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Chapter 7

These are the bravest and brightest people on the planet. Sometimes, it is supremely evident in all they do and all they are that these heroes are the pinnacle of human achievement. Fighting side by side with all of these heroic individuals has given me a glimpse into what drives a human being to greatness and what it takes for someone to put the safety and well being of the entire human race above their own life. Even in non-combat situations, I have seen these people perform in ways that would make an "ordinary citizen" run for shelter. Sometimes, merely being in their presence is enough to remind me why I am glad I adopted Earth as my new home when my Martian brethren fell.

This is not one of those times. Chuckling, I remind myself that this party is the one chance for some of my friends to "let down their hair," so to speak. This is the one chance they have to relax, forget the woes of the world for a few hours and just have fun. For years now, the JLA Holiday Party has been the one place where anyone and everyone in the Hero Community could come to socialize with one another, share a few laughs and sometimes get a little wild. Thankfully, ever since the year we mistakenly allowed Guy Gardner unfettered access to the punchbowl, there has been a strict "no alcohol" policy for this party. I think Booster and Beetle still have the scars from that night.

The turnout is a little lower this year. I think part of that is due to the last minute date-change. I’m not entirely certain what Batman has planned for tomorrow that required his attention so much, but when I welcomed him up here tonight, his surface thoughts were screaming pictures of several major Gotham Villains to me. Whatever it is, my guess is that Batman is going to be rather busy. It’s probably just as well that we're not as packed this year as we have been in previous ones. There’s only so many times you rally want to have to answer the "So, did you guys really reveal your secret identities to one another?" question. Yes, we have told one another and no, I won’t tell you who Batman really is.

Now, with the Watchtower brimming with heroic holiday cheer, I remember the many times we have all come together for a worthwhile or noble cause, the countless times we have been victorious over insurmountable odds. We may not always see eye to eye on a personal level, but when the chips are down, I know that I can count on every last person in this room to be by my side. And putting this get-together on every year is my little way of thanking each and every one of them, not only for being the heroes that they are, but also for helping to make a Martian like me a little more… human.

 

"J'onn? Are you okay?" Superman walked up beside the Martian, placing a hand on his shoulder. J'onn blinked, then looked at the Man of Steel, shaking his head lightly and smiling.

"I’m fine, Clark. Just thinking."

"Well, stop it. It’s a party. There’s no thinking at parties," Clark replied, smiling wide.

J'onn merely looked at him and chuckled. Both men then glanced around the room, surveying the collected heroes with equally satisfied smiles. J'onn paused at a group of the younger heroes all gathered around Arthur. Without taking his glance from the cluster, he leaned over to Clark and asked, "What is Arthur up to?"

Clark laughed lightly. "He’s regaling the younger generation about the evils of Christmas."

J'onn shook his head lightly, chuckling. Arthur had promised Clark to be as ornery as always and it looked like he was living up to that promise. J'onn wondered how long it would take the kids to realize he was actually kidding.

"Hey Clark," J'onn prompted, pointing to another familiar young face passing through the crowd, "looks like your protégé is at it again this year…"

Superman followed J'onn’s pointed finger to see Kon-El, aka Superboy, weaving through the crowd with a smirk on his face as he eyed each woman he passed. Clark simply shook his head in joking disappointment.

"That boy never learns, does he?" Superman asked rhetorically.

"Let’s just hope he thought up new lines this year. I swear, he’s not trying to 'pick-up' a date, he’s just trying to see how many times he can get slapped in one night…"

As if on cue, a loud slap resounded through the room. Several nearby party-goers turned to see Superboy holding his cheek, a mischievous grin still on his face and Donna Troy storming away. The scene didn’t faze many of the older heroes as they were quite used to the sound of someone getting their face slapped at the Holiday Party. Over the years, it had become almost tradition, so much so that when there wasn’t someone walking around and inappropriately hitting on all the women, it didn’t really feel like the right party. The faces may have changed over the years, but there was always at least one. Before Superboy, it was Guy Gardner. Before Guy, it was Oliver Queen. Each had their own methods, their own lines and their own "intended victims" but the result was always the same: gasps and slaps, followed by chuckles around the room.

