By Wendy Richards <email@example.com> and David <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: December 2005
Summary: It's Christmas, but not for Lois Lane. How can she possibly contemplate celebrating when she's still grieving for the man she loves? A multiauthored story by Wendy Richards and David.
First of all, I want to thank Wendy for giving me the chance to write a story with her. As you can imagine, I was completely floored when Wendy approached me about co-authoring a story. Naturally (obviously ;)), I said yes, and it's been… fantastic.
Fast-paced. Mind-blowing. Exhilarating… did I mention fast- paced? ;)
I couldn't wait to get the next part that Wendy sent and take a peek into her brilliant mind. And I've never had so much fun arguing over an ending. <g>
I'd also like to thank Kaethel and Sara for helping us along the road and being an ear… or four. Thanks, guys. ;) Thanks, also, to Chris for offering to BR the story at the drop of a hat. You're absolutely fantastic. :)
Well, this actually came about entirely by accident. I adore David's writing — a new author this year, he has a style that's fresh, beautiful to read and deeply layered with meaning. Every word of every sentence is carefully chosen and nothing is wasted. He was working on another story at the time — the wonderful An Affair To Remember — and was mired in a bit of writer's block. I wondered aloud on IRC whether he'd be interested in writing a story with me some time. And then dashed off the first couple of pages of one, deliberately making it a Christmas story so we'd have a deadline to work to. David can be a procrastinator when he doesn't have a deadline. ;) And I sent it to him, asking if he was inspired. To my delight, he was. :)
And it's been a wonderful experience. With every section he returned to me, I found myself having to raise my own standards to come even close to the level of writing he was achieving. Plus, he seems to have learned the art of dumping your co-author with a cliffhanger from the best. Tank, Kae, you can teach this guy nothing!
Best of all, we showed some of this to friends who know both our styles really well. Sara and Kae, you were a terrific help in giving us feedback and suggestions — but it was even more satisfying to discover that, not only could you not recognise individual styles most of the time, you couldn't see the joins. Thank you! Many, many thanks to Chris, too, for volunteering at very short notice to BR (and GE) this, and for your very helpful catches.
And, most of all, thank you, David.
DISCLAIMER: All rights to the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros; no infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction, from which no profit is or will be obtained.
"We wish you a merry Christmas. We wish you a merry —"
"Oh, get lost!"
Furious, Lois pushed her way past the annoying group of carol-singers congregated outside her apartment. What gave them the right to block the sidewalk and pollute the air with their off- key singing, anyway? Why the *hell* did they assume that everyone wanted to listen to Christmas music?
Did it never occur to them that some people *hated* Christmas?
Christmas. Always the time of year she loathed most.
People spouting crap about peace and goodwill and loving their neighbour and so on- but never meaning a word of it. Rushing around buying presents that would be taken back to the stores as soon as they opened again after Christmas. Pretending to like family members they hated.
There was nothing good about Christmas.
There could have been…
She hurried into her apartment building, trying to force back the hot tears springing to her eyes. She wouldn't cry again. She would *not* cry again…
Shaking fingers fumbled with keys, struggled to push them into locks, turned them, finally opened the door. Once inside, she slammed the door shut and whirled around to fasten the deadbolts.
Shutting out the world.
That was okay. The world held no appeal for her. Not any more.
She got up every day, got dressed, went to work, did assignments — sometimes dangerous ones, but what did that matter? She wrote news articles, got bylines, front page stories. And then she went home again. Always late. Today was the earliest she'd made it home in a month. And then only because Perry had practically thrown her out of the newsroom.
"Lois, go home. You're exhausted. That's the second time you've sent me the wrong story. You're close to cracking up! And you're no good to me like this. If you keep this up, I'm going to have to consider suspending you."
The harsh words had hurt, but they'd had their effect, unlike the times he'd tried persuasion and kindness. She'd picked up her bag and coat and left.
Much earlier than usual, she'd been walking through the downtown area. As luck would have it, the stores were open late for last- minute holiday shoppers, Christmas being only a couple of days away. She'd walked too close to the entrance of one department store. "Merry Christmas!" the doorman had called to her as she'd passed. She'd glared at him and hurried on.
There was no such thing as a merry Christmas. If there ever had been, there would never be again. Not now.
She dragged herself towards the kitchen. She wasn't hungry, but making coffee would give her something to do.
The photograph stared tauntingly at her from its position on her dresser.
No. She wouldn't look at it. She wouldn't pick it up. No.
She had to stop torturing herself like this…
She should have put it away, shut it in a drawer, long ago.
She walked over and picked it up.
They looked so happy there, the two of them. Smiling at each other, eyes shining, affection for each other evident in the way they gazed at each other. Secure in their friendship and in the knowledge that nothing could ever happen to change what they were to each other.
So they'd thought.
Believing that they had all the time in the world to explore what the future could hold for them. Professionally — and personally.
How foolish they'd been. And what a waste.
They'd had no time at all.
Her stupidity, a lunatic scientist's irresponsibility and three fragments of hot lead had ripped him away from her.
Ripped out her heart and left it carved into pieces, bleeding to death on a gambling-den floor.
Four weeks ago today, she'd lost the best thing that had ever happened to her. Four weeks ago today, her partner, her best friend, the person who'd taught her how to trust again, the only man she would ever love, had been murdered in front of her.
Clark was gone, and he'd taken her heart, her soul, every shred of meaning in her life, with him.
Oh, she'd carried on. Turned up to work as normal, even found his killers. Gained a cold satisfaction out of seeing them charged and held in custody pending trial. She was still turning in front-page stories, too. But the thrill had gone out of it.
Reporting was no longer her life. It was a job. It paid the bills.
And every time she walked into the newsroom she saw his face. Heard his voice. Imagined him sitting at that desk, so close to her own. Or coming to lean on the edge of her desk to talk to her, tease her, edit her copy.
It was torture. Expecting at every moment to see him, to hear him, to feel his strong but gentle hand on her shoulder or at her elbow.
In the last week, she'd begun to consider the unthinkable and discovered that it seemed appealing. Quit the Planet. Maybe even leave Metropolis. A new start, somewhere else, where she wouldn't see Clark Kent's ghost on every street corner or in every familiar place they'd been together.
Maybe that was the right thing to do.
