Standard Disclaimers Apply—I don't own, possible tissue and/or spew warning. Thanks to Charlene for the quick beta and help with that one section. Thanks to James for help with that other section. Warning: Maraverse.

Have Yourself a Pony Little Christmas (1/1)

XX

Hiding near the enormous Christmas tree, Mara Grayson considered untying the stupid velvet bows on some of the branches. Not pulling them off, just untying them. She was sure it would make someone somewhere mad, and that was pretty good. This was a stupid party, and she was wearing a dress. Which was probably the single most horrible thing of all. Stupid black velvet top, poofy pink bottom and white tights tucked into black patent-leather Mary Jane's. She'd made her grandfather pay her fifty dollars up front before she'd let Alfred dress her in that thing. It had cost him another twenty to get her to stop wiggling long enough to get her hair curled and a ribbon put in.

"Aww, aren't you the cutest thing!" Fingers clamped down on her cheeks and tugged her face back and forth. "Who'd have guessed Brucie is old enough to have a little granddaughter. How old are you? Four?"

Mara smiled stiffly, twisting her head out of the psychotic lady's grasp. "Six and two months."

Her grandfather called out loudly from the other side of the busy ballroom "Bambie!" And the crazy lady left.

She took a small notepad and marker out of her stupid little patent leather pocketbook and subtracted fifteen from the long list of numbers that had spilled onto a second page, then added five. She'd spot him fifteen for saving her, but he owed her five dollars for the cheek pinch. It left her ten in the hole from where she was five minutes ago, but at this rate, she'd have a pony before the night was over.

Putting everything back in her pocketbook, she saw her grandfather giving her the signal, scratching the side of his neck. This was a two-bimbo rescue, which was going to cost him $30. He was good for it.

Discretely coming up behind them, she hopped up onto the nearest brass planter, then jumped onto Bruce's back.

He huffed like he'd had the wind knocked out of him and sagged a little, but mostly to help her get the rest of the way up. "Here's the little monkey now!"

Wiggling, Mara looked over his shoulder, and down Barbie or Bambie or whatever her name was' blue dress. "Wow! I can see my house from here! I don't think you should see floor between boobs." Reaching out, she patted the other lady's breast. "Those look awful fake. Grandpa knows a guy that can fix that."

Feigning embarrassment, he got her off of his back, and bent down to scold her. He started telling her that it wasn't polite to jump on people, but stopped when the two bottle-blonds wandered away. "That was pretty good," he said with an approving nod.

Mara pulled down her dress and smoothed everything out. "Yeah. That's thirty bucks, right there. I should charge extra cuz it hurt my eyes."

Bruce's eyebrow shot up. "Don't act like I've never rescued you before."

Sighing, Mara began scoping out some place to hide from the evil face-pinchers. "Yeah, well, you need a better guest list." Of course, if his parties had better guests, she'd be out of a job, and then there'd be no pony. "Their boobies look bolted on." She made her face very stiff and puffed out her chest, like the type of ladies that liked to see and be seen with Bruce Wayne.

Really, if he was just Batman all the time, that'd fix that problem right up. But then there'd be no pony money. He gave her an indulgent pat on the head. "Do NOT tell your father that."

XX

Bruce watched her march away and kept an eye on her until she was over near the ice sculpture. This arrangement really was working out rather well. Assuming, of course, that Dick never became privy to the exact details of the working agreement. Barbara would complain that he was corrupting (another) minor and keeping her favorite daughter up past bed time. And make smart remarks. Dick? The diatribe on Bruce's failings as a human being would go on for hours and hours.

Really, if he could keep those details out, especially the tiny one about money changing hands with an overly-enterprising five year old, things would be just fine. His only regret was that he hadn't thought of this sooner. It wouldn't always work, but there were times he'd have killed for something like this to shake all the Bambies in the world off of his shoulder. There was something about little girls that made overly-suggestive big girls with designs on the most eligible bachelor in the room uncomfortable, and they'd go away. Just like that.

There were a few that tried to make friends with Mara. But all he had to do was let her be her usual "pleasant" self, and the situation usually cleared itself up remarkably quickly.

