By AnnieM <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: March 2003
Summary: In this Elseworld story, Lois and Clark find each other — and Christmas — in the most unexpected of places.
*And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
And he puzzled three hours, 'till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!" *
~ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss
Lois sat up and plucked her sunglasses from the sand, wiping them off before placing them on her face and surveying the landscape.
The blue water sparkled, sprinkled with swimmers and surfers enjoying the beautiful summer day. The white beach was full of sunbathers and picnickers frolicking in the gorgeous weather. A few feet away, a mother laved sunscreen on her toddler as he struggled to be set free to join his older brothers who were busy building a sand castle. Beyond them, a young couple lay snuggled together, reading magazines and sipping drinks decorated with bright umbrellas. The air around her echoed with shrieks of laughter and the hum of happy conversations.
She picked up the romance novel she had brought with her for moments of boredom and forced herself to read a few pages before dropping it back in her bag. She just couldn't focus on the book. Her mind kept wandering.
She sighed in frustration, angry with herself. She was supposed to be relaxing. She was supposed to be enjoying the sun and surf.
She had traveled halfway across the world — to a different continent in a different hemisphere, and still, it had found her.
She had thought spending the holiday on an island where December 25 was smack dab in the middle of summer would be a surefire way to keep her thoughts from revolving around the fact that she was spending another Christmas alone.
But it found her. There was no snow, no evergreen trees decorated with tinsel and lights, no Christmas carols, no hot chocolate, no stars or angels or wreathes or pageants or Santas or elves or reindeer or *anything,* but still it found her. Still, she found herself thinking about stockings and Christmas stories and mistletoe…and family. She sighed deeply. When was she going to learn that Christmas just wasn't for her? It never was, and it never would be.
She was a single, independent woman. She had no use for the pathetic excuse for a family that she had, and she certainly wasn't going to spend a week in close quarters with them, pretending to enjoy it simply because the calendar dictated it.
And it wasn't like she was eager to create a new family of her own. Sure, those kids building the sand castle were cute, but really, when you got down to it, kids were a lot of trouble. And who was to say that they would really make you happy? If she had kids, she'd probably do as a bad a job as her parents had, and twenty-five years from now, her kid would be sitting on a beach trying to pretend it wasn't Christmas. Besides, to have kids, you had to find a husband. Well, okay, that wasn't true in this day and age. She fully believed there was nothing she couldn't do if she put her mind to it, but she was independent, not crazy. There was no way she wanted to take on the responsibility of raising a child all by herself. She knew her limitations. Besides, her biological clock was not ticking. In fact, she probably didn't even have a biological clock.
That settled, Lois decided to find something to drink. She stood and brushed the sand from her body, adjusting her bikini and wrapping a matching shift around her waist before grabbing the straw bag that held her wallet.
She trudged through the sand to the nearby hut and stood at the bar, waiting to grab the bartender's attention. Suddenly she heard a chorus of shouting voices and turned just in time to see a Frisbee headed right toward her face. She froze for a second, not sure if she should duck or try to catch it. Frozen with indecision, she could do nothing but brace for the blow. She squinched her eyes shut, then peeked out cautiously when there was no immediate impact. The Frisbee was suspended in the air, only millimeters from her head. It seemed that seconds before impact, a hand had shot out and plucked the Frisbee from the air.
"Wow! Good catch, mister!"
"Cool! Did you see that!"
"Boy, lady, you sure are lucky!"
Lois shook herself out of her paralysis and took in the culprits responsible for the out-of-control Frisbee. The four boys were about ten years old and clad in brightly colored swimming trunks. They were all agitated, excited by the near accident. Her benefactor tossed the Frisbee back to the boys.
"Apologize to the lady, boys, then take your game somewhere where innocent bystanders aren't likely to be beaned, okay?" His voice was strong and warm. It was firm enough to make the boys chorus their apologies immediately, but friendly enough to cause them to smile while doing so.
The boys ran off and Lois turned to look at her savior. "Well, I guess I owe you my life," she said with a smile.
