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Christmas with the Abends

Chapter Text

Remi held tightly to his father's hands as he was escorted out onto the ice. "D-Daddy, I'm scared." He whimpered, knees shaking as he took very small steps, trembling both from fear and from trying to keep his balance in his skates.

Richter held his son's hands firmly, backing steadily onto the ice. "It's alright. Daddy's got you." He smiled warmly. "Daddy's not going to let you fall." Remi was still sniveling but he nodded, trusting Richter's words.

Echter and Archer were already racing around the rink while Aria was practicing some figure skating with Aqua near the center. Aster was resting a moment, having fallen one too many times trying to do tricks and Emil was standing beside Richter, smiling encouragingly at Remi as Richter guided him. "I promise, you're going to love skating once you get the hang of it." Emil beamed, backing up a little to give his partner and child a bit more room on the ice.

It had taken a few days of sitting off to the side, but Remi had finally decided that today was the day he was going to learn to skate. As his dads always said "courage is the magic that turns dreams into reality". He did his best to put on a brave face and smile at Emil as he tottered out onto the frozen pond, but inside he was positively frightened. He had absolutely no idea how to skate, even though he'd seen his brothers do it all week, and even people that knew how to skate were prone to falling. He could barely keep himself standing as it was, the ice was much more slippery than it appeared. He could only imagine losing his balance in the middle of the pond and not being able to get back up and off the ice. That thought terrified him. But he trusted his father, and he wanted to do this. He wanted to learn to skate with his brothers and sister.

"Alright, now do you remember what we practiced?" Richter asked, and Remi nodded. The little blond put one foot perpendicular to the other, pushing forward. He was wobbly, but he stayed upright and went straight. "That's right. You're doing great." Richter praised him, skating backwards. Remi continued. Right foot, left foot, right foot, left, right... "That's it. You're getting it." Right, left, right, left, Remi steadily got less wobbly as he went. "Alright, you're going well! Look up at daddy." Richter instructed. Remi didn't want to take his eyes off his feet, almost sure they would slip out from beneath him if he did. "Come on, son, You're going to have to look up to see where you're going when you skate, right?" Richter squeezed the boy's hands. "Come on, you can do it."

Remi nodded and slowly looked up. Right foot, left foot, right, left, right... He kept going, getting more and more surefooted with each step. "That's it, you've got it!" Richter cheered, loosening his grip. Remi momentarily panicked, gripping Richter's hands tightly.

"D-don't let go, daddy!"

"Relax, relax. I'm not going to let you go yet, I promise." Richter reassured the blond. "But you're doing really well! I think you could skate all by yourself if you wanted to." The redhead grinned. "You let go when you feel ready, okay?"

Remi nodded, gulping nervously. He never wanted to let go, but he knew he'd have to at some point. He couldn't just hang onto daddy forever; not if he wanted to skate with his brothers anyway. He kept moving forward, keeping his head up, slowly loosening his grip with each step until finally... he let go.

"That's it! You're doing it! You're skating, Remi! You're skating all by yourself!" Richter beamed as he pulled away, letting his son continue past him. Emil applauded, though his claps were softened a bit by the gloves he was wearing. Aster cheered from off to the side and Aqua echoed Emil's applause.

Remi kept on going, laughing a bit as his growing confidence melted away his fears. Skating wasn't so hard after all! "I'm skating, I'm skating!" He giggled, turning as he reached the edge of the rink and continuing down the other side. Echter skated up alongside his fraternal twin, giving the blond a high-five.

"I told ya you could do it!" The redhead smiled, skating with Remi until Archer caught up on another lap around the rink. Archer proposed a game of tag, to which Echter readily agreed and, after some coaxing, Remi did as well.

Richter and Emil smiled, watching their sons play, skating slowly around on the ice and talking idly. "Don't go too fast, alright?" Richter warned when Archer whizzed past, trying to avoid Echter who was currently It.

"We won't, Dad." Archer laughed, dodging between Aria and Aqua. Richter shook his head. That boy was always a bit too rambunctious for his own good.

It wasn't long before Remi was tagged, being a slower, and thus easier, target, and Echter and Archer sped off in opposite directions. Remi tried for a while, but his brothers were simply too fast for him... at least, they were if he went at his usual pace.  Remi grew frustrated as his siblings skated circles around him and he gritted his teeth, resolving to catch one of them if it was the last thing he did! He gradually picked up speed, narrowly missing Echter as he rounded a turn, nearly catching Archer twice as the show-off taunted him, skating toward him instead of away from him, then turning at the last second. Remi kept trying, not realizing how fast he was going until he tried to make a sharp turn at the edge of the rink. "Tried" being the operative word. He had too much momentum built up to stop, so he leaned, trying to complete the turn. He skidded, then slipped, and, ultimately, he fell, yelping as he landed hard on the ice.

"Remi!" Richter yelled, skidding to a halt and turning toward his son. The boy was resting on his hip (which he'd fallen on) supporting himself on his arms, visibly shaking, trying to stand up again. "Remi, hang on! I'm coming!" Richter sped over, Emil right behind him. The two brothers looked at each other guiltily before slowly approaching.

"Remi! Are you alright?" Richter asked in a panic, kneeling beside the blond. Remi didn't answer, though he was sobbing quietly.

"W-we're sorry, Dad." Echter piped up, standing between his father and Archer as they came to check on their brother. "It's our fault he fell. We were going to fast for him. Tag... wasn't a very good idea."

"I should say it wasn't!" Richter snapped, before taking a deep breath, knowing misdirected anger was not the right way to deal with this. "I told you boys to be careful, didn't I?" He asked in a softer tone, instructing Remi to sit so that he could check to make sure he hadn't broken or dislocated anything. When it was clear that it was no more than a bruise, Richter helped Remi to his feet. The blond was still crying.

Emil put his hands comfortingly on Remi's shoulders. "Come on. Let's go back to the house, I'll make us some hot choc--"

"No!" Remi blurted, to everyone's surprise. "I... I wanna keep skating!"

Richter blinked in astonishment. "Are you sure?"

"Y-yeah! I'm sure." Remi nodded, wiping the tears from his eyes. "S-see? I'm okay!" He gave a weak smile.

Richter smiled softly. "Alright. If you're sure." He spread his arms, giving Remi a warm hug. "That's my tough little boy..." he whispered finishing the hug with a pat on the back. "Just remember, be careful, and don't go too fast, okay?" He sneered at Echter and Archer.

"Okay." The two boys nodded and agreed, though Echter did so with a bit more sincerity than Archer.

"Alright then, have fun." Richter ruffled the two boy's heads before standing and letting them return to their fun.

"By the way..." Remi said, moving closer to his brothers... "Tag! You're it!" He tapped Archer on the shoulder and darted away laughing.

"Hey! No fair! We were in a time-out!" Archer laughed, trying, and failing, to tag Echter before he, too, sped away across the ice.

*~*~*~*~*

The game continued on for a while, and Remi got better at keeping up with his brothers, learning to control himself better at their speed. Eventually, Aria joined her brothers in their game, and Aster got back on the ice, joining in as well. After all, Richter didn't refer to him as his 'biggest child' for nothing. Aster soon recruited Richter, tagging him with a slap on the ass, which was more of the motivation for Richter to chase him than actually being It. A while later, Archer tagged Emil in, and Emil tagged Aqua in until they were all playing tag together. Soon, Remi found an even better way to avoid being tagged. He grabbed on to his father's coattails and just rode along behind him. Echter, never one to miss out on something his twin was doing, grabbed on to his brother's waist and tagged along for the ride. Soon, Archer had joined, then Aria. The other adults laughed at their mate, dragging the children across the ice.

"You're like an adorable train!" Aqua giggled, borrowing Aster's camera to snap a picture.

Richter rolled his eyes but did not protest the photography. "Oh my Goddess, this should be our Christmas card this year!" Aster cackled, looking over the picture when Aqua handed back the camera.

"Aster, we already s-sent out the Christmas cards this year." Emil reminded the other blond, who should have known better since he had helped lick all the stamps for the cards.

"Send them again!" Aster bellowed, giving Emil the "crazy eyes" that always accompanied Aster's more mischievous ideas. "And put in a caption like 'Here we see the elusive Abend guiding its brood south for the winter. A rare and beautiful sight.'" Aster went on to cackle to himself, while Emil adamantly refused to make an entire new set of cards to send out this year.

"We can send those next year, okay?" Emil tried to compromise.

"No! The kids'll look different by then! It's gotta be this year!" Aster continued his stubborn insistence before Richter chimed in.

"Didn't we have an agreement that you could take my picture on the condition that you never send it to anyone without my express permission?"

Aster froze mid-rant and grimaced. "So... is that a no on the Christmas cards?"

"For now, yes. Though I reserve my right to change my mind later." Richter smirked, taking another lap around the rink with the kids in tow.

"You're no fun..." Aster stuck out his tongue at the other before tucking his camera back in his pocket, skating after his partner and their 'brood'.

*~*~*~*~*

The sun was hanging low in the sky, painting the horizon with an orange glow reflected in the ice. The adults had long grown weary of skating and had gone in to prepare dinner and do other chores. Archer and Aria had moved on and were currently building an army of snowmen. Echter stayed with his brother on the ice, casually following his endless circling. He was happy that Remi had finally mustered the courage to get on the ice. "Just think, now you can skate with us whenever you want!"

Remi nodded, grinning widely. "Yeah!"

"Kiiiiiiiids! Come on inside! Dinner's ready!" Emil called from the porch of their home. Archer and Aria were off like a shot, running eagerly to the house to have their supper. Echter made his way to the edge of the ice, plopping down on their nearby log bench and removing his skates. Remi just kept on going.

"Hey. Aren't you coming?" Echter asked, stepping into his boots and slinging his skates over his shoulder.

"In a bit." Remi nodded, starting another lap around the ice. "I just want to skate a bit more." Echter shrugged and walked up to the house after his brother and sister, telling his dads of Remi's intentions on his way into the house.

Shortly after, Richter made his way down the hill to the ice. "Come on, kiddo. Your dinner is getting cold."

"Aww! Five more minutes?!" Remi pleaded.

"We already gave you ten more minutes." Richter shook his head. "Come on. It's going to be dark soon anyway, and you know you're not allowed to be outside after dark unsupervised."

"Well... then supervise me!" Remi grinned mischievously moving toward the center of the rink when he noticed his dad hadn't brought skates.

"Oh, nonononono." Richter shook his head. "I'm not playing this game. We're not negotiating here. Don't think you're safe just because you're on ice, young man. If I have to, I'll walk right out there and get you; don't think that I won't!" Richter folded his arms. Honestly, Aster was putting all sorts of bad ideas in the kids' heads; that was exactly the kind of reply the blond would give, and he didn't want his son picking up on that habit. Richter was the only adult in the family that commanded any sort of respect from the kids. Emil caved in far too easily, and the kids knew they could get away with more with him; Aster was more of a child than an adult himself and was far too eager to join in on the children's shenanigans; Aqua was a huge softie and always indulged the children, her affection for Richter unfortunately carrying over to her relationship with the kids. Sure, with the right kind of "manipulation" Richter was just as bad as the others, but thus far, the kids didn't know how to press all his buttons, and he wanted to keep it that way. So he had to remain firm, even with the puppy-dog eyes Remi was giving him. After all, if he wasn't consistent, his words would not wield the same power; they would turn to empty threats and the kids would just walk all over him.

Remi did his best to get his father to bend to his desires, but to no avail. Richter just stood there, tapping his foot irately. "Well, what's it going to be? Are you going to come inside with me, or do I have to come and get you?" Richter raised his eyebrows, pointing at the snow beside him in a stern beckoning gesture. Remi knew he was beat and let out a sigh of resignation. "Alright daddy. I'm coming." He sadly skated to the edge of the rink and walked over to the log, easing his skates off.

"That's my boy." Richter patted him on the shoulder, setting his boots out for him. "You don't have to look so sad, though. We can go skating again tomorrow. It's not like the ice is going anywhere."

"I know... I was just... having fun, I didn't want to stop."

"All by yourself?" Richter frowned. "Wouldn't you have more fun with your brothers and sister?"

"Well, yeah, but... just... being able to skate now..." Remi blushed, slipping his into his boots.

"Ah. I see..." Richter nodded. "You want to be able to revel in the feeling of finally being able to do something that scared you before. I understand. It is a good feeling, but I promise, it'll feel just as good tomorrow." He stood, turning toward the house. "But I think we've all done enough skating for one day. Time to head back inside where it's warm."

