MERRY CHRISTMAS, ALL! Thank you so much for sticking by us the last few months while everything went completely crazy in our lives! It really means so much.

As of the first of the year, we plan to be back on schedule and hopefully full-steam-ahead on all projects. I can't wait to get back to ATU and to get rolling with the part of the 'verse that this one belongs to. It's been too long a time since I last got a chance to work with the LS crew. That time will shortly be over!

And to all of you out there, again, happiest of holidays, whichever it is that you celebrate!

[You can tell I have a cold if you read the original post! OMG, the typos! XD]

December in Metropolis was still a good month for tourism. The snow was still mostly pure white, and looked picturesque lining the boughs of trees and the architecture of buildings. The temperatures were cold, but not as severe as January or February. By then, the damp chill would infiltrate even the snuggest clothes, the snow would've turned to gray slush, and all the tourists would be in Florida instead.

But for now, Metropolis looked like a Christmas postcard, and Clark loved it. He was out shopping—and a few other things, like stopping a harried young woman from walking right out into the street while talking on her cell phone. All in the course of duty. While he shopped, he kept an ear tuned into the apartment.

Lois was trying to coordinate tomorrow's front page over the phone, wrap gifts, had made a pumpkin cheesecake and was now finishing up her yearly compliment of cookies, and with the addition of a three-year-old beagle who was still in her 'puppy phase' and showed no signs of leaving it before, say, seven or eight, that was a challenge even for the indomitable Lois Lane-Kent. Clark slightly suspected he might have to rescue his wife, the dog, or the baking before the afternoon was over. The paper, of course, he wouldn't dare interfere with.

As he stepped into his favorite jeweler's, the shop that had sold Jason and Kala the locket Lois still wore every day, Clark heard Lois swear abruptly. "Dammit! Sorry, Bill, not you—goddammit, Chewie, leave the wrapping paper alone, you little psycho! … Yeah, Bill, the puppy. Who else? So lead with—NO! Drop it! Good girl. Here's your toy, go destroy that. Good girl! … Anyway. Lead with the burglary above the fold, that nice shot of the busted front windows, and my byline above the fold if you know what's good for you. … Uh-huh, sounds good, now wrap it up so I can wrap—no, I don't need your help, you land shark!"

He couldn't help chuckling. Chewie was decidedly Lois' dog. Ben and Martha had wisely convinced Lois to take in the undersized, sickly runt while Lois was recovering from being shot. Some people might need rest and relaxation to heal, but Lois recuperated best if given a challenge to surmount. And Chewie was a challenge from moment one. She required constant attention and training, and Clark suspected she was just a little smarter than was good for her. Like Bagel before her, though, she was highly food-motivated, and when Lois was still banned from the workplace due to her injuries, she'd managed to train the puppy to do a variety of tricks. Including piddling on competitor's newspapers.

These days Chewie even came to work on a regular basis, the unofficial office mascot. When she'd been about a year and a half old, she'd gotten sick enough to require medication every four hours. Lois wouldn't hear of her being stuck in a small kennel at a vet's office, so she learned how to give the injections and kept the little dog in her office all day for a month. Now if she didn't show up at least once a week, the rest of the reporters moped.

Meanwhile Bagel—sometimes called Bagel the Brave, or even Bagel the Mighty, for her role in defending Jason from Luthor's spy—had slowed down a little. Now twelve, she preferred to be a lap dog, watching the crazy puppy antics from the safety of the sofa. She'd been the twins' dog, and now that they were mostly out of the house, she was Clark's. Until either twin came home, that was, in which case he found himself summarily and shamelessly abandoned by a beagle squealing with delight at the return of her true owners. Still, when they went to bed each night Bagel stretched out by his ankles, and Chewie curled up on the backs of Lois' knees, so at least each of them had their own pet-slash-legwarmer. Of course, there were times—quite frequent times—when they got kicked off the bed. The Lane-Kents had a few priorities higher than beagle comfort.

Knowing that Lois was thoroughly distracted by the antics of her very own therapy dog, Clark shook his head in amusement and returned his attention to his shopping. He was mostly down to stocking stuffers now, but in the last few years he'd gotten in the habit of giving very nice stocking stuffers. Like a pair of fire opal earrings for Lois, pearls for Lana, cufflinks for Richard and Ron, a ring for Ma, a bracelet for Lucy, a watch for Jason, and a cameo choker for Kala.

