Chloe exited the warmth of her red Falcon with a sigh. It was nice to be out of the house for a while, to get a break from things, even if it was just for the drive over to Clark's. Her house was chaos at the moment. Lana had left for Metropolis this morning, to spend Christmas with Nell and Dan, and the other day the pipes in the basement had sprung a leak. So since Monday, the plumber had been a pretty constant presence. Her dad had hoped that the repairs would be finished by today, but in fact the leak had gotten worse. So they had decided to pack up some essentials and spend Christmas at the local motel. Chloe couldn't help but feel her spirits plummet at the very thought. The Sullivan Christmas had been pretty untraditional ever since her mother had left, but her dad had tried to compensate. He even attempted to cook a Christmas meal each year, as disastrous as it was. They had made their own traditions and although they may not be much, they were their traditions, and this year they were ruined.
Despite all this, she hoped that meeting up with Clark wouldn't take long. Make no mistake, she wanted to exchange Christmas presents with Clark. But things between her and Clark had been... strained at best ever since she'd returned from her summer in Metropolis. She hated it. That stupid formal. Pete and his big mouth. If he hadn't said anything, she'd still be laughing and joking with Clark, just like always, with him still oblivious to her feelings. Good times, and meeting up with Clark on Christmas Eve would have sent her into a realm of delight, rather than making her heart sink.
"Eeek!" she squealed as she stepped into a sleety puddle on the Kent's driveway on her way to the farmhouse.
The icy-cold water seeped through her boot, soaked into her sock and reached her foot, sending shivers tingling down her spine as she hobbled towards the house, angry with herself for being so deep in thought about Clark that she hadn't even noticed the puddle in the snowy driveway.
She twirled around. As she pulled the snow out of her short blonde hair, she scanned the farmhouse and the yard, eagerly hunting for her attacker. But she saw no one. She glared at the barn, the direction the snowball had been thrown from.
"Clark? You are so dead," she called as she reached down and picked up a handful of snow.
Another snowball hit her, this time from the direction of the Kent farmhouse.
"Oh, Clark, buddy. You can throw a snowball at me once and get away with it." She rolled the snow in her hand to make her own snowball. "But not twice!"
She heard a whistling sound as a snowball sailed past her ear.
"A-ha! You missed!" Chloe exclaimed gleefully as she weighed up the snowball in her hand. he scanned the front yard for any signs of Clark.
Chloe squealed as a snowball hit her square on the butt. Enraged, she spun around. She was going to kill him when she got her hands on himshe really was. Suddenly, she heard the unmistakable sound of a suppressed snicker. Where was he hiding? She listened acutely, waiting for him to laugh again and when he did, she was pretty sure it was coming from behind the barn, now accompanied with a variety of other peculiar noises at various volume levels. Clark was obviously trying not to laugh at his practical joke on her.
She snuck around the corner and spotted a pair of boots sticking out from behind a snow-covered barrel. There was a stifled laugh again, then a chuckle escaped his lips. Oh, Clark was so dead. Chloe crept right up to the barrel and gingerly peered over it to see Clark, his hand clapped over his mouth, tears streaming down his face as he desperately tried to contain his laughter.
With one sudden, brash movement Chloe swept the snow off of the top of the barrel and straight down the back of Clark's jacket. He yelped as he sprang to his feet as if he had been jolted by electricity.
But Chloe had already bolted, giggling madly as she ran. Dashing around to the other side of the barn, she'd planned to slip into the barn via the side-door. When she reached it, she tugged at it hard, but it didn't budge.
"C'mon, c'mon," she muttered to herself, almost growling. "I bet Goldilocks didn't have this much trouble getting into the three bears' house."
Clark appeared from around the corner, a humourous grin plastered on his face.
"Now I've gotcha," he declared, brandishing a snowball.
Chloe threw the snowball she still clutched in what she hoped was the general direction of his face or chest and fled once more, trying not to giggle as Clark's snowball sailed over her head. She ran to the front of the barn, and sprinted up the stairs as fast as her legs could carry her. She hadn't run like this since she was a kid, and was convinced her lungs were about to explode as she gasped, desperate for more air, and slowed to a fast-paced jog.
Just as she reached the top, she heard Clark's heavy footsteps pound up the stairs after her. She made for the couch so she could hide behind it, but tripped on the old wooden chest Clark used as a table. She lurched suddenly towards the loft hatch, knocking over the telescope. She reached to steady herself on the door, but to her horror it suddenly swung open. She screamed in terror as she toppled on the edge of the hatch and she started to fall head-first from the loft.
