A/N: This story was written for a Ficathon on an LnC:TNAOS forum. As is the norm with these types of things, I was given a list of prompts and a deadline. I decided that you guys might enjoy the fun as well. Thanks and fist pounds go out to Marcy for the BnB (beta+brainstorm).

Bad Santa

The newsroom of the world famous Daily Planet lacked its normal hustle and bustle. Instead of darting to and fro in pursuit of sources and lead stories, the paper's reporters were all desk bound. They were all sitting so deliberately still that the scene could have been one of two circumstances: a pose for a picture, or a hostage situation.

It was neither.

What it was, on the other hand, was hot. Really hot.

The city of Metropolis was normally sultry in the summers, but this particular day of July was uncharacteristically warm. The pigeons had taken to sitting in the shade, flies had decided to walk, and—to the reluctant gratification of Lois Lane—criminals had decided to take a hiatus.

Lois was hard pressed to admit that she was happy about the slow news day. Her livelihood depended on the chase. The bad guys did something wrong, she figured it out, wrote about it, and put them away. It's what she did… but today was one of those days when she and society's miscreant population were of a like mind.

In fact, everyone in Metropolis seemed to be of a like mind. The municipality had sent out warnings for people to stay inside as much as possible. Donation centers had been delivering air conditions to the elderly and Quickie Marts were selling Slushies by the keg.

A bead of sweat trickled down Lois's chest and she chose to take it as a sign that she was thinking too hard. The sudden presence of a clear and colorfully decorated plastic cup from It's a Grind! Coffee House deposited next to her keyboard drew her attention from the small desk fan that was mockingly blowing warm air at her.

She looked up from the cup to her partner. "Iced Latte," he announced with a wide grin.

"Just the thought of coffee, iced or not, is wrong on a day like this," she grumbled in reply. "Not that I don't appreciate the effort," she amended quickly, reaching for the cup and holding it against her forehead.

Clark just continued to grin broadly and sip his own drink—a hot one—while still wearing his entire suit. Lois had shed her own blazer hours earlier.

She glared up at him. "How can you not be burning up right now?"

He seemed to hesitate for a second before shrugging. "It's not that bad," he offered.

"Not that bad?! It's got to be at least…" Lois looked around for an estimation, "…89 degrees in here."

Clark laughed. "Like I said, it's not that bad. You should try working in an unair-conditioned trailer in Ecuador for a summer."

"This is not the time for another Clark Sees the World stories," Lois quipped. "I don't want to hear about how a summer living on the equator made you impervious to heat."

He merely raised his eyebrows in amusement as she continued, "I don't care that I should be grateful that we have AC even if it's been turned down to the mere minimum so it won't overtax the thermostat. I don't want you standing there looking calm and unaffected when the rest of us are miserable, and uncomfortable, sticky, and…"

"Grumpy?" Clark helpfully inserted when it appeared that she had run out of adjectives.

Lois narrowed her eyes at him. "Put out," she corrected. "This building was just rebuilt! You'd think that 'State of the Art' would mean the best in electrical design."

"It's more about the difference between inside and outside temperatures than it is about design…"

She cut him off with a curt shake of the head. "I bet the offices upstairs are getting the full blast."

"The offices are smaller and enclosed," Clark countered, gesturing at the wide open design of the newsroom around them. "The system requires less pull to re-circulate and cool the air in…" His words trailed off as Lois said his name with a growl.

Before her temper was able to spiral out of control they were interrupted by Jimmy's arrival. Even his natural youthful exuberance was tempered by the heat as he handed Lois a package. "Here's another one," Jimmy said right before he turned to walk away.

Lois barely glanced at the box in her hand before moving her arm over the trash can and letting go.

"Wait, Lois," Clark said, catching the brightly wrapped package before it had fallen inside the bin. "What is it?"

Lois shrugged and shifted so she was once again sitting in front of the fan. Artificial or not, the psychological effect of the breeze was worth the memories of Ellen Lane's Bursitis warnings. ('Don't sit in front of a fan, Lois! You'll catch your death.')

