A/N: My contribution to this year's Secret Santa holiday ficstravaganza challenge over at DI. This year, I had to write a fic set in Season 7, with the theme "Stuck". Enjoy me efforts, and remember: As usual, I own nothing but the writing!

An Imperfect Christmas

Two days before Christmas…

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Everywhere we go!" Lois sang cheerfully to herself as she peered into the back seat of her car to once again verify that she had everything she needed. She opened her bag to look for her wallet, and as she began to dig around in the bottom of her purse, she continued her impromptu singing. Her holiday spirit was undiminished in light of the realization that she didn't actually know the lyrics to the carol in question. "With something something something…to do with snow…," she belted out, slightly off-key.

Once she'd finally found what she was looking for, she pulled out a bill and handed it to the man who was just stepping away from her car. "Thanks for the help," she said with a bright smile.

"Not a problem," he replied as he put the ten in his pocket and glanced first at his handiwork and then at her, giving her a small bemused shake of his head before turning away.

Her smile didn't slip even a fraction when she glanced at the roof of her car herself and changed carols. "Oh, Christmas tree, oh, Christmas tree! How…something…are your branches!" This time, the substitution wasn't due to a lapse in her memory as to the lyrics to the song. Rather, she was simply being honest. The branches to the tree that was currently strapped to the top of her Focus weren't so much lovely as they were…well…something.

Lois knew it was a little strange, her habit of picking the one tree on the lot that nobody in their right mind would ever want. Most people went out each year, searching for the so-called "perfect" Christmas tree, its branches full and lush, its color rich and even. Not Lois Lane. Oh, she never intentionally sought out the trees from the reject pile, it just so happened that those were the trees she took home every year. She knew everyone thought this little habit of hers was just her way of being contrary, and in some respects, she couldn't blame them for their viewpoint. There was no arguing the fact that Lois's reputation for doing things in her own special way was well deserved.

But it wasn't really contrariness this year or any other that made her choose the saddest looking pine on the lot. Though she'd never admitted as much to anyone (and never would), the truth was that she felt an odd sort of affinity to the pitiful trees, overlooked or passed over by other, more discriminating tree shoppers. The trees Lois picked weren't perfect, but neither was the woman, herself – a fact she more than anyone else recognized and accepted. She even generally liked her imperfections, but she recognized that, like her Christmas trees, the beauty of her myriad imperfections was something that most people just didn't see. And that was okay; she was willing to wait for the person who did.

In the meantime, she didn't care what the world thought about her willingness to take the most bedraggled tree on the lot home. She chuckled to herself as she turned the wheel and merged into traffic. Oh, if only Clark had heard her referring to the Kent farmhouse that way. She could just imagine the pained look in his eyes as he repeated weakly, "Home?" Anyone who didn't know the two of them would think they didn't particularly like each other, listening to the way they teased one another, but the fact of the matter was that good-natured bantering had just been a huge part of their relationship from day one. Well…maybe back then it hadn't always been good-natured, but Lois and Clark had – probably against their wills and definitely against all odds – come to be pretty good friends over the last couple of years.

Which no doubt explained why Lois had turned down all kinds of offers from friends and loved ones this Christmas with invitations to glamorous and exciting parties, opting instead to stay in Smallville, Kansas to spend her holiday on a farm. Two days previously, as she did at least once a week, Lois had spoken with Martha Kent, and over the course of the conversation, she'd been told that Martha's duties in Washington were going to prevent her from making it home this Christmas. As sad as Lois had been to hear the news, she'd been even more so when she'd realized that it meant Clark and Kara would no doubt be spending the holiday alone for the first time in either person's life, and if she knew him half as well as she thought she did, he'd probably spend a good portion of the day moping over it, too. Lois had already determined that she was not going to let that happen.

So she'd bought a tree, various decorations, and what would amount to a week's worth of groceries to anyone that wasn't the bottomless stomach named Clark Kent, and now she was on her way out to the farm, where she'd resolved she'd bedeck the house with holiday spirit with or without the consent of the man of the house.

Her mind was so busy with planning what she'd hang where (and where she'd put the mistletoe she'd gotten for the sole purpose of making Clark distinctly nervous) that the time it took to drive to the farm passed before she knew it. As she hopped out of the car, she glanced at the tree but decided to deal with it later. In fact, she'd have Clark cut it down and haul it inside; she had other things to do, and she was looking forward to roping Kara into helping her do them. Once she'd launched herself onto the back porch, she knocked on the door, the rap muffled by the gloves she wore, and began singing softly to herself once again, still feeling aglow with the holiday spirit. "I want a hippopotamus for Christmas! Only a hippopotamus will d–"

Her voice trailed off abruptly when the door was flung open and she saw the woman on the other side, and her holiday spirit fizzled, leaving her to feel deflated by both its abrupt departure and the fact that she was an unmitigated idiot. How could she have forgoten the other occupant of the Kent Farm? Of course Clark and Kara wouldn't be alone this year!

"H-hey, Lana," Lois said as she was let inside. She tried but failed to inject a warm tone into her voice. "What are you doing here?"

In light of the fact that Lana was currently living on the farm, it was a ridiculous question to ask, which even Lana must have realized as she merely arched her eyebrows at her visitor and didn't comment. Trying to cover, Lois scrambled to explain, "I mean, uh…I thought you'd be in Metropolis, visiting your aunt. For the holiday."

She must have delivered the lame excuse convincingly enough, because Lana's face melted into an impish smile that caused a little wrinkle to form in the bridge of her nose that most people probably found adorable but Lois just found annoying.

Gesturing for Lois to take a seat as she poured them both a cup of coffee, Lana explained, "Oh, Aunt Nell is actually going out of town this year to visit her in-laws. She invited me to come along, of course, but I didn't want to intrude, so I decided stay in Smallville instead."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that you won't be able to see your family," Lois said politely as her gaze darted around the room as she tried not to be too obvious in her search for the nearest exit. In all honesty, she'd never been completely comfortable talking with Lana one-on-one, and now, knowing she was probably going to have to account for her visit soon, she wished she'd never come. Lois was still inwardly kicking herself for being so clueless as to think the Kents might actually have been in need of her presence this year, and she'd rather chew broken glass than admit to her stupidity aloud.

Lana offered a small shrug in response. "It's okay. I mean, I love Nell, but…she always makes a big deal about Christmas. I know she just wants to make the holiday special for me, but every year, when I was growing up, she'd throw me this big party on Christmas Eve. I know she meant well, but I always just wanted to spend the holiday with the people I care about the most, not a bunch of virtual strangers."

Lois was completely dumbfounded. Was this girl for real? There had been so many years that Lois would have killed for someone to so much as try to make the holiday special in the years after her mother passed away, but her father had never bothered to do so. It wasn't that the General didn't love his daughters and want them to enjoy the holiday, it was just that it probably never occurred to him to try to do anything special for a holiday he had stopped celebrating the day Ella Lane had died. "That must be terrible for you," she finally offered with a bit more snark than she'd originally intended.

If Lana had caught on to Lois's facetiousness, it didn't show, and she practically glowed as she lowered her voice conspiratorially and began to confess her plans. Truth be told, Lois tuned her out for a while until she heard her say, "…and I'm making Clark's favorite blueberry pancakes on Christmas morning, of course. I know he's looking forward to a quiet holiday at home, just the two of us. Kara's spending the holiday with Jimmy or friends or…something, and it's my first real Christmas with Clark as a couple, with no interruptions or intrusions, you know?"

Though Lana's voice was soft, her tone innocent, Lois had a sudden feeling that it was deceptively so, and she shot a quick glance at her hostess just as the petite girl was taking a sip of her coffee, her eyes still locked on her guest's face. Lois didn't know what caused her to think it – maybe nothing more than simple intuition – but she had a feeling that Lana's words weren't idly spoken. Without saying so aloud, Lana was trying to convey in no uncertain terms that Lois's presence would not be welcome at the Kent Farm this Christmas.

As if there was a chance in hell she'd spend the holiday there now, having realized that Lana would also be in residence. Two's company, three's a crowd as they say.

"Well, that certainly sounds like…uh…" Hell on earth, she finished the thought to herself but said aloud instead, "you have everything planned out. I'm sure it'll be, you know…perfect." Then she cleared her throat and said, "Anyway, I actually have some things I need to take care of today; I just wanted to stop by to see Clark. I…uh…had something I wanted to tell him. Is he around?"

Lana looked slightly startled by the abrupt end to the conversation, and in Lois's first blinding flash of insight for the day, she realized something she'd never thought about before. At that moment, Lana looked remarkably like a squirrel, stunned by the headlights of an oncoming car. And given her current choice of wardrobe, she looked like a stunned squirrel who had perhaps become that way because she'd stepped a little too close to an exploding pink-not-found-in-nature marshmallow Sno Ball.

As Lois was amusing herself with such uncharitable thoughts, Lana was gearing up to reply, but before she could do so, the back door opened and the man in question stood in the entryway, stomping the snow off his feet before stepping inside. "Hey, is that…oh, hi, Lois!" he greeted her warmly as he stepped into the kitchen, and he sounded so sincerely happy to see her when he said it that, to Lois's surprise, she felt a tiny fraction of her good humor and holiday spirit return. "What are you doing here?"

