Summary: SpongeBob is offered ownership of the Krusty Krab but isn't sure if he deserves it.

A few things before we get started. This chapter and the one after it are mostly exposition. I do plan to do more episodic ones later on. Speaking of later on, I am just recently rediscovering my love of writing after about two years away from it. Please be patient, as my motivation has been coming and going at a rather erratic rate.

Oh, and don't worry too much about the T rating. That's mostly a precaution due to some mild swearing and some potential storylines.

With that out of the way, enjoy!


Under New Management

"I'm a very relentless individual and have a lot more insanity coming." - Alex Hirsch

SpongeBob

I don't question how my friends' minds work, and I find that I don't need to. Gary is friendly but treasures his alone time. Patrick is care-free but, well, not too bright. Squidward is cranky but passionate. Sandy is sweet but quick-tempered. Mr. Krabs is greedy but has a good heart. I know their personalities, their likes and dislikes, but I may never know exactly what makes them tick. That's fine. Like Sandy once told me, I don't need to know everything about my friends. That's what keeps a friendship interesting.

Although...lately I've been curious about a certain Eugene Krabs.

I guess it started one ordinary work day when I overheard him muttering about his back. Worrisome, yes, but not alarming. Mr. Krabs's mind is still sharp, but his body isn't getting any younger. Later that day, I came into his office to collect my paycheck and found him napping at his desk! I shook him awake and asked if he was okay, but he shrugged it off and claimed he hadn't slept well last night. I didn't think much of it. We've all been there, after all. Besides, his daughter was engaged at the time, so I figured he was just up late helping with the wedding. Lately, though, I've noticed that he's really started to slow down. He hasn't fallen asleep again - that I know of - but I'm worried about him.

Jim, the fry cook before me, is opening a new restaurant...with Squidward, which not only means that I'll no longer be working with Squidward (at least he'll still be living next door to me), but Mr. Krabs would have to work the register. I couldn't be happier for Squidward, but I saw the dread in my boss's eyes when we found out. I offered to do two jobs, but Mr. Krabs turned me down. I have to admit, I can't do two jobs at once anyway. Well, I could, but not when we're really busy. Believe me; I've tried. Mr. Krabs could probably handle it for a while, but with how tired and achy he's been, I don't think he could stand there all day long term. Fortunately, Squidward was kind enough to stick around until Mr. Krabs could hire someone new. "I've been stuck in this grease trap for over twenty years," Squidward had said. "What's a few more mind-numbing weeks?"

That was when things started getting interesting.

Fast forward a few days. We'd just closed for the day, and Mr. Krabs called me into his office. He asked if I'd stay and help him look over the handful of resumes he'd received. "A loyal employee like yourself surely has some good input, eh boyo?" he'd said.

Well, how could I say no? I'm always eager to lend a hand! And, I learned so much that night! I learned how to input things into the computer and the difference between a high school diploma and a GED and Mr. Krabs even let me call people for interviews! Me! I didn't care that I wasn't getting paid overtime! Walking home that night, I was so high on life that I woke Gary up and told him about it until Squidward called and told me to go to bed! I guess I was talking kind of loud.

Anyway, that's not even getting into the interviews! They all took place after hours, and Mr. Krabs let me sit with him and the candidates. I was only supposed to observe, but that's okay. During the first interview - with a young man still in high school - I poured every ounce of focus I possessed into paying close attention to every word spoken. And, right at the end of the interview…

"Anything to add, SpongeBob?"

I was so stunned, Mr. Krabs had to repeat the question three more times. He wanted me to participate! ME! First the phone calls, now this? I was almost bursting with joy! And...maybe a little anxiety. This wasn't just a phone call. This was a potential employee. I had to ask just the right thing. Not to mention, get just the right response. I had to think fast, as the young man couldn't sit there all night; he had school in the morning. After a minute that felt like an hour, I said, "Tell us about yourself, not as a potential employee, but as a person."

