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Visions of Sugarplums
by Wiccid Sister

Clark Kent stood by the window peering out into the gathering darkness. It was snowing heavily now, even worse than it had been an hour ago. Snow had rapidly accumulated around the little cabin and drifts already covered the narrow path that led to the main trail. Several miles away, even well traveled roads were quickly becoming impassable. There would have been no getting home tonight.

Sighing, he turned and watched as his companion shifted in the overstuffed armchair where she had fallen asleep a couple of hours ago, exhausted from the day's events. He walked over and sat next to her on the leather ottoman at her feet. Clark had covered her with a soft fleece blanket earlier, but she'd managed to toss it off as she shifted in the chair. He leaned over and pulled the blanket up, gently tucking it in around her shoulders. A fire crackled brightly in the old stone fireplace, warming the small room and highlighting Chloe's golden hair against the shadows behind her. She stirred in her sleep, moaning softly, a small frown briefly darkening her face. Dreaming, he thought; unknowable Chloe dreams, dreams in which he would surely play no part.

The day had dawned bright and sunny for Kansas so late in the year—unseasonably warm, though there was a layer of snow on the ground and more predicted for tomorrow. He had hoped it would be a day for renewal. Two days before, Clark had accompanied Chloe on a major shopping trip to Metropolis. Painstakingly planned and staged as precisely as any military campaign, they had swept through the downtown like Sherman laying waste to Georgia. Only a man with a superhuman constitution could have withstood the rigors of the day, not to mention carrying home the spoils of war for Chloe, the victorious. Mistress of Moonlight Madness, Sorceress of the Earlybird Sale and Queen of Coupons, Chloe had managed to find unparalleled bargains in every store they entered. From the wee hours of the morning until almost the stroke of midnight they had shopped relentlessly, sustained by delightful treats from her favorite bakery and, of course, numerous lattes.

Clark often drank plain coffee, although he had come to appreciate the gourmet variety after Chloe introduced him to several she especially liked. He'd found he really enjoyed some of the lighter roasts from Africa, like Tanzanian and Ethiopian Harrar. Still, a large mocha latte with extra whipped cream did appeal to his super sweet tooth and the Christmas holidays seemed like the time to indulge. He often wondered, as did his mom, if his love for sweets was an individual trait or part of his otherworldly heritage. When Clark was younger, he would sneak sweets at every opportunity and his parents had to watch him constantly to keep him from it. He had managed to reign himself in somewhat now that he was older, but he still often craved sugary treats. Clark shook his head; woolgathering again. Chloe was right; he always had his head in the clouds.

He sat quietly and watched her as she slept, thinking back through the last forty eight hours and trying to pinpoint exactly where he'd gone wrong. Chloe had seemed so happy earlier, especially when they'd first arrived. The incident at supper was surely part of it, but he had the feeling something else must have been bothering her and he'd been too preoccupied to notice. She'd been annoyed with him when they were shopping, but he'd thought she'd gotten over that. Lately, Chloe had seemed... distracted a lot when they'd been together. Clark could usually sense when trouble cropped up and someone needed his help, but in his personal life he often overlooked the obvious. Too bad super-introspection isn't one of my abilities.

"I have to look for bargains, Clark. I'm on a limited budget, here. You found some good deals, too, right?"

In truth, he had. Clark's part time job in construction was quite lucrative, but there were only twenty-four hours in a day and he still flew back to help with farm chores, at times. He couldn't be in two places at once (well, there had been that red meteor rock incident last spring, but he could hardly risk that just to double his income) so his personal finances were still tight.

"Clark? Hello... earth to Clark, come in Captain Oblivious. Am I boring you?"

"Oh, sorry, Chlo. I was thinking."

"Woolgathering is more like it. Looked painful."

"Ouch. Your witty barbs hurt more."

He attempted to look contrite, but Chloe turned away and started walking, trying to ignore him for the moment. He followed, looking like a forlorn puppy. Although she tried to resist the Kent charm whenever she was annoyed with him, she always failed. She knew that if she turned around he'd be wearing that face. No matter what the reason for his lapses and oversights, her determination to remain upset with Clark Kent never lasted for long; in the end, she succumbed. Finally she stopped, huffing out a long sigh before she turned around to face him.

"I don't talk just for the exercise, Clark. I'd like this to be a conversation, not a speech. Feel free to jump in at any time."

"Chloe. You're the world's best bargain hunter and I appreciate the deals you got for both of us; really I do! I'm glad I came with you; it's just... I know I'm a space cadet sometimes and... I've just had a lot on my mind, lately. The construction gig is taking up a lot of my time and I'm kinda out of it." Clark leaned down and placed a light kiss on her forehead. "Thanks for asking me to come. I mean that, Chlo." Then he smiled and she couldn't keep from smiling back.

"Okay, I'm sorry for being so snippy. It's been a long day and I guess I'm just beat. It's almost midnight; let's head back to the car. This stuff's getting heavy."

Clark, who was easily carrying at least six times as much as Chloe, laughed. "Really?"

"Don't get smart or I'll make you carry it all."

He rolled his eyes and smirked. "Well, I'm getting hungry, anyway"

"You're always hungry."

"Hey, this is more work than building houses!"

"Okay. We parked right around the corner from Chen Ling Pi's Noodle Palace. I'll bet they're still open."

"This late?"

"Clark, it's the big city! They're probably open 'til one or two! Whaddaya want? I'll treat."

"Mmmm... Kung Pao chicken, Mu Shu pork, Szechuan beef, Mu Gu Gai Pan, vegetable lomein, crab Rangoon and lots of vegetarian egg rolls and stir-fried rice. Uh, see if they have those chicken kabobs, too. Oh, and I love egg drop soup—"

"Geez, Clark. Those long legs must be hollow."

Clark laughed again. "Yeah, time to fill 'em up. I'll chip in, Chlo, I know that's a lot of stuff. But I just love Chinese!"

"I know Mr. Chen's son. Maybe he'll give me a deal."

They walked in silence for a time as a light snow fell down around them. Clark watched as an unusually big flake floated slowly down, using his microscopic vision to more fully appreciate its intricate pattern. It landed squarely on the tip of Chloe's nose and he reached over, melting it with the touch of his finger.

Her eyes crossed as she tried to follow what he was doing. A double image of Clark appeared in her field of vision, haloed by a security light behind them, making her smile. She could feel her cheeks redden under his intense gaze. "What?"

He followed the progress of the droplet as it fell onto her lips, a little half-smile quirking his own. Clark felt the sudden impulse to kiss her. But as he slowly leaned down, a sharp crack startled them both. Instantly alert, he pushed her against the side of a nearby building, shielding her with his body as he scanned the area, trying to determine if it had been what it sounded like.

"What was that?" She was shaking, though it might have been from his unexpected closeness.

"Sounded like a gunshot." He mumbled, "I don't see anything... "

"I'm not surprised." She gave him an odd look. "The Noodle Palace is right around the corner. Come on; let's put this stuff in the car. Ask if they heard anything, if you're so worried."

Clark insisted she stay behind him as they made their way to the cross street. He made her wait when they reached the corner while he peered around it, making certain it was safe. He was still looking around nervously while they loaded their packages into Chloe's car.

"Oh, Clark! It was probably a car backfiring. Don't worry about it." She slammed the rear trunk and stepped up onto the curb. "Let's go. I don't want you to starve."

It really had sounded like a gunshot, but Clark still saw nothing so he put his arm around her shoulders, holding her close, ready to protect her, if necessary. As they approached the restaurant's front door, she saw his eyes darting around, watching for any possible threat. He reminded her of a watchdog, ears pricked and ready and she knew how fiercely protective he would be if danger appeared. She smiled at his unwarranted concern, but had to admit, she was glad when they were finally inside.

Normally, Chen's was a bustling madhouse and she was surprised to find no one inside; Mr. Chen appeared from the back room just as they came in. He stared at Clark for a moment and started to say something before he saw Chloe behind him. Chen's eyebrows drew down slightly before he spoke.

"Ah, Chloe! We haven't seen you for a while."

"Hi, Mr. Chen. This is my friend, Clark. How's Wei Chang? Is he still in Boulder?"

Clark noticed Chen glance toward the rear of the restaurant briefly. The man smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. He looked through the curtain covered doorway in the back and saw several people standing just inside. A man was holding a woman in front of him, his hand covering her mouth. Beside her, a boy stood, his hands held behind his back by two men next to him. Both were armed.

"Yes, he's still there. Wei won't come home until next week."

"I thought his semester ended earlier." Chloe looked up at the chalkboard menu for the specials of the day. "Looks like almost everything you wanted is on the menu, Clark. Business is slow, tonight. I'd have thought you'd be packed even at this hour."

"Ah... we're... closing early tonight. My wife is... feeling ill. Let me give you what we have on the house. I'll make it up to you next time you come." Chen began hurriedly packing up the numerous delicacies on the buffet. In a few moments, he'd loaded a huge amount of food into two large boxes and set them down by the cash register.

"Wow... I... thanks. Really, let me pay you—"

"No, you go now. This time on the house. Come back soon." He hurried to the door, opened it and ushered them outside. As soon as they stepped away he closed the door, locking it and quickly lowering the blinds.

Chloe was silent as they walked away down the street toward her car. When they got there, she put the key in the lock and opened the back door. She set one box inside on the floorboard then stood, pausing before loading the second box. "Okay, was that weird? Did he seem nervous or something?"

"Ah... he was probably just worried about his wife." And Clark knew very well, why. He reached into his pockets, fumbling around for something. "Rats; I left my gloves in the restaurant. Load the rest of this stuff and I'll go get 'em." He was already walking away.


"I'll be right back, I promise. Just wait here." Snow was falling heavily now and he quickly disappeared into the night. Clark ducked down the nearest alley to get to the back of the restaurant. As he got closer he saw Mr. Chen being dragged toward the rear door. His wife and son were shoved into a large walk-in freezer; the door slammed shut behind them. Chen's captor threw him down hard on the cold floor and aimed a gun at his head. Clark was at the door in an instant and smashed through it when he thought he saw the man tighten his finger on the trigger.

He slammed into the gunman, grabbing the weapon out of his hand and knocking him against the outer wall of the big freezer. The man groaned once and fell to the floor, unconscious. Clark spun around, grabbing up a scrap of two-by-four lying nearby as he turned and flinging it at the other gunman before he could draw his weapon. He fell, gasping for breath and passed out when his head hit the hard floor.

The third man smashed a heavy wooden crate over the back of Clark's head, surprised when Clark stood and turned around, glaring at him instead of collapsing in a heap. He'd hoped the blow would kill the guy; instead the fellow appeared to be completely unharmed only now he looked really angry. The thug turned and headed for the doorway only to find Clark in front of him, blocking his exit. He pulled out a sharp stiletto blade and stabbed Clark, aiming for his heart, but the knife fell from his hand when it connected with Clark's body, the blade bent and his arm buzzing from the vibration of the impact. This was not going as expected; it felt like he'd hit steel. The man fell to his knees holding his injured arm. Clark tapped him lightly with the palm of his hand and he fell over onto a fifty pound sack of rice, out cold.

He rushed to Mr. Chen who was only semi-conscious, but otherwise okay. Clark helped him sit up and eased him back against a box of fortune cookies. He rushed over to unlatch the freezer, but it was locked, the key nowhere to be seen. With a quick glance in Chen's direction, Clark drilled through the lock with his finger and unlatched the door. Then, before he could be seen by those inside, he disappeared into the night.

When Chloe leaned in and set the other box down she spotted Clark's gloves on the floor behind his seat. She picked them up and stood, trying to decide if she should run after him. Might as well. She locked the old Falcon and headed back up the street toward Chen's. There was no sign of Clark out front so she turned into the alley that led behind the restaurant. He was probably pounding on the back door. As she neared the back of the building, Clark came racing around the corner, nearly colliding with her.

"Chloe! Call the police! Something happened in Chen's; looks like it was a robbery and I think he needs an ambulance!" Chloe pulled out her cell phone and called for help as she ran after Clark. When she got to the door, she gaped in astonishment at the three men lying unconscious in the back room. Clark was bending over Mr. Chen, trying to wipe away some blood on his forehead with a handkerchief. His wife and son were kneeling beside him.

Chloe rushed over to them. "Mr. Chen! Are you alright? Are both of you okay?"

"Chloe... I'm so sorry we got you involved. They came in right before you arrived and I told them I could get rid of you. These guys have been terrorizing the neighborhood for weeks."

"Well, you took care of them! How'd you do it?"

Chen's son piped up. "Yeah, Dad! How'd you do it? Did you use Kung Fu?" The boy made a couple of fast chops in the air with his hands, nearly knocking over a pole lamp.

Chen looked over at Clark for a moment then back at Chloe. "I... don't remember exactly what happened. When I came to, your friend was helping me sit up."

"Evidently, you won the battle!" Clark offered, cheerfully. "Whatever you did worked."

Mr. Chen's wife hugged him. "You were very brave, Ling."

"I hear sirens." Chloe went to the door and called to the police. Behind her, Mr. Chen gave Clark an odd look, but said nothing. After a while, the police were satisfied that these were the men they'd been searching for, that Mr. Chen had apparently saved his family and customers from certain harm although he didn't recall the exact details of the altercation and that Clark and Chloe weren't really able to add much. Finally, the police took the three men away and the Chens began to clear away the mess in their back room. Clark helped him nail a piece of plywood over the ruined doorway, another matter that puzzled Mr. Chen. He kept saying he didn't understand how the door got smashed. In the end, he was just grateful his family was unharmed.

"Thank you so much. Your food is probably ice cold by now. You come back soon and I'll fix you both a feast! Good night! Good night!"

Clark waved as they walked off. He seemed unusually subdued as they got in the car. "I hope he's really okay. I tried to convince him to go to the hospital, but he wouldn't hear of it."

Chloe snorted as they pulled away from the curb. "Look who's talking! You never wanna go to the doctor." She was silent for a bit as she navigated onto the main downtown artery that would take them back to her grandparents' townhouse. "It was weird about the door. Why would they smash it? And, anyway, Wei said they just walked in. Mrs. Chen said the door was intact when they were shoved in the freezer." An odd thought struck her and she glanced over at Clark. "What do you think happened, Clark? Was the door broken when you got there?" She watched his face when he answered.

He shrugged, "Yeah; nothing much left but the hinges when I got there."

Suddenly suspicious, she opened her mouth to say something.

"Hey! Look; the Daily Planet building!" Clark pointed off to their left. "Place looks buzzin'." Every floor was lit up to some degree, some were lit completely. He supposed the Planet never shut down; always something going on, preparations being made, the next big scandal exposed, tomorrow's news being printed. Something about that big globe, the Planet's well known symbol, touched him. It stood for something noble in a world where things went too fast, people acted without conscience and those in trouble were often ignored. Truth and justice seemed to be the watchwords at the Daily Planet and Clark had to admire that.

They stopped at a light a block away and stared at the Planet building while they waited. The light changed and as they drove away Chloe vowed, "Someday, Clark. Someday..." She returned her attention to the road, but Clark still stared back at the Planet's globe as it receded in the distance. He had the oddest feeling that someday, that globe would be inextricably woven into his life.

Later, back at the townhouse, he was still thinking about it as he stretched out on the couch and fell fast asleep, his long legs hanging over the end. Clark shifted restlessly, muttering in his sleep. In his dreams, Clark Kent stood silently on top of a huge globe, looking out over the city of Metropolis, a long red cape billowing out behind him.

Chloe came downstairs after her bath and saw Clark had fallen asleep on the old sofa. She sat next to him for a moment, admiring his handsome face; he had something in his hair that looked for all the world like woodchips and she tried to brush them out. She then attempted to get him up and shuffle him off to the guest room, but Clark only mumbled and refused to budge; she settled for pulling off his big shoes and tossing a crocheted coverlet over his lanky frame before she went up to bed.

Behind her, he mumbled again and turned over, perilously close to falling off the edge of the couch.

Clark awoke early, vague images from his dreams clinging to him like fog. He sat up, shaking his head to clear it and padded in to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. A mixture of Kenyan and Tanzanian beans would surely please Chloe. He ground them and left the pot to brew while he raced upstairs for a quick shower. It had been nice having a condo in the heart of Metropolis while Chloe's grandparents were away. The best part was having Chloe all to himself and he wished they could stay longer but they were heading back to Smallville for the start of Christmas break and planned an early start. Now, if only he could get Chloe up. Two early risings in a row would be hard for Chloe, but she had insisted he wake her up by five. And he did try, but she buried her head under the pillow and refused to move.