"Hey, Smallville," she returned with a smile as she rose to her feet. "Well, you know, I thought you…" At the last minute, she caught herself and remembered to lie. "Uh…I mean…I just came by to say hi, see what you guys had planned for the holiday." He looked so adorable as he grinned at her, Lois almost forgot that the Sno Ball wearing squirrel was still around until Lana stepped forward and brushed her lips across Clark's cheek, murmuring a tender hello. That was when Lois had her second blinding flash of insight for the day. Lana was cloying and cutesy, like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, and she tried to appear entirely too sweet for even a sugar junky like Lois to stand. But apparently Clark could. Lois's good mood balloon suddenly punctured as she remembered her recent conversation, and she felt herself deflate. "Uh…Lana was just telling me all about it."

"Oh yeah?" he asked, brushing past Lana in favor of the coffee pot, and he poured himself a large cup. "So when can we expect you to show up – translating Lois time, obviously, for the benefit of those of us who go by the actual clock?" he teased.

To Lois's mind, an oddly tense silence followed his blissfully innocent question. Lois was debating whether she should take him up on his offer or if it was really worth it to lay witness to what would no doubt be an effusive amount of lovebirdiness on Christmas morning. While she was staring in silence at Clark, she noticed as his gaze shot toward Lana, and he frowned in puzzlement. Though Lois didn't see what had caught his attention, she could certainly guess. "Er…thanks for the offer, there, Smallville, but I think this year I'll have to go AWOL on the traditional Kent Christmas." Knowing he wouldn't be content to take no as an answer, she offered in only the tiniest stretching of the truth, "Chloe invited me to visit her family homestead this year, instead." It was true that Chloe had offered; it was misleading to let Clark believe she had accepted. She hadn't, since she'd thought at the time that she had other plans.

Wanting to avoid any possible awkward conversations that might lead to even more liberal stretching of the truth, she said brightly, "Anyway, you two, it's been fun, but I really should get going. My dinner doesn't order itself, you know!" For a second, she could have bitten her tongue, since her statement could have been interpreted as seeking an invitation to dinner with her companions, which she did not want. Clark seemed inclined to pick up the ball she'd so unwittingly dropped, since he opened his mouth to speak. He closed it again, however, when Lana walked up beside him and looped her arm around his waist. Lana, Lois noticed, didn't seem inclined to say a word. That was when Lois had her third blinding flash of insight for the day. Lana Lang, no matter what she tried to pretend, was nowhere near as sweet and good-hearted as she appeared.

"Right, okay, so…" Lois began to babble as she turned to go, but she was flustered for a moment and forgot that she'd parked in the back. Instead of going to the back door, she headed toward the front, and that was how she came to find herself smack dab in the middle of a scene straight out of Stepford. Or a Norman Rockwell painting. Or, at the very least, a Martha Stewart Christmas Special. Lois didn't know at the moment which was the most terrifying. "Um…wow," was all she managed to say as she looked around with wide eyes. She wanted to ask when the photographers were coming in, but she was regaining enough rational thought to recognize that the question would probably sound churlish.

It was just that everything was so…perfect. The scene was straight out of a magazine article entitled "How to Decorate for the Perfect Christmas." Everything was in order, tastefully done (if there were a few too many lights strung around for Lois's taste). Nothing was garish or tacky. On the coffee table, Lois even saw a plate with some decorated cookies tastefully arranged, and she had the feeling that even the cookies wouldn't dream of marring the scene by having their edges crumble off or their icing smudge. And right there, right in the middle everything, was the coup de grace. The Christmas tree. Even Lois, in her suddenly soured state that was rapidly approaching Grinch-like status, had to admit that it was absolutely breathtaking. It looked like a tree one would find at the White House or Capitol Building – some place where official decorators come in to handle the job. It didn't look like a tree on would find in a farm house in the middle of Smallville, Kansas – particularly not if Lois Lane had had a hand at the decorating.

"What do you think?" she heard Clark ask softly from behind her, sounding completely oblivious to her distress. "Lana did all the decorating this year." And that was when Lois had her fourth and final blinding flash of insight for the day. She really hated Lana Lang. Of course, she'd never thought particularly highly of the other woman, and she'd tried to explain away her inexplicable aversion by saying that the two of them had simply never had much chance to get to know one another. But now she realized that she could try to justify her feelings all she wanted, and it wouldn't change the simple fact that she genuinely loathed the Elf Princess. There was something a little liberating in the realization.

Clark, clearly still not catching on to the fact that the woman he was speaking to was distracted and not in the mood, attempted to tease her as usual. "She also picked out the tree, which you might notice doesn't look like it's caught some kind of mysterious pine blight this year. So contrary to what you've been telling me for the last two years, they don't just sell sickly looking trees at Christmas and keep the healthy-looking ones for the propagation of the species, to make a stronger crop next year."

"No," she agreed, her voice suddenly thick, and she felt like she wanted to cry though she didn't know why. "No, it doesn't. You're right. It looks…It's perfect, Clark. Absolutely perfect. Of course." Whirling on her heel, she strode quickly toward the exit, tilting her head as she brushed past Clark so he wouldn't see her face. "I have to go, you guys. Merry Christmas."

She ignored the sound of Clark's voice calling after her as she bolted toward the car. As she got in and turned the key, however the sultry tones of Elvis's voice filled the car. "…be doing all right with your Christmas of white, but I'll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christma–"

"Oh, shut up," she snarled as she gave the power key a savage poke, killing the music. She drove back to her apartment in blissful silence, and when she pulled into her parking space in the back of her building, she sighed heavily when she realized she'd have to do something about the tree still bundled up and tied securely to the roof of her car.

With a savage yank, she undid the knot and pulled down the tree, being careful not to scratch the paint on her car roof. Then, staring in silent contemplation at her darkened living room window above, she groaned and turned to glare at the tall tree in her arms instead. It was going to be such a hassle to get the tree indoors, which was nothing compared to the unnecessary pain and aggravation of decorating the damn thing. It just wasn't worth it, she decided after a moment. As she turned and dragged her tree by the dumpster, instead, she muttered darkly to herself about the sixty-five dollars down the drain. Then, feeling grumpy and exhausted, she stopped by her car just long enough to grab her bags of groceries and headed up to her apartment with heavy steps. Once inside, she threw the groceries into the fridge – bags and all, not bothering to unpack them – and headed to bed for a nap. In the mood she was in, it was either that or stay up and break things.

As she flung herself on top of her bed, she muttered darkly to herself. "I never really liked Christmas, anyway."

Christmas Eve…

Clark was still feeling out of sorts the next day, though he normally enjoyed Christmas Eve. He just couldn't quite shake the feeling that there was something strange about Lois's behavior the day before, and though he'd never admit as much out loud, he noticed things like that about her and had a tendency to grow worried when she acted out of character. Maybe it was all in his head, though, because when he'd asked Lana if she'd noticed any strange behavior on the part of their former guest, she'd told him that Lois had seemed fine.

It was also possible that he was out of sorts because he had been a little annoyed that Lois had seemed surprised by his invitation to spend Christmas at the farm, as if she hadn't received such an invite for the past two years. Actually, with the way she tended to take over the place for the holidays, he'd figured that she probably didn't even need an invitation anymore. Lana had assured him that, during their conversation, she'd mentioned how much both she and Clark been looking forward to their friend's company this year, but Lois had been adamant about not changing her plans, no matter how much Lana had encouraged her to reconsider. Clark understood that Lois had made other plans with Chloe, of course, but the truth was…well, he was going to miss her.

He was hardly comforted by the fact that he'd tried to call Lois several times since her visit the day before, but she hadn't answered. Maybe she'd already left for Chloe's house. He should leave the two of them alone; there would no doubt be plenty of time to talk after their return. But still…he couldn't quite shake the feeling that something was wrong, and he knew it would keep bugging him until he found out what it was. So, with a quick glance into the kitchen to make sure Lana was otherwise occupied and couldn't overhear, Clark grabbed his cell phone and headed outside, away from the house. He didn't know why he was so reluctant to have his girlfriend listen in on a phone call to his best friends, but there was just something distinctly unappealing about the idea of talking to Lois with Lana in the room.

After a few rings, a very cheerful voice answered on the other end of the line. "Hey, Clark! You know, if you're calling to wish me a Merry Christmas, you're a good twenty-four hours early. And if you're calling because you need some techno-help, you should know that I took your advice and left the laptop at home this year," she informed him in a teasing voice.

"Oh, no," he corrected her awkwardly. "I mean…it's nothing like that. I was just…uh…how's your dad?" Now that he had her on the phone, he was reluctant to come out and ask her how Lois was doing, though he didn't know why.

Sometimes, when the three of them were together and he and Lois were engaged in conversation, he'd catch a glimpse of Chloe out of the corner of his eye, and almost invariably she would have a strange expression on her face as she watched her friends converse. She almost looked…smug, like Chloe knew something the rest of the world didn't, and she was waiting for everyone else to catch up.

It was strange, and he'd never quite found the nerve to ask her about it. But the memory of it tended to make discussing the subject of Lois with her cousin awkward, and so he avoided the uncomfortable situation by not talking about Lois with Chloe as much as possible.

Chloe's laugh carried over the phone line, bringing a smile to Clark's face. After everything that had happened in the past year, it was good to hear the happiness in her voice.

"Oh, you know Dad. He's gotten it into his head that we're going to go all out in decorating the tree this year, and now it looks like a tornado came through his living room. I think we'll still be cleaning up random bits of tinsel in July. How're things at the farm? Has Lois done her usual hobby of shanghai-ing the holiday decorations? Because you know you have to keep an eye on her with that, unless you want another extremely awkward mistletoe episode. Or do I need to remind you of the Great Christmas Embarrassment of 2005?"

