All I Want For Christmas
Deborah A. Rorabaugh
Copyright Dec 8, 2006
Country of first publication, United States of America.Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
"Got your Christmas shopping done?" Clark asked with a grin from his desk.
Lois glared at him. Clark's preternatural Christmas cheer did nothing but annoy her. "We've had this discussion. You have family. You're heading out to Smallville for Christmas and I'm working. Although for the life of me I can't figure out how you talked Perry into giving you time off. Somebody has to keep the wheels of commerce spinning, not to mention the presses."
"That wasn't what I asked, and Josh Zimmer did volunteer to take my shifts," Clark reminded her, getting up to look over her shoulder at what she was working on. Something on the hazards of the sudden change in weather. The manufactured heat wave of only two weeks ago had become this week's freezing rain and snow and it was taking its toll on the city. Pity city folk didn't know how to drive in the snow.
"I don't do Christmas," she said flatly. "I don't have a family to speak of and I don't do Christmas."
The truth was darker than she cared to admit, even to Clark. In all her twenty-six years, she had never had a happy Christmas that she could remember. When she was a child, her father was always absent, working over Christmas while her mother drank herself into a stupor. As a teenager, her parents were divorced and she'd done everything she could to keep herself and her sister away from the house, away from the misery the holidays brought. She'd tried, for her sister's sake, to keep a holiday spirit, but all she could see was the misery of over commercialization, and broken promises, broken dreams. There was no Santa Claus, there were no miracles. 'Peace on Earth' was a campaign slogan for a politician who was more than likely to be dirty.
A group of Daily Planet staffers was assembled around the electric piano someone had brought in and set up the corner of the seating area near the elevators. The carolers were from nearly every department at the newspaper and were practicing the songs they were going to perform at one of the local hospitals. It was a long tradition, or so Perry White had told Clark earlier in the day while trying to talk the younger man into joining the group.
"You know what you need?" Clark asked, interrupting Lois's glum observation of the people by the piano. Jimmy had sat down at the keyboard and was attempting to play 'O Come All Ye Faithful.' It was painful to listen to it. "You need to get out and see how the rest of the world is doing. Find the good stuff, the stuff we don't write about for the front-page."
"I'm a reporter, remember?" Lois said. "I write about what the rest of the world is doing. I expose what the rest of the world is doing." She winced as Jimmy hit another bad note. "Now I know why they used to shoot the piano player."
"We used to have John Richardson play the piano for 'em, but he moved to San Francisco to be with his boyfriend," Perry said, coming out of his office.
"Somehow I don't think there's time to get him back here to stop Jimmy from torturing that poor instrument, not to mention the rest of us," Lois complained.
"Well, if we could find someone else to play, then maybe Jimmy wouldn't need to torture the piano," Perry said.
"Why don't you do it, then?" Lois asked.
"I have plans for this evening, darlin'. Before the party I mean. Besides, I don't play piano."
"We could hire somebody," Lois suggested as Jimmy hit another clinker.
"On this short notice? Besides, you didn't have anything else planned for this evening, did you, Lois?" Perry asked. "Besides tonight's Christmas party?"
"No," Lois conceded. I knew it was a mistake to tell him I played piano. And I already know Clark's not going to make it to the party. He's going home tonight.
Perry and Clark watched as Lois got up from her desk and went over to the group at the piano. They could see the relief in Jimmy's face as Lois sat down at the keyboard.
"Don't think I'll forget this, Perry," Lois warned from across the room. Perry just grinned at her.
"And what were you planning on doing this evening, son?" Perry asked, turning to Clark.
"Flying to Smallville? Helping Santa?" Clark answered. "Besides, I can't carry a tune in a bucket."
"Riiight," Perry drawled in obvious disbelief.
Clark wasn't sure which part Perry disbelieved – the fact that he couldn't sing, or that he was helping Santa, or that he was flying out tonight despite being low man on the totem pole. Never mind that he was flying out without an airplane.
"Well, be that as it may, I have a job for Santa's little helper," Perry said. There was a mischievous glint in his eye.