He said hello to a few folks from work. The day job, not the night job. Those parties tended to be tediously awkward, and on the moon. He was a very selfish man. When Dick was just a little older than this one, he'd take the boy to the satellite whenever one of these "social" occasions were about to break out. Of course, Dick ate his vegetables for a week and did everything but wash The Car, because he knew, Bruce only took kids to Justice League headquarters if they were very, very good. He always made sure they showed up fashionably late, and then he'd leave, making the excuse that the boy had to be in bed by such and such time, but he'd be back. He never made it back of course, duties at home, you see.

What the hell would he do this year? He could take her up there, he supposed. Despite the no-child policy since the debacle involving Kyle Rayner's spawn and the launching of the emergency recall beacon. It wouldn't be too hard to construct a very elaborate sort of reality that required the girl's presence, but her mother would find out, due to her own affiliation with the League. Claiming work in his city was too pressing to come never worked. He'd inevitably end up with at least two high-visibility capes roaming around, trying to "tidy up" the city so he could "have fun" for a night.

Mostly, he just knew the League did this to torment him. He needed a rescue from the Justice League.

Making the rounds, he skillfully slid past someone younger than Tim that had "the look" in her eye over to some folks that he usually saw at the charity events. They were talking about funding a new exhibit at the zoo, so Bruce interjected with his two cents and moral support. Monkey houses were important, Brucie slurred, entering into a jovial conversation with Mr and Mrs Wojek.

The woman's corn silk colored hair was piled high on her wrinkled forehead, the carefully stacked curls bouncing when she spoke. "Well, it won't be the most earth-shattering cause, but really, I'm sick of looking at the current primate exhibit at the zoo, I can't imagine the monkeys being happy. It's like a prison, with all that cement."

Bruce chuckled, a question regarding how much time she spent at the zoo to be sick of it's exhibits working it's way to his lips, when two small hands wrapped around one of his, tugging on his arm. He didn't even look down. "Just because I'm talking about monkeys doesn't mean I'm talking about you, you know."

Her hands slid around his pinky and thumb, tugging downward, hard. "You haveta come over here," she said seriously. "You haveta-haveta."

Mr. Wojek had a bushy white beard that compensated for his lack of head hair. He was smoothing the corners, contemplating the girl. "Now, then. Just who are you?"

Bruce made introductions, and tried to think of a way to tell her buzz off.

"And just how old are you?" Mrs. Wojek asked indulgently of the girl, who never let go of Bruce's hand.

"Seven," she replied.

Bruce chuckled. "She just turned five."

"I'm six," she informed him.

"You're five."

"I'm six. You just don't remember."

He gave her 'the look' while the Wojeks were busy chuckling. "Your last cake was chocolate with chocolate icing with five turtle-shaped candles on top. That would make you five."

She scowled.

Bruce shrugged. "You know kids, they think if they believe something hard enough, it'll be so."

Tugging on his hand one more time, she let go. "If that was true, I'd be eight by now, and I'd be doing that THING I'm not allowed to do. BUT you really haveta come here."

He had to put a hand on her head to keep her from vibrating, practically. It took him another minute or two to safely see the Wojeks back to circulating around the room, then he turned back to her. He'd better just get whatever it was over-with, or she'd be on him forever about whatever idea or twisted little plot had hatched in her tiny little head. "Now what can I do for you?"

Mara pointed to the window. "We need the Justice League, and the military and maybe mommy."

Bruce was trying to figure out if this was a real emergency, or a Mara emergency, like the time her My Little Pony's head got mysteriously stuck in the gear that opened the grandfather clock. "And for what?"

Mara pointed to the door, just as Lex Luthor waltzed through.

Putting a hand on the girl's head, he began looking for Alfred, who was probably trying to teach him some 'lesson' by not helping in this circumstance. "I think it's time for bed."

Those little blue eyes looked up at him with that 'you've got to be kidding, you're not leaving me out' look that was entirely her mother's. There was just one hitch. Her mother had been seventeen when she'd started inserting herself into problems that were not her own. Five year olds still slept with teddy bears, and shouldn't be worrying about Lex Luthor.

Still… he'd promised Dick that this would be an educational evening. "Alright. You can stay. But you don't know he's a bad guy, got it? Don't talk to him. You can watch, but you can't engage."

