One late December evening-- incidentally enough Christmas evening-- brought fierce winds and chilling temperatures to the area. It was the perfect time for snow(it had even been forcasted all day by the way-too-chipper weathermen), but Vlad Wright had yet to see a single flake. He turned away from his vigil at the window and sighed. The weather outside matched his mood: dark and cold. Yes, he knew it was Christmas and all, but it was just another day to him.
Footsteps halting outside of his room made him turn to see a familiar set of deep blue eyes set under a head of curly brown hair. Cassie Lancaster, one of his trusted friends, gave him a quick once-over before asking, "You don't at least have something red or green to wear?"
Vlad frowned and looked down at his outfit. It was his usual-- dark jeans and a black shirt, paired with combat boots that had started to show a little bit of wear. Looking back up at Cassie, he replied, "What's wrong with this?"
Cassie resisted the urge to rub her temples, and instead stepped into Vlad's room. "It's more appropriate for Halloween. Today calls for something more festive."
He arched a single brow. "I'm not festive," he replied in a low tone.
Undaunted, she tilted her head in mock thought. "And here I was thinking that you weren't really Gothic at all."
Vlad knew he wasn't really what most would consider 'Gothic'. His only crime was that his wardrobe consisted of dark clothes. He had the 'extras' as well-- very dark hair, black and chipped polish on his fingernails, eyeliner-- the last of which was easier to go without. He still had those on hand for when he was feeling particularly rebellious and wanting to freak some people out. However, he really tended to differ from that particular crowd in many ways: the most important ones being that he hated the music, smiled more than once a month, and had befriended actual vampires.
It paid to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, Vlad had found a few years ago. Walking around the neighborhood one night, he soon found himself in a trap laid out for him by a few starving vampires willing to kill him right then. They were very close to succeeding too, until Cassie came and saved his life. She was doing her job at the time, an everyday thing for her, but for him it was the same as watching someone walk across a large body of water, then turn it into whiskey.
She also had tried to erase his memory of the incident, but because of either his excitement or his rapidly blossoming curiosity, it didn't work... or that was what he assumed was the reason. Either way, he was glad it didn't work, because then he would have missed out on a great friendship-- not to mention a hell of an adventure!
Breaking from the memory, he attempted to give her one of his signature smiles, but felt it die after only a few seconds. He meant what he said about not being 'festive'.
She saw the half-assed smile for what it really meant and pulled his desk chair across the room to sit in front of him. "You know I'm only saying this because I'm trying to help, but at some point you'll have to let your pain go." Cassie knew this from experience, having held onto the pain of her turning for about sixty years. Facing it-- and the fear that came with it-- made her a stronger vampire, in more ways than one.
Only she and Vlad knew why he was roaming the city streets that night instead of remaining in his home. What was unfortunate was that he hadn't wanted to go back home. His meeting Cassie had only been a catalyst, and eventually he would use their friendship and camraderie as his main excuse to stay.
Vlad said and thought nothing, but turned back to the window. He knew it hurt more to hold onto pain, but it was remembering where he had been that kept him going forward.
Hearing another set of footsteps outside the door made both turn. Vlad felt his mood brighten when he saw Sam Gibbons, his girlfriend, looking at both of them with curiosity. Cassie then stood and turned back to him. "You'll at least come downstairs sometime tonight, won't you?" she asked.
He nodded in reply, which earned him a hair ruffle. He pulled his head away and joked, "Of course, it'll take an extra hour now because I gotta fix my hair."
Cassie laughed and shook her head at him, then left the room, brushing past Sam. If any form of communication was passed between the two, Vlad observed, both girls hid it well.
Sam said nothing after Cassie left. She stared at him, then joined him at his spot on the bed, simply wrapping her arms around his waist and letting her head rest against his shoulder. He hugged her back, smiling at her comforting gesture. Sam was more of a quiet person and was more often content with letting actions say what words couldn't.
He also had to admire the strength behind her soft exterior. It was a crazy start to their relationship since they met at one of the worst times in her life. Finding out that she was a half-vampire, that she was created to be that way as part of a sick plan to take over the world, and that her own father willingly gave her up to be a part of it in the first place changed her in different ways, or so he had been told. He didn't see it, and if he did he wouldn't care. She was his Sammi, no matter what.
Tilting her head back to look up at him, she asked, "Are you okay?"
He took a deep breath then looked back at her. "Yeah. I just wish it would snow already."
She furrowed her brows slightly. "I never knew you liked snow so much."
