Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons of Smallville

By Phil Atcliffe <>

Rated PG

Submitted December 2000

Summary: Christmas in Smallville can be wonderful… even if our favourite couple do have to deal with an invasion force of snow goons! Second story in the Snowball Trilogy.

[I didn't intend to write a sequel to "The Spirit of…", but I had so many requests to continue that story that I couldn't refuse. Of course, _this_ story may mean that no-one will _ever_ ask me to write a sequel again… <g>

This story is what Star Trek fanfic writers call PWP — "Plot? What Plot?" — and ye author makes no apologies for that. It's also full of references to the 'Calvin and Hobbes' comic strip and lots of other things, for which I also make no apology. Anyone totally mystified by what Lois and Clark are talking about can e-mail me privately for the details.

DISCLAIMER: Time-Warner and various subsidiaries like DC Comics own the main characters, most of the background and a whole lot of other stuff. December 3rd Productions, ABC and/or TNT (the American versions of the latter two, that is) may also have a legal claim to certain aspects, and I'll let _them_ sort out who owns what. 'Calvin and Hobbes' and the Snow Goons were the idea (and are presumably the property) of Bill Watterson. I'm not challenging anyone's copyrights, just borrowing it all for the fun of telling this tale, which is mine. I am not going to get anything other than that out of it, except whatever feedback I get from fellow FoLCs — PA]


The cold air on her face — on her nose in particular — woke Lois from a sound sleep. As usual, she didn't escape from dreamland all at once, but took her time, consciousness only reluctantly emerging to face the new day — which was why she needed an alarm to get her up in time for work.

There was no alarm this morning, though, so she was slow to realise what had woken her, and what it might mean. 'Oh, hell…' she thought once her whirling thoughts had coalesced enough for something like logic to resume inside her head. 'The heat must be off. That's just great! I can hear the screams of my dear, devoted landlord now…'

Actually, she couldn't. She couldn't hear anything much, and what noise there was didn't sound right. Come to think of it, the bedclothes were rather heavy (which was a good thing if it was *that* cold out; her face might be chilly, but the rest of her was lovely and snug). And what was she wearing? It didn't feel like any of her nightclothes…

Lois' eyelids slowly, unwillingly opened… to reveal unfamiliar surroundings. *That* finally got through to her — and to her adrenal glands — and she shot up in bed, almost on the verge of panic. 'Where the hell *am* I?'

The first wave of adrenaline-boosted reaction died down a little, and her brain, which had been trailing along behind the rest of her ever since she'd woken up, finally joined the crowd. This *wasn't* a strange place, after all. She *did* know where she was; she just couldn't figure out how she'd *got* here.

She was in Clark's old room, in his parents' house in Smallville. For just a moment, she almost began to wonder if she'd done a Pam Ewing, and dreamed everything that she remembered since the Smallville Corn Festival — but then she noticed the small, but distinctly Christmassy touches in the room's decor, and sanity returned to the world.

That was both good and bad; there were some aspects of the last few months that she wouldn't have minded being a dream, most of which had to do with a certain slimy, *dead* ex-fiancee of hers. Against that, there were some much better memories from that time, and most of *those* had to do with her best friend, partner — and, right now, her host.

Which brought her back to the big question: how had she come to end up here, when the last thing she remembered was…

…Clark bringing her home after they'd both helped out at the Metropolis Orphanage Christmas party. It had been a fun evening, but tiring. And after all the legwork they'd done on the Winslow Schott story, not to mention the debilitating effects of the Greed Potion that he'd put in those blasted Atomic Space Rats of his, she had been *exhausted*. She could barely remember collapsing on her couch, so glad to be home, and yet worried because it was late on Christmas Eve and they were supposed to be leaving for Smallville and she still didn't know how they were getting there and it was a long trip and she was so *tired*…

'And here I am,' she thought, flopping back down on the bed. 'Even if I don't know how I got here. I guess I'll just have to ask Clark…'

At that exact moment, as if the mere thought was enough to summon him, there was a gentle knock on the door. "Lois?" came his voice, softly but clearly. "You awake?"

Lois smiled and quickly took a look at herself. She was warmly and decently dressed in some old sweats that she remembered packing — although she was going to have to find out how she'd got into them! But that could wait. "Yes, Clark," she called. "Come on in."

He did, backing into the room because he was carrying something. He was only wearing a flannel shirt and jeans, so Lois enjoyed the view for the few seconds until he turned around to reveal a tray holding a steaming cup of coffee and some toast. "Merry Christmas, Lois," Clark murmured as he set the tray on the bedside table.

"Merry Christmas, Clark…" Lois gratefully reached for the coffee — or *was* it for the coffee? That was what she got, anyway, as Clark moved over to the fireplace and bent down to do something that she couldn't see, his broad shoulders and back blocking her view.

A very few moments later, a glow from in front of him revealed that he had been lighting the fire. He stood up as the kindling caught quickly — rather *too* quickly, if truth be told, the result of using heat vision in order to warm the room as fast as possible, but Lois, not much versed in the ways of lighting fires, didn't notice. "There you go," he said. "The room'll warm up quickly. When you're ready, come downstairs; Mom's cooking the traditional family Christmas breakfast. It'll be a while yet, so there's no need to hurry, but we like to open the presents after breakfast and before we go to church. You don't have to come, by the way, if you'd rather stay here."

"Of course I'll come," Lois said, taking another sip of her coffee. Clark smiled and was about to leave when she called him softly, "Clark…"

"Yeah, Lois?"

"Um… this is going to sound silly, but…" She blushed. "…I don't remember anything much after getting home last night… How did we get here?"

Clark laughed. "Yeah, you were kind of out of it, weren't you?" He sat down on the end of the bed. "It's simple, Lois. Remember when I invited you here, and I told you that I had all the travel arrangements covered?" She nodded expectantly. "Well, I did — with a little help from a mutual friend. Superman brought us, Lois; it was part of his Christmas present to you — and me. He was kinda surprised that you slept right through the entire trip, though." He grinned. "So was I."

"Oh." Well, that made sense. She took another sip of the coffee and felt herself become that bit more awake, and with that awareness came the memory of the *other* unanswered question about the previous night — a question that Lois was suddenly afraid, though she couldn't say why, wouldn't have as reasonable an answer.

But Clark kept talking and her fears were allayed. "Not only did you sleep all the way here from the city, but Mom couldn't even get you to wake up enough to get changed by yourself, so she had to help you get into something comfortable to sleep in. She told Dad and I when she'd finished that you were just barely awake enough to respond when she told you to lift one of your feet or something like that; it reminded her of when I was little and she used to have to help me get ready for bed after a busy day." He paused and grinned at her wickedly. "…except that you were a lot less trouble than I was, apparently."

