Here's my contribution to the many Christmas stories that have been popping up over the past week. Please mind you, I'd thought about breaking this up, but in the Christmas spirit, decided to leave it whole. goofy

It's a bit out of continuity, but I hope you will indulge me with this one. Many thanks to Meredith for BRing this at the last moment and to Marnie for her brainstorming skills... Thanks!!!

*****

It's The Thought That Counts


Clark Kent closed the drawer to his desk and sighed in anticipation. It was huge risk, but it was one that he was willing to take. He had just picked up the small object at the jeweler's this morning and it was perfect. At least, he hoped that Lois would think so.

A few days ago she had consented to go out on a date with him and, since then, the air between them had been filled with stolen glances and anticipation. Clark couldn't have asked for a more romantic time of year in spite of the busyness and rush of the season. The date had been set for tonight, December 23rd - a sort of neutral time. It was close enough to Christmas to feel all the magic and wonder of the season but not so near as to lend that feeling of intimacy one would have with family and lovers. And they could celebrate Christmas together and hopefully - he crossed his fingers as he thought about it - begin the next stage in their relationship.

Clark lifted his head in recognition as the heartbeat of his partner and best friend filled the newsroom. He had not seen her all day -- they'd kept missing each other throughout the morning. Superman activities had kept him busy early in the morning and when he'd finally arrived at the Daily Planet around forty-five minutes late, she'd already been there and had left again to cover a small assignment that Perry had given her.

He turned his head to acknowledge her arrival and gave her a tentative smile as she met his eyes. She returned his greeting with an awkward wave of her hand as she plopped down in her chair. There was a ripple of excitement in the air between them that had seemed to grow larger in the last few days. Yes, times were changing and he could hardly wait to see where the winds would blow them.

*****

Lois furrowed her brow and shot a clandestine glance over at her handsome partner as she chewed contemplatively on the end of her pencil. Her heart had started that annoying pounding again in the elevators as she wondered whether she would see him at his desk. This whole starting-to-date process was very nerve-wracking.

She had to admit to herself that dating Clark was the single most, dangerous risk that she had ever considered taking. Not the physical danger that she took from time to time in her profession, but it had the potential to be the worst federal disaster to strike her heart since... well, ever. Claude had never been her best friend, Paul had never curled up on the couch with her and *just* wanted to watch movies and hang out... They had only been out for their own self interest -- only out for what they could take from her.

If there was one thing that she knew about Clark, it was that he was more concerned for her well-being than for himself. He always placed her safety above everything, was always generous, giving and attentive -- the perfect gentleman.

That is, when he wasn't running off in the middle of conversations, investigations and disappearing for hours on end.

Still, she had agreed to go out on a date with him.

She had decided to use the bustle of the season to help mask her nervousness; everyone was jumpy this time of year and it would be a good excuse to hide behind. Everywhere you looked, the commercialism that came with the season was pounding you in the face telling you that you must love Christmas.

Christmas time was typically the season of hope and wonder, or so she was told. With her it had always dredged up disappointments. She always seemed to be on the other side of the glass looking in on what could be hers: a stable happy family life, a relationship with someone who wasn't out for what they could take from her.

It appeared, subconsciously, that she was giving Clark the power to change the ambience of the season for her -- or ruin it completely.

A hard nub of wood suddenly snapped off inside her mouth and she spat it out into her garbage can. Wallowing in the inadequacy of her relationships was not going to help her mood any. Clark could almost always cheer her up, but he was looking rather perplexed at the moment too. Was he as uptight about this dating business as she?

It was hard to tell, but she suspected that under that cool exterior and business suit -- which was fitting him much better these days, she noted with a slight flutter of her heart -- he was a bundle of nerves also.

It only stood to reason that he would be as worried as much about this as she was. If he wasn't, then he was just plain being unfair. If she had to go through this torture of waiting and anticipation then it was only right that he should be just as miserable. She pushed her chair away from her desk and wandered slowly over in his direction.

"So whatcha doin'?" she asked, leaning up against his desk.

Clark glanced up quickly and a broad, heart-stopping smile spread across his face. "Not much. Just going over our final copy for the Space Rats story," he answered.

"You haven't sent that in to Perry yet? Partner, I do believe you are becoming a slacker," she retorted offhandedly as she picked up his pencil holder and twirled the contents around in a circle.

"A slacker?" His voice rose a bit higher in amusement as he could sense by her body language that she was trying to set him up.

"Yes, a slacker," she stated matter-of-factly. "Slacker as in being late for work and failing to turn in assignments on time."

But it was much more fun to bait Lois then to fall victim to one of her traps. "Oh... I couldn't come in right away; I had to go pick up your present," he said casually.

