms. Meanswell?” asked Mr. Rotten warily.
“I met him this morning, but I just know! I can tell he’s a man of good heart, and you must give him a chance! And don’t you always complain about how overworked you are? He could be your solution!” said Stephanie with a knowing look in her eye.
Mr. Rotten prepared to answer, before realizing he had been caught. He couldn’t deny that he’d been aching for an assistant teacher, and Stephanie was right, the next year would bring a whole new gaggle of children that he simply wouldn’t be able to adequately teach. He also couldn’t deny that he’d loudly bemoaned the heavy workload in the past, and his desire for a greater staff. It was difficult running a schoolhouse on his own, even with such a small student body.
Groaning, Mr. Rotten pressed the palms of his hands into his eyes, sighing in weariness.
“Headmaster Rotten?” asked Stephanie.
“Fine. You get the job, Mr. Íþróttsson. Their class starts in five minutes, and classes run from 7:30 am to 3 pm. Ensure you arrive a few minutes early to prepare for lessons, and you get an hour for lunch, same time as the students.” Mr. Rotten grumbled, massaging his eyes.
A toothy grin crossed Sportacus’s face, and he took one of Mr. Rotten’s hands (much to Mr. Rotten’s surprise) and shook it firmly.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Rotten! You won’t regret this decision!” He said cheerily.
“We’ll see about that.” Mr. Rotten mumbled, before looking up tiredly to Stephanie. “Ms. Meanswell, will you please vacate my office. I need to speak to Mr. Íþróttsson in private.”
Stephanie nodded and, flashing a smile to Sportacus, skipped out of the room towards the open door of the classroom.

Mr. Rotten got up, his bones cracking and creaking as he walked towards the door, closing it shut.
Sportacus, who’d been watching and flinching at every crack, looked at the headmaster with a restrained nervousness.
“Now listen closely, Mr. Íþróttsson.” Mr. Rotten said, massaging his forehead with two of his fingers. “I’ve run this school for many years now under the strict goal of ensuring academic excellence and prosperity. Do you understand that?”
Sportacus nodded.
“Of course. I wouldn’t expect anything else.”
Good.” Mr. Rotten noted with a stern look. “Then you must understand that, as a teacher in my school, you are not to deviate from the lesson plans and curriculum at any point. If I heard even a peep about your class being behind on their work, you’re out. Have I made myself clear?”
Sportacus’s shoulders sank.
“I understand, but if I may ask, shouldn’t a teacher be allowed at least a little freedom to educate a child in their own, individual method? Perhaps the curriculum doesn’t fully agree with them?” he asked.
“Oh, in most circumstances, of course. But not here. Not with you.” Mr. Rotten said, drawing close to Sportacus’s face. “The only reason you got your position is because of Ms. Meanswell. You’d do best to remember that because, without her, I wouldn’t have given you even a second thought. You’re dangling by a thread already, so you better shape up. Got it?”
Sportacus, gulping, nodded quickly.
“Good, now move along. Class starts in a minute.” Mr. Rotten said, glancing at his wristwatch.
Sportacus, visibly shaken, strode out of the office and closed the door behind him, leaving Mr. Rotten alone once more.
Sighing, Mr. Rotten returned to his work, filing away graded reports separate from the ungraded ones.
Occasionally he’d pause, his thoughts returning to the school’s new teacher. The fact that this man so disturbed him, but why? Yes, the man may be cheerier than the average citizen of LazyTown, to a near irritating point, but he’d seen that before. Those people annoyed him, not put him on edge. There was something else about Mr. Íþróttsson that bothered him, but exactly what eluded him.
And it wasn’t just that white hair. There was something else too.
Mr. Rotten shook his head and, deciding not to spend anymore time ruminating on the subject, tried to distract himself with more grading and sips of his black coffee.

--

Sportacus could feel his body shake as he left Mr. Rotten’s office. He never knew that humans could be so intimidating, with gazes that rival the mightiest huldúfólk and the strongest of warriors. It left him uneasy, which didn’t mix well with the slight pang of guilt he felt from his failed glamour attempt. He didn’t wish to use a glamour, but he needed this job. Though, given the glare he was given and the now very present distrust the headmaster holds for him, he wondered if it was even worth a try. Though still, he wondered why his glamour failed
Nevertheless, Sportacus tried to push everything aside as he entered the classroom, his smile returning as he finally saw the small group of children sitting at their desks, chattering to each other and comparing answers. Finally, he could get started on why he came to LazyTown in the first place: emboldening the children’s holiday spirits and overall enthusiasm. Now to see just how receptive they’d be to a teacher like him.

Sportacus closed the door behind him and, with a running start, he slid across the desk, coming to a dead stop at the other end of it.
The kids, startled by the sudden energy, stared with widened eyes and thinned lips. One student’s paper escaped his hands and floated to the floor.
“Heh, apologies students. I’ve always wanted to do that.” Sportacus said as he straightened out his tie. He slid off his jacket and scarf and hung them on a wall hook, though he decided to keep his homburg on for the time. Turning to the children, he grabbed a piece of chalk and wrote out his surname on the board.
“Good morning, students! My name is Mr. Íþróttsson, but you can just call me ‘teacher’ or ‘Magnus’ or…I don’t know, Mr. Meaney-Pants. I used to nickname my own teacher that. Whatever you prefer!” Sportacus said, pausing for a laugh.
No such laugh came about.
His smile wavering for just a moment, Sportacus cleared his throat and walked to the front of the desk.
“Well, without further ado, we should get started with today’s lessons. What subject does Mr. Rotten usually start you all with?” He asked.
Pixel raised his hand.
“He usually starts the morning with arithmetic. Today we have a worksheet to turn in, so we should hand them to you.” He answered.
“A great start! Alright everyone, pass in your homework and I’ll grade them tonight.” Said Sportacus, sitting back against the desk.
All the children passed up their homework, with the person at the front desk neatly stacking the papers into a pile and passing the collected work to Sportacus, who strode past the front row.
“Alright, thank you everyone. I’ll just take a quick look to make sure I got every – “Sportacus said, before stopping, his face paling a shade.
He looked up, a nervous look on his face.
“This…if I am right, this looks like beginning algebra.” He said.
Stephanie nodded.
“Mr. Rotten keeps an accelerated pace for our classes, Mr. Íþróttsson. Most of us can read at a sixth-grade level, and we’ve just started our first algebra lessons.” She said.
His gaze darted to the youngest child, Ziggy, sitting in the second row.
“I-I’m not there yet. I’m still on long division.” Ziggy admitted.
“And how old are you?” asked Sportacus.
“I just turned six, Mr., um, Magnus.” Said Ziggy quietly.

Sportacus blew a low whistle as he sank into the desk, his mind boggling at the assertions of the children.
“Well, okay then…” He said softly, turning towards the algebra textbook on the shelf nearby. He flipped it open, his face going whiter with every single page he skimmed.
It wasn’t like he was uneducated in mathematics, as every elf is educated in primary knowledge at a young age. Even for his job as a toy builder, he had to take mathematics, science, and literature like everyone else. And he did fairly well, ranking in the upper half of the class each time. So, it wasn’t like he didn’t know anything about the subjects.
But even he knew that teaching is a whole other ballfield, and as he looked out at the sea of faces, he tried to be subtle as he sucked down a gulp.
“Open your books to page 70 everyone.” He said, referring to the bookmark left within the pages.
The day continued along that same pattern, with Sportacus trying his best to educate the children in topics he never thought he’d have to lecture on for children as young as six. For mathematics, he tried his best to coax memories of absolute value inequalities. The lecture ended after Pixel and Stephanie had to correct him three times on an equation he used as an example, leaving Sportacus red with embarrassment. Literature went more smoothly, though Sportacus was still left shocked that Mr. Rotten had assigned works by Dostoevsky and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and he was even more shocked at how readily the children read and understood even the more complex and mature themes in the stories. They barely blinked at some of the short stories, containing accounts of war horrors, poverty, and domestic violence, while those same stories made Sportacus’s complexion rival the whiteness of snow.
“A-And you all read this, and have no problems with it?” He asked uneasily.
The children shrugged.
“It’s stuff from real life, so it’s not that shocking.” Stingy quipped.
These children were nothing like the ones from his human history books, Sportacus was quickly learning. The ones in his book seemed detached and blissfully unaware of evil and horrors and overall were innocently naïve. These children, on the other hand, were all too aware of everything the world had to offer, good and bad. And that wasn’t sitting well with Sportacus, who had to push himself to continue lecturing the children on tales of murder and woe.

Finally, Sportacus had gone through the entire lecture schedule and, frankly, he was left a little spent. Leaning back against the desk, he put aside the history textbook and smiled wearily at the children.
“Well everyone, we have a few minutes before class is dismissed. I don’t believe Headmaster Rotten will allow me to dismiss you early, so how about we do something impromptu? A little discussion on the holidays!” Sportacus said cheerily. After all, he’d completed Mr. Rotten’s request that he kept the children on schedule. Surely, he wouldn’t mind an open discussion?
He turned and wrote a question on the board: What are your favorite Christmas stories?
“So, anyone who wants to can raise their hand and share their favorite stories! Who wants to go first?” asked Sportacus eagerly.
Silence.
The children looked at each other awkwardly, before looking back to their teacher.
While his smile persisted, Sportacus’s brow lowered to a furrow, confusion crossing his expression.
“Um well, if you’re all struggling, perhaps I can go first?” He suggested. “I’ve always be fond of The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. I think that’s quite a sweet story of two people’s love for each other, and a perfect sentiment for the holiday!”
Even with that, none of the children spoke up. Many, actually, looked downright disinterested.
Sportacus, his expression finally crossing to full-blown confusion, stood from his place.
“Does no one have a favorite Christmas story? A Visit from St. Nicholas? A Christmas Carol? The Nutcracker and the Mouse King? The Cricket on the Hearth?” He asked with slight exasperation.
Pixel rose his hand.
“Well, to be honest Mr. Íþróttsson, no one’s really that into Christmas in LazyTown.” He said quietly.
Sportacus’s eyes widened.
“No one is? No one in the whole town?” he asked in shock.
Trixie piped up next.
“Nah. I mean, it’s just another day. The town doesn’t do much to celebrate, and thus neither do we. Besides, Christmas is a meaningless holiday. That’s what everyone says.” She said.
Sportacus looked in shock at the children.
“Meaningless? Christmas is far from meaningless! It’s a day of giving, and of good spirits, and of peace on Earth, good will to all people! It’s a day where people believe in the good of the world and are kind to each other in turn!” He said more loudly.
“But that’s not true. No one can change in one month, and peace can’t happen in one month either.” Ziggy mumbled, turning his gaze down towards his desk.
Sportacus looked at the child, his heart breaking at the comments from the students. Not even a single child seemed excited for Christmas, and it seemed that the entire town was in the same boat as them. Íþró was right, this town had truly lost its love of the holiday, and it seemed that Sportacus’s job was going to be much larger than he thought.
The bell rang, and the children started to gather up their books and bags. They filed out of the classroom, chattering quietly to each other, leaving Sportacus alone in the room with Stephanie.
She walked forward and tugged on his sleeve, giving him a half-smile.
“I’m guessing you weren’t told about this town and Christmas, were you?” she said.
Sportacus sighed and shook his head.
“No, I was definitely told about Christmas in this town. I guess…I just assumed only the adults were dispassionate about the holiday, and that maybe their disinterest rubbed off on the children. I didn’t expect kids like yourself to be so blasé about the season on their own.”
Stephanie’s smile turned sadder.
“Well, it’s like Trixie and Ziggy said. Christmas isn’t magical or anything like that; it’s another day. Life is the same during Christmas, so it’s not that special.” She said.
Sportacus felt like a knife had been driven through his heart, listening to this little girl say those words with a smile, even a sad one, on her face.
Stephanie, taking a step back, gave him a weak smile.
“Have a good day, Mr. Íþróttsson.” She said, before slowly leaving the classroom, giving it one last look before exiting the schoolhouse.

Sportacus, finally alone in the classroom, sighed tiredly and sadly. He slowly turned to gather his homburg, coat, and scarf. He tied the scarf around his neck and flipped the hat onto his head, his gaze drifting to stare out the window. The children were walking back home, their conversation light but their faces with minimal joy. There was truly not even a hint of excitement on their faces, and as they walked towards the rows of buildings with few if any decorations, it wasn’t like Sportacus could blame them.
“So, you survived your first day here. I pray it went smoothly?”
Sportacus turned around, noticing Mr. Rotten standing in the doorway, his arms crossed and his expression ever stern and firm.
Sportacus’s lips thinned, and he nodded.
“It did. I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite expecting the children’s education to be as…advanced as it is.” He said.
“As I told you, Mr. Íþróttsson, my goal in this schoolhouse is to ensure academic excellence and achievement with the children. That includes pushing their abilities and keeping an accelerated curriculum. Thus, our children can compete with and surpass the rest of the nation’s children.” Said Mr. Rotten, his pride tempered under his stony gaze.
“I understand and respect that but…Ziggy Zweets is barely six, and he’s reading material for children twice his age. Don’t you believe that he might not be ready to read such, well, dark stories?” Sportacus asked.
“Children must be ready to comprehend and cope with the real world, Mr. Íþróttsson. No use mollycoddling them if that makes them slow and complacent, thus less ready to deal with crooks and evil people. The work may be challenging now, but they’ll be more greatly rewarded later in their lives.” Mr. Rotten explained dismissively.
Sportacus looked at the floor, a downcast look in his eyes.
“Perhaps, but…but the children aren’t even excited about Christmas. Doesn’t that seem odd to you?” He said.
Mr. Rotten frowned at Sportacus.
“Please tell me you aren’t into that nonsense, Mr. Íþróttsson. When I hired you, I hoped at the very minimum you’d at least be a man of sense. Perhaps I was too hopeful.”
“Headmaster Rotten, I assure you that Christmas is not nonsense. It’s a wonderful time of the year, especially for the children. It’s a time of joy, peace, and wonder…”
“All dribble cooked up by people like you to fool others into a false sense of security.” Mr. Rotten responded through gritted teeth. “Christmas is no different than any other day, and anyone who says that Christmas is a time where people change, and the world becomes better has their head up someplace rude.”
Sportacus cringed. He was starting to understand where some of the children’s sentiments might’ve come from.
“I…don’t you think that might be a little harsh, Headmaster Rotten? I mean, even someone who clearly dislikes the day can at least admit the sentiment is nice and thoughtful – “
“There’s no thoughtfulness if it’s an empty sentiment.” Mr. Rotten snapped, lowering his eyes at the new teacher. “Now I advise you to let go of such frivolous fantasies and focus on keep the children’s education at a respectable speed. No clouding their minds with sugary, pointless sentiments and dreams of an archaic and long past its usefulness holiday.”
Mr. Rotten turned and walked towards the front door, before pausing.
“And may I advise you that, if you so wish to keep trying to push your pro-Christmas agenda with my students, that you leave this building at once and never return. I won’t allow your senselessness to leave my students unprepared for the world outside these doors.” He said with frown, before swiftly striding out the doors.

Sportacus, for a time, stood there in stunned silence. His lips thinned, and he mulled over his day, feeling slightly disheartened. Finally, after a few minutes, he stuffed his hands into his pockets and walked out of the school. He glanced about at the downturned faces of the passersby, none of them giving a second glance at those they pushed by.

Part of him wondered if bringing the light back into the town’s spirit was even feasible at this point in time. The whole town seemed blanketed in a gray cloud that hazed around their heads, keeping their spirits tempered and low. Even a cursory break to get them to smile about the holidays would be a challenge. One that grew more daunting the more Sportacus thought about it.

Shaking his head, he walked slowly down the road out of town, his gaze turning ever so often to the buildings that marked the outskirts of town, as a light rain began to fall.

He would have to try again, somehow. As difficult as this seemed, there’d have to be a way.

Chapter Text

As Mr. Rotten woke from his fitful slumbers, he was greeted as he was every day with the slivers of early sunrise streaming between his curtains.

For some, the sunrise is a lovely phenomenon of being alive, with many taking great delight in witnessing the earth transition from cold, dark nighttime to the liveliness and bright light of the day, and how the earth seemingly yawns and stretches through the branching beams of light.

Mr. Rotten was not one of those people.

No, for him, getting up at sunrise for his work was a curse and a burden. Mr. Rotten couldn’t understand how, for some people, waking this early was not just routine, but natural. The thought would make him shudder. Those people can’t possibly be healthy or sane.
The early mornings would also only bring lamentations to his mind, sourced from distant memories of days long passed, where he could sleep in as long as he wished. He could sleep through the morning, afternoon, and following evening if he so wanted to. It was of a time hazy and wonderful, yet Mr. Rotten could never recall much from those memories other than being able to sleep longer each morning.
This might be disconcerting to some, but Mr. Rotten paid it little mind.
Besides, he had a job he had to prepare for.
As he swung his legs over the side of the bed, sitting upright, Mr. Rotten flinched and swore under his breath as the all-too familiar dull pain emanated through his back. He massaged his back and, fumbling in the darkness of his room, he searched for his trusty bottle of Aspirin. Two every morning; that had been his routine for as long as he could remember. He popped the pills into his mouth and took them dry, before hoisting himself up and towards his drawers.

After getting dressed, Mr. Rotten drug himself into his tiny kitchen, filled with neglected plates and old newspapers. He was never bothered to clean; who would he be cleaning for if he did? Mr. Rotten’s home wasn’t exactly bustling with guests or visitors. Really, if it weren’t for the decorations and the refuse, one could easily mistake Mr. Rotten’s home for being vacated.
Mr. Rotten made himself a simple breakfast of black coffee and toast with peanut butter slathered on top. As he chomped into the gummy meal and wrestled with his coat, a thought crossed his mind.
The likelihood that, once more, he’d have his class to teach.
He hmphed, feeling neither pleased nor disappointed with the proposition. Well, perhaps a little pleased, if only at the thought of being rid of his newly acquired employee so quickly.
He pulled on his gloves and scarf and braced himself for the bitter cold of the morning. With December so close, the mornings had truly become intolerably frigid. Mr. Rotten’s teeth chattered as he stuffed his hands into his pocket and, walking with a gait like a penguin, he tromped towards the schoolhouse.
To try and distract himself from the bitter cold, Mr. Rotten tried to cheer himself up with the thought that, most likely, Mr. Íþróttsson was gone for good; scared and defeated by his experience the previous day, as well as intimidated by Mr. Rotten’s speech against the holiday season.

Good riddance if he is gone. I can’t let fluffy headed dreamers remain in my school. It’s not good for the children.” Mr. Rotten thought to himself, blowing into his cupped hands.
Indeed, Mr. Rotten secretly felt pleased at the idea of the strange new teacher being gone for good, out of his hair. The man still seemed strange to Mr. Rotten. Off in a way that Mr. Rotten could sense, but not describe. Something about his mannerisms, and how he acted the previous day in his office. He wasn’t sure why, but it still bothered Mr. Rotten even the next day.
And the hair.
The hair still bothered him.
But why? After all, white was a perfectly natural color for a human to have.
But on him…
Mr. Rotten shook his head. Enough of that; he refused to let his morning thoughts be monopolized by the odd and, most likely, long gone teacher. Granted, Mr. Rotten didn’t look forward to comforting the children, who’d most likely be disappointed that their new teacher had left so soon.
He already could picture the fallen, crushed expression on Stephanie’s face, and it made him stop a moment.
Oh, he was not ready to comfort several children and try to answer their queries. But this was part of his job as an educator and, as uncomfortable as the thought made him, he’d still have to support his students through a period of disappointment and hide his own relief at Mr. Íþróttsson’s departure.
“I will cross that bridge when I reach it.” Mr. Rotten told himself. “I need to finalize my lesson plans. Who knows what that snowy-haired buffoon did to my beautiful schedule…”

The thoughts of the day’s lectures and assignments saturated Mr. Rotten’s thoughts as he finally reached the schoolhouse. He pushed open the door and strode towards his office, hanging up his coat and scarf on the rack. He sifted through his paperwork, finding a folder with his planned lessons inside. Tapping it against the desk’s surface, Mr. Rotten turned with the folder and walked towards the classroom, already bustling with noise. He paused in front of the door, taking a deep breath as he steeled himself for the no doubt inevitable bombardment of questions and concerns from his students.
“Children, I regret to inform you that Mr. Íþróttsson is no longer employed as a teacher at the LazyTown school. He believes that an engagement in an alternative town would be of better fit for his style and future goals…” Mr. Rotten quietly recited to himself, before nodding.
That should do.
Clearing his throat, Mr. Rotten pushed the door open and strode into the well-lit and noisy classroom.
“Well children, I have unfortunate news for you about Mr. Íþróttsson. I regret to inform you that he – “Mr. Rotten said, before freezing in his stride.

There were a multitude of eyes fixed upon him as he stopped mid-speech. As Mr. Rotten scanned the room, he realized that one pair of eyes belonged to the man in question, who was staring at him in surprise.
Sportacus, sitting at the teacher’s desk with his books and notes prepared, looked curiously at the headmaster.
“I’m what? Not here? No worries, I came and clocked in right on time.” Sportacus said with a half-smile.
Mr. Rotten’s once composed expression cracked as a small grimace crossed his face, his nose twitching nervously.
“So I see. You’ve decided to stay, then?” He asked.
Sportacus nodded.
“I thought over our conversation the other day, and I realized you’re right. I was getting too distracted yesterday, and I was distracting the children. So, on my honor, we’ll keep to the scheduled material today. I’ll only teach them the subjects they’re supposed to learn today, from now on.” Sportacus said, standing up and walking towards Mr. Rotten with a smile. “Besides, I figured I’d give this another try! Just because yesterday was an adjustment doesn’t mean I don’t fit in here. Don’t you agree?”
Mr. Rotten grumbled to himself.
“No, I suppose not.” He said reluctantly. He turned a suspicious gaze to the teacher. “But how am I supposed to trust that you’ll keep your promise?”
Sportacus smiled and stuck out his hand, with Mr. Rotten jumping back in response.
“We can shake on it? Like gentlemen?” Sportacus suggested.
Mr. Rotten, collecting himself, furrowed his brow, his eyes darting back and forth between Sportacus’s hand and the man himself.
Finally, Mr. Rotten relented.
“Fine, I’ll accept this.” He said, giving Sportacus his hand.

Mr. Rotten immediately regretted accepting Sportacus’s sign of commitment as soon as he felt the teacher’s grip. He nearly squeaked in shock; the man had a grip like a vice, and he worried for a moment that his hand was reduced to jelly as Sportacus vigorously shook it.
Once the teacher finally let go, Mr. Rotten pulled back his hand, examining it for any bruising or breakage. Nothing was visibly damaged, thankfully and surprisingly.
“Sorry. I forget that I have a strong grip.” Sportacus said sheepishly.
“Seems like something that’d be hard to forget.” Mr. Rotten grumbled.
Sportacus chuckled in response, causing Mr. Rotten to pause a moment, his glare fading only barely, almost unnoticeably.
“Well, Mr. Íþróttsson, I suppose I should allow you to start your lectures. But remember our deal, and this: if the students start to slip in their performance, you’re out.” Mr. Rotten said, firming his expression once more.
Sportacus gave him thumbs up.
“Completely understood! No need to worry, Headmaster Rotten.” He said, turning to address the children once more.
Mr. Rotten massaged his hand as he started to walk away, grumbling about how sore it felt. He hoped he had a heating pad somewhere in his office. Maybe a little overdramatic, but given how his hand felt, he’d give in to some dramatics to make himself feel better.
“Alright class! Today we’ll be making paper snowflakes – “Sportacus started.
Mr. Rotten halted and turned sharply on his heel.
“Didn’t we just shake about this?! I said no holiday sentimentality!” Mr. Rotten said in a near bark.
Sportacus smiled and raised an eyebrow.
“You didn’t let me finish, Headmaster Rotten. We’ll be cutting out snowflakes to learn about geometric patterns. And after all, snowflakes aren’t just for Christmas; they’re winter related too.” He answered calmly.
“Yeah! Snowflakes fall even when it isn’t Christmas!” piped up Ziggy, who’d already started to cut a small triangle into his own piece of paper.
The other children didn’t display the same enthusiasm as Ziggy, but nonetheless seemed to mirror and agree with his statement. They all nodded slowly and hesitantly.
Mr. Rotten wanted to protest, he really did. But Sportacus and the children had beaten him with their own logic and, at this point, denying them their silly arts and crafts activity would just seem vindictive. As much as he wanted to fight, he sighed angrily and shook his head.
“Fine, you may go along with your…artsy geometry project. But I’ll only let this pass this once!” Mr. Rotten said, before storming out of the room.
Sportacus watched Mr. Rotten until he vanished around the corner, the door to his office slamming shut loudly, causing him and the children to recoil. Once the noise had stopped echoing in the empty hallways, Sportacus breathed a sigh of relief and turned back to the children with a smile.
“Well, you heard Headmaster Rotten. We can keep this project, but please make sure to incorporate at least three different geometric shapes into your design.” He said without a hint of nervousness.
The kids, slowly, returned to their projects, silently clipping away at their colored pieces of paper. It was almost unnervingly quiet, and Sportacus found himself quietly humming a tune to himself, if only to break up the repressive silence.
“Mr. Íþróttsson, how are you able to be so…so calm around Headmaster Rotten?” asked Pixel, nervously.
“Oh, it’s not so hard. I think most of his harshness is just him trying to be a commanding presence! It is part of his job. I’m certain he’s a nice person inside.” Sportacus said, busily snipping away at his own piece of paper. He paused and looked up. “Does he scare all of you?”
The kids, after a moment of hesitation and after checking the door, nodded.
“I’m pretty sure he almost made Stingy wet himself a year ago or so.” Trixie noted with a snicker.
“I did not!” Stingy protested, his cheeks pink.
Sportacus’s eyes widened.
“That is pretty scary.” He admitted.
“Well…he isn’t always that bad.” Stephanie noted.
The kids and Sportacus turned to her in a mixture of surprise and curiosity.
“You’ve got to be kidding, Pinky! Headmaster Rotten? Not that bad??” Trixie said.
Stephanie shrugged.
“Well…he lent me his umbrella once when it was raining. And he sometimes has dinner with my uncle, and they seem to get along okay. Not much laughing or really smiling, but it seems pleasant enough.  I, well, think Mr. Íþróttsson is right. Perhaps he’s just strict for his job.” She said.
The children mulled over this consideration thoughtfully, as they continued to work on their snowflakes.
“Nah, I still think he’s a grump.” Trixie said dismissively.
Ziggy bit his lip and looked down, unable to respond.
“It’s hard to imagine him being nice, given what we’ve seen of him.” Pixel admitted.
Sportacus gave the children a nod, before quietly responding.
“Well, students, I understand your feelings about Headmaster Rotten. But, it is good to try and be kind to each other, including people we think are grumpy or rude.”
“Because it’s Christmas?” Stingy asked flatly, giving his teacher a look.
“No, not just that. Just because it’s the right thing to do.” Sportacus responded, clipping a corner off his snowflake.
The children didn’t initially respond, instead busying themselves with their snowflakes. The room fell silent again for some time.
“I think…if it’s okay and after it’s graded, I’ll give my snowflake to Headmaster Rotten. Maybe that will make him smile.” Said Ziggy, lifting up his rough and not elegant, yet charming, geometric snowflake.
Sportacus gave the boy a warm smile.
“I think that’s a marvelous idea. If you’d like, I’ll grade it now, so you can give it to him at lunchtime.” He said.
Ziggy smiled back and handed his snowflake to the teacher.
Sportacus, giving it a careful glance, looking at its choppy edges and rough composition, smiled at the boy.
“Absolutely wonderful, Mr. Zweets. A+.” He said happily.
Ziggy, gasping, returned to his desk, his face glowing with pride.

--

It was around noon when the schoolhouse bell chimed, finally signaling the start of the lunch hour.

Mr. Rotten could hear how the courtyard filled with chatter, the children politely filing out into the frigid yard, huddling like penguins to keep warm and overall unwilling to do much outside of shiver.

Perhaps, he considered, indoor recess would be a better choice, given the weather. But he also knew how a few of the parents in the PTA threw fits if their children weren’t given “outside time” every day, so Mr. Rotten had his hands tied.

As long as the children were free of frostbite, he supposed outdoor recess would be acceptable.

Sitting at his desk, Mr. Rotten took a bite of his sandwich: chocolate spread and peanut butter. His favorite combo, though today it brought him little joy.
He of course wouldn’t admit it, but the thought of Mr. Íþróttsson’s continued presence disconcerted him, as well as the teacher’s victory that morning.
He had to admit, using snowflakes as a geometry teaching tool was…well at the very least, clever. And technically separate enough from Christmas to be allowable.
Still, this new teacher had quite the nerve to even think of bending his rules. His hard set, hard won, and hard kept rules. And part of Mr. Rotten worried that such change would eventually weaken the system he’d toiled to create, perhaps the only thing in his life that he’d put actual effort into creating.
All taken apart by some man with hair the color of whipped cream.
Mr. Rotten frowned, tossing his sandwich back onto its wrapping.
His appetite had suddenly left him.
He heard laughter outside and, glancing out the window, he saw Mr. Íþróttsson showing off like some carney to the children, performing handstands, cartwheels, and flips. And of course, all the children ate it up, watching with quiet, yet reverent, awe.
Yanking the window open, Mr. Rotten was immediately hit with a blast of chilling air, one that sent him trembling and his teeth chattering. Fighting his body’s automatic response to the cold weather, he leaned out the window and shot a glare at the teacher.
“You’d better not be giving the students any ideas, Mr. Íþróttsson! I will not be held responsible if any student breaks their skulls trying your hair-brained tricks!” He warned sternly.
Sportacus, in response, immediately landed his last flip and gave a solemn nod to the headmaster.
“I only wished to demonstrate a flip for them, Headmaster Rotten! Trust me, I wouldn’t teach them anything without a crash pad in place!” Sportacus said reassuringly.
Mr. Rotten lowered his eyes at the teacher.
“Better that you don’t teach them that at all! And children,” He said, turning a less harsh glance to the children. “be sure not to follow Mr. Íþróttsson’s example! Remember that no sensible man travels about through flipping!” Mr. Rotten stated, before ducking his head back inside and slamming the window shut, the pane rattling.
As he sat back in his chair, Mr. Rotten could hear the disappointed murmuring of the children outside. He sighed tiredly. Truly, he didn’t like ending their games, but part of his intent was genuine. He really couldn’t afford having to deal with a furious parent over why their precious child had to be rushed to the ER. Dampening Mr. Íþróttsson’s spirit was just a plus.


He took another bite out of his sandwich, his eyes occasionally darting back out to the courtyard. Now the kids were sitting in a semi-circle, listening to no doubt a story that Mr. Íþróttsson was regaling them with. Mr. Rotten frowned, and pondered for a moment if he should get up and tell Mr. Íþróttsson to stop once more.
No, he eventually decided.
One, because he wasn’t feeling up to it. Laziness was a crutch for him.
Second, because he felt that yelling at a man for telling stories was too vindictive, even for him.
He barely cared even if the story the teacher was telling was about Christmas.
…okay, that was a slight lie.
He did care, but more, it made him curious.
Why was this teacher so dead-set on introducing holiday related materials to the lectures?
Mr. Rotten’s stance was clear: holidays, especially Christmas, were a waste of time. He understood that people, many people, disagreed with his opinion. He usually avoided those people. But he’d yet to meet anyone so insistent as Mr. Íþróttsson. Insistent to the point of putting up with a job with a man like himself, who hated Christmas? That took true nerve, or determination. Or both.
And that’s what made Mr. Rotten curious.
Perhaps, but…but the children aren’t even excited about Christmas. Doesn’t that seem odd to you?
Mr. Rotten screwed up his nose, thinking over his and Mr. Íþróttsson’s exchange the other day.
“Nothing odd about that at all.” He grumbled to himself, turning his chair around. “It’s as it should be. The children will grow up with good sense in their heads and minds for logic. They will be well prepared to deal with the world around them. I’m doing them a service.” He said to himself reassuringly.
He looked out the other window, looking at the side of the courtyard. Two of the children, Trixie and Stingy, were playing marbles. They seemed to be squabbling, with Stingy dragging all the marbles back towards him.
Mr. Rotten sighed.
“Time to break up yet ANOTHER argument. Those two…” He said, starting to get up.

Except, Mr. Rotten paused as Mr. Íþróttsson appeared on the scene. He stood between the two, putting his arms out to keep them separated.
“You can’t play with those marbles! They’re MY marbles, and so you play by MY rules!” Stingy said upsettably.
“We always play by your rules, Stingy! You’re such a selfish brat!” Trixie spat back.
“Now that’s enough! Both of you!” Sportacus said firmly, looking at both children disappointedly.
The two kids, who’d just starting slapping at each other, turned with fearful glances at the teacher.
Sportacus sighed and looked at Stingy.
“Mr. Spoilero, aren’t marbles more fun to play with another person? A single player marble game would be awfully lonely.” Sportacus said.
Stingy, pouting, looked away.
“Well yes, but Trixie won’t play my way! And my way is the best way!” He protested.
“Do you know that? Perhaps it might be good to hear how Ms. Troubleby wants to play this time?” Sportacus suggested gently.
Stingy shrugged.
“I guess…but she still called me names!”
“I know.” Sportacus said, turning to Trixie. “I understand that sometimes you don’t get what you want, and friends can be difficult. But there’s never a good excuse for calling others names.”
Stingy stuck out his tongue.
Trixie glowered.
“Yeah, but he deserved it!” She said.
“It’s still not nice though!” Sportacus said, giving a look to Stingy.
The boy shrunk back at the teacher’s gaze.
With a sigh and a returning, patient smile, Sportacus patted the children’s backs.
“Now, if you two don’t get along, perhaps it’d be best you play another game. Mr. Spoilero, apologize to Ms. Troubleby, and Ms. Troubleby you do the same.” He said gently.
Stingy and Trixie, their prides slightly bruised, looked at each other awkwardly.
“Uh, sorry for calling you names, Stingy.” Trixie said, rubbing her arm.
“Yeah. And uh, sorry too.” Stingy said, mumbling.

Smiling, Sportacus looked approvingly at the children.
“Now, what are you two going to do?” He asked.
Trixie shrugged.
“We could try and trap a bird by the fence!” She suggested with a grin.
Stingy’s eyes widened.
“You can do that? Aren’t they too fast?” He asked.
Sportacus’s face paled.
“O-Or we could do something that doesn’t involve wild animals!” He suggested futilely.
Grinning, Trixie ran towards the fence, grabbing a discarded tin can as she ran. Stingy ran after her, with Sportacus close at his heels.
“Quick! I bet we could catch it squawking!” Trixie said cheerily.
“Children, please! That’s not nice!” Sportacus protested, running nervously after his students.

Mr. Rotten, who’d be watching the entire time, couldn’t stop himself from uttering a genuine laugh. A laugh he hadn’t uttered in years; one that urged a small smile to his face.
Well, at the least, this new teacher could provide some entertainment, as well as save him from breaking apart yet another argument between his students.
From how he conducted himself around the students, Sportacus was clearly very new to teaching, and Mr. Rotten figured he could get some amusement from that.
He was so distracted watching the amusing spectacle of Sportacus futilely try and curtail Trixie’s latest poaching game, that he was caught unaware by the sound of his door slamming against the wall.
Mr. Rotten yelped, leaping a good foot in the air, before landing clumsily. He clutched his chest and breathed in shallow, rapid breaths, before he turned with a cold glare at the door.
His glared softened slightly, however, once he finally spotted the young, blonde boy standing in his door way. Ziggy looked sheepishly at the headmaster, and he seemed to be holding something behind his back.
“I-I’m sorry Headmaster Rotten. I always forget to make sure your door doesn’t slam.” Ziggy said nervously.

Mr. Rotten, finally calming down enough, finally controlled his breathing and gave a short nod.
“What do you need, Mr. Zweets?” asked Mr. Rotten, his voice still slightly strained from his fright.
Ziggy, realizing he’d been given an a-okay, stepped forward and placed a folded piece of paper on the headmaster’s desk.
“I just wanted to give you this. I made it in class, and thought you might like it.” He said. He paused and looked at the headmaster. “Do you like it?”
Mr. Rotten, with his usual, cold exterior, seemed to melt ever so slightly. The firm rigidity of his expression eased, and he actually looked approachable for a moment. He carefully took the paper and unfolded it, revealing a crudely cut paper snowflake. It was clear that the boy had put his all into making this one, small snowflake. Turning it over in his hands, Mr. Rotten looked it over, a warm light in his eyes.
It was noticeable enough that Ziggy eased for just a second, his tension releasing.
“D-Do you like it?” He asked quietly.
Mr. Rotten’s eyes darted up, and the softness in his expression faded partly. Clearing his throat, Mr. Rotten gave a nod.
“Thank you for your generous gift, Mr. Zweets.” Mr. Rotten said softly, turning towards an old filing cabinet covered in papers. Most were old memos and agendas he’d written up previously but, hidden under the top layers, Mr. Rotten added the snowflake to a thin layer of children’s drawings that lay underneath. Sitting back to admire the haphazard mural, he turned once more to Ziggy.
“You may return to your class, Mr. Zweets.” Said Mr. Rotten, granting the youth the smallest smile.
Ziggy, pleased with the response, smiled and skipped back to class, a spring in his step.

Mr. Rotten sat back in his chair, tapping his fingers against its arm as he looked over his newly acquired snowflake. It had been a while since he’d received a new addition to his little mural, and this snowflake was a welcome one. Looking it over, he could see how Mr. Zweets had cleverly combined multiple diamonds, triangles, hexagons, octagons, and semi-circles to create the snowflake. A wonderfully creative combination of different geometrical shapes.

Geometrical shapes.
The last remaining traces of Mr. Rotten’s smile vanished as soon as he remembered where and when Mr. Zweets had most likely made the snowflake. He turned away with a frown, his gaze turning back to the window. Mr. Íþróttsson had started to corral the children back towards the door, given lunch was nearly over. He seemed to be keeping an especially careful eye on Ms. Troubleby, who was pouting and shooting a dirty look at her teacher. Apparently, the teacher had been successful stopping her from capturing a bird in a tin can.
Amusing or not, adequate at defusing arguments or not, Mr. Íþróttsson was still a thorn in Mr. Rotten’s side for his teaching methods and his unapologetic refusal to keep his lessons strictly not holiday related.
Mr. Rotten watched with a wary eye as the teacher and students filed inside.
“Your snowflake excuse was clever, Mr. Íþróttsson. But you’ll still need to keep those children on schedule. Too many distractions, and I’ll have to fire you. For good.” Mr. Rotten muttered to himself, smirking at the thought of firing the teacher.

Oh, he’d be most definitely keeping an eye on him.

--

If he were to be completely honest, Mr. Rotten really thought it’d be easy to find evidence against Mr. Íþróttsson’s employment. After all, the Christmas loon seemed so obsessed with talking about and embracing the holiday, he figured it’d be an easy enough job.

But somehow, someway, the darned teacher had him outdone with every try.

At first, Mr. Rotten thought he’d finally gotten Mr. Íþróttsson when he caught him reading A Christmas Carol to the students, soon after lunch.
“Aha! I knew it! Spreading your Christmas cheer to the children, are you? That’s a breach of our agreement!” Mr. Rotten stated perhaps too proudly.
Sportacus, in response, gave him a helpless look.
“Oh, I’m sorry Headmaster Rotten. It’s just that your agenda said to lead a discussion on a Charles Dickens novel, and this was the only one the children hadn’t read yet!” He explained.
The haughtiness in Mr. Rotten’s expression fell, and he slowly turned to look at the children, his nose twitching slightly.
The students, who’d seemed only politely engaged prior to his arrival, all nodded nervously.
“He’s right, Headmaster Rotten. We read Nicholas Nickleby last month.” Pixel said first.
“Y-Yeah, and Great Expectations a few months before that.” Stingy said.
“And Oliver Twist before that.” Added Ziggy.
“And Bleak House before that.” Said Trixie with an eye roll.
“And David Copperfield before that.” Noted Stephanie.
“And The Pickwick Papers before that.”
“And Little Dorrit before that.”
“And Our Mutual Friend before that.”
“And Martin Chuzzlewit before that.”
“And The Old Curiosity Shop before that.”
“And – “
“ENOUGH! I believe you all!” Mr. Rotten stated exasperatedly, clenching his fingers into his scalp.
“So as you see, Headmaster Rotten, my hands are tied.” Sportacus said innocently.
Mr. Rotten groaned angrily and tapped his foot.
“Fine, FINE. If that’s truly your only option, carry on! But no more after this!” Mr. Rotten warned before storming off.

Mr. Rotten zero, Mr. Íþróttsson one.

Then the next day, Mr. Rotten thought he’d caught Mr. Íþróttsson teaching holiday spirit once more when he saw him presenting pictures of reindeer for the children to view.
But no. Once more, he was outfoxed.
“A reindeer is an ungulate, Headmaster Rotten. I only bring up the reindeer because the students are supposed to be learning about the ungulate class of herbivores.” Said Sportacus with a small shrug.
Once again, Mr. Rotten had to concede defeat and storm away.

Mr. Rotten zero, Mr. Íþróttsson two.

And yet again, the day after that, Mr. Rotten thought he’d finally gotten the teacher in music class, when he heard the distinct tune of “Greensleeves”.
“A Christmas carol! That is most DEFINITELY a breach of our agreement, and you can’t deny that this time!” Mr. Rotten stated firmly, his voice wavering from weariness.
The children lowered their recorders and looked at each other with confusion, before giving a concerned look to their headmaster.
“Actually, ‘Greensleeves’ is a traditional romanesca that was adopted and turned into a Christmas carol. Its actual origins have nothing to do with the holiday.” Sportacus noted quietly.
Mr. Rotten’s face fell, and his lips thinned to a straight line. He still looked perturbed, his chest raising in dramatic intervals.
“Headmaster Rotten, is everything alright? You seem to be awfully…’shouty’ lately.” Sportacus asked with concern.
“Oh, I’m fine. I’m perfectly fine. In fact, I’m just peachy.” Mr. Rotten grumbled, before stomping away back towards his office.

Mr. Rotten zero, Mr. Íþróttsson three.

Three for three. Mr. Rotten had been outfoxed three times in three days.

And even with all his attempts, Mr. Íþróttsson was still there.

Still there, cheery and smiling. As if he didn’t know how much his presence was a drain on Mr. Rotten’s sanity and authority.

And he truly was a drain, as made evident by how Mr. Rotten leaned tiredly against the door frame, watching the children run off after school. He felt like his face had grown paler, and he had to fight to keep awake. He was exhausted, and had nothing to show for his attempts and effort.
Granted, Mr. Rotten was made tired by his work even before the teacher’s arrival, but the weariness was only made worse due to the addition of him trying desperately to find some way that the teacher broke their contract.
He wondered how long he’d have to keep this up to find something, anything that’d give him an excuse to be rid of the snowy haired teacher.
“One more day until the weekend, Headmaster Rotten! You must be excited.” Said Sportacus cheerily, walking up behind the headmaster.
Mr. Rotten jumped and gave a quick yelp.
Think of the devil and he doth appear.
After collecting himself and ensuring that his heart remained in his chest, he turned with a harsh glare.
Sportacus shrunk back slightly, raising his hands in a sign of placation.
“Oh, sorry, did I scare you? I didn’t mean to.” He said.
“It’s fine, Mr. Íþróttsson.” Grumbled Mr. Rotten, dusting off his coat. “I presume you’ve had a…successful week thus far?”
Sportacus smiled brightly.
“Oh yes, I certainly have. Your students are wonderful, Mr. Rotten. Perhaps a bit reserved, but nonetheless wonderful. I really am enjoying my time here.”
“That at least makes one of us.” Muttered Mr. Rotten.
Seemingly missing his last comment, Sportacus patted the headmaster on the back before he started down the stairs. Mr. Rotten stood up stalk straight, his body freezing stiff and eyes widening in response.
“I’ll see you tomorrow morning then! Have a good night, Headmaster Rotten.” Said Sportacus before he jogged down the streets towards the outskirts of town.

Mr. Rotten shuddered at the thought. Tomorrow would mark the end of only the first week of having Mr. Íþróttsson employed at his school.
One. Week.
It already felt like one decade.
Clenching his fists, Mr. Rotten made his way to his townhouse, his brow furrowed, and his eyes fixed in a glare.
His mind was already chugging away at a plan, a plan that would hopefully be more straight forward than simply waiting for his new teacher to mess up and break their contract.
“I will not put up with another week with that buffoon!” He said to himself, slamming the door behind him.
He kicked aside a small pile of unread newspapers.
“Every time I think I’ve got him, he slips through my fingers! And I can’t fire him unless he does something truly wrong!” He bemoaned, throwing his jacket haphazardly to the side.
Stomping off to his room, he flopped back against the mattress wearily. He felt truly defeated, as much as he didn’t want to admit that.
“I can’t give up. There has to be something, someone who could do something about this…” He said softly to himself, his eyes staring up at the ceiling.

Then, an idea clicked.

An idea that formed what could be his only shot at being rid of Mr. Íþróttsson for good.
“Would that work? It’s such a long shot…” Mr. Rotten pondered to himself curiously. His expression darkened, and his brow furrowed. “No matter. Long shot or not, I have to try it. I will NOT let that hooligan ruin my school and my students’ minds!”
He sat up and penciled in a note into his agenda.
Go to Town Hall.
Giving a nod, he sighed in relief and laid against his mattress once more.
“If I can’t get rid of him, perhaps a little assistance from the mayor would do it! Surely, he’d be able to do something about this debacle…” Mr. Rotten said, his sentence punctuated by a yawn.

He could see the room start to darken as he slowly slipped into sleep, his body growing too heavy to protest. He yawned once more before finally falling asleep.
As he slept, he was bothered once more by fitful dreams.
Dreams about wintery forests.
Dreams about a cold night.
Dreams about faces lightened by silvery glow.
Dreams that never made sense.
Ones that, when he awoke, he would never know how to feel about, and would forget nearly as soon as he woke.

Chapter Text

At first, Sportacus wasn’t completely concerned when, upon arriving to work, Mr. Rotten wasn’t at the schoolhouse.
He figured, at first, that the man may have missed his alarm and would arrive shortly.
Thus, Sportacus busied himself with his usual tasks. Passing out graded work, taking attendance, asking once more if any student had found a watch of his, having gone missing from his coat pocket.
No answers once more.

However, by the time it was nearly noon and Mr. Rotten hadn’t shown up to work yet, Sportacus began to worry. He wasn’t sure why he worried, but he did.
Mr. Rotten hadn’t told him about any previous engagements, right?
No, Sportacus was certain of that.
Where had the headmaster gone? Especially with no notice?

As the students worked on their worksheets and assignments, sometimes Sportacus would get up and stroll over towards the door, peering through the frosted window for the shape of a lanky, grumpy man striding through the hallways.
Yet with every try, nothing.
Sportacus crooked the corner of his mouth and returned to his desk, continuing his job of keeping an eye on the students.
Stephanie raised her hand.
“Yes, Ms. Meanswell?” asked Sportacus.
“Mr. Íþróttsson, if it’s okay for me to ask, why do you keep checking the door?” She asked.
Sportacus nodded.
“It’s perfectly okay for you to ask me that, and…well I was wondering if any of you had seen Headmaster Rotten today?” He said.
The students looked at each other and, after a moment, all gave a shrug.
“I haven’t seen him yet.” Stingy said.
“Why are you worried? All he’s done lately is interrupt our lessons. We’ll get more done without him here.” Said Trixie.
Sportacus frowned.
“He’s only doing his job, Ms. Troubleby. I am a new hire after all, so it makes sense that he’d want to ensure that I’m doing the best job possible.” Said Sportacus. “And I only worry…well because he seemed a little on-edge recently.”
“No offense Mr. Íþróttsson, but you really don’t need to worry like that. Sometimes Headmaster Rotten gets a little uptight. It usually stops in a day or two.” Said Pixel.
Sportacus’s eyebrows raised.
“I see. So, this is normal for him?”
The children all nodded.
“So he sometimes doesn’t show up to the school, even without notice?” He asked.
The children looked at each other, pondered, before slowly shaking their heads.
“No, he usually gives notice to Sven the janitor if he’s late. And if he’s gone for the whole day, he’ll cancel class and assign homework.” Said Stephanie.
Sportacus bit his lip. He wanted to try and find the headmaster, but his first duty was to the children.
“Very well. I’m glad to know this is mostly…normal.” Said Sportacus quietly.

While the children returned to their work, Sportacus made a mental note to check up on Mr. Rotten after work. Just to make sure he was okay, of course. He did worry a little that he’d pushed his luck too far, perhaps ticked off his boss through his borderline Christmas lectures. But then again, if the man was such a Christmas grumpus, then really this all only made sense. Of course he’d be uptight and ill-tempered; Sportacus was continuously bringing up a holiday he clearly hated.

But it was an unavoidable need for Sportacus, and even if this was all normal for the headmaster, Sportacus still thought it’d be best to check on him.

Out of good care, of course. That’s it.

Nothing else.

Sportacus quietly cleared his throat, thereby clearing away the last topic of thought, and turned back to the papers he was grading.

--

Admittedly, Mr. Rotten did feel a little off about purposefully skipping work to work on what would be considered a “personal project”. He knew there’d be questions he’d have to answer (most likely from his employee) about his absence, which he wasn’t exactly looking forward to discussing in the future. But then again, Mr. Rotten reminded himself, if his mission was successful, he wouldn’t need to talk to Mr. Íþróttsson about his whereabouts. No need to discuss personal matters with an ex-employee.

He was a little surprised he didn’t think of this before: to get rid of his current problem, all he’d need was a little assistance from a higher power. It wouldn’t look like he’d unlawfully terminated an employee if he got permission from the mayor of the town.
Of course, getting the permission would be an interesting challenge. But something told Mr. Rotten that the overworked and overstretched mayor would be easy enough to pry a quick termination recommendation from.
This all led to Mr. Rotten getting up once more at the ungodly early hour and, rather than partake in his usual route to the school, stroll down towards the center of town and towards the wide, governmental building. Honestly, compared to the brick and wood buildings, the town hall stuck out like a sore thumb. Sure, in Mr. Rotten’s mind, some architect or building inspector would most likely state that, on its own, its structure was sound and elegant. But compared to the dour and bleak colors of the rest of the town, it almost looked mockingly stark and pristine. Issues with building aesthetics were not the headmaster’s primary concern today, however, thus he pushed those thoughts aside as he entered through the tall, oak doors.
Tapping away at her small, black typewriter, sat the mayor’s assistant, one Ms. Bessie Busybody. Mr. Rotten knew her distantly; he remembered at one point living near her until a raise in her salary allowed her to move to a slightly nicer part of LazyTown. He remembered that she was the type of person who was on the telephone at all times of the day and night. He also remembered being distinctly annoyed by half of her conversations, which mostly centered on banal and aimless subjects. But, again, his gripes with his past neighbor were not his primary concern.

As he rushed past, he only slowed slightly at the sharp sound of the secretary clearing her throat.
“Excuse me, but unless you have an appointment, you cannot see the mayor right now! He’s a very busy man you know!” said Ms. Busybody, her voice high and disapproving.
Mr. Rotten looked at her exasperatedly and with a hint of desperation.
“I understand that, but I must see Mayor Meanswell at once! It’s of the utmost urgency!”
“That’s what the next seven people in front of you said too, but they at least wait their turns! Now please, Mr. Rotten, wait in the main room to schedule an appointment. I’d be more than happy to look through the mayor’s appointment book and find you an opening in a few weeks – “Ms. Busybody said, flipping open a small, leather-bound notebook.
“This cannot wait! It will only be a few minutes, I swear.” Mr. Rotten said, ignoring the secretary’s continued protests as he strode down the hall.
“Mr. Rotten! Stop at once! I – you don’t – stop this instant!” scolded Ms. Busybody as she chased after the headmaster, her heels clicking against the marble floors.

Once Mr. Rotten had reached the doors of the mayor’s office, he threw them open, with them slamming against the smooth walls with an echoing boom.
Mayor Meanswell, a slightly chubby man with receding, gray hair, nearly leapt out of his chair in shock at Mr. Rotten’s sudden entrance.
“Oh my, may I call you back Lady Claremont? I understand, we will discuss your generous donation another time. Thank you.” The mayor said quickly as he replaced the phone. He turned to address the headmaster. “Mr. Rotten? This is quite a surprise; I don’t believe I had you in my appointment book!”
“Y-You didn’t! This, *pant*, rude sir, *whew*, ran past me demanding to see you! I’ll call security at once, Mayor Meanswell!” said Ms. Busybody, out of breath.
“No, it’s quite alright, Ms. Busybody. I have a little time to spare, and I’m sure that whatever Mr. Rotten’s concern is is quite serious. You may return to your desk.” Said Mayor Meanswell.
Ms. Busybody, with lips thin and tight, gave a small nod to the mayor. She only paused to give the meanest stink eye to the headmaster before walking away, smoothing out her clothes as she went.

