By Nan Smith
Disclaimer: The familiar characters and settings in this story are not mine. They are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions and whoever else can legally claim them, nor am I profiting from their use. Any new characters, scenes, dialogue and the story itself, belong to me.
This is the sequel to "How I Spent My Christmas Vacation".
By Nan Smith
Metropolis was nearly the same as she remembered. Nearly, but not quite.
It hadn't been apparent last night. Of course not. She'd seen only the dim alley behind Clark's apartment and the almost equally dark street in front. How different could they be? But walking along beside him, clad in the sweats that he'd bought for her, she could see the changes.
Metropolis was darker than it had been. Not darker in the sense of lighting, of course. That would be silly. No, darker in the sense that it was shabbier, dirtier. People were more suspicious. Here and there individuals still toted weapons openly, although, Clark had told her, it had already improved over the way it had been a year before when Perry White had defeated Tempus for mayor, and Superman had made his debut. It had been headed this way when she had gone to the Congo, she recalled. That was why her trip to discover the source of the weapons flooding Metropolis had been so vital. Well, she had found the source all right, and, but for Clark's intervention, would have died in the effort. Hopefully, with Tempus marooned on a tropical island, who knew how long in the past, that particular problem was solved, even if she could never write about it. Besides the fact that such a story would establish her as a wacko, it would be just as well if no one ever recorded the true facts, not even in a diary. They didn't want some scholar in the future, studying their lives, to find it and get curious enough to go back and rescue the nutball, just out of academic curiosity or something. Academic curiosity got more people in trouble than you could count. Let marooned Tempuses lie. The world was safer that way.
In any case, Clark had said that the two of them, together, were the factor that saved their society from this downward spiral, although it looked like it might be a long, difficult job. Well, she had never shirked from a difficult challenge, and this time, like it or not, she had a partner: someone who had to be there to help - not that that was a bad thing.
She glanced at the man who had saved her life and become a good friend in such a short time. He was walking along beside her, looking almost impossibly handsome in jeans and a leather jacket, although she knew very well that he didn't need it. Still, he'd remarked, it made him less noticeable when he went out in public. Somehow, she thought he didn't want people to notice him - not surprising at all. Living in the public eye must be a pain-and-a-half.
The ringing of the telephone had awakened her at seven this morning, and she'd heard him answer, then a note of resignation had entered his voice as he'd tried to explain to the reporter on the other end that he'd had an emergency and been forced to leave unexpectedly. No, it was nothing he could talk about and he had no comment.
That had been the beginning until he'd just stopped answering the phone. Then the media had started to collect across the street. He'd taken one look, said something under his breath, and told her to stay there, out of sight, while he got her some clothes. Then he had spun into that incredible red and blue outfit, that showed every muscle and contour, and streaked out of the apartment just fast enough to let the crowd see him but not stop him.
She couldn't have moved if she'd tried at that point. She'd known he was well built - that would have been impossible to miss when he'd been sopping wet from a dip into the prehistoric Pacific - but wow! That outfit was just so much ... more!
He'd been back within moments with the sweat suit, looking annoyed. She had no doubt about what had annoyed him.
"I guess they're all after you to find out where you went for two days," she said.
He nodded. "Usually the agreement is that they're not supposed to bother me except when I'm in the Suit," he said, gesturing vaguely to the red, blue and yellow creation, "but now they think I'm holding out on them and I guess that makes them think the gloves are off."
"In that case," Lois said, "it's time to get tough. The next time one of them wants a quote from Superman, you tell them that if they can't abide by the agreement, then you won't either. They either leave you alone when you're not on duty, or you'll give the quote to a reporter who believes in honoring deals."
"Who would that be?" he asked.
"Well, maybe me," she said innocently.
His annoyed expression dissolved into a small grin. "I'm sure that's a completely selfless offer, too," he said.
"Oh, absolutely," she said. "Seriously, though, it won't hurt to make them suffer a little. They need to see that the deal works both ways. If they break their end, you break yours, and you see to it that they don't get any quotes." She glanced toward the door. "Other than that, how are we going to get out of here without them seeing me? I can just see the news if they find out there's a woman in Superman's apartment."