"Chloe!" Clark yelled, his eyes wide with shock. In an instant he was at the loft's edge. He grabbed for Chloe as she fell, his hand just managing to grasp her foot as the armful of snow he'd been carrying cascading over her.
There was a sickening crack as Chloe ceased to fall. She screamed loudly, then whimpered, biting her lip until it bled, as she tried to stop herself fainting from the pain flowing through her leg.
Clark paled as he pulled her back into the loft, being as gentle as he could, trying not to hurt her anymore than he already had. He cradled her in his arms, holding her close to his chest as he took her over to the couch. He was numb with shock as he stared at her wordlessly. His hand was smoothing her hair back, repeatedly. His other hand flew into his jean pocket pulling out a handkerchief and he dabbed the blood away from her lip.
"Chl-Chloe... I-I'm so sorry!" he whispered, stuttering in his stunned state.
Chloe's strained laugh broke the spell of silence that had fallen over the loft. "You're sorry? Clark, if it weren't for you I probably would have died!"
"But I..." he took her delicate ankle in his hands, x-raying it too see the true extent of the damage. "I broke your ankle. I'm sorry," he whispered. He carefully placed her foot back on the couch. "Chloe, I'm so sorry!"
But Chloe didn't hear, as she had passed out on the couch. Clark looked at her fragile form, panicking at her pale face. The hospital, that's where he should go. He scooped her into his arms, jumped up over the banister of the loft stairs straight down to the ground, and sped out of the barn as fast as his powers would let him, not even caring if Chloe woke up and noticed.
"I need help here!" Clark slowed to normal speed before he reached to the receptionists' desk of the Smallville Medical Center. The receptionist took one look at the girl lying limping in his arms before calling for a doctor.
A dark-haired woman in a white lab coat with a stethoscope hanging around her neck approached Clark. "Follow me," she told him. The doctor led him through the corridors until they came to a large examination room. Without needing to be told, Clark placed Chloe down on the bed.
"What happened?" the doctor asked, checking her pulse and pulling on the stethoscope and placing it on Chloe's slowly rising and falling chest.
"I... Sheshe fell. Her ankle's broken. I got her here as soon as I could." Clark said, all in one breath.
The doctor smiled at him reassuringly. "Calm down, kid. She's gonna be okay. What's her name?"
"Chloe. Chloe Sullivan."
She studied Chloe's ankle for a moment before she turned away and pulled a temporary splint off of the wall. "And you are..?" She swivelled quickly as she felt a rush of air behind her, but Clark was gone.
Clark ran out of the hospital and for the general direction of home. He didn't care where he was heading, he just needed to run, to think, to try and pretend he'd never hurt her.
Clark rushed past the house and into the barn, almost knocking his father off of his feet. Jonathan and Martha had rushed out of the house as soon as they'd heard Chloe's blood-curdling scream and were puzzled when Clark and Chloe were nowhere to be seen.
"Clark, wha" he started to ask, staggering backwards as a mini-tornado swept past, drenching him with snow and ice. Jonathan managed to catch the words, 'All my fault,' as Clark rushed by.
Martha turned to Jonathan, giving him a gentle push towards the fields to which he had fled. "You go after him and try to find out what happened."
Clark stared through the observation window, watching Chloe's fragile frame as she slept. He sighed heavily. She looked so peaceful, so delicate, and so gentle. He hated hospitals more than anything, despite the fact he'd only been admitted once, when Eric Summers had his powers. Even if he had been a more regular patient at Smallville Medical Center, he'd still hate hospitals, because of how powerless he felt there, unable to do anything.
Powers or no powers there were all these people around him that he couldn't do a single thing to help. People who were ill and people who were dying. There were also people who were broken, like his Chloe, and his heart. How could he still think of himself as a good person when not once, but twice he'd failed to save her from being injured? Not only failing, this time, but actually causing her injuries. The guilt he felt inside was more than he could bear, as he pressed his hand to the window and leant his forehead against it. The glass felt cool and soothingnot that Clark was hot at alland it was just more pleasant than thinking about how Chloe would react when she came around from the anaesthetic. Would she be pissed at him? She hadn't been last time when she'd broken her arm, but it was the fall that had done that, not Clark's heroic attempt at saving her.
He swallowed nervously, feeling sick to the pit of his stomach. He kept hearing the sickening crack repeating itself in his head, like a never-ending jukebox. Occasionally, he got the re-mix. That was the version with Chloe's scream and flashes of her broken ankle with his x-ray vision. It made his blood run cold. If this was what his powers could do to his friends then he cursed the day he got them back from Eric Summers. He'd rather spend the rest of his days like a regular Kansas farm boy, than actually hurt his friends, like he had Chloe.
