By IRC Round Robin Writers
Submitted January 2000
Summary: It's a little over three months since the birth of the twins and Lois and Clark are in full holiday mode preparing for the babies' first Christmas. However, the preparations have to be moved to the back burner when Lois' journal is apparently stolen and they have to recover it before Clark's super secret is revealed to the world.
An IRC round robin by Zoomway <email@example.com>; Melisma <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Eraygun <Eraygun@aol.com>; lady_hawk <email@example.com>; WendyMR <ida18@HRM.KEELE.AC.UK>; Chrispat <firstname.lastname@example.org>; ChiefPam <email@example.com>
"Clark, please stand still," Lois admonished as she swept a comb through Clark's hair.
"Honey, I can comb my own hair."
"Usually, yes, but you have your … Christmas hyper thing going. I'm surprised you aren't out building a snowman or telling the twins that Night Before Christmas story."
Clark winked at her. "I told them that one last night while you were soaking in the tub."
"There," she sighed. "Now you don't look like one of those actors who combs with an eggbeater and can't remember how to shave."
"Thank you," he whispered and kissed her softly. "I guess I get a little carried away, but I *love* Christmas."
"Really?" Lois asked with a smile. "You hide it so well."
"Plus," he added, wrapping his arms around her. "It's the babies' first Christmas, and we get to show them off at the Planet."
Lois nuzzled Clark's neck. "The proud daddy."
"Look who's talking," he whispered against her hair. "You had sixty photos made of them and mailed out to everyone, even the car insurance guy."
Lois shrugged as she pulled away. "He gave us great rates this year."
"Okay, so I'm a little proud, too."
Clark tipped his head to the side teasingly. "A 'little'?"
Lois sighed. "Okay, they're my masterpiece. Now go bundle up Pulitzer and Nobel, or we'll be late for the party."
Clark saluted. "Already bundled and accounted for."
"Superman is quick today," she said and drew a finger down his jaw.
"Only when he has to be, but last night…"
Lois quickly moved her finger to his lips. "Don't tempt me to be *really* late for the party. Okay, we have the babies, our coats and… oh, would you get my laptop, Clark?"
"Lois, even you wouldn't work at a party."
"No," she smiled. "Though it scares me that I probably would have a few years ago. It's just that Jimmy wanted to make sure it's Y2K compliant. It's a little old. You know, from back when a GIG of memory was a lot."
Clark nodded. "Oh yeah, the one that runs on kerosene. I'll get it," he said, and blurred out of sight.
"Not so fast!" Too late. Oh, well, maybe he wasn't meant to have his hair combed after all.
Sure enough, within a few seconds her husband had returned, his hair sticking straight up again. Lois resignedly pulled out her comb, but when she also pulled out the tiny aerosol can of hairspray, Clark threw up his hands in protest.
"No, no, honey, not the hairspray—you know it chokes me. I'll be good, I promise. No supermoving at all…"
Lois giggled. "At least, not until we get home, you mean. Come on—we're gonna be late to the party."
In a flash she had put on her coat and scooped up Joanna in her carrier and the diaper bag. Clark grinned and added Matthew's carrier, his wallet and the car keys to the burden in his hands, then followed his wife out the door.
"Here you go, Jimmy," Lois grinned, shifting Joanna and the diaper bag to the other hip so she could pass the laptop over without dropping everything.
"Thanks, Lois. Just give me a day or two and this will be the hippest, most modern laptop you ever saw." Jimmy took the computer, but the babies had his attention. "Hey, you two, look what Uncle Jimmy got you for Christmas…"
Lois eyed with disdain the two Teletubbies dolls Jimmy was waving in front of the twins.
"Oh, lord, not you too, Jimmy?!"
"What?! What did I do?"
Clark chuckled and pointed at the stuffed toys. "It's the dolls, Jimmy."
"What about them? I thought they were the latest thing for kids."
"What they are is a crime against humanity!"
"Okay, maybe that's a bit strong, but they're pretty darn close to it. I think it's mind-rot television for preschoolers and Matt and Jo are not going to get sucked into it."
Jimmy shook his head slowly. "Then I guess I should get rid of the dolls?"
"Sounds like a good idea to me, Jimmy."
After getting Lois and the babies settled in the conference room, Clark ventured back out on the newsroom floor and headed for the buffet table. He made his way across the room, meeting and greeting various members of the Planet staff, including Allie Anderson, a motherly, middle-aged woman who worked in the Research Department.
"Happy Holidays, Allie," Clark said, giving her a warm smile.
"Merry Christmas, Clark. I was hoping I'd see you. Are Lois and the babies here?"
"Yep, they're over in the conference room and I was sent out to forage for food. Lois told me I had to snare a piece of your famous fudge mocha cheesecake and it always goes fast."
Allie frowned slightly. "I'm afraid there's no cheesecake this year, Clark. What with my mother passing away and all, I just haven't been in a festive mood."
"I'm sorry, Allie—"
"There's nothing to be sorry about, Clark. Mom was over ninety when her time came and she had a rich, full life." Allie sighed. "Anyway, I'll see you later. I've got to help set up the sound system."
As Clark waved goodbye and turned back to buffet table, Dr. Klein and Dr. Friskin motioned for him to join them.
"Hey, Bernie. Ruth," Clark said as he picked up two plates. "Glad you could make it."
Klein leaned forward, glancing from side to side. "Just so you'll know, Clark, Perry told us that there have been some thefts at the Daily Planet. Nothing big, but I thought maybe you could tell Superman to keep an eye out."
Clark frowned. "It bothers me when anyone steals, but particularly around Christmas time."
Ruth sighed. "There is an increase in crime during holidays. Too much ready cash, packages unguarded. It seems to invite predators," she said, and bit the head off of a gingerbread man.
Klein winced. "But the Planet? I don't like to think an employee would do something like that. It's like STAR Labs. Kind of a family atmosphere."
"Bernie," Ruth laughed. "Remember the party at STAR Labs where some kind of laxative was put in the punch?"
Klein put down his cup. "I didn't say it wasn't sometimes a dysfunctional family, Ruth."
Clark nodded. "I'd hate to think it's a member of the staff. I mean we aren't a high security operation here. A lot of people from messengers to school tours come through here in any given week. Still," he sighed, "Maybe Superman can do some checking."
Klein put a chocolate Santa on one of the plates Clark was filling. "It's for Lois when she feels better."
Clark raised an eyebrow. "Feels better?"
"Yes, I thought I heard her yelling something about her tummy."
Clark grinned. "Tubby, Bernie, not tummy."
"Ah," Klein nodded, and took the chocolate back.
"No, a Teletubby … never mind. I think I'll just get this plate to Lois while I'm ahead."