Lois put the now-empty coffee cup down and flopped back onto the pillows, inexpressibly relieved — and, suddenly, feeling wonderfully relaxed. But relaxed mentally rather than physically; in fact, she felt rather energetic now. She sat up again, smiling.

"Okay, Clark, if you get out of here, I'll get up and wash. Do I need to get dressed for breakfast?"

"Nah. Mom and Dad and I are all dressed, but that's 'cause we've been up doing the morning chores. Your sweats will be fine, if you're sure they'll be warm enough; you might want to put on some warm socks, though — the fire's going downstairs, but it's a cold day.

"Other than that, just wear what you're comfortable in. We save our 'Sunday best' for church — and we change *back* into comfortable clothes when we get home."

Lois grinned back at him, feeling better and better by the minute. This lack of fuss was such a change from the formality of Christmas with her family: everyone wearing their best clothes all day, being oh-so-polite and wary of one another — until the inevitable arguments started. The thought of a Christmas without emotional warfare was almost too good to be true.

She waved her hands at Clark, shooing him out of the room. With the prospect of such a wonderful day before her, she wanted to get up and run to experience it before it faded away like other impossible dreams — except that she knew, to her amazement, that it *wasn't* impossible, and something totally unexpected would have to happen for it to disappear. And that wasn't likely when the Kents — mother, father and son — would move Heaven and Earth to prevent that… and she had an inexplicable but irresistible feeling that Heaven and Earth would go along with them rather than argue the point.

Clark obediently got up to go, taking the coffee cup and tray with him. He heard the thud of feet on the bedroom floor as he closed the door behind him and smiled as he went down the stairs. If he didn't know better (and he *didn't*), that sounded like someone starting the day with considerable enthusiasm, and an enthusiastic Lois was fun to have around — especially when her enthusiasm was directed towards something other than work!

That had been shown very clearly at odd moments in the last few days, while the two reporters had been tracking down Winslow Schott — like when "Santa" had brought Danielle to visit the Planet newsroom and Lois had used her newly-remembered skill at Cat's Cradle to entertain the little girl; or when she had gone looking for her Christmas tree; or the previous evening at the orphanage…


It had been fun, helping at the party, albeit a little tricky since Clark had tried to involve both himself *and* Superman in the festivities — but a little forethought and some super- speed could do wonders. Superman had done reindeer duty pulling the sleigh with Lois, Jimmy and "Santa Elvis" White on it to deliver the kids' gifts, then disappeared to bring the tree. While he was "gone", supposedly to fetch and decorate the already-prepared tree (but, of course, no-one else knew that), Clark had met his friends and joined in the fun. A short while later, when he'd been separated from them by the press of the crowd of orphans, it was easy to disappear and make a big entrance in the suit with the tree.

And that's how it had gone on for most of the evening, Clark and Superman zipping in and out at different times. It was hard for him to get away from the kids when he was in the suit, but he'd volunteered to run a number of errands to help with the party, so he'd only once had to plead the need to take care of some trouble — which was real (a car wreck on a nearby freeway) but didn't take anything like as long to clear up as he claimed it had by the time Superman returned to the party. Nor did the errands take very long in reality, since he had already arranged most of them beforehand, but it gave him the opportunity to re-appear as Clark and give the impression that he'd been there all along, just separated from the others by the mass of energetic kids.

Clark hadn't expected had any great problems in fading into the background as himself when it was time for Superman to re- appear, but he had been surprised a couple of times. The first surprise was Danielle, who remembered him and wanted to tag along with him as he strolled around the party. He wondered if she was worried about the boys who had been bullying her, but there was no sign of them. True to his promise, he'd enquired of "Santa" (Clark *still* didn't know the guy's real name) and the good-natured, amiable man had said that there'd been no trouble; in fact, the boys had been ill the day after Clark had dealt with them, and they'd been very quiet ever since.

'Ill, huh?' Clark could guess what had caused *that*. Nonetheless, he kept an eye on both Danielle and the boys all evening, but the only indication that they even knew one another was when he caught the biggest boy, the one who'd started the bullying, watching the little girl as she ran around, momentarily distracted from her attachment to Clark by some game. To Clark's surprise, the look on the boy's face was not angry or vengeful, but… wistful.

He found out why when he returned to the party a little while later, having made another appearance as Superman between- times. The boy saw him, looked away quickly, and then visibly made up his mind about something and came over to Clark to say something — hesitantly and nervously, but firmly enough for all that, once he was reassured that Clark wasn't going to get angry with him again.

He was very sorry for what he'd done the last time they'd met; he couldn't really understand why he'd been so stupid. Then, when his apology was accepted, he asked if Clark could help him. He was very fond of Danielle — all the boys were — but she was scared of him now, and he didn't know what to do about it.

Clark knew, though, and was only too glad to help. He told the boy to gather the others, because he had something to tell them — *and* Danielle. It didn't take long for Clark to find her — or did she find him? Anyway, he told her that he needed to have a talk with her and the boys. She didn't want to, muttering something to that effect under her breath like any unhappy, slightly rebellious kid, but she went along with him when he told her, as honestly and sincerely as he could, that it was *really* important.

When the boys came over, she half-hid behind Clark, her eyes wary. But, for all her fear, she listened to what he had to say as he told the boys about Winslow Schott and his Greed Potion. He didn't name the "villain", because Schott was also helping at the party, and both Danielle and the boys only knew him as the generous man who had made and given them toys — the Space Rats and Danielle's beloved teddy bear. In fact, it took some fast thinking and careful phrasing to convey the impression (without actually lying) that the potion had been put in the Rats by someone other than their creator, but Clark didn't want the kids to hate or fear the man; this party was probably the only good thing about this Christmas for Schott, and Clark didn't want to ruin it for him — it was likely to be a long time before the man had another chance to take part in something like this.

The boys' eyes widened when they heard that the potion had affected people all over the city, not just them — even Mr Kent and his friends (Clark decided not to mention that the stuff had worked on Superman, too; no need for *that* vulnerability to become public knowledge).

Clark gently drew Danielle from behind him and crouched down to her level as he went on to explain that the boys' behaviour had been the result of the potion, and that they wouldn't have been nasty to her without it. With perfect timing, the biggest boy joined in, saying in a forthright but pleading manner that he was really sorry about everything, and his friends chimed in as well. Clark could tell that the boys were both relieved and horrified to find that they'd been under the influence of the potion, and that they meant what they said.

