Foreword: To those of you here from "Change of Heart"- Hello! This is what I meant when I promised you would hear from me in December. Chapters take longer to write than oneshots. I realized a little too late that I doubt many of you will know this exists, because I don't think a lot of you have me on author-update. So, sorry!
To everyone in general- Hello, and Merry Christmas! I hope you enjoy this little bit of Christmas-enfused silliness. :) I enjoyed writing it!
Morton Junior and Bowser Junior sat around a stone table, each with a heaping bowl of chips in front of them. Morton was stacking them one on top of another, seeing just how high he could get it and still have it fit in his koopaling-sized mouth. Often, however, the unsteady pile would collapse within itself under his claws' pressure, sending chips flying down the hallway to their delight.
Junior, his mouth filled with the chips he'd rather eat than play with, laughed loud and obnoxiously when a curly-haired boo, yards and yards of decorative tinsel trailing along beside him, was blasted with chips. The boo shrieked and disappeared, leaving the tinsel to fall to the ground where Junior promptly stole it.
The boys waited, snickering as they tried to "hide" their treasure behind their shells. The boo reappeared and glared at them both. "Excuse me, but that is no way to treat a royal decorator!"
"How are we supposed to treat you, fancy McFancyPants without the pants cause you don't have any cause you're too dumb for legs?" Morton teased back.
"With dignity," the boo began floating over to look for his stolen tinsel, "and respect proper to princes like yourselves."
"Pah!" Junior scoffed. "We don't need no dignity. We're not just princes- we're koopalings. And we LOVE being mean!" He stuck his tongue out at the prissy boo who, in distain, shook his curly locks. "Besides, you haven't said the magic word."
"I suppose there's no way in Overwhere or Underwhere it's 'please', correct?"
"Um…correct!" Junior answered. Morton was glaring at him, going on about the unnecessary 'magic word' that would promise tinsel retrieval.
"Could it possibly be 'I'll tell your father'?"
"He would love it!" Morton roared back. "He'd think we were SO FUNNY!"
"What about 'It's Christmastime and you two little boys are freaking annoying?'"
"Closer," Junior hinted. The Boo kept guessing words related to Christmastime for nearly ten minutes, finally guessing "Tinsel" as a surprisingly last resort. With a toothy grin, Junior reached behind him and yanked the tinsel out of Morton's grasp, leaving hundreds of plastic shimmery strands on the ground around him.
The boo cringed at his mangled tinsel, but sighed and thanked Junior before floating off in a huff. Morton was far less pleased. "What'chu do that for, Ugly? Are you so ugly your eyes don't work and so your brain got all fuzzified and screwy like a screwed-up fuzzy piece of ugly brain?"
"Because I actually like the Christmas decorations," Junior answered. "They make it feel like we live in a magic palace."
"Junior, we do. Idiot."
"I meant normal people magic," Junior snarled back. "Besides, I want Santa to see me being nice."
Morton looked at Junior and raised his brows, distorting his birthmark. "You…want Santa…to see you being nice?"
"Well, yeah. My Christmas list is huge this year. Most of it is stuff I already have or things Daddy promised me I'll get from someone else, but he'll probably think of something just as awesome and I WANT it. Whatever it is."
"…What part of 'We love being mean' do you freaking not understand?" Morton asked before he burst out laughing. He stood up, dumped the rest of the potato chips including the bowl on Junior's puzzled head, and danced around him, singing, "Junior's being ni-ice! Junior's being ni-ice!"
"What's wrong with that?" Junior asked from below the bowl. "It's only for Christmastime! I'm SUPER mean on December 26th!"
"That doesn't matter, Saint Junior of the Saintly Nice People Brigade. You're still being NICE. And only dumb, pansy little dumbos are nice!"
"But…my presents…" Junior stuttered.
Morton acted like he couldn't hear his younger brother. He grabbed Junior by the hand and pulled him up. "We HAVE to tell everyone how dumb and stupid and baby you are!"