Clark sat on the side of the bed, watching her sleep, pondering the current situation. He had almost kissed her last night; would have if they hadn't been interupted by the gunshot and he wanted very much to kiss her now. His thoughts slipped back to the disastrous events of their early high school years. He'd been an idiot back then and it had taken a long time to get their friendship back on an even keel; he was foolish to even contemplate taking such a risk again. No, a solid friendship was more important than romance and he would just have to accept that. Anyway, Chloe had made it clear that she wanted nothing more; too complicated, she'd said. As he sat there, he wanted nothing more than to lie down beside her and hold her and never let her go. But he couldn't and that was that; he had to stop thinking about it and get back to the problem at hand which was getting Chloe out of bed instead of dwelling on his desire to join her there. He ran back downstairs to fetch coffee, thinking he could tempt her out of bed.

Chloe heard Clark's big feet come stomping up the stairs. He came in and sat next to her, leaning over, waving the cup of hot steaming coffee beside her head. "Fresh coffee, Chloe..." he said, softly. He waited but she didn't stir and after a few minutes, he gave up and drank it himself. Finally, Clark got up and walked to the other side of the bed and stood, arms crossed, looking very serious. "Chloe, are you going to get up?"

Chloe peeked out from under the blankets, staring up at her tall friend in his tight white t-shirt and smiled sleepily. When he crossed his arms like that, it was even more obvious that Clark was in superb physical condition. Forget Tai Bo; he could make his own video: Farm Boy Workout could be the next big thing. She could see it now: a specific farm chore for each muscle group. Carrying those heavy feed sacks must be great for biceps development, lifting and tossing those hay bails is probably a great ab workout and bending over shoeing horses would give you great glutes. And I'll bet shaping horseshoes over an anvil with a heavy hammer would definitely be good for pecs—An image of hot shirtless Clark pounding metal next to a glowing forge, rivulets of sweat trickling over the contours of those well developed muscles suddenly popped into her head. It was an incredibly erotic vision. Her cheeks reddened and she burrowed under the blankets again.

"Alright, Chloe. Time's up." With that, Clark climbed into bed, kneeling over her and began bouncing on the mattress. He tried to pry the covers off her and she, in turn, clutched them tightly, refusing to give them up. "Chloe! You have to get up! We're supposed to be back home by ten! Come on..." Clark yanked on her covers again, uncovering her face and Chloe yanked back, pulling him off balance. He landed on top of her, his face close to hers, staring into her surprised eyes.

She stared back into those wide eyes, blushing again as the image of shirtless Clark returned, this time wearing low slung jeans clinging tightly to muscular thighs and revealing an enticing expanse of skin below his navel. She managed to stammer out, hoarsely, "Uh... Clark... I can't get up with you on top of me." Clark was looking at her as though he couldn't understand what she was saying. "Clark! I'll get up, but you have to move. Okay?"

"Uh... oh... uh... yeah... okay. Um... sorry, sorry, I'll... just get up." Slowly, he started to rise up then he suddenly scrambled backward out of bed. He turned quickly and ran out the door, yelling, "I need more coffee; see you downstairs," over his shoulder as he disappeared.

They left for Smallville a little later than planned, but not by much. Clark drove and Chloe slept most of the way. He kept stealing glances at her, remembering the feel of her body beneath him. Clark found it very hard to pay attention to the road.

Main Street was bustling with activity so close to Christmas. Clark parked just down the street from the Talon and they went inside so Chloe could have her favorite at the moment: a double shot caramel mocha latte with extra whipped cream and a drizzle of hot fudge. Once inside, they had to wait for several minutes to order. Business was certainly booming for the coffeeshop, as well. They had been sitting at a booth in the back for a couple of minutes when Chloe saw Lana Lang come out of the storeroom. There she is. Sighing, Chloe looked over at Clark and was surprised to find him returning her gaze. He didn't even seem aware that Lana was up front. She stifled another sigh and gestured with a nod of her head, "There's Lana."

Clark glanced up front where Lana was waiting on a customer then turned back to Chloe, leaning over and cupping his chin with one hand. "Yeah, she's helping out over break. The manager's had some health problems and the Talon's been short staffed lately. Lana was debating on taking a semester off."

"Guess you're keeping in touch."

Clark smiled. "I've gotten better at e-mailing." He reached out and took Chloe's hand in his. "Chloe... I thought of something you might like to do this afternoon. I wondered if you'd like to—"

"Chloe! Clark! How are you?" Lana had spotted them and was carrying over a couple of almond croissants. "Here. Try these; they're fresh from the oven." She slid into the booth beside Chloe.

"Thanks, Lana. What's been happening with you, lately?" She took a bite of the croissant. "Mmmm! This is wonderful!"

"Well, I'm kinda pinch-hitting for the manager right now. She had surgery two days ago for an injured rotator cuff, so I'll be managing the place over break and I may take next semester off to help out. Not sure, but I may want to switch majors anyway, and I could use some time off to think about things." Someone was standing in the door that led to the preparation area so she jumped up. "Time to go. We just got a huge shipment in and I haven't figured out where I'm gonna put everything. It's been a while since I've done all this. Let me know if you need anything." She smiled and headed toward the counter. Just as she reached the door, a crowd of people entered and began shouting out their orders. She seemed to take it in stride and turned to the espresso machine behind her.

A moment later, Clark's ears picked up some decidedly unladylike language coming from behind the front counter. His x-ray vision revealed Lana underneath the cabinet that held the big espresso machine, fiddling with some wires and muttering angrily.

"What's wrong, Clark?"

"I think Lana's having trouble with the Italian giant."

Chloe stood up and walked over to the counter standing on tiptoe to get a better look. She walked around behind the counter, got down on her knees beside Lana and leaned inside the cabinet.

Lana turned to her. "There must be a short somewhere. It was fine a minute ago and now it's totally dead."

"Let me try." She started wiggling the same wires, but nothing happened. Chloe swore a mighty oath in Italian, including appropriate hand gestures. When that didn't work, she flopped down on the floor in front of the cabinet. "Thought maybe talking to it in its native language might help."

Lana joined her, laughing. "Didn't know you spoke Italian."

"Just the important words!"

Clark got up and headed behind the front counter, coming to a halt in front of them. He looked down at them, smiling. "Someone need a translator?"

Lana and Chloe moved out of the way so Clark could take a look. He hunched over so he could stick his head under the cabinet. Clark's large frame was a tight fit so he backed out and turned around, lying down on his back, his head and upper arms out of sight inside. He examined the tangled mass of wires; there were so many, he felt like he was in a snake's nest. Someone called out for a coffee refill. Lana and Chloe stood and he heard Lana take the pot and go out front to make the rounds.

Finally! Clark thought he'd found the problem: a couple of loose wires. He twisted them together and joined them with his heat vision. He accidentally melted a bit of the plastic insulation and frantically fanned the wire to dissipate the awful smell. He hoped no one would notice. "Well?" he asked, hopefully.

Clark's t-shirt had ridden up while he worked, revealing his very well defined abs. It was quite a view and Chloe was momentarily speechless.

"Chloe? Is it getting hot?"


"Hot! Is it hot?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Good." Clark started to scoot out.

Chloe shook her head, trying to clear it. "No; sorry, still dead." She thought she smelled the stink of burning plastic underneath the cabinet and knelt down to see what was happening. "Clark, is something burning?"

"Uh, I think the short burnt some of the insulation off these wires."

She leaned across him, her arms on either side of his chest and twisted her head so she could see. "Where? I could have offered to hold the flashlight for you."

"That's okay; I've got it now. All done." He smiled at her, suddenly very aware of her closeness; she was practically lying on top of him. "Uh, could you..." She was staring back at him, unmoving. "Chloe, I can get up now."

"Oh." She blushed and moved backward, bumping her bead. "Ouch!" Chloe winced and Clark reached up to touch the back of her head.

"Are you okay?" His hand explored the area, feeling for a bump.

"Yeah, just a little bump." She lowered her head to clear the front of the cabinet, giving her an even better look at Clark's bare stomach. His belly button was peeking out over the top of his jeans and she had to fight the urge to poke her finger in it. Chloe closed her eyes, sighing as she started to back out again.

As Clark waited for Chloe to move, he realized something was pulling on his jeans. He looked down between them and saw that Chloe's sweater had snagged on his zipper. "Chloe... your..."

"What? Just a minute, I'm moving—"

"No, wait, don't—" Chloe pulled backward and the metallic sound of Clark's zipper coming down was loud in his ears. "Chloe!"

She leaned back in. "What? What is wrong with you? Do you want me to move or not?"

"Yes!" She started to move backward again. "No!" He grabbed her by both arms, pulling her toward him and making her lose her balance. She landed on top of him.

"Clarmph," she exclaimed, her voice muffled by his chest. It was an exhilarating experience, but she raised her head and stared at him. "Clark! What are you doing?"

"You sweater's caught on my zipper!"

Chloe started to reach down to disentangle her sweater then stopped, her hands fluttering, not sure what to grab.

Clark grabbed the zipper pull and worked to free the snagged thread. Chloe pulled back, but the thread was still attached and she yanked his zipper down the rest of the way. "Whoa! Don't—just come back this way and hold still, okay?"

"Sorry!" She leaned in toward him again to allow more slack. Chloe's open palm accidentally brushed over his bare stomach as she tried to find a place to rest it. Clark gasped and jerked, slamming his head into the top of the cabinet and shaking everything above him. The giant espresso machine came burbling back to life, the crowd out front cheering its recovery.

Lana came back around the corner, carrying the coffee pot and stopped suddenly when she saw Chloe on top of Clark under the cabinet, both of them wriggling around and doing... she wasn't sure what. After a moment's silence while she tried to determine exactly what was going on under the cabinet, she cleared her throat. Both of them jumped and hit their heads and the espresso machine went dark again.

"What... are you guys doing?" she whispered. Chloe and Clark both started to talk at once and she couldn't make out what they were saying. She thought she heard the sound of a zipper being pulled. "Wait; don't tell me. Just fix the machine, please. You had it going a minute ago."

She grabbed up a tray of muffins and scones and headed back out front, pushing away the pornographic image that kept trying to form in her mind. Lana stopped by a table near the door where a couple of women from Wichita had stopped for a break in their long drive to Metropolis. "Would you like to try a stud muffin? Fudge muffin! On the house! She practically threw the muffins down and ran to the other side of the room where she began to overwater a potted plant, hoping her face would return to its normal color sometime soon.

Chloe and Clark looked at each other, both blushing now. Clark finished freeing Chloe's sweater. "Okay, you can get up now." As she moved backward once again, her hand brushed Clark's thigh and he jumped again, smacking his head even harder this time. He was sure he heard the wood crack. The espresso machine lit up and began to bubble and steam and Chloe stood quickly, flashing Lana a thumbs up sign when she emerged. Clark stood up behind her.

"You okay, Clark?" She tried to turn around, but he placed his hands on Chloe's back and firmly guided her toward the end of the counter.

"You startled me. I'm ... um... .ticklish. I'm fine and the latte pipeline is now secure." He aimed her in the direction of their booth. "Now, go sit down; I'll be there in a sec." Clark waited, staring after her until he heard Lana approach from behind. He grabbed a section of the Smallville Ledger that had been lying next to the big coffee grinder and carried it with him as he hurried out to the booth.

Clark slid into the booth, the paper in front of him. Chloe nodded to the paper. "What's that?" She reached over and grabbed it. Clark scooted closer to the table. Before he could answer, she laughed. "The financial section?"

"Lex suggested I take a look at it once in a while." Clark was looking at her strangely. He picked up his flannel shirt and put it on, buttoning it up all the way.


"Uh, yeah, a little." Clark shivered for effect.

"Here." Chloe scooted around the u-shaped bench and leaned against him. "Better?"

"Uh, yeah, Chloe..." His voice wavered and he hunched over even further.

"I hope you're not coming down with something." She rubbed his back, hoping it would warm him up a bit. She had no idea how well she was succeeding.

"Chloe... I'm fine. I just need some coffee. Would you like something else to eat? How about a cream cheese muffin? Or a piece of cherry strudel?"

"Well... okay. There's Zoe; I'll be right back." Chloe wandered off to snag something from the waitress.

Clark sighed and put his head in his hands, groaning. Calm, calm... he was still groaning when she returned with two large pieces of strudel. He looked up, smiling wanly as Chloe placed them on the table.

"Headache, Clark? Maybe you are coming down with something..." She scooted close to him again and felt his forehead. "Well, you might be a little warm... "

"No, really, I'm just tired." He tried to smile reassuringly. "Here, this strudel looks great." Clark tried to concentrate on something other than her nearness; her very intoxicating nearness—He turned to stare off toward the display case, detailing the number of delectable goodies he saw there. Lana opened it from behind and pulled out a chocolate swirl cheesecake.

Chloe followed Clark's gaze and sighed softly. Some things never seem to change. Would there ever be a time when Clark wasn't mesmerized by Lana Lang?

Clark turned back to Chloe. "Remember when Lana got fired from the Beanery? She told me later she couldn't get the orders right to save her life. Never dreamed she'd be managing a coffeeshop one day."

"Not to mention putting the Beanery out of business." Chloe raised her mug. "To the Talon!"

"I'll drink to that." Clark gazed at Chloe, but she seemed lost in thought after their toast. "The week she got hired and fired at the old Beanery was the same week the Torch went up in flames."

"Back when we were freshmen. The same week you decided to join the football team against your father's wishes." She looked down, her eyes unfocused, gazing back through the corridors of time.

"Dad was really angry."

"Yeh, I remember that."

"So was Coach Walt when you exposed the cheating scandal."

"He would have killed me if you hadn't come to the school that night." She looked up at him.

"I was out near the field with the team when I thought I heard you yelling for help. If I hadn't joined the team—funny how things work out."

"We were so young then." She smiled.

"In a few years, we'll look back on today and say the same thing."

"No doubt, we will."

Clark returned her smile and raised his mug again. "To the Torch!"

Chloe laughed and raised her own. "To the Torch!"

"And the Wall of Weird." They touched their mugs together and each took a sip; Chloe ended up with a big dollop of whipped cream on her upper lip. Clark was staring at her mouth as she stuck her tongue out and attempted to wipe the cream off.

"You missed some." Clark reached over to wipe the rest of the cream off with his finger. "There." She laughed; her tongue darted out, licking the cream from his finger without thinking. His eyes widened and he slowly leaned toward her—A loud crash from the back room shattered the moment and both their heads turned toward the noise.

Lana's voice cried out. "Clark! Zoe fell off the ladder! Can you come back here?"

Clark and Chloe got up and rushed into the back room. They found Lana lying on the floor and Zoe lying half on top of her, wincing in pain. Fortunately, the ladder hadn't landed on top of them. "What happened? Don't try to get up." Clark knelt down and looked at Zoe's ankle. His x-ray vision confirmed his suspicion that it was broken; it was already swelling. "Zoe, I think it might be broken; you need to go to the medical center and get checked out." He looked over at Lana, briefly x-raying her, too.

"I think you're right; it hurts a lot."

He looked over in the corner at a row of drawers. "Chloe, Get a couple of those big wooden spoons from the second drawer. I need to splint this." Chloe went over and rummaged in the drawer for the spoons. "Grab that roll of tape, too; next drawer over." She trotted back and handed them to Clark. "Thanks. This may hurt a bit, but it'll hurt less when we have to move you. I'll try to take it easy; are you ready?" Zoe nodded; he turned and began to apply the splint. Chloe knelt down next to Clark, amazed that such big hands could be so gentle.

Lana watched quietly, wondering how he knew where the spoons and tape were; she had just rearranged everything in the drawers early this morning. Sometimes, it was almost as if Clark was psychic. She moved as if she was going to get up and Clark pointed a finger at her, never taking his eyes away from Zoe's ankle.

"You stay put, too. How'd you get hurt?" He surveyed Zoe's ankle one last time before deciding it was sufficiently immobilized, then turned to look at Lana.

"I was trying to steady the ladder and when it tipped I tried to catch her and we both ended up on the floor."

"You're both lucky you weren't hurt worse. Zoe, do you want a ride in the ambulance?"

"I think I'd rather not. Stephanie's working this afternoon; she could take me. She should be here any minute. As if on cue, the other waitress appeared in the door.

"What's going on?"

Lana smiled up at her. "Well, it looks like you get the afternoon off with pay! Zoe needs to go to the medical center. Can you take her?"

Clark carried Zoe out to the car and carefully arranged her before shutting the door. Once back inside, he helped set Lana up at the counter. "I still think you should have gone, too. Your ankle may not be broken, but it's sprained, and sometimes that's worse. At least they could have given you something for the pain."

