Bedtime Stories (Season 6, Episode 3)

By Phil Atcliffe, Carol Malo and Erin Klingler

Rated PG

Original Air Date: December 20, 1998

Summary: Laura gets to know the rest of the Daily Planet family during her first newsroom Christmas party. Episode 3 of S6.

By Phil Atcliffe <>, Carol Malo <> and Erin Klingler <> with inspiration and ideas from Betsy, Leanne Shawler and Jocelyn Atcliffe

Edited by Lynda D. Love



"Good girl!" Clark Kent said to his baby daughter after she came out with a monumental burp. The little girl looked rather startled for a moment, as though she wasn't quite sure *where* that noise could have come from, but forgot about it and gurgled delightedly at her father as he lifted her into the air over his head.

Clark, for his part, was feeling quietly satisfied — as well as being equally delighted just to be playing with his very special girl. Burping Laura sounded like something that ought to be very easy, but there was a knack to it, and Clark thought he had it — and Laura agreed, if that massive belch was any indication.

The smile which seemed to be a semi-permanent fixture on his face these days — or at least whenever he was able to spend some time with his family — broadened as he remembered how he'd been introduced to the fine art of baby-burping. His mother had once said that he'd been a remarkably healthy baby — no problems with colic or anything like that — and he'd gathered from passing remarks by Ellen Lane that Lois had been much the same, but that was no reason to be complacent.

So, one evening not long before Laura was born, when he and Lois were visiting the farm, he'd asked Martha how to deal with things like that, and specifically if there was anything that either of the parents-to-be needed to know about the mechanics of burping a baby. He'd read a few books, as had Lois, but they both thought that they'd get a better feel for what to do by talking to someone who'd actually *done* it.

Somewhat to his surprise, Martha had promptly handed him over to his father, pronouncing Jonathan as the real expert in the family when it came to burping. The "expert" had looked at his wife with a tolerant, amused expression, and then tried to live up to his reputation. Unfortunately, he didn't seem able to simply describe what to do, and how to do it, to his own satisfaction, finally deciding that the best way to pass on the required technique was by demonstration.

Martha and Lois had had a *very* hard time keeping straight faces as Jonathan "burped" Clark by rubbing his hand up and down his son's back, but the victim himself got the idea. So well, in fact, that Lois, even though she tried with her usual determination to imitate Jonathan, had become prone to imitating her mother-in-law instead, passing Laura over to her father after feeding her, in order to get rid of any wind that the little girl might be harbouring. She *could* burp Laura, no question about it, but somehow everyone, even her, seemed happier and more relaxed if Clark did it.

Clark enjoyed it. It had become his part of the breast-feeding "ritual"; Lois fed Laura; he burped her. Of course, he regularly fed his daughter from a bottle — expressed milk, or dilute fruit juice occasionally — but being able to join in, however slightly, when Lois fed Laura in the traditional manner made for a nice feeling of togetherness, — which, Lois said, helped her to cope at 3 a.m. The best thing about being the "designated burper" was that he didn't need to use any super-powers at all. Ordinary human strength, gently but firmly applied, did the trick perfectly well. And Laura just loved being cuddled by her dad.

Or her mom, but Lois was out in the newsroom, taking her turn enjoying the Daily Planet's Christmas party. As with many things these days, "Lane & Kent" had discovered that they were going to have to join the celebrations in shifts — at least until Laura settled down and went to sleep.

Which she showed no sign of doing at present, hence Clark's presence in the conference room with his daughter while, out in the newsroom proper, the party raged on.

And it *was* raging. This was the best Christmas party that the Planet had had for several years, and certainly the most … ah, energetic — in Clark's memory, at least. Quite why, he wasn't sure, unless it was a reaction to the last couple of Christmases. Two years ago, the newsroom had been the centre of Mxyzptlk's attempt to get him to leave Earth, and reliving the same four hours over and over again, each time losing more of the hope that lay at the heart of Christmas, was enough to put a damper on any party. Last year had been … okay, he guessed, but nothing to write home about. Of course, Lois had only just found out that she was pregnant then, and the attention of the prospective parents had been focused on their forthcoming visit to Smallville and telling the senior Kents the news, which had meant that they were rather preoccupied at the time. They'd left early but, from all accounts (i.e., Jimmy), hadn't missed much; the party had been fairly subdued.

Not so, *this* year.

Clark lowered Laura to eye level after one last lift and gurgle. A quick check confirmed that she didn't need to be changed, so he put her into her carry-cot on the conference room table. She smiled at him, then became intent on contemplating … something; Clark wasn't quite sure what, but it might have been her feet — or not. In any case, he recognised the look on her face (*so* like her mother), and knew that, left to herself, she wouldn't be paying much attention to the outside world for a little while — which meant that *he* could.

He looked up and glanced quickly around the newsroom. He spotted Lois immediately, engrossed in a conversation with one of the people from Marketing. Clark had to smile; typically, his wife was laying down the law about something, emphasising her points with sharp jabs of one forefinger to the poor guy's chest. Clark hoped that she remembered that not everyone was as resistant to such treatment as he was; otherwise, her victim, who was rapidly starting to resemble a rabbit caught in a spotlight, might be spending Christmas recovering from multiple flesh wounds to the chest!

Clark had no idea what they were talking about, and he didn't intend to listen in because that would involve trying to hear over the music that was blaring out from the office PA system. Which was a heck of a lot louder than usual; Clark suspected that Jimmy had rigged it somehow, probably in an attempt to liven up what he saw as a dull office party. It seemed to be working, to the extent that several desks had been pushed aside to create an impromptu dance floor at the other end of the newsroom.

His gaze moved down that way … and his eyes widened as his eyebrows headed for the ceiling. Now, *there* was a sight that he would never have expected to see — Cat Grant dancing with Ralph! Okay, *Cat* was dancing, as only she could — or *would*; Ralph was shuffling around a bit, but most of his attention was focused on his partner rather than his feet, and he had a grin on his face that indicated that all his Christmases had come at once.

Well, let the guy dream … Maybe that was his Christmas present — it was certainly all he was ever likely to get from Cat! But then, Clark had to admit that she'd gone in for spreading Christmas cheer around the office in a big way this year. Cat had been the driving force behind organising the party — maybe *that* was why it was going so well? — and, unusually for her, had been insistent on keeping it strictly for Planet staff. No outsiders were allowed, and even family had been strongly discouraged from attending.

The two exceptions to this were Laura, here because her parents had been unable to get a baby-sitter; and Penny, whom Jimmy had managed to sneak in. Truth be told, Clark rather thought that Cat approved of Penny; if it hadn't seemed ridiculous, he might almost have thought that the columnist was keeping an eye on her distant relative, and was pleased to see him happy in a long-term relationship. Or maybe she was just relieved that Jimmy wouldn't be making any more bets with her for "nights of passion" …

Clark grinned at the memory— and then his face froze as his super-hearing kicked in at the sound of sirens. 'Oh, no … ' he thought, 'what rotten timing!' His gaze snapped back to Lois, but she still had her back to him. He looked around the office, trying to catch the eye of anyone who might let his wife know that she was needed, but no-one seemed to be looking in his direction.

Clark was beginning to think he'd have to take Laura over to her mother, which he didn't want to have to do — that music was *loud!* — when salvation arrived in the form of his boss. Perry White stepped into the conference room to an accompaniment of blaring guitars and keyboards, shutting the door behind him with a relieved expression.

"Whew!" the editor sighed, "Oh, that's better. I hate to have to admit it, but that music is just too darn loud, even for an old rock-and-roller like me." His voice turned reflective. "Last time I heard something at that kind of volume was at an Elvis concert in … oh, '76, I think. And it wasn't the music that was all that loud, it was the screams of the girls … "

Perry had a small smile on his face as he remembered bygone days, but it faded as his attention returned to the here-and-now and he noticed Clark's slightly antsy manner. "What's up, Clark?" he asked, concerned. "You got a problem with the little lady here?"

"Oh … no, Chief," Clark hastened to reassure him. "No, Laura's fine — fed and everything." Clark's mind was racing as he tried to come up with a suitable cover story, and he was aware that he was coming dangerously close to babbling. Then inspiration struck. "No, Chief, it's me. I just … gotta go all of a sudden, and I was trying to get Lois to take over, while I … "

"Oh, right," replied Perry sympathetically. "Look, don't bother Lois, son; you just go, and I'll keep my eye on the little darlin'. It's been a long time since I had to look after a baby, but I reckon I can still remember what to do." Clark didn't argue and headed for the door. As he went out of the conference room, Perry called after him, "And take your time comin' back! Enjoy yourself — have a dance with Lois! Laura and I will be just fine … "

Clark didn't try to reply over the noise; instead, he waved in acknowledgement before heading for the corridor that led out of the newsroom and towards the men's room — and a certain well- used window.


Perry leaned over the carry-cot to look fondly at Laura, who was still concentrating on her feet — or not, as the case might be. "Hey there, sweetheart. Your daddy had to step out for a minute — needed the grown-up version of a diaper change — and your mom's havin' a good time out there, which doesn't happen all that often … not often enough, not while she's at work, anyway … so Uncle Perry gets to look after you for a while."

The little girl raised her head at this new sound and smiled again. Perry beamed back, amazed — he would swear she recognised him! He thought for a moment; just how old did a baby have to be before her eyes could focus? And would she be able to recognise someone — especially someone who wasn't part of her immediate family — once they did?

He shook his head. No, it was a long, long time since things like that had been important to him, and he couldn't remember — always assuming that expectations hadn't changed in three decades or thereabouts, and it wouldn't surprise him one bit if they had. Doctors were always coming up with new ideas about that sort of thing, and it was never the same for one kid as for the next, anyway.

It didn't matter. Laura here sure *looked* as though she knew who he was — or at least that he was a friend. And, he had to admit, if any kid could do that at her age, it would be the child of Lois and Clark, regardless of what the "experts" had to say about it. Perry for one would not be at all shocked if this little lady turned out to be a genuine prodigy — say, the journalistic equivalent of Mozart. It was just a darn shame that, labour laws being what they were, he'd have to retire before she could start working for the Planet, even as an intern or a gofer like Jimmy had been.

Hmmm … maybe he could start her off with a column when she was, say … ten? Eight? Question was, though, what to get her to write about? Conventional wisdom would have her do a column for other kids for the Sunday edition, ghosted by a staff writer or sub-editor, but somehow, Perry doubted that "conventional" was a word that was going to apply too much to Laura — certainly not if she took after her parents, and especially her mother. So, maybe she could write about something else, something that kids were interested in and good at …

A thought struck him, and he grinned. How about teaming Laura up with Jimmy to do a column about computers — say, twice a week? He could handle the technical stuff and she could give the kids' view of the fun of it all — or, maybe, vice versa …

But then he shook his head in rueful amusement with himself. Here he was, planning the career of a little baby who wasn't six months old yet! Besides, if Laura really *did* take after Lois, she mightn't be even remotely interested in journalism, because that's what both her parents did. Just what she might end up doing instead, no-one could say — except that it'd probably be something that involved helping people in some way. Under that hard-bitten professional exterior of hers, Lois was one of the most caring people that he'd ever known, and *Clark* … well, you'd have to go a long way to find someone with a natural bent like his for that sort of thing. So Laura would most likely grow up caring for other people as easily and as naturally as she breathed.

The little girl had, by now, gone back to whatever it was that she had been doing, but Perry continued to look down at her, suddenly struck by the immense potential that was, or could be, contained in her small body. A child was such an incredible thing — so much *possibility*, all wrapped up in a tiny figure. The whole world might be changed, for good *or* evil, in a hundred different ways, by this lovely little person — or not at all. You could never tell.

Perry shook his head again. This was heavy stuff for this time of night — especially at a Christmas party. For a moment, he wondered what on Earth had got him thinking this way. Maybe he'd had too much of that punch of Cat's? He wasn't sure what was in it but, like the old joke said, for punch, it had one heck of a kick! Just as well he'd okayed it when the organisers booked pre-paid taxis for after the party; wouldn't want anyone trying to drive home with a few belts of *that* stuff in 'em!

On second thought, it was probably the combination of the time of year and Laura here. The "festive season" was a time for kids, but it was also a time for reflection, for looking back — and forward. And when you got to his age, you had a lot to look back on …

Perry sat down rather heavily, but he didn't really notice. His mind was winging its way back through time, racing down the years, pausing at odd intervals and notable events — especially those connected with Christmas. One memory stood out right now, and Perry realised with something of a shock that it had happened 30 years ago — almost to the day.

'Oh, man,' he thought, '30 years … ' He looked up at Laura, and saw that she seemed to be looking at him again, and he rather thought he recognised the expression on her face. It was that "Go on — entertain me" look that kids learned early on and brought out at times, the kind of happy, interested not-quite-smile that encouraged parents — especially their fathers — to make fools of themselves in the hope of getting the little one to really smile, or even laugh.

Perry had no intention of making a fool of himself, but maybe Laura might like to hear a story, and he knew just what to tell her. She was much too young to understand, but he might just lull her to sleep that way — or, if not, it might keep her happy and quiet for a while, so that her mom and dad could have a bit more time to enjoy themselves. He pulled his chair closer to the conference table and started to speak.

"Not too long till Christmas now, honey. You'll like Christmas, 'specially if you take after your daddy that way — he's a guy who really enjoys this time of year and, I gotta admit, makes it hard for people around him not to enjoy it, too. Even your mom; she didn't like Christmas much a few years ago — family troubles, and she used to hate all the hype; can't say I blame her, really — but I think bein' around your dad more and more has got her to relax some, so now she can appreciate the good things without bein' quite so quick to look for the bad. Kinda like the old saying about the half-finished drink: a pessimist reckons his glass is half-empty, but an optimist says that his is half-*full* …

"Even your Grandma and Grandpa Lane are gettin' along better these days. From what she's told me, seems like your mama's family has been gradually coming back together, little by little, for a while now — ever since she took up with Clark, I guess. She's a lucky woman — not that she doesn't deserve it — but if I said that to your daddy, he'd tell me that *he* was the lucky one." Perry chuckled, picturing the scene. "And if Lois heard *that*, the two of them'd probably get into an argument about who was luckier than who; either that, or they'd end up in one of those red-hot clinches that they love to spend their time in, even when they should be working. I swear, they must think I'm blind, not to see 'em at times …

"Ah well, they deserve it. Your mom and dad are still the best darn reporting team around, bar none, so I don't mind cuttin' them a *little* slack now and then. Don't you tell 'em I said that, though; I got a reputation to maintain, and it wouldn't do for some other people to get the idea that necking on the job is allowed around here."

Perry paused, smiling gently at the thought of Lois and Clark and their love for one another. He could still remember what it felt like to have that compulsive need for another person. If he was honest with himself, he still had it, too; he'd never *not* had it, but he'd been a darn fool and ignored it, wrapping himself up in his work and never imagining that the other person might get tired of waiting for him to remember their existence. Well, he'd been a fool, and he'd paid for it; he just hoped that he had a chance to rebuild what he'd thrown away. If Lois' parents could stop fighting and start to enjoy one another's company again, there *had* to be hope for him and Alice … didn't there?

Not knowing the answer to that question, and not wanting to think about the future if the answer was No, his mind drifted again, back to a time when things had been brighter for him personally, even if they'd been dark around him. A time when his need for Alice had been the main factor in ensuring his survival. That certain time, 30 years ago …

"Oh, man, that was a long time ago, sweetheart," he murmured, nominally speaking to Laura but lost in memory and truly addressing he knew and cared not what — yesterday, maybe? "Your daddy wouldn't have been two yet, and your mom … well, she couldn't have been much older than you are now when Old Man Krebbs sent me off to 'Nam …

"It was in February '68, just after the start of the Tet Offensive. The Planet had a War Correspondent over there, of course — old guy by the name of Jensen — but he was gettin' on a bit, and the boss wanted someone a bit more spry to go up-country with our boys, and I was the one he chose.

"Y'might not think it to look at me now, but in those days, I could have given Clark a run for his money — or even Elvis, provided I kept my mouth shut!" He chuckled. "Might not have beaten either of 'em, but I can remember Alice gettin' annoyed at the attention some of the secretaries used to pay me … Not that she ever had anything to worry about, but it was kinda nice to see her gettin' a touch possessive. Anyway, Old Man Krebbs thought that I oughtta be able to handle myself in the jungle.

"Besides, he didn't like Walter Cronkite much, so when Cronkite came out with his speech about how the Tet was a disaster for our side, but the military guys kept sayin' that he was crazy, this was just what they'd been waiting for, Krebbs decided he wanted someone over there to find out if Cronkite was right or not — and off I went!

"Alice wasn't too happy when she found out where I was going. She'd've been even less happy if she'd known what Old Man Krebbs was really up to. See, he'd decided that I needed some experience away from Metropolis, and, since ol' Jensen was gettin' pretty close to retiring, the boss was gonna make me the Planet's War Correspondent in his place, just till he could line up someone else to cover that area.

"I ended up over there for almost a year, and I was cursin' him, I can tell you. There was no sign that the war was gonna end any time soon, and I was scared that he was gonna keep me there indefinitely — there sure was no shortage of news from that war! Lucky for me, he'd only ever intended my time 'in country' to 'season me a little', as he put it; he wanted me back in Metropolis — or at least in this country — once I'd got some of the right kind of experience."

Perry paused for a moment, before chuckling a second time. "The funny thing is, darlin', now that I'm in his shoes, I've done the same thing myself, and I guess the people involved have cursed me the same way I cursed Old Man Krebbs … I've come close to doin' it to your mom a couple of times over the years, but I never found the right place to send her — and, t'be honest, much as I might've told myself that I couldn't spare her from the city beat, I didn't really want to. Once she started workin' with your daddy … well, there wasn't any point; if a story needed an international angle, then Clark could provide that. And Lois really is a Metropolis girl; I don't think she'd be happy anywhere else, not for long.

"I never even *thought* about assigning Kent to any of our overseas offices; where would I send him? Clark's already *been* just about everywhere, and while a lot of what he's seen and done has rubbed off on him, deep down, he's still the same all-American boy from Kansas — just one who spent a few years travelling the world and liked what he saw.

"One of the first things he ever said to me was to recommend paava leaves for stress — and it worked! I found out a while later that there are little stores all over the country where you can get herbal remedies like that — even a few mail-order businesses! But your daddy didn't find out about paava leaves from any store or mail order catalogue — oh, no, *he* was told about 'em by tribesmen in New Guinea, when he went and lived with 'em for a month or so! That boy's been all over the world and, everywhere he went, he's lived with the people there, talkin' to 'em, listening to them and learning from them. No, any seasoning he needed, he could get right here in Metropolis — and your mama was just the one to do it!"

