Chapter 7: Ivan Changes

"ya!" Ivan heard a voice exclaim. "anya!"

"No, please, don't let me die this way!" Ivan cried out. He was still flailing around in his bed.

"Vanya, wake up!" the voice shouted, jolting Ivan from his sleep.

Ivan opened his eyes quickly and saw his sisters staring at him. Natalia had a knife in hand, and Katyusha looked scared.

"Katyusha? Natalia?" said Ivan.

"You were screaming," Katyusha said worriedly. "Are you okay?"

"I am now," said a relieved Ivan. "Wait…it's morning!"

"Yeah," said Natalia.

"The spirits…they did it all in one night instead of three!" Ivan said.

"Spirits?" said Katyusha.

"What spirits?" asked Natalia. She was now wielding her knife as if looking for the ghosts that were in her brother's room.

"Uh, Natalia, they're gone already," Ivan said, an annoyed look on his face. He went to the window and opened it. Outside, he saw Alfred and Matthew. "Hey, you two! What day is it?"

Alfred and Matthew looked at each other as if Ivan had lost his marbles.

"You big moron!" Alfred replied. "It's Christmas Day, duh!"

"Al, that wasn't polite," Matthew said quietly, but Alfred didn't hear him, of course.

"Who are you?" Matthew's baby polar bear, Kumajirou, asked.

"I'm Matthew, your owner," Matthew replied.

'I'm not a moron,' Ivan thought. He glared at Alfred for a minute, and then his expression softened. "Christmas Day, huh? I wonder if that turkey at Heta-Mart is still on sale." he said to himself. He then spoke to the twin brothers. "I need you two to do something for me."

"What?" Alfred asked.

"Oh, first, answer this question," Ivan said, changing the subject. "Who's that kid next to you? Your clone?" He pointed at Matthew.

"Clone?" Alfred asked, ridicule in his voice. "Hahahaha! That's hilarious! This isn't my clone. He's my brother Matthew, duh."

"Yeah, I'm his freaking brother, you…you…dummy!" Matthew shouted. "Sheesh!"

"Oh," said Ivan. He had actually forgotten about Matthew.

"Now, just tell us what you want from us," said Alfred.

"Do either of you know if that turkey at Heta-Mart's still there?" asked Ivan.

"Oh, you mean the big one?" asked Alfred.

"Of course he means the big one, Al," said Matthew. "What other turkeys at Heta-Mart would he mean?"

"Oh…" Alfred said, embarrassed at his stupidity. "Uh, yeah, it's still there. Why?"

"Could you get that turkey and bring it to the Beilschmidt's house?" asked Ivan. He went and took money out of Natalia's purse (without asking), put it in a money clip and went back to the window. "Here's some money." He threw the money to the twins.

"Hey, thanks a lot, Ivan the Grouch," Alfred said happily.

"Al!" Matthew scolded. "Um, Mr. Braginski, should we tell Claus that the turkey's from you?"

"Hell no," said Ivan. "It's supposed to be a surprise. I'd suggest taping Alfred's mouth shut so he won't open his big trap and spoil it."

"Okay," said Matthew.

"Hey!" Alfred said, rather insulted at what Ivan had just told Matthew to do.

"Now, go to the store and buy that bird before someone else does," said Ivan.

"Right," the twins said in unison. The both of them went off to buy the turkey.

Ivan smiled. "Now then, to wor—AAAAHHHHH!" He was ambushed by an angry Natalia.

"You took money without asking me!" Natalia yelled.

"Natalia, get off me!" Ivan said as he was being strangled.

"Natalia, get off him," said Katyusha as she pulled Natalia off Ivan.

Ivan took a deep breath and stood up. "Thanks, Katyusha. See you guys later. Merry Christmas."

"Uh…Merry…Christmas?" Katyusha and Natalia both said. They were confused now. Was this really their brother, or an alien life form disguised as him?

Back at the Beilschmidt's house, Claus and the rest of the family were celebrating Christmas Day.

"Hey, look what I got," Gilbert said happily. He was hugging a giant teddy bear.

"That's great, son," said Claus. 'I just feel bad that we couldn't get him the racing car set he wanted,' he thought while watching the boy.

"Lui, go to the party," Roderich said.

"B-B-B-But I don't know what to wear," Ludwig said frantically.

"What you're wearing is fine," Gilbert chimed in.

"Yeah," said Roderich. "It's not like you're going to the opera or anything."

"Okay, but…what if she doesn't like me?" Ludwig asked. His face turned red.

"West, Krysia'll like you," said Gilbert. "You're cool."

"Yeah, she'll like you," said Roderich.

Just then, the Beilschmidts heard a knock at the door.

"I'll get it," said Claus. He opened the door and saw Alfred and Matthew with a big turkey.

"M-Merry Christmas, Mr. Beilschmidt," said Matthew. "Al, why couldn't you carry it?"

"You didn't trust me with not dropping the thing," Alfred replied. He was now holding Kumajirou.

