DISCLAIMER: We all know I own nothing, nada, zip. That honor goes to the creative, and hopefully tolerant, folks at Tollin/Robbins, the WB, DC Comics, and many others whose names escape me at the moment. This was written for my own entertainment and not only did I not make a single dime from writing it, I didn’t even get any Christmas presents for it either.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was supposed to be a short, light-hearted, and amusing story. But me being me, it grew longer and a tad more serious, and the warm fuzzies just crept in around the edges . The title’s more than a little lame, but I ran out of time and had to go with something . Pardon any rough edges…it just got a basic “spit and polish” edit, not the complete “shoe shine” variety. All the improbable minor disasters mentioned are made-up, not examples of “art imitates life.” Well, except the toffee incident. I’ll cop to that one . Hope you enjoy reading. Additional note: To those who celebrate at this time of year: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyful Kwanzaa, Blessed Solstice, or Happy insert-your-holiday-of-choice-here. To those who don’t celebrate: Happy 24th of December.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

A Very Madcap Christmas
By ocean gazer


Five days before Christmas…

"What the hell is that?"

Barbara rolled her eyes, despite the knowledge that her back was to the other woman and the gesture would go unnoticed. It simply helped her insert the right note of sarcasm into her voice. "Certainly you know what a fir tree is, Helena."

She didn't turn around but didn't really need to in order to imagine the annoyed look on the brunette's face. "No shit, Sherlock. What I don't know is why we have a ten foot tall fir tree in our living room."

Barbara wanted to respond to that, she really did, but the tree began shaking violently under her hands. Considering that her job was to hold it steady so that it didn't fall over and crush Dinah, who was underneath it, fastening it into the tree stand, she figured she needed to keep her mind focused on her task. Almost on cue, however, the youngest member of the team popped up like a blonde Jack-in-the-box, proving to be the cause of the tree shaking.

"Uh…hello…clue phone ringing, Helena. It's Christmas time. Why wouldn't we have a tree?"

Hearing the "well duh" tone in Dinah's voice, Barbara spun her chair around so quickly that she nearly made herself dizzy. As she'd hoped, the sudden motion caught Helena's attention before she managed some suitably petulant retort. The brunette stood gaping at her, eyebrows raised, one hand going to her hip in a particularly bad imitation of a parent preparing for a lecture.

Barbara quickly jumped in. "This morning at breakfast, Dinah suggested that we have a real Christmas celebration. Since it's been a somewhat stressful year…" she jerked her chin minutely in the teenager's direction and saw Helena's eyes track the motion "I thought it might be a nice diversion."

"Just think how much fun it will be! We can decorate the tree and make cookies…well…I know we don't have time to do that right now with still doing sweeps and Barbara uploading some new programs and stuff…and I know it'll be like a lot of work since Alfred's taking the holidays off and stuff…but we can do our shopping over the next couple of days and then we can do all the Martha Stewarty stuff on Christmas Eve and by then it might even snow and look like a postcard or something! Won't that be cool?! And I've got plenty of money to actually buy gifts this year!"

When Helena's response to the girl's breathless spiel was a grumpy, "You've also got about four trillion fir needles in your hair," Barbara knew she'd gotten the message and would wait until their other teammate left the room to voice her objections. Of which she was sure there were many.

She wanted to laugh when she saw Dinah run a quick hand through her hair, shaking loose a flood of sharp little green things. And the urge grew stronger at the groaned "Eww" that came out as the teen apparently also discovered that she had resin all over her hands, now in her hair and on her forehead. She wasn't too surprised when Helena did laugh out loud at the sight or when Dinah muttered, "Ah man…I'm gonna go shower…don't do anything fun without me" before fleeing the room. It also was no surprise that the minute the girl was out of earshot, her companion crossed her arms over her chest and cocked her head to the side, waiting.

She sighed softly. The two of them had purposely avoided celebrating the holidays after the twin tragedies that bound their lives together. Barbara had never really cared for the season anyhow because it brought back a flood of bad memories and it was still too raw for Helena because of how special Christmas had been for her and her mom.

Last year, even though Dinah had been living in New Gotham, the holiday season hadn't really been an issue. There had been other things to worry about and the teen had been too busy exploring all the delights of the big city. Alfred had done some decorating at the request of his newest charge, but it had been fairly simplistic, all things considered. And Helena had still been in her apartment at that time, so hadn't seen the oddly juxtaposed display of snowmen in a field of fir boughs on a daily basis.

Barbara sighed again, and looked up to meet her friend's eyes. "I know it's going to be weird for us to do this, Hel. But I really think this is important for Dinah. We've all had a tough year, but it's been hardest on her, I think. She's still young and despite some of her negative life experiences, she's still struggling to understand why bad things happen to good people. I know you've noticed she's lost a lot of her…her spark since Quinn's attack on the Clocktower last spring. You've been living here most of that time and I know you've been just as worried about her as I have."

She paused there, gauging the other woman's reaction. She saw Helena's face soften, and saw the flash of concern in blue eyes. When she saw the woman's arms uncross, she knew she'd gotten through the first, instinctual layer of defensiveness. Choosing her words carefully, she continued. "This morning, when she asked me if we could have a real Christmas celebration this year, I saw that spark come back to life for the first time. You saw her just now, how excited she is. I think she really needs this to know that life does go on even after a major trauma. I think she needs it to feel that sense of us being her family."

Helena's interruption surprised her. "Yeah, we have been like islands the past several months – all of us dealing with our own shit privately. You and I have been down this road before…but the kid…she still takes stuff too personally because she doesn't have a lot of history with us. We should have been better about making sure she knew we were still tight."

Barbara thought that summed things up very nicely. She and Helena had both been consumed with their own guilt: Helena for opening their lives to a psychopath, her for getting Wade killed and for letting him think she loved him in a way she didn't. Helena had needed to realize that she had no way of knowing Quinn was crazy and/or connected with the Joker. Barbara had needed to remember that Wade's own actions put him in harm's way and that the outcome would likely have been the same even if she'd been honest and they'd just been good friends. They'd tried to be there for Dinah in the midst of their own turmoil, but it clearly hadn't been enough. Even Helena moving back in with them in the wake of her messy break-up with Reese hadn't been much help; merely living in the same space didn't automatically lead to spending time together.

Nodding emphatically, she said, "Exactly. I think if we can put ourselves out there a little and make this something special, it will do a lot to help her. She'll have the security she needs and it will give her something fun to concentrate on. And…" she paused briefly, not quite sure her companion was ready to hear the next thing she felt compelled to say. "I think maybe you and I need this as well. We've…we're not going to be able to move past some of our demons if we continue to avoid them every year."

She couldn't read the look in Helena's eyes and dropped hers down to her lap so that she could finish her thought. "I know it's a hard time of year for you and I understand why. But maybe it's time to make some new memories to honor the old ones."

Not daring to look up, she tensed automatically when she felt a hand come to rest on her shoulder. Then, she felt herself pulled into a one-armed hug. An awkward hug, given that Helena was still standing and she was sitting in her wheelchair, but a hug nonetheless.