Clark walked through the newsroom with his head slightly lowered so he could see over his glasses frames. Nothing seemed suspicious. Maybe the thief wouldn't strike at the party. He opened the door to the conference room. Lois was turned slightly as she nursed Matthew.
Clark beamed. His unsettled feelings about the thefts vanished. "I love watching you nurse the babies. Have I said that yet today?"
Lois returned his smile. "Not today, no."
"Anything I can do to help?"
"Can Kryptonian males nurse …wait, forget I even asked!"
Clark set the plates down on the table and lifted Lois and Matthew and began to sway them in his arms. "I asked my dad how to be a good father, and he gave me some good advice."
Lois rested her head against his shoulder. "And that would be?"
"He said being a good daddy is keeping the mommy happy."
"He did, huh? And did he give you any suggestions for how to do that?"
Clark raised an eyebrow. "You suggesting I don't know how to do that all on my own? No, forget I said that." He continued cuddling them with a fond expression on his face. "Anyway, you didn't complain last week when I brought back that Belgian chocolate, did…"
His voice trailed off as his attention was caught by something outside the conference room. His glasses had still been a little way down his nose, and his super-vision had kicked in, allowing him to see beyond the blinds.
"What is it, Clark?" Lois reached out to touch his arm, attracting his attention.
He turned to face her, a wary expression on his face. "Honey, someone seems to be looking at our laptop—I'm sure it's ours, I recognize the Superman sticker you put on the lid."
"I thought Jimmy'd put it away in his locker!" Lois exclaimed. "Who is it — and what are they doing? How dare they…?"
Clark shrugged. "It's Ralph. Now hang on, honey, don't go steaming out there… I guess he can't do any harm— "
"Can't he?" There was a note to Lois' voice which made Clark stare at her in alarm.
"What do you mean? There's nothing on that computer which would… is there?"
"Well…" Lois' voice trailed off, but at Clark's stern expression she continued. "Um… I might have… there might be some Superman stuff on it," she muttered quickly.
"What?! And you gave it to Jimmy to check?" Clark was incredulous. "You know what Jimmy's like—no password is secure enough to keep him out!"
"Well, I figured all he'd do is run the Y2K tests, not search through our files," Lois excused herself. "Anyway, if Ralph really is—"
Before she could continue, Clark frowned and, placing the baby swiftly in his carrier, gestured her to silence.
The door swung open. "Hey, just thought I'd see how my favorite honorary grandkids are doing!" the familiar voice of Perry White boomed.
"Hi, Perry," they said together, and Lois giggled.
Perry smiled back and hunkered down beside the babies. "Merry Christmas, Jo, Matt…"
"Chief, I'm gonna go get us some eggnog—be right back," Clark announced, then slipped out before either Perry or Lois realized it.
Looking back into the conference room to be sure Lois was busy with the babies and wouldn't scold him later, then around at the news floor to ensure that no one else was looking his way either, he sidled up to Ralph.
"Merry Christmas, Ralph."
Ralph nearly jumped two feet, so engrossed was he with Lois' password screen. He hit the ESC button fast, then said, "Oh, hey, Clark, didn't see you there. Merry Christmas to you, too."
"Hey, Ralph, would you do me a favor? I promised Lois and Perry some eggnog, but I don't see any here…"
"I think I saw some down at the coffee stand beside the front door on the way in." Ralph grinned, then took off. Behind him, a gust of wind whistled, and the computer disappeared.
Clark stowed the computer safely away in Jimmy's locker and slipped back into the conference room. He was glad to see that Perry was still playing with the twins and he hadn't been missed by either of them.
"I've forgotten just how fast children change at this age. I swear that Matthew has grown since I saw them last week." Perry sighed and stood up. "Take some advice, kids, and don't make the same mistake I did. Take your time coming back to work, Lois. You both should spend every minute you get with these two."
"I fully intend to spend as much time as I can, Chief," Lois replied. "But there are times when I realize that I need to work too. I'd hate to lose my edge."
"I was thinking about that, Chief," Clark said. "Maybe we can come to some arrangement where we both work and get to spend time with the twins. We could work from home a few days of the week."
"Let me think about that and I'll get back to you when Lois' maternity leave comes to an end. Meanwhile, Alice is in the newsroom and we want to give you something for the babies for Christmas."
Perry opened up the door and ushered Lois back into the newsroom. He picked up Matthew's carrier and gestured for Clark to pick up Joanna's.
Alice saw the conference room door open and began to make her way towards them. She had two small packages in her hands.
"Here, Lois," she said as they caught up with her. "I hope that you'll like these. Perry and I want to start a tradition going with these gifts."
Lois took the gifts from Alice. "Can we open them now?" she asked. Alice nodded, so she handed one to Clark and began taking off the wrapping paper. Everyone else in the newsroom drifted over to find out what was inside.
Lois had the paper off in record time and then grinned and gave Alice a big hug. It was a beautiful ornament for the tree. The airplane was the first one in a series of Hallmark ornaments and was obviously for Matthew.
"What's in that one, Clark?" she asked as she handed the gift to their audience so they could see it too. Clark had unwrapped Joanna's ornament and found it was a wonderful little teddy bear.
"These are just wonderful, Perry, Alice. They'll be treasured and put on the tree every year." Lois was so glad that the gifts weren't something like those Teletubbies that Jimmy had brought, or worse yet, something to do with that awful purple dinosaur.
Just then, Ralph came back up with the eggnogs for Clark. "Here you are, Clark. I made sure that they didn't put any rum in the one for Lois."
"I tried to get her the no-fat version too, but they were all out of that one," Ralph said as he handed the cups to Clark. He then bent down to Joanna's carrier and began to play with her. After a few moments Ralph cried, "Hey, watch out!" and began backing away from the baby.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Ralph," Lois said with artificial sweetness. "I'm sure Joanna didn't mean to throw up on you that way. But you know how babies are."
"Darn, this is a new suit. I bought it just for the party."
"Well, maybe you'd better clean up before that stain sets in."
As they watched Ralph scurry off, Clark leaned over and whispered in Lois' ear. "If I didn't know better, honey, I'd swear you trained Jo to do that."
Lois smirked. "Actually it was an accident. But you know, Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without Ralph decorated with something, um… sticky."
Clark chuckled, then suddenly got *that* look.
Lois sighed. "What is it?"
"A riot at the Heavenly Heaps ice cream factory."
"How can you have a riot at an ice cream factory?"
"Honey, I just pick up distress calls, I don't interpret them," he said, and kissed her cheek. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
Lois shook her head and looked at the twins. "Won't daddy be fun on Career Day?"
