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130 Prompts #101 - Back In Action

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101. Back in Action ("When Nerds Collide")

Friday May 13th, "2005"

Year of Fire; Winter of the Frozen Planet


Jimmy Neutron obviously had to go to the bathroom. He kept glancing its way across the interdimensional seam and whimpering when one "upbeat, boppy" tune trailed into the next. His teeth - quite small for such a large face - had been embedded in his lip for the last three Chip Skylark songs. Beads of sweat rolled down his cheeks. The kid just didn't have much of a poker face. With so many muscles there, it wasn't surprising he found it difficult to restrain himself.

"Dude," Timmy hissed in his ear as the notes at last began to bleed away, "why don't you just go?"

"Wha- Who needs to go to the bathroom? Not me! I don't need the bathroom!"

As he spoke, "Find Your Voice" trickled to a full end. The next song was a slow one. Clocking out time. Relief splashed across his pudgy features, and he offered Cindy's small, pale hands to Timmy and took off running for the sidelines. Grinning a triumphant buck-toothed grin, Timmy tugged the pretty blonde girl across the seam between her dark and bulgy dimension and his simple, brightly-colored one. Her high ponytail bounced.

"Actually, I, ah, have to go too, right," she said, skimming her fingertips across his shoulder with a nervous giggle. "Save me the next one, though. Come on, Libby."

"Huh?" Libby and Sheen were each individually dancing to a beat that didn't fit the current song. Was she wearing earbuds? She made a motion as though she were popping one out and twirling it reluctantly around her thumb. "Oh. Cindy girl, I got you. Catch me up."

Timmy's grin faded as the slow, waltz-like song - from Anastasia, maybe? - swirled up with full momentum. Someone holds me safe and warm. Horses prance through a silver storm…

"Man!" Sheen crashed back against the refreshment table, elbows propped. "This is some crazy science stuff you got in your universe, small-headed Timmy! Even the Ultralord diet from Episode 332, 'Deserting Desserts' didn't make me so flat!" Immediately he perked up. "Hey, if your dimension is all futuristic and junk, what season you got playing here? I want to binge-watch all of them before they come out back home in my world! I'll be champion of the fans!"

Timmy twitched his brows. "Uh, dude? 'The Ultralord Show' doesn't play in my universe."

"You what?"

"Yeah, no. We've got our own cartoons here." He scratched his chin. "Like, I remember flipping through channels the other day and seeing one about teams of two traveling across the desert on camels in a race around the world. The guys who got out were like this Canadian wizard with lightning powers and this girl with a Viking helmet."

Sheen shook his head, which ended up shaking most of his body, which made Timmy shield his face considering that the guy was thirteen years old and like, 5'10" to his own measly 4'2". "Surely you got something good on the talkbox. I've got superhero cravings to satisfy before we part with such sweet, sweet sorrow. Come on, man, I'm not picky- throw me a bone! I'll even take one of those really little ones from the inside of your ear. I always thought the stapes was kinda cute."

"Well." Timmy's arm moved behind his neck. "We have the Crimson Chin. And unfortunately I still remember Bubble Butt Boy, or BBB, but he went lame after he met Captain Good Gas Mileage. There's, uh… Naked Lad. And I really like Crash Nebula, but I mean, he's not technically a real-"

"Nebula? You mean like, in outer space? You have a space superhero?" Sheen grabbed the front of Timmy's pink shirt with both hands and lifted him to his eyelevel. "I must have this merchandise!"

"W-w-well, I'll get you some," Timmy stuttered out as the older boy shook him. "In fact, I brought some DVDs of the first two seasons here with me, over there by that stack of chairs… I wish."

Light glimmered across the two pins stuck to his collar. His curiosity sufficiently piqued, Sheen let Timmy fall and scurried off across the gym. Sighing through his nostrils, the ten-year-old stood, dusted himself off, and leaned back against the refreshment table. Almost instantly, his pins disappeared. The red plastic cups were joined by a new pair: one green and one pink.

"Why do girls think it's funny to go to the bathroom in groups like that anyway?" he muttered to them, trying not to glance at their wide eyes or give any indication that he was a boy who talked to inanimate objects.

The pink cup nudged his thin arm. "Aw, it's not over yet, sport. She said she'll dance with you when she comes back. I think she likes you and she's excited."

"Yeah, but I didn't want Jimmy hovering around my shoulder the whole time fretting that I'll break her like some sort of pretty Easter egg. Hmph… How are the Anti-Fairies?"

"Still locked away," Cosmo-cup chirped. "And boy, am I happy about that. Or is it 'And cup, am I happy about that'? Anti- wings are creepy-scary and give me nightmares."

This statement was accented with a low growl like the crushing of a tin can. The pink cup rotated her eyes around to the small mechanical dog lying below the window behind her. Goddard was currently plugged into a wall socket (Jimmy had said something about "analyzing and cross-comparing various mechanical fluctuations of the incoming power supply in non-originating alternate dimensions and utilizing the Cartesian coordinate system in a scientific pattern by migrating along the walls in conjecture with the rotation of the Earth and appropriate passage of time to achieve maximum accuracy in the resulting energy measurements") but as his tail wagged, Timmy wasn't sure he'd stay that way for long. If Goddard were a real-life breed and not a super-cool robot who could blow up and fly, then he'd probably be a hunter. He had boxy ears.

