By Wendy Richards
Submitted November 2002
Summary: It's Lois and Clark's first Christmas together as partners and neither one knows quite what to make of the growing attraction between them. Fortunately, a night-time flight (compliments of Superman), a Kansas dinner (compliments of Martha), and a sprig of mistletoe help make it a very merry Christmas for them both!
Many, many thanks to some of the best beta-readers and cheerleaders around: Sarah, Yvonne and Anne, who gave me some extremely helpful suggestions as well as catching embarrassing typos. <g> And a special thanks, in addition, to the IRC spoilers gang, whose enthusiastic reception of a section of this story really helped to renew my enthusiasm for writing. My thanks also to Laurie, my Archive GE, and to Kathy Brown for her last-minute help and encouragement.
All rights in the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros. No breach of copyright is intended by their use in this non-commercial work of fiction.
*Could it be forever
Or is my mind just rambling on
Well, I touched you once
I kissed you once
Now I feel like you're mine*
"I thought you might want to walk me home." Lois pushed her coat at Clark and stood, her back to him, indicating that he should hold it up for her.
"I thought you said you didn't need a bodyguard," he countered, sounding surprised. But he held her coat for her anyway.
"Who said anything about a bodyguard?" she asked, her voice light. She slipped her hand through his arm and began walking towards the exit.
Lois could hear the smile in her partner's voice as he responded, walking with her towards the elevator. "So I have my uses after all?"
"Well, maybe I wouldn't go that far." She grinned at him before turning serious as the elevator doors closed behind them. "Clark, I really appreciate all you've done for me in the last couple of days. It was pretty scary for a while there."
"I'll bet." His mouth turned down at the corners, his expression becoming sober. "I was terrified that Finn or Trevino would get to you before I could stop them. I can't tell you how scared I was when I found you lying on the floor in your kitchen. You weren't breathing, Lois," he said, his tone serious, and she could tell that he was reliving that second when he'd obviously thought that he was too late to save her.
She was silent, remembering those frightening minutes when she'd tried to fight off Finn for all she was worth. But he'd simply been stronger than she was, and he'd known how to cope with martial arts. When he'd held her with his arm pressed to her throat, she'd been choking, gasping for air. She'd never been so glad to see anyone as she'd been when Clark had burst into her apartment.
"You saved my life," she told him now. "And I know that was the second time."
"Third," he pointed out, but his tone now was gently teasing. "You know, Lois, there's a tradition among the ancient tribes in India that if you save a life, that life belongs to you from then on."
"In that case, I'm glad we don't live in India," she retorted, but she was teasing too. The meaning behind Clark's words was true; she did feel as if there was a sort of bond between the two of them now. She owed him her life.
And, she thought, her sanity. She'd never been so scared as she had been over the past three days. Without Clark there to lean on, to run to for comfort, to distract her, she didn't know what she'd have done. She'd laughed at him in the beginning when he'd insisted that he was appointing himself as her protector, but very soon he'd proven his worth. And she'd been immensely grateful for his presence and his deep concern, even as she'd been telling him — and herself — that she didn't need him. She'd needed him all right when Finn had almost strangled her! And she'd run to him when Trevino had threatened her. His arms had fastened around her when she'd appeared at his apartment out of the blue; he hadn't asked any questions, but simply held her. And his silent, loving strength and support had been what she'd needed.
Lois rarely admitted to any kind of fear. Yet she'd just admitted to two people in the space of only about fifteen minutes that she'd been very scared over this whole business. First Cat, and now to Clark. Yes, Cat was right: being able to admit to vulnerability made her appear more human to people around her, though that wasn't necessarily a benefit as far as Lois was concerned. And yet she'd found herself telling the older woman the truth. As for Clark — well, after all he'd done for her, it would have been wrong to lie to him. And anyway, he knew the truth. He'd seen her scared out of her wits. He'd been there for her; he'd held her and made her tea and put her to bed in his own bedroom.
Clark had seen her at her worst. That, Lois thought, should have made her want to avoid him like the plague now. He'd seen her vulnerable side; he'd seen her at her most pathetic. But somehow, she hadn't felt the need to stay away from him. Strangely, she trusted him not to take advantage of what he'd seen, to assume that now she'd fall into his lap like a ripe plum.
And as well as that, she trusted him not to refer to anything that had happened again, unless she did first. Which she wouldn't.
They emerged from the Planet building onto the street, now lit by artificial light. The decorations hanging from lampposts and buildings sparkled and twinkled in the glow, giving the almost-deserted city street a fairytale appearance. It was late, she reminded herself; most of the city's workers had left for home a couple of hours ago. Clark himself should have been home a long time earlier, but he'd stayed for her. He'd gone out to hunt Barbara Trevino for her, although he'd missed all the action in the end when the woman had shown up at the Planet.
Clark looped his arm lightly around her shoulders as they walked, something he'd done only once or twice before. It felt good. It felt… right, somehow. Of course, he was the right height for her, about six inches taller in bare feet, but down to about four inches' difference in the heels she was currently wearing. She fitted just nicely under his arm. Almost without realising that she was doing it, she moved closer, tucking her own arm around his waist.
"I hope you're going to have a quiet evening in tonight," he told her. "You could use the rest."
"Yes, mother!" she said smartly, and watched him grin at the jibe. "I'm fine. Really."
"Sure. But I haven't been through anything as bad as you, and I know that I could do with some quiet time," he commented.
They walked in companionable silence for several minutes. It felt so good to be free from fear — and, Lois admitted to herself, to be in the company of someone she liked as much as she liked Clark. It was amazing; she'd known the guy barely six months, and yet he'd become more essential to her life than people she'd known for years. What was it about him? She didn't know. But there was far more to him than the naive, shallow farmboy she'd assumed him to be when she'd first met him.
He was one of the good guys.
"It's snowing!" Lois exclaimed, breaking the silence as she saw the white dusting, like moist powder, appear on her arm.
Clark's arm immediately tightened around her — ensuring that she wouldn't slip, she assumed. She really had aroused his protective nature over the past few days, hadn't she? And to think she'd assumed that he'd lost all interest in taking care of her once he'd come back to find Trevino was under arrest.
"It's Christmas Eve tomorrow," he remarked, and from the tone of wonderment in his voice Lois understood that, for her partner at least, the magic of this time of year had never worn off with the coming of adulthood, or even adolescence, as it had with her. And, for some reason she really didn't understand, she felt no desire to puncture his obvious pleasure with the kind of cynical or sarcastic comment she would normally make in such circumstances.
"You're going to Smallville?" she questioned instead.
Clark nodded, smiling in what was clearly happy anticipation. "Tomorrow afternoon. As soon as the afternoon edition's ready to go." He steered her carefully around an icy patch on the path. "What about you, Lois?"
She shrugged carelessly. "I'm working on Christmas Day."
