Secret Santa, or, Thank You Arthur Porges

by Teaphile


The verse is by Christina Rossetti, from 'Winter: My Secret'. The short story actually exists.


The first of December started normally for Lex; he got out of bed, glanced out the window, groaned at the amount of snow falling, and dressed as warmly as he could, thankful that it was Sunday and he had nowhere to go. Running down the stairs in an effort to get warm, Lex could hear his father talking to someone in the breakfast room. Lex stopped at the door and listened for a moment before identifying the second voice as Mrs. Arngrim, the cook. Lionel sounded like he was in a good mood, so Lex pushed open the door and joined them.

"Good morning, Lex," Mrs. Arngrim greeted him. "Sit down. You've got coffee, fresh muffins, fruit...." The stout woman waved her hands wildly in the air, and Lex had to smile at her antics. "Just sit and eat. I have to go, I'm late for church." She headed for the door, pulling off her apron to reveal a sensible wool dress. She stopped and leveled her forefinger at Lex. "Don't let your father eat all the strawberry preserves; that's the last jar. You make him give you some." With that last admonishment she almost flew out the door.

Lex sat, and couldn't help but notice the large grin on his father's face. It was nice to see that someone could make him happy. Mrs. Arngrim and Martha Kent seemed to be the only people to get an honest reaction out of the man. "Good morning, Dad," he said, filling his coffee cup.

"Morning, Lex," Lionel replied, and held up two white business-size envelopes. "Our delightful patissiere said that someone left these letters for us this fine morning, but she wouldn't read them to me, and I don't have my magic wand."

"Letters?"

Lionel tossed them on the table in front of Lex, narrowly missing the aforementioned preserves. "She said they were from Santa."

"Santa." Lex picked up the envelopes carefully, and looked at the return addresses: S. Claus, North Pole, H0H 0H0. "Right." He carefully slit open the one addressed to his father and read it aloud.

"Dear Mr. Lionel Luthor,

"Due to the overwhelming number of people in the world, I've been forced to ask the adults of Smallville for help this Christmas. If you agree to my proposal you will make another citizen of Smallville very happy, and you will yourself be rewarded many times over.

"My wife and I have devised a program in which everyone over sixteen will draw names for a Secret Santa. You will keep the name a secret from everyone, especially the person named. Then, beginning December 21st, you will give one gift a day to that person, concluding on Christmas Day. Each gift should be under $5.00, and include nothing expensive to care for. The object is to have fun, and brighten the day of one of your neighbours.

"If you choose to take part, please give your name to one of our elves at Smallville City Hall, 1-888-BE SANTA, before December 10th. On December 16th you can call the same number, or visit our office in City Hall, to receive your name and a complete list of guidelines.

"I urge you to help me out, and in doing so participate in building your community spirit.

"Best wishes,
"Santa Claus."

Lex opened his own letter and found it was exactly the same. He was mildly interested in the idea; he'd done Secret Santa in university a few times, but never on this scale. He glanced up at his father, who had a pensive look on his face. "Dad?"

"Lex, do you have any idea what this is about?"

"As far as I know, it's harmless. I'll ask around. See if everyone else got letters like this."

Lionel shook his head and sipped from his coffee cup. "Community spirit, they say. I say it's a frivolous waste of time and money."

"I don't know, Dad. It might be fun. You can never have too much positive PR." Lex prepared a muffin as he spoke, dutifully using the strawberry preserves.

"This is your company town now, Lex, not mine. I'll have none of it." Lionel stood and made his way out the door, leaving Lex to enjoy his breakfast in peace.

*

Peace wasn't to be had for long in a house with Lionel Luthor, so Lex made his escape in the early afternoon. Taking the formerly-Luthor-Corp-now-LexCorp Hummer he drove in the winter, he decided to stop in and see if Clark could entertain him for a while. The snow had slowed a bit, and the roads were freshly ploughed, so Lex had no trouble getting to the big yellow farmhouse.