The Daily Planet carolers met at the main entrance to the Children's Hospital. The six women were in long, dark dresses and the five men wore tuxedos. It was a little odd seeing them dressed so formally. If Lois hadn't known what to expect, she might not have recognized them. For herself, she'd chosen the black gown she'd worn to the White Orchid ball, with a short matching jacket for warmth.
"I thought you usually did Met General?" Lois asked Polly Madsen. She was another reporter, but her specialty was finance.
"Yeah, and the Star did Children's, but something came up for them this year and so we traded," Polly explained. "It'll be different for us. At Met General it's usually old people we perform for. Might be more fun with kids."
The fifth floor patient lounge was decorated with plastic greenery and festive lights. A large artificial Christmas tree stood in one corner with wrapped boxes beneath it. The floor nurses were settling the audience in a dozen children whose ages ranged from three to about twelve, though it was hard to tell with some of them. Most of the children were in wheelchairs with special adaptive fittings.
One child had family helping him, or her – it was hard to tell from the bald head and the swollen and misshapen face and body. The other children were alone except for the nursing staff and each other.
"The children who could go home for Christmas, have," one of the nurses explained. "The ones left here are either too ill to leave or their families have other plans tonight."
Amy Johnson and Louisa Peterson both looked like they were ready to cry. Joe Graham from layout didn't look to be in much better shape. Lois knew that Louisa's three girls were in the same age range as the kids in the room. Joe's kids were a little older, but not much. Jimmy Olsen was trying to put on a brave face.
If this was what Clark meant by 'getting out and seeing what the world was doing,' Lois wasn't sure she really wanted anything to do with it. Besides, Clark had better things to do tonight. Helping Santa? Give me a break. Buying a new soldering iron for his mom, more likely. Or maybe a welder. And a new barbeque apron for his dad.
"Pull it together, people," Lois ordered, settling in at the piano and taking a deep breath. "It's show time."
Amy had a strong, almost professional quality, voice. Louisa's voice wasn't bad either. Bill Anderson from sales and Joe also had good voices. The four of them easily carried the rest of the group.
Lois concentrated on the music in front of her, a rousing rendition of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.' An additional baritone voice sang out from the doorway. She turned her head just enough to see Paul Baily from IT making his way through the room to join the group. Amy had a smile of relief on her face as she handed him the music.
"Sorry I'm late," Paul apologized when the song was over. "There was a little problem just as I heading over here."
"Major traffic tie up due to ice, but Superman took care of it. It's been a busy night for him," Paul said. "Santa Claus is waiting outside, so we'd better do 'Here Comes Santa Claus' next."
Santa Claus arrived during the final refrain with a deep bellowing Ho Ho Ho that sounded very familiar. Amy and Louisa were hiding grins as they watched the red costumed figure greet the nurses and the children.
"So that's where the chief gets off to while we're busy caroling every year," Joe said, not bothering to hide his own grin.
It was Perry White under the padding and curly white beard, handing out small packages to the hospital staff and the patients. Behind him, red boots silent against the tile floor, was Superman, cheerfully carrying an overloaded sack. Santa went over to the tree and sat down in the easy chair that had been reserved for him, reading off the labels on the larger packages, calling out the names. Superman and the nurses handed out the larger packages. The kids and grownups oohed and awed at getting so close to the super hero.
The sack was nearly empty and Superman wove his way through the wheelchairs to deliver a box to a horribly disfigured wheelchair bound child in the far back of the room. The boy's hands didn't work very well, so Superman helped him open the package. It was a set of blue and red pajamas. Superman pajamas.
Lois had left her place at the piano to 'mingle,' crouching down and greeting several of the children, helping open packages. As she got closer to the back of the room, she strained to hear the conversation Superman was having with the nurse tending to the child.
"His name is Bobby Ryan and he's one of your biggest fans. He even sent you a letter, asking if you could give him his Christmas present," the nurse told him.
"Then I'm glad I came," Superman replied with a smile. The nurse pulled him aside, further from Bobby and closer to Lois.
"What Bobby wanted was for you to take him flying," she said softly. "But that would be impossible. Without the equipment, the respirator, everything else, he'd die in minutes. We almost lost him last week. I think the only reason he's hung on was to meet you."
"Does he have any family?" Superman asked.