He felt sicker still at the emotional pain he must have caused her, by leaving her at the dance. She had insisted she was fine, of course, and said to carry on being friends. But he hadn't wanted that. Not really. He'd agreed because it was easier. Easier than him contemplating the thought that he might be falling in love with his best friend. He was constantly questioning his feelings for Chloe, but then deciding to push them aside. He could hardly bear to talk to her sometimes, knowing how angry she still was with him for leaving her at the dance, seemingly picking Lana over her. He stared at her as she slept peacefully and untroubled. At least that was something to be thankful for. He paced to the other side of the corridor, watching the snowflakes dance and twirl in the air, before settling. He traced their intricate patterns of descent, examining their unique designs as they hit the window. Lucky snowflakes. No powers, no responsibilities, no people they could hurt. Just endless twirling and dancing, careless and free, letting the winds take them. He frowned. Why did the thought of soaring through the air seem so right? He was scared of heights, wasn't he? At least, he thought he was.
Clark stared at the piles of snow on the grass thoughtfully. He and Chloe could still be playing in the snow out there, if it hadn't been for all his negligence. Firstly, for not making sure the window was locked securely, after he'd had it open last, and secondly, just for being too late. Too slow. Even with his powers, he hadn't reacted fast enough to save her. He just felt so... helpless. Yes, that was the best word for it, he supposed, and angry with himself for letting it happen. He balled his fists. And on Christmas Eve, too. What a lousy present for Chloe. Her best friend shattering her ankle. Way to go, Clark.
Martha walked up behind him and placed her hand on his upper arm. "There's no use beating yourself up over this, Clark," she told him, as if she could hear what he was thinking. "I know you probably don't believe me, but it really wasn't your fault. I don't believe that, your father doesn't believe that, and Gabe most definitely doesn't believe that. It was just an accident."
Clark shook his head and shrugged off her hand lightly, as he turned away from the wintry scene outside and looked back in at Chloe.
"Look at her, Mom," he told her, tears gathering in his eyes. "Chloe is in there because of me."
"Clark..." she began, gently chiding him.
He held up his hand to her, his eyes still locked on Chloe, lying in the hospital bed. "Please, don't." he told her softly. "It's all my fault. I hurt her, and if... if I hadn't called her to come over. If I hadn't..." He paused, trying to swallow the lump that appeared in his throat. "If I had just have been that little bit faster... I mean, with my powers I should have stopped her from falling over the edge in the first place. I just didn't realise..." he petered off, sadly. "Maybe my powers aren't useful after all. All they do is complicate things."
Martha turned him to face her, her tone a little harsher. "Don't you say that, Clark. If you hadn't had your powers, Chloe would have fallen and could be lying there dead right now, instead she got away with a broken ankle." She paused as she studied his face, her voice softening. "Which will heal."
"I guess so," he said, in a tiny voice.
His mom stroked his arm. "It wasn't your fault," she repeated.
Just then his father breezed in, sending a chilling blast of cold air into the hospital waiting room. Martha shivered lightly. Clark quickly shrugged off his jacket and passed it to her. He nodded at her. "Put it on, I'm not cold. I'll be okay." Martha looked back into his clear blue eyes and she knew he was answering all her other questions about whether he'd be okay.
"Coffee," Jonathan said, passing her a Styrofoam cup. He cleared his throat and placed a hand on Clark's shoulder, speaking gruffly, but lovingly. "Listen, Clark, it wasn't your fau..."
Clark nodded at him, his eyes flitting back to Chloe. "I know, Dad! You're always telling me it's not," he interrupted, with angry, but reluctant acceptance. "But I just can't help but feel responsible."
"But you're not," he assured him, his voice getting sharper. "Just think of it like this, how is feeling guilty about this helping Chloe? It isn't, is it? Chloe's still going to get better, whether you feel guilty about it or not. All you can do is talk to her and help her recover."
He turned and faced them, anxiously. "I understand. Can I go in and see her?"
Martha looked hesitant and glanced at Jonathan as they shared a look. She pursed her lips slightly, before replying. "Oh, I don't know, Clark. I'm not sure that the nurses would let you... I mean, not even Mr. Sullivan has been allowed in yet."
"It's okay. He can go in and see her. The doctors said that she should be waking up soon." Gabe Sullivan smiled wearily at Clark, as he walked through the doors and caught the tail end of their conversation. "I'm sure she'll enjoy seeing you as well as her old Dad." He waved his hand insistently at him. "Go on."