"You don't know?" Clark asked at her gestured reply, frowning as he fiddled with the side of the box where the wrapping paper was taped down. "Can I?" When Lois dismissively flicked a hand in his direction, he took that as a yes.

"It's candy," he announced once he'd peeled one side of the paper back.

"That's not candy," Lois retorted. "That's a waste of sugar."

Clark smirked at the confections in the box. Inside were two individually wrapped candy canes, each decorated with a bow. "Candy doesn't always come in chocolate," he said.

"Well it should."

"You have a secret admirer?"

Lois turned in her chair and reached for the box. "Not a very good one if he's sending candy canes," she said, once again moving to drop the offending item into the trash.

And once again, Clark saved the box from certain demise. "Lois," he said with a laugh, "You don't have to throw them away just because you don't like candy canes. I like candy canes."

She gave him a wry look. "Don't eat those Clark," she warned.

"Why not?"

"First of all, because it's the middle of July—not December," she said as if it were obvious, "and second because people don't send me gifts for no reason."

Clark pulled out the little red-and-white card that had been taped to the box. "If you read the note, you might find out what the reason is," he teased.

"I know what the note says," she retorted. "The same thing the last ten notes said."

"Ten?" Clark asked incredulously, wondering how he hadn't noticed the earlier packages.

"Ten," she repeated in confirmation. "If I ignore him, he'll stop sending them."

Clark nodded knowingly. "Right, because that approach seems to have worked so far."

"They're probably poisonous anyway."

Clark paused to quickly scan the box for any signs of tampering, then, after finding none, read the words written in swirly scrawl on the card. "Lois, this is from the manufacturer himself!" he exclaimed, leaning over to point out that the signature on the card matched the name on the box. "Thee as in Thee's Candies, see?"

Lois snorted. "Thee is not a real person, Smallville. Thee is a corporation."

"They all are real people, Lois…"

She sighed. "I'm sorry, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus."

Clark's brow furrowed. "Lois, think about it. Hershey, Russell Stover, the Mars brothers…"

"What are you? A walking Encyclopedia of confectionary history?"

Ignoring her snipe, Clark lifted the card again. "Mr. Thee is a real person, a CEO of a major candy producing corporation, not the Unabomber. Look, there is nothing suspicious about the packaging. Come on, Lois. He just wants you to taste his new candy. Anyone else would love to be an early adopter for this kind of product."

Lois looked at him as if he'd sprouted another head. "It may be a slow news day but that doesn't mean I'm ready to resort to writing advertisements and candy reviews."

Shaking his head, Clark poked a whole in the plastic wrapping that covered the box and pulled out the candy. "Fine, I'll taste it."

Sighing, she waved her hand in a 'go-ahead' gesture. "Your funeral."

Chuckling softly, Clark peeled back the plastic wrap that coated each individual cane and stuck the end of the straight portion in his mouth. Given his stomach of steel and the fact that he thought Lois was being paranoid, he was confident that he would live to mock her another day.

…Now, living past the mocking was a completely different issue.

That amusing thought was suddenly the last thing on his mind when swallowing became unbearable. A choking sound slipped from him as he pulled the candy from his mouth and grabbed his throat.

Lois looked up sharply at the sound. "Clark?" She rose to her feet when he started lean heavily against her desk. "Okay, this is totally not funny," she warned cautiously.

Instead of smiling and standing up as she expected, he turned and ran out of the newsroom. Frowning and anxious, she followed, ignorant of the fact that their commotion had barely garnered more than a tired glance from their colleagues. Her pursuit ended at the door to the men's bathroom.

"Clark?" she called, pushing the door open slightly so her voice could be heard inside. "Are you okay?"

The sound of retching was the only reply.

Alarmed, she started to push the door all the way open. "That's it, I'm coming in." She saw his shoes under the nearest stall and strolled forward, but before she could reach the door, he pulled it open.

"I'm fine," he said, stepping past her as he crossed to the sink. "I'm okay."

Lois watched with a doubtful expression as he rinsed his mouth out and splashed water on his face. When he straightened, she handed him a paper towel and inspected his face as he wiped it. While he appeared to be fine, he was still a little paler than she was used to him being and his neck was flushed. "What happened?"