He parked in the little pull-off area, carefully out of the driveway, and approached the house. Martha answered his knock, red hair pulled back off her face, gingham apron dusted white with flour. She smiled when she saw him and ushered him into the kitchen.

Lex looked around at the array of baking items littering every available horizontal surface. "Is Clark around?"

Martha went back to her floured wooden board. "He's out checking on the cattle. They tend to get in trouble when it snows as hard as it did this morning. He should be back in a few minutes." She tipped out a ball of dough on to the board.

"I'll just wait in the car and leave you to your baking, then."

Martha glared at him over her shoulder. "Nonsense, Lex. You can help. Roll up your sleeves, wash your hands, and start kneading." She thumped another ball of dough down beside hers.

Lex could only obey. He washed his hands and joined her. The board was old, looking like it had been in the family for generations, and was more than big enough for two people to work on. "What are we making?" Lex asked as he tentatively copied Martha's technique.

"Cinnamon raisin bread. I give it as gifts every year."

Lex stepped back from his dough. "You mean other people are going to eat this? I can tell you now, mine won't be as good as yours. Maybe you should do it, so that I don't ruin your gift."

"Actually, Lex, yours should be better than mine. You're taller, so have better leverage, and you have greater upper-body strength." She demonstrated by pushing down hard on her dough, stretching it out. "Bread dough likes it when you're mean to it."

Watching Martha carefully, Lex tried again. After a few minutes he'd matched her rhythm, and started to feel a slight burn in his arms.

Martha must have noticed him tiring, because she smiled up at him. "Bread baking is good exercise, too. And great for working out your frustrations," she said. She winced slightly as the front door banged shut in the wind, and shook her head.

Lex nodded, understanding. He thought living with his father was bad, but he couldn't imagine working for his father and at the same time living with Jonathan and Clark, one of whom was currently stomping all the snow off his boots, if the noise level was to be trusted.

Eventually Clark came into the kitchen, and stood behind Lex, watching him work, his head poking over the shorter man's shoulder. Lex flinched as a drop of icy water hit his neck. "Clark?"

"Yes?" Clark sounded amused.

"You're dripping on me."

"Oh."

"And you smell like a cow."

"Do not."

Lex chanced a look at Clark. "Do too. And you have what I can only assume is cow hair all over you."

"He's right, Clark," Martha added. "How'd you get so messy?"

"One of the new heifers got tangled in some wire. I had to get her out, and ended up leaning on her," Clark said as he passed by on his way upstairs. "Will you need my help for the rest of the day, Mom?"

"Yes," Martha replied emphatically. "I could use both of you, if you don't have other plans, Lex."

"I'm fine with that." He took the oiled bowl Martha handed him and once again copied her as she put the dough in it and covered it up. He rubbed at the excess dough on his hands, and wondered how he'd managed not to get flour all over his black pants. "What next?"

"I'll clean this up, and you can get the cookie dough out of the fridge. Two rolls should be good for now."

Lex did as she asked, remembering partly why he was here. "Dad and I got letters today. Something about a Secret Santa?" He looked up and saw Martha nodding. "Is it legitimate?"

"It's a Smallville tradition. I used to be on the committee, but I didn't have time this year. You interested?" Having tidied the table and counters, Martha set about putting on a pot of coffee.

"A little," Lex replied, putting the rolls of dough on the table. "It sounds like fun."

"What's fun?" Clark asked, bounding down the stairs and into the kitchen.

"Secret Santa," Lex and Martha replied simultaneously.

Clark grabbed a chunk of dough and licked it off his thumb, avoiding the swat his mother aimed at his head. "It is fun."

Lex smiled up at him from where he was sitting at the table. "So why didn't I hear about this last year?"

Clark sat beside him and snuck another taste of cookie dough. "You weren't going to be here for Christmas." He ducked his head. "And I figured you'd think it was unsophisticated."

"I do think that," Lex said, and waited for Clark's hurt look. "That's why it's fun. Being sophisticated gets boring, I'll have you know."

