By Chris Carr <email@example.com>
Submitted: December 2002
Summary: As a child, Lois Lane learned to be cynical about Christmas. Now that Lois is an adult, can the present begin to heal some of the wounds left by the past? And what role might Clark have to play in the healing process? A vignette inspired by the episode "Season's Greedings."
Many, many thanks to my three beta readers: Jenni, Yvonne and Kaylle. Their input was invaluable, and I appreciate all the comments and advice they gave me. Without them, this story would have been even darker than it is now, and much poorer for it. Thanks also to the denizens for Zoom's mbs who took the time to say nice things about the story. Finally, a thank you to Tricia for GEing.
Yvonne suggested that I post a WARNING with this story. It's not really a happy piece; if you are looking for a heartwarming, unremittingly upbeat Christmas tale, don't read this one! ;) Consider it an antidote to all the sickly schmaltz that characterize this time of year. There are a couple of WAFFs, but there is also quite a lot of angst. Oh, you'll see…
DISCLAIMERS AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: This story has been written for fun, not profit. No attempt is being made to infringe any existing copyrights held by December 3rd Productions, Warner Bros, D C Comics, or anybody else. I have borrowed (and built upon) ideas and scenes (particularly the last ones) from the episode "Season's Greedings". While Lois's thoughts and most of her memories have come from my fevered imagination, the scenario and the dialogue most definitely has not. The credit for those, of course, lies with their original creators.
Lois eyed the table setting critically. It was Martha Stewart perfect, she decided with pride. The food looked edible, and there was music playing softly in the background: "Have yourself a merry little Christmas…"
The only thing she needed to make this moment perfect was someone to share it with. Yeah. Right. Like *that* was going to happen.
All told, though, today had been a good day. She hadn't expected it to be, because Christmas, in Lois's experience, seldom, if ever, lived up to expectations. She'd been forced to learn that particular lesson young. She'd learned that it was little use thinking that *this* year would be the perfect year, because each year all her hopes would be dashed. As a child, that had been hard to bear.
As an adult she'd all but given up on hope, and on Christmas, although this year she'd come close to believing in both once again.
She'd tried to capture the spirit of Christmas on one or two occasions before, of course. She'd even told Clark about one of those attempts, about the holiday when she was twelve and she'd bought the scrawniest of trees — rather like the one she'd bought today.
She hadn't told him everything about that particular Christmas, of course. She hadn't told him how the silence in the house, after hearing her parents arguing constantly for years, had been oppressive — almost terrifying in its intensity. She had told him the story, but she hadn't shared any of the emotions behind it. She hadn't shared her fears or her loneliness. She hadn't shared a lot of things.
They were playing Christmas music in the mall again, and twelve-year-old Lois hated it. It was the kind of schmaltzy song that was meant to make you feel good about the world and about yourself. Instead it was making her insides clench:
*Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bow
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now*
She was here to do her Christmas shopping, but she wasn't even sure who she was supposed to be shopping for. Should she buy something for her father, even though she knew he wouldn't be home for Christmas? He'd walked out on them, after all. She didn't know where he was, so, if she did decide to buy him a present, how was she supposed to get it to him? She could ask her mother for advice, she supposed, but she didn't think it would do any good. Lois was pretty certain that Ellen Lane didn't know where he was, either.
Besides, the mere mention of her father made her mother tetchy, and Lois and Lucy had learned that it was a subject that was best avoided.
She definitely needed to get presents for her sister and for her mother, though. Her mother, Lois thought, would like something like wine or whisky or… But Lois was too young to buy it for her. Plus she was getting old enough to realise that perhaps buying drink for her mother, no matter how much her mother enjoyed it, was not such a good idea.
Maybe a scarf or some bath salts would be more suitable.
What was the point in buying presents, anyway, she thought. Like her mother said, it wasn't as though they were going to have a good Christmas, anyway, so why bother? Her mother had been withdrawn — silent, almost — since her father had left, and the silence was… Lois groped for a word. It was scary. It left too much of a void in the house, making it seem larger and more empty than it really was. She and Lucy found themselves tiptoeing around and talking in whispers.
