First off let me thank everyone who is about to read this story for his or her time in doing so. This is a one shot story that may be a year too late in our time, but in comic book years, I think it still fits. Anyway, the idea for this story came a long time ago, but I just recently finished it so it has not been beta read. Reviews and comments are welcome, but please 'be kind'. There may be spoilers for the present state of the DC universe and some of my details of what people had done and are doing may be a little off, but between the pre-Crisis and Post Crisis as well as my being unable to purchase every comic book I would like every month, I may have mixed up or miss some details. So please forgive me.
I do not own nor do I work for DC Comics or the Warner Brothers companies. These characters are on loan without permission and no malice is intended. So please read and enjoy and Merry Christmas.
Summary: Dick Grayson is having a blue Christmas remembering one particular Christmas Eve years ago with the original Titans and the traditions they started.Christmas With The Family : A Titan's Tradition
Wayne Manner stood on a remote hill just outside of the Gotham City line and always seemed to be dark and gloomy, but to the young man with the dark hair and piercing blues eyes who stood alone in the large sitting room with the roaring fireplace, this was the closes he had ever known to a real home in his young life. Back in the days of his youth, a trailer in a traveling circus was the place he laid his head each night, but for the young boy seeking the adventures of youth, It was more than perfect, because there among the exotic animals, physically peaked performers and freaks of man made nature were his parents. They had loved him as much in that little four by ten box car as parent in the biggest of suburban house ever could. There Richard Grayson was warm and loved and cared for like too few children ever get to feel in their life times. On top of the daily chores and just living what he was sure to be a normal family life, he was a blessed child because he was a performer in his parent's highflying aerial act. The Flying Grayson were the headliners of the Haley Circus, but all that came to too soon an end when young Dick watched his parents plummet to their deaths among the dirt and sawdust of the well beaten tent floor on that faithful night in his eighth year on this Earth.
After the worst nightmare any child could have witness came to light for Dick Grayson, everything in his life became a whirlwind of change with the final results of him being brought to this new home where he was cared for by a wealthy playboy with more haunting in his past than any person should ever bare, and the kindly but stately and studious elder butler. Bruce Wayne became his guardian and Alfred Pennyworth provided the real home as Dick grew from child to young man. In the years since, all have moved in their own directions, and Dick now lived down the river in Bludhaven, but this was still the place his heart considered home.
His life and adventures would make most cringe in fear, but Dick Grayson had come to except and in many cases enjoy the life he had chosen to follow. But there were prices to pay and losses to endure in the years that built up to make this boy who was now a man. The most grievous of them involved his family. No not the family who had gone to their bloodied deaths some fourteen years earlier or even the two men he thought of as his father and grand father, the occupants of his home, but the family that Dick had made for himself as a teenager with other teens who were tired of sitting on the sidelines with a dream to do good in their own right. The Grayson's were Dick's history and Wayne Manner was his home, but in his heart of heart, The Titans were Dick's family.
Originally a group of teen 'sidekicks' as they were referred to, the five original members of the Teen Titans had become of force to be recon with over the years and had grown into large numbers. But even with all the members on the rosters and the lovers and friends from the teams most prosperous times in New York, the heart and the core of the team, and the ones he most considered family were the original five teens. Dick Grayson was the high flying adventurer Robin, while the boy who would become his best friend Wally West played the speedster Kid Flash, and then there was the hot headed one with the flaming red hair and bow to match, Roy Harper. The underwater shy one Garth was Aqualad and the most gifted and beautiful one of all was the mysterious stranger Donna Troy a.k.a. Wonder Girl who had no past to speak of at first, but she became the hearts desire of every man alive including her more voice stress team mates. These five were his life blood and his true companions through life, and he always thought that they would be around forever, and with all the near misses and dangerous adventures they had survived, he had no reason to believe otherwise. It took years and each had acquired a new life and code name better suited for their adult years, but faith was about to catch up with them.
Perhaps they had become too cocky in their years on the field, or maybe there were just too many people around that day, but everyone would soon hear about the freak super robot who was running amuck and was able to get two senior members in the large assembly of costumed crime fighters off guard that would result in the demise of the two young ladies. First Lilith, the mysterious and secretive passive who had become a trusted part time member of the team, and the most brutal of all, Troia or as she was most often called, Donna.
The memories still sent shivers down his spine each time he allowed his mind's eye to focus on the picture of those power heat rays passing through her slender body slicing a hole the size of two large fist through her mid section. Over the months since, the images of Donna' face and smile had diminished slightly from his thoughts, but the portrait with the brutal death of one of his closes friends was still burned brightly to the back of his eyelids. Donna Troy, a.k.a. Wonder Girl, a.k.a. Troia was gone forever from this world as so many other Titans and heroes before her.
Dick stared up at the tree before him and tried to loose his thoughts in the bright festivities of the tree and the season, but he could not. The year prior had been very hectic for he and those closes around him, and he knew that each would be happy to see this year just disappear, but in his heart, he felt the lost even greater. Not just of friends and family gone, but also knowing the fact that the year to come was to move forward with out them. The thought made him feel ever the more lonesome on this the 'most holiest' of all nights in the year.
He ran his hands over the ornaments before him. Most were simple round balls, bells and ribbons, but among the many in the large ten-foot tree were some very special decorations. They were part of a tradition started many years earlier at an unplanned meeting set up by mishaps that would forever cement and unite five friends and all those who would be allowed into their inner circle later into a family who's last name was Titans. Because of the rules of the house, not all were allowed here, but each year the five first and closes of these friend would gather and hang these very special trinkets from the living tree's branches. There had been several over the years, but each one stood for a member and friend of the team.
Dick walked over to the table and found the box with all the special decorations on the table next to the tree. His hand ran across the one that looked very similar to the emblem he wore on his Robin costume for many years before he became Nightwing. It was shaped in the letter 'R' with a large yellow circle around it. It was one of two in the box, each a little different representing each of the persons who had worn the identity. There should be three, he could not help remind himself, but one, like the young boy Jason Todd who wore it was gone now. Placed in a very special gift box at the foot of the tree among the many other discarded ornaments representing a lost friend. Trying to shake the thought from his mind, he pulled the object from the box placing it on the table near by and turned his attention to the yellow lightning bolt with the white circle behind it which stood for Wally West and place it near his out of the group. Then there was the yellow arrow against the red backdrop circle for Roy and under that was the blue up side down 'V' against red for Garth, which he removed. These were the four biggest and brightest and had always been on his tree since it's creation of this tradition as a monument to their friendship. They, like those who they represented although often elsewhere, were a constant in Dick life since his youth.
There were still several ointments already placed on the tree, and Dick was grateful for everyone of them, but still one like his the and the three others was missing. He could not help notice the absence of the one trinket glancing back at the tree, but turning back to the box, he saw that it had not been placed in the special box either but was still among those he had just removed. He had secretly hoped that Alfred would have taken it upon himself to do away with this part of the tradition this year where the original five would set away the trinket representing a lost friend and place the ointment into the box of 'lost dreams' as it had become known himself, but there it was among the white tissue paper still shinning in the dim lights of the Christmas tree behind him.
Slowly reaching in, his hand touched tenderly on the gold plated eagle that lay in the box so perfectly under the others. This was not so much an ointment or symbol, but an actual reproduction of the eagle pennant Donna had worn on a necklace with her Wonder Girl costume for many years.