Though feeling the holiday cheer, having Clark depart focused her thoughts on the laptop. How could she have just casually decided to hand it over to Jimmy? She trusted him, but mistakes, crashes, even thefts could happen.
Maybe she was just worrying too much. Maybe not enough. "Hell," she whispered, then called, "Jimmy!"
The young man came trotting in obediently, but cautiously. After the Teletubbies fiasco he could faintly hear the ice cracking beneath his feet.
"Mind if I stand back a little, Lois? I saw Ralph wearing baby shampoo."
Lois laughed. "That's fine, Jimmy. I need you to bring me the laptop from your locker. Clark said he put it there."
"No problem … uh … you're not going to try working during the party, are you?"
"How come everyone thinks I'd do something like that?"
"Uh .. no reason. Back in a flash," he said, and hurried out of sight.
Lois paced in front of the babies, awaiting Jimmy's return. "That's another lesson, Jo and Matt. When Jimmy says 'back in a flash,' it's not the same as when Daddy says that. Okay, scratch that, your daddy comes back in a blur… Next lesson, your mother loses her mind because she brought her laptop to a party at a time when things are being stolen!"
Jimmy finally came running back, pale and perspiring. "Lois, I just checked my locker. Your laptop isn't there."
Jimmy patted her arm reassuringly. "It's not all bad news. The Teletubbies were swiped too."
Lois pasted on a bright smile to hide her panic. "Well, whoever it is won't get far. Those things will make the thief lose his lunch in no time."
Jimmy snickered at that, but abruptly stopped when he saw a frown form on Lois' face. "Although then he might be sick on the laptop, and that wouldn't be good, would it?"
"Well, I— Not that there's anything important on there, really," Lois reassured him, pasting her bright smile firmly back into place.
"So then why'd you want me to fix it?"
Lois stared at him for a second, then laughed. "I was just thinking, you know, it might be a good backup, because sometimes I—never mind. Thanks, Jimmy." It was an unmistakable dismissal, and Jimmy gratefully escaped.
Lois turned away from the windows and frowned in fierce worry. Now what was she going to do? She'd intended to copy the journal over to her other machine, but the local network had been down, and she could never find a floppy when she needed one. Clark had lots, but she didn't know his organizational system and hadn't wanted to explain why she needed it.
"Okay, kids," she addressed the sleepy twins, "Mommy's going to have to get the computer back. But promise me not to tell Daddy just yet, okay? He'd only worry."
She heard a tapping on the door, and whirled around to see Drs. Klein and Friskin peeking their heads in.
"May we see the babies, Lois?" Ruth asked softly.
"Oh! Yes, of course," Lois replied, forcing her worries to the back of her mind. "They've just eaten so they're thinking of falling asleep again."
"Matthew looks like he's asleep already, but Joanna looks wide awake," Klein observed, from a safe distance.
Ruth laughed. "We've just seen Ralph," she explained, then tempted fate by leaning forward to pick up the alert Joanna. "Let's see if you like me more than you like him, darling!"
Lois grinned, some of her tension easing. "I think you're safe, Ruth."
"Just don't psychoanalyze her, sweetie," Klein advised nervously. "Some people don't take that very well."
"Nonsense," she replied briskly. "More self-knowledge is always valuable. And in this case, I diagnose a little party girl!" She arranged the baby so that Joanna could see more of the festivities.
Lois smiled fondly. "I admit she likes people, but I think it's too early to tell."
"We'll just have to keep close tabs on them both as they grow," Ruth concluded, smiling fatuously at both children. Lois felt her eyes widen in some dismay at the thought, but decided not to argue the point.
Dr. Klein leaned in close and whispered, "It's the eggnog. Tomorrow she'll have forgotten all about it."
She smiled at him, wondering if this constituted support, but was saved the necessity of a reply by Clark's re-entry into the room.
"Well, I got to … um … the Salvation Army in time. What did I miss here?"
Clark had exited the elevator several minutes earlier, quickly mingling with the partying crowd in the newsroom and trying to make it appear as if he'd never been away.
Swiftly dodging one of the secretaries who was drunkenly waving a sprig of mistletoe in his direction, he had scanned the area for Lois. It seemed as if she was still in the conference room. He really needed to get back to her—she could hardly be enjoying the party if she was shut in there with Matthew and Joanna all night.
Although, on reflection… Clark smiled wryly as he reminded himself that Lois would probably prefer to be exactly where she was—especially if he was with her—than to have to mingle and make polite small talk with some of their colleagues. These days she was a far cry from the old Mad Dog Lane who had never heard of social chit-chat or taking time off work. And she even counted some of their co-workers as friends. But still…
His musings were interrupted by Jimmy grabbing hold of his arm. "CK! I've been looking all over for you—"
"Is it Lois? The babies?" Clark felt a cold hand wrap around his heart, and he quickly tried to use his X-ray vision without being seen.
"No—they're fine, CK! At least… they were ten minutes ago. I think Dr. Klein and Dr. Friskin are with her now." Jimmy swallowed nervously. "No, it's… um… about your laptop, CK," he added bravely.
Clark gave Jimmy a puzzled but impatient stare. "Yes, Jimmy? I'm kind of in a hurry…"
"CK, it's gone!" Jimmy gabbled, having decided it was probably going to be easier to come out with the bad news and take the consequences.
Clark, who had been about to stride off, froze in mid-step. "Gone? What do you mean?" His voice was calm, deliberate, and Lois—or numerous 'victims' of Superman—would have recognized it as faintly threatening.
"Um… gone, Clark! It was in my locker, you know? You put it there yourself! And then Lois asked me for it back—she wanted me to bring it to her in the conference room, but when I went to get it, it wasn't there!"
Realizing that he would have to delay his return to Lois' side a little longer, Clark sighed visibly and changed direction towards Jimmy's desk, hoping that some other curious denizen of the newsroom hadn't decided to examine the contents of his wife's directories.
Exactly what had she meant anyway about having left some Superman stuff on the hard drive? What sort of Superman stuff? Nothing that would give away his secret identity… he hoped.
On the other hand, why else would she have been so concerned? Why would she have looked so guilty when she'd mentioned it?
It wasn't in Jimmy's locker. Nor was it on his desk. Nor on the desk of anyone else in the vicinity.
Clark sighed again and turned to face his younger colleague. "Jimmy, I need you to find this. Now. And when you do, bring it to Lois and me in the conference room, okay? There's… um, some sensitive material on it. To do with one of our investigations. If it got into the wrong hands, well…" He trailed off deliberately, matching his tone of voice with a stern expression.
Jimmy gulped and nodded.
