I know it's a little late for a Christmas Eve fic, but alas LOL AS usual, don't worn.

A Courier and Ives Christmas **

Before the girl could react, Alfred Pennyworth had slapped Cassandra Cain's hand. She'd not seen it coming, of course, because of her fixation of the red and blue circular tin filled with various types of Christmastime confections.

"THOSE are not to be eaten yet," Alfred informed her sternly, grabbing the tin and turning away from the heavy oak kitchen table.

The girl held her hand to her chest, nursing her wounded pride more than her stinging hand. "Cookies," she protested, eyeing the tin as he replaced the lid and removed it from her reached.

"We will consume them in due course, Miss Cassandra," he explained patiently.

The girl stuck her tongue out.

Alfred turned his head away, ignoring the gesture. He went back to his business of opening the rest of the holiday mail that had arrived that morning.

"Get kicked out of cave, get cookies," Cassandra explained with precision logic.

"Getting kicked out of the cave so that Masters Dick and Timothy can wrap their Christmas presents does not entitle one to cookies," Alfred informed the teenager. "Besides, there will be cookies tonight, then certainly cookies tomorrow morning, followed by mid-day pie, and who knows what else before the day is through. There will be plenty of opportunities before the holiday draws to a close." Unwrapping a small brick-like package containing a host of colorful stamps from the United Kingdom, Alfred presented his suggestion. "Why don't you visit with Miss Barbara while there is still daylight. Certainly she will have some sort of work to assuage your wounded soul."

* * * The daytime vexed Cassandra for many reasons. The most forthright being that she was under strict orders, upon pain of. something horrible. to use the front door at all times. With resignation, she stood in the barebones, unattended lobby of the clock tower. Pressing the button for the elevator, she looked around at the exposed faded brick walls, and the unadorned, dusty light fixture burning dull amber light overhead.

In frustration, she turned to one of the unnoticeable cameras imbedded in the porous structure of a brick, sticking her tongue out. It was a bad day, so far. Not only was she being shuffled to and from, due to the preparations for this silly holiday, but she also had to use the front door. Front doors were horrible.

The elevator took forever and a day to arrive. At least to her perception this seemed to be the case. Her internal clock was near-perfect, that was not the problem. It was the fact that she could have made the journey through the air in less than half a minute, and it was going to take forty times that long just for the elevator to come down, much less go back up. She'd have been much happier training in the cave today. Those stupid boys and their stupid presents.

Stepping into the elevator, she began pushing buttons on a nondescript keypad. She didn't have a key to the apartment, she had something better- the pass code.

Trying not to fidget at the slowness of the cold gray elevator, she watched the numbers hesitantly click upward, then stop at the top floor-Oracle's home. She dragged her sorry self from the elevator to the front door of the abode, then typed another pass code, and the door unlocked, and the magnetic seal clicked open. She entered to the sounds of laughter and conversation ringing through out the loft area, then Barbara's sudden declaration that she would see who was at the door.

She didn't know who Oracle would be visiting with, Nightwing was in the cave bragging about how he'd bought Batman a gawdy tie, and Batman was off doing whatever it was he did during the day time. "Who here?" she asked without a hello as Barbara approached.

"Merry Christmas to you too, Miss Cheer," Barbara quipped in a low tone. "My dad's here. So unless something's up."

Cass folded her arms over her chest. "Kicked out of cave, and Alfred said 'go away, no cookies,'" she summarized.

"No cookies. Poor baby. You can't have any of mine, either."

"Party pooper," Cassandra sniffed.

"No, I mean you can't come in here. Cass, I'm sorry. My dad's--"

"Honey, aren't you going to introduce your friend?" Jim asked critically.

Barbara winced, not wanting to deal with the collision.

Cassandra waited, one foot tapping against the seldom-used welcome mat.

Behind Barbara, her father pushed up his glasses, inspecting the girl. "I remember you, you're the girl--"

Barbara made a quick line for the door, attempting to plough the girl out the door. "Cass was leaving, daddy. Weren't you."

"Go where?" the girl asked, one thin dark eyebrow arching upward.

"How's about the. subbasement."

"Wrapping presents. No skills. Take all day."

Jim's eyes were boring into the back of his daughter's head, that much was evident. "Cassandra, right? Why don't you come in? We have some pie."

