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SilentTown

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*****



Elfin magic was a temperamental thing, governed by laws and inherent rules that humans were not born understanding, but had to be taught. It was both a binding and chaotic element, easy to upset, yet very protective of those within its boundaries. It was hidden and quiet, much like the folk that had created it; many of the humans who lived among it were not even aware of its existence. It had become part of the land, powerful and immutable.

Robbie Rotten had received his wish, to make LazyTown miserable—Sportacus was gone—gone—and without its hero, the small and once cheerful town had become a dark, ugly version of its former self; what the trickster hadn’t realised was that LazyTown was situated atop ancient land tied to the hidden folk and Sportacus’ exit had resulted in disastrous consequences.

Stephanie, still caught on the cusp of 12 and 13, carried a heavily iced slice of cake on a cracked plate towards the edge of town. It had taken her two days to recover the sweet piece of dessert from the bakery’s freezer, watching patiently for the nasty ‘things’ that wandered the street to leave and then hiding from the eldritch fog. She hummed a song as she walked along the crumbling cobblestone road, careful to step over the pulsing red runes that glowed on the ground—she'd discovered that they burned when she tried to touch them.

'The Fire', as it was the only one she'd ever experienced, had been horrible, sweeping through most of the town, leaving many houses, trees, and buildings black, charred husks. It had be the first of many dark things to come to her beloved LazyTown. There were packs of horrible looking dogs that roamed the town, dripping blood everywhere and giving wheezing snarls. When nightfall approached, air-raid sirens she'd never noticed before blared loudly, warning the empty town that it was to become dark.  And then there were the people...

Some nights she sat on the roof of her uncle’s house, watched the skies and waited.

Sportacus…he’d been gone before LazyTown changed.

Most citizens had gone missing as far as she knew, while some wandered around the edge of the town, horribly disfigured. Stephanie tried to stay away from them which wasn’t too hard—they were slow moving and most were missing eyes at this point, the teethed birds that circled town having chewed them out. The Townhall had been halfway burned down and when she went looking for her Uncle Milford, she found an odd noise that came from within his office, one that reminded her of chattering teeth and maniacal laughter. After hearing it, she’d brought boards and a hammer to nail the door closed, not wanting whatever was inside to come out.

She wasn’t blind to the fact that she never saw Uncle Milford after that.

Ziggy’s house was no better. It had been spared from the fire but there were two skeletons trapped against the glass windows, pinned there by a wall of greyish-green mould that had presumably filled the whole home. And from it emitted the sharp and nauseating tang of rotting sugar as well as the moaning—pained, aching moans—that sometimes carried with the gentle breeze. She hated the nights when the moaning carried through the neighbourhood, laced in with the stench of decay. Pixel’s house was untouched by the fire as well, but long electronic wires had begun protruding from the building, coiled and ready for anything that came too close to it. Once, she’d been temped to get close to the house to call out to Pixel, but upon seeing the cables snatch up one of the roaming ‘dogs’ and drag it back into the domicile, she decided to simply stay away. Trixie and Stingy’s house were nothing more than charred husks and on the one occasion she'd gone poking around through the remains, she'd only found ashes.

No, LazyTown was technically empty save for herself and Robbie Rotten, who’d surprisingly became someone that she found herself looking for far too often.

She brushed off the dust from her bloodstained frock, bending at the waist slightly to wipe at the smudges on her bare legs; some days she missed the tights she used to wear, but those had become shredded and torn to the point that they’d completely worn away. And while all the mirrors in town had been smashed, as she'd discovered a long while ago, she knew she looked different from the ghost-like reflections of herself in the dingy glass of the store windows on the main street. She couldn’t make out details, but she suspected she wouldn't like what she'd become.

On the edge of town there was a large semi-submerged series of connected buildings that formed an underground labyrinth that Robbie Rotten lived in. Since the Fire, a huge structure of barbed wire and assorted scraps of chainlink fence had been strung together to form a barrier around the site, apparently meant to keep out the creatures that roamed LazyTown freely. The gate was easy enough to get over as it was only heavy bars in a frame and she balanced the plate of cake with ease as she climbed over the heavy metal. To lure Robbie out, she always brought sugar saturated cakes or sodium rich snacks as incentive. She knew it would only be a matter of time before the smell of icing wafted down into his underground home via the tube he used as an entrance, and lo, it didn't take long for him to emerge. He crept over to the gift, crouching on the ground to inspect them.

“Hello, Robbie,” she greeted, bringing herself into his line of sight.

He looked at her out of the corner of his eye; the usual loathing edge wasn't there, as though he was disappointed to see her—he knew what her presence meant.

“Little girl,” he murmured with a nod of his head.

She stood patiently, watching him as he stuffed his mouth with large chunks of the cake, watching the content way he closed his eyes as he swallowed the food whole, waiting until the plate was licked clean.

“Play with me,” she begged, the aching loneliness immediately overwhelming her.

Robbie licked the icing off each of his long fingers in a decadent and slow manner before answering her. “I don't want to.”

“I brought you that. You owe me,” she insisted.

He gave her a heavily-lidded look, obviously not impressed with her argument. “I'm not Sportakook.”

But he offered out his hand to her, long fingers grasping onto hers and he pulled her to his underground lair. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness that he lived in; yellowing sheets of newspaper had been been taped over the windows for reasons she didn’t know, leaving only the pale orange glow of his costume cases to light the space.

She nearly pouted, hurt that after all this time, he still wasn’t very fond of her. “Sportakook would have played with me.”

“I sure he would have,” he murmured, sitting on the edge of one of his worktables to remove the polished wingtips and clean spats he still wore; as he never ventured out of his lair anymore, he’d managed to remain the same as he’d always been.

That was something she found comforting amid all of this wondrous and terrifying change. He would never be any different.

“Always the same Robbie,” she murmured, wanting his attention.

He hesitated (as he always did) and she tilted her head to the side slightly, studying him in a sad way. She had no idea why he always resisted—there was no point to it.

“Do it,” she whispered.

He stood up from the worktable and approached her slowly, looking almost sad himself. He towered over her, reaching to touch her hair, rolling slightly singed strands between his fingers.

“What would your blue elf say if he saw you now?” he asked softly, prompting a single tear to slide down her cheek.

She hated the truth.

He gestured for her to remove her shift dress and she complied, pulling it over her head as she followed him to his bed. It was discarded on the floor at the foot of the bed, followed by her shoes and as naked as she was going to get in underwear and socks, Robbie pushed her onto her back. His bed was ridiculously large for a single man, long and dressed in rumpled sheets, and she wondered if he ever felt lonely in it. Or perhaps it was so large because he anticipated overnight guests? It didn’t really matter—it was just something to distract her for a moment from the absence of her ‘slightly-above-average’ hero.

It was punishment for her, a want for her body’s needs to be satisfied while her mind and heart knew that it wasn’t the one she required. Robbie—as someone who didn’t actually like human interaction—was silent as he stripped out of his clothes, climbing onto the bed on top of her. His limbs were long and gangly, his movements awkward as he tried to accommodate her smaller stature. He reminded her of a large, pale spider and it sent shivers down her spine. She shifted and did her best to keep herself in a position that was easiest for him to work with. He pushed into her and Stephanie let out a whimper, part pain and pleasure.

She closed her eyes, remaining as still as she could…her fingers gripped at the bed sheets tightly as she tried to imagine what this would be like with another man instead. Tanned skin, smelling of windswept hair and peeled oranges…she could almost hear his laughter…

There was nothing affectionate about what they did, no kisses or caresses, no tenderness and no talking. But she wanted none of those things in the first place—Robbie was not someone capable of any of that and to have him do so would cheapen it all. It hurt—it always hurt and she cried out in anguish, knowing he liked the thought that it was her judgement for asking something she shouldn't.

His movements became somewhat jerky not long after and she gave a few gasping cries as he finally reached a climax inside of her. He slumped on top of her, panting heavily and she winced at the sudden weight—he might have been thin, but he was still a full-grown man and and her body was still childlike. He smelt of dust and sweat, something (despite herself) she'd grown comforted by because it was one of the only constants in her life anymore.

Finally he rolled off of her onto the sheets and aside from their heavy breathing, they were very quiet.

“It’s too hot,” she sighed after some time.

His voice seemed distant. “No one’s making you stay.”

She rolled over to look at him. “I’m just saying, isn’t it too hot down here for you?”

He turned from her and she was left looking at the back of his carefully coiffed black hair. Her fingers itched to play with it, but from past experience she knew he didn't like it.

“Leave, little girl,” he mumbled.

The self-loathing radiated off of him, something she couldn't bear and after a few minutes more of staring at the back of his head, she crawled off the sheets, found her clothing and left him to wallow in his own self-hatred.

*****

Some nights Stephanie sat on what was left of the roof of her uncle’s house, watching the dark skies, waiting. On this particular night, she was surprised to see Robbie sneaking across the road and then across the lawn, constantly looking back over his shoulder for the assorted creatures that roamed in the dark looking for things to tear apart. He usually stayed safely barricaded in his underground lair, so she was somewhat happy to see him joining her on the rooftop. She offered out her hand to him as he scrambled up the rose trellis, pulling him up to lie on the rough shingling beside her. His slender ankles crossed neatly and his arms folded behind his head and they were quiet together, staring up at the smoky night sky.

“You’re waiting for him?” he finally asked.

She sighed, not looking over at the troublemaker. “I keep hoping he’ll come. I want to send a letter every day, but the air mail tube on the town’s postbox is broken in half and doesn’t work anymore.” Her eyes welled with tears and she tried to blink them back. “Do you think that maybe you could fix it?”

His reply was uncomfortably blunt. “No.”

She wondered if he was saying it because he wanted to be mean or if he was actually being honest; the more she thought about it, the more she realised it probably didn’t matter. She could find a way to repair the postal tube without him.

“Have you ever tried to leave?” she asked a while later after she'd become accustomed to the sound of his breathing and her not.

“Once. LazyTown doesn’t want us to leave. The ley lines that surround the town have been activated to create a barrier around the town in the form of LazyTown’s original seal.” His long fingers gestured down to the few scattered runes that glowed red faintly on the worn cobbled street.

“That’s what all the writing and symbols around the town are,” she mused.

“This is a private hell for those who remain,” he explained.

“Why are we being punished? Uncle Milford was the one made Sportacus leave.”

He gave a sigh, as though talking about it exhausted him. “Because the elf couldn’t have you. You were dangled in front of him and he knew you could never be his.”

She felt the hair on her arms stand up. “He wanted me?”

“Always wanted you.” He made a face at her. “Not just like that…but because you understood him. ‘Kindred spirits’ and all that.”

“Oh,” she said mournfully; her heart beat a bit faster at the thought of being compared to Sportacus. “I didn’t know.”

“Your uncle did,” Robbie muttered darkly.

“What?”

“He wanted Sportacus to have incentive to stay around.” He turned on his side, propping his head up with a hand. “Imagine—Mayor Milford Meanswell forming the perfect arrangement between the township and one of the huldunfolk; his niece for the safety of his beloved LazyTown.”

At this, she sat up and looked down at him. “You’re not serious. You’re just trying to upset me.”

“Why do you think your uncle allowed you to stay for so long? That he wanted you to be here rather than return home? That he even asked for you to come to come visit LazyTown in the first place?” He tapped his long finger on the roof. “It was all a big set up from the start. He was trying to keep you here.”

Stephanie stared at him with rounded eyes, aghast he was saying such things.

“Oh, don’t look so hurt. You would have been so happy to be with that silly elf,” he scoffed, but his voice lost its hard tone and he added, “And he would have waited until you were of age.”

She didn’t want to ask him if he was specifying Sportacus or her uncle.

“Why…why did my uncle did my uncle make him leave?”

“He had formed a contract with Sportadork and failed to deliver.” He sat up and waved his hands dramatically at the ruined town. “That is why this is the way it is.”

So somewhere in all the unanswered questions and the horrifying answers, she was part of the reason Sportacus was gone. She drew her legs up against her chest, resting her chin on her knees.

“You just want someone to love you as much as I love Sportacus,” she mumbled, wanting to make him feel as bad as she did.

He didn’t seem fazed by her comment. “Perhaps.”

They watched a pack of the hideous canine-like creatures that roamed the town fighting over what looked like a mummified left arm for a while before then she turned back to Robbie, wanting answers once more.

“If he loves me, why hasn’t he come back?” She wanted to hold Robbie’s hand for comfort but that wasn't a gesture she could ever bring herself to do, so she balled her hands into fists and let the feeling pass.

“Maybe he knows there’s nothing to come back to.”

She wanted to protest, to tell him that she was still here, but she looked at the bloodstains on the front of her frock and the dark ash that had been ground in. Maybe she hadn’t tried hard enough to make LazyTown worth coming back to. If she found a better dress and cleaned the town up even more than she had already…yes, surely that would just scratch the surface of what she had to do. After all, she wanted him to be proud of her taking care of the place he worked so hard to protect. She lie back down and closed her eyes, her mind going back to a time where the sky was blue and she hair was brilliant pink...

By the time she spoke again, the Milky Way, or ‘Night River’ as Sportacus would have called it, had crossed over her to her right side.

“Robbie?” she asked, turning to look at him.

He didn't open his eyes. “Hmm?”

“How long have we been here?”

He cracked an eye open, glancing over at her. “Only a few hours. I'd say three at most.”

“No. I meant, how long have we been here?” She emphasised by tapping a finger to the roof.

“Oh.” His eyes opened fully at that point and he stared at her, his greyish eyes unnervingly bright in this dark. “I stopped keeping track after ten years. The seals have changed this land's perception of time.”

She touched her dull hair. “Am I always going to look like this?”

“Yes. No. Probably. For a while, at least.” His eyes trailed up and down her body. “Encapsulated as eternal youth.”

“Why did I change?” she asked. “I mean, why do I look this way now?”

He shrugged against the shingles. “Spells. Curses.”

She bit her lips between her teeth as she thought about what she wanted to ask him next. “Why did people die?”

“Because they didn't stop me.” His words came out like a sigh..

“Why do you still look the same?”

Expectedly, rolled his eyes. “My name is Robbie Rotten for a reason. There wasn't much to change.”

She rolled over onto her side, propping her head up on her hand. “Where did those dog things down in the street come from—”

He gave an exasperated huff. “I don't know, Pinkie. My understanding of huldenfolk magic is limited at best, just things I remember being told when I was a child and the few things I learned while I was plotting against the big blue elf.”

She felt uncomfortable thinking about how often Robbie had tried to sabotage the person she considered ‘hers’, a nauseous upsurge beginning to build in her stomach. Her hands clutched at her hollow abdomen, tracing the deep ridges of the cicatrices through the material of her dress. Sometimes she wanted to hate him so much, but she would catch those thoughts and remind herself that Sportacus never disliked anyone, much less hated, and she’d force herself to be patient with Mr Rotten.

“Fog,” she commented as an unusual layer of haze began to rise off the ground.

He lifted his head up to glance down at mottled grey swirls that had left the road and yard hidden. “Perhaps I'll stay until it leaves.”

“Might be a while,” she said hopefully.

While she never sought out to hold his hand for comfort, this time he found hers, his long fingers folding tightly around hers. She wondered if this was all he'd ever needed, a comforting gesture from someone, anyone. She didn't ask, suspecting that he probably didn't know the answer himself.

But that was fine. As she lie here on the rooftop, looking at the sky, waiting, she was more than happy to find comfort where she could.

Chapter Text

 

*****


When he first realised he wasn't alone, Robbie Rotten had been confused. After the weeklong Fire died down, he’d roamed what was left of Lazytown to acquire all the supplies and materials he could, only to find the child that annoyed him most. He hadn't recognised her immediately, originally thinking that she was some dark creature skipping around in a humanoid form. Of course, the closer he got to her, the quicker he realised who it was. 

It was her smile that gave her away.

She smiled everywhere, constantly. It had always irritated him, a continual thorn in his side, but at least now he knew it was a sign that she was still human. Monsters and creatures didn’t and couldn’t smile and unless she was something truly horrible and treacherous, he took the smile as a very good sign. Well, as good a sign as any considering he couldn’t stand her.

Whenever he was out and happened to find her, he’d stalk silently behind her, watching her every move and keeping his eyes open for the bizarre abominations that roamed the town. This was partially because he didn't want to be torn apart by the creatures and also because of the selfish desire of getting to see someone else as miserable (if not more!) as he was. Except she wasn’t as depressed as he’d expected—sure, he’d caught her crying a few times, but overall it wasn’t the meloncoly that seemed to have overtaken the rest of the town.

He’d counted a full three hundred and sixty-six days before he finally announced his presence to her; she'd jumped up and down, squealing unintelligible words while flailing her hands around. This of course was all before she pulled him into a tight hug, her head pressed to his chest as she exclaimed in an ear-piercing cry,

“OhRobbieI’msooooooohappytoseeyouandI’msogladyou’reokayandthatwefoundeachotherrrrr!!!”

He'd quickly shoved her off of him, trying to muster as much disdain towards her as he could manage, but she didn't seem upset—she merely beamed at him hopefully, obviously thinking that he was excited to see her, too. 

But despite her innocent smile and enthusiastic personality, Robbie soon learned that the girl wasn't the child she had once been. She had certainly changed—both in body and idiosyncrasies.

First, there were the outbursts. While very rare, they verged on irrationally violent and he’d learned not to take her threats lightly. On a few occasions he’d observed frustration get the better of her and it had resulted in destructive fits that didn’t end until the object of her rage had been destroyed. And then there was the predatory look in her eyes whenever she brought him something. There was nothing seductive about her mannerisms, but the looks she gave him only meant on thing and afraid of what she might be capable of if he tried to deny her, he consistently gave in. It was…horrible.

There was always the faintest smell of burning flesh when she was around. By now he’d become desensitised to it, but at first it had been incredibly disturbing and he’d hardly been able to stand near her without getting sick immediately. It took him a while to realise that it was a result of being caught in the Fire—she was still burning from the inside out.

 

*****


He was disgusting. He felt nauseous. Why couldn't he just curl up here and die?

The girl shifted on the mattress behind him. She was unusually quiet this morning and while he should have found comfort in it, he didn't. It was too quiet actually, and he felt a bit of relief when she let out a soft sigh. Not that he wanted her to talk because when she did, she refused to shut up! 

He rolled over, bringing himself eye to eye with her. She looked slightly surprised that he was acknowledging her presence in the bed with him, something that made his gut tighten uncomfortably because it was hard for him to actually admit he was inches away from a naked girl. And no, it didn't help to think that chronologically she was 'old enough'. 

“Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror?” he asked softly, unable to get his voice above a murmur. 

She blew a few of the pale pink tresses out of her face. “No. Should I?”

His slender fingers reached up hesitantly to touch her face, finally finding the nerve to satisfy the curiosity about the strange mark extending from the corner of her mouth to her right ear—yes, it was a scar creating a grim, one-sided permanent smile. Her wide-eyed stare was unbearable and he climbed out of the bed, wrapping himself up in a blanket.

“Come,” he ordered as he walked to the bathroom.

Above the sink was the sole mirror in LazyTown that still existed; sometimes he wondered if that was because the elf’s magic had wanted to protect the girl from seeing what she had become or if it was to force him to look a himself every day. Perhaps it was equal amounts of both. Robbie guided her to stand in from of the mirror, holding her by the shoulders. He could hear her breath catch in her throat and she took a step towards her reflection. Crossing his arms over his chest, he watched her studying herself for the first time. Her eyes revealed the shock and fascination of what she looked like now, that she could see herself the way he saw her.

The burns were scattered across her body, but they weren’t healed into scars; parts of her grey skin were charred into hardened, scaly patches and in some of the larger ones, it was easy to see that there was still an ember glowing beneath the surface, faint orange peeking out from the crevices of dead skin. Her face, while still childlike, was ashen and her bright eyes were sunken deep in their sockets. As she touched her face, he saw the fingertips she explored with were blackened in a way that reminded him of frostbite and her fingernails were ragged and dirty with blood and ash. 

She touched the small glowing embers that freckled her neck. “What's wrong with me?”

“The Fire.” He watched her studying her bruised looking lips. “I think that there was still enough residual magic left on you from the big blue elf that you were only altered.”

She looked at him with large eyes, mouth parted slightly in shock. He found it amazing that he knew so much more about it than her, considering she’d was part of that magic now. 

“That's what The Fire did, you know. It was chaotic magic,” he explained.

“Did you see it?” she asked breathlessly.

“Yes.” Memories of brilliant orange flames and the sound of panic on the surface flooded his mind and he quickly shook them away; he didn’t like thinking about the event. “I managed to block off the entrance way in time with that solid iron door.”

“Was it scary?” She sounded impossibly childish.

“Yes,” he finally uttered.

Her wide eyes suddenly looked nervous. “Do I look scary?”

“No.” Disturbing, yes. “Just different.”

Her brow furrowed and she touched her face, studying her reflection. “Would Sportacus think I look—”

“Oh, for crying out loud!” he shouted, glaring at her. “Why must everything revolve around him?!”

He expected her to make some flustered and upset remark about her hero but instead her eyes watered, her chin wobbled, and she ran out of the bathroom. ’How typical,’ he thought to himself. ’Robbie Rotten making little girls cry.’ He rolled his eyes and huffed before he noticed the sound of scratching up the tube entrance to his lair.

“Pinkie?” he called out after her. There was no response and he peeked his head out the bathroom door. “Pinkie!”

He realized that her clothes were gone from the floor and he hurried into the main room of his lair, obviously hurt by what he said. She climbed back up the large pipe so fast, she forgot the silly pink headband she always wore. Picking it up from the end of the bed, he sighed and clutched it in his fingers. 

 

 

Chapter Text

*****


“Thanks,” she murmured as she accepted the headband from him.

It had been a day and half since he’d last seen her. Today he'd found her up the tallest tree still left in LazyTown, looking through a telescope and sitting on a small platform that had been nailed sturdily to a branch high up. He had been carrying her headband around, mostly because he didn’t like the thought of it among his things—he didn’t need any of trace her tainting the only refuge he had left. She said nothing further to him and he knew she was simply too polite to tell him she wanted nothing to do with him, but he didn't really give a damn—he was lonely and he was refusing to be alone in his lair this morning.

With enough stretching and balancing that would have to be considered exercise, he managed to make his way around her to sit an arms length away from her on the branch.

“So what are you doing?” he finally asked.

She gave a mournful sigh. “Looking at the apples in that tree.”

She passed him the telescope, pointing to what she had been watching; through the scratched lens he saw the old fruit orchard patrolled by squishy grey things that had possibly been humans once. There was a lone apple tree that was still green and alive, the only plant in Lazytown that hadn’t been reduced to a shadow of its former self.

“If you had a distraction, you could get to them,” he observed as he handed the telescope back to her.

And of course he made sure not to offer to be the distraction.

“Yes,” she agreed. “I miss fruit. Sugar is nice, but...”

They were quiet for a while and Robbie brushed away the small particles of white ash that had fallen on his maroon and purple trousers.

“I thought you were afraid of heights,” he finally commented.

She didn’t look in his direction. “I am.”

“Who put this perch up here?”

“Sportacus.”

“Why?” She gave no answer and he demanded, “Well?”

She still said nothing and he made disgruntled noises until he realised he wasn’t going to get a reaction from her at all. Ready to stare off into the distance and think of things such as cake, he moved his hand on the branch and looked down as he felt something unusual. Pulling his hand back, he saw that there was something notched into the worn dead branch.

“There’s an apple carved in this branch. Ugh. How typical. I think I’ll make it a lollipop instead—“

He began to pull out the small pocket knife he carried with him and she jerked her head to look in his direction.

“Don’t,” she said firmly and he paused. The look on her face was chilling. “If you touch it, I will shove you out off the branch.”

“We’re almost thirty feet up,” he protested, but he could see that even that wouldn’t stop her. He held up his hands defensively. “All right, all right—I won’t touch your precious carving.”

She turned her attention back to the orchard and he gave a bored sigh.

He remembered that he’d been toting around something other than the headband he’d already given her and reached into the small pocket of his waistcoat, pulling out the folded photo he’d hand saved for years; he had a sneaking suspicious that because it had been important to the elf, he couldn’t let harm fall to it without severe conciquences on his end. Regardless, he had it and now he felt the urge to show it to the girl, hoping to capture her attention somehow, maybe even make her cry a little.

“He dropped something before he left.”

She looked over at him and her eyes locked on the photo he waved in front of her between two fingers. “What?”

“I don't think he meant to. I picked it up.”

He allowed her to snatch the picture from him and she unfolded it.

“It's us,” she said, sounding shocked. He pretended not to watch her as she studied the faces of all the children including herself. When she spoke again, her voice was filled with such longing, he nearly felt sorry for her. “I want to leave, Robbie.”

He grabbed the photo back from her and tucked it in his waistcoat pocket again. “We can't.”

“There's always a way,” she insisted.

“There's always a way, there's always a way,” he mimicked in a nasty, feminine tone. “Please. Be realistic.”

She didn’t look put off, however. “We can get out of here. There has to be a way to do it.” Her hand reached out and grabbed his upper arm. “Think, Robbie! Do you want to be stuck here forever?!”

He began roughly uncurling her fingers from around him. “Where would you go? After Sportadork?”

“Yes,” she said boldly. “Where would you go? I bet you have no where to go.”

“Maybe I would travel. The finest hotels. Won’t have to lift a finger,” he said cooly.

“Well, this could be your chance to leave. To get away from here and get away from me,” she said pointedly.

Robbie scowled at her and began to climb out of the tree, not wanting to put up with her nonsense any longer. If they were able to get out of LazyTown, he would have done it ages ago.

She, on the other hand, didn’t seem to want to give up the dream.

“Think about it!” she shouted after him.