Remi nodded, picking up his skates and starting after his father. He took a wobbly step, then another. His legs felt... weird... "D-daddy? Daddy, my-- ah!" Remi stumbled, his knees buckling as he collapsed into the snow.

"Remi! Are you okay?" Richter turned back, bending down to check on the boy.

"I... I think so... but I... I can't walk right, daddy. My legs feel funny..."

Richter understood immediately. "You were skating non-stop the whole time, huh?" Remi nodded. "What you're feeling is normal. Your legs are tired, that's all. It takes a lot of energy and uses a lot of different muscles to balance on skates. You were just playing a bit too hard. Now that your muscles are relaxing, you might feel a little achy, but it should go away by tomorrow. Probably sooner." He smiled. "Want me to carry you?"

"Uh.... um... o-okay..." Remi blushed. He almost didn't want to be carried. His brothers would no doubt tease him. He was a big boy now, he should be able to at least walk by himself. But exhaustion was beginning to set in and he didn't know if he even had the strength to stand up anymore. Richter scooped the boy up in his arms, carrying him the rest of the way.

"H-hey, daddy?"

"Yes, son?"

"Th-thank you... for teaching me how to skate today." Remi's cheeks turned pink, the flush caused by more than just the cold.

Richter smiled back in response. "No problem, kiddo. It's what I'm here for."

Chapter Text

Emil had spent the day cleaning and decorating the house. He wasn't alone, of course. Richter had helped to get things down from the attic, Aqua had helped with the cleaning, Aster had helped with un-boxing, and the kids were all busy making their own decorations.

Emil had just finished putting the final touches on the mantle display when Aster came bounding down the stairs, cackling in a way that didn't bode well for anyone. "Check out what I found!" He smirked, hands on his hips, showing off a silver belt buckle.

"Uh... that's... ah.... n-nice?" Emil simpered, wondering what was so special about this belt that it warranted Aster's "crazy eyes".

"I know, right?!" Aster beamed.

"It's gaudy." Richter wrinkled his nose, carrying a box of decorations past the blond. "Where did you even find that thing?"

"I bought it."

"I thought you said you found it."

"I did... at the store. Then I bought it."

"Then what was it doing upstairs?" Richter cocked an eyebrow, knowing full well that's where Aster had just come from.

"Forgot I bought it, then I found it again!" Aster grinned.

"Well, take it back and return it. It looks hideous on you." Richter grimaced. Aster was a nutbar, but he wasn't usually so crazy that he'd buy something that ugly.

"Ah, but Ric! You haven't even seen the best part, yet!" Aster lilted, taking something from his pocket. "Tada! Mistletoe!" He grinned fiendishly, planting a sprig of pointed leaves with red berries on a little hook hidden in the design on the buckle.

Richter gave Aster one of his (well warranted) "what the fuck?!" looks. "Aster... that's holly."

"Hehehe! Yep! It is! I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention!" Aster removed the plant, tossing it (rather decoratively, actually) into a centerpiece on the living room table. He replaced the holly with a sprig of rounded teardrop leaves with white berries. "This is mistletoe!" Aster swayed his hips, making the sprig rustle a bit against his belt. "Just like you to be smart enough to know the difference."

"Of course I know the difference." Richter rolled his eyes. "Honestly, what are you even doing? What kind of ridiculous, impractical belt is that, anyway?"

"Duh! It's a mistletoe belt buckle, silly!" Aster grinned mischievously.

"Yeah, and I don't get why you'd need one."

"Isn't it obvious, you goober?!" Aster pinched the redhead's cheek.  "Don't you know it's tradition to kiss someone under the mistletoe?!"

"Of course I know the tradition, but it does no good for you to hang the mistletoe there. You can't possibly kiss someone under-- oh..." Richter stopped mid-tirade when he came to a realization. "Under the mistletoe." That brat's making a double entendre.  "Aster, you're disgusting..."

Aster's grinned widened and he cackled once more, knowing that Richter had finally understood the joke. "Come on, Ric! 'Tis the season!" He thrust his hips in Richter's direction, making the older male face-palm.

"Aster, we have children..."

"Yeah, and how did they get here, Ric? Magic?" Aster teased.

"Well certainly not like... that!" Richter gestured to the blond's crotch. "Besides, you know what I meant!" Richter's cheeks reddened, growing flustered at his partner's persistent "offer".

Aster laughed. "Yeah, I know what you meant. The kids don't have to see you 'kiss' me, though."

Richter sighed, and grumbled back (with no small amount of exasperation), "Fine, get over here. We'll do it quick..."

Aster squealed with delight, trotting over, about to tug down his pants.

"Leave them, I'll do it myself." Richter swatted the boy's hands away. "Close your eyes."

Aster did as he was told, heart thumping in his chest, his body abuzz with excitement. The redhead pulled down his pants, leaving the underwear intact. Unusual, but considering it was going to be a quickie in the living room he thought it was appropriate. Aster's hands balled into fists in apprehension of what was to come. And then...

*Smeck* The sound of a wet, lip-smacking kiss broke the silence and Aster looked down in disappointment as Richter left a hot wet kiss on... his knee.

"R-Richter! Th-that's not fair! You have to--!"

"Kiss you under the mistletoe, right?" Richter smirked. "I did. There's no rule that said I had to kiss you immediately under the mistletoe. If that was a rule, people would have to stand on stools and kiss each other on the tops of their heads. All the belt-buckle trick established was that your upper half was off limits." The half-elf chuckled. "Everything from the waist down was fair game."

Aster gritted his teeth but soon broke into a laugh, too amused to stay frustrated. "Drat! Stupid loophole!" Aster pulled up his pants again, removing the mistletoe and swatting Richter's face with it. "You're going to pay for that, just you wait!" Aster bounded back upstairs.

"Where are you going?" Richter called after the blond.

"Research!" Aster yelled back. "I gotta figure out a way to close that bloody loophole!"

Richter shook his head but could not suppress a smile.

*~*~*~*~*

Hours later, when the table was being set, just before dinner was served, Aster dejectedly came back downstairs. He had come no closer to solving his little loophole dilemma. "You're right, Richter. Rules just say 'under the mistletoe'. Nothing about how far under..."

"Told you." Richter said haughtily, leaning in the doorway . "Now then... Emil, come here for a moment..."

"Hmm? Oh, uh, sure." Emil shrugged, placing the last dish and walking over to the redhead.

"Now, watch carefully Aster. This is how you properly use mistletoe." Richter pulled a sprig from his pocket, hanging it on a small nail over the doorway, quickly pulling Emil into an embrace and kissing him passionately. Emil was caught quite by surprise, but he couldn't really complain. Aster stood stunned, red-faced and jealous as Richter proceeded to open-mouth kiss his lookalike right there in front of him.

Aqua, on the other hand, twisted in her seat, practically swooning. "Ooooh! How romantic!" The boys were practically puking. Kissing to them was still a "gross, mushy, lovey-dovey thing" between adults. Of course, it didn't help that they were using tongue... Aria, taking after her mother, was floating on air (quite literally, as her Centurion powers were developed enough to allow her levitation) as she watched her father expressing his passion.

Finally, when Richter was satisfied, he broke the kiss, escorting the blushing Emil back to his seat.

"Me next! Me next!" Aqua cried, darting over to the doorway and waiting impatiently under the mistletoe. Richter chuckled and returned to the doorway.

"You could have just stayed at the table." He snickered, leaning in to give her what she came for. She was quite a bit more eager than Emil had been (though he had taken Emil a bit by surprise) so the kiss was a bit more intense. The children's reactions remained the same while Emil blushed, happy to see Richter and Aqua having their bit of fun. Aster, on the other hand, wasn't going to stand for this...

When Aqua had finished and floated almost drunkenly back to her seat, Aster took her place. "And one for me?"

Richter stuck up his nose with a taunting grin. "Nope! You already had yours today!" Richter walked back to his seat. "If I kiss you again, I have to kiss everyone else again, and that won't do at all!"

"But you kissed them on the lips!" Aster protested.

"That's because they weren't naughty about where they hung the mistletoe." Richter shrugged. "It's not my fault that you limited your 'kiss-zone'."

The blond sputtered for a moment before walking to the table, pulling out his chair and plopping down in it with an indignant huff.  He spent most of dinner pouting and returned immediately to their bedroom once he had finished eating.

*~*~*~*~*

Later that evening, there was a knock at the door. "Aster. It's me. Can I come in?"

Aster gave an unenthused "Meh." which gave Richter the freedom to do as he wanted.

"Hey there, grumpy." Richter chuckled. walking up and sitting on the edge of the bed where Aster was lazing about. Aster blew a raspberry in response. "Oh, stop that, you ." Richter tickled Aster's ribs a bit, making the blond laugh involuntarily. "Come on, you were kind of asking for it with that little belt-buckle stunt you pulled this afternoon."

"I was just being silly!" Aster grumbled, making a pouty face.

"Aster, we both know you were doing it as more than just a joke." Richter scolded. He sighed, laying down beside his mate. "Look, it's not that I didn't appreciate the humor or the offer, Aster, but... we're parents now. We have young, impressionable children. Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of having spontaneous sex whenever we feel like it. But..." Richter walked his fingers across the blankets and over the waistband of Aster's pants. "The kids are in bed... Emil and Aqua are watching one of those dull Christmas Rom/Com B-Movies on TV... So... if you want to... I'll give you that special 'kiss' you were after earlier."

Aster's eyes widened and he turned toward Richter with a smile. "Really? You mean it?"

"Yeah, of course." Richter nodded. "But... it's not Christmas just yet so... this isn't a 'present'." He licked his lips hungrily. "You'll need to return the favor." He smiled, waving a sprig of mistletoe over his crotch.

Aster had a sudden epiphany. That's the loophole! You have to be lying down for that to work! He grinned evilly and nodded. "Alright, Ric. Stand up. I'll take care of you first."

"R-really?" Richter blinked in surprise.

"Yeah. Really." Aster batted his eyelashes. Richter did as he was told and stood. They both undressed and Aster knelt, ready to get things started. "Close your eyes." He laughed.

Richter rolled his eyes but did so.  Aster bent down, mouth gaping and...

*Spop* He planted a suckling kiss right on Richter's kneecap.

Richter snorted, convulsing with laughter as he collapsed onto the bed.

"Now we're even." Aster smirked, climbing onto the bed after him. 

Chapter Text

"Daddy! Hurry or you're going to miss it!" Archer screamed, hopping up and down in front of the TV.

"I'm coming, I'm coming. Geez, can't a guy pee in peace?" Richter grumbled rinsing the soap off his hands and toweling them dry before heading out to the living room. "You know it's a DVD, right? If I miss anything we could rewind it." Richter snorted, plopping down on the couch.

"Yeah, I know. I just wanted you to hurry up!" Archer giggled. "We had it paused for a full five minutes waiting for you!"

Richter rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, five minutes is a long time for you, I know..." He popped a soda that Aster handed to him, taking a handful of popcorn from the adults' communal bucket, and leaned back. "Well, I'm here now, I'm all set, so start it up."

Archer smiled and pressed play, hunkering down on the floor under a comforter with all his siblings to watch.  Last time it had been "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which Emil had instantly identified with. Aster had then suggested finding Christmas specials that each of them could relate to, and so he had picked this one "especially for Richter." Richter had no idea what to expect, and honestly, he wasn't getting his hopes up. Aster had probably picked something ridiculous just to pull his chain.

"Inside a snowflake, like the one on your sleeve, there happened a story you must see to believe." Richter rolled his eyes, hearing the narration.

"This whole thing better not be in verse." Richter whispered to Aster, who immediately joined the kids in shushing him.

Richter shook his head but withheld his comments, watching as the opening credits played. The narration continued (in verse, much to Richter's chagrin) and he was happy when some dialogue finally took its place. Before long, it came time for the titular character's appearance...

The children shrieked when the false Grinch appeared, roaring through the door to scare off the intruding Who teens. Serves them right. Richter thought to himself, They were trespassing.

The kids all moaned with disgust as the Grinch picked through rotting vegetables, voicing his disdain for the Whos as he bit into a raw onion. Aster cackled as the Grinch rubbed the remainder on his armpits. Onion deodorant. Well, it probably does smell better than he does.