"And who'd watch the Talon? I'm the only one here. I'll be fine; I took some naproxen."

Clark took a look around; the crowd had thinned out, but the place was a mess. "I guess I could clean up a bit. I... I... could wait tables until Stephanie gets back." He smiled uncertainly. He'd stood his ground against a lot of dangerous mutants, but waiting tables was something else.

Chloe rolled her eyes and laughed. "I'll help, too. I wouldn't miss this for the world! Give me an apron."

"They're hanging up behind the door."

Chloe disappeared and returned wearing an apron. She threw one at Clark. "Catch!"

Clark looked at Chloe and Lana, uncertain where to begin. "Well, um, I guess I'll clean tables for starters."

"Just see if anyone needs anything while you're doing that. You'll be fine!" Lana watched as Clark and Chloe threaded their way through the tables, cleaning and taking orders. This would certainly be interesting.

Business remained slow for a time, giving Clark and Chloe a chance to find their feet. Clark was waiting on a group of women from Grandville who often came in the afternoons. They were staying longer than usual today and seemed to be trying a variety of new menu items. In fact, Clark's inquiries as to whether they'd like anything else were always met with an additional request. When Chloe came out of the storeroom with a box of napkins, they were all whispering and giggling like schoolgirls as Clark went off to get another round of lattes. She rolled her eyes when she overheard one of them describing Clark in terms that had nothing to do with his skill as a waiter, although she had to admit, she'd had similar thoughts earlier.

Eventually, Clark's Grandville admirers had to leave. Chloe was behind the counter as they paid their bill, lavishing praise on the new waiter. One lady, the one whom Chloe had overheard earlier, seemed especially unhappy when Lana told her Clark was just helping out temporarily. As they walked out, all smiling and waving to Clark, Lana remarked, "Looks like Clark was a big hit."

Clark brought the remains from their table around behind the counter and set the tray down. "I had no idea people would tip so well."

Chloe and Lana looked at each other and smirked.

He looked up, clueless, as he unloaded the tray. "What?"

Lana turned away to help another customer at the register and Chloe, still smirking, grabbed the coffeepot and went out to the tables near the front door.

A few minutes later, several members of Maximum Carnage, a professional wrestling team out of Metropolis, in town for a match at the local armory, came sauntering through the door and sat down at a large table in the corner. They were not known for their pleasant demeanor and good manners and she could hear them complaining loudly about the Smallville Diner, from which they had apparently just been thrown out. Chloe sighed and headed over to take their orders, but before she could even get there, one of them jumped up out of his chair and started yelling.

"There's water on my chair! Clean this up!"

Chloe bit her tongue, determined to be pleasant. She grabbed a rag off the counter and headed to the table. "Here, let me dry that off. Looks like that plant dripped on your chair." She leaned over and quickly wiped up the spill, keeping the smile plastered to her face as she stood up. "Sorry 'bout that. Now. What would you like?" The one who'd complained about the water leered at her and patted his knees, revealing a serious lack of teeth. Great.

"Well, maybe you could come on over here and keep me company."

Chloe deftly sidestepped his teammate's attempt to pinch her. "I don't think so. Now, do you or your Neanderthal friends want to place an actual order?" She waited for a moment while they stared at her. "Well, in that case, don't let the door hit you on the way out." She scowled and turned to go.

The biggest of the four stood and grabbed her by the arm before she could get away, turning her back around. "Now... that didn't sound very friendly." The man towered over Chloe and glared down at her as he pulled her toward him. Suddenly, a hand appeared on his arm and he let go of Chloe, gasping in pain as he sank to his knees.

"No, it didn't. I'm sure you'd like to apologize." Clark stood over him, stone faced and intense. He leaned down and whispered in his ear, "Now." He started to say something to Clark, but his face twisted in agony as Clark increased the pressure on his forearm.

He sank down and was writhing on the floor by the time he grudgingly squeaked out, "I'm sorry, lady." Clark let go and whirled around to confront his approaching teammate, who, surprised by his sudden move, bounced off Clark's chest and fell backward hitting his head on the floor. He lay there, stunned, feeling a lot like he'd run into a brick wall. The two from the far side of the table jumped up and tried to rush Clark who grabbed each one as though he were administering the Vulcan neck pinch. The two men grimaced, groaning and offered no resistance as Clark, maintaining his hold, walked them out the front door. He returned and lifted the other two up off the floor, escorting them outside, as well. Clark spoke to them briefly, they all glared back and eventually,Clark came back inside.

The crowd gave Clark a round of applause when he returned and Chloe threw her arms around him. "Thanks, Clark; those guys were real jerks."

"Are you okay?" he asked, solicitously.

"Oh, yeh; I'm fine." She smiled up at him. "You were quite the hero."

"Not really." Clark was blushing now at all the attention. "They just realized this wasn't their kind if place."

"Clark? Could you help me into the back room?"

"Sure, Lana." He went over to her and picked her up.

"Clark, I can walk; I just need a little help." He carried her back, anyway. When they returned, Clark was carrying Lana who was holding a big box. She sat it down on the counter.

"What's that?"

"Christmas, guys! A little something for you both."

Chloe came over and looked into the box. She picked up a package and smelled it. "Oh, alright! Thanks Lana!"

"Chloe! No peeking or sniffing; I'll just take this out to the car." He took the box and headed outside and down the street to the Chloe's car. A moment later, the four guys from Maximum Carnage walked past the front window of the Talon, heading in the same direction.

When Clark didn't immediately return, Chloe got nervous. She went to the front window and peered out, looking for Clark, but he was nowhere in sight. She was just thinking maybe she ought to go and check on Clark when one of the wrestlers came running back past the window, looking over his shoulder at something and apparently in a big hurry to go somewhere. He tripped, fell and scrambled to his feet, racing across the street and around the far corner of the intersection and out of sight. Next, two more came shuffling along, one limping badly, the other all hunched over and cradling his right arm. They were both sort of whimpering as they passed by. Another few minutes passed and the fourth member of the group suddenly ran into view, racing past the window at top speed. He was shaking his hand as though it really hurt and strangely, his pants seemed to be on fire. He threw himself down in the snow and scooted around trying to put out the flames. A small car carrying his teammates rounded the corner, pulled up and skidded to a halt. The man jumped up, his pants still smoking and threw himself into the car. The car took off at a rather high rate of speed, slipping and sliding down the snow packed street. A moment later, Clark appeared, casually watching them drive off before he came back inside.

Chloe ran over to him. "Clark! Did those guys bother you?"

"No. I just gave them some directions. I... think we came to an understanding."

"How'd that guy's pants catch fire?"

"I... saw that. Weird, huh?" Fortunately for Clark, Stephanie returned at that very moment, interrupting the spate of questions that threatened to spill out and since business had slowed again, Lana released them from further waiterly duties. He smiled down at Chloe, taking off his apron with a flourish. "Well, looks like we're done here. Wanna have a latte for the road?"

As they drove towards the farm, Chloe was quiet and Clark felt nervous, for some reason. "Chloe, um... Chloe... I..." he stammered. "I... "

She smiled at his sudden shyness. "What is it, Clark?"

"Um... well... I was wondering if you'd like to go snowmobiling with me? Thought you might like to go out into the forest preserve north of Grandville. My grandfather had a cabin out there; he left it to my mom. Wanna go? We could have lunch at the cabin. Make a day of it." He smiled hopefully. When she didn't say anything he added, "No one's been there in a while and it'd be good to check up on the place and we don't have to stay very long if you really don't want to and we could go somewhere else if you'd rather not and maybe—"

"Whoa!" She laughed, "Okay, Clark! You've convinced me. I'd love to. Sounds like fun! How cold's it gonna be? Just tell me what to wear."

Clark and Chloe had started off shortly after breakfast the following day, hauling the snowmobile in the old truck until they reached the outskirts of the preserve. The roads had been fairly clear for most of the way and were only a bit slippery close to the forest's edge. As they approached the parking lot, Chloe watched a logging crew across the road valiantly trying to load some huge logs onto trucks, probably cut before the recent heavy snows had no doubt put a temporary halt to the harvesting of trees. It took several men to maneuver each of the larger logs onto a flatbed truck and some of them could only be lifted with a block and tackle. Being a lumberjack looked like dangerous, backbreaking work; it seemed a hard way to make a living.

"I hate to see them logging so close to the park. This is all old growth forest, even outside the actual preserve." Clark sighed as he turned into the parking lot.

"Lumber's a lucrative commodity."

"I know. It just takes so long for the trees to grow to full size." He came to a stop and shut the engine off, watching for a moment before opening the door and going back to open the tailgate. Chloe was still up front watching the loggers and Clark took advantage of the moment by quickly picking up the snowmobile and setting it down before she got out. He hated hassling with the ramp. Clark had everything loaded and was ready to go by the time she got out to come help.

"I didn't hear you get the ramp out."

"You're going deaf, Chloe. Come on; have you got everything?"

She strapped a small sack on the back of the snowmobile, shrugged into her backpack and climbed on behind Clark. They started off on an old trail that was still heavily traveled even in the winter. Contrary to what most of the country thought, Kansas wasn't just flat farmland. The western third of the state actually comprised the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and this close to the border of Colorado the terrain was definitely more rugged. There was also a lot more snow at this higher elevation and it was beginning to look like more would be coming down soon.

They stopped once to refuel at a small country store where the proprietor warned them that snowfall predictions had been increased. Clark's reaction was to buy fresh bread, powdered milk, cocoa powder, cookies and candy. Chloe tried to persude him to buy real eggs. Actually, the little cabin should be well stocked with everything that could be frozen, dried or canned and Clark hoped he could find fresh milk and eggs at a small grocery in a nearby community. "Chloe, there's going to be another store closer to the cabin; we can pick up some stuff there if we really need it."

"How close?"

"Oh... a few miles; it's on the other side of the mountain."

"A few miles? Over the mountain? In this weather?"

Well, it would be close for Clark. A quick little hop over the mountain, all by himself, was actually what he'd had in mind. "Come on, Chloe; be brave. Let's wait."

"Okay, let's go. I just wanted real eggs if we get stuck up here."

"Well, hopefully, that won't happen." He tried to sound reassuring, but the way the sky looked, he wasn't so sure. He hated to turn back when they were so close; it would be a long way back to the truck and a long drive after that. It would be best to lay over at the cabin for a little while. "Let's go." They made good time to the foot of the mountain where their property was located. A foggy mist began to roll in around them as they started up the trail.

They arrived, however, without incident unless you count the wolves who paced them through the trees for a while. That freaked Chloe out, but they seemed only to be curious and went their own way after a time, off in search of game or perhaps just more excitement than Clark and Chloe could provide. Not long after the wolves left them, they passed by the remains of several homesteads on the lower slopes of the mountain. The Great Depression had taken a toll on many of the farms and communities in the area, as it had elsewhere. Many people had been forced to abandon their property and quite a few had lost their homes to the terrible fires that raged there during the arrid years of the Thirties. William Clark, Sr. had been one of the few whose land had been spared.

Eventually they reached the smaller path that led to the cabin and Chloe was laughing and giggling at the sights and sounds of this winter wonderland in which they found themselves. A fine, light snow had been falling for some time, blanketing the forest in white. As they got closer, the path became more uneven, some of the larger rocks still jutting up through the deep snow, waiting to ambush the unwary traveler. Clark slowed considerably as he picked his way along and Chloe hugged him tighter still. At last they pulled into the little yard and Clark shut off the motor. He sat for a moment, enjoying the stillness as the snow fell quietly down around them. Finally he turned to Chloe. "So, whatdaya think, Chlo?"

"It's beautiful here, Clark! It's like a fairyland! I'll bet it's wonderful in the summer."

"Oh, yeah. There's a little duckpond back beyond the main barn and a deep lake about a half-mile that way. I've gone canoeing there. Come back this summer and we can try it." Clark stood and began unloading while Chloe wandered off into the barnyard. She came running back, all excited.

"Clark! There's a cow in the barn! Come look!" Clark set the last bag down on the porch and followed her to the barn. Sure enough, there was indeed a cow in the barn, munching from a feed bag it had found and making itself right at home. One look told Clark she was ready to be milked.

"Well, Chlo, she needs to be milked." He laughed and asked her, "How are you at milking cows?"

"You want me to milk a cow? You're the farmer; you milk the cow."

Clark took off his coat and walked over to the cow and petting and talking to her to make sure she was calm. "Go in and find a bucket, tub, anything big and wash and rinse it to make sure it's clean. And bring a warm wet towel." Chloe ran off to the cabin and returned in a few minutes with a couple of gallon sized plastic ice cream containers and the requested towel.

"Will these do? What's the towel for?"

"To wipe off the teats. Would you mind filling that bucket over there with some water? She's probably thirsty." While Chloe went to fill the old metal bucket with water, Clark heated the towel a little more before he used it. Then Chloe came back and watched him wipe the teats off for a moment before she edged up to the cow, warily setting the bucket in down in front of her and quickly backing away. "What's the matter, Chloe? She seems docile enough. I wonder where she came from."

"She looks dangerous." Chloe came a little closer, standing off to Clark's left and watching with interest as he started to milk. The first squirt hit the plastic bucket and she leaned a little closer, watching and listening as the bucket began to fill. She wondered why Clark wasn't cold wearing only his t-shirt, but the thought quickly fled as she watched his muscular arms pull and squeeze the teats. Another farm chore for that video—

"Not really." Clark chuckled. "The most dangerous thing that could happen is—" and he squirted Chloe right in the face with a stream of milk, "this."

"Agh! Clark Kent! You, you—" she wiped her face with the back of her hand.

"Wanna get even? Come here. I'll stand perfectly still and you see if you can hit me." He smirked and continued milking as he waited for her response. He started to aim a teat in her direction and she threw up her hands.

"Okay! I'll try. And, boy, will I get even!" She came over and Clark stood up, offering her a seat on the little stool. Chloe sat down, nervously eyeing the cow for any sign of aggression. Clark handed her the towel and she wiped her hands before tentatively grasping one of the teats. "Well, how do I start?"

"You saw me. Just hold firmly, like this... no, right here and pull down. Really, it's easy once you get going. Just give it a try. Go on." Chloe pulled and got a little dribble. Clark reached in and repositioned her hand, leaving his on top of hers. "Don't be afraid to pull firmly. Try again. Here..." He pulled her hand down to demonstrate and Chloe laughed as a squirt of milk hit the container. "Now try both hands." She squealed as several thick streams of milk shot into the bucket. "Okay, ya got it?"

"I think so!" She pulled again and was met with similar success. When she had almost filled the bucket, she stopped and Clark handed her the lid. He took the container and handed the empty one to her. After a few more squirts, she paused. "Okay, Kent. Assume the position." Smirking, Clark dutifully stood where he had promised, a willing target.

"Take your shot, Chlo." Just to egg her on, he stuck out his tongue. Her first shot went wide and hit the closed barn door. "Missed me." He crossed his arms and waggled his eyebrows at her. She tried again and this time came so close he jumped up slightly and caught the stream right in his mouth. He swallowed, laughing, milk dribbling down his chin. "Bullseye, Ms. Sullivan! Care to try for an encore?"

"You asked for it!" She squirted him again and this time, hit him first square in the chest and then right in the crotch. She turned beet red. "Oh, God," she stammered, covering her mouth with one hand. "I'm sorry... I didn't know my aim was that good; I mean, I didn't mean, I mean, I wasn't really aiming for—" but she started to laugh, anyway. "I... I guess it's a good thing I don't have a .45!"

Clark raised one eyebrow. "I guess so. Remind me never to challenge you to a duel." Chloe turned back to the cow when she realized she'd been staring at his crotch. She grabbed the cow's teats and started pumping away, quickly beginning to fill the bucket. Her blush was beginning to fade when another image of shirtless Clark tried to invade her thoughts. He had a milk moustache and milk was dripping down over his bare chest onto his very tight jeans. Clark smiled at her and reached down to unfasten them. She uttered a little sigh when her mind supplied the sound of Clark unzipping his jeans.

"Chloe? You okay?" Chloe hunched over trying not to look in his direction. "I'm fine, I'm fine, just getting tired."

"Want me to finish?" Clark stepped forward, but she waved him off.

"No, no, let me." He watched her in silence until she finished filling the second bucket. She popped the lid on and Clark handed her the towel before she stood. She handed the second container to him and he carried them both back to the cabin, Chloe bringing up the rear, holding the towel and Clark's coat and sweater and watching his very nice ass.

