Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine. They belong to DC Comics.
A/N : This is a supporting story to my fan-art entitled "Christmas time is Family-time" and my answer to Hellacre13's Christmas challenge featuring Superman and Wonder Woman. I borrowed an idea from one of her stories, and also many thanks to ImFanci for the big help that involves one little thing that makes Christmas a little bit more special – a wonderful dinner that everyone loves to have with their loved ones during this festive season.
Merry Christmas 2009, everyone!
Lara leaned against the tight-shut window, whose panes rattled slightly every time the scream of the wind outside rammed against it. She half-curled upon the big, fluffy, warm sofa, sometimes unconsciously snuggling for warmth against the thick tartan shawl she had wrapped herself in. Though the night was black without the moon in sight, everything she could see with her small, blue eyes from end to end was covered in powdery white; added on by the gentle rain of fresh, white flakes of new snow. It was as if those little glittery sparkles had come down upon the earth tonight, she thought.
Some of the windows on the buildings before her sparkled too, not only in white, but red, blue, yellow, green, and every other color she could think of. They were flashing outside, while the fogged glass reflected a similar happy dance of flickering lights at Lara's back. Her small eyes widened slightly as she sensed a slightest blur among the dappled buildings, but sighed deeply when she realized it was just the wind. She could hear everything – the stray dog barking in the alley below, the bunch of carolers singing so horribly off-key three blocks away; a baby shrieking four floors below; but what little Lara had really, really wanted to hear was the sound of a rustling garment, the same way a flying flag makes a sound as it dances against the high winds. She could even see through the walls of the dingy apartments on the opposite block. The family was having a yummy looking roasted turkey for dinner and that fat daddy of theirs was sharpening up the knife. Another sigh. Poor Lara.
There was a delicious smell from the kitchen at her right. It smelled like baked ginger in sugar. That was the smell of mommy's baked cookies but tonight, they're having honey-baked ham, yum! Mommy was busy in the kitchen all day for the first time in months! She had taken time off from JLA duties for this! Of course mommy was trying hard to make everything perfect and delicious, but little Lara had always preferred daddy's baking to mommy's without knowing why, especially when last Easter, mommy accidentally set the microwave on fire, and daddy had to give a big blow to put it out. Well, ever since then, mommy had looked at those cookbooks a little more often whenever she was home. She had been busy whipping up something for dinner tonight, and every morsel was supposed to be perfect. Whatever it was, it smelled wonderful.
A few minutes on, Lara realized that she had vacantly stared at those little lights without actually thinking about them, and an ache inside her small chest allowed her a wheeze that took away the hurt almost at once, and with a toss of her shoulder-length black hair, she turned around, hearing the soft thump-thump of mommy's bedroom-slippered footsteps in the next room. She hesitatingly tossed aside the tartan shawl and went to the kitchen in her socks.
"Mommy! Mommy! The Lewishams are having turkey."
Mommy set down her tray on the counter. Those cookies looked delicious, anyone would admit, not to mention the tantalizing aroma of the already prepared broccoli and cheese casserole entering Lara's nostrils, tickling the insides. Mommy looked at little Lara's eyes, blue against blue. There was a slight grin, but it turned serious almost at once without scorn.
"Have you been looking through walls again, sweetheart?" said Mommy. "That's not a polite thing to do."
"Well, daddy does that, didn't he?" scowled the little girl. "I can't help it. The walls just just comes through or something.."
Mommy gave a warm smile and squeezed little Lara gently on the shoulder. The cold of her bracelets brushed against the child's face as she withdrew.
"Well, you know that we have ham and mashed potatoes and broccoli and cheese, which you love ," said mommy. Gods, mommy was so sweet when she smiles like that. "We'll also tell daddy to stop over at granpa and gran's place to pick some rolls on butter on his way home. You love that, don't you, sweetie? (Lara nodded excitedly). Try not to look through those walls too much, Lara. People will notice that one way or the other. Daddy will have something to say about it."
The girl's eyes lit up at once.
"Is he coming home soon then, mommy?"
"Sure, he is."
"He's away all the time.…" the girl gave pause as she pursed her lips. There was a tiny frown upon her oval face. "When he's not going to his office, wearing his funny hat and glasses, he wears a funny suit with big red cape and red underpants."
Mommy gave a little cough, trying to stifle her burst of laughter. Her smile was broad. But Lara wasn't finished, turning to mommy now, with that big-girl look, full of smugness. "And why'd you always have to wear the swimsuit and fly around where everyone can see you? Pretty cool, though", pondered the eight year-old. But, as far as she was concerned, it was hard to keep quiet hearing all the kids in school scream and wow whenever Wonder Woman came round the place without overcoming the urge to shout at the top of her lungs: "That's my mommy!" No, she wasn't supposed to tell a soul, or to speak a word, or likewise blurt and blab that her daddy was Superman, and that she herself was a pretty strong kid who could do much more besides seeing through walls. It sucks, yeah. Weren't superheroes supposed to have fun and do whatever they want?