Mayor Meanswell sighed and dabbed some sweat from his brow.
“I apologize for any inconvenience you might’ve faced, Mr. Rotten. I’m afraid we’ve been swamped with people wishing to make appointments, so we’ve had to be choosier than normal. I’m certain that usually Ms. Busybody wouldn’t have made a fuss.”
“Oh I’m sure of that.” Mr. Rotten said sarcastically. He knew how much a hen Ms. Busybody was; if she could make a spectacle or ordeal out of something, she would.
Clearing his throat, Mayor Meanswell sat up straight with hands folded together.
“So Mr. Rotten, what can I do for you today?” He asked.
“I need your approval for the termination of an employee.” Mr. Rotten said.
The mayor looked shocked.
“Oh my! What for? And for who? It’s not dear Sven, is it? Oh, I hoped he’d be doing better after getting that janitorial job. You know he has been trying so hard after he was granted parole – “
“No, I’m not talking about Sven. Sven is fine.” Mr. Rotten said quickly with a frown. “I need your assistance in terminating a teacher at the schoolhouse.
Mayor Meanswell’s brow knit nearly into his eyelids, he looked so confused.
“But, uh, Mr. Rotten, I could’ve sworn you were the only teacher we had in LazyTown. A-And I must say, there are other things I could do than assist you in firing yourself – “
“What? No! No, I have another teacher. He was hired earlier this week.” Mr. Rotten stated.
“Oh! Goodness, that does make more sense.” Mayor Meanswell said, before pausing. “Well, um, would I know this fellow? Is he new in town?”
“As far as I know, yes. He came into town looking for a teaching job. I hired him, and I’ve regretted it ever since. As for if you know him, well if you’ve seen a man with a stupid, pointed black mustache with hair white like sugar, then you’ve met him.” Mr. Rotten said, his voice dripping with consternation as he described the teacher’s features.
Mayor Meanswell’s brow lowered once more, this time in thought.
“Well, no, I don’t believe I’ve seen a man with a pointed mustache and white hair. But I do remember Stephanie mentioning something about a man with a pointed mustache and blonde hair.” Mayor Meanswell said thoughtfully.
Mr. Rotten’s face grew a ghostly white.
“Oh good lord, please don’t tell me there’s two of them.” He said in a near whisper.
“Well, Stephanie mentioned his name. Perhaps it’s the teacher you hired? She said his name was…oh dear, what was it? It was definitely foreign, something from Sweden I imagine…” Mayor Meanswell said, tapping his cheek.
Mr. Rotten was nearly too afraid to hazard a guess.
“Was his last name ‘Íþróttsson’, by chance?” He asked.
Mayor Meanswell’s face lit up.
“Ah yes! That was it! She said his name was Magnus Íþróttsson, and that he asked her to call him Magnus. I didn’t remember hearing her say he was a teacher at the school. Oh dear, I must’ve missed that part…” Mayor Meanswell said sadly.
“But that can’t be, Mayor Meanswell. The teacher I hired, Mr. Íþróttsson, has white hair.” Mr. Rotten said in confusion.
Mayor Meanswell shrugged.
“Well perhaps he has exceptionally blonde hair? I have heard of a color called “platinum blonde”, which people compare to being nearly white, but it’s actually blonde!” He suggested.
“No, no it’s certainly not like that. His hair is white. Snow white, sugar white, white like…like a polar bear. In other words, not feasibly blonde!” Mr. Rotten protested.
Mayor Meanswell sighed.
“Well, we each have our perceptions, but you couldn’t possibly be in here to argue about your new teacher’s hair color, are you?” He asked.


Mr. Rotten stopped. While he was still hung up on just how any person could conceivably see Mr. Íþróttsson’s hair as blonde, the mayor did have a point. He came here with a purpose, and he should let the mayor know it as soon as possible. Thus, hopefully, this whole debacle would be behind him.
“Well, either way, I need your assistance in terminating his employment. The earlier we can have this managed, the best.” Mr. Rotten said.
“Oh, well, what is the problem? Are you certain that termination is the best course of action?” asked Mayor Meanswell.
“Oh most certainly. There is nothing else I could do, and his continued presence will eventually damage the futures of my students and the town’s children.” Mr. Rotten said with a dramatic flair.
“Mr. Rotten, that is quite the serious statement you’re making! What could he possibly be doing that is so damaging? Oh goodness, please tell me he’s not trying to coax them away from college!” Mayor Meanswell said in horror.
“Oh, no no. Not like that. Worse.” Mr. Rotten said.
Mayor Meanswell looked thoroughly terrified.
“Is…Is he shaping them to join an underground, criminal organization? Oh my, he’s not part of the mafia, is he? We can’t have that influence in our town again!”
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far. Truth be told, I don’t think he has the brains to be part of something like – “Mr. Rotten started, before shaking his head. “The point is, he’s not driving the children towards criminal activity, but he is still doing something horrible.”
“Well…then what? If not criminal or non-academic, what is he doing?” Mayor Meanswell asked.
Mr. Rotten frowned.
“He’s trying to fill my students’ minds with dreamy thoughts of Christmas, Mayor Meanswell. He's deliberately trying to throw them off their academic progression with thoughts of sugar plums and presents and Santa Claus! I’ve tried to work with him. I even made a deal that he wouldn’t teach about Christmas in my school, but he refuses to listen! He just finds loopholes in our deal and runs with it! That’s why I need you, Mayor Meanswell! You must get rid of this buffoon!” Mr. Rotten said, looking desperately at the mayor.

Mayor Meanswell, at first, was at a loss for words.
A pregnant pause held the air for several seconds, with only the sound of Mr. Rotten’s breathing audible in the room.
Finally, Mayor Meanswell slowly leaned forward as he massaged his forehead.
“Mr. Rotten, I don’t wish to disregard anyone’s issues or problems. My job as the mayor, after all, is to address issues both potential and current for the townsfolk. That includes your problems. But Mr. Rotten, I must say you have no problem.” He said quietly.
Mr. Rotten nearly deflated like a balloon.
“B-But, didn’t you hear me? He’s distracting the children with thoughts of Christmas! He’s deliberately filling their heads with useless daydreams!” He spat.
“Mr. Rotten, I know you don’t like Christmas. I am not much of a fan of it myself, after all. But if all he’s doing is challenging the children to think of materials outside your curriculum, and those thoughts aren’t criminal or damaging, then I’m afraid I have no ability to assist you.” Mayor Meanswell explained calmly.
Mr. Rotten’s face grew more red.
“B-But they are damaging! Don’t you see?? He’s trying to throw them off much more productive thinking by lecturing on Christmas! It’s a truly, serious problem and I don’t know how anyone could disagree with me!”
Mister Rotten.” Mayor Meanswell said firmly.
Mr. Rotten went silent, his mouth clamping shut.
“I understand that you’re upset and concerned, but this is simply not an issue that I could, in good faith, use as a cause for termination. Now, if you can find some reason that this Mr. Íþróttsson character is actually causing harm to the children I’d be more than happy to help. But simply having the Christmas spirit? Perhaps that wouldn’t be so terrible in a town like ours.” Mayor Meanswell suggested.

Mr. Rotten wanted to shout and accuse the mayor of being as foggy headed as his teacher, but he figured that’d be unproductive.
Instead, he swallowed his pride and tried to act cool in the face of disappointing news.
“Very well, do you have a law book I could borrow? I know there’s something he’s doing wrong, and I intend to find it.” Mr. Rotten said coolly.
Mayor Meanswell, while apprehensive, nevertheless dug out a federal law book from his shelves.
“Here you are, Mr. Rotten. Let me know if you find anything.” He said.
Swooping the massive tome into his arms, Mr. Rotten gave a determined look.
“Oh, I will. And when I do, you’ll sign that termination paper?” He asked.
“Yes yes, if you do.” Mayor Meanswell said resignedly.
“Then get that paper ready, for I’ll surely find it!” Mr. Rotten said, striding out of the office with the book in his hands.

Mayor Meanswell, after watching Mr. Rotten disappear around the corner, wrote a note on his notepad.
“Memo to self: Inquire about Mr. Rotten’s health. Strongly suggest that he take a vacation.”

--

Mr. Rotten still hadn’t shown up at the schoolhouse by the time the bell had rung.

Sportacus had tried to take his lunch to look for Mr. Rotten, but of course his duties as the only teacher on the premises kept him anchored to the building. As a middle ground, he instead decided to try and phone the headmaster’s house using a number from an old school directory.
Three tries later, and Mr. Rotten never answered.
That left Sportacus with two conclusions:
One, that Mr. Rotten was feeling so awful that he couldn’t be bothered to answer the phone.
Or two, that Mr. Rotten was indeed out on an errand and simply neglected to tell anyone.
For his own sake, Sportacus assumed the former.

After the bell rang, Sportacus contemplated going towards the headmaster’s home to check on him. See if he was sick and, if so, if he needed assistance of some form. Perhaps make some of his famous mushroom and cabbage soup with beef. It was a favorite among his peers back at the North Pole, after all.
But as he was starting to head towards the headmaster’s address (another piece of information he’d gathered from the old school directory), he stopped.
Would this be overstepping boundaries?
…perhaps it would. And Mr. Rotten seemed like the type who valued his privacy.
Sportacus admittedly felt a little sad thinking of Mr. Rotten’s response to his arrival, all angry expressions and disgruntled words.
CAN’T YOU LEAVE ME ALONE IN MY OWN HOME?!” He imagined the headmaster yelling.
Sportacus sighed.
Perhaps it would just be best to give the man some space.

So, instead, Sportacus started his way back towards his home, when he noticed how quietly and downtrodden the children walked back towards the rows of houses.
How could the kids be so upset on a Friday? Shouldn’t they be excited?
Sportacus decided to see what was wrong. If he couldn’t help Mr. Rotten, he could help the children instead!
Landing two handsprings, Sportacus stopped right next to the children, a smile on his face.
“Hello everyone! Where are you all off to?”
The children, originally startled, soon calmed down and looked confusedly at their teacher.
“Well…we’re heading home.” Stingy said.
“Yeah, need to start on homework.” Pixel said.
Sportacus gave them a look.
“Homework? But it’s Friday! I didn’t think the work I assigned was that difficult!”
“It isn’t! But…well it’s kind of cold out. There’s not much to do on days like these.” Stephanie noted quietly.
“Not much to do? But there’s plenty to do! You could play games, or draw, or play make-believe…”
“Yeah, except it’s still too cold outside! Might as well do that all inside.” Trixie stated.
Sportacus propped his fists against his hips.
“Well…is there anything you all like to do only when it’s cold out?” He asked.
The children looked at each other for a moment.
“I mean, we used to like going ice skating. But it hasn’t been cold enough to do that for years!” Pixel finally answered.
Sportacus nodded, stroking his mustache as he thought. He then gave a knowing look to the children.
“Are you sure it’s not cold enough?”
“Of course, Mr. Íþróttsson. We remember Headmaster Rotten’s lectures: the water temperature must hit around thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit, and while it’s cold out, it’s still in the high thirties. Ice simply won’t form on the lakes and ponds, therefore there’s no ice to skate on.” Stingy said in resignation.
Sportacus nodded, before smirking.
“Well, maybe we should have a look anyways? I swore I saw a frozen pond over by Mani’s Creek.” He suggested.
The children looked disinterested and reluctant, until Trixie finally shrugged her shoulders.
“Ah, what the hell. Might as well give it a look.” She said.
“Thank you Ms. Troubleby, though next time I’d prefer if you didn’t swear.” Sportacus said, pointing towards a path. He marched along with the children following behind him like a trained marching band.

The children remained skeptical of Sportacus’s assertations until they crossed the corner that ended right at the pond. As soon as the pond came into view, their mouths collectively dropped open and their eyes widened with shock.
Indeed the pond, against all scientific logic, had frozen with a thick sheet of ice. The sheen of the lake’s surface glittered in the afternoon sun, the ice too opaque to see through.
“I can’t believe it…” Stingy said.
“I-It’s scientific impossibility!” Pixel exclaimed.
“It’s wonderful!” Stephanie said with a small smile.
“It’s suspicious.” Trixie muttered, looking warily at her teacher.
In response, Sportacus simply shrugged.
“Don’t look at me, I couldn’t have done all this. Guess it’s just colder than you all thought!” Sportacus said, hiding a smile.
Ziggy, jumping up and down for joy, ran first towards the pond.
“Ziggy! You don’t have your ice skates!” warned Pixel.
“I don’t need them! There’s a pair down here, and they’re my size!” Ziggy said cheerily, lifting up the pair for everyone to see.
The kids, now all equally puzzled, turned their attention towards Sportacus with the same level of suspicion.
Sportacus, again, only shrugged as he jogged towards the pond.
“Must be everyone’s’ lucky days! Now grab some skates! The pond won’t be like this forever!” He said cheerfully, grabbing his own skates off the ground.

Eventually, all the children decided to just shrug off their apprehension and take the skates. Strangely enough, all of their skates fit perfectly. The kids questioned this, but not aloud. No need to question such timely gifts, right?
Thus, within minutes, all of the children and Sportacus were out on the ice, skating away and even laughing as they did.
Pixel and Stingy skated around the outer edge of the thickest parts of the ice, with Stingy occasionally slipping as he went along.
Trixie skated effortlessly around the ice, completing figure-eights and spins with ease. She even skated backwards past the struggling boys, sticking her tongue out as she skated past.
“Show off!” Shouted Stingy in response, scrunching his nose.
Ziggy, despite slipping the most, also seemed fairly steady on his skates. He even attempted a spin at one point, only to land on his knees.
“Ouch…” He muttered painfully. Nevertheless, he picked himself back up and carried on.
Stephanie, however, stalled on the sides of the pond. She seemed to be barely keeping upright, and every attempt to skate forward would send her flailing in all directions, just narrowly staying upright. As her legs wobbled, she gave a sad look towards her friends who, in comparison, seemed to be keeping a steady pace in their skating.
This was not lost on Sportacus, who had kept towards the center, so he could perform tricks like the toe loop and salchow without accidentally hitting or injuring the other children. Passing carefully by Trixie and the boys, he slid to a stop right next to Stephanie, who jumped in alarm.
“Is everything okay, Ms. Meanswell?” He asked.
Stephanie, after collecting herself, gave the teacher a weak smile.
“Oh, I’m fine. I just…well, I’ve never really…” She started.
Sportacus cocked his head to the side.
“Skated before?” He said.
Stephanie, sheepishly, nodded.
Sportacus chuckled and stood tall.
“Well that’s not a problem! Here, I’ll help you out.” He said, extending his arms towards her. “Just hold onto me; that way you won’t fall forward, and you can work on your balance.”
Stephanie, at first, was apprehensive.
“Are you sure you won’t fall?” She asked nervously.
Sportacus laughed.
“Trust me, Ms. Meanswell, I’ve been doing this since I was your age! I have many, many years of experience behind me. You won’t need to worry a bit!” He said reassuringly.
With that, Stephanie gave a small nod and, slowly, braced herself against Sportacus’s arms as he began to skate backwards.

“Woah, no! You’re skating backwards!” Stephanie cried out, her legs wobbling.
“No other way I can help you if I don’t! Trust me, I’ll be okay.” Sportacus said with a smile. “Now, just try and stand up straight. You want to keep your center of balance upright.”
Stephanie bit her lip and, uneasily, tried to right herself upright. Her skates skidded and slipped underneath her, threatening to send her flying down onto her back. Yet, in spite of that, she remained upright.
“That’s it! You’ve got it!” Sportacus said encouragingly.
Stephanie gave a nervous chuckle as she noticed her legs wobble less. Despite her nerves, she was indeed skating down a straight line, the scratching sounds replaced by a smooth, singular tone. She looked up and, hesitantly, released her grip ever so slightly.
“Are you ready to skate on your own?” asked Sportacus.
“I-I don’t know, but I’d like to try.” Stephanie said, shakily standing on her own. Her knees pointed inwards and it looked as if any moment she’d buckled and fall sprawling out onto the ice. Yet, she didn’t. Despite her crummy and inefficient stance, she was upright and still skating.
Sportacus beamed with pride.
“You did it Stephanie! You’re skating on your own!” He said cheerfully.
Stephanie, a small smile gracing her face, laughed with joy.
“I-I am! I am! I’m skating on my own!” She said, watching as her skates grew steadier.
Sportacus prepared to turn around to skate forward, now that Stephanie was confident on her own, but as he did –

“WATCH OUT!” cried Trixie, who slid to her side as her skates collided with Sportacus’s ankle.
Sportacus gasped and fell forward onto his belly, slamming into the ice face forward. He let out an ‘oomph’ of pain, all the air being pushed out of his lungs. His trademark homburg came tumbling forward, rolling across the ice and spinning in a tight circle before stopping a few feet away.
Stephanie gasped and came to a sliding stop right by Sportacus’s hand.
“Mr. Íþróttsson! Are you okay?” She asked worriedly.
Sportacus, after brushing some of the loose ice out of his blonde hair, looked up with a smirk.
“And that’s why we’re always careful to stay in our own lanes.” He said with a laugh.
Trixie looked a little embarrassed, but everyone else laughed in relief.
“I’ll, uh, go get your hat Mr. Íþróttsson.” She mumbled, skating towards his homburg.
Sportacus slowly dragged himself onto his knees, flinching as he felt their soreness. He’d surely bruised them, and bruised knees were never fun to deal with.
“You’re sure you’re okay, Mr. Íþróttsson?” asked Ziggy.
Sportacus gave the children a smile.
“I will be. I’ll just make sure to ice my knees once I get home.” He said, finally standing to his feet.
He heard something off to the side, and as he turned his eyes widened.
Spread out on the ground, looking as if he’d just tripped, was Mr. Rotten.
Sportacus wanted to call out to the headmaster, but he noticed something.

The man looked like he’d seen a ghost.

And right before Sportacus could say or do something, the man scrambled to his feet and sped away, running down the path and out of sight.
Sportacus furrowed his brow, watching in confusion. What had gotten the headmaster so scared? It was fear and perhaps shock that he’d seen on the man’s expression. But from what?
Sportacus stroked his mustache thoughtfully.
His thinking was halted by a tug on his sleeve.
“Mr. Íþróttsson, if you’re feeling okay, would you be willing to teach us a trick? Maybe one of those spins you were doing!” Ziggy asked.
Sportacus gave one last glance at the trail before turning back to the children, a small smile on his face.
“Of course! But you have to promise me that you’ll all be careful. It’s not easy doing tricks on skates!” He said, skating out towards the middle of the pond.

And as he demonstrated a spin for the children, he tried not to think too hard about what might’ve startled Mr. Rotten so badly.

--

Mr. Rotten left the town hall in low spirits, the result of an unproductive and unsuccessful day.

He’d spent the entire afternoon trying to find anything, absolutely anything that might support his decision and wish to fire his newly acquired teacher. But nothing could feasibly, legally apply.

The closest he’d gotten was a failed background check, but unfortunately a quick chat with Mayor Meanswell had revealed that he’d be in more trouble than Mr. Íþróttsson since he’d neglected to give the teacher a background check in the first place.
“I’ll agree to overlook that oversight if you promise me to get some rest at a later point.” Mayor Meanswell said, his expression one of concern.
“I’ll try my best.” Mr. Rotten partly fibbed.
Other than that, there was nothing. And eventually, after the fourth or fifth hour of searching had concluded, Mr. Rotten was forced to concede. He returned the book of laws to the mayor with a down expression.
“I’m sorry that your search turned up fruitless, Mr. Rotten. But perhaps a new point of view might be beneficial to the schoolhouse? As long as he keeps on schedule, I’m certain the children’s futures will turn out just fine, even with the additional daydreaming.” Mayor Meanswell had assured him.
Perhaps, but Mr. Rotten highly doubted the mayor. What did the mayor know about educating children anyways? Mr. Rotten knew that Sportacus’s teaching methods were a problem, but he couldn’t do anything about it.

The proverbial rock and a hard place came to the headmaster’s mind.

After bidding the mayor farewell, Mr. Rotten went on his way towards his home. School had long concluded, thus there was no point in returning to the schoolhouse. Yet, he also didn’t feel compelled to actually return home. Something told him that returning to his home would only result in two drained wine bottles and an evening wasted with sulking. As much as he sometimes enjoyed those kind of evenings, he felt that’d be a terrible way to start his weekend.
Dragging his feet along, he stopped as he noticed the trail leading towards Mani’s Creek. He paused, thinking over the small but rather peaceful walk that led to the park.
Perhaps a walk would lighten the dour mood. Might help me forget this Íþróttsson debacle for the moment.” He thought to himself. Besides, walking wasn’t too energy consuming. It might even be a nice change of pace from his usual, lazy routine.
As he walked along, he took the time to admire the surroundings. A few spare birds chirped and fluttered from tree branch to tree branch. A fat squirrel skittered to a downed log a few feet away. The dry and cold dirt crunched under his feet.
This walk was very therapeutic, and Mr. Rotten could finally feel his mind clear for the first time that week.
Forest walks always seemed to do that for him.
As he walked, however, his tranquil scene was interrupted by the distant sounds of children squealing and laughing.
He scrunched his nose and grumbled, burrowing his nose into his coat.
What in the world were kids doing playing in the park on such a cold day? And more than that, what could they be doing that was so entertaining?

The sound was coming from up ahead, so Mr. Rotten trekked along until he finally reached a clearing that led to a little pond.
First, he was taken by surprise to see the pond completely frozen. He rubbed his eyes, staring in disbelief at the frozen surface. He could’ve sworn that it hadn’t gotten that cold. Sure, it was cold enough out to be uncomfortable and discourage any lengthy amount of time outdoors, but freeze water? Wasn’t even close. Yet there it was: a pond frozen with ice thick enough to skate on.
Second, he felt slightly miffed and annoyed to see Sportacus out on the ice, skating alongside the children, who all seemed so thrilled to be spending time with their teacher. He watched as some of the children stumbled on their skates, with Sportacus being right there to help them up.
Mr. Rotten screwed up his nose and sneered, yet he didn’t look away. He continued to watch as Sportacus led the children around the ice, with him accomplishing an array of fancy and complicated skating moves.
It was near mesmerizing, but Mr. Rotten wouldn’t admit that to anyone aloud.
Watching from behind a tree, Mr. Rotten kept a careful eye on all the children and Sportacus. He watched carefully as Stephanie stepped out onto the ice, her feet slipping about and her balance fumbling as she struggled to keep upright.
Part of Mr. Rotten wanted to dart out there and help, but he kept himself stuck in place, choosing instead to keep watching.
Instead, he watched as Sportacus skated towards her and, after saying something that Mr. Rotten couldn’t hear, started skating backwards while Stephanie braced herself upon his arms.
Mr. Rotten kept a careful eye on the scene, yet his vigilant watch was broken as he heard something.
Was that…laughter?
Not just from Stephanie, but from the other four children as well.
They were all happy, and smiling, and laughing.
Genuinely, fully.
He had heard a little of it earlier in the week, but it was still a reserved laughter. Here, the kids were clearly having a ball, skating around the pond and playing their games.
And, for a moment, Mr. Rotten felt a pang of sadness.
…it had been some time since he’d heard the children laugh, hadn’t he?
There was a time when he heard it often, the children being happy and carefree.
But that time…it was some time ago. Now, whenever he was near, Mr. Rotten could only remember seeing fear in their eyes
No more smiles, no more laughter.
Mr. Rotten felt uneasy and, perhaps, a little envious of Sportacus. Those children were laughing and smiling because of him.
Mr. Rotten crossed his arms and leaned against the tree, still watching the children, though with less scrutiny than before. He just watched passively.

That is, until he noticed Trixie slip on the ice, and her skate shoot right towards Sportacus’s ankle.

Mr. Rotten cringed as Sportacus fell flat onto the ice, narrowly missing taking out Stephanie as he fell. The children stopped their laughter and games, with all quickly skating towards their fallen teacher. Once Sportacus had landed against the ice’s surface, his homburg tumbled off his head and stopped near a bank of snow.
And that’s when Mr. Rotten caught a glimpse of what lay underneath the teacher’s hat…and his mouth dropped wide open.
There was, of course, the fluffy mop of white hair. White hair, not platinum blonde like the mayor insisted. But that wasn’t it, he saw something else far more unusual and shocking.
Sportacus’s ears; they were long, and pointed.
Like something out of those fantasy books in the library.
Mr. Rotten felt his heart freeze and stop at the sight.
He also wore something around his head: a wreath or crown of sorts made of leaves. Mr. Rotten couldn’t tell what kind of leaves, but they definitely were leaves due to their green hue.
For a moment, Mr. Rotten thought he’d gone insane from the long hours spent meticulously studying the law book. But even after rubbing his eyes and giving himself a firm smack across the cheek, they were still there.
White hair. Long, pointed ears. A wreath made of leaves and red berries.
Like an…an…an elf.

Mr. Rotten, stunned and in shock, slowly inched away from the icy pond and the group of skaters, stumbling onto the ground as he did.
The sound must’ve caught Sportacus’s attention. Even from Mr. Rotten’s spot he could see how his ears twitched and turned towards him, and with it Sportacus’s gaze.
His face growing white, Mr. Rotten scrambled to his feet and hurried away, trying to look as casual as possible while still being hasty.
He didn’t slow his gait until he was securely away from the pond and his teacher.
Arriving home, he slammed the door shut and, laying against it, he slid down to the floor. He tried to calm his breathing, which had grown progressively shallower and more rapid, with little success. His head was swimming, failing to grapple with the shocking and strange conclusion from the evidence he’d seen.
His teacher, Mr. Íþróttsson, was an elf.
There was no other explanation, and the thought sat poorly with Mr. Rotten.
Mostly because he had no clue what to do with it.
He wouldn’t be able to tell anyone; if they didn’t believe him about the teacher’s hair color, then why would they listen if he tried to tell them that Sportacus had pointed ears?
They’d lock him in an asylum in a heartbeat.
Yet, he also knew he couldn’t leave this alone.
But the next step was unknown and he couldn’t even spare the energy to think of a plan at the moment.

He needed to rest, that was it.

Mr. Rotten, with the last of his energy, brought himself together and made his way to the kitchen. He made a cup of cinnamon tea before collapsing in his arm chair and turning on the radio. A radio drama was on, and apparently a dog was leading a group of firefighters to a boy trapped in a well.
At least, Mr. Rotten thought so. His thoughts were still too wrapped up over his teacher’s appearance to give much attention to a silly radio drama.
He must’ve “listened” to three or four programs before he finally calmed down enough and, drained from the long day, he slipped into a deep sleep in his armchair, his usual dreams ready to welcome them with their cryptic imagery.

Though tonight, they seemed to have more substance to them.

The wintery forest held a deer with fur white as the snow, and a nose red like berries.
The cold night was illuminated by lanterns crafted of chestnut and foggy glass.
The faces had eyes shining like silver under the starry skies.
They spoke words, but Mr. Rotten understood none of them.
But he did know that still, for whatever reason, the faces were glowing.

Chapter Text

When Mr. Rotten awoke, he was still sprawled out in his armchair, though not in the position he’d started in.

His legs were haphazardly thrown over the top of the chair, and he seemed to be upside down. And currently, his vision was swimming, most likely caused from said being upside down.
Mr. Rotten, with a grunt and a flinch, set himself back upright, his back seething with pain. He’d neglected to take his aspirin the night before, and now he was paying the price. He leaned against his armchair and, through gritted teeth, he sharply inhaled and exhaled. Once he’d suppressed the pain enough, he limped over towards his bedroom to grab his medicine.
He took two pills once more, dry.
After he’d finally made himself a cup of coffee and some toast, he started feeling more like a functioning human being. Functioning enough to realize that he looked like garbage, a fact he understood once he passed by his mirror. He cringed; his usually well-kept hair was sticking out in a mess of cowlicks and half curls. He had neglected a shave for the last two days, and now a think blanket of black hairs covered his chin and jaw. His shirt was a mess of wrinkles and creases. Overall, he looked drunk, despite not tasting even a drop of alcohol.
Well, that was one thing he needed to take care of today.

As he shuffled towards the bathroom, something on the floor caught his attention.
Sitting right by the front door, its presence slicing through the sliver of bright light filtering through the gap, was a small white envelope, sealed with what looked like blue wax.
Mr. Rotten frowned, his nose twitching nervously as he carefully bent down and scooped up the letter.
It was addressed to him, with his name written in chicken scratch. The handwriting contrasted so badly with the elegance of the wax sealed letter, it almost made Mr. Rotten laugh.
He broke the seal and pulled out the letter, turning on a light to read its contents. The note was short and to the point, but nonetheless its contents made him pause and his heart nearly stop.

“Dear Mr. Rotten,

I hope you’re feeling better today. I noticed you at the pond and wanted to talk, but you left before I could. I’d like to invite you over for tea and sandwiches, if you’d like. I live down Douglas Road, near the tree line. You can’t miss it, it’s a small cottage.

See you around noon!

-M.I.”

Mr. Rotten scrunched his nose, and stared at the words, reading them another time over. And again. And again. But the content didn’t change.
Sportacus was inviting him to lunch.
At first, Mr. Rotten felt compelled to decline, or even just not show up. The teacher had exhausted him enough lately, and spending part of his Saturday with the man just seemed unappetizing.
Yet, he also realized that this visit would give him the golden opportunity he’d been thinking of yesterday.
Nowhere for Sportacus to hide or run off to; he’d have to spill his true identity and whatever his intentions were, now that Mr. Rotten knew what he truly was.
But still, accepting meant spending more time with the optimistic, energetic twit.
Mr. Rotten sighed. An unfortunate weakness one possesses if they worked in academics was a thirst for knowledge and a sometimes-ill-timed curiosity. And while Mr. Rotten often tempered his, it unfortunately was kicking any protests he might’ve had out the window. He just had to pick at his teacher’s brain and figure out his purpose in being here.
“But first, a shower. I might as well look somewhat presentable before seeing him.” Mr. Rotten said to himself, placing the letter on the counter and strolling towards the bathroom.

After a quick shower, Mr. Rotten felt like a human again. He picked out a pale purple button-up and a pair of dark gray slacks with a tie of the same color. Combing back his hair one more time, he looked at himself in the mirror. Nothing he could do about the dark circles, nor the once piece of hair that decided to protest against any grooming he tried.
Nor could he stall any longer.
With a sigh, he grabbed his winter coat off the ground and threw it on, tossing a scarf on himself as well. Bracing himself, he opened the door and stepped out, ready to head towards the teacher’s cottage.

--

Admittedly, Mr. Rotten hadn’t known what to expect out of Sportacus’s cottage, especially given its address.

Douglas Road was the road that led out of town, towards the trees that bordered the only road towards the highway. The road itself was bordered by bare, grassy fields dotted with the occasional boulder, with the smaller trees that connected the forest to LazyTown a while off. It looked like a bald spot on the earth’s scalp, and few gave it any mind.
Hence why, for the longest time, not a single house had been built on that land. After all, who would live far away from town in an area not exactly known for its aesthetic quality?
Yet there it was; Sportacus’s cottage.
It was small place with only one story, the perfect size to hold its singular inhabitant. Its architecture style was...unique, to say the least. With its red painted wood framed with white-painted supports, it reminded Mr. Rotten of the pictures of Scandinavian cabins he’d seen in a magazine once. It was almost too quaint to be believable. A small, stone dotted footpath led from the main road to its front door, and small blue and yellow flower bushes were spottily planted around the front stoop. A brick-laden chimney climbed up its Western side, and a trail of ashy gray smoke crawled up into the sky. The windows glowed a warm, yellow color, and the whole building exuded warmth.
It stuck out so much from its cooler, colder surroundings that it instantly set Mr. Rotten on edge, despite knowing that wasn’t its purpose.
Off to the side of the cottage was a pen built of oak wood. It was a small corral that held a single animal: a reindeer cow with fur like milk, which currently was grazing idly at a few tufts of grass.
Mr. Rotten rolled his eyes; somehow it made too much sense that the elf obsessed with Christmas would own his own reindeer. What was its name, Blitzen?

As he walked up towards the stoop and past the reindeer’s pen, he jumped as the reindeer chuffed and snorted, shaking its head and rattling the bells that clung to its harness. It dug at the ground and made a series of grunts and barks.
Mr. Rotten lowered his eyes and, seeing that the reindeer wasn’t about to charge, frowned at the beast.
“Easy there, Rudolph. Don’t get your antlers in a twist.” He remarked.
The reindeer grumbled (could reindeer grumble?) and shook its fur, looking rather displeased with the tall stranger.
Mr. Rotten, following the reindeer’s eyes, finally noticed a spare harness with a bronze tag on its front. Embossed on the tag was, what he presumed was, the reindeer’s name.
Loftskip.
“What kind of name is that?” He asked himself. Nevertheless, he looked back at the reindeer and tipped his imaginary cap.
“My apologies, ‘Loftskip’.” He said with an air of sarcasm.
Loftskip stomped her hoof and barked again, sending Mr. Rotten scuttling away to the front door.
Finally out of the reindeer’s sight, Mr. Rotten cleared his throat and straightened out his coat. He gave the door a firm knock, and he could hear someone move about inside. A moment later, the door swung open, and he was bathed in the golden light of the cottage’s interior.

Sportacus, dressed in a surprisingly sensible sweater and slacks, smiled that silly smile as he greeted his guest.
“Mr. Rotten! I’m so glad you decided to stop by!” He said, a cheery expression on his face.
“Well don’t feel too flattered. I just happened to be in the neighborhood when I remembered your letter.” Mr. Rotten said dismissively, walking into the cottage after Sportacus gestured him inside.
“Well, I’m glad to see you anyways! You can hang your coat on the rack there, and the tea water is almost ready!” said Sportacus, before dashing back into the kitchen.
Mr. Rotten slipped his coat and scarf off and turned to throw them onto the rack, before he stopped as he finally caught a glance of it.
It was made of wood, and the top was carved to look like a reindeer’s head. The reindeer’s nose was even painted red.
Good lord. And just when I thought his Christmas obsession couldn’t get any worse.” He thought to himself, as he finally hung his coat and scarf.

Sitting at the table, which was carved out of oak and made in a rustic fashion, Mr. Rotten looked about the small cottage. He’d originally guessed that the cottage might be more spacious than its exterior implied, but he was completely off base. The inside was very small, allotting Sportacus only just about enough room to live in. The walls were mostly left undecorated, with only a few paintings dotting the room. No photos were present. A small armchair sat by the fireplace, with a book left upside-down and open on the seat. The table was covered with a long, evergreen table runner, but no centerpiece completed the arrangement. The kitchen was small and nothing to write home about, though he couldn’t stop himself from admiring Sportacus’s cast iron teapot. It was a handsome thing, kept coal black with a plain design.
He watched as Sportacus poured the boiling water into two cups: both made of china and with little polar bears around their sides.
“I don’t have much tea selection, sorry. I didn’t have enough room in my luggage.” Said Sportacus sheepishly.
“As long as you have some sort of black tea, I’ll be fine.” Said Mr. Rotten with a handwave.
Sportacus nodded and fished out a bag of Earl Grey for Mr. Rotten and a bag of peppermint for himself. He handed the teacup with its saucer to Mr. Rotten before handing him his sandwich. Mr. Rotten didn’t want to admit it aloud, but the sandwiches did look tasty. Made with sourdough, each sandwich had a slice of turkey, brie, lettuce, cucumber, and tomato. Mr. Rotten immediately set aside the vegetables, which earned him a small, disappointed look from Sportacus, thought just barely one.
Still, it was a small victory for Mr. Rotten, who took a bite from his vegetable-free sandwich.

After a few minutes of silence, Mr. Rotten finally cleared his throat and took the first step towards conversation.
“So, I understand that you wanted to speak to me about something?” He asked.
Sportacus, halfway through another bite of his sandwich, nodded and finished chewing before speaking.
“Yes, that’s right! I did. Well, really I just…um, well, I just wanted to make sure…” said Sportacus awkwardly, before finally looking at the headmaster. “…just wanted to make sure you were doing okay? You were gone all yesterday, and when I saw you at the pond, you looked a little pale.”
Mr. Rotten, who’d taken a sip of his tea, gave a short head shake.
“Oh, no I’m fine. Just had some errands I had to finish yesterday, nothing bad. As for the paleness, most likely I was feeling cold. It’s been bitterly chilly lately, and I don’t do well in the cold.”
“Oh.” Sportacus said, a little miffed that the answer was so simple. “Well, um, I’m glad to hear you’re okay. See, I thought maybe, I mean I know that I…well that I’ve still talked a little about the holidays with the students and I know by our deal…and I mean I thought that maybe I could find a good middle ground where it wasn’t too blatant yet still I could…only because I find it very important to talk about – “
“Mr. Íþróttsson, you’re rambling.” Said Mr. Rotten bluntly.
Sportacus’s cheeks darkened to a pink color out of embarrassment.
“R-Right, apologies. I just wanted to make sure that my lessons weren’t, you know, too much for you.”
Much to Sportacus’s surprise, Mr. Rotten shrugged nonchalantly.
“Eh, you were right. You weren’t technically breaking our agreement, so nothing I could get mad about. Of course, I still find the holiday pointless and damaging, but I understand not all people agree with me. I find the holiday unimportant, but you do, and you seem to be keeping the children on track. I can’t have any qualms about that.”
Sportacus blinked, unsure if the words he was hearing were real.
“Wait, what? You’re sure about that?” He asked.
Mr. Rotten shrugged once more.
“Of course. I’m not a wholly unreasonable man, Mr. Íþróttsson. This is something that’s clearly important to you.”
Feeling reassured, Sportacus let a relieved chuckle and a half-smile slip past him.
“Well…that’s fantastic, Mr. Rotten! I’m so glad to hear – “

“But what I want to know is why. Why is this holiday so important to you?” asked Mr. Rotten, leaning forward with a dangerous glint in his eye.
Sportacus, feeling the tonal whiplash, sunk back into his chair, his pupils shrinking as he suddenly grew nervous.
“Uh well…I just like Christmas! It’s such a wonderful time of the year, and I feel that everyone should enjoy it! It’s full of warm feelings, and beautiful decorations, and lovely songs. Nearly everyone I know during this time of the year seems to be happier and feeling better. How could I not love the holidays?”
Mr. Rotten nodded, his lips thinning.
“I see. And your near obsessive love has nothing to do with anything else?” He asked quietly.
Sportacus shook his head slowly.
“N-No…I don’t think so.”
“Not even – “Mr. Rotten said, before leaning over sharply and knocking off Sportacus’s homburg.
Sportacus gasped, fishing uselessly for his cap as it rolled across the floor, his ears and hair fully exposed.
“ -you clearly being an elf?” Mr. Rotten said, nearly spitting.

And at that moment, for the first time in his long life, Sportacus felt true fear.
He slowly sat up, the blue of his eyes nearly swallowing his pupils, and stared in horror and shock at the headmaster. His skin must’ve paled to a ghostly white, and he could feel a sheen of sweat bead on his forehead.
Nervously, he chuckled, giving an uneasy look to the headmaster.
“W-What a silly thing to suggest, Mr. Rotten! Everyone knows that elves aren’t real – “
“Don’t start with that, Mr. Íþróttsson, I know your little secret! I can see your long, pointed ears.” Mr. Rotten stated, gesturing to Sportacus’s ears. “I can see your white hair, not blonde like everyone was saying it was. And I can definitely see that wreath on your head…what is that, holly?”
Sportacus, with the realizing sinking in that he couldn’t lie his way out of his predicament, visibly drooped, his ears drooping with him.
“This is bad, oh this is bad. How could you see all that? I never – “
“I’ve seen the hair since day one. It was all I could notice.” Mr. Rotten said. “Then I saw your ears and wreath when you fell skating yesterday.”
“And that’s why you ran off so quickly…” Sportacus said quietly. His eyes widening, he looked in terror at the headmaster. “Please, tell me you didn’t say anything to anyone!”
“What? No, no I didn’t. It took me until this morning to fully digest what I saw.” Mr. Rotten said, lowering his eyes. “Now tell me, Mr. Íþróttsson, what is your real purpose in trying to impose your holiday cheerfulness? Why are you here, and why do you care so much about the children’s interest in Christmas?”

Sportacus’s heart was nearly beating out of his chest. He absently wiped some sweat off his face as he steadied himself, his hands shaking. He looked about, looking for anything that might provide and out from his sticky situation. But no such out presented itself. Thus, his thoughts turned to planning. Anything that might help his situation.
Sighing, he gestured back to Mr. Rotten’s chair.
“You might as well have a seat. This could take a while.” He said quietly.
Mr. Rotten nodded, and sat back in his seat.
As soon as he sat down, the scene around the two men changed. No longer were they sitting in Sportacus’s quaint cottage. Now they were sitting at a table in the middle of a bustling, high-end restaurant. Patrons around them, dressed in their most elegant ware, clinked glasses and chatted small talk as waiters in tuxes darted from table to table. Soft piano music filled the air.
It took Mr. Rotten a moment to recognize where he was.
“This is Michel’s.” He finally said.
Sportacus nodded.
“I thought this place closed eight years ago.” Said Mr. Rotten, looking with quiet surprise at his surroundings.
“It did.” Sportacus said quietly.
A waiter strolled up to their table with a bright smile framed by a thin mustache. Mr. Rotten immediately recognized the man.
“Jacque? You’re here? How?” He asked.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Rotten! Of course, I am always here, as you know!” He said cheerily, before noticing Sportacus. “Ah, I see you have a guest! I will tell the chef to prepare two specials, just for you both!”
Jacque then sped away to the kitchen.

Mr. Rotten, looking with suspicious confusion, turned back to Sportacus.
“How - ?” He asked.
Sportacus gave a weak smile and twiddled his fingers. A brief flash of sparkling, blue magic erupted from his fingertips.
“Magic. All elves have it.” He said.
Mr. Rotten, regaining his composure, gave a less than interested nod.
“So I see. This is all an illusion then?” He asked.
Sportacus nodded.
Mr. Rotten sat back.
“I see.” He said.
Sportacus, folding his hands together, sighed and sat up straight.
“I believe you were about to tell me something?” asked Mr. Rotten.
Sportacus nodded.
“Yes, I was.” He said. “Mr. Rotten, do you believe in elves or Santa Claus?”
“Until today, no. I think I may have to revaluate those beliefs, however.” Mr. Rotten noted.
Sportacus quietly chuckled before continuing.
“Well, as you might’ve guessed, both the elves and Santa are very magical. It’s what fuels our existence, and that magic is derived from the belief, wonder, love, and joy that mortals feel in their lives. Their ability to entertain the unseen, the unverifiable. And that belief and joy is most strong around, as you might guess – “
“Christmas.” Mr. Rotten said.
Sportacus nodded again.
“Christmas and Halloween are the days of the year we huldúfolk derive the most magic from. It’s what keeps us alive, and keeps our portals working and functional. There’s one such portal near LazyTown, as you might’ve guessed, but…it’s dying.”
Mr. Rotten’s expression faltered slightly.
“Because people don’t care about Christmas anymore.” He said.
“Exactly.” Sportacus said. “Without that portal, Santa, and thus any huldúfolk, will be unable to travel to the mortal lands.”
Jacques stepped in momentarily to hand both men the special: chicken marsala with oven roasted broccoli and rice pilaf.
Mr. Rotten, initially distrusting the food, soon gave in after catching a whiff of the delectable aroma. The food tasted exactly as he remembered, if not better.
“I thought you mentioned ‘portals’. As in plural. Why does anyone care if only one becomes unusable?” He asked, taking another bite of his food.
“It isn’t a problem to lose just one portal. What is a problem is the precedent it sets.” Sportacus said, sawing at his chicken. “One portal isn’t a problem, but it could lead to more portals being lost in the future. It could set a trend, and, over time, we could lose access to the mortal world forever. And without that bridge, we’ll fade too.”
“Sort of a domino effect then?” asked Mr. Rotten.
“Yes. One that could cost an entire group of people their lives.” Sportacus said, his face paling at the gravity of his own words.

Mr. Rotten wiped his mouth and nodded slowly.
“That is terrible.” He said.
Sportacus nearly spat back his disbelief over Mr. Rotten’s blasé response, but decided to try and keep his composure.
“And that’s why I’ve been trying to win the kids love of Christmas back. I don’t do it to be obnoxious or to make your life miserable. Please trust me on that. I do it because I have a lot of people’s hopes riding on my mission. And if I don’t get that portal stable by Christmas Eve, well…” Sportacus stated uneasily.
“No more magic?”
Sportacus nodded slowly.
“No more magic.”
Mr. Rotten, absorbing all the details he’d been given, crossed his arms and nodded.
“Well, at least it makes sense now why you keep slipping Christmas into your lectures. And how you made that pond freeze over for the kids.”
Sportacus smiled.
“Yeah, I hope that wasn’t too conspicuous.”
“Oh trust me, it was.” Mr. Rotten stated.
Sportacus’s smile vanished and he buried his face in his hands.
“You know you can’t just freeze a pond without someone asking questions, right?” asked Mr. Rotten.
“I did, but I took a gamble anyways.” Said Sportacus, his voice muffled.
Mr. Rotten shook his head, sitting back.
“You do realize though that your plan isn’t going to work, right?” said Mr. Rotten.
“What.” Said Sportacus, looking up.
“Your plan, to get the kids’ spirits back. It’s not going to work.”
“But…what? How do you know that?” asked Sportacus, his tone upset and frantic.

“Because it’ll only work temporarily.” Mr. Rotten explained. “I don’t know if you elves understand this, but humans are complex creatures. The loss of love for a holiday isn’t always just because they forgot how fun it was, or were never told about how great a day it is. There’s lots of reasons, some of them deeply personal.”
“You’re just scratching the surface of their lost spirits by parading around with songs and making them read old Christmas stories. If you’re going to help bring their Christmas spirits back, you’ll need to find the root of their problems. And trust me, I know these kids. Even with all your power,” Mr. Rotten said, leaning forward with a stern expression. “you can’t fix their problems. Nothing, and no one, can.”
Sportacus frowned, and gulped down the lump in his throat.
“You’re…You’re saying that before I even try. Maybe I can do something to help them. No, I know I can. And I’ll bring back their Christmas spirit.”
“You can keep saying that, but trust me, you’re way underestimating the depths of your little problem. Try as much as you like, you won’t even make a dent in their problems before Christmas Eve.” Said Mr. Rotten, who watched as Jacques bussed their plates away.
Sportacus, looking slightly downcast, processed Mr. Rotten’s words. After a moment, he looked up.
“Well, it’s better than doing nothing. If the best way to bring back the Christmas spirit is to fix their personal problems, then I’m going to try my best. Who knows?” He said, his grin returning. “I might just prove you wrong.”
“I wouldn’t make any bets on that.” Mr. Rotten grumbled, watching as Jacque laid a dessert menu on the table.

Sportacus smiled and picked up the menu.
“By the way, why are we here?” asked Mr. Rotten.
“Well, I figured we should talk somewhere more casual.” Said Sportacus weakly.
“Something tells me you’re not giving me the full answer, Mr. Íþróttsson. Why are we here?” asked Mr. Rotten more firmly.
Sportacus shifted his gaze away, his expression full of guilt.
The realization clicked with Mr. Rotten.
“Is this…were you trying to bribe me?” He asked in shock.
Sportacus looked guiltily at the headmaster.
“I didn’t want you to say anything to anyone. I thought maybe if I brought you back to a place you loved, maybe you wouldn’t.” He admitted quietly.
“First of all, that’s such a low move. Lower than even I expected from you.” Said Mr. Rotten.
Sportacus cringed.
“Second, you really thought I’d go parading around the town announcing that you are an elf to everyone I know? Do you know what would happen if I did that?”
Sportacus slowly shook his head.
Mr. Rotten gave a disbelieving look to the teacher.
“They’d lock me away in the nuthouse, and ensure that I would never see the light of day again. It’s not normal for someone to run around screaming about elves in our society. I’d have figured you’d known that.” He said.
“My human history books are a little outdated…” Sportacus defended sheepishly.
“Well, then you should know that you shouldn’t be worried. Your little secret is safe with me, though not like I had a choice.” Mr. Rotten said, crossing his arms.
Sportacus, nodding slowly, nevertheless looked up with a small smile.
“Thank you. I know you can’t say anything, but still. Thank you.”
Mr. Rotten’s eyes widened, and he could feel a slight heat in his chest. Frowning, he glowered at Sportacus.
“Whatever. Are we going to leave now? You don’t have to keep bribing me.”
“I figured you might want to look at the dessert menu.” Said Sportacus, gesturing with the menu.
Mr. Rotten didn’t look at him.
“Oh, come on. They have chocolate mousse cake, and something tells me that’s your favorite.” Sportacus said with a cheeky grin.
Letting out an exasperated, angry noise, Mr. Rotten snatched away the menu.
“Fine. We can stay for dessert. But you’d better return me to LazyTown afterwards.”
“As if I wouldn’t.” said Sportacus with a smile, as he ordered the cake for Mr. Rotten and the sugar-free strawberry torte for himself.

--

As soon as the two had finished their desserts, the restaurant scene disappeared, and they were once again in Sportacus’s cottage, their tea and sandwiches there as they’d left them.
Now full, Mr. Rotten pushed aside the remnants of his sandwich and slowly stood to his feet, looking around the cottage.
“See, just as I said. I brought you back to LazyTown. If you don’t believe me, you can look out the window.” Said Sportacus, as he reached down and scooped his homburg off the floor.
Mr. Rotten frowned, and turned to the teacher.
“How exactly did you know about Michel’s? Did you read my mind with your magic?”
“What? Oh no, I wouldn’t do that.” Sportacus said. “I saw a photo on your wall with a note from Jacque. I figured that that place was very special to you.”
A flicker of sadness appeared in Mr. Rotten’s eyes as he sighed.
“It was, but that was some time ago.” He said.
Sportacus looked at the man with a sympathetic expression.
“Why did Michel’s close? It seemed like a pretty good little place to me.” He asked.
“Owner ran out of money, couldn’t afford to keep the restaurant open. Don’t know what happened to him.” Said Robbie.
“And Jacque? Did he end up working at another restaurant?” asked Sportacus.
“Didn’t get a chance. He was hit by a drunk driver a month later.” Said Robbie, his voice dropping in volume.
Sportacus’s ears drooped back.
“Oh. I’m…sorry to hear that.”
Robbie gave the man a look.
“Why? I didn’t know Jacque that well. He was a waiter at a restaurant I frequented. He wasn’t a friend.”
“Oh, well I mean when we were there he seemed like…” Sportacus started, before noting Mr. Rotten’s expression. “…never mind.”

Mr. Rotten, with an unamused expression, looked down at his watch.
“Well this was certainly…something. I should be on my way.” He said.
Sportacus, looking a little unsettled, only gave a small nod.
“Thank you for visiting, Mr. Rotten.” He said.
Mr. Rotten picked his coat and scarf off the coat rack, throwing his scarf around his neck. He stopped and looked back at Sportacus, who still looked uneasy.
With a sigh, he let go of the door knob.
“Look, Mr. Íþróttsson. I think it’d be in the best interest of both of us if I terminate our deal. You’re free to teach as much as you wish about the holidays, as much as I may disagree with it.” He said.
Sportacus perked up slightly, his ears lifting.
“You mean it? But why?”
“Your plan won’t work, let me reassure you on that. But…look, I don’t want to even have partial responsibility in the death of an entire race of people. I may not be nice, but I’m not a monster. If you sharing and teaching about the ‘wonders’ of Christmas will benefit you, as little as I think it will, I can allow it this once.” Mr. Rotten said.
Sportacus, his spirits lifting, gave a small, warm smile to the headmaster.
“Thank you, Mr. Rotten. I and my people appreciate your gesture.” He said, giving a shallow bow.
Mr. Rotten, conflictedly feeling touched and slightly awkward, hmphed and waved away Sportacus’s gesture.
“Now there’s no need for that. Again, I’m not doing this out of any goodness in my heart or for the *gag* love of the holiday. I just don’t want to stay up thinking of little elven children fading into thin air.” He said, opening the door.

As Mr. Rotten stepped back out into the chilly, winter air, Sportacus waited by the door, leaning against the frame.
“Have a good weekend, Mr. Rotten.” Said Sportacus, with a smile.
Mr. Rotten paused. He seemed to hesitate, almost as if he considered responding to Sportacus’s comment. Instead, however, he chose to simply give a short nod before he continued to walk away.
Sportacus, closing the door once Mr. Rotten had vanished from sight, immediately turned and strode towards a wooden box on the counter. Opening it, he pulled out a sheet of parchment and a well of ink. He dug out a quill pen from a drawer and prepared to write a letter. The paper, a gift from the higher elves, was magically infused and functioned as an instantaneous messaging system. Once he rolled up the finished letter, it would vanish and appear near the recipient. Usually Sportacus was content with the old-fashioned system of sending letters by hawk, but this was urgent.
Sitting down at his table, Sportacus began to pen his letter:

Dear Íþró,

I hope this letter finds you well. My mission in LazyTown, thus far, has been going smoothly. The people here, while reserved, are truly nice. The children are friendly and quite talented. They too are reserved and very much lack the Christmas spirit, but I feel that it’s more a reflection of the town than how they actually feel.

However, I write to you with troubling news concerning the school’s headmaster, Mr. Rotten.

As I found out today, he has discovered that I am an elf, but I never said a word about my identity to anyone and especially not him.

He said that he’s known since day one, and that he saw my true white hair instead of the blonde most mortals see.

My dear bróðir, is it possible that a mortal could see our true selves without us revealing ourselves?

-Sportacus”

Rolling up the scroll, Sportacus tossed it in front of him, and it exploded in a burst of smoke and blue sparks.
Within minutes, Íþró’s response appeared in Sportacus’s hands. He unrolled it and read the short, but still distressed, note:

“Sportacus,

The news you give me is troubling indeed. As far as we understand, it is impossible for a human to see a huldúfolk’s true appearance unless they reveal themselves to the mortal. For one to be able to see your true self without you verbally allowing him is alarming.

I assume that this Mr. Rotten is not a huldúfolk like ourselves, if his knowledge of your true identity is this alarming.

If he is truly mortal, and mortals can see through to your true self, then I can only advise you to heed greater caution, litli bróðir minn.

Remember, keep your identity close to you, but keep your heart closer.

-Íþró”

Sportacus let his brother’s reply flutter to the table as he sat there, feeling overwhelmed with confusion and questions.
The fact that Mr. Rotten could see his hair color this whole time…it unsettled him.
Did the children also notice his hair color and ears?
No, they must not have. They didn’t react with alarm when his hat fell off at the pond yesterday.
They must still see the disguise his magic naturally produces.
But then, why is Mr. Rotten not fooled?
He isn’t a huldúfolk; Sportacus would’ve noticed that immediately if he was.
But if not, then how?
Sportacus puzzled over this thought for a long time, and with each idea came no good conclusions. He was stumped, left with a question he wasn’t sure he could ever answer.

But then again, he didn’t come here to answer that question.
Mr. Rotten had said that the only way to truly bring back the Christmas spirit in the children was to solve their personal problems. He had also said that their problems were impossible to solve.
Well…impossibility hadn’t stopped Sportacus in the past. He thrived on challenging the supposedly impossible.
Besides, it wasn’t like he had many options.
“I just have to try. The kids and my people need me.” He said to himself.
Guard your heart.
His brother’s words rang in his ears, but he shooed them away.
“If I am to truly help them, then I need to open my heart to their worries. Darn the consequences; I must help them.” Sportacus said, determinedly. “Come Monday, I’ll try my best to help them.”

How, he wasn’t sure.

But he would.

Somehow.

Chapter Text

With Mr. Rotten having lifted the ban on talking about Christmas, Sportacus finally felt a bit more relaxed in his own classroom. In some way, having someone who knew about his true identity was actually a bit comforting. He felt less like he was walking on eggshells around the headmaster, since he knew who Sportacus really was. Didn’t mean he’d start acting sloppy of course; the mystery of how Mr. Rotten knew what he actually is still hung heavy in Sportacus’s mind.