He felt his face flush at the memory as he made yet another mental note to make sure that Lois had burned all the negatives. "No, I…wait," he interjected with a puzzled frown as her words fully sank in. "You think Lois is spending the holiday here? But…she told me yesterday that you'd invited her to spend it with you. I haven't been able to get a hold of her all day, so I assumed she was already there."

A long pause greeted his remark, and he could almost see the matching puzzled frown on Chloe's face as she considered his words. "Noooo," she finally said, dragging the word out. "I mean, I invited her to spend Christmas with Dad and me, but she turned us down. She said something about making sure you didn't out-mope yourself this year, since your mom wasn't going to be able to make it home. She also said something about making sure you and Kara weren't driven to kill each other if you got snowed in by yourselves."

"But…," he began to protest, but there wasn't really much to say. Lois's strange behavior of the day before suddenly didn't seem so strange. She'd planned on spending the holiday alone all along but didn't want her friends to know about it because she knew they'd worry about her. "Chloe, she's not here."

Chloe sighed heavily. "I can't believe that she didn't…Clark, would you mind checking in on her? I'm sure she's okay, it's just…you know how she is around this time of year. I don't want her to be alone."

The thought had already occurred to him, so he shook his head, though of course she couldn't see that over the phone line. Catching himself, he said, "No, of course not. It's not a problem; I'll head over there now. Merry Christmas, Chloe. I'll talk to you tomorrow." After she returned the sentiment and ht he hung up the phone, Clark scowled and resisted the urge to kick himself. He known there was something up with Lois when she'd acted so strangely the day before, but he'd dismissed it as a figment of his imagination. And now, because he was so clueless, she was spending the holiday by herself.

He couldn't let that happen. He knew how Lois got around the holidays, if she didn't have something to serve as a distraction – it was the only time of the year she was ever inclined toward quiet reflection. Christmas made her think about her family and the mom that she'd lost at a young age, and while she didn't tend to dwell on her grief, it was the only time of year that Clark knew Lois to think about the past with a degree of bittersweet melancholy. He wasn't going to let her do that this year, or, rather, he wasn't going to let her do it alone.

As Clark turned and jogged back toward the house, a plan already coming together in his mind, he realized that for some reason, even with the difficult task ahead of him, he felt the happiest he had all day. Racing through the front door, he called out to his housemate, "Lana? We need to talk."

Less than an hour later, Clark was sliding a box onto the bed of his truck as he hummed tunelessly to himself. He had a plan; he knew exactly what he was going to do. The only trick was going to be convincing Lois to let him do it. He wasn't particularly worried about his success in that arena, however. He knew Lois's weakness, her Achilles Heel, and he was not above exploiting it in order to get what he wanted.

He was just about to climb into the cab of the truck when he heard a soft whining sound, almost a whimper. When he turned, he found Shelby behind him, staring up at him with (what else?) sad puppy dog eyes and a hangdog expression. When Shelby caught his owner looking at him, he whined piteously again.

"What's wrong, boy?" Clark asked as he knelt to scratch Shelby behind the ears, in just the right spot to generally make the golden retriever melt with paroxysms of ecstasy. "I'll be back later. Don't you want to stay in where it's warm?" The golden whined again, and Clark's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Oh, I get it. You want to go see Lois too, is that it?"

Shelby barked once in response, the force of his canine happiness causing his tail to wag back and forth hard enough that his entire back end shook. He jumped to his feet and made an excited little hop, and Clark knew that he'd said the magic word. Lois. Just the sound of her name was usually enough to get Shelby all worked up. It was an indisputable fact that the dog adored Lois, and Clark knew that for as much as she complained about her allergies, she harbored a soft spot in her heart for the creature she called the bane of her existence, as well.

Struck suddenly by a wicked thought, Clark shook his head, trying to will it away. It would be wrong. Unjustifiable. Almost evil. But if Lois wasn't going to come to the Kent Farm to enjoy all the trappings of the holiday, Clark was just going to have to bring them to her.

"All right, boy," he said warmly as he rose to his feet again and threw open the driver's side door to his truck. "Get in! We'll go see Lois together."

He couldn't quite stifle the unholy chuckle of glee when he imagined the look on Lois's face when she saw man and dog on her threshold, and he wondered for a moment which she would protest more.

Ten Minutes Later…

"Oh, go away," Lois muttered to her anonymous visitor on the other side of the door. "It's Christmas Eve; go bother somebody else." But even as she grumbled darkly to herself, she dropped her spoon into the half-empty carton of Rocky Road ice cream and made her way to her door so she could take care of the incessant and annoying knocking at the source.

As she threw open the door, she demanded, "What do you wa – Clark?" The sight of the tall blue-eyed man on her doorstep threw her for a second, and she stared at him in open-mouthed astonishment. "What are you doing here?"

"I thought you were going away for Christmas," he retorted instead of answering her question.

Lois felt her face flush. "Well, I-I was. I mean, I am. I just…uh…I'm getting a late start!"

"Lois, it's six thirty on Christmas Eve. How much later were you planning on making it?"

"I was…uh…ah…ah…achoo!" Before she could come up with a plausible excuse, Lois was overtaken by a sudden sneezing fit, and she threw her visitor an accusing glare as his canine companion stepped around his legs and into view. "You didn't."

Clark's grin was markedly unrepentant as he explained, "He's missed you. We discussed the issue, and we decided that there's no way you can be allowed to spend the entire holiday by yourself. So we thought we'd come by to see how you're doing."

Lois arched one eyebrow skeptically as she sneezed again and shuffled back a bit to try to put some distance between Shelby and herself. "And this whole time, you weren't in the least bit concerned about the fact that you were apparently conducting a two-way conversation with a dog?"

"I'm gifted," he replied happily.

"I bet," she replied in a voice that was anything but. "Look, I appreciate the concern, but," she paused to sneeze again, "I'm fine. Really. You can go now."

For the first time, Clark's face fell, and when she saw his obvious disappointment, she felt the urge to bite her tongue. She managed to refrain when she remembered that he had the "perfect" woman waiting for him at home with the "perfect" Christmas planned. In fact, it was such a perfect Christmas that Lois didn't know why he was bothering to darken her door at the moment instead of sitting in front of the tree with his lady love, snuggling or canoodling or whatever it was he and Lana did together. Lois tried not to think about it too much.

"Lois, there's no way I'm leaving here without you. You can't spend Christmas by yourself." When he saw that she was hardly persuaded by his argument, he pressed, "You know my mom would not be happy if she found out you were here all alone. She'd be worried about you. I can picture it now; her sitting up all night, sick with worry that you were here all by yourself. She loves you like a daughter, you know, and I think it's terrible that you'd be willing to let her put herself through all that, just because…"

"All right! Enough with the guilt trip, already!" Lois cried, and when Clark grinned again and moved to push past her into the arm, she raised her arm to block his passage. "If you're so worried about me being alone, the dog can stay. You go." He looked hurt and confused, so she explained in a gentler tone, "You have other places to be and someone else waiting on you right now, Clark. Don't you think you should be at home with Lana right now, instead of wasting your time here, bugging me?"

A curious expression passed Clark's face for a moment, but when it melted, she found him looking at her with a sort of conspiratorially smug expression in his eyes, like a kid who knew what everyone was getting for Christmas and was refused to let anyone else in on the secret. "Don't worry about it, really. We have plenty of time. And, you know, I thought you wouldn't be in a celebratory mood, Lois, so I brought a little leverage. I thought, if you didn't want to come home and spent the night at the house, a movie might put you in the holiday spirit. So I brought a classic."

Lois groaned. The last thing she needed right now was to spend two hours watching elves dance around the place. Or a grumpy old man learn the error of his ways. Or a little kid who was just dying to find a Red Rider BB Gun under his tree this year. "Really, Clark; I'm not in the mood. So if it's the Grinch, or Scrooge, or any variation of Rudolph, I honestly don't think…"

"Actually, Lois," he said, whipping the DVD out of his pocket so he could brandish it proudly in front of her. "It's none of those."

There wasn't a damn thing Lois could do to stop the laugh that bubbled out of her when she gazed at the object in his hand in surprise. Now, how did he get to know her so well? "Die Hard? Well, now, Smallville…why didn't you say so? Come on in!" Then she glanced down at Shelby, who was still standing at Clark's feet and staring adoringly up at her as if awaiting his own personal invitation. "You too, mutt, but behave yourself, okay?"

Shelby barked his agreement as he scampered inside, where he hurled himself onto the floor in front of the couch and rolled over, quivering in anticipation of a good belly scratch, his head lolling back and forth as he looked around eagerly for any takers.

Standing over him, Lois crossed her arms over her chest and said sternly, "You're pathetic, you know that?" Shelby let out a sound somewhere between a whine and a grunt in response, and Lois rolled her eyes. Clearly, this was one argument she was not going to win. So, even though the proximity would cause her allergies to flare up like crazy, she stooped and gave his exposed belly a vigorous scratch while Clark put the DVD into the player. "Absolutely shameless," she muttered, a small smile lifting the corners of her mouth, though it faded when she once again was overcome by a sneezing fit.

When she got a hold of herself and cracked open her watering eyes, she saw a hand extended in front of her face, and her gaze trailed up the attached arm and straight to Clark's face. "Come on," he said. "The movie's starting."

