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Spirits of Dionysia

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As soon as the Javelin left, Batman turned off the Christmas music. Silence replaced cheerfully saccharine melodies over the Watchtower's PA system. He took down the stockings and lights that Flash had hung across the observation deck.

He dimmed the overhead lights. Outside the observation window, the stars shone in the dark of space. He sat in front of the monitors and adjusted the display.

Harley and Ivy were decorating a silver plastic tree in Arkham Asylum with paper ornaments. He watched for several minutes, but Ivy did not turn the paper into a toxic hand lotion or grow a carnivorous tree. Fortunately, he'd seen the requisitions in time to prevent Arkham from ordering popcorn or he might have been dealing with projectile vegetables for the holidays. Ivy lectured Harley about something plant related and gave her a plush red and black harlequin doll. Ivy was knocked over by the exuberance of Harley's response. Batman did not smile.

Batman went to the next screen.

The Joker was in a new straight jacket. As he hugged himself, he sang. Batman adjusted the focus and read his lips. However, it was just the Joker’s Twelve Days of Christmas again: twelve jokes a’ joking, eleven villains plotting, ten bombs a' smoking, nine cities burning, eight vats of acid, seven heroes falling, six geese a' laying, five golden bars, four singing snitches, three French cons, two lock picks, and a joker in a bent deck. He hadn't quite decided why there still six geese a' laying.

By his calculations this was the twelfth hour Joker had been singing that song.

Batman went to the next screen.

Mr. Freeze sat in a frozen cell with a frosted snow globe in his hand. He shook it occasionally. The little ballerina inside stood on her one pink foot as the snow fell all around her. Outside the cell, snow fell on the long dark road that led up to Arkham. The snow fell on Gotham. The snow fell on the cemetery on the hill with its weeping angel over a stone crypt. The snow fell on Crime Alley. The snow fell on Wayne Manor with its cave far below. The snow covered everything until the world looked clean and pure, but what lay beneath was still there.

Batman went to the next screen.

There were all the villains that he couldn't see. All the things happening in the dark. Still, he looked through his monitors. He watched the signs.

Batman went to the next screen.

Elsewhere in the Watchtower, Wonder Woman walked out of her room. He watched her pace back and forth in front of the metal door. She wasn’t wearing her uniform. Instead, she wore a purple dress with a purple coat. The tiny Wonder Woman on the monitor went back into her room and emerged with a bottle of wine.

He slouched with purpose and went to the next screen and the next screen and the next screen.

"Batman." She sat down in the seat next to him.

He touched some controls, which were exactly the controls that he meant to touch and he wasn’t distracted at all. “What!” It was a what meant to crush, but Wonder Woman could take a lightning strike with a flick of her wrist.

She twisted in her seat, which didn't make a sound as she moved. "Everything is quiet. The rest of the team is taking the day off. You should put the auto alert on. This is the time of the year that demands celebration."

He looked up at that. "Don't tell me that you celebrate Christmas."

She straightened the crown of woven grape leaves that she wore on her head. "It’s the festival of Dionysia. I was thinking to honor twice-born Dionysus by attending the festival at Epidaurus and seeing the plays.”

“I’m on duty.” He halfway turned away from her.

She carefully put the bottle of wine on the flat surface next to the monitors. A few red and green sugar crystals gleamed as reminders of Superman’s Christmas cookies. The bottle was a thick green glass and had no label. The red wax on the top had been melted there by hand.

He frowned to control his lips. "I don't need a Christmas gift."

"It is to pour onto the earth as a sacrifice." She shook her head and the grape leaves rustled. "If you do not honor the god who rules celebration and madness, you leave yourself vulnerable to his anger."

"I'll take my chances." He held out the bottle of wine and their fingers touched around the glass. For a moment, they touched. Then neither of them held the bottle. The bottle smashed to the floor. He grimaced at the spreading red pool with its broken glass that sparkled like emeralds and not like pearls at all. “There. Now it’s been sacrificed.”

Typical of life, maniacal laughter echoed through the Watchtower. He'd known that there couldn't be Christmas without maniacal laughter. He touched some controls, while Wonder Woman called out. "Show yourself." The security systems showed no one else on board.

A high thin voice that could have been a woman or a man giggled, "Tonight, you'll get three spirits." The laughter trailed up and down and Batman reached out to touch the controls for the internal sensors. Except the buttons were now reeds in a marsh.

A woman stood up river from them. She held a basket. On her back, a dark eyed baby gurgled. She was searching for something in the water.

Wonder Woman called out, “Can you tell us where we are?” A useful question, since as near as Batman’s sensor could tell, the Watchtower didn’t exist.

The woman looked up. “Were you sent by Set?” She held up a wand and her eyes had an emptied of hope look that Batman recognized. “You cannot stop me. I will find where he has hidden the dismembered body of my husband, Osiris.”