"Well, this apartment has a back door into a hallway. Floyd has put his foot down about reporters on the premises - he calls the cops and has them hauled off to jail for trespassing and harassing one of his tenants - so you can go out that way, and just leave openly by the building's front door. I'll fly out in my Suit, change into my civvies and meet you at the deli on the corner, if that's okay."
"Sounds good to me," she had said. "Why is your landlord so set against reporters, anyway?"
"Let's say, Superman pays him a little extra for the service," Clark said. "And the police cooperate, as a thank-you for my help."
"Bribery in a good cause," Lois said. "Good idea. Okay, let me get changed, and we'll put this little plan into action."
And that was how they'd wound up walking openly down the street, leaving the media to watch an empty apartment.
Fortunately, the department stores were open on Christmas Eve, as last-minute shoppers hunted frantically for last-minute gifts. Clark had flown them to the new shopping mall, and they had gone in openly to purchase her something for casual day wear, a professional outfit for the Daily Planet when she returned in a couple of days, and something to wear to the Mayor's for Christmas dinner. Clark had also picked up several boxes of Christmas ornaments. He paid cash, leaving no trace of Superman's purchases in the establishment. Now they were walking toward a Christmas tree lot.
"I thought I'd buy a bigger tree than the one in the apartment," he said. "Would you like to help me decorate it later tonight, after dinner?"
Any opportunity to spend more time with him was looking more and more attractive the better she got to know him. "Sure, but don't you have somewhere to be on Christmas?" she asked. "Family or something? I know you said your parents were gone, but surely you have brothers or sisters or something, don't you?"
He shook his head. "Mom and Dad couldn't have kids, so I was the only one they had," he said. "There's always lots of groups that want me to come by for various events, but they're just interested in the free publicity."
"So what do you do on Christmas?"
"Nothing out of the ordinary," he said. "I usually go to the office and cover for someone who'd like to be with his family for the day. Tomorrow, maybe I'll take you to see your family members instead. And we still have to come up with some explanation for where you were all this time."
"I guess I'm going to have to see if I still have a job," Lois said a little glumly.
"Well, actually, even though you're assumed dead, I don't think they ever officially terminated you, so as far as I know you do," he said. "I don't think they can fire you if you were absent on business for the Planet. Why don't we say you were kidnapped by the gunrunners, and you just now escaped? It's actually true."
"For a basic story, that's probably where to start," she acknowledged, "but we're going to need more than that to explain nearly five years' absence."
"Well, I'm led to believe you're pretty inventive," he said.
"I guess I have that reputation," she agreed with a small grin. "How about this? I was kidnapped by the gunrunners and escaped, but was hurt while getting away - without any identification, of course - and lost my memory? And when I started to remember, I was in the South Pacific, with no way to know how I'd got there and no way to prove who I was or where I'd come from. You got a message from someone who you've had trying to trace me and came to see if he'd found me, and you brought me back to Metropolis last night, but you had to spend two days looking for me, which was why you were gone that long. My memory of the last few days is understandably pretty hazy, although everything up to the time of my accident came back when you got me back to Metropolis - but everything else is a blank. You have no comment because you're still investigating some aspects of the whole thing. What do you think?"
He stared at her and then chuckled. "That's incredible. It has enough truth to it that I won't have to lie and when anyone asks something you don't want to answer, you can just say you don't remember. And of course there's no way for anyone to disprove it. That's the official story, then."
She nodded. "After all, the earliest time you saw me was in the ocean. That was even before you saw me in Brazzaville - technically anyway. I'd like to know what happened to Tempus after we left," she added. "Not enough to go back and check, though."
"Yeah," he agreed. "It would be nice to know if he ever got off the island, though."
"I hope," Lois said, a little maliciously, "that he lived the rest of his miserable life there, alone. It would serve him right. I wonder if there's any way to check."
"Well, we could fly there," Clark said. "The cave is probably still there unless they've developed the area and demolished it. I guess we could take a trip sometime and see what we can find out."
