"When are we going to start getting everything ready for Christmas?"
Five pairs of eyes shifted towards eleven-year-old Molly Hayes, the youngest of their group, and the only one of them whom it would even occur to ask such a question, let alone expect a definitive answer. Some of the older children present with her appeared uncomfortable, some disbelieving, some amused, but Molly appeared oblivious to all variations of their reactions. Shoving her hot pink hat back from where it was drooping low over her eyes, she gestured around them emphatically, continuing to pitch her cause.
"This dumb place isn't Christmas-y at ALL. Look, it's all dark and grey and yuck, especially since Nico won't even make it pretty-"
"I'm not wasting a spell on redecorating, Mol," the older girl interrupted. A slim, pretty Asian in a semi-Gothic black dress and lace up boots, her delicate brow knitted faintly as she spoke with deliberate patience to the younger girl. "Cleaning it's one thing…not that I see a lot of that going on either," she looked at Chase pointedly, "but just making it look like a palace or something, I'm not doing spells for things we don't need. You never know when I might need to use that same word for a spell again, and you know I can't reuse the same spell twice."
She had to admit to herself, though, that Molly had a point. The underground bunker beneath the La Brea Tar Pits of Los Angeles, which they referred to as their "lair," was hardly an inviting and cheery atmosphere to call home. It was pretty basic, essentials only, with enough space to encompass Leapfrog, the hopping, generally invisible machine which often transported them, and Old Lace, the dinosaur that Gert was bonded to and able to command and control. For the runaway mutant children of the supervillain team, the Pride, it contained what they needed to survive, but as far as aesthetics went, it would hardly be Nico's first choice.
And although Nico wouldn't have guessed, looking at Molly with her sloppy t-shirt, baggy kid's jeans, her collection of silly hats, and her tangled dirty blonde hair, that she was a girl who was worried about how things looked, it appeared that when it came to Christmas, she made an exception.
"There aren't even any WINDOWS here, even if there WAS snow and stuff we wouldn't be able to SEE it!" she declared, crossing her arms and scowling, and Gert, from where she sat near Chase a few feet away from her at their designated kitchen area, rolled her eyes.
"That tends to be what happens when you live in an underground lair," she pointed out in her usual somewhat sarcastic manner. "The point is that no one sees us…so if they don't see us, we can't see them. It's an even trade."
Gertrude Yorkes was definitely not one to care about aesthetics, with her dyed purple hair, cut in an unflattering bob, thick glasses, and her simple, shapeless clothing, designed to hide her pudgy frame. She was also not one to show much sentimentality over something like Christmas. Molly turned towards her regardless, insistent on converting her, along with everyone else, to her manner of thinking.
"Yeah, but it can still be CHRISTMAS-Y! We don't have any stockings up! We don't have wreaths or garland or lights, not even a tree! What's Christmas without a Christmas tree?" Molly demanded, spreading out her arms as though to encompass what she considered to be a rather large problem with the span of her spindly arms as she looked each of the other five in the face, one by one, seeking out someone who would realize the implications of what she was describing.
The older children avoided meeting her eyes, looking at each other instead. They were beginning to understand the implications of the situation, all right, but not in the way that Molly intended them to. Quite simply, it hadn't crossed their minds to worry about Christmas, let alone decorating for it, despite Molly's correct assertion that it was coming soon. With none of them currently holding a job, and the factors against them that most of them were too young and too publically identifiable to even pursue one, their budget was already very tight and uncertain to last much longer. There was no way to be sure they could afford even one small gift for each of the six of them, let alone the hoopla that Molly seemed to expect would continue as it always had in previous years, when they were still living with their parents. Without actually speaking to each other about it aloud, the older children had resigned themselves to the thought that celebrating Christmas was no longer within their possibilities.
It seemed, however, that whatever unspoken wavelength the others had been linked in on, Molly hadn't clued in along with them. So as they looked at each other, attempting to pinpoint one of them who would be the one to take on the role of the Christmas Killer, Nico sighed, deciding, as the leader of their group, to step forward into that role.
"Uh, Molly…about Christmas," she started, stepping closer towards her, but Molly was too intent on continuing in her campaign to pay attention.
"It's only two days away," she announced, her face lighting up as Nico turned towards her, as though she were sure now that she had a captive and appreciative audience. "I've been marking it on my calendar. Look!"
Turning, she ran to the section of their bunker that they had divided off and designated as the girls' sleeping quarters, rummaging through her section hastily. The others looked at each other again behind her turned back.
"We have a calendar?" questioned Victor, raising an eyebrow, but no one could say much more before Molly was running back into their midst, thrusting several pieces of notebook paper out for them to view triumphantly.
She had drawn with a pencil a handmade calendar, complete with uneven lines and round handwriting taking up most of each square. And circled three times was the 25th of December, each of the 23 days before it crossed off.
Examining one of the other makeshift calendars she was presenting them with, Chase asked half jokingly, half with genuine hope, "Did you happen to mark other days too? Because if you happen to remember which day is supposed to be my anniversary, I'd owe you one."
Gert, other half of the mentioned anniversary couple, rolled her eyes. "If it's MOLLY that has to remind you it's time to get romantic, we have much deeper problems than a lack of snowmen and blinking lights around here."