Having a little more disposable income was a very nice thing. Clark loved both twins with a fierce, intense love that rattled him to the core every time he really thought about it, but it was very nice to keep finding extra money in his checking account now that he wasn't paying for books and clothes and field trips. That, and the household grocery bill had dropped like a stone without two teenagers eating everything in sight. Although they still had to cope with leftovers randomly disappearing from the fridge in the middle of the night even when they had the house to themselves—Kala tended to use her flight to sneak away from her band gigs and drop by for a brief taste of home.

Both twins still kept their rooms in the apartment, though Kala was the only one really living there. Jason spent most of his time in the dorm at Johns Hopkins, but he still came home for holidays and whenever he could pry himself away from the wonders of astronomy. Until recently, Kala had been home most nights, but at the moment her band was part of a multi-band tour. Something they called Gothapalooza, which was far less pretentious than the actual name. It was just a group of unsigned bands hitting bars and clubs and small festivals. Kala was having fun, that was what was important.

Clark had wanted her to go to college, and her vocal instructors at Stalmaster had been pushing her to apply to Julliard. Kala had different plans. She wanted to try and make a go of the band she and Sebast had been singing with through their senior year of high school. The bassist from that band Kala had been obsessed with, the Flying Foxes, had split from the group, and he'd brought her and Sebast in when he formed Fungiferous Flora.

As he left the jewelry store and headed home, Clark shook his head, remembering how strongly he'd tried to dissuade his daughter. "College is the best choice," he'd told her. "Music is a fickle world, and your talent doesn't guarantee you success there. At least if you go to college first, you'll have the talent and the best training possible, and if the music career doesn't work out, you can always teach." What he hadn't said was that he didn't want to see her disappointed, chasing an impossible dream. Even a little research into the music industry told him it was full of heartbreak and burnout.

Kala, however, was too much his daughter and Lois' to abandon her dream. She'd looked him steadily in the eye and answered, "I know you're trying to protect me, Daddy. But I don't want to teach, and I don't want to sing on Broadway; I want to rock. Besides, goth rock is taking off now, and I want to be in the first big wave. We've got an angle no one else has, with the Latin demographic. And I've got an edge no one else has. Well, two, if you count the super-lungs." Her smile had almost broken his heart; it was so much Lois on a hot story that it hurt to see. She'd added, "I've also got the trust fund money to buy instruments and studio time, so I won't be releasing demo tapes recorded in a garage and I don't have to beg and scrape for the labels."

He'd scowled at that. Finding out, on the twins' eighteenth birthday, that Lana had set up trust funds in both of their names had been a surprise. Jason had immediately decided to use the interest to pay the portion of tuition his scholarship didn't cover, and Kala had gone haring off with plans to sing in every dive bar in Metropolis. "I don't want you draining that account," he'd told her severely.

Kala had chortled. "It's a trust, Daddy. I can't get at the principal, and I wouldn't want to anyway! I can use the interest to pay expenses, and I'm getting paid to sing already. I can work too, at least when I'm not singing."

It had startled him that she'd put that much planning into it, and then Kala had pitched the killer: "Besides, you act like you want me to move out or something." Said with the sad-eyed pout that Lois swore she'd learned from Clark himself, and which Clark insisted she'd picked up from Lois.

Thinking back to that moment, he missed her keenly. Even though she was nineteen now, in his mind's eye he always saw that bright-eyed six-year-old with pigtails and a goofy smile. And it was probably the six-year-old who'd convinced him to let her chase her dream for two years. If she wasn't supporting herself singing by the end of that time—and they were charging her rent, Lois had insisted—she'd go to college. Her SAT and ACT scores would still be valid, and her recommendations from her teachers at Stalmaster would help too.

Kala had been gone for the last month, and the house was strangely quiet. The last time Kala was out of the house longer than a week, it had been during the first year after Nevada, when things were still a little rocky. Lois and Kala both wanted to repair their relationship, but Clark had finally had to accept that two strong personalities needed an occasional vacation from each other. Kala had lived with Richard and Lana for six weeks once, and again for a month.

