A/N: Well, folks, it's that time of year again! While I know there's a movie by the same name as this fic, I doubt there's anything else the same about the two because I know absolutely nothing else about the movie. Also, before I forget, I own nothing but the writing, others own everything but the writing, and for that I am supremely jealous. I'd rather like to have both. Alas...

My challenge this year was: "Post season 8, Any rating, "What I feel for you seems less of earth and more of a cloudless heaven; you are nothing short of my everything." -- spoken by Clark to Lois." I hope nobody minds that I didn't adhere entirely to this. I had to find a way to get the characters there, so the fic starts off in the past.

With no further ado, I bring you...


Four Christmases

Christmas 1989

"Are you sure you can't come home for Christmas?" Lois asked, and her voice wavered a bit on the last word. She always tried to be brave like her daddy wanted her to be, but sometimes it was just so hard!

"I wish I could, Lo, but you know I have to work. I tell you what, though. When I get home, I'll bring you a present. Okay?" Though General Lane's voice softened apologetically as he offered this olive branch, there was a thin thread of impatience in his tone. "Listen, sweetheart, I've got to go. Give Lucy a kiss for me, and I'll give you guys a call as soon as I can. Remember to be good for Sarah, alright? I love you," he said abruptly, and though he stayed on the line long enough for his seven-year-old daughter to tell him she loved him back, the line went dead before she could hang up the phone.

Sniffling softly, Lois wiped her nose on the back of her hand and slowly replaced the receiver on the hook before carefully climbing down from her stool.

"Everything okay, kiddo?" Sarah asked from behind her. Sarah Roseman was one of the many Army wives who lived on the base where the General was currently stationed, and she'd agreed to take care of the Lane girls over the holidays. They had nobody else to watch over them this year while the General was away; Ella Lane, Lois and Lucy's mother, had died of cancer the year before.

Dropping her eyes to the ground so that Sarah wouldn't see the tears tricking down her cheeks or the trembling in her lower lip, Lois nodded. Sarah was nice, but Lois knew that if she cried, Sarah would probably have to tell her daddy and then the he would be disappointed in his oldest daughter. And Lois hated it when her daddy was disappointed in her. "Yes, Sarah," she mumbled as politely as she could and turned to go. Before she left the room, however, an ingenious idea struck and she paused and looked over her shoulder at her babysitter.

As she sucked her lower lip anxiously between her teeth, she turned back to the woman gazing at her in such concern. "Sarah, could I have a piece of paper and a pencil?"

"Sure," the older woman answered kindly as she rummaged around in a nearby desk drawer and pulled out the requested items. "What? What do you need them for? Are you going to draw a picture?"

Lois shook her head, but there was a determined glint in her eye as she raised her chin and said confidently, "No, I…it's private." She just couldn't confess to her intentions just yet.

"O-okay," Sarah responded. "Well…have fun, then," she finished a bit vaguely and watched as her sad but brave little charge turned and marched back towards the temporary bedroom that had been set up for the Lane sisters to use for the next month or so until Sam returned.

Back in her room, Lois glanced around nervously and grinned to herself when she saw that her little sister Lucy wasn't around. Scampering towards the kid-sized table nearby, she hurtled her body into one of the tiny chairs and lay her treasures out in front of her, carefully smoothing out the paper that had become wrinkled somehow in the twenty steps between study and bedroom.

After a few moments' thought, she picked up her pencil and painstakingly wrote out in her childish script,

"Deer Santa,

I no I told you wat I want for Krismass, but I cha chengd my mind. This Krismass, all I want is my Mommy and daddy bak home. I no my Daddy said mommy was ded and could never come home, but mommy used to say that Krismass was a time for mir mer meerakles. So thats wat i want. I dont want to bee alone this Krismass and Lucy doesnt count bekase shes just a baby and she brakes all my stuf.

Lois

PS Ive been relly good this yeer and i prommise to bee good next yeer too if you bring me my mommy and daddy home for Krismass. Ill even be nise to Lucy."

Tilting her head to the side, Lois considered her letter gravely for a moment. Then, picking up her pencil once more, she squeezed the words "try to" into the last sentence; she probably shouldn't make promises to Santa that she didn't know if she'd be able to keep or he'd take away his present again. And Lois really, really wanted him to bring her what she asked for this Christmas. She never admitted as much to her daddy, of course, but she got scared sometimes when she was all alone, and even Sarah didn't help make the fear go away when Lucy snuck under her covers at night to hide from the monsters under the bed. Lois tried to be brave; she really did. But sometimes she wished she could hide under the covers, too.

Still, Lois thought her letter was just about perfect. She wasn't sure if she'd spelled Santa correctly, and she hoped he wouldn't be offended if she spelled his name wrong, but she thought maybe he'd not be too mad. She was only seven, after all.

Folding up her letter very carefully, she pondered what to do with it for a few moments, but in the end she realized she didn't have much of a choice. Someone was going to have to mail it to Santa, and Lois didn't know how. So, keeping her chin high, she made her way back to the study, walked confidently up to Sarah's chair, and presented her with the letter. "I need you to mail this to Santa for me please," she said politely as she handed it over. "Do you think it'll get to him in time for Christmas?" Christmas was only a few days away.

"To Santa?" Sarah was surprised for a moment; little Lois Lane had never really struck her as the type to write letters to Santa Claus. However, she gained control of herself quickly and took the letter from the little girl's hand, nodding with grave importance. "I'm sure it will, sweetheart," she said. "I'll send it off right now, though, just to be sure. Okay?"

"Okay," Lois said, her tiny shoulders slumping in relief. Turning, she ran back to the door and then whirled around to add, "And don't tell my daddy about the letter, please. I…I want it to be a surprise. Promise?"