Wanda said, "Oh, I hope Jorgen gets over his migraines and finishes with all that paperwork soon. I don't like having this butterfly net cube thing around. Having to be anywhere near it and this dimensional rift gives me the most awful headache."

Timmy nodded slowly as he massaged one sore heel and searched for the cause of Goddard's growling. A yellow squirrel perched on the windowsill, scratching at a few tufts of fur on his head. Crownless, but with origins undeniable. "Well, the other fairies seem to like it. That's like the fourth candy-colored animal to show up here in the last hour."

"On the contrary, Timmy," Wanda said blearily, "more likely he's checking it out because he can sense the Anti-Fairies tucked away inside of it and he wants to get it out of here."

"Huh. You know him?"

"Sorry, sport. Or if we have met before, I can't get a read on his signals with how supersaturated with magic this whole place is."

"Super-what now?" He continued to stare, then unfolded his arms. "Hey, I've seen that yellow fairy outside the hardware store before, and around the street where Mr. Crocker lives… Yeah, I think it's the same one. The one who doesn't have a crown or anything. I wonder who his godkid is?"

"Crocker still lives with his mom, and maybe that makes him count as younger?" Cosmo offered, squinting. He'd been squinting up his eyes and jittering his teeth all night, and Timmy didn't blame him. Even he, a mere human fifteen-year-old (er, ten-year-old), could pick up on the weird bubbly distorts in the universal energy field of magic. It was a humming sort of sound in his teeth, a burning sort of feel in his eyes, a sour sort of taste clinging to the roof of his mouth. It was only seven at night, but dozens of his schoolmates had already left to go home, their arms bright red with irritated skin and scratch lines due to so much contact with magical effervescence. Sooner or later, someone might start wondering why he himself wasn't breaking out. And he couldn't just tell them he was used to it.

"He's moving towards Jimmy's storage hypercube thing," Timmy said, still watching the mystery yellow fairy. It had squeezed itself beneath the windowsill and, ignoring the tempting treats keeping guard on the refreshment table, begun to creep down to Goddard's post. The mechanical dog flattened his ears and growled again.

"That's hardly a surprise. It's giving off massive waves of power and scrambling everyone's sensors for miles."

"… Okay, now he's chewing on it. Hey! Yellow!"

The squirrel glanced up, then abandoned the box and fled for the rift with Jimmy's dimension. Yapping up a hurricane, Goddard wrenched his plug from the socket (and part of the white brick wall with him) and raced after it. Timmy sprang upright. To Cosmo and Wanda, he spat all in one breath, "I know you can't really tell me about the other fairies around here, but there's no rule saying we can't follow him around, right?"

"What happened to waiting for Cindy?" Wanda protested, craning her neck. Er… cup body.

"Hello, short attention span in control here? Come on, he's getting away!" Timmy bolted for the rift, cutting across the dance floor and narrowly dodging familiar Dimmsdale faces and foreign Retroville kids. In a poof of faint pink sparkles, Cosmo and Wanda appeared as rubber bracelets on his wrist. He jolted through a filmy curtain of magic straight after. Within a split-second, he grew two fingers, and another few inches taller. His arms and legs thickened to support his new bulging weight. His hair felt scratchier against the back of his neck. His teeth heavier. Even his eyelids seemed more hooded than before, and his breaths had to be extra deep to satisfy his warbled lungs.

"'scuse me- Sorry- That's not my dog- Coming through."

The squirrel dove behind the leg of another refreshment table. Goddard slammed into the thing with enough force to buckle it. The table collapsed on his head, dumping paper plates and party platters and a water cooler. As the dog struggled and whined beneath the weight, clicking and whirring his parts, the yellow squirrel scrambled out. It made a series of zig-zagging jumps and landed on four feet. Toes splayed. Fluorescent tail bristled. Timmy veered after it across the room again, but within seconds, it had vanished beneath a retro-looking radiator instead.

He dove after it anyway. This time it was his buck teeth that clanged on metal, and he could practically feel his pupils bumping around the rest of his eyeballs. Ow. His arm stayed wedged underneath, gripping a handful of loose fur, but no thrashing tail. The boy glanced frantically around, but his eyes hadn't fully adjusted to the swollen dimension. "Got you, rotten pest!" shouted another voice at the same moment as fingers squeezed his hand. Then, "Huh?"

When Timmy glanced to his right, he locked gazes with a girl wearing a sweater in three shades of dark blue, her long hair red and brown around her ears. Equally bulgy. An enormous white bowtie wrapped around her neck, tied in the front. The ribbons rippled.

"Hadley," he managed. "Hi."

She blinked. Then her hand slipped away. "Tim?"

"I like Timmy," he corrected, dropping the photorealistic yellow hairs he'd grabbed. Maybe next time. He rubbed his jaw. "What are you doing at my elementary school dance?"

"Um. Well, it's not against the rules for middle schoolers to come if their date asked them, right?"

Timmy popped an injured finger in his mouth. "I'll allow it."

"Yeah, um. Anyway, the magic here is off the charts. Eryx wanted to check it out." After fiddling with her bow, she stuffed her hands in her armpits and checked over her shoulder at a powder-blue budgie perched on a sill a few windows down. "Long story, but my date turned out to be a loony whose eyes never focused on anything. I can't even pronounce his home country, and he got barbecue sauce down his sweater, so I'm here alone now."

"Barbec-"

"Yes. Anyway. I was heading home until I got distracted with chasing the squirrel."

