A blindingly bright light pierced through the darkness, jerking Torchio out of his blissful sleep. The fiery Scorchio mumbled to himself and buried his head under the blankets. He felt someone gently shake him, heard a soft voice say, "Hey, wake up."
Torchio rolled over, groaning loudly, "Go away."
"Can't do that. At least sit up, Torch."
Torch. How he hated and loved that nickname. Unwillingly, Torchio sat up, blinking his bleary eyes before he could finally focus his gaze at the masked Lenny before him. The room's light was on, illuminating the messy floor with startling clarity. Torchio squinted at the digital clock on the nightstand. "It's almost midnight, Lightning. Why in Neopia did you get me up?"
"Did you forget?" Lightning Lenny asked. "It's our turn for the night patrol."
Torchio groaned and rolled over again. "I hate night patrols. Let me sleep."
"Torch, I'll toss you into a vat full of Meepits if you don't get out of that bed in the next three seconds."
Torchio grudgingly disentangled himself from his comforter's warm embrace and stumbled onto the cold marble floor, flinching as his bare feet touched the ground. He let his fire flare up, relaxed as it enveloped him in its familiar warmth, and gave a content sigh. Still, he could feel the cold pervading through the steel walls of the headquarters and rubbed his arms. "Well," Torchio said, "this is a wonderful way to kick off the day."
"Stop complaining," Lightning said, sounding half-amused. "I had to get up earlier than you to get you up."
"Whatever," Torchio said, stifling a yawn. "Let's just get this over with."
They shuffled downstairs, into the great, empty hall at the entrance of the Defender headquarters. Lightning pulled on a jacket, and offered Torchio one. "It's snowing outside," Lightning explained.
"So?" Torchio snorted. "I don't need a jacket. Did you forget that I can sort of, I don't know, surround myself with fire?"
"If we encounter a villain, they'll notice you easily in the dark. So..." Lightning tossed the jacket at his roommate. "Take the jacket. I know how much you hate the cold."
"The chance of us actually bumping into a bad guy is almost nil. You know that, Lightning." Still, Torchio pulled on the jacket and followed Lightning, making sure to extinguish the flames around him.
It was snowing outside. The snowflakes fell gently, softly, drifting down to the silent world below. Torchio looked up, and saw that the stars were twinkling above in the dark, velvet sky, like they were laughing. He stood there, mesmerized, forgetting the cold as he looked up at the beautiful heavens above. He felt Lightning tap him on the shoulder and turned around and saw, for the first time, that his friend was lugging a bulging bag over his shoulder.
"Shh," the speedster said, putting a finger to his beak. "We have to be quiet, remember? It's Christmas Eve. A lot of people are sleeping. C'mon."
They slid down the snowy slopes of the hill that their headquarters resided on leading to the Neopian Plaza, and made their way up a tall building. Torchio sat there, blowing small rings of smoke, watching the empty world below them. "Well, this is nice," he said. He looked back and saw that Lightning had ran off somewhere while he had been talking. Torchio shook his head, just as Lightning zoomed back, the bag gone.
"What?" Lightning asked innocently. "I was just taking a quick look around."
"You're a very good liar," Torchio remarked. "It's Blackwing's turn to patrol. I just remembered."
"Well, you caught me," Lightning said cheerfully. He sat next to Torchio and added, "I couldn't sleep. Besides, I was planning to do this a long time ago."
Torchio raised his eyebrows. "What was in the bag?"
"Toys," was Lightning's answer. "Food. The usual charity stuff."
"Great," Torchio said. "Now I know who Scorchy Claus is."
Lightning laughed, the sound ringing in the air. "Very funny, Torch. Very funny."
Torchio shrugged. "I do my best. Why did you have to get me up with you, then? I was having a rather nice dream, you know."
"I just thought that a little night walk would do you some good. You've been unusually grumpy these past few days, even though it was sort of hard to tell..."
"Ha ha. I'm laughing so hard."
"Just doing my job as a superhero."
Torchio held out a hand, letting a snowflake land on his hand. He held it up, and let warmth flood back to his arm, melting the snowflake in an instant. Wisps of steam rose. "You could've gotten us some coffee or something to drink while we're sitting here," Torchio said. "I always get hungry during the night."
Lightning scratched his head. "Well, I was sort of in a hurry to get the presents out and everything before midnight. Get it done and all before Christmas swings around, you know? I thought it'd be nice to give a little magic to the holiday again. You know what I mean, right?"