"I promise," Sarah responded, and watched as Lois darted around the corner and back towards her room. When she was relatively confident that she wouldn't be interrupted, she carefully unfolded the letter and read it, curious to know what Lois wanted that was so important that she had to have the letter to Santa posted three days before Christmas.

When she read the letters painstakingly written on the paper, her eyes filled with tears. Sarah Roseman had been an Army wife for over fifteen years; some days, she thought there was nothing in this world that could take her by surprise any longer. But somehow, Sam Lane's oldest daughter managed to break her heart a little more every day.

Glancing towards the doorway, Sarah opened the bottom drawer to her desk and carefully slipped the letter inside. She would keep her promise not to tell Sam about it. He had no control over where he was on Christmas Day any more than she did, and it would only break his heart to know what his little girl wanted more than anything this holiday.

Three days later, Lois awoke at the crack of dawn, and sped into the living room as fast as her legs to carry her, hoping to see her parents sitting under the tree or asleep on the couch. The room was empty, however, and although she waited by the window all day on the off chance that Santa might have forgotten where she was this Christmas or gotten lost on the way to Sarah's house, neither Ella nor Sam walked through the front door that day, or the next, or the one after that. She tried to hide her disappointment because she didn't want Sarah to worry, but Sarah kept looking at her with a sad expression on her face.

It was the year that seven-year-old Lois Lane stopped believing in Santa Claus and decided that her mommy had been wrong. There was nothing special about Christmas; if it was a day for miracles, those miracles were reserved for somebody else.

---

Christmas 2006

"Everything okay, Clark?" Martha asked as she closed the front door gently behind her and stepped forward to stand next to her son on the front porch. He had been standing by the railing, staring at the snow falling softly to the ground in silence for over an hour now, and she was getting worried about him.

"I'm okay, Mom," he said with a forced smile as he turned to look at her. "How was the movie?"

She blushed at the lighthearted joke; though she'd set out to watch It's a Wonderful Life this year, as she did every year, she hadn't gotten halfway through the movie before falling asleep on the couch in front of the television (also as she did every year). "You know the effect turkey has on me," she tried to excuse herself lamely.

He nodded. "I know," he returned before turning his head to look out at the snowy field surrounding the house once more. His mother stood there in silence, patiently waiting for him to open up to her if he felt the need. Just when she'd become fairly convinced that hypothermia would set in before Clark would say anything else, he spoke once more. "I was just…I was thinking about…about Dad," he said softly, his hands clenching a bit on the railing until the wood creaked in protest under his grip.

Though it had been two years since Jonathan had passed away, tears still sprung to Martha's eyes at the memory. There were times when she felt like she could handle his loss, when she felt she could move on. Then again, there were other times when the pain was still as fresh as it had been on the day he'd been taken from her. "Anything in particular?" she prodded gently.

Clark shook his head. "Just…general things. I was thinking about the Christmases when I was growing up. How you and Dad would decorate the tree and sing Christmas song and he'd always put on that stupid…that stupid Santa hat and…" He trailed off, his voice thick with emotion. "I wish I could have one of those Christmases back, you know?" Martha nodded; she knew exactly what he meant, in fact. But before she could reply, Clark continued, "I used to watch the two of you as you baked the Christmas cookies and he tried to steal them off the plate before you could stop him, and I wanted…I wanted to find something like that someday."

The memory of Jonathan's antics as he tried to sneak off with her cookies had brought a smile to her face, but the expression fell when her son expressed the wish she knew he'd entertained for years. He was an incredible boy, growing into an even more incredible man, and his greatest fear was that he would die alone. As a mother, she wanted to reassure him that such a thing would never happen, that he was too wonderful to ever have to worry about not finding that special someone. But for all of his powers, her son could see the future no more than she could, and so she knew any assurances she offered would ring hollow. Regardless, she would have to try to ease her son's suffering.

"I know how hard it's been for you to let Lana go," she began gently, "but just because the two of you weren't meant to be together doesn't mean you're meant to be alone."

When she saw him scowl and look down at his hands, she knew he had dismissed her words as she'd thought he might. "I want to believe that," he muttered into the collar of his coat. "But how can I? Lana was the first person who made me feel like I could be normal. I wanted to be normal for her. For so long, I wanted to give up my abilities and just…be like you and Dad. Live her on the farm, where my biggest concern would be whether or not the corn crop would be good this year. Not whether or not I'd get upset and accidentally set fire to the barn with my heat vision. I know it's probably…impossible," he admitted heavily. "I'll probably never be able to have that life, but it's what I've always wanted, and I'm not ready to give up on that yet. I could do it, Mom. With Lana, I could be a normal guy."

Martha fell silent once more, pondering his words. She'd heard them, or ones like them, so many times over the course of his life, and they broke her heart every time. Someday, she hoped that her son figured out that being "normal" wasn't all it was cracked up to be. He was capable of having so much more – if only he would stop holding on to the past.

Turning to look out at the fields herself, she cleared her throat. "Clark, I have a confession to make," she offered after a moment. "I know you've always wanted to find what your father and I had but I don't think…the thing is, Clark, that your father made me feel a number of things when we were together. Nobody was ever able to make me laugh like he could, but he could also make me so mad that I wanted to just strangle him with my bare hands! Sometimes he made me feel scared – of the future, or that I would lose him. And I've never felt safer than I did when he would put his arms around me and tell me that everything would be alright. But of all the things your father used to make me feel, sweetheart, he never made me feel 'normal.'" She waited until her son turned to meet her eyes, and then she finished, "Every time he looked at me, he made me feel like the most incredible…the most beautiful, most amazing woman in the entire world. We were married for over twenty years, Clark, and in that time, and that feeling never faded for me. Not once."