The children giggled at the Grinch's antics in the streets of Whoville, especially the Grinch's reaction to the town screaming his name. It was a cheap, foreseeable joke for Richter, but it caused him to smile nonetheless.  His first laugh was evoked by the Grinch "reorganizing" the mailboxes at the post office, flinging jury duty notices, pink slips, blackmail (which Richter laughed the hardest at) and an eviction notice into random boxes. How would that blackmail even work? How can you blackmail a random person you don't even know?

Just about everyone laughed when the Grinch let a high pitched scream, mimicking Cindy Lou Who in the mail room.  The kids shrank back a bit, much like Cindy, at the menacing tone the Grinch introduced himself with. Despite the suspense of the scene, with Cindy struggling to get out of the funnel, Aster couldn't help but laugh as the sorting machine crushed the word "fragile" onto a package.  Mixed laughter arose with each of the Grinch's sarcastic remarks.

"Aster, how is this movie meant for me?" Richter whispered while the Grinch packaged Cindy.

"Isn't it obvious?! The Grinch is like a disgusting version of you!" Aster snickered, and Richter gave an indignant huff. He kept his protests to himself, knowing more talking would prompt another shushing from the kids.

Soon, the scene changed to Betty Lou Who, Cindy’s Mom, decorating the house. Richter smirked at her unorthodox source of lights, including a chandelier and the bulb from the fridge.  He was even more amused by the gismo Martha May Whovier (the obligatory love-interest for the romantic subplot) used to hang her lights.

"Dang. Where's that gadget when I need to hang the lights?" Emil simpered, munching on a handful of popcorn as the machine-gun-like doodad fired the lights onto the eaves of the house.

"You realize the lights would break if you did that, right?" Richter smiled.

"You don't know that." Aster giggled. "I'll invent one for you next Christmas, okay, Emil?" Richter shook his head with a smile. Aster always said he’d invent Useful Things A, B, and C, but only ever managed to invent Destructive Thing X, Useless Thing Y, and Absurd Thing Z.

The Grinch returned to the dump on Mount Crumpit, leading to one of Aster's favorite jokes. A bag of hazardous waste came down the chute after the Grinch, and he let a disgusted moan. "What is that stench? It's fantastic!" He instructed the dog to take a bag, vowing to come back for the rest later.

Next came a sing-along portion. Cindy was puzzling out her feelings about Christmas, wondering why everything felt so different. Aster, of course, sang every word, and the kids did their best, considering this was their first time ever seeing the movie.

The scene changed back to the Grinch, revealing his use for the hazardous waste as ammunition to fire at a poster of the Whoville mayor, May Who. Richter couldn't help but laugh at the Grinch's home routine. The kids were a mix of disgusted groans and giggles when the Grinch removed his socks and they crawled across the floor. Everyone laughed as the Grinch started a conversation with his echo, especially when the echo spoke on its own, responding to the Grinch's "I'm an idiot!" with "You're an idiot!"

"That's my favorite line!" Aster cackled.

Next Cindy Lou was interviewing the townspeople about the Grinch. Richter burst out laughing when they explained where babies came from; a basket with an umbrella floated down onto a porch as a man took out the empty milk bottle. "Hey, Honey, look! Our baby's here! ...He looks just like your boss." Aster laughed, too, as the Grinch's umbrella-basket descended, colliding with another basket, the baby Grinch cackling evilly.

Aqua, Emil, and Aster all, cooed lovingly at the first clear shot of the baby Grinch. "Oh my gosh, he's adorable!"

Richter grimaced. "You think that's adorable?" The Grinch was still hairy, wrinkly, green, and grumpy-looking; he just had disturbingly big eyes now. The visage was far from cute, as far as Richter was concerned.

The three enamored adults turned to him like he was crazy. "Yeah, don't you?" Richter shrugged, refusing to answer, not wanting to start anything. The Grinch was "cute" in the same way those cross-eyed, droopy-tongued, flat-faced dogs with under-bites were "cute". Ugly cute. Maybe a little overlap into Gonk territory. That was the only way he could put it. It was rather amusing watching him bite into a Santa plate, but that was about all he had to say about the baby Grinch.

Martha's oddly specific denial about having a crush on the Grinch made the adults smile and the kids giggle, but for two completely different reasons. Aster grinned far too familiarly watching the Grinch destroy things to make Martha’s Christmas present.

Emil and Aqua both got a bit teary-eyed when the Grinch left Whoville and fled to Mount Crumpit because of his classmates’ teasing.  The mood was soon lightened when the flashbacks ended and the current Grinch used a mallet as a "sedative."  Their laughter increased when Betty Lou "found" a traffic light to use in her display.

"That's the kind of idea you'd get." Richter nodded in Aster's direction.

"I would never steal traffic lights!" Aster gasped in mock offense. "Just the stop signs!" Richter responded by giving the blond a soft thump on the head, trying and failing to hide his smile.

The kids seemed genuinely surprised when Cindy nominated the Grinch to be Holiday Cheermeister, though Richter kind of saw it coming. How else were they going to keep this movie going, right?

Richter snickered at the Grinch's attempts to drown out the Whos’ singing, and the rest of the family joined when the Grinch resorted to placing his head between the crashing cymbals of a giant wind-up monkey. The laughter continued at the Grinch's attempts to scare Cindy Lou, each one more ridiculous and desperate than the last.

Equally desperate were Cindy's attempts to invite the Grinch to be Cheermeister. The only thing that "convinced" him was the prospect of receiving an award (along with the idea of rubbing his victory in the losers' faces).

The Grinch's list of reasons for not attending was humorous to the kids, but there was a haunting note of reality in it for the adults. Still, that bit of dark humor was lightened when the Grinch pulled a table cloth off his table, going back to knock everything off when his violent yank didn't disturb anything. Ultimately the dog Max got him to go by… well… opening a trap door beneath him. "Sometimes it feels like that's what I have to go through to get you out of the house, Ric." Aster smiled.

The blond sniggered when the Grinch landed face-first in Martha's bosom, while Aqua idly wondered when Richter would do that to her. Richter smirked at the "family reunion" when the Grinch's caretakers arrived and the hairy green grouch's first response was "Are you two still living?!"

Archer paused the video a moment, a question tickling the back of his mind. "Dad. Are those two women like you and Daddy?" He looked back at Richter.

Richter cocked an eyebrow. "You mean are they together romantically?" Richter scratched his chin, shrugging after a moment. "I suppose it's possible. Nothing in the movie explicitly said so yet, so... I honestly have no idea."

"Hm. Well, why not, then, right?" He pressed play and continued the movie. The next few scenes were filled with laughter at each tradition the Grinch was forced to participate in, including dancing, sack-racing, and judging all the Whos’ Christmas treats.

"I take it back, Richter..." Aster mumbled. "You can't possibly be the Grinch. You could eat way more than that."

"True. And I'd probably enjoy it more, too." Richter nodded. "Still, Grinch or not, you'd be the Who submitting the 'not-pudding' in the pudding contest." Aster cackled, agreeing.

"You would probably cheat in the sack-race, though." Aster chuckled, taking a handful of popcorn from their communal bucket.

"Would not." Richter scowled.

"Cutting a hole in the bottom of your sack counts as cheating, Richter."

"No, it counts as calculation and ingenuity. Besides, you’d do it, too."

"Touché."

"Also you'd gloat more."

"Nuh-uh, you would."

"You both win the gloating contest, now shush!" Emil hushed them, nudging them and gesturing for them to watch the movie.

Richter grimaced when the mayor gave the Grinch a Seuss-ified version of an electric razor (or perhaps they were clippers) as a "present". There was no doubt they were meant as a cruel joke. It only added insult to injury when the mayor then proposed to Martha, trying to win her over with an extravagant ring and a new car, even going so far as to pressure her by giving her a time limit. All this in front of the entire town. Richter could only grit his teeth, knowing that such sleazy, underhanded people actually existed.

Ah, but the Grinch... The Grinch remedied that problem effectively, noisily scratching a deep line in the car with a single green fingernail. He proceeded to rant about the absurdity in the consumerist culture of Christmas. He ranted about how Christmas was just one big buying contest, how it was all just a show of wealth, greed, and empty gestures. The gifts were all useless, pointless, and vain. And each year their gifts ended up in the garbage. Garbage he knew all too well, given that the dump was his back yard. Richter couldn't help but agree. Christmas was so commercialized that it really had become more about the buying and less about family, togetherness, and love...

He didn't have long to dwell on it before the Grinch made a crack about mistletoe, using it as an indirect way of telling people to kiss his ass. "Is that what you meant about Dad being 'naughty' with the mistletoe?" Archer asked, turning back as he addressed Richter about the events of a prior evening.

"Yes." Richter responded curtly, thankful that he could hide the true nature of Aster's "naughtiness" behind this little facade. Emil couldn't help giggling a bit, knowing the truth...

The Grinch then shaved the mayor's head with his own razor, an act Richter couldn't help smirking at in silent approval, before setting the Whoville Christmas tree on fire.

The kids enjoyed the Grinch's little getaway scene, riding around in (then proceeding to crash) a comically small car, which exploded in a disproportionate and overdramatic fashion.

Emil couldn't help sobbing a little as Cindy Lou was scolded, her only reply a sad, meek whisper. "I just wanted everyone to be together for Christmas." Richter gave the blond a comforting pat, and the movie immediately lightened the mood as the Grinch watched, indignant and a bit horrified as the town hauled in a spare Christmas tree to replace the one he had just destroyed.

Back at his cave, the Grinch proceeded to brood over Christmas, lamenting the approach of the noise and usual frivolity. He was also thoroughly disgusted when he caught himself speaking in rhymes with the narrator. "See, you both hate verse. I take it back, you're the Grinch." Aster teased.

Then the Grinch had his light-bulb moment. He would dress up as Santa and steal Christmas. Fool-proof, right? Wrong. Not without a musical number, anyway. Richter almost threw up in his mouth when, to punctuate a line in the song, the Grinch picked up a slimy banana peel and ate it. "Okay, I may have an iron stomach, but that's disgusting."

"It looks so real, too. Bet you ten bucks it's a real banana peel." Aster grinned as Richter retched.

"I'm sure it's a prop." Emil whispered comfortingly. "Probably a thin rubber or latex or maybe wax. Very convincing though..." Emil did, however, proceed to wince and stick out his tongue in imagined pain as the Grinch cooled a red hot bolt in his mouth. "Man, the Grinch sure could give the Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon a run for his money."

Aria and Aqua both squealed in disgust when the Grinch showed off the termites in his teeth, again following a line in the song. "I know it's CG, but bugs are so gross." Aqua wrung her hands, shivering and shaking them as if to shake off clingy insects. Once again, it was Richter's turn to pass on a comforting pat. Before long, Richter's ears had a break as the song ended. He smirked as the Grinch grouched about Santa, how he was a recluse but never got any flak for it, snarking that he probably lived at the North Pole to avoid paying taxes.

The Grinch giddily took off in his junky "sleigh", spewing enough fire that the pyromaniac of the house - Aster - was visibly excited by it. "Yep, that's the kind of death machine you'd build."

As the Grinch sped toward Whoville, he lost control of his flaming flying contraption and proceeded to panic as the death-trap did barrel rolls through the air. "I'm going to throw up, and then I'm going to die!"

"There, you see? That's something only you would say." Aster  grinned, elbowing Richer in the ribs.

"No, you'd say that too, except, y'know... you'd be cackling instead of screaming."

"Mmm, good point." Aster snickered.

The Grinch regained control of his sled, trying to glaze over his prior panic, and continued on to Whoville.

Arriving at the first house, the Grinch performed a flamboyant (and impossible) dive into the chimney. Of course, he got stuck. And of course, once he un-stuck himself, he plunged down the rest of the way, slamming his head on the logs in the fireplace. Predictable comedic formula, but it got the kids laughing.

It seemed rather pointless, since he went back up the chimney once the stockings were destroyed (Aster pondered how he could train moths to eat Richter's clothing.) He used a Seussian vacuum-like device to suck up the presents, then went back down the chimney to raid the Whos’ fridge. This Grinch isn’t very efficient… Richter thought to himself, refraining from commenting aloud. Finally, it was time to stuff the tree up. But just as he got it to the fireplace, Cindy Lou interrupted. He hid behind the tree, and the little girl, mistaking him for Santa Claus, asked what he was doing. With a rather over-dramatic impression of St. Nick, the Grinch made an excuse, or rather, he created one. He flicked off a light from the string, explaining that it wouldn't light, so he planned to take the tree back to his workshop to fix it and then bring it back.

