(Author's Note: Of necessity, I've made a couple of changes to the old continuity. In my version, Sasha Bordeaux and Cassandra Cain are well-acquainted; they became that way right after Sasha discovered Bruce's secret. Likewise, Cassandra already knows what Batman looks like under his cowl and where he lives, although this story is set prior to the events of "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?" which was when she finally found out in the comic books. If you don't know or care what I'm talking about in this paragraph, then don't even worry about it! I just hope you enjoy the story!)

Batgirl: The Night Before Christmas

Sasha was a good sparring partner. She kept herself in shape. Her reactions were faster than most people's. She didn't make any of the really obvious mistakes. In fact, Cassandra actually had to keep her eyes open to be sure of beating Sasha. With many of the thugs out on the streets of Gotham, she'd have been willing to fight with her eyes closed and still bet on herself to win five falls out of five in single combat against each of them. (At least for the first hundred thugs or so. If she had to go more than five hundred falls in a single day, then the hundred-and-first thug might benefit from her growing fatigue. She might even have to open one eye occasionally to deal with him efficiently.)

Sasha was quite a bit taller than Cassandra, so her longer arms and legs gave her an advantage in reach. Beating her was a bit more of a challenge than fighting Stephanie, anyway.

Of course Sasha never actually won. But she didn't whine about it either. Or lose interest and say she was quitting. She had been very surprised at how easily Cassandra swept her legs out from under her the first time they sparred, but she'd quickly realized it wasn't just "luck." Now she seemed to think that fighting Cassandra a couple of times a week would make her a better fighter herself. Possibly. Hard to tell. From Cassandra's viewpoint, Sasha wasn't any closer to "winning" than she had been the first time. Of course, her "real" opponents probably wouldn't be able to see each blow coming before it was launched—unless Sasha tangled with Lady Shiva someday.

Beating Sasha when she had a gun in her hand and saw you coming a block away would be a lot trickier. (So the key point would be to make sure she didn't see you coming in the first place.)

Batman was away with His JLA friends saving the world again. Or maybe it was the whole universe this time. One of those "cosmic" problems, anyway. He kept saying Cassandra was still too inexperienced for that sort of thing. She didn't mind much, but Sasha always got edgy at these times because she wasn't allowed to tag along to guard His back. Nightwing was with the Titans; Robin was doing something with Young Justice and then with his dad and stepmother; Stephanie was with her mother. Oracle was guiding Black Canary and a couple of other people through some life-and-death stuff on another continent; she hadn't said so, but she didn't need Cassandra in her hair right now. So it was just Sasha and Cassandra down in His Batcave, practicing. Sasha had insisted a week ago that Cassandra had to stay at the Manor tonight, for "Christmas Eve," whatever that meant.

They finished and came upstairs. "Don't forget to look in your stocking tomorrow morning," Sasha reminded her. Cassandra still didn't understand that part. Earlier that day, she had helped Sasha hang things from the mantel over the big fireplace in the ballroom, near the tree with all the decorations hanging from it.

Sasha called the things dangling from the mantel "stockings." They didn't look anything like the "nylon" stockings that Sasha wore when she was in a "cocktail dress" and going out to dinner with Him at a restaurant, nor the "fishnet" ones that Black Canary used to wear all the time (according to some old pictures Barbara had showed Cassandra). They were opaque, mostly bright red cloth, and they would barely come above the ankle if you tried to put one on. They weren't stretchy enough to snugly fit the shape of any foot that might be wearing one. Each had a little bell attached and she couldn't figure out the reason for that feature, either. Apparently "stockings" was one of those sneaky words that could mean very different things at different times. Sasha had insisted upon attaching a bit of paper with Cassandra's name to one of them, for reasons that were still obscure. Tradition, she had said firmly, radiating amusement. Wait and see.

Now she insisted Cassandra should go to bed soon, after taking her shower—or at least retire into "her" bedroom and stay there. Cassandra took her word for it. But she wasn't tired yet, so after the shower she toweled herself off, pulled on some sleeping clothes, and then stood motionless in the middle of the room, closing her eyes and replaying the entire session with Sasha in her head. Was there anything she should have done a bit differently? She stood there for about half an hour—

Something was wrong. A very faint sound from above, combined with sudden vibrations through the soles of her bare feet, suggested something had just thumped gently down on the roof of Wayne Manor. Something pretty massive, but quiet enough that it must have been moving slowly through the air before making contact. Cassandra doubted Sasha had noticed, even if she was still awake. No alarms were sounding. There were supposed to be all sorts of fancy electronic doodads to detect anyone trespassing . . . but Cassandra had a hazy notion that most of them concentrated on intrusions at or near ground level, all around the perimeter of His property. Burglars, lost hikers, that sort of thing. Yet the world was full of people who could fly without fancy machinery . . . the person on the roof could be anything from a common burglar (who had somehow flown to the roof) all the way to one of those "heavy hitters" Batman was always fighting when He was off with the JLA. If one of them had learned where His home was, they might intend to do Bad Things . . . or it could just be that some villain knew that He (in His other name) had lots and lots of money and they wanted to steal some. Most bad guys took this "money" stuff way too seriously!