"Well, I don't think a blow to the head with a Frisbee would really be life-threatening, but I'm glad I could save you the discomfort of the goose egg it might have caused. And you don't owe me anything, I assure you."
Lois felt her heart stop momentarily, then she was drowning in the stranger's eyes. He was gorgeous, easily the best- looking man she'd ever seen. His chocolate eyes sparkled with amusement, and his tanned skin contrasted with his perfect teeth as his mouth spread into a beautiful smile. Her eyes traveled lower, and she realized that his body matched his beautiful face. He was perfectly sculpted, his skin perfectly tanned. He looked like a model for a swimsuit calendar or an athletic company.
She forced herself to swallow and prayed that when she opened her mouth, she wouldn't make a fool of herself. "Well, at least let me buy you a drink to thank you."
"How about I buy you a drink?"
"What's the matter? Are you not man enough to let a woman buy you a drink?" Lois challenged. She immediately kicked herself mentally. A handsome stranger was flirting with her on a beautiful island and she was lecturing him about feminism.
He paused for a second, and she worried that he would be offended and leave. Then he burst out laughing. "You're absolutely right. I'd love nothing more than for you to buy me a drink."
Lois smiled and relaxed. "I'm Lois," she said, extending a hand. He gripped her hand firmly, sending sparks from the point of contact straight to her heart and stomach.
She was surprised by the way she responded to him. It had been years since she had felt this way for anyone, and she had never reacted so strongly so quickly. It usually took her ages to warm up to men.
"Clark," he said simply, holding her hand for just a second longer, as if he was reluctant to let go. She flagged the bartender over and ordered two tropical drinks, then settled onto a barstool. She turned to look at the handsome man on the barstool next to her — Clark, she thought to herself, testing out the name — then she paused when she saw the strange look on his face.
He shook his head in amused resignation. "I'm trying desperately to think of something to say that doesn't sound like a cheesy pickup line. I really do want to know what brings you here, if you come here often, if you came here alone, et cetera, but I'm afraid that if I ask you any of those things, you'll bolt."
Lois couldn't help but laugh. "I'm here on vacation. I've never been here before, and yes, I came here alone. There, that wasn't so bad. And you?"
Clark laughed. "I'm just passing through, taking some time off from working and to do some traveling. This is my third time on this island, but the first time I've been to this particular beach, and yes, I came here alone."
They paused for minute, enjoying the comfortable silence.
"Where else have you been traveling?" Lois asked at the same time Clark asked, "What made you decide to vacation here?"
They laughed again, and Lois wondered if it was possible that she had laughed more in the last five minutes than she had in the last month.
"You first," she said.
"Why here?" he asked. "And why vacation alone on Christmas?"
Lois' smile faltered slightly. "I'm not a big fan of Christmas. I wanted to get away this year, do something different. I didn't want to spend the day with my family, but I also didn't want to spend the day with people who feel sorry for me because I'm not spending the day with my family."
"Why here? I mean, if that's all you were looking for, you could go anywhere — or nowhere at all. You could just be alone at home."
"I've been needing to get away. My job is pretty stressful, and my boss keeps hinting — not-so-subtly — that I should take a vacation. I got a big Christmas bonus, and I've always wanted to visit this area of the world. I haven't done a whole lot of traveling outside of the U.S. So I decided this was my big chance. What about you? You've got an American accent too. What are you doing this far away from our little corner of the world?"
"I'm exploring the world. I know that sounds trite, but I worked for a couple years after college and got bored. So I've spent the past year traveling and writing. I do some freelance pieces for my hometown newspaper and I'm working on a travel novel."
"Really? I've always wanted to do something like that. I'm working on a novel now, but it's not a travel novel, it's fiction."
As Clark told her about his own desire to try his hand at fiction someday, she wondered what had possessed her to tell him about her novel. She'd spent countless hours working away at it in the past year, but she hadn't told another soul of its existence. Perhaps it was the fact that he was a stranger, or maybe it was because he was also working on a novel, but something had prompted her to tell him about it.