"If Santa's magic, why wouldn't he just fix it there?" Remi asked.

"Exactly." Richter deadpanned. "That's my boy. If you were Cindy, this movie would be a lot shorter."

Cindy then asked "Santa" for the true meaning of Christmas. "Vengeance!" growled the Grinch, poking his head through the tree. Yet Cindy still didn't recognize him.

"Is she really that naive, or is she just letting him steal Christmas?" Richter wondered, as the Grinch took back his answer and replied.

"Presents, I suppose."

"I was afraid of that."

The Grinch miraculously appeared to materialize a cup of water for her before he sent Cindy on her way. On her way up the stairs Cindy asked Santa not to forget about the Grinch,

"So she is that naive." Richter's eyes widened.

The Grinch went on to emphasize what Richter had just concluded. "Nice kid. Bad judge of character." He then charged to the hearth,  flung the tree up the chimney, tore down a few more lights, tugged the rope and ascended, taking the log for the fire. Supposedly, the only things he left were some hooks and wire (according to the narrator), but Richter scoffed as lights could clearly be seen in little alcoves along the walls and ornaments rolling on the floor.

"Sure, it looks more desolate and sad than a completely empty house. That'd just look clean, but I have to say, I would have taken everything. He's just being lazy." Aster grumbled.

"Me, too," the other adults said in unison, chuckling a bit at the realization that their kleptomaniac streaks were perfectly synced.

The movie proceeded to a montage of methods the Grinch used to steal the presents. Slithering conspicuously under the rug, cartoonishly sawing a hole in the floorboards beneath the tree, and of course he utilized the present vacuum. The highlight of these clips was the unfortunate vacuuming of a white Persian cat, which viciously attacked the Grinch when he took the hose off the vacuum device to see what had plugged it up. He also stole the wedding ring Mayor May Who gave to Martha.

"That would have been the first thing I'd steal." Aqua whispered. Richter couldn't help but wonder if it was because she liked jewelry or if it was because she wouldn't want her love interest to get a ring from someone she hated, either.

Aster cackled, wishing he had such abilities, when the Grinch used his nails to cut a hole through the window of Mayor May Who's home. There was a mixture of responses when the Grinch had the Mayor kiss his dog's butt. The kids were a mixture of amused and disgusted. Aqua was completely repulsed. Richter and Emil didn't know who to feel worse for, the Mayor or the dog. Aster, on the other hand, was cackling, whispering to Richter that he wouldn't mind doing something kinky like that in the bedroom.

Richter scowled. "It had better involve bathing and no dogs."

Aster squealed. "That means 'yes'!"

The Grinch went on stealing, (the malicious cat even made a second appearance, leaping out of a cupboard,) and as a final act of malice and spite, the Grinch unscrewed a single bulb on the huge Whoville Christmas tree, making the whole city go dark.

The sleigh, however, was overloaded with presents and out of fuel. So what did the Grinch, shown throughout the movie to have herculean strength, do? He hitched up the tiny dog and made him haul the entire thing up the mountain while he sat at the reigns. The climb, according to the narrator, was 3000 feet.

"That's horrible. Poor dog." Aqua frowned.

Dawn was cracking, and the Whos were waking up, taking to the streets in a solemn daze to see what had become of their festive town. The Grinch, mischievous as always, had hitched the Mayor's bed to the sheriff's car, and as the sheriff took off, so did the bed.

When the sheriff (and mayor) came to a screeching halt in the square, May Who did what he did best: he ran his mouth. "Invite the Grinch, destroy Christmas!" He went off on an "I told you so" tirade, blaming Cindy for the idea, and the town for listening to a "not-to-be-taken-seriously girl". The emphasis on "girl" was so derisive, the misogyny was blindingly obvious.

"Cindy, I hope you're very proud of what you've done." The mayor scolded her.

"What an ass." Emil whispered. "Blaming everything on a child. She didn't know any better."

Then Lou, Cindy's father, spoke up. "If she isn't, I am. I'm glad he took our presents."

The crowd was shocked, and the mayor put words to their disbelief. "You're glad that he virtually... pulverized Christmas?"

"You can't hurt Christmas, Mr. Mayor. Because it isn't about the gifts or the contests or the fancy lights. That's what Cindy's been trying to tell everyone." He looked to his daughter. "And me; she's been trying to tell me."

"What's wrong with you? This is a child."

"She's my child. And she happens to be right, by the way. I don't need anything more for Christmas than this right here." Lou embraced his family. "Merry Christmas, everybody."

Looking to Mount Crumpit and smiling, Cindy wandered off, hopping into the garbage chute to go and visit the Grinch who was in the process of shoving the present-filled sleigh over the edge. Then the Whos started singing. Now that pissed him off.

How could the Whos be singing merrily when he had taken everything?! "It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!" But then, the Grinch came to a realization "Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas means a little bit more."

Then, of course, came the overly dramatic scene where the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes. Aster couldn’t help but poke fun at Richter. "So is that what it felt like when you fell in love with me?"

"Well, it was incredibly painful and I was in disbelief the whole time so, yeah, it was something like this." Aster’s laughter was shushed by the entire group, and through suppressed chuckles he told Richter to go suck an egg. Still, the redhead grinned, knowing Aster enjoyed that kind of banter.

"What’s happening to me?!" The Grinch sobbed, "I’m all… toasty inside. And I’m leaking."

"I’m pretty sure those were your exact words after our first ‘romp’ in the bedroom," Aster taunted, and Richter nearly choked on his popcorn trying not to laugh.

"Aster shush! The kids can hear you!" The half-elf whispered aggressively.

The Grinch and his dog, Max, shared a heartwarming moment (if only a moment) before the Grinch cut it short with his usual grumpiness. "So Tsundere. Pssssh, c’mon Ric, you can’t deny it. You are the Grinch."

"If you don’t hush, I’m going to do to you what the Grinch was about to do to that sleigh." Richter warned. Speaking of the sleigh…

"Oh no. The sleigh. The presents. They’ll all be destroyed… and I care! What is the deal?!" The Grinch ran to the summit of Mount Crumpit and tried his best to prevent the sleigh from being blown over the edge of the cliff, but it was obviously a losing battle. "Oh well… it’s just toys, right?" The Grinch said, contemplating just letting the whole lot dump over the edge.

Wrongo. "Hi, Mr. Grinch!" Cindy Lou, completely oblivious to the danger, called out from the top of the mound of presents in the sleigh.

"Cindy Lou? What are you doing up there?!"

"I came to see you. No one should be alone on Christmas."

For the first, (and final) time during the movie, Richter let an audible sob, which was thankfully drowned out by Aqua’s. Richter was touched by the sincerity in Cindy’s remark, but Aqua was moved to tears by the Grinch’s expression. "It’s like he’s feeling genuinely loved for the first time in his life and he looks so nostalgic I can’t even take it!"

The sentimental moment didn’t last long, however. Can’t let the audience forget that Cindy is inches away from going over the edge of a cliff, right? What’s a movie without a little mood whiplash? The sleigh creaked as it inched further over the precipice and Cindy finally acknowledged the mortal danger she was in. The Grinch’s pupils dilated. This child, which he had suddenly grown to love, would face death if he didn’t do something. His brow furrowed with determination, he dug his feet in, and with that herculean strength of his, he lifted the sleigh, presents, Cindy, and all, over his head, backing it away from the edge and turning it towards town. He took a moment to marvel at and revel in his own strength before the scene cut to him skiing down the mountain, towed by the sleigh, whooping and hollering in a way Richter couldn’t imagine himself doing. And who was driving the sleigh? Cindy and the dog.

"Imagine, for a moment, that you could experience excitement, Ric. That’s what it would look like." Aster teased. Richter shoved the blond’s face in the empty popcorn bucket.

"Compare me to the Grinch all you want, but I’m not nearly irresponsible enough to leave a child and a dog at the wheel of my vehicle."

Defying the laws of physics, the Grinch managed enough momentum to swing out and in front of the sleigh, taking the wheel. As they approached town, he applied the brakes, which – in classic comedic fashion – broke.

"We’re going to crash!"

"Now you listen to me, young lady. Even if we’re horribly mangled, there’ll be no sad faces on Christmas."

I think if you’re horribly mangled, you have every right to make whatever face you want no matter what day it is, but okay. Richter scoffed, alerting Aster to the fact that this was definitely something he would say as they sped toward an undoubtedly nasty crash.

They swerved down the mountain, and the townsfolk – more specifically Betty Lou and Martha – seeing Cindy and the Grinch in danger, pulled the Christmas lights off a nearby building to slow the sleigh down.

Those would snap in real life but… then again, this whole movie is full of things that wouldn’t work in real life, so why am I starting to question it now? Richter shrugged off his nitpicking, wondering why he ever expected movies like this to adhere to physics or logic or realism. With a little help from Lou, they managed to get the sleigh to stop just short of the tree.

"Merry Christmas, one and all!" As the camera swept over the town, showing all the Whos’ joyous faces, Remi spotted something that required the movie be paused.

"Daddies, look there! Those are the two old ladies that raised the Grinch, right? They’re wearing matching outfits!"

"Hmmm, yes, indeed they are", Richter said with a nod, but he was cut off by the other adults shrieking.

"Oh my Goddess!"

"That’s so cute!"

"I ship it, I ship it so hard."

"How come we never wear matching outfits Ric?!"

"We would ALL look so cute in that color too!"

When the fussing and fangasming died down, Remi meekly asked, "So… does that mean they’re a couple?"

Before any of the other adults could pitch in, Richter responded. "Not necessarily. They could be sisters or friends or any number of things. But, you heard your mom and dads. Obviously they’re seeing some sort of romantic subtext, so if you’d like to see it that way then of course they’re a couple. Whatever you like."

"Okay. They’re a couple." Remi decided, and his siblings nodded enthusiastically.

The movie resumed, only to have the sheriff turn up, demanding to know what was going on. The Grinch confessed to and apologized for stealing Christmas. Mayor May Who seemed all too happy at the prospect of ensuing police brutality, even recommending that the sheriff use pepper spray, but the sheriff – like many authorities in children’s movies – was lenient, taking an apology as all that was necessary and adding that since everything seemed to be accounted for no harm was really done.

Well, technically even if you steal something without meaning to, or if you steal it and give it back, you still stole it. Oh, but it’s a kids movie. Right. They don’t operate with the same rules as the real world. It would be nice if things worked this way though. But they don’t. Oh well. Richter let it go. Kids movie, it’s a kids movie, I can’t expect it to accurately reflect the adult world. It’s supposed to be fun, not realistic.

The mayor was adamant that something ought to be done, calling on Martha to back him up. What he got instead was his ring back and, adding insult to injury, news that her heart belonged to another. She looked straight at the Grinch (who, dumbfounded, proceeded to look behind himself for who she might have meant.)

When the Grinch realized it was him she was referring to, he began to cackle and shriek and clap and dance. "That was your reaction to my confession, too, wasn’t it?" Richter glanced at all three of his partners.

"You forgot the part where I fainted." Emil blushed.

"You forgot the part where I tackled you." Aqua giggled.

"You forgot the part where you clapped a hand over your mouth and tried to say it was a mistake." Aster grinned.

"Oh yeah." Richter chuckled.

Somehow managing to find the proper bulb on the tree, the Grinch gave it a twist, restoring the festive light to the town.

Cindy began singing, pulling the Grinch along to join in the song with the rest of the town. The Grinch, however, simply made things up (the song was mostly nonsense words anyway) and enthusiastically (and at least a bit sarcastically) belted out whatever the heck he felt like.

The scene transitioned to a brightly decorated cave – the Grinch’s home – sparkling clean and bedecked with all the Christmas paraphernalia, lights, tree, holly, the whole shebang. All the Whos applauded and cheered as the Grinch carved the Roast Beast, that scene ending the movie on a warm familial note.

The credits rolled, and after everyone had a bathroom break and some time to stretch, they sat down for a discussion. Richter had thought it was a good idea, right from the beginning, to finish movie time with discussions. That way they could clarify things for the children, help them solve moral dilemmas the movie may have brought up, and tie up any loose ends whether in plot or character development or any other aspect.

“So, what did you all think?” There was a lot of discussion about favorite jokes or ones that fell flat, a revival of the squealing contest over the potentially-lesbian couple in the movie, and finally Aria brought up something that had been stewing in the back of Richter’s mind for a while.