*****

Everything was brown and baked, a perpetual early fall. The sun forced its way through cracks in the overcast sky to cast a dim, muddy glow across LazyTown. Crouched over a dried patch of soil that had once been a garden, Robbie pulled more of the small shriveled onions out of the soil; he had plans to chop them up, rehydrate them in something carbonated, and batter them up so he could have onion rings to eat later that night. The overcast sky was no relief this close to the hot earth—the Fire had moved from the surface to beneath the ground and he could feel his skin becoming flushed and uncomfortable from the endless heat. He could only be thankful that his underground lair seemed far enough from the core of the fire that it didn’t cause a noticeable temperature change.

Rain fell often in LazyTown; it reminded him of the way a child might cry, tears dribbling pathetically down dirty cheeks. He scowled at the clouds—he hated the way the rain washed sludge composed of ashes and remains into the streets, that meant afterwards the town was left with a sickly moldering smell that lingered on everything. As large scummy drops fell from the skies, he decided to leave the rest of the onions for another day and take the ones he had back home.

The trek back to his lair seemed endless; it wasn’t a long walk in the sense of distance, but due to the great care it took not to get caught by anything wandering the area as well as having to look at the physical repercussions his wish of making Sportacus leave had caused. People generally assumed from his attitude that he didn’t like the town he lived in—that was far from the truth. In fact, he probably loved it as much, if not more than Milford Meanswell.

He was fond of LazyTown simply because of the potential it had to be the perfect home for a man like him. Firstly, it had a name that reflected all that he stood for. Originally called ‘Lasichtuin’, a bastardized amalgamation of the low German word lasich ‘languid, idle’ and the Dutch tuin ‘garden’, it had developed into the current incarnation of ‘LazyTown’. Sometimes he murmured the original name of the town over and over, enjoying the way it rolled off his tongue. Second of all, he liked that it had been declared as the laziest place in the world, a title he wanted to help it hold. Everything had gone so well until that idiot girl and idiot elf had come along.

As the rain continued to fall, his left hand folded protectively over the pocket that held the photograph Sportacus had dropped; he really should have just left it with her so he didn’t have to tote it around. She would have taken care of it and he’d be relieved of the responsibility.

“Our hero,” he mumbled sourly as he realised that his nemesis had given him one more problem to deal with.

He didn’t just dislike the elf—he felt all-out loathing for him. If he hadn’t been so fond of the mayor’s niece, none of this would have ever happened! Sometimes Robbie wondered why the people of LazyTown hadn’t been able to see what was right in front of their faces. They had only looked for what they expected and the town hero being in love with the town’s little darling had not been on their radar. It was depressing, really. Being surrounded by such idiots.

The first time he’d realised that Sportacus hadn’t just thought of the girl as one of the annoying children that needed his guidance, Robbie had nearly died of shock. The elf and the girl had been plotting some big happy scheme that would get everyone ‘moving’ and they’d smiled at one another, which was normal in and of itself, but when she had looked away, Sportacus hadn’t. The look had lingered just a millisecond too long and Robbie had NEARLY pointed it out, but he realised that it was the key to getting the big blue elf out of LazyTown. From that point on, anytime he ran into the two them, he kept his eye out for anything that he might be able to use against them and over time he pieced together quite a collection of instances where the elf had given his feelings away.

Of course the more he saw, the more he realised there was nothing he could say about it—he’d look like a lunatic and then everyone would wonder why he was thinking those kind of thoughts. And he didn’t exactly have any real evidence to back up his claims besides ‘Well, one time he stared at her,’ and ‘He talks to her a lot,’ and ‘He brought her an apple and the other children pears’. It was all circumstantial, which he found entirely unfair considering it was making him work harder to get him out of LazyTown forever.

And he supposed with the elf’s overall naivety, it wasn’t like he’d ever act on anything he was feeling, because that wasn’t ‘honourable’ or some other garbage along those lines. There was a reason Robbie called him an idiot, after all.

Safely in his lair once more, he dropped the photo into a bowl on a small side table stuffed in a dark corner, the place where he kept many things he wanted out of sight, out of mind. The pink-haired little girl’s headband had occupied the table for a few days and he nearly considered that the table looked a little more empty without it, but he pushed those thoughts away and didn’t allow him to think of the upsetting world above him for the rest of the day.

 

Chapter Text

 

*****

It was the sound of a crow heckling loudly that woke Stephanie up the following morning. She rolled over under her blanket and blinked off the small flakes of ash that had fallen onto her lashes during the night. Sliding out from under the blanket, she stretched her arms and legs, making sure her body was limber for the day ahead. Sportacus had once told her that stretching at the start of every day was as important as brushing teeth.

On the end of her bed was the single frock she had left, laid out from the night before. There was a large hole in the roof on the far side of her room and this morning a particularly gruesome spider had made a tunnel shaped web in that corner, the circumference slightly larger than the size of a basketball. The spider’s head was fairly human looking and it leered at her from depths of its tunnel web as she started dressing for the day; she turned her attention elsewhere and chose to ignore it—she’d find bug spray later. 

Next she dusted the soles of her feet off of ash before she put her socks and shoes on, tying the ragged pink shoelaces tight, knotting them twice. Carefully folding her pyjamas and tucking them under her pillow, she straightened the blanket one final time before opening her bedroom window to crawl out; the door to her bedroom had been jammed since everything changed and no matter what she did, she couldn’t get it to loosen. 

Sometimes she missed the little purse she used to carry with her; she never seemed to have enough pockets to carry all the things she found and liked. She found a substitute for it, but it simply wasn’t the same pink bag she was used to. In the athletic store on the main street she’d found a chalk bag that she kept around her waist with a thin nylon webbing belt. Inside it she kept the few possessions she still had left that meant anything to her as well as the few assorted tools she used around LazyTown to make life easier.

Today she would be working in the park. While there were many places throughout town that needed to be cleaned and repaired, she had a special interest in the LazyTown Park as it had so many familiar elements of the one person she loved more than anyone. Skipping over the cracked sidewalks, she made the mental note to find her set of chalk to draw hopscotch grids to add some colour and make walking a game. She smiled and giggled all the way to the park’s maintenance shed where all her supplies were kept. 

The large cans of paint were neatly stacked in the left corner and the single paint brush she’d managed to find was balanced on the very top of her small collection. The cans were heavy but she only needed one and she carried it with the brush to the large wall that held the mural she was devoted to fixing.

Out of her sidebag she pulled out a screwdriver that she used for nearly everything. Carefully using the end of the dull instrument, she pried off the paint can lid, mindful not to spill any of the precious pigment; it had taken her forever to get her hands on the paint she had collected and not a single drop could be wasted. Humming to herself softly as she dipped the brush into the leaf green paint, she knelt as she began to work on the faded pear she wanted to restore that morning. She brought the brush down in delicate strokes, tracing over what had already been painted.

This mural would be even better than if had been before.

Very boldly in a brilliant blue, ‘LazyTown Loves to Move’ had been expertly scripted across the wall so many years ago; when it had been first painted, she’d secretly voted for the colour because it reminded her of Sportacus’ suit and now it brought her so much pleasure to see the beautiful colour in front of her. That had been the first thing she’d fixed and every stroke of the brush had filled her with such hope, she’d barely been able to contain it.

A very smug smile crossed her lips as she reached up and touched the stunning words with her hand, causing her skin to prickle. He would come back to LazyTown. She could feel it.

*****

She saw Robbie next when she was picking up litter on the opposite side of the park. She had no idea where the food wrappers and pieces of foil and plastic kept coming from, but she dutifully took the large burlap sack she’d discovered by the groundskeeping shed and collected every piece she could find. Robbie happened to be taking the shortcut through the dried, dead brown grass when he came across her.

“What are you doing?” he asked, looking a bit surprised as she picked up a hamburger wrapper.

“I’m cleaning up the park.”

“Why? I don’t even come here anymore.”

As though to spite her, he pulled a handful of candy wrappers out of his waistcoat pocket and tossed them onto the ground, which she quickly swooped in to pick up.

“I need to make it look nice.” She looked off hopefully in the direction the blue airship had once been. “When Sportacus comes back…”

She trailed off, knowing the man would have something nasty and scornful to say. And she wasn’t much in the mood to try convincing him to be hopeful, that very soon everything would be all right. 

“Well, don’t expect me to help this lost cause.” To her surprise, Robbie lie down on the park bench, hands folded behind his head. 

They were silent, the only sound coming from the rustle of the trash-filled bag as she continued picking up wrapper after wrapper. 

“Tell me more,” she finally said after some great while.

He lifted his head up slightly to look at her. “About why Sportacus left?”

She nodded; it was so strange to be so close to someone who had answers, though she was unsure if she wanted them.

His voice sounded rather detached from the subject. “People used to sacrifice their young to the huldunfolk, giving them up to the one chosen to act as the guardian. A living sacrifice in return for the service the guardian provided.”

She mulled that knowledge over. “And that’s what my uncle did. He gave me up to Sportacus?”

Robbie made a noise of agreement.

“What happened to the child who was given up?” she asked nervously.

“No one knows for sure.” His voice was a little too casual for her liking.

She frowned the smallest bit at his attitude. “What do you think would have happened to me?”

Robbie gave her a dark smile. “I won’t speak for your beloved elf.”

“He wouldn’t have hurt me. He was my friend,” Stephanie quickly insisted.

“Who was willing to accept you as payment,” he pointed out.

She ignored that last part and gave a heavy sigh. “I still don’t understand why he had to leave.” 

“A contract has to be fulfilled. If broken, the magic left here by the huldenfolk goes crazy.” He waved his hand around. “Hence all this.”

That didn’t sound quite like the Milford Meanswell she knew. “Why would my uncle break a contract he made?”

“Me.”

At this she stopped what she was doing entirely. “You?”

His eyes were cold and unsympathetic. “I told your uncle he had to put a stop to it all. That he had no right to barter with your life.”

She swallowed hard. “So you did the right thing for the wrong reasons.”

He shrugged. “You know how much I love to get everyone riled up.”

She felt her stomach turn. “Why didn't you just tell everyone that it was happening? Why did you keep it a secret?”

“I wanted everyone to hate your uncle, not me.”

They were quiet once more and she concentrated on picking up small bottle caps and cigarette butts out of the dry grass. Sportacus would not be happy if he saw these lying around. 

Robbie’s voice startled her. “Aren’t you mad?”

She frowned. “About what?”

He seemed irritated at her and waved his hands around as he sat up. “This! About your uncle and town putting you in this position? About me causing Sportadork to leave?”

She shook her head, snatching a light green gum wrapper off the ground and stuffing it into her bag. “What good does it do me to be angry?”

He scowled. “I bet there is enough anger and hatred burning inside you to make you very ugly.”

She paused in her trash collecting once more. “Are you saying that my outer appearance is a reflection of what is inside me?”

“Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “I’m like this because of the Fire.”

“If you say so.”

“I am!” she snarled angrily.

He seemed pleased to have goaded her and he continued. “You suppress every little negative feeling because he wouldn’t want you to have them. And every bit grows and festers inside of you, eating away until nothing is left but a very ugly little girl who looks and smells like death. All that negativity has made you into something even he couldn’t love. He’d see past your pink hair and your stupid smile and he’d know you weren’t what you pretend to be—“

Without much thought, Stephanie dropped the trash and scrambled over the top of the park bench, straddling him as she gripped her hands tight around his throat. The urge to strangle him overwhelmed her and everything in her focused on him. He began clawing at her hands, trying to pull them off of him, but she refused to let go. She found his head wasn’t as heavy as she had anticipated and she began to slam it over and over and over into the weather-beaten wood. The sunny paint had become worn and flakes were clinging to whatever hair products he put in his pompadour. She was beginning to get tunnel vision and her eyes locked onto his red ones—she could see some of the delicate capillaries had burst which only made her want to hurt him more. She wanted to see his blood all over this park and she wasn’t going to stop until—

Robbie’s hands finally managed to pry her off his abdomen and with the freedom it gained him, he brought one of his long legs up and kicked her to the ground. Toppling onto the hard sidewalk, she realised she had been crying. Her hands had seized into ugly claws, still trying to crush a windpipe that wasn’t there; the concrete of the sidewalk began to chip and crumble where her fingertips were digging in and she quickly brought them up, willing them to relax from their shape. She could hear him sputtering for air, hacking as he climbed to his feet.

“I think you left bruises!” he choked out, his hands clutching protectively at his throat. 

“I’m sorry.” She wiped the tears from her eyes as she sat up. “I think maybe I overreacted a little.”

“A little?” he screeched, his voice incredibly hoarse.

Her chin trembled as she stood, trying to go over to him. “Are you okay?”

He skittered over the park bench to get away from her and gave her a cool look. She watched him straighten his clothes, trying to fight back the newest round of tears as he gave her the cold shoulder. And without another word, he turned around and walked away; she was sorry to see him go, but she couldn’t blame him for wanting to get away from her. She could already see the red marks around his throat from where her fingers had been and she felt terrible. As Robbie disappeared from sight, she was left bowing her head in shame and sniffling at the loss of having someone to talk to all because she couldn’t be nice. Sportacus would never have let Robbie say such terrible things about her. And he wouldn’t have allowed her to act out the way she had. For that matter, Sportacus wouldn’t have let anything escalate into what it just had. He would have said something to make them smile and laugh and then perhaps she and he would have sang and danced together…

All thoughts of Robbie were gone as she smiled to herself, her mind transported back to the memories of what life was once and she sashayed around the park, picking up litter, as she hummed a song for a partnerless waltz. 

*****

Unfortunately, the most important post box in Lazytown had been partially destroyed by the Fire. The large airmail tube on the side that shot letters high up in the sky had been broken in half, making it completely worthless. She’d tried on various occasions whenever inspiration stuck to fix it, but she always failed, leaving the one letter she wanted to send undelivered.

Every evening she walked home, she passed the post box; she had propped the top half of the tube against the post box a long time ago and while she stared at it, she could feel the weight in her chalkbag of the delivery tube she always carried with her. 
Kneeling down on the sidewalk, she began pulling out the small dry seedlings that would try to grow into weeds. She hated the thought that she couldn’t get any message out to Sportacus, that she couldn’t tell him that she was here, waiting.

“I’ll get you fixed,” she promised the airmail tube with a sad smile. “There’s always a way.”

Chapter Text

*****


Robbie found her in the tree once more; this time she was fast asleep, curled up in the largest fork of branches. He managed to creep up the branches and trunk quietly, preferring to sneak up as to have the upper hand this time. 

He cleared his throat loudly and he watched her eyes open to look up at him.

Her voice was drowsy. “Is it morning?”

“Yes. What are you doing up here?” he asked in his most accusatory tone.

She rubbed at her eyes as she sat upright. “I fell asleep.”

Obviously.

Stretching her arms, she explained herself. “Oh, uh, there were dogs that chased me up here and I couldn’t leave.”

At this he felt a chill run up his spine. “Oh, those dogs.”

“Yeah, the one with the long tongue and no eyes.”

Her eyes lingered on his throat and he shifted uncomfortably; he hadn’t seen her since her outburst in the park and the bruises were just beginning to fade to a sickly deep yellow and olive hue. Quickly, his fingers pulled up the cloth of his turtleneck to cover them and it seemed to snap her out of her trance.

“What are you doing here?” she asked curiously.

“I was looking for you.”

She sat up looking rather happy. “Oh! Did you want to play or do something together?”

“No.” He crouched on one of the upper branches to look down at her, feeling rather like a large bird. “I have been thinking.”

She still had that stupid smile on her face as she climbed up onto the branch with him. “About what?”

“I have been looking though the notes I made about the huldenfolk back when I was trying to run the Blue Elf out and I think I’ve found a loophole that will let us leave.”

She started to pull him into a tight embrace. “Really?”

He fought her off. “Don't touch me.”

She looked as though she could barely contain her happiness.“So what’s the trick to getting us out?”

He pointed to the ground below them. “The runes.”

“The runes?” Her face fell. 

“Yes. What’s wrong?” 

She gave him an uneasy look. “Do they hurt you when you touch them?”

“No. I feel numb but mostly they act as a buffer and bounce me back. Do they hurt you?”

She shivered. “It feels like I'm on fire.”

He nodded, acknowledging that it might pose a problem later. “The fog is the key. It acts as the gateway between worlds.”

She frowned. “Worlds? This isn't LazyTown?”

“It is. Just not the LazyTown we used to live in.” He started to climb back down the tree and called out one final message. “We will need to leave when there’s fog.”

*****

When Robbie returned to the boundaries of his compound, he was (unpleasantly) surprised to find her sitting on the large metal gate that kept the nasty creatures out.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, eyes narrowed as he climbed over the top of the gate.

“I thought we could brainstorm together,” she replied cheerfully as she followed him towards the entrance.

He rolled his eyes. “Fine. Come on.”

Thankfully, she’d always been good about staying away from his things whenever he did allow her into his lair and he had no qualms turning his back to her while he shuffled a mess of papers around the floor of his bed, searching out the exact notes he needed in order to show her that he had an actual plan for their escape. Finally locating them (between an unfinished manuscript he’d started writing years ago and a clump of old receipts for pizza orders) he motioned for her to join him at his bright orange armchair.

She sat down on the ottoman listening attentively as he began to read from his notes, random bits of information he’d stored away long ago. He’d forgotten about them entirely until the day before when he’d stumbled across them tucked in a service manual for a soda fountain he’d once owned. After that, he’d torn his place apart looking for anything he might be able to use to his advantage.

“According to one of the books I once read at the library, melted wax over the runes will mute their power. Once all the runes have been effectively muted, the boundary of the seal will disappear and we can walk right out.”

To his surprise she shook her head, looking pensive. “I don’t think we have any wax.”

He raised an eyebrow. “No candles, no crayons?”

“No. None that I’ve ever seen, anyway.” He could practically see the gears turning in her head. “Could we put mud on top of them?”

He shook his head. “No. The runes are part of the earth—that would do nothing.”

“What about something like paint?” she suggested.

“No.”

“Melted plastic?”

“No. It has to be of organic composition and a neutraliser.”

Her eyes drifted across the stack of books and binders. “I never realised you liked books.”

“I used to have a machine that would read my books to me while I built things,” he said nostalgically. “But those days are since gone.”

She looked as though she wanted to say something more, but stared at her feet instead. “Soooo…can we still cover up the runes to get out?”

“No. You do realise what this means, don’t you?”

She looked back up. “No?”

He grimaced. “We’re going to have to fight our way out.” 

She looked horrified. “What? How?”

He began to read one of the direct quotes he’d written down. “ ‘All binding magics may be broken if the proper tool is used. A key to unlock an elfin stave or a knife to cut through a human made seal.’ Ours is a human made one.”

She bit her lower lip, looking somewhat confused. “But there are runes.”

“Yes, but that’s what the old LazyTown seal looked like.”

She was quiet for a moment as she mulled his words over. “So we need a knife?”

“Not just any knife.” He tapped his chin thoughtfully. “I’m fairly certain that the knife we’re looking for is the town’s Ceremonial Dagger.”

She scrunched up her nose. “What’s that?”

He shook his head free of the many thoughts going through his head. “It’ll be at the centre of town, at the town hall.”

“There are a lot of…monsters in the centre of town,” she said hesitantly.

Robbie nodded. “I know.”

*****

For a second time, Robbie came to join her up on the roof of her uncle’s house, though this time he walked there with her instead of creeping though the middle of the night before the fog arrived. 

He pulled a pencil and a small notebook out of his waistcoat, as well as his pocket watch before poising himself to write.

“What are you doing?” she asked curiously, leaning over to look at the blank sheet of paper. 

“Timing when the Fog World starts and when it ends.”

She felt her eyes widen in curiosity. “Fog World?”

“It’s what I call the plane that the fog creates.”

“‘Cause it’s not here,” she said, watching the watch hands go in two different directions out of the corner of her eye.

“Right.”

It was so wonderful to get answers and explanations about things she’d never really thought about before and while she didn’t generally consider Robbie the best source of information, she did know that he knew more than her about the magic of the world they lived in. 

“Tell me about it,” she begged.

He gave her a sidelong glance but seemed open to appeasing her. “The fog creates a dimension that lies between the ‘real world’ outside of LazyTown and the realm we currently live in. I’ve come to believe that various creatures and people can pass into the Fog World from the real world and vice versa. I’m not quite sure how it works but it seems to be a gradual transition—like, we’d probably not even realise we’d made it out until we saw there wasn’t anything trying to kill us.”

“So the fog weakens the seals?”

“I think it’s the magic trying to blend the two worlds, shifting the molecular matter of a living being so they’re adjusted to the next world.” He watched her reaction. “You have no idea what I’m saying, do you?”

She bit the inside of her cheek as she tried to piece together what he was telling her. “Kinda…”

He rolled his eyes. “Whatever. You’re not here for your brains.”

She gave him a withering look but decided to not to let him provoke her into an argument. “I thought there were more things in the fog. That’s why we avoid it, after all.”

“It’s true. Making it harder for something like you to get out.”

“Someone,” she corrected. 

“Whatever helps you sleep at night,” he said snidely. “It’s true that there are ‘things’ out there in the fog, but as long as we’re prepared for it, we should be all right. I think that two of us watching out should keep anything from happening.”

“Good thinking,” she started. “Teamwork—“

“NOT teamwork. It’s four eyes looking out for the monsters out there,” he said firmly.

“It’s teamwork,” she muttered and he shot her an angry look.

“The siren!” He put a hand over her mouth. “Shhh!”

Completely silent, they watched the Fog begin to rise from the cracks in the street, dark shapes appearing within the dense haze. “See? Things materialise in the Fog.”

Her large eyes widened. “I’ve never noticed it before. I just thought it brought more monsters out.”

“No, it creates them.” He pulled his hand away from her and began to feverishly write in his notebook. “I hope you’re ready for a long night of watching the creepy-crawlies.”

“It’ll be fun,” she said, grinning ear to ear. 

As he studied her smile, he almost forgot that the girl sitting next to him was one of them. Almost.

Chapter Text

 

*****

The following morning Stephanie ran headlong into Robbie as they both came around the corner of the now-abandoned bakery from different sides. Apparently he was looking for her as well and after he berated her for not looking where she was going, he motioned for her to walk with him.

“Firstly, we have to go to the hospital,” he told her, his long strides forcing her to hurry after him.

She felt her heart sink. “Really?”

“Yes, ‘really’. There are supplies in there that we will not be able to find anywhere else in LazyTown.”

She huffed loudly and he gave her an irritated look in return as he asked, “What is it?”

“It’s just…it smells. I haven’t even been near there since I first smelled it,” she said, hoping her facial expressions conveyed how awful it was.

He didn’t seem fazed. “Yes, I know. I’ve been there many times.”

“You have?” She nearly tripped over a large crack in the sidewalk.

“Yes! Stop repeating everything I say!” he snapped.

She gagged dramatically. “How can you bear to be in there?”

“Just shut up.”

It suddenly dawned on her where they were walking. “Are we going there now?”

“Yes!”

She grimaced but decided to stay quiet on the subject; complaining wasn’t going to get her anywhere with him. Thankfully the path they took to the hospital was mostly devoid of any nasty creatures and they only once had to duck into an alleyway to hide from a pack of disfigured dogs roaming around for fresh prey.

When they reached the hospital, there was indeed a putrid stench emanating from the old brick building. Stephanie brought her hand up to cover her nose, hacking slightly as they began walking towards it. Robbie paused and pulled something out of his waistcoat pocket.

“What is that?” she asked from behind her palm.

“It’s a little trick I learned.” He held out a small container of salve to her and dipping in a slender finger into it, smeared the clear cream above his upper lip. “Put it under your nose like this.”

Following suit, she recoiled as the eucalyptus in the salve began to absorb into the tender skin of her philtrum. “It burns!”

“I didn’t say it was perfect!” he snapped angrily, jerking away the blue jar.

She fanned at her face with both hands for a moment before she realised that the heavy fumes of camphor blocked out the scent that had bothered her. “I don’t smell the hospital!”

He nodded. “It won’t block out everything, just most of it.”

He motioned for her to follow him and together they began to move around to the back of the hospital building. “There’s a heating duct over this way. We’ll crawl through it to get to the second floor so we can get to the stockpile of first aid kits.”

She gave him a look. “How do you know where the first aid kits are?”

“It’s not my first time doing this?”

She was appalled. “Are you saying that you’ve stolen from the hospital before?”

He shrugged. “Being an inventor can be a messy job. Do you realise how much it would cost me to have my own supplies on hand?”

“You’re horrible.”

“I’m Robbie Rotten, darling.” He pulled the cover off the vent and gestured for her to come closer. “You’ll go up first so I can give you boost up.” 

“Fine.”

He crouched slightly and laced his fingers together as a foothold for her. “In you go.”

“Don’t look up my dress,” she warned aggressively.

He smirked. “Don’t flatter yourself, Pinkie.”

Hoisted up into the duct, she shuffled ahead far enough for him to climb in after her. The metal wasn’t as cool as she had hoped and she winced as she dragged her knees over the joints of the vent. 

“We should have brought flashlights,” she said as she realised the only light inside the airducts came up from the airvents.

“No need. I have this place memorised,” he informed her casually. “Now you’ll need to stay fairly quiet so that the things inside this building don’t hear us. The last thing we need to do is be cramped in a small space with things after us.”

“Got it,” she whispered.

They began moving silently through the cramped metal vent and he started giving her hushed instructions.

“Okay, first thing we do is make a right—no, not at this one! Keep going!”

It wasn’t long before she found herself at a dead end with the vent’s shaft heading upwards instead. Before she could ask him what she was supposed to do, he was whispering.

“Now you’ll need to stand on my shoulders to get up to the next floor.”