"Even if it gets rilly, rilly ugly?"

Still scanning the room, he kept hoping Alfred would come to rescue him from the overly curious five year old. She might not listen to a damned word Bruce said sometimes, but no one got away with anything on Alfred's watch. "This isn't going to get ugly." He began migrating in the general direction of the door, where Luthor was tied up making introductions. "We will be acting appropriately this evening, so as not to muss our attire. That would make Alfred angry. And an angry Alfred is an unhappy Alfred. And if Alfred is unhappy, we are all unhappy." The "no punching in public" thing was probably lesson enough, but she might as well figure out who was really in charge now. Figuring it out sooner rather than later would save some hardships.

Mara looked up at her grandfather, waiting for him to say hello or shake hands with Luthor or something. He didn't do anything. He just stood there, on the outskirts of the crowed that had formed, watching. Maybe he was waiting for her to do something?

Ducking through the legs of the grownups in their silk pants and sequined dresses, she made it all the way over to Luthor. Chances were, she wasn't supposed to be doing anything. He'd been saying something about just watching, or whatever. But if Mara Grayson knew one thing, it was that it was way easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission. Anything she ever wanted to do, that she thought would be fun, or good or helpful would inevitably be met with the evil little two-letter word, NO.

Like that time, with the emergency recall button. It had been a real gas. But it wasn't like anyone would actually let her do it. Besides, that boy needed to learn how ta stand up to Batman. Otherwise you ended up a whiny cry babypants like Uncle Roy.

She had been sitting at the window being bored when she'd seen him show up in his big fat limo. Now she looked up at the few people who had arrived with him, then picked the most interesting one, tugging on her jacket. She was wearing a short skirt and a funny looking hat like Alfred sometimes wore. "Hey, you're really cool, lady. You should go out with my grandpa."

Bruce's hand clasped on her shoulder, and she was yanked behind him. Was he laughing at her, or with her? "Isn't she precious?"

Mara didn't feel very precious. "Adorable," the woman said.

"Bruce," Luthor said cordially "your hangers-on get younger and younger every year."

Before she could even draw breath to tell Luthor just how it was, Bruce's hand was on her face, pushing her further behind him. "MY SON'S daughter, visiting from Bludhaven," her grandfather replied smoothly. "She wanted to get dressed up in her fancy dress, and meet everyone." Reaching behind him, he scooped her up into his arms. "Say hello to Mr. Luthor, Mara."

Oh that was not how it was at all. This was a paying gig and she was earning pony money. And why was he all like admitting he and daddy were related, suddenly? The quickest way to make him squirm was to call him grandpa, because he hated being old. Mara suspected he hated having family too, and having them be called 'family,' but it was never anything she could really prove. "Hello, Mr. Luthor," Mara mumbled.

He bowed his head slightly and the lights reflected off the top of his hairless dome. "Miss…Grayson, is it?" Taking her hand, he kissed it.

Holding her breath, Mara managed to not pull away. Having Luthor's yucky, evil lips touch her was going to cost her grandfather a lot of dough.

Bruce chuckled, scratching the side of his head. "The funny thing is, I can't remember putting you on the guest list. Oh well, glad you remembered, cuz I forgot!"

Luthor gave Bruce a tight smile. He thought Bruce was an idiot, but he also didn't trust him. Bruce had, after all, snatched Gotham right out from under him during No Man's Land. "Well, I was in town, and decided to see what all the fuss was about. It seems that your parties are legendary."

Or the rumors that got started about them were. Bruce stepped aside and let Luthor look around.

Luthor's lip twitched. "Censored for the wee one, I see. How…nice of you."

Mara folded her arms over her chest. "Yeah, well, he's a good grandpa like that." When was the Justice League going to get there? Couldn't anyone tell that this was a real, for serious emergency?

Luthor looked like he'd eaten the canary, the grin was spread so far across his face. "Grandpa. Ahh, Brucie. How time does catch up with one."

Bruce put her back down and told her to go play, the look in his eyes telling her it was about to get "serious." Serious like that time they went for pizza and the mob guys showed up. Dad hadn't let her play with grandpa for like a month because he said grandpa did it on purpose. Well, maybe he did. Anyways, it had been really fun, even if she had been ordered to stay under the table "no matter what."

