The Daily Planet Christmas party was one of those events, the legend of which both preceded and exceeded it. All throughout the month of December, tales were told of Christmas parties past – Lois and Richard getting engaged, the spiked punch from seven years ago, the two interns who’d gotten into a brawl in the parking garage, Loueen ambushing Perry under the mistletoe, and the time the power had failed and the party was held by the light of thirty laptop computers.
This year was shaping up to be very interesting. Lois found Loueen by the punch bowl, looking annoyed. “What’s wrong with you, Ms. Former Secretary?” the reporter asked. “Is the old man refusing to take his blood pressure meds?”
“No, I’ve got some miserably persistent stomach flu,” Loueen groused. “I’m trying to decide if the punch is good enough to drink now, knowing I’m gonna be sick off it later.”
“Then why are you here?” Lois asked, pouring herself a glass of punch. One sip told her that it was heavily spiked; thankfully, she had taken a cab to the party, intending to drink if she felt like it and demand a flight home. “And no, it’s not worth it.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Loueen sighed. “As for the virus, I’ve gotten over the worst symptoms. Now it’s just the nausea. I’m living on water and club crackers.”
“Great. The diet of fashion models. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing your germs.”
“Seriously, though, the rest of the symptoms all went away about a week ago. Just the damn stomach, now.” Loueen shook her head, eyeing the punch ruefully.
“Your immune system must be shot,” Lois told her. “Get some vitamin C.”
“From what, orange juice?” Loueen snarked.
“Pills, you twit,” Lois growled. “Either that, or stay away from Perry. God knows the two of you are enough to make everyone else nauseous.”
“Shut up, Lois,” Loueen sighed. Then she smirked; just because she wasn’t in the office as often since she’d married the boss didn’t mean she had to give up harassing her rival for the Official Office Hot Chick title. “You’re just jealous. I keep telling you, age means experience.”
“No, trust me, I’m not.” Lois smirked, remembering that week in Kal-El’s apartment. Anything that ends with having to replace a ripped mattress has got to be good.
“Speaking of that, you can tell me the truth.” Loueen crossed her arms and stared at Lois intently. “What’s up with you and Kent? All I’ve heard for years is how he’s your best friend, big teddy bear, no possible spark of romance. And now all of a sudden, you’re smooching him in the office and telling everyone the kids are his. And my nephew believes this bull, too. What the hell, Lois?”
The raven-haired reporter rolled her eyes and heaved a sigh. “So I finally admitted I like the good guys. How come everyone acts like this is breaking some cardinal rule?”
Her friend gave her an incredulous look and dropped her voice. “Hello? There’s only one good guy I’ve ever seen you go for, and he wears a cape. To be honest, a lot of people thought he was the twins’ father, me and Perry included. And not that long ago, you were fishing his spandex-clad behind out of the ocean. So what gives?”
Lois blinked in shock. She’d never realized that Perry suspected the twins were Kal-El’s. He had seemed to accept the story she’d spun… How many others had nodded politely and let her believe she’d convinced them? She stammered a bit as she replied, “Jeez, Loueen, I know you can both count! On top of that, he’s not from this planet – what would make you think that’d be possible? And trust me, I know exactly who their father is. I just didn’t want anyone to know… I mean, Clark? Who would’ve believed me? Even though they both look like him.”
“Yeah, well, we both believe you now,” Loueen said. “The whole one-weekend-stand story was way out of character for you. Not that you wouldn’t give some randomly-chosen stranger the night of his life in revenge for the guy who screwed you over – I can definitely see you doing that – but that you’d let yourself get pregnant and then keep the kids.”
“That’s kinda harsh,” Lois told her, crossing her arms. Thankfully no one else was in earshot.
“You can be pretty damn harsh when you want to,” Loueen pointed out. “Nah, the old goat and I always knew the kids’ father had to be someone you cared about. And there’s no one on this planet you love more than Clark. Sure, you were obsessed with Superman, but Kent’s your best pal, and as much as you’ve picked on him, you never let anyone else say one wrong word to him. It makes perfect sense to me.”
Lois just shook her head slightly. “Yes, well…” Before she could finish her sentence, she caught sight of a very familiar blonde head moving through the crowd. “Dear God, I thought my sister would stay home. We’ll be lucky if she doesn’t drop this kid right here.”
“If she does go into labor, she’s just buying in to the family tradition of office drama,” Loueen taunted.
“False labor,” Lois corrected. She decided to make that her parting shot before moving off to intercept Lucy.
Her sister greeted her with the usual hug and dazzling smile. “Don’t squeeze too hard, I’ll pop like a tick,” she said cheerfully.