"You know," J'onn half-whispered to Clark, "it’s times likes this that I really miss Ollie. Don’t get me wrong, Kon-El is… 'filling the role' as usual, but no one had the style and grace that Ollie did when it comes to the art of the come-on."

Clark chuckled in agreement and both men paused briefly, each remembering their fallen friend in their own way. Suddenly, a short red and white blur appeared in front of J'onn.

"Hi!" the squeaky little voice chirped out from the unkempt mass of hair and goggles now standing before him. J'onn smiled and looked down at the new arrival.

"Hey, Bart. How are y…" before J'onn could finish his question, the blur was gone again, instantly appearing before Clark.

"Hi!" the voice came again, this time directed at the Man of Steel. Clark looked over at J'onn then back down to Bart Allen, a.k.a. Impulse, the Young Justice speedster. "Hello Bart…" Zoom! He was gone again. The blur sped around the pair several times, both of their capes billowing lightly from the breeze of the circling figure. Bart stopped in front of J'onn again, an elated smile on his face.

"Merry Christmas!" the young speedster chirped before disappearing again, circling the pair another half dozen times in half a second, then came screeching to a halt in front of Clark again. "Merry Christmas!" he repeated, then before either of the older heroes could reply, he made a few more laps around them and zipped off across the room. Both J'onn and Clark watched with amusement as Bart continued around the room stopping at each person to offer his quick little holiday cheer.

 

"Hi!" Bart chirped again, this time coming to a halt in front of Dinah Lance.

"Oh! Hello… uh… Impulse, right?" Dinah stuttered in surprise at the same time Bart offered a quick "Merry Christmas!"

"Hey Bart," came the slightly annoyed voice behind him. Bart instantly spun around to see Kon-El standing there, trading glances between Bart and Dinah. "Oh! Hey Kon! How’s it goin'?!" Bart elated, an over-exaggerated smile on his face.

"Fine," Superboy almost spat the word as he mentally urged his fellow YJ member to move along and stop interrupting his quest. Impulse may be a hero that moved near the speed of light, but some things -- like catching a clue -- came ever so slowly for him. He stared, still smiling at Kon who nodded toward Dinah as a not so subtle hint to the young speedster. Bart looked back over his shoulder, smiled at Dinah, then returned his attention to Kon. Bart’s face suddenly lit up in realization, then he winked not-so-slyly at Kon and sped off. Kon simply shook his head slowly.

"Is he always like that?" Dinah mused aloud, chuckling lightly.

"Pretty much," Kon admitted, offering a half-amused smile. "So," Superboy’s smile turned into an almost lecherous grin, "The Ray tells me you're into younger guys…"

 

The collection of younger heroes surrounding Arthur completely ignored the loud slap coming from Dinah’s direction, their attentions completely focussed on the older Atlantian, who was still in mid-rant.

"… and the religious meaning behind the holiday is now completely ignored by most. It’s now little more than a completely consumer-driven holiday! ‘spend that hard earned money, folks. Buy, Buy, Buy!' That’s all it means anymore!"

"That’s not entirely true," Arsenal started to interject, but was completely steamrolled by Arthur’s continued diatribe.

"The true, deep-rooted philosophical and spiritual meaning behind the holiday is lost in a mountain of greed, unabashed consumerism and mass-market hoopla! And the more consumers buy into it -- just as parents continue to perpetuate the lie that is Santa Claus -- the more and more the ad agencies and product manufacturers will continue to ram it down your throats!"

"Dude, it’s just Christmas!" Gar Logan interrupted. "Season of Sharing and all that. What’s the big deal?"

"The big deal?!" Arthur turned to the green-skinned Gar, exasperated, "The big deal is that the surface world’s -- and especially the United States' -- dependence on commercialism and material possessions are the main thing that have kept your society from truly advancing as a civilization. Culturally, psychologically and spiritually, your society is in a stranglehold that has kept it from becoming a truly great and peaceful one. And until you are able to toss down the yoke of your own dependency, you will never really live up to your true potential as a race. Not to mention what all of this crass commercialism is doing to your collective psyches. I mean, I truly detest coming to the surface this time of the year! The millions of hapless consumers, trundling around with their arms laden with packages and bags -- Not a happy one among them! Every time I come to the surface during this so-called 'Holiday Season', I am inundated with these garish advertisements and in-your-face pitchmen hocking their wares in every inch of available space. It is as insulting to my intelligence as it is annoying! And it should be for you all as well!"

