Robbie opened one eye, glaring towards the ceiling with a look that could melt lead. They were making noise again. They'd woken him up again. With a growl, he threw his blanket aside and stomped across to his periscope, the metal stairs clanging beneath his shoes. He pulled the scope down far enough to look through it, but no sooner had he registered a blue blur, followed by a pink blur, than a white blur slammed into the outer lens of the device.
He reflexively pulled back, only to shout in dismay as he lost his balance and fell gracelessly on his butt on the cold steel platform. He sat and sulked for a long moment, then hauled himself back to his feet. He glowered through the periscope again, struggling to see past the slush that dripped down the outer lens.
The children of LazyTown, and their overgrown playmate (Robbie grumbled something that sounded suspiciously like "SportaLoser"), ran around laughing and shouting and trading snowballs in one gigantic snow battle.
Worse, they were keeping Robbie from his nap. Shoving the periscope out of his way, he turned to the row of costumes nearby and grinned.
He'd show them.
Stephanie laughed as she dodged the snowball Ziggy lobbed at her, throwing back one of her own as she ducked for cover behind a particularly tall snowman.
Wait, she didn't remember them building this snowman…
"BOO!" With a terrifying shout, the snowman sprang to life, waving its twig arms menacingly.
A block away, Stephanie's scream was matched by the distinctive flash and beep that only came from one source: the crystal adorning Sportacus Ten's chest. Dropping his armload of snowballs, he dashed across the ice and snow to where Stephanie hid behind a tree, lobbing snowballs at her attacker.
Sportacus did a double-take, digesting the strange sight.
"…A living snowman?" He scratched his head as he moved to place himself between Stephanie and the threatening Frosty-wannabe. No sooner did Sportacus open his mouth to retrieve his rackets from the airship hovering overhead than another, much louder voice ran out from the doorway of city hall.
Distracted by the commanding voice, the snowman slipped on a patch of ice and sprawled out in a snowdrift. As he landed, his head broke loose, bouncing away down the street like a deranged soccer ball.
Sportacus sighed. "I should have known. Hello, Robbie."
The man in question peered up at them sheepishly and put on a casual grin as he struggled free of the rest of his costume. He leaped to his feet and attempted to appear nonchalant while Sportacus gave him the usual expression of resigned annoyance. But before anything more could be said, the same voice that had interrupted a moment ago shouted at them again.
"I said, it's time to choose our Secret Santas!" Bessie Busybody's voice held an unmistakably threatening undertone; she was getting very impatient.
Sharing a sympathetic smile, Sportacus and Stephanie headed to where the woman stood tapping her foot irritably. In one hand she held one of the mayor's old hats, but upside-down. She shook it in time with her foot-taps, stirring up the paper within.
Robbie, meanwhile, decided to take the opportunity to sneak off home…
"You, too, Mr. Rotten!" Robbie jumped a foot in the air at Bessie's snap, then turned to face her with his most charming fake smile.
"Oh, I'd love to, of course, but I'm in a hur-"
With a yelp to put a kicked dog to shame, the lanky man rushed up the steps to where Bessie stood, hastily plucking a strip of paper from the hat and glaring at her once he had.
"There. Happy, now?"
Bessie smiled, but the smile didn't quite reach her eyes. In fact, there was a glint in her eyes that made Robbie step back several paces. "All right, everyone, now that we've all chosen our giftees, start thinking about what to get them! And put some thought into it! We exchange gifts on Christmas Eve!"
Robbie stomped through town, tightening his scarf against the cold. He was not happy about having been forced into participating in this stupid town tradition. It was bad enough he was expected to spend his money on someone else, but it was downright insulting that he had to buy something for—for—
"ARGH!" he snarled in frustration. This was a sick joke, it really was. As if he even had a clue what on earth to get anyway…
He paused his rant as something in a store window caught his eye. For a long moment, he just stared in the window. Then he shrugged, and stepped in out of the cold.
Well, now. This would do.
Sportacus sighed as he entered the sixth store in three days. He'd never had so much trouble finding a gift for someone. There were some things he wouldn't get simply on principle-sweets, for example. And yet, in this case, sports candy was hardly appropriate either. To make matters worse, he was out of time-they were exchanging gifts tonight! Shaking his head in resignation, he finally accepted what the store clerk suggested, then headed home to wrap his purchase.
A few days after Christmas, Milford struggled to hang the latest in the series of holiday group photos that adorned his wall. Half an hour and several smacked fingers later, he stood back to survey his work. Finally, chuckling, he headed into the kitchen to start dinner.
It had taken three tries, but at last Milford had managed to get into the picture before the camera's timer went off. The citizens of LazyTown were beaming in the spirit of the season, and as per the tradition, each showed off the gift they'd received. Stephanie held up a new diary. Pixel displayed a gift certificate for his favorite electronics store. Trixie showed off the brand-new skateboard she'd been given to replace the one the mayor had run over with his sedan a few weeks previous. Stingy clung to a new detailing kit for HIS car, while Ziggy beamed over a membership for the Taffy-of-the-Month club. Miss Busybody couldn't decide whether she was thrilled with, or insulted by, the day pass she'd been given for the spa in the next town over. The mayor tilted precariously into the shot wearing a pair of brand-new oven mitts embroidered with the words "Hot Stuff!" (something that had quickly become a source of amusement for everyone).
Then there were the two men in the back. They stood side-by-side, though perhaps not by choice. Sportacus was smiling cheerily, though there was an unmistakable blush staining his cheeks. Robbie had been quite simply scowling, though at the others' prodding, was forcing a rather unpleasant smile. They both held their gifts up, though Robbie held his by thumb and forefinger, as if it were roadkill rather than a freshly-opened present.
The part that the people of LazyTown would be talking about for years to come, long after the mayor's mitts were forgotten, were the gifts themselves:
Identical pairs of red- and white-striped socks.