But for the time, that wasn’t his priority.

As the children filed into the classroom, Sportacus sat back, watching with anticipation. No longer having to disguise his holiday-filled lectures, he could finally be a bit more forward and, hopefully, understand why all the children disliked Christmas.
Of course, the children may be suspicious, but Sportacus felt like he could reel back his lectures if they got too suspicious or obvious.
The bell rang, signaling the start of class. All the children quieted their chatter and sat forward, watching their teacher expectantly.
Sportacus scanned the room, looking over the faces of his students. Ziggy was absently doodling on the edges of his homework. Pixel was sitting attentively and so was Stingy, though Stingy was giving a rather skeptical look to Trixie. Trixie was sorting through something in a small baggie, which she tried to hide under her desk.
Sportacus assumed that it was a toy of some sort. Or a lizard she caught by the creek. As long as it wasn’t loose in his class, Sportacus was fine with that.
He did notice, however, that Stephanie seemed a little downcast that day. She was looking out the window, her chin perched in her hand. She seemed distracted by something, but what that was Sportacus didn’t know.
Perhaps he could talk to her later.

Clearing his throat, any of the children’s attention that was away was driven right back to their teacher.
Sportacus smiled, and stood from his seat.
“Well class, happy Monday. We have one and a half weeks left of the school year, so let’s make it count!” Sportacus said, hastily writing something on the chalkboard.
Once he was finished, he turned away and gestured to the question on the board: What do you plan to do with your holiday?
The children looked perplexed by this admittedly non-academic question.
“I figured that, since it’s early in the morning, we’ll start with just a general discussion of holiday plans. I know some people like to travel around Christmas, or they meet with family. Thus, I want to hear what everyone is thinking of doing with their time off!” said Sportacus as he leaned against the chalkboard.
The children didn’t respond, and only looked at each other hesitantly.
Sportacus, having expected this response, walked away from the chalkboard and pointed at Ziggy.
“Mr. Zweets, how about you go first? What do you plan to do with your holiday?” He asked.
Ziggy, standing to his feet, looked away thoughtfully for a moment.
“Well, I don’t really know. My mom hasn’t said anything about any trips or family visits. I guess…I’ll play with my toys?” He said with a shrug.
Sportacus smiled.
“That sounds wonderful! Thank you for sharing, Mr. Zweets.” He said, turning to the class. “See, doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It could be just playing more games or focusing on your hobbies! Anyone else?”
Stingy was next, raising his hand slowly.
“My maid Muriel asked me to help her make a pie. I guess I’ll be doing that once school’s out.” He said.
Sportacus nodded.
“Excellent, Mr. Spoilero! I hope you have a great time making that pie.”
Stingy let a smirk slip past.
“Well, it’s a rhubarb pie, so we’ll see.” He responded.

Trixie was next to raise her hand.
“I’ll probably play some football with my brothers. They always want to play football.” She said with a shrug.
“Well, football can be fun! As long as your brothers aren’t too rough with you.” Sportacus said.
“They’re brothers. Asking them not to be rough is like asking a cat not to spit up hairballs.” Trixie said with a look.
Sportacus gave a small chuckle.
“I suppose that’s somewhat true.” He said, thinking of his own brother. “But maybe you could ask nicely? Thank you, Ms. Troubleby.”
Stephanie raised her hand.
“I, um, think my uncle has plans to make a turkey.”
Sportacus smiled.
“Well that sounds wonderful, Ms. Meanswell!”
Stephanie gave a quiet laugh and a quick smile.
“Not really. Don’t tell him I said this, but it’s always really dry.”
“Your secret is safe with me, Ms. Meanswell. Though maybe I can drop a hint to baste the turkey more this year.” Sportacus said.

Stepping back, Sportacus looked at his class.
“Alright, has everyone shared their holiday plans?” He asked.
He looked about before he finally spotted Pixel, who had his hand raised.
“Oh yes, Mr. Hyperbyte! Sorry, I promise I didn’t forget you. What are you planning to do over the holiday?”

Pixel looked a little surprised as he slowly stood to his feet, looking uncomfortable as he did.
“Uh, well I don’t think we have much planned. I’ll probably just work on my contraptions like usual. Maybe read a little.” He answered.
“Well, that does sound good! Nice and relaxing. Thank you, Mr. Hyperbyte.” Sportacus said with a smile.
“I actually had a question for you, Mr. Íþróttsson.” Pixel said, still standing.

Sportacus’s eyes widened.
“Oh? Okay, what is your question?”
“I figure that you’re going to spend the holiday doing Christmas things. I just wanted to know how you can wholeheartedly celebrate it?” asked Pixel, his expression rather serious.
Sportacus nodded and looked down thoughtfully.
“Well, I guess I can because I love the season! Since I love it, I want to celebrate it as much as possible.” He finally answered, looking at Pixel curiously. “Why do you ask?”
Pixel shrugged slowly.
“I don’t know, I guess I just…don’t get it? How anyone could wholeheartedly celebrate Christmas? It just doesn’t make sense.” He said.
Sportacus’s smile vanished, and he suppressed a sigh. He settled into another anti-Christmas speech, probably one instilled by Mr. Rotten.
“What doesn’t make sense, Mr. Hyperbyte?” He asked.
“Just…everything. It’s supposed to be such a great holiday, yet it’s one of the most wasteful days of the year. I hear that England alone throws out so much wrapping paper each year, it could wrap around the Earth nine times! That’s awful!” Pixel said, looking towards his friends for support.
The other students, looking quite shocked, nodded along with him.
Sportacus looked rather thoughtful, and he nodded as well.
“Well, that is pretty bad…” He said.
“Or what about for people who don’t have families or friends? Everyone says Christmas is about spending time together with people, but what if you don’t have anyone?” He asked.
Sportacus looked at the student sadly.
“I don’t suppose…?” He began to ask.
“Oh, no I have my family. It just doesn’t seem fair for the people who don’t.” Pixel said. “And then, even worse, I heard somewhere that lots of people choose to kill themselves over the holidays! If it’s supposed to be such a great and happy holiday, then why would people be so sad that they’d kill themselves??”
All of the children seemed startled, down right disturbed, by Pixel’s string of facts.
“Uh, well Mr. Hyperbyte, you do bring up some good points. I, um, don’t know how to answer them for the class. But I will try to come up with an answer for you. You may sit down now.” Said Sportacus quietly.

Pixel, sighing deeply, sat back down, seeming drained after his rant.
Sportacus, feeling how unsettled the room felt, searched for something to distract the students.
“H-How about we all turn to our English work, shall we? Let’s learn more about run-on sentences.” Sportacus said, trying to keep a steady smile.
Slowly, and uneasily, the children picked up their grammar books and listened for their teacher’s lecture.
Sportacus gave his lecture, but it was delivered with less energy and enthusiasm than was usual for him. He was too distracted by the statements Pixel had made, as well as the daunting task of answering the questions he posed. He knew that he had to answer his questions, but the ones he asked were big. Big, and challenging, with no easy answer. But he needed to give one. Sportacus knew, just from Pixel’s tone, that this must be his own personal issue. The one keeping him from embracing the holiday spirit.

I know there’s an answer. I just have to find it.” Thought Sportacus as he looked through his notes for the assignment.

For now, though, he still had a class to teach.

--

The bell finally rang around noon, signaling the start of lunch.

As the children filed out into the yard, their lunches in hand, Sportacus followed after them. His hair stuck out underneath his homburg, and his gait was far more labored than usual. He walked towards the door, only pausing once he noticed Mr. Rotten standing nearby, his arms crossed.
“Well, someone looks tired.” Mr. Rotten said with a quirked eyebrow.
Sportacus stood a little taller.
“What? Oh no, I’m not tired. I’m just…thinking.” He said.
“Uh huh, ‘thinking’. More looks like ‘dreading’.” Mr. Rotten said.
Sportacus sighed.
“Already tougher than you thought, huh?” asked Mr. Rotten with a haughty air.
Sportacus gave the headmaster a look.
“This is my first try, I don’t know if it’s tough yet.” He answered.
“Your face tells another story.” Mr. Rotten said with a smirk.
Sportacus wanted to frown, but instead he smiled and gave the headmaster another look.
“I thought you were a busy man, Mr. Rotten.” He said.
“Sadly I am.” Mr. Rotten noted with a sigh. “Well, best of luck trying to help Mr. Hyperbyte out. Trust me, it’ll only get harder from here.”
“We’ll see about that.” Sportacus said, pulling his hat down as a sign of determination.
“And Mr. Íþróttsson?” said Mr. Rotten.
Sportacus paused.
Mr. Rotten gave a look that wasn’t quite amused, but not fully unsettled either.
“Please try not to use too much magic when helping Mr. Hyperbyte? I don’t think he could handle being teleported through time and space like you did with me.” He said, his tone both serious yet joking.
Sportacus nodded with a smile.
“I won’t. Promise.” He said, before walking out the door.

Strolling out into the yard, Sportacus tried to keep as casual as possible as he walked towards Pixel, who sat out at a table on the edges of the yard.
“Hey, may I sit with you?” asked Sportacus.
Pixel, at first, looked confused.
“Um, well sure.” He eventually said, scooching across the bench.
Sportacus sat near the student, pulling out his own lunch. He chuckled, picking through the various fruits he had on top of his sandwich.
“Trade you an orange for your cookie?” He asked jokingly.
Pixel looked at his lunch before shaking his head.
“Sorry, no sale.” He said.
“Very well, suit yourself.” Sportacus said with a shrug, taking a bite from his sandwich.
Pixel, feeling awkward, eventually took his first bite from his own sandwich.
A few minutes passed, and neither person spoke.
“So, I was thinking over your questions from class.” Sportacus finally started.
Pixel sighed, cringing.
“Oh, uh you don’t have to come up with an answer. Sorry, I don’t know why I just rambled like that.” He said.
“It’s okay Mr. Hyperbyte, this must be something important to you, and I aim to answer any question one asks.” Sportacus said with a smile.
“But really, it isn’t, Mr. Íþróttsson. I honestly don’t even know why that stuff bothers me. It just does.” Pixel said, shaking his head.

Sportacus, watching patiently, folded his hands together.
“If you want to just talk, I can listen.” He suggested.
Pixel sighed and, after hesitating a moment, he nodded.
“I mean…it’s not like my family really cares all that much about Christmas. We’ve never really celebrated the holiday, so I don’t know why any of those facts really matter. But I guess…I mean my dad always says ‘logic over emotions’. Kind of the motto of my family, actually.” He said.
“Perhaps that’s why those facts bother you?” suggested Sportacus.
Pixel paused.
“I guess so. It just…it just seems wrong. Everyone is supposed to get so excited and cheerful about Christmas, but why? Things don’t get better during the season; it almost sounds like things get worse. It’s supposed to be a happy season, yet some people get sadder from it all. We make more trash, and people treat it like a tradition rather than a problem. And it’s all about togetherness, yet there’s people who don’t have others to be together with. It just…just…” Pixel said, before his voice died out to quiet.
Sportacus, listening intently, nodded.
“…it just seems so empty.” Pixel said finally.
Pixel rolled a rock around under his shoe, waiting in the uncomfortable silence for his teacher’s answer.
Finally, a minute later, Sportacus responded.
“It is true. Those facts you said, they are true. And I see how someone might not like Christmas because the sentiment seems false. I understand that.” Sportacus acknowledged. “But, I do believe there’s something you could do, if you want to change that.”
Pixel looked up.
“What’s that?”
Sportacus gave him a smile.
“Well, you say you don’t like the idea of people being alone and sad on Christmas. You could always reach out to someone who seems sad and lonely. Be with them, spend time with them. Then they’d have someone to be together with, and might not feel so sad!”
Pixel looked deflated.
“But that doesn’t change the fact that so much bad stuff happens on Christmas. I can’t change all of that alone!”
“Maybe not at first, but I think you underestimate the power of one person.” Said Sportacus, tapping his own nose. “You might not be able to change the reality of Christmas overnight, but you could inspire others to change their traditions and behaviors over time. And, eventually, perhaps there would be less waste, sadness, and loneliness during Christmas. All that needs to happen is someone like you taking that first step.”
Pixel, looking up and with a more hopeful look in his eyes, turned towards his teacher.
“You really think that’d work?” He asked.
Sportacus nodded.
“You’d be surprised how many big changes happened because one person decided to try something new.” He said.
Pixel looked down thoughtfully, mulling over Sportacus’s words, before his gaze shifted off to the side.
Sportacus followed the student’s eyes and soon saw who Pixel was looking at: Stephanie, who was sitting far away from the other kids against the fence, her face turned down.
“Stephanie always seems to get so sad around Christmas.” Noted Pixel. “Maybe…Maybe I could try and talk to her first? So, she won’t be so sad, maybe?”
Sportacus smiled and nodded.
“I think that’s a fantastic first step, Mr. Hyperbyte.”

Pixel, a smile on his face, stood up from his spot. He gathered his lunch and shoved it hastily back into his lunch bag. Walking away, he stopped one last time to address his teacher.
“Hey, thanks, Mr. Íþróttsson. For listening and, um, helping me. I feel like I should’ve thought of this earlier, though.” He said.
“The important thing is you’ve thought of it now.” Said Sportacus.
Pixel nodded, then turned and ran towards Stephanie. Sportacus watched as he sat next to her, Stephanie looking up at her friend. He could see Pixel talking to her and, while Stephanie still looked sad, she did seem a little better now that she wasn’t sitting alone.

Sportacus hummed to himself, quietly pleased at his own progress. He finished his sandwich and fruit quickly before walking back towards the doors. Much to his surprise, he found Mr. Rotten standing outside, leaning against the guardrail.
“Well, I never thought I’d say this, but you seem to have done an adequate job with Mr. Hyperbyte.” Said Mr. Rotten.
Grinning, Sportacus stood with his fists against his hips.
“I’d say I did better than adequate. I did good! I’m feeling pretty good about being able to help the kids. That went really well!” He said proudly.
Mr. Rotten gave a serious look to Sportacus.
“I wouldn’t cheer too quickly. You still have four other kids to work with, and trust me, I don’t think you know what you’re getting yourself into.” He said, pausing only as the bell rang.
With that, Mr. Rotten turned and walked back inside.

Sportacus was admittedly a little put off by Mr. Rotten’s words, but he decided to pay them little attention.

After all, he’d helped one child; who’s the say he wouldn’t be successful with the other four?

--

Sportacus still felt the buzz of successfully helping Pixel even after the bell rang, signaling the end of school. He filed out of the school with the children, with all of them walking off and waving to their teacher. Pixel, in particular, smiled at Sportacus as he walked back towards the townhouses.
Sportacus sighed happily and jogged along with a more brisk, energetic pace. He even turned and gave a wave to Mr. Rotten, who was also leaving the schoolhouse.
Mr. Rotten paused and, after hesitating a minute, waved back.
Sportacus chuckled and walked along, casually looking into the shop windows as he did. While there were, of course, almost no holiday displays, the usual window displays still looked wonderful. He slowed as he passed by a toy shop, and he examined the toys set about on the stands. Toy airplanes, teddy bears, dolls, and rifles sat out in display stands. Sportacus made a few mental notes about the types of toys, especially the ones next to the signs saying “NEW”, “JUST IN”, or “HOTTEST TOY”. Once he got back to the North Pole, he’d make sure to give his observations to one of the manager elves.

As he continued along, he stopped as he noticed Ziggy standing near the local library’s window. He had his nose nearly pressed against the glass, and his eyes were fixed upon something in the display.
Sportacus jogged over and, not wanting to startle the boy, he tapped his shoulder.
Ziggy turned around and, seeing his teacher, he smiled widely.
“Oh! Hi, Mr. Íþróttsson!” He said.
“Hello Mr. Zweets!” said Sportacus cheerily. He peered over at the window. “I saw that you were looking at something pretty intensely. Something you want for Christmas?”
“Oh, well…sort of? I don’t know, it’s kind of silly.” Ziggy said, shuffling in his spot.
Sportacus smiled and crouched to the boy’s level.
“Nothing is silly, Mr. Zweets, if it’s important to you.” He said reassuringly.
Biting his lip, Ziggy nodded.
“Well…I know that our town really doesn’t get into Christmas, but I’ve always wanted my house to have a HUGE Christmas tree, right in our living room! All covered in lights, and tinsel, and ornaments…” He said, his voice growing sad. “…I don’t think we’ve ever had even a tree in our house.”
Sportacus nodded as he played with his mustache in thought.
“Well, we could change that? We could go get your family a tree!” suggested Sportacus.
Ziggy gasped, and bounced happily.
“Y-You mean it?? You’re…You’re not pulling my leg, are you?” He asked.
Sportacus gave the child a look.
“I would never joke about something like this! Come on, I’m sure we can find a nice pine by the pond.” Said Sportacus, walking back towards Mani’s Creek.
Ziggy, excitedly, followed after his teacher.

Once they reached the pond, the two rooted around the foliage, looking for an appropriate tree. It didn’t take long for Ziggy to find the one he wanted: a Douglas fir that stood a good nine feet.
“It’s perfect!” said Ziggy as he hugged the tree’s branches. He pulled away and stuck out his tongue, looking over the needles and sap that clung to his clothes.
“Yuck, pine sap!” He said in disgust.
Sportacus laughed and, pulling a tree saw out of seemingly nowhere, he started working on chopping down the tree.
With the tree chopped and trimmed, Sportacus carried it behind him as he followed Ziggy back into town. A few passersby gave them odd looks as they walked along.
“Ziggy, do you have any ornaments? We’ll need some to decorate the tree.” Asked Sportacus.
Ziggy stopped and, looking sheepish, he turned towards his teacher.
“Oh, uh, no…no I don’t think we have any ornaments.” He admitted.
Sportacus, thinking for a moment, nodded.
“Well, that’s okay. I think we can manage.” He said, a mischievous look in his eyes.
Ziggy, while confused, simply followed after his teacher, deciding to wait and see his idea.
The two soon arrived at the Zweets’ residence: a one-story bungalow with a tiny front yard and no backyard. Ziggy, pulling a key from around his neck, unlocked the door and welcomed Sportacus inside. Sportacus looked about the residence. It was small, and rather sparsely decorated, but it still seemed nice. As he walked by the kitchen counter, he noticed a stack of bills, all marked with words like “URGENT” and “LAST NOTICE”.
His smile faded as he followed Ziggy to the living room.
“We could put it right here!” said Ziggy, pointing to the corner.
Sportacus’s smile returned as he lifted the tree and placed it in the corner.
“We’ll need a way for the tree to stay upright.” Noted Sportacus. “Do you have a tree stand?”
Ziggy shook his head.
“I don’t even know what that is.” He said.
Sportacus nodded.
“Mr. Íþróttsson, how are we going to decorate the tree, if I don’t own any ornaments or lights or anything?” Ziggy asked.
Sportacus looked puzzled. He tapped the side of his cheek in thought.
“I…don’t know. Perhaps we should think this through?” He suggested.

Sportacus sat cross-legged on the carpet. Ziggy followed suit.
“I usually do my best thinking if my eyes are closed.” Sportacus said.
“Should I do that too?” asked Ziggy.
“Wouldn’t hurt to try!” said Sportacus, trying to hide a knowing smile.
“Okay! I’ll try.” Ziggy said, squeezing his eyes shut.
Sportacus quietly chuckled once he was sure the boy’s eyes were closed. Rubbing his hands together, Sportacus gestured towards the tree. The tree glowed a bright blue and, following his hands as he drew them down the tree, ornaments and tinsel sprouted and bloomed from the branches. By the time he reached the bottom, the tree was nearly covered in glittering ornaments and shiny tinsel that cast beams of light against the walls. Sportacus then snapped his fingers towards the top of the tree. A bright star appeared on the tree’s top, and a spiral of Christmas lights circled in a corkscrew down the tree. Looking over his work, Sportacus leaned back, giving a telegraphed gasp.
“Ziggy! Look!” He said.
Ziggy, slowly opening his eyes, gasped in awe and wonder at the beautiful tree that sat in his living room. His eyes twinkled as he looked over the tree.
“It’s…It’s perfect! It’s everything I ever wanted!” Ziggy said excitedly. He looked at his teacher. “But…how? We didn’t have any ornaments!”
“Must be that old holiday magic. A Christmas miracle.” Sportacus said, smiling at the tree.
Ziggy gasped, and looked back at the tree.
“You said you’ve never had a Christmas tree before? Does your family dislike Christmas?” asked Sportacus.
Ziggy, his excitement fading slightly, shook his head.
“No, I don’t think so. They don’t really talk about Christmas, so I don’t know. My parents are just…busy during Christmas.” He said, his voice growing mumbly by the end of his sentence.
“Busy?” asked Sportacus.
Ziggy nodded.
“Yeah, busy.” He said, staring intently at the carpet.

Sportacus nearly asked Ziggy another question, when the door slammed open.
Ziggy and Sportacus sat up, looking at the doorway as a man walked in. He looked to be in his early twenties, if only barely. The bags under his eyes made him look far older, but everything else about his face screamed young adult. He had short shorn, dirty blonde hair, and freckles on his cheeks.
Sportacus looked up nervously at the man as he approached him and Ziggy.
“Hi papa!” said Ziggy.
The man looked weary, and less than amused at Sportacus’s presence.
“Who are you? What are you doing in my house?” he asked rather bluntly.
Sportacus recoiled before standing and offering his hand.
“My apologies, my name is Magnus Íþróttsson. I’m Ziggy’s teacher at the schoolhouse.” He said.
Ziggy’s father slowly took his hand and shook it.
“Did Headmaster Rotten retire or something? I thought he was Ziggy’s teacher.”
“Oh, well he just hired me a week ago or so.” Sportacus explained.
“Uh-huh.” Said Ziggy’s father, his attention shifting once he finally noticed the tree. He frowned sternly as he approached it.
“What is this doing in here?” he asked coolly, looking at Sportacus and Ziggy.
Sportacus gulped.
“Papa, it’s okay. Mr. Íþróttsson – “
“Your mother bought this, didn’t she?” asked Ziggy’s father, looking ever more furious. He shook his head and sighed. “She keeps spending my money even though she knows – DIANE, DID YOU BUY A TREE?!” He shouted towards the side hallway.
Ziggy yanked at Sportacus’s pant leg, ushering him back to give his father room.

From the hallway came a woman, also looking barely in her twenties with golden blonde hair. She frowned at Ziggy’s father and crossed her arms, standing defensively in the hallway. Sportacus assumed she must be Ziggy’s mother.
“Don’t start accusing me like that! I didn’t buy a tree! We never buy a tree!” She said back, angrily.
“Then how do you explain that??” asked Ziggy’s father, pointing at the tree.
Ziggy’s mother looked over at the tree, pausing as she looked in confusion and slight awe. Then she turned with an annoyed looked to her husband.
“Well I sure didn’t buy it.” She said.
“Diane, trees don’t just pop up in people’s living rooms. If you didn’t buy it, who did?!” asked Ziggy’s father.
“Mr. Íþróttsson d – “Ziggy started quietly.
“Why do you always accuse me of spending money?? You’re the one spending a hundred a week at your poker games! I don’t think I’ve seen a full paycheck from you in a year!” Ziggy’s mother shouted back, pointing angrily at her husband’s chest.
“Big talk coming from YOU! I think we wouldn’t even HAVE a paycheck if you got your grubby hands on it first! What does that hair-do of yours cost anyways? A thousand dollars?” shouted Ziggy’s father back.
Sportacus watched with disapproval, his expression saddening as he watched Ziggy scooch further away from the noise.
“I haven’t gotten my hair done in MONTHS. YOU on the other hand are heading out to your slimy friend Marvin’s place every night and gambling away our savings! And don’t think I haven’t noticed; you come home every night smelling like cheap whiskey and cigars! Some father and husband you are!” Ziggy’s mother spat back.
Ziggy’s father gritted his teeth, looking like he was about to burst a blood vessel any minute. He stepped towards his wife, and Sportacus’s face paled for a moment as he watched in horror. Eventually Ziggy’s father shook his head and, grabbing his coat off the rack, he stormed towards the door.
“Now where’re you going?!” shouted Ziggy’s mother.
“I’m going somewhere less hostile than this dump! I don’t need to take your crap any longer! Good luck with your life, ‘honey baby’!” Ziggy’s father said mockingly, before slamming the door so hard it displaced a photo on the wall.
Ziggy’s mother, with tears streaming down her face, sputtered and shouted at the door.
“FINE! I DON’T WANT YOU TO COME BACK ANYWAYS! GO AHEAD AND ABANDON YOUR WIFE AND SON!” she yelled, before storming back towards her bedroom, crying as she went.

As the house finally grew silent once more, Sportacus finally felt comfortable enough to move and breathe. His mouth felt dry, and he realized his eyes felt dry from not blinking. How could he blink? The whole affair was too much to look away from.
He then heard a shuffling sound behind him. He looked and saw Ziggy slowly walking away from his hiding spot, his eyes turned towards the ground.
“Mr. Zweets, do your parents argue often?” asked Sportacus softly.
Ziggy, not looking towards his teacher, nodded slowly.
Sportacus could feel his heart break. He bent down to the boy’s level, trying to look him in the eye.
“Mr. Zweets – “
“It’s fine, Mr. Íþróttsson. I’m okay.” Ziggy mumbled.
Sportacus looked at the youth sadly.
“You don’t seem okay.” He said.
“I will be, though. It’s fine.” Ziggy said, starting towards his room.
“Mr. Zweets, if you want to talk about this, I can – “Sportacus started.
“I should get started on my homework, Mr. Íþróttsson.” Ziggy said, faking a smile for his teacher. “Thank you for the tree. It’s a really great tree. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Sportacus wanted to protest. He wanted to try and help more, but Ziggy clearly wanted his time alone, even if that wouldn’t be as productive. Thus, Sportacus reluctantly relented. He nodded and started back towards the front door.
“Have a good evening, Mr. Zweets.” Said Sportacus, as he slowly left the Zweets’ residence.

Sportacus pulled his scarf over his face as he walked out into the street. The air was cold, and it slightly stung his teeth and nose. He stuffed his hands into his pockets as he walked along, giving the Zweets’ residence one last look.
He could see the tree in the window, its glittering lights almost hollow given what Sportacus just witnessed.
He felt at a loss.
In all his years, both living and learning about human culture, he had heard of this sort of thing. Parents growing more distant and eventually, violently, expressing their dissatisfaction towards each other, often with children caught in the middle. But he’d never seen it in person, and he found that the written word paled in comparison to the real thing. It couldn’t capture the sound, the noise, the piercing and charged words thrown around like baseballs. It couldn’t capture the terror and horror he felt, or the grave sadness yet resignation on Ziggy’s face.
He knew he needed to do something about his problem, but how much could he do?
This was all such a personal problem, not just for Ziggy, but his parents too.
How much could one stranger (albeit a magical one) do to help mend such a tense situation?
Sportacus didn’t know, and he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to do anything truly helpful.
Yet if he couldn’t do something to help Ziggy…

He slowed as he heard another pair of shoes clapping against the sidewalk.
He looked up and saw a tall figure walking towards him, one he instantly recognized as Mr. Rotten.
“Good evening, Mr. Íþróttsson.” Said Mr. Rotten, his own hands stuffed inside his coat pockets.
“Good evening, Mr. Rotten.” Said Sportacus, forcing a thin smile.
“Out for an evening stroll I see?” asked Mr. Rotten.
“Oh, um no…no not quite.” Said Sportacus, his smile wavering.
Mr. Rotten looked to the side, noticing Ziggy’s house sitting around the corner.
“Paid Mr. Zweets a visit?” He asked.
Sportacus, unsure of what to say at first, only nodded.
Mr. Rotten stood with an expectant gaze.
“I see. Were you able to help his…little problem?” asked Mr. Rotten.
Sportacus’s lips thinned, and his gaze drifted downwards towards the sidewalk.
Mr. Rotten nodded.
“As I thought.” He noted, not with the haughtiness Sportacus might’ve expected, but rather plainly.
“I…I didn’t realize that…that when you meant personal problems, that they’d get this serious and difficult.” Sportacus finally said quietly.
Mr. Rotten gave a look to the teacher.
“Did you believe I meant simply a dislike of pine trees? Or that my own distaste for the holiday is where their lack of spirit began and ended?” He asked.
Sportacus, feeling embarrassed, slowly nodded.
“Perhaps a little.” He said.
Mr. Rotten sighed, and he shook his head.
“I warned you, Mr. Íþróttsson. Human’s lives are complicated and difficult. Most of the time their problems have no easy solution. Yet you want to solve five children’s problems by Christmas Eve. You’ve been sent on a fools’ errand, Mr. Íþróttsson.”
Sportacus, frowning, shook his head.
“I can’t believe that. I won’t. I have to do, or try, something. If not for the Christmas spirit, then to at least help Mr. Zweets and the other kids.” He said firmly.
“But what do you think you could do?” asked Mr. Rotten, looking at the teacher.
Sportacus opened his mouth to respond, but no ideas or answers came forth. Slowly, his mouth closed along with his eyes, and he sighed tiredly.
“I…I don’t know.” He said softly.

Mr. Rotten, taking a step forward, gave one last glance to the teacher.
“My advice for you, Mr. Íþróttsson, is to go back to your old plan. I may have told you that the only way you could truly restore these children’s spirits was to solve their personal problems, but that is far more than you could ever wish to do with your time limit. At least through giving them a few moments of happiness during the holiday, perhaps you’ll at least boost their spirits.” He said.
“I thought you said that sort of thing wouldn’t help me.” Said Sportacus.
“It wouldn’t, but at least you’d find some form of success. The children would be excited enough for the holidays, and they’d smile and laugh. You’d bring them some joy, even if it’s short lived.” Said Mr. Rotten.
Sportacus slowly shook his head.
“No, you were right before. I’ll only be able to keep the portals working if I can help them with their personal lives. Just giving them crafts and leading them through songs is only a temporary solution. Not only would it not keep the portal alive, because their spirits wouldn’t be fully there, but it’d be a disservice to them. The only way I can finish my mission is by helping with their problems.” He said, his face falling. “Somehow.”
“Then all I can do is hope you have the greatest luck behind you. You’ll need it, Mr. Íþróttsson.” Said Mr. Rotten, sounding grave. As he walked away, he said only one more thing to the teacher.
“Have a good evening, Mr. Íþróttsson.”
Sportacus turned to look behind him. He watched Mr. Rotten walk away, only pausing for a minute to look into the window of the Zweets’ residence, before continuing on his way.

Sportacus stood there for another minute, standing in the silence of the empty streets. The cold air blew, chilling his face and forcing him to huddle in his spot. He felt drained, too tired to even think.
He began his walk home, trying his hardest to come up with a solution or at least something to help Ziggy’s predicament.
But nothing came to mind.
How does one stop a looming divorce?
How does one mend a family?
Sportacus wasn’t sure if he was the man to come up with that answer.

He continued walking along, the weight of the problem weighing heavily on him.
Another cold wind blew.
He shivered.
He never shivered from the cold.
He drew his scarf tighter and hurried his pace, shielding his face from the bitter wind.

After nearly half of his walk home was taken up by fruitless problem solving and planning, he stopped for the night. He instead tried to focus on the warmth of his hearth, and the comfort of his little cottage, in order to urge himself forward at a brisker pace.

Chapter Text

The next day felt pretty chilly to Sportacus as well. To compensate, he threw on another sweater before heading to the schoolhouse. He grabbed a pair of gloves too, just in case.

The lectures went along as normal. Sportacus, admittedly, felt a little more run down than normal, though the children didn’t seem to notice. He did notice, however, that Ziggy seemed quieter than normal. He was keeping himself absorbed in his doodles, which soon covered the entire border of his homework.

Sportacus kept quiet, not wanting to bring up the subject in front of Ziggy’s classmates. He simply kept an eye on the boy as he taught, his thoughts still filled with the images of last night. Nevertheless, he kept a smile on his face and kept teaching, using a few moments to talk about the holidays with the children.

Once the lunch bell rang, the children ran out into the yard. Sportacus followed, albeit at a slightly slower pace. He did feel sluggish, but didn’t know why.
He sat down at an empty picnic table and pulled out his lunch: a veggie sandwich, an apple, and a thermos of milk.
As he started on his sandwich, he heard someone clear their throat.
He turned and saw Mr. Rotten standing behind him, holding his own bag lunch.
“This seat taken?” asked Mr. Rotten.
Sportacus gave a small smile and shook his head, scooching over.
“Nope, completely free.” Responded Sportacus.
Mr. Rotten sat on the bench, cringing as the cold wood chilled the seat of his pants.
“I can’t believe you choose to sit out here for lunch.” Remarked Mr. Rotten.
“Well the kids sit outside for lunch. I figured I should too. Not fair to sit inside while they have to stay outside.” Noted Sportacus as he took another bite.
“Are you trying to say something about my character, Mr. Íþróttsson? That I purposefully keep them out here while I revel in the warmth of indoors?” asked Mr. Rotten with a quirked eyebrow.
Sportacus paled.
“Oh…Oh no, no I’m not. I just thought – “He started.
“I was just kidding, Mr. Íþróttsson.” Said Mr. Rotten as he took a bite of his sandwich, hiding a small smile.
Sportacus blinked.
“Oh…I see.” Said Sportacus softly, as he took another bite of his sandwich.

The two sat in silence for a while, both eating their lunches. They had both finished their sandwiches when Mr. Rotten spoke once more.
“I walked past the Zweets’ residence on my way home last night.” He noted.
Sportacus, swallowing his bite of apple, nodded.
“I saw that.” He said.
“You got them a Christmas tree.” Said Mr. Rotten.
“I did.” Said Sportacus.
Mr. Rotten nodded.
“You and Ziggy did a good job decorating it.” He said awkwardly.
Sportacus paused, then gave a half-smile.
“Thank you.”
Mr. Rotten looked off to the side, watching as Ziggy played with the other children.
“That tree…it seemed to change something in the house. I saw how he looked at it. I don’t think I’ve seen that child so…content. Not in quite some time that is.” He noted.
Sportacus’s smile faded.
“It didn’t help much though. My tree got his parents arguing, and if what Ziggy said is true, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence.” He said quietly.
Mr. Rotten shrugged.
“Perhaps not, but you seemed to help Mr. Zweets. In some small way, you helped make him happy.” He said, biting into his cookie. “You gave him a little hope.”
“You could tell all that?” asked Sportacus skeptically.
“A child’s eyes tells you much, Mr. Íþróttsson. You learn how to read them when you’re a teacher. Mr. Zweets’ eyes were near glowing with joy. Perhaps you didn’t stop his parents’ argument, but you helped keep his cheer.” Mr. Rotten said, looking at the teacher.
Sportacus’s gaze fell to the table.
Mr. Rotten sighed.
“You really are set on trying to fix the children’s problems, aren’t you? Or at least help them get better?” He said.
Sportacus nodded.
“It’s the only way.” He said softly.

Mr. Rotten, shifting in his seat, nodded. He took a sip from his own thermos before he spoke again.
“Marble’s Café.” He said.
Sportacus looked at him in confusion.
“What?” He asked.
“Marble’s Café; it’s the place Mr. Zweets’ mother goes to lunch on Tuesdays. You should be able to find her if you go there.” Mr. Rotten said, taking another sip of coffee.
“Would that help? What should I do?” asked Sportacus.
Mr. Rotten sighed.
“I don’t know. You’re the elf with the magic, and this is your task. Something tells me, though, that you already know what you have to do.” He said.
Sportacus nodded.
“Well…I do know that I won’t enchant her to fix everything.”
“Hey there you go, you’ve got a start.” Said Mr. Rotten, patting Sportacus on the back.
Sportacus, for a second, felt his spirit lift after Mr. Rotten’s pat. It faded, however, as a new question crossed his mind.
“But what about the students? Lunch will be over soon.” He asked.
“I was their teacher for years before you came along, Mr. Íþróttsson. I’m certain I can handle them again for a single afternoon.” Mr. Rotten said, the smallest of smiles crossing his face.
Sportacus, feeling a slight warmth rise within him, nodded and ran past the gate and out towards the street.

Mr. Rotten watched as the teacher vanished around the corner, looking away only as the bell rang once more.
He watched as the children filed back into the schoolhouse, and he watched them with a steady eye.
“Where’s Mr. Íþróttsson going?” asked Pixel.
“Oh, he just has an errand to run. No worries, he should be back soon.” Mr. Rotten said, giving that smallest smile to her.
Pixel, a little startled by the headmaster’s smile, nodded and hurried back inside.

“Guys, you won’t believe what I just saw! Headmaster Rotten just smiled!” said Pixel hurriedly.
The children, shocked and in disbelief, hurried into class. But they would never tell the headmaster why they were chattering.

--

Marble’s café held an aesthetic that, while Sportacus was sort of familiar with, was still somewhat more modern than Sportacus was ready for. Yet, he also knew that the aesthetic was at least a decade out of date. The walls were plain, with only a few decorations up that usually held ads from a previous decade. A long bar stretched across half the length of the café. The tables were simple, made of cheap wood, with metal chairs on each side. A few smaller tables sat outside with similar metal chairs. There was a healthy crowd sitting both inside and outside, and the air smelled of tomato soup.
Sportacus wound through the tables, looking for the blonde woman he remembered from the previous night. He finally found her near the back, sitting alone, a barely touched bowl of chowder sitting in front of her.
Clearing his throat and adjusting his scarf, Sportacus walked as casually as he could towards her, putting forth his best smile.
“Hello, is this seat taken?” he asked.
Ziggy’s mother gave him an odd look. Her eyes drew over his body, up and down, before a small smile crossed her face.
“Well, no, but you’re welcome to take it.” She said.
Sportacus took his seat, hanging his scarf around one of the chair arms. He paused as he realized she was staring rather intently at him.
“You seem very familiar. Have we met before?” She asked.
Sportacus looked down thoughtfully.
“I think so. Truth be told, that’s why I was hoping to sit with you. I think you may be the mother of one of my students?” He admitted.
“My Ziggy is one of your students?” She asked.
Sportacus smiled and snapped his fingers.
“Ziggy, yes. Mr. Zweets. I’m his teacher at the schoolhouse.” He said, extending a hand. “I’m Magnus Íþróttsson.”
“Diane Zweets, but you can just call me Diane.” Said Diane, taking his hand and shaking it. She noticeably held on a little longer than expected.

Once she finally let go, Sportacus smiled casually and adjusted his seat.
“So, you said you know me as Ziggy’s mother? Is there a problem with his school work? He isn’t getting himself into trouble, is he?” Diane asked.
“Well, yes and no.” Sportacus said, sitting forward. “I just wanted to talk with you about his attentiveness. He seemed very…distracted, in class today.”
Diane’s gaze fell.
“Oh, I see. Is he tired? I know sometimes he goes to bed too late, bless that boy.” She asked.
Sportacus shook his head.
“No, he doesn’t seem tired. He’s plenty attentive when I ask him a question, or during discussion. But he does seem distracted. Even a little…sad? I believe that’s the right word for it.”
Diane seemed confused.
“Sad? Now that’s odd.” She said.
“I thought so too. He’s usually a happy child, so I wanted to make sure that he was doing okay. I figured his mother would know best of all.” Sportacus said.
Diane sighed.
“Well…perhaps, but that couldn’t be it.” Diane noted, shifting uncomfortably in her seat.
“What couldn’t be it?” asked Sportacus.
Diane looked uneasy.
“But, if you’re not comfortable talking about it, I understand – “Sportacus started.
“No, no it’s okay. You might as well know. You are his teacher after all. You’d find out eventually.” Said Diane, sitting forward. “Ziggy’s father, Brian, and I have hit a bit of a…rough patch lately. Well…not lately. It’s not new it’s…”

Sportacus waited patiently, watching as Diane sighed and threaded her fingers through her hair.
“…it’s been happening for years. He and I used to be close, but things have gotten a bit tense. No, not a bit. Just tense. It doesn’t help that money’s been tight this last year or so – “
She stopped, looking up at Sportacus.
“A-And I’m not saying that to ask you to give me money. I won’t accept charity hand-outs.”
“Understandable.” Sportacus said.
Diane shook her head wearily.
“But anyways, that’s been happening. Brian and I, we’ve – “She started, before stopping abruptly. “– no I’m sorry, I can’t say. It’s embarrassing.”
“I don’t judge, Mrs. Zweets. I promise.” Said Sportacus calmly.
Diane, realizing she had a willing ear, began to tear up as she continued.
“We’ve been getting into fights. He yells at me, I yell at him. He accuses me of spending our money, but he goes and gambles all of our savings away with his stupid friend…I’m sorry…” Diane said, interrupting herself to blow her nose.
“It’s okay, take your time.” Said Sportacus reassuringly.
Diane nodded, her eyes puffy and red now from crying.
“I’m so sorry, I’m a mess.” She said with a weak laugh as she dabbed at her eyes. “But it’s been awful. He left last night, and I don’t know if he’ll come back this time.”

“No need to apologize. It’s understandable why you’re upset.” Sportacus said.
“It really is a terrible mess, isn’t it?” Diane said with a shaky laugh.
Sportacus bit his lip.
“Well, it’s a touchy situation for sure.” He noted.
Diane nodded, looking down quietly.
“And you think the arguments are affecting my poor Ziggy? Every time I asked him in the past, or checked on him, he always told me he was fine.” She noted.
Sportacus shrugged.
“I mean, I can’t completely be sure. But it’s the best guess I can make.” He said.
Diane began to tear up once more.
“Oh, you’re probably right. That’s the only possible thing I can think of that’s upsetting him. But why wouldn’t my Ziggy say anything?” She said sadly.
Sportacus sighed.
“I’m not sure, Mrs. Zweets. I could only guess, and that’s all it’d be: a guess. I don’t know if you’ll know unless you talk to him.” He said.
Diane nodded.
“You’re right…you’re right you’re oh so right. I haven’t been watching my Ziggy closely enough if he’s been this upset about everything. I’m his…god I’m his mother, I should’ve noticed right away but I didn’t.” Diane said, sniffling. “That’s what I need to do. As soon as he gets home, I need to talk to him. I need to be honest about what’s happening…oh god that’s a lot.”
“I think he’d at least appreciate you trying to talk him through this. Just try to keep calm when you do, okay?” said Sportacus.
Diane, wiping away more tears, nodded.
“O-Of course. I’ll try my best. And gosh darn it, I’ll give my little Ziggy the biggest hug I can. He deserves it. He’s such a little trooper.” She said with a shaky laugh.

She stood from her seat, leaving a few dollars on the table to pay her bill. She gave a tired smile to Sportacus, her eyes still glistening with tears.
“Thank you for bringing my attention to this, Mr. Íþróttsson. I’m glad I finally know about all of this.” Diane said, pulling Sportacus into a hug.
Sportacus, at first surprised by the hug, slowly returned it.
“You’re welcome, Mrs. Zweets.” He said with a smile.
Pulling away, Diane chuckled and wiped another tear from her eye.
“I’m sorry, I’m a hugger. I should’ve asked if it was okay first.” She said.
“It’s okay, I like hugs!” Sportacus said with a laugh. He paused, thinking of something. “But, if it’s okay for me to ask, do you think you and Mr. Zweets will…I don’t know…”
Diane’s smile faded.
“Us together? Well…I can’t say.” She said softly. “He was very angry last night. As much as I can hope that we make it through the month, I don’t think I could say we would with confidence.”
Sportacus’s smile fell.
“Oh, okay.” He said.
Diane looked at him curiously.
“Why do you ask? Do you think we should stay together?” She asked.
Sportacus faltered, then finally shook his head after a moment.
“You need to do whatever makes sense, Mrs. Zweets.” He finally said, quietly.
Diane smiled.
“Thank you for listening and understanding, Mr. Íþróttsson. I hope you have a good day.” She said, before walking out of the café and back towards her home.

Sportacus watched as Diane left, and prepared to leave himself before he was stopped by a waiter.
“Hey, I saw you walk in. This isn’t a library or coffee shop. You sit here, you buy something.” He said rather rudely.
Sportacus really wasn’t hungry, but the waiter was right. He should order something, given he took up valuable table space.
“I’ll just take a cup of tea.” He said distractedly, sitting back down in his chair.

The waiter walked off with a frown, but Sportacus paid him no heed. He was thinking too much about his conversation with Diane Zweets, and whether or not he considered the outcome a victory or not.

--

Sportacus walked along with a dragged gait, feeling more drained than usual. The conversation, while successful, still left him unsure of just how fixed the problem was. As much as he’d like to assume that Ziggy’s spirit would be restored through greater attention from his mother, he wasn’t sure of that. He couldn’t be sure of that. But at the same time, there wasn’t much he could do now.
He’d have to leave their family be for the time.
So, he tried to lift his head and refuel his energy. He had to get back to the schoolhouse, even though the school day was nearly over.
As he drew closer to the schoolhouse, however, he could hear a small din rising from the yard. He stopped, lifting his head to look at the schoolyard.
It appeared all five children, plus Mr. Rotten, were out in the yard. However, he noticed that three of the children huddled behind the headmaster, while Mr. Rotten kept two of the children separated, if only barely. Both children’s, Trixie and Stingy, faces were bright red, and both were supplying the majority of the noise. Even from a distance, he could see a red welt on Stingy’s cheek, which he was rubbing gently.
“You know what, Stingy?! You are a BRAT! A complete, total BRAT. No wonder you don’t have any friends! Who would want to play with you when you’re so SELFISH?” spat Trixie angrily, barely being restrained by Mr. Rotten.
“W-Well you’re a BRUTE! At least I don’t HIT PEOPLE! I can at least act civilized, unlike YOU!” Stingy shouted back.
“Fine! You’re gonna be like that? I never want to play with you again! Can’t play with someone as controlling as you, and I’m sure everyone agrees with me!” Trixie snarled back.
The other three kids took a step back, wanting no part in this violent argument.
Stingy, his eyes full of tears, stared defiantly at her.
“Well, I DON’T CARE! Who would want friends when the only option is PEOPLE LIKE YOU? I don’t need you guys! I’m better off without ANY OF YOU!” shouted Stingy, before he scooped up his toy truck and ran off. He ran past Sportacus, nearly pushing him aside, as he tearfully ran down the street and towards the houses.

Sportacus ran into the yard, watching as Mr. Rotten comforted a tearful and angry Trixie.
“Mr. Rotten, what happened?” asked Sportacus.
Mr. Rotten looked away from Trixie to address the teacher.
“Mr. Spoilero was angry that the children weren’t playing by his rules, and he started getting especially angry when they wanted to start a game without him. He and Ms. Troubleby started yelling at each other and Ms. Troubleby punched him in the face.
“He’s such a brat! He always yells at us if we don’t play his way and gets upset when we don’t play with him!” said Trixie angrily, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Mr. Rotten, in an act that was surprisingly caring, bent down and wiped away Trixie’s tears with a handkerchief. He looked at the girl with a softer expression.
“I know, Ms. Troubleby. I know, and it isn’t right. We will definitely have a stern talk with Mr. Spoilero tomorrow about sharing and playing along with others.” He said reassuringly.
His expression then grew sterner. “But you simply cannot hit people when they get angry with you, Ms. Troubleby. You know that’s against the school charter, and we’ll have to have a disciplinary meeting about this later.”
Sportacus watched, surprised by the headmaster’s actions. Yes, he still returned to his sterner disposition, yet he did initially show a level of sympathy, something Sportacus had barely seen from the headmaster’s interactions with the children. However it came about, it seemed to quell Trixie’s anger at least partly. Even though she looked hurt and guilty, knowing she was still going to get punished, her sniffling grew softer.
Mr. Rotten then turned to address the other three children, who seemed rather shaken by the loud and violent exchange. Ziggy, especially, seemed unsettled.
“H-Headmaster Rotten, you aren’t going to expel Trixie, are you?” asked Ziggy quietly.
Stephanie and Pixel looked unsettled and uneasy about the possibility as well.
Mr. Rotten looked at them, then gave a quick look to Trixie, who waited nervously for his answer.
He shook his head as he turned back to the three children.
“I wouldn’t worry about that possibility, children. I will come up with an appropriate punishment by tomorrow.” He said, standing to his feet.

He ushered the children back to the door, looking over his shoulder to address Sportacus.
“If you wish to help, Mr. Íþróttsson, go to the large house at the end of Aspen Street. That’s where Mr. Spoilero’s home is. You can’t miss it; it’s the largest house in town.” Mr. Rotten said quietly.
“Shouldn’t I help you with the students here?” asked Sportacus.
“I’ll be okay here. But something tells me that you should pay Mr. Spoilero a visit.” Mr. Rotten said.
Sportacus looked uncertain for a moment. Was Mr. Rotten implying that whatever this argument was about is linked to Mr. Spoilero’s problem? And if it was, was this going to be similar to Mr. Zweet’s problem, in that he’d have no clue how to start helping him?
Mr. Rotten, seeing Sportacus’s hesitation, gestured towards the road.
“You don’t want to keep Mr. Spoilero waiting, do you?” He said, his expression almost…trusting?
Sportacus wondered if he was seeing things.
He nodded, and ran off towards the townhouses and down a side road, towards the more affluent parts of town.

“Headmaster Rotten, do you think Mr. Íþróttsson will be able to help?” asked Pixel.
Mr. Rotten, looking at the student, gave a small shrug.
“I guess we’ll have to wait and see, Mr. Hyperbyte. Then again, I wouldn’t send him if I didn’t think he could do something, would I?” He asked, turning towards the door, entering the school once more with Pixel.

--

Mr. Rotten hadn’t lied; indeed, Mr. Spoilero’s home was absolutely gigantic. It made Sportacus wonder just how many people lived in his home, given how many rooms the estate seemed to have.
A brick and iron gate surrounded the borders of the estate, with a beautifully wrought gate to lead into the yard. The house itself was almost intimidatingly large, its top floor towering over passersby with windows like glaring eyes. Sportacus could feel himself unconsciously shrinking back.
Nevertheless, he had to continue forward. Pulling his gloves on tighter, Sportacus opened the gate and walked down the footpath, going up the steps and knocking on the door.
A minute later the door opened, and a middle-aged woman with her hair tied into a messy bun stood in the doorway.
“If you can’t see the sign, we don’t want solicitors on this residence. Please leave the front stoop, or I’ll call the cops.” She said passively as she began to close the door.
“What? N-No, mam, I’m looking for Mr. Spoilero! Is he home?” asked Sportacus insistently.
The woman stopped, peeking through the gap in the door.
“The master is out of the house in New York City. He won’t be back for another two weeks. Are you one of his business partners?” She asked.
Sportacus looked confused, until he realized where the confusion started.
“Oh, no I mean Stingy Spoilero! Is he home?” He asked.
The woman frowned.
“Master Stingy? Why do you wish to see him?” She asked suspiciously.
“I’m his teacher, Mr. Íþróttsson. I just wished to talk with him for a while.” Sportacus said as calmly as he could.
The woman nodded.
“Hmm, so Mr. Rotten hired a new teacher? Well, I’ll still have Fredrick keep an eye on you. Keep your hands to yourself, please.” She said before turning away and propping the door further open.
Sportacus couldn’t help feeling a little demeaned by the woman’s comment. He suppressed a frown as he entered the Spoilero residence.

The interior of the Spoilero residence was just as impressive and intimidating as its exterior. The walls were wood paneled, and beautiful paintings hung from every wall, portraying varying images from generals on horseback to dark forests in the dead of night. Expensive vases from East Asia sat on intricately carved tables. The floor was built of smooth marble, and Sportacus’s shoes clicked with every step he took. The woman from the door nodded to a man (presumably Frederick) standing at attention a few feet away before she ducked past a pair of swinging doors. Frederick, an older gentleman dressed immaculately in a stuffy suit, stood tall with his nose raised. He gestured at Sportacus to follow him, and the two men strode in silence down the long, echoing hallway towards a grand staircase. The staircase itself was a work of beauty, also carved in dark wood and marble. An oriental rug sat at the base of the steps, and a grand oil painting of the Spoilero family hung at the top of the steps. The woman in the picture’s face, however, was covered hastily with a sheet.
Frederick led Sportacus down another hallway before stopping at a room at the end of the hall. Sportacus peered in, seeing what looked like a living room or a study. A gigantic fireplace built of stone was at the farthest wall, and a grand piano sat in the nearest corner, carved out of beautiful cherry wood. A lion skin rug sat in the middle of the room, its maw pointed directly at Sportacus. And there on the rug was Stingy, playing with a toy pig in the middle of the room, his back turned towards the door.
Frederick cleared his throat.
“Master Stingy, Mr. Íþróttsson is here to see you.” He said, his voice tinted with the slightest British accent. Queen’s English, Sportacus guessed.
Stingy looked up, his pupils shrinking for a moment before he gathered himself.
“T-Thank you Frederick, you are dismissed.” He said, turning back to his toy.
Frederick gave a short bow before striding out of the room, leaving Sportacus and Stingy alone.
Sportacus, unsure and feeling nervous in the elegant room, slowly walked towards the boy.
“You have a beautiful home, Mr. Spoilero. Quite elegant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a home with such decorations.” Sportacus started, hoping to lighten the mood.
“Are you here to yell at me too, Mr. Íþróttsson?” asked Stingy flatly.

Sportacus cringed. Well there went that attempt. Stingy seemed to want to get to the point.

“No, I’m not here to yell at you, Mr. Spoilero.” Said Sportacus, as he moved towards the boy. “I do want to talk to you though.”
“There’s nothing to talk about. I know that everyone hates my games, and they hate me.” Stingy said, still not looking at his teacher.
Sportacus sighed.
“I don’t think that’s what Headmaster Rotten was trying to say, or what your friends were saying. They don’t hate your games, but they don’t like you trying to strong-arm your control over every game.” Sportacus said quietly.
“But the way I play is so much better than their games!” Stingy protested.
“Well, your way to play is just that. Your way. I’m sure your way is plenty fun, but don’t you think it might be good to let others lead a game too?” Sportacus asked.
Stingy hesitated to answer. Instead he let his attention drift back to his toy.
Sportacus bit his lip. He wondered if he’d get an answer right now. Perhaps not. Time to ask about something else.
Sportacus looked around, gazing at the high ceilings and listening to the overall silence of the house. The only sound punctuating the stillness was the crackling of the fireplace.
“Quite a big house you have. Must be nice, having all this room.” Noted Sportacus thoughtfully.
“It stinks.” Stingy said under his breath.
Sportacus looked at the boy.
“Stinks? Why?” He asked.
Stingy tensed up, and his eyes dropped as he played less with his toy.
“…It’s too quiet. And empty.” He finally said.
Sportacus paused. Something told him he had an idea of Stingy’s problem.
“Do you have any siblings, Mr. Spoilero?” asked Sportacus.
Stingy shook his head.
“Any playmates? Perhaps your servants play with you?” asked Sportacus.
Stingy slowly shook his head.
“Frederick and I used to play chess, but it’s not the same. They can’t, or won’t, play the kind of games that the others play. They won’t play baseball, or play hopscotch, or play pretend. They’re too busy and grown-up.” Stingy noted.
“Where are your parents? Could they play with you?” suggested Sportacus.

