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Chapter 6

Wally sat in the Monitor Womb chair, glancing over the multiple monitors of news, watching for any signs of global emergency. Ok, he should have been doing that. Instead, his eyes were locked on Monitor 15, watching half-naked supermodels parade down a catwalk amidst a barrage of camera flashes.

"God bless Victoria Secret," he muttered to himself for the fifth time in the last half an hour. Suddenly, a small flashing on the console tore his attention away from Tyra Banks strutting down the runway wearing an oh-so-revealing bra and panties number. Wally turned toward the console and, upon registering the flashing as the incoming teleport indicator, immediately began typing away at the console, returning Monitor 15 to its "standard" station.

Monitor 15 had just flicked over to an interior shot of the US House of Representatives when the Monitor Womb door opened. Wally spun the chair around to greet…

"Kyle! What are you…? Dude, you look like shit!"

"Gee, thanks buddy," Kyle retorted sarcastically, walking toward Wally. Kyle was in his 'civilian clothes', a completely disheveled turtleneck and jeans ensemble. His face appropriately matched his attire. "Man, you have no idea…"

"What the hell happened to you?" Wally got up and walked over to greet his friend. He tried (unsuccessfully) to hide the humor in his voice as he took in the "tornado-whipped" style of Kyle’s outfit and general demeanor.

"What happened?! I’ll tell you what happened!! Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, The Gap and the Limited! THAT’s what happened!"

Wally sucked in through his teeth. "Ooo. Holiday Shopping, huh?"

"Ya know, I thought I was all set! I had gifts for everyone on my list already. Jen, Mom, Alan, John, Guy, you and Linda… hell, I even had a present for Radu downstairs! I had everything bought, wrapped and ready by December 1st!"

"So what happened?"

"Plaz! That’s what happened! Plaz and his goddamn… Secret Santa bullshit!"

Wally couldn’t hide his laughter that time. He sputtered, then burst outright into laughter when he saw Kyle’s distressed reaction.

"You know what? Fuck you, Wally!" Kyle grumbled half-jokingly but still annoyed. "You have no idea the shit this one gift has put me through! I mean, how the hell am I supposed to find a gift for B…"

"Whoa whoa whoa!" Wally interrupted, still chuckling in spite of himself. "You're not supposed to tell me who you have! That’s against the 'rules', remember?!"

"Oh, fuck the rules, Wal! I’m at the end of my friggin rope here!! I mean the idea of shopping for Batman was bad enough! But now I discover that shopping for Batman isn’t just shopping for Batman, it’s shopping for Bruce-Fuckin'-Wayne!! I’m finding myself mired in the old cliché of having to shop for the man who, quite literally, has EVERYTHING!!"

"Okay, Kyle, take a breath," Wally attempted to calm his friend. "You'll figure something out."

"That’s just it, Wal. I've wracked my brain for two weeks and I can’t think of a single thing that doesn’t come off as trite, stupid or… or… or… beneath him! You've got to help me!"

"Hey, I've got my own person to shop for…"

"And there’s no way in hell that your choice is harder than mine!" Kyle retorted. "I mean, really! Who do you have?"

Wally looked away, not really wanting admit the name on his little slip of paper.

"What?" Kyle asked, noticing the suddenly nervous detachment of his friend. "What is it? Who do you have?"

"Uh… never mind that. About your present…"

"No! Don’t change the subject! Who do you have?!"

Wally mumbled something under his breath.

"What was that?" Kyle prompted, staring a hole into the side of Wally’s head.

"Uh… I said… 'Plaz' " Wally begrudgingly admitted.

"Plaz? PLAZ?!? You draw the easiest name in the bag and you're giving me grief about MY shopping woes?!?"

"Hey! He’s not that easy…"

"Give me a friggin break, Wally! Every year he asks for the same thing and every year he gets the same thing! It’s one of those understood things about the JLA Secret Santa thing: Plaz get Silly Putty!"

"Well, that’s just it! I mean, it’s the same thing, every year. Silly Putty for Plaz! Silly Putty for Plaz! I wanted to do something a little different this year…"

"Need I remind you," Kyle interrupted, "what happened two years ago when Queen B got him something other than Silly Putty?! He spent the entire party moping around, dejected. He was miserable for a month! He wants Silly Putty, you get him Silly Putty! That’s it! End of argument! You're job is already done!"

"I guess…" Wally admitted.