The nurse shook her head. "His parents and sister were killed in a fire. He was the only survivor."
Superman went very still and Lois thought he actually went a little pale.
The nurse laid a hand on his arm. "Superman, it happened before you came to Metropolis, and even if it hadn't, it was a gas explosion. There was nothing you could have done."
His expression was bleak and Lois could tell he was trying to put on a brave face. Superman putting on a brave face? How much did it cost him, rescuing people day in and day out and still not be able to help everyone who needed him? Where did he draw the line?
"Is there anything I can do now?" he asked in a soft voice.
"I really don't know," the nurse admitted.
"Maybe . . ." he started. "Maybe we can take a really, really short flight," he suggested, gaining animation. "Maybe just outside the window?"
The nurse looked thoughtful. "That might work. It'd make him so happy."
Lois was called back to the piano as Superman and the nurse wheeled Bobby across the crowded floor to one of the windows. The nurse carefully arranged the tubes that were feeding nourishment and drugs into the boy's system, the lines that were monitoring his condition. She wrapped him in a blanket and handed him to the alien super hero. Superman floated through the open window, and stayed there, just floating, speaking softly to the boy in his arms.
Lois watched the scene at the window as the carolers sang another song.
A shrill alarm sounded and cut off. Superman's expression turned glum as he spotted the source of the alarm. His hand went to the boy's face and he gently closed the now lifeless eyes. He floated back into the room, settling Bobby back into his chair. He closed the window. Lois watched the nurse wheel Bobby out of the room. In the easy chair Perry's head was bowed, but it was hard to read his expression beneath the false beard.
One of the nurses came up to Superman. Her eyes were tearing. "Thank you, Superman. You made him very happy."
"I just wish . . ." his voice faltered. "I just wish there was more I could have done."
One of the other kids rolled closer him, touching his hand to get his attention. Superman crouched down to get on eye level with the girl.
"Don't be sad," she said softly. "Bobby got his Christmas present. He got to fly with you. And now he's flying without you."
"You're very wise," Superman told her with a sad smile. "Thank you."
"Superman, what do you want for Christmas?" she asked. He gave her a surprised look. She was the first, the only person who had asked him that, had asked Superman that.
"I suppose 'peace on Earth' would be too much to ask?" he said with a crooked smile. The girl gave him a stern look. "Okay," he conceded. "I'd like my friends to be happy."
She reached over to him with her one free arm and pulled him closer, giving him a kiss on the cheek. "Merry Christmas, Superman."
"Superman," Jimmy called as the spandex clad hero straightened up. "Why don't join us for the last song?"
Superman gave him an odd look, almost as though he hadn't quite understood the invitation. "Um, singing is not one of my strong points," he said after a moment.
Behind him, Lois could see Perry giving him a curious look before turning to go out the door amidst Ho-Ho-Hos and Merry Christmases.
"Come on, Superman," Carol and Paul both urged.
Superman stepped over to join them with an expression of resignation. "Don't ever say I didn't warn you," he muttered as Jimmy handed him a sheet of music. "Which language are we doing this in?"
"How many languages do you know it in?" Lois wondered aloud.
Superman thought for a moment. "About thirty, counting English."
"English works for the rest of us," Amy told him with a tiny chuckle.
Lois played the introductory chords to Silent Night. He had a clear, firm voice, a little high for a baritone. Not a trained singing voice – no one was going to mistake him for an opera singer, but pleasant. She had a sudden vision of him singing lullabies to a dark-haired baby. Where did that come from?
The song was over and Lois stood with the carolers to take her bow. Superman started toward the door.
"Superman," Lois called. He stopped and looked back at her. "There's a party at the Planet tonight. You're certainly welcome to join us."
"Thank you, maybe I will," Superman said. Then he disappeared out the unlocked window.
"I thought you weren't coming," Lois said when Clark walked into the party at the Daily planet. He was carrying a large Marshall Meadows bag and wearing a Santa hat.
"I'm catching a later flight. Sorry I missed the caroling," Clark said as he handed out octagonal boxes of candy to the carolers. "But something came up."
"And what was that?" Lois asked. She was tired and cranky. The events at the hospital weighed heavily on her.
"I'd rather not talk about it," Clark told her. "But I'm sorry."