"Molly, about Christmas-" Nico tried again, and again Molly cut her off, her voice getting higher and increasingly enthusiastic as Nico shared a frustrated look with Karolina over her head, only faintly gratified when Karolina grimaced in sympathy with her.
"We need to make lists!" Molly declared, already scurrying back towards her part of the girls' bedroom. "I can't believe we haven't done ANYTHING yet, we're not even giving him any time to get good stuff…"
She returned with another sheet of notebook paper, this one blank, and a pencil, thrusting it out at Gert, who happened to be standing closest. Gert stared at the offered items but didn't take them as Molly shook them impatiently.
"Everyone write down what you want for Christmas, come on…hey, what about the chimney? How's Santa Claus going to get here if we don't have a chimney for him to get into?"
There was another long, cringing pause as the older children shared yet another look, this one almost horror-stricken with their dread. This was one part of the Christmas equation that they probably should have guessed to be an issue, and one none were looking forward to addressing. When no one spoke, Nico, with a slow sigh and another glance to Karolina for support, tried yet again to actually have the conversation with Molly she had been repeatedly trying to start up.
"About Santa Claus, Molly…"
"Yeah, how's he going to come? Does he know that we're underground now? How's he getting his reindeer down here?" she asked, and this time Gert took pity on Nico and just finished the job for her, albeit much more bluntly than Nico had been attempting to work towards.
"He's not real, kiddo. Sorry."
The others all tensed, waiting for inevitable explosion. Molly might be the youngest and smallest, but she didn't call herself Princess Powerful for no reason. She was capable of extreme strength for brief periods of time, especially when she was angry- and being told she was going to be denied not only Christmas decorations, but also Santa Claus, was probably a cause for anger.
But Molly just blinked, her face registering surprise, but not fury or devastation. Yet, anyway.
"Yep," Gert confirmed with a nod, as most of the others remained wary of what they thought of as her inevitable reaction. Molly was squinting, crossing her arms and frowning with growing disappointment as she repeated her almost hopeful skepticism.
"Are you sure?"
"Yep, I'm sure," Gert said with a sigh, shoving her glasses further up her nose. "It's just another lie from the parentals…are you really that surprised, Mol?"
"Aw, man!" Molly scowled, stamping her foot, and taking no notice of the ground shaking uneasily beneath her as a result. Chase, for one, took a step back from her, but a closer inspection of her face revealed that it seemed to be irritation and disappointment more than full on rage that she was showing. "That really stinks!"
Sensitive Karolina was the one to slip an arm around her shoulders and pat her, giving her a soft, consoling smile of sympathy. A tall, gentle blonde beauty, Karolina was well-liked by all the others and was usually one of the first to give comfort or an encouraging word.
"I'm sorry, Molly," she told the younger girl. "I know you're disappointed to hear that, but you understand, that's why we can't do Christmas this year. There's no Santa Claus, and without our parents buying gifts like they always did before, we just don't have a way to get anything."
"Yes we can," Molly insisted, setting her narrow jaw and lifting her chin up towards Karolina's face in what they all recognized to be her most stubborn expression. "We can too, and we'll do it just as good as our parents did. No, better! Way better!"
The idea might sound good in theory, but it was hardly practical, and as the older children exchanged glances again, it fell to Karolina to try to carefully disillusion her.
"Molly, we don't have any money," she said reasonably. "Well, enough to make a decent Christmas, anyway. We have maybe $10 we can spare, at the very most. How would we make Christmas out of only $10?"
"Not to mention, some of us aren't exactly feeling the holiday spirit," Chase added, his longish blonde hair half covering his eyes as he gestured subtly towards both himself and Gert, who again rolled her eyes at him. Truth his words might be, but she knew as well as anyone that trying to point that out to Molly would do little to deter her.
"We don't have to have a lot of money, $10 is enough!" Molly declared, displaying, in the opinions of the others, the extreme lack of knowledge of cost that most eleven-year-olds tended to possess. "You'll see, just do the stuff I say and we'll all feel way better! Look, like this, I've got a great idea!"
And she raced out of the room and back to her living area, where they could all hear her carelessly rifling through things and possibly throwing them around as well in her effort to find whatever it was she was looking for.
"That better not be my things she's going through," Gert muttered, and Nico and Karolina too exchanged somewhat glum looks, Karolina biting her lower lip.
"This isn't going to end well, is it?" she asked softly, just as Molly gave a triumphant cry and darted back into their view, waving several scraps of what looked like ripped up paper in one hand and one of her many silly hats in the other. She placed the scraps of paper in the hat, scrambled them around with one hand, and then turned towards the others with beaming expectance, almost bouncing on her toes with her eagerness.
"This is what you're in charge of, whatever you draw out. Come on, take some! I'm doing the presents, even the one for me 'cause I've already got a super awesome idea that we totally need anyway. But the rest of you, you pick!"
When no one made a mad dash to obey, Molly's grin slipped, and she shook her hat impatiently at them, huffing. "Come ON, just PICK on already!"
And when Molly got like that, you just couldn't deny her. It was just embarrassing to get thrown across the room or stomped into the ground by an eleven-year-old girl. It was as much to preserve personal dignity as to humor the little girl that one by one, each of them chose a paper from the hat.
The only question that remained, once they selected their assigned fate, or "doom" as Chase termed it, was how, exactly, they were going to manage to get the tasks done at all, let alone to Molly's satisfaction?