Wonder Woman held out her hand to the woman. “We can help.” She glanced back at Batman with a wry smile. “Merry Dionysia.” She said in a low voice, “I think twice-born Dionysus is behind this and that was his voice on the Watchtower. Perhaps he has sent us into the past to carry out some task.”

Since this was not the first time this sort of thing had happened, Batman merely narrowed his eyes. Come to that matter, this wasn’t the first corpse he’d searched for in a marsh. He said, “Bah, humbug,” and established a grid search pattern. As they found the muddy green body parts, the woman put them in her reed basket. The baby gurgled. When they found his hand and put it in the basket, the basket flashed with a bright light.

A green man appeared knee deep in the water. He held out a long thin papyrus reed. “Thank you.”

Wonder Woman took touched it before Batman could yell, “No.”

The marsh became a snowstorm. Wonder Woman pulled her red wool cloak around her and snapped the quickly frozen marsh water from her skirts. “We need to find shelter.”

Visibility was in short supply, which was the only reason that they held hands as they pushed against the wind to a stand of trees. Wonder Woman floated up and ripped off some branches. She quickly lashed together a shelter with the branches and strips of bark. As he lasered a small fire from the smaller branches on the icy dirt, she laughed. “This is the first time I’ve done something like this in man’s world.” She flicked him a glance. “You’re not much like my sisters.”

He ignored that remark with a crushing silence, but again, Wonder Woman was hard to crush.

“We could huddle together for warmth.” She brushed at the ground with one hand and her smile was more deadly than any lipstick that Ivy could mix up.

They needed to get out of here. “What kind of lesson do you think this Dionysus wants us to learn?” Batman adjusted a log on the fire. The shelter warmed with yellow and red light.

She chuckled and he didn’t look at the way her lips curved. “He’s a god of madness. I doubt there’s a lesson. Just things he wants done.” She looked out into the storm. “Do you see that?”

A humanish shape lay just outside the shelter. Batman pulled out his scope for a better look. He recognized that green frozen shape.

He grabbed a burning branch, glad that the fire retardant on the gloves was holding up. Wonder Woman called after. “What are you doing?”

He put the burning branch to Swamp Thing’s frozen shape and the Swamp Thing stared up at him with deep red eyes. Batman shouted over the wind, “He’s a plant elemental. Frozen like this, he can’t create a new body. If I burn him, he’ll be free to grow a new shape. It’s like setting fire to a forest.” Swamp Thing must be mostly pine this time, because he caught fire easily. The ashes swirled away dark on the white wind.

He turned back to tell Wonder Woman to head back to the shelter, and they were standing in a vast hall full of fifteen foot pictures of the Justice League. Wonder Woman looked up at a massive statue of herself standing next to a massive Superman and Batman. She said, “My outfit looks very small from this angle.”

Batman did not say anything.

He heard the laughter from before. He turned. A little boy with curling black hair bounced and clapped his hands. “It worked. It worked. I thought I’d lost you a few times, but,” he giggled, “It worked and you’re here.”

“Why are we here? Where are we?” Batman loomed over the boy, who uncharacteristically giggled. That didn’t normally happen when Batman did that.

“You’re looming over me. This is so great.” He hugged himself. “But, okay, look, this is the far, far, far future and this is the Justice League museum. I entered the Night at the Museum contest four thousand, three hundred and eighty three times so I could find a way to bring you here. I’ve got something very important to tell you.”

Wonder Woman knelt down in front of the boy and Batman did not tell her what angle that gave the kid on her. “What is it?”

“Oh, wow. You’re so pretty and strong.” The boy blinked at her and his lower lip trembled. “And, and he’s so loomy and dark. You totally need to get together. The historical records are unclear if it happened, but I think that you’re perfect for each other. Really, please, you’ve got to. It’s really important.”

“That’s why you brought us here?” Batman glared at the future. The future gleamed back with clean photos and statues devoid of any of the struggle that the people who they depicted went through every day.

“Um, yeah.” The boy held out an electronic device. “I also want to get my holopic with you.”

“No,” said Batman.

Wonder Woman shot Batman a look. “Yes, but then you have to send us back.”

“Oh, of course.” Hologram taken and several more comments on how they were perfect for each other, accompanied by a parting gift of three bottles of liqueur, they found themselves back at the Watchtower. The bottle of wine still lay shattered on the floor. A minute had passed.

Wonder Woman laughed. “That was an excellent start to Dionysia.”

Batman pushed a button and a little machine came out to clean up the wine and glass shards. He sat back down in his chair and changed the monitor.

He heard Wonder Woman say, “Merry Christmas.” Wonder Woman’s footsteps echoed away and she was gone.

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Diana sat down on a cushion on the old stone seats of the theater in Epidaurus. There was a splash of wine and mud on her leg. She’d clean it off later.

Someone stood next to where she sat on the wide stone bench. “Is this seat taken?”

She looked up. Bruce Wayne stood in front of her with two glasses of red wine. She took one. “It is now.”

The sat and watched the play unfold as they sipped their wine that long Dionysia night. It had been solstice two days before and the days could only grow longer.