Turning then, Clark headed back towards the conference room with the intention of finding out from Lois exactly what she had stored in the computer's memory. However, the presence of Bernie and Ruth in the conference room had prevented him posing the immediate questions, and instead he'd had to put his mind to coming up with an excuse for his absence.
Lois, he noticed, seemed a little bit nervous. He crossed to kiss her, a glint in his eye which he knew she would recognize.
"Hi honey—I missed you," she told him as she kissed him back.
Jimmy sighed as he watched Clark go back into the conference room. He was wondering just how to start looking for the missing laptop.
"Clues," he said to himself. "Where would I start looking for clues?"
He got up from the desk and went over to his locker. Nothing there seemed out of place. He stood up and decided to do a careful search of the newsroom and see if there was anything out of the ordinary. Maybe the thief had dropped something helpful.
Ten minutes later he had searched the entire floor. The laptop had not been abandoned anywhere and there was nothing to go on. He turned and surveyed the area one last time.
"Maybe if I went up the ramp to the elevators," he thought. "The height might just be enough to see something I missed from down here."
He was almost up to the elevators when he was intercepted by one of the girls from Research.
"Jimmy, I've been looking for you all evening," she gushed. "They've just started the music and I was hoping you'd like to dance with me."
Jimmy sighed but allowed himself to be dragged off to the makeshift dance floor. Maybe he would have better luck later when the place was quiet.
At the sound of the music Bernie looked up from the babies and smiled at Ruth. "Care to join me on the dance floor, cupcake?"
"I'd love to, Bernie."
As the doctors exited the conference room, Clark turned back to Lois. "Honey, we need to talk."
"Talk? Why do we need to do that, sweetheart?" Lois replied nervously.
"Well, for one thing, Jimmy just told me that your laptop is missing."
"He what? Why on earth would he tell you a thing like that? He must be pulling your leg. You know Jimmy—he's such a kidder."
"Jimmy isn't kidding and you know it."
"Well…er, that is—"
"And there's something important on that laptop, too, isn't there?"
Before Lois could answer, Clark got *the look* on his face again.
"What's the matter?"
"It's a fire, in Suicide Slum. A bad one. I'd better—"
"Go! And be careful."
Clark kissed her quickly. "I will be. But we still have to talk when I get back."
The fire in Suicide Slum was followed by a 20-car pileup on the expressway, which was in turn followed by a hostage crisis at a local post office. Lois followed Clark's activities around Metropolis with mixed emotions. As much as she missed him, she was relieved that he wasn't there to continue their talk. Particularly since she had no idea what she was going to say to him.
Lois sighed. At times like this she wished she really could become invisible.
Clark drifted in mid-air for a moment as he overheard the report of a brawl at the Ace o' Clubs. "'Tis the season," he said sourly and flew back towards Suicide Slum.
Lois set the baby carriers down next to the front door as she dug her keys out of her purse. She had passed carolers down the block and was glad they hadn't made their way to the townhouse yet. The mood she was in, "Deck the Halls" would take on a whole new meaning.
Lois unlocked the door, picked up the babies, and was pleasantly surprised to find Martha and Jonathan seated in the living room. "Thank goodness," she said, followed by an exasperated sigh.
"Oh, honey," Martha cooed and took one of the babies. "You look exhausted."
Jonathan took the other and smiled. "Too much dancing?"
"Dancing? Well, that's as good a word as any for what I've been doing," Lois grumbled and sat down heavily on the sofa.
"Uh-oh," Jonathan said. "Trouble with Clark?"
"What? No, Clark is an angel, as usual. I'd put him on top of the Christmas tree if he'd fit."
Martha laughed and took a seat next to Lois. "He's out being Superman?"
Lois nodded. "The man of steel has been busy all day, and that's the only thing that's saved my neck up to now."
Jonathan started to eat a cookie, received a reproving look from Martha, and handed it to Lois. "You think Clark will be upset by something?" he asked, wistfully watching as Lois took a bite of the cookie.
"Upset?" Lois repeated, as if Jonathan had spoken a foreign phrase she was utterly unfamiliar with. "Clark is always honest with me, but I guess I haven't been quite as honest with him," she said, and offered a bite of her cookie to Jonathan.
He looked at Martha, sighed, and looked back. "No thanks, I've had plenty."
"Did you lie about something, honey?" Martha asked, trying to follow Lois' one-sided conversation.
"Is not telling him something a lie? If so, I lied."
Jonathan shook his head. "No, that's not a lie. I mean I told Martha I was going to burn all evidence of Clark's spaceship after some men came nosing around, and I meant it … but I couldn't do it. It was part of Clark. But…"
"But," Martha interrupted, "he never told me that he'd changed his mind and hidden it instead."
Jonathan tugged at his collar. "I could sure use a cookie."
Lois smiled. "When did you find out, Martha?"
"Remember the year you met Clark?"
"*That* long? Sheesh, it's a good thing I found out Clark is Superman on my own."
"Honey, what is it you didn't tell Clark?"
"Hey, hey, come on guys, it's almost Christmas!" Superman shouted as a chair was broken over his head. The Ace o' Clubs was a lot of things, but dull was never one of them.
"Lay off Sooperman, he's my fav'rit'!" Bibbo said, and butted the man in the stomach with his head.
Clark stood there, arms folded, all Supermanish, but decided there was little he could do here. Some fires just had to burn themselves out naturally.
"Great fight, ain't it," a man in a torn sailor's uniform said.
"Yeah, great," Superman replied. "What started it?"
"Oh, Pockets was puttin' up Christmas decorations for Bibbo, but he didn't take the Halloween stuff down first. The wires shorted, and that Santa Claus on the roof that waves … have ya seen it, Supes?"
"No, haven't seen it."
"Well, the Halloween wires crossed with the Christmas ones, shorted out, and Santa's arm waved clean off, busted through the skylight, and landed in the chili."
"Yeah, it'll put hair on yer chest. Anyhoo, the chef got sore, and started cussin' out Pockets. I don't know what he was sayin' 'cause he don't speak English too good."
"Must be catching," Clark muttered.
"It's been a great fight ever since. You ain't really gonna bust it up, are ya, Supes?"
Clark waved the man's breath away. "I'm sure having more nog than egg in the eggnog hasn't helped much."
"Oh yeah, it's real good."
Clark patted the sailor on the shoulder. "I guess I'll just let you guys have fun here, and head home."
"You got a home, Supes?"
"I … uh…"
"They say Batman lives in a cave. Have you met Batman?"
"Once or twice."
"Does he live in a cave?"
"I never met him at … home," Clark said hastily, and departed.
Lois shrugged. "That's the whole story, and I'm sure Clark won't be too happy about it."