Once inside, Clark set the last of their supplies on the counter. He came back into the living room where Chloe was admiring the native stone fireplace. "Give me a few minutes and I'll get a fire going." He disappeared into the kitchen where he opened the milk containers and examined the fresh milk in microscopic detail. He saw nothing harmful and, deciding it was safe for Chloe's consumption, went back to the living room.

"Wanna make some hot chocolate with our fresh milk while I build a fire?"

"Sure! Where are the large pans?"

"Right side of the stove, down below."

She headed into the kitchen and when Clark heard her rooting around under the cabinet, he quickly stacked the wood and with the help of his heat vision, had a nice little fire going in no time. He added another log for good measure and ambled into the kitchen to check on Chloe. There, he found she had practically crawled inside the lower cabinet in her search for a large pan, banging pots and pans around and swearing when she couldn't locate the promised large pan.

"No luck?" He watched appreciatively as she wiggled backward out of the cabinet.

"No big pans, here, Clark. Suggestions?"

Clark surveyed the cabinet next to her and got down on his hands and knees, opening up the door. "Here." He pulled out a suitable pan and set it up on the counter. "Sorry; my mom must have rearranged things when she came up here last fall." He smiled over at her. "Fire's going." Standing, he offered her a hand up.

Chloe found the sugar and started looking for the cocoa powder. She opened an upper door and stood on tiptoe, trying to reach the top shelf. Clark laughed and moved behind her, putting his hands around her waist and effortlessly lifting her up so she could get the can. "Ooohhh! Ghirardelli double chocolate mocha! This will be yummy! Wish we had some whipped cream."

Clark placed his hands before him, palms up, and bowed, genie-like. "Your wish is my command. Where there's fresh milk, there's cream." He set to work skimming some of the cream off the top of the milk and put it in a bowl.

"Where's the mixer?"

"Oh, I'll whip it by hand. There should be a big whisk in that drawer."

Chloe looked and pulled it out. "Here's the whip, I mean whisk." Clark took it and started whisking. He wanderered into the living room, trying to appear casual, as though he were just checking on the fire while he worked. A minute later, he returned, the cream fully whipped. "Wow! That was fast! You're better than a Kitchenaid! Sit. Cocoa's almost done."

They sat at the small table on the indoor porch, watching the birds and chipmunks and squirels cavort in the snow. It was still snowing quite a bit and even Chloe could see getting home might be a problem. The cabin was in a pretty remote area of the forest preserve and in weather like this it would be easy to get stuck for days. Not that she would mind being stuck in a snowstorm with Clark, but they were supposed to attend the annual Luthor Christmas party on Saturday night. Perhaps if they didn't stay long, there was still a chance they could safely make it back.

Clark enjoyed just watching her; Chloe was almost as animated as the woodland creatures outside. She laughed out loud at a trio of squirels that ran past the window and spiraled up an old hickory tree outside.

"Look! That one has a mohawk! The fur in the middle of his head's standing straight up!" Clark laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair. He leaned over against her and saw she was laughing so hard, tears were rolling down her cheeks. He put his arm around her, drawing her close, laughing still, and rested his chin on top of her head. A moment later he leaned down to kiss her. Just as his lips were about to touch hers, a low growl from outside caused Chloe to look through the porch window and she gasped out loud. Clark turned to look, too, and saw their snowmobile being pushed across the side yard by a couple of bears. Actually, one was riding it and one was pushing it, and they were picking up speed. Clark leaped to his feet, but Chloe grabbed his arm, pulling him back. "Where do you think you're going? Those are bears!"

"Yeah, and they've got our transportation, Chlo! I'll just shoo 'em away! I'll be right back—" He tried to disengage his arm, but she clung tightly.

"No you won't! You stay here; those bears could kill you!" He reached for the door handle, but Chloe pulled his arm back and kept him from grasping it. "Stop!"

He took another step and Chloe lost her grip on his arm. As she dropped, she quickly wrapped her arms around his thigh. "Let go! I've gotta get out there!"

"No! I won't let you!" She was latched onto him firmly now, determined to hold on at all costs. "Forget that stupid snowmobile! Those are big bears, Clark!" He tried to take yet another step, dragging her with him. She moved her arm to further secure her grip and elbowed him hard in an area most men would consider highly sensitive. Though it didn't hurt, it did get his attention and he looked down at her, quirking one eyebrow.

"Uh, Chloe..." She didn't respond, intent on her objective and not realizing, at first, what she'd done. Another noise from outside caused him to look out again in time to see the bears disappear behind the barn. From there he followed their progress with his x-ray vision, watching as they started down the long hill that led to the lake. As the snowmobile picked up speed, the bears abandoned it and watched as it smashed headlong into the old oak at the bottom of the hill, flipping over on one very mangled runner before coming to rest at the water's edge. He saw them slide down to it, poke at it out of curiosity and, bored now with their broken toy, give it a push into the water. They stood side by side, like two bookends, watching as it gurgled and slowly sank beneath the surface, flipping up on end like the Titanic before succumbing to its watery grave. Clark groaned loudly, "Awwww..." and Chloe looked up at his pained expression and realized, finally, where she'd put her elbow.

"Sorry." She released his leg and sat down on the rug in front of the door. "Did I hurt you?" Chloe looked up and quickly looked back down. She started to raise up just as Clark attempted to step over her and smacked her head into his crotch. "Oh, God, Clark!" He hopped over her and spun around, offering her a hand.

"You holding a grudge, Chloe? 'Cause I'm takin' a beating, here." He was trying not to smile.

"Look, I'm really sorry, Clark; I didn't want you to go out there with those bears. You take too many risks." She looked at him as he helped her up and she realized he was smirking at her. "Stop smirking at me or—"

"Or what? You'll knee me in the groin?" He backed away, holding his hands up to ward off an attack.

"No." Chloe started to advance on him and he edged his way into the kitchen. "But I might do this!" He jumped to the other side of the table and ended up against the corner of the kitchen counter. She moved in closer, her fingers wiggling, telegraphing her intention. She lunged at him and began to tickle him mercilessly, first under his arms then on his sides just above his jeans where a little bit of skin was exposed as he lifted his arms for protection. He was giggling insanely before he turned the tables on her and grabbed her up, spinning her around and planting her on top of the counter. "Clark!" she squealed, and a second later he was tickling her.

Clark leaned in tickling her sides now and forcing her backward. She grabbed his shoulders to keep from falling over, arching her back and giving Clark a magnificent view of her cleavage. Chloe let her head fall backward, exposing her neck and Clark reached up to tickle her there. He hesitated and instead, slowly ran his nail along her jaw and down the side of her neck. Clark leaned close, thinking how much he wanted to brush his lips over the soft skin there, when something smacked into the window behind her head. Their heads turned together at the sound, but there was nothing there. A second later, another something hit the window and settled on the sill outside. A chicken was sitting there looking in at them. Clark and Chloe both turned back to stare at each other, cheeks reddening at their closeness.


"Yeah..." He was still staring into her eyes and definitely losing his resolve. Clark leaned closer, again when the bird pecked hard at the window and started squawking.

"Is that a chicken?"

"Yeah... that's a chicken." He shook his head and looked over at the window. "Wonder where it came from." Clark straightened up, pulled Chloe up and helped her down from the counter.

"Clark... Eggs! We can have fresh eggs!"

"Well, Chloe, one chicken won't get you very many—" She ran to the door, Clark right behind her. When they walked outside not only was there a chicken in the window, there was an entire flock running around the yard. Several of them turned and ran over to the barn, disappearing inside. Clark and Chloe followed and found nests full of eggs everywhere on the far side of the barn. "Guess you can have as many eggs as you want, Chlo."

"How'd we miss the chickens earlier? They're pretty noisy."

"I don't know. Maybe they belong to a neighbor..." Clark picked up an old basket from the corner and began gathering up the eggs. He handed the basket to Chloe and shooed the chickens inside before shutting the door. They headed back to the cabin, Chloe shivering and anxious to get warm. She was delighted at their good fortune, as was Clark. But he was puzzled, to say the least.

Once inside, as they stomped the snow off their boots, Chloe looked at Clark, obviously lost in thought once again, and sighed. She could have sworn something was happening between them right before the chicken appeared. In fact, several times recently, Clark had been acting strangely, weird even for him; intense in a sensual, more than friends, kind of way. But that was silly; since she'd blurted out her desire to remain friends, all those years ago, Clark had never really shown any interest in being anything else. What had she expected? That being snowbound in this remote cabin would unleash the inner Clark who'd always harbored feelings for her, afraid until now to reveal them? That he would throw her onto the ratty bearskin rug in front of the fireplace where they'd have a marathon of wild passionate sex? A delightful fantasy, but that was all. The only marathon here would be scrabble or maybe rummy. No, not a card game; Clark always did too well at cards. Well, she'd whip his cute little ass at scrabble, some small consolation, at least.

Clark stared out into the yard, their footprints already becoming obscured by the falling snow. He looked over at Chloe. "We'd better call home and tell 'em we won't be back tonight. I'll scare up some lunch."

Lunch had been light and late. After finally getting through to Smallville and assuring everyone they were fine and would return as soon as possible, Clark set about making sandwiches and iced tea and dug out some canned pears for dessert. He quickly washed the few dishes they'd dirtied while Chloe stood next to him and dried, looking out the window where the chicken had landed earlier.

"Wanna go for a little walk?"

"Sure; it's really pretty out behind the barn toward the lake. Let's head that way." They bundled up and stepped out the back door just in time to see a pair of llamas amble by and walk over to the barn door. They waited calmly, as though they expected someone to let them in. Clark went over and opened the door and the llamas went to a far corner of the barn, settling in as though they belonged there. He stared after them for a minute then closed the door and looked at Chloe. "Where are all these animals coming from?"

Chloe laughed. "Feeling like Dr. Doolittle? They act like they belong here." Chloe was putting on her mittens as they rounded the corner of the barn and stopped abruptly to avoid running into a beautiful collie dog that was sitting in the middle of the path, wagging its tail expectantly. "Whoa! Another refugee." The dog barked once then stood and ran in front of them, looking back as though it wanted them to follow. "What's the matter? Did Timmie fall down the well again?"

Clark leaned down and the dog ran back to him, heeling at his side. "Maybe she just wants to go with us." Clark leaned down and scratched behind the dog's ears. "You like that?" The dog jumped up and ran in front of them, sniffing along the tracks made by the stolen snowmobile. They walked farther than Clark had originally intended and ended up at the lake although Chloe didn't seem to mind. Their canine companion stopped to bark at the lake's edge where it had gone in.

"Looks like that's where it went in. I think that's the deepest part of the lake." Clark sighed as he stared out over the lake. "We should be getting back." He whistled for the dog and it came running up, turning in a circle before trotting off to an old hollow log farther along the lake shore. "Come on, girl!" The dog sat down next to the log, obviously expecting Clark to come to him.

"What does she want, Clark?"

"I don't know..." Then he heard a faint meowing sound and ran over to the log, Chloe following. Inside he discovered a mother cat and her young kittens shivering in the cold.

"Awww... poor things. Come on, Chlo. We need to get them someplace warm." He took off his coat and bundled the kittens up inside while Chloe put the mother cat inside hers and zipped it up halfway. The cat seemed to sense she was being rescued and made no complaint. They headed off back to the cabin, the dog following along now, apparently satisfied. Clark kept distracting Chloe by pointing out things to look at so he could warm the kittens up with his heat vision when she looked away.

Once back, Clark lined an old crate with a thick blanket, warmed it up and put the cats inside in front of the fireplace. There the mother cat immediately began to nurse her babies. No super hearing needed to hear the contented purr as the cats settled in. Chloe stretched out nearby and watched, fascinated, while Clark puttered around in the kitchen.

After a while, he popped his head in to say he was going out to the barn to check on their increasing herd of livestock. "Everybody okay?"

"Yeah, they seem to be fine." She looked up. "If we hadn't found them, they would have frozen, wouldn't they?"

He was quiet for a moment, then nodded. "Probably. The little ones, anyway. Well," he smiled, "I'm gonna go check on the herd." He heard the dog scratching at the back door. "I think Lassie wants out. Come on, girl."

After a while, Chloe got up to look out into the backyard. When she opened the door, she was greeted by a large peacock who spread his feathers in a vibrant display, clearly impressing his harem which was circling behind him. "Clark!" He came out of the barn and shooed them away from the door. They took off and ran into a small leanto near the back of the cabin.

"They were over on the other side of the barn when I went to feed the cows."

"Wait a minute. Cows? Plural cows?"

"Yeah! There were ten more behind the barn when I went out and that's when I heard the peacocks making noise over by the woodshed. When I put the cows in I heard a horse whinnying and there were a couple of mares and their yearlings next to the old hickory tree. The barn's gettin' kinda full. Where are all the animals coming from?"

"What are we gonna feed 'em?"

"I found a tack room full of feed behind those hay bales. I didn't notice it there when we milked the cow."

"Maybe someone's been keeping animals here for some reason."

"Maybe, but I didn't see any really close neighbors when we came up... and I don't think anyone's been in the cabin." Clark huffed, frustrated by the lack of information.

"Curiouser and curiouser. Well, come back inside; I found an old scrabble board; you can hardly read some of the letters, but we can still use it. Wanna nuke some popcorn?" Just as he stepped in the door, the lights flickered and went out. "Great."

Clark smiled. "Don't worry. We'll do it the old fashioned way." He went over to the walk-in cupboard and came out with a fireplace popper and some popcorn. "Here. Tastes better, anyway. Shall we?" He offered her his arm and they headed in by the fire. They spread out near the cats, all sound asleep now, the game board between them. They played for a while, Chloe getting ahead at the start. Clark called a time out and put popcorn in the mesh popper. "Here, put it over the coals in front. Prop it on the front of the grate." Chloe positioned it and soon the room was filled with the wonderful aroma of freshly popping corn. Clark got up, taking a sip from a can of pop as he looked back at the board, trying to think of his next move. He couldn't help admiring her very lovely curves. She picked that moment to rise up and stretch like a cat, giving him an even better view. He imagined Chloe kneeling in front of him, displaying her backside and wriggling suggestively. She was not looking for a scrabble tile. God! He tore his gaze away and forced himself to look at the board where he saw Chloe's tiles had spelled out sex obsessed alien if you looked at it from the right angle. Clark shot pop out his nose and choked out, "I'm gonna get some butter," as he ran from the room.

When he didn't return immediately, Chloe yelled, "Clark! Are you coming? The popcorn's almost done!"

Clark moaned out loud and slammed his head down on the counter, splitting the butcherblock top. Wincing, he threw a kitchen towel down to cover it then leaned against the countertop, trying to calm down. He looked under the cabinet for a small, long handled pan he'd seen earlier and grabbed it up, along with a large bowl. Clark threw some butter into the pan and tried to think of something not related to sex. He held the popcorn bowl in front of him as he headed back to the living room.

When he came into the room, Chloe was still shaking the popper, her back toward him.

"What took you so long?"

"Couldn't find the bowl I wanted." He edged around her, throwing himself down on his stomach next to the fireplace so he could put the pan over the coals without getting up. "I forgot the salt; would you mind getting it?"

"Uh, sure." She got up and looked at him strangely before going to the kitchen. He groaned again when she was out of sight. When she returned she dumped the popcorn into the bowl, salting and stirring with a large wooden spoon.

As soon as the butter melted he poured it over the popcorn while Chloe stirred. She sampled a handful and pronounced it good, licking and sucking the excess butter and salt off her fingers. Clark's eyes widened as he watched her mouth; he squeezed the steel pan handle so hard he left finger impressions in it. Setting the pan down, he stuffed a handful of popcorn into his mouth, stifling another moan.

Chloe picked up the pan, examining the handle. "That's an interesting design. Is this the latest in country kitchenware?" She laughed as Clark filled his mouth again, butter dripping down his chin. "You missed some." Reaching out, she caught a drop of butter as it threatened to roll off his chin, still laughing. "Oink, oink!" A moment later, when she licked her finger once more, Clark laid his head on the floor, desperately trying to regain his composure. He was saved from certain embarrassment and Chloe's wrath by a bleating sound outside. Chloe got up and went to the front window to look out. "There's a goat on the front porch."

Clark sighed. "Let's finish; I'll go out and put it in the little barn."

She looked into the yard. "Make that: goats. Maybe we should go now—"

"Let's wait, okay?" The game continued for a while, but Clark was having a hard time concentrating on scrabble. The accusing tiles kept staring him in the face and finally he gave up. "Maybe we should think about supper. Thoughts? Omelets, chili, spaghetti..."

"I could go for spaghetti."

