A/N: It would be useful before this story to read A Christmas Bear and A Christmas Hot Chocolate. It's hardly required though.
Be warned that this is a bit darker in parts than the past two stories have been. That was where the story led me and I believe it made it better, but beware. If you want, you can easily skip it—just don't read between the first two page breaks.
I also deviate from canon a little bit (though my grip on canon has always been slippery).
Finally, I apologize for any typos. My computer's been acting up as I typed.
Anyway, enjoy. I wish you all a Merry Christmas, or if you prefer a Happy (fill in holiday of your choice, and if unable to find one, just insert Winter).
I'll be home for Christmas--You can count on me
Clark Kent looked around his mother's empty home. Though he had decided not to sell it with his grief so raw, the house seemed so empty without her that he was not sure that he would ever be comfortable raising a family here in the future as he once had dreamed. Her death had been a shock—he had long expected her to pass away peacefully many years from now of old age, but instead she had been killed in a car accident that had happened so fast that not even Superman could stop it. And now he was alone, both his mother and his father gone. He felt more lonely than he had when he had discovered he was an alien—the only one of his kind on the planet.
"Help, Superman!" A familiar voice far away cut through his mental wanderings.
"Help, Superman!" Superman emerged from the Kent house and sped toward "A Rack". There was a little girl who did not need to lose her last surviving parent a month before Christmas.
Within three minutes, Clark had arrived to a scene of a battle that had only just ended. Bodies lay splayed in every direction, soldiers and insurgents, enemies united in the indignity of violent death. Green clad soldiers moved among the bodies, wearily searching for survivors, but finding none—laying the bodies out and granting what dignity they could until they could be removed and laid to rest in peace. To the side lay the man Clark sought, clinging to the body of a fallen comrade even as another applied pressure to his bloody, broken leg. As Clark settled to the ground, Major John Hayes looked up.
"It's too late, Superman," he said quietly, "There is nothing to be done now."
Another soldier, who had just laid out his tenth body, looked up at John's statement. "Superman?" he asked angrily, "Superman? Where were you ten minutes ago? You didn't come, you didn't help—you never do!" He was shouting now, and throwing himself at Clark, pounding uselessly against Clark's invulnerable body until he ran out of energy and began to sob instead. He was young, no more than eighteen, probably on his first tour. Clark stood there and let him pound and then let him cry. What more could he do? He hadn't been there—he couldn't have been. At any given moment, there were hundreds of battles like these and even worse occurring around the world—and even Superman couldn't stop them all. All he could do was help when he got the chance.
The young soldier had stopped crying now, and begun to shake instead as he went into shock. He wasn't alone. Major Hayes' wound was leading him into shock quickly, and the medic who had been treating him looked up at Superman. "Can you bring them back to base, Superman?" he asked. "Most of the medical transports are busy and our Humvee won't start anytime soon. We're going to have to wait to be pulled out—and the Major can't afford to."
Clark nodded, and wrapped one arm around the young soldier and the other around Major Hayes before taking off and heading to the American base, where the two would find the help they needed.
Lois Lane's unrelenting diatribe about Clark's clumsiness, foolishness, naïveté, and sheer general idiocy was interrupted by a tug on Clark's sleeve and the tiniest whisper of "Superman". He looked around and then looked down to find a familiar eight year old in a crimson velvet party dress (but clutching a bedraggled bear) tugging at his sleeve. He looked up quickly to verify that Lois hadn't noticed and relieved to find that she was so wrapped up in her rant that she did not even notice the little girl, much less when the same little girl began to tug Clark away. She only realized that he was no longer listening when he raised a hand to cut her off and gestured that he was going to follow the little girl so persistently tugging at his sleeve. After all, that was the reason they were at the (insert notable figure)'s Christmas party—to interview the military families invited. Irked, but unable to speak against it, Lois made her way to the open bar, even as Clark followed the little girl to a less crowded corner.
"Superman," she repeated as he knelt in front of her.
He placed a finger in front of his lips. "When I'm dressed like this, I'm Clark Kent, Kayleigh," he said quietly. Once upon a time he had tried to convince the children—and it was always children—that recognized him that he was not Superman. He had long since come to the conclusion that it never worked. Children and their all seeing non-judgmental eyes saw straight through a pair of glasses, an ugly suit, and a habit of running into glass doors. Why should they not? Dress up and imagination were, after all, daily pastimes for many of them. No, Clark had long since given it up. Instead, he simply taught them to call him by his actual name. Again, for a group of people that changed names every time a new game began (and sometimes in the middle of one) it was hardly difficult to comprehend that someone might want to be called a different name.