"Present? Oh no, Clark! Don't tell me you bought me a present!"

"Yes, Lois, I've bought you a present. We've been partners for over a year and we're about to go out on our first..." He whispered the next word, "...'date'. What kind of gentleman would I be if I didn't get you at least a little something? My mother would be appalled if I didn't consider it; she raised me better than that. I'm not expecting anything in return so don't worry about me. "

"Okay! Okay! I get the point," she interrupted his smug prattle. "Of course I've thought about getting you something; I've just been busy... " she continued less convincingly. If it weren't enough to have to find the perfect dress and the perfect hairstyle and makeup, now she had to wrack her frazzled brain for the perfect present for Clark.

She needed something to wipe that silly grin off his face. And he *would* have to bring up that four letter word again -- date.

"Which is what we both should be -- busy. So get to work, Kent, before I have to shop for a new partner."

Without waiting for him to answer, Lois retreated back to her desk and immediately poured the rest of her coffee into the next potted victim to have the misfortune of sitting on her desk. Adding caffeine to her already jumpy nerves was not a good idea.

*****

Completely thrown off balance by Clark's offhanded proclamation that he had bought her a Christmas present, Lois felt close to wanting to call the whole 'date' thing off. But if she did that then she wouldn't be able to see what Clark had gotten for her. Although she claimed to be an all-star scrooge at Christmas time, when she knew that there was a present with her name on it, she applied the same principles to finding out its contents that she did to any of her cases.

Come to think of it, there hadn't been that many presents to scrutinize in her lifetime. Any gifts that she received as a child were laid unwrapped under the tree on Christmas morning, and later in her youth her parents just took her shopping to buy her own gifts - not much mystery and magic in that.

There was the time few years back when the whole office exchanged gifts and she had launched a full scale investigation into the identity of her secret gift giver. It hadn't quite gone as well as planned; the whole office had ended up avoiding her when she decided that staring down everyone she came into contact with would be the best way to see if anyone was trying to hide something. The person who had drawn her name was a researcher downstairs who had finally given her the present ahead of time in order to preserve office tranquility. That was the only year the Daily Planet attempted any sort of gift exchange.

Somehow she didn't think she'd be able to intimidate Clark into revealing his gift for her. More important to her right now was to make sure that her gift was of greater or equal value to the one he was giving her. She couldn't have him outdoing her! But she needed some sort of baseline to gauge what sort of present to get for him. So if bullying him to reveal his secret wouldn't work then she would have to resort to other measures.

She'd bide her time until the moment was right, then she'd move in for the kill. Clark Kent was dead meat.

*****

Lois waited for her partner to return from lunch and just after he sat down in his seat, she jumped up and stomped over to his desk to launch her plan.
"All right, Kent! I can't take it anymore!" She shot a withering glare at him and stormed into the conference room. Smiling smugly, she shut the door and waited. Three... two... one... The door opened and she grabbed him by the tie and tugged a bewildered Clark inside.

"Lois! What's going..." he protested but was cut off immediately.

"Okay, buster! You're not going anywhere until you give me some answers," she announced as she pushed Clark down to sit in a swiveling conference chair.

She pulled a chair up along side of him, crossed her legs with a flourish and swiped her pen from the conference table. Balancing her clipboard on her knees, she stared at him defiantly and said, "There is no way I'm going to let you outdo me in the gift department, so therefore I need to know a few things."

Clark then realized that it was all a setup; he wasn't in trouble, at least not yet. The simple mentioning of his gift for her had unleashed Mad Dog Lane. Her competitive nature was in a feeding frenzy and he was about to become its lunch.

"To start off, is the gift you have for me large or small?" she demanded.

"It's little."

"How little is little? Is it little as in monetary value little or small little like if you step on it it will break little?"

"Small little, but I'm not answering anymore questions about your present." He then whispered animatedly, "It's supposed to be a secret."

Okay, so her gift would definitely have to be bigger than the one he had for her. That was doable. "So is it edible?"

"Lo-is."

"Right, I forgot I was dealing with Mr. Upright. So what's your favorite color?"

"Blue."

"You're a good cook; do you need any kitchen appliances? I suppose you know how all those contraptions work. That's your sort of thing. So...?"

"You're going to buy me a blue kitchen appliance?" Clark asked mischievously. "I guess it would go with my decor."

She lightly swatted him on the knee with her clipboard then placed it on the table. "Behave yourself. Don't forget this is *my* interview, Kent!"

"Lois, is this an interview or an interrogation? Are we missing some bright lights in here?" He twisted in his swivel chair so that he was shoulder to shoulder with her. "Because all I'm going to give you is my name, rank and serial number."