Stingy froze, and his eyes began to water. He shook his head and pressed a sleeve to his eye.
Sportacus’s heart dropped.
“Are they…?”
“Mom left home when I was three years old. Dad said something about her not loving him anymore. He also said something about her wanting his money more than anything else.” Stingy explained quietly, his attention fixed completely on his toy pig.
Sportacus looked sadly at the boy.
“Have you seen her since then?” he asked softly.
Stingy shook his head.
“I see. What about your dad?” asked Sportacus.
“He’s always in New York City, working on ‘Wall Street’.” Said Stingy. “He’s barely here. His job keeps him stuck over there. He didn’t want me to move with him to New York City because he thought I’d have a better childhood out here.”
Except you aren’t. He isn’t here and you’re lonely.” Thought Sportacus, but he didn’t dare say that.
“So I guess Frederick and Muriel have been taking care of me.” Stingy said, his gaze growing sadder.
“Do you…miss your father?” hazarded Sportacus.
Stingy, sniffling, frowned angrily at his toy pig.
“I-It doesn’t matter. I know that his job is very important. I know that a lot of people depend on him, and he makes the money that lets us have this house and lets me have all the toys and games I could ever want. I know I shouldn’t be upset, or sad, or unhappy, or lonely, or – “
Stingy stopped after he realized his face was becoming soaked with his tears. He sniffled, and hastily wiped his face.
“But you are. Are you lonely, Mr. Spoilero?” asked Sportacus.
Stingy stared at the floor, fat tears building in his eyes. The rug was soon spotted with tear marks.
“Mr. Spoilero?” asked Sportacus.
Stingy sniffled, and wiped more tears with his sleeve.
“I know Headmaster Rotten said Christmas was a waste of time, but…I still keep hearing that everyone’s supposed to be together during the season. But my dad, he’s…he’s never here.” Stingy said softly. “No one much celebrates Christmas, but we still get time off to spend time with our families. What’s the point when my dad isn’t even here for that?”
Sportacus could feel his heart break, and it hurt even worse as he watched Stingy continued to sniffle and cry.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Spoilero. I’m sorry that your father’s gone so often.” Was all he could say.
Stingy wiped away his tears against his wrist.
“It’s stupid. I’m used to this, yet I’m crying. I shouldn’t be crying.” He mumbled.
“It’s okay to cry, Mr. Spoilero. You miss your father, it’s understandable.” Said Sportacus.

They sat there for some time. Stingy continued to cry, and Sportacus just sat there, reassuring the boy and handing him additional tissues as needed.

“When you used to play with Frederick and Muriel, what other kinds of games would you play?” asked Sportacus.
Stingy, wiping away the last of his tears, shrugged.
“Just whatever I wanted to play, I guess. At least for a while. Then it became mostly chess with Frederick, but even that stopped. He’s too busy, and doesn’t have time for chess.” Said Stingy.
“They never suggested a game?” asked Sportacus.
“Well other than the chess, no. And the chess was mostly a necessity. Frederick doesn’t have the knees to play other games.” Said Stingy.
Sportacus nodded, understanding. Stingy was one of those children who had barely been told ‘no’ and was mostly allowed free reign over decisions; that made sense, given the outbursts he had with the other children.
“Does it bother you when the other kids want to play other games?” asked Sportacus.
Stingy paused, before slowly nodding.
“They’ll want to play Pixel or Ziggy’s game, even though mine is better. But they still think their game is more fun. Then maybe…maybe they’ll stop playing my games for good. And eventually…” Stingy said, his voice growing quiet.
Sportacus looked at he boy sadly.
“You think they’ll stop playing with you?”
Stingy lifted his head and finally looked at his teacher.
“Why would they play with me if they find other people more fun?” He asked.
Sportacus looked at the boy with a reassuring expression.
“Oh Mr. Spoilero, they’ll still want to play with you, even if they aren’t playing your games. If they’re your friends, they’ll include you no matter what.”
Stingy looked down once more.
“That’s not what it sounded like today.” He said.
“Well, you were trying to force them to play your game. That wasn’t very nice.” Sportacus pointed out.
Stingy winced.
“They may be your friends, Mr. Spoilero, but they’ll still point out when you’re not acting nice. They won’t always do it in the best way, but they’ll react when they think they’re being treated unfairly.”
“They don’t need to hit me though.” Said Stingy, rubbing his still sore cheek.
Sportacus produced an ice pack and handed it to the boy.
“Unfortunately, sometimes people don’t communicate those feelings effectively. It doesn’t make them right, but it doesn’t mean how you acted was right either.”
Stingy, looking with suspicion at the ice pack, eventually took it and pressed it against his cheek. He looked down sadly.
“I just don’t want to be left alone again.” Said Stingy softly.

Sportacus sighed quietly, and he tapped the boy’s shoulder.
“Well, if you’re still looking for a playmate, I could play with you for a while. Would that help for today? We could even play the game you want to play.” He suggested.
Stingy looked thoughtful, then nodded.
“That would be nice. But…I suppose we don’t have to play my game. What…What game do you want to play?”
Sportacus smiled.
“Well, if you have other stuffed animals, we could play pirates.” He suggested.
Stingy finally smiled himself.
“I have a whole bunch. Be right back!” He said, jumping to his feet and running out the door.
And so, for the rest of the afternoon, Stingy and Sportacus played game after game. They ran around the room playing tag. They pulled out paper and drew pictures. They played games of make believe.
While drawing, Stingy paused, a small, sad smile crossing his face.
“What’re you thinking about, Mr. Spoilero?” asked Sportacus, who was drawing a picture of one of Santa’s reindeer.
Stingy shook his head.
“It’s not important. It’s pretty silly, really.” He said.
“Silly’s okay. What’re you thinking about?” asked Sportacus.
Stingy sighed.
“I was…just wondering if this is what it’d be like. If my dad were here to play with me.” He finally admitted. “If it would be like this, I think…I think it’d be nice.”
Sportacus’s smile fell.
“I’m sorry Mr. Íþróttsson, I am having fun. I didn’t mean to think about – “Stingy started.
“It’s okay, Mr. Spoilero. I understand. You really do miss your dad a lot, huh?” asked Sportacus.
Stingy nodded.
“I’m trying to not think about him…” He said.
“It’s okay. You go and think about him. It’s better than bottling it up.” Sportacus said with a sad smile.
Stingy gave a weak smile as he wiped another tear from his face.
“Now, where was I? I think I need a yellow crayon for my sun.” Stingy said, sifting through the crayons.
Sportacus, his expression falling, handed Stingy the crayon as they continued to draw.

--

Night had fallen by the time Sportacus left the Spoilero residence. Stingy had walked along with Frederick to see him out.
“Will you require a car to take you to your home, Mr. Íþróttsson?” asked Frederick in his proper tone.
“No, I don’t live too far away. I should be fine.” Sportacus said with a weak smile.
Stingy stepped in front of his butler.
“Thank you for stopping by, Mr. Íþróttsson. I had a fun time.” Said Stingy, giving a small smile.
Sportacus chuckled and smiled back.
“You’re welcome, Mr. Spoilero. I hope you have a pleasant evening. I’ll see you in class tomorrow.” He said.
Stingy waved as Sportacus walked down the footpath and out the gates. Sportacus could hear as he turned the corner the door finally being closed shut.
And once he was finally out of view, he let his smile fall. He wasn’t sure why he felt so low, but at the same time…what Mr. Rotten had warned him about was growing all too true.
Pixel may run on facts, but that was partly instilled by a family that emphasized logic over emotion. To the point that he couldn’t enjoy the holidays due to the grim realities that accompanied those times.
Ziggy wasn’t just a happy go-lucky kid; he came from a family slowly falling apart, and was mostly trooping through it on his own due to his parents being so wrapped up in his problems.
Stingy wasn’t just a slightly selfish, controlling boy; he was deeply lonely and used to receiving anything he wanted. He also lacked the parental attention he desired and is deeply worried about being left alone by his friends.
Sportacus could only wonder presently about just what was happening in Trixie and Stephanie’s lives that could trouble them as terribly.

He pulled his coat tighter and dipped his head low as he felt the wind chip at his skin, chilling his very bones. The night was so terribly bitter cold, and Sportacus could feel every inch of the terrible winter. He covered his face with his scarf, but it only did so much. He still felt freezing.
His teeth chattered, and as he exhaled, his breath condensed in streams of white cloud.
He picked up his pace as much as he could and kept his head down, until he finally reached his tiny cottage on the outskirts of town.
Loftskip, who had been idly grazing just a moment ago, stopped her eating and rushed to the fence. Her bells and harness bumped against the fence, jingling and rattling as she brushed along. Running up to Sportacus, she began to snort loudly and stomp her hooves into the ground, her ears pinned back.
Sportacus, surprised, reached out to pet her muzzle.
“Hey, hey girl, it’s okay. It’s okay. What’s gotten into you?” He asked, struggling to keep his mount under control.
Loftskip made a distressed sound, looking dead into Sportacus’s eyes. She bumped his hands and face, continuously trying to nip at his gloves.
“Hey! Don’t! Those are my gloves! What’s wrong with you?” asked Sportacus, backing away from the pen.
Loftskip pushed as far as she could against the fence and made another snorting noise, her tail flat against her bottom. She looked sadly at her owner.
Sportacus, unnerved, made his way back to his front door. He only paused one more time when Loftskip made a louder noise and stomped her hooves once more.

“Perhaps…Perhaps she’s just antsy. I guess I haven’t taken her for a run lately. I should do that tomorrow.” Said Sportacus to himself, feeling tired just thinking of the plan.
Opening his door, he went inside to try and rest for the evening.

Chapter Text

The days following Sportacus’s visit to Stingy’s home were slow and mostly uneventful. The mornings dragged for Sportacus, and the lectures continued as normal. Ziggy seemed a little more attentive than he had earlier in the week, though he was still distractible. Stingy got into less fights with Trixie, or at least not as many loud and violent fights. There were still disagreements, but at least there weren’t as many punches thrown. Sportacus could be thankful for that at least.

The days seemed to be getting colder. Sportacus had to throw on an additional sweater by Thursday, and it seemed to be getting harder to wake up on time in the morning. He felt tired and drained, no matter how much he slept. But he had a job, which he had to perform as expected. Thus, Sportacus would pull himself out of bed each day and try to dress as quickly as possible, to keep warm as much as possible.

By the time Friday came around and the children were released from school, mostly excited for only a day left of school, Sportacus felt like he’d run a several hundred-mile marathon. He would smile still, but each smile seemed more tired than the last. The students would sometimes catch Sportacus staring off into the distance, but he’d always snap back to attention once they’d question his behavior. And of course, he kept his sweaters on even when in the toasty schoolhouse.

All the children noticed, but none noticed more than Mr. Rotten.

Thus, come Saturday, while walking down the streets towards a bench near the park, Mr. Rotten slowed his pace once he noticed Sportacus sitting there alone. He seemed distracted with people watching, his eyes directed towards the crowds that passed by.
Mr. Rotten approached and cleared his throat, finally gaining Sportacus’s attention.
“Are you waiting for someone?” asked Mr. Rotten.
“Oh, no, I’m just sitting. Not really doing much.” Sportacus said, scooching down the bench.
Mr. Rotten sat next to the teacher, joining him in his people watching.
“Do you like to people watch usually?” asked Mr. Rotten.
Sportacus smiled and shrugged.
“Not too many chances to do that back home. I was always so busy, there wasn’t too much time to just sit and watch.” He said.
“Ah.” Said Mr. Rotten, nodding.
Sportacus sighed wearily and blinked slowly.
“You look absolutely beat.” Mr. Rotten noted.
“I guess I am. No clue why.” Said Sportacus.
“Gee, well if I were to hazard a guess, could be that you’ve been trying to help a bunch of kids with their complex and turbulent issues. And if I may hazard another guess, your success has been a bit of a mixed bag.” Mr. Rotten said, giving the teacher a look.
Sportacus didn’t seem to catch the look, as he only nodded slowly.
“I guess.” He said.
Mr. Rotten’s look faded, and he felt distinctly uncomfortable. He crooked the corner of his mouth thoughtfully.
“I did see Mrs. Zweets yesterday. She seemed to be pretty busy. I saw her buying ingredients for cookies. She hasn’t done that in years.” Mr. Rotten said.
“So she was?” said Sportacus.
Mr. Rotten nodded.
“Yeah, maybe she’s making them for Mr. Ziggy Zweets? I know he likes cookies.” He suggested.

Sportacus just nodded.
“Are you okay?” asked Mr. Rotten, looking with a furrowed brow at the teacher.
Sportacus looked at the headmaster.
“Y-Yeah, why?” He answered.
“Because you really don’t look fine, that’s why. You’ve been staring at the road since I first started talking to you, and you aren’t nearly as…animated as usual.” Mr. Rotten said matter-of-factly.
Sportacus gave a weak smile.
“Sorry, I guess I just haven’t been sleeping enough lately?” He suggested.
“Must not, I’ve also noticed you dragging through your lectures.” Mr. Rotten said with a sigh. “Maybe you should take a day off? Try and recuperate before you keep working with the kids. It’s not like you’re dealing with easy work, these kids have tough problems to work through.”
Sportacus shook his head.
“I can’t. We’re getting so close to Christmas, I can’t just stop now. Not even for a second. I have to use every moment I have to try and help the kids.” He said.
“Moments like the ones right now? The ones you’re using to sit on a bench and stare at people?” asked Mr. Rotten with a quirked eyebrow.
Sportacus sighed.
“I was just resting for a moment.” He said quietly.
“Right, couldn’t mean you need a day off or anything.” Said Mr. Rotten. “Look, do what you will, but it’s good to rest. Lord knows I know that.” He said with a smirk.
Sportacus gave a quiet laugh and smiled a small smile.
“I’ll consider your idea.” He said.
Mr. Rotten looked seriously at the teacher.
“Please do.” He said, before looking up at the clock tower. “I should probably get going. I have some errands to run.”
“Wait, Mr. Rotten,” Sportacus said, lightly taking the headmaster’s wrist.
Both men froze. Mr. Rotten looked down with surprise, his cheeks colored a light pink color.
“Uh, sorry.” Sportacus said sheepishly, letting go of the man’s wrist. “I just wanted to ask you a question before you left. About the town. I was wondering when did it start? The hating Christmas problem I mean.”

Robbie nodded and sat back down.
“I’m a bit surprised your superiors didn’t tell you about our town history before you came here.” Mr. Rotten noted.
“Anything I know about humans comes from my own research.” Said Sportacus.
“Well, then stop me if you know anything I’m about to say.” Said Mr. Rotten, pointing at a large, abandoned building. “You see that building over there? The one with the large smoke stacks?”
Sportacus nodded.
“Do you know what that factory used to produce?” asked Mr. Rotten.
“No.” admitted Sportacus.
“That factory used to produce wheels for automobiles. It was the biggest driver of economic growth in LazyTown. From what I heard, most of the town had a job or some position supplied by the wheel company. Business was booming as people started buying up cars like hotcakes. Paychecks were fat and people were wealthy. So, of course, Christmas was huge with people covering their houses in decorations. Things were wonderful.” Mr. Rotten explained.
His expression then darkened.
“What happened?” asked Sportacus.
Mr. Rotten sighed.
“The depression happened. Stock market bottomed out and soon no one wanted to buy a car. Who would when you could barely afford to put food on the table? The factory shut down, right around Christmas. Hundreds were laid off, and soon the growing economy here dried up. Those who stayed here stayed either out of stubbornness or because they were lucky and managed to find a job at the local businesses. Or they’re like the Spoileros and are incredibly wealthy. Or, the worst one, they’d get involved in organized crime. We had a few gangs out here for a few years, until they just…vanished. Not sure why.” He said.
Sportacus’s expression saddened as he looked back at the town.
“I don’t remember much about those earlier days, but you should’ve seen the town before the economy crashed. The buildings definitely looked much nicer than they do now. People would dance in the streets. It was something to behold.” Mr. Rotten said.
“I could only imagine.” Sportacus noted.
The two fell quiet for a moment.
“It does make much more sense now.” Sportacus said quietly. “I can understand why people wouldn’t want to celebrate as much, if Christmas is connected to such a painful memory.”
“Not to mention how many messages are about buying lots of presents and putting up expensive decorations. Rubbing salt in the wound a little?” Mr. Rotten said thoughtfully.
Sportacus looked down.
“Gods…” he said under his breath.

Mr. Rotten looked over with a quirked brow.
Sportacus shook his head.
“That is…difficult.” He said quietly.
“Well hey, you wanted to help the town, right? It’s better that you know this at least. We’re not all just Scrooges running around saying ‘bah humbug’ for no reason.” Said Mr. Rotten.
Sportacus nodded.
“No, I get that. It’s just…a lot.” He said.
“Like I said, you don’t have to fix it immediately. You could take a day off. Enjoy some time to recharge.” Mr. Rotten suggested.
Sportacus frowned and stood up.
“I’ll be okay. Now that I know what’s going on, I need to start working on a plan.” He said determinedly.
Mr. Rotten sighed.
“Very well. If you’re so stubbornly determined, I can’t stop you.” He said.
Sportacus was about to walk off, before he stopped. He looked back at Mr. Rotten and gave him a small smile.
“Thank you, by the way, for your help so far.” He said.
Mr. Rotten gave a small smile back.
“Anything to help my students.” He said softly.

Sportacus, for a minute, paused. Mr. Rotten’s smile was one that…well kept him there. He did eventually turn and start walking away.

“Oh, Mr. Íþróttsson, really quick: make sure to ask the children if they’ve seen a silver watchband. It went missing the other day and I can’t find it anywhere.” Mr. Rotten said.
Sportacus shot a quick smile and nodded.
“I’ll remember that for Monday.” He said, before he walked off.

--

Despite his determination, and while knowing much more about the history of the town, Sportacus still felt lost on just where to start with helping LazyTown.
The problem was far greater and deeper than he’d been led to believe.
He knew that his main priority was to help the children, but what about the rest of the town? After all, the adults did influence the children’s view of the holidays, so they must be a priority too, right? Yet Sportacus had no clue how to tackle such a monstrous task.
The town of LazyTown isn’t particularly large, with a population of one thousand people, but that was still one thousand people for a single elf to try and help. And not just help, but try to help solve their problems with barely over a week left until Christmas.
Sportacus tried to shove those thoughts away. He couldn’t let himself get overwhelmed, lest he eventually sink too deep into the depths of the issue.

Somehow, during his contemplation, Sportacus had walked straight into the shopping district of LazyTown. “District”, however, was a fairly generous term: it was really a small line of shops that bordered a single road towards the western half of town. The shops themselves were a collection of clothing stores and general stores, with a handful of more specialty-type shops. People loitered about, idly walking in and out of shops, some with bags strapped around their arms. The crowds clustered together tightly, making moving about at any sort of pace a challenge. Sportacus felt himself instinctually crane his neck just to make sure he could see above the mass of bodies.
Well, at the least I have something else to focus on.” Thought Sportacus as he passed through.
A few steps in, he suddenly felt himself be pushed. Not enough to be knocked over, but enough for him to notice. And he wasn’t shoved by the arm or back, but by his knees. Sportacus gathered himself before he noticed a few other people being shoved and pushed off balance, none of them tumbling over but being made clearly perturbed. They grumbled annoyedly and straightened out their coats and dresses.
Sportacus frowned and looked ahead, hoping to catch sight of whoever or whatever was so rudely pushing through the crowd of people.
The individual emerged from the crowd a few feet ahead, and Sportacus knew instantly who it was by the trio of black pigtails she wore on her head.
Sportacus shook his head and pushed along, though he made sure to utter an “excuse me” with every person he had to walk in front of.

Once Sportacus finally emerged from the cluster of people, he looked about, spotting Trixie as she darted into an alleyway after giving a quick glance at her surroundings. Quietly, Sportacus snuck after her, keeping a few feet behind her as he followed her down the dark and cluttered alleyway. She kept looking about, and each time she looked behind her Sportacus would duck behind a pile of garbage bags or a line of trash cans, waiting until she continued along. Sportacus weaved around puddles and was extra cautious not to kick a tin can by accident. The last thing he wanted was to have to explain why he had been following her for so many feet if she noticed.
Trixie finally stopped by a larger trash bin, her gaze darting around one more time to look for anyone. Sportacus hid around a nearby corner, only glancing out once he heard a metallic rapping sound. He saw Trixie standing in front of the bin, her mittened hand rapping against the bin’s metal walls.
“What do you want?” Grumbled a voice from inside the bin.
“It’s me. Open up.” Trixie stated.
The person in the bin grumbled once more.
“Give me a minute, kid. You should know you interrupted a perfectly good nap. You owe me.” Said the person.
Trixie rolled her eyes.
“When are you not napping? Get up, I have some goods for you.” She said.

Sportacus jumped back as the bin lid swung open, crashing against the back of the bin. He peered out once more, just in time to see a man emerge from the trash bin. The man was tall and thin, almost concerningly thin. His black hair was shorn in a messy and unflatteringly choppy cut and, much to Sportacus’s confusion, he seemed to be dressed in a black catsuit. Like some sort of trash cat burglar. Was this how some humans dressed normally?
Sportacus listened as the man swung his legs over the side of the bin and hopped out. He peered down at Trixie with an unfriendly look and a crooked frown.
“Did you actually bring me something good this time? Because I swear, I can’t do much with lost buttons and shoes, and those defective toasters you dug out of the department store trash aren’t worth jack.” Said the man.
“Trust me Glanni, I got you some real valuable stuff this time.” Said Trixie with a smirk. “You said you’d pay in the hundreds for a watch band, right?”
“Yeah?” said Glanni.
“So get ready to cough that up then, because I have a beauty.” Trixie said, grinning. Pulling out the small baggie Sportacus had seen her holding earlier in the week, she pulled out the long, silver watch band.
Mr. Rotten’s watch band.” Sportacus realized.
Glanni grinned a toothy grin, looking genuinely impressed as he snatched the watch band out of Trixie’s hands.
“Not bad, not bad at all! Looks like a genuine silver band. I’d say…early 1900’s. Very nice, very nice. Where’d you get your little paws on something like this?” Glanni asked.
“You really want to know?” asked Trixie with a raised brow.
“Good answer. I don’t. All that matters is you got it, and it should fetch a pretty penny.” Glanni said. He turned to Trixie and ruffled her hair. “Good job kid. Told you your sticky fingers would pay off one day.”
Trixie didn’t look proud or pleased as she pushed away Glanni’s hand.
“Get your hands out of my hair! If I come home smelling like garbage, dad might suspect something.” She said.
Glanni scrunched his nose.
“Hmph, so much for gratitude. I was paying you a genuine compliment, kid.” He said, rolling the watchband in his hand.
“So how much do I get?” asked Trixie expectantly.
Glanni nodded and mulled over his thoughts.
“I’d say I could give you a good three hundred for this. Would be worth more with the watch attached, but I’m feeling generous.” He said, pulling out a small stack of bills out of his pocket.
“Of course, you’re going to sell that for eight hundred right after this, aren’t you?” Trixie asked warily.
Glanni shrugged.
“Hey, a guy’s got to eat. If I break dead even, then it’s the trash bin again for me tonight.” Glanni said. “Is this it, or you got something else?”

“Just one more. Another watchband, but this one has the watch attached.” Trixie said, pulling out a golden watch out of her bag.
Sportacus’s eyes widened. That was his wrist watch.
Glanni frowned, quirking a brow as he took the watch and looked it over. After a minute, he glanced at Trixie and gave her a scrutinizing look.
“You’re really trying to pawn this to me?” He asked.
“No duh! I figured it’d be worth at least a few hundred more dollars. Look at those engravings! It must be something expensive.” Trixie said.
“No kidding. It’s not just expensive, it’s one of a kind.” Glanni said, handing the watch back to the girl. “I wouldn’t be caught dead trying to pawn that thing off. It’s red hot; someone is definitely going to be looking for that.”
“B-But you said you took anything! I could bring you a yacht and you’d take it!” Trixie sputtered.
“That’s called hyperbole kid. I didn’t get this far by being stupid.” Glanni said with a frown. “Look, just come back with something a little less hot and I can pawn it for you.”
“I don’t WANT to steal anything else!” Trixie said angrily. “I hate doing it! It makes me feel gross inside and I hate having to cheat and lie!”
“Shush kid, you want the whole neighborhood to hear you??” Hushed Glanni through gritted teeth. “That feeling goes away after enough times. You’re still a greenie; give it time.”
“I’m not going to give it time! These two watches were going to get my family out of the hole we’re in for good!” Trixie said, her eyes watering.
“You really thought the money from two watches was going to get your family off the poverty line for good?” asked Glanni, giving her a look. “You’d need a hell of a lot more watches to do that.”
Trixie glared at Glanni, her eyes brimming with tears as she fought back the urge to cry.
“So, you just got a choice to make. You can either back out of this, never pickpocket again, and struggle through life with the money from two watches. Or just give it another go and find something a little less hot that I can pawn. You get your money, I get a motel room. We all win.” Glanni said with a devious smile.

Trixie sniffed and frowned at Glanni.
“You’re a real jerk, Glanni.” She spat.
“But I’m the only jerk keeping your family afloat, so there’s that. What do you say? You going to give this another go?” asked Glanni.
Trixie looked down thoughtfully, her eyes widening as an idea crossed her mind.
“Not if I can get you to take this watch.” She said. “How about if you don’t take this watch, I go report you to the police. I heard they have quite a reward up for your capture.”
Glanni’s expression changed from one of confidence to fear in half a second.
“I bet they’d pay me the equivalent of ten watches to see you in jail. Or, if you like being free, you can take my other watch and pay me the eight hundred. How’s that?” asked Trixie with a toothy grin.
Glanni’s expression, rather than remaining fearful, instead darkened. A snarl crossed his lips as he grabbed Trixie by the shirt collar and pulled her close. A squeak escaped Trixie as she was yanked off her feet.
“You’re a little brat, aren’t you? I teach you everything about pickpocketing, and I agree to sell your crummy garbage, and what do I get in return? Soon as you get something unsellable, you’re throwing threats around. You’re awfully little to be threatening someone like me, aren’t you?” He growled.
Trixie whimpered as she fought against Glanni’s grip.
“Little punk, you’re all talk. You’re lucky I’m feeling nice today, or you’d be really sorry you tried to threaten Glanni Glæpur. Now, how about you apologize, and I’ll let you go scot free. You take your crummy watch with you, and the few hundred I was generous enough to pay you, and you never show your little face around here again? Got that?” Glanni said, a dangerous look in his eyes.
Trixie was too fearful to respond. She continued to wrestle against Glanni’s grip.
“Are you listening you little – “Glanni started.

“Hey!” shouted Sportacus, as he finally emerged from his corner.
Glanni immediately turned towards Sportacus, his grip still tightly around Trixie’s collar. Trixie looked towards her teacher with a mixed expression of relief and horror.
Glanni sneered at Sportacus.
“Beat it pal, this doesn’t concern you.” He said.
“Actually, this does concern me. I’m Ms. Troubleby’s teacher, and I don’t appreciate you man-handling my students.” Sportacus said, stepping forward with a frown.
Glanni smirked, looking over the teacher.
“Well, then you must know what they say about snitches? That snitches get stitches. So, if you want to keep that face of yours in one piece, I say you should turn around, walk away, and speak about this to no one.” He said in a condescending tone.
Sportacus didn’t yield nor show much reaction at all to Glanni’s words. He continued forward, a dangerous glare on his face.
Glanni’s cocky demeanor began to die out, and he grew more nervous.
“Hey, didn’t you hear me? I said beat it! This…uh…” He said, beginning to sweat.
Sportacus grabbed Glanni’s wrist, and the criminal gasped as he felt a strange, static-like sensation run up and down his arm. He instantly released his grip on Trixie, who tumbled to the ground and scuttled a few feet out of reach.
Sportacus turned Glanni to face him once Trixie was out of harm’s way. The criminal shrunk back, his eyes widening with fear as he finally came face-to-face with the teacher, who seemed to glow with a cold anger.
Glanni gulped and began to shake.
“H-Hey! Buddy, old pal. You know, I was just joking around! No harm meant! Oh, I bet it looked bad, but it really wasn’t that bad! Ha, kids, right? Look terrified over nothing…I mean…aw dang.” Glanni said, realizing just how deep of yogurt he was in.
Sportacus glared straight into the criminal’s eyes.
“Now listen. I’m not usually the type to get angry, but anyone who dares harm a child is not worth holding back anger with in my book.” Said Sportacus quietly. “If I see you even think of touching a hair on Ms. Troubleby or any child’s head, I will not hesitate to have you drummed out of town.”
Glanni quivered and made a fearful noise.
Sportacus tossed him to the side, giving him a glare before he started to turn away.
“Lousy, violent freak.” Glanni muttered.
Sportacus about-faced and glared at the criminal.
“Eep!” Glanni squeaked, stumbling onto his feet and jumping back into his bin.

With Glanni officially out of the way, Sportacus finally turned his attention back to Trixie, who still sat upon the ground. She looked hurt, her eyes focused on the ground and her arms crossed.
“Are you okay Ms. Troubleby?” asked Sportacus.
Trixie hmphed.
“Yeah, but I didn’t need you to get involved.” She said with a glare.
Sportacus looked at her in confusion.
“But he was going to hurt you! He had you lifted by the shirt collar.” Sportacus protested.
“Yeah? And I could’ve handled myself just fine!” said Trixie angrily. Rummaging through her sack, she shoved the wristwatch back into Sportacus’s hand. “Here, just take it. It’s yours anyways.”
With that, Trixie turned and started to walk away.
Sportacus, feeling confused and slightly hurt, pocketed the wristwatch and ran after the girl.
“Trixie, wait, please! Can we just stop and talk a moment?” asked Sportacus.
“There’s nothing to talk about! Just leave me alone!” said Trixie, picking up the pace.
Sportacus sighed tiredly and rushed ahead, stopping and blocking Trixie’s exit.
“Hey! Get out of my way!” She cried.
“Trixie, why do you know that man? And why did you have my watch and Mr. Rotten’s watch band?” asked Sportacus.
“Well why do you care? Why do you care about who I know? And I just found the watchband, so I thought I’d sell it and at least make some money off it!” Trixie said.
“I don’t think you just found Mr. Rotten’s watchband, Trixie.” Sportacus said in a disapproving tone.
Trixie cringed, still looking for a way to duck around her teacher.
“Trixie, please. I’m not mad. I’m just worried and a little frightened. That man looked like he was about to kill you.” Sportacus said, his expression softening.

Trixie, realizing that she was stuck, sighed.
“Glanni is just some fence around town. He takes stolen goods and pawns them for you. I’m too young to pawn things on my own, so he does it for me.” She explained.
“But why? Why pawn things?” asked Sportacus.
“You heard why!” Trixie snapped. “I need the money! That’s all! Now leave me be!”
With that, Trixie pushed Sportacus to the side and stomped off, her arms crossed and her head down.
As she walked along, she felt the distinct feeling of being followed. She stopped and saw Sportacus walking a while behind her.
“Why are you following me?” she asked grumpily.
“I just wanted to make sure you got home okay.” Answered Sportacus as calmly as he could. “With what happened today, I just think it’d be best for you. I promise, I don’t mean to badger.”
Trixie paused, her eyes sinking back down to the ground.
“Ms. Troubleby?” asked Sportacus.
“Fine.” Trixie said quietly. “You can walk me home, but you better promise not to laugh.”
Sportacus cocked his head to the side.
“I promise, but I don’t understand. Why would I laugh?” He asked.
“Just don’t.” Trixie said softly as she began to walk, albeit at a slower pace.
Sportacus followed her, still confused.

Sportacus walked with Trixie as they exited the main boundary lines of the town, the asphalt road transitioning to a dirt one as they walked along. Sportacus looked about, seeing the dried, yellow grass that grew up past his knees. Trixie kept quiet along their walk, her eyes directed ahead. They passed by broken and dilapidated fences with loose wire here and there. Trash dotted the edges of the road, and the road was muddy and sticky.
They finally stopped by a small, one-story house. Had Trixie not passed by a mailbox that said “Troublebys”, Sportacus wouldn’t have been convinced that anyone could feasibly live in the house. One of the windows was covered with a black trash bag, in lieu of a proper curtain. The yard was overgrown and filled with broken pieces of toys. The garage door had a huge hole broken into it, which seemed to service as a door for animals if the mangy dog burrowing through it told him anything.
Trixie stopped right by the door.
“This is home. I’d let you in, but I don’t think dad cleaned up the beer bottles yet.” Trixie said, fishing around for her key.
Sportacus’s heart sank.
“This is your home?” He asked quietly.
“Yeah? What about it?” Trixie asked, looking angry.
“N-Nothing.” Sportacus fibbed. The last thing he needed was her storming off again.
“It’s because it looks bad, right? I know that already.” Trixie said, her gaze growing sad. “It’s what we can afford, so we make do. When your dad doesn’t have a job, doesn’t afford a lot of options.”
“What about your mom?” asked Sportacus.
“Don’t have one.” Trixie said with a shrug. “It’s me, my dad, and my older brothers. And they’re always out with their friends.”
“Do they work?” asked Sportacus.
“Who knows. I barely see them anymore. Don’t really care anyways.” Trixie mumbled, finally getting the door open with a shove.

Inside, Sportacus could hear the blare of a radio. He could also see a silhouetted figure surrounded by beer bottles. No doubt that was Trixie’s father. He didn’t even budge at the sound of the door opening.

“Well, guess I’ll see you later.” Said Trixie as she walked through the door.
“Ms. Troubleby, wait.” Said Sportacus.
Trixie sighed and waited by the door, her arms cross and her expression impatient.
Sportacus shrunk back.
“I just…please promise me you won’t associate yourself with that Glanni character anymore.” He said quietly.
Trixie paused, then slowly closed the front door once more.
“I don’t know if I have much choice, Mr. Íþróttsson.” She said quietly. “That money I get from…selling things is the closest my house gets to an income. No one in town will hire a kid and pay them enough money to keep a house, and no one will hire my dad. They don’t hire lazy drunks with a criminal record.”
“A criminal – “Sportacus started.
“He got involved with those stupid gangs that were in LazyTown, after everything went bad. He got caught, sent to jail. That’s what my brothers told me anyways.” She said wearily.
Sportacus looked at her sadly.
“Ms. Troubleby, I’m so – “
“If you’re gonna say you’re sorry, just don’t.” Trixie said with a frown. “There’s nothing much I can do. What I can do I am doing, even if it’s bad. So, don’t pity me.”
“I’m not pitying you.” Said Sportacus. “I am sorry. I’m sorry you have to deal with all this.”
Trixie looked at her teacher sadly. He could see she wanted to cry, but wouldn’t let herself.
“Thanks for walking me home, Mr. Íþróttsson. I’ll see you later?” She asked, turning towards the door once more.
Sportacus nodded slowly.
“Yes. I’ll see you soon. Have a good evening, Ms. Troubleby.” He said.
Trixie didn’t say another word as she closed the door behind her.

After a minute, Sportacus slowly left the Troubleby residence, feeling colder and sadder than ever.

--

The walk to Sportacus’s cottage, from Trixie’s home, was only a few miles and could be walked comfortably, even for someone not necessarily in shape and in this colder weather. So for someone like Sportacus, the commute back should be easy.

But not today.

Ever since Sportacus left Trixie’s home, he’d been overcome with a full-body shiver, the likes he’d never experienced before. He wasn’t exactly the type to get cold easily, so the amount of times he was actually shivering could be counted on one hand. But today he was shivering like a leaf in a wind storm, his teeth chattering as he continued forward. He wrapped his arms around his chest and kept his head down, hoping to shield himself from the wind. He shut his eyes as he walked, and hoped to keep himself distracted by thinking of something that made him happy. He tried to think about the North Pole, about his old home with his brother Íþró, or about the games the elves would play on Christmas Eve once the toys were finished.
But he couldn’t.
Every time he tried to think of something else, his mind would drive him right back to thoughts of the kids. His brain would project memories of their faces, dejected and tearful, right into his consciousness, keeping his train of thought stuck there.
They were all so sad. They’re all so sad and I have no clue what to do.” Thought Sportacus as he bundled up into his own coat and scarf.
No avail; he still shivered and his chest felt heavy.
His legs seemed to drag as he walked, and each step took more effort than the last.
Something told Sportacus that continuing to try and walk home would be a terrible idea in his state, with how cold he was.
Something else told Sportacus he needed to find someone he knew and try to stay with them for a while, at least long enough to warm up.
But where? Sportacus looked about, trying to figure out where he was.
Off to his right, he spotted a townhouse that looked vaguely familiar. He squinted his eyes and stared at the house number, until recognition lit up in his mind.
Mr. Rotten’s home.” He soon realized, before wondering whether the headmaster would even let him in, even for just a moment.
I’ll just have to try. I could pay him if that’d help. And I’ll make sure I don’t overstay my welcome.” Thought Sportacus as he trudged towards the townhouse and up the stairs.

Mr. Rotten had been curled up in his armchair, reading through a book he’d just purchased, when he heard a knock at the door.
At first, he thought he was hearing things. Who in the world would visit him, much less at such a weird hour?
He returned to his book, and only looked up once more when he heard another knock at the door. Alright, so he wasn’t hearing things. That still left the question of who was visiting him.
Putting his book aside, Mr. Rotten tied his robe tightly around himself and strode towards the door, grumbling as the knocking grew more frantic.
“I’m coming! I’m coming!” He stated annoyedly before he unlocked the door and opened it.
As soon as he realized it was Sportacus on the stoop, his eyes widened in surprise.
“Mr. Íþróttsson?” asked Mr. Rotten.
Sportacus tried the best he could to force a smile, but it turned into more of a wince.
“H-Hello, Mr. Rotten.” He said.
Mr. Rotten furrowed his brow and looked over the teacher. He immediately noticed how much Sportacus was shivering, his arms clinging steadfastly to his torso. He peered out to the outside, feeling the temperature of the air. He may get cold easily, but Mr. Rotten still didn’t think it could be that cold outside.
Quirking a brow, he looked back to Sportacus.
“Are you cold?” He asked, knowing how dumb of a question that was.
“A l-little.” Fibbed Sportacus.
“Well, uh, you can come in. If you’d like. Mind the mess though, I didn’t clean today.” Mr. Rotten said, opening the door wider.
Looking incredibly thankful, Sportacus fought the urge to rush straight inside and instead gave a polite nod, stepping inside and shivering violently. Even as Mr. Rotten closed the door, sealing the cozy warmth of the townhouse, Sportacus still felt as cold as he did outside. He walked a little further inside, nearly tripping over a stack of newspapers as he did.
“Sorry, I really should clean those up.” Said Mr. Rotten, righting the stack of papers.
“I-It’s okay. My fault, should’ve looked where I was going.” Sportacus said quietly.

Mr. Rotten gave Sportacus a look, feeling more confused and concerned than before.
“Well, um, if you’re cold, I could make you a cup of tea? Would that help?” Mr. Rotten suggested.
Sportacus nodded.
Mr. Rotten, crooking the corner of his mouth, walked over to the kitchen and poured some water into his kettle. Setting it on the stove, he pulled out a box full of different teas.
“What would you like? I have chamomile, cinnamon, chocolate, English Breakfast, Earl Grey…” Mr. Rotten asked, looking over towards Sportacus.
He stopped as he watched Sportacus sway slightly, before his head snapped up to attention. His eyelids drooped to a half-lidded position.
“Oh. C-Cinnamon would be nice.” Sportacus said.
Mr. Rotten frowned and put aside the tea, pulling out a single tea bag.
“Sportacus, are you feeling okay? You don’t look so good.” He asked.
“I, uh – “Sportacus began to say, before his legs gave out and he started to tumble to the floor.
“Woah! Mr. Íþróttsson!” Mr. Rotten cried, rushing with faster reflexes than he’d shown in years. He narrowly caught Sportacus before he hit the floor. As soon as his hands touched Sportacus’s arms, even with his suit coat and other layers, he nearly recoiled at just how cold the man was.
“Mr. Íþróttsson! Wake up!” Mr. Rotten said, shaking the man as he drifted in and out of consciousness.
Sportacus looked at him tiredly, his gaze distant and weary.
“…S-Sorry. I-I’m just a l-little c-cold.” He said softly.
“Clearly! Geez Mr. Íþróttsson, it’s like you jumped in a freezer for four hours.” Mr. Rotten said, bringing Sportacus into a sitting position.
“D-Didn’t do that. J-Just was on a little w-walk.” Sportacus mumbled.
“What? I know you didn’t literally do that, Mr. Íþróttsson.” Said Mr. Rotten, his hand grazing Sportacus’s gloved hand.
The headmaster nearly yelped when his hand touched Sportacus’s glove. As cold as the rest of his body was, Sportacus’s hands were like ice water. Immediately, Mr. Rotten grabbed Sportacus’s hand and began fighting to remove the glove.
“W-What are you…?” asked Sportacus.
“Checking for frostbite, what do you think? Can you move your fingers? I’m just checking for the skin color – “Mr. Rotten started, before he stopped in horror.

Once the glove had been removed, Mr. Rotten stopped as soon as he saw how the teacher’s hands looked. Covering the entirety of both of Sportacus’s hands was a thin, silvery-white sheet of frost. The skin underneath, much to Mr. Rotten’s amazement, still looked healthy, if not slightly paler than usual. But it was the frost that left him horrified. He nearly fell backwards as he stared in confused fear.
“M-Mr. Rotten?” asked Sportacus nervously.
“Your hands…” Mr. Rotten said in a hushed voice.
Sportacus’s eyes drifted down to his hands as he lifted them to his face. As soon as Sportacus caught a glimpse of their frost covering, his eyes began to water. His expression was a mixture of fear and sadness as he shuddered, nearly touching his face with his frosted hand as he tried to hold back a sob.
“Mr. Íþróttsson?” asked Mr. Rotten, no longer hiding his concern.
He watched as tears rolled down Sportacus’s face.
“Mr. Íþróttsson?” asked Mr. Rotten once more. “M…Magnus?”
“I didn’t guard my heart! I’m so stupid…” Sportacus cried, digging his frost-covered fingers through his hair, his homburg tumbling to the ground.
“ ‘Guard your heart’? Mr. Íþróttsson, what are you talking about?” Mr. Rotten said, trying to calm the teacher.
“I wasn’t careful! I l-let myself get too wrapped up in everything, but I couldn’t stop myself! N-Now…” Sportacus said, shakily holding his hands out to Mr. Rotten. “…h-heart frost.”
Mr. Rotten’s eyes widened.
“H-Heart frost?” He asked quietly. Even the name sounded terrifying.
“I shouldn’t…my brother warned me so often to guard my heart because of this. I-I didn’t, and now my hands…they’re going to freeze.” Sportacus said, his voice shaking. “It’s all my fault. It’s all my fault…”
“Mr. Íþróttsson,” Mr. Rotten said calmly and firmly, grabbing the quivering Sportacus’s arms. “what are you talking about? What do you mean by ‘guard your heart’? What is heart frost?”
Sportacus sucked down a breath, but his shivering and his tears kept going.
“A-A young elf’s heart is…is very vulnerable. T-They are prone to…to losing their warmth…i-if they lose…lose hope. A-As you lose your heart’s w-warmth, you…you f-freeze.” Sportacus explained tearfully.
Mr. Rotten’s expression fell, and his eyes drew over to Sportacus’s hands.
“So if you lose hope, your inner fire dies out and you start to freeze to death?” asked Mr. Rotten nervously.
Sportacus nodded, his teeth still chattering.
“That’s…That’s horrifying.” Mr. Rotten said, his voice nearly silent out of fear.

More tears ran down Sportacus’s face as he looked at his hands.
“I’m so sorry…” He said quietly.
Mr. Rotten looked at him in confusion.
“ ‘Sorry’? Why are you apologizing? None of this is your fault!” He tried to reassure him.
“I-It is though! I-I wasn’t trying, I…I know I have to help the kids. But…” Sportacus said, his shivering growing worse. “…I-I don’t know how! All of t-them: Z-Ziggy, Stingy, T-Trixie. T-There’s nothing I can d-do! T-Their problems are so b-big, and I-I’m only one elf! I c-can’t fix everything b-by C-Christmas! It’s all m-my fault, the p-portal is going to c-close and it’s all m-my fault…”
Mr. Rotten’s own heart felt heavy as he watched the teacher sob and cry. His attention shifted, however, when he heard a crackling sound break through the tears. His face paled as he pulled back some of Sportacus’s sleeve. The ice and frost built down, forming past Sportacus’s wrists and ending halfway up his forearm.
Sportacus gasped and more tears fell once he noticed the steadily growing ice.
“O-Oh no…” He shuddered.
Mr. Rotten felt at a loss. He knew he needed to do something, but wasn’t sure what. All he knew was he had to stop the ice from growing further up Sportacus’s arms.
“I-It’s too much…too much…” Sportacus mumbled, his whole body shaking as the ice and frost continued to grow.
Mr. Rotten pursed his lips and, despite knowing how desperate and crazy his plan might be, he committed to his plan of action.

In one fell swoop, Mr. Rotten grabbed Sportacus’s arms and yanked him forward. As soon as Sportacus was no longer sitting against the wall, he wrapped his arms around him and held him tight, resting his chin atop his shoulder.
“M-Mr. Rotten? W-What are you - ?” Sportacus stuttered.
“Hush, Mr. Íþróttsson. I just need you to listen.” Mr. Rotten said calmly and quietly.
He hugged Sportacus tighter when he felt the teacher shiver more.
“Now look. You’ve been through a lot these last couple of days. You’ve heard a lot, and experienced what these kids deal with in their lives. Yes, none of their problems are easy, and you’ve seen that.” Mr. Rotten said.
“Y-Yes, I have, and I’m not sure – “Sportacus began once more.
“Don’t. Mr. Íþróttsson,” Mr. Rotten said, sighing quietly. “I grant you that their problems are huge, but you can’t focus on the weight of the issue. You have to remember, as hard as it is, the good you’ve done so far.”
“B-But they’re all still…” Sportacus stammered.
“They’re problems are still a thing, yes I know.” Mr. Rotten said. “But you’ve done more for them than you think. Mr. Zweets? You made him smile with that Christmas tree, and Mrs. Zweets bought cookie ingredients, and he’s the only person in their house who likes Christmas cookies, so she must’ve made some for him. Mr. Spoilero? He’s getting along better with the other kids. They’re fighting less already.”
Sportacus’s eyes fell.
“But M-Ms. Troubleby…” He said quietly.
Mr. Rotten sighed, and hugged Sportacus more.
“…if you were there for her like I imagine you were, then that’s more than that poor girl has gotten in her lifetime. Just trying to help her was more than most people try.”
Sportacus shook and continued to cry.
“Mr. Íþróttsson, the fact that you’ve even slightly improved these kids’ lives is an amazing feat in itself. With such a short time limit, you’ve done so much. You can’t focus on just the weight of the problem, even though I know it’s easy to. You have to remember how much you’ve done for them.” Mr. Rotten said.
Sportacus sniffed and, finally, Mr. Rotten felt a pair of icy hands cross around his back as the teacher reciprocated his hug.
“I-I’m sorry, I’m s-still crying…” Sportacus said.
“Don’t. Just let it out. You’ll feel better afterwards.” Mr. Rotten said.

The two sat on the floor for some time, stuck in their hug as Sportacus continued to cry. Slowly, Sportacus’s crying quieted, and his shivering slowed. He still breathed in rapid, heavy breaths, and he occasionally hiccupped a sob or two.
“…T-Thank you.” Said Sportacus.
Mr. Rotten looked over at Sportacus, offering a small smile.
“Feeling better?” He asked.
Sportacus nodded.
“A bit. I’m pretty tired though.” He said.
“No surprise. You just spent the last few minutes crying.” Mr. Rotten noted.
Sportacus laughed tiredly.
“I guess…I guess I got more overwhelmed than I thought. I thought I was doing fine, but I wasn’t. I didn’t realize how much all of the kids’ problems were affecting me.” He said.
“Well, their lives aren’t exactly great. It’s a lot to take in.” Mr. Rotten said.
Sportacus shook one last time before he sat up, pulling away though his arms remained wrapped around Mr. Rotten.
“Mr. Rotten,” He started.
“Robbie.” Said Mr. Rotten.
Sportacus looked confused.
“Robbie?” He asked.
“That’s my first name.” Mr. Rotten said.
“You…want me to call you that?” asked Sportacus.
“Well, I think I just helped save you from freezing to death. I think the need for formalities has passed.” Mr. Rotten said.
Sportacus smiled a half-smile.
“Well Robbie, I just wanted to say thank you again. You didn’t have to deal with all of that.” He said.
“It’s not like I’d just throw you out of my house. I don’t think I had much choice in helping you.” Robbie said, snorting.
Sportacus chuckled.
“I guess that would be terrible.” He said, his smile growing.
Robbie’s smile, on the other hand, faded.
“Mr. Íþróttsson,” He started.
“Magnus.”
Robbie nodded.
“Right. Magnus, if I can ask, just how close were you to…you know.” He asked.
Sportacus’s smile turned sad.
“We were lucky. If the ice had grown over the entirety of my arms, I’d be in great danger. Where it was? It was bad, but manageable.”
“I really can’t imagine it getting worse…” Robbie mumbled.
“It can. You don’t want to see it at that point.” Sportacus said, his gaze drifting to the floor. “I’ve never seen it myself, but I know it gets terrifying.”
“Well, glad you didn’t get to that point. I don’t want to hire another teacher.” Robbie said with a smirk.
Sportacus chuckled and shook his head.

The two sat there, arms still around each other. Robbie was first to notice, retracting his arms with a slight pink color on his cheeks.

“I’m sorry, by the way, that I didn’t ask permission. I didn’t think I’d have the time.” He said, looking away.
“Oh, no it’s okay! I mean, well, I like hugs. And, um, it was…” Sportacus said, looking away. His cheeks burned pink. “…helpful.”
“Right. Helpful.” Mumbled Robbie.
Sportacus looked up and smiled.
“It was clever, I’ll say. I don’t know if I would’ve thought about that.” He said.
“Just seemed natural.” Robbie said shrugging, stopping as he thought about what he said. “Um well, I mean made sense for the situation.”
“I understand.” Sportacus said, rubbing the back of his neck.
He paused, and pulled his hands back, his eyes widening.
“Oh! My hands are better! I guess the heart frost is completely gone.” Sportacus said in relief.
“Yes, and now my robe is damp.” Robbie noted.
“Oh, sorry about that.” Sportacus said sheepishly.
“No worries. I think a damp robe is an okay outcome to all of this.” Robbie said, waving off Sportacus’s concerns.

The high-pitched whistling of the kettle caught both men’s attentions.

“Oh, the water is ready. I suppose you don’t need the tea anymore?” asked Robbie, quickly standing to his feet.
“Actually, some tea does sound nice. Kind of relaxing.” Sportacus said, shakily standing to his feet.
Robbie took the kettle off the heat and poured the water into two cups, dunking the teabags into the cups. He handed the cup to Sportacus.
“Just promise you won’t pass out in my kitchen. I don’t have enough blankets to have you over and I am not carrying you to the chair.” Robbie said, giving Sportacus a look.
“I’ll try my hardest, and I’ll make sure to leave after I finish my tea. Don’t want to intrude on your relaxation time anymore than I need to.” Sportacus said with a small smile.
“Don’t rush. Just, promise me something?” said Robbie looking at Sportacus seriously.
“Yes?”
Robbie sighed.
“Promise me you’ll take tomorrow off from helping the kids? I really don’t need to revive you from another bout of heart frost.” He asked.

Sportacus gave a small, warm smile.
“I promise.” He said quietly, as he sipped on his cup of tea.

Chapter Text

Sportacus remained at Robbie’s home for another hour before he left. He thanked Robbie for his time and for helping save him from heart frost, and as he left he made a mental note to buy a gift for Robbie as thanks.
The walk home was brisk and straight-forward, and as soon as Sportacus entered his bedroom, he collapsed upon the bed, instantly crashing asleep.
He slept a dreamless, deep sleep, the bed feeling comfier than it ever had before.

He awoke late in the morning the next day, his body tangled up in his downy comforter. He turned over to look out the window, squinting at the rays of sunlight streaming between his drapes. He glanced at his clock.
9:54 am.
Sportacus never slept in that late before.
Despite how late he’d slept in, he didn’t feel considerably compelled to get up. The bed was like a fluffy cloud, and the comforter was the cloud’s arms holding him tight and fast. He didn’t even mind that he’d fallen asleep in his suit coat and slacks.
Alright, he might’ve minded a little, if only for how uncomfortable it was to sleep in his shoes.
Part of him felt at least partly driven to get up, if only out of routine. It felt a little odd to be in bed so late. A small voice in his head chastised and scolded him for still being in bed.
Lazy elves aren’t useful elves! Getting up early means we can get more work done, thus keep on schedule!” He remembered his manager saying.
But his manager wasn’t here, and as he remembered Mr. R – Robbie asking him, he had promised to take the day off and rest.
Kicking off his shoes, Sportacus sighed and burrowed back into his blankets and pillow, closing his eyes to allow himself to drift back to sleep once more.

He officially woke up an hour later, mostly due to his growling stomach urging him to finally get moving on some breakfast.
Searching through his drawers, Sportacus replaced his current clothes with another pair of trousers and a slightly oversized sweater, knitted with a design of his brother’s choosing.
It’s popular out in Norway! I think it’d be quite a handsome design for you.” He’d said back then.
Throwing on the sweater and looking at the lopsided sleeve lengths, Sportacus was slightly glad that Íþró decided to take up a different hobby. At least it was warm.
Sportacus leisurely walked to his kitchen and pulled out the equipment for breakfast. He made himself a filling plate of eggs, bacon, toast, and sliced fruit. A cup of milk rounded out the meal. He ate it with gusto, only stopping once he noticed a leaf fall onto his plate.
Picking it up, he realized the yellowed leaf came from his own holly wreath.
He frowned sadly.
It appeared that the heart frost did leave some after effects, even after being cured.
Putting down his fork, Sportacus walked over to a nearby mirror and examined his wreath.
Much to his relief, it appeared that the one leaf was the only noticeable after effect. The rest of the leaves and berries looked as alive as ever.
He sighed in relief before returning to his breakfast.