And Kayleigh Hayes was, after all, an extremely imaginative and precocious eight year old. "Mr. Kent, why was that lady saying mean things about you? You're Superman."
"She doesn't know I'm Superman," he told her quietly.
"But she was hurting your feelings," she protested.
"Sometimes people do that to other people for different reasons. It's not very nice, but we have to try to understand why they are doing it."
Kayleigh nodded sagely. "It's because she likes likes you," she informed him.
Clark choked on the sip of his water he had just taken. "What makes you think that?" he asked.
She looked at him like he was crazy. "Grandma says that Billy pulls my braids on the playground because he likes likes me. She must like like LIKE you to be so mean."
Clark smiled sadly. He was very sure that Lois didn't like like him, however much he might wish it to be otherwise. If she treated him like this because she like liked him, then she also like liked every other person from a rural background that she came in contact, as well as those who went to college to study anything other than journalism, those who went to colleges less prestigious than her own, and those who didn't go to college at all. But it was difficult to explain that to an eight year old.
"Sometimes, Kayleigh, people are mean because they are unhappy or because they are scared that if they treat others well, people won't like them."
"But its Christmas," Kayleigh protested.
"I know," Clark said. "That's why you're going to be very happy and celebrate it. Now, where's your father?"
Kayleigh smiled, and grabbed his sleeve again, pulling him this time to where her father sat beside the Christmas tree, his leg in a heavy cast. "Look Daddy," she said, "It's Mr. Kent."
Major Hayes looked up at him suspiciously, as any father would do after his daughter had taken to a male stranger so quickly. Clark smiled, trying to head off any dramatics.
"Clark Kent, Daily Planet," he said, putting his hand out.
Major Hayes didn't take it. "Did you interview my daughter without permission?" he asked angrily.
Clark smiled. "If anything, she interrogated me," he replied.
The Major was not satisfied, but Kayleigh, with an eyeroll worthy of a girl far older than her, placed her hands on her hips, looking at her father with an expression undoubtedly learned from an older female relative. "Daddy," she said, "he's…"
Clark cut her off with a shake of his head and the placing of a finger to his lips. She paused, and then climbed up onto the extremely expensive chair next to her father's and leaned in to whisper something in his ear.
The look on the Major's face immediately changed from suspicious hostility to surprise. He then gave Clark the searching look to which he had become so accustomed. (Clark had quickly learned that if you can't keep a secret from children, you can't keep it from their favorite adult relative. So, more people knew about Superman's secret than might be originally expected. Clark had been lucky in that so far, the children imaginative and precocious enough to see through his disguise had inherited the traits from their thankfully trustworthy parents.) Finally, the Major's face broke into a smile. He, thankfully, was also extremely bright, and immediately realized that this was not an appropriate place to ask questions. Instead, he just looked at Clark and said, "You mentioned an interview?"
Later that evening, Superman hovered just outside of Earth's atmosphere, again conducting his normal Christmas Eve patrol when a soft voice broke through the other sounds of the Earth. "Superman."
He followed that voice down to that familiar small house on a military base, brightly festooned with Christmas decorations and a yellow ribbon, and with a small girl in a candy cane nightgown holding a bedraggled teddy bear standing just inside the front door.
"Hi, Superman," Kayleigh said, reaching up to take his hand and bring him into the house. "We made chicken noodle soup AND hot chocolate this time."
"Chicken noodle soup?" he said, "That's my favorite."
"Especially when it has a lot of noodles," Kayleigh said.
"Especially when it has a lot of noodles," he agreed as he followed the little girl into the bright kitchen where Major John Hayes leaned on a crutch and stirred a pot of soup on the stove.
"Merry Christmas, Superman," John said, turning towards the door as he heard them enter. "I hope you don't mind, but I'll have to impose on you to get this pot off the stove and the soup served. One hand just isn't enough," he said, gesturing with the spoon in his free hand.
Clark nodded, carefully placing oven mitts on his hand (not because he needed them but because Kayleigh was in the room and it wouldn't do to set a bad example for those slightly more sensitive to heat) before removing the soup from the stove and ladling it into three bowls which he then put on the table. Meanwhile, the Major had settled himself at the table and mixed the hot chocolate from a tea kettle that already sat on the table, and Kayleigh had proceeded to sit at the table and bounce excitedly. Clark sat as well, pulling off his cape and draping it neatly over the chair so that it wouldn't wrinkle (Clark was very good at catching bad guys and saving people from burning buildings, he was less talented at ironing than he might otherwise hope and without his mother, he wasn't really sure how to keep it wrinkle free—a thought that brought momentary pain, though less than it would have a month ago.) The two men sat quietly for a couple of minutes, watching Kayleigh sip her hot chocolate and eat her soup eagerly. (The fact that she didn't burn her tongue made Clark wonder if he was perhaps not the only Kryptonian on the planet). Before either of them had even finished half of their soup, she was done and once again bouncing excitedly in her chair. "Daddy, when's Santa coming?"