"Maybe you're right. After all, it's not like us avoiding the holidays has made them any less painful. So we'll do our best for Dinah's sake, because she really needs this, and we'll make this a memorable Christmas." There was a brief pause and then she heard a dramatic sigh that she suspected was strictly for effect. "Hell, we need to do this for you too. Time for you to have some fun instead of being so serious all the time with your nose stuck in a…er…the computer."

She looked up then, craning her neck to see her friend, and caught a merry twinkle in dark blue eyes. While being made fun of wasn't exactly the reaction she'd hoped for (or anywhere on her top ten favorite list of activities, for that matter), it wasn't too big a surprise since her friend couldn't handle the serious and in-depth stuff for too long. And at least Helena was trying to get into the spirit of the season. Her answer was a simple, "Thank you. It means a lot that you're willing to put in the effort."

There was a laugh then, and the amusement in Helena's voice came through loud and clear. "It's not that big a deal, Barbara. It's not like we're trying to build Noah's Ark or something. Sheesh, you act like we've never, ever celebrated Christmas before. Seriously, how hard can it be?

Christmas Eve morning…

"What the hell happened?"

Since Helena stood in front of her in the doorway, as see-through as a brick wall, Barbara had no idea what on earth prompted the consternation in her voice. She tried to maneuver her chair to get around the other woman, who showed no signs of moving any time in the next decade, but was blocked on the side she'd chosen by Dinah rushing past her and proceeding to slide to a dead-stop directly in front of her.

"Oh nooo…" The teen's wail probably should have prompted her sympathy; instead, she felt her annoyance increase. Especially since both of her companions looked like they were growing roots in their chosen spots.

She rolled forward enough to bump into Helena's leg. The minor collision was harder than strictly necessary to get the woman's attention, true, but not worthy of the loud "Ow!" it received. Still, it got the desired result as the brunette stepped aside with a contrite look, apparently realizing for the first time that Barbara did not, contrary to popular belief, have x-ray vision.

Barbara wheeled forward, patting Helena's calf gently as she went as an apology for running into her, and whistled low through her teeth when she took in the sight. Their Christmas tree was not precisely naked, but it didn't have nearly as many needles on it as she remembered. There was a virtual carpet of green on the floor in a semi-neat semi-circle around the base of the tree. It was actually a quite nice color, if a person really wanted a rug made up of sharp ends.

Feeling Helena right behind her, Barbara moved closer, careful not to roll over the downed needles and crush them. She examined the tree as closely as she could from the slight distance, and decided it wasn't a lost cause. It may have done some major shedding, like an Angora cat in summer, but it was still green and she assumed that meant everything would be fine. Of course, since she wasn't an arborist, it wasn't an iron-clad guarantee…She cut that meandering thought off in the middle when she realized that while Helena was poking a toe at the needle carpet with curiosity, Dinah still hadn't moved. Turning her chair slightly, she saw the teen standing completely still, distress written all over her face.

She saw pale blue eyes come to rest on her and heard the horrified, "What's wrong with it?"

Before Barbara could form words, she heard a slow faux-Southern drawl coming from the direction of the floor. Looking down to see why (and how) the carpet had started talking, she saw that Helena was now lying on her side and batting catlike at the tree and needles since, apparently, she wanted to be up-close-and-personal with it. "Well, Kid, I'm no expert or anything, but I'd guess it got thirsty."

She watched as Helena sprang to her feet in one smooth move and brushed her hands together to shake off the clinging needles. Distracted by the needles flying around her, Barbara nonetheless managed to ask, "When's the last time you gave it some water?"

A dramatic gasp pulled her attention back to the blonde, who was shaking her head violently. "Oh no…oh no…I forgot all about it…oh my God, I killed it!"

Barbara couldn't help herself; she rolled her eyes. While she'd grudgingly admit that histrionics had their place in the world (in torrid romance novels or any soap opera ever made), it was a little too early in the day for them and she'd had too little caffeine to have any tolerance for them. Her tone was thus sharp as a skewer. "It'll be fine, Dinah. It's still green…it's not dead dead. We'll give it some water, sweep up the needles, and then give it a little time to recover before we start decorating. There's no need to panic."

Her words seemed to have a soothing effect on the teen, whose tone and jerking movements went from panicked to merely hyper. "Ok, ok…we can do this…like I'll go get the water…well…first I'll get something to put the water in that will fit under the tree and be deep enough and then I'll get the water…but I have to figure out what will work…but I'm sure I can find something in the cleaning closet…there's got to be some kind of basin in there…yeah…that'll work…it'll be fine…"

For probably the first and last time in her life, Barbara found herself immensely grateful for Helena's distinct lack of patience. The brunette stepped forward and put a heavy hand on Dinah's shoulder. From the wince on the blonde's face, it looked like quite a bit of pressure was being applied, which stopped the relentless recitation. "Breathe, Kid. Damnation. We get it. You'll fix it up so the tree has water, I'll play with the vacuum cleaner and get the needles off the floor. And Barbara can make us some coffee. I don't know about anybody else, but this whole Christmas decorating thing is starting to piss me off. I need some caffeine to calm my nerves."

Barbara laughed at that and after a moment, she heard Dinah chime in. Coffee wasn't generally known for its tranquilizing qualities, but it sometimes had that effect on Helena. She'd been known to drink a double espresso and fall asleep within minutes of finishing it. And now that the woman had mentioned it, she realized just how badly she needed some caffeine in her system to be able to face the whole Christmas thing herself. Why, exactly, had she thought this was a good idea?

Thankfully, the laughter seemed to break through the girl's hysterics for good, and she squirmed out from under the pressure of Helena's hand. "Sounds like a plan. I'll…uh…go get the water. And next time, I won't forget about it…I promise."

Dinah headed out of the room and Helena turned and trailed after her, presumably going after the vacuum cleaner. Then, just as Barbara was about to wheel herself forward, off to the kitchen and the all-important Mr. Coffee, the brunette stopped dead in the doorway and turned around.

"It's a good thing you only gave her a tree to take care of. Make a mental note to never to get her a puppy."

An hour and a half and three cups of coffee later, Barbara found herself in the living room, frowning at her current and former wards. Actually, she wasn't frowning at them per se, but at the near literal mountain of Christmas lights that completely covered the couch. What the hell?

She did some quick mental calculations and then offered, "Um, you do realize that we'd need a tree at least ten times larger to hold that many lights, don't you?"

While she didn't much appreciate the twin eye rolls that greeted her question, she took it as a good sign since it was the normal reaction she'd come to know but not love. It meant that Ms. Grinch and Ms. Cindy-Loo-Who-On-Crack were gone for the moment, leaving her with just the usual sullen and sunshiny personalities of her teammates. Those, she could deal with, despite her continued misgivings about the plans they'd drawn up over coffee.

"See, these aren't all for the tree. Most of them are for the outside, like we talked about. We just got them all out so we could see what we had."