She stood up and with a bit of careful manouvering, Robbie stood in the uncomfortably narrow space as well; hands around her waist, he lifted her up enough so that she could climb onto his shoulders and from there, pull herself into the air vent of the building’s next story. She started to turn around to help Robbie up, but he’d already leapt up to grab onto the vent’s ledge and from there, he pulled himself in as well. She nearly commented on how impressed she was that he could do that, but he gave her an angry look and waved her to continue their journey through the hospital’s air system. 

“Through this next part, just move as quickly and as quietly as you can. Don’t stop until you reach the end.”

“Okay.”

As she shuffled through the vent as silently as she could, she wondered if she was imagining the noises beneath her. Not willing to sacrifice valuable time by looking down vent’s thin slats, she kept her head up and focused on the end of the vent which seemed to reach her much quicker than she expected. She stopped abruptly and felt the top of Robbie’s head collide into her.

“Hey! I hope you didn’t do that on purpose, you little pervert!” he hissed loudly as he backed up slightly.

“Robbie…”

“What is it?” he snapped.

She traced her hands in the dark along the feeling of crumpled metal. “It’s blocked. I think the roof collapsed and it’s landed on the heating duct.”

“No, no, no!” He shoved her to the side as he squeezed his body between hers and the metal vent, feeling around. “Now what do we do? We have to get the first aid kits. It’s imperative.” 

“But how do we get them?”

“We’ll have to go in another way.” She could hear him hiss angrily. “Damnit. We’ll have to be around the nurses.”

“The nurses?”

“There are three of them; one of them is the leader. Their faces are all bandaged over and the head nurse is a complete psycho. I’ve watched her tear into patients and then have her two assistants patch them right back up.”

She felt her skin prickle. “Scary.”

“Very.” He gave a huff. “Well, I suppose we could be worse off. This is the vent closet to the stockroom. If we go through here, we should be able to sneak over to the door without being seen by the patients and then we can lock ourselves in there and escape out the window.”

She started to nod (even though she knew he couldn’t see it), then paused. “Wait, what do you mean ‘the patients’?”

“The hospital’s patients, genius,” he sneered.

“Where are they?”

“They wander the halls. You know all that noise you heard? That was them.”

She grimaced. “How many patients are there?”

“I don’t know.” 

She watched him carefully remove the opening to the final duct before the cave in, his long fingers motioning for her to come closer. 

He pointed to the ground below them. “I’ll lower you down.”

“Okay.”

“Just wait down there for me—I won’t be but a moment. I’ll have to pick the lock, but as long as we’re quiet and don’t move to much, we’ll be in the clear.”

“Got it.”

His hands wrapped tightly around her wrists and carefully lowered her nearly to the floor before letting her go. Not expecting to be released so soon, she lost her balance and clattered to the hard tile floor. Forgetting she was supposed to be absolutely silent, she inhaled sharply; unfortunately all the noise she’d made caught the attention of the horde of bandaged patients milling at the centre of the hall.

“Oh no.” She looked up into the vent. “Robbie, they see me.”

He reached down for her. “Give me your hands!”

“I can’t reach you!” She jumped up, but her fingertips simply brushed across his. 

The patients began to shuffle towards her with outstretched arms. “Help…”

“Robbie!” she cried out as she started jumping up for his hand again. “Robbie! Robbie, help me!!!”

“Hold on!” He drew back into the vent. 

“No, don’t go!” she screamed in frustration.

“I’ll be right back!” he called out as he disappeared into the darkness.

“No!” She began to kick and fight the patients that swarmed around her. “Get away from me! Get away!”

The salve Robbie had given her did nothing to the horrific smell emanating off their bodies and she gagged as she fought against the mass. There were simply too many however and she found herself being pushed to the ground, hands clawing at her as they moaned for help. She was just starting to think that she was going to be smothered to death by the bodies, bandages, and stench—

“What’s going on here?” someone barked.

Movement ceased as all attention turned to the end of the hallway. Pushing a bandaged arm aside, Stephanie was shocked as a tall doctor began stalking down the hallway towards them.

“Dr Rottenstein,” she whispered in awe; never before had she been so relieved to see Robbie in one of his costumes.

“What are you doing to that nurse?” he asked angrily and the patients began to pull themselves off of her.

“Help…helpers…” the patients moaned pathetically, the mass of their crowd parting for him to reach her.

“Your uniform,” he murmured as he pulled her up and slipped a pink nurse’s outfit around her shoulders.

She quickly buttoned it up and placed the cap on her head as she whispered, “Thank you.”

“Now I want everyone to pay attention. You, nurse—what is the meaning of all this? Why aren't you keeping the patients in their rooms instead of letting them wander the halls?”

The head nurse didn’t move and Stephanie moved slightly closer to Robbie, wondering if the mute creature could tell what was going on, but after a moment, she gestured to the other two nurses and they began shepherding the shuffling patients back to their rooms.

Stephanie let out a sigh of relief and Robbie gestured for her to follow him.

“You’re brilliant,” Stephanie hissed once she was sure nothing could hear her. 

“Not as dumb as everyone seems to think,” he muttered.

She raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think you’re dumb. Just mean.”

“I can live with that quite comfortably,” he said smugly.

They entered into an exam office, followed by the head nurse to whom Robbie spoke first.

“I will see the patients individually, but first I need you and the others to gather supplies. I will need all the first aid kits, operating tools…bandages…whatever you can find that may be of use to me.” As the faceless nurse started to leave the room, Robbie quickly grabbed her by the arm. “Oh! Nurse, are there any ampoules left in the hospital?”

She nodded.

“Then bring me as many as you can find.”

She nodded once more and left, shutting the door behind her.

Stephanie sat on the edge of the doctor’s desk. “Where did you get the labcoat?”

“I had to kill the doctor it belonged to. Ugh, I can’t wait to get out of this. It smells wretched.”

She grimaced at the odd coloured stains on the back of the coat. “Is that pus?”

Robbie shivered as though he had something crawling along his spine. “He had some sort of growth on his back…anyway, I—“

They were interrupted by one of the nurses as she limped into the room; holding her hand was a small child wrapped head to toe in bandages. The nurse made a muffled noise, gently pushing the child towards Robbie.

“Oh, uh, yes.” He quickly put on the stethoscope and proceeded to put the diaphragm on various places of the child’s chest. “Mhmm. Mhmm.”

He continued the show for several more seconds and then leaned across the desk to snatch a small piece of still colourfully wrapped candy out of a glass jar.

“And here’s a lolly.” He handed it to the silent, still child; Stephanie tried not to make a face as she wondered what was underneath the bandages.

“Nurse, I think the best course of action is to take this child back to bed and let it get some rest.” The nurse nodded and Robbie gave her a very cold look. “And nurse? Do not come in here again without permission.”

Alone in the exam office one more, an awkward silence fell upon them.

“What is taking them so long? I certainly hope it’s because they’re finding handfuls and handfuls of ampoules…” Robbie muttered tartly.

“What are ampoules?” she asked, swinging her legs so that the back of her heels made noise against the desk.

“They’re a very valuable commodity. Elf invention, actually. They’ll boost your health in the event something happens just long enough for you to get help.”

“Define ‘something happens’.”

“A major artery being cut, concussion, broken bones, general loss of blood or bodily trauma.”

“Wow. That sounds like it would be really good to have a bunch of those.”

“Yes well, the likelihood that there’s more than three or four in this hospital would be astounding, but realistically…”

“Like, two?” she suggested hopefully.

“Like, none.”

She huffed. “Darn.”

He shrugged. “I’m sure it’s hard to make and then there’s the possibility that all the ones the hospital had have already been used up.”

There was silence once more and they both avoided looking at one another, instead taking great interest in the floor, ceiling, and the anatomy posters on the wall. Obviously bored, Robbie began to root through the various cabinets and drawers, looking at their contents and tossing various items into a doctor’s bag he’d located. Stephanie watched emotionlessly, thinking of nothing in particular as they tried to bide their time patiently.

“Oh for the love of cake, why are there so many toothbrushes?!” Robbie finally cried out, pulling handfuls of them out of the boxes and throwing them to the floor.

As Robbie began to sort through the other boxes, she knelt down and began to pick the small packaged toothbrushes up, hit by sudden nostalgia. “Sportacus used to give us toothbrushes on our birthdays and at Christmas time…”

“Who gives a toothbrush as a gift? So lame.”

“Not lame. It’s thoughtful,” she defended. “One time, he gave me a skipping rope just because it was a Tuesday. He said that we shouldn’t have to wait for holidays to give our friends gifts.”

Robbie gave her a leering smile. “And what did he give the other little kiddies ‘just-because-it’s-Tuesday’?”

She felt her cheeks start to burn in embarrassment. She knew for a fact that Sportacus had given only her a gift because it had been left on her windowsill and she was the only one he shared that particular ritual with.

From the look on Robbie’s face, he seemed to realise this and he gave a self-congratulatory smile. “That’s what I thought.”

She turned away from him and scoured the floor for anything that might be of use, hoping to get both their minds off the favouring Sportacus showed her.

“Here’s a pipe.” She picked up the dirty metal and weighed it carefully in her hands. “Would make a pretty good weapon.”

Robbie continued dropping things into the doctor’s bag he had. “An eardrum-look-at-light-thingie, another stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff, individually wrapped tongue depressors, a reflex hammer, a little penlight for checking pupils. Jackpot!” He held up three tubes of differing sizes. “An Epi pen and two vials of anti-toxin.”

She found herself cheering. “Yay!” 

“You don’t even know why we’re celebrating—“

There was a loud knock on the door and both of them jumped.

“Must be the nurses,” Robbie said, but still gestured for her to stand behind the door with the pipe raised and ready.

Indeed, a nurse entered the exam room, holding up a open box of medical supplies and on top of loose bandage wrap was a single capsule the size of her thumb that glowed a deep red.

“An ampoule!” Robbie cried out, rushing over to grab the box from the nurse.

She clapped her hands together enthusiastically. “See? We thought positive and it came true!”

He rolled his eyes. “I don’t think that’s really how the real world works.”

“Oh, good.” He pulled something coiled and orange out of the cabinet. “An extension cord.”

“What are we going to do with it?” she asked curiously.

“We are going to climb out the window and down the side of the building.”

She liked this idea of exit far better than how they entered. “As long as it’s not through the heating ducts again, I’m fine.”

He threw one end out the window and pointed to her. “You will go down first.”

“Are you sure?”

“Don’t make me repeat myself.”

She climbed onto the ledge of the windowsill and after a bit of awkward adjusting, assumed a position for abseiling down the side of the hospital. As she held onto the cord and he grasped the other end, she gave him a judgmental look.

“Last time I went down first—“

Robbie abruptly let go of the cord and she fell into the bushes below with a slight shriek.

By the time she managed to untangle herself from the extension cord and the branches, Robbie had made his way to the ground and was giving her a smug look. She pulled the large bushes’ large thorns out of her arms and ribs as she scowled at him, though her look turned to shock when she saw him pull two red canisters of gasoline out of the shrubbery. Without a word, he began to pour the strong liquid around the building with her trailing nervously after him.

“What are we doing?” she asked, her voice an octave higher than usual.

“We’re going to make sure they don’t suffer any longer. And to keep them from following us.”

Stephanie reached out instinctively, grabbing him by the arm. “Won’t they be scared of the fire?”

He gave her a very tired look, as though he was. “Pinkie…”

She bowed her head. “I’ll be quiet.”

He gave her a look that was almost pity. “They’re already dead—they just don’t know it.”

Chapter Text

*****

As they walked towards the main part of town, Robbie looked down at her meaningfully. “We need things. We went into the hospital entirely unprepared and you were nearly killed.”

Both thought for a moment and she snapped her fingers. “The hardware store! I go there all the time for paint and brushes.”

“Well, we’ll need more than your silly art supplies, but yes, that’s where we’ll go.”

She was very excited to have contributed something to their quest to leave LazyTown. “There should be tons of stuff there we can take. It’ll be like our own private tool box!”

“I’ve wanted to steal from there for years, but there’s always those stupid things on the street, so I suppose we’ll have to find a way to make use of these scalpels…”

She looked at him in surprise. “I know the timing to get around them. The people.”

He stared at her. “You do?”

“I’ve been sneaking in there for years to get my paint.” She smiled at him. “We just have to watch out for the Fog.”

“You finally show your use!” he cheered.

Together they crouched behind the sidewalk trashcan closest to the hardware store, silently watching and waiting. There were four creatures that lingered around the street, large disfigured people composed of blackened flesh that glistened from some sort of foul gel that clung to them; after months of watching them roam, Stephanie had discovered two things: they had very long claws where fingers should have been and they patrolled the street in the same pattern day and night. She’d learned the proper timing to run past them unnoticed a while ago and used that knowledge to get the things she needed from the stores on that block.

When every creature was in its place, Stephanie grabbed Robbie by the hand and together they darted across the street. Once inside, they quickly shut and bolted the glass door behind them, leaving them free to inspect their new resource. Robbie stared at everything from the massive hole in the ceiling that was leaking water to the layer of muddy ash on the floor. Apparently, the Fire had hit the hardware store worse than she’d remembered.

“Everything’s been ruined,” she confessed, suddenly feeling guilty that her favourite treasure trove wasn’t actually as good as she hoped it would be.

Robbie however had already began frantically scouring the first few shelves as though he disagreed. “Get a handcart.”

She shrugged but grabbed one of the carts lined along the wall by the front door.

He held up a roll of slightly melted duct tape. “This looks like it would be okay if we peel off a few layers.”

“Probably.” She smiled, suddenly realising this could be a fun game where she instead looked on the positive side. She grabbed a set of pliers that seemed untouched. “These looks good.”

He gave her a giddy smile as he held up a plastic shell that hadn’t been melted. “Walkie talkies! We’ll need to find batteries for them, of course…”

“What about this?” she asked, holding up her find.

“What are we going to do with a box of nails? Please think before you open your mouth,” he sneered before rummaging through the shelves some more.

She glared at him, setting the box back on the shelf where she discovered something that was surely worth more than a box of nails.

“A crank radio! For emergencies!” She giggled excitedly. “Do you suppose there’s anyone on?”

“You crank the handle while I look for things,” he ordered.

“Okay!” she said enthusiastically.

“I found flashlights!” he called out happily.

His good mood was infectious and she she found herself smiling and nearly skipping and she wound the small crank on the side of the radio.

“Cordless soldering iron. We are in business!” He turned to her with a large smile and apparently she didn’t give him the right reaction to the news. “Bah!”

“Okay, I think it’s charged.”

They turned it on and after a moment of searching through the different station dials, she forlornly stated, “It’s only making static.”

“Stupid,” Robbie declared reaching out to take it from her.

“Wait!” She pulled it out of his reach. “It’s getting louder.”

“Is it saying something?”

“I can’t tell.”

“It’s still getting lou—look out!”

She spun around to see something lurching towards them, a man with long claw-like fingers, covered in black ooze. She let out a loud, shrill scream as Robbie grabbed an axe from the aisle wall and proceeded to drive it deep into the man’s head. The man fell to the ground twitching as she grabbed the radio, clutching it tight to her chest as she backed herself as far into the corner as she manage.

“It’s dead!” Robbie reassured her, beckoning for her to go to him.

She stood still. “The radio’s getting loud again—“

“Shh! There’s another!”

“The radio knows!” she hissed and the creature turned to look at her. 

“Grab a shovel or something. Do it!” Robbie ordered.

She set the radio down, snatching up one of the sharper looking gardening tools. “What do I do?”

“Kill it!”

“Oh gosh, oh gosh!”

“Just shut up and do it!”

She screamed again as she swung the mattock into the side of the second man’s head.

“Do it again!” Robbie cried out at the creature continued moving, then pushed her aside. “Oh, I’ll do it myself!”

Robbie came up from behind and delivered the final blow to the man’s head.

“Sorry,” she whimpered, her knees shaking.

“Don’t be afraid—they want to kill us,” he explained, wiping the blood and grime off his axe blade onto his trouser leg.

“You’re pretty good at this,” she mumbled, clutching the radio to her.

“You should be better at it.”

“Why?”

“All your sports. You should have better reflexes.” He looked her over. “And because you’re one of them.”

“I am not one of them.” She folded her arms in anger. “And I don’t like killing people!”

He spun around and poked one of his long fingers into her chest. “Let’s get something straight—first of all, I don’t like killing. I’m only doing it to keep us alive in this hellhole. Second, they aren’t people anymore. They are…I don’t know, but they aren’t people. They aren’t human. Monsters.”

“But—“

“I know that you know who they used to be. That you see their faces and they look like the people who were your friends. But they aren’t your friends any longer. They want to hurt me and you. They want us dead. Now you can either let them kill you or you can live. What do you want?”

Her eyes began to water. “I want to live.”

He nodded. “Then you have to hit them until they don’t get back up.”

“Okay.” She worried her lower lip for a second and then asked, “Are you mad at me?”

“No.” He scowled at her. “But my patience is running very thin.”

She set down the mattock. “I don’t think I want to carry this around with me. It’s too awkward.”

“Find something more your size then. We shouldn’t go anywhere unarmed.”

She realised she’d already abandoned her pipe somewhere out in the streets and since she’d liked the general size, she picked out something similar. “Will this do?”

He looked over the crowbar she’d taken off the hardware shelf. “I suppose. I’ll keep this axe, though. Seems to do the job.”

Armed, she picked up the radio in her free hand. “Where do we go now?”

He began stuffing things from the handcart into his doctor’s bag. “The library.”

She frowned. “What’s at the library?”

Surprisingly, he gave her a smile. “The most powerful thing of all: knowledge.”

Chapter Text

*****


The radio held up between them so that they would immediately know if there was anything approaching them, they made their way through the streets to the LazyTown Library. The brick building had been scorched by the fire, large soot trails colouring the red bricks black. Robbie picked the lock and after they used their shoulders to ram the door open, they barricaded themselves inside. The library was dark, and large ominous spiderwebs curtained the entirety as though it were spanish moss. It had been built only two years ago when her uncle had given up the job of being town librarian on top of mayor and handed the duty over to one of the women that ran in Bessie’s social circle. Stephanie hadn’t frequented here enough—she had been more likely to be out in the sports field than sitting, reading a book.

“Do you think anything is in here?" she whispered, holding her crowbar up.

“Doubtful, but we’ll keep the radio close just in case.” He led her to the large wooden card catalogue case on the south wall. “Keep a lookout while I search through the records.”

“So there’s a total of five books we need to find. First is ‘The Founders’ Diary’,” he explained as he held his flashlight in one hand, flipping through the different sections of the small paper cards. “It discusses how the founders of the town and the huldenfolk first came to meet.”

“Why do we need that?”

“It will tell us in detail about the contract. I’ve not read the book in a while and I can’t remember specifics. There’s something in there about the stipulations of a founder summoning…”

She looked at him suspiciously. “You sure know a lot about the huldenfolk and their ties to LazyTown.”

He gave her a tart smile as they moved over to the librarian’s desk to search through the list of checked out books. “Let it not be said that I don’t keep my enemies closer.”

She hated the thought that he had considered himself Sportacus’ enemy. “Since you don’t have any friends to keep close.”

“Maybe I don’t want friends. Ever think of that?”

She turned her attention back to the dark library. “Sportacus wanted to be your friend.”

“Bleh. Can’t imagine a worse person to pick.” Before she could say anything more, he pulled out the card he’d been looking for. “It says here that there are five books in total. One is still here, one is at the school, and the other three were checked out by your uncle.”

She was shocked. “He did?”

“Do you think he had them at the home you shared?”

“I don’t know.” She thought for a moment. “Maybe he kept them at his office.”

“That’s why I asked if they were at your house.” He rolled his eyes. “Your uncle had the ‘Crimson Tome’, the ‘Book of Lost Memories’, and—hah! The one I wanted! ‘Huldenfolk Laws’!”

She frowned. “Why would he have had the one on huldenfolk laws?”

“No doubt he was researching what he was doing.”

“For the…’thing’?”

“The Contract? Yes.”

She wanted to know what sort of information on her predicament there was, but at the same time, she really didn’t want to think about how everything that had happened to the town was because of her.

“Why would LazyTown even need a guardian? The worst that happens here is the little kitten getting stuck in the tree,” she insisted.

“You didn’t live here before the big blue elf came.” Robbie’s face suddenly darkened. “There were many sick people in LazyTown—why do you think the hospital was so big? No one ate vegetables or walked around. Obesity, diabetes, muscle atrophy, poor eyesight, bad joints, organ failure…”

She filled in the blank. “People were sick because they didn’t take care of themselves.”

“Right.” His stood up from the desk and began to wander down the aisles of books, apparently searching for the one book the library had. “And because they were sick, their minds weren’t as sharp as they could have been, which in turn resulted in many accidents in which more people were hurt. It was a disaster.”

She frowned. “Then why would you want to live here?”

For the first time in her life she saw him give a fond smile as though he were remembering something he’d not thought about in a while. “I liked how quiet it was. No children running around and being noisy, no parades or parties in the streets. Everyone was quiet and stayed in their houses watching tv or playing computer games.”

“Is that why you didn’t like us?”

“You have no idea how angry I was that I couldn’t live my life the way I wanted because you two were always interfering. All I wanted was to be left alone.”

She stared at him in disbelief. “We really made you that unhappy?”

He pulled the book off the shelf. “You really did.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You made the stores get rid of the candy and the sugar and everything that I liked to eat,” he said, his voice hard.

“It wasn’t healthy,” she said quietly.

This seemed to be the trigger to his rage and his face suddenly became a mask of anger as he turned to her. “Who cares! It tasted good! When I’ve had a long day listening to kiddies screaming and shouting and running around above my head, I want to enjoy something fatty and greasy and sweet while I lie around in bed!”

“We weren’t that loud!” she shouted back, forgetting entirely that they were supposed to be quiet. 

“Yes, you were!” He pointed an accusatory finger at her. “All the time! You brats couldn’t just save it for the weekends either—you started involving your school classes in it, too! Forced to listen to the virtues of teamwork. Sportscandy. Sharing with others. I hate sharing! And I hate sportscandy! And teamwork is the worst—why should I want to work with some simpleton that can’t do something on their own? All because of your stupid Sportacus. Conjuring you all up to act like little terrors! A big idiot man-child, couldn’t relate to adults so he has to sit at the kiddie table!”

“Stop it!”

“Day in, day out, all he’s good for is a laugh! Sure he’s got quick feet, but he certainly has a slow mind! Giving out toothbrushes as presents? Who does that? He couldn’t cut it in the real world and you just won’t admit it! He’s a loser and will always be loser! He wasn’t smart enough to prevent this mess, let alone fix it!”

“Don’t talk about him like that!” she screamed, covering her ears with her hands.

“Your stupid Sportacus! Left you here to die!” he taunted.

Her hands began to claw and she let out a loud, guttural scream as she looked up at Robbie; her vision had turned red and in that moment, all she wanted to do was rip him to shreds. Before she knew it, she was charging at him, her hands outstretched and ready for blood. Robbie’s face paled as he quickly jerked up the open book to face her and suddenly she found herself flying backwards into the heavy librarian’s desk, the force powerful enough to make her feel as though she’d been hit by a speeding vehicle.

Robbie’s eyes were huge and he seemed frozen as he watched her get up; she stumbled slightly, trying to gain her balance.

“What did you just do?” she asked softly, her voice trembling.

He seemed just as stunned as she was. “It’s one of the elfin staves. To keep evil spirits from harming.”

“It thinks I’m evil?”

“Bad magic made you what you are.” He started to take a step forward, but stopped. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Just a little shaken, that’s all.” She watched his fingers trace along the gold leafing on the edge of the journal pages. “Robbie, there’s not anything in there that will kill someone, right?”

He flipped through the pages and then looked up her. “The page has been torn out.”

She exhaled slowly, feeling relief that something so dangerous wasn’t there where it could hurt someone. 

He seemed to be pondering what he had done, voicing his thoughts aloud. “So these staves only work if the user wants them to. Or needs.”

She looked at him, unsure what to think. “You needed me to be hurt?”

“Specifically, I needed you to not hurt me. It performed a barrier of protection around me and knocked you away.”

“Oh.” She looked at the book, suddenly wishing it had burned up in the Fire.

Robbie went back over to the doctor’s bag and Stephanie followed him over to the space behind the desk which led to a small alcove where books that were to be processed where being shelved. He tipped over the shelves, forming a protective wall on either side of the desk. 

“We’ll camp out here tonight, as it seems we’re alone.” She followed his eyes to look out the dirty windows and saw that indeed it was dark outside. “I’ll keep watch for the first shift.”

“How long will that be?” she asked, lying down on the floor. 

“Four hours.”

It wasn’t long before she decided she was simply too restless to sleep and opened her eyes, looking up at Robbie. “I can’t fall asleep. Let me take the first shift.”

“Whatever.” He pulled off his waistcoat and folding it a few times, lay down and used it as a pillow, facing away from her. 

Hours passed as she sat in the dark, kept company only by the light from the emergency radio and the soft sound of static; the darkness wasn’t as creepy as she’d originally thought it was and allowed her mind to drift to thoughts of Sportacus, which felt only slightly awkward with Robbie so close.

The orangish glow of sunrise caught on the motes of dust floating through the air, signaling that it was time for them to start the day. Robbie rolled over to rest his head against her thigh, mumbling slightly. In his sleep a few strands of his hair had come loose and with a touch more delicate than that of the ash that landed on the world around them, she brushed them back into his very dapper pompadour. 

“Wake up,” she whispered softly.

“I don’t want to,” he grumbled in a childish, stubborn manner.

She bit back a smile as she wondered if he was imagining having to go to school. “Come on, Robbie. Wake up.”

He made further grumbling noises, rubbing at his eyes. “What time is it?”

“Morning.”

He sat straight up. “Morning! What happened to us doing shifts?”

“I never fell asleep.” She shrugged defensively. “What? I don’t sleep much, anyway. And I thought you could use the rest.”

“Anything happen while I was asleep?” he asked, standing up and stretching. 