Reaching out with one hand, she cupped Clark's cheek and finished in a gentle tone, "You're an extraordinary man, Clark. Not just because of what you can do but because of the man that you are. Never forget that. I know how hard it is for you to let Lana go, but…" He wouldn't want to hear what she was about to say, but she had to say it anyway. "I know the love you've been looking for is out there waiting for you, somewhere. I know that you'll find it someday. And when you do, I hope you do have what your father and I had. I hope you find someone that doesn't make you want to be ordinary; I hope you find someone who makes you feel like the most incredible man in the world, in her eyes. Not because of what you can do. Because of who you are."

She tucked her head under Clark's chin as he stepped forward and pulled her into a hug. "I love you, Mom," he muttered gruffly in her ear. When she stepped away, she saw from the look on his face that her words hadn't really hit him yet – he was still holding on to the fantasy of the "normal" life he could have with Lana, if only he could find a way to live a life as something less than what he was. But Martha still had hope that he would remember her words, and maybe, someday, when he found the woman he would love the way she had loved her Jonathan, he would understand.

"I love you too, sweetheart," she replied. Then, as a cold gust of winter air managed to work its way under her coat, causing her to shiver, she turned to the door and asked Clark over her shoulder, "You coming in? I thought I'd heat up some apple cider."

"Only if you have some of those little Santa-shaped cookies to go with it," he joked as he followed her inside.

"Clark! You've eaten almost all of them already!" she protested. Before she could say more, however, the cell phone in his pocket began to ring. Martha waited as he pulled it out and glanced at the caller id. "It's Lois," he remarked in surprise.

"I thought she was spending time with Oliver this Christmas," she remarked as she hung her coat on its hook and headed towards the kitchen.

"She was. I mean, she is. She said she was going to spend the holiday at his apartment in Metropolis." Clark replied, and his mother wondered if he realized that he sounded vaguely annoyed at the thought.

"Well, wish her a Merry Christmas for me," Martha said and went into the kitchen, leaving him to his conversation. A couple of minutes later, as she slowly stirred her pot of fresh cider, she heard the sound of her son's laughter coming from the living room, and she smiled. She could tell that his former preoccupation had vanished; at least for this moment, he wasn't thinking about Lana or about the past. In fact, he was (if she wasn't mistaken) having a grand time teasing Lois about the job she had done of wrapping the Christmas present she'd left for him under the tree (which was fairly pathetic and had at least as much scotch tape as it had paper, but it was rivaled by the rather spectacularly shoddy looking wrapping on the gift sitting right next to it – the one Clark had left for Lois).

"But are you sure you used enough tape, Lois? Because I'm not sure one entire roll was enough," Martha heard him tease with a laugh, and she gave a bemused shake of her head. Then, after a short pause, she heard him say softly, "I…Thank you. You too, Lois. Merry Christmas." He sounded truly touched, at least for a few seconds before the banter started up again, and his mother's eyes narrowed speculatively as she glanced towards the living room.

Clark wouldn't yet realize that his mother had been right, but it was the year Martha realized that she just might have been right about the relationship between her son and a certain Lois Lane. Neither Clark nor Lois knew it yet, but Martha had a feeling that maybe, just maybe, the love that her son had been looking for was quite a bit closer than he ever would have thought.

---

Christmas 2008

In a rather dingy looking hotel room in Star City, Lois sighed wearily as she climbed into bed, happy to be finished with what had turned out to be a fairly bad day. On the other hand, she thought wryly to herself, it wasn't like the past month had been filled with too many good ones. There had been a moment when she'd thought that there could have been nothing worse than Lana's return, right in the middle of the Olsen-Sullivan wedding…but, of course, that had been before a monster had crashed the party, crushed several guests, gutted the groom, and kidnapped the bride.

With Jimmy in critical condition, Chloe missing, and absolutely nothing Lois could do to help either situation, she'd decided to accompany the patient to Star City General Hospital, where he needed serious medical attention. And there she had remained, watching over him as she'd promised to do in Chloe's absence. She'd stayed by his side for no fewer than three surgeries (two to repair the damage caused by the monster's attack and one to repair an internal bleed that had almost killed him, just when everyone thought he was almost out of the woods).

There was no doubt about it; this year had to go down in the books as the worst Christmas Eves Lois Lane had ever experienced. The only silver lining in the entire month had been Chloe's return. She'd apparently (according to Clark) appeared back in Smallville two days after she'd been taken, with no injuries and no idea of where she'd been or what had happened to her in the intervening time. Happy just to have her cousin back, safe and sound, Lois hadn't asked too many questions, though she had eagerly anticipated seeing to her cousin's safety for herself once Chloe was released from Smallville General and made the trip to her new husband's bedside.

However, it had now been almost two weeks since Chloe had made her reappearance, and Lois was still in a strange city, helping to keep vigil over a rapidly recovering patient, and wondering why she didn't just go home. She'd stayed at first because, having gotten her little cousin back, she wasn't eager to leave so soon. Then she'd stayed to provide Chloe what emotional support she could. But now there was just no getting around it – her presence was no longer required (in fact, the newlyweds were being as nice about it as they could, but they seemed eager to have time to themselves to plan the honeymoon they had lost due to the events of the wedding). So why didn't she just go back home, back to Smallville? Back to her life, and her job (which she had at least been performing as best she could electronically). Back to…

Before she could finish her litany of reasons she should go home, even though, deep inside, she knew somehow that she probably wouldn't just yet, the cell phone on the nightstand by her bed rang, causing her to jump in surprise. Somewhat embarrassed by her reaction, she reached over and grabbed it, but her breath caught in her throat when she saw the name on the caller id.