Ignoring his hand, she shifted her weight and flung herself onto the couch, ready to once again become enthralled with the story of Bruce Willis's one-man crusade to take down terrorists at the Nakatome building on Christmas Eve. "You wanna move, Smallville?" she drawled with a smirk as she made herself comfortable on the sofa. "You make a better door than a window."

She tried to hide her laughter when she saw him roll his eyes, and then he settled down next to her on the couch and turned his attention to the television. When she was fairly certain his attention had been sufficiently diverted, she shifted her weight to the side to rest her head against his chest. As she'd been hoping, he muttered darkly something about not being a human pillow, but he didn't really protest. Instead, he slung his arm around Lois's shoulder, and together they watched as John McClane carried a gigantic teddy bear through the LAX airport.

Beneath them, Shelby let out a heavy sigh rife with canine jealousy and, letting go of the dream of more tummy scratches for the time being, rolled back over onto his belly to settle in for a nap. He, for one, couldn't care less about Bruce Willis or his giant teddy bear.

Not quite two hours later, Clark let out a little grunt of protest as Lois levered herself into a sitting position and yawned as the McClanes decided to go home to what would no doubt be a much-deserved nap. Stretching her arms over her head, she arched her back and worked the kink out of her muscles before turning to look at Clark over her shoulder to say, "Thanks for the movie, but enough playing hooky. I think you have something you're supposed to be doing right now, and it's not sitting there on my sofa, holding it down so it doesn't fly off into space."

Stifling a groan, Clark rose slowly to his feet and frowned, trying to think of a way to enact the other part of his plan. Little did Lois know, but he'd barely even started; she had no idea what she was in for. As he glanced at the credits that were now rolling up the screen, he listened to the voice on the soundtrack croon, "…no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!" And all of a sudden, inspiration struck and he knew exactly what to do. Glancing out the window, he tried not to let the grin that was twitching at the corners of his mouth show when he realized that the world was apparently conspiring along with him because it was snowing. "Oh, geez," he said, trying to inject a note of regret into his voice. "When did it start to snow?"

Lois followed his gaze with a frown. "Don't you think you're exaggerating a little there, Smallville? There's, like, fourteen snowflakes out there!"

Okay, so it wasn't snowing so much as there was a small weather front of snow flurries passing overhead. But Clark had to take what he could get. "Now who's exaggerating?" he griped as he wracked his brain for a way to salvage the situation.

"Yes, of course; you're absolutely right. Two flakes just melted against the window. There are twelve flakes out there now," she retorted with a roll of her eyes.

Clark stuffed his hands in his pockets as he stammered, "Um…w-well, you know how those back country roads are. They ice over pretty quick, and they're at their most dangerous in conditions like this. So, you know, I think I'd better stay. Uh…I meant…I'm stuck. For right now. Until the roads clear."

Lois rolled her eyes again as she crossed her arms over her chest and glowered at him. "You know, if I didn't know any better, I'd think you were trying to avoid going home."

Clark shook his head and protested weakly, "No…not at all. I mean, it's not like that. I just…you know, it's not safe out, and I…if I crash my truck again, my insurance premiums are going to go through the roof, and…"

"Oh, relax, Clark," Lois reprimanded him, though she staring speculatively at him. Heaving a heavy sigh, she asked, "Okay; I guess I'm stuck with you for a while. So what do you want to do to pass the time while we wait out the Legendary Blizzard of 2007?"

With his face splitting into a huge grin, he suggested, "How about we get you a tree? When I was coming in, I'm pretty sure I saw one down by the dumpster. Why don't I drag it in and we can put it up? I don't know if you noticed, but your apartment is seriously lacking in holiday cheer."

"You wanna put up a tree, or do you want to insult me a little?" she griped as she shook her head in exasperation.

"What, I can't do both?" he teased in return. Without waiting for a reply, he grabbed his jacket from its position on the back of a chair and slung it over his shoulders. In all honesty, the cold didn't affect him, so he didn't need it, but he wore one anyway so as not to call undue attention to himself. Then he was out the door, on a mission to fetch Lois Lane a tree.

Back in the apartment, Lois sighed heavily and turned to look at Shelby with an exasperated shake of her head. "He's your owner. You do something with him."

Shelby, helpful as ever, shook his tail and let out a yip of agreement.

Barely ten minutes later, Clark returned with Lois's pathetic excuse for a Christmas tree, which looked a little the worse for wear for being thrown by the dumpster. Its branches drooped a little more sadly then they had the day before, and it somehow looked even more dejected. "Ta da!" he cried exultantly. "Now, if this isn't the quintessential Lois Lane Christmas tree, I don't know what is."

Somehow, his effusive good cheer somehow soured hers. Didn't it just figure? The quintessential Lana Lang Christmas tree would be lush and beautiful and perfect, and the quintessential Lois Lane Christmas tree would be that pathetic looking thing. "Do what you want," she groused. "You know where everything is. I'll be in the kitchen."

"Sure, threaten me," she thought she heard him say, but when she shot a glare his way, the look of innocence on his face belied the suggestion that he'd ever spoken.

Once in the kitchen, Lois found that she'd expressed her intent to retreat there without a clear purpose for doing so. Without a better idea, Lois sighed and yanked open the refrigerator door. If Clark was going to go through all the trouble of putting up a tree, she might as well do her part. Besides, she'd already bought all the materials; no reason to let them go to waste.

In the living room, Lois could see Clark was having what she considered to be an undue amount of fun as he prepared the Christmas tree and lifted it into its stand. Shifting it back and forth, he kept making minor adjustments until it was just where he wanted it, and then he tightened the screws and stood back to gaze approvingly at his work. Then, whistling softly to himself, he went to Lois's storage area and brought out her boxes of ornaments, which he unpacked and organized in what Lois thought was a very anal-retentive way.

By the time he'd finished his task, she was just sliding her cookie sheet into the oven. With one final look around the area, she realized that she'd run out of reasons to stall, so she placed her hands on her hips, gave in to the inevitable, and walked back into the living room. "Need a little help there, Sparky?" she asked in bemusement as Clark gave the bundle of lights in his hand a savage shake, trying to encourage the enormous knot to loosen.

"You know, Lois, if you'd put these away a little more carefully when you're done using them, they wouldn't get all tangled up like this," he whined as he stared at the string of lights in despair.

"Oh, Clark, now is not the time to discuss your obsessive-compulsive habits. Here; give me that." She grabbed one of the two strands of tangled up lights. "I'll work on this one - you get the other."

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am," he said, giving her mock salute, and Lois gave him a friendly punch in the shoulder in retaliation.

With a soft chuckle, Lois said, "You know, you're not nearly as funny as you think you are. Now quit wasting time. Unless you really don't want to deal with all this, in which case you can certainly go out and buy some more."

Clark scowled and threw his companion a wry smile. "On Christmas Eve? Thanks, but I think I'll pass." Then, offering her a wink, he said, "Besides…the roads aren't safe to drive on right now; remember?"

Still chuckling, Lois shook her head. "Yeah, yeah, I remember."

The next half hour was spent generally in companionable silence with occasional bursts of good-natured teasing to break up the monotony as they worked first to disentangle their lights and then, to Clark's chagrin, to try to find the burned out bulbs that were keeping the entire strand from lighting up. When he made a semi-joking comment about Lois's apparent ignorance about the current technology that made it possible to buy a strand of lights without that particular annual annoyance, Lois retorted that a man of his advanced years should stop being such a baby.

Finally, the lights were disentangled and fully lit, and they were able to start the process of actually decorating the tree. Clark's enthusiasm, Lois noted with a sigh, wasn't in the least bit diminished by the fact that she didn't share his obvious good cheer, though she had to admit that he was rubbing off on her. A little. But still, even as she helped him wrap the lights around the tree and break out the rest of the ornaments, she couldn't help but think about the Christmas he was missing – and wonder if he wouldn't really rather be there. For all his protestations against leaving, she knew that he had to have been looking forward to spending the holiday with Lana, as their first official Christmas together – apparently in flagrant disregard of two years before, when the two of them had technically been together at this time. But maybe things were "different" between them in their relationship this time around. Lois let out a quiet skeptical snort.

Honestly, it wasn't any of her business, and if Clark didn't want to go home yet, so be it. But she really didn't want him there if it was only out of pity. She had just opened her mouth to tell him for the last time that he wasn't fooling anybody and it was well past time for him to head home for the celebration that awaited him when his nose wrinkled and he turned to her with a slight frown on his face. "Do you smell that? Smells like something's burning."

"My cookies!" Lois cried aloud, her attention totally diverted by this new catastrophe. Dropping the strand of lights she was holding, she darted into the kitchen and rescued her cookie sheet from the oven.

The Santas and stars she'd so carefully cut out of the dough she'd made from scratch looked a little the worse for wear. Surprisingly, the top wasn't totally burnt – no doubt due to the fact that the oven had likely not been up to the recommended temperature since the numbers on its dial had worn off at some period in the remote past so setting the oven temperature was more the result of guesswork than exact science. The bottoms of the cookies, she noted sadly, were not so fortunate.

As she stared at the product of her hard work and planning, she felt Clark walk up behind her to join her silent contemplation, and she tilted her face so that he couldn't see that she was secretly feeling more a little crushed that her attempts at providing a passable Christmas weren't exactly off to an auspicious start. "You know," he said finally in a soft voice, "I think pretty much anything can be fixed if you put enough icing on it."