Wasn't she supposed to be learning something, or something? Shrugging, she skipped off, trying to find an unobtrusive spot to watch from. Settling on that bench with the wooden back that she wasn't allowed to sit on, she crawled on up, hanging onto the frame as she watched.

And watched, and watched.

It really was the most boring and stupid thing she'd ever seen. No one even punched anyone else at all. Which was a cryin' bleedin' shame, because Luthor was a badguy. He even had a weird green badguy suit.

Grandpa called it "a battle of words," she called it just plain stupid.

Sighing in boredom, she hopped off the bench and took the most circuitous rout out of the ballroom, to the telephone in the foyer. Picking it up, she dialed ten digits. She wasn't allowed to dial out of the area code, either. Mostly she wasn't supposed to know how, so if she ever got caught, that'd blow her little secret.

It rang twice, then the person on the other end fumbled with it. "Uh, hello?"

Mara sighed. Nothing was ever easy. "Is Uncle Clark there? I need ta talk to him real bad." She was tired of nothing happening. Superman hadta show up and kick Luthor's butt, now.

Especially since if grandpa was talking to Luthor, he wasn't hanging around the stupid girls, and she wasn't getting any pony money.

"Mara Grayson?"

Mara sighed. "Is Uncle Clark there at all?"

There was more fumbling with the phone on the other end. Aunt Lois was a grownup, it was way too early to be sleeping. "No, honey, I'm sorry. He's not here."

Mara sighed. Again. "Well, I gots a big problem. So he should come over grandpa's lickidy split. Cuz this is a stupid party and it got way stupider when Lex Luthor showed up, because now there won't be any pony money."

Before Aunt Lois (who was really nosy and asked too many questions) could ask too many questions, she hung up. And sighed. Again. Dramatically, even. She'd totally call Grampy Jim to come get her if someone didn't punch someone else soon.

"Pony money?" a deep female voice asked from behind her. If she was Batman no one would be able to sneak up on her, ever.

Mara shrugged. The lady with the funny hat seemed as good as anyone to talk to. Especially since she wasn't interested in grandpa at all. "It's only the best scam ever. I make the stupid ladies with stiff faces and the big boobies go away, and I charge for it. So, when I have lotsa dough, I'm going to get a pony. A real one."

The lady nodded at her. "I think it's a good plan. Where are you going to put the pony?"

All the joy ran out of Mara's smile. She hadn't thought of that. "I don't know. Probably not in Bludhaven, I guess. Because my dad is super-dumb and won't even let me have a dog. Oh yeah, and our back yard is kinda small." Would grandpa let her keep the pony in the cave? That would be cool, because then she'd be like Zorro. And Zorro was really cool. He had a sword. And a horse.

"I think your grandfather is looking for you," the lady said.

Mara shrugged, following her back toward the ball room. The lady never showed any emotion, and kept her arms clasped behind her back the entire way. "You know, you don't suck at all." Most chicks sucked. At least the ones that grandpa hung out with.

"Thank you. My name is Mercy, by the way."

"Are you a ninja?" she moved like one. Mara was starting to tell the difference between the way "normal joes" walked, and superheroes walked. This lady could be a superhero. If she didn't work for someone totally evil.

Mercy stopped. "What would make you say that?"

Mara shrugged. Yes, the lady was totally a ninja. You only got defensive like that if you weren't a ninja at all. "You look like a ninja. I think I wanna be a ninja some day. And a princess. And a Viking."

"Well," the lady, Mercy said. "I suppose I am. But don't tell anyone."

Mara nodded. She was very good at keeping secrets.

"I'm also a princess and a pirate."

Mara giggled. "You don't suck at all, for real. I wanna be just like you when I grow up." She wanted to kick some major butt. Except she didn't want to work for someone evil. Which confused Mara, because Mercy was nice.

Grandpa was sitting at a small table with Luthor. He had that look in his eye. The one where he was "being" Brucie, but he wasn't happy about it. She hoped her grandpa was miserable. He was the one talking to Luthor instead of punching his lights out, after all.