"Smart aleck!" she shot back at him, holding eye contact. His eyes were twinkling and it could be so easy to just to grab him and... "I already know that your taste in ties is lacking and anything that I would buy would be a vast improvement."

"It's my way of walking on the wild side... can't a guy have a bit of fun?"

"'Wild side' is an apt description -- most of your ties belong lining a hamster's cage." At Clark's offended expression, she flashed him a cocky grin and continued her appraisal. "Clothes in general, fair to good; shoes, I won't touch those. Pajamas... how about pajamas?"

"Don't wear them... I mean, not all the time," Clark stuttered. "I just sleep in shorts..."

"Boxers or briefs?" Lois inquired automatically, then clamped her hand over her mouth. "I'm sorry! That's too personal, isn't it?"

Clark leaned over and touched the side of her forehead with his and laughed softly with his blushing partner. "No, Lois, you could never ask me anything too personal."

She giggled a bit and stated, "I'd bet you're a briefs kind of guy."

"Lois!"

"And I bet that you're not going to wear that to dinner tonight, are you? You're gonna go home and change because we both have expectations about how each other's going to look. You'll be wearing something elegant, not too dark -- charcoal suit. And I will be dressed in deep violet."

"Burgundy."

"Burgundy?"

"Or violet."

"That's what you've always dreamed of seeing me in, burgundy? I don't have much in burgundy. Um, maybe if I hurry, I can make it to Neiman's before they close. I have to go there anyway to get you a present and it wouldn't be too much trouble, really..." She frowned, thinking of all the things she had to accomplish before Clark arrived to pick her up.

"Lois, you don't have to do that," Clark said guiltily.

She straightened up, looking him in the eyes, and grew serious. "So what do you really want for Christmas, Clark?" She rose from her chair and walked to the window. "I mean, I never had that growing up, never knowing if what I bought for the other person was good enough for them..."

Clark followed her to the window and laid his hands on the back of her shoulders. "Anything you get for me will be wonderful, I'm sure..."

"But I don't want to get you just anything; it has to be perfect..."

Clark turned her around so that she was facing him. The need for acceptance was clouding her eyes and he felt his insides turn over at the thought of all her past hurts and disappointments. He splayed his hand over her cheek and throat caressing them gently. "I want you for Christmas, Lois, only you," Clark replied, as he was drawn into her deep eyes. "You're perfect."

At her widened expression, he felt the blood rush to his cheeks as he realized what he had said without thinking. Closing his eyes tightly, he lowered his head against hers in embarrassment and sighed deeply. He hadn't wanted Lois to find out his true feelings this way. He had hoped that maybe later when he gave her his gift that...

A cry for help pierced through his thoughts and he shifted uneasily. Not now! Not after this blunder! He needed to explain, to see her reaction and to try to repair any damage that was done. But he had to go -- the cries were getting more desperate.

Desperate times called for desperate measures. On impulse, he tightened the hand around her neck and pulled her in for a brief, but thorough kiss.

"I'm sorry, Lois, but I have to go," he blurted. "I'll pick you up at seven." He searched her face, trying to reach into her thoughts. Her eyes were ablaze with wonder and shock, and she could barely nod her head in acknowledgment as she watched him speed through the door.

*****

Lois fluffed her hair one last time as she looked frantically at the clock. Two more minutes and Clark would be here. She had picked up the phone several times to cancel their date but she couldn't go through with it. Clark had never returned to the office that afternoon, although she heard later from Perry that he had been out covering Superman's latest rescue again.

Sometimes she wondered if Clark had Superman's beeper on him; he always seemed to want to disappear right before Superman appeared on the scene of an emergency. That could explain a lot of things but right now she had her thoughts full of her date with her partner.

Her knees had been weak all afternoon after that brief but oh-so-wonderful kiss that Clark had planted on her right before he stormed out of the conference room. So she had analyzed the situation, weighed her options and gone shopping. Her gift purchase was complete; now the rest of it was up to Clark.

A knock on her door announced his arrival. She straightened her dress and checked her lipstick in the mirror one more time, then raced to the door to let Clark in.

"Hi," she blurted while flinging the door open. Clark was standing there with bouquet of flowers in his hand, his jaw dropping at the sight of her.

"Do you need more time?" he finally managed to squeak out. "I mean, I can come back in few minutes..."

"Does it look like I need more time? Oh my gosh! I know you said burgundy but I thought, uh, why be a slave to expectations. That's a charcoal suit, isn't it? Uh, you know, I could change. Um, I got a lot of really cute things in burgundy."

