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A Skewed Sense of 'Fine'

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"There's no tragic holiday-related backstory in my past. Christmas was always fine growing up. It wasn't great, it wasn't horrible."
- Dr. Doofenshmirtz

The first five or so Christmases of Heinz Doofenshmirtz's life, he didn't even know that there was a such a thing as Christmas. Looking back, he supposed that there must have been decorations and traditional folk songs, but mostly at the time it was just another day when the neighbors acted weird and his parents remembered to feed him. He first suspected something was amiss after he took on the post of family Lawn Gnome, when they let him back into the house that Christmas night—at night! When all the nasty spirits were just falling over themselves to have a crack at an unguarded home! But they let him come inside, so he knew there was something different about the twenty-fifth of December.

The trainset he never actually got to play with probably arrived on Christmas too, although it's all kind of hazy that far back. He remembers the years afterwards, folk-songs and all, and the towering pile of presents heaped on top of Roger's crib. Of course Heinz would get a couple too. Well. One.

It was a pair of mary-janes to match his dresses, which was—like everything else—not great, but okay. They were better that Olga's Christmas shoes anyways.

But mostly, what he remembers about Christmas comes from the year after he left the Ocelots, and the circus, and bravely returned home to protect his family once again from the nefarious evils on the unprotected lawn. His mother had kept the gnome suit in the corner for him, just like he left it. It was, you know, nice to know they missed him.

That Christmas, his mother sent Roger out to dig him out of the snow bank at about sunrise and pull him inside. Roger didn't really talk much back then—he just smiled all the time, like he was winning some game you didn't even know you were playing and, ooh, even then it was annoying.

"Merry Christmas Heinz," Roger had said, not with any particular interest but hey, that was Roger for you.

"Christmas?" Heinz had replied, shaking snow out of his false beard. "Already? How come nobody told me?"

But Roger was already inside, and following him seemed like the best thing to do lest Heinz get locked out of the house again. He was still nursing a patch of frostbite from the last time he was too slow to catch breakfast.

So Heinz raced inside, rounded the corner of the hallway and skidded into the kitchen, flinging his Gnome Uniform into the closet as he went by. His family was still in hard times back then, but he remembers an entire disemboweled pig sitting on the table that morning. And the bowels sitting next to it, too. Fancy. He went to pull out a chair for himself.

"You eat in the corner, boy," his father said, idly stabbing Heinz's hand with a fork. "Only Son ate your chair last night."

Heinz frowned, kicked a leg of the table, but obediently picked up his plate and sat down in the corner. Only Son always seemed to know exactly what Heinz wanted most.

In the end it was his mother, his father, his brother, and Only Son seated around the kitchen table eating luxurious pork entrails, but, you know, the corner was alright. He had a really great view of the crack developing on the sixth stone up. And an hour later they all filed out into town, boots kicking through the snow, wearing their obligatory Shmogen-goomph hats with the little bells. Heinz always liked going to church, because he sat with the rest of the family, and the building was wooden so it was warmer than home, and nobody threw things at him or called him Fraulein Doofenshmirtz because that would make them look bad in front of Herr God. Heinz figured Herr God must like him, for some reason, or it wouldn't have been a problem.

The other good thing about church was that nobody was paying attention to him, so on days when he had spent the night guarding the house, he could sleep an hour or two in the pews.

Services were long in Gimmelshtump.

That year Heinz slept through most of the service as per usual, slipping so far into the realm of sleep that he slipped right on out of the pew, rolling along into the aisle just as the man bearing the Heiligen Schnitzel of Our Sacred Fathers was making his way towards the front. Naturally, Heinz' unconscious body got underfoot, and the Schnitzel Bearer tripped over him and lost his grip on the Schnitzel. The Schnitzel went flying, landed on Little Bitte Bertha who was allergic to food, she blew up like a balloon, her mother had a panic attack, her father grabbed the altar cloth to muffle the hysteria, the candle on the alter tipped over, the communion wafers caught on fire and exploded like tiny white grenades of holy death, and the entire wooden church caught fire and eventually burned to the snowy ground.

Of course nobody bothered to grab Heinz as they were fleeing in mass terror for the safety of the snow banks—but that was okay, the screaming woke him up and he figured out what was happening pretty fast. At ten years old, he was starting to get a good idea of how his life worked. Skidding out of the flaming wreckage, Heinz was immediately blasted with freezing wind and a village's-worth of singed, near-riotous lynching fury, and how did they even know it was his fault? He didn't even know it was his fault. Not yet, anyways.

So his family covered him with the Bag of Shame and they all went home, remarkably safe considering the events of the day, give or take a partially crushed ribcage. He'd get stuck on lawn duty for the next month straight as penance, but over all, it was one of the least disastrous holidays he'd ever deal with. His ribs weren't even properly broken.

That night, as they gathered around the Christmas tree, Heinz distracted himself by peeling bits of brown paper from the bottom of the Bag of Shame while Roger unwrapped his umpteenth gift of the night. The mountain of gifts behind the five-year-old was towering, at least twice his height, and wobbled unsteadily as Roger heaped his new goat precariously on top of his new radio and his new telescope, all things which would be ignored or traded to another child for various favors the second his parents looked away.

"Come here, son," his mother said, suddenly, and for a second all Heinz could do was turn around and look over his shoulder. Who was she talking to? Roger was over there.

"Me?" he squeaked.

"Yes, you. Come speak with your mother."

Obediently, Heinz got up from his spot underneath the tree and went to stand in front of his mother. If this was about burning down the church…

"I know we do not always show you the same affection that we show your brother," she began, hands folded stiffly in her lap, "and this may seem unfair to you. I know we make you to work harder than your brother, and eat less, and we do not let you speak much of the time. We sell your toys and give your room to Only Son, and do not allow you to have friends or pets, or if you do have pets your father eats them. And these things also may seem unfair to you."

Heinz blinked up at her.

"But in spite of all this," his mother went on, "you are a Doofenshmirtz, and you will always be a Doofenshmirtz. Although we may not act like it, your father and I do think of you." She held out a small box, with a string bow around it. "Here."

Heinz took the box carefully, holding it in his tiny hands like it would break into dust and crumble away at the slightest touch. He thought they'd forgotten him this year, like they'd forgotten last year, but here it was. A present. For him. From his mother. Shaking slightly, he pulled loose the string bow and peeled up the lid.

Inside was an unused toothpick.

And that was—well, that was not great.

But it was okay.

-End