Clark swallowed and absently rubbed his hand against his neck. "I, uh… Probably had an allergic reaction to something," he answered.

Lois's eyes narrowed at his hesitation. As far as she could recall, she'd never seen Clark have an allergic reaction to anything. Save for that time they'd gone to Smallville and his bout with amnesia after Nightfall, she hadn't ever seen him in anything but the best of health.

"What are you allergic to?" she demanded as she noticed him continuously fussing with his neck as if it itched.

Before he could answer, the bathroom door swung open as Ralph entered. He smirked a little when he noticed Lois and began moving toward a urinal with a mischievous glint in his eye. A stern look from Lois had him moving toward a stall instead.

"What are you allergic to?" she repeated.

"I don't know… I've never really had a reaction before."

Determined, she reached for his arm and pulled him out of the restroom. "We're going to the hospital."

"No hospitals, Lois," he replied with just as much determination. "I'm fine, now."

"Clark, you're scratching your neck. It could be the beginning signs of hives. Your throat could swell and you could stop breathing. You don't even know what you're allergic to—if it's really poisonous then you'll need your stomach pumped…"

"No hospitals," he repeated, cutting off her tirade before her imagination had his obituary planned out. He did know what he was allergic to, just not why it was in a candy cane. "The hospitals are overcrowded with the heat wave and we'd just end up sitting in the waiting room for the rest of the day. Besides, I think what just took place in there counts as my stomach being pumped." He sighed. "I feel much better now." And he did feel better… just not best. Given his past experiences with Kryptonite, he was confident his powers would return soon.

Lois looked at him contemplatively, reaching out with her hand to tilt his face left and right as she inspected his neck. She grudgingly admitted to herself that it was losing the red coloring that had troubled her earlier. Finally, she released her hold on him and nodded curtly. "Fine, we won't go to the hospital—but we're going to go see this Mr. Thee and find out exactly what he put in those canes."

Clark bit back a sigh as Lois's Jeep neared the Thee's Candies factory. His early attempts at curtailing this expedition had been futile, and he had given in without much of a fight considering that it had diverted Lois's mission from getting him checked out by a doctor. Clark wasn't sure what to make of Lois's sudden attention to him. He could tell from the look in her eye and passionate insistence that she was genuinely concerned about his wellbeing after his reaction to eating the candy, but he didn't dare read too much into her actions.

While it was true that they had returned to somewhat of a normal relationship after Luthor died and Clark had retracted his declaration of love, there were times when he didn't know how to act around her. Some of those times, he feared she had seen through the lie and could see his true heart, and other times, he wished that she would.

"Wow. What do you make of this place?" Lois asked. They were sitting in front of a huge wrought iron gate after having turned onto the private road that led to Thee's company property. The gate looked like something she would have expected to bar admission to Neverland Ranch, and as odd as that seemed, it somehow fit with the architecture of the building she could see about ten miles beyond the entrance. She suddenly felt a tinge of regret at not having done her due diligence as a reporter and researched the place before embarking on the hour drive out of the city to get there.

She glanced at Clark and could tell by his puzzled expression that he was sharing the same thought.

"Well the fact that the bushes are cut in the shapes of toys and teddy bears makes it less likely that they are terrorists, right?" He turned and flashed an amused grin at her, seeking to alleviate the anxiety she had been brooding in. In part, he was also comforting his own fears that the Kryptonite laced candy canes were the precursor to something sinister. Spending time in Luthor's cage had made him less naïve about people's intentions toward Superman, but Thee and his factory seemed quite harmless at this point.

Lois still looked doubtful. "Maybe," she offered, lowering her window and pressing the button on the intercom.

"Yes?" a disembodied voice questioned after a short wait.

"Lois Lane and Clark Kent from the Daily Planet," she replied. "We're here for…" The gate began to swing open before she finished with, "…Mr. Thee." Arching an eyebrow at Clark, she put the vehicle in gear and drove down the gradually winding road. After parking, she shifted in her seat to look out the rear window at the main gate. "We will be able to leave, right?"