Jonathan glanced up. "You won't have to wait long to find out," he said, indicating Clark's entrance through the window.
Lois, Jonathan and Martha all rose from the sofa in unison as Clark spun from cape to T-shirt and jeans. It was an awkward moment, since the Kents, like Lois, had temporarily misplaced their smiles.
Clark slipped his glasses into place. "No offense," he joked, "but you look like a police line-up. Anything wrong?"
"Clark," Lois said as she approached him. "The laptop is still missing, and I was hoping to get it back before I had to tell you exactly what's on it."
Martha nudged Jonathan. "Honey, we'll take the babies upstairs."
Jonathan nodded as he placed some cookies in his pocket. "And make sure they have a nice nap."
Lois leaned against Clark as she watched the Kents ascend the stairs. She found it easier to look anywhere but in Clark's eyes.
He sighed, putting an arm around her shoulder and walking her back to the sofa. "Honey, what is it?"
Lois sat down, but kept her face lowered. "I guess I wasn't thinking. I was sure my journal was on the desktop … I mean it is on the desktop computer, but I had transferred it to the laptop months ago … and forgot. I meant to delete it … but …"
"Lois," he whispered and rubbed his hand across her shoulders. "I just want the truth. I don't care how bad it is, I just want to know what you're upset about so I can help. Or at least," he added with a smile, "be upset with you. What's in the journal?"
Lois finally met his gaze. "It's something I hoped to leave for our children. Kind of a legacy."
Clark took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Lois and Clark … and Superman?"
"Yes," she said, her voice gone small. "I'm so sorry, Clark. It's one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time, but when something like this happens," she sighed, "I can almost hear Jay Leno asking, 'What the hell were you thinking'? And believe me, Clark," she added quickly, "if someone reads that journal and decides to offer it for public consumption, being invited to the Tonight Show isn't too farfetched."
Clark ran a hand through his hair. "I guess it's pretty thorough."
"Thorough?" Lois managed a sardonic laugh. "I even have an A through Z cross-index."
"I guess if you wanted to leave a complete journal behind for the children, you'd … there's something for 'Z'?"
"Lying to Sergeant Zymeck to cover for the jewelry store robbery."
Clark closed his eyes. "Oh, boy."
"Clark," Lois said softly and rubbed his arm. "Ever since I found out I was pregnant, I've been doing a lot of personal reassessing of my life and thinking about what used to be important to me versus what *is* important to me now."
"Like maybe quitting the Planet to be a stay-at-home mom."
Lois nodded. "And it's not even the fact that our kids could be special or different from other kids, Clark. It's just that I've decided I don't want to be chasing down a lead when the babies take their first steps or say their first words."
"Sounds like my old nightmares of having to be Superman and missing out on important moments in my children's lives," Clark said soberly.
"Oh, Clark," she sighed and laid her head against his shoulder. "You *have* to be Superman because no one else *can* be, and whether you believe it or not, you're here for me when I really need you and you'll be here for our children when *they* really need you. But," she added with a shrug, "the world can get by with one less journalist."
"Maybe the world can, but I'm not so sure about me."
Lois smiled. "I'll always be your partner, Clark—I don't think I'd know how *not* to be—but maybe you can just think of our home as the branch office of Lane and Kent."
Lois waited for a response, but didn't try to coax one. She'd learned from experience that was the best approach because Clark had two modes: 'knee jerk' and 'deep contemplation.' Happily the 'knee jerk' zone had passed.
Finally Clark took her hand and tipped his head, indicating he wanted her to rise with him. She wasn't sure what he was up to as they approached the window and he opened it with his breath, but she was at least fairly sure he wasn't planning on throwing her out.
With the window open, she could hear the carolers she had passed earlier. Clark reached into his pocket and threw a few bills down to the Victorian-attired singers.
As the children in the group gleefully scooped up the money, a man stepped forward, doffing his hat. "Thank you," he shouted up to the window. "Have you a request, sir?"
"'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear'."
"Very good, sir!"
"Oh, Clark," Lois whispered and dropped her head against his shoulder. "I don't know if you're in total denial about the laptop, or if I have a full-fledged rant coming later, but … thank you."
Clark rested his head atop hers. "Then you remember."
"Of course I remember. Three years ago we stood at my apartment window and listened to the carolers. I took your hand and didn't let go."
"Exactly," he whispered. "We both held on. We'll find that laptop. Besides," he added, his voice gone smoky. "I wanted so badly to kiss you that night. I won't pass the chance up twice."
Lois turned into his embrace and the kiss that was waiting for her. It was three years late, but worth the wait.
As Clark's lips closed over hers, Lois' mind drifted back to that night three years earlier.
She had been all alone in her apartment that Christmas Eve, all of her friends and family having had other plans. She'd heard the sound of rushing wind outside her window, and had thought, with a sudden leap of hope, that Superman had come to join her, but it had been Clark who'd knocked at her door.
She remembered his present to her, the beautiful star which, he'd said, was from both him and Superman. And there had been an expression in his eyes as she'd opened it… How had she not recognized just how much he loved her?
And then there had been the carolers. It had been an incredibly romantic moment, she'd even known that at the time. As she'd stood next to Clark, her hand in his, his head tilted so that it was resting on hers, her heart had skipped a beat waiting for him to turn towards her…
She'd expected that he would kiss her then; she'd ached inside for him to do just that. He would wait until the carol had ended, then he'd turn her in his arms and tilt her chin up to him, and… But when the carolers had finished and silence had once again descended, Clark had stood awkwardly for a moment before muttering something indistinct and moving away from her. Lois had stood still, deeply disappointed and wondering whether he simply hadn't felt anything at all during the few moments they'd been standing together. Had he not been affected by the sheer romance of it?
But now, three years later and with a lot of explanations behind them, she understood perfectly. He *had* been deeply in love with her then, but having had his love rejected once, he'd been scared to try again. Her courageous superhero, so uncertain when it came to his emotions and his love for her.
As the carolers ended their rendition, Clark's mouth lifted from hers and moved to caress her earlobe. "Sweetheart, I love you. Nothing matters beside that, I promise."
Lois caught his arm. "Clark—what if whoever has the laptop reads my journal and finds out that you're Superman? Our lives will be destroyed—Matt and Jo will never be safe!"
Clark was silent for a moment, which only served to make Lois feel even worse. Then he inhaled deeply, his dark eyes gazing fondly at her. "Honey, if that happens, we'll deal with it. We've always known that there's a possibility it'll happen some day."
His sensitive fingers traced her cheekbones before trailing into her hair, combing the tresses away from her face. "But let's not assume the worst before it happens, okay? We'll get it back. We'll find whoever has it and with any luck they won't even have got past your security password."