Danielle, not fully understanding what had happened, was a little harder to convince, but, with a little gentle encouragement from Clark, she finally accepted that the boys hadn't meant what they had done — and anyway, Clark whispered, the two of *them* had won the snowball fight! — and forgave them. The big boy and the little girl exchanged a quick hug, the other boys cheered quietly, and the reconciled group ran off to join in a game at the other end of the orphanage grounds.

Clark watched them go, smiling to himself, and turned his attention to the main festivities. This was a good time for him to make his presence known, and then disappear to become his other self; it was great to see that the kids were friends again, and he had an idea as to how to cement their repaired relationship.

That was when he got his *second* surprise. Lois stood a short distance away, and had obviously been watching everything. She didn't say anything, but came over and tucked her arm in his, and the two reporters slowly strolled around the party for a few minutes.

Clark would have been happy to spend the rest of the evening like that — heck, the rest of the *year!* — but his conscience began to prod him; Superman really did need to make another appearance, and he wanted to finish what he'd started with Danielle and the boys. Fortunately, he was able to tell Lois the truth (more-or-less…) about why he had to go — that he wanted to arrange a special surprise for the kids (and, in passing, to confirm some of the arrangements for the two of them). Her ears pricked up at that last, but Clark was pleasantly yet firmly uninformative, so she had to live with the "mystery". She was also disappointed that Clark had to leave her for a while, but she knew what he was like when he was arranging one of his surprises…

Clark smiled ruefully as he reluctantly disengaged his arm and disappeared into the crowd. A short time later, Superman descended gracefully from the night sky, carrying something. It was a… well, it looked for all the world like an overgrown seating cage from a Ferris wheel. Which turned out to be a good description, because, to the stunned delight of the assembled children, the Man of Steel announced that he was going to take everyone who wanted to come for a short flight over Metropolis. And, who knew — if they kept their eyes open, they might even see Santa!

All the kids jumped with joy — most of them literally — and crowded around, wanting to get to the front of what only the very broad-minded could have described as a queue. Superman, however, seemed to have his own idea about who got to go first, because he raised his voice above the clamour, telling all the orphans that he promised that everyone would get a turn, but a friend of his had asked him to make sure that some of them got to go together, so would these people please come and have their ride?

To their complete astonishment, he called out the names of Danielle and the four boys. They hung back, suddenly shy, but Superman beckoned to them and their friends pushed them forward. They came over slowly, silent and wary, until Superman leaned down and whispered something to them: because they'd all had an awful time due to that potion — Danielle being bullied, and the boys with the "hangover" that you got when the stuff wore off — and because the boys had apologised and Danielle had forgiven them, Mr Kent had wanted them to have their flight together, and before the others, as a sort of reward for not giving in to the greed that the potion-maker had tried to spread.

The five children looked even more amazed, but quickly recovered and scrambled into the "cage". A quick check that they were strapped in and the door was securely closed, and the Man of Steel and his burden — precious, but light as a feather — lifted gracefully into the sky, the smiles on the kids' faces lighting the way.

As he rose above the rooftops, Superman cast a quick glance back at the people on the ground, and at one person in particular. Lois was watching them go, a soft smile on her face — and a knowing look in her eye. 'A friend of Superman's, hmm?' she thought to herself. It didn't take an investigative reporter to work that one out, and she'd bet that she knew what he'd said to the kids, too. Nor would she be at all surprised if Superman's first trip was just a *little* longer than the rest — not enough for any of the other kids to feel slighted, but just so it would be that extra bit special.

It had taken quite a while to fly all the orphans around Metropolis, and Clark was relieved when the last group finally scampered away. His work was not over yet, unfortunately, because Perry immediately cornered him with a request for a lift to Alice's hotel room — she'd forgiven him, once she'd realised that he must have been affected by Schott's potion — and Clark could hardly refuse in the circumstances. So it was one more trip for Super-Rudolph and the sleigh that the Daily Planet party had arrived in before Clark could come back, say good-night to everyone (everyone who was still awake, that is), collect and stash the "cage", and then return and disappear into the orphanage kitchens at super-speed, to emerge from them moments later as himself.

Lois, having just sent Jimmy on his way with Angela (her own contribution to the general Christmas cheer), saw Clark come out of the building and waved. "Clark! Where have you been all this time?"

He smiled, having thought this one out already. "Well, Lois, I talked to Superman before he left to get the thing he took the kids for their ride in. I was there when he arrived with it, but you saw what happened when he announced that he was going to take them all for a flight! You were caught up in organising everything, so I looked around for something useful to do. I've been cleaning up the kitchens, ready for tomorrow — not exactly glamorous, but I bet the staff will appreciate it." All of which was true, except that Clark had done the "housework" at super-speed, just before he'd come out of the building to find Lois.

"Oh, Clark…" murmured an amazed Lois as she took his arm again. "What a nice thing to do. That's so thoughtful of you."

"Oh, well…" replied her partner, slightly embarrassed. "The kids were having so much fun… I just thought that it might be a good idea to give the staff a hand. Besides, coming down to a messy kitchen is never fun, and at *Christmas*…?"

Lois didn't say anything more, contenting herself with squeezing his arm as they walked home from the orphanage. First her, then those kids — *and* Winslow Schott — and now the orphanage staff; was this guy considerate, or what? But then she yawned, the late hour and her exertions suddenly catching up with her, and her attention turned to what was to happen next. She hoped that Clark really did have their travel arrangements made, because they were a long way from Kansas, Toto…


'But he obviously did have,' Lois mused as she came down the stairs for breakfast. She, too, had been remembering the previous evening, with a slight pang of regret in her case that, what with one thing and another, she hadn't seen nearly enough of Clark. 'Well, that's not going to be a problem *here!*' she thought, grinning.

Her grin was matched by Martha's broad smile on seeing her come into the kitchen. The two women exchanged hugs — or, rather, Lois hugged Martha, who did what she could in return, without getting the flour covering her hands all over Lois. The kitchen was filled with the most appetising range of smells, some of which Lois couldn't identify — but they all made her hope that breakfast wouldn't be too long in coming!

Martha offered her cereal or oatmeal as a first course, but Lois declined, wanting to save the room in her stomach for whatever was making those wonderful smells — just what *was* this Kansas-style "traditional family Christmas breakfast", anyway?

Martha laughed when Lois asked that. "There's not all that much from Kansas in the Kent Christmas breakfast, honey — not any more. It's all Clark's fault; we used to have an old-fashioned traditional breakfast, but then he went off on his travels and came back with all sorts of interesting ideas and recipes from all over the world. We tried the ones that we liked the sound of, and some turned out okay and some didn't… but a few sort of worked their way into how we usually cook things, until we found that we were mixing ideas from half-a-dozen different places without knowing it. It wasn't until we had guests, a couple of years ago — some neighbours who were snowed in here, and told us that they'd really enjoyed all the 'exotic food' — that we realised what we were doing!"