He halted, his grip on her causing her to stop too. "You're *working*?"
"Well, some of us have to," she pointed out a little caustically. "The next day's paper doesn't get put together magically by Santa's Elves."
"Lois." His faintly-hurt tone made her ashamed of her sarcasm. "I just mean… why does it have to be you?"
"I volunteered," she explained, absolving Perry of blame. "Look, Clark, most people who work in the newsroom have families… places to go, people to be with at Christmas. My parents… well, it can't be news to you that we're not the poster family for domestic bliss. Now, at this time of year we all do our own thing. It's better that way. So," she concluded briskly, "it makes sense for me to volunteer. That way someone who really wants to be with their family can be."
Clark was silent for several moments, though he began walking again. Just as Lois thought he wasn't going to comment, he said quietly, "I wish I'd known. I didn't even think… I could have offered to work too."
"Being a martyr, Clark?" Lois taunted faintly, knowing even as she said it that the question was unfair. One thing she'd learned quite quickly about her once-unwanted partner was that generosity was part of his very nature. He couldn't see someone in trouble without wanting to help, and she'd often seen him stay a little later or take on some minor task so that a colleague could get away in time to collect a child from school or care for a sick relative.
"That's not fair, Lois." He'd called her on it, but his tone wasn't accusing. "I could have kept you company — or even let you have the day off — if I'd volunteered. But I meant it — I really hadn't realised that I was lucky not to have to work."
Lois shrugged again. "It's no big deal for me, Clark. You know I love my job."
But working on Christmas Day was different. The newsroom was practically empty, for one thing, and the gaudy decorations strung around the place were in direct contrast to the atmosphere among those — some volunteers, but mostly conscripts — whose task it was to get December 26th's paper ready for the printing presses. Most were counting the minutes until they could get away and back to their families; none wanted to spend time on big stories, instead dusting off pieces which had been held back in the previous few days to act as filler for that edition and sympathising with whoever's job it was to cover breaking news, since that person would have to remain right until the presses started rolling. In the last couple of years, Lois had gladly volunteered for that role — it was more interesting than revamping old news — but in the late afternoon or early evening of Christmas Day, as darkness fell outside and she was alone on the newsroom floor, she sometimes began to wonder whether she was really better off there than alone in her apartment.
Still, it *was* better. She knew that.
And she didn't need Clark Kent feeling sorry for her. Even if he was a nice guy and he'd saved her life at least twice over the past few days.
She didn't need his pity.
Clark sighed inwardly. Somehow, he always seemed to say the wrong thing to Lois, sooner or later. He'd thought that it would be okay to show sympathy here, particularly considering what they'd been through together over the past few days, but the 'keep out!' sign had been clearly erected again. It wasn't even anything she'd said, and she was still walking close to him, her arm around her. Yet her mood had changed.
It was probably better to avoid the subject of Christmas. He should have thought — after all, he was well aware of Lois's family background, and he'd seen the very awkward relationship she had with her father. He couldn't really imagine them playing happy families, and with a recovering alcoholic thrown into the mix too…
Though there was her younger sister, Lucy, whom Clark had liked. But she'd moved to California and, by the sound of it, would not be returning for the festive period.
Choose a safe subject…
"So, what do you think of the mayor's chances of re- election?"
That question, as Clark could have predicted, occupied them in comfortable banter until they arrived outside Lois's apartment building in Carter Avenue. He was surprised, though, when she didn't attempt to halt to say goodnight outside.
"I thought you said that when you walk a woman home she gets door to door service," Lois said, laughing, when he gave her a questioning look.
He grinned. "You know as well as I do that was my excuse to see you safely inside. But I'll happily see you up if you don't mind."
The building was warm inside after the icy chill of the street. Lois shivered a little as her body encountered the change in temperature, and Clark rubbed her upper arm with his hand as they walked down the hall. He waited while she entered the security code and then used her keys on the four separate locks, then as she pushed the door open he smiled at her.
"I'll leave you to it, then. Have a relaxing evening, Lois — what's left of it."
He was walking away — had actually taken a couple of steps down the passage — when she called to him. "Clark, come in for a while?"
He turned. "I really should get on home and leave you to take it easy, Lois."
She shrugged. "I can take it easy later. Or just as easily if you're here. And anyway, it's still snowing out there. And freezing. You should really call a cab. And have a warm drink before it comes."
Unable to resist the temptation of spending a few more minutes with Lois, Clark came back to her. "I'll take you up on the offer of a drink — thanks. But I don't need a cab. I'm from Kansas, remember? This isn't snow, not compared to what we get there!"
Lois laughed as she led the way inside. "I guess not. Coffee? Tea? — I got that sort you like, you know, Lapsang Souchong? Or hot chocolate? Or I think I have some wine… if I knew how, I could make mulled wine…"
She'd bought tea just because he liked it? It had to be that she liked it too, Clark told himself. There was no way that she'd stocked up on it just for him… even if he had bought cream soda just because Lois liked it. "Anything's fine," he assured her. "And making mulled wine's easy. You just need…" He trailed off with a smile then as the unlikelihood of Lois having most of the required ingredients struck him.
"What's so funny?" she demanded.
"Well… I was just trying to picture you having things like cloves and cinnamon sticks in your kitchen," he explained, grinning.
"What's a cinnamon stick?" she retorted. "Hey, don't you get them in hot chocolate in some coffee shops?" she added quickly.
"That's right. Anyway, you need those and cloves and sugar and red wine to make mulled wine."
Lois took a carton of Lindt hot chocolate from a cabinet. "Nope, don't have them. Well, red wine, yes, but not cloves or cinnamon. Pity — you could have shown me how to make it."
"Sure! Another time, maybe."
Clark glanced around the apartment as he waited for her to make the chocolate. Lindt, he was thinking; maybe a trip to Switzerland in the very near future was called for. After all, he hadn't got Lois a Christmas present yet…
There was a tiny Christmas tree on a table near the window, he noticed, with a small collection of presents underneath. Lowering his glasses, he read those labels which were visible.
They were blank. Except for the store logo in the corner, the labels had nothing on them at all. He scanned the parcels themselves… to see empty boxes.
They were decorations, nothing more. Not presents.
That didn't mean that she didn't have any Christmas presents, he told himself. Maybe she liked the look of the tree with the packages underneath it; maybe whatever she'd got from friends and family wouldn't fit there. After all, the tree was small.
Still, he couldn't help contrasting Lois's situation with his own, and wishing that there was something he could do about it.
Then, as she handed him a mug of chocolate, he realised that there was…
They should probably do this more often, Lois thought as Clark got up to leave about an hour later. He was surprisingly good company even out of a work setting. He had a good sense of humour, which she already knew, and a very lively appreciation of the ridiculous. She'd discovered that they had some similar views on literature, though he was better-read than she was. She now had a mental list of books to acquire in the near future on his recommendation.