Slowly he reached his right hand down into the box and was surprise to find his whole arm shaking as he tenderly grasped the small object and caressed it slowly in his palm. Slowly he picked it up and admired at the fact that it still shimmered so brightly in the glare of the small white lights. He remembered trying to get the artist he had commissioned to make these trinkets to replicate them perfectly in the short time he had that first year, but with out a model and not wanting to ask Donna to borrow the original after only a few weeks of knowing her, he described and drew a picture as best as he could and told the artist to do his best. The half hearted attempt was nothing like the original, much like there was no one else like Donna, so Dick determined he would have to get her another special Christmas gift that year to make up for the shoddy work, but Donna had loved it more than he could ever imagine. Thinking back, he could not remember what the other item to make up for it even was.
Turning slowly with the eagle in hand, he spotted the 'special box' in its usual place under the tree towards the back where it was given the honor of being placed each year. He began to swat down just as his cell phone went off in his left front jean pocket. Reaching under his over sized red knit sweater, he pulled the device out and looked at the view screen.
"Babs?" He said.
Pressing the talk button he raise the phone to his ear. "Since when does Oracle use the public phone system instead of the secured bat-com?"
She was almost hesitant to speak but did anyway. "Since I wanted to talk to Dick Grayson and not his alter ego," she tried to make it sound as friendly as she could. The working relationship between Oracle and Nightwing was still holding up under the strain of a fail relationship between them, but Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson were not doing as well.
"Oh," he paused taken aback a little. "I wasn't expecting to hear from you tonight."
"I," she almost stuttered. "I wasn't going to call, but Dinah and I were just sitting around reminiscing about old times and I remembered what this night meant to you, Roy and," she stopped herself. "The others."
Dick's head sank to his chest as he listened to the concern in his former lover's voice as she spoke tenderly. He leaned against the table standing upright again and place the eagle down next to the others.
"Dick?" Barbara's voice came back after a few seconds of silence. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," he tried to assure her with a weary voice, but she knew him better than that.
"Listen," she called out. "Dinah and I are sitting here in my apartment sipping some eggnog and watching old Christmas DVDs. Why don't you come over?"
"I'm at the mansion," he told her. "I'm waiting for Wally, Garth and Roy."
He could tell that she had taken a second to view her clock when her voice came back. "It's already late, Dick. Don't you guys usually kick this calibration off about eight? It nearly midnight already."
"I know, but it's a tradition," he assured her. "I have to wait."
Her voice was silent for a long while until he decided to speak up. "This year won't be any different than the others Babs," he said. "We've faced lost before and still came together to do this, and this year will not be any different."
"But it is, Dick," she replied cautiously. "You have never had to face one of the original five not being there."
"Listen," his voice rose a little and became almost insistent. "Even on our worst years when Donna lost her husband and son, or when Barry died and Wally was still sick with grief over the holidays and Garth's sickness years out of the water and Roy still being in recovery from drug addiction, we still found the time and the strength to get together and do this thing. And tonight is not going to be any different."
The shock came to Dick's eyes as he realized that tears of anger had begun to stream down his face.
"Dick, I'm sorry," her voice was soft and understanding. He always loved her best when she understood, but he couldn't think of that right now. "Why don't I call the others and see what the hold up is."
"No," he came back with a milder voice wiping away the tears. "Don't bother them. If they could be here, they would."
"Dick," Barbara sighed. "I know Bruce is out patrolling and Tim has his own grief to deal with this year, but if you would like, I could come over and wait with you."
"Don't do that," he sniffed. "I'm fine. Besides Alfred is down in the cave running through some old files for Bruce's mission tonight if I need any company. I'll be okay."
Barbara was a little worried to let this go, but she knew Dick and if there was one thing you did not do, was try and pressure one of the bat boys, so she decided it was better to let this go for now and check up on him again later.
"Okay, short pants," she affectionately called him by her kid nickname for him. "But don't forget to come by tomorrow morning for breakfast with me and my Dad."
"Are you sure you still want to do that?" he asked.
"Of course," she smiled sensing he was a little more at ease. "It's tradition and there is nothing in the books that say two exes can't break bread over the holidays once in a while."
"Okay, fine," he returned. "I guess I'll be there."
"Good," Barbara was almost giddy. Or as giddy as a super intelligent detail gifted computer genius can get about seeing an old boyfriend. "And don't forget to bring arms full of presents. There's nothing that says we can't do that either."
"Okay," he actually chuckled this time. She had actually gotten him to reverse his mood if only for a second and a laugh. "I'll be there."
"Good," she returned with glee.
"Hey Babs," he paused poignantly for a moment before hanging up. "Thanks," he stopped to search the right words. "Thanks for just caring."
"You too, batboy," she said affectionately. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," he returned just before hanging up the phone.
Dick returned the phone to his pocket and turned back to the table of ointments, Even with Barbara's uplifting manor, the fact is that one of the five original Christmas decorations for the Titans would have to join the others in the 'special box' was breaking his heart.
His attention to the world around him was lost and somewhere in the distance of the past a young child's laughter could be heard as Dick looked up at the Christmas lights and a glow came about his eyes and he allowed his memories to drift back in time to a night that would forever change him and his friends. It was a night that would cement five teens together as a family.
"Stop that Alfred," the boys voice could be heard giggling a few feet away from the newly decorated Christmas tree in the sitting room of Wayne Manor. The boy was barely thirteen and had rosy red cheeks as he tried hard to stifle another onset of laughter. "We have to get the tree done before Bruce comes home."
"I have no idea to what you wish for me to stop," Alfred stood up straight next to the tree wearing his best pin striped blue suite with matching vest. He had a very serious look about his face but atop his head over his thinning hair were several strings of tinsel, which were shimmering in the lights.
"Stop pretending to miss the tree and putting the tinsel on your head," Dick continued to giggle. "I have to concentrate and make this tree look perfect for Bruce."
"Master Grayson," Alfred looked down at his four-foot frame removing the garnish from his head. "A tree does not have to look perfect for Master Bruce to enjoy. I am sure that once he learns of your great efforts in helping with the decor, he will be most pleased."
"Yeah maybe," Dick's young face suddenly took a sour turn. "But Bruce likes everything to be perfect. Just like the way he didn't want me to go patrolling with him tonight because I couldn't get those new moves he was trying to teach me last night in the gym."
"Master Wayne only wishes to protect you young sir," Alfred assured. "He has taken on a very large risk by allowing himself to fight crime along side of a minor, but he believes you are worthy of that risk."
"Then why am I being grounded from flight tonight?" Dick almost pouted.
"It is Christmas Eve, Master Richard," Alfred tried to make him understand. "The city is quiet as it is. The Batman has gone out only as a precautionary measure. I assure you he has all matters well handled."
He leaned over and placed his hand on Dick's shoulder. "Perhaps he wanted you to stay behind so that you could brighten my holiday."
Dick looked up from the corner of his eye and could not help allow a thin smile to curl up on his lips.
"There you go young sir," Alfred returned the smile. "Why don't I get us both a nice warm cup of hot chocolate and maybe some of those brownies I was able to steal away before you and the Master brought them all to the orphanage this afternoon."
"Auh," Dick gasped. "You stole from a bunch of orphans on Christmas Eve?"
"My dear sir," Alfred threw his head back as if in spite. "Are we not all orphans in this very house also?"
"You got a point, Alfred." Dick gave him back a bright greedy smile. "Bring on the brownies."
Making his way out to the hall, Alfred was stopped by the sound of the doorbell being rung in the foyer. He doubled back past the sitting room and answered the sound. When he got to the door, he found a very pretty young girl about Dick's age standing with a slight smile and wearing a winter jacket that was much too thin for such a snowy night.