Both men turned their attention to Mara and Mercy. "How sweet, they're friends!" Y'know, Mara understood that Brucie was a necessary evil. But sometimes she hated Brucie. This went back to how everything would be easier of grandpa were just Batman all the time. Or Zorro. It would be OK if grandpa were Batman some of the time and Zorro the rest of the time, because then there'd be horses and swords. Ras al Ghoul used swords, why didn't Batman? Grandpa really needed to get with the program.

Mara shrugged and climbed up onto the arm of grandpa's chair. "She's really good, grandpa. Her boobs are real and everything, and she's a pirate." Picking up her grandfather's drink, she had it snatched out of her hands a minute later. She'd swilled down Aunt Donna's strawberry soda (or that's what she thought it was) once on accident, and Uncle Roy had her dancing like a monkey all night.

She knew that grandpa wouldn't let her drink it, but it was funny to watch him snatch it away. Only Uncle Roy was that irresponsible. "Y'know, my Auntie Lois thinks you're nuts and morally 'crupt, but you pick good people. It's good that you hire pirates. Mar-margin-nalnalized groups like pirates need jobs too."

Luthor's eyebrow shot up in the air.

Ok, so maybe messing with him was fun. Maybe not as fun as punching him in the nose would be, but this was pretty good. "If ya ever need a Viking, you should call me, cuz I'm going to be a Viking when I grow up." She looked at Mercy. "But I don't wear dresses." As she climbed onto the table, her grandfather pushed his drink out of the way again, the lit candle and Luthor's drink.

Looking back at her grandfather, she grinned. He didn't gesture for her to settle down, so she just kept on going. She liked it when he let her be bad. "How'd your head get so shiny?" She pat the top of his skull a couple times, then hopped off the table before her grandfather could reprimand her. "I cut my hair once. I got in lotsa trouble."

Uncle Tim said that her dad's wing-dings could split a hair. She wanted to see if it was true. Mommy made her sit in the beanbag chair in her office until she was done saving Power Girl (and Power Girl's boobies) from something that was really bad. Then mommy had dragged her out to get her hair "fixed." The end result of the experiment was that yes, daddy's wing-dings could cut hair. And yes, mommy's eyes DID turn red when she was in "killbot" mode.

Bruce chuckled uncomfortably then pat her on the head. "Thank you for finding her… Mercy, was it? Mara, why don't you go find Alfred? It's past your bed time." She shrugged and then skipped off. That had been fun, but really, the Justice League should come and kick his butt now.

Not really in the mood to have Alfred sigh disapprovingly then scrub her face and make her brush her teeth (adults were cruel), then put her to bed, Mara waded through the see of stocky legs and climbed into the chair nearest the tree. Digging her hand into the cushion, she produced her white and purple pony, eying Luthor suspiciously. Luthor was ruining everything. Didn't he know she had a pony already picked out? His name was Rex, but she was going to change it to Sparkler. He had white fur and white hair on his head and butt. She was going to dye his mane purple. She'd even asked Cassie how to do it. Then she was going to get a shooting star tattooed on his butt, just like her My Little Pony. She just hadta find a way to make it sparkly.

Mercy sat in the chair across from her. "Is this seat taken?"

A little late to ask, Mara thought. "What do you really do? Besides be a ninja? That's like, not something you can put on your business card."

Reaching into her close-fitting jacket, Mercy produced a card and handed it to her. "Administrative assistant."

Mara looked at the car, flipping it over and over, curiously. Her grandfather's administrative assistant was a secretary. Maybe he should get with the program and get a ninja too. She tried to hand the card back, but Mercy wouldn't take it. She slid it into her purse, next to the tally of pony money due upon the completion of this whole stupid "event."

Scowling at Luthor, who wasn't paying any attention to her at all, she stroked her plastic toy's hair. Sighing, she put her head on the arm of the chair. Maybe she was a little tired after all.

"I take it this is not how you planed your evening to be?"

Mara shrugged, dragging her head off the arm of the chair. "The way it's goin' I'm gunna haveta go to the New Years party too. Which is worst. The fake boobie brigade is way drunker. Drunker than Uncle Roy that one time when he past out in the bathtub." That had been the funniest holiday at her house. It was way better than the ones where grownups yelled at each other.