Kyle slowly shook his head and sighed in exasperation. "Jesus, Wal, I’m trying to come up with the world’s most impossible gift and you're worried about Plaz…"

"Okay, fine," Wally relented. "Hey, what about a gag gift. I mean, that’s part of the rules right? Can be serious or funny, real or gag. So just screw all the 'perfect gift' ideas and get him something funny."

Kyle just stared at his friend like the speedster had just grown a second head. "Are you out of your mind? This isn’t Plaz we're talking about, this is Batman! The man doesn’t have a sense of humor! I might as well be buying a pair of google-eye glasses for Sinestro, for godsakes!"

"Oh c'mon, Kyle. It'd be funny as hell to get him a gag gift. Something he’d never buy for himself in a million years. Something he’d never get from anyone else. Something so inane and stupid and…" Wally trailed off, a mischievous smile creeping across his face.

"What?" Kyle’s brow furrowed. "What? WHAT?! Dude, you're scarin' me! What the hell is that look for."

"I've got it. The perfect gag gift for Batman. He’s a complete techno-junkie, right? All the little gadgets and gizmos. I've got the one perfect electronic gadget that he would never buy; he would never even admit to owning…" The smile widened.

"WHAT?!" Kyle asked, exasperated.

Wally looked him right in the eye and began singing (and clapping) the jingle. "Clap on." *clap clap* "Clap off" *clap clap* "Clap on, Clap off… The Clapper!"

Kyle slowly covered his face with his hands, shaking his head slowly. "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is it. Wally West, The Flash, The Fastest Man Alive has finally and completely gone insane."

"Oh c'mon," Wally chuckled. "Think about it! It'd be hilarious! Millionaire Playboy Bruce Wayne taking his most recent… conquest into the huge bedroom in stately Wayne Manor and then… " Wally raised his hands and clapped twice with the snobbiest golf-clap he could.

Both men suddenly froze as every light, monitor and computer in the Monitor Womb suddenly went black. Confused tension filled the pitch black room as both men stood in complete silence. Kyle was the first to manage to speak.

"Uh… Wal?"

Wally double-clapped again and everything sprang back to life. Kyle and Wally simply stared at each other in complete shock and disbelief until…

"Damn, J'onn was right. You white boys are so easy to fuck with."

Both of their heads spun toward the door. Steel stood leaning back against the doorway, a small hidden control panel open right next to him. Kyle, still frazzled, stared a the metal-clad hero while Wally simply shook his head and started laughing. Steel closed the control panel, then headed over toward the monitor console.

"Hey, Steel," Wally greeted through his chuckling. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, Superman asked me to cover Monitor Duty for him. Had some 'Emergency Christmas Shopping' to do, or something."

"Ah. Cool," Wally replied. "I’ll log out of the console and you can take over." He walked over to the console and began typing. Steel looked back over to Kyle, who was still standing there frozen, staring, back at where Steel had first been standing in the doorway. Steel tapped Wally’s shoulder with the back of his hand, then pointed to Kyle.

"What’s with him?"

Wally looked back over his shoulder at the frozen Kyle, then chuckled. "GSO," he explained, "Gift Shopping Overload. He’s a little overwrought. Kyle! KYLE!"

"Huh-what?" Kyle shook his head, coming out of his shopping-induced haze and turning toward Wally and Steel. "Oh. Uh… sorry."

"I never have that problem," Steel explained as he took over at the monitor, logging himself in. "I make all my gifts, so there’s no shopping and I never have to worry if the recipient 'already has one'…"

Kyle gasped, his face suddenly brightening. He ran over to Steel, wrapping his arms around the man and placing a noisy kiss on the top of the metal head. "Steel! You're a friggin' genius!" He let go of the now surprised Steel and ran out of the Monitor Womb at full speed. Wally watched him go, turned to Steel and shrugged, then zipped out of the room, following Kyle.

After a stunned moment, Steel just shook his head, then returned to the console.

"White boys."

 

*Rrrrrring* *Rrrrrrring*

"Huh, no answer. Well, they are busy this time of year."

Eel hung up the phone, then checked the number in the phone book in front of him again. Shrugging, he picked up the phone and dialed the number again. After one ring, the electronic female voice chirped through the phone.

"Thank you for calling Best Buy. Happy Holidays! For Home Audio, press 1. For TV’s VCR’s and Camcorders, press 2…"

Eel listened through the menu, pressing the appropriate key when he heard what he wanted. "… For CD’s, DVD’s and Videos, Press 8… *beep* Thank you. Please wait while I transfer your call."

