The last notes of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" faded away as the carolers moved down the block. Clark watched them go with a little bit of regret, tightening his arm around Lois.
He half-expected her to pull away, but, instead, she snuggled closer. He looked down and was surprised to see a tear shining on her cheek.
"Lois?" he asked, with a quick stab of concern.
She moved away from him immediately, reaching up to wipe the tear away. "Christmas carols always make me teary-eyed," she said, clearing her throat. "Do you mind if we close the window, it's getting pretty cold in here...although you seem pretty warm."
He could tell it was more than the carols, but didn't want to risk destroying their fragile peace by pushing the subject. Instead, he closed the window and watched her walk back to the table, fussing with the candles that had blown out earlier.
"The wind is really gusty tonight," she commented. He didn't say a thing. "Do you, um, want to carve the turkey?"
"Sure, Lois." He walked over to her and took the carving knife while she began dishing out the rest of the food.
They sat on opposite sides of one end of the table. Clark began inhaling his food, as usual. The garlic mashed potatoes were very good, he noticed. But he'd cleared half his plate before he realized Lois was just picking at her food.
"You know, the turkey's good," he said gently. "You did a great job with the meal -- and there wasn't even any chocolate involved."
She barely smiled at his teasing, obviously a million miles away.
"Earth to Lois. Are you in there?"
"Mmmm?" She looked at him, focusing for the first time in several minutes. "I'm sorry, Clark, did you say something?"
He looked at her for a long minute. She was beautiful in the candlelight, her black dress leaving her shoulders bare. But her eyes were sad, and very lonely.
He pushed back the urge to take her hand, and only asked, "What's wrong, Lois?"
She started to make another excuse, but Clark's gentle stare stopped her. She gave in.
"It's just...I miss my family, Clark." She sighed, pushing her plate away. "Lucy couldn't come, my parents have barely spoken in years...people are supposed to be together on Christmas, Clark. Why can't my family be together?"
She stopped abruptly, unable to talk through the lump rising in her throat. She felt the tears start again and got up quickly, turning away from Clark and trying to get her emotions back under control.
But it was only a minute before she felt Clark's hands on her shoulders. He turned her around, tilting her chin up to meet his eyes, and wiping her cheeks with a gentle hand. She smiled up at him, a weak watery smile that fell almost immediately. When Clark hugged her, she buried her face against his chest.
He held her silently, lost for words. He had always taken his parents, their closeness, for granted. He tried to imagine his life without them, and couldn't. For a second, he wondered about his birth parents, killed so long ago. What would life have been like with them?
"Lois...I'm sure your family wishes they were with you," he said, a little helplessly. "We should both feel lucky to have families that love us. I mean, some people don't have families at all."
"Like Superman," she sniffed, pushing away just enough to swipe at her eyes. She didn't see him wince. "Oh, Clark, you're not with your family either, you stayed here because of me and here I am feeling sorry for myself and crying and babbling all over you..."
"Lois," he interrupted firmly, "There's nowhere else I'd rather be than listening to you babble."
She had to smile, and sniffed again. "Oh, Clark, why are you so good to me?"
"I have no idea."
Something suspiciously like a giggle broke out of her throat. Clark saw her smile with great satisfaction.
"I have a great idea," he said impulsively. "Why don't you go put on something more comfortable..."
"Why, Clark," she interrupted, batting her eyes mischievously.
He blushed a little. "Something *warmer,* Lois," he said with false exasperation. "so we can get out of here?"
"Where are we going?"
"It's a surprise."
"Oh," she blinked, then started for her bedroom. "But what about all this?" She gestured at the table, still loaded with food.
"I'll put the food away and we'll clean up the dishes in the morning," he told her. She raised her eyebrows at him with an "oh, really?" look. "I mean ... I'll ... come by and help in the morning." Great, now he was stammering, he thought.
She grinned and disappeared into her room. Clark watched her close the door, then blew out the candles, grabbing the serving trays and shoving the food into the refrigerator as fast as he could.