They chatted about the difficulties and frustrations of writing for a while, and Lois found herself reveling in the luxury of being able to discuss her craft with someone whose passion rivaled her own, yet whom she didn't see as a competitor.
"Are you planning to keep traveling indefinitely? Where have you gone so far?" she asked, eager to hear more about his adventures.
"I've been almost everywhere -China to Guatamala and nearly everywhere in between. I love traveling, but I don't think I'll be doing it much longer. It's great, but it gets old after a while. I'm sick of living out a suitcase. Hotels and tents are fun, but I want to have a home again. I love being spontaneous and impulsive, but I'm ready to settle down a little and get a real job again," he said with a self-deprecating smile.
Lois asked Clark to tell her about some of the places he'd traveled so far, curious about the places she'd only dreamed of seeing in person. With just a little prompting, he began to regale her with tales of a recent safari. Lois, who had always wanted to visit Africa, but never had the chance, was fascinated.
Clark answered all of her questions, drawing her so deeply into the conversation that she never felt like he was talking only about himself. When he discovered that Lois had spent a year as an exchange student in Ireland, Clark seemed genuinely thrilled. He told her that he had spent a few months traveling Ireland and Britain and they exchanged stories and memories of similar spots they had visited.
At some point the conversation drifted from travels and became deeper. Lois felt herself sympathizing as Clark explained his need to travel.
"It's not just a desire to see what's out there. It's more than that," he told her. I've always felt like there's something missing. Something I have to find. And I feel terrible for feeling that way, because I have the best family in the world. I adore my parents. I've never felt unloved or unwelcome a day in my life, and when I tell them that I haven't quite found what I'm looking for, I feel so ungrateful."
"I'm sure they understand," Lois reassured him. "I barely know you, and I can see what they mean to you. Surely they must see that."
"They do. My parents know how important they are to me. I think sometimes that makes it even harder for them though. I'm their only child, and I was adopted. I was the child they thought they'd never have, and they devoted their lives to me — especially my mom. Now that I'm gone, I think they're a little lost. I think it's hard for them to remember what their lives were like before they had me."
"It sounds wonderful," Lois said wistfully.
"What about you?" Clark asked. "You said you didn't want to spend Christmas with your family. Why not?"
Lois paused for a minute, not sure how to explain her complicated family situation.
Clark seemed to misinterpret her hesitation for reluctance, and rushed to reassure her. "If you don't want to talk about it, just say so. I didn't mean to pry."
"I don't mind. It's just hard to explain. It sounds like you had a great childhood. I bet your parents made the perfect Christmas for you — a tree and presents and a visit from Santa. The whole nine yards."
"Yeah," Clark said, his turn to sound wistful. "And snow. We're from Kansas, so there was always snow from Christmas. It just doesn't seem like Christmas without it. My dad dressed up as Santa and delivered the presents every Christmas Eve until I was nine. The last two years, I knew it was him, but I couldn't bring myself to break it to him. He got so much pleasure from it."
"See, I never had any of that. My dad usually spent Christmas at the hospital — he's a doctor — and my mom would always be so mad at him for not being there, that she made everyone else miserable. After they divorced, Christmas became a chance for both of them to take turns trying to outdo each other. But they didn't try to buy my sister and I with gifts, instead they worked hard at badmouthing each other, hoping their hatred for each other would wear off on us. Now that we're adults, my sister and I barely speak to our parents. Our father seems to have forgotten that we exist, and our mother only reappears a couple of time a year to remind us of what a disappointment we are and to tell us about all the things she sacrificed for us. Situations like that can either bond siblings together, or pull them apart. It pulled us apart, I guess. I threw myself into to developing my career, and my little sister lives on the other side of the country throwing herself into finding men who will support her and not expect her to have a career."
"I'm sorry," Clark said when Lois finished. "I wish you could have had what I had. Everyone deserves to have the kind of parents I do. Sometimes I think I deserve them less than others."
"Why would you think that?" Lois reached out and laid her hand on his arm, overwhelmed with a sudden urge to comfort him.