"Spaghetti, it is."

"I know we just ate all that popcorn, but I'm still hungry; why don't I get supper started so you can go play farmer? Meat in the freezer?"

"Yeah. Everything's marked; Mom's good about that. Oh, and look for a cheesecake; I think there should be some down there."

She stood and headed into the kitchen and Clark took advantage of the moment, racing outside as soon as she was gone.

Chloe stood at the kitchen window and shook her head as she watched him wandering around without his coat. It's amazing he isn't sick all the time. He hardly ever seems to get cold... Clark walked around the barnyard feeding some more chickens that had shown up and led another goat off to join its fellows. He headed over between two of the small outbuildings that bordered the barnyard just as a huge black ram appeared out of nowhere and charged him from behind. Chloe pounded on the window to get his attention, horrified when the ram smashed into Clark's backside, expecting him to be knocked down and trampled. Instead, Clark stood unmoving and reached behind him, grabbing the creature by one huge horn and dragging him off to the barn like a mother taking away her petulant child. Several ewes walked by the kitchen window, ambling off in the direction of the barn where they stood until Clark returned and ushered them in. A couple of geese came trailing along behind and he waited for them to go inside before he shut the door. The large barn was a cacophony of noise as he walked away.

The minute he stepped through the door Chloe ran to him. "Are you alright? I saw what happened! I tried to warn you—"

"It's okay; I got hold of him before he could do any damage." Clark was rubbing his palms together in a gesture she'd come to recognize meant he was nervous. "How's supper coming along?" She eyed him suspiciously as he walked over to the stove and dipped his finger into the sauce pot.

"Hey!" Clark stole another bite before she slammed the lid down.

"How soon?" he asked, leaning over the noodle pot. He snagged a noodle and popped it in his mouth. "I say they're ready now." Clark stopped himself from grabbing the hot pan handle and Chloe handed him a potholder. He drained the noodles and brought them to the table, Chloe following with the sauce and breadsticks. It was already getting dark and Clark lit a couple of candles before pulling out a chair for Chloe.

"Aren't you the gentleman, tonight," she teased, but it pleased her although she might not admit it." Before he sat down, Clark went into the cupboard and brought out a bottle of wine. Though alcohol had no effect on him, Clark had learned to appreciate the taste of some of it.

"Look what I found. Would you like some? My grandfather had a small wine cellar in the basement. This has been down there for along time."

Chloe looked at the bottle and smiled. "Yes, thanks." Clark carried over two elegant glasses, setting them down before popping the cork. He poured and they held up their glasses in a toast.

"To... good friends." She smiled at the sentiment, wistful that she'd never have a chance to be anything else.

The meal was a quiet one until the end when Chloe, giggling after having imbibed perhaps a bit too much, picked up a noodle a tossed it over the table at Clark. It landed on his shirt. He stared at her for a moment and picked it off then threw it back at her. It fell down the front of her shirt and Clark reddened. "Oops; sorry... "

Chloe reached down and pulled the noodle out of her cleavage, staring Clark in the eye. She dropped it on her plate, stood and carried the noodle bowl over to the counter. "I'd say we're done with the noodles, wouldn't you?" Clark pushed his chair back from the table.

"Yeah, I—" Suddenly, Chloe was in his lap, shoving a fist full of noodles down the front of his t-shirt. "Chloe!" She laughed and started to tickle his sides, making him jerk backward. Clark's chair went up on two legs and tipped over, sending them both sprawling. Fortunately, Clark was underneath and kept Chloe from getting hurt, but she heard his head hit hard on the wooden floor. She ended up sitting on his stomach; she leaned forward to see if he was injured.

"Clark! I'm sorry! Oh, God, that must've hurt..." He tried to ignore the stunning view he got when she reached behind his head. "Are you bleeding?" She started to scoot back and he put his hands on her hips to stop her.

"Just wait, Chlo. Don't move; just hold still, okay..." She stared at him, eyes filled with concern. "I'm fine... really... just got the wind knocked out of me." His voice quivered a little. "Give me a minute."

After a moment she stood, stepped over him and walked over to the sink. Clark stood quickly, righting the chair and sliding back under the table before she could turn around. She ran cold water onto a towel and walked around behind him, touching it gently to the back of his head. "Where does it hurt?" She moved the towel around a bit, trying to locate any bumps, but found none.

"Honest, Chloe, it wasn't bad."

"I heard your head hit—"

"You heard the chair hit the floor. My head's fine." He turned his head to the side and smiled. Chloe, not satisfied, turned his head back around and started to examine his neck and shoulders. Her touch was feather-light as she ran her fingers down the back of his neck. She pushed his head forward so his chin rested on his chest and repeated the delicate motion further down. Finally, she started to massage his neck and shoulders; a low moan escaped him. "Chloe..." God, that felt good. He arched his body, pushing his shoulders back, inviting her to dig her fingers in deeper. Clark sat with his eyes closed, enjoying her touch. But his body was responding in ways he was sure she had not intended and he couldn't let her continue. He was going to tell her to stop in just a minute as soon as she finished rubbing the insides of his shoulderblades...instead, he threw his head back and moaned again when she moved her fingers back to his neck and began to work her way down to his shoulders.

Chloe started to massage his neck at the hairline, right behind his ear, leaning in close to put more pressure on the area. Her breath tickled his ear, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and he shivered, sighing. She worked her way down over his broad shoulders, making him moan again and he knew he had to stop her before he lost control and embarrassed them both. When she began rubbing the muscles of his upper arms, he grabbed her hands, stilling them.

"Chloe... that was... wonderful, but I'm fine. You can stop, now."

"Clark, you're so tense; let me—"

"No, really, that felt great, but that's enough. Why don't you go sit down and let me clean up in here?" Chloe held perfectly still for a moment, his hands still holding her own, then pulled away.

"Sure, Clark." She sounded... not upset exactly, but almost disappointed. Nice job, Clark. You've done it again. "I'm really tired, anyway. I think I'll go take a nap." She walked into the living room without a backward glance and curled up in the chair by the fire, watching the flickering firelight.

As Clark watched her go, he knew he'd said the wrong thing, but what would have been the right thing? How do you tell a woman who says she just wants to be friends that she's really turning you on and you'd like to carry her off to bed right then and there?

After a few minutes of clearing the dishes, when he thought he was sufficiently calm, he peeked around the doorframe.

"Chloe... um... would you, maybe, like to..." She glanced up briefly then returned her gaze to the fire, finally closing her eyes.

"Clark, if you don't mind, I just wanna snooze for a while. That okay?" He tried not to appear crestfallen.

"Sure, Chlo. I'll... just work in here for a bit. We've had a long day; you try to get some rest." He withdrew and sat back down at the kitchen table.

The fire had burned down low and Clark got up to add a couple of logs to the glowing embers. He supposed he should finish cleaning up the remnants of their supper and perhaps get the wood stove going in the bedroom. The power was still out so wood heat was all he could provide for Chloe, at the moment. Clark's grandfather had made sure it had the most modern of conveniences as well as the more old fashioned necessities. Out here, electricity was often out during storms—in summer as well as winter—and it paid to be prepared for every contingency. Alongside the modern kitchen appliances was a huge fireplace, complete with a built-in oven as well as a cooking area. There was even an old hand pump and dry sink on the enclosed side porch so water was available, too, when the electric pump was out. Clark carried water in to fill the kitchen sink and warmed it quickly with his heat vision before putting the dishes in to soak. Then he poured the last of the coffee into a mug, heating it, too, as he sat down at the old oaken table.

One small piece of cheesecake remained so he polished it off and sat, lost in thought, for a time. His luck with relationships had never been good; his timing terrible, his interest misplaced, ignored or rejected. In many ways, his relationship with Chloe had been most rocky of all and yet they were still friends. He should be thankful for that and stop selfishly dreaming of anything else. But how could he do that when Chloe could innocently touch him like she had tonight and all he could think of was making love with her? What am I going to do? Chloe was starting to make him crazy.

Clark looked through into the next room. Chloe had turned again and kicked off her blanket. He got up and went in to adjust her cover once more then returned to work on the dishes. Clark stood looking out through the window over the sink as he washed, watching the snow fall and wondering if he would understand women from his own planet any better than he understood women on this one.

When he'd finished the dishes, he carried in enough water to fill the tub then headed out to the woodshed to bring in more wood. Clark loaded the little bedroom woodstove and sparked the fire, making sure it was burning nicely before going back outside. Earlier, he'd broken up some tree trunks that were piled up against the side of the shed and stacked the split wood up next to the far wall. When Chloe had abruptly appeared he'd grabbed the axe and dutifully chopped enough wood to last until nightfall, but they would need a lot more to see them through 'til tomorrow. Now he could really tear into the pile, splitting and breaking the logs with his bare hands faster than anyone could with an axe. In no time, he had built up a log pile that would easily last a month or more.

Inside, Chloe stirred, drowsy from sleep and lifted her head. A noise had disturbed her slumber and she wondered what it was. There it was again; sort of a popping sound. Disoriented at first, she finally grasped where she was. There was no sign of Clark and she couldn't hear him anywhere. Chloe realized she was covered with a blanket though she didn't remember getting one. It seemed like a good idea and she kept it wrapped around her when she got up to locate Clark.

Chloe peeked in the bedroom and saw the woodstove was going now. She called for Clark, but got no answer so she went down the short hallway into the kitchen. An empty coffee mug was all that remained from their supper dishes; everything else was cleaned and put away. She heard the noise again; now that she was fully awake, it sounded more like wood cracking and it was coming from outside. Peering out the kitchen window, she thought she saw a faint light coming from the direction of the woodshed. She grabbed her coat and hat and headed out into the yard; maybe Clark was chopping wood again.

Clark had chopped a lot of wood as he worked out his frustrations. A veritable mountain of split logs was now stacked along the walls of the woodshed; in fact, he'd practically filled the shed and was now piling it up outside under the eaves. Chloe would definitely stay warm tonight. A candle lantern sat nearby on a low wall. He didn't really need the light, but the candle's glow cheered him somewhat; a small bright spot in a sea of darkness. God, he was depressed.

Clark walked out to the pile of brush and limbs behind the barn, searching for something especially thick on which to take out his frustrations. He picked up a huge piece of hickory that had come down in a storm and snapped it over his knee as if it were a twig. He slung the massive logs up onto his shoulders and stomped back toward the shed. These would do nicely; he felt like doing some serious damage to something and smashing them into kindling with his bare hands sounded good.

Chloe had gone the long way around the barn to get to the woodshed, thinking she might sneak up on him and catch him unawares. In the darkness, Chloe strayed from the path and tripped over a tree stump, falling head first out onto the frozen surface of the duckpond and landing hard on one elbow. Around her, the ice began to crack ominously, sagging under her as cold water began to seep to the top. She tried to hold perfectly still. The ice finally gave way and she cried out once, sinking down into the frigid water. She kicked, trying to reach the surface, but came up under the ice; unable to see the hole she'd fallen through in the darkness. She pounded on the ice to no avail, desperate for air.

Clark raced to the sound of her cry, yelling, "Chloe!" He x-rayed the area seeing nothing, at first. Then he saw the pond's surface and knew what had happened even before he saw her scrabbling frantically at the ice above her. He dove in, coming up behind her and slamming his fist through the ice to make a new hole. An instant later, Clark's arms were lifting her up and somehow she was on dry land again. "Chloe! Are you alright?" he asked, his voice quivering. Clark stretched her out, turned her head to the side and pounded her back.

She choked and coughed up a mouthful of water. She coughed again and croaked, "Clark, I—"

He leaned over her. "Better?" She shook her head. "What were you doing wandering around in the dark?" He gathered her up in his arms.

"Looking for you..." She was trembling with cold.

"We have to get you warm." Clark stared at her intently, his eyes bright in the darkness and she felt a little warmer. "Come on." He hurried inside and sat her down on a rug in front of the fireplace. He threw a couple of logs on the fire and grabbed a blanket off the couch. "Take your clothes off—"

"Why, Mr. Kent, this is so sudden," she tried to laugh through chattering teeth as she took the blanket from him, still shaking like a leaf.

Clark smiled. "And I'll get a hot bath ready." He hesitated and hugged her again, then looked at her closely. "Are you gonna be okay for a few minutes?"

"Yeah, I'll be fine. A hot bath sounds wonderful."

"Yell if you need me." Reluctantly, Clark got up and headed to the bathroom. Once there, he had the water hot in no time. He came out and found her wrapped in the blanket, her wet clothes lying on the stone hearth. "Come on, the water's good and hot."

Chloe hesitated, staring at him. "What about you? You're all cold and wet?"

"I... uh... I'll just change. I wasn't under as long as you; you're the one who nearly drowned. Now get in there." Clark made a little shooing motion and she headed to the bathroom, looking back at him over her shoulder as she rounded the corner. He heard the splash as she got in the tub and Clark took advantage of the moment to quickly dry off and change. Then he sat back in the old overstuffed chair and stared into the fire for a time. Eventually he dozed off and dreamed of Chloe, dressed as an elf, wearing a rather skimpy little outfit with a very short skirt as she climbed into his lap, rubbing against him and nibbling his ear. She ran her hands through his hair, then down his neck and chest as her tongue teased his lips. Chloe unbuttoned his shirt and began to caress his bare skin, making him moan. Then, the naughty elf in Clark's lap moved, straddling him and running her hands along his inner thighs. When she whispered, "Wanna see my birthmark?" he woke with a start, calling out her name.

Chloe sank down and relaxed in the heated water, warm at last. She could still feel his arms around her as he lifted her out of the freezing pond. It had felt as though they had literally levitated right out of the water. The instant his arms closed around her, she knew she was safe; no doubt in her mind that nothing could harm her, wrapped in Clark's embrace. She remembered resting her hand on his chest as he carried her back to the cabin and even though he had been soaked in ice water, heat radiated from Clark's skin. He'd felt pleasantly warm beneath his wet clothes, not cold at all. Very strange...

She rested her head on the back of the tub and drifted off, dreaming of Clark, steamy hot and dripping wet, fresh from a shower and wearing only a little red towel. He walked over and sat in the old high-backed, overstuffed armchair, stretching his long legs out and crossing them as he beckoned her to join him. Now he was wearing a Santa hat and smiling seductively as he asked her to come tell him what she wanted for Christmas. A wicked little grin slowly spread across her face. "I'd like to see you take that towel off, Clark." He stood, eager to oblige and whisked it off with a flourish, dropping it beside the chair. He was very glad to see her.

"Chloe!" She sat up suddenly when she heard her name, splashing water all over the floor. The wonderful Clark vision evaporated as she came fully awake and realized where she was.

"Clark? What?" She thought he'd called her name for some reason. "Clark!"

He sat up in the chair when he heard her call his name, panting and trying to forget the erotic Chloe vision from his dream. Clark tried to think of something other than Chloe rubbing seductively against him, her hand on his thigh. He wasn't having much success. She called his name again and he stood up, the dream images fading somewhat although their effects remained. He walked in and stood outside the bathroom door, leaning his head on the doorjamb and closed his eyes. "What is it, Chloe?" His voice came out low and husky. "Are you alright?"

"Clark? I... thought I heard you say my name. Are you okay? You sound funny."

"I thought I heard you yell for me. Did you want something?" Clark heard water splash onto the floor and he pictured Chloe, lying back in the tub, naked and wet and beautiful; he moaned out loud and banged his forhead on the doorframe, trying to erase the images flooding his mind.

"What is that? Are you banging on the wall?" She thought she heard him groaning and then something hit the wall again. "Clark, what are you doing out there?"

"I gotta go!" He ran down the hall and out the door onto the little porch facing the side yard. There he leaned against the post that supported the roof, breathing heavily and trying to think of anything, but Chloe.

Inside, Chloe had listened to Clark's heavy footsteps; it sounded as though he had run down the hall. Then she'd heard the slam of the door as he went outside. She sat up in the tub and leaned over to reach the small window. She could just see Clark leaning against the roof post, highlighted by the moon as it peeked briefly through the clouds. A moment later he walked off the steps, running both hands through his hair as though he were upset by something, then the clouds obscured the moon and he was lost in the darkness of the winter night. She watched for a few minutes more until the moon reappeared, but he was gone, nowhere to be seen. Chloe slipped back into the warm water, wondering what was wrong. He'd gone out in nothing, but his t-shirt and should've come back by now. What's up with him, anyway?

