By AnnieM <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: June 2002
Summary: A Christmas visit from an unlikely apparition leads Lois to reevaluate her priorities.
Lois peeked at the turkey through the oven door. So far everything seemed okay. You never could tell, though. Sometimes the things she cooked *looked* edible, but turned out to be anything but. Not that it really mattered, because she was the only one who would taste it.
She had invited a whole slew of people over for Christmas Eve dinner, and not one of them had been able to make it. Perry was reuniting with Alice, Jimmy had romantic plans with Angela, Superman was off being super, and Clark…Clark was home visiting his folks in Smallville. At least Clark had sounded like he wished he could be there. Her family hadn't even bothered to pretend to care.
She took a sip of her wine and wandered into the living room, smoothing her free hand over her gown. She felt a little silly all dressed up with no one to see her, but she had bought a new dress, and there was no sense in letting it go to waste.
Christmas carols wafted quietly from the speakers of her stereo, and for a moment she felt very wistful. Everyone else had someone to spend Christmas with. Why was she alone?
She glanced once more at the Christmas decorations and dinner preparations strewn about the apartment. Her little Charlie Brown Christmas tree stood on the side table, surrounded by Christmas cards. She hadn't received many, mostly just from colleagues. For reasons Lois could not begin to fathom, Cat had sent her a Christmas card from her new glamorous home in New York. She couldn't recall Cat ever sending her a card in the four years that they had worked together. Whatever. She probably just wanted a chance to brag about her new job.
What was so special about Christmas, anyway? So much for 'the magic of the season.' All it served to do was highlight everything that was wrong with society. People just used the holiday to indulge themselves. Overspending, overeating, overdrinking. Greed and gluttony all around. Just look at what had happened with the Space Rats.
"Bah humbug," she said bitterly, switching off the stereo.
Lois slipped her shoes off and curled up on her uncomfortable sofa. She grabbed the remote and flipped idly through the channels, rolling her eyes as she passed one Christmas special after another.
"Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings…"
"The Grinch's heart grew three sizes that day…"
"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus…"
"God bless us, everyone."
Lois snapped off the TV in disgust and reached for a magazine. She flipped through the pages, not really reading the articles.
Her eyelids began to feel heavy, and she scooted down to get more comfortable. Maybe the best way to deal with this day would be to just sleep through it…
"Lois. Lois, wake up."
Lois opened her eyes and blinked repeatedly, unable to comprehend what she was seeing. Cat stood in front of her, dressed in a long, flowing white gown.
"Cat? What are you doing here? How did you get in?" Lois asked, glancing automatically at the bolted door. "And what are you wearing?" she asked belatedly.
"Come on, Lois. Don't be dense. I'm not really here; you know that. This is just a dream. I'm just a figment of your subconscious." Cat looked down at the gown, then glanced contemptuously at Lois. "As for this ridiculous get up, you can thank your own warped sense of fashion. God knows I would never pick out something as shapeless and unfashionable as this."
Lois rolled her eyes. Even in her own dreams Cat insulted her.
"What do you want? Why are you here?"
"I'm here because you need me. There's something you need to see, and I can show it to you."
"Show what to me?"
"Christmas past, present, and future."
"Wait a minute," Lois said, shaking her head. "You've got to be kidding me. What is this, some warped version of A Christmas Carol? Are you telling me that I'm Scrooge?"
"I'm not telling you anything…well, except that that dress has a ridiculous neckline. I mean, really—"
"So, what, that makes you Marley?" Lois interrupted. "How can you be Marley? You're not even dead."
"Look, Lois. I'm not here to explain the inner workings of your twisted little mind. I'm just here to show you Christmas past, present, and future. Now, are you ready to go, or what?"
"I don't suppose there is any way to get out of this," Lois muttered.
Cat just looked at her pointedly and moved toward the open window. Lois rose reluctantly and moved beside her. Cat took Lois' hands in hers and immediately Lois found herself floating above Metropolis. It was strangely familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. She had been above Metropolis like this before, but never without being cradled safely in the strong arms of Superman. On the occasions she had flown with him, she had been so enraptured by the feel of his arms around her and his strong shoulder pillowing her head that she had never taken the time to really observe her surroundings. It was beautiful, she realized.