"Lois, you look stunning... I mean simply beautiful. I'm just speechless," Clark thrust the flowers at her and as she took them he stepped inside.

"You're not so bad yourself, farmboy," she said appraising him candidly. Remembering then how Clark had run out on her that afternoon, she moved away from him to look for a vase for the flowers. Once they were in water, she turned to him, saying, "Clark, we need to talk," at the same time he said, "Lois, I think...

"Come sit down." He gestured for her to take a seat on the couch and then sat down next to her. "Before we talk about anything, I need you to open your present."

"You're not trying to bribe me into forgetting that you ran out on me *again* this afternoon, are you?"

"No, Lois. Just bear with me," he pleaded softly.

He presented her with a small, elegantly decorated box, then held his breath. This was it.

Lois unwrapped a velvet jewelry box and looked up at Clark with a dozen questions in her eyes.

"Clark, this isn't what...?"

"No, please open it and I'll explain."

With trembling fingers she opened the lid and there, nestled on the soft material, was a charm -- Superman's shield emblem on an elegant gold chain.

Taking a deep breath, he covered her hands with his and smiled at her nervously.

"Lois, you've been my best friend and partner for over a year now. I can't deny that I want more for us... my slip this afternoon gave me away. I know you've had major disappointments in your relationships and you have a hard time trusting people. I don't want to lose your trust in me."

"Oh Clark! I do trust you.." The tenderness in his expression amazed her as much as the tiny charm lying in the black velvet box.

"But I still hear a bit of doubt in your voice. Lois, do you ever wonder why I always seem to run off in the middle of things, why I had to leave this afternoon after I totally embarrassed myself? Staying and finishing our talk was so important to me. It was not because I'm afraid of a personal conversation with you -- that is so far from the truth. I couldn't believe that of all times..."

"All times what, Clark?"

"There's a reason why I have to disappear; there's a secret that is very important to me and the others in my personal life. Now it's time to share it with you. I've wanted to tell you for a long time, but the timing never seemed quite right. I couldn't begin the next step in our relationship without letting you know exactly who you'll be dating. No more secrets and excuses. Today I give you my complete trust. All of it. That's what this little Superman emblem is for," he spoke in an odd, but gentle tone. "Lois, I'm Superman."

"You're... Superman?" Her mouth hung open and her eyes grew wide in astonishment as his words sunk in. She sat very still for a few moments, processing the information in its entirety.

All the pieces suddenly fit together. Clark was Superman! That was why he had run out on her countless times. Not because he was afraid or weird or being a jerk, it was because people's lives were in danger and he had to rescue them. And her!! Clark had saved her life countless times and she hadn't even known it.

And it wasn't too long ago that she had rejected Clark, only to tell Superman that she would love him even if he were an ordinary man. Now that she was finally seeing Clark in a new light, she realized what he could be thinking -- that he was taking the risk of having her want him only because she now knew that he was Superman. Not because he was that ordinary man that she supposedly would have recognized, but the superhero whom she had idolized for so long. But he had taken that risk anyway and now, he had just proven that her instincts had been right in choosing the gift that she was about to give him.

"I think you should open this." She got up from the sofa and went around the back and dragged a huge box from behind it. "Please note: mine's bigger."

Pushing the coffee table out of the way, she shoved the box in front of him. "Merry Christmas, Clark, and don't you dare peek," she said solemnly as she sat down next to him. "If I had known this gift was for Superman, I would have wrapped it in lead."

Clark wanted to grin at that remark, but still couldn't quite read Lois' reaction to his confession of a few minutes earlier. Her heart was beating rapidly, but that could be from shock; he didn't know.

He tugged at the huge ribbon on top of the box and lifted the lid.

Another box. And inside that, another and another. He would have been laughing if this moment hadn't been so serious. Lois wasn't lending him any clues as she sat there stony-faced and still.

Finally, he reached what appeared to be the last box. It was wrapped differently and like its larger cousin, the first box, it was decorated with a colorful ribbon.

He sat up straight and looked at Lois. She motioned for him to open it but still didn't give him any clues to how she was feeling. Wiggling it from side to side, he heard the contents sliding back and forth.

After pulling the ribbon, he lifted the cover and pulled out a small twig of mistletoe.

"Lois?"

Lois felt her heart melt another layer at his quizzical expression as he held up the tiny sprig. Any remaining doubts about her present for him disappeared as she realized the significance of his gift to her. He trusted her enough to share the biggest secret in the world: that Clark Kent was Superman.

"Would you put this necklace on me?" she asked as her eyes fully met his for the first time since his revelation.

He placed the mistletoe back into its nest of tissue and fumbled for a few seconds as he removed the chain from the jewelry box. Lois leaned towards him and lowered her head for him to place it around her neck.