But no, daddy was away all the time. All this week, he had been busy. Monday, he helped decorate the square. They sure liked the giant tree he brought them from somewhere. It'd be a wonderful tree with all the pretty lights up for sure. Tuesday, he went to a place in Africa where lots of funny, skinny children lived. He went with big, big crates of goodies, toys and stuff. Mommy helped, of course, along with Uncle J'onn and Uncle Wally. Now, where was that photo again?
Sure, Lara missed mommy and daddy, but gran and granpapa were nice. It sure was fun milking that cow. But it wasn't the same without mommy and daddy. Another little sigh escaped her lips. Wednesday, some bad person tried to ruin Christmas by trying to destroy Lexcorp tower, no it wasn't just some bad person, Lara knew. It was a very bad super person who could do things people normally could not. Daddy was called away again, just when Lara had her Christmas present ready.
Now, today is Thursday, Christmas eve; and daddy is away again somewhere. It was a far, faraway place, daddy said this morning. A place with lots of snow and ice. But that can't be far. No, it can't. It's snowing now here too.
Tomorrow, Friday, will be Christmas day. Daddy had to come back tonight. He must, so tomorrow they'll all go to Kansas and visit gran and granpapa together, all three of them. After that, mommy had promised that they'd visit granma Hippolyta on Themiscyra. Lara had a present just for her Amazonian grandmother too, and boy, was granma Polly surprised to see it.
For all that to come again, daddy must come home now.
Well, because little Lara missed her daddy. She always missed him, because he was the best daddy in the world. Yeah, why wouldn't be? He's Superman! Last year, the family just didn't spend Christmas together because those baddies, the Legion of Doom had chosen to spoil everyone's Christmas by attacking the city and ruin the celebrations. Mommy and Daddy were called away. Lara was dropped off to gran and granpapa Kent in Smallville where there was a delicious turkey. But it just wasn't the same.
The year before, there was no particular thing Lara remembered about it, except that Uncle Bruce gave her a beautiful and very expensive dolly (it's lost a leg and an eye now). In any case, she was too young then, to remember anything special.
"Mommy," half mused Lara in her small, sharp voice, eyeing the glazed carrots excitedly as her mouth began to water. This was a sign. Mommy is setting the table for dinner. That means daddy would be home any minute. Why would they have dinner without him anyway? "Just how far is daddy's fortrace?"
"Fortress," mommy corrected, switching off the oven as she finished setting the table. Gods, thought Lara. The aroma was great! Crossing over the counter, Diana took Lara's hand. They went to the living room, lined right and left with books and portraits on the shelves. In the corner stood a splendid fir, burnished with flickering lights of many color and shimmer like little stars that passed through a happy rainbow. "Well, darling, it's at the – "
"Top of the world," finished the little girl, rolling her sky-blue eyes. Of course she had heard that millions of times. She'd never been there yet, because daddy thought she was still too little to go there. That sucks. It wasn't fair anyway, when daddy and mommy always went themselves. Sometimes they went to the moon, sometimes mars and what not.
No, it isn't fair. Not fair.
Diana looked at her daughter's face a second, before realizing that the little girl was frowning. At that point, she had half opened her mouth, but now closed it again with a purse of her lips. Now she set herself down on the sofa, setting Lara on her lap. Well, Clark was going to arrive later than she expected at that point, and it really didn't take a mind-reader or Martian Manhunter to know what was in her little daughter's mind.
Lara turned away firmly, making sure to keep her face away from her mother's so that the wise Amazonian Princess would not figure out what's up. The truth was, Lara was upset. Yesterday, when they had that special Christmas program at school (and she was the shepherd standing beside the manger's crib), it didn't take Lara long to realize that daddy had been called away before the play ended, called away to the moon. Sure, he had spent a whole lot of time making others happy. He brought giant trees for them, and big, big crates of food and clothes. He gave other people's little girls beautiful dollies and other people's boys cool toy cars all week, because he is Superman. Superman is expected to do that. Superman always does that.
Diana breathed deeply, allowing her daughter now to get down from her blue denim-ed lap. The girl quickly curled upon a corner of the soft couch and firmly turned away. She was getting more sulky, observed Diana.
Lara closed her eyes. Mommy herself will go away sooner or later, every time there's trouble or other people to help, they always went away. It wasn't fair, was it? What's the deal with being Superman and Wonder Woman when they were called away and made so busy all the time? Yeah, yeah, that's the whole point of being Superman and Wonder Woman, blablabla. Sometimes they're even too busy to… at this point, Lara was thinking so much that a tiny little sob escaped before she would control herself.