But then, thought Lois, her mother wasn't thinking properly. Christmas was supposed to be special, even if it never seemed to work out that way in the Lane household. But maybe… Just maybe, if she, Lois, made the effort, if *she* did Christmas for the family, everything would be okay.
Lois sucked on her lower lip and frowned slightly. What made Christmas special? Obviously, the whole present giving thing was a big part of it, she supposed. But she was buying presents anyway, and those, alone, wouldn't make her family's Christmas turn out well.
What else helped make Christmas special?
Food, she thought. Her frown deepened. Maybe she could buy something — candy canes or cookies, perhaps — but she knew that it was beyond her skills to attempt anything more ambitious than that. She couldn't even boil an egg reliably, despite having been shown how on various occasions. The last time she'd tried, the yoke had turned hard and had gone grey. There was no way she could even contemplate doing anything more ambitious than buying food, and that would, then, be just the same as buying presents. It wouldn't be enough to make Christmas special.
She needed something more… intimate. Something with a personal touch, to show that she had made a effort.
What else, she asked herself again, wracking her brain, was there about Christmas? What could she do? There had to be something! She cast her eyes around the mall, looking for inspiration. All she could see, though, was miles upon miles of ribbon, hundreds of baubles, thousands of flashing fairy lights and — that was it! — trees.
Lois grinned, suddenly excited. Here was something she knew she *could* do. She could buy a tree and decorate it.
She could see it now, a monster that would take up a quarter of the living room. It would be wrapped around with red, green and gold tinsel, and it would have a star on the top. She would make the tree perfect, and Mom and Lucy would see how special it was, and they would forget to be quiet and miserable, and Christmas would be fun for everyone.
Just how it was meant to be.
Lois tilted her head on one side and considered her handiwork. It wasn't *bad*, she decided, given the materials she'd had to work with. Of course, what was in front of her didn't match up to her original plans. She'd imagined a six foot tall monster bedecked in the finest of trimmings, not eighteen inches of twig that couldn't even support the weight of a single glass ball without bending over at an alarming angle.
She'd known from the moment she'd set eyes on it that it was pathetic, but, even so, Lois hadn't been able to resist the miniscule sapling. All the other customers on the lot where she'd bought it had either ignored it or laughed at it. If a tree could have had feelings, this one would have been crying, and Lois, who knew all about hurt feelings at Christmas, had felt an odd kind of sympathy with it. She had thus paid her money and carried the tree home, where she had done the best she could to make it look pretty.
The sound of a key grated in the front door lock. This was followed by the click of the catch, two sets of footsteps, a slam, and more footsteps. Her mother and her sister had come home.
Lois jumped away from the tree and sat on the couch, trying to look nonchalant, waiting for them to see the tree, to be surprised, to be—
"What's *that*?!" Lois spun around to see Lucy pointing at the tree.
Lois jumped, stung by the appalled note that Lucy had hit. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at her sister. "It's a Christmas tree, stupid. What does it *look* like?"
Anger was met with anger, and Lucy answered, "It looks like something you found in a dumpster."
"Mom!" protested Lois. "She-" But she didn't finish because she didn't know what to say.
She stood up abruptly and pushed roughly past her sister, doing her best to ignore her mother's half-hearted calls of, "Lois. Lois! She doesn't mean it! It's a… fine… tree," because her mother's tone spoke more eloquently than did her words. Her mother thought it was awful, too.
The worst of it was that they were right. Seeing it through their eyes, it *did* look like someone else's cast- off. It didn't matter how much thought and love had gone into it, because it didn't show. All Lois's efforts had been worthless.
Lois headed for the bathroom. No way did she want them to see her cry.
After that year, when everyone had gone through the motions, but no-one had felt any real joy, Lois's attempts at experiencing Christmas properly had become more and more infrequent. Christmas became, at best, a chore to get through and at worse something to be avoided altogether. In recent years, she had found herself avoiding her mother's carefully staged Christmas extravaganzas, preferring to work than to see immaculately trimmed rooms and trees all served in an atmosphere rich in bitterness and acrimony.