Lois reappeared a few minutes later in jeans and a turtleneck, topped with a festive, bright red sweater. She blinked a little when she saw the table already partially cleared. "That was fast."
He shrugged and she let it drop. "So, where *are* we going, Clark? It's Christmas Eve, what's open?"
"You'll see," he smiled, helping her into her coat. She watched him put on his own trench coat. He was so wonderful, she thought, laughing when his sleeve got tangled up. "Let me help," she said, straightening it out for him. "You know, you really are hopeless, Clark Kent."
"But I'm worth it," he grinned. She laughed again, and went out the door he held open for her.
The protest was automatic, as soon as she saw where he was parking.
"It'll be fun, Lois," he said patiently, almost dragging her out of the car when it became obvious she wasn't going to move on her own.
"I'm not going to do this, Clark."
"No it's not."
"You can wear my coat."
"Cla-ark!" It was perilously close to a whine.
"Come on, Lois." He dragged her to the ticket counter. "Two, please, and rentals."
"What, you don't have your own?" She asked snidely.
"They're at home." He chuckled at her antics. She looked like a five-year-old when she pouted like that. "Come on, Lois," he said for what felt like the fortieth time. "What size do you wear?"
He sighed. "Size seven for her and size twelve for me."
I'm not going to do this," she warned.
"Lois, little kids are brave enough to do this." If force didn't work, he wasn't above a dare. "Are you that scared?"
It worked. "Me scared?" She huffed, taking one pair of the ice skates away from him, and almost throwing herself onto a bench. She stuffed one foot in. "The day I'm scared of a little bit of ice..."
Clark tuned out the bravado and smothered a grin, shoving his feet into his own skates. "Make sure your laces are tight."
"I know how to do this," she informed him, stomping her foot to make sure the skate was secure. "It's just...been a long time."
"Right." He finished lacing and stood up, taking her arm. "Come on."
They went out onto the rink, which had been set up in the middle of downtown by the Chamber of Commerce. Lois slipped almost immediately, clutching at Clark to keep her feet. He laughed, but it was his turn to slip a minute later. He went down, taking Lois with him.
She landed on top of him -- it was her turn to laugh. "You're not doing so well, big fella," she teased. He took it well, lifting both of them back to their feet and trying again.
It was only a minute before their feet remembered how to skate, taking on the rhythm of the lively carols playing softly over the speakers. They fell into a matching glide.
Finally sure of her feet, Lois took a minute to look around her. The Daily Planet was only a few buildings away, lit up with a thousand tiny lights, matching the rest of downtown. There were only a few other skaters out on the ice, their laughter strangely muffled in the darkness. Their breath blew clouds of steam into the air.
"Admit it, this was a good idea," he said after several minutes of silence.
She looked up at him. "Actually, I'm having a miserable time."
"Why, you..." He started after her with a glint in his eyes. She skated away as fast as she could, her laughter music to his ears. He let her go, skating just close enough to keep her on her guard. She teased him, getting almost close enough for him to grab before she darted out of range.
Out of the corner of his eye, Clark could see the other skaters smiling, watching them chase each other around like children, but he didn't really care.
Lois turned around, skating backwards and waving her scarf in his face. "Come and get me, Clark!" she teased, just as her skate hit a chip in the ice. She landed on her backside with a thump.
Clark snowplowed to a stop next to her. "You were saying?" She tried to pout, but it was a lost cause. Instead, she laughed, holding out her arm and let him pull her up again. She held onto his hand this time, laughing too hard to stand.
The music changed. They recognized the strains of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear."
Clark bowed unexpectedly. "May I have this dance?"
She smiled shyly, suddenly unable to meet his eyes. "Of course."
He took her in his arms, skating backwards (perfectly, of course.) She let him lead, snuggling close under his arm. He rested his cheek on top of her head, much as her had earlier that night. But this time, the music was already playing.
"Thank you, Clark," he heard her whisper softly. He looked down, and saw her brown eyes looking up into his. On impulse, he bent his head, and brushed a kiss across her lips.
"You're welcome, Lois. Merry Christmas."