Timmy pricked his ears. "Hey yeah, me too. I was watching him, I mean."

She pointed to her teeth. "Family reunion?"

"Ahahahaha- No, no it's not. Try paranoia. Do you know his godkid?"

"That's what I was trying to figure out." Hadley frowned. "He's at the high school a lot - the one where my step-brother goes - and he knows my last name is Harrington, and I know he's been spying for weeks. He never lets Eryx near him before he bolts. It creeps me out."

"Huh. Any chance you maybe know what his name is?"

Nod. Puffed cheeks. "Andy. I think. I think it's Andy. He kind of said it, until he ran off one time. But that's all the dirt I have. It's too bad my you-know-who doesn't get out around town much. Maybe he could pin down a little more info about who this dork is."

Eryx ruffled his feathers in an embarrassed way.

"Huh." Timmy glanced at his wrist. Sparkles from the disco ball swept across it, illuminating soft brown hairs in sharper colors than in his home universe. "Any ideas yet, you guys?"

"I had a penny called Andy one time," Cosmo offered, raising his voice a tad over the thumping of the music. Wanda shushed him softly.

Timmy shrugged at his kind-of sort-of not-entirely friend. "Sorry."

Hadley blew a curl of hair from her face. "Well, this is fine. I didn't want to catch him anyway. Okay, I'm out. See you around, Timmy? Poof by my house if he starts acting worse around you or something, maybe. He kind of freaks me out, you know?"

"Sure."

"And spread the word?"

Timmy thought of Remy and Juandissimo, and inwardly cringed. "Will do."

At least they were still at the F.U.N. Academy. He wouldn't have to be seeing them for a long time.

After she'd straightened her bow and vanished into the crowd, Timmy peeked beneath the radiator again. Yep, the squirrel was definitely gone. And there was no point in asking Cosmo or Wanda to whip up a device that would track him down. Even if they weren't suffering migraines, tracking other magical beings was against Da Rules under some sort of code of privacy, unless he had specific permission from Jorgen or someone, and there was "probable cause" to suspect the stalker fairy in question was doing something illegal and not just being weird. Hey, maybe he just liked dusty old radiators.

So Timmy returned to the Dimmsdale side of the dimensional seam. Keeping one eye pointed towards the door which led to the Lindbergh hallway which led to the bathrooms, he took up the cube that Goddard had stopped guarding when he'd charged off (Kind of silly of Neutron to wire his robot to chase prey animals, he thought). "It isn't damaged, is it?" Wanda fretted, straining for a look from his arm.

"I'unno. It seems fine." He tossed it in the air. As she and Cosmo returned to their plastic party cup forms, Timmy pressed one of its faces against his thankfully non-bulgy and well-adjusting ear. Anti-Fairies were chattering inside, but even when he listened closely, he couldn't quite pin down exactly what they were saying. Only clashing claws, angry screeches, and…

Sometimes, vaguely, a few seemingly-heartbroken sobs.

He pulled the box away. It went down fast on the refreshment table. A clatter. Still no sign of Cindy. But on the far side of the seam, Neutron had just come back into the gym(s). He turned a full circle, puzzled by something he apparently sensed in the air, and then Sheen and Carl arrived to drag him away towards Goddard and the broken refreshment table. An older woman with a sharp nose who carried the authority of a teacher or principal stood nearby and tapped her foot. Timmy cracked a smile. It didn't last as long as he'd wanted, somehow.

"Hey," he said casually as another Graystar song came on, "keeping those bad-bats in here isn't going to cause any major imbalance in the universe, is it? Anti-Fairies don't like, actually contribute to society, do they?"

No response. It was possible his godparents hadn't heard him. Cosmo had just thrown up the contents of his own cup-body into the lemonade pitcher. Timmy sighed and made a signal for Wanda to clear the pitcher up with her wand and replace it with fresh stuff from the cooler. Then he dropped his head on the table beside the hypercube.

"Well, I'm bored again. Where's Cindy? Any chance you guys could poof her out of the bathroom and back to the dance floor? With her clothes on?" he added in a rush.

"Ooh, ooh! I know this one!" Cosmo hopped twice. "Wanda, let me answer it! Timmy, Timmy, Timmy. The bathroom's the most private room in the building. We'd have to knock and be invited in before we could use magic in there. Someone could be in the middle of something important, duh. Like collecting their nose hairs to make the lines on a map for the Bermuda Triangle."

"Cosmo! Nobody does that. That's revolting."

The air warmed with the tingle of fresh Fairy magic. "Aw, then that means I've been saving all this fly paper and gorilla glue since August for nothing."

The resulting silence meant that Wanda had probably just pulled a face. Timmy continued to stare at the small blue and silver box. His fingernail bounced against its side. Tap. Tap. Tap.

"So," he said, finally straightening up. "Even though last I heard Jorgen wasn't so sure about it, Jimmy really wants to take the whole hypercube box back to his lab when the dance is over. That's cool of him, I guess. Means they won't be our problem anymore, nuh-uh."

Both cups stopped their bickering and turned to blink up at their godkid. Then some random bulgyverser swept the Cosmo cup away despite his quiet squirming, which left Wanda to give him that skeptical and yet somehow sympathetic look on her own.

"Timmy… Do you want us to poof you home? Oh, I'm worried that all this Fairy magic is going to make you sick if you stay here any more than we have to."