It was the most coherent sentence she'd heard from Dinah in five days. She looked over the pile of lights, nodding thoughtfully, but wondering how on earth it could be easier to deal with the chaos of cords instead of just leaving everything neatly packaged and separated. Then again, this wasn't her department and she had to just back away slowly and let the two younger women handle it in whatever way made the most sense to them. Even if it did make her grit her teeth at the illogic of it all. She caught the sharp look Helena sent her way, and the slight rise of an eyebrow told her that the brunette knew exactly what she'd been thinking. Not for the first time, she felt a little less than thrilled about having someone around who knew her just that well.

To break out of that lovely little thought pattern, she cleared her throat. "So, which one of you is going to tackle the outdoor lights?"

Expecting a verbal response, she was a bit surprised when Helena's hand popped into the air and waved wildly, like she wanted the teacher to call on her or something. Given the woman's track record with school, Barbara wondered if it was the first time in Helena's life that she'd made that particular gesture.

"That would be me. I figured that one of these days the whole jumping around on rooftops thing would have some practical value. It's my lucky day."

"And I'm gonna see if my telekinesis will help me get the lights on the tree without needing a ladder. It should be hella cool because I can move them around and get them just right."

The slight sarcasm in Helena's voice combined with the naked optimism in Dinah's made for a truly surreal feeling. A feeling that only intensified as she contemplated the task she'd been given, which was to do the Christmas baking.

Why on earth had she agreed to let Alfred leave for several days to visit an old friend? Oh, that's right; she hadn't known at the time that Dinah was going to go all Norman Rockwell on her. But, she'd suck it up and deal with it, no matter how much she did not like cooking. All things considered, she was considerably less of a menace in the kitchen than either of the others. Helena still didn't know how to do anything – including boiling water – that didn't involve a microwave. And there were still black marks on the ceiling from the, not one, not two, but three times that Dinah had literally set the kitchen on fire. At least Barbara only periodically broiled her food, not her surroundings.

Deciding that the sooner she got started on the task the sooner she'd be done with it, Barbara nodded at her teammates. "Well, have fun with the lights. I'll…uh…just be in the kitchen if you need me for anything."

She caught Dinah's enthusiastic nod, before the teen turned her full attention to the tangled strands of lights. She caught Helena's raised eyebrow and offered a one-shouldered shrug in return. Really, there wasn't anything more to say. This was more for Dinah than anything, and since the girl was getting into it and having fun, that was what really mattered.

Barbara watched as Helena shot her a quick smile, before walking over to poke at the lights with Dinah. Turning her chair, she wheeled herself out of the room and back towards the kitchen. It was supposed to be a festive holiday and it wasn't like any of this was that big a deal.

So why couldn't she shake the feeling of impending disaster?

Barbara shook her head as she glanced yet again at the recipe to make sure that it said the same thing it had when she looked at it thirty seconds ago. Yep, the instructions still read, "Boil butter and sugar together until tan." She looked down at the contents of the saucepan and sighed. Her arm was getting tired from stirring and she had been staring at the stuff so long she couldn't quite tell if it had already turned tan while she wasn't paying attention, or whether it still needed to turn tan, or even what precise color tan was. Not to mention the question of whether she and the recipe writer had the same understanding of what color tan was.

Her plan had simply been to bake Christmas cookies and not mess with any other desserts. Cookies were simple enough to make and didn't involve anything terribly gourmet. But then she'd run across this recipe for English Toffee and decided it looked easy enough. The instructions were about the simplest she'd ever seen, barring the one she'd seen once for oil and vinegar salad dressing that read, "Combine equal parts oil and vinegar with herbs of choice. Shake."

All she had to do here was boil together butter and sugar until tan, spread out on foil in a pan, put chocolate bars on top, sprinkle chopped nuts on the chocolate, let it cool, and break into pieces. Simple enough, right? Well, except for that whole "not knowing what color tan was" thing.

She looked back down into the saucepan and saw that the color had changed slightly while her brain was running around in circles. Deciding it was close enough to tan and that it certainly should be cooked thoroughly by now, she reached back and turned off the burner. Picking up the saucepan, she spooned the mixture into the pan she'd already lined with foil and smoothed it out with her trusty wooden spoon. Setting the saucepan back down, she methodically laid her chocolate bars on top and when they started to melt slightly, she sprinkled the nuts over top. There, that was done. Nothing left to do except let it cool.

Glad to have that out of her hair, figuratively speaking, she turned her attention back to the Christmas Sugar Cookie dough she'd left chilling in the fridge. Wishing, not for the first time and probably not for the last, that the kitchen had a counter low enough for her to use easily, she plopped the dough down on to a well floured surface and grabbed her rolling pin. Rolling things out from a wheelchair was a lot harder than it looked…well, maybe not since she was sure it looked pretty darn hard too. But she was nothing if not stubborn, so she kept at it.

Once it finally was at the right thickness, or rather thinness, she looked around for the cookie cutters. She could have sworn that Alfred had some around since she knew she'd seen snowman and Christmas tree shaped cookies come out of his kitchen before. Brushing her hair back with one flour-covered hand and coughing at the dust raised by the motion, she looked through every drawer and cupboard she could reach. There were no cookie cutters anywhere. The closest she came was a biscuit cutter.

Faced with the choice of uniformly round cookies that didn't look a thing like holiday shapes or drawing her own shapes with a knife in the dough, she made the only choice she could – the former. Baking cookies was one thing. Crafting edible art work was something else entirely.

Moving quickly, she cut out several dozen little circles of dough and spaced them on her pre-greased cookie pans. Gathering the scraps, she pressed them into odd shapes resembling, well, nothing at all, actually, and added them to the pans as well. Then, she maneuvered the pans over to the oven, which, being an overly organized individual, she'd already pre-heated. Setting the timer, she popped the first three cookie sheets into the oven.

It was then that she heard the screaming.

Well, actually, her internal copy editor amended, it wasn't really screaming. More like aggravated shrieking. In a high pitched tone that made it difficult to tell whether it was from fright, excitement, or some unholy combination of both.

Straining her ears did absolutely nothing to clarify the sounds further. With a muttered oath, she rolled out of the kitchen and headed towards the noise. Not that it was all that easy to do, given the way the high ceilings in the Clocktower bounced sounds around. Finally, after concluding that it was highly unlikely that the shrieking was coming from the linen closet, she turned the other direction, towards the living room, and sped through the doorway, wishing she had two hands free to cover her ears since the sound was really quite annoying.

By now, she could tell from the pitch that it was Dinah making all the racket, and that it wasn't due to excitement. But it wasn't until she was fully inside the room and looking at the tree that she got an idea of what was wrong. Once she did, she wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. Maybe she should consider both.

Her newest charge was hanging upside down, wedged between the tree and the wall. Her head and left shoulder were touching the floor, but since the rest of her hadn't followed suit, it appeared that at least part of her body was suspended from the tree. With the exception of her face, one foot, and one hand, she was completely tangled up in strands of lights. And somehow, somewhere, at least one strand of lights had been plugged in and there were bursts of red, blue, yellow, and green flashing around the immobilized but struggling teenager.