"Heyyy, I'm not a baby!" But even with Junior's whined retort, Morton yanked him down the hallway, leaving their mess on the floor to be cleaned by some other disgruntled boo. They tore past the decorated latnerns, evergreen swags making the fire seem festive instead of foreboding. They raced over a lava bridge with garland swinging along the edges. They didn't even stop to look at any of the twenty-foot trees in one hallway, each being lovingly trimmed and decorated, and Moron didn't once stop to consider the enchanted snow that fell upon them as they left the fake forest. None of the silver, gold, red, or green stood out to him, even though it gilded the walls right and left.
Finally, the two juniors ended up right where Morton had hoped- in front of the koopaling study room. As Junior was the youngest, he wasn't required to take any of their end-of-the-year tests. Larry wasn't even old enough, but he had requested and received special permission to do so anyway. Morton's teacher had grown to accept every test from him would forever be a pattern of "BADBADBADBAD", even if it wasn't multiple choice. As such, he was excused from studying, where he probably would be a bigger distraction than anything.
Morton shoved the heavy door open, a wreath bouncing off when it shut. "HEY YOU GUYES," he bellowed, "GUESS WHO WANTS SANTA TO THINK HE'S NICE?" Morton started pointing at Junior, leading the rest of his siblings in a chorus of laughter. Junior's face went bright red. How was HE supposed to know that they weren't supposed to be nice at Christmastime? Didn't all the nannies AND Mama Peach tell them that Santa only gives presents to good little koopas? What the heck was he supposed to do with a lump of coal?
Still, the koopalings laughed. They started to make up names for him, like "Brother Junior", "Old Saint Junior", "Nicey McNice-face" (which Morton immediately took back upon realizing 'nice face' was complimentary), "Cindy Lou-Who Junior", or, the worst, "Tiny Tim." Junior could not get a word in edgewise as his brothers and sister just laughed and laughed at his desire to get something for Christmas in the name of good deeds. He raced out of the room, nearly in tears, a chorus of "God Bless Us, Every One" behind him.
Their laughter rang in his ears as Junior ran down the hallways and hid in the enchanted forest. He snuggled up under one of the magically glowing trees, goombas poking around it and leaving him quite alone as they made finishing touches.
Normally, the palace was decorated and made festive for Christmas, Bowser's second favorite holiday after his own birthday. But this year, special attention was being made for its décor and Christmas spirit. Bowser and kidnapped Princess Peach around December 18th, promising her return on December 23rd. His kidnappings had become so frequent that she was quite flattered with the offer, something that Bowser sugarcoated with promises that the children needed a mother at Christmastime, and that he wouldn't do anything violent to the Mushroom Kingdom at all, so long as she was there to spread a little Christmas cheer. So, to nearly everyone's surprise, she went. It was even publicized.
Bowser knew the palace needed to absolutely blow her away, secretly hoping if it had enough Christmas spirit around, she would want to stay the next two days as well. So far she was set on leaving the night before Christmas Eve, as promised, but she was singing more and more carols down the halls with each progressing day. Underneath the tree, Junior sang one of the ones she had taught to himself, trying to make it a little happier.
"You betta watch out…you betta not cry…you betta not pout I'm tellin' you why…"
A goomba two trees away with a fabulously low voice finished, "Santa Claus is coming to Toooown."
Junior grinned, crawling out just enough to see his bass duet partner. "He's makin' a list…checkin' it twice! Gonna find out whose naughty or nice…"
The goomba replied again, "Santa Claus is coming to tooown!"
Junior scrambled out completely, rescuing his snagged bandana from the tree boughs and sang loudly in a voice just slightly better than his father's, "He sees you when you're sleeping! He knows when you're awake! He know if you've been bad or good so be GOOD forGOO-"
"Junior," someone interrupted, making Junior scream and duck. He peeked between his claws and saw it was just Larry. "Junior, I want to talk to you."
"Are you just gonna laugh at me because I want presents?" Junior asked, whimpering.
"No," Larry replied. "But I am gonna laugh at you because you have an ornament stuck on your horn." Junior looked up and hastily returned the little golden ball to a tree nearby. Larry smirked at him. Right on its 15-minute interval cue, the snow began to fall again. "Let's not talk in the snow," Larry said. He and a very sheepish Junior made their way to a separate, deserted hallway already done up In tinsel and glittering lights.
"What you wanna say to me? That I'm dumb and a dumby?"
"No, just that you've forgotten what it means to be a koopaling. You know we love being mean. It's our nature. It's always been like that. It's what we're expected to do, Junior. And it's not worth screwing up our best quality just so you can have a little something extra under the big family tree this year."