The mere touch of his hand on her neck sent a warming shiver of anticipation through her. She could tell his hands were trembling as he tried to fasten the tiny clasp and she knew he was just as affected as she was by this moment.

"Got it," he breathed shakily as he returned his hands back to his lap, a major accomplishment given the dizzying affect of having Lois so close.

She pensively touched the charm as it lay on her chest, then removed the mistletoe from the box once again.

"Now for the instructions on how to use this little device. You see it's really quite convenient when you want someone to kiss you so badly that it's all you can think about." She placed the mistletoe in his hand, lifted it up over their heads, and leaned slightly towards him. "I think you can figure out what to do next," she whispered, only inches from his lips as her heart danced with excitement.

He gulped involuntarily. "I think I have a very good idea of what to do next." His heart was pounding so loudly in his ears that he could barely detect the rapid beat of hers. She was absolutely breathtaking; her cheeks were flushed with a pink glow, her full lips had parted slightly and her breath was coming in rapid succession. The little charm lay just above the fullness of her creamy breasts reminding him that she knew his secret at last and was not afraid or upset, but gazing at him as he had always dreamed -- in wonder and passion and maybe even a hint of love.

The mistletoe dropped to the floor as they came together in the sweetest of kisses. Secrets and longtime fears melted in the slow fire of their passionate embrace. After a while, they separated and leaned back against into the cushions. Clark picked up her hand and began playing with her fingers thoughtfully.

"Thank you," he said, his voice full of emotion. "You gave me the best present I could ever hope for."

"Yeah, that kiss was pretty spectacular. We just might have to have an encore."

"No, I'm not talking about the kiss - I mean, I agree that it was spectacular - but that you gave me the mistletoe without knowing that I was Superman. It was for Clark and all I've ever wanted was for you to feel that way about the real me. Especially after I ran out on you this afternoon... "

"I was mad at first, but then I remembered the look on your face as you were leaving. You looked so pathetic and I realized that you wanted me, in spite of my flaws and imperfections. Believe me, I have them, not quite as many as yours, mind you, but we're all not perfect. I wanted the perfect gift for you, and if you could want me in spite of my flaws, then I had to take one more risk with you. Clark, you're my best friend, the biggest risk in this whole dating business was that I didn't want to lose that... or you."

"I'm not going anywhere. Lois, you're not going to lose me."

"I think I know that now. Do you know how much it means to me to know that you're Superman? Not because of him, Superman, but that you trusted me enough to tell me. I might beat you up later for a few of those excuses, but right now, Clark, I think we need to practice using that mistletoe again."

"Oh, sure! I think it fell somewhere down here." Clark leaned over and looked for the mistletoe among the scattered boxes on the floor. His fingers brushed something and he pulled out another present tucked under the couch. It had his name on it.

"Lois? Is this another present for me?"

Lois gasped and tried to pulled the gift away from him, but let go after a couple of seconds. "Oh go ahead and open it. I wanted to be prepared for whatever answers or excuses you had for me so I bought a few extras just in case. But I think you should open this one up." Her eyes flashed mischievously as she folded her arms and watched him.

The paper crinkled and Clark rolled his head back and laughed as he pulled out a pair of bright blue boxer shorts with Superman's emblem printed on the front in bright red and yellow.

"I thought if you liked the mistletoe gift then these might be appropriate. I wanted to let you know that *you* were the only superman I needed."

Clark wrapped his arms around her again and drew her in for another long, lazy kiss.

"I don't know if this is the right time to tell you, but I love you."

She touched his cheek with her fingertips and replied, "I love you, too."

They met each other hungrily this time, his hands exploring the exposed skin on her back, hers tangling themselves in his hair and tugging him closer. Breathlessly, they ended the kiss and Lois snuggled up in his arms.

"So are you ready for Superman to take you out on the town?" Clark asked as his equilibrium slowly returned.

Lois rubbed his chest dreamily as she replied, "Um... I think Superman needs to wait for another night. I seems to remember that I made a date with a very handsome guy named Clark Kent."

"I think I can live with that," he said as he rose from the sofa and pulled her after him to stand by her window.

Carolers had gathered beneath her apartment and were starting to sing their Christmas melodies. Snow fell in large white flakes, filling the air with crystal confetti, adding to the already romantic atmosphere. Lois snuggled her arms around his waist and laid her head against his chest.

"Clark, do you think once this season's over, the magic will end?"

"The magic will never end with you, honey; it's just begun." He kissed a large flake that had fallen on her nose, then moved downwards to capture her waiting mouth once again.

The End.