‘Twas the night before Christmas
When all through Luthor manor
Came the sound of a cell phone
Raising a clamor
The cell phone trilled and Lex Luthor knocked things off the night table in his blind search for it. Objects thumped and crashed on the hardwood floor beside the bed. The bedroom’s chilled air raised goosebumps on his skin and he yanked his arm back underneath the thick, goosedown covers when he found the phone. Sleepily, he squinted in the bright blue glow of the cell phone buttons illuminating his warm blanket cocoon. He came fully awake when he saw the caller ID.
“Clark, what’s wrong?” Lex’s sleep-roughened voice cracked, as he spoke into the receiver. “Are you all right? Are your parents—?”
“Lex, calm down,” Clark interrupted over the line. “My folks are fine. No one’s hurt.”
Lex’s shoulders relaxed and he dug his way from beneath the blankets to peer at the clock. “It’s two in the morning. Normally, if you call this late, something’s amiss.”
Lex sighed and rubbed a tired hand over his face. “What do you need, Clark?”
“Come downstairs to your office.”
“You’re here?” Lex climbed out of bed, tucking his feet in his slippers. The bedroom was freezing. He crossed his arm over his bare chest and rubbed his opposite bicep, before reaching for his royal purple robe draped at the foot of the bed. “Why didn’t you just come up?”
“Of course, you can,” Lex said, cinching the robe belt over his paisley pajama bottoms. In spite of the tenuousness of their renewed friendship, Clark was welcome anywhere in his home.
“No, I mean, I really can’t. I’m… stuck.”
“Stuck?” Lex tried to picture how Clark could be stuck in his office and came up blank. “I’ll be right down.”
Terminating the call, Lex tossed the cell phone on the bed and headed downstairs. Frost covered the windows he passed, blurring the snowy landscape of the manor grounds. Moonlight spilled through leaded stained glass, coloring the floor in reds and purples.
He found the office empty and quiet, no Clark in sight. Switching on a lamp, he looked behind the leather sectional and the bar, and underneath the billiards table for his friend. “Clark?”
He received no answer and he braced himself, in case Clark attempted to jump out and scare him. “Clark?” he called louder.
“Lex, I’m up here!” Clark’s muffled voice drifted from somewhere unknown.
Lex turned and looked up towards the balcony, but saw only rows of books and a small table flanked by reading chairs. “Where?”There was a moment of silence before Clark answered, “I’m in the chimney.”
The dark gray interior of the stone fireplace recessed three feet and spread four feet across. Ash remained in the bottom of the recess from Lex’s earlier fire. Lex stubbed his toe on the raised stonework in front of the fireplace and bit off a curse. He grabbed the shoulder-height mantle, lifted his foot, and rubbed the injured appendage through his slipper.
“I’m here, Clark.” Clark was louder by the fireplace. Still expecting a scare, Lex ducked his head, leaned into the fireplace, and peered cautiously up the flue. The chimney was pitch black. “Clark?”
“I can see you,” Clark said, voice echoing hollowly. Soot sprinkled on Lex’s upturned face, nearly blinding him. He wiped it off with his robe sleeve and squinted as he looked up the flue again.
“Why are you in my chimney?” he asked.
Lex’s jaw clenched at the non-answer. “And how did that happen?”
“I think it was the extra pie I ate.” More soot fell on Lex. “Can you maybe hurry up and help me? I’ve been up here for hours.”
“I was in here until twelve-thirty. Why didn’t you call for me then?”
“Lex, I’m in your chimney.”
Pride goeth before the fall. Lex rolled his eyes. “Hold on.” He grabbed the fireplace poker and poked it carefully up the flue.
“I can’t reach it,” Clark said.
“How far up are you?”
“Six feet, maybe. Your chimney narrowed,” Clark accused.
“I apologize for having a chimney too narrow for you to come down.” Lex tasted acrimony on his tongue. “I’ll contact someone tomorrow to rectify it.”
Clark’s silence and lack of apology irritated, as usual. Lex pursed his lips, fetched a pool cue, and shoved it up the hole. Maybe he’d smack some courtesy into Clark.
“Got it,” Clark said. “Here, catch my cell.”The cell phone dropped from the flue and Lex bobbled it one-handed. It landed at his feet with a poof of ash. He kicked it out of the way and half-watched it skate out of the fireplace across the hardwood floor and end up under the couch.
Uncaring, Lex wrapped both hands around the pool cue and pulled until his muscles strained. The awkward height of the interior of the fireplace made it hard to get leverage. It also hurt Lex’s back.
Lex spit soot from his mouth. “Are you moving at all?”
“A little. It’s my shoulders mainly. They’re too broad.”
Lex changed positions, kneeling beneath the flue in the fireplace. Ash dirtied his pajama pants and the bottom of his robe. He altered his grip and pulled harder. Bits of mortar and more black soot dropped on him, but not Clark.
“You’re really wedged in,” Lex said when he took a break. He rolled his neck until it cracked. “Why the hell did you do this?”
“I wanted to surprise you,” Clark mumbled after a moment.
“You succeeded,” Lex said drolly.
Clark’s loud sigh echoed in the chimney. “This wasn’t supposed to happen. Santa never gets stuck.”