"Al, Mattie," said Claus. "This is a surprise. Who's the bird from?"

"We can't tell you," said Alfred. "It was a surprise."

Elise came out, and her jaw dropped at how big the turkey was. When she was done being dumbstruck with amazement, she said, "Come on, Mattie. I'll help you with that."

"Thanks, Mrs. B," said Matthew. He and Elise went to the kitchen and set the turkey down on the counter. "Whew!"

"This is great," said Claus. "Thanks, boys—Oh, shit! I've gotta get going, or I'm going to be late for work!"

"But, Claus, it's Christmas Day," Elise protested. "Don't you have the day off?"

"No, see you later, hon," said Claus. He gave Elise and his kids hugs and then ran out the door.

Claus ran to the building where he worked and threw the door open.

"Beilschmidt, you're late!" Ivan yelled.

"I'm s-sorry, s-sir," said Claus. "It's just…you know, it's Christmas Day, and I was spending it with my family.

"Spending it with your family?" said Ivan. "Well, Beilschmidt, I've got something to say to you." He advanced towards the shaking man. "Since you were one minute late, I've got no choice but to…"

Claus closed his eyes and waited for Ivan to fire him.

"…raise your salary," Ivan finished.

Claus opened his eyes in surprise. "You mean…you're not going to fire me, sir?"

"No, why would I?" asked Ivan. "And what are you doing here, anyway?"

"You asked me to come here," Claus said.

"Ah, yes, I did," said Ivan. "And I changed my mind. Go back home, and celebrate Christmas with your wife and kids."

"Uh, sir…are you okay?" asked Claus. He thought Ivan was going nuts or something.

"Of course I am," Ivan said happily. "Couldn't be better. Now, go back home before I throw you out."

"Uh…right," said Claus. He turned to leave when Ivan stopped him again.

"Oh, Beilschmidt?" said Ivan.

"What is it?" asked Claus, afraid that Ivan changed his mind about letting him have the day off.

"Here," he threw Claus an envelope. "It's the raise you wanted, plus the money for Gilbert's operation."

"Thank you so much, sir!" Claus exclaimed happily. When he walked out of the building, he was greeted by Ludwig.

"Figured you'd be coming home early," the boy said.

"Come on, let's go get that racing car set for your brother," said Claus.

"Hey, Mudgig!" Ivan called. He was, of course, addressing Ludwig, who turned around with a very annoyed look on his face.

"For the umpteenth time, my name's not Mudgig. It's Ludwig," the irritated teen said.

"Oh, sorry about that," said Ivan. He was holding a box. "Here. It's for you."

Ludwig took the box. "For me?" He looked at the box and smiled widely. "Wow! A Wii!"

"Oh, and about that party you're going to," said Ivan.

"What about it?" asked Ludwig. "And how do you know—?"

"Just go to the Lukasiewicz' party, and just talk to Krysia," said Ivan. "Maybe something good will come out of it."

"Really?" Ludwig asked happily. "Thanks, Mr. Braginski!"

"You're welcome," said Ivan. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas," Claus and Ludwig called back. The both of them went to the toy store and bought the racing car set that Gilbert had asked for.

On the way home, Ludwig saw the envelope in Claus' possession. "Dad, how much money's in there?"

"Enough for your little brother's operation," Claus said joyfully. "And there'll be enough left over, too."

"That's great!" said Ludwig. "Gilbo's gonna be okay!"

Claus and Ludwig made it home and told Elise the good news.

"Here, baby bro," Ludwig said, handing Gilbert another present.

Gilbert opened it and smiled upon seeing what was inside. "The Hot Wheels Deluxe Elite! Wow!"

Claus and Elise decided that they would take Gilbert for his operation the next day, so the child could spend Christmas at home.

That night, Ludwig, Feliciano and Kiku went to Krysia's party, Gilbert tagging along with them.

When they got there, Ludwig tried ringing the doorbell, but kept missing because he was nervous.

"Let me get it," said Kiku. He rang the doorbell.

Krysia opened the door. "Lui, Feli, Kiku! You're here."

"Thank you very much for having us, Krysia-chan," said Kiku.

"Uh…H-H-H-H-H-H-H-Hi…ah-gah-buh-buh-buh…" said Ludwig.

"Hi!" Gilbert said excitedly. He waved to Krysia.

"Aw, Lui, you brought your little brother?" said Krysia. She bent down and ruffled Gilbert's hair, which made the boy laugh. "How sweet."

"Uh…Y-Y-Y-Yeah…" Ludwig said shyly as he, his friends and Gilbert all followed Krysia into the house.

"Make yourselves at home, guys," said Krysia. "There's some snacks, and—"

"Yummy! Snacks!" Gilbert exclaimed. He made a beeline for the snacks and drinks.

"Gilbo, don't get overexcited," Ludwig called.

Some time later, Gilbert went up to his big brother. "West, go talk to her." He took a bite of a Santa cookie.

