Title: How the Question Stole Christmas
Word Count: 3791
Rating: G. PG if you're really concerned about very minor language and romantic themes.
Author's Notes: Quoted selections are from Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This was so ridiculously fun to write, but it took forever. Happy holidays, everyone!
How the Question Stole Christmas
Helena Bertinelli had always loved the Christmas season. Despite her occasionally violent tendencies, there had always been something that appealed to her about a holiday that was all about kindness and peace and love, one day a year in which everyone tried to put aside their differences and reach out to help others.
It was, incidentally, very lucky for Vic Sage that she felt this way, because at the moment it seemed that only her stubborn refusal to let go of those holiday ideals was preventing her from shooting him somewhere very painful with her crossbow.
"I'm not having any part of this," she insisted, glaring at him. "For God's sake, Vic, it's Christmas! Can't you just… turn it off for once?"
Vic gave her one of those infuriatingly patient looks, as if he were about to explain something to a slow child. "The corporate rulers of the free world don't care if it's Christmas, Helena. In fact, it's to their benefit if everyone is locked up in their homes sedated with eggnog and brainwashed by TV specials. It's the perfect time to strike—people are even more oblivious than they normally are."
Helena sighed. It would do no good to tell him that he sounded crazy—that was hardly news, anyway, and usually his only response to such tactics was to lapse into a stubborn, self-righteous silence. She had learned to work within his slightly warped logic if she wanted to get anywhere with him. "But what on earth would they want with a huge stockpile of kids' toys?"
Vic frowned, staring at the blank wall of his apartment behind where Helena was standing. "That's the connection I've been unable to make. I've been following inventory reports from all the stores and malls in Gotham for months, and there are a substantial number of toys and other children's products unaccounted for—too many for it to be a coincidence or a mistake. Someone is collecting these items, but I don't know why."
He was silent for a long time; Helena tried to hold out, knowing he was doing it on purpose to get her to show interest in his cause by asking more questions, but finally she couldn't take it anymore. "So?"
"So what?" His eyes snapped back to her face, as if she'd distracted him from some other train of thought entirely.
"So what are you going to do about it?"
A rare smile crossed his lips. "Go undercover and gather information, of course."
Helena raised an eyebrow. "You're going to work retail?" she asked dryly, trying to imagine Q in one of those little striped mall uniforms with the name-tags. She couldn't decide if the experience would be more painful for him or for the customers.
"No, not quite." He was still smiling; it was getting a little disturbing.
"Well, the only other idea I can think of is far too warped even for you, and…" She thought she saw him stifle a laugh, and her eyes widened. "No. You're kidding me. It is too warped. Even for you."
"No one will suspect a thing," he said, looking far too proud of his own idea. "I'll be able to go anywhere, do anything, and it won't even occur to them that I could be a threat to their operation."
"Vic, you can't do that. It's just wrong." Visions of crossbows were definitely dancing in Helena's head now; she forced herself to remember that seriously wounding one's boyfriend was not exactly an action in keeping with the spirit of the season, no matter how incredibly, unimaginably stupid he was being.
"Actually, it's not at all inappropriate considering the nature of the character," Vic said thoughtfully. "He does, after all, see you when you're sleeping, and know when you're awake. Santa Claus is perhaps the most accomplished and well-loved spy in modern mythology."
"It's dishonest," Helena said firmly, choosing to ignore the more surreal aspects of the conversation.
"No more dishonest than convincing the children of mall shoppers everywhere that some out-of-work actor or drone from a temp agency is really their beloved magical holiday idol," Vic countered calmly. "At least by investigating the missing toys I'll be helping them while I participate in their deception."
The problem with working within Vic's logic, Helena realized, was that it was almost always flawless in its internal construction, and therefore he always won the argument. She gave a sigh of defeat. "Fine. Do whatever you want, but like I said, I'm not getting involved. I'm going to go home and watch It's a Wonderful Life like a normal person."
Vic shrugged. "Suit yourself. I was hoping that if both of us worked on this, we could have it solved by Christmas Eve and take the night off, though. Maybe have a nice dinner out, then come home and drink eggnog and watch holiday specials…"
Helena narrowed her eyes. "I thought you said those were part of a plot to brainwash and sedate us."
"I did." He tilted his head and gave her a little smile. "I can still indulge from time to time. Turn it off, so to speak. After all, it is Christmas."
"You're one manipulative bastard," Helena muttered, but she couldn't help smiling a bit herself.
"What was that?"
"Fine, I'll help you," she said aloud. "But I'm not dressing up like an elf."
She was dressed up like an elf.