"Wait," Cassie Sandsmark (Young Justice’s version of Wonder Girl) broke in, "I’ll admit to the commercialism surrounding the holiday, but at the root of it all, it is the Season of Peace and Love. It is the Spirit of the Season itself that permeates…"

"Oh PLEASE!" Arthur interrupted again, "that’s the biggest insult of them ALL! Spirit of the Season, indeed! How insulting -- how arrogant it is that you people set aside one time of the year to 'put forth that extra effort' to be nice, kind, giving and civil to one another! First off, it shows your arrogance that it takes 'extra effort' in order for you to be nice to one another and secondly it shows the rest of the world that it is indeed possible for you to do so! Yet, rather than opening yourself to those feelings year round, you pack all of it into one neat little holiday season so you can feel better about yourselves and the way you conduct your lives the other 11 months of the year…"

Arthur stopped abruptly as the red and white blur suddenly popped up in front of him.

"Hi!" came the standard greeting, followed by the toothy smile. Arthur simply stared down at him, a bemused grin on his face. "Hi yourself."

"Merry Chr…" The rest of Bart’s holiday greeting was muffled as Cassie’s hand clamped around his mouth. She spun him around to face her, removing her hand from his mouth and grasping him on both shoulders and staring condescendingly at him. "Bart, what are you doing?!"

"I'mjustspreadingalittleholidaycheertoeveryoneheresaying"Hi"andwishingeveryoneaMerryChristmasand…"

"BART!" She screamed, knowing that if she let him continue, he’d ramble on until he turned blue in the face. "What’s gotten into you? I mean, you're always a bit… hyper, but this…"

"Actually," Arrowette explained as she approached the group, "I think this may have something to do with it." She held up a silver tray.

Cassie looked at her friend and teammate, then to the tray in her hand. "An empty serving tray?"

Arrowette cast an irritated glance at Bart, then looked back to Cassie. "Well, up until he got here, this 'empty' tray was stacked with Christmas cookies. About 5 dozen Christmas cookies. Christmas Sugar cookies," the female archer explained.

Cassie returned her attention to Bart, who had started to vibrate in her hands, almost shaking the goggles off her face. She clamped down harder, stopping him in place. "BART! How many cookies did you eat?!"

Impulse smiled sheepishly, then was suddenly gone from her grasp and fleeing around the room. Wonder Girl threw her hand up over her eyes as she lowered her head. "Aw, crap…" The others around them laughed as they watched Bart zipping around the room.

Arthur felt something on his shoulder and turned to see a familiar green hand resting there. He turned to J'onn standing behind him, a slight smile on his face. "It’s time," was all the Martian said and he motioned for Arthur to follow. Before leaving, Arthur turned back to the group of younger heroes he had been talking to. "Just think about what I said. Don’t succumb to the hype." He turned to follow J'onn toward the conference room.

"Quite the speech," J'onn muttered to Arthur as the Atlantian caught up to him. "I’m just not sure why you gave it…"

"Oh, c'mon J'onn. It was hysterical! You should have seen Gar’s face when I started comparing Santa Claus to Satan…" Arthur offered with a laugh.

J'onn just shook his head. "I couldn’t help noticing, however, that it all seemed a bit… familiar somehow…"

"Ollie," Arthur admitted. "Holiday party about 8 years ago. I thought it was so damn funny that I had to remember it. I’m sure it lacked Ollie’s particular… flare, but I hit the major points…"

"Well, few could ever match Ollie’s style." J'onn said, his thoughts again drifting to their former compatriot.

"Yeah," Arthur agreed, nodding toward Kon-El, who they were quickly nearing as he swaggered toward Courtney Whitmore, the newest incarnation of the Star Spangled Kid, "no matter how hard they try."

