The lights on the Christmas tree twinkled merrily, shining down on the three knelt beneath it and illuminating their content faces. The star at its very tip flashed its lights festively, brighter than any star one could pick out in an evening sky. The red and green garland tacked up to the fake fireplace mantle, the empty plate of cookies on the coffee table, and the framed photograph of the dark-haired child in her red velvet holiday dress all reflected the special day. Christmas day...1

A pile of opened presents were scattered, along with brightly colored wrapping paper and ribbons and bows, across the living room, surrounding the tree and the family gathered around it. A smaller stack remained under the tree, still wrapped; these were the presents the young couple had bought for each other. It was their tradition for their six-year-old daughter to open all her gifts first. Later, as she toted them to her room and played with them, they would open their gifts to each other in relative privacy.2

Most of her gifts were already opened; dolls and books, puzzles and clothing, games and plastic toys seemed to span the entire living room floor. Despite this, the child barely seemed to notice; she had her eyes fixated on her last unopened present, a large and long one that seemed heavy as well. She was attempting but failing to hide her excited grin.3

"Mommy, Daddy, can I open this one now? Have I opened all the others yet?"4

Her parents grinned at each other, enjoying her anticipation.5

"Yes, honey, go ahead," her mother told her, squeezing her husband's hand. "Don't try to lift it though- just rip open the paper and Daddy will help you open the box."6

The little girl tore into the red and green paper, tossing it aside impatiently to reveal a white box- one with no pictures on it to give her a hint as to what might be inside. She looked at her father with anxiety.7

"Open it, Daddy- I want to see it!"8

Her father leaned forward with an affectionate smile, pulling the masking tape off for her. As his daughter leaned forward eagerly, straining to see the box's contents, her eyes widened, and she gasped loudly.9

"Oh wow! Wow wow wow! Oh my gosh, this is so cool!"10

"Careful, watch your hands," her father warned as she began to withdraw the items eagerly from the box. "Some of those are really sharp, sweetie."11

One by one, the child's small hands extracted each of the items from the box, excitedly examining them and exclaiming over them with a spark of joy in her eyes. There was a lot for her to look at… hammers and large wrenches, nooses and a wide variety of guns and knives, and ax and a sledgehammer, a small handgun, even a small saw…12

"Now some of this will be too heavy or large for you to use right now," her mother said, smiling at her daughter's obvious ecstasy. "And I know that last time you did quite well with only a pair of scissors. You definitely don't' need fancy weaponry at this stage- you get the deaths accomplished perfectly well without them. But we want you- I mean, Santa wants you- to have them as something to grow into. Now you have a lot to choose from, to experiment with. It can take a while before you discover your favorite weapon, your best technique."13

"Mommy and I will have to help you with some of this," her father added, squeezing his wife's hand lovingly. "This rope here, it's called a noose- we'll help you with that, and with the gun. You'll need practice. But some of these we think- Santa thinks- you know how to use by yourself perfectly well."14

The little girl's eyes shone, and she flung herself at her father, then her mother, hugging them tightly.15

"Oh, wow wow wow! Thank you for telling Santa, Mommy and Daddy- this is the best present in the whole world! I'm going to have so much fun!"16

"You're welcome, Paloma," they told her warmly, hugging her back and smiling broadly.17

As Paloma began to gather up some of her smaller gifts, taking them to her room, her eyes still glowed and she glanced repeatedly at her new weapons. She was still smiling gleefully. Her parents smiled at each other, touched and amused. Her father pulled his wife closer to his side, stroking a hand down her arm and shoulder.18

"Wait until you see what I got you," he murmured throatily, giving her a soft kiss on the ear.19

She smiled, imagining the possibilities. Last year he had somehow taught himself to make perfume… and out of blood, no less. He had saved up from his victims for months. His gift had made her gift to him, a wallet formed from the tattooed flesh of a particularly attractive female victim, seem nothing. He was always so thoughtful…20

"I can't wait," she murmured back, pressing herself even harder against him. 21

Paloma walked back into the room, picking up another round of gifts and glancing once more at her weapons with obvious delight. Her mother laughed softly.22

"Gavin," she whispered. "Look how her eyes are shining… I just love Christmas."23

Gavin's eyes gleamed, and he gripped her even tighter, enough to feel her heartbeat, her breaths, against 24

him. 25

"Me too, Rikarah," he murmured back, "me too."26

He kissed her neck quickly, straightening slightly as Paloma reappeared again, talking aloud to herself about how neat everything was, all the fun she'd have with her gifts. And the tree lights twinkled, sending a colorful glow to the cozy morning scene.