Batman sat on his favorite gargoyle overlooking his city. Above, the thick clouds rolled over head with neither the threat of rain or the promise of snow. The wind rapped gently around him with a soft trill. In the distance, a few cars rolled silently to a stop at a red light. It was quiet.

Quiet wasn't normal for Gotham. He didn't understand why it always seemed quiet on Christmas Eve. With a wide, impish grin, Dick would tell him every year that it was the season of good cheer, and people didn't mug other people when they have good cheer. Batman always grunted at that, and always, he'd go out. Alone. Alfred never let him take Robin out on Christmas Eve.

He hated this. It was too cold and to? Christmas for anything to happen. It should please him that it was a quiet night, but somehow, deep down, it felt wrong. He wasn't a man used to inaction, and times like this? well, there wasn't much to do. Even the police department was relaxing this evening, having it's usual Christmas get-together, and here he was, practically praying for something to happen.

Times like this?Well, he preferred action to inaction. When he was docile, it left too much time to dwell upon other things.

As he surveyed his city, lethargy making him despise himself, he saw her swing by. It was almost with relief that he shot his jump line out into the night. He followed her as she went past her favorite jewelry stores on Moench without so much as a look. He followed her as she flew by Gotham Cathedral, over the throngs of people entering for Midnight Mass. Where was she going?

Flying through the fridge air, he wished that the action would take his mind off of his earlier ponderings, unfortunately, seeing her only made it worse. He knew he shouldn't, but he hoped deep down that she'd do something despicable. It was easier to hate her than?other things. There were some emotions that were beyond uncomfortable.

She landed silently on the roof of Wayne Enterprises. Had he not been wearing his cowl, one would have seen his eyebrow arch upwards. That's not Catwoman's normal MO. When he landed on the roof he saw her -- sitting there in her skin tight black leather suit, her legs crossed, and a smile on her face. He realized she was waiting for him. Just like a spider.

"Merry Christmas Batman," Catwoman said with glee as she dangled a piece of mistletoe over her head.

It took incredible restraint to keep from fidgeting as he grew uncomfortable, but his curiosity was up. "What are you doing?"

"Looking for you."

That wasn't the answer he'd been searching for. "Why?"

She shrugged innocently. "It's Christmas. And I didn't want to be alone. I thought you wouldn't want to be alone either," she said seductively as she stood and crossed the distance between them. "I see you left the little bird at home tonight. Dreaming of Santa and Sugar plums, I'd guess."

As she approached, he took in the scent of her, sweet, warm, vanilla scents. Before he could stop it, those things he'd been thinking of earlier welled up like a spring of indiscretion. He longed to touch her, to caress her. He started to reach out -- then quickly wrapped his cape around himself. If only she weren't playing the game like this. He needed the battle-the action. That would make all of this go away.

Like a woman who was quite aware of what she was doing, Catwoman watched him and laughed.

She laughed! At Batman. He was the scourge of the night, the demon Bat that criminals feared. And Catwoman was -- laughing -- at him. And she had a nice

laugh. His lip twitched. Just once.

Slowly, seductively, she moved even closer, dangling the mistletoe in front of his face, "Are you cold? Wrapping that cape around you like that. I can think of better things to do to warm us up."

He noticed that in her last movements, she'd placed herself between him and the door on the roof. "What are you planning, Catwoman?"

Her round, red lips pulled back in a smile that he was loath to continue staring at. It would be? unwise, he decided, to continue with further eye contact with her-perhaps even dangerous. "You, me and mistletoe. You're a detective, you figure it out." Unfortunately, he had been caught in the snare-or he'd allowed himself to be. It was difficult to tell which. She rubbed her free hand on his chest, then wrapped her slender arms around his neck. "Looks like there's a Bat under the mistletoe," she said before she kissed him.

Without forethought, or the anxiety that had beset him at the beginning of the evening, he kissed her back.

Not a short kiss, but a long passionate kiss. And they didn't stop at just one either.

"You've got to be up to something," he said suspiciously when they finally stopped long enough to breath. There had to be a catch-some other card she was playing. That was just because he knew her. Regrettably, his mind was now too clouded with the taste and smell of her to work it all out.

That was why Batman denied himself these things. They were-a liability.