“I believe it,” Lois replied, stepping back to look at her. “What’ve you got in there, quadruplets? Or is it one kid and all the toys she’ll need for the first year?”
“You’re never gonna forgive me for that ‘twins and a swingset’ remark, are you?” Lucy asked genially. “No, this is one little girl – and probably a typewriter. None of the other three are showing any kind of journalistic bent, so Ron’s been whispering to her that she wants to grow up to be a reporter like Daddy. He wants at least one to follow in his footsteps.”
“Is that why you had a fourth? I thought you were going to stop at three.” Lois flinched a little, wondering if the question was a little too abrupt – she’d been making snappy comebacks with Loueen, and she’d spoken as the words had occurred to her without thinking of how Lucy would take the comment.
Luckily, Lucy laughed. “No, she was a surprise. I’m thinking of taking a page out of my big sister’s book and having a tubal ligation afterward, though. Ron and I are entirely too fertile.”
“Yeah, well, you two are doing your part to make the next generation gorgeous,” Lois replied with a grin. “I thought I had the monopoly on pretty kids, but yours are lovely, too. Must be a Lane thing.”
“Well, you were always the stunning one when we were kids, so it’s only fair that my children are striking. Not that the twins aren’t totally adorable – that’s one title I’ll share with you.” Lucy was sipping nonalcoholic punch, and she glanced at Lois’ glass knowingly. “Drinking the high octane stuff, I see? Is Clark driving you home?”
“If he’s lucky,” Lois replied archly.
A familiar voice spoke at her elbow just then. “All three of us wore black? That’s it, we have to start planning these things.” The Lane girls turned to see Lana looking at them in amusement.
“First official meeting of the Matching Monograms Club is in session,” Lucy said. “And I want it noted that of all of us, I have the best reason for wearing black. It’s slimming, and my dear sister keeps telling me I look like the broad side of a barn.”
“Yes, well, black always looks good on a redhead,” Lana told her with a small grin. “Lois, what’s your excuse?”
“I’m in mourning for my sanity,” the reporter deadpanned, making the other two chuckle.
“You’re late,” Lucy said. “You’ve been crazy as long as I’ve known you.”
“Yeah, but getting roped into hosting the Lane Family Christmas is a special kind of madness,” Lois retorted. “I can’t believe you and Mom shanghaied me into it. Speaking of which, did you find those videos?”
“I dropped them off with Mom,” Lucy replied. “Besides, if I had a house the size of yours, I wouldn’t mind hosting every family gathering.” She shrugged and added for Lana’s benefit, “We’re working on it.”
“And if you had a kitchen like mine, you’d probably open a catering business from home,” Lois said quickly, leading her sister off that topic slightly. “You know, Lana, if you can talk Richard into it, the two of you would be more than welcome to help me deal with my mad family. Plus Ben, Martha, and that godforsaken beagle.”
“You know I would, but he promised his father.” Lana shrugged, and then Lois saw her gaze track sideways, eyebrows going up. “Hmm. Well, I must say getting involved with you has been very good for Clark’s wardrobe.”
Lucy and Lois turned to see Clark walking in the door in a new charcoal-gray suit. For once in his life, the cut was flattering, and the Matching Monograms Club grinned in unison as he greeted Ron and Richard. “You know, we have some seriously good taste in men,” Lucy opined.
“Amen to that,” Lana replied, winking at Lois.
Lois smirked at both of them, whispering, “Just remember he’s mine, cheerleader,” as she headed over to Clark. Greeting both Ron and Richard, she stood on tiptoe to kiss Clark’s cheek. “Hello, handsome. Fancy meeting you here.”
Richard rolled his eyes. “Good Lord. C’mon, Ron, let’s go find our girls before these two give us sugar-shock. Clark, I don’t know what you drugged her with, but Lois has been positively cute ever since she got back with you.”
“Yeah, I’d like to see you call me cute when I scoop your stories,” Lois snapped affectionately. “Remember I can still out-drink and out-cuss you, Richard White.”
“Oh, I’ve been cussed out by you,” Richard replied, elbowing her shoulder lightly. “Not an experience anyone would forget. I’ll grant you that, Lois. Clark, have fun.” With that he and Ron left them, and Clark eased Lois away from the crowd to talk to her.
“You’re late,” she said, and added in a whisper, “Trouble?”
“Nothing major,” he replied in the same low tone. A little louder, Clark said, “I got tied up in traffic. Did I miss anything?”
“Nope. Don’t drink the punch, it’s lethal.” Lois linked her arm through his, aware of all the eyes in the crowd on them. She’d thought it would be a bit strange to be affectionate with Clark in public, but it actually felt oddly normal.