Clark Kent

Inhaling deeply, Lois took a moment to regain her composure before flipping her phone open and answering in a voice that sounded considerably more cheerful than she was feeling at present, "Hey, Smallville. What's up?"

"Hey, Lois," he returned warmly. "I was just…ah…well, we haven't talked for a couple of days. How are things going over there?"

A curious question, since Lois hadn't had a chance to talk to Clark for a couple of days but she knew that Chloe had called him earlier to give him a full report. "Fine. And how are things in Smallville?"

"Good. Great! I mean…well, they're busy. You know how it is," he answered a bit awkwardly, and an uncomfortable silence fell between them following his remark. There were a hundred things Lois wanted to ask him, but she didn't know where to begin and she didn't even know if she wanted the answer to her questions, anyway. "Er…how's Jimmy?"

"He's doing much better," she replied, relaxing back into the bed (as much as one could relax onto what felt like a slab of concrete with a blanket on top). "The doctor say they still want to keep an eye on him for a couple of days to make sure he's really out of the woods, but Chloe and he are already planning their honeymoon and things seem to be going really well." Clark expressed his relief at the prospect, and then she added, "In fact, I was thinking I could come home soon, myself."

"Oh, yeah? That sounds great!" he said cheerfully.

"You think so?" she asked a little hopefully, and that was when she realized it. She'd been reluctant to return to Smallville and Clark because, after everything that had happened between them the last time they'd seen each other, she wasn't really sure how eager she was to see him again. Would things be different between the two of them now? If so, was she really ready for such a change? "Don't tell me you've missed me," she teased him.

He laughed. "Well, I'm sure you'd rather be back in your own place than staying in a hotel room, at least."

"It still beats living out of the backseat of a car," she returned in a similar tone. "Anyway, things are going so well here that I could probably make it back tomorrow. Chloe and Jimmy don't really seem to need me around here any longer, and I…Clark?" His name came out in the form of a question, as she'd noticed an almost eerie kind of silence had fallen on the other end of the line while she'd been speaking.

"I-I'm here," he said, but all traces of humor had left his voice. Instead, he sounded uncomfortable, his voice laced with dread, as if he was about to deliver bad news. "I just…I didn't realize you were thinking of coming back tomorrow."

She felt slightly wounded, but she hid it by asking challengingly, "You don't want me in Smallville?"

"It's not that," he said quickly. "It's just that…things are kind of…they're complicated right now."

"Complicated," she echoed, feeling as if, in some ways, that was the understatement of the century.

Clark didn't seem to be growing any more comfortable with the situation as he hurried to explain, "Well, it's just…there's this thing with Lana. She needs my help, and I…"

His voice trailed off, as if he realized he might have just taken a detour into the wrong territory, but Lois didn't race to reassure him. She couldn't, really, as her heart had plummeted into her stomach, leaving her feeling slightly queasy. Lana. Of course. She should have known. It was always Lana.

Her sorrow made her angry. She was angry that she felt this way, she was mad at him for bringing it upon her, and she was downright furious at herself for letting him. "Okay," she said a little snidely. "So things are complicated with Lana." It took a force of will to bite back the words 'big surprise.' "But what does this have to do with you not wanting me to come home, exactly?"

"It's not that…exactly," he offered apologetically, a thin note of desperation in his voice. "It's just that I think it might be saf…better if you stayed in Star City. Not for very much longer. Just for…just for right now."

His attempts to placate her had absolutely no discernable effect. "Well, you know, I'm sorry to hear that things are so complicated for you right now, Clark, but I was really thinking of going back to my place. I wouldn't want to intrude on your holiday with Lana."

Sounding increasingly frustrated, he stammered, "I wasn't talking about…this isn't about…this isn't about Lana! Well, I mean…it is, but not in the way you seem to think!"

"Hey, you don't have to explain it to me," she said, eager to quell any desire he might have to do just that. If he had fallen head over heels in love with a girl who didn't deserve him – again – and if he was going to sit back and wait for her to crush his hopes in a heartless manner – again – then Lois was perfectly fine with not hearing all the gory details. "I understand."

"I only wish you did," he muttered. A heavy sigh followed this remark, and then he tried once more, this time in a more even tone, "Look, Lois. I know that this is…it's not what you're thinking. There are things you don't know. Things you…things that maybe I should tell you. But I can't do that, at least not right now. Not like this. So I just…I need you to stay in Star City a couple more days, and I need you to try to understand."

Tell me you miss me, she thought sadly, willing him to say the words she needed to hear. Tell me that you wish I could be there with you, even if it's not a good time. Tell me that I mean more to you, that I'm not just a friend, a girl you work with. Please, Clark. Tell me why I should believe in what the two of us could have together. But mind reading had never been one of Clark Kent's greater talents, and so he didn't say anything else.

"Okay, Clark. I will," she said finally, feeling emotionally defeated. Once again, when it came to love, it seems like Lois was left with nothing more than the fuzzy end of the lollipop. She didn't have the first clue why that came as such a surprise.

He sounded so hopeful when he spoke again, but Lois refused to believe it meant anything. "When you get back, we'll talk, okay?"

"When I get home, I'll bring you a present. Okay?"

"Yeah. Sure," she said half-heartedly. "Listen, it's pretty late. I think I'm gonna turn in. Bye, Clark," she said.

As she snapped her phone closed and tossed it back on the nightstand, Lois rolled over on her side and watched the patterns the headlights of passing cars made on her hotel room wall. She wasn't sad, she told herself firmly. She certainly wasn't heartbroken. She was…fine. She was perfectly fine, as she always was. And though she'd thought for a moment that there might be more between her and Clark, she'd clearly been mistaken. Her mind had been playing tricks on her. There was nothing now and would never be anything between her and Clark, she told herself repeatedly as she tried in vain to get to sleep that night.