"For letting Perry talk you into going to Children's. I'm sure we could have found somebody else to play for them."
"I didn't really have to do it, remember?" Lois reminded him. "I volunteered, sort of. Besides wasn't it you who told me I need to get out and see how the world's doing? See the good things?"
"Heck of a way to start," Clark said. "Singing carols while a little kid dies."
"Wasn't like we knew it was going to happen," Lois said. "You talked to Superman, didn't you?"
"Yeah," he admitted, head bowed. "It's hard. To have all those powers, to be able to do so much, and still not be able to keep death away from one hurt little boy. All he wanted was to fly with Superman, just once, and he couldn't even really do that for him."
"Clark, death is always with us, simply because we're human. I think sometimes even Superman needs to be reminded exactly how human we all are, and how much even a small thing can matter." She leaned over to peer into his face. "Superman must be pretty upset if you're this bummed and you weren't even there."
"Yeah," he admitted, giving her an undecipherable look. His voice was so soft she almost didn't catch it. "It's hard to see all the pain that doesn't go away. It's especially hard this close to the holidays, when you see all that could be done, all that needs to be done."
"That's one of the reasons I hate this time of year. It's supposed to be a happy time, but reality has this habit of smacking you in the face," Lois said. "By the way, I never asked you what you wanted for Christmas."
"I suppose peace on Earth is too much to ask?" he asked with a smile. "So I'd be happy for my friends to be happy."
"Clark, sometimes I can't believe what a softy you are," Lois remarked with a smile. "Funny though, that's what Superman asked for, too."
"Maybe he's as much of a softy as I am?" He looked around at the party, now in full swing. Perry in his Santa suit was starting to sing 'Blue Christmas.' "Want to go for a walk, get some fresh air?"
It was snowing again, the coat of white making the city look like a fairyland, hiding any grungy-ness. The sidewalks were slick and Clark offered his arm for support and she tucked her hand into the crook of his arm.
"So, what did you get your parents from Christmas?" Lois asked.
Clark chuckled. "Well, my dad burned up Mom's drill – I still don't have the full story on that one – so I got her a cordless drill-driver and a new set of drill bits. And I got my dad a new barbeque set, one of those nice stainless steel ones with a carrying case. What about your parents?"
"Mom's in Cancun and Dad's holed up somewhere working on his next 'great breakthrough'. I don't know if they even got my cards. I got Lucy tickets for that new musical on Broadway, that one Polly and Amy were raving about. Now if she just had a boyfriend to go with her . . ."
"She'll find somebody," Clark assured her. Their walk had taken them to the front of Sacred Heart Church only a few blocks from the Planet. The Christmas Eve service was nearly over when they walked in.
Lois took in the candlelit nave, the incense, the purple draped altar. "It's beautiful," she murmured as she and Clark slipped into seats at the back of the church. "I'd forgotten how beautiful these old churches could be. I didn't know you were Catholic."
"I'm not," he said softly. "But it's always so peaceful here, and Father Danny's a friend of Superman's."
"Superman's Catholic?" That didn't quite compute.
Clark chuckled and was hushed by the old woman seated next to him. He leaned closer to Lois, speaking softly. "No. But Father Danny's involved with the orphanage and a couple charities Superman's involved with."
The service was over almost too soon, but they sat a little longer as everyone else filed out.
"My parents didn't do church," Lois murmured. "My grandparents made Lucy and me go to Sunday school when we were real little, but that was about it."
"My parents never pressed the point when I was growing up. But when I was traveling, sometimes the only safe haven, the only quiet place, was the local church or mosque."
On their way out, Clark stopped to light a candle. "For Bobby," he explained. "All he wanted was to fly. And now he is."
Lois lit a second candle. "For my friends. Especially the ones who only want their friends to be happy."
"And what about you, Lois? I didn't ask you what you wanted."
"I suppose peace on Earth really is too much to ask, at least this year," Lois said with a smile. "But I'll settle for my friends being happy, too." She reached up and pulled his head down slightly, to her level and gave him a kiss, a quick delicate butterfly kiss that was over almost before it began. "Merry Christmas, Clark."
"Merry Christmas, Lois."