But it wasn't just that Clark was pleasant to be with. She was finding that there was so much to like about him, and that being with him was actually relaxing in a way that so many other people's company wasn't. She didn't have to entertain him, and nor did she have a sense that he was struggling for conversation topics. They just seemed to be compatible on a personal level in so many ways.
"We probably won't have much opportunity to talk tomorrow," he was saying as she escorted him to the door. "I have a couple of stories to finish up, and then I'm heading straight to Smallville. So I'll wish you a Merry Christmas now."
A merry Christmas. Again, Lois had to prevent herself from reacting sarcastically. It wasn't Clark's fault that she hated this time of year. "Thanks, Clark. You too," she said, and her smile was genuine.
Standing close to him at the door, she was seized by the impulse to reach out and hug him. Where had that come from? Lois Lane simply wasn't a hugging person. Oh, she wasn't completely anti-physical contact, and it was true that she'd hugged Clark before, at a couple of emotional times for both of them. She'd been very grateful for his strong arms and solid body the previous evening when she'd invited herself to his apartment for the night. But this…
She realised that she was still staring at him and making no move to open the door for him, and that the moment was growing awkward. Taking a deep breath suddenly, she made a decision. It was Christmas, after all, even if the time of year didn't mean a lot to her.
Reaching out, she slid her arms up to Clark's shoulders. "Merry Christmas, Clark," she said softly.
His arms came around her, strong yet gentle, and he held her against him for a few brief moments — too brief, she found herself thinking as his grasp loosened again. "Take care, Lois," he murmured as he released her, then brushed a light kiss against her cheek.
She stood, taken aback but feeling warm inside, as he let himself out and closed the door behind him.
Then, going back inside, she couldn't help thinking about how empty the apartment seemed without him. He'd seemed to fill the place with his good humour and warm friendship. Now, Lois thought that her apartment had never felt so empty. Stifling a shiver — when had it got so cold? — she glanced around, picking up his coffee-mug and plumping up the sofa-cushion where he'd sat. It was a pity he couldn't have stayed any longer… he'd been good company.
Oh well… She shrugged, taking the empty mugs through to the kitchen to wash them. Having only her own company was one of the most important reasons she lived on her own, after all, wasn't it? Other people were fine for a while, but after a while they had a habit of becoming tedious. And irritating.
<Even Clark?> a tiny voice protested, but she ruthlessly squashed it and went to turn on the TV news.
Clark smiled to himself, spinning plans in his head as he soared above the rooftops. He had a couple of phone calls to make when he got home, and then in the morning he'd need to make a quick trip to Switzerland before going to work.
And then he'd be all set. He was going to enjoy Christmas this year…
Lying in bed that night, Lois found that her thoughts were full of Clark. It seemed almost unbelievable that such a short time ago she'd been doing her best to make him wish he'd never applied to the Planet for a job — and now she not only owed him her life, but he'd become such an important part of her life as well.
What would have happened to her if Clark hadn't been worried enough about her to be outside her apartment the other morning? She still couldn't believe that he'd been anxious enough about her safety to spend the night outside her apartment — in sub-freezing temperatures, what was more. That was dedication well beyond the call of ordinary friendship. It was… it spoke of something she could never hope to repay.
And she knew what would have happened to her. She would have been dead, with no-one able to identify her killer. Or, worse, her landlord would have been framed for her murder. As it was, she'd almost died. Clark had told her later, embarrassment and the remnants of fear for her in his voice, that he'd had to give her the kiss of life. She hadn't been breathing, he'd said, when he'd got to her.
She'd come to, coughing, to find herself held tightly in his arms. And when she'd needed the comfort of his presence to reassure herself that she was safe, he'd stayed right where he was and given her exactly what she'd needed. Strong arms and a solid body to cling to.
Just what she'd needed again last night after Trevino's threatening phone call. And then, Clark had understood what she'd needed without her having to ask. She'd run to him, to his apartment, almost without conscious thought, and he'd let her interrupt his evening and offered to let her stay, regardless of whatever else he might have planned to do with his time.
It had been her lucky day when Clark Kent had joined the Planet. It was just a shame that it had taken her so long to realise it. And to realise how important he'd become to her. He'd been teasing earlier when he'd told her that, in saving her life, she now belonged to him — but suddenly she found herself wishing that he'd meant it.
An early start the following morning was called for. She could stop off at Barnes and Noble on the way to work and buy Clark a couple of the books he'd said he wanted to read. Lois didn't tend to give Christmas presents as a rule, but after all Clark had done for her, he deserved some special treatment.
After all, it was the season of goodwill. And if anyone had shown her far more than her share of goodwill, it was Clark.
But even the best-laid plans had a habit of going astray, Lois thought on Christmas Day as she glanced once more at the beautifully-wrapped oblong package lying in her open desk drawer, and then across at Clark's empty desk. She'd arrived in the newsroom the previous morning, later than usual but with a sense of accomplishment and anticipation, itching to see Clark and surprise him with her gift.
But he hadn't been there.
On her desk, she'd found another beautifully-wrapped package, finished off with a satin ribbon and bow, and with a gift tag which had read:
"To Lois — I know you don't care for Christmas, but in friendship anyway — from Clark."
Inside, she'd found a large box of assorted chocolates by Godiva, and a smaller box of Lindt hazelnut chocolate. In six months, Clark had certainly learned her tastes, she'd thought in dazed, pleased surprise. And so then she'd waited for her chance to present her gift to him, a token of friendship returned.
But he hadn't appeared. A short while later, someone mentioned that he'd rushed off to cover an incident involving a store Santa, who had apparently become so depressed at the end of his annual period of regular employment that he'd threatened to commit suicide. LNN had then reported that Superman had flown to the scene and was trying to help the man reassess his view of the future. By the time Clark called in the story, a solution had been found: the man had been offered permanent employment and was gratefully thanking everyone involved. Clark's story not only reported the happy ending; it made the point that not everyone found Christmas a happy time and exhorted people to take the time to look out for others around them who might be less fortunate. Lois had been very impressed, not only by the quality of Clark's writing, but also with his understanding.
But even then he hadn't returned to the Planet; he'd explained to the sub-editor who'd taken the call that he'd been invited by Superman to accompany him to the Metropolis Children's Home to distribute Christmas presents to the kids. Another feel-good Christmas story, but again, as Clark called it in, its subtext encouraged readers to remember their sense of social obligation along with their enjoyment of the season of goodwill.
The stories were high on the touchy-feely sort of writing which had been evident in Clark's style from the very first piece he'd written for the Planet, about the razing of the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre. Yet, although she'd told herself then that she had little time for that style of work, Lois had been grudgingly impressed. Now that she was used to Clark, and had seen his ability to handle more gritty material, she genuinely admired his talent for writing stories with an emotional edge.