They circulated around the party, letting everyone see them together as yet more proof that the unthinkable had happened – Kent really had gotten the girl. Lois finally talked him into dancing with her when a slow song was playing, and though Clark had to step on her toes once to stay in character, this was the improved version of their waltz at the Pulitzers. “Maybe I ought to go request Heart and Soul,” Lois teased him gently.
Clark smiled down at her, and then his expression became suddenly distant and distracted. “Lois … I’ve got to go,” he whispered.
She groaned, dropping her head onto his chest. Even disappointed, her mind was racing, and she murmured very softly, “Take your cell phone out and look at it so people think you got called. I’ll cover for you.”
“Lois,” he sighed, kissing her forehead as he obediently took the phone and glanced at its screen. Louder, he added, “Ma says the kids are refusing to go to bed – want me to handle it?”
“Please,” she replied, proud of him for improvising on short notice, and then amused at herself. He ought to be good at inventing abrupt exits by now… “Hurry back, though?”
“Soon as I can,” Clark promised, kissing her, and then he was gone.
Lois heaved a sigh, trying very hard not to be angry. She’d known things like this would happen, and she’d also known she would find it very upsetting. This is what you get for falling in love with Superman, she told herself sternly. The memory of his arms around her, that amazing smile, the warm look in those sapphire eyes, all of those things were worth inconveniences like this, however. Lois left the space cleared for a dance floor and readied herself for the first round of making excuses and waiting for news.
The first, but not the last.
Goodbyes were never easy, but Jason and Kala were relatively comfortable with letting Richard go to Florida for Christmas. He’d already left once and come back as promised, much sooner than expected, so though they were sad to see him leave they were also confident in his return. That confidence didn’t make the parting any happier, however.
The morning they left, Richard and Lana went by the Riverside house for one last visit – and because the seaplane was docked there.
Lana dropped to one knee and hugged both twins tight. “You two be good while we’re gone, all right? Listen to your mom.”
“Yes, ma’am,” they chorused, Kala adding, “Are you gonna bring us back presents from Florida?”
The redhead crossed her arms and gave Kala a serious look. “Is that why you’re always so happy to see me, hmm? I buy you things?”
“Nuh-uh!” Kala said, looking hurt. “I like you!”
“Me too!” Jason added.
“Good,” Lana said. “Just so you remember that presents are a gift, and it’s not fair to expect people to get you something every time they go away. You two are not spoiled little brats, and I refuse to start spoiling you now.” Both children nodded, and she relented a little. “Besides, I bought your Christmas presents in Milan. That’s cooler than Florida because it’s in a whole other country.”
Identical beaming grins met her remark, and Jason and Kala both hugged her again. “Thank you, Miss Lana,” Kala said.
“You’re welcome, sweetheart,” Lana told her, rumpling her raven curls. “I love you both, you know that?”
“Love you, too,” Jason replied, and his sister echoed him.
Richard had been saying his own goodbyes: a firm handshake for Clark and a brief hug for Lois, smiling when she whispered that she would miss him. It wasn’t until he pulled back to see her face that he saw a tell-tale glisten in her eyes that confirmed that that was the honest truth. Hugging him tight once more, Lois saved face by dashing the tears that lurked before they pulled away to share a grin. Another secret safe.
He turned to Jason and Kala, dropping to his knees so they could both hug him, while Lana got up and gave Clark a hug. Neither Richard nor the twins were eager to let go, holding each other close while their wordless murmurs of affection were all that the others could hear. It was the first time in three years that they would be apart on Christmas, and if it was hard for Lois to be without him, it was worse on the twins.
That somehow left Lois and Lana facing each other. After a moment, the redhead simply hugged Lois, saying warmly, “Take care of yourself, all right? Try not to get into any trouble while I’m gone.”
Lois just chuckled, returning the hug easily. When they stepped back, she pointed at Clark with a grin. “Don’t worry, if I do get in trouble, I have him.”
Lana’s eyebrows rose, and she smiled mischievously. “Really? Lois, sometimes you have to rescue him. And once in a great while, you need someone ordinary and practical like me to help the both of you.”
“Yes, I remember who fished us out of the ocean and made sure I didn’t die of hypothermia,” Lois replied, but it was with honest gratitude, not the swift sarcasm Lana had expected. “And I wouldn’t call you ordinary, either. Tell you what – I’ll make you a deal, cheerleader. I’ll promise to be sane and cautious and reasonable while you’re in Florida, if you promise to go out and kick up your heels a little bit, okay? You can’t be rational and responsible and level-headed all the time.”