When she'd been out of the house then, they'd all missed her, Jason most of all. At the same time, it was good to be able to focus on one twin. Clark had never had long stretches of time with just one of his children; he'd leapt into fatherhood with a pair of six-year-old twins, and he'd always felt like he was playing catch-up as a dad.

With just Jason for a while in their junior year, he and Clark had had some long, serious talks together. About science, and being a hero, and about love, too. It had been good preparation for his trip to Gotham that summer, which had shaken Jason's faith in the world a little.

Clark glanced around, seeing bright Christmas lights everywhere. Metropolis was a city of light and hope, while Gotham was in many ways a city of shadows and grim realism. Jason had come home from his training with Bruce talking about Dick and Tim and how both of them were completely insane to swing around the rooftops like they did. Only when he and Clark were alone did he bring up the memorial case in the Batcave, and how hard it had hit him. "Somehow I never realized that we can die doing this," he'd said. "I mean, I'm in the cave looking at the computers and the robotic T-Rex and all the cool Bat-toys, and here I see this glass case with a uniform in it. I mean, Dad, his name was Jason." He'd shuddered to say it.

The eerie coincidence hadn't failed to impress Clark. When Jason Todd died, he'd kept an especially close eye on Bruce, knowing how he blamed himself and yet couldn't seem to let himself mourn. For almost a year, Clark had checked in on his own son's heartbeat at random intervals, haunted by the notion that he too could lose a child. All the platitudes about not living because you were too afraid to die didn't help. This was real, and he had no glib words of comfort for Jason.

In the end he'd put his hand on Jason's shoulder and simply said, "Some things are worth doing. There's something in us that calls us to do everything we can to help other people, and even though we risk our lives sometimes, to me it's worth the risk. Whether it's worth it to you is a choice you have to make yourself, but there's no shame in being afraid or in choosing the safer road. It isn't for me or anyone else to judge your decision." Jason had nodded, but even then Clark had known Jason wouldn't turn from the mission. It wasn't an obligation, it was a legacy that Jason had wanted to follow from the time he was old enough to really understand that his father was Superman.

Besides, Jason was a deliberate and serious young man, quite unlike Bruce's Jason, who had been a risk-taker, a firebrand. Clark could hope that his son's career as a hero would continue as smoothly as every other aspect of his life. So far he seemed to have everything mapped out. He was working steadily toward a degree that would let him work in a field he loved. He was making connections within the hero community, keeping up a regular correspondence with Tim Drake and having met several others.

Clark was amused to see that Jason had his love life planned out just as neatly as his education and career. He loved Elise, pure and simple, and no other girl could even get his attention. The fact that she was currently studying chemistry on the west coast didn't change things for Jason. He kept in touch, even if sometimes they could only exchange brief texts. She was the one for him, as Lois had been the one for Clark.

It was a relief to see Jason devoted to someone they all approved of, and even more a relief to see his patience in love. Clark wasn't as naïve as he seemed; he knew the twins were nineteen, and both of them had passed beyond the stage where kissing was the highlight of their relationships. Knowing that Jason wasn't in a rush, that he wouldn't make any reckless decisions, helped Clark deal with the differences between his teenage years and his children's.

Those reflections occupied his mind until he opened the front door of the apartment, whereupon the baying of two little hounds cut across his reverie. The entire house was redolent with delicious odors of baking; Lois had moved on to making her signature chocolate hazelnut cookies to give away to their friends. It took him briefly back to the first time he had smelled them, years ago, that last Christmas before he had gone away. The balcony doors had been open to the cool air and when he'd called out, she'd arrived in a green 'Bah Humbug' sweater with the sleeves pushed up and her hair pulled up.

The memory, having taken place at this very apartment, made him smile as he closed the door behind him. Lois would be furious if he reminded her of it. "Hello, girls! Calm down, it's me!" Clark laughed, as Bagel swarmed up his legs and Chewie bounced up and down, both of them yodeling excitedly.

"Why the hell did your stepfather have to be a beagle breeder?" she called from the dining room. "Why couldn't he have kept some nice, quiet, sane dogs? Like, I dunno, Rottweilers or wolfhounds or something?"