The editor fell silent again, his words sparking off memories of his own travels across the globe. Good ones, bad ones, recollections of excitement, fear, pain, wonder … all the things that he'd seen and felt in the adventurous times of his life. Looking back at them all, it occurred to him that an awful lot of the good memories were connected with Alice — or was it, since they'd shared more than a few hair-raising moments (very like Lois and Clark, now that he came to think about it) — that Alice being there was what *made* some of them good? Others … well, they'd been very much in love for a long time, and some of those memories were special … Which brought him full circle to 1968 and one particular good time at Christmas that had been *very* special.

He looked at Laura, who was gazing contentedly back at him. She apparently wanted him to keep talking, or so he thought, so he took up his story again. "That was quite a year, '68. I guess, like any year, it had its good points and its bad, but at the time, there seemed to be so much more of the bad: Martin Luther King was assassinated; so was Bobby Kennedy; the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia; there were big student riots in France, and the mess at the Democratic convention in Chicago. I heard about 'em all, in between coverin' the war, and things weren't any better in 'Nam: the Tet Offensive was a disaster for *somebody* — but who and why depended on who you talked to — and the war just kept draggin' on and on. That was bad enough, but there was worse, only nobody 'cept the men involved knew about it; wasn't till a couple of years later that we found out about the horrors that happened at a place called My Lai …

"I was pretty busy for most of that year, one way or another. Old Man Krebbs was in back of it all, but I didn't know that then. All I could see for the first couple of months was that Jensen was sendin' me all over the place while he stayed in Saigon. These days, I can appreciate that, even if my boss hadn't told the guy to keep me on the hop all the time, it made sense for me t'be the one goin' out with the troops, 'cause I was younger and fitter than he was. But right then, all I could see was that I was spendin' all my time up to my neck in the jungle while he was in some bar or PX, havin' a drink!

"Later, after Jensen went home to retire and Old Man Krebbs sprung his trap on me — that's what *I* thought about it, anyway — things slowed down a bit, at least as far as havin' to go into the field went. I still had to go up-country on occasion — the boss was a great one for gettin' the news first-hand rather than relyin' on press releases — but bein' away from Saigon didn't happen quite so often, and some trips I even looked forward to.

"One of those was a couple of weeks on an aircraft carrier, 'round about September. The ship was sailing down south, 'cause President Johnson put a halt on bombing the North while the elections were on. The guys on the carrier didn't mind, and neither did I, 'specially when I heard that the ship was gonna head for Subic Bay in the Philippines for some R&R. I'd been thinking about something like this for a while, and I reckoned that I could get Old Man Krebbs to let me have some time off, too — *and* I managed to get Alice to come meet me there!

"That took a fair amount of effort but, by callin' in a few favours and slipping a couple of bottles of bourbon to some MAC [Military Airlift Command] pilots I knew, she was waitin' for me when the ship docked at Subic.

"We had ourselves one heck of a week before I had to go back to Saigon. We hadn't seen each other for six or seven months by then, and I'd really been missing her. From what she said, and the way that we never got more than about 20 feet between kisses as we walked from the docks to the cab that she had waitin' to take us into Manila, I kinda think she'd missed me, too … I know one thing: we went past a lot of jealous sailors on that walk — they mostly had to settle for bar girls if they wanted some female company.

"We didn't go anywhere much or do anything unusual, that week; we didn't need to. We had each other, and privacy, most of the time — what more did we need? Besides, we were savin' our money for Christmas. We'd been planning to get together then for several months, which meant bein' very careful with our money so that we could afford the airfare for Alice to come out. This trip, as wonderful as it was, was a bonus that we hadn't expected; we just grabbed the opportunity on the fly, and we were lucky enough to get away with it without it costing too much.

"It was kinda funny: back home, I had a bit of a reputation as a hell-raiser, even after Alice and I got married — she liked a good party as much as I did — but you'd never have known that in '68. When I wasn't out in the field, I lived real quiet-like in Saigon, 'cause I wanted to save as much money as I could to bring Alice over at Christmas. So, while the other press guys stayed in hotels and spent their spare time in bars, I took after your daddy and 'went native': I lived in a cheap room, ate local food as much as I could, and stayed right away from the Saigon 'night life'.

"The other reporters — even ol' Jensen — couldn't understand it. Neither could Old Man Krebbs or the guys in Accounting: I kept getting letters and cables from them querying my expense account claims 'cause they were so *low!* Don't know what they thought I was doin' …

"One guy from Australia even hung a nickname on me when he heard that I was living so 'quietly'. He called me the 'White Wowser'; 'wowser' is an Aussie word for someone who doesn't like people enjoyin' themselves and, bein' an American in South-East Asia, the pun on my name was inevitable, I guess. Little did he know …

"Actually, I was enjoying myself. By askin' around, I found a room in a fairly decent part of town, and spent a lot of my time just talking to the people that I met. An awful lot of Vietnamese spoke some English, and those that didn't generally had a relative or a neighbour somewhere 'round who did, so we were usually able to have some sort of conversation. I met all kinds of people that way, and most of them were pretty interesting to talk to, one way or another. I wrote a series of what we called 'vox pop' articles based on those conversations, and they went over well back home."

Perry stopped speaking for a moment, and sighed heavily. "Wish I knew what happened to those people when the North took Saigon in '75. A couple of 'em were black market types, so they probably got sent to the 're-education camps' — if they weren't shot! A few had leanings towards the VC, so they might've done all right for themselves — or been shot — but most of the Vietnamese I met were just ordinary people, living ordinary lives. As ordinary as they could, that is, in the middle of a nastier-than-usual war."


Superman flew over the Metropolis skyline towards the Daily Planet building. It hadn't taken long to help at that fire and the city looked to be quiet at the moment, so he could head back to the party, and his wife and daughter, and relax and enjoy himself.

He let his mind drift a little as he leisurely soared above the skyscrapers, and his brows furrowed in thought. Something about that fire didn't feel right, and he rather thought that the firemen attending the blaze had shared his uneasiness. What could have caused it in the first place?

Okay, it was an old building and there were signs of squatting — albeit not recently — but he'd got there early enough to minimise the damage, and there was no obvious reason for the fire to start. He'd seen places like that before, and this one showed none of the usual signs to indicate that the cause was something accidental like a carelessly-dropped match or cigarette, or spilt oil (or booze) or an electrical problem. And there was even less evidence to indicate arson: no chemical smells, no bomb debris, no suspicious ash. So why had the fire started?

He shook his head. Maybe there was nothing to it, but his reporter's intuition was telling him that there was more here than met the eye — even his eyes. He'd talk it over with Lois, say, at breakfast tomorrow; or, if she was awake enough, while she was feeding Laura early in the morning. She might come up with something that he hadn't thought of, even at 3 a.m.

They'd had some amazing conversations at that time of day. There was something about the feelings of quiet solitude and togetherness that they got whilst, as Lois put it, "slaving over a hot baby in the middle of the night", that allowed them to talk about all sorts of things, even more than they had always done. Since her birth, more than one story-breaking idea had been born with Laura suckling at her mother's breast or held against her father's chest to be burped; maybe something would come of this, too.

Clark was about to start one of his favourite pastimes — thinking about his family — when he saw something that took a moment or two to register, and then brought him to an abrupt halt in mid-air. He hovered and looked down in disbelief at the scene in front of the Metropolis Town Hall. Yes, it was nearly Christmas, but …

Then his mind recovered from its shock and he realised what he was actually seeing. It looked like his return to the party might be delayed for a little while, because Perry would have his head if he passed this up. Of course, he was going to have to think of an explanation as to how he'd found out about this …


Perry sighed again, momentarily depressed at the thought of the possible fate of some of the people he'd known back then, but mentally took himself by the scruff of the neck and dragged his mind back to the story he had started to tell. Laura didn't want to hear about things like that — okay, okay, so she couldn't understand him, but she might pick up on the unhappiness in his voice. Much better to think (and talk) about the good things in life, especially at this time of year.

So, with a brighter tone in his voice, even if some of it was an act, he went on, "The other press guys might've thought I was crazy, but livin' that way allowed me to squirrel away every cent that I could. Back home, Alice was doin' the same thing, and we ended up with just enough money for her to fly over at Christmas and for us to spend two weeks in one of the local hotels — not the fanciest, 'cause the swanky hotels there were real clip joints, but a place that I heard about from one of those MAC pilots that I slipped the bourbon to, back in September. This guy said that he'd taken his wife there and had a real good time, and when we saw it, we believed him; I reckon that was one of the most comfortable hotels we ever stayed at.

"Actually, I had a little more spare cash than I'd told Alice, 'cause I wanted to get her something nice for Christmas. I didn't know it, but she did the exact same thing! We both had a good laugh about that on Christmas morning …

"That was a real special holiday, that year. I remember waiting for Alice at the airport; the plane was late — headwinds or something — and I was as jumpy as a flea doin' an impression of Elvis 'round about 1957, but it arrived eventually. Then I had to wait while she went through Customs, and that seemed to take forever, too. But she finally appeared and I forgot all about the waiting; it was just *so* good to see her again. She looked tired, and a bit fed-up, but to me, she couldn't have looked better if she'd been dolled up for a Kerth Award dinner — well, maybe *then* … I didn't care; I just grabbed her and kissed her!

"It was the best thing in the world to have her in my arms again. Somehow, the three months between the Philippines trip and Christmas had seemed longer than the six months before it; guess the anticipation and all the planning kinda heightened the suspense — and, of course, in Manila, we'd had a real good reminder of what we were missing!

"She told me after we broke for air that the Customs guys had been pretty unpleasant to her — they were leerin' at her, and I think they were after a little bribe to let her through without goin' through her bags. They might've got it, too, despite the fact that we didn't have too much spendin' money, if it hadn't been for the leers. *That* got Alice's back up, and when that happens, I don't think even Superman is strong enough to get her to change her mind! There was no way that those guys were gettin' anything out of her after makin' her feel uncomfortable with their … what did she call 'em? Oh, yeah — 'lascivious gazes.' Don't think I've ever heard anybody make two words sound so dirty as Alice did then …

"When they didn't get their money, the Customs guys got real officious and pretty much took her bags apart while other passengers got to go through unexamined. They weren't dumb enough to come out and say it in public — or not in English, anyway — but the impression that Alice got was that their 'reason' for doin' this was that she was *too* good-lookin'; a blonde American woman like her would be a perfect courier for smugglers, they reckoned, but they were too clever to fall for it, and they were gonna make sure they found whatever she was tryin' to hide.

"I was all set to charge in and punch their lights out when she told me this — they could've slipped something into her luggage and claimed they found it there, and Alice might've ended up in prison! And South Vietnamese prisons weren't anywhere you wanted to see from the inside, I can tell you! But she wouldn't let me go, and then she whispered in my ear that there were better ways for a *reporter* to deal with guys like that than sluggin' them, and that *she* didn't want to have to spend Christmas by herself 'cause *I* was in prison for assault!

"That stopped me, and I calmed down a bit and asked her what she had in mind. She whispered in my ear again, and we both looked at one another for a moment, grinnin' madly, then burst out laughing! She was right — I could wait; I had better things t'do right then. And I did get those guys into a heap of trouble later with a neat little corruption expose, but that's another story …

"On the way to the hotel, I noticed that she was distracted — happy, but fidgety, like there was something that she wanted to tell me, but not yet. I was right, too: as soon as we closed the hotel room door, she dragged me over to the bed, sat me down and said that she'd wanted to save this for Christmas, but she couldn't stand to keep it secret any longer, and did I want the good news or the better news?

"Took me a minute to answer her, 'cause I had to stop and think — had she really said 'better' news, or was it 'bad' news? Eventually, I asked her, and she said that yes, she'd said 'better'. She didn't have any bad news, except maybe that she really did have to go home in two weeks' time. I laughed and hugged her, feelin' a lot better myself, and said I'd start with the good news and work my way up.

"She laughed at that, then told me that she'd been talking to Old Man Krebbs, and he'd said to let me know that he'd arranged for a new, permanent War Correspondent, and I'd be coming home in a couple of months. That was great to hear, and we hugged again and spent a minute or two lip-locked — this is why I don't bear down too much on your mom and dad when *they* do it, sweetie; I can still remember what it's like to have that need to connect with someone you love.

"When we separated — our mouths, anyway — Alice filled me in on a few details. The new guy was scheduled to arrive in the middle of January, but the boss wanted me to hang around until after the Tet — that's the Lunar New Year, a big celebration in those parts. He didn't really think that the VC or the North would try anything major this year, not after the beating that they'd taken in the Tet Offensive, but he just had a tiny feeling at the back of his neck that they might do *something*, just to remind our side that they were there, and he wanted me around to cover it if they did. After that, if there wasn't some big story to report or follow up on, I was to get myself back to Metropolis 'on the double!'

"Well, as good news went, that was outstanding, so what on Earth could Alice have meant by 'better' news? I was almost afraid to ask, but she was looking at me, and her eyes were shining, so I knew that she meant it, and I had to bite the bullet, even if I did just about trip over my tongue trying to say it — what *was* this news that was even better than me coming home?

"Now it was *Alice's* turn to get all tongue-tied; she ducked her head and went all shy for a minute. Then, without lifting her head, she said very softly that it had to do with *why* she'd been talking to Old Man Krebbs … Before I could work that one out, she asked me if I remembered the last time I saw her, how we'd spent that week in Manila. I remembered, all right — now that we were alone, I was kinda hoping to have another try at what we'd been doing, most of the time. But then she looked up at me and said that she remembered, too … and, in a few months, we'd both have something— or some*one* — to remember that trip by!

"I felt like I'd been hit over the head with one of Elvis' guitars. All I could do was stare at her; I couldn't say a word — which wasn't so bad, 'cause the only thing I could think of to say was some darn-fool nonsense like 'Are you sure?' Don't know why men come out with that kind of thing at times like that — Alice had had 3 months to *make* sure, and she wouldn't've come out and told me otherwise. So it was just as well that I didn't say anything; as it was, she must've seen the question in my eyes, 'cause she nodded, even though I hadn't made a sound.

"That didn't matter. All that mattered was that she was there, and we were gonna have a baby! We hugged and kissed, and we both got a bit weepy. I still couldn't quite believe it — this was fantastic, the best possible news that there could have been — but Alice kept tellin' me that it was true until I had time to take in the idea properly. She finally got me to put my hand on her stomach, even though it was too early for anything to show, let alone be touched, but somehow the feel of her and the idea that our baby was in there, growing, got through to me in a way that words hadn't — kinda embarrassing for a writer to have to admit, but that's what happened.

"As I said to Alice at the time, that was one heck of a way to start celebratin' Christmas! And we kept going the way we'd started; I think that was probably the wildest Christmas we *ever* had! Alice mostly had to stay off alcohol, but we were half-drunk anyway on the sheer joy of being together and lookin' forward to having a family, so who needed booze? I got smashed a couple of times when I ran into other reporters and they heard our news. Everybody insisted that we have a drink with 'em, and I couldn't get out of it, but Alice just smiled and made sure we got back to the hotel okay — then fixed me a hangover cure in the morning.

"She might have had to stop drinking, but Alice was still as active as ever; she'd got over her morning sickness before she left home, and she didn't see any reason why bein' pregnant should stop her from doing anything that she wanted to! And it didn't! I had to look in at the office every so often — Christmas was all very well, but Old Man Krebbs wasn't gonna be happy if the Planet got scooped while I was 'off gallivanting around with my wife', as he put it — but the rest of the time, we did anything we felt like doin'. We'd sleep in if we wanted to, or we'd get up and go look at some tourist attraction, or a local market, early in the morning. We'd wander 'round Saigon in the morning, then go back to the hotel for a siesta after lunch — or not.

"Most evenings, we went dancin'! My reputation as a wowser went right out the window when the other guys saw Alice and I on the dance floor. Alice had that glow that only pregnant women get, but 'cause she wasn't showing yet, it just made her look even more gorgeous than she already was. And her dancing used to catch every eye in the place — every male eye, anyway. I guess I was lucky that we didn't have any problems with anybody tryin' to move in on her, but maybe she made it obvious that she was already taken; women can do that, but don't ask me how. And, even if I do say so myself, I was pretty fit — all that time in the field, and a pretty healthy lifestyle — so no-one was gonna think I was a push-over, even if I wasn't in uniform."

Perry stopped speaking for just a second, then let out a great guffaw of laughter. "I remember that Aussie reporter comin' up to me one evening when Alice and I were going back to our table to take a break from dancing. He was more than a bit drunk, but he was one of those courteous drunks, the kind that realise that they're smashed and become very careful and very polite when they try to talk to you. Anyway, he apologised for thinking I was a wowser. He said that now, he understood why I'd been so quiet and sober all these months; obviously — well, he *tried* to say 'obviously', but he couldn't quite get his tongue 'round the word — obviously, I'd been conservin' my energy for when my lovely wife could join me. And he could see why.

"He just had one question that he hoped I wouldn't mind answerin': had I been sent out there by my boss, or had I *asked* to come, so that I could recover from *last* Christmas? 'Cause he didn't think that any man could keep up with Alice all year round!"

Perry laughed again, but then fell silent, turning away from the table for a few moments, his gaze directed towards the ceiling. Eventually, his eyes came back to the little girl, who was still wide awake and looking interestedly at him. He took up his story again, but his voice had changed, becoming much more reflective in tone. "And yet, you know, little lady, when I think of that Christmas and all the fun we had and everything else that was goin' on at the time, there's one memory that really stands out, and that's watching the TV broadcast that Apollo 8 made from the Moon on Christmas Day. If you look in the record books, they'll say that it was made on December 24th, but that was American time; in Vietnam, on the other side of the International Date Line, it was already the next day, and Alice and I watched it all in bed on Christmas morning.

"The astronauts showed us the Earth rising over the Moon's horizon, and one of 'em read a passage from the Book of Genesis, about God separating the heavens and the earth. It was an amazing sight — no-one had ever seen the world from that far away before — and the words of the Bible were just so appropriate, they fitted the scene so well, that we were just spellbound … Alice and I just watched the TV, not sayin' a word, until the camera moved away from that incredible view. When that happened, we looked at one another for a moment, and then Alice laid her head on my shoulder and I wrapped my arms around her, and we just stayed there for a while. We didn't move, we didn't talk, we just … *were*, and we thanked God that we were alive and well, and together, with so much to be thankful for and so much more to look forward to.

"It was a strange way to feel, what with all the killing and hatred that was going on all around the world, but somehow, the sight of the Earth, looking so beautiful, but so *small* from that far away, filled us with hope. In spite of all the wars and the assassinations, in spite of all the craziness, the picture of that little world, at that time of the year, reminded us that the future could still be a bright one, and it was worth fighting for.

"I've tried to take that to heart over the years, even if I did get a bit off-track for a while as to whose future I oughtta be trying to look after. But, maybe I've got another chance and, this year, I'm gonna do my best to show my family just how important they are to me. I remember this time two and three years ago, and I didn't like it much, and I don't want to go back to that.