This year, though…
This year had been different for all sorts of reasons. Most of all, it had been different because of Clark. She had felt bad because he had felt bad, and he'd felt bad because she couldn't bring herself to love Christmas the way he did.
Wasn't that just like Clark? she thought fondly. He had the biggest and most generous heart of anyone she knew. She'd seen evidence of it today in the way he'd talked to and had helped "Santa". She saw evidence of it every day in the myriad of tiny — and not so tiny — things he did for her. He brought her coffee, he gave her encouragement, support and friendship. He'd even, on occasion, saved her life.
Today, though, he'd done something for her that was altogether new. He'd reawakened in her feelings that she had long thought dead, feelings that she'd wanted to *stay* dead.
Or so she'd thought, at least to begin with.
He'd been shocked to see just how cynical she was about Christmas, and that, in turn, had shocked her. After all, Clark knew her better than anyone. He'd already known she was cynical, so how bad had her attitude been that it could take him by surprise?
Lois had found Clark's almost childlike enthusiasm for Christmas laughable to begin with. Then, when she'd actually bothered to think about it, she'd found it confusing. How could any adult believe in goodwill at Christmas? Why hadn't all that naivete been knocked out of him?
But then, as the day progressed, confusion and cynicism had given way to curiosity, and Lois decided that she wanted to experience just a little of the magic Clark was so obviously feeling. Almost unwittingly, she'd found herself lowering her defences and letting some of the Christmas spirit in.
And, to her surprise, it had actually felt… good.
Lois had gone to a great deal of trouble to help Jimmy have a happy holiday. She'd mediated with Angela for him, mending Jimmy's fences for him. Perry had gone to be with Alice. Well, Lois could hardly blame him for wanting to be with his wife, or for wanting to mend his own fences. And Clark… She'd told Clark to go to Smallville, to be with his parents. She'd made sure that everyone would be happy this Christmas, and for a little while that had made her feel happy, too. For just a little while, she had managed to find, and experience, the true spirit of Christmas.
She'd worked so hard to make sure that everyone else had someone to spend Christmas with that she'd been left alone. In fact, that she was alone was a measure of just how successful her efforts on others' behalves had been. She didn't, she told herself sternly, want to feel sad about it. She'd felt more happiness today than she'd ever expected to find at Christmas, and if she was lonely… Well, that wasn't really so very bad, was it? Being alone at Christmas couldn't hurt you the way that being around other people sometimes could.
Lois awoke with a start. She propped herself up on one elbow, wondering what had disturbed her, and squinted blearily at the alarm clock on her nightstand. The luminous hands read two thirty. That meant it was Christmas morning, she realised. Had she been woken up by Santa? she wondered. But, no. Thinking that, even for a moment, was stupid. They hadn't even bothered to hang stockings up for the last few years. Not since…
Lois squashed the thought. She wasn't going to think about that again.
In any case, at ten years old, she was too old to believe in Santa Claus.
Footsteps on the corridor outside the bedroom she shared with her sister told her more than she wanted to know. She sighed. Christmas had nothing at all to do with the reason why she'd woken up.
Her father had come home late. Again. He'd slammed the front door, which was what had woken her up. Again. She heard the usual creak as the door to her parents' room opened, and some fierce and angry whispering that was, somehow, louder than any spoken word could be — her mother demanding to know where her father had been. His response, though Lois couldn't make out the words, was quieter, and defensive. Again.
Just like always.
Lois wondered why they always went through the motions of trying to be quiet because, any minute now, the shouting would start anyway.
It always did.
Lois hated the whispering, but she hated the shouting more. It worried her, made her tense. It made her wonder whether her parents loved each other any more. It made her wonder why they stuck together. It made her wonder why they had ever got married in the first place.
She didn't understand adults. When she grew up, which she supposed she inevitably would one day, she was never going to get married.
Marriage made you miserable. Marriage made you bitter and angry. It made you stay out all evening if you were a man, turning you into a stranger to your kids, who you only saw for about five minutes every morning at the breakfast table, before they ran out to school or you made some excuse about needing to be at work early.