“He also isn’t real.” Lex stopped mid-swipe of his dirty cheek. “Were you trying to play Santa?”
“Yes. I thought it would be funny.” Lex could hear the pout in Clark’s voice. “I could probably get myself free if I didn’t have your present. But I’m afraid I’ll crush it and it might break if I dropped it or I fell on it.”
Lex’s chest tightened. “Clark, you’re…”
“A moron, I know.”
Amazing was more like it. Lex swallowed thickly. Just when he couldn’t remember why he and Clark remained friends, Clark would do something like this.
The pool cue clattered on the floor when Lex tossed it aside. He stood carefully, reaching up towards Clark, as he bodily entered the flue. He went slowly, not wanting to get stuck, too. Thankfully, his shoulders were narrower and he was thinner than Clark, and he had no problems straightening.
Clark’s hands latched onto Lex’s forearms. Lex grabbed him in return and felt fuzzy material under his grip. He brought Clark’s arms together in a diver’s pose and prepared to pull. “Push with your toes as best as you can.”
Lex’s weight and the better leverage worked. Clark inched downwards, scraping soot and mortar from the chimney walls with his body. Lex sank to his knees and leaned back as he continued to pull, until most of Clark’s head and arms were free.
Clark tilted his head, looking down at Lex while dangling from the chimney flue. A Santa hat sat askew on his head, elastic band beneath his chin. Black dirt streaked the red and white material of his hat and coat, and streaked his face. He grinned sheepishly, complete with nose crinkle. “Ho-ho-ho.”
A laugh bubbled past Lex’s lips and echoed against the fireplace stone. Soon, with a little more tugging, Clark’s shoulders popped completely free, and with an oomph, an untangling of limbs and more laughter, he stood in a full, filthy Santa suit in Lex’s office.
“All right, Santa,” Lex said, as he bent and brushed futility at the ash on his pajamas. “I’d better be on your ‘Nice’ list, now.”
“Maybe I should check it again.” Clark chuckled at Lex’s look and reached down the front of the fur-edged, red coat.
Lex waited, rubbing his arms over his robe for warmth. Wintertime in a castle was not fun.
Something under Clark’s coat unzipped and he pulled out a clear plastic bag. Water sloshed inside the tied bag, agitating the two fish swimming inside.
“The black and white one is a Ballina Angelfish and the other is a Blue Devil fish,” Clark said, handing Lex the bag.
“You got me fish?” Lex studied them. It was an odd gift. Had he ever said he liked fish to Clark?
“Oh, and a diver dude, too.” Clark pulled out a four-inch man in an old-fashioned scuba suit. “That way, when Warrior Angel and Devilicus are fighting, they have someone else to talk to.”
An Angelfish and a Devil fish. Warrior Angel and Devilicus. A balloon swelled beneath Lex’s breast. “That’s smart of you,” he said in a rough voice.
“Fish are supposed to be very Zen-like,” Clark said, looking like an eager puppy awaiting praise.
“I’ve read that, too.” Lex’s Adam’s apple bobbed and he blinked several times. He had soot in his eyes.
Clark’s smile softened warmly. “Merry Christmas, Lex.”
“Thank you.” Lex
cleared the frog from his throat. “I
have your gift, too.”
Lex set the fish carefully on his desk and sorted through a pile of green and red envelopes stacked to one side. He found Clark’s and handed it over. “It’s not as nice as the fish,” he warned. He’d barely put any effort into Clark’s present, though he had picked the venue out himself.
“Two tickets to see Green Day?! This is so cool!” Suddenly, Lex found himself being smothered by Santa Clark. His toes left the floor as suspiciously strong arms embraced him tightly.
“Thank you!” Clark gushed loudly in Lex’s ear. “Chloe’s going to be so jealous when she finds out we’re going to the concert.”
Lex blew sooty fluff from his mouth. “And who is the lucky lady Chloe will be jealous of?”
Clark released him enough to see his face. “Um, you?”
Lex’s brows climbed up his forehead. “I gave you two tickets so you could bring a date, Clark.”
Clark gave him a predatory look. “I know.”
Lex was wary. “Clark—”
Suddenly, Clark kissed him, too hard and awkwardly, right on the lips. Lex sucked air in sharply through his nose, going cross-eyed while staring at Clark. Clark let go just as abruptly, terror written across his face. He pivoted and strode rapidly for the door, gray fluff-ball on the tip of the hat bobbing wildly. “Pick you up at five-thirty on the twenty-seventh. Merry Christmas!”
Lex stared at the space Clark had occupied, licked his lips, and rubbed them together. They were gritty from the soot and throbbing slightly from the rough kiss. Clark actually thought he could just come down Lex’s chimney, dressed as Santa and bearing fishy gifts, kiss him, and then expect to go out on a date with him after being such a jackass for months.
“Who am I kidding?” Lex looked at Warrior Angel and Devilicus, who were doing what could only be described as kissing, in the water bag. Lex snorted. “You said it, guys.”
Scooping them and the diver off the desk, Lex glanced at the fireplace, shook his head affectionately, and went upstairs to take a shower.
But I heard him murmur
‘ere he walked out of sight, Happy Christmas to all
And to all a good night.