"You remember that, darlin'. If you take after your mom and dad, you're gonna want to help other people, but you need to always keep in mind that the people closest to you are just as much in need of help as anybody else out there, and the *worst* thing you can do is to expect them to be happy without you, but always be there *for* you, while you concentrate on looking after strangers. They'll be there, all right, but if you want them to help you, you've got to remember that and be there for them, too.

"But I guess that Lois and Clark will teach you that. They *do* it, every day, so it won't be hard for you to pick it up. Just don't be like me and forget it 'cause you're so busy. It's not a good exchange, a life for a job … "


Clark strolled over to where his wife was deep in conversation with Arnold from Features (or so *she* would have said; Arnold, for all that he was supposed to be a good interviewer, was showing the familiar signs of being on the receiving end of a Lane monologue) and planted a gentle kiss on her head. "Hi, honey."

Lois wasn't expecting that — for once, she'd been too involved in marshalling her arguments to notice his approach — and she jumped slightly at his touch and whirled around, halfway towards a martial arts crouch before she saw who it was. Clark stepped back a pace, raising his hands in his own defence, an amused smile on his face.

Lois relaxed once her mind caught up with her reflexes, but only for a second. "Clark! What's wrong? Where's Laura?" she cried, a trace of nervous panic beginning to show in her voice.

"It's okay, honey," Clark soothed, taking her hands in his. "Nothing's wrong. Perry's looking after Laura." Lois began to calm down as she looked into his eyes and saw that he meant it. Behind her, Arnold took the chance to withdraw discretely; Clark looked up quickly and nodded his thanks to the man as he gathered his wife into his arms. "It's *okay*," he repeated, and she calmed further.

"Sorry, Clark," she murmured. "I don't know why I'm so jumpy all of a sudden. I guess I'm still a little nervous after all of the trouble we had with the custody fight." Clark nodded, acknowledging this as reasonable, and, reassured, she brightened and asked, "How come Perry's taking care of our girl?"

"I had a little … stomach trouble … " Clark replied. As he said this, he waved one hand in their familiar flying signal, and Lois nodded. " … and he offered to look after her. He told me not to hurry back, either. He wants us to enjoy the party." Clark raised his eyebrows meaningfully. "He suggested that we might like to dance … "

Lois thought about that, but grimaced. "Not unless Jimmy changes that music to something more our speed. Do you suppose he's got any jazz there? I wouldn't mind something slow, where I get to be close to you … " Then, grinning, she stood on tip-toes to whisper in his ear, "Shame we can't show everyone what *real* dancing is, isn't it?"

Clark grinned back. "Yes, it is, but before we hit the floor … " His voice lowered so that only she could hear — which, with the music blaring, didn't require all that much of a reduction in volume. " … or lift off it … " He returned to a more normal level. " … I wanna tell you and Perry about something I saw while I was … out and about."

Lois' eyebrows went up as he led her towards the conference room. This sounded intriguing. Of course, it also sounded like *work*, but it wouldn't be the first time that that had been more interesting than a party, and Lois hated to miss out on a good story much more than she would ever regret leaving a social function.

Clark opened the conference room door and bowed her in. Perry, his attention caught by the sudden burst of music through the open doorway, turned from where he'd been contemplating Laura — and she'd been contemplating him back, or so he'd thought. "Hey, you two," he greeted them. "Now, what brings you in here? I told Clark to enjoy the party. The little lady and I are doin' just fine by ourselves."

"I'm sure you are, Chief," Clark countered, "but I've got something to tell both you and Lois; something I think you'll be interested to hear about. After I'd … finished what I left you to do, I decided to step outside for a moment to get some fresh air. When I came out of the lobby, I heard a commotion of some sort coming from the direction of City Hall, so I jogged over that way … "

As Clark spoke, Perry had a hard time not beaming proudly at the younger man. He recognised the signs: here was a real newsman who'd stumbled across something by accident, gone and found out all about it, and now just *had* to tell the world — or his editor, anyway. This could be good …

He listened curiously, surreptitiously checking his watch and wondering if there was time to get this into the next edition as Clark continued, "When I got there, I almost couldn't believe my eyes. I know it's that time of year, but I didn't expect to see what looked like the entire Christmas story slowly walking up the street! There was a man out in front leading a donkey with a woman on its back. They were both wearing Biblical-style robes, and he had a beard and she was either pregnant or she had some *very* realistic padding under her clothes.

"Right behind them was a bunch of about five 'shepherds', all in the same kind of robes, but more worn and dirtier. They even had a couple of sheep with them! Then came three guys in fancier robes; I think they were supposed to be the Magi, but I noticed that they weren't carrying anything … "

"So no gold, frankincense and myrrh, huh?" interrupted an interested Lois.

"That's right. And that surprised me. If this was some kind of Christmas pageant, then that was an important element of the story that was missing, and I wondered why. I found out soon enough; there was a group of marchers — about a hundred or so — following the guys in costume, and they were carrying placards and a couple of banners. I talked to a few of them, including one guy who was acting as the official spokesman, and they said that this was a protest by and on behalf of homeless people; everyone was marching on City Hall, where they plan to stage what they call a Homeless Nativity — some sort of street theatre, from what they said — on the front steps to highlight what they call the city's 'criminal neglect' of shelters, refuges and general facilities for the homeless.

"The theme of the march, which was on a lot of the placards, was 'No Room at the Inn', and the Magi weren't carrying gifts to make the point that no-one — especially the City Council — was giving or doing anything to help people on the streets. The people I spoke to seemed particularly angry about some of those new developments that the Council gave the go-ahead to, a couple of months ago. The Bronson Tower, that LexCorp plan for the south end of Hobb's Bay, one or two others that they mentioned … "

"This is good stuff, Clark," Perry broke in. "How long will it take you to get it written up? If I send a photographer down there now, he should be back in less than an hour, which will give me plenty of time to rework the front page for the next edition. The question is, is this main headline material, or do we leave the Washington story there and put a photo next to it, with the text spread over … "

Perry's voice trailed off and his eyes glazed as he ran through the options in his head. Neither Lois or Clark, who had seen this kind of performance before, doubted that he was visualising several different front pages in his mind, so that he could choose the most appropriate with a minimum of delay once he had the copy and photos in his hands. They waited silently, anticipating the next step, which duly occurred: Perry's attention snapped back to the here-and-now and he growled at Clark, "Well, get on with it, Clark! You can use my office; you don't want to disturb Laura here — or vice versa — and I don't think even Superman could work in the noise out there!" He whirled around to regard the scene in the newsroom. "Where's Jimmy?"

As if the mere mention of his name had been enough to summon him, Jimmy opened the conference room door and dived in. "Chief! Chief!" he squawked excitedly, "I was reloading the CD player when I looked up at the TV, and you'll never guess what's happening at City Hall right now!"

"If you mean the Homeless Nativity, son," Perry replied proudly, "Clark here has already got the story." He paused with a certain anticipatory glee to watch the stunned expression on the younger man's face, before dropping the other shoe: "I want you to go down there and get some photos to go with it. If you hurry, you can be back before the music needs changin' again."

Jimmy's face now went from amazement to definite distress, and Lois took pity on him. "Hold on, Chief. Jimmy's been working really hard on the party; I think he deserves a break — and there's Penny to think of. Can't you send someone else? After all, I wouldn't want to have to go down there myself unless I knew somebody was looking after Laura. It's bad enough that I'll be stuck in here while Clark is writing and you're rearranging the front page. This *is* supposed to be a Christmas party … "

"Now, Lois … this is the Daily Planet! If this newsroom can't get this story, have a party *and* look after a little girl at the same time … then I haven't been doin' my job properly, all these years! We're supposed to be the best newspaper in the world; I think we can handle this. But, okay, I'll send someone else. Watkins, maybe — or O'Halloran; he doesn't drink, so his photos oughtta at least be in focus! And don't you worry about Laura. You deserve a break, too, and there are enough experienced parents out there—" He waved a hand in the direction of the party. "—to keep an eye on her. You go and enjoy yourself, and I'll send Clark along as soon as he's done."

"Good idea, Mr White," said a voice from the doorway. It was Penny, who had followed Jimmy (at a more leisurely pace) when he rushed to tell his boss about what he'd seen, and had heard everything that had been said. "And you don't need to worry about finding someone to look after your little girl, Lois. Jimmy and I will take good care of her for a while, and Mr White can find someone to relieve us. Maybe we could arrange a sort of roster, with someone new taking over every … half-hour or so?"

Perry nodded in approval. That sounded like a good idea; he was sure that he could find volunteers — or, failing that, shanghai someone! — and since Lois had got Jimmy off the hook as far as going down to City Hall went, it was only fair that he take the first shift.

Jimmy didn't look as though he agreed. He was staring at his girlfriend as though she'd suddenly sprouted an extra head or something. Penny noticed this, and she had a pretty good idea why. "Come on, Jimmy," she coaxed, "Lois is right. You've been rushing around doing things the whole time. You do need a break, and it'll be really nice to just spend a little time relaxing. Laura will probably fall asleep soon, and we can just sit and listen to the music … together … by *ourselves* … "

"Oh … oh, right," he said, her meaning almost visibly getting through to him. "Yeah, okay … " Behind him, Lois, Clark and Perry all tried desperately to stifle grins before making their way out of the room.

As soon as he and Penny were alone, Jimmy seemed to recover his self-confidence and gestured at the conference room window, through which they could see that the party was still raging out in the newsroom.

"Man, this party is really rockin' this year, thanks to me!" he said, suddenly feeling totally hyped after his narrow escape and grinning proudly from ear to ear. "The last few Christmas parties we had here at the Planet really bombed. It probably would've bombed this year, too, if I hadn't snuck that big box of Christmas CDs into the storage room last week. Otherwise, we would've either been listening to that horrible elevator Christmas music Perry picks out — or, even worse, some tape of 'Elvis' Greatest Christmas Hits!'" He shuddered for emphasis, making Penny laugh.

"Well, you obviously knew what the party needed," she said, giving him a smile of her own. "Everyone seems to be having a really great time. Well, maybe except for Perry." She giggled. "I don't think he appreciates the wiring job you did on the PA system to increase the volume."

"Yeah, wasn't that cool?" Jimmy beamed. "But I wouldn't worry about Perry. I've learned that his bark is worse than his bite … most of the time."

Laura made a cooing noise, and Penny immediately turned her attention to her. Walking over to where she was still lying in her carry-cot, Penny reached out to take Laura's tiny hands in her own.

"Isn't she just adorable?" Penny gushed. "And look at all that dark hair! She's just beautiful." She hovered over Laura, using her hands to clap the infant's tiny fists together gently. Then she smiled at Laura and raised her voice a few pitches. "You look so much like your mom and dad, don't ya?" she jabbered. "Yes, you do."

She was instantly rewarded when Laura broke out into a huge, dimple-inducing smile. "Oh, Jimmy, did you see that?" she asked excitedly. "She's learned how to smile!"

Jimmy glanced momentarily at Laura, but then he looked back at Penny. "I didn't know you liked babies."

"Oh, I *love* babies!" Penny admitted, tucking Laura's blanket more snugly around her tiny form. "I used to baby-sit all the time when I was growing up. And I used to look after my younger sister and brother when my mom was at work." She turned to Jimmy. "Don't you like babies?"

He shrugged. "I don't *not* like them … " he hedged. "I just haven't been around them all that much."

Penny turned back to Laura and smiled at her again. "Well, there's nothing to it, is there?" she cooed to Laura in the higher-pitched voice that all babies seem to respond to. "All they want is to have their basic needs taken care of, and to be loved by those around them."

Laura kicked a bit in her carry-cot, obviously enjoying the attention she was getting. Unable to resist, Penny reached into the carry-cot and slid her arms underneath Laura.

"Wha-what are you doing?" Jimmy asked nervously as he watched Penny bending over the little girl.

"I want to hold her."

"No, don't pick her up!" Jimmy protested. "She looks so comfortable where she is."

Penny lifted Laura out easily and cradled her in her arms. "Oh, Jimmy, calm down. If you were a baby, would you want to be stuck in that cot all night? She wants to get out and be with people, too."

"Just— just don't drop her or anything," he conceded. Closing the rest of the distance between them, he peered at Laura, being careful not to touch her. "She does look an awful lot like both Lois and Clark," he observed. "I can see parts of each of them in her."

"I think so, too." Penny adjusted Laura's weight in her arms, then looked up at Jimmy. "Do you want to hold her?"

Jimmy immediately took an unconscious step backwards. "No, that's okay. You can keep holding her."

Penny gave Jimmy a sidelong glance. "Are you afraid of her?" She studied him closely, and when he didn't respond right away, she knew she had her answer. "You *are!*"

Jimmy squared his shoulders and pulled himself up to his full height. "I am not," he insisted, jutting out his chin.

"Jimmy, there's nothing to be afraid of," Penny went on as if he hadn't spoken. "Take her. Babies aren't as delicate as they look."

"No, really," he protested as she moved closer to him. "I— I'm not very good with babies."

Penny smiled, enjoying seeing this side of Jimmy. She decided his insecurity was endearing. "That's just because you haven't had much experience with them," she assured him. "Here, let me show you." Then, ignoring Jimmy's protests, she set Laura in his arms and showed him how to cradle his arm under her tiny head. Laura snuggled right in. Jimmy relaxed a bit, and Penny beamed. "See? I knew you could do it. You're a natural."

"You think?" He looked up from Laura's face and met Penny's gaze, a broad smile on his face.

She nodded encouragingly. "Definitely."

Suddenly Jimmy noticed that the music had stopped in the next room. "Hey!" he exclaimed, leaning around Penny to see what was going on. "What happened to my CDs?"

"It looks like those guys are going to sing something," she said, watching four men gathering in front of a microphone with their instruments.

"I hope they're halfway decent," Jimmy muttered. "Or they're going to send this party to the Planet Party Graveyard with the rest of 'em."

Penny laughed. "Oh, come on, Jimmy. They can't be *that* bad. Give them a chance."

As the group started to play, Penny and Jimmy looked at each other. "Not bad!" Jimmy admitted.

"Yeah, they've got a great sound." Penny bounced her head a little in time to the music. She smiled at Jimmy, placing her hand on his arm. "You owe me a dance when we get out of here."

"I'll give you more than that," Jimmy grinned, being careful not to drop Laura as he leaned toward Penny and gave her a light kiss.

Giggling, Penny looked down at Laura lying between them, then lifted her hand to gently stroke the baby's fine hair. Then she brought her eyes back up to Jimmy's. "Thanks for sneaking me into the party."

"Hey, it wouldn't have been the same without you," Jimmy insisted. "Besides, I don't know who came up with that stupid 'staff only' rule. I mean, come on! You can't even bring a significant other? Give me a break!"

Laura squirmed in Jimmy's arms, drawing their attention back to her.

"You know," Jimmy began thoughtfully. "I've always thought that my life would've been so much easier if someone had been able to tell me what to expect when I was Laura's age. If I'd known that my dad was going to practically desert me as a kid, and not be around for me, I would've prepared myself for it, and not been so hurt."

Penny put her hand on Jimmy's shoulder sympathetically. "Not everyone makes the right decisions as a parent," she told him. "And we certainly can't choose who our parents are. All we can do is make the best out of our family situations."

They were quiet for a minute before Penny continued. "Besides," she said, turning to look out into the newsroom where she could see Lois and Clark dancing, staring lovingly into each others' eyes and laughing happily. "Lois and Clark are two of the best people I know. And they're very dedicated to Laura. I'm sure they're going to be great parents."

Jimmy's gaze followed Penny's, and he smiled at the dancing couple. "Yeah, you're right. They're the best. Laura is one lucky little girl." He shifted Laura in his arms awkwardly, then began to laugh. "My arm's falling asleep."

Penny laughed, too. "Here. I'll put her back for you."

After Laura was tucked snugly back into her seat, Penny dropped into the chair next to Jimmy, leaning into him and laying her head on his shoulder. He slid his arm around her shoulders, and they watched Laura as she sat in front of them, staring back at them contentedly.

"Have you ever thought about what it would be like to have kids?" Penny asked quietly as Jimmy traced tiny circles on the bare skin of her upper arm.

Jimmy thought about that for a long time before answering. "Yeah, I guess so," he finally said. "I've probably thought more about it lately since Lois and CK had Laura. I know it's a lot of work, and a big-time commitment and everything, but I think it'd be nice to be a dad some time down the road." He paused. "How about you? Do you want kids?"

She smiled. "I've always wanted to have a lot of kids, though I doubt that's very practical."

"How many is 'a lot'?" Penny hesitated. "Come on," he urged, nudging her lightly with his shoulder. "You can tell me."

She turned her face on his shoulder so she could look up into his face. "Promise you won't laugh?"

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth because of her serious tone, but he did his best to keep it in check. "I promise."

She paused, studying him carefully, as if for some indication that she could trust him with her answer. Finally she let out her breath and forged ahead. "I don't know … maybe four or five."

"Four or five!" Jimmy cried out, making Laura jump.

"Jimmy, you scared her!" Penny scolded, leaning forward in her chair to put her hand on Laura in an effort to reassure her.

"Sorry," he said immediately. "You just surprised me. I was expecting you to say two or three, or something like that."

Penny sat back in her chair, somewhat miffed. "What, I'm not allowed to want a lot of kids?"

Jimmy spoke up quickly. "No, I'm not saying that at all," he reassured her. "I think it's great that you love kids, and that you want that many. There's just not many people these days who have more than one or two children."

She sighed, relaxing back into his side. "I know. It's probably because kids cost so much money. They need so many things: baby food, toys, cribs, strollers, tuition for college … " Her voice trailed off.

"And don't forget diapers," Jimmy added, making Penny laugh.

"Yes, diapers, too."

They sat quietly for a few minutes, each thinking their own thoughts. Then Penny broke the silence. "So, from what you said a few minutes ago, it sounds like you're not in a hurry to have kids," she observed.

Jimmy shook his head. "I'm definitely not. I've watched Lois and Clark, and have seen how hard they've worked to prepare themselves to be good parents. All the things they went through, all those books they read, it proves to me that being a parent is something to be taken seriously. I don't want to have a kid before I'm ready and end up ditching my son or daughter like my dad pretty much did to me."

Realising he sounded pretty bitter, he rushed on. "Not that I don't love my dad or anything," he insisted. "We've even made an effort to stay in touch and get together whenever he's in town. I'm just saying that when I do have a kid, I want to be ready to devote myself to parenthood."

Penny smiled tenderly at Jimmy, lifting her hand to touch his face lightly. "I think that's honourable, and very mature of you. And I can let you in on a little secret," she said, lowering her voice secretively and shifting her position in her chair. She leaned closer and closer until their faces were only inches apart. With their lips only a breath away, her eyes twinkled and she gave him a tender smile, whispering, "I think you're going to make a *terrific* dad."