The whole thing was absurd, sure, but the one thing she really couldn't get over was the fact that she, Helena Bertinelli, sweet schoolteacher by day and ruthless crimefighter by night, was dressed up like an elf. From the little felt hat on top of her head all the way down to the curly bell-adorned toes of her slightly too-tight shoes.
And the outfit—wasn't it supposed to be cold at the North Pole? Helena was no stranger to showing a little skin, of course, but there were appropriate and inappropriate times to do so, and times when one was surrounded by children short enough to look up one's skirt were definitely of the inappropriate variety. She tried one more time to tug the red velvety material down over her thighs and forced a smile for the family at the front of the line. "Welcome to Santa's Village," she gritted out. "Merry Christmas!"
Though she got an indulgent smile from the mother and a slightly glazed, slack-jawed stare from the father (a common reaction, thanks to the aforementioned outfit), the child paid her no attention, running past her to bounce energetically onto Santa's lap. Helena turned just in time to see the look of utter panic in Vic's eyes, the only visible part of his face beneath the fluffy white beard. She couldn't help a little smile of satisfaction—if she had to be miserable, there was no reason he shouldn't be miserable too.
Vic cleared his throat a little. "Um… ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!" he said, very stiffly. "And what would you like from Santa this year, little girl?"
Helena had to cover her mouth and fake a coughing fit to keep from laughing aloud. Don't quit your day job, baby doll, she thought, feeling a surprising fondness toward him despite all he was putting her through. Eccentric charm went a long way, she had to admit.
If the little girl noticed anything amiss, it was immediately overcome by greed. "I want the new Rock Star Groupie Barbie!" she announced, pausing and adding in one breath, "andlotsofotherstufftoobutMommysaidIhadtopickjustone."
Vic blinked. "Are you sure you wouldn't like a nice book instead?" he asked, still attempting to affect a deep and fatherly voice. "Barbies have secret chemicals mixed into the plastic that make you more susceptible to subliminal suggestions from the fashion industry."
The little girl screwed up her face into a frown. "I want a Barbie!" she shouted. "You're Santa, and you're supposed to give me whatever I want!"
Helena noticed that the parents were looking a bit restless, so she hurried forward to defuse the situation. "Santa will do his best, sweetie," she said, lifting the little girl off Vic's lap and turning on her most warm and fuzzy teacher persona. "But he has to see so many children today, so why don't we let someone else take a turn?"
The little girl was still frowning when Helena set her down in front of her parents, but she had at least stopped yelling. The family hurried away, mom shooting a disgusted look at Vic as she went.
"Tone it down, will you?" Helena hissed to Vic before the next family came forward. "And for God's sake, don't argue with them. Just smile and nod and move on to the next one."
"I'm just trying to help," Vic muttered. "No one ever appreciates it when I try to help."
Rolling her eyes, Helena stepped back into position and pasted on a sunny smile for the next group.
Time passed at a crawl; the line seemed endless, rows and rows of identical families with identical children, all of whom wanted the same popular toys. Vic did his best to play along, but Helena had a feeling she was going to be subjected to a three-hour rant about the various insidious conspiracies in the toy industry when they got home.
Finally, after what seemed like years, the manager came along to tell them that it was time for their break. "There's coffee and doughnuts in the staff room," she said, gesturing toward an unmarked white door. "Take a few minutes and get ready for the next batch."
Once they were inside the room, away from the bustling holiday crowds, Vic pulled off his red hat and twisted it in his hands. "Okay, here's the plan," he said abruptly. "You go distract the manager while I break into her office and look for evidence. Then we slip out the back to the storage warehouses, find someone in charge of shipments to interrogate, and—"
"Hold on, hold on," Helena interrupted. "I thought we were undercover. Doesn't that mean we should be subtle? Talk to people, listen in on conversations and that sort of thing?"
Vic gave her an odd look. "That won't work," he said dismissively. "They're not just going to walk in here and start talking about their secret—"
The door opened, and two men in suits entered, carrying on a lively conversation. After pausing to nod to Vic and Helena, they continued talking. "Yeah, the plan is coming off nicely," one of the men said, walking over to the coffee machine. "We're almost ready—we just need a few more truckloads of toys and we'll have enough. That warehouse out in the industrial district is nearly full now."
"Good. Then we can start processing them and the whole thing will be ready to set into motion on Christmas," the other man said, grabbing a doughnut.
"We're going to give those poor kids a holiday they'll never forget," the first man said with a wink, and they both laughed. Having loaded themselves up with food and drink, they left.
Helena arched an eyebrow at Vic in satisfaction, but he was too focused on the case to notice. "The industrial district—of course, that must be where they're keeping the goods," he said, mostly to himself. "They're definitely planning something terrible—we have to get there as soon as possible."
"After we finish our shift," Helena pointed out reluctantly.