She'd wanted to tell him so, but he still hadn't come to the newsroom. It had only been later that afternoon, when she'd finally asked, that the sub had told her Clark had said he was going straight home to get ready for his trip. After all, he'd called in his stories, so he'd done his job for the day.
She'd been left feeling desolate.
Just because she hadn't seen her partner before he'd left for Christmas, Lois's whole world had suddenly seemed bleak. Which was crazy, she'd told herself. He'd be back in a couple of days, and she could give him his present then. He wouldn't appreciate it any less for it being a few days late.
And yet it wouldn't be the same for her. She missed Clark. She hadn't realised just how much she'd wanted to see him before he left. She'd wanted to… oh, she didn't even know what she'd wanted! Just to see him, to talk to him, to look at him and try to find out whether this strange feeling she was beginning to have about him was real, or just in her imagination. That this strange sense she had that she was, somehow, his…
But she'd missed him. And something had told her, then, that it wouldn't be the same after Christmas. That it would be as if that thread of intimacy which had stretched between them over the past couple of days had never existed.
And now it was late afternoon on Christmas Day, and the newsroom was empty. Downstairs, a small group of print workers were readying the presses, and the sub-editor on duty was on the floor below. Lois's job now was to wait until the presses began to roll; if no important news story had broken by then, she was free to go.
It had been a very quiet day, even more so than previous December 25ths. No major events elsewhere in the world, and nothing more significant in the USA than the Christmas addresses of a few religious leaders, the text of which had been released to the press a couple of days earlier anyway for ease of reporting. In fact, it had been a thoroughly boring day. Lois had spent much of the past couple of hours playing Tetris on her computer and wondering whether there'd be anything bearable on TV that evening. She really should have thought to stop off at Blockbuster on her way home the previous day — they weren't open on Christmas Day either. The thought of having to sit through something like A Wonderful Life did *not* appeal to her.
Actually, a far better option would be to be transported forward about sixteen hours in time so that Christmas would be over for another year. If she had to listen to one more round of 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas', which was being played as background music by LNN, she was going to scream!
Finally, the phone call came telling her that she could leave. Shutting down her computer, Lois stood and began to gather her things…
… and then froze as a strange sound came from behind her.
The newsroom was empty, wasn't it? And she'd been sitting facing the elevator and stairwell. No-one could have got in without her seeing them.
So what was…?
"Lois?" A very familiar voice, sounding a little concerned, came from behind her. "I didn't scare you, did I"?
She swung around. "Superman! What are you doing here?"
He smiled, taking a step towards her; his cape rippled around him as he moved, drawing her attention, as always, to how well his Suit fitted him. "I came to wish you a merry Christmas. And to pass on a message — well, an invitation, really."
"Yes." His very uninformative response was followed by a grin. "Actually, I think I'll let the originator of the invitation explain. She should be calling any second… Ah! There," he added as the phone on Lois's desk shrilled.
Not understanding what was going on at all, Lois picked up the phone. "Lois Lane."
"Lois, it's Martha Kent. Is Superman with you?"
"Martha! Uh… yes, he is. But I don't…"
"Clark told us that you were on your own for Christmas, Lois. So, if you've finished work, we'd love it if you'd come and have Christmas dinner with us. In Smallville."
That was incredibly kind and generous of Martha. Or Clark, since it could just as easily have been his idea as his mother's. It was in character for either of them, of course. And it sounded so wonderful, too… Clark's parents were just so nice and *normal*, and they'd made her feel so welcome when they'd stayed at the farmhouse a couple of months ago. She could just imagine what Christmas would be like chez Kent. It definitely beat a TV dinner and a video…
"Are you sure? I mean, I don't want to interrupt your family dinner… and it's Christmas. You won't want a stranger around…"
"Of course we're sure! And you're not a stranger, anyway!" Martha protested instantly in response. "Lois, as soon as Clark mentioned that you were alone, Jonathan and I told him off for not bringing you with him yesterday."
"Well, I had to work today…"
"Yes, Clark explained. So we asked Superman to do us a favour."
So that was what Superman was doing there, Lois realised finally. "You're going to fly me to Smallville?" she blurted out to the blue-costumed hero.
He smiled, amused. "If you'll let me."
"If I'll… But don't you have something better to do than play taxi for me? I mean…" Lois trailed off awkwardly as she realised that she really had no idea what Superman would be doing at Christmas. But, if he did have somewhere better to be, she was wasting his time by delaying with her answer.
"Lois, it'll only take a few minutes," he answered, and she suspected that he was laughing at her.
"Then, if you're really sure — you too, Martha…?" she asked both.
"Lois, I told you!" Clark's mother called down the phone- line, and Lois could hear the smile in her voice. "We'll expect you in about fifteen minutes, okay?"
"Okay. And thank you!" Lois said, before hanging up.
"Ready to go?" Superman asked.
"I just need to get something first," she said quickly, remembering what was in her desk drawer. She hurriedly stuffed Clark's present into her purse, then threw on her coat. "I'm ready."
Smallville was buried in a white carpet, Lois saw as Superman dipped lower, telling her that they were almost at their destination. The snow was deep, though roads had been ploughed and paths cleared. In the late afternoon sunlight — because, of course, as she reminded herself, Smallville was an hour behind Metropolis — the town and its environs looked beautiful. The trees, with their heavy dusting of white powder, looked like something out of a Christmas card. Despite herself, Lois was transported back to childhood, to the days when Christmas was actually something to look forward to.
Within seconds, Superman was coming to land outside the back entrance to the Kents' farmhouse. And suddenly Lois found herself seized with shyness.
Clark. Clark was there.
She would get to see him after all. And, now that she was within seconds of seeing him, she felt tongue-tied and unaccountably nervous.
"You can manage on your own from here," Superman said from behind her as he lowered her to the ground. "Clark will contact me when you're ready to go home."
"Wha — Oh! You're leaving, Superman?" Realising with a shock that she'd been so focused on thinking about her partner that she'd barely remembered Superman's presence, Lois whirled around to face the Superhero. When had Clark become more important to her than Superman?
"Yes, I am. Enjoy your evening, Lois." He gave her a friendly, albeit brief, smile and then swooped upwards before she could even thank him for flying her to the Kents' home.
The farmhouse door opened then to reveal Martha Kent, warmly welcoming Lois and urging her to come in out of the cold. Lois hurried inside, effusively thanking Martha and Jonathan for their hospitality, yet all the time she searched the kitchen with her gaze, looking for Clark.
And then he was there, walking through the door from the living-room, dressed in a casual soft cotton shirt with chinos. His hair shone, and his eyes smiled warmly at her from behind his glasses. And he was hurrying to her.
"Lois!" He stopped in front of her, the broad smile on his face revealing his delight at seeing her. And now she had an answer to her question about whose idea this had been. So maybe it wasn't just her…
She took the final step needed to bring them into contact, and threw her arms around his neck. "Clark! Thank you — this is so wonderful!"