"I dunno, Wanda… I think I need to wait here a little longer."

"Aw, I'm sure Cindy will be back for you. You've just got to show a little patience."

Timmy took a breath. His knuckles shook. "I've been thinking, Wanda. I feel kind of responsible for the Anti-Fairies. I don't want them to escape from this box on Neutron's watch. He'd be useless getting them back without me."

Wanda scooted herself a few inches nearer to his elbow. "You sound like you're having second thoughts about the whole thing, sport."

Timmy shrugged listlessly. He pushed the cube away. After Cosmo had straightened his cup body of dents and poofed himself out of the trash can, "Yeah, dunno, don't really care. The Anti-Fairies are bad news, and they deserve everything that's coming to them. Who cares if Neutrash's got knives and lasers on all his shelves and he knows about the butterfly net weakness? Everything'll be fine, right?"

"Riiiight, because 'fine' is the most honest word in the English language."

After nudging Cosmo with her metaphorical shoulder, Wanda turned her eyes on Timmy again. "Oh, I don't really like the idea either, sport. To tell you the truth, I'm kind of hoping Jorgen keeps the Anti-Fairies in our dimension."

"But why? They just hurt people and cause chaos. Right? Everybody hates them."

Cosmo hopped behind Timmy's idle wrist to avoid the attention of a pretty, black-haired Retroville girl who had come to get herself a drink. "Hey Timmy, you know what else is hated by everybody? Fiery burning acid! But then like, stomach acid helps you dissolve your food. Speaking of which, ah, I think I may need to use another lemonade cooler pretty soon!"

"Cosmo, no," hissed Timmy, but gave up when the green plastic cup flitted away with a twirl of his wand.

Wanda nudged his fingers. "I want to see the Anti-Fairies locked up in that hypercube forever, sport, but there's that whole moral debate on whether or not that's fair to them."

"Because they're still people too," Timmy said, hollow-voiced. As Wanda winced at her migraine, he shifted the cube from his right hand to his left. "You don't think Jorgen will really send them away to live in Retroville with Neutron… Do you?"

Pause. "He might. Jimmy was pestering him for quite awhile, and Jorgen doesn't always think before he acts. But, he's Keeper of Da Rules, and it's his decision to make in the end." She saw his face and added, "I'm sure nothing catastrophically bad will come out of it, Timmy. Things will work out. Life always goes on for the rest of us. Hey, the Anti-Fairies can't die, so like how Jimmy was telling Jorgen, they'd be the perfect things for him to experiment with. And he's the only one who knows how the hypercube actually works. He'll keep them contained."

"Pfft." Timmy wiped his sticky mouth on the back of his wrist. "Hey, Jimmy's cool, I guess, but I give it a month before they get loose and cause trouble. Cindy and I were talking about crazy stuff he's done with aliens, love potions, super yummy candy, and robotic pants." He scratched at his arm- even his magic-saturated self was beginning to itch, and it didn't help that Cosmo brought a new hot wave of the stuff when he poofed back into place just beside his wife on the table. "And, well, you guys had enough trouble breathing there, without much of an energy field thing, so…"

Wanda's glance was half-pitying. "Anti-Fairies don't need to breathe, sport. We do it for them."

"Still…" The small boy fingered three different corners of the hypercube as a new slow song came through the speakers around the magically-stitched-together gyms. "I dunno. I'm not ready to leave right now. Not just yet."

"Ooh… Okay, Timmy. But if you begin to feel lightheaded, we're taking you home where you can sleep it off."

"Hey, check it out." Cosmo perked up at once. "Fudgehead came back with his puppy. Maybe he brought brownies. Oh, especially mint brownies. Ice cream and brownies are good together."

Timmy did not turn around. But he did look up. "Wanda… I do feel a little weird."

She nodded. "I'd guess it's the overexposure to Jimmy's dimension."

"Actually-"

"Hold me to your face, sweetie. Do you need your temperature taken?"

He lifted her under the pretense that he was dunking her contents in his hair. "The people in his universe don't know how to deal with Anti-Fairies, though," he said in a lower voice. "One day they're going to get out. The bad guys always get out in the movies. The countdown is always stopped right before zero, the lost treasure is always found, the rule will always be broken, and people always go into the forbidden zone. Y'know. Obvious stuff."

"Ooh, ohh! And if there's a kangaroo, it always kicks somebody, and someone else always rides around in his pouch."

"'Her'," Wanda corrected. After she'd reported that as far as her less-sensitive fairy lips could tell, his forehead felt an average temperature, Timmy piped up again. "The Anti-Fairies are going to get out one day, maybe on purpose and maybe on accident. And then the Retroville people will get hurt. Their whole planet might be thrown in danger. At least in our dimension, we have Jorgen to guard them. We have Fairies who know they exist, and other godkids who've probably dealt with them too and who might understand how to fight them. Like Hadley. She said once Anti-Cosmo's dinner party friends bother her all the time."

Wanda paused. "What exactly are you saying, sport?"

Timmy rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't know. Something stupid and irresponsible, I guess."

"Uh, Timmy Turner," Jimmy said, coming cautiously up behind him. Timmy straightened and, living up to his last name, turned around. Behind his back, his fingers tightened on the Wanda cup. He tried not to feel too small and passive with the guy being so much taller than him… Although granted, most of that face was forehead and hair, and Sheen still had him beat by a long shot.