He cast another look towards the outside world. Snow always have him hope that there was still some beauty in the world. Now that he had Sam as well, he had more than one time out of the year to keep his hope for that up. It was habit that still kept him like this.
"Alright, let's head downstairs," Sam suddenly said, popping up off the bed. "We can't keep them waiting." At his groan of protest, she reached over and started tugging on one of his arms. "Come on! Let's go, up and at 'em," she insisted.
"Okay, but only because you asked so nicely," he replied sarcastically, standing and starting to follow her.
She stopped pulling him towards the door and gave him a considering look before pulling her scarf off and wrapping it around his neck. "There," she said, satisfied. "You're ready to meet the public."
Vlad couldn't help but smile at Sam's new attempt to cheer him up. He fingered the edge of her scarf as he followed her downstairs and decided to let it work, if only for her sake.
The downstairs level could have been described as chaotic to the 'uninitiated', but as far as Sam was concerned, she only saw the goings-on that could be considered as normal. She could easily see the closeness between Jarred and Christian Lancaster, Tobias Carson, and Jesse Greene, since they were in their band for awhile now. That circle expanded to Cassie and Amy, being the soul mates/wives of Jarred and Tobias, respectively. It went even further to Marcus Mercado and Sebastian Goodwin, old co-workers of Cassie's that left the Rogues with her; to Nora Salopamere, a trusted friend of Jesse's; Nathaniel Collins, the vampire that took care of the three half vampires; and finally to Vlad, since Cassie trusted him with her life.
She had felt out of place at first, along with her twin brother Adam and his girlfriend Nadia Hughes, but the group assured the trio of half-vampires that they were just as important and welcome in the group. With time, it became easier and she soon enough accepted what they told her.
Looking around, she saw the group scattered around the lower level, either setting food out on the tables(for those that could still eat), setting chairs up along the edges, or putting the finishing touches on some of the decorations.
"Merry Christmas!" Nora called out to the two of them, finishing with decorating a large pine with ornaments. Everyone else in the bar/dance club echoed Nora's greeting upon seeing Sam and Vlad.
As Sam answered back in kind, Vlad instead nodded slightly and said, "You too..."
Nathaniel, who was carrying a large stack of empty boxes back to the stairs, paused at hearing Vlad. "Mate, I know I might be new to this whole 'Christmas' thing," he stated, his Australian accent well shown, "but I don't really think that's what you're supposed to say. Your beautiful sheila, on the other hand, is more on the right track."
As Sam blushed at the compliment, Vlad replied, "I'll try to keep that in mind." Even if he only said it to appease the vampire for now...
"All they're playing is Christmas music!" Christian loudly protested to the general public from his place at the stereo.
"Hey, you know why they do that?" Jarred, Christian's older brother, called back.
"Because it's Christmas!"
Christian rolled his eyes. "I knew that. But, I don't really want to listen to five variations of 'Frosty the Snowman' tonight!"
"If it really bugs you that much and you insist on having music, then put a CD in," Jesse said, sidling up to Christian.
Christian paused, then softly said, "Oh."
Jesse nodded and waited until Christian did just that to ask, "Does 'His Highness' approve of the musical selection now?"
Christian turned to his vampire bandmate to see a goading grin on his face. Raising his brows, he accepted the veiled challenge. "You might want to be careful with those comebacks. I wouldn't want you to bust a hip."
"Oh, I'm being careful, since I wouldn't want you to start throwing a tantrum."
"Well then, bring it on. Only, two things: No walkers, and make sure your teeth won't fall out."
Cassie looked up from what she was doing to take a quick glance around the room. Her gaze soon enough fell on Jesse and Christian, facing each other and trying to fight their growing grins. She shook her head at the duo as Jarred joined her. "They're doing it again," she told him as he put his hand on her shoulder.
He followed her gaze then groaned aloud when he saw she was right. "It makes me wonder how bored they really got to come up with a game like that."
"I'm wondering the same thing myself," she replied. Speaking louder, she then addressed the two bandmates in question. "Hey, you guys think you can stop the bitch-fest for a little bit? It's almost time to eat."
"Oh, sure we can," Jesse replied. "We all know how important it is for growing little boys to eat."
"That was a nice one," Christian commented. "I only hope your Alzheimer's doesn't make you forget it in case you want to use it again later." Jesse, instead of replying, quickly picked up Christian in a fireman's hold and carried him over to the table, taking special care to jostle him a few times on the way over. Christian cursed as his stomach connected with Jesse's shoulder. "Shit, man, what the hell is your shoulder made of? Cement?"
