Disclaimer: All comic characters owned and operated by DC comics and Time Warner. All other characters belong to Charles Dickens. They are used without permission and without profit. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Note: Thanks: To Sandra and Jim for their all star beta talents.

* * * * *

A Very Dysfunctional DC Christmas Carol
By Gen X

* * * * *

The Prologue:

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the tower,
Everyone was astir despite the late hour.
Lian stood stubbornly atop of her bed,
And Roy Harper frowned, with increasing dread.

Dressed in her jammies, she put up a fight.
Not wanting to sleep, on this cold Winter's night.
She begged and she pleaded, but Roy turned a deaf ear.
Without Lian sleeping, Santa wouldn't stop here.

She tried and she tried, but sleep would not come.
And by ten o'clock something had to be done.
Roy thought and he thought, then he thought even more.
There must be something he could do to make his kid snore.

So he made up a story, a wild, crazy type tale.
And spun it so well that others like it did pale.
And so Harper's version of that time honored story,
Did butcher and murder all of its glory.

But alas, it was fun, and therefore a treasure,
Because mocking the Batman is fun without measure.

* * * * *

The introduction:

"So you promise to tell me the story?" Lian blinked cute puppy dog eyes at her father.

Roy started to sigh, but stifled it, not wanting to disappoint her. It was nearing eleven o'clock. Baby girl had to get to sleep sometime; at least... he hoped she would. "I'll tell you the story if you promise to try and sleep."

"I promise to try and sleep," said Lian and sat up in her bed, ready to hang on every word.

"Okay, just remember that you promised." Roy wracked his battered brain for names and narratives, it was Christmas time after all. Then he decided it was too hard and decided just to make it up as he went along. So, needless to say, the story had issues. Roy took a deep breath and began to speak.

* * * * *

The Story:

Once upon the time, in the merry city of Gotham. Well, no, correction, there was no such thing as a merry city of Gotham. Gotham was a dark and dreary city, and the only people who lived there were nocturnal freaks. Like Nightwing.

But Nightwing was a wimp compared to the other people in Gotham 'cause there was Batman hanging around every corner. Batman was dark and dreary so Gotham fit him just fine, except, well, every year Christmas always made its way into the city.

It just couldn't be helped, it oozed its cheer and songs in with each snowfall, with each candy cane, and every Christmas light-- working or not. And soon everyone was planning holiday parties and baking fruit cakes.

("Like Auntie Dinah?")

(Roy shuddered. "If they're lucky then no, but back to the story.")

And holiday cheer was spreading through every darkened alley and every street corner. Batman was not happy. Batman was even taking to be grumpy in non-Batman times. Like when he was Bruce Wayne.

Bruce Wayne was a millionaire. A billionaire. A triple gazillionaire! He didn't really enjoy money, after all it took a lot of work to run a company. So naturally, he didn't like the holidays because they tended to be a time of merriment and absolutely no work. The lack of productivity was astounding.

Even so, people tried their best to lighten his mood. His secretary tried to make him cheery. She baked him gingerbread men, which he thought were too dry. His business associate brought in some Christmas candy, which he deemed too sweet. And even the gift from Nightwing was deemed too sappy. Nothing Bruce was given was just right.

So everyone knowing they couldn't please him, just left him alone, lest he slam the door in their face. That was, after all, his way of muttering "Bah, humbug!"

But that didn't discourage everyone. One day, Dick Grayson stepped into Bruce's office, carrying a Christmas wreath decked out with berries and bows and he also had chocolate petit fours as gifts of good will.

"I'm busy Dick," was Bruce's greeting to the young man. He was far from happy at the intrusion in his work day.

"Today's Christmas Eve," Dick insisted. Christmas Eve was, of course, a time for friends and family, for fruitcake and fun, for festivities and frolicking, for frankfurters and footballs, for--

("Daddy!")

("Oh... sorry.")

So Christmas Eve was supposed to be a joyous day, er, night. Just like Christmas Day. Bruce frowned as Dick tossed the pine ring onto his desk. 'Why couldn't he hang it up like a normal person,' Bruce thought.

"Did you have something to tell me?" asked Bruce.

And did Dick have news indeed. He smiled, and licked his lips nervously. He said, "I was wondering if you'd like to join Barbara and me for Christmas dinner."

Bruce simply stared at him.

Despite feeling uncomfortable, Dick continued, "We would really like you to come. Babs is planning a real feast. Turkey and--"

But Bruce cut his former ward off. "Turkey makes you sleepy. There's a chemical in the meat," he criticized.

Dick shuffled his feet but continued. "And stuffing--"

But Bruce cut him off again, "Cooked and seasoned with wine I assume?"

"The alcohol content cooks off; there's no risk of intoxication."

"It's the principle of the matter."

Exasperated, Dick nearly screamed. "We have pumpkin pie! There isn't anything you can find wrong with pumpkin pie."

Bruce simply looked at Dick. He leveled his gaze, then dropped his voice to Batman-like depths. "Do you really want to know?" asked Bruce.

Dick frowned. He scooped the wreath off Bruce's desk and smiled when the pine needles littered the pristine and freshly vacuumed carpet. Dick stormed out of the office, but he had a plan. After all, there was always one person that Bruce could never say no to.

Or so Dick thought.

Later that day, Bruce was repeating that very word, to that very person, over and over again. He held the phone close to his ear, because it was of course Alfred on the other line. Bruce tried to explain, he tried to reason, but the older man was having none of it.

"It is Christmas Eve, Master Bruce," the butler said in crisp English tones. "There will be no working on Christmas Eve."

(And Lian started laughing at this point, because Roy's rendition of an English accent, was well... laughable.)

"Yes, there will," Bruce argued. They'd been arguing for so long that Bruce was going to miss his noon appointment.

But the butler was tenacious (that means unrelenting... stubborn). And Alfred insisted, "You will not work on Christmas Eve, nor Christmas Day, I refuse to see you do it."