"May I help you young miss?" He questioned.
"It's me, Alfred," She pulled back the hood and revealed a full view of Donna Troy's lovely face with her long black hair being pulled back into a ponytail. "It's Donna."
"Miss Troy," Alfred smiled. "I had no idea you would be out on such a night. Was Master Grayson expecting you?"
"No," she entered as he stepped aside and brush off the snow while removing her coat. "I was sitting alone and I thought I would come over and let Dick tell me what all of this calibration is about."
"I am sure he will be quite delighted to see you," Alfred took her coat and placed it in the hall closet. "He is in the sitting room if you know the way."
"Oh I do," Donna waved over her shoulder making her way to the appointed chamber. "Thank you Alfred."
Once in the doorway, Donna smiled as she saw that Dick was wearing the large Red sweater she had given him for his birthday. She herself hardly ever got cold, but she knew that Dick was not gifted with her great stamina. She wore an oversized blue sweeter and jeans with heavy winter boots to allow herself to fit in with the others here instead of her short toga skirt she wore as Wonder Girl.
"Hi Dick," she announced herself as she entered. "Happy Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," Dick returned and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "I didn't know you were going to be stopping by."
"I hope you don't mind," she said with a serious look.
"Of course not," he smiled widely. If the truth were known, there was perhaps no one other than his parents that he would have wanted to see more on this night. Dick, like the others boys had always had a crush on Donna from the day they met, but had never tried to act on it as some did. Over the short time they knew each other, he had been able to form a strong friendship with this raven haired beauty, and for now that was enough. "Sit down," he gestured to two seats before the fireplace.
Donna sat down and admired the tree. "So this is what Christmas is all about? The tree is wonderful."
"Well there's a little more to it than that," Dick shrugged his shoulders. "But decorating is one of the fun parts."
"And giving gifts," Donna's eyes met with his. She was striking with her long dark blue sweater and jean skirt set that helped to make her look older than she really was.
"Yeah that kinda cool too," he gushed. "Do you celebrate Christmas where you are from?"
"I don't know," it was her turn to shrug. "I don't remember a whole lot about where I came from and I have been on my own for so long, I couldn't tell you. All I know is that this is the first year I can remember wanting to know more about this holiday."
"Then you've come to the right place," Dick grinned. "Bruce has tons of books on the subject in the library and I can help you surf a bunch more web sights if there are any more questions."
"That's not what I mean, Dick," she leaned over and touched his hand on the arm of his chair. "I already know what the holiday is from all the web sights and movies you and Wally have been shoving down Garth and my throats," she made sure to say that with a smile. "But I want to know what this holiday means to Dick Grayson."
Dick propped his head on his fist leaning on the arm of the chair, and the sight gave Donna a smile as she thought of the famous statue she had seen in a book he had shown her once, called 'The Thinker'. The thought amused her, because of all the Titans; Dick was perhaps best described as such. He always had a plan at a moment's notice that always seemed so well thought out.
After a few more seconds on pondering, Dick turned his attention back to her, lowering his arm. "I guess when you get down to it, Christmas doesn't men as much to me as it use to," he began as his eyes became glaze over with thought. "Bruce isn't much on the holidays and I think he lets me and Alfred decorate just to entertain our selves so he doesn't have to fight us on it. But back at Pop Haley's Circus, Christmas was very different."
A smile came across his young face as he told her, "we spent most Christmas in Florida because that is where carneys go for the winter, and a few with family and the money to travel would go visit relatives, but for the most part we were made up of rejects or people from other countries who didn't have the money to go home. Mom's folks were gone, and Dad's were in Romania and wanted nothing to do with a son who would leave the family, so we stayed with Pop and the other diehards. There wasn't much rehearsal time, as we were not performing during those few weeks. Pop always said that no one wanted to see the circus at Christmas time. The two didn't go together."
Donna curled her small frame up in the chair and listened attentively with large doling eyes.
"We didn't have much room for gifts and decorations, but every Christmas Eve, Pop Haley would put up one of the smaller performing tents, and all of us who remained, which was just about everyone, would gather there and sing Christmas carols," Dick retold the story of his youth. "We would light candles and Pop always had a large tree in the center of the tents where we would place our small meager gifts for each other and then just about when things were dying down, Pop would disappear discreetly and a few minutes later Santa Claus would show up with bags full of candy and fruits for the few of us kids that were there. It was the one time of the years when we performers were allowed to eat candy to our heart's contents. Thankful we didn't have much of a taste for sugar from all the time we were told to stay away from it, so we never did any real damage to our bodies for training."
"That sound so wonderful," Donna gushed from her seat.
"It was great," Dick smiled in the glow of the fire's light. "It's one of the last times I remember feeling completely safe and protected. I mean Bruce and Alfred are great and all, and it's real nice having a few million around when you need it, but nothing can replace the warmness and comfort of falling asleep in my mother's arms by candle light after a night of fun songs and a belly full of junk food."
Donna's eyes seemed to drift down for a second as sadness over took her. Looking up, dick noticed that she became distant.
"I'm sorry Donna," he said softly. "I didn't mean to bring up any sad memories for you."
"That's just it, Dick," her eyes were watery when she looked up. "I don't have any memories of ever feeling like that. I don't remember my parents or what it felt like to be in their arms or even safe and protected. All I know is waking up to the sound of some person's voice who claimed to be a Greek god and they told me about my powers and how I was to go out and use them to help people."
"Wow, that's creepy," Dick frown, "But I promise you Donna, some day I will help you find your past, and together we will find your parents."
A small smile came to her lips again. "I believe you, Dick. Thank you."
The warm feeling he always got when Donna smiled at him like that creped up into Dick's stomach and he tried to hide a slight blush as best as he could. Thankfully the Christmas lights were doing a good job of masking most of the lesser colors in the room. He wanted to say something and maybe this was the moment to tell her how he actually felt about her, but just as he parted his lips to speak, a light held by a fake candle stick on the mantel began flashing.
Catching Donna's attention, she looked up at the glowing orb. "Oh that's pretty," she gushed. "How do you make it do that all by it self?"
"I'll be right back," Dick excused himself jumping up and bolted out of the room. Alfred met him with a worry look on his face.
"It would seem that someone has triggered the Bat Cave's alarm system," he said with a 'matter of fact' tone. "I took the liberty of patching the surveillance camera through to the hall's door monitor."
They walked a few feet to the secret panel and Alfred pressed the wood in a certain spot. The panel slid into the side panel and a bank of four monitors and a phone with keys board was revealed.
"Why bother with this?" Dick asked with his adrenalin beginning to peak. "I can get suited up and go down there and investigate on my own."
"I thought it would be best that you view the intruder before you went to intercept," Alfred explained as they monitors lit up with most revealing the outside view of the manor. "The alarm was set off at the bat boat's entrance near the foot of the cave where the large stream runs off into the river then Gotham Harbor."
"So you're saying you figured out who's down there?" Dick asked focusing on the dim image in the fourth screen. "Is it Killer Croc?"
"Look again, young sir," Alfred suggested.
Dick leaned in closer and saw the shadow of an image slumping over the water at the edge just sitting on the dock. The figure was much too small to be of a full size man, much less the one known as Killer Croc.
After a few seconds and he was sure Dick had figured out who it was, Alfred spoke again. "I believe that an invitation to tonight's impromptu festivities would be in order. I also see no reason for the Robin to take flight in helping on this matter."
"Could you tell Donna I'll be right back?" Dick looked up.
"Of course," Alfred grinned. "I shall also prepare more cookies and brownies for the guest."