Even so, Cassandra took a moment to pull on her costume. Barbara had gotten downright fussy about it that time when she had taken on a squad of killer government agents and mopped the floor with them, while wearing "plainclothes" and getting her face recorded on video. It had finally been necessary to make Barbara happy by single-handedly invading a government installation—one of those places they called "Top Security"—dodging a few dozen security cameras and the occasional armed guard along the way, in order to find and destroy the videotape and a blood sample. A piece of cake, compared to the alternative of listening to Barbara and Batman keep griping about "DNA profiles" and "security risks" all the time . . .

Dressed as Batgirl, Cassandra opened a window and scampered out onto the shingled roof. Over near the main chimney, someone had parked a small vehicle, on runners instead of wheels, with nine four-legged animals hitched up in front of it. Four rows of two, and then a last animal out in front. Not horses. With those antlers, they looked more like deer; although not quite the same as the local deer she had played tag with out in the woods. How had anybody gotten nine of them up on top of the house at once? And why was the lead one's nose glowing red? Superpower? If there were metahumans, could there be metadeer?

Tracks in the snow showed someone with big feet had left the vehicle and walked over to the chimney. Snow had been mostly swept away on one side of the rim; someone or something had gone over it and into the chimney. Cassandra peered down the shaft and couldn't see anything except a faint glow of light from the ballroom on the ground floor. She couldn't swear someone had already climbed down the chimney before she arrived, but they weren't still stuck in the middle of the shaft either. How many other possibilities were there? Cassandra would've had a hard time descending through that chimney herself—scraping knees and elbows and stuff—and Barbara kept saying she was skinny for a girl her age. The intruder couldn't be very big. A child, maybe? Telekinetic enough to get that vehicle and all those poor animals up on top of the roof, and then to fly down through the chimney without getting stuck? Or one of those—what did you call them—midgets?

Cassandra could've just waited at the top of the chimney—it seemed likely the intruder would be coming back for his animals and vehicle eventually—but there was no telling what trouble he might be causing down below at the same time. She was absolutely certain that if Batman had any friends who had standing invitations to land animals on the roof and come down the chimney then He would have warned her so she could recognize them when they arrived. That made the intruder fair game.

A minute later she was downstairs, crouching low and poking her head around the doorframe to look into the ballroom. The intruder was strolling around, looking at the tree, the stockings, the presents. Remarkably agile for a man of his apparent age and girth. No stiffness of the joints. And there was no telling what he had inside that great big sack. His body language said he meant to leave several things behind, for reasons that he wasn't ashamed of. (Which didn't prove they were "good" reasons.) Bombs? Spy equipment? Drugs for police to find? The funny thing was that the sack took up more volume than the man himself. Either it was full of something very light—or else he was very strong. Either way, this was ridiculous. How could he possibly have fit into that chimney and made it down to the bottom? Metahuman shapeshifter? Telekinesis to get the vehicle and the animals up onto the roof, and perhaps to help him carry the sack as lightly as if it were a feather pillow after he came down to the ground floor?

That baggy red suit with white trim, those black boots, the full white beard . . . it all fit a pattern. The last few weeks, she had seen many other people wearing those suits and beards around downtown Gotham. Some sort of club uniform? But they couldn't all be thieves, could they? Even the regular police would catch on to a thing like that, and He certainly would have known. Maybe this one was wearing a disguise to make observers go looking in the wrong direction, pestering people who "normally" dressed this way. Cassandra felt rather proud of herself for working that one out.

She pondered tactics for a moment. Should she give him a chance to surrender "quietly," or should she simply attack? The fat man wasn't clearly doing anything violent. There was only one of him. In one-to-one odds she wouldn't have worried about giving up the element of surprise if she hadn't suspected him of being metahuman. Better render him unconscious and then consult Sasha on what to do next. She glided forward over the carpet . . .

Sasha must've heard the ruckus. A minute later she came running in, wearing pajamas and with a gun in her hand. By now, Cassandra had the intruder hog-tied. She thought she had chopped him on the neck hard enough to put him out for awhile, but he was already shaking his head as if he were just groggy. As his eyes focused on her, he appeared to be chortling instead of begging for mercy or threatening her or making other useless noises. She had to admire his sanguine temperament.

