“Have you guys noticed Robbie’s been acting kind of weird lately?”
Trixie turned to look at Pixel, ponytails flipping, one brow raised. “Robbie is always acting weird. You’ve met him, right?”
Pixel shook his head. “No, I mean weird even for Robbie. I noticed it a few weeks ago and it’s only getting worse. It’s freaking me out a little.”
“Well, you know Robbie,” Stingy put in. “If he’s acting weird, then he’s probably up to something.”
It was a warm day in late summer in Lazy Town, and with the beginning of a new school year swiftly approaching the kids had felt the call to adventure stronger than ever. At a suggestion from Trixie, all five of them had dressed in their scouting gear and trooped out to the woods just outside of town. It was very small - even with short legs they would be able to walk from one end to the other before they had to go home if no one got too distracted. But it was still different than hanging out at the playground or spending the day playing video games. Small or not, the woods offered up the potential for adventure, which was all you needed when you had five active imaginations.
The introduction of Robbie and his weirdness broke the mood of their game, which was as brave dinosaur hunters looking for the hidden valley where the giant creatures still roamed, but that was probably for the best. Ziggy was starting to look upset over the whole thing.
Stephanie, walking towards the front of the group, slowed down, tilting her head back thoughtfully. She tried to remember how Robbie had been behaving over the last few days. As bits and pieces came back to her, she found herself agreeing with Pixel.
“It has been a long time since he’s tried out one of his schemes on us,” she said.
“Probably just to throw us off,” Stingy was quick to point out. “Make us think we’re all safe and sound, and then boom! Evil plan in progress before we know what’s going on.”
They were all quiet as they considered. Trixie piped up again first. “Nah. I don’t think Robbie has the patience for it. He’s a grown up, but sometimes he’s worse than me for patience. Or even Ziggy!”
“Mmph!” Ziggy tried to agree around a mouthful of lollipop, simply happy their talk had moved away from giant lizards with big teeth.
“But have you noticed that he’s been hanging around more than usual, too?” Pixel went on. “He’s not tried anything nefarious in weeks, but it seems like he’s always just around.”
“Now that you mention it…” Stingy murmured, petting his piggy bank thoughtfully.
“And he’s… I don’t know. Off. Little things in how he acts, the way he watches us playing games. He even tried to start a conversation with me the other day about programming.”
Having managed to extract the overlarge lollipop from between his teeth, Ziggy grinned hopefully. “Maybe he’s trying to be friends.”
“Robbie?” Trixie’s tone was so disbelieving it was almost comical. “Trying to be friends with us? Is it time for the end of the world already?”
Stephanie wasn’t quite as certain as Trixie about the impossibility of the suggestion. She could remember times when Robbie had looked like he wanted to, had attempted, or had actually succeeded in joining in on their play. It was pretty rare, but still, it was there. “I don’t know, Trixie, he might be trying to make friends. He is a big softie, after all.”
But Trixie shook her head firmly, ponytails flying. “Nah. He’s probably just sick. With how much cake he eats it’s not surprising.”
“I think if he were sick were sick we would really know about it…” Stephanie began, but trailed off as a sound reached her ears. It was the sound of feet rapidly pounding along the path somewhere ahead of them. The others also heard it, and they all stopped.
“What do you think that is?” Stingy squinted along the path, clutching his piggy bank protectively.
“Dinosaur?!” Ziggy squeaked and ducked behind Stephanie, an arm wrapped around one of her legs, making her stumble a little.
Wobbling a little, she squinted, trying to make out the small figure she could finally see coming down the path so fast it was raising a cloud of dust behind it. “No, Ziggy, it’s not a dinosaur. Actually, I think that’s-“
“Is that Robbie? Running?”
It was. They only had a second or two to marvel at the sight of the normally super lazy villain sprinting up the path so fast he might have actually given Sportacus a hard time in keeping up. He didn’t slow down, even as he passed them, flashing by so quickly that more than one of them spun around as he zoomed by.
They stared after him, the purple stripes shrinking quickly into the distance.
“Uh…” Pixel was the first to recover enough to speak, but he only got out the one word before the distant shape of Robbie screeched to a halt and they could just barely hear him shout. “Children!”