After breakfast, Sportacus walked out to Loftskip’s pen, carrying with him a pile of baled hay. He threw it into her trough, being nearly toppled as the excited reindeer trotted towards him and pushed her muzzle into his chest.
“Hey girl! Aren’t you excited to see me!” Sportacus said with a laugh, gently pushing away her muzzle to stroke and pet her nose and neck.
Loftskip chuffed and nuzzled Sportacus’s head, nibbling lightly at his wreath.
“Hey! Not that! I just brought you a bunch of hay!” said Sportacus, laughing.
He led his mount to the trough, and Loftskip immediately began munching down her meal. As she ate, Sportacus stroked her neck and back, resting his head against her side.
“Sorry I haven’t been giving you much attention lately, Loftskip. Things have been busy lately, as I bet you know.” Sportacus said quietly.
Munching on her food, Loftskip snorted before turning back to her trough.
Sportacus chuckled.
“I knew you’d understand.” He said, patting her side.
Looking up, Loftskip trotted towards Sportacus and butted at his arm, walking so her harness was in arm’s reach.
“Do you want to go for a run?” asked Sportacus.
Loftskip chuffed.
“Alright then! But don’t hold back on the speed and try not to get us spotted!” warned Sportacus as he leapt onto his steed.
Loftskip, shaking her antlers and bells, bolted across her pasture and cleared the fence, beelining straight towards the thick grove of trees. Sportacus kept his head down to avoid the tree branches as they sped through the forest. Loftskip’s bells jingled and clattered against the bushes and trees, leaving a haunting and high sound echoing through the forest. She leapt over rocks and logs and careened through rivers and gullies. Sportacus held fast, but couldn’t hide his grin as Loftskip’s hooves left the ground, keeping a low hovering pace that skirted across the treeline.
Sportacus took off his homburg and let the wind rustle through his wreath and hair, his ears wiggling at the coolness after so many weeks being kept under a stuffy hat.
Sportacus took a deep breath of the air and sighed.
For the first time in weeks, he felt truly free and relaxed.

After their joyride, Sportacus returned Loftskip to her pen and hurried inside, just before the rain started to fall. Checking to make sure Loftskip was under cover, Sportacus smiled happily and walked over to his armchair, where his book and blanket still laid. He first went to the kitchen and made himself a cup of hot tea (rooibos for today) before sitting down in his chair, his blanket wrapped around him. He sipped on the tea as he opened his book, ready to sink into the fictional world.
His attention held only for a few pages before he stopped and thought over his day.
…He really had needed this, hadn’t he?
It wasn’t like this was a new revelation for Sportacus. He’d been scolded many times before by Íþró for overworking himself and refusing to take a break. To Sportacus, if he still had energy left to spare, even if only hypothetically, then why take a break? Might as well use whatever time and energy he had to do as much as possible in one day. It was no wonder why he’d crash asleep each night, sleeping like a rock.
Yet a day like this? Sportacus had to admit that it was very nice, and almost therapeutic.
He chuckled to himself.
“I guess Mr. Rotten was right. I did need this.” He said quietly, taking another sip of his tea.

He paused as his thoughts turned to Mr. Rotten.

He thought about yesterday’s events, how he’d narrowly survived his bout of heart frost.
He thought about how Mr. R – Robbie, finally allowed him to call him by his first name.
He thought about their conversation.
He thought about the hug.
“Robbie.” Sportacus said, the name almost foreign on his tongue. He’d have to get used to calling the headmaster that, yet it didn’t feel unnatural. In fact, it seemed…nice. Nice to finally be on such friendly and comfortable terms with the once cold and distant headmaster.
His thoughts went back to the hug.
That was ingenius. I was too worried and panicked to even think about that as an idea. Had I remembered, I could’ve asked for one. The elven doctors even say that affectionate touch provides some benefit to those with heart frost.” Sportacus thought to himself with a nod.
Affectionate touch.
Something about that made Sportacus pause.
O-Or, just physical touch. That’s what I mean. Doesn’t need to be affectionate.” He corrected his own thoughts.
His thoughts went back to the hug.
He furrowed his brow.
Why am I still thinking about that hug?” He thought, puzzled.
He sat back in his armchair, mulling over yesterday and, specifically, the hug.
He remembered how startled he was at first, surprised at Robbie’s sudden willingness to break the physical bubble and pull him into a tight hug.
He remembered feeling Robbie’s cheek against his neck, and the thought made his face feel warm.
He remembered, once he finally returned the hug, catching a brief whiff of Robbie’s cologne. It was musky with a hint of fruitiness. It was nice…

Sportacus stopped, realizing just how warm his face felt.
“Oh…do I…?” He pondered to himself, all the while his stomach did backflips at the thought.

He thought back to his previous interactions with the headmaster.
He did remember that first day, when he first met Robbie. The man’s features had taken him, though at the time he found them intimidating. Now when he thinks about Robbie, his face burns warmer.
He remembered being taken by his smile as well. But it wasn’t just Robbie’s physical looks that had captured his attention.
Yes, Robbie could be abrasive and standoffish at first, but then Sportacus got to see who Robbie can be. A man with a fun, if not easy to miss, sense of humor. A man who truly cared for the children, and is sympathetic with their problems and concerns. A man who eventually supported him even in a mission he felt was silly or trivial, and worried about his safety.
Sportacus’s heart beat faster and his cheeks were bright like tomatoes. He realized just how far he was in.
“I do, don’t I? I like him.” Sportacus said to himself, his further warming cheeks confirming his question.
Sportacus sunk deeper into his armchair, feeling conflicted feelings of giddiness yet also paralysis.
So he accepted that he had feelings for Robbie, but what now? Sportacus never had to deal with such feelings, and if he ever would, he’d usually have Íþró to talk to.
So, what would he say in this situation?
Sportacus, remember to keep your attention on your mission. I’m afraid you don’t have time to deal with romance right now. Also, remember, once this mission is over, you are to immediately return to the North Pole. It’ll be hard enough to say goodbye; don’t add love into the mix.” He imagined his brother saying.

He stopped, and his giddiness sunk as he remembered: he’d have to return to the North Pole after his mission was complete.

So, it didn’t matter if he had feelings for Robbie. He’d have to say goodbye to him for good after Christmas, and given how busy he was with his job, the chance of visiting Robbie after saving the portal would be slim and none.

Sportacus looked down at his mug as he idly spun the spoon around his mug.
“So it doesn’t matter if I like him. I can’t do anything if I have to leave in a few weeks.” Sportacus said to himself quietly.
He glanced out the window, resting his cheek against the chair. He considered the idea of never seeing Robbie or the children ever again after his mission. He thought about his life back at the North Pole.
Strangely, even though he hadn’t been in LazyTown long and despite the town’s lack of spirit, the idea made him feel a little sad.
Maybe I could try and squeeze some time to visit once my work is done? I could negotiate with my manager for at least one visit…” pondered Sportacus.

The telephone rang, nearly startling Sportacus out of his chair. Throwing his blanket to the side, Sportacus walked to the wall and took the receiver off the base.
“Hello?” He asked.
“Hello Magnus.” Said the voice he knew to be Robbie’s.
“Oh, Robbie! Wait, how did you get my number?” Sportacus asked.
“Your employee file. Trust me, when you have only one employee to look after, you remember those details well.” Robbie said.
Sportacus chuckled and sank against the wall, thankful for the distraction from his train of thought.
“How are you? Why’d you decide to call?” asked Sportacus.
“I’m the same as usual. Tired and sore.” Laughed Robbie.
“I bet if you stretched every day you wouldn’t be so sore?” suggested Sportacus.
He heard Robbie gag on the other side.
“Please. For future reference, do not suggest anything physical. It triggers my gag reflex.” He said.
Sportacus laughed.
“Alright, duly noted.” He said, smiling.
“And I called, well,” said Robbie. “I just wanted to check that you were resting.”
“I am. I’ve had a pretty restful day.” Sportacus said, curling the telephone wire around his finger. “I don’t think I can remember the last time I had a whole day of doing nothing.”
“Enjoying the lazy life?” teased Robbie.
Sportacus chuckled.
“Maybe a little. It’s a bit weird not doing anything though.” He said.
“You get used to it, trust me. Soon enough it’ll be difficult to actually do things!” said Robbie.
“Well, I guess I shouldn’t have too many break days then! Can’t slack off.” Sportacus said, laughing.
“I don’t know. Being doomed to a lazy life doesn’t seem too bad.” Noted Robbie.
“It is when the existence of magic is at risk.” Said Sportacus.
“Wow. Had to be dark?” said Robbie.
“Sorry.” Said Sportacus.

A pause fell.

“I’m sorry, did I make this awkward?” asked Sportacus.
“No, it’s okay. You’re right. Best not slack off now.” Said Robbie.
“I mean, you’re right. But I still made things awkward…” said Sportacus.
“You really didn’t.” said Robbie.
“I think I did.” Mumbled Sportacus.
“If I forgive you, will you stop saying you made this awkward?” asked Robbie.
Sportacus chuckled.
“I guess?” He said.
“Fine, you’re forgiven. This is no longer awkward.” Robbie said.
“Except it still is?” said Sportacus with a smirk.
“We’re not doing this again!” said Robbie exasperatedly.
Both men laughed, with a tear escaping Sportacus from his laughter. As their laughter passed, their conversation went silent again.
“I don’t want to make this conversation dark again, but I wanted to just make sure…no frost on your hands, right?” asked Robbie.
Sportacus’s smile fell, and he looked down at his hands. He nodded, even though he knew Robbie couldn’t see him.
“Yes, no frost. I think it is gone. I lost a leaf on my wreath though.” Said Sportacus.
“Is that normal?” asked Robbie.
“I think so. I’m not that sure.” Said Sportacus.
“Are…Are all Christmas elves susceptible to heart frost?” asked Robbie.
“Luckily, no. Just young elves. I think it’s around 400 years old that you become mostly immune. It’s pretty rare to get heart frost after that.” Sportacus said.
“And I’m guessing you’re…?” asked Robbie.
“Just shy of 325.” Said Sportacus with a smile.
“Well, you look good for your age.” Said Robbie.
Sportacus’s cheeks grew pink, even though he figured that Robbie’s comment was platonic.
“T-Thank you?” He said with a laugh.
Robbie’s response was delayed.
“Er well, you know. Uh…yes.” Stuttered Robbie. “R-Right, back to the heart frost. What exactly would have happened if I, you know, hadn’t let you in? I think you said something about freezing to death?”
Sportacus’s eyes drifted to the floor.
“Yes well, in more severe stages, the frost continues to grow until it covers your entire body. And I suppose, yes…I’d freeze to death. Or suffocate, I don’t know which one comes first.” He said quietly.

A pause.

“Well…that is horrifying.” Said Robbie.
Sportacus smiled sadly.
“There’s a reason young elves like me are looked after closely.” He said.
“Clearly.” Said Robbie. “This isn’t a common problem, right?”
“Not at the North Pole, no.” said Sportacus. “It’s so jolly and happy up there, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone cry. Everyone is singing and smiling, even when they work. It’s just…beautiful.”
He heard Robbie shift on the other side.
“Do you…miss it? I know you’re far from home.” Robbie asked.
Sportacus sighed.
“I do, sometimes. I know I’ll go home after I’m done with my work here though.” He said quietly.
“You don’t sound as excited about that as I thought you would.” Robbie said. “You aren’t already attached to this town, are you? This place can’t be an improvement on the North Pole.”
“It isn’t, I’ll be honest there. Yet…” Sportacus said, his cheeks starting to burn. “…there are some things here that aren’t at the North Pole.”
“Like what?” asked Robbie.
Sportacus sucked down a thick breath, his heart beating in his ears. Should he say it? Should he really say that Robbie would be someone he’d miss? Would he take that well?
“W-Well, I’d miss the students. I’d miss the townsfolk. A-And…” stammered Sportacus, his cheeks burning bright red.
“And?” asked Robbie.
Sportacus sighed, feeling his heart quiet.
“I’d miss…the small-town atmosphere. The North Pole is so, well, big that I like how quaint LazyTown is.” He finally answered.
Robbie paused.
“Ah. Well, that’s understandable. Despite all its flaws, LazyTown can be a quiet and nice place to live.” Said Robbie.
“Yeah.” Said Sportacus, feeling a little disappointed with himself.

Pause.

“Well, I suppose I should get going. Glad to hear you’re resting well. Do you think you’ll be ready for the last day on Monday? If not, I can substitute once more, I don’t mind.” Asked Robbie.
“No, I should be fine. I don’t need too many days of rest.” Said Sportacus.
“Well, alright, sounds good. I’ll see you Monday then.” Said Robbie.
“Okay. Um…have a nice weekend.” Said Sportacus.
“You too.” Said Robbie.
Sportacus heard a click on the other end and the dial tone.
He reset the receiver and sighed, thinking over their conversation. Part of him felt like he’d made the right choice in not saying anything. After all, their friendship was still fairly new. Suddenly confessing romantic feelings would probably startle the poor man and, Sportacus feared, scare off any future of a friendship. A little patience hurt no one, especially concerning romance and feelings.
Yet…Sportacus was all too aware that he had a time limit. And no matter what he figured Íþró would say, he wanted to say something.
He just needed to find the right moment.
In the meantime, Sportacus curled back up in his armchair and wrapped himself back in his blanket. He still had his day off to enjoy after all.

Picking his book back up, he returned to his story of faeries and magical lands.

Chapter Text

A whole day of relaxation left Sportacus with a spring in his step that he couldn’t remember last having. Burying his glove-less hands into his pocket, Sportacus whistled a little tune as he walked down the road, looking about the town.

Admittedly, he was still adjusting to not seeing the town covered in lights and decorations at this time, with so few days left until Christmas. The town felt naked without proper Christmas decorations, even if Sportacus knew exactly why the town was left undecorated.
Still, the town felt lovely that day. The sun was out, bringing out the colors hidden deep in the brickwork walls and cobblestone walkways. The people were out and about, going about their business and carrying groceries and other bags. A policeman swung his baton about, walking casually. A milkman dropped off the daily delivery of milk. A couple walked past Sportacus with their dog, who trotted along happily.
Sportacus smiled, sighing contently.
LazyTown was so beautiful today.

“Hey! Mr. Íþróttsson!”
Sportacus turned around and smiled as Ziggy, Trixie, Pixel, and Stingy ran over to him, their toys in their hands.
“Good morning children! Are you all enjoying your Sunday?” Sportacus asked.
“We are!” said Ziggy, grinning happily.
“Well, we would be, but we’re short one person for our baseball team.” Pixel said, holding up a glove.
“Oh? Who are you missing?” asked Sportacus.
“We’re looking for Stephanie. Have you seen her?” asked Trixie, crossing her arms.
“I haven’t, have you all checked her home?”
“That’s the first place we went. No one answered.” Stingy said.
“Hmm.” Sportacus said, stroking his mustache. “That is strange.”
“It isn’t that strange, Mr. Íþróttsson. Stephanie is pretty hard to find this time of the year. It‘s been like that for years.“ Trixie said, shrugging.
“It has? Why is that?” asked Sportacus.
“Who knows? She just gets kind of sad and quiet.” Ziggy said sadly.
“I see.” Sportacus said thoughtfully, before he crouched down to the kids’ level. “Tell you what, I’ll go see the mayor and ask if he might know where she is. I’m sure she’s just hiding out someplace, and she’ll be more than ready to play.”
“You’d do that for us?” asked Pixel.
“Of course! It should only take a few minutes.” Sportacus said, standing back up. “I’ll be back soon. Until then, perhaps you all can find another game to play?”
“We could play hopscotch!” Suggested Ziggy.
“There you go! I’ll see you all later.” Sportacus said, jogging off as the kids waved him goodbye.

Sportacus made his way towards the town hall, walking through the gigantic doors and passing through the empty lobby room. Eying the hallway in front of him, Sportacus started towards it.
“Hold it! Not one more step, mister!”
Sportacus froze mid-step and turned towards the shrill voice commanding him.
Standing behind a desk, her face bright red and her hair bright blue, stood a woman dressed in professional wear with a necklace of pearls around her neck. She looked less than pleased with Sportacus at that moment.
“I-I’m sorry mam, but I was just looking for the mayor?” Sportacus said.
“I know you are, but we’ve had enough people barging into the mayor’s office uninvited this month! You’d better sit your butt down in that seat and wait your turn or, I swear, I will call the police on you!” She said, lowering her eyes at him.
Sportacus’s face paled as he nodded slowly, turning and sitting down in the nearest chair.
At least it was a comfy chair.
Twiddling his thumbs and tapping his foot, Sportacus looked up at the clock. He turned in his seat to look back at the woman. He caught a glimpse of her name card: Bessie Busybody.
“Excuse me Ms. Busybody, I’m sorry but I’m in a bit of a hurry. Will the mayor be available soon?” He asked.
“He’ll be ready when he’s ready! If you keep pushing, I will set your appointment back for five extra months!” Ms. Busybody growled, never looking up from her magazine.
Sportacus squeaked and turned back around, sitting up straight, his mustache frizzed with fear.

Sportacus sat there silently for several minutes, hearing only the sound of the clock ticking each second and the shuffling of papers behind him.
He continued to twiddle his thumbs, but he ceased tapping his foot, in case Ms. Busybody threatened to cut off his foot or something along those lines. She didn‘t seem like someone to mess with.
The relative, monotonous atmospheric noise was finally interrupted by a harsh, low sigh.
“It’s always this time of the year, isn’t it? Absolutely everyone and their brother has to go see the mayor and complain about something falling apart or someone kicking someone else. I hate it all.” She grumbled.
Sportacus bit his lip, wondering if he should chance conversation with the secretary.
“Well, there is Christmas coming up. Surely you’re excited for that?” He asked quietly, waiting nervously for her response.
He got the nastiest, harshest laugh in response.
“Christmas? You must be kidding! There’s nothing special about Christmas. It’s just more work for me and people acting pushier about getting the work done! Construction contracts need to be filled out, meetings have to be planned, disputes need to be settled. It all gets worse right around…Christmas.” Ms. Busybody responded.
“Well, perhaps you have some plans? Or maybe some nice memories of the holiday?” Sportacus suggested.
Ms. Busybody dropped the papers harshly on the desk.
“Look sir, Christmas is another day, and that’s all. That’s all it ever was for me, and all it ever shall be. And I highly doubt you could ever convince me otherwise.” She said, picking up another paper off the pile.

The silence fell once more. Sportacus chewed on his bottom lip as he thought through his words, occasionally glancing back at the ever busy Ms. Busybody.
“Ms. Busybody, did you ever celebrate Christmas? Maybe as a child?” He asked.
Ms. Busybody looked up wearily, a suspicious look in her eyes.
“Why are you asking?” Ms. Busybody.
“I just figured you’d might like some conversation. It seems a little lonely in here today. Perhaps some non-work conversation would be welcome?” Sportacus said casually.
Ms. Busybody looked down, sighing tiredly.
“No, I never celebrated Christmas, not even as a child. I was sent to a boarding school when I was little. I couldn’t have been more than five when I was first sent to St. Helena’s School of Highest Regards. Have you heard of it?”
“I don’t believe so. Was it nice?” asked Sportacus.
Ms. Busybody snorted incredulously.
“You must be joking! If nice means strict and rigorous, then yes. The nuns kept us working hard, every day and every hour. You could only tell that a holiday was supposedly happening if you had a calendar. Otherwise, each day was the same: schoolwork, chores, etiquette lessons. Christmas was no exception.”
“Not even a moment to breathe or have fun?”
“Barely.” Ms. Busybody said, her tone shifting to a sad tone. “It wasn’t a very fun time as you could imagine. I used to dream about having time to play with dolls and toys like the other girls my age. I suppose I will never know what that is like. I thought when I left the school I would, but with so much work for the mayor I must organize, I suppose it was just a pipe dream.”
Sportacus looked at her sadly.
“That sounds terrible, I’m very sorry.” He said.
Ms. Busybody shrugged, shuffling the papers.
“No need, there’s nothing either I or you could do. Oh well. Doesn’t matter.” She said, pausing for a moment, her face growing sad.
She sighed.
“Nothing either of us could do.” She said more quietly.

The doors to the mayor’s office swung open, and a young man walked out casually.
Ms. Busybody cleared her throat and gestured towards the door.
“The mayor’s ready to see you now, sir.”
Sportacus looked at her sadly before nodding, walking slowly down the hallway.
When he entered the office, Sportacus was taken back by just how much paperwork and how many folders littered every possible flat surface in the room. Reams and stacks of files were piled higher than he stood, with the occasional loose paper fluttering past him as he walked. He gawked at the mess with a mixture of worry and shock, the piles growing more condense as he traversed the room.
The piles of papers and folders formed a sort of semi-circle wall around the man Sportacus assumed was the mayor. The mayor had not even glanced up when Sportacus entered the room, his attention clearly directed exclusively at the paperwork laid out in front of him. His face was filled with worry lines as he tapped his head and tapped a pen against the desk, his teeth chewing idly at his bottom lip.
Sportacus, for a moment, felt compelled to simply leave. Clearly this man was exceptionally busy, and Sportacus would hate to bother him during such a stressful time. However, he figured that asking about the mayor’s niece due to the concerns of her friends would be an acceptable enough reason to interrupt such a focused work session.
Unsure of just what to do, Sportacus settled with quietly clearing his throat.
The mayor barely budged, much less acknowledged Sportacus’s presence.
Sportacus looked around awkwardly, before clearing his throat a bit more loudly a second time.
This time the mayor looked up. Seeing a visitor so suddenly in front of him, the mayor gasped and nearly fell out of his chair.
Sportacus’s eyes widened as he rushed to the mayor’s side.
“Mr. Mayor! Are you okay?” He asked nervously.
“Oh my! Y-You scared me!” Mayor Meanswell fumbled as he quickly and unsuccessfully tried to collect himself.
“My apologies Mr. Mayor. I thought you had heard me come in!” said Sportacus.
“I’m afraid not! Um, please, take a seat.” Mayor Meanswell said, gesturing to a chair.

Sportacus crossed over towards the seat but, seeing the chair overflowing with additional papers and folders, he hesitated.
Mayor Meanswell, noticing his hesitation, glanced over. His cheeks darkened to red as he finally noticed the additional mess.

“Oh my, um…well I suppose you can’t sit there, can you?” He said sheepishly.
“I’ll be fine standing Mr. Mayor.” Sportacus said with a smile.
“No need for that, just call me Mayor Meanswell, or Milford if you prefer.” Mayor Meanswell said with a tired smile.
“Very well, Mayor Meanswell. Thank you for letting me speak to you.” Sportacus said.
“Yes, well…you know, come to think of it, have we met? Are you in my appointment book?” Mayor Meanswell said, flipping through an overstuffed planner.
“I’m a drop-in. I’m Magnus Íþróttsson, the new school teacher.” Sportacus said, sticking out his hand.
Mayor Meanswell’s eyes widened.
“A-Ah, I see! I have heard about you! Headmaster Rotten was here a while ago to – “Mayor Meanswell said, before his face paled.
Sportacus looked at the mayor confusedly.
“To do what?”
“It’s not important! Nothing important now!” Mayor Meanswell said, laughing uncomfortably.
Sportacus was still uneasy, but he decided to let the matter go for the time being.
“So, what can I do for you Mr. Íþróttsson? I hope you’re adjusting well to your new job!”
Sportacus smiled.
“Yes, I believe I’m adjusting quite well, Mayor Meanswell. I’m not here for school matters, however. I was wondering if you might know where your niece is. Some of the other schoolchildren were looking for her.”
Mayor Meanswell furrowed his brow.
“Oh dear, isn’t she at home? It is Sunday, correct?”
“Well…yes, it is Sunday, Mayor Meanswell. And the children told me that no one answered the door.”
Mayor Meanswell looked down thoughtfully.
“Oh my, that is strange. She is always at home on Sundays, working on her violin lessons! Where could she be?”

Mayor Meanswell’s eyes then widened.

“O-Oh my! Mr. Íþróttsson, tell me, what month is it? It isn’t December, is it?” He asked.
Sportacus looked at the mayor with surprise.
“Well…yes, it is December. D-Did you forget?”
“I can barely see straight with all of this, so I suppose so!” Mayor Meanswell said exasperatedly, gesturing to the stacks of paper around him. “Oh dear…oh dear, oh dear…”
“Mayor Meanswell? Is something wrong?”
Mayor Meanswell sighed wearily and buried his face in his hands.
“It’s December, that’s what’s wrong. Oh dear, such a dreadful month, especially for poor Stephanie…” He said, his voice partially muffled by his hands.
Sportacus leaned forward and patted the mayor’s arm.
“If you wouldn’t mind me asking, Mayor Meanswell, why is December so terrible?” He asked.
Mayor Meanswell looked back up, the remaining hair on his head flopping back into place. He bit his lip, looking away thoughtfully.
“Oh, well, I’m not certain I should be telling people so casually. It’s rather personal I’m afraid.” He said.
Sportacus nodded slowly.
“I understand, Mayor Meanswell.”
“BUT, but you are her teacher. Perhaps it would be good for you to know as well.” Mayor Meanswell said quickly.
“Only if you feel that you need to, Mayor Meanswell.”
Mayor Meanswell nodded firmly.
“Yes, I’m sure it’s important.” He said, his determined expression evaporating near instantly.

Replacing Mayor Meanswell’s determined expression was a more sorrowful expression. He sat back in his chair as he fought to keep his composure.
“I imagine that you might’ve wondered once or twice why Stephanie lives with me rather than with her parents.” He started with a sigh.
“I…I have.”
“You must have guessed already, then, that her parents are…no longer with us.” Mayor Meanswell said sadly. “My dear sister, Margaret Meanswell, was Stephanie’s mother. She married Stanley Splitz, a carpenter by trade, and the three of them lived in a townhouse near the shopping district. They were the perfect picture of a happy family. Oh, they loved little Stephanie so much. They would absolutely beam every time they talked to me about her.”
Mayor Meanswell’s gaze fell, his hands busy fidgeting with a pen.
“Stephanie couldn’t have been older than four when it happened. They were out on a date night at the movies. The two were driving home when…when there was an accident. A man had just left the bar with his friends, and all of them were completely drunk. They were driving down the road at the same time as Stephanie’s parents and…”
Mayor Meanswell paused and wiped a tear from his eye, his hands trembling.
Sportacus’s heart ached as his expression fell.
“I see.” He said softly.
“They died on their way to the hospital. It all happened just a few days before Christmas. The funeral was the week after the holidays. It was…oh it was just terrible. And poor Stephanie, the poor little girl, she was inconsolable. She must’ve cried for weeks and weeks.”
Mayor Meanswell sighed sadly and sat back up straight.
“That’s why she becomes so sad during this time of the year. I believe it reminds her of that terrible, terrible night. I can’t blame the poor girl; it was all so traumatizing.”
“I can’t either. I’m sorry, that all sounds so terrible.” Said Sportacus.

Mayor Meanswell looked down with a look of guilt.
“Oh dear, and she’s been all alone most of this month! I should be there for her right now, making sure she’s okay and comforting her, but this is the busiest time of the year for me too! Everyone needs me to sign things, review plans, discuss meeting topics…oh my, I haven’t had a moment to breathe! But poor Stephanie…”
Sportacus, sadly, nodded.
“Well, perhaps I could at least help you a little? Where do you think Stephanie would be? If I found her, I could at least ensure that she’s doing okay.”
Mayor Meanswell thought for a while before finally nodding.
“Yes…Yes that would actually be very helpful! But where…where…”
He snapped his fingers.
“Oh dear, I think I know where she is. Do you know where the Golden Oak Cemetery is?”
Sportacus shook his head.
“Okay, well, you’ll want to go to the southwestern edge of town. There’s a side road that leads to it. It should only be a few blocks down once you reach the road.”
Mayor Meanswell paused.
“Mr. Íþróttsson, are you certain you want to get yourself involved? After all, this is far out of your requirements as an educator, and this is a very emotionally involved situation. I completely and perfectly understand if you don’t wish to take on such responsibility…”
Sportacus smiled and nodded.
“It’s all right Mayor Meanswell, I believe I’m ready. If I can help you and Ms. Meanswell out in this way, then I’m completely ready and able.”
Mayor Meanswell looked uncertain, but nonetheless nodded.
“Well, then I thank you. And I wish you good luck. If I can get a moment, I’ll make sure to join you at the cemetery.” He said with a weary, small smile.
“Thank you, Mayor Meanswell.” Sportacus said, getting up and walking out of the office. Before he left completely, Sportacus looked back once more.
Already the mayor had immersed himself back in his work.
Something told Sportacus not to expect the mayor’s presence.
He looked back sadly as he finally exited town hall.

Walking out onto the street, Sportacus was near immediately swarmed by the four other children, all with expectation in their eyes.
“Well? Where is she, Mr. Íþróttsson?” asked Stingy.
Sportacus sighed, taking the spare seconds he had to collect himself and smile.
“I’m, um, afraid I can’t talk about it Mr. Spoilero. All I can say is that you all should just keep playing your games. I don’t believe Ms. Meanswell will be ready to play today.”
The children started preparing to protest before Trixie stepped forward, blocking the other children’s access to their teacher.
“We understand, Mr. Íþróttsson. We’ll play some other games instead.” She said.
“Thank you, Ms. Troubleby.” Sportacus said with a relieved look, before walking off in the direction of the cemetery.

As the group watched their teacher leave, the three boys looked at Trixie suspiciously.
“How do you know what’s up with Stephanie, Trixie?” asked Pixel.
“I don’t.” Trixie said, shrugging.
“Then why did you say we understand? We don’t!” Stingy protested.
Because,” Trixie said, shooting a glare at Stingy. “we shouldn’t be butting in right now, and Mr. Íþróttsson was implying that too.”
“You can tell that?” Ziggy asked.
“You can tell those things when you’re my age.” Trixie said.
“You’re only a year older than me!” Stingy stated.
“And what a difference a year makes!” Trixie said sarcastically. “Now let’s go play tag.”

--

In all of his studies, Sportacus surprisingly knew very little about the funeral practices and traditions of different human cultures. He understood a little about their traditions: he understood that death and funerals were taken very seriously and treated in a somber tone, contasting the elven funerals which were kept more jovial with limited somberness. He also understood a few of the more aesthetic traditions, like wearing all black and decorating the “coffin” with white flowers and greenery. His knowledge, however, ended there.

So when he first arrived at the Golden Oaks Cemetery, he was taken back by just how bleak and somber the entire area was.
Despite the beautiful greenery and well-maintained flowerbeds that lined the wrought-metal bars, the area exuded an atmosphere of sadness. Sound itself seemed to be absent, almost swallowed by the thick, soup-like weariness and sorrow that held like a haze around the relatively small lot of land. Even the birds that sat in the trees seemed to remain unnaturally quiet, simply hanging about in the trees and occasionally preening their feathers.
It discomforted Sportacus, and he gulped down a thick breath as he uneasily walked through the rusted old gate.
His discomfort only grew stronger as he officially entered the cemetery and gazed upon the rows, near infinite in number and stretching as far as he could see, of tombstones.
Some were simple markers, like flat rocks, laying on the ground with names and lifespans etched on their surfaces.
Others were small, board-shaped stones that stood like miniature hills amidst the green field.
Others yet were more ornate, topped with stone-carved angels and lambs, their eyes cast down to gaze for all eternity on the name etched into the main stone.
Several of the graves had flowers in varying stages of decay resting at their bases. Others were dusted with molds and grasses, the markers near overtaken by the foliage around them.
As Sportacus traversed the cemetery, he began to wonder and question just how he’d locate Stephanie amongst all the similar tombstones and markers. Despite the small size of the cemetery, there was just enough littering the area to obscure his sight and make locating the young girl a challenge.
Pausing, he took a moment to gather himself.
He had to find her, but where could she be?

His answer came once he stopped and listened, and heard the faint sound of a violin in the distance.

That has to be her. The mayor did mention that she takes violin lessons.” He thought to himself, walking in the direction of the music.
Sportacus passed by dozens of gravestones, each in those varying stages of care and decay, as he followed the music. As he drew closer, however, he noticed that the tombstones were growing increasingly more ornate and, dare he say it, beautiful.
He stopped once he spotted, ever so briefly, a flash of pink.
Taking a step back, Sportacus’s face fell once he finally saw Stephanie.
The young girl was sitting on her knees, her pale pink coat’s sleeves pulled back, as she faced two gravestones. She drew the bow of her violin up and down the strings, drawing a melancholic and mournful tune from every pass.
It was beautiful, all too beautiful and sad.
Sportacus had to pause and wipe away a few spare tears as he slowly approached her.
He waited until Stephanie finished her song, her bow drawing out the last note into diminuendo.
Carefully, and softly, he clapped. Despite the quietness of his claps, this drew a cry and a jump from Stephanie, who turned towards Sportacus with widened eyes and paled face.
“Mr. Íþróttsson!” She squeaked, tossing her violin aside and jumping to her feet. “W-What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry to startle you! I’ve had bad luck with that today.” Said Sportacus. “Well, I was just in the neighborhood when I heard such lovely violin playing! I wouldn’t suppose you’d know who was making such beautiful music?”
Stephanie’s eyes drew down to her violin as she rubbed her arm awkwardly.
“I suppose that would be me…or maybe another violin player, I’m not sure.” She said.
Sportacus gave a small smile.
“I’m certain you’re the only violin player for miles. Your piece was very lovely, Ms. Meanswell.”
“Oh, you think? Um, thank you.” Said Stephanie, shuffling in her place.

Sportacus’s smile faded as he looked around her.
“A strange place to practice though. What are you doing in a cemetery?” He asked.
Stephanie looked down quietly.
Sportacus knelt to her level.
“It’s okay Ms. Meanswell.” He reassured her.
Stephanie looked uneasy. She kept quiet, her gaze shifted away from her teacher.
Sportacus nodded, then glanced around her at the gravestones. He read the names and the lifespans, admiring the stone angels that framed each stone.
“These are nicely made.” Sportacus noted.
“You don’t have to pretend, Mr. Íþróttsson. I bet you know why I’m here.” Stephanie said bitterly.
Sportacus looked behind him, his face falling once he noticed the down expression on her face.
Stephanie looked up with misty eyes, her expression barely maintaining some form of composure as she walked close to the graves, sitting in front of them.
Sportacus could feel his ears droop under his cap as he sat next to Stephanie.
“You miss them, don’t you?” He asked, pausing once he realized how stupid of a question that was.
Stephanie looked up and gave a look that didn’t display disbelief, but rather mourning. Her gaze returned to the gravestones.
“I know I was really little when they…well, went away.” Stephanie said quietly. “But I still feel sad. Is that normal?”
“Of course that’s normal. They’re your parents. Losing anyone is hard, but losing your parents is especially tough.” Sportacus said reassuringly.

Stephanie sniffed, wiping away a tear.
“That makes me feel a little better. At least I know I’m not crying for no reason.” She said. “I thought I was stupid for feeling so sad so much.”
“No, no it’s definitely not stupid.” Sportacus said.
“I still feel like I am.” Stephanie admitted. “It’s weird. I…I don’t remember much about my mom and dad. It’s just little, almost, bits and pieces.”
Stephanie held her bow firmly in her hands.
“I can kind of remember my mom. She wore this perfume that I didn’t know what it smelt like for the longest time. Then I realized that it was peony. She smelled like peonies. And for some reason, I remember her doing laundry, and that she’d hang up the sheets first.” She said, a sad smile crossing her face. “And dad, well, I remember him taking me once for ice cream. I don’t remember why or when, but we got ice cream that day. He had a big smile.”
Her smile faded.
“But that’s all I remember.” She said, smirking weakly. “I just…I just wish they could’ve been here longer.”
She clenched a fistful of grass.
“They left so soon. We barely got to do anything together and now…n-now…” She said, her eyes growing watery.
A hiccup escaped Stephanie as her eyes grew so watery to the point that tears spilled past and escaped her best efforts to contain them.
“It’s okay, Stephanie. You can cry.” Sportacus said softly.
“It’s not fair, Mr. Íþróttsson!” Stephanie sobbed. “They left so soon! I-I didn’t get to be with them like everyone else did with their parents! I-I can’t even remember enough about them to feel sad! B-B-But I can’t stop…s-stop crying…”

Finally giving up on holding back, Stephanie let her bow fall from her hands as she fell forward into Sportacus‘s arms. She sobbed and shook terribly, fat tears rolling down her cheeks and staining her dress. Sportacus gave her a gently hug, holding her as she cried, trying his best to let her cry while also working to soothe and calm her. It broke his heart to see one of his students so broken and grief-stricken, but he also knew this was well needed.
“Just let it out.” Sportacus said calmly, patting her head.
“W-Why did they have to die, Mr. Íþróttsson? T-They…They weren’t r-ready. I-I wasn’t ready.” Stephanie sobbed, sniffling.
Sportacus sighed softly, pausing to collect his words.
“We…We don’t really get to choose when it’s our time, Stephanie. I’m sure your parents wanted to stay with you. They would never leave you on purpose.”
Stephanie hugged Sportacus tighter, her sobbing quieting momentarily.
“B-But it’s not fair. I-I-I still want them h-here. C-Couldn’t I… “Stephanie started, looking up with reddened eyes at her teacher. “…Couldn’t they come back? I-I’ve been good! If I promise to b-be good for the rest of my life, they can c-come back. Right? R-Right?”
Sportacus’s heart broke at Stephanie’s plea, his own eyes beginning to water.
“M-Ms. Meanswell,” Sportacus said, his own voice cracking. He brushed a tear from her face. “I’m sorry but it doesn’t work that way.”
Stephanie buried her face back into Sportacus’s shirt once he said that, her tears pouring forth once more. She uttered high cries and hiccups as she sobbed and wailed.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Meanswell.” Sportacus said softly.
“It’s still s-so stupid. I don’t want to c-cry this much about it. They w-were barely w-with me…” Stephanie sniffed.
“It’s not stupid. You miss your parents, and it doesn’t matter if they weren’t with you for very long. You can still grieve.” Sportacus said.
Stephanie sniffled.
“Do your friends know about what happened?” He asked.
Stephanie shook her head.
“I-I thought they’d find it stupid.”
“Oh, Ms. Meanswell, they’re your friends! If they’re your true friends, they’d never find this stupid.” Sportacus said in shock, tilting Stephanie’s chin back up.
Stephanie, her face and eyes red with tears, wiped away some of the snot and tears from her face.
“Y-You think so?” She asked.
Sportacus nodded with a warm smile.
“I know so. Your friends care about you, so they should be here to help you. You don’t need to go through this alone. I know your uncle cares deeply about you and wants to be there with you. But if he’s busy or unable to, it’s okay to let your friends know and let them help you too.”

Stephanie finally gave the faintest, half-smile as she brushed more tears from her eyes.
“I…I guess that makes sense. I-I feel kind of silly now, feeling like they wouldn’t understand.” She admitted.
“No need to feel silly, it’s understandable.”
Stephanie, her crying finally done, gave another smile as she looked over at the gravestones. She gently ran her hand across her father’s stone, tracing his name.
“I wanted to apologize, Mr. Íþróttsson.” She said quietly.
Sportacus furrowed his brow, his smile fading.
“For what?” He asked.
“For not being able to enjoy the holidays like I should be. You make Christmas sound so wonderful, but I can’t help but think of them when I think of Christmas. I want to enjoy it, but…” She said, her smile weakening once more.
“No need to apologize, Ms. Meanswell. I completely understand.” Sportacus said with a sad smile. “You know, you don’t have to celebrate the same as I do. Holidays can be celebrated however makes sense for you. Perhaps you could spend this time remembering your parents and celebrating the happy memories you have of them?”
Stephanie smiled faintly, nodding slowly.
“That…That would be nice.” She said, pulling her violin and bow close once more. “I did come here to play songs for them. Maybe I could make it a tradition? I play them music for Christmas?”
“It doesn’t need to just be around Christmas, but if that helps you, then I think that’s a fantastic idea.” Sportacus said with a smile.

Stephanie smiled, her gaze returning to her violin. She laid it on her shoulder and assumed the proper hold. She looked over at the gravestones.
“I’ll play them a song my mom apparently liked. It’s a hymn.” She said.
Sportacus nodded and started to stand up, when Stephanie grabbed his wrist and gently pulled him back down.
“You can stay and listen.” Stephanie said with a sad smile.
“If you would like that, then thank you.” Said Sportacus.
Stephanie nodded and, raising her bow, she started the song as she looked at the graves. The tune was sad but sweet, its notes ringing through the cemetery. As she finished the first portion, she began to sing.

God be with you till we meet again;
By His counsels’ guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Sportacus smiled and sat back, listening to her voice. Stephanie had a beautiful voice, one that reminded Sportacus of a choir member back at the North Pole, whom Sportacus had gone on record as saying is the best singer in the whole world. Stephanie drew the bow again against the strings, drawing out the next notes.

Till we meet, till we meet,
Till we meet at Jesus' feet;
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.

Sportacus’s smile faded slightly as he watched Stephanie’s expression change. He could tell she was fighting back her emotions once more, her lip quivering and her eyes growing misty once more as she continued to work through the song.

God be with you till we meet again;
Neath His wings protecting hide you;
Daily manna still provide you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Sportacus was about to tap Stephanie’s shoulder, to let her know she didn’t have to hold back her emotions, when he saw a tear roll down her cheek. She sniffed and continued.

God be –

She couldn’t continue; Stephanie finally broke down once again into her sobs and whimpers, her violin and bow falling to the ground. Sportacus immediately pulled her back into a hug, gently hushing her cries and rocking her back and forth.
“It’s okay…it’s okay…” He said soothingly, continuing as he hugged her.

--

Mayor Meanswell stood on his front stoop, worry lines burrowing into his forehead. He glanced down at his wristwatch, his worry increasing once he saw the time.
7:10 pm.
It had been several hours since he’d met with Mr. Íþróttsson, and ever since then he couldn’t stop thinking and worrying about his dear niece. It’d made work near impossible to get through and, because of that, he was unable to meet with her and her teacher before it got too late.
The streets were so dark now, and Mayor Meanswell felt distinctly uneasy that something had happened to them both.

Before he could call up the police station, however, he paused at the sight of a silhouette walking slowly down the road. There was something in his arms.
“Mr. Íþróttsson?” He hazarded as the figure drew closer.
Much to the mayor’s relief, it was him. And in his arms laid Stephanie, passed out and sleeping peacefully, her body curled up into a little ball.
“Oh thank goodness! I was beginning to worry about you both!” Mayor Meanswell said, giving his silent thanks as Sportacus passed Stephanie to him.
Sportacus smiled and shook his head.
“I apologize for our lateness, Mayor Meanswell. Ms. Meanswell just had a lot to work through.” He said.
Mayor Meanswell looked up sadly.
“So, she was at the cemetery then?”
Sportacus nodded.
Mayor Meanswell looked down quietly at his sleeping niece.
“T-Thank you then. I hope that you’re okay too then?” He asked.
“I’ll be okay, I’m just glad Ms. Meanswell seems to be doing better.” Sportacus said.
Mayor Meanswell smiled at Sportacus.
“Thank you. You’ve done far more than you’ve needed to as a teacher, but I thank you. I’m certain that Stephanie thanks you too.”

As the mayor opened the door, he paused.
“I understand it’s late, but would you like some dinner? I’m certain we have some soup ready on the stove.” He asked.
Sportacus shook his head.
“Thank you, Mayor Meanswell, but I should be getting home.”
“Very well then.” Mayor Meanswell said. “Have a good evening, Mr. Íþróttsson.”

The door closed behind him, leaving Sportacus alone at the mayor’s stoop.

He sighed quietly and turned away, walking back out into the street.
He felt completely drained, but not the lowness that he felt before his bout with heart frost, which he imagined was a good thing.
Still though, he was tired, and was still processing that, once again, he had no clue how to help Stephanie with her problem.
Though he also knew that there was no way, nor was it advisable, to rush the grieving process. He’d have to allow Stephanie to process her parents’ death on her own time.
However, the issue of the closing deadline still hung heavy in Sportacus’s mind, and he was left completely unsure of what to do.
Perhaps I need a walk. That might help me think, and at least I can stretch my legs.” He thought to himself, eying the path to Mani’s Creek.

Sportacus walked down the path, enjoying the silence of the night. It was a beautiful night, with the clouds receding enough to let the stars shine through. The moonlight illuminated the tops of the trees, leaving a pale blue glow illuminating the footpath. His shoes clicked against the pavement, with Sportacus sighing peacefully.
This was nice.
Sportacus kept walking down the path, enjoying the quiet, until an out-of-place sound drew his attention. It sounded like a scratching sound, but it was too faint to be from a nearby animal. It was also too uniform to belong to an animal.
Peering about, Sportacus got his answer once his gaze turned to the still-frozen creek.
Atop the ice, gliding about the frozen creek, was Robbie.
Sportacus paused, staring at the creek and, more specifically, Robbie. He had no idea that Robbie ice skated and, judging from the man’s form, he was very good at it.
There were no fancy spins or tricks like Sportacus did when he skated, but Robbie’s balance was absolutely stable and, somehow, he made skating across the creek seem effortless.
And even from his distance, Sportacus noticed the absolute serenity in Robbie’s expression.
The man was somewhere far off right now, perhaps in someplace where he could escape from the stresses of his life.
Sportacus couldn’t help but watch. Robbie’s calmness was almost entrancing.
He seemed truly happy.

Once Robbie stopped and looked about, however, Sportacus immediately scrambled behind a tree, his chest rising and falling in deep breaths as he tried to keep as still as possible.
The last thing he wanted was to be questioned by Robbie, someone who he not only liked but had only recently formed a friendship with, about why he was near the creek so late and so obviously staring at the man skating.
Something told Sportacus that such a conversation wouldn’t end well, so he kept quiet until he heard the steady scratching sound once more.
Peering out from behind his hiding spot, Sportacus continued to watch.
He watched as Robbie formed a figure-eight across the ice, holding his arms behind his back.
He watched as Robbie glided around the outer circle of the ice, his form steady and the elegance apparent.
He watched as Robbie dared a small spin in the center of the creek, the barest smile crossing his face.
Sportacus’s heart fluttered. He shouldn’t be doing this.
But he also couldn’t look away.

The joy, the warmth in his heart, he could feel it all.
Oh dear, he was very much in trouble.
Yet at that moment, Sportacus didn’t care.
He just wanted to watch Robbie skate like this, be this happy, forever.

Those thoughts stopped abruptly, however, once he heard a much louder, much more disconcerting sound.

Cracking. Breaking. Shifting.

And finally, the sound of the ice shattering away, splitting the ice into a spiderweb’s lattice of ice pieces.
And with the break, Robbie’s form vanished near instantly, disappearing into the dark water of the creek with not a moment for the man to scream.

“ROBBIE!” Sportacus yelled, immediately leaping into action.
He should’ve known, he should’ve warned the man. He hadn’t thought about it until the ice started to crack.
He had frozen that creek a long time ago now. The weather was still too warm for ice to form naturally.
That creek was by no means safe to skate on.
Sportacus cursed himself while worrying frantically as he tumbled and sprinted to the creek, throwing his coat off and onto the ice. He worried not a moment for himself as he stumbled across the ice pieces, darting towards the spot where Robbie had vanished. Sucking in a deep breath, Sportacus dove face first into the freezing pond water.
It was like thousands, no millions of ice-cold knives were piercing at his skin, daring him to gasp and suck in mouthfuls of murky, freezing pond water. Sportacus held strong, however, as he finally opened his eyes.
It was like being stuck in a dark cave; he couldn’t see a thing as he looked about frantically for Robbie.
He finally spotted the man, drifting and sinking slowly deeper into the pond. The man wasn’t fighting or struggling, leading to Sportacus realizing that he’d been knocked out by the fall.
He wasn’t sure if that was a blessing or something to be further worried about.
Sportacus swam and kicked himself towards Robbie, diving underneath the man and scooping him up into his arms as he fought his way to the surface, his oxygen quickly depleting.

As soon as the two emerged, Sportacus sputtered and took deep breaths of freezing air. He, as carefully as he could, slid Robbie onto a firm and large piece of ice flow before he threw himself atop the surface. After coughing and shaking for a moment, Sportacus brought himself to Robbie’s side and began administering CPR. He pressed against the man’s chest repeatedly, counting in his native Elvish quietly as he begged and prayed that Robbie was alive.
After around twenty presses, Robbie gasped and coughed, sputtering and spitting out a mouthful of water onto the ice.
Sportacus panted, looking in relief as Robbie laid against the ice, very much alive. The danger hadn’t passed yet, however, as Sportacus noticed how much the man was shivering and trembling.
His heart dropped. Of course, humans could suffer from hypothermia, a condition wholly foreign to elves but all too dangerous to humans.
“Robbie? Robbie, stay with me! Can you hear me?” He asked, pulling Robbie into his lap and dragging his suit coat over him.
Robbie coughed and groaned, his body shaking terribly. He slowly opened one eye, looking wearily at Sportacus.
“M-Mag…” He mumbled, slipping in and out of consciousness.

Terrified, Sportacus pulled Robbie into his arms, cradling the man as he glanced about quickly. With the knowledge that no one else was around, Sportacus pulled Robbie tight against his chest as the two vanished in a flash of blue light.

--

The two appeared in Robbie’s townhouse, disturbing a stack of newspapers which fell to the floor and spread like a blanket. Sportacus gave them little mind as he leapt over towards Robbie’s armchair and laid the man gently on it.

Robbie’s skin was ice cold and the man was barely awake enough to mumble and groan.
“Robbie? Robbie, please, say something.” Sportacus said, working to wrench his soaked jacket off him.
Robbie mumbled something unintelligible.
“I’m sorry?” asked Sportacus.
Robbie looked up with a hard frown, making Sportacus momentarily shrink back.
“I said don’t take my jacket.” He said, his voice still slurred. “I-I’m cold.”
Sportacus’s lips drew into a thin line.
“I’m sorry Robbie, but I have to get your clothes off. They’re soaked, and I need to get you warm again.” He said, wrestling with the buttons on Robbie’s shirt.
Robbie grumbled absently and, pushing Sportacus away, he began to struggle with his slacks.
“I can handle…handle this on my own.” He insisted despite his wavering expression.
Sportacus reluctantly nodded and averted his gaze. His listened carefully, listening for any sound of struggle or of Robbie collapsing. Once the rustling noises stopped, he cautiously looked back over.
Robbie was laying back against the chair, a blanket drawn over his lap. His slacks, shoes, socks, and undergarment were strewn across the floor haphazardly. All that was left was his dress shirt. The man in question was staring blankly at the wall, his eyelids fluttering open and shut.
“Stay with me, Robbie.” Sportacus urged, a towel appearing in his hand.
Robbie simply mumbled in response as Sportacus carefully tucked the blanket around him before he started working again with the buttons.
“I just need to get his off you, so we can get you dry and warm. After that, I’ll make you some soup.” Sportacus explained as calmly as he could, finally removing the shirt.
Robbie only mumbled in response.
“Just lean forward.” Sportacus said, gently leading Robbie. “Then I can dry off your back. After that I’ll get you another – “

Sportacus froze, his eyes growing wide and his face paling as he looked at the man’s back.
The towel dropped out of his hands, laying crumpled on the chair.
He couldn’t believe his eyes. He wasn’t believing his eyes.

Laying flat against Robbie’s back, barely twitching, and moving, were a pair of beautiful, elegant, glowing white, faerie wings.

Chapter Text

While it was probably a little rude, Sportacus couldn’t stop himself from staring in disbelief.
He couldn’t stop himself from staring at the wings, so lovely and light, that laid between Robbie’s shoulder blades.
It was during this staring that he noticed a few things.

First, the wings were glowing with a white light that bordered the edges of the wings. The glow had dulled compared to when he’d first seen them, and now the light had the intensity of a dying flashlight. With the dulling of the light he could finally make out the faint detailing in the wings.
And faint would be a good word to describe them, as even with Sportacus squinting and staring considerably he could barely make out the etching-like designs in the wings. In fact, he could barely see the wings in general, outside of their glow. Their end tips nearly disappeared into the couch, with the most visible parts near the root of the wing close to the back.
They fluttered weakly, and Robbie seemingly paid them no mind, him only just turning to look back at Sportacus and mumble something.

Sportacus, finally remembering the reason he was there, blinked and scrambled for the towel.
“S-Sorry! Just a second, Robbie.” He said, carefully drying Robbie’s back.
Robbie nodded silently, his attention redirecting towards the wall in front of him.
As he helped get Robbie dry, Sportacus continued to think about the wings and, most importantly, that Robbie was now without a doubt a faerie.
There was some relief, as Sportacus soon realized that indeed his elf characteristics were still hidden from the mortals in LazyTown. Of course, Robbie could see his ears and hair; while an elf had to reveal himself as an elf to mortals for them to see their true appearance, there was no need for that with other huldúfolk. Whether Robbie realized it or not, there was nothing unusual about him noticing Sportacus’s white hair immediately. All of this was par for the course for a faerie.
Which led Sportacus to a new question: was Robbie aware of his wings? And just as importantly, why was he even here? As far as Sportacus knew, faeries rarely if ever travelled outside of their courts and spent most of their lives serving and protecting their kings and queens. Sportacus would’ve been able to sense if there was a court nearby, so Robbie’s court clearly wasn’t in the area. Then why was Robbie here?
As far as Sportacus knew, the only type of faeries that left their courts were…
Sportacus’s eyes widened and, once more, he took a scrutinizing look at Robbie’s wings.
While he could again barely make anything out, he could see just well enough the etching designs on his wings, forming like silky feathers that stretched to the glowing borders of his wings, shaped like elongated diamonds. The lower wings were like the corners of snowflakes, lacy and shining.

Exactly as Sportacus thought. Robbie wasn’t just any type of faerie.
He was a winter faerie.