"Because I don't appreciate them the way that I should. I should be a good son. I should be home helping my dad with the farm right now, not gallivanting around the world trying to 'find myself.'"
"That's not true. You do appreciate them. And I'm sure that they understand why you have to do what you're doing."
They were silent for a minute, swishing their umbrellas in their empty glasses. Lois was shocked at how much she had revealed to this stranger. She had known him for a single afternoon and she had opened herself up to him in ways that she hadn't to anyone else. She had told him things about her childhood and its affect on her that she had never shared with another soul. And he seemed to understand. It was strange, considering how different his family was from hers, but he genuinely seemed to understand her.
"Let me buy you dinner," he said suddenly. It was a request, not a demand, and she heard both hope and fear of rejection in his voice. "I let you get the drinks, let me get dinner."
Lois started to tell him that it was much too early for dinner, then looked around and was surprised to see that the sun was beginning to set already. It had been early afternoon when they began talking, and she guessed that it was after six already. Where had the time gone?
"Now that you mention it, I am getting a little hungry."
"Do you like seafood?"
"Are you kidding? I love it."
Clark laughed. "Great. I know a terrific little place. It's off the beaten path, so few tourists find it. You're going to love it."
"I need to change. I can't go in this," Lois said, gesturing to her bathing suit.
"Where are you staying?"
"In the hotel," Lois said, gesturing to the sprawling resort just up the beach.
"I'm staying just up the street. Why don't I meet you in the lobby of your building in forty-five minutes? Will that be enough time?"
"Perfect," Lois said, standing.
Clark walked with her while she gathered her things and made her way to the hotel's front entrance. "Forty-five minutes, right?"
"Right," Lois answered.
"Good," he said seriously. "I'm looking forward to it."
Lois felt like she was floating on air as she made her way back to her hotel room. This sort of thing just didn't happen to her. It was ridiculous. But it was a wonderful kind of ridiculous. This guy could be anyone. She didn't know anything about him except what he'd told her. She didn't even know his last name, she realized. But somehow she felt more connected to him than to people she had known her entire life.
She showered quickly and dried her hair, slipping on a lightweight cotton sundress. She pulled a pair of sandals from her bag and slid into them, glancing at the clock on her nightstand. Ten more minutes. She sat on the bed for a minute, then stood and began to pace. She glanced at her watch again. Nine minutes. Lois forced herself to sit down again. She picked up the remote and flipped through the television channels for a minute before giving up and turning it off again. She stood and strode to the sliding glass door that led to her balcony.
Outside, she leaned against the balcony and watched the ocean for a minute. The sun was setting, turning the sky and water brilliant shades of orange and purple. She glanced at her watch, decided that five minutes early wasn't too early to go downstairs. She grabbed her purse and the card key to her room and forced herself not to run to the elevator.
When the elevator doors slid open, revealing the hotel lobby, she was surprised to see Clark sitting uncomfortably on one of the sofas.
"Hey," she said quietly.
"Hey!" he said with a smile. "I'm early, I know. But I couldn't wait. I was afraid that you weren't going to come. I was afraid you'd change your mind, or that I'd wake up and discover this was all a dream, or that you weren't really here and you were just some sort of Christmas angel."
Lois burst out laughing. "I'm no Christmas angel. I can assure you of that. And I couldn't wait either. I spent the last ten minutes pacing in my room, forcing myself not to come down early."
Lois was amazed again at the things she revealed to him. She would never normally admit how eager she was to see someone. It would only make her more vulnerable and give the other person ammunition to use against her.
Clark stood and tentatively placed a hand on the small of her back. "You look incredible," he said, guiding her to the door. "I hope you're hungry. This place is great."
As he began to ramble about the food and service at the place he was taking her, Lois let her mind drift and enjoy the closeness with him. She felt so at home with him. He led her down a few side streets, then finally down a long, winding driveway. Lois was beginning to wonder if they were ever going to find this place when they reached a clearing and Lois gasped. It was the most beautiful sight she'd ever seen.