“So, the whole time the Grinch was really against Christmas because it was all about money and greed and commercialism, but then at the end, he decides it’s about ‘something more’. I get that he figures out that Christmas is about family and togetherness and love and all that, but then why does he bring the presents back? And implying that the familial love of Christmas is something ‘more’ implies that it’s in addition to the commercial aspect.”

“That’s a good point. I think bringing the gifts back is more about him realizing that stealing them was the wrong thing to do, regardless of his reasons for doing it, than about supporting the townsfolk’s greed. And I think referring to Christmas as being about something ‘more’ was likely just to conform to verse structure rather than to imply that the love is in addition to the greed, but it’s a good point that it can be understood that way.”

“But, wait. If he hated the glitz and glamor and materialistic aspects of Christmas, why does he let the Whos decorate his home at the end?” Archer piped up.

“I don’t think he was against material possessions on principal. I think the Grinch was more against the materialistic avarice of ‘owning things just to own them.’” Emil offered. “Like, remember how Betty Lou Who was so obsessed with having better lights than Martha that she took all the lights out of the house and even stole a traffic light? She just wanted the lights to be better than Martha’s so she’d have bragging rights. Lots of people buy the newest gizmos and things just to brag about how they can afford something better and newer than someone else’s thing. And remember how the Grinch said he would find all those Christmas neckties at the dump? Lots of people buy things to give each other when the thing itself isn’t useful or wanted. Gift-giving is supposed to be a kind gesture, yes, but if you’re giving something because it’s some obligation rather than a genuine desire to make someone happy, then it’s useless. I think the main idea here was that it’s alright to like things. It’s okay to want things. It’s okay to enjoy material goods at Christmas or any other time of year. But Christmas itself isn’t about getting gifts. Christmas is about spending time with loved ones and showing them you care. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah. I think so.”

“So, shall we all go around and say one moral we can take away from the story?” Richter asked.

“Cherish your family,” Aria answered.

“Very good, sweetheart. Cherish your friends, too,” Richter added. “Who’s next? Echter?”

“Everyone deserves a second chance,” Echter said.

“Good one. Think how much sadder things could have been if nobody reached out to the Grinch,” Emil agreed. “Archer, you had your hand raised?”

“Being a bully might seem funny, but no one’s going to love you for it,” Archer offered.

“Great point. Mayor May Who might have gotten a few laughs out of teasing the Grinch, but all he did was make the Grinch even grumpier and spiteful and push Martha further away,” Aqua nodded. “Echter, do you have another?” Aqua pointed to the boy, noticing his raised hand.

“Actually I have a question. It’s pretty easy to see that bullying is wrong, but… well, Daddy Richter and Daddy Aster tease each other a lot, and I was wondering how that was different than bullying.”

“That’s actually a very good point. Thanks for asking about it,” Richter replied, nodding. “See, there’s definitely a fine line, and sometimes someone who just means to tease unknowingly bullies the target of their taunts. The biggest difference I can demonstrate between our friendly teasing and the bullying shown in the movie is that Aster and I have a mutual understanding that we’re teasing and have communicated to each other that we enjoy it and it’s alright. I know you don’t hear us say it often, but I will say it now. Aster, I enjoy our banter. I find it amusing when you tease me and if you cross a line and say something that offends me, I tell you right away. Is this accurate to you?”

“Mm-hm!” Aster nodded enthusiastically. “It’s really fun to tease you and I’m happy that you don’t mind me doing it and I’m also glad you’re comfortable telling me when I say something that hurts your feelings. I likewise enjoy our mutual teasing and I enjoy a lot of your quips. When you say something that hurts me, I feel comfortable telling you and I know that you will stop if I ask.”

“See? I know that sounds a little weird to say it that way, but we have enough experience with each other to know when and how it’s okay to tease and we’re both pretty good at not saying anything hurtful. When it comes to mayor May Who and the Grinch, I think it’s fairly obvious that the Grinch doesn’t like being teased and that May Who understands this. We can see that he does it maliciously. He’s deliberately trying to upset the Grinch and he never apologizes for it. Does that make sense?” Richter asked.

“I, uh… I got a little lost,” Echter muttered, wringing his hands, blushing.

“That’s okay. Thank you for letting me know you don’t understand. I’ll try to explain it more briefly. Bullying has the intent to cause harm. Bullying means knowing you’re doing something hurtful and doing it on purpose. Teasing has the intent of amusing all people involved, including the person being teased. Teasing means you are trying to be silly and you know that the person being teased is okay with it. If you ever have any doubts about whether your teasing is actually bullying, ask the person you’re teasing if what you’re doing is okay and stop if they ask you to stop. Did that help you understand?”

“Yeah, I think I got it.” Echter nodded.

“That’s good. If you ever want me to explain it again, you can always ask.” Richter smiled.

“I have one!” Remi chirped.

“A question or a moral to share?”

“A moral.”

“Great! Let’s hear it!” Emil smiled encouragingly.

“Sometimes people are grumpy and seem like jerks, but they might just be having a bad time and need a little love.”

“That’s absolutely true. You never know what someone’s going through. We all have problems and sometimes we get a little grumpy. Offering love and understanding can make all the difference.” Emil shared a knowing glance with Richter before calling on Aqua.

“You can’t buy love.”

“Really?” Richter snickered. “Even a ring like the one May Who bought Martha wouldn’t sway you?”

“Nope. The Chosen One himself could walk in here and offer me all the jewels in the world and my heart would still belong to you.” She giggled, giving the redhead a smooch. “I mean, I might accept a few jewels if the Chosen was just giving them away, but that’s a different issue, isn’t it?” Richter rolled his eyes at her teasing.

“Right. Your heart belongs to me and shiny things, hm? So what if I offered you a ring like that?”

“Well, I’d certainly enjoy it, but it wouldn’t make me love you any more.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes really. I already love you with all my heart. I can’t love you any more than that.” Richter blushed and smiled at the sincerity in her words and Emil let out an “aaaaaaaw”, but Aria pouted.

“Does that mean you don’t love us, Mommy?”

“Of course not! I love Richter and everything about him. That includes you kids. Each of you is a part of him, so my love for him extends to you! Why? Do you feel unloved?”

“No.”

“Good. If you ever do feel unloved, though, hugs and kisses are free!” Aqua scooped Aria up in her arms, leaving butterfly kisses on every square inch she could reach on the giggling child. “Besides, there’s all different kinds of love, and you can put your whole heart in to every kind of love without taking any of that love away from others. Love is infinite and intricate and it never runs out. So you can love and love and keep on loving with your whooooole heart and never run out of love to give. Okay?”

“Okay, Mommy.” Aria and Aqua rubbed noses and Richter called upon Emil for a moral to share.

“Darn, the kids already touched on a lot of mine,” Emil said sheepishly. “Uh… I-I guess this one is kind of obvious but: don’t buy things just to have things. Enjoy what you already have. Be satisfied with having enough to meet your needs, but enjoy times of surplus.”

“Just because it’s ‘obvious’ doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be said. That’s a very good moral, Emil. Enjoy times of celebration and indulge from time to time, but always be content with just necessities. Aster, how about you? You haven’t said one yet.”

“Never steal because when you’re forced to bring it back, it’s going to be a pain in the butt.”

Aster!” Richter scowled at the blond. “That is not a good moral. We don’t steal because taking things from other people is wrong. Taking things from other people means you’re invalidating all the hard work that people put into what you stole.”

“Well, you’re also acting like stealing is always wrong, and it isn’t.” Aster argued.

“Well, I also think it might be a bit too difficult to explain the nuances to the kids, so I think a simpler moral is best.”

“Don’t underestimate the intelligence of our kids! There are adults who never develop a moral intelligence complex enough to conceive of exceptions to these black and white rules and laws! Kids! Can you think of any situation when stealing might be okay?”

“Well… if you steal something from a thief to give it back to who originally owned it, that seems like it would be an okay thing to do.” Archer postulated.

“See? I think they can handle this! Anyone else have a good reason to excuse stealing?”

“Somebody made you steal it? Like, they threatened to hurt you unless you stole something for them?” Remi timidly offered this contribution.

“Exactly! Any other scenarios you can think of?”

“What if, like, someone is really sick and can’t afford medicine but they’ll die without it? And someone steals medicine so they can save them?”

“Aria gets it too! See, Richter? Our kids are smart. They get it!”

“Alright, I may have underestimated their ability to understand the complexity of the moral issue, but the fact remains ‘Don’t steal because getting caught sucks’ isn’t a very good moral for you to contribute.”

“A-Actually, I think it’s probably more appropriate.” Emil piped up. “If we’re treating the kids as kids, one of the most basic things they’d be able to understand would be something like ‘don’t steal or you’ll go to jail.’ I was reading something in a psychology journal about Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, and the pre-conventional level which most children understand has to do with self-interest. Right and wrong are black and white. Right is ‘what won’t get me punished?’ and ‘what will get me rewarded?’ and wrong is ‘what will get me punished’ or ‘what will forfeit something I want?’ Our kids can obviously operate beyond that level of reasoning, somewhere in the interim of the conventional and post-conventional level. Aster’s message, while maybe not ideal, should be an easy moral to understand for almost anyone.”

Richter’s eyes widened. “That’s very interesting. It appears that I’ve learned a few lessons. One: never underestimate my kids. Two: I have new reading material that I must peruse. And three: Aster may or may not operate on a pre-conventional level of moral reasoning and I must address this at a later date.” He sneered at the wacky blond. “Anyway, ‘don’t steal’ is a good takeaway from the story, but maybe one of you smarties can give me a better reason why we shouldn’t steal?” He gestured to the kids. “Yes, Remi?”

“We shouldn’t steal because more often than not it’s bad for everyone involved. The thief risks a lot in order to steal and could get in a lot of trouble. Also, the thief directly or indirectly hurts whoever he steals from and disrespects everyone the theft affects. Stealing is bad because we should treat everyone with respect and try to do what’s best for everyone.”

“That’s very good, Remi!” Richter beamed. “I’m proud of you. That’s a very good way of putting it.”

“It’s just the golden rule. Treat others the way you want others to treat you. I think that also makes all those exceptions that Aria and Archer and I said make sense, too! If someone was very sick, I wouldn’t be happy that they stole the medicine from me. I would have wanted them to pay. But I would understand why and be happy that at least the sick person got better. If someone was being threatened, I wouldn’t blame them for stealing from me, and I would much rather they did that than fight back and get hurt.”

Richter started tearing up a little. “Sometimes it just amazes me how smart and kind and caring you kids are. That’s exactly right.” He pulled Remi into a hug. “Sometimes I forget just how good you all are.” He pulled the rest of the kids into the hug. “Never lose that respect and love you have for everyone. Never forget these lessons. Never stop being as wonderful and amazing as you are right now. I love you.”

“Aaaaaaw.” Emil got teary-eyed as well, and one by one, the adults joined the group hug until the whole family was a bundle of arms across backs and nuzzling faces.

“Alright,” Richter cleared his throat, pulling back. “Any more morals? No? Alright, one from me, then. Treasure every single moment you spend with the ones you love. Find joy in the small things. Seek out experiences that make you feel alive. And share all the lessons you’ve learned with the world. Okay?”

“Okay!” The kids cheered in unison.

“Alright then. Movie discussion time adjourned! You’ve got an hour until bedtime so make the most of it!”

The kids were all about to scamper off to play but Aster had one last discussion topic he needed to throw in to the mix. “Wait! One more question, kids.” The blond was grinning mischievously “Who do you think is more like the Grinch. Me, or him?” Aster gestured to himself and Richter.

Richter rolled his eyes. The blond was so adamant about proving that Richter was basically the Grinch that he was resorting to ask the children to basically pick favorites. Still, Richter allowed it, honestly curious to know how the kids viewed him. The kids thought long and hard. Aria and Echter said Aster was more Grinch-like while Remi and Archer voted for Richter.

“Tie breaker! Emil!” Aster called to his counterpart. “You love us both. You’re unbiased! Tell us, who’s more like the Grinch.”

Emil stammered, flustered for a few minutes, while Richter tried to explain how unfair it was to be forcing the kids and Emil to pick sides (mostly because he knew Emil didn’t want to offend anyone and had well-known anxiety about such things.)

While Aster was retorting that he wasn’t forcing anyone to do anything, Emil piped up. “Um, actually, I think the Grinch is kind of a combination of both of you.”

Archer looked horrified. “Wait. So what you’re saying is… I’m the Grinch?!”

There was a brief pause while everyone processed what had just been suggested. Then the whole family burst into laughter.