A tapping sound at the window. Hastily, she put the photo down. He wouldn't like to see her looking at it again. He kept telling her that she needed to move on with her life, that Clark wouldn't want her to grieve for him for ever. It was time to move on, he'd told her the last time she'd mentioned Clark to him. Time to accept that he was gone, to remember him fondly but put him in the past.
As if Clark didn't deserve to be remembered. As if he hadn't been important.
As if he hadn't been the most precious thing in her life.
As if she could ever do that anyway.
Forget Clark? Never. Not as long as she was still existing.
She hurried to open the window, to let Superman in.
Superman. The only person she allowed to get close to her now.
It was strange; ever since Clark's death she and Superman had spent a lot more time together than ever before. At first, he'd come to check on her, to make sure that she was okay, to apologise for not being able to save Clark and to assure himself that she didn't blame him. He'd stayed to comfort her — and, she'd actually suspected, to be comforted himself in return.
He'd come back time after time, sometimes staying for as much as a couple of hours.
They talked about all sorts of things. He'd tell her about rescues, both good and bad. She'd talk about her work, investigations she was in the middle of, clues that just didn't seem to piece together into anything concrete, sources who clammed up when she tried to get information. He'd listen, and as time went by he started to offer suggestions, discuss the stories with her, even come up with ideas of his own.
Actually, there were times when it almost felt like working with Clark.
But it wasn't. He didn't interact with her the way Clark had. No intense discussions, no finishing each other's sentences, no pushing each other to leaps of logic which deserved the description 'brilliant'. No casual touching, whether for encouragement, chastisement or just because. No… teamwork.
Superman was a good friend. A caring, loyal and honourable man who seemed to need her as much as she needed him. He wasn't Clark. But he was all she had.
"Hi, Lois." He jumped down to the floor and immediately leaned in to brush a kiss against her cheek.
He shouldn't have come. Even as he made small talk about their respective days, he knew he shouldn't have come. He'd promised himself that he wouldn't, but he wasn't able to stay away… it was Christmas. And, if he was honest with himself, he'd needed to see her. He'd been looking forward to this Christmas so much. Before.
What was it they said?
It was always hardest around the holidays…
"Make yourself comfortable, Superman." Her voice was welcoming, as usual, but she couldn't quite mask that sad note that crept through and coloured her words. As usual. "Would you like some coffee? I was just about to put on a pot."
"Sure, that sounds great." He deliberately ignored the lack of decorations as he followed her further into the living room. The apartment was sparsely lit. Which either meant she'd just gotten home or she'd been brooding. Again. Apparently, it wasn't Christmas everywhere.
He wanted to ask her what was wrong, but he was sure he knew the answer.
Clark. It was always Clark.
He let his eyes wander over to her dresser. The photo was still there. The only thing not covered in the finely-layered dust of neglect. He didn't expect her to put it away, but, oh… how he wished she would.
It was his fault, really. The whole mess was his fault. He'd been torturing himself since the shooting, playing it over and over in his mind. Analysed it from every angle… looked at it from every perspective… and he always came to the same conclusion.
It was his fault.
He should have known better than to become too close to anyone. To start a life with friends and hopes and dreams. To stop being that anonymous nobody who bounced from one place to the next and start an actual life. He should have known that it'd all be ripped away from him. He wasn't meant to have a normal life, and it was past time he accepted that.
He should just move on, start anew in a place far from here, be that nobody again, but… he couldn't. He'd started a life… he'd made friends, and now he was trapped by it. Trapped by the life Clark Kent created but achingly apart from it. That photograph… was a painful reminder of everything he'd lost. Of everything he'd never have. And… why he could never leave.
Lois. It was always Lois.
He was bound to her. To the city, because of her. He'd been fond of the life he'd led. His friends, his job, his apartment… he'd been attached to them, but he was bound to her.
"Do you ever feel like you're just existing?" He wasn't sure how it got there, but he found the photo in his hand. He ran his thumb over their faces. Everything he'd lost.
"I feel like I stopped living a long time ago."
"Superman?" Her hand was soft against his arm, warm and close to his skin under the thin barrier of the Spandex. Too close. "Is something wrong?"
Before he had a chance to respond, she'd reached out and snatched the photo from his hand. "Don't. Just don't say it."
She'd expected him to… "No. I wasn't going to. I… do know how hard it is, Lois."
He heard the tiny hitch in her breath that would have been inaudible to anyone without Super-hearing. "I never asked… You miss him too, don't you?"
More than he could ever tell her. "Yeah. I do."
"Is that why it bothers you to see the photo?"
It was, but explaining precisely why wasn't… well, it just wasn't a good idea. "Something like that." He was being evasive, but at least Lois would never expect otherwise from Superman. Clark, of course, had rarely got away with evasion. Only when it had suited his too-sharp, observant-only-some-of-the-time partner.
He watched her, unable to tear his gaze from her, as she carefully, with what seemed like minute precision, replaced the photo on the dresser.
There, frozen in time, were Lois and himself. Together. Smiling. Happy. Cocooned, safe from any hint of disaster. Completely unaware of what fate had in store for them.
Mere weeks ago, that picture had been taken. The happiest night of his life, in fact. He'd won his first Kerth. Had been to the ceremony with the most beautiful woman in the world as his date. She'd hung on his arm, smiled adoringly, clapped loudest of anyone in the room when his name had been announced as the winner. Walking her home afterwards, her hand hugging his arm, he'd almost floated the whole way.
She turned. Caught him staring. He flushed and looked away.
"Superman? You don't seem… yourself tonight." Now she was frowning, looking concerned. "What you just said…" She seemed to be searching for the words. "Why would you feel like you stopped living? You? You're always so… *alive*."
The word hit him like a slap to the face.
Alive. If only she knew.
He wasn't alive. Hadn't been since that night four weeks ago. Oh, he was still there. Still standing. Still breathing. Still flying around and rescuing people. But he was dead, all the same. Inside, where it counted. And outside, where people mentioned Clark Kent's name with the sort of hushed, guilty tone reserved for the dead. So as not to add to the grief of those left alive, bereaved.
Why had he said it? It'd been a stupid thing to say. How could he ever explain to Lois how he felt? Besides, to even begin to tell her why he felt that way would involve truths he had no intention of ever allowing her to know.
It was better that way.
He'd made that decision in the painful aftermath of his shooting, as he'd allowed his body to bounce over the wet, smelly pavement in the Slum where he'd been dumped. His first thought, in the moments after that split-second realisation that he had to fall to the floor, play dead, had been that as soon as he could get away safely he'd come to Lois. Make sure that she knew as soon as possible that her best friend wasn't dead. Make sure that she didn't have to grieve.