"But I was nice last year and nobody cared!"
Larry rolled his eyes. "Last year you were still a baby."
"WAS NOT!" Junior whined, stomping his feet.
"Look. The point is, if you get presents under the tree in three days instead of a lump of coal, you are going to be laughed out of the family. You'll be 'Junior, the Nice Koopaling' for the rest of the whole entire next year. Meanness is a standard we have to uphold, and Santa being oh-so clever and separating the world into Naughty and Nice makes it very easy on us."
"But what do you even do with the coal? We live in a VOLCANO, Larry. Presents are much more useful."
"Haven't you ever heard 'it's the thought that counts', Junior? If you get a present, people are gonna think that you're a pushover, a nice-guy. Do you think King Dad has ever gotten presents from Santa? I bet he's gotten enough coal to solve the world's energy crisis. But that would put him on the nice list, which would ruin his perfectly good record of being naughty."
Junior pouted and shuffled his feet a little. Giving up all his presents for a little pride seemed a bit much…but then he considered everything. What didn't the koopa family do for pride? Bowser could have won over Peach years ago if he wasn't so proud. The koopalings could all be excelling in real schools and honored worldwide for being brilliant if they weren't so proud to stay homeschooled and be considered irresponsible. Pride really meant everything in being a koopaling.
"I guess I got to get on that naughty list then," Junior muttered, imagining his beautifully wrapped boxes all disappearing in a puff of smoke.
"Get on it?" Larry asked, blinking in confusion. "You…don't think you already are?"
"Well, that's what I meant!" Junior replied, flustered. "Duh, I'm already on the naughty list. I just have to stay there until Christmas. Which won't be hard because I'm the baddest, meanest, naughtiest koopaling out of everybody!"
"I think Roy is probably the-"
"EVERYBODY!" Junior bellowed. Then, to prove his point, he ripped the tinsel off the wall and awkwardly threw it at Larry. It fell short, making Larry laugh and Junior angry. He stormed off in yet another huff.
The day was not a good one for Junior. He spent most of his time sitting under Christmas trees or on top of snowforts, thinking about how considerably nice he'd been the whole year. He shared his food with the other kids at soccer practice, he helped the mentally-challenged koopa who came to school one day with half her hair shaved off, he even brought his teacher an apple. An apple! No wonder she cut it into such small pieces, muttering about worms and pins before eating it. He was probably at the very, very top of Santa's magic list!
And to think of all the things he didn't do this year…! He stayed out of probably half of his siblings' various pranks, he didn't kidnap Princess Peach even once, and he didn't let the loose chain chomp eat Roy's pet bunny, even if Junior hated the thing. He didn't explode the palace, he didn't try and rule the world, he didn't coat the floors in honey, he didn't plant a bomb in Mario's pipes…he was practically a saint!
Things were not looking good for Junior's Christmas.
Somehow during his pondering and nervous thinking, Junior ended up in front of the royal kitchen. It smelled like cinnamon and gingerbread, so he wandered in. A lot of times if he helped Cookoopa mix the dough, she'd pretend she didn't see him stealing some. And today was even better because it wasn't Cookie that he saw first- it was his Mama Peach!
Peach was humming "Angels we have Heard on High" as she carried a huge sack of flour across the room. She caught sight of Junior and grinned, signaling him to help her carry it.
Without thinking twice, Junior raced over to Mama Peach and lifted his arms high, helping heft the bag in just the slightest. She was wearing an apron absolutely coated in cookie ingredients, and her browline was coated in flour. "Thank you, Junior," she said once they got the flour to the counter. "I just ran out on that last gingerbread wall and heaven knows you can't make cookies without flour!" She smiled at him.
Junior scrambled up the counter, sitting on a rare clean spot; probably where the old flour had been sitting before it was removed. "Whatcha making, Mama Peach?"
"My castle," she answered with a smile. She pointed him towards the cookie-sheet of massive rectangles and triangles of all different cuts, waiting to go into the oven. "It's going to be three feet high and be like a home within my home away from home. I'm most excited to do the stained-glass window…Cookoopa and I are going to use colored melted sugar for it." She grinned and started to beat the egg and sugar together. "Did you want to help?"