Clark leaned in and lowered his voice a little. "But it looks good on you." He seemed to look at Lex for the first time that day, and stood abruptly. "You need an apron so you don't mess up your clothes." He stooped down to root through a low drawer, and seemed to find what he wanted.

Lex barely caught the heavy cloth that came flying through the air at him. He unfolded it and looked at it suspiciously. The apron was full length, and was dark green with...were those geese? Yes, geese. Wearing bonnets. He glared up at Clark, who was looking at him. It was quilted. Lex's glare hardened.

Martha joined them at the table then. "Oh, Clark, I didn't know I still had that." She turned to Lex. "Clark made that in sixth grade home ec."

Clark smiled maliciously. "Put it on, Lex."

It was a dare, and Lex couldn't not do it. He slid the loop over his head, trying not to break his glare at Clark as he did. He tied the waist, and stood, ignoring Clark's giggles. "I'll get you for this, Kent."

Clark giggled some more, and Martha intervened. Handing Lex a rolling pin and Clark a bag of powdered sugar, she glared at them both. "You, roll out and cut the cookies. You, make the icing and help him. I have to run to the store, and I expect you both to be working the whole time I'm gone."

Clark waited until the front door closed behind her and turned back to Lex. "You look so cute," he said.

*

Lex was looking forward to Christmas this year. Sure, his dad had insisted on having the annual lavish party at the mansion but Lex didn't have to deal much with the planning, because that was Martha's job. The house seemed lighter and happier this year, mostly because of her presence. Clark was flirting with him again, and Lex had a fun new project to occupy him.

He pondered that project as he sat in his office at the plant. He'd never realized just how difficult it was to find interesting gifts for under five dollars. He was lucky, though, because he knew the recipient of the gifts. Lex had been concerned that he'd end up buying gifts for a stranger; that would take the fun out of it. But no, he'd called just yesterday to find out that he'd been assigned as Secret Santa to Martha. He wondered if she'd rigged it that way.

"Gabe!" Lex called as the older man passed in front of Lex's open office door. Gabe Sullivan poked his head in and Lex continued, "I need an opinion."

"About what?" Gabe asked, taking a seat on the other side of Lex's heavy wooden desk.

"Do you know about this 'Secret Santa' thing?"

"Sure. Chloe's going nuts trying to find acceptable gifts for her history teacher." Gabe smiled at the thought.

Lex leaned back in his chair, imaging a frantic, babbling Chloe. "That's my problem exactly. Acceptable gifts for less than five dollars. What kind of things do people usually buy?"

Gabe waved a hand in the air. "Candy, flowers, toys, knickknacks, ornaments; all the things people wouldn't normally buy for themselves."

"Huh. I think I can do that." Lex remembered seeing a little antique shop on the outskirts of town that had inexpensive wares.

As if reading his mind, Gabe said, "And quality doesn't matter, Lex."

Lex looked at him sharply. "Quality always matters."

Gabe shook his head, smiling. "Not in this case. You'll have a hard time finding high-quality gifts in that price range. Try the dollar store downtown."

"You're not serious."

"I'm totally serious. It can't be done."

Lex smiled in a way that scared people who didn't know him well. "I'll take that as a challenge, Gabe."

*

After doing some research, Lex had a gift game-plan. He'd need to go to Metropolis for most of it, and he was pretty sure that Martha would figure out it was him, but he didn't care. As he drove he idly wondered if the price of gas should be included in the gift; he figured it shouldn't, and if anyone asked he could always pretend that he had business there anyway.

By the time the twentieth rolled around, Lex had everything he needed, and was quite proud of himself. He boxed up each gift individually, except the last one, which he would deliver himself. He then labeled the boxes and, as instructed, put them in another, unsealed box. The system the committee had set up was interesting; the Santas would give all the gifts to the committee, who would deliver the gifts each morning, thereby helping the Santas remain secret. He dropped the box off at City Hall, and wished he could see Martha's face when she opened them.

On the morning of the twenty-first Lex took the delivery and didn't hesitate to tear open the box with his name on it. It contained a note, typed on cream stationery, that read, 'Dear Lex, I wish I could buy a real one of these for you.' It was signed 'SS'. Underneath the paper in the box was a bright purple plastic Ferrari. Almost immediately his phone rang.