Barbara shook her head, about ready to pinch herself to make sure this wasn't a particularly demented post-eggnog dream. But she held back from that step, reasonably sure that nothing in her dream would shriek loudly enough to hurt her ears. She tried to yell over the noise, realizing belatedly that the girl's back, so to speak, was to her so Dinah probably didn't even know she was there. Clearly that wasn't going to do the trick. She rolled forward, moving closer, and reached out to touch the teen's back to let her know help had arrived. The girl jerked in her bonds, clearly scared out of her mind, and a suddenly freed arm and hand whapped Barbara across the face.

She swore under her breath, not realizing until that very moment that the girl had quite so much muscle tone. Damn, that hurt. On the plus side, the shrieking had now stopped, so the threat of headache subsided, to be replaced with the sting of a bloody lip. On the whole, rather an improvement, she thought.

Absently, she was aware of Dinah's breathless apology, which she cut off quickly. Not that she thought it out of line or anything, but she was more concerned with more pressing matters. Like what the hell had happened? She hadn't quite realized she'd voiced the question out loud until she heard the stuttered explanation. The gist of it was that trying to use TK to intertwine several strands of lights and then shift them around so "the colors twinkled better" was a really bad idea. Once the first strand had wrapped around the girl's legs, she'd tried to use her powers to untangle herself, forgetting that moving one strand caused several others to move in unexpected ways as well. Then the sense of panic had set in, which just made everything worse.

Barbara somehow managed to not crack a smile during the explanation, which she thought was pretty commendable under the circumstances. Just as it occurred to her to wonder why Helena hadn't beat her into the room given that the meta-human's hearing was considerably better than hers, the brunette appeared.

Well, sort of. She realized the other woman had actually been there for a while…standing on the window ledge, hands pressed up against the glass.

Fighting the urge to roll her eyes, wondering why the woman was acting like a human suction cup, she rolled her chair over to the window to open it. She realized only after she strained her muscles and didn't budge the window an inch that it was locked. Huh. Helena had somehow locked herself outside. Brilliant. At least she hadn't gone ahead and jumped through the window to get in. Broken glass took forever to clean up. Oh yeah, and bandaging Helena up wasn't exactly on her top ten list of ways to spend Christmas Eve.

Once she let her partner in, she wasn't surprised to hear the hearty laughter as the woman got a good look at Dinah's predicament. Thankfully, Helena seemed to be in an unusually magnanimous mood, and didn't make any particularly cutting remarks. Then again, under the circumstances, the other woman didn't really have any room to do much teasing. Barbara joined the brunette and they set about freeing their younger teammate, whose face was turning a rather remarkable shade of red from being upside down for so long.

It took quite a while to free the girl, and Barbara was thankful when Helena managed to find which strand was plugged in and remove it from the outlet. Seeing the lights twinkling merrily on a person was just wrong.

Finally, the girl was free from her bonds and glaring ruefully at the lights that had caused her such grief. "That's the last time I try doing that with mental power."

Nodding in agreement with the sentiment, Barbara was relieved when Helena moved forward and picked up a strand of the misbehaving lights. "Tell you what, D. If we work together, we can get this bad boy wrapped up in a few minutes and then you can come outside and help me with the finishing touches."

Barbara watched as Helena casually threw a cord into the fir branches and started walking it around the tree, not trying to place it "just so." And she was glad when Dinah recovered quickly from both her head rush and her pique to follow the brunette's example. It was nice to see them working together so well, even as it reminded her that her mission lay elsewhere.

"Well, since I'm not needed in here, I'll just get back to my cookies."

When the response to her words was a "hey, this is going faster with two of us" she decided they wouldn't even notice her absence if they didn't first register her presence.

She made her way out of the room, finally allowing a smile to crack her face at the sight she'd walked in on. Never in her wildest dreams had she believed anyone could manage to do that to themselves. Then again, truth was always stranger than fiction because fiction had to make sense. She was about halfway to the kitchen, pondering that thought, when the last words she'd spoken chose that moment to echo in her head again. Oh hell…she slapped a hand to her forehead in dismay. The cookies!

By then, she could smell them. Or rather, she could smell their burned corpses since the haze of smoke starting to waft down the hall made it abundantly clear that these cookies were long past the point of salvage. She sped to the kitchen as fast as her little wheels would take her, and grabbed up a hot pad. Throwing open the oven door, she coughed with the burst of smoke that emerged. One by one, she grabbed the cookie pans and their blackened, well-crisped circles, and set them on the counter.

Slamming the oven door shut, she hunted hastily for a trivet or a cooling rack or something to set the hot pans on. There was a plastic bag full of candy canes in her way and she shoved it over on to the stove before the plastic had a chance to melt to the hot cookie sheet. Her frantic search paid off and within minutes she had all three cookie sheets sitting on something other than the unprotected counter tops.

At about that point, she noticed the smoke detector going off. Well, of course it was. Weary from the sudden burst of frenetic activity, she headed for the smoke detector, but it stopped its annoying beeping just as she reached it. She stared up at it stupidly for a long moment, wondering why it had obviously malfunctioned when she knew for a fact she'd changed the batteries at the same time she'd set the clocks back at the end of daylight savings time. It took a while for her to realize that the smoke was a lot thinner than it should be. About that time, her brain kicked fully into gear, reminding her that after Dinah's last kitchen fire, she'd installed a powerful fan to remove smoke quickly.

Turning back to the ruined cookies, she sighed. All that work, up in flames…almost literally. Well, at least she still had the other three pans. She opened the oven doors again, deciding to let the smoke filter out for a few minutes before putting in the next batch. She busied herself cleaning up the flour she'd left dusted all over the counter and the odds and ends of dough that were stuck in odd places.

Ten minutes later, the kitchen looked mostly clean and she was sweating with exertion, flour sticking to the sweat to create what she imagined was a really attractive look. Wheeling over to the oven, she shut the doors to let the internal temperature get back up to 350 degrees. Then, she decided the burnt offerings were cool enough to throw away without melting the plastic of the garbage bag, so she chiseled them off the pans, sending little black flakes flying. Luckily, most of them landed on her or the counter, not on the floor. The counter was wiped down easily enough; she, however, would just have to wait for a nice hot shower. Finally, she put the last three cookie pans in the oven and set the timer.

It was then that all the power went out, leaving her in darkness.

This really wasn't shaping up to be her day.

She waited for a few moments, in case it was just the result of a power surge or something easily remedied. Then, she remembered her two teammates and she jerked as though she'd been poked with a sharp stick. Not because she was worried about them being out on rooftops and balconies in the dark, but from the sudden conviction that they had something to do with it.

Hastily, she turned off the oven and timer so that if the power came back on unexpectedly, there wouldn't be a repeat of the burnt cookies catastrophe. She sped out the doorway, re-discovering the hard way that she couldn't see very well in the dark. Rubbing her arm where it had smashed into the doorjamb, she moved with a bit more caution, heading straight for the balcony doors.

"Well, how the hell was I supposed to know this would happen? You're the one who thought we needed more lights…Dinah!"

"Uh…yeah…but I asked if it would be too much and you said it would be fine…not to worry!"