"Hi, Jimmy. Cindy hasn't come back from the bathroom, in case you were wondering. And I haven't gotten my chance to dance with her, so it's still my turn."

Jimmy stopped scratching his arms and reached down to rub Goddard's ears instead. The dog wasn't looking bad, considering the speed he'd been moving at the last time Timmy had looked at him. "Can I get my hypercube back?"

Timmy hesitated. That made Jimmy press his brows together, extending his hand further.

"Fine," the ten-year-old muttered at last. He dropped the cube in Jimmy's palm, but didn't take his fingers from the top as he looked into his eyes. "But don't. Lose it. I don't want the, uh, Anti-Fairy virus getting out and infecting my computer programs again."

"Look, I know computers." Now Jimmy's gaze flashed defiantly, like he'd been personally offended. "I know how stuff like this works. My hypercube locked onto their particles. They're trapped in there until I let them out."

"I got out without your help," Timmy said back stubbornly.

"Hey, you're the one who said the virus couldn't escape a butterfly net firewall."

"Okay, but you don't know how this stuff works in my universe!" Timmy pulled the box closer to him, but let go when Jimmy yanked it back and held it defensively against his chest, partway under one arm. "They're smart, okay? They adapt and evolve. They've caused a lot of trouble before, and they could get out of your hypercube too."

Even though the music played on and people around them continued to sing and clap and stomp their feet, for a split second there, time and place stood still.

"You think you're smarter than me," Jimmy said in a flabbergasted tone. "You actually think you're smarter than me. Oh. Oh!" He clapped a hand to his forehead. "This is richer than that Eustace Strych kid! And I thought it was a joke. The average kid that no one understands honestly and truly believes himself to be more neurologically supplied than the certified boy genius."

Timmy clenched his fists, shoulders rising. His neck grew warmer, but he would not let anger control him. He had sworn a long time ago not to use the 'w' word when he was upset. Fighting down the irritation, he swallowed and said, "Look, I'm not trying to be a jerk, and I didn't mean to hurt your pride. I'm just worried, okay? I've dealt with these guys a lot. I'm telling you, they're not like a normal computer virus. They're clever, and- and- You're rolling your eyes at me! Don't make that face- you did!"

"You don't have to act this way, Timmy Turner. I've made some mistakes before, but I've run all the calculations. I'm no old dog learning new tricks. I have everything all under control."

"Whatever." Timmy turned his face away, still drumming his fingers against his thighs. The sentence would be so easy on his tongue… I wish Jimmy and his friends were back in their own universe, and I wish they would stay there forever…

Shaking his head, Jimmy patted the hypercube. "It's fine. Nothing is going to break these guys out on Jimmy Neutron's watch."

Goddard barked twice in agreement before promptly dumping a small heap of lug nuts, bolts, and washers (or something along those lines) on the floor. Jimmy groaned towards the ceiling. "Goddard, you were programmed to be house-trained…"

That was about the time that Cindy came back. While Jimmy was down, Timmy took advantage of the opportunity to claim his dance. Cindy was taller than him, and so he wasn't very good at twirling her under his arm, but he gave it his best shot. Her smile strained.

One day, he promised himself silently, I'll be tall and have cool muscles, and all the girls will want to dance with me.

It was a pleasant dance, but Timmy had been watching the way she scratched at her neck and arms, and after two more songs with Jimmy and two with him, he muttered a wish to Cosmo and Wanda, and the music flickered off, and people groaned, and his long-awaited dance was, quietly, over.

"Thanks for coming to the dance with me, Cindy," he said as he picked her night-sky jacket off a stack of chairs. He toyed with the idea of wishing himself to Retroville after them. Cindy would like that. Not one but two boys walking her home for the night…

Jimmy leaned against the wall nearby, his infinite storage cube in hand. From the way he bounced it, you would never guess that it contained almost a hundred thousand evil spirits, all bundled up in one giant butterfly net. His body language was casual, but his eyes followed Timmy's every movement, even as Sheen and Carl bumped playfully into his shoulders, and he half-turned to respond to one of their jokes.

"And you're sure I can't just wish for the cube?" he muttered under his breath as Cindy called out and waved Libby over.

Wanda, still a rubber bracelet with eyes and lips, made her best attempt at shaking her head. "Sorry, sport. We're not allowed to use our magic to teleport Anti-Fairies, and, well… there are about a hundred thousand wrapped up in that thing."

"Yeah, I get it." Timmy scuffed his shoe against the gym floor. When Cindy's hand strayed close to his, he grabbed it and gave it a soft tug to refocus her attention on him. "Hey, at least let me walk you outside. That's the polite thing to do."

She giggled in that way of hers. "Timmy, that's so sweet of you."

"Uh, I can get us home from in here," Jimmy interrupted, fumbling in his pockets for whatever teleportation device he'd brought with him.

"It's the polite thing for a gentleman to do," Timmy repeated, and pulled Cindy after him for the door. Every step hurt. Not because she occasionally stepped on the back of his shoe, and not because Jimmy came scrambling after him, and not because of Goddard's yapping or the crowds of unfamiliar bodies shoving through the halls.

He'd had his dance. He'd danced with a girl! A smart and pretty girl! So why did it bother him, the way her eyes kept darting to the face that wasn't his, biting her lip in a failed attempt to choke back a laugh at a joke he hadn't said?

No chance. No chance.