The restaurant was tucked away on a tiny inlet, surrounded on three sides by palm tees. The fourth side faced the water, giving patrons an unfettered view of the waves that gently lapped at the sand. The crystal-clear water twinkled with the reflection of the multitude of stars that shone in the clear sky. Outside the restaurant, intimate tables were lit with candles and set for two.
"It's… It's… I've never seen anything like it," Lois whispered.
"I knew you'd love it. I found this the first time I was on the island, and I've wanted to bring someone here ever since."
"And you never have?"
"Not until now. I was just waiting for the right person."
Lois smiled. Coming from anyone else, she would have assumed that he was only saying that to get something from her. But Clark was different. She trusted him.
The night seemed to pass in a blur. Over an exquisite dinner, they enjoyed the setting and discussed everything from their childhoods to their goals for the future. They talked about serious things like their relationships with their families and silly things like the horrors they had been subjected to by crazy roommates in college.
Finally they realized they were the only diners left, and that most of the staff seemed to have left as well.
"Looks like we've overstayed our welcome," Clark said. "Let me go find our waiter, or the owner, and pay, and then we can go."
Lois watched as Clark located the man and handed him some money. He smiled and shook the man's hand, then came back to the table to get her.
"I apologized, but he said not to worry about it. He said he was young once too, and that he envied us," Clark told her when he returned to their table.
Lois laughed and took the arm Clark offered her. They strolled along the beach, headed back in the general direction of her hotel, in no hurry to get there.
Somewhere along the way, they slipped off their shoes and waded in the water.
Eventually, they collapsed on the sand, lying on their backs and staring at the stars.
"I love looking at the stars," Lois said, shifting so that her head rested on his arm.
"Me too," Clark said quietly. "Do you ever wonder what it's really like out there? Do you wonder what's out there? Do you ever wonder if there are others out there somewhere, and if there are, can they see us?"
Lois didn't respond immediately, and Clark said, "That probably sounds crazy."
"No, not at all. I mean, who's to say that there's no one out there. We know so little about the universe — and beyond — that it would be arrogant to assume that we know what's out there. I do think that if there's life out there, they're probably not like the green Martians you see on TV. I think they're probably a lot like us."
"Yeah," Clark said quietly, lifting himself up a little and turning to face her. "I bet they live lives a lot like ours. I bet they have friends and jobs and families. They probably eat and sleep and get scared and have dreams … and fall in love."
Lois was unable to talk, or even to breathe for a minute.
Everything seemed so perfect and yet so fragile. She was terrified that moving would shatter everything.
"Just like us," she said finally, her heart pounding in her chest. She felt it coming before she saw it. It was as if their bodies were magnetized, drawing them together. They both hesitated for a moment, as if trying to resist the pull, but in the end, it was futile. Clark lowered his head just enough to brush his lips against hers.
The first contact was so brief it was bittersweet. The touch sent shockwaves of longing through her body, but it was over before it had really begun. She let out a strangled sound of disappointment, and he was back, really kissing her this time. His lips caressed her, teasing and soothing. He slid his hand into her hair, holding her to him.
"This is so incredible," Clark whispered when they finally pulled away. "I…I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything," Lois said. "I understand."
"I just want you to know that I've never done anything like this before. I'd hate it if you thought that I spent my days prowling beaches looking for beautiful women to wine and dine. I don't. I've never — It's only you."
Lois smiled at his fumbling explanation. "I know," she said softly, reaching up with one hand to caress his cheek. "I know."
And she did. For reasons that she couldn't really explain, she believed every word he said.
They lay entwined in each other's arms for a while longer, whispering and touching until they both drifted into a peaceful slumber. Lois awoke a few hours later to the sight of the sun creeping above the horizon, and the sounds of the early morning beach visitors arriving and setting up their spots. She was stunned to realize that she had fallen asleep on the beach and spent the night in the arms of a stranger.
She stretched, delighting in the feel of Clark's solid body next to her, her heart clenching at the sweet way he held her tucked against him.