"These are nice dogs," Clark insisted, putting down his bags and picking up Bagel. The little hound rode comfortably in the crook of his arm, her tail lashing his back and her tongue licking toward his face, as he headed into the living room. Chewie kept bouncing beside him, still too excited for affection.

Lois scoffed. "Yeah, right. I swear Ben bred a hellhound or two into his lines. I can't believe I let him skunk me into—Chewie, leave it!"

The younger beagle had been circling them both in a state of gleeful excitement, and chose that moment to snatch at a loose piece of wrapping paper hanging off the edge of the dining room table. Unfortunately for her, that was the piece that Lois intended to fold over so she could wrap the box sitting atop it. When Chewie yanked it, the box and the entire roll of wrapping paper fell off the edge of the table, narrowly missing Chewie's head.

The thump as it landed startled Chewie enough that she fled up the hall with little chuffing barks under her breath. It spooked Bagel too, and she nearly managed to flip herself out of Clark's hands before he put her down. Lois raked both hands into her hair with an irritated sigh. "What the hell is wrong with these animals?"

"I guess the holidays make everyone a little crazy," Clark said, gathering her into his arms. No matter how aggravated or prickly Lois was at any given moment, she always relaxed into his embrace after a moment. Her next sigh was more release of tension than expression of annoyance, and Clark kissed her hair. "I love you."

"I love you too," Lois murmured, nuzzling against his shoulder. "How was shopping?"

"I finished buying for everyone but you," he said, smiling slightly. That might keep her from snooping through the gifts long enough for him to hide hers—in the Arctic. Only the Fortress was secure against Lois' present-seeking skills.

"Hmmph," she muttered, but didn't move away. "I'd be done wrapping if not for the wild pack of heathens underfoot."

"They're just trying to remind you why you're glad the kids aren't home yet," Clark teased, and felt her stiffen in his arms. Ah, just hit a nerve. "Lois?" he asked, nuzzling her hair gently.

She sighed heavily, curling even closer into his embrace. "It's just … this is the first year they haven't been underfoot the whole time leading up to Christmas. I know, I know—Jason will be here tomorrow, and Kala's flying in on Christmas Eve. It's just not the same."

"You're used to them trying to sneak peeks of presents and steal cookies off the counter," Clark said. "And they're always clingier around the holidays. I think they were always trying to make sure we noticed how well-behaved they were."

She laughed softly. "Oh yeah. Remember the look on Kala's face last year when I told her that her halo was hanging crooked on her horns?"

Clark chuckled too. He'd never seen his daughter's expression so perfectly balanced between outraged offense and hilarious amusement. She'd gone with the latter in the end, all of them laughing, and had even turned the joke around by hugging Lois and claiming she'd inherited that trait from her mother.

Lois turned serious again, pulling back just enough so she could look up at Clark. "It's not just that though. Not having either of them around this week is just a big fat reminder that pretty soon we won't have them around at all. Oh sure, they'll come visit, but they'll be moving out and moving on and…"

"And you've always hated the thought of seeing them leave," Clark murmured.

"I know they'll never leave for good. And I know they've got to grow up. But Clark … I spent almost twenty years guarding and guiding them. Almost half my life. Those first few years, when you were off-planet—and it's not your fault, I'll sock you one if you say it is," she glowered. When he held his tongue she continued in a more somber tone, "When it was just them and me, and they'd only go to sleep at night if I had them in bed with me, when I'd lie awake and feel them breathing in the dark beside me… I can't even explain it. I never expected to be a mom; I never expected to love them so much. They're a part of me, Clark. And now it's over, they're going to live their own lives, and it feels like … jeez, I sound like a cliché." She shook her head. "Mothers all over the world say the same thing every day, I'm sure. 'It feels like part of me got cut off and the wound's still bleeding.' So melodramatic. Doesn't make it any less true though."

"Just because you're not the only one to feel this way doesn't make it any less profound," Clark murmured. "Everyone who knows you knows how devoted you are to the twins. It's no surprise that watching them grow up is bittersweet at best."

Lois burrowed even closer into his embrace. "It's almost like I don't even know who I am anymore without them around," she whispered.