And then the truth had dawned. He couldn't tell her.
Clark, alive? How? She'd seen him gunned down at point-blank range. Not one bullet but three. No-one — no *human* — could survive that. Not unscathed.
Okay, he could have told her the truth, metaphorically stripped himself bare in front of her, revealed the Spandex to her. That wasn't such a big step, not considering how long he'd known her, how close they'd become… how much he loved her. But what then? Once she'd accepted that Clark wasn't dead because he was actually from Krypton, where could they have gone from there?
That had been the cold, hard reality that had sunk in as he'd allowed the dark night sky to swallow him up. Where did a Clark Kent go who was dead in every way except for his living body? Miraculous resurrections just didn't happen. Not outside fairy- tales or Bible stories.
Lois could never know the truth. There was simply no point.
Just as there was no point to his visits here, other than self- indulgence.
The best thing he could have done for her, for both of them, was to stay away from her. Okay, he'd had to go to see her, in the beginning, just to be sure that she was okay. That she wasn't going to destroy herself utterly from grief and guilt.
After that, he should have left her alone.
Yet he'd come, time and time again. And stayed, when he should have kept his visits brief. He'd allowed himself to be pulled into her warmth, the welcome embrace of her presence, her soft voice, her kindness, her need for company.
Her need for *him*.
But it was dangerous. Their conversations inevitably led to the details of their daily lives. He could talk about his rescues, but never about the boredom of being Superman full-time. Never about the gaping hole in his life, left by the absence of all that was Clark. Never about the longing that was constantly with him for some semblance of a normal life.
So they talked about Lois. Her life. Her job. And — god, it was so achingly familiar. To hear her explain the convoluted details of her current investigation, the leads that went nowhere, the minor successes and the dead ends. So tempting, too, to fall back into the habit of bouncing ideas off her, making suggestions, pushing her to see whether her incredible intuition would make the right jumps.
So tempting… but far too dangerous.
Stilted, unsatisfying conversations, as a result, though Lois noticed nothing. Obviously she didn't expect the same kind of intellectual stimulation with Superman as with Clark. That, too, was just as well.
Having to resist, too, the urge to touch. Unlearning the habit of stolen caresses, brushes of hand against shoulder, fingers against arm.
That was hardest of all. And it was all the more reason why he shouldn't be doing this.
Yet he just couldn't stay away. He was addicted to her, even more than ever before. She was his one link to reality, to a life he'd been forced to leave behind. Even more so than his parents — they tried, but they couldn't really understand the magnitude of what he'd lost.
If it weren't for Lois, he'd probably have done something desperate by now.
He blinked and refocused. Lois was still watching him, waiting for an answer to a question she'd asked some time ago. Wondering why he'd spaced out like an idiot.
"I'm sorry… I… I shouldn't have come, Lois." He began to back away, towards the window.
"Superman!" She grabbed at his hand, stopping his escape. He could shake her off, pull his hand away from hers, but… Somehow, the gentle grasp of one small woman was enough to halt even a Superpowered male in his flight.
"Lois." Sadness infused his voice; he was powerless to stop it. "I… this isn't helping either of us. I shouldn't be here."
"Please." Her fingers tightened around his. "I… need you." Her voice cracked, and his heart twisted.
When had Lois Lane ever needed anyone?
When had she ever *admitted* that she needed anyone?
"Oh, Lois…" He closed his eyes briefly, then turned back to face her. Tears shimmered in her dark eyes. Slowly, almost without his conscious realisation, his hand lifted, and then his palm was resting against her cheek.
She turned her head and her lips pressed against his skin. "Please don't go. I… I don't want to be alone, Superman."
He couldn't do this. His heart was shattering into tiny pieces as it was. How could he stay, loving her as he did? Hurting as he did, knowing how much he'd lost, that he could never be with her?
"I'm not the person you should be with." He tried to draw away, and this time tugged his hand from hers.
She just stepped closer, and this time caught his hand in both of hers. "You're exactly the person I should be with."
And, outside the window, carollers started singing Silent Night.
She froze for a second, an unreadable emotion flitting across her face before she stepped past him and closed the window. He knew, on some level, that he should be trying to leave but, as the dull thud rang in his ears, he knew he wasn't going to.
Not tonight. She'd sealed him in and the rest of the world out. And she needed him. Even if he was just Superman.
"I'm sorry. I just… I've never been fond of Christmas." Her arms wrapped themselves around her small frame in a pitiful imitation of comfort. "And Clark was."
She'd pushed him too far with that last comment. She hadn't meant for him to hear it, but he had. Of course he had. He heard everything. He'd seemed… not willing, exactly, but he'd seemed to be able to… tolerate talking about Clark.
He'd even admitted that he missed Clark.
Which was big for him. Huge. Superman, as honest and straightforward as he appeared, had more walls up than anyone she'd ever met, herself included. He'd seemed *almost* willing to talk, but she'd obviously pushed him too far. His face had fallen, and he looked… absolutely devastated.
It'd become obvious fairly quickly after… after, that Superman and Clark had been close. She could see just how badly he was hurting over the loss of his friend. He probably had as few friends as she did… and Clark… was such a special person. He'd been able to break through her walls and reach her, and he'd never known… she'd never let him know…
Lois sighed and shook her head. As much as she missed Clark, as much as she… loved Clark, and as much as she wanted to… needed to talk about him and remember him, she had to focus on the friend who was still with her. Who'd come to her tonight. She wasn't lying when she said she needed him.
She needed him to help her remember, and she needed him to help her forget.
Most of all she just needed him. Someone who'd cared about Clark too. Someone who'd felt as responsible for failing Clark as she did. She needed him because, despite what she'd thought, she couldn't stand to be alone with her memories… and her guilt.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have…" She let her voice trail off.
"No, Lois. I shouldn't have…" Superman ran an agitated hand through his hair. "I know you're in mo… I know you miss Clark. It's not fair of me to ask you to forget him. It's just… difficult. Clark wouldn't -"
"Want me to grieve for him." She finished for him. She expected that slight grin he'd give her sometimes, but he dropped his eyes to the floor and ran his hand through his hair.
It was difficult for him. Of course it was. She'd seen the way he'd reacted every time she'd brought up Clark. It wasn't just that he was worried for her. He was hurting too. And she'd just been foisting her grief on top of him, making his own worse.