"No, I have a question," Junior answered, sticking his head over the bowl to watch her transform them. The way Mama Peach cooked seemed like magic as things changed form under her whisk's touch.
"Shoot," she said, adding the next few ingredients to the bowl wider than her dress.
"You know Santa Claus? And how he has a naughty and nice list?"
"I certainly do," Peach replied. "Proud member of the Nice List Club since my very first Christmas!" She smiled at Junior. "What about it?"
"Well…what if someone was on one list the whole year, and then decided to change at December? Like what if…you, for example, decided to RIGHT NOW start being reaaaaally, reaaaaally mean. Would Santa change you from the Nice list to the Naughty list?"
"I think I know what you're worried about," Peach said.
"You do?" Junior asked, worried.
"Of course. You, being the little koopaling you are, probably think you're on the naughty list, don't you?"
"Um….yeah. That's right."
"If you're nice, even if it's just at Christmastime, Santa can figure out that you want to change. That you're trying to be a better Bowser Junior to make him happy. So he would put you on the nice list right that day!" Peach smiled at him and tapped her whisk on the side of the bowl. She grabbed a huge 5-cup measuring spoon and began dumping scoopfuls of flour into the mixture. "There's room for everyone on the nice list."
"So…even if I'm mean all year, I might end up 'Nice'?"
"That's the idea," Peach replied. "Santa is all about forgiveness and love."
"What about the other way around?" Junior asked, feeling a little nervous. "My example with you. What would happen if you started being mean right now?"
"Well," Peach answered, a little frown forming on her face as she thought. "That's a little different. I don't know many people who would want to do that. But Santa likes to have as many people on the nice list as possible. If you've really been good all year, bets are that you're probably really nice deep down, too. So I think Santa would keep you on his nice list, even if you just screwed up one month."
"That's not fair!" Junior shrieked. "How come you can be nice one month and be 'Nice', but if you're mean one month you're still 'Nice'? Doesn't Santa WANT to give people coal?"
"Why would he want to give people coal? Santa is a very, very nice man. He likes to make little boys and girls happy and give them what they want for Christmas. He only punishes the naughty children so they can learn that they need to be nice. But he wouldn't want to make someone sad if they were the teensiest bit nice, now would he?"
Junior pouted. "Santa is dumb. I would just give everybody coal so nobody had to worry about dumb things like lists."
Peach laughed and poked Junior on his muzzle, leaving a floury spot where her finger was. "And that's why you aren't him. You sure you don't want to help? I'm adding the spices next!"
"I'm gonna go talk to Papa," Junior muttered, hopping off the counter.
He left without saying goodbye and began trotting down the hallway. Mama Peach was not helpful! That just made things worse! Stupid Santa Claus and his stupid generosity. Didn't he know some people 'love being mean' and want everyone to know it?
Junior showed up at Bowser's office door and almost knocked, then remembered he's supposed to be mean. Instead, he stormed in. Bowser looked up from his papers and growled at his youngest son, "What the heck do you want, pipsqueak?"
"I want to talk about Santa Claus," Junior answered, marching over to Bowser and sitting on the floor.
"What about the fatty do you wanna know?"
"Did he ever bring you presents?"
Bowser grinned at Junior and ruffled his mane. "Once I turned a little younger than you are, I got my first lump of coal. I was so proud someone was rewarding my meanness. I've gotten coal every year since." He smiled, quite proud of himself. "We normally just throw it into the main fire pit thingy in the middle of the volcano. But I do still have that first lump. You wanna see it?"
"Why would I want to see a dirty, old rock?" Junior asked as Bowser stood up to fetch his prized possession.
"Because it's awesome, that's why. But you're not cool enough to see it; I just decided. Sucks to be you!"
"So…you've gotten coal every single year?"
"Sure have," Bowser replied.
"But don't you WANT things from Santa Claus? Like toys or money or stuff?"
"Junior, in case you haven't noticed, I'm kind of a big deal. I have all that junk already. And if I don't, I just snap my fingers and somebody else gets it for me."
"What about Mama Peach?" Junior asked. "Don't you want to get her from Santa one year?"