“No. Not even a single air siren.”

“What a relief.” He motioned for her to gather her crowbar so they could leave. “Well, the sooner we get to the school, the better.”

Stephanie’s eyes narrowed as she watched him place the leather-bound journal into his doctor’s bag; she’d be rid of that horrible thing soon enough, so long as they made it out of LazyTown.

Chapter Text

*****


“To get the books, we’ll go to the school first.” Robbie glanced over at her and Stephanie realised she had been making a face. “What?”

“Have you been there?” she asked hesitantly.

His eyes widened slightly. “No. Why?”

“I don’t like it there at all.” She shuddered. “There are these things…I call them the Grey Children.”

He raised his eyebrow. “Grey Children?”

“When I first went to the school to look for other people, I could hear children crying. I thought I could help them but they attacked me. It was really horrible.” Her hand clutched over her stomach where there were horrible scars that had been cut deep by small fingers.

“Do they have weapons?”

She nodded. “A few of them had metal-edged rulers and others had the sharp ends of compasses.”

“We could make a shield to protect us—“

Stephanie shook her head. “There are a lot of them, Robbie.”

“What do you suppose we do then?”

She shrugged as the school came into view. “I don’t know. You’re the smart one…”

He glanced up at her. “Could you repeat that?”

“You’re the smart one?”

He gave her a smug smile. “Ah, that’s what I thought you said.”

She put her hands on her hips. “Robbie.”

He tapped his finger to his lips. “Let me scope out the situation and I’ll come up with a plan.”

“What’s wrong?” she asked after a few minutes of watching him shift around uncomfortably.

“The ground’s hot. The fire’s still burning below the surface after all this time.”

She looked at the school’s asphalt and then back up at him. “I can’t feel it.”

He raised an eyebrow.“You haven’t noticed that the soles of your sneakers are somewhat melted?”

“I always thought I was just wearing them out.” She gave a high pitched nervous laugh. “Sorry. I’m just uneasy here.”

His brow knotted. “I need you to clear your head—I can’t do this by myself.”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry.”

Careful not to make any noise, they snuck around to the side of the small building; they pressed their faces to one of the windows and stared into the dark school house, watching the grey beings mill around. 

“Is that them?” Robbie asked. 

“Yes.” She bit her lower lip for a moment. “When I first went there, I thought I could help them. But they don’t like me at all. They’re jealous.”

“Jealous?”

She felt guilty. “That I don’t hurt. That I’m not trapped there like them.”

“I wonder how they’ll react to me. I’m an adult—do you suppose they’ll want me to comfort them? Or will they know I’m the reason they’re in pain?” Robbie pondered.

It was an interesting thought. “I don’t know.”

His face suddenly lit up. “I have an idea. Stay here and be quiet.”

“Okay.”

He ran off and she remained crouched beside the school house for a while before he returned with a fully clothed mannequin under his arm.

“Why do you have that?” she asked, absolutely confused at how that was going to help them get what they needed. 

“Just give me your walkie talkie,” he ordered and she handed it over. “And we’ll need the radio.”

The sun moved further into the west as she sat watching Robbie tinkering with the radio and one of the walkie talkies; he spent most of the time muttering to himself and scowling at the wires. On a few occasions she tried to help out, but he angrily swatted her hands away. Finally it seemed he had constructed exactly what he wanted and carried both the radio/walkie talkie combination and the mannequin out on the blacktop in front of the school door.

They hid back around the corner of the school house and Robbie began to speak into his walkie talkie, which emitted from the radio’s speaker.

“Children! Children!” Robbie’s voice suddenly turned into that of the female manners expert he had once impersonated. “Children! Where are you?” 

The doors to the school slowly opened and out emerged nearly a dozen of the grey children, hunched over and chittering as they approached the large mannequin. They seemed to be interested in the form and Robbie continued talking into the walkie talkie.

“Line up and I’ll hug you!”

Stephanie stared at the grey children listening to his orders, in absolute awe. “I can’t believe this is working.”

He grinned at her and continued his charade. “Oh, hello! Come give me a hug!”

Hesitantly, one of the grey children moved into the mannequin’s open arms and Robbie turned to her. “The book should be at the front desk of the school’s library. Hurry!”

“Got it!” she nodded and ran to the school building unnoticed.

It took her under fifteen minutes to find the book they were looking for and after she climbed out the window she had used as the entrance, she found Robbie still deep in his role as the distraction. He looked rather relaxed as he continued talking in the feminine tone into the walkie talkie. 

“If you go back to the end of the line, you’ll get another hug!” Upon seeing her, he smiled. “Do you have the book?”

“Yes!” She handed it over to him. “It’s a little singed, but I don’t think it’s ruined.”

“Excellent.” Suddenly, he pressed his hand over her mouth. “Shh!”

Wide-eyed, she realised there was a slight crackling in the air right before the air siren blared loudly. She choked back a cry and before she knew it, he’d taken her by the hand and was running with her to the side of the building again.

“Quick! We’ll never make it home in time! Let’s get up on the roof!”

Across the rooftop they scrambled towards something that would grant them cover, the sound of things moving in the building fog reaching their ears. They huddled in the large box that had once housed the air conditioning unit, drawing their knees close so that they remained entirely under the cover of the shadows.

“We’ll probably be here for a while,” Robbie muttered quietly.

“Yeah,” she agreed and the fog continued to rise…

*****

Stephanie stirred at the sound of their air siren making its haunting call and the feeling of Robbie shifting against her. The sound of rain reached her ears as well, something that was incredibly soothing despite the strange situation of being trapped up on the school rooftop. Her eyelids were stuck together and she had to pull thick, sticky clumps of congealed ash and mucus off her eyelashes before she was able to open them.

“Fog’s gone,” she informed him as he yawned.

He nodded sleepily, leaning his head against the top of hers. As she found herself smiling at the feeling, she noticed that with the fog pulling away, the Grey Children was reappearing.

“Look!” Robbie suddenly hissed, pointing down at them.

“What’s happening?” she asked excitedly.

The Grey Children were slowly melting into the asphalt and their cries no longer seemed to be from anguish but relief. 

“The rain is putting out the fire inside them. And they’re disintegrating because they’re nothing but ash,” Robbie explained.

“It’s rained before, but this is the first time they’ve been outside,” she realised and turned to look at him. “You saved them.”

She began to hug him, but he pinned her against the metal with a long arm. “Stop it.”

She huffed at not being allowed to show him the affection he deserved, but respected his wishes, making to leave the small hiding space she shared with him when he grabbed her once more. 

“What?” She stared at him, a little annoyed.

“You…might disappear, too.”

Somewhat surprised at his worry, she shook her head. “No, the rain does nothing to me but make my skin smoke.”

He looked relieved. “Smoldering embers.”

“Yep.” She cocked her head. “I wonder why.”

“His magic,” Robbie said simply. “He wouldn’t let something as simple as water wash you away.”

A knot formed in her stomach. “Do you think he knows I’m here?”

“Hard to say.” They moved out into the rain and he began walking to the edge of the roof. “Come on—no point in wasting time up here.”

She climbed down the ladder first and wandered over to where they’d abandoned their stuff when the sirens went off. 

“My axe is missing. I bet the Fog took it,” he pointed out.

“And my crowbar’s gone,” she said mournfully.

“Good thing I took this,” he commented, holding up the large doctor’s bag filled with the supplies he’d gathered.

Together, they wandered over to the manniquen which was now surrounded by small mounds of ash to inspect what was left over.

He held up the altered radio and tilted it, pouring out the rain water that had collected inside. “Well, the radio is ruined.”

She pouted slightly. “Darn.”

“So we don’t have a warning system anymore.” He moved back, shaking his right foot of the thick wet ash that had caked onto his loafers. “And now they’re coving my shoes. Gross.”

Sidestepping the wet cremations flying off his shoe, she asked, “Now to Town Hall?”

He looked at her apprehensively. “Are you ready?”

She really just wanted to go back to her uncle’s house, crawl through the window into her bedroom, and hide under her blankets, but she knew every scary thing she encountered took her one step closer to him which filled her with hope.

“Yes.”

Chapter Text

*****

The Town Hall had been halfway burned down and the east wing had completely collapsed in on itself, leaving a pile of bricks and charred timber; to Stephanie’s suprise, Robbie wanted her to begin digging through it.

“This is the area we need to search. It’s where the artifacts were kept.” He rolled up his shirt sleeves and began lifting chunks of the broken wall, tossing them to the side.

“Why are we looking—“

He didn’t seem to hear her as he sorted through the broken building. “They’re made by elves, so they should still be intact. I doubt the fire would have destroyed them.”

She placed her hands on her hips, watching his hands become covered in ash and grime. “What are we looking for?”

He spared her a quick glance. “You’ll know it when you see it.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Just start digging!” he snapped.

The area Robbie had chosen for them to dig in was sheltered somewhat by a half-fallen beam and its dry wall and plaster, keeping them from the cold raindrops. The work was tedious and boring and even she couldn’t think of an adequate song to sing to make the time pass by quicker. Besides, she could tell Robbie wasn’t in the mood to listen to her sing about hard work and determination. 

After a mind-numbing amount of time, Stephanie thought she’d come across an incredibly charred bowl and was ready to throw it off to the side when she realised it wasn’t a bowl, but some sort of goblet carved from dark stone. 

“Is this what I’m looking for?” she asked, holding it up.

“Well, no, but this is very important. The Obsidian Chalice. We’ll need that.” 

He took the cup from her and tucked it in the already cramped doctor’s bag he’d been carrying that held all of their supplies.

“For what?”

He didn’t reply, merely pointed to the space she was at. “Dig.”

More time passed before she heard Robbie give a sigh of relief. “Oh, thank goodness.”

“What?”

He held up a roughly hewn gold key that had an eye-shaped blue stone at the top. “The Lapis Eye Key.”

She frowned. “It’s a real key?”

“Of course it’s a real key! What else would it be?”

“I must be confused,” she mumbled, her mind feeling jumbled.

He gave her an unsure look and pointed to the ash. “Keep digging.”

“What am I supposed to be looking for?” she asked, hating the feeling of the gritty charred debris caking under her fingernails.

“A knife. Actually it’s a dagger, but that’s just semantics at this point.”

Out of the ash he held up a silver disc and shouted, “The seal!” 

She watched him try to put it in his doctor’s bag and then his tool belt; when that didn’t work, he handed it over to her. “Whatever you do, you stupid child, do not let anything happen to this symbol.”

“What does it mean?” she asked as she stuffed it into the chalk bag at her side. 

He had already started digging through the rubble once more. “We have to stick it on the ley lines.”

“What?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

The sun, while not completely visible behind the overcast cloud layer, had started to set and she was left feeling weary—emotionally, not physically. 

She sat back on her heels. “Robbie, we’ve been doing this for hours. That knife’s not here.”

“Damnit.” He stood, dusting his knees off and turned to look at the half of the building that was still intact. “Maybe it’s still inside there.”

“Uncle Milford’s office?” she asked uneasily.

“Yes.” She wasn’t hiding her discomfort as well as she thought and he further inquired, “What is it?”

She looked away and stood up, dusting off her knees. “Nothing.”

He shrugged and began to walk into the dark hallway; she grabbed a pipe that was lying on the ground and trailed close behind him. Up a small flight of stairs, they were brought to the door that led to the office and inner office her uncle had once occupied.

“Why is the door boarded over?” Robbie asked, looking at her. 

“There was weird noise coming from inside.”

“It’s your uncle’s office—“

“I know, okay?!” she snapped.

“What aren’t you telling me?”

She fidgeted. “I don’t know what’s in there and I’m scared to find out.”

“Just keep the pipe raised and we’ll be ready for anything.”

It was ridiculous to think that she could believe Robbie so easily, but his words comforted her. Surely they could overcome anything as long as they worked together. Robbie began to tear the large boards off the door and she raised the pipe as though she were holding a baseball bat. 

“Ready,” she said with a nod.

Robbie opened the door slowly and they each took a step inside, eyes darting around in the dark office space that had once been for her uncle’s secretary, Bessie Busybody. Robbie pulled flashlight out of his tool belt and began to scan the office space.

“Look at all the staves on the walls…” As she reached out to touch one of the runes, he quickly added, “That’s human blood, Pinkie.”

She let out a loud gasp, quickly covering her mouth with her hands. She could feel the energy coming off the symbols, dark and full of anger. While she didn’t say it out loud, she knew that they had all been left by Sportacus—it was both his writing and his magic. She shook her head, still aghast at everything she was seeing. Why would his magic have created such horrible, horrible things?

Robbie’s flashlight landed on something that caused her to let out a shrill scream, recoiling. Sitting in the secretary’s chair was something dried and leathery and if it weren’t for the large blue beehive hairdo, Stephanie might not have recognised it as the remains of Bessie. 

“Is she dead?” she asked as she looked into the woman’s glazed over eyes.

“Don’t touch her.” Robbie’s eyes shifted uneasily to look around the room. “We don’t know how the magic in here might work.”

Still holding the pipe in one hand, Stephanie pulled her little pen light from the hospital out and pointed the beam at Bessie’s drawn back lips. “Are those wind up teeth?”

Even Robbie seemed repulsed. “Yes.”

“I heard her! When I was here the first time, it was during the Fog World. There was this weird noise—like chattering teeth.” Stephanie prodded the dry face with the eraser of a pencil and received no response. “I don’t think she can do anything until the fog.”

Robbie nodded, seeming to agree with her as he studied the mummy. “Irony for the town’s gossip—a mouth that won’t stop moving, but says nothing.”

“I can’t look at her anymore,” Stephanie confessed, taking a step back.

He nodded, backing up as well. “And we need to go into the mayor’s office anyway.”

They turned to look at the door at the back and in unison, walked towards it. 

“On the count of three,” he said.

Stephanie nodded. “One, two…three!”

Robbie flung the door open and they charged inside, axe and pipe ready. The office was dark and the still air had a vinegary bite to it. A single light—the lamp on the mayoral desk—was lit, casting strange shaped shadows across the cramped room.

And sitting in the mayor’s chair was her Uncle Milford.

His skin and suit seemed to hang loosely off him and his right arm was covered in dark blood, the material of his jacket soaked and matted. Eyes the sickly colour of mustard powder, they were watery and bloodshot, seemingly vacant—he was looking right at them, though he didn’t seem to see them.

“Uncle Milford?” she said hesitantly.

He blinked slowly and a slight smile began to curl on his lips. “Stephanie! You’re all right!”

She lowered her pipe and began to move towards him. “Uncle Milford? Are you okay?”

Robbie’s arm shot out, blocking her from taking another step. “Don’t.”

“Stephanie,” her uncle said in a pleading tone.

She gripped at Robbie’s arm, scared. “Robbie?”

To her surprise, he protectively moved her behind him.

“Mayor Meanswell, we are going to leave,” he declared firmly.

Her uncle shook his head. “You can’t.”

“There are seals around this town and while they’re strong, they’re not permanent. They can be crossed.”

Uncle Milford’s face suddenly twisted up in rage and he snarled, “You don’t even deserve to live in our sanctuary, Robbie Rotten!”

Robbie didn’t seem swayed, however. “Stephanie wants to leave, too. And I fully intend on getting us out of here.”

“How do we get out, Uncle Milford?” she pleaded.

“Only the guardian can let you out.” Her uncle smiled at her. “But he won’t let you leave. He has to keep you safe, has to keep you here.”

“Sportacus is gone, Milford.” Stephanie could feel Robbie’s muscles shift under her hand.

He shook his head and smiled, revealing bloody teeth. “I made a guardian. One that has to stay.” 

Stephanie watched his hand grasp protectively at a book on the top of his desk and even in the dim light, she could see the gilt lettering on the spine: ‘Huldenfolk Laws’. Remembering the magic that had been contained in the book Robbie had used on her in the library, she wondered if there was something in the books her uncle had that would give him the ability to conjure something that could take Sportacus’ place.

Robbie seemed to be thinking along the same lines as her. “Where is the guardian, Mayor?”

“On the edge of town, beneath the airship…”

She and Robbie exchanged looks. 

“But the airship is gone, isn’t it?” she whispered, feeling confused.

She hadn’t been out to the field since Sportacus had left, partially out of shame, but mostly due to the amount of runes that covered the area. She did know for a fact however that the airship was not there.

“Yes.” His eyes never left her uncle as he started to push her towards the office door. “Pinkie, leave the office. I’ll be right out.”

She stood with her back against the wall, staring at the office chair where Bessie’s body was. Suddenly, there were high pitched squealing noises coming from inside her uncle’s office and the sound of something being struck over and over and over and over—

Stephanie covered her ears and squeezed her eyes shut, crouched and cowering as she tried to sing a song to block out the horrible noise.

“And we say, go, go, get it together, no one’s lazy in LazyTown. No, no, take a vacation, I’ll be the hero of LazyTown…”


She could feel tears rolling down her cheeks and she tried to remember what Sportacus’ smile looked like or the way his accent changed the sound of words she’d never considered beautiful before…Something touched her shoulder and she gasped, looking up. To her relief, it was Robbie; there was blood splattered across his face and he wiped at it with the back of his hand which just smeared it across his cheeks. He was quiet and his eyes were distant. In his hands were the three books they’d originally come to the town hall for.

“Well, we should probably come up with a plan for how we want to handle this guardian he was talking about,” he said quietly as he began to walk out of the office.

She got on her feet and stumbled after him. “Robbie…”

“So we can go back to my place to clean up and have something eat…”

Tears were running fresh down her cheeks and she couldn’t control the quiver in her voice. “Robbie…?”

He spun around to look at her and for the first time, she saw despair. “Pinkie, I don’t want to talk about it.”

He held out his free hand for her and she accepted it, allowing him to lead her out of the town hall.

Chapter Text

*****

They made it to Robbie’s lair in one piece, coming across only three townsfolk who tried to claw at them, but she and Robbie made quick work of them, using their pipe and axe. The calm and quiet of his home was a welcome relief.

He gave a heavy sigh and trudged off to the back of his lair, muttering, “I’m so thirsty.”

She hopped up onto the edge of his work table, sitting down comfortably with her legs dangling off the edge. She watched the doorway of his store room, listening to him rummage around before he returned with a large wooden crate which contents clinked with every step he took. Carrying it into the counter that served as his kitchen, he began to pull glass bottles out and he offered one to her.

“Soda? It’s the extra sugary kind.” He gave her a lopsided smile. “I have had this stockpiled for years.”

She shook her head politely. “No, thanks.”

He shrugged and popped the top of his bottle off on the edge of the table. He went through three bottles in a short amount of time, giving content gasps after finishing each one. Then he began to rummage through the cabinets above the sink. 

“What are you hungry for? Crisps? Pretzels? Cheesy poofs? I have lots of candy.”

“Not much of an appetite, sorry.” She glanced backwards at the cavernous lair. “Can I look around? I won’t touch anything.”

He looked apprehensive (she knew how much his inventions meant to him) but he nodded his head before turning his attention back to the kitchen space.

Many of his inventions seemed to be broken—some partially taken apart and others simply labeled ‘out of service’. She wondered what had happened for him to allow the pride of his intellect become so neglected, but she supposed he’d had a hard time obtaining parts to fix his machines—she also knew it would probably anger him if she asked, so she kept her mouth shut as she continued to stare at the many inventions he’d created. On his work table, there was a tired looking cardboard box labeled ‘Parts?’, filled with random assortments of metal and plastic bits that appeared to be salvaged from parts of town judging by the burned edges of most.

When she reached the end of the tour, she returned to the kitchen space, where Robbie was busy drying something off on a threadbare towel. He cleared his throat and took her hand in his, palm up. 

“I suppose I should give this to you now. I’ve managed to wash away the blood. It was your uncle’s.” He dropped a heavy silver ring into her open palm. “It’s the Meanswell family ring. It’s been passed down for generations. It’s yours now.”

While it was still far too large to be worn without slipping off, she put it on her middle finger, just as she remembered her uncle wore it. She didn’t have to ask him where he’d acquired it.

“I’m the last of the Meanswell family. In LazyTown, anyway.” Since he seemed to have all the answers, she decided to ask him one question that had been gnawing uncomfortably at her. “Did my parents know about the contract?”

“Only your uncle could tell us.” He glanced up at her. “Do you miss them?”

She thought for a moment, worrying the inside of her cheek. “I don’t remember them. Do you think that’s weird?”

“It’s LazyTown—the magic’s messing with your mind.” He gave her a bitter smile that told her she wasn’t the only one who’d been affected. “I haven’t invented anything in years. I can’t figure out the simplest tasks—that’s why everything’s in such disrepair.”

She realised the question mark on the box of parts hadn’t been hopeful savings for later, but rather sad and confused mysteries, his wonder what they might be used for.

She reached out and touched his arm. “I’m sorry.”

He didn’t seem annoyed with her contact, though he did carefully remove her hand from him. “Once we’re out of here, maybe it will be different.”

She nodded, hoping that what he was saying was right.

Robbie let out a loud yawn and looked at her. “Are you tired?”

“Um…I don’t know.”

“We’re not doing anything. Might as well call it an early night.”

“Okay.”

She began to look around the lair, sizing up the space and deciding what part looked the most comfortable to rest at (she was hoping to stay the night in his large orange chair) when she saw he was placing extra pillows on the bed and he turned to her.

“I have an extra night shirt.”

She lit up as it dawned on her what he was up to. “I can sleep in the bed with you?” 

As he rummaged through his messy drawers she found herself rather chatty. “I hate sleeping by myself. It’s so lonely. It’s nice when there’s someone close.”

“I thought you don’t sleep.” 

He tossed a purple and maroon striped night shirt at her and as she took off her clothes to put it on, he went over to the large solid metal door on a track by the tube-slide entranceway and pulled it in front of the slide, effectively blocking whatever was outside from getting in.

She shrugged. “I do. A little. I think it’ll be easier if I have you nearby. You know, just to know that you’re there.”

Happily she climbed into his large bed, waiting for him to join her and when he did, he didn’t seem too please.

“Stay on your half,” he ordered venomously.

She felt her heart start to break. “We can’t be close?”

He glared at her for a moment but conceded to her wishes. “If it will shut you up.”

She scooted closer on the mattress to him. “Night-night.”

He clapped his hands loudly into the openness and the few lights that were on shut off, leaving them in near-pitch black. There was an odd shuffling sound on the ground above and she held her breathe, wondering if whatever dark creatures lurked on the surface knew they were there. However, Robbie didn't seem bothered so she shut the noises out and closed her eyes.

*****

Stephanie slept slightly better than she had in a long time—indeed, having a living being so close to her was very comforting. She attributed it to the steady beat of Robbie’s heart, which didn’t sound as she imagined Sportacus’ would (a heavy pulse that was the rhythm of music), she was still able to relax to its steady sound, something like the beat of a far off drum. She could count to one hundred between each pulsation and somewhere between the sixth and eight hundredth count, she found her eyes shutting and everything becoming distant. As Robbie shifted around in the bed throughout the night, long legs stretching and brushing against hers, she could feel herself smiling.

True sleep no longer seemed to happen for her. She lacked the feeling of being tired, but every night she forced herself to lie down and shut her eyes. Mostly it was a commitment of going through the motions—Sportacus always insisted that sleep was one of the most important parts of being healthy and even if she couldn’t completely go through it, she hoped that it still counted that she tried. She did manage to drift off on occasion, a sense of stillness that she couldn’t quite call wakefulness, but was definitely rest. And being close to another warm body was comforting.

Around dawn, Robbie ended up kicking her off the bed and she woke up to hitting the cold concrete floor. Jarred, she sat there rubbing at her eyes as she heard him give a content, sleepy sigh as he continued moving around on the bed.

She saw that the periscope he used to spy on the town with was down and decided that it might be fun to look outside. Sitting in the overbearing chair, she looked into the periscope and began to watch her town from the safety of Robbie’s lair. First, she watched the apple tree and the little squishy creatures hobbling around; among the soft green leaves were the shiny red fruits she craved so dearly. Next, she surveyed the Town Hall, a knot of guilt and fear tightening in her stomach—she just didn’t want to think about what she’d seen there. The last thing she noticed was entirely on accident. The mutated and mutilated pack of dogs were on Robbie’s property, sniffing around on the ground, as though they knew she and Robbie were under the soil. At this, she left the periscope, shuddering slightly from the sight of the horrible dogs.

Now that she had the wonderful combination of space and safety here in Robbie’s lair, she decided to take advantage of the opportunity and exercise. If the room’s other occupant She enjoyed jumping jacks because she could do them and let her mind wander, usually to thoughts of how Sportacus would sing and play with everyone and how the summer sun used to make his eyes glimmer in just the right way…

“Don’t exercise in here,” Robbie grumbled deep within the tangle of sheets and blankets.

“I have to do it somewhere.”

He peeked his head out. “Go outside.”

“The dogs are outside.”

“Good. Exercise with them.”

She stopped and stared at him. “They’ll chase me.”

“Then call it ‘running’,” he said with a snide smile.

“You know, it wouldn’t hurt for you to exercise, too, you know. Exercise releases endorphins—“

He was quick to interrupt. “I prefer the cheap high of sugar and sedation. I don’t want to work for my happiness.”

“I’ll stop.” She pouted then wandered over to the bed. “What’s the plan for today?”

He kicked at her from the sheets. “Get away.”

She dodged him, but hovered nearby nonetheless until he crawled out of bed, looking annoyed with her.

“We’re leaving. We’re going to get out of this hellhole,” he finally announced.

“You don’t want to stay another day or—“

“Why on earth would I want to stay another day? To tie up loose ends? I don’t think so.” 

She watched him walk over to his costume tubes and pry open the dispenser, where he removed a set of clothes for the day. 

“What about that knife you were looking for?” she asked.