Vic frowned. "Yes, I suppose it would look suspicious if we left now." He paused. "We could just change in the bathroom and slip out the back—"
Helena shook her head. "Come on, let's get back out there."
With a grimace, Vic replaced the Santa hat on his white-wigged head (it was a little sideways, but Helena wasn't about to say anything) and led the way back out into the busy, noisy main area of the mall. A cheer went up instantly as Santa returned to his chair, and a new line, just as long as the first, formed almost immediately.
The first child, a boy of about nine, strolled quite calmly up to the chair and sat down gingerly on Vic's knee. "I want Justice League action figures," he announced. "Just the originals, please. Not any of those new people. They're dumb."
Helena caught the look on Vic's face and resisted the urge to slap her forehead. It was going to be a very long day.
"Congratuations. That was absolutely the worst date I have ever been on." Helena dropped exhaustedly into her mall-food-court chair, wincing as her aching back made sharp contact with the stiff plastic. "And that's counting the time you took me on patrol and I nearly broke half the bones in my body."
Vic regarded her with a look of cool amusement, sipping at a giant-sized soft drink. "One would think you'd stop going on dates with me if they're always so painful," he observed dryly.
"One would think." She dropped her head into her hands. "Don't get too overconfident. One of these days I just might listen to that sage advice."
"Terrible pun." He offered the drink to Helena. "Have some."
"Didn't you just tell me this stuff was secretly funded by the medical industry or something?" She looked suspiciously at the colorfully-printed plastic cup.
Vic nodded. "It's actually the leading cause of illness," he said between sips. "Obesity, diabetes, dental problems, attention deficit disorder—it's almost enough to single-handedly fund doctors' salaries." He tapped the side of the cup. "Also highly addictive."
"So you're drinking it… why, exactly?"
He shrugged. "I was thirsty."
Helena stared at him. "I just don't understand you," she said. "At all."
Vic leaned back in his chair and gave her an enigmatic smile.
"Honestly, what was the point of all that?" Helena continued, leaning forward and running her hands through her hair in frustration. "Now you know where the stuff is—what are you going to do about it? We're just two people—two people without powers, without money, and without time. Christmas Eve is tomorrow."
"I'll handle it," Vic said cryptically, stirring the ice in his drink.
"But even if we rented a van—which would be traceable, by the way—there's no way we could load, move and unload an entire warehouse full of toys in two days—"
"I'll handle it."
Helena waited for him to explain, but he remained silent. Finally, she threw up her hands. "Fine, mystery man. I give up—tell me how the hell you're going to pull this off."
Vic looked up, seeming honestly surprised. "The same way Santa does it," he said seriously. "I'd think that should be obvious."
Helena blinked, and decided if she'd played along this far, her sanity had clearly deteriorated to the point at which a little more would hardly make a difference. "And how would that be?"
"Classified information," he responded flatly. "Nothing personal—national security."
"Vic, it's impossible. Scientifically." Appealing to logic was a long shot, but someone had to maintain contact with reality in this relationship, and obviously it was going to have to be Helena. "You're not the Flash. And anyway, there's no such thing as Santa—you know that, right? Please, tell me you know that," she finished under her breath.
Vic shook his head in an almost pitying manner. "Interesting. You accept the existence of superpowers, magic and aliens, but if the centrally-controlled global media says something is a myth, you're convinced that it couldn't be real."
"You are not going to get me to believe that there's a conspiracy against Santa Claus, for God's sake—"
He silenced her protests with a finger on her lips. "Go home, Helena," he said softly. "Get some rest. I'll deal with this."
Helena sighed. "Tomorrow night," she said warningly. "Dinner. If you're not there by six-thirty, I swear I'm locking the door and you can rot in the cold all night."
"Love you too," Vic responded dryly.
Her face softened a little. "You know I do, baby doll," she said, kissing the corner of his mouth lightly.
He turned his head to deepen the kiss, warm and slow, promising of more and better things to come. "Don't start without me," he said when he finally pulled away, and with that he was gone.
Helena smiled thoughtfully. On second thought, maybe this wasn't really the worst date she'd ever been on.
Humming bits of various Christmas songs that had lodged themselves into her brain over the past few days, Helena hung the final ornament on the little tree in the corner of her apartment. It had taken a while, but she finally felt as if she were getting into the holiday spirit—the apartment was decorated, the lasagna in the oven smelled heavenly, and in less than an hour she would be spending a romantic—and relaxing—Christmas Eve with her man.
Assuming he makes it, she thought dryly, settling onto the couch. She wanted to stay positive, but she hadn't heard from Vic all day, and she was still less than convinced that he was going to be able to pull off his plan (whatever it was). At this point, she was mostly hoping he wouldn't get caught; it would be so like Vic to make her spend her holidays raising bail for him, or rescuing him from some secret underground torture lab. Again.