And so… it shouldn't hurt so much… that he "accidentally" let go of her hand at the wrong time and knocked Cindy down the front steps of the school.

Jimmy's reaction was instantaneous. He raced to catch up with her. Timmy stuck out his foot and tripped the guy. He tumbled a surprising amount considering that his head got in the way. It must have overbalanced him. The hypercube went soaring in a direction it probably shouldn't have and bounced into the bushes lining the school. As Libby and Carl cried out and scrambled after their fallen friends, Timmy raised his wrist to his lips and whispered one more wish. A second hypercube appeared in front of the bushes. Only then did he give Sheen a nudge and hurry down the stairs himself.

"Cindy?" He reached for her hand- Libby already had her sitting up, and she was holding her head and moaning an exaggerated amount. "Cindy, gosh, I'm so sorry- Are you hurt? I wish you weren't!"

"Oh," groaned Cindy, lashes fluttering, "I think I may have… twisted my ankle."

"I'll carry you," Jimmy said at once, pushing his way forward.

"Uh, you?" Libby raised a finger and gave it half a shake. "I've seen you try to lift your suitcase out a' the back of your dad's trunk."

"My suitcase was full of bunsen burners and test tubes and chunks of minerals," he shot back. His hands went beneath Cindy, his tongue between his teeth, and he fought to lift her up.

"Not today," Libby said with a sideways glance as Sheen started to open his mouth.

"Well." Here, Jimmy looked at Timmy firmly. "We'll be heading back to Retroville."

"Guess you will. And…" Timmy took the hypercube that Carl had picked up and handed it off to Cindy. "Thanks for all your help, Jimmy Neutron. I was wrong. You're way smarter than me, and I know the Anti-Fairies will be safe with you. You're pretty cool."

His eyes softened. Evidently, the chink in his armor was shameless flattery. "Uh, thanks, Timmy Turner. You're not so bad either. We could hang out again sometime."

"In a few weeks, maybe."

"I'll look into it."

Cindy, still cradled in Jimmy's (shaking) arms, reached out and took hold of Timmy's shoulder. He glanced down at it, too startled to really react, and she planted a soft kiss on his cheek.

"I had a good time tonight, Timmy. I hope I can see you again someday."

"Uh- uh, yeah," he stammered back. "I'll make sure of it."

"Yeah," said Jimmy. "I'll be there too." His fingers tightened. Recognizing that it was finally time to back off, Timmy stepped back and waved good-bye. Behind the backs of the last few stragglers leaving the front of the school for the parking lot around the north side, Jimmy pressed a button on a yellow device held mostly by his neck, and the five Retrovillers disappeared. Did the other bulgyversers go with them? Timmy couldn't be sure, but he figured that if they didn't, Jorgen would clean up that mess when he came to it.

For now, he turned around and began to search the bushes. Cosmo and Wanda poofed into colorful butterflies beside his ear.

"Sport, what are you up to now?"

Timmy grimaced as he located the original hypercube at last. "Well, I'm either about to make the worst decision of my life, or do what some guys might call 'the right thing'. And if things go wrong, I'm blaming that second happening on my short attention span taking over."

"O-okay, just don't-"

"I wish we were in Anti-Fairy World."

Obediently, and probably reluctantly, both Cosmo and Wanda lifted their wands. There was a glimmer.

Then Timmy's insides backflipped. He shot into the air, particles dissolving, and rushed through the sky from Dimmsdale to Greece. The entire process took about nine seconds, and when Timmy through blurry eyes could recognize the incoming ground, he felt himself steadying out. His feet hit first, forming instantly out of electric pulses. Then his ankles, socks, shoes, legs, and the rest of him.

Experienced with magical teleportation, he didn't even stumble. Instead, he blinked up at the tall, iron gate in front of him. The sky was a cliché shade of red beyond it. Lightning flashed- the first time he'd ever seen weather in the cloudlands, except for the time Cosmo and Wanda had taken him to an area where the water leaked down from a river in the layer of clouds above. He blinked, then reached out and gave one of the bars on the enormous gate a rattle. It clanged, but didn't open. Locked. One of the four tall guards, a redhead dressed in the pale blue of the Keepers with the brim of a square cap pulled down over his eyes, turned to him with a warning squeaky grunt.

"We're… on the wrong side."

"Well, uh…" Wanda said slowly, "We can't go into Anti-Fairy World unless we've been invited, sport, or if Jorgen or someone else important is with us."

Timmy hardly heard her. A knot formed in the exact middle of his throat. "And where are the Anti-Fairies?"

"Timmy, Timmy, Timmy," chided Cosmo in his usual way. "Our magic doesn't work on them. We can't interfere, remember?"

The boy rubbed at his forehead with the heel of his hand, trying to ignore the guards. "Stupid… Okay, then I wish we were back at my school again."

They went back. This time, two teleportations too quickly did leave him with a throbbing head, but Timmy pushed through it and took the undisturbed hypercube from the ground. Now what?

Timmy held the box near his mouth. "Hey! Anti-Fairies in there. I want to speak with Anti-Cosmo."

Voices argued. Timmy rattled the box until they mostly shut up. "Get me Anti-Cosmo," he said again, and after a moment a familiar, frustrated, somewhat high-pitched British accent answered, "I'm here, Timothy. What do you want me to say? 'Pip pip and tally-ho'?"

"Um… Hey, so, how are you?"

A pause.

"Well, this is insulting."