I figured we should hire someone we can get along with. After I explained my reasoning, Mr. Krabs ended up asking the other candidates that question as well. I had to pinch myself multiple times to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I didn't want my joy to disturb Squidward's sleep again, so that night I just babbled blissfully on my way home. I hope I didn't wake any Bikini Bottomites. I tried to stay quiet, but my voice only goes so low when I'm excited.

And, it kept going from there! About a week after we - yes, we - picked someone, a young woman with a passion for writing, Mr. Krabs pulled me aside and offered me a..a…

A PROMOTION!

He said that, since his "old bones ain't working the way they used to," he needed someone to help with the managerial stuff. At the time, I thought I had only helped with interviews because I'd be the only employee without Squidward. But, no. Mr. Krabs had me help because he wanted me to be the manager! Oh, it was just like when I was promoted to manager of the Krusty Krab 2! Until that was shut down when Mr. Krabs realized that owning a second restaurant meant paying more employees and expenses. Oh, well. This was even better, because I'd be managing the original Krusty Krab! The greasy spoon that started it all! The one, true home of the Krabby Patty! I hadn't been that happy since Mr. Krabs entrusted me with the Krabby Patty Secret Formula. Well, everything but the secret ingredient, but that's not the point.

After a night of being so dizzy with glee that Gary had to knock me out with a frying pan to get me to fall asleep, my official manager training began. Finally, finally, learning the ins and outs and ups and downs and lefts and rights and backwards-es and forwards-es of the Krusty Krab, the most glorious place in the ocean!

There was one small hiccup though. Actually, a very big hiccup. Since I would be in charge when Mr. Krabs wasn't there...we would have to hire a new fry cook...who wasn't me…

Fortunately, Mr. Krabs let me conduct those interviews on my own, knowing how protective I am of the kitchen. Having less time on the grill was the hardest part of my promotion, but at least I was able to train someone I was comfortable with. Plus, the woman I hired told me all kinds of neat stories from her colorful past! (And, it is colorful…)

Overall, life has been great! I'm the manager of my favorite place, I have two wonderful new friends, and I wouldn't change a thing!


One Year Later

"Have a seat, lad."

I dutifully plop my square butt into the uncomfortably round chair in Mr. Krabs's office. As much I love the pirate theme of the Krusty Krab, I do wish that the chairs didn't have to be barrel-shaped. Ah, well. It's a small price to pay for the sake of aesthetic.

Mr. Krabs casually rests his claws on his treasure chest-shaped desk. "I suppose you're wondering why I've called you in here."

I nod eagerly. Getting called into the boss's office can be a little nerve-wracking, but the calm smile on Mr. Krabs's face tells me there's good news to share.

"Before we get into that, though, how've the girls been holding up? Getting along with them okay?"

I grin. "Oh, yes, sir! Lily's such a sweetheart, and the customers are always going on about how nice she is! Though, I wish they'd stop bad-mouthing Squidward in the process. Oh! And, Nora just told me this story about when she was a teenager and she and her friends stole the principal's house keys and-"

"Alright, that's enough," Mr. Krabs interrupts with an eye roll. "What about when I leave you alone? I notice that the place doesn't burn to the ground, so that's a good sign."

I blush, thinking of the times when I was left alone before I had any training. "Heh heh. Well, let's just say I'm much more confident now than I was back then."

Mr. Krabs smirks, clearly thinking of those times too. "Glad to hear it, lad, because there's something I'd like to ask of you."

"Yes!" I say immediately. "Whatever it is, I'll do it."

"You don't even know what I'm asking."

"I don't need to. The answer is yes!"

"Listen."

That tone tells me that this is extremely important, and I truly do need to hear him out first. Squidward always pokes fun at me for being "Krabs's yes-man," and times like this make me think he's right.

"Much as I hate to admit it, I can't move around the way I used to."

"Oh, Mr. Krabs, you're still young at heart-"

"SpongeBob." I snap my mouth shut. His face softens. "Anyway, things are about to change in a big way." He grins. "Pearl's pregnant, SpongeBob."

My whole body tingles at the words. His daughter? Pregnant? She and her husband must be so excited! And, I can tell it's not just them. "You're gonna be a grandpa? That's amazing! Oh, can I babysit?" I clasp my hands together and shake them in front of me. "Please? Please? I love babies! Please?"