"It’s funny," J'onn stated, glancing over at Arthur as they neared the conference room, "Clark and I were just reminiscing about Ollie."

"Yeah, it’s times like these that I really miss him. I mean, sure: he spent most of the Holiday Parties getting drunk, hitting on all the women, but he did it with such style, such grace…"

"You couldn’t help but love it, I know." J'onn agreed.

They passed Kon-El and Courtney, just in time to overhear: "Saaaay, nice rod! Wanna see mine?"

J'onn and Arthur both ignored the subsequent slapping sound that filled the room as they walked into the Conference room.

"Not even in the same league…" Arthur mumbled, chuckling.

 

As each Justice League member had entered the Watchtower at the beginning of the party, each had come into the Meeting Room and placed their gift on their own chair. Now, as they entered, they each took their seat and set their presents in the table in front of them. Superman rounded the table to his chair, but remained standing.

"Thank you all for coming tonight," he started. "I’ll skip the speeches this year and just say that we've been through a lot this year. We've weathered countless storms and come out on the other side of this year a stronger, more cohesive team. And the truth is, regardless of what’s in all of these packages, we have already given each other the greatest gift of all: a commitment to one another, to this team and to the world. For that, I thank you all. Now, without further ado…"

Superman reached down into his chair and produced a small wrapped box. He walked around the table, placing it in front of Wally. Superman made his way back to his chair as Wally began unwrapping his gift. Shredded paper flew as Wally’s hands made quick work of the wrapping job. He stared down at the stack of small black plastic DVD cases in his hands, filing through them and reading the titles out one by one.

" ‘speed', 'The Fast and The Furious', 'Run', ‘speed Limit'… I’m noticing a theme here, Superman." Wally joked, causing the other members to laugh. "Thank you. Now," Wally pulled out a wrapped square box and slid it over to Plaz.

Expecting a small wrapped ovoid (about the shape of the little colored plastic egg that Silly Putty comes in), Eel peered cautiously at the package, then over to Wally, who merely motioned at the box indicating for Eel to open it. Plaz tore the paper away, the confused look on his face increasing as he read the front of the package. "J-judy? What the…"

The other Leaguers looked around at each other, trading shrugs and confused looks as Wally sat with a devilish grin on his face. Kyle finally turned to Plaz. "What is it, Eel?"

A warm blush crossed Eel’s face as he turned the box around and presented it to the table, reading the name aloud as all the others read it silently:

"Judy the Plastic Love Doll."

A spattering of snickers wound around the table as the Leaguers all looked from the box to each other, then back to Eel. Kyle suddenly laughed outright, prompting Arthur and J'onn to do the same. Superman was trying desperately to conceal his own laugh, considering the gift, although funny, to still be a bit inappropriate. The only two not laughing or smiling were Eel, who simply sputtered as he stared at the back of the box, and Diana, who’s mouth was open almost as wide as the picture of 'Judy' on the front of the box.

"Wallace West!" Diana finally managed to say, an offended look on her face.

Wally ignored her and simply turned to the exasperated Eel, who was still staring at the box.

Wally attempted to tear Plaz’s attention away from the present. "Eel. EEL!" Plaz finally looked over, total confusion and almost dread on his features. "Open the box," the Speedster instructed.

"Wh-what?"

"Open the box." Wally repeated slowly.

Considering his pliability, Plastic Man never really trembled, instead his hands tended to just wobble a bit. With one such wobbly hand, Eel reached up and popped the top of the box open, then tilted it back toward himself to peer inside. He face relaxed suddenly, the confusion giving way to an elated smile. He quickly spun the open box over, holding it upside down over the table. Several dozen small colored plastic eggs cascaded out from the box and rattled across the table. The noise of the bouncing eggs was drowned out by Eel’s squealing voice. "PUTTY!!"

Eel’s arms stretched out and wrapped around Wally five times and squeezed in a giant constricting hug. "Thankyou-thankyou- thankyou- thankyou- thankyou!"

Wally attempted to squirm out of Eel’s bizarre grasp. "Y-you're welcome, Eel. Merry Christmas…" he managed through his own laughter.