It was the year that Lois lost her faith in Clark, that he would ever feel anything more for her than mere friendship, and so she locked her feelings away deep inside and promised herself that she'd never allow her heart to play such tricks on her head again.

---

Christmas 2009

Clark hummed happily to himself as he walked off the elevator and headed towards his desk at the Daily Planet. His smile broadened when he saw that Lois was at the desk across from his, her head bowed as she worked. "Here you go, Lois," he announced proudly as he placed his notebook down next to her arm. "The interview," he explained as she looked up at him in mild confusion.

Her expression cleared and she grinned up at him. "Way to go, Kent. At this rate, we'll be able to file our story in no time." They had been officially working together as partners for a couple of months, and though Lois had unaccountably resisted at first, she had eventually relented.

While they had grown closer as partners, Clark had found that the two of them had not grown closer as friends. He couldn't remember the exact moment when he'd first realized that there was such distance between himself and Lois, but it was like she'd put up a wall between the two of them. Oh, she was perfectly nice to him. She certainly didn't act like there was anything amiss between them. But he'd noticed that she really wouldn't let him get really close to her. He couldn't really explain why he felt this way. They saw each other every day at work, and they occasionally would do things together on the weekends, as well. But even when they were hanging out, just the two of them, Clark always had the feeling that Lois wasn't entirely there, so to speak. While he had at first dismissed this feeling as being a product of his imagination, the feeling had grown over time until now he was convinced that she was intentionally keeping her distance from him. Every once and a while, when it was just the two of them together, she would turn to him and he'd see something on her face that he couldn't describe, something that gave him hope that he was finally getting Lois back, but then whatever it was would drain away and the gulf between them seemed to stretch wider than ever.

With a sigh, Clark sank into his chair and watched as Lois leaned forward to switch off her computer. "So, what are you doing for Christmas?" he asked suddenly, not wanting to let her go just yet.

She sat back and craned her neck so she could see him around her computer screen. "I haven't really decided yet," she admitted. "I was thinking of flying out to see Lucy, but apparently her new boyfriend will be there, and I'm not sure I really want to disturb them."

"Well, you're welcome to come over to my place. I'm having a few people over," he offered, and in return, Lois offered him one of her not-quite-Lois smiles. He'd come to think of them this way, because he remembered the way she had once smiled at him, and the smiles she gave him now were pale imitations. As soon as he saw it, he knew she'd turn him down.

"Sounds great," she said. "Thanks for the offer, but, you know, I was thinking I may stay in this year." Reaching over to grab her purse, she didn't even pause to look at him as she chided, "Don't give me that look."

He quickly schooled his expression, and when she glanced up at him again, there was that Look on her face again. The one that made him think he might be getting her back, until she took it away again. "How'd you know what look I was giving you?" he asked, trying to prolong the moment.

Her grin widened. "Because I know you too well, Smallville." He'd missed the old nickname; she rarely called him this anymore. "You always get that sad puppy dog look on your face when you're worried about someone."

"Only if it's someone I care about," he returned softly, and he saw her eyes dart quickly to hers. And, even before her eyes, the Look melted away and the distance returned.

"Well, thanks anyway," she said, the warmth in her voice somewhat faded. "I'll keep your offer in mind, but, really, I'll be fine. You shouldn't worry about me so much."

"I can't help it," Clark admitted. "I do worry about you." He shouldn't push it, he knew. She tended to get a little prickly when he tried to talk about their friendship. "I care about you, you know."

If it weren't for his powers, he probably would have missed her soft snort. "You care about everyone," Lois said dryly as she rose to her feet and grabbed her coat off the nearby rack. "I'll see you on Monday. Merry Christmas, Clark." And before he could think of a way to stop her, she was gone.

For a while after his partner left, Clark sat at his desk and considered the woman in question. He wished he knew why she'd pulled away from him, but since she'd denied that she'd done such a thing (on the two or three occasions that he tried to bring the subject up), he had the feeling he wouldn't get answers any time soon.

The last time he remembered being truly close to Lois had been on Chloe's wedding day, a little over a year before. He still remembered how beautiful she'd looked that day. She'd taken his breath away when he'd seen her on the steps of his mother's home in her bridesmaid's dress. He also remembered the feel of her hand in his own and the way she'd looked up at him when he'd silently asked her for a dance.

That wasn't all he remembered, of course. As if it had happened yesterday, he could vividly recall the touch of her hand on his chest, the uncertainty in her eyes as she'd stared into his face, and how very much he'd wanted to kiss her in that moment.

The kiss had never happened; they had been interrupted a few moments too soon. But he thought about it frequently, and he often wondered what would have happened if Lana hadn't returned at just that moment.

Lois refused to talk about it, of course. He'd tried, when she'd first returned from Star City, but he had been rebuffed in his attempts to do so. He still remembered the conversation.

"Lois, about what happened at Chloe's wedding…" he'd begun, shifting his weight awkwardly as he spoke.

"Which thing that happened?" she'd asked, her eyebrows arched questioningly. "Do you mean the part where the monster attacked the reception or the part where Ollie…"

"I meant our dance," he'd interrupted.

Frowning slightly, Lois turned her head away from him. "Oh. That. Well, don't worry about it, Clark. Nothing really happened, did it? So we don't really have anything to talk about."

He couldn't believe it. She was really going to try to pretend like nothing had happened? She moved to walk around him, but he shifted to stand right in front of her, blocking her path. As she glanced up at him, he said sternly, "Lois, you know that's not true. Something happened between us, and we should talk about it."