For a second time they watched as Robbie raced towards them. Stephanie was fairly certain this was the most she had ever seen Robbie run before. It was by far the fastest she had ever seen him run. This time he did stop when he came to where they were standing. Stephanie was pretty sure she heard the heels of his shoes actually squeal like tires in the dirt as he pulled himself up.
“Kids! Do you have any-“ He suddenly doubled over, gasping for breath. Apparently even the reaction from running so fast had to catch up with him, but now it had he was puffing like an asthmatic bellows.
They waited, casting befuddled and worried glances at each other over his gasping body. When Robbie was finally able to look up again his face was flushed, a thin sheen of sweat covering his face. Stephanie’s brow knit with worry. What on Earth would induce Robbie Rotten to run?
“Do… any of you… have any… sportscandy?”
Everyone was silent for a moment as they attempted to process what they had just heard. “Sportscandy?” Ziggy asked, voicing the same incredulity that was on everyone’s mind but which no one else could quite get out.
“Yes!” Getting his breath back a little, Robbie was able to stand up again. He looked from one of them to the other frantically, his eyes wide, muscles tense, hands half raised and ready to snatch what he wanted the moment it was presented. Despite having just run so much and it being Robbie, who had moral objections to moving at all, he looked ready to take off again in an instant. “You kids are always eating the stuff! You must have some with you, right? I need some right now!”
They all paused again, looking at each other. Robbie Rotten was outside, running, and now he was asking for sportscandy. Were any of them really awake?
“Maybe you were right,” Stephanie said to Trixie. “He really is sick.”
“Uurgh!” Robbie growled, throwing up his hands, looking and sounding much more himself as he scowled. “I don’t have time! Do any of you have sportscandy or not?”
A little dazed, Stephanie started to shrug off her backpack. “Sure, Robbie. What kind would you like?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he snapped impatiently. “The best kind!”
After a brief hesitation to decide which was the ‘best’ of the fruits and vegetables she had brought with her, she handed Robbie a handful of strawberries. At least they were sweet, so he had a chance of liking them. “Here you go, Robbie. Enjoy.”
Robbie took the fruits eagerly but with a disgusted little lift of his lip. “These aren’t for me, little girl, they’re for Sportaflip!” He took off again on the path, going back the way he had originally come from.
“Wait, did he just say Sportacus-?”
“I think he did.”
“Why would Sportacus need-?”
“He must be in trouble!”
“C’mon, let’s go!”
Robbie was fast - faster than any of them would have ever given him credit for - and he had a head start on them. But the woods were not very large. Robbie didn’t have far to go before he stopped and the kids caught up. The sight of Robbie, Lazy Town’s own villain, crouched over the prone form of Sportacus, their beloved hero, was enough to send a couple of them into high pitched hysterics.
Stephanie looked over the scene a little more calmly than the rest. It was Sportacus, after all, and nothing really bad could happen to him. And, on the other hand, it was Robbie, who was about as dangerous as an angry kitten, and did the most damage either to himself, by accident or both. Sportacus was lying on the path, face down, and Robbie was doing his best to flip him over onto his back. As he did, with some understandable difficulty, they could see that Sportacus’ eyes were closed and his mouth gone a little slack. The strawberries Stephanie had given Robbie were lying near at hand.
Ignoring the others, who were all still shouting at cross purposes, Stephanie went down next to Robbie to help him flip over Sportacus, who was about as easy to move as a wet sack of potatoes when he was unconscious. Robbie didn’t seem to notice, as he was muttering the whole time under his breath, like a sort of running commentary.
“…of course you weigh a ton, stupid Sportabrick, just had to pass out on me in the middle of nowhere, make a nuisance of yourself no matter what, you better appreciate what I’ve done for you, I’ve run, I’ve sweated, I touched sportscandy for you, you blue flipping…”
And so on. Robbie didn’t seem aware he was doing it, nor did he seem to need to pause for breath. It was rather impressive, and if the majority of Stephanie’s attention hadn’t been taken up with worry over Sportacus she probably would have giggled over the indignant kind of distress Robbie was showing for his supposed adversary. One would think, what with how long Robbie had been trying to get rid of Sportacus, that he would be all too happy to have him passed out on the forest floor. But no, she thought that he was actually the most worried out of any of them.
Once Sportacus was turned over, Robbie picked up one of the strawberries and, with one last grimace at the little fruit, put it up to Sportacus’ mouth.