"Thanks Alfred," Dick grinned widely. "And don't worry, I'll have him stop by my locker for a change of cloths before I bring him up."
"I think that would be best," Alfred nodded and left.
It took Dick all of twenty seconds to rush down the secret stairwell and down to the dock of the massive gave. When he approached the slumping image, a small smirk came across his face. It seemed the two boys were always meeting up in this similar fashion.
Dick made his way over and slid into the vacant spot next to his friend allowing his own feet to dangle of the edge of the pear only a few feet above the water. He looked slowly over at the boy who wore the red top and blue shorts with boots to match.
They had been through this ritual several times already in their short time of knowing each other, and Dick already knew what the story would be. Arthur had blown up for some unwarranted reason and taken his frustration out of the teen boy in his care and reminded the lad that he was an outsider in the royal palace and he should be grateful that the king of the seven seas had shown mercy on the young boy all those years before when he found him, and that Garth should be happy for any morsel of a normal life the royal family would give him. If it were not for Arthur and Mera, Garth would have been dead long ago as were all freaks of the Atlantic Seas who bared the purple eyes of shame.
Dick didn't have to say anything anymore, because he knew in his heart of heart that all this boy ever wanted, like he and every child that age, was a place where he could fit in. With the Titans, they had found that and when the others were not around, Garth knew he could come here, and eventually Dick or Alfred would find him and they would just sit with him for a while until he was ready to talk.
After the death of his own parents, Dick had learned to get along without affection of an outward nature. Bruce was not very quick with the hugs or signs of gratitude, and Alfred had tried as best as he could to show some outwardly emotions towards their young charge, but his proper demeanor and servants up bringing had not taught him to display such things, and all was very well with Dick. He knew that if need be, he could throw his arms around either of is caregivers at any time with out much of a reaction. This did not bother him, as he was use to as little as possible adulation and outward appreciation, because he knew that both Bruce and Alfred loved him beyond words. So he natural drew back on such things, but he knew that Garth had never known his own parents and the only attention he received from Arthur Curry when they were not being Aquaman and Aqualad was in the form of verbal abuse. He knew above all else, Garth graved for the affections and caring touch of others, and the only place he got that was with his closes friends of the Teen Titans.
Slipping his arm around behind them, Dick slowly raised it up and placed his hand of Garth's opposite shoulder and pulled him a little closer so that the two could feel each other's wrath.
Garth instinctively wrapped both arms around Dick's waist and buried his face into the shoulder of his sweater as he had done so many times before. Dick placed his other arm around his friend to complete the hug and the two just sat there silently for several minutes.
Donna jumped up from her seat ten minutes latter as the two boys entered the sitting room. With excitement beaming from her bright smile, she wrapped her arms around Garth's neck and kissed his cheek. He returned her embrace and was careful not to show how much he really enjoyed being close to her.
"What a surprise," she gushed pulling away. "Dick didn't tell me you were coming."
"It was a last minute thing," Garth slipped his hands into the pockets of the jeans Dick had loaned him along with the large red sweater with the entire outfit reflecting his Aqualad costume. "I hope I'm not interrupting."
"Of course not," Donna smile leading him back to her chair. The two were small enough and the chair large enough, that they were able to sit side by side as Dick took his seat. "Dick was going to tell me all about Christmas and why they slaughter so many trees to celebrate. I'm sure they don't have Christmas in Atlantis, so now Dick can tell both of us."
Dick gave a cautious smile, as he was not sure Donna was catching the true meaning of the holiday. He was trying hard to find some way of explaining these traditions to two people who were almost like aliens when it came to most customs of most of the world they had never known. He was grateful when Alfred slipped into the room with tray of four mugs filled with steaming hot chocolate.
"Alfred," Dick jumped up and help him to find a place to put the tray on the coffee table between them that was covered with tree decorations. "I was wondering when you were going to allow us to sample your chocolate."
"Indeed," Alfred nodded once placing the tray carefully down. He began handing out the cups to Donna and Garth.
"Wait," Dick noticed. "There one extra one," he looked up at his caregiver with a smile. "Are you actually going to join us this time?"
"I am afraid not for the moment," Alfred stood back up to his full height. "It would appear that we have another Christmas visitor," he turned his head averting Dick's attention to the entrance door.
There stood a handsome red haired boy who's features contrasted to all the other's in the room who had dark hair and blue or purple eyes. His eyes were brown and his build, although strong and muscular, was leaner and bordered on lanky. He was wearing Nike sneaker, untied, a pair of well warned jeans and an over sized large red sweatshirt with the large yellow and white lighting bolt symbol of the Flash on the front that he had been given by his aunt the Christmas before, over a white tee shirt.
The look on his face was sad and solemn. Dick walked over to him as he approached he could see where his eye had been recently beaten and was slowly turning from red to black and blue.
Dick just stood in front of him for a minute and took in the sight of his new best friend who seemed very tired and warned out. His one question was, "who?"
Wally West just tried to shrug it off with his shoulders. "Dad started drinking a little too much for the holiday again, and Mom joined him. Me I just got in the way."
"I'm sorry, Wally," Dick was at a lost for words again. He had known that things were not happy at the West home, but Wally had seldom ever warned the badges of his father's rage at him in such a public display. He had been drinking and hitting his son for years, but the elder West was careful to place the bruises where no one would be able to see. Mainly because he knew that if he did, then his brother in law would come down hard on him with a few well placed punches of his own. It was surprising to him how fast sluggish looking Barry Allen could be some times be with the return beatings.
Wally had not looked past Dick to see Donna and Garth yet; he had just raised his head to look at Dick's sorry expression. "They're both sleeping it off for now and won't be up until morning." He paused for a second lowering his head again. "I just needed to get out of there for a while. Uncle Barry and Aunt Iris are with his folks for Christmas, so I didn't want to bother them."
"It's okay, Wally," Dick said softly. "You know you're always welcome here."
The young teen boy lowered his head even more so into his chest and wrapped his arms around himself. "I'm sorry, Dick," his body began to shake slightly. "I didn't have anywhere else to go."
For the second time in one night, Dick knew this was the time for another guy on guy hug. He stepped closer and wrapped his arms around his best friend and allowed him to sob quietly into his shoulder for the next few seconds.
Alfred returned a few minutes later with a plate full of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and placed them on the table near the half emptied mugs. Donna was the first to pick up one of the soft warm disc and looked at in questionable.
"They're chocolate chip cookies," Dick told her after watching her ponder the food. "They are the best ever and even better when fresh out of the oven. Alfred makes them from scratch and not from a box like other people."
"Are they good for you?" She asked.
"Only to fill you up with useless calories and mind altering sugar," Dick said with a wide grin. "Try one and I promise you will not be able to stop until the plate is emptied."
She cautiously bit into one and after a few chews, she closed her eyes, smiled and gave a long groan like sound. "These are the best thing I have ever tasted," she commented biting into it again. "Alfred you are a genius."
"I assure you that I was not the person who patent the recipe Miss Troy," Alfred said with a bow. "Although I would have to take credit for a few alterations."
Donna reached for a second cookie only to be met with a super speed sweep of Wally's hand from where he was now sitting on the floor next to the fire. "Save some for the rest of us," he glared.
"I was only going to take one more," she shot him a curt look.
"Yeah and I Superman," he returned with a snort snatching up three for himself.
"Eat as many as you wish," Alfred informed them. "I have a second batch in the oven as we speak and a third in ready should the need arise."
"It's rising, Al," Wally replied shoving a whole cookie into his mouth. "You better fire those babies up."