Chloe sat for a while longer until the water had gotten noticeably cooler and decided she should finish up. She rinsed out her hair and finished her bath, drying off and still listening for Clark's return. She was becoming concerned when the water had finally drained from the tub and there was still no sign of him. Clark had dug out one of his old t-shirts and a pair of gym shorts for her. The shorts were way too big and she had to cinch the drawstrings tight to keep them up and the shirt was too long, but it was all he could find. She looked at herself in the mirror, shaking her head and went into the living room to dry her hair by the fire.

Her hair was almost dry when she heard something outside. Through the window, she saw Clark dragging the mangled snowmobile across the yard. She knocked on the window and he turned to see her. He seemed to be having a lot of trouble with it; probably getting tired if he'd pulled it all the way from the lake. He disappeared into the barn.

A few moments later, he came inside. "Are you warm, now?" he asked, as he stood in the doorway to the kitchen.

"I'm fine, but what were you doing out without a coat on? You'll catch pneumonia—"

"No, I won't. I'll be fine. I just needed some air so I went for a walk and while I was out, I retrieved the snowmobile."

"How'd you get it out? I thought it was in the deep part of the lake."

"Turns out it was snagged on a sandbar, but it's still waterlogged. Even drying it out may not be enough. I'll look at it later."

Chloe came over to him. "Your hair's wet." She looked at him more closely. Not only was his hair wet, his skin seemed damp underneath his t-shirt. "You didn't go in the water, did you?" She put her hand on his neck and felt droplets of water there. "Clark!"

"Chloe! I'm fine!" He grabbed her wrists, keeping her from any further exploration. "Just leave me alone, Chlo!" She pulled away from him and turned, walking into the bedroom without a word and shutting the door behind her.

He hadn't intended to sound so harsh but his calm would never last if she started touching him again. He listened as she stomped around the bedroom, muttering to herself. A few minutes later, he heard her sniffling. Clark slumped down in the chair, his head in his hands, and groaned. He certainly had a way with women.

Clark sighed and stood and slowly walked over to the door. He knocked lightly, but got no response. He tried again and this time Chloe said, "What?"

"I... I... I'm sorry, Chlo. I didn't mean to snap at you. I just..." he trailed off, drawing a complete blank. "Please let me... can I come in?"

The door opened and Chloe stood there, one lone tear making its way down her cheek. Clark reached out to touch it and she turned her head away. "I was worried about you. You just left and you were gone so long. Why'd you leave like that? I didn't know where you were—"

"Chloe, I'm sorry, I... needed to get away for a while. I didn't realize I'd been gone that long. "

"Oh." She looked up at him solemnly. Instantly, he regretted his words; it had sounded as though he wanted to get away from her. "Well, I'm sorry; I..." another tear betrayed her. "I guess you didn't expect you'd have to be stuck up here with me!" She turned suddenly and started to slam the door, but he put his hand out to prevent it.

"Chloe! I didn't mean it like that! You don't understand. Please... "

"No, Clark; I do. You've made it perfectly clear." Her hand trembled slightly as she reached up to wipe her face and Clark caught her wrist, turning her back to face him. She wouldn't look him in the eye.

"Chloe." He lifted her chin. "Chloe, look at me... Chloe!" Finally, she looked up at him and he reached over, gently touching her damp cheek with his fingers. "I'm sorry." He leaned down and said, simply, "I'm an idiot." A little hint of a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. "I... see you agree." Gently, Clark pulled her into his arms and held her, nuzzling her hair. "You've always been such a good friend." She stiffened at his words. Clark pulled back; tilting her chin up, he looked into her eyes. "Thing is, Chlo," he leaned closer, whispering, "I don't want to be just friends anymore."

He kissed her, slowly at first, lightly touching her lips with his. She sighed softly against his mouth, as he began to nibble on her upper lip and tease her with the tip of his tongue.

"I love you and..." he held her tightly to him, the feel of her body having an immediate effect, "you are really turning me on."

She felt his lips gently brushing the skin below her jaw and shivered. The evidence of his arousal was hard against her stomach and she moaned softly.

"I love you." Now his tongue was tracing the shell of her ear.

"This is another dream, right?" His mouth sought hers again, this time nibbling her lower lip. When he drew back, she was breathless. "I'm dreaming. You're teasing me and just when we start to have wild sex on the bearskin rug, I'll wake up."

Clark smiled against her throat as he slowly ran his hands down her back. "That's a thought. But we could just do this—" he pushed her against the bedroom wall, spreading her legs as he lifted her up and kissing her deeply before tracing his lips down the elegant curve of her neck. She wrapped herself around him, moaning as she felt the hardness between her thighs. Clark slipped his hands under her shirt, caressing her stomach and the soft swell of her breasts. Delicately, his fingers traced their shape, then gently, he cupped them, his thumbs teasing her nipples until she was moaning, ardently pressing her breasts into his hands. Reluctantly, he released her and grasped the hem of her shirt, slowly tugging it up above her breasts. Pausing to admire her, his eyes bright with desire, he rubbed the palms of his hands over her hard nipples. She was practically purring as he lifted her t-shirt up and off.

"Clark... ah!" Chloe whimpered suddenly when he began to press her even harder against the wall.

He pulled back slightly, whispering, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry; I didn't mean to hurt you; I don't want to hurt you..." He held still for a moment, breathing heavily, then turned and carried her over to the bed, gently easing her down onto the soft flannel sheets. Sliding his body over hers and rubbing his erection firmly against her, he kissed her, his tongue invading her mouth, rough and wet against her own. When he finally took a breath, he whispered, "You've been making me crazy... I thought you'd be angry if you knew... I didn't wanna screw everything up between us again."

Chloe looked up at him. "I never thought you wanted this. I... God!" She gasped suddenly as he bent down and flicked his tongue over one nipple. He ran his tongue over the other one and she grabbed his hair, yelling out, "Clark!" her hips bucking up against him. She ran her hands over his broad chest and the hard contours of his stomach, then down his heavily muscled arms; this was more exciting than any dream and she desperately wanted to see him naked.

She watched, slowly licking her lips, as if mesmerized by the vision before her as Clark sat back and pulled his t-shirt up over his head. Her hand quickly slipped between his legs, boldly stroking him, making him thrust hard against her and groan with anticipation. He pulled her shorts down and off, flinging them away. Gently, he caressed her inner thighs, then slowly, almost reverently, he touched the slippery wetness he found between them. Chloe cried out, writhing beneath him and arching up against his fingers as he teased her. She was panting when he withdrew.

"Okay, Clark; your turn." Chloe reached out and unsnapped his jeans, yanking his zipper down and slipping her hand inside. Clark gasped out loud when she wrapped her fingers around him; he shoved his shorts and jeans down, pausing for a moment as she stroked him before removing them almost more quickly than her eye could follow. Then he was back, eager to be inside her, settling himself between her thighs when he realized, through a haze of lust, "I don't have a condom..." Clark sat back, running his hand through his already disheveled locks and groaned.

"What? Why not? I figured guys always had condoms; you know, always be prepared..."

Clark looked down at her, an odd expression on his face. "Boy scouts, Chlo. They're always prepared." When he spoke again, his voice was low. "I... um... um...the truth is..." In spite of the fact that he was naked and hard and so very ready to mount her, he blushed, suddenly shy.


"I... I've... "


He blurted out, all in a rush, "I've never done this before and I had no idea I'd be doing it now..." Chloe stared at him for a moment, simply astounded.

"You've never... "

Clark slowly shook his head. "Not with anyone, Chlo. And I didn't think you wanted this when we came up here, so I..." He started to back away, but Chloe stopped him.

"Nevermind! I don't have one, but I'm taking contraceptives; come back here."

"You're... "

"I...there was...I haven't been with anyone either; I... can we just stop talking, please!" Chloe reached out and ran one finger along the underside of his cock until she reached the tip, slowly smearing the wetness she found there. She watched, fascinated, as more drops appeared, tracing her wet fingers around the head and down his shaft until he was moaning and thrusting into her hand.

Abruptly, he pulled back, panting. Chloe reached out to touch him again and he grabbed her hand. "Stop—"

"I'm sorry! Did I hurt you—"

Closing his eyes, he shook his head, a wry smile on his lips. "No..." Clark took several deep breaths then leaned over her again, kissing her softly. "That feels so good," he whispered, "I...I'll come in your hand if you keep doing that."

Chloe's eyes widened and she gasped, "Oh."

Clark waited a moment before climbing on top of her; his cock trailed a line of wetness across her stomach as he leaned down to kiss her. He held himself above her, licking his way down her neck and over her breasts, suckling each nipple, in turn, until she was panting. Then he moved back between her thighs, sliding his thick shaft against her slick heat, teasing her with slow, gentle thrusts, barely entering her, at first, before finally slipping inside.

He stopped when she hissed in pain, waiting until she whispered that it was alright, before sliding in all the way. For a moment he held perfectly still, savoring the incredible sensation of being within her. Then he pulled back and slid deep again, trying to go slow. Chloe whimpered and wrapped her legs around him, urging him on and quickly matching his rhythm. In moments he was slamming in hard as she tightened around him. She gasped out loud when she came and Clark quickly followed, crying out her name when he spilled deep inside her.

He kissed her, whispering, "You are amazing, Chlo..." as he held himself above her; he kissed along the line of her collarbone, then began to nip at her ear. Clark slowly ran his hand down the middle of her stomach until he reached her belly button. He couldn't resist putting his finger there to tickle her, making her giggle until his kisses stopped her. Clark gazed deeply into her eyes, then began trailing a line of kisses down the valley between her breasts and over her stomach, stopping to tease her belly button with his tongue before dipping below it. Not long after, Chloe was breathlessly moaning his name.

It was morning and as Chloe slowly awakened, she became aware of a warm male body pressed against her, spoon-like, from behind. A muscular arm was wrapped possessively around her stomach and one long leg rested casually between her knees. She wriggled back against him and smiled. Very male. Certain parts of her anatomy were reminding her even more pointedly of that fact. Clark had proven to be everything she'd ever fantasized about and more. She didn't really know how this was all supposed to work but she'd had no idea a man could have such, well, stamina... Maybe because it was his first time...not that she was complaining; Clark had been wonderful, to say the least... Sighing, she pressed backward again and Clark stirred.

His lips brushed the back of her neck, lingering there as he whispered, "Good morning."

She laughed. "Good morning."

"Did you sleep well?" His fingers were gently stroking her cheek.

"Mmmm... yes... someone wore me out." She giggled when she felt him thrust playfully against her, his hands carressing her back and hips. His touch made her wet.

A moment later, he lifted her knee and shifted, sliding his cock along her slippery entrance. "You feel so good, Chlo... I want to come inside you."

Chloe shivered at his words, positioning herself, eager to feel his swollen length inside her again. In one long thrust, he entered her fully and she moaned out loud. After a few languid thrusts, he began to move more quickly, pushing in harder before suddenly stilling himself. Clark rolled over onto his knees, pulling Chloe up with him. He started to thrust into her again and she grabbed onto the brass headboard for puchase, pressing her ass back against him, inviting him deeper. His hand slipped inside her, teasing her swollen clit until she was yelling his name. Suddenly, Clark pushed her down onto the bed, holding her there and with a few hard thrusts, he spurted into her. Then he collapsed on top of her, panting and whispering, "God, Chlo, you're incredible..."

Chloe could only pant, speechless for a moment. Softly, he kissed the back of her neck and finally, moved to lie beside her. He pulled the blankets up over them again and nuzzled his face in her hair. She closed her eyes, a little smile on her lips, and mumbled something unintelligible.

"What? Chloe? Are you okay? I didn't hurt you—" Clark leaned over to look into her face.

She turned on her back and smiled up at him. "No, Clark. That felt wonderful."

Clark wrapped his arm around her and pulled her to him, snuggling close and kissing her cheek.

She heard bells. "God, that is so clichéd."

"What?" he said, brushing the side of her neck with his lips.

"I heard bells. I swear."

Clark laughed softly and kissed her again, then began to nibble on one ear. "Wanna hear 'em again?" he whispered. He moved on top of her, nibbling as he went and started to position himself between her legs when he heard bells jingling. Reluctantly, he stopped, letting go of her earlobe. He lifted his head and listened.

"Did you hear it, too?" Chloe glanced at the small window and yelled, "There's a moose in the window!" The creature banged its nose on the glass then turned its head and smashed the glass with one large antler. It shoved its head as far into the opening as it could and bellowed. She gasped, her eyes wide. Clark groaned, rising up and slipping out from under the covers. He walked over to the window and pushed the animal's head back out.

"It's not a moose; it's a reindeer." It immediately shoved its head back inside, breaking out the rest of the window. "Hey! Stop that!"

"Whoever heard of a reindeer voyeur?" She smiled as she stared at him. "I gotta admit; the view is spectacular."

Clark reached over and grabbed his jeans from the pile of clothes by the bed. "Don't move. I'll board up the window and take care of the reindeer and I'll be right back." He leaned over and kissed her thoroughly just as there was a knock at the front door. Rolling his eyes, he muttered, "Now what?" as he walked away.

Chloe picked up his t-shirt and threw it at him as he went out the door. "At least wear this! You're gonna freeze!"

Before he reached the door there was another knock and something else started banging on the door. He opened it to find a rather large man with white hair and a beard reaching out to knock once more. Beside him was a reindeer, wearing a harness festooned with shiny brass bells. The man stared at Clark for a moment then offered his hand.

"Hi! I'm Mr. Kringle. I'm sorry about your window; the reindeer get kinda feisty this time of year."

Clark Kent." Clark shook his hand. "That's your reindeer?"

"Yep; this is Comet. He was just curious; sorry he disturbed you. I'll fix your window, if you like."

"Comet. And... I suppose Blitzen is somewhere nearby?"

"Actually, yes." The man laughed. "I own the reindeer farm down the road. Kris Kringle's Reindeer Farm and Christmas Emporium. My wife runs a little store on the side. It's kinda seasonal and this is our busiest time of year. Lots of people like to go for sleigh rides right before Christmas."

Clark relaxed. Okay, so maybe the guy wasn't a nut case after all. "I didn't think there were any neighbors very close. I didn't notice any on the way up."

"Our property's real close to yours out behind that lake. In fact, there are quite a few farms out that way. Come over for a ride! I'll make sure they behave."

"Say, you're not missing some livestock, are you? Some critters started showing up yesterday and made themselves right at home. I thought maybe they belonged to someone close by."

"Haven't lost any livestock recently, but our collie took off yesterday; have you seen her?"

"We found a collie; she led us to some stray cats out by the lake. I let her out earlier; she's probably out by the barn. Are the cats yours, too?"

"No, sorry; looks like they're yours, now! I'll ask around if I see anybody." Comet took a step into the living room and Mr. Kringle grabbed him by one antler. "Oh, no, you don't. Sorry, he's the nosiest of them all." He pulled the reindeer backward. "Please, do stop by. I..." He stopped as Chloe came up behind Clark and looked around him at the reindeer. "Hi, there."

"Um, hi..." Comet shook his head at her, jingling his bells, and she drew back behind Clark a little.

"He won't hurt you. Sorry about the mess he made; he's a trouble maker; no question about it."

"It's really okay. I'll just board up the window; we'll fix it later."

"If you don't mind my asking, how'd you folks get up here? The trails are pretty bad when it snows like this."

"Snowmobile. Unfortunately, a couple of bears hijacked it last night and pushed it into the lake. I'm not sure I can get it going."

Chloe looked up at Clark.

"Those bears! They're refugees from a circus up in Metropolis. They're pretty tame, but they just get into everything." He thought for a moment and looked at Clark. "I might have something you can use. I'll talk to you later." With a little wave, he walked away, his errant reindeer in tow.

Clark looked down at Chloe. "Thought I told you to stay in bed?" He drew her to him and kissed her softly.

"Mmmm... you did, but I was curious. Kris Kringle's Reindeer Farm? Great publicity angle. That must bring in the customers."

"Aren't you getting cold?" He rubbed her arms to warm her.

"Yeah... I thought you'd come back to bed and warm me up." She ran her hands up under his t-shirt; he was just so warm. Clark picked her up and she wrapped her legs around him as he carried her back into the bedroom.

"Give me five minutes to clean up this mess and cover the window." He sat her on the bed, kissing her soundly before she scooted back under the blankets. "Just snuggle in there and I'll be quick." He smiled mischievously before leaving. It seemed like only seconds later he was pounding nails into a piece of plywood he'd placed over the window. Then he was over by the window sweeping up the broken glass and then he was gone again. She heard some noise in the living room then he came in to load a couple of logs into the bedroom woodstove. The fire had almost gone out, but the wood caught right away, quickly warming the cold room. Clark left, returning a moment later.