"Maybe after Christmas," Lois suggested. "There's probably going to be too much to do for the next couple of days, but after that, maybe ..."
"It's a date," he said, and suddenly his mouth snapped shut. "I don't mean - I mean -"
Listening to him flounder, for a minute she couldn't understand why such a simple remark should throw him completely for a loop. Was he that concerned that she not think he was interested in her? That was a disheartening thought. It was true that most men regarded her as far too aggressive for their taste, but she had secretly harbored the hope that such a superior specimen wouldn't feel as threatened.
"Clark, it's all right," she said. "I know what you meant."
He looked relieved, which made her heart sink farther. "It's not that I wouldn't want to date you," he said, inadvertently shoving his foot deeper, "it's just that you've barely met me, and I wouldn't want you to think that -" He stopped. "I mean -"
She sighed. "Oh don't worry. Mostly I scare men away, Clark. I understand."
He stopped in his tracks. "No, you don't," he said. "I think you have entirely the wrong impression."
"Believe me, I don't."
"Yes, you do. You don't scare me at all. It's just that you don't know me very well, and I don't want you to think I'm jumping the gun. After you've gotten to know me better, I'd actually like to ask you for a date."
"You don't have to worry about my feelings. I won't be insulted."
"I'm not - at least that way," he said. "Lois, do you have any idea what the world knowing I'm Superman has done to my life?"
"I can guess," she said wryly.
"Well, it's pretty much wiped out any chance I had of having a normal life," he said. "All I ever wanted was to live quietly, have a job, meet a girl, maybe get married and have a family someday. If Tempus hadn't 'outed' me like he did, I might have had that. Now - well, you saw what happened this morning when I wouldn't tell them everything about what I've been doing for the last two days. It's always like that. I don't dare have too many close friends, because the Press hounds them for details about my life. I don't date. Not only would the Whisper follow me around to record every breathless moment, but I can't be sure that a woman wants to date me because I'm me, or because I'm Superman. With you, it seemed different. You treated me differently from the start. I just don't want to scare you away, or have that change. I like you too much."
Not intimidated after all? "You don't scare me, Clark. Not a bit. And the thought of the publicity doesn't bother me. I can deal with the press. As a matter of fact, I was thinking that you need someone to run interference for you. They're pushing you around way too much."
"Do you want the job?"
"I accept," she said. "And if they try to follow us around when we finally do have that date - if you still want to, after you've known me for a while - they won't know what hit them. Trust me."
The worried look on his face had changed gradually as she spoke, and now had become a full-fledged grin. "You're hired, Ms. Lane. Your duties start immediately."
She stuck out a hand and he took it. "It's a deal," she said. "Now, let's go buy that Christmas tree."
Together, Lois and Clark strode up the walk to his apartment, Clark carrying the five-foot tree casually in one hand. The media aimed their cameras instantly at the two of them. "Superman!" someone shouted. "Who's the lady? Is this why you've been gone since Sunday?"
Clark turned to face them. "This is my new representative," he said, sounding more remote than Lois had ever heard him sound. "If you want any information or statements about my business in the future, you'll have to go to her. I'll be notifying your papers of the details the day after Christmas." Without further comment, he opened his door and allowed Lois to enter ahead of him.
"Good," Lois said, as he shut the door behind them. "Did you get their cameras?"
He nodded. "All the film is exposed. There was a video camera there, too, but I heated the insides enough to scramble any recordings. They won't get any more, either."
"Very good," Lois said. "They're going to find out the hard way that you can make it awfully difficult to get anything newsworthy about you. No quotes, and almost no pictures. We'll let them stew for a while. You're to answer no comment if they ask you anything, and direct them to me - and I can be a real ... well, you get the idea. We're going to make their lives as difficult as possible for a couple of weeks, then we'll make them an offer - on our terms. Ten to one, they'll be so relieved not to have to deal with me anymore, they'll grab it."
He was grinning at her. "I like it," he said. "Perry was right: you're brilliant."