Jimmy stared into her beautiful eyes, so full of love and tenderness that it made it very difficult for him to think with her so close. Every time he was with her, he seemed to learn something new about her. It never ceased to amaze him. And it made him love her even more.

As if it was the most natural thing in the world to do, he lowered his face to hers and kissed her softly, telling her without words how much he cared for her. What started out as a gentle, innocent kiss quickly became one filled with intensity and passion. When they finally separated, they were breathless.

Movement outside the window caught Jimmy's eye, and he turned to see that their moment of passion hadn't gone unnoticed. He couldn't help seeing the curious stares they were getting from several passers-by. "Oops," he said sheepishly, a bit embarrassed at being the centre of attention.

But Penny laughed. "Guess we caused quite a scene, didn't we?"

A moment later, Jimmy shrugged it off and his carefree smile returned. "Oh, they're just a bunch of old people who've forgotten what it's like to be young and in love. They really need to lighten up."

"Yeah!" she agreed with a cheer. Then she smiled coyly and reached out to smooth the creases in the front of his shirt. "Maybe we can even give them something else to talk about later, after we've finished watching Laura and can get back onto the dance floor."

"Mmmm," Jimmy grinned. "It's a deal." He leaned in to kiss her again. "But only *after* we crank those CDs back up!"

Penny grinned. "I agree. The music is what's making this party great! And 'if it ain't broke … '"

"'Don't fix it'!" Jimmy finished.

Penny stood up and gestured to someone outside in the newsroom. "I think our shift is about up. Take a look."

He rose to his feet beside her and turned to look out the window. Looking where Penny was pointing, he saw that Cat was making her way toward them, but seemed to be stopping about every three steps to flirt with somebody new.

Jimmy couldn't help laughing. "Well, at the pace Cat's going, we'll be old and grey by the time she gets here. But," he emphasised, taking Penny into his arms, "at least we have something to do to keep us busy until she gets here."

"Oh, yeah?" Penny asked innocently. "And what's that?"

With a wicked gleam in his eye, he reached out and pulled Penny close, indulging himself in another long, attention-getting, earth-shattering kiss.


Clark finished writing his story quickly — rather *too* quickly. He didn't want to spend any more time on this than he had to, especially since he'd be able to enjoy the party *with* Lois rather than being by himself while she looked after Laura, and vice versa, so unconsciously he'd been typing at super-speed. He'd realised what he was doing when the computer beeped at him to indicate that its input buffer was full, and he would have to wait for it to process what he'd already typed before he could enter any more text. He winced at his slip, and made sure that he completed his work at a more normal speed. Fortunately, no-one could see him in the office, nor were they likely to be paying close attention to him, so he didn't expect that anyone would notice just how quickly he'd produced his article — if, indeed, many of them knew that he was working at the moment.

Perry certainly didn't mind when he told him that he was done. O'Halloran wasn't back yet, but that was okay: even if he didn't show up in the next, say, twenty minutes, with Clark's copy there, Perry could lay out the story using a standard-size box for the photo. Time would only start to get tight if the photographer hadn't come back in about three-quarters of an hour. Of course, if he turned up with a truly dynamite shot, then Perry would have to re-arrange the whole front page, but that was a chore that he enjoyed — nothing like another scoop for the Planet to put some zest in Perry White's life! Right now, though, he was gonna take a break himself and listen to the band.

'The band', which had replaced Jimmy's CD's (for the moment), was comprised of four Daily Planet staffers who had been jamming together for about five years. The guys weren't bad. After doing a few numbers themselves, they began backing a few courageous — or very mellow — souls who had been overwhelmed by a festive urge to sing.

Used to this sort of impromptu participation, the band picked up its cue from the style or the mood of whoever was brave enough to take the mike. Three tuneless, but aggressive guys from the Sports department had just raced through the Twelve Days of Christmas, making up the lyrics as they forgot the originals and turning the song into a bout of competitive one-upmanship. As they bellowed and fought toward the finish line, their lyrics got bawdier and the howls of the Planet's staff louder.

When they finished, the bass player stepped forward to the mike. "Uh, I think we should declare a winner, here. Um, maybe Tony." He turned to look at a short, stocky man in red sweat pants and a flashy Hawaiian shirt splotched with Santas and palm trees. "I think you finished first — about five beats ahead of the rest of us!"

"Thank you, thank you. I just wanna say, all those hours of gruelling training paid off." He beamed at his colleagues. "This means, now I get a request." He paused for a moment as his eyes staggered across the room. "Lois, how 'bout you do one for me— er, us?" Extending his arm, he waved the mike toward the back of the room where she was standing.

Lois laughed and shook her head. "I don't think I could follow you guys."

"Sure you can, Lois," Alan from Accounting called out from his position next to the punch bowl. "It just takes guts."

Lois walked over to Tony and took the mike in her hand. Smiling slightly at Alan, she said, "Never let it be said that I lack guts. But I gotta warn you, I remember the lyrics. *All* of them." After a few words to the band, her sultry voice glided into "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire … " as the musicians played smoothly behind her, moving into sync with her easy phrasing of the lyrics.

Over by the Christmas tree, Clark had been talking with Ralph and Perry when he heard Lois speak. Now he turned his attention away from them to listen to his wife as she began to sing, the soft throaty swing of her voice swirling around him as he gazed at her, pulling him closer to her. He met her eyes for a moment and smiled, raising his glass to her in a silent, joyful toast. Lois continued singing, forcing herself, after a moment, to look away from Clark. After all, ostentatious flirtation with one's husband at a staff Christmas party is never in good taste, so she turned her attention to the four guys in the band instead, falling back into the pleasure of the music.

As Lois was finishing her song, Cat Grant, who knew it was *always* in good taste to flirt with as many men as possible at a staff Christmas party, manoeuvred across the crowded room to Ralph, Perry, and Clark, leaving in her wake an afterglow of red sequins and silver bells.

The three men knew she was coming towards them before she was halfway across the room, and they all turned in her direction, their faces a preview of their expectations. Perry grinned expansively, always getting a kick out of Cat's joke. Ralph leered, his eyes fixed on the long feather boa that draped over her shoulders before drifting south along the line of her *very* exposed cleavage, and then down further to touch her high red leather boots. Clark looked amused, finally beginning to clue into Cat's act after all these years, his spooked virgin response long gone.

Cat stopped in front of the three silent men. "Merry Christmas, gentlemen!" Slipping her hand around the arm of each man in turn, she planted a cheerful kiss on both Ralph's and Perry's cheeks. Then she purred around Clark, her sinuous body stretching along the side of his hip as she curled her arm around his neck to kiss him. "Merry Christmas, Kansas." She slid the boa around his neck.

Clark laughed good-naturedly as he briefly slipped his arm around her shoulder. "Merry Christmas, Catherine." A reminder that he knew and liked who she really was.

"Nice outfit, Cat." Ralph made an attempt to regain her attention, visions of their earlier dance teasing his mind. His eyes wandered to her waist. "But, why the whip?"

Cat patted his shoulder. "To keep the reindeer in line."

Perry's laugh was loud. "Darlin', I bet you could do that better 'n anyone in this room!"

Cat tossed her head, her silver bell earrings jingling and her long auburn hair shimmering, and smiled. "Of course I could." Turning serious for a moment, she added, "Thanks, Perry, for giving me my old job back. It's been a great year."

"It's been great to *have* you back, Cat. You've added some spice to this old newspaper. I don't know how you find out half the stuff you get, but it's been good for circulation."

Her eyes dancing, Cat replied, "Perry, you don't *want* to know how I get my stuff." Then she turned to look at Clark. "And now, I believe it's time to change the shift in the conference room." A pause, and then she purred, "Although I bet Jimmy and Penny haven't minded the chance to be alone."

"Thanks, Cat. I know it's awkward having Laura here, but things didn't work out too well today, and we both wanted to be here."

Cat turned sultry and patted Clark's chest for a moment longer than necessary. "No problem. No problem at all."

Lois joined the three men just as Cat was on her way to the conference room. Fingering the boa for a moment, she gave Clark an arch smile. "Looks good with your red shirt, Clark, but I think it would look better on Ralph." Removing the item in question from around Clark's neck, she turned to drape it over Ralph's shoulder. "Ye-es-ss, I was right." Then her eyes narrowed as she caught sight of the society writer's retreating figure. "Do you think Laura will be all right with Cat? I mean, she hasn't got much experience."

"Relax, honey." Clark slipped his arm around her waist, giving her a reassuring squeeze. "Laura's probably asleep, so there's not much to do. Think of it as leaving a baby with you, only three years ago."

"Precisely!" Lois' emphatic tone indicated that she thought Clark had no idea. She turned her anxious eyes toward the conference room. She still couldn't figure out how Perry had managed to persuade — or con, or blackmail — Cat into baby-sitting, of all things. And she wasn't sure that she wanted to know …

Cat stopped to chat, kid, or flirt with several people as she made her way across the boisterous newsroom, turning down two offers from slightly inebriated marketing types to help her in what one of them called "her lonely vigil". Patting each one on the chest, she let him know that if it weren't for the higher duty of standing by your friends in their time of need, she would be thrilled to join him in checking whether the photocopier was in working order. Definitely some other time.

Cat sighed happily: she enjoyed flirting — which was, in her opinion, one of the *great* indoor sports — although lately, for some reason, she was content to leave things at the "harmless" level. Shrugging her shoulders, she smiled.

Sheila Molineux from Public Relations drew her aside for a moment. "Cat, you might want to make sure you get to that party at City Hall tonight. You might find it interesting to talk to Councillor Yaremsky."

"Thanks, Sheila. I'll make sure I do." The two women chatted for a moment or two and then Cat continued on her way to the conference room, grateful for the tip that Sheila had just given her.

She was about fifteen minutes late relieving Jimmy and Penny, but they didn't seem to mind. Cat got a strong feeling that they had enjoyed their time together with Laura. She wasn't so sure she would. She leaned over the carry-cot to peer at the sleeping little girl with some anxiety, and then sank back into the leather sofa, positioning herself so that she could keep her eyes on the baby.

Cat was, after all, not a domestic creature. Babies were sweet, cuddly, and *boring.* They slowed you down and they cramped your style. And that was the least of the damage they could do. She had little experience with them, nor did she want more.

She was still amazed that Lois Lane, whom she had always thought of as an aggressive and dedicated, if somewhat socially inept, reporter, had agreed to have a child. Lois had never struck her as the wife-and-mother type and, after that badly-managed relationship with Claude, Lois had seemed reluctant to get involved with *any* man again. Lois had learned the wrong lesson from that experience, Cat thought. When you fall off a horse, you don't quit riding.

In fact, it had been a major surprise to return to Metropolis late last fall and discover that Lois had actually married Clark Kent. Lois had never seemed to have much time for the mild-mannered reporter in anything other than a professional relationship, and it had taken her months to accept him even in that capacity.

Yet, it had been pretty obvious that Clark Kent was crazy about his partner. Cat had tried, herself, to interest the Planet's newest reporter, but he had proven unresponsive. She had sensed, too, that he was not all that experienced with women and, since he was drop-dead gorgeous, she had decided that it fell to her to give him some instruction. That her actions also annoyed Lois had only added to the fun.

Cat had thought for a bit, during the time when the asteroid had threatened them all, that Lois was moving closer to Clark. During that time, Clark had suffered a brief bout of amnesia and Cat had thought that she might get a chance to scrawl a few notes on the tabula rasa of his mind. But Clark had somehow sensed that there was no relationship between them and had instinctively turned to Lois, who had been very protective of him, shepherding him through the forgotten routine of his job — and keeping him out of Cat's reach, much to her chagrin.

Cat had been scared during that time, too. Unable to connect with her family as the asteroid hurtled toward New Troy, she'd found herself truly alone for the first time in her life. Panicking, she had gone to confession, seeking forgiveness for her sins; but, as she had gone through the list, she realised that she didn't think they were sins at all, and she had wound up propositioning the priest. Ah, well.

After the asteroid threat ended, things went back to normal and Lois had started seeing more of Lex Luthor, leaving Clark on the sidelines. When Cat had left town after the Planet had folded, Lois had become engaged to Luthor, a move which, at the time, Cat had envied. Luthor was powerful, wealthy, and charming. And, above all, he had style. The ideal man.

Cat had been shocked when Luthor had been exposed as a master criminal, the evil genius behind a global criminal network. Afterwards, she'd wondered if Lois hadn't agreed to the engagement as part of a plan to expose the man. After all, she'd never made a secret of her infatuation for Superman, and Lois wasn't the type to be involved with two men at the same time. Or was she?

Maybe there was hope for Lois after all, Cat thought with a smile, as she recalled the tabloid stories about Lois and Superman's "secret tryst" at a luxury resort a couple of winters ago. The rumours were still out there about Superman having a thing for Lois, and he was still very much around whenever Lois got into trouble.

Nevertheless, Lois and Clark were obviously very happy, and both were delighted with their baby. Clark still had that amazed look that let everyone know that he thought his child was a miracle, while Lois positively glowed. Maybe there was some truth to this maternal instinct business. Cat thought briefly about her ex- husband Richard's recent proposal. No, marriage and children weren't her thing.

Laura gurgled in her sleep for a few seconds and Cat reached over to touch her gently. She looked so contented, she thought. Laura really was a beautiful baby, with the dark hair and eyes of her parents. Cat had tried to figure out who the baby looked like but, so far, she wasn't sure. Perhaps the child had Lois' nose. If she was lucky, she'd have her mother's long legs, too, Cat thought, as she curled into the soft leather of the sofa in the conference room. "That's my Christmas wish for you, little one," Cat spoke silently to Laura. "That you have the best of both your mom and your dad."


Clark and Alan stood on the fringe of the crowded newsroom, enthusiastically debating the merits of the Governor of New Troy's new plan to eliminate the state deficit. Just as Clark was about to make what he considered to be his most convincing argument, Penny tapped Alan on the shoulder, beckoning him onto the dance floor. With an apologetic shrug of his shoulders, Alan grinned at Clark. "Sorry, Clark. I can't resist." He happily trailed the blonde onto the dance floor, leaving Clark alone for the moment.

A sense of well-being permeated Clark as he watched his friends and colleagues in full festive swing. Glancing across the room, he spotted Lois, engaged in what he figured, judging from her body language, was a vigorous debate with two people from Legal. Zeroing in on their conversation with his super-hearing, he caught the tail end of her point and grinned in sympathy for her opponent. Yep, debate mode rampant. Then he lowered his head to peer over his glasses in the direction of the conference room, taking a telescopic look at his baby daughter for no other reason than just wanting to gaze at her. He smiled, the joy of this particular Christmas, their first with Laura, spreading through his soul.

This was the perfect opportunity for him to disappear unnoticed from the newsroom for a short time and make a quick patrol of the city. Slipping back unobtrusively towards the stairwell at the side of the newsroom, he tugged at his tie and, a few moments later, was soaring into the cold night air, high above the streets of the city, the bright lights of the traffic below him flowing like an animated circuit board.

That night, the city was busy but unusually crime- and accident- free. Then, suddenly, he was flying into turbulence — and more. He blinked in astonishment as he found himself in the middle of what appeared to be several elves drifting randomly in the dark night sky. Abruptly, as soon as he had encountered them, he had flown *through* them. They were gone, drifting spectre-like toward an open window below him.

A wry smile crossed Clark's face as he recognised their destination. They had come from STAR Labs. Zooming downwards, Clark shot through the open window in close pursuit and landed in a room on the top floor of the lab building. Arms crossed, he stood for a moment in the dim shadows on the room's periphery. No-one had particularly noticed him, the colours of his suit blending, for once, into the background of the colourfully decorated room, its darkness lit by swirling silver lights.

The elves, now hopping and bouncing, green arms undulating and red scarves flying in some advanced state of elvish ecstasy, were dancing in the middle of the room to a heavy metal version of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer". In the centre of their revelry was Dr Bernard Klein, a green tinsel fringe draped over the shoulders of his white lab coat, square jaw thrust upward, shoulders back and arms outspread as he gyrated joyfully, but just slightly out of step with the music. The elves were not out of step. Elves never are.

Finally, Dr Klein noticed Superman standing by the corner window. Grinning expansively, he called out, "Superman, Merry Christmas!" and literally walked through the elf in front of him in order to cross the room to Clark. "I hope this is not a professional visit, Superman," he said once he got there.

Clark's eyes briefly wandered across the room, taking in the lights, the white-coated revellers, and the massive, perfectly- formed balsam Christmas tree with its green and red laser lights. "No, it's not," he laughed briefly. "I, uh, followed the elves in."

"Uh-oh. I *told* Francesca not to project them outside. It's lucky it was you who flew into them and not some traffic helicopter. It would ruin the surprise."

"The surprise?" Clark's eyes widened and he wondered if he'd better plan on patrolling the city at the time.

Bernie Klein's blue eyes lit up in anticipation. "We've developed a hologram of Santa driving his sleigh. We're going to project it at midnight on Christmas Eve over the ice rink in front of City Hall. You, Lois and Laura should be there," he whispered as he issued this invitation. "It'll be magnificent. Santa'll fly just above the Christmas tree. You know, that tree's always the best one in the country. That's its clone over there." Klein waved his hand casually to the STAR Labs tree.

"Its clone?" Clark asked uneasily. He hated the word "clone."

The blue eyes sparkled again. "That's right! I've always admired that tree, so two years ago I took a cutting from it as soon as it was brought into the centre of town from the park. Don't you think they put it up too early? I mean, early November! Okay, it's got that special hydroponics tub — which STAR Labs developed, I'm proud to say — that keeps it healthy all year, but it's as bad as some of the big stores to 'start' Christmas that early!

"Anyway, I took the cutting, and we've pumped it with growth hormones and irradiated it, and here it is — perfect!" He beamed like a father gazing at his first-born.

"Look, you've got to have some of my punch, Superman. Special recipe — a dash of a new fluorescent food dye to make it glow!" They strode over to the punch bowl, stopping briefly to exchange season's greetings with some of STAR Labs' best and brightest. Most of them had grown accustomed to seeing Bernie Klein with Superman, and had downgraded the hero from "Look, up in the sky!" to "normal".

The scientist ladled punch into a cup and then offered it to Superman. "Unless you'd rather have a beer or a glass of wine?" His voice was hesitant; he'd noticed there hadn't been many customers clustered around his punch.

"No, no. This is fine, thanks." Superman raised the cup to Klein in a toast. "Merry Christmas!"

Bernard smiled. "Merry Christmas." His gaze swept over his colleagues as they talked, laughed and danced. "Don't you think this is always such a wonderful time of year? Makes you think of your childhood."

Superman looked at the older man with interest. "What were your Christmases like when you were a child?"

Bernard Klein's eyes lit up as he remembered. "Excitement. My parents always gave me a new science kit. Each year, I could hardly wait to see what it would be. I remember my first chemistry set. Chemicals I'd never seen before — magnesium, phosphorus! All the experiments!" He laughed. "I didn't get every one right, of course. Some small explosions, accidentally set fire to the dining room tablecloth, one or two small chemical spills in my bedroom. You know, the usual stuff."