John smiled at his daughter. "He's coming after you go to sleep," he informed her.
"I'm going to bed right now!" she said, bouncing over her chair and kissing her father before running out the door and up the stairs.
John looked after her in shock. "That's a new one," he said, surprised.
Clark smiled. "But how long until she actually goes to sleep?" he asked.
John smiled. "You'd be surprised," he said as he slowly pulled himself out of his chair, "I bet you another cup of hot chocolate that she'll be asleep by the time I get upstairs."
Clark stood as well. "I'll take that bet," he said, "but you realize I'll have to come upstairs with you to verify that you're telling the truth." He reached out an arm to John, who grabbed it, grateful to have an excuse to accept help that didn't violate his sense of self-sufficiency. He started a bit, however, when he found himself hovering a few inches off the floor. He looked at Superman, who was smiling. "Why walk when you can fly?" he said, before pulling him towards the front of the house and up the stairs to where Kayleigh already lay peacefully asleep, Penguin tucked securely under her arm. John limped into the room and tucked her comforter around her, pressing a kiss to her forehead and whispering a Merry Christmas. Kayleigh barely stirred, already fast asleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in her head.
The two men returned to the kitchen, John sitting himself at the table, and Clark making the promised cup of hot chocolate (he had lost the bet after all). There was a moment of silence before John looked up. "So you're really Clark Kent," he said.
Clark jumped reflexively before remembering their conversation earlier that day. He turned around with the cups of hot chocolate, smiling sheepishly. "Yes," he replied.
John smiled, "Given that we've established that fact, would you be more comfortable changed? Not that I don't admire the costume, but it can't be extremely comfortable."
Clark smiled sadly. "My mother didn't make it to be comfortable. She told me that she made it tight so no one would be looking at my face and uncomfortable so that I would never forget that this wasn't who I really am."
"Well if you do want to change, I left some clothes that should fit upstairs on the guest room bed."
Clark nodded gratefully before speeding upstairs, c hanging, and returning in less than five seconds, this time comfortably attired in jeans and a worn US Army t-shirt. In neither his glasses and baggy suits nor his Superman suit, he looked more like the true Clark Kent than he had anywhere outside of his mother's for almost a decade.
"So will you be spending Christmas with your mother?" John asked once Clark had sat himself back at the table. He had thousands of questions about Clark's double life and about Superman, but was perceptive enough to realize that Clark would prefer not to answer them all at once. He would have not have gone to such lengths to keep his two lives separate if he wanted to always be seen as Superman all the time. On Christmas at least, he deserved to be Clark Kent.
Clark looked at John sadly. "She passed away about a month ago."
"And your father?"
"Several years ago," Clark replied.
"So what are you doing for Christmas?" John asked.
Clark only shrugged.
"Then it's decided," John said. "You're staying here."
Clark moved to protest but didn't get it out before he was interrupted by John. "The doctors said that if you hadn't gotten me to the base as fast as you did, I probably would have died and certainly wouldn't have made it home for Christmas. You brought me home for Christmas. Let us help you. The guest room is made up and you can celebrate with us tomorrow."
Clark was still hesitant.
"Look on it as helping me," John said, "I'm hosting the family get together tomorrow. It's my year, but I could use a hand. I'm not exactly in peak fitness here."
Clark couldn't help but say yes. No one ever wants to spend Christmas alone.
The next day, Clark and the Hayes family spent the morning around the Christmas tree. The best thing about being Superman was his ability to travel around the world quickly, an ability that Clark had made use of the night before in order to add a few presents of his own for Kayleigh (as well as a very nice bottle of cognac, as a thank you/Christmas gift for John). That evening, they celebrated with John and Kayleigh's family, including John's sister, who was very interested in Clark Kent. (Clark's reciprocal interest is a story for another time.)
It was a wonderful Christmas. But that didn't stop Clark from dreaming of Christmases past with his mother and father, the smell of Mom's apple pie as they gathered around the Christmas tree.
In another house on the base, a wife dreamed of a Christmas with a husband who would never return from a land on the other side of the world.
Across the country, a little girl dreamed of a Christmas with her whole family, including the mother who fought for her country far from home on this Christmas day.
And her mother dreamed of being at home with her little girl, sitting around the Christmas tree and singing carols together.
I'll Be Home for Christmas, if only in my Dreams
For those who are home for this Christmas
For those who return battered and bruised
For those who celebrate far away
And for those who will never return, but will always be in our hearts.