He hadn't said it, but he was hurting too. He hadn't admitted it, but… he needed a chance to grieve as well.
And he hadn't told her, but she knew… she was probably all he had. She had to put her grief aside, for him.
"Why don't you tell me about you and Clark?"
"What?" His head shot up. She noted the almost panicked expression on his face, but it was the hint of relief in his eyes that gave her the courage to continue.
"I know you two were close," she said, moving closer to him. "He was your friend too. I think you should talk about him. I think… you need to."
His head dropped again and he looked so… broken. She ached to reach up and brush away the curl that wasn't there. To comfort him in the way she'd never allowed herself to comfort Clark.
He nodded his head and raised his eyes to meet hers. "Okay."
Her breath hitched at his agreement. Clark. He was going to talk about Clark.
No-one wanted to talk to her about Clark any more. Everyone seemed to think that either his name should never be mentioned at all or that it was time to move on and leave him in the past. Clark was like the ghost in the corner: the more no-one mentioned him, the more she was conscious of his unseen presence.
Clark had never talked about his relationship with Superman. He'd rarely mentioned the other man at all other than in the context of 'Superman told me…' when passing on a tip or an interview. He'd never talked about their personal relationship, what they did when they spent time together. Had Superman taken him flying? Watched sports at Clark's apartment? Or had their friendship simply been one of occasional meetings, brief conversations and casual 'see you arounds'?
"Clark…" Superman began. She waited, but he didn't continue. Her gaze shot to his face. His expression was anguished, pain and despair written all over.
"Oh, Superman!" she exclaimed, and she reached up to touch his face with her fingertips. "It's just too painful, isn't it? He's gone and…"
"And nothing will ever be the same," he whispered. "Everything's changed. I'm just… existing…"
Her eyes widened. He'd cared about Clark far more than she'd ever imagined. Far more than anyone would have who wasn't a parent or spouse or…
… Or lover.
That would explain why he was so devastated.
She swallowed. It was none of her business, and yet… She had to know. Needed to know if Clark… if she'd been foolish to imagine that he could really love her, that the only thing that had stopped them becoming a couple had been her insecurities and her stupid belief that they had all the time in the world.
Hesitantly, she began, "Superman, were you… you and Clark…"
But, before she could finish her question, his arms had come around her, tightly but not painfully, dragging her against him in a needy embrace. His eyes, a deep brown so like Clark's, shimmered brightly as they gazed into hers.
And then his head descended and he took her breath away in a powerful, desperate kiss.
What was he doing?
He was kissing her. Kissing her like his life depended on it.
And really… it did.
He was kissing her and she was kissing him back. Her lips were fierce against his. There was no love, no tenderness, just need. Passion. Fire. And a deep, deep-seated need. The need for comfort, for reassurance.
He was still alive.
She tore her lips from his and drew in a shuddering breath, turning her back to him. When she spoke, her voice was shaky. "I love Clark."
His heart clenched painfully. She loved Clark. But he knew that — he'd seen it in the way she'd mourned him. She'd loved him, even if she'd realised it too late. And now… now she needed him and all he could offer her was Superman.
"Clark's gone, Lois," he murmured. His own words tore at him. Clark was gone.
"Is that why you kissed me?" She turned to face him slowly.
He shook his head. He'd never planned to, but he'd crossed a line… and he had no intention of going back. It was all or nothing now. He couldn't go on existing like this. Pretending to be a cardboard cut-out and trudging through his days in a superficial haze where the only time he could truly be himself was behind locked doors. The decision had been made.
He needed to be more than Superman.
"No, Lois. It wasn't." He caught her hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I kissed you because I needed to and…" He sucked in a steadying breath. "Lois, I want you to come away with me."
Her brow crinkled in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"I'm going to start again somewhere new…" He dropped her hand and moved towards the window, staring out into the night from the shadows of her apartment. "I can't stand to be in Metropolis anymore."
"Oh." He could hear the hesitation in her voice. "Because you lo… because you miss Clark?"
He pressed his forehead against the wall. His voice was quiet when he answered. "No, not exactly."
"Why, then?" He almost jumped when her hand found his shoulder.
"Because I was Clark."
No. He couldn't have said that. Couldn't possibly have said what she thought… what she thought he'd just…
No. It wasn't possible.
Clark was… Clark was dead… gunned down… shot right in front of her… he'd fallen, he'd collapsed, he'd *died*. She'd watched him die. Over and over again, she'd watched him die night after night since it had happened.
He couldn't be… Superman couldn't…
The world was tilting, somehow off-balance. Or was it just her who was dizzy? She reached out, fumbling, and her hand found the wood of the windowsill. Stability.
She raised her gaze to Superman again. He was still facing away from her, his body stiff, tense, as he leaned against the wall.
She'd misheard. Of course she had. It was… they'd been talking about Clark, and he'd kissed her and he'd asked her to go away with him… he was obviously losing it. Grief was driving him crazy…
"What did you just say?" She had to be sure. If he really was delusional…
He whirled around, breathing heavily, and stared at her. "I was Clark. Lois, *I* was Clark. I… since they shot me, this is all I have left."
No. It wasn't true. He *was* delusional.
Because, if it were true, then that meant that Clark was a liar. And that he'd hurt her more, far more, than anyone ever had before. Ever.
It couldn't be true. Because it would mean that her best friend was a man she'd never known at all.
He was still looking at her. Staring at her. His eyes, so dark, so liquid, so *familiar*, boring into her, as if he was trying to learn her, memorise her.
Those eyes. The eyes she saw every night in her dreams, wide open, staring accusingly at her as he lay on the floor, bleeding to death. That night, in the club, his eyes had been closed, but in her dreams they were always open. Staring.
One nod. And a muscle ticked in his jaw.
"You… I… you let me…" Her voice gave way and, tears streaming down her face, she fell to the floor, sobbing hysterically.
Then he was beside her, awkwardly trying to pull her into his arms, stammering incoherent apologies and avowals.
He could say whatever he wanted. None of it mattered. He was a liar.
How could he have come here three or more times a week since… since Clark was shot and not tell her the truth? How could he have pretended? How could he have seen how she was suffering and never once said *anything*?
She'd grieved. She'd cried until she had no more tears, and still she'd cried more.
No more. No more being suckered into grieving for someone who wasn't really dead… someone who'd never really existed.
She swallowed, choking back the last of the tears, and dredged up the strength to look at him. Him. The man in the Suit. The liar.