Clark gave him a startled look as he went on, "One year, I got an electromagnetic kit, and I managed to combine it with my junior electronics set and repolarise the fuse box. Blew all the fuses! And then the erector set and the rocket kit! I built my first rocket, the day after Christmas, and launched it out of my bedroom window." Klein shook his head. "Forgot to open the window. Hard to get a repairman that close to Christmas. Those kits were the greatest! We'll have to make sure that Laura gets things like that."

Clark laughed. "Okay. But when the two of you are playing, it's under *strict* supervision." He'd always thought that his parents had faced a challenge raising an alien, but it must have been much more challenging raising a boy genius. "What were your parents like, Bernard?"

"Pretty normal. Dad was an engineer. He worked long hours, but he always had time for me and my sister. My mother stayed home with us when we were kids. She's the most patient person in the world. Whenever we had questions, she'd put aside what she was doing and we would find the answer, no matter how long it took or where it took us in the city."

"They sound a lot like my mom and dad." Superman finished his drink. "I should be going. I wanted to do a quick patrol of the city before the end of the evening."

Bernard Klein and Superman walked over to the window and then paused for a moment. Clark reached his hand out to his friend and the two men shook hands, his voice serious as he said, "Merry Christmas, Bernard. Thank you for all that you've done for me and for my family."

"It's been my honour, Clark." Bernard felt a lump rise in his throat, as he looked as this remarkable man who had become his friend. "Give Lois and your parents my best wishes, and that baby of yours a hug."

"I'll do that." With that, the Man of Steel leaped to the ledge of the tall window and shot upward.

Bernard Klein watched Superman gain height and recede into the star-lit night until he was no more than a tiny speck silhouetted against the moon. Klein shook his head in wonder. He always felt such optimism at this time of year; the miracle of hope for the future and for the children who would make that future. He thought about Laura and wondered what the future would be like for her, that very extraordinary child of Kal-El of the planet Krypton and Lois Lane of Planet Earth.


As she watched the sleeping baby, Cat remembered her own parents and her childhood. She hoped that Laura would have as much fun growing up as she did. Since her parents had split up when she was two, she had no memory of them living together, but she had lots of wonderful memories of them *being* together. They had remained good friends even after they both remarried (in fact, her parents had become lovers again) and Cat, her half-brother Jason, her mom and stepfather spent most Christmases with her dad, his wife, and their son.

She had always been close to her father, had always known, until his death eight years ago, that she could count on him. Her father had taught her a lot. How to work hard, how to sail against the wind and, most of all, how to have a good time. She remembered now how proud he'd been of the fact that her hair was red like his. The Red Grants. The two had always turned heads whenever they had entered rooms together.

He'd taught her to ski almost as soon as she could walk, and the two of them had spent exhilarating days cutting through the deep powder of western slopes. Later, her two younger brothers had joined them, laughing at their sister's resistance to snowboarding. It would be good to see them this Christmas; it'd been a while, and she was looking forward to meeting Jason's fiancee. Hmmm, the marriage thing again …

Like both her parents, Cat was an extrovert, and her childhood had been filled with people coming and going, disappearing for a year or two and then reappearing in their lives. Her mother had been just the safe side of flamboyant, giving her daughter a sense that she could be as outrageous as she wanted, as long as she did it with responsibility and style. Cat smiled as she thought of her mother, happily remarried for the fourth time, and probably right now putting the finishing festive touches on her home in New Mexico before the arrival of friends and family.

Cat had always loved Christmas. She had even got married at Christmas. In Switzerland. The perfect country for a Christmas wedding, Cat thought, although she hadn't planned it that way. She and Richard had gone to Switzerland for a skiing holiday, and one thing had led to another. Now, she thought that her acceptance of his proposal had been nostalgia-induced. All that snow, quaint Swiss villages, mountains, Christmas; it had seemed magical.

The marriage lasted eight months before their different lifestyles had torn it asunder. A brief bug- and snake-infested stint in the Amazonian rainforest, as Richard had searched for wonder drugs, had sent her screaming back to the Champs Elysees, where she'd taken a grateful breath of exhaust fumes and second-hand smoke and calmed down.

Still, she loved Richard. She had no doubt about that. They'd retangled last year in that cosmetics fiasco and, after the powder had dried, they'd resumed their relationship. They enjoyed each other's company, and Richard was a thoughtful and passionate lover. Two weeks ago, he proposed to her again, upsetting the equilibrium that Cat had re-established in her life in Metropolis. He was waiting for her answer, but she was avoiding the whole question. She hoped he wouldn't raise the issue when she saw him tomorrow night.

The problem was that Cat was not a one-man woman, never had been, and didn't think she ever could be. Last spring, she had met an attractive and wealthy businessman, Peter Maxwell, while jogging in Metropolis Park. It had been lust at first sight and, when the passion temporarily subsided, they found that they genuinely liked each other and had a lot in common. Cat was crazy about him and the feeling appeared to be mutual. She nearly purred as she thought about him now and their plans for later this evening. Good thing she'd insisted the Planet party be restricted to just staff. Both men knew about the party and had hinted that they would like to come. Neither man knew about the other.

'Face it,' she thought with surprise, 'you have feelings for both Peter and Richard that you've never had for *any* man before.' She smiled as she thought how much she had changed over the past year. Oh, she still got a little hormonal buzz in the presence of attractive men, and she still thought it only good manners to let them know that she appreciated how much they enhanced the decor of any environment in which she might find herself. But her heart belonged to Richard … *and* Peter.

Standing up to stretch, Cat walked across to the window that overlooked the newsroom. Someone, probably Jimmy, had started the CD's again; she could hear the pumping beat through the closed door of the conference room. It looked like everyone was having a good time. A few untethered red balloons were floating above the heads of the dancing couples, drifting among the red streamers. Somehow, her feather boa had wound up around Jimmy's neck and Penny was using it to tug him closer to her as they both danced to a rock version of "Joy to the World". Just as Penny's tactic had succeeded, Alan from Accounting filched the boa and twirled it around a laughing Lois Lane, drawing her close to him. Cat noticed the flicker of a scowl on Clark's face when this happened.

She turned to look over at Laura for a moment and watched the gentle rising and falling of her chest as she slept. She looked so peaceful. "Honey, I hope you have a lot of fun in your life, too," Cat whispered. "I'll have to make sure you do. Your daddy's a sweet guy and your mama's a bright lady, but they can both be a bit *intense* sometimes." Sitting back on the sofa, she took a sip of the designer water that she carried with her everywhere.

Laura started to whimper at that moment, and Cat automatically reached forward to pick her up, cradling her carefully in her arms, afraid that she would do it wrong. Laura opened her eyes and blinked at her, her mouth forming a small, round circle. Cat rocked her lightly and Laura looked at her with interest. At least, Cat thought she did. "You know, there's a lot you have to be aware of, honey. For one thing, you have to get to know your parents really well. Not just what they want you to know. They're my friends and they'll always help anyone in trouble, but there are things about them that you should know." Laura's gurgle encouraged Cat to continue.

"Your dad is going to be too protective. Look at how he is now. So you're going to have to plan around that carefully. I can help you with that when the time comes. And look at the *food* he eats. He may look great now, but his diet is a disaster. You should *see* the junk food he brings to his desk." Cat gave an involuntary shudder as a vision of a jelly doughnut flitted across her mind. "He'll be a bad influence on you if you're not careful. Now, your mom … I mean, *not* the life of the party, Laura. Do you know, she always had an excuse to avoid staff Christmas parties? I bet she only came to the one last year because of your dad."

Laura snuggled into Cat's arms as she continued, "And you *have* to get a credit card as soon as possible and learn how to shop for clothes. I'll help you with that, too. Beware your mother's fashion sense — her favourite colour is *brown.* The last year I was at the Planet, we went to a charity bachelor auction, and your mother wore this black dress that looked like it had been picked out by her grandmother from a backwoods mail order catalogue. No wonder Superman didn't even see her that night.

"Now, your daddy has better clothes sense. He always looks great, but he probably doesn't have much of a clue about *women's* fashion, so I'll make sure you get to some designer shows. Your mom won't think of that. And be careful about the cosmetics you use."

Noticing that Laura's eyes had wandered to the sparkle of her earring, Cat removed one of the large silver bells and dangled it in front of her, smiling as Laura reached out, her tiny hand trying to touch its shiny surface. Gently, Cat rang the bell and Laura's eyes opened wide. Cat laughed softly. "You are such an amazing little thing." She put her earring on the table and continued to rock Laura gently, wondering briefly what it would be like to be a mother, to have a child.

Cat thought again about Richard's proposal. Maybe she should give marriage another try. She did love Richard, and he seemed to be quite committed to this new research job with Biotech Pharmaceuticals, but who knew? One of the things she loved about him was his sense of adventure and his willingness to fly to places like Rome on a whim. But what if that meant disappearing into the jungle again, too? She was *not* good at living in isolation.

And if she married him, he would probably expect her to give up Peter. She loved Peter. He had a great sense of humour, he had piles of money — which he liked to spend on *her* — and he looked better in spandex than Superman. An unbeatable combination. Cat didn't think she could give him up. She would miss both men very much over Christmas.

Peter was taking her to Paris for New Year's. She could hardly wait. Metropolis was a great city; you could feel its energy pulsing in the streets, and you always had this feeling that something important was just about to happen. But it wasn't Paris.

In Paris, you could feel the ancient beauty, and you always felt that something extraordinary was about to happen. Cat had spent three months there before she had returned to Metropolis last year, and she was ecstatic about the forthcoming trip. Peter had booked a small hotel in the Rue Colbert on the left bank of the Seine, central for just roaming the narrow side streets of the city's heart. She'd kept in contact with a couple of her friends in Paris, and she and Peter would be attending a large New Year's party at the home of her friend Francoise. And, of course, the shopping opportunities later … It would be perfect.

"You have to make sure that you learn to speak French, Laura, so you can live in Paris for a while. Metropolis is fine, London is great, but Paris … Paris is *magic.*"

Laura had lost interest in this very important advice and had fallen asleep again. Tenderly, Cat touched the baby's check and then tucked her back into her carry-cot, making sure that the dark blue blanket covered her. A small bubble escaped from Laura's mouth as she slept and Cat smiled.

Maybe she really would like to have a child. Two would be nice — a girl and a boy. She could teach them all the things her parents had taught her: how to play and have fun, and she would take them to Paris in the spring and to visit their grandmother and their uncles on holidays. Her father had left her some money, her book had been a moderate success, and she was doing well here at the Planet. She had reached a stage in her life where she could afford to have a family.

She could have a child with Richard and a child with Peter. One child by each of the men she loved. Cat smiled as she thought of this. That's what her mother had done and it had turned out really well. After all, why put all your eggs in one basket? Add a little diversity. That's what her investment advisor had told her, years ago, and it seemed to make good genetic sense as well. Maybe she should start planning for this now.

Then Cat frowned for a moment: she didn't want to have all that physical inconvenience that Lois went through last year. So hard on the body! Maybe she should talk to her doctor in the New Year about having her eggs harvested and frozen. Then, when she felt the time was right, she could hire a surrogate to carry the embryos to term. That would be much easier. Yes, Cat thought, she would like to have children.

After she came back from Paris, she would introduce Peter and Richard to each other. It was time for the two men to meet; after all, they had so much in common. Her cat, Lucky, liked both of them, and that was a good omen. They ought to like each other, too, and she was sure that she could … persuade them that she could keep them both happy. After all, she wouldn't want either of the prospective fathers of her children feeling neglected, so she'd just have to make sure that she didn't neglect either of them.

She smiled even wider, and stretched sensuously. The challenge of keeping her two men happy sounded like a lot of fun. If she could pull it off, and she didn't doubt for a minute that she could — and who could, if not the Cat? — then there were exciting times ahead. *Her* kind of exciting.

Then she noticed a certain odour coming from the carry-cot …


Lois was having a great time. For the first time in her adult life, she was *really* enjoying a Christmas party, radiating "good will to all mankind." She felt benevolent towards everyone; she loved everyone — even Ralph, with whom, at the moment, she was dancing. She beamed, dark eyes flashing as she stretched and strutted to an old disco recording of Christmas carols that Jimmy had found who-knew-where. 'The little drummer boy in a white suit,' she thought. 'The carol, not Jimmy.' She raised her right arm in a disco salute and giggled.

Ralph, one of disco's spiritual heirs, felt his hopes rise as he watched his partner, visions of sugar plums dancing in his head. Surely she must be bored with Kent by now. He leered at his partner in anticipation; what he liked most about being involved with a married woman was that there was no pressure for commitment. As the music changed to a relaxed version of the song that Lois had sung earlier, Ralph reached to pull Lois close.

With immaculate timing, Lois stepped out of his reach and smiled. "Thanks, Ralph. That was fun." Her eyes shifted away from him to search the room. Spotting her quarry over by the punch bowl, she set off in that direction, picking up fragments of football talk as she got closer. 'Of course,' she thought. She tapped the arm of the man nearest her. "Our dance, I believe," she murmured as he smiled at her.

"Yes, it is." Clark took her hand and led her over to the area that had been cleared for dancing, sliding his arm around her waist and pulling her close as the velvet fog of the singer's voice warmed the lyrics of the old melody. "Merry Christmas, sweetheart."

Lois moved back a little so she could meet his eyes. "Merry Christmas, Clark." He pulled her close again and she smiled as her cheek touched the side of his neck. They danced in silence, lost in each other, remote from everyone else in the room. When the music ended, they stood together, looking like this was the first dance they'd ever had, and waited for the music to start again.

Just as it did, Alan approached them. "Call for you, Lois. I didn't want to interrupt you two … " He grinned at them. " … so I answered your phone. It's your sister. Why don't you take the call in Perry's office? I could scarcely hear her out here."

"Thanks, Alan." Lois turned anxious eyes to Clark. "Something's wrong, Clark, I just know it."

"Lo-is … " Clark's voice was soft as he took her shoulders in his hands and turned her in the direction of Perry's office. "What could be wrong? Probably just a flight delay."

"Probably," Lois said, but she felt a small shiver of anxiety as she walked through the revellers to Perry's office. Shutting the door, she picked up the phone and then perched on the edge of the desk. Deliberately, she kept her tone light. "Hi, Luce. What's up?"

Light tone responded to light tone and Lois' heart sank. "Nothing much, Lois. Just a slight snag in my travel plans. The flight tonight has been overbooked, so I won't be able to make it until late evening of the 26th."

"Oh no, Lucy." Lois couldn't keep the disappointment from her voice. "What about another airline?"

"They're all booked. Besides, I'll lose my money if I switch airlines."

"What? That's outrageous! Your airline made the mistake. They owe you a refund. Lucy, I was really looking forward to your being here. We haven't spent Christmas together in five years."

"I know, Lois. I was— *am* looking forward to seeing you and Clark, and especially my new niece. And I still will. Only it won't be until the 27th."

"Lucy, you'll be alone on Christmas." Lois had spent a couple of Christmases like that and was dismayed at the thought of her younger sister doing the same. She and Lucy had spent so many unhappy Christmases when they had been children that Lois wanted to make up for all those times, now that the Kents, all three of them, had given her the courage to love again. She wanted Lucy to know that warmth, too. Lois was silent for a moment as these feelings tumbled through her mind.

"Don't worry, Lois, I won't be alone. I'll be spending Christmas Day with Jenny and her family. I was there at Thanksgiving, remember? They're wonderful people, Lois. An old-fashioned family — you know, where Mom and Dad still know how to laugh together. And they make me feel like I'm one of the family."

"I guess we had some pretty rough times when we were kids." Lois' voice was soft as though trying to lighten the pain of their childhood.

Lucy's laugh held a trace of bitterness. "You could say that. You know what I remember most about Christmas? The noise. Mom and Dad fighting and doors slamming." She paused for a moment and then continued with emphasis, "When he was *there*, that is. I remember the first Christmas he wasn't there. Remember that spindly Christmas tree you decorated? I thought it was wonderful. Until I saw that tree, I thought there wouldn't be a Christmas tree at all."

"I remember, too." Lois felt her eyes moisten and she tried to keep her voice under control. "Look, Lucy. Superman owes me a favour. I bet he would fly you here."

Lucy's laugh was genuine this time. "Keep your favour for some other time, Lois. I'll be fine."

Lois realised what her sister was really doing. "You don't want to come, do you, Lucy? It's Dad, isn't it? You don't want to see him. That's why you avoid coming here at Christmas. That's why you avoided my wedding, isn't it?"

"Which one, Lois?" Lucy teased her sister. "Hard for me to take a wedding invitation from you seriously."

Lois laughed. "Don't change the subject, Luce. I think Dad really does want to connect with us again. "

"Uh-huh. Well, he's getting old, isn't he, and he's afraid of the dark. I really don't care. Have you forgotten what it was like, Lois? Never being quite good enough, the fights, the affairs, knowing he wouldn't be there when it counted?"

"I know, Lucy, I know. But if Mom can start to rebuild a friendship with him, then maybe you and I should try, too." Lois genuinely believed this. Maybe it was Clark's influence, the way he always found the best in people. It was also her father. No matter how much she resented his abandonment, she would be forever grateful that he had saved Clark's life, three Christmases ago. He may not have been there for her in the past, but he had been there for Clark that night. Unfortunately, she knew she could not tell Lucy that.

"Mom's still playing victim, is she? Not me." Lucy's tone was blunt, and then gentle as she explained to her sister, "I'm pretty okay with all of this, now, Lois. Dr Friskin really helped me to understand how all this affected us. Do you know, I used to blame myself — if only I'd been better, then Mom wouldn't drink and Dad would stay. I bet you blamed yourself, too, Lois. Our past relationships with men are classic textbook stuff."

Lois sighed, remembering Lucy as a little girl who had hidden herself in her room for long periods of time, refusing to come out as her parents battled in the living room. She wished desperately that she could go back in time and comfort that child. "Lucy, *promise* me you'll be here on the 27th."

"I'll be there. I miss you, Lois. It's time for me to get to know Clark better, and I haven't seen my niece yet. You couldn't keep me away!"

"I hope not. I've been telling her all about you. I told her how your backhand's even better than mine, and how you were the best skater in town. Remember that winter when Grandad taught us to speed-skate and we pretended we were geese flying in formation as we followed him?"

"I do! It took me *so* long to get my balance and then, all of a sudden, I was perfect! He picked me up when we reached the end of the pond and twirled me around and laughed. 'Speed Demon', he called me."

"Luce, I wish you could stay with us over New Year's," Lois said, her voice wistful. Then, striving to keep her tone light, she suggested, "I don't suppose you could break that New Year's Eve date?"