"Lex Luthor," he answered.

"Hey, Lex," came Clark's cheerful voice. "Did you get your first gift?"

"Yes," Lex replied warily, "just now."

"What is it?" Clark sounded innocent enough.

"A purple plastic car." Lex shook his head at the laughter that greeted his statement. "I'm starting to suspect that you're my Santa."

Clark laughed again. "If I told you, Lex, then it wouldn't be a surprise."

"Spoilsport."

"Mom likes her gift."

Lex frowned. He hadn't expected them to catch on that soon. "How did you know?"

"Who else would bother to get Godiva chocolates? Most people would just get a large box from Fordman's, or the drugstore," Clark replied. He paused for a moment. "You do understand the 'under five dollars' rule, right Lex?"

Lex forced down a smile and put on his stern voice. "I'll have you know, Clark, that a four-piece box of Godiva truffles costs exactly five dollars."

"Well, Dad's already eyeing them suspiciously, so go easy on the next one, okay?"

"Not to worry, Clark. Tomorrow's gift is completely blameless." Lex figured that not even Jonathan Kent could object to a donation in Martha's name to the local soup kitchen.

Clark snorted. "I'll believe that when I see it. Well, I've got to do some chores. Will I see you later?"

"Sure. Dad's party is tonight, and I want to get out of the house while they set up."

*

'Dear Lex,' the next note read, 'I found this poem for you. Hope you enjoy it, SS:

I tell my secret? No indeed, not I:
Perhaps someday, who knows?
But not today; it froze, and blows, and snows, And you're too curious: fie!
You want to hear it? well;
Only, my secret's mine, and I won't tell.

Or, after all, perhaps there's none:
Suppose there is no secret after all,
But only just my fun.'

Now Lex was absolutely sure that his Santa was Clark; only Clark would so openly tease him about secrets. Then again, Clark had never so readily admitted to having secrets; perhaps he was hinting at something else? Lex put the poem aside and vowed to call Clark later.

*

On the third day Lex was greeted at his desk by a cheerful red rose in a bud vase. The note read simply, 'From Santa'. Since even Clark had to know what a red rose meant, Lex called him to see if he'd admit anything.

"Merry Christmas," answered a bright voice.

"Cute, Clark."

"Hmm?" Clark didn't sound terribly distracted, so he must be playing dumb.

"I said, it was cute. The poem?"

"What poem?"

"Yesterday's poem. The Rossetti."

"Lex? Did you hit your head? You seem awfully random right now."

Lex sighed, loudly, to make a point. "No, Clark, I did not hit my head. Or maybe I did and I'm just hallucinating the poem and the rose on my desk."

Silence. Then, a rueful, "Lex, you know I won't tell you anything. It's a secret. That's why they call it 'Secret Santa'. You're too curious."

Lex smiled then, wondering if Clark had given himself away deliberately or accidentally. He decided to change the subject. "So, did your mother enjoy her third gift?"

Clark chuckled. "Yeah. She tried to see how many soap bubbles she could get to stick to the tree."

"Did it work?"

"Yeah, pretty well. That's cool; I didn't know they could make bubble-soap that turns solid."

"I want to come over and play with it sometime, you know."

Clark just laughed, and they chatted for a while about Clark's gifts before Lex had to answer another call.

*

Lex's fourth gift came in a large manila envelope. He pulled out a thin bundle of papers, stapled neatly in the top left corner, and read the yellow sticky note on top. 'Dear Lex,' it read in block capitals, 'this is one of my favourite short stories. Read it, and think about what your next gift will be. Santa'. Lex pulled off the note and stuck it to the envelope while reading the first page of '$1.98' by Arthur Porges.