Lois didn't care whether breakfast came from Kansas or… or *Timbuktu!* All she knew was that it smelled delicious. And, once Jonathan and Clark arrived, their chores (or whatever it was they'd been doing) completed for the moment, and everyone settled down to eat, she found that it tasted as good as it looked. She was astonished, when she finally had to refuse Martha's offer of yet more pancakes, or ham, or sausage, or waffles, or fritters, or another egg, or some more toast, or coffee or fruit juice, at just how much she'd eaten. Suddenly, she understood how Clark, the Human Vacuum Cleaner — who had matched her, and then some, in the huge breakfast stakes — could eat as much as he did, if *this* was the sort of meal he was accustomed to at home. How he kept in such great shape in spite of it was still a mystery, though.

She pushed back her chair, not quite able to decide if she should groan at the distended feeling of her stomach, and got up — slowly. She helped clear off the table, and would have offered to wash up, but Martha forestalled her by saying that there was no need to worry about that; besides, there were more important things to do right now.

Of course! Clark had said that they opened their presents after breakfast, hadn't he? Lois considered herself to be a grown woman; a mature, intelligent adult… but there was still enough little girl in her to be excited (inside, at least) at the thought of Christmas presents — both receiving and, this year, giving them to the wonderful family who'd already made this Christmas the best she'd had for so long. So it was with joyful glee that she ran upstairs to find her suitcase, and the gifts she'd packed before heading off to the orphanage party the previous night.

To her surprise, no-one seemed to be around when she came back down the stairs, carrier bags in hand. There was the big fir Christmas tree, cut, she had been told, by hand by Jonathan the day before, as was the tradition here, but where were Clark and his parents — and, for that matter, the pile of brightly- coloured presents that she'd caught a brief glimpse of on her way down to breakfast?

The first half of the question was answered when she heard murmurs from another room off to one side, and then Clark appeared at that doorway. "In here, Lois," he said, waving her over. "We're… exchanging presents in the study this year."

Lois' eyebrows went up. What was going on? She cocked her head to one side in a gesture that she was certain Clark would understand, but he said nothing, merely grinning at her and waiting for her to go in ahead of him. She frowned slightly — she was starting to get just a little tired of the continual air of I-know-something-that-you-don't that Clark had had ever since he'd invited her here — but the frown vanished in an instant, replaced by an expression of baffled amazement as she entered the study to see Martha and Jonathan sitting in chairs next to the missing pile of presents, all neatly arranged at the foot of… *her* Christmas tree!

"What? How…?" she gasped, stumbling forward a step or two. She whirled to face Clark, who was standing just behind her, smiling gently. "Clark… that's *my* tree!" she said, waving a hand in its vague direction. "What's it doing *here?*" And then, suddenly unsure of herself, she trailed off, "It *is* my tree… isn't it?"

Clark's smile widened and he stepped over to her, putting his arms around her for a gentle hug. "Yes, Lois, that's your tree," he murmured softly before releasing her and stepping over to the gift pile to pick up a small, flat parcel. "As to why it's here… well, we thought it might be nice if you had something of yours here, so that you wouldn't feel overwhelmed by your first Kansas Christmas."

Lois had to stop and think about that. Her first reaction was a mixture of embarrassed happiness at the thoughtfulness of the Kents, combined with a healthy dollop of annoyance that they'd thought it *necessary* to help her cope with something as… un-threatening as Christmas on a small-town farm. She'd just about decided that the two emotions cancelled each other out, and was starting to wonder about the implications of Clark saying that this was her *first* Kansas Christmas, as though there might be others… when her attention was caught by what he was saying now:

"…so it was simple enough for Superman to bring the tree with us. Besides, we had to have it here, or…" He paused and came back across the room to her, holding out the parcel. "…or you'd have had to wait till after Christmas to use this."

Lois put her bags down and took the neatly-wrapped package from him. She looked at him, her face flushed, and then at Martha and Jonathan. "Go on, honey," Martha prompted. "Open it."

Suddenly all thumbs under the friendly, yet intimidating eyes of her hosts, Lois struggled with the ribbon, the large red bow and the wrapping. While she did so, Clark went on, "This is from both Superman and me. I told him the story about the tree when you were 12, and he and I thought that this…" He paused again as Lois finally opened the box. "…might look good on that little guy."

Lois was speechless. Inside the box was the most beautiful Christmas star she'd ever seen. And it was totally unlike any other star that she'd ever seen; it looked like… well, she wasn't sure *what* it looked like. Frost scattered with starlight, maybe. It was solid enough to the touch, but it *looked* almost ethereal, and the light from the tree and the fire somehow lost itself inside the stone, making the star seem as though it wasn't quite there, not completely real. But it was.

Lois had never seen anything like it, and said so. Her wonder at being given such a precious thing turned to awe when she asked Clark where it had come from, and his only reply was to point upwards. She could only stare at him, and try desperately not to cry with joy at the thought of such a wonderful gift from two equally wonderful men. To her relief, Martha and Jonathan came over to look at the star, and their amazed reactions distracted her and let her regain her equilibrium. It also meant that she missed the smug looks that Clark's parents sent their son.

Lois put the star on top of the little tree, and everyone spent a few minutes just looking at the incredible sight. The tree may have been small, it may have looked lost and forlorn when Lois chose it — but not now; now, it was beautiful and mysterious, and very, very special.

After that, the rest of the present-giving might have been an anti-climax, but no-one in the Kent house thought so. Lois quickly came to realise where Clark had acquired that quirky sense of humour of his — from his parents, Martha in particular. It seemed that the Kent Christmas spirit had a high component of laughter to it, and the effort that went into choosing gifts for one another (and, this year, for her) was accompanied by a certain amount of deviltry. While most of the presents given and received showed the kind of thoughtfulness that she would have expected from Clark and his parents (and, in some cases, a considerable amount of forethought and planning), one or two caused the recipient (and the giver) to crack up; Lois couldn't always understand why, the laughter being caused by some inexplicable family in-joke, but the hilarity was contagious and she found herself giggling along with the others out of sheer joie de vivre.

Her own turn came when she unwrapped a small book — "The Turkey Strikes Back: What to do with Christmas Left-overs". Inside, Martha had written:

To Lois:

We never have Christmas left-overs here any more — Clark takes them all back to Metropolis. Now, _you_ get to help, so here's some inspiration for the 30th of the month — or as long as it takes Clark to eat everything.

Love, Martha Smallville, Kansas

PS. Clark loves pasta.