Lois gulped. "Um… password?"
Clark's expression turned into a frown. "Honey… you *did* password-protect the file, didn't you?"
"Um… I know you and Jimmy tell me I should, but… but I don't always remember and… and I don't think I did with this file."
Tears were pricking at her eyes now. Not that she was afraid of Clark's anger. No, she was more upset at her own stupidity. Her careless actions had put their family's safety and privacy at risk, and for that she would never be able to forgive herself. Clark would forgive her, but that was only because he was the kindest, most loving man she had ever met.
Unable to bear his sympathy any longer, she pulled away from his embrace, willing him to yell at her so that she could at least feel punished in some way for her carelessness.
"Lois," he spoke quietly, not wanting to upset her any more than she already was. "Just remember that I love you and the twins more than anything else in the world. There's no sense in punishing yourself over this."
Before she was able to reply, one of the twins began to cry. Lois was glad of the distraction and vanished up the stairs.
It was almost an hour later when she had finally fed both of the babies and got them back to sleep. After giving her some time to settle down, Clark had joined her in the nursery and watched quietly while she fed them. He helped get them settled for the night and then gently led her into their bedroom.
"It will all look better in the morning, Lois." he said. "We'll sit down with Mom and Dad and sort out a plan."
The next morning, Lois awoke to the wonderful smell of bacon and eggs. She was glad that the twins were starting to sleep through the night. She would need all her energy to help get the laptop back. She was just about to get up to check on the babies when Clark came in with a cup of herbal tea.
"Just stay there and drink this while I check on the twins. I'll get them changed and then bring them in for breakfast."
Lois grabbed his hand and pulled him down for a quick kiss. "I love you, sweetheart," she said and let him go get the babies.
While she was nursing them, Clark went back downstairs for a tray with Lois' breakfast. Once everyone had been fed and the babies were tucked back up in their cribs for a morning nap, Lois and Clark went downstairs for a family conference.
Jonathan and Martha were sitting at the kitchen table waiting for them.
"Morning and thanks for breakfast," Lois said as they sat down. "The babies are all set for the next few hours so it's time to put a plan together."
"I guess the first thing to do is to make a few calls to the 'usual suspects.'"
"Who?" Jonathan asked.
Clark chuckled. "Over the years Lois and I have built up a kind of network of sources—"
"Snitches," Martha said matter-of-factly.
Lois smirked. "Exactly."
Clark shrugged and grinned. "Okay, snitches. I guess the best one to check would be Bobby Bigmouth. He might know something about the thefts that have been occurring at the Planet."
Lois nodded in agreement. "We should also check with Bill Henderson and Maggie Sawyer. Maybe the MPD has some leads."
"Right—" Clark began, but he suddenly grew silent and a faraway look came into his eyes.
"Bank robbery?" Lois asked. Clark shook his head.
"Earthquake?" Martha suggested.
"Actually, it's a Santa emergency. I just remembered I promised the Coates Orphanage I'd help Santa hand out gifts this morning. I'm sorry, honey—"
Lois smiled warmly. "There's nothing to be sorry for. I knew when I married you that you were a world class sentimental softy. I wouldn't have you any other way." She kissed him quickly. "Hurry back, and give my best to Santa."
"All right, honey, I'll be sure to do that. Now promise me that you'll try not to do anything too *interesting* while I'm gone, okay?" Clark grinned, spun into his costume, and disappeared in a blur.
"Well, I guess that puts this planning session on hold," Jonathan said as he began to clear away the breakfast dishes.
"What makes you think that?" Lois asked.
"Well, Clark just said—"
"I'm not planning to do anything interesting. Just make a few phone calls, that's all. Nothing to worry about."
Half an hour later, Lois threw the cordless phone disgustedly on the couch. She hadn't been able to reach any of their snitches. She looked at her watch and grimaced. The babies would probably need to be fed pretty soon, but maybe Clark would be back by then. They could go out and see if they could track somebody down. If he wasn't, well…
Clark gave out the last of the gifts and accepted the last hug from the kids. After a last round of Merry Christmases and handshakes from the staff, he waved to them all and rose into the air. The children clapped and cheered as he suddenly blurred out of sight.
Clark grinned to himself. He knew they loved watching him do that, so he always tried to make it a little dramatic for them. As soon as he was safely out of sight, he changed direction and landed in the alley behind Louie's pool hall.
He spun into his Clark Kent clothes and entered the building. This time he wasn't met with hostility, but was immediately shown into Louie's office.
Louie grinned when he saw who his visitor was. "Well, well, well, if it isn't the new poppa. How're the kids…keepin' ya up at night?"
Clark shook Louie's outstretched hand. "Everyone is fine, Louie, but I need a favor. Someone has been lifting stuff from the Planet including Lois' laptop and we'd appreciate you keeping an eye out for it."
He whistled. "Good luck with getting that laptop back. Those go pretty fast."
Clark sighed. "That's what I was afraid of, but anything you can find out will help."
"You got a list of what's been ripped off?"
Clark shook his head. "Not yet, they're still putting it together at the Planet right now, but I'll drop it back by as soon as it's done."
"Sounds good to me."
"If anything comes up just give me a call. You have our number, right?"
"Sure thing, kid. Anything for you and Lois. I'll get my guys right on it."
Meanwhile, back at the townhouse, Lois closed the door of the nursery, and tiptoed to the stairs.
Martha met her at the bottom. "Are they asleep again?"
"Yes. Listen, Martha, would you mind keeping an eye on them for a few minutes? I'm going to see if I can find Bobby."
"Not unless I go too," Jonathan said as he entered the room.
Lois thought about protesting, but even though Clark wasn't their son by blood, that fixed gaze of determination was all too familiar. Lois shrugged and took his arm. "This should be eye-opening."
"Oh, my," Martha said, and then placed her fingertips on her lips and merely shook her head. She tried to convince herself that he only wanted out of the house so that he could finally eat the cookies he'd hidden in his pocket. Still, she hoped he'd be careful.
"So," Jonathan said as Lois pulled out of the driveway. "Where do we start?"
Lois half-smiled. "Where the elite never meet. The Ace o' Clubs in Suicide Slum."
"That sounds familiar."
"Oh," Lois said dismissively as she took a sharp turn. "I was Wanda Detroit there, but Bibbo understands what happened back then … I think."
"Ah," Jonathan nodded. "I hear pretty rough trade frequents that place. I'm glad I decided to tag along."
"Me too," Lois said sweetly and patted his leg, then suddenly slammed on her breaks and put her head out the window. "Try your turn signal next time, jackass!"