But Bruce was adamant (that means stubborn too) and very rudely hung up the phone. When he finally left his office, everywhere he went, people were wearing holiday colors, and humming holiday carols. No one was faxing or typing. And they were getting paid for not doing their jobs! As Bruce stalked the hallways, they would scramble to put away candy canes and stop singing their Christmas cheer. They didn't want to get a talking-to from the boss."

Despite their efforts, each yuletide trinket darkened his mood, so that by the time he left for home, each falling snowflake seemed to insult him. He drove back to the big house he lived in listening to classical music on the radio.

Alfred was at the door waiting for him. The old man spoke curtly. "Since you don't seem inclined to celebrate in solstice activities, like normal people, I beg my leave of you, so that I can help Master Timothy (that's Robin) and Miss Cassandra (and Batgirl) prepare for the events of tomorrow."

("Huh?" Lian blinked. Verbosity was flying over her head, fighting with the visions of sugar plums.)

("Just wait," Roy explained.)

Bruce looked at him. "You want the day off?" Bruce questioned, and the other man nodded. Bruce paused, seeming to consider everything. He finally said, "Fine, go. Have a Merry Christmas and spend tomorrow with them too."

And Bruce went into the manor and slammed the door. Alfred was sufficiently put out, but determined not to let Grim-and-Grumpy darken his holiday cheer.

Bruce managed to get through the night without watching a single Christmas movie. Without hearing a single Christmas carol, without eating a single Christmas cookie, and he couldn't have been more happy, happier, even.

When tomorrow came, he resolved to sleep the entire day through. That way he could wake up on December 26th and have everything be back to some semblance of normal. So Bruce turned out the light and settled down to sleep, and that's when everything got crazy.

'Cause Bruce was all snuggled, wrapped up in bed, and then the banging started. And it wasn't a window shutter banging, it wasn't an Auntie Donna having that-time-of-the month banging either. This banging... was scary. It seemed to shake the entire house, making teacups rattle, jewelry clink, even in silk lined cases. The floorboards seemed to creak in conjunction and the windows blew open, and Bruce was concerned.

But he did a wonderful job of not showing it.

So, the spirits of Christmas decided that they had to up the ante. So they knocked on Bruce's bedroom door, demanding he allow them in. But Bruce ignored them and started thinking of things like the Periodic table, the Dewey Decimal System and the Fibiacchi code, all the boring and useless things.

Disgusted, the ghosts took matters into their own hands, and pushed Bruce Wayne's most trusted advisor through the door. At least he was dead, though. A very disgruntled Lucius Fox entered Bruce's room muttering something about spirits that hadn't aged enough.

Bruce drew up with a start. "Lucius!" he exclaimed but then composed himself, 'cause he was Batman. "This is a surprise."

"You're telling me," the black man said. Unfortunately, the special effects team doing the ethereal glow seemed to have gone overboard, so instead of glowly white, or blue, or even an off white, he glowed bright pink. Truly a tragic coloring mistake.

"Indeed, old friend," Bruce continued. "I didn't even know you were dead."

And Lucius had to pause to get his bearings. "Details, details," and he shrugged the details off like a fish would a drop of rain. "I've come to tell you Bruce, that you need to change."

Bruce thought about that. He changed his clothes daily, his socks, shoes, pants, shirt, underwear. He changed his stock options. He changed his... well actually that was about all he changed. He was a man who was fairly set in his routine. You know the type, up at the crack of the dawn, to bed at the crack of dawn. He even had his bat gadgets color coded, but even more anal, and you can't tell a soul, he folded his underwear. And they were tightie-whities.

"I have enough change in my life," Bruce insisted.

"No, you have enough pocket change," Lucius Fox criticized. At this point, he figured he wasn't getting paid enough for this and was happy that he wasn't glowing purple. "Tonight! Three! Spirits! That's three, count 'em, one, two, three, uno, dos, tres! Will visit you! For one night only!"

("He didn't really say that," Lian criticized.)

("Okay, he's not a television salesperson," Roy admitted grudgingly. Even his own daughter was a nitpicker.)

"Tonight," Lucius stated, adopting an eerie voice that really sounded like a bad cough, "three spirits will visit you. They will be your last chance. You must change your ways Bruce Wayne. Or everything will be forever lost."

And then Lucius vanished, leaving behind a trail of pink peppermints like the kind you buy in the drug store. Bruce moved to the edge of the bed and peered down at the candies. "Change," they whispered. Bruce listened for a moment more, then got out of bed, put on his socks, and shoes, and ground them into powder with his heel. Then he took off his shoes and socks and went to sleep vowing never to eat six-day-old Chinese takeout ever again.

At ten o'clock, he wished, he had the peppermints back because anything would have been better than what he woke to.

The bells chimed exactly twelve strikes, which was of course odd, as it was only ten o'clock. Even odder, more odd, was the fact that there was no grandiose grandfather clock in Bruce Wayne's room. Such fixtures were better off guarding hidden passageways where a clock that couldn't accurately tell time, would still be of some use. As such, the non-existent, non-working clock, which was quite visible on the back wall as it was glowing purple, magically changed the dials so the face read midnight. A truly curious and strange thing.

Bruce got up, fumbled around under his bed, and flung a batarang at the offending sound, determined to rid himself of its presence, one way or another. It never made it. Standing in the middle of the room, thankfully, not glowing purple (because if he were, he'd come back from the dead to put the hurt on people) was the infamous and talented, The Man himself, Ollie Queen.

He was glowing green and holding the aforementioned batarang.

And that's when Bruce knew, it was going to be a loooooooong night.

Bruce buried himself under the covers and flung his head under the pillow. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, hoping that the next time he opened them, everything would have been just a dream, and he could go back to hum-bugging with his usual aplomb. It was useless however, because the rhythmic ticking of the clock kept him grounded in reality. Still, it wasn't enough to persuade Bruce his denial was useless. Especially when it seemed to work.

Bruce opened his eyes, moved the pillow, and flung the comforter off. The room was empty, just as Bruce had hoped. The clock was still, a comforting silence indeed. There was a pink stain on the oriental carpet, but Bruce was willing to overlook that. And since he was denying details, he pretended he didn't notice the glowing green arrow in the phantom clock as well.