The kids held their breath as they waited for some reaction from their hero. Robbie worked the strawberry against Sportacus’ lips until they parted. Stephanie felt him twitch a moment before his mouth worked and his eyes fluttered. He took a drowsy bite of the strawberry, chewed and swallowed.
The effect was almost instantaneous. His eyes flew open, bright and alert, and sat up out of Robbie’s lap where his head had been cushioned. He looked around dazedly, taking in the woods, Robbie and the small crowd of cheering kids.
“What’s going on? What happened?”
“You tell us,” Pixel retorted. “We found you here passed out on the ground!”
“Yeah! And with Robbie of all people helping you,” Trixie added.
“Feeding you sportscandy,” Ziggy clarified.
“Why would Robbie want to help you?” Stingy wondered aloud.
Sportacus looked around at them all, including at Robbie with raised brows. Robbie, for some reason, was looking even redder in the face than a moment before, and staring very determinedly at the ground. After a second Sportacus’ face cleared and he turned back to the kids, all wide smiles.
“Oh, I remember what happened! I was enjoying the nice day here, and I must not have been paying attention to what I was eating. I thought it was a healthy muffin, but it must have been a cupcake! I had a sugar meltdown is all.”
“A meltdown?” Ziggy asked. “From a cupcake? How did you mix up a cupcake and a muffin, Sportacus?”
Sportacus shrugged. “Everyone makes mistakes, Ziggy. Even heroes.” He said it easily, unembarrassed, but Stephanie thought she saw something tense in his face, just a little.
Trixie was looking around on the ground. “So where did the rest of the cupcake go?”
“Birds flew off with it,” Robbie fired back quickly. A little too quickly.
The others caught on to that quickness as well, their attention returning to the villain and narrowing. “Oh, really?” Stingy said, dripping suspicion. “And why were you out here, hm? Just happened to be passing by?”
Robbie drew himself up straight. Even sitting he was still tall enough to look down his nose at them. Barely. “As a matter of fact, I was. Is it a crime now to walk in the woods?”
“Maybe not,” Pixel conceded grudgingly. “But why would you try and help Sportacus, when you’re always trying to get rid of him?”
That seemed to fluster Robbie for a minute. His eyes flicked around as though searching for an answer. He even looked at Sportacus for a second, and Stephanie noticed that Sportacus was watching him back, and when their eyes met a look passed between them.
Stephanie had seen that look before. It was a look that adults shared sometimes, especially her parents, whenever they had to communicate something without any children within earshot knowing what was going on.
They’re hiding something, she realized with a start. Both of them.
As she was reeling from this revelation, Robbie was replying with self-important dignity. Though, now that Stephanie listened, he also sounded nervous. “Well, obviously it wouldn’t do to have Sportaloser just keel over because of an accident, now, would it? If he’s going to keel over it’s going to be because of me.” He sounded pretty convincing, but the redness in his cheeks was back, and his nose was twitching a little like it sometimes did when he was stressed or excited.
The others must have caught on to the oddness of the situation, as the silence around them grew very pointed indeed. Stephanie actually felt a little sorry for Robbie. Under the weight of so much scrutiny he was beginning to visibly wilt.
Before any of them could begin to really interrogate him, though, Sportacus raised his hands. “Now, now, it hardly matters why he was here or why he decided to help. As you can see,” he rolled backwards, pushed up onto his hands and flipped around onto his feet, a wide grin lighting up his entire face. “I’m perfectly alright now! And it’s all thanks to you, kids, and to Robbie.” He offered a hand to Robbie, who took it very hesitantly, and was pulled upright so strongly he came off the ground completely, landing on his feet again heavily. “Thank you, Robbie.”
Robbie appeared flustered, tugging his clothes back into place fastidiously, looking everywhere but at Sportacus or any of the kids as he stammered out a ‘You’re welcome,’ cheeks redder than ever. Even his ears were tinged pink.
Stephanie watched the two of them carefully as Sportacus asked them what they were up to and the others fell over themselves to chime in with their answers, barely paying attention to any of the words. Normally about this time, Robbie would be slinking off somewhere, probably back to his Lair, leaving the rest of them to their chatter. This time he was remaining close by, fidgeting and looking uncomfortable, but not leaving. Sportacus seemed to be doing his best to draw and hold attention away from Robbie. A suspicion began to take root in Stephanie’s mind, and when Sportacus managed to make eye contact with her an instant of understanding passed between them.