Except on Christmas Day, when you'd be forced to spend the day with your family, and you'd sit silently and resentfully in an armchair, wishing you could be anywhere else.
If you were a woman, marriage made you resentful and touchy. It made you want to reach for the liquor and it made you say things to your kids that you later had to apologise for. But it happened so often that your kids couldn't tell which was the truth and which the lies; the terrible things you spewed when you were drunk — the accusations that they were responsible for your miserable existence because you had to stay with your husband for their sakes — or the apologies when you said that you didn't mean it, that you never meant it, it was just the drink talking, and that you loved them more than anything in the whole world.
Her parents had retreated into their bedroom and had closed the door, but the two closed doors and the corridor wasn't enough to muffle the strident shrieks of her mother and the answering shouts of her father, and Lois couldn't bear it. She buried her head underneath the bedclothes and clamped her hands over her ears. It did no good, though. Maybe she'd managed to muffle the words a little more, but nothing could blot out the sounds entirely. It was as though her ears had become more sensitive and they were, against her will, reaching to gather all the sounds together, pulling them towards her. She trembled, hating it, hating them, hating herself, because somewhere, deep down, she was sure that this had to be her fault. Her fault for not being the boy her father wanted, or because she'd only got ninety-five on that last test, or just for having been born.
What else was she supposed to think? At ten years old, she was too young to understand it all, but she was old enough to know that things were bad. Very bad. She drew her knees into her chest, curling into as small a ball as she could and tried not to cry. Movements across the room told her than her sister was doing something similar.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, indeed.
But she was an adult now, she told herself, and nobody held that degree of power to hurt her anymore. She'd decorated her own apartment. She'd bought a tree, and it didn't matter whether anyone else liked it or not because she did, and that was all that mattered. She'd cooked a dinner and she'd got dressed up to celebrate the holiday. She'd done her hair and everything.
Everything was as perfect as it could be, except for one thing. There was nobody here to share it with, and, no matter how irrational it was, or how much she tried not to, she was feeling as though she'd been left behind — forgotten, almost.
Worse, the lack of distractions — the lack of people around her — meant all the memories and all the reasons why she couldn't love Christmas that she'd managed to hold at bay until now were crowding in on her.
She didn't want to feel bad, sad and left out, because that made her feel selfish. She'd *helped* people today. Wasn't that — shouldn't that be — enough to give her a merry Christmas?
Yes, she told herself firmly. It should be.
But it wasn't. She wanted to feel the magic of Christmas, not just for a few moments as she had done, but all day. For several days, even. She wanted to share in it.
She wanted to be more like Clark.
She supposed that it was too much to expect that one good day could obliterate all the ghosts left by almost thirty years of not-so-good Christmas memories, and that was why she was feeling blue now, why she could feel a scratchy catch in the back of her throat and why her eyes were threatening to water. For her, the magic of Christmas had faded years ago. It was too much to hope that it could miraculously and instantaneously reappear.
Christmas had lost its magic… How and when had that happened, anyway?
She supposed it had all begun the year that Santa didn't come. She'd been about six at the time.
Someone had grabbed hold of her pyjama sleeve and was pulling insistently. "Wha' is it?" Lois mumbled sleepily.
"Wake up! It's Christmas Day!" shouted Lucy excitedly.
Those magic words woke her instantly and she sat up, startling Lucy as she did so. Lois jumped out of bed, slid her feet into her slippers and threw on her dressing gown. Then she ran out of the room, Lucy hot on her heels. They ran, grinning and giggling with expectation, into the living room, towards the fireplace, where they had hung their stockings the night before, knowing that they would find the stockings bulging with gifts, that there would be presents galore under the tree, that-
Lois skidded to a halt in the middle of the room.
Lucy piled into her back. "Ouch!" she cried indignantly. "What did you stop for?"
Lois didn't answer. Instead she swallowed convulsively. Disbelieving, she stared down at the tree. It looked just has it had done last night. *Just* as it had done. There were no presents. Then she turned her head slowly towards the mantelpiece.