Clark smirked and nodded his head at the bright red and white painted front door to the building. "I'm sure of it," he answered with a chuckle, his guard lowering even more at the sight of the whimsical items that decorated the courtyard area they were in. The fountain in the middle of the circular ingress featured a jolly Santa Claus-like figure juggling small wrapped packages.

Lois's door was suddenly opened from the outside, startling them both, and Clark wondered how he had missed the fact that someone had approached them. When he leaned forward and saw that the person holding the door open was under four feet tall. Sensing a presence to his right, he turned in time to see another small person pull open his door. Politeness barred him from staring, but that didn't mean he didn't want to. In his world travels, he had come across all types of people, but none quite like these.

The little people weren't those of the average variety—those who exhibited obvious signs of dwarfism or some other known cause of diminutive stature. Instead, these people were completely proportionate, looking as if they had simply been shrunk. They were full grown average sized adults, only scaled down… and extremely tan.

Without speaking, their greeters gestured for them to get out of the car and follow them inside. With the briefest exchange of a glance, Lois and Clark did as they requested.

"Miss Lane and Mr. Kent! What an excellent surprise!" a voice greeted as they entered a sparsely decorated front room. The deep red paper that covered the wall was periodically dotted with silver snowflakes, copying the same pattern as the gift paper that had covered the box of candy. Curiously enough, the little people that had brought them this far had silently disappeared.

Lois arched an eyebrow as she took in the tall, skinny white-haired man that was greeting them. His silk shirt and pants were a burnished red color that made his white suspenders contrast even more than expected. White shoes and a white cravat completed the outfit.

"I'd hoped you would come by soon," he said, absently stroking his trimmed white beard. His eyes glistened with barely withheld glee. He was a kid in a candy store keeping a secret. "Let me guess. You tried the candy?"

"Candy?" Lois questioned wryly.

The man's thin white eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "The candy canes," he explained.

"More like death sticks," Lois muttered under her breath.

"I'm sorry, did you just say…"

"Mr. Thee," Clark interrupted graciously. "You are Mr. Thee, are you not?"

The man's perplexed expression turned to encompass Clark before clearing slightly. "Yes! Yes, of course, Mr. Kent. I am he, but please, call me Thee."

Clark grinned disarmingly, noticing that Lois rolled her eyes when he did. "Well, Thee, I'm Clark."

He offered his hand and Thee gladly took it with a wide smile. Once the greeting was completed, Thee's face sobered and turned to Lois again.

"Did you say something about de…" he began.

"Thee, what my partner… What Lois meant was just that she prefers chocolate."

Thee frowned. "Chocolate?" He then tapped his chin thoughtfully. "I never truly considered chocolate for this, but by altering the blend…"

"The blend that almost killed my partner?" Lois asked smartly.

"Almost what?!" Thee asked in shock and outrage.

"She's exaggerating," Clark entered quickly. "It was a… mild reaction to something I ate earlier," he said, studiously refusing to meet Lois's eye. He knew that his explanation would pique her curiosity, but he needed to dissuade any connection between his reaction and kryptonite as much as possible. "The truth is I didn't get a chance to taste much of it. We came by to, uh, find out why your canes are so special."

Thee grinned at that. "You and every other confectionist worth the weight of a grain of salt," he said in a tone just above a conspirational whisper. "My candy is going to start a revolution! Come, let me show you my world." Turning briskly, he made a wide sweeping gesture that beckoned them to follow, any other conversation forgotten.

Lois gave Clark another pointed look before they stepped into a red-and-white striped hallway. As they got closer, they saw that small candy canes decorated the white areas. Lois had the strange feeling that the wallpaper would actually taste like peppermint.

They followed the hallway through an area that housed a number of offices. They all were empty.

"Um… Mr. Thee," Lois started as he led them into the largest office, "where are all of the workers?"
"Why, they're making candy!" he replied happily. He led them over to the large bay window.

The window revealed the vast factory floor. The machinery was white, embellished with green, red, silver, and gold panels and parts. Diligently at work at many of the machines were more of the uniformed little people that had originally greeted them at the car.

Clark frowned. It was as if Thee had hired an entire tribe of pygmies.