A soft chuckle escaped Lois's lips before she'd even become aware that it was there, and she asked, "You think they'll be okay? I mean, you think they'll be edible?"

She could hear the wry amusement in his voice as he responded, "I think they stand up pretty well, compared to some of the things you've made that I've seen…and eaten. And your cooking hasn't managed to kill anyone yet. That I know of." He fell silent for a second, then asked, "But why is it, again, that you said you're not particularly eager to revisit Germany?"

Lois would have berated him for his smartass comment, but when she turned to give him a well-deserved punch to the bicep, she saw that he was grinning, his eyes twinkling mischievously as he gazed down at her and she realized she no longer had the desire to exact retribution. Besides, she could hardly claim that his words weren't true (except perhaps that implication about the possibility she'd poisoned someone in Germany. That wasn't true. She didn't think.), so instead of a punch, she offered him an unrepentant shrug. "What can I say? It's an acquired taste. But now I think I've got the cookies under control, I think there's a tree out there that's sadly in need of some decorations. Hop to it!"

Though he snorted at her high-handed command, he left her to unleash her culinary skills with icing in private. By the time she made it into the living room a short while later, plate of cookies in hand, she saw that the lights were strung, and Clark was just breaking out some ornaments. "Here you go!" she said proudly as she thrust the plate at him. "Some Christmas cheer, courtesy of Lois Lane. And you implied I'm not in the holiday spirit," she scoffed.

There were some times, Lois admitted privately, when she could just kiss Clark Kent, and this was one of them. Without missing a beat, even though he knew exactly what it was that the icing covered, he snagged one of the Santas and took a big bite, a smile (if a slightly pained looking one) fixed firmly on his face. "Mmmm…ood," he muttered through the cookie in his mouth. And then he chewed and swallowed, without once either gagging or attempting to spit the wretched thing out, which only went to prove that she hadn't been quite successful in the kitchen earlier, when she'd tried to hide her feelings. And, somehow, her appreciation for his efforts now wasn't even dimmed when he cleared his throat, took the plate from her hands, and placed it on the coffee table with a slightly-too-bright, "I'll just put these over here and…uh…save them for later." It was the thought that counted, and he'd tried.

"Hold that thought," she said cheerfully. "That's not all!"

"It's not?" Clark asked, clearly trying to sound supportive but, in actuality, sounding quite terrified.

Turning her back on him, she headed back toward the refrigerator, undaunted by his skepticism. "I also made some of my world famous eggnog!" she called back to him and she pulled out the bowl and spooned the thick off-white liquid into a couple of cups, which she carried with her into the living room. "You can say all you want about my cookies, pies, birthday cakes, or any of my other baked goods, but I make some killer eggnog, if I do say so myself." And then she handed him his glass.

Wondering if he shouldn't first make out his last will and testament, Clark relieved her of the glass she was offering him and gamely took a sip. Although alcohol didn't affect him the way it did other people, even his eyes watered as the vaguely eggnog-flavored rum seared its way down his throat. She hadn't been kidding about that killer eggnog. After spluttering for a few seconds, he managed to wheeze, "It's good!" Then he turned to put his cup of possibly-lethal eggnog down next to the plate of equally probably-lethal cookies, determined to distract Lois from any potential thoughts of increasing her culinary repertoire for the night by resuming the trimming of the tree. At least, that was his plan until he met Shelby's eyes.

For a dog, Shelby had an amazing capacity for conveying his feelings, and at the moment, Clark would swear he was staring reproachfully at his owner. Then, without taking his eyes off the man in front of him, Shelby leaned forward and pointedly took a cookie off the plate in front of him, swallowing it in two bites. Clark flushed, feeling thoroughly chastised by a dog of all things, and grabbed one of the stars for himself, choking it down at least as quickly.

Though he was wondering that he'd been guilted into such a clearly suicidal act by a mutt, no less, he realized a moment later that his self-sacrifice had been worth it. When he turned back to the tree, he caught Lois looking at him with a wide grin on her face.

"See, Smallville?" she asked as she stepped toward him, and the look on her face when she gazed up into his eyes all but took his breath away. "You can tease all you want, but my cooking's not as bad as you like to pretend."

"Not at all," Clark agreed in a sort of half-strangled croak. "I…uh…" As his voice trailed off, he realized that he and Lois were staring into each others' eyes, and a very significant silence had fallen between them. The very air seemed to hold its breath in anticipation of what was going to happen next, though Clark had no idea what it was waiting for until a few seconds later, when he realized he'd leaned forward and tilted his head down, as if about to capture Lois's lips in a kiss.

Clark jerked back so quickly, he almost tripped over the coffee table, and he couldn't meet his companion's eyes as he blurted, "We'd better get to work if we plan on having this tree trimmed before Christmas, huh?"

Lois was staring at him with a slight frown creasing a line between her brows, but she shrugged her shoulders and agreed. "Sure thing. Let's get to work."

Behind them, Shelby let out a groan and lay back down on the ground, trying to ignore the rumbling in a stomach that was normally unfazed by anything he threw into it. He should never have eaten that cookie, and Clark didn't doubt that he'd be paying for that little lapse in judgment for a while, yet - maybe even the rest of the night.

"Rockin' around the Christmas tree; let the Christmas spirit ri–" They were about halfway done decorating the tree, and Clark had been contributing a little cheer of his own to the dead silence in the room when Lois perfunctorily slapped a hand over his mouth to silence him.

"Don't sing, Clark. I'm begging you," she pleaded with him, her hand still firmly clapped over his mouth.

Through her fingers, he mumbled, "ooinoduhoodinde?" When she finally – albeit reluctantly – pulled her hand away, he asked, a bit more intelligibly, "Are you saying that I'm not a good singer?"

Lois snorted. "No, Clark, you have a wonderful voice. I'm sure Shelby's just trying to burrow his way into the couch cushions because it looks cozy under there."

Clark looked at Shelby, who looked sheepishly back at Clark and resumed his position on the floor. Scowling at his traitorous dog, Clark turned back to Lois and explained, "Sorry. It's just that it's so quiet in here. I don't suppose we could put on some music or something, could we?"

"Uh…sure. I can put on music. But you have to promise not to sing," she stipulated, throwing her radio a glower as she approached it. She could have sworn the idiotic contraption was against her, because every time she'd turned it on recently, it had had the audacity to play romantic songs that had been completely at odds to her mood. If it dared to do it this time, she swore she'd take a mallet to the damn thing.

Feeling some trepidation, Lois hit the power button on the radio, and immediately, a voice carried softly through the speakers. "…toe, I'm gonna get to know you better. This Christmas. And as we trim the tree, how much fun it's gonna be together…" For a moment, she considered her earlier vow regarding the mallet, but in the end, she changed her mind. Oddly, the slightly romantic undertones of the song weren't as grating on her nerves as they would have been the night before. As she turned back to her task of trying to look her tree a little less pathetic, she reflected that perhaps she was getting into the holiday spirit, after all.

"Here," Clark said when she returned to his side as he handed her an ornament. "Put this in the thin spot on your side of the tree to flush it out."

"Which one?" she joked, staring at their handiwork. One of the things she actually rather liked about the trees she picked out each year was that it was a bit of a challenge to get them decorated, to hang ornaments in all the rights spots to make the pine trees look decent.

"Fair point," Clark conceded, handing her another ornament.

A half hour later, they were done – with the tree at least. It was beautiful, Lois thought as she stood back and took it all in, even if it was a little ornament-heavy on the one side out of necessity.

"Hey, Clark, what do you thi-?" she began, but when she turned toward her companion, she saw that he and his jacket were both gone, though the tickle in her nose indicated that he'd left Shelby behind so she would have some company. "Clark? Clark!" she called, but she received no reply. Her stomach plummeted, and she turned her back on the tree with an unhappy sigh. No doubt, Clark had seen the time and realized he'd better get moving if he was going to spend any portion of Christmas Eve with his girlfriend, but still, Lois didn't think it was too much to expect him to take a few seconds to say goodbye.

"To hell with it, Lois," she grumbled to herself as she headed toward her bedroom to change into her pajamas. "It's not like he's the first guy to run out on you without a word. And at least this time, you have all your clothes on." Besides, it wasn't like she didn't have other things to be doing. In fact, she'd planned out her entire evening earlier, and right now, it was just about time for her to crawl into bed with a book and ignore the thought of all the revelry she was missing out on.

She had walked to the radio and was just about to turn it off when she heard a sound behind her. Turning, she saw Clark walk through the door, struggling to get the giant box in his hands through the narrow portal . "What the–?" she asked in amazement.

Having finally made his way into the apartment, Clark placed the box heavily on the ground and smiled up at her. "Aren't you the one who always says a tree isn't enough? I brought these from the house; I thought you might like to put them up here." When she peered into the box he'd placed in the middle of her living room, she saw some of the Kents' tackier Christmas decorations, including several that a young Clark had made and the gigantic stocking Martha had helped Lois decorate (Martha's additions to the swath of red velvet more tasteful than Lois's own, of course) two years before. Clearly these shabby items had found no place at Lana's store-bought holiday.

As exuberant as a kid on Christmas morning, Lois tore into the box, pulling out each of its treasures and placing them carefully on the floor around her. With each discovery, she grew progressively touched by Clark's thoughtfulness. Though his house had already been fully decorated – and, thus, he had to have gone into storage and poured through Martha's well-organized crates to find everything – and he certainly had no obligation to make sure her domicile was likewise decked out for the holiday, he'd gone through a lot of trouble to bring all of this to her.