Another round of laughter erupted from the table as Eel’s arms stretched out, surrounding the eggs and herding them back toward him. He quickly shoved the eggs back into the box, singing a little chant to himself: "I got Silly Putty. I got Silly Putty. I got Silly Putty…"

The laughter around the table died down, Diana even relaxing a bit and allowing herself to chuckle a bit at Eel’s odd behavior. Eel reached his arm down under the table and grabbed his gift. He then stretched across the table and delivered the present in front of J'onn.

J'onn looked down at the red and yellow paper, eyeing the package carefully. While drawing Plaz’s name for the Secret Santa exchange was considered the easiest choice, having your name drawn by Plaz could very well be one of the most dangerous. No one ever knew exactly what to expect from the JLA’s Clown Prince when it came to gifts. J'onn smiled then slowly unwrapped the package, realizing quickly that he was safe.

"A box set of DVD’s," J'onn explained aloud as he saw the outer rim of the plastic-sealed box with the rows of small black jewelcases. He tore open the rest of the package and read the title, casting a confused glance back at Plaz. " 'My Favorite Martian'?"

"Yeah!" Plaz replied, smiling brightly. "One of my all-time favorite shows and… well…" The pliable hero started to fidget a bit, looking around the table nervously before returning his attention to J'onn. "…um… you are! Ya'know: You're my… favorite… Martian."

Several groans sounded around the table, but J'onn looked straight at Eel and smiled warmly. "Thank you, Eel. I’ll enjoy this immensely." Eel let out a light sigh of relief.

J'onn reached down and picked up a small wrapped package, handing it over to Diana. She looked down at the box, then back to J'onn. "You? You had my name?" she asked, receiving a friendly nod in reply. "You didn’t have to do this, J'onn. You've already given me more than enough this year. More than I can ever repay you for…"

She started to hand the package back, but he held up his hand, refusing it. "Diana, please. Just open it."

She stared at him for a second, then smiled warmly and opened the gift. It was a small glass snow-globe, the base a finely crafted mahogany wood. Inside was a perfect replica of the island of Themyscira and instead of small snowflakes, miniature white and pink flower petals danced and swam around the island structures. She looked up to J'onn, a slight look of confusion on her face.

"It’s so you will never feel too far from home again," J'onn explained, smiling widely. During their sessions together as he tried to help her reestablish the connection with the lasso, she had hinted that part of her problems were stemming from a feeling of detachment from her home nation. She looked down at the globe again, her eyes starting to tear.

"Thank you, J'onn. This is… this is beautiful. Thank you so much." She got up and walked over to him, hugging him around the shoulders. He returned the hug and kissed her lightly on the cheek. They both paused, simply looking at each other for an instant, and the rest of the table knew that they were sharing a private mental exchange. She smiled again, then returned to her seat and pulled out her gift. There was a slight hesitation as she stared across the table at Arthur.

It had been pretty clear to everyone at the name drawing that she had chosen Arthur’s name. Now she suddenly seemed unsure that her gift was such a good idea. She attempted as warm a smile as possible, then slid the gift across the table toward Arthur. As soon as Arthur took the gift and started to unwrap it, J'onn sensed something was off. Arthur had obviously been as aware as the rest of them that Diana had his name and he now seemed incredibly nervous about what he was about to receive.

Using his harpoon, he slowly cut through the tape holding the gift box together and popped open the lid. After removing several layers of tissue paper, he reached in and pulled out the contents: a small, beautifully crafted sculpture of a golden dove in flight. Arthur stared at the sculpture for a minute, then straightened in his chair. J'onn turned to regard his friend, noticing the shift in posture. Arthur simply looked straight ahead at Diana, nodded lightly and replied "It is beautiful. Thank you."

The voice was all J'onn needed to hear. He instantly knew that this wasn’t Arthur accepting a gift from a friend or even Aquaman accepting a present from a teammate. This was King Orin, accepting an offering from an ambassador from another nation on behalf of the people of Atlantis. It was too cordial, too formal, too… regal. J'onn realized that Arthur was beyond annoyed, he was pissed and rather than explode, Arthur had shifted into "King Orin" mode - locking away his real emotion behind the wall of formality. J'onn quickly sent a mental urging to his friend.