Five minutes later Lex chuckled over the ending of the story. It was cute, about a man who does a small god a favour, and can only be rewarded up to the value of $1.98. At the end the woman he's in love with comes to him. The last line, though, was what both amused and intrigued Lex: "At present prices, the value of the chemical compounds which make up the human body is only $1.98." The sticky note had told him to think of his next gift, and he did, at great length. Even with inflation, he was pretty sure that the base chemicals in the human body wouldn't come to more than five dollars.

Lex had never been so excited about Christmas morning.

*

Christmas morning was idyllic that year. The snow fell gently past the window and the sound of church bells carried up to the estate. Lex rose early and thanked all the gods he could think of that his father had gone to Metropolis the day before and wasn't scheduled to return for a week. He was eating his breakfast, blissfully alone in the house, when the doorbell rang. Lex felt his good mood solidify as he rushed to let in the person who could only be Clark.

It was. Lex must have had a silly grin on his face, because Clark's was even sillier. "Merry Christmas, Lex," he said, stepping in and taking off his coat.

"Merry Christmas," Lex replied. He closed the door and backed Clark up against it.

Clark's smile faltered, then turned sly as Lex pressed up against him. His jacket fell to the floor unheeded as Clark brought both hands up to Lex's shoulders. Lex didn't hesitate in tilting his head up to close the gap between them. Clark looked puzzled, but didn't shy away. Lips sealed to lips, and Lex soon forgot which were his and which were Clark's; distinctions like that ceased to matter in the heat of the kiss. Tongues slid around and over each other, and Lex felt himself lifted up, Clark's arms wrapped around him, pulling him closer as if he wanted to absorb Lex whole. At the moment, Lex wouldn't mind that at all. His own hands were wandering possessively over the landscape of Clark's strong back. Finally Lex pulled away slightly, and his heels hit the floor. He didn't relinquish his grasp.

Lex watched Clark with amusement. Clark, in his turn, was gazing at the ceiling. "What are you looking for?" Lex asked.

"The mistletoe."

"Why mistletoe?" Without thinking, Lex searched the ceiling too. Perhaps one of his servants had placed some there.

Clark smiled down at Lex. "You don't usually kiss me, Lex. In fact, you never kiss me. Therefore, there must be mistletoe."

"Isn't that what you came here for? I just figured I'd get things started early." Lex stroked a hand down Clark's face, and watched him curl into the touch.

"Mmm...no, that's not why I'm here." Clark's eyes closed as Lex stroked his hair.

Lex let go of Clark and backed away. Something was very wrong. "Did I misinterpret your gifts?"

Puzzled, Clark shook his head. "What gifts?"

"The car, the poem, the rose, the story?" Lex ticked them off on his fingers one by one.

"Wait, weren't those your Secret Santa gifts?" Lex nodded, and Clark continued. "That wasn't me. I drew Jack Thompson's name."

"So you're not here to give me your body."

"No, that's not exactly the gift I had in mind."

Lex's face fell. "Oh." He turned to lead Clark deeper into the house. "So why did you come here?"

Clark followed closely. "Mom wanted me to kidnap you for the day."

"Sure. I have nothing better to do," Lex replied tersely.

Clark caught his arm and pulled Lex around. "Hey."

"What?"

"What if I had been here to give myself to you? Would you have accepted me?"

Lex met his gaze steadily, not giving anything away. "What do you think that display at the door was?"

Clark blushed slightly, but didn't drop eye contact. "Even though I didn't intend that as my gift, I...can't think of anything better right now."

Lex lifted an eyebrow. "Oh, really?" he purred. "Since when?"

Clark shrugged. "Since ever."

"Clark...," Lex warned.

"Okay, since...since that time I was acting weird. You remember, when I borrowed your car for a date, and then you offered to run away with me to your penthouse?"

"I remember that quite clearly," Lex responded in an amused tone. "Especially the interesting state of the Ferrari's interior, afterward."

Colour flooded Clark's face. "I was hoping you hadn't noticed that." He backed away, as if to head for the front door.

Lex stopped him with a hand on his arm. "I only wish it had been me," he said seriously.

Clark turned to face him again, and put his hand on Lex's shoulder, linking their arms. "Actually," he said, drawing Lex closer, "so do I." He slipped his arm from shoulder to back, tilting Lex's chin with his other hand. His kiss was sweet, and full of promise.