They slowed outside the window of a swanky apartment building. Lois looked around and felt her stomach churn when she realized they were outside her childhood home. Neither of the elder Lane's resided in this apartment anymore, both having moved on to new places since their divorce. But this was the apartment that Lois had grown up in, and the Christmas memories she associated with it were not pleasant.
"Welcome to Christmas past," Cat said as they moved toward the window. "They can't see or hear you. You're just here to watch."
With that, Lois found she could see and hear everything clearly, as if the window were no barrier. Inside, a twelve-year-old Lois stood decorating a tiny, twisted tree. The strings of popcorn and cranberries caused the branches to droop pitifully, but she didn't seem to notice as she happily added bits of foil to the decorations. She heard her younger self begin humming a Christmas carol quietly as she finished.
Suddenly, the front door banged open, and Lois saw her younger self flinch. Ellen Lane stumbled into the room, obviously drunk.
"What are you doing?" she demanded. "How many times have I told you not to make a mess in here?!"
"I'm not making a mess! Look, it's all cleaned up, Mom."
She glanced unseeingly at Lois and tripped over a chair, cursing loudly.
"Mom, look at the Christmas tree I got," Lois said eagerly. "I decorated it all by myself! Isn't it beautiful?"
"Christmas trees. Who needs 'em?" Ellen said, not bothering to look up. She stumbled into the kitchen and began rustling around in the cupboards, glass bottles clanging together.
Lois' face fell. Not again. Not on Christmas Eve.
"Mom?" she called hesitantly.
"Whadya want? Can't you just leave me in peace long enough to have one drink?"
Lois turned to go to her room, but stopped when her mother reappeared in the doorway. "Where's your sister?"
"In her room, I think. Do you want me to get her? We could all watch a movie or something?" Lois asked eagerly.
"Eh, don't bother," Ellen said, taking another sip of her drink. "She never comes out of there. She's just like your father. Totally useless."
Lois flinched, hoping Lucy couldn't overhear the conversation.
"I don't suppose that good-for-nothing father of yours bothered to call today?"
Lois faltered. "Well, he was probably just busy. I'm sure he'll come by tomorrow… Oh! I forgot! He sent these over," Lois said, gesturing eagerly to a stack of gifts on the coffee table in the living room.
Ellen walked unsteadily to the pile of brightly colored packages and glanced at the tags.
She snorted disapprovingly. "That's not even his handwriting. I suppose he got that whore of his to buy 'em. Can't even take the time to buy his own gifts for his family…"
Lois' face fell again as Ellen's tirade continued. When she realized that her mother was no longer aware of her presence and was talking mainly to herself, Lois slipped into her bedroom and curled up in a ball on her bed.
Outside, the adult Lois watched with tears in her eyes. Living through that Christmas once had been more than enough. Why was she being forced to live through it again?
"Seen enough?" Cat asked.
Lois nodded mutely, and they began to drift away from the apartment.
Was it any wonder that she hated Christmas? It's not like she had some wonderful Kansas Christmas memories to look back on, like some people she knew. To her, Christmas was just another chance for her dysfunctional family to rear its ugly head.
"Why are you showing me this?" she asked suddenly.
"You'll understand eventually. Right now, all you need to do is observe."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Where are we going now? Oh wait, don't tell me! Christmas present."
"Very good, Lois. Your powers of deductive reasoning astound me," Cat said dryly.
They slowed to a stop, and Lois found herself outside her apartment once again. Inside she saw herself preparing dinner. Alone.
The phone rang, and she moved to answer it.
"Hi, Lucy…yeah, that's great… No, really, I understand… Sure, I've got plans…" They talked for a few more minutes, Lucy obviously rambling about the new love of her life, then Lois hung up the phone. She drifted around the apartment, finally picking up the framed picture of her and Clark on the night of the Kerths.
Lois' head snapped up as Cat's throaty voice broke the silence. She looked up at her questioningly.