"How the hell am I supposed to know how much is too much? Do I look like an electrician to you?"

"What's that got to do with anything? You weren't re-wiring anything, just plugging it into the wall. It's not rocket science or anything."

"Oh yeah? Then why were you so scared to even get near the outlet?"

"Hello…I just had a bad experience with the Christmas tree lights…give me a break."

Barbara was completely certain that she didn't want to walk into the middle of this particular war, but she also didn't want to let it get too far along. They were supposed to be making the holiday fun for Dinah, not traumatizing the girl to the point that she'd never want to celebrate again. So she cleared her throat loudly, and even in the dark could see the two shadowy figures turn their heads towards her. She wheeled her chair forward, looking past the dynamic duo to see the twinkle of lights coming from the building across the street. That, at least, was a good sign. At least whatever they'd done, it hadn't caused a major black-out or anything.

"So what happened?"

Belatedly, she realized that for purposes of de-escalating the verbal war, it was probably the stupidest question she could have asked, since it prompted a fresh round of recriminations. She didn't let them get more than 30 seconds into the "she said, she said" thing before cutting them off. She accomplished that feat by hitting each of them in the thigh. Dinah yelped as though she'd been stung and Helena muttered something under her breath that Barbara couldn't quite hear but that she knew was not complimentary.

"Ok, I think I understand. Neither of you have done this sort of outdoor decorating before and didn't know whether or not you'd overloaded the outlet. All we have to do is go find the circuit breaker for this section of the building and turn it back on."

That was about as neutral a statement as she could come up with. She didn't expect it would immediately end the sniping between the two, but it gave them all something concrete and specific to focus on, which was never a bad thing. She followed it up with a question. "Can either of you tell if all the lights on this side of the Clocktower are off, or just the ones up here?"

Both her teammates moved forward to the edge of the balcony, leaning far over the side, but saying they couldn't really get a good look from there. Before she registered what was happening, they both disappeared over the edge. Helena had jumped off the balcony and Dinah stepped off, floating on air. Even knowing that the two of them were in no danger and performed similar tricks every night out on sweeps, it took a whole minute before she could convince her heart beat to slow back to normal.

On the plus side, when the two of them came back up on to the balcony, they were laughing and slapping each other on the back and saying "Good thinking." While she was glad they were back to being supportive teammates, the mercurial mood shifting thing they'd both been doing all day was starting to seriously get on her nerves.

Getting back to business, she quickly sorted out that some of the lights were still on, which she took to be a good sign. Then, she had Dinah and Helena unplug the cord from the outlet before sending them both down to the basement with a flashlight and a cell phone. It took them a while to get down the flight of stairs, and she sat there in the dark, waiting for the phone to ring. Finally, she heard the howled strains of "Werewolves of London," which was set as Helena's ring tone. Not by her choice, she mentally noted for probably the hundredth time, but because the younger woman had a twisted affinity for the song and requested it. Snapping open the phone, she heard Dinah's breathless voice come on the line. She relayed instructions to Helena through Dinah on where to find the circuit breakers and how to reset whichever ones had been tripped. It took a good three or four minutes, since Barbara's mental map of the basement wasn't nearly as clear as she thought it would be.

But soon, blessed light bathed the Clocktower once again, and she breathed a sigh of relief after she hung up the phone. Then, assuaging her curiosity, she headed out to the balcony to see what on earth her two teammates had done that would cause a power outage.

Words failed her completely as she traced the patterns of the cords and unlit lights. She sat silently, shaking her head, until she heard the scuff of shoes behind her that told her the other two had returned. Without turning around she said, "I thought we were trying to keep a low profile. No wonder the circuit blew. Take down the lights on the top of the roof that spell out 'Welcome Santa' and the ones that make up the giant bat symbol."

She heard the protests behind her, but didn't honor them with a response. She just sat there, waiting, which she'd found to be a particularly effective tool. It caused Dinah to feel guilty and Helena's patience to run out. This time was no exception, and soon enough the two climbed up to the roof to take down the lights they'd hung. It took much less time to remove them than hanging them had, so it couldn't have been more than fifteen minutes before Helena dropped the jumble of cords beside her wheelchair.

Barbara pointedly ignored the ironic offering and suggested to Dinah, "Go plug everything in and let's see how it looks."

The girl went inside and in a matter of moments, the lights burst in to life. Barbara gasped. She felt Helena's hand on her shoulder and heard the low whistle that meant the brunette was pleased with herself. Within seconds Dinah came back out and said, "Whoa…"

It was a truly lovely display. The balcony ledge was twined with lights that looked for all the world like climbing ivy; wreaths of light hung around the necks of gargoyles and little sparking halos adorned their heads; multi-colored lights outlined the giant clock; and against the backdrop of the brick wall were lights in the shape of a Christmas tree and presents, with a little cat shape curled up against one of the box shapes. Everything twinkled and sparkled. It was awesome.

Barbara heard Dinah clapping her hands in glee and she reached up to squeeze Helena's hand where it still rested on her shoulder. She felt the other woman return the pressure and smiled. They stood there together for a few minutes, just reveling in the sight.

She wasn't sure what exactly broke the spell, but it might have been Helena's stomach growling. On cue, Dinah piped up and said, "Yeah, I'm ready for a snack too. We should go have some cookies."

Oh, right. They didn't know about that little mishap yet. Barbara said, "Well, the first batch got burned to a crisp when I came out to…er…untangle Dinah from the tree. But the next batch should…oh no…there's still heat…"

She took off like a bat out of hell, heading for the kitchen and mentally kicking herself the entire way. Oh sure, she'd turned off the oven when the power went out. But she'd forgotten the minor little detail that there would still be heat inside, enough to keep baking the dough even without power. Skidding to a stop in front of the oven, she yanked open the doors. Well, at least this batch wasn't quite as bad as the last and there weren't clouds of black smoke everywhere. That didn't mean they were edible, though. In resignation, she reached for her hot pads, pulling out the cookie sheets and setting them on the cooling racks and trivets on the counter.

By then, the other two had joined her in the kitchen. Predictably, Helena-the-irrepressible was the first to speak, poking first at the cookies on the pans and then at the blackened lumps in the trash. "I thought you were less of a menace in the kitchen than we were." Dinah followed that with a giggle and an emphatic nod,

Barbara raised her eyebrows so high that it felt like they were disappearing into her hair line. "This wasn't entirely my fault, you know. If the two of you weren't trying to wreck yourselves or the Clocktower…"

She trailed off there for effect, noting with unholy satisfaction that Dinah looked suitably ashamed of herself. Looking over at Helena, who was now poking around on the stove top, she noted that her words hadn't seemed to carry any particular weight, a fact that was confirmed when the brunette spoke.

"Ok, Barbara, I can buy that the cookies wouldn't have burned if not for me and D. But what about this?"

She saw a plastic grocery bag in Helena's hand, but shook her head, not knowing what that had to do with anything. The younger woman brought the bag over to her and she peered inside. Oh hell. At one time, of course, the bag had held candy canes. Now, she wasn't quite sure what to call them…they'd melted inside their little plastic wraps, the red and white stripes now liquefied into a streaky pink. She had a vague memory of shoving the bag on to the stove, forgetting that, with an electric range, just turning the heat off didn't mean the burner had gone cold. Slightly embarrassed, she shook her head.