He grinned, his arms closing around her and his face close to hers. "I hoped you'd want to come. I just hoped you wouldn't feel shanghaied!"
"What, with you sending Superman?"
"Well, yeah." Clark dipped his head a little and touched his forehead to hers. "I might have been butting in where I wasn't wanted."
"Clark." Silencing him with a word, Lois leaned up and pressed a kiss to his cheek, just as he'd kissed her two evenings earlier. "Thank you."
He hugged her warmly, enveloping her in the security of his embrace. "Merry Christmas, Lois."
The next hour or so passed by in a blur of wonder and pleasure. As soon as she'd taken her coat off, Clark had taken her by the hand and informed her that they were going to make mulled wine. So somehow she'd found herself stirring the liquid on the stove while he chopped the delicious-smelling spices. The scents of clove and cinnamon melded with the aroma of roasting turkey, potatoes and other Christmas delicacies.
Martha, Lois noticed, looked happy and relaxed, in sharp contrast to Ellen Lane, who'd always seemed irritable, stressed and miserable at Christmas. And yet Martha had clearly been cooking for most of the day. Dinner was planned for around six, it seemed — Lois guessed that they'd delayed it for her benefit.
Sipping mulled wine, Lois allowed Clark to bring her through to the living-room, where Jonathan was busily lighting candles and adding a couple of final touches to the beautiful Christmas tree. Unwrapped presents lay underneath, and that reminded Lois of what she'd brought with her.
"Clark… I have something for you."
He looked surprised. "You do?"
"Yes — and hey, thanks for what you left for me yesterday! Those truffles are almost impossible to get outside Europe, did you know that?"
To her surprise, Clark blushed. "They are? Uh… guess I just struck lucky, then."
Or he'd searched long and hard, perhaps, she suspected. Something about his manner told him that it wasn't just an accident that he'd managed to find her something very special.
But did that mean that *she* was special to him?
She didn't know, and maybe it was foolish, as well as selfish, of her to wish that he'd feel about her the way she was starting to suspect she felt about him. After all, she hadn't exactly been all sweetness and light towards him since they'd met. But still… She just couldn't shake off this feeling that they were somehow already more than friends. Even if it was just wishful thinking.
Digging into her purse, Lois found the package she'd brought for Clark. "I had this for you yesterday. But I never saw you."
"Yeah. I'm sorry about that — I never got back to the newsroom. But what's this?" He took the parcel, his expression revealing his delight. "I never expected you to get me anything… Oh, these are great!" he exclaimed, examining the books. "I really wanted to read that one — and this looks fascinating. I guess you don't miss much, do you?" he added, grinning at her.
"Well, you did mention, the other night…"
"C'mere," he said, placing the books on a table. Looping one arm around her shoulders, he hugged her again. "Thanks, Lois. I'm lucky to have a friend like you."
Stepping back as he released her, even as part of her longed for him to keep holding her, Lois smiled back at him. "I think I'm the lucky one, Clark."
It had been a good idea. And that was a huge relief, Clark thought as he took Lois's glass into the kitchen to get her a refill. Her pride could so easily have led her to lash out, demanding to speak to him on the phone — not that she could have — and tell his mother that he was being interfering and a busybody and that she didn't want anything to do with him, least of all Christmas at his folks' place.
Instead, when she'd realised just why Superman had come for her, she'd looked stunned and delighted. As if she'd been given the best Christmas treat ever — which, from what she'd indicated about her own childhood and family background, was very probably true, he thought wryly.
Over the next couple of hours, he watched Lois getting into the spirit of a Kent family Christmas celebration with what seemed genuine enjoyment. His father had to go out to take care of some farm chores, and Clark went to help; when they got back inside, Lois was wearing an apron and busy helping his mom to prepare the vegetables for cooking. By the time dinner was served, she'd ceased to be a guest and was being treated — and behaving — like a member of the family.
Which was exactly what he wished she was…
One day. Maybe. For now, he could at least take pleasure in the knowledge that some of Lois's barriers had come crashing down over the past few days. She'd let him see that she was vulnerable and afraid, and she hadn't closed off from him in the aftermath. She'd welcomed his friendship, and she'd actually gone further than that in actively making it clear that she wanted to be his friend too — the fact that she'd bought him a present showed that. And she'd voluntarily hugged — and kissed — him.
He reached towards her to top up her wine-glass, before raising his in a toast. "To Christmas and everything we're thankful for — for family and good friends," he proposed.
Lois met his gaze, her eyes shimmering in the glow of the Christmas candles on the table. "To the best of friends," she murmured softly, clinking her glass against his.
So this was what a normal family was like, Lois mused as dinner came to an end. There was love in abundance around the Kents' kitchen table. Love, complete acceptance and something else which Lois could only describe as absolute unity. They laughed and teased each other, but fondness radiated in the way all three looked at each other. They each recognised that other members of the family weren't perfect, but they were loved in spite of those imperfections. None of the Kents, Lois was sure, would use a flaw as a reason to criticise.
Martha had very slightly over-cooked the vegetables — mainly because Lois had been distracting her by asking lots of questions about how to know when something was cooked. If Ellen Lane had done that, in the days when the Lanes had still managed to have family Christmas dinners, Sam Lane wouldn't have stopped criticising for the entire meal. As a child, Lois had assumed that the constant drip-drip of complaints and carping between her parents was perfectly normal; that all families were like that.
Now, she knew better. And how she envied Clark his upbringing, and the fact that he had such great, and *normal*, parents to come home to.
For today, though, he was sharing them with her. And she was savouring every minute. They were all making her feel like part of the family — despite her fears that she'd be intruding, that the atmosphere might be awkward, all three Kents behaved as if she had every right to be there. They teased her, laughed with her, encouraged her to join in their humour and their conversations. Martha and Jonathan listened to her anecdotes with every bit as much interest as they did to Clark's, and they even took her side over Clark when she related a minor disagreement they'd had a week or so ago.
They made her feel as if she belonged.
If only she wasn't working tomorrow too… Then maybe the Kents would have invited her to stay overnight, especially since Clark wasn't due back at work until the day after. Though that would probably be outstaying her welcome, she reflected a little sadly.
Finally, everyone declared themselves full, and Clark sent his parents into the living-room to sit down, declaring that he and Lois would make coffee and bring it through to the living-room once they'd cleared the dishes away. She'd known Clark was very domesticated, but this further evidence of that side of his character really impressed Lois.
"I get it," she teased as they stacked crockery ready to load into the dishwasher. "You're trying to convince me that you're a paragon of the virtues, Clark Kent, aren't you?"
He grinned, brown eyes sparkling with humour. "You mean you're not already convinced?"
"You're just lucky I didn't tell your parents about your distraction techniques in the honeymoon suite," she retorted, stifling laughter. Martha Kent in particular had been very interested in those couple of nights she and Clark had spent undercover in the Lexor, clearly taking great pleasure in discomfiting Clark by her questions.