Bruce was having so much fun playing pretend that he pretended not to notice when Ollie reappeared. When Ollie rifled through his dresser drawers, searched through his closet, and looked under his bed. The late, great archer was not pleased at this non-response. He stalked to the doorway and just before exiting, he turned, leveled his bow, drew an arrow, strung, and nocked it. Bruce was still pretending he couldn't see a thing, and Ollie frowned at his friend. Then, he let the arrow go.

Batman-like thoughts flew through Bruce's head. He could dodge, duck, or catch the glowing green arrow. He could wish for some luck and see if it passed through him harmlessly as he suspected. The other arrow looked solid, only in that magical hocus-pocus sense. And it was solidly stuck in the clock that wasn't there. Bruce, for once, didn't stand his ground. What he did however was dodge to one side and grab the arrow as it flew by.

He was more than a bit shocked when he felt the solid weight in his hand mere moments before the arrow disappeared altogether. It was no matter, since it seemed to have accomplished Ollie's real goal of getting Bruce's attention. Ollie gloated quite proudly as he pulled the other arrow out of the clock. He shook off the purple dust and twirled the arrow around in his hand.

"About time! Long time, no see Bruce," he greeted.

And Bruce bit back the retort that it hadn't been long enough. Instead he frowned and glared and did other facial expressions to show his displeasure. Ollie laughed 'cause Bruce kinda looked like a grump-- exactly how the ever-so-cool archer always pictured the broody JLAer.

Bruce frowned more. He sighed, then said, "Well, let's get this over with."

Ollie most heartily agreed, and nocked the arrow he'd been holding. "I promise you," he said as he aimed, "this won't hurt a bit. Or much. Maybe a bit."

And, even though Bruce went to catch it, the arrow flew through his hands and hit him in the chest. Bruce fell back against headboard just as his world exploded in green.

Bruce blinked in an effort to clear away the last traces of the offending color. He turned to look at his friend. Ollie was still glowing green, and Bruce noticed he was too. This was so not his night. They were still standing his bedroom, and aside from the bed being made and the clock that wasn't there being gone, nothing looked different. He folded his arms and waited.

"This is the past. Or it should be, I never miss, you know." Ollie paused to think. "So where the heck are you on Christmas eve?"

Bruce shrugged. "Probably at the office doing the same thing I do every night."

("'Try to take over the world?'" Lian questioned.)

(Roy paused. "Er... no, but we can watch 'Wakko's Wish' tomorrow.")

("Promise?")

("Promise.")

("'Kay!" said Lian. Roy reflected on just how easy it was to make a child smile.)

"You're at work? Of course, where else would 'No-Life Bruce Wayne' be?" Ollie questioned. He sighed, then pulled out a handheld crossbow. He fired an arrow at Bruce, making him evaporate. (Don't worry he's all right.) Then did the same to himself. They both reappeared in Bruce's downtown office and watch as the younger Bruce Wayne (who was not glowing green) fiddled with papers and files and the like.

"God, you are boring," Ollie admonished. "Okay, we gotta go back a little bit more. Gotta find something... fun!" He fired another arrow at Bruce and himself and they disappeared yet again. They traveled back in time, one year, then two, and quite a few more. The only thing that changed was the younger Bruce's clothes. He was very boring. Ollie frowned. "You've got to work with me here."

Ollie became frustrated and picked up a handful of paperclips from Bruce's desk. The green-tinged Bruce watched amused at the archer's frustration. Ollie threw the paperclips into the air, then fired arrows at each. He stepped back and surveyed his work. About a dozen green Christmas balls floated spectrally in mid air where the arrows had collided.

Bruce leaned closer for a better look. Each held a scene from his past. Most were just as boring as now. Wait, he chastised himself, they weren't boring. They were productive. But Ollie seemed to think they were boring and started to pop most of them with his finger. He paced as he inspected the lot. He put one in his pocket, then finally he cupped another of the spheres with his hand said, "I guess this one'll have to do." He flung it at Bruce and watched as he transported even further in the past.

He was four.

Or at least the little Bruce Wayne, currently sitting on the rocking chair, was four. The other was very much his correct age, correct height, correct everything, (except for the green.) The elder Bruce watched amazed. Not counting the green glow, the room was nearly dark and the tiny Bruce was rocking back and forth.

"If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes," Ollie asserted, "I'd never believe you actually had a childhood. Batman as a kid. What's the world coming to?" He gazed at the tiny figure. "What's the munchkin you doing? Waiting up for Santa?"

Bruce nodded. He had climbed out of bed and was intent on catching the red suited man in action. It hadn't worked though. Alfred had found him in the middle of the night. They stayed up, talked a bit, and ate cookies. As Bruce told his story, the actions played out before him and as much as Bruce marveled in the memory, he also found it extremely disconcerting.

"So what happened?" Ollie prodded. "Did you catch a glimpse of the fat guy?"

Bruce paused to think. "No. My father woke up, he came into the room, talked for a while, and then he tucked me back to sleep."

On cue, another voice could be heard from the hallway. Bruce looked away before the figure could enter his view and find its way back to his memory. He turned to the spirit, ghost, figment, whatever. "Okay, you've made your point. Let's move on."

Ollie raised an eyebrow but he obliged, 'cause he's a good guy like that. Arrows flew through the air and the scene faded from sight before Thomas Wayne could enter the room. Now on a rooftop, Bruce took a deep breath of chilly air. The cold refreshed him, relaxed him, the air making him feel less tense than he had been moments before. He was enjoying the frigid weather, but his bunny slippers were not.

Covering his feet as he stood on the snow covered roof, the bunnies were practically soaked. Bruce pulled one foot out of the snow and shook it off, then the other, but it was a lost cause. He'd just started to walk around the rooftop (he had of course recognized the building it was, in his city after all) when Ollie popped up.