"Ok, so that was my fault. I needed to get the cookies out of the oven quickly and didn't really pay attention to where I put the bag." Still, it wasn't like it was the end of the world or anything. "On the plus side, the toffee should be cool enough to cut. We can all have some of that."

She noticed her companions perk up at that suggestion. Taking a knife from the drawer, she handed it to Helena, figuring a little extra muscle power wouldn't hurt when trying to cut through the stuff. She watched as the younger woman pressed down and the knife hit the bottom of the pan easily. See, her idea about the extra muscle power had been a good one…except why did Helena have a disturbed look on her face?

"Is it supposed to be squishy?"

Barbara wheeled herself over to where Helena was standing and reached out for the knife, which was handed over readily. She slid it into the confection as cautiously as if she were doing some kind of alien autopsy. Once she got through the top layer of chocolate, she expected some kind of resistance, but found none. What the…? It was soft and, as Helena said, squishy when it was supposed to be hard and brittle. Peeling back a layer of chocolate, she poked around with the knife and realized the whole bottom layer was a malleable mess. The toffee hadn't set up at all and was still a pale beige color instead of the deep caramel color it was supposed to be. Apparently, her idea of tan and the recipe writer's idea of tan were entirely different.

"I guess I didn't cook it long enough." Grasping the edges of the foil sticking up from the pan, she lifted out the whole mess and transported it over to the trash can, depositing it on top of the cookies. Wrinkling her nose in disgust, she said, "I'm sorry. I really thought I could make some nice treats for Christmas."

It was no surprise that Helena was chuckling at her, but because it wasn't full out laughter, she gathered it was supposed to be an affectionate gesture. Dinah's reaction was less mysterious. "It's no big deal. It's been a weird day for all of us. Besides, it's not like we really need that much sugar or anything. Or at least we won't after we get into our stockings…I went on a major shopping spree!"

Not for the first time, she was glad for the girl's natural exuberance, and glad to see it coming to life again with the holiday, though things hadn't come together in quite the way she'd hoped. Still forward motion for whatever reason was better than no motion at all. On cue, Helena's stomach growled again and twin grins lit the faces of her companions.

Finally, Barbara had to chuckle at the absurdity of it all. She said, "Let's clean up this mess and then order a pizza or something. I'm reasonably sure I won't be able to screw that up."

Christmas Eve evening…

"What the hell?"

Barbara winced to once again hear such an exclamation of dismay. The fact that this time the words had come out of Dinah's mouth instead of Helena's didn't help in the slightest, even knowing the teen's propensity for drama. The fact that there were no hysterics accompanying the words made them seem even more ominous.

And once again, her teammates were acting as the proverbial brick walls. But before she got fed up enough to play human bumper cars with one or both of them, they both moved, making their way gingerly into the living room and stopping just inside the doorway. It allowed her a chance to get inside the room to see what on earth had happened now. After the day they'd had so far, she couldn't begin to guess. She came to a stop once she'd fully entered the room, past where the other two stood unmoving, seemingly frozen in horror. And she had not the slightest idea what had prompted their reaction.

Her first thought was that something else had happened to their long-suffering tree, but a quick scan made clear that it was fine. It seemed greener and fuller than it had that morning when it was literally starting to die of thirst. The lights were happily twinkling away in random patterns with no blonde-haired girls wrapped up in their nefarious clutches. And all the ornaments they'd scrounged up from...well…somewhere were all in place. Nothing had fallen or was sagging or anything like that, and the tree actually looked surprisingly festive for being decorated with such a random assortment of cast-offs.

She did a slow scan of the room, not quite sure what she was looking for other than the tree. Granted, she hadn't been in the living room since before the joint cookie/toffee fiasco, so didn't know what else had entered the picture in the interim. She'd finished cleaning the kitchen and washed all the dishes, then had gone off to take a much-needed shower. Meanwhile, her two teammates had taken out the garbage, ordered a pizza, and done what she calculated was the fastest tree-decorating job in recorded history while they waited for said pizza to arrive.

Her eyes skimmed over the room, seeing nothing overly catastrophic. There were the usual chairs and an end table and a collapsed bookshelf with a mish-mashed collection of things beneath it and the big-screen TV set and the couch and...

She tracked her gaze backwards, to the collapsed bookshelf, and moved forward in her chair, examining the wreckage. There was brightly colored paper sticking out from underneath splintered wood. Even as she reached the only obvious conclusion, she heard Helena's dazed voice behind her. "Damn...some of those gifts were fragile."

Thankfully, the words seemed to break some kind of spell and both Helena and Dinah moved forward, finally, to stand next to Barbara and survey the damage. She left them to poke at the wreckage, and turned her attention to the place where the shelf had once been bolted to the wall. Nothing looked amiss; she could see no reason at all that the thing had broken loose. Then again, she was about the point where she believed that they'd pissed off some anti-Christmas ghost who was now haunting them, one akin to Ebenezer Scrooge before his conversion to a bastion of Christmas cheer. If she actually believed in ghosts, that was. The day certainly had been plagued with enough problems to make anyone declare, "Bah humbug!"

Shaking her head at the senseless carnage, she looked back to find her companions had regained most of their composure. They were sitting side by side on the floor, having moved the shelf remnants off to the side, and were methodically going through the pile of smashed gifts to determine what was salvageable and what was beyond repair. Since none of the gifts were hers, she didn't offer to help out with the process, not wanting to get in the way or ruin any surprises. Before too long though, she felt eyes on her and looked back down from where she'd been staring blankly at the wall again. She met Helena's gaze and realized with some surprise that the two were done with their sorting tasks. Thankfully, both piles appeared equal in size, so not everything had been lost. Good.

Abruptly aware that Helena was still staring at her expectantly, she shrugged, not having any idea what the younger woman wanted. Really, while the two of them had developed an uncanny knack over the years for knowing instinctively what the other was thinking, this particular situation was way out of her league. She couldn't even imagine what the brunette might be thinking.

Thankfully, Dinah jumped into the silent conversation, clearly oblivious to the undertones. "So...it really sucks because the cute mugs and the glass flower vase and the little dancing salt-and-pepper shakers and the glass dolphin sculpture are all like a total loss. But it's not like we brought everything out here already and some of the stuff survived the crash like the boo...omph"

She wanted to laugh as Helena poked the teen hard in the side, cutting off that little revelation in mid-word. But she schooled her expression and kept herself under control. At least Dinah was still positive and happy about the holiday in spite of all the setbacks they'd had, and that really was the most important thing. And at least Helena hadn't lost her temper completely or given up on the holiday entirely or declared that Barbara's idea that celebrating would be good for them was the stupidest thing she'd ever heard. All things considered, that was a victory in and of itself.

Wanting to add her two cents worth, just because she was the mentor and had that inalienable right, she said, "That's true, Dinah. At least some items survived and you've got more to put under the tree. And I've got a lot to add to the pile too. I...uh...went a little over-the-top this year."