No sooner was the word 'pie' out of Jim Gordan's mouth, that Cassandra had shot past Barbara and headed straight for the kitchen, cutting a piece and sitting at the table, all in one fluid movement. With a gesture devoid of all the manners and decency Alfred was trying to instill into her, she shoved the entire quarter of pie into her mouth, giving the deep orange substance a few quick chews before swallowing. "Was weird," she announced, swallowing again to clear the rest of the food from her mouth.

"That was sweet potato pie," Barbara pointed out.

The girl made a face.

Jim grabbed his coffee mug off the table, cradling it to his chest. "So what have you been up to, Cassandra?" he asked casually. "It's been quite a long time since I've run into you."

Barbara's breathing had slowed, once realizing that her father was apparently making very little of the encounter. "She's been. you know. Doing the stuff kids do."

"She can answer for herself, dear."

"Getting no cookies, get kicked out of 'subbasement,'" the girl glared at Barbara. "And eat pie. Holiday stupid."

Compassion finally broke on Barbara's face. "Cass. they'll let you back down there. they just need some privacy. So we wont see how badly they struggle with a little paper and tape. And.they probably didn't want you to see YOUR present. I betcha they got you something real cool. and they just wanted to keep it a surprise."

"Why have to wait? Why wrap? Eat cookies now, give now. Don't wrap. Just tear it off. Make mess."

Jim Gordon slugged through the rest of his coffee, then set the mug on the table. "I have a feeling it's heart to heart time," he told Barbara. "So I'll leave you to it. I'd better get some wine or something before the liquor store closes, anyway."

"Thanks dad," Barbara breathed.

"Be patient," he warned her, leaning in for a peck on the cheek. "I remember having this same 'wait till Christmas morning' conversation with a certain eager red-head." That being said, he also gave the young woman a long, lingering hug.

"Thanks dad. Cass, there's a time and a place."

They both looked across the table for the girl, but she was one.

* * *

Cassandra crept into the Cave. She knew she'd been ordered to stay out until all the presents were wrapped, but she continued downward, not afraid of any repercussions. Nothing those two could do to her could really surpass what she'd already been through today. She lurked back near the vehicles, gauging the situation.

"Wait, I can see the wire," Nightwing informed Robin.

"I'll cut the wire off when I'm done tying the bow. It's holding the middle right now."

"Can you cut it off without cutting the bow?"

"Damn. Good point. What if I didn't use the ribbon? What if I just used the wire, instead of the ribbon?" Robin asked.

"Don't be retarded." Cassandra sighed, watching their pathetic antics.

Robin shoved the small spool of thin copper wire into the pocket of his jeans. "It'd be. industrial. I mean. we've been using duct tape for an hour."

"That's because you wasted more of the scotch tape than you used."

"See that bundle of tape on the floor? ALL you, buddy." Robin kicked the translucent nest towards his cohort. It stuck to Nightwing's pant leg, which earned the boy a shove. "Dork-ass."

"I am not a dork-ass, Dork-ass."

Cassandra pealed away from the shadows. "Both dork-ass. And dumb too."

Robin threw the mass of his body between the pile of half-wrapped gifts and Cassandra. "You're not supposed to be down here!" he squealed. "We're still wrapping."

"I help," the girl offered.

"No way, man. Then you'll tell everybody what we got them," Nightwing pointed out.

"Will not."

Nightwing's eyes narrowed. "The Fathers Day tie I bought Bruce."

"Only did it once," the girl amended. She sometimes liked starting trouble. It was fun to say something that could be taken in all innocence, and watches the chaos unfold. It always came back to haunt her, but she was all right with that. Sometimes, it was a good thing.

"Dork-ass. I help." Gently, she punched Robin in the arm.

Unfortunately, the boy saw her hand, and over anticipated her movement. Attempting to roll with it, he ended up bumping into the table and upsetting half the gifts. They slid straight off the metal surface and landed on the floor with a thud. A white box containing what looked like a space-age coffee maker gave a tinkle as it slid about a foot, before coming to a stop.

"Aww. CRAP!" the boy called out, going first to the box. "This is for my dad!" Opening the box, he dug inside to inspect the device. "AWW MAN."

"I help," Cassandra offered again, in an attempt to make it right.

Nightwing bent next to the broken device, and his compatriot. "Cass.. Look, I know you didn't mean it. But just let us finish this in peace, ok?"

"Yeah," Tim grumbled, cradling the battery-operated coffee maker to his chest. "Go bug Alfred or--"

Dick put a hand on his shoulder. "She's gone, dude."

* * *

Bruce took his time, finishing what he was doing, before closing the lid of his laptop computer and folding his hands on his desk. "Can I help you with something?"