"Very well," Alfred nodded with a sly grin of his own walking towards the door again.
"Oh Alfred," Dick jumped over to stop him as Garth picked up one of the few remaining cookies Wally, Dick and Donna had not scoffed and held it up slightly over his head and looked at the underside. "Did you forget to bring it?"
"Of course not, Master Richard," Alfred took a studious pose and reached for the carton he had left on his caring tray on the table near the door. "Although I must warn you again of the consequences should master Wayne find that such a carton of this has been in his home."
"It's okay, Alfred," Dick eyed the half gallon wax carton of store bought eggnog. "What Bruce doesn't know won't hurt him."
"Indeed," Alfred picked up the emptied tray and left the room.
"Dick?" Garth called out still eyeing the cookie. "How did Mr. Pennyworth get the chocolate all the way through the cookie with out melting into the batter?"
Pulling the carton out from behind his back, Dick held up the eggnog for all to see. "My friends, I give you the richest, creamiest and most satisfying drink and the desire of any hyper loving American kid out there, eggnog."
"Cool," Wally jumped to his feet grabbing the container.
Both Garth and Donna glanced over at each other and then back at the two boys who were struggling with trying to open the container. "Ah Dick," Donna spoke up.
"Yeah," he looked up from his work that was sandwich between him and Wally.
"Are you kidding me?" Wally exclaimed. "You would have to be from some lost planet or something not to know what this is. It's like instant energy."
"Or Heart attack in a bottle," Dick chuckled. "At least that's what Bruce calls it."
"Hey I have an idea," Wally pulled away quickly. "Lets call Roy and rub his nose in how much fun we are having without him."
Dick had to react fast, but was able to catch the partially open container before it fell out of his grasp after Wally released his hold on it.
"Calling Roy is a great idea," Donna pounced up out of her seat next to Garth with her ponytail flailing in the air around her head. "Only lets invite him over."
"Yeah," Wally held his arms out and stooped forward like he was about to catch something real big. "I'll run over and pick him up."
"Or," Dick bit the side of his bottom lip still trying to get the carton open where the folds parted. "I can call Hal up in the Justice League satellite and ask him to teleport him over without telling the rest of the them he did it."
"Sure," Donna was almost dancing. "Green Lantern and Green Arrow are close. He wouldn't want Roy to miss a party with his friends."
"I'll use Barry's spare signaling device to call Hal on monitoring duty and ask him to do it," Wally told them pacing back and forth at speed slightly faster than the normal person could move."
"And I'll call Roy and make sure he wants to come," Donna said with a giddy laugh running towards the phone table in the far corner of the room.
"Sounds like a plan," Dick grunted just as he pulled tightly on the two sides of the opening to the milk carton, which in turn sprung open, but out of his grip and began a somersaulting cascade of eggnog against the backdrop of roaring fire. The contents of the carton met a splashing finish on the imported rug sloshing all over Dick's shoes.
"Hello, Roy," Donna joyfully called into the receiver across the room as Dick tracked through the spilt eggnog and made line to the door.
"Alfred," he yelled as he walked. "Do we have any more of the eggnog hidden in the refrigerator? Oh, and we need a mop! Wally made a mess in here," and with that he disappeared into the hall.
"Rob," Wally dropped to his knees and picked up the mostly emptied container and eyed the opening. "There's still some in here." He glanced over his shoulder and saw that Dick was not returning, so he placed the carton to his lips and drank the remaining almost one third of the carton down swiftly.
"Oh that's great," Donna screamed from the corner of the room. "Go to Ollie's transporter on the roof and we'll tell Hal to transport you to Wayne Manor."
Still sitting in the chair, Garth looked at the cookie again and then at his friends who seemed unable to stop moving or even lower their voices. He slowly lowered the cookie back onto the empty plate and left it untouched. Only to have it disappear at super speed less than a second later.
By the time Roy Harper appeared a half hour later, Wally, Dick and Donna had had their fill of the eggnog and were each sitting in their chairs letting out a bit of a groan. Wally had still wanted to get up and move around, but found himself bogged by a belly full of heavy egg enriched milk. So he sat slouched in the armchair nearest the corner of the room at his leg jittered up and down at an almost invisible speed.
"Roy!" Dick greeted him has he entered the room. "You made it."
"Yeah," Roy walked slowly into the room. His demeanor and walk were much slower than his given work name of Speedy. He seemed a bit out of it from his slow swagger and even from his seated place; Dick could tell that his eyes were slightly dilated. The brightness from the fireplace was even too much for his eyes as he struggled to look away.
"Alfred meat me in the cave and told me to come on up," he told them as he centered himself in the room before the fireplace and in view of all three chairs. "Alfred is a real swell guy."
"Yeah he is," Dick replied with an apprehensive pause. "Come sit by me and have some cookies and eggnog. Or would you rather have hot chocolate?"
"I'd actually rather sit next to Wonder Chick over here," he pointed to where Garth was seating on the same chair as Donna. "You don't mind, do you Fish Gills?"
"Actually," Garth looked up at him sheepishly.
"Come on gill head," Roy coached rudely. "Let me have my shot at wonder bread." He pulled a bay leaf from his pocket and held it up. "I brought mistletoe."
"That's not holly," Donna exclaimed.
"Close enough," Roy winked. But it wasn't in the cute and boyish manner that Donna had become use to from him, but this time his advances seemed more forceful and demanding. His newfound assuredness was actually starting to scare Donna a little as he began tugging at Garth's arm.
"Roy," Dick jumped up sensing the unease in the room and latched onto Roy's free arm and began leading him out into the hall. "I want to show you the neat pre Christmas gift Bruce gave me this morning. It's in the other room."
Donna and Garth pretended not to notice Dick's half hazard save and returned their attention to watching the Christmas lights and telling how each color reminded them of something from their home land. While Wally, well Wally didn't notice much and was mesmerized by the movement of his own leg and how he had no control over it. Even when he place his hand over his knee to stop the vibrating, his hand began to move in the same fashion as it there were some type of force around it and he was just being pulled into it.
Dick had try to show a light mood as he and Roy exited the room, but once in the hall and the sitting room's door was close, the kid gloves were off and he swung Roy around slamming him against the wall hard.
"Hey," Roy pushed him away with brute force. "What gives bat boy? Since when are we sparing with out any warning."
"You idiot," Dick pushed him back against the wall with one hand on each of his shoulder. "What are you doing coming to my house while flying higher than a kite?"
"You invited me, Dickey," Roy chuckled with a sideway grin. "It wasn't my idea to come over. You guys insisted."
Dick leaned his face forward and took a sniff of his breath. "Man you smell worst then Ted Grant after a JSA reunion dinner. What have you been drinking?"
"I'm not sure," Roy's hand began flying around in an animated fashion. "A little of this," he paused, "and a little of that." A wide smile wiped across his face. "What ever was in Oliver's liquor cabinet."
"Geesh, Roy," Dick backed away with a huff. "What the heck are you thinking? It's bad enough that you are stupid enough to do something like that and for Ollie to allow it, but if Bruce saw you right now, he would have all three of our butts in a sling. Why would Ollie let you drink at your age?"
"Ollie doesn't know, you narc," Roy adjusted his loose fitting orange turtleneck sweater. "He left about four days ago for island in the pacific for what he called 'a much needed vacation' with Dinah."
"Dinah Lance left with Oliver Queen leaving you all alone for Christmas?" Dick rationed out the possibilities of something like that happening. Everyone knew that Ollie was a half wit when it came to being a guardian to Roy and was never around much, but Dinah had always acted as his reasoning and would look after the boy as much as she could from a distance, but her interference wasn't always welcome by either and her age being less than ten years older than Roy did not drive home the possibility of her having any real motherly instincts. "Why would she agree to that?"