Mr. Krabs gives me a look I can't identify. "Uh, that would be up to Pearl and Nigel. Anywho, me future grandchild got me thinking about a lot of things." He stands up and walks over to the safe on the wall. "I'm not getting any younger, SpongeBob. It's time some changes were made."

"Changes?" I ask as he unlocks the safe. "What kind of changes, sir?"

He opens the safe and pulls out...the bottle containing the Krabby Patty Formula? What's he up to? "First things first, lad." He walks up to me and hands me the bottle, and my heart starts racing. "You already know most of the Formula. I think it's time you knew the rest."

The secret ingredient. He wants me to know the formula in its entirety.

"Don't worry," he says when I don't move. "I've already triple-checked for cameras and the like."

Ever since Plankton discovered how multi-purposeful chum is (outside of food, thank goodness), he hasn't tried to steal the Formula nearly as much as he used to. Nowadays, it's only when he's bored or feeling nostalgic. Still, can't be too careful where the Krabby Patty is concerned.

Hands shaking, I take the bottle and slowly jiggle off the cork, half-expecting Mr. Krabs to change his mind. But, no. He simply nods.

Dear Neptune, this is really happening.

Joy, anticipation, and an unexpected bout of nervousness wash over me as I carefully shake out the rolled up paper, place the bottle between my knees, and read. And, read. And, read again until every detail, new and old, is committed to memory, right down to the punctuation marks.

A breathy laugh escapes me. I know the Krabby Patty Secret Formula. I know the ingredients, the measurements, the secret ingredient. Mr. Krabs's - nay, Bikini Bottom's - most guarded and cherished secret. And, now I get to share the responsibility.

Once my emotions are under control, at least enough that I think I can speak without bursting into tears, I roll up the Formula and secure it back in its bottle. My voice wobbles as I hand it back to him. "Thank you."

"Now that that's out of the way," Mr. Krabs places the Formula back in the safe and spins the dial, locking away the precious bottle once again, "there's something else we need to discuss." He sits back down and folds his claws on his desk. "As I've said, my body doesn't move the way it used to. Though, me mind is still sharp as me claws," he clarifies, though it really isn't necessary. "Nevertheless, I'm just not physically able to run the place the way I'd like anymore. It wounds me pride to admit it, but I think I'm a bit overdue to retire. So, here's my question." He leans in, and I do the same, my pulse pounding all over again. "How would you like a promotion, SpongeBob?"

I jerk back. Another promotion? I'm already the manager. What could be higher than-

Wait, is he- He wouldn't. Would he? "What-what are you saying, Mr. Krabs?"

He grins at my reaction. "Lad, I've always wanted the Krusty Krab to stay in the family. My daughter's never been interested in the restaurant business, and when the baby comes she'll be busier than ever anyway. But, there is someone I love like a son, someone who's been a loyal little barnacle since the day I hired him."

Don't cry.

"There may have been some...incidents in the past, but that was then. You've been a phenomenal manager, SpongeBob. I have to say, I'm real proud of you, lad."

Do. Not. Cry.

Mr. Krabs chuckles. "I can see you're about to go off- Er, in a good way, right?" Biting my lip, squeezing my knees in a desperate attempt for control, I nod, and he relaxes. "I'll just cut to the chase. How would you, SpongeBob SquarePants, like to be the new owner and proprietor of the Krusty Krab?"

That does it. My resolve crumbles. I open my mouth, but no words come. Just sobs, powerful enough that my throat burns and my body quakes from the force of them. I'm glad it's almost closing time, and the restaurant's empty. I hope the girls can't hear, though. Why now? Why do I have to break down now?

I try to wipe my tears away, but more take their place. I can barely see. Something big and hard wraps itself around me, and I realize it's Mr. Krabs. He's kneeling down in front of me, holding me and not saying a word. Just letting me cry as I grip his shirt with all the strength I have left in me.