"I'm glad you noticed." She glanced at the clock on one of the bookshelves. "It's only one o'clock. Plenty of time to set up the tree. Why don't we do that, then we can get ready for Perry's dinner party."
"Good idea. I want to give Alice a call, too. And I need to let my boss at the Planet know that I won't be in until the 26th." He shrugged. "I've got kind of a flexible schedule because of my other job."
"I guess you'd have to," she said.
Ten minutes later, Clark had set up the tree and they had begun to string the lights. Just as they finished, she saw him lift his head. "Uh oh."
"What is it?"
"A gasoline tanker skidded on the Bayside Expressway. It's overturned and there's gas leaking. I have to -"
"Let's go," she said. "I want to see you in action - and it'll be our first chance to remind the media who's in charge here. We can finish decorating the tree when we get back."
"Ms. Lane, I like your style," Clark said. He held out his arms.
Little glittering flakes had begun to sift down from the sky as Lois and Clark flew through the evening air toward the Mayor's residence.
The media had been understandably miffed today when Clark had refused to comment on anything about the rescue, and seemed somewhat baffled by his new attitude. He was such a genuinely nice person, Lois thought, that they'd gotten into the belief that they could do pretty much anything that they wanted and he'd still cave in and give them what they asked for. Well, they were in for a surprise. After the tanker accident, she'd stood before them outside his apartment, and told them that Mr. Kent felt that, since they had violated their promise - again - to respect his privacy when he was in his civilian guise, he felt no obligation to give them quotes about Superman's work. Exclusive quotes, as well as personal interviews, would henceforth only be available on a case by case basis, through her, and only to those who had not violated the agreement. Clark had made sure that none of the cameras aimed at her had managed to get a clear picture of her, and she had gone into his apartment to help him finish decorating the tree with a feeling of accomplishment. A short time after that, the crowd of media outside Clark's home had quietly dissipated.
The representatives of the Press knew when they could push someone around and when they couldn't. They'd got her point pretty quickly, she thought. Clark might not know how to protect himself from such people, but she did, and she had no hesitation playing hardball. It was high time someone protected Clark, and it looked like that might be her second job in the future.
They landed on the Mayor's back porch and Clark knocked.
"Anyone around?" Lois asked.
Correctly interpreting her question, Clark shook his head. "No press," he said. "I told Alice I was bringing a date, so I'd come by air and would land in back. She understood."
"Yeah, I guess she would." The door opened, and a woman that Lois took a second to identify stood there. Alice White had lost a good twenty pounds since Lois had last seen her, and she'd traded that horrible red hair for a soft, much more natural blond shade. She'd changed her style of makeup, too, and looked both more dignified and genuinely beautiful.
"Clark!" she said. "Come in! Perry and I were wondering if you'd actually escape the media and make it here."
"Well, there's a story about that," Clark said. He stood back to let Lois enter ahead of him and followed her in. "Alice, this is my date. I didn't want to mention her name over the phone, but I think you know her."
Alice had barely glanced at Lois, other than to offer her a smile when she opened the door, but now she stopped and looked more closely. She blinked, blinked again, and suddenly her face went two shades paler. "Lois?" she whispered.
"Oops." Clark caught her arm. "Are you all right?"
Alice took a deep breath and then a second, and nodded. "I'm fine. Lois? Is it really you?"
"It's me," Lois said.
Alice turned her head. "Perry!" she called. "Come here, quick!" She turned back to Lois. "Oh honey," she said, "This is wonderful! Clark, is this why you've been gone?"
"Yes." Clark nodded, still keeping one hand on her arm. "Are you sure you're all right, Alice? I didn't mean for it to be such a shock."
"No, I'm fine. Perry's going to be thrilled! Perry!"
"I'm right here," Perry White's voice said, as Lois's former editor stepped into the room. "What's so all-fired important? Hello, Clark."
"Hi, Chief," Clark said. "I have someone here that you want to meet."
Lois stepped forward. "Hi, Perry."
"Dinner will be served in about an hour," Perry said, leading them into the sitting room of the Mayor's residence. He hadn't taken his eyes off Lois since he'd first seen her. "I want to know what happened. We have a little while before Jerry and his family get here. It's a private party tonight," he assured Lois quickly. "The big formal one isn't until tomorrow."