Actually, that was probably a bit of an understatement. She'd wanted to give Helena gifts for years, but had held back because of the whole "don't want to celebrate" vibe. This year, she was trying to make up for lost time. And then, she couldn't give one teammate a plethora of things without doing the same for the other. Good thing she had a well-padded savings account: since the rent, Alfred's salary, and their various crime fighting "toys" all came out of a fund set up by Bruce after he left, she was able to save most of the money she earned from teaching.

She watched Helena out of the corner of her eye to gauge the reaction to her confession. She half-expected the woman to look uncomfortable with the mention of lots of presents. Instead, there was an interesting mix of avarice and delight in dark blue eyes. She knew then that this holiday thing had been good for her friend, despite the mishaps. Helena had spent much of the past seven years locked behind walls of pain and anger; Barbara was glad to see her starting to emerge from behind them, to start finding happiness again. She'd been more afraid for the younger woman than she'd really realized.

Dinah, not surprisingly, clapped her hands at the prospect of more presents. The girl had been through so many things in her life and Barbara had feared that the ordeal with Quinn had shattered her innocence entirely. But now, for the first time in months, she was seeing it again and it made her smile.

Both her teammates were going to be ok; all three of them would be ok.

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I've never known..."

"That's not how the song goes, Brain Trust."

"Yeah, well, we didn't exactly have snow on Christmas in Opal. It doesn't make any sense for me to sing it the way it goes."

Barbara, half-listening to the exchange while arranging gifts under the tree, found herself waiting for a reply that never came. The idea confused her: Helena, at a loss for witty repartee? She glanced up at where the dynamic duo was hanging the stockings, and saw a befuddled look on the brunette's face. "I see your point, Kid."

If she hadn't already been sitting, Barbara would have fallen over. Her teammate was not only at a loss for a smart-ass comeback, but she'd admitted Dinah was right about something. My God, it must be a Christmas miracle!

She snapped out of her reverie quickly enough, however, when Helena began an off-key rendition of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." Ok, that was just annoying; more so because she knew perfectly well the woman had a nice singing voice. Not a great one, but she could certainly carry a tune in a bucket. Then she heard Dinah's outraged howling and saw the slight smirk on Helena's face. Ah, now she got it; the song was a substitute for the bantering, getting a better reaction than an argument would. It made a certain demented amount of sense.

Rolling her eyes, she turned her attention back to arranging the presents, ignoring her teammate's new contest to see who could cause the most damage to well-known Christmas songs. Not that she needed to focus that hard on her task, since the last two packages were lying in her lap. She found a suitable place for them both, and backed her wheelchair up a bit, surveying the effect. Wow. If she hadn't known better, she would have assumed the pile of gifts was for a family with five or six kids.

Part of her felt guilty about the conspicuous consumption. The other part of her felt something she hadn't in years: a sense of wonder. It was more than just the excitement of guessing what she'd gotten or the anticipation of how Dinah and Helena would react to some of their gifts. And it was more than just the pleasure of seeing the colorful decorations that turned an ordinary room into something special. It was the flood of happiness she felt from spending quality time with the two people who meant the most to her in the world. She sat there, just staring at the tree, letting herself enjoy the moment.

A gentle hand on her shoulder should have made her jump, but she recognized the touch and leaned back into it. Helena stood behind her and something of her thoughts must have been evident to the younger woman because there was no teasing about her big brain working too hard and no snide comments about her getting too into this whole Christmas thing.

Instead, there was just a tender caress and a soft, "The stockings are up if you want to watch us fill them."

Her reverie broken, she reached up and squeezed Helena's hand, then turned her chair around to survey the younger women's handiwork. The stockings were cheap store-bought ones, but they were festively decorated. They hung underneath a bookshelf, which was decked out with fir boughs and some random candles that had been scrounged up from who-knew-where. Probably the same place they'd found the tree ornaments. The display was elegant in its simplicity. And the stockings were big enough to hold a lot of goodies, which had been one of the "musts" both her teammates agreed on. Unlike the unlucky candy canes she'd melted earlier, Dinah had bought the candy for the stockings and kept it safely in her room. Well, safely except for what she'd eaten between the time of purchase and now.

Helena gave a final squeeze to her shoulder and then walked over to pick up two paper bags. Both were full enough to have candy peeking out from the top, in imminent danger of spilling over on to the floor. Barbara eyed the candy, eyed the stockings, did the math, and shook her head. No doubt the younger women already knew there was far more candy than would fit; hell, that was probably the whole idea. She watched in amusement as her teammates dove into the bags, stuffing the stockings with abandon. It was quite an entertaining display and she probably had as much fun watching it as they had doing it.

And then, the task was done and the duo stepped back, coming to stand beside her and look at the effect. It was truly an amazing sight, the red and green stockings filled with candy underneath a decorated mantle that could have been a picture for a Christmas card.

"Wow," breathed Dinah.

"Yeah," whispered Helena.

Just as Barbara opened her mouth to add her praise, there was a loud crashing noise.

At first, her brain didn't quite register what it was seeing and she thought that maybe this shelf had mysteriously fallen to the floor like the other one. But no, it remained attached firmly to the wall, fir boughs and candles in place as though they'd been glued. It was the overstuffed stockings that had fallen. As if to make some kind of point, individual candies cascaded across the floor. It was a virtual avalanche of sugar.

Little milk chocolate balls rolled in every possible direction; candy canes slithered like hook-necked snakes; mini-sized chocolate bars slammed into and bounced off of each other like Nascar wreckage; foil-wrapped Santas washed up against their feet like shipwrecked sailors. Candies of every conceivable size, shape, and flavor carpeted the floor.

Her mouth hung open in shock at the sight. Beside her, Dinah and Helena were completely frozen. She couldn't even tell if they were still breathing or not. Come to think of it, she couldn't quite tell if she was still breathing or not. This was...she was in such shock she couldn't even come up with an appropriate comparison. It was just unbelievable. She had never heard of anyone else having such a cursed Christmas. And here all she'd wanted to do was make it something special for Dinah.

She managed to break out of her shock long enough to turn and look at the blonde. If she was having a hard time dealing with the various catastrophes that had plagued them all day, she could only imagine how much worse it was for Dinah. After all, the teen had been the one who had been so excited about the possibility of finally having a real Christmas. She half expected to see tears or a face red with anger. Instead, she saw only a halo of blonde hair shaking from side to side and then heard choked laughter.


"This is...I can't believe it...we couldn't have made this up if we tried!"

Yep, that was laughter all right, tinged with slight hysteria no doubt, but laughter nonetheless. Then she heard chuckles from the other side of her and saw Helena toeing all the little candies that kept bumping up against her foot. The brunette would no sooner get one launched across the room than another one would roll to a stop against her.

Somehow, the small-scale soccer game brought a smile to Barbara's face. This Christmas Eve might be a gigantic cosmic joke at their expense, but it was completely ridiculous and she finally saw the humor in it. It was one of those times where a person can either laugh or cry, and she opted to laugh along with her teammates. Her amusement intensified when she saw Dinah sink to the ground, sending candy cascading across the room again in her wake.