Lois realised that Clark must have told his mother of her claim that she could only cook four things, and pasta was the only one that didn't involve chocolate. Sure enough, "Turkey Pasta Salad" was prominently highlighted in the list of recipes, which made her laugh. 'Okay, Clark,' she vowed, 'It's pasta for you… the day after tomorrow!'

But that could wait; right now, Lois just wanted to soak up all this festive happiness. For someone who'd never much liked being teased, she had to wonder what it was about the Kents (first Clark, and now his parents) that made their jokes, even ones which she might, with someone else— *anyone* else — have taken offence at, so much *fun!* Maybe it was because they always laughed with her, never at her — even when she was laughing at herself. However they did it, Lois knew that to share their joy as a family at this time of year was another precious gift.

Lost in a sort of reverie, Lois missed Jonathan's quiet question to Clark: "Son, where's that other—" *And* she missed Clark's frantic shushing motion, which made his father stop in the middle of the sentence. Then, before she could notice the sudden silence, Martha got up and suggested that everyone head upstairs to get changed for church.


Lois shivered a little. The "good clothes" that she had gone to church in weren't *quite* warm enough for Kansas winter weather, even with her long coat over them. She had been fine inside the church and in the truck, both of which were well heated, but, standing out here in the farmyard, the light but nonetheless chill wind was, as they say, "cutting right through" her. But, for all that, she was in no hurry to follow Martha and Jonathan inside; just at that moment, she was content to remain where she was, looking out across the snow- covered fields.

Clark silently watched her for a while, then came over and wrapped his arms and overcoat around her, sheltering her from the wind. Lois, not expecting the contact, jumped in surprise, but she quickly appreciated the protection from the icy breeze — and the unexpected warmth she felt from him inside the haven of his coat — and relaxed, contentedly leaning against the solid, secure person of her friend.

The pair remained motionless and silent for some time, just sharing the moment — and one another. Eventually, Lois shifted a little against Clark, who murmured, "What are you thinking about, Lois?"

"Um…" she said slowly, lifting her face to look at him, "This is going to sound crazy, but… do you know that comic strip set in the Old West, with the town sheriff and the retired gunfighter?"

"'Rick O'Shay?' Yeah, I used to love it as a kid. Why?"

"Well, do you remember how the gunslinger… what did they call him? Hipshot Percussion, that's it!" Lois giggled at the name, and Clark smiled at the delightful sound. "Anyway, Hipshot almost never went to church, but every so often, he used to go riding out of town, and the strip would show him surrounded by some beautiful piece of scenery, and then he'd say something like, 'Much obliged, Boss.' That was his way of talking to God; he wouldn't go to church in town — maybe he felt he wouldn't be welcome there — but he still wanted to give thanks for what he had."

"I remember that," Clark replied thoughtfully. "And I remember the beautiful artwork in those particular strips; except for Hipshot, those panels could have been sketches for landscape paintings. What brought them to mind?"

"Oh, it was the church. It's such a lovely old building, and something the minister said in his sermon made me think of how the people here have always made *me* feel welcome… and that and the building reminded me of the comic. So I was looking out over the fields… and, I guess, giving thanks like Hipshot used to."

Lois turned to face Clark and wrapped her arms around him. "And I have so much to be thankful for, this Christmas. This has already been the best Christmas I've had for *so* long… and it's all because of you. Thank you, Clark."

She buried her face in his shoulder, hugging him tightly, sniffing a little with the emotion that was momentarily that little bit too much for her to contain. Clark lowered his head onto hers, saying softly, "You're welcome, Lois," and held her close.


"Lois, would you like to go for a walk before dinner? Or have you seen enough of the outdoors today?" Clark asked as they went into the house, stomping the snow off their boots before entering the warmth of the kitchen.

"Clark!" Martha scolded, passing Lois some coffee. "Give the poor girl a chance to warm up before you drag her out into the snow again! Just because you don't feel the cold…"

Clark looked stricken at the accusation of thoughtlessness, so Lois hastened to reassure him. "No, Martha, it's okay. Once I've finished this…" She lifted the mug in a thankful salute. "…and got changed into something warmer — Clark, I promise I'll pay more attention, the next time you warn me about Kansas weather! — I'll be fine. Dinner smells *delicious*, so I need to get out of here anyway before I start gnawing on the furniture, and a good, brisk walk sounds like a great way to build up an appetite."

Now, it was Martha's turn to look stricken, and she hurriedly offered Lois anything she wanted to eat, but Lois refused. "No, Martha. After *that* breakfast, I shouldn't need to eat anything until next Wednesday, anyway." She grinned wickedly. "But I'm going to! I can wait until dinner's ready — and I'm sure that it will be worth waiting for!" With that, she downed the rest of her coffee and headed upstairs to change.

When she came back down, wearing almost every piece of casual clothing that she'd brought with her, Clark was still in the kitchen — but he, too, had changed his clothes. Whereas, at church, he'd been resplendent in the classic GQ-style tailoring that he loved (and looked *great* in!), now he was the archetypal Kansas farm boy — winter edition. Lois was instantly reminded of the way he'd looked and the fun they'd had at the Corn Festival earlier that year, and she sent up a silent, urgent prayer to the effect that she *was* grateful for everything — really, she was — so could there *please* not be any more crazed maniacs around to mess up *this* trip to Smallville?

For the moment, Whomever might be listening seemed to think that was a reasonable request, and, after Clark had promised Martha faithfully that he would make sure that Lois didn't get too cold (the subject of this "discussion" noted with considerable amusement that Clark kept casting nervous glances her way all through Martha's exhortations; it was almost as if he was expecting her to get mad at the suggestion that she couldn't look after herself — now, what could have given him *that* idea..?), the two young people headed out and across the fields.

They set a brisk pace as they strode along. They had no particular destination in mind — or, rather, Lois didn't and Clark was content initially to let her wander anywhere that it was safe to go, so they roamed here and there around the farm. Clark pointed out the occasional notable sight or place, embellishing a few of them with tales from his childhood, and Lois listened with real interest; for all that she thought that she had Clark pretty much figured out, his life out here in rural Kansas was alien to her, and she found that she wanted to know more about it — pure curiosity, of course, or maybe it might make good copy one day. Besides, when he wasn't teasing her about her supposed dislike of the countryside, Clark, as befitted a good reporter, could tell a very good story.

For her part, Lois reminisced about the Christmas she had spent in Ireland as an exchange student, and Clark told her of festive customs that he'd encountered in his travels. Some of them sounded very strange indeed, but one or two — like celebrating Christmas on a hot, sunny beach, the way some Australians did — held a definite attraction.

