The airship touched down in the clearing just outside of Lazy Woods. The door swung down into a platform that lay flat against the ground. A mess of mail tubes rolled out all clicking and clacking, a continuous and deafening outpouring until the vessel had disgorged the majority of its burden.
Once everything had stopped moving and all was quiet Robbie peeked out through the doorway. He almost tripped on a straggling canister on his way out of the airship while he whipped his head from side to side looking for any signs of other people. He was alone, for now. That wouldn't be the case for long but he took the time to stand still for a few seconds just appreciating the solid earth under his feet. He resisted the urge to drop down and kiss it.
They were a few seconds dearly spent, just enough time for the sound of pursuit to reach his ears. Children's voices drifted through the trees. "It landed over here. This way!" Their approach made the foliage shake and whisper on the trees and shrubs along the edge of the clearing. Robbie took a couple steps one way and a couple in another, and stopped. They had him surrounded, and besides, he was tired of running.
The kids came out of the tree line and saw Robbie at once. Running forward they formed a semicircle around him and let the airship complete the ring, securing his capture. Robbie could find nowhere neutral to look with all of their eyes on him, pinning him down like a bug under a microscope, and their expressions ran the gauntlet for such a subject. Stingy's mouth was scrunched up in distaste while Trixie had open fascination writ across her face. Stephanie and Ziggy were wide-eyed with wariness if not outright apprehension. Pixel had the hardest stare, a hybrid of anger and triumph.
The tension in the space between them was silent and suffocating. At last Ziggy spoke up and put a merciful end to the standoff. "Is that really you, Robbie?" he asked.
Robbie had to laugh, even if it was short lived. He held up his hands in a shrug. "Who did you expect, Sportaflop?"
"That is so weird," Trixie said, letting a chuckle slip out.
The foliage swayed and whispered again with one last person's approach. Without breaking their line the kids looked to see the late arrival. Sportacus walked into the clearing. He wore the Mind-Me-Matic headband and held the ray gun in one hand, looking every bit the villain.
"We got him, Sportacus," Pixel said. The kids shifted to allow enough room for Sportacus to join the semicircle. He nodded and gave Pixel a pat on the shoulder.
"Good work, Pixel." He nodded at the rest of the kids. "I couldn't have done it without all your help. Thank you."
Trixie snorted, unable to hold back another giggle. "Man, there is just no getting used to that."
"I'll say," Stingy said.
"Let's get this over with," Robbie said with a sigh.
Sportacus consulted briefly with Pixel. He stepped forward into the inner circle with Robbie. Robbie fought every impulse to fidget and squirm as Sportacus raised the ray gun and pointed it directly in his face. Why had he designed the remote to be so threatening? He saw Sportacus' finger twitch, squeezing the trigger, and couldn't help closing his eyes.
There were no exploding stars behind his eyelids, no burning shock coursing across his temples. At least Pixel had fixed that flaw in the invention. Robbie swayed on his feet, his inner ear doing cartwheels to make his head reel. That was when the pain came, an all over assault on every muscle, aches and sprains and scrapes, a hammering in the back of his head, stabbing daggers in the small of his back, stinging palms, and raw throat. Robbie gasped and crumpled into a heap on the ground.
"Robbie, are you okay?"
Robbie cracked one eye open enough to squint up. Sportacus stood over him. Sportacus, in the flesh, the blue menace. The man's brow was knitted up in concern as he leaned over Robbie. Robbie looked down at himself. He was himself, and it hurt.
"What… did you do to me?" Robbie asked through clenched teeth.
"I had a few accidents while I was you," Sportacus confessed, but that was all he offered by way of apology. The home-again hero said nothing as he took hold of the headband and slid it off of Robbie's head. Robbie let him do it. He didn't have the energy to resist, nor did he put up a fight when Sportacus took the ray gun out of his limp hand. Sportacus tucked both parts of the device under one arm. He continued to look at Robbie, his brow furrowing deeper into a stern expression.
"Robbie Rotten, you caused a lot of trouble today."
"Am I on trial now?" Robbie asked. The kids had crept closer after the ray gun went off. They stood behind Sportacus, backing him up. Robbie gave them all a passing glance before he had to look away from their united front. He cleared a lump out of his throat. "I was only playing, can't a man have a bit of fun?"
"Fun?" Stephanie put her hands on her hips. "You shot all of our sports equipment halfway across town."
"And you stole my car," Stingy griped, "and then you were going to throw it at me!"
"I wasn't going to throw it at you," Robbie protested, "I was going to throw it over you." He forced himself to face them again in a desperate appeal. "Honest! I wasn't trying to hurt anyone. I may be a villain, but I'm not that bad."