“I think I can manage that,” Lana replied with a grin. The laughter in her eyes faded, replaced by something serious and a trifle surprising. “Because I’ve just realized I’m going to miss you this Christmas. And Clark and the twins.” She paused while both women adjusted to that; neither of them tended to make friends this quickly. Lana had a great many friendly acquaintances, but few who were close to her heart, and most of Lois’ relationships with other women were adversarial, at least in the beginning.
“We’ll miss you, too,” Lois said. She jerked her head in Richard’s direction with a smirk. “And that son-of-a-gun over there who’s too cute for his own good and knows it, the pest. Bring him back in one piece, if you can. Death by nagging mom and yapping dogs isn’t the kind of obit he wants.”
“I will,” Lana said. Richard was still snuggling the twins, for once not reacting to Lois’ teasing as he kissed Jason on the forehead and whispered something that made the boy smile. Lana glanced at Clark speculatively, and asked Lois, “Christmas in Smallville next year?”
“Sure,” the reporter replied. “We’ll paint the town red.”
“Got to give the gossips something new every now and then,” Lana said, and then Richard let go of the kids reluctantly. She smiled affectionately at them and added, “Don’t let us rush you, darling. It’s not as if we have to check our bags.”
“Yeah, like I really want you and Lois trading quips all morning,” Richard said. “Sooner or later you’ll talk about me, and if you’re gonna do that I’d like it to at least be far enough away that I don’t have to hear you laughing.”
“Then don’t be such a joke,” Lois retorted instantly, and all of them laughed as they made their way out to the lawn and the dock beyond.
Lois had been insanely busy ever since the Christmas party, her schedule twice as hectic with the usual glut of holiday news and Perry’s continued demands of two editorials a week, especially now that she had garnered major attention not just with the Superman article, but when news broke of the return of her Pulitzer. Clark used that fact to his advantage, sneaking a few extra gifts for the twins into the house and getting some last-minute shopping done for Lois herself. There had to be gift boxes she could see to take her mind off the main present, which had never left his pocket since he purchased it. I’m basically terrified to let it out of my sight. It almost seems like it’s not real. I mean, Clark Kent proposing to Lois Lane? No one at the office would believe I have the guts. Although I’m sure one or two of them would believe that even Superman is nervous about asking Lois to marry him…
Thank God, with Lois, she’s getting the whole package and she knows it. It’s not just the dashing hero she loves, and I feel like a bit of a fool for never realizing how much she cared about Clark. He tucked the last of the twins’ gifts into the back of the highest shelf of the linen closet, and grinned to himself. That should just about do it. Now all I have to do is make it through this evening without letting her know what I plan to do ahead of time. This will not be easy.
Sighing, he paused to listen to Lois’ heartbeat; she was close to the house and her heart rate was picking up, which probably meant she was trying to slip in a last-minute gift of her own. Clark smirked in amusement, certain than nothing she had planned could top his little surprise, and trotted into the kitchen.
Kala and Jason were both standing atop chairs, ‘helping’ Ben mix cookie dough. Busying them with that task kept them from eyeing the other cookies cooling on racks atop the dining room table and from trying to snag a slice of the pumpkin bread or banana nut bread loaves currently occupying the counter. Martha watched them in amusement, stirring the large pot of beef bourguignon she had been slowly simmering for the past several hours.
“Ma, that smells incredible,” Clark said, coming up behind her to enjoy the aroma.
“I’m still not letting you taste it,” Martha teased gently, smiling up at him. She touched the tip of the wooden spoon she’d been stirring with and licked the drop of sauce off her fingertip, scowling. “Ben, honey, would you get me some of that black pepper? And Clark, if Lois has any, a splash of sherry would bring out the flavor.”
“I don’t know about sherry, but she might have something else,” Clark offered, moving toward the liquor cabinet.
Ben patted Jason’s shoulder and said, “Get down the baking powder and put this much in, all right, son? I’ll be right back.” He turned his back on the twins for only a moment while he took the black pepper to Martha. Jason reached into the cabinet in front of him and took down the box that said ‘Baking’ on the side, measuring out the proper amount and pouring it into the bowl proudly. Kala stuck her tongue out at him as he put the baking soda back. She wouldn’t let him see her making faces, not after having gotten flour all over her dress earlier when her brother shoved her shoulder.
Clark offered Martha the choice of eighteen-year-old single-malt scotch or twenty-year-old cognac. She sniffed both liquors before pronouncing the cognac the better match, and poured a small amount into the beef bourguignon. With a little black pepper stirred in, she tasted it again and pronounced it perfect.