"She thinks I'm with Hal," Roy almost shouted as he started to be annoyed at the intrusion into his private life. "I promise them that I would call Hal and spend the holiday with him since we were both going to be alone."
"And of course you didn't call him," Dick finished the thought.
"Hey man," Roy smiled and spread his arms. "I got the whole place to myself and Ollie's debit card for a whole week. Why would I want stodgy old Hal Jordan to cramp my style?"
"You're sick man," Dick shook him finger at him. "Do you know that? You are one sick guy. You should have called me. Bruce wouldn't mind if you stayed here for the week."
"Maybe I don't want to stay with you two boy scouts and your stiff butler watching out over me every minute," Roy snapped back. "I like my freedom."
"You're fourteen, Roy," Dick reminded him. "I am plenty capable of watching after myself too, but I like having Alfred and Bruce there to watch out for me. I mean maybe its because of all my training over the years, but I happen to believe that just because I am old enough to form my own thoughts, doesn't mean I have to be like every other teenager and think I know everything there ever is to know about living and life. We all need the rents there from time to time to kick us in the right direction."
Roy's brow creased and his mouth opened wide showing his teeth with a look of disbelief in his eyes. "Will you listen to yourself, Rob? You sound like one of those pamphlets they hand out at one of those support groups. This is the real world little birdie. Movie stars, rich people and super heroes are only having kids to satisfy some need to feel and look complete in the public eye. And those that can't have them rent them. Just like Bruce, Ollie and every other mentor of our friends in the other room there."
"You can't believe that?" Dick's face dropped. "As bad as Ollie might be, he took you in because he cares."
"Yeah, about himself," Roy crossed his arms defiantly.
"You know what," Dick shook his head and hands. "Forget about all that. What ever you feel about Ollie or Bruce or anyone does not excuse your drinking. I've been watching Roy, and this is not a one time thing."
"So what," he scoffed. "What's your point bird brain?"
"My point," Dick came up close to his face. "My point is that drinking, especially at such a young age is very likely to lead to harder stuff like drugs. I would hate to see you go there Roy."
"I don't do drugs, Rob," Roy's voice became soft and almost pleading.
"Not yet," the look in Dick's eyes was more hurt than anger now. "I mean come on Roy," wariness seemed to cross his face as if he was begging. "We have seen this case scenario a hundred times each with all the bad guys we fight. No one planned to grow up and be a hood, but almost all of them started with some type of abuse and a desire to escape their world turning to some type of out side stimulants. Mostly alcohol at first, but then it almost always goes to the harder stuff like with the endless line of drugs from there. Even the ones who don't do lines get so worked over by the booze that they can hardly focus as humans any more."
Dick turned away and stared at the door for a moment. "Look at what these things have done to us," he turned back with sorrow in his eyes. "Did you see Wally in there? Do you think that black eye got there on it own?"
"What?" Roy swallowed the lump in his throat, as his voice got really soft. "What happen to him? I mean I never even looked."
"His father happen," Dick place his hand on his shoulder. "The West family was celebrating the holiday too until Wally got in the way by just being there."
Roy lowered his head with disappointment. "That guy is a slime," he said softly. "Maybe next time the Justice League shouldn't hold Barry back when he gives him a taste of his own medicine."
"I don't know what is the right way to handle this," Dick's head sank too. "But I know with all the heartaches he and Garth face every day and the loneliness Donna has to live with not knowing anything about her own past, they have never tried to drown their sorrows, no matter how well founded, in a bottle or vile of anything. So maybe having a guardian who can act like a selfish SOB from time to time is not the worst thing in the world."
Roy grabbed Dicks arm and pulled him into a long hug. After a few minutes, he shook his head still holding onto his friend. "I swear bird boy, you tell anyone I hugged you like this, I'll clip your wings before you can reach your utility belt."
"Sure, Roy," Dick giggled pulling away.
"And thanks," Roy nodded placing his hands in his jean pockets.
As Dick remembered it, the next few hours were filled with jokes, games and even a few Christmas songs that Wally and Dick tried to teach the others to keep the mood cheery. Alfred had even somehow found all the makings for a complete ham dinner with potatoes, string beans and biscuits on the side with a Jell-O mold for desert. He claimed that these were mealy extra items he had sitting around the house, but in truth he had plied the children with real food in hopes flushing down some of the sugar that was in their systems.
After the large meal in the dinning room, the five teens returned to the sitting room and admired the lights from the tree that seemed to take on a magical glow in the late hour. Alfred had taken the liberty of prepare a room for each of them to little or no debate, and they had all agreed most would not be missed at their homes that night. Alfred used the Justice League com-link connection in the cave to let Arthur know where Garth would be spending the night and both Roy and Donna had no reason to notify anyone outside of the group. Wally assured him that he could get back home early in the morning before his parents would wake up or even notice he was gone.
So they all gathered into the small room and sat mostly silently watching the tree as the hum of Christmas music played on the house surround sound system. Dick marveled from his seat hold his mug of coco at how the lights seemed to glitter off of Donna's eyes and he had never seen such a large smile on her face as she sat next to Garth in their chair. Even Garth had taken to smiling that night. A sight that was all to rear for anyone to see such a handsome wonder. Dick's feet were swung over the side of the chair and Roy sat propped up on the floor with his back resting on Dick's seat. Wally had pulled his own armchair forward next to Dick's and sat to his right closer to the fireplace.
"You know what?" Roy was the first to speak again. "I think this should be a yearly things for us."
"What? Eat until we stuffed like a Christmas goose?" Wally asked.
"No, this," Roy shrugged. "I think that we should all make a point to get together every year on Christmas Eve and just be a family away from our families."
"I can really get into that," Wally joked.
"Since some of us don't have any family," Donna started.
"Or just guardians," Roy added.
"Or even remember our real families," Garth added next.
"Then we could be each others family on Christmas Eve," she beamed a large smile.
"What about our real families like uncles and stuff?" Wally asked.
"That what Christmas day can be for," he said. "But Christmas Eve should be just for us. The Teen Titans."
"Sounds like a great idea to me," Garth agreed.
"Then it's settled," Roy nodded his head once. "Christmas Eve belongs to the five of us from now on. The Titans."
"Sounds like a plan," Wally gave a shout with joy, but then his face grew serious. "But shouldn't we have some type of ritual or something like a reason for us to get together?"
"What do you mean?" Donna asked.
"I don't know," he shrugged. "But it seems we should have some type of thing we do every year and maybe use it as a marker in some way of showing that our friendship has survived another year. Like maybe light a candle or decorate the tree."
"But why?" Garth asked.
"Yeah," Donna agreed. "The tree is already decorated and a candle seems kind of…"
"Lame," Roy interjected. "A candle is lame like if we were in a church or something."
"Then I don't know," Wally looked over at the tree. "Maybe if we added something special to the tree, but only when we were here together."
The whole time Dick's mind had been spinning for ideas and Wally's suggestion was the spark to his brilliant idea. He rose up from his chair and rushed over to the tree. "I got it," exclaimed.
"What?" Roy asked.
"I have the perfect thing to add to the tree," Dick beamed as he pulled five small gift-wrapped boxes from under the pile of gifts. "I had these made for each of you to take home, but they would be perfect."
"Gifts?" Donna said as he handed her a box. "But I didn't think to bring anything for you."
"That's okay," Dick smiled. "I have everything I want right here."
