Looking up to see Clark outside the Talon, Chloe marked down another check in her mental "paranormally aware of Clark Kent" column. He'd stopped next to the LuthorCorp Children's Fund Santa (whom she'd noted earlier was both too female and too lightly padded to make a really effective Kris Kringle) and seemed to be mining his pockets for something to dump into the donation bucket. Fat snowflakes caught in his dark hair and collected on his broad shoulders. Chloe groaned and had to look away when he leaned his head back to catch a snowflake on his tongue.
Summer was bad enough, with its shorts and no-shirts weather, but winter had its own special torments. Something about all the dark coats against crystalline white, thick homemade scarves, and northern winds whispering through all the contrasty goodness of unhatted hair, Chloe needed to talk herself down from random bursts of Bronte-esque pining on a regular basis since the first inch of snow had fallen and stuck.
Winter wasn't this mesmerizing in Metropolis. Sure, it was nice for the first five minutes or so, but then white turned to slush-grey, and everything just looked wet. The city shared none of Smallville's postcard pristinity and the guys never looked that blushed and perfect, either. Chloe shook it off before Clark made it inside. Summoning up a friendly smile, she cleared her binder off the adjacent stool to make a place for him to sit. "Have a nice talk with RuClaus out there?"
"Yeah, that was kinda weird," Clark said, settling in next to her. Glancing out the window, Clark swiped at the snow melting in his hair. "She was nice, though."
"I'm fairly certain that 'good with people' is a requirement for a public relations position like faux-Santa, even when said employee is working for LuthorCorp." Before she could follow that up with another snappy quip, a red-jacketed senior crossed into her line of sight. Grabbing up her binder, Chloe followed the senior with her eyes. "Oh, another one!"
Squinting, Clark shrugged out of his jacket and tried to follow her gaze. "Another one, what?"
The senior stopped at the foot of the stairs, and grinned before leaning in to steal a kiss from one of the waitresses. With a knowing hum, Chloe bobbed her head and drew an X on the graphed sheet in her binder. "Another unknowing participant in my first annual small town sociology experiment." She turned the binder so Clark could examine the contents. "The effects of viscum album on the mostly-normal small town citizen."
Clark scanned the sheet, then looked back over at the stairs with a smile. "Mistletoe?"
"Exactly. I'm graphing those affected by the mythological pull of what is essentially a parasite by age, gender, and approximate socioeconomic status." Shrugging, she spread the binder on her lap and leaned back on an elbow. "You wouldn't believe how many people will participate in compulsory affection just because a twig told them to. It's practically pathological."
His shoulders shaking with laughter, Clark shook his head. He looked good in the navy-dark coat; it made his eyes seem an especially bright green. "It's tradition."
With a flick of her wrist, Chloe pointed her pen at his nose, watching in delight when his eyes crossed a little to follow it. "Mrs. Fordman stopped by to pick up a pie and kissed Principal Reynolds. Total strangers with absolutely nothing in common, compelled to an unusual level of intimacy in public. That's not normal, Clark."
Propping both elbows on the counter, Clark thought that over for a moment, his strawberry mouth softening in contemplation, then he looked over with an explanation. "She could be lonely, and Principal Reynolds is kind of distinguished. Maybe she's seen him around town?"
"Okay, you could have a point," Chloe said. Leaning forward, she watched Henry Small stop under the mistletoe, peer over his glasses at it, then shake his head and continue on into the back. She marked him down as a 'seen but didn't react,' then tucked the pen behind her ear. "Explain Morgan and Felice, then." Clark grinned. "He's going to ask her to the winter formal."
"You don't have to believe me; ask Pete." Sneaking a sip of Chloe's coffee, he smiled over the rim of the cup. "He probably remembers the part about Morgan planning to take her to Hob's Pond afterwards verbatim."
Taking a deep breath, Chloe wrinkled her nose and leaned in to squint at Clark. The bow of his lip was still damp from the sip of coffee and, as fascinating as that little detail was, she managed to yank herself out of Wuthering Depths to say, "So all the rumors about testosterone-drenched locker room chatter were true?"