Cassandra unpealed herself from the back wall of the office. "Gotcha. Snuck up."

"I heard you coming between the walls."

"Oh." The girl fidgeted, waiting for Bruce to turn around. "Got kicked out of the cave then didn't get any cookies and ate Oracle's pie and her dad said hi, but then he hugged and had to go and broke coffee maker for Robin's dad and you got another tie," the girl spewed.

Sadly, Bruce had neither affirmation or consolation. He thrust a small box covered in gold metallic gift wrap into her face.

Her eyes lit as she grabbed it, and then she paused with her arms outstretched, leaning forward as if to give a hug, but didn't. It felt strange inside.

* * *

One hand wrapped around the gold pendant at her neck, Cassandra stared down at the cement floor of David Cain's jail cell guiltily.

"So you just thought you'd come here," the man mocked. He sat with his elbows pressed to his knees, leaning forward, eyes focused intently upon her.

The pendant slid back and forth on the chain, making a slight clicking sound. She'd never owned jewelry before. "Well. yeah."

"I'd rather not be last on your list," the man pointed out. "But I suppose I'll take what I can get." He gestured to the chain around her neck. "Did HE give that to you?"

"He gotted glow-in-the-dark tie," Cassandra pointed out defensively. She stopped fidgeting with the pendant and paused, not sure why she'd come, or what she wanted. There was a temptation to lift her arms and be hugged, but somehow, she couldn't let herself be. Not by him. "NO present is better present than glowy tie."

"I suppose," Cain said wistfully. "Why aren't you off. celebrating. They do that right? Your new family."

The girl concentrated on the ground with great intent. "Not my."

"Because I'm your family?" Cain asked hopefully.

"Don't know."

* * *

Returning to the kitchen after seeing guests out the door, Alfred Pennyworth sighed. Cassandra Cain was sitting at the kitchen table with glassy eyes, empty tins once containing candy and cookies lay spread before her. For a moment he suspected she was in some kind of sugar-induced coma, until she spoke.

"Feel yucky."

"I have no doubt you do," Alfred said with authority. "That is quite a bit of sweets."

Slowly, her eyes pulled off the point in space they had been fixed upon, and down to her belly. "Oh. Yeah. There too. Here mostly," she said, touching her chest.

"I see," Alfred offered. "And consuming all of the sweets in the kitchen will help in what way?"

She shrugged.

"I see." Alfred pulled the tins away from her and began replacing lids on the empty containers. "I see you have received your present from Master Bruce. And I know of two young men are looking to present you with their hastily purchased, shoddily wrapped gifts. Should that not be distraction from you troubles?"

Cassandra bit her lip and shrugged. "Dunno. Like. stuff. Not want stuff. Want. you know. All the people together. And.you know." She picked up the tin and looked at the Courier and Ives image of several couples ice-skating on a frozen pond, arms around each other as they went, children laughing and playing in their midst. "Not fight, and break, and no cookies, and. this." She held up the pendant.

Alfred sat down beside her, taking the lid from her hand. "Ah yes. A picture is worth a thousand words. And being of so few words yourself, I am sure you can appreciate. Sadly, a thousand words is not a whole story."

Cass feigned understanding.

"In most ways, at most times, we are not like the portraits on the tins, Miss Cassandra," Alfred explained. "That is a moment frozen in time. Not to mention, highly idealized. We'll have our moment before this holiday is over. It will be short-lived, and no doubt interrupted, But it will happen."

Cassandra sucked on her lip, thinking about this. "You take a picture?"

Alfred smiled kindly at his charge. "It would be a very difficult thing. I am pretty sure no one here would like to be caught on film, fraternizing. Perhaps you should simply hold the memory in your heart. I know /I/ always do."

The girl took one more glance at the tin lid and the image of the little people in their holiday bliss. "I will. Remember right here," she said, pressing a hand to her chest.

"Good. Very good. Then we'll have no more moping or eating." Alfred stated this as if it were fact, not a questions as to whether she planned to reform her ways.

"No more eating-too full." Cassandra grinned, getting up from the table. "No more moping too."

The older man inclined his head and also rose. "Very good, then. Tonight, after patrol, we will exchange the rest of our gifts, share a brief expression of good cheer, then, with our spirits renewed, charge once more into the fray. I trust you will find that acceptable?"

"Is good," she affirmed. "You should still take picture," she amended, heading for the door.

Alfred conceded, nodding his head. "I'll see what I can manage."

THE END