"These are the folk," Thee continued. "They have been excited about the prospect of a visit from you since I sent the first invitation. You should see the locker rooms. Clippings of your articles are everywhere."

"The folk," Lois repeated cautiously.

"Folc," Thee corrected. "With a 'c.' F-O-L-C."

Lois arched an eyebrow. "The Folc…" she said, shooting Clark yet another look, "…why are they all burnt-orange?"

Thee frowned thoughtfully as they all turned to look at the workers again. "Orange? I think of it as more of a puce color—more reddish…" He turned to face them with a bright smile. "It was a slight calibration error when they came through the Thelevision. The tint came out all wrong… well, that and the sound must have been muted too, because they don't speak. Oh, and of course you must have noticed that they didn't scale quite right…"

Clark cleared his throat. "Um, Thelevision?"

Thee beamed. "Yes. It's a fascinating device. Just as a television receives signals from around the world by satellites, the Thelevision can send and receive matter."

"Wow. That's quite… unbelievable," Lois commented wryly.

"Oh! But it is," Thee agreed. "I can't show it to you today—I'm still working out a few kinks, don't want a repeat of what happened with the Folc's, after all—but I'll be sure to invite you back. Shall we continue our tour?"

As they exited the office, Lois paused briefly to examine a framed document that hung on the wall. It declared an announcement of achievement and congratulations to Theodore Herbert Ellis. There was another name, but it had been cut out of the paper. "So, Theee," she drawled, correcting herself as she was about to call him Theo, "you're from Gotham." She upped her pace to catch up to the two men.

Clark narrowed his eyes at her tone, knowing that the lightness that might have sounded like genuine interest to other people really masked a set-up.

Thee turned his head; his smile not quite as brilliant as before. "I am."

Lois smiled sweetly. "Nice weather this time of year… in Gotham." A few steps later, she asked another question. "So… did you live on an island?"

"Lois," Clark hissed under his breath as he walked beside her. He knew that she was inferring that Thee was crazy—that his former residence was Arkham Asylum.

Lois ignored him and Thee appeared not to have noticed. "All of Gotham is an island, Ms. Lane," he replied jokingly. "But you knew that."

Thee's smile dimmed into something almost sinister. "The place I came from was not a nice one. They laughed at me. They teased me. Mercilessly. They spared me no relief, and all I wanted was to bring joy. Happiness. Every day."

The look Lois gave Clark after that comment was different from the earlier ones. There was something off about Thee's reply. It was as if he knew exactly what Lois had been hinting at, and had parried her thrust expertly. For the briefest moment, the happy-go lucky, stars-and-smiles guy was gone.

But seconds later, when they pushed through two large doors that were painted red and wrapped with a large white silk bow, the original personality was back. "Welcome to the place where magic is made," Thee declared, doing a little spin and raising his arms in jubilation.

Both Lois and Clark's mouths dropped as they stepped onto the factory floor. The small portion they'd seen from the window in Thee's office had been deceiving as to its actual size. It was huge… and full of candy canes. Big ones, small ones, red ones, white ones; striped ones, plaid ones, skinny ones, and fat ones. Candy canes shaped like toys, candy canes shaped like boys… It was Dr. Seuss in a peppermint wonderland to the extreme.

"And I officially present the Folc," Thee continued, and at the announcement, the aforementioned group turned from their machines and waved. "They're your biggest fans," Thee offered proudly.

"I thought candy canes were only profitable at Christmas…" Lois said, awkwardly waving back to the little men and women.

Thee's eyes narrowed slightly. "That is a perception I plan to change." He tilted his head and studied Lois for a minute. "Starting with you. Chocolate is nice, but candy canes are symbolic! What is the first thing that pops into your head when you think about Christmas?"

"Bad ties," Lois muttered causing Thee to frown.

Deciding to humor him, Clark jumped in with his own answer. "Family, giving gifts, hugs…"

"Exactly right, Mr. Kent! Exactly right," Thee declared, giving Lois a mock glare. "Those are feelings people should feel every day, not just once a year. The spirit of Christmas is what it's all about. Extending that spirit is my mission."