Chloe turned and watched admiringly while he undressed. As he slipped into bed and covered her body with his own, she was amazed at how warm he was. It crossed her mind that she hadn't seen him put on his boots when he went outside yet his feet were warmer than hers. Then she was lost in the pleasure of his touch and nothing else mattered at all.

Much later, while Chloe slept, exhausted, Clark reluctantly rose to milk and feed their herds and flocks. Afterward, with plenty of fresh milk and eggs, he fixed a sumptuous breakfast of whipped cream pancakes and fresh ground coffee made from a hidden stash of Hawaiian Kona beans. Out from under her watchful eye, he was able to cheat a bit and whip everything up fairly quickly. The electricity had come on briefly, but was out again so he had to do things either the old fashioned way or the space alien way.

When breakfast was ready, he tiptoed into the bedroom and crawled in to gently awaken her. A flurry of soft kisses got her attention and she opened her eyes to see his face close above her. "Wake up, sleepyhead. Breakfast is served." He kissed her again, for good measure.

Chloe smiled up at him. "What's on the menu?" Idly, she ran her fingers through his thick hair. "Do I smell coffee?"

"Yes, you do. Fresh ground Kona."

"Where'd you get Kona?"

"That's my secret. Now, get up." She threw back the covers and jumped out of bed, getting down on the floor and rooting under the bed for her clothes.

She ran into the kitchen just ahead of him, grinning at the wonderful aroma that awaited her. Clark pulled out her chair and brushed his lips over the back of her neck as she sat, serving up the first of the pancakes and pouring coffee before sitting down opposite her. There was freshly separated cream for her coffee and bacon and orange juice found in the freezer as well as sliced peaches. Real maple syrup, honey and more freshly whipped cream sat in front of her. Clark had gone all out.

"Clark... this looks wonderful." She took her first bite. "Mmmm... oh, yeah. This is delicious."

"Mom's favorite recipe. Fruit?" They took their time, enjoying each other's company without the undercurrent of tension that had been between them for so long. Clark got up occasionally to fix or fetch pancakes, refusing to let Chloe help.

"So, how's the peaceable kingdom, this morning?"

"There were some new arrivals. Three potbellied pigs and a flock of Rhode Island Reds were waiting at the back door when I got up and two more horses were standing over by the woodshed. I put the sheep over in the smaller barn next to the goats. We're acquiring animals at a rather phenomenal rate." His eyebrows furrowed as he contemplated the mystery; Chloe had always found that look terribly endearing.

"Hey, maybe I should call home again." Clark handed her the cell phone and she rang her own number, but got only the out of service area message. She tried Clark's house and even the Talon, but was similarly unsuccessful. She put the phone down just as the lights flickered on. "Well, is there an old fashioned phone here I could try?"

"Very. Over there, behind the door." It was an old wall phone with an actual crank on the side.

"Wow. Just like the Waltons had." Chloe stared at it, wondering what to do.

Clark chuckled. "The crank's just for show. There's a dial pad behind the front panel. Granddad was all for authenticity, but he wanted modern convenience."

She picked up the receiver and dialed Clark's house. "Hey! I called your house and it's ringing! Here."

Clark took the phone and waited, listening to the static. Finally someone picked up; a man's voice. "Dad—" There was suddenly so much static he couldn't hear at all before it cleared. "Dad, we're still at the cabin; I'm not sure when we can start home. The snowmobile may be totaled—"

"The what?"

"The snowmobile. Looks like the bears ran it into... something." There was another moment of silence.

"Who is this?"

"Dad, it's Clark. We're—"

"Son, I don't know anyone named Clark. Who you tryin' to reach?"

Clark whispered to Chloe, "I think it's a wrong number."

"I'm sorry, sir. I was trying to reach Jonathan Kent at 555-0145. There's a lot of static on the lines; maybe the storm's messing up the phone system."

"Well, son, we're 0145, but there's no Jonathan here. 'Fraid you've got the wrong number. Wait a minute, my son just came in; I'll ask him." The static came back with a vengeance and Clark could only make out a few words. "Hi—you know—one na—Jonathan?"


"Sorry, my son doesn't—him—er. Good—but I—go. We got—to put—Hope—find him." There was another burst of static and the line went dead.

Clark was silent for a moment, feeling there was something very weird about all this. Chloe came up and put her head on his chest.

"What is it, Clark?"

"Not sure." He hung up and put both arms around her. "Something's odd, here; I'm just not sure what it is." After a moment, he looked down at her. "It's probably nothing." He sighed and added, "Wanna take a sleigh ride at the reindeer farm? Meet the neighbors?"

That brought a smile to her face. "Sure! Sounds like fun. I think I want a shower first; how 'bout you?" She slipped her hand under his shirt, rubbing circles there.

"Smirking, he said, "I think I'll join you." Chloe raced off down the hall with Clark at her heels. It turned out to be a very long shower.

Sometime later, Clark and Chloe bundled up and headed out toward the lake and the Kringle property beyond. The snow had tapered off and it was warmer out. The sun was even trying to peek out from behind the clouds and Chloe was in a great mood. She ran along the lakeshore, past the spot where they'd rescued the cats, and threw herself down in the snow, fanning her arms and legs to make a snow angel. Clark joined her to make one of his own then jumped up and began rolling a huge ball of snow. Chloe started another one and they rolled them both over behind the hollow log where they piled them up. In the end, it became a giant snow cat, stretched out sphinx-like with its paws extended in front of it as though it were playing with the log. A nearby hedge of flowering quince provided fruit for the eyes and reeds from the lake's edge made perfect whiskers. While Clark gathered the lake reeds, Chloe rolled up some smaller balls and made a couple of kittens to shelter within the larger cat's arms. It was quite a project and when they were finished, they stood and admired it for some time. Clark leaned down, kissing her softly before they went on.

Not long after, they arrived at the Kringle farm. There were reindeer in several pens as well as more conventional livestock in others and, oddly, a nearby pond had a colony of penguins waddling around. The farmhouse was a wonderful Victorian with gingerbread details everywhere and lace and candles in each window. A woman appeared at the door as they walked up the front steps.

"Hello! You must be Clark and Chloe; Kris said you might be coming by. Come in, come in..." The house smelled of cinnamon and sugar; she'd obviously been baking. "I've just made some hot chocolate. Would you like some?"

Chloe's eyes lit up at the offer. "Please! I'd love some."

"Have a seat at the table." She brought over two huge mugs, each topped with a mound of whipped cream. Then she sat out a huge plate of cookies in front of them. "Have some cookies. Chocolate chip, sugar and gingerbread; fresh baked. Kris should be back any minute; one of the reindeer got his nose out of joint and took off." She snickered at some private joke. "I wouldn't be surprised to find that Comet was the instigator; that one is always making trouble. I heard he broke your window."

"Yeah, but it's okay; I just boarded it up." Clark looked around the kitchen and adjacent dining room. There were cookies, candies and breads everywhere and the huge dining room table was piled high with toys and homemade items of all kinds. "Wow, you really go all out for Christmas, don't you?"

"Well, we have the little store to fill. Everything's homemade." She smiled and turned back to the stove, stirring s pot of what smelled like peanut butter fudge.

"That smells wonderful. Fudge?"

"Yes; it's quite popular." The kitchen door opened and Mr. Kringle came in, stomping snow off his feet. His wife gave him a quick peck and turned back to her fudge.

"Clark, Chloe! Glad you decided to come over. As soon as I get a cup of hot chocolate, I'll get the reindeer harnessed." His wife handed him a steaming mug.

"I heard you had some more reindeer trouble. If this is a bad time... "

"That Comet's to blame; I swear he's more trouble than the rest of them put together. But, no matter. We can manage to give you a ride; no trouble at all." He took a final swig and set his cup down. "If you're finished, let's go." He stood and shrugged into his coat again and Clark and Chloe got up.

"Thanks so much, Mrs. Kringle. Everything was delicious!" She smiled back at them and bent down to take another pan full of sugar cookies out of the oven as they went out the door.

Clark spotted a very ornate sleigh sitting next to a barn close by. "That's a beautiful sleigh, Mr. Kringle. Looks like an antique."

The old man laughed. "Please call me Kris! And, yes, it's pretty old. Been in my family for generations." He walked over to it, pulled out a handkerchief and began polishing a front fender.

"It's in great shape." Clark leaned over and examined it more closely.

"Let me get the reindeer hitched up and you can take a ride in it. You can drive a sleigh can't you, Clark?"

"Well, yeah, but this is too nice—"

Mr. Kringle dismissed Clark's concern with a wave of his hand and walked off to get the reindeer. The reindeer in the nearest pen were running back and forth as he approached and when he was about half way he stopped and yelled out, "Come on!" They crowded around the gate and one of them opened the latch with his muzzle; the small herd trotted over to him. Clark heard him giving instructions as he walked back. "Now, I want you all to behave this time; no more trouble, especially from you," and he pointed to one of them, "and don't get going too fast. This is just a quick little run around the farm, nothing else. Don't be gettin' wild and takin' off." When they got closer, the deer lined up in front of the sled without being told.

Chloe was especially impressed. "Wow, that's amazing! They're so well trained."

"Except for that one!" He pointed at the one that had opened the gate; Clark was sure it was the same reindeer that had broken the window. It snorted and tossed its head in defiance, jingling the bells on its harness. Mr. Kringle pointed to Clark. "You go apologize." The reindeer shook its head again and the old farmer raised his voice slightly. "Comet!" Apparently, Comet decided he should give in and he walked over in front of Clark, lowered his head in submission and pawed the ground several times. It reminded Clark of the incident with the wrestler although the reindeer smelled better.

"Hey, that's okay, fella." Clark reached out and tentatively touched his nose. "No hard feelings." Comet shook his head up and down several times then walked back to take his place at the head of the line.

"Well, climb in. Better wrap up in those blankets." Clark spread the thick blankets out, making sure to wrap Chloe up well and snuggled next to her. "Alright, boys; now remember, take it easy. Don't be showing off." He turned back to Clark. "Down that way across the field and into the woods are some nice trails. The reindeer know their way around; they'll bring you back. Enjoy!" Clark jiggled the reins and the deer took off, making a leisurely swing around the paddock before heading out across the fields, Chloe giggled as they passed by the penguin pond, watching as one larger penguin shoved the others down the bank into the water.

As they entered the sparse woods at the edge of the Kringles' field, Chloe laid her head on Clark's chest and sighed contentedly. Surely, this was all a dream. She glanced up, watching Clark as he guided the sled along the trail. He held her close in one arm, managing the reins with the other and leaned down to kiss her when he heard her sigh. "What is it?"

"Clark... this is... this is perfect. I've never done anything like this and I'll never forget it, ever."

Clark smiled down at her. "Neither will I." The sleigh ran over a small bump and Clark held her tighter, laughing. "Whoa, slow down!" He pulled back on the reins a bit and they fell into a more sedate pace. After a time, the trail began to lead back in the direction of the Kringle land. They saw the lake in the distance, their snow cat still guarding her kittens at its edge. Clark let the reindeer pick up speed as they got closer to the boundary between woods and field and when he could see the farmhouse through the trees he let them run full out. In a short time they were back in the barnyard, both wishing their ride had lasted even longer.

Mr. Kringle came out to welcome them back. "How'd it go? Comet behave himself?"

"He was a perfect gentleman." Clark climbed out and gave Chloe a hand. "Thanks for everything. The woods were beautiful."

"You folks care to stay for lunch? We've got a pot roast ready and plenty to spare."

"That sounds wonderful, but we really need to get back. I ought to see what I can do with the snowmobile."

"Where's home?"

"Smallville. But our truck's parked in the lot by the forest entrance; we just need to get there."

"Well, I'll lend you the sleigh, if you like. The reindeer can find their way back; they're well trained. Think it over." They shook hands and Clark and Chloe headed back toward their cabin.

After they arrived, Clark asked, "Do you think we should take him up on the offer?"

"How else will we get home before the party? Although, truth is, I wouldn't mind staying here. It's been very... enlightening, to say the least." She smiled and slipped her cold hands under his shirt to warm them.

"How can your hands be so cold? You were wearing mittens... want me to warm you up?" Clark rubbed her arms; leaning down, he nuzzled her neck.

"Oh, yeah... mmmm..." she moaned when he started to nip at her throat. She pressed against him and he picked her up, setting her in his lap in the chair by the fireplace. Slowly, he kissed her, unbuttoning her sweater and peeling it off. Then he stripped off his shirt and Chloe began to rub against him, pressing her barely covered breasts against his own bare skin. Clark unfastened her bright red bra, slowly spreading it aside. He leaned forward, sucking first one stiff nipple and then the other. She spread her legs across his thighs, reaching down to stroke him with the palms of her hands before unzipping his jeans and reaching inside to touch him. Clark groaned and rocked his hips up against her then pushed his pants down. He unfastened Chloe's jeans, helping her pull them off, then she opened herself to him, letting him position her before slowly easing down onto his hard shaft. After only a few slow thrusts, he felt Chloe's nails raking his skin as she slid up and down him, and his own pace rapidly increased until, with one more hard thrust she was crying out, Clark's voice suddenly joining hers when he came. Sighing, Chloe sagged, against his chest, wishing they never had to leave.

Clark lifted her chin and kissed her, then whispered, "I wish we could stay here forever." She laughed softly.

"I was just thinking the same thing. But they might miss us." She smiled and kissed him, then settled down in his lap, looking around the room. The scrabble board lay next to the old bearskin rug, their game still unfinished. "Are we going to take the sleigh back?"

Clark sighed, "Yeah, I suppose we should. I'll ask him if he could feed all these animals until we find out where they came from. And milk. I don't know what we'll do if we can't find their owners." Gently, he brushed her hair back from her forehead and kissed her there. Looking down he saw her pale skin was still flushed from their exertions. Smiling, he ran his thumb across her cheek, then kissed her and began to rub her neck. She seemed distracted, staring over at the fireplace. "What is it? What's so fascinating over there?"

"Well, I was just noticing that bearskin rug... I thought it looked really kind of... well... thin and ratty, no offense, when we were playing scrabble yesterday, but it looks... different, doesn't it?" Chloe shifted to get a better look and felt something hard beneath her. "God, Clark," but she laughed and deliberately rubbed against him before getting off his lap and moving down to the rug. Rubbing her fingers across the rug, she looked back at him. "I swear; this feels like a different rug; the fur's really thick." She stretched out on it, striking a rather provocative pose. "Maybe you should see for yourself..."

"Maybe you're right;" he came down to join her.

"Was I right?"

"Oh, yeah," he whispered, as he moved on top of her. "Absolutely." This time, he entered her quickly, his need urgent and in their excitement, they bumped the scrabble board sending the brightly painted tiles flying across the room.

Afterward, they slept in front of the fireplace, waking when it was close to suppertime. Clark dressed and went out to care for the animals, making his way to the smaller barn first. When he rounded the corner, he came face to face with a pair of camels. They walked around him, staring as though he was the oddity rather than them. One of them came close and laid its head on top of his, slobbering in his hair. "Eeewww!" He walked over to the big barn and put them in the only two stalls left. Clark quickly made the rounds and came back inside just as Chloe began to stir.

He cuddled up next to her, resting his chin on her head. Clark was finding that he loved to watch her sleep. She turned and looked at him through sleepy eyes, smiling as she reached up to tousle his hair. "Why is your hair sticky?" She pulled her hand back and examined it.

"Uh, that's... camel slime."


"Yep. Now we have camels. Kind of appropriate for Christmas and all, but this is just getting weirder and weirder."

"And not a meteor in sight. So where'd you put them?"

"In the last two stalls in the big barn. We're running out of room, fast. I'm gonna go talk to Kris after supper." Clark noticed the scrabble tiles had been scattered, providing new playthings for the kittens now romping excitedly around the room. One of the kittens flipped one in his direction and he picked it up, examining it closely. After a moment, he showed it to Chloe. "Look."

"It's a scrabble tile; what about it?"

"Are these the same tiles? They seemed so worn before. This looks brand new."

Chloe rolled over, reaching for a pile in the corner that one of the kittens had amassed. She scooped them up and found they were also nice and bright. "See this?"

"Yeah, I do." She turned and saw he was eyeing her rather than the tiles she held.

"Clark! I swear; you're obsessed!" She rolled over, laughing, as he made a grab for her. Before long, the tiles were forgotten. Clark's distraction caused supper to be late, but afterward he zipped over to the Kringles and asked to use the sleigh. Mr. Kringle offered to have the sleigh and reindeer ready after breakfast the following morning and agreed to watch their animals until Clark could return or find their owners.