"I guess so." Torchio scanned the cityscape, saw nothing, and sighed. "Geez, Lightning, now that you dragged me out here, I have to actually keep watch now."
"Isn't that fun?" Lightning chirped, and ran over to the next building before returning back. "I don't see anything weird so far. I don't think there'll be anything weird. Maybe all the villains are celebrating in their homes or something."
Torchio snorted. "Right. They're setting up Christmas trees and decorating their secret lairs full of tinsel."
"Exactly!" Lightning grinned. "Maybe they're even singing some carols to go along with it. Do you think Mr. Chuckles would be a tenor or an alto?"
"I think he'd be a soprano, with Lady Frostbite being a low, low bass."
"Oh, that totally fits them. I can imagine it now..." Lightning sang in an extremely low voice, "Darblat bells, Darblat bells, snow cones every day..."
Torchio joined in, singing in the highest voice he could. "Oh what fun it is to pelt Judge Hog with custard pies tonight!"
The two looked at each other and laughed, causing them to almost fall off the roof. Torchio steadied himself, a smile plastered on his face now. Lightning straightened up, muffling his chuckles.
Above them, the moon shone down, its light casting a bluish light over the city. Torchio tugged the jacket closer to him and sighed, his breath visible in the cold night air. Lightning stood up, a very serious look on his face. "Hey, Torch."
"Let's build a snowman," he said.
Torchio did not fully understand Christmas. He knew that he still did not as he tried to roll a pile of snow into a perfect sphere. When he had been little, he had celebrated it with his foster father, but his childhood memories were a blur, a condensed fog thanks to a long-ago incident. He understood the gift-giving, the candles and songs, but he could never quite grasp the real magic of the holiday. As he looked over to see Lightning carefully sculpting the snowman's head, though, he felt a strange, warm feeling in him, a twinge in his heart. Lightning looked over his way and devilishly grinned. "Did you ever hear the story about the Magical Snowman?" he asked.
"Of course I have," Torchio said. "They put a scarf on him and he came to life, right?"
Lightning nodded. "Let's try it with our snowman," he said. "Are you done with your part, Torch?"
Torchio looked down at his failure of a sphere. "It looks like I'm done," the Scorchio said.
"That's good enough for me, then." Lightning set the head on the pile of snow and watched as the head promptly rolled off. He picked up and quickly dug a small hole in the pile and set the head on it. "There. Here, why don't you name it, Torch?"
"Naming a snowman?" Torchio rolled his eyes. "You never grew up, did you, Lightning?"
"I was stuck in a magical time warp that entrapped my young boyish spirit inside this adult body, thus rendering me in a child-like state." Lightning laughed. "Just kidding. Sometimes it's good to be a kid again, Torch. It feels good."
They both stepped back. The snowman's face slumped with the rest of its body, the sticks serving as its arms awkwardly sticking upwards, toward the sky. Its stone eyes didn't quite line up right, and its mouth was a slanted, uneven line. "It's a masterpiece," Torchio said.
"It is," Lightning agreed. "But you know what's missing, right?"
Torchio snorted. "Pretend that I don't know."
Lightning reached into his jacket's pocket and brought out a scarf. He draped it across the snowman's neck, humming as he did so. "Now," he said, "we wait to see if it'll come to life."
"You just figured that out?"
They stood there, staring at the snowman, waiting for it to make a move. A minute passed by, then another, and then another. Finally Torchio huffed and turned away. "It's not going to do anything."
"Shame on you, Torch, for not believing in magic." Still, Lightning followed Torchio as they began to walk back home. "Do you think it'll still be there in the morning?"
"I think it'll be a pile of water."
Lightning put a hand on Torchio's shoulder. "Are you in a big hurry to get back?"
Torchio shrugged. "Not really. Why? Are you going to drag me off to some random place?"
"I think you have mind reading as your superpower, Torch. C'mon, I want to show you before we get back."