"That's a relief," she said.
"She's the real Lois this time, isn't she?" Perry glanced at Clark.
"As real as they come, Chief," Clark said. "She's why I haven't been around for a couple of days. I got a call from someone I've had looking for her for ... quite a while and had to leave without warning. We actually got back last night."
"Sit down," Perry said. "I want to hear all about it. Where did you find her?"
"In the South Pacific," Clark said. "It's quite a story ..."
"The South Pacific?" Perry said. "What the dickens were you doin' there?"
Lois shrugged. "I don't know. The last I remember of Brazzaville was on April 21st, 1993. The gunrunners kidnapped me. I managed to escape, but - " She shrugged. "Something happened - I don't know what - and the next thing I remember was being somewhere in the South Pacific, and Clark was there ..."
Perry listened as she told the story, with Clark interjecting the occasional comment. When she was done, he shook his head.
"That's incredible! So there's four - nearly five - years missin' and you don't know what happened during them?"
"No," she said. "I know I'm all right physically. Clark made sure of that - just no memories but ..." She let the words hang. "I know what happened up until then - I remembered as soon as we got back to Metropolis. But the rest is a blank."
"Shock, maybe," Alice said quietly. "Maybe it will come back eventually. In the meantime, we're just glad you're back, Lois. Have you let your family know yet?"
"Not yet. We're going to do that tomorrow," Clark said. "She's been getting acclimatized to the new Metropolis. I figured I could fly her to her sister's tomorrow. From what Lucy told me, her mother will be there. Her dad's off on some sort of medical mission to Uganda, I think. We'll have to try to get a message to him. Maybe Lucy will know how to do it."
"Maybe," Perry said. "I could make some inquiries for you if she doesn't."
Lois nodded. She didn't like fibbing to Perry, but the real story would probably get Clark and her committed. "I guess I should probably notify the Planet as soon as possible that I'm back, too," she said.
Perry grinned. "Do it Monday," he advised. "Right now, nobody with any real authority is going to be around. I used to run one of those places, you know."
Clark grinned. "I do seem to recall something of the sort," he said. "We miss you, Chief. The new guy is okay, but he just doesn't have your touch."
"Well, I've been talkin' to James," Perry said. "He tells me that I can have my old job back if I want it, after my term is up. I may take him up on it." He nodded at the television. "I noticed that Superman news has been pretty much blacked out today. There was a blurb on LNN about you bein' back, and then nothing else. Someone reported you helped out at an accident, but nobody seemed to have any pictures, and then there was something about you havin' a spokesperson and that she'd issued a statement that you weren't talkin' to the Press except through her. What's goin' on? Since when do you have a spokesperson?"
"Well, Lois thought I needed one," Clark said. "She says I'm not tough enough with the Press, so she decided to handle it herself."
"You're not," Alice said. "Lois is just the right person to deal with them for you. They won't be able to push her around."
"That's for sure." Perry grinned approvingly at her. "It's great to have you back, honey."
"I think so, too," Clark said quietly. "She's everything you said she was, Chief. And then some."
The dinner party at the Mayor's was a major success from Lois's point of view, even though it was probably one of the quietest social occasions she could remember. When she said goodbye, her old boss hugged her and told her she was welcome anytime, and that if she had any trouble getting her spot back at the Planet, he'd speak to James personally. Besides that, he was going to need a new press secretary pretty soon, and if she wanted the job, all she had to do was say the word.
"I'll keep it in mind," she told him. "It's nice to know I have some options."
"Where are you stayin'?" he asked.
"She's staying with me until we can find her a place," Clark said. "It'll probably only be for a few days."
Perry nodded. "Good. Then I won't worry. You call me if you need anything, honey. You understand?"
"I understand," Lois said. "I will."
They took off into the clouds of snowflakes filling the air. Moments later, they were hovering over Clark's apartment.
"Anything?" Lois asked.
"Nope. I guess you made your point," Clark said.