He could see her throat working as she swallowed heavily, and then she blurted, "It was a mistake."

"A mistake?" he echoed incredulously. "You really think it was a…"

"Yes," she interrupted him. "It was definitely a mistake, and if you think about it long enough, you'll realize that, too. And, besides, I still stand by what I said earlier. Nothing happened, so there's nothing to talk about."

"So…nothing happened, but it was a mistake," he repeated, not wanting to drop the subject just yet but not knowing exactly why her attempts to avoid the subject annoyed him.

Her eyes widened, and he could see her struggle to get out of the corner she'd painted herself into. Finally, she gave up the attempt and simply said in an overly bright tone, "Right!"

She moved again to squeeze past him, but he grabbed her hand to stop her. "Lois I don't think…"

"I do," she'd said implacably as she yanked her hand from his and turned to him. When she looked up into his face again, he could have sworn he saw a flash of something that looked almost like pain in her eyes but it was gone even before he'd fully recognized that it was there. "I'm telling you it was a mistake. Nothing happened, and nothing's going to."

"You really believe that?" he pressed as she took a step back.

"I really do," he said, her voice dropping to a little above a whisper, but she turned and walked away without looking back.

Sometimes he thought of that moment and wondered if it was the moment he'd begun to lose her and everything she could have been to him.

On the next evening, Clark was carrying a glass of champagne to one of the guests in his living room when the doorbell rang. Passing it to Oliver nearby, he asked, "Could you take this to Perry while I get the door? Thanks."

When he threw open the door, he found a beaming Chloe and Jimmy and a scowling Lois on the other side. "Hey, Clark!" Chloe said cheerfully as she curled an arm around his neck and pulled him in for a quick hug. "Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas!" he said as he stepped back and gestured them inside.

As Lois passed, he reached out to her, intending to pull her into a hug as well. However, before he could wrap his hand around her waist, she thrust a bottle of champagne into the hand extended to her. "Merry Christmas, Kent," she said tersely as she squeezed past him and joined the party.

Clark turned to throw Chloe a questioning look, and she shrugged in reply, though she did look a little embarrassed. "She wasn't planning on coming, but I couldn't just leave her at home alone, you know?"

"Yeah, he said, his mouth thinning as he heaved a heavy sigh. "I know. Anyway, come on in and join the party," he said, attempting to distract his companions from Lois's odd behavior.

It worked, and for the next couple of hours, Clark tried to enjoy the party with limited success. Every time he caught sight of Lois's face, his heart would plummet into his stomach and his good mood would dampen. She was invariably smiling when he caught sight of her, but he could tell that her heart wasn't really in it. He didn't know how he could be so certain of it, but he somehow knew that, no matter how happy Lois looked, she didn't really want to be there. Clark couldn't help but wonder if she was simply not in the mood for a party or if she just didn't want to spend the holiday with him.

The thought wouldn't leave him, and so as the night wore on, he decided he was going to have to have a talk with Lois. Then, realizing he hadn't seen Lois in a while, he frowned and set his glass of champagne aside. He was sick of dancing around their issues, hoping they would go away in time. If he wanted things to change between Lois and himself, he was going to have to do something about it, and he planned to. Right at that very moment.

Out on Clark's tiny balcony overlooking the bright lights of Metropolis, Lois rested her hands against the railing and stared out over the city. Beside her, Oliver asked gently, "You want to talk about it?"

"Not particularly," she admitted, but even as the words left her mouth, she changed her mind. "It's just…I thought it would be easier, getting over him."

"But it hasn't been." It was more of a statement than a question.

Glancing at her companion out of the corner of her eye, Lois said, "You sound like you're speaking from experience."

Oliver shrugged. "There's this…this woman I know. I mean, she drives me crazy sometimes, but at the same time, I feel like…there's just something about her. I can't explain it, but when I'm with her…it just feels right, somehow." At her slightly arched eyebrow, he confessed grudgingly, "It's Dinah. I asked her out for months, but she shot me down every time. So I told myself I should just get over this crazy attraction I have for her. She's right, of course. We're absolutely wrong for each other; I know that. But still…I just…"

"It's one thing to say you should get over someone and another thing to do it," Lois finished for him and he nodded. "Well, I can certainly understand your problem."

"And what are you doing about it?" Ollie asked as he slipped off his coat and threw it around her shoulders.

It was Lois's turn to shrug. "Ignoring it," she confessed. Upon seeing the look on his face, she added defensively, "And it's working out great, I'll have you know!"

"Really?" he asked, and there was definitely a heavy note of sarcasm in his voice. "And what exactly is he wearing at just this moment?"

Lois hated the realization that she knew the answer to the question without having to glance back towards the party. A charcoal suit, a shirt that perfectly matched the blue of his eyes, and a grey and blue striped tie. She'd also noticed that he was wearing a pair of mistletoe-shaped cufflinks – no doubt his touch of whimsy in honor of the occasion.

Though she didn't say anything in response to Ollie's question, he seemed to know her thoughts because he nodded in understanding and his lips twisted wryly. "That good, huh?"

"Shut up," she said wearily. "I will get over him. I will. I just need more time."

"How much more?" he asked, bowing his head to stare at the patterns he was drawing idly on the railing in front of him. "It's been more than a year. How much time do you think it will take?"

She sighed in exasperation. "I don't know, Ollie! But I'll manage it! I have to!"

Ollie looked thoughtful for a moment. "Maybe you should try something else," he suggested. "Come back to Star City with me for a little while. Who knows? It might give you perspective on the entire situation."