"You haven't tired of this nonsense yet," Bruce asked. He kicked some more snow. "Is there a reason we're on top of the jewelry exchange?"

"What? I can't drag my friend and former teammate atop a chilly roof in the dead of winter for no reason?"

Bruce glared.

"You'll find out in a minute," Ollie amended. "Just keep your slippers on."

And exactly one minute later, Catwoman's head poked up from top air vent. A tiny black bag hung from her waist and swung lightly as she hauled herself out of the narrow shaft. Batman smiled as he watched because he remembered this Christmas Eve, quite vividly in fact. He sat down on the northern most ledge and watched the adjoining rooftop. That's where all the action had happened. Ollie sat down next to him, eating popcorn he had magically acquired. It was green too. They sat back to watch the show.

As soon as Catwoman jumped to the next rooftop, the past Batman pounced on her. They traded blows, flung punches and flung snow as they rolled and tossed about the rooftop. It was all terribly exciting, provided you like fisticuffs. Just when it seemed as if Catwoman was going to get away, Batman had another trick up his sleeve and pinned her to the rooftop. She froze, knowing she was trapped. She might be a criminal most of the time, but she had common sense. Meaning, she knew when to give up.

Batman grabbed the small bag from her waist and opened it. He was determined to safeguard everything in the building and the city. He would probably like to safeguard everything in the world but he wasn't that good. So the city would have to do. He looked inside the bag but there wasn't jewelry or money or any such thing. It was a candy cane and Bruce was confused.

("So am I!" Lian huffed. "Why would she break into the store and not take anything and why would she have a candy cane? I know banks give out lollipops but jewelry places don't give out candy!")

Catwoman smiled as Batman held up the candy cane. Then, she kissed him. "Merry Christmas Bats," she said with a mischievous smile. "You sure know how to show a girl a good time."

Batman let her up and she leapt from the roof but not before blowing him a kiss goodbye. Bruce stood there, confused, holding the candy cane. What a strange date that most definitely was. He watched her as she jumped from rooftop to rooftop. And then... when he was positive he was alone, he... wait for it... he smiled.

And that's when Ollie burst out laughing, because the sight of Batman smiling was so terribly wrong. When he finally got his bearings, (it did take a while,) he composed himself. "So did it work?" he asked.

"Did what work?" Bruce challenged. The memory was pleasant. His bunny slippers were soaking and the fact that these blasts to the past were all geared for a certain effect made him feel forced. He didn't want to be pressured into liking Christmas. Nor was he going to allow himself to be bullied into it. The pink bunnies agreed, mostly because they didn't like being cold.

"Christmas cheer!" Ollie asserted. "Are you going to repent your sour ways and keep Christmas in your heart for this year and all to come?"

"I sincerely doubt it," Bruce said honestly.

"You haven't changed," Ollie remarked. "You're still impossible Bruce. You'd probably make Cindy Lou cry if you met her on the street."

"Cindy Lou who?" Bruce questioned.

"Exactly!" Ollie asserted. "I'm beginning to think you're a lost cause. I know if I keep hanging with you, it's gonna rub off. I can't have that happening. You should see these afterlife chicks, I'm telling you it's like, er, heaven up there. I'll bet they could even get your blood boiling." Ollie paused and remembered who he was talking to. "Or maybe not," he amended.

Bruce crossed his arms in a huff.

Ollie waved a hand dismissively. "Okay, I get it. I give. Catch you on the flip side," Ollie said in parting, then he fired an arrow at his friend. He'd let the other spirits deal, maybe they would have better progress. Besides he was late for this and that. Parties and wining and dining. Just because he was dead didn't mean he didn't keep a social calendar. His little black book could attest to that. Seconds later, Ollie Queen, archer extraordinaire, disappeared in a dash of green.

At the same instant, Bruce reappeared on his bed. He checked himself over. Vital organs were intact. Bunny slippers mysteriously dry and that eerie green glow had packed up and hit the highway. He tried very much to convince himself it was all a bad and terrible dream. Or a figment of his imagination. It didn't work, but he eventually gave up and went to bed, hoping things would be better in the morning. But an hour later, the clock that wasn't there chimed one.

Bruce groaned and rolled over, knowing he was doomed. He vowed to resign from the JLA. He vowed never to touch Chinese food again, and he vowed to take a lesson from Captain Hook and make sure every clock in his house stayed silent.

Despite all his vows, it didn't stop the second spirit, who appeared in an array of light against his wall.

The archer more commonly known as Roy Harper, slid his sunglasses down and smiled at the disgruntled bat.

("Daddy," Lian nearly whined, "you can't be the ghost.")

(Roy blinked, as he had been looking forward to criticizing the bat, even if it was in a parody of a literary classic. "Why not? I'll admit I'm not dead--")

("You're not scary enough," Lian insisted.)

(And so, Roy Harper had to revise his ever-so-sleek opening as he was deemed unworthy-- by his own daughter no less-- of being that cool.)

So the second spirit was ready to make its appearance known. The light grew in intensity, then vanished, plunging the room into absolute darkness. Then a soft female voice spoke.

"Bruce Wayne?" she questioned.

Bruce nodded in the dark, not wanting to speak, and even though the gesture wasn't visible, the woman seemed to know.

"Do you know who I am?" she asked, keeping her voice calm and level.

And of course, Bruce Wayne did. He was Batman after all, the world's greatest detective, he knew a Titan when he saw one, and even on occasions such as this, when he didn't. Bruce nodded again, and the house lights went up, metaphorically speaking.

The room returned to its normal illumination, and Bruce got his first look at Raven standing calmly in the middle of the room. But of course, she wasn't Raven, she was the Ghost of Christmas Present, because Present comes after the Past, or more accurately she was the Ghost of Christmas Future because Christmas day had not yet arrived. But they weren't going to get bogged down on the details.

Bruce stuffed his feet into his slippers, not really wanting to go outside again, on this dreary cold winter day. Going out to fight crime in insulated Kevlar was one thing, but this was another matter else entirely. He greeted the woman roughly, "Well, let's get this over with. I do have another appointment after you, and I would like to get some sleep this evening. So," he questioned, "are we flying? Walking? Taking the batmobile for a moonlight sleigh ride?"