*Rrrrrring* *Rrrrrrring* *Rrrrrring* *Rrrrrrring*

Sighing, Eel slumped back in his easy chair, listening to the lulling sound of the ringing phone line.

 

"So, are you guys having the 'Office Christmas Party' this weekend?"

Donna Troy sat on Diana’s couch, sipping her tea. Diana was just finishing putting together a small tray of "finger food" in the kitchen.

"If by 'Office Christmas Party' you mean the JLA Holiday party, then yes. It’s this Friday." Diana replied, coming into the living room of her apartment and setting the tray down on the coffee table. She took a seat next to Donna on the couch, picking up her own tea.

"Friday?" Donna asked. "I thought that you guys usually did it on Saturday."

"Well, normally, yes. But Batman said that he had something that 'required his attention' on Saturday this year. He told us to go ahead without him, but you know Kal: he wouldn’t hear of it. So we moved it to Friday."

"I see. Well, everyone invited, as usual?"

"Of course," Diana smiled. She loved her little chats with Donna. They were both so busy recently that they didn’t get together often, so she cherished what little time they could spend together. "The party is open to anyone who 'puts on the cape' in the name of Justice."

"Great. I think most of the old Titans gang are planning on showing up. You know Roy and Gar: they never pass up the chance at free food," Donna laughed.

"Wonderful! I heard Kal saying the other day that he thinks most of Young Justice will be there as well, so we should have a pretty full house."

"Well, let’s face it: how often do most of us get the chance to be on the moon! I’m sure it'll be fun."

They both laughed, then quietly sipped their tea.

"So," Donna finally broke the silence with a probing tone, "is Arthur going to be there?"

Diana sighed. She was hoping they could have avoided this conversation today. "Yes, Donna. I’m sure he will be."

Donna picked up on her former idol’s hesitation. "Oh please. Don’t tell me you two still haven’t worked things out?!"

"Donna, please. It’s complicated…"

"Bullshit!"

"Donna! Language!"

"Sorry, Di, but it’s true. It’s only as 'complicated' as the two of you make it! Have you tried talking to him?"

"Yes," Diana admitted, sighing, "I have tried. Several times. It always seems to just… I don’t know… go wrong. We both end up just yelling at each other."

"Okay, then what?"

"What do you mean, 'then what'?" Diana responded. "We scream and yell, then one of us… usually him… storms out."

"So he’s still a little upset," Donna concluded.

"Upset? No, it’s more than that. I think he’s completely through with me. He doesn’t want anything to do with me anymore…"

"You know," Donna interrupted, "for someone who’s the Champion of Truth, you can be so clueless sometimes!"

"Excuse me?" Diana turned a scornful eye in her former pupil’s direction.

"Look, Di. If he really didn’t care anymore, do you think he would bother yelling at you at all? If he was really completely fed up and done with you, don’t you think he would just walk away or ignore you completely?"

"Donna," the Themysciran princess answered, her voice still full of the teacher’s-condescension, "are you trying to use the 'he yells because he cares' excuse with me?! That’s such a chauvinistic, bigoted, male-centric excuse that goes against everything you or I believe in…"

"That’s not really what I’m saying, Di," Donna interrupted before Diana could really get on a roll. Crass and rude though the moniker was, Donna understood the impetus behind Wally and Garth’s insistence on calling her mentor Princess Prattlehead. Diana had a tendency to be a bit long winded if you let her. Donna learned long ago exactly when to cut her off. "All I’m saying is: try to take a step back and look at this from a different perspective. Which would you prefer to be dealing with at this point: The Arthur who yells and screams at you or The Arthur who ignores you and won’t talk to you at all?"

Diana paused, actually considering Donna’s words. After a few moments, she spoke in a softer tone. "I suppose there is some validity to your claim. I must still affect him somewhat in order for him to continue have any kind of dialogue with me. It’s just that… well… he’s…" She started to get visibly frustrated. "Argh! He’s just so… so… Pigheaded!!"

"Hellooo! Earth to Diana! Of course he’s pigheaded," Donna explained, "He’s a MAN!! He'll continue to BE pigheaded until he thinks that either he’s won the argument or that the argument isn’t worth having any more."

"So how do we get past this?" Diana wondered, not ready to really admit defeat.