"What are you guys doing?" Tobias asked the group when he caught sight of Christian over Jesse's shoulder.
"He's embarrassing the living hell out of me," Christian answered.
"Embarrassed? I'm not embarrassed at all," Jesse added.
"You think you can let me down now?"
"What? You'll have to speak up, sonny, I don't have my hearing aid turned on."
"Ha ha, you're very funny, aren't you?"
"Boys," Cassie interjected.
"He started it!" Christian protested.
"Well, what would you do if someone started calling you old?" Jesse asked Cassie.
"And what would you do if someone started calling you a 'whippersnapper'?" Christian asked in turn.
Jesse blinked in surprise. "'Whippersnapper'?"
"I don't speak 'old person' as fluently as you do, so you'll have to forgive my accent."
"You know what I would do?" Cassie interrupted. "I would tell Jesse to calm down before he worked himself into a heart attack, then sit him down in front of a Golden Girl's marathon with a glass of prune juice. I would then ask Christian-- who's obviously very grumpy-- if he wanted his binkie and blankie before I put him down for a nap." Satisfied with the shocked silence that followed from the pair, she added, "Round One goes to me. Now, set Christian down, please."
"That was awesome!" Vlad managed to say through the general laughter and smattered applause in the room.
A knock sounded at the door, catching the attention of the vampires. They turned their respective gazes towards the sound. Silence filled the room as the mortals caught on, save for the music, and Jesse was the first to make a move. He set Christian down on his feet and started making his way to where he had his sword hidden.
Amy noticed this, and reached out to him mentally. "At ease, soldier," she spoke sharply, making him stop. When he looked back at her, she added, "The bad guys wouldn't knock politely." She then moved towards the door, just in case. She was one of the vampires in the room that didn't have a bounty on her head. Jarred, being the other one, was still learning to control his new powers. She wasn't in the best physical condition herself, but she wouldn't dream of sending in one of the kids in her stead, even though the one's that were half-vampires could provide a hell of a surprise... as could Vlad. He may be only a mortal, but he paid careful attention to everything said about vampires.
Christian and Tobias had even less of an advantage, being mortals and knowing very little about the vampire world. Overall, it was risk after risk that they couldn't afford to take should she be wrong about her theory. So, taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, she answered the door.
The figure she saw on the other side was leaning against the side of the building next to the doorway. They straightened away from the wall and into Amy's view, making her gape in shock. It was a small, frail girl, no older than eighteen, dressed in an old wind jacket, torn jeans, and thread-bare shoes. Her arms were wrapped around her midsection and she was trying to control her shivering, but Amy could easily see the gray color in her face. If the girl didn't already have hypothermia, she was getting very close to it.
With a carefully controlled and soft voice paired with a stiffened jaw, she asked, "Is there a homeless shelter nearby?"
Oh, the poor girl was breaking Amy's heart! "Yes... But, why don't you come inside for a little while and warm up?"
The girl looked longingly past Amy into the entryway, but stopped herself before she could look further. "No, I... I don't want to intrude on anything."
Amy bent down to meet the girl's eyes. "Sweetie, I would tell you where it is, but I honestly don't think you can make it three steps away from the door. Please, come inside."
The girl looked back with green eyes that seemed to take up half of her face. Shivering hard as another breeze gusted past them, she only nodded in reply, finally giving in.
Amy stepped up to her side and wrapped a supportive arm around her waist. Guiding her inside, she asked, "What's your name?"
"Alicia," came the soft answer.
"I'm Amy. It's very nice to meet you." Once they crossed the threshold, she stepped away from Alicia long enough to shut the door behind them. She noticed Jesse peering around the corner when she returned to Alicia's side, catching her as she started to fall. "Grab a couple of blankets from upstairs, please," she told him, not taking her eyes from Alicia.
As Jesse left, Tobias came around the corner as well. "Is everything okay?" he asked.
"Yes. We're going to have to set another place at the table, though. We have a guest with us tonight." Tobias stepped closer to take a look for himself. He kept his comments to himself, but the look of shock was evident. "Tobias," Amy pointedly continued. "Grab the girls and ask them if they have anything that could fit Alicia."
Meaning that was his cue to leave before he accidentaly said something that might make Alicia feel even worse. Nodding in reply, he went back to the dining room to do as she asked.
Jesse came back at that point and wrapped a blanket around Alicia's shoulders. "It's a good thing you got here before the snow came."
"No kidding," Amy agreed. Once that happened, there was no telling what would have happened to her.