"You worry about too many things. Brigade?"

Shifting a little, Mara looked at the totally yucky women a few yards away, holding their glasses in front of them defensively, like shields. They were talking to each other but looking right at her. Alfie said gawking was unbecoming, and she never understood why, till now. If unbecoming meant looking totally stupid. "I know how to read and stuff." She wasn't totally stupid.

Mercy pulled her chair a little closer. "You seem like a very bright little girl."

Brushing down her pony's hair with her fingers, Mara sighed, again, for the forty-billionth time. Alfred'd probably tell her that was unbecoming too, but she was growing impatient. "I guess." Looking back at her grandfather and Luthor, she could see just how stiffly grandpa was sitting. Sure he was slouchy and stuff, but he seemed frozen that way.

She hoped he was just plain miserable. Why was he even talking to Luthor, if Luthor was evil? And if he wasn't having fun, why didn't he just walk away?

Mercy should be talking to them, or babysitting Luthor. That's what bodyguards did. And if she was a ninja, and she had a funny hat, then she was totally supposed to kick the crap out of anybody who tried to mess with Lex Luthor. Kicking the crap out of people was cool. It'd be even cooler if someone kicked the crap out of a badguy, though, instead of kicking the crap out of someone FOR a badguy.

"You must be really bored, if you're talking to me," Mara noted absently. Most people didn't want to have real conversations with her. They talked to her like she was a little kid, or wanted to play, or whatever. There were a zillion grownups here. She should be talking to someone, or beating someone up.

Nodding, the lady's cheek twitched, and Mara supposed that passed for a smile. Mara was good at guessing those things. Her grandfather didn't like to smile either, but the muscles in his chin would contract just a little bit, and she knew he was having fun even if he didn't want to. "This isn't exactly how I planned on spending my Christmas Eve, either."

Biting her cheek, Mara tapped her foot against the wood leg of the chair, which was totally not Alfred-approved behavior. She might… gasp… scuff wood! Then she'd be an evil wood scuffer! And the wood would be scuffed! Or something.

"Ya know, I think I can make things way funner for everybody," Mara announced, hopping off of the chair after some thought. "But ya gotta promise to be cool."

Mara didn't wait for an answer though. It was always easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission, and she was afraid Mercy would get chatty like Aunt Lois and ask her what she planned on doing. This was an extra secret special surprise.

Tiptoeing towards the drinks table, Mara peaked back. Mercy was still sitting in the chair, her back to Luthor. Relaxing into it, she crossed her legs. Mercy really was good people, Mara decided.

Walking by the table, she grabbed "supplies" without stopping. Being stealthy and being prepared were part of the boy scout way. Well, maybe not the boy scouts. Maybe just the Bat-scout way. It was totally hard to not spill, but Mara made it all the way around the far side of the ballroom, past ladies that wanted to "make friends," and some guy from grandpa's day job that wanted to tell her how "cute" she looked, and over to the table where her grandfather was sitting.

Glancing around to make sure there'd be no interference, she saw her grandfather turn his head away from Luthor and began scanning the rest of the room. Just as she got to her destination, she saw a familiar face at the ballroom door in a disheveled tux, hands crammed nonchalantly in his pocket. Her grandfather was onboard. Uncle Clark would be the only person capable of messing this up for her now. But he was talking to the man reviewing the guest list, who was probably telling him that enough uninvited people were already there.

XX

For his part, her grandfather became very interested in waving to Mopsy and Topsie over near the fireplace. Dick was probably going to ground Mara for the rest of her natural life, Bruce decided. Of course, he'd never remember being eight and having an "accident" involving homemade, sludgy grog and Luthor's white trouser pants one Christmas in Metropolis. His former partner seemed to have selective memory loss when it came to certain things.

And Kent was here. He doubted that there was any real reason. Mara must have finally figured out how to dial outside of the area code. It was bound to happen sooner or later. He just hoped the girl didn't find a list of country codes online or in a phonebook any time soon. Dick would ground her for the rest of her life, when that happened.