“I was thinking about that last night.” He began to step into his trousers. “Your uncle said he had made a guardian. Probably a golem of some sort. Anyway, if this fake guardian is the only one who can let us in and out of LazyTown, he must have the dagger on him. The dagger is the only real key to let us out of a binding seal.”

“Well, you seem to understand this better than me, so I’ll take your word for it.”

“Good, because I am right.” Now dressed, he jumped as something else came clattering out of the costume dispenser. “Hah! I knew I’d tucked this somewhere.”

Robbie held up what he’d been given and she cheered. “Your LazyScout backpack!”

“Tent, sleeping bag, canteen—everything we’ll need.” He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “I don’t know what you’re going to do in terms of supplies.”

To be honest, that had been the last thing on her mind. “I’ll think of something.”

“I don’t know what the food situation is outside of the town.” He went into the kitchen space and tossed a few bags of candy in her direction. “No fruit though.”

“I’ll be okay.” She carefully placed the candy in his backpack. “What are we going to do for weapons? The scalpels will only take us so far. And I broke part of the blade on mine.”

“We’ll need to stock up somewhere.”

An idea hit her. “Let’s go to the sports shed. There will be plenty of things there.”

He nodded, seeming to approve her idea. “I’ll see what I have here.”

“Oh,” he said in a flat tone.

She looked up to see that he was looking sadly at something in his hands.

“What is it?” she asked softly, hoping he could hear she was being sympathetic and not nosey.

“My best cake cutting knife—I was saving it for a special occasion.”

The blade gleamed viciously. “Why is it so sharp?”

“When you slice a cake, the sharper the blade is, the less damage it does to the decorative icing. Decorative icing is my favourite.” He sighed. “But desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose.”

“I’m sorry, Robbie.”

Without another word, he put the knife in his pack and slung it over his shoulder.

*****

The dogs were gone by the time they reached the surface, much to Stephanie’s relief, though she and Robbie remained wary as they made their way to the sports field where the equipment shed was. Off in the distance she could see the bright streak of colour that was the mural she’d been working on. It looked so vibrant, so unnaturally brilliant amongst the drab settings of LazyTown and she couldn’t fight the giddy smile, hoping Robbie might say something about it so she could start talking about how important it was to her. They marched past the mural and she felt her heart jump in her chest as she reached out, dragging her fingertips across glossy wording.

Robbie said nothing however, his focus on the equipment shed. Flinging the door open, he wasted no time searching for anything they might be able to use.

“Football net…aluminum bats…a set of badminton rackets—ugh, worthless,” he declared as he tossed the rackets over his shoulder onto the lawn.

“Be careful with them, please!” she begged frantically as he rummaged thoughtlessly through the different sports equipment.

He ignored her though and continued manhandling things until he found something of interest. “Hmm, these might be of use.”

He passed her something pink. “Helmets?”

He attempted to put a purple one on, but it seemed not to fit him.“Won’t buckle under my chin.”

Hers wobbled on her head. “Too loose.”

“So much for that,” he declared, shrugging.

The helmets were abandoned and Robbie continued searching through the shed.

“Too shaky.” He threw a wobbly scooter to the ground.

He held the peeling football before tossing it. “Too flaky.”

He looked at the small one seat canoe and shook his head. “Too lakey.”

As he swung the croquette mallet he found, it snapped in half. “Too breaky.”

He found the can of paint that she treasured most of all. “Too painty.”

“Careful!” she cried as he tossed it back as well.

The paint poured all over the sidewalk, creating a large puddle of the brilliant blue that reminded her of her hero. She made a remorseful sound, hovering around the edge of the blue as she worried her hands. All that beautiful paint. Ruined.

Dipping a finger into spill, she sighed heavily. Pressing her fingertip onto the inside of her wrist, she left a brilliant blue mark against her charred skin; she realised that if she made another fingerprint at a slightly different angle…she smiled as she looked down at the small, bright heart out of paint glistening on her wrist. Anger now dissipated, she disregarded the loss of the mural supplies and turned her attention back to Robbie.

“A broken hockey stick,” he declared. 

“We could attach the cake knife to the end of it,” she suggested, stopping him from tossing it behind them.

“That would work. I still have the roll of duct tape we found at the hardware store and I think I can make it into a spear.” He pointed to the unorganised mess of equipment and ordered, “Keep digging.”

Set back in a corner was a set of golf clubs. Grabbing one of the heavier headed ones, she nodded. “This are perfect.”

Robbie had turned his attention to the aluminum bats he’d found and began swinging one of them around. “I’ll just take this, I think. To fight the smaller things. Well, at least I can make this equipment look good. Sportadork always made it look, well, dorky.” 

“He did not.”

Robbie smirked as he stuffed the football nets into the duffle bag. “Oh, believe me—he did.”

She shook her head and began picking up the equipment he’d thrown out all over the sidewalk and dried grass.

“Well, I think we’re done here.” He stared at her. “What are you doing?”

“Well, we can’t just leave this out here,” she said, carefully standing the bats up against the inside of the shed.

He raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”

“It might get ruined.” 

Robbie frowned at her. “I’m going to count to ten and if you’re not done, I’m going to leave you here.”

He began to count and she hurried to stuff things back into the shed, hoping she would finish in time. Equipment shoved haphazardly and with a second to spare, Stephanie gave him an apologetic smile and tagged along behind him as they headed out to the field on the edge of town.

Chapter Text

 

*****

Stephanie does a cartwheel then tumbles onto the grass next to Sportacus; he is sitting beneath a tree by the old castle on the hill, legs folded as though he’s meditating. It’s nearing evening and after wandering around town to look for the one person she enjoys being around most, she finds him just as the sun is starting to set.

“What're you up to?” she asks curiously as she folds her legs as well, pulling the hem of her dress to her knees. 

“Nothing much.” He gently plucks a small mauve flower from the grass next to him and offers it over to her. “Daisy?”

She accepts the small bloom. “Smells nice. Why are you just sitting here? I've never seen you just sitting around.”

“Thinking.” He continues looking out at Lazytown, painted golds and pinks from the sunset.

“Thinking so much you can't move around?” she teases as she tucks the daisy behind her ear. 

“Something like that.” He turns to look at her. “Do you ever think about the future?”

“Yep—I’m going to be a world famous dancer.”

He offers a slight smile. “And you’ll be wonderful. But I meant other things. Like…”

She raises her eyebrow when he doesn’t finish his sentence. “Like what?”

He looks away from her again. “Nothing. I’m not making much sense.”

“So what are you thinking about that’s got you sitting down?” She frowns. “You’re feeling all right, right?”

He gives her a reassuring smile. “I’m fine.”

“Okay,” she says hesitantly.

She wonders what could be so captivating that he can hardly move and its actually starting to become somewhat unnerving to see him so still and pensive. 

“C'mon—tell me what you're thinking about!” She playfully leans her shoulder against his arm.

“Something your uncle and I talked about last night.”

“What is it?”

“Something special.” He turns his attention back to the setting sun. “Someone special.”

At this, she nearly opens her mouth to ask who he was thinking about and at the thought it was someone her uncle knew as well, her heart jumps into her throat and she wonders if it’s her. But that’s silly.

Sportacus stands up abruptly and offers his hand to her. “Dance with me?”

“Of course!” she replies a little too quickly. 

He helps her to her feet and he gives her a slight bow. She’s gotten much taller since the first time they’d danced, only seven or eight inches shorter than him now. But he’s still the perfect dancing partner and as he effortlessly leads her among the summer wildflowers, guiding both their feet so that neither steps on any of the blossoms, she begins to hum along to their careful steps. She knows this is his favourite season because it means playing from sun up to sun down with its long hours. She too loves the amount of light in each day, that it means she can spend even more time being around him.

Their dancing picks up tempo and so does her humming; sometimes she wonders if he likes her singing or if he merely tolerates it, but this evening he starts humming along with her and while she has the urge to burst out into song, she has no idea what she’d sing. Her mind is a jumble and all she can understand is the utter joy that fills her from being so close. She nearly questions if this part of the magic he once told her he had, to create such happiness in one moment.

‘What could ever compare to this?’ she thinks and as though he knows what’s running through her mind he tilts her backwards into a dramatic dip.

Off balance with only him supporting her, she stares into his eyes as his cheerful smile broaden. His hand holds her beneath her shoulder blades, the small of her back resting across his thigh. Her heart pounds in her chest and she realises he’s the only one still humming, her breath caught in her throat. She could be here forever with him and she’d be perfectly happy.

He pulls her back upright and they spin around and around until everything around them seems to be a blur. He begins to laugh and she is caught up in sound, joining him as her hand holds onto his tighter. She has no idea what they’re laughing about, but she loves the joy she can feel in his presence.

The sun has finally set and the magic is broken as their dancing begins to slow. Crickets begin to chirp in the thick grass and they finally part from one another.He glances to the west and she watches the first evening stars begin to light the sky.

“It’s nearly time for me to get to bed,” he announces and she wonders if she’s imagining the disappointment in his voice.

She glances down at the digital display on her wrist watch.“I always forget that it stays so light so late.”

He turns back to her. “I should get you home.”

She nods. “Probably.”

He smiles mischievously. “Want to skip there?”

He offers out his arm to her and for a second time she accepts, slipping her hand into the crook of his elbow, just happy to be with him.

They skip back towards the town, fireflies starting to rise out of the field and the rustle of the evening breeze running through her hair. The town is mostly empty, its occupants at home already, leaving a serene atmosphere to hang in the air. After they make their way through the sports field, which her uncle’s backyard butts up against, she motions for him to be quiet before she hops over the tall fence. He nods before performing an elegant flip over the top to land among her uncle’s tulips. Together they creep across the back lawn around the side of the house to her bedroom window. 

“Shouldn’t you use the front door?” he asks softly.

She can’t hide her guilt and gives him a sheepish smile. “I told my uncle I was going to be in my room studying when I went looking for you.”

He gives her a stern look. “You shouldn’t lie to your uncle, Stephanie.”

She nods. “I know. I just…wanted to see you.”

They’re quiet as she slides opens her bedroom window and she sits on the window sill.

Sportacus fidgets with his hands. “Will I see you tomorrow or will you have plans?” 

Her legs dangle over edge of the window sill and she realises she staring at his blue eyes, so she turns her attention to the moon that’s starting to show over the tops of the mountains.

“Well, Trixie and I were going to have brunch together at the new coffee shop in town and plan her birthday party, but I should have the afternoon free. Maybe we can go on a hike together with everyone!”

He smiles enthusiastically and naturally the volume of his voice starts to rise. “We could hike to the lake! And have a picnic! And a swimming competition—“

She presses her finger to his lips as they both look at her bedroom door, where on the other side her uncle is knocking. 

“Stephanie? Are you on the phone?” he calls out.

Sportacus seems to realise that their time has come to an end and as she pulls her hand away from him, he whispers, “I’ll see you tomorrow, then. Sleep well.”

He turns to leave and she whispers back, “Bless-bless.”

He seems surprised that she’s remembered how to say ‘goodbye’ in his language and a very pleased smile crosses his lips which makes her heart jump.

“Good night,” he replies softly before disappearing off into the night.

Chapter Text

 

*****

Milford paces in his office, anxious and unsettled. He’d sent the letter off to Sportacus nearly thirty minutes ago by means of the airmail tube and he’d expected that the hero would have been here in under five. But it had been an unusual letter and maybe he’s offended him with his strange question—after all, the elf is a man of honour.

“Think positive, think positive, there’s always a way,” he mutters to himself as he tries not to bump into the corner of his desk.

To be honest, Milford doesn’t have a Plan B if this one backfires. He can only hope that Sportacus recognises the importance of such a bizarre request. He knows he should be home right now making dinner for the night, checking over Stephanie’s homework, and well, watching over his niece as she really shouldn’t be left home alone even if she is a good and responsible girl. But he really, really has to talk to Sportacus!

Sportacus only stays consistently in LazyTown when Stephanie is around for summer holiday and while that’s all fine and dandy, it’s only three months out of the year with the occasional return once or twice a week, which simply isn’t enough. What Milford really needs is for Sportacus to stay year round. He’s been thinking about this for a while now—at first merely toying with the idea, but in the past few months taking it far more serious as he realises how wonderful it would be to restore the age old tradition of having a town guardian. The last time LazyTown had had a guardian, he’d been a very, very small child, hardly able to walk. And now he’d ensure that LazyTown had another long after he left office.

The outside door of the office opens and shuts and Milford spins around to look to his office door, hoping, hoping, hoping it’s not Stephanie come looking for him. His inner office door opens and while it is the tall elf he’s been waiting for, he still isn’t relieved. For once the hero’s face is hard to read. The Mayor gestures for him to sit, but Sportacus shakes his head, his eyes settling on everything but Milford. 

“Well?” the mayor finally asks.

Sportacus exhales loudly and his voice is decidedly unsure. “It’s…such an old custom. I have always thought that in this era your people would be disgusted by such a proposal, which is why I never brought it up.”

So he has thought about it before. Milford sees this as a very good sign.

“But are you interested? If it would offend you—“

The elf’s eyes narrow slightly. “Is Stephanie aware of any of this?”

“No point in saying anything until you’ve at least considered the idea.” Milford gives a nervous laugh.

Sportacus doesn’t seem to find anything funny, however. “What about her parents? Are they aware of this?”

Milford can’t help but scoff. “My brother was never interested in being a father and my sister-in-law is practically a pageant mother with the way she runs Stephanie ragged with all the dancing—not even the kind of dancing the child likes! Neither have her wellbeing in mind. They want her to do stupid, pointless things. I, at least, thought my niece deserved a purpose.”

“A purpose?” Sportacus echoes.

“She could give LazyTown a gift no one else can.” Milford begins to feel the panic rise. “Sportacus,”

Once more the elf avoids looking at him. “I will need to think about it. There are many factors of which I must weigh in such a decision.”

Without thinking, Milford grabs his arm. “You won’t say anything to her, will you?”

“No, of course not.” Sportacus gently pulls Milford’s hand off him and he takes a step backwards to the office door. “Goodnight, Mayor Meanswell.”

“Goodnight, Sportacus.”

Chapter Text

 

*****

Dear Sportacus,

I’m writing this on the train right now. We only left the station an hour or so and I’m already missing LazyTown. I’m exciting to see my parents, of course, but LazyTown really feels like home. I know I only come here during the summer, so that may sound a little silly. I know that four weeks shouldn’t seem like a long time, but that’s thirty days I’ll be away! 

My mother has signed me up for a summer dance programme which I’m excited to start. When I come back, I promise to show you everything I learned. Maybe we can have a talent show for the whole town before the summer’s over? Everyone can show their skills in exercise? You’ll probably think of a better way to build off my idea!

When I look out the window of the train car, I can see so much countryside. Sometimes I forget how far away LazyTown is from the rest of the world. But then, you’re much farther away from your home then I am. Do you miss your home? Sometimes I don’t miss the city at all.

Well, I don’t want to use up all my stationary with me going on and on and on.

Can’t wait to hear back from you,
Stephanie

P.S.Uncle Milford said I could plant sunflowers by the front walkway when I return. Do you like sunflowers?

***
Dear Stephanie,

I was sad to see you leave, but I know it’s only for a little while, so I will simply await your return. And thank you for buying me the stationary for me to write to you with. You didn’t have to do that, but that’s one of your many great qualities—always thinking of others! 
No, I don’t think you’re silly for missing LazyTown. You have many friends here, so it’s only natural that you wouldn’t be happy to leave.

I think your idea for a talent show is wonderful! When you return, we’ll have to make plans to organise one. I think it would be fun!

I have a few dried sunflower heads with their seeds, if you’d like to use them for your garden.

My crystal is beeping right now, so I must be off!

Have a wonderful day,
Sportacus

***
Dear Sportacus,

You’d hate it here. There’s too much traffic, there’s too much noise, there’s too many buildings, and for everything everyone has, no one seems to be happy. It’s dreadful. I even stopped going to the dance classes my mother signed me up for because nobody there seems to be enjoying them. There are also too many lights at night and I can’t see the stars when I go to bed. And I miss getting to play out in the park. My parents are too busy to take me and I’m not allowed to go alone, so I spend a lot of time cooped up in the house and I would play my music loud and dance to it, but the apartment building’s rules say I can’t. 

Sorry this letter is all complaints. I guess I just miss LazyTown.

I hope your nights have stars,
Stephanie

PS. Wouldn’t you like your sunflower seeds for yourself? I’m sure you don’t have much room to grow them on your ship, but maybe we could find somewhere else you’d enjoy them?
***
Dear Stephanie,

I’m staying up late just for you tonight so that I can look at the stars and watch them for you.

Do you know your constellations? My people have different names for them than yours, so I’ll take this opportunity to teach a few of them to you. Above me is the “Night River” or as you would know it, the “Milky Way”. It’s very bright—surely you won’t miss it in the city tonight!

To the north is the constellation called “Aquila”, which what we call the “Lapis Eye Key”, a figure in our mythology of a token key that humans can use to unlock the gateway into our world. It is composed of eight main stars. It lies slightly to the left of the Night River.

To the south is the “Seal of the Keeper of Arms” or “Lupus”. During this time of the year it isn’t very bright, but come winter, it will light up the entire night sky. The “Seal of the Executioner of Laws” is “Pegasus” is in the west, right above the crest of the mountains. To us, “Cygnus” is the “Seal of the Keeper of Lore”. At the moment it is almost directly above me, to the west of the Night River. “Capricorn”, which is one of the figures in your peoples’ zodiac, is “Seal of the Performer of Rites”. We actually add an additional star to the constellation to complete the figure.

Orion is bright tonight.

I’m beginning to fall asleep, so I shall have to leave the lesson at that.

I can’t wait for you to see the stars again, 
Sportacus

***
Dear Stephanie,

Has it really only been three weeks since I last saw you? It feels like much, much longer. 
I, along with the rest of LazyTown, eagerly await your return.

I hope you don’t mind two letters in one week.

Hope you’re enjoying your time at home,
Sportacus

***
Dear Sportacus,

You’re right—this four week trip back home is taking FOREVER! I can only send you a short let today. 

Oh! You’re probably wondering about the stickers I enclosed—while I was out shopping with my mother today, I saw them in the stationary aisle and thought of you. The neatest thing about them is that not only are they shaped like sportscandy, but they smell like them, too! All you have to do is rub their surface and then you’ll smell the fruit! I thought you might like them for your Energy Book. I have a set of my own for the energy book you gave me—I’m using them to mark every day I eat all my fruits and veggies!

I miss you a lot. Your last two letters have really helped me though this week!

See you soon,
Stephanie

***
Dear Stephanie,

Thank you for the stickers. I can’t wait to use them!

I haven’t had much free time the past few days, and I fear it may be just as busy for the next few days as well, so I shall keep this letter to the point:

I miss you very much.

Sportacus

***
Sportacus,

I miss you very much, too.

Steph

***
Stephanie,

I will be the first one waiting for you at the train station.

Sportacus

***
S,
I can’t wait to see you!
St

***
It’s nice to be able to leave these notes on your window sill again. Welcome back home, Stephanie.

Sportacus

Chapter Text

 

*****

She’s waiting anxiously by the edge of the town, worrying her hands as she watches the south entrance to LazyTown; finally she sees the one she’s waiting for: Sportacus.

He catches sight of her and as he raises his hand to wave at her, his foot catches on a rock and he tumbles to the ground, causing her to run over to him. “Oh my gosh, are you all right?!”

“Fine, fine. Just a little clumsy,” he says as he starts to get up.

He stumbles again, and she helps him up. “I’ve never seen you like this. Is everything okay?”

“I wasn’t paying as close attention as I could.” He holds up a rolled piece of paper that came from her stationary set. “I came as soon as I got your letter.”

She beams. “Pretty cool, huh?”

“It’s very exciting.” They begin to walk together towards the forest that surrounds the town. “So your parents are fine with you living here in LazyTown with your uncle?”

“Well, they’re so busy with work and they like that I’m living in a small town and not the big city. They think I’ll get a better education like this.” She nudges him with her elbow. “Plus, this is where all my friends are.”

He grins. “So we’ll see one another all year round.”

“Yep!” In the back of her mind, she realises that what he just said contradicts what she knows about him. “I thought you headed back to your home after summer though.”

He looks caught off guard, but smiles anyway. “Sometimes.”

She doesn’t dwell on the inconsistency however and they start to walk along the forest path up to the old castle tower he once rescued her and her friends from.

“It was actually my uncle’s idea, you know. Me getting to stay here in LazyTown,” she tells him. 

“Is that so?” He starts cartwheeling and back-flipping and she winces, hoping the pebbles in the path don’t hurt his hands.

“Yeah, he wrote to my parents and suggested that maybe I’d like to live here. He was actually the one who suggested that I might like staying my summers here back when I was eight.”

He pauses in the middle of his cartwheel and raises an eyebrow. “Did he now?”

She nods. “He told me ‘A Meanswells’ home will always be LazyTown’. Which makes since, considering my family has always lived here. Did you know they were one of the founding families?”

“I did know that.” He suddenly gives her an odd luck. “You’re not being pressured to stay here, are you?”

“No. Why?”

“I just, I, well—“ His cheeks flush. “I just want to make sure everything is okay.”

She stops walking and stares at him, unsure what he’s trying to say; he’s starting to freak her out. “Of course everything’s okay.”

“I’m just saying nonsense. I didn’t mean to upset you.” He takes her hands in his and gives her a reassuring smile. 

She can’t feel upset when he’s so close and she laughs, shaking her head. “Are you sure you didn’t hit your head when you tripped on that rock?”

He bursts out laughing and still holding her hands, pulls her along the trail. “Bet you can’t beat me to the top!”

“You’re on!” she challenges happily and as they start racing up the forest path, she forgets the unease his words made her feel. 

 

*****

Stephanie finds him at the edge of the forest, not far from where Robbie lives; he’s waiting in the tallest tree in LazyTown, bright blue amongst the green leaves.

“I got your note.” Her stomach is still fluttering with butterflies and tight from finding the small message waiting for her on her window sill when she came home from school.

He leans down from the tree branch he’s sitting on, holding his hand out to her as he smiles broadly. “Give me your hand.”

She slips her smaller fingers across his palm, but feels worry. “We’re not going too high up, are we?”

His smile broadens. “Just trust me.”

She swallows hard, trying to push back every ounce of fear that courses through her as she allows him to lead her further up into the branches. She’s always trusted him and she has no reason to stop now. Stephanie braces herself between the rough trunk and his shoulder; he seems to know exactly when her stomach settles from the height and he passes her a pair of binoculars, guiding her to look out across the town to…

“The apple tree!” she exclaims happily.

He nods enthusiastically as he gestures to the branch above them. “I was thinking on constructing a zip line from this tree to the apple tree. You’d have to climb really high to get to the line itself, and then at the end, you’d be able to pick a piece of sports candy.”

She lights up at the plan. “That’s a great idea! And then you’d have to run all the way back to get in line again!”

“Right!” His eyes twinkle as they look into hers. “And I know that apples are your favourite…”

His hand comes to rest atop Stephanie’s and she feels her heart thundering in her chest, wondering if he can hear it as well. She quickly looks away so that he can’t see her blush nor her smile. 

 

 

Chapter Text

*****

Stephanie is nearly thirteen when Sportacus returns to him with an answer. Milford’s been patient, but very antsy about the matter—it’s become a small dark cloud that hangs over his head every day. It’s past lunch time and he’s become accustomed to the slightly-above-average hero coming to his office to ask him for permission to create summer events to get the town up and moving, so he thinks nothing of it when he sees him this afternoon. 

“Sportacus! So nice to see you! Is there something I can do for you?”

Sportacus is speaking so quickly, Milford nearly doesn’t understand him with his heavy accent. “I have made my decision.”

“Come in, come in,” he says quickly and leans out to the secretarial office. “Bessie, why don’t you go take a break?”

She gives him a confused look. “I just had one less than—“

“Go!” Milford shouts.

The woman’s cheeks flush and she scowls at him as she collects her sweater. “All right! No need to use that tone!”

Milford pushes away his feelings of guilt as she storms out of the small space that serves as her secretarial office and slams the door behind her. He notices that Sportacus nearly makes to go after her, but in the end, stays. Milford locks both doors and breathlessly asks,

“Well?”

“I will accept your town’s offering.” The words leave the elf’s mouth quickly. 

“You will?” Milford’s so relieved he could cry.

Milford watches Sportacus gravitate to the window, looking out in the direction of the sports field. “We’ll wait until she’s come of age and then…I’ll tell her.” He then turns to look at the mayor. “Do you suppose she’ll be upset?”

“I don’t know.” Milford doesn’t want to think of these things. “She knows she’s your favourite—I’m sure she’ll understand.”

Sportacus’ eyes darken. “But you understand what you are committing yourself and her to, don’t you, Mayor? This isn’t a light decision to make. She will be a sacrifice—you’re truly willing to do that to a member of your family?”

“Don’t misunderstand my intentions, Sportacus. I love my niece very, very much,” Milford says firmly, because it is the truth. “I would never do anything to put her happiness in jeopardy. But I have to think about LazyTown and its wellbeing, too. Our town has gone without a hero for far, far too long. I mean, she never saw this place before you came along. It…wasn’t good.” 

Milford pushes back the memories of horrible accidents, of the poor health among the citizens and the resulting illnesses, of the death and gloom. Stephanie has brought such a light and warmth to his hometown and Sportacus could keep it there, if only for another fifty years.

He forces himself to disconnect the protective feeling he has for his niece and try not to make the situation sound worse than it was. “And she’s a Meanswell. It’s her destiny to be here in LazyTown, for whatever is asked of her.”

The elf’s voice sounds oddly devoid of emotion. “So you are willing to form a contract with me and my people.”

Milford nods. “As soon as possible.”

Sportacus looks out the window for a moment. “Tomorrow when the sun it at its highest. On the laylines out at the field.”