"I…" Bowser swallowed, looking at Junior straight on. "I don't think that would count. If she's gonna be your Mama, I want her to decide that herself. And I'll just keep kidnapping her and forcing her hand until she realizes that I'm right and she's wrong and she really does love me back."
"But you have asked for her, right? You're just so naughty you get coal instead?"
"…what? Oh. OH. Yes. All that gobbledegook I just told you doesn't matter. If Santa could wrap her up, that'd be awesome. But it's way more awesome being bad than sitting around like a pansy on the nice list for a whole year."
Junior gulped. "So…people on the nice list are pansies?"
"Jeez louise, Kid. If I knew you wanted to solve World Hunger I would have freaking never stood up. " He grunted as he sat back down in his chair, still looking way down at Junior on the floor. "Most of them, yeah. Mama Peach is on the nice list and obviously, she's the second-most awesome person in the whole entire world. But know who else is on the nice list? Mario. Toad. Luigi. Ghandi. All pansies."
"Who's Gondee?" Junior asked.
"Doesn't matter, pipsqueak," Bowser replied with a wave of his claw. "Any other questions?"
"If one of your kids got on the nice list…like Ludwig, for instance…would you think he was a pansy?"
"Ludwig is a pansy. Sucky example."
"Um, what about Larry?"
"I would be very disappointed in him, yes." Bowser answered. He looked at his pile of papers and groaned. "Look, kid. They're putting mistletoe in the hallway today. Make yourself useful and sign my name on this half if you're gonna stay."
Junior looked at his father, holding out a pile of papers with his left claw and signing his name with his right. He loved his Papa so much…and didn't want to do anything to disappoint him. Ever. And Bowser would totally be disappointed if he was a pansy on the nice list. "No."
"No? No what, weirdo?"
"No, I'm not gonna stay and help you, Papa."
Bowser glared at him. "Well, now I'm forcing you to stay and help. So there."
"No!" Junior screamed, standing up and knocking things over as he ran out of the room, hollering, "nononononono!"
Bowser watched him leave and started to laugh. Loud and long. Junior could still hear his father laughing as he tore down tinsel after tinsel, leaving a trail behind him farther and farther through the palace.
Junior's reign of terror continued every day until Christmas Eve. He hoarded all the food and then dumped it on the floor, he did coat the floor in honey and just stood and laughed when everyone slipped, and he suffered through the worst stomach ache he'd had to date when he ate every single decorative gingerbread house.
He set up a rather complicated canal system from the main bathrooms into one particular lava-bridge room, wasting thousands of gallons of water and completely throwing off the room's equilibrium. Iggy swore he would never forgive him for that feat, though he admitted to being very impressed. At least until he did it three more times.
He broke into Ludwig's instrument room and broke everything he could get his hands on. When the oldest koopaling saw the resulting rubble, he couldn't even utter a word. He replaced Wendy's make-up with mud and bugs, tricked Roy into handing him his sunglasses which he also broke, and he popped four of Lemmy's nicest balls. He filled Morton's cup with tar at every single meal, and he spat the largest wad of bubblegum imaginable into Larry's Mohawk.
Kammy found every single one of her robes died a hideous brown and Kamek woke up to glasses covered in magic-repellant paint. Both their brooms were scraggled and hidden as well. Even Bowser got the effects of Junior's mad obsession with the naughty list, finding pins on literally every chair he tried to sit in. And the mistletoe that he would wait under for an unsuspecting Peach had a strange tendency to drop exploding stinkberries on his head.
It got to the point that Bowser stopped laughing and starting yelling, a reaction the koopalings rarely got from their father. No one was patting him on the back, approving of his "pranks" or laughing at his wit. The only person he didn't specifically target was Princess Peach, and she seemed the most hurt of all. About to board the Clown Copter that would take her home on the day before Christmas Eve, when she gave everyone a hug and wished them a Merry Christmas, she pulled Bowser Junior aside.
"Junior…I'm very disappointed in you."
"What do you mean?" Junior asked, trying to steady his voice. Being naughty was what he was supposed to do! Why did it make him feel like such a terrible person the second Mama Peach reacted to any of this antics.
"I think you know exactly what I'm referring to, Junior," she answered, sadly. "Ever since that day we talked about Santa Claus, you have been…an absolute monster."
