It's A Wonderful Unlife

On Christmas Day you can't get sore

Your fellow man you must adore

(There's time to rob him all the more

The other three hundred and sixty-four...)

- Tom Lehrer

For many, it was the most beautiful Christmas ever. The snow had started falling a couple of days earlier, and now the whole city was covered in a beautiful white shroud as the inhabitants of the city that never sleeps made their last shopping rounds before heading home to tree and eggnog. Everything was ablaze with bright electric light, and the air was full of "ho-ho-ho", Christmas carols and heartfelt wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy new year. New York looked like a postcard dream out of an old Hollywood movie, and to all those who had was given even more.

For those who had not, however, Christmas was harder than anything. 13-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon was leaning up against a dumpster in an alley, rubbing her hands together and stamping her feet, desperately trying to keep warm. Her denim jacket hardly helped much in the blistering cold. This would be her second Christmas without her mother and father, and her first since running away from her foster parents five months earlier, her head filled with romantic images of life on the road. She'd known that she might have to go hungry, and that she might not always have a warm bed to sleep in, but this was worse than anything she had imagined. She was cold, she was hungry and above all - so very tired. She hadn't dared fall asleep since the snow started falling, knowing well enough what happened if you slept outside in the cold... she had made friends on the streets, other girls her age, but as the weather got colder they had all disappeared. Some swallowed their pride and went home. Some swallowed other things and let older men keep them warm. And some swallowed nothing and were carried off in bodybags come morning.

Virginia's parents - her real parents, not the creeps Social Services had stuck her with after the car accident - were good Catholics and raised her right, and more than once she'd told the other girls she would rather die than give up her soul for a life of sin. But she had a feeling that if her luck didn't change quickly, that would be a lot sooner than she wanted. She hadn't had a proper meal in days, and the brain that had once gotten her A:s was now just beating out one rhythm: "Cold. Hungry. Tired. Cold. Hungry. Tired." Maybe if she just closed her eyes for a few minutes, surely that couldn't hurt? She sat down, leaned her head back against the dumpster and soon felt herself growing numb, the cold fading away to a distant itch. Some part of her knew she wouldn't be waking up again, but somehow that didn't seem important...

"Oi! Kid! You OK? Wake up!"

She felt herself being shook awake, and tried to push him away. She just wanted to sleep. But he persisted, and finally she opened her eyes. The man kneeling next to her seemed to be in his late 20s; at first she thought his head was covered in snow, before she realized that his spiky hair was almost completely white, like that of an old man. Above all, he seemed like someone she could trust. Not that she had much choice, she thought when she realized how close she had come to freezing to death. Shivering, she put out her hand. "P-p-please, mister... s-spare some ch-change?"

"Oh, I think I can do better than that." The man reached into his leather coat and handed her a thermos. "'Ere. This'll warm you right up, luv."

She eyed it suspiciously. "Is that... I'm too young to drink..."

"Don't worry," he smiled. "It's just chicken soup. Always carry some around this time of year in case I run into someone like you."

She took the thermos and tried to twist the top, but her hands shook too badly. He helped her, and then held it up to her lips so she could drink.

"There, there... easy now, you don't want to drink too quickly, or it'll just come back up again. Mind you don't burn your tongue."

It was chicken soup, and it was the most delicious chicken soup she had ever had; just warm enough, just spicy enough, thick and creamy, sliding down her throat into her belly and then spreading warmth throughout her entire body. She kept drinking until there was nothing left, and then took a deep breath, relishing the feeling of her body sputtering back to life. She looked at him with enormous gratitude.

"Thank you so much, mister, I don't know how I can..."

"Don't worry about it. And call me William. 'Ere, let's get you on your feet." He pulled her up like she weighed nothing at all. "Take a walk with me. We need to get your blood pumping again." As they walked down the avenue, Virginia leaning on him for support, she told him her story and he listened. She got the feeling she could tell him anything and he would understand. So did he, apparently.

"Yeah," he nodded as she finished. "See, I was just like you once, pet. Thrown out into this world, all alone without anyone to help me. Hellbound is probably the right word."

"Really? What happened?"

"You might say I met an angel." William's face lit up with a smile that seemed almost embarrassed, as if he knew it ruined his tough-guy image but just couldn't help himself.

Virginia gasped. "No way! An actual... angel?"

"Well... more or less. Just between you and me," Virginia couldn't help giggling as William winked conspiratorially and lowered his voice, "people who actually think they're angels are pretty dull. My angel might not come from above, but she taught me a thing or two. About taking care of them what matter and making something of myself. She pulled me out of a hole, now I've pulled you out of one. Way of the world." He smiled warmly at her. They kept walking until they came upon a brownstone house where he stopped.

"Look, Virginia... I'd hate to just dump you back on the street. Do you have anyplace to stay? Because we have a guest room nobody's using, and it being Christmas and all..."

For the first time since they met, she felt uneasy. "William... I don't..."

William smiled. "No need to worry about a thing, pet. It's no problem for me or her, and if you still don't feel like you can trust me... let's just say she would kick my arse if she found me looking at another woman the wrong way. So how 'bout it?"

They walked up the stairs and William opened the door to an apartment. He helped her out of her jacket and led her into the living room, which was lit by the warm flames in the fireplace. As they entered, a dark-haired woman stood up from the couch and smiled at them.

"You're back. And this is...?"

"This is Virginia. She was all alone in the world." There was a mocking tone in William's voice that rang all kinds of alarm bells in Virginia's head. "Virginia, this... is Drusilla."

As he spoke, the woman's face changed into something... inhuman. Instinctively, Virginia tried to run, but before she could move William grabbed her from behind and held her in a vice-like grip as Drusilla bent over her. The girl gasped in pain as she felt fangs sink into her neck and her life and newfound warmth being drained from her. Suddenly it stopped; the older woman pulled back, and Virginia struggled to get free, but the vampires held her down effortlessly as they kissed above her head.

"Mmmm... Spike... Chicken, my favourite..."

"I always take care of you, you know that. Merry Christmas, my angel."

Then Virginia felt them both bite into her and drink deep. As everything went dark the pain faded away until she felt only cold. And then nothing.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Author's note: What? Did I forget to mention that this takes place in 1983? Sorry about that. Thanks to Timan's "How Spike Saved Christmas" for the inspiration. Oh, and happy Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Gurnenthar's Ascendance.