Unlike normal faeries, winter faeries operated similarly to the Christmas elves, though they associated far less with Santa Claus and the specific holiday of Christmas. Winter faeries were long in charge with the delivery of winter to the world, using their magic to spread snow and ice upon the transition from autumn to winter. While they were usually rather reclusive beings, it wasn’t unheard of for winter faeries to keep an eye on human settlements and towns.
Sportacus thought back to his conversation with Íþro.
At one point, the town was protected by a huldúfolk, but they seemingly vanished many decades ago. And ever since then, the town has been steadily losing its love of the holiday and, thus, its spirit, warmth, and magic.
It was all coming together for Sportacus. The town’s guardian hadn’t vanished. He was still there, and his name is Robbie Rotten.
The last question remained however: does Robbie remember any of that?
As Sportacus finished drying off Robbie, he looked at the man thoughtfully. He pondered whether asking or talking about the subject with Robbie would be a good idea at the moment. He wouldn’t interrogate, obviously, but perhaps a clarifying question or two.
Now to figure out how to approach the subject…

“Mmph, Magnus…” Robbie mumbled, laying against the chair.
Sportacus’s eyes widened.
“Oh! Sorry Robbie I, uh, keep zoning out.” He said flimsily. “Um, do you want some soup?”
Robbie nodded absently, his eyelids fluttering open and shut.
“O-Okay, just keep awake okay? I’ll be right back.” Sportacus said, rushing over to the kitchen.
Sportacus pulled out a pot from the mess of pans and pots that were stacked haphazardly in Robbie’s cabinets. Pulling the appropriate pot from the pile, Sportacus cringed as the entire mountain of pots and pans tumbled forward and clattered loudly against the floor.
“S-Sorry Robbie!” Sportacus apologized.
He received a barely audible mumble in return.
Feeling all the more worried, Sportacus filled the pot with water and set it on the stove. Snapping his fingers, Sportacus summoned all the appropriate ingredients for a simple, chicken soup. After properly preparing the ingredients, he threw them in the pot, tapping the side of the pot to speed up the cooking time. In just five minutes, a soup that would usually take half an hour to cook was completely ready.
Sportacus served a hearty helping into a bowl and took it with him. He sat on the arm of the chair right next to Robbie.
“Robbie, look what I have! It’s chicken soup with vegetables! I-I know you don’t seem to like vegetables, but this will help you feel better.” He said as cheerily as possible, trying to stuff down his worry.
Robbie cocked one eye completely open and stared suspiciously at the bowl of soup. Grunting, he turned over and away from Sportacus and the offending soup.
“Now don’t be like that Robbie. It really does taste good. Here, I’ll try it first.” Sportacus said, taking a quick sip of the soup.
He hummed. He’d done a good job.
“Did you hear that? It tastes great.” Sportacus said, dipping the spoon back into the soup.

He held out the spoon to Robbie, almost like a mother does for a child.
“Come on. Just one little spoonful?” Sportacus asked, giving a sweet look to Robbie.
Robbie frowned and, tiredly, he relented. He slurped down the spoonful of soup and swallowed audibly. He nodded and gave a small sound of approval.
“Good.” He noted quietly.
Sportacus gave a small smile as he scooped another spoonful of soup and held it out to Robbie. He waited, expecting some sort of retort, and was concerned when Robbie ate another spoonful without argument.

After half the bowl was gone, Sportacus set the bowl aside and checked Robbie’s temperature. His skin still felt cold, and the man’s shivering had started to subside, which Sportacus wasn’t sure was such a good sign. The man was still hovering between conscious and unconscious, and Sportacus was running out of excuses to keep him awake.
“I’m guessing you liked the soup! You ate half the bowl!” Sportacus commented, trying to keep a smile on his face.
Robbie mumbled something unintelligible.
Sportacus’s smile faltered as he tapped his fingers against the armchair, trying to think of some other form of conversation. Despite his earlier thoughts, he was beginning to doubt how great of an idea it was to even start bringing up the subject of faeries to Robbie. The man didn’t seem to be improving much even with the doting and care Sportacus tried to give him. More than likely, keeping things as calm and at ease as possible would be recommended, but with Sportacus’s own confusion, surprise, and worry it was difficult to think of new conversation topics.
Sportacus strode away to the kitchen, placing the bowl in the sink and putting a lid atop the remaining soup.
When he returned, Robbie had snuggled deeper into his blankets and seemed to be looking through the floor. Sportacus’s lips thinned to a line as he tapped his fingers against his thigh, stuck on what to do or say next.
Wasn’t there a place where humans went if they were sick? He had read so many times about common human establishments, but his knowledge had fled from his mind to the point of frustration. He buried his fingers in his hair as he tried to coax the knowledge out of whatever hole it’d decided to hide in.
“You’re always so nice to me.”

Sportacus stopped and looked back, glancing at Robbie.
“I’m…I’m sorry?” Sportacus said.
Robbie nodded slowly.
“You’re so nice to me. Don’t need to.” Robbie mumbled.
Sportacus gave a small smile.
“Well, it’s not a question of need Robbie. I want to be nice to you, because you’re a nice person.” He responded.
Robbie shook his head.
“Nah. I was…was terrible to you.” He said in a slurred voice.
“It’s in the past. Besides, you had every right to be suspicious of me. I did just pop up out of nowhere asking for a job.” Sportacus said, chuckling.
“Mmph, true.” Robbie noted softly. “You looked so cute that day.”

Sportacus froze. His eyes snapped open wide as his cheeks took on a pink hue. He blinked, trying to process what Robbie had just said.
“I…what?” He finally managed to say.
Robbie smirked and sunk his head into the armchair, sighing tiredly.
“So cute. Stupid blue eyes and white hair…like angel…” He mumbled in a near whisper. “Lucky to see you every day…”
Sportacus was pretty sure his face was on fire given how warm he felt. He could feel the warmth pool in his cheeks and race to the tips of his ears. His mouth gaped open and shut like a fish out of water as he tried to reach for something, anything, just to respond.
“I…” was all he managed to eek out.
“Hmm?”
“Oh, uh, I was just…um…trying to say something.” Sportacus said clumsily.
“About?”
“What you just, uh, said.”
“I said something?”
Sportacus blinked.
“Well…yes?”
“I don’t think I did.” Robbie mumbled, his eyelids fluttering once more, threatening to finally close.
“But…!” Sportacus started, before his expression and energy fell. He watched as Robbie began to fall asleep, his consciousness finally, fully fading.
He sighed.
“I should get you to the…the hospital.” He said, finally remembering the correct word.
He scooped up Robbie into his arms, keeping the blanket wrapped cozily around him.
“I should’ve done that almost half an hour ago.” Sportacus mumbled to himself wearily, glancing down at the blanket bundle in his arms.
Robbie seemed just barely awake. His eyes were half-lidded as he buried himself deeper into the blankets, occasionally shivering. He seemed to be quietly singing a song to himself.
Faerie Queen Lyssia, grant me a stay…I’mma simple wanderer who lost his way…Forests of silver and berries of gold…shadows of man made my heart grow cold…

Sportacus’s lips thinned once more as he held Robbie close to his chest and closed his eyes, the two vanishing from Robbie’s townhouse.

The two appeared in front of the hospital a town over. Sportacus carefully carried Robbie through the doors and to the admittance desk. The nurse there, a young woman with red hair, immediately stood from her seat once she noticed Sportacus.
“My friend here fell in through a frozen pond almost an hour ago. I’ve been trying to warm him up, but he still feels cold.” Sportacus explained as he handed Robbie to another nurse.
The first nurse ushered the second nurse away while she smiled at Sportacus.
“We’ll make sure to keep an eye on him. Thank you, Mister…?”
“Íþróttsson.” Sportacus said.
The nurse nodded.
“We’ll let him know that you dropped him off once he’s awake and stabilized.” She said, before striding off back through the hallway.

Finally assured that Robbie was well cared for, Sportacus sighed and walked out of the hospital, his hands in his pockets. He felt exhausted, even more so than he had earlier before he went on his ill-fated walk. Closing his eyes, he teleported back home, hoping that sleep might help him better process everything that he’d experienced that day.

--

Sportacus hadn’t expected to stay up so late last night and, thus, hadn’t been as mentally prepared for how tough of a day it’d be the next morning. While he did manage to wake up on time and walk through his usual routine, he felt like his body had been stuffed with lead. Never in his life had he felt such a strong urge to simply not show up to work and sleep in again. He hoped this would be the last time he felt that way.

He was greeted by a far more boisterous class when he entered the schoolhouse that morning, with the children seeming livelier than usual. While this would usually be a welcome sign that would make Sportacus rather joyous, his low energy made this fact still welcome but not as pleasing as usual. Without his usual sleep, the higher attentiveness and enthusiasm from his students made it difficult for Sportacus to keep up and ready. More than once he found himself near nodding off as the students worked through worksheets and read their textbooks. At one point he nearly slipped from his chair out of exhaustion, resulting in a pratfall of flailing limbs and his chair clattering as he struggled to ensure he didn’t fully fall onto the floor which, ironically, may have caught the children’s attention more than had he just fallen over.
Once Sportacus managed to pull himself back onto his feet, his hat left askew, he was faced with the concerned and confused glances of the students.
“Mr. Íþróttsson, are you feeling alright?” asked Ziggy uneasily.
Sportacus, glancing at the other students’ expressions, gave a lopsided smile as he nodded, his hat finally tumbling onto the table.
“N-No worries Mr. Zweets! I’m just, uh, demonstrating why it’s so important to get a good night’s sleep each night! I went to bed too late so now I’m very tired. Remember everyone, sleep is key!” He said, trying to carefully and discretely right his chair and sit himself back down.
The children looked less than convinced and gave each other uneasy looks before finally returning to their school work.

At lunch time, Sportacus had barely sat down to eat his lunch when he felt a tug at his sleeve. He turned around and saw Stephanie standing there, a worried look on her face and her eyes glistening.
“Ms. Meanswell? Is everything alright?” asked Sportacus, setting his sandwich down.
“Mr. Íþróttsson, I’m sorry, did I keep you up too late last night? I-I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to make you so tired or keep you up! Thank you for helping me, but I didn’t – “Stephanie rambled.
“No, no Ms. Meanswell it’s okay! It’s perfectly alright, you didn’t keep me up last night.” Sportacus said quickly, shaking his head.
“B-But you’re so tired! A-And my uncle said you went home after you dropped me off, so I was worried…” She said.
Sportacus shook his head once more.
“No, I really did just stay up too late. I went on a walk and ran into Headmaster Rotten.” He said, his smile faltering.
Stephanie wiped away a spare tear as she looked up at her teacher.
“Say, have you seen Headmaster Rotten today? He wasn’t here when I clocked in for work.” Sportacus asked.
Stephanie shook her head.
“I don’t think so. I mean, he does keep quiet, but I haven’t heard a peep from his office!”
Sportacus bit his lip and looked over towards the window.
Robbie’s office was still dark.
“Mr. Íþróttsson, is Headmaster Rotten okay?” asked Stephanie.
Sportacus looked back over to her and sighed.
“I believe so, but I’m not certain he’ll be back in time before the holiday.” Sportacus admitted. “Headmaster Rotten had a little…accident last night. He wasn’t doing so well so I brought him to the hospital.”
Stephanie’s face paled to a ghostly white.
“I-It’s nothing too bad. He fell through the pond’s ice, so I brought him to the hospital just in case. He should make a full recovery and be back on his feet soon.” Sportacus said quickly.
“Oh.” Said Stephanie quietly.
Sportacus patted her arm and gave her a warm smile.
“I promise, Headmaster Rotten will be fine. And if it’ll help you feel better, I was planning to visit him at the hospital after school. I can let you know how he’s doing afterwards.”
“You promise?” asked Stephanie.
Sportacus nodded.
“I promise.”
A small smile crossed Stephanie’s face.
“Thank you, Mr. Íþróttsson. Thank you for everything.” She said before hugging her teacher.

Sportacus hugged her back and sighed, feeling glad to have that small little victory.

The end of the school day came quickly afterwards, with Sportacus wishing all the children a happy holiday and a restful break. The children skipped out of the schoolhouse, walking with brighter expressions and energy than he’d seen all month. Sportacus allowed himself only a moment of pride over this small success before he started his way home. He needed to drop off his briefcase and feed Loftskip, but right afterwards he’d make his way to the hospital.
Several minutes later he reached his little cottage, where Loftskip was prancing about her pen, eagerly skipping towards the fence once she spotted Sportacus.
“Hi there, Loftskip! Hungry?” He asked, laughing as she nickered at his ear, knocking off his hat.
He threw her a small pile of hay, watching for a moment as Loftskip went to town on the hay, munching happily and occasionally nudging at his hand, begging for attention. Sportacus relented and stroked her neck and patted her nose. He gave her a hug before heading back inside, taking his things inside.

He tossed his briefcase inside and was about to hang up his coat when he noticed something on his table.
It was a package, wrapped with tan fabric and tied up with a twine string. Clinging weakly to the fabric and secured with the string was a letter in a fancy, crisp white envelope.
Sportacus’s smile faded as he slowly approached the table and, in one quick movement, he tugged the envelope free and examined it more closely.
The envelope was sealed with a handsome seal, featuring a holly leaf and a mountain, the seal of the North Pole, in rich crimson wax. Turning the letter over, he read the address:
To: Sportacus
From: Íþro
Sportacus’s eyes widened. A letter from his brother?
His heart sunk slightly; a letter this out of nowhere could not be anything good.
Sighing uneasily, Sportacus opened the envelope with a crisp snap. He pulled out the lovely stationery and flipped it open, looking over the clean cursive writing. The message was to the point, but still a little on the longer side.

“L ítilblá,

I hope this letter finds you well. I also hope that your mission in LazyTown is going well and that you´ve managed to make an impact on the community.

I write to you less out of lacking confidence and more from pressure from the magic council. As Christmas draws near, the members of the council are growing anxious over the stability of the magic portal. I´ve held them off as long as possible, but now I must ask for you to complete a small favor for us all here.

I´ve sent a package to you with this letter attached. The package contains a special, magically-enhanced vial with water from the northernmost point of the North Pole, the most magical and enchanted spot on this earth. I need you to bring this vial and take a sample of the air around the portal’s location. Once you do, reply to me with the amount of accumulated magic. This will let myself and the council know if the portal is stable enough for Christmas. We hope that the portal will remain strong enough that you’ll be bought more time to reignite the Christmas spirit in LazyTown.

The portal is located on the northern side of town, close to a grove of hemlocks by the main road. Open the vials and pass it through the air. Do this three times and seal the vial immediately, then check the vial. You know what pure magic looks like already.

Whatever happens, I wish you well brother. I hope to see you soon, and always remember to guard your heart.

- Íþrottaálfurinn

Sportacus placed the letter back down on the table, his brow furrowed with concern. His attention turned to the package on the table. He picked up the box and yanked the twine off, carefully unwrapping the cloth from the main box. Opening the box, he pulled out the vial.
It was a beautifully crafted vial, made with crystal-like class and a topper made of artistically fashioned metal, formed in the shape of a unicorn, its long tail forming the clasp.
In the glass was the smallest amount of shimmering water, which reflected the sunlight into a shining rainbow that reflected across the room.
Sportacus bit his lip and looked at his watch.
This shouldn’t take him too long.
Hopefully.
As much as he wanted to rush to the hospital and check on Robbie, this was a much more pressing matter.
The magic council were not a group to keep waiting.
Sighing, Sportacus grabbed a scarf from his coat rack and stuffed the vial into his pocket. He walked out of his house and towards the northern parts of town.

He was so focused on his mission that he failed to hear someone calling his name, nor did he anticipate having something small thrown at his back.
Sportacus let out a less than composed squeak and turned around, his shock melting away as he finally noticed who was trying to get his attention.
Finally catching up to him, a small basket in one of his hands, was Robbie.
“Robbie?” asked Sportacus.
“Apologies. I didn’t want to throw something at you, but you were walking pretty fast and I knew I couldn’t catch up. It was just a pebble, by the way. I wouldn’t throw anything bigger or worse.” Robbie said.
Sportacus blinked, a relieved smile crossing his face.
“You’re out of the hospital?”
“The nurses checked on me this morning and said I was fine. They told me to call them if I started feeling worse, but they weren’t worried.” Robbie said, shrugging.
“Well, I’m very glad to hear that!” Sportacus said with a laugh.
Robbie nodded, a strange look in his eyes.
“They said you dropped me off.” He said. “Thank you for that.”
“You’re welcome, though I would never consider not taking you, for the record.” Sportacus said.
“Well that’s good to know. Good to have it cleared that you wouldn’t let me freeze to death.” Robbie said with a smirk.
Sportacus laughed.
“Well, I just wanted to make that clear!” He said.
“And I’m saying that you didn’t need to. I assumed that already, and now I’m concerned that you had to clear that up.” Robbie said cheekily.
“Well I – ugh!” Sportacus said, giving up and laughing. “I don’t know what I’m saying.”
“Me neither.” Robbie said with a chuckle.

The two men laughed for a moment, standing together on the road, the wind rustling the grasses around them.
The wind reminded Sportacus of why he was out there, his smile fading.
“So, Magnus, what are you doing out here? I hope you remember that town is that way.” Robbie said, pointing in the opposite direction.
Sportacus smirked and shook his head.
“No, I remember that. I’m actually on some important business.”
“Oh? For whom?”
Sportacus pulled the vial out of his pocket and showed it to Robbie.
“The magic council. It’s a sort of inner circle of powerful magic users back at the North Pole. They’re the ones who assigned me to LazyTown in the first place.” He explained.
Robbie looked over the vial and whistled lowly.
“It’s beautiful craftsmanship. And the water?” He asked.
“Water from the northernmost point of the North Pole. It should help me determine the strength of the portal.”
Robbie nodded.
“Do you mind if I tag along? I brought some tea to share with you, but if you’re busy…”
“Oh! Oh no, I’m not that busy. You can come along.” Sportacus said, gesturing for Robbie to follow him.

As the two walked along, Sportacus, momentarily, considered once again bringing up the subject of faeries to Robbie. Now that Robbie was better, would this be a more optimal moment? Would Robbie be receptive? Sportacus still wasn’t sure, but before he could puzzle it much more, the two had reached the hemlock grove where the portal was said to be.
“You get so focused during your walks, Magnus. Something on your mind?” Robbie inquired.
Sportacus bit the inside of his cheek as he shrugged.
“Yes. Maybe we can talk about it later.” He said.
Robbie raised an eyebrow.
“Well, alright? If that’s what you want.” He said, peering around him. “Are we here?”
“Almost.” Sportacus said, taking a few steps forward.
Those next few steps must’ve done the trick, for as soon as Sportacus stepped past a few upturned stones, he could feel something uncomfortable and prickly running up and down his spine. The sensation was like static electricity in the air, and his mustache became kinked from the heavy atmosphere. Mixing with the prickly feeling came an air of giddiness that nearly drew uncontrollable giggles from Sportacus, like his organs were lifting up in his body.
Sportacus shuddered and shook out the initial sensations, the atmosphere dulling back to only slight discomfort mixed with mild giddiness.
“We’re here.” He finally managed to say, turning just in time to watch Robbie take those same steps forward.
He wasn’t quite as ready for Robbie to nearly topple to the ground from the shift. He ran to the side and helped Robbie get back to his feet, his balance left unsteady.
“Are you okay??” Sportacus asked, still holding Robbie up by the shoulders.
“I-I’ll be fine. That, ugh, that was terrible. It felt like I swallowed a porcupine and was wrapped up in fresh laundry at the same time.” Robbie grunted, finally regaining his composure.
Looking at his back, Sportacus paused as he watched Robbie’s wings flutter and, ever so briefly, become visible, before fading back into near invisibility.
“Is everything alright with you?” asked Robbie, peering up.
His lips thinning, Sportacus slowly nodded.
“Yes. Yes, I’m fine.” He said quietly, helping Robbie upright. “But we should do this quickly. It’s not good for us to be around such pure magic for too long.”

With Robbie back on his feet, Sportacus stepped forward and uncorked the vial. Taking a deep breath, Sportacus held the vial above his head and calmly swept it through the air, passing it three times. A humming sound filled the air as he did, and Robbie watched in awe as the vial glistened and glowed, shining with golden light in the air.
After the third pass, Sportacus quickly pulled back the vial and capped it with the decorative topper. With a single nod, Sportacus walked away from the portal, helping Robbie back over the threshold.
The two found a comfortable spot a few feet away, both sitting on a large, flat rock in the middle of the field. As Sportacus watched the vial, Robbie pulled out the thermos and small travel cups from the basket. He poured a generous amount of tea for both of them and set Sportacus’s cup down next to him.
Sportacus watched carefully, chewing on his bottom lip as the solution settled to the bottom, the glowing light forming tiny granules of golden sand at the bottom of the water. He waited, second after second, the granules piling in the vial.
After a few minutes, Sportacus examined the vial, his face graying as he looked over the vial repeatedly. He shook his head and sighed, setting the vial down on his lap.
“So, how is the portal? Is it strong?” asked Robbie expectantly.
Sportacus looked up and sighed once more.
“No, it’s not. This,” He said, holding up the vial with barely a gram’s worth of magic. “is how much residual magic the portal is emanating. For a strong portal, this vial should be half full.”
“Oh. So very bad.” Robbie said quietly.
“Very.” Sportacus said, stuffing the vial back into his pocket. “This is very bad. This is very, very bad.”
“Here.” Robbie said, holding out the tea cup. “Sip on this.”
Sportacus looked over and, with a weak smile, he took the cup and sipped. The tea was very mild with a hint of flowery fragrance like lavender. He nodded and placed the cup in his lap.
“It’s very good.” He said.
“Thank you. It’s new, imported from Europe.” Robbie said.

The two sat together, quietly sipping their tea as they gazed out upon the town. With the overcast day, the whole world was tinted with a pale gray color. The grasses rustled around them, disturbing a few birds up and into the air.
Sportacus sighed.
“I have no clue what I’m going to do, Robbie.” He finally admitted.
“About the portal?” asked Robbie.
Sportacus nodded.
“We have only two days until Christmas. Two days. And I still haven’t reignited the holiday spirit in LazyTown enough to stabilize the portal. How am I supposed to do that in just two days if I haven’t been able to do it over these last few weeks?” He said worriedly.
Robbie looked at his teacup thoughtfully.
“Well, who says you have to do it in just two days?”
Sportacus looked up.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, is the portal strong enough to hold for the holiday? If it is, you could, theoretically, just keep doing what you’re doing already and just rethink your strategy once Christmas is over.” Robbie suggested.
Sportacus gave the man a weak look.
“It really isn’t. If the vial were a quarter full, maybe. But there’s barely even a drop in here. We’ll be lucky if the portal even exists come Christmas.” He said, his voice dropping.
“Oh.” Robbie said, his eyes widening.
Sportacus sighed and buried his face in his hands.
“What am I going to do? I can’t let the portal die.” He said, his voice muffled.
He felt Robbie pat his back.
“I don’t know, but something tells me you’ll figure it out.” Robbie said.
Sportacus looked up, his brow furrowed.
“How are you so confident?” He asked.
“Maybe because you’ve managed to reach so many people already? You keep forgetting that.” Robbie said, taking another sip of his tea.
“I suppose. It hasn’t done much though.”
“Maybe not for the holiday spirit, but they are happier. Isn’t that what matters in the end?”
“Yes, it does.” Sportacus said, nodding. “It’s the most important.”
Sportacus’s face fell.
“But, keeping the portal strong is just as important for my people. They’re all counting on me.”
“I know. Trust me, I know.” Robbie said. “But I know you’ve got this. At the least, I know you’ll be able to keep that portal up and strong for Christmas.”
“But how do you know that?”
“I just do. Not sure how, but I know you’ll do it because you’re some miracle worker that’s managed to help five children with their problems over the course of less than a month, when they’ve all been dealing with their issues for years.” Robbie said plainly.
Sportacus chuckled.
“Thank you, Robbie.”

Robbie smiled and took a sip from his cup of tea, looking down thoughtfully as he did.
“What are you thinking about?” asked Sportacus.
“Last night.” Robbie said. “Magnus, do you…what exactly happened last night?”
Sportacus paused, lowering his own teacup. His eyes began to widen.
“Wait. You don’t…you don’t remember last night? Nothing at all?” He asked.
Robbie shook his head.
“Just bits and pieces. I remember falling through the ice, and you were there. But nothing after that. Anything else came from the nurses, but they just said you dropped me off at some point last night and that it’d been almost half an hour after I fell through the ice.”
Sportacus could feel his heart fall, his confusion levying heavily on his mind. He thickly swallowed.
“What bits and pieces do you remember? Is there anything concrete?”
“No. I just know things happened, but I couldn’t tell you what specifically.” Robbie admitted.
Sportacus bit his lip and looked down, his face graying slightly.
“So? What happened last night? Nothing bad I hope?” asked Robbie, looking over.
Of course nothing bad. Nothing even all that notable. Just the usual. I saw your wings and I believe, possibly, that you were the appointed guardian of LazyTown sometime ago. I’m not sure why your wings are so faded or why you don’t seem to remember any of that, but that’s not that big of a deal I bet! Oh, and you might’ve called me cute too. No big deal.” Sportacus thought to himself, grimacing slightly.
Of course, it was all a big deal. But the question was how much should he say? He could simply tell Robbie that they had a mostly calm night where Sportacus helped him get dry and fed him soup. That all wasn’t technically untrue, and it would be the most important things he was looking for. Perhaps he’d start with that.
“Well, after I pulled you out of the pond, I brought you back to your home and helped get you dry. I got you a blanket and made you some soup. After you ate half a bowl I realized you weren’t getting better so I brought you to the hospital.” Sportacus explained.
Robbie crooked the corner of his mouth, looking mildly displeased with the answer.
“Is that all?” He asked.
Sportacus felt himself start to sweat.
“Well…were you expecting something else?” He asked.
Robbie’s gaze fell, and he sighed.
“I suppose not. I just feel like more happened. I can’t put a finger on it, but I just know that something’s missing.” He said, before his gaze returned to Sportacus.
Sportacus’s pupils shrunk a little.
“Magnus, are you sure? Can you remember anything else that happened?” He asked.
You’re a faerie, and I’m not completely sure but I think you might like me back romantically.” Sportacus thought and could feel at the back of his tongue.

He wanted so badly to say that.

But how would Robbie respond to something that sounds as crazy as that?
Sportacus hadn’t considered it, but Robbie was a man who prided himself on logic. What good would come from suddenly telling him that he is a winter faerie? Something told him that Robbie wouldn’t take it well, especially given how faded his wings were. Something was wrong, and Sportacus had a funny feeling his seeming unawareness of his own magical sense was part of the problem. And if that was the case, suddenly telling him he has wings and is a faerie wouldn’t go over well.
And that doesn’t even start him on the whole attraction subject.
He wanted to talk to Robbie about all of that, but something was holding him back.
Something that kept his jaw wired shut.

“…I’m sure.” Sportacus finally responded softly.
Robbie’s expression softened, and transitioned from expectation to, potentially, disappointment.
“I guess it’s just me then. Funny, I really feel like there was something else that happened, but I suppose it’s just me. The doctors did say that hypothermia can cause memory loss. I suppose they really aren’t kidding.”
“I guess so.” Sportacus said quietly.
Robbie gave a small sigh and swirled the last of the tea in his teacup. He slurped down the last of it before placing the cup back into his basket.
“Do you want more? I have some more tea in the thermos.” Robbie said.
“Oh, no I’m good. Thank you.” Sportacus said, giving a weak smile.
“Very well.” Said Robbie, standing up. “Then I’m sorry to cut this short, but I should probably get back into town. With me being gone all day, I imagine I have a stack of paperwork to address as well as some confused parents to assuage.”
“Really? You couldn’t stay a little longer?” Sportacus said, standing up as well.
Robbie glanced down at his new wristwatch and shook his head.
“I could, but I don’t believe it’d be a great idea.” Robbie said, looking back at him.
“Oh.” Sportacus said, feeling himself droop. “Well, thank you for taking the time to see me. And…I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
“It was my pleasure.” Robbie said. “And, well, I wish you luck in fixing the issue with the holiday spirit.”
“Thank you.” Said Sportacus quietly.
Robbie picked up the picnic basket and started to walk away, before stopping and turning on his heel.
“I don’t know how much it’s worth, but for the record, I have full faith that you’ll figure something out. And if you need help, just let me know.”
Sportacus gave him a small smile.
“Thank you, Robbie.”
Robbie gave his own small smile, nodded, then continued walking away.

Sportacus stayed at the rock for a little longer before going on his way as well, walking back to his home.

--

Sportacus sat out on the porch of his cottage, looking out at the sky above LazyTown.

The sun was starting to set, and the clouds had parted just enough to let the area be bathed in the orange glow of the early evening. The air was cool but not unpleasantly so, allowing Sportacus to comfortably sit outside and just watch the world around him.
The lights down in the town were slowly coming on, the sounds outside slowing and quieting with each passing minute.
Yet even as things began to slow and quiet, Sportacus couldn’t embrace nor enjoy the tranquility and stillness.
His mind was all a tizzy, altogether too crazy to even stop and acknowledge how peaceful the night was.
He barely even acknowledged the taste of the honey-based treat he was nibbling at, a treat from his home.

How could he? There was too much to consider and think about.
First, as usual, there was the ever-present concern of helping the people of LazyTown with their issues concerning not just the holiday, but with their personal lives.
Then there was the issue of maintaining the portal that, ultimately, Sportacus was beginning to feel would be far harder than he’d hoped, if not possibly impossible.
And yet on top of that still was Robbie.
Robbie the winter faerie.
Robbie the winter faerie who was seemingly unaware of his own magic.
Robbie the winter faerie that Sportacus had feelings for and, potentially, Robbie reciprocated but it’s all too unsure because Robbie can’t remember a single detail about last night.

Sportacus sighed and, burying his hands in his hands, he leaned against the wall.
One thing at a time, most important thing first.
He had to get the town’s spirit back in shape before Christmas.
But how?
Sportacus knew that humans are complicated and, even if he hadn’t, Robbie had made that perfectly clear over their many interactions. And if humans are complicated, then the issues they dealt with were even more complicated, especially the ones Sportacus had to face.
Issues with logical belief, issues of divorce, issues of parental absence, issues of poverty, issues of grief.
It made Sportacus’s heart sink like a stone and his mind grow heavy as he just tried to process everything that he’d encountered over the last few weeks.
No, he understood for a fact that he couldn’t solve their problems, much less get them to a point where they’d even be open to celebrating the holiday to the extent that the portal would be kept open.
He couldn’t, he knew that.
At least, not naturally, though the methods he was currently using.
But how would he otherwise go about this issue?

Sportacus’s hands flopped to the floor, hitting something hard in his pocket.
He pulled out the vial that still contained the portal’s magic, glowing brighter in the evening light.
He sighed again; he needed to let his brother know the bad news.
He looked at the glowing magic, watching it twinkle and shine.

Wait.

An idea flashed in Sportacus’s mind. He held out a hand and snapped his fingers, creating a brief swirl of sparkling, blue magic.
His eyes widened.
Of course, humans were complicated, but magic was terribly powerful. If anything could solve something difficult, magic had the innate strength to do wonders, right?
Sportacus jumped to his feet, his mind feverishly weighing the potential merit of the plan.
With magic, he could solve nearly all of the children’s problems as well as much of the town’s concerns. He couldn’t solve absolutely everything, of course, but he could do just enough to not draw too much suspicion yet still bring joy to those who needed it most.
Besides, he could chalk it up to the miracle of the Christmas season, couldn’t he?
This question made Sportacus feel a slight bitterness at the idea.
His brother had asked him to be discrete when he first left, and to keep his usage of magic discrete.
Outright making miracles happen with his magic was the exact opposite of this, and would the people possibly question the sudden outpouring of good fortune to the entire town, seemingly out of nowhere?
Sportacus drooped a little at the idea.
…Then again, Robbie had pointed out that, despite Sportacus’s attempts to be discrete up to this point, he hadn’t done a great job.
Ponds freezing out of nowhere, houses becoming suddenly decorated, bringing people back to old, forgotten places far out of time…no, Sportacus hadn’t been the most discrete.
So it wouldn’t be so bad now, right, if he hadn’t been discrete in the first place? Why start now?
Sportacus screwed up his nose; he hated that line of thinking.
But…
Sportacus sighed.
“If I have the ability to do more to help the town, beyond normal human means, it would be irresponsible of me to not use it. It won’t be anything big, just a little to help make this time of the year light and happy once again for everyone.” He said to himself quietly.

He looked back at his table, seeing the letter still sitting there.
And maybe I could help stabilize the portal beforehand. I could get things secure before letting Íþro know. The council wouldn’t have to worry, and everything will be fixed enough for Santa to come through.” Sportacus thought, feeling a little guilt about delaying his response.
But it was for a good cause.
If this worked….no, it should work, then everything will be settled.
The portal will be strong again, and LazyTown will be happy.
Sportacus nodded and set the vial aside on the table, checking his watch for the time.
He’d head out in a few hours.

Once the time passed, Sportacus walked out to Loftskip, who was relaxing under her cover. She perked up and trotted towards the fence, looking happily at her owner.
Sportacus gave a small smile as he petted her muzzle.
“I hope you’re ready to fly, Loftskip. We have some work to do tonight.” Sportacus said, grabbing her harness.
He made swift work getting Loftskip ready, clipping in her bridle and throwing a small blanket over her back as a makeshift saddle. He leapt atop her, jostling the bells on her harness. With a pat to her neck, Loftskip cantered up into the air, running higher and higher towards the clouds.
Using the reigns, Sportacus guided Loftskip to hover a few feet above the tallest buildings in town, just high enough that no one should spot them at this time of night.
He looked down upon the buildings, looking at the darkened windows. He hoped everyone was sleeping soundly.
Cupping his hands, Sportacus hesitated for only a moment before he blew into his hands, uttering a few whistles and chirps as he did. He did this repeatedly, each time stoking the blue light within his grasp. Spare sparkles and swirls spun from the collected magic, tickling Loftskip’s ears and Sportacus’s mustache.
He stopped once he’d collected a ball of magic the size of a softball. Opening his cupped hands, he whispered to the magic.
“Go and help my friends with their worries. Help make them happy. But leave Robbie for me to work with. I have a surprise for him.”
The ball twinkled and hummed before jetting up and out of Sportacus’s hands. It hovered for only a second more before it zipped down and into the streets, illuminating the walls and windows and leaving trails of stardust as it did.
Sportacus watched only for a moment as the magic went about its work, trailing magic throughout every street in town.

I just hope that this works.” Sportacus thought worriedly, before he patted Loftskip’s neck.
The two had already settled back at the cottage once the magic had finished its work, spreading one last burst of magic that swept through the town, before the town fell dark once more.

Chapter Text

“Master Stingy, your breakfast is ready. Would you prefer to have apple juice or orange juice this morning?” asked Stingy’s maid, Janice.

Stingy’s eyes slowly opened, and he stretched and yawned.
“The orange juice this morning please, Janice. And I’d like the comics section of the newspaper too this morning.” He said, laying back into his pillow.
“Very good, Master Stingy.” Said Janice, closing the door quietly behind her.
Stingy sighed wearily, turning back over to curl more tightly into his blankets.
He reached for his favorite stuffed animal, Piggy, and curled into a little ball.
He did not want to wake up today.
All he wanted was to sleep in, especially without school that day.
What’s the point of cancelling school if no one in this town even celebrates Christmas?” Thought Stingy as he stared at his stuffed animal’s button eyes. “I suppose it doesn’t matter. No school is still no school.
He let himself be slowly dragged back to sleep, pulling Piggy tighter.

Distantly, he heard a door slam shut.

“Frederick? Janice? I’m home!”
Stingy’s eyes shot open.
He recognized that voice.
“M-Master Spoilero? We were not expecting your arrival!” Stingy could hear Frederick stutter.
“Neither was I! But the company told me I could head home early so I jumped on the first plane back to LazyTown!”
Stingy could hear footsteps.
“I’ll tell you, it’s like a miracle. My schedule just cleared right up and there weren’t any sudden surprises at all!”

Stingy immediately leapt out of his bed, throwing his sheets over the back of the bed.
He snatched his robe from the bedpost and threw it on haphazardly, tying the sash tightly.
He burst through the door, nearly knocking poor Janice backwards.
“Master Stingy?? What is the matter??” She asked while fumbling with the breakfast tray.
Stingy didn’t answer his maid as he flew down the stairs, stopping as he finally saw him.
His father turned, his expression shifting from surprise to joy, a smile crossing his face. He dropped his umbrella and briefcase.
“F-Father?” asked Stingy, his eyes welling up with tears.
“Stingy…” Said Mr. Spoilero, holding his arms open wide.
“Father!” Stingy cried, nearly leaping down the stairs so he could reach his father faster. He jumped into his father’s arms, hugging his dad tightly. Stingy couldn’t help himself as he cried, his tears staining his father’s nice suit jacket.
“Woah! I take it you missed me?” said Mr. Spoilero, hugging his son back.
“Badly!” Stingy laughed and sniffled, clinging to his father.
“I missed you too, son.” Mr. Spoilero said quietly, hugging his son tighter.

Mr. Spoilero looked up as Frederick and a very frazzled Janice approached them, a twinkle in their eyes.
Mr. Spoilero grinned and picked up his son, propping him up.
“Frederick! Do you think the cooks could whip up some pancakes and bacon?”
“Why, I’m certain they could sir!” Frederick said, nodding.
“Then tell them to fire up the stoves! And make some hot chocolate while they’re at it! We’re going to have a proper breakfast, and I mean all of us!” Mr. Spoilero announced, laughing happily as Stingy hugged him again.
“I’ll make sure that the chefs put faces made of fruit and chocolate in the pancakes as well.” Said Frederick, hiding a smile as he and Janice rushed towards the kitchen.
Stingy was absolutely beaming as he smiled at his dad.
“I’m so glad you are home, Father.” He said.
Mr. Spoilero smiled and hugged him.
“I’m glad to be home too. Now let’s go have some pancakes!” He said as he carried Stingy to the dining room.

--

“Kid, wake up.”

Trixie grumbled and turned the other direction.
She got another half-second of peace before a hand shook her awake.
“Go away, Dad. I bet you’re drunk again.” Trixie muttered.
“For your information, I’m not drunk. Then again, might explain all the stuff in the living room.” He said.
Trixie furrowed her brow and sat up, frowning.
“Stuff? What stuff?” She asked.
“Huh. Guess that means you didn’t steal it or anything.” Trixie’s dad responded.
“You’re one to talk. And again, what stuff?” asked Trixie.
“Get your butt out of bed and take a look.” Trixie’s dad said, fighting back a burp as he walked out of the room.
Trixie frowned and got out of bed reluctantly. She rubbed her eyes and yawned as she went into the living room.

She froze, her eyes widening, once she finally got a good look at the living room.

It was like she and her dad had gone on the craziest, biggest shopping spree of the century. The counters of their kitchen, usually covered in dirty dishes and empty beer bottles, were instead blanketed by foods of all kinds, from large poultry to vegetables of all colors to sweets and pastries that Trixie had only dreamed of.
She blinked and rubbed her eyes again, before turning to look at the proper living room.
This wasn’t her living room, was it?
It couldn’t be, because this living room was neat.
It was well lit and not covered in cigarette butts and bottles.
It was decorated with festive décor and had presents numbering in the dozens under a well-trimmed evergreen.
No, this couldn’t even possibly be her living room.
Trixie slapped her cheeks and looked again, but the bounty hadn’t vanished.

Trixie’s dad looked doubtfully at one of his bottles of whiskey.
“So, you sure you have no clue where this all came from?” He asked.
Trixie shook her head.
“No way in heck. This…” She said, her eyes watering. “…this is beyond impossible.”
Trixie’s dad crooked his mouth and pulled a carton of eggs from the pile.
“Well, I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Want some eggs? We have real tomatoes and potatoes now. I could make us a mean scramble with hash browns.” He offered.
Trixie nodded absently as she continued to stare at her transformed house, all of which left her too speechless and stunned to properly process just whatever miracle had happened last night.

--

The alarm sharply droned on, honking and blaring right in Mayor Meanswell’s ear.

Mayor Meanswell mumbled and tensed, his eyes shooting wide open. He looked about wildly, his gaze finally settling on the alarm clock.
Frowning, he whacked the top of his alarm clock, finally stopping the horrible noise.
Grumbling, Mayor Meanswell swung his legs out of bed and walked to his closet, pulling out his usual mustard ensemble.
After getting dressed, Mayor Meanswell walked down the hallway, pausing as he reached his niece’s room. He creaked open the door and peeked inside, seeing his niece sleeping peacefully.
He smiled and shut the door quietly, sighing.
He was glad to see his niece happy and at ease for at least one moment this month.
He considered, for a while, simply not coming to work. Maybe things would be okay without him for just one day, and he could take the time instead to be with Stephanie. Maybe he could take her out window shopping, or to play outside, or even just to have a quiet day together reading books.
He sighed.
He would love to do all that, but there was simply too much to do.
I’m sorry, Stephanie. Hopefully my schedule will clear up soon.” Thought Mayor Meanswell as he shook his head and went down the stairs.

Mayor Meanswell started preparing his usual breakfast: a cup of breakfast tea and toast with light butter and orange marmalade. He flicked through the newspaper, idly reading the headlines as he sipped on his weak tea.
As he flipped to the other page, he jumped as a loud knocking rang against his door.
“Oh! Oh my! W-Who is it?” He called, feverishly straightening out his tie.
“Mayor Meanswell! Mayor Meanswell! It’s Ms. Busybody; please let me in, I have some fantastic news to tell you!”
“Oh my! Just a second, Ms. Busybody!” Mayor Meanswell said, stumbling to his feet and hastily making his way to the door.
He fumbled with his tie and smoothed his remaining hair quickly before he opened the door, shooting his best smile.
“Why hello Ms. Busybody! What a wonderful surprise to see you!” Mayor Meanswell said, trying to imitate those suave men he saw in the movies by leaning on the door frame.
“Mayor Meanswell!” Ms. Busybody said, missing the attempted suaveness. “It’s a miracle, sir! All those contracts, all those meetings, all those disputes; they’re finished! Done! There’s not one thing left to do!”
Mayor Meanswell’s smile vanished as he stood back up straight.
“W-What? What are you talking about, Ms. Busybody?” He asked.
“Your work! All those files, all that work it’s…it’s all processed! I walked into town hall today, like usual, and was prepared to look through the usual pile of new documents, but there was nothing! Absolutely nothing! Zilch! Nada!”
“But that…that is impossible! How could there be no new work? There’s always new work!” Mayor Meanswell said, shaking his head.
“I don’t know! There just isn’t! And the work left outstanding was completely done! It was all left in the “ready to file” pile, so it’s all complete!” Ms. Busybody said, nodding as Mayor Meanswell let her inside.
She flopped down onto an armchair.
“It’s impossible! Or, if not impossible, it’s a…a…”

“…a miracle?” Mayor Meanswell suggested.
Ms. Busybody’s lips thinned.
“Well, I hate to call it something like that. You see I don’t believe in miracles, generally. But…I suppose I’ll have to reconsider, won’t I?” She said.
“I will too.” Mayor Meanswell said, stroking his chin. “Well, um, is there anything left in my schedule? At all?”
Ms. Busybody shook her head.
“Not a thing. Not for almost another month.” She said.
“Oh my! But h-how is that possible??” Mayor Meanswell asked.
“I already said I have no clue!” Ms. Busybody said exasperatedly. “There’s no logical explanation.”
“There really isn’t…” Mayor Meanswell said.

A loud pop startled both Mayor Meanswell and Ms. Busybody. The two’s attention snapped to the kitchen, with Mayor Meanswell relaxing first once he noticed the toaster.
“A-Ah, toast is done. Would you like some? Or perhaps some tea?” He offered.
“Y-Yes, some tea would be wonderful.” Said Ms. Busybody, nodding.
Mayor Meanswell poured some of the hot water into a teacup and lowered the teabag into it. He handed Ms. Busybody the cup, turning just in time to see Stephanie walking down the stairs.
“Uncle? What’s with all the noise?” Stephanie asked groggily, yawning widely.
“Oh! Well, you see Stephanie…” Mayor Meanswell started.
“Your uncle’s schedule seems to have suddenly opened up, Stephanie. Neither of us have any work to do today, but we’re not sure how that happened.” Ms. Busybody explained.
Stephanie’s eyes widened.
“Really? That’s amazing!” She said, looking at her uncle. “Uncle, what are you planning to do with your day off?”
Mayor Meanswell prepared to answer, before he stopped. He looked at his niece and thought carefully, before nodding, a small smile crossing his face.
“Well, was there something you’ve been meaning or wanting to do for a while?” He asked.
Stephanie thought for a moment before shrugging.
“The new window displays are going up today at the toy shop and Bunker’s. I was thinking of maybe looking at them.” She said.
“Then that’s what we’ll do today! Then we’ll go get lunch at Marble’s!” Mayor Meanswell said with a nod.
Stephanie blinked, smiling.
“R-Really? Are you sure?” She asked.
“Of course! I want to do nothing else with my day off! It would be a perfect day to spend time with…” He said, looking over at Ms. Busybody. “…with both the special ladies in my life!”
Ms. Busybody blushed a bright pink, standing up cautiously.
“Oh, Mayor Meanswell you don’t need to do that.” She said.
“I insist! Now let’s all get some breakfast, and then we’ll hit up the shops!” Mayor Meanswell said, leading his niece along.

Ms. Busybody and Stephanie finally let a smile slip past them and followed along, leaving the teacups and untouched toast on the counter.

--

Sportacus stuffed his hands in his pockets and began to whistle as he walked into LazyTown’s main street.

He looked about, a sense of nervousness yet excitement filling his heart as he passed by the first couple on the street.
“I don’t know how, honey! It was just under my hat! Fresh bills too.” Said the man, his eyes wide as he stared at the bundle of cash in his hands.
“Why question it, sweetie? It’s just a blessing! Now we can finally get the muffler fixed on the car!” Said the man’s wife, bouncing on her heels and grinning excitedly.
Sportacus smiled and nodded, waving at the duo as they passed by.

He stepped to the side as a boy walked by with a puppy, laughing as he walked along.
The boy’s confused parents seemed less thrilled.
“I don’t get it, Martha. Our boy’s dog dies just a few days ago, then a puppy pops up on our porch that bonds with him immediately? This is strange.” The man puzzled.
“Johnny is happy. That’s all that matters.” Said the woman.
Sportacus chuckled as he heard the puppy bark, and the boy talk happily to his new pal.

Sportacus continued to walk along, listening to the various, excited and surprised comments from the various townsfolk.
“It just came to me last night! Ten years of failing to create a viable thesis, and the most brilliant idea just popped out of nowhere! I wrote the first quarter of it in just a few hours!”
“I don’t know! I found the money in one of my old sauce pots! It’s strange, it’s more than enough to pay off my debts to the water company!”
“Five years of nothing and my dad finally calls me! He said he loves me and is planning to visit for the holidays!”
“My patent finally cleared! We’ll be able to produce the prototypes next week!”
“It’s all fantastic! It’s like…”
“Kind of like…”
“Almost like…”

Magic?” Thought Sportacus as he chuckled to himself, walking along with a skip in his step.
“Mr. Íþróttsson! Mr. Íþróttsson!”
Sportacus stopped and smiled as Ziggy ran up to him, bouncing and grinning.
“Hello Mr. Zweets! Are you enjoying your first day of vacation?” He asked.
“A-Absolutely!” Ziggy beamed. “You’ll never believe what happened last night!”
“Oh? What happened?”
“My dad came home! He told my mom that he was sorry for yelling and wants to make things okay. My dad and mom are going to be together for Christmas!” Ziggy said cheerfully!
“That’s wonderful Mr. Zweets! I’m glad that everything worked out for your parents.” Sportacus said with a smile.
“So am I!” Ziggy said, munching down on a frosted cookie. “Plus, now my mom is making her famous cookies again!”
Sportacus laughed.
“Well just don’t eat too many! You’ll make yourself sick.”
“I won’t!” Ziggy said, his voice muffled by cookie. “Have a good day, Mr. Íþróttsson! My mom is calling me!”
Sportacus waved at Ziggy as the boy ran off and into the open arms of his mother, who also looked tired but happy.

Sportacus continued on his way, happily taking in the sight of the various happy people.
He paused to watch Stingy walking with his father, the two chatting away and barely aware of the people around them.
He turned and saw Trixie, dressed in a brand-new coat and scarf, looking about with a more suspicious expression at the people around her. Sportacus’s smile faded slightly upon seeing her, but he silently hoped that the magic gave her what she and her father needed.
His smile returned once he passed by Stephanie, who gave him a friendly wave as she walked hand-in-hand with Mayor Meanswell, whose other arm was linked with Ms. Busybody’s.
Sportacus sighed contently and laughed.
“It’s all turning out so lovely. Everyone seems happy.” He said quietly to himself, looking about.
He stopped once he noticed someone who wasn’t walking with a smile on his face.

Robbie was also out and about, and he looked at everyone with a face that was by no means happy.
In fact, his expression was far closer to Trixie’s: confusion and suspicion about the tonal shift of LazyTown, seemingly focused on the sea of smiles that surrounded him.
He looked about with a furrowed brow and arms crossed, occasionally glancing upwards over the heads of the surrounding people, as if he were looking for something.
Or someone.
Sportacus had a funny feeling that person might be him, but he wasn’t worried.
He had hoped to run into Robbie that morning, so he could enact the final part of his plan.
Smiling once more, Sportacus crossed the street and walked towards Robbie.
“Good morning Robbie!” He said chipperly.
Robbie stopped and nodded at Sportacus.
“Morning.” Robbie said, glancing about the people around him. “Well, everyone seems awfully happy this morning. I wonder what’s up?”
“Heh, yeah, I wonder too.” Sportacus said with a smirk.
Robbie quirked an eyebrow at Sportacus’s comment as he shook his head.
“Well…everyone seems happy. Though I do wonder how you pulled it off. Then again maybe I don’t need to wonder.” He said suspiciously.
Sportacus could feel the unease as his smile faded slightly. He cleared his throat.
“I imagine you do know, but that’s not why I came over.” He said, pulling an envelope out of his pocket. “I was wondering if you might be free tonight?”
He handed the envelope to Robbie, who turned it around to examine it.
“I am. Did you have something in mind?” He asked.
“Perhaps.” Sportacus said with a half-smile. “You’ll just have to see.”
“Oh, a surprise?” Robbie asked, quirking an eyebrow, and smirking slightly. “Is this a ‘I should be excited’ surprise, or a ‘I should be scared’ surprise?”
“The former, hopefully. I think you’ll like it.” Sportacus said.
Robbie crooked his mouth and nodded.
“Then I will see you tonight. I assume the location and time is in the envelope?”
Sportacus nodded.
“You know you could just tell me right now. No need for this formality.” Robbie said, smiling.
“I just thought you were worth the extra theatrics.” Sportacus said.
Robbie paused, his cheeks growing pink.
Sportacus’s instantly darkened to a deep red.
“By that I mean, um, why not make tonight a bit more…magical?” He said weakly.
Robbie smirked.
“Well, thank you for adding an extra spark to the evening. I’ll see you tonight.” He said, waving and walking past.

Sportacus waved until Robbie was long out of sight. Once Robbie was gone he took a deep breath and sighed. He could still feel his cheeks burning bright red.
“Oof. Hopefully he didn’t notice this.” Sportacus said, cupping his hands on his cheeks.
He paused and frowned.
“What am I saying? Of course, he did. Hopefully he just thinks I’m feeling cold.” He said, trying to will away the blush on his cheeks as he walked along, to no avail.

--

Opening the envelope was the priority for Robbie when he arrived home. He read over the note quickly; it listed the time and location for the meeting:
9 pm, Right outside your front stoop.
Well, at least I won’t have to go far tonight.” Thought Robbie amusedly.
He looked up at the clock; after a long day of window shopping and running errands, it was close to 7 pm.
He laid the letter down on the kitchen counter and glanced at his closet thoughtfully.
“Should I dress up?” He pondered, tapping his chin.
On one hand, he had absolutely no clue whether this meeting was formal. True, Magnus had gone to the trouble of writing the meeting instructions on a piece of paper rather than tell him personally, so a little formality was implied. Dressing up might be appropriate.
On the other hand, Robbie would feel a little silly showing up in a nice suit for a casual meeting at the local jazz club if that’s what they were planning to do. And Robbie dreaded the very concept of feeling foolish, even if the foolishness was mostly self-imposed.
For his own fragile security, Robbie wanted to lean towards dressing down, but something compelled him to at least put some effort into his appearance.
“Best that I don’t look too sloppy when meeting him. And besides…it could be a cold night. I should prepare something appropriate for the weather.” Justified Robbie, as he began to look through his various dress shirts.

After minutes of deliberation, Robbie settled on a pale purple button-up, gray suit jacket with matching slacks, black dress shoes, and his usual black winter coat with a pale blue scarf. He combed his hair meticulously, ensuring that every hair was in its place, as he ensured that his shave was clean.
He paused as he laid down the shaving razor.
“I sure am going to a lot of trouble for this meeting.” He said thoughtfully, looking at himself in the mirror.
He shook his head.
“Just a regular meeting. Nothing…nothing more than that. He’s leaving soon, remember?” He told himself.
His expression faded, and he sighed.
“Right. He’s leaving soon.” He said softly, frowning.
He stared at himself in the mirror.
“He’ll…be leaving.” He said wearily.

The sound of his doorbell rang through the townhouse, breaking Robbie from his contemplative moment.

Robbie rushed over to the door after grabbing his pair of gloves. Taking a moment to collect himself, he then opened the door, and came face to face with the smiling elf.
“H-Hello Magnus.” Robbie said, looking over the man. Well, at the least he’d chosen right when it came to how to dress; Sportacus was dressed in a similar, formal fashion.
“Good evening, Robbie.” Sportacus responded. “You look nice!”
“Er, thank you.” Robbie said, clearing his throat. “So, what exactly are these special plans you’ve invited me to?”
“Well, let me just step aside, and you’ll see the first surprise.” Sportacus said, stepping to the right.
“ ‘First surprise’?” asked Robbie, before his expression melted into a stunned one.
Waiting right in front of his house, painted a handsome crimson with gold accents, was an open-top carriage, much like the ones he’d seen in the movies. A man sat up front, his face obscured by his top hat, with his attention turned to the four magnificent stallions who shook their manes and tapped the pavement with their hooves impatiently.
Robbie blinked and rubbed his eyes, expecting to just be seeing things.
The horse-drawn carriage remained.
He rubbed his eyes again.
“I can assure you that the carriage is real.” Sportacus said with a smile.
“I-I bet you could, but I still need a minute.” Robbie said quickly. “I…how?”
Sportacus smirked and snapped his fingers, conjuring a brief spiral of blue magic.
“Right. Magic. Perhaps I should stop asking how you make these things happen.” Said Robbie.
Sportacus extended a hand to the man.
“Well, how does it sound? A nice little carriage ride through LazyTown, just the two of us?” He said.
Robbie instantly blushed.
“I-It sounds a little, erm, intimate, don’t you think?” He asked.
“Well, if we treat it as a ride between two friends, it doesn’t have to be so intimate right?”
“Right. Then, yes. That sounds wonderful.” Said Robbie, taking Sportacus’s hand.