Chapter Text


A soft, fresh, glistening layer of snow spread in every direction around the Abends' home, stretching as far as the eyes could see. The kids had been all too eager to run outside and play in it, and had been very adamant that the adults join in.

"You can go out and play if you want, but I have work to do today," Richter said, patting Archer on the head.

The demanding child, however, did not want to accept "no" for an answer. "Please, Dad?! Please, please, please, pleeeeeeeeeeease?! Just for a little bit? It'll be fun, I promise!"

"I'm sure it will be fun, and I really would like to join you, but I have to work. Maybe I can join you later."

"Nooooo! You have to come and play noooooow!" Archer whined, tugging on the hem of his father's coat.

"Archer," the redhead let out an exasperated sigh, "I can't play with you right now. My boss is expecting me to send in a paper by tomorrow and I really need to finish it. Ask your dad or Aqua or Emil."

"I did, they're all busy!" Archer stomped his feet, frustrated. "Dad's building something in the basement, Emil's making lunch, and Aqua said she'd watch us, but she's knitting and she says she won't play with us until later! I want to play now!"

Richter was quickly losing his patience. "Archer, we can't all just drop everything for you all the time. Aqua said she'd supervise so that should be enough for now! Go and play with your brothers and sister! They should be plenty to keep you company and help you stay occupied!"

"But we want to play with you guys!" The young blond sobbed.

"Archer!" The half-elf snapped at his son. "You're much too old to be throwing tantrums about such things. You can amuse yourself! You have all the time in the world to do whatever you want. But I'm an adult. I have a job. I have responsibilities. I can't just drop everything because you need attention! Now, please, leave me alone or I'm never going to get this done!"

Archer sniffled, glaring at his dad before stomping off to go outside. "Why are you so mean?! I don't know why I wanted to play with you in the first place!" He slammed the door as hard as he could on his way out.

"Richter? What happened? Is everything okay?" Emil peeked his head out of the kitchen.

"Yeah. Everything's alright. Archer's just having a tantrum because I have to work. I'll talk to him about it later, okay?"

"Alright." Emil nodded, going to the stove to check on the soup.

*~*~*~*~*

After about an hour, Emil had a rich, hearty soup and some sandwiches ready. He brought a tray to Aster and one to Richter before calling the kids and Aqua in to eat. Archer threw Richter an "I'm still mad at you" look before walking past the study to the dining room. The redhead did his best to ignore it, blowing on a spoonful of steamy clam chowder before slurping it up.

*~*~*~*~*

Once the kids had warmed up and refueled with a hot meal, they charged back out into the snow to play. This time Archer didn’t even give Richter a passing glance as he left.

Emil tiptoed into Richter’s study, trying not to disturb him while he took the half-elf’s empty dishes to the sink.

“So, how’s Archer?” Richter didn’t even look up from his papers. Even engrossed in his work, he still wanted to keep himself apprised.

“He’s uh… still pretty grumpy it seems. He didn’t want to talk to anyone, not even his siblings.”

“What was he doing outside? Did Aqua say?”

“She says he’s building an igloo or something. All by himself.”

“I see. Alright. Thanks for letting me know. I’ve got a bit more to do here, but I’ll talk to him soon. Hopefully I can get him out of that sour mood.”

“Yeah, I hope so. I hate seeing the kids upset.”

“Everyone else doing okay?”

“Yeah. Aster’s almost done with his project so he said he might be joining the kids soon. Remi and Echter went skating earlier but I think they’re going to build a snowman with Aria now.  Aqua’s still working on scarves for the kids for Christmas, but she says it’s going well.”

“That’s good. And how are you?”

“I’m fine. Same ol’, same ol’… I’m just going to do the dishes and start on dinner. Once I’ve got everything prepped I’m thinking of taking a break to play with the kids.”

“Thanks.” Richter briefly took his eyes away from his paper to glance at Emil, giving him a warm smile. “I really appreciate the effort you put in. It really gives me the peace of mind I need to do my work, knowing that you’re handling everything around the house.”

Emil blushed, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. “Y-you’re welcome. Th-thank you too. You work so hard for us. It’s thanks to you that we can afford to live in comfort.”

“I’m glad you acknowledge my efforts. If only Archer saw it that way…”

“I know… I-I honestly don’t know why he got so mad at you. Usually he’s perfectly happy to play by himself. I wonder why today is so different.”

“He’s probably mad about something else. Maybe in addition to my inability to play or maybe he’s using that as a way to vent frustrations about something else entirely. Like I said, I’m going to look into it.”

“Alright, Richter,” Emil said in a hushed tone as the redhead riffled through some papers. “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me.”

Richter nodded, not glancing up from his work, and Emil dismissed himself.

*~*~*~*~*

Hours later, Richter set aside his papers, saving his document on the computer to proofread with Aster before bed, sending a copy over to Rilena for her input. He stood, swinging his arms over his head and stretching, loosening his shoulders. He had poor posture when working and he always wound up a bit sore afterward. He vowed silently to himself that one day he would learn how to work at a computer without hunching over the keyboard with his face less than a foot from the screen. Old habits die hard, but this was one habit that had to go as far as his back was concerned.

He shut down the computer and turned out the lights, walking to the kitchen to check up on Emil. The blond in question was toiling over the stove, stirring a large pot of creamy sauce. Richter’s nose told him all he needed to know about the dinner plans. Fresh bread baking in the oven, garlic, béchamel, beef ragù, the scents could only mean one thing: homemade lasagna and breadsticks. Richter grinned, strolling up behind Emil and giving the young human a tight hug.

Emil tensed, startled, but it was only for a moment. He smiled, leaning back against Richter’s chest. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Sorry,” the redhead simpered, kissing Emil on the top of his head, “I just didn’t want to interrupt you while you were working.”

Emil giggled. “Really? What do you call this then?” Emil shrugged his shoulders, alerting Richter to the fact that his hug currently had Emil’s upper arms pinned to his sides, drastically limiting his range of motion.

“Point taken, but I figured a hug was a more welcome distraction than me drooling in the doorway.” Richter smirked.

“True, but it’s also much more disruptive.”

“Well, I don’t mean to be. In fact, I’m here to help!” The half-elf chuckled. He released the blond, reaching for the pot of ragù. Emil did not take kindly to this and rapped Richter’s outstretched hand with a wooden spoon. The attack wasn’t vicious, but it struck hard enough for Richter to pull back, gingerly rubbing his knuckles.

“Eating all the components before I assemble the dish is not helping, Richter.” Emil scolded, lowering the heat on the burner where the béchamel was simmering.

“I wasn’t going to eat it.” Richter’s face formed a rare (and adorable) pout. “I was just going to taste it.”

“You say that every time, and every time I believe you, I wind up with half of what I started with.”

“Oh, come on. I promise, I just want a little taste. I’ll prove it.” Richter leaned in, planting a soft kiss on Emil’s lips. “There, see? I just had a little taste, but it was enough for me to tell that you’re delicious as ever, Emil.”

Emil rolled his eyes. “If you think a kiss and flattery will make me drop my guard, you are sorely mistaken. I’ve been fooled by you before, mister.” The blond chastised the other, reminding Richter of the time a make out session got Emil to relax just enough that Richter was able to abscond with half a pan of brownies.

“Please? Come on, my mouth is watering, here. Just one tiny, little, smidgen of a taste?” The redhead looked pleadingly at his partner. Emil sighed. He could never say no to his hungry husband, especially not when he was wearing those scarcely-seen puppy-dog-eyes.

“Fine.” Emil gave in. He held out a spoonful of the meaty sauce out toward his partner. “One taste.”

“You’re the best, sunshine!” Richter beamed, gleefully taking the sample. Emil always got the flavors perfect, and this time was no different. The meat practically melted in his mouth, the herbs were blended together in perfect harmony, every ingredient was at the peak of ripeness, and the entire mouthful was a masterpiece. Even so, Richter withheld praise, trying to negotiate more of the delectable food. “Not bad, but I noticed a bit of an off flavor. It’s hard to put my finger on what it is though… I think I need another taste to be sure.”

Emil almost fell for it. He was always looking to improve upon a dish and if something was amiss he wanted to correct it. But the way Richter was positively salivating over the pot at the prospect of a second spoonful and the fact that this was a familiar dish tipped Emil off to his partner’s ulterior motive. “Oh, no you don’t. You just want me to feed you again. Look at you. If that pot wasn’t scalding hot, you’d be eating out of it face-first like a dog right now. Admit it, it’s delicious and you’re just looking for an excuse to have more.” Emil turned his nose up, gently pushing Richter away.

“You know damn well every ingredient that goes into this dish. Next to me, you’ve got the most refined palate in the house. If there was something fishy with the dish, you’d know exactly what it was, or you’d at least be able to describe it to me. Nice try, honey, but I’m not buying that.”

“Rats.” The half-elf frowned, cursing himself for being just overzealous enough to give himself away. “Are you sure there’s not a bit extra that will go to waste without me?”

Emil shook his head with a smile. “I’m sure. Look, if you’re hungry, there are some leftover sandwiches from lunch in the fridge.”

Richter perked up. “Ah, ‘leftovers’, one of my favorite words.” The half-elf retrieved a sandwich, happily gorging himself on it as Emil shooed him out of the kitchen.

“Remind me to get you a gift card for an all-you-can-eat buffet.” Emil scoffed, his sense of wonder never waning as he watched Richter wolf down the sandwich in the 10 seconds it took to escort him to the door.

“Lovely thought, but none of those places could ever match your skill with cooking. Then again, if they did, I’d put them out of business because my stomach is bottomless when it comes to your food,” Richter said, licking the few stray crumbs off his fingers.

Emil tried not to let the flattery affect him, but he couldn’t suppress a blush. “Alright, silver-tongue. Go on. Get out of here. The kids have been waiting on you long enough as it is.”

Richter smirked, giving his red-faced partner a parting kiss before making his exit.

*~*~*~*~*

Richter wandered outside, greeted by the sight of several snowmen, a sloppily built snow-fort, a partially-melted and half-collapsed rampart of snow and twigs, and several shallow footpaths where the kids had made their way through the virgin snow. Richter could see why Archer had been so eager to play today. The snow was soft and light, and the usual crunch or squelch of packed or melted snow was replaced only by a soft frmmmmph, not unlike the sound of the first pillow thrown in a pillow fight.

However, despite the pleasant sensory experience, it was missing something that Richter noticed almost immediately. There was no sign of Aqua or the kids. The redhead glanced around, peering around the bend in the path that led down to the pond to see if the kids had decided to go skating. The ice was bare. He strained his ears, but the only sounds were the rustling of the wind in the trees and the quiet thudding of his own footsteps.

“Aqua? Kids? Where are you?” Richter squinted at the snow fort with renewed suspicion. He could sense an ambush…

“Attack!” Aqua’s voice rang out from overhead. Though Richter had expected the waylay, he had not anticipated what form it would take. Aqua and Aria were perched on the roof and Richter scarcely had time to make eye-contact with the two before they shoved a deluge of snow off the porch awning, right on top of Richter’s head.

Before the half-elf could even process what had happened, the boys all popped up over the ramparts of their snow fort and began flinging snowballs. Richter barely managed to shield his face as a barrage of white spheres hurtled toward him.

“Hey! Five against one isn’t fair!” Richter protested, but there was a smile playing on his lips, suggesting that he was amused by the turn of events.

Archer, however, was still nursing his morning fury. Though his other siblings stopped after a few snowballs, ready to welcome their father into the game, Archer only paused. As soon as Richter dropped his guard, he let another fly, hitting the redhead squarely on the cheek.

“Ow! Archer, what did we discuss about play-fighting of any kind? We never aim for the head. You know this!”

“Well, maybe I forgot!” Archer threw another snowball, again aimed at his father’s head. Richter was shocked by the venom in his son’s voice. Never in his life had the boy used such a tone. The snowball exploded against his forehead and Richter barely had a moment to recoup before another snowball struck him.

Archer kept pelting him with snowballs, tears welling up in the corners of his eyes. He had never been this angry before.

“Archer! Quit it!” Richter shielded his face against the onslaught, trying to get closer to his son to force the blond to stop. This proved to be a poor choice on Richter’s part, as it made him easier to hit. Sooner or later something was destined to go wrong.