"Thank you," Junior said, trying his best to have an ironic 'devil-may-care' smirk when all he wanted to do was cry.
She frowned back at him. "That wasn't a compliment. Junior, you are a very sweet little boy. I know you don't like hearing that, but I love you so much for it. I don't know why you're so desperate to get onto the naughty list, but it's pushing away all the people who love you. Even your father is worried, and he thinks that genocide is a trip to the park and back. Trust me, Junior; it's not worth it."
"But I'm a k-koopaling. We l-l-love being mean!" he stuttered back, his lower jaw trembling against every wish he had.
She bent down and held it steady, staring deep into his eyes. "Being mean isn't what life is all about. Besides, your siblings generally know when to stop. I'm not saying they would be my top picks for citizen of the year, but they know the importance of love and respect from those who deserve it. It's Christmastime, Junior. You ought to show a little love for your fellow koopa."
Junior looked away from Peach's big blue eyes. He believed every word she said, but if he went through all this and still woke up to presents and the shame that was most certainly attached? He couldn't last another day. No. The only thing there was to do was make this last day before Santa came worth all the trouble.
Peach stood up and ruffled Junior's hair. "I'm going to talk to one of my very good friends about this. Have a very Merry Christmas, Junior. And don't forget what I've told you. She bent down one last time to give him a peck on the forehead and, picking up her dress, went over to Junior's overeager father.
Joining his siblings in a semicircle around the clown copter, Junior stared up as Bowser and Peach flew away. His dad kept his promise to Peach. Junior intended on keeping the one he made to himself.
Kammy ushered them all to bed, ignoring the whines of the siblings who wanted to stay up or complain about Peach being gone right at Christmas. Junior kept his mouth shut, thinking about how terrible he felt and how much more terrible he had to be tomorrow.
"Go to bed, you little freak," Kammy snarled at Junior as she led him to his bedroom. Junior didn't answer, but instead marched over towards his bed and pouted. She shut the door in satisfaction. Junior looked around the empty room and snickered. He'd start the day right by ignoring Kammy's wishes. She wanted him to go to bed? He most certainly would not! Junior tore the sheets off his bed and curled up in a pile right in front of it.
"See that, Santa?" Junior growled, knowing that 'he sees you when you're sleeping' would most certainly apply soon enough. "Naughty, naughty….naughty." He yawned and curled into his sheets, praying that the big guy in red wouldn't see him crying.
Christmas Eve was even worse than the days preceding. Junior was under very close watch by nearly everyone employed in the palace, but he still managed to make a circus out of the well-oiled machine. He carried literal wrenches around to stick in every cog he passed, he turned all of the decorations on their sides, and lit fire to everything his pitiful excuse for a breath flame could.
He sent his sister and two of his brothers into tears, and the rest were yelling at him at least once that day. People Junior hadn't even met were lecturing him, running away from him at first sight, and treating him like he was some kind of convict. Junior hated knowing what he was going to get in a present before Christmas, but he did open every other present under every single tree. He even broke a few.
And that was just before lunch.
Junior was sent to bed very early, at around 3 o'clock. A pitiful plate of liver accompanied him for his dinner, and several boos sat as sentry. But Junior was desperate. He shuffled around all his furniture and used his markers to color every inch of wall he could. Most likely no one would care about that, since Junior's room used to be a dungeon and already had decades of graffiti and the like. But it's the thought that counts, Junior reminded himself as he scrawled a particularly violent picture above his doorframe, and my thoughts are very naughty!
Hours passed and Junior was pacing the room, eager to get out and be naughty. It still stung him, seeing the looks of disapproval from the very people he was so desperate to please. But it was going to be worth it…it had to be worth it. There was no way in the Darklands that Junior had been on the naughty list before hand, according to Mama Peach's logic. But he actually had a fighting chance…if he could just finish one last dastardly deed.
Kamek had apparently forgotten about the catacombs of secret passages between the siblings' rooms. Junior checked his clock and at 11:35 he was satisfied. He needed time to get to the crucial locale and prep his grand finale before midnight. Junior heaved and groaned and finally shimmied a giant boulder out of its place in the wall, revealing a long, dark tunnel. Smiling, Junior knelt down to prepare his escape. The tunnel was large enough that Junior easily could have walked the whole way, but it felt much naughtier to crawl away from his personal prison. Holding a weak flame in his mouth was difficult but necessary, if Junior wanted to see where he was going at all. Right, left, left, up, straight, right, left, up, up, right, left, up, he mentally chanted.
