Superman futurefic (spoilers for "Lexmas")
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
"This is totally lame, Dad."
Charlie Ashford grinned, thinking his son sounded just like he'd sounded when he was eight. Except he hadn't had a dad. He'd been what was politely referred to as an underprivileged child, which meant his mom had been working two jobs and still hadn't been able to scrape together enough money to afford Christmas presents for her five kids.
If it hadn't been for the kindness of strangers, he wouldn't have had any sort of Christmas for five years running. Which was why he and his son were now walking into Metropolis' biggest mall, their arms laden with wrapped gifts.
His son had never known what it was like to be poor, and Charlie hoped he'd never have to. But Charlie knew very well what it was like, and he realized some kids in Metropolis didn't get Christmas at all unless people like themselves helped them out a little.
"It's not lame," he said mildly. "Every year the Daily Planet runs this Toys for Tots drive. They've been doing it since I was a kid, and every year it gets bigger. I know it's hard to believe, but there are kids out there who won't get any presents at all if other people don't donate them."
Virgil scowled. Charlie thought wryly that if he'd had a name like Virgil, he would have had the shit beaten out of him in school. But a decade ago, the name had gotten popular, sort of like the names Noah, Connor, and Braden had when he was a kid. His wife was into what was cool and fashionable, so the scion of the Ashfords had been dubbed Virgil. So far, the kid hadn't gotten beaten up once, somewhat to Charlie's amazement.
But then, there were five other kids named Virgil in his class, so that probably wasn't really surprising. Probably a kid named "Charlie" would be the one to get beat up nowadays.
"Why don't their parents buy them stuff?" Virgil wanted to know.
Charlie heard the rumbling sound of a crowd close by, and he raised his voice a little to be heard over the noise. "Their parents can't afford it," he explained. "Not everyone has a job, you know."
Virgil rolled his eyes. "It's still lame. I don't see why I had to come along."
Because I want you to grow up to be a generous and decent human being, Charlie thought, but decided it was probably best not to say so. "Superman's supposed to be here," he said instead. "If you donate a gift, you get to shake his hand. That's cool, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Virgil admitted. "I guess that's pretty cool."
"Plus..." Charlie grinned. "You might even get to meet Santa Claus."
Virgil rolled his eyes. "Dad. Everybody knows there's no such thing as Santa Claus."
They walked around a corner, and found a huge crowd. There was a long line of people waiting to meet Superman, and they moved to the end of it. Charlie craned his neck, trying to see over the crowd.
"Is Superman here?" Virgil demanded, hopping up and down.
Charlie craned his neck, looking over the crowd. "I think so," he said.
The line moved forward, and people shifted position a bit, and suddenly he saw a tall, dark-haired man in the familiar red, blue and gold suit, a Santa hat sitting on top of his dark hair. On his left a red-suited Santa sat in a chair, a small child in his lap, and to his left stood a blonde woman-- a reporter for the Daily Planet, Charlie thought, recognizing her photo from a column on the Planet's online editorial page. But it was Superman who drew his attention.
Oh, my God, he thought, shocked. It's Santa Claus.
Charlie had been a little kid, about Virgil's age, when he'd walked into his living room late one Christmas Eve and found a young, dark-haired guy wearing a Santa hat and leaving presents under the tree. He'd glared at the man with suspicion, because everyone knew Santa had white hair and a beard, and wore a red suit.
"You're not Santa Claus."
"Sure I am." The man had smiled, and pointed to his hat, as if it constituted incontrovertible proof of his identity. "I'm, uh... I'm the new, improved model."
Charlie's eye had been caught by movement on the roof across the street. "Liar," he'd said, pointing. "You can't be Santa. He is."
The dark-haired man had stood up and looked out the window, then left without another word, and Charlie had gone to the tree and poked eagerly at the presents he'd left.
The next morning he'd gotten the video game player he'd always wanted, along with a bunch of cool DVDs and toys, and for a while he'd wondered if maybe the young guy really was working for Santa. He couldn't have been the real Santa, of course, because he was too young. But maybe he'd been an elf or something.
As Charlie had gotten older, of course, he'd realized there was no such person as Santa, and eventually his mom had told him they'd gotten gifts from Toys for Tots for five years. At that point he'd realized the young man had just been delivering toys for Toys for Tots, and he'd realized there had been nothing magical about it at all. His Christmas that year had been due to the kindness of strangers, not Santa Claus.
Which in and of itself was pretty magical, really.
But as he stared at Superman, who was grinning beneath his Santa hat, he realized he'd seen him before.
Of course he'd seen plenty of photos of Superman, and he'd even seen the man fly overhead a few times, but he'd never put two and two together. But seeing Superman wearing the Santa hat, he suddenly remembered a long-ago night vividly.
Superman had been the "new, improved Santa" delivering presents to his house that Christmas Eve.
The line inched forward, and at last the blonde reporter-- who was dressed as an elf, and a pretty darn cute one, considering she was probably ten years older than Charlie was-- took his armload of presents, and Virgil's, too, adding them to the growing stack of presents behind Superman.
Superman stuck his hand out to Virgil. "Thanks for bringing the presents," he said, his deep voice ringing with sincerity.
Virgil shook his hand, looking impressed. "Wow," he said, very softly.
Superman flashed a bright grin, like he was used to kids being tongue-tied and awestruck around him, and offered his hand to Charlie. "Thank you," he said.
"Thank you," Charlie said. "For everything."
He could tell Superman didn't recognize him-- and really, there was no reason he should. Charlie been eight years old, after all. But it didn't matter. Because now he knew those presents hadn't entirely been due to the kindness of strangers.
There had been a little magic involved, after all.
"If you like," Superman said to Virgil, "there's a line over there where you can tell Santa what you want for Christmas."
Virgil rolled his eyes. "There's no such thing as Santa, Superman. Everyone knows that."
"Right," Superman answered, nodding solemnly. "Believing in Santa would be almost as crazy as believing in a guy who flies."
Virgil blinked up at him, looking confused, and then shrugged.
"Okay," he said. "I'll go talk to Santa."
"Merry Christmas," Superman said with a smile.
"Merry Christmas, Superman," Charlie said.
They headed for the end of the other line, and Virgil tugged on Charlie's sleeve.
"Dad," he said, very softly. "Superman's real. Is Santa real? Is there really a Santa Claus?"
Charlie looked at the Santa at the head of the line. He looked a lot like the guy Charlie had seen up on the roof that night, but really, all guys in Santa suits looked alike. That had been a long time ago, and for all Charlie knew that guy was dead by now.
Besides, Charlie was a grownup now, and he knew there was no such person as Santa Claus. Santa was just a sort of personification of the way people tried to be generous at Christmas, the way they tried to take care of one another.
He looked at the huge pile of wrapped presents behind Superman, presents that would make a lot of kids in Metropolis very happy, and he smiled.
"I don't know if that's the real Santa Claus or not," he answered. "But..." His gaze returned to Superman, and he remembered seeing a younger version of that well-known face, smiling at him as he put presents on a bare, empty floor beneath a tree. Superman had looked like a teenager then, just a kid, really. A kid who'd been trying to make other people happy, even before he'd put on the suit and cape.
A kid who'd helped make one of Charlie's childhood Christmases a lot brighter, the way he was still helping to make kids' Christmases brighter, even all these years later.
"Yes, Virgil," he answered at last, smiling. "There definitely is a Santa Claus."