From Part 1:
Clark was honest and open and straightforward. That was something she really needed to remember and to respect about him. As he'd hinted to her not long after they'd met, not everyone had an angle.

“You're a flatterer, Kent,” she told him, ducking her head in an attempt to hide her pleasure at his description.

“Me? No. That's just the Lois Lane I see every day. And vibrant describes you perfectly,” he insisted. “Anyway,” he added then, “since you know I wasn't feeling sorry for you, will you come back to my place for that hot chocolate? I'd enjoy the company.”

So would she. Even if he was only suggesting it out of sympathy because of what she'd let slip. Nodding, she said, “I'd like that.”

“Good.” He turned to her, giving her one of his patented wide smiles. It was infectious; she smiled back at him. And when he crooked his arm towards her, she slid her hand through it.


**********

Now read on...


Lois was glad when they reached Clark's apartment; even though they'd been walking at a fairly brisk pace, it was very cold outside, and the slow eddy of snowflakes had gradually got harder. It was now snowing briskly. She privately had her doubts that any cab-driver would turn out to take her home, assuming that they weren't all still booked up for the Christmas revellers. Still, she'd worry about that later.

His apartment was blissfully warm, and she immediately kicked off her wet shoes and ran to the radiator, pressing her cold hands against its warm surface. Clark grinned at her as he reclaimed his overcoat. “Do I take it that I need to get to work on the hot chocolate?”

She smiled back at him. “Well, you lured me back here on the promise of it...”

He laughed, a wonderfully husky sound which made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, and headed for the kitchen. Lois stayed where she was and simply watched him.

Clark had been very considerate for the remainder of their journey. He'd held her arm and walked beside her, and he'd directed the conversation down innocuous paths. They'd discussed their last investigation, ideas for stories they might work on after the Christmas break, and they'd joked about Ralph's plans for the time off. Their colleague had tried to convince everyone that he'd got a hot date for the three days; Clark had confessed that he'd overheard Ralph on the phone to his mother, promising that, yes, he would be home for Christmas, and he'd be there to take her last-minute Christmas shopping that evening.

Clark was a very considerate guy. And he was far nicer to her than she deserved.

[img]http://images.fotki.com/photos/1/11220/20033/clark-casual-vi.gif?994787280[/img]

She observed him as he set about making the drinks; it transpired that when he'd offered to make hot chocolate, he'd meant it literally. No instant mix for her partner; he set milk to boil and assembled a range of ingredients. As she watched, he stirred in some chocolate powder, but supplemented it with pieces of real chocolate, then added something else - ground cinnamon, he told her, turning to smile in her direction - and a small amount of sugar.

“Normally, I'd pour some whipped cream on top, but I don't have any fresh cream and I won't use the synthetic stuff,” he explained, pouring the steaming and fragrant mixture into two mugs. She wandered over and was about to reach for one, but it seemed he wasn't finished yet. Reaching for a grater, he proceeded to grate some chocolate from the remainder of the block over both cups, and then produced two cinnamon sticks, dropping one into each cup. “You can use it as a stirrer,” he explained, “and it'll add more flavour as you drink.”

“You're good at this,” she told him admiringly, accepting a mug from him.

He smiled again. “This is Mom's recipe - she taught me years ago. You can add a little chocolate or orange liqueur if you want a little extra kick, but I think it's good as it is.”

Lois took a careful sip, since it was hot; as the delicious taste of rich chocolate met her tastebuds, she closed her eyes blissfully. “This is wonderful, Clark!”

“I'm glad you like it,” he said, grinning. “Come and sit down?”

Directing her to the sofa, he flicked a button on a remote control and the television flickered into life. Lois recognised the action on-screen as being the old Bing Crosby movie, White Christmas, and winced; but then she realised that Clark had already changed the channel. Was he being tactful? she wondered. Knowing her partner, she suspected that he was.