Lois shook her head. "I don't think that's a good idea." She had work to do, and besides, she didn't think it would do much good. It didn't matter where she was, she had come to terms with the fact that getting over Clark wouldn't be that easy. "Like I said, all I need is a little more time."

Ollie's mouth twisted as he took a sip of the champagne in his hand and sighed. "Lois, do you remember the last time we drank champagne together? If all it took was time, you would have moved on a long time ago." One shoulder lifted and fell in a half-shrug. "I would have, too, come to that." Looking over at her, he added, "So if you ask me, there really are only two options open for either of us. We can feel the way we're feeling right now forever. Or we can do something about it."

"And what about you? Are you ready to do something about it?" she challenged.

"I don't know," he admitted. "I've been thinking about it. It's a scary thought, though, isn't it? It's a big risk. There's so much to lose. But given the alternative…I think it might be worth taking the chance. What about you? Do you think it's a chance worth taking?"

Before Lois could answer, there was a soft sound behind them and they turned to see Clark standing in front of the sliding balcony door, glowering at Ollie. "Sorry. Am I interrupting something?" he asked through gritted teeth.

Clark hadn't heard the entire conversation, but he'd heard enough. He'd heard Oliver ask Lois to accompany him back to Star City, and though Lois hadn't accepted yet, he could tell she was wavering. Why the idea made him so furious, he couldn't entirely explain. Of course he was worried that Lois would take one more chance on a relationship with Ollie and get her heart broken all over again, but while that explained a portion of his anger, it didn't explain why he felt that Ollie was betraying him somehow.

He couldn't believe it. She was really thinking of running off with Ollie for a while? She was really thinking of giving their relationship another shot?

Worse still, she was really going to leave him? The very thought made him want to panic, to grab onto her and not let go. He couldn't lose her! Not like this! Because…because…because…

Because he loved her. The realization hit him like a ton of bricks. He loved her, and the thought of losing her – really losing her – was unbearable. He could feel a pain in his chest, like his heart was breaking in two. How had he never known? How had he not realized until this very moment, when it might already be too late?

But he had no doubt that it was true. He loved her. Everything about her. Yes, she drove him nuts sometimes, but every time he left her, it was with the thought that he couldn't wait to see her again. He knew her, better than he knew anyone. Her smile, her laugh, the way she sometimes sucked the corner of her lower lip between her teeth when she looked over at him, as if she was deep in thought. He loved her, and…he needed her.

More than he'd ever needed anyone, he needed Lois. And he couldn't lose her like this, not when he'd just realized how much she meant to him. Maybe he should have recognized it sooner. All those nights he'd spent thinking about the last dance the two of them had shared, wishing he could go back in time and change the course of events somehow. If he could, he'd go back and finish what the two of them had started. He wouldn't have waited so long to pull her closer. He wouldn't have let Chloe's cry distract him. He wouldn't have let Lois walk away. Hell, maybe right there on his mother's stares, he would have wrapped his arms around Lois and kissed her. Who knew what would have happened next, but maybe if he'd done any one of those things, he wouldn't currently be rooted to the spot in terror as the enormity of what he was about to lose nearly overwhelmed him.

"I should…ah…I should go," Ollie said, but Clark barely noticed as the other man left. He had eyes only for one person, and she was looking up at him with an uncertain expression on her face at the moment.

"Er…we should get inside too," she said after a moment. "Your guests are waiting, and it's rude for us to…"

As she spoke, she moved to scoot past him, but Clark shifted and blocked her way. "No," he said abruptly. "Lois, we need to talk. Are you really thinking of going to Star City with Ollie?"

He didn't know why, but her face suddenly drained of color and she stared up at him in what looked like horror. "Why? How much did you hear of our conversation?"

"Enough to know that it sounded like the two of you were thinking of giving your relationship another shot. Lois, is that true?" he pressed, stepping forward. At his movement, she took a couple of steps back, increasing the distance between them but bringing her closer to the railing.

She looked distinctly relieved, however, as she shot back, "Why? What do you care?"

"I already told you, Lois. I c-care about you," he said, though he stammered on the word that he realized now didn't even begin to describe his feelings for her.

"Great," she said sarcastically. "Glad to know I'm on par with puppies and kittens the world over. It's a load off my mind. Now, if that's all you've got to say, can we please go inside?"

This time, she didn't let him stop her. Instead, she squeezed past him and strode briskly towards the door, every line in her body conveying her anger. He knew he should probably leave her be, but he couldn't let her go. In the pit of his stomach, he knew that if he let her go now, he'd never get her back.

"No, that's not all I have to say!" he cried, whirling to face her. "I don't want you to go off with Oliver!" When she turned to face him, his voice softened as he said pleadingly, "Stay. Please. Stay here." Stay with me.

Crossing her arms over her chest, Lois sighed. "Why, Clark? Why do you care where I go?"

"Because…I need you," he answered honestly as he took a step toward her. As he did so, he saw her eyes widen and heard her sharp intake of breath. He had her attention now; he just had to make sure not to blow it.

"I need you, Lois." She looked stunned and uncertain, so he took another step forward and said softly, "I need you to give me a hard time when I'm taking everything too seriously. Especially myself. I need you to be there every day, working next to me at the Daily Planet, because even if I could do all of this on my own, I don't want to. I need you to be here, every day, because when I see you…that first moment of every day, when I walk into the newsroom and see you there…it's how I know that everything's going to be okay. I can handle anything in the world in that moment, and I…I can't…I can't lose that. You've been a part of my life for so long, I can't imagine my life without you." He knew he was handling this badly but he didn't know how what else to say. Though a part of him realized he'd felt this way about Lois longer than he could remember, his realization that his feelings for her were this deep was still fairly new.