"You almost spun me out of orbit on the merry-go-round," Pixel said. He narrowed his eyes. "But worst of all, you launched Ziggy off the seesaw, and you didn't go after him."
"He could have been really hurt," Sportacus said, his eyes drilling into Robbie.
"I..." Robbie shrank under the piercing stare. "I didn't mean to. I mean, I wasn't trying to, I wouldn't..."
"But you did," Sportacus said, driving the point home.
"It wasn't all that bad, guys," Ziggy said. "I mean, now that it's over, it was kind of fun."
"Would you do it again?" Trixie asked. Ziggy shuffled his feet.
"Um. Probably not."
The weight of their eyes pressed down on Robbie. His head sank between his shoulders. "Well," he muttered, "being Sportacus may have gone to my head, and I didn't know my own strength, it's not like I meant for anything bad to happen. I guess, I mean, I'm… I'm s-so-r—"
His tongue was thick in his mouth and choked him on his own words. Was an apology good for anything in this blue kangaroo court where everything he said was taken as an admission of guilt? Of course he was guilty. The knowledge throbbed in the center of his chest where there was no crystal to comfort him.
"Sorry," he seethed through his teeth, more of a hiss than spoken word, spitting it out like venom.
The kids exchanged glances among themselves. Sportacus never once took his eyes off of Robbie. The deep wrinkle in his brow let up only a little bit.
"Do you really mean that, Robbie?" he asked. Robbie shot a glare at him.
"What do I have to do, spell it out for you?"
The hint of a grin touched the corner of Sportacus' mouth before relaxing. "Doing a few things around town might not be a bad place to start."
"You can pick up all of the sports equipment that you threw around," Stephanie said.
"I guess," Robbie grumbled.
"And fix my car," Stingy said.
"Fine," Robbie sighed.
"How's he supposed it make it up to Ziggy?" Pixel asked. "He can't undo that."
"Why not let Ziggy use the ray gun on him?" Trixie suggested, turning everyone's heads. "Robbie wouldn't be able to cause much trouble if he was Ziggy for a day." Ziggy's eyes widened as the idea dawned on him and his face lit up.
"Wow, could I? That would be so cool!"
"It would?" Stingy cast a critical eye on Robbie. "Cooler than being me?"
"If I was Robbie for a day I could do all kinds of things only adults can do in LazyTown," Ziggy said, already bouncing with excitement.
"Like what?" Stingy asked, eyes narrowed.
"Like… run for mayor, or drive the bulldozer!"
Stingy's eyes widened. "I want to do that."
Robbie sat frozen on the ground while the kids debated Trixie's proposal. Get zapped with the Mind-Me-Matic again, only this time to change places with some wild child? The blood drained from his face and made him lightheaded. The kids looked up to Sportacus, waiting for him to cast his judgment.
Sportacus shook his head. "Sorry, guys, but I can't go along with that idea. No one should use this machine on anyone else against their will."
"Can we at least use it on each other?" Trixie asked. "Not that I want to be Stingy again. But I'd trade places with you, Ziggy, if you wanted to for a while."
"You would? Oh, Sportacus, can we, please?" Ziggy aimed an eager and pleading face at the blue suited man. Sportacus shifted his stance, adjusting his hold on the Mind-Me-Matic.
"Maybe later," he said. "For now, I think there's been enough excitement around here." He waved towards the path out of the clearing, back through Lazy Woods. "All of you should head back to town before it gets any later. It's been a long day."
The kids drifted out of the clearing. Ziggy and Trixie ran ahead of the rest discussing the possibilities of what they could do if the mayor agreed to let them use the ray gun on him, and how they would run LazyTown for a day. Pixel was the last to leave.
"If you want I can take the machine back to my house," Pixel offered to Sportacus. The man shook his head and smiled at the boy.
"It's okay, Pixel, I've got it. Go on with the others."
Pixel trudged off after Stingy and Stephanie, sparing a final squinty look at Robbie. The two men were left alone in the clearing. Robbie shifted on the ground, moving to get on his feet with painstaking effort.
"Hold on, Robbie," Sportacus said before he'd even managed to stand up straight. Robbie flinched and glowered.
"Is there something else?" Robbie growled. "You got your body back and I'm stuck doing community service. What more could you want?"
"I could use some help picking up all these mail tubes," Sportacus said, gesturing around them.
With a large net from the airship they set to scooping all of the canisters together. Robbie worked in a fuming silence, save for the occasional hiss through his teeth for the strain put on his back and his aching muscles. He avoided looking at Sportacus as much as possible so as not to give him the satisfaction.