Also, she noted that he'd not only brought her a box full of decorations, he'd brought only her favorite ones, everything she'd expressed an appreciation for over the last few holidays. And then, near the bottom of the box, wrapped carefully within Clark's own stocking, she saw her favorite item of all. It was a photograph of her posing with the Kent family, taken on Christmas Eve two years before. On the far left in the photograph stood Martha, her eyes crinkled with laughter as she beamed into the camera. Jonathan stood next to her, his arm looped around her waist, a glass of eggnog in his hand (not Lois's eggnog, to her recollection), and the loving expression on his face as he gazed down to the woman in his arms took Lois's breath away even now. On the far right of the photograph, Clark was grinning, his cheeks tinged pink, a fluffy Santa hat placed on his head at an askew angle, and Shelby sitting on the floor at his feet. Lois stood between father and son, her arm slung casually around Clark's waist. The camera had caught her mid-laugh; she was leaning her body forward slightly and her eyes were alight with merriment.

She remembered when this picture was taken, and, more, she remembered what had come immediately before. The photo in the frame she held in her hands was actually the second one taken of the family that year; in the first, Martha and Lois had conspired together to surprise the men next to them. To that end, they had hidden mistletoe on their persons, only pulling the small sprigs out (as Clark had suggested, seemingly out of thin air) at the very last moment. And so, when the shutter had opened for that first photo, the camera had captured a picture of two kisses – one very loving, the other…well, less so. Even in profile, Clark hadn't appeared moved by the sudden lip lock so much as completely taken aback, the cheek exposed to the camera flushed red in embarrassment. Still, as surprised as he'd been, Lois had noticed (and teased him mercilessly) that his shock hadn't stopped him from wrapping his arms around her waist and kissing her back. Unable to argue the fact, Clark had simply glowered in the face of her teasing and demanded she burn all the negatives, particularly after her repeated threats to make several copies to use as Christmas cards the following year.

Lois was so lost for a moment in the memory as she stared at the photo in her hands, her eyes burning slightly with unshed tears, that she was completely taken by surprise when Clark stepped up beside her and placed something firmly onto her head, tugging it down until it rested just above her ears. When she jumped slightly and looked up at him, she caught sight of the mischievous glint in his eyes as he said, "It's your turn to wear the Santa hat this year, I believe."

"That's okay," she said brightly, returning his grin. "It only looks dorky when it's on you. On me, it's absolutely adorable." It was a lie, because if Clark could pull off a plaid shirt, he could certainly make a Santa hat look good. But he didn't need to know that.

As she knew he would, Clark rolled his eyes, and Lois couldn't suppress a chuckle of victory. Score one more for Lois Lane. Then, rising to her feet, she clutched the frame in her hands to her chest and said softly and with great sincerity, "Thanks for the doing all of this, Clark. It really…well, I appreciate it."

"No problem, Lois," he responded in kind, and once again, a heavy silence fell in the room. After a moment, Lois cleared her throat and brushed past him to put the picture on display, eager to dispel some of the sudden tension between them.

By the time she'd arranged her photos they way she wanted them, Clark had begun scattering the rest of the decorations around her apartment. She started to help him, but when she caught sight of photo she'd just placed on her shelf out of the corner of her eye, a sudden thought struck and she whirled to fix Clark with a suspicious glare. "Wait a minute, Smallville. You didn't bring any mistletoe, did you?" She tried to remember everything she'd pulled out of the box, but it was impossible, and besides, it would likely have been inside something to prevent it from being crushed.

The look on Clark's face was entirely too innocent when he turned to look at her, however. "Mistletoe? Now, Lois, why would I bring that here?"

"Because you're an evil man who wants to torture me by keeping this threat looming over my head all night?" she suggested as she placed her hands on her hips and threw him a stern look.

He looked entirely unrepentant as he shrugged casually in response. "Gee, that sounds terrible," he said in a patently false tone. "I guess you'll think of that the next time you're tempted to play tricks on people, huh?"

Narrowing her eyes, she glowered menacingly at him, but he didn't appear to be daunted by her threat. "Oh, don't flatter yourself, Kent. You know if you do manage to play a trick on me – which is doubtful, incidentally, because I am way ahead of you, as usual – I'll be sure to get you back when you least expect it. Think about that." With an overly sweet smile, she turned back to her task, letting the full import of her words sink in.

Of course, for all her bravado, even though part of her was convinced there was no way Clark would be so daring as to spring mistletoe on her, she knew that the thought would haunt her all night. She'd probably get a crick in her neck, with all the looking up she'd be doing. And, of course, if he had snuck some in and secreted it somewhere, it was highly unlikely it would be in an obvious place.

Most of all, though, she couldn't believe that he thought he could get one over on her. If he so much as tried, she was going to make it her mission in life to make sure he lived to regretted it.

However, as there was nothing to be done about it now – at least not until Clark had the audacity to actually try anything, if he chose to do so – she returned to her task of decking out her apartment in true holiday style. She didn't even realize she was humming happily along with the music still playing over the radio until Clark grabbed her hand as he passed by and spun her around. She let out a startled laugh when he didn't release her, but instead he pulled her closer and wrapped his arm around her back, swaying along with her to the music.

"Clark," she said in astonishment. "You're dancing!" Then, she threw him a suspicious look. "You do know you're dancing, right?" she asked, as if it could have passed his attention.

Clark grinned. "You know, it's moments like this that make it hard to believe people have accused you before of not grasping the astonishingly obvious," he teased.

She really, really wanted to stick her tongue out at him, and it was only with great effort that she reminded herself that she was a grown adult now and was therefore above such things. "But…you don't dance. I mean…you don't know how!" Before he could reply, she declared teasingly, "Okay, no more of my special eggnog for you. How much did you drink, anyway?"

He scowled at her. "You know, if you'd stop talking for three seconds…a difficult chore for you, I know…you might notice that I'm not doing half bad." To her surprise, when she did stop talking for three seconds in a row (as she plotted what to say to regain the point she'd just lost in the great cosmic tally of their good-natured bantering), she realized that he was right. He was no Fred Astaire, it was true, but he wasn't doing half bad, except that his idea of dancing was restricted to shuffling his feet a little. However, he'd only stepped on her toes once, so far! She winced; okay, make that twice. Of course, he couldn't leave well enough alone, because he ruined it a second later by adding, "Now shush. I'm trying to count here."

She chuckled, but for once, she didn't take the obvious opening for an easy point. Instead, she leaned a bit closer and smiled encouragingly up at him. He looked so determined, and the intensity with which he was concentrating upon counting out the beat was completely demolishing any chance of his enjoying the dance itself.

"Relax, Smallville. It's just dancing; it's not brain surgery. You might even find yourself enjoying it, if you give yourself a chance." He didn't seem to have taken her words to heart, so she started to hum along to the song, hoping to find a way to get him to unwind a bit.

"Lois, I really need to…" he began, but she shook her head to cut him off.

"This evening has been so very nice," she sang softly. He didn't pick up her cue, so she continued, "My mother will start to worry. My father will be pacing the floor."

She swore, if he didn't start actually lifting his feet into something more than a shuffle soon, she was going to stomp on his toes. "Clark, you know, if you'd just relax and let yourself enjoy the song a little, you might even have a little fun with all this."

He looked dubious, so she shifted her weight, encouraging him to put more than his feet into the dance. "The neighbors might fink," she sang before pulling away from him slightly and pretending she had an imaginary drink in her hand. With a tiny suspicious frown, she looked up at him through her lashes and continued, "Say, what's in this drink?"

"No cabs to be had out there," Clark started to sing along with Dean Martin's low-pitched crooning, the corners of his lips twitching in amusement as he finally got into the spirit of the moment.

"I wish I knew how," she began as she twirled around so that he was standing behind her, his arms around her waist.

"Your eyes are like starlight now," he sang softly in her ear, still clearly feeling a little awkward, but he relaxed more and more with each moment that passed.

Leaning her weight against his chest, she turned her head and continued the previous refrain, "To break this spell."

Clark caught one of her hands in his and spun her around before putting an arm around her waist and pulled her closer. "I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell!"

"I ought to say No, no, no, sir," she sang, placing her hands on his chest as she leaned back slightly, in a pretense of attempting the urge to give in to his advances.

Undeterred by her sham protest, Clark didn't release her, but he did lean in as if attempting to go for a kiss. "Mind if I move in closer?" he asked, along with Dean.

With a little half-shrug, Lois pretended to capitulate, giving him a conspiratorial grin as she sang, "At least I'm gonna say that I tried!"

As she rested her head on his shoulder and he sang softly, "What's the sense in hurting my pride?" she let out a happy sigh. She never would have thought she'd enjoy dancing with Clark Kent, of all people, but now that he was concentrating on the song and not on what his feet were doing, he actually was kind of fun to dance with.

Of course, he still had to learn that the dance could travel beyond the two-by-two foot space in which he'd restrained their activities, so as the next verse began, Lois let go of his hands and began to back away, her eyes not leaving his face as she headed in the general direction of the door. "I simply must go," she sang with a touch of reluctance.

"But, baby, it's cold outside," Clark sang as he followed after her.

"The answer is no," she replied, still backing away, and when he still kept coming after her, repeating his line, she whirled and let him turn his arms around her waist so she could lean against him as she sang, "Your welcome has been so nice and warm."