"Oh, Hera," murmured mommy softly. But Lara did not turn around. She was wallowing too much in self-pity. She didn't even bother to listen the rustle of mommy getting to her feet, crossing over towards the bookshelf and pulling out a book though Lara heard all that. She could hear a bloated baby's screech three blocks away.
Sucks. Big deal! This isn't cool. It sucks!
"Honey," said Diana. Lara still frowned. "Come here. Let me show you something."
Full pouty-lipped, Lara turned around. She didn't know that mommy decided to put her foot down before Lara was allowed to be with her thoughts too much. It was time to push the full stop-button. When she looked, mommy was beaming, the lights from the tree at the back shining against her straight, black tresses. Mommy was pretty. She was always so pretty in red. But Lara remembered being upset, and was too proud to give in, even at that moment, so she deliberately avoided looking into mommy's turquoise-blue eyes – eyes that knew everything with just a look. Instead, Lara's eyes rolled towards mommy's braceleted hand (gods, why'd mommy always have to wear those things? They look big and ugly). Well, the velvet covered family album between mommy's fingers was something Lara always recognized, but didn't bother to look at too much. Diana began turning the pages as she returned to her seat beside her daughter. After three or four turns, she gave a knowing smile that sounded like an inaudible ha!
"Look at this, honey."
Lara gave a disinterested look. It was a picture she saw millions of times before. Mommy and daddy in their red and blue uniforms, sitting among some dusty, dirty children of some country. Yeah, she always had a big laugh out of that picture. It was taken ages before she was born, before daddy married mommy. Big deal. What about it?
Diana noticed a small crinkle upon her daughter's nose. The child was getting brattier. She gave another sigh, still keeping her grin intact and turned the page. More dirty children, living in shabby huts with yellowed grasses as roofs, their ribcages showing against their matted black skins, their hair like stubby grasses on a dry desert soil very much like the one seen in the background of these pictures.
"Now, wasn't that a sweet group?" mommy said, slamming the velvet album shut.
"Sweet? Really," Lara said. For a little girl, her sarcasm has matured pretty much.
Mommy gave a small cough. "I wonder what they'll be doing tonight though."
"They probably wouldn't do anything."
Diana intentionally raised her eyebrows as he turned back towards her daughter. "But, it's Christmas, dear. They had to do something."
"They probably didn't have Christmas. I don't know."
Diana turned back at the album, opened it again and held out a page to Lara, who looked lazily without interest. It was the group shot: Superman and Wonder Woman sitting at the middle, surrounded by the throng of white-teethed children, dirty, ragged, dog-eared.
"They knew daddy, though," mommy said. "Knew him very well. Take a look."
"Everybody knows who daddy is," said Lara in a matter-of-fact tone. "Everyone wants him to do something for them. Probably he's even more popular than Santa Claus now."
"Now these children," continued Diana as if he had not heard a word. "Since they didn't have Christmas, what'd you suppose they do then?" she gave a little pause, not taking her eyes off Lara. Gods, mommy had such eyes. That gaze… it's so scary when mommy chooses it to be. "That'd mean they wouldn't have any presents, would it? Or they wouldn't have turkey and ham, a beautiful dress for Christmas, and a splendid Christmas tree?"
"Prob'ly not." Lara was still only vaguely interested at mommy's now heavily implied point.
"So that means daddy then had to play Santa," said Diana. "That'd be very, very nice for them, won't it?"
Now it was Lara's turn to raise eyebrows. But strangely, her mouth was firmly shut, as if stitched with the golden lasso itself.
"It's only natural then that daddy'd play Santa for them, 'cause they knew him better than they knew Christmas, and they liked him, but since they didn't know or spend Christmas, daddy'd have to bring Christmas to them," continued Diana, placing the album on the glass table at the front of them. "Now, honey, do you know why your daddy became Superman in the first place?"
Ah! Mommy had become serious again. Very, very serious. But there was something in her seriousness that Lara had always found heartwarming, instead of fearful or intimidating. It was that schoolteacher-seriousness. For sure, mommy had been a teacher once, and was very good at it, but that's not the point.
"Coz he had all those powers that people don't?"
No answer. So obvious. Why'd mommy ask it at all?
"Well, there are times, lots of times when people actually need a Super-man, sweetheart," said mommy. "But for everything else, they don't need him, actually. They're not supposed to. They're supposed to live their own lives, help themselves in whatever way they could. But the whole point in being the super-man that he is, is to lend them a hand when they can't use theirs. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, it is very disappointing sometimes when people look at him as if, well… as if he's really Santa come down on earth to give them everything they wanted, whenever they wanted. Do you remember when we checked daddy's (and my) e-mails yesterday, all those new messages coming in?"