Managing to grab onto the little crystal handles of both of the mugs with just one hand, Mara used the other to grab hold of the back of the chair quietly, slid her foot onto the back, pulling herself up. Gesturing for Mindy or Mitzy or whoever she was to come on over, he waited for Clark to interrupt, or Mercy, but it didn't happen.

A high-pitched gasp escaped Luthor as both crystal mugs' entire contents landed on his bald head and the cold eggnog rolled right down his forehead and onto his jacket, pouring down around his ears to his collar.

Wiping his forehead, Luthor rose suddenly, the uneven weight of the chair toppling over. Clark was there before the high back of the chair hit the hardwood floor with a reverberating clap, pulling Mara out of the way. He had one hand twisted around the black velvet part of her dress, right between her shoulder blades.

The girl's limbs dangled, hand still clutching both mugs. There was a slightly apologetic but cherubic look on her face when Luthor spun around to kill her or yell at her, Bruce wasn't sure which. "I just wanted to share!" she declared, holding up the empty crystal.

Mercy appeared out of nowhere. "I'm so sorry, Mr Luthor…"

Mara looked around. Everyone was staring, all conversation ceased. Dropping the mugs on the floor, she buried her face in her hands, and worked up as many little-kid tears as she could possibly find within herself. "I just wanted to share…"

XX

Still holding the girl by her shirt, Clark went for the door while Bruce made excuses and apologies. "I'll find Alfred…"

Taking her outside the ballroom, he didn't put her down until they were in an empty sitting room. When the door closed, Mara stopped with the crocodile tears and began smoothing out the front of her dress. "Was that really necessary?"

Mara looked up at him with wide, dry eyes. "Yes."

Hands in his pockets again, Clark looked down at her. "I really don't think so."

Licking eggnog (the grownup kind) off of her thumb, Mara folded her arms over her chest. Not Superman style, Mommy 'you're not fooling anybody' style. "You liked it." Otherwise, he'd have stopped her. He was, after all, Superman. He had that 'faster than a speeding bullet' thing going on.

The door opened silently and her grandfather stepped inside. Bouncing up and down, Mara clapped her hands, rushing up to him. "THAT HASTA BE ENOUGH MONEY FOR A PONY! THAT WAS THE BESTEST SAVE EVER!" Heck, she should charge Mercy, too--she had the lady's e-mail address on the card in her pocketbook. She could have like two ponies.

Bruce's hand clamped down on her head, holding her still until she calmed down. "Indoor voice," he reminded in a totally Alfred kind of way.

Why was Uncle Clark looking at BOTH of them, like they'd been bad? "Pony money?"

Mara opened her pocket book, pulling out the notepad full of numbers "I kept askin' daddy for a pony and he said if I wanted a pony, I'd haveta save my allowance money. But it's been a whole month, and I don't have money for a pony, so I'm earnin' it the hard way--and this is WAY harder than cleaning my room, but I HAVETA have enough money for a pony! I HAVETA!" Her grandfather squeezed her head again, until she lowered her voice and stopped talking like Uncle Wally. "I just haveta," she finished.

Uncle Clark looked at her grandfather and opened his mouth to say something, but stopped, mouth still opened and shook his head.

Grandpa was in trouble. She wasn't sure why, but he was totally in trouble.

His sagging jaw snapping up, Uncle Clark licked his lips before turning his attention to Mara. "So… why was I called in?"

Mara rolled her eyes. "Duh, Luthor's a badguy. You haveta beat up badguys and Grandpa wasn't doin' nuthin. We needed like the whole Justice League or somethin.' Gosh." A bad idea popped into Mara's head. "You're not going to tell mommy, are you?"

Uncle Clark folded his arms over his chest. But not in that Superman way. In that puzzled way daddy liked to, like that time she used his credit card to order pizza when him an' mommy were sleeping. Uncle Clark looked around the room, like he was expecting Alfie to rescue him or something. "I just mean… you didn't need me. It looked to me like you had everything under control."

Paniced, Mara blurted out, "Please don't tell mommy!". But after a second, her disposition changed. Beaming with pride and eyes lit up in anticipation, she grinned at her grandfather. "So… Santa's gunna bring me a pony in the morning, right?"

THE END