Being preoccupied with the conversation and her own thoughts, Lois didn't notice that Clark had, very subtly, begun to direct their course towards one particular field not far from the farmhouse. Nor, once they reached it, did a slightly odd sight register with her until they were quite close to it. Even then, she might have walked right past it had she not suddenly felt as though she was being watched…

She looked around, but there was only Clark, looking at her with a quizzical expression… and what was *that?*

"Clark…" she asked, genuinely puzzled, "why is there a *snowman* in the middle of one of your parents' fields? Since when do farmers build snowmen — or did a couple of the local kids decide that this was the perfect place—" She broke off and began to examine the ground. "No, that can't be right; it hasn't snowed this morning, but there are no footprints… so how did that thing get here?"

Clark breathed a well-hidden sigh of relief; for a while there, he'd been certain that Lois was going to walk right past it, and then what would he have done? Fortunately, the Lane observational skills hadn't been totally over-ruled by whatever she had been thinking about. Meantime, he had a part to play…

"I don't know, Lois," he said, calling on all of whatever acting skills he might possess. "Let's take a look at it."

The couple had approached the figure from the side, so it wasn't until they moved around it that it became obvious that this was no ordinary snowman.

"That is the weirdest snowman I've ever seen…" Lois muttered. "Two heads… three arms… hey, has one of those heads got *three* eyes? And what's that, hanging from… one hand…"

The penny had begun to drop, and Lois turned to stare, wide- eyed, at a grinning Clark. "You didn't…?" she breathed.

Clark's grin simply became wider, and he gestured at her to take a look at the small parcel hanging from one of the wooden arms of the snowman. She charged over to the figure and grabbed it, tore off the wrapping paper to reveal a clear plastic bag, and stared at its contents — a book — for a few moments before raising it to the sky in triumph.

"*Yes!!*" she cried. "'Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons!'" She whirled and stomped back to Clark, glee all over her face. "I *love* 'Calvin and Hobbes'," she said, "and this is the one collection that I've never been able to find! How did you know?"

"This from the woman who used to lecture me on the necessity for an investigative reporter to pay close attention to everyone and everything around them?" Clark replied dryly. "It wasn't hard to work out that you're a fan of 'Calvin and Hobbes', Lois; that was pretty obvious from the well-used copies of the books on your shelves — but I noticed that this one was missing, and I remembered that I'd never seen you with a copy. So I thought I'd get you one."

"Where did you find it? I've been looking for a copy for *two years!* I was away on assignment when it first came out, and all the bookstores sold out before I got back. And, somehow, every time a new shipment came in, I was always busy and could never get one."

"I know what you mean; for some reason, it's one of those books that is just plain hard to find. I had to go out of town to get that copy…" What Clark wasn't saying was that "out of town" actually meant across the Atlantic; he'd been strolling around London one weekend a few months ago, taking a break after a super-rescue in England, and had seen the book in one of the stores in Charing Cross Road. He'd remembered that Lois wanted a copy and had picked it up to give to her on a suitable occasion — which had turned out to be now.

Lois could hardly wait to get back and read the book, but first she came over to Clark and grabbed him in a happy hug. "Oh, thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyo u," she burbled, quoting from a 'Calvin and Hobbes' strip.

Clark recognised the line and made the appropriate reply, paraphrasing as necessary: "Well! Wasn't Ms Lois a lady— Hey! Who took all the cookies?" He carefully didn't mention the fact that Lois' quote was from a panel in which Calvin kissed Susie — but he had hopes that she might remember it herself. Meantime, a hug from Lois had its own value.

Lois giggled, both at the neat way he'd picked up on her reference and the falsetto voice he'd used to reply — since, of course, he was saying lines intended for a six-year-old girl. "I didn't know you were a Calvin fan," she said, making no move to let him go.

"More a Hobbes fan," Clark replied, "and a Susie fan. Calvin gets on my nerves at times — but I do like Spaceman Spiff. And I *really* like his 'snow art'."

"Yeah, me too. Is that why you made the snow goon?"

"Partly — it was mostly just a silly way of giving you the book. But I have always wondered if it would actually be possible to build some of the things that they show in the strip — like the snow chicken, or the little dog sniffing at the fire hydrant…"

"Or the UFO and the aliens, or the horror sculpture…" Lois chimed in, grinning at the thought. "Well, you made a good copy of the original snow goon…"

"Yeah, it worked out okay," Clark agreed. "Hey — want to build a few of his relatives?"

"Why not? How long did it take you to make this one? And when *did* you make it, anyway?"

"Not that long. I did it this morning before you came down to breakfast. Okay, so what would a second-generation snow goon look like?"

Shortly thereafter, the odd-looking snowman was joined by several even odder creations that bore very little resemblance to any known species, either real or fictional. Some started out as snow "models" of aliens from books or films, but mutated rapidly; Lois managed to get the three-legged body of a Pierson's puppeteer to stand up okay, but she became a little frustrated when the "heads" kept falling off the long necks, and in the end the thing became more like a peculiar version of a pushmi-pullyu than anything else.

Eventually, they had seven of the weirdest-looking snow "sculptures" that either of them had ever seen. Clark put the finishing touches on one that looked to have its head in the middle of a hole in its stomach, stood back to survey their handiwork and remarked in a satisfied tone, "Yep, we've got a definite invasion force of snow goons here."

The way he phrased that sentence caught Lois' attention. 'Invasion force?' "Oh, and what do you suggest we do about it, Clark?" she asked, fairly sure that he must have something in mind. If it came to that, she had a feeling that he'd been orchestrating this for most of the morning, what with the suggestion of the walk and the gift of the book; for that matter, why had he packed the book in a plastic bag if he hadn't expected it to be put to one side while they built the snow goons? This smelled like a set-up; the question was, what was she being set up *for?*

"We-el-ll…" he drawled, instantly confirming Lois' suspicions, "You wanted to have a snowball contest, and we are on my home ground… but I kinda thought it might be more fun if we did something other than just throw snowballs at each other."

"Oh, I get it… What do we do — attack the snow goons and the one who… what? Knocks the most over wins?"

"Something like that. How about we say that a goon is dead when all of its heads have gone, and we can score heads rather than goons; there's an odd number of either — I made sure of that, knowing you."

"O-kay… You're on, Spaceman Spiff. Hey — who does that make me?"

Clark had to think about that; there weren't exactly many starring roles for women in the 'Calvin and Hobbes' strips, the eponymous protagonist having an exaggerated dislike for the female of the species — *any* species. So, in the end, he decided that he'd have to fall back on the source material that Spaceman Spiff was satirising.

