They sprung for a motel room that night, rather than sleeping in the floorboard of the back of Cassie's van. It was Christmas Eve, after all, and she figured they both deserved a real bed after the last slasher-slaying. Once they had gotten themselves settled in for the night, Cassie brought out her laptop and started to look up any possible contenders for the slasher-Santa's identity pre-Slasher-status, based off the location and recent deaths in the area. It didn't take very long for her to find the right guy.
"Carl Peters, age 39, died December 15," she announced to Vlad, who looked up from his bed across the room, cocking his head. "Well, THIS explains a lot…he was a mall Santa, accused of feeling up one too many kiddies. One of the kids spilled the beans, and old Carl goes to the slammer…apparently someone "accidentally" stuck him in with general population and he got a shaft to the kidney. And from then on, slasher city, I guess."
She exhaled, her jaw tightening as she clicked off of the screen and shut her laptop abruptly. "If I'd known he was a fuckin' pedo I would have beat him around a lot more before I let you finish him off."
"Pedo?" Vlad frowned, and Cassie slid her eyes over to him, debating. It was moments like this that she struggled between her desire to help Vlad maintain the innocence that was such a big part of who he was, and whether to help him to learn and understand more about the world.
It was Christmas Eve today, though, and being kind and vague won out over blunt information giving.
"Guys who like to hurt kids. That's what he was."
"Oh…hurrr," Vlad mused thoughtfully, but there must have been a lingering anger or perhaps something more poignant in Cassie's expression, something like sadness or grief, because he reached across the small space between their beds and gently lay a heavy hand on her shoulder.
"Cassandra…when you were a little girl…did anyone ever hurt you?"
Cassie's lips pressed together as she thought about the other children, the ones who had pushed her down and called her names, laughed at her and sneered at her for her dirty hair and glasses, her threadworn clothing and her mother's job as the school cafeteria lady. She thought about her mother staring out the window, waiting for her father to return, about her mother's tears, the blood covering the front of her apron just before the police broke in…she thought about this all, and yet she shook her head slowly.
"No, Vlad. Not like that."
Vlad did not remove his hand from her shoulder, and though Cassie didn't look at him, she knew he was watching her, that he could sense her sudden melancholy, even if he did not call her bluff.
"I would not have let anyone hurt you, Cassandra."
Something about the sincerity of his tone, of knowing that he meant it with all his heart, was enough to make Cassie's lips twitch into a slight smile, and she nodded, reaching back to briefly cover Vlad's hand with her own.
"I know, Vlad. I know."
For a few moments they are silent, touching, and then Vlad gently pulls away, getting to his feet with a loud clearing of his throat, before squatting awkwardly beside the bed, pulling out from one side of it a very suspicious shopping bag. Already knowing and dreading what was coming, Cassie sat up straight, shaking her head even before he could explain himself.
"Oh no, Vlad, tell me you didn't get me anything…"
"It is Christmas," Vlad said with some surprise, as if he could think of no other option than to get her something, and as he held out the bag to her, Cassie bit the inside of her cheeks briefly, her face flushing with embarrassment and guilt both.
"Open, please, Cassandra?" he asked, then simply deposited the bag in her lap when she didn't take it from him. There seemed little option except to do as he directed, and as Cassie reluctantly stuck her hand inside the bag, she pulled out a simple light blue dress with a delicate floral pattern.
This was so unlike her usual clothing choice of black, short, and black that she stared, then looked up at Vlad, momentarily startled enough to want only an explanation. Vlad smiled slightly and shrugged, attempting to provide one.
"Hurrr…I thought…it is pretty….would make you look nice."
This simple reasoning was enough that Cassie knew even if it made her look completely stupid, even if she hated it, she was going to have to where this damn thing…because Vlad would think she looked nice. It also didn't do much to lessen her guilt.
"Vlad…I'm sorry," she started awkwardly, holding the dress out from herself and staring at it rather than at him. "I didn't think we were doing anything for Christmas…I didn't get you anything."
But Vlad waved a hand at her as though to dismiss her concerns, smiling slightly. "It is okay, Cassandra. I do not mind. It is still Christmas, and I am here with you and we are okay. So I am happy, yes? I do not need a present."
Cassie looked down at the dress in her hands, thinking of her mother, of the brave smile she had put on for her as she sat before her few wrapped gifts, of the look almost like pride that was so seldom in her mother's eyes as Cassie too smiled. She thought of her mother, but then she looked up into Vlad's eyes and let her lips curve into a small returning smile for him.
"Yeah, that's what matters," she said softly, and at least for then, it was. "So…you want me to try this on?"