"First question," Donna stated, getting up to refill her tea, "is whether or not you want to continue things with him. If not, then the whole point is moot."

Diana sat in silence again as Donna returned to the couch. "I suppose, at the very least, that I wish for the friendship to continue. He and I were friends before… all of this happened. The truth is, being with Arthur was nice. He was warm, friendly, compassionate… passionate. But I’m not sure if we can ever get to be that close again. I’m not sure if either of us want to, considering how quickly and… ferociously it went sour." Diana sighed, her mind travelling back to the good times she had shared with the man she considered one of the best loves she had ever experienced. "I just… I don’t know… I want us to get past this… hump we've run into."

"Look," Donna soothingly offered, placing a caring hand on Diana’s knee, "the trick is: don’t let him get away with it anymore. You can’t stop him from yelling by yelling back. Be calm. Be smooth. Be the rock that he obviously can’t be right now. When he starts yelling, try to calm the situation down by being calm yourself. I've seen you do it hundreds of times in the field, this is really no different. Treat it like you would a hostage situation or a diplomatic confrontation. Diffuse the anger and talk respectfully and soothingly. King or no, he’s still just a man. And men like to have their egos stroked every once in a while."

"I suppose…" Diana agreed weakly.

"Get him something. Something that shows that you still care, that you are ready and willing to put the past behind you and move forward. A peace offering!"

"Well, I did draw his name for the Holiday Gift Exchange," Diana offered.

"There you go!" Donna smiled brightly, seeing the opportunity. "There’s your opening. Get him something that says 'Let’s let bygones be bygones and try to settle this once and for all."

Diana allowed a faint smile to cross her face as she turned and looked out the window. "A peace offering…"

 

"Thank you for calling Best Buy. Happy Holidays! For Home Audio, press 1. For TV’s VCR’s and Camcorders, press 2…"

Eel pressed the "1" key on his phone. Surprisingly, someone answered after just 3 rings.

"Home Audio, this is Brent. How can I help you?"

"Yes, I was trying to find out if you had a particular DVD box set in stock…"

"Ah! You want the DVD section. Hang on, I’ll transfer you."

"NO!" Eel shouted… too late.

*Rrrrrring* *Rrrrrrring* *Rrrrrring* *Rrrrrrring*

 

Batman crossed the rooftops carefully. He didn’t like being away from his city too often, but occasionally, it was necessary. He had to take extra care and extra precautions when visiting another town, especially one as brightly lit and relatively low-to-the-ground as Los Angeles.

But some things were worth it. How long had it been? How long had he and Clark known each other? How many times in the past few decades had they teamed up? And there was one thing that was constantly stuck in the back of both of their minds. Every time they teamed up, whether just the two of them or with the League in its many incarnations, this one thing always hung over their heads like a giant neon sign blinking the word "Failure!" over and over.

And failure was not something Batman took lightly. Ever.

 

Eel slammed the phone down on the cradle and screamed at his wall. He picked the phone back up, dialing the number - now memorized - and waited to hear the first syllable out of that damned automated female voice. He mashed the "0" button on his phone and held it down for a few seconds.

After a few rings, a light, cheery voice answered the phone. "Thank you for calling Best Buy Customer Service. This is Becky, how may I direct your call?"

"Don’t transfer me and don’t hang up the phone!" Eel barked, frustration oozing across the phone line. "I've been trying to reach someone in your DVD section for half a goddamn hour now and I can’t get through to anyone! I've been transferred, put on hold and hung up on now more times that I can fuckin' count and I’m sick and tired of it! All I want is a simple 'Yes' or goddamn 'No' and I can’t even get THAT at his point!"

"Uh… O-okay sir. Let me get you a manager…" the bright and cheery voice had been replaced by a condescending and patronizing one.

Eel sighed. "Fine."

For a second, the line went dead, then the now-familiar hold music began. Eel growled, then paused again as the line switched over to a ringing.

*Rrrrrring* *Rrrrrrring*

At least now, he would get through to someone who he could complain to that would honestly DO something about it.

*Rrrrrring* *Rrrrrrring*

Three different sales people and hundreds of rings and he still didn’t have an answer to his simple question. He played over and over the complete tongue-lashing he would give the manager about the complete LACK of customer service at the store. Whatever happened to 'The Customer is Always Right'?!? Whatever happened to treating someone with simple common courtesy?!

*Rrrrrring* *Rrrrrrring*

Whatever happened to picking up the GODDAMN TELEPHONE?!!?!