Finally, after several minutes, she saw Dinah wiping tears from her eyes. Immediately she tried to move forward to offer comfort, but then the girl raised her head and she saw they were tears from laughing so hard. Her gesture hadn't gone unnoticed because the teen quickly said, "It's ok. I'm fine. I really appreciate you guys trying to give me a nice Christmas and all...nobody has ever done anything like that for me before...especially when it wasn't something they really cared about themselves."

Barbara exchanged a glance with Helena. She thought they'd done a pretty good job at hiding their overall disinterest. But Dinah's next words explained it further. "I mean, I figured out last year that you weren't big into holidays or anything, so when you put so much effort into it this year, I knew it was for my benefit. But I know you both had fun with parts of it."

Well, that was true enough. Despite all the misgivings and the catastrophes, there had been moments of fun. And they'd spent a lot of time together doing something other than crime fighting, which in the end was what mattered most. She wasn't aware that she'd voiced that particular thought aloud until she heard Helena's muttered, "When did you get so sappy, Barbara?"

She reached out and smacked the other woman at the same time that Dinah shot her a glare. She watched Helena's expression turn sheepish. "Ok, so spending time with the people you care about is the important thing and the day hasn't been all bad."

Wow, another Christmas miracle. The self-proclaimed queen of cool had actually gotten all fluffy.

She wanted to comment on Helena's statement, but Dinah was off and running at the mouth again. "Y'know, I think we ought to just forget this whole holiday thing now before anything else happens. We can just clean up and relax for the rest of the evening. Maybe watch a movie or two. Then we can sleep late tomorrow, open our presents, and then just go out for Chinese food or something. I'm almost afraid of what else might happen if we try to put the stockings back up or do the whole 'Christmas dinner' thing we were going to try."

She couldn't say she disagreed with the idea. She might be stubborn, but she knew when it was time to give up and stop tempting fate. This felt like one of those times. And since Dinah seemed relatively satisfied with their efforts and happier than she'd been in months, despite everything, Barbara judged the holiday experiment to be a smashing success. Literally, in some senses. Her own pun caught her off-guard and she wanted to giggle at it, but refrained.

Her restraint turned out to be a good thing, since Helena was still in more serious mode. "I think you're right, Dinah. As long as we're all hanging out together, it'll be a good Christmas. Come on...we'll go get the broom and corral all this candy. And then maybe we'll go fill up the big bathtub, get in our bathing suits, and pretend it's a real Jacuzzi."

Barbara watched a smile light Dinah's eyes at the prospect and the girl took the hand Helena offered her to help her off the floor.

On their way out of the room, Helena turned and smiled at Barbara and she felt warmed by the gesture. Then she was left alone with her thoughts and a roomful of candy. It wasn't quite the end she'd pictured to the day. Then again, most of what had happened wasn't in her mental playbook. But at least the Clocktower was still standing, and they were all ok. At this point, her expectations couldn't be much higher than that. And at least they hadn't set anything on fire. Not yet, anyway. She couldn't swear to what might have happened had they continued their pursuit of the ideal country Christmas.

She chuckled, wondering what Norman Rockwell would have made of their "family." Then again, she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to know.

Christmas day…

"What the…?"

Unsurprisingly, Barbara couldn't see what prompted Helena's brief exclamation. Once again, she was lagging behind her teammates as they headed towards the kitchen to start on the most important meal of the day – coffee. Once again, she lacked X-ray vision. And she was almost too sleepy to really care what it was. She was reasonably sure nothing had burned down, and since both her teammates were standing in front of her and appeared healthy if tired, she knew whatever was wrong couldn't be all that bad.

Without warning, the two younger women stared at each other, asked in synch, "Could it be?" and pushed past her to head back down the hall the way they'd come.

She sat there in shock, not sure whether to follow them or look to see what had set them off. It took nearly a minute of internal wrangling before she finally decided. She wheeled herself into the kitchen and gasped in shock. It was neat as a pin, certainly neater than she'd managed to leave it even after her cleaning spree. There was a plate full of holiday shaped cookies, a plate of toffee, and a plate of assorted goodies. She moved further into the room and smelled coffee; looking around she saw that the carafe was full. Hmm. Had their Christmas spirits taken pity on them and turned friendly? Even as the question occurred to her, she realized how absurd it was. And, she pointed out to herself, it really wasn't much of a mystery since there were a limited number of suspects and only one who was likely.

Smiling to herself, she went to find her teammates. She figured she'd see what else was going on before coming back for the caffeine hit. Without even pausing to think about it, she headed straight for the living room, positive that was where she'd find them. And sure enough, there they were, standing completely still, arms draped around each other's shoulders. She wheeled herself into the room slowly, not wanting to break the apparent trance they were in. Catching the faint hint of motion, she saw Helena's hand beckoning, and she maneuvered herself over to sit next to the brunette, who promptly wrapped her free arm around Barbara's shoulders.

The tree, a healthy green this morning, had all its lights twinkling and it seemed as though a few more ornaments had magically grown on it overnight. The pile of presents, too, seemed larger than when she'd set them under the lowest branches. The stockings were once again hanging under the fir bough and candle covered shelf – the cord on which they hung nailed into the wall this time instead of into the front of the shelf – and they bulged with candy and treats.

In between the candles were two Christmas cards that had not been there the night before. At the exact moment Barbara noticed them, they lifted up from their resting-place and floated through the air; one landed in her hand, the other landed in Dinah's free hand. The faint smirk on the teen's face wasn't really necessary for her to figure out how the cards had moved. She opened the card and stared at it for a long moment. The handwriting was achingly familiar, but she couldn't say with complete certainty that it belonged to Bruce.

Even as she pondered it, she heard Dinah exclaim, "Hey, this is Alfred's handwriting! It says, 'Merry Christmas, from a couple of old friends.' Oh wow...it's so cool that he snuck back in here and did this."

Barbara waited for the usual tensing of Helena's muscles that happened anytime something suggested her father's presence. It didn't happen. The arm wrapped around her shoulders was still relaxed and nothing in the woman's posture indicated the kind of hostility that usually popped up in connection with Bruce Wayne. She glanced up at the brunette, quizzically, and saw the dark blue eyes swing around to rest on her, the woman's face surprisingly calm.

Helena's whisper was for her ears alone. "I'm still angry at him for deserting me and Mom. I probably always will be. But I'm learning to let go of some of it. Quinn actually did me some good…she helped me see that I've given my father too much power over me by holding on to my anger so tightly. I don't want that – or him – to control me or define my life anymore."

And there was another Christmas miracle.

Not surprisingly, she heard Dinah, oblivious as usual to the nuances, asking what her card said. She stared at it once more and then read, "Help is given to those who help themselves. Merry Christmas." They stood there in silence for another moment or three, soaking in the warm sentiments and taking comfort in each other's presence.

Despite all the disasters of the day before, Barbara couldn't help but think this was the best Christmas she could remember.

The End

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