Jonathan tapped his pocket and sighed with relief that the abrupt halt had not crushed the cookies when he'd been given a closer than expected look at the jeep's dashboard.
Lois blushed. "I'm sorry, Jonathan, I'm not like this … well, not every day … well, when I'm not driving."
"No problem, Lois. I've been driving with Martha for three decades." He readjusted his seatbelt. "Though she's more the hand gesture type … uh, not *that* hand gesture. It's taken me years to decipher them."
Lois laughed as she took the waterfront exit. "I am sorry, Jonathan, really, but my biggest thrill was getting Clark to yell out the window on occasion. For some reason that just turns me on … that is, it's so unusual for him …"
"I understand, Lois. Martha's drive-don't-kiss gesture affected me the same way."
"Well," Lois said with a determined sigh, "here we are."
"That Santa on the roof only has one arm."
"Oh, that reminds me. Don't eat the chili," she said as she exited the jeep.
Jonathan smoothed back his hair. "Lois, I wouldn't even drink the water here."
"Good plan." She smiled and took his arm again. Surely Clark would forgive her for taking his father to Metropolis' premier den of iniquity … someday.
Clark entered the nursery window. "Hi, Mom," he said and gave her a hug. He looked at the twins and then scanned the house. "Where's Lois?"
"Petite, sexy brunette wearing a ring like mine, remember?"
"Oh, honey," she laughed nervously. "She just … stepped out for a while."
Clark straightened and folded his arms. "Okay, let's have it."
Martha sighed. "She and your father went out to find that Bobby Bigmouth person."
"*Dad* went with her?"
Martha shrugged. "He insisted."
"Oh, boy, I hope Lois doesn't … I hope … I've gotta go."
Martha looked at the babies when the window clattered shut. They stirred only slightly. Martha pulled up the cover on Matthew. "That was your father, dear. He's just going to find your grandfather, who really has it coming when he gets back."
Clark flew over Metropolis scanning for the jeep and Lois, trying to follow the scent of his mother's homemade gingerbread cookies, but this time of year the scent was everywhere. He did, however, spot Bobby Bigmouth coming out of Ralph's Pagoda.
Clark swooped to a stop in front of him. "Bobby Bigmouth?"
"Superman? Hey, you know me?"
"Well, I know Lois and Clark and they know you. Have you seen or spoken to Lois recently?"
Bobby shook his head. "Nah, not for a while, and ya know, Superman, she always had the best bribes. Clark was the nice one, though."
Clark cleared his throat. "She was looking for you. She needed information on a stolen laptop. Stolen from the Planet."
Bobby suddenly looked uncomfortable and belched loudly. "The Planet, huh? Well, I'm sure it'll turn up. I should get going, hope ya find Lois," he said and placed a hand on his stomach. "I must have eaten too fast."
Clark sighed and was airborne once again. Where was she? Where were *they*? They weren't at Bobby's usual haunts, not that he really had any. Clark thought Ralph's Pagoda could be scratched off the list in the future.
As he neared the waterfront, he got a sinking feeling. He x-rayed the Ace o' Clubs. "She couldn't… yep, she could."
Deciding to remain in 'the suit,' he entered the club where an extremely noisy Christmas party was in full swing.
The sailor from the night before was moving towards Lois, which was no surprise since she was the most attractive woman there, and one of the few conscious ones.
"Wanna dance, baby?"
Lois literally recoiled from his breath. "Okay. We'll pick separate counties and exchange photos."
Jonathan stepped forward. "Please leave the young lady alone."
The sailor fixed his eyes, a literal roadmap of bloodshot veins, on Jonathan. "Who're you? You her old man … real old man."
Clark stepped in front of Jonathan and faced the sailor. "No, I am."
Lois' eyes widened. "Superman is just kidding," she said, and tidied what was left draped on the sailor that resembled a uniform. "We're not married … yet."
The sailor backpedaled quickly. "Sorry, Superman, didn't mean to tread on your toes."
Clark turned to the intrepid investigators. "Lois, Mr. Kent, could I see you outside for a few minutes?"
He quickly ushered Lois and his dad out of the smoke-filled bar and over towards the relative quiet of the parking lot. "Care to explain what you were both doing in there?"
"I was trying to find Bobby Bigmouth and get some information on the things missing from the Planet," Lois tried to explain.
"And I thought I should come along just in case there was any trouble," Jonathan continued.
"Well I found Bobby and he didn't have any leads. I guess our only hope right now is Louie." Clark pulled a folded piece of paper out of his belt. "I guess I'd better get this list to him."
"Clark, before you do that, can you give us a lift back to the townhouse? I'd like to go over that list of missing items before you give it to Louie."
Lois and Jonathan got back into the Jeep, buckled up the seatbelts and let Clark pick them up and take them back home. He dropped the Jeep off in the driveway and took off. Once out of sight, he circled back, landed, and spun back into jeans as he entered the house.
Everyone regrouped back at the kitchen table and Clark pulled out the list of items again.
"Look at this, Clark," Lois said. "The laptop seems to be out of place on this list. There's the old black and white TV from the staff lounge, a coffee cup that Cat left behind, an old sweater and other odds and ends. I know the laptop is old," she continued, "but it doesn't fit with the rest of this stuff."
"Okay, let's call Perry and get him to meet us at the Planet." With that, Clark picked up the phone from where Lois had left it and arranged for all of them to meet at the newspaper.
Lois and Clark arrived ahead of Perry, so Clark used the opportunity to scan the building. He wasn't entirely sure what he was looking for, but he would know it when he found it.
They went up to the newsroom to wait for Perry and found Jimmy looking rather upset. "I've looked everywhere I can think of for your laptop, but there's no sign of it anywhere."
Perry stepped off the elevator just in time to hear Jimmy's last statement. "Is that what all this is about?" Perry asked as he joined them in the conference room.
Jimmy gave a rather half-hearted nod.
"Not entirely, Chief," Clark replied. "The laptop is one thing, but I think I know where all the other things have been disappearing to."
"Oh, well, I know where your laptop is. I put it in the vault during the party last night along with all the other valuables. With all those people in the newsroom, I didn't want anything to go missing," Perry explained, clearing up one mystery.
"So where'd the other things go?" Jimmy asked.
"Come with me down to the morgue and I'll show you," Clark replied and led the way down to where all the back issues of the Planet were kept.
"Jeez, I don't think I've ever been down this deep in the morgue before," Jimmy said warily. "It's kind of creepy. I keep expecting the cigarette-smoking guy from the X-Files to turn up."
"It's not that bad once you get used to it, Jimmy. Clark and I have been down here quite a bit."
Oh, really?" Perry asked as he raised one eyebrow.
"Yes, for research," Clark added hastily, "but what we want to see is right around this corner."