Then she pushed at him, shoving him away from her.
Coldly, hanging onto the merest shred of control, she said, "Leave me alone. I don't care what you say you are. I just know that you're not… The Clark Kent I knew would *never* have done this to me. You… I don't know who you are. You're not anyone I recognise."
The soft rustle of the curtains broke her heart but she refused to turn around. Only after the breeze of his departure died down did she let the tears come again. Clark was gone.
They were waiting for him, swarmed around the podium like vultures. He floated a little higher, not quite ready to swoop down and be torn apart. He still had a few minutes before it was time to start the press conference. A few minutes to be… whoever he was, before he swooped down and it all ended. Before he'd announce Superman's retirement.
He needed to move on.
The wheels were already in motion.
Clark Kent was gone. Kean. Ryan Kean. That was a good name. A solid name. He'd be Ryan Kean. Or maybe Kane.
Either way, he needed to move on, and to do that he needed to say goodbye to his past life. Superman might come back one day, but until then…
He saw the crowd starting to get restless. The vultures who'd abandoned their families on Christmas Eve to listen to Superman's announcement. He scanned the faces. Many of them were familiar… they'd been friends, colleagues. If things had been different, he'd probably be down there with them, ready to chomp at the bit.
He paused as he saw a face so familiar it was ingrained in his memory… she'd come.
Why? Why was she here?
After the way she'd spoken to him last night, he'd have bet anything that she would have stayed a million miles away from a press conference called by Superman. What was she doing here? What was she going to do?
If only she hadn't come. This was going to be difficult enough as it was…
"Clark. I… need to talk to you. Please. If you… if you ever loved me at all, meet me in the alley below you. Now."
He froze. Lois. Talking to him — well, she was actually staring at the ground, but he'd heard her words as clearly as if she'd been standing right beside him.
She must have been watching for him. Listening, searching the skies, looking for any sign of his arrival. None of the other reporters had seen him yet, he was sure of that.
She wanted to talk to him.
She'd called him Clark.
She'd called him Clark. Last night, she'd told him that he had no right to that name. Her hatred, her anger had been what it had finally taken to send him fleeing.
Now, she was calling him Clark.
He hadn't even intended to tell her. That, and kissing her, had… just happened. Perhaps because it was Christmas, a time of year that had always been special to him. That this year would just be another date on the calendar.
This Christmas would have been special. He'd already been planning to ask Lois to spend the holiday with him at his parents' farm. He knew that the Lane family didn't do Christmas and he'd wanted her to see that special time of year through his eyes. To see how magical it could be.
Three bullets later, the lights, decorations and other symbols of Christmas served only to mock his dreams. He wasn't even sure that he'd spend the day with his parents this year. They'd hate that and be hurt, but he wasn't good company for anyone. Not now.
He'd given in to the compulsion to see Lois, and had found her as devastated as ever. But, this time, seeming to sense his own devastation, she'd caught him out in some foolish words. And then the carol-singers, reminding him once again of the plans that had crumbled to dust…
Yearning for someone to remind him that he was still alive, he'd kissed her. Crossed the point of no return.
It had been so stupid. How could she possibly have understood? How could he have expected anything other than her anger? Her deep, unbelievable hurt that he could have made her suffer like that? She didn't know what he'd been through — and he hadn't even attempted to tell her. Instead, he'd talked as if asking her to give up her entire life to move away with him was normal. As if discovering that her dead best friend had been disguised all along as her *other* friend was normal.
He looked down. Lois was no longer with the throng of reporters. She was waiting for him.
Seconds later, he glided slowly down into the alley, landing in front of her but a careful few feet away. She looked tired, which was nothing new these days, but even more so than usual. As if she hadn't slept at all. His fault. Again.
"Clark." The emotion in her voice broke his heart all over again. How could she still be grieving for him now? After what he'd done?
"Hello, Lois." He didn't trust himself to say anything more.
"Thanks for… coming." She took a step closer to him. He didn't move. "I… I was searching for you all last night. But I didn't know where to find you."
She'd *looked* for him?
"I'm… sorry. It never occurred to me that you'd…"
One shoulder lifted, then fell again. "I went to your apartment. Stupid, really. It's all closed up and your stuff's packed away waiting for your parents to come and get it. I don't know why I thought you might be there."
Because it was the same place she'd always gone to find him. Old comforts. "You could always have called… help, Superman. I'd have come."
She grimaced. "After… what I said to you, I wasn't sure you'd willingly come anywhere near me."
Was she kidding? Didn't she know…?
He swallowed. "I… I was just flying around. I had some… decisions to make."
"That why the press conference?"
That was what she wanted to talk about? An advance exclusive on his announcement? No. He only had to look at her to know that. "Yes. Superman's retiring."
"What?" Shock was all over her face.
"I can't do this any more, Lois. Living a half-life. Being in Metropolis, seeing everything I can't have any more, having to pretend it doesn't matter —"
He broke off. She'd closed the distance between them and was grabbing his hands. "Talk to me, Clark. Tell me why. Why didn't you ever *tell* me? And why can't I stop feeling that, however badly I've been hurting, you're hurting just as bad?"
He stared at her. Her hands on his, warming his frozen soul.
How could she possibly still care? Yet her words, and the way she was looking at him, sent that message loud and clear. She'd been looking for him, too. She'd come to the press conference just so she could talk to him. "Lois… I don't understand. Last night, you hated me… not that you don't have reason…"
She shook her head, as if in denial of his words. "Last night, I was angry. In shock. But once I calmed down, let it all sink in, I remembered something."
"That I *know* you wouldn't do something like this to me unless you had a very good reason."
"I was going to tell you after I was shot, but… I couldn't." He clenched his fists beneath his folded arms and swallowed past the lump in his throat. He needed to finish. "I thought I could handle it… I thought I could *be* Superman. Telling you that I wasn't really dead… I thought it would just hurt you more. Clark was gone. Clark *is* gone. He died that night."
She shook her head violently, her hair flying wildly about her face. The tears in her eyes were a painful recrimination. Her voice was low. Desperate. "But you're right here."
"I'm standing in front of you, but I'm not *here*. I'm not a part of the world any more." He let his arms drop under the weight of her hands resting on them. "I just can't do it. I'm not a part of the world… I can't order a cup of coffee. I can't interact with people, and I can't… I can't sit next to you at work every day. See you every day. The part of me that could… Clark… is dead. He's gone, and all that's left is Superman."