“We did it,” Jason told Ben with a huge grin. “What’s next?”
“Let me see,” he said, reading the recipe. “Kala, sweetheart, take that flour sifter there – the thing with the screen on the bottom and the handle on the side – and hold it over the bowl…”
Clark’s cell phone rang, distracting him from his pleasant contemplation of his children’s culinary education. “Hello, Lois,” he said into the receiver.
“I’m just now about to turn into the driveway, thanks to the snow bank out on Holden Drive that no one seems to be too worried about. That idiot mayor of ours…” she said with a sigh. “And you’d think that people in Metropolis would know how to drive in this weather. It took me twice as long as usual to get through mid-town. And don’t peek in any packages I bring in, all right? None of it’s for you. I got started on your present a month ago and it’s safely packed away in a lead-lined box, Mr. X-Ray Eyes.” The smile in her voice was clear, that little hint of a juicy secret that was hers alone. Seemed he wasn’t the only one taking pains to hide a ‘perfect gift’. “I just had to find something for Ben and your mom. Anyway, come open the door for me, please? I’ve got to park in the freakin’ driveway until we get the garage door fixed and I’ll be a snow figure before I get in the door if I don’t get some help.”
“Gladly, love,” Clark said, aware that he was smiling at the sound of her voice in spite of her crabby tone. “Dinner’s almost ready. I’m getting the door now.” He hung up the phone and opened the front door just as Lois parked the Audi. The falling snow was already whitening her trench coat’s shoulder and her hat as she quickly popped the trunk to gather her purchases.
The reporter hurried to the door, cursing under her breath at the weather, the traffic, and the large packages she was carrying. Seeing how much she had, Clark was tempted to help her, but knew it would just irritate her at this point. It was easy to see from her expression that it had been a long day, as Thursdays usually were. As she would be out through Monday, she had been driving herself mad making sure that every article was prepared to go to press the next morning, as well as clearing her work schedule for the rest of the week. And knowing Lois, since Perry was still on his enforced five o’clock leave-time, she was the last one out of the building. He, with the rest of his department, had been gone by five; he had finally left after the third time she had told him to go home.
The moment she stepped inside, however, Lois froze, her eyes going wide.
First of all, it was warm, almost balmy compared to the frigid wind outside. Secondly, the entire house was permeated with good smells, and her mouth started to water with anticipation. “Wow,” Lois said softly, letting loose a long and exhausted sigh. “My God, I’m hungry! I mean, I’m two hours late getting home and all, but…”
Clark chuckled, taking the packages from her and setting them on the table, and then started helping her out of her coat. “It’s the cold,” he said absently. “Dinner will warm you up. Not as well as I could, but…”
Lois gave him a tired smile as she tossed her hat onto the coat rack. “Hugging me would help,” she said, giving her head a brisk shake to dislodge the snow caught in the ends of her raven curls before holding her arms out. He laughed softly, pulling her into his embrace and letting his warmth soak into her. With another sigh, this one of contentment, Lois rested her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes, making herself forget about everything except this, the holiday, and the absolutely luscious smell coming from the vicinity of her usually-empty kitchen.
“Mommy’s home!” Kala called, sounding a little affronted. She’d been told not to eavesdrop while Ben was around, and she had been so preoccupied with cookies that she’d just then heard Lois.
The next thing Lois heard was the thumping of little feet – whoever thought children pitter-pattered had never heard her twins on a wood floor. The reporter had no time to pull back from Clark, so Kala and Jason just hugged them both. “No peeking in the bags,” Lois said quickly, raising the bags above their heads.
“Mommy, is Santa really comin’ tonight?” Jason asked, clinging to her knee.
“Yes, sweetie,” she replied, hearing Clark chuckle and wondering how many times he’d been asked that. “So you two have to be on your very best behavior. Not only is it Christmas Eve, but we have company.”
“They have been very good,” Clark reported. “They’ve even been helping Ben and Ma bake.”
“Huh. Maybe they inherited my only culinary skill,” she quipped. “Hey, darlings, let Mommy put the shopping down, okay? Then I’ll have hugs for both of you.”
They finally did, and she managed to escape to the master bedroom while Martha enlisted the twins to set the table. Lois reached into the smallest bag with a fond smile and drew out Clark’s main gift. She’d mostly gone shopping for Ben and Martha today, but this present was finally ready just in time and she’d had to pick it up. Looking down at the professionally-mastered DVD in her hands, Lois sighed and thought, God, I hope he likes this. I hope it means as much to him as I think it will…
Downstairs, Kala looked up at her father and whispered, “Didja ask her yet?”