She never broke eye contact with him. She just continued to stare into his cowl with those seductive green eyes. Batman knew he had to get hold of himself-and yet-he didn't want to. Certainly? one was allowed to give even? one's own self a present on a holiday. Even if he deserved none. "It's Christmas Eve. Wars stop for this. Even criminals take the night off. You're the only one who plays Scrooge. Even your birdie boy's at home."

And Batman was so glad the boy was at home right now. What sort of role model would he be for Dick -- here with Catwoman doing -- what was he doing? On a rooftop kissing Catwoman-indulging in some dark fantasy he had no business dabbling in, while Robin -- no while Dick -- was at home alone hanging up his stocking with Alfred. This was beyond wrong, and deep in his soul, he knew it. He had the will to drive himself harder than any other man. He had the audacity to stand up to an entire city every single night- and yet?

Yet, he looked into her bright green eyes and seemed to forget everything else. A man could drown in those eyes.

And right now, he wanted too. But ... he was Batman. And ... she Catwoman. Will power? resolve?"Why are you here at Wayne Enterprises?"

"Come with me," she replied as she took him by the hand. He allowed himself to be led by Catwoman through his own private roof access into Bruce Wayne's private office. It was familiar ground, and yet, somehow, new territory as well.

"Where? How did -- ?" She certainly knew her way around, he realized as she lead him around his own desk, past the trash can, the table with the coffee maker upon it... Slowly, she turned back to him, smiling, then began pulling him towards the leather sofa. "Shh," she said as she placed a slender finger against his lips. "Merry Christmas."

He knew he shouldn't be doing this. Knew this was wrong. VERY wrong. This was Catwoman. They were in Bruce Wayne's office heading for Bruce Wayne's sofa. HIS sofa. Where Dick sat innocently when he came for after school visits.

He lost his ability to breathe when she ran her hand across his chest, then started sliding her hand downwards. That was when he realized he was also unable to move. All he could do was stare into her jade eyes. Too bad he couldn't blame it upon a spell or drug? too bad he knew he was allowing himself to be walked into this. Too bad he knew he was enjoying every moment of it-as much as it was killing him as well.

Taking his utility belt in her hand, she removed it, carelessly tossing it toward his desk. Moving her arms toward his neck, she unfastened his cape, letting it drop to the floor with a flutter and then a thud. And he let her. Catwoman had just disarmed Batman -- without any resistance.

Then she removed her own mask.

He stared deeply into her eyes. He couldn't bring himself to breathe. Didn't need to breathe. He needed her. He was Batman. She was Catwoman. And as much as he hated to admit it-as much as it was a sign of his own weakness and failing-he NEEDED her. Grabbing her quickly around the waist, he pulled her to him forcefully. She laughed-knowing she had won. Pushing against him with hunger, they fell onto the sofa.

* * *

He woke from a contented, peaceful rest to his emergency signal. He looked down at her, wrapped in his cape, lying so comfortably in his arms. Instantly, the tranquility washed away. His right hand reached up and felt his cowl. Well -- he had left something on. Deep within, there was some vestige of self-restraint within him. Slipping from beneath her, he found his communicator and opened the hailing channel.

"Batman here," he whispered.

"Master Bruce! It is four in the morning. Christmas morning." Guilt brought color to his cheeks. He couldn't believe he was being reprimanded by Alfred, in his office, while he held a very naked and sedate Catwoman in his arms. And there was NO ONE he could blame for this but himself.

Alfred's voice was devoid of concern for his charge's well-being. What he faced now was old fashioned WRATH. "You do realize that this family has always -- ALWAYS -- opened presents and had Christmas when you returned from your Christmas Eve patrol. You have NOT yet RETURNED from your Christmas Eve Patrol. And I took the liberty of reviewing the police dispatch tapes on the computer downstairs. Gotham City has not fallen prey to a crime wave."

Batman placed his hands on his head. Oh he had been a naughty boy. And Santa just caught him. Only when Alfred was Santa -- coal in your stocking was the least of your worries.

"Where's Robin?" he asked quietly, trying not to wake the woman in his arms. He was an idiot, and probably insane, too What the hell had possessed him? Angry with himself, he slowly he slid out from under her, doing his best not to wake her.