"You're going to leave, then, again?" She took a step backwards, the accusation in her voice increasing the distance between them.
He felt a wave of ice crash around him as he began to understand… There was no way to make it better. He'd hurt her so badly… he was hurting so badly… the tightness in his chest increased as he realised… He'd have to let her go. He couldn't ask her to give everything up for him. For her dead friend. It was time to let her go.
"I'm sorry, Lois. I thought I could handle it, but I can't *be* Superman anymore."
"And you're just… going to leave?" Her breath hitched and a flame of colour licked her cheeks. "You're going to give me back Clark and then snatch him away!" Her voice was starting to rise. "Do you know why I'm here? I couldn't stand to lose you twice. I couldn't let you walk away after I'd just got you back."
Was she… could she forgive him?
"What are you saying, Lois?"
"I want to go with you." Her voice was steady. Her hand covered the shield on his chest. "Take me with you."
"I can't ask you to come with me, Lois." He ran his finger down the side of her cheek lightly. "It was wrong of me to ask you last night. I don't expect you to give up everything for my sake."
Her eyes were shining. "You can't expect me to stay."
He wanted, so much, to take her with him. To feel alive with her by his side. He wanted, so much, to spend more than guilt-ridden evenings and stolen moments with her. To have another chance… but he couldn't say yes. He couldn't expect her to leave behind her life. Him leaving… was for the best, but Lois had so much to lose.
He couldn't let her leave with him… she said she didn't hate him, and he couldn't let her grow to resent him…
"Do you forgive me, Lois?"
She opened her mouth to respond but hesitated. He watched the emotions flicker in her eyes, the pain, the anger, the hurt. "I-I love you."
"But you don't forgive me."
"No." Her voice was shaking. "But I can."
She hadn't yet. He was right about that. How could she possibly forgive what he'd done to her?
But how could she not? Because if she didn't… she'd lose him. Again.
Though why he'd done it still didn't make sense. Yes, he'd been shot in the club. And it did make a horrible kind of sense that he'd had to pretend to fall, to be wounded, to… die. But he hadn't had to *stay* dead!
Yes, maybe she could understand some of what he'd said. Clark, to all intents and purposes, had been shot dead. He couldn't just come strolling into the Daily Planet the next day, exactly as normal, and behave as if nothing had happened. Like he was a… a… vampire, or one of those Immortals from Highlander who just shrugged off fatal injury and went right on living.
He'd seen no other option for himself than to stay dead. The Clark side of him.
And… he'd said it himself… all that was left was Superman.
And that explained so much. His anguish every time he visited her — mourning Clark, yes, but not in the way she'd imagined. Mourning the life he'd lost.
Just what had it been like for him, sitting there at her table talking over the details of her latest investigation, longing to jump in and discuss it with her as he always had, weigh possibilities, suggest solutions… work as they always had. As a team. Together. Partners.
Instead, he'd had to stay detached. Stilted. Giving in just a little to the temptation of his former occupation, his former life, but always preventing himself from going too far. Giving too much away.
Those evenings with her… as reality shifted and adjusted in her head, they took on a new significance. Had they been his only link to the life he'd lost? His only chance to make real, living contact with someone, anyone… a friend? To be a *person* and not a detached automaton of a Superhero?
But he had his parents…
Yes, and Martha and Jonathan Kent were wonderful people. But, much as they were parents she'd always envied Clark, she'd noticed that he and they were very different. He wanted different things out of life, things they didn't always entirely understand, though they always supported him. Maybe she'd been the only person who could offer him a real link, however tenuous, to the life he'd lost…
<Do you ever feel like you're just existing?>
<I feel like I stopped living a long time ago>
Now, those strange statements made perfect sense. He *was* just existing. The way he saw it, he'd stopped living the instant he'd been hit by those bullets, exactly as he would have if he hadn't been invulnerable. His heart might not have stopped beating, but his life had ended all the same.
And that was why he hadn't told her. Because he really believed that he had nothing to offer her any more. Because Superman without Clark Kent was… nobody.
"Clark." She looked up at him. He'd backed away from her and was standing against the wall of a building, watching her, his eyes shadowed. His pose was off-putting; the typical stern Superman stance, arms folded across his chest. Hiding the pain she knew he was feeling inside.
He met her gaze. "It's all right. I know you can't forgive me. I… didn't realise until just now what I did to you, but now that I do… I'll leave you alone. Once I've talked to them — " He jerked his head in the direction of where the reporters still waited, no doubt getting extremely impatient at the delay. " — I'll leave Metropolis and you'll never see me again."
She glared at him. "Don't you *dare*! Clark Kent, if you go out there and… and tell them you're leaving, I'll be on the first plane to Smallville and I'll tell your mother all about it. Everything. Including how much I love you and that you left and broke my… hea…heart."
"Wha…at?" He looked as if he couldn't believe what he'd just heard.
"You heard me, Clark Kent! I love you! I'm in love with you! And you broke my heart once when you died… sorry, when you *pretended* to die, and now you're planning on breaking it all over again by leaving?"
She'd never seen him look so shocked. Even through the tears now streaming down her face, she could see his disbelief.
And then he moved. So fast her brain couldn't process it, he was standing in front of her. And his hands were coming up, trembling, and he was cupping her face. And his mouth was descending and his lips were on hers and… oh god… he was kissing her and she was crying and his face was damp too and he was kissing her…
"Lois. Oh, Lois." Finally, he raised his head and just gazed at her. His palms smoothed her hair. He seemed unable to take his eyes off her. And his voice shook. "Lois, have you any idea how much I love you?"
She sighed and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Not nearly enough, Kent." But there was no sting in her words. "If you loved me as much as you should, you'd have come to me and told me the truth the night you were shot."
There was apology in his gaze. Regret in his eyes. "If I'd known how much it'd hurt you… Lois, I swear, I had no idea how much you… cared. And by the time I began to realise, it was too late. I mean, how could I have told you? There you were, night after night, weeping over that damn photo and all I could do was watch you and try to comfort you, and all the time my heart was breaking because I'd lost me too… What could I have said? After all that time? 'It's okay, Lois, I'm not dead after all. I just came here night after night and watched you grieve for me while I was here all the time'? You'd have…" He trailed off, then whispered, "Killed me."
She winced. But he wasn't going to distract her. "You should have told me, Clark."
The hopelessness in his eyes made her heart twist. "What good would it have done? I'm still dead."