When Sportacus soon suggested that they continue on their hunt for a hidden dinosaur valley and Ziggy suggested that Sportacus go along with them, Stephanie helped convince the boy that they would be fine without the hero. It took some persuasion, and Stephanie caught the grateful look sent her way by Sportacus as they left him and Robbie standing on the path.
She wasn’t sure she was right in her suspicion, but the constant stream of low words Robbie had been muttering to Sportacus as he had been trying to revive him stayed with her.
Robbie leaned to a side, trying to peek around a bend in the road the kids had taken. “Have they really gone, do you think?”
“Yes, Robbie, you can relax now.”
Robbie glanced at Sportacus, who was smiling at him implacably. “I doubt that with you around. You make it your job to be sure no one ever relaxes, and then you go and… Why did you pass out, anyway? Sportscandy was just a guess to get you back on your feet.”
Sportacus was picking up the rest of the strawberries, never one to leave perfectly good fruit lying around. As he stood he shrugged. “Exactly what I told the kids, except for the part about the muffin and the cupcake. I had a sugar meltdown.”
Robbie’s frown deepened. “How could you have possibly had a sugar meltdown? We were just walking along the path, talking, we stopped and… then…” His face flushed a bright red and he stammered to a stop, eyes dropping away.
Sportacus’ smile widened a little. “And then, I believe, you said something very un-villain-like, and then you kissed me.”
Poor Robbie’s face turned such a deep shade of red that it was threatening to turn purple. If he went on like this much longer, steam would start curling out of his ears. Sportacus felt a little bad for teasing him, but he didn’t often take the opportunity, and Robbie just looked so charming when he was flustered.
“Yes… Well…” He cleared his throat, doing his best to regain some measure of dignity. It was a mixed success. “How was that meant to give you a meltdown, Sportaswoon? I know that I’m devilishly handsome and a charmer of the first order,” he brushed back an imaginary loose hair, “but that should hardly be enough to cause a superhero to faint.”
Smile still in place, Sportacus stepped close to Robbie. It was about as close as they had been just before Robbie had surprised them both with his nerve, took him by the arms and planted a very determined kiss on him. Robbie tensed as he came near, but Sportacus moved carefully, slowly. The villain had always been anxious around people, preferring space to company, and now with this brand new element to their relationship it was understandable that he would only be more wound up. But he was careful, and Robbie was firm, and Sportacus was allowed to reach out and brush Robbie’s lower lip with his thumb. “Do you remember what you ate for… ah… breakfast?”
“Cake,” came the answer, sounding slightly dazed. “With extra frosting.” Robbie blinked as Sportacus took his hand away. He refocused on Sportacus, a line between his brows. “That was what gave you a meltdown? How sensitive to sugar are you?”
He laughed. “Apparently that sensitive. Of course, it could just be your own natural sweetness overwhelmed me,” he said it with a mischievous cant to his smile.
Robbie snorted, his face just as red as ever, the danger of steam ears not yet passed. “You’re one to talk, you saccharine sop.”
“No wonder you like me so much, then.”
He snorted again, looking away from Sportacus and fidgeting with his sleeves. “Well, that’s just embarrassing. And awkward. I mean what happens when…”
“When you want to kiss me again?”
“… will you meltdown every time?”
Sportacus thought about it for a minute. It was a question that deserved some thought. He rather liked that Robbie had kissed him, and the idea that future possibilities would be lost because of his unfortunate response to sugar and Robbie’s addiction to the same was frustrating. There had to be a way around it. There was always a way.
“Well,” he said after a minute. “I think we’ll be safe if, beforehand, you replace the leftover sugar on your lips with something that won’t give me a meltdown.”
He held up a strawberry, from which Robbie recoiled as though it were fire.
“Ugh. Are you trying to kill me? Actually eat one of those…” he reached out a finger and jabbed the fruit, “things?”
Sportacus shrugged, holding back a grin. “Of course it’s up to you which you prefer. Either the sportcandy, or not.” He could see the struggle going on in Robbie’s head, and decided to give one final nudge.
“Strawberries are very sweet, Robbie.”
Robbie stared at the offending fruit, looked up at Sportacus - his eyes flicking very briefly to his lips - and back to the strawberry.
With a look of horrified determination, Robbie took the strawberry and shoved the whole thing into his mouth.