I don't even know why I'm crying. Being the owner of the Krusty Krab is a dream come true. For years, I've dreamed of owning my own restaurant. Ever since I became the fry cook here, I've fantasized about running this artery-clogging wonderland. I'm absolutely honored to have that dream, those fantasies, become my reality.

So, why am I so scared? Mr. Krabs wouldn't make an offer like this if he didn't think I could do it. He trusts me. He...trusts me.

What happens if I mess up? All my past screw-ups are suddenly crashing over me like the high tide at Goo Lagoon. Every mistake I made, everything I ever broke, every time I cost Mr. Krabs more money than I should, every time I almost lost the Formula, they all cycle through my mind. I've endangered the Krusty Krab before, but we've always managed to bounce back.

What if we can't next time? Because of me?

"All good there, lad?" Mr. Krabs asks when I've finally exhausted myself. I want to tell him the truth - that nothing is "all good," that he's making a big mistake - but can't bring myself to say it. Instead, I simply nod against his shell. "Good." He chuckles as he releases me and stands back up with a grunt, straightening his tear-soaked shirt. "I honestly thought we'd be there longer." He puts his hands on his hips and smiles like I wasn't just blubbering all over him. "Now, I don't need an answer right this minute. Take some time to think it over. If it's a yes, great! If not, I can figure something out." He pats my head. "No pressure, lad. Now, go clean yourself up."

Not trusting myself to speak, I force a smile, raise my right hand in a salute, and leave his office on shaky legs. My goal was to head to the men's room without Lily noticing what a mess I am, but both she and Nora are staring right at me the second I close the office door.

Lily Fischer is a surgeonfish with pale purple skin and magenta arms and legs and a matching dorsal fin. She's tall for her species, about Squidward's height, actually, though she's still the youngest employee.

Nora Bentho, a Rock Bottom native whose accent slips out when she's mad, is a red-orange umbrella octopus and only looks pudgy due to her having wider, flatter tentacles than most cephalopods. She's the oldest Krusty Krew member (aside from Mr. Krabs, that is), but she's only a few inches taller than me.

Lily's standing at the register, arms resting against the boat-shaped station, looking at me with concern. Nora is leaning against the boat, looking ready to maul someone.

"Okay, what did he do and would you like me to beat him up?" Nora asks. Apparently, that someone is Mr. Krabs.

"Nora," Lily admonishes. She turns back to me. "You okay, SpongeBob?"

I sigh. They're so sweet in such different ways. "It's nothing, girls. Just return to your posts."

"I'm already at my post," Lily responds. I start for the men's room, but she presses down on my head, stopping me in front of the register. "Dude, what's up? We could hear you from out here."

Nora spins around and leans one elbow on the boat. "My offer to beat up Krabs still stands. Just say the word."

Lily rolls her eyes. "Nora, knowing you, you'd probably kill him."

"No, I'm not the killing type. Just ask my ex-husbands. Except the second one. We're still friends."

I can't help but crack a smile at their banter. It's amazing how such different people can get along so well. But, I guess that shouldn't surprise me. Squidward and I are practically night and day, yet he's still one of my dearest friends. I miss working with him. He would get along great with these two. Well, maybe more so with Lily. I could see him and Nora butting heads more than friends should.

"Anyway," Lily says, returning her attention to me, "what's on your mind, SpongeBob?"

My smile drops. I hate making my friends worry. Especially when they're looking right at me with such love and concern. Maybe, I should tell them. If I did become the new owner, they wouldn't just be my friends and co-workers; they'd be my employees. They would have to answer to me. More than they already do. Who better to give feedback on my bossing skills?

I swallow my nerves. "Question: How would you girls rate me as your manager?"

They both blink, taken aback. Lily shrugs. "Uh, pretty good, I guess. Though, to be fair, my manager back at Barg' N-Mart hated me, so…"

"Been there," Nora says sympathetically. Then to me, "I've had my share of bosses, SpongeBob, and you are definitely one of the better ones. Why do you ask?"

Moment of truth. "Well, Mr. Krabs kind of...asked if I wanted to be the new owner."

The girls' eyes bulge almost cartoonishly. They look at each other, at me, at each other, at me. I'm starting to wish I could read minds.