"No comment." Bouncing his heel against the stool leg, Clark tipped his head to one side and unfurled his fingers to point in the general direction of the mistletoe. A young couple walking together arm in arm, they were plainly looking for an excuse for a little PDA. "Incoming."
Chloe rolled her eyes. A couple was a slam dunk, and she quickly marked them down in the binder. Three hours with the mistletoe, and she already had more than enough material for her expose on holiday-induced insanity. Clicking the retractor on her pen, Chloe glanced up through her bangs. "So, your stance on the whole mistletoe phenomena is wish fulfillment?"
Clark stole another sip of her coffee. "Pretty much, yeah."
"Therefore, it's your opinion that anyone who kisses under the mistletoe has an ulterior motive."
Breaking into a broad smile, Clark nodded. "Yeah, basically."
"Huh." Chloe made a note of that in the margin of her graph, a slightly skeptical note threaded through her voice. She could feel him studying her profile, and she could make out his confused, puppy-dog expression from the corner of her eye. With another mental kick to remind herself not to go back to the Bronte-Sisters place in her head, she tucked the pen away and slid to her feet. "Interesting theory, but I have to disagree."
The coffee officially abandoned, Clark finished it off and slid the mug onto the counter as he stood up. "You can't prove I'm wrong."
With the binder clutched to her chest, Chloe crossed her arms over it and smirked. "Really? Okay then, explain the wish-fulfillment slash ulterior motive aspect as it regards one Lex Luthor and your mom."
The puppy-dog expression came back, Clark's brows tilted up at sharp angles, and his smile seemed pasted on. One wrong dimple-twitch, and his entire face might collapse. "Lex kissed my mom?"
"No, actually, your mom kissed Lex." A warm rush of victory washed over her, her cheeks stinging with high color. Clark was standing close enough that she could smell his skin, Ivory soap and a little bit of leather and hay, that faint hint of him was just enough to make her chest tighten. Still, she managed to recover nicely from her momentary Kent-induced intoxication to reassure him. "Not like that, Clark. It was just a little..." Rather than explain, Chloe reached out to touch his hand, a reflection of Martha's gesture, mirroring the slight lift onto her toes to mimic kissing his cheek.
If this were a movie, she mused, this is when Clark would suddenly open his eyes and confess his love, or possibly throw himself off a cliff... it all depended on the movie, really. Instead, Clark seemed relieved that his best friend wasn't trying to make a move on his mother and he smiled his prettiest, most oblivious smile. "My mom loves Christmas. And she likes Lex, even though it drives my dad nuts. Not exactly wish-fulfillment but, like you said. Ulterior motives."
"Yeah. Exactly like I said," Chloe sighed, and turned to pick up her coat. Fairly certain that she could strip down to her skin and stand in the middle of Main Street and all Clark would do was comment on the weather, she declared herself officially done with sociology and ready for an extended vacation in the gothic classics. When she turned to pick up her purse, she found herself face to face with red flannel and imitation tortoiseshell buttons. Starting to step back, she blinked, eyes wide, then made a muffled startled sound when warm coffee lips pressed against hers.
And that was better than nice--in fact, that was pretty fantastic, because she hadn't been expecting it, and he didn't pull away immediately, giving her shock a chance to wear off so she would actually be able to remember the plush pull of his lips against hers. All his earthen leather scent and strong hands on her arms surrounded her, and for a brief moment she felt pretty and perfect and kind of seasons-greetingsy all over. When he drew back, she meant to say thank you, or happy Chanukah, or wheeee, but what actually came out was, "What was that?"
Zipping his coat back up, Clark shrugged and shuffled back a few steps. "Whatever it was, it wasn't the mistletoe." Dropping his head a little, he peered shyly through his dark bangs, a slightly goofy smile touching the corner of his lips. With what passed for cool in the realm of Clark Kent, he shrugged again and started outside.
Chloe sank to sit on the stool again, watching until snow-flecked Clark completely disappeared from sight. She picked up her cup of cold coffee, pressed her lips where Clark's had been, and smiled.
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