::Arthur? What’s wrong?::

::Later:: was the only mental reply he got. Arthur kept his gaze locked on Diana for an instant longer, J'onn noticing from the look on her face that she realized something was wrong as well. Before the situation could get any more tense, Superman interceded.

"Arthur? Your present?"

Arthur held Diana’s gaze a moment longer, then turned to regard Superman. "Of course." He reached under the table and pulled a small, wrapped box out and handed it to Kyle. Surprised, Kyle took the box and unwrapped it quickly, revealing a small metallic cube-shaped box. The metal was darkly-colored and very dense and the entire box was etched with gold inlays, including several words in Atlantian script around the center. Noticing that the box was hinged, Kyle slowly opened the lid to reveal a gray velvet cushion inside with a perfectly placed crevice in the middle. Other than that, the box was empty. He turned to Arthur. "A…a ring box?"

Arthur smiled politely, the royalty in his voice not completely gone. "Yes, specially crafted and enchanted to conceal the contents of the box from any detection, magical or otherwise." Noticing the look of confusion still on Kyle’s face, Arthur attempted to explain further.

"I figured that if you ever wanted to take your Lantern ring off but were afraid that it might… fall into the wrong hands, you can store it in the box and no one would be able to find it except you…"

"Ah," Kyle acknowledged that he understood the way the box worked, though he still didn’t quite understand the gift. He never took the ring off. But Arthur obviously put quite a bit of thought into it and Kyle figured it was the thought that counted. "Thank you, Arthur. It’s great."

Kyle set the box down, then turned toward the wall behind his chair, holding up his hand and pointing his ring at the wall. An access panel in the wall opened and a large, green-wrapped package floated out and over the table, then came to a rest on the table in front of Batman. The Dark Knight eyed the package, which was fairly long and wide, but only a few inches thick. He picked it up, studying the wrapping, then flipped the gift over and pulled a small blade from his utility belt. Methodically, he slit the tape binding the wrapping and unfolded the paper, revealing the back of a poster-sized picture frame. He flipped the frame over and froze, staring at the picture in the frame.

Batman sat in silence, holding the picture up in front of his face and studying the detail. Unfortunately, sitting this way had kept any of the others from seeing the picture or Batman’s face. Kyle, suddenly worried that his idea was a complete failure, attempted to explain.

"See, I originally thought about doing a portrait of Batman, but then I realized that you probably wouldn’t hang that anywhere -- I mean, you don’t exactly want a portrait of Batman hanging in your living room -- so I figured this way you could hang it just about anywhere and since it doesn’t have any…" He stopped suddenly as Batman lowered the picture just enough to see Kyle and stared straight at him.

"I take it this is a Kyle Rayner original?" Batman probed.

"Y-yes." Kyle replied, trying to do the impossible: read Batman’s face.

Batman grunted and looked back down at the picture. Kyle couldn’t discern if the grunt was one of approval or disgust. He nervously fidgeted with his ring as Superman - on Batman’s right - and Wonder Woman - on Batman’s left - both leaned over and looked at the picture. Superman smiled in pleasant surprise and Wonder Woman gasped lightly, then looked over at Kyle with a shocked expression. The others around the table leaned over, craning their necks to get a glimpse of the picture. Noticing this, Batman held the picture up and turned it around so that the others could get a good look at it.

It was a hand-drawn, hand-painted portrait of the front of the Wayne Enterprises tower in Gotham City, mostly showcasing the large glass front doors and huge "W.E." symbol on the front of the building. Standing in front of the doors with his arms crossed and a contented smile on his face, was Bruce Wayne, dressed in a classic Italian suit. The detail was immaculate and the perspective was perfect. The portrait was, in a word: exquisite.

The entire table viewed the picture with a mixture of surprise and admiration, each Leaguer turning toward Kyle and smiling in approval. Kyle ignored all of it as he stared in Batman’s direction waiting for some kind of reaction from him. Batman flipped the picture back around and set it face up on the table. He glanced down one last time, then looked directly at Kyle, his face still stoic and unreadable.