Finally, he had gotten through the filthy tunnels and ended up behind the tail of a statue of his father. He pushed the tail, moving the statue out of the way, and clamored to find where he was. Junior grinned. He was right next to the service elevator leading up to the center of the volcano's opening. And, as expected, the room was never decorated or cleaned out, as it was meant for power workers only. He slammed the ground repeatedly, snapping dozens of stalactites and stalagmites off the ceiling and floor. Junior stuffed as many as he could into his arms and rushed into the elevator.
A little behind in schedule, Junior knew he had to work carefully. The elevator opened right to the fairly narrow opening of the volcano. Junior took the largest spike and drove it into the wall, making absolutely certain that it was steady before he himself climbed onto the spike. Then, he went to work installing the other spikes around the entry. Ideally, Santa would leap into the Palace's equivalent of a chimney and find himself very seriously hurt by Junior's handiwork. In case Santa couldn't figure out who was responsible for his cuts and scrapes, Junior intended on leaving a note. It would be impossible to miss, and with such pain fresh on his mind, Junior would be impossible to put on the nice list.
He was hardly halfway through when Junior felt a tap on his shoulder. He howled and began waving his arms and dancing in place. The remaining spikes all tumbled to their fiery graves, but two big arms stopped Junior from joining them. The little koopaling began to pant, steadying himself as his short life flashed before his eyes. He grabbed the two hands and felt that they were encompassed in leather mittens. Mittens? In a volcano? No worker was dumb enough to do that, so it only had one explanation…
Slowly, he turned his head around and ended up with a faceful of white beard. "SANTA!" he shouted, completely muffled in the beard. Santa Claus laughed with his merry, signature laugh, and set Junior down to sit. Somehow since being tapped by the jolly old man, the spike had grown to a massive size, big enough for both of them to sit safely.
"How did you…when did you…why didn't you get hurt by the spikes?"
"Junior," Santa began with a twinkle in his eyes, "I go down chimneys a lot smaller than this very, very often. Did you really think I would have let myself get hurt?" He and Junior looked at the shoddy spiking, a few stalagmites falling down at nothing but Santa's disapproving glance. "Though I am a little offended you'd think I would get caught on those anyway. I'm not that fat."
Junior didn't answer. He felt bad being next to Mama Peach's hero, sitting on a spike over a bed of lava hundreds of feet below them. Santa was all dressed up in his red suit with the white fur trim, being every bit the man who Junior saw in pictures. And he seemed every bit as nice as Mama Peach…maybe even nicer, if that was somehow possible.
"So I've heard that you're trying to get yourself on my naughty list," He said, breaking the silence.
"Yeah…" Junior finally croaked. "…Am I on it?"
Santa ignored his question and asked another of his own. "You think that will get your family to be proud of you, don't you, Junior?"
He looked away from Santa Claus and nodded. "Koopalings are supposed to be mean. And if I get presents, then that means I'm not naughty. And that means I'm not a good koopaling."
"You want coal, don't you, Junior?"
"Uh-huh," he answered affirmatively. Junior wiped away a tear, trying to pretend Santa couldn't see him. "I don't want them to know that I'm…that I…"
"That you like being nice?" Santa chuckled at Junior's horrified expression. "I know you, Junior. Maybe better than you know yourself. I've seen millions of little boys and girls go through their lives. Some of them honestly love being mean because they're mean-spirited little children. Others love being mean because they get praise, appreciation, and attention. Most, thank goodness, would prefer the praise and appreciation that they get from being nice. I know you're not a naughty koopaling, Junior. You do bad things, but the strange thing about you is that you do these bad things out of love. Never hate.
"You have been a very…interesting…one for me and my elves to watch the past few days. Trying so very hard to be so very bad, just because you wanted a little lump of coal. But you don't want coal. Not really." Santa reached into his coat and with little more than a second of effort, pulled out the tattered piece of burnt paper that Junior had mailed almost a month earlier. "You want…a new set of wheels for your MunchMobile, and a better, spikier shell than all your brothers." He stuffed the letter back into his coat and smirked. "If you had opened your own presents you would have found that you already have both those things under the tree."