He settled on LNN, turning the volume down sufficiently so that it wouldn't impede conversation. It was a slow news night, unsurprisingly, but Lois enjoyed criticising the reporters' presentation of their stories, and she and Clark soon fell into a lively discussion about how much better they'd do things if they were TV news reporters.

[img]http://images.fotki.com/photos/1/11220/20163/MEX16-vi.jpg?994877800[/img]

“Not that I'd ever want to work on TV,” she admitted after a while. “Newspaper reporting's in my blood. I love the smell of newsprint.”

“Not to mention that, writing for a newspaper, we actually get time to develop and analyse our stories properly,” Clark commented dryly. “On LNN, if it doesn't fit into a two-minute soundbite, it's out.”

“Yeah,” she agreed scornfully. “How can anyone explain a complex story in that kind of time? Oh, but I forgot - they don't do complex stories.”

“Dumbed down news,” Clark agreed. “You know, I miss the McNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.”

“Me too,” she agreed. “Now that was great journalism.” And this was a great way to relax, she thought; spending time with someone who shared her interests and had a great sense of humour, and who, without being at all obvious about it, had made her feel welcome and at home in his apartment. It was late - well after midnight now - and yet her partner was giving off no hints that he'd like her to leave or that he needed to get to bed and sleep before his early start in the morning. He was the perfect host, and someone whose company she was realising she enjoyed very much.

Shouldn't she have realised that before now? she asked herself. After all, they'd known each other for about six months, and had worked together closely for much of that time. She'd even been to Smallville with him and stayed at his parents' farm for a couple of days. And they'd stayed together for a night in the honeymoon suite of the Lexor, which had meant that they'd spent a lot of time alone together, talking, getting to know each other.

But then, she hadn't really been interested in getting to know Clark better, had she? And that, she'd started to recognise tonight, had been a mistake. A big mistake - and a great missed opportunity. Because her partner was a genuinely nice guy, and someone who would make a great friend. And, of course, if she hadn't rejected him so completely in that first week, perhaps more than a friend - but she'd missed her chance there, hadn't she?

Lois sipped more of the chocolate, studying her partner surreptitiously over the rim of the mug. Relaxed and on home territory, he was even more attractive than usual, dressed in a black cotton sweater and black jeans, and with his hair flopping loosely over his forehead. He seemed to become aware that she was looking at him, and he smiled at her; behind his glasses, his eyes softened and Lois thought that she could easily drown in their dark depths...

This was crazy, she told herself. It had to be the time of year which was making her maudlin; why else was she feeling dreamy and romantic just from looking at her partner? She was usually better at controlling those kind of impulses; okay, Clark was extremely good-looking, but she knew that dating someone she worked with was a bad idea.

No matter that the suspicion that he was attracted to her, too, was growing stronger by the minute; no matter that, as her gaze dropped to his lips, she longed to feel them on her own again...

[img]http://images.fotki.com/photos/1/11220/20163/NOS06ck-vi.jpg?998054253[/img]

That brief kiss in the snow had been a shock; but once she'd got over the initial surprise she'd become aware that Clark's lips had felt very pleasant on hers. More than pleasant, in fact. And she'd wished she had the courage to pull his head down to her and kiss him back.

What would he do if she reached across now and...

“More chocolate, Lois?” he asked politely, and she realised that she'd just drained her mug.

Shaking her head quickly, she placed the cup on the coffee-table, wondering whether this was her cue to say that it was time she left. Wasn't that one of the ways in which a well-mannered host would begin to hint at the question of a guest's departure? Maybe she should read it as such, and start to make the appropriate moves. “No, thanks. That was great, though, Clark!”

“Good.” He smiled warmly at her again.

Lois was just opening her mouth to say, brightly, that she was going home; she was feeling very reluctant to leave, but she didn't want to outstay her welcome any further. But before she could, Clark shifted to turn towards her, frowned a little, and said, “So, are you going to tell me why you hate Christmas so much?”