"Feeling a little lonely tonight, Lois? Wondering what your *partner* is up to?"
Lois prickled at the knowing tone in Cat's voice. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Come *on*, Lois! Why do you think we're here? Think about it." She waited for a moment, then pressed on. "Are you just stubborn, or stupid, too? You do know that you're in love with Clark, right?"
Lois gasped. "I—I—I most certainly am not! Clark and I are partners, friends. That's all there is to it! I'm not in love with him!"
"Of course you are. Stop being so ridiculous and admit it. It's not like the feelings aren't mutual."
Lois shot her a skeptical look.
"Lois, I swear. If you don't realize that boy is in love with you, then you are stupider than I thought. He's been head-over-heels, gaga about you from day one. I can't say I understand it, but I certainly can't deny it. The signs are all there. Besides, what other explanation could there be for him turning me down?" She sighed wistfully. "It's really too bad. At least I'd know what to do with him…and it wouldn't involve stringing him along for a year and a half."
Lois looked at her, incredulous. "What are you talking about? He's not—I'm not—"
"Making coherent sentences? Yes, I've noticed. But as for being in love, it's quite obvious that you both are." When Lois didn't respond, Cat pressed on. "Want some further proof?"
Before Lois could respond, she found herself being whisked away. In moments, she found herself outside of a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.
"Where are we?"
"You tell me."
Lois looked around for a minute. Smallville. Of course. It was just like she remembered from her visit here during their pursuit of Trask, but now everything was covered in snow, giving it a picturesque Christmas card look.
Lois allowed herself to reflect briefly on her last visit here. She'd insulted both of Clark's parents, made fun of just about everything she encountered, and…and had a genuinely good time in spite of herself. Actually, she couldn't remember a time she'd had more fun. His parents had welcomed her with open arms—despite the fact that she had insinuated quite bluntly that they were country bumpkins—and Clark had been more relaxed than she was used to seeing him. It was strange to see him in his native environment, so to speak. He seemed more carefree, less worried, than usual. They had gone to the corn festival, and she had impressed him with her line dancing skills. And, of course, he'd won her a teddy bear in a classic small-town moment.
The bear. She still had it. As a matter of fact, it could usually be found perched on her bed. Why was that? She had plenty of other stuffed animals, but most of them were relegated to boxes in the closet. What was special about this bear? Why did she choose to keep it out where she would see it every day?
A movement from within the house caught her eye, and her attention focused on the scene unfolding within. Clark sat on the couch with his parents, sipping hot chocolate and listening to Christmas carols. Martha stood and turned off the music, grabbing a large book and bringing it back to the couch where they each took a turn reading the Christmas story from the family Bible.
Lois found herself wondering what *his* Christmas past was like. Probably pretty idyllic. It was no wonder that Clark had turned out to be such a wonderful guy. It was obvious that his parents really loved him. He'd probably make a pretty wonderful father some day. And husband. He'd be a wonderful husband. Clark the Boy Scout would never dream of cheating on his wife or abandoning his family.
What was she thinking? She couldn't seriously be thinking about a future with Clark? She'd been there before. Twice actually. First after her aborted wedding to Lex, when Clark had suddenly retracted his declaration of love just moments before she could tell him she was in love with him. Then later, after he'd been shot and miraculously returned to her. She'd worked up the courage and poured her heart out to him, only to find he'd slept through the whole thing. No way. She and Clark were meant to be friends and partners, but nothing more. She'd just have to stop this ridiculous train of thought before it got any further out of control.
Her attention was drawn back to the farmhouse. Clark hugged each of his parents, then watched as they walked upstairs. He wandered back over to the Christmas tree, gently touching some of the homemade ornaments. She felt herself grow envious of him as she watched, wondering why some people had all the luck. So when he turned towards her, she was shocked to see the sadness in his eyes. What could have made him so sad? She watched as he pulled his wallet from his pocket, and slid something—a picture?—out of a clear plastic sleeve.
"Lois," he breathed, tracing the image. "I wish you were here."