Slightly apprehensive, Clark tentatively entered the room with Gabe. They sat in the old plastic chairs, the colour worn away by many years of service, by Chloe's bedside. Clark immediately took her hand in his, checking with Gabe if this were okay. He got a nod in reply. He absently brushed his lips against her knuckles as he held it softly, studying her face, for any sign of her awakening. She shifted in her sleep slightly, murmuring something lightly under her breath. Clark started to smile, hopefully.
Chloe's eyes fluttered open and she blinked at the bright artificial light of the sterile hospital room.
"Dad? Cl-Clark?" she murmured, as if unable to believe her eyes.
Clark squeezed her hand gently. "Yeah, it's us Chloe," he reassured her, his voice and eyes soft. "How are you?"
She sighed, still tired and drowsy. "Tired, confused... Clark, how... what happened? Why am I..."
He frowned and kissed her forehead, as he rested a finger on her lips, hushing her. "I'd tell you, but I think the doctors and your dad want you to rest first before you start on a round of twenty questions."
They both smiled at each other.
"Thanks, Clark." He got up and let Gabe move closer to her bedside. "Oh, Dad!" Chloe cried, excitedly, her face suddenly lighting up. The worry and weariness faded from her father's face, replaced with a broad grin. She sat up in her bed, trying to swing her legs out to the side. But suddenly, she held her head and groaned.
"Honey, you lay back down. The doctors said we shouldn't get you excited," he scolded, lightly. He winked at Clark. "I knew letting Clark in here was too much excitement for you."
Chloe smiled, her eyes closed as she felt the warmth and light of the sunshine bathe her invigoratingly. She really needed this after being cooped up indoors like the invalid she wasn't. She'd always been a bad patient, easily irritated and frustrated, eager to be up and about again. Clark wheeled her over to the pond and stopped the chair. He grabbed the blanket hanging over the back of the chair and quickly spread it over Chloe's lap, tucking it in fussily. She frowned; she didn't want to be molly-coddled. He met her frown with an equally stubborn, determined look.
She sighed wistfully and shivered lightly in the Christmas morning breeze. When Chloe had woken up in the hospital late on Christmas Eve, she had pleaded with the doctors to let her go home for Christmas and in the spirit of good will, they had let her go. Unfortunately, as her dad had reminded her, the basement was still flooded and they would be staying at the motel instead. But the Kent's had kindly offered, or rather, insisted that they stay the night.
Clark had insisted on carrying her to the car. Her dad had been walking behind carrying her crutches, so she had snuggled into Clark's arms, still too tired and weary to protest otherwise, eyes unable to help but close. She had inhaled his uniquely farmboy smell; fresh hay, soap, and something else she could never quite put her finger on. She knew that Clark-smell well, having been intoxicated by it from the moment of their first kiss. All she knew was that in her sluggish state, it took her to a realm of euphoria. In Clark's arms, safe and secure, she dreamt.
She had vague, foggy memories of returning to the Kent farm, greeted by the delicious smell of Martha Kent's home-made mince pies. Clark had said something softly to her dad, who kissed her cheek and said goodnight, then Clark carried her upstairs. She could recall him placing her in his bed, quietly tucking her in and pressing a firm, but gentle kiss to her forehead and cupping her face with his hand. He had stroked her cheek with his thumb as he whispered goodnight. That was the last thing she could remember, but it was a memory she knew she would treasure. She knew that if she hadn't been so tired, she would have pushed him away.
The next morning had been a lot clearer for her, without what she'd figured were the painkillers fogging up her memory. She had awoken to the unfamiliar crowing of the Kent farm's rooster, welcoming the sun for the new day. The early morning sun had filtered in lightly through the blinds into the room, as she tried to orient herself with the dim, unfamiliar surroundings. She rolled out of the bed as she realised where she was. If she heard a rooster crowing, then she must be at the Kent's. So this had to be... the guestroom? Her eyes had slowly adjusted to the lighting and she'd glanced around the room. A computer on the desk, Space chart spread across the wall, a skateboard and schoolbag stacked in the corner. Clark's room.
Chloe had hobbled awkwardly over to the window, her cast heavy on her foot and leg hurting as she lightly lent her weight on it. Chloe had pulled up the blinds so that she could see the view he woke up to every day. Her eyes quickly shut, temporarily blinded by the sun reflecting off the snow.