Worry begins to gnaw at Milford again. “What if the children want to follow us? Won’t it be risky for someone to see us?”

“Most adults don’t venture out to the field and I’ll think of some to distract the children with. Perhaps a scavenger hunt…” Sportacus finally gives something of a frown. “We’ll need to collect artifacts from the museum wing.”

Milford shakes his head, hoping to ease the elf’s worries. “No one will think anything of us taking them—I don’t think anyone knows what they’re for. I’ll make up an excuse for why we need them.”

Sportacus gives him a final nod and goes over to the open window; he performs a dramatic back flip from the window ledge to the ground and Milford watches curiously as the elf stands where he landed, looking down the street. He almost begins to wonder what he’s waiting for when he sees someone dressed from head to toe in pink running towards him. The mayor steps into the shadows so he can’t be seen from the window and watches their interaction below.

“Sportacus! There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you!” his niece declares cheerfully. 

All of the anxiety in Sportacus’ face melts away as he smiles at the pink-haired girl. “Hello, Stephanie.”

Milford smiles to himself. There’s no way this could go wrong.

Chapter Text

 

*****

Robbie leans on the glass top of one of the display case in the combination museum wing/town records office of city hall, looking out of the corner of his eye at the sign that reads ‘Please don’t lean on the glass’. He smirks; breaking the rules and being lazy at the same time is one of his favourite activities.

In the past year, Meanswell seemed to have started taking his job as mayor a bit more seriously and had handed over the duty of town’s archive keeper over to one of the fussy women that Bessie Busybody enjoys being around, which makes Robbie’s havoc causing that much harder to do.

“Oh, you’re not supposed to lean on the glass, Robbie!” the woman chastises, frowning at his elbows.

“My bad,” he says casually, still not leaning off the display case.

“Is this what you were looking for?” she asks, holding out a set of papers he’d requested.

“No…” He leans around her, looking longingly at the door of the archive. “And you say I’m not allowed to look inside the archives on my own?”

“Mayor Meanswell said no,” she says firmly.

“Hmmm…” He leans off the glass case and nearly turns to leave when his brain makes the connexion that the case is completely empty. 

“Where are the artifacts that used to be in here?” he asks, smudging his fingers on the glass top.

She winces as she starts buffing out his fingerprints with the edge of her sweater sleeve. “Oh, the mayor and Sportacus took them out for cleaning this morning. They’ll bring them back tomorrow.”

He wrinkles his nose. “Cleaning? They’re under glass.”

The woman shrugs and leaves with the papers into the back office.

This didn’t make any sense to him. Why would they of all people be cleaning artifacts? Neither are experts on handling delicate objects, let alone priceless ones. And why would they clean only the ones in this case, when no one looks at them in the first place? Unless that insufferable elf had found some new, stupid way to make polishing an exercise? Robbie sighs dramatically and rolls his eyes, stomping off to the other side of the building in hopes of finding where the two men are. Already his mind is plotting a dozen different ways he could turn this into a disaster. Maybe he can put on the dinosaur costume again and scare Sportaclown into dropping them—surely that will get him sent out of LazyTown!

He pauses as he looks back at the empty case. Inside are only the labels that indicate what should have been resting on their display pedestals. He slinks back over once more and looks at what exactly the items were. First, there is the label for the town’s ceremonial dagger. And then the town seal, which from what he remembers, looks more like a branding iron than anything else. Next the small label for the Lapis Eye Key, which he’d once stolen until he found out it wasn’t very valuable, so he put it back before anyone noticed. The final object was supposed to be the Obsidian Chalice, which as the name suggested, was carved completely out of a single piece of black volcanic glass.

The more he thinks about it, the clearer he starts to remember that the last time he’d been in here (a month ago, stealing all the office supplies for an invention) that the artifacts were immaculate, not a single speck of dust on them. And for that matter, he’s pretty sure that they’re all elf made, which makes it more and more suspicious that an elf and the town’s most politically powerful man would have them all to their selves. No, all of these items go together and would never be taken out of the case, let alone the building, unless they were going to be used, which is an interesting thought.

“What could they possibly be doing with all of them together? The town’s ceremonial dagger and the Obsidian Chalice? The Obsidian Chalice…” He searches his brain for any information he might have stored away on the object, but can think of nothing. 

“May I borrow ‘Our Towne’s History’, please?” he calls out in the most polite voice he can manage.

The woman comes out of the office a moment later with a large leather-bound book and hands it over to him. “Here you go. You can sit over there to read it, if you’d like.”

He looks at the desk and chair in the corner of the room and fights back a grimace; when he sits down on the chair (too short and not at all comfy), setting the heavy book down on the desk, she goes back into the office and he’s left to and begins to flip though the pages quickly. 

“Originally used in the ceremony of the Contractual Sacrifice.” He huffs. “What on earth is that?”

He flips through a few more pages until he finds what he’s looking for. “The Contractual Sacrifice. The sacrifice made by the Founding Families as dictated by the Founding Family Contract.”

He rolls his eyes, feeling as though he’s being directed in circles, but flips through the pages again until he finds the next page he’s looking for.

“The Founding Family Contracts.” He begins to read the passage aloud. “LazyTown was founded by four different families, the Meanswells, the Dogoods, the Fairevirtues, the Hopestills, okay blah, blah, blah…land filled with hazards and tragedy, no one cares…oh! They called upon the huldenfolk to protect them. The hundenfolk agreed on the condition that the four families be willing to enter into a contract with them to protect their towne. Oh.”

He then begins to read the page to himself.

‘Every fifty years the four families would take the ceremonial dagger and trace out the towne seal.’ He glances over to the small image of the original LazyTown seal that showed a circle quartered, the names of the original families carefully written around the edges. The runes within the seal describe in the language of the huldenfolk the terms of the contract. ‘The dagger was placed in the centre of the seal and then spun until it stopped on its own; the family name at which the blade tip pointed would thusly be the family to commit the life of their youngest child to the current guardian, who was then called ‘the living sacrifice’. The fate of the living sacrifice was then decided by the guardian. In a few instances the living sacrifice was used as a servant for the guardian’s family back home, in another the living sacrifice was groomed to become a spouse to the guardian’s own sibling. In one case, the living sacrifice was used in one of the huldenfolks’ blood sacrifices. For the most part, the fate of the living sacrifice was never known by the families.’

“Well, only the Meanswell family is still around,” he mutters to himself. 

It suddenly dawns on him what exactly is happening and he leans back against the chair as the magnitude of what he’s discovered overwhelms him. “Oh my sweet sugary goodness.”

He bursts into a wild, giddy smile as he realises this is EXACTLY the kind of thing he’s been looking for. The ultimate blackmail! 

He tears the page out of the book and sprints out of the building; looking left then right for any sign of the pink haired child, he takes off running towards the school playground where he can hear children laughing. Sure enough, there are two of them: the girl with the black hair and the boy that was always eating candy.While he can’t ever say he’s wanted to see Meanswell’s niece, he is irritated that she’s not there with her friends so he can question her.

“Where’s Sportadork, little girl?” Robbie asks the girl.

She shrugs which causes her three ponytails to bob. “I don’t know. We’re doing a sport scavenger hunt.”

He makes a face. “Why are you together? Let me guess—you’re working as a team.”

At this point, the little pink-haired brat has caught up to her friends and he scowls at her. “Where’s your uncle?”

Unsurprisingly, she cops an attitude, complete with hands on her hips and a scathing glare. “Why?”

“None of your business,” he snaps back.

“Want us to tell him you’re looking for him?” the chubby blond boy asks cheerfully.

“No.” 

The Meanswell girl’s look darkens further. “You’re probably looking to do something mean to him, aren’t you?”

He hopes his smile doesn’t look threatening. “Wouldn’t dream of it.” 

 

 

Chapter Text

*****

Sportacus frowns slightly at Milford. “I know it hurts, but you’ll need a bit more blood than that.”

If he weren’t gaining something more precious than gold, Milford might have fainted from the cut he’s already made across the tip of his finger. The town’s children (including his niece) that love Sportacus so much are off on the other side of town, busy, leaving he and the elf alone to form the contract on the leylines in the large open field where the elf’s air ship is. The ceremony itself is absolutely facinating and if keeping it secret wasn’t such a big deal, Milford might have taken more time to study every little detail, but for now everything is moving in a heart pounding blur.

“How’s this?” he asks.

“Great.”

“Now?”

The elf nods. “Go ahead.”

“With this blood, I enter into a contract with the huldenfolk,” the mayor says, trying to keep his voice from shaking.

Milford squeezes the finger between his thumb and index, allowing fat red drops from the cut to fall into the shallow bowl of the obsidian goblet. From there, Sportacus gently places the crystal into the goblet as well and to Milford’s wonder, the clear stone begins to absorb the blood through its small cracks and crevices until it looks as though it has veins. The crystal begins to pulse.

“Now hers.”

Earlier that morning, Milford had placed a shard of glass outside Stephanie's bedroom door and when she stepped out, she sliced her foot open. After she limped off to get a bandage, he collected the blood from the floor and put it into a small capillary tube. Now, he pulls it from his suit pocket and opens one end of the tube, allowing a single drop to fall into the chalice. 

“This is the blood I give as an offering.”

Sportacus takes the dagger and cuts sharply through his fingertip—Milford winces at the sight of the injury. The elf’s red blood drips in thick drops onto the crystal. 

“With this blood, I seal this land from all that might harm it. I offer all my resources to be its guardian.” 

Milford’s heart races. “Is that it?”

“Give me your arm.”

“What are you—oh!”

Sportacus has a viselike grip on Milford’s wrist and doesn’t let him pull away he takes the seal and presses it against the soft skin of Milford’s inner arm. When he pulls the flat piece of metal away, his skin is covered and blood and he can see that the seal has been cut into his arm deep enough to form a permanent mark.

“It is the physical representation of our contract. So that you can prove our arrangement,” the elf explains.

“This is so very exciting.” Milford feels a sickening wave of delight course through him as he watches the cuts pool with blood. “Is it going to keep bleeding like that?”

“It will heal into a scar soon enough. Though it wouldn’t hurt to put a bandage over it for now.” He begins to wipe the blood from his own finger across the white stripes on his suit’s trousers. “I…”

The mayor looks at Sportacus. “What?”

“I was about to ask if she could join the rest of the children on the hike I’ll be leading them on this weekend.”

“Old habits are hard to break,” Milford mumbles. 

He can’t stop staring at the intricate laceration that decorates his skin, that this is his now. He’s accomplished something that his father couldn’t, that the townsfolk couldn’t, that no one could. Mirthful laughter escapes Milford’s lips. He did it! He really did it. The dark blood runs down his arm and drips onto the ground, staining the soil.

The elf’s voice breaks into his thoughts. “Milford, you never even asked me what I will do with her.”

Sportacus’ eyes have never looked so cold and Milford feels his stomach tighten, the smile leaving his face. He opens his mouth slightly, but he’s not sure what to say. What can he say? That’s he’s sorry for what he did? He isn’t. It simply had to be done. Sinister, but he didn’t really have a choice, now did he? 

Without another word, the elf leaves and Milford is left standing in the field with blood congealing on his arm. 

*****

Stephanie sees the flower the moment she walks into her bedroom. She frowns slightly as she drops her backpack on the floor and crawls onto the bed to retrieve it from her windowsill; she’s never seen this kind of blossom before: brilliant green with tendril shaped leaves. Only one person ever leaves her things on her windowsill and she blushes slightly at the thought that it’s him. Tucking the flower behind her ear, she decides she’ll thank him later when her uncle has gone to bed and she can climb out her bedroom window. 

Uncle Milford is in an incredibly jolly mood at dinner, laughing and smiling, grasping her hand twice as he grins at her; they also have cake and while she normally limits herself with her favourite sweets, her uncle convinces her to eat not one, not two, but three slices— definitely not healthy but it’s just too good to say no! She’s so happy that he’s feeling better; something has been weighing heavy on his mind and she figures they’re celebrating something, but doesn’t think it would be appropriate to ask, just in case. 

She waits an hour after her uncle goes to bed to sneak out of the house, quietly sneaking through the streets and across lawns to get to the field where she’d be closest to the one she wants to see.

Climbing up the tree that she and Sportacus had sat in roughly eight months ago, when he’d placed his hand over hers, she allows the happy memory to distract her from all thoughts of being high off the ground. They still hadn’t created the zipline to the apple tree yet, but at least they’d managed to put up the two boards that would serve as the platform everyone would have to climb up to. She sits down on the perch comfortably and stares up at the blue airship hovering silently in the night sky; the lights are off inside, which means he’s already asleep. She nearly calls up to him, but she decides against it; she’ll see him tomorrow after all, and then she’ll be able to thank him. A slight smile begins to form on her lips when she wonders if he’ll walk with her to school as he’s done a few times before. Something tightens deep in her belly and her cheeks feel warm.

A slight breeze moves through the tree and she holds onto her perch on the branch a little tighter. There is a soft rustling noise to her left and she sees something small and blue tucked between the boards and the branch; upon realising it’s a folded piece of paper, she pulls it out, noting that it’s very familiar paper indeed.

Written inside are words that can only be meant for her.

As she shifts her hand on the branch, she feels something cool and sticky where the note had been left. She quickly pulls her hand back and looks down to see that small beads of sap have formed on the raw, damp wood. Freshly carved into the branch is the outline of an apple, complete with leaf and stem. And the apple is rather heart-like…Her fingers trace the small carving and she realises she’s been holding her breath.

She’s always thought of him as a friend but she can’t deny that in the past year there have been times where she’s wanted more of him—more of his voice, of his company, of the feeling of him dancing with her. The new feelings are unsettling not just because she hasn’t felt them before but because she has her suspicions as to what they are.

Fingers tacky with sap, her heart pounding and stomach aflutter, she has to pause and still her trembling hands. She can’t stop smiling as she gazes up at the airship.

Oh, this is love.

 

Chapter Text

*****

When Milford enters his office the next morning, he’s startled to see Robbie Rotten sitting in his chair behind his mayoral desk, feet kicked up and playing with the obsidian chalice. He wonders if the troublemaker has schemed his way into being mayor a second time, but relaxes slightly when he greets him with, 

“Hello, Mayor.”

Milford manages to force a pleasant smile, trying to grimace at the sight of Rotten toying with such a precious artifact. “Hello, Robbie. Is there something I can help you with?”

Robbie kicks his feet off the desk and sets the chalice down on the desktop. “No, but there’s something I can help you with.”

Milford makes a face. “Help me?”

The other man gives him a nasty smile. “I know your dirty little secret.”

Without meaning to, Milford’s hand reaches for the covenant on his arm. “Robbie, I think you’re confused.”

Robbie’s smile becomes a bit more leering. “No, I’m not.” His eyes narrow. “You’re involved in a contract.”

Milford can feel all the blood rushing from his face. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Robbie loses the smile and he suddenly looks very sad. “Mayor, I’m concerned for Stephanie. She’s just a girl. Do you really think it’s fair to decide her fate for her?”

In the back of his mind, Milford could hear Sportacus hiss, ‘You never even asked me what I will do with her…’

Milford sinks heavily into the chair across from the town’s trickster. “I’ve done something wrong, haven’t I?”

“But you can fix it.” Robbie leans forward across the desk and smiles once more. “Just don’t let him have your niece.”

*****


Milford is out of breath by the time he finds Sportacus, who’s practicing his handstands in the park. It’s still morning, though the hot sun has been beating down on Milford’s bald head, causing him to sweat furiously and he’s entirely sure he’s getting sunburned. 

“Sportacus, we can’t do this. It’s wrong,” he gasps, leaning on his knees to catch his breath.

Sportacus lands on his feet and he looks at the mayor as though he’s possibly misheard what was said. “What?”

Milford shakes his head as he looks at the tall elf. “The contract. What have I done? I’ve used my own niece for my own gain.”

Sportacus’ eyes are large and there’s fear in them. “What are you saying, Mayor?”

“You have to take the contract back!” Milford begs.

Sportacus shakes his head as well. “I can’t.”

“You must! I can’t just give you her, she’s my own blood!”

The elf’s brow furrows. “But you have already made the sacrifice. She is no longer yours.”

Without meaning to, Milford grabs onto the slighty-above-average hero’s arm. “Take it back, Sportacus!”

The pained way Sportacus utters the words is the worst part. “But I love her."

Milford rolls up his shirt sleeve and pulls the ceremonial dagger out of his sports coat pocket. He quickly slashes the jagged blade across the still healing burn across his inner arm. 

“I’ve broken the seal. Now you have no choice but to return her to me.”

Sportacus’ eyes widen, looking horrified. “What have you done? A contract is not made to be broken.”

The cut bleeds heavy, running down his arm and allover his pant leg and shoe, but that is all at the back of Milford’s mind as he rushes to offer something else to the guardian he’s worked so hard to get. “You can have anything else you want, anyone else you want. But you can’t have her.”

Sportacus’ eyes never left the fresh blood and his face is pale, his voice hoarse. “You don’t understand what you’ve done.”

Without warning, Sportacus begins walking quickly away from him towards the field on the edge of town.

“Where are you going?”

“I must leave.” The elf’s voice is devoid of any emotion. “You broke the contract.”

“What? No! LazyTown needs you!” Milford cries, grabbing onto him.

Sportacus shakes him off. “The contract is broken.”

“You don’t understand! We have to have you!” Milford screams hysterically 

He shields his head from the sun with his hand, watching the elf disappear; he pants from the heat and decides to go to the library to retrieve the last book he can think of that might hold a loophole that will keep Sportacus here. His eyes narrow and he hurries off to get ‘Huldenfolk Laws’.

*****


It’s not yet sundown when Stephanie returns home from playing on the school playground with her friends, but the sky is ugly and overcast, the entire town left dark. She’s been hoping to catch a moment alone with Sportacus, but she hadn’t seen him anywhere and she felt her heart sink a little at the thought that maybe she wouldn’t see him until tomorrow.

Standing silently in the kitchen is her uncle and she can tell that he’s been waiting for her. His skin is sallow and the circles under his eyes are very dark; she nearly doesn’t recognise him. 

“Uncle Milford?” she asks hesitantly. 

His eyes are red and his voice breaks. “Stephanie.”

Her eyes drift down to look at his right shirt sleeve; a small dark red patch has begun to soak through the cloth and she realises he’s bleeding. “What’s wrong?”

He is quick to pull her into an embrace and he begins to cry. “I’m so sorry. I'm sorry, I'm sorry.”

The feeling of being told he’s gone is like a punch in the stomach and she doubles over in her uncle’s arms, feeling the permanence of the statement, sobbing… And when he says that it was his fault, she stares at him in disbelief before shoving him away. Out of all the reasons he could have possibly given, this is the most unbearable.

She runs into her room and slams the bedroom door behind her. She leans her back against the old wood as her uncle tries to open the door, begging for her to please let him in so he can explain. Amid her tears, she can’t think straight and she begins reaching around on her dresser next to the door, trying to find something metal and thin enough to fit into the old keyway beneath the doorknob; she manages to find a half round steel needle file she’d been using for a school project and jams it inside the lock as her uncle tries to open the door.

Now sealed inside her room, she screams horrible, horrible things at him that she instantly regrets because she knows she can’t ever take them back, but she can’t stop. How could he do this to her? To LazyTown and everyone else? No, to her! She was the one who considered Sportacus her best friend! She was the one who spent the most time with him! She was the one who shared the same hopes and dreams! It’s not fair and he doesn’t deserve her patience or compassion! 

As Uncle Milford cries on the other side of the door, she goes over to her bedroom window and slides it open, crawling out (and stepping all over the flowers planted around the house). She’s still crying, too, and all she can think about is him.

*****


Milford doesn’t find her until it’s pitch black outside. He hadn’t been able to open her bedroom door and when he finally decided to go around to the window to try to talk to her, he had found it open. To his relief she had simply run off and not done anything…drastic in response to Sportacus’ departure.

She’s standing in the field where the elf’s airship once hovered; the wind howls around them and the ground is hot enough to make him wonder if the soles of his loafers will melt.

“Sportacus! Sportacus!” she screams at the cloudy sky.

Rain begins to fall, sharp and cold. “He’s gone!”

She continues sobbing and shouting. “Sportacus!”

“Please come back to the house! It's dark!”

Off in the distance a dog bays eeriely and the noise makes Milford’s hair stand on the back of his neck. Something seems wrong and in the back of his mind he starts to wonder if this is the beginning of the ramifications that he has to face for taking Stephanie back. Which is hardly fair, considering that give him practically no time at all to see if he can barter with Sportacus to take something—someone—else instead.

“Stephanie, please,” he begs.

The look on her face tells him how utterly devastated she is at the whole situation and he wishes there was something he could do to ease her pain. Removing his jacket and placing it around her shoulders, he leads her back to town.

Chapter Text

*****

As they began to walk along the outskirts of the small town, the already overcast sky began to darken; Stephanie’s eyes shifted around, studying their surroundings as the air became unnaturally still and quiet. While she didn’t sense anything nearby, she had a nagging feeling that whatever they were walking towards was more powerful than they were anticipating. 

“I don't remember the town being this big. We should have reached the city limits by now,” she commented as she sidestepped the runes on the surface of the dirt.

“We already have. The circle incorporates more than just the town, unfortunately. Which leaves us with more area to cross and less cover,” he explained, eyeing the tree-line of the forest uneasily.

“Why didn't I notice all these binding marks before?”

“The fog.”

She accidentally stepped on one of the runes and recoiled, hissing as a sharp jolt of pain shot up her leg.

“They’re getting closer together.” She stared down at the tightly placed symbols, unable to find a place to step down. “How will I get there?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment then pulled off his backpack and knelt down slightly.
“Get up on my back.”

“What about the backpack—“

“Just shut up and do it!” he snapped.

Not wanting to make him any angrier, she climbed onto his back, her legs around his waist and arms around his neck. He began to mutter under his breath and stooped down to pick up his backpack, which he carried in front of him.

“Are you all right?” he asked as they moved deeper into the mosaic of runes and staves.

She could feel her teeth vibrating and her eyes starting to roll back into her skull, which made her to wonder if she was going to pass out.

“A little sick feeling, but fine!” she lied, trying to hold onto him tighter, lest she slip off and fall back onto the symbols.

It was becoming almost unbearable to be so close to the runes and she shivered uncontrollable which prompted Robbie to break into a run towards the field. She honestly had no idea how he managed to dart between the red magic sigils with such ease while balancing her on his back and the pack in his arms. Burying her face into the back of his neck, she hoped that they would be out of this horrible place soon.

“I think the field is free of any runes,” he announced once they came to a stop.

“Thank you, Robbie,” she whispered softly in his ear.

In response, he unceremoniously dumped her to the ground. They were at the edge of the field; a swirling haze covered the field, though upon their presence it shifted and moved until the field was completely visible, revealing a massive being that stood nearly twelve feet tall. Stephanie could feel her eyes widen and she gasped, 

“What…what is that?”

Robbie quickly motioned for her to stand behind him. “Pinkie, get behind me.”

She started to panic at the nightmarish creature. “Robbie…”

Quickly he manouvered them to kneel behind a thick cluster of bramble that appeared to be the only shelter they had.

“It’s the bogyman,” he whispered. 

“The bogyman?”

“A very real monster. Hold still and be quiet.”

She peered through the thorny branches at the being. “What is he?”

“A type of guardian, I suppose you could say.”

“What does he want?”

“You don't want to know.”

To her surprise, Robbie pulled one of the books out of the backpack and she hissed, “What are you doing?!”

“I’m looking up any information that could help us kill him!” It only took Robbie a few seconds to find the page he was looking for and she listened intently as he began reading aloud. “He is the manifestation of the invoker’s feelings of extreme guilt or their overwhelming desire for punishment.”

She glanced over at the monster in the field. “So which one is the Pyramid Head? Guilt or punishment?”

Robbie smirked. “Probably a whole lot of both.”

As Stephanie took a closer look, she realised there was something disturbingly familiar about his appearance. “He looks like…”

“Sportacus…” Robbie finished, looking disgusted. 

Her stomach tightened. “He even has the blue stripes down his arms like Sportacus’ suit did.

“And the crystal,” he observed.

From where she was, she could see the crystal was glowing the same eerie red as the runes. “This is so creepy. And what’s that around his leg?”

“I think he’s chained to the ground.”

“If he’s supposed to be the guardian, it would make sense. Uncle Milford forcing him to stay here to protect LazyTown, not letting him leave like Sportacus did.”

“Very clever, Pinkie.”

“What’s he holding?” she asked, looking at the massive weapon he held.

“It looks like LazyTown’s ceremonial dagger.”

“What’s it for?”

“Many things. We’ll talk about it once he’s dead.”

Stephanie felt her heart ache at the sound the being made. “He sounds like he’s in pain.”

“He probably is, but that doesn't mean he isn't our enemy.”

“So how do we kill him?”

“Well, if your stupid uncle hadn't put a ban on weapons in this town, we'd probably have more than a golf club and a baseball bat to work with.”

Robbie pulled something out of his waistcoat. “If you feel weak, take this.”

In her palm he placed the only ampoule.

“Robbie, it's the only one.”

“Just shut up and take it,” he said nastily. “Now what we need is the dagger. Do you see the runes?They’re what’s on the seal—it was used to form the contract. What we have to do—“

“He’s seen us!” she cried.

Quickly, they scattered from their hideout as the pyramid head roared and charged at them, lashing the large spear at the dead brush they’d tried to hide behind. 

“I think he’s trying to separate us!” she shouted as she found herself suddenly alone on one side of the field and Robbie on the other.

“He doesn’t seem very hostile towards you!” Robbie yelled angrily at her, dodging a swipe of the large blade.

“Why should he be? Uncle Milford made him to get back at you!” she snapped, bringing her small golf club down across the pyramid head’s back.