"Master Dick went to bed long ago. He gave up waiting for your return. I believe he was quite disappointed. He is only thirteen years old, you know. It would be nice if you had thought him important enough to spend the evening with."

"It's not that. I --" he glanced back at Catwoman on the sofa. Her skin was so smooth? her body curved so? "I lost track of time. I'll be home soon."

Catwoman sat up on the sofa and watched him as he started dressing. "Past the pumpkin time huh?" She stood and stretched, then started toward the fully stocked bar, padding over completely nude.

"What?" he asked distracted.

"Cinderella story, turning into a pumpkin after midnight -- you don't get out much do you?" she asked as she laughed again.

He did love her laugh.

But he had to go home. He had responsibilities. He had people -- family -- he had hurt by not being there. "I ... I have to go home."

"Home? And here I thought you only had a Cave." She walked up to him, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Thank you for tonight. Merry, merry Christmas." She kissed him again. A deep, passionate kiss.

"You are leaving?" he asked, almost begged, embarrassed at what he had done. That he had given in to his desires. That he wanted to take her home with him.

She bent and picked up her clothes, giving him an obscenely lovely view of her?"I can let myself out. I let myself in. Go play Santa Bat to your little Bird. I'll catch you on the rooftops."

* * *

Stepping from behind the grandfather clock entrance from the Cave into the Manor, Bruce looked around. The Christmas tree was all trimmed, presents bulging from beneath. The three stockings Dick always insisted they hang gracing the mantle piece below his parents' portrait. They never would have left him alone on Christmas Eve. What had he been thinking?

He turned to go upstairs to check on Dick. He stopped when he saw Alfred, in pajamas and robe, standing in the doorway -- arms crossed. Bruce knew he was in trouble.

"I'm sorry," he said as he started walking toward the door. He hoped that would be enough and he could make it past the elderly man.

"What kept you, Bruce?" Alfred asked flatly.

He ran a hand through his hair. "I ... I was preoccupied," Bruce replied as he tried to move past Alfred.

"I thought that it was 'Master Bruce' and not 'The Batman' that was the playboy."

"Huh," Bruce asked looking into Alfred's gray eyes.

"Vanilla. The scent is all over you. You should be ashamed of yourself, leaving that child alone on Christmas while you were out with a woman. And a criminal at that."

"Criminal?" Bruce asked afraid to hear Alfred's answers. Batman may be the world's greatest detective, BUT no one could pull anything over on Alfred.

"I believe that was how Catwoman was classified the last time I checked."

Bruce felt the heat rush to his face. He knew he was blushing. Oh, to be facing the Joker rather than an angry and disappointed Alfred. "Sorry. I -- I'm going to check on -- Dick." Bruce rushed up the stairs and down the long hall. He stopped outside Dick's door. Taking a breath, he tentatively opened the door.

Empty. Dick was gone. He wasn't in his room. His bed was rumpled as if someone had been laying on top of it. But Dick was gone.

* * *

Bruce ran down the stairs. "Alfred! ALFRED!"

Alfred was folding napkins for the next day. Bruce may have ruined this evening, but he certainly wasn't going to hinder tomorrows dinner. "Master Bruce, haven't I taught you better than to shout in the house. It's after five in the morning. I was hoping I could go to bed now," the elderly man calmly berated.

"He's gone," Bruce said, panic in his voice. "Dick's gone. His bed hasn't been slept in."

Alfred sighed. "Is it any wonder he left? You left him alone on Christmas Eve for the entire night. The last five years, you have left him alone every single Christmas Eve. But at least in the past, you've had the curtsey to come home at a relatively decent hour and spend Christmas with the boy. I'm quite sure he feels abandoned, hurt and alone."

Bruce felt shame. How could he do this to Dick? He should have been home, not rolling around the rooftops with Catwoman. "There's no time for this. Recriminations can wait." Actually they couldn't, but he could do enough on his own. This is one thing he really DIDN'T need Alfred's help with. "I ... I'm going back up to his room to check for clues. See if the security camera picked up anything."

Bruce fled Alfred's stare. He couldn't handle the disapproval in his eyes. Upon reaching Dick's room, the same tentativeness returned. Steeling himself, he grabbed the knob swinging the door open. Flipping the light switch, he started searching the room for any evidence as to where the young boy had gone to.