Lucy laughed. "I don't think so, sister. Bryan's got reservations for dinner at the best restaurant in town, and then we're going to a party at Bob and Cindy's. Besides, I've already bought the dress."

"Okay, okay. We'll meet you at the airport on the 26th. What time does your plane get in?"

"Kind of late. Eleven-thirty."

"We'll be there. Oh, and give me Jenny's phone number so I can phone you Christmas morning."

Lucy did, and then she said good-bye.

"Bye, Luce. Love you." Lois replaced the receiver and sat for a moment, her eyes filling with unshed tears. She remembered when she and Lucy were very young and blissfully unaware of the trouble between their parents, and then, later, those awkward Christmases when they all pretended that everything was okay and the two girls naively thought that if they made a good Christmas for their parents, then their father would stay. Then the silent dull pain of the first Christmas when their father was not there and their mother got drunk; and, finally, their acceptance of the fact that he really hadn't been there for them for a long time and that he never would be. Lois gulped, as though struggling for breath.

Clark heard her as he came out of the conference room. He'd intended to be just outside Perry's office while Lois talked to Lucy, but he'd seen Cat's frantic signals as he crossed the newsroom with his wife, and had detoured to see what the problem was. A diaper change for Laura hadn't taken long, but it looked as though Lois needed him now.

He turned the handle on the door of the darkened office and walked over to stand beside her, the touch of his hand on her shoulder gentle and his voice soft as he spoke. "You okay, honey?" He slid his hands up and down her arms, trying to comfort her.

"Oh, Clark … " Lois was on the verge of tears. "She's not coming for Christmas."

"What is it? Problems with her flight? I can solve that problem pretty easy." Gently, he tilted her chin so that she was forced to look up.

"It's not that simple. She doesn't want to see Daddy."

"Ah." Clark's voice was sympathetic. "Well, we'll just have to make sure that when she does come, she has such a special time that maybe, at some point, she might want to see Sam." Bending his head, he kissed her tenderly, then stood back from her and took her hand. "Come on back to the party, Lois. Perry's got on his Elvis Santa suit and he's about to do 'Blue Christmas.' It's gonna be historic. "

"Oh, no!" But she went with him out of the office anyway, her mind in California with her sister.


Perry was in a happy mood — though not completely — as he changed out of his Santa suit in his office. "Blue Christmas" had been a smash; even Jimmy had applauded wildly, yelling out, "Encore! Encore!" — although that might have had more to do with Penny, who had insisted on accompanying him with an impromptu go-go dance, to an enthusiastic reception from the male staff. She was pretty good, too, though he didn't think she was quite up to Alice's standard of years gone by.

He grinned; Jimmy thought he and Alice were old and staid — the boy would be shocked out of his wits if he knew what they used to get up to when they were his age! And he wouldn't *believe* some of those home movies of a 25-year-old Alice dancing! Alice had nearly killed the guy who'd taken them; only by means of very careful concealment had Perry managed to preserve them for posterity — or, at least, for his own private enjoyment.

Meantime, O'Halloran *still* wasn't back from City Hall, and Perry, for all his present good humour, was starting to fume a little. Just how long did it take to photograph a Nativity scene, even if it was a protest rally? That three-quarters of an hour was long gone; the whole edition was waiting for one good photo, and then it could be put to bed. If O'Halloran didn't show up in the next ten minutes, he'd have to re-jig the front page! Hmm … maybe he could get Cass to do an artist's impression of the scene …

His musings that way were interrupted by the phone. It was the missing Mark O'Halloran, but any reproaches that Perry may have intended to utter faded into nothingness as the photographer related the story of why he was so late. There was trouble at the Nativity.

According to Mark, everything had been peaceful and good-natured at the start, and he'd had no trouble taking a series of shots of the scene on the steps of City Hall. He'd taken a couple of rolls of the "actors", the other protesters, including close-ups of their spokespersons, and even of the city officials who'd come out to accept a written message and petition. He'd even got a shot of Superman waving at the crowds as he flew by on patrol.

All in all, it had been a model protest, a perfect example of the way in which citizens, even homeless ones, could present their views to those in power. Okay, it was rather unusual to hold a march and rally at this time of night, but the organisers had their reasons, and they'd got all the permits and done everything right. Which made what happened all the worse.

The trouble began at the back of the crowd. The marchers had arranged themselves in a rough semi-circle around the tableau on the steps and were listening to a spokesman describe the plight of the homeless at this time of the year, drawing clever parallels with the Christmas story. Everything was fine, except perhaps for the nerves of the listening city officials who were going to have to address the crowd in response, when a scuffle broke out — and things had gone straight to hell.

What happened next, O'Halloran said, was basically the result of confusion deepening rapidly into chaos. Protesters had tried to break up the fight; the police accompanying the march had also moved in, but the protesters got in their way. City security guards tried to get through the packed and agitated crowd from the other side and, in their haste, had knocked a couple of people over. That had angered their companions, who had moved to block the "rentacops." So far, so bad, but then someone — no-one knew who for sure, because both sides denied it — had started throwing rocks and empty bottles, and the whole place erupted into a mass of struggling figures.

It wasn't quite a riot, and it wasn't quite a street brawl — more an overgrown playground squabble, really. Nobody was throwing punches much, nor did the police and guards resort to weapons; the protesters were just standing firm and kind of wrestling with anyone who tried to get past them, and the authorities had realised this, and sensibly concentrated on keeping things under some form of control.

The real danger had been from the missiles. O'Halloran had been taking shots of the struggle when he'd been hit in the head by a flying bottle. A nearby paramedic had dragged him off to have his wound attended to, which is why he'd been gone so long. The fight, such as it was, had run out of steam, and now everybody was milling around trying to work out what had happened.

Perry asked if the photographer was okay and, assured that he was — and so was his film — told him to get back to the Planet right away, and hung up. He stood for a moment, thinking hard, then went out of his office and scanned the newsroom for Clark. Finding him chatting to some people from Advertising, he strode across the room, nimbly dodging groups of revellers, some now slightly the worse for wear. Apologising to his companions, Perry pulled Clark aside and filled him in on what had been going on.

"Much as I hate to mess up your evening, Clark, I need you to get down there and follow up on this. If you can get back by eleven, I'll make this the headline story for the morning edition."

"Right, Chief. I'm on it." Clark was shocked; when he'd flown over City Hall on his way back from STAR Labs, everything had seemed so peaceful — and now *this.* The one good thing about this was that the fight was over now, and it couldn't have been that serious or his super-hearing would have picked up on it …

He went to leave, but Perry caught him again. "Oh, and Clark? No need to tell Lois about this, just right now. She's havin' a good time, and I'd just as soon let her. If she can really relax tonight, then maybe she'll have an easier time copin' over the holidays. Christmas with a new baby is fun, but not all that restful, if I remember right, so let her unwind while she can."

Clark was less certain about the wisdom of this — Lois hated to be left out of things, baby or no baby — but, thinking about it, there probably wasn't anything that she could do at City Hall that he couldn't, and he didn't like the idea of leaving Laura here without either of her parents, "experienced" baby-sitters or no. Maybe Perry was right … In any case, he needed to get down there right away, although it didn't sound like he needed to be in the suit — not yet, anyway.


Lois peered from behind the Christmas tree at her husband and Perry, deep in conversation across the noisy room. Although she couldn't hear them, she was, nevertheless, sure of what they were talking about. They were plotting. She knew them both well enough to recognise the body language that each used: that serious cast to Perry's face which seemed, somehow, to intensify his jowls; and Clark's head slightly bowed, nodding in agreement with what the older man was saying. And she knew the plot involved her; at least, she knew it involved her because it was a plot *not* to involve her. She could tell this by the way in which Clark kept casting glances towards where she was standing.

Then Clark took off, *not* tugging at his tie. Lois' suspicions were confirmed. Something must have happened, most likely at the protest, and she was *not* being sent to investigate the story, either with Clark or alone. Why not? No reason that *she* could think of. She was not as competent a reporter as Clark? She had a bad sense of direction and would get lost? Her follow-up questions didn't? She couldn't cross the street safely? She was a *mother … ?* Hah!

Lois' eyes focused on Perry as she stalked him across the room. "So, Perry, where did Clark go?" 'Innocently enough asked,' she thought.

"Uh, well, darlin', he's just off doin' a bit of a follow-up on that protest. Double-checkin' a couple of things."

Lois' giggle was light and insincere, her tone mildly astonished. "Gosh, he still hasn't got that part right, has he?" Then her eyes narrowed. "All the more reason to send *me* with him."

"Now, darlin', Priscilla didn't go everywhere with Elvis, especially after Lisa-Marie was born." They both knew he'd made a mistake as soon as he'd said this. "Look, Lois, this isn't such a big story. Clark can handle it. No need for both of you to miss this party." Then he had a bit of luck: Jane from Legal asked him to dance.

Steaming, Lois watched him escape and plotted her next action. She could cover this story from a different angle. First, she popped into the conference room to let Cat and the sleeping Laura know that she would be gone for a while. Next, she grabbed a plastic bag and made her way to the buffet table over by the tall window on the east side of the newsroom. Quickly, she filled the bag with only the type of food that had the Surgeon-General's warnings attached, added a plastic cup of punch, and charged off to find Bobby BigMouth.


Lois caught up with Bobby outside the newly renovated Metropolis Railroad Station. Rather, he caught up with her. All of a sudden he was beside her, his leather-clad shoulders hunched against the chill as he fell into step with her. "Heard ya been lookin' for me." He didn't look at her as he spoke.

"Bobby! Thought you might be hungry. Brought you some stuff."

"Way to go, girl. Goodies from the Planet Seasonal Bash? I trust you skipped the veggie platter. Let's duck into the station here and see what ya got."

Crowds of people milled about or stood in line beside suitcases and shopping bags full of presents, waiting for trains to leave, to pick up tickets, or just to hang out. "Grand, ain't it? They did a good job fixin' up this place," Bobby said as his hand made a sweep that encompassed the refurbished interior. He nudged her toward the east side of the departure area. "Over there by the Chicago line-up." They walked toward a small alcove with several empty seats. Lois planted her bundle on the black vinyl seat between them.

"Lookin' good, Lois. Motherhood agrees with you. Looks like you put on a couple of pounds. That's good. Kent doin' fine? And the kid?" As he was speaking, his hands were reaching into the plastic bag, on a preliminary tour of inspection. "Isaac's Caterers. Good choice. Guess they didn't put you in charge of the food."

Lois remembered that Cat had made nearly this same comment when she had been organising the party. Lois frowned. She could have done a good job organising the food. After all, she had a rolodex of the best take-out places in Metropolis. Shaking her head, she refocused. "Bobby, I need some information."

"No kiddin'. Great potato salad. Mustard dressing. Good, good. Oh, dogs in a blanket. Mmmm." He almost managed to cram a whole one in his mouth with one bite.

Lois watched, amazed as always. How come he never gained any weight? "Bobby … " she put in a bid for his attention and was rewarded when he raised his stubbled face to look at her as he continued eating. "What do you know about the homeless protest at City Hall?"

He paused in mid-munch. "Not much to know. They're on the up-and- up."

"But what about what's going on right now?" Lois had no idea what this might be; all she knew was that it was important enough for Clark to cover it.

"The fight with the City Hall security guards? Word has it that it was started by a couple of kids. Why ya interested? No news there. Just got out of hand. Kids from the 'burbs, lookin' for a good time, yellin' insults, pickin' a fight — and then, all of a sudden, it's a big deal." He peered into the bag again. "Didn't forget dessert, did ya? Ah, cheesecake." His eyes brightened, adding a certain charm to his narrow face.

For a moment, Lois thought he looked like a seedy Lex Luthor. Her eyes widened. Shaking her head to clear the image, she refocused on what Bobby had to say. She was disappointed; it appeared that there was not much of a story here, after all. Bobby continued speaking, his voice partially muffled by cheesecake, a few crumbs of which clung precariously to the side of his mouth. "Things get tough for guys outside, this time of year. The streets are no place to spend the winter. Hard to trust anyone. Someone doesn't show up one day and you figure it's exposure or they been cut in a fight or OD'd. People come and go. A couple of accidents down there, last couple of weeks. City didn't bust its butt to deal with them."


"Yeah. Burst water main where a few old guys used to hang out. Some bad dope. Happens all the time."

Lois sighed. 'Not much news here. Just the usual suspects,' she thought. She stood up, buttoning her coat as she did. "Thanks, Bobby."

"No problem." He bit into a bagel and cream cheese. "Say hello to Kent. Remind him to make sure the kid gets some food. Good thing she's got a dad for back-up."

"What's *that* supposed to mean?!" Lois snapped aggressively.

"Hey, relax, girl. Remember, I seen your fridge. Tragic." He shook his head in sorrow.

Lois let out an indignant breath, and then she relented. It was, after all, the season of good will. "She'll be fine, Bobby. Hey, have a good Christmas, okay?" She felt a brief stab of anxiety that maybe he wouldn't.

"I will." His eyes gleamed. "Having Christmas dinner with my sister, Thelma. Her turkey stuffing is the best in the city. And her mince tarts!"

Lois laughed. "Merry Christmas, Bobby."

"You too, Lois, you too." He waved a bagel in farewell as she turned to leave.


Lois came back to the newsroom somewhat down-heartened, and a little wary. She hadn't been gone long — in fact, she was amazed at how quick she must have been, because Cat was still in the conference room! — but she hoped that Perry hadn't noticed that she'd been gone at all. She was not at all happy about this business of sending Clark off to cover a story while expecting her to stay behind and play the good little mother, and the failure of her attempt to thwart this "plan" by getting information from Bobby had only made her feel worse. If Perry knew about her going behind his back, he'd be all smug and superior — "I *told* you that this wasn't such a big story, Lois. Now, you listen to your old editor when he tells you something, huh?" — and there was no need to give him any ammunition for the next time he tried this.

Of course, as far as Lois was concerned, there wasn't going to *be* a next time! She may be a mother, but she was also a reporter, and having a baby did *not* condemn her to doing fluff pieces for the rest of her working life! Particularly not while her husband and partner was out there flying around, grabbing scoops and racking up awards!

For just a moment, she stood there and seethed at both editor and husband. Then, falling into a familiar pattern of years past, she expanded her ire to include the entire male population — sexists, all of them. However, as they steadfastly refused to do the right thing and collectively vanish in puffs of smoke, she calmed down and began to think about her situation. She realised that she was probably being very unfair to Clark, but Perry was going to take some watching. This had better not be the thin end of the wedge, or there were going to be fireworks!

She looked around the newsroom. The party had wound down a little while she was gone, but people were still dancing, talking, eating, drinking … Speaking of drinking, Ralph was, as usual for him at a party after a couple of hours, swaying rather noticeably. As she watched, he saw her and yelled, "Hey, Lois! Come 'n' have 'nother dance — quick, before Kent gets back!"

It was hard to say which was more revolting: the prospect of dancing with an inebriated Ralph; the less-than-subtle entreaty, slurred out in a kind of high-pitched, drunken whine; or the implication that she could possibly be interested in going behind Clark's back with *anyone*, much less him. The question was moot, though. Lois felt her temper flare, but controlled her instinctive urge to walk up to the guy and deck him. That wouldn't help; Ralph's hide was as thick as an elephant — not just its hide, the entire animal! — and he'd probably take it as a "love tap". Once he woke up, of course.

Meantime, she was in dire need of a reason not to have to stand up with the slob. One answer — Laura — presented itself immediately, but Lois wasn't happy at having to hide behind her baby. She hated hypocrites and did her best to avoid being one herself; so, after waxing indignant at Perry a few minutes ago, using motherhood to dodge Ralph's invitation rankled somewhat. On the other hand, desperate situations require desperate remedies …

She looked at her watch in what she hoped was a maternal fashion, then called back, "Sorry, Ralph. It's time I looked in on Laura. I'll send Cat out; maybe she'd like to dance with you … "

'And maybe she'd prefer to use you as building rubble. I know *I* would … ' she thought as she headed for the conference room. She felt guilty at letting Cat in for Ralph's attentions, but she figured that the woman could handle him. She'd been to enough celebrity "bashes"; if some of the stories she'd told were even half-way true, she ought to be able to deal with a pathetic, lecherous drunk with one red leather boot tied behind her back.

Lois was about to open the conference room door when what she saw inside made her pause. Cat was leaning over the carry-cot, watching the sleeping Laura intently, with a most unusual expression on her face. Unusual for Cat, that is; Lois was fairly sure that she'd seen much the same thing on Clark's face … and Martha's … and Jonathan's, and her mother's, and her father's, and Perry's — and, she strongly suspected, it appeared on her own face on a regular basis. Hard though it might be to believe, Cat Grant was showing all the signs of being besotted with her, Lois Lane's, baby daughter!

'Well, well … ' she thought, raising her eyebrows in astonishment. 'What was that about biological clocks?' She grinned, wondering if she might have a chance for a little gentle needling; after all, she probably owed Cat several thousand digs from their sparring days five or six years ago. But then she relented; somehow, it didn't seem right to snipe at someone who thought your little girl was wonderful, friendly teasing or not.

The grin became a smile as she finally opened the door and stepped inside. "Hi, Cat." Cat looked up and returned the greeting. "Thanks for looking after Laura. I'll take over now and you can get back to the party. Watch it, though: Ralph's feeling no pain — *and* every woman he can get his hands on."

Cat rolled her eyes, but didn't comment on their co-worker's roving hands. Instead, she took a last look at Laura before replying, "You're welcome, Lois. Laura and I have had a great time together. I know that leaving a party to look after a baby isn't exactly what you would expect from me, but there you go; I really enjoyed it. In fact, when Imelda came to relieve me not long after you ducked out, I told her not to bother, I was having too much fun. You should have seen the look on her face!"

Both women laughed at that. Lois was amazed; she'd been surprised enough that Cat had agreed to look after a baby at all, but she seemed to be positively enthusiastic about it! She *had* to ask: "So, what did you do that was so much fun?"

"Oh, nothing much. We played a little bit — hey, she really liked my earrings; maybe you should get some, or a mobile or something that has dangly things on it that tinkle. It'd keep her happy for hours! — and I talked to her. She fell asleep after a while, and I had a chance to watch her and think a bit. I find sleeping children very conducive to thinking, don't you?"

Her voice trailed off, sounding almost wistful as it faded, and Lois stared at her, dumbfounded. Maybe she'd been righter than she knew, thinking that Cat might be wondering about having children herself. "Well, I'm glad you had a good time," she said softly, still not quite believing that it was possible. "Thanks again."

"No problem, Lois — though I might have to apologise to Imelda; she looked disappointed, as well as shocked, when I told her she didn't have to look after Laura." Cat raised one eyebrow sardonically, a small, wicked smile curving her lips just a bit. "You know, if this evening is any guide, I think you're half-way to having an unofficial second family for this little charmer. Perry's obviously all set to be Grandpa, and I can just see Jimmy, once he gets over his panic at being around a baby girl, being a real big brother to her. He'll probably be even more over-protective than Clark!"