"You're Hurricane Lane," Clark told her, giving her a little squeeze.

"I'm fine at work," Lois said. "It's just being home—the apartment's so quiet. Well, at least when the damn dogs are asleep."

"Let's see," Clark mused, beginning to sway slightly to music Lois couldn't hear—four floors down, someone's radio was playing 'Merry Christmas, Darling'. Lois would hate the sappiness, Clark knew but the sentiment rang true. "You're still Kristin's Lolo, you're Lucy's big sister, you're Ron's favorite in-law, you're Richard's favorite prank, you're Lana's project, and you're the best friend of half a dozen brilliant, driven, courageous, competitive women…"

She started to smile halfway through the list, and Clark kissed her temple before adding, "And someday, you're going to be someone's grandma."

"Argh! Dammit!" Lois swatted him furiously, her nose wrinkled. "No! The grandkids—when they finally get here, and none too soon regardless of what Jason thinks, thank you very much—can call me Lolo. I am nobody's gramma! You wanna be Grampa Clark, you go on with your bad Smallville self, but I am not a gramma!"

"But being a grandparent is better than being a parent," Clark said. "You get to spoil them rotten and then send them home."

"Uh-huh, yeah," she said dubiously, giving him a narrow-eyed glare. "Why do I get this feeling you're going to be one of those ridiculous old men with the #1 Grampa t-shirts? Fine, keep it to yourself, but I still don't look old enough to let anyone call me Gramma."

He chuckled; at the moment they both looked a little too young for grandkids. But then, neither twin had plans to present them with a bundle of joy in the very near future. Jason had already decided how many kids he wanted and had tentatively picked out names, pending Elise's approval, but that was for later. After they were married, certainly, and marriage wasn't quite on the table yet. As for Kala, she still needed to get herself into a committed long-term relationship.

When he laughed was the moment when Lois realized what he was up to, and she gave him a look that was trying to be pouty, but only managed to be adorable. He'd just about succeeded in soothing her out of her funk, and now all he had to do was put the final polish on it.

Clark lifted her ever so gently, the pair of them spinning in midair. He added offhandedly, "Besides all that, I know precisely who you are: you're my wife. Or am I not enough for you?" His mournful pouty look was much more effective than hers.

"Oh, stop it," Lois muttered, smiling broadly. "You know damn well you're enough for me. Well, you and the paper."

"Lois, I've always known better than to get between you and your first love," Clark said, leaning in to rest his forehead against hers, their noses almost touching. "But you know what I mean. You and I have never really had any time together that was just us. We only got a few days together as a couple, and the next time we met we were already parents of six-year-olds. Ever since then it's always been the two of us as parents—even when we have the house to ourselves for a weekend, we know the whole time that we've only got a certain amount of time before the kids come home."

Her hazel eyes met his royal blue ones, both of their expressions full of complicated things. "I missed out on so much, Lois, all because of my own foolish mistakes. I miss not having been here for the twins' babyhood, but I also miss having time alone with you. Now, even though I'm going to miss both of our children dearly, I have to admit I'm a little excited to not have to share your time with anyone else."

"Sometimes you're too good to be true," Lois whispered. Her smile was sweet and almost tremulous, an expression that most people wouldn't have believed would fit on the face of Mad Dog Lane.

"No, this time I'm being selfish," Clark told her, echoing something she'd said to him, nearly the last thing she'd said before he'd erased her memories so many years ago. "And being jealous of my own kids trumps being jealous of the whole world."

Wicked good humor brightened her eyes. "Oh yeah? You're glad to finally have me all to yourself?"

"Oh yes," Clark laughed, sliding the hand on the small of her back a little further down. He lowered his voice, deepening its timbre to that rich tone she loved so much, and continued, "I can think of at least five things I'd like to do right now, things we couldn't do if the kids were home."

"Really?" Lois purred, standing on tiptoe to kiss him. "Only five?"

Clark laughed and swept her up into his arms. Fortunately for them both, the last batch of cookies had come out of the oven just before he got home, or they would've burned. As it was, Chewie and Bagel only managed to steal a cookie apiece while their owners were so thoroughly distracted.