After a few moments her eyes had adjusted, she'd surveyed the farmyard below. Her sharp reporter eyes had drunk in every detail, from the tractor parts against the barn, still visible under the snow, to Jonathan Kent in the fields beyond, herding out the cows from their morning milking. She'd smiled at that. It really was true, a farmers' work is never done, not even at Christmas.
At that point her dad had come in to check on her and help her downstairs, and then Clark had said that he would bring her here, to his mom's garden, so they could talk.
"Chloe..." said Clark, hesitantly. He ran a hand over his face, as if trying to compose himself. "I'm really sorry. I never meant to hurt you, again."
Chloe frowned softly. "But it wasn't your fault. How could it be?"
"And I left you again," he added. "I promised myself I'd never do that either."
Chloe smiled wanly. "You get used to it," she told him, immediately regretting it. How many times had Clark saved her life? If it weren't for him she'd have gotten herself killed a long time ago, through one means or another.
"You get used to what, Chloe?"
She knew she'd regret this, but she had to say it and get it off of her chest once and for all. "You get used to you. Running out. Ignoring me. Using me to formulate a theory for Smallville's latest freak."
Clark's face fell. "That's honestly the way you feel about me?" he asked quietly.
"Well, it's the way you've been acting. We... we're just not best friends anymore, are we? You always run away, no explanation, you just... disappear. I turn my back for a split second and you're gone."
"Do you trust me?" she asked him as he chewed on his lip, nervously.
"Of course I do, Chloe. I've always trusted you."
Tears shone in Chloe's eyes as she shook her head. "You don't, Clark, because I've seen you," she whispered, unsure how he would take the news. "You do just... disappear almost, the times I've seen you. What's going on Clark?"
Clark stared deeply into the water of the iced over pond. How much had Chloe seen? Would he have to be honest with her? If he trusted her like he said, then he should. He owed it to her. But what if she looked at him differently? 'She's already seen you. You have no choice,' he thought to himself.
"Chloe, I do trust you. But I-I just can't tell you. I'm sorry," he said, finally, his eyes flicking up to make contact with hers as he spoke. Then he did something stupid. Clark leaned forward towards Chloe and kissed her lips softly. "I just can't."
Before either of them could say anything more, they heard Martha call for them.
"Chloe, ClarkLana's on the phone; she wants to wish you both a happy Christmas. And breakfast will be ready soon!"
The Kent and Sullivan families sat around the table eating a breakfast of waffles with maple syrup, eggs and bacon. Clark sat next to Chloe, with his usual glass of milk, talking excitedly about Christmas. Chloe simply rolled her eyes and she sipped on her first cup of coffee of the morning. It was too early for Christmas excitement.
"Jonathan, Martha, I want to thank you for having Chloe and I to stay," said Gabe. "Especially as it's Christmas and everything."
Martha smiled at him, refilling Clark's glass of milk. "It's our pleasure, Gabe. I mean, there's no way you and Chloe could have stayed at a motel. Not with Chloe straight out of the hospital. And definitely not at Christmas. We wouldn't hear of it."
"Still, we're very thankful for your willingness to share your Christmas with us," he insisted, raising his mug and taking a sip of his coffee. "Aren't we Chloe?"
Chloe jumped, jogged out of her daydream of Clark, jogging, all hot and sweaty... Focus, Chloe. Dad just asked something.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Yes, thank you, Mrs. Kent. You've spared me the horrors of burnt turkey and chocolate gravy to go with it, right, Dad?" she quipped, recalling the horrors of Christmases past. Gabe blushed silently. "Of course, Dad's really not renowned for his culinary expertise, but I think he should get points for effort. And creativity," she added, both she and Clark laughing, with Martha unable to conceal a smile.
Only Jonathan came to his rescue. "You're better than me, Gabe. I wouldn't even know where to start!"
Martha smiled and tapped his arm good-humouredly. "You could always learn," she said, sternly.
The phone rang and Martha glanced over at Clark.
"I'll get it, Mom," he said, jumping out of his seat.
"You've got him well-trained," noted Gabe.
Jonathan chuckled, before he replied, as Martha rose to start clearing the table. "We like to think so," he told Gabe, before standing and kissing Martha's head. "Sit down, dear. I'll do that."
"Hello?" Clark asked as he picked up the phone.
"Merry Christmas, Clark!" Pete exclaimed enthusiastically.
Clark grinned brightly. "Merry Christmas, Pete."
"Listen, Clark. I was gonna go to the hospital and visit Chloe, this morning. It can't be nice to be in hospital alone on Christmas Day. So do you want to come with me, so we can surprise her?"
Clark smiled wider at this. "I would, Pete. But they discharged her late last night."