She froze. She'd hoped that he'd forgotten, or at least decided to ignore, her mini-fit of hysteria on the way home. But it seemed that he'd just been biding his time. Flushing, she looked away from his gaze.

His hand caught her arm, gently but firmly. “Lois? If you don't want to talk about it, then that's okay. Forget I asked.”

The concern in his voice made her raise her head to look at him. “I just... well, you really sounded upset, Lois. And I'd like to help, if I can. Even just to listen, if you want to talk about it.”

Suddenly it was all too much: Clark's concern for her, the caring expression on his face, the gentle touch of his hand on her arm, and the fact that it was Christmas and, yet again, she would end up pretending that she'd had a great time when in reality...

Trying to force back a lump which had suddenly appeared in her throat, Lois grimaced. “Okay. Okay, if you really want to know... I've always hated Christmas. It's just too commercialised, and it never lived up to its promise anyway,” she muttered, not looking at Clark. It wasn't the full truth, but it might stop him pursuing the subject.

“What do you mean, it never lived up to its promise?” He sounded puzzled, and when she risked a glance at him, he was frowning.

Oh, so he wasn't going to let it drop. Lois sighed; she really didn't want to have this conversation. But then she let herself remember Clark's kindness to her over the past couple of hours, and the strong impression she was getting that he genuinely cared and wanted to be there for her.

[img]http://images.fotki.com/photos/1/11220/20163/ckll10-vi.jpg?1003941948[/img]

That, after all, was what friends did for each other, wasn't it? Except that Lois wouldn't know; she didn't really have any friends. Hadn't for years, not since she was at college.

“Did anyone ever tell you that you're too darned persistent, Kent?” she challenged, but her tone was resigned. “Look, I know you had a great childhood - your parents are straight out of any kid's dreams. You probably never ever doubted for one minute that they loved you or that they wanted you around when you were growing up, did you?”

“No, I didn't.” His voice was soft. “And I know I was lucky, Lois - I had the best parents any kid could ask for. I can't tell you how fortunate I feel to have them as my family - even more than you know,” he added. “I don't think I ever told you that I'm adopted?”

Lois blinked. “No, you didn't!” That explained a lot, she thought. Particularly how he didn't exactly look like either Martha or Jonathan Kent, and also why he'd got so involved with that feature article on adoptive kids.

Adoptive kids finding their real parents...

“Do you know who your real parents are?” she asked, curious.

Clark shook his head. “I'd like to know, just so I have an answer to that question, but it doesn't really bother me. Sure, I'm curious, and most of all I'd like to know why they... uh, gave me up, but Mom and Dad have been all that I ever needed or wanted as parents.” He shrugged lightly, then added, “I was a foundling. My folks told people that I was the son of a cousin of Mom's, just so social services wouldn't try to take me away from them. They found me, and took me in, and brought me up as their own son. And I'll always be grateful to them for that.”

“You were lucky,” Lois echoed.

“And you weren't,” he supplied. She gave him a startled look, and he explained, “You told me some of this yourself, remember? I met your father. You said he was never there when you were growing up, so I can guess - he wasn't there at Christmas either.”

“Oh, he'd usually turn up some time during the day - once we'd all given up on him and Mom had drunk herself into a stupor,” Lois said bitterly. Then, realising that she'd again revealed more than she'd intended, she added, “Anyway, that's all ancient history now.”

“It still hurts,” Clark said quietly. “I can tell.” His hand slid up her arm to cup her shoulder, and he squeezed comfortingly.

“Well, most of the time it doesn't. It's just Christmas... well, it's supposed to be such a family time, and that seems so ironic in the circumstances,” she said flippantly.

“Because you always felt alone?” Clark suggested; how did he get to be so insightful? she wondered, a little enviously.

It also dawned on her that she was no longer bothered by Clark's inquisitiveness; something about her partner's quiet concern had removed any reluctance she had to confide in him. No wonder he was such a good reporter, she thought in admiration.

“Felt?” she murmured, almost to herself.