“Not yet,” Clark murmured in reply. “Later tonight. Don’t give her any hints, okay?”
“We won’t,” Jason whispered, giggling. “I just wanna see Mommy’s face when she sees her present.”
Dinner that evening was a success, right up until dessert. Nothing would satisfy the twins except that Daddy should try the cookies they baked, and Clark bit into one expecting his mother’s delicious chocolate-chip recipe. He paused, a faraway look on his face, and then quickly ate the rest of that first cookie as Kala and Jason stared up at him. “Wow, you guys,” he said. “Those are so good, we’re gonna save the whole batch for Santa.”
The twins were ecstatic, and only Lois saw the look on Clark’s face the moment they were distracted. She couldn’t help chuckling, but none of the adults could even begin to discuss what had gone wrong in the baking. Not with Kala’s hearing, and not considering that this was the first batch of cookies the twins had made all by themselves. “I’m sorry,” Ben managed to whisper to Clark.
“It’s all right,” he replied, rubbing his belly with a wince. Thankfully I have a stomach of steel, too, or I’d probably be sick right now. Tastes like baking soda.
Several hours later, the twins were in bed (having asked their father again when he planned to propose), and their presents were set up in the living room after a last-minute rush to put their bicycles together. Now Kal-El’s heart was racing. He’d lured Lois outside with a spurious story about some gift he’d forgotten; it hadn’t been easy to keep up the ruse in the face of her clear reluctance and even clearer annoyance with him. Now she was going to the car, and he stopped her by calling her name.
But not in the nervous voice she associated with Clark; not even in the mellow tone he used when it was just them. Now he called her in that deeper, richer timbre, the one he only used when he wore this suit, and Kal-El was gratified by the startled look on her face when she whirled around. “As fast as you drive, I can fly faster. Come here, love.”
Her expression flowed from surprise to sardonic amusement, one fine dark brow rising as she came toward him. “And you’re going to go shopping in the uniform?” Lois asked lightly.
Kal-El smiled at her; he could hear the quickening of her heart when she’d seen him, and he knew how much the sight of him in uniform still affected her. It’s one thing to know the man you love is a superhero, and another to be reminded of it. I guess even the imperturbable Lois Lane can be impressed. Wrapping his cape around her, he replied teasingly, “Who said we were going shopping?”
“But you said…” Her outraged expression was adorable, and he couldn’t help chuckling fondly at her. Lois just glared at him even as she cuddled closer to his warm body. “Fine. Where are we going to pick up this present you forgot, wise guy?”
Snow was drifting down onto her hair; she’d forgotten a hat. Kal-El kissed her forehead and murmured, “You’ll see.” He was holding her so close that Lois seemed not to notice the fact that they were already rising, and he kept their ascent gentle so she wouldn’t feel it.
“Okay, be cute, keep secrets…” Lois said, trying to sound annoyed and failing while she was in his arms. She moved as if to step away, and realized for the first time that her feet were no longer touching the ground. Kal-El chuckled again as she gasped and clung to him, her lovely hazel eyes going wide as she stared down at the house below them. “Very funny,” Lois muttered, and he felt her forcing herself to relax. “What next, you pretend to drop me as an excuse to hold me tighter?”
Now he spun them in a gentle spiral, smirking. This familiar banter was easing the knot of tension in his belly, and he actually managed to stop thinking about what he planned to ask her. “Do I need an excuse?” Kal-El whispered, giving her a knowing, wicked smile.
Lois’ eyes widened; she always got flustered when he flirted while in uniform, and it always amused him. But she could no more admit to that wide-eyed romantic silliness than she could miss a deadline, so Lois swatted his shoulder and growled, “You’re just determined to be a wiseacre tonight, aren’t you?”
He could hear the hint of strain in her voice as she tried to sound irritable, and Kal-El relented, kissing her forehead. “Love you, too, honey.”
She huffed at the nickname, but rested her head against his chest, and Kal-El sighed in pure contentment. They rose into colder, purer air that offered an astounding view. Beneath their feet were the snow-laden clouds, smoothed into fantastic shapes by the wind. Above them, seemingly just out of reach, was the inky night sky, spangled with a million stars. Everything else had vanished, seeming to leave the two of them alone with each other at last. Lois looked at the secluded beauty around her and gasped in amazement, her breath frosting.
Kal-El had spent the last week worrying and planning and fretting over how to propose. It had to be romantic, but not so much that Lois started to feel as if she was being patronized. The proposal had to be unique, had to refer to the history between them, and had to encompass all of who he was. At last, he’d decided to bring her up here. No other man on earth could carry her in his arms to these heights. No one else could look into those beautiful hazel eyes and see only starlight reflected in them.