"Oh, that's easy," he said, "Spiff doesn't have a partner, so you'll just have to be his ruler; the person in whose name he explores the furthest reaches of outer space — or is he trying to get away from her? The Empress of the Galaxy!"

Lois threw back her head and crowed with laughter. "I love it! Spaceman Spiff and the Empress of the Galaxy Versus the Snow Goons! Right, my trusty space explorer, let's load up on Freeze-O-Bombs(TM) and protect the Earth from their evil plans!"

And they did. It didn't take long for each of them to make a neat pile of snowballs and, after a short countdown, the "battle" was on. Clark was off to a good start when his first snowball took off one of the original snow goon's heads, but the second head (the one with the three eyes) was made of sterner stuff and took several hits before it was finally toppled. Meanwhile, Lois was concentrating on some of the other goons and was wreaking havoc among them; her aim might not have been as accurate as it could have been, but she was able to keep up such a rapid rate of fire that a head which was not hit squarely was whittled away by multiple glancing blows — either way, it succumbed to her attack in short order.

Clark, more accurate but slower, decapitated another "enemy" and now turned his attention to some of the goons that Lois had made — and came to a halt in a certain amount of confusion. Lois' creations were weird indeed, and it wasn't at all obvious which bits were supposed to be the heads. 'But what the heck,' he thought, snatching a quick glimpse of the Empress of the Galaxy in what looked to be Berserker mode. 'Hit whatever you can, Kent, and you're bound to get a head once in a while…'

Lois paused for breath after successfully beheading another snow goon — and to replenish her ammo supplies; the disadvantage of her all-out attack was that it used up snowballs at a horrible rate. She looked over at Clark to see if she could swipe some of his weaponry, but she lost interest in that as she watched him make use of it instead.

Just as she had been outside the orphanage a few days earlier, Lois was struck forcefully by the grace and easy power that Clark showed as he attacked the remaining goons, hitting them with precisely-placed shots that dismembered each one with the precision of a surgeon. She just couldn't understand why he continued to attack them when he'd already removed their heads!

Which thought made her realise that, once he'd finished carving up the one he was working on at the moment, there'd only be one goon left — Clark's "masterpiece", the one with its head in its stomach. If she wanted to win this contest, she'd better stop admiring him and concentrate on *beating* him!

Unfortunately, Clark realised the "sudden death" nature of the competition at almost the same time, and abandoned his systematic destruction of a decidedly "dead" goon to go for the last survivor. Two snowballs were launched at the goon, and both flew straight and true…

…but a sudden gust of wind sent a flurry of snow into the air between the competitors and their target, and not even Clark, whose super-vision was blocked by his glasses, could tell which one made the kill. That it *had* been made was not in doubt; the "head" had been knocked right out of the hole, leaving a neat opening in the body of the goon that could have come from a Henry Moore sculpture, but whose shot had removed it?

Lois, naturally, was in no doubt. "I win!" she cried with characteristic glee, tossing an unused snowball into the air and catching it.

"Hang on, Lois — what do you mean, *you* win? I couldn't see who hit the goon, and I don't think you could, either. How do you know *I *didn't knock its head off?"

Lois just looked at him. "Oh, come *on*, Clark — of course I won! Or do you have the nerve to imply that a mere space explorer could possibly beat the Empress of the Galaxy?"

"Darn tootin' I do, Your Imperial One-upmanship! You have no proof that you won our little contest, any more than I do—"

Clark was about to suggest that they call it a draw, but Lois decided that there was a better way to "settle" their disagreement — open warfare. With a cry of "Death to rebel scum!" she flung her initial "argument" at Clark and bent to collect more ammunition.

Clark could have dodged, but didn't bother. Truth to tell, he'd been more than half-expecting this ever since they'd started building the snow goons. Let Lois score first; he was on his home ground, and he had a lot of experience of snowball fights here, so there were a few surprises in store for her, even without using his super-powers.

The snowball hit harmlessly on his chest, and then he moved, diving to one side to take cover behind the remains of one of the goons. Lois began to taunt him about his supposed cowardice, but her jeers stopped suddenly when Clark reappeared from behind the goon and launched a pair of snowballs at her before ducking out of sight again; one of his missiles hit her on the hip and the other thudded into her arm just above the wrist, making her drop the snowball she was holding in that hand out of sheer surprise.

Behind his cover, Clark snickered. That shot to her wrist was right out of an old Western movie — or "Blazing Saddles" — but he didn't think Lois would suspect anything unusual about it; no, she was too busy taking cover herself with a furious look on her face.

Stalemate ensued for a few moments, both combatants concentrating on re-arming themselves rather than taking any more shots, although Clark risked a short glance over his goon "wall" to scout the situation — and noted that Lois' improvised defences weren't as good as they might have been. Her head was down when he looked, so he was certain that she hadn't, and couldn't have seen him since he hit her that last time; by contrast, he knew exactly where she was because she was hiding behind the remnants of her three-legged creation, and he could see *under* its body.

This gave him an idea, and he began to crawl off to one side, taking care to keep out of Lois' view. It took him a little while, but eventually he was behind another wrecked goon, well away from where he'd been the last time she saw him. He could no longer see *her* — not without cheating by using his x-ray vision — but he was certain that she hadn't moved. As long as she stayed down, she probably thought she was safe; little did she know that he had a method of dealing with her tactics, one which had been perfected over many a Kansas winter…

"Oh, Lo-is…" he called in a sing-song voice as he began to lob several snowballs high in the air, "Incoming!"

Lois looked towards the sound of his voice in surprise; concentrating on building up her arsenal, she hadn't thought of being outflanked. Nor was she expecting to be attacked while she kept out of sight, but she was soon disabused of *that* notion; the first snowball landed in the middle of her back, which made her start with surprise… and then the others arrived. They all hit, and some of the snow went down the back of her neck

"Aaahhh! Clark, you *fink!*" she cried as the snow made its icy way past her shoulders. "I'll get you for this!"

"You already did, remember?" he called back, managing somehow not to laugh too hard at her aggrieved tone.

Lois stood up to try to remove as much as she could reach of the snow inside her clothes — which wasn't as much as she would have liked, and Clark, watching, was vastly entertained by the impromptu dance she performed as the remaining icy crystals slid down her spine to pool and melt in the small of her back.

Once the torture by ice was over, Lois saw that Clark had also risen to his feet and was… well, Clark thought he was just smiling at her, but in her rage, it seemed to Lois that it could only be a triumphant smirk, and that was too much for her to bear.