Cat laughed, and Lois joined in, although she wasn't laughing at exactly the same thing. 'You don't know just how protective Clark can get, Ms Grant!'

"Maybe I'd better appoint myself as an adopted aunt to this little one," Cat mused. "Laura will need someone to balance out all that male influence, and who better than me? It doesn't mean that I'll be available for baby-sitting or anything — at least, not until she's old enough to take shopping … "

It was Lois' turn to roll her eyes at that, but Cat only grinned. She leaned over to gently touch Laura's cheek with one finger, murmuring softly, "Such an amazing little person you are … " Then she got up and headed for the door, tossing a cheery "Ciao!" over her shoulder as she went out of the room.

The conference room door closed with something of a bang behind her, and the noise caused Laura to stir. Lois took Cat's place leaning over the carry-cot, and caught the attention of the now-awake little girl. "Hi there, sweetie. Mommy's back."

Laura looked happy to see her, and the two of them spent a little while playing a kind of touch-fingers game that Lois knew her daughter enjoyed — or which could keep her occupied for a long time, anyway. But then the little girl began to wriggle a bit in her cot, and the game was forgotten as she reached out for her mother, her happy gurgles changing to an urgent plea. Lois recognised this behaviour. "Hungry, are we, sweetheart? O-kay … I think I can do something about that."

Even though she'd been doing it for months now, Lois still felt a thrill, and not an inconsiderable amount of surprise and pleasure, at the thought that she could feed her daughter herself. She was well-practised at it by now, though, and made the necessary preparations in her usual businesslike fashion. After getting a couple of things from her "baby bag" and placing them so that she could reach them easily, she took special care as she re-arranged the chairs, ensuring that her back would be to the windows facing the newsroom; public acceptance of breast-feeding was one thing, but she saw no need to allow a drunken Ralph — or anyone else — to leer at her while she fed her baby! Only Clark had that privilege, and *he* didn't leer.

Once she had things organised to her satisfaction, she undid her blouse and bra, picked up the now-insistent little girl and settled down in her chair. Laura quickly found her breast and began to suckle enthusiastically.

Lois looked down at her wonderful baby as she fed. Cat was right; what an amazing little person Laura was — even more than anyone could realise, except those few who knew Clark's secret. This tiny, beautiful little girl embodied so many hopes and dreams, from the immediate ones of her parents and their families to those of Clark's long-dead parents …

Even her existence was incredible, if you thought about it. Despite all the science fiction stories of children born to aliens and humans, from the pulps to Star Trek to "Mars Needs Women", the plain fact was that the odds against people from different planets being able to breed with one another were literally astronomical; for that matter, it never ceased to amaze Lois that Kryptonians and humans even resembled each other!

Dr Klein's news that she and Clark couldn't have children had been heart-breaking at the time but, once she had really thought it over, Lois had come to the conclusion that it wasn't really surprising. She was human, and Clark wasn't — although, apart from the flying, the differences seemed pretty minor (and vive la difference, she had giggled). And that thought had both explained the problem and strengthened her determination to find a way to beat it; if Clark could be born on another planet and still be her soul mate and the man of her dreams (and *what* a man!), then there was no way that she was going to just sit there and accept what Dr Klein had told them without a fight! Where was the chocolate?

And, after all that worry and effort — not to mention a lot of love and joy — there she was, their special girl. Unique, as her father was unique. Destined, if you believed H.G. Wells, to be the first in a line of their descendants who would create a Utopia in the future. A gift to this world from the heavens …

Lois' eyebrows headed for the ceiling as she realised what she was saying. 'Good grief,' she thought, 'this is starting to sound like old Mr Drake from Sunday school … ' The thought made her feel more than a little uncomfortable, but her journalist's mind kept throwing up parallels. Ones that, she decided instantly, no-one was ever going to hear about from her.

'Especially not Clark,' she thought. 'He'd be horrified. He *hates* it when people describe him as "miraculous" or "god-like." Heaven knows I've heard him complain about it often enough: "I'm a *man*, Lois, not a god; I just … have these powers. I wish they wouldn't *do* that … " The idea that some crazy could go one step further and compare Laura to Jesus Christ would really freak him out.'

Well, the best way to avoid that was to make sure that nobody ever knew that Laura Kent was also Superman's daughter. That way, no-one could ever make the connection, at least until Laura adopted her own secret identity — if she ever did. Lois' mind seized on this distraction, and she spent a pleasant moment wondering if Laura would adopt the mantle of Ultra Woman, and if the costume would fit her.

That made her feel a little better, but she still resolved to never mention the idea of Laura's birth "resembling" that of Jesus to anyone. As far as she was concerned, the only miracle involving Laura was that God had seen fit to bless her parents with her in the first place, and she was happy to keep it that way.

But the thought of the need to keep what was now The Kent Family Secret made her feel uneasy again, even as she giggled at the way she had capitalised the words in her mind. Because there was one person other than the family whom she was sure knew it — Lex Luthor — and the idea of him trying to get his hands on her baby made her feel ill. She could all too easily imagine him orchestrating a "religion" with Laura as the new Messiah. It would be exactly the sort of thing that he'd take a twisted delight in.

She tensed unconsciously, her body preparing to defend her daughter, even though there was nothing there to protect her against. Laura seemed to pick up on this, becoming fretful. Lois quickly soothed her, crooning reassuringly as she switched the little girl to her other breast. Soon, both mother and child were calm again, but Lois couldn't help thinking of something odd that had happened only a few days ago …

As if Laura hadn't kept her busy enough, she'd had to spend the entire morning running errands. There had been all the seemingly endless, tedious tasks such as grocery shopping, picking up and dropping off the dry cleaning, and, worst of all, doing her last- minute Christmas shopping. But despite the many hectic events of the day, one event definitely stuck out in her mind.

It happened when she was at the mall looking for a gift for Lucy. She'd been browsing through the handbags when she'd looked up and saw a familiar face. "Beth, hi!"

Startled, Beth Luthor looked up from the leather briefcase she was inspecting. "Oh, Lois. Hello," she smiled.

Lois noted that although Beth's tone was friendly, her expression remained somewhat guarded. "Are you doing some last-minute Christmas shopping, too?" she asked, trying to be pleasant.

Beth nodded. "Every year, I promise myself I'll get all my shopping done early, but it never works out that way."

"I know what you mean," Lois agreed. "And this year I've been even busier than usual, since Laura demands so much of my time."

Beth smiled. "Yes, I'd heard you'd had your baby." She looked down at Laura, who was asleep in her stroller. "She's adorable."

"Thanks," Lois beamed. "But a half-hour ago, you wouldn't have thought so. She's got a good set of lungs."

Then, as if she knew she was being talked about, Laura stirred, and then started to cry. Lois laughed. "See what I mean?"

She bent down to unbuckle Laura and lift her out of the stroller. "What's wrong, sweetie?" she asked, cradling her in her arms and smiling tenderly at the fussing infant. She shifted Laura into an upright position against her chest and bounced her soothingly. Laura, feeling secure in her mother's arms, settled right down.

When Lois looked up, she saw that Beth was watching her intently, an unreadable expression on her face. There was an awkward silence. Finally, Lois spoke up. "Well, I guess I should probably finish up my shopping and get Laura home. All this shopping is making her cranky."

Beth smiled, at last being able to shake herself out of her daze. "Yeah, and I should get my shopping finished. It was nice seeing you, Lois."

To Lois' trained eye, Beth's smile seemed forced. But Lois smiled back pleasantly. "It was nice seeing you, too."

With a final nod, Beth turned and walked away.

Thinking back on that encounter, Lois couldn't help thinking there was definitely something strange about the way she'd been watching her interact with Laura. Come to think of it, the whole meeting had seemed strange. Something had just struck her about Beth's demeanour.

Outwardly, Beth had always been friendly and polite, but Lois couldn't help noticing that she never seemed to divulge much information about herself. She always seemed slightly guarded, almost as if she had something to hide. It sort of reminded Lois of how Clark was in the first of couple years that she'd known him. It wasn't until she'd uncovered the truth about his secret identity that it all made sense.

Well, it was the same with Beth. Lois' experience told her that there was definitely something else going on. But if there *was* something there, she was just too relaxed to think clearly enough to figure it out now. There were other, more important things to think about … she hoped.

Deciding not to spend any more time thinking about it — for now, anyway — she refocused her attention on Laura, determined to sit back and enjoy these few, precious minutes of peace.


Meanwhile, across the city, Beth Luthor was also remembering their chance meeting as she wandered aimlessly around her large bedroom, trying unsuccessfully to unwind. Fortunately, Lex hadn't returned yet from his "errands", and it gave her some time to think.

Ever since she'd run into Lois and her baby daughter in the department store the other day, she'd had an uneasy, unsettled feeling in the pit of her stomach that she just hadn't been able to shake. When she found herself thinking about Lex's attempts to break up the Kent family, her stomach physically hurt, and an unaccustomed feeling of guilt swept through her. 'Why should *I* feel guilty?' she thought angrily. 'I haven't done anything to feel guilty about. Lex was the one bent on taking Laura away from them. All I did was … '

But that was it, wasn't it? What she really felt guilty about, what really made her feel as though she had a knife in her belly, was the fact that she'd known about her husband's plans … and had dared to try and thwart them.

She began to shudder, but hurriedly suppressed it. She was getting good at that; she'd had to, because it was vital that she never give Lex cause to suspect that she'd done anything that he wouldn't approve of. She had no reason to think that he connected her with the collapse of his plans, but fear was a constant companion these days — even more so than usual.

In her mind's eye, she kept seeing Lois lifting her tiny daughter out of the stroller and holding her in her arms, with such an incredible amount of gentleness and love that it touched Beth deeply. Fortunately, Lex had failed to rob the little girl of that. 'But what if he *hadn't* failed?' she asked herself. The mere possibility filled her with remorse.

'No,' Beth thought with a definitive shake of her head. 'I *had* to do it. I couldn't let Lex go through with that.' And yet, what was also tearing at her was that she had done so *little*. One cautious, hurried phone call in the middle of the night, giving the Kents' attorney a lead … 'But what else could I have done?' she asked herself again. Lex was a master at operating in the dark; she had known what he was doing, and how, only in the broadest terms, and then only by accident. Now, after the case was over, she had used her own knowledge and information from news reports to piece together some of what he had done, but the only … irregularity that she had known any details of at the time, particularly once the original judge had been replaced, was how the case had come to happen at all. So that had been the only direction in which she could point someone: if the Social Services people who had brought the charges were discredited, hopefully the case would collapse.

Which, thank God, it had, although she wasn't fool enough to think that her actions had even been significant — not that that would matter if Lex ever found out! But, as the weeks went by after the verdict and there were no repercussions, she had slowly begun to relax a little, until meeting Lois had brought it all back. Still, it looked as though she was safe — for now.

Never before had she given much thought to how Lex's misdeeds affected other people's lives. But when she thought of what might have happened if Lex had succeeded in taking Laura away from her obviously loving mother and father, and how that would have affected the tiny infant, as well as Lois and Clark, she found herself growing angry. She'd seen first-hand how strong the bond was between Lois and her tiny daughter. What could Lex supply that could possibly take the place of that?

While it was true that Lex had never explained his reasoning behind wanting to take their daughter away, Beth could see no clear reason for it. If Lex had wanted a child of his own, what was stopping him from having one with *her?* And if that wasn't the reason, what other purpose could be behind his actions other than pure and simple revenge? And if it was revenge, what was it revenge *for?* Why was he so set on trying to ruin the lives of Lois and Clark? She could see the hatred that burned deeply in his eyes whenever he talked about them. But it went beyond anything she'd ever known him to feel. Could it be something so … petty as Lois jilting him?

She shook her head slowly. There were things about Lex that she didn't know, and probably never would know. But she was a smart woman; whether Lex realised it or not, she knew what he was going after, and what things he'd done to get where he was. And she felt that she'd fulfilled her role as his faithful and dutiful wife, without ever interfering or questioning his actions.

But this time it bothered her.

Looking out at the city lights of Metropolis, she felt herself beginning to wonder if she'd done the right thing by helping Lex return to his former prominence. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea after all.


Miracle or not, it was humbling to have contributed to the existence of another species— another *world*, Lois thought, her mind returning to its original track after a little while. New Krypton didn't count, as far as she was concerned. What she had seen of the inhabitants of that place had not impressed her, and she was firmly of the opinion that they didn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Jor-El and Lara. Cold, unfeeling, insensitive, inflexible, selfish and self-righteous murderous boors, all of them — with the possible exception of Zara and Ching. It was a mystery how they could possibly come from the same culture that produced two people who had worked unceasingly in order to give their son a way to escape their fate, who had dared to send their beloved child alone into the blackness of space because only that way would he, and the love that he represented, and their entire race, have a chance of survival.

"Your grandparents would love you if they could be here to see you, little one," she murmured. "Your Earth ones sure do."

The thought of her own parents produced mixed emotions in Lois — as always, it seemed. Lucy's pulling out of Christmas in Metropolis had really upset her earlier, but, on reflection, Lois had to admit that, given the opportunity, she'd have done the same thing herself a few years ago. But that was BC — "Before Clark" — and with him to love and support her, and with Martha and Jonathan's help, she was managing to deal with having her own parents around much more. She'd even come to appreciate her mother and what she had had to cope with after her father left; it didn't mean that Ellen didn't still drive her crazy at times, but Lois had a lot more respect for her mother now than she had had in the past.

Because of that — or because she loved her anyway — Lois was worried about her mother at the moment. Despite the successful outcome of the custody hearing, and despite being cleared of all allegations of neglecting her grand-daughter, Ellen had been deeply upset by the whole affair. She was filled with remorse that anyone had even been able to *think* that Laura had been neglected, and her ordeal in court had dealt a further blow to her already fragile self-confidence. All too typical Lane female behaviour, and Lois knew all about *that.* So she hadn't been surprised that repeated reassurances from herself and Clark that they had no doubts about Ellen looking after Laura hadn't helped much. Nor had messages from Jonathan and Martha, currently on their way back towards Metropolis from their sight-seeing trip; a long phone conversation with Martha had brightened Ellen's demeanour for a couple of days, but the improvement hadn't lasted long.

In the end, Sam had whispered to them that they should leave Ellen to him. Drastic measures might be the only way to break the cycle of self-reproach, and fortunately, he had an idea. It would mean that Ellen wouldn't be around for a week or two before Christmas, though, and he hoped they wouldn't mind. They'd definitely be back by the 22nd … maybe the 23rd?

Clark had agreed instantly; Lois had given her father a sharp look before seconding her husband. She had a feeling that Sam's "idea" had more to do with getting her mother alone than with restoring her self-confidence; it might well do both, but Lois rather thought that her father was implementing a pre-arranged plan, and said plan had *not* been originally intended to deal with Ellen's feelings of self-worth, or lack of same.

Her suspicions had been confirmed when Sam had announced that he was taking Ellen to "that little bed-and-breakfast in Santa Paula" for a couple of days, before going on to "somewhere a bit fancier — but I won't tell you where because I want it to be a surprise." Lois had shrugged; she knew that Ellen was still uneasy about where her relationship with Sam might be going in the long term — once abandoned, twice decidedly wary, as it were — but this time, Sam's machinations might serve a useful end as well as forwarding his continuing pursuit of his ex-wife. And they *were* both adults …

The result of all this intrigue, at least as far as tonight was concerned, was that Lois and Clark had been left without a baby- sitter at short notice, and had had to bring Laura to the party — which, Lois reflected, had turned out to be a good thing. Had she and Clark been here on their own, Lois knew that she would have been edgy all evening, and they would most likely have left already; as it was, with her baby not far away and being looked after by people she knew and trusted — even Cat, now — she had been able to relax and really enjoy herself.

Of course, it hadn't hurt that this party was very different to similar events of previous years. For that matter, Lois reflected, so was her whole attitude to this time of year. For the first time in so many years that she could hardly remember when she'd last felt this way, she was actually looking forward to Christmas. She still had her usual reservations — she'd griped about "crass commercialism" and the like when the first stores had started their pre-Christmas advertising back in September, and she knew that there was a lot of work ahead for both herself and Clark if everything was to happen the way that they wanted it to over the next few days — but she felt an enthusiasm for the festive season that was new, somehow … Maybe it was because this was Laura's first Christmas, and everyone wanted it to be perfect for her.

'Yet one more thing to thank Clark for, I guess,' Lois thought. 'First he shows me the magic of Christmas, and then he gives me someone to show it to. What an incredible gift … '

But then, it was no more than she'd come to expect from him, even if, at times, she felt almost unworthy of the depths of his generosity. He had so much to give — his time, his help, his support, his caring — and he gave it all to others so freely, so readily that it was hard for a cynical world (with herself as a prime representative thereof) to appreciate or even accept, and yet he had so much more that he wanted to give *her* …

It had been unnerving at the start of their relationship, once she knew his secret and he felt free to be himself with her. His willingness to shower her with gifts, large and small, and the ease with which he could do it, had been one of the biggest things about him that she had had to come to terms with; for a while there, it had felt as though that, by discovering his true nature, she'd opened some kind of floodgate and was being swept away, in danger of being swamped by everything that he could do and the eager readiness with which he'd use his extraordinary abilities to satisfy her every whim.

'Well, *almost* every whim,' she thought, grinning to herself as she remembered arguments on Spencer Spencer's island regarding "buzzing around" and "scooping and carrying", not to mention breaking them out of the cell in which they'd been imprisoned …

Later, she'd realised that it was an inextricable part of him. Satisfying her physical wants, be they for French cheese, Japanese pearls, Swiss chocolate or whatever, *was* easy for him, so why not do it if it made her happy? *That* was his real concern — her happiness — and she'd come to see that he'd put his real efforts into achieving that for as long as he'd known her. Which was quite a bit longer than she'd known what he was doing, or even that he was doing it, much less how much he *could* do if he tried.

And maybe, just maybe, his greatest feat that way had been to show her that there could be more to this time of year than the rampant consumerism and saccharine sentimentality which had been all that she could see for so many years.

"But that was before I met your daddy, sweetheart," she whispered to her— *their* wonderful little girl. "I remember walking down the street in the snow with him … ooh, it must have been four years ago, and he was saying how wonderful Christmas was, and *I* said that it was just a nice holiday, like Independence Day or Arbor Day. He was trying to explain to me *why* it was so special but, half-way through, he had to go help a little girl who was in trouble — he does that a lot, but you'll get used to it. Hey, you might be doing it yourself when you're a big girl …

"It's funny to look back on now, though it didn't seem that way then. You see, he heard this bunch of bullies ganging up on the little girl when he was talking to me, and he had to come up with a reason to leave to go help her. But all he could think of was that he had to do some last-minute shopping, and he had to change the subject in the middle of saying something, so his explanation of what he loved most about Christmas came out as 'the spirit of … shopping' — which didn't exactly make me feel any better.