Lex had been waiting long enough, though, and laced his fingers through Clark's beltloop to pull their hips flush. One hand held him there firmly, the other scratching lightly up his back to tangle in his thick black locks. "We can rectify that," he whispered against Clark's lips.

"Yeah," came the soft reply. Their mouths met again, hot, wet, needy tongues exploring each other thoroughly. Lex briefly thought of taking Clark upstairs, but those large hands were slowly making their way down Lex's ass and he soon lost all capacity for rational thought. He broke the kiss, needing to taste Clark everywhere he could reach. He buried his nose in the crook of Clark's neck, inhaling deeply the scent of pine and wood smoke that clung to his skin. He delicately traced a line of muscle with his tongue, causing Clark to tighten his grip.

Lex slid his hand over the curve of Clark's ass, trailing a finger down the cleft. Clark shivered, simultaneously trying to lean back into Lex's hand and forward into his body. Lex leaned up to capture a soft earlobe between his teeth and whispered, "I want to fuck you, Clark. I want to feel you around me, hot and tight."

Clark moaned. "Oh, god, please."

Lex smiled. "But not today." He traced his finger back up the seam of Clark's jeans, sliding it over his hip and down the hard length of his cock, making Clark whimper. "We have other things to do today, and I don't want to be interrupted."

"Okay," Clark replied breathily. He pulled back and straightened his clothing, meeting Lex's eyes with a sudden grin. "So," he continued in a stronger voice. "Who do you think is coming here to give themselves to you?"

Lex groaned. He'd forgotten that detail of the day. "I'm sure I don't want to know. Let's leave before I'm forced to find out."

Because Fate was a bitch, the doorbell sounded just then. Clark snickered. "Too late."

"And me without my servants to send them away," Lex commented as he led Clark to the front of the house. He took a deep breath and opened the door to see....

Lana. Dressed in blue velvet and smiling angelically. "Merry Christmas, Lex," she said, spreading her arms wide as if to embrace him.

Lex felt Clark's presence behind him. Lana seemed to have noticed him too, because her eyes narrowed slightly. "Clark," she stated. "I didn't expect you here." She plastered the smile back on and continued, "Merry Christmas."

Lex looked up at Clark, who returned her smile broadly. A large hand came up to rest on his shoulder, then slid provocatively down his chest. "Do you really think I'd let my lover spend Christmas alone?" Clark asked in a voice that conjured visions of him naked. Lex wanted to bottle that voice.

The look on Lana's face was priceless as it changed from shock to disbelief to anger. "Look, Lex, if you aren't interested in me you could have just said so. There's no reason to make fun of me." That said, she turned quickly and retreated to her car, gunning the engine on the way down the drive.

Clark's chest vibrated against Lex's back as he shook with laughter. "Who knew she wouldn't believe me?" he asked.

Lex backed him into the foyer, closing out the cold air. "At least she didn't argue."

"Show me the gifts that you thought were from me," Clark demanded, leading the way into Lex's office.

"Nah, I think I'll throw them all out." He shuddered. "And to think, I was actually intrigued by some of them."

"C'mon, Lex."

Unable to resist, Lex compromised. He really didn't want to ruin the day by bringing up the subject of secrets--which showing Clark the poem would do--so he reached into his desk and pulled out the story.

Clark sat on the couch to read, his eyes eagerly searching for clues Lex obviously misinterpreted. He didn't find any. As the reached the end of the story he mock-glared at Lex. "You think I'm only worth a dollar ninety-eight?"

"Seriously undervalued, I'll admit. You're the most expensive friend I've ever had, at least in terms of pissing off my father."

Clark thought about that for a moment, then nodded. "I can see that. Is that bad?"

Lex chuckled. "Not at all." He picked up a small gift and an envelope. "Come on, let's go. I want to give your mom her last gift."