"Anti-Cosmo, don't be like that. I want to say that I'm going to let you out and-"

"What?"

There was no telling how many people screamed it. Wanda and Cosmo, certainly, and a fair number of Antis trapped in the box. Timmy held firm, never taking his gaze from the lid.

"Well. Let's just say, Timothy, that for now, you have acquired my full attention."

Timmy shut his eyes. "How many are you?"

"81,637," came the swift response, like a threat.

81,637. There were like 86,909 Fairies alive. So many were missing. But all the escaped ones had been captured. So many had never come.

"Timmy," Wanda protested, "don't do this. Wait for Jorgen and-"

"And let him take the box back to Jimmy? Wanda, no. The Anti-Fairies belong here. They're like us. Don't you see?" He lifted his eyes, biting his lower lip with his large front teeth. "Jorgen's not going to treat them fairly. He… he won't. J-just let me do this, okay? You've told me about Anti-Fairy World. But when Cosmo had his bad fagiggly gland, I saw the Anti-Fairies locked up in the Fairy World prison. They have to go… back home. There are still families there, and kids." Timmy shook his head, hard. "There are still kids. They're waiting, Wanda. They miss their parents. They're alone, a-and miserable, and…"

Wordlessly, both of his fairies placed a hand on one of his shoulders. Timmy shook as he drew in his next breath.

"Anti-Cosmo. My name is Timmy Turner, and I am going to let you out."

There were a lot of muffled noises- cheers, jeers, confusion. Anti-Cosmo hushed all of them, or at least their voices dipped low enough that Timmy couldn't pick them up through the box.

"Anti-Cosmo," he said again, more firmly this time. "You will take your Anti-Fairies, and you will poof back to Anti-Fairy World. Because I am Timmy Turner, and I know how to fight you. I have the power of my fairy godparents at my side" - he checked quickly to be sure no one was around to hear him - "and I have another power too. I am human. This box can't hurt me. I have, uh, endurance power stuff. Anyway. I will chase you, and hunt you, and I will not give up until you're all back behind the Anti-Fairy World gate. This is my offer. Go now in peace, and I can get you home where you have your own comfy beds and all your stuff. Or stay to fight, and I'll call the Fairy legal system on your fluffy blue butts."

There was no response. Timmy and Wanda exchanged a glance. Both his godparents had their wands raised.

"Anti-Cosmo. Did you hear me?"

"Yes," came the irritable voice. "Oh for smoke's sake, we'll do it. Release us from this dratted butterfly net and we'll be off, just as you say."

"All of you?"

"Quite, all of us."

"You will have five seconds. Don't waste my time, okay? Uh, Wanda, Cosmo, if it looks like I'm about to be hurt, I want you to teleport me to a safe place like my house just in time."

Admittedly, 'a safe place' was a rather loose term, but the word 'like' amended that. There were certain tricks to the whole godparents game. You couldn't wish for invincibility, but you could ask for tougher skin or the ability to avoid most rough situations altogether. Immortality was forbidden, but wishing you could live to see a time when the world was free of pollution was not. Timmy looked back on that one fondly, even if Jorgen had caught on within a few days and ordered him at wandpoint to unwish it. Using the word 'like' in his statement allowed his godparents the option of changing their minds if they thought that maybe his house wasn't safe enough to hide in. Not a word of power you would want to let slip to a genie, but with loving fairy godparents, it worked pretty well.

"Timmy," Cosmo whimpered, but he was shushed. Timmy moved his thumb to a catch on the hypercube's right side. And then he pressed it.

Instantly, he was forced to drop the box as a cyclone of Anti-Fairies came whirling out, wings blurred and claws extended and… carrying Christmas presents? Timmy threw his arms up to shield his face, and when he lowered them again, he found himself nose to nose with Anti-Cosmo, arms crossed, floating about a foot and a half above the trim grass. This brought his narrow eyes nearly level with Timmy's own. He sniffed, hard.

"You're a fool, Timothy. This was your own choice. I owe you no thanks, no favors, no prrromises whatsoever. If you wanted a two-way deal, you ought to have chased after the Pixies. In fact" - he shot the box a meaningful look - "I would suggest you still do."

Timmy set his jaw. With Cosmo's and Wanda's wands both ready for action behind him, and the hypercube he'd hastily snatched up now back in his hands, he had no need to be afraid. He had fought aliens. He has wrestled monsters. He had suffered through Trixie's rejections and Tootie's obsessiveness. He had lost everything in court and gained it back again. He had survived Vicky. Anti-Cosmo was like the shortest anti-fairy to ever exist (Napoleon complex much?) and Timmy refused to be intimidated. It would be a lot like being scared by a blue chihuahua- its yaps might startle you for a second, and it might be clever enough to jump on something taller and then jump into your lap and go for your face, but if you were prepared to defend yourself, there wasn't all that much it could do.

"Every Anti-Fairy," he repeated. "In a moment, Cosmo and Wanda are going to poof me back to the Divide gate. I will count every Anti-Fairy. I'll stay all night if I have to- my parents won't care. And now that you're not in the box, I can bring it with me. Believe me, I know how to use this. I could do it right now, and you'd be trapped again. You being here should probably have tripped like all the Fairy World alarms. Jorgen will be on his way. This is your only chance."