But somehow things seemed different in the light of day. While she had felt safe and secure the night before, she now felt scared and vulnerable.
It wasn't that she thought Clark would ever to anything to intentionally hurt her, but the feelings that she had for him were so strong — so unlike anything she had ever experienced before — that she didn't trust herself. There was no way she would be able to maintain what they had. The last twenty-four hours had been magical. After that, anything else was sure to be a letdown.
She sighed and untangled herself from Clark's embrace just enough to prop herself up and look at him. He looked so peaceful and content as he slept. She smiled down at him. "I love you, Clark," she whispered emotionally. Then she brushed a final kiss across his lips and pulled away.
Lois refused to allow herself to look back as she walked away. She returned to her hotel room and packed her bags, preparing for her afternoon flight home.
She stayed in her room for the rest of her visit, deciding not to visit the beach one last time, for fear she would run into Clark.
The flight home was miserable. Lois ached to see Clark again, to hear him tell one more story, to see the laughter in his eyes as he told one more joke. She tried to force him from her mind and focus on getting back into work mode. She summoned up memories of the last couple of stories she had written, trying to think of angles to follow up on when she returned to work. But it was no use. Her mind kept drifting back to him.
As the weeks progressed at work, it was much the same. She thought about him daily. Just when she thought she was doing better, she'd hear or see something that would take her back to that beautiful night on their island.
In a moment of weakness, she admitted to herself that she had made the wrong decision. She was a coward to run away. She should have stayed and given it a chance. But it was too late. She had no idea where he was or where to find him. She knew his parents lived in Kansas, but she didn't even know his last name.
She muddled through January, cringing when the pink and red hearts of Valentine's Day began to appear. Then, one morning as she was sitting at her desk reading email and trying to ignore the sappy music playing in the newsroom, she stumbled across something that would change the entire angle of the story she was working on. She needed to let Perry know where she was going, but he'd been in his office all morning interviewing someone for the open Metro reporting spot.
She hesitated for a second, then burst into the office. She began speaking to Perry immediately, without so much as a glance at the man sitting in the chair facing Perry's desk. "Perry, I need-"
"How many times do I have to tell you that you cannot just burst in here? This is my office and I'm busy."
"But nothing. Knock first, and wait until I tell you to come in." He half-smothered a smile at Lois' exasperated sigh. "While you're here, there's someone I want you to meet. I've hired someone to fill the empty spot, and I want to pair you two temporarily — just until he gets a feel for the city. Now, don't even start telling me that you don't need or want a partner. We've been through this all before," he said, raising a hand to stave off her complaints.
"Not a word, Lois. I want you to meet your newest colleague. Lois Lane, Clark Kent."
Lois' eyes moved slowly to meet those of the man who had stood and was now only inches from her.
"Lois," he said at the same time she breathed, "Clark."
"I've been looking for you everywhere. I had no idea where you'd gone. I thought I'd never find you. Why did you leave?" he asked, his eyes searching her face.
"I don't know. I was scared. I thought it was for the best. I realized quickly that I was wrong, but I thought it was too late. I had no idea where to find you, or what I'd say if I did find you. I didn't even know your last name."
"I'm just so glad I found you. I was worried."
"I never meant to worry you. I'm sorry. I was so stupid."
"No, not stupid. I understand. I was scared too. It happened so fast. It came out of nowhere."
Lois nodded, unable to form words to express how she was feeling. Perry cleared his throat.
The two reporters turned to look at him as he adjusted his collar, clearly uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was taking. "Seems like I've missed something here, kids. I'll just, uh, step out and let you two finish this."
Perry slipped out of the room unnoticed, as Lois and Clark lost themselves in each other's eyes. They started to speak again, but couldn't find the words.
Then they expressed the multitude of feelings they were both experiencing in the only way they could. Clark slid one hand behind her neck and drew her to him gently. "I've dreamed about this every night," he whispered.
"So have I," she breathed, leaning into the kiss. And then they were lost, the world around them melting away as they found themselves in each other.