"Uh…Nah, I'm fine here," Ludwig said quickly.

"Come on, I've got something cool to show ya," said Gilbert. He led Ludwig somewhere, and then pushed him so that he bumped into Krysia.

"Oof! Gil…" Ludwig said, but then saw Krysia and couldn't bring himself to get mad at Gilbert.

The rest of the party was fun, and Ludwig made a mental note to thank his baby brother at some point, because he and Krysia were now officially boyfriend and girlfriend (after getting Feliks and his and Krysia's father's approval, of course!).

The next day, Ivan walked into the hospital and took the elevator to the children's ward. Once he got there, he went to Gilbert's room. The boy was there with his parents and brothers, hugging his teddy bear and playing with his racing car set.

Ivan knocked on the open door. "May I come in?"

"Of course, sir," Claus said happily.

"How was the party last night?" Ivan asked Ludwig.

"It was fun," Ludwig said ecstatically. "And Krysia and I are going out now! Thanks so much, sir."

"Not a problem," said Ivan.

"And thank you, too, Gilbo," Ludwig said to the 6-year-old with the bear and cars.

"You're welcome, Big Brother," said Gilbert with a smile.

"What are you doing here, Mr. Braginski?" asked Roderich.

"Roddy, that's not polite," Claus scolded.

"Oh, I'm just here to see how you guys are," said Ivan. "And I heard that Gilbert's going to get a new heart today."

"Yeah," said Gilbert. "Then I'll get better." He got out of bed. "And then I'll be as awesome as my mommy's people in Prussia!"

"Aw, I'm sure you will," Ivan said sweetly. He messed up Gilbert hair. "Hm. You're quite short, aren't you?"

"Well, yeah," said Gilbert. "I'm a child."

"Well, that's no excuse. I was never as short as you," said Ivan.

"You were once," said Ludwig.

"Was not," said Ivan. "You know why? Because I distinctly remember putting a hat on top of my head." He pointed to his Russian fur hat. "Look at Gilbert's short little arms. He'll never reach."

Gilbert jumped up and down to try and get Ivan's hat.

"Ha ha ha," Ivan laughed. "You can't reach me."

"I'll reach you," a determined Gilbert said. He was still trying to get to the hat.

Ludwig lifted Gilbert up, stood on tiptoe—being 13, he was still shorter than Ivan—and held Gilbert up.

"Got it," Gilbert said triumphantly. He put the hat on top of his head.

"Hey, give it back," Ivan said. He reached for the hat, but Ludwig held Gilbert away from him.

"Awwww, he looks so CUTE!" Elise exclaimed. "Germania, get the camera."

"Got it," said Germania, speaking for the first time. "Aw, Gilbo, you look so adorable. Smile."

"Cheese," Gilbert said and grinned. Germania took a picture, and Claus picked his son up.

"Please give my hat back," said Ivan.

"Sir, just let him wear it until it's time for him to go into surgery," said Claus.

"Okay, then, in the meantime, I'll take Roderich's glasses." He took Roderich's glasses off the young man.

"Hey, give those back!" said Roderich. "I look plain without them."

"When I get my hat back, you get your glasses back," said Ivan.

"So you're holding my glasses for ransom?" said Roderich. "Glasses-napper!"

"Well, you don't really need them," said Ivan.

"Dad, tell Mr. Braginski to give my glasses back," said Roderich.

"Come on, sir, give Roderich back his glasses," said Claus.

"Okay," said Ivan. He gave Roderich back his glasses and sat down.

"Hey, Mr. Braginski, you wanna play cars with me?" Gilbert asked.

"Sure," Ivan said happily. He took one of the cars, and the two played a game until the doctor came in.

"Okay, Gilbert," said the doctor. "You'll come with me, okay?"

"'Kay," said Gilbert. Claus picked him up, put him back in bed and gave Ivan back his hat.

Elise stroked Gilbert's hair and hugged him. "We'll be here when you're done."

"'Kay," said Gilbert.

The doctor wheeled Gilbert in his bed to the operating room. Ivan and the rest of the family waited nervously for hours as the surgery went on.

Hours later, the doctor came out of the operating room, and Claus and Elise nervously jumped out of their seats.

"The operation was a success," the doctor said. He took off his mask and smiled.

"How is he?" asked Ivan before Claus and Elise could open their mouths.

"Gilbert's still out of it, but he'll be just fine," said the doctor.

"Oh, thank God," Claus and Elise said with relief.

After the operation, Gilbert was a happy and healthy little boy, and Ludwig and Krysia were still dating.

Ivan started being a better employer to Claus, and gave him days off every Thanksgiving and Christmas, and even on his children's birthdays. And he also started celebrating Christmas again for the first time in years.

Of course, one thing didn't change, and most likely won't:

"Big Brother!" Natalia shouted, chasing after Ivan. "Let us become one! Marry me! Marry me! Marry meeee!"

"Nooooo!" Ivan yelled. "Go away!"

"Natalia, stop," said Katyusha.