She almost burst out laughing when Clark sang, "Look out the window at the storm!" and gestured emphatically toward the window, where three snowflakes were drifting lazily toward the ground.

Lois was truly enjoying herself, and Clark seemed to be, as well, because he gamely followed her around the room as they pantomimed along with the song. Finally, when the song was almost over, Lois found herself in Clark's arms once more as she sang, "You've really been grand, but don't you see?"

"How can you do this thing to me?" he sang, and the expression on his face was so genuinely sad that Lois almost dropped her last few lines.

"There's bound to be talk tomorrow; at least there will be plenty implied. I really can't stay…ah, but it's cold outside!" she finally finished singing, and as Clark sang along with his last line, he grabbed Lois and shifted his weight so he was lowering her into a deep dip that wasn't particularly in line with the song but was somehow gratifying nonetheless. By the time he put Lois back on her feet, she was clutching on to his shoulder in an attempt to remain upright, though the force of her laughter threatened to bowl her over.

"Not half bad, huh, Lois?" Clark asked tauntingly as he let her go, and she knew her eyes were shining as she shook her head slowly.

"Not half bad, Smallville," she concurred. When her laughter had faded, however, she looked at the clock and was surprised to note the time. Faking a yawn, she suggested with an apologetic smile, "You know, it's getting pretty late. I know how bad the roads are," this last bit was said with a wry smile, "But I really do think it's about time for you to be going. You don't want to miss out on your entire chance to spend the holiday with Lana, do you?"

Clark shrugged lightly and replied, "Like you said. It's late. I'll just crash here on the sofa; I don't mind." Then, almost as an afterthought, he added, "I'm sure Lana will understand."

Though she gave him a considering look, wondering at his reluctance to head home, she nodded. "Your funeral, Smallville. G'night."

"Good night, Lois," he called after her as she turned off the radio and headed to bed.

Christmas Day…

On Christmas morning, Clark woke up to a sound he'd never expected to hear. Lois was in the kitchen, muttering softly, he assumed to no one in general, "C'mon please. Please don't burn. I am actually begging you not to burn on me!"

With a very satisfying stretch, Clark sat up and lumbered to his feet. Pattering softly into the kitchen, he stood quietly behind Lois, listening to her pleas for a few more moments, before clearing his throat and asking, "Morning, Lois. I've gotta admit that I wasn't expecting to find you out of bed so early this morning."

At his words, Lois gasped and whirled around, and in that moment, Clark reflected that he had probably never beheld anything as adorable as the sight in front of him. There was some kind of powdered substance on her cheek, she had some mysterious liquid substance staining the front of her pajama shirt, and a bit of that same liquid substance rapidly drying on her forehead right above her right eyebrow and on the tip of her nose.

"Clark!" she cried in surprise before blushing in embarrassment and biting her lip in a sheepish gesture. "I…uh…I didn't think you'd be up this early. I…I made you pancakes. You know, for Christmas."

When Clark peered over her shoulder, he looked into the bowl of batter and saw that it was generously peppered with berries. "Mmmm…," he said, smiling down into Lois's anxious face. "Blueberry. My favorite."

"Is it?" she asked, just a little too innocently. "I just...I mean, I thought you might be hungry. So I thought I'd just throw it together."

For the first time, Clark wondered if he hadn't been wrong when he'd assume that it had been Lois's intention to spend Christmas alone all along. For one thing, he found it hard to believe that Lois didn't know that blueberry pancakes were his favorite, since she'd spent so much time living with his family. For another, it was highly unlikely that Lois's decision to make blueberry pancakes had been mere coincidence. She hated blueberries.

With a slight frown, he began, "Lois, why did you…"

"You go sit down!" she commanded, shooing him out of her kitchen. "I need to finish up here, and I can't do that with you hovering over my shoulder!"

She didn't relent until he did as he was bid, though he could still hear her muttering under her breath from where he was sitting. It still took an inordinate amount of time before she joined him, and when she walked into the room with a plate of pancakes in her hand, Shelby let out a little whimper and slunk to the other end of the room. Clearly, the poor dog's stomach still hadn't fully recovered from the cookie the night before. Clark had to admit that he knew exactly how Shelby felt.

When Lois placed the plate of pancakes on the table in front of Clark, he was shocked to see that there wasn't a char mark in sight. The pancakes were light, fluffy, and a perfect golden-brown. In open-mouthed amazement, he looked from his breakfast to the chef, who was staring at him with a proud smile plastered on her face. "This is…wow, Lois! This looks great!" he told her honestly, and her smile got a fraction wider though she tried to cover her pleasure at the compliment.

"See, Clark? Never let it be said that I don't have it in me to surprise you anymore," she told him as she turned back to the kitchen.

Shaking his head in amazement, Clark watched her leave and then looked back to his plate. It was hard to believe that she'd made them, and if it wasn't for the fact that he'd seen her cook them himself, he would follow her into the kitchen and look for a delivery container or frozen pancake box. With a small shake of his head, Clark grabbed his fork and dug in.

It only took one bite for Clark to realize that, while the pancakes looked perfect on the outside, they were raw in the middle. Normally, he'd call Lois back in and tease her about it, but she'd been so proud of herself, he just didn't have the heart. So, instead, he polished off his plate, making sure to wait until Lois had returned to the living room before finishing the last bite.

"Thank you for the breakfast, Lois," he said sincerely as he pushed his empty plate aside and leaned back in his chair. "I haven't had pancakes that good in a long time." It was funny, but he wasn't really lying. No, they weren't his mom's, or even Lana's, but there was something about them that made them even better. Maybe it was the fact that Lois had clearly tried harder than anyone else to make his favorite breakfast, to do something to please him. That thought alone was enough to make him willing to eat an entire platter of her pancakes, if she asked him to. because it was worth it to see the smile she threw him when he finished. "So, what's on the agenda for today?"

Taking a seat across the table from him, Lois said with a wry smile, "Well, I thought I'd brave the ferocious storm to take Shelby on another walk, and then I'll see what sounds good from there. The nice thing about Christmas morning is that you don't have to have an agenda, you know?" Before he could reply, she was on her feet again, slinging her coat over her shoulders. "No come on, Smallville. You should probably work off some of that breakfast or you won't be able to fit into those plaid shirts I know you love so much."

Clark snorted as he rose to his feet and followed suit. "That'd be a shame, Lois," he replied with patent insincerity. "I guess if that happens, I'll just have to give them all to you. It'll save you the time and effort of trying to steal them for yourself."

With an indignant squeak, Lois whirled and stared at Clark in righteous indignation. "Oh, like I'd touch those lame shirts of yours!" she cried.

"Oh, so that's not my red and gold plaid shirt in your closet?" he asked innocently, and he saw her mouth open and close several times, but no sound came out.

"I…you want to get a move-on, Clark?" she griped instead. "I haven't got all day." Without even waiting for him to grab his coke, she spun around, grabbed Shelby's leash, and headed out the door.

Clark was still chuckling when he joined her outside, where she had bent to remove Shelby's leash. As soon as it was unlatched, she rose to her feet and watched in amusement as he bounded merrily through the small snow drifts that had formed overnight. He seemed to consider it his job to pounce on every flake of snow in the yard, and she was laughing in the face of his wild abandon.

"He's pretty adorable, huh?" she asked rhetorically as Clark moved up beside her. His attention was totally captured by Shelby's antics, so he didn't even notice when Lois turned and dropped a handful of snow down the back of his shirt. Apparently, when she'd knelt down earlier, it hadn't just been so she could unlatch the leash.

Though the cold didn't really get to him, Clark let out a yelp and stooped to grab a handful of snow of his own. By the time he'd straightened, Lois had already taken off, and he had to chase her around the yard to try to get retribution for her underhanded act as Shelby ran in circles around them, eager to get in on the game.

An impromptu snowball fight evolved to a snowman making venture, and they spent the next hour or so trying to gather enough snow together to make a semi-respectable one. Finally, a snowman stood about four feet tall next to the Talon doors, and it was time to decorate his face.

"Hold on a second," Clark said as he walked over to a small bush in a planter that had been placed near the doors as decoration. Digging around in the bottom, he pulled out a handful of medium-sized rocks and proudly lifted them up in the air so Lois could see. "Since we don't have any coal," he explained as he returned to her side.

Lois was bemused by his creativity. "Why, Clark, I have to admit I'm surprised. I never knew you were so innovative," she teased.

"There's a lot you don't know about me, Lois. Now give me just a minute…" Nudging Lois aside, he bent down to decorate Frosty's face, only stepping back to show off his handiwork when he was done. "Ta da!"

Lois frowned. "It's…smirking. Clark, why is our snowman smirking?"

Grinning, Clark explained, "I thought I'd model the face after you. I've decided to name the snowman Lois."

"Oh, it's on, Farmboy!" she cried as she shoved him aside with both hands and charged toward the snowman. Hastily, she redid Clark's efforts and stood back proudly, her arms crossed across her chest as she turned to grin (it wasn't a smirk, she assured herself) at Clark. "There you go! I'm gonna call him Clarkie."

"Moping?" he cried in mild outrage. "My snowman is moping?"

She shrugged. "I call 'em as I see 'em, Smallville."