Anger briefly flared inside her, but she squashed it. He was just mixed up. He'd always needed her to straighten him out. He still did. "You're not dead, Clark. You just had to pretend to be."
He sighed. "Okay. Yeah. But that still doesn't change the reality, Lois. What good would it have done?"
"What good would it have done?" She stared at him, incredulous. "I'd have figured out a way to bring you back to life, of course!"
"How?" Now he clearly thought she was crazy. He should know by now not to underestimate her!
She tugged away from his grasp and began to pace. "I don't know, but I'd have done it." She spun to face him. "And you know what? I'm *still* going to do it. So you can go right out there and tell those… those vultures — " She caught him stifling a reluctant grin at that. " — that the press conference is off. And then you can take me home and we're going to come up with a plan."
He still looked dubious, disbelieving, but at least the hopeless look was gone. "I'm going to do all that, am I?" And then he smiled. Reluctant admiration filled his face. "You do like ordering me around, don't you?"
She returned his smile with a bright, hopeful one. "Always. Now go."
He nodded, then swooped upwards and disappeared. She inhaled deeply and prepared to wait for him.
Now, all she had to do was come up with a foolproof plan to resurrect a dead man. Simple.
Too soon, he was setting her down in her apartment. He'd miss flying with her after he'd left, as he knew, despite what she'd said, that he'd have to.
He'd miss the feel of her in his arms. His heart had flipped when she said she'd go with him, but it hadn't taken much for reality to crush his hopes. She didn't want to leave her life, and he couldn't ask her to give up everything and go with him, not after she'd denied him once. She hadn't forgiven him, and while she might, one day, he didn't want her to grow to resent him. He'd rather *be* dead than have her resent him.
He supposed he could always come back and visit her, like he had been since the shooting, but it was so hard… remembering everything he'd lost… everything he couldn't have…
He'd be back where he started, dying but for the stolen glimpses of the life he'd once led. A life with her in it.
No, he'd give her this. He'd give her Christmas, and celebrate it like he'd always dreamt of celebrating it with her, and then he'd… leave. Breaking both their hearts in the process.
It would be the hardest thing he'd ever done. He couldn't face a life empty of Lois Lane. He wasn't strong enough. It was hard enough when he had to hide his love for her, now that he knew she loved him too — and he didn't doubt that she did… he just wasn't strong enough.
But Clark Kent was dead and Superman had nothing to offer any woman. So he had to find the strength from somewhere to leave. To live without her. He'd let her try to save him. He'd let her try, and when she had to admit defeat then he'd tell her he was going. He'd hope she'd understand. And he… he would have to try to forget her. If he ever could.
He didn't *want* to give up being Clark but, as he'd stood in front of the crowd of reporters, the blinding flashbulbs flickering, and lied… he'd remembered why he had to leave. It was impossible. Short of revealing his secret and losing himself anyway, there was no way he'd ever be able to use that name again. No way. He'd spent hours — *weeks* — fantasising about bringing Clark back. About his resurrection. About his triumphant return. Often, the fantasy had been all that had kept him from… but…
It. Was. Impossible.
He hadn't announced Superman's retirement at the press conference, but he knew it was only a matter of time. Miracles just didn't happen. Not even at Christmas.
He smiled at her. "Would you like to spend Christmas with me and my folks at the farm?"
"I know what you're thinking," she murmured as she brushed her palm across his cheek. "We *will* think of something."
"Lois." His heart was already breaking. If he was stronger, he'd leave her now. Tell her he was sorry and just go. For both their sakes.
But he wasn't that strong. He needed these couple of days with her. It was Christmas, after all. A time for families. For loved ones.
"I know you mean well," he told her. "And I love you for it. But it's not going to work. You have to see that, Lois. It's been a month, after all. How can we possibly explain how Clark could turn up alive after all that time?"
"Missing persons turn up alive all the time." Crossing her arms, Lois strode to the middle of her sitting-room and gave him a direct, challenging stare.
"Not after eyewitnesses have seen them shot in the chest at point-blank range."
"Stranger things have happened." Lois paused, clearly thinking. Then she said, "All we need is something that could've stopped the bullets. Maybe you had something in your jacket pocket?"
"Lois." It wasn't that he didn't appreciate her efforts. But this… they were wasting time going around in circles here. "And how does that explain how I went missing for a month? I hit my head and had amnesia?"
"Well, it happens!" She sounded defensive now. "You read the news. It happens all the time!"
It was too cliched. Way too cliched… and she knew it too. He could see the knowledge in the defensiveness of her posture, her expression.
Suddenly, she slumped onto the sofa. Everything about her screamed defeat, and his heart began to break again. For her. Because she wanted this — wanted him back — so much, and she was finally beginning to accept that it wasn't going to happen.
"Lois." He came and sat beside her. "It won't be so bad. I'll — " Oh, god, he'd sworn he wouldn't do this… " — I'll come to see you as often as I can. Every night, if I can. We can still see each other. I… if it means so much to you, Superman will stay in Metropolis."
She shook her head, not looking at him. "No, Clark. I don't want Superman. I want you."
Then she turned to him, seeming to take in his appearance. "Can you… be Clark for me? Now?"
"But I am…" Oh. The Suit. "Just a moment."
In seconds, he was dressed in the T-shirt and jeans he'd worn for his last visit to the farm, glasses also in place. He'd expected her to be impressed by the spin-change, but it barely seemed to register. She simply reached for him, took his hands and laced his fingers with hers. "Clark. Oh, god, Clark, I've missed you so much!"
"And I…" A shuddering sigh escaped him, and he sat beside her again. "I'd forgotten how good… how *normal* it felt to be with you dressed like this."
"Clark…" It seemed that she couldn't say his name often enough. One hand freed itself and reached up to trace the outline of his glasses.
"I love you, Lois. Whatever happens now… whatever I have to do, always remember that. I love you."
"And I love you… and I'm *not* going to let you disappear!" Now she was determined again. She took a deep breath. "Okay, so let's think this through. They took you away. They dumped you… where?"
"Suicide Slum. A back-alley."
"Not enough." Lois dropped his hand and jumped to her feet. "Sorry. I think better when I can pace… it doesn't mean I don't want to…" She gestured towards him, at his hands. "Not the Slum. What if you were dumped in the Bay?"
What was she…? "What difference does it make? Besides, Capone and his guys know where they dumped me."