The pyramid head swiped his arm around to knock her away, as she was simply a mere annoyance. She fell hard to the ground, the wind knocked out of her for a moment. It gave a few unintelligible shouts as Robbie rushed away from him and her companion shouted in annoyance.

“I could use some help, Stephanie!”

She ran back over to the backpack he’d brought with them and pulled the first thing she found, being the football nets. Tucking them under her arm, she sprinted around the edge of the field as Robbie kept the monster distracted. 
“What do we do?” she asked when she finally reached Robbie’s side.

“Take the other end!” he ordered, holding onto one side of the web of nets. She did as she was told and he pointed in the opposite direction she’d came. “Now run!” 

Together they ran in circles around the bogyman until at last he was entangled in the mess of nets and the chain around his ankle. As the creature struggled, Robbie recovered the bat he’d had and tossed her her golf club.

“Now!” he screamed, rushing towards the pyramid head.

Out of the small hole on the creature’s helmet, a long tendril-like tongue lashed out and struck them across the face, the force knocking them over.

“Gross!” Stephanie screeched as she fought to wipe the stinging saliva off her cheeks and bridge of her nose.

She rolled over on the grass, trying to crawl away on her elbows as she continued to rub the acrid slime off her face. Something grabbed her by the ankle and she let out a cry as she twisted away, only to see it had been Robbie’s hand. He was clutching his throat and his eyes were wide. 

“Robbie?”

“Get the EpiPen,” he wheezed.

“What?”

“EpiPen!”

She began to search through her chalk bag and quickly found what he was asking for, holding up the small white tube.

“What do I do?”

He gestured frantically for her to hand it over and when she did, he pulled the cap off and his arm arced swiftly down, stabbing the pen into his upper thigh. Robbie took a loud gasping breath and before she could ask him if he was okay, he turned to her, looking desperate.

“Kill him!”

Stephanie scrambled to get the bat Robbie had been using and rushed over to the still-felled monster; parts of her face that had been covered in the pyramid head’s saliva were beginning to burn and she could feel the harsh energy of the runes around the field.

The pyramid head was pulling himself along the ground, still struggling against the ties that held him down. She brought the bat down as hard as she could across his wrist and he dropped the long spear, giving her a chance to drag it out of his reach. The ceremonial dagger was much heavier than she had expected and while it wasn’t too heavy for her to lift, the size made it unwieldily for her small hands and short stature. By the time she had it lifted, the pyramid head had righted himself and was charging at her. Apparently he didn’t see (or simply didn’t care) about the dagger she was wielding and within seconds, it was driven hard into his chest, impaling him through the pale crystal and knocking her over. 

The monster stumbled, reaching his hands up in an attempt to pull the dagger out, but quickly fell to his knees; Stephanie scrambled to get a safe distance from it. The broken crystal had been scattered across the dried grass and the monster began to drag his fingers along the ground, desperately trying to pick them up. She watched in horrified fascination as it became clear that without the crystal, the bogyman had no power. Climbing to her feet, she worried her hands, feeling the odd desire to save him as he looked so much like Sportacus. But she could also see Robbie at the edge of the field, regaining his breath, so she stood still and did nothing.

The pyramid head was making anguished noises as he weakened and finally turned to look at her, held his hand out; he didn’t have to speak to tell her he didn’t understand why she wouldn’t help him. As the life slipped from the creature’s body, Stephanie finally couldn’t resist the urge to comfort him; she reached out her hand and as the bogyman gave one last shuddering breath, she touched her fingers to his.

“Is he dead?” Robbie called out, still sounding hoarse.

“Yes.” Robbie came over hesitantly, finally giving the pyramid head a nudge with his foot before she asked, “What now?”

“The ceremonial dagger can sever the seals so that we can walk out of it and out of LazyTown.”

She stared at him. “That’s it?”

He shrugged.“That’s it.

She gave an exhausted sigh as she pulled the spear out of the dead bogyman’s chest. “Let’s get out of here.”

Robbie actually smiled at her. “The best idea I’ve heard all day.”

Taking the ceremonial dagger from her, Robbie led her to the edge of the seal along the tree line to the forest and began to chip at the edges of the circle. Stephanie felt guilty there was nothing she could do to help, that she was only able to stand by the side and watch.

“How did you know you needed the EpiPen?” she asked, trying to fill the awkward silence with any sort of conversation.

“I’m allergic to bees. I realised that I was going into anaphylactic shock…I bet his saliva contained the same venom as a bee…”

“Are you going to be okay?” She felt guilty she couldn’t help him with the seal—the least she could do was make sure he wasn’t uncomfortable. 

He shrugged. “Just a little short of breath, that’s all.”

As he chipped away at the seal, sending crumbled bits of glowing red earth rolling towards her, she noticed that the ground was becoming hazy again. “Fog…”

“I’ll hurry then.”

“Will we be letting anything out?” she asked as he began to start on the next half of the meter wide strip of magic.

He let out a sigh. “At this point, I don’t really care. I just want to leave.”

She felt antsy and picked up his backpack, holding it close; she wasn’t sure why she felt so nervous—perhaps she was scared that after coming so close to getting out of LazyTown, she still might not be allowed to leave it.

“Done!” Robbie removed the ceremonial dagger fro the end of and placed it into the top of his pack, taking the bag from her. “Ready?”

She took one last look at LazyTown; she’d never come back here again and if she did, it would be with Sportacus. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach and she gave a flustered smile to Robbie. 

“I’m ready.”

 

Chapter Text

*****

Robbie hadn’t realised how intensely the staves, seals, and elfin magic affected the girl until they walked through the small opening of the seal. She began to convulse and he could almost swear he could hear her bones creaking and blood roiling inside of her as she began to stumble across the open space he’d created until she fell to the grass on the other side of LazyTown.

He followed her quickly. “What’s—oh damnit!”

Before he could finish asking her what was the matter, she threw up blood, ash, and small stones onto the grass. 

“Sorry!” she wailed before she vomited again.

“I’ve stepped in it!” he cried out as he attempted wipe his shoe off in the damp grass.

“I didn’t mean to!” she insisted. 

“Just stay right here! Ugh, I’ll have to throw this spat out!” he whined as he took another look at his shoe.

Throwing his backpack to the ground, he began to pull out his rolled up sleeping bag and the pup tent he still had left over from his stint as a fake scout leader so many years back They weren’t too far from the boundary of LazyTown but Robbie couldn’t imagine that either of them were in a state where they would be able to travel any great distance from the land that had been their prison for so long, which held its own irony.

“I see I’ll have to set up camp,” he said nastily as she clutched at her stomach.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled.

“Just shut up and stay where you are.”

He spent a fair amount of time attempting to set up the small tent; under normal circumstances he would have been able to put it up in a matter of minutes, but for some reason he found the stakes and poles to be unbelievably complex. When he finally managed to get the tent up, he was drained of the last of his energy. 

“If you throw up in here, I will kill you,” he snarled, jabbing a finger at her. 

“Okay,” she agreed and crawled into the cramped shelter.

Inside the pup tent, he collapsed onto the slightly damp grass and she looked at him in concern. “Robbie—you’re bleeding. Let me get the first aid kit.” 

He watched her rummage through the backpack for a moment before she pulled out an assortment of the medical supplies he’d pilfered. 

“Hold still,” she instructed. 

Somewhat nervous at how much her hands were shaking as she held a small bottle of disinfectant, but too tired to tell her to get the hell away, he found himself being the patient to her doctor games. He winced and groaned at the sharp pain she was subjecting the side of his neck to, but when he saw how much blood she was swabbing away, he did feel somewhat relieved. Apparently she had found some sort of a diagram for how to properly apply butterfly sutures and consulted it a few times before she hesitantly closed the wound.

“There.”

He pulled a small survival mirror out of his pack and studied her work. “A poor job, but it will do.”

She bit her lower lip in obvious frustration but didn’t say anything back, which was fine with him as he was too exhausted to argue anymore. To his surprise, she lie down on the grass next to him, pulling the opened sleeping bag over them like a blanket. 

“We should probably stay close. To keep an eye on one another,” she mumbled.

“Just shut up and go to sleep,” he grumbled. 

*****


Stephanie was crouched behind the tree as she took a large bite out of her meal; the vole stopped thrashing around in her hands as her teeth tore out its spine. She closed her eyes as the rich warmth of the fresh meat and blood slid down the back of her throat. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten something that actually had flavour and the live animal she’d managed to catch was better than anything she could imagine.

She continued crunching the bones as she imagined eating it with an apple or a bowl of fresh strawberries. Lost in her own little world, she didn’t hear Robbie as he came upon her.

“Ugh, what are you doing?”

Her eyes shot open and she looked at him guiltily.

“I was hungry.” She held up the bloody morsel. “Did you want some?”

He continued looking horrified. “No! That’s why I packed the crisps and gummy fish and soda!”

“Sorry!” She licked the last of the blood off her fingers.

He stormed off and she wiped her hands off on the moss. Oh well. She’d be on her way soon enough and she could eat whatever she wanted in peace, without him passing judgement on her. And it wasn’t like she wanted to eat a live vole anyway. She hadn’t felt hunger at all the entire time she was in LazyTown, but when she’d smelt the small rodent down in its burrow, her stomach lit up with the raw nausea from not having eaten in a long time and she just couldn’t help herself.

Full and dignity somewhat regained, she left her spot among the trees to return back to the campsite, where Robbie was packing the tent and sleeping bag.

“Well, are you ready?” he asked, grimacing at the sight of her hands.

She stared at him. “Are you coming with me?”

“I am making sure you find your way to the big blue elf. I don't want you running amuck.”

A smile began to creep across her face. “You sure you're not doing it because you care?”

“I don't.”

“Okay.” She pulled her small LazyScout compass out of her chalk bag. “Do you want the compass?”

“We don’t need it.” He snatched it from her. “Junk.”

He threw it hard against a nearby tree trunk and it fell apart. 

She frowned. “I could have used it.”

“It was a dud. Its magnetism has been affected by the time we spent in LazyTown.” He shook his head.

“Oh.”

Slinging his backpack over his shoulder and ceremonial dagger in hand, he led her through the forest. “Come on. This way.”

“We have to go to the North,” she insisted.

“I know.” 

They reached a point in the forest that seemed to please him and he stopped, tracing the dagger along the ground to draw out an unfamiliar symbol. 

“What are you doing?” she asked, watching him with curiosity.

“I’m creating one of the huldenfolk’s sigils. It’s called ‘vegvisir’, which means ‘guidepost. The purpose of this magical charm is to help guide one's way without getting lost.” The tip of the blade cut through the strange lichen growing on the ground. “Now we simply add the big blue idiot’s name…and voila!” The stave suddenly glowed a deep red. “Take us to him.”

It suddenly shook and began to move across the ground, leading them through the forest and they quickly followed it, off to find Sportacus.

*****


Stephanie didn’t dream anymore, though sometimes when she slept she could feel a phantom presence that she would imagine was her beloved Sportacus, resting his hands on her shoulders, strong fingers warming her skin. 

A week into leaving LazyTown, Stephanie began to dread the cool nights that they spent in the tent. Twice she woke to Robbie huddled off on the far side of the tent, knees drawn up to his chest, looking both cold and alone as he slept.

“Robbie?” she murmured, sleepily.

His eyes shot open, looking around the tent wildly. “What? Is there something wrong?”

“Why are you over there?”

His eyes narrowed. “Just go back to sleep.”

“Aren’t you cold—“

“Go to sleep.”

“Want the sleeping bag?” she asked.

He smirked. “And have Sportalame blame me for freezing to death? Not a chance.”

She rolled back over and closed her eyes, waiting for him to fall back asleep and when he did, she took the sleeping bag and wrapped it around him; he seemed to relax and she smiled, returning to her place on the cool grass. As she allowed herself to drift off, she could imagine her slightly-above-average hero telling her that taking care of Robbie was exactly what he would have done, a thought that kept her warm for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

 

*****

The handwriting wasn’t particularly neat, but it flowed as though the writer had intended to write in a script more elegant than the latin alphabet. The stationary had belonged to the set she’d purchased for him before she left for her parents’ home for a brief vacation; it had faint blue lines that had reminded her of his suit and she remembered how she made him promise to write to her whenever he had the chance. The note had been creased in half sharply and even after all this time, it was still as crisp as ever.

I’m not supposed to have favourites, but know that you are mine.

Stephanie held the precious note to her chest and gave a forlorn sigh. Her heart felt so heavy and yet she had hope because she knew she would see him again soon. Robbie, who was stomping out the last of the ashes in the campfire he’d made last night, looked over at her and asked,

“What is that?”

“The last thing he ever gave me.”

“What is it?”

“A note.” She handed it carefully over to him and he seemed to understand how important it was to her, holding it delicately in his fingers as he looked it over. Her voice became soft and dreamy despite herself. “I went looking for him, but he’d already gone to bed, so I sat up on the tree where we’d built the ledge for the zip line to the apple tree and watched his airship…he’d left it up there for me to find.”

“It wasn’t burned in the fire,” he commented, inspecting it.

“I buried it in the garden in an old coffee jar. I was afraid someone might find it.”

“Understandable.”

Robbie passed the note back to her. The message on the small piece of paper meant more to her than anything she could possibly think of. Trapped in LazyTown might have been a horrible existence for anyone, but as long as she had that note, nothing could make her truly unhappy. She was his favourite. That was something no one could take from her.

“He loves me,” she murmured.

Robbie glanced back at her. “Did you say something?”

She smiled up at him gratefully, hoping that he could see the love she had for him as well. “Thank you for getting me out, Robbie.”

He pressed his lips together tightly and narrowed his eyes. “I only did it so that I can get you out of my hair forever.”

As they put distance between themselves and LazyTown, Stephanie began to see how foreign the outside had become since she been forced to live in her adopted home. Everything was so vibrant and green that it hurt her eyes, the air so fresh it hurt her lungs. And though she was sure she was imagining it, she and Robbie seemed to move through the shadows of the forest twice as fast as a normal human being, their feet gliding silently across the mossy floor. There wasn’t much talking between them as they kept their eyes on the vegsvisir that guided them.

They reached the seaside a few days later; while she’d always liked the beach, the gritty sand kept getting caught to the peeled-away layers of her skin and the more she tried to brush it away, the deeper it was pushed into the dark tissue. She also discovered how utterly vile the bright sun was; in LazyTown, there was never a day where the sunlight truly shown down and now she was finding that it was burning her skin and drying out the charred parts. 

The vegvisir took them to the shore, leading them into the edge of the water where it then faded. They stared at the now empty spot for a moment before Robbie declared,

“We should make another one—give me the seal.”

Placing the seal just below the surface of the water, Robbie traced it with the ceremonial dagger and ordered, “Lead us to him.”

On the top of the ocean’s salty waves a glowing red sigil formed, much different than the vegvisir they’d followed to the coastline. To her surprise, she recognised it immediately.

“That’s the lapis eye key!” He gave her a confused look and she knew he was thinking about the long gold key they’d dug up out of the ash and rubble of the town hall’s archive. “No, no! The constellation! Sportacus told me about it!”

He nodded, thinking for a moment. “We probably have to follow that constellation as our guide while we’re on the ocean.”

“So we’ll have to wait until night to head out?”

He looked up to the sky. “We’ll leave in the evening and adjust our course once we can see the stars.”

“Okay.”

In the hours they’d awaited the setting of the sun, Stephanie had taken to reading the passage in ‘Our Towne’s History’ that spoke of the sacrifice she had become until she had it memorised. As she sat beneath one of the big trees that overlooked the beach, the heavy book in her lap, her eyes began to lose focus on the words until they seemed to become a large jumble of symbols that didn’t look like any language she recognised. The breeze off the ocean rustled the tree leaves above her and as it moved through her hair, she could almost swear she could hear Sportacus’ voice whispering inaudible words in her ears.

The moment was broken when Robbie came crashing through the tall clumps of seagrass, motioning for her to follow him. “Hey! Look what I made!”

Setting the book down, she allowed him to lead her down the beach to a strange shaped keel. “You made a boat?”

“There was a stave for conjuring one out of driftwood!” he said excitedly. 

She shielded her eyes from the burning sun. “It looks funny.”

“That’s because it’s an elf boat, Pinkie.”

She studied the boat for a moment more, then asked, “Where are the oars?”

“Oh. Hmm…” Robbie wandered off into the forest and didn’t return until the sun was starting to set. When he finally came back, he had a set of handcrafted paddles made from two sapplings and two different sized flat pieces of rubbish.

“No stave for these,” he said handing her the oar with a paint can lid attached to it.

“Only one pair?” she questioned.

“Do you know how hard it was to even find the materials for these?” he snapped.

“Better than nothing,” she admitted.

Together they dragged the boat from the beach out to the water and paddled out into the open ocean.

*****

She rowed through the night; the moon was full and hung high in the night sky, the ocean quiet and black. Robbie had fallen asleep sometime earlier and she watched him sleep as she guided their boat through the water. She wondered if he ever showed this vulnerable side to anyone else or if he even considered it vulnerable at all, considering he had been so prone to napping in public when everything in LazyTown had been all right.

He uncurled himself from the huddled position he’d taken, stretching out his neck as he yawned. He blinked as he scanned the horizon, still looking disoriented. Finally his eyes rested on her and he spoke, his voice was soft, sleepy, and sad.

“I hadn’t realised they’d already gone through with the ceremony. I thought I was preventing it.” His swallowed hard. “Honestly. If I’d realised they’d already gone through with the contract…even I’m not that stupid. To want to cause this.”

It was the closest he’d ever come to apologising to her and while she wanted to be mad at him, she couldn’t.

“You must have made a pretty convincing argument,” she finally said as she dipped the oars into the water.

He gave her a weak smile. “I can be very persuasive when I need to be.” 

They looked away from one another once more and she glanced back to the upper sky to check that they were headed in the right direction. The Lapis Eye Key seemed to be the brightest set of stars in the sky and she wondered if Sportacus could see them from where he was. She finally turned around when she couldn’t stand the feeling of Robbie looking at her any longer. 

“Would…” he started.

“Would what?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Nothing.”

“No, ask.”

“What would you have done if you had found out that your uncle had sacrificed you the way he did?”

“I don’t know.” It wasn’t something she’d wanted to think about. “I…I mean, I can’t say…that I would have been unhappy being with Sportacus—but we don’t really know what he would have done with me.” She balked at his unconvinced look. “We don’t!”

“Let’s call a spade a spade, Pinkie. He would have kept you all to himself. I’m sure you would have been happier than me in a candy store,” he stated tartly.

“What do you want me to say? That I would have been happy to learn that my uncle used me as a bargaining chip? Or angry that Sportacus actually accepted a child as payment?” she asked in the most scathing tone she could manage.

“I want the truth!” he shouted.

She looked away from him and remained quiet, counting to ten in her head as she processed everything she could possibly say. She finally gave him the only answer she knew was true.

“I love him and that’s all the matters.” She gave Robbie a determined smile. “When he sees me, he’ll be so happy.”

He gave a heavy sigh and buried his head between his hands. “Don’t get your hopes up too high.”

She shook her head, smiling to herself. “I know him, Robbie. He’ll be happy.”

*****

They reached shore in the morning and were led up off the beach into beautiful, albeit empty, pastures. Stephanie skipped across the thick pillows of moss, feeling inspired to sing, but she had no idea what could sum up exactly how she felt. By the time the sun had reached its point at the top of the sky, they had reached a small forest.

“Just like me, they long to be, close to you!” she finally uttered as she spun around, causing the hem of her dress to lift and swirl around her.

Robbie rolled his eyes. “Stop going so far ahead and stay with me! You’re going to get off the trail!”

“When I see him, I am going to tell him how much I missed him. That I love him. And I will always love him.” She smiled at Robbie serenely.

“And if he doesn’t care?”

She laughed gaily, ignoring him. “How could he not care?”

They stepped into a clearing and Stephanie suddenly felt hit by a wave of energy.

“We’re here,” they announced simultaneously and glanced at one another.

“Give me the seal,” he said and she pulled it out of her chalk bag, handing it over.

He set the metal disk on the ground and then removed the physical lapis eye key from his waistcoat pocket; she held her breath as she watched him slip the gold key into the centre of the disk.

“We ask that this door be opened,” he said loudly.

The air started to vibrate and shake and Stephanie let out a loud gasp as she grabbed onto Robbie’s arm. Fog rose off the ground and enveloped them—Stephanie felt as though she was being pulled through water and when the fog finally dispersed she let out a happy cry behind her hand.

The were no longer in the human world.

Chapter Text

*****

They were no doubt a sorry sight—dirty, disheveled, and obviously not alive by normal circumstances. Robbie was satisfied and relieved to finally be in the world he’d just spent the past two weeks journeying and fighting towards and he nearly collapsed on the soft green grass, but he didn’t want the pink-haired girl to know he actually wanted to be there.

Off in the distance were two massive volcanos, both sending thick plumes of smoke and cinder into the air, disappearing into the massive clouds overhead. Robbie wasn’t sure if he’d ever smelt air this fresh and he nearly felt the urge to skip towards the settlement that wasn’t too far from where they were in the forest.. But he remembered himself as well as what he’d read in the book regarding elf laws and turned to the girl.

“Stay behind me,” he instructed.

“Why?”

“Because you look like a hideous freak, that’s why!” he snapped.

“Hey!” she protested, trying to stand at his side once more. “Why do I have to stay back here?”

“Because I opened the door and custom dictates that that means I lead our party of two,” he explained.

“Oh.”

His answer seemed to satisfy her and she marched behind him without another word. 

Once inside the town, it was was obvious that he and the girl were not welcome. The atmosphere in the town was dark and tense, obviously because of them. Elves in the street and in the buildings stopped to stare at them silently, giving them both a wide berth; Robbie enjoyed the attention, even if it was negative. Unsurprisingly, everyone was wearing the same kind of uniform the big blue elf had worn, only in different shades of the rainbow. Robbie could imagine that the girl walking behind him was giving everyone a sunny smile, though no one seemed to be returning the sentiment. 

Towards the centre of the town, they came across the one person it had all been for. At first Robbie didn’t recognise Sportacus when he saw him; he wasn’t wearing his silly blue hat and he could see that his face was lined from years of stress. He looked so much older (and unhappy) that Robbie would have walked right past him without a second thought.

“Robbie?”

Behind him he could hear the girl drop her chalk bag onto the cobblestones and her voice was filled with disbelief. “Sportacus?” 

The elf’s face paled as he looked past Robbie and the girl cried out again, her voice breaking slightly as she ran towards him. “Sportacus!”

*****

Every elf that took guardianship of a town had a small crystal that alerted them to any trouble that might be happening to the humans they were caring for. One of the most important tools any huldenfolk had in their work, Sportacus had been especially proud of his. He’d taken his duty to protect LazyTown, his Latibær, so seriously that in the end he realised it had blinded him. The emotions he’d invested in the citizens before he’d even had a contract with them had been so strong and so raw that he’d been willing to ignore all the signs that Milford Meanswell hadn’t been in the right frame of mind to make any sort of deal with his kind. The crystal that had been joined to LazyTown had been destroyed upon the breaking of the contract, shattered into sharp, horrible shards. Upon returning to his people’s world, he’d buried them in the rocky coast under the black, water-smoothed rocks that covered the shoreline; he’d stood there, looking out to the never ending horizon, feeling their energy ebb and flow with the ocean water. 

However, he’d missed one of the smaller pieces that had managed to roll under his bed and he had found himself unable to part with it. Safely hidden under his suit on a chain, the small crystal had spent many years against the skin of his chest, cold and chaotic, a vessel with a tempest inside. Night after night he was kept awake, plagued by the sounds of howling, terrified screams riding on the wind. He knew it was the crystal, desperately trying to remind him of his duty to LazyTown, that people were dying, had died not just because he wasn’t there, but because he’d left them. Their mournful sobs haunted him, sounding of bones being stretched apart and skin crackling under the heat of fire. But he couldn’t return. 

Home. To Latibær. He wanted to go back more than anything, but that was no longer an option. It had been the only place he’d ever felt he belonged and every day the fibre of his being begged to return. Upon his homecoming to his people’s world, the council had made known their disgust in his wishes to save LazyTown from what had been set into motion by the ancient magic fixed in place by their kind many, many years ago; he’d tried to reason with them that the townspeople weren’t aware of the old ways and shouldn’t be held responsible, that the living sacrifice that should have been his was more than just a sacrifice, that there must be a loophole.

He’d become reclusive and quiet due to the ostracising of his people over his admission that he’d felt something more for a human. Others he’d grown up with and considered friends would ignore his greetings and avoid looking in his direction. Even his own family seemed too unnerved by his confessions before the council to talk to him much and when his sister suggested that perhaps he become guardian for another town to forget Latibær, he realised that he was all alone, something he’d never fathomed before.

He felt trapped.

He had become desperate to find a way to go back and right what had been wronged. He’d always been interested in the old magic of his people, of the rituals they once used to lay claim to what they wanted, but after the council denied him his wishes, he decided that perhaps this was a challenge he would have to take on his own. It wouldn’t come without a cost, though. He’d committed more live sacrifices than he wished to think about, a practise he’d always thought was barbaric, but now he had to wonder if the spilling of an innocent’s blood was truly powerful to get him what he wanted. The palms of his hands had become heavily scarred from the amount of times he’d made a blood offering, pouring each precious drop into the glass ritual cup as he chanted his wish over and over and over. The wooden floor of his airship had the LazyTown seal deeply carved into it and stained with blood—the dark energy and urgency radiated from it and he let it fill him.

It was an obsession undoubtably, but he had nothing left, so why not obsess?