"We are teleporting," Raven said simply and then did exactly that.

They first landed on an ice cap. It was an accident, Raven insisted. But you and I, and unfortunately, Bruce as well knew better. He hummed and hawed, moaned and groaned, and the little bunnies on his feet froze their whiskers off. Raven waited patiently while her charge ranted, then sped them back to Gotham City.

And Bruce found himself outside his very own house. He pressed his face to the window, looking very much like a child outside a toy store and watched the merriment inside.

The dining room table held almost no Christmas cheer. There were red and green colored tapers, red and green napkins, but apart from those bright bits of colored, there wasn't a wreath or a pine needle or a leaf of mistletoe anywhere to be found. Still, the merriment was there.

Cassandra Cain was setting the table, Tim Drake folding napkins into complex origami patterns, stuff like cranes, and flowers, and windmills while humming 'O Come All Ye Faithful'. There were other people bustling about, but they never passed into Bruce's line of sight. And then everything grew still and quiet.

After a long wait (all of three minutes), Alfred finally came in carrying a platter holding not a turkey but three shelled and stuffed lobsters. It was sacrilege, and unfortunately, the best he could do. Tim and Cass tried not to be surprised.

"This isn't Christmas," Tim declared. Bruce couldn't hear the words, but he didn't get to being the Best Detective in the World by not knowing how to read lips. So Bruce read, "This isn't Christmas," which was soon followed by, "there's no jam, or stuffing, or--"

Bruce turned away from the window, to look at his guide. He folded his arms and then remarked dryly. "I suppose that's my fault. That he's not spoiled by Christmas candies and sugared plums. That I'm the grump, the Grinch if you will. I can't be expected to indulge in nonsense."

Raven watched patiently, then transported them closer, inside the manor. Alfred was chastising Timothy, which was good, as he shouldn't have been speaking up or back or down or sideways to begin with. "Master Tim, you shouldn't be critical. After all, we have much to be thankful for, and even certain elements to be thankful to Master Bruce as well."

Tim seemed to consider that, and so did Bruce. They had the hall, they had the lobster, the roof over their heads, and then the food they were about to eat, the melted butter that was just about to hit the soft, tender lobster meat--

("You're ranting again, Daddy.")

They had a lot to be thankful for. And they did owe it to Bruce, despite the fact he was being grim and grumpy at the office, but even so, Tim smiled and relented. He held up his glass of ginger ale to toast. "To Bruce."

Bruce watched as Alfred smiled and nodded apparently pleased. Cassandra was busy inspecting the lobsters but Alfred quickly caught her attention. "To Bruce," Alfred asserted.

Cassandra was prodding a lobster tail when Alfred cleared his throat. "Your line, Miss Cassandra," he beseeched in those English tones.

Everyone waited, she'd been practicing it for a while. "Let's eat!"

And before the first bit of melted butter could hit the succulent seafood, Raven whisked herself and Bruce far away. They set down on a rooftop, another one that Bruce recognized instantly.

"Let me guess," stated Bruce flatly. "We're at Dick and Babs's to see their Christmas dinner. So I can bask in the merriment and hear the good fortune. I've read this story too, I know what's going to happen."

"We will see," said Raven and floated them inside. And Raven sorta smirked when she said this cause she knew exactly what was going to happen inside. It shouldn't have come as a surprise to Bruce, because Nightwing was ranting and raving and pacing and flinging his arms wide open. Basically, he was doing disgruntled I'm-so-upset-I'm-that-bad-word-for-upset things.

Bruce watched awestruck. So did Barbara.

Dick was very, very, and even very angry.

("He was pissed?" Lian questioned.)

(Roy's jaw fell. "Where did you learn that word?")

("I... don't remember...")

("Lian." Roy tried to stay calm.)

("I'm sorry.")

("It's okay." Roy studied his daughter, outrage subsiding. "Just... tell Uncle Gar that you're not allowed to watch TV late at night.")

("It wasn't Gar, it was Auntie Donna," Lian corrected, falling for the bluff. "Oops.")

("Big oops. Just don't say it anymore, okay?" The girl nodded and Roy sighed, obviously relieved. 'Just think,' he reminded himself, 'you still have a while to go before she starts dating.' "Now where were we... oh that's right.")

So, Nightwing was very, very, very, and very upset.

And that was making Oracle that-time-of-the-month upset which was understandable because it was her time of the month. She was getting upset that Dick kept pacing, wearing holes in her carpet. He kept flinging pillows, causing her vases and photos to fall down, and he kept whining and groaning, which was giving her a headache. She needed a Midol.

Barbara picked up her poinsettia plants and huffed. "I don't know why you're surprised," she said in aggravated tones. "I mean, Bruce is Bruce, and he won't ever change."

"I just don't understand it," Dick replied, knocking the plant over once again. "How can someone go out of his way to keep Christmas out of his heart."

"I know," Barbara agreed. "It's the most wonderful time of the year." She set the plant upright once again.

Dick smacked his hand down on the table with a resounding thump. "Exactly! A time filled with sleigh rides and silver bells."

"A time to deck the halls and sit by the fire on cozy silent nights?" Barbara continued, her mocking evident by her tone of voice.

But the sarcasm was lost on Dick, who was too busy tearing down garland from the neatly decorated apartment. "Precisely. I just don't understand him sometimes."

And Babs smiled a cryptic, teasing smile. "Maybe he got run over by a reindeer?"

Dick smiled quickly, but the expression was fleeting. He let out a very long sigh and started dropping tinsel on the ground. "Who knows! And who cares! He can be a lousy old miser if he's determined to, I'm not going to give him a second thought."

"Good," said Babs as she thought that maybe that would save her decorations from further mistreatment. She raised her glass in a toast. "To not thinking about Bruce, who could give the humbugs a run for their money."

Dick nodded in agreement, finally letting the last bits of tinsel fall from his white knuckled grip. "To not thinking about Bruce, may a truckload of Christmas cheer run him over."