"So you want to be Santa Claus," Lois suggested.

Thee jumped as if shocked. "I want to be Santa Claus?" he asked with disgust. "No! I don't want to be Santa Claus. Santa is a bad man. A very bad man. He wants all the joy to himself. He's a miserly old man whose time is up."

Clark could tell that Lois was just as confused as he was. "Santa is a miser of joy?"

Thee spun around to face Clark. "Yes! Mr. Kent, you are once again correct. Santa is a miser of joy." He reached out and took Clark's hand, shaking it briskly. "He's a joy-miser, and you and I are quite like minded."

'No, I wasn't agreeing…" Clark began.

Lois shook her head curtly to cut him off. Thee wasn't heeding him anyway, and she was actually finding some amusement in the way Clark had become the crazy man's new best friend.

"Santa Claus doesn't deserve the adoration he gets. He does something nice one day of the year and people make him out to be a saint. That's not sainthood! That's not Christmas!" Thee raised a pointed finger into the air, posing heroically, "Sharing is Christmas! Giving is the spirit, and I'm going to give." His brow furrowed as he seemed to remember something he didn't like. "I don't want to be Santa. I want to be better than Santa. A better Santa. One who gives every day."

"By giving candy canes?" Lois asked.

"The candy canes are simply the start, Ms. Lane. Through them I will give the gift of flight."

Clark blinked in confusion. "Flight?"

Thee nodded. "Oh yes, that's right, you said you didn't get a chance to eat the candy. Well, if you had, you would have been able to fly."

Lois failed to completely bite back a laugh, and the muffled sound caused Thee's expression to darken.

"They laughed at me," he said gravely. "And teased me. Mercilessly. Just because of my all I do—all I ever wanted to do—is bring joy and happiness." Then he spun on his heel and began striding across the large room. "Come, I'll show you."

Lois waved a hand for Clark to follow first. "I'm starting to agree with you," she said under her breath. "He seems harmless enough to me. Crazy as a blind bat, but not a terrorist."

Clark frowned and took the lead, darting around waving Folc as he quickened his pace to keep up with their host. With the number of little people that he was forced to dodge, he almost had the feeling that they were deliberately trying to impede his progress… or that they simply were rather clumsy.

They caught up with Thee at a large door with a vault-like modular handle attached to the front. Thee spun the handle and pulled the heavy door open, gesturing for them to enter before him.

"I asked myself why Superman should be the only one with the ability to fly," Thee explained as they entered a stark white laboratory-like room.

Behind a glass observation room, another of the Folc, dressed in a white labsuit and goggles waved frantically. "Oh, yes, my lab assistant extends her welcome," Thee acknowledged dismissively before pressing a button that caused the window to tint to full opacity. "Unfortunately, as much as I like the two of you, I am not yet ready to show you the secret ingredient, and that is where it is kept."

Clark tilted his head forward and rubbed his nose to cover the fact that he was peering over his glasses. The action proved fruitless as the delayed realization dawned upon him that he was still without his powers. While he wasn't sure that Thee's secret 'sauce' was indeed Kryptonite, he was pretty sure that it was behind those walls—and given that he wasn't feeling any worse, he figured it was safe to assume that the storage area was lined in lead.

"Anyway," Thee continued, "as I was saying… Why should Superman be the only one that could fly? That is selfish. Almost as selfish as Santa and his one day of... of…"

"Commercialism," Lois offered helpfully.

"Yes!" Thee said automatically. Then he frowned. "No. Altruism," he corrected. "His one day of altruism."

Shrugging, Lois looked around at the room. There was an empty animal pen in the far corner. "Um… what is that for?" she asked, pointing.

"The reindeer," Thee said simply.

"The reindeer?" Lois asked, careful not to let any derision enter her tone. She didn't want another tirade about merciless teasing. "You have reindeer?"

"Yes, but they flew away." He walked them over to a machine and picked up a box that was similar to the ones that Lois had been sent.

Lois frowned. "Of course they did. Because they ate the candy."

"No they ate the reindeer dust which is in the candy..." Realizing that he'd just given away his secret, Thee threw his hands up in disgust. "Damn it."

