By Shayne Terry <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: December 2001
Summary: Christmas is a time for taking stock of one's life. Lois has a lot to think about on this particular Christmas Eve … and maybe her life isn't quite as bad as she thinks it is.
All recognizable characters are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros and December 3rd productions.
The snow crunched beneath her feet, and Lois cursed sullenly to herself. Christmas always caught her by surprise, and this year was no exception. Despite the ribbons and wreathes, mistletoe and trees, the ten thousand signs that Christmas was coming, Lois had managed to blissfully wrap herself in her work until today.
The advantage to waiting to the last minute was that the crowds cleared off some, though that seemed to be less true with each passing year. If Lois could, she'd have ordered everything by catalogue. She had great hopes for the Internet; over the next few years she expected e-commerce to explode. People would be deliriously happy to escape the madhouse of shopping hell, would jump the bandwagon by droves.
Clark refused to believe her, of course. He'd grown up in a Rockwell painting, all perfect rural Americana. It had left him permanently scarred, with an unwarranted optimism about life that was sure to be disappointed sooner than later. He probably thought shopping for his family was "fun".
He probably bought his gifts six months in advance, not on the night before Christmas, when the stores closed early and the pickings were slim. Preparation was important, he'd say, and all Lois would be able to do was scowl at him.
Christmas was probably something he looked forward to; great food,family spending time together, gifts exchanged. Lois had never thought that she'd envy an untalented hack from Nowheresville, but she did. She'd felt more at home in the short time she'd visited Smallville than she ever had at either of her parents' houses. There was something about Clark's parents that just made you want to trust them.
Clark probably never had to worry about a Christmas where his mother came in drunk,or his father brought in yet another of an endless array of floozies. He certainly didn't have to worry about a younger sister that ducked out as early as possible, leaving him stuck in the middle of an endless round of recriminations, an eternal rehash of past transgressions.
Lois hated Christmas, and she hated that she envied Clark.
He wasn't even untalented. While he didn't have her undisputed journalistic edge, he had a real talent for finding the human aspect of a story. He was able to find the emotion, the sheer humanity of a story faster than anyone she knew, and he was eloquent in writing about it. She admired him his ability to open himself up the way he did, to wear his heart on his sleeve.
Clark Kent had never had to develop the defenses she'd had to,because he'd grown up with people who would never hurt him. His family loved him, and of all the people she'd ever known, his family was the least dysfunctional.
Life for him was simple. He loved unreservedly, and fought for truth and justice. In many ways, the qualities she admired in him were reflections of what she admired in Superman, only diluted.
For a moment, she allowed herself to wonder where Superman was spending his Christmas, before deciding it didn't matter. If Clark was prose, Superman was poetry. He was the goodness of man with all the distractions of everyday life stripped away. He was the embodiment of an ideal, and deep down, Lois knew he belonged to the world.
Reaching the curb, Lois scowled again, struggling with the bags of gifts in her arms. She'd have to set at least some of them into the snow, risking getting them wet in order to open the door to her jeep.
"Let me get that for you."
Lois was startled to hear Clark's voice behind her, and as she turned, she started to slip on the ice by the curb. Before she could fall, Clark caught her.
His hands were strong and warm, more than she'd ever have imagined.
Silently, he took a number of her bags, and Lois did her best not to look up at him, instead fumbling for her keys to open the jeep door.
"What are you doing here, Clark? I'd have thought you'd have been home by now."
She allowed herself to look at him, finally, as the last bag was shoved into the back of the jeep. That he was an attractive man had never been a question. Lois had realized that from the moment she'd first really looked at him. At the time, it hadn't mattered. Handsome men were a dime a dozen, and usually, they had egos the size of Manhattan.
Recently, though, she'd been forced to look at him differently. The hours she'd been under the influence of the pheromone had forced her to look at her attraction for him. That he hadn't responded in turn was something Lois had mixed feelings about. She was glad they hadn't done something together that would have changed their relationship forever; they worked well together, and she wasn't ready to see him leave.
Still, his lack of response was rather insulting. Eventually she'd had to conclude that he'd had a cold. The fact that he hadn't SOUNDED as though he'd had one made no difference.
"I've got a flight out in a few hours," Clark said. "I still have a few things that need attending to before going home."
Lois nodded absently, not taking her eyes off him. They'd spent a weekend together as newlyweds less than two weeks before, and ever since, she'd wondered what he thought about her. Was she still the abrasive partner, Mad Dog Lane, the woman who'd driven every other person in her life away? Or was she something more?
"What could you possibly have left to do here, Clark?" Lois said, "I know you like to get your shopping done a year in advance."
Clark's lips quirked. "At least I don't have to go digging through the reject piles an hour before all the stores close."
"I've been busy," Lois said shortly. "I'm covering the Superman Children's Benefit tonight you know."
At least that meant she wouldn't have to spend Christmas eve with her family. One day a year was more than enough. She'd seen the stricken look on Clark's face when Perry had assigned it to him; covering it had been the least she could do.
"I never thanked you for covering for me," he said quietly.
Shrugging, Lois said, "What are partners for?"
That was the greatest statement of friendship she could make at the moment, with envy and the emotional barriers of a lifetime lying between them. She could only hope that he'd accept it in the spirit it was intended.
"Still," Clark said. He hesitated, then pulled a small white box from his trenchcoat pocket. "I wanted you to have this as a token of my appreciation."
Lois stared at the box for a moment, then groaned internally.
"I didn't get anything for you," she said. "I didn't know we were…"
Gift giving in her family had always been a game of one-ups-manship and hurt feelings. She didn't want any of that between herself and her partner.
Clark grinned. "If I'd expected anything from you, I'd have mentioned it. Covering the Charity thing on Christmas eve is a pretty big deal. It's more than enough for me."
Hesitantly, Lois took the box. It wasn't wrapped; and it didn't have anything written on it either. She opened it without a word.
"You got me a membership to the cheese of the month club?" The incredulity in her voice was almost impossible to cover. She couldn't help grinning.
Clark looked a little hurt, so Lois said "It's very nice. I'm sure I'll love it."
Before he could reply, his head snapped around, as though surprised by something only he could hear. A familiar, desperate look came into his eyes and he said, "My parents gave me a membership last year and I loved it. In fact, I think I forgot to go pick up a shipment, and I'd hate to leave it over the Christmas holiday."
A moment later he was gone. Lois waited until he was out of earshot before laughing out loud.
She'd been foolish to envy Clark his Norman Rockwell childhood. While it was true that he had a family he could look forward to going home to, it was also true that he'd always have a little bit of the country bumpkin in him.
Cheese of the month club. It was still funny, but Lois probably shouldn't have laughed. She'd make it up to Clark when he came home. He really was the ideal partner, and unlike most people she knew, he genuinely cared.
Lois slipped the package into her pocket and grinned as she slipped into the driver's seat.
Life really wasn't as bad as she'd been making it out to be. As long as she had friends like Clark, she could bear to spend one day a year with her family.
The warm feeling he left behind was just a bonus. Sometimes it was the smallest things that could make a person's day, and Clark was a master of them all.