Babs nodded again, clearly enjoying the game. "To not thinking about Bruce," she toasted, "may a fruitcake knock some sense into his head."

They continued in this manner for a few more moments, but Raven was convinced Bruce had seen enough. She floated them back up to the roof where she surveyed the man to no avail. Bruce looked very stoic, very Bruce-in-a-boring-meeting-like, and almost Batman-like in his patience. "Was there a point to that?" he asked.

And Raven, well she would have killed for a fruitcake at that moment. Instead she parted, leaving behind words of wisdom as the only comfort for Bruce Wayne. "Your stoicism has ceased to be a virtue. In fact it's now become a burden and if you continue on this path, you'll end up exactly where you are now: alone."

She disappeared leaving him on the roof. Bruce was more than mildly miffed. He shouted out to no one in particular, but aiming for the general realm of spirits, gurus, kismet, and fate. "Whatever alone is, I doubt it's on a snow covered roof. IN BUNNY SLIPPERS!"

And unexpectedly and equally inexplicably, he received a response. "Wanna bet?"

And for once, Bruce was dumbstruck and didn't know what to say. He thought for a moment and then uttered the words of another dark haired Warner Brother's denizen. He spoke in the darkness. "Of course you realize, this means war."

He waited for a response, but one didn't seem forthcoming, and he knew that he couldn't just stay up there all night, on a snow covered roof, while his bunny slippers froze their whiskers off. He started on the long trek down to the street and the equally long walk back to the manor.

When he got home, he sloshed through the front door. He squished his way upstairs and squeaked his way into the little boys bat room, er bathroom. There he took a nice long soothing shower, toweled off, went into his bedroom and dressed.

And because it was still very dark out, like dark enough that Batman approved of the black. I suppose it was some inky color, some jet black, as dark as Uncle Garth's unibrow or Toni's one-hundred and sixty dollar hair color. We're talking like no stars, no lights, no music, AC/DC "Back in Black" black. Dig it?

So, even though it was night, Bruce laid out a suit and carefully dressed. He pleated every pleat, clasped every clasp, buttoned every button, zippered every zipper, and then marveled at the fact that most garment verbs could double for a noun. Or was it the other way around?

He went down to the cave and got little Batman listening gadgets. He fit the small device in one ear, walked back upstairs and with the high powered stethoscope (the cold disk things the doctors have, Lian) he went in search of the phantom clock. After all, Batman wasn't prone to sitting around and simply waiting.

When he finished with that task, he set to do boring, boring adult things. Things intended for people with boring jobs or no lives or no IQs like college students and the like. So Batman did research, stumbling upon document files filled with things like ectoplasm and some weird creature named Slimer. Suffice to say, he found a lot of information on how to contain ghosts.

So when the Ghost of Christmas Future showed up, he had already drawn and cocked the big guns. Now, he was just waiting for a target. And the ultimate aim was for the next ghost of good will. Luckily, for her, she happened to be made of smoke and therefore floated out of his trap.

'Curses,' Bruce thought. He was foiled again.

"Mr. Batman?" Secret questioned. She pulled herself together (quite literally as she was mostly smoke) and stood, waiting patiently for him to acknowledge her.

"Yes?" he questioned tiredly. Bruce wondered why the ghosts of goodwill weren't haunting people who deserved it. Like Lex Luthor and Bill Gates. But no, out of all the millionaires, they had to get his home address. That's the last time he played Publisher's Clearing House.

So Secret was waiting. And waiting. And waiting. She was quite used to waiting mind you, it happened a lot in Young Justice. Robin (that's Tim remember) was quite adept at long silences. Usually when he was trying to solve all the mysteries or playing Trivial Pursuit. So the young cloud-mist-smoke girl waited.

Then, after five more minutes she realized it was her turn to speak.

"I'm Suzie," she introduced herself. It really wasn't necessary because he already knew who she was. So Bruce just blinked at her.

She smiled back, because she didn't get it. She continued on with her introduction, "I'm the Ghost of Christmas Future. At least that's who they told me to be."

Bruce nodded, because obviously, he knew that as well.

Secret nodded again. She smiled again. And that's when Bruce realized if he didn't get the ball rolling he was going to be here all night. He stood, smoothing out his Armani suit, and looked quite impressive towering over her. The strange thing being she was floating and he was standing, nevertheless the art of intimidation made him appear taller than her.

"Where are we going?" Bruce asked.

"Um, your dinning room. But, like, one year into the future. That's what they said."

"Joy," deadpanned Bruce. He decided that he was going to have to have a talk with the ominous 'them.' But before he could track down the elusive 'them' he had to bear through the final ghost. 'It had to be a blonde,' he thought bitterly.

Taking control of the situation, Bruce walked down to the dinning room. Secret followed behind him entering the empty room. Her eyes widened as she remembered what to do. She floated in front of him and used her powers to fill the room with smoke. Bruce coughed. When the smoke had finally cleared, they were no longer alone.

KFC was on the table. As good as a meal it is, it wasn't Christmas dinner.

But considering some other oddities, it almost fit. Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose. If this was a vision of a future, he could most accurately predict a headache forming. No one was scurrying throughout the room. Alfred and Robin were sitting, quite dejectedly at the dining room table.

Even thought Bruce didn't want to admit it, his old friend seemed to look even older. That wasn't the only thing wrong. Robin sat at the table wearing his costume, but it was a black and blue version. It was an unnerving sight to say the least. But let's not forget Batgirl, her absence was just as noticeable.

Bruce folded his arms and made a dry joke. "I suppose Batgirl has become a fashion designer which would explain Robin's outfit."

Secret shook her head. "No. Robin changed his costume because it was too Christmassy. He got fed up of wearing bright red and green if he couldn't celebrate Christmas."

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," Bruce said.

Suzie merely shrugged. That's the only thing they had told her.

"He's got his own family," Bruce protested, "he can celebrate Christmas with them."