Sportacus led Robbie down the stairs and to the carriage, helping him get carefully onto the seat before boarding himself. He nodded at the mysterious carriage driver, who nodded back before cracking the reigns sharply.
“So, did you hire the driver, or…?” asked Robbie.
“Well it’s a little tricky to explain, but he’s sort of a magic construct.” Sportacus said, poking the driver’s sleeve.
Robbie nearly jumped back once he noticed how the sleeve jiggled, almost like gelatin dessert, before settling back to a solid state.
“I, uh, see.” He said nervously.
“Don’t be afraid! Again, he’s just composed of magic. My magic. So, he’s of no harm to anyone.” Sportacus said reassuringly.
“Then why does he look so…so…” Robbie started, before leaning in close to Sportacus’s ear. “…unnerving?”
Sportacus paused.
“Well…I’ll admit I wasn’t thinking through how the driver would look. I was going for function over flair, but if you’d like I could fix that?”
Robbie looked at the driver thoughtfully.
“No, I think it’s okay.” He said quietly, sitting back against the seat.

The two sat together quietly, looking out at the empty streets illuminated by the pale, yellow streetlights. Robbie listened, sighing softly as he listened to the rhythmic sounds of the horses’ hooves tapping at the pavement, and the turning of the wooden wheels.
Sportacus looked over and gave a small smile.
“Are you enjoying this so far?” He asked.
Robbie hummed and nodded.
“This is all very nice. It’s relaxing.” He said, looking over and smiling. “Thank you for inviting me on this.”
“You’re welcome.” Said Sportacus. “Though we aren’t quite done yet. Look to your right.”
Robbie’s smile faded slightly as he looked over, gasping at the sight.
The sight was something out of a painting, or at least a fancy postcard. Right in the middle of the memorial park, against all realms of plausibility, laid a skating rink. Spinning and striding around the skate went a number of ice skaters, all dressed in winter wear, and all smiling and laughing. A brass band were seated off to one side, playing a tune that Robbie found vaguely familiar, but hadn’t heard in many years.
Looking in front of him, Robbie’s eyes widened as he watched the sight in front of him. The streets had filled with people, all dressed similarly to the skaters. The street was bathed in a warm glow, and somehow Robbie could smell the faint smell of cinnamon, sugar, gingerbread, and peppermint. People shuffled past, carrying beautifully wrapped packages in paper bags as children ran past, licking candy canes and chewing on cookies. A man stood on the street corner in a uniform, ringing a bell and waving to the people. The walls and streetlights were decorated with holly wreathes and lights, and snow fell softly all-around Robbie.
Above him, Robbie saw the tiny, twinkling Christmas lights that hung over the roads like so many stars.
He gaped, looking about once more dumbfoundedly at his surroundings.
“I know, I know, it’s not very discrete. You can see why I had you wait so long. Nobody else is out at this hour, so this is just for you and I.” Sportacus said, smiling.
Robbie looked back over at Sportacus, his expression still dumbfounded.
Sportacus’s smile faded slightly.
“You don’t like my surprise?” He asked.
“What? N-No. I mean, I’m just…” Robbie said, looking over as he heard a choir begin to a sing another song he hadn’t heard in many years. “…just a little surprised. And confused.”
Sportacus looked at him warmly.
“I wanted to give you a special night. I know that my knowledge on making nights special is pretty limited, and maybe a little too Christmas inspired, but I thought you might enjoy all of this regardless.” He said.
Robbie’s expression turned to surprise.
“Oh, well…it is lovely.” He said, smiling up at the lights. “And the lights are nice. Very pretty.”
“Thank you.” Sportacus said, pulling a thermos from seemingly nowhere. “Hot chocolate?”
Please.” Robbie said, surprised by his own eagerness.

The carriage continued on its route, the horses trotting along evenly around the town. Robbie could see that the shop windows were illuminated, with the silhouettes of shopkeepers and customers breaking the glow of the lights. He tried to catch some snow on his tongue, only for the snowflake to vanish beforehand.
An illusion. Right.” Thought Robbie, feeling a little foolish.
“Enjoying the snow?” asked Sportacus.
Robbie nodded.
“I am, though I wish it were real. Come to think of it, I don’t think LazyTown has had real snow in decades.” He said.
“I wish I could’ve made you real snow, but only a winter faerie can do that. We Christmas elves can only make illusions and freeze ponds. It seems specific, but magic is magic.” Sportacus said.
“A ‘winter faerie’? Those sound interesting.” Robbie said, watching a few kids throw snowballs.
“You’ve…never heard of them?” asked Sportacus.
Robbie thought a moment.
“No, doesn’t ring a bell.” He finally answered.
Sportacus’s smile vanished.
“Oh, well that is strange. I, uh, thought everyone knew about them.” He said.
“They must only be well known up at the North Pole.” Robbie said with a smirk. “What are they like?”
“W-Well, I’ve, um, not really met one yet. At least, I don’t think so.” Sportacus said, rubbing his neck awkwardly. “But I hear they’re…they’re…”
Sportacus bit his lip as he thought.
“…beautiful.” He finally said, his cheeks turning pink. “They have dominion over the ice and snow. They’re the ones who make it snow during the winter. They usually live deep in the forests and mountains, under the watch of a king or queen, who keeps an eye on them and keeps them safe. They usually remain in their kingdoms unless commanded by their leader, or, to play the guardian of a mortal town.”
“Guardian? So, they keep the town safe from criminals?”
“That, and they, well, keep the spirit of the town alive.” Sportacus said.
Robbie nodded.
“Sounds like LazyTown could’ve needed one a long time ago.” He said quietly.
He then smiled at Sportacus.
“But at least everyone has you now. I think that’s at least as good, if not better.”
Sportacus’s blush darkened.
“Oh, well…thank you.” He answered, slightly distracted from his disappointment over failing to jog Robbie’s memory.

Robbie looked over at the scene, pausing and looking contemplative as he watched a couple walk by, hand in hand.
“If you would permit me to be a little saccharine for a moment, I have to say you’ve…changed LazyTown since you came here. For the better, of course. This town does feel a little lighter than it has in so long. It’s hard to describe, but it does feel different.”
“Thank you. I have to admit, sometimes it doesn’t feel like that.” Sportacus said.
“Understandable. It’s not any grand changes. I suppose you’d have to have been living here for a while to fully feel and appreciate it.” Robbie said, turning back to Sportacus. “But, if I can say, you have changed something significantly.”
“Oh?”
Robbie smiled and looked down sheepishly, his cheeks growing pink.
“Y-Yes, er, well you’ve…you’ve made my life feel more…lively. Apologies for the weak word choice, but I’m not sure how else to describe it.” He said, laughing quietly. “I’ll admit I wasn’t sure about you when you first came into my office. You were loud and vibrant and…bold. I was startled I bet, maybe even a little frightened, or defensive more. But then you…you helped me smile again.”
Sportacus’s expression softened as he watched Robbie sigh.
“I must admit, it feels like it’s been forever since I was truly happy. And yet, after only a few weeks of you being here, I’m smiling again. Me! Smiling! It feels almost impossible.” Robbie said, chuckling sadly. “Yet…here we are.”
Sportacus smiled.
“I’m glad I was able to help.” He said.
Robbie gave a half-smile, his blush darkening.
“You really do, um…you uh…well, I don’t wish to startle or…or say it incorrectly. But,” Robbie said, sitting up straight and clearing his throat. “y-you make me very, very, uh…happy.”
Sportacus’s blush darkened to red, his smile growing silly.
“That’s funny, because you make me happy too.” He said softly.
Robbie quirked an eyebrow.
“I do?”
Sportacus nodded.
“I’ll admit, you scared me at first too. You were intimidating but…something told me that there was more to you. And as I got to know you, I realized just how…how wonderful of a person you are. You care so much for the students, and, well, really everyone. And,” He said, his ears beginning to burn. “you helped me keep hope as I was here, that I really could do what the council needed me to do.”
“Even as I was telling you you couldn’t?” asked Robbie skeptically.
“Well, true, but you still believed in me in the end, right?” said Sportacus, laughing.
“I did, and do.” Said Robbie.

Sportacus’s laughing faded away as he heard what Robbie said, and instead he paused, his face heating up to the point that he figured his skin would catch fire. He could hear his heart beating in his ears as Robbie scooched a little closer, his gloved hand grazing against his. His stomach began to flutter, and he felt a little sick for a moment. Was he supposed to feel a little ill? Sportacus wasn’t sure, but he didn’t want to stop and ask.
The grazing progressed to definite contact as Robbie’s hand rested on top of Sportacus’s. The two barely had a few inches of space between them as they looked into each other’s eyes.
“Thank you, again. This has been a wonderful evening.” Robbie said, his voice growing quiet.
“I-I’m glad you liked it all.” Sportacus said, smiling nervously. “I wasn’t sure you’d…you know, enjoy it.”
“I did. It’s been amazing. You could almost say, magical.” Robbie said, the space slowly closing between the two men until their noses were brushing against each other.
Sportacus’s breath hitched in his throat and he gulped down a hard breath, his heart beating louder by the moment. The two rested their foreheads against each other, looking straight into each other’s eyes.
They were so agonizingly close.
“I-I, um, am glad to hear all…all that.” Sportacus said, fumbling for his words as he began to close his eyes. “I was hoping maybe that…that you might remember…”

Robbie stopped, freezing and pulling away.
That word, remember, stuck with him.
He sat back, looking around, his smile fading away.
Sportacus, feeling Robbie’s absence, opened his eyes and looked confusedly at him.
“Robbie?” He asked uneasily.
Robbie’s gaze snapped back to him, with Sportacus recoiling at the sadness in his eyes and the, dare he say, hurt in his eyes.
“Was this what this was all for, Magnus?” asked Robbie quietly. “Was all of this part of your little Christmas spirit quest?”
Sportacus’s eyes widened and his face paled.
“W-What? N-No! No, this…this wasn’t…” He started.
“Then what was that little ‘remember’ remark about? What else were you trying to get me to remember?” asked Robbie.
Sportacus’s mouth gaped open and shut, searching and fishing desperately for words that he couldn’t quite reach. His expression grew sad.
Robbie’s own expression grew sad. His brow furrowed, and his gaze drifted to the floor, his lips pursing. He sighed and nodded, then tapped the carriage driver’s arm.
“I’d like to get off.” He said, the driver nodding and pulling back on the reigns.
The carriage came to a stop and Robbie hopped out, stuffing his hands in his pockets and turning to walk away.
Sportacus scrambled out of the carriage and ran up to Robbie.
“Robbie, please, let me explain!” He said desperately. “That’s not what all of this was about!”
“Then why, Magnus? Why did you say something about me remembering something? Were you not trying to make me remember something about Christmas? If that’s the case, why’d you say it?” asked Robbie.
“I-I mean, I wasn’t…that wasn’t the point of tonight! I wanted to give you a nice night, and I thought you might like this! Y-Yeah if it helped you remember why you might’ve liked Christmas, then that would be ni…” Sportacus started, before cringing as he watched Robbie’s face shift.
Robbie’s pupils drifted to the floor, his arms crossing his chest. He lowered his head, his eyes glistening.
“N-No, Robbie, I’m sorry that’s not what I meant – “
“Was this all this was? Did you just care about me, do all of this for me, just to get my supposed ‘spirit’…”
“No! Robbie, I swear,” Sportacus said, looking tearfully at him. “that’s not what any of this was about.”
“But you said something about me ‘remembering’! Why did you say that? Why?” Robbie asked more forcefully.

“I don’t know!” Sportacus said exasperatedly, digging his palms into his forehead. “I didn’t mean to say it!”
“But was that what you were trying to do?? Just tell me if you were!” Robbie said.
“No! I mean, ugh, somewhat?? It wasn’t the main point! That’s not why I was being kind to you all this time, I was kind to you because I like you! I genuinely like you!” Sportacus said uneasily.
“But tonight?” Robbie asked quietly.
Sportacus was breathing in short, shallow gasps, his eyes watering.
“Was it?”
“Robbie,” Sportacus said unsteadily. “maybe I was sort of hoping you’d remember or start to enjoy the Christmas spirit again. Maybe I was because I like you and it’s important to me too, but that’s not what I was trying to get you to remember, and even what I was trying to make you remember wasn’t the main point either. I wanted to give you this great night just to make you happy, but also…also…”
Robbie waited patiently, looking worried as he watched him visibly struggle with himself.
“Magnus?”
“You’re a winter faerie, Robbie! You’re a winter faerie! I-I don’t know if you remember that, but you are! I saw your wings, you have them. You have magic, and I believe you used to be the guardian of LazyTown before I got here.” Sportacus spat out, gasping afterwards and staring at Robbie wearily.

Robbie’s face went white, his eyes widening. He looked at Sportacus with confusion and shock. He gave an uneasy half-smile, chuckling nervously.
“Magnus, that’s ridiculous. D-Don’t faeries have wings? I clearly don’t have any, you can see that can’t you?”
“But you do! You have them right there!” Sportacus said, pointing to Robbie’s outstretched wings. “T-They’re right there, but they’re so faint! C-Can’t you see them? Or, no, maybe you don’t remember them?”
“Magnus, I don’t know what to tell you, but I’m certainly not a faerie. I-I don’t know or can’t see what you’re seeing, but it’s not real.” Robbie said calmly, looking at the man worriedly.
“But it is! You. Have. Wings! Robbie, isn’t – “Sportacus said, wildly gesturing to the Christmas scenery around them. “ – isn’t any of this helping you remember? Any of it? P-Please, you must remember! Doesn’t it make more sense that you’d be a faerie? You could see my ears and hair when no one else could! Faeries can do that! A-And you could feel the magic near the portal, like a faerie! Is anything making sense??”
Sportacus panted as he stared at Robbie, waiting for his response. His heart fell as he watched the horror in Robbie’s eyes shift to sadness, a deep worry and led Robbie to start slowly backing away.
“I…I don’t know what you’re talking about Magnus, but I don’t think you’re feeling well.” Robbie finally said sadly.
“Robbie, please…” Sportacus begged.
“T-This night was fun. It was wonderful, but I think I should go home now. And maybe you should get some rest. I’ll…I’ll check up on you in the morning.”
Sportacus’s face fell as Robbie finally turned away.
“Good night, Magnus.” He said, as he finally walked away.

Sportacus tried to come up with something, anything to say to maybe make Robbie change his mind and turn around.
But he couldn’t.
Everything he thought of fell flat, and as Robbie walked around the corner, he realized he was too late.
Sportacus’s heart shattered and his gaze fell to his hands, his eyes watering.
He clenched his fists and haphazardly slammed one into the back of the carriage.
Instantly the carriage fell apart, transforming from the pristine elegance of painted wood to mere pieces of firewood and kindling, crashing against the pavement noisily. The horses vanished into pale blue dust, and the driver became nothing more than a crumpled jacket and hat.
The beautiful, jolly Christmas scene faded away, growing gradually into nothingness, as Sportacus stood there in anger and frustration, fat tears rolling past his hands as he pressed them against his eyes. He whispered angry nothings before his arms fell to his sides, a weight filling in his chest and making him feel heavy.
He lifted his head, his face tired looking and his eyes bleary, as he glanced around, seeing his Christmas illusion gone without a trace.

Slowly, his mind foggy and his gaze distant, he trudged his way home alone in the empty streets.

Chapter Text

Sportacus may have gone to bed, but it’d be incorrect to say he’d gone to sleep.

He had spent the whole night tossing and turning, grumbling and mumbling, his mind too plagued with mental fog and uneasy thoughts to allow him a moment’s respite.
As the sun slowly peeked above the horizon, its light barely sneaking past his drapes, Sportacus blinked blearily, his eyes feeling tired and dry.
He let his eyelids drag back shut.
He wasn’t ready to wake up, though he wasn’t sure when he would be ready to wake up.
In all truths, he didn’t want to wake up.
He wasn’t ready to walk out of his house knowing how badly he screwed up last night.
The look of Robbie’s face had haunted him all night.
The betrayal, the sadness, the hurt.
Sportacus sighed wearily, his chest feeling heavy as he laid in his bed.
“I was so stupid…I am stupid. I ruined everything. I’m sure Robbie wants nothing to do with me after last night.” He said to himself, his eyes watering.
He rolled over to his side.
“And even if he did, he must think I’m insane. All that talk about winter faeries…so stupid…” He muttered, letting his eyes fall shut once more.

Only an hour had passed when Sportacus woke up again, this time to the sounds of scratching and digging outside.
He groaned, and sat up, still feeling as drained and awful as he had earlier. He quirked an eyebrow at his window, thinking for a prolonged moment as to what could be making that noise.
Oh, right, Loftskip must be hungry. I should get her breakfast.” Thought Sportacus, blinking slowly.
He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed.


He wanted to lay back in bed but, eventually, he actually got out of bed.
He threw on an old sweater (another from his brother’s travels) and a pair of slacks before he went outside, eschewing his hat. He walked out to the pen, looking passively as Loftskip trotted around her open field, chuffing and digging small holes in the grass.
As soon as she spotted her owner, she ran to the fence and looked at him expectantly. She leaned over the fencing and looked straight into his eyes, cocking her head to the side quizzically.
Sportacus gave her a weak smile.
“Morning Loftskip.” He said softly, doling out a healthy serving of hay. “I’m sorry I took so long. Here’s your breakfast.”
Loftskip glanced down at her breakfast before walking further into the fence. She bumped Sportacus’s cheek gently with her nose, making small noises and drooping her ears.
“Come on girl, I’m not going to give you sugarcubes. They aren’t good for you.” Said Sportacus softly.
Loftskip shook her head and pressed her nose against Sportacus’s hand, looking up at him worriedly.
Sportacus sighed and gave a small smile.
“You can tell I’m not feeling well, huh?” He asked.
Loftskip blinked and flicked her ears.
Sportacus’s smile vanished as he stroked her head.
“I messed up so badly last night, Loftskip. Robbie thinks I set up everything last night just to get him to love Christmas again, and maybe thinks our whole friendship was centered around that. I told him that that wasn’t true, and hopefully he believes me, but he was right on one thing. I was hoping he might remember why he liked Christmas in the past, but I really did want him to just have a nice night.” He said quietly, his eyes watering. “He’s right though, I shouldn’t have tried to change his mind on Christmas, especially not so underhandedly. I really made a bad choice.”
Loftskip chuffed and licked his hand sympathetically.
“Even if he doesn’t hold that against me, he probably still thinks I’m crazy because I told him he was a winter faerie. If you’d seen the look in his eyes, you’d agree with me. It’s…”
Sportacus sighed and leaned his forehead against his steed’s.
“…all my fault.” He said in a near whisper, stroking Loftskip’s neck.
Loftskip made a small noise and leaned up against Sportacus, sniffing at his cheek. She gently licked a tear that rolled down Sportacus’s face, looking at him sympathetically.
Sportacus gave a small smile.
“At least you still like me, Loftskip.” He said wearily, patting her nose.
Loftskip tapped the ground and chuffed, butting his hand.
“You should really eat your breakfast. I’ll be okay.” Sportacus said.
Loftskip seemed unconvinced, but as she sniffed the air, she couldn’t resist. She leaned down and took a generous bite of hay, chewing on it idly as she looked at her owner, watching for tears.
“Really. I’ll be okay.”
Loftskip snorted and swallowed her mouthful of hay, leaning down to take another bite.
Sportacus leaned against the pen’s fence and watched, looking out at the horizon to watch the sun rising.

It was all silent, but only for a moment. For a few seconds after Sportacus had started to relax again, a noise broke through the quiet atmosphere.

Sirens.

Sportacus frowned and stood up straight, looking about. He nearly fell backwards into the pen as five police cars zoomed past, kicking up clouds of dirt and frightening Loftskip with their flashing lights and droning sirens.
Gathering himself, Sportacus’s eyes widened and his face grayed as he finally looked at the town, watching it fill with flickering red and blue lights and the cacophonous noise of multiple sirens.
Oh no.” Thought Sportacus, quickly running forward, leaving an incredibly startled and confused Loftskip behind.

--

When Sportacus finally arrived in the town, he was met with a scene of absolute chaos. It seemed that everyone in town was out and about, but with the exact opposite atmosphere of yesterday. Every person he passed bore expressions either concerned or angered, or worst, grieving. He passed a couple of people who murmured to each other lowly.
“Can you believe it? Over a dozen families, all caught in a counterfeiting operation! How could they get away with it?”
“It just doesn’t make sense though. The Johanssons are good people! They would never counterfeit money! None of these families would!”
Sportacus’s face further paled as he jumped back, the door to the townhouse in front of him slamming open. A couple was being hustled outside roughly, three policemen flanking them both. The two’s faces were red and stained with tears, the man yelling loudly at the one officer behind him.
“I swear, we’re telling the truth! The money is real, it isn’t counterfeit! We don’t know where it came from, it was just there! We’re telling the truth!”
“Oh god, oh god, they’re going to throw us in jail!” wailed the woman, nearly crumpling onto the ground.
“I won’t let them, dear! The jury will hear us out; they’ll hear that we’re innocent!” reassured the man weakly as he was tugged away from her.

Sportacus gasped in horror and, as if compelled by an outside force, he ran away in the opposite direction.

He passed by countless people, all in various states of shock and pain. Police cars were being packed with people, all crying and yelling their innocence and confusion. He skidded to a stop as he heard a child’s cry. He turned to his left just in time to watch the young boy from yesterday’s puppy be taken from his arms.
“I’m sorry sweetie, but that puppy rightfully belongs to them! I’m sure we can get you a new puppy soon.” Reassured the boy’s father.
“B-But, I loved that puppy!” Sniffled the boy.
“We’re sorry, Johnny.” Said the mother, watching sadly as her son cried and hiccupped.
Sportacus barely got a moment to watch the sad spectacle before another cry caught his attention.

“Father, no! You can’t leave already! It’s Christmas!”
Sportacus’s face went white. He recognized that voice.
He turned to his right and felt his heart drop. He saw Stingy tug at his father’s sleeve, the boy’s face a mess of tears and snot.
“I’m sorry Stingy, but I don’t have a choice! The company just got in the newest statements, and there’s some large discrepancies! I have to be there to figure out what’s going on! I promise I’ll be back soon, and we can spend some more time together after Christmas!” Said Stingy’s father, patting his son’s head.
Stingy pushed away his father’s hand and let out a sob.
“N-No! I want you here! I want you with me, for Christmas! You can’t leave!” said Stingy tearfully.
“I’m sorry son. I’ll see you after the holidays.” Said Stingy’s father sadly as he got into his car.
“No! Father!” Wailed Stingy as the car drove away.
Sportacus’s ears drooped as he watched the boy fruitlessly chase after the car, tripping and falling onto his knees a few feet later.
“Mr. Spoilero…” said Sportacus, his eyes beginning to water as he watched the boy continue to sob uncontrollably.
Sportacus looked both ways before he started towards Stingy, intending to cheer him up.

He was halfway across the street before he was nearly knocked to the ground, a small person rushing past him.
Sportacus rebalanced himself just in time to be knocked down by a troop of sprinting policemen, all with their cuffs and batons out.
“Ms. Troubleby! Stop running and give yourself up peacefully! We don’t want to hurt you!” called one policeman.
Trixie shot the man a look, a tear-stained look, as she continued to run.
“I told you, we didn’t steal anything! Let my dad go and stop chasing me!” She yelled back.
“Come on, kid. Your dad said he didn’t know where the food and gifts came from, and he has a history of robbery. We aren’t saying you both stole everything, but we need to bring you in for questioning!” said another policeman.
“NO! Leave me alone!” cried Trixie as she knocked down a trashcan, attempting to divert the policemen as she ran down an alley.
The policemen simply leapt over the trashcan and continued their pursuit.
“M-Ms. Troubleby! Wait! It was – “Sportacus started, pulling himself back onto his feet, right before his attention was caught by yet another mob of people.

These people, all men in denim and boots, were marching towards the town’s center, all with angered expressions and clenched fists.
They were all grumbling their various complaints.
“That mayor is gonna pay for this! Thinks he can just cancel our contracts that suddenly? He’s gonna pay for contracting a different construction group!”
“Did he even read our complaint? Oh, he’s gonna pay! I was completely in the right! Shady Sam over there is the one who’s wrong!”
“How dare he defer our contract until the new year! We need that money!”
Sportacus gasped, his head turning towards town hall. He tried to run, tried to sprint to the hall and warn Mayor Meanswell before the angry mob could reach him and, hopefully, before any undue harm would befall the poor mayor.

More wails and cries, murmurs and weary resignations befell Sportacus, however, and he soon became swept up in more of the LazyTown citizen’s tribulations.
“They rejected my thesis! They said it was derivative! Derivative!”
“My dad called. He said he’s not coming and he wouldn’t tell me why. I tried to call him again afterwards, but he didn’t pick up…”
“Someone already registered my idea! All that work, down the drain…”
“Dad, why is mommy with those policemen? She’s nice! Why do they want her?”
“It’s terrible…”
“Horrible…”
“How could this all happen…”
Sportacus’s eyes were wide as dinner plates as he spun around, bearing witness to the hundreds of distressed townsfolk. His head began to swim and his heart beat in his ears, thumping like a drum or more a hammer against his skull, his face bathed in a sheen of sweat. His breaths came in short gasps and strangled exhales as he staggered about, quickly losing track of the angry mob of workers charging towards townhall.
Tears blurred his vision as he felt his heart bottom out, leaving his chest heavy as lead and his hands trembling like reeds in the wind. Tears rolled down his cheeks, but they felt like nothing against his numb skin. He shook his head, the cries and conversations growing louder.
No, no, NO this wasn’t supposed to happen! I-I never…this wasn’t…I never intended…” He thought feverishly, backing up and into a statue of the town’s founder.
Gasping, he looked up, realizing what he bumped into. The sirens drew his attention back to the streets, three more police cars ripping down the streets and alleyways.
His hand flew up to cover his mouth, his tears wetting his hand. He shook his head as his mind grew foggier and his vision blurrier.
N-No…everyone’s so unhappy and it’s too late to fix everything. I-It’s…It’s…It’s my fault…all my fault…” Thought Sportacus miserably as he back up into the street.

More screams and cries filled his ears as he clasped his hands over them, trying in vain to block out the noise.
No, no please don’t! Don’t cry! I-I’m sorry! I’m sorry! This is all my fault! Why…Why would I do all of this?!” Thought Sportacus, his gasping growing audible.
Looking up and panting fearfully, Sportacus, shaking terribly, turned and ran.
He ran past the crowds of people, pushing past, tears still rolling down his face as he did.
This wasn’t what I wanted…I’m sorry…I’m sorry…” He kept thinking as he pushed past.
He heard someone, perhaps someone calling his name, but he barely gave it a thought as he rushed ahead, running towards the road out of town, the road back to his home.

--

Stephanie had woken up that morning expecting a day like yesterday. She had barely been able to sleep due to her excitement. Her uncle had promised that they’d go to the park today and would work on a special dance for her upcoming recital. He even promised to dust off his old tap dancing skills just for the occasion.

So, when she got out of bed and skipped down the steps, she wasn’t prepared to see her uncle hunched over the phone, his face a pale green and covered in sweat.
Even from her spot she could see her uncle’s hands shake.
“U-Uncle? Are you okay?” She asked.
She nearly jumped when her uncle looked over at her, his eyes wide and terrified.
“I-I, um, Stephanie…I don’t know how to say this but…but something has gone wrong with the completed contracts.” He said uneasily.
“Wrong? How?” She asked.
Mayor Meanswell sighed and ran his hands through the remnants of his hair as he shook his head.
“I-I…I don’t know, but it isn’t good. Ms. Busybody just called me, and the contractors are angry. I-I…I didn’t know…what happened?” He said fearfully.
Stephanie gulped down a thick breath and prepared to respond but was interrupted by the wailing of sirens. The noise echoed through the streets, and the living room was lit up in red and blue.
Mayor Meanswell’s face transitioned from green to gray.
“O-Oh my! What could all that be about?” He asked.
Stephanie bit her lip and looked back at her uncle. She quickly gave him a hug.
“I’ll go check. I’ll be right back, Uncle.” She said, running out the door.
“Stephanie! Wait!” called Mayor Meanswell.

As soon as Stephanie hit the streets, she was overwhelmed by the din of sirens and crying. People ran past her, all distressed, and many in distinctive groups. Stephanie’s eyes widened to the size of dinner plates as she ran past the groups, watching as a police car pulled up to a townhouse. Another police car drove away after a couple was dragged inside.
What in the world is going on here?” She thought, skidding to a halt as she saw someone run past her.
Someone with three black pigtails.
“Trixie?” She called, but it was too late. Her friend was dodging and weaving through the crowds of people, with several policemen tailing her, cuffs and batons at the ready.
“NO! Leave me alone!” The girl yelled before darting into an alleyway.
“Trixie!” yelled Stephanie, but the girl was out of earshot.
Walking through the town, Stephanie looked about, gawking at the chaos and mess that surrounded her. She pulled her coat closer, looking sadly at the group of people looking miserable and confused.
As she gazed around, her attention fell to one specific person: her teacher.
And she immediately noticed how distressed and fearful he looked.
Mr. Íþrottsson?” She thought, her heart dropping as she saw how much he was crying.
She watched as he shook his head and started backing away, turning to start running.
“Mr. Íþrottsson!” She called.

But he ran too fast, and soon she lost him in the crowd.

Stephanie bit her lip and tried to pass through the mess of people, squeezing and sneaking past the confused masses. As she emerged from the cluster of citizens, however, her teacher was nowhere to be found.
As she looked about, she didn‘t see her teacher, but she did spot one person she knew.
Her headmaster, Headmaster Rotten, was walking towards the road out of town. He was carrying a bag and a bundle of flowers.
“Headmaster Rotten!” She cried, pushing past the people in her way. “Headmaster Rotten!”
Finally hearing her, Robbie turned around, quirking an eyebrow at her cries.
“Ms. Meanswell! What seems to be the trouble?” He asked.
“Headmaster Rotten! I-It’s Mr. Íþrottsson! H-He – “ She started, pausing for a moment to catch her breath. “He seems really upset about something! I-I tried to get his attention, but he ran too fast for me to catch up! H-He was crying!”
Robbie furrowed his brow for a moment, before a thought crossed his mind. His eyes widened, and his face went pale, his attention momentarily diverting to the masses and the sirens.
“Headmaster Rotten? Is everything okay?” She asked.
Looking back at her, Robbie frowned.
“Thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention, Ms. Meanswell. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must handle some business.” He said, speedwalking away towards the road.
“Wait! Headmaster Rotten!” Stephanie protested, following close behind. “What’s going on?”
“Go home, Ms. Meanswell! You can’t assist me with this!” He stated.
“But why not? What’s going on?” Stephanie said.
“I-It’s…too complicated! And you wouldn’t believe me!”
“Try me!” argued Stephanie, frowning and blocking Robbie’s path. “If it’ll help me help Mr. Íþrottsson, I want to know!”
Robbie looked away, his expression reluctant.
Stephanie’s expression softened.
“Please, Headmaster Rotten, what’s going on? Please let me help you.”

Robbie thought for a moment, then sighed.
“Follow me. I’ll explain along the way.” He said tiredly, continuing his trek.
Stephanie followed close behind, awaiting his explanation.

--

By the time Sportacus had reached his little cottage, his steps had grown labored and his eyes had grown dry from his tears.
His breathing was little more than gasps as he clung to the fence, coughing mixing with crying as he struggled to keep himself upright.
He held back endless shivers and the stabbing sensation of coldness as he walked along the fence.
He had a sinking feeling of what that coldness and shivering could be from, but at the moment he didn’t care.
Currently, he cared more to deal with the mixed thoughts running through his head: fix everything, or flee everything.

And as ashamed as he was, flee everything was winning.

He coughed harshly and sobbed, clasping his hands over his ears as the sirens increased once more, the din drowning out all other sounds in the area.
“Stop…stop…” Mumbled Sportacus as he shivered once more.
He had done it. He had finally done it.
He had screwed up everything, hurt everyone he cared about and made their lives even worse than he could’ve imagined.
And it was all his fault.
And he had no clue how, or if, he could fix it all.
He could feel his eyelids growing heavy as he coughed once more, his shivering growing more violent. He pulled his sweater tighter to no avail; he was still freezing.
Hearing a small chuff and noise, he looked up, watching as Loftskip ran towards him, her ears pinned back. She distressedly bumped his face, licking his cheeks and making uneasy noises.
He tried to say something, tried to assuage her clear fears, tried to cheer her up.

But all that he could muster was a mumbled, “Lofs…”

A full body shiver ran through his body, and Sportacus buried his face in Loftskip’s fur, the warmth no consolation for his discomfort.
He tried to think of what to do next, but his mind was a muddled bog, too foggy to work through much of anything.
Loftskip made a low, whining noise as she licked Sportacus’s hair, nudging him gently.
She continued until she suddenly looked away, her ears perking up.
“Wha – “Sportacus started, his voice slurred.

“Sportacus!”

Sportacus squinted.
Someone was approaching.
Someone dressed in a mustard yellow color.
He must be hallucinating, because the person approaching looked a lot like his brother.
“Sportacus!” said Íþro, stopping with his fists on his hips. “What in the world is going on here? And why didn’t you respond to my letter?”
Sportacus’s heart sunk as he realized that, strangely, he wasn’t hallucinating.
That was his brother.
And he looked very disappointed.
His eyes began to water. Things had somehow gotten worse.
“Sportacus, I know this is your mission, but when you didn’t respond to my letter, I had to come by and check on you. Why didn’t you tell me that the portal was so weak, this is a serious concern! And the town is swarming with law enforcement! What is going on?” Íþro said, his brow furrowing.
Sportacus worked his way to his feet, flinching as he shivered violently once more.
Íþro’s expression softened once he noticed his brother’s trembling.
“Sportacus? Is everything okay?” He asked, looking up and down at his brother.
“I – “Sportacus started, taking a step forward.

That single step was as far as he got, however, for after his one move he collapsed onto the ground, overcome by shivering and trembling.

“BROTHER!” Was the last thing Sportacus heard before he blacked out.

--

“Headmaster Rotten, I don’t understand. What is ‘heart frost’ and why is Mr. Íþrottsson suffering from it?”

Robbie sighed through clenched teeth, thinking carefully.
“It’s, well, it’s a, um, magical malady.” He said.
Stephanie’s eyes widened.
“Wait, did you say ‘magic’??” She asked, trying to hold back her excitement.
“Yes, I said magic. It effects…um…” Robbie said, waiting uneasily for Stephanie’s reaction. “…elves. Christmas elves, specifically.”
Stephanie paused, then looked away with a furrowed brow.
“Wait…wait what? Elves? It only effects elves? Are you really saying that – “
“Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but trust me it’s true.”
“But don’t elves have pointy ears? I’ve seen Mr. Íþrottsson without his hat on, and his ears look like yours and mine!” She said.
“Well, Magnus said that since he didn’t tell you he was an elf, you can’t see his elf characteristics. It’s a magic thing.” He explained.
“Sounds fishy.” She said, scrunching her nose.
“Ms. Meanswell, do you want to help your teacher or not?” Headmaster Rotten asked, shooting her a look.
Stephanie shrunk back.
“I want to help him.” She said quietly.
“Then you’ll have to believe me about this. I know I’ve taught you kids to be skeptical and question everything you hear, but this is the one time I’d like you to just take my words as fac – “

A wall, invisible and slightly tingly, interrupted Robbie mid-thought, as he walked straight into the strange forcefield.

Robbie fell backwards, dropping the flowers and bag, and rubbed his cheek, stretching his mouth to ease away the static electricity feeling in his face.
“Headmaster Rotten! Are you okay?” Stephanie said, running up to her headmaster.
“I’m fine.” Robbie grumbled. “I suppose he put up a forcefield.”
“What?” said Stephanie, before she looked out at the space in front of her.
She poked at the space and jumped back, an arc of electricity sparking through her finger.
“W-Well maybe we don’t need to go that way? It doesn’t look like there’s anything down this road. Unless Mr. Íþrottsson ran into the woods?”
“Don’t be daft, Ms. Meanswell. Magnus’s cottage is just over th – “Robbie said, stopping as he pointed.
Indeed, Stephanie was right. Robbie couldn’t see anything down the road, and the space where Sportacus’s cottage was held nothing but more field.
“W-Wait, but how – “Robbie said, before his eyes widened.
He nodded and bit his lip.
Not just a forcefield then. Looks like Magnus put up a cloak too. But why?” He thought, standing back up.
“Headmaster Rotten?” Asked Stephanie.
Robbie, carefully, tested the forcefield. He drifted his fingers against the forcefield, pressing it gently. The tingling feeling ran up his arm but, slowly but surely, his hand past through the field. Just barely he could see the actual field through the portal.
“Take my hand, Ms. Meanswell, and hold on. Then we can get through the portal.” He said.
Stephanie looked at him uneasily, but eventually she took his hand.
Shutting his eyes, Robbie walked carefully through the field, shuttering as the tingling feeling overtook his body, making his legs wobbly like Jell-O and his arms like macaroni.
The two emerged on the other side, both collapsing onto their knees.
“I-I feel a little sick, Headmaster Rotten.” Stephanie said shakily.
“Welcome to magic.” Grumbled Robbie, shakily getting back onto his feet.

The two stood up once more, looking about the area. Stephanie’s eyes fell upon the cottage in the distance, and more specifically on what looked like two men nearby it.
“Headmaster Rotten, I think I see Mr. Íþrottsson over there! And someone else! And is that a reindeer??” She said, forgetting herself a moment.
Robbie looked over, spotting the two men.
He could see one man laying on the ground.
“Oh no.” Robbie murmured, his eyes growing wide and his face graying.
Immediately Robbie began to run, with Stephanie following as close as she could.

Stephanie ran behind Robbie, her eyes widening once she finally realized what Robbie had seen.
She first saw her teacher, laying on the ground, shivering terribly and his head laid back limply in the second man’s arms. His skin seemed unnaturally pale, almost white from their distance.
She then saw the man holding him. While his back was turned away from her, she did notice how strikingly similar this other man looked to her teacher. Albeit, it wasn’t an exact similarity. The man’s hair was closer to a sandy brown than the pure blonde of her teacher’s, but she could see the tips of the man’s mustache, so that at least was a shared characteristic.
He was dressed in a brown version of Mr. Íþrottsson’s suit. She guessed they were related.
Íþro’s head whipped towards them once they’d drawn close enough, and both Robbie and Stephanie flinched at the severe look he gave them.
Stephanie’s flinch weakened, however, once she saw how the man’s eyes glistened.
“Who are you? Please, leave us be. This does not concern you.” Íþro said.
“I believe it does. We’re friends of Mr. Íþrottsson. The better question is who are you?” Retorted Robbie, crouching down to Sportacus’s level.
Íþro pulled Sportacus away from Robbie, his glare holding on Robbie.
“You should leave. This is no concern for mortals.” He said.
“ ‘Mortals’?” asked Stephanie.
Íþro’s eyes widened, and he realized his mistake. Gritting his teeth, he shook his head.
“Forget what I said. Just leave. Please.” He said more quietly.
Robbie looked over Sportacus, his face graying once he caught a glimpse of the exposed skin on his neck.
The skin had turned a pale blue and was covered with a thin sheet of frost and ice.
Robbie sucked down a breath and looked back up at Íþro, his brow furrowing.
“No. If you’re trying to stop heart frost, you’ll need our help. Sending us away won’t do him any good.” He said seriously.
Íþro’s eyebrows raised.
“How do you know – “He started, before pausing and thinking.
He nodded slowly.
“I see. You must be this headmaster Sportacus mentioned. The one who could see who we…who can see things. That explains how you got past my shield.” He said.
“Then you know that I’m able to help.” Robbie said.
“Who’s Sportacus?” asked Stephanie.

Both men looked at her.
“Oh, um, well Sportacus is my brother. That’s his, uh, his, uh…” Íþro stammered.
“Just tell her. She already knows he’s an elf.” Robbie said.
“Can she see us too??”
“No, I told her on the way here.”
Íþro frowned and sighed, then nodded.
“Very well.” He said, looking back at Stephanie. “Your headmaster is right. Sportacus, and I, are Christmas elves from the North Pole.”

For a moment, nothing seemed to happen, and both men looked exactly the same to Stephanie. But after a second, Stephanie noticed something shifting in front of her eyes, like she was looking through desert haze. She squinted, trying to make sense of the image in front of her. Then the haze cleared, and her eyes widened.
The blonde and brown hair was gone, and so were the suits. Now her teacher and his brother looked the way they truly looked: hair white and near shining like the snow, long pointed ears that reacted to the wind, wreathes of holly and ivy curling around their heads like crowns, and clothing that looked like no fashion she’d seen before, but looked appropriate for colder weather.
She gasped and fell back.
“W-Woah, you really – “She stuttered, before looking down at her teacher.
Her surprised expression faded, replaced by sadness.
She could see the difference between Sportacus’s wreath and Íþro’s; Sportacus’s wreath was near completely dead, its berries shriveled like raisins, and its leaves yellowed and dry.
The trio’s attention was brought back as Sportacus coughed and shuddered, his eyes fluttering open.
“Ro – “He mumbled.
Íþro looked down sadly and brushed his brother’s hair from his face. He watched as his brother weakly reached for Robbie, cringing as he saw the frost-covered hand.
Robbie didn’t hesitate as he took Sportacus’s hand, flinching only momentarily as the frigidness stung his skin.
He felt at a loss once more; he needed to do or say something, but he wasn’t sure how.
“H-Hi Magnus. You don’t look so good.” He started weakly, forcing a small smile.
Sportacus gave the smallest smile, which near instantly vanished.
“I feel tired.” He said quietly.
“Can you stay awake with me? Just for a little while?” Robbie asked.
Sportacus made a small noise and nodded slightly. The ice continued to crawl up towards his chin.
Robbie tried to ignore that in favor of keeping the situation light.
“Y-You look really cold.” He said.
“I…deserve it…” Sportacus responded.
“What? Why would you say that?” asked Robbie.

Sportacus looked up at Robbie, his eyes glistening.
“I-I-I ruined e-everyone’s C-Christmas, Robbie…” He said, his voice choked. “I-I-It’s all m-my fault. I-I made everyone m-miserable on C-Christmas, when I-I was supposed to k-keep them happy. N-Now the portal will die, and m-magic will die too. I-I f-failed my people…I f-failed everyone…”
Tears rolled down Sportacus’s cheeks. One that rolled down to his chin instantly froze as it hit the ice. Sportacus shuddered.
“I-I-I m-made everything worse…and I-I can’t…I c-can’t…” He nearly whispered, the ice crawling up past his chin.
Íþro’s face paled and he drew his brother back close to him, hugging him tightly. Tears rolled down his face as he rocked Sportacus back and forth.
Nei, bróðir. Það er í lagi. Ég elska þig. Vertu hjá mér.” He said quietly, yet beggingly.
Robbie watched, his heart sinking. He reached out, before retracting, his gaze dropping. He frowned, looking back at Sportacus with a determined look.
“Magnus.” He said softly. “Please, listen to me.”
Íþro looked up, his brow furrowed. Sportacus didn’t move.
“I guessed that you used magic to help everyone in town, and maybe I didn’t think it was a great idea. But you didn’t ruin everyone’s Christmases; if you ‘ruined’ their Christmases, that implies that there’s nothing we can do to fix what happened.” Robbie said. “But that’s not true. We can help fix this.”
“B-B-But how….?” Sportacus said.
“I don’t know. I don’t know yet, at least.” Robbie said firmly. “But do you know what I do know? You aren’t doing this alone, and you never were.”
Íþro’s expression softened and he nodded.
“It’s true, brother.” He said.
“Your brother will be there for you. All the students will be. I’ll be there. Because we all care about you and want to help you fix everything. We aren’t going to let you do this alone.”
Sportacus looked over, tears still running down his face.
“Do you understand that, Magnus?” Robbie asked softly.
“I-I do…b-but I still hurt e-everyone…” He said, sniffling. “I-I hurt the kids…I h-hurt the townsfolk…I h-hurt you…”

Robbie’s expression fell, and he sighed quietly.
“Y-You didn’t hurt me. I-I mean,” He started, fumbling with a piece of grass. “I was hurt at the time, yes. I really did think that our whole rel…friendship was just to complete your Christmas mission, and that thought was painful.”
Sportacus looked at Robbie sadly.
“But,” Robbie said, sighing. “I thought it over after that night. I had to come to a conclusion about whether that made sense, knowing you. And…I realized I overreacted. Just because you were trying to get me to like Christmas that night doesn’t mean it defined our whole relationship, and it was unfair of me to assume that’s why you’ve been so kind to me.”
Robbie took Sportacus’s hand again.
“I’m sorry.” He said quietly.
“I-It’s okay, y-you had every r-right to be m-mad. I s-shouldn’t have made y-you feel l-like that.” Sportacus said softly.
Robbie looked at him sadly and cupped his hand between his, rubbing it gently.
Íþro looked at his brother, then at Robbie. The look in his eyes slowly changed, softening, as he began to realize what was going on. Nodding, he cleared his throat, slowly shifting Sportacus over to Robbie.
Robbie looked at Íþro with surprise.
Íþro simply gave a sad, weak smile, gesturing for Robbie to take Sportacus.
Robbie awkwardly shifted to accommodate Sportacus, holding him in his lap. He winced at how cold Sportacus felt; it was like holding a block of ice.
Sportacus sighed and shuddered, laying his cheek against Robbie’s coat.
“T-This is a-all such a m-mess…h-how could I h-have hurt e-everyone…” Sportacus said softly.
“Magnus, stop.” Robbie said, looking down at the man. “You didn’t mean to hurt them, did you?”
“O-Of course not.” Sportacus said, horrified.
“Then that’s what matters. Yes, you made a bad choice, and it didn’t turn out how you wanted or expected. But you didn’t mean to hurt them.”
“I-I still did t-though…”
“Maybe, but remember, we can still fix this.” Robbie said reassuringly, running his hand through Sportacus’s hair, being careful around his dying wreath.
He watched as Sportacus still cried, his tears staining his jacket.
“Come here.” Robbie said quietly, shifting Sportacus so he could hug him, his cheek resting against his frigid cheek and his hand supporting the back of his head.
Sportacus shivered and shuddered, another sob escaping him.
“Just do what I told you to do last time. Think about all the good you’ve done so far. Remember that and counter your fears with that. Breathe, and just cry, let it out. And remember, we’re all here for you.” Robbie said quietly, rocking him back and forth.
Sportacus shallowly nodded and relented, sobs pouring forth mixed with hiccups and gasps, his tears falling like rain.

Íþro and Stephanie sat back for a time, listening to Sportacus cry. Stephanie watched her teacher worriedly, her lips pursed. After a moment, she got up and walked over to Robbie. Sitting down, she joined the hug, hugging her teacher as well. Soon Íþro got up as well and joined the hug, completing the group hug.
Sportacus shivered and shuddered, feeling his friends and loved ones hugging him.
I…I guess I’m not alone in this. Perhaps…Perhaps I can fix this…” He thought before closing his eyes and leaning closer to Robbie.

Minutes passed, and the group hug remained until Sportacus finally started to quiet down, his shivering subsiding slowly but surely.
Eventually Íþro and Stephanie pulled away, followed by Robbie slowly pulling away to check on Sportacus.
Much to his relief, Sportacus looked up at him, weary but very much alive. His hair was a damp mess, same as his clothes, and his wreath was still very much dead. But he at least seemed more awake and calmed down.
Robbie checked Sportacus’s arm, pulling back the soaked sleeve. The skin was its healthy color once more, and not a speck of frost remained.
Robbie sighed and shook his head.
“New rule. You are not allowed to get that close to dying ever again.” He said with a small smile.
Sportacus gave a quiet laugh.
“I’ll try my best to follow that rule.” He said, looking over as Íþro walked over.
He sat up and got back onto the ground, standing up shakily. When he nearly tipped over again, Íþro caught him swiftly.
“B-Brother, I’m so sorry. I was going to send you a letter right away, but I hoped to have everything fixed before I responded. And, well, things didn’t go as I hoped.” Said Sportacus sadly.
Lítilblá, don´t you remember what they teach you about magic? All strong spells have some sort of consequence.” Íþro scolded gently.
Sportacus’s ears drooped.
“But I understand why you tried magic. And in the end, I’m just glad you’re okay.”
Sportacus gave a weak smile and hugged his brother.
“Are you okay now, Mr. Sportacus?” asked Stephanie.
Sportacus looked over at Stephanie with a quizzical expression, then looked at his brother.
“She knows now. Your ‘friend’ said I should tell her.” Said Íþro, quirking an eyebrow and smirking.
Sportacus’s immediately blushed, the tips of his ears turning red. He cleared his throat and nodded.
“Alright then. Then Ms. Meanswell, no need for the formality. Just call me Sportacus if you’d like.” He said, smiling. “And yes, I should be fine now.”
Stephanie sighed in relief and smiled.
“But now, brother,” Íþro said, crossing his arms. “what now? What are we going to do to fix everything?”

Sportacus’s smile faded and he looked down thoughtfully, stroking his mustache. He nodded rhythmically and until he looked up. He glanced over at the pen and whistled.
Loftskip leapt up and skipped over the fence, startling Robbie in the process.
Sportacus petted Loftskip’s neck and gave it a pat, snapping his fingers to summon her harness and bridle, dazzling Stephanie.
“Why are you taking Loftskip? Won’t that give you away?” asked Íþro.
“There’s no point in hiding my identity, Íþro.” Said Sportacus. “I intend to go down into town and explain everything. I’m going to apologize and come clean. I just hope they’ll understand and forgive me.”
“Well, you’re not doing this alone, so don’t worry.” Said Robbie with a smile.
Sportacus smiled back and clambered aboard Loftskip. He turned her towards the town and held out his hand to Robbie.
Robbie looked uneasily at Loftskip.
“Don’t worry Robbie. It’s just like riding a horse.” Sportacus said.
“I was nearly kicked by a horse once.” Robbie mumbled.
“Then it’s better than riding a horse. Loftskip doesn’t kick.” Sportacus said.
Loftskip shook her head, as if affirming Sportacus’s statement.
Robbie sighed nervously and took Sportacus’s hand. He helped Robbie settle onto Loftskip’s back, sitting right behind him.
Sportacus looked over at his brother.
“We’ll follow you, Sportacus. I have Fjóla with me.” Íþro said, whistling lowly.
Stephanie looked back after hearing the sound of hooves clambering. She gasped in delight as a beautiful doe, twice the size of Loftskip, came thundering through the woods. Her fur was a dark, chestnut brown, dotted with pale gray speckles. She stood tall and proud, coming to a halt by Íþro’s feet. She wore a beautiful, yellow harness with silver bells that jingled and rang.

Sportacus nodded and gave Loftskip a gentle nudge with his boot.
With a snort and a huff, Loftskip started sprinting down the road.
Robbie, meanwhile, clung to Sportacus’s waist.
“Mag – I mean, Sportacus?” He said.
“You can call me whatever you like, Robbie.” Sportacus said with a smile.
“Well it makes no sense to call you by a pseudonym, so I’ll just get used to ‘Sportacus’.” Robbie said in a matter-of-fact tone.
Sportacus chuckled and shook his head.
“But either way, Sportacus,” Robbie said, pausing for a moment. “no matter what happens, I’ll stick by your side, okay? I don’t think anything will happen, but just in case you need to hear that.”
Sportacus looked back and smiled, nodding at Robbie.
“Thank you Robbie. I am glad to hear that.”
“And Sportacus?”
“Hmm?”
Robbie bit his lip, his cheeks turning a slight pink.
“I, um, really did enjoy our…night out. I really did.”
Sportacus smiled and blushed lightly as well.
“I’m glad you did.” He said.
“And I’m glad you’re okay. I, uh, don’t know what I’d do if you…if you died.”
Sportacus gave Robbie a warm smile and, keeping one hand on the reigns, held Robbie’s hand.
“Well, I promise not to almost die on you anymore.” He said, laughing.
Robbie nodded, feeling slightly flustered and unable to make a response.

He held onto Robbie’s hand as they rode towards the town, which was still filled with the noises of sirens and the glow of police car lights.

Chapter Text

“Back up! Back up! I swear, if any of you touch a single hair on the mayor’s head, I will not hesitate to call the police and get you locked up!” Snapped Ms. Busybody, waving a broom in front of her.

The angered mob backed up, but their glares remained, their teeth gritted and eyebrows furrowed.
Deep back in the crowd, the kids stood together. Trixie kept her head down, pulling a hat over her face to obscure herself from the policemen scattered in the crowd. Stingy stood there, looking cross, his arms folded over his chest and his eyes still red and puffy. Pixel stood uneasily, looking nervously at the tense crowd.
He looked over and reached for a hand that peeked between two grown-ups, pulling Ziggy over to the rest of the group.
“Hi Ziggy. How are you doing? Is your family okay?” asked Pixel nervously.
Ziggy frowned and shook his head slowly.
“My mom and dad started fighting again last night. They said they were working things out, but it’s not working. Dad left this morning again.” He said quietly.
Pixel looked at the boy sympathetically and gave him a pat on the back.
Ziggy sniffed and wiped his nose with his glove, staring down at his shoes.
“It’s okay Ziggy. I’m sure the mayor has an answer for everyone.” Pixel said.
“Speaking of the mayor, where’s Stephanie? I haven’t seen her all day.” Asked Stingy.
The trio of boys looked at Trixie, who shot them a glare.
“Don’t look at me. I’ve been running from those stupid cops all day just because they think my dad and I are thieves.” She groused, pulling her coat collar up.
The boys looked at each other doubtfully.
Glaring, Trixie punched Stingy’s arm forcefully.
“Ow! What was that for?!”
“That was for all you guys! I didn’t steal all that stuff! It just appeared in our house!” Trixie snapped.
“That’s what everyone in town is saying about their random gifts. There has to be an explanation though.” Pixel said, tapping his chin.
Ziggy tugged his sleeve.
“Look! There’s the mayor! He’ll explain what’s going on!”