"Really? But I've already called her house, like five times, this morning. No reply." Pete sounded confused.
"That would be because she stayed over here with Mr. Sullivan last night. Their basement is flooded, remember? My parents insisted that they stay here instead of going to the motel."
"Way to go, Clark! Did she ask about how you saved her? Y'know. About your..." Pete lowered his voice. "About your.... powers? She's bound to ask, you know."
"Tell her what I can do, Pete? I... I think she already knows. I just... can't tell her. I don't want her to get mad. Not at Christmas. Not ever," he told him, sighing heavily.
"Okay, man. It's your choice. Mind if I come over?" he asked, hopefully. "I want to escape the masses here at home and see Chloe."
"Sure, Pete. See you soon."
Clark hung up and turned around to go back and join Chloe, Gabe and his parents, at the table. He jumped when he saw Chloe. She was leaning quietly against the door frame.
"I won't," she told him, simply, her voice a whisper.
His eyes widened with shock; she'd heard it all. "We... we need to talk," he said, signalling towards the front door. Chloe picked up her crutches and hobbled over to the door, while Clark walked over to her. "Allow me?" he asked, indicating he wanted to carry her.
Chloe scowled at him. "Clark, I'm not an invalid. I can make it myself," she snapped, her voice harsher than she'd intended. Slowly and carefully, she made her way over the Kent's snowy driveway. They entered the hayloft and Chloe lent against the couch.
"You wanted to talk?" she asked simply, her arms folded and her mouth a tight line.
He sat on the chest and shook his head at her. "Chloe, please don't look at me like that."
She sat on the arm of the chair, her arms still folded. "Okay, Clark. You tell me how I'm supposed to look at you. I'm supposed to be happy that my best friend doesn't even trust me enough to tell me the truth?"
"You said you wouldn't be mad," he said, his eyes dropping to stare at the floor.
Chloe looked at him, as his eyes slowly travelled up to meet hers. "I'm not. I'm disappointed," she got up and took to her crutches again. "Merry Christmas, Clark."
"Chloe... stop. Please at least listen to what I have to say," he protested.
She turned to face him, feeling tired and sad. "I thought you said you couldn't tell me."
Clark frowned, as he picked up what Chloe recognised as his magic eight ball. He appeared deep in thought; she wondered what he was thinking about. "It's..." he licked his lips and cleared his throat, he looked like he was struggling to find the right words, or even just struggling for words. "...just difficult for me. I don't want you to hate me."
Chloe's expression softened, as did her voice. "I don't, Clark. I never will. It just hurts me that you can't be as open with me as I was with you, whenever you've confronted me."
"I know," he said, smiling weakly. "I just don't know what I'd do, without you. These past few months... they've just been... empty. Because you weren't there."
She unfolded her arms, her body language starting to relax and become more open. "You haven't let me."
"You didn't want to," he retorted sadly. "You were the one who said, 'let's just be friends'."
Chloe rolled her eyes. Guys. "I said that before. I didn't mean it then, and I don't mean it now. Read between the lines, Clark." She paused, deep in her own thoughts, for a moment, before she continued, her eyes staring into his, earnestly. "After the formal you were never my friend again. Not really. You barely talked to me unless it was in school, about the paper, or the latest meteor freak. Chloe Sullivan might as well have been a computer."
Clark bit his lip, looking away. "I'm sorry. I thought that was how you wanted it."
"A hint for you, Clark. When a girl says she just wants to be friends, she never 'just wants to be friends.'" Her voice wasn't angry, or bitter, just honest. She got up again, preparing to leave.
Clark held her lightly by the arm. "Don't you want me to answer your question?" he asked.
Frowning, Chloe asked, "What question, Clark?"
He closed his eyes, taking a deep, shaky breath. "The one by the pond this morning, about what was up. You have a right to know." He paused, battling with the lump that had risen in his throat. "I'm not like you, or everyone else."
Chloe looked at him, hesitantly. "Clark, what do you mean?"
He knew his emotions must be written across his face--unhappiness, sadness, confusion, and something Chloe had probably never seen on his face before. Fear. "I'm not from around here. I don't belong."
"Then where..?" she began.
Clark looked panicked. This was it. The moment he had to be truly honest with Chloe, or lose her forever. He couldn't lose her. He just couldn't. She was just too important to him.