Her eyes skittered away from his, but she didn't move away. Instead, she bowed her head, her shoulders drooping, and stood very still for a moment. When she looked back up at him, her eyes searched his as she demanded, "So that's why you want me to stay, Clark? Because you're used to me? Because you don't want to have to adjust to not having me around?"

"No," he said honestly. "That's not it. I want you to stay, Lois, because…because I have feelings for you."

"You care about me," she said, reminding him of his own words. "So you've said."

She turned her head, and he knew that she was slipping away from him. "Yes," he blurted. "I mean, no. I mean, I do care about you, but that's not…it doesn't even begin to explain…"

Tilting her head back, she met his eyes again. "Then explain, Clark," she said softly, though her words sounded almost pleading. He was close enough to take her into his arms now, but he knew she would resist if he tried to do so. She made the first move, however, and placed a hand on his chest, covering his heart. "Explain it to me."

"What I feel for you…" he began, but his voice trailed off, the sentence incomplete. How could he tell her what she meant to him? The words had yet to be invented that could accurately describe the depth of the love he had for her – the love he'd carried for her for years, though he'd been blind to it until the thought of losing her had opened his eyes. Her hand started to slip off his chest, but he captured it in one of his own.

Placing his hand upon hers, he willed her to meet his eyes again, and then he murmured, "Words can never adequately convey what I feel for you, Lois. What I feel for you seems less of earth and more of a cloudless heaven; you are nothing short of my everything."

Lois breathed his name, but she didn't step away. Moving very slowly, Clark wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her closer. "Clark, I never…after all this time…do you really…?" she managed, not taking her eyes off of his.

Clark nodded. He meant it, every word of it, but even that wasn't enough. Words would never be enough to show Lois what she meant to him. So he would show her.

Ducking his head, Clark closed the distance between their mouths, though he stopped halfway to his target, his blue eyes never straying from the hazel ones before him. He wanted to show her, but only if she was willing to give him the chance.

Lois looked up at him with uncertain eyes, and Clark suffered through what felt like an eternity before she began to lean into him. It was all the permission he needed; Clark closed the distance between them and captured her lips with his own.

With that kiss, the past year seemed to melt away. Clark felt like he was back at Chloe and Jimmy's wedding reception. Lois was once again in her orange bridesmaid's dress and he in his suit, and he'd pulled her in for a dance which had led to something more. Only this time, nothing could distract him from the woman in his arms. Nothing could make him pull away. And as he deepened the kiss, pulling Lois flush against his body, nothing and nobody else in the world mattered but the woman in his arms.

She was truly his everything.

Finally, Lois broke away, throwing her head back with laughter as she wrapped her arms around his neck. Grinning in the face of her joy, Clark lifted her and swung her around until she was squealing with laughter. When he put her on her feet again, he lifted a hand to her face and swept a few errant hairs off her cheek. "Were you really thinking of running off with Oliver?" he asked her, the thought still tugging at him from the back of his mind.

"I was thinking of going for a visit. For a few days," Lois answered. "Did you really think we were talking about getting back together?"

"I was afraid of it," he admitted.

He'd expected her to be annoyed with him, but instead, she grinned. "You idiot. We were talking about you, you know. Well, you and Dinah. I told him once that I was in love with you, and he was just trying to talk me into doing something about it."

"You love me?" he asked incredulously.

"I thought it was pretty obvious at the wedding," she griped, rolling her eyes up at him, but still the smile didn't leave her face.

"Well…no. I mean…not really. I just thought that you…that I…that you…" He gave up. He didn't really know what he'd thought, but whatever it was, it had clearly been wrong.

Lois raised up on her toes and brushed her lips across his once more before saying, "I've been in love with you for a while, you big lug."

Clark's face broke into a grin so wide, it could light up a room. "Oh yeah? Well…just remember who said it first," he teased.

"Yeah," she returned, grinning ever wider herself. "And that would be me."

"No way!" he protested! "Have you forgotten the last couple of minutes? I told you I loved you first!"

"No you didn't!" she argued, not moving away from him. "If you'll recall, Mr. Kent, I was the one who said the words first."

"B-but…But I just told you that you're my everything!" he protested, pulling her tighter against him.

"Doesn't count," she gloated as she smirked up at him. "The only thing that counts is who said those three little words, and that was definitely me."

Clark wasn't about to give up so easily. "It totally counts!" he retorted, pausing only to kiss her once more. "You're just trying to get out of having to admit that I was first. You know, sometimes I think it would take a miracle for you to admit that you were wrong and I was right," he said, sounding a little grumpy at the prospect.

"You are my miracle," she murmured, but when the two of them finally came up for air again, she added, sounding a little out of breath, "But if I don't admit that I was wrong, it's because I never am. And I still said 'I love you' first."

The Christmas party was soon forgotten as the two of them stayed out on the balcony and continued to bicker about who could gloat that they had confessed their feelings first, but once everyone at the party saw Lois and Clark wrapped in each other's arms, nobody really minded. It had been a long time coming and at least a year overdue, though Perry won the pool that had circulated around the Daily Planet over the past year. Bets had been made as to how long it would take before the Planet's two rising stars would no longer be able to deny how they felt for each other, and Perry White's guess had been the closest.

It was the year that Lois realized that miracles did exist and also that there were times when she was perfectly happy to be proven wrong. It was also the year that Clark realized that his mother had been right all along. Though it would be the first Christmas Lois and Clark would spend together as a couple, it would certainly not be the last. And though they never would really resolve the debate of who could be credited with confessing their love first, in the end, neither of them really cared about the answer. All that mattered was that they both knew that the love between them was the kind to last forever.