As his followers whirled and giggled above and behind him, Anti-Cosmo remained unimpressed. His right hand now rested on his wand's handle, in the sheath at his left hip. "And why should we want to fly straight from one trrrap and into another? Anti-Fairy World is no picnic either. Have your precious Fairies convinced you that we like our drab and barren world?"

"Well, if you don't go, there's nothing stopping me from wishing Jorgen here right now." Timmy leaned forward on his tiptoes, amused when Anti-Cosmo didn't shrink back, but pushed their foreheads together until they met. His fur despite its thickness was icy cold, like he'd been dunked in water and left standing in a walk-in freezer for hours on end. He smelled like doorknobs. "I hear he's in a really, really bad mood after you locked him up, and after accidentally getting his DNA fused with Professor Calamitus. Or, you know." He tilted the storage cube, always being sure to keep it out of the Anti-Fairy's reach, and ready to throw it if Anti-Cosmo really did go for his wand and shoot. "I can always hit the 'On' button again."

The anti-fairy leaned back. His eyes shifted between the little box and his followers. They did this for an entire twenty-second period. His shoulders twitched. At last, he removed his monocle and massaged the bridge of his nose. "You admittedly bring up a convincing argument, Timothy. Oh, very well. We'll play like the Fairies today and grant this wish of yours. No tricks. But this isn't over." He drew his wand and swished it hard. Light glinted on its polished star as he shouted, "Anti-Fairies, to me! Tally ho!"

They moved at once, creating a funnel overhead with Anti-Cosmo at its core. The High Count's lips peeled back from his fangs in a delighted cackle. There were tens of thousands of them there, swarming over his head. They could annihilate me, Timmy realized then, taking two steps backward. They could flipping annihilate me.

He kept his thumb resting near the 'On' switch, and said switch in plain sight as Anti-Cosmo and the others, in great bursts like popping fireworks in fours and fives, vanished from sight.

"After them," Timmy said immediately, and he was back in Greece. Mount Olympus, precisely, or at least something nearby. Timmy really didn't dare to look around and check, knowing he had to keep his guard up. Wanda had told him once that this was the weakest point in the Barrier, or it was meant to be. The sentries still should have been here. But, Timmy realized as he sprinted towards the iron gate, tripping twice in the snow and defending himself from giggling Anti-Fairies who wanted to pull his ears and yank his hair, Jorgen must have called them off when he detected the mass presence of Anti-Fairies in Dimmsdale.

"I wish I had a device for counting things," he blurted, since it was all he could think of in his high-alert state. With a poof of warmth, a green band with a brightly-glowing screen and a single button appeared on his wrist. Timmy positioned himself by the gate and searched the crowd. Well played, Turner.

"Hey!" he hollered. The speed of leathery wings zipping about blew his hair into his face. He pushed up his bangs, fighting to stay focused, fighting not to regret. Another anti-fairy bopped him on the head, knocking off his hat. Cosmo picked it up for him, clinging to Timmy's shoulder. The boy shouted again, and watched himself be ignored.

But the gate ground open. A hundred tons of iron squealed. The first anti-fairy, who bore the look of a distraught mother, shot right through it. Timmy clicked his watch and said aloud, "One".

He was at twenty-eight before Anti-Cosmo materialized in front of him again. This time his wand was in his fist, but he kept its transmitting tip angled downward. The green in his eyes flashed with the next several counts.

"Here we are, Timothy."

"And it's my - thirty-three - job to make sure you - thirty-four, thirty-five - all get in here. Thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight."

"Forty-six, forty-seven."

"Don't. You're evil. Forty, forty-one."

Anti-Wanda had arrived with her husband. She patted his hat in the same way she might dribble a basketball. "That was real stupid of ya ta let us go," she told him gently, "but it sure were nice."

Timmy forced himself to smile, still clicking rapidly at his counter. "Thanks, Anti-Wanda."

She flapped over to snag a rough hug from her stiff counterpart before, with one last smile and twirl of her wand, she zipped after Anti-Cosmo. He'd moved over to wait for her by the gate. He held out his hand at her approach. She took it, and together they followed the rush of the anti-fairies inside.

Timmy continued counting.

His mouth hurt from speaking. His eyes blurred over. He may have mis-pressed. Undoubtedly, undeniably, some rebellious Anti-Fairy up there slipped away in the chaos. But Timmy, stubborn Timmy, counted all he could. He counted even as they tore his clothes, and even as Cosmo and Wanda fired warning blasts to keep his tormentors off. He counted even as Wanda poofed him up glass after glass of water for his dry mouth. He counted even as the hours passed and he slid down the side of the gate, head nodding and eyelids fluttering.

80,822. Close enough. The heavy gates rattled shut.

"Should we poof the real box back to Jimmy?" Wanda murmured, taking Timmy by the arm and hauling him upright.

"Heh…" Fighting to focus his gaze, Timmy tossed the hypercube from his left hand to his right. "Actually, I think I'll keep this. It could come in handy. He can have the fake one."

Wanda said nothing, but the buzzing of her long wings did start to slow. She crossed her arms.

"Fine," he yawned. "I wish Jimmy could get his stupid toy back."

It disappeared with an audible poof. Timmy lurched sideways, having been fighting to stay awake by sheer determination alone and too weak now to fight the backlash. Cosmo caught him and pushed gentle fingers through his hair.

"Good night, our sweet prince," he murmured as their godson slipped into sleep. He rested his chin on Timmy's crumpled hat. "Let's bring you home."