Rating: PG for language
Feedback: Yes, thank you. Melpomenethalia@aol.com
Spoilers: Technically, "Fool for Love"
Distribution: Fanfiction.net and the Bunny Warren. If you're interested, please let me know.
Summary: It's Christmas Eve in London, 1859, and two outsiders wind up spending the evening together.
Author's Note: This one's a bit melancholy for one of my Christmas fics, but at least Spike isn't being not-drowned by not-Dru.
Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy. Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you. Thank you.
Dedication: Merry Christmas!
London, December 24, 1859
Delicate flakes of white were falling silently upon the cobbled streets that starlit night. Fine, soft drifts of powdery snow were tossed about in the breeze, forming little whirlwinds around the ankles of those warmly bundled up souls who bustled back and forth on the streets in ever-decreasing numbers as the evening wore on. The gaslights had been lit and were casting pale, flickering circles of light every few feet on the crisply white pavement. The glow of candles beckoned from the windows of every house on the lane, and the sounds of carols sung around parlor pianos and the clinking of glasses full of wassail carried out into the night air. But there was another sound too, and it was this that made the girl pause.
She had been hurrying towards home after yet another long day working at Mrs. Worthy's dress shop, sweeping up the remnants of the day. She never worked in the front where people might see her because of her timidity. She had collected her pay tonight from the unsmiling woman and then rushed to the bakery before it closed in order to buy a few fresh buns for tonight's dinner. After all the hours she had toiled away making the grimy back room spotless, she had saved a few pennies and, as a Christmas present for herself and her sisters, she had also gotten three lovely, plump gingerbread men. She had intended to be home long ago, but each new customer who walked through the bakery door had been served before she was. The girl's eyes had never risen from the uneven wooden floor as the others had swept past her, sniffing in disdain because they knew what she was: not one of their kind.
At long last, though, she was only a few streets from home, and dinner might still be hot for her if she kept her pace. But then, she had heard it: the smallest of sobs coming from a nearby alley. For a long moment, she stood so motionless that the snow collected on her worn kerchief, and her bare hands gripped the handle of her basket tighter in spite of her nearly numb fingers. She strained her ears in an effort to make out what the sound could be, but it was far too faint. All she knew was that whatever was making the weak crying noise was unutterably sad.
The mouth of the alley loomed dark before her, and the girl shuddered from more than the cold. Although she usually walked close to the wall in an effort to not draw attention to herself, she wasn't fond of shadows. They held too many things she could half see, things that others would never believe were there if she told them, things that shouldn't even exist. This time, whatever it was hiding in the darkness didn't make the skin on the back of her neck prickle in the way that warned her when something wrong was near. But she had been wrong before.
"Hello?" she called softly into the shadows as she entered the alley. "Is there anyone there?"
She had walked almost ten paces before she saw the source of the sound. Sitting on a haphazard set of wooden steps that led to the second story of an eating-house was a little boy. He looked to be not more than five or six years old, and he was dressed in threadbare clothes that did little to keep him warm in the chill night. She could not see his face as his fists were rubbing his eyes roughly in an attempt to hide his tears.
"What's wrong, dearie? Why are you crying?" she asked in a gentle voice, and at last he noticed her presence.
"Not cryin'," he declared with a violent sniff as he lowered his head and quickly wiped his nose on his sleeve.
"No, no, of course you're not," she readily agreed, hiding a smile. She had always loved children, and this little one was pulling her heartstrings quite fiercely. With a sigh, she sat down beside him on the stairs. "My, but it's a cold night! Why aren't you with your mummy?"
He shrugged, but as he did so, she noticed a small trickle of crimson on the collar of his coat. Shocked, she put a hand under his chin and gently turned his face upwards to reveal the beginnings of a vicious black eye and a still profusely bleeding lip.
"Who did this to you?" she asked with a note of anger in her tone.
The boy turned away from her, but he didn't move. The girl quickly fished through her pocket and found a tattered but clean handkerchief, which she handed to the child. He didn't look at her as he dabbed away some of the blood from his mouth and then sneakily wiped his eyes when he thought she wasn't looking.