Starlight, and a sense of awe that few would believe of the cynical reporter. “My God,” Lois whispered, still peering around her. It was very cold, though, and she tucked her forehead under his chin, huddling close to his warmth. “It’s so beautiful.”
“This is my gift to you,” Kal-El told her, and he spoke in the smooth, slightly formal cadences she had once heard him use in the Fortress, speaking to his father. “The custom of this planet is for a man to give diamonds to a woman he loves. But you, my love, have never liked those stones. I give you the stars instead, whose fire burns like your spirit, shining across miles and years, and whose beauty comes close to your own.”
He smiled as she looked up at him, her expression softening as she returned the smile. “Since when are you poetic, hmm?” Lois asked mischievously.
“Since you inspired me to be,” Kal-El replied, perfectly honest.
That made Lois smile even more. “I love you,” she murmured, hugging him tightly and leaning her head against his chest again.
“I love you, too,” he replied, and for a long moment they hung there in silence, sharing warmth and beauty and an embrace that seemed meant to be. Kal-El wondered what Lois was thinking. Did she know he’d brought her up here for something more than stargazing? Or was she so caught up in the moment that her keen journalistic mind had finally stopped racing, letting her simply enjoy the company and the wondrous sight?
“We can’t stay up here forever, looking at the stars together,” he murmured, kissing her hair again. “I want you to have something to remind you of my love when we come back down to earth. Because I always love you, no matter where we are or what I’m doing or who I have to be at the moment.”
Lois’ eyebrow rose, and he felt the warmth of her cheek even through his uniform – was she blushing? “What is with you tonight?” she asked with a breathless chuckle. “Not that you aren’t usually romantic. But tonight…”
She trailed off, and Kal-El took a deep breath. He hadn’t wanted her to guess what he had planned, but he hadn’t expected her to be quite so in the dark. Lois had no idea what he was about to ask, and there was no more time to plan and hope. This was the perfect moment, now or never, the most frightening thing he’d ever done in his life… “Lois Lane, will you marry me?”
That dark hair flew as she whipped her head up, staring at him wide-eyed. Lois, who made her living with words, was shocked speechless by that softly-spoken question.
Kala breathed shallowly, her eyes squeezed shut, and all of her mind and will focused above her. Far above her, further away than she’d ever tried to hear before, but she could stick pick out her parents’ familiar voices from all of the other sounds around her.
The most distracting sound was Jason’s quick heartbeat and noisy breath. At least he’d stopped fidgeting – the soft thumps from his heels against the side of the bed sounded like a giant’s footfalls to her when she was straining her hearing this much.
The wait was suddenly too much to Jason. “What’re they sayin’?” he whispered urgently.
“Shut up! I can’t hear ‘em!” Kala hissed angrily. Boys were so stupid… She redoubled her concentration on her parents. Distantly, she hoped that after this she’d be able to tune out everything she was hearing. And then she heard her father’s voice, rich and clear. “He just asked her!” she whispered excitedly, holding her breath as she listened for her mother’s answer.
Lois stared at him for so long that Kal-El began to worry again. He knew how she felt about marriage; it was foolish to even ask. Now he’d put her in the position of having to say yes and hope to prolong the engagement indefinitely, or having to refuse him…
She started to tremble, and when she spoke her voice was shaky. “Kal-El, if … if this is about the twins… I… You don’t…”
He blinked, seeing the panicked look in her eyes. That wasn’t ‘no’; it sounded more like ‘please tell me this is real’. Or even ‘please tell me you’re not just trying to make an honest woman of me’. Before she could stammer out anything else, Kal-El said, “Lois. This is not about the twins. This is about you and me. I’ve always loved you, and I meant to ask you this a long time ago. That night in the Fortress, as a matter of fact.”
Lois actually blushed slightly. “Kal-El…”
Silencing her with a gentle kiss, he continued, “I’m not asking because of our children, or to make our mothers happy, or anything like that. I’m asking you to marry me because I love you, I want to be with you forever, and I want everyone else to know it, too.”
Her eyes had gone so wide with shock and wonder that she looked almost frightened, peering up at him. But Lois still didn’t answer, just bit her lip as she looked searchingly into his face. “Lois?” he asked, hoping for an answer to the proposal.
“Tell me we’re awake?” she whispered. Starlight glittered on the tears swimming in her eyes. But not tears of sorrow.
Kal-El chuckled and kissed her again. This was the side of his beloved that almost no one ever saw – Lois unsure of herself, afraid to trust in what appeared to be a dream come true. All too often, her dreams had turned into nightmares. “Lois… Yes, you’re awake. This is real. I want you to marry me – I’ve wanted that for years. Will you?”