Suddenly, Nora laughs and slaps my back hard enough that I have to grab the cash register for support. "That is awesome!" I can't tell if she's mocking me or not.

Lily's reaction is more clear; she's smiling eagerly at me. "You as the boss? Dude, that would be so cool! You gonna do it?"

Their faith in me (at least, I think Nora has faith in me) warms my heart, but… "I-I haven't given him an answer yet."

"Hey, it's your call," Lily says, still grinning gill-to-gill, "but I say go for it."

Nora nods, confirming her opinion. "Yeah, don't pass this up. You're so meek and squishy you'll probably never get an opportunity like this again."

"Nora."

"Well, he is meek and squishy."

While they bicker about how meek and squishy I am, I retreat to the men's room and stare at my messy, tear-stained self in the mirror. Is this really the face of a boss? Is it even the face of a manager?

Get a hold of yourself, Robert.

I splash cold water on my face and dry myself with a paper towel. Once again, I stare at my reflection. My eyes are still red and puffy, but at least I don't look like a complete wreck. I sigh and look down at the wet paper towel in my hands, absent-mindedly crinkling it. What am I thinking? I've made my share of mistakes, but who hasn't? And, Mr. Krabs obviously thinks I can take care of the Krusty Krab. Why else would he offer? Still...

I hear a toilet flush and jump. I whip around to see Patrick Star, my best friend in the whole sea, exit one of the stalls and scratch his big, round belly. He yawns, smacks his lips, and finally notices me, giving me a cheerful wave. "Oh, hey, SpongeBob!"

Just the distraction I need. I throw away the now-torn paper towel. "Fall asleep on the toilet again, Pat?"

He arches his back and yawns again. "Nah, I just did. It's not very comfortable." Yet, it's happened three times this week. And, it's only Tuesday. Patrick blinks at me and his grogginess vanishes. "You okay, buddy? You look like you've been crying."

Darn it. Patrick's never been, well, smart, but when something's amiss with his friends, he always picks up on it. "Um, well," I stammer, suddenly embarrassed. "Well, it's-it's silly."

Patrick walks up to me and props one elbow against the sink. He hasn't washed his hands yet, but I don't feel like pointing that out. "Ah, I promise not to laugh."

"Well, you see, Mr. Krabs just asked me if... if I wanted to be the owner of the Krusty Krab." The blank look on his face tells me that he doesn't get it. "You know, own the entire restaurant, make all the important decisions, become the boss."

"So, you'd be like Mr. Krabs, but you'd still be SpongeBob?"

I'm going to assume that means he knows what I'm talking about. "In a nutshell, yes."

Patrick's eyes light up, and he wraps me up in his arms and his still unwashed hands. "Oh, that's awesome, buddy! So, those must just be happy tears, then! Those kind are a-okay."

"Actually, Patrick," I say as I try and ultimately fail to wriggle my way out of his grasp, "I haven't given him an answer yet."

He releases me, frowning. "What do you mean?"

I sigh and run my hands over my face. "Oh, Patrick, I just- I don't know! I don't know anything!" My knees buckle, and I sink to the filthy bathroom floor. Between that and Patrick's soiled hug, I'm going to need a long shower tonight.

"That's okay, pal." Patrick kneels down in front of me. "I don't know anything either."

His sweet smile is all it takes for everything to spill out. "I want this, Pat. Owning a restaurant is my dream. Owning this restaurant is more than I could have ever hoped for! I love my job. I love the Krusty Krab. Being the fry cook was incredible. Being the manager is even better. But, actually running the place? Great Neptune, every day would be the best day ever!"

"Then, what's the problem?"

The breath I take sounds an awful lot like a sob, but I reign in my fresh tears. "Think about it!" Patrick flinches, but I'm not sure if it's from my tone or the mere idea of thinking. "How much structural damage have I caused? How much money have I cost Mr. Krabs? How many times have I…" Almost lost the formula. I can't even bring myself to say it. I groan and wipe furiously at the tears I've stopped trying to hold back. "What if I mess up? I don't wanna mess u-up!"