"Great shades of Elvis! It looks like someone has been living down here."
"Hey, Chief, there's that old TV set and Cat's 'Virginia is for Lovers' coffee mug."
"Well, I'm glad we found that item. Now her collection remains intact," Lois said sarcastically.
"But whose room is this?" Perry asked.
"Mine, I'm afraid."
All eyes turned to see Allie Anderson.
"Allie, what do you mean this is your room? You've been living down here?" Perry asked. "What the Sam Hill has been going on?!"
"Take it easy, Chief," Clark said calmly. "I think Allie's more than willing to tell us what's going on. Isn't that right?"
The woman sighed and sat down wearily on a cot in the corner. "I guess so, but it's a long story."
Lois and Clark both smiled at Allie warmly. "We've got plenty of time."
"Well, when my mom got sick this last time the insurance didn't cover a lot of her treatment and care. We used all her savings and mine but that didn't come close to covering it. So I started paying the medical bills and while I paid them my own bills kept piling up. Finally I got behind in everything including my rent and I was evicted from my apartment."
"Great shades of Elvis."
"I needed somewhere to stay, but I couldn't afford another place and I couldn't face living in a homeless shelter so I sold most of my stuff and moved in down here."
"So that explains why you were always the first person here in the mornings and the last person to leave at night," Jimmy interjected.
Allie nodded. "It's easy to be on time when you live on site."
"And the missing items?" Lois asked.
"I borrowed a few things from the newsroom to make it a little more livable down here. I was going to return them as soon as I could."
"Allie," Lois said softly as she took a seat on the cot. "You could have come to Clark and me about this. I know we haven't been close, but I'll never forget you're the one person in Research who didn't send Clark condolence fudge …"
"Or throw darts at Superman," Clark added as he took Lois' hand. "We'd have been more than happy to help out."
"Or the hardship fund," Perry offered. "That's what it's there for, Allie. I can't imagine the Planet getting along half as well as it does without you keeping the young ones in line and on the ball. Right, Jimmy?"
Jimmy blinked. "Definitely, Chief. Allie and I keep the kids in line."
Perry rolled his eyes. "Allie, let me look into the hardship loan program for you."
Allie smiled as she rose from the cot. "I appreciate this more than I can say, but my retirement is next month, and once I get the lump sum from my pension I should be able to pay everything off and have a fresh start. I couldn't really see putting anyone out for just a month's wait," she said, but raised a hand to stave off comments. "I've been fine, really. The Planet's always been my second home and you're all like family to me and I've never really regretted that … well, not until this one," she said, indicating Clark, "came to the Daily Planet."
Clark put a hand on his chest. "Me?"
Allie nodded. "You were different. You didn't come here looking for a Pulitzer or to set the world on fire. You were looking for something entirely different," she said, and glanced at Lois. Lois blushed.
"Well, I'm entirely different, that's for sure."
Allie laughed. "I rooted for you right from the beginning, Clark. Sometimes I even wanted to catch Superman and tell him to make up his mind about Lois or butt out of the competition. You know those tights can be very distracting to women."
"Amen," Lois interjected as her blush deepened.
"But why root for me instead of Superman or …"
"Ouch, yeah, that guy."
"Because Lois needed you, not them."
"Amen," Lois repeated more soberly, and glanced up at Clark as she drew her thumb across the back of his hand.
It was Clark's turn to blush. "Well, I needed Lois, too."
"You needed her *more*," Allie corrected. "I knew you could lose your job, the Planet, and everything else, but if you had her, you'd get by. That's why you were different."
Clark swallowed. That was almost word for word what he had told Lois long ago. "You're right," he said softly.
Perry stepped forward. "Allie, how about at least spending the rest of your time before retirement with Alice and me. Then when you get your pension, you should be able to find a nice little apartment in town, and we'll throw a housewarming."
Allie glanced around her humble surroundings. "I accept, Mr. White. I'm proud, but not stupid."
Perry laughed heartily. "Thatagirl!"
"I think living in a small apartment will suit me after this, though I had been saving for a place in the country. Isn't that a silly dream for someone who's lived in the city all her life?"
"I don't think so," Jimmy said and shook his head. "I stayed in Smallville for a while last year, and aside from being a Kryptonian slave, it was a real nice place."
"Wayne Irig," Lois blurted.
Clark frowned, "Wayne Irig?"
"Sweetheart, you said that he moved into town because he couldn't stand living alone in his old farmhouse after his wife died, and he wanted to lease it out."
"Honey, how did you remember that? I only mentioned it in passing."
"The caramel apples … Wayne Irig … I took a memory association course. I chose food for memory keys … you're pasta, by the way … and do I really have to explain this any further?"
"No," Clark laughed, "but I was really starting to like it."
"Me too," Jimmy added. "What food am I?"
Lois sighed loudly, "Bacon double cheeseburger, lettuce, tomato, no onion."
"Wow," Jimmy whispered. "That's me, all right."
"Allie," Clark interrupted. "Lois is right. Wayne's place is one of the nicest in the county. Beautiful view, duck pond and your own garden."
"Sold!" Allie said cheerfully.
"Great, I'll phone Wayne tonight. When your pension starts, you'll be all ready to move in."
"Maybe Superman can fly you out there. It'll give you a chance to ask him why he dumped me."
"Just kidding," she said as she rose from the cot and slipped her arm around Clark's waist.
"Bless you both," Allie said, and hugged them.
Clark smiled. "Merry Christmas, Allie."
"I actually think it will be," she said with a smile.
"All right, let's all pull out," Perry interrupted. "No need to get sloppy about this," he said, and sniffed.
Perry, Jimmy and Allie all started heading up the stairs.
Jimmy glanced back down at Lois and Clark. "Aren't you guys coming up with us?"
Clark shrugged. "We thought we'd pack some of Allie's things up and put the other stuff back where it belongs."
Jimmy nodded. "Need any help?"
"No!" they said in unison and too eagerly.
Jimmy winked knowingly. "Gotcha. What about the laptop, Lois?"
"Oh, I'll pick it up on the way out. I have the combination to the vault."
"For real? How long before I get the combination?"
Lois averted her glance. "Oh, whenever you can walk up behind Perry quietly enough while he's spinning the dial."
Jimmy laughed. "Goodnight, guys. Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas, Jimmy." Clark turned to Lois as soon as the stairwell door closed. "Merry Christmas, honey."
"Merry Christmas, Clark," she whispered against his lips as she pulled the chain, putting out the light.
The writers would like to acknowledge that the character Allie and her situation were inspired by the storyline in Adventures of Superman #492, ten by Roger Stern with artwork by Dan Jurgens.