Lara blinked. "He's probably more popular than Santa there," she said. "It's as if everybody wants daddy to give them something for Christmas. D'you think he could answer them all?"
"Of course not, and neither would it be right if he answered them all, or give all those people whatever they wanted, just because it's Christmas. That'd mean encouraging people to be selfish and greedy, and that's just not the point of being Superman, Lara. The burden is great, I know. Do you know how many sick, but smiling children are waiting tonight to see him and wish him a Merry Christmas? Do you think he can fly around to see them all? Do you think those children in the photo would have a wonderful Christmas just because Superman went and gave them his greetings? No, is always the answer. He's just there to help just because he has certain powers that made him able to do things they can't. As I've said, it's nothing more, nothing less, but there are times when even the tiniest of details makes all the difference in the world."
"I'm sore because daddy is late for dinner, just because he is Superman," said Lara. "Everyone gets to have dinner with their daddies on Christmas."
Diana shook her head and beckoned her daughter to the photo again, but said nothing.
"Okay then, there are many people who don't get to have dinner with their daddies on Christmas Eve either," continued the girl, but she was still sore. "But you understand me, don't you, mommy?"
"I understand perfectly," her mother answered, placing her in her lap. Lara was big for her age, slender, and pretty in her green jumper granma Kent knitted for her not so long ago. "But because we are who we are, we have to live with it more than other people, Lara. That's what we've always taught you. That's what daddy wants."
Lara stifled a small sob, gazing deep into her mother's eyes.
"I just want him to come home for Christmas, mommy. Just this once. I promise, I won't be cross if something happens in any other time."
Last year, he… they had been away. She didn't want that to happen again. She just didn't.
Just then, Diana looked up, away from the living room, straight towards the window at her front. It rattled. Though she did not have super-hearing as sensitive as her daughter and her husband, it was all she needed to know that her daughter's sufferings had ended at last! Daddy was home!
She watched in pride as little Lara leapt out of her lap in a single glide, straight into the arms of the man floating towards the window as it fluttered open. His arms were full with heaps of silken gift boxes. Such pretty colors, red, green, violet, red from Uncle Bruce and Wally and John, all her aunts and uncles… this is wonderful! Lara's Christmas is now complete! Clark smiled as he set the gifts on the plush floor and lifted his daughter up high with a chuckle. His cape was still fluttering from the icy wind, his black hair a little disheveled and his fingertips cold to touch, but what did Lara care? Smiling, Diana went off to fetch the candles she had specially prepared for the dinner table. So what if dinner went a little cold? They'd always have heat vision to warm it up. They'd have a father and daughter to do that. What was there to worry? The greatest gift was happiness. Family happiness. Happiness! Yes, that's what Christmas is all about. To be happy, to give, to help, to be content.
Even the busiest, most responsible superheroes needed that.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Diana saw Clark's eyes narrowing as his daughter floated up and down at his outstretched arms. By then, Clark had slipped on a splendid shirt over his uniform, and Lara was buttoning it up for him. She had also fished out his glasses from somewhere. Both halted as the beep continued. Yeah, thought Diana with a sigh. Super-hearing.
Superman? Wonder Woman? Come in please. There's an emergency.
**So and so** **so and so**.
The frown returned upon Lara's face, but this time pertaining more to disappointment. She quietly stepped away from her father, her head bent, towards the little pile of presents he had brought. Clark looked at Diana uneasily. There was no need for words.
He sighed, and went to her. Oh, they were such lovely gifts. She'd have fun opening them up but…
He placed a gentle hand upon her shoulder. They needed to have a little talk, but what…?
Suddenly something happened that he had not expected. Lara kissed him in the cheek. He half grinned, half puzzled, he stared at her. Her face had become very smug, her small lips pout, and blue eyes narrowing.
"Merry Christmas, daddy." Her voice was clear, all too clear.
Then she gave him a little nudge on his back.
"Now, go get 'em."
Diana raised her eyebrows, but the father winked at his daughter and carefully took off his glasses.
"Kal…?" said Diana. "Do you want me to…?"
Superman held up a hand with a smile, and she stopped. He did not take his eyes off Lara, however.
"Ten minutes?" asked the little girl.
"Ten minutes," Superman answered.
And he was gone. In a blur of blue and red.
Lara leaned against the window again, this time it was open, and the cold wind was in full blast, but she did not care. No, she did not. There are worse things in life, and only one Superman.
Huh. So who cares about a cold dinner? They always have heat vision.
She counted the minutes now.