After another late night, they both slept in. When Clark finally arose to feed and milk, he discovered the sleigh already outside. He hadn't heard him arrive or knock, but he had been otherwise occupied. Clark and Chloe packed the sled and took one last look around at all the animals. They had decided to take the cat and her kittens with them and had loaded them securely in a blanket padded, covered box between their feet. At last, they stood in front of the cabin, sad to leave it. Clark wrapped his arms around her as they looked back at their little sanctuary.

"Well, Clark, I'll miss the little love shack."

He laughed out loud. "Yeah, me, too. It'll be a lot harder to get together when we get back." But they had to leave so they climbed in and with one last backward glance at the cabin, they set off down the mountain. Chloe snuggled up next to him in the heavy blankets as they made their way along the trails leading to the mountain's base. A thick fog seemed to blanket the top of the mountain, thinning only when they got closer to the bottom.

"You know, I really didn't notice any of these houses when we came up."

"Well... it was snowing pretty hard." Something still bothered him about the phone conversation he'd had when he tried to call home and they couldn't get through from the cabin that morning, but Chloe had called when they reached the little grocery store and the connection seemed almost normal. They'd had no trouble reaching home to tell everyone they were coming back. When they finally reached their truck, she tried again and got through to her dad and Clark's parents right away.

Clark started the truck and began unloading the sled, beginning with the cats then their packs and one bag. They looked the sleigh over once more to make sure nothing had been forgotten and walked up to pet the reindeer. Comet was pawing at the ground, anxious, it seemed, to get going. "Thanks, boy. Sorry we got off to such a rocky start." Chloe reached out petted his nose.

"You think they can really find their way back? It's a long way up the mountain."

Comet shook his head and began to stomp his hooves and she stepped back a bit. Clark laughed and said, "Kris swore it was no problem. He said they can find their way back from almost anywhere so I guess they'll be okay. We can try to call him when we get home to make sure. Well, boys, off you go." He pointed back toward the trail and the reindeer made a circle, disappearing back into the forest. Clark and Chloe watched for a moment; the fog was lifting, rapidly receding back up into the mountains. They climbed into the truck just as a sudden wind shook the high branches of the trees near the trailhead and Clark wondered if more snow was on the way. He backed out and pulled onto the highway, still puzzled by some recent events and delighted by others.

When they arrived home, Clark was first out, carrying the cats and Chloe jumped out and ran over to Clark's mom who had just come out onto the porch. "We're back!"

Martha hugged her then Clark when he came up the stairs. "Are you okay? Gabe was really worried at first, but I told him Clark would take good care of you."

"Oh, he did." She gave Clark a saucy look and bounced into the house ahead of him, turning to open the box he carried when they were through the door. "Look what we found out by the lake." Martha looked in to see the cats.

"Aw, they're cute. Abandoned?" She looked up at Clark.

"Yeah; they were in an old log by the lake. I think they'd have frozen if we hadn't found them. There was a collie running around that kind of led us to them. I'll put them over by the fireplace." He sat the box down and watched for a moment as the mother cat stretched out and began to nurse her brood. Satisfied that they were still okay, he headed into the kitchen. "Want something warm to drink, Chlo?"

"Yeah..." she followed him into the other room.

"There's hot chocolate and coffee both, I see."

"Hot chocolate would be great, Clark."

Through the doorway, Martha watched Clark hand Chloe her cup and lean down to kiss the tip of her nose. The two of them stared at each other for a moment, both of them grinning like idiots, before Clark asked if she wanted anything. Well, that's an interesting development. "I'll have hot chocolate, Clark." She heard him ask Chloe if she was hungry.

He appeared in the doorway. "Mom, I think I'll fix some popcorn. Want any?"

"Sure, Clark."

"Come in here, Mom; I want to ask you something." She came in and sat at the table while Clark prepared the corn.

"What is it?"

"Do you know many of the neighbors up by the cabin? People with farms and animals?" Clark was melting butter over the stovetop as the corn finished popping and he turned to dump it into the big bowl Chloe held for him. He salted and she stirred, as they had at the cabin.

"There aren't very many. Most of the people in that area lost their homes during the thirties. In your great-grandfather's time there were quite a few farms, but by the late thirties almost everyone had moved away. There're still some people closer to that little store, but no one is actually close to our property at the top. Why?" She watched him lean against the counter, his back toward her, staring out the window in silence for a moment before answering. Chloe stood next to him, watching his face.

"When we first arrived, there was a cow in the barn. Seemed well kept and was making herself right at home like she belonged there."

"No one has really farmed up there in recent years; that I know of. Had anyone been inside the cabin?"

"I don't think so." He sighed as he poured butter over the corn and Chloe carried it back to the table. He sat and they started to eat. A few minutes later, Jonathan came in the back door, stomping the snow off his boots and clapping Clark on the shoulder.

"Hi, son! Back safe and sound? You okay, Chloe?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. It was quite an adventure, actually. I felt like a pioneer."

He ate a handful of popcorn before removing his coat and sitting down at the table. Martha got up and brought him a cup of cocoa. "Bet the electricity went out; always does during storms up there."

"It was beautiful there with all the snow covering the trees. But I'd love to go back in the summer when everything is green."

Jonathan eyed his son. "You're quiet, Clark. Somethin' wrong?"

"There was a cow in the barn and some other animals, too. I thought maybe someone had been there; maybe keeping animals there for some reason."

"Really? There aren't many folks up there these days. Didn't most of them leave during the Depression?"

"Mostly, although there were still a few when I was young. My dad used to take us up there at Christmas for the family dinner when I was in grade school. He always got in trouble for telling us scary stories. My mom especially hated the one about the old man in the sleigh who took all the animals away; kind of like the Pied Piper. But I liked it because he was really saving them from a terrible storm and they all came back when it was over." She laughed at the memory. "But Dad made him sound really creepy until the end; I was the only one who wasn't scared." Martha got up to get another cup of cocoa.

Jonathan held out his cup and she refilled it. "After we started talking again, I heard him tell that story once. He was good, too. Claimed it really happened back during the Depression when his dad lived in the cabin. He said his dad swore that animals started disappearing from all over the mountain one year when a terrible storm blew in right before Christmas. Your dad told me everyone found their animals missing after it turned really cold during a blizzard and they all thought they'd wandered off and frozen to death."

Martha sat back down, smiling at the memory. "He told us it was true, too, but Mom never believed it. I think she thought Granddad spent too many years up there by himself after my grandmother passed away. Still, it was a good yarn."

"I especially liked the ending where he counted off all the different kinds of animals that were saved. The llamas and camels were a nice touch." He laughed, but noticed Clark had stopped eating, a handful of popcorn in his hand, untouched. In fact, Chloe and Clark were staring at each other, mouths open and eyes wide. "What is it?"

Clark spoke, his voice a little high; "What other animals were there?"

"Just about everything: sheep, horses, peacocks and ducks."

"Lots of chickens, cows, potbellied pigs, cats..." Chloe looked into the living room where the kittens were playing with a ball of twine they'd found. Clark took a sip of his cocoa.

"Weren't there a couple of bears in there, too?" Clark choked and coughed and Jonathan pounded him on the back. "Whoa, son... "

"I think Granddad modeled the old man after one of his neighbors. There was a fellow who raised reindeer and had a really ornate sleigh. He gave rides at Christmas every year and my dad said he always used to look forward to going over there for rides and eating cookies and candy afterward. Dad talked like this guy's wife was renowned far and wide as a great cook. Mom used to make peanut butter fudge from her special recipe."

Clark looked at Chloe then at his mom. "What was this guy's name, Mom?"

"Kris Kringle. Kris Kringle's Reindeer Farm and Christmas Emporium was the name of the place. They had a little store. My dad said all the kids thought he was really Santa Claus and he just lived in Kansas until Christmas. Clark, honey, you look pale... What's wrong?"

"We met an old fellow who had a reindeer farm back behind the lake. We took a ride around his farm and through the woods. His house was a really quaint Victorian with gingerbread all over and the sleigh was beautiful; it was covered with elaborate details..."

Chloe added, "His wife was baking when we got there and making the most wonderful peanut butter fudge..." She dug in her coat pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, unfolding it and handing it to Martha. "Mrs. Kringle gave me her fudge recipe."

Martha stared at it then went over to a shelf and grabbed an old cookbook. Opening it up, she pulled out an old piece of paper, worn and greasestained from years of use. Unfolding it, she looked at it for a moment then laid it down on the table next to Chloe's recipe. It was a recipe for Kringle's Krunchy Peanut Butter Fudge. The even script, from a time when handwriting was an art, matched that of Chloe's recipe exactly. In fact, the two papers looked identical.

"Oh, Clark... I..." she was getting goosebumps, "that farm was abandoned back in the late thirties, like a lot of places. There's nothing there anymore. Dad said they just disappeared one year and no one ever heard from them again... "

"I swear, Mom. We met the guy. And all those animals... they kept wandering in the whole time we were there. Kris lent us his sleigh to come back to the truck and he said he'd look after the animals 'til I came back or found out who was keeping them... Chloe, try to call him."

Martha handed her the phone and they all listened as she tried to get his number. Chloe looked over at Clark. "No luck. There's no one and no business listed under that name.

Clark jumped up. "I have to go back—"

"Clark... We'll have to wait; in case you hadn't noticed, it's snowing again." Chloe placed her hand on his arm and Clark sat down again. "Not to mention that I kinda need to get home." Clark sat down again and stared at the recipes; another thought occurred to him.

"Dad, did you guys have trouble with the phones, here, during the storm?"

"Well, not really, son. When you called there was a little static, but that's all. Why?"

"Because..." he still wasn't sure why the phone call had bothered him so much. He sighed, "Because... when Chloe called our number, the man who answered didn't know who I was."

"Maybe you just got a wrong number."

"Well, when I told him who I wanted to reach and the number, he said, "We're 1445, but there's no Jonathan here, like I had the right number, but the wrong person. I could hear his son come in and he asked him if he knew a Jonathan, but he said, no. The static got really bad then and I could only make out a few words."

"Did you catch his name?"

"No, but I think when he asked his son he called him, 'Hi.' That's an odd name, isn't it? Is there anyone around here named Hi?"

Now it was Jonathan's turn to get goosebumps and he was quiet for a moment. "No one around here, now. But my granddad always called my dad, Hiram, 'Hi.'"

Chloe looked around at the expression on their faces and she got goosebumps. She placed her hand on Clark's. "Whoa... "

After a while, Martha and Jonathan both got up from the table. Jonathan put a hand on Clark's shoulder. "I'm... sure we can find some reasonable explanation for this, Clark."

Clark stared at his cup. "Like what? Santa Claus? Time warps?"

Chloe looked at him and smiled. "Well, this is Smallville. At least there aren't any meteors or aliens involved, this time." She got up and Clark winced, running his hands through his hair. He got a faraway look as though he was lost in thought then reached into his pocket and pulled out a wooden scrabble tile, an elaborate letter S painted in bright red.

"Mom, look at this. We found an old scrabble set in the cabin and played when the lights went out." He held it out and she took it from him.

"I remember playing with an old set there when I was little; the lettering was unusual, like this, but it was all worn and—"

Chloe chimed in, "You could hardly read some of the letters. That was exactly what I said when I found them. Later, when I looked at them they seemed bright; almost brand new. I'd forgotten about that." She looked up at Clark, trying to hide a smile as she remembered what had made her forget. Clark was trying to conceal his own smile as the memory of that afternoon flooded back.

Martha handed the tile to Clark, "I don't know what to say, Clark." She caught the look that passed between them, confirming her suspicions that Clark and Chloe had done more than play scrabble at the cabin.

"Son, we're supposed to go to the Simpson's over in Russell Springs. If it gets bad, we may not be back tonight. We'll call." As they walked out of the kitchen and headed upstairs, Jonathan noticed his wife's smirk. "What?"

"Nothing. Let's hurry; we're already late."

A few minutes later, Clark watched his parents leave. Chloe came up to stand beside him. "I just called my dad. He's stuck in Metropolis; said he may just come back tomorrow. Shouldn't we be getting ready?" She watched his face; she could see the wheels already turning.

"Yeah..." he looked down at her, a smile beginning to spread across his face. "We don't have to get ready right now... do we?"

"Maybe not. What did you have in mind, Clark?" He whispered something into her ear." She laughed and said, "You'll have to catch me if you wanna do that," and she took off running up the stairs. Clark followed and caught her quickly, but she didn't really try to get away, at all.

The Christmas gala at the Luthor mansion was a success, as always. Clark and Chloe had arrived very fashionably late after leaving for Chloe's house long after they'd originally intended. There, they had discovered several additional and very interesting things two people could do in a shower before reluctantly getting dressed and heading to the party. Once there, they kept disappearing and Lex spotted them kissing under the mistletoe in darkened corners, on more than one occasion. Finally, he had leaned over as Clark passed by and joked, "Maybe you should get a room." Clark took him at his word and no one saw them again for quite some time.

Just after midnight, Lana came up to Lex, asking if he'd seen Chloe. He smiled and said, "Not for a while. Why?"

"I was down in the lower hall a few minutes ago, near the indoor hot tub, and I thought I heard someone yelling, screaming almost. I couldn't tell where it came from. It sounded a little like Chloe... Maybe I should go find Clark." Lex couldn't help laughing, even though it caused champagne to shoot out his nose.

Coughing, he told her he was sure Chloe was fine and that Clark was probably with her, where ever they might be. He walked off to grab a towel, leaving Lana to puzzle over it. A few moments later, the vision she'd had in the Talon, several days before, returned and refused to go away. She located Pete, who had long since made his peace with Lex and was her date for the evening, to say she thought she needed to leave.


"I'm having this... vision... I can't get it out of my head. Please, I need to leave."

Pete noticed her cheeks were bright red. "Is it like the time the meteor rocks—"

"No! It's not that kind of vision!" She grabbed him by his tie and dragged him to the door, waving to Lex across the room. Pete shrugged and Lex shrugged back in the universal male code for, "Women; what are you gonna do?" As they pulled out onto Beresford Lane, Pete thought it was odd when Lana told him to drive faster.

The party went on without them and Clark and Chloe didn't return home until the wee morning hours.

On Christmas morning, Clark was, as always, first downstairs to look under the tree. Clark had invited Chloe and her dad over for a late morning brunch and after all the presents had been opened everyone, but Clark went in to the kitchen to help with preparations. As Clark cleaned up, watching the kittens jump and play with the ribbons and wrapping paper, he spied one small present under the tree that had been overlooked.

He picked it up, saw his name and Chloe's on it, and waggled his fingers at her through the kitchen door. She came over and he handed it to her. "Where'd this come from? I thought we opened everything." Clark shrugged his shoulders and she turned it over, rattling it before peeling back the rather elegant paper. A scrabble set; elaborately carved and painted and it appeared to match the tile Clark had carried back from the cabin.

"It matches the tile I have from the cabin..." Chloe could only stare.

Shortly after Christmas, the frigid weather withdrew back up into Canada, the snow ended and Kansas experienced several nice days of sunny weather. Clark and Chloe once more made the trek up to the mountain cabin, borrowing a neighbor's snowmobile this time. When they arrived Clark put it in the barn for safekeeping, but there were no bears or cows or camels anywhere in sight. Everything about the little farm seemed different, older and more worn. Inside the cabin, everything was as they'd left it although the scrabble game (Clark checked immediately) was nowhere to be found.

They took the snowmobile out to the lake and beyond to the reindeer farm only to find a boarded up shell, the gingerbread under the eaves and along the porch long since fallen down. Through the front door was only an empty, dust covered room. They peeked in the kitchen door at the back of the house and saw the rusted remains of an old wood burning stove, but nothing more. Chloe wanted to go inside and Clark x-rayed the house.

"Not a good idea, Chloe. The floor joists are... probably rotten. A lot of the boards are missing."

"This is really weird, Clark. I know what we saw. We were here! I can still smell the cookies and fudge."

They looked around and Clark x-rayed the outbuildings looking for the sleigh, but there was no sign of it. "Come on, Chlo; let's go." They drove back to the cabin in silence, along part of the very trail they'd taken in the sleigh. Once back they took another look around then went inside to prepare a meal. The meal was somewhat subdued and they were both glad for each other's company. Afterward, Chloe and Clark stretched out in front of the fire Clark had built, lying back on the bearskin rug. It, too, seemed to be more worn than Chloe had remembered it, but she posed for Clark as she had before and in only a few minutes, they were laughing and making love.

Clark left word that they were staying over and they found that, even with the mystery surrounding it, the little cabin on the mountain was the one place, in all the world, they both wanted to be.

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