They headed the opposite way, down the path that Torchio knew led to the sparse forests on the outskirts of the city. Lightning held out his hand and Torchio took it. Suddenly the world was a blur, the wind a roar in his ears as Lightning began to run. He clenched the Lenny's hand, trying not to lose his grip. Then, just as suddenly, Lightning stopped, and Torchio found that they were standing on a thick, sturdy branch of a giant tree overlooking the marketplace. The mushroom-shaped houses were spread out in the valley below, snow blanketing their colorful rooftops. He could see smoke gently whirling out of a pot-shaped building he recognized as the Soup Kitchen, and could smell the delicious aroma of soup mingling with the sharp coldness of the night air. It had stopped snowing, and all was quiet and still. Torchio could just see the sloping dome of the Defenders' headquarters in the distance, glimmering underneath the moonlight. Lightning sat down, and gave a sigh.
"I used to hang out here a lot before I joined the Defenders," he said. "It's a nice view, isn't it?"
Torchio didn't answer as he stared at the sight before him. He found his gaze slowly drawn up to the sky once more, suddenly felt a rush of wind over him. He saw a dim silhouette of what appeared to be a sleigh flying past them, heading toward the city. "Lightning? Did you see that?"
Lightning had. "What in Neopia was that?"
Torchio smiled this time, and spread out his wings. "I think I know. I'll race you. The first one to catch that sleigh wins."
Torchio's response made Lightning chortle. "You think I got my hero name for nothing?" the Lenny chuckled. "Oh, you're going down, Torch."
"You can run fast, but I bet you can't fly at all. You're just an overgrown Wibreth when it comes to flying," Torchio taunted playfully before taking off.
Cool wind rushed to meet him, and Torchio flapped his wings harder, lifting him up higher. Below him he could see a blue streak zip by below, and grinned. He looked up, and saw that the flying sleigh was speeding up. He pushed himself, going faster, and rocketed toward the mysterious vehicle. The sleigh abruptly turned, and suddenly rushed past Torchio in a red blur. The Scorchio screeched to a halt, almost crashing into a tree in the process. The sleigh had turned around once more, and was heading at furiously fast speed toward Neopia Central.
Torchio felt it rush past him once more, and reached out to grab it, but only managed to brush his fingers against one of the bulk burlap sacks sitting in its back. As he flew after it into the city, he saw that Lightning was jumping across the rooftops. The speedster suddenly jumped at a tall building and ran up its side until he reached its peak before jumping at the sleigh as it passed by. The sleigh merely moved to the side, and Lightning missed. The Lenny fell.
Torchio was about to dive after his friend when he saw that Lightning wasn't falling at all. He was floating gently downwards, covered by some strange, glittering dust. Torchio looked up and saw that the sleigh was gone, that it had disappeared from sight. He frowned and landed on the street.
"Well, that was fun!" Lightning exclaimed, brushing the dust off his jacket. He looked upwards and said, "It's gone, isn't it?"
"Yeah." Torchio rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Sorry that I almost got you killed."
"You exaggerate too much!" Lightning said with a laugh. "I would've been fine. I've faced worse. I mean, c'mon, I'm a superhero for Fyora's sake!" He looked at the remaining dust falling down from the sky and said, "Who did you think that was?"
"Who do you think flies around in a red sleigh?" Torchio said with a big grin.
"Point taken," Lightning said with another laugh. "C'mon, I think we can go back home for real this time."
It was still dark when they got back to the headquarters. Torchio tossed their jackets into the washer and was watching the Virtupets machine churn away when Lightning poked his head in, carrying two steaming cups. "Merry Christmas," he said with a wide smile. "You want some hot cocoa?"
"Are you kidding me?" Torchio took a cup and took a big sip, scalding his tongue in the process.
"You should be sleeping, you bad boy," Lightning joked, wagging a finger.
"Oh, sue me, Lightning." Torchio paused. "You know, I feel sort of bad that I didn't get you anything."
"You air-head. You gave me one of the best experiences in my life tonight. That's a good enough present."
Torchio flushed and hastily gulped down some more cocoa. "You sound so cheesy, Lightning. I hate that."
"So do I," Lightning chirped, "but it's the truth, you know?"
Torchio snorted. "Well, you know, it's really late and whatever, so I'll be going back to bed. 'Night, Lightning."
Lightning nodded. "Well, same here. Good night."
Torchio made his way through the dark hallways back into his room and set the cup on his nightstand before crawling into bed. He looked out the window, the moonlight still streaming in, and grinned. "Fun, huh? I'm actually hoping that the doofus will drag me out again."
He yawned, exhaustion finally catching up to him. As he laid down and closed his eyes, he thought that he could hear the jingle of sleigh bells echo through the night.