Every time Mr. Krabs was mad at me, every time I wasted product, every time the formula almost slipped through my own fingers; the memories surge through me. And, that was when I was just a humble fry cook! Granted, I have been more careful since my promotion, but being the manager and being the proprietor are two very different things. If I take Mr. Krabs's offer, the Krusty Krab would be entirely my responsibility. Am I really up for that? Nora's right about me, even if she was just teasing. A restaurant owner should be strong and wise like Eugene Krabs, not meek and squishy like SpongeBob SquarePants.

Once my tears start to subside, Patrick finally speaks up. "SpongeRobert," he never could remember that "Sponge" isn't really part of my name, "let me tell you something." I sniff and wipe my eyes. "I remember the first thing you ever cooked for me. It was a double cheeseburger with extra bacon, and you even made the fries from scratch."

When his eyes glaze over and he starts drooling, I snap my fingers. "Uh, Patrick?"

He shakes his head. "Sorry. Anyway, I took one bite of that burger and thought, 'Man, this guy knows his way around a kitchen.'"

I giggle as nostalgia sets in. He'd spent the rest of the week begging me to cook his meals for him. "That's sweet, Pat, but what does it have to do with anything?"

"You've got a real knack for cooking, SpongeBob, and you've always been so happy in the kitchen. And, this past year of being the manager, you've been happier than I've ever seen you." He chuckles. "And, that's saying something!"

"It has been a blessing," I agree. "I guess I'm just worried I'll let Mr. Krabs down. He's been like a second dad to me, and I don't want to disappoint him."

He waves off my concerns. "Oh, come on. You're SpongeBob SquarePants! You can handle anything. Besides, Mr. Krabs wouldn't have asked you if he didn't trust you, right?"

Maybe he's right. Mr. Krabs always does what he feels is best for the Krusty Krab. If he wants me to take over, then he must have his reasons. Besides, it's not like he'll never be around. I'm sure he'd be willing to help me out when I need it, at least until I land on my feet.

I stand up, my fears now mingling with determination. "I feel better now. Thanks, Patrick." He stands too, and I wrap my arms tightly around him, burying my face in his warm, familiar flab. "You always know what to say."

He returns my embrace and pats my back. He still hasn't washed his hands, but I don't really care anymore. "Any time, pal. Any time." He pulls back suddenly. "Oh, yeah. I forgot I have to use the bathroom."

I suppress a laugh as he walks back to the same stall he came out of. "Don't fall asleep this time."

"SpongeBob, you don't give me enough credit," he says and closes the door. I do laugh when I hear snoring. Good ol' Patrick; smart when he needs to be, but otherwise forget it. I'll check on him before I leave so he doesn't get locked in. Again.

A sense of resolve fills me as I open the bathroom door, only for Lily to almost fall on top of me. I press my lips together, fighting even more laughter as she staggers upright and blushes.

She fakes a smile and makes a show of looking around the bathroom. "What? This isn't the women's room!" Then, she bolts into the real women's room, though I highly doubt she needed it.

Nora's head pokes out of the kitchen. "Don't mind me. Just wanted to see if she'd been caught yet."

As her head disappears, I look around the dining room. The heavy glass windows are perpetually murky. The tables always have gum stuck underneath. Twenty-three floor boards are creaky. Eight chairs are wobbly. I inhale, and the stench of grease fills my nostrils.

My home away from home.

Lily scurries out of the bathroom and informs me that she was "definitely peeing. Definitely." I hear Nora laughing at her, and Lily tells her to shut up.

I sigh, content. Being surrounded by grease and friends just feels so...right.

Mr. Krabs steps out of his office, and I walk up to him on wobbly legs. He looks at me expectantly, as if already knows what I'm about to say. "Yes, SpongeBob?"

My heart is pounding, my legs feel like pudding, my stomach's doing the cha-cha, but it's not just nerves. I'm excited, eager to prove to Mr. Krabs- No, to myself that I can do this.

I take in a deep breath, straighten my posture, and give him the biggest salute I can. "I'm ready!"