Clark simply raised an eyebrow pointedly, and Lois felt herself flushing. He'd *kissed* her. Why had she had to bring that up now? Now, of all times, when she'd spent a lot of the past couple of hours wondering whether he wanted to kiss her as much as she wanted him to do it?
"Well, you know, I was just taking your advice, Lois," he said after several moments' silence, during which time she'd tried to pretend that she was engrossed in scraping leftovers off a dinner-plate.
"*My* advice?" She stared at him.
"Well, it was you who told me that if I wanted to divert attention away from what I'm really up to, I should pretend that we're sharing some fleeting moment of passion. Don't you remember?" Again, one eyebrow was arched as Clark leaned back against the sink, arms folded, a hint of an impish smile curving the edges of his lips.
He was right. That was exactly what she'd said.
And that gleam in his eyes told her that he'd enjoyed every second of the kiss, ruse or not. That, while it might have been a necessary distraction for the maid, he hadn't been at all unhappy that it was necessary.
But then, of course he'd enjoyed it. He was a man, wasn't he?
And, of course, she'd enjoyed it too. Just like she'd enjoyed their very first kiss, although then she'd been more focused on what seemed to be their imminent death. Yet, even in those circumstances, she'd liked it. Very much… so much that, if she hadn't been so stupidly arrogant about her attitude to Clark, pretending that she really wasn't interested in him, she might have tried to engineer a repeat performance, just to find out whether his kisses really were as good as she remembered. Of course, now that she was actually admitting that she *wanted* a repeat performance, she couldn't seem to figure out any way of achieving it.
Clark was still watching her, giving her a look she recognised. It was his challenging expression, the one which said 'Gotcha! You don't have a comeback, do you?' And there was no way that she was going to let him get away with that!
"Oh, I remember," she drawled casually. "So, Clark, you'll know that, in the unlikely event that I should ever happen to grab you and kiss you senseless, it'll just be in the interests of getting the story, won't you?" Giving him a triumphant grin, she pushed him aside to get access to the sink to rinse a plate.
He moved away to start making coffee and, as he did, the sound of his soft laughter floated across the room to her.
Well, that was stupid, Lois told herself as she busied herself with stacking crockery in the dishwasher. She wanted to get closer to Clark; wanted him to kiss her again. So what did she do? Just made it clear that she had no desire to kiss him other than for the sake of protecting their cover should it be necessary.
There were so many other things she could have done. She could have walked across to him and challenged him to prove that he could kiss like that when he wasn't under pressure to fool a maid. Or told him that he clearly needed some lessons in how to distract properly — and offered to give him those lessons.
Instead, she'd rebuffed him, reinforcing the impression she'd been so careful to give in the beginning of their relationship that she had no personal interest in him whatsoever. The impression she'd been at pains to add to after the embarrassing incident of the pheromone, denying that she felt any kind of attraction to Clark and only finally acknowledging that there just *might* be a tiny fraction of attraction buried very, very deeply inside her.
Oh, sure. Like she wasn't watching him move around the kitchen now and imagining herself running her hands over those broad shoulders and down his back, and around to his chest… Like she wasn't wishing that he'd come straight over to her now and kiss her.
This was getting worse! The more Clark showed that he only thought of her as a friend, the more she seemed to want some deeper commitment from him. Was she wrong to feel as if they were already more than friends? That he was somehow already hers? She had no idea why she was feeling like that — but it was very frustrating. And depressing.
For the first time in a long time, she was attracted to a man who was actually attainable. Clark wasn't Superman; he wasn't some magical Super-hero who was so far out of her reach he might as well still be living on Krypton. Clark was her best friend. She worked beside him every day. They spent time together outside work occasionally. They got along really well. And he was single and, as far as she knew, not interested in any other woman. So why shouldn't he return her interest?
On the other hand, why should he?
Clark was a great guy. Friendly to everyone he met, solicitous and helpful even to people he barely knew. Heck, he was even upset about the fate of a man he'd met just once, she thought, remembering the way he'd reacted to the police after they'd found Dr Platt dead. He cared about her, sure; but that didn't have to mean anything more than that she was his friend. Even inviting her here was simply an act of friendship, probably laced with pity if she was honest with herself.
So if she had asked him to kiss her, she'd probably have just made a fool of herself. He'd have looked embarrassed and awkward, and he might have just given her a gentle brush of his lips on hers just so she didn't feel rejected — but he'd have told her that he just didn't feel that way about her. Wouldn't he?
She should settle for what she had, and be grateful for it, Lois told herself sternly. She had the best friend any woman could ask for, and as long as he wasn't dating anyone else she had, it seemed, almost exclusive call on his time. Instead of wanting something she probably didn't even deserve, she should apply herself to being as good a friend to Clark as he'd been to her even during times when she'd tried to tell him that his friendship wasn't wanted.
Even as he laughed at her put-down, Clark felt his heart sink. Yet again she'd made it clear that there was no way that she'd ever be interested in him romantically. So why did he persist in wishing for the unattainable?
What was it about this one woman which made all other women seem uninteresting? What had Lois Lane got which made him incapable of looking at any other woman in a romantic light? He didn't know. All he knew was that from the very first moment he'd set eyes on her he'd been hooked and landed. The only problem was that Lois didn't seem remotely interested in her catch — if indeed she even knew that she'd caught him. Oh, but he was sure she did know, or at least suspect, that his feelings for her went beyond partnership or even friendship. Why else would she keep sending him hands-off signals?
And yet, when she'd been standing next to him, teasing him, he could have sworn that there was more than simple friendship in the way she'd looked at him. She'd been the one to mention that kiss the other week — an incident they'd both studiously avoided referring to ever since. Okay, judging by the way she'd blushed furiously as soon as she'd said it, and then pretended to be engrossed in activity, he'd figured out that she hadn't intended to refer to it. But for a moment… for just a few moments, as he'd looked at her and teased her back, he could have sworn that she was on the verge of saying something different — that she wanted him to repeat it.
But, obviously, she hadn't.
He should be grateful for what he had, he told himself crisply, assembling the coffee-tray. He had her friendship now — it was clear that she regarded him as a close friend and someone she could trust. She confided in him, and he was the one she instinctively came to when she needed comfort. Wasn't that enough? For now?
If only he could shake off this longing; this continual conviction that he was *right* to want her. That they were meant to be together. That she was his already, even if she didn't seem to know it yet…
"Coffee's ready." Lois's voice interrupted his thoughts, and he glanced up to see that the coffee-maker had indeed stopped bubbling.
"Thanks." He flashed her a smile, determined not to let his disappointment over her withdrawal get in the way. "And thanks for helping, too."
She shrugged. "It's the least I could do. And I enjoyed it, anyway."
Clark raised a sceptical eyebrow. "You *enjoyed* scraping dishes?"