But how could her tell her? His parents would freak like they had with Pete. Maybe he just wouldn't tell them, not unless they asked... No. That wasn't right. His parents had been through so much trying to protect him. They were his guides, his teachers. What would they think? He knew his father wouldn't want Chloe to know. He'd talk about her writing reports for The Planet, revealing to the world what he could do. Just like Nixon had threatened. But Chloe wasn't Nixon. He tried to reason with the imaginary presence of parents in his head. Just like he'd told Chloe, he trusted her. He would trust her with his life, just as she had trusted him. She never tried to pry into his life and find out his secrets like Lana had done. Today at the pond was the first time Chloe had mentioned that she'd noticed he was different. Sure she'd made jokes about the 'mystery that isn't Clark Kent', but she'd never dwelt on it. In all the years she'd known him, she'd never asked for an answer. She deserved one now. But was he willing to give her one? He didn't know. He didn't know if he could.
Why was Chloe so important to him? He started to wonder. Was it her humour? The way she was easy going? Her light blonde hair that flipped out or was flat according to her mood. That was cute. Suddenly he came to realise how much that he adored Chloe. He understood now that he couldn't lose her. She was his rock, his quiet strength. She'd already embraced every part of him without even knowing all of him. Lana hadn't done that and he wasn't sure that she could cope with knowing everything. He needed Chloe. He really did and the only way he could keep her was to tell her his secrets. All of them. He decided he would. His dad would be mad, but he knew his mom would understand. She always did.
Clark cast his eyes out of the loft hatch and up towards the sky, tears gathering in his eyes. "I wanted to tell you..." he said, his voice cracking. "I always wanted to tell you."
Chloe sat on the old couch and patted the empty space next to her. Clark took the seat and Chloe laid his head in her lap and held him close to her. "Shh, it's okay," she said, rocking him, as the tears started to flow. Chloe started to tear up, too. She'd never seen Clark like this. He was so vulnerable. So helpless. So open, and he started to explain about his powers, to her.
"I'm so scared, Chloe," he said, his voice muffled. She held him tighter, her lips placing a kiss to his forehead, as she used her thumb to dry some of his tears. "I don't know what I could do. What's going to happen next. Who I could hurt."
"Clark. Just because you're different, doesn't mean you're dangerous. You're special. You'd never hurt anyone intentionally. Everyone knows that. You've just gotta take it a day at a time," she assured him.
He ran his hand across his face, wiping away the rest of his tears, now clearly embarrassed by them. "Thanks, I'm sorry I didn't mean to..." he smiled, softly. "You know, cry."
Chloe smiled back. "Tears aren't a sign of weakness, Clark. They're a sign that you care. There's no need to apologise for them. Why did you feel you couldn't tell me, Clark?"
He pulled himself up and looked at her, seriously. "Chloe, look at me, I'm a freakishly strong, super-fast alien. How do you tell the girl you love, that?"
Chloe's mouth dropped open. "What did you just say?"
Clark smiled with relief at her, taking her small hand in his. "You heard."
Chloe stared at Clark. He loved her? He was an alien? She didn't know which revelation baffled her more, but it was probably the being in love with her part. She'd always known there was something strange about Clark, something she couldn't quite identify. In a way, this was a relief; she knew she wasn't going crazy. On the other hand, the guy she was in love with was an alien. Normally, she'd have thought that would have terrified her, even with her fascination for the strange and weird. But instead it just made her feel safer, because he would always be there to save her. She didn't know if that was because he could do things other guys couldn't, or because he was one of the nicest guys she'd ever known. She didn't know exactly why. He was just... Clark. There was no other way to define him. She mused how ethical cross-species dating would be, because if Clark loved her and she loved him...
She sighed. There was just one thing wrong with the picture. Soon Lana would be back. Would she be back to stage one, or was telling her his secret Clark's way of letting her know how much he cared? It had to be. He hadn't seemed to have told anyone else, except Pete and they seemed closer than ever.
"A-aren't you gonna say anything?" Clark asked her.
"About you being an alien, or about you loving me?" she asked him.
"Well, you being an alien sure explains a lot..." She smiled.
He frowned slightly. "So it doesn't bother you, then?"
She shook her head. "You forget, this is the girl who dated Ice-man and a guy with telekinetic powers. So your being different doesn't worry me. Although, do your people allow inter-species dating?"
"As long as yours does," Clark replied.
Chloe laughed. "Oh, if we don't I'm sure I could bend the rules, just this once."
Just then, Pete pounded up the stairs and smiled as he saw them holding hands. Clark had obviously said something right.
"Hey guys, how about a Christmas kiss?" he greeted them, with a mischievous grin, as he brandished a sprig of mistletoe.