"Amy," Alicia said.
Alicia paused, unsure of herself, before asking, "Would it be too much to ask for a shower?"
Smiling, she replied, "No, sweetie. It's not too much to ask."
Once Alicia was warmed back up, she was taken back into the dining area to have something to eat. She paused in the entryway, eyes widening at the sight before her.
"Is something wrong?" Amy asked, having not left Alicia's side while she had cleaned and warmed up, eventually convincing her to accept the better clothes offered to her.
"No," Alicia answered. "It's just that I didn't know there was so many of you here."
Amidst the quiet laughter around the room over her shock, Amy replied, "Yeah. We're all used to having a big crowd around, which is why we don't mind having one more join us every so often."
At Amy's encouraging look, Alicia took the extra empty seat at the table and joined in the feast. After listening to the conversation around her, she loosened up enough to tell some of her story. Her mother was in one of the World Trade Center buildings on that fateful day, and had died trying to save others. Her father wasn't the same since then, and had spiraled far enough into his depression to lose any appeal he had for living. She soon found herself living on the street, doing anything to pay her way for a warm meal or a bed.
They all understood her need to survive, yet it hit home for the older vampires how cruel the world was, and how much it remained the same since they were still alive.
Hours had passed, and the group was still in easy conversation, having turned to happier topics. Jarred had just finished sharing a tale about the early days of starting out as a band, when Alicia spoke up. "I think I should head on out."
Amy looked at Alicia with a slight sense of alarm. "No, you should stay here," she insisted.
"Amy, everybody, I'm thankful that I was even taken in here for this long. The food and the clothes are amazing, but I'm honestly not going to be comfortable with staying the night. I don't want to offend anybody, but I'm not used to accepting all of this."
Amy considered Alicia's words, then nodded slowly. "I understand. I just feel concerned for you, as I'm sure everyone else does."
Alicia looked around the table to see everyone's agreement over Treana's statement. For the first time in a long time, tears came to her eyes. Blinking them back, she said, "This is more than anyone's ever given me in a long time. I'm very honored... but, I can't stay."
"Alright. You won't be going over to the shelter by yourself though."
"You won't be going either," Tobias interrupted. "Not with your health being how it is," he continued, setting an affectionate hand on her growing stomach. Amy's face softened into a loving smile as she set her hand over Tobias'.
"I'll go, then," Vlad volunteered.
Sam thought to herself for a few moments, then added, "I'll go with them."
Amy looked at Sam in confusion and quickly read what the young girl was thinking. She then nodded and said, "Don't be too long, then. If it hasn't already, it could snow any minute." She silenced any questioning looks with a reassuring glance of her own before rising from her seat. She had yet to find Alicia a coat, which technically qualified as clothing. She wouldn't hesitate to use that fact against Alicia should she start to protest.
Amazingly, Alicia didn't once she was presented with one. She instead looked at the coat, then at Amy. "Thank you. For everything. I'll never forget this."
Amy smiled and gave Alicia a quick hug-- to keep her from noticing how much colder than normal she was. "So, I think that means that you'll never forget that this door's always open, should you ever need a place to stay."
Alicia smiled. "No, I won't forget that either." She then shrugged into the coat offered her and followed Sam and Vlad outside. She gave one last wave to Amy before disappearing out of view.
Amy stayed where she stood, trying to hold back her own tears of sadness. Already she felt the mothering instincts kick in, telling her to go back after her and demand that she stay. Once she calmed herself down, she felt warm arms envelope her. She turned around to see her husband. "You did a good thing. I love you," Tobias softly said.
"I love you too," she replied.
"What were they planning?"
"Sam? She's going with them in case something should happen to Alicia. Vlad can stay with her and Sam can run back here and get us."
Tobias sighed. "The poor girl... I hope she makes it out okay."
Amy lay her head on his shoulder when tears threatened to overtake her once more. "I do too," she softly said.
The walk to the shelter was quiet on Sam's side of the trio. She was watching everything around them for anything threatening, was keeping an eye on Alicia for any change in her condition, and was also overcome by her shy nature. Thankfully for her, Vlad filled the silence by asking more trivial questions of Alicia, and answering some in return. Before the trio knew it, the shelter had come into sight. After saying their goodbyes to each other-- and making sure that Alicia was safely inside-- Sam and Vlad headed back to their home.
"That was interesting," Vlad commented.
"No kidding," Sam agreed.
"And poor Alicia has to go through all of that every day."
