Naughty and nice

Author notes: I do not own these characters.

"THIRD CHILD HOMICIDE VICTIM IN AS MANY DAYS," read the headline of the morning paper, and Cassie Hack raised an eyebrow, having expected something of the like from the look in Vlad's eyes when he handed it to her. She had to be the only 22-year-old she knew who read the paper religiously, with a special attention devoted to any particularly gory deaths. But then again, she was also pretty much the ONLY 22-year-old she knew. Sort of a side effect of spending more time saving people from becoming part of an undead serial killer's bloodbath than actually, well, spending time with people.

The article's details were as vague as always. Three kids between the ages of 6 and 10, found with clothes ripped and bodies "mutilated" outside the local Henderson Shopping Mall. The only interesting tidbit that was included within its content was that beside each child, each time, there had been a small candy cane and a jingle bell, as though from an elf hat.

Figures. After all, it was the day before Christmas.

There was no speculation within the article as to who may have been committing the murders or how the children might have been, nor were the backgrounds of the children, their parents, or even the times of day they were estimated to have died or gone missing. Damn journalists and their tendency to make her do all the actual investigative work herself, with only the barest outline of information she and Vlad would need to get started. But then again, what better did Cassie have to do with her time then point herself and Vlad in the direction of what looked like another case of a slasher to kill- or more accurately, re-kill?

"Hurrrr…do you think it is one of them, Cassandra?" asked Vlad, his oversized, lumpy brow creasing slightly as he looked down at his considerably smaller friend, and Cassie shrugged, yawning behind one black-polished hand and shaking equally dark strands of hair from her eyes before replying.

"Well if it isn't, either one this is one asshole who needs to find his face meeting the end of my baseball bat. Too bad we can't run over him with a sleigh, it would be more in keepings with the season."

Whether or not she ever admitted as much aloud to Vlad, Cassie was relieved to have a new case on her hands. In her mind it was not an inconvenient interruption to a happy holiday, but rather a welcome distraction, a chance to give herself something to focus on other than the unpleasant reality of what holidays now were to her. The approach of the most commercialized time of the year didn't give her any increased sense of peace and hope and joy, and as for good will towards men, it was all Cassie could do to keep from taking out some of the people she encountered who WEREN'T resurrected evil. For a jaded Goth girl whose only family and friend remaining happened to be a 7 foot man so deformed he had to wear masks when he went out in public to hide his misshapen head and twisted features, the only way to get through the holiday season was to deny her way through it.

It hadn't always been this way, of course. When she was a kid, Cassie had looked forward to Christmas as the one time of the year where magic could happen and all her hopes and dreams could come true. Each Christmas she had prayed to the God her mother insisted was real and out there and loving her as his special creation so, so much, not only for whatever toy it was that was the it possession of that particular year, but for her mother's happiness and continued ability to find enough work to pay the rent and support them both, however thinly she might squeak by with it. Cassie had prayed to be prettier and smarter so all the other kids in her school would like her, and failing that, she had prayed that God would let her have just one real friend.

God had always shot down each request, every single one of them, and on Christmas morning Cassie had always awakened to her Delilah Hack's attempt to make a festive Christmas morning, with the almost dead Christmas tree she had managed to haggle down the price of, adorned with Cassie's pathetic paper ornaments created in her first or second or third grade classroom, the lights that only lit up on one side of the string. Her mother never managed to save up enough to buy whatever it was that Cassie really wanted, and she could not, of course, deliver to her the non-material things she wished for, the ones that even God denied her.

"It doesn't matter, baby, what we get or what we got, just as long as we got each other," Delilah had said to her with a sad sort of hope in her eyes, as her big arms wrapped around Cassie's scrawny shoulders, one meaty hand resting against her daughter's shaggy head. "That's all we ever need, isn't it?"

Cassie had always agreed, not wanting to hurt or upset her mother when she was trying so hard. But if what she had said was true, then that meant that now, her holidays were truly screwed. That was what tended to happen when your mother murdered the children who harassed you at school before committing suicide, then arose from the grave as an undead slasher, picking up exactly where she had left off. That sort of thing tended to mean getting together as a family for the holidays wasn't in the cards.

Especially when you were the one that had to kill her…again.

It was after this second death of her mother that Cassie had committed to seeking out and finding those like Delilah, the resurrected undead who just couldn't seem to keep themselves from popping up again to resume mass murder. She had no supernatural abilities, no powers beyond her knowledge of fighting, a powerful swing, and her own intellect, nothing to defend herself with beyond her baseball bat, whatever guns she could get her hand on, and her seven foot, almost rock-solid companion Vlad, who protected her with the single-minded fierce loyalty of a brother safeguarding his sister- or maybe of a father shielding his child. Vlad, abandoned as an infant and raised by a kindhearted butcher apart from the world and possible cruelty of others until the butcher's death, was what she had now, the only person standing in the way of Cassie's falling into total solitude.

She had no real powers to fight against what she had dubbed the slashers, beyond those of her rapidly increasing experience. What she did have was motivation, a mission. Sometimes, Cassie thought it seemed to be a destiny, or maybe just a sentencing.

Whatever it was, there seemed to be only so many times you could lose or be left by someone you cared about, only so many times you could rip a slasher's head off before you lost the capacity for holiday joy.