Silently chuckling at the inadvertent admission and subsequent reaction, Lois looked to see if Clark shared in her amusement but instead he looked worried.

"Where exactly did you get the, uh, dust, Mr. Thee?"

"Oh, ho, ho, Mr. Kent," Thee laughed. "You may have learned the secret, but I still have to protect my business."

Lois tugged on Clark, pulling him close enough that she could whisper in his ear when Thee turned back to the machine. "You actually buy this?"

"I'm humoring him," Clark whispered back.


"We can't let him go to market with these things if they're really dangerous."

Lois frowned at his answer. "But you said your reaction wasn't…"

"Mr. Thee," Clark said, turning back to their host and cutting her off. "I understand secrets, I do, but have you considered that the dust might not have the same effect on humans that it does on reindeer?"

Thee turned around, holding the box of candy and looking a bit flummoxed. "They've been tested extensively."

"They have?" Clark pressed.

"The Folc…"

Lois jumped in, "You mean the little orange people who can't speak, right? They ate the candy and flew?"

"Well, not exactly," Thee admitted. "When I say that the candy would give the gift of flight, I meant more of a flit," he said, making a curt gesture by waving his hand.

"Flit?" Clark questioned.

"Not quite float," Thee explained. "But this is only the beginning!"

"I'm thinking that it's more likely the end," Lois deadpanned.

"Mr. Thee, do you realize that the public won't be forgiving when they find out that you are putting an unknown substance in your candy," Clark said gravely.

On cue, Lois added, "Especially since you claim to have some form of animal byproduct involved."

Thee's head swiveled from side to side as he followed their dialogue. "Not byproduct. Feed. It's what the reindeer eat."

"Which you won't allow us to see to determine if you are indeed telling the truth," Lois quickly countered.

"But I…"

"Claiming that you have a candy that can make people fly and then not being able to deliver on that promise could end up putting you out of business," Clark warned.

"And then you wouldn't be a better Santa," Lois added. "You'd be a bad one."

Thee gaped at them in horror. "You don't understand. I bring joy… I can't not be in business. I can't be a bad Santa!"

Clark nodded and reached out to pat Thee on his shoulder. "I believe you. I believe you want to do good, Mr. Thee, but this is a bit over the top. What were you planning to put on the ingredient list? Reindeer feed? Do you really think that would increase sales?"

"You have to admit that your last experiment with the Lilliputians didn't go so well." Lois's comment earned her a glare from Clark who knew she didn't believe any more than he did that the Folc were shrunk and dyed when they were 'beamed' in from whatever universe Thee claimed.

Lois rolled her eyes at Clark's look and attempted to curb the edge of her sarcasm. "What I mean is, if you are anything less than sure, you could end up seriously hurting someone. Like Clark, here…"

Thee's brow furrowed, comically slanting his bushy eyebrows across his face.

"Think about the reason you started your… mission to save the spirit of Christmas," Clark added. "Causing pain isn't it."

As they had done earlier, Thee's eyes darkened, and Lois, recognizing the precursor to a tirade beat him to it. "I know, I know. They teased you mercilessly because of your name," she said, lifting her hands in the air to keep him from speaking. "But I have to say that you've come out on top. Sure, Theo Herb Ellis is a mouthful and kids are cruel, but you took the initials and built a…" She hesitated and looked around, searching for a word to replace 'loony bin'—the first thing that popped in her head. "…Wonderland," she finished with a smile and a flourish.

"Those weren't the names they ridiculed," Thee said. "They were only the start of it." His voice lowered and his mouth pursed into an angry pout. "It was the last name that caused all of the problems. My last name."

Lois and Clark waited for him to continue, hanging onto his words as if it were the answer to a long unsolved mystery.

Finally, Thee uttered it with a growl. "Grinch."

"The Grinch," Lois whispered in sudden comprehension.

"All my life I had to deal with the burden of that name," Thee continued in his delivery. "They teased me. Mercilessly. They said that I was destined to steal Christmas. Instead, I dedicated my life to giving it back. I bring joy," he said, almost pleading with them to believe him. His looked back and forth between the two of them. "What should I do?"