Her breath caught in her throat. Surely, she had misunderstood. She looked more closely and saw that it was indeed a picture of her. A snapshot she recognized from one of the many functions they had attended together. The photographers at those events always offered their pictures for sale later, but Lois had never given any thought to purchasing them. Clark had not only bought one, but he carried it in his wallet. What did that mean? Perhaps Cat was right? Perhaps he was in love with her?
Lois didn't know how to feel about that. She had convinced herself, she thought, that there could be no future between her and Clark. It was just not meant to be. But maybe… But he was her best friend. The best friend she'd ever had. What if they tried and failed? Could she risk their friendship for that? How could she live with herself if she threw away the best friendship she'd ever had on a lousy relationship?
Clark traced the picture one last time. "Merry Christmas, Lois," he whispered as he slipped the photo back into his wallet.
"Oh, you're right, Lois. Silly me. Whatever could have made me think that Clark was in love with you?" Cat said, rolling her eyes dramatically. "Please. Gag me. That boy is totally pathetic."
"He's not pathetic!" Lois said quickly.
Cat quirked an eyebrow. "Feeling a little defensive, Lois? It bothers you to hear people badmouth lover boy, doesn't it?"
Lois glared at her, refusing to take the bait.
"Fine. Have it your way. He's not in love with you. You're not in love with him. I guess that means he's fair game, huh?"
Lois looked at her warily. Cat turned back to the window, ogling Clark. "Mmm-hmm. I tell you, he just gets better looking by the day. If you're really not interested, maybe I ought to make another play for him next time I'm in town. Maybe by then he'll be ready to shed his boy scout image," Cat said, licking her lips.
"Stay away from him!"
"Why should I? You don't want him."
"I—I—Clark is sweet and good, and you'd only hurt him. He deserves someone who'll love him, and cherish him. Someone who really understands him. Someone who appreciates all that he is, not just his physical attributes! Someone—"
"Someone like you?" Cat asked with a devilish grin.
Lois clamped her mouth shut, unwilling to give Cat any more ammunition.
"Okay, then. If that's the way you want it…on to Christmas future. Remember, Lois, you chose this."
The next time the world came into focus, Lois found herself standing beside her desk at the Daily Planet. Seated at the desk was an older version of herself, half-heartedly clicking away.
The few other people in the newsroom hurried away, desperately trying to make it out in time for parties and family traditions.
A strange man walked out of Perry's office. Lois looked up and nodded briefly before turning back to her typing.
"Thanks for volunteering to work tomorrow, Lois."
"Oh, sure," she said, not bothering to look up. "No problem. It's just another day."
The younger Lois watched the interplay between her older self and the strange man for a minute before turning to Cat.
"Mike Keith. Editor of the Daily Planet," she replied.
"What happened to Perry?!"
"He's retired, Lois. A lot has changed around here."
She glanced automatically to Clark's desk. It looked different, adorned by pictures of a strange family and unfamiliar knick-knacks.
Cat followed her gaze. "He's gone, too. He's a foreign correspondent now. You didn't think he'd stick around forever, did you? Unrequited love can only last for so long before the person has to distance himself."
"He's gone?" she asked timidly.
"Yep. Moves around constantly. He was in Saudi Arabia last I heard, but he could be anywhere, really. He sends you a Christmas card every year. Ahh, there it is…" she said as the older Lois pulled a card from the drawer of her desk.
Lois blinked back tears. She'd lost him. What had happened? What was it Cat had said? "Unrequited love can only last for so long." She'd never even given them a chance, and she'd lost him just the same. She couldn't imagine how empty her life must be without Clark. Without his friendship. It wasn't surprising that she had volunteered to work Christmas Day. She obviously had no one at home waiting for her.
"What if…? I mean…"
"Can you change the future?" Cat waited for Lois' nod before she continued. "Of course you can. You create your own destiny. I told you that this was your choice. Would you like to see what could happen if you make a different choice?"
Lois nodded again, and the world spun around her. When the world righted itself, she found herself in a cozy living room, standing next to a fully decorated tree. Mixed among the glass and ceramic ornaments, she saw clumsily made ornaments lovingly fashioned from pipe cleaners and construction paper. Brightly wrapped presents spilled from under the tree.