She crept forwards. The stockings hung limp and empty. Her mouth opened in a small oval of disbelief. She reached out with a trembling hand, wanting to feel them. Wanting to make sure that her eyes were not deceiving her.
Dimly she was aware of Lucy moving alongside her and whispering, "Santa didn't come. Why didn't he come? Have we been very bad?"
Lois turned her head towards her sister, who was beginning to sniffle. "I don't *think* we've been bad," she answered, but she wasn't sure. Sometimes her parents would yell at them for making too much noise, but that was mostly after their parents had been yelling at each other. Lois had thought for a long time that being told off meant that they *had* been bad, but recently she had begun to wonder whether her parents yelled simply because they were in grouchy moods, and that it had nothing to do with Lucy and Lois at all.
It was very confusing.
But if Santa hadn't come… They must have been bad.
Very bad, because he only gave presents to kids who had been good. Everyone knew that.
She wrapped her arms around Lucy and the two sisters cuddled together, both crying, because they both knew that Christmas wasn't supposed to be like that.
Now, looking back on that Christmas morning, Lois felt her lips begin to tremble. She wondered how long she and Lucy had stood together like that. Maybe it had only been for a few moments, but it was seared into her memory as though it had been for hours. They'd only separated when they heard a startled cry of, "Sam! You'd better get out here this minute!" They'd sprung apart and jumped around to see their mother staring at them with a horrified expression on her face.
Lois had misread her mother's reaction, and had begun to apologise profusely, knowing that Santa's failure to visit had to have appalled her. Surely, the censure of Santa Claus could only lead to more arguments and tellings off.
Lois had been half right.
There *had* been arguments and tellings off, but the arguments had been between her parents, and it had been her father that her mother scolded. Of course, Lois and Lucy hadn't heard everything. They'd been sent to their bedroom as soon as their father had come into the living room, and they'd been too scared by what Santa had done to protest.
Later — much later — they'd been let out of their room again. This time there had been gifts under the tree and in the stockings. And then there had been explanations and apologies.
It still hurt Lois to think of it. That hadn't been the way little children should find out that Santa Claus didn't exist; the lack of presents had been entirely her father's fault. He'd been working late, had got home late and had forgotten to put the presents out. He had been thoughtless and selfish.
Her parents had tried to make the rest of Christmas enjoyable that year, and she and Lucy had tried to enjoy it. But the strained atmosphere and the discoveries they'd made, had made it difficult.
They didn't bother with stockings again after that.
So now here she was, on her own, for Christmas. It was, she told herself, fine this way. It was even, in many ways, better like this. But, even as she thought that, she was sure she could hear the swoosh that acted as a prelude to a visit from Superman.
She spun around, a smile plastering itself on her face and her heart automatically leaping into her chest with anticipation because someone had come, someone was here with her, after all!
But when she looked, she saw that, although the net curtains were billowing in the window, the air outside was empty.
Lois felt her smile fade and her shoulders slump. It would have been so good if only…
Then it crossed her mind that she wasn't as disappointed as she thought she ought to be about the fact that Superman wasn't there. The realisation that, for perhaps the first time since she'd met the hero, she could in all honesty say that she didn't want to be swept of her feet in some grand romantic gesture, took her by surprise. No, tonight all she wanted was the company of a good friend.
Where had *that* thought come from? she wondered. Superman was a friend, wasn't he?
Yes. Lois answered her own question. He was a friend, or so she liked to think. But there was something distant about their friendship, and what she really wanted was someone who understood her intimately, someone who, moreover, understood Christmas. Someone who would stick around for more than five minutes at a time.
Superman, Lois reminded herself, was an alien. Sure, he'd mucked in to help today, but Christmas wasn't *his* holiday, was it? She couldn't imagine him sitting down to watch "It's A Wonderful Life" or playing charades, or doing any of the other inane things that were an essential part of an American Christmas.
So maybe she didn't mind that he hadn't arrived at her window. With a pang, she realised that who she wanted to see, more than anyone, was Clark. She knew that wasn't possible though; he was in Smallville. She'd *sent* him to Smallville.