Sasha said, "Ca—Batgirl!" as she remembered the "secret identity" thing. "What are you doing here and what's he doing here?"

Cassandra pointed up toward the roof, then drew her finger down to reflect traveling to arrive inside the fireplace, then pointed at the hog-tied prisoner. Sasha blinked. "You're kidding."

Cassandra shook her head. Sasha moved over and tugged lightly at the prisoner's beard. "If you're a friend of Bruce's in that get-up, you picked the wrong time and place to try a prank—huh. The fluffy white beard is real?"

"Yes indeed," said the fat man, still looking remarkably optimistic under the circumstances. "I've had it for considerably longer than you've been alive, young lady. Miss Cassandra didn't mention what I left on the roof, though. It might clarify things for you."

Miss Cassandra? So much for the whole "preserving the secret identity" thing, this time around.

Sasha asked her, "So what's on the roof?"

She wasn't sure of the names for those exact things. "Small vehicle on runners. No engine showing. Nine animals, antlers."

Sasha seemed more surprised than Cassandra would have expected, as if this meant something special to her. "You're still not kidding, are you?" She looked back at the fat man. "I don't believe it."

"Let Miss Cassandra enjoy her victory for the moment," the fat man said pleasantly. "Not many can sneak up on me at all! Go up and take a look. They won't hurt you, but if you want to make friends with them, you might take along some carrots. Or any vegetables, really."

"Couldn't I just punch up a view from a security cam on the roof?"

"No—that is, you can certainly try, but you won't see anything out of the ordinary. My friends and I are electronically invisible when we want to be."

Sasha sighed. "I'll try both ways before I jump to any conclusions. Don't go away, either of you!" She left the room. The fat man passed the time by assuring Cassandra that he knew she had been a remarkably good girl this past year. Especially when the less pleasant aspects of her early upbringing were considered. She didn't argue the point and he chuckled and shut up. A few minutes later Sasha returned.

"Your story seems to check out. I saw the sleigh and the reindeer and even the glowing red nose. I saw them with my eyes, but I couldn't see them on camera. Of course, in this crazy world of ours, almost anything can be faked." There was something very odd about Sasha's body language, though. What she was saying about "faked" was not what she wanted to believe.

"Shall I recite the letters you used to send me every year, Ms. Bordeaux?" the fat man asked calmly. "But I suppose that wouldn't 'prove' anything either, except that I had a dossier on your childhood. Or perhaps that I could read your mind? Examine my bag, if you like—heft it; open it; rummage through it. You'll find that it weighs far less than the sum of its contents, which in turn are far more numerous than you would believe could possibly fit inside anything that size. But I suppose you could find other explanations for that, too! After all, both good men and bad ones can use magic! Permit me to try something else?"

Sasha was already taking him at his word and looking inside the bag. She gasped. At the same moment, the fat man stood up, the rope falling loosely to the floor, neither cut nor broken but somehow untied in the blink of an eye. "Ho ho ho!" he said merrily and laid one finger alongside his nose, winked at Cassandra as she jumped toward him, and—the next part was hard to follow, but here was what Cassandra later told herself had happened—became a fast red blur that moved backward to the fireplace and then disappeared up the chimney. The sack, several feet away from where the fat man had been, disappeared too, except that several small items were left on the carpet at Sasha's feet.

Cassandra poked her head into the fireplace and looked up. Starlight at the top. He had already flown up through the entire chimney, in two heartbeats or less, which still didn't make any sense for a man his size, even if you granted the "flying" part.

"Look!" Sasha said, pointing to the big windows at one end of the room. Cassandra looked. A silhouette passed in front of the moon, looking very much like the outline of a fat man in a small vehicle on runners, with nine antlered animals out in front, pulling. Telekinesis, like she suspected before?

"Help me gather up these new presents; leave the old ones," Sasha said, and Cassandra did, noticing that Sasha now seemed convinced that there was no "threat" at all. Sasha continued, "We're headed back down to the Cave. If we didn't use magnetic resonance imaging and mechanical sniffers and other stuff to check for plastique, gasses, and miscellaneous boobytraps before opening these things tomorrow, then Batman would just insist that we do it anyway. I want to be able to tell him that I know everything under his Christmas tree is safe, even though I already believe that." She suddenly stared at the mantel. "Oh, and get your stocking, too. It's bulging. They were all empty an hour ago, and the others still are. Our guest put something in yours on his way out."

The tests in the Batcave didn't take too long. Batman kept lots of equipment set up and pre-programmed so that anyone, even Cassandra, could quickly learn to start a "standard test" of a suspicious parcel by just pushing a couple of buttons. Then the machinery would do the work automatically. As simple as heating up a "frozen dinner" in a microwave. Sasha and Cassandra simply kept rotating packages from one machine to the next until everything had been tested every way, without any red lights flashing. Sasha had once said that the equipment here was at least as good as what they used for the President's mail at the White House.