“You still feel that way?” he asked quickly, frowning.

Lois shrugged; there seemed little point in pretending now. “My family and I aren't... close. So we don't really get together at this time of year. Lucy's in California now anyway, my father's probably working, and Luce and I gave my mom a week's vacation in St Pete's for the holiday. We figured it was better than...” Better than having to spend Christmas with Ellen Lane herself, Lois finished silently; that was one thought she didn't intend to share with Clark.

“But you have friends,” he pointed out slowly. “You could spend Christmas with them, surely?”

Lois looked away from him again, ashamed because tears were threatening once more. She felt the burning prickle of their presence at the corner of her eyes, and squeezed her eyes shut in an attempt to prevent their eruption.

“Friends?” she challenged him, her voice tight. “I don't have friends, Clark. I have colleagues, people I work with.”

The hand on her shoulder tightened.

“Lois, I am your friend,” he said, his voice little louder than a whisper.

[img]http://images.fotki.com/photos/1/11220/20163/prank-vi.jpg?1007852091[/img]

Her head shot up, and she stared at him, wide-eyed.

“I am your friend,” he repeated, in a more normal tone this time. “Lois, don't you know that? How could you not know?”

She shook her head, as if to deny what he was telling her. “How could you want to be my friend, Clark? I've been horrible to you!”

“No, you haven't,” he said calmly. He released her shoulder, leaving her feeling somewhat bereft. But he simply moved his hand to cover hers, lifting it and enfolding it between his two palms.

“Yeah, we had kind of a rocky start. But that didn't last long. And you've been a really great friend to me, Lois. I can't believe you don't know that.”

She stared at Clark, seemingly unable to drag her gaze away from his face. But all she could think of were times when she'd been rude to him, slapped him down, deliberately ignored him or been dismissive.

“Remember when we went to Smallville?” His voice broke in on her reminiscences. “When I got sick - you were really concerned, and that meant a lot to me. And you saved my life, Lois. I'll never forget that.”

“All I did was yell out when I saw Trask had a gun!” she protested.

Clark shook his head. “It wasn't just that, Lois. It was everything - the way you rounded up Rachel and got the cavalry there just in time, and then you were quick enough to save me, and...”

He trailed off, but something in his expression told her that he was thinking of their hug. Those intense, desperate moments just after Rachel had fired the fatal shot, when they'd flung themselves into one another's arms and held on for dear life... right now, that time felt something like a half-remembered dream, and yet as she studied her partner she could remember how it had felt to be in his strong arms.

“It was kind of an intense few minutes,” she said with a shrug, feeling a little awkward under his steady gaze.

“Anyway, there was that. And what about when I lost my memory? Lois, I couldn't have got through that without you.”

“I didn't do much! I tried to make you think that you were the junior partner,” she reminded him guiltily. And, she remembered, she'd actively discouraged him from thinking that they were more than colleagues. He'd asked if they were close, and she'd told him that they worked together. She'd deliberately tried to reject any impression that they were any more than two colleagues who were partners. She'd rejected his assumption that they were more than that; that they were friends.

It had never occurred to her before now to wonder what had made him assume that they were friends - or, even, why out of everyone else he came into contact with on a daily basis, he'd had some faint memory of her.

She'd pushed him away - just as she'd always done where Clark was concerned, she admitted again.

“You were there for me,” he continued, squeezing her hands again. “You were my friend, when I really needed one. You helped me to adjust, you protected me from things which would've just disoriented me, you did everything you could to help me remember... and in the end, when I got my memory back, it was because of something you said.”

“It was?”

“Yeah - remember when you came to my apartment looking for me? And we talked for a few minutes... I started to remember then. And that was because I remembered you, Lois.”

Yes, she remembered that brief conversation too, only too well; it was ironic that he was remembering that tonight as well. Despite everything she had always tried to tell herself about Clark, she'd known that he was special to her. And she'd gone looking for him, at least to say goodbye. If he hadn't had his parents with him, she was well aware that she'd have wanted to spend those last twelve hours or so with him - or at least, some of them. When it had looked as if the end of the world was coming, she'd wanted to be with Clark.