"Sure, Pete," said Chloe, grabbing it from him. She held it above Clark's head, as she wrapped her arm around his neck. Clark moved closer, as he smiled and stared into her eyes. "I was wondering when I'd get my Christmas present, anyway."
"Right now," Clark replied, placing his lips on hers.
Pete rolled his eyes. "Hello? You guys, your friend Pete here!" They giggled at him, and he sighed. "Okay, okay. I'm gonna go and get some of your Mom's famous mince-pies, just so I don't have to witness that again." Clark chuckled, as Pete started to head down the stairs. He sighed and mumbled under his breath. "I think I'm gonna have to get used to it."
Pete knocked on the kitchen door.
"Pete! Didn't you find Chloe and Clark?" Martha Kent asked, as she opened it and let him in.
He smiled and took off his coat, hanging it up. "Hi, Mrs. Kent. Mr. Sullivan. Oh, I found them all right." He took a seat at the table, with Gabe. "I just never should have given them that mistletoe," he grumbled to himself.
"What was that?" she asked, as she placed a freshly baked plate of mince-pies on the table. "Help yourselves," she prompted Gabe and Pete.
Pete took one, eagerly. "Oh, I just said that they were making ou... Making up!" he replied, shaking his head to himself. He devoured his mince pie hungrily, then reached out for another.
A giggle came from outside the kitchen door, before it swung open. Clark came in, carrying Chloe in his arms.
"I hope you're planning on saving some of those for us, Pete," said Clark, placing Chloe in a chair, then sitting next to her, all smiles.
"Of course," he said, pushing the plate over to them.
Jonathan entered the house, frowning deeply. Clark bit his lip. That look meant he was in trouble. "Clark, I need think we need a word."
Chloe, Pete and Clark all exchanged worried looks, while Gabe looked confused. He knew he was obviously missing something here. He wondered what it was.
"Uh, sure Dad." He turned to Chloe. "I'll be right back."
Clark followed his dad into the next room and Jonathan softly shut the door. He turned back to face Clark, his face angry.
"I overheard you and Chloe in the barn. What do you think you're doing? You told Chloe about your powers?" he exclaimed, his voice hushed, but seething.
"Yes, Dad," Clark told him. "And you know why? It's because I'm tired of lying to my friends, especially the ones that can already know. I mean, Chloe's not stupid. She'd already put two and two together and come up with four. She basically asked me about it straight out this morning before breakfast. I just couldn't lie to her anymore, not with how I feel about her. I like her, Dad, and she likes me."
"I thought you liked Lana. Does this mean you're gonna tell her, too? I mean if you're gonna tell everyone who you like, why stop there? Let's go now and we can tell every other girl you've ever liked, as well. Heck, let's even go tell Lex! I'm sure he can organise a press-conference to let the whole world know," Jonathan growled back.
Clark sighed. "Dad, don't you think you're being a little extreme? My life isn't going to fall to pieces just because my closest friends know my secret. I'll still be safe. I trust both Chloe and Pete with my life. I know they'd never tell anyone. Besides, aren't you and Mom the ones that are always telling me about the importance of making my own decisions?" He bit his lip, hoping he had at least reasoned with his Dad about telling Chloe. It seemed as though he had.
Jonathan seemed to visibly relax. "I guess you're right, son. You're old enough to decide things for yourself. I just hope you don't end up regretting it."
"I won't," said Clark, beaming a smile at him. "Can we join everyone else now?"
Jonathan returned the smile. "Of course. It's Christmas, isn't it?"
Clark and Jonathan came back, both taking seats at the table. Martha looked inquisitively at Jonathan. He cocked his head towards Chloe and Clark and nodded softly. Martha smiled delightedly for a moment, before trying to look neutral.
"What was that about?" Gabe asked Clark curiously as Clark took a mince pie from the plate.
Clark looked alarmed. "Oh, it was just about a bit of farm-work I should have done, Mr. Sullivan. Uh, and a bit of a talk about a certain girl," he improvised, winking at Chloe. Chloe smiled and blushed slightly.
Gabe grinned, although he was worried about Chloe getting hurt again and he didn't want his little girl to grow up, he knew just how much Chloe liked Clark. It seemed like Clark was finally reciprocating her feelings. How could he be worried when his only child seemed so happy? I mean, he hadn't seen that smile on Chloe's face since she'd ran into the house last spring, excitedly telling him Clark had asked her to the formal. He'd just have to learn to let her go. "Good, take good care of her." He couldn't help saying. "Having a good Christmas, sweetie?" he asked Chloe.
Chloe slide her hand into Clark's under the table and squeezed it tightly. "The best ever."