It didn't help how slow Sportacus was being about it. The blue clad man refused to put down the Mind-Me-Matic and was working with only one arm. He seemed to be doing a lot more watching than working, actually, and one of Robbie's sidelong glares caught the man outright staring at him.
"What is it now?" Robbie demanded.
Sportacus looked away and picked up some more mail tubes. "It's nothing, really."
"Doesn't sound like nothing," Robbie muttered.
"I was just thinking," Sportacus said, "you must have been really active while you were me, to do all of those things that the kids said."
"I… guess," Robbie said. What was he getting at? Sportacus chuckled.
"Actually, I haven't felt this worn out in a long time. You gave me a real workout."
Robbie didn't know what to say. Was Sportacus joking with him after everything that had happened? It hadn't been so long ago that the elf had been bearing down on Robbie with a humbling bout of fury. He'd spent a day running around inside the man's body, but the Mind-Me-Matic still had given him no insight into Sportacus' head.
"I really wasn't trying to hurt anybody," Robbie blurted out. "I was so strong when I was you, and I could do all these things I never could before, it was just so— fun."
Sportacus glanced back at Robbie in surprise. "You liked being me?"
Robbie rolled his eyes while the heat rose in his face. "Don't flatter yourself, Sportaloon. Of course it was nice to be the big strong super hero. I'm sure all of those kids would jump at the chance to switch places with you if you'd let them." He pointed his face at the ground, swatting canisters into the net. "Better than being some creaky old villain. You saved that kid some trouble, that's for sure. No one in their right mind would want to be me..."
"Being you wasn't that bad," Sportacus said.
"Oh yeah?" Robbie gave a noncommittal grunt. "Name one good thing about it." Sportacus didn't answer. After several quiet seconds Robbie looked back over at the other man. "Can't think of anything, can you?" he asked. What he saw in the other man's face startled him back into silence.
Was Sportacus blushing?
"Actually," Sportacus said, now being the one to keep his face pointed carefully down at their work, "I wouldn't mind switching places with you again for a day, as long as you promised not to get so carried away next time. I mean, if you wanted to."
Robbie stared at him. What could Sportacus have possibly done while in Robbie's body that gave him any desire to do it again? He'd fallen in a hole and ran until his lungs were ragged, and by the pain in his tailbone he'd managed to bang himself up in plenty of other ways too. All things considered Robbie had been far more responsible with Sportacus' body than Sportacus had been with his. Sportacus licked his lips and cleared his throat.
"Boy, I'm starving. You didn't eat anything today, did you, Robbie? There's plenty of sportscandy on the airship, you know."
"I don't like sportscandy," Robbie said flatly. He'd had to suffer one bite of an apple after first using the Mind-Me-Matic on Sportacus and knocking the both of them out. Of course the apple had tasted sweet with Sportacus' tongue, but that didn't make it any more desirable to Robbie. An apple couldn't compare to the velvety richness of a bar of chocolate or the tangy sweetness of saltwater taffy.
He'd been craving a piece of cake before, but now all Robbie could think about was chocolate and taffy… taffy, taffy, taffy!
"I guess," Robbie mumbled, "if you really wanted to, we could..."
Sportacus peeked at him out of the corner of one eye, his face still red. He held out the pieces of the Mind-Me-Matic to Robbie with a grin.
"This belongs to you. You should have it back, and decide what you want to do with it."
Robbie accepted the device. For the briefest moment he considered throwing it to the ground and jumping up and down on it until it was nothing but scraps and screws. Then the moment passed and he stuffed the headband into his vest and tucked the ray gun under his arm.
"I won't be deciding anything today. I could use a long hot soak."
Sportacus laughed. "You read my mind."
They finished picking up the mail tubes. Sportacus hauled the bulging net up and slung it over one shoulder so that it would drag behind him.
"Let's get these back to town, and you can start picking up all that sports equipment," Sportacus said.
"Terrific," Robbie said without any enthusiasm.
"I can help you," Sportacus said. "But first I've got to go to Bessie's house. I was supposed to help the mayor do some housework today before all of this happened."
"Oh," Robbie said. "I think it'd be best if you avoid the Busybody and the mayor for the rest of the day."
Sportacus shot a curious look his way. "How come?"
"Well, I sort of… saved the mayor earlier today."
"Really?" Sportacus raised his eyebrows. "Robbie, that's great! And here I thought you only caused trouble today. I'm sure the mayor's grateful to you, good job."
"Yeeaah," Robbie dragged out the sound through his guilty grin. "No need to thank me. All in a day's work."