She nodded. "It makes me glad I still have Adam."
He silently agreed with her. He was glad that Sam had some family left that cared for her everyday, unlike his. She looked over at him and noticed the change in his mood. For the second time that night, she asked him, "Are you okay?"
He paused, then replied, "No. I'm not."
"Honestly, I would give anything to trade places with Alicia." Seeing Sam's shocked look, he continued quickly. "Well, not for everything that's going on in her life. Just... The fact that she doesn't have parents that beat you down when you ask for help, or parents that are looking at you, but they don't really see you. I'd rather live a life on the streets than live with those kinds of people."
The couple walked along in silence. "How long ago did you last see your parents?" Sam finally asked, hoping she wasn't right with what she was thinking.
"Two and a half, almost three years. Knowing them, they probably didn't even realize I left yet." He chuckled sarcastically and added, "Families are just so wonderful sometimes, aren't they?"
She pulled him to a stop in the middle of the sidewalk and faced him. "Craig," she started, using his real name, which she tended to do whenever she was serious. "I want you to try something for me. Close your eyes."
"Close them," she insisted. Once he did, she said, "Now, I want you to picture everyone waiting for us back home-- Cassie, Marcus, Jesse, everyone. Can you see them?"
"Now, picture them all smiling, and having a good time." She paused for a little bit before asking, "Can you see that they're happy?"
"Yeah." He opened his eyes and looked carefully at her. "Where are you going with this?"
"Congratulations, you were just looking at the happy faces of your family."
He blinked in confusion at her abrupt answer. "What?"
"If there's one thing I learned recently, it's that being part of a family doesn't mean you have to have the same last name somewhere along the line, or the same genes in your blood. It's also about letting someone you care for a lot and love more than anything into your life, and as a major part of it. Everyone back at home has done that for each other, and I'm thinking that it's about time you did the same." She raised herself up onto her tip-toes and wrapped her arms around his neck. "When you close your eyes and see everyone back home as your family instead of just friends and people that are cool, can you also see how much bigger your family became? So what if a couple of relatives are assholes. You have everyone else that cares for you."
Vlad stared in awe at Sam. In so many ways, she was right. He had always considered everyone as trustworthy friends, and they all had cared about his well-being at least once since he met them. He always wanted and wished for what she had just told him was right in front of his face all along. Maybe he should start believing that they were his family.
"Can you see your family?" Sam asked again.
"Yes, I can," he replied before leaning in and kissing her. He could now see something else as clearly-- he was in love.
Sam was the first to feel the cold, light touches on her forehead. Slowly, she pulled away from Vlad to look around... "Vlad, look!" she whispered excitedly.
Opening his eyes, he did as she asked. "Wow," he remarked. This had to have been the first time in a long time where the snowfall snuck up on him while he was awake. He paused as he watched the snow falling on her... it could be a sign, or it could just be incredible timing, but something special was happening right about now.
"Merry Christmas, Craig," she said, snuggling herself closer to him.
Instead of his usual half-assed reply, he used his fingers to tilt her chin up to face him and said, "Merry Christmas, Sam." He smiled down at her, then took the opportunity presented to kiss her again, now oblivious to the snowfall around them.
Alicia sat on her bed in her temporary room, having just settled down in it. The evidence and feeling of the incredible love and caring that she had experienced mere minutes ago was still resonating through her. She couldn't decide whether it was the first time in a long time her skin was clean, the full stomach she had, or the clothes on her back that were honestly enough to have a few different outfits for the warmer weather. No, it's definitely the sense of family, of wholeness, that is still with me, she mused to herself. It had been an even longer time since she had seen that firsthand, and it was a sight she hadn't realized how much she missed until she saw it again. As long as I live, I'm not going to forget this night, she vowed to herself.
A shadow fell over her, and she glanced up, startled. "Oh," she breathed in relief, relaxing when she recognized the newcomer. "You scared me, Thomas."
"I apologize," he said, stepping into the room. "Well?" he asked, after a short pause.
"Yes, she's the one. I'm positive."
Thomas smiled. "Good. Good job, Alicia."
"But wait," she protested, rising from her bed. "Something doesn't make sense to me. She's the one, yet she's of the cursed race. How is that possible?"
Thomas set a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Time will answer your questions, as it will mine. But for now, we should be heading home ourselves."
Alicia closed her mouth to stop the next flow of questions and nodded in acceptance. Without another word to each other, both Thomas and Alicia unfurled their wings and flew off into the heavens.
It wasn't too long after their departure until the snow began to fall.