"That's not what they said," Suzie asserted mentioning the ominous group once more. "They said that you were a good friend, that the entire bat family was close, and that you should have your own traditions of merriment. Every group of heroes has a Christmas party."

"Enough with the parties," Bruce beseeched and pinched his nose. "So because none of them have cheer in their lives," Bruce surmised, "they're destined to lead a dreary dull life like me. It's not exactly a bad thing. So what happens to Batgirl? Does she pull a need an operation Tiny Tim thing?"

Unexpectedly, Suzie brightened considerably. "Nope. She's fine. She joined Young Justice."

"She joined Young Justice," Batman echoed hollowly. "Why did she join Young Justice?"

"She wanted to. Don't worry, we're all getting along with her."

But Bruce had covered his ears, he refused to listen a moment longer. After all, in his opinion, joining Young Justice was a fate worse than death for his young protégé. Bruce shuddered at the thought of her around all those metahumans. Absolutely frightening.

He relented. "I get the point. I don't believe you, but I get the point. Not that I concede to the point, mind you."

Secret nodded, filling the scene with smoke so the room's occupants could magically disappear. For a while they simply stood there with the faint scent of fried chicken wafting through the air. The grandfather clock in the corner struck once for the half hour. They should be wrapping up after all there wasn't much story left and time was ticking. And doing so quite loudly to boot.

"Is that all?" Bruce asked tiredly, even though he knew it wasn't. He pinched the bridge of his nose in that 'I'm-too-mature-and-old-and-grumpy' gesture he tended to do. He wanted nothing more for him and his bunny slippers to have a nice long nap, something close to Rip Van Winkle's in proportion.

Suzie seemed to notice Bruce's patience wearing even thinner than she would have thought. She fidgeted. "No, we've got one more stop," she admitted.

"Let's get this over with," Bruce gruffed gruffly and waited for Secret to teleport or transport or whatever sort of port she did.

Secret's expression grew downcast as she didn't have any sort of port to do. "We're walking," she admitted sheepishly.

Bruce wasn't happy with that, as he wanted it over and done with. So he took the young girl in tow and they went down to the car port. Secret, well, she kinda objected 'cause she could fly, but since Batman couldn't, well she supposed that she could make an exception. She floated over the cars, squealing at each car in admiration, 'cause she wasn't that used to cars. What with being dead and all.

But Bruce, since he was driving by default, chose a simple SUV and they head off to the Gotham Cemetery. It did kill the suspense a bit, considering she had to tell him where to go. It wasn't endearing him anymore to Young Justice, Bruce could tell you that. But that wasn't even the worst part yet. Oh no, the worst part was (after they got out of car and walked and trudged along for bit) that when they got there, they weren't alone.

Secret happy to see the two guys, waved. Bruce... well... he growled. At the metas. At the Young Justice metas. At Superboy and Impulse, specifically. That went on for a while, the staring, waving, and growling that is.

Bruce cleared his throat. He wanted to get this done and over with, more than ever before. It took Secret quite a few minutes but she finally remembered what she was supposed to do. "Guys!" she whined. "There's supposed to be a grave!"

Superboy folded his arms against his chest. "No one told us," he remarked surly. "One moment I'm snuggled in bed dreaming about sugarplum fairies and then bam, cemetery!"

Bruce crossed his arms as well. So did Impulse, but only 'cause everyone else seemed to be doing it.

Secret tried to maintain her composure as she explained. "There's supposed to be a hole, a gravesite, like now."

"Like now?" Impulse questioned. Suzie nodded and Bart shrugged. "Why didn't you just say so?" he asked. Then, he picked up a shovel, and voila. Insta-grave.

Secret beamed.

"We've got it all under control," Superboy admonished. He moved to the smooth gravestone. "Now for some creative ttk," he boasted. Cement chips flew into the air as Kon engraved the smooth stone.

Secret floated back, and read it admiringly. "'Bruce Wayne. He's dead. That's it.'"

Bruce rolled his eyes. "Are you quite done yet?" he asked.

Suzie tapped her finger on her chin. "No," she said, her mind trying to place what they had said. "We still need lightning and darkness."

Impulse grinned. "Hang on," he said and then was Bart was off again. A moment later he reappeared, half-dragging, half-carrying a reluctant teen. Bruce recognized him even as Bart made the introductions. "Billy, meet Suzie. Suzie, meet Billy."

"What am I doi--" Billy Batson started to say.

Kon clapped him on the back, and the force of the blow knocked him forward a few steps. He pointed at his friend. "Smoke chick needs some lightning, you can hook her up."

Billy recovered his footing, and pulled down his sweatshirt huffily. "But I'm part of the JLA, not Young Justice, why don't you just--"

"Watch it," warned Superboy. "I'm taller than you."

"Now you are," Billy challenged. "Of for the love of-- if I do it will you all leave me alone?"

Bruce empathized with the boy so much at that moment.

The three inept YJers nodded. Billy sighed, exchanging 'Why me?' glances with the stalwart CEO.

"Shazam!" he cried. Lightning tore trough the sky. Suzie smiled with glee. She floated up and started to block out the sun. There was a grave (check), and tombstone (check), lightning and darkness (check and check). The kids were good to go, which was most fortunate as Bruce was slowly becoming less and less patient.

"Are you ready yet?" he asked annoyed.

"I think so Mr. Batman," Suzie answered but forgot what she was supposed to do next. She retreated discussing with her teammates the ending of the story.

Bruce picked up bits of their conversation and their inefficiency grated on his nerves. Bruce wasn't intimidated by spirits and specters, by visages of the past or present and most certainly not future. He was far from scared. What he was, was annoyed. He was tired of the ghosts, tired of the ineptitude, tired of the entire Christmas season and it showed quite clearly on his face. He had quite simply had enough. He stalked towards the group of youngsters.

"Let me get this straight," Bruce Wayne's composure was impeccable, "you are the ghost of Christmas future."

Secret nodded. "I think so. That's what they told me to do."

"And you're going to scare me."