A poorly timed peek and a snowball made it past Richter’s defenses, knocking his glasses off into the snow. Richter was terribly nearsighted, and the world around him was naught but glistening white and fuzzy blobs that he could only distinguish as people because they moved in a way that trees certainly would not. He did his best not to move, knowing that one misstep would land him with a pair of cracked lenses and bent frames. Still, the attack continued. Either Archer didn’t notice or he simply didn’t care. “Archer, sto—,“ a snowball hit him in the jaw, cutting him off. “Archer!” The boy didn’t listen. “Damn it, Arch—“ A cold white sphere collided with the bridge of his nose. Sending flecks of snow into his eyes, making him flinch. “Archer, for the love of Martel, stop!” Richter bellowed, his fierce tone made the other children flinch.

Archer readied another snowball but Aria intervened, holding her brother back. “Stop! Archer that’s enough! Can’t you see something’s wrong?!”

Richter waited a moment, and when he was sure the onslaught had ceased he lowered his guard, rubbing his eyes and getting slowly to his knees to grope around in the snow. “Damn it… I can’t see…”

Of all the kids, Remi had always been the worry-wart, and when he was convinced he wouldn’t be caught in the crossfire, he trotted over to see what had happened.

Hearing the crunching of snow, the fire returned to Richter’s voice as he shouted, though he knew not to whom, “Don’t move! Nobody move! Aqua! Get down here and help me!”

“What happened?” Echter asked his twin, trying to get a better look without disobeying his father.

“Dad’s lost his glasses. Archer must have knocked them off…” Remi’s response was timid, and he watched sheepishly from the sidelines as Aqua floated through the air beside her husband, helping him pick through the snow that had swallowed up his glasses without treading upon them – one of the perks of having a Centurion for a wife.

“What the hell is wrong with that boy?” The redhead grumbled as he picked clumsily through the snow.

“I have no idea. He’s been grumpy all morning. I know he was disappointed that you had to work today, but I thought he would cheer up when you could come out and join us. If I had known he was going to do this, I would never have helped them make so many snow balls. I thought it was just going to be a friendly game. I had no idea Archer could be so malicious…”

“Indeed. Once I have my glasses, I’ve a right mind to punish him. What was he thinking?! He knows he’s not supposed to play like this… this was an outright assault.”

Finally, Aqua managed to locate Richter’s glasses for him. Thankfully, they hadn’t been damaged, and a quick wipe-down on the corner of his chemise had them back in working order. The squint in his eyes turned to a glare so frightening and fierce it made the other kids shrink back. But Archer stood firm, his fury still not quelled. His anger made him far too brave for his own good.

“Archer…” Richter’s hands balled into fists; he did his best to maintain a calm demeanor but the anger in his voice was unmistakable. “Get over here… right now.”

“Make me.” Archer jutted his chin out defiantly.

Richter’s face grew red, and he struggled to hold himself back. I promised myself that I would never resort to spanking. I promised myself that I would never use corporal punishment as discipline. Keep cool… keep cool… The redhead gritted his teeth. “You’re pushing your luck. I will drag you back into the house and sit you in time-out for the rest of the day if I have to.”

“It’d be worth it!” The child retorted.

“Young man, if you don’t get your keister over here by the count of three, you will be in some serious trouble.” Richter locked eyes with Archer. “One. Two.” There was an abnormally long pause. “Three.”

Archer didn’t budge. “Congrats, kiddo, you’re officially in trouble. From here on, you have two options.” Richter began walking toward his son. “You can walk inside with me quietly or I can drag you in – kicking and screaming if you so choose – and embarrass you in front of your siblings.” He stopped in front of the blond, holding out a hand. “So what will it be?”

Archer scowled at his father, giving no sign that he had any inclination of coming quietly. “Have it your way.” Richter grasped the waistband of his son’s breeches and carried him in – flailing and screeching as predicted – by the seat of his pants.

Once inside, Richter set Archer down, grabbing one of the boy’s thrashing arms instead and dragging him off to the kitchen. “Sit.” He lifted the boy and plopped him down on a stool at the kitchen’s island. Richter opened the fridge and pulled out one of the leftover sandwiches, sliding it across the counter to his son. “Eat.”

Archer scrunched up his face, but – after a moment – reluctantly took a bite. The redhead gave his son a few minutes to eat, then took a seat across from the boy after clearing away the empty plate.

“So,” Richter’s tone was remarkably calm - the little interlude had given him time to cool off as well, “what’s up with you, kiddo?”

“Nothing…” Archer averted his gaze, trying to dodge the question.

“That outburst of yours was certainly not nothing.” Richter pressed. “Now, I don’t want to make too many assumptions here, but judging by your appetite, I think it’s safe to say that hunger played a significant role in your vicious attack, but that can’t be all of it. I get ‘hangry’ too, but I don’t fly off the handle and turn an innocent snowball fight into an avenue for malice. What’s going on with you, Archer?”

The boy was silent for a few minutes, too ashamed to meet his father’s eyes. “It’s just that… well… You’re always busy. You only ever seem to have time for me when we’re doing school work. Everyday you’re in your room working or spending time with daddies or mom. And today was such a perfect snow day… I just… I just wanted to have a fun day with you, when the snow was perfect. We almost never spend time together, and who knows when the snow will be this nice again.”

Richter’s eyes softened. “You think the snow’s not going to be the same tomorrow?”

“Well, yeah! It’s going to get all melty and crunchy tomorrow. It always does that. It never stays this nice and soft and fluffy for more than a day.”

Richter shook his head, a smile playing about his lips. “Well, I can’t blame you for that assumption, really. That does usually happen. But I have some news for you kiddo: the snow is going to be even better tomorrow.”

“How do you know?” Archer tilted his head quizzically, a habit he had probably picked up from his other father, Aster.

“Let’s just say I know a thing or two about weather.” Richter winked. “Cross my heart, the snow will be the best tomorrow, kiddo.”

“Really?”

“Really.” Richter nodded. “But, I think before anyone gets to enjoy tomorrow’s snow, there are a few apologies to be made.”

“Y-yeah…” Archer averted his eyes, clearly ashamed of his behavior. “I’m… I’m sorry I hit you in the face, Dad.”

“Thank you for the apology. Do you remember what we discussed about why this is unacceptable behavior?”

“Because getting hit in the head can really hurt and I could hit someone in the eyes accidentally which is even worse?”

“That’s right.” Richter nodded. “Listen, Archer. I don’t want to scare you, but if you hit someone in the head hard enough, a lot of bad things can happen. Really bad things. It could even kill someone. Now a snowball probably won’t do that, but a rock in a snowball might… You can never be too careful. Remember, it’s all fun and games—“

“— Until someone loses an eye. I know. I’m really sorry, Dad.”

“I know you are. But you can’t do things like this ever again. Even with all the hypothetical disastrous things that could have happened, something awful almost did happen. You see these?” He gestured to his glasses.

“Yeah.”

“You know what they do, right?”

“They help you see better.”

Richter simpered. “That’s a bit of an understatement. Here.” He took his glasses off, gently placing them on the boy’s face.

“Whoa.” Archer strained his eyes. “I can’t see anything. Just colors.” He tried to focus his eyes on his father, the smudge of red he could barely distinguish among the vague impressions of objects around him. “This gives me a headache.”

Richter chuckled. “What you’re experiencing right now is basically what I do without my glasses.” He took them back, fumbling a bit as he could scarcely see them himself. “They don’t just help me see better. They’re basically the only things that can help me see anything at all. And it’s not just that. Even if these didn’t help me in the slightest, these are very important to me. Aster gave these to me. These were the first gift he ever gave me. I’ve had them for a very long time… Like… you know Mr. Peppers?” Richter asked, referring to the plush dog that Archer slept with every night. Archer nodded. “Well, imagine if you lost Mr. Peppers. How would that make you feel?”

The child went visibly pale. “I’d cry so hard,” he whispered, “b-but don’t tell my brothers I said that.”

Richter laughed softly, promising not to tell. “See, that’s exactly how I’d feel if I lost these. And today I almost did. I really need these, Archer, and I hope now you have a better understanding of that.”

“I do.” Archer nodded vigorously. “I’m really sorry I knocked them off your face, Dad. I didn’t know they were that important.”

“Thank you. I’m glad you understand now.” Richter pat his son on the shoulder. “Alright. Now it’s my turn. I’m sorry that you’re feeling neglected. I wish I had more time to spend with you besides during your schooling. But I hope you will understand that I have a lot of work that I need to do. There are a lot of people who are counting on me and who need me to do what I’ve promised to do. And this isn’t like the kind of promise I make to you when I say ‘we’ll play on Friday’. This is an unspoken promise. This is an expectation. My co-workers and my superiors expect me to do the work they give me because I am a part of the team. I am responsible for part of the project. I also expect them to do work, too, since we’re all working toward the same goal. If someone doesn’t finish what is expected of them, then everyone has a problem. If I don’t do my work, then someone else has to. If I shirk off my work on someone else then they might not get to spend time with their kids. That’s not fair at all. And if I don’t do my work, people won’t count on me next time. I lose that trust. If no one wants to work with me because they feel like they can’t trust me to get things done, then I don’t get paid. I know it’s no fun for you, but it’s something I need to do, and I hope you’ll understand that. It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with you. I just only have a limited amount of time I can spend, and you and your siblings and Aster and Aqua and Emil all deserve some of that time, but it’s not always easy to divide it evenly.

“I don’t want to make excuses, son, but… I get tired, sometimes. So when I have free time, I have to spend some of it recuperating and taking care of myself. And then I have 4 kids and 3 spouses vying for my attention and I have to try to make sure to spend time with all of you. I have a lot to juggle and a lot to keep track of and sometimes I run out of steam. Sometimes I’m busy at the opportune times, like I was today. I know it’s no fun to play when it’s dark out and I know that winter offers different kinds of fun that we can’t enjoy any other time of year. I know that this is very important to you because you don’t know when the weather is going to be this nice again. To you, it must seem like I’m wasting the one perfect day for snowball fights and forts just sitting inside and doing work that I could do any other time. But this isn’t work I can just do whenever I feel like it. My coworkers needed me to get my share done as soon as possible. We’re so close to being done and they can’t finalize anything without me. I can’t let them all down like that. So I’m sorry I couldn’t spend today with you, but I hope you understand that I didn’t do it to upset you.”

“I… I understand. But… I wish you weren’t always so busy.”

“I know… Sometimes I forget that you’re the needy one.” Archer looked offended for a moment, blushing, before Richter explained. “I know you and your siblings like to tease Remi about this sometimes, but you’re actually pretty clingy, too. When you were younger, you used to cry the hardest when I put you down. You’d sneak out of your crib at night to come and see me. Maybe you were just more vocal about it, but you seemed more distressed when I had to leave you alone than Remi did.”

“Maybe I used to be the needy one. But I’m not anymore.” Archer pouted.

“Nah, you act tough, but I can tell.” Richter teased. “None of your siblings was upset enough to try to murder me with snowballs when I couldn’t play today. Don’t try to hide it. You need me.” He leaned in and gave Archer a kiss on the forehead, making the boy squeal in protest.

“Daddy, nooooo! I’m a big boy! I don’t need hugs and kisses, nooooooooo!”

“Alright, alright. You’re a big boy, I get it. Maybe I’m the needy one, then, because I feel like I still need a hug.” He opened his arms.

“Fine.” Archer stuck out his tongue. “You can have a hug if you need one Dad. But I don’t!” The blond embraced his father, making it “absolutely clear” that the he “absolutely didn’t need the hug” and “wasn’t enjoying” it despite the fact that he was smiling and took a few moments longer than Richter did to let go. “Don’t tell the others.”

Richter laughed. “I promise. I won’t tell your siblings that you gave your ‘needy’ dad a hug. But I might tell Aster.”

“Daddy, nooooooooo!”

*~*~*~*~*

“So, Daddy, are you going to be able to play with us tomorrow?” Aria asked, having a second helping of lasagna.

“I can’t make any promises, but it seems that way.” The redhead rapped the table with his knuckles, literally knocking on wood. “If all goes well with what I sent over to the Academy today, there should just be a bit to finalize tonight and, tentatively, an hour or so tomorrow.”

“Yay!” Remi cheered. “How about Aster and Daddy Emil?”

“Richter and I have the same responsibilities tomorrow, so we should be available at about the same time,” Aster said, smiling.

“As long as you guys don’t mind leftover lasagna for lunch tomorrow, I should be free until 4! Dinner doesn’t make itself unfortunately, but I could do the prep work tonight and maybe push my availability to 5!”