There was a knock at the door. Lois sighed as she walked over to answer it. Automatically, she tried to use the spy hole to see who her visitor was, but a rather large decoration made of holly and other leaves was in the way. She gave up the attempt to move it, then, unethusiastically, she opened the door, all set to send her visitor away.
But when she saw who it was…
"Clark!" she gasped. "You came!" Throwing inhibition into the winds, she launched herself at him and hugged him. Amazement and joy coloured her words as she asked, "Why aren't you in Smallville with your folks?"
"Oh… um… My plane… got snowed in." Was it Lois's imagination, or did Clark look a little embarrassed?
"It did?!" Lois's eyes narrowed, sure that she'd caught him in a lie. However, for once, she found his feeble excuse to be flattering rather than annoying: if he had lied, he'd lied for her, so that he could be with her. She strode over to the window to check out her hunch. Delighted, she softly said, "It's not snowing."
"It isn't?" he asked.
As if he didn't know! she thought affectionately.
Lois's smile was back again, so big it felt almost painful. "You are the best," she said. She walked over to him. Then, because she needed to reassure herself that this wasn't some sort of odd dream, she reached out and put her hands on his shoulders. She felt the fabric of his jacket, and beneath that, the contours of his body, firm beneath her hands. He was undeniably solid, and real, and *there*. She dragged her hands down across his chest, then grasped his lapels tightly. "Oh, and you… You're going to get stuffed!" Then she was babbling about yams and birds, and she was certain that she was making no sense, but she didn't care, because all that mattered was that Clark was with her, in her living room.
Then Clark stemmed her flow of words long enough to give her a present, a gift, he explained, that came jointly from him and Superman. She unwrapped it, and saw that it was a decoration for the stunted tree she'd bought earlier. It was, she told him, beautiful — which it was — but deep inside she knew that the most beautiful thing about it was what it represented. It wasn't just a pretty object. It was evidence that Clark had thought of her. Well, okay, Superman had obviously helped, but she was certain that the original idea for the gift had been Clark's.
As if moving of their own volition, Lois's fingers stroked Clark's sleeve, moving lower until they found his hand. They wrapped themselves around it tightly, and Lois realised that she didn't ever want to let go. Then they were staring into each other's eyes. She could see a depth of emotion in his face that she knew was reflected in hers. It would be so easy, she thought, to just raise herself on tiptoe, lean forward and capture his lips with hers. It was tempting… very tempting.
But she didn't want to make the first move, and neither, it seemed, did he.
The strains of song, coming up from the street below, were almost a welcome relief because they banished the building tension in an instant. "Carollers," she said, and walked over to the window. It was only when she looked out that she realised, because she was still holding his hand, she had dragged a willing Clark along with her.
They stood listening for a moment. Lois raised her eyes from the singers and looked up to the sky, which was black with cloud. "I wonder," she said, "where Superman spends his Christmas." A year, even just a couple of months, ago, she would have been desperate to know such a detail. Now, though, it was simply an idle thought and one, she realised, she didn't care very much about. "Probably still pulling Perry around in the sleigh," she continued, but her thoughts were far away from Superman. Instead, she was thinking how good it felt, standing here with Clark.
Maybe it was wrong — surely Superman deserved to be with friends at least as much as she did — but she couldn't bring herself to worry about the hero. Right now, feeling Clark's warm skin against her own, she was where she wanted to be, and she was with whom she wanted to be with.
There were so many tiny reasons why she wanted to be with Clark tonight, she thought. He liked her scruffy little tree, and hadn't laughed at it… He'd liked her enough to be with her and to lie about it… He loved Christmas enough for both of them, and that gave her a measure of peace she had rarely felt at this time of year.
She wondered suddenly where they'd be in a year's time. Where would they be in two years? In five? Even ten?
Somehow Lois knew with a certainty that was as frightening as it was exciting that they would be together, because Clark was thawing her heart. One day she'd learn to love Christmas, almost as much as she was beginning to love him.
She mentioned nothing of this to Clark, though. For now, it was enough to nestle closer to him and lean her head against his shoulder. She felt him rest his own head atop hers, and, for Lois, everything was finally as perfect as it could be for Christmas.