With that, he brought out the ring, deftly opening the little black velvet box. That seemed to be enough to convince her of the reality of what was happening. Lois’ hand flew to her mouth, stifling a gasp as the large emerald reflected the starry sky above them. The two diamonds on each side, and the diamond chips surrounding the main stones, sparkled even in the faint light, all of it supported by the elegant Victorian scrollwork setting.
Lois’ hazel eyes flicked back and forth between the emerald and his face, her expression still overwhelmed. She looked as if she was fighting her emotions, trying not to burst into beleaguered tears. Finally she closed her eyes, taking a deep breath to compose herself, and gave a small nod of her head.
“Is that a yes?” Kal-El asked gently. He’d never seen Lois this uncertain of anything; she was clearly torn between wanting to say yes and the fear that fate would never let her have this.
She blinked up at him, biting her lip, and then broke into a smile. Lois chuckled, some of her usual certainty coming back into her expression even as a tear ran down her cheek. “Yes,” she whispered, and sniffled as she flung her arms around his neck. “Yes, I’ll marry you. Yes. Oh my God…”
He kissed her hair, hugging her tightly with one arm around her waist. The other hand was still holding the ring. For several long moments they simply hovered there in each other’s arms. Every time Lois tried to pull back and look at him, she would start laughing, and Kal-El couldn’t stop chuckling at the way Lois blushed when she looked at him. Finally, still avoiding his eyes, she took the ring gently out of the box and met his gaze at last despite her uncertainty. Slowly, she slipped the emerald ring on her finger even as her cheeks blazed.
“I love you,” he murmured, and his warm smile made her blush even more. “And you said yes. I hope you realize you won’t be able to get out of this now. We will get married.”
“Unless you decide to leave the planet,” Lois muttered, hiding her face. “You made your point – no more terminal engagements.”
“I have no reason to leave again,” Kal-El told her. “Everything I ever wanted, everything I need, is here.”
“Hopeless romantic,” Lois teased, smirking up at him.
“It takes one to know one,” he replied, and kissed her again.
Lois sighed in contentment. “Besides, this was the right way to ask me. You gave me time to answer – no pressure, no guilt, no cheering witnesses. This was just between you and me, as it should be.”
“No witnesses?” Kal-El chuckled. “Lois, we’re directly over the house. And the kids are still awake – although if they’re still awake when Santa comes by, he won’t leave them any presents.” He smiled slightly, and whispered to Lois, “They’re scrambling into bed now.”
Lois was still staring in shock. “The twins know?”
He grinned mischievously. “They helped me pick the ring. Over a week ago, as a matter of fact.”
“I’d accuse you of making my kids devious, but they kept both of us from finding out for a month that they knew you were their father and knew you were Superman.” Lois tried to look cross, but she was far too delighted, the corners of her mouth curving up.
“They must get that from both of us,” Kal-El replied. As he spoke, he began flying again, leveling them both out as they moved through the cold air.
“And where exactly are you taking me in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve?” Lois asked archly, cuddling close to his warm side.
“I have one more present for you.” He smiled again, his sapphire eyes twinkling.
“Do I get a hint?”
His expression was positively wicked now. “This gift is one you have to unwrap … well out of Kala’s hearing.”
Lois gasped when she caught his meaning. “I thought we were going to behave…”
Kal-El turned to look at her, his grin broadening. “This engagement calls for a celebration, don’t you think? Besides, I have something planned.”
“Good thing we got all the gifts wrapped, huh?” Lois replied, a fey gleam in her eyes.
“She said yes,” Kala told her brother. “Finally. First she had to say a lot of stuff about how she didn’t want him marryin’ her for us.”
“What does that mean?” Jason asked, his brow furrowed.
“I dunno,” Kala replied. “Grownups are weird.”
The twins thought about it in silence for a while, growing more and more sleepy. The excitement of Mommy and Daddy getting engaged was over for now, and the long, busy day was beginning to get the better of them.
“Where d’ya think Mommy and Daddy are going?” Kala finally asked, yawning.
“Gonna help Santa deliver presents,” Jason replied. “Duh. How could Santa get to every house in one night without Daddy?”
“Oh,” Kala said. “Guess that’s why they wanted us in bed.”
“Uh-huh.” Having expressed the utter surety of his belief, Jason rolled over and buried his head under his pillow. His voice was muffled as he said, “’Night, Kala.”
His sister was already mostly asleep, but she managed to murmur, “’Night, Jason.”