Junior groaned and threw his head back. "Why did you tell me?"
"Because, my boy, I'm trying to prove a point." He laughed and tipped Junior's chin. "Don't worry; there are 57 more surprises waiting for you in the morning under that same tree. Now, if you don't mind, I have a little story to tell you.
"Once upon a time, there was a young koopaling. Very much like yourself. He realized that he was going to get everything he asked for, whether or not it was from me, and whether or not he was 'good'. And he was hard to define as naughty or nice anyway, so the both of us were having trouble. Some days," Santa laughed, "Sparkle Toes and Twinkley would play ping-pong and whichever side the ball landed on would be his label for the day. Those are elves." He explained to ease Junior's baffled expression.
"Continuing my story. This koopaling also realized that, more than anything in the world, he wanted to be considered 'naughty'. His dad was mean, and encouraged his son to act the same way. All this little koopaling wanted was his father's approval. And he pretty much never got it. So he came up with a plan that would guarantee he would get coal in his stocking on Christmas Day."
"Guarantee?" Junior asked with excitement, sitting up on the very edge of their shared spike.
"Mmm-hmm," Santa nodded. He reached into his coat again and pulled out another letter, this one very old and wrinkled. He showed it to Junior, to let him read.
"Deer Santa," Junior read out-loud. "Four Crissmas I wood like sum cole. Love…" Junior couldn't read the last word out loud. He was too surprised.
So Santa read it for him. "Love, Bowser." He looked over at Juinor's shocked expression and smiled at him. "I laughed for nearly an hour. What a clever little koopaling your father was…if he was good, he'd get what he asked for. Coal. If he was bad, he'd get what I promise to all naughty children. Coal. It was the perfect win-win. And your father has asked for nothing but coal every single year since."
"…and my brothers and sister?"
"That's a secret," Santa replied, his eye twinkling a little more. "Junior, I don't want you to be naughty. I want you to be a good koopaling. But more importantly, I want you to be happy. That's why I deliver presents and coal every year…to make the children all over the world be happy. Or at least learn how to be happy."
"…is it too late to change my Christmas List?" Junior asked, feebly.
"It's never too late," Santa said with a smile.
"May I have some coal for Christmas, Santa Claus?"
He smiled at the koopaling and tipped his chin. "I'll see what I can do, my boy. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a lot of stockings to fill. And cookies to eat." He tapped the side of his nose and suddenly, Junior couldn't see Santa Claus anymore. In fact, he couldn't see anything but a blinding white.
And then he was in his bed.
The next morning, the koopalings all gathered around their room in a magically corralling balcony. Bowser took far longer to get ready than everyone knew he needed, riling his children up as much as possible. Finally, he showed up and gave them all a strong, painful Christmas hug. By tradition, he got to see Santa's presents first, and they followed in order of age.
All the koopas rushed to the family tree and to their stocking, dumping out a sock full of coal in seven joyful piles. Junior was last to go, still too short to see the contents of his stocking before taking it down. The koopalings coughed as coal dust flew up in their faces, making them all laugh, which just made them cough more. Cautiously, Junior reached up and felt a lumpy toe. He smiled and brought the stocking all the way down, dumping it in front of him. A pile of coal, just like he asked for.
He grinned, his teeth quickly coating in coal dust, and looked around at his siblings. They nodded approvingly at Junior, and in a show of holiday forgiveness, Ludwig went over to help him count the coal pieces. Not that the number really mattered, just that there wasn't much else to do with a sock full of coal.
They all opened their dozens upon dozens of presents from family, friends, and citizens, everyone quickly forgetting Juinor's reign of terror as the things broken were replaced with improvements and new trinkets and toys were opened. Everything seemed right, and when Junior offered to help Lemmy put his racetrack together, no one called him a single name. They just helped as well.
Bowser put down his new roasting oven and lumbered over towards his children. "It's a good thing you all got coal for Christmas," he muttered, adding another car to the race track and letting it run, "because you are all such pansies."
Junior replied by throwing a piece of coal at Bowser's head. The koopa king raised his eyebrows at his son, then grabbed him and gave him a violent noogie. "Merry Christmas, you little punks!"