Clothes still in the closet. That's a good sign. "Unless he didn't want anything from me. I wouldn't blame him if he felt like that." Bruce said aloud. What a stupid, irresponsible thing he had done. There was no excuse, no explanation-other than letting his own? desire? his own foolishness get in the way of... If anything happened to Dick because of him?

NO. He couldn't -- wouldn't -- think like that. He'd find Dick. But why weren't there any clues in this room? What kind of great detective was he? He couldn't even find his own missing thirteen year old. Who wouldn't be missing IF he had been at home where he belonged. "What kind of person leaves their kid alone on Christmas Eve?"

"Indeed, young sir," Alfred's voice sounded behind him.

Bruce flinched. He hadn't heard Alfred come into the room. Was he so worried he flinched? "Anything on the security cameras?"

"No. However, you are quite aware that Master Dick has been well trained in stealth abilities. If the lad doesn't wish to be found, he won't be found. Not even by you. I do believe that was the test you gave him before allowing him to graduate into the Robin costume."

Bruce sat on the bed, running his hand through his hair. What had he done?

* * *

Four Hours Earlier

Dick had rushed through his nightly routine so he could hang his stocking. He rushed through hanging his stocking and saying goodnight to Alfred so he could go back to his room. Throwing himself upon the bed, he realized he was the most horrible kid in the entire world.

Bruce never let him go out on Christmas Eve, but this year he hadn't even fought it. Usually he gave at least a good resounding protest. He also wasn't doing the prerequisite bonding with Alfred in the kitchen until Bruce came home and they could open presents. He was in his room, on his bed, laying on his stomach, dialing a number he'd memorized last night when he'd been 'playing around' on the cave computers.

"Hello?" a voice asked on the other end.

"Hi, I'm looking for a pretty little red-headed girl who stole my heart and now she.."

There was an angry sigh. "HOW did you get this number?"

He grinned, his anguish over leaving Bruce alone temporarily forgotten. "A good Bat-scout never tells."

"Um hum."

"Soooooo? whatcha doing?" he rolled onto his side, as if that could make him hear better.

"Washing my hair."

"Oooh. The brush-off."

He heard her sigh on the other end.

"I'm too much of a woman for you," she told him. "I don't even HAVE to worry about a brush off because I am SO out of your league, Munchkin."

Dick groaned. He'd only recently discovered girls, and this particular girl was not only the love of his life, but she wouldn't give him the time of day. Dick was in heaven. "Oh, darlin' I love it when you talk to me like--"


Dick dialed her number again. She even answered again. "What is it, Short Stuff?"

"I'm not short! I'm vertically challenged. You just wait a few years?"

"Yeah. Call me in a few years."


With dogged persistence, Dick dialed her number again.

"Is your fridge running?" he asked before she could say hello.

"No, but your feet smell."

"DON'T HANG UP!" he cried out.

"You know me too well."

"So, uh, whatcha doing?"

There was a long pause. "Nothing."

"Dad at work?"

"Some stupid Christmas thing for work."

"You didn't go?"

"Food poisoning last year from eating Bullock's spinach dip."

Dick pondered that a moment. The thought of the heavy cop making anything that didn't involve tons of grease was just weird and nasty. "Eww," he said finally.

"My sentiments exactly."

"Can I come over?"


Dick grinned. He'd almost had it that time. He'd just pushed a little too far a little too quickly. Hitting redial, he felt the thrill of the chase, but also the tinge of guilt. He couldn't believe he was leaving Bruce out there all alone on Christmas Eve to be consumed by guilt and angst so he could play phone tag with a girl. Dick was a heal.

"Look, Short Pants, I got hair to wash."

"I'll be good," Dick promised solemnly.


It was very silent.

"So. Uh? open any Christmas presents yet?"


"Baaabs. Awake?"

"Sorry, Robin."

"How's about you and me go flying. That'll make ya feel better."

"Too cold."

"I'll warm ya up."

She sighed. "I'm going to hang up on you again." But she didn't. "Why aren't you out with your partner?"

Dick thought about what answer to give. "He decided to go angst on his own tonight. Which is OK. Leaves me to talk with my best girl."

"You crawled out of the other half of the century, didn't you?"

"You can't prove that. Done playing with your hair?"

