Yuletide Joy
rating: +94+x

"Mommy, we're next, we're next!" Elizabeth bounced up and down on the balls of her feet, her rosy cheeks lit up in a bright smile. She looked up to see her mother's face looking down at her, her lips pulled tight into a thin grin. Her mother soon turned back to the man wearing glasses standing at the head of the line.

"Is… is this really safe?" Valerie asked quietly to the tired-eyed Ethics Committee member standing in front of her. He passed his eyes quickly down the long line of parents standing hand-in-hand with their children.

He scrunched his nose in annoyance. "Well, I mean, she's not gonna die."

"Of course she's not—" Valerie felt her face redden slightly, but bit her tongue. "I mean, he won't hurt her?"

"Hasn't hurt anyone since, y'know, September." He replied offhand.

"And you really think that makes it safe enough to let our kids around?" Her tense whisper was slightly louder than she had intended, drawing a curious tug on her hand from Elizabeth. She looked back down with another forced smile.

"Is what safe, mommy?"

With a small sigh, and wanting to avoid an unnecessary panic, Jeremiah Cimmerian bent down and put on a perfectly clinical smile for the young girl. "Oh, don't worry, everything is safe. Your mom is just being cautious." He stood and turned his gaze to Valerie, whispering "Look he's a lot less dangerous than I am if you throw my line into chaos, got it?"

Valerie squinted scornfully at the burned man's contemptuous gaze, but before she could think of a reply, one of Santa's helpers called out.


Elizabeth snatched her hand away and ran forwards, past the slightly confused child coming from sitting on Santa's lap. She paused just for a moment to ask the boy, "Is he as weird as he looks?"

"Weirder," the starry-eyed boy confirmed.

Elizabeth couldn't contain a squeal of elation as she ran. She finally turned the corner around Santa's village decoration and got a good look at him. She marveled at his piercing eyes and bony white mask, paying little attention to the red cap and fake beard he had been outfitted with.

"What do you desire for this Yuletide celebration, small child?" The strange doctor asked, lifting Elizabeth to sit on his lap.

"Are you for real?" the girl asked, still enthralled by his porcelain visage. She tried, vulgarly, to reach out and touch it. He kept his back stiff, his face upright, out of her reach.

"Yes, I am very much real." He confirmed. "It is customary, I am told, for children to tell Father Christmas what gifts they desire." He paused, cleared his throat. "If you have behaved well throughout the year, you are to be rewarded. And if you have misbehaved, the demon Krampus will come and steal you away from your parents to whip you with a bundle of birch branches."

"But I have been good, I have!" Elizabeth wailed in protest.

"Very well, then tell me of your worldly desires."

Valerie watched, tensely, as her daughter rattled off the list of toys she'd been begging for for weeks. Once she was satisfied she knew how the next 3 minutes would be going down, she turned again to the official in charge of the line.

"Did you guys really have to tell him to say all that weird stuff? Couldn't you have given him the old 'ho ho ho, merry Christmas' run down?" She needed to scold something right now, and Jeremiah found himself the victim of her wrath again.

"We did. I've got no idea where he's getting this nonsense from, but, hey the kids have been loving it."

"They're being traumatized." She huffed.

"Same difference." He decided quietly.

"Besides, what is the point of introducing the kids to the anomalies like this? Doesn't it violate the whole "contain" bit of our mission statement?

"Look, with the way things are now, there's a non-zero chance that the good doctor over there might operate on you, or her, or me in the future. Don't worry," he added, seeing her pale. "Not his normal method. We convinced him to perform more useful surgery since he says he can't ply his cure anymore."

"Very well, Elizabeth. I have heard the account of your desires. When I return to my lair, I shall consult my list. If I find you to have been a well behaved child this year, you shall receive gifts."

"Thank you, Santa!" She wrapped her arms around his stomach in a brief, tight hug. "I love you, Santa!" As quickly as it had come, her hug departed and she hopped down from his lap.

He sat there for a long moment, watching the girl go, at a loss for words. He had never, in the entirety of his life, been hugged.

When Jeremiah turned to the sound of the helper calling for the next child, he could swear he saw the plague doctor wiping something from its eye.

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