"For starters, get rid of that," Lois said, pointing to the box of candy he still held.

"Oh!" Thee exclaimed, turning and tossing the box into a large barrel that Lois could only guess was meant for the byproduct of Thee's 'imaginary' reindeer. "Done, done, and done! I'll halt production immediately!"

"And what about the, uh, feed?" Clark asked.

"I'll destroy it," Thee vowed. "Maybe it is best that only Superman and reindeer fly after all."

"There are other ways to spread joy, Mr. Thee," Lois said. "You know, besides candy canes, I mean."

Thee turned to face her with a bright smile. "Chocolate, Ms. Lane."

"The gift that keeps giving," Lois agreed.

"That's the spirit," Thee cheered.

"Perhaps we could have Superman check in with you later to make sure the demolition goes as planned?" Clark asked.

"By all means! I would love to meet him. In fact, I think he'd be perfect to try out the upgraded version of the Thelevision …"

Both Lois's and Clark's responses were immediate and simultaneous. "No!"

"If I don't see another candy cane in my life it will be too soon!" Lois stopped the Jeep in front of Clark's apartment building and shut off the ignition. "I'm so glad that it finally cooled off," she said with a sigh, basking in the light breeze that was wafting through the lowered windows.

"Yeah," Clark agreed. "I guess something good came out of our trip to Crazy Town after all."

She shifted in her seat to face him. "So you agree that he's crazy."

"Yes, Virginia, you were right. There is a Santa Claus, and he is as off kilter as they come," Clark answered with a chuckle. "At least we can take some comfort in the fact that our smallest-biggest fans will keep an eye on him for us." He sobered slightly when he noticed her smile falter. "Lois?"

"Maybe next time you'll listen when I tell you not to eat strange things."

"He really was harmless," Clark offered. "He meant well... means well."

"Maybe," she agreed softly, "but whether or not he intended to, he could have hurt you. And I…" She paused and forced a smile. "I don't take to new partners that easily."

For a quiet moment they simply looked at one another; each wondering what that admission meant. Finally, Clark broke out in a wide grin. "You won't have to if I have anything to do with it. I almost didn't live through the last time our partnership was axed," he joked, knowing that she had no idea how true it was.

She released a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a sigh, and Clark's eyes widened at the realization that his powers were back. What he had heard—what he was sure he hadn't been meant to hear—was Lois's quiet confession. ('Me too.')

Grinning broadly, Clark couldn't help but wish one of those overly helpful Folc from the factory had hidden a sprig of mistletoe in Lois's car. He could imagine that she would declare a statue of limitations on the tradition since July was as close as it was far from the December holiday as it could get.

Still, the thought of being denied had never been so welcome, because in her eyes he saw something that rekindled a feeling he'd buried with a lie and crossed fingers. He saw hope.

And that was what Thee had extended to them in the spirit of giving.

Reaching for the door handle and sliding across the seat so he could exit the vehicle, he opened the door and jumped out.

"Hey, Lois," he called, leaning down to look at her through the window after he'd closed the door.

She looked over at him expectantly as she turned the key to engage the ignition.

"I know it's July but… Merry Christmas."

Smiling, Lois rolled her eyes and put the jeep in gear. "Bah humbug."


Beth's requirements:

Three things I want in my fic:
1. As many candy canes as can be reasonably included
2. The colour puce
3. A cameo from a folc

Preferred season(s)/holiday [if applicable]: Doesn't matter

Three things I do not want in my fic:
1. Reindeer dung (if you really have to, though, I guess I would be okay with it)
2. Too much angst (a pinch is okay)
3. Plum Pudding (never was a fan of the stuff)

So, I kind of got creative with the 'want' list, lol (and the 'do not want' to an extent). I didn't want to offend anyone by dropping them in as the cameo and not representing their characters/personalities well, so I just threw everyone in. Hope no one minds… but if you do, just let me know and I'll talk to Thee about getting you sent back through the Thelevision. And while I didn't name it 'dung' per se, the very fact that I was asked not to include reindeer dung was too good to pass up even an allusion. Sorry!