She reverted to Berserker mode, flinging whatever came to hand in the way of lumps of snow — her snowballs, bits of goon-cum- fortress wall, even quickly-scooped, unpacked handfuls of the stuff — in his general direction as hard and as fast as she could. Clark just stood there and took it, only making positive efforts to protect himself from missiles that were headed towards his face; after all, he didn't want a lucky shot to take his glasses off.

As before, Lois eventually had to pause for breath, and she looked at Clark once more as something other than a target to be obliterated — or at least buried in snow. He was well on the way to the latter, his clothing below the middle of his torso more than lightly covered with snow and ice, and Lois couldn't help but take a certain pride in having had her revenge: Clark might not have got any snow down his neck (or pants… now, *there* was an idea for later!), but he'd be brushing himself down for some time.

She grinned at the thought, and Clark's own smile broadened. "Happy now?" he asked, amused and still standing there with his arms crossed. Lois was somewhat taken aback by the question and didn't say anything for a moment or two… and then she began to laugh. Long and loud.

To Clark, her laughter was the most joyous sound he'd heard for a long time, and Lois herself felt uplifted by it, and by the silly, happy, funny, *ridiculous* craziness that caused it: two friends — and it didn't matter that they were supposedly adults, and not children — playing games in the snow on Christmas Day; could anything be more wonderful or more appropriate for this of all days? She felt as though all the worries of the world had just fallen from her shoulders, and all she had to do now was enjoy it.

She couldn't stop laughing, not even when Clark brushed himself off and walked over to her. She fell against him, lost in an odd mixture of giggles, cackles, gasps for air and good old- fashioned belly laughs, and Clark, chuckling himself, but mostly smiling with delight at her happiness, took the opportunity to wrap his arms around her again. Lois didn't protest — if she even *could*, just then.

She finally regained a little self-control, though she still broke out in an occasional giggle, and became aware of her position up against her… friend's chest. It didn't worry her, though; as often before, she felt safe and secure there, and very, very grateful for that and for everything else that he'd brought to her life.

She suddenly needed to tell him this. "Oh, Clark," she sighed happily, "I don't know why you put up with me sometimes, but I'm awfully glad you do."

Clark's arms tightened around her. "Lois," he whispered to her, "I *like* putting up with you. You're high maintenance, but worth it."

Lois' eyes began to tear as she looked into Clark's, searching for the truth of what he'd just said and finding it. She lowered her head to his chest and snuffled a little, all the while soaking up every bit of the caring that he offered to her — with no conditions, no restrictions, no strings attached; just because he *cared*… For his part, Clark remained where he was and let her do whatever she wanted to; at that moment, there was nowhere in the world that he'd rather be.


Lois and Clark, arm in arm, made their way back to the farmhouse some time later, after kicking over the battered remnants of the snow goons and collecting Lois' book — which was in perfect condition, the plastic bag having done its job even through the battles of the Spiff Rebellion, as Lois had christened their snowball fight. It wasn't a long walk, but they took their time over it, sharing more memories, this time of winter fun and games (and related topics, like flour- and water-bomb fights in high school and college). Clark claimed to have become the Midwestern State University champion at "Indirect fire, my dear Empress — as used by all the best artillery commanders and space explorers!" and Lois, having been on the receiving end, was prepared to believe him. *She* favoured the direct approach in this as in almost everything, but she had to agree that Clark's method had its merits — out here in Kansas, anyway; just let him try that approach back in Metropolis..!

Clark just laughed and they moved on to some other topic of conversation — and another, and another, and several more others — until, bickering happily in their usual fashion, they reached the farmyard gate. They had to take a little more care here because the surface of the yard, well trampled by all the comings and goings that morning, was rather slippery — the compacted snow was really more like ice.

Lois picked her way across the yard towards the house, and had no problems until she went to go around the front of the Kents' pick-up, where a small (but not that small) hole in the ground was full of ice — and she stepped onto it and her foot slipped. She cried out as she felt herself fall and braced herself for what was bound to be a hard impact…

…except that it wasn't. She landed squarely on her backside, but not on the frozen surface of the yard. Instead, she felt a gentle thud and two strong arms supporting her, and she turned her head just a little to find herself staring into Clark's eyes — and sitting in his lap.

For a moment, she was flustered. "Clark!" she cried, but softly, because he was so close to her. "How did you—?" But was there any real need to ask, or was she just talking for the sake of making the sound? Clark had seen her in trouble and had rushed to help her — was there anything more that she needed to know?

"You okay?" he asked, breaking in on her whirling thoughts, voice soft with concern.

'Am I *okay?*' she thought. 'I'm *very* okay… I don't think I've ever been *more* okay in my life!' And then, *because* she was so okay, because the reason she was so okay was the man holding her, because he had done so much for her — not just today, or even over the festive season, but… ever since she'd first known him — and because he was so unselfish and gave of himself so generously, and, above all, because he was *there*, warm and gentle and caring… and, her libido suddenly screamed, absolutely *gorgeous*, with those eyes and a body that just wouldn't quit (it hoped)… she began to lean towards him ever so slowly, and he didn't back away.

Their breaths were warm and sweet on each other's face… and then their lips brushed, and neither knew who felt the strongest bolt of lightning race through them as the kiss, which had begun as slow, even tentative, instantly changed into the oscular equivalent of a five-alarm fire! The emotions that they both felt — were being *consumed* by — were too powerful and too unexpected (for Lois, at least) to analyse just then, but one thing was certain: they were *so* good… and totally unlike anything that either of them had ever known.

Their mouths separated, but not their heads — indeed, moving any further from one another would have required more mental energy and muscular control than either could summon at that moment. Neither spoke; what could they have said? Words, or wordless noises, or even sighs would have been crass and meaningless in the face of what they had just experienced.

One thing was certain: nothing could ever be the same between them. Not after *that!* Where this new discovery of each other would take them, neither Lois nor Clark had any idea; but the events and feelings that had made it possible and then allowed it to happen also held out the possibility — and a glorious one, it was, too — of a destination that was worthy of the wonder that they had just experienced.

They would need to take things slowly — it would be all too easy to rush matters and thereby deprive them of the attention they deserved — but they could do that. They were partners, best friends, and now something more — and they would not waste the chance they had been given.

Clark stood up, effortlessly lifting Lois in his arms. She was amazed that he could do that, and so easily… but he set her gently on her feet and she didn't bother pursuing the notion as they walked slowly into the farmhouse, deep in thought — or was it feeling, or perhaps both? That could wait; right now, all she wanted to do was mull over this incredible happening and what it might mean for them. For that was the most amazing gift that she had received, this Christmas: there was her, and there was him… and now, it looked as though, if they both wanted it — and she was sure that *she* did, although she would not make that decision in emotion-clouded haste — there could be *them*.