"Oh, well…" Now she looked faintly awkward. "It's not so bad when you're doing it with someone."
"I guess not." Having poured the coffee, Clark picked up the tray. "Ready?"
In the living-room, he put the tray on the low coffee- table, then turned to retreat to the sofa. He hadn't realised that Lois was standing directly behind him, and accidentally collided with her.
"Sorry!" he exclaimed, catching her arms to steady her.
"Oh, it's okay — I shouldn't have been — " she was saying.
But his mother interrupted. "Clark! Have you seen where you two are standing?"
"What?" Still holding onto Lois, he looked past her to give his mother a puzzled look.
She simply grinned and indicated upwards with her finger. His gaze followed… and he saw a sprig of mistletoe suspended from a beam. *That* hadn't been there earlier, he'd swear to it. He flushed. "Mom!"
She gestured in a 'get on with it' manner, still grinning.
"I… uh, I can't — you shouldn't embarrass Lois like that…" Clark protested, unable to look at the woman he was still holding.
"Oh, Lois isn't embarrassed. Are you, Lois?"
Was she embarrassed? Was she *embarrassed*?
She was standing very close to Clark, with his hands on her upper arms and their bodies almost touching. They were beneath a piece of mistletoe, and Clark's own *mother* was encouraging him to kiss her!
Of course she was embarrassed!
She almost pulled away from Clark, and was forming the words to suggest brightly that they should all have some coffee. But she stopped herself, wondering whether *he* would be embarrassed if she escaped; would it send yet another message to him that she'd consider a kiss from him as something she wouldn't even tolerate?
It would only be a mistletoe kiss, after all, wouldn't it? And wouldn't it be less embarrassing all around just to go along with it?
And… wouldn't it be the perfect opportunity for her to test out whether kissing Clark was as good as she remembered — and whether he was interested in repeating their previous experiments? He'd kissed her willingly once before when it wasn't a ruse.
She slid her arms up and around his neck. "Clark… it *is* Christmas," she murmured softly, her voice teasing.
That got his attention, and he grinned down at her. "Can't argue with you there."
His head descended, and his lips covered hers.
The first touch was tentative, a brief, light caress of mouth on mouth; but he didn't withdraw immediately. Before Lois even had the chance to tighten her hold on him so that he couldn't pull away that quickly, his mouth was back and this time he kissed her properly. His hands slid from her arms to her shoulders, pulling her closer to him; one hand slid up the back of her neck and then into her hair. Everything else faded away, even her recognition that this was happening, he was kissing her, in front of his parents.
All she saw, all she felt, was Clark and the way his kiss made her feel.
And she hadn't been mistaken. When Clark Kent kissed her, something extraordinary happened.
And she wanted it to go on happening. Over and over again. With many more repeat performances to come.
He raised his head, ending the kiss, and she groaned inwardly in disappointment. But then she saw his eyes… they looked as glazed as she thought hers did. Clark looked as if he'd been just as carried away by what they'd just done as she was.
As if the kiss meant something to him too.
Then he released her and glanced past her to his parents; Lois, reminded of the elder Kents' presence, took a hasty look to see their reaction. Martha was grinning broadly, while Jonathan raised his coffee-cup in her direction in what was clearly a congratulatory gesture. Well, obviously they approved of what had just happened…
…whatever it was that had just happened…
"Mom, Dad — Lois and I are going to take a walk," Clark announced, to Lois's surprise and very great approval; then he seized her hand and drew her after him towards the door to the front porch.
"It's cold out there, honey," Martha cautioned. Lois caught her breath. Was she going to argue that they shouldn't go? Would Clark listen? She wanted to be alone with him as much as she suspected he wanted to be alone with her. She wanted to find out just what it was that had happened between them. "Make sure Lois takes a coat." There was definite amusement in Martha's voice, Lois noted.
But Clark thrust a heavy coat at her then, distracting her. "We'll see you guys later," he called, then almost dragged Lois out the door and into the cold, biting wind and the snow.
Lois shivered in spite of the warm coat as they stepped off the porch. Clark instantly wrapped his arm around her, pulling her close to the warmth of his own body. "I'm sorry, Lois — I didn't want to make you freeze to death," he said apologetically. "Do you want to go back inside?"
She turned to glare at him for even suggesting it. "Not on your life, Clark Kent! But can we find somewhere warmer to talk?"
"The barn," he said immediately. "As long as you don't mind the surroundings…"
"I only care about the company," she assured him, snuggling closer to him.
What was happening here? Clark had no idea; all he knew was that this felt better than anything he'd ever known before. Lois was clinging to him, and it wasn't just for warmth. She was looking at him in a way she'd never done before.
She wanted to be with him. Alone with him.
That kiss… It had been completely unexpected. One minute they'd been in the kitchen, and she'd actually told him that there was no way she'd ever kiss him unless it was part of some undercover operation. Well, she might not have put it as harshly as that, but it was what she'd been saying. Okay, he supposed that he'd been teasing her a bit, rubbing her nose in the fact that he'd been following *her* advice when he'd kissed her at the Lexor. But still, her message had come over loud and clear.
He'd been extremely embarrassed when, just a couple of minutes later, his mother had insisted that they kiss under the mistletoe. He was just relieved that Lois couldn't possibly realise that it was a set-up. He *knew* that mistletoe hadn't been there earlier in the day. Clark had no idea what his parents thought they were doing, but it could all have backfired spectacularly. They could have set his friendship with Lois back weeks if she'd taken it badly and, perhaps, accused him of engineering the situation.
Yet it had been *Lois* who'd taken the initiative. As she'd said, it was Christmas. And so he'd been prepared for a very brief platonic kiss — which, with his parents looking on, would have been all that was appropriate. But as soon as his lips had touched hers he'd known that he couldn't let it go at that. Even if she yelled at him afterwards, he'd had to taste her for a little longer.
And then her arms had tightened around his neck; she'd made a tiny noise in her throat and kissed him back. Fiercely. Passionately. With feeling. And he'd been lost.
The world had faded away and all he'd been able to think about was Lois. Holding her. Kissing her. Never wanting to let her go.
He'd had to, in the end, when a movement behind her had distracted him and he'd remembered his parents' presence. He'd kissed Lois — kissed her passionately — in front of his parents! Not knowing whether he'd need to apologise to Lois, or simply run and hide until his blushes faded, he'd drawn back…
… to see her looking at him as if she was devastated the kiss had ended. And he'd known that it had been as powerful for her as for him.
They needed to talk — and, he hoped, share some more kisses. So he'd practically dragged her outside. And now they were in the barn, he didn't even know what to say.
It was still cold, and Lois was shivering. As he met her gaze, she gave him a rueful smile. "I guess now I know what a Kansas winter is like."