"They're probably hoping that you might change your mind if they're good for a while," Lois said, somewhat cynically.
"Probably," Clark said. He dropped to the balcony of his apartment and opened the door for her.
Inside, Lois went into the bathroom to change into the sweats, as they were considerably closer to her size than the borrowed items she had worn last night. When she emerged, Clark was standing by the window, looking out at the snow falling quietly on the street. He held a shoebox in one hand, and as she watched, he took something from it and set it on the windowsill next to the tiny Christmas tree that had been there the night before when they had arrived from the past.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I thought I'd set up my mom's manger scene," he said quietly. "It never seems quite like Christmas without it."
"Oh." She moved over beside him. "May I help?"
"Sure." He held out the box. Lois reached in and selected one of the china sheep. "These are old," she said.
"They belonged to my parents," he said. "Mom said they belonged to her mother, too. I think her grandmother bought them in Boston back in the 1800s."
Carefully, Lois set the tiny figurine on the windowsill next to one of the shepherds. "That looks right," she said.
Clark nodded and set a donkey opposite the sheep. Lois selected a winged angel and placed it beside the tree. "There. You know, Lucy and I used to set up a manger scene every Christmas, even when Mother was so drunk that she didn't know what season of the year it was. Ours was plastic, but it was the spirit of the thing that counted. It made it seem a little more like Christmas."
"I wish I could have been there," he said. "My Christmases weren't really Christmases after I was ten. My parents died that year, and it was never the same. If I'd known you, maybe we could have helped each other. At least we wouldn't have been alone."
"I wish you had been," Lois said. "You know, I haven't had a Christmas I enjoyed since before my Dad left home. This time it's different, and I'm not even sure why."
He smiled at her. "I'm not sure, either, but I'm glad it is." He placed the final figurine on the sill. "That looks all right, don't you think?"
She adjusted the donkey with the repaired leg a fraction of an inch. "There. That gives more balance to the scene."
He surveyed it critically. "You're right. I like it."
"I wish I had something to give you tomorrow morning," she said. "I'm afraid that will have to wait until I collect my back pay."
"I think I can wait." He turned and opened the drawer of one of the end tables. "I did get you something, though." He removed a small, square object wrapped in tissue paper. "I couldn't resist. A combination Christmas and Welcome Home gift."
Somewhere, not far away, carolers were singing. Lois took the small object. "Clark, it isn't fair that you've given me something and I have nothing to give you."
"You've given me something just by being here," he said. "A good friend to spend Christmas Eve with."
Clark was lonely, she thought. She could sympathize completely. Christmas had been like that for her, for years. Now, suddenly, and much to her surprise, she realized it wasn't so anymore. Being here with Clark had changed all that.
"Open it," he urged. "From what you said back during our trip across the ocean, I thought this might be to your taste."
Carefully, she pulled at the ribbon, and pulled off the paper. A white, cardboard box met her gaze, and she opened it.
Inside lay a single piece of chocolate in the shape of the emblem she had seen on the chest of his red and blue suit, and beneath it a card. She opened it.
"I can't read it," she said. "Can you translate?"
He nodded. "It's a gift certificate for a box of Swiss chocolate, from a place I know in Switzerland," he said. "I thought I could take you there tomorrow before we fly out to see your sister, and you could redeem it in person. Go ahead and try the chocolate."
She bit into the chocolate S shield, and closed her eyes, savoring the luscious stuff. "Mmm. You do know how to charm a girl, Mr. Kent."
"You like it?"
She took a second bite. "Do you know how much I've missed chocolate the last few weeks?"
He grinned. "I sort of figured you had."
She took the final bite. She saw Clark watching her as she slowly chewed and swallowed. "You picked the perfect gift," she told him. "But I'm holding you to that trip, tomorrow."
"I'm counting on it," he said.
The carolers were closer. Clark looked out at the snowy street, and she moved up beside him. He put his arm around her waist just as, in the distance, the big clock on City Hall began to chime ten.
"I'm glad you're here," he said. "Merry Christmas, Lois. And welcome home."