"You think they'll talk? They're all in jail. Besides, the last I heard the clone regeneration process was breaking down. Henderson told me the doctor who examined them thinks they'll be dead again in a few days."
He couldn't bring himself to feel any regret over *that*. "But I still don't see how…"
"The Bay. Lots going on there… not too difficult to get lost…"
She was obviously thinking aloud rather than engaging in conversation. It presumably wasn't intended to make sense. "For a month, Lois?"
She didn't reply immediately. Then, suddenly, she whirled around to face him. "A ship, Clark! You fell into a ship. Maybe… maybe they just dumped you somewhere in the docks area and you weren't dead, just unconscious. You had your wallet in your pocket. The bullets got slowed down by that and didn't actually penetrate your…" She swallowed. "Your heart. Just left you bleeding and with some damage — more superficial than life-threatening. And when you came round you were dizzy from the head injury and blood loss and in the dark you fell off the edge of the dock and onto the deck of a ship."
That was Lois all over — she had one heck of an imagination. "But ships' decks are way above the dock level."
"Okay, a boat, then. The ship it belonged to was anchored somewhere off the bay."
Clark shook his head. "So why wouldn't they just take me back to the bay? Turn me over to the harbour police or something?"
She shrugged. "You know what goes on at the docks. Ships come in full of illegals all the time. People without the proper papers. There was no way they'd talk to the cops. So they took you back to the ship. The ship's doctor looked after you but you couldn't call home or anything like that."
"But presumably it docked somewhere? Eventually?" This was a crazy story. No-one was going to believe it.
"Yeah. Somewhere in North Africa. And you couldn't get ashore there because you had no papers."
"But I could have gone to the US Consulate…"
"The captain didn't want to let you. Because then there'd have been questions about how you got on board and why they didn't turn you over back in Metropolis — especially since gunshot wounds have to be reported to the police. So, because he promised to take you back on the return voyage, you reluctantly agreed to stay on board. And here you are. Back. Healed. And alive." She grinned triumphantly at him.
It was an absolutely ludicrous story. Nobody was going to buy it for an instant. Were they?
He stood up. "Lois…" It meant a *lot* that he mattered so much to her that she'd go to this sort of trouble to come up with a cover story. But they couldn't use this… could they?
"Yeah, I know, it's got enough holes to sink a battleship. But, you know, when people want something to be true badly enough they don't question things." She came back to him and caught his hands again. "Okay, some people will be a bit more sceptical. You might have to consider telling one or two the truth… would you have a problem with that?"
Tell people the truth? That he was… Superman?
"I mean people like Perry. And Bill Henderson. They're too smart to believe this, and Henderson's the cop who investigated your… murder. I think we can trust them." She squeezed his hands. "What do you think?"
She was right: both Perry and Henderson were among the most trustworthy people he knew. If he had to share his secret with anyone other than Lois, they'd be top of his list.
But that wasn't why his heart had done a little flip-flop at her words.
She'd said *we* could trust them.
We. The two of them. Working together, as always — but this time with no secrets between them.
Did he want that? More than anything in the world, apart from having Lois in his life in the most intimate way possible.
Yes, her idea had holes. Anyone who tried to disprove it wouldn't find it too difficult. But, on the other hand, if they told Perry and Henderson the truth they'd be bound to come up with refinements and other ways of making the story stick.
He could be Clark once more. No longer the ghost of a man who used to exist.
He gazed down at her and shook his head. "Did I ever tell you that you're absolutely amazing?"
She smiled back up at him. A real smile, a smile of genuine happiness and amusement, not the pathetic attempts she'd made over the past few weeks which hadn't fooled anyone. "Not anywhere near often enough."
And he just had to kiss her.
"Clark?" she whispered. She squirmed around on her small couch, looking for a more comfortable position before she settled back against his chest. "Cla-ark."
"Hmm?" he responded, his arm tightening around her shoulders.
She grinned, watching his sleepy face above her.
He cracked open an eye, and a slow smile spread across his face. "What is it?"
"Nothing," she said, her grin widening.
They'd spent the whole day together, talking, planning, stealing kisses. Being together. Living. Together.
Around dinnertime, he'd offered to get her takeout, from anywhere in the world. It wasn't exactly traditional, he'd told her, but he promised to make up for it next year. Her heart had flipped when he'd said that. Next year. They'd have a next year.
And a year after, and a year after that… As many years as they wanted. A whole future together. No longer only a past, and a present full of regrets.
She leaned up and pressed a kiss against his jaw. They'd make up for it next year. She might even cook for him, if she was game enough. His arm tightened around her again and she grinned.
He'd offered to fly anywhere she'd wanted, but she'd refused. She hadn't wanted him to leave, hadn't wanted him out of her sight, not for a moment. Instead, they'd found a local pizzeria that was open on Christmas Eve and they'd ordered in. The food had been horrible, but she'd never had a better Christmas dinner.
"Yes, Lois?" The light from the TV screen was dancing across his face, accentuating the shadows and illuminating the amused twinkle in his eye.
He leaned down and dropped a light kiss on her lips. "Go back to sleep. You'll need your rest for tomorrow."
She grinned. Again. She hadn't smiled so much since… Lois shook her head. She'd never smiled so much. Tomorrow. They were going to Smallville. They'd spend Christmas with Clark's family and sit around a tree, eat turkey, laugh, be happy. They had a long way to go before Clark could come back; they had a lot of bruised feelings to work through, but tomorrow they'd be happy. She'd have Christmas with Clark. Something she'd thought she'd never have. She wouldn't waste her miracle being upset.
"Clark?" She reached up, brushing her fingers along his cheek. "I love you."
She felt his breath catch and he opened his eyes slowly. The look she saw in them stilled her own heart.
His voice was a whisper. A promise. "I love you, too."
She tilted her head towards him as he leaned down. He paused, his lips hovering above hers.
"Merry Christmas, Lois."
She closed the distance between them as the sound of carollers wafted up from the street below, through the window she hadn't closed fully after he'd flown her in earlier.
Christmas carollers. Again. But this time she didn't want to close the window.
Clark stilled, as she did, and turned his attention towards the window. He blew out a short breath… and the window opened fully. The singing grew louder.
"Joy to the world…"
He turned towards her again, and captured her lips warmly, lovingly, with his own. And, gladly, blissfully, she kissed him back.
It was going to be a magical Christmas.
Merry Christmas, Everyone!
(c) Wendy Richards and David 2005
<email@example.com> and <firstname.lastname@example.org>