"You want to go back inside?" <Please, no…>
But she shook her head. "Clark, we need to talk. At least… I think we do…"
"Me too," he said softly. "Lois…" He came to stand behind her, pulling her back against him and rubbing his hands up and down her arms to warm her. Since she couldn't see him, he was able to let his glasses slide down his nose a little and give her a couple of gentle bursts of heat vision.
She turned in his arms, tilting her face up to him. There was longing in her expression. "Kiss me again, Clark."
His heart almost stopped beating. "There's no mistletoe this time," he pointed out, his voice barely audible.
"I don't want mistletoe," she replied. "If there's no mistletoe, that means this is real…" And she slid her arms around his neck.
"It's real, Lois… it's very real," he promised, before sliding his hand along her cheek and bringing his lips down to hers again.
And the world faded away a second time.
The dark interior of the barn, the smell of hay and linseed and manure, and the clutter of farm equipment rusted from years of use, all ceased to exist. All that made any impression on his consciousness was that Lois was in his arms, and that she was there willingly, demanding his kiss, returning it with equal enthusiasm and need.
Her lips parted beneath his, inviting his exploration and beginning one of her own. Her arms around his neck tightened, one hand sliding into his hair, and in response he held her more closely against him, letting the hand against her face move into her hair and around to the back of her head, her silky hair flowing over his fingers.
The taste of her intoxicated him; he barely remembered to control his reactions, or he'd have been floating. The little sounds Lois was making in her throat were driving him wild. Her soft, slim body pressed against his was awakening desires which he'd almost wondered, at times, whether he was capable of feeling. Now, he knew for certain that his reactions to an attractive women were the same as any human male's.
Not just any attractive woman; a woman he loved.
Breathless, a new experience for him, Clark broke the kiss at last. Lois was looking dazed again, but she was smiling; she brought her hand up to touch his face and she leaned against him, her head against his shoulder.
"I've wanted to do that for a very long time," Clark said after a few moments.
"You have?" She shifted so that she could look at him. "I wish I knew. I've wanted you to do it… oh, at least since the other night at my apartment. Maybe longer, if I'm honest."
"I thought you weren't interested."
"I thought you weren't!" she countered. "I mean… well, I did my best to scare you off in the beginning, didn't I? And you never made a pass or anything. Not like any other guy I've ever worked with. Even when we had to stay in the honeymoon suite. I mean, most other guys would have done their best to talk me into bed — and you just joked about which of us would get the bed. So I figured you weren't really interested after all. Friends and partners… I guessed that was all you wanted from me."
"Lois, I fell in love with you the moment I set eyes on you," Clark confessed, amazed that she'd never seen his feelings for what they were. So much for being afraid, sometimes, that he was wearing his heart on his sleeve. He'd been aware for some time that at least a couple of newsroom colleagues knew how he felt about his beautiful partner, and he'd assumed that Lois realised but was discreetly pretending not to notice.
He hadn't meant to confess his love for her like that. What if she didn't feel the same way? What if she was just attracted to him — what if all she wanted was a flirtation, a couple of dates — or even just some Christmas kisses which could be forgotten about once they were back in the real world?
Expecting her to pull away, he was awed when she tightened her arms around him and reached up to kiss his lips softly. "I love you too, Clark," she said, a hint of emotion in her voice. "I don't know why it took me so long to see it. Thank heavens for that sprig of mistletoe!"
"Thank my parents!" Clark exclaimed on a soft laugh. Then, deciding that talking was vastly over-rated, he claimed her lips again.
Barns were really the most romantic places in existence, Lois thought much later that night, lying in bed and allowing her thoughts to relive those sensual, passionate kisses with Clark. The perfect place to discover that you were loved, utterly and completely.
Clark loved her. The most wonderful man she'd ever known thought that she was wonderful too. And they were a couple — they'd decided that before, finally, returning to the house and their long-cold coffee. Dating, going steady, whatever; she didn't care what they called it as long as they were together. Which they would be. And Lois was determined to make this relationship work.
Clark would not join her list of federal disasters. She was determined of that — and he was equally determined to make it work between them. She'd told him, much later as they'd sat together, wrapped in several blankets and in each other's arms, on the porch swing, about her fears and hang- ups and her seeming ability to frighten away men. Clark had pointed out that he wasn't easily frightened.
"Hey, I've worked with Mad Dog Lane for more than six months," he'd said gently. "You didn't scare me off, did you? And, remember, I love you. You'd have to do a heck of a lot wrong to make me change my mind about you. And I don't intend to let you do that."
"I don't want to," she'd told him. "But it never seems to be as simple as that. Clark, I don't trust easily," she'd admitted. "And that's not something you should have to put up with — it's not your fault that I can't trust men."
"I don't intend giving you any reason not to trust me," he'd replied with a loving smile and a quick kiss. "And just to prove it to you, I want you to know that there's something I have to tell you about myself. I'm not going to tell you now — it's late and you've got to go soon, if you don't want to spend the night —"
"I can't," she'd interrupted regretfully. "I'd love to, but I'd have to leave so early to get to work — that's if you could even get Superman to come in the morning."
"Trust me, that wouldn't be a problem," he'd said with a crooked smile.
"Still… I'll go home tonight. And you'll be back in Metropolis tomorrow evening, right?"
"Right," he'd promised. "And I'll come straight to see you. And I'll tell you everything about me then — because I want you to know, and to show you that you can trust me, Lois. I swear to you that I'll never let you down if I can help it."
And she believed him. For once, she'd even been able to restrain her impatience and *not* demand that he tell her whatever it was right there and then. She loved Clark. That meant that she should trust him — and she would trust him. Whatever it was he had to tell her, it could wait, and she'd believe, without even asking him, that it wasn't anything which would damage the way she felt about him.
Not that that mattered. Lois smiled, amused, as she remembered the flight home. She'd said goodbye to Jonathan and Martha, and then Clark had walked out to the porch with her. He'd kissed her fiercely, hugged her tightly, and told her again that he loved her. And then he'd said that Superman would come very soon to take her home.
And Clark had disappeared back into the house, leaving her on the porch, puzzled as to why he'd left her alone. She'd been halfway home, relaxed in Superman's arms and still warm from Clark's kisses, when the truth had dawned.
But he was going to tell her tomorrow night. So when Superman had flown her through her apartment window, she'd just thanked him nicely, wished him a merry Christmas, and waved him goodbye. Clark deserved to be able to tell her himself.
Clark was hers now. That feeling she'd had hadn't been wrong after all. He was hers, and it felt like a forever kind of love.
Maybe Christmas was special after all.
*Could it be forever
Or am I just wasting time
Well, I don't think so, cause you let me know
You make me feel like you're mine*
*Well, I feel like you're mine and I see in your face
I'm not wrong to have these feelings
Well, I feel like you're mine and I've never known a time before
That's had so many meanings*
Could It Be Forever (c) W. Farrell & D. Janssen, sung by David Cassidy
(c) Wendy Richards 2002