"Yeah," Roy added as he was given his gift. "Besides that, Bruce can afford to buy him two of anything he could ever imagine and then some."
"I was not aware that we were to bring anything," Garth gushed over his box. "But I promise next year."
"Sure," Dick smile tossing Wally's gift to him.
"I forgot yours at home, Dick," assured him. "But I'll bring it by tomorrow."
"No problem," He watched the reaction on all his friends' faces as they admired their boxes. "Now I was going to wait until Christmas to give these but since…"
"Dude," Wally looked at the clock on the wall that read five after twelve. "It is Christmas."
"Okay," Dick spread his nervous arms wide. He had faced the joker a million times it seemed, but waiting to see what his friends thought of his gift idea was tearing a hole the size of Kansas in his stomach with worry. "Then open them."
In a flurry of paper and the sound a tearing, the boxes were each opened to reveal a small ornament shaped into the form of each of their costume symbols.
"Wow," Wally cheered. "These are cool. Where did you find them?"
"I actually had them specially made," Dick tried to sound sure of himself. "I thought you would all take them home and hang on your own trees, but since we have adopted Christmas Eve as our day and the Wayne Manor tree as our own, then maybe we should leave them here and gather every year at this time to hang them back on the tree."
Donna jumped up from her chair and placed a warm kiss on his cheek. "I love the gift and the idea," she said with joy in her voice as he turned beat red with embarrassment.
"I think we all do," Roy climbed to his feet and patted Dick on the shoulder. "Good going bat boy."
Dick was definitely blushing by the time Garth and Wally joined them at the tree. He pulled one shaped in the Robin's 'R' from another box and they all held them up to a different branch.
"Well this is it guys," Dick said over the rush of pride and emotion. "This cements us together for all eternity. We are officially a family now. The Teen Titans now own Christmas Eve."
They all smiled reaching forward and slipped the ornaments onto a branch. They reach over wrapping their arms around each other and admired their handy work. After a few seconds of silence, Roy reached up his free hand and announced, "God bless us, everyone!"
And that was the first of many annual Titan's Christmas Eves.
As Dick drifted back to the present, his mind could not help but linger back to those wonderful days and all the great times they had together after that, but those days were over and even with all the other losses over the years, this year's were more upsetting and heartfelt as Dick realized that for the third time in his young life, he was experiencing the lost of a real loved one. It was a love that went beyond words. In his heart he said a silent prayer and asked his parents to watch over Donna for him. They were three of the most precious and loved people in his life, and now they were gone. And on Christmas Eve, a time like no other, he was alone for the first time in his Titan's history. Dick held Donna's symbol to his heart and looked up at the tree as he fought against it, but a tear rolled down his cheek despite his best effort.
His thoughts were interrupted a few minutes by a gentle knock on the door as it opened slowly. Dick turned and saw his close friend of several years standing in the entranceway. It was the newly crown ruler of Atlantis, Garth other wise known formally as Aqualad and now Tempest.
"Garth," Dick's face lit up with his bright blue eyes catching a glint from the white Christmas lights on the tree. He held out his hand and shook his friend's. "How did you get in?"
"Alfred let me in through the tunnel to the harbor," Garth explained. "Just like when I use to sneak in here in the old days. Only now Bruce has installed a few more high-tech security devices." He looked down at his nice blue sweater and matching cargo pants over black dress shoes and black socks. "Alfred gave me this change of cloth so I wouldn't track water all over the house."
"Yeah," Dick patted him on the back and led him into the room. "That sounds like Alfred. But I am so happy you made it."
They both sat in the armchairs near the fireplace facing each other. "I hope I'm not too late," Garth said with concern in his face. "We don't celebrate Christmas in Atlantis, but the wife wanted me to take the baby for a swim down by the shore to see the lights."
"Sounds like a nice little family thing," Dick smiled. "But you're not late. In fact you and I are the only ones."
"I see," Garth looked over at the tree with out the special ornaments. "Maybe they are having a harder time with this than we are this year."
"Come on, Garth," Dick put a serious look on his face. "Donna was as much my best friend as Wally and you and she shared a special closeness that none of the others had but we are here."
"We loved Donna," Garth started. "But we were not in love with her like Roy. Even though they weren't together anymore when she died, they were still very close. Think about how you would feel if it were Barbara who was gone."
"It would kill me," Dick agreed. "But I would still honor her memory and keep our traditions alive."
"You are not Roy Harper, Dick," Garth reminded his friend.
In all the years they had known each other, Dick had always admire this prince of ancient royalty with his black curly hair and purple eyes who seemed to have a warmth and comfort about himself too few people he had ever known in his life could muster. Even the great Batman could take lessons about understanding and acceptance from this young man.
"I almost didn't come the year Tula died," Garth continued. "But I came because she was not one of the core five members. Even with her gone, I could still surround myself with my friends here because she was not in our special tradition."
Dick took a second to let out a heavy sigh before he continued. "What about Wally?" Dick asked next. "He more than anyone knew how important this night was to us. He knew that he was the only one with any real family, but to the rest of us, this was our family."
Garth leaned forward in his armchair and lean on his own knees with his elbows. "Dick," he looked deep into his friend's eyes. "More than any of us, Wally shares a connection with Donna that the rest of us, if not the whole world will ever understand."
"Do you mean?"
"It could or should have been any one of us, but for what ever reason, Diana chose Wally to help Donna regain her memories," Garth explained. "Everything Donna was after her memories were wiped out completely was reconstructed by using Wally's memory. She was who she is because it was Wally's memory of her that she was living with. They were a part of each other like no people ever before."
"Oh my God," Dick sank his head into his hands. "I let my hopes that the four of us could relive a memory that is nothing more than that anymore get in the way of how truly painful this night could be for them."
Garth slid off his chair and knelt down before Dick grasping his hands from his face. "In all the years we have been doing this," he spoke softly as a teardrop from the corner of his eye. "We have had to face a lot of losses, but this is the first year that we ever had to face the lost in the family."
Dick allowed his head to slump forward and rest on Garth's shoulder. He would never allow himself to be this open emotionally around Roy or even Wally anymore, but Garth understood emotions. He was the kind gentle and thoughtful one who wasn't afraid to show he cared and didn't make other ashamed of showing their vulnerabilities.
The two best friends sat silently for several minutes as the emotions of the night if not the past year caught up with them and they allowed themselves to grieve for the time lost and the friend no longer with them.
Dick and Garth had been in the room for several minutes just looking at the ornaments sitting on the table, but neither made an effort to get up and hang theirs on the tree like every year before and they were not sure they ever would be able to place Donna's into that special box. Instead the two friends sat and mostly watch the tree shimmer in the night. It was longer than both had realized before Alfred entered the room and announced, "You have another visitor Master Richard.
"Hey guys," a timidly smiling Wally West stood at the door with a small wave. "Sorry I'm late, but I had to stop a Christmas Eve hold up in West Virginia and the police needed me to ID the guy because the store clerk was too scared."
"Wally," Dick jumped up and lost himself in the joy of seeing his closes friend again by jumping at his with a large bear hug. "Its okay. I am just glad you made it after all. Merry Christmas buddy."
"Merry Christmas, Dick," a surprised Wally returned the hug. "Where else would I be on this night? We're family after all."
He looked past Dick and saw Garth seated near the fireplace with a large smile on his face. "Garth," Wally shook his hand. "I thought I smelled a fish fry when I first got here. Aren't you a little too close to the fire?"
"I'm fine Wally," Garth laughed with him. "I'll re-hydrate on the swim home."