“Yippee! How about you, Mommy?” Aria asked, looking pleadingly at her mother.

“Sure! I could take a break from knitting and chores for a while. The house won’t fall apart without me for one day.”

“Yahoo! That means we can all play together tomorrow!” Remi cheered.

Tentatively, yes.” Richter repeated. “Don’t get your hopes up too much. It all depends on everything falling into place at work. And it should but goddess forbid Rask messes something up and we have to fix it…”

“Don’t jinx it.” Aster stuffed his breadstick into Richter’s mouth. “Rilena’s keeping an eye on him. He’s not gonna slack off. Especially not with the holiday bonus on the line. If he slacks off, we just tell the director.”

“I guess.” Richter mumbled. “I just don’t want to get the kids’ hopes up, y’know?”

“I know. But don’t you give up hope too soon, either. With luck, tomorrow will be great!”

“I sure hope so.”

*~*~*~*~*

Richter awoke the next day to fresh powder, just as predicted, and kids who were positively bouncing off the walls. Aster was already awake and typing away on his computer, munching on some peanut butter toast.

Peanut butter toast could only mean one thing (particularly since it wasn’t burned.) Emil must also be awake. Aqua, being a centurion, had no real need for sleep, or at least, she had no need for sleep in the way mankind defined it. In that sense, she was always up since she never really slept. Last one up, today, huh? At least that means Aster is taking things seriously. Richter began “making the rounds” as he called it, kissing each member of his family before grabbing breakfast and settling down with Aster to finish work for the day.

“Rilena get back to us, yet?”

“Yep. She’s made a few corrections and added some of her own stuff, along with Avery’s input.”

“Great. So now we just go through everything and make sure everything is cohesive, yeah?”

“Yep. I’ve already gotten a few paragraphs finalized.”

“Perfect.”

Emil was busy as usual, feeding the kids a hearty breakfast. “I’m going to get started on the prep work for dinner tonight. Steak sound good?”

“Yeah!”

“Gee, lasagna and steak. That’s a lot of beef,” Aqua remarked.

“Too much?” Emil simpered. “Sorry. I just… really like steak.”

“I can see.” Aqua laughed. “It’s not a problem, really, it’s just… Well, I know you want the kids to grow up strong and healthy, so try to get some veggies in there.”

“Okay. How about broccoli?”

“Yeah, broccoli is always good. Richter and the kids really love the way you prepare it, too.” Aqua beamed. “Want a little help? I can spare a few minutes before I have to supervise the kids.”

“That’d be great! Thanks Aqua!”

“Sure! No problem!”

The kids didn’t have much to work on besides their breakfast and were finished quickly, begging for their parents to take them out to play. “Come on! The snow looks so soft!” Remi squealed, nose pressed up against the front window as he peered out through the trees, catching a glimpse of the frozen pond down the hill.

“Not yet, guys.” Aqua paused in the middle of helping Emil chop the broccoli. “I need to help Emil with this and if I remember correctly, Archer, you and your dad need to resolve something.”

Archer frowned. “Ugh, okay.” This was always the part he dreaded. Richter wasn’t always about immediate punishments. He liked to let the intensity of the situation die down before he laid out consequences. That way he made sure not to do something too severe in the spur of the moment and the child in question had time to dwell on what had been done wrong and wouldn’t lash out in frustration being punished during an emotionally strenuous moment. That and it wasn’t always possible to punish the kids immediately. It worked out for the most part and the kids never really complained, especially because, on rare occasions, Richter forgot the punishments.

Archer knocked lightly on the door to his dad’s study. “Hmm?” Richter looked up from his computer. “Ah, Archer. Good. Done with breakfast?”

“Yeah.” The blond sulked. His dad was fair but he hated being punished for things.

“You ready?”

“Yeah.” Archer nodded.

“You can handle this for a few minutes, Aster?” Richter asked.

“I got it.” Aster nodded focusing on revising the paper.

“Any suggestions?” Richter asked. “He’s your kid, too.”

“Hang him from the ceiling by his toes and tickle him until he cries.” Aster deadpanned. Archer went pale.

“I’ll take that into consideration.” Richter nodded. “Alright, come on Archer, we’ll figure out something fitting.”

Archer nervously followed his father, knowing making a run for it was useless. They arrived at the playroom, positively flooded with half-finished drawings and toys and wrappers from cookies and snacks.

“Wow, you kids sure make a mess in a hurry.” Richter whistled, slightly amazed at the rate at which the kids could absolutely wreck the room. “Alright. Here’s my idea.” Richter sat on one of the beanbag chairs by the squat kiddy table. “You’re 7 now. You hit me in the face…” Richter tries to remember but he just remembers it being WAY too many times, “you hit me at least 5 times. You remember what five times 7 is?”

“Uh…” Archer counted by fives, raising a finger with each count until he reached 35, with seven fingers raised. “Thirty five?”

“That’s right.” Richter nodded. “So here’s what we’re going to do. Because of what you did yesterday. You’re going to have to pick up 35 things in this room before you can play today, okay? I’ll count them for you.” Richter pulled up a wastebasket and propped open the kids’ toy chest.

“Awww.” Archer slouched. It wasn’t the worst punishment but he always hated having to clean up.

“Do it without fuss and I’ll also clean up 35 things. How about that?” Richter offered.

“Fiiiiine.” The whine of Archer’s voice didn’t quite count as not fussing but Richter would let that one last dejected protest slide as long as Archer did as he was asked.

The young boy went about picking up a few stray toys, then some old candy wrappers, unloading each into the proper receptacle. It felt like an eternity for Archer, but finally he heard his father say. “Alright. That was thirty-five. You’re all done.”

“Urgh.” Archer sighed, collapsing face first onto another beanbag. “Cleaning sucks.”

Richter grinned. “Well, that may be true, but a tidy environment is much better to play in, right?”

“I guess.”

“Well, maybe it’ll get less sucky as you get older and make a habit out of it.” Richter stood, smoothing his shirt. “Now then, since you did as I asked without whining, I do believe I promised to match your efforts and pick up 35 things myself.” Richter did his portion more swiftly than Archer had, but to be fair, he did have much more experience. “There we are. Almost spotless now.” Richter put away the last few things, going above and beyond what he’d promised until the room was neat.

“Aren’t we just going to mess it up again in a few minutes?” Archer asked, slipping off his seat and putting one last marker away in the craft bin. “What’s even the point?”

“It’s a lot easier to find things when they’re put away, right? And this way you all have room to draw or read or build a fort or whatever you want to do. If you left it messy every time, it would just get messier and messier until you couldn’t find or do anything, right?”

“I guess.” Archer shrugged.

“Anyway, now that you’re done, go see if Aqua is ready for you.”

“Yes, Dad.” Archer sighed. He walked to the door before pausing. “I know you said you couldn’t promise to play today but… you’re going to try, right? You’re going to do your best, right?”

Richter’s face softened. “That’s right. I’m working as hard as I can to try to spend the day with you and your siblings.”

“Okay.” Archer’s face softened too. “Can you try to be done before lunch?”

Richter grinned. “I’ll do everything in my power to be done before lunch.”

“Okay!” Archer perked up. “Do your best!”

Richter nodded. “I will.”


*~*~*~*~*

The sun rose higher and higher, leaving Archer more and more depressed. Surely this meant something had gone wrong. Dad’s work wasn’t going well or something new came up. It was almost time for lunch and only Emil had joined them outside to play. Archer’s shoulders slumped. Guess he’s not coming today either. He didn’t pay attention to the soft slow crunches in the snow behind him, and was none the wiser until the attack was sprung.

“Gotcha!” A red mane and dark coat went hurtling through the air, quickly wrapping protectively around the young boy as the momentum tumbled them forward, spurning peals of laughter as Archer and his “attacker” went rolling through the snow.

When they’d landed, Richter uncurled, releasing his son. “Dad!” Archer cheered, tacking the redhead in return. “You did it!”

“That I did! I’m all finished up for today!”

“Yay!” Archer beamed, all rosy-cheeked from the chilled air. “Daddy Aster too?”

“Yup.” A voice answered from above. “Me too.” Aster grinned, brandishing a snowball, standing on the roof with Aqua and Aria. Echter peeked out from the porch, also brandishing a snowball. Clearly an alliance had formed.

“Emil! Remi! Quickly!” Richter hollered, scooping up Archer and running for yesterday’s snow fort. “We’re under attack! There’s a mad scientist and a flying fish on the roof!”

Richter felt the cold splat of a snowball against his shoulder. “Mommy’s a magical mermaid and you know it!” Aria bellowed, blowing a raspberry to punctuate her displeasure.

“Oh, my mistake!” Richter grinned. “There’s a mad scientist, a magical mermaid, a fairy princess, and … uh…”

“A wolf!” Echter called out.

“And a wolf hiding over there!” Richter snickered. Emil and Remi quickly joined them at the snow fort, rolling some snow balls as ammo for the upcoming fight. 

“Daddy, if Echter’s a wolf, what does that make me?” Remi asked.

“Whatever you want to be kiddo. You don’t always have to pretend to be the same things.” Richter smirked.

“Okay! Then I’m, uh… a yeti! That’s even scarier than a wolf!” Remi pulled the drawstrings of his hood so that the furry fringe drew closed, mostly obscuring his face. “Blearghblaaargh!” Remi raised his arms, trying to make a scary growl. Taking after Emil, however, Remi was positively incapable of being anything but cute. Still, Richter played along.

“Aaaah! Oh no! Help! There’s a yeti in the fort! It’s gonna eat me! AAAAAAAH!” Richter laid it on thick, hamming it up. He “fell down in absolute terror” and “tried to scramble away” but it looked more like he just fell over and flailed a bit, grinning the entire time.

Remi laughed all the same. “I’m gonna get you! Grarghblargh!” He stomped over to the redhead, pouncing on him, blowing a raspberry into the crook of Richter’s neck.

“Aaaaargh! He bit me! I’m done for! Aaaaaaaaaaagh!” Richter tensed up, pretending to be in pain. “Oh it’s no use! I’m dying! Ooooh… avenge… me….” The half-elf went limp, pretending to die.

Remi giggled, and it was so cute that Richter almost felt like he’d really died and gone to heaven. His children were literal angels and he didn’t deserve them. And yet he had them.

“It’s okay Dad! I’ll save you!” Archer proclaimed. “Because I’m, uh… a zombie! Yeah! And if I bite you, you become a zombie too and come back to life!” The blond gently nipped Richter’s nose.

“I liiiiiiive…” Richter moaned, slowly rising up. He held his limbs crooked and started shambling aimlessly. “Braiiiiins. Must eat braaaaaaaiiiiiiiinnnnnnnssssssss.” He started shambling over to Emil.

“Nuh-uh! I’m a werewolf! I’m immune!” Emil laughed.

“Immune means not become zombie!” Richter groaned. “Not mean don’t have tasty braaaaaaiiiinnnnnnssss…”

“Nooooo! My brains are not tasty!” Emil laughed, pushing Richter away.

“Give brains!” Richter gaped, shambling against Emil’s outstretched arms.

“No!” Emil leaned in, nipping Richter on the collarbone. “There! I bit you! Now you’re a werewolf zombie! Which means you, uh, d-don’t like brains! You like, uh… fetching balls!”

Richter almost choked on his suppressed laughter. “Urgh baaaaaalllllssss.” The redhead picked up a snowball. “Thissss baaaaaaallllllll. Throoooow baaaaaallll, Awooooooo!” Emil reached out to take the snowball and Richter growled. “No taaaaake! Only throoooow!”

“Okay then!” Emil scooped some snow and formed another ball. “Go fetch!” He chucked the snowball at Aster, missing by a few inches.

“So you want a war, huh? Everyone, attack!” Aster cheered.

Snowballs were flung back and forth amongst the Abends for what seemed like hours. By the end of it, both teams were absolutely covered in snow and everyone was positively spent. In the aftermath of making snow angels and snowmen and sledding, Archer plopped down beside Richter on the porch bench. “Hey, Dad?”

“Yeah, kiddo?”

“Thanks for today.” Archer grinned. “It was the best!”

“I’m glad.” Richter smiled “It really was perfect weather for a snowball fight today.”

“And nobody got hit in the face!” Archer added.

Richter had to forcibly suppress his laughter. “Yes. That part was extra nice.”

“Can we have hot cocoa tonight?” Archer looked up at him, eyes practically sparkling with gleeful anticipation.

Richter almost melted. “Sure we can, son. Sure we can.”