*

Lex felt strangely sad as they entered the Kent house. He'd enjoyed the past week, buying and receiving gifts that had no symbolic importance. He and his father had tried to outdo each other year after year, the gifts escalating in price and meaning. But this exchange between near-strangers was different. It was less oppressive and more fun, the way he expected Christmas was in normal families.

That idea was borne out when he saw the gifts under the tree. They were few, to be sure, but gaily wrapped in bits of fabric and hand-decorated white paper. Lex felt slightly abashed about the sheer extravagance of his gifts to Martha, but he certainly wouldn't change anything. What better use was there for money than to spend it on the people around you?

While Clark retrieved his mother from the kitchen, Lex examined the tree. Covered in a mixture of antique and new ornaments, it was as unique as the gifts under it. In the centre--next to a wildly-coloured paper snowflake signed 'Clark, age 6'--was the blown-glass ornament Lex had purchased in Prague for his mother and given to Martha as her fourth gift. He admired the way it sparkled in the light; you'd never know it had cost the equivalent of three US dollars. Plus the price of a trip to Europe, but his father had paid for that so it didn't count.

"Merry Christmas, Lex," came Martha's voice from behind him. He turned in time to catch a quick kiss on the cheek before she handed him a glass of something that smelled alcoholic. He sipped, and glanced up at her suspiciously. "Your father sent that," she answered his look. "He said I needed 'a more cultured palate'. I didn't tell him that I will never like scotch, no matter how old it is."

"It is an acquired taste." Lex sipped again, and followed her to the couch.

"One I don't want to acquire, thank you very much," she answered with a mischievous smile. She held up the delicate glass she still held. "Cognac. Only comes out on special occasions, like Christmas."

"...and birthdays, and anniversaries, and days ending in 'y'," added Clark, entering the living room with a tray of baked goods.

Martha just rolled her eyes at him. "Clark, if we drank that much cognac we'd have to cancel the cable service."

"Forget I said anything, then." Clark set the tray on the coffee table and sat a little to close to Lex. He shifted over and tried not to glare significantly at his soon-to-be lover. At the rate Clark was going, the two of them would be outed before New Year's.

Lex pulled the small gift out of his pocket and handed it to Martha. "Your last Secret Santa gift, Mrs. Kent."

"Thank you, Lex." She carefully unwrapped the package, setting aside the silk ribbon. "Did you find out who your Santa was?"

Clark answered her in some detail, leaving out the bits where Lex thought it was Clark. Martha divided her attention between her son and the heavy, milky-green bar of French soap she'd uncovered. Lex knew he'd chosen correctly the second time she absentmindedly lifted the bar to her nose and inhaled the lavender and rosemary scent.

At the end of Clark's story Lex handed over Martha's real gift in a soft cream envelope. "You should open this now, and accept it, before Mr. Kent comes in and objects," he said with a knowing smile.

"Lex, you didn't have to get me anything else," Martha said disapprovingly. She opened the envelope anyway.

"I always give gifts to my father's assistants, especially if they do a good job keeping him away from me." Lex felt his smile slip into a grin as she shook her head.

"A day at a spa? Lex, this is too much." Martha held up the slip of gold-printed vellum.

"Nothing's too much for you, Mrs. Kent," Lex replied. "Just pick a day and I'll have the limo waiting for you. No sense in wasting that day by driving for three hours afterwards."

Clark glared at Lex. "Thanks a lot. Now she's going to want to adopt you and leave me to starve."

Martha reached over and patted Clark on the knee. "I'm sure you can take care of yourself, dear."

"You're mean."

"Clark, don't talk to your mother like that," Lex's voice had picked up an echo from the kitchen. Lex looked around in surprise as Jonathan Kent walked in.

As always, he sized up Lex and seemed to find him wanting. "Lex," he said, holding out a hand.

Lex shook it, standing as he did so. "Mr. Kent."

"Are you enjoying your Christmas so far?" Jonathan asked, sitting next to his wife.

"Best one in years, sir," Lex replied with complete honesty. He saw Jonathan relax a little, and he did too. As long as Lex had friends like Clark and his family, Christmas would only get better.

END



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