And he'd said something very special to her in that short conversation; that same conversation she'd been remembering earlier, outside the Planet. As she'd been busy trying to pretend that she was okay and that maybe everything would be all right in the end, he'd cut through all that. And he'd thanked her.

He'd thanked her... and yet she'd pushed him away and been dismissive of him every since they'd met.

For what? she'd asked him.

For whatever it is you've done for me that makes me feel so good about you. His words returned to taunt her for the second time that night.

What had she done for him? Bitterly, she conceded that the answer was not a lot. And yet Clark, for some reason, liked her. Wanted her to be his friend.

[img]http://images.fotki.com/photos/1/11220/20163/MEX22-vi.jpg?994877832[/img]

At least she'd had the honesty to let her real feelings show when she'd replied, instead of hiding behind yet another sarcastic sideswipe. She'd told him she thought he was pretty terrific. Which he'd appreciated; she could remember that. And then - she must have been getting maudlin - she'd told him she loved him.

Like a brother.

Her earlier thoughts came flooding back to her, and again she found herself avoiding Clark's gaze. If she'd been honest with herself then, what might she have said? That her feelings went beyond friendship? That she didn't know how she felt about him, but that it was something very special and very important to her?

That was a question she still found hard to answer. But one thing was very clear: Clark was special to her, in some undefined manner.

“Lois?” he prompted, and she managed to look at him, knowing that she was blushing. He was smiling warmly at her. “Lois, we are friends. I know I've considered you a friend since the first week we knew each other, and even though I know you thought I was kind of a nuisance then, I don't think you still feel that way.”

“I don't,” she admitted instantly. “I haven't for a long time, Clark. I've just... not been very good at letting you see what I feel - that I do think of you as a friend.”

“You've done a pretty good job as far as I'm concerned,” he said softly.

She smiled back at him, feeling warm inside at his words and the avowal of friendship which went with them. For once, she didn't feel alone. And even though she'd be on her own for Christmas again, she had the reassurance that she now had a friend, someone who genuinely cared about her.

On impulse, Lois leaned forward and kissed Clark's cheek. “Thanks, Clark. I really appreciate what you did for me tonight,” she told him. “But I guess I should get going now.”

He seemed surprised, and his grasp on her hands tightened. “Lois, it's after one in the morning, and I think it's still snowing heavily. Even if there were taxis available...” He broke off, then added, “I think you should stay here tonight. You can have my bed and I'll sleep out here.”

It was tempting; so tempting. But she couldn't ignore the fact that Clark had other plans for the morning, nice though it would be if she could hang around and see Superman too. She'd already imposed on her partner - her *friend* - too much. “No, Clark, I can't - I'd be in the way, I mean, you have Superman coming...”

“Of course you wouldn't be in the way!” he exclaimed immediately. “And anyway, I just had a great idea - why don't you come to Smallville with me? You know my parents like you, and I'd love it if you came.”

Christmas Day in Smallville, in Clark's parents' home; the idyllic Christmas he'd painted for her earlier... Lois desperately wanted to say yes. But she knew that he was only offering to be kind...

“Clark, I can't - your parents, they'll have their plans all made...”

“Lois, trust me on this - my parents will be delighted to see you. And Mom always makes far too much food anyway, so that's not going to be a problem.” He grinned. “You know what things are like in the country. We don't stand on ceremony, and people don't have to call in advance when they want to visit. If I want to bring a friend home, I know it's not a problem. So will you come?”

She was definitely wavering... “I'd love to, Clark, but what about Superman? I mean, he's taking you. How do you know he won't mind flying me there too?”

To her surprise, Clark laughed. He got to his feet, saying, “I really don't think that'll be a problem, Lois.”

“Why's that?”