The silence was shattered by a feminine giggle. Her head snapped toward the doorway that led to the kitchen. There she saw her older self— but a much different version than the sad, tired woman she had seen at the Daily Planet— engulfed in the arms of an older, yet, incredibly, more attractive version of Clark Kent.
"Shh," he whispered. "If you wake the kids, you're gonna regret it. It took an hour to get them to sleep the first time."
She giggled again, but more quietly this time, and turned to face him. "I'm gonna regret it, huh? You have special plans for my time tonight?"
"Mmm, don't you know it," he whispered, drawing her in for a kiss.
Lois watched, fascinated, as her older self melted against him.
Clark scooped her into his arms and strode to the couch, expertly maneuvering around the furniture in his path. It was obviously not the first time he had done this.
He sat slowly, arranging her on his lap. One arm held her to him, the other threaded through her hair.
He slowed the kisses, pulling away momentarily. "Merry Christmas, sweetheart. I love you," he whispered.
"I love you, too," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck and hugging him tightly. He buried his face in her hair, wrapping his arms around her waist, and gently rubbing her back.
She pulled back and smiled at him, reaching to caress his cheek. Her hand slipped around to the back of his head and pulled him to her again. Their lips met, and he moaned softly.
"Mama?" They pulled apart and looked to the bottom of the stairs, where a little boy, about three years old, stood dressed in his warm footed pajamas.
"You're supposed to be in bed," she said gently.
"I think I heard a reindeer," he said, his brown eyes wide with wonder.
She smiled briefly at her husband before turning back to her son. She held out a hand in invitation and he rushed to her, climbing into her lap.
Clark held them both in his embrace for a moment before kissing each of them on the head. The little boy's eyes fluttered shut, and within moments he was sleeping. Lois moved in his lap, settling the child securely in his arms before standing. He shifted the boy gently and stood, following her up the stairs.
Lois stood silently in the middle of the now empty living room, the lump in her throat preventing her from speaking, even if she had been able to find words.
"It's a much different life, isn't it," Cat said quietly.
Lois turned to face her, still unable to speak. Cat reached for her hands, and suddenly they were back in her living room.
"Why did you show me this?" Lois asked quietly.
"You have a decision to make, Lois. Take it from me; being alone is not all it's cracked up to be. We both know I've had more than my share of men, but I'd trade them all for one man who looks at me the way Clark looks at you."
Lois took a ragged breath and tried to process all that she'd just learned.
"I have to go now," Cat said, stepping toward the window. "Just make the right choices, Lois. You don't have to be alone. It's your choice."
With that, she was gone, and Lois found her eyelids growing droopy. She turned and curled back up on the couch where Cat had found her. In seconds, she was asleep.
When she awoke, she could smell the turkey. She sat for a minute, trying to remember the strange dream that had left her feeling so much better. She shook her head to clear the sleep, and was surprised to find that she was actually looking forward to Christmas, and for some reason she wasn't feeling as lonely as she had been earlier.
She moved to the kitchen to remove the turkey from the oven, smiling at its perfect golden color. She carried it to the table and arranged the other foods around it.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. She moved to the door quickly, undoing the locks and flinging it open.
"Clark?! You came!" she cried. Before she knew what she was doing, she launched herself into his arms. She sighed contentedly as he wrapped his arms around her, hugging her tightly. "Why aren't you in Smallville with your folks?"
He smiled at her warmly. "Oh, uh… My plane. It got snowed in."
"It did?" Lois asked, genuinely surprised. When had it started snowing? She moved to the open window and looked out into the snowless night.
"It's not snowing," she said quietly, turning back to him.
"It isn't?" He shrugged and smiled at her again.
She smiled widely, coming to stand beside him and resting her hands on his chest. "You are just the best! And you are going to get so stuffed…" she rambled on as she dragged him to the table, happily showing off her feast. As she finished, she looked up and caught Clark gazing at her adoringly, and for once, Lois allowed herself to return the gaze.