"Later, though, he showed me what he really meant far better than he could tell me. I would have had a really lonely Christmas without him; Mom couldn't come, Dad was only interested in his work, Lucy had a new boyfriend from California — kind of an omen, I guess — and even after all the craziness over those Space Rats, everyone like Perry and Jimmy had someone to spend Christmas with. Everyone except me.

"I was determined to have a great Christmas, but I was fooling myself; it would have been horrible to be alone, and all the effort that I'd put in to do the traditional Christmas things would have only made it worse. So … Clark came. He pretended that his flight home had been snowed in — *not* one of his more inspired excuses, but I didn't care. I was so happy to see him, and the thought that he'd given up Christmas at home with his family, for *me* … I'd realised that he might be more than a friend when Dillinger shot him, but this … this was incredible.

"But when I thought about it a few days later, I decided that it *wasn't* incredible, not for him. It was just part of what made him who he was. He wanted me to enjoy Christmas as much as he did, and this was a kind of gift. It sounds silly to hear myself say it now, but at the time, it just seemed like one more example of Clark being there for me.

"I mean, he didn't laugh at me when I told about my weakness for little Christmas trees; he even gave me a special star for the one I had that year. A *very* special star — how many people do you know who have a Christmas star that really came from outer space? *We* do. And he sympathised with me when I told him about some of the awful Christmases that I'd had as a kid, and when we were both affected by the stuff in those Rats, and … and he was kind and supportive about *everything.*

"I guess that was the problem, really: he'd been terrific the whole time, but he was always like that — well, most of the time — so I didn't think it meant anything more than Clark being Clark, my best friend. I guess I got scared. I was nothing but a bundle of nerves, babbling like a brook the whole evening he was there, but I got worse afterwards. It was easier to think that Clark was just being a good friend than it was to realise that this was more than mere friendship, even if — or maybe *because* — that was what I wanted it to be. I was so blind …

"By the next Christmas, though, things were different. I'd discovered … why he was always running off, and we'd finally admitted that we loved each other and got engaged. Your Grandma and Grandpa Kent had come to the city for the holidays, and it looked like I might be going to have a real family Christmas for once.

"Naturally, it wasn't that simple, because *my* parents showed up — both of them! Mother and Daddy hadn't seen each other for years, and neither of them was expecting to meet Martha and Jonathan, much less one another. Boy, talk about culture shock! Big city divorced couple — plus a *robot*, of all things — meets small-town Kansas family … a recipe for disaster, if there was ever one.

"And it got crazier every time either family tried to do something to brighten the atmosphere. The funniest thing had to be the Christmas trees. No forlorn little trees that year, oh no. Daddy went and bought a huge silver artificial one, while at the same time, Martha and Jonathan found an equally big freshly-cut fir. And, naturally, they arrived at my apartment bearing them within minutes of each other. Still, the two of them did look very pretty next to each other when we decorated them — even if they did take up most of my living room."

Lois smiled at the memory. In a way, that scene, with the two trees together, was the beginning of a time that she wouldn't have thought possible; a time when her parents were able to be together in relative peace, to have a relationship that wasn't all shouting and arguments and angry recriminations. She had no idea if it would last, but so far, so … um, not *bad* …

"But before that," she went on, now thoroughly wrapped up in telling the story, "we had something dreadful to deal with. Your daddy got sick, really sick, and almost died. A horrible woman called Mindy Church, who pretended to be the dumbest of dumb blondes — you watch out for her type, sweetie, especially if their name is Linda; they'll pretend to be your friend, and then turn right around and stab you in the back and steal your boyfriend, all at the same time — anyway, she infected Clark with a horrible virus as part of a plan to rebuild a huge crime syndicate that her husband and his son used to run.

"Your daddy hadn't been sick like that since he was a little boy, so this virus really hit him hard. It took him— all of us — a long time to realise that he *was* sick; he was always so healthy! We could hardly believe it when he came down with a raging fever just like any ordinary person.

"It was an awful time. When Mindy thought that Clark was out of the way, she unleashed a huge crime wave on the city — bank robberies, muggings, the works. Both your grandmas had their purses snatched while they were out shopping, just before your daddy collapsed.

"When I brought him home, Martha and Jonathan and I didn't know what to do, but then I thought of Daddy. He was a doctor — the best doctor in the world, I'd thought when I was a little girl — and he was the only person I could think of whom I could trust to treat Clark. These days, I guess I'd ask Dr Klein, but I didn't really know him that well then. And maybe that was a good thing, because it was Daddy who came up with the way to save your father. It was controversial, it was dangerous … only someone who wasn't afraid of unconventional ideas would have thought of it, and maybe only someone who was a doctor but who hadn't practised recently — it was 15 years since Daddy had left surgery for research — would have dared try it, but it was the only thing that any of us could think of to do.

"And it worked! I *felt* it work. It was the most amazing thing; we'd all been hanging around, waiting — it was all we could do, and we felt so helpless — and eventually Daddy insisted that I take Jonathan and Martha home with me so that we could all get some rest. He'd stay with Clark, and Mother said she'd stay, too. That surprised me; the night before, she'd insisted on coming with me when I went to meet a snitch — *anything* rather than be by herself with Daddy and his 'android'!

"So we went back to my place and Jonathan and Martha fell asleep, but I couldn't. I was too worried, so I sat by the window and waited. Eventually, I dozed off, still in the chair. But when morning came, Clark came out of his coma, and I knew. Even before Daddy phoned to tell us, I *knew* that Clark was awake and well; I could feel it, feel him getting stronger every second. I'd told him, just before he fell into the coma, to grab on to the strength that he said came from our love, and he *had* … and he was going to be all right! We were so relieved …

"After that, we thought that the worst was over, and I guess it was, but Mindy wasn't through with us yet. She'd got the same guy who infected your father to booby-trap my microwave, so now *we* were the ones in trouble. But Clark could tell, the same way that I knew that he was awake, and he saved us. Then we went and threw the Handyman into jail, though we didn't get Mindy — not that time, anyway — and we could all relax.

"What a Christmas! But, you know, something good came out of all the horror and the fear of that time. Daddy had always been prone to treating me like I was still a little girl, but when he thought of his idea to save Clark, he asked me to choose whether or not to try it. I didn't have to, because Clark woke up and could make up his own mind, but the fact that Daddy asked *me* … well, that was when I knew he'd accepted that I was a grown woman, even more than a couple of years before when I ran into him and those cyborg boxers of his. And I began to believe that he was serious about 'mending his fences.'"

She sighed. "Maybe he'll be able to get together with Lucy in a couple of years. As far as I was concerned, what he did that Christmas was enough for me to stop resenting him, and I think we get on better now than we ever have.

"Looking after Clark helped Mother, too. It was almost weird to see my parents working as a team; Mom had always talked about them being a 'brilliant surgeon and his loyal nurse', but to actually *see* them in action … they were good. I think working together again brought them a little closer, or at least stopped Mother from running away. I'll always remember her telling me to trust Daddy — and I *did*, and he saved your father. Maybe Mom learned to trust him too, just a little, that night.

"And I ended up having a family Christmas after all. Not the kind I'd had in mind, but maybe it was better that way, because it helped me to feel that I could be part of a family, and not just a loner taken in by kind people."

Lois fell silent, the memories of three years ago overwhelming her for a few moments. Laura let go of her breast and looked up at her. Lois held her close, feeling a need to let out some of the emotion that recollecting that time had produced. She wished Clark was there; right now, she really wanted to hug him, hard, without having to take the same care that she did with Laura. That had been such a horrible few days, and she didn't know what she would have done if she'd lost Clark …

The thought of losing Clark sparked more memories, this time of another Christmas when he'd been the only hope of the world — literally. Laura was still gazing at her interestedly, so Lois took up her tale again. "The year after that, Christmas got weird: we had Mixed-pickles to deal with! He's a … gnome or an imp or something; he says he's from the fifth dimension, whatever that is, but he sounds vaguely Irish to me — go figure. All we know for sure is that he's a pain in the shillelagh whenever he turns up!

"Oh yeah, he's got delusions of godhood, too. And that's what caused all the trouble: he wanted to be worshipped by all us mere mortals, and he saw your daddy as a rival — Clark, of all people!" Lois rolled her eyes and snorted in disgust, before continuing, "So he set out to drive your father into exile — right off the planet, would you believe? Where he was supposed to *go*, Mixitup didn't say, of course. He wouldn't …

"Anyway, this imp tried to get Clark to leave by playing on his conscience. He rewound time so that everybody lived the same four hours over and over again — but nobody but your father knew it — and each time, the world lost some hope. People became depressed, or got into fights, and all the nice things in the world — like the Christmas tree we had in the newsroom — got smaller or disappeared, and it kept getting worse and worse. If it had kept going, I guess the world would have ended; somebody would have started a nuclear war and nobody would have cared much. Except Clark, of course, and that's what Mazeltov was counting on. He said that he'd look after 'all these mortals' if your father left Earth; otherwise, it was going to be the twelve-to-four shift over and over until we blew ourselves up.

"Bad things would happen long before that, though, and one of the first was your Grandpa Jonathan having a heart attack right here in the newsroom. He would have died, except that the attack happened only a few seconds before four o'clock — of course, it wouldn't have happened at all if it wasn't for Mix-Tippex, but that rotten little gnome tried to push the blame onto Clark!

"Luckily, sweetie, your father is made of stronger stuff than that. I have this mental image of him saying, 'I love these people. And that's why … I'm not going anywhere!' I wish I could say it the way he did, but it's kinda fuzzy in my memory. You see, the imp would only appear after freezing time, so only he and Clark knew what was going on, and I was supposed to be as frozen as everybody else. But something incredible happened: Mixednuts was trying to overwhelm your father with the idea that trying to resist him was as hopeless as he was making the world, but Clark refused to accept that, and his determination, his conviction that there was always a little hope in the human spirit, whatever happened, snapped *me* out of the paralysis.

"Gnome-boy was as startled as we were when this happened, but it all made perfect sense to me. I didn't bother analysing it, I just knew that your daddy had set me free — again. And the *last* thing I wanted was for him to have to go away, not to mention leaving us all at the mercy of that awful little … troll. We'd only been married just over two months! He'd already had to leave me once, to help some people who turned out not to deserve it, and that was the worst time of my life. No way was I going through that again!

"Sometimes, I think the best memory of that Christmas was the look on Clark's face when he realised that I remembered everything that had happened. He'd done his best to fight Mixandmatch, but doing it alone was even wearing him down. Now, though, *he* had hope, and that was all he needed; with me to help him, we knew we could beat that fifth-dimensional pest.

"First order of business was to deal with the effects of Mizzenmast's time loop. If he was taking hope away from the world, then we were going to put it back! We couldn't help all the world, but we didn't do too bad a job here in Metropolis and in the newsroom. Between us, your daddy and I got a desperate would-be bank robber a job so that his family could have a good Christmas, helped a rich old recluse find some good in the world, stopped my mother from falling off the wagon, helped relax Martha and Jonathan so that he didn't get sick, gave Jimmy's then-girlfriend Brenda a few tips on fashion and self-presentation (she looked great at the start, but by the third or fourth time around, she could have come straight from poor Long-Legs Lulu's 'office'), made Christmas something special for Perry by getting him to play Santa for a bunch of orphans whose home (and all their presents) had burned down, and generally cheered up everyone in the newsroom. Not too shabby for a couple of hours' work.

"That made the imp mad, which was just what we were waiting for. We'd discovered that we had to get him to say his name backwards to get rid of him, and this was our chance. He's very powerful, but not too bright, and he's got a *huge* ego, so it wasn't hard to trick him while he was all steamed up about what we'd been doing. Once he'd gone, all his magic disappeared and things went back to how they'd been before he started messing with time.

"One thing was different, though, and that was me. Before all the trouble started, I'd been having my usual attack of festive season blues, and your father said he wished that he could show me the way Christmas looked to him — the magic he saw. And after we'd seen off Myxomatosis — after we'd got rid of some *real* magic — I could. I could feel all the hope that we'd been fighting for, the 'good will to all men' — *and* women, but I guess we have to live with those old expressions sometimes. It was … magical … and it was all because of Clark. We are so lucky to have him, sweetheart."

Lois tightened her grip on Laura just a bit, again in lieu of giving her husband a hug. Then she realised that Laura had finished feeding a while ago; she'd need to be burped! And her father was nowhere in sight … Smiling gently at this opportunity, she lifted her baby onto one shoulder and began to rub her back as she'd been shown how to by both Kent men. Her small smile became a broad grin as Laura soon obliged with another loud belch.

Lois returned her daughter to her lap in proud consciousness of duty done, and the little girl's eyes began to droop. 'She'll drop off again soon,' Lois thought. 'If I keep talking to her, it should lull her to sleep.' So she decided to finish telling of Christmases past.

"And last year … well, there was that business with Grant to sort out, but I don't want to think about that now. The important thing about last Christmas was that *you* were coming, little treasure. There's not much more to be said, really. Your father gave me the most amazing gift that anyone could have — you. Everyone was so happy — once we got rid of that maniac 'Stick'. We're going to make sure that your Christmases are like that … without the killers, that is; you just watch."

Lois fell silent again. "It's hard to believe … " she said in wonder after a while, the events of the last few years and the way that they had affected her striking her afresh after their retelling, "but ever since I met Clark, Christmas has got better and better every year … " Then she giggled impishly as a thought struck her. "Gee, this year must be going to be *really* something!"

"Well, I hope so," said a familiar voice from the doorway. "I do have some plans … "

Lois half-turned, smiling. "Hi," she said, glad to see him after her emotional reminiscences. "How'd it go?"

"No problem," Clark replied, coming over to stroke their sleepy baby's cheek. "Mark was right — all the trouble, such as it was, was over by the time he phoned Perry. When I got there, everyone — cops, security guards and protesters — was just standing around, sharing coffee. Everyone who was hurt had been patched up by the paramedics; only a couple of them needed to go to the hospital, which was good news.

"The interesting thing was that the *only* people who got hurt were those who were hit by flying rocks and bottles. The so-called fighting seemed to be mostly pushing and shoving, and, once everybody calmed down, there were no hard feelings. One cop even joked that he wished that he could book this group for the precinct's 'annual riot' — some kind of in-joke, I think — because they were so much less hassle to deal with."

"Yeah, that makes sense," Lois said thoughtfully. "Bobby said that the trouble was started by outsiders — kids looking for a fight. They start throwing things from behind the crowd, and one thing leads to another … "

Clark looked at his wife, amused. It wasn't hard to guess what she'd been up to while he'd been gone. "How *is* Bobby?"

"Fine. Hungry, of course. Looking forward to Christmas and his sister's turkey stuffing. And her mince tarts."

"I'll bet." He went over to the conference room computer and turned it on. He called up a file and began to type quickly. A few seconds later, he sent it on its way to editorial and shut the computer down. "There we go," he said, pleased, "Bobby's stuff is just what that story needs — and now it can go under a 'Lane & Kent' by-line, just the way it should."

"Don't give me that," Lois said, aggrieved — but quietly so, so as not to disturb Laura. "I saw you and Perry plotting earlier, and let me tell you—"

"Honey, please," Clark interrupted, guessing why she was annoyed and realising that he needed to reassure her over this. "It's not like that. Let *me* tell *you* what Perry said to me when we were 'plotting'." He related the conversation verbatim. "So you see, Perry's not planning to relegate you to dog shows and library opening hours … "

Lois had to smile at that, despite herself. Jimmy had been *so* proud of his first by-line — and so had she, a few years earlier. Never underestimate the importance of a good obituary — or a notice of new opening hours for Metropolis' libraries.

" … he was just trying to make sure that you could relax a bit before Christmas. This is our first Christmas with a baby, and he just wants you to be able to enjoy it all. And so do I. You see, like I said, I hope— no, I *know* that this is going to be the best Christmas that I've ever had. How could it be anything else, now that I've got you and Laura?" He moved a chair next to hers and sat down, putting his arms around her shoulders and gently turning her so that she could lean on him. Lois sank back into the crook of his shoulder, sighing softly as she settled against his strong, solid form. Laura didn't so much as stir.

"As far as I'm concerned, Santa doesn't need to visit, this Christmas. He can come for you two and everyone else in the family, but I don't need anything more than what I have right now. And right here, in this room, are the two greatest, most precious gifts that anyone could ever give me: you, my partner, my best friend … my wife; and our child. You — my *family* — are what I've wanted all my life, and what, for a long time, I thought I could never have. What more could I ask for?"

"Oh, Clark … " Lois sniffed, suddenly fighting an upswell of emotion. Once again, she was rendered speechless by this man who meant so much to her, and whom, to her never-ending amazement, she seemed to mean as much or more.

It was either move or cry, so she very carefully got up and put Laura into her carry-cot. Concentrating hard on not disturbing the baby, and then on fixing up her clothes, allowed her to regain her self-control. Once she looked presentable again, she ran a hand gently over the little girl's forehead, then straightened up and turned around … and ran straight into her husband's chest.

He immediately wrapped his arms around her in a bear hug and found her mouth in a kiss, long, loving and passionate. Lois relaxed and put her own arms around his neck as she returned the kiss, her cares fading away.

After the kiss ended, a timeless eternity later, they stood together, unmoving. Neither one said anything for some time, until Lois raised her eyes to look at Clark and murmured mischievously, "So … I needn't rush out at the last minute to find you a present, then?"

Clark laughed, and Lois felt the rumble of it against her cheek. "I wouldn't go *that* far," he replied. "After all, I do have a present for you, and I know how you hate to owe anyone anything … "

"Oh, really? Then you also know that I hate surprises. Even more," she teased. "So why don't you tell me what it is?"

"I don't think so, Lois," Clark said, laughing quietly. He'd been wondering when she'd ask; she always did. Actually, he had several gifts for her, including one that he'd only thought of that night — a flight to California and back on Christmas Eve so that she could see Lucy — but there was no way that he was going to tell her that. He decided to employ a tactic that had been successful in the past and pulled her to him for another of *those* kisses.

It worked. Lois stopped wondering about Christmas presents … stopped wondering about *anything* — except, perhaps, why she didn't just melt through the floor. But she knew that that wouldn't happen, not while she had Clark. He wouldn't let her fall any more than she would him, not while they both had each other. And not while they had their child.

And that, surely, was the most wonderful gift of all.


And from all of us here at S6 to FoLCs everywhere: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Io! Saturnalia, or whatever — Season's Greetings, and may that Peace on Earth and Good Will to All that we hear so much about at this time of year *truly* be with you and yours. Enjoy the holidays, and take care — we want you back in 1999!

Characters in this episode are copyrighted by DC Comics, December 3rd Production and Warner Brothers. No infringement is intended in any part by the author or the Season 6 group, however, the ideas expressed within this episode are copyrighted (c) 1998 to the author(s).