The crowd’s anger dialed back to seething murmurs as Mayor Meanswell crossed the stage. He looked disheveled and weary, his trademark suit a wrinkled and wrought mess, his collar popped up skyward, the remnants of his hair a bird’s nest.
He staggered to the podium and looked out at the crowd, his skin a gray color. He gulped and tapped the podium before testing the microphone, listening for the feedback.
He cleared his throat.
“Um, g-good morning, citizens of LazyTown. I, uh, imagine you are all perturbed by the events of this day and all the chaos and confusion that has amassed throughout the town.” He started.
“Shove it, Meanswell! Tell us what’s going on before we pound your face in!” Threatened one crowd member.
Mayor Meanswell yelped and nearly tripped backwards.
“Threatening a public official is a criminal offense! One more threat out of you and I will definitely call the police!” Growled Ms. Busybody.
“Please! Mayor Meanswell! You must help my husband! The police arrested him after claiming he forged the money we found! He’s innocent, I swear, completely innocent!” wailed one woman who attempted to crawl on the stage.
Ms. Busybody hurried over to her and gently eased her back into the crowd, assuring her of the mayor’s plans.
Mayor Meanswell’s forehead quickly took on a sheen of sweat. He dabbed at his brow while he approached the microphone once more.
“Oh my, well, I’ve called you all here to reassure you that I am working to get everything under control. For the families that have been arrested I am working with the law enforcement officials to get everything cleared up and straightened out as soon as possible, but I must ask for all of your patience.”
The crowd began to boo and jeer, a few throwing wads of paper and empty cans towards the stage.
Mayor Meanswell gasped and ducked behind his podium.
“P-Please! Everyone! You must understand that there are dozens of people in custody at the moment! It will take time to ensure that due process is met for all of them!” He pleaded.
“Well what about your contractors? Your dispute claimants? How you going to help all of us?” Spat one crowd member, tossing a small rock.
“P-Please! I’ll get to that! J-Just please, oh my, please stay calm! I-I will try to explain – “

“Wait a moment, Mayor Meanswell!”

The crowd and the mayor turned towards the sound of the voice, their eyes widening as they took in the sight before them.

The mob parted like the sea as Sportacus came dashing in upon Loftskip, riding her carefully yet quickly through the crowd, pulling back on her reigns as he drew upon the stage. The crowd began to murmur and whisper, looking in shock and awe at the sight of the milky white doe he rode.
Before the crowd could recollect, they parted once more as Íþro and Stephanie came in close behind, Fjóla tossing her head proudly as she pranced past the gawking people.
“Mom, are those real reindeer??” asked one child quietly.
“I…I believe they are.” Responded her mother.
Sportacus dismounted from Loftskip and helped Robbie down afterwards. Íþro and Stephanie also dismounted, with Stephanie running ahead to join her uncle.
She hugged her uncle warmly.
“Uncle, don’t worry! Sp – I mean Mr. Íþrottsson has something to say.” She said.
“Oh my! You mean about all the fuss this morning? Really?” He said, looking up dubiously at Sportacus.
Sportacus nodded quietly.
“Trust me, Mayor Meanswell. I have an explanation.” He said.
Mayor Meanswell bit his lip, looking down thoughtfully. Finally, he relented, stepping away from the podium.
Sportacus gave Robbie’s hand one last squeeze as he walked up to the stand, clearing his throat and checking the microphone.
“Hello, people of LazyTown.” He started, looking uneasily at the sea of angry faces laid out before him. He could feel his throat grow thick as he gazed.
He could feel his body stiffen and a sweat break out on his forehead. He felt tempted to step back, try again later, when he felt someone hold his hand.
He glanced over, seeing Robbie’s smiling face.
He sighed nervously and nodded, giving a thankful smile to him.
“I have something to tell you all. I’d like to apologize for the terrible morning you are all having. I was the one who gave you all those wonderful presents and gifts.”
The townsfolks began to murmur, looking disbelievingly at each other.
“I know that must be a lot to swallow, and even harder to believe. But it’s true, and I can show you how.” Sportacus said shakily, gripping the podium. “I-I was able to give you all these presents and gifts because…because…”

Sportacus closed his eyes, feeling himself tremble and shake. He licked his dry lips once before finally speaking.

“My name isn’t Magnus Íþrottsson, and I am not a human. I am, in truth, a Christmas elf from the North Pole.”

At first, the crowd didn’t seem to react. There were a few scattered chuckles, a generous handful of quirked eyebrows and disbelieving expressions, and more than enough concerned chatter and mumbles between each other.
They all grew silent, however, as their attention became fixed upon Sportacus, disbelief melting away to shock.
The chatter evolved to gasps and astonished talk, pointing, and face slapping.
Mayor Meanswell’s mouth dropped wide open, and Ms. Busybody nearly toppled off the stage in shock. Luckily for her, Íþro was quick to react, leaping onto the stage and catching her in an almost dip-like fashion.
Ms. Busybody blinked and collected herself, chuckling nervously while blushing.
“Oh! W-Well, thank you. My apologies, I was just a bit startled.” She explained.
“No problem whatsoever, my lady. Up you go.” Íþro said with a smile, lifting her upright.
Ms. Busybody dusted off her skirt and chuckled flirtatiously, which cued Íþro to walk over to Robbie’s side.
Mayor Meanswell, meanwhile, was still gobsmacked.
“O-Oh my, I…his ears…and his hair!” He said.
Sportacus gave a weak smile to the mayor before looking back at the crowd.
“I-I understand that you all must be a little shocked and confused. So, I’ll say first that I’m sorry for not telling you all sooner. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure how everyone would react.” He said, chuckling uneasily.
His smile faded once he realized the crowd wasn’t laughing either.
He cleared his throat.
“I’m sorry, as well, for not being upfront with why I was sent here in the first place. I know the explanation will sound absurd, but please bear with me.” He said. “You see, my kind and all other magical beings are given life and power through magic.”
“There are other magic beings?” cried Ziggy in surprise.
Sportacus nodded and smiled.
“Yes Mr. Zweets, there are many.” He said. “And our magic is created, and sustained, through the joy and belief you all hold within your hearts. The more joy and love you share and feel, the stronger the magic in the world. And, of course, the opposite weakens our magic and, most specifically, the portals we use to access your world.”
The people looked skeptical but listened nonetheless.
“One of our biggest portals is located right by your forest, and it’s dying. We felt that the spirit was dying in this town, and specifically all of your love for Christmas.”
“Why do you all care about our ‘Christmas spirit’??” spat one townsfolk.
Sportacus frowned.
“Well, because Christmas and Halloween are the holidays that generate the strongest joy and belief. If those days are weak in spirit, then our portals will grow weak as well. Keeping Christmas spirit alive in particular is very important.”
“So that’s why you’re here? It’s like some sort of business transaction with you lot? Make us ‘jolly’ and otherwise you don’t care?” sneered another townsfolk.

Sportacus furrowed his brow.
“Absolutely not. We do care. And more specifically, I care.” He said. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came to this town. I thought people had simply grown bored of the holiday, and that’s why the spirit was dying in this town. But as I stayed here, got to know the people, I realized just how complex the situation truly was. I could feel the pain, hardship, and sadness in your lives, both past and present, and I came to understand why the portal was dying.”
The crowd grew quiet, their expressions falling as each member thought about their lives.
Trixie frowned, trying to hold back her sadness. Stingy sniffed and wiped his nose. Pixel gave Trixie a hug as Ziggy’s eyes began to water.
Sportacus wiped a tear from his eye.
“I…I realized just how much the town was hurting, and how difficult it would be to get the Christmas spirit back in the conventional way. I knew it was impossible, and that was understandable. None of you have problems that can be solved by just one elf overnight, but I also had to get the portal strong enough for my people too. If the portal died, it would start the downfall of all magic beings, and we would eventually vanish.”
The townsfolks began to murmur worriedly.
“So…I’m sorry. I tried to fix all of your problems quickly through magic. I made all those little ‘Christmas miracles’ happen. The gifts of money, re-connections, reunions, and more….it was all my magic. I thought things would be fine, but I forgot a key rule about magic: the greater the change, the greater the consequence. I’m sorry everyone.” He said quietly.
The townsfolks’ manner grew quieter, and their anger began to subside. Still, however, a few people pushed through the crowd, their brows furrowed and their teeth gritted.
“Yeah, well apologies won’t get my wife out of the county jail!” shouted one man.
“It won’t get my dad to call me back!” yelled another woman.
“It won’t make up for my house being broken into!” screamed another man.

Sportacus stepped back from the podium as the angered people attempted to crawl onto the stage, their hands grabbing and clawing at the wood towards him. He crossed his arms uneasily as he stared in horror at the people.

Robbie, frowning angrily, pushed ahead, stepping up to the podium.
“Hey! Knock it off this instant! Are you all adults or animals?! Stand and be quiet! Don’t you think that Sportacus’s story will help you with most of your problems??” He said, staring down at the more violent crowd members.
At first, the angrier crowd members stared back defiantly at Robbie, as if daring him to do anything more than chastise them. Eventually, however, they all backed off, returning to the blob-like crowd of people.
Robbie nodded and gestured for Sportacus to return to the podium, which he did with a thankful smile.
“Thank you, Headmaster Rotten. And yes, he is right. Since I harbor the blame for the issue of counterfeit which, for the record all of the money is legitimate, anyone’s loved ones who have been taken into custody should be quickly released.” He said.
His smile faded.
“But…I understand. I know that I can’t make up the pain I’ve caused you all. All I can do is say that I’m sorry.”
The townsfolk began to quiet down, their gazes turning to each other. Ziggy, pursing his lips, raised his hand and waved it wildly.
“Mr. Zweets?” asked Sportacus.
“What are you going to do about the portal, Mr. Sportacus? Is it still working?”
Sportacus quietly sighed and shook his head.
“No, I’m afraid it isn’t strong enough still. We worry that it won’t be strong enough for Christmas and…well, that isn’t good. It’s really not good.” He said.
“Well, what can we do to help?” asked Pixel, working his way through the crowd.
Reaching the front, he clambered up the stage, being helped up by Ms. Busybody and Stephanie.
“That portal sounds like a lot of work, and if you need all of us to get it strong again, then how can we help you? There must be something!” Pixel said, turning and gesturing to the crowd.

The crowd nodded slowly, looking at each other thoughtfully.

“I’m not quite sure, Mr. Hyperbyte. From talking to all of you, it seems that everyone has their own reasons for their loss of love for the holiday. I don’t know how we could solve everything in just a few hours.” Sportacus said.
“Well, who says we have to solve everything? What if we just did something to make today a little special? I know we all don’t have much money or time to celebrate Christmas traditionally, but there must be something else we could do!” Stephanie said, stepping forward.
Robbie looked down thoughtfully, tapping his chin. His eyes widened, and he gestured for Sportacus.
Sportacus leaned over, listening carefully as Robbie whispered a suggestion into his ear. Sportacus’s eyes widened as well and he nodded, before returning to the podium.
“Headmaster Rotten has enlightened me with an idea, something I should have thought of from the beginning.” He said sheepishly, looking hopefully at the crowd. “There’s a way we can help all of you, and maybe it won’t make your problems and pains disappear, but it most certainly will help reignite this town’s spirit and love.”
“What is it?” chorused several townsfolk.
Sportacus smiled.
“We should, as a town, come together and simply spend time with one another. Ask each other about our years, celebrate the joy and grieve our pain together. I know how easy it can be when we’re hurting to isolate ourselves, but the best way to foster love and joy is to share our experiences with one another. Maybe if all of us come together to just be together as a community, perhaps that would be helpful for all of us, and I couldn’t of something that signified Christmas more.”
The townsfolk talked amongst themselves, with smiles brightening and heads nodding. A few started to clap, and more joined in, until the whole town was clapping.
“But where should we meet? There’s an awful lot of us.” Said one townsfolk.
“I-I have a solution!” said Stingy, pushing his way to the stage. Climbing up, he looked at everyone with a bright smile. “My home is plenty big enough for everyone! We could have the most wonderful party there, and I have some musical instruments, so we could have music too!”
“And everyone could bring food!” suggested another town member.
“And we might not have Christmas decorations, but we could bring some nice, sparkling things to decorate a tree!” said another town member.

The townsfolk were a tizzy, buzzing with energy and excitement, beaming brighter than Sportacus had seen all month.

Sportacus, giddy with excitement, grinned at his friends and chuckled, tapping the side of the podium.
“Then it sounds like we all have some work to do! Let’s all meet at Mr. Spoilero’s home at six o’clock tonight! That should give us all ample time to prepare!” He said.
The townsfolk cheered and began to filter out, all of the group quickly, yet politely, making their ways back home, the chattering and excited talking continuing.
Sportacus sighed and stepped down from the podium, and was instantly tackled hugged by the entire group on stage.
“You saved us, Mr. Sportacus! You really calmed everyone down!” said Mayor Meanswell.
“That was truly amazing!” gushed Ms. Busybody.
Sportacus chuckled.
“Well, I can’t take all the credit! It was thanks to all of you that everything held together! You’re all so amazing, and I’m glad you’re all my friends.” He said.
The kids pulled away and looked at each other eagerly. Pixel, in particular, was beaming.
“I’ll ask my mom if we can make her special potato dish!” He said, darting off.
“I have to make sure Frederick gets the staff to clean! We must make sure the house is spotless!” Stingy said.
Stephanie looked at her uncle.
“Uncle, can we bring some hot chocolate to the party? You make the best cocoa!” She said.
“Well I don’t see why not!” said Mayor Meanswell, finally stepping away with Ms. Busybody.

The trio departed, leaving Sportacus alone with Robbie and Íþro.
Íþro walked up to his brother and pulled him in for another hug, patting his back.
“I’m so proud of you, lítilblá. You’ve really done something good for the community.” He said. “I wish I could see how it goes.”
Sportacus looked at him with raised eyebrows.
“You aren’t staying?”
Íþro gave a sad smile.
“You know how busy Christmas Eve is for us! I’m needed back at the North Pole, and I’ve sadly stayed longer than I was supposed to.” He said, stepping away and towards Fjóla.
Sportacus nodded and gave a small wave to his brother.
“I’ll see you soon.” Said Íþro, smiling, before he cracked the reign.
Fjóla snorted and leapt up into the air, running up higher as she and Íþro ascended into the cloud layer. Within minutes the two had vanished from view, obscured by the clouds.
Finally it was just Robbie and Sportacus left.
Robbie walked up to Sportacus and smirked, patting him on the arm.
“How are you feeling now?” He asked.
“Like I’m about to pass out and sleep for a thousand years.” Sportacus admitted, sighing wearily and laughing.
“I told you you’d think of something.”
“But it was all your idea.”
“Yeah, but you sold them on the idea. It’s still yours.” Robbie said, shrugging.
“I suppose.” Sportacus said, giving a small smile.

Robbie gestured towards the town.
“Would you like to come over? Maybe you can help me make some cake for the party tonight.” He suggested.
Sportacus smiled and nodded.
“That sounds like a great idea.” He said.
“And you can pass out on my chair if you need to.”
“I wasn’t going to ask that!”
“Well I could sense you might need it, so I thought I’d just give you permission.” Robbie said, walking up to Loftskip and patting her neck.
Loftskip ruffled her fur and followed along slowly, glancing back at her owner and gesturing him forward.
Sportacus gave a curious smile. Robbie seemed much livelier all of a sudden. He wondered if he was just as excited about the festivities as everyone else.

Nevertheless, Sportacus went along, following him and his reindeer.

--

The next few hours were relatively quiet as the town worked tirelessly to prepare for the huge party that night. The streets were filled with the wafting aromas of different meals and desserts, the windows glowing with the lights of candles and dimming lightbulbs. A few townsfolk walked along, carrying boxes and armfuls of sparkling decorations that caught the light and reflected rainbows. The crowds convened upon Stingy’s stately manor, walking happily through the open door and into the cinnamon scented hallways.

Stingy and Frederick guided the townsfolk towards the gigantic ballroom, which had been quickly swabbed and scrubbed in preparation of the large number of guests. Hastily made wreaths of holly and pine hung from the walls, and various garlands made of a variety of materials from popcorn to paper clung between them. Half a dozen tables had been set up, and each was nearly covered in various dishes and serving trays filled with foods of all kinds. The townsfolk that first arrived made up their plates quickly and began to talk amongst each other, talking about their lives and pasts.
More and more townsfolk entered the abode, bringing their meals and instruments for music and entertainment. Impromptu jam sessions broke out amongst the many musicians, leading to a messy yet entertaining mash-up of various folk tunes, jazz staples, country songs, and more. People danced about in-between sampling the various delicacies while the children ran underfoot, giggling and chasing each other playfully. Several clusters of adults were off to the side, talking casually. Many were talking tearfully, a few coming together in hugs or prayers.
Sportacus observed this from his side of the room, sipping casually on his glass of water. He smiled and greeted the people who would talk to him, thanking him for bringing the town together. He was even goaded into a few games of ‘duck-duck-goose’ with the children, who all were in much higher spirits.
Even as the first hour passed, Sportacus began to grow tired. He was having so much fun, but with how much had happened that day, he was exhausted. Yet he didn’t want to leave the festivities, and he had to make sure everything went smoothly.
The band was starting up an old hymn, and several people raised their glasses and sang along. Sportacus didn’t know the words, but he hummed along to the best of his abilities.

As the hymn ended, he felt someone tap his shoulder. He spun around and came face to face with Robbie.
“Enjoying the party?” asked Robbie.
Sportacus smiled.
“Of course. I just hope everyone else is enjoying it too.”
“Well, look at the place!” Robbie said, gesturing to the room. “I don’t think this ballroom has seen such life in years.”
“Yes, it’s all very lively. I wish I wasn’t so tired, so I could enjoy it more.” Sportacus said with a chuckle.
Robbie’s smile weakened, and he finished his drink, setting it on the floor.
“Say, Sportacus, let’s go on a short walk. We’ll come back to the party, but maybe we could both use a little break.” He suggested.
Sportacus’s thought for a moment before nodding.
“That…would actually be helpful. Let’s go.” He said, following Robbie out of the ballroom.

The two retrieved their coats from the massive pile of jackets and scarves and walked out into the empty streets, the cool air chilling their ears and noses.
“So cold, and yet not a speck of snow.” Commented Robbie, blowing into his cupped hands.
“I’m a little surprised at that too. It should snow at this temperature.” Said Sportacus, gazing up at the sky.
Robbie gave a small smile and glanced down at his feet, listening to the clapping sounds of their shoes against the pavement.
“Something tells me that you didn’t just want a break from the party.”
Robbie looked up and smirked.
“Very astute of you.” He said.
His smile slightly faded.
“I wanted to talk to you about what you said the other night. The part about me being…being a faerie?”
Sportacus stopped, his face growing pale.
“Sportacus?” asked Robbie, stopping and turning on his heel.
“I…” Sportacus started, stammering. “…oh dear, you haven’t been worrying about that, have you? B-Because, um…if you have, you shouldn’t think too much about it. It was stupid of me, I shouldn’t have made that comment and – “
“No, no it’s okay. Really.” Said Robbie. “I wanted to talk because I’ve been thinking about it.”
Sportacus’s expression shifted to confusion.
“You…have?”
Robbie nodded.
“I’ll admit, I was confused at first. Scared even. It makes no sense, as I imagine it would to anyone else. I denied it at first because, well, I don’t have wings! No magic, no otherworldly senses or anything.”
As they continued walking, Robbie sighed.
“But…I started thinking. I’ve been having this recurring dream for years, maybe even decades. I’ve lost track, but nonetheless…I just remember seeing these figures. They were like humans, but almost more…beautiful? They were glowing silver and holding these lanterns. And they were always in a forest.”
Sportacus listened quietly as Robbie looked at him.
“You hear it, don’t you? It sounds like what you told me last night. The forest, the otherworldly beings, the glowing light…it’s like those winter faeries. But I’d never heard of them until you told me! So how…how could I have dreams about them?” He said, his voice growing louder.

The two of them stopped once more and looked at their surroundings. Somehow, during their conversation, they had gone far off the main street and were now in a far less nice part of town. Abandoned buildings lay in states of disrepair, their windows shattered and doors hanging lamely from their hinges. Garbage laid scattered on the stoops and in the streets. Fences rattled in the air, and every building was decorated with signs reading “ABANDONED”, “FORECLOSED”, “CONDEMNED”.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to this part of town. Has this always been here?” Sportacus questioned, looking about.
Robbie, meanwhile, had frozen. His eyes darted between the various abandoned buildings, his face growing white as he kept looking about.
Sportacus, who had finally realized how still his friend had grown, placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Robbie? Are you okay?” He asked.
Robbie sucked in a sharp breath and exhaled before answering.
“Sportacus…I don’t think I’ve told you this, but I will now. I don’t remember anything from a few decades ago.”
Sportacus’s eyebrows raised.
“I…I don’t remember why I came to this town. I don’t remember how I got my job as a headmaster at the school. I know I’ve been here for decades, but I don’t remember aging and I don’t remember key details that would’ve given me some hint as to who I am. I’ve gone to town hall to look for my records, any records, but I don’t exist. And for some reason, it never bothered me. It didn’t bother me until our talk last night.” Robbie said, wrapping his arms around himself.
“Robbie…” Sportacus said sympathetically.
Robbie looked over at Sportacus, his eyes glistening.
“It’s all so ridiculous, Sportacus. Every logical part of me wants to deny what you’ve said, because it’s so outlandish. But the more I think about it, the more it somehow makes sense. I…I just have one last question left.”
“Which is?”
“Why did I forget in the first place?”

Sportacus looked down sadly, at a loss for words.
“I…I don’t know if I could tell you.” He said sadly.
Robbie gave him a sad smile.
“Well, I didn’t expect you to.” He said. “I just wonder if I’ll ever know.”
Sportacus’s ears drooped as he looked at Robbie. He reached up and dried a tear from the man’s face.
“I promise, Robbie, I’ll do everything I can to help you remember. I don’t know how, but we’ll get you to remember your past.” He said.
Robbie gave a half-smile.
“Thank you. That means a lot to me.”
Sportacus smiled. His hand lingered against Robbie’s cheek and, gently, he cupped the side of Robbie’s face.
Robbie’s cheeks grew pink as his hands travelled to hold onto Sportacus’s shoulders.
Sportacus felt his heart beat in his ears once more as he leaned close.

But as if the universe just wanted to spite them, a rattling noise startled them both, breaking them from their shared gaze.

Robbie’s attention snapped to the noise, his expression growing gray as he finally looked at where the noise came from.
The building looked no different from the other buildings, with the same broken-down exterior and boarded up window holes. However, the door was missing from this building, and it was flanked by a long, dark alleyway off to its side.
Robbie, as if entranced, started walking towards the alleyway.
“Robbie?” asked Sportacus nervously as he followed along.
Robbie didn’t respond as he felt the aged brick, looking at his dust-coated fingertips.
He glanced down the alley and kept walking, his eyes trailing up to a window on the second floor.
The glass was shattered at that level.
“Robbie?” asked Sportacus once more as he tiptoed around the overturned trashcans and glass shards.
“This place…I know this place.” Robbie said quietly, looking about. “This was the home of the mayor, the mayor before Mayor Meanswell. His name…his name was…Gilbert Goodman.”
As Robbie spoke, Sportacus’s eyes widened. The outlines of Robbie’s wings grew ever more visible, glowing dimly in the night.
“And…he lived here with…with his wife…Petunia. I-I remember they were happy…and something…a bad night.” Robbie mumbled, his fingers drumming against his chin.
His wings glowed brighter.
“I was there…but why? And why…I came through the second floor…because…because I was…” He muttered, his drumming ceasing as his hands clasped at fistfuls of his hair.
The glow of his wings had grown so bright that it was near painful to stare at them. Sportacus shielded his eyes as he stumbled towards Robbie, reaching a hand out towards him. He could hear Robbie make pained noises and fearful sounds and, just barely, he could see the man shiver.
“Robbie!”
“C-Can’t…no, too bad…don’t…” Robbie rambled, his eyes forced shut and tears streaming down his face.
“Robbie, it’s okay! Just let yourself remember! I’m here for you, just let those memories return!” Sportacus urged, taking Robbie’s hand.

He forced himself not to flinch or cry as Robbie dug his fingernails into his hand, leaning forward to rest his forehead against Sportacus’s chest. Sportacus forced his eyes shut as he held Robbie gently, wrapping an arm around his back.
“Robbie, please talk to me. What do you remember?” He asked quietly.
Robbie sniffled and choked, his breaths coming in gasps.
“I…I…I…” He started, his other hand joining his first to grip Sportacus’s hand.
“It’s okay.” Sportacus said once more.
Robbie nodded and, trembling, he suddenly stood up straight, startling Sportacus into opening his eyes.
Robbie’s own eyes were open once more, and were blazing a bright, blinding silver. Despite the painful brightness, Sportacus couldn’t force himself to look away, as if he were a moth drawn to a lightbulb.
And as Sportacus felt himself drown in the silver light, he heard Robbie say one last phrase.

“I remember now.”

Chapter Text

//

The snow swirled around Robbie’s head as he watched from his post on the rooftops. He gazed down at the streets below, watching as the traffic went by, his ears tuned to the noise around him.

He watched as a Cadillac rolled past, and even from his post he noticed the dents and scrapes in its paint job, and how the driver carefully maneuvered around bits of garbage and potholes in the street.
He looked down the road, frowning as he gazed upon the rows of houses and buildings, as well as the freshly abandoned tire factory whose shadow loomed above the entire town.
The streets were dimly lit, with only the barest of decorations: a few scattered wreaths, a few spare strings of half-dead Christmas lights, and a display or two.

He sighed. Things had only gotten worse every single year.

Robbie sat at the edge of the building, his wings folding flat against his back.
Wistfully, he thought back to the town when he’d first arrived, a fresh-faced faerie gifted with the incredible responsibility to keep the town in one piece and alive with love and spirit.
At the time, it seemed such an easy job. LazyTown was teeming with friendly folks who cared for one another and oozed joy and spirit over everyday life, and said love especially came alive around the holidays.
A sad smile crossed his face as he remembered how beautifully every building was decorated for Christmas. Painters from across the country used to visit the town to reference for postcards and greeting cards, that’s how beautifully decorated the town was. Carolers would walk down the streets singing their songs as children made snowmen and danced down the sidewalk.
Things were perfect and beautiful.

But once the economy collapsed, and the tire factory was forced to shut down, all of that changed.
Robbie sighed. He remembered just how suddenly everything changed. The town was like a deflated balloon, with not an ounce of the pep and spirit it once held.
So many families lost their homes, their businesses. Whole nest eggs and fortunes went up in smoke overnight. Thus, despair flooded the little town, and not a moment could be spared for more frivolous pursuits like celebrating holidays.
Replacing the celebration instead came a rise in crime, with robberies growing rampant and ever more damaging.
Robbie hadn’t expected that his job as a guardian would become so keenly focused on playing the part of a secondary police force, yet here he was.
And he could feel how the spirit had faded. It left his heart heavy and his energy sapped.

He looked down below, watching as a family hustled past, the children being ushered in front of the parents as they sped past yet another abandoned building.
Looking back up, he gazed at the horizon. The sky was a dark gray and the snow still fell, dusting the rooftops a clean white, though the snow had begun to slow.
Robbie snapped his fingers towards the sky, a spiral of silver magic spinning up into the clouds.
Within minutes, the snow flurries began to thicken once more, bringing the promise of an extra inch of snow.
At least I can make everyone’s Christmas white. I can guarantee that. And maybe the snow plow people can make a few extra dollars.” Robbie mused, a small smile crossing his face.
The smile faded quickly, however, as he heard the distant sound of police sirens.
He glanced in the direction of the sirens, watching a distant street glow red and blue.
I would’ve hoped that criminals would stop their crimes for this night at least. I suppose I hoped for too much.” Thought Robbie defeatedly.
So much for a day of peace, joy, and goodwill to all people.

As Robbie stood to his feet, another sound caught his attention and made him freeze.
The sound of glass shattering, just a block away from him.
His gaze snapped to the right, his eyes focusing on the house at the corner.
His eyes widened.
Mayor Goodman’s home. Someone must be breaking in.” Thought Robbie, frowning as he flexed his wings.
Without a moment of hesitation, Robbie leapt off the roof, his wings flapping furiously as he soared through the empty streets and towards the mayor’s home. As he drew close, he noticed the broken window on the west side.
Gritting his teeth, Robbie swerved to the other side of the building, searching for another window. Locating the other, second story window, he snapped his fingers at the frame, forcing the window open. He flew through and fluttered to a halt, hovering his way to the ground.
Looking about, he realized he’d entered through the bathroom. Carefully walking past, he creaked open the door and glanced out, tucking his wings back to avoid being seen.

At first, he saw nothing but what was barely illuminated by moonlight: the back wall of the hallway, a side table with a lacey spread and a few picture frames, and a vase of flowers.

He listened carefully, trying to sift through the atmospheric groans and hisses of the house, due to its age and the faulty radiator.

Finally, moments later, he got what he was looking for. He could hear a rhythmic creaking that grew ever louder.
He peeked back out through the door, his brow furrowing as he finally caught a glimpse at his would-be cat burglar.
He watched as the slender man tiptoed through the house, glancing side to side as he deftly snatched a pair of silver candlesticks from the table, stuffing them into a bag.
Robbie, noiselessly, emerged from the bathroom and flared his wings, glaring at the thief.
“I would’ve thought you’d have the decency not to rob people on Christmas Eve. Guess I was wrong.” He said.
The thief yelped and turned around, his dark eyes shrinking at the sight of the frightening faerie. He nearly dropped his bag of loot as he did but gathered himself quickly enough to shoot Robbie a sneer.
“Like I would care if it’s Christmas or not! The mayor should learn not to leave his valuables lying about so carelessly.” The thief retorted.
“Glanni,” Robbie said warningly. “usually I would turn you over immediately to the police given what you’re up to. But since it’s the holidays, I’m giving you a fair warning: stop what you’re doing right now, and we can both have a peaceful night. Doesn’t that sound better?”
Glanni looked at Robbie warily, glancing up and down at the faerie. He held the bag of valuables close to his chest, his body untensing as he considered Robbie’s offer. His expression softened momentarily.
That moment of softness, however, faded near immediately, as Glanni frowned and violently chucked the bag of valuables right at Robbie’s head.
“If you want this junk so bad, take it! But you aren’t getting me!” He snarled, darting off in a different direction.
Robbie flinched and raised his arms, the bag bouncing off his arms and clattering to the floor. Robbie hissed at the pain running up his arms before he beat his wings, flying swiftly through the narrow hallway.
Glanni, having ducked into a room, slammed the door in Robbie’s face before darting around the stunned Robbie, who clutched his nose angrily.
Robbie snapped his fingers and sent a flare of silver magic at Glanni’s feet, narrowly missing him.
Glanni knocked over the table, hoping to stall Robbie. He cursed angrily after watching Robbie swiftly fly over the debris.
“Leave me alone, Robbie! Don’t you have better things to do then mess with someone like me?” He asked spitefully, taking a vase and chucking it at Robbie’s head.
Robbie snapped his fingers at the vase, splitting it in two.
“You’ve invaded the mayor’s home and attempted to rob him! Don’t pretend this isn’t important!”
“Screw you!” Spat Glanni, running around the corner of the hallway.
Frowning, Robbie flew after the thief.

Meanwhile, amidst the noise, Petunia Goodman sat up sharply in her bed.
“Gilbert! Gilbert, I heard something! I think someone’s in the house!” She hissed, shaking her husband worriedly.
Gilbert grumbled and rolled over.
“Bet it’s just a mouse dear.” He mumbled before snoring once more.
Petunia pursed her lips and grabbed her robe, tossing it on.
“I’m still going to check.” She said.
Gilbert only gave a half-mumbled response.
“I’ll be right back.”
Petunia creaked open the door and peeked out, looking carefully side to side.
She heard nothing.
As she prepared to close the door, however, she heard a crash around the corner of the hallway and a hushed swear.
Her eyes widened, and her jaw tightened as she crept out into the hallway, grabbing a broom she’d left behind the door. Holding it like a baseball bat, she prepared to walk towards the intruders before freezing in place, watching as two individuals came charging towards her.

“Get away from me you freak!” spat Glanni as he chucked another decoration towards Robbie, barely missing the faerie’s head.
Robbie’s teeth were visibly gritted as he started whispering a spell, cupping his hands and forming a ball of silvery magic.
Glanni was running nearly backwards at this point, his attention turned towards Robbie and the quickly growing magic ball. He swore under his breath, his pupils shrinking to pin-pricks. For all his time in his gang, he’d never been trained in dealing with magic of any kind, mostly because no one figured that magic would be a big enough concern for them to deal with.
Yet here he was, and he knew that if somehow he was lucky enough to escape with his life, he’d backhand the assistant leader of the gang for his stupidity.
He was so distracted by his frantic and angry thinking that he was caught by surprise when he ran into something decidedly solid and warm, and something that made a high-pitched noise when he slammed into it.
Glanni’s arms went flailing as he was thrown off balance, his heart thumping in his ears as time seemed to slow to a crawl. He frantically dug at the air, hoping to cling to anything to prevent his face from meeting the floor. Much to his luck, his hands met the railing on the side wall, and all he had to deal with was the painful jerk to his arms as he narrowly managed to hang to the wall, his forehead slamming into the wall. Other than a goose egg tomorrow, Glanni figured he’d be okay.

His relief at saving himself from face-planting was short lived, however, as he soon heard something thumping down the stairs, the noise heavy and pronounced in the relative silence of the house. The thumping continued for several seconds before going silent as suddenly as it began.

Glanni looked over as Robbie froze, his feet meeting the ground and his wings outstretched. Even in the low lighting, Glanni could see the distinct look of fear in Robbie’s eyes.
“Oh no…” Robbie said in a low voice as he quickly soared to the bottom floor.
In the back of Robbie’s mind, he prayed and hoped that Glanni had simply knocked a pillow or chair down the stairs, and that the loud noise was the frame within either knocking against the wall. However, even with his prayers he had a sinking feeling that that was a small possibility.
As he stopped at the foot of the stairs, his heart fell to his stomach, and his face fell.
“Oh no…” Robbie said, crouching down in front of an unconscious Petunia.
He looked her over, lifting her arm to feel for a pulse.
His heart froze. He couldn’t feel anything.
As he started looking for a phone, he could hear the floorboards creak upstairs. Instantly Robbie’s expression snapped towards one of anger, and he clenched his fist in the direction of the upstairs.
Glanni had barely snuck away a few inches before he gasped loudly, the floorboards buckling underneath him. He yelped as he sunk down to his waist before the chasm closed around him, the floorboards like teeth sinking into his side.
He struggled and stretched, but the hold was too tight.
“You’re not getting away. Not after this.” Robbie muttered, before he finally found the phone hanging on the wall.

Minutes later, the road in front of the mayor’s home was flooded with a mixture of gawking on-lookers and emergency response vehicles with lights flashing and sirens droning. Police tape had been strung up around the premises, blocking off the majority of the building from passersby. Robbie watched silently away from the tape as Glanni was carted out of the building, his hands cuffed behind him, and was shoved into an awaiting cruiser.
“You’ll be locked away for quite some time, Glæpur.” Growled a policeman.
Glanni sneered.
“Not likely. What’ll they get me for? Trying to steal some worthless china?” He asked.
“Well, if Mrs. Petunia Goodman doesn’t make it through the night, a second-degree robbery charge will be the least of your worries.” Said another officer with a dark look in his eyes.
Glanni, realizing at that moment what the policeman was suggesting, felt his face go pale and the blood drain from his face. Before he could say something else, the door was slammed in his face, the policeman locking the door behind him.
“Thank you for stopping Glanni again, Robbie. Something tells me that he’ll have a hard time evading a sentence this time around, so you won’t see him for quite a while.” Said the policeman, stepping next to Robbie.
Robbie simply let out a grunt, his arms crossed and his eyes low to the ground.
His attention rose once the paramedics exited the house, his heart dropping as he watched them wheel the gurney out. A sheet covered the person on the stretcher.
Robbie’s heart sunk into his stomach, but his expression remained unmoved.
Another paramedic was talking to Mayor Goodman. Robbie watched as the mayor’s expression shifted from shock, to horror, to anger, to finally grief. The paramedic hugged him as the mayor sobbed openly and loudly, his body visibly shaking.
Robbie, finally having had enough, slowly turned and walked away.

He walked down into the side alleyway, the same side Glanni had entered from. He looked up at the shattered window, then down at the glass shards sparkling in the snow.
He sighed.
“So…it’s come to this. I should’ve known, I should’ve known. I didn’t want to think of it, but I see it’s true now.” He said quietly to himself, his heart sinking deeper.
He kicked aside a piece of glass as he stared at it ruefully.
“It was all a lie. This holiday is no different than any other day. These humans don’t change, not even for the most magical night of the year. What does it matter then?” He muttered, his eyes watering.
The light of his wings fizzled bright and dim, and Robbie could feel his body grow heavy as he walked down the alleyway.
“If humans will still steal from one another and kill each other on Christmas, what hope is there?” He mumbled, feeling himself grow heavier. “That’s it…”

His wings dimmed and slowly faded.
“I’m done.

//

Sportacus blinked as the image of the alleyway faded and was replaced with the real, present day alleyway. He stepped back, rubbing his eyes as he tried to chase away the sleepiness in his head and refocus. He slapped his cheeks and shook his head, finally feeling the double vision fade away.

With himself back to normal, he looked up, and stopped as he was soon confronted with a very different looking Robbie.

Robbie was hovering a few feet above the ground right in front of him. His wings were blazing in their entire glory, an image of silvery-white beauty, with the primary wings like shining ice crystals with intricate feather-like patterns etched into their surfaces like frost. The secondary wings were clearly visible too, patterned like a lacey doily or a paper snowflake, and a thin, cold mist emanated around and from them.
He looked up at Robbie’s face and gasped, taken aback by the sight.
Robbie had always been an attractive man, but in his full faerie form, he was an unearthly beauty.
The color had returned to his skin, which while still pale, had retained a color that made him glow. And if it weren’t for the color of his skin that made him glow, the two swirls of silver dust highlighting his cheekbones would as they glittered in the moonlight.
His eyes, always a gray color, now seemed to glow in a haunting fashion, making Sportacus both stare in awe and slight intimidation. His ears now ended in a slight point, less severe and long than Sportacus’s but still noticeably so.
Finally Robbie’s clothes, once his usual suit jacket and slacks, were replaced by what looked to Sportacus as medieval clothing. He instead now wore a maroon tunic with deep, purple accents, a silver belt across his mid-section, a dark gray pair of leggings, and dark gray boots. As he lowered to the ground, Sportacus could also see a slight sheen of silver in his hair, ever so subtle that only became apparent in the moonlight.

Sportacus was so stunned, he only stared with his mouth slightly gaped.

Robbie meanwhile, gave Sportacus a small, sad smile.
“I remember now why I lost my magic and memory. I’m guessing you saw how too.” He said. “I lost my faith and hope for humanity and the goodness of humans. And, I guess, it convinced me that there was no point keeping the Christmas spirit if the holiday changed so little in their hearts.”
Sportacus’s mouth shut and he nodded slowly, his expression lowering.
“I can see why you detested Christmas for so long. What happened that night was…terrible. Just terrible. I’m sorry.” He said.
Robbie nodded.
“It was for everyone. Mayor Goodman retired soon afterwards. I never saw what happened to Glanni, but I can’t be too positive about him.” He said.
He shook his head.
“So, are you okay? That was all a lot.” Sportacus said stepping forward.
“I still feel fuzzy. That was a lot of magic and memories coming back. But…but I think I’m okay.” Robbie said, looking up as a small smile crossed his face. “Besides, I’m really just thankful right now. You really helped me.”
“I-I did? I mean I’m glad, but how?” Sportacus asked.
“You really helped me see just how great people still were. Sure, there are some who hurt people and don’t change, but change is possible for most people. You helped so many people in town, that’s clear. And now all those people are celebrating together and making this as good a night as possible.” Robbie said.
He cupped the side of Sportacus’s face.
“I know that Christmas isn’t some all-powerful day, at least not for mortals. There will always be mortals that’ll be terrible to themselves and others during this time. But with you, I was reminded of just how much good still exists during the holidays, and that there’s always hope for something better.”
Sportacus paused, then smiled a relieved smile.
“I’m…I’m glad! I’m so happy to hear that, Robbie.”
“And Sportacus?”
“Yes?”

Some synapse in Sportacus’s brain must have fizzled and sparked as Robbie leaned forward and closed the distance with a kiss, as Sportacus was left floundering and stunned from the sudden, and wonderful, turn in the conversation.
At first, Sportacus wasn’t sure what to do. What do you do? He badly didn’t want to mess this up, but he was certain that you weren’t supposed to just sit there doing nothing when someone kissed you.
What should he do?
After a moment, Sportacus realized what to do. He simply relaxed, and let himself sink into the kiss, wrapping his arms around Robbie’s waist. Robbie, in turn, gently cupped Sportacus’s face and hummed contently.
Oh, it was wonderful, and Sportacus could feel his ears burn and wiggle excitedly, a chuckle escaping him.
Robbie parted for only a moment to look amusedly at him.
“What was that for?”
“Oh, just, um, my ears. They’re kind of, you know, expressive.” Sportacus said embarrassedly.
Robbie smirked and glanced up at them, giving them a gentle poke. They wiggled wildly.
“Well, I think it’s cute. Just like you.” He said.
Sportacus was red as a tomato.
“Oh, that’s…that’s wonderful to hear.” He said with a smile, before leaning in to kiss him once more.
The two remained locked in a kiss, just embracing each other and enjoying each other’s presence, until they felt something cold land on their noses.
Both looked up, with both of them standing stunned at the sight.

Snow. Real snow.

Robbie chuckled and shook his head.
“I suppose it’s about time. LazyTown has been due for a snowstorm for the last few decades. I need to stop slacking off.” He said, laughing.
He stopped as he noticed Sportacus simply watching.
“Sportacus?”
“I’m sorry, I just love hearing you laugh.” Sportacus said.
Robbie smirked and kissed him on the cheek before taking his hand.
“Come on, let’s get out of here. As much as I like this, we should get out of this alleyway.” He said.
“Sounds like a plan.” Sportacus said, walking happily with the faerie towards the street.

--

As the two walked along, both men wondered how they’d gotten so lucky.
Robbie couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so happy. He gave Sportacus’s hand a little squeeze as they walked along, the snow quickly accumulating on the side of the road. He purposefully, gently bumped against Sportacus, who bumped against him. He sighed contently and leaned against Sportacus.
His heart was light as a feather, and such a nice feeling was so great, Robbie wondered how he’d lived for so long without such a lovely feeling.
As for Sportacus, while he’d lived a wonderful life full of joy and love, he’d never felt as content as he did right that moment. Life at the North Pole was absolutely perfect, and he was surrounded with loved ones, but he’d never had someone to spend a moment like this together. He’d never had someone to hold hands with and walk together in the snowfall. He felt Robbie squeeze his hand, so he gave his, a gentle squeeze back.
Sportacus felt Robbie lean against him, and he gently kissed his head. It was all so perfect, and he never wanted to go back to a life without such a wonderful feeling.

The two drew close to Stingy’s manor and, as they were about to turn the corner, both paused as they heard something overhead.
“Did you hear something?” asked Robbie, his wings flaring.
Sportacus nodded.
“I did. It sounded familiar too, but what could it be?”
The two listened closer. They heard the sound once more.
It was a light sound, like the laughter of angels, or the sound of distant windchimes.
Finally, Sportacus smiled.
“I know that sound. We’re about to have a visitor.” He said happily.
Robbie only had a moment of confusion before he realized who Sportacus was talking about. He looked up towards the sky in wonder.
Dipping down below the clouds, finally becoming visible, came a sleigh painted in a handsome crimson color with gold-painted accents across its side. It shimmered and shone in the bright moonlight, and was pulled by eight handsome reindeer, all outfitted with red harnesses dotted with silver bells. The sleigh spun a loop, descending in a wide corkscrew, before it slid down into the streets, coming to a halt a few feet away.
Sportacus and Robbie rushed over to the sleigh, taking a moment to marvel at its artisanship before directing their attentions to the driver himself.

The man was plump with cheeks pink like roses, and his woolen coat was the same crimson as his sleigh. He stood with a presence both commanding yet gentle, his silver-framed glasses resting at the tip of his nose. The tip of his bobble cap swung over, resting its white pom-pom on his shoulder as he straightened his long, white, curly beard. He stretched and chuckled, testing the snow with his black galoshes, before turning towards Sportacus and Robbie.
Robbie gasped; Sportacus grinned and gave a short bow.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Claus.” Sportacus greeted.
Santa looked surprised for a moment before breaking into a deep, hearty laugh. He stepped forward and greeted Sportacus with a crushing bear hug, putting him down after a moment.
“Ho ho! Merry Christmas, Sportacus. I’m so pleased to hear of your success. LazyTown hasn’t felt this lively in decades, and it’s all thanks to you.” He said.
“Thank you, sir, but the credit shouldn’t just go to me. Robbie here helped a lot, and so did much of the townsfolk.” Sportacus said.
“As I would’ve hoped to hear.” Said another person whom Sportacus and Robbie had just noticed was sitting in the back of the sleigh.
The woman’s face was mostly obscured with a gold, silk fan, leaving only her piercing, silver eyes exposed. From the sides of the fan her long, blonde hair was visible, left loose and straight and seemingly still despite the evening wind. She was dressed in a long, shimmering, white dress, and her head was adorned with a silver crown shaped like the rays of the sun. From her back, a pair of silver wings sparkled and gleamed in the evening light.

Robbie’s eyes widened, and he immediately knelt on one knee, his head bowed low. He tugged Sportacus’s sleeve and gestured for him to do the same, which Sportacus did.
“My queen Lyssia, you grace us with your radiance.” Robbie said in a hushed voice.
Queen Lyssia looked at her subject and extended a hand covered in sparkling, silver rings. Robbie gently took it and laid a kiss on the ring with the largest gemstone.
“It’s wonderful to see you again, Robbie. I wept the day I felt your presence slip from my vision, and now I rejoice to see you once more.” She said softly.
“Forgive me, my queen. I shall never doubt or stray again.” Said Robbie humbly.
“Such request is needless Robbie, for it’s in the past.” She said, her attention turning towards Sportacus.
Sportacus gulped once his eyes met hers, piercing and cold.
“You must be the elf that has captured my faerie’s heart.” She said.
“Y-Yes your majesty. My name is Sportacus.” He said nervously.
“No need to introduce yourself, Sportacus. Trust me, Queen Lyssia is very aware of who you are.” Said Santa warmly.
Sportacus blushed in embarrassment and chuckled nervously.
“Hmm, Robbie, I must say you’ve chosen quite a handsome being.” Queen Lyssia mused, looking towards Santa. “Tell me, Mister Claus, are all of your subjects of such handsome beauty?”
“Well, I don’t believe I’m a great judge of such things, your highness. But I’m most certain there are some elves that would be honored to make your acquaintance.” Santa said, chuckling.
Sportacus’s face was bright red, and he had to fight the urge to pull his wreath over his face.
Robbie smirked at his embarrassment.
“Now Sportacus, with your mission over, you’re free to return to the North Pole. That’s part of the reason I made LazyTown my last stop. That and, of course, Queen Lyssia wished to see Robbie in person. I imagine you must be excited to return home, hmm?” Santa said, standing with his hands on his hips.

Sportacus’s blush instantly vanished, and his skin turned gray.
“Go back? Back home?” Sportacus said, his attention snapping to Robbie.
Robbie looked astonished as well, but he quickly replaced it with a sad smile. He placed a hand on Sportacus’s shoulder as they stood once more.
“Mr. Claus is right. You’re done now. You don’t have to stay if you don’t need to.” Said Robbie.
“B-But, I don’t want to leave! Not yet!” Sportacus said, looking pleadingly at Santa. “Must I leave so soon?”
“LazyTown is not in need of two guardians, Sportacus. With Robbie’s memory and magic returned, he can continue his original duty of protecting LazyTown and keeping its spirit alive. Your mission is done, and you must now return to your original position as well.” Queen Lyssia said.
Sportacus’s ears drooped, and he slowly looked back at Robbie.
“B-But, if I leave, I have to leave you.” He said softly.
“It’s not for forever, right? You can always come and visit. Sure, it won’t be easy, but we could make it work?” Robbie said weakly.
Sportacus looked down sadly.
“My job at the North Pole kept me working nearly every day. I rarely got a day off, not that I disliked that. I don’t know how often I could get time off, let alone enough to travel to here.” He said.
“And if I’m the guardian, I really can’t leave LazyTown that often either.” Robbie said, his own gaze lowering.
Sportacus bit his lip and looked down at his hand, the one holding Robbie’s. He sighed and looked back up at Robbie.
Robbie looked at him, and the two stood quietly together.
“I…I don’t want to say it.” Sportacus said. “I don’t want to say good bye. Not so soon.”
“Me neither.” Said Robbie.

Santa stroked his beard, watching the two with furrowed brow and a thoughtful expression. He glanced over at Queen Lyssia.
“Your highness, there isn’t a way LazyTown could have two guardians? Just this one time?” He asked softly.
Queen Lyssia shook her head.
“My apologies, Mr. Claus, but that is simply impossible. LazyTown just isn’t large enough to warrant two guardians.” She said.
“I see.” Said Santa thoughtfully, looking back over at the two.
He patted at his pockets, thinking carefully, nodding once he found what he was looking for. From his pocket he pulled out an aged scroll, yellow and crinkly, along with a quill and pot of ink.
Queen Lyssia watched with a quirked eyebrow.
Santa furiously scribbled at the paper, glanced at it, then nodded. He cleared his throat and walked over to the two men.
“Sportacus, I believe you remember it’s customary for all the elves to receive a gift of their own on Christmas Eve.” He said.
Sportacus wiped away a tear and nodded.
“I do. I was going to ask for a new book on human culture.” He said with a sad laugh.
“Well, something tells me you’d prefer this.” Santa said, holding up the scroll. “As my Christmas gift to you, I’ve decided to alter your position at the North Pole. You’ve been moved from gift production to research and development. With that job, you’ll be free to come to the human world as often as you’d like, provided that you’ll give us useful information on what children and people wish for Christmas. How does that sound?”
Sportacus’s eyes widened and twinkled as he read over the contract. Happy tears rolled down his face as he nodded happily.
“Yes, yes this is wonderful! Thank you! Thank you, Mr. Claus!” He said, giving him a hug.
Santa chuckled and hugged Sportacus back.
“What can I say? I’m not one to stop new love, and that certainly won’t change here.” He said, patting Sportacus’s back. “Though I must say, your friends in the sports equipment division will miss you.”
“And I’ll miss them, but I hope they’ll understand.” Sportacus said.
Robbie smirking, tapped Sportacus’s shoulder, and surprised him with a kiss as he turned around.
Santa chuckled and shook his head before walking back over to his sleigh.
“I will see you back at the North Pole on December 26th then, Sportacus. We’ll go over the details of your new responsibilities then.” He said, sitting back in his sleigh.
He looked about.
“Now where is my assistant? We should be going soon.”

“I’ve just finished, Mr. Claus!” chirped Íþro as he leaped and flipped from a rooftop.
Sportacus gasped and grinned as his older brother landed mere feet from the group, startling Robbie enough to get his wings to flare.
Íþro’s eyes widened as he got a good look at Robbie.
“Well, at least this makes more sense! And now I can sleep well knowing mortals still can’t see our true appearances. When did this happen?” He asked, gesturing to Robbie’s wings.
“Íþro...” Sportacus said embarrassedly.
“Sorry, sorry. I didn’t mean to act rudely.” He said, turning to Santa. “The spells have been cast, and the presents should appear as soon as everyone has gone to sleep.”
“Sounds wonderful! Thank you Íþro, I really do appreciate your help.” Santa said, patting Íþro on the back.
Íþro nodded and smiled, his gaze darting to the sleigh momentarily.
His smile faded slightly, and his gaze returned to the sleigh and, more importantly, the woman sitting in the sleigh.
Queen Lyssia looked at him curiously and fluttered her fan, gazing back at him.
Íþro’s cheeks and the tips of his ears turned pink. He tugged at his scarf and laughed nervously.
Santa smirked knowingly.
“No worries, Íþro. You can sit in the back of the sleigh if you’d like.” He said.
“O-Oh! Thank you, M-Mr. Claus.” Said Íþro, giving a small wave to the queen.
“Merry Christmas, brother.” Said Sportacus.
Íþro turned and smiled at Sportacus, giving him a hug.
“Merry Christmas, brother. I assume I won’t be seeing you at home for Christmas?” He said.
“Not this year. I have someone here to spend it with.” Said Sportacus, smiling.
“Well, I’ll see you soon then. I can give you your gift when you get home.”
“Is it another sweater?”
“Maybe.”
Sportacus chuckled and hugged his brother once more.
“I’ll see you soon.” He said.
Íþro hugged his brother back and, afterwards, climbed over and into the sleigh. He sat next to the faerie queen, Sportacus smiling and chuckling as he watched his brother attempt small talk with Queen Lyssia.
“Me thinks you and your family has a thing for faeries.” Said Robbie teasingly.
Sportacus blushed and chucked.
“Maybe so.”

Santa looked about and smiled, sighing contently.
“Well, as much as I’d love to stay here and enjoy this lovely snow storm Robbie has created, I’m afraid I must get going. Mrs. Claus will worry if I’m out too long.” He said, walking back towards his sleigh.
After climbing back on board, Santa gave one last smile to Sportacus and Robbie.
“You two have a wonderful Christmas, alright? And I’ll see you soon, Sportacus.” Santa said.
“Thank you again, Mr. Claus.” Said Sportacus, smiling.
Santa chuckled and cracked the reigns.
“Oh, and have a happy new year!” He called out, chuckling as the sleigh rose back into the sky, the reindeer climbing higher and higher until they had all vanished into the clouds.

Sportacus and Robbie watched together, holding hands, only looking away once the sleigh was completely gone.
“That is something I didn’t tell you yet, did I?” said Robbie.
“What’s that?” asked Sportacus.
Robbie then kissed Sportacus’s nose.
“Merry Christmas.”
Sportacus, smiling warmly, leaned in and kissed Robbie on the lips.

“Merry Christmas.”

 

The End