"Exceptionally well done, Kyle. A creative, inventive and expertly crafted gift. Thank you."

Kyle stared, his mouth hanging open at what he’d just heard. A compliment. For him. From Batman! After a moment, Wally kicked him under the table to shake him from his shocked amazement.

"Y-you're welcome, B-Batman. I’m… I’m glad you like it." He managed to stammer out.

"I do," Batman replied. "Thank you."

Batman then reached under the table and set a large box in front of Superman. Clark smiled at Bruce, then opened the box and pulled out a large leather satchel, complete with several front pockets, brass clasps for the straps and a small, brass plate attached to the front with the letters "CK" engraved on it. Clark held up the satchel, tested the weight and turned it over and over, inspecting it.

"Very nice," he stated, admiring the bag. He opened the bag to look inside and paused, a confused look on his face. He looked over to Batman, who merely motioned toward the bag, indicating for Superman to remove the contents. Superman reached in and pulled out a legal-sized black file folder, the confusion on his face growing. Everyone else at the table exchanged equally confused glances between each other, then looked to Batman for an explanation. Batman, in turn, motioned to the folder.

Clark opened it and glanced at the label on the inside cover of the file:

CASE FILE:
#43-21WFMS9910I
Gray, Harrison Ph.D.

Clark’s eyes widened, then his brow furrowed again. J'onn finally voiced the question on everyone else’s mind: "What is it, Superman?"

"It’s a case file. An old one. Dr. Harrison Gray. It’s…" He paused, looked over at Batman, then back to the file. "It’s the first case Batman and I ever worked on together. Dr. Gray was a plastic surgeon from Gotham who was killed in Metropolis… but," he looked at Batman again, "… I don’t understand…"

"Keep reading," Batman instructed, his fingers steepled under his chin and his face still expressionless.

Superman flipped through the file at super speed, his eyes scanning over the various police reports, interview transcripts, and newspaper articles. "I still don’t understand," Superman repeated as he continued to read, "we could never figure this out. The clues never matched up. We were never able to…" He stopped abruptly, staring at one page near the back of the file: A BatComputer log report. His head suddenly snapped up in Batman’s direction. "You solved it! You actually solved the case!"

Superman stared aghast, read the page again, then stared at Batman again. "How?! This is, what, decades old?! All the leads were cold. How did you…" Batman simply stared back, the strange twitch-smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Superman dropped his head, exasperated. "I know, I know: You're Batman, that’s how."

Batman finally spoke. "Actually, I’d be glad to go over with you how it all finally worked out. We'll talk about it later." He stood from his chair, addressing all of the Leaguers. "For now, I think we're done here."

Superman stood as well, still in shock but picking up on Batman’s cue. "Yes, let’s all get back to the party. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all."

As everyone else stood and started collecting their presents, Kyle, Wally and Plaz were chatting back and forth about what all had happened. J'onn turned to Arthur to ask about the present from Diana but Arthur just grabbed the statue and headed immediately out the door. J'onn followed, but paused at the door to the meeting room as he noticed Arthur heading through the crowd without saying a word to anyone and walking straight toward the Teleport room. J'onn figured it was best to just let him go for now; he would talk to Arthur later once he’d had a chance to calm down. Wally, Kyle and Plaz passed J'onn at the door and headed back out to the party.

As soon as the trio exited the doorway, they saw a figure sail through the air backwards and slam against the wall right next to the door they had just come out of. They looked over to see Superboy slide down the wall and land in a heap on the floor. All three looked around the room and finally caught sight of Big Barda, standing all the way across the room and glaring at the now fallen Kon-El, a scowl on her face as she slowly rubber her knuckles.

Instantly, the red and white blur zoomed past and Impulse came to a stop right next to the crumpled mass of teenage hero by the wall.

"Kon! Kon! Are you okay!" Kon-El opened his eyes, blinked several times to get his focus, then looked across the room at Barda, a huge, almost dreamy smile coming to his face.

Bart struggled desperately to help Superboy to his feet. "Dude! What were you thinking! She could break you in half!"

Superboy just continued to stare at her. "I know," he replied in a sing-songy voice, "I think I’m in love!"

To be continued...

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