"Good," Wally sat in the third chair as Dick returned to his seat. "I would hate to start an international incident with the Atlantis government if we mistakenly cook their new ruler to death."
"Very funny," Garth smirked. "So how are things with you Wally? Haven't seen you since you arrange that special meeting to remind me who you were again after Hal wiped your secret identity out of everyone's mind. Thank you for thinking about me."
"No problem," Wally replied with a sigh. "It is nice not having to worry about people hurting my loved ones anymore, but I hated not being able to share my life as Flash with the people I care about."
"Not to mention how much it must have freaked you out when you discovered you were the Flash because your own mind was wipe cleaned too," Dick added.
"Yeah," Wally had to look away with shame.
"What's wrong?" Dick asked with concern. "Did we hit on a nerve?"
"Sorta," Wally shrugged. "Its just after all that has happen in the last few months and some stuff I've learned since then, well mind sweeping just rubs me the wrong way is all."
"Okay," Dick gave Garth a questionable look. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Maybe," Wally leaned towards the table of cookies in front of them. "Someday, but not tonight, okay guys?"
"Sure," they both agreed.
"So I see you still have a thing for Alfred's sugar cookies," Dick commented as Wally took a fist full.
"Okay," Wally almost blushed. "Ignoring any possible innuendoes in that line, I'll only say that if it were not for these things I may have never discovered there was a speed force around me that enabled my powers to work. That first Christmas Eve here was the first time I remember coming in contact with the speed force and got a glimpse of what it can do to increase my speed."
Garth looked up at the clock on the wall. "It is starting to get a little late, guys."
Both Wally and Dick glanced up and saw that it was also midnight.
"Maybe we should go ahead and do this without Roy," he added.
"Yeah," Wally joined in. "I need to be getting home soon too."
"Ah," Dick was at a lost for words for a minute as he thought hard about changing the tradition.
"Dick," Garth reach across and placed his hand on his shoulder. "She's not going to come either. Its just the three of us now."
"I know," Dick stood up and walked over to the table. "But I was just hoping that at least Roy would still make it. We should still be doing this."
"Maybe," Wally stepped up behind him. "We should think about putting an end to this tradition and move on."
"But," Dick started.
"I hate to agree with ending a tradition after all these years," Garth joined. "But we are all older now with different lives of our own away from each other. By still trying to live a memory from our childhood may only make things more difficult in trying to get past Donna's death. Every year this will only be a reminder of how much we miss her."
"And it should be," Dick picked up Donna's symbol from table. "I don't ever want to forget what Donna meant to us. I don't want to stop being a family just because she can't be here with us anymore either."
The three men stood silent for a moment staring at the eagle until a voice from the door got their attention.
"I'm with bat boy on this one," a tall proud red haired man in a tan sweater and matching docker slacks stood in the entryway. "Donna would have wanted us to keep the family whole."
"Roy," the three turned to greet their friend.
After a few more hug and hand shakes, they found themselves all standing around looking at each other.
"So where have you been?" Dick asked. "I told you yesterday at the base what time we would be here."
"Yeah, well about the reason I'm late," Roy stepped aside and revealed a cute little dark haired girl behind him. "Lian had a problem with me going out on Christmas Eve without her."
"Lian," the others all smile and gave her big hugs and kisses, each jockeying for his turn before the other.
"Isn't it a little late for a young lady like yourself to be out on Christmas Eve?" Dick asked squatting before her. "What would Santa think?"
"Oh come on, Uncle Dick," she rolled her eyes. "I haven't believed in Santa since I was four."
"But," Dick was taken aback slightly. "You're only five now, right?"
She nodded her head up and down with a wide grin.
"Okay," he pushed himself up with one hand not knowing what to say next.
"I hope you guys don't mind," Roy said picking up his daughter. "I was telling Lian about our annual family reunion, and she thought she might want to join us this year."
"I'm family too," she announced proudly.
The three other men searched each for a moment and then agreed. "You are, honey."
Donna had come to love Lian like her own child in her final days with the Titans and the little girl had helped to fill the void left by the death of her own husband and son a few years earlier, so in a way like no other child alive, Lian was a small part of Donna and had a piece of her inside of her heart from all the time they had spent together. She had become the closes thing the little girl had come to know as a mother or that she would ever know.
"So," Roy hiked her up higher into his arms and asked. "Are we going to do this thing or not?"
The room became eerily silent again as each of them made their way slowly back to the table and the ornaments and picked up the symbol that represented them on that very first Christmas Eve gathering.
After the four men had their keepsake in their hands, Lian looked down and saw that Donna's still lay on the table alone. "What about that one?"
"That was Donna's," Roy told her. "Tradition says we all place our own ornaments on the tree, but Donna isn't here anymore."
"So what happens to the pretty eagle?" she asked innocently.
"We," Dick stumbled on his words. "We have a special box where we put all the ornaments that belong to the people who are not with us anymore. It's where we keep them to help us remember all our lost friends."
"But Aunt Donna isn't lost," Lian insisted. "She's not gone either. My Daddy said that just because we can't see her anymore doesn't mean that Aunt Donna is gone. She's with us always and I'm sure she's here right now."
She turned to Roy. "Isn't that right Daddy?"
"Well," Roy glanced over at the other as if seeking for help. "You see," he stalled for time. "This is one of those times when only people who are here can take part in."
"But she is here," Lian pouted. "Aunt Donna is in this room and I know it, because we love her and she is always with the people who love her just like you said Daddy."
"But," Roy started.
"No Roy," Dick stopped him. "Lian is right. Donna is in this room. Just because we don't see her, I believe that Donna would never miss our Christmas Eve family tradition. So if I know our Wonder Girl, she found a way and is here with us now."
"See," Lian grinned at her father. "I told you."
"Yes you did sweaty," Roy hugged closely. "I should have known better than to doubt you."
"So that leaves us one little problem," Dick rubbed his chin with his thumb and index finger. "Even if Donna is here, she can't pick up her ornament in her hands and hang it up on the tree in her present state."
"Then what are we going to do?" Wally joined the train of thought. "Tradition states that we can only hang one ornament and it has to belong to us."
"So we need someone new who doesn't already have a ornament on the tree to help us hang Donna's," Garth added stifling a smile. "If only we had an extra person here who could do it for us."
"I can do it!" Lian announced loudly. "I can do it."
The four men pretended to give each other a look as if they were debating it silently.
"I can do it," she insisted again. "Please let me hang it."
"Well," Dick spoke up with a scowling eye. "I guess we could give it a try."
"Oh boy," Lian cheered.
"Here you go, honey," Roy's free hand picked up the eagle and gave it to her. "Now be careful not to drop it."
"I won't," Lian admired the shinny object. "I promise."
"Well this is it," Dick announced leading the way towards the tree.
The four men stood around the Canadian fir tree with Lian in Roy's arm. They each held up the ornaments and place them carefully on the branches as they had done every year since their teens and stepped back.
The shine off the newly place trinkets gave the tree a new luster as they watch them almost glow in the lights. A large smile wiped across Lian's face as she admire her handy work and rested her head on Roy's shoulder.
All four of the men got in close together and could not keep themselves from joining in with her simple joy and they too grinned widely. After a few seconds she raised her head again and looked up to the heavens and said, "Merry Christmas Aunt Donna."
Roy patted her on the back and she hugged his deck tightly.
Dick looked at his closes friends who were surrounding him and then back at the tree and the eagle. A twinkle came to his deep blue eyes as he smiled. "Merry Christmas, Donna," he added to hers. "And God bless us, everyone."