Shaking her head, she turned on the TV in an attempt to find something suitably Christmasy to watch and fight off the cynicism that was threatening to overcome her holiday cheer. After a few minutes of channel-surfing, she found a rerun of the Grinch and smiled, setting down the remote.
"Tomorrow is Christmas—it's practically here! I must find some way to stop Christmas from coming!"
Helena checked the clock. Six-fifteen.
"Then he got an idea! An awful idea! The Grinch got a WONDERFUL, AWFUL IDEA—We interrupt this broadcast for a special breaking news report…"
Helena blinked, looking back at the TV. A redheaded news anchorwoman in a Santa hat was standing outside a vaguely familiar white building.
"This is Summer Gleeson reporting live from Gotham's warehouse district, the location of a Christmas crime that has the police baffled," she said. "Earlier this evening, workers discovered that the huge stockpile of toys stored in this building right behind me had simply disappeared without a trace."
"Lovely," Helena groaned, slumping back on the couch. So much for that romantic, relaxing Christmas Eve. In retrospect, she probably should have listened to her instincts and broken out the crossbow the moment Vic had gotten this crazy idea in his head.
"The toys were donations from local stores and malls, for a charity project intended to benefit underprivileged children in Gotham," Gleeson continued. "Those involved had kept the project under wraps for months, and the official announcement was to take place tonight."
Helena's heart sank further. Of course—why hadn't it occurred to her that the whole thing might be a legitimate charity effort? She really had been spending too much time listening to Vic's conspiracy theories. Not that he would have listened if I had suggested it, she thought in frustration. This can't get any worse.
"The event was sponsored by Gotham's largest corporation, Wayne Enterprises," Gleeson said, like a very cheerful harbinger of the apocalypse. "Bruce Wayne has thus far declined to comment on the situation."
Spoke too soon. Helena glared at the TV, trying to determine the most effective and painful way to kill Vic when he showed up. Homicidal thoughts were hardly appropriate on Christmas; then again, neither was stealing toys from the hands of poor children, she thought, anger flaring again.
"The Gotham police department are doing their best to locate the toys and bring the thief to justice, but they're running out of time—" The anchorwoman tilted her head, putting a hand to her ear. "This just in," she said with a slow, incredulous smile. "We're getting reports of a man in a Santa suit distributing toys to Gotham orphanages, hospitals and homeless shelters. We'll keep you posted on this new development—could Christmas be saved after all?"
As the news report faded back into the green, grinning face of the Grinch, Helena frowned, trying to process everything she'd just heard. Was Vic trying to redeem himself? She couldn't decide how she felt about that—it was the right thing to do, of course, but it meant she'd probably be spending another Christmas alone.
Next time I'm holding out for a sane boyfriend, she thought dryly, leaning her head back against the couch and closing her eyes. Her Christmas spirit had been effectively extinguished.
Just as she was about to start feeling really sorry for herself, the doorbell rang. Helena's eyes snapped open, and she glanced at the clock. Six-thirty. With a little, rebellious surge of hope, she opened the door.
"You made lasagna." Vic sniffed the air and nodded in approval. "Smells good." He caught sight of Helena's expression and tilted his head. "You're upset. Why? I'm on time. I checked."
"You—I just—on the TV—" Helena found herself at a loss for words, a rare situation.
Vic waved a hand. "It's all taken care of. Can I come in? Cold out here."
Helena blinked. "Uh… sure, of course," she said, stepping aside to let him into the apartment. The sound of the news theme drew her back to the television, and a moment later she felt Vic join her.
"…as the sightings of our mysterious Santa Claus continue, police are attempting to track his movement through the city, but it's almost as if he's everywhere at once," Summer Gleeson was saying on the TV, beaming with excitement. "Nearly all the missing toys are now accounted for, in the arms of needy children where they belonged all along. Next up—who is Gotham's very own Santa Claus, and does Bruce Wayne resent the fact that he's been overshadowed?"
Helena turned slowly to stare at Vic. "What—"
Vic smiled that cryptic smile that Helena usually found infuriating, but today it seemed almost endearing. "Guess it's a Christmas miracle," he said.
"He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming! It came! Somehow or other, it came just the same!"
Just one day out of the year, Helena thought. One day for peace and love and companionship and forgiving the ones you care about. Even when they're clinically insane.
She opened her mouth to say something, then stopped, a slow smile spreading over her face. Settling back against Vic's shoulder, she intertwined her fingers with his and pressed a kiss to his jawline. "Merry Christmas, baby doll," she said softly.