"Thank you, Miss," he mumbled as he pressed the handkerchief back into her hand. For a long moment, he seemed to be regarding her warily, weighing whether or not she could be trusted, and she waited patiently, a smile gently pulling the corners of her lips and her eyes looking down on him kindly. Finally, he looked away from her and was inexplicably interested in the dull brick wall as he timidly asked her, "You, um, you didn't happen to see a group of boys hanging about in the street, did you, Miss? Five or six of 'em?"
She shook her head. "No. Was it them who did this to you?"
The wall continued to be absolutely fascinating to him as he nodded.
"I see," she replied, her eyes hardening. "Six against one. What lovely odds… for them. Why?"
His head dropped downwards, and he toed at the filth on the ground with the tip of his obviously second-hand and far too tight shoes. "Tisn't nice to say why, Miss."
She laid a hand softly on his tiny shoulder, aware in a moment that he was underfed, meaning to urge him to face her again, but he pulled back suddenly from the contact with a look of shock.
"I'm sorry," she said quickly. "I didn't mean to frighten you."
The boy blinked a few times and then burst abruptly into a fresh swell of tears, unable to hide them this time.
"Come now," she tried to comfort him, gently patting his mop of curly hair and almost as upset as he was, "I'm sure it's nothing so terrible as all that."
"Oh, Miss, you mustn't," he sobbed as he pulled away from her. "You're a nice young lady. You don't know what I am, or you wouldn't dirty your hands with the likes of me! Nice people don't speak kindly to bastards!"
No sooner was the word out than he clapped both hands over his mouth and his eyes became as wide as dinner plates. He was fully expecting to be slapped across the face for his language.
The last thing he expected was for a tear to slip down her cheek.
"So, that's what it was, eh?" she whispered almost to herself before she fixed her eyes back on his own. "You're different than them, so they treat you worse than they'd treat an animal."
"I'm sorry, Miss. Shouldn't have said that word," he apologized with a guilty look. "Me mum'll have me hide."
"No one will be telling your mum on you," she said with an understanding look. "I've been called a few names in my time, too. Hurt worse than the blows sometimes, don't they?"
"You? What've you been called?" he asked in confusion.
"Papist, mostly," she explained. "I'm a Catholic, and people around here don't approve of me overmuch. But that's neither here nor there. It's getting colder, lamb. Why don't you let me walk you back to your home so you can be in bed before Father Christmas notices you've been gone?"
"Oh, he won't be coming. Never does come to our house," he said with a slightly hurt look. "Guess he agrees with the others."
The boy got slowly to his feet and, with an almost humorous display of good manners, offered her his arm. Together, they wended their way through the maze-like streets of London for a few minutes until at last they reached a small, run down building in a none-too-savory part of town. The exposed wooden timbers of the structure creaked as though they might fall over at any moment, and there were several panes of glass missing in the windows.
"Thank you, Miss," he said as he swung open the door. She noticed immediately that there were no lights within. No one had waited up for him.
"It's quite all right. You go inside and go to bed. Have a happy Christmas tomorrow."
The child gave her a half smile, his bruised eye now definitely purple and a small smudge of blood still clinging resolutely to his cheek. "And the same to you, Miss."
With that, he went inside, shutting the door behind him. As the girl watched from the street, a tiny candle glow flickered into another room on the same floor, and for a moment she saw the lad's face in the window before the flame was blown out. She glanced up and down the street nervously, but no one was about. Her eyes flickered to the basket she held, and then back to the window.
A few more minutes passed, and when she was completely certain he must be asleep, she crept silently to the window and lifted it with ease. Silent as a mouse, she placed one of the gingerbread men on the sill where he would be certain to see it in the morning, and then shut the window once again.
As the girl quickly strode through the snow-covered streets, she made a mental promise to herself that she would look in on the little boy from time to time to see if how he was. She fully intended to keep that promise, but the year ahead of her proved to be most distracting, and it was to be over twenty years before Drusilla set eyes upon William again.