Secret was getting flustered. She looked from her companions back to Bruce and trepidation was clear on her face. "Well... not scare... I mean..."

"You were going to try and scare me into appreciating the meaning of Christmas."

Suzie blinked. How could a man in Armani be menacing? "Well, not exactly. I mean--"

But Bruce cut her off. "So you drag me to this graveyard. Intent on intimidation me, but your efforts are undermined by the two bumbling--"

"Hey!" Kon protested.

"--teammates. And Young Justice is supposed to be our future. Instead I see, a half hearted unplanned attempt--"

"We were trying our best," Impulse put in.

"--at intimidation. You should have taken some tips..." Batman paused dramatically, letting his voice drop, "from the master."

"Eep!" And the boys all leapt behind the gravestone.

Secret turned away, looking as if she was starting to cry. She balled up her fists, determined not to cry. Batman was just a big... a big meanie. And he was intimidating her and her friends and it just wasn't nice. She bit her lower lip. She wasn't going to let him get away with it.

She could feel the determination boiling within her. And she started to snarl, and finally exploded. "We're doing our best! We're not perfect! We didn't ask to be! And do you know what? We're better than you! We have friends and family and people we care about! And you're just going to end up a lousy old miser until the Abyss takes you!"

And then, because she was upset, well more than upset, she grew into a monster smoke form, and simply swallowed Bruce Wayne whole. There was, after all, more than one way for him to experience the abyss. Kon and Bart and Billy watched shocked at what Secret had done. Bruce had vanished completely.

"When he gets back," Kon warned, "he's going to be so pissed!"

("Daddy!" Lian was outraged and shocked.)

("What... oh sh-- shoot. Sorry baby. Forget I said that.")

"Secret," Bart asked concerned, "are you okay?"

She floated drunkenly to the ground and held her stomach. "I think so."

"You sent him to the abyss right?" Kon asked.

"Yep, thought it would make him open up his eyes. Maybe if he saw what was coming and waiting after life he'd... be nicer."

"Can't believe you swallowed him, doesn't that... hurt?"

"You get used to it," said Secret.

Then, she burped. Armani must not taste good after all.

Secret turned to look at the empty spot and all her friends did the same. And while they were looking, Bruce was falling and falling. And falling. Much like Alice, except he wasn't falling down a rabbit hole, he was falling through time or space or a big blow of Jell-o. He wasn't completely sure. One moment, he was freezing cold, the next boiling hot, then perfectly fine and then the cycle would start anew. It upset him terribly that he was having hot flashes, almost more than the fact that he was still falling.

He landed in a snow bank and clawed his way to the surface. Now he was wet and cold and allegedly in the middle of nowhere that in actuality was his back yard. Now it couldn't be certain when his attitude changed. It might have been when he was in a hot phase. It might have been that he gave in, so that the spirits of Christmas would haunt other more deserving souls. Maybe the infamous "them" had done something terrible to him. Maybe, he had hit his head on a rock when he landed.

Or maybe, just maybe, he had gotten a glimpse of his parents when he was traveling through the abyss. Maybe, just maybe, he had fallen past his parents' grave markers. Maybe, just maybe, he had relived his scant few Christmas memories and wasn't willing to let that feeling die completely. Or it could have just been that he had snow down his pants and didn't like the feeling one bit.

Either way, newly elated he ran to the house. Through the dining room and up the stairs, he grabbed a portable phone along the way. Dashing up the staircase he dialed their numbers. He called Tim! He called Cass! He called Dick and called Babs! He called Alfred, oh won't he be so glad. To the far away moon base, to the deep hidden tower, he'd show them all Batman wasn't sour.

He tossed the phone on the bed, leaving many puzzled friends holding the empty line. No doubt they were cleaning out their ears to be sure that the expressions of jubilation and solstice and goodwill were coming from Bruce Wayne himself. (Batman didn't have an evil clone, did he, they wondered.) Bruce moved into the bathroom, showered quickly, and changed. He put on the soggy bunny slippers and a red and green robe.

He put on Christmas music and turned it up loud. Then he did something impulsive, something truly not him. He moved to the window, flung open the shutters and threw up the sash, and declared to all of Gotham City, "Happy Christmas to all and to all a good day!"

Of course no one heard him, 'cause his house is out in the middle of nowhere.

But you get the idea.

* * * * *

The postscript:

Roy winked and he smiled and announced "The End." He was looking forward to giving his mind a long winter's nap. Creativity was hard! His daughter, did not share that sentiment however. Lian was so enraptured in the story that she had hung on every word. She grinned wildly as Roy finished.

The little digital numbers of the bedside clock flashed bright red as they clicked over to midnight. Roy yawned, and wiped the sleep out of his eyes. He looked at his daughter. "Now, what did we agree?"

"Merry Christmas Daddy!" Lian said, wrapping her arms around his neck in a tight hug.

"Merry Christmas baby," Roy responded, "but you know what that means right?" He watched her shake her head innocently. "Bed," he admonished. "Sleep. Now."

And Lian, grumpily complied. She had just fallen asleep when she heard voices in the hallway. So she did what any child hoping to see Santa Claus would do. She climbed out of bed and tip-toed down the hallway. And that's when she saw him. The Legend himself.

* * * * *

The epilogue:

And when Roy did finish his tale with delight,
He looked up to find everything was not right.
Because what Roy did find, when he turned around
Was one grumpy Batman ready to lay a smack down.

"Chill Bats," said Roy, "it was a joke, all in good fun.
Just a funny laugh, a treat, and daresay, a pun."
But Bruce simply stood there. His expression was grim.
And Lian said timidly, "Please don't hurt him."

And when Bruce finally spoke, Roy jerked with a start.
"I don't like your humor but I agree with your heart.
So good work, Mr.. Harper, I completely approve.
But you know there's one thing you still have to do.
No story in the world can quite properly end
Without parting words from a friend to a friend."

They both turned to Lian and nudged her to speak,
She froze in surprise, her knees feeling week.
But she took a deep breath and when she was done,
So softly she said, "God bless us, everyone."

fin