“Ah.” He smiled again, and offered her his hand, to pull her to her feet. “Well, wait and see. I think, in the morning, things... might become clear.” He winked at her, then gestured towards the arch leading to his bedroom. “Come on - I'll find you something to sleep in.”

[img]http://images.fotki.com/photos/1/11220/20163/mnpage01-vi.jpg?1000133735[/img]

*********

Fifteen minutes later, Lois had lost the argument over who was going to sleep on the couch and she was in Clark's bed, wearing one of his T-shirts. He'd refused to elaborate on whatever it was he'd been hinting about, instead telling her that she'd simply have to wait until morning. Not that patience had ever been one of her strong points... but in this case he seemed pretty determined, so she'd ended up telling him that whatever it was had better be worth it. He'd grinned and assured her that he hoped so too.

Just then, Clark's voice came from the doorway, asking if it was safe to come in.

She laughed. “Well, I'm not going to attack you, so I guess it is.”

He strolled in, grinning, to bring her the glass of water she'd asked for. “Well, you know, you might have a hard time winning if you attacked me, Lois.”

“Hah! Remember, I know martial arts!” she pointed out.

He placed the glass on the nightstand, and raised an eyebrow at her. “True. But you'd have to get close enough to use the moves, and I'm pretty fast, Lois.”

“We'll just have to try it some day,” she challenged him.

“Name your time and place,” he teased, then added, “Goodnight, Lois. Sleep well.”

“Goodnight, Clark. And thanks.”

He was turning to leave, but then on impulse Lois reached out and grabbed at his hand. She'd been thinking this over and over all evening, and it was time to demonstrate some of the courage in her personal life that she used all the time at work. As Perry would say, it was time to fish or cut bait.

He turned, giving her an enquiring look. “Lois?”

“Clark, what if I hadn't said "like a brother'?” she asked him, her heart in her mouth.

He blinked, looking puzzled; then his expression cleared and she knew he'd got the reference. That was typical of her partner; not many men she knew were that intelligent, or as able to follow the complex workings of her brain.

Cautiously, he ventured, “You'd have said, "I love you'...”

Then he hesitated, before saying, in a choked voice, “Lois... are you saying...?”

“Clark.” She gripped his hand more tightly, and he sat on the edge of the bed beside her, his expression taut. But the look in his eyes told her all she needed to know about his feelings for her. That gave her the courage to continue. “Clark, I love you. Not like a brother. Like a...” She couldn't quite bring herself to say "lover'; that was going further than she felt ready for right now.

“Like the way I love you?” he finished for her.

Lois swallowed, then nodded. “I think so.”

Slowly, almost reverently, Clark bent his head and brushed his lips against hers. This time, she wrapped her free arm around his neck, trapping him so that he couldn't withdraw from her. After a moment, he deepened the kiss, tracing the outline of her lips with his tongue and sighing softly against her mouth.

She'd been wrong about something else, she realised; Clark's kisses had the power to move her like no-one else ever had. It wasn't just Superman. And it wasn't just a fluke. Now that she was letting herself remember those previous kisses she'd shared with Clark - on the plane, when he'd said goodbye to her at the Planet, and at the Lexor - she should have known what to expect, but she'd shut those memories, and the way she'd responded to him, out of her consciousness.

After several long and very satisfying kisses, Clark drew back slightly, keeping his arm around her. He smiled dizzyingly at her, and whispered, “Happy Christmas, Lois.”

“You already wished me a happy Christmas,” she pointed out, deliberately teasing.

“But this is different. You've just given me the best Christmas present I could have asked for, Lois,” he murmured, then kissed her again.

And, she thought as she wrapped both arms around his neck, pulling him even closer to her, he'd done that and more for her.

Christmas, she decided, was her favourite time of year. Because she'd found friendship and love, together, on this magical night.

[img]http://images.fotki.com/photos/1/11220/20163/kiss4-vi.jpg?999211765[/img]

~ the end ~


Happy Christmas, everyone!