Days that would have been spent dancing and playing were now filled with joyless swimming in the frigid ocean, where he searched for the rare pearls that he’d once planned on bringing to Stephanie, strung on a necklace. They were considered talismens that protected against curses and he realised their importance now more than ever. Nights were used to study the patterns and alignments of the stars; he was forced to bundle up in scarves and heavy parkas while he kept as good a grip on his pen and notebook as he could with his gloves in the howling wind that rushed past him as he sat on the top of his airship. Being that he usually went to bed incredibly early, he was forced to sip tea to help himself stay awake and concentrate.

He’d also started to see that he wasn’t as strong as he used to be; whether it was from stress or the lack of sleep or even from the magic that was consuming him, he couldn’t tell. He was still quite impressive even by elf standards, but he could tell he was no longer who he used to be. 

Then, almost a week ago to the day, the small shard of his crystal had stopped blinking entirely. He’d naturally assumed it was because the final unknown resident of LazyTown had died and he’d very quietly mourned the loss of the last person he should have protected. He also took it as a sign to finally give up the search for something to fix the one place he wished he could fix.

It also meant that he had to give up any hope that Stephanie was still alive.

Stephanie, the spark of life to her adopted hometown. He’d spent many years wondering what had happened to her and for the first night he’d been home, he could only hear her screams, feel her clawing at her bedroom door and window, unable to escape as she was being burned alive. He’d writhed in his bed as he had felt the heat on her skin, the desperation and fear of knowing she was going to die. In his mind he heard her calling for him, but he wondered if it was simply his consciousness punishing him.

Life had lost its lustre without her.

Guardians weren’t supposed to involve themselves with the humans they protected—friendship, yes, and perhaps close friendship, but never anything beyond that. A guardian had been bound into a life of servitude, renewed every full rotation of the moon here in the huldenfolk’s world with the offering of a human child. That tradition had been rejected by much of the human world now, considering it horrible and primitive, but what could strengthen a bond between two peoples better than blood?

Stephanie, a Meanswell, had summoned him which meant he had no choice but to answer her first letter requesting help. Any founding family member had the power to call to his people and they had to obey. Being that she had been the one to call for him and not her uncle or parents, he’d never thought about entering into a contract to keep the little township safe from its smaller and larger problems, though he’d been happy to temporarily provide the service. He had been enchanted with her from the moment they’d met—she was so similar in personality and interests that he’d been taken by surprise. No one had ever told him that humans could possibly be so interesting or complex or beautiful…

That was until he’d learned that her uncle had been the one to tell her to write the letter requesting his assistance, a seemingly small, but important detail that couldn’t be overlooked. No, he’d not put the pen to paper himself, but Milford had been his summoner by proxy, which meant he’d had the power to make any form of contract with Sportacus, something that had actually made him quite nervous. Milford had been old enough to understand how his people worked for their service. 

But to have Stephanie…there was no way he could have possibly turned down such an offer. And the longer he’d considered it, the grander the visions of their future had become in his mind. He’d even gone so far as to look up human marriage customs…

But that was all in the past now. He couldn’t dwell on something that obviously wasn’t meant to be, even though it had seemed to be destined for their worlds to end in happiness, it hadn’t happened. 

She had been his, if only for a short while…

*****

Robbie could tell that he and the young girl made the elves very uncomfortable, something that was incredibly amusing to him. They’d been taken into the main lodge where the council of elders met and were currently sitting across from Sportacus at a ground level table. Robbie was happy that the cushions they were sitting on were very comfortable and couldn’t help but revel in all the chaos he and Pinkie were causing. At the moment, there were a handful of elves sitting nearby, watching and looking grim about their presence, just as Sportacus did.

A female elf gave them both cold looks as she silently placed a plate of food and tea on the table before them; Stephanie seemed not to notice, her eyes still locked onto the blue elf before them. He could see the enamoured look on her face and he smirked at how she didn’t seem to notice Sportacus wasn’t returning the expression. 

“If I’d had known earlier that finding you would shut her up, I would have sought you out years ago,” Robbie said in a falsely cheerful voice as he took one of the cups off the table. 

“I didn’t realise that there was anyone left in LazyTown,” Sportacus said hesitantly.

“Just me and Robbie,” the girl said, smiling in a shy way. 

Robbie nearly doubled over in laughter, wondering if she was trying to flirt with the elf or if she was just that pathetic. Either way, it was hilarious, but now was not the time or place to mock—there were far more interesting things to use for humiliation. Robbie sipped his tea in an obnoxious way, enjoying how loud a noise he was making in this important room.

“Maybe we should go outside,” Sportacus suggested weakly.

“Maybe we should,” Robbie agreed, giving him a nasty smile.

They were ushered out a side door to a large field and once again, a semi-circle of lingering elves was formed, far enough away to give privacy while watching them with incredibly hostile expressions.

“Go over there and play,” Robbie ordered and to his surprise, she listened.

“This place is so beautiful, Sportacus!” the girl insisted as she wandered into the field, studying the large, foreign wildflowers that grew around her.

The other elves shot dirty looks at Sportacus and while that did boost his spirits, Robbie could tell something was off about the whole situation. 

“What is wrong with you?” he hissed. “Why haven’t you changed her back?”

Sportacus folded his arms across his chest. “She’s not Stephanie.”

“Yes, she is. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time with her—she’s the real thing.”

Sportacus’ voice was distant. “She’s changed. She’s tainted.”

“She isn’t tainted. Well, she could probably use some new clothes and a bottle of her pink dye…but other than that, she’s the same girl we knew before.”

“She isn’t.”

“What are you talking about! We spent ten years trapped in that hell together and she’s just as obnoxious as ever! If your curse couldn’t change her, nothing could!”

Sportacus’ voice was sad as he stared at the child.“Look at her.”

“What of it? Like I said, she could be polished up a bit, but she’s the same as ever.”

The girl suddenly called out to them. “Robbie, you just have to smell these flowers!”

“Be quiet—adults are trying to talk,” he snapped.

“I’m going to make you a flower crown. King Robbie,” she said affectionately, much to his chagrin.

Robbie was becoming concerned that Sportacus wasn’t acting how he would have had they been back in LazyTown. “I’m shocked. The one person who has blind faith in you has finally dragged herself out of the pit to find you and you turn your back on her? She put every hope and desire into the thought of you, knowing her stupid devotion to you would save us and it did. And you couldn’t care less about that!”

“She’s cursed. She doesn’t belong here.”

Robbie made a face—this didn’t sound like the blue elf at all. “I can’t believe you’re saying any of this. Do you hear yourself?”

Sportacus’ stared at the ground, worrying the inside of his cheek. “What does any of this matter to you? You hate both of us.”

Robbie looked at him in disbelief. “You want her as miserable as you are?”

“There is nothing pure about that girl anymore.”

“She’s just as pure as she always was. Well, most of her, anyway,” he added, unable to help himself. 

The look on the blue elf’s face was priceless—Robbie couldn’t have dreamed he would have ever seen such a shocked, hurt, and overall horrified look.

“Sportacus, do you want one, too?” she called out.

Trying to recover the moment, Robbie smiled at him. “Why would you throw that away?”

“Robbie, you don’t understand!” Sportacus finally shouted.

The pain he saw behind the elf’s eyes was like nothing he’d ever seen before and before he could process what was happening, Sportacus had turned from him and was running off through the field.

The girl jumped to her feet. “What did you say to him?!”

She shoved him violently to the ground and as he braced himself for her onslaught, he realised she was running after the blue elf.

“Pinkie!” he called after her, suddenly angry he was left alone. 

He hadn’t wanted to come to this stupid place in the first place and now he was forced to be around all these elves that obviously wanted him gone. But, he wasn’t one to be kept down, literally and figuratively, and so he got to his feet, dusting himself off. 

He turned to one of the elves still standing around. “Your customs dictate that you have to provide lodging for us, as we’re guests.”

The elf’s look soured considerably. “You’re right.”

“We’re not going to stay long,” he says with a sneer.

After an uncomfortable silence and a lot of staring, the elf finally allowed him back into the lodge to gather their things and take them to what he can only assume to be one of the communal guest houses reserved for human travelers. Now alone in the single room, he stretched out on the bed, moaning happily at the feeling of an exquisite mattress under his back. Honestly, he didn’t really want to go looking for his pink-haired companion and as he felt the muscles in his back and legs relaxing, he decided that he wasn’t going to make any effort to find her until it started to get dark outside. 

*****

The hours passed and it became obvious that Robbie was going to have to leave the comfort of their room to find the girl he’d arrived with. He didn’t actually have to look far for the pink-haired girl—he simply looked to see where Sportcus’ air ship was tethered and walked to that location. Sure enough, sitting in a field to the north of the town was the girl, looking up to the sky where the air ship floated. She had started another flower garland, her fingers methodically twisted and knotted the stems together, twining flower after flower together. She’d formed a long chain so far and he could hear her calling up to the airship, the elf’s name over and over.

“It’s pointless,” he said once he was close enough for her to hear.

She shook her head, still staring upwards. “No, it isn’t. He just doesn’t know I’m down here.”

He pointed to the setting sun. “It’s late. This can wait until tomorrow.” 

She seemed hypnotised and he had to grab her by the arm. “Come. We’ll have a bed tonight.”

She took one last hopeful look up to the ship and then allowed him to lead her away, abandoning the flowers. “If you could just keep your stupid fat mouth shut, he wouldn’t have run off. Why do you always have to say mean things?”

“I don’t have a stupid fat mouth,” Robbie insisted.

She began to resist him and he found he was dragging her as she her voice began to raise. “Yes, you do! You’re always say mean things and hurt peoples’ feelings! Sportacus is never mean to you and yet you won’t be nice to him! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”

Around them, the flowers had shriveled and wilted, forming a dark brown halo. They stared at it a moment and her eyes watered; he could tell she was ashamed her mere anger could destroy in such a beautiful place.

“You couldn’t hate anyone. He wouldn’t let you,” he said calmly. 

She said nothing more and he pulled her back to the small house that their things had been placed in. As much as he wanted to just abandon her here, he knew he had to get things resolved, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to find any peace—the elves seemed like the type to hunt him down to toss her back on him and that was the last thing he wanted to deal with. 

In their room, she didn’t seem to have lightened her mood even though the sight of a real bed made his heart jump. She crossed her arms and he could see she was cranky, no doubt because she was tired. While he always thought of her as a child, he had never seen her acting so childlike, as though she were one of the little brats she used to run around with. 

“Only one bed?” she snapped.

“Don’t be so picky,” he chastised.

She narrowed her eyes at him. “What if I don’t want to sleep close to you?”

“You don’t really have a choice, now do you?” he said back nastily.

She huffed and made loud noises of irritation. “I don’t want to share.”

He gave her a sneer. “Well, there’s the floor.”

She gave him an ugly glare and he nearly considered getting out the stave he’d used on her in the library just in case, but she didn’t make any attempts to come after him. By the time the lights turned off, she seemed too tired to be very angry at him and crawled into the bed. The large glass windows let in the moonlight which cast a somewhat violet hue across them and Robbie suddenly felt the urge to talk.

“This is the first time in ten years I’ve been able to go to bed and not have to worry about being murdered in my sleep by something that was once a person.”

“It’s more comfortable than your bed,” she murmured softly and suddenly he found her nestled against his side. “Would you rub my scalp? My mother used to do it when I was little and had a hard time falling asleep…”

He grimaced, but indulged her request. His long spindly fingers sank into her dense pink hair and began to massage the broken skin. “Like this?”

“You’re a natural,” she murmured as she curled closer to him. 

“Don’t expect to make this a regular habit,” he told her, hoping she could hear an edge in his tone.

“Just this once,” she whispered and he wondered when he’d missed her having such a gentle voice.

His eyelids felt heavy and he closed the, allowing the methodical movement of his hand on her head lull him to sleep.

Chapter Text

*****

The night had been cool and quiet—not in the creepy way LazyTown was, but a calm, tranquil peace that had allowed him to sleep dreamlessly. He had awoken to the first rays of dawn dappling his face through the trees and the girl still nestled against him. Repulsed that she was ruining the moment, he nearly pushed her off to the floor, but decided against it as he had plans for the day and he didn’t need her ruining them; it would be best if she slept.

Crawling over her and creeping silently to the bathroom, he began to get ready for the day. Unfortunately he was unable to resist the allure of a hot shower and even though he knew it wasn’t terribly loud, he had a sneaking suspicion that it would be enough to wake her. When he emerged from the bathroom, she was sitting on the edge of the bed. He paused in drying his hair, wondering if she’d actually ever fallen asleep, that perhaps she’d been pretending the whole time just to surprise him.

Her eyes were large and shy. “I’m sorry I was so mean last night.”

He felt uncomfortably aware of disfigured she was and that he’d spent so much time with her that he’d nearly forgotten, which made him look away. “Yes, well…”

“Can you forgive me for treating you like that?”

He shrugged casually, composure regained. “Why not?”

“Thank you.” She seemed to relax. “You’re up really early.”

“I was hoping to sneak out,” he admitted sourly.

Her eyebrow lifted. “Why?”

“I need to talk to Sportacus alone.”

She looked horrified. “What? No!”

He rolled his eyes at her dramatics. “Pinkie, just trust that I know what I’m doing. I’ve gotten us this far…”

“I want to come with you. Not to talk or listen. I just want to walk with you,” she blurted out.

“Fine.” He picked up his clothes from the chair he’d left them on the night before. “I’m going to get dressed.”

She scrambled off the bed and began to pick up her own clothes off the floor. “Okay.”

When he emerged from the bathroom a second time, she was dressed in her ragged pink frock and bearing that idiotic smile she was so prone to wearing. He sighed and shook his head, not wanting to listen to the hero worship she was sure to subject him to as they walked out to the airship.

Sure enough, by the time they reached the elf’s floating home, he was ready to claw his ears off from her nonstop babbling about the blue idiot and finally clamped a hand over her mouth to shut her up.

“Sportacus, you stupid coward. Lower your ladder so I come up there and talk to you,” he shouted up at the air ship. 

Stephanie scowled at him. “Don’t be so mean.”

The ladder dropped down as they argued the matter.

“I’m not being mean.”

“Yes, you are!”

He scowled at her. “Stay here.”

She quickly held out the garland of flowers she’d made the day before, her eyes pleading. He huffed and rolled his eyes, but took it anyway, slinging it over his shoulder as he made his climb up the rope ladder. Once inside the airship, Robbie found the elf in question sitting on the end of his bed, looking old, weary, and over-all pathetic.

Robbie tossed the garland to Sportacus. “She wants me to give you this.”

“The aglaophotis blossom.” A smile came to his lips as he looked at the pale green flower, his fingers tracing the edge of the smooth petals. “To my people, this flower represents true, undying love. After she was promised to me, I left her one on her window sill. They take years to wilt…”

Robbie nearly pointed out how utterly ridiculous he sounded for twisting a sacrifice into something romantic, but decided to keep his mouth shut, knowing that love caused people to do foolish and often violent things to those who challenged them. He meandered throughout the ship, taking note of the large staves and seals carved into the floor, at the ritual books stacked on the shelves, leaving no room for anything remotely personal.

“So you do love her.”

Sportacus seemed shaken from his trance and shook his head as he set the garland down. “She’s dead.”

“No. Well, I mean, she might be. But she’s still here.” He hoped the elf could hear the sincerity in the next thing he said. “And she’s yours.”

For the first time in his life, Robbie heard bitterness in Sportacus’ voice. “But only parts of her, right?”

Robbie’s voice got quiet and he studied the floor. “No. All of her. She’s always wanted you.”

“What’s the point? She’s a cursed creature—she’s not even human anymore.”

Robbie glared at the elf for being so stupid. “You were never a human, so what does it matter?”

Sportacus seemed to have an excuse for everything. “My people are too sensitive to her. She’d make me sick if I were to be around her for more than a week.”

Stephanie’s ridiculous saying slipped out of his mouth before he realised it. “There’s always a way.” He felt his cheeks redden at Sportacus’ wide-eyed stare. “Don’t look at me like that! You have the power to change her again. I’ve read about it. She’ll always be cursed—I’ll always be cursed—but at least you could save her. Give her some sort of benediction or something.”

Sportacus was still as detached as ever. “And then what? Live happily ever after? I’m not perfect. Life’s not perfect.”

“It’s so easy for you to give up, isn’t it? At least I try to see something through.” He spun on his heels, gesturing with his long hands to everything in the airship. “Are you happy here? Living like this? As if every day is reason for you to wallow in your sorrow and make everyone else watch?”

There was a faint scream on the ground below. Both he and Sportacus sprinted to the ladder, though he was the only one who started to climb down.

“Robbie!” she yelled up to him, stumbling backwards and shielding herself from something one of the elder elves was holding in front of him. 

When he reached the ground, he could see it was a stave and while he wasn’t as changed as her, the magic seemed to effect him too and he had to look away as his eyes burned from the symbol.

“You must leave,” the elf ordered coldly, the others around him sharing the same look of loathing. 

She gave him a dirty look until it she aparently realised that she was included in warning as well. “Both of us? Why?”

“You are tainted. It is disrupting us.”

“But I—“

Robbie grabbed her by the arm and began to drag her towards the forest edge where the passage between worlds existed. “Come on, Pinkie.”

“But Sportacus—“

He shook his head, hoping she realised that the sooner they left, the better. “We shouldn’t hang around. They will make it very unpleasant for us.”

Her eyes had filled with tears and she stared at him as though begging for help. “I didn’t get to say goodbye. This time or the first time.”

“That’s how life is sometimes.”

The girl was quiet and he wondered if she was simply too stunned to talk anymore, which was fine by him. All these years he’d been waiting for a break from the constant blathering about how great Sportadork was now he finally had it.

Chapter Text

*****

Robbie spent the first few days back in LazyTown slouching around his lair; he was still very sore and tired from the amount of moving he’d done in the past two weeks and this was the first time since Sportacus left that he could actually relax without fear of something horrible happening to him. There were still things he did instinctually of course, such as keeping the entrance barricaded at all times and the windows covered on the inside so that that the lights from his equipment didn’t show outside, but he no longer had that nauseous ache in his stomach from worry and he liked it.

The entire return went by without seeing the girl even once and while he wasn’t one to worry about others, it definitely wasn’t usual for her to be absent and he wondered if something might have happened to her, so he resolved himself to looking for her. First he searched the park and its sports field, then the tree that he had once found her in, and then the Meanswell house. All that was left of the building was her room, all four walls and roof intact, though incredibly burned. He tried peeking in through her bedroom window, but the curtains were drawn which meant he had to crawl onto the roof and peer through the large hole in the side. He crouched in the hole, feeling old smashed spiderwebs sticking to his fingertips, staring into the dark room long enough to sense she was there and then he jumped to the floor. He found her lying on her bed, perfectly still and arms crossed on her chest as though she were a corpse waiting for its wake. He’d never actually studied her room until now. The daisy headboard had been charred on all its petals and the sheets and blanket were stained with blood in the rough outline of a child’s body. Paint on the walls indicated it had once been a sunny yellow, but they’d since been smeared with grime and soot, looking sick instead of cheerful. As he approached her, he could see small flecks of ash had fallen on her face, though there were small clear tracks showing where tears had cleaned her skin. There were even a few spiderwebs clinging from her hair to the singed bedspread. He felt his stomach tighten slightly as he realised this was where she had died as a child and where she had been reborn as something else.

“I’ve wondered where you were.” He sat on the edge of the bed and looked down at her. “What are you doing?”

Her voice was soft and emotionless. “Waiting for death.”

He did a double-take. “What?”

“I tried to incinerate myself on the runes, but they kept bouncing me back, and we killed all the things roaming around town, so there’s nothing left to tear me apart.”

“Quit being so dramatic. It doesn’t suit you.” He couldn’t help himself and added, “Have you tried going to your friend’s house and letting the computer cords strangle you?”

“No.” Her eyes moved slightly in his direction. “He didn’t want me back, did he?”

He wasn’t being honest to hurt her, but sugar coating wouldn’t help, so he settled with a blunt, “No.”

They were quiet for some time longer, flecks of ash falling around them as though it were the first flurry of snow. Robbie let the thought distract him for a while…snow hadn’t fallen in LazyTown since before Sportacus left. As much as he hated the cold and the general holiday cheer associated with snow, he did miss the general soft quietness of that particular weather event.

Her voice broke his thoughts. “Why are you still here? Why didn’t you leave?”

“Where would I go? This is my home.” He straightened the striking bow tie he was wearing. “I’m mayor now, you know. I’m thinking of making myself king.” His smile faded at her lack of reaction and he thought for a moment before remembering he had something safely kept in his waistcoat pocket. He pulled out a shiny red apple and held it up for her to look at. “I brought you something.” She gave him no reaction so he placed it on her chest by her hands and filled the emptiness with his words. “There weren’t any of those little grey thingies running around, but I still had to climb up pretty high to get it. If you’d like, I could probably get another one. I’m quite good at climbing,” he said smugly.

Her chest rose and fell an iota, causing the apple to roll off her and he did nothing to stop it from bouncing off the bed onto the floor, picking up a coat of grey ash atop its glossy skin. Another tear ran down the side of her cheek and he wondered what was running through her mind. No doubt it had to do with facing the rejection that the one person she’d loved more than anyone didn’t want her; he’d never loved anyone aside from himself, so he couldn’t even start to fathom what the disappointment must have felt like for her. To wish for death rather than face any feelings. He swallowed hard. Why must he suddenly have compassion for the one person he loathed as much as Sportacus?! His fingers traced across the tops of hers, transfixed with how small her hand was compared to his and the waxen tone it had taken.

“Pinkie, come with me.” His eyes met hers.

“Why?”

“So you aren’t alone.”

His words made her reply sound even sadder. “What do you care?”

He frowned. “I didn’t go through all that to let you fester in your bed. Now come with me. I have cake and punch and we’ll stay up late listening to music.”

For the first time, she didn’t look hesitant to one of his offers and she nodded her head slowly. “Okay.”

*****

She was on her stomach and the base of her spine glowed a faint orange in the dark from the embers still trapped in her lower vertebrae. Even though she was facing away from him, her overall stillness indicated she was in a deep slumber, oblivious to the fact that he was sitting in the bed, watching her. The finest hints of smoke wafted out of her nostrils, disappearing into the dim, dankness of his lair. He traced his hand up the skin of her back, feeling the rough scales of charred flesh and the smooth untouched expanses that were cooler in comparison. She had once said that he wasn’t really bad and no, he didn’t remember the exact words she had used, but that sudden tenderness he’d felt at the realisation she didn’t hate him in spite of everything had stayed with him, flaring up inside of him to the point he knew he was burning up from the inside out, too. Finally, he could see what it was that Sportacus had loved and had thought was gone. And here she was in his bed. He leaned over her and brushing the singed hair off the back of her neck, he kissed the pale skin on her nape, closing his eyes.

*****

No.

It couldn’t be.

Robbie abandoned the periscope to hurry over to the window panes that looked out into LazyTown itself. He quickly peeled off the brittle pieces of newspaper he’d coated his windows with years ago and rubbed away the fine dusting of ash that had snuck through the cracks between the panes. He’d awoken much earlier than he usually did and as he still found it awkward to be around the pink haired girl, he put on his purple striped dressing gown and taken the opportunity to go spy on the empty town. There hadn’t been much to look at considering none of the usual monsters and creatures appeared to be around anymore; he supposed that after they destroyed the magic binds the land had on the inhabitants, they had either disappeared or left through the opening he’d made when they broke the seal.

“Wake up! Wake up!” he shouted as he shook her shoulders violently.

“Are you throwing me out already?” she asked sleepily, moving onto her side and drawing the sheets up around her.

He shoved her shoulder hard. “Get up, damnit! There’s something outside you’ll want to see!”

She allowed him to drag her up to the periscope, still rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. Pressing her face to the eyepiece he directed it upwards to the treetops where there was a brilliant blue airship floating lazily in the field on the edge of town. The girl’s eyes bulged practically out of her sockets and she began screaming.

“He’s back! He’s back!”

“Put some clothes on!” he ordered, shoving her away from the periscope so he could make sure that they weren’t imagining things.

She dashed back to the bed, pulling her clothing up off the floor. Somewhere between trying to pull the dress over her head, she called out,

“Aren’t you coming?”

He felt something tighten in his stomach—discomfort? Disgust? Anger? He couldn’t be sure, but he was confident that being around the blue elf wouldn’t help. “I don’t think he’d be too excited to see you and I together. Get dressed and I’ll be out—“

She wasn’t waiting for him and he turned from the periscope to see her scrambling up the tube, leaving him alone.

“Later,” he finished.

The cavernous underground lair suddenly seemed too large and too quiet; there was something bright pink on the floor by his bed and as he walked over to see what it was, he realised it was her headband. Picking it up and unwilling to let it go, he returned to the periscope to watch whatever was to unfold between the girl and the elf. He found her running down the dirt path from his lair barefoot, singed hair blowing about. And sure enough, as though he knew she’d come for him, there stood Sportacus, waiting. Robbie could see the hesitation in the other man’s posture as she flung herself at him, her arms wrapped tightly around her hero. The way her body was heaving, it was apparent she was sobbing into his chest, and slowly, the elf’s arms came to hold her. The moment Robbie saw tears in his eyes, he snapped the periscope shut and sat back in his chair. He wasn’t sure what these feelings were, but they were unpleasant in every way possible. Sportacus. Ruining everything as always. Taking away the little pleasures in life—

He stopped himself there. It wasn’t like he’d never see the girl again. He made a face in distaste. Not that he wanted to see her. He felt the headband still in his hand and looked down at it. First, he still had her little hair accessory and surely at some point she would want it back; he could always take it to her, or better yet—he smiled—she would have to come to him for it. He liked that thought. He had something for once that Sportacus didn’t. Pride recovered, he decided he was simply too lazy to get dressed for the day and grabbed his notebook full of ideas for forcing the big blue idiot out of Lazytown. Falling back onto the bed, he began to brainstorm schemes to keep his beloved town idle and elf free, the pink headband beside him.