"It's all clean," Sasha finally announced. "Not that I'm surprised. Now we put it all back!"

After they had done so, Sasha cocked her head and asked Cassandra, "You really don't know who that was, do you?"

Cassandra shrugged her most eloquent shrug. "No."

"Okay, kid, I can see your education has been shamefully neglected in some areas. So we're going to stay up late. Bruce has this huge collection of tapes and DVDs that he, like, never even watches. Says he has to keep up appearances as a spoiled playboy, so he has standing orders with the distributors to send him copies of just about everything. He says it actually came in handy once when he was trying to analyze the Film Freak's current M.O. before anyone else died. Let's see what he's got on Santa Claus."

"Who?"

"Your bearded friend in the red suit."

Friend? He wasn't her—oh. Of course Sasha knew that. This must be some of that "irony" or "sarcasm" stuff. But she knew Sasha meant it kindly.

They moved into a room that Cassandra had never paid much attention to, called "the library." Sasha looked along rows of shelves until she found the section she wanted. "Ah, yes. Some of the classic stop-motion animation Christmas specials I remember from my own childhood. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. And then we'll wrap up with another of the old reliables: the cartoon adaptation of Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas! You have to know the fundamentals before you can appreciate just how nasty the Grinch was being with his impersonation . . . I think we'll save Miracle on 34th Street and Frosty the Snowman until later, though."


Hours later: Cassandra had fallen asleep on the couch and Sasha had gently draped a blanket over her. Then she headed for the ballroom, meaning to stuff other stockings. Bruce must have teleported home a few minutes earlier; he was putting something into Sasha's stocking (but had previously agreed to let her handle the others; the various recipients could come clean them out at any convenient time in the next week or two).

He knew she was in the doorway without looking around. "Sasha? Did you do Cassandra's stocking already and leave the others for later?"

"No; someone else beat me to it. He dropped off a few other gifts, too, which I added to the piles under the tree."

"'He'? Anyone I know?"

"Not one of your apprentices or teammates or employees. I doubt you've ever met him. He dropped in unexpectedly and then had to hurry off on his errands. But I think Cassandra made a striking impression on him. Let's just say she has a new admirer."

Bruce was looking at her now. He scowled like a suspicious father. "'Admirer.' A boyfriend, or a guy who wants to be? I'm not sure she's worldly enough for any serious dating—"

"She probably isn't, but don't panic! That wasn't what I meant! (Although any guy who tried to make unwelcome advances when she was alone with him in a parked car would be spectacularly unsuccessful.)"

Bruce snorted and looked a bit cheerier at the mental image she'd conjured. "I could almost—but not quite—pity the poor fool in that case. But you were saying this is something else entirely?"

Sasha grinned. "Would you believe me if I just said that Mr. Kris Kringle himself decided to give her a little special attention this year? No strings attached?"

Bruce raised his eyebrows and waited for her to elaborate. Sasha beamed back at him innocently. The silence dragged on for a full minute before he finally answered the question that was still hanging in the air. "Probably not."

"Then that's tough, because it's the best story I have to offer. If you don't like that one, then just take my word for it that the gift-giver in question is trustworthy and doesn't mean any harm—and yes, I already checked his presents."

He opened his mouth and Sasha thought he was going to ask "are you sure?" but apparently he realized in the nick of time that she wouldn't have said "my word" if she wasn't. After a beat, he said, "I suppose you have a nose for phonies after those years in the White House."

"I like to think so. I knew you were sneaking out at night and doing things you absolutely refused to talk about in daylight, didn't I?" (She didn't bother mentioning the nose for sweet-talking male egomaniacs on the make that she had developed way back in high school; she had just assured him that wasn't relevant here anyway. In her first month as Bruce's bodyguard she had expected to get those same vibrations from him in spades and had been pleasantly surprised when she didn't really, despite his occasional efforts at a "token" flirtatious remark to keep up appearances.)

"That you did. Turn your back; I'm not done hiding things in your stocking. Then I'll clear out of the way and let you do mine and the others'."

She turned.

"All done!" he said after a moment. She turned around again. As Bruce moved toward the door to pass her on the way out, he smiled broadly and said, "I'm glad you talked me into this. I admit I hadn't really stopped to think that Cassandra has probably never gotten holiday presents before. Merry Christmas, Sasha!"

Suddenly Sasha wished she had ignored her better judgment during the decorating and had hung up some mistletoe over the doorway so she'd now have a plausible "excuse" to lean toward him and—but she deliberately hadn't, and she wasn't going to abandon her professionalism now. So she merely said, "Merry Christmas, Bruce!"