And with that, the war began as Lois and Clark tried to outdo their previous efforts to capture the others' essences in snow and rock. Then, the battle evolved, and they didn't just try to emulate each other, they started modeling their snowman after their other friends, as well. The Chloe snowman looked a little too knowing, and the Lana snowman looked insipid (Lois's doing). They might have kept going all night, except that their snowman only grew increasingly degraded with each of its various faces until it finally just fell apart.

As their work of art crumbled before their eyes, Lois collapsed on the remaining pile of snow, overcome with combined laughter and sneezing as Shelby repeatedly jumped up to lick her face. Finally, Clark wrapped his arm around her waist and helped her to her feet and into the house, Shelby at their heels. It took her a few moments of sitting on the couch for Lois's eyes to stop watering and for her to catch her breath, and when she did so, she offered, "I tell you what. You relax, and I'll go make us some hot cocoa."

"No, I'll do it!" Clark blurted, jumping to his feet. He appreciated her attempts to bake him cookies, fix some eggnog, and make him breakfast, but he didn't know that even his steel stomach could handle any more of her culinary masterpieces. She started to protest, but he was in the kitchen before the words even had a chance to form.

However, when he walked back into the living room a short time later, two mugs of cocoa in his hands, he was surprised not to find Lois on the couch. Glancing around in surprise, he finally found her lying beneath the tree, of all places. She was on her back, her head pillowed on the tree skirt, staring up through the branches toward the ceiling.

"You okay down there?" he asked, amused, as he lay her mug carefully on the floor by her elbow.

"Yeah," she said, though she didn't move to sit up. "I know it's a little strange, but I like it down here. It's pretty; you should try it. You get a while different perspective of the tree from down here."

Though he snorted at the idea, he stretched out under the tree next to Lois, his head lightly brushing against hers. They stared up through the branches together, neither speaking, until Clark voice broke the silence. "Lois, why did you really decide to stay home this holiday? And don't try to tell me that you were planning on visiting Chloe, because I talked to her, and she said you told her you were staying in town."

She didn't answer him for the longest time, he'd almost given up hope of her ever doing so. Finally, she said, "No, you're right. I was going to stay in Smallville. I…I thought…" But she couldn't do it. She couldn't confess that she had been planning on crashing Christmas at the Kent Farm. "I just thought I'd spend a couple quiet nights at home. You know, things have been pretty crazy around here lately, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to relax."

Clark grunted, considering her words. It was entirely plausible; Lois had been through a lot lately. On the other hand, some of the very trouble she was referring to was even more reason for her to have spent Christmas with Chloe. And even if she'd decided to spend the time alone, it didn't explain why she'd bothered to buy a tree she'd only immediately thrown out without bothering to put it up, why she had all the ingredients to make pancakes she wouldn't even eat, or why she had everything on hand to make holiday Christmas cookies and eggnog, though she clearly hadn't intended to do anything to celebrate the holiday when she'd been by herself. It wasn't like she had a habit of indulging her inner chef, so she was unlikely to have all the ingredients on hand.

"You were going to come to the farm," he said softly as everything fell into place and he turns his head to look into her face. "You were going to spend Christmas at the house, like you have the last three years. But then why…?" She didn't answer, so he mulled it over a bit more. "Lana. You changed your mind because you knew that Lana…that Lana and I…that we'd be together this year, and you thought…Lois, you have to know you would have been welcome…You can come to my house any time you want!"

Tilting her head slightly, she met his eyes. "No, Clark. I really can't. This was your first Christmas with her; you should have been celebrating…she's the girl you've always wanted, and it was the Christmas…You had the perfect holiday planned for you at home. It had to have been the Christmas you've always dreamed of having, the two of you celebrating it together. So what are you doing here, wasting your time with me? She's waiting, you know."

Now it was his turn not to answer because he couldn't. She was absolutely right; it should have been everything he'd always wanted. Except that it just hadn't felt like Christmas without her. Without her at the house, he quickly corrected himself.

But Lois was looking at him so intently that Clark sighed and accepted the fact that it was clearly time for him to confess. "No," he said a little heavily. "She's not." When Lois frowned in confusion, he explained, "She's at her Aunt Nell's, at least I think she is. I…I figured I wasn't going to be able to convince you to come to the farm, so we agreed there was no point in her spending the holiday by herself."

"You…You sent her away? Clark, are you crazy?" she demanded as she stared at him in frank astonishment. When he started to try to explain, she cut him off. "I mean it! Are you out of your mind? Gone round the bend? Cracked? Nuts? Bonkers? Completely bonzo?"

"Bonzo?" he repeated, his mouth curving in a smile. "I don't think that's a real word."

Lois frowned and cried, "Of course it's a word, and don't change the subject! What the hell were you thinking, sending her away like that? She's everything you've ever wanted! You need to leave right now, drive to her aunt's house, and beg her to forgive you for being such an oblivious moron…although I wouldn't be at all surprised if she made you work for it because…that was incredibly stupid of you! And you need to know right now that I have absolutely no intention of listening to you whine about your relationship woes from now 'til New Years!"

"Lois, I'm not spending Christmas with Lana because I didn't want to!" he blurted, then winced when he realized how his words had sounded. "I…I mean…I didn't…Look, I just…" He stammered to a halt, but Lois didn't seem inclined to cut him a break. Instead, she merely arched her eyebrows and looked expectantly at him.

"I just…I've gotten used to having you around on Christmas, I guess. With your…your dorky Christmas hat, and your tacky decorations, and your…your terrible cooking skills," he explained.

Lois sighed and gave an exasperated shake of her head. "Clark…you could have had…Lana had the perfect Christmas planned. I know; I saw it!"

With a small smile, Clark asked, "And miss your charbroiled cookies and the only eggnog I've ever tasted that could degrease an engine?"

She winced, "Yeah, I know. My Christmases are always…"

"Imperfect," he finished. "My favorite kind." And then, before he could reconsider, before he could even ponder all the various methods of retribution Lois had at her disposal and the fact that she wasn't one to hesitate about using any of them, Clark leaned forward and brushed his lips across hers. He felt her suck in a breath in surprise, but he didn't break off the kiss right away.

When he finally did pull away, he knew he had only a matter of seconds before her amazement faded into what stood a good chance to be unholy wrath. "Mistletoe," he explained. "I hung it from one of the tree branches; I know you lay under the tree at least once every year, and I figured you'd never think to look for the mistletoe there."

Her expression was unreadable as she stared into his eyes, and he braced himself, expecting her to deliver a swift punch to his jaw. Instead, said, "You know I'm going to have to get you back now, right?"

"I figured," he admitted.

She laughed, and as Shelby walked next to Clark and plopped down, his head resting on his master's chest so he could gaze adoringly into Lois's eyes, the edges of her mouth quirked up. "Hey, I've been thinking. You wanna bring Kara around for New Years? I thought maybe we'd see if we can get one of us taken out by a rogue champagne cork. Then maybe you and I will try Take Two of our dance, and you can try to break my toes again. And if you're really, really lucky, I might try to burn down my apartment!" With a heavy sigh, she rolled her eyes and conceded, "You can even bring the dog." But even as she said so grudgingly, she lifted her hand to scratch Shelby behind the ears. "What do you say?"

Clark laughed. "You kidding, Lois? I wouldn't miss it for the world. It sounds…"

"I know," she interjected. "Absolutely perfect. Merry Christmas, Clark."

"Merry Christmas, Lois," he replied, and, once again, an expectant silence fell between them as they both leaned towards each other as if they might kiss again. At the last minute, however, Lois pulled back, and Shelby let a heavy sigh of frustration. No matter what he did to try to get the two of them together, they were just so stubborn! Humans, he grumbled to himself.

Completely oblivious to Shelby's frustration, Lois defected the awkward moment with a devilish grin and a teasingly spoken command. "Now go warm up my hot chocolate for me, would you, Smallville? You've been blabbering on for so long, it's gone cold."

Though he grumbled in protest, more for the principle of the thing really, Clark got to his feet and carried both mugs into the kitchen to nuke them in the microwave. The moment his back was turned, she jumped to her feet and started digging around inside the tree, looking for the hidden mistletoe. She had to bite her tongue to keep from letting out an exultant cry when her hand closed around the bow that adorned the sprig, and she pulled it off the tree. Shelby watched in silence as Lois darted over to the couch, to hide the mistletoe behind a cushion, and he saw the wicked glint in her eye as she rushed back over to plop down beside him.

Her gaze trailing toward the mistletoe's hiding place, Lois's lips quirked into an evil grin and she asked softly, "What do you think, boy?" It took her a moment to continue, because she had to break off to sneeze a few times before she could speak again. "Should I put it over his bedroom door?" Meeting Shelby's eyes, she scowled and asked, as if in response to something he'd said, "No? You don't think that's good enough? Hm….you're probably right." Then she paused, her head tilted to the side as if listening to something he couldn't hear, and she let out a devilish laugh. "Oh, I like the way you think, mutt! Next time I come over and find Clark in the shower, I'm really going to make him squirm!"

Bracing her hands behind her, she leaned back and looked happily around her at the Christmas Clark had brought. They would exchange gifts later, no doubt, but that didn't really matter. Whatever he presented her in wrinkled wrapping paper with an entire roll of tape used to secure it, she already had her gift this year.

Though she didn't realize it, as she crossed her legs at the ankles and waited patiently for Clark to return, she began to sing softly to herself, "All I want for Christmas is you..."

If Lois didn't know any better, she'd swear that the look Shelby was giving her was distinctly self-satisfied and approving.