*Rrrrrring* *Rrrrrrring* *Rrrrrring* *Rrrrrrring*

 

Vulko entered Arthur’s private chambers. "King Orin," the Second in Command announced, "The Kryptonian is here to see you, sir."

Arthur stood from his desk, leaving the stacks of decrees and possible legislation sitting in massive piles. He walked around in front of the desk as Vulko bowed, then stepped aside to let Superman enter. Arthur walked up, shaking the Man of Steel’s hand and motioning to Vulko to let them alone. He simply smiled and rolled his eyes at Clark as Vulko bowed again and left the room.

"He’s only like that when company comes," Arthur joked, motioning toward the couch in his chambers. "When it’s just me, he just strolls right in and starts talking. But when it’s an 'outsider', he’s all Pomp and Circumstance."

Both men chuckled as they sat. "So, Clark, what brings you to Atlantis?"

Clark smiled that mid-west cornbread smile. "Well, Arthur, I was just coming down to make sure you were planning on attending Friday’s festivities."

Arthur’s smile faded a bit, then turned into a smirk. "So, you were elected as the one to check up on the 'Temperamental Monarch' this year?"

Clark shuffled uncomfortably in his seat, still keeping that warm smile on his face. "It’s not like that, Arthur…"

"Cut the crap, Clark. Every year one of you comes down here to make sure I’m not being a party-pooper. Poseidon, I miss one year, and ever since I’m branded as the inevitable no-show. I’ll be there, Clark. What’s the expression? Um… oh! 'With bells on'. Whatever that means."

Superman visibly relaxed. "I’m sorry Arthur. It’s just that, well… we all know that you don’t exactly celebrate Christmas down here…"

"Nor does Diana, if I remember correctly. Themyscira has its Winter Solstice celebration which is good enough reason for her." He paused, adding the mock-instructional tone that Garth always referred to as his 'professor voice'.

"It’s true, we don’t celebrate the traditional surface winter season holidays. We don’t really have seasons down here. Our ’seasons' are determined by migratory habits of the sea creatures. Most of the surface fish tend to migrate toward the Atlantis area during that time because it’s warmer in the surface waters above Atlantis this time of year. We do have a mid-migration festival which is not unlike your holiday season."

He smiled again, returning to his normal voice. "So I, too, have reasons to attend a 'Holiday' party, Clark. Have no fear, I’ll be there. If it makes you feel any better, I promise to be as brusque and ornery as always…"

Clark returned the smile. "We wouldn’t have it any other way."

Both men stood, shaking hands again. Arthur cocked an eyebrow and looked toward his fellow Leaguer. "How long has it been since you've been down here?"

Clark thought for a moment. "I don’t know. A couple of years at least."

"If you have some time, I’d be glad to show you around. You can see some of the advancements we've made in the last few years."

Superman clasped him on the shoulder. "I’d like that."

 

Out of all members of the Justice League, Plastic Man has long been recognized as the most "Christmas-y" of all. Always excited, always joyous, always giddy as a child.

The other people standing in line with him at the checkout counter at Best Buy at that moment would find that a little hard to believe. He was a beaten man. A defeated man. He was the one thing he had always hated to see during the Holiday season: a grinch.

He continually muttered under his breath to himself, shooting the errant wicked stare at anyone who made mention of it as he clutched his lone item to his chest.

When the lady two people in front of him in line asked the cashier to hold on while she ran back to collect one more item, he scoffed. When it took her a whole 2 minutes to return, he sighed dramatically. When the guy in front of him tried to pay for $300 worth of electronics with an out-of-state check, he actually spouted a "Oh, COME ON!" loud enough to attract the attention of everyone standing in line at the registers.

He finally got to the checkout counter, manned by a young guy who didn’t look old enough to shave yet, and dropped his item on the counter. The boy behind the register looked at him with a glassy-eyed stare that would have looked more at home in a George Romero film than a retail shopping center. When it took the kid 3 tries to swipe his credit card only to realize that he had been swiping it backwards in the machine, Eel leaned over and began banging his head on the counter. His purchase finally made, he got his bag and his receipt, and walked out past the manager who had come over to see what all the ruckus was about. The manager cast a wary eye at him, then perked up and offered an overly chipper "Merry Christmas, sir!"

"Christmas?" Eel growled, followed by the two words he never thought he would ever mutter in his life.

"Bah, humbug!" 

To be continued...

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