"Robin, I will have you know, a woman's hair is not something to 'play' with. It's a delicate and intricate process to get everything JUST right. It must be washed, conditioned, dried in an acceptable fashion and then styled in a manner so as not to cause harm to the hair. And that, my Boy Wonder, is what takes so long."

Dick gave an appreciative whistle. "Learning something new about girls every day. So. Will you marry me?"

"You WANT me to hang up on you again, don't you?" she asked. Fortunately, there was a hint of laughter in her voice this time, instead of the previous overly serious tones.

"Negative attention is still attention, babe."

She laughed, and it was the sweetest sound to his thirteen-year-old ears. "Robin, the Boy Loser."

"Hey," he said mock-defensively. "None of that. Geeze. All the bad nick- names I have came from you. Don't you feel some kind of guilt over that?"

She set into a diatribe about why she DIDN'T feel guilty. Mostly they involved times he'd nearly gotten her killed. Women never forgot anything, he decided. They talked on, laughing in low tones so he wouldn't be caught on the phone after curfew. After they'd relived their greatest adventures, talked about 'most embarrassing moments with Grim and Grumpy', discussed current trends in foods made out of pumpkin and entirely explored the topic of the Mayor's hair pieces, Dick looked at the clock.

"Oh, crap a dog," he muttered. "It's like? four AM. Your dad isn't back yet?"

"He mighta came in and thought I was asleep. Or talking to a guy."

"Hey! You ARE talking to a guy."

She snorted. "Boy, whatever. Your keeper isn't home yet?"

"No. Maybe I should go look for him."

"Maybe I should come with you."

"I don't need a baby-sitter," he said flippantly, but inside he was worried. Bruce never took this long on Christmas Eve. He went out to put up a show, then he came back, they opened presents, got a little sentimental and mushy, then everyone went to bed.

* * *

"Twenty minutes later, Robin crawled outta my window. Alfred'd kick my butt if he knew I was going out on Christmas Eve. He'd just say that my partner would turn up eventually, or he'd call for back up eventually. But Bruce would neeeeever do that because it's Christmas Eve and he angsts all by himself on Christmas Eve?

"Robin's rambling. Anyways." He was also talking to himself, he noted.

He did a once-around the city, didn't see anyone. He did a twice-around the city, still didn't see anyone. He got cold and disgusted and ended up on Babs' window sill.

"Look, Short-fry, I was sleeping," she grumbled, letting him in. "You said you didn't need a baby-sitter, so you're on your own. I'm not going out now."

Robin blinked, staring at the monstrosity on her head. "Something's eating your head, Babs," he told her in all seriousness.

"They're CURLERS, nitwit. Now GO. I was getting my beauty sleep."

"I was wondering if your dad saw my Bat. I can't find him nowhere. And while I'm thinking about it, you need about a year's straight wortha sleep to make you pretty." Actually, she didn't. She was gorgeous just like she was, even with curlers eating her head.

"If you wake my dad up, you're going to be taking a long fall off a building. Without a jump line. Good NIGHT Robin."

The door opened. "BARBARA."

"Haha," The Boy Wonder muttered. "You're in trouble."

"ROBIN?" And the tired, half-asleep commissioner was less than amused with the little bird standing in his daughter's bedroom.

"Uh? Wrong window, sir." Robin nervously looked from side to side. "Was wondering if you saw my Bat?"

"He's out this late?"

Robin shrugged. "I looked all over."

Gordon didn't know what to tell the young man. He knew Batman was dedicated to his work. Overly so. But certainly he could spare one evening for his young partner. It WAS Christmas after all. "If I see him? I'll send him home," Jim promised finally.

He could tell the young man was disappointed, but he didn't know what else he could do. "Thanks, sir. It? it means a lot." He regretfully slunk towards the window. Climbing out, he turned back when he was sitting on the sill. Suddenly his mood changed. "Night, Sleeping Ugly. Merry Christmas." With a laugh, he jumped out. When Barbara looked out the window, there was no sign of him.

Jim shook his head. He knew Robin had a horrible crush on his daughter and had done his best to discourage it because of the obvious and unhealthy age difference. Now the boy was reduced to 'accidentally' coming in through her window and calling her childish names.

"And you, young lady. Threatening the poor boy. On CHRISTMAS."

"He's a dork. He deserves it."

He had to smile.

* * *

Dick stopped on top of Bruce's favorite gargoyle. He'd been here tonight, Dick could tell. Biting his cheek, he looked out over the city, trying to think of where his mentor could be. There wasn't anything going on, that he could tell.

"You really should be getting home, Little Bird."

Robin spun around, nearly falling off of his spot. "What'd you do to Batman?" It HAD to be Catwoman. She had to have done something horrible to Batman for him to not come home on Christmas Eve.

Her lips pulled back into a smile, like she'd caught a mouse? or a Bird, Robin thought with a gulp. "Met up with him already, eh?" she took a few steps closer as he slid off the gargoyle and landed on the roof with a soft thud. "And he's frightened the little birdy by being less? ornery?"

"What'd you do to him? Where is he?" Robin was thoroughly confused.

Catwoman rolled her eyes. "You'd better go home." She turned to leave.

"Wait! Where is he?"

"At HOME." Really. Kids today. "Which is where all good children should be, if they expect Santa to come."

"HAH," Robin said smartly. "Shows how much YOU know. I don't believe in Santa." Unless he wanted to bring Robin a pretty little red head all tied up in a bow.

"Go home, kid. What you're looking for is there." She leapt off the building and landed on the sill of a building across the street.

Robin bit his cheek. He should probably go after her, or something. She was a bad guy after all. But still, it was Christmas. Maybe he could give her a like? one day head start. "Umm? ok. Thanks. Merry Christmas," he called after her.

She grinned back at him. Whatever she'd done, it had been a VERY Merry Christmas for her already.

* * *

Dick could see the light was on in his room. He'd specifically remembered shutting it off when he'd left. Dick knew at that moment he was in the deepest of doo doos.

He crept through the window with great caution. Instead of just facing one grown up, it was both. "Uh? ho, ho, ho?" he asked. Not that cuteness ever got him out of trouble before, but he could certainly make that effort.

Alfred's eyes were wide. Why was Bruce sitting on his bed? He musta been in mega super-call the Justice League they're gonna kill me--trouble if Bruce was waiting for him.

"Where were you?" Was that caution he sensed in Bruce's voice?

"Looking for you!" Robin closed the window then bounded on the bed next to his mentor. "I couldn't find ya anywhere, and I thought something'd happened if you hadn't come home because you always come home on Christmas Eve, and I even woke up Babs' dad, but he didn't know where you were, then I found Catwoman. Man! She musta gave you some trouble to keep you out all night! And she was all creepy and happy and 'go home' and stuff. Then I came back here." He grinned cutely.

Bruce and Alfred looked at each other, having this conversation with their eyes. It must have been some kind of secret grownup thing because Dick had NO idea what was going on. He didn't know if he was in big trouble or NOT any more.

"Dick? don't wake up Gordon," was all Bruce said by way or acknowledgement or reprimand.

He smelled something in the air. "Alfred, you got any more Vanilla pudding?" Get home late, and it's all gone. ALWAYS. Bruce was such a pig.

Both Bruce and Alfred looked at the carpet. No pudding for Dickie, he realized.

"So," Dick said, tearing off his mask and unclipping his cape all in one motion. He grinned with childish, unsuspecting joy. "We gonna open presents now?"

* * *

Selina dropped down on her balcony and entered her penthouse. She was greeted by her many cats -- gray ones, orange and white Tabbies, gray striped Tabbies, Persians - many, many different ones. She always said they didn't belong to her, but they belonged to each other. She dropped her mask as she walked further into the apartment. Lounging on a chaise in the living room -- the lone black cat -- the one Selina belonged to -- jumped into her lap.

"Merry Christmas Isis," she purred at her cat. She loved them all, but Isis was in a class alone. "Look at the pretty present I brought home," Selina said as she held aloft the sparkling diamond necklace. "Bruce Wayne's going to have a New Year's surprise when he opens his office safe to give this to his date for the evening." Selina laughed. She had stolen the necklace from the safe while Batman was dressing. She smiled at the thought.

He was enough to make a bad girl turn good -- well -- almost enough, at least on Christmas Eve.

Her phone rang. It was almost six in the morning. Who would be calling